Monday, December 17, 2012

Recipe for Succ-Essi! Mi Amore: Venetian Essi Cookies

This blog post is brought to you by the letter 'S'.....that's Essi in Italiano.

My office is having a cookie exchange tomorrow, and in addition to my standard contribution-- Pizzelles (My Italian grandmother Nelda's recipe):

...I decided to try a new recipe.  The Essi Cookie!

It was 12 years ago that my love affair began with Essi, a real tough cookie with a long history!  Girl goes to Italy. Girl lays eyes on Essi. Girl falls madly in love with Essi at first bite.  Girl brings back Essi to the US.  Girl keeps Essi in a special cookie stash.  When Girl reaches for another Essi, she sees Essi is no longer there.  Girl is heart-broken!

Since the Essi cookie is a very special cookie that is indigenous to the island of Burano (just outside of Venice), I'm betting that not too many folks are aware of its charms.  My grandmother's pizzelle cookies are always a crowd-pleaser with my officemates, but I really wanted to knock their socks off and impress them with this exotic Italian biscotti delicacy!

I researched around the interwebs looking for recipes, and remarkably found a few!  Heck!  Even Martha Stewart has one...although she labels it the very anglo-fied 'Venetian Butter Cookies'.  I did stumble upon a recipe that sounded perfect, and from a gal whose last name ended in a vowel...a good sign!  So I picked Mary Melfi's recipe for Essi cookies from Italy Revisited, and off I went!

I followed the recipe pretty much to the 'T' is it 'S' in this case?  There were a few manipulations I made in the ingredients and technique, but here's my version of the recipe:

Note, I made my 'Essi' cookies at about 2" wide by 3" high and was able to get about 36 cookies out of these ingredients below:

  • 6 egg yolks (reserve 2 egg whites for the wash)
  • 3 cups all-purpose white flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup melted butter (Mary's recipe called for 1/2 cup..but I added more to make the dough a little softer)
  • Juice of one small Lemon
  • Grated Lemon Rind of Small Lemon mixed with 2 tablespoons of Sugar (Mary's recipe called for Lemon zest, I ended up grating the lemon rind)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Eggwhite Wash for tops of cookies:

  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • Mix well

Instructions and technique:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Cream the egg yolks & sugar with a mixer.

Slowly add the butter, flour, lemon juice, sugar lemon zest mixture, vanilla extract, baking powder, and salt.  Work into a cookie dough.  When I first made this, as I said, I followed the recipe's ingredients and used 1/2 cup of melted butter.  The dough was way too stiff, so I added 1/4 cup more of melted butter and it softened the dough perfectly.

Shape the dough into 3 balls and wrap them in clear plastic wrap.  Let the dough rest for 30 minutes.

Start with one of the dough balls and cut it into about 9- 12 sections.  Take each section and roll it into a ball that will be about the size of a walnut or a little bigger.  Roll each of these balls out into 'snakes' at about 3-4" long.

Take your dough snakes...or as my gal Kitty Lydia G calls them 'hot dogs'....and form them into 'S' shapes.

It's ok if the dough breaks just a little.  That's just the nature of it.  I also smoosh the Essi's down, just a little bit, to flatten them- but not like a pancake.  You still want these cookies to have a puffy shape.

Place on a cookie sheet that's been buttered up.  Or if you have those fancy silicon baking mats to line it could use that, too.

Apply your Eggwhite Wash mixture with a brush to the tops of the cookies and sprinkle a little bit of sugar on top.

Bake in the oven at 350 degree for about 11-12 minutes.  Once the Essi's have puffed up and their edges have turned've hit the jackpot!

Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool.  Repeat all the steps above with the remaining balls of dough wrapped in plastic.

And voila.....Essi Cookies!   For my first attempt, I think I definitely 'Hit it with my best shot'!  Take that, Essi!
(nom, nom, nom!)

The cookie texture will be hard and is perfect to dunk into coffee, tea, vino santo....even Limoncello!

Buona Fortuna in the Cucina, ya'll!

