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Sunday, August 18, 2019

CALICO QUICHE

I have several "go to" quiche recipes that I've collected over the years, but I'm always up for adding new options to my collection.  Those that I have are more breakfast type, while I would consider this one more of a lunch or dinner option based on the main protein being chicken.
 There is a bit of prep, but it wasn't too over the top....and in the end, the house smelled wonderful, and it was very tasty!

INGREDIENTS:

1  (9 inch ) pie shell, homemade or frozen 
¼ cup red bell pepper, chopped
½ cup green bell pepper, chopped
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
1 cup swiss cheese, grated
1 cup cooked chicken, cubed
¼ cup butter (½ stick)
½ cup onion, coarsely chopped
1 Tbsp. all purpose flour
½ cup half and half
½ cup sour cream
4 eggs, beaten
¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
1 Tbsp. parsley, chopped
*salt & pepper/garlic

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line baking sheet with aluminum foil (in the event of drippage)

Place the shell on the baking sheet.  In the bottom of the pie shell, add the chicken pieces, layer in the peppers and cheeses.

In a saute' pan, melt butter and saute' the onions until soft.  Whisk in flour thoroughly.  Stir in half and half and simmer until thickened, about 3-5 minutes.  Let cool.

In a bowl, combine sour cream, eggs, nutmeg and parsley.  Stir into the onion mixture. 

Pour filling into the pie crust.  ***Bake 35-40 minutes  or until set.   Let cool slightly prior to slicing.


NOTES:  

  • ***The center was still runny, and the top was pale at the 40 minute mark....it took my quiche closer to 55 minutes to fully cook and the top was a beautiful golden brown as well.  
  • I used the Marie Callendar's deep dish pie shell, there's a lot of ingredients in the recipe, so make sure you have room for everything!
  • *The recipe didn't call for any seasoning, but I would suggest adding at least some salt & pepper into the egg mixture (possibly a little garlic powder)
Enjoy!


recipe c/o:  Portland's Palate cookbook

Saturday, August 3, 2019

FOAM FLOWERS

I'm hooked!  I just learned how to make foam flowers and I just can't stop making them.  They're so fun.  I've made hairpieces for a number of brides over the years, so being able to add another variety for my clients was my goal.  I loved how realistic these looked, and I've been working on my technique ever since I found the first YouTube video on them.
I'm pleased with what I've done so far, but I know as with anything in life, I'll only improve with additional practice!  The foamiran foam currently is a little difficult to find.  This seems to be very prevalent in Europe, but not so much here in the U.S.   Shipping costs from Europe are crazy expensive, so I was thrilled when I found a source here in the U.S.

I ordered the white foam and have been practicing/learning on it.  I also purchased some oil pastels and have been playing around with "dyeing" the petals versus purchasing lots of different colors of foam.  
In the beginning, I made my own patterns (after all, I'm a professional patternmaker!), which also meant handcutting each of the flowers with my small scissors.  Some of the flowers take 6 layers, so it took a bunch of time and as expected, each layer was not exactly the same size/shape as the other.  It didn't affect the overall look of the finished product, but it meant more time for me to make adjustments along the way.  I've still been using some of my handmade patterns, but I also invested in a die cutting machine and purchased two basic dies.  What a time saver!  I can run four layers of foam through the machine and have absolutely perfect "cookie cutter" shapes in a matter of seconds.

Again, I'm finding plenty of supplies (dies, stamens, inks, etc.) in the U.K. , but the shipping is more than one die!  So, I haven't broken down and purchased them overseas yet.  I've been making due with what I can source here locally and so far so good.  Maybe in time, I'll take the leap.

I'm also playing around with options for my clients, like combs, alligator clips, and u pins.  I'm also  making sure my finishing techniques on each of these varieties is professional.   There's lots to learn, that's for sure!  I'm tending toward the plastic variety of combs since there are lots of teeth and they're really long versus the metal combs.  I absolutely want these to be secure when they're in place!
So that's my foam flower journey so far!  I love learning new things....it's good for the mind and  the soul!  I'm hopeful that these will sell both on my shop and with my local clients.  In the meantime, I'll keep making more, I really find that I get lost in the creative process and before you know it hours have gone by and I'm still at it!

