Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Colonial Potato Wreath

Cotton blossoms, white pine, bittersweet and antlers

This year Christmas was spent in Chesapeake with my boyfriend's awesome family. A dinner in Colonial Williamsburg was a real treat as I had never been at Christmas and they are quite famous for their natural and authentic decorations- so, word to the wise: be sure to arrive before nightfall- colonial times did not include Christmas lights.

 We just loved the decorations and kept trying to figure out all the fruit, vegetables, dried flowers and other ornamentals that comprised each wreath. Pomegranates, oysters, apples, artichokes, bread rolls, playing cards, sliced and dried clementines, and even some burlap and woven wool were mixed into white pine, boxwood and fraiser fir wreaths. We were in love and vowed to make our own versions next year.

Natural wreaths and my momma

But then we got an idea. One hearty vegetable had been overlooked and we couldn't find one single potato in those adornments. Maybe they didn't have pretty potatoes back in the day, but today, you can pick up some gorgeous pink and purple potatoes in just about any grocery store. On our way back from dinner, we stopped off to get the necessary stuff to make our own natural wreath and here is what we came up with:

Do you love it? I love it. It's a freaking edible potato wreath! I have some ideas on how to improve the wreath for next year, but I would say this was a huge success. Looks good with a candle too. 

Tag's Potato Wreath
If possible, get similar sized potatoes which will help them roast evenly when you decide to cook the wreath.
  • Assortment of mini white, red and purple potatoes
  • 3-4 springs of rosemary
  • 2 disposable pie dishes
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper
  • Garlic powder
Using some kitchen sheers or scissors, cut a line through the middle leaving about 3 inches to the edge of the pie dish on both sides. Cut a few more lines through the middle of that line until you can easily bend the pointy edges back onto themselves (towards the edge of the pie dish) to create a sort of edge around the middle of the dish. You can kinda see this in the first picture of the wreath above. Do this with 2 pie dishes for some added support. Stack the pie dishes on top of one another.

Wash and scrub your potatoes and start adding them to the ring, making sure to alternate the colors. Add some springs of rosemary in and round the potatoes, trying to mask the edge of the pie dish.

At this point you can leave the wreath on a table for a few days before the rosemary starts wilting. If you'd like to keep it longer, you can either some water to the base of the ring or stick the rosemary stems in some water tubes hidden under the potatoes.

Once you are ready to eat the wreath, just add over the top, a tablespoon or two of olive oil, some salt, pepper and maybe a few shakes of garlic powder and roast in your oven set at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes or until tender. If some of your potatoes are much larger, you might want to cut them in half to ensure even cooking.

I left before the wreath was cooked but I imagine it was gorgeous on the table and tasty on the plate!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Mushroom Ornament

Deciding to make all my Christmas gifts this year has been a lot of fun. And work. But mostly fun. It also means that I'm constantly in a crafty mood and mindset so when I see something cute that I could make, I have to make it. I was explaining to a co-worker that my plan was to have everything done by the 19th so I could sit around and do nothing until Christmas and he laughed saying that even if I got everything checked off my list, I would just find more to do. And he's totally right. Did I need to make these adorable mushroom ornaments which have no pre-determined recipient? Not really. But boy are they cute and I'm very glad I did.

Mushroom Ornaments 
A vice really helps make this an easy project. So does the dremmel.... But if you're not concerned with the longevity of your ornament, you could skip the drilling and just hot glue the two pieces together and call it a day.
If you gather all your materials beforehand this can be a pretty quick project. Start by wedging a paper napkin or cloth into your vice to hold the mushroom cap (otherwise the vice will indent the wood). Close the vice tight enough to just hold the wood in place.

Using the sanding attachment on your dremmel, drill into the hole to enlarge it and shape it to fit the top of your robin egg.

Test it out. Once you can kinda wedge the robing egg into the mushroom cap, sand both sides. Sanding the edges will make it easier for the glue to bond them together.

Glue the mushroom cap to the robin egg with a little bit of gorilla super glue on both sides. Use a rubber-band to hold the pieces together while they dry. It should take about 20 minutes. If you're working outside, bring the project inside to dry (the cold will mess with the glue).

Once dry, flip your mushrooms over and use the vice to secure them while you paint. I wanted my mushroom to keep the natural feeling of wood so I barely watered down some red acrylic paint and added a layer to the mushroom cap. Once the paint dried I screwed in the eye hook, then I randomly added the white dots in batches so I could sprinkle on some glitter before the paint dried.

And there you have it! A wooden mushroom ornament for your tree, for a package of for someone you love. 

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Homemade Wrapping Paper

 I've been wanting to make my own wrapping paper since last Christmas and since this year I will be strapped for cash (student loans, you know) I decided to make all my Christmas gifts- including the trimmings. I wish I could share some of the awesome gifts I've been making but I can't spoil anyone's surpise- especially since I would bet that about 95% of my readers are people who will be gifted something (Hi Mom! Hi Kris! Hi Tag!).

The first part of making your own wrapping paper is sourcing some cheap butcher's paper or mailing paper. My mom procured a giant roll of this brown paper at a paint store (paint for your walls, not crafting). I've also seen smaller rolls in the office supply aisles of grocery stores. Find it, buy it!

