Sunday, January 31, 2010

How To: Make a Shrug from a T-Shirt

I found this quick and easy, not to mention super cute, sewing project at Cut Out & Keep, a craft tutorial site full of fun ideas. This t-shirt shrug is their most viewed project and third most popular and for good reason. It adorable and easy. I bought a $5 clearance shirt at Wal-Mart, but this would be great for the shirt you still love, but got shrunk in the dryer. Don't you hate that? Now you can give it a new life.

This is a perfect "first sewing project" for any age. I started sewing when I was about 10 years old, and this would have been an ideal project. I attempted to make a shirt from scratch with just two pieces of fabric, one for the front, one for the back. It hitched up in the armpits and was just about impossible to get in and out of. But hey, I tried! This would be much better. It actually fits!

When I saw this project, I immediately thought of dance class. It's often chilly in the studio in the winter, at least at the start of class, and I usually wear a cardigan or hoodie. This is a MUCH better alternative, which is why I went with a long sleeve shirt.

Lets get started. Here's what you'll need:

T-shirt, long or short sleeves, round or v-neck. (I used a ribbed shirt which might be a little harder to work with if you've never sewn before, so it's best to stick with a basic t-shirt knit if you're a novice sewer.)

Thread - matching or contrasting. Just remember that matching will blend so you won't see any imperfections.
2 yards ribbon or cord - I used drawstring like you'd find in a sweat shirt. If you want a less utilitarian look, opt for ribbon. 

Cut the shirt up the front in the center and around the collar.

Turn the shirt inside out. Fold cut edge in about 3/4" – 1". Because this is knit, you don't have to worry about it fraying. You don't need to make a traditional finished hem.

Here's where I ran into a slight problem and my first suggestion. There's a hard corner where the collar met the shirt. I ended up rounding it off a bit.

But I would recommend rounding it even more. I adjusted for the transition by gathering the edge a bit and could have done that a bit more to soften the transition. But if you round it out first, you'll eliminate the need or reduce it.

In order to match the other side, I took the piece I cut from the first side, matched it up, and cut along the same line. Much easier than eyeballing it.

Continue pinning all round.

Sewing time. This is the quickest part. Create a running stitch along the hem leaving enough room for the ribbon or cord. Double back on any corners and at the beginning and end. This just reinforces those areas. Trim the thread and turn the shirt right side out.

Put a safety pin at the end of the ribbon or cord and start threading it through the channel.
shrug-finished string

Done! But don't cut the ribbon until you've tried on the shirt! Leave the ends long until you know how much you need. Oh, and if you have kitties nearby, cut a piece for them before you start. That way they'll leave you alone while you work.
kitties string1

Try it on, adjust the ribbon as needed and bask in the glow of a job well done. Easy-peasy!

I must say that this is one of the very, very, very, very few times when being small-chested is a plus. The gathers are very flattering as is the neck line. That isn't to say you can't wear this if you have normal, adult female size breasts. You'll just have more of a va-va-voom thing going on.

Go forth and sew. And check out the original project page for lots of inspiration for kinds of shirts as well as ribbon and embellishment ideas.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Kahlua Chocolate Chip Cookies

Perhaps not surprisingly, I've always loved to bake, especially cookies. I've been making Toll House chocolate chip cookies for just about as long as I can remember. I memorized the recipe by the time I was about 12 years old and have only strayed from it a few times. I flirted with the legendary Neiman Marcus cookies (this version) — and completely believed the story the first time I heard it, long before the advent of viral email. Before the advent of email, period, at least for me. I've bookmarked countless others and have read many rave reviews of the infamous New York Times version. (I'd still like to give that one a shot.)

But I always come back to the back of the chocolate morsels bag, knowing I'll get a good chocolate chip cookie without having to wait for an overnight chill down in the refrigerator (one of the "secrets" to the NYT recipe).

No, this probably isn't the BEST chocolate chip cookie recipe ever, but it's very, very good. It is a twist on the Toll House recipe, kicking up the flavor a bit with Kahlua and espresso powder. They're best fresh from the oven, not surprisingly, but you can get that fresh-from-the-oven gooey-ness by nuking them in the microwave for about 10 seconds. Mmmm...