Brava, Brava!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Yo-Yo Ma, Look What I Made! A Crafty-Fresh Take on the Fabric Yo-Yo

December in Seattle usually means dark and stormy, and I'm not just talkin' 'bout cocktails & sailing.  It's depressing.  Like a charcoal grey worsted wool soaking wet blanket has been pulled over the city.  We don't see the sun here for another 7 months.      

So when I've got a bad case of the SAD's, I seek out bright color immersion therapy.  That often means I bust out something crafty that's wild & psychedelic in crazy contrast fabrics.

Lucky for me, I work at a fabric wholesale company called Clothworks to feed my fabric addiction.  Clothworks carries a wide range of fabric designs- something to appeal to everyone.  But there's always one particular fabric collection that goes gangbusters no matter what....and that is anything by Laurel Burch!

Laurel Burch, pictured here in front of her famous painted cats.  As if that's not cool enough, she's rocking a side ponytail with a scrunchie! 
Laurel Burch.....who's that?!!  For you non-fabric-junkies, you can visit her website & read her wiki to find out more about her.  For many years Clothworks has worked closely with Laurel Burch's artwork company in transforming her gorgeous paintings into fabric designs.  Sadly, Laurel passed away from a painful bone disease five years ago.  Her essence continues to live on in her vibrantly colored paintings of animals- butterflies, jungle cats, horses, dogs, and of course....cats.  Fabric couldn't be a better way to capture this!

Recently, and with much anticipation, Clothworks just released a new Laurel Burch collection-  Fabulous Felines!  One of the perks of working at a fabric wholesaler is getting my paws on the fabric first!  Mraowwww!  I'm not a 'cat person', but Laurel's rainbow-colored stylized interpretations of them have grown on my heart.  So I bought some.

Laurel Burch Fabulous Felines, Laurel Burch Basic Triangles, and Laurel Burch Basic Circles prints in dazzling colors.
It might be dark and stormy outside, but with one look of the dazzling colors of the Laurel Burch blues just blow away and inspiration takes a hold of me!

So I pulled out the Clover Yo-Yo Makers and started making Yo-Yo's:

Yo-Yo's?!!  No, not the Duncan kind, silly!  Fabric Yo-Yos.....  Like the ones used in these vests & handbags:

Now 'Mom Jeans' may be back in style with the hipster crowd, but I draw the line at Yo-Yo Vests.  I opted to make something simple, quick, and chic with my yo-yos.

I pulled out my brightly colored trims to compliment the bright colors of the Laurel Burch fabric:

And then I went to town, sewing the trims onto my yo-yos:

And then an idea popped into my head.  I know it!  I'll make a necklace with my yo-yos!!
So I traced a shape for the necklace base:

This pattern piece which I traced is called a yoke.  See Merriam-Webster definition #4.  The yoke will go on to be cut out of felt and used as a base for which I'll stitch on my yo-yos.  I cut 2 of these:
After I finished making my yo-yo's and adding trim to them, I dug out my buttons and rhinestones to bedazzle the yo-yo's.  I even covered some buttons with some of the cat fabric.  The cat motifs used in Fabulous Felines were sized perfectly for a large button to be covered by fabric.
Here's a pic of the covered button I used.  Follow the directions on the back of the box and it works like a charm!
1 7/8" diameter oversized button-- for covering in fabric!
Once I had made my yo-yos and fabric-covered buttons, I started to position them atop one of my felt yoke pieces:
In the picture above, the cat (shown in the middle) is a fabric-covered button stitched on top of a yo-yo with orange lace trim.  For contrast in texture, I kept it no-frills with the hearts cat (as shown in the upper right corner of the picture) by simply stitching it flat onto felt, then cutting out a felt 'medallion' with scalloped edge around the cat applique.
I started stitching some of the large yo-yos on top of my single felt yoke piece.  Stitching down the larger yo-yo pieces would serve as anchors on top of the felt yoke piece.  But before I stitched the yo-yos down, I stitched my ribbon that would serve as my neck chain.  In my necklace, I used red velvet rickrack:
I continued layering my yo-yos atop the felt yoke.  Some of the smaller yo-yos used on my necklace were hand-stitched down using embroidery thread-- just a few stitches in the middle to secure.  I added rhinestones and sequins to cover up any negative space so you didn't see any of the felt yoke showing through.  Once I had stitched down everything, I took my other felt yoke piece and layered it on the back of the base felt yoke piece.  This would cover up any of the stitching and allow the necklace to lay smoothly across your chest:
I used some embroidery thread to edge stitch the necklace base yoke to the yoke back and here's what it looked like after I completed it:
And Voila!  My New Necklace!
Here's a close-up look of the yo-yos, buttons, trims, and stones:

Completed in one day on a rainy Sunday, this was a fun, organic, zen-like craft project that produced a stunning result.  The bright Laurel Burch fabric and contrasting trims cheered me up, too! also doubles as a funky hair accessory:

Although I'm not a cat lady, I do fancy this updated take on the quirky fabric yo-yo!

And speaking of quirky and yo-yo........

Until next time ya'll..... 
keep it groovy!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Let's Make it Funky: A Xmas Stocking for Louie and one to Boot(sy)!

Lately, my apartment has transformed into 'Lil Stephy's Sweatshop' these days just before the Christmas holiday!  My sewing machine is getting lots of mileage as I crank out project after project.  Just this past Saturday I put some homemade stockings in the post to my bff Meredith and her Dutch hubby Bart who live in Utrecht, The Netherlands.  You can read about those here on my blog! As I uploaded pictures of my stocking progress for Meredith on my facebook page, my friend Nikki from back home in Cincinnati took notice.  She loved what I was doing and asked if I could make a stocking for her son, Louie.  The only criteria I needed to follow for Louie's stocking was to make sure his name was on the stocking (Nikki's husband's request) and to make it funky.

Make it funky, huh.....well....I didn't have to think much more on this one.  As I recall back a few years ago, Nikki had posted a pic of her posing next to the funkmaster, Bootsy Collins, on her facebook page.  I admit, I was jealous!  She got to meet Bootsy!!

For those who need schooling on who Bootsy Collins is, he is the funkiest bass player of all time- playing in Parliament Funkadelic and Bootsy's Rubber Band back in the 1970s among other musical offshoots.  A purveyor of all star-shaped accessories- particularly guitars and sunglasses, he has mad, pimpin' style!!  Bootsy is a member of the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame, has his own online school for teaching bass playing techniques- Funk University, and was born & raised and still lives in his hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio!

Inspiration for Louie's stocking was a piece of cake thanks to his Mama's brush with funky fame!  I mean, just look at those boots!!

So off I went researching, looking for some good Bootsy pics on the web to help inspire my design.  And then I came across this most excellent record cover with a stylized Bootsy coming out of a boot and said....THAT'S IT!

So off I went to the drawing board and came up with this sketch:

Instead of a bare-chested Bootsy, as illustrated above on the record cover, I subbed in a Bengal tiger emerging from a funky platform boot.  More appropriate for a baby boy who would grow up using this stocking Christmas after Christmas.  And the Bengal tiger is also connected to Cincinnati, too!  Who Dey!  Who Dey!  Who Dey think gonna beat dem Bengals!!

After I posted my sketch on facebook and got the greenlight from Nikki, I started going to town selecting fabrics from my overgrown stash.  And then I embarked on the applique process. I cut out all the fabrics, laid it out, glued the pieces down, and prepared it for sewing.

I took a trip to Pacific Fabrics in SODO to buy some more fun trims (as if there wasn't enough going on in the design).  Luckily I showed restraint and didn't buy out the whole shelf:

And then I stitched and stitched through the night and POOF!  Louie's Stocking was created!

Had it not been for my mom's comment on my facebook page when I posted my initial sketch of this design, I might not have decided to make another stocking.....just for Bootsy!

How could I not?!

Merry Christmas Nikki, Chris, and little Louie!  May you continue to have funky 'holidaze' 4 ever!!!