Snowflake Wrapping Paper
Glitter is always welcome in this project.
  • butcher's paper
  • a few sheets of printer paper
  • scissors
  • white paint
  • a wide paint brush
Start off by cutting a few snowflakes out of paper. It wasn't until last year that I learned of the best way to fold your paper for awesome snowflakes. If you click here, you can cut out your own virtual snowflake and  also see a little animation (it's fast!) showing you exactly how to fold your paper for maximum impact. Martha Stewart has some clear instructions on her website too.

Once you have about 6 large snowflakes and 4 small snowflakes, spread some white paint onto a plate and swirl it around with a wide, dry paint brush. My brush was about 1 inch wide. Hold the snowflake in place on the butcher's paper as you carefully paint over it. You can either do long strokes or you can use the brush like a sponge and stipple it straight down (as shown below).

White snow flake painted over with white paint
Let the paint dry for a few moments. You can add another snowflake while you wait for the current one to dry. After a few minutes, gently peel away the snowflake, trying to keep it intact, while not smudging the paint. If you can salvage the snowflake, you can re-use it immediately. Otherwise, just toss it.

I was able to reuse this sucker a few more times

And voila! You've got your snowflake impression! Now just repeat this a few more (dozen) times and you can make rolls and rolls of beautiful wrapping paper!

Mistletoe Wrapping Paper
Glitter and metallic paint is most welcome here
  • butcher's paper
  • a few potatoes
  • paring knife
  • pencil
  • green & white paint
  • clear or white glitter
  • paintbrush

It's potato stamp time! I had never made one and it turns out to be super easy. Just take any potato, making sure it's big enough to accommodate your stamp.Slice off a piece to create a long flat edge. Use a pencil to carefully trace out your design. The lead won't actually imprint, so just use the tip to mark into the potato. Then use a pairing knife to start whittling away the potato, like you're carving wood (not that I've ever carved wood before....). Now you're ready to stamp! Sooo just go nuts! I put two kinds of greens on a plate and swirled them together (not that you can really tell) and blotted the stamps right into the paint. You can also use a paintbrush to paint the stamps.

Delicate potato stamps
Keep going! *stamp* *stamp* *stamp*

Once you've reached the bottom of the paper, you can start adding the berries, which I did using the eraser side of a clean pencil. 

Before the berries dry, dust the tops with glitter! By now your green leaves should be dry, so go nuts with that glitter. Once you're finished, use the paper to funnel the glitter back into the container (if you can/care).

 And that's all there is to it! I kept thinking of other potato stamps I might like to try- maybe some boxwood topiaries with silver balls or a little Scottie Dog.

All wrapped up!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Pralines- Not the French Kind

These treats are so god damn good. There I said it. But have you ever had one? I hadn't until Kris and I went to New Orleans for our anniversary back in February. We took a cooking class that I literally had to drag Kris to.. "But it's all old people!" He was glad in the end because we had these and I now know how to make em. Now you can too. 

For Pete's (and your teeth's) sake have this with unsweetened coffee

The teacher in our class said that these last about a day (mostly because she can't keep her sons away from them). But I've found that they remain tasty for at least 3 days- I haven't managed to keep any in my house beyond that. Piled high in some cellophane bags, gussied up with a bow, these would make an amazing hostess gift.

And if you need to fancify them further, I hear you can dip them in chocolate. The heck you say?

Adapted from The New Orleans School of Cooking
Makes 1-50 depending on size
Pronounced praw-leens. When spooning out the mixture, work quickly or the pralines will turn extra cloudy and the sugar will harden into clumps. Still tasty though!

1 1/2 cups white sugar
3/4 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup milk
6 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups pecans
1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine all the ingredients in a deep saucepan fitted with a candy thermometer, heat over medium-high heat. While STIRRING CONSTANTLY bring the mixture to a softball stage (238 - 240 degrees). Remove from heat.

Continue stirring until the mixture thickens slightly and turns cloudy- pecans should stay suspended. Spoon the pralines out one by one onto a silpat or some parchment paper. They can be any size but I aim for about 1 inches in diameter. Leave the pralines to cool and harden for about 1 hour. Peel off of silpat and store in an airtight container. Keeps for at least 3 days.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

RAW Brussel Sprout Salad

Due to tremendous demand, I have pushed aside the PILE of other posts I had lined up and now bring you my now famous and widely coveted Brussel Sprout Salad with Pomegranates and Candied Pecans. I really don't see what's not to like in this salad. Brussel Sprout haters? Bet you've never tried it raw- am I right? And you know what- raw brussel sprouts aren't like raw kale where your jaw gets a workout and your innards get a good scrubbing. This salad reminds me of a coleslaw- rough greens with a tangy dressing and lots of delicious little goodies. And if you insist, go ahead and add some bacon- it wouldn't be amiss.

