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Sunday, October 23, 2011

In progress

Here is an in progress shot of a recently completed project I'll be sharing soon. Thought you guys would like a sneak peek!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A post about bikes on my blog about- what again?

So I have read very many posts from other bloggers giving tips to find a loyal readership and be successful. And one of the first things they always say is to find your niche and more or less stick to it. I have done a lot of thinking, and while I love getting new readers, I decided that sticking to a niche just isn't what it's about for me.

Some of you have been reading this blog since it started more than a year ago, when it was strictly a place for me to share recipes, and motivate myself to try making new things. After about 6 months, I decided I just had to share about my decorating adventure when I covered my refrigerator with contact paper.  Yes, I did that. It wasn't a post about cooking, I realized, but at least it related to the kitchen where I cook!

Soon after I found myself posting about repainting the kitchen, and painting my new mis-matched purple chairs. After that it became open season for DIY/interior decorating posts of all sorts as well as recipes and cooking posts.

At this point I have blogged about everything from my cleaning compulsion, to bird watching, to my finds on Etsy.  And I realized something. I don't blog to make money (you'll notice no ads on this blog, ever, and if you see a link to a product in the text, it's just because I think you guys might enjoy that link, not because I will make any money off you clicking on it.) I blog because it makes me happy, helps me express myself, and helps me motivate myself to do the things I love. And I don't just blog about cooking, I blog about many of my interests.

I never mean to disapoint a reader of course, and I would love to meet more cool and interesting people who like the things I blog about, but it just doesn't feel right to limit myself to one subject when collecting a certain number of readers, or making money has never and will never be my goal.

So, in short, if you read my blog: 1. I love you and 2. Read which ever part makes you happy, leave me feedback if you like something, and feel free to skip those posts that don't relate to an interest you share with me!

Now, without further adieu, a bit of a post on a subject VERY unrelated to both cooking and interior design, but something I like a lot- my bike.

I've mentioned two bikes on this blog so far, my vintage English 3-speed (let's call him Phil) who showed up here.

He really is a beauty. Just look at him. He has a sweet internal gear hub, original stamped Phillips plaque, and the most uncomfortable bike seat ever made (I kid you not).




Isn't he a looker? Maybe it is just my love of vintage that draws me to him.

But I have a new love- who is sleeker, faster, brighter and very importantly LIGHTER than good old Phil.

She doesn't have a name yet, but if she did, it would have to be something girly and fun. Maybe Lucy or Posey or something like that.


Similarly to Phil she has a steel lugged frame, but being about 15 years younger and at least 12 pounds lighter, she makes for a very different sort of bike ride. And I am falling in love all over again with the streets of Boston as I she guides me from place to place. She is fast and reliable, and her bright colors make me so happy the moment I see her, locked up at a bike rack patiently waiting for my return.

Pedey likes her too.



Do any of you bike? Do you do so for transportation? Fitness? To save the world?

Or, if you don't bike- what's your favorite way to get from place to place?

Display shelves for the crafting/study area

Some people have the luxury of a separate room to call their office, craft space, or sewing room. I don't. I have read lots of debates in the home decor blogosphere about office spaces in the bedroom. I understand the point of view that a bedroom should be relaxing and tranquil, a place to get away from the work and projects of the day. That is a very nice idea. But for some of us, it just isn't feasible to keep our sleeping quarters totally separate from our at-home workspace.

Because I live in a shared apartment with roommates, the only space that can truly be "mine" is in my bedroom.  I am lucky, though, to have a fairly large room of my own to work with. I wanted to create a space that would fit in with the feel of my room, but still be very functional. I decided I wanted to build shelves above my desk both for display and to store craft supplies.

I recently rearranged my room, and my desk ended up in the little nook created by a former doorway. I have been so inspired by the closets turned to offices (or cloffices) I have seen on the web in the last few years, and I wish I had a closet to use for that purpose. Since I don't (I don't have a closet at all in fact!) I thought the moulding of this doorway frame could at least give the illusion of a "nook" in which to make my office/craft space.

To start I did some measurements, and bought some lumber. Then I felt a little overwhelmed, so I got some help.

My boyfriend Ben drew out this plan and remeasured everything for me. He's better at this sort of thing, and drafting seems to make him happy, where as it seems to make me an anxious wreck.
I know you dig that teal nail polish I got going on.

Then I let him do the dirty work of cutting down the lumber to size, too:
And then I let him mount the shelves, make sure they were level, and install the vertical supports. Yep, I pretty much just made him do everything. Oops. Well, besides the painting. I did all the painting. Oh, actually, he did paint on the primer... But anyways.

