Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Overflowing Blankets

I'm a little obsessed with blankets. I just think they are one of those items that you can never really have enough of. Having a bit of a chill and not having a throw blanket is pretty much one of the worst feelings ever. On the flip side, having a pile of blankets to burrow under is my happy place. That be said, I do have a tendency to hoard blankets....and they can kind of get out of control. Only so many blankets can be on the couch before it begins to look a bit insane and sloppy.

Well the other day, with my quilt and cream fuzzy blanket and red blanket sprawled around me, I realized I needed to do something about it. There are plenty of places I could store these blankets out of sight. Several closets, a few different chests, etc. But that's so impractical. Every time I want a blanket while on the couch I would have to get up and walk down the hall, open a chest and walk back to the couch....ok, as I'm writing this post I realize that sounds incredibly lazy. Perhaps I am. But I know myself, and there is no way I will put that blanket back in the chest after using it and I'm back to square one. Also known as couch hidden under blankets.

 So the other day while at World Market, I picked up this basket. I like that its round and not too harsh in its shape.
Best part is, it holds all of my blankets! And they are so accessible, so I'm so much more likely to actually put them away when I'm done. Yay! I think it also provides some nice texture and warmth to the room. So that's my simply organization solution. Only one problem that I for see. Winston has an affinity for wicker. As in, likes to use it to sharpen his claws. We are currently working on training him to leave it alone. But until I can be sure he won't scratch it when I'm away, I've just left the top blanket draped over the sides so he doesn't get any devious ideas.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Double Coconut Muffins

One of the benefits of the graduate student life is that for the most part you can live life according to your own internal clock. Most days, I'm likely to go to bed at 1:00 AM and get up at 9:00 AM. Not a normal routine I know, but it works for me. I'm very productive at night when it's super quiet and I always get an insane second wind around 10 or 10:30 PM.

One of the downsides of living a graduate student life is that you can live your life according to your own internal clock. Eating becomes a bit of a challenge. See, if I get up at 9, read some emails, check a few things online, shower, and make tea, by the time I'm ready to think about eating it's probably close to 10:30 AM. I don't want to have a huge breakfast because frankly I'm not that hungry, and if I do, my whole eating schedule is totally off kilter for the rest of the day. However, waiting until lunch and simply having that meal isn't really an option either. I'm one of those annoying people that cannot eat lunch food without having something for breakfast first. I simply CANNOT eat leftovers after waking up and bf and going to a restaurant and eating lunch after sleeping in just won't work. So what's a girl to do? Usually I will just have a yogurt or a cereal bar and then a few hours later have a normal meal. But there are only so many days in a row that one can eat cereal bars. Seriously, I'm about to turn into an apple cinnamon breakfast bar.

I decided that I needed to mix up my morning routine a bit. So a few days back I made my super healthy and uber delicious Banana Flaxseed Bread. That was amazing and it inspired me to try and have some other little breakfast snacks around. It really doesn't take that long to whip together a few things and you can even freeze the leftovers so they last longer. It's a good lesson for myself to not be lazy and just make a quick something on the weekends so my belly is happy during the week.

I subscribed to the Smitten Kitchen emails several months back. Usually I get them when I wake up in the morning, and if I'm being honest, I usually delete them without really reading because I'm tired and not in the mood to cook. But the other day, when I got the recipe for these muffins, even in my sleepy haze I was intrigued. Not only did the recipe give me a chance to try an amazing new product, but these muffins are phenomenal. Hearty, but not heavy, sweet but not too sweet for breakfast, and full of coconut flavor, this recipe will be sticking around in my kitchen for quite some time. Added benefit: super easy to pull together, healthy and the kitchen smelled incredible.

