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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Apple Tarte Tatin + The Pixies "Wave of Mutilation"

The last time it was this Cherry & Blueberry Tart and The Clash's "London Calling".  This time? Apple Tarte Tatin and The Pixies' "Wave of Mutilation". It seems I have found a formula that works for salvaging whatever bad mood may hit.

Apple Tarte Tatin, a classic french dessert with apples, caramelized sugar and a flaky crust, falls nicely into my recent category of culinary fascination: butter heavy french dishes. Also, it really isn't fall without some baked apple desserts, right? Besides requiring a careful watch, and sometimes nearly 3 hours of time from initial prep to final presentation, this is a very simple and easy dish to make. The key is allowing the sugar and liquid to cook down enough to reach a caramelized stage, without loosing track and allowing it to burn to the bottom of the pan.

West African Sweet Potato & Peanut Stew

I made this stew the first time last winter. The flavors were so intriguing to me,when I saw the recipe I just had to try it. The primary ingredients of this soup are sweet potatoes and natural peanut butter, flavored with hot chile pepper, allspice, ginger and garlic, and garnished with fresh cilantro. Now doesn't that sound like a  refreshing, hearty and unusual combination of flavors?

The Bike in the Bedroom

Firstly, doesn't that title sound like it should be the name of an episode of  Bones? No?

When I first moved into my apartment a year ago, my bedroom was the first place I decorated. In fact, I hung the curtains and artwork, and arranged vases and decorative items more than a week before I had a chance to move most of my furniture in there. After bringing in my belongings from my previous apartment, it took me all of two days to completely unpack. I wanted it to feel settled and homey, no boxes, no big blank walls.

I thought and planned out the room a lot ahead of time, picking a color scheme I thought could make the must-be-left-white walls look purposeful, incorporated into the room. So I wanted something calm and soothing. I picked a color palate of stone blue, chocolate brown and pure white. I scoured marshalls, TJ maxx and my favorite thrift stores for items that fit this theme.

At first I loved how well everything fit together. After a few months, however, I started to feel trapped by the matching-ness of it all. I felt walking into the room like it screamed "Hello, I have a color theme!!!" Recently I decided I had to find some small changes to make to keep the things I liked about the room, but get rid of some of the matchy-matchy-ness.

So I have been going through and making small changes to the room. New sheer gray curtains replaced the blue set that matched the ones behind the bed, a lavender throw, some new beige pillow cases and  a sage throw pillow I sewed went onto the bed to break up the chocolate quilt.

Also among the things that have changed is a 1972 Phillips bicycle has come into my life. After hours of scouring off rust (by the way, a little white vinegar and some steel wool go a long way) I wasn't enthusiastic about keeping it outside in the elements. This post over at Design*Sponge  inspired me not to worry about creative ways to conceal the bike, but to instead use it at a decor item in the room while it is not out on adventures.

The Search Is On

For a while I have been hoping to find a new living room rug which is cheap, but not as cheap-looking as the one I currently have.

My living room has evolved quite a bit in the past several months, here is a picture of it taken in late July, complete with party decorations:

And, how it looks currently:

changes include replacing the coffee table with the one I refinished here, getting a new couch, and loosing the blue and white couch and papasan chair (one was sold to a friend, one left us when a roommate moved out), and then simply rearranging what was already there (also, clearly the fiesta themed decorations were put away). I think it is looking a lot better already, but I keep wondering what a difference a new rug would make, especially given that the current rug (a $40 target find) sheds every time we vacuum, and is looking pretty scuzzy.

So now I find that I spend a lot of time looking online at rugs. I am hoping for something similar in size or a bit bigger than the one there currently (which is 4'x6'), but not too much larger- hopefully 5X7 or so. Since there is already a bit of the feeling of too much furniture in too small a room, I want to stick with a rug that is toned down, and somewhat neutral. It's also important that its colors work nicely in the room. A few that have caught my eye so far:

Friday, October 15, 2010

Meatless Cassoulet

This recipe from Gourmet for a vegetarian cassoulet (a hearty casual french stew-like dish traditionally compromised of meats and/or sausage and white beans cooked to delicious oblivion and topped with breadcrumbs) was recently featured on the kitchn, where it caught my eye. I was fresh out of my first night of  French cooking classes, and but 6 words into the recipe's description was a new word I had learned only that night. I looked at the word and felt such pride in myself. Mirapoix! I know what that is! How sophisticated it sounds; how french!

There was yet another draw to this recipe for me, besides its french name, simple ingredient list, and use of the word "mirapoix" in the description: this was likely to be a dirt cheap meal. And I am the kind of girl who really appreciates a cheap meal. Does that sound bad? Well, it's true. My trip to the grocery store for the ingredients for this meal totaled at $6 (at Whole Foods, even!). I will likely be eating this for lunch for a week. Time to pat myself on the back for being so frugal.

I made a few changes to the recipe as I cooked. First, though leeks may just be my favorite vegetable, I replaced them with onions to keep my costs low.  I prefer to cook instinctively: taste and add and taste and add, rather than actually sticking to a recipe. In this way I ended up adding butter, a couple tablespoons of red wine, rosemary, and chicken stock (oops, no longer vegetarian! oh well.). I made the bread crumbs using 2 types of bread I had on hand: 7 grain sandwich bread, and some of the spinach-herb bread I made earlier in the week.