Kahlua Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
3 tablespoons Kahlua or other coffee liquor
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F. In medium bowl, whisk together flour, espresso, cinnamon, soda and salt. Set aside. In large mixing bowl or stand mixer, beat butter until smooth, then add both sugars. Beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition, then add liquor. Add dry mix to creamed mixture and beat well. The dough will be pretty stiff. Mix in chocolate chips.

Drop by tablespoon on to parchment lined baking sheet. Bake 9 minutes, or until just turning golden brown, erring on the side of slightly underbaked. Pull pan from oven and let rest on sheet about 4 minutes. Remove cookies from sheet to cool on wire racks. Cool pan before next batch. I have two sheet pans going, one in the oven, one cooling. It takes a bit longer, but works better to have the pan cooled down. It can be a bit warm, just not hot.

Makes approximately 48-52 cookies. I got about 52 using my medium Pampered Chef scoop.

mini cake stand
Now let's talk about this adorable cake stand for a minute, shall we? It was a present from my mom and dad for Christmas. In fact, they got me all kinds of totally adorable baking goodies.

Look at this!
xmas loot
The cake stand, cute labels, goody boxes, cupcake liners... and .... the cupcake stand. Isn't it crazy adorable? Unfortunately no one got a picture of my reactions to these gifts as I was opening them. It would have been hilarious. I squealed and clapped like a 2 year old at her birthday. I couldn't help it. I mean, LOOK at that stuff. Isn't it great?!

Monday, January 25, 2010

BBA Challenge Bread #24 — Panettone

Bread #24, eh? Yep, I'm out of order with posting because I skipped this bread when it came around. Panettone, at least this version, calls for a wild yeast starter and I didn't have mine ready in time. I managed to get my starter alive and well after a brief flirtation with disaster. Turns out, as with most things in the challenge, I just needed to be patient.

I'm baking my way through Peter Reinhart's award winning book, The Bread Baker's Apprentice, along with 200+ other amateur bakers (maybe not that many anymore-it's hard to telll!). Want to join in the madness, or just learn more about this semi-crazy undertaking? Check out the following links:

As you may or may not know, Panettone is a rich, Italian, fruit-filled bread traditionally made and consumed at Christmas time. Apparently you can buy loaves of the stuff, packaged up in a box, just about anywhere. I happened to see loaves at–get this–CVS. Because that's where you'd go to buy Panettone, right? A drug store? Yikes.

I knew it wasn't like "fruit bread" fruit bread. Not a brick of candied grodiness. I'd seen recipes before and was intrigued by the idea —lots of booze soaked fruit in a slightly sweet, rich yeast bread. Sign me up! But it looked rather complicated, at least some of the recipes I'd seen. You bake them in special papers then rig a place to hang them upside down. Hunh?? Yeah, that part threw me. Fortunately, Peter Reinhart's recipe doesn't call for this step. Phew. 

I'd read some of the other baker's accounts and it was hit and miss, so I opted to halve the recipe. I picked up a bag of Welch's mixed fruit and soaked about cup of it in some whiskey (along with orange, lemon and vanilla extracts). You can use brandy, rum or whiskey. I think I would have preferred brandy, but didn't have any on hand. We'd used it all to make lots and lots of eggnog. It was totally worth it.
panettone-dried fruit

Anyway, back to the bread. At the same time I started soaking the fruit, I mixed up the sponge, a combination of the wild yeast starter, milk and flour. Both sat overnight for the next day's preparations. The rest of the ingredients—flour, salt, water, sugar, butter and eggs—are combined with the sponge. After a few minutes, the fruit and nuts are kneaded in. The dough then ferments about 2 hours, getting only about 1-1/2 times it's original size.

