3.25.2014

lasagna light bulb

I like lasagna. It's just warm and comforting and filling and warm. Yes, I said it twice.  I like that it's hearty and that the top gets kinda crunchy and brown. My stomach is rumbling.

That said, I have a weird aversion to squishy dairy. What's that, you ask? Exactly like what it sounds... sour cream, yogurt, even ice cream that's too soft and melty.  Which brings us to my problem...the ricotta.

Seems like every lasagna recipe has ricotta, but it's just not appealing to me.  Recently, I had a breakthrough. And while it's more work, it's WELL worth the effort if you, too, are averse to squishy dairy.

BECHAMEL. If you're not familiar, it's basically milk, garlic, and flour all mixed up and simmered to actually cook the flour. It acts like the binder that the ricotta usually fills in for.  And its sooooooo much better.

I found a few recipes that suggest a bechamel instead:

Smitten Kitchen's Lasagna Bolognese --- I called this my opus. I made the sauce, the pasta, the bechamel and then the actual lasagna.  And when I finished, I was nearly too tired to eat it.  BUT it lead me to my bechamel revelation. I made it again without making the pasta, and it was still good (but not as good).

Birthday Lasagna -- untested but sounds spot on.

GL's Classic Italian Lasagna - also untested but sounds delish!

Have you made a lasagna with bechamel?  Any favorite recipes?

2.27.2014

cementing a little change...

I like cement.  I like its industrial nature.  I like its natural grey tone.  I have always been intrigued by cement counters and cement floors.  I picked up a couple of these little cement planters at Target recently and thought, "There. Design itch satisfied".  But it wasn't.

I haven't loved our coffee table ever.  It was supposed to be somewhat temporary, but it's a good size and the dogs can sort of sneak under it if they need to get up, and its height is generally enough to miss the sweep of puppy tails.  But it's not good.  The shape is good and the style is good, but the wood on top was not wood but some sort of laminate.  Yech. It was inexpensive, so I can't blame it (just myself).

Kinda like this (but not at all due to the laminate):

via West Elm
And then it hit me: cover the thing in cement!  I loved what Jenny at Little Green Notebook did in her laundry room, so why not?!

First, I tried locating the Ardex Feather Finish, but I couldn't find it locally and immediately.  Home Depot stocks something called Henry Feather Finish with Ardex technology, so why not?  Off I went...

I picked up the cement mix, a putty knife, a drywall taping knife (basically a giant putty knife), and a drywall mud pan.  I already had sandpaper in 120 and 180, so I set off for home to get started.

I'm a dingdong and didn't take a "before" before I removed the top of the table from the base.  But I did take a photo before I started covering it up with cement:

Bad/fake wood grain

First step was to rough up the wood.  I sanded all visible sides with heavy duty sandpaper. 


Then I mixed up my first batch.  I didn't want to use anything that I would want to use again, so I measured using a solo cup and mixed it with a plastic spoon.  Classy.  Basically, the consistency is kind of like a paste.  The directions called for a 2/1 ratio of cement to water which I tried to follow:


I then started the "slathering".  As other tutorials suggest, build up the edges a bit. 




This is partway dry.  I scraped the little ridges down a bit and let dry overnight.


The next morning, I sanded (with 120 grit) and then put on another layer.  I let dry, sanded again, and put on another layer.

Once dry, I sanded the whole thing down pretty well and applied a layer of Valspar's Natural Look Waterproofer, let dry, and another layer of sealer.  Seeing a pattern here?

All told I did 3 layers of cement (though it could have stood to get 4) and two layers of the sealer.

Once completely dry, I screwed the top back on the table and... voila!


I'm completely happy with this project.  It took a super cheap piece of furniture and actually added value, in my eyes.
Now, I could have done a better job on the corners, but I honestly don't think it's a huge deal. Because the concrete has such visual texture (despite being smooth and flat), it's not noticeable at all.  Next project (and you better believe I'm gonna cover something else in concrete!), I'll build up any corners and shave them down versus trying to be so careful and type-a.  

wood showing thru on the corner
Great texture in the concrete

 Oh, you want to see the whole thing again?  Boom.



LOVE IT.




2.21.2014

Bargain?

This linen duvet seems like a really good bargain.  If only I were a solid duvet-type of girl.  Maybe I could be that girl for this price!


2.05.2014

I'm nacho friend!

I know, this has been around the world wide interwebs for a while, but I was just reminded of it, and it made me giggle all over again.  I wanna be friends with this guy's wife because we clearly have the same sense of humor.  And I wanna be friends with the guy because he obviously loves his wife.





