Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Homemade Pop Tarts

It seems like I am always on the lookout for homemade versions of grab-and-go type foods. My husband and I are both often rushing out the door, and I know that if we don't have easy food to grab on the way, we wind up spending way to much on food while we're out and about. We always try (with vary success..) .to pack lunches on weekdays instead of buying them -  so I usually spend some time on the weekends baking and making snacks to tuck into our lunches for the week.

This weekend I decided to try a recipe from Smitten Kitchen  - I love Deb's writing and her recipes are always amazing! Homemade pop tarts sounded almost too good to be true; I love the idea of the commercial ones, but to me they always taste so flat and stale. These homemade pop tarts are what you wish the commercial pop tarts would be - a crispy, flaky crust, stuffed with delicious, fresh filling. I'll definitely make them again - and next time I'm thinking of using Nutella as a filling. Less healthy, but doesn't it sound delicious?

I used the recipe from Smitten Kitchen, although I altered it slightly. I believe the recipe is originally from King Arthur Flour.

Homemade Pop Tarts

For the Pastry Dough:
*2 cups all purpose flour (although you could easily substitute whole wheat)
*1 TB sugar
*1 tsp salt
*1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
*1 egg
*2 TB milk
*1 TB  heavy cream (substitute milk for this if you don't have cream on hand)

For the Fillings:
Jam Filling
*3/4 cups jam (I used blackberry)
*1 TB cornstarch
*1 TB cold water

Lemon Cream Cheese Filling:
*4 TB lemon curd
*4 TB cream cheese

To make the dough, whisk together flour, sugar, and salt. Cut the butter into small pieces, then use your fingers, a pastry cutter, or food processor to mix in the butter until it is in pea sized lumps. If using your fingers, simply pinch the pieces of butter between your thumb and fingers. Whisk the egg, milk, and cream together in a separate bowl, then mix into the flour and butter mixture. Knead briefly on a well floured counter until dough holds together. Split the dough into two pieces, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate while you make the fillings.

To make the jam filling, whisk together the cornstarch and cold water and pour into a small saucepan. Stir in the jam, and bring the mixture to a boil. Simmer for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and let cool.

Preheat your oven to 350, and remove the dough from the refrigerator. Roll out on a well floured surface until it is about 1/8" thick. Cut out rectangles of dough (I used a 3"x5" index card for guidance so that I would get rectangles that were exactly the same size - use anything that is the size you'd like your finished pop tarts to be).

Assemble the tarts by placing about a tablespoon of filling in the center of one rectangle, leaving at least quarter inch perimeter of dough around the edges. For the cream cheese and lemon curd pop tarts, I placed half a tablespoon of cream cheese first, then added half a tablespoon of lemon curd on top. Dip a pastry brush in water and brush generously around the perimeter of the rectangle. Place a second rectangle of dough on top and press firmly with your fingers to seal the dough on all sides. Press with a fork around all outside edges.

Place the tarts on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Slit the tops of each tart (or use a fork to poke holes in the top) - otherwise they will poof up in the oven. Bake for about 20 - 25 minutes, until golden brown. Make sure to let them cool before tasting - the filling packs a lot of heat!

As Deb (on Smitten Kitchen) mentioned, I tried the tip from King Arthur and dipped my dough trimmings in cinnamon sugar, then baked them. They were delicious - almost like little bites of fried dough!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Beekeeper's Quilt Update

Do you remember a couple of months ago, when I wrote that I'd started a new knitting project? Well, I'm here with an update! I started the Beekeepers Quilt by Tiny Owl Knits in late February: it's an adorable quilt pattern made of hundreds of tiny hexagons knit in the round and stuffed with wool. Each individual hexagon (aka hexapuff!) takes me about 35 minutes and 14 yards of wool to complete - and in the two months since I started the project, I've knit a little over 100!
Here's what 102 hexapuffs look like all piled up:

 And then arranged into a quilt:

Honestly, the arranging is one of my favorite parts! I haven't stitched any hexapuffs together yet because it is so much fun to play with the colors and patterns and lay them out in different ways. It's hard to see in the pictures, since they're taken with my iPod (my camera has officially bit the dust...), but most of the yarns I've used are slightly heathered - I really like the depth it adds. I'm hoping to add some tweed yarn into the mix next.

If my math is correct, to make a finished blanket I'm going to need 880 hexapuffs, so I'm almost an eighth of the way done. I'll make sure to keep you updated along the way!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Ways to Create: Double Portraits

I've been working with elementary-aged kids for over five and a half years now, and one of my favorite parts of my job is being able to do creative projects with them. I have seen kids bloom through art projects and I love to connect with them on that creative level! I don't believe in micromanaging their art to get a specific outcome - so most of my projects are based on giving them a fun new way to create and then getting out of their way. I thought I'd start sharing some of those projects here with you. Many of them are messy, none of the products from these projects will look alike, and all of them will get kids creating in whatever way is right for them!
So this first project is not messy at all, actually - and for a few reasons, it's a great first project to do with a new group of kids, or with a kid who is insecure about making art. First of all, older kids love the look of this project and are always excited to try it. By the time they hit 5th or 6th grade, a lot of children have really internalized that they're "not good" at art or drawing, and so they have a hard time loosening up and letting their creativity flow. There's nothing to draw in this project, and with a digital camera, they can try as many times as they want or the shot that they're hoping for. Giving them a way to be immediately successful and to create something "cool" lets them open up and just have fun!

When I did this project with my afterschool kids, we spent a few minutes first talking about framing a shot and picking two distinct places in that framed shot where they wanted to pose. I did need to remind them several times to hold the camera steady in one spot once they'd chosen their shot; moving the camera means that the photos won't line up exactly when they try and meld them into one image. We brainstormed ideas for poses, then I gave them the cameras and let them have at it!

I was lucky enough to have access to a photo printer, so once they were done taking pictures, they chose the two they wanted to use and I printed them. Kids then cropped them however they liked and glued them together:
This was such a fun project to do; aside from the creative aspects, it led to a lot of great conversations about different sides of people's personalities, and a lot of admiration of each other's work. They were so proud of what they had made.

Let me know if you try this with your kids; I'd love to see your projects!

all photos shown in this post are used with permission

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Moving, Family Traditions, and Chocolate Espresso Cupcakes!

I took a small break from posting here for the past couple of weeks... March was a big month for us! In addition to both my husband and I working slightly more than usual and me getting a bad cold, we also moved to a new apartment! We're loving the new space; its a bright and beautifully maintained apartment in an old home that's full of character. To the right is the view from the picture windows in our living room. We've been wanting to move for so long  now, but were holding off until we found a place that was a good fit; we're very happy we finally found it.

It's been fun to carry on all our little traditions in this new space. There's something so important to me in doing all the little things - they really become the story of who you are as a family. A lot of our traditions revolve around food (my husband works as a chef) - and one of my favorite traditions is always cooking a big breakfast together every Sunday morning. We try to make it a point to have it be a special meal, especially since Sunday marks the first day of Russ' work week, and he leaves about an hour after breakfast is done.

The weekend that we moved, though, we didn't have a chance to make a our usual Sunday morning breakfast, as we hadn't even unpacked most of the kitchen at that point. I was pretty bummed about it, as this is something we really never skip. So I unpacked like crazy that day, and decided to make breakfast for dinner that night. The only part I couldn't include was our traditional cup of coffee - so I improvised by making chocolate espresso cupcakes for dessert!

I adapted a recipe from Art of Dessert; you can find her original recipe here. This recipe makes 30 cupcakes. 

Chocolate Espresso Cupcakes

1 cup butter, softened to room temperature
1 3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk or 1 cup whole milk with 1 Tbs. lemon juice
1/2 cup strong coffee, cooled
2 cups flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 3 muffin pans with cupcake liners. Beat together butter and sugar till light and fluffy. Slowly add eggs one at a time. Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Combine the buttermilk and coffee together. Alternate adding the flour mixture and buttermilk mixture. Pour into the prepared pans. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cupcake comes out clean. 

I added a basic cream cheese frosting (although the original recipe calls for a Kahlua Espresso frosting, which also sounds delicious!), then topped it with Trader Joe's Sugar, Chocolate, and Coffee Bean Grinder - which is such a nice novelty item to have on hand. I use it on so many things! If you haven't seen one, they are these great little spice grinders filled with white and brown sugar crystals, dark chocolate, and coffee beans. I use it to top ice cream and all kinds of other desserts.

If you've noticed that my pictures look a little off, it's because my camera got slightly damaged in the move. These photos are from my iPod - but hopefully my camera will be back in the game soon! I'm so glad to be settling into my new space, and very happy to be back to posting in this space as well.

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