Brussel Sprout Salad with Pomegranate Seeds and Candied Pecans
Inspired by a salad from Radish in Williamsburg, NY
I dressed this salad up for Thanksgiving with candied pecans, but for an everyday salad just throw in some toasted walnuts. It's all good. And the dressing asks for white balsamic vinegar but this is to avoid muddying up the salad. I've made this a couple times and still haven't procured any white balsamic vinegar... do as I say not as I do- am I right?!

For the Salad
  • 1 overflowing pint of Brussel Sprouts
  • 1 Pomegranate

For the Shallot Dressing
  • 1/4 cup minced shallots
  • 3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar (or regular)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground white pepper (or black)

For the Candied Pecans
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
These nuts are very easy to make and make a great gift. Just add mason jar + ribbon!
  • 1/3 cup dark-brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt 
  • Generous pinch of cayenne pepper 
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 pound pecan halves
  • 1 egg white, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon water
Start off by making the candied pecans. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees

Combine the sugar, salt, cayenne pepper and cinnamon making sure there are no lumps. In a medium bowl whisk together the egg white and water until frothy. Add the nuts to the egg white mixture and mix until coated. Sprinkle the sugar mixture on top and keep adding it everything is nicely coated. Spread onto a parchment lined baking sheet, making sure the nuts are in one layer. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid clumps of sugar nuts. Remove from oven and let cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

For the dressing, combine all the ingredients in a mason jar and shake vigorously until emulsified. Set aside

To remove the seeds from the pomegranate, fill a large bowl with water. Carefully cut the pomegranate in quarters. Working underwater, tear the quarters apart, releasing the seeds. The white pith will float to the top and the seeds will sink. Once you've freed all the seeds use a fine mesh strainer to strain out the pith floating at the top, then poor the water out through the strainer to catch the seeds. Rest the strainer over the bowl to dry the seeds while you finish the salad. 

The easiest way to cut the brussel sprouts is to use a food processor. Wash and trim the brussel sprouts and feed them through the food processor tube fitted with the slicing attachment. If you don't have a food processor, you can use a mandolin or a knife! Just slice as thin as you can manage. 

Toss the shredded brussel sprouts about 3/4 of the pomegranate seeds and 1/2 the dressing to start. Once you are happy with the ratios, top with a good handful of the candied pecans. 

This salad keeps pretty well in the fridge for a few days. 

No, not the slider- the salad beside it!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Double Apple Pork Shoulder

Sliders! and Brussel Sprouts!! Did I lose you there? I hope not because the brussel sprouts aren't even here yet- now it's all about a roasted pork shoulder and sliders!

This recipe clearly necessitates some planning as it needs 5 hours in the oven, but it is super simple and if you can think to throw this in the oven while making dinner on a Tuesday- you can eat for the rest of the week.

And that salad on the side? It's an adaptation from one of my favorite shops in Brooklyn- Radish. I loved the idea behind their Raw Brussel Sprout Salad with Pomegranate Seeds and Walnuts and so I kinda kicked it up a few notches and made a better version ifIdosaysomyself. It was so good, we had it for Thanksgiving too.

Double Apple Pork Shoulder Sliders
Adapted from
If you don't have Pickled-Candied Apples, try getting your hands on some pomegranate molasses.

For the Pork Shoulder

Combine the wet ingredients and massage it into the pork. Place the shoulder into an oven dish and bake at 275 degree for about 5 hours or until the pork can easily be pulled apart. Pull the pork apart with 2 forks.

For the Sliders
  • mini slider buns
  • Roasted Apple Butter
  • Dijonnaise (or combine some Dijon Mustard with Mayo to make your own)
Toast your buns under a broiler for about 2 minutes. Do not look away! Slather about 1 tsp of Dijonnaise on one side of your bun and slather maybe 2 tsp of Apple Butter on the other side. Pile on as much of the pulled pork shoulder as you can manage and secure everything between the two buns. Use toothpicks if necessary. 


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Mini Nut Wreaths

Last year I made a nut wreath for my front door. Then I made one for my Secret Santa recipient. See, I worked for a historic site that has a squirrel as a mascot. I thought I was being terribly clever. This year I couldn't wait to pull out the wreath again and when I did I thought that it would be fun to have some mini-wreaths to decorate the indoors. 

They are the perfect size for pillar candles. And any unused nuts make for a great seasonal and decorative but bowl- Just add a nut cracker and an empty bowl for people to discard the shells.

And if you want to get extra merry- add some fake berries!

Mini Nut Wreaths
  • Nuts! Almonds, Walnuts, Hazelnuts and Brazil Nuts
  • Mini-wreath ($1.99 at Micheal's)
  • Hot glue gun and glue
  • Branch of fake berries ($1.99 at Micheal's) 
  • Pliers
  • Pillar candle
Place you pillar candle in the middle of the wreath to make sure it fits once all the nuts have been added. Use your hot glue gun to add the nuts.Work in sections, beginning with the walnuts and brazil nuts, filling in with the hazelnuts and almonds. Once you've made it all the way around, you can begin adding the fake berries. Use the pliers to clip the berry sprigs off of the branch. It helps to periodically place the wreath on a dinning room table and sit down to see if there are any big open spots- I had to adjust my nuts and berries to fill in the bottom.