Double Coconut Muffins
from Smitten Kitchen

1/2 cup virgin coconut oil
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 cup full fat Greek-style yogurt, at room temperature is best
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature is best
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup sweetened shredded coconut, divided

 Start by scooping the coconut oil into a pan. It's going to be thick and sort of a shortening-like consistency. Melt it on super low heat, you want it to just turn clear, but not actually heat up much.
This shows what the container looks like. I'd suggest a Whole Foods or a specialty store, more Safeway stores don't have it.
In a small bowl, mix together the flours, salt, and baking powder. Then add 1/2 cup of the coconut and stir.
 In a larger bowl, whisk together the sugar, egg, yogurt, coconut oil and vanilla.
 Add the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.
 Spoon the batter into a paper-lined muffin tin. Note: the recipe only makes about 9-10 muffins so plan accordingly. Sprinkle the remaining coconut on top of the muffins. It might look like too much coconut, but use it liberally! The flakes shrink up and cook into the batter so use more than you think you'd need.
 Bake at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick can be inserted and removed cleanly. The coconut on top will brown and looks beautiful when done.
Let the cupcakes cool on a wire rack and enjoy!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Couch Progress

I'm sure everyone is so over my pillow progress. I've finally made some decisions. I'm sticking with the girly look, but I'm not going to go with the quilt. It was just too much for my living room. Don't get me wrong, I love it and it will stick around, but just not on my couch. When I would walk in the door it wasn't giving me the calm, cozy look I'm aiming for. I was getting a little too hectic of a vibe. But the other day, I walked into World Market and saw this pillow and heard angels sing.












I love how well it goes with my tweed find from Ikea. It goes, but doesn't match. I think it's also a great addition of pattern without being too much or too boring.














And even more zoom. The texture is fabulous. I am so excited. I also got some amazing curtains, but they really didn't work in my room. But I finally have vision and I feel rejuvenated. Happy Monday!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Easter Touches

Are there holidays you seem to forget about? Let me revise that statement. Are there opportunities for decorating you seem to forget about? For me, Valentine's Day and St. Patties' Day are the top two offenders. Don't get me wrong, this year I really wanted to decorate for Valentine's Day, but it seemed a little silly considering it was just me. St. Patties' Day I always forget about. I think when I have kids I'll go all out, but until then it just seems unnecessary.

So that brings me to this post. I was cleaning out my storage closet and found my box of Easter decorations. I swear it's not much, just a few little bunnies and candles. Nothing extreme. But since I already had my Easter-ish table set up (I think the colors remind me of a robin's egg, so I'm going with it), I figured, I might as well set up the rest of my Easter stuff.


Yes, I know it's still February. Although if you visited California right now, I assure you, it's doesn't feel like February. I've been jipped of a winter and I'm displeased.






Also, I should mention. I don't really celebrate Easter. Basically it consists of yummy candies and Easter egg hunts.







I'm not a religious person, so I just enjoy the decorations and dessert benefits of this time of year. By the way, these are Muffy and Hoppy. They were little stuffed animals I had when I was little and they came with special costumes for each occasion.





I did consider delaying this post until, I dunno....March. Or at least after St. Patties' Day. I'm sort of dreading/expecting the ridicule that will inevitably rain down on my head (cough boyfriend cough). But, I try and keep things honest. Also, he's coming to visit me at the beginning of March so he was going to find out anyway.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Rice and Beans, Spanish Style

I'm particular about my cooking shows. I like certain shows and certain personalities for certain things. For example, I love The Barefoot Contessa for soups and breads. They are amazing and sophisticated and all around wonderful. But if I'm looking for something quick, Ina Garten is not the way to go. I also dislike her desserts because I feel like they all have liquor. I don't have anything against desserts with liquor, I just don't want to have to buy a new kind every time I make dessert. For quick dinners, I love Rachael Ray. She gets a bad rap for being annoying and I will admit that her earlier episodes do grate on the nerves a bit. However, her more recent episodes are definitely toned down and her dishes are quick, yummy and are getting healthier each week. I'm currently on the fence about Giada de Laurentiis. She has some really annoying tendencies during her shows and I feel like the show is a bit disingenuous. It doesn't show in real time how long it takes to make things and she tends to do a lot of prep ahead of time (which is frustrating because I'm watching the how to see how it's done). Also, her recipes aren't always very good. I'm made a few different dishes and frankly they weren't fabulous. So I'm a bit unconvinced.

