What to Expect From Your First Needlepoint Class

When blizzard Jonas came to town a few weeks ago, it majorly disrupted my weekend plans. I had been looking forward to attending my first needlepoint class for ages so I relieved when it was rescheduled to later in January! Of course, that meant that I ended up doing a four hour needlepoint class and a two hour cake decorating class on the same day. Kind of exhausting but totally worth it.

Since I went into my first class totally unaware of what to expect, I’ve decided to share some insights to better prepare other newbies.

Pick Your Canvas

In the needlepoint world, classes revolve around a specific canvas. When a needlepoint store wants to teach a class on a canvas, the instructor picks one that they have a finished example of, as well as a stitch guide.

Waste Knot Needlepoint, my local needlepoint store, offers a new class every few weeks. They always post the canvas for their classes on Facebook so when I saw this Mrs. Claus ornament posted back in December, I signed up right away! This was the first year I hosted my family over the holidays, and after decorating my tree almost entirely with cheap bulbs from target, I knew I had to up my ornament game.

Bring Your Tools

When you show up to class, your canvas will be ready to go on stretcher bars. You’ll also be given a stitch guide, needles and all of the threads you need to finish your project. What won’t be waiting for you is anything else extra you usually use. So, if you are used to stitching with a stand, a light, scissors, a needle magnet or magnifier, bring those with you and give yourself a few extra minutes to set them up.

Get a Taste for Stitches

Once you are all set up, the real fun begins! The instructor is there to walk you through the stitch guide and spend just enough time on every section to feel comfortable to finish them on your own. This means that when you walk away from class after four hours, you are not going to be anywhere near done with the canvas but you’ll have started a little on every section.

These shades of pink worked wonderfully for shading Mrs. Claus's face

These shades of pink worked wonderfully for shading Mrs. Claus's face

Know Your Abilities

Classes are for stitchers of all skill levels but being a complete beginner would make keeping up challenging. I consider myself to be a pretty good stitcher but even I had some hangups when it came to my new nemesis: french knots. I took some advice from the instructor and set myself up to practice french knots on a blank canvas after class. Knowing your abilities will help you make the most of your time during a class. When you recognize your strengths, you can move past the stitches you are confident with and spend time on the more challenging stitches for you.

Network

Besides a scattered handful of friends who stitch belts for loved ones, I don’t have a group of fellow needlepoint-ers to sit and stitch with. Attending a needlepoint class gave me the perfect opportunity to sit and chat with a group of women who also spent a considerable amount of time (and money) on needlepoint. I didn’t leave with a new best friend but it’s always so nice to meet other people with similar interests. And then talk about them for hours.

So there you have it, insights from my first needlepoint class. Now that I’ve taken one and know what to expect I’m excited to finish up my ornament and jump right into my next class. Have you taken a needlepoint class? What did you wish you knew before going to your first one?

Mason Jar Butterscotch Mousse Topped With Chocolate Popcorn

Is this my longest blog title to date? Yes. Did I try to shorten it without losing what I felt were critical pieces of the recipe? Of course. Did I succeed? Nope.

Over the past month, I’ve been making a fair amount of Valentine’s Day themed desserts, searching for the perfect treat to make for Colin and I on the 14th. Turns out we will be out of town this weekend and most definitely not making dinner at home on Sunday. Whoops. Luckily we’ve both been actively involved in the tasting process of everything to date so it doesn’t feel like we are missing out.

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Speaking of testing Valentine’s Day desserts, this mason jar butterscotch mousse with chocolate popcorn is definitely my most decadent dessert to date.

Grammatical side note: Mousse is one of those words that no matter how many times I remind myself how to correctly spell it, I still end up writing ‘moose’. In the event that I slip up and my diligent proofreading skills miss it, I want it stated for the record that I made a butterscotch mousse, not moose. That being said, one of my favorite sweets shops that I visit every summer in Maine is Len Libby, famous for having the world’s largest chocolate moose. Maybe that’s why my brain can’t keep chocolate moose and chocolate mousse straight.

