Thursday, April 30, 2009

My Growing (Thread) Vegetable Patch

After my initial blooper with transferring the patterns, I have to say that I'm giddy about how the actual embroidery is going!

Apple and lemon done; carrot in progress.

Ready for their close-ups:

I think the carrot is my favorite so far. I love his cheesy grin. Also, I am getting more comfortable with the stitches, so he is definitely sewn better and coming along more quickly than the other two.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Blue Plate Report: A KEEN-wah Primer

Another Blue Plate success (accorning to Phineas)! How's this for Tuesday night dinner in under an hour?

Lamb chops with chimichurri, quinoa risotto and asparagus

First, I got the quinoa going (recipe below). While it cooked, I pan roasted the lamb chops and made a very easy chimichurri sauce to go with them in the cuisinart - just blend a bunch of parsley and mint with garlic, crushed red pepper, salt, lemon juice, vinegar, and olive oil to emulsify.

I sauteed the asparagus in the lamb pan while the lamb was resting. As it cooked, I added the finishing touches to the risotto. The last step was dressing the asparagus with a little extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice.

Quinoa "Risotto"
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp olive or other oil
  • 1/2 c wine
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 c water or stock
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 oz parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1-2 tbsp butter
Sweat shallot and garlic in oil. Add wine and reduce until the liquid is mostly gone. Add water and salt; bring to a boil. Stir in quinoa, put on lid, reduce to low, and cook like rice - no need to compulsively stir! Add water if needed so it doesn't burn or stick. When quinoa is tender and most water is absorbed (20 min or so), stir in parmesan and butter. Taste and adjust by adding more cheese and butter, salt and pepper, etc.

Tip: Any herbs or spices, sherry or vermouth for the wine, or the ingredients of your favorite risotto (mushroom, other veg, other cheese at the end, etc) would work here. I meant to add peas about halfway thru cooking and simply forgot. This would have been a nice touch.

Tip: Take your pantry seriously if you want good weekday eats. Aside from the lamb, asparagus, parsley and mint, everything was from the pantry. Yes, even the lemon juice - it came from one of those lemon-shaped bottles that you get in the produce section. The parsley and mint (now chimichurri) are now in the pantry, too. I made enough to last several weeks - we use it on all kinds of meats as a sauce, a marinade, and a sandwich spread. We've even brushed it on cod and then steamed the fish. Delicious!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

On the Menu Tonight

Lamb Chops with Quinoa "Risotto" and Asparagus

Week 2 of Tuesday's Blue Plate Special will feature Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) - an increadibly nutritious ancient grain/seed native to the Andes. It has a nuttier flavor and more texture than rice, couscous or pasta. Delicious!

I generally use one of 2 methods depending on whether I want it to be fluffy like couscous or creamy like risotto. Tonight we are going for creamy. Check back tomorrow for the results.

Sublime? Just shoot me now...

Yes! That is an embroidered pink skull and crossbones.

Recently, I realized that I don't have a hobby that can be done in front of the tv or while traveling. For some reason all my hobbies tend to require appliances (sewing machine, stove, oven) or can't be done while sitting on the couch (travel, scuba, yoga...).

So, I recently decided to change all that by adding to my textile skills. Knitting and crocheting, alas, are not for me. It's amazing that people can take a string and magically turn it into a sweater. But when I was taught how to knit as a girl, the best I managed was an enormous knot. So, I decided to try hand embroidery instead, and was utterly thrilled when my learners kit arrived from Sublime Stitching before I left for Vegas.

The kit has everything I need for my first project, including an apron to embroider with funny fruits and veggies. I decided to transfer the pattern to the apron before leaving for Vegas - NOT one of my better ideas. Um, er... it didn't go exactly according to plan.

The directions seemed to stress how to correctly transfer the pattern to the apron with your iron. I may have overestimated how much heat and time was involved:

Look at the poor burnt apple: he even looks like he's in pain!

Naturally, the "yummy" is above the burnt apple. Perfect.

Adding insult to injury, it looks like I will also be adding an ironing board cover to my list of projects:

Sigh. I'm not generally the kind of person that gets things right on the first go-round. I'm more the persistence/patience/practice sort. Oh well. Lesson learned: despite the directions, the transfer does not take 20 seconds at cotton/wool setting.

Anyway, I will be finishing the project because it was meant to be practice, and it still will be a good learning experience, even if it isn't exactly as planned. So, today, I will transfer the faces onto the fruits. I guess I'm going to have to re-think the smiley face I was going to use for the apple.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Congratulations Frano & Melissa!!

I'm not sure I've ever seen a happier Groom than Frano. The one word that sums up the wedding of Frano and Melissa: JOY. There was a truly infectious joyfulness to the whole day. Congratulations to the newlyweds! Thanks for including us in your special day!

