30 March 2010

Time for a Mario quilt?

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I've been fighting the desire to make another quilt for myself, but I think now is the time to get started. Inspiration calls, and who am I not to listen? Don't get me wrong, I still love my R.E.M. quilt, I just want to make another. I would like to make a smaller quilt this time since my R.E.M. quilt is the size of a queen bed comforter. Inspiration struck when I was looking for ideas for Ari's Mario bedroom. I stumbled upon this pattern:


Ah-ha! A Mario quilt! How cool. I looked at Google images to see what other people have done, and there were quite a few Mario quilts out there. This has been in the back of my mind for some time and I am ready to get the ball rolling on it.

With Super Mario Bros. for the NES being an 8 bit video game, all the images are made with the combination of distinguishable different colored squares. Since quilting is basically cutting squares of fabric and sewing them together, I can use game images as a reference to do any design that I want. All I have to do is sew the different colored squares together to get the image that I am looking for. Easy, right?

I am still thinking about the different designs I can do, and narrowing them down will be a challenge. I don't know if I want to do one big Mario, or incorporate other characters or objects. The sky is the limit, it just depends on how many squares I want to cut. When looking for ideas, I came across this cross-stitch pattern:


As you can see, this design is just made up of little squares as well, so I could make it into a quilt. I really liked this design until I got to counting all the squares I would need. I did some math and found that I would need to cut 30,000 individual squares to complete the front of the quilt. A little bit more than I was bargaining for. Plus, it would be 200 squares wide, and 150 squares
tall. So, even if I cut 1/2 inch squares, it would still be as big as my R.E.M. quilt. In other words, not gonna happen.

So, my search continues for a pattern, and I'll most likely come up with one on my own. I'm looking forward to this new endeavor, though, and will post updates as my new project continues.

28 March 2010

Germination celebration

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Hooray! Some of our seeds have started to sprout. The lettuce was the first to pop out from under the dirt. Not quite enough to eat just yet, so we'll let it grow a little bit more. It is exciting, nonetheless.

27 March 2010

Shave!

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Sometimes I shave at night, and if the kids are taking a bath at the same time, I've got to share the love. Once they see the shaving cream come out they start yelling 'shave!' and I dispense some shaving cream onto one of their hands. The thrill of the shaving cream coming out of the can is only half the fun, they then proceed to lather up just like Dad (only I just lather my face).


I remember my dad giving me on old disposable razor with the blades removed so I could pretend to shave, so one night I did the same for Ari and Emilie; and now they have razors of their own, too. Ari likes to pretend to actually shave more than Emilie; she mainly just likes to lather herself. It keeps them busy and entertained for a long time, and it's the highlight of their bath.

I just wish shaving could be that much fun for me.

25 March 2010

Freeze those egg whites!

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I always cringed a little every time I saw an egg white slide down the kitchen sink into the drain. I have a couple recipes I use fairly regularly that call for egg yolks only, and I really don't like just letting the whites go to waste. I remember Alton Brown telling me that I could freeze an egg white in an ice cube tray, pop it out once frozen, and store it in a zip lock bag in the freezer to use whenever I needed an egg white or two...or twelve. It was an interesting concept, so I gave it a try.

As I was making a batch of mayonnaise, I separating the yolk from the albumen, and put the aforementioned albumen in a section of an ice cube tray. Once it was frozen, I couldn't get it to release from the tray, so I just left it and put subsequent egg whites in the tray as well. I think I should have put plastic wrap in the tray first in order to get the frozen egg white out more easily. Nevertheless, I decided to just wait until I accumulated twelve egg whites so I could make an angel food cake.

Since I don't really use just egg whites for anything other than angel food cake, I figured this method would work just fine. As it turned out, twelve egg whites pretty much filled the entire ice cube tray.

When I was ready to make the angel food cake, I simply placed the egg whites in the refrigerator and waited for them to thaw. I was nervous to see how they looked when they thawed, and was relieved to find that they looked like regular egg whites. My next bout of nervousness came when it was time to whip the egg whites into a foam. Would I get the volume I needed by using the frozen egg whites? Would I be able to achieve medium peaks?