I had some extra mason jars lying around (perks of being an overly crafty person), which made for perfect containers to hold this mousse but if you have smaller jars on hand, by all means use them! This recipe was enough for two mason jars so it will likely fill four or five smaller jars. I should also note that since it’s an incredibly rich recipe, it took a few days to finish both jars between two people so splitting it up among more people in more jars is definitely doable!

In addition to being rich, mousse has a soft and smooth texture. My brothers refer to things that are inadequate and weak as being ‘Downy extra soft’ so I always try to avoid using the word ‘soft’ to describe things that I actually enjoy, but there’s no way to get around it with mousse. When it comes to its texture, ‘soft’ truly is the best way to describe it. Of course, just because it's soft doesn't mean we can't add crunch on top. Enter chocolate popcorn!

Chocolate popcorn is salty and crunchy, the perfect compliment to a sweet and soft mousse. If you’ve read ahead you’ve probably noticed that the popcorn recipe makes 10 cups. Obviously I don’t advocate topping two mason jars with 10 cups of popcorn (although if you succeed in doing so please send me photos). I loved the popcorn so much that I wanted loads of extra to snack on separately the next day!

Despite being super decadent, this dessert is incredibly easy to make as long as you have a quick read thermometer. Much like when making ice cream with a custard base, it’s important to cook the egg portion of the mousse to 160 degrees. I should mention that when I was making this a few days ago, I went through 20 egg yolks. Not because it was hard or because I was being a perfectionist, but because I had set my thermometer to celsius rather than fahrenheit. Not my brightest moment. The first few batches quickly turned into scrambled eggs which is most certainly not what one wants in a custard so keep an eye on your custard to make sure it doesn’t get too cooked and you’ll be fine!

Popcorn Ingredients

  • 10 Cups popped plain popcorn
  • ¾ Cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ Cup cocoa powder
  • ¼ Cup light corn syrup
  • ⅛ Cup salt
  • ½ Cup butter
  • 1 Teaspoon vanilla

Popcorn Recipe (Adapted from an AllRecipes.com recipe)

  • Line a baking sheet with tin foil and set aside
  • Preheat oven to 250 degrees
  • In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, cocoa powder, corn syrup, salt and butter and heat over medium heat until fully melted, swirl mixture around in the pan to help combine
  • Once melted, mix in vanilla
  • Place popcorn in large metal bowl and pour chocolate over it, mixing to combine
  • Transfer popcorn and chocolate to baking sheet and lay flat, making sure that all of the popcorn has been covered
  • Bake for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes
  • Remove from oven and let cool

Mousse Ingredients

  • 4 Egg yolks
  • 2 ¾ Cups heavy cream, divided
  • 4 Ounces semisweet chocolate
  • 4 Ounces butterscotch chips
  • 1 Teaspoon vanilla
  • ⅛ Teaspoon salt

Mousse Recipe (Adapted from an Epicurious recipe)

  • Place egg yolks in a metal bowl and set aside
  • Heat ¾ cup heavy cream over medium heat until it gets to a rolling boil
  • Once cream is boiling, temper into egg yolks and return mixture to oven until it reaches 160 degrees
  • Remove from heat, set aside and let cool slightly
  • Melt chocolate and butterscotch over a double boiler
  • Once melted, mix in vanilla and salt
  • Mix chocolate and butterscotch mixture into custard and set aside
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk 1 ¼ heavy cream on high until stiff peaks form
  • Whisk in ¼ of whisked heavy cream into the custard
  • Fold in the rest of it until combined
  • Fill two mason jars with mousse, cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours
  • Before serving, whisk remaining heavy cream until stiff peaks form
  • Scoop on top of mason jars of mousse and top with a handful of popcorn

 

Mini Vanilla Cupcakes

After weeks of ingesting so much chocolate in the lead-up to Valentine’s Day, I decided to treat myself to something most definitely not chocolate: vanilla cupcakes!

I had so much leftover icing after my cake decorating class last week that I thought making cupcakes would be a great way to keep practicing my new favorite decorating style AND use up leftovers.

