Koekohe Beach, Otago Coast
South Island, New Zealand
Koekohe Beach, Otago Coast
Nothing says holiday like a little sparkle so this year I decided to design my holiday cards using black cardstock and gold foil. For an extra touch I also added some evergreen branches that I drew with colored pencils.
To apply the foil design I used my Heidi Swapp Minc Foil Applicator. I started by making designing my card with scattered small dots across the left and my holiday greeting in the lower right corner. I made my cards 5"x7" and fit two on a page. I then printed my card using my laser printer onto black cardstock. The Minc reacts to the toner of laser printing so it won't work with an ink jet printer but you can always bring your print to a copy store to make laser printed copies.
Next I drew my evergreen branches using colored pencils. I started by using brown to draw some branches along the side of the card. I then used light colored green to add pine needles and then added a little shading with a slightly darker colored green.
When I was experimenting with making the cards I tried drawing the evergreens first and then laser printing the design but I found I had much better results when I did the laser printing first.
With the evergreens drawn I placed my cardstock into my Minc transfer folder, layered some gold reactive foil on top, and fed it into my Minc using a setting of 3.
About a minute later it was done and I could peel back the foil to see the gold design where I the laser print had been.
After I trimmed down my cards to size they were complete.
To send off my cards I used black A7 envelopes I purchased at my local stationary shop, Rock Paper Scissors. As an aside, if you are ever in Ann Arbor you should definitely stop to visit it as well as its sister store, Bed & Butter, which is an amazing shop to pick up things for your home. To match the gold foil on the cards I addressed the envelopes with a gold metallic Sharpie.
I really like how the cards turned out. The gold foil is festive and the hand drawn evergreens are a personal touch and make each card unique. Now I'm off to the post office to drop them in the mail...
I like to cook but I love to make desserts. Whether it is a work potluck or a family dinner I always sign up for making dessert. This past summer I made a berry mint cream tart to bring to a picnic. I loved the recipe and thought it would be fun to adapt the flavor to cranberry orange for the winter plus beef up the pastry a bit since I like a thicker crust. The result was a beautiful tart that tasted even better than it looked. It is definitely time consuming but worth the effort for a special occasion. I made this for Thanksgiving but I think it would also be fantastic for Christmas dinner or a New Years party.
5 cups fresh cranberries
4 cups sugar, divided
3 cups caster (superfine) sugar
3 cups water
1 cup milk
zest of 2 large oranges
3 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
1/2 cup heavy cream, chilled
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
raw rice or pie weights for weighting down the shell
- Make a simple syrup by heating the water and 3 cups of sugar in a pot until all the sugar dissolves
- After letting the simple syrup cool for ten minutes pour the cranberries into the pot
- Allow cranberries to steep for at least two hours
- Pour the caster sugar in a shallow dish, drain cranberries and then roll them in the caster sugar until coated
- Place sugared cranberries on wax paper and allow to dry
- Pour milk in a small saucepan and grate the peel of the oranges directly into the milk
- Bring the milk to a boil, remove from heat and then let stand for five minutes
- In a separate saucepan whisk together the egg yolks, 1/2 cup sugar, cornstarch and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Whisking constantly bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat causing the mixture to become very thick
- Continue to whisk the pastry cream while simmering for three minutes
- Place the pastry cream in a bowl, cover the surface with plastic wrap and then refrigerate until cool and firm
- Beat heavy cream until stiff peaks are formed
- Whisk pastry cream until it is smooth and then fold in the whipping cream until thouroughly incorporated
- Cream the butter with 1/2 cup sugar, salt and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Mix in the flour until a soft dough forms
- Butter a 10-inch tart pan with a removable fluted rim
- Press the dough in the tart pan covering the bottom and up the side of the pan
- Chill the shell for 30 minutes and prick the shell all over with a fork
- Line the shell with foil and fill the foil with the rice or pastry weights
- Bake the shell on the lower rack of a preheated 375°F oven for 15 minutes
- Carefully remove the foil (with the rice or pastry weights)
- Continue to bake for an additional 10-12 minutes until it is crisp and golden
- Allow the shell to cool on a rack for 5 minutes, remove the side of the pan and then cool completely
- Spread the orange cream into the bottom of the tart shell using a spatula
- Gently place sugared cranberries on top of the orange cream, covering the entire tart
Tips and Tricks
- Make sure that the simple syrup has cooled sufficiently before adding the cranberries otherwise you run the risk of the skins splitting
- For efficient time flow I recommend arranging the work as follows
1) Prepare the simple syrup and let the cranberries steep
2) Prepare the orange cream up to the point that the pastry cream is chilled in the refrigerator
3) Make the tart pastry dough and chill
4) Roll the cranberries in the caster sugar
5) Bake the pastry shell and allow it to cool
6) Finish the orange cream with the whipping cream
7) Assemble the tart
- To make sure that there are no gaps of orange cream showing along the edges I like to place a row of cranberries around the perimeter of the tart first and then fill in the center
At the end of August I was back in Japan for a business trip. At the end of a long work week I was looking forward to a fun weekend of sightseeing before heading home Sunday afternoon.