Anywho, this dish is from Rachael Ray. I'm always looking for quick dinners I can make that are healthy and cost conscious. This recipe was really delicious and quick. I will definitely make it again. I especially love the saffron rice- I think it could just be made on the side and used with a ton of other options. The flavor was incredible and unique. I must admit, I almost scrapped the whole thing when I saw the price of saffron. It's crazy expensive. Almost $20 for one little bottle. However, (I'll pause for you to pick up your jaw off the floor) it goes a really really long way. I used a small pinch (which is a lot for saffron) and there was tons left. So I think it's worth it.

Rice and Beans, Spanish Style
recipe from here
1 red bell pepper
EVOO, for drizzling
12 ounces Spanish chorizo, diced into bite-size pieces
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup broken spaghetti
1 cup long-grain rice
1 healthy pinch saffron (about 24 threads)
1 quart chicken stock
Kosher salt
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1 to 2 red Fresno chile peppers, sliced (I just used green bell peppers because I'm a spicy wuss)
1 large onion, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/4 cup dry sherry or 1/2 cup white wine
One 15-ounce can white beans or chickpeas, drained
1 small bundle black or Tuscan kale (I just used regular kale and chopped it)
Freshly grated nutmeg

I started by slicing in half the red bell pepper and de-seeding it. Then I blackened the pepper over one of my burners. I am afraid of my burner especially because my oven is old, so I used this little trick. Once the outside of the pepper was beginning to blacken, I remove the pepper from the heat and let cool. Then I chopped it up.
 Next, I heated the butter and some olive oil in a large sauce pan. Then I added the broken up spaghetti and cooked it until nicely brown. I know this seems like a weird step, but it adds such an amazing flavor. Once the pasta was brown, I added the rice, toasted for a few minutes, then added the saffron and the broth. I simmered until most of the liquid was gone and the rice was tender.
 Meanwhile, I heated up the leftover olive oil in a large skillet and added the sausage. Once the sausage was mostly cooked, I added the chopped green pepper, garlic and the onion and cooked until the veggies were tender.
 I deglazed the skillet with the sherry and then added the tomato paste and let cook for a few minutes.
Then I added the beans, chopped red pepper and the kale and poured in the brother. I put the lid on the skillet and simmered for a few minutes until the kale was wilted. I added a few sprinkles of nutmeg and this part was done.
This picture shows how the rice looked when finished.
I put a few scoops of rice in the bowl and then added the sausage/vegetable mixture over the top. I burned the crap out of my mouth because it was so delicious I couldn't wait to eat it. I burned my mouth on the first bite and then kept burning it because I couldn't stop eating. It was so good!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Biscuit Quest

I am obsessed with biscuits. I have been known to go to a breakfast buffet just for the biscuits. I love them. I can eat tons and tons and never get tired of them. Only problem is, I can never recreate the restaurant biscuit at home. They are tasty and I eat them, but they are never quite as delicious. So I am always game to try a new biscuit recipe. I've tried the recipe on the back of Biscuit mix, tons that I've found online, etc. Sure it gets a bit annoying to keep trying new recipes but I'm willing to give it a shot if it means achieving an amazing biscuit. So when my friend posted a recipe on her blog of the perfect biscuit, I was game to try. I have to say it didn't work out great, but to be fair I cut a lot of corners. I didn't have eggs and it was late and I was hungry, so I just used vegetable oil. I know that's terrible of me. I'm still scolding myself as I write this post. Also, I hate cutting butter into a flour mix. It's probably my least favorite kitchen task ever. It just annoys me and takes too long. So I didn't cut the butter for nearly long enough and the chunks were too big. When I put the biscuits in the oven, the butter kind of melted everywhere and not nearly enough of it was in the biscuit. But...I have fabulous news! My friend gave me a wonderful tip about cutting in butter- you just make sure the butter is super cold and use a grater. How awesome is that! I will never cut in butter again! Hooray! I'm definitely going to try this recipe again and do it right and I'll be sure to let you know how it goes.