I loved learning to use all sorts of icing tips but my absolute favorite was the ruffle. When done on top of cupcakes, it looks beautiful and dainty - exactly how I like my little Valentine’s Day cupcakes. Especially when paired with these festive accessories I picked up at Michaels.

A few buttercream icing tips before you make your own: Don’t skip the shortening in favor of butter or margarine. Your icing will be too soft and won’t hold up when you make fun shapes. Similarly, when you opt for colors make sure you use gels as opposed to regular liquid food coloring, which will dilute your icing and make it too runny.

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I’m all about mini cupcakes as opposed to their regular-sized counterparts. For starters, I hate waiting to eat what I make so their shorter cooking time is a serious bonus. They are also just a little more adorable so I don’t feel guilty when I eat them. I’m realizing this is a trend in my cooking. As with the cinnamon truffles last week, I seem to think if I make them smaller I can eat twice as much. Can’t argue with logic.

Cupcake Ingredients

  • 1 ½ Cup (187g) flour
  • 1 Teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ Teaspoon salt
  • 8 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 ½ Cup (150g) sugar
  • 2 Eggs
  • 2 Teaspoon vanilla
  • Seeds from 1 vanilla bean

Icing Ingredients (Wilton Buttercream Icing recipe)

  • ½ Cup solid vegetable shortening
  • ½ Cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 Teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 Cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons milk
  • 2 Drops of red food gel

Recipe

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt and set aside
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar
  • Whisk eggs in a small bowl and then mix into creamed butter and sugar
  • Mix in vanilla and vanilla bean seeds
  • Scoop dough into mini muffin tin and bake for 11-13 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a cupcake comes out clean
  • While the cupcakes cool, prepare icing
  • In a medium bowl, cream shortening and butter until light and fluffy
  • Beat in vanilla extract
  • Beat in confectioners’ sugar, one cup at a time, scraping down the sides as you go
  • Once sugar is completely incorporated, beat in milk
  • For optional color, add two drops of red food gel
  • Once cupcakes are cooled, apply icing

Mary’s Flourless Chocolate Cake

Crowded restaurants, slow service and uncomfortable PDA from the tables on either side of me are not things I enjoy so I’ll do be dinner at home on the 14th. Well, since I’m flying home that afternoon from a weekend trip up north, my dinner will realistically end up being Chinese take out topped off with some version of chocolate for dessert. I’m still finalizing the menu but this cake is definitely on the short list.

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I talk a lot about recipes my mother has passed down because that’s the food I enjoyed most during my formative years. It’s only natural then that the flavors my mother cooked for me me have shaped what I like and don’t like about food today.

My mother’s flourless chocolate cake was always a staple for my family. Easy to make, it’s a delectable treat for every occasion ranging from afternoon tea to fancy Valentine’s Day dinner. See what I did there, I made this delicious chocolate dessert from my childhood relevant for next week’s ‘holiday’. You’re welcome.

I can’t say enough good things about this fudgey cake. I like to cover mine with powdered sugar, because why not, but ice cream, fresh whipped cream and berries are also delicious additions.

What are your favorite desserts from your childhood? Do you still make them today?

Ingredients

  • 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for pan
  • 8 Ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 6 Large eggs, separated
  • 1/2 Cup (100g) granulated sugar
  • Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

Recipe

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees with the rack in the center
  • Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Set aside
  • Place butter and chocolate in a large heatproof bowl and microwave in 30-second increments, stirring each time, until completely melted, about 2 minutes. Let cool slightly
  • Whisk in egg yolks
  • In a large bowl, beat egg whites on high until soft peaks form, about 8 minutes
  • Gradually add granulated sugar, and continue beating until glossy stiff peaks form, about another 4 minutes.Whisk 1/4 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture; then gently fold in remaining egg whites
  • Pour batter into the prepared pan, and smooth the top with a rubber spatula
  • Bake until the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan and is set in the center, 45 to 50 minutes
  • Cool completely on a wire rack; remove sides of pan
  • Serve at room temperature, dusted with confectioners’ sugar