Wednesday, August 31, 2011

*First Impressions*

The "room" that I chose to quickly and affordably Morganize was our entryway.  The small 4x4 entrance does not allow for much of an introduction, however, big things come in small packages.  In order to glam-up this little alcove, we needed to re-paint, (the kids claimed a whole wall as their own canvas),add something for shoe storage, and a place for keys.  Lastly, we needed to also add something pretty and welcoming to the area to make it cheerful.  Check out the photo gallery for more details. 

Photo Gallery

This is our initial entryway.  The very small space was going to be hard to work with, but I think we can work some magic.  Ben and I put our brains together to see what could be done.
It all starts with a fresh coat of paint.  Ladies and gentlemen this is the first room that I have painted white in my entire life.  I chose the brightest shade possible so that it would make the room seem lighter, as it doesn't get much sunlight.
Already the room looks brighter!
Ben is taking measurements in order to make a shelf that will hold handbags and decorative items.  I thought that this would be a nice place for guests to place their purses while visiting (also it's out of the kids' reach) Next, Ben added a lower, angled shelf that was designed to hold shoes in an orderly manner. 
Later in the evening, Ben adds a corner shelf that will hold our keys. 
All done!  This arrangement of flax,sunflower and bougainvillea is from our garden.
As you can see, the fresh white coat of paint and the mirror add more light to the space which makes it feel more open and welcoming.  The top shelf can hold purses, bags or even a few glowing candles in the evening. 


~Make an Entrance~


~Good Things for August~

It's that time of the month again when I put together a few "Good Things" from the archive, as I call it.  I enjoy reading the monthly column of Good Things in the Living magazine because as a busy mother, I'm constantly on the lookout for ways to improve the ease and quality of our life.  Maybe these simple solutions will offer some assistance?


Photo Gallery

This was our very first homegrown watermelon. We wanted to have a little fun so we played dress-up.
The Good Things article in the August issue of Living suggest slicing off both ends of the watermelon and then sitting it up like so for easier cutting.  This method is much easier than trying to slice a wobbly watermelon.
This picture is from my handmade pasta blog.  It demonstrates nicely how to neatly package Parmigiano-  Reggiano cheese use at the table. I used rubber bands because I happened to have some nearby instead of the suggested twine, but either way works out well.  
From a previous Living issue ( I can't remember which one) I had torn out the Good Things page that discussed how to make all-natural mists in one of my, "oh, I'm so gonna make this someday" rants.  These mists are easy to make only require a few herbs, fruit or veggies and some water. At Whole Foods, I purchased the spray bottle for a little over $2!  Since I have a fairly good supply of herbs in my garden, I decided to make a mist using Chocolate Mint, Tulsi-Krishna Basil, Holy Basil and a 50/50 mix of rose water and regular water.  You can have fun with it.  Even if you don't grow your own herbs or veggies, then the ingredients can be purchased (ideally at a  Farmers' Market). Shown below is Holy Basil from our garden.  It is wonderful for you and of course it smells fantastic! 
Here is the Tulsi-Krishna Basil.  It is considered a true sacred basil and is mildly intoxicating.
Oooohhh the chocolate mint.  This is way better than a chocolate peppermint patty.  I made sure to grab a little extra of this for my mist.
This is the rose water that I had added to a mixture of 50% regular water.  This too can be purchased at Whole Foods or at an ethnic foods store.
Here it is, the chocolate rose spritzer with sacred basil.  This mist is especially refreshing after working hard in the garden.
Lastly, this map was hand stitched with our chosen route to Las Vegas.  The stitching adds another dimension to the scrapbook page.  I incorporated this idea from the August 2011 Good Things into my current scrapbook project. 

~Good Things for August~


Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.  ~Confucius

~Expressionery...Express Your Style in Print~

In the August issue of Martha Stewart Living, I decided to try out the Expressionery stamp that is advertised.  Read on to see if it's worth the minor investment, or if it's just a piece of junk.


