Friday Night Feast – February 2017

It has been over a year since I hosted a nice dinner with friends. In between pregnancy & looking after a little bub, it just hasn’t happened. As the bub gets older, he’s beginning to form a more predictable routine, particularly in the evening, which means I’ve started feeling like I can do normal adult things again, like host a dinner party. Whilst I’m still on maternity leave & have time, I decided to seize the opportunity to host a nice dinner party with a few friends.

I did make a few concessions with my meal planning for this dinner. In order for a dish to be on the menu, it had to be possible to make it ahead of time. I didn’t want to be worried about timing of things whilst trying to look after the bub if he was upset or hungry. Normally when I have a big dinner, I plan out a timetable for the day & cook to it. With a baby that’s still nursing that approach just isn’t realistic. Instead I wrote out a list of things I had to do, assigned priorities and then started knocking them off in between feedings or playing with the bub. I also started making a lot of stuff on the Thursday.

We started with some homemade breadsticks, Italian white bean dip & some Serrano Jamon a friend brought over. The recipe for the breadsticks & bean dip were from my new Delicious cookbook, At Our Table. Both were exceptionally simple to make & quite tasty. In fact the bread sticks turned out so well my husband assumed I’d bought them at the store. I’ll definitely be trying more recipes from this book.

For mains I cooked Gourmet Traveller’s Overnight Pork Shoulder. I got the pork shoulder from Farm Field Table in Ferndale. It was quite fatty (there was a good inch & a half of fat between the skin & meat, which worked really well with the long slow cook time. Basically as the fat melted it pooled in the pan & essentially became an oil bath. So after a few hours it was basically like cooking a confit. It also allowed the fennel to stay soft & silken whilst cooking. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of the pork, I forgot to tie it up & so when we tried to extract it from the pan after cooking it literally fell apart (a good thing for eating, not so much for taking a photo though). Also by this point in the evening the bub had gone to bed & I had drunk a whole glass of wine, and promptly forgot to take photos of anything. Anyway, the only real alteration I made to the recipe was to crank the heat of the oven to 220C at the end to turn the skin to crackling (what’s roast pork without crackling?!). For sides we had green beans, roasted mushrooms (a selection of different types, i.e. shiitake, oyster), and a light salad.

Finally for dessert we had a collection of small treats & for once I actually tried to make an effort to make it look nice. Normally I’m the type of person who puts a meal down & says ‘Trust me – it tastes much better than it looks’, but one of the things I wanted to work on this year was presentation, so I tried. I made blood orange & almond cakes, rolled in crushed pistachios, orange confit jelly & kulfi.

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The blood orange cakes were made using Claudia Roden’s Middle Eastern Orange Cake recipe. I just substituted blood oranges & adjusted the cooking time for bite sized cakes.

Kulfi is an Indian ice cream made by condensing milk & flavouring with spices like saffron or cardamom. I was first introduced to kulfi in Melbourne at a restaurant called Bombay by Night. It’s still the best kulfi I’ve ever had. I don’t know what made me think of it but I thought I’d try to make it myself. I used this recipe for the kulfi (recipe is at the very end of the article). I added 5 cracked cardamon pods to the milk during simmering as I love that flavour. I think my method still needs a little work. The flavour was definitely there – the nutty, sweet flavour of the milk & the hint of cardamon but the texture wasn’t quite right – there were a few too many ice crystals & it wasn’t quite as chewy as I remember. I think I should have heated the milk a little longer & allowed it to reduce more.

The orange confit jelly was a cobbled together recipe from a few different sources, here’s what I ended up with. It worked out quite nicely with a real tang to it, which contrasted nicely with the cake & kulfi.

Orange Confit Jelly

2 oranges, thinly sliced
Juice of 2 oranges
Juice of 1 lemon
220g caster sugar (bakers sugar in the US)
Gelatin – refer to packet instructions for amount required for volume of liquid

Strain the orange & lemon juice through a sieve & heat together with the sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Once the sugar has dissolved, add the sliced oranges & simmer for 10 mins. Remove from heat. Remove the oranges from the syrup & arrange in a tin. Measure the amount of syrup remaining & follow the packet instructions for the gelatin you’re using to combine the gelatin with the syrup. Pour the jelly syrup over the oranges & refrigerate to set. 