The Groom

The mischief makers

I do's

Happily ever after...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Off to Vegas

We're off to Vegas for the wedding of Franodog and Melissa. Back on Monday.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Blue Plate licked clean

So, how's this for good lookin' chicken??? MMMMMmmmm...

Here it is with a side of couscous (recipe to follow)
and a green salad with a sherry vinaigrette.

Dinner was a success, if you judge these things based on the amount of left-overs. The couscous was the perfect accompaniment to the Pollo al Ajillo.

Spanish cooking does use dried fruits and nuts in many dishes. So, I started the couscous by sauteing a minced shallot until it was soft. Then I added a handful each of slivered almond and chopped craisins. When the almonds were toasted I added a mixture of water and chicken stock. When it boiled I added couscous, shut off the heat and popped on the lid. Five minutes later it was fluffy and delicious.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tuesday's Blue Plate Special

Pic from Wikipedia
I haven't been able to post about Clio's Test Kitchen so far. Sadly, there was some kind of mix up with my registration. And here at Clio & Phineas we are not moping, but instead instituting a new policy: I am officially taking over Tuesday night dinner. Hurrah!

I don't get to cook as often as I would like during the week. If we waited for me to commute home, go to the gym, come home and shower, figure out what to cook and then cook it, well, it would not be a good situation for me, for Phin or for our marriage. However, once a week I can manage without inciting husband revolt.

So, tonight will be the first installment of Tuesday's Blue Plate Special dinner. I decided that I should set myself up to succeed at least for the first week, so I am cooking Pollo al Ajillo with couscous and a green salad. In future weeks, I plan to cook the things in my stack of recipes that I've been meaning to try and just haven't gotten around to just yet. I will let you know how it goes tomorrow!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Amazing Fit? We'll see.

I've been sewing up a storm lately, but since my nephew is growing in leaps and bounds, his mother suggested that I put my next planned project - pants for him - on hold for the time being. SO, my current project is pants for myself.

My sloper is now too big for me, so I am using Simplicity's "Amazing Fit Pants" (2860), which comes with three versions of the pattern for slim, regular and curvy fit. Plus, the instructions include fitting tips and suggestions integrated into the construction directions.

I bought some fairly inexpensive lightweight pinstripe wool blend (mostly synthetic) for my first go-round with these trousers. If this pattern works out well, I think I will also try it in seersucker for the summer. (Actually, who am I kidding? If this goes well, I will be making myself pants in every color and fabric that my heart desires.)

Yet again, a very dark fabric that will be hard to photograph!

I spent Friday cutting and Saturday sewing. Zipper, darts and waistband are done/attached. I opted to skip doing the belt loops in this version. Next up will be sewing the crotch and seams. Then it will be time for try-on and tinkering with the fit. One thing I like about the pattern is that the seam allowances are 1 inch wide in the areas that you will fit the pants (back center seam, side seams, etc). This allows extra room for letting them out if need be.

Since I am going to be away for the next 2 weekends, I'm going to have to rally and do a little work on these every weeknight in order to get them done. Wish me luck. Evening crafting is not my thing - I just don't have a lot of patience when I am tired.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Not-ella: Homemade Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread

It is a well documented fact that I have a thing for nuts. One of my favorite nut products is Nutella, but I try not to eat it too often because it is rather sweet and it contains partially hydrogenated peanut oil, which offends my anti-trans fat sensibilities.

So when Phineas emailed me this article from the LA Times on homemade Nutella, I saw it as a golden opportunity. If I could make my own (my beady brain rationed), then I could control the amount of sugar AND eliminate the transfats. Off to the kitchen I went.

First you roast your hazelnuts in the oven until they are nicely toasted (2 cups for 5 min). While they are still warm, you use a dish towel to rub the skin off them. I was surprized at how easy this step was.

Then you grind them into a paste in your food processor (it takes about 5 minutes).

Then add cocoa (1/2 c), powdered sugar (1/2 c to start and more to taste), vanilla (1tsp) and hazelnut oil (3 tbsp) or whatever neutral oil you have (canola, etc). Oh, don't forget a pinch of salt.

I used a dark valrhona cocoa, which was excellent, but I should have started with less. My Not-ella turned out very dark and chocolatey. I ended up using about 3/4c of sugar total (1/4c less than the recipe). I think if I had used just 1/4-1/3c of cocoa, I would probably use even less sugar.

MMMmmmmm... a slice of cinnamon raisin toast with my Not-ella on top. Delicious!

I'm a bit worried about using all my Not-ella before it goes bad (2 weeks maybe?). So, if you have any suggestions about how else I can use it up - either in baking recipies or how you like to eat it, please let me know!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Finished and Finished!

