Archive for November, 2010|Monthly archive page

Visions of Christmas…A Holiday Mantel

In Design, Family Room, Mantel on November 30, 2010 at 3:12 pm

Nothing says Christmas/Holidays/Noel/Etc. to me like baked goods. They remind me of my Gram. Growing up Gram and I always made Christmas cookies together. I remember making Refrigerator Cookies, Gingersnaps, Choco Chip, Peanut Butter, Butterscotch and more. It was a huge mess of a great time. It’s one of my fondest memories of childhood and I only wish she was still with us to continue the tradition with our kids. But alas, I will have to make the big fat mess with them instead. Thank goodness it’s a strength of mine. The mess. Not the cookies. But also the cookies. :)

So, I gathered all our cookie-makin’ gear and put it all together. I love this stuff. Seeing it all gathered up evokes all kinds of great memories of baking through the holidays. But not just that. The smell of the spices takes it over the top.

It’s impossible not to smile when you smell cinnamon and nutmeg and cloves, all the usual suspects. Mmmmm!

This year we’re truly gettin’ Down-Home for the holidays.  I’m sure some bows, pine sprays and jingle bells would evoke even more Christmas feeling but this time around we’ll just keep it real baked goods style. How ’bout you?

I am linking this post:

The Lettered Cottage

And     Between Naps On The Porch


Painted Bookcases – Containing the Wild Within

In Design, Dining Room on November 24, 2010 at 11:13 am

Bookcases are not just for storage. Yes, of course in part for storage. But also as a showcase for things you love. And like it or not they attract attention. People are curious about books you read, stuff you love.

I’ve been thinking about painting our twin dining room bookcases. Currently one is stained ginger and the other (which was previously living in our son’s room) is painted navy with a tan interior.

Any ideas out there? I’m thinking something fun. Bright. Crazy.

Here are some ideas… Painted Bookcases – Containing the Wild Within

Classic Risotto with Prosciutto and Mushrooms

In Food, Italian on November 23, 2010 at 9:31 am

Risotto is one of our favorites year-round and works into the cooking rotation even more often as an autumn chill hits the air. The basic recipe is delicious and is similar to a fried rice in its adaptability. We usually plan ahead to make a specific riff but this is also a great dish for emptying out the fridge.

Pull out the good stuff for this one… use wine tasty enough to drink and the best aged parmesan that fits your budget. You won’t regret it.

Make it as a one-bowl stand-alone or as a side with a protein. Steak, pork, seafood…you name it. Pretty much anything is great with this chameleon.

We have innumerable riffs on this classic. This is just one. We’ll share more in the weeks to come. Check back this weekend for a special Thanksgiving Encore Risotto to use those yummy leftovers!

Classic Risotto with Prosciutto and Mushrooms

–         1 yellow onion (finely chopped)

–         1 garlic clove (pressed)

–         3 cups chopped mushrooms (Wild, cremini and portobello are flavorful options for this dish. Mix or choose just one.)

–         1 ½ cup medium grain white rice

–         4 cups chicken broth

–         3 Tbsp. butter

–         1 cup dry white wine

–         1/3 pound sliced prosciutto (cut into 1/2 inch pieces)

–         1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

–         Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Melt butter in a large, heavy-bottomed sauce pan over medium heat.

Add onion, garlic and mushrooms to the pan. Sauté until onion is translucent.

Add rice and stir to coat with butter.  Sauté an additional 2 minutes.

Add wine and simmer until wine has almost completely evaporated.

Begin stirring in broth ½ – ¾ Cup at a time.  Give each addition of broth time to be absorbed by the rice before adding the next addition.  Continue until rice is tender, yet firm, and mixture is creamy.

Reduce heat to medium-low setting. Stir in prosciutto. Heat until warm.

Remove from heat, and stir in the parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper.

*Serve with a dollop of ricotta blended with pesto and a drizzle of olive oil.

Oatmeal Stout Stew

In Food, Soups 'n Stews on November 18, 2010 at 2:56 pm

Autumn, sweet sweet autumn. There is a chill in the air, it’s football season and the holidays are fast approaching. It’s that time of year when friends drop by just because they were in the neighborhood and thinking of you.

This recipe was created with all the best of autumn in mind. This stew will feed a crowd or keep it just for you and savor every bite. It’s that good. Don’t wanna share good. But your mama taught you to share with friends so at least consider that option.