1.27.2014

Bon Appetit - Cook the Cover

I guess I'm almost 8 months late for this BUT IT WAS SO WORTH IT.  I often crave spicy food with some rice.  Maybe I'm actually Asian stuck in the body of a little Jewish girl from Vermont.  There's always a chance.

Anyway, I cooked the cover recipe from Bon Appetit's July 2013 recipe.  Do it.  Well, do it if you like spicy food.  It's so damn good.  I cannot even wait to make it again (and I almost NEVER say that)!

INGREDIENTS
  • 1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 1/3 cup hot chili paste (such as sambal oelek)
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce (such as nam pla or nuoc nam)
  • 1/4 cup Sriracha
  • 2 teaspoon finely grated peeled ginger
  • 1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1 1/2-inch–2-inch pieces  
 
DIRECTIONS

Prepare grill for medium-high heat. Whisk brown sugar, vinegar, chili paste, fish sauce, Sriracha, and ginger in a large bowl. Add chicken and toss to coat. Thread 4 or 5 chicken pieces onto each skewer.  
 
Transfer marinade to a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until reduced by half (about 1 cup), 7–10 minutes.
 
Grill chicken, turning and basting often with reduced marinade, until cooked through, 8–10 minutes. 
 
Thanks, Bon Appetit!
 
Theirs:  
 
 
 Ours:
 

1.24.2014

Stuffed Olive

Our oldest pup's name is Olive, and she is awesome.  I love her to the ends of the earth and back, and that's what I tell her every night when I tuck her in.  If only I were kidding...

Christmas Card - before adopting Buck

Anyway, Olive has a sensitive system and suffered a bout of pancreatitis back in October.  Thankfully, she completely recovered from this life-threatening condition, but it made us more aware than ever that she needs to be on a super low fat diet.

After some research (ok, LOTS), we do a diet of homemade chicken/rice/carrots/vitamins and Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Fish and Sweet Potato. She seems to be able to tolerate the diet well (based on her appetite, weight, and stool - yes, I went there).  Her dry skin cleared up, and her weight is stable. 


The extra vitamins I mix into the homemade food come from a powder formula called Balance IT Canine. Pricey?  Yes, but I think it makes up for the lack of some of the stuff she would get if she was eating more dog food and less homemade.


Do you love your pup?  How far have you (or would you go) to keep him/her healthy?


1.07.2014

Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz

We like coffee.  A lot.  We're not "must have coffee or can't function" types.  We just really like the taste, and we like the sort of pomp/circumstance of its production.  Nor are we so snobbish that we only drink hipster coffee made by men with beards and bowties.  Granted, Rush is sort of hipster (he has three pairs of Sperrys!) and a beard, but he won't wear a bowtie no matter how much I beg.

Needless to say, we're not big on typical drip coffee in our house.  The journey to coffee heaven has been a fairly long one.  One day a year or two ago, I decided I wanted an espresso machine, so I could make lattes, so I bought us this little, inexpensive DeLonghi EC702 Espresso Maker.

DeLohghi EC702 Espresso Maker

And we liked it for a while.  But it just didn't have the horsepower we wanted.  The espresso was definitely passable; It just lacked depth or something. 

But in the meantime, we used the heck out of our Bodum Chambord Double Wall Coffee Maker.  She was an wedding gift, and we love her, but things came to a head because Rush accidentally broke the glass carafe, and it took us a while to find the replacement piece.

Bodum Chambord Double Wall
 
And because that wasn't enough, and I had heard nothing but good things, I bought Rush the Chemex 6-Cup Coffee Makerfor our anniversary.


Chemex 6-Cup

Which leads us to today.  For Christmas, Rush and I decided to upgrade our espresso machine.  Our rationalization is that we owned the old one for a year and half, so our cost per use was minimal.  Plus, our adored dog sitter likes espresso, so we gave the old one to her as a thank you.

After quite a bit of research within our price range (sub $500), we picked this baby:

Breville BES840XL

The Breville BES840XL Infuser Espresso Machine. She's still petite and compact on the counter, but she's definitely next steps for us.  With the magnetic tamper, gauge to help us get in the right range, pre-programmed shot sizes, and moveable steam wand, we quickly felt like we had moved up in the world.  Oh, and there's a little storage spot in the bag of the drip tray for unused accessories.  Makes great espresso and comes with built in storage?  Heavenly.

So what's next for us?  Perhaps, for now, I'll just have another cup of coffee.  Hmm... which maker to use...