What comfort food this is, a hot garlicky stew with tender cooked onion, carrot and celery (that's the mirapoix, by the way) fresh and dried herbs and white beans. It is filling and hearty, yet gives a person the distinct feeling that they are eating something healthful and nutritious. My final product used quite a lot of butter, so I knew that the sense of healthfulness from the vegetables and white beans was certainly a  ruse (not to be confused with a roux, if we are talking basics of french cooking).

Chocolate Truffles

First off I have to say that this may be the world's messiest dessert. Well, maybe not, but it is right up there. And I suppose it is really only the making of it that is messy, eating them carries far less risk of making a mess of yourself than, say, eating ice cream from a cone on a hot day.

There was something cathartic about the messiness of the process though. Something calming that reminded me of my childhood fascination with mud balls. And mud pies. And digging in mud. and really anything that involved mud.

Case in point:

Here I am at approximately 10 years old at a family reunion in Big River, CA with my cousin Cameron. Notice how muddy my hands are, and the fine display of mud balls we are proudly showcasing for the camera. Also notice that I seem to be wearing purple pants. That is unrelated, I just thought it was worth noticing. I suppose it should be no surprise that I found it very soothing and familiar when the process of shaping these truffles on a warm fall day turned out like this:

Monday, October 11, 2010

October DIY projects

I recently found these curtains in the clearance section at Marshalls. Having recently bought some fabric for a few different projects, I was surprised to notice that at their clearance price they were cheap enough that even just buying the fabric to sew them from scratch would have been more expensive. They were the wrong size, but both the color and the price were right.

 All it took to make them perfect for the space was adding a little extra fabric in a contrasting color to the bottom. I used two oversized dish towels which I already had on hand.

Project $$ breakdown:
2 curtain panels, $14
2 dish towels, on hand
total cost: $14

Thursday, October 7, 2010

french onion soup

This post has been updated and reposted...check it out here

 I have a feeling this is about to become a soup blog for the next couple of months. Now that the raw weather is starting, I am all about warm comforting food. This season started with a classic- rich savory-sweet french onion soup, topped with toasted bread and melty cheese.

French onion soup was the first thing we made in my first cooking course in September. Making the recipe again, I found it to be an easy (though not necessarily quick) process with a lot of possibilities for improvisation. Unlike baking, which requires certain proportions of different ingredients to create chemical reactions during the baking process, cooking is really all about opening yourself up to add this and that, and make something taste just the way you want it to. I didn't really use a written recipe while making this soup, nor did we in the class, though the instructor sent us home with a write up of the ingredients we used, and I expanded off that list here.

The main concept is simple: onions cooked slowly until sweet, beef and/or chicken broth, wine and herbs, topped with melted cheese and hearty bread.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The story about THE WINDOW

I found this old chippy 6 paned window on a curb in Kenmore square. I saw it and instantly wanted it, the only problem being that it was under a pile of other renovation refuse, bricks, wood scraps, sharp broken pieces of glass and tile... and I was on my way home from work wearing a hard to move in pencil skirt and heels! I managed to dig it out from the pile though (I got a lot of strange looks as I did).

Once I removed the heavy items on top of it, finally able to get to the window I was digging for, I had to pause for a moment, as I came eye to eye with a tiny gray mouse, who had apparently just been hanging out chilling on top of my window under cover from the other pieces of trash. He looked terrified, he completely froze in place on top of my window. We stared each other down for at least 30 seconds, my not wanting to try and shoo him for fear of getting bitten, and he perhaps thinking that if he waited long enough I would leave. We both stood our ground. I saw his body trembling, quick mouse-breaths and the whir of mouse-y heartbeats were almost audible to me, as I stood suspended, unnoticing of anything else happening around me. Eventually someone walked by on the sidewalk, and their movement seemed to snap the mouse out of his mouse-y trance, and me out of mine. He ran from the window, and down under a root of a nearby tree. I tried not to think of mouse-y germs and diseases as I picked up my window, and proceeded to walk it home. And let me tell you- it was terribly heavy, and the day was terribly windy, and as I mentioned above I was truly not dressed for the task, so I had a hell of a time. And yes, the first thing I did once i got it home was to wipe it down with disinfectant, and wash my hands for about 10 minutes straight.


Here is a list of a few things commonly known to be awesome.*
  •  Dinosaurs
  • Kalamata olives
  • cookies
  • drawing with crayons
 Well, what if one person could combine those awesome things, to make one, entirely awesome something? Perhaps the result would be so awesome, it would grant the creator the power to take over the world. Well my 2 or 3 readers, I am happy to tell you I have created just that. Only I actually have no interest in taking over the world, so instead I will share the secrets with you, and perhaps one of you will recreate such a thing and be able to harness its power.

Kalamata olive cookies, dinosaur cookie cutters, and a gorgeous crayon drawn landscape. Yes, I said gorgeous. What? you're not impressed? Also, I think it is important to say here, that while a cookies with olives in them probably sound a bit strange, everyone I have forced these on (some people take some convincing) seemed to like them quite a bit. They are sweet and buttery, with just a hint of briney salty olive flavor. Also, they are shaped like dinosaurs, and nearly as fun to play with as they are to eat. I ate the pterodactyl first, mmmmm.

The cookie recipe (which I really do suggest!) was recently posted by Heidi over at 101 Cookbooks. Go check out the post, she used tiny little scalloped cookie cuters and her tiny, adorable cookies are just too cute for words. But they would look quite out of place in my little prehistoric backdrop.

*OK, maybe this isn't all that commonly known.


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