Let’s get started.

We like to use fingerling potatoes because they offer a little flavor variety that the old-school russet lacks. The colors are great too, but that isn’t a biggie in this stew as the beer and beef stock colors the vegetables regardless.

Cut the potatoes and their vegetable friends (carrots, onion, celery) into large bite-size pieces.

Toss in a bowl with thick-sliced mushrooms. We mixed white and baby bellas in this stew.

Look at that color inside the ‘blue’ fingerling potato. Gorgeous! Food should be a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach.

We have been known to use farm-fresh blue fingerlings as potato stamps for kid crafts as well. We’re all about making food a family affair!

Meanwhile on the stove, heat 2 Tbsp. Cooking oil in the bottom of a large stock pot over medium heat.

Combine flour and salt and pepper to taste in a large mixing bowl.

Working in batches, dredge stew meat in flour mixture then sauté in stock pot until browned on all sides.

Note, the meat will continue to cook in the stew. Browning just the sides with a rare to medium-rare inside at this stage in the game will yield a perfect result.

Set each batch aside to rest as you sauté the next batch. Replenish oil 2 Tbsp. at a time as needed until all the meat has been browned.

Return browned meat to the stock pot and pour in entire bottle of oatmeal stout (no one will notice a sip or two missing if you check for flavor).  Bring the mixture to a boil while scraping up all the brown bits from the bottom of the pot.  Simmer for approximately 10 minutes.

Combine all remaining ingredients (or as many as will fit) into the stock pot, and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and allow stew to simmer from 1 ½ – 2 hrs.

Be patient. Give those veggies time to mingle and soak up the flavor goodness.

Take a break to kiss your soux chef. You might need to remind her that waiting is a good thing. Patience is a virtue and all that noise.

Thicken as desired with additional flour or cornstarch.

Serve with warm, crusty, sourdough bread.

No cozy fire necessary. Just cozy on up to a bowl of this stew. And if you have another bottle of that Oatmeal Stout around, now is a good time to give ‘her a little dance!


Oatmeal Stout Stew

  • 2lbs. Stew meat
  • 1 large bottle (22 -24oz.) Oatmeal Stout beer
  • 1 Cup flour
  • 6 Tbsp. Cooking oil
  • 2 lbs. fingerling potatoes, cut into large pieces
  • 1 large white onion, chopped in large pieces
  • 8oz. sliced mushrooms
  • 5 – 6 carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
  • 5 – 6 celery stalks, thickly sliced
  • 2 Tbsp. Freshly chopped garlic
  • 1 large Tbsp. Freshly chopped Rosemary (or dried)
  • 1 large Tbsp. Freshly chopped Sage (or dried)
  • 1 large Tbsp. Freshly chopped Thyme (or dried)
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 4 – 6 Cups beef stock (We love Better than Bouillon Beef Base)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Cut vegetables into large bite-size pieces.

Heat 2 Tbsp. Cooking oil in the bottom of a large stock pot over medium heat.

Combine flour and salt and pepper to taste in a large mixing bowl.

Working in batches, dredge stew meat in flour mixture then sauté in stock pot until browned on all sides.  Set each batch aside to rest as you sauté the next batch. Replenish oil 2 Tbsp. at a time as needed until all the meat has been browned.

Return browned meat to the stock pot and pour in entire bottle of oatmeal stout.  Bring mixture to a boil while scraping up all the brown bits from the bottom of the pot.  Simmer for approx. 10 min.

Combine all remaining ingredients (or as many as will fit) into the stock pot, and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and allow stew to simmer from 1 ½ – 2 hrs.

Thicken as desired with additional flour or cornstarch.

Serve with warm, crusty, sourdough bread!

Minimalist Holiday Tablescape

In Design, Dining Table, Food, Holidays on November 16, 2010 at 2:30 pm

The holidays are all about family, tradition and foooood. It’s all about fitting as many friendly bodies as possible around the table with room for Tom and the fixings on the periphery.

We like to keep it simple. Harvest colors. Mix n’ match plates and napkins.

Individual salt and peppers shakers. A bit of nature to add some texture; we like pinecones, branches, maybe a bit of twine tied around the napkins.