1.02.2014

new year, new soup

It was a sad and strange end to 2013, a year I'm eager to leave behind.  Just before Thanksgiving, we lost two of our favorite people (and family members) within a couple days of one another of unrelated illnesses.  Rush's uncle Jon, and aunt Lynne have inspired us to be generous with our time and spirit and we miss them a ton already.  Rush and I spent three weeks in Australia, helping his parents get organized to sell their houses/cars/boat/etc, effectively missing American Thanksgiving while we were there.  We got home little more than a week before Christmas, and I ended up with bronchitis and an ear infection, so I spent the holiday a little detached from reality (thanks to Dayquil, Nyquil, and other assorted remedies).  New year's was equally as lame quiet, finding us eating Chinese takeout and in bed at 10pm, ready to wake up to a brand new year.

In the south, it's customary to eat black eyed peas, collard greens ("collards" as they call 'em), and pork on new year's day for good luck.  Because I'm married to a southerner (and because I could use some of that good luck), I oblige the tradition.  An excess of over-eating during the holidays got me thinking that a hearty (but still healthy) soup would be a great start to the chilly new year.

I am not a scratch cook. I will never be one because I lack self confidence or something.  If I post recipes here, they're usually just links to other people's recipes.  And this isn't much different because I basically melded two different recipes.

Without further ado...

___________________________________________________________________________________

New Year's Day Soup


Ingredients:
  • 8 cups of chicken stock (homemade or store bought is fine; make sure it's stock and not broth)
  • 8+ cups of water
  • 3 lbs meaty pork neck bones
  • 1/2 lb thick sliced smoked bacon, cut into half slice pieces (or) slab bacon, cut into large chunks
  • 8 ribs of celery, sliced medium thick
  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and sliced medium thick
  • 1 regular size bunch of fresh collard greens, ribs removed and cut to 1" sq. pieces
  • 20 oz. black eyed peas (store bought, soaked) 
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1 jalapeno, ribs/seeds removed and sliced into large chunks
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • Salt/pepper to taste

Instructions:

In a large, heavy stockpot, add stock, water, pork neck bones and bacon and bring to a boil. Once reached, skim off any visible fat and allow to remain at a simmer for 2 hours.  Remove neck bones and pull off meat.  Add back to pot.  Pull out bacon (and reserve any meat if desired). 

Add jalapeno, dried herbs, and additional water if needed.  Bring to a simmer for another 30 minutes.  Add black eyed peas and cook for 20 minutes, Add lemon juice, celery, and carrots and cook for 20 minutes.  Add collards and cook until the greens just barely turn dark green.  Add salt/pepper to taste.

If the soup is not thick enough for your preference, remove two small scoops of beans, and mash with the side of a knife.  Add back to the soup and stir.  The starch in the beans should help thicken the soup.

Keep in mind that soup is always better the next day, so you're encouraged to make a day ahead.  And one final note from a soup chef I admire, "use more salt than you think is necessary" especially if using homemade or low sodium stock.   


___________________________________________________________________________________


Soup inspired by...

Ham and Black-Eyed Pea Soup with Collard Greens |  Gourmet  | December 1998   

Smoky Black-eyed Pea and Ham Soup


11.07.2013

Kreg shmeg

Kreg.  Weird name but gosh it's a fantastic little product.  If you fancy yourself a handyperson and like to build stuff, the Kreg jig (I have this Kreg R3 Jr. Pocket Hole Jig System) makes pocket holes with ease and accuracy.


I made a really basic tabletop this weekend for an outdoor table and used my Kreg for the pocket holes to tie all of the table top pieces together.  The project renewed my love for the Kreg.  And I needed to share my love publicly.

Via


10.10.2013

The Perfect Thing

You know how it's painful when you search high and low for the perfect thing and when you find it, it's out of reach due to price?  Then you know how I'm feeling.

I want a new dining table.  Our kitchen is not "dine in", and our dining area is between the kitchen and the living room, so it functions as a very visible room/hallway.  The table we have now is fine; I actually picked it up off Craigslist for $40, and it's the right size for the space.  My gripe is that I don't actually like it very much as it's not my style.  It's also not expandable, so whenever we have a bigger dinner party, we have to pull out a folding table which makes me feel not very grown up.  I know, I have such debilitating problems.

Anyway, I have been searching for the perfect expandable table, and I found it:

It's the West Elm expandable farm house table.  It's on sale, and we have a gift card, but oy.  I'm having a hard time plunking down my CC...  Any thoughts?