Yes! The once frozen egg whites performed marvelously and I ended up with a perfectly delicious angel food cake. In my opinion, homemade and from scratch is the only way to go with this delicate dessert.

I've continued to keep egg whites in my freezer and am thrilled when I get a full ice cube tray because I know an angel food cake is soon to follow.

By the way, I use Alton Brown's angel food cake recipe. You can find it here. Notice that is yet another application in which you can use cream of tartar.

24 March 2010

Safety first

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That's my girl! One can never be too safe, you know. She's gotta be prepared because she never knows when a little four-year-old on a bicycle may came barreling into her. On accident, of course. Hey, at least she's prepared...

22 March 2010

It's hard letting go...

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Even if it's just three driveways down and back.

20 March 2010

Philly Cheese Steak

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Philly cheese steaks, baby! A new Friday night favorite. It all started a couple years ago after Ang and Michael got back from a trip from New Hampshire. On their way home, they stopped in Philadelphia specifically to have an authentic Philly cheese steak sandwich. After hearing of their plans, I asked them to bring me one, and they obliged. Even reheated, it was really tasty, and I wanted to recreate it at home.

I did some research online and found that most people use top round or ribeye for the meat. I first used top round because it was cheaper, but found it too be a bit tough for my liking. The ribeye has a lot better flavor, and is much more tender. I start off by freezing the ribeyes and then use the slicing attachment of my food processor to get the meat in thin strips. This method works really well and is such a wonderful time saver.

If it's nice outside, I'll grill the meat by putting my cast iron griddle directly on the coals. This gets the griddle extremely hot and I get a good sear on the meat. If I'm cooking indoors, I just use my 12 inch cast iron skillet to cook the meat. I do prefer the outside grilling method, though.

I also make a provolone cheese sauce for the sandwiches. I start off with a béchamel sauce and then add a boat load of provolone. The cheese sauce is absolutely awesome! I also use sliced green bell pepper, red bell pepper, and onion, and cook them with the meat. All of these components make for a delicious sandwich. They certainly know what they're doing in Philadelphia.

I've finally got a method down that produces consistently good results, and I think if Michael had his way, we would have these every Friday night!

17 March 2010

Spring is in the air

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I love finding beauty such as this in my own backyard.

16 March 2010

Crème Fraîche

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I have been intrigued by crème fraîche for some time. I've seen it used to finish many recipes, sweet and savory alike; though I never saw it in any store. I remember seeing a short segment on Food Network about how to make crème fraîche from scratch and it looked really easy. For some reason, I think it was Alton Brown doing the segment, but I wasn't really paying attention, and I never saw it again.

The ease of the process stuck with me, and it was in the back of my mind to try it for some time. I recently got on the internet in search of a crème fraîche recipe. I found several, and they each were basically the same. I settled on a recipe from the Joy of Baking website because it had a pretty picture and detailed instructions.

Indeed, the process was quite simple. Crème fraîche is basically heavy whipping cream and a little buttermilk left to sit at room temperature for about 24 hours; and it thickens all on it's own. It was amazing to see the crème fraîche take form, though I think I could have let my sit longer so it could thicken even more. I think I was just nervous about it sitting out too long.


Plus, the recipe called for pasteurized heavy whipping cream, as ultra pasteurized would take longer to thicken. Sure enough, I looked, and I had purchased ultra pasteurized. Lesson learned. All in all, the crème fraîche had good flavor, and I enjoyed it on some french toast with some fresh blueberries and powdered sugar. It was a lot like sour cream, only I got to make it myself, so it was a lot more fun and satisfying. I do plan on making it again, hopefully with better execution. Not bad for a first attempt, though.

Printable Recipe

14 March 2010

New Beginnings

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We planted seeds for our expanded garden this weekend. We'll have more variety this year, as opposed to the fifteen or so tomato plants we had last year. We bought our seeds from The Sunspot and dirt and containers at Menard's and were ready to go.