Because this is a simple setting remember the obvious. Keep it simple. No nameplates necessary. There is a time and place for them, yes. But this isn’t it. No candles or crystal for us. We have kids after all. And the little one likes to climb to the middle of the dining table to play ‘queen of the mountain’. Nope, we’re saving the nice stuff for another day.

Forgive the blurry pics. Too much caffeine. :)

I am linking this to BNOTP.

Ja-ja-ja Jackpot! and Jay’s World Class Fajitas

In Chicken, Food, Mexican on November 11, 2010 at 4:58 pm

We hit the jackpot this time. We have neighbors who sell pumpkins at their home every fall. They grow them at their family farm outside town and haul them here to sell to adoring fans. This year during our visit I got a peek into their garage… uh it was chock-full of produce. I mean gorgeous, fresh, locally grown produce. No sign, just an “ask to see it” policy. We brought home pumpkins for carving, pumpkins for roasting, butternut squash, poblano peppers, sweet potatoes-as-big-as-your-head or as big as my forearm. No kidding. They are up next…

But the peace de resistance was the bell peppers. Baskets upon baskets of the beauties. And to top it all off? They were 10/$1. Um, excuse me? What? No, seriously. Ten measly cents each. Green bell peppers go for about $1 each on a good day around here and the red, orange, yellow are more like $2+ bucks a piece. Bargain of the century!

So we made fajitas. When life gives you lemons… well you know the rest.

But what do we have here? Can you tell me? It looks like a baby pepper growing inside. These peppers were perfectly ripe so that might have something to do with it?

This little guy was inside one of the peppers. So pretty! We didn’t eat it but I suppose it is edible. (Yeah, yeah. A manicure would be nice but I have more pressing projects like eating.)

And what about this little beauty? A black pepper. Love it!

And a surprise inside! This guy tastes just like a green pepper but a bit sweeter. 

First, wash the peppers. Then remove the seeds and slice those bad boys. Lovin’ the color.

The peppers need friends. Let’s add some yellow onion. We almost always use yellow or red in cooking. White has its place but is kinda boring. Peel ’em and slice ’em.

Meanwhile in the wings Renaissance Dude flattened a few chicken breasts between Glad Press ‘n Seal so no icky raw chicken would go flying. It is nice to thin the chicken out so it cooks more evenly and the edges won’t dry out on the grill.

Then on a separate cutting board from the peppers and onions he brushed ’em with veggie oil. (We love using this cutting board and silicone brush for meat and then throw them in the dishwasher for a little sanitizing.

Jay usually wears food prep gloves when working with chicken to keep things cleaner but I guess he was feeling like a rebel.

He sprinkled the chicken with our scratch fajita rub (recipe will follow).

This blend has a million great uses but this is the original.

It is much-loved in this kitchen.

Add some sliced mushrooms to get the party started.

I guess the sun was going down when this pic was taken. We eat late around here. Late, I tell you. But that is a story for another time.

Add some veggie oil and season ’em up. Then toss them to balance the oil and seasoning. Don’t want anyone getting jealous now.

Cook those guys in a grill basket on the grill for awhile, until they are soft but not mushy. Blackened edges are a-okay.

This is not a pic of the grill basket. It was dark outside, remember? This is the bowl they rode in back to the kitchen. Use foil on the bowl to glam it up keep ’em hot.

A blurry peek inside. Oh my head! Just try not to sneak a bite or eight before it hits the table. I double-dog-dare ya.

Meanwhile, back on the grill the chicken is gettin’ hot hot hot.

Slice your limes. Not only are they a tasty addition but the first person to successfully accidentally flip a wedge onto someone else’s plate wins. :)

Slice the chicken and plate it all up with the fixins. Lime wedges, sour cream, avocados.

Warm a stack of corn tortillas in a damp towel in the microwave for about a minute on high or until steamy. Remember to wear an oven mitt when you get them out of the microwave. They will be…steamy.

Yum! Because the fajita rub is made ahead in mass reasonable quantities this recipe can serve as many as you like. Just add more chicken and veggies and make it a fiesta.

Live it up.