Saturday, July 6, 2019

PFEFFERNEUSSE COOKIES

Just about every year growing up my Dad would buy a small box of Pfefferneusse cookies around the holidays.  They really have a totally unique flavor profile, and while I enjoyed all of Mom's homebaked cookies, the Pfefferneusse were also yummy.

Don't ask me why I thought of them or this aspect of my childhood in July....but I did....and, of course, I had to go looking for a Pfefferneusse recipe to see if they tasted like I remembered them as a kid.

They're super easy to make and I had everything but anise extract already in my cupboard! 
They really did taste like I remembered.  Spicy and slightly sweet with a firm outside and soft inside.  This recipe makes 26-30 cookies; it also requires the dough to be chilled for at least an hour so keep that in mind when considering the length of time you'll need before you can enjoy them!

 INGREDIENTS: 

1 ¼ cups confectioner's sugar 
2 ¼ cups all purpose flour
¼ tsp. freshly ground pepper
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground allspice
½ tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
½ tsp. ground cloves
¼ tsp. baking soda
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temp
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
¼ cup unsulfured molasses
½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 ½ tsp. anise extract
½ tsp. cardamom

DIRECTIONS:

In a medium bowl, sift together all of the dry ingredients.  

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer beat together the butter, brown sugar and molasses on medium spped until light and fluffy. 

Beat in the egg. 

Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in the flour mixture.  Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  

Roll dough into 1 ½ inch balls.  Place them on a cookie sheet approximately 2 inches apart.

Bake until the cookies are golden brown and firm to the touch, about 14 minutes.  Let cookies cool slightly, then roll in confectioner'sugar.

Enjoy!

Monday, June 10, 2019

CATHEDRAL LENGTH BRIDAL CAPE

I love when a bride contacts me and has a custom request for their wedding day!  It makes my heart swell knowing that this particular bride will have the one and only design of its kind for her very special day.

So, when a bride contacted me through my Etsy shop asking if I would make her a custom cathedral length cape, I jumped at the opportunity.  She loved the cut of one of my  "shorter" versions on Etsy and wanted me to make it into a cathedral length version.  She included a couple of pictures for me of a cape with appliques that she loved and we continued collaborating on the final design through email.  She was an absolute delight to work with!  I sent her pictures along the way, so that she could see how it was coming together and we could make modifications if necessary.  As it turned out, she just kept giving me a "thumbs up" and allowed me to use my creative license to develop the design as I saw fit.  Just what a designer wants to hear!
The bride has an elegant and classic strapless trumpet style silk gown, with no
embellishments.  Her train is chapel length , so the cape will be the perfect accent piece for her signature look.  She plans on wearing it for the ceremony and will remove it for the reception.  Can't you just envision the entrance she'll make?


Frankly, I lost track of the total hours of labor involved after 25 hours.  There was a lot of handstitching of the appliques due to the intricacies of the leaf and floral pattern in the appliques.

Prior to the stitching though, was the time it takes to develop the actual design or layout of the appliques.  Some of them are in their original state as I received them from the vendor.  However, the vast majority I cut apart to make my own unique appliques in varying shapes and sizes.

The cut of the cape is a circular shape, so the front of the cape has a "flutter" like drape (which was one of the elements my bride really liked) versus the typical straight edge down to the floor.  This is going to create a lovely framework for her gown!

I also added 3D flowers to the appliques very sporadically....but, they pop due to the pearls and sequin accents I added....they'll look beautiful sparkling in the sunlight.  The bride's request for a floral lace pattern is based upon the fact that she is getting married in Hawaii in a garden setting!

I'm looking forward to receiving pictures from her after the wedding.  She had sent me a few pictures of her in her gown and she is absolutley beautiful.  She had a very clear vision of what she wanted and I'm honored to have brought it to life for her! 