Ari was excited about putting the dirt in all the containers and he did a really good job. He filled all the containers three-quarters full, and moved on to planting the seeds.

Following Eva and Daniels model, I helped Ari plant the seeds. We planted lettuce, carrots, jalapenos, basil, cantaloupe, and pumpkins. We are also planning on planting tomatoes and artichokes, but we don't have those seeds yet. We had such success with our tomatoes last year, I wanted to get the same variety, the Wisconsin 55. We couldn't find them in town this year, so we ordered the seeds off the internet.

Now we wait...

12 March 2010

Sprung...has spring

1 remarks
Seeing these delicate little beauties always brings a smile to my face.

10 March 2010

Snickerdoodles

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One of my favorite cookies. Soft and chewy on the inside, delightfully crispy on the edges. They are a lot like a sugar cookie, but better...much better. The main difference is the use of cinnamon and cream of tartar in the recipe. The cinnamon is perfectly balanced with the cream of tartar to give the cookies their sweet, spicy flavor. I have to make them sparingly, though, because they don't last long in my house.

I remember snickerdoodles from my childhood. When I started baking them, I had an old handwritten recipe that only had the list of ingredients, so I had to figure out at what temperature to bake them, and for how long. I ended up baking them at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes or until the edges were just golden brown and the tops of the cookies starts to crack.
A few months ago, I was going through some old family recipes and found the complete snickerdoodle recipe. I was delighted to see that the recipe was the same as the one I was using, and I was using the correct baking temperature of 350 degrees. I still do not know where the recipe came from, so I am unable to give any source information.
I highly recommend this recipe. If you decide to try it, be sure not to leave out the cream of tartar, as it is integral to give this cookie it's signature texture and flavor. Cream of tartar can also be used to help stabilize and give more volume to beaten egg whites, so it has more than one culinary use. It's a nice addition to anyone's pantry; just as this recipe is a nice addition to anyone's cookie arsenal. Enjoy!
Snickerdoodles

Ingredients

2 sticks of room temperature unsalted butter
1½ cups sugar
2 eggs
2¾ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon vanilla
Cinnamon and sugar to coat


Instructions

Preheat oven to 350˚.

Cream butter and sugar together. While mixing, add eggs one at a time, then add vanilla. Once the batter is smooth, add the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt and continue mixing until everything is well incorporated.

Roll balls of dough about the size of a walnut then roll them in the cinnamon sugar to coat. Place on a cookie sheet two inches apart. Sprinkle each cookie with additional cinnamon before baking if desired.

Bake at 350˚ for 10 minutes. Cool for 2 minutes and then remove to a rack.

08 March 2010

Wall clings galore

2 remarks
We couldn't leave Emilie out of the wall cling fun. Rummaging through the aisles of target, Valerie spotted a pack of Dora the Explorer wall clings. With Emilie's recent fascination of the exploradora in full swing, we couldn't pass it up; especially for only ten bucks.

They aren't on the same level as Ari's Mario wall clings in terms of quantity or quality, but it doesn't matter; Emilie absolutely loves them. We put the majority of them right over her crib, which worked out well since Valerie was looking for something to fill the empty space. I must say, they look pretty good in her room.

When I was putting the last of the clings on the wall, Ari came into Emilie's room and complimented me on a job well done. He then proceeded to tell me that now I needed to get some "Lost" wall clings for my bedroom. I laughed and told him that it probably wasn't going to happen, emphasis on the word "probably". Though "Lost" may be over the top, I wouldn't be opposed to some Alton Brown wall clings in the kitchen. Hmmm... that reminds me, I better get started on that birthday list!

06 March 2010

Precisely Pizza

5 remarks
Pizza. It's in my blood. Nonna made excellent pizza, my mom makes excellent pizza, and I do my best to follow in their footsteps. They set the bar pretty high, and I am happy that I was able to learn from the best.