Fajita Rub/Seasoning

–         1 large Tbsp. dried granulated garlic (if using rub immediately, substitute four fresh garlic cloves – crushed)

–         1/3 cup ground chili powder (Ancho if available)

–         4 tsp. brown sugar (preferably dark)

–         1 tsp dried oregano

–         ½ tsp. ground cumin

–         4 tsp. fresh ground black pepper

–         1 tsp. kosher salt

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

In Food on November 9, 2010 at 3:25 pm

A quick fly-by autumn recipe for you.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

–         Seeds from 2 medium/large pumpkins (cleaned and rinsed)

–         3Tbsp melted butter

–         1tsp  Worcestershire Sauce

–         2tsp seasoning (we like Emeril’s Original Essence)

Soak in salt water for one hour. Drain and toss with butter, Worcestershire and seasoning. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until golden brown stirring occasionally.

Try not to eat them all in one sitting. But it’ll be tough!

Emeril doesn’t know us. But if he did he’d love us and our pumpkin seeds.

Major Renovation – A Historical Perspective

In Before and After, Demo, Design, Dining Room, Entry, Kitchen, Living Room on November 4, 2010 at 10:16 pm

When we first found our “cottage wannabe” almost three long years ago, it had a lot going for it.

Great Location: good neighborhood, quiet street, close to the good grocery store.


You can expect more from an employee owned store. It’s true. Hy-Vee is an all-around great store. And they have those expectant mother/mother-with-young-child parking spots. You know, Rock Star Parking. I may or may not have use those a few more times than necessary. I just didn’t want myself the little darlings to catch a snowflake on their brow.

What? Tell me you honestly didn’t consider that when you bought your home. Any self-respecting foodie would make it a top priority. You just never know when you might run right out of goat cheese or heaven forbid butter, or milk for the wee ones, or…or…or booze. The alcohol always burns off during cooking, except maybe for the stuff that hits your lips before.  It is important to taste test as you go. That’s all I’m sayin’. I’m channeling Martha here.

I digress…back to the house.

Great Bones: A beautifully landscaped yard (notice I use the past-tense here, our thumbs are black, black I tell you. It has plenty of space for our young growing family, lots of school bus yellow paint sponge-painted in geometric patterns – everywhere. Wait, that is not a selling point. Who knew it was legal to buy vats of the stuff. Hmm, a question for the ages.

The Entry, before… promise, it gets better

As all good little wifies are inclined to be a tad insistent at times, I suggested (okay, maybe demanded is more appropriate) that we break some of those great bones and tear out not one but two walls in the kitchen/dining/living rooms immediately after we signed on the dotted line. Egads. We had not a clue what we were doing. Renaissance Man begged his law school buddies, an architect friend and a builder friend to help do the demo. I really missed out on this part, but the testosterone was too dang thick and I couldn’t fit through the front door with my pretty pink sledgehammer.

Kitchen (standing at the top of the steps, looking toward the dining room)

Dining Room facing Kitchen

Don’t even get me started on the linoleum. It was from the clearance rack of an entirely different decade. Yikes. But, on the up-side, it didn’t show dirt. It was the shade of every type of dirt already so anything we would drop on it would just blend right on into the background.

Living Room (facing front windows and half-wall above entry steps)

Our sweet, sweet realtor holding Master P (backs to the kitchen) This wall is a goner!

The guys huffed and they puffed and they ripped those superfluous walls right down. Sponge-paint and all. They capped the wiring. They carried a 1200 pound I-beam up the stairs and installed it themselves.

I shouldn’t have worried. After two and a half years, the roof hasn’t budged. But we did stare at the ceiling for a good six months after the install just in case we noticed a shift and thought we could run fast enough to single-handedly hoist the sucker back in place. Hehe, silly rabbits.

Stay tuned for an after pic. Ah, the difference is simply amazing.

HyVee image from here.

Grocery bag image from here.

White Rabbit

In Life on November 1, 2010 at 7:27 am

White Rabbit to you all!

Our family loves this British superstitious tradition that suggests you tell others “White Rabbit” on the first day of each month. You can speak the words “White Rabbit”, share a picture of a white rabbit or give a white rabbit gift. This is so fun for kids. It is a challenge to see who remembers the date first and always elicits “ah man” if you aren’t first.

We have a porcelain white rabbit salt shaker that makes its rounds in our house. Of course this will give you good luck for the duration of the month, who couldn’t use a little bit of extra luck?

Do you play White Rabbit too? What is your variation on the tradition?

You can find the official definition here.