Thursday, May 23, 2019

PARIS AND AMBOISE FRANCE

The second part of this year's Mother/Daughter vacation (after we spent 3 days in Venice) was Paris and Amboise, France.   Paris was strategically placed as our layover spot on the day of our arrival from Venice and the night before our departure back to the states.  I had only been to Paris once before, which was prior to the pyramid at the Louvre (which makes it prior to 1983 when construction began).
  I wanted to hit some highlights of the city to refresh my memory so I planned a self-guided walking tour for each of those days.  We had about 12 hours total, which allowed us to hit some of the "must-sees" on my list.  I find the metro to be a great resource in helping to navigate the city in a short amount of time.     On our first day, we saw:  Tuileries Garden, the Louvre, Palais Royal, and Le Village Royal.  We finished our evening in a sweet cafe' over a glass of wine and a lovely charcuterie platter.    The morning before we caught our train to Amboise, we rented motorized scooters and were able to see the Eiffel Tower, Place du Trocadero, and the river Seine.  It was a really fun way to get around quickly to take in the sights.    On our last night in France (our second stopover in Paris), we saw:  Sacre Couer, Montmartre, the sinking house, and just the front facade of Notre Dame (due to the recent fire, the streets were blockaded and guarded by the Police and Gendarmarie).   
    The train ride from Paris to  Amboise is just about 2 hours.  There are several choices of towns in the Loire valley to choose from for "home base"; my research suggested Amboise is one of the quieter choices.  We loved our stay here.  It was quaint, small, friendly and we stayed at an awesome place, Le Manoir les Minimes.   The bedding was very comfortable, and the room was on the larger size .  While it doesn't have a restaurant, it's literally a five minute walk into town.     Amboise also delivered the best meal of the trip !  L' Epicerie was amazing.  The owner was delightful, and helped us immensely in translating the French menu. The food was so delicious!                           

The reason I wanted to visit the Loire Valley was because of the chateaus in the region.  There are over 300!  (Not all are open to the public) I dedicated one day to our chateau visits, so I narrowed it down to the top three; the bonus fourth chateau was just up the hill from our hotel in Amboise.  This region is so romantic, I could have spent more time here for sure!

 In addition to the Chateau d' Amboise, we visited, Chambord, Cheverney and Chenonceau.  They were all beautiful, but my absolute favorite was Chenonceau.  Many of the chateaus have some rooms that are furnished so that you can really immerse yourself in the history and get a true feel of life in that era.  Again, Chenonceau was far superior to the others in the interior as well.     


Since I didn't  rent a car this trip, I found a company that I booked a "van tour" with to take us to the three chateaus (Acco-Dispo).  We were gone all day, and were able to visit the chateaus at our own pace.  Our driver was very informative as we drove from chateau to chateau.  It was perfect. 
Chateau d'Amboise
The weather during our visit was cool, but mostly dry and sunny.  We arrived just after the cherry blossoms were at their peak, but the gardens were in full bloom.  Again, Chenonceau's gardens (two) and grounds were stunning!

The Loire valley is also known for its extensive bike trails.  There are plenty of rental shops in the area, and the price is really reasonable.  You can rent by the day or day(s).  We spent one day just biking around the area.  I will say, you need to be prepared for some steep hills (there were times we actually walked alongside our bikes), and spotting the signs for specific trails was a challenge at times. But hey, we biked in France!
Chenonceau



                                             
                                                           Cheverny
I know another visit to France is in my future.  There were so many places I wanted to see when I was planning this trip, but I narrowed it down to the Loire valley this time around.    

Normandy, Provence, Brittany......a girl can dream, right?
             
                    Chambord

                                                  

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

THE BEST CHOCOLATE CAKE EVER

So who doesn't love a good chocolate cake?  I'm sure there is someone out there.....but, I believe the vast majority of us wouldn't pass up a slice of chocolate cake.  This recipe, my friends, was "touted" as "the best chocolate cake ever".   While I can't necessarily say whether that's the absolute truth, I can say.  It was excellent!
I brought this to Easter dinner and everybody gave it two thumbs up.  The best part if you're going to give it a try,  it begins with a box cake and the added ingredients only make it better!

INGREDIENTS:

1 box Devil's food cake mix
1 small box Jello instant chocolate pudding mix
1 cup sour cream
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs, beaten
½ cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups mini chocolate chips

BUTTERCREAM FROSTING:

1 cup shortening (Crisco)
4 cups powdered sugar
¼ tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream

DIRECTIONS:

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spray the cake tins (9" round) with nonstick cooking spray.  In a very large bowl, mix together everything but the chocolate chips.  The batter will be thick.  Once mixed; stir in the chips.