Biscuits
from here

3 cups all-purpose flour
4 1/2 t. baking powder
3/4 t. cream of tartar
2 T. sugar
1/2 t. salt
3/4 cup butter
1 egg, beaten
1 cup milk

I started by mixing together the flour, baking powder, tartar, sugar and salt.
 Then I cut in the butter. Well sort of. You can see I didn't really do it enough.
 Then I added the milk and the vegetable oil (or egg if you are being good). It was a little too sticky, so I kneaded in some extra flour.
 Then I patted the dough flat to about 1/2 inch thickness and baked for about 12 minutes at 400 degrees.
Don't get me wrong, these guys were good. I had no trouble eating them. I just think that had I not cut corners they would have been even better.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Wicked Awesome Deals on Glassware

Sorry, I miss my bf and he says silly Boston things like "wicked". They make me giggle. Anywho, I've been looking for some time now for really neat glass vases, apothecary jars, etc. I've actually had these purchases for a while, but I've struggled with how to design the table.

The open-mouthed vase on the left or whatever it's called (I really struggle with these name things) was from Ikea. It was $12.99! How insane is that! Then the one in the center and the one on the right are from Marshalls. I happened to stop there by accident and I was looking for a lamp shade and just stumbled upon these guys. They were so cheap! $25 for the both! If I bought a similar piece from Pottery Barn it would have been at least $40.

Then I grabbed a bag of the natural-colored moss at Michaels for about $5 and plopped a candle in each glass piece. I had the candles in my cabinet and just found a few that were generally the same color.






I laid the glass pieces on a light blue pashmina I had in my closet. I had originally wanted to use green moss and a cream colored pashmina, but the green moss was out of stock. Initially, I was bummed because I felt like the light blue was weird, but since winter is nowhere to be found in California, I thought the spring colors might be nice. Also, Easter is coming...eventually. I know it's still a ways a way, but I'll take any excuse to decorate.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Day with the Presidents

I hope everyone is enjoying their day, whether it be relaxing or having a blast with friends or family. If you have to work today, I'm truly sorry!

In honor of today, I thought I would spend a day with the Presidents. Not really, I'm spending the day doing some extra school work and I'll be back tomorrow with a normal post. It just worked out nicely that my dissertation reading centers around Presidents. Have a splendid day!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Pasta with Bacon and Beef Sauce

I made this recipe the other night and couldn't have been more excited. I found it while I was watching a Rachael Ray episode the other day. I was literally salivating while watching this meal come together. It was tasty, but it wasn't fantastic. My traditional spaghetti sauce and the sauce on the baked potatoes with arugula, sausage and mascarpone are both better than this meal. That's not exactly a ringing endorsement I know, but I wanted to share my cooking endeavors good, bad and in between.

Spaghetti with Bacon and Beef Sauce
recipe from here

About 2 tablespoons EVOO
4 ounces smoky bacon, chopped
1 pound ground sirloin
3 to 4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 fresh bay leaves
1 Fresno chile pepper, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
Pinch ground cloves
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 cup beef stock
1 tablespoon tomato paste
One 14-ounce can Italian crushed tomatoes
1 pound spaghetti
Grated pecorino, for serving
Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for garnish

