Monday, February 28, 2011

For the Birds

Yesterday, I received this adorable crocheted bird from Jessica, which now greets people as they walk through our front door. If I was on the fence about taking the time to learn crochet before, I've just hopped over to the right side. It is officially on my "I want to learn to do this" list.

That sweet little bird got me thinking: I need to freshen up the bird feeders and bird houses in my yard, so I'm ready for the spring arrivals. So, I filled the feeders...
...and swept the front porches of the houses, while tossing a handful of birdseed in each.
The birdhouse above was a gift from Stephanie Sario, and I think it's gotta be the coolest birdhouse out there. What little flying friends wouldn't want to hang out here?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Nothin' but Blue Skies

There has been talk of snow here in the Central Valley, and although many of us may have hoped we would awaken to a blanket of white, we instead were greeted with a crisp, colorful morning. Soak up the sun before the next storm comes!

Five Stars

I had yet another fabulous time staying with Kelly, John, and Anna this past week. The decision to visit them was a bit spur-of-the-moment, but I'm learning that that is a good way to do things at times. Otherwise, some other thing will get in the way while trying to plan an event.

I left Tuesday after my last piano lesson and rolled into San Diego around 10:00 pm. The drive was long of course, but with hardly any traffic, there wasn't a whole lot of time for road rage. (I can't say the same about the trip back to Visalia, though.) Excited to see each other, Kelly and I stayed up way past our bedtime to hang out and chat, then off to sleep I went.

In true Kelly/Candace fashion, much of our time was centered on cooking and trying new recipes. We tried ATK's pumpkin pie and Alton Brown's Perfect Potstickers. As a last minute switcharoo, we also decided to make Alton's Enchilada Lasagna, a new favorite for the dG's (and now a favorite of mine, as well) instead of laboring over a much more intense ATK empinada recipe. What can we say? Sometimes we aren't in the mood to begin dinner at 2:00 in the afternoon.

Alton's recipes were amazing, and I encourage everyone to try them. His potstickers were just as the name says: perfect. The best part? It's a pretty easy and cheap recipe. Check out the links above to make them. The pumpkin pie was good but didn't make the cut for the world's best pie, which was actually a good thing because that pie was hard to make! The crust, however, was divine and is now my go-to pie crust. It is (shock) another Alton winner, so check out the recipe here.

Sadly, the picture below is the only one I have of either Kelly or me, whether alone or together. Drat! It'll be easier once Anna is a teenager and can snap a picture of us :)


On Wednesday morning, we took Anna and headed over to Balboa Park. This is a pretty neat place. Because we were short on time, we basically just did a walk-through, but I thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful architecture and fantastic San Diego weather. Plus, Anna proved to be a great little model for me as I snatched a few photo ops. I am sure she has a future with Baby Gap.

We also had time to do a little shopping and went to Nordstrom's Rack one evening, where I splurged and bought these adorable red flats, which I may just never take off. They are so comfy! Gotta love Borns, right?

My shoes were the only purchase I had to make, and yet I came home showered with gifts. Jewelry, a scarf, salt water taffy, muffin cups, and my most excited treasure, the latest Best of America's Test Kitchen magazine for 2011.

It was a bit sad leaving my favorite San Diego home, but we sure did make the most of my time there. Thanks deGrassie's for a fabulous stay!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Dragon Slippers

Are these not the cutest things ever?

A couple of weeks ago, Made By Rae posted a how-to to make these adorable dragon slippers. (If you haven't yet checked out her site, you must! Her patterns are so creative and really easy to follow.) I immediately began naming off the little boys I know who would love these (or at least the moms who would love their little boys wearing these), so I set out to make my first pair for Elliot, Jessica's little one, planning to follow with a baby pair for Kelly's boy-on-the-way and then a toddler pair for my nephew.

Last week then, as Jessica and I were running some errands, we headed over to Joanne's and picked out fleece in appropriate boy/dragon colors, as well as the odds and ends that I needed to make these. I began the project around 6:30 that night and worked into the wee hours of the morning to finish them. I just couldn't help it! The more complete they became, the cuter they got.
I was so excited to give them to Jessica on Sunday, but as we put them on Elliot's cute little feet, we could both see they were going to be too snug, or at least would fit for only a short, short time. The plan changed. Kelly would get the first pair, which is actually perfect as I was planning on visiting her, anyway. I'll work on the others in the next couple of weeks.