Pour the batter into the cake pans.  Use the cooking times on the back of the box as a guide; add additional minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Mine were finished in 35 minutes.  

For the frosting, cream the shortening until fluffy.  Add the sugar and continue creaming until well blended.  Add salt, vanilla, and cream.  Blend on low speed until just combined.  Beat at high speed until frosting is fluffy.  

Enjoy!

recipe c/o:  www.kevinandamanda.com

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

VENICE

This year's Mother/Daughter vacation was truly a dream come true.  I've wanted to visit Venice for a long time and the Loire valley in France turned out to be equally as magical.  Since there is so much to share, I decided to break this post into two parts.  First up, Venice.
We flew into Marco Polo airport (via Frankfurt) and took the express bus into the Piazzale Roma which is the main transportation hub for the city.  From there, we hopped on one of the water taxis to our hotel.   Finding the right transportation into Venice took a lot of research.  But, I'm happy with the choice that I made.  I purchased the bus tickets right from a machine in the airport and we were at the Piazzale Roma in just about 30 minutes.  From there it was about another 30 minutes to our hotel......but, what a 30 minutes it was!  The Grand Canal was amazing!                             The hotel I selected (Hotel Violino D'Oro) worked out well.  It had a complimentary breakfast included and was within ten minutes of St. Mark's square.  We were furthest away from the Rialto bridge, but we found that area to be the most congested so it all worked out great.     We'd start the day early, with full bellies from breakfast and go all day long.   As always, I had a planned itinerary for each day, with some wiggle room if needed.   I had one organized tour planned (a visit to the Doge's Palace and Secret Itineraries), but the rest was "self-guided".
 
We purchased full day water taxi tickets another day (the most economical) to expolore two of the many surrounding islands.  We went to Murano, which is known for it's glass making and Burano for it's lace making.    Both were very unique.  My daughter and I favored Burano....it's so colorful!  Another "must see" for me back in Venice was St. Mark's Basilica and the Campanile.  I really enjoyed going up in the Campanile.  The views were amazing! I highly advise purchasing the tickets online so you can "skip the line".   Not only did we not waste time standing in line, but it allowed us to plan the rest of our day, knowing when we needed to be back for our reserved time.                                                            

We walked on average seven miles each day.  Walking is truly the best way to see the city!  There was one other water taxi ticket we purchased since there was a church I really wanted to see (Basilica dei Frari or Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari) on the other side of the canal and we had been walking in circles (BTW...google maps is not the best way to navigate, it gets very confused with all the water).   We also did what many guide books and blogs recommend and that's to get lost.  It truly was fun, and we were able to find our way home each time.  We also found some great hidden gelato shops off the beaten path!                                                                                                                         
I guess my best advice is to be prepared for crowds.  And, in a city with as much water as it has, and tiny little streets, alleyways, and bridges, it's crazy!  Especially when people want to stop for selfies on the bridges.  We've been really lucky avoiding the peak travel season by traveling in April/May each year.  I thought by traveling right after Easter we'd miss the crowds.  Not true.  It was crazy.  And, we ran into a celebration which I wasn't aware of on April 25th.  Liberation Day.  A holiday commemorating the end of Nazi occupation during WWII.

It's similar to our Independence Day with lots of pomp and branches of the military in St. Mark's square.  It was fun seeing it....but it obviously brought in the crowds too. 
 My second piece of advice is to start early.  The large groups didn't seem to make their way out until about 10:30ish.   Getting up as early as we did, we took advantage of the quiet streets early in the mornings.

We spent 3 days and 4 nights in Venice and personally I thought that was the perfect amount of time.  Don't forget to try some cicchetti while you're there.  It's Italy's version of Spain's tapas.  It was perfect for us on a couple of occasions.  Try a glass of wine, a bellini or aperol spritz with it and you're good. 

Because we had an early morning flight, I chose to splurge on our departure with a private water taxi to the aiport.  It arrived at a pier literally three minutes from our hotel and took us to the airport.  It was a great way to end our visit!