Saturday, February 25, 2012

For the love of Pinterest

I tried to stay away from Pinterest. Really, I did. I knew it would just be another site that would encourage me to spend countless hours staring at a screen. But it's just so darn full of interesting ideas. And pretty clothes. And tasty food.

Yeah, I've been sucked in.

One of the earliest ideas I found there were these coasters. Aaron and I have been searching for coasters for quite a while (in the meantime, we haven't used any. How uncivilized!) and I knew instantly that these were right up our alley. But, like many of the projects we get excited by, we threw it on the to-do list and promptly forgot about it.

Until today. The nice thing about Pinterest is that it makes it harder for me to forget all the exciting ideas that I find, since I log in pretty much every day and they're sitting there staring me in the face. (Sadly, it also reminds me of all the clothes I can't buy. C'est la vie.) We had some free time this morning, so we headed off to the store and picked up a cheap copy of Scrabble.

Then came the tricky part. It's actually semi-difficult to come up with 4-5 nicely themed coasters using all four letter words and only the tiles in one scrabble set. We cheated and a couple of the coasters have three letter words followed by a blank tile.

Once we were content with our chosen vocabulary, we broke out the wood glue and had at it. So far, we haven't backed ours with cork like the ones on the site. We're still considering whether we want/need to do that. Which meant that we had to glue ours together by connecting the tiles themselves.

I have to say, Scrabble tiles may have a quality control problem. It's easy enough to ignore that they're slightly differently sized and not quite square when playing with them on a gameboard. It's entirely different when you're trying to form an even 4x4 tile object out of 16 of them. Looking back at the original site, I guess I can see why they chose to place them on cork instead, and we may still do something similar to make sure they don't break. We'll see. For now, they just have little gaps in them. It gives them character. (Right? Imperfection is always character building.) And they're a little quirky. Just like us.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Fast & Loose Beef Bourguignon

I made my beef stew again this weekend. It's definitely one of my staple dishes and has a lot of the things that I like about food: slow cooked, one-pot-meal, homey. I'd like to share it with you all today. The original can be found in Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" under Boeuf Bourguignon. No, nothing is so sacred that it can't be modified. My version of the recipe - Fast & Loose Beef Bourguignon.

Cook Time: 3-4 hours. Feeds 6 (although Chrissie and I have stretched that out longer)

1 Dutch Oven
1 Pair of Tongs
1 Spatula
Maybe one extra pot for boiling water

1 6 ounce chunk of bacon - try to find a chunk that has not been sliced.
Olive Oil
3 pounds of stewing beef - It's best to find a Rump Roast or a Chuck Roast to cut up. Sirloin Tip, Top Round, or Bottom Round will do also. For the sake of everything good in the world, make sure you find a moist piece of beef. There's nothing more sad than eating a dry piece of beef in a stew.
4+ carrots - depending on how wabbity you're feeling
1 onion
1 3+ pound bag of baby potatoes - whatever you want
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 Tb flour
1 bottle of full-bodied, young red wine
2-3 cups of beef stock
1 Tb tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/2 tsp thyme
1 crumpled bay leaf
Parsley sprigs for garnishment

Putting It All Together:

Cup up the beef into pieces about 1 inch long on each side. Dry the pieces.

Slice 1 carrot. Cut the rest into chunks.

Slice the onion.

Cut up the bacon chunk into slices about 1.5 inches long and 1/4 inch thick. Remove the rind from the bacon. If you got salty bacon, simmer it (rind and all) for 10 minutes in water using that extra pot you got out. When that's done, set the bacon chunks and rind apart from each other.

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F. Your oven probably does something a little different than what you actually tell it to do. Mine likes to cook about 10 degrees cooler than what I tell it to do. Set a rack in the middle of the oven.

Heat your Dutch oven over medium heat on your stove. Put 1 Tb olive oil in and saute the bacon chunks in there for 2-3 minutes. Remove and set aside.

Brown all the sides of your beef in the bacon fat. Were your pieces totally dry? I hope so, this is where it really counts. Browning is best executed when your pieces are dry. I use tongs here, but anything that will keep you from burning your hand will work. I also tend to run out of cooking fat at this stage, so I add in more olive oil (another Tb) whenever I do. Set aside all of your browned pieces.

Once that's done, add in your sliced carrot and onion. Get them brown.

Put the beef and bacon chunks back in. Add the salt, pepper, and flour. Toss the mixture to coat all the beef lightly with flour. Take your Dutch oven and place it in the oven (uncovered). After 4 minutes, toss the mixture, and cook for another 4 minutes. This browns the flour and covers the meat in a light crust.

Remove the Dutch oven and set your oven for 325 degrees F. Reset the rack to the lower third of your oven.

Pour the bottle of wine into the Dutch oven. Then add your beef stock until the meat is barely covered. Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs, and bacon rind. Bring to a simmer on the stove, then cover it and stick it in the oven. Regulate the heat so that the liquid simmers very slowly for 2.5-3 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.

While you're waiting for the beef, peel your potatoes. Cut up large sized ones. After your meat has been cooking for an hour add your potatoes and mix up the stew. After another half-an-hour, add your carrot chunks.

Optional: When your stew is done, separate the solid bits from the broth and skim off any fat. Then simmer the sauce for a minute or two, skimming off additional fat as it rises. Test your broth with a spoon - it should be thick enough to coat it lightly. If it's too thin, boil it down rapidly. If it's too thick, mix in a few Tb's of stock.

I've finished the stew without the last step before and it's tasted great.

Check seasoning, garnish with parsley and serve with noddles, rice, or bread.


Sunday, February 5, 2012

Backyard Rehabilitation

Our backyard has been in pretty sad shape since we moved in. The soil is primarily clay and when we do manage to dig through sections, we discover all kinds of fun left to us from the previous owner of this property. (Our house is a new development of several houses on a patch of land that used to be just one home with a giant yard). I'm pretty sure that our yard must have been home to some sort of garage or shop where somebody worked on machines and cars. We've found random screws and nails, rusted out hinges, random scraps of cloth, and even an oil filter buried back there. There's still a tarp that's fairly deep stuck in the ground near the back. Helo's having a grand time attempting to uncover it.

Little by little, we're trying to reclaim the space and make it both usable and healthy again. Grass has been a struggle for us in a few areas of the yard both because of a lack of sunshine and a dig-happy puppy, so we're contemplating some new approaches this year. Our hope is that by late summer we'll be well on our way.

This is what we're starting from:

This is the side of our house. The large hole is courtesy of Helo.

Side of the back. Our currently dormant veggie garden, some Helo landscaping, and lots of branches thanks to recent stormy days. Our herbs are also hanging out back here until it gets warmer and we can move them to the front where there's more sun.

The middle of the back. A little more of Helo's handiwork, and some struggling grass.

The other side of the back. There used to be a Peony in the back corner, but it wasn't super happy and I guess Helo didn't want it to suffer.

Clearly, we have our work cut out for us. The first project we have in mind is building a small storage space under our deck (not pictured) for our gardening supplies, reminiscent of this one. After that, we're considering creating a small patio space in the area that Helo most loves to dig, since it's super difficult to get grass to grow there anyway. Beyond that, we're not entirely sure yet, but ideas are flowing and we'd love to hear yours!