The pattern is really quite simple, once you get the measurements. The trickiest part about it all was adding the elastic casing, which is evident by my very crooked line. Luckily, because the top bunches a bit, it wasn't too obvious. Another neat thing about the pattern is you can modify it for any size, so long as you have a shoe or foot to trace to begin. Each slipper needs the following, two outside pieces, two inside pieces, a sole, and a tongue:
Once finished, the inside is about as cute as the outside! You could easily leave off the buttons and tongue and make these a reversible slipper. So fun!
So now when Baby Boy deGrassie enters the world, he will have something very cozy to keep his feet warm.

Want to make your own pair? Click here for the full instructions.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Operation Bird

As much as I cook with chicken, it is a bit shameful to say that I have never ever roasted a whole chicken. I usually just buy the cut pieces I need and leave the roasting for other braver women. I knew, though, that a day would come when I would have to deal with a whole chicken, giblets and all. That day came today. On Sunday, my mom gave me a whole chicken (so kind of her), and since I'm headed out to visit the Bestie in San Diego, I needed to face the bird.

I figured if I was going to have to deal with a whole disgusting bird, I might as well find a way to do it that would be something worth my time later. Alton Brown came to the rescue with his Broiled, Butterflied Chicken recipe.

So, I kissed my husband good-bye for the day and spent the next three hours with Alton. I probably watched the Good Eats episode 20 times altogether. I had to be tough when Alton said to use my kitchen shears to cut through the ribs (ugh), pull out the backbone, then dig around until I found the keel bone, which I think I removed, although I'm not sure. This was quite the ordeal. I had no idea what I was doing, so I'm sure it would have been a comical sight to see me wrestling my chicken on the counter, one elbow on the counter while the rest of me tried muster up the little strength I have in my arms to yank out the bone. After I took out whatever I could, my chicken looked a bit mutilated. Luckily it was the backside, so when I flipped it over, it still looked fine even if it was falling apart. Cutting the veggies was easy (yay), and once the chicken was on top of the veggies, it was just a matter of broiling and checking. All in all, I'd have to say Operation Bird was a success.

Besides the whole de-boning and butterflying thing, the recipe itself is basic. And as always, Alton did not disappoint. The bird turned out crispy, juicy, delicious. Be brave! Try it! I'm going to do it again, so it shows that it wasn't a waste of time whatsoever.

Ingredients:

1 whole chicken
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons peppercorn
1/2 t salt
lemon zest from one lemon
a bit of parsley
celery
carrots
onion
any other veggies you need to use up!
red wine
chicken broth

1. Mash the garlic cloves, peppercorn, salt, lemon zest, and parsley. Add a bit of olive oil to make a paste.
2. Butterfly the chicken. Watch Alton do it first, then go for it.
3. Turn chicken over. Lift the skin of the chicken at the neck and place the paste into the four sections of the chicken. Rub paste throughout.
4. Rub the chicken with olive oil, then sprinkle salt on the backside.
5. In your roasting pan, throw in veggies. These can be in big chunks.
6. Place chicken on top, right side up. Adjust oven rack, so chicken will be about 8 inches from broiler. Turn broiler on High and place chicken in, until brown, 15 - 20 minutes.
7. Flip chicken over and broil other side another 10-15 minutes, or until brown and crispy.
8. Remove chicken and check if it's 165 degrees with a thermometer.
9. Place chicken in a large bowl, so you can work with the veggies to make the jus.
10. Put the roasting pan on the stovetop and turn on high to bring to boil. Slightly tilt the pan and use a large spoon or baster to get out the juice. Discard or save to make a salad dressing.
11. Add enough red wine to just cover the veggies, then about a cup or so of low-sodium chicken broth. Reduce liquid and drain.
12. Cut chicken into quarters and top with jus to serve or cut/shred as desired.

*I added water and broth and continued cooking my veggies after draining the jus until they were tender. I saved the potatoes to do a light mash, then pureed the rest to use for a soup base later on. The flavor was outstanding! And of course you can save your bones and other extras to make a tasty chicken stock. (Kelly called dibs on these, so she gets them.)