One thing I actually can take credit for in this project, is the paint color. I am far too proud of myself, really, because if anyone asks me what color I choose, I get to say "it's custom." I have a lot of near empty or half full cans of painting hanging out in my hardware closet (what, you don't have a whole closet devoted to hardware supplies, tools and paint?) and so instead of having to pay for more paint to get the right color, I recalled the color wheel from my art class days. I had a pale blue, an electric green, a charcoal gray and a deep turquoise among other colors, and I got to mixing.


Here you can see a bit of color testing, including some combinations I made myself. I ended up going with the slightly darker pale turquoise tone, which you can see on the far right. It was just a bit more muted than the brighter blue, and I didn't think I'd like it, but once it was on the wall I knew it was the one.

And the building began. We (can I say we?) used simple L brackets to attach the cut 1x4s to the wall, made sure everything was level, and then added vertical supports from remaining pieces of lumber.

Next came priming and painting the wood shelves, caulking any gaps, and touching up the background color.


I have yet to feel really satisfied with the styling of these shelves, I want to take some time and collect some quirky items that make me happy to live on these shelves, along with my jars of art supplies. Here's the styling as it exists now...Surely I will make an update later when I decide exactly what I want up here.





Do you have a work or craft space in your home? In your bedroom? Have you undertaken any minor or major building projects recently? How do you feel about drafting and measuring-- boring or rewarding and pleasurable?

Roasted Roots & Tubers Pizza



One of my favorite family recipes is a side dish my mother always made called roots & tubers. She cut small potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips and onions (am I forgetting anything, Mom?) and roasted them in a pyrex dish with olive oil until they were a perfect combination of soft on the inside, crisp on the outside, and sweet.

I was reminded of that side dish when I saw this pizza recipe from Martha Stewart, and decided I had to give it a try. Roasted root vegetables and herbs with ricotta on pizza? An odd combination maybe, but it sounded totally delicious. And was also reminiscent of the ricotta and butternut squash crostini I had recently made, and I even had ricotta left over from that. Perfect.

I made this my own by changing some ingredients as I saw fit and adding a drizzle of balsamic reduction at the very end before serving. I love the way the rich sweet flavor of reduced balsamic plays against the earthy fall flavors of the root vegetables and also seems to bring out the contrast of the light smooth flavor of the ricotta.

I was intending to make a pizza dough from scratch, but this ended up being a last minute meal made straight after getting home from work. Luckily, I am a fan of the pizza dough sold by Whole Foods, and I was able to stop in and pick some up near my work.

Pizza is always a simple meal to assemble, and giving a recipe for a pizza sometimes feels redundant. It's like telling people how to make a sandwich, right?

But, as this is how I like to do it, I will include the groceries you will need and the cook times to recreate the pizza as I made it.



Roasted Roots & Tubers Pizza
Inspired by this Martha Stewart recipe

INGREDIENTS:


  • your choice of fall vegetables, consider including: fingerling potatoes, little red potatoes, sweet potatoes and/or butternut squash, carrots, parsnips, red onion. (You can also include other vegetables that suit your fancy, look for ones that are hearty and can roast for a long time, so you can prepare all of the vegetables at once in one dish.)
  • a homemade or store-bought pizza dough
  • a small container of ricotta cheese (I had some left over from my crostini, so I used that. It had some lemon zest and juice mixed in, and I found I liked the brightness this added)
  • A variety of fresh herbs to keep things interesting(I used fresh rosemary and thyme which I cooked with vegetables, and then added the sage leaves to the top of the pizza before baking )
  • olive oil, salt & fresh ground pepper 
  • one cup of balsamic vinegar to reduce

STEPS:

To prepare the Roast Roots & Tubers topping:
1.Chop the vegetables into small similarly sized pieces. I look for small carrots, potatoes and parsnips, as the skin is usually thinner and you can scrub them and then roast them with the skin on instead of having to peel them. If the skin seems thick or you think I am crazy for doing it this way, by all means, peel away!

2.Add the chopped veg to an oven proof dish or baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and add a small sprig each of thyme and rosemary- no need to remove from the stem or chop, the flavor will cook right into the oil and roots over the course of the roast.

3.Place in a hot oven (about 450 degrees) and roast, tossing as needed to brown all sides of vegetables for about 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool. remove herb sprigs.

For the Pizza:

1. Stretch dough onto a baking sheet (or preheated pizza stone, I love using mine!) with a bit of olive oil. 
2. Spread on the ricotta as thick as desired.
3. Add the cooked vegetables and and sage leaves, nestling ingredients into the spread ricotta.
4. Bake in a preheated oven (475) 20-25 minutes (until crust is golden)

MEANWHILE... reduce your balsamic vinegar by pouring it into a small sauce pan over medium high heat. Pay attention and stir often so the bottom doesn't burn. You can add some sugar to speed up the process and add extra sweetness, especially if the balsamic you are starting with is of poor quality. after the balsamic has reduced, keep it slightly warm until you can drizzle it over your pizza. 