At first, I was going to purchase those sticky paper tabs with our name and address on them.  But then I saw this...


pictures from expressionery.com
Custom Stamp Collection
25% off 


I prefer the written letter over an email any day of the week.  However, the ease and convenience of  "shooting" a quick email to someone often takes precedence over the written word these days.  It's neither a good or bad thing.  It just is.  Still, I like to send the occasional card to a friend or loved one even though it takes a little longer.  I'm sure that you've heard the term, "snail mail".

I love snail mail.  In fact, every time that I get a package or letter in the mail that is neither an advertisement nor a bill I'm thrilled.  Almost as fun as being the receiver, sending a letter in the mail is equally, if not more fun.  What time of year do you most often send letters to your friends and family?  For me, it is scattered throughout the year but it's particularly concentrated during the holidays when i send out Christmas cards.  I tend to send out quite a few letters and I get tired of writing out the return address by hand each and every time.  So, guess what I did?  I purchased the Expressionery custom stamp that has our last name and address on it.  With one single press, our name and address is beautifully stamped right onto the package,letter or card.  I enjoy things that save me time and this is one elegant way of doing so.


***To purchase a custom stamp of your own, visit Expressionery online at http://www.expressionery.com for an online catalogue and ordering information. ***


Final thought-  It's not a piece of junk and is worth every penny. 
 

Friday, August 26, 2011

~Handmade Pasta~

picture from marthastewart.com

Martha Stewart Living Television, November 2000


















  • Yield Makes 1 1/2 pounds









  • Ingredients
    • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    • 5 large eggs
    • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt

    Directions

    1. Mound flour in the center of a work surface, forming a well in the center. Crack the eggs into the well. Add oil and salt.
    2. Beat eggs with a fork until smooth. Gradually work flour into the eggs.
    3. Use a bench scraper to work in the rest of the flour, a bit at a time.
    4. Once all the flour has been incorporated, start working the dough with your hands to form a rounded mass for kneading. Be sure the work surface is clean of all loose bits of dough; lightly dust with flour. Knead the dough until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.
    5. Cover the dough with an inverted bowl or plastic wrap; allow to rest 1 1/2 hours, or chill overnight.
    6. Divide dough into large walnut-size pieces. Quickly knead and flatten each portion of dough into a disc; very lightly dust with flour. Feed through a pasta machine set at the machine's widest setting. (If pasta pulls or tears when passing through machine, simply sprinkle a little more flour over the dough, just before it's fed, to keep it from sticking. When finished, remove excess flour with a dry brush.) As the pasta sheet emerges, gently support it with your palm and guide it onto work surface. Fold the sheet lengthwise into thirds. Repeat sequence twice on the same setting to smooth dough and increase its elasticity. Thin the dough by passing it through even finer settings, one pass on each setting from widest to narrowest (machine settings differ -- some have as many as 10, others only six). Repeat with remaining dough.
    7. Pass each portion of dough through cutting blade for desire thickness. To cut by hand; lightly fold sheets one at a time into thirds. Cut with a sharp knife into desired thickness.


    I'll fess up. I typically don't go into the dramatic details of my life on my blog for several reasons (just turn on your TV.  There, you can watch all the drama you want).  However, I will say that cooking relieves just about every stress factor that may be present in my life.  The more I saute, julienne, bake or pre-heat,my problems get more and more meaningless.  Or, often a method of action comes to me when I least expect it, often at the cutting board.  There is direct relationship between the stress in my life and how  my kitchen starts sizzling, cranking out the most wonderful foods.  You can catch me pre-heating like mad when I need to unwind. 

    I look at it this way; whatever I creatively do in the kitchen not only helps me to feel better (it's a creative outlet) but it blesses those around me with good food.  What better way to deal with life than to create something spectacular?  To me, life is comprised of flavors and really you could describe everyday experiences and situations in terms of food and flavors.  Did someone piss you off?  Then they were a nasty Limburger that was left in the heat of summer and has since become way to over-ripe for ones liking.  Or maybe they'd be considered and immature pinot grigio that still has some much needed maturation.  George Bernard Shaw said, "There is no sincerer love than the love of food."  George, you are exactly right.