P.S. In case you were wondering, the bub behaved perfectly. He smiled at everyone when they arrived at about 6:30, I started his bedtime routine at 7 & I rejoined the party at 7:30. Then he slept for 10 hours! I have no idea how I got so lucky.

Just another trip to the fabric store

Do you ever do that thing where you go to fabric store with the intent of buying fabric for one very specific project, then leave the fabric store with enough fabric to …. but nothing for your project. Only to come home and find the perfect fabric for your project was in your stash all along???

This is what I do. ALL the time. It’s probably why I have way too much fabric.

On the flip side I am now seriously excited about the sewing I’ll be doing in the next couple of months. Here’s a run down of what I got.

Navy cashmere coating. This is lovely & soft, but it is a little on the thin side for a coat in Michigan so I’m looking at ways I can add some warmth. I bought a satin backed flannel for the lining, which might help a little with wind protection, and was thinking of interlining the coat with Thinsulate material as well.

Cashmere Wool Coating

This Italian wool. This wool is the opposite to the navy, it’s super thick & super warm. I want to make some kind of coat or cardigan type jacket with this, but I’m going to have to be very careful about the pattern selection. Because it’s so thick I don’t want to make a pattern with a lot of pieces or intersecting seams (I am going to struggle to get 4 layers of this wool under my sewing machine foot), plus I worry that would take away from such a lovely pattern. I will also need to get creative when it comes to picking closures & finishes for things like button holes.

Chunky Italian Wool Knit

Last of all was this woven geometric remnant. No idea what I’m going to make with it, but I fell in love with the fabric & figured I’ll use it for something! It’s only 3/4 of a yard, so I’m limited to skirts & tops I think.

Woven Geometric Fabric

Marfy 3520: Making a Muslin

This is my first time sewing a Marfy pattern* so I thought it best to make a muslin, to see how best to put it together (and of course check fit). I’m making Marfy 3520, it’s a dress pattern that I’ve long admired.

In general I was really happy with the first cut. The pattern came together like a dream – with the exception of setting in the sleeve, for some reason I found this quite tricky in this pattern. My only fitting complaint was the gaping fabric above my bust, so I made a full bust adjustment & it now feels a lot nicer.

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I’m not super happy with how the sleeves look though. Its more of a design issue that a fit issue really. I’m thinking I might shorten the sleeves to be elbow length and forego the flounce, but we’ll see.

Otherwise I think its time to cut this one out. The fabric I’m using is a checked wool suiting my Mum gave me a couple of years ago. For the accent features I’m thinking of using some thin black leather.

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*If you’re wondering how a Marfy pattern is different to a ‘regular’ sewing pattern read this.

Hazelnut & Blood Orange Cake

This Gourmet Traveller recipe has been on my ‘to try’ list for a ridiculous amount of time. The problem was always the scarcity of the two main ingredients here in Michigan. Blood oranges are available here around January & hazelnuts are hard to find reliably (at a reasonable price), let alone hazelnut meal*.

However recently my friend told me that Trader Joes stock raw hazelnuts on a pretty regular basis, so this year when I saw blood oranges at the supermarket I decided to give this recipe a whirl.

I’m glad I did, this was really a lovely cake to make. It was super easy to make & tasted fantastic. I followed the instructions exactly. My only note is that I probably poured too much of the syrup into the pan before putting the butter on, it didn’t really affect the cake so much, but because I had a springform pan it leaked a little & left a bit of a gooey mess on the drip tray. I also didn’t have much syrup left over to pour on the cake to serve which is a shame because it was pretty tasty.

The end result was a very moist cake, not too sweet & not too tart – a perfect treat for afternoon tea. I’d happily recommend this recipe & will definitely be making it again next January.

*To make hazelnut meal myself, I just blitz hazelnuts in a food processor. It doesn’t come out as fine or as soft as a commercially bought meal but for most recipes it does the trick.