I guess I understand the appeal of using a whole chicken. Many meals will come from this thing, not to mention the soup base, stock, mashed potatoes, jus, vinaigrette, etc.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Preparing for Spring

The last two weekends have been work weekends for us. By "us" I mean Robby, of course, with me as a part-timer at best. Last weekend, he built my fantastic planters for me, and we spent time weeding and pruning and trimming. On Friday, we planted a whole pile of plants Debbie gave to us, which will be beautiful come springtime. Then on Saturday, Robby used some leftover stones from the path he put in last year to make a few stepping stones by the maple tree. With the addition of some sweet alyssum in between and a couple gloriously green breath of heavens, that area has become my new favorite spot.
Other exciting news: I have plantlings! Five of my nine seeds I planted last week have sprouted! Here's the biggest one, some baby arugula. So cute.
We just can't wait for spring, and I especially can't wait to make a salad with my home-grown lettuce and herbs.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Lemony Morning

My little lemon tree has long been lemon-less, but thanks to two bags of lemons from dear ones, I am lemoning it up over here.

This morning, I did two simple things with the lemons: made fresh lemonade (never have done that before) and lemon curd (never have done that before either!).

Debbie posted her lemonade recipe, so I wanted to give it a try. It seems the secret is letting the lemon juice, sugar, and rind sit and mingle together for an hour before adding water. You get a true lemony refreshment, which can brighten up any dreary rainy day. If you try it and like it, be sure and let her know!

1 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar (more if you prefer...Debbie uses 3/4 to 3/4 ratio)
Rind from lemons

Let juice, sugar, and rind sit together for an hour. Add ice and water to make a quart. Adjust to tasting preference.

Okay, now time for the recipe that stole the show for me this week, maybe even this year: homemade lemon curd from Joy of Baking. I had always assumed this was too much of a pain to try and needed too much lemon, but I'm glad to say I was wrong. It is pretty simple and the results are divine.

3 eggs
1/3 c fresh lemon juice, strained (2-3 lemons)
3/4 c granulated sugar
1 large T finely grated lemon zest
4 T unsalted butter

In a stainless steel bowl, whisk the lemon juice, sugar, and eggs together over a saucepan of simmering water. Whisk constantly until it thickens to be something like hollandaise sauce, which takes about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and strain into a bowl. Add the butter in 4 chunks and stir until melted. Add the lemon zest. Cover and refrigerate.

If you're a lemon lover, you will absolutely fall over when you taste this. Great on scones but perfectly wonderful by the spoonful, as well :)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Sad Scones

The evening began exciting enough. I was browsing through this amazing food blog Jessica sent me awhile back called Crepes of Wrath. It is awesome. I spent 45 minutes just perusing the recipes and mentally bookmarking any I wanted to make. I was inspired to make these beautiful lemon scones since I have an abundance of lemons right now, and a warm tasty scone seemed like a nice evening treat with a cup of tea. We are preparing for another rain spell soon, so it's back to cold weather things here in Visalia.

I got to work, taking out my ingredients and zesting some lemons. All was going well, but for some reason the dough wasn't really holding together. I added a bit more milk thinking it was too try, which helped. As I was scooping the last scone onto the cookie sheet, I realized I forgot an important ingredient. Butter. One and a half sticks of cubed butter were sitting on my counter. How did I miss that??

Three options are always available for the baker at this point: try to salvage what she can, knowing that the final product will no doubt be poor; throw it out and start over, knowing that she's using up another set of perfectly good ingredients; throw it out, grab some ice cream from the freezer, and be done with it. Because I wasn't about to let those beautiful lemons go to waste, and because I had no energy to start the recipe over, and because there is no ice cream in the freezer, I opted for the first and squished the butter in my already too wet dough.

Twenty-five minutes later, I had what looked like...well...see you for yourself:
Somewhere between a hashbrown and a splatter paint project, maybe? Sad, sad night for the scones and for me.

The amazing thing is that they didn't taste too bad. Sure, they were tough, and melted butter was everywhere, and the edges were burned. But somewhere in all that, I could tell these could have been good. I will definitely give these a try again, and this blog has now been added to my faves.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Playing with Tabs

The last couple of weeks, I have been playing with the tab/page option Blogger offers and finally decided to go ahead and see if I like doing this. I like that it gives me another option to organize things, but I don't know if I'll stay on top of updating. We'll see!

Photo 101

Last year for my birthday, my in-laws and husband gave me a fantastic new digital camera. It has taken great pictures on auto, but apparently on manual the images have the potential to be awesome. Now I am typically a "point and shoot" kind of camera girl, but I decided it was high time to figure out what some of these camera terms are. Shutter speed? Aperture? ISO? Surely knowing what these things actually are and do is a necessary step to using my camera properly.

So, I did what any girl does when she wants to know an answer. I googled it. And then Robby came and of course figured things out in half the time it took me. And then we both practiced.

Here are our first pictures. We still need more practice, but at least we aren't scared of using the manual setting on our camera anymore.