Then comes the shaping. I should have kept the dough in one hunk, but thought I'd be OK to make a small loaf and some rolls since the full recipe will make 2 large loaves. The poor loaf barely filled the 6" pan. I didn't even need the parchment collar. 
panettone-OH in pan

They all baked up nicely and smelled great. But how did they taste? Well, it was a mixed review for me. The rolls were awfully dry. This was a common complaint from many BBA Bakers. But the loaf was better. That seemed to be the trick. Keep the loaves large and they won't be so dry. One of the nice things about this bread is that it keeps a long time (no kidding, the folks at CVS know all about that), about 2 weeks. It's also supposed to make really good bread pudding. Now THAT I can see. The dryness wouldn't be a factor and the fruit and nuts would be perfect. Maybe next time. I might give this another go and stick with a larger loaf. Lord knows I love the rich, fruit-filled breads. It probably deserves another shot!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

BBA Challenge Bread #28—Potato Rosemary Bread

PRB rolls crumb

Yet another winner from the tome that is The Bread Baker's Apprentice. Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread. This formula, Potato Rosemary Bread, is indeed extraordinary and worth repeating. Just looking at the photos again makes me want to bust out the garlic, rosemary, mashed potatoes and other nummy ingredients and make this one again – pronto. I think you should do the same!

I'm (slowly) baking my way through Peter Reinhart's award winning book, The Bread Baker's Apprentice, along with 200+ other amateur bakers (maybe not that many anymore-it's hard to telll!). Want to join in the madness, or just learn more about this semi-crazy undertaking? Check out the following links:
First off, the name of this bread is a bit of a misnomer and is missing the best ingredient – GARLIC. And not just garlic, ROASTED garlic. Granted, it is an optional ingredient, but come on. It's roasted garlic, people, which should never, ever be optional. Ever. Or if it is "optional" it should be like the specifications in a bunch of the RV literature I deal with at work. They list "mandatory options" which, let's face it, is a total oxymoron. Don't be an oxymoron. Roast up some garlic when you make this bread. It's the right thing to do. AND it's super simple.
    PRB garlic peeling
    Grab a head of garlic, pull all the papery outsides off and split apart the cloves. Pop them in an oiled pan, drizzle some oil over the cloves and pop in the oven. I used the toaster oven set at 325 or 350°F (can't remember). Here's the tutorial I followed from King Arthur Flour, thanks to the heads up from fellow BBA Baker, Paul at Yumarama.

    PRB garlic roasted

    Squish the now-roasted garlic out of their jackets. Stick your face over the top of the plate and inhale. Close your eyes, smile and sigh. All's right with the world at that very moment.

    Moving on.
    PRB rosemary

    The recipe calls for fresh rosemary but I couldn't find any at the store, so I grabbed my trusty Penzey's dried rosemary. Open the top, inhale, smile and sigh. Good stuff.

    PRB ingredients
    Here are all of the component parts, or most of them at any rate. As you'll notice, this bread utilizes a preferment – biga – to help develop the flavor of the dough. I was conservative with the rosemary since I was using dried. Dried = more intense. After tasting the bread, though, I could have easily doubled it (for my taste, anyway) since I thought it could handle a more robust rosemary flavor.

    PRB kneading sequence
    Same with the garlic. I'd double this next time. It could have used an extra garlicy kick.

    After kneading in the garlic and letting it ferment, I decided to split the dough in half.

    PRB rolls
    Half for rolls.
    PRB boule
    Half for a boule. (This is a quarter sheet pan, so the loaf is not as big as you might think.)

    PRB rolls proofedPRB boule proofed slashed

    Proofed and ready for the oven.

    PRB rolls baked
    PRB boule baked
    All done and rather gorgeous looking, don't you think? But let me tell you about how they SMELLED. Divine, that's how. The crust was crusty and delicious. The crumb was soft and delicious. It was delicious. The ONLY thing I was a bit disappointed about was that I wish I'd used more garlic and rosemary. But it was still fantastic. This one's a keeper, for sure!

    Check out some other heavenly loaves at these BBA Baker's blogs!
    Paul at Yumarama
    Emily at Ready to Wait

    p.s. Sorry for the weird, al-over-the-place formatting of this post. Blogger hates me. Or something. Anyway, I'm hoping to figure out why font sizes won't hold and all that jazz.

    Thursday, January 7, 2010

    A Sample Conversation

    D: I'm going to have to work late.

    Me: Me, too.

    D: You wanna have them deliver a big bucket of fried chicken?
    *gesturing with his arms wide spread*

    Me: *whiny* Noooo, we had chicken LAST night and I had chicken for LUNCH yesterday...

    D: *looking at me intently* FRIED chicken.

    Me: *burst out laughing*

    D: *laughing* It's a COMPLETELY different thing.

    Sunday, January 3, 2010

    Low-Fat, Low-Sugar Chocolate Toffee Scones

    scones-small plate

    Now that it's the first of the year and oodles of folks are vowing to get in shape and eat right, it's tough to think about giving up all of your favorites. Moderation is the key, and these scones will keep you on track without feeling deprived.

    I haven't made these for years, but something got me thinking about scones yesterday and I just had to make them again. This is a recipe I adapted from who-knows-where but I found something very similar on Recipezaar. I'm 99.9% positive it's not where I got the original, but it's very close. Maybe the person that posted it found it the same place I did. Regardless, I slimmed it down and think they turned out pretty good.

    If you're looking for a Starbucks-like scone, this isn't it. It's not biscuit-like because there's no butter. WHAT? A scone without butter? Some might not even consider this a true scone, but it's a great, better-for-you substitution when you're jonesing for some baked goods with your morning coffee or afternoon tea. scones-platter

    Low-Fat Low-Sugar Chocolate Toffee Scones
    Feel free to use real sugar in place of the Splenda. I know there are many people out there vehemently opposed to the stuff. Just sub equal amounts of sugar. If you're not worried about the "low-fat" part of it, you can use whipping cream in place of the milk.
    1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour
    1/2 cup Splenda
    1 tablespoon baking powder
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1/2 cup Heath toffee bits
    1-1/2 cups 1% milk (you can see from the photo that I used fat free milk - I substituted a scant 1/4 cup half and half for some of the milk)
    Optional: turbinado sugar, 1T butter or milk for tops

    Preheat oven to 375°F. line large baking sheet with parchment or use a large baking stone. Whisk together flours, Splenda, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add toffee bits. In stand mixer or with hand mixer, beat milk until peaks form. It won't be like whipping cream. Mainly you'll get lots of foamy milk, creating lots of volume - that's why you'll need a large mixing bowl. Add whipped milk to dry ingredients, mix until combined.
     whipped milk
    Turn out on to generously floured counter and knead until a soft dough forms, about 1-2 minutes. It's going to be sticky. That's OK. Use just enough flour to keep it from sticking to you and the counter. A bench scraper comes in very handy here!
    scones-dough before knead
    Divide dough in half and roll into 1/2" rounds. Cut into 8 pieces and place on lined baking sheet or stone. They can be close together; they rise up and not out. Repeat with other half of dough.
    scones-split dough
    scones-on stone
    Brush with milk or butter and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. I forgot this step and pulled out the sheet after they'd cooked a few minutes and used milk and sugar on half. On the other half, I waited until they'd completely baked, then brushed lightly with butter and sprinkled with sugar. Note that the milk-brushed scones "crackled".

    Bake for about 20 minutes, until scones rise and turn lightly golden brown. Serve immediately or cool completely on racks and store in airtight container. Yields 16 scones.


    Dwight enjoyed these, too.

    D: I like these better than the others.
    Me: Others?
    D: Other scones I've had. Maybe the were different. They were really dry.
    Me: Yeah, these don't have any butter so they're not like other scones. Like biscuits.

    And then he ate another one. See, even dudes like these scones. They're not crumbly or rich. They're almost cake-like and have a nice, subtly sweet flavor. If you divide this recipe into 24 pieces instead of 16, they're about 90 calories each, have 2 grams of fat and 1 gram fiber, based on previous calculations. Those numbers might not be absolutely accurate, but they're close.

    Give them a try and let me know what you think!
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