 I started by heating up the olive oil and then added the chopped bacon (I used turkey bacon as usual). At this point, I also brought a pot of water to boil for the pasta.
 When the bacon was nice and crispy, I removed it from the pot and put it aside on a plate. Then I added the beef and cooked it until it was brown and crumbled.
Next, I added the garlic, onion, bay leaves, salt, pepper and nutmeg. I left the chile peppers out of course, because I am a major spicy weakness.
 When the onions were tender, I added the wine, tomato paste and beef stock. Then I poured in the tomatoes and added the bacon. I let the sauce simmer for about five minutes until thickened.
I served the pasta with the sauce on top and sprinkle of fresh Parmesan cheese. A few notes: the meal would have been better had I added the pasta to the sauce and let simmer for a few minutes. The sauce was better when it thickened up a bit and the noodles absorbed some of the juices. It also needed a touch of salt at the end. Finally: the leftovers were actually better than the original!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Sugar Cookie Remix

Well not really. I still used the same old, wonderful recipe. But I'm taking a mini-blog break today and didn't feel like writing a new post. So, instead, I thought I would share how you can turn the sugar cookie recipe into Valentine's Day treats. Or just hearts for a loved one if you were so inclined. In the former post, I decorated the cookies for the 4th of July. You also saw me create Christmas-themed cookies here. I've also done pumpkins and little black cats for Halloween and I recently bought a little elephant cookie shape. Not sure what  occasion that will work for, but I loved it and had to have it.

Since bf was far away and couldn't enjoy my cookies, I decided to make a batch for my class on Wednesday. I used a variety of different shaped hearts and kiss...well I guess lips technically.
I did white frosting on the lips and some of the hearts with sprinkles and cinnamon toppers. Then I put a tiny squirt of red food dye into the remaining frosting and created a light pink for the rest of the hearts. Fun!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Black Bottom Pie

I found this recipe in the latest Bon Appetite magazine and decided it would be really fun to make with my nieces while I was up in the mountains. We had a great time making it and it was delicious! Like a chocolate cream pie but with great vanilla as well and the gingerbread cookie crust really amps up the flavor and complexity. It looks a little complex, but once you start cooking, it's really not that hard.

Black Bottom Pie
from here

Gingersnap Crust
6 ounces gingersnap cookies (about 24)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon heavy cream

Custard
1 envelope unflavored gelatin powder
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons dark rum
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup mascarpone
5 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 cup hot espresso or strong coffee

Assembly
1 cup chilled heavy cream
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 tablespoon dark rum
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Grated semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
Toasted sliced almonds (optional)

 I started by placing the gingersnap cookies in a cuisinart. I crushed the cookies until they were crumbs. Then I added the cream and the melted butter and then mixed again until the crumbs formed a dough. I pressed the dough into the base of a pie dish and gently pressed the crumbs up the side of the dish. I baked the crust for about 12 minutes at 350 degrees. When it was done, I let the crust cool on the counter.
 Next, I put the packet of gelatin in a small bowl and poured the water over it. Then, in a sauce pan, I brought the milk and cream to a simmer.
 In a separate bowl, I whisked together the eggs, sugar, cornstarch, vanilla extract and rum (but actually the house didn't have rum, so I used Kahlua and it actually worked quite nicely.
 I whisked until it was the thickness of custard, then turned off the heat and stirred in the mascarpone cheese.
 Next, I measured out a cup of the custard into a bowl. I gently stirred in the chocolate and coffee until the chocolate was melted. Then I poured the chocolate custard into the dish and smoothed out the top. I refrigerated the custard for about 30 minutes until it was set.
Then I pulled the pie out of the fridge and poured the room-temperature vanilla custard over the top of the chocolate custard. I put the pie back in the fridge and let it harden for about an hour.
To make the whipped topping, I put the cream and the powdered sugar in a bowl and started to whip with a hand mixer. When the cream started to thicken, I added the Kahlua and the vanilla extract and kept whipping until stiff peaks formed. I scooped the whip cream over the top of the pie and then used a spoon to create gentle swirls over the top of the pie.
 I left off the almonds so my niece who has nut allergies could enjoy the dessert. We also didn't have any cocoa powder (I swear I need to restock the cabinets there with baking supplies), so I grated some of the chocolate over the top for decoration.
This picture shows what the inside of the pie looks like. So delicious and yummy!