    Divine.  Truly divine.  There is just nothing that compares to the wondrous texture and the nutty flavor of freshly made pasta.  There is no comparison.  If you haven't made pasta by hand already definitely put it on your list of things to make.

    After ooohing and aweing through ever single bite of our dinner, I picked up the phone to call my partner in cooking crime, my father.  He was thrilled to hear that I had made pasta and he told me that James Beard ranted and raved about handmade pasta, but that hardly anyone listened.  He was making a ratatouille so I couldn't chat too long with him, but I think I will have him over soon for some fresh pasta.  You don't have to be a great cook to make this, just the average Joe.  All it takes is a little time, egg yolks, semolina flour and there you have it-fresh, tasty, delicious pasta.

    If I had to approximate the amount of time that it takes to make pasta by hand, I would say that it took me approximately 30 minutes of active time at most-maybe 45?  I would compare the pasta making craft with something like baking a simple cake, in terms of the time. 

    Photo Gallery

    The 00 semolina flour straight from Italy.  So it begins.  Simple ingredients often yield spectacular results.
    Ooooops!  There goes a few eggs.  Chester??  Here boy!
    Here we are working hard in the kitchen to crack 16 eggs for their yolks.  I can see why people limit their pasta consumption.  I had no idea-16 yolks!  Oh well, it was so worth it.
    Gabriel was very sneaky.  He kept sticking his little finger into the mix to sneak in a taste.  
    Cheers!
    Gabriel the dough boy.
    Do not attempt to put the whole batch into your pasta machine like I did.  Since this was my first time doing this, I had no idea what to do.  I learned that you need to pull off a small piece at a time to run through the machine.  It all gets shredded into pasta in the end so you can work in small batches.
    Wow! The pasta dough was getting really tough!

    Once I figured out that the key was to work with small batches of dough, it came out looking good.
    The pasta needs to sit for 20 minutes.  I went outside to gather up some ingredients for a salad and to find something pretty for the table.
    The tomatoes are starting to ripen up!
    I went ahead and bought a jar of sauce for the pasta.  This was a great sauce.  A little watery, but the flavor was there.  Plenty of spices and flavor-especially with the chanterelles.
    When I cook pasta, I always throw some salt and sugar into the boiling water before I add the pasta.  I also add olive oil too.  I just picked this up at the farmers' market this week.  It's a meyer lemon infused olive oil.  Really good!
    The pasta has now set for 20 minutes.  We are ready to shred.  I switched the attachment on the mixer to the spaghetti slicer.  We were in business.
    This was a hard picture to take with one hand.  I had to operate in milliseconds as the spaghetti came out and I had to catch it with a plate while at the same time I took a picture.  
    All done.  Fresh handmade pasta. 
    I was proud of these noodles like a mama that has just heard their child speak their first word.  I'm really not joking ;)
    Now it's time to boil.  The noodles are so firm that the boiling does not make them lose their shape (for those that don't know).  At first I thought I was missing a step or something.  But you really do just put them in the boiling water.
    While the noodles were boiling, I started on the salad.  This is a chioggia beet is from our garden.  It's an heirloom beet. 
    Back to the noodles.  They are done boiling.
    I sprinkled a little extra basil on the noodles for some more flavor.
    This is a simple meal that we really enjoyed. 
    Of course, for those of you that can have cheese, a little fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano is a must.

    ~Dinner Was Served~




    A Lobster Tale


    What's Playing? Intuition by Jewel

    picture from marthastewart.com




    Lobster Corn Chowder

     
    This was a really bland chowder.  There was hardly any flavor at all and to top it off, it was watery.  If you make this chowder then be prepared to sprinkle in some herbs and spices, otherwise it will be a watery mass of chunks.  Not tasty.  If you're going to spend the money on a lobster, then it should taste good.  It should not, however,be a waste of both money and calories.  There are three things in life that one is not permitted to do: 1)don't mess with my family or friends 2) don't mess with my money and 3)  don't mess with my food.  I should have eaten a cupcake instead. 