I wanted to visit Sado Island on Saturday so I planned to stay in the city of Niigata (新潟) on Friday night to be able to grab the first ferry to the island in the morning. After arriving in Niigata and checking into my hotel I decided to venture out a bit since the night was still young. In doing a little research on Niigata I had read about Ponshukan (ぽんしゅ館), which offered sake tasting. Niigata prefecture is famous for its rice and sake so it seemed like a great way to enjoy the evening.
In Japan there is a vending machine for just about everything so I wasn't too surprised to learn upon arriving that the sake tasting was done by vending machine. For ¥500 (about 4 USD) I got five tokens and a little tasting cup with each tasting costing one token.
After paying my money and receiving my sake cup and tokens I was ready to start but with over a hundred types of sake from Niigata prefecture to choose from it was hard to know where to begin. Each sake had a number assigned to it for easy identification. After walking around a bit I randomly decided to try number 50 (越後長岡藩, Echigo Nagaoka-han).
Pouring the sake was quite easy. First you place the cup so that it sits in the hole in the metal grate. After you deposit your gold token you press and hold the yellow button until the sake finishes pouring.
After my first tasting I noticed two huge chalkboards off to the side. The left side had staff recommendations and the right side had the top ten rankings from the previous month. I decided that this might be a better guide for my tasting and decided to try the top three ranked sakes, number 25 (越後鶴亀 Echigo Tsurukame), 103(地上の星, Chijonohoshi) and 55 (越の寒中梅, Koshi no Kanchubai). For my last sake tasting I skiped the fourth ranking sake and tried the fifth, number 92, purely because it was called Cowboy and I couldn't resist the name.
One of the neatest things about Ponshukan was that each sake vending station had a tiny purple map of Niigata prefecture on its label with a red star showing the location of the sake brewery. If the sake was a staff selection or one of the top ranked it also had a white label by it. I also thought it was cool that they had a large map of Niigata prefecture on one of the walls with all of the types of sake shown by location so that if you wanted to try something from a particular region you could identify it.
After I finished my sake tasting I wandered around the store. There was a huge selection of sake that you could purchase so I picked up a bottle of my favorite from the tasting, Echigo Tsurukame, to bring home. It was only ¥1296 (less than 11 USD) so I couldn't resist.
In addition to sake, the Ponshukan was full of foodstuffs made in Niigata Prefecture. They had a bunch of soy sauces that you could try and I ended up loving and buying a bottle of garlic soy sauce for ¥540 (about 4.50 USD) that was fantastic.
Tucked in the back were some fun t-shirts. There was a black one with a map of Niigata prefecture made out of white silhouettes of famous foods from Niigata that was just too awesome for me not to buy.
I had a great time sake tasting at Ponshukan plus I was able to bring home some fun souvenirs. It is a good half hour stop when traveling in Niigata City and I recommend it especially if you are a sake or food lover.
Ponshukan is located on the third floor of the CoCoLo Niigata West building which is just southwest of the Niigata train station. At the time of this writing the store is open from 9:00-21:00, however the sake tasting is only available from 9:30-20:30.
Happy Halloween! To celebrate I thought that I would share my recipe for no bake mini pumpkin cheesecakes. They are easy to make plus they are delicious. I made a batch to bring in for my co-workers yesterday and they were a big hit.
- 1-1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
- 1/3 cup butter
- 3/4 cup brown sugar, divided
- 3/4 tsp. cinnamon, divided
- 1 package (8oz) cream cheese, softened
- 1 cup pumpkin purée
- 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp. ginger
- 1/8 tsp. cloves
- 1 pint whipping cream
- whole pecans (optional for garnish)
Graham Cracker Crust
- Use food processor or rolling pin to create fine graham cracker crumbs
- Melt butter and pour into bowl with graham cracker crumbs, 1/4 cup brown sugar and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- Mix up ingredients with a fork and measure out equally into small dishes
- Press crust into the bottom of small dishes to form bottom crust
Pumpkin Cheesecake Filling
- Mix together cream cheese, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves
- In a separate bowl, whip the whipping cream to stiff peaks and then gently fold it into the pumpkin mixture and top with a pecan for garnish
- Spoon pumpkin cheesecake filling on top of crusts and refrigerate for at least three hours before serving
Between business trips and personal travel I haven't spent a lot of time at home this summer and haven't had a chance to enjoy our backyard as much as I would have liked. With winter on the horizon I decided to capitalize on the beautiful fall weather and a light work week to do a little backyard entertaining on a Thursday night at the end of September.