A Sweet Heart Day

Valentine's Day was extra sweet this year. Still on my Use-It-Up bandwagon, I tried to keep things simple, and I was so happy with how my dinner and dessert turned out, especially since my grocery bill was next to nothing. We had fish, rice, and asparagus, all fresh and delicious with lots of yummy herbs and spices. For dessert, I made a little creation I am calling the Layered-Crepe-Cake. My hub is a big fan of these sweet crepes I make, but the problem is we never get to sit down and enjoy them together because they need to be eaten right away. So, I used a pie dish and layered crepes with yummy fillings, like strawberries, bananas, and chocolate. I "baked" it (really warmed it up) in the oven at 350 for about 10 minutes, so everything gooed together. When out, we topped it with whipped cream and more fresh strawberries. My only concern was how it was going to cut - would it just fall apart? It actually worked! We each had a slice...or two. Yum!

Although we always make a big deal out of Valentine's day, we usually keep our gifts pretty simple, but thoughtful. This year we each gave each other candy (box of See's for me, container of heart shaped sweetarts for him) and a creative gift. I wrote my hub a song (I know...cliche) and he made me a Shutterfly scrapbook of our favorite wedding pictures.

Hope your day was sweet, too!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

New Planters!

It seems everyone in Visalia has been taking advantage of the lovely sunshine we've enjoyed the last week or so, and we were right there with them. Robby thought this would be the perfect weekend to build the planters he had promised me, and I agreed. It did (as is always the case) turn out to be a bit grander of a project that we first anticipated, but we were so happy with the end result and we can't wait to see the end end result of growing plants.

The honeymoon stage of the project, which began with a trip to Lowe's to buy the lumber and choose the paint and ended with everything laid out ready to go:
And the work begins!
The paint was a bit more purpley than we thought it would be, but I actually really liked it. Plus, it's going to match our many purple spring flowers.

And the end result, nearly 12 cubic feet of soil ready for planting:
As you can imagine, these photos leave out 90% of the work we did and don't include the late Friday night picture of us in the garage using a hair dryer to dry the paint. But it all worked out in the end, and even a major project didn't put a damper on our Valentine's weekend.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Valentine Sugar Cookies

For my Valentine cookie, I made King Arthur Flour's sugar cookies, following the tip to make your cookies chewier and "bendier." These really were quite delicious -- good flavor, texture, and bend. The recipe calls for cream cheese, almond extract, and a bit of corn syrup for chew, and these little special ingredients may have made this recipe my new favorite. And my hubby agreed: although he said chocolate chip will always be his go-to cookie, this would be his next choice for a sweet treat.

Tip: If you get down to the last of your cookie dough and don't really want or need to use it, roll it out real thin and bake as a pie crust. I did this, let cool, then covered with a thin layer of melted chocolate, which hardened beautifully. Some homemade banana pudding and whipped cream on top made this an amazing little treat. And the cookie pie crust stays nice and crisp, so it can sit in the fridge a couple of days without getting mushy.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Pretty Paper Heart Garland

I love Valentine's Day. Truly, what's not to love? Pink and red hearts, homemade cards, sparkly sugar cookies, delicious dark chocolate (honestly - leave the milk chocolate for Christmas). Even as a girl, before I had my own valentine to love, I looked forward to the day where we took school time to create cards with stamps, stickers, and cut-outs. And then we had a whole afternoon to distribute them while eating heart-shaped rice krispie treats. Fantastic!


So, to kick off this Valentine's weekend, I wanted share these fun paper heart garlands I've been working on. (And if you're wondering, no purchases were required to make these. Still on my Use-it-Up Challenge!)

You need:
String (thread is too thin)
A large sewing needle
Paper of choice (cardstock worked nicely)
Scissors or a heart punch
Letter stamps (or you can free-hand)
Four paper doilies or other pretty paper

Also necessary:
Twilight (to watch while you're working on these)

1. Cut or punch out the number of hearts you want. If you're making the "Love" garland, you only need five to go on either side of each letter. Fold the heart in half, then push the needle through, as shown. When you pull the string through, it should make a little "stitch" in the middle of the heart.


2. Make your "Love" letters by pushing the needle through and behind the doily. Be sure and do this near the top of the paper, so it doesn't want to flip. If you want to just make the heart garland, skip this and keep stringing those hearts!


3. Another option with the heart garland is to bunch the paper hearts together. This creates more of a petal look and also is very pretty. Once you're finished, you can go and alternate the direction of the hearts and bunch them as you like.

And there you go - instant Valentine glam!