Thursday, January 28, 2016

Beef Stew With Bacon

Like most people, when the weather is wet and/or dreary outside, I like to cook comfort foods...things such as stew, soup, big pot of pasta sauce or a meaty casserole.  They warm you up when eating them and warm the kitchen up while they are cooking.  Most involve longer cooking times, but once the prep work is done, you let them cook in the oven or on the stove.  A pretty low-key way of making dinner!
I also like these type of meals on football Sundays.  I LOVE my football!  Last Sunday the NFC & AFC championship games were on. This stew was working its magic in the oven while I watched the last game.  I love multi-tasking like this!

I found this recipe on the Williams-Sonoma blog.  Using bacon in the stew appealed to me.  Everything is better with bacon, right? It's a very flavorful stew, we really enjoyed it.  I messed up while shopping and bought four pounds of stew meat, instead of the three pounds the recipe called for. Oops! What the heck, I browned them all and we had a very meaty stew!  It made a lot.  We had it for dinner and then I brought the leftovers to the office to share for lunch. It was even more flavorful the next day.
The original recipe calls for using the cooked bacon as a garnish.  I threw the bacon in the pot before baking.  I didn't have fresh thyme, was too lazy to cut some rosemary, so used Italian seasoning instead. I like a lot of veggies in my stew, so used extra carrots. It was quite yummy!

Hearty Beef Stew
3 lbs. boneless beef chuck
2 Tbs. canola oil
4 thick slices applewood-smoked bacon, chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 yellow onion, chopped
3 carrots, cut into chunks
3 celery stalks, cut into 1/2-in. lengths
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 Tbs. unsalted butter
6 Tbs. all-purpose flour
4 cups (32 fl. oz.) beef stock or broth
2 Tbs. tomato paste
1 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish
1 tsp. minced fresh thyme
1 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 1/4 lbs.  red-skinned potatoes
Position a rack in the lower third of an oven and preheat to 325°F. Cut the beef into 1 1/2-inch  cubes and set aside. In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, warm the oil. Cook the bacon, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is crisp and browned, about 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain and set aside. Pour the fat into a heatproof bowl. Return 2 Tbs. of the fat to the pot and heat over medium-high heat. Season the beef cubes with salt and pepper. In batches to avoid crowding, add the beef and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned on all sides, about 5 minutes per batch. Transfer the beef to a plate.
Add another 2 Tbs. of the fat to the pot and heat over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, celery and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens, about 5 minutes. Stir in the butter and let it melt. Sprinkle with the flour and stir well. Gradually stir in the stock, and then stir in the tomato paste, the 1 Tbs. parsley and the thyme, rosemary and bay leaf. Return the beef to the pot and bring to a boil. Cover, place in the oven and cook for 1 1/2 hours.
Cut the unpeeled potatoes into 1-inch cubes, add them to the pot, stir, re-cover and continue cooking until both the meat and potatoes are tender, about 45 minutes more. Season the stew with salt and pepper. Serve immediately, garnished with parsley and the reserved bacon. Serves 6.

Recipe source: Williams Sonoma

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Craft Room "Tweaking"

Since designing my craft room a few years back, things have pretty much stayed as they first were. The last few months I've made a few changes and additions, all of which I love. 

The window overlooking my sewing machine is on the west side of the house. Our neighbor had a magnolia tree on their side that shaded this window in the afternoon.  I loved the shade, hated the messy tree.  It was pulled last fall.  No more mess, a lot more sun!  Previously, I had a sheer accordion shade here.  In order to not be blinded while sewing I had to keep the blind closed, which meant I couldn't see outside and I lost the natural light this window provides. There is a trumpet vine that grows on the trellis outside this window during the summer. It's so pretty and attracts hummingbirds, I hate to miss that view.  So the solution is a wood slatted blind.  When it's extra sunny I can adjust the blind so the sun is diverted upwards. If I want extra light I can pull the blind up.  This is going to work!
I recently chalk painted this antique oak cabinet.  It hung in our master bathroom for years before being relegated to storage about 10 years ago. My craft room is very colorful and the green adds a big pop of color on this wall.
My husband helped me put together this portable ironing board. I can keep it right by the sewing machine, eliminating having to get up and down to get to the regular ironing board. I can also take it in the RV or when sewing with friends. I'm learning to quilt and finding out there is a lot of pressing of little pieces, having this next to me has proven so handy! The rag quilt was made by my Grandma many, many years ago.  This is my dog's spot to rest when I'm playing in my room.
I previously shared how I chalk painted this antique dresser. Originally I was going to put a plush upholstered chair in this corner.  After working in my room for a few years I realized I wanted more storage and counter space, rather than a chair! I had a frame made that I also chalk painted and then made into a design board using core board and quilt batting. On it hangs the few quilt blocks I have learned to do!
Not planned for the room is this child's table and chair set. It was our daughter's when she was growing up and it's been in our attic for easily 20 years.  We brought it down last year and put it in our guest room, where the grandchildren have their toys and games. A few months back found our five-year old granddaughter dragging it into my craft room as she wanted to work where Nana did.  It's rather in my way but I wouldn't move it for anything!  We do a lot of projects in this room, mostly at my cutting table, but she likes to do things on her table, too! Her color books and crayons are always easy to get to, I keep them in a plastic carrier.