When you work full time, entertaining on a weeknight can be a bit of a challenge but with a little bit of planning it is totally doable and a fun way to break up the work week.
When I get home the first thing I always do is set the table. I like to arrange everything, including my serving dishes, and save the cooking for right before my guests arrive to make sure the food is hot. I love this flour sack linen table cloth because it has a little texture to it and I don't need to iron it. A navy runner grounds the center of the table and a few ceramic pumpkins on the ends are a festive seasonal nod.
For the place settings I love to mix and match for a casual look. I used a plain white dinner plate with a handmade butter plate that I bought in Seto along with a small blue and white bowl that I purchased in Tokyo. For a fall look I used my yellow linen napkins. Cloth napkins always look fantastic and to make it easier on myself I always fold and lightly iron them right after I wash them so I have them ready to pull out of my linen cabinet for entertaining.
For flowers, I always pick up something from the grocery store when I shop for the dinner party ingredients. Here I combined two grocery store bouquets, one of greenery and one of sunflowers, in a blue enamel ware pitcher.
I also couldn't resist picking up some mini white pumpkins from the grocery store which I tucked into the blue and white bowls at each place setting.
With the table set, I started cooking. Menu planning is important for weeknight entertaining in order to be sure that you can prepare everything quickly and easily and not stress yourself out. My go to weeknight entertaining menu is a pasta dish with a salad and a baguette.
To make the meal seasonal, I made Martha Stewart's Orecchiette with Butternut Squash and Sage using some sage from my garden. It is easy to make, looks beautiful and tastes like autumn which made it a perfect dish for the evening.
For the salad I used a base of baby kale topped with dried cranberries, goat cheese and pecans and paired with a pomegranate basalmic vinaigrette dressing. If I entertain on the weekend I like to make everything from scratch because I love to cook, but for a weeknight I take a few shortcuts to make it easier on myself. As an example, for this meal I bought already cubed butternut squash from the produce section for the pasta and pre-washed baby kale mix for the salad plus I bought the salad dressing instead of making it. All combined those three shortcuts probably took out 45 minutes of prep time for me and made the meal doable after work.
Little touches always finish off the table for me. I like to put out water in a carafe or pitcher with sliced up lemons and decant my salad dressing into a cute little carafe or dish. It only takes about five extra minutes but it makes the table look more festive and put together.
I also love to have an herbed compound butter to go with the bread. They are easy to make and a great way to use up extra herbs from your garden or cooking. I like to prepare them and keep them in the freezer to pull out when needed.
By keeping a limited menu and doing a few small things that had a nice visual impact I was able to be ready for my guests in about an hour and a half with a beautiful and delicious table of food. With everything finished before my guests arrived I was able to relax and enjoy the rest of the evening with them. Cheers!
Summertime means fresh fruit is in season which obviously means it is time to make pie. One of my favorites is the classic strawberry rhubarb pie. It is my grandfather's favorite and I grew up loving to eat it with him as a special treat.
- 3 cups rhubarb, cut into 1/2" cubes
- 3 cups strawberries, sliced
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 Tbsp. corn starch
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 large egg, separated
- 1 teaspoon water
- Large granule sugar (optional)
- Double pie crust pastry
- Cut the rhubarb and place it in a bowl with the strawberries
- In a separate small bowl stir together the sugar, corn starch, cinnamon and salt
- Pour sugar mixture over rhubarb and strawberries, tossing filling to coat the fruit
- Roll out half of the pastry and line the bottom of a pie plate with it, trimming off excess
- Roll out remaining half of the pastry
- Add filling to the pie plate and then top with pastry using lattice crust or other vented style top
- Whisk egg white and water together to make egg wash glaze
- Brush glaze on pie and sprinkle with large granule sugar if you like
- Bake for 20 minutes at 425° F, turn heat down to 350° F and back another 35-40 minutes until the crust is golden and the filling is bubbling
Tips and Tricks
- I make my own crust but you can also use store bought
- To make your pastry easier to deal with, keep it in the refrigerator until you are rolling it out
- To prevent your crust from browning too much, wrap it in tin foil for the first 20 minutes of baking