Kyivskiy Dream Torte

Fresh cherries are always a part of our families Christmas meals in Australia. So when my in laws brought back a box of fresh sour cherries from the Red Hill Cherry Farm two days before Ukrainian Christmas I had the perfect opportunity to experiment with a version of one of my favourite cherry cakes, a Kyivskiy Torte. Basically it’s hazelnut meringue layered with cherries and chocolate buttercream. Whilst you can get versions of it in Detroit, none of them come close to what we used to get from Cakes of Fantasy in Ormond (Melbourne, Australia), and as a result I’ve been missing it terribly.

I didn’t really want to recreate that cake exactly, (it’s a lot of work) but I did want something with similar tastes and textures. 

I started with this recipe from Gourmet Traveller for a Lemon Dream Cake and this recipe from The Women’s Weekly for a hazelnut cake.

There was a mismatch between the cooking times of the hazelnut cake and the original cake. So I tried to offset this by cooking the cake by itself for a little first. This also helped with the differences in consistency of the cakes, the dream cake batter is much stiffer and easier to spread the meringue on, while the hazelnut cake batter was quite sloppy.

Unfortunately this step, meant that the meringue didn’t really ‘stick’ to the top of the cake like it does with the dream cake. The other problem was that I used tins that were probably a little small so the cakes were VERY thick and took longer than expected to cook through. It was also not possible to layer them how I normally would.


Instead of layering the cakes with the cream and cherries in between I chose to fill the area under the meringue with cream and cherries. Unfortunately this meant the ratio of cherries and cream to cake was a little low.


For the cherries I simply cooked fresh sour cherries together with sugar and water (1 tsp of sugar for every 4 cherries). I also added a little gelatine to thicken it but I didn’t want it to be jelly so I didn’t add too much. I think next time I might try using something like Xantham gum for a better mouthfeel. I want it to be more like the texture of a lemon curd but don’t want to make a curd as the butter and eggs in the curd make it a little rich. If you have any suggestions for how I can best achieve this let me know in the comments.

For the cream I mixed double cream with a bit of nutella. Next time I think I’ll just use regular whipping cream as this mixture ended up a bit thick. I might try a couple of different ways of combining them together too so I can get a nice smooth texture.

On the whole this was a pretty good experiment. For all the issues I listed above the cakes tasted quite nice, I just need to to a little more work to get the ratios and textures right. The flavours were definitely spot on so I was really happy with that. I’ll definitely be making this one again sometime soon.

2017 Make Nine


These pictures are more inspiration for things I want to make/do this year, rather than specifics, but anyway, here are the 9 things I want to make this year.
1. Something off the shoulder
After seeing so many gorgeous off the shoulder tops that i couldn’t fit into while pregnant, I would love to make one thay i can wear for the summer. I love the Seed top in this picture, but might also end up making something less ornate.

2. Kyivsky Torte version of Flour and Stone’s Lemon Dream Cake

I’ve made this cake so many times now and it’s always a huge success, so I thought I’d try to make some new versions of it. The first one I’m going to try will be to combine the textures and layers of this cake with the flavours of another one of my favourite cakes, the Kyivskiy Torte (a layer cake with hazelnut meringue, chocolate butter cream and cherries).

3. Vyshyvanka for my husband

I have been promising to make my husband a Vyshyvanka for YEARS. This is likely to be a year long project and even then I can’t guarantee I’ll finish it!

4. Work Clothes

Later this year I finish up my maternity leave and head back to work full time. To motivate me into looking forward to work, I’ll most likely make some new clothes for work.

5. A Halloween Costume for the baby

How cute is this pineapple costume???!!! Whilst I doubt I’ll make this exact costume, I’ll definitely be making something for the bub, I have a few ideas including a couple of father/son ideas, but more on that later.

6. Some fun clothes for the bub

This will be a big challenge. It’s not only easy to make beautiful girls clothes, but it’s a lot of fun. Boys clothes on the other hand, whilst beautiful, can be a pain in the butt to make, they’re often very fiddly (i.e. shirts or good pants) and bit annoying to be honest, so I’ve been on the lookout for ideas for fun things to make like these dino/dragon hoodies. If you have any suggestions leave a comment below!