I've finished a cross stitch piece that will be displayed in here and am working on a banner to hang on one wall. This room is a bright, cheery space.  It is my happy place!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Bloom Sew Along

I've sewn since I was a little girl, following in my Grandma & Mom's footsteps.  First it was little Barbie outfits.  In high school I made a lot of my pants and my prom dress.  After I had children I made many Halloween costumes and dresses. I never imagined I would be making quilts.  

My friend, Bernice, first convinced me to try quilting by teaching me how to make a rag quilt.  Easy, not fussy, I liked it.  Then she moved me up to making a jelly roll quilt. Again, pretty easy, no cutting of little pieces. As I perused websites looking at fabric I begin to fall in love with many of the quilts.  I thought to myself that surely I can do this, I'm not stupid.  So, I jumped in headfirst and began making a country quilt with various blocks of different designs, such as a teapot, barn, milk pail.  That has been slow going; a lot of cutting itty bitty pieces of fabric, the holidays, a little travel. I've gotten bogged down, a time or two, and had to run to Bernice for rescue.  I've only completed 3 blocks of that quilt and I've jumped into another one.

Why? There is an online sew along to make a "Bloom" quilt.  Each week the instructor guides us through one block. It started this week and will go through the middle of June. At times I wonder if I'm a blooming (yes, that was a play on words!) idiot to start this as I'm also beginning another tax season. I don't have time to sew this time of year! What am I thinking?  I'm hoping I can do a little each night, that it will be something, besides numbers, to keep the stress at bay.  Time will tell how that goes but I have completed the first block! It's so cute!

Each of the 20 blocks on the quilt are appliqued using templates as a guide.  I spent 2 afternoons cutting out all the fabric so I would have that task behind me.  If all goes well my completed quilt will look like this. 
More information about the quilt and the sew along can be found on this website.

In the meantime my three farmhouse blocks are hanging on my design board, waiting.  I don't think I'll get any more work done on this quilt until after April 15!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Blood Orange Panna Cotta

Panna cotta is not a new dessert but it's something I wasn't exposed to until a few years ago.  I just love it!  I often order it at restaurants as it's such a light dessert, a little sweet.  It's so refreshing after a big meal. Last month we were in the Napa Valley and had a late lunch at my favorite restaurant there, Bottega. One of their dessert offerings that day was a blood orange panna cotta. It was heavenly! My mission became to recreate that for home.

My favorite panna cotta recipe is from Ina Garten so I tweaked it, using blood orange juice instead of water, to soften the gelatin. This gave the panna cotta a slight pink color.  Then I made a juice reduction to pour over before serving. I thought it turned out wonderful! My dinner guests this evening had never had panna cotta and enjoyed it.
Winter is citrus fruit time, everywhere I go I see oranges, grapefruits, lemons hanging on the trees.  Blood oranges have a crimson flesh.  They have a different taste from regular oranges, almost a raspberry-like addition to the citrus flavor. I love blood oranges and have used them to make marmalade, cakes, and add them to baked chicken dishes. And now I know to use them for panna cotta!

Panna cotta is a very easy dessert to make.  It also is a make-ahead dessert, leaving more time for dinner preparation and enjoying guests!

Blood Orange Panna Cotta

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed blood orange juice
2 teaspoons (1 packet) unflavored gelatin powder (Knox)
3 cups heavy cream
2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean
3/4 cup sugar

In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin on the 3 tablespoons of blood orange juice.  Stir and set aside for 10 minutes to allow the gelatin to dissolve.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 cups of the cream, the yogurt, and vanilla extract.  Split the vanilla bean and use the tip of a knife to scrape the seeds into the cream.  Heat the remaining 1 1/2 cups of cream and the sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Off the heat, add the softened gelatin to the hot cream and stir to dissolve.  Pour the hot cream-gelatin mixture into the cold cream-yogurt mixture and stir to combine. Pour into 8 (6- to 8- ounce) ramekins or custard cups and refrigerate uncovered until cold. When the panna cottas are thoroughly chilled, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Blood Orange Syrup

1 blood orange, zested, pith removed, cut into segments
1/4 cup freshly squeezed blood orange juice
1/3 cup sugar

In a small saucepan, combine the zest, juice and sugar; bring to a simmer. Cook until sugar is dissolved and mixture has a syrupy consistency, about 4 minutes.  Cool and refrigerate in a covered container.