I remember eating Nonna's pizza when I was little. The whole wheat crust was light and fluffy, there was not too much cheese, and the topping I remember most is black olives. I always loved eating the edges because the cheese went all the way to outside and it was a little crispy where the cheese met the pan.

My moms pizza isn't quite the same as Nonna's, but still delicious nonetheless. My mom's pizza crust is thicker and she loads it up with cheese. I have to say the cheese on my mom's pizza is the best, I don't know what she does to make it taste so good. There is really nothing like it.

As for my pizza, I like to think it is a cross between Nonna's and my mom's. My crust is more like Nonna's, except I use bread flour instead of whole wheat, and my toppings and the amount of cheese I use us more like my mom's, except not quite as much cheese. I love making pizza; whenever we don't know what to have for dinner, I usually just make a pizza.

I've become better at it over the years and haven't really made any changes to my technique for the past year or so. My favorite toppings are pepperoni, mushroom, and black olives, and I usually opt for a thicker crust. Though, I've started making the crust a little thinner on occasion. Sometimes, I even like to go really thin and bake the pizza's on a pizza stone. Now that's good pizza.

We don't really do frozen pizza or delivery anymore because it usually ends in disappointment. I am lucky to have grown up on homemade pizza, making everything from scratch. When done right, I really can't think of a more satisfying meal.

05 March 2010

Spring Cleaning

1 remarks
Ahhh...it's time to dust off the ol' bicycle, pump up the tires and hit the streets! It's still a bit brisk out, but not enough to confine me to the car any longer. Hallelujah!

03 March 2010

Fish & Chips

2 remarks
One of the highlights of visiting Louisville is dining at The Irish Rover. I've posted about it before in regards to finding their elusive soda bread recipe, but I wanted to highlight the real reason we all want to go there every time we visit my dad...the fish and chips. I've wanted to post about this meal in the past, but I also wanted a picture. Feeling odd about toting a camera into the restaurant, I never was brave enough to get that snapshot I wanted.

I recently procured a new cell phone complete with a really nice built in camera. I felt that I could be sneaky enough to get the picture without being too obvious.

Upon ordering the fish and chips, I was soon presented with a 7-8 oz. portion of lightly battered Icelandic cod, a generous portion of pub chips, and a tartar sauce that was out of this world. The Icelandic cod is really the star on the plate, as it should be. Battered and deep fried to perfection, the white fish is moist, tender, flaky, and perfectly complimented with a squeeze of lemon and a dash of malt vinegar.

Restraining myself not to dig right in, I slowly pulled out my phone, set it to the camera setting, and got a pretty good photo.


It was even better than it looks, and I think it looks pretty delicious. I have not found fish and chips that can compare to those of The Irish Rover. It is always a treat to go there when we are in Louisville.

02 March 2010

Cheesy record

2 remarks
As we walked through the Whole Foods Market in Louisville last weekend, we suddenly found ourselves in the midst of history being made. A world record was on the cusp of being etched into the record books! Yes! I saw it! I was a part of history! Are you on the edge of your seat yet? You may be wondering what world record could be broken at a grocery store.

As it turns out, throughout the month of February, Whole Foods Market was celebrating Parmigiano Reggiano. On Saturday, February 27th, they capped the celebration with an in-store grand finale to honor the tradition behind the cheese while. I don't know if anything was planned for the 28th. In all of its cheese departments at 2 p.m. EST, they broke their own world record for simultaneously cracking open hundreds of wheels of 24-month-aged Parmigiano Reggiano.

They did it, and I saw it happen! They broke their own record that they, themselves, probably created to draw attention to themselves. Bravo! What an accomplishment. The cheese wheel really is something to see, and Ari watched in amazement since it is his favorite cheese. It's the first time I have ever been present for a world record being set. My goal is to now think of some obscure accomplishment that I can do that will get me into some sort of record book. Any suggestions?

01 March 2010

March

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An early R.E.M. demo, dubbed "March". It would later become one of my all time favorite R.E.M. songs, "King of Birds".

Happy March everybody! Bring on spring!

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