7. Decorated Cakes

Whilst I’m pretty good at making things taste good, I am rubbish at making them look good. This year I might try to improve my decorating skills. Mum gave me a couple of Australian Women’s Weekly Birthday Cake books (this one and this one). If you have kids and want to make cakes for them, then you should check these out, they are seriously good, there’s even a ‘cheats’ version out there if you’re not big on baking.

8. Coats

Shortly after moving to the US I found that pretty much all of my coats were grossly inadequate for Michigan winters. Needless to say I bought a couple of super warm down jackets, but I’ve wanted a couple of nice wool coats for the evening or for work. I love the Stella McCartney coat and I have a few Marfy patterns that I want to try so hopefully they work out. 

9. Curtains

The reality is we need curtains in some of the rooms in our house and my husband and I don’t want to pay someone a fortune to essentially sew a large rectangle of fabric. We made our own ripplefold curtains last year for the living room, which whilst it was an epic exercise (the curtain was something crazy like 10m long), it worked out really well. I think we’ll make some more later in the year for the dining room.

Christmas Dress 2016

As usual at the last minute (about a week before travelling from the US to Australia with a newborn) I decided that I wanted to make a new dress to wear on Christmas day.

At least this year some sense of reality prevailed & I started off with a decision to make a simple dress with a nice patterned fabric. However, as is usually the case with my sewing, this project’s complexity quickly escalated as I started making alterations to the pattern design.

I started off with Vogue V8723 which is now out of print. Originally I was going to make it as is from the pattern, but then I thought ‘wouldn’t it be nice if that bit of trim at the top of the dress went round the entire time & formed the straps?’, then I thought, ‘Australia is hot, maybe I’ll lower the neckline significantly & make it a summer dress for a hot day’.


This resulted in an afternoon of re-drawing practically all the pattern pieces to accommodate the changes. At the end of the day they weren’t difficult changes, but they required effort none-the-less. To add trim around the entire top of the dress, I basically created a facing pattern & cut out 4 pieces, (inside/outside & LH/RH). Extending the trim to form straps too a little more thought/effort, combining existing pattern pieces & re-drawing. The next challenge came sewing it all together so that the straps would kind of double back on themselves. Basically I sewed the front side of the trim & straps & pressed, then pinned them in place at the rear & sewed the rear of the trim up. It’s a pretty heavy weight woven cotton that I’d bought a year or so ago because it reminded me of pendleton fabric. The trim is from a scrap of navy linen I’d had for god knows how long. I lined the bodice with leftover white cotton poplin from another project. I even managed to find a zipper in my collection that was the perfect length so I’m going to say that this dress was practically free 😉

What I didn’t realise about the dress is how much gathering is required for the skirt, with such a thick fabric it was almost impossible to gather it that much. I manage to gather it & then in some areas I kind almost pleated it to get it to attach to the bodice. The benefit of this though is that it creates a very defined waistline without the need for any petticoats or structure in the skirt. Considering I gave birth just under 3 months ago I was really happy with how the skirt made my waist look small again!


I’m not entirely happy with the fit of the bodice though. You can see it’s not quite right in the photos. Whilst the pattern offers different bodice patterns for different cup sizes, I don’t think I picked the right one (my cup size has obviously changed since baby & I’m still trying to work out how to best fit dresses given my boobs change shape & size every few hours between feedings – if anyone has any advice on this front I’d be happy to hear it!). Because I didn’t leave myself a lot of time to make this dress I didn’t bother with making a toile or fitting it properly, I just picked a size based on my waist & bust measurements. 


This dress is clearly not breastfeeding friendly but given we were at home Christmas day, this was easy enough to work around.

 

Cranberry Curd Tartlets

I’m a sucker for a good lemon tart, so when I saw this NY Times recipe for a Cranberry Curd Tart I just had to give it a go.

I tried a couple of different variations of the curd & pastry but still haven’t found a combination I’m completely happy with.