A tip- Wash the pan you reduced the balsamic in asap...that stuff can become sticky as it sits!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Butternut Squash, Ricotta & Sage Crostini


A few nights ago I put together the quickest, easiest meal and appetizer for my weekly dinner (and Fringe-watching ) with my friend Sophie. I got home less than half an hour before she arrived, and the meal (compromised of this tasty crostini to start and a hearty doctored can of pre-made tomato soup) was ready to be served by the time she rang the doorbell.
I have been living in my apartment for two years and I still jump about 2 feet in the air every time our doorbell rings. That sound is terrifying. So, needless to say, when she rang the bell at 5:30, and I was standing above a plate of crostini, carefully placing fried sage leaves on top of each, I jumped in alarm and dropped a few of the aromatic crisp fried leaves. Bummer.

I have long felt confused about sage. Most other common herbs I have a good sense of when to add here or there, what flavors they will compliment, and what quality they will bring out in a dish. Thyme? Basil? Bay leaves? Parsley? Rosemary? Yep. I can (for the most part) taste a dish I am cooking and think "this would be enhanced with                    ." But sage? Well, honestly, I didn't even quite know what it tasted like. I have really only had it paired with brown butter and butternut squash ravioli. I think I'd like to look into other recipes that use sage, get to know this herb a little better.

This recipe also paired the flavor of sage with butternut squash. But the crispy fried sage leaves were the statement making part of this combination. The ricotta was smooth and subtle, enhanced only with a little bit of lemon juice and zest, the bread that made up the toasted base of this crostini with toasted with just a bit of olive oil, and the butternut squash was cooked up with olive oil, salt and pepper. So the crisp sage leaves spoke for themselves, not overshadowed by other flavors, but instead bringing interest to combination of subtle sweet squash and creamy ricotta.

I saved time on this meal and was able to prepare it so quickly because I had leftover roasted butternut squash from the dinner I made the night before. Feel free to prepare the components of this appetizer the day before if you wish, you can roast cubed butternut squash and set aside in the fridge (bring to room temp before serving), or even combine the ricotta and zest the night before and refrigerate. Assemble right before serving.

Butternut Squash & Ricotta Crostini
Recipe from Bon Appetit

Ingredients:
  • 1 bunch or package of fresh sage leaves
  • olive oil
  • 1 baguette
  • 1 butternut squash (or cheat and buy the precut pieces at the grocery store. Cutting butternut squash is one of my least favorite jobs in the kitchen- they're tricky!) 
  • 1 1/2 tsp brown sugar
  • sea salt & ground pepper 
  • 3/4 cup fresh ricotta 
  • 1 lemon- zested & then squeezed for juice

Step 1. Roast the butternut squash- after cutting into 1-2" cubes, lay butternut squash on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with brown sugar. place baking sheet in preheated oven at 425 degrees.  Roast for 25-30 minutes, tossing occasionally. While this roasts, start the next steps!

Step 2. Fry the sage- in a small skillet or frying pan, heat olive oil until hot. Place sage leaves (stems removed) in oil and remove after they appear lightly golden and crisp. Place fried leaves on a paper towel and set aside. Reserve the used olive oil for the next step.

Step 3. Toast the bread-  cut the baguette into 3/8" slices. lay on a baking sheet, and brush on the oil from step 2. Add the to the already hot oven (if not making the squash ahead of time. Otherwise, set the oven to broil and keep an eye on the bread, it will brown quickly!) until golden.

Step 4. Prepare the ricotta- While the bread toasts and the butternut squash finishes roasting, zest and juice half of your lemon. In a mixing bowl combine the ricotta and the lemon zest and juice. set aside until the bread has started to cool a bit.

Step 5. Assemble it all- Spread some of the ricotta mixture on to each piece of toast. Place the butternut squash pieces on top of that, then squeeze lemon juice from the remaining lemon half over the top, and drizzle a bit of olive oil. Top each crostini with 1 or 2 fried sage leaves, and season with salt and pepper.


This was easy and so delicious, I will definitely make this again soon. So perfectly fall!


As I mentioned above, I served this as an appetizer with a simple "doctored" pre-made tomato soup. When I am short on time and want something warm and delicious, especially as the weather gets cooler, I am not above opening a can of soup. I use Progresso Tomato & Basil, and add lots of fresh basil leaves, heavy cream, cracked pepper, sliced fried garlic, and a little bit of herb oil. A quick salad and some hearty bread, and you have an easy nearly instant light meal, that I swear doesn't taste like it came from a can.

Ok, excuse me, I am going to go make some more of these now!

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