    Recipe from marthastewart.com

    Ingredients

    Makes 6 cups; Serves 5
    • 1 whole lobster (1 3/4 pounds)
    • 4 cups fresh corn kernels (from about 7 ears of corn), cobs reserved and halved
    • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
    • 1 large onion, chopped
    • 3 garlic cloves, minced
    • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
    • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives

    Directions

    1. Prepare an ice-water bath. Bring 8 cups water to a boil in a large pot. Reduce heat to medium-low. Plunge lobster into water headfirst, and simmer, covered, for 9 minutes. (Do not let water boil.) Transfer lobster to ice-water bath using tongs; reserve cooking liquid. Let stand for 10 minutes to cool.
    2. Crack lobster claws, knuckles, and tail, and remove meat; reserve shells and body. Coarsely chop meat. (You should have about 1 cup.) Refrigerate until ready to use.
    3. Return shells and body to pot with cooking liquid. (For added flavor, chop body with a cleaver before returning to pot.) Add reserved cobs. Simmer, covered, over medium heat for 35 minutes. Strain stock through a fine sieve into a bowl; discard solids.
    4. Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook corn kernels, onion, garlic, and 3/4 teaspoon salt, covered, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 20 minutes. Add 5 cups lobster stock, and cook for 15 minutes. Let cool slightly.
    5. Strain soup though sieve. Set aside 1 1/2 cups corn mixture. Working in batches, puree remaining corn mixture and strained liquid in a blender until smooth. (For safety, remove cap from hole in lid, and cover with a dish towel to prevent spattering.) Strain soup through sieve, and return to pot with reserved corn and lobster meat. Cook over medium heat until warmed through. Stir in chives, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and some pepper. Serve with lemon wedges.
    From Martha Stewart Living, August 2011


    Read more at Wholeliving.com: Lobster and Corn Chowder


     Lobster Salad with Greens and Citrus Vinaigrette


    I over cooked the lobster a bit so the flavor was slightly lacking in all of these dishes.  However, the citrus vinaigrette really spiced things up.  Citrus and seafood have always paired nicely, I think. Overall, this was a refreshing salad.  The lobster added a nice touch to an otherwise simple green salad.

    picture from marthastewart.com


    Recipe from marthastewart.com

    Ingredients

    Serves 4
    • 2 whole lobsters (1 3/4 pounds each)
    • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest, plus 1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest, plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
    • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
    • 1/4 teaspoon finely grated shallot
    • Coarse salt
    • 12 cups mixed greens such as Bibb lettuce, mache, and arugula (10 ounces)
    • 1 large yellow tomato, halved and thinly sliced
    • 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh tarragon, plus more for garnish

    Directions

    1. Prepare an ice-water bath. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Plunge lobsters into water headfirst, and simmer, covered, for 11 minutes. (Do not let water boil.) Transfer lobsters to ice-water bath using tongs. Let stand for 10 minutes to cool.
    2. Meanwhile, whisk together oil, zests and juices, mustard, shallot, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
    3. Crack lobster claws, knuckles, and tails, and remove meat. Slice tail meat 1/2 inch thick, and leave claws and knuckles whole.
    4. Combine lobster, greens, tomato, and tarragon. Drizzle with dressing, and toss to coat. Garnish with tarragon. Serve immediately.
    From Martha Stewart Living, August 2011


    Read more at Wholeliving.com: Lobster Salad with Greens and Citrus Vinaigrette  


    Green Fruit Bowl with Frozen Grapes

    While at Whole Foods I happened upon a bunch of Champagne grapes.  Don't they just sound like they'd be delicious?  I think so.  The grapes had me at "Champagne" so I set them into my cart without blinking an eye.  They had to be good, I just knew it.  And they were.  (The grapes shown below in this picture are not Champagne grapes).  Sweet and miniature, these grapes were just full of flavor.  The recipe called for green grapes but felt like being a little daring-after all it was a Thursday night (I have no idea what that is supposed to mean,lol). 