First off I made the curd exactly as specifed & used the shortcrust pastry I had in my freezer (made using this Jamie Oliver recipe  – I find it’s always handy to have a tart case or some pastry in the freezer). For me the curd was too sweet & the tartness of the cranberries didn’t come through as I’d hoped. For my next try I halved the sugar. This time was better, but I think I took a little too much of the sugar out. If I was to make it again I think I’d try 3/4 of the sugar. In the second try I also changed the pastry to more of a gingerbread. I used the same Jamie Oliver recipe but replaced the icing sugar with dark brown sugar and added a ton of dried ginger. This was a much better match. If I were to make it again I think I’d try the hazelnut pastry from the original recipe & see what that’s like.

The Finished Vyshyvanka

The vyshyvanka that I started earlier this year has been finished!

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I finished it in September a few weeks before the baby arrived in October, but didn’t get a chance to post about it until now, (turns out newborns are pretty demanding).

I’m quite pleased with how the shirt turned out. I basically followed the steps I outlined in my last post to make it. I completed the central section first, then the sleeve cuffs, then the collar.

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The most difficult part was working out an appropriate pattern for the collar & cuffs, once I’d completed the embroidery on the front of the shirt. I did a lot of trials on a scrap of linen to try to find a scaled down version of the main panel. Eventually I happened upon a design I was happy with & went with that.

For this project I really didn’t want to use the overlocker (serger) because I felt it would look to ‘machine made’ so the seams are flat felled. I did run a zig-zag stitch along the raw edge of any encased seams (like the collar & hem) just to be extra careful though.

This was a really pleasant project to work on while I was pregnant. I did most of it in the evenings, particularly if I couldn’t sleep. I’d get out of bed, work on some embroidery for an hour or so & that would be calming enough to make my eyes heavy so that I could go back to bed & go to sleep.

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Making a Very Important Vyshyvanka

I’m pregnant with my first child, a little boy. I really wanted to make something special for him that could be worn for special occasions & then kept or passed down later in life. As my husband is Ukrainian, the obvious choice was a vyshyvanka, (an embroidered shirt worn in Ukrainian national dress). I’ve made a pinterest board of some of my favorite examples (including some more modern examples) here.

I’ve never made a vyshyvanka before & had to rely on my husband explaining to me the ways he’d seen other women make them. Based on that, turns out there’s a few ways of making a vyshyvanka, with varying degrees of time & effort. The easiest way he described to me was to buy the embroidered panels & then affix them to an existing shirt. A more involved (but still relatively easy) option is to embroider the panels onto specific embroidery/needlepoint evenweave cloth & then cut out the panels & sew them onto a shirt. The most difficult method he described to me was embroidering directly onto the material used to make the shirt.

I have a beautiful (but unfortunately unfinished) example of this final method which my husband’s late grandmother made (isn’t her stitching simply exquisite).

It’s a vyshyvanka for a small girl, made with a soft cotton voille. The embroidery was done directly onto the fabric & then the fabric was stitched together to make a shirt.

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Since I like a challenge, & I really wanted this to be special for the baby, I have decided to TRY make a vyshyvanky in this way.

For the moment I’ve purchased a small piece of evenly woven linen. It’s a little stiff at the moment but it should soften up once washed. I plan to wash it once the embroidery is complete. I’ve traced out all the lines of the pattern pieces onto the fabric with a contrasting thread so that I can plan the embroidery to fit perfectly with the shirt pattern.

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I’m going to start with the central panels at the front of the shirt. It would probably be easier to start on the sleeves (also mistakes would be less obvious) but I haven’t quite worked out what the embroidery will be for the sleeves yet so the centre panel will be first.

I’m leaving the collar to be the last piece. This is because this pattern piece is slightly curved so I will have to slowly adjust the embroidery pattern to follow the curve of the pattern piece without making it look curved on the final shirt – this is going to be tricky to pull off.

Finally I’ve made a test section on a scrap of linen showing roughly what the central pattern will look like.

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This is going to take me a couple of months to finish (hopefully I have it done before the baby arrives in October), so don’t expect a finished post for quite a while.