9.11.2013

I love me a bar cart

I love me a bar cart, but of course, I don't have one.  They're all the rage, I know.  I had one (a bit too "tiki"), so I ditched it when we moved into our house.  We faked a bar with an upright bookcase that we sort of wedged in the corner, but I've still been itching for a proper stylized bar cart.  And I think I found 'er.

I'm headed to Target STRAIGHTAWAY after work.  Wood & brass?  Oy - I'm in love.  At least, I think I am.  More later when I have her in hand!

9.03.2013

Mason Jar Madness

Raise your hand if you DON'T love mason jars?  Anyone?  Yeah, that's what I thought.  They're just the most multipurpose vessel out there.  Canning?  Obvi.  Juice glass?  Duh.  Sewing kit?  Made one 10 years ago for college. Cocktail shaker?  Now that's one I hadn't heard of yet... and of course I want one now.


8.28.2013

Lo Siento

Lo siento for my absence.  We had a ridiculously long overdue vacation in Mexico.  Of course, preparing to go on vaca is a ton of work (work work and housework since we get a dog sitter to stay over), but I'm not complaining.

Just before I left, I ordered a new pair of clog boots.  I've been a little obsessed with the idea of clog boots for a few months.  First, I have a pair of cute clogs that are so comfortable that I couldn't help but hope the boots would be too.  Second, they give me a few very comfy extra inches of height.  Third, they're a perfect choice to throw on with any outfit. 

Michelle Williams in clog boots VIA

My regular clogs are from an amazing American company called Sven Clogs.  They have the best customer service, and all the orders are custom.  Choose your base, your color, and any trim.  Because my feet are so small, I ordered the kids size 34 in the Children's Boot with Strap (9112-S) in the color Fudge.  You can even order samples of up to 5 different leathers from Sven for free.  I found a coupon on their Facebook page and ended up getting $30 off.  Yay!

Well, the boots have arrived and I adore them.  On the first wear, I immediately started getting compliments (literally, the first stranger who saw me commented and then the first two colleagues at work).  I must be on to something...

New boots - Olive decided she wanted to be in the picture too... Woof.

7.15.2013

Knob Reveal (Hob Knob Update)

I'm sure you've been on tenterhooks waiting to find out what knobs I chose.  I'm sure.  Anyway, I chose option number 5...

Brainerd 1-inch Bedford Nickel Rectangular Cabinet Knob


My choice was part style, part price, and part laziness.  These (and the matching handles were in stock at Lowes (a mile from my house).

Once home with all my goodies, I set to work installing.  MAJOR ERROR on the first try.  You know how they say, "test in an inconspicuous place" about all sorts of home improvement DIY type things?  Do that.  There's a reason.  I chose to drill my first hole in a very obvious place and my placement didn't work.  Little tidbit - do NOT try to put your hardware on the joint where two pieces of trim come together (red circle) below.

 
I know a little about woodworking and thought there might be a biscuit (a small piece of wood that serves as a sort of puzzle piece to hold the two trim pieces together).  Never did I imagine that the biscuit would be metal and impossible to drill thru.  So nevertheless, I got to do some patching and staining of my hole.  Rarg.

Once I figured out an alternate location, I decided to make an easy to follow template for the single hole knobs.  I'm no genius but it worked just fine.  I took a piece note card, matched it to the two edges of the trim and marked the spot where I wanted the knob.  I then cut it and marked a single dot (with a metallic sharpie) of where to drill.  Voila:


Because my knobs had only one hole, things went along pretty swimmingly.  I got a little flummoxed when it came to starting on the matching handles which required two holes.  I had seen, on Pinterest, the idea of photocopying the item to be hung and using the copy as a template and decided to give it a try.  I practiced on a piece of scrap first, and it seemed to work as long as I was very precise.

Photocopies
I marked the middle of the handle template (the little plus sign below) and marked to the middle of the drawer front.  Then, I used a level to make sure that I was pretty close to perfect and taped the template to the drawer.  I then marked the hole and set about to drilling.


One thing to note: because my drawers were a little wonky (not very high quality - somewhat misaligned), I did the first drawer and realized that I needed to actually NOT use the middle of the drawer but instead needed to just line all the handles with the first one.  I used a big ruler and the level to make sure they were aligned, and it worked.  They're not all 100% centered, but they're in line with one another, and I think that's a better visual. 



We're pretty thrilled now that we have handles and knobs.  I have absolutely no idea why we waited so long.  We got out of this for about $100, and it makes the kitchen more comfortable to use.  Project success!