Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Reviving a tired dress

I was on the board of a charity event that I attended a few weeks ago and as usual, I struggled over what to wear. I have a few semi-formal dresses that I bought pre-baby. I never liked the way they fit before I had my daughter. Even now, they just don't fit right.

I have this sparkly asymmetrical dress I bought 3 or 4 years ago at Macy's. I'm 4'11" so any dress that goes below the knees make me look even shorter. This dress started at my knees and went down to my calf. I was tired of wearing long dresses and couldn't find any short dresses that weren't "hoochie" so this dress was a compromise between the two. I never felt that it looked good on me even though it was comfortable. This photo was taken on our Eastern Caribbean cruise this past January it's why I'm tipping to one side - the boat was really rocking.

I finally decided it was time to put my sewing machine to good use and shorten the dress. The DAY OF the event, I put my dress on, stood on a step ladder in front of a bathroom mirror and pinned where I thought I should cut it. My initial intent was to just make it one length and hem the bottom.

I put my daughter down for a nap, quickly measured and pinned my cut lines on the dress (my chalk pencil was too hard for this dress) and started cutting away. It was quite easy - I probably chopped off nine inches. I tried the dress on and lo and behold - it's too short! Duh, I forgot to add an extra 1-1/2 inch to the cut line to make room for the hem. That's what I get for trying to rush through a project during Mya's nap time. The material is not the type where you can make a rolled hem so that was out of the question. So I decided it needed something more.

Once my husband got home from his errands, I quickly headed over to JoAnn's Fabric store for some fringe. I couldn't find the right thickness of fringe but I found one with the right length. The fringe was a little light but it's all I could get. $8 later (I bought a new ripper, too), I'm home pinning the fringe to my dress.

My daughter woke up from her nap and watched as I started sewing the fringe to the dress. It was a painless procedure and I only made a mistake in a one inch area where it didn't attach to the dress. It was a quick fix and the whole sewing part probably took less than 10 minutes. I tried it on and was satisfied. It was okay for a 2 hour project - most of it was waiting time for my husband to get home and traveling/shopping time to and from the fabric store.

I got many compliments on the dress at the fundraiser and I felt good in it. I had quite a story to tell whenever someone asked me about it. Unfortunately, all photos taken of me during that evening had me from the waist up.

The final product...

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Jay, Conan and Dessert

My husband and I are attending a dinner tomorrow/today we are requested to bring dessert. I usually make desserts after my daughter has gone to sleep for the night so that I can have the kitchen to myself. So I usually end up watching (although it's more like listening to) Jay Leno and Conan while I make my dessert. It's quite relaxing.

The dessert we are bringing is a berry tart made in individual servings.

Yes, it's a PITA sometimes to make individual servings but I like them for the following reasons:
  1. Each person can have their own piece without feeling ripped off because they had to scrape the pie pan for a serving.
  2. Sometimes after eating a large meal, you only want a bite of dessert
  3. They're cute
This recipe was adapted from a three berry tart recipe from one of those booklets you find at the checkout line. My version uses a pastry crust (a pate brisee) instead of an animal cracker crust just because a cookie/graham cracker crust would crumble in someone's hand.

This recipe for Pate Brisee is so simple and the crust comes out nice and flaky.

Pate Brisee (Shortcrust Pastry)

Makes 2 9-inch pie shells or 24-36 mini tarts

2-1/2 cups of all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) of unsalted butter cut into cubes and chilled
1/4 to 1/2 cup of ice water

Rolling pin
Mini cupcake pans or mini tart pans
Fork or parchment paper/aluminum foil and uncooked dried beans

In a food processor, pulse together the flour, salt and sugar until combined. Add butter and pulse until butter chunks beceome pea-sized. Add water slowly until it just comes together. It should look a little dry and if you squeeze a little bit in your hands, it should come together. Don't over-pulse or the dough will be tough. Turn out the dough onto a board and bring it together with your hands. Divide the dough in half and wrap each of the halves in plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least one hour to allow the gluten do develop.

30 minutes before rolling the dough, bring the dough out of the fridge to room temperature. On a lightly floured board, roll out the dough to 1/8 of an inch. When you roll out the dough, keep the dough moving by picking it up and rotating it every few passes of the rolling pin. This will prevent sticking.

Use a 2-1/2 inch round cookie cutter to cut out the circles for your mini tarts. Press them down the bottom and sides of your mini cupcake pan or tart pan. Dock the dough (that's a fancy way of saying poke holes in the dough) with your fork along the bottom and sides of the cake pan. This will reduce the uneven rising in the oven. Place in the fridge for 30 minutes before baking. Alternatively, you can cut small pieces of aluminum foil or parchment and tuck them in your dough and fill it with pie weights or uncooked dried beans and then place them directly in the oven (no need to refrigerate, but it's better to let it rest if you have the time).

Bake at 400°F for 20-25 minutes or until the dough is lightly browned. Allow to cool completely before filling.

Cream Cheese Filling
makes enough for one pie or one large tart pan or 24-36 mini muffin cups

8-oz package of cream cheese at room temperature (neufchatel works great, too)
1 cup of heavy cream
1/2 cup of granulated sugar
zest of 1/2 a lemon
2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Beat cream cheese, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice and vanilla extract until light and fluffy. Add heavy cream and beat until stiff peaks form. Scrape the bowl frequently.

Filling the pastry cups
Fit a large star tip (Ateco #824) on a 16-inch pastry bag. Fill the bag with the cream cheese filling. Pipe nice swirlies in the cups to about 1/2 inch - 3/4 inch above the crust. Refrigerate at least 3 hours or overnight.

Berry Top
This is pretty straightforward. Fresh strawberries, blackberries, blueberries and raspberries work well together. I pick two or three berries for the tarts. The key is contrasting colors so try not to work with both raspberries and strawberries together (unless you're going for a red theme). Quarter regular-sized hulled strawberries. I had gigantor strawberries and needed to cut them into eighths.

Glaze: 2-tbsp of strawberry or seedless raspberry preserves and 1 tbsp of water. Heat preserves and water in the microwave for 30 seconds until melted.

Push two or three berries onto the peaks of the filled cups. Lightly brush glaze over the berries to keep the berries shiny and moist.

You can make this into a large tart with a graham cracker crust and it is a HIT at parties. It's also about 500 calories for 1/10th of a piece of pie. That's why I like little bites better.

And there you have it! Mini berry tarts. Cute, sophisticated, and oh-so-yummy!