    The salad was great. I have never eaten a frozen salad before so the idea of this intrigued all of us. FYI Martha, green apples are not yet in season.  I could not find them at Whole Foods.  They are available for consumption next month.  Maybe some of you lucky people can find some, but I couldn't.  To improvise I used a green pear.  And one more quick thing, a few months ago you had a passion fruit pavlova in the Living magazine but nobody was carrying the passion fruits during the winter!  I was a little frustrated.  Now that I'm thinking of it, I think I'll attempt this passion fruit pavlova soon.  We'll see.  Anyway...

    picture from marthastewart.com



    Martha Stewart Living, August 2011
    • Prep Time 15 minutes
    • Total Time 1 hour 30 minutes
    • Yield Serves 8

    Ingredients

    • 12 ounces green grapes
    • 2 cups water
    • 1 cup sugar
    • 1 cup lemon thyme or regular thyme sprigs, coarsely chopped
    • 1 green apple
    • 3 kiwifruits, peeled and sliced
    • 4 to 5 cups honeydew melon balls (from 2 melons)

    Directions

    1. Freeze grapes on a rimmed baking sheet for 1 hour.
    2. Meanwhile, make the syrup: Bring water and sugar to a simmer in a medium saucepan, stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat, and add lemon thyme. Let stand, covered, until cooled completely. Strain syrup through a fine sieve; discard solids.
    3. Thinly slice apple. Divide apple, kiwifruits, melon, and grapes among 8 bowls. Pour syrup over tops just before serving.


    Photo Gallery


    For the money that we spent on three live lobsters I was a little disappointed.  First of all, I over-cooked the lobster big time. Instead of the usual red color, it was more like a washed out pink.  Since they were over cooked, they were lacking in flavor.  When you spend almost $30 per lobster (not including the other ingredients)  the last thing you want to happen is to eat bland food. 


     
    I think that I kept it at a rolling boil because part of me wanted to get the "deed" done as quickly as possible.  I felt bad cooking these guys.  But, I wanted to add cooking live lobster to my list of accomplished culinary events.  I can now check this off my cooking bucket list.  Remember though, simmer-don't boil.

    So here I am- totally exhausted.  By the time Ben made it home from work with the lobsters it was almost 7pm.  Let's get started, shall we? 


     
    In goes one of them.  The smaller pot I used for the single lobster (for the soup).   I won't go into detail but the kids at first thought they were pets. 
    Here is the larger pot( two lobsters) that were used to make the salad.
    Straining the lobster.
     

    Here is the lobster salad.  I added plenty of freshly cracked pepper ( I love pepper).  This was a yummy salad and the dressing really helped to bring out the flavor.
    Here is the green fruit salad bowl with frozen grapes.  The thyme sugar syrup added a very unusual flavor.  I would have never thought about pairing a fruit salad with an herb such thyme, but it was interesting.  I thought that the salad was already pretty sweet so add the syrup in moderation.   
    This is what the thyme infused sugar syrup looks like.
    Let's not forget the soup!  The 4 cups of corn kernels came right out of the garden. 
    This is what the corn looks like before I removed the kernels.  I know, what a surprise, huh?
    Now it's all in the pot and ready to go.  I would add some additional spices and herbs here for extra flavor.
    The corn is simmering and with a little of this and that added to it...
    You get a Lobster and Corn Chowder.  Bland as hell.
    Sarah wasn't really into the lobster but she loved the corn.
    There's the Gabe man with his sense of humor.  This was a fun dinner to make even thought the flavor wasn't all that great.  Hey, who wouldn't want to have 3 live lobsters running around their kitchen?  Plus, they are very entertaining to small children.
    ~Dinner Was Served~






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