To serve, carefully run a paring knife around edge of each ramekin.  Turn upside down onto a plate (shake if it doesn't immediately fall out).  Place an orange segment on top and drizzle with blood orange syrup.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

A Mickey Mouse First Birthday Party!

My daughter-in-love is a big Disney fan.  When she was pregnant she was given a Mickey Mouse-themed baby shower by her friends.  I made a Mickey rag quilt and Mickey labels that were used to chronicle each month of our grandson's first year. It was only natural that his first birthday party have a Mickey Mouse theme, too!
I saw a cake stand, similar to this, online over a year ago.  I looked everywhere for the source and couldn't find one.  My daughter-in-love's father is a great woodworker so I enlisted him to make this for me.  I suspect we will use it for many future gatherings and loan it out.  It is so cute and was the perfect centerpiece for the birthday cake!
I made the sugar cookies.  As I had eye surgery on the day I was doing cookies I knew I couldn't do the normal royal icing decorated ones, so sugar crystals had to do!
The party was in our home but our daughter-in-love did everything else; the cupcakes, Rice Kripies treats, candy coated pretzel sticks, popcorn, putting together the banners, table centerpieces, etc. She did a great job!

My favorite part was this display of our grandson's first year, wearing a white onesie and his month labels, sitting on his Mickey quilt.  Seeing the transition from a newborn to a one-year old just melts your heart!
The birthday boy got his first taste of sugar, he was very tentative about it, but enjoyed it. Happy first birthday, sweet Jakey!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Mix 'n Match Table Setting

Having a plethora of dishes and linens allows me to create different table settings from the same rotating stock of supplies. Or so I tell myself. I do try to get things that can be interchangeable, it helps me justify my collecting habit. That's my story and I'm sticking to it!
We entertained another couple for New Year's Eve.  The Christmas flowers were still looking pretty good so I wanted to coordinate the table around their red and white color.  I grabbed my recently acquired red plates that are from the Pioneer Woman's line at Wal Mart. I'm not ashamed to say I shop at Wal Mart!

The blue crocheted place mats, acquired last spring, brought out the blue in the salad plates (also Pioneer Woman). And last summer, while in Cambria, I spotted these April Cornell napkins and knew I'd use them sometime.  They were almost an identical match to the plates!
We had been having sunny days in California (we are now inundated with El Nino rainstorms!) and we had birds all over the backyard. So, a few birds on the dining table seemed fitting!
I think the red plates, blue placemats and a white salad plate will be fitting around the Fourth of July. My hubby will think I bought new dishes (again).  I can show him these pics as proof that I do use my dishes more than once!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Shrimp and Roasted Garlic Tamales

Last month we were able to get away to Las Vegas for a few days to see Brooks & Dunn and Reba in concert at Caesar's Palace. That gave me the opportunity to make reservations at a few celebrity chef restaurants.  One night we had dinner at Giada and the other night we ate at Bobby's Flay's Mesa Grill.  We had eaten at Mesa Grill once before and thoroughly enjoyed it.  The second time didn't disappoint us either.  For an appetizer we each had the shrimp and roasted garlic tamale. We enjoyed it so much we went back the next afternoon to have a margarita and share the appetizer (their margaritas are amazing, too! ) At that point I knew I wanted to try these at home so bought his cookbook.
We had another couple over for New Year's Eve so these were on our menu. They were good, very good, but not as spicy as I remembered the ones we had at the restaurant.  Next time I will add some chilies or red pepper to jazz them up some.

This was my first attempt at making any sort of tamale.  The filling is a soft filling, when you open the corn husk after baking it loosely spreads out. Traditional tamales have very firm masa fillings. These weren't hard to make, just took time and a lot of dishes! But I had all afternoon so did it in steps.  The next time I make them it will be when we are entertaining more people.  It was a lot of work for just the four of us! 

Here is the recipe .  Don't be intimidated by its length, many of the steps can be done ahead of time.

The part I had a hard time with was tying up the ends of the tamales.  The recipe calls for using strips of the corn husks.  Most of mine would break as I went to tie them.  So I grabbed my ball of twine and used that instead. Maybe not as pretty and authentic but this was better than the tamales falling apart!
The tamales have a loose, corn and cornmeal filling.

Ready to be steamed.