Late last week, I finished the neck of my now-fitted tee. Cute, if a bit short/snug. Neither fact will prevent me from throwing it on over a bathing suit.

I also finished Magenta's birthday gift, but (naturally) forgot to photograph it before wrapping. Also, Magenta doesn't yet know what it is, and I like surprises. So, when I deliver it, you will get a picture.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Hangin' in the Sister-hood

It's not every day that you get nominated for an award.

However, the day that Susan of 2BSewing nominated me for the Sisterhood Award, I happened to be in Spain with only sporadic internet. That is my excuse for not posting about it sooner. Plus I'm not sure I know ten other bloggers to nominate. However, since there is no specified deadline for nominations, I am going to give myself a ten year timeline for the project.

Anyway, I am tremendously flattered to receive this award. Sisterhood is an important theme of my blog and informs everything I do in life. Here are the rights and responsibilities that come with the Award:
  • Place the award logo on your blog
  • Nominate 10 other blogs which show "Attitude and/or Gratitude"
  • Link to the nominee on your blog post
  • Comment on their blog that you have nominated them
  • Share the love and link to the person who nominated you
First and foremost, a shout out to 2BSewing: Susan has so much artistic mojo, from sewing to knitting to photography to jewelry making to sketching (did I miss anything?)... that, to me, it seems like there must be extra hours in the day where she lives. However, I think her greatest talent is that she has a gift for sharing her knowledge and inspiring others. She has been a great mentor and resource for me over the last year.

So, without further ado, the Sisterhood goes to:
Magenta Sequins - The first blogger in my life, Magenta turns anything she touches into art. From her beautiful, award-winning photography, her interior design (seriously, her home is a work of art), to her jewelry, knits and and fashion sense, this girl has style... and attitude.

Dr Kiang - A scientist at heart (and in reality, too!), Dr K is a consummate tinkerer. I think this is why making jewelry appeals to both her artistic spirit and scientific intellect. She is also one of the most generous and thoughtful gift givers on the planet - she has a knack for picking out or making exactly what you always wanted but never knew it.

Eight more to follow, over the next ten years...

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Fight Club

Come join my horde and let out some of your midweek aggression.

This is my brute, Clio the Muse. I like that she has fur trim. She also has a spear and a battle axe. Just click here to challenge her to a fight and join the fun.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Stretch Assignment (Part 2)

I'm mostly done with my tee shirt rehabilitation project. I just have to finish the neck.

Already cut. Oops!

Unfortunately, 2BSewing's good advice about how tees don't stretch very much came after I had already cut. So, the tee came out a bit closer fitting than anticipated. Lesson learned. However, for my purposes - beach/boat wear - it is perfectly cute.

Anyway, the project gave me a good opportunity to practice skills. First, I successfully sewed on knit - yay! - and the actual process was easy. I used a narrow zigzag stitch for the seams and then used my double needle to finish the armholes and hem. It makes two rows of perfectly parallel stitches - very cool!

Aside from sizing issues, my only complaint is with the pattern, itself. The finished length of the shirt is shorter than I generally like. Again, not a huge problem based on how I will use it, but good to know if I decide to use the pattern again. I'll show you finished picture when I am done with the neck.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Stash and Grab

When I got home on Friday, I was greeted with a happy delivery: a new stack of patterns that I had ordered.

Some may think I've gone overboard. But this is what happens when BMV (that's Butterick, McCall's, Vogue pattern company) sends me a "we miss you" 75% off your next on-line purchase discount code... 9 patterns for $32 including shipping. For sewing patterns, that's practically free. Here's my haul.

A summer skirt and summer pants, destined to be made in cool cotton or linen fabrics:

Some basic tees/tops in knits and wovens:

A bunch of wardrobe basics for work and play. I love the halter top in this one and am thinking it should be made in white eyelet:

And for future use, a host of wraps and shrugs.

The scary thing is, there are at least a half dozen more patterns that I want to buy at the moment which were not from BMV. This is aside from the fact that Butterick's and McCall's just started doing custom patterns (ie. pick a pattern, send them your measurements and they send you the patter in your custom size). How cool is that? I'm sure that is why they sent me such a crazy coupon - to clean out all the old patterns to make way for the custom (and therefore much more expensive!) ones.

Anyway, I don't really have all that large a stash, so this was an excellent opportunity to build it up. Plus, I'm stimulating the economy. Yeah. That's what I'm doing....

Friday, April 3, 2009

Stretch Assignment

In my sewing adventures, I haven't really worked with knit fabrics yet. Sure I've altered a few knit garments that I own, but I've been a bit intimidated about doing a full fledged knit project. So, to help me get over that hump, I bought Sewing with Knits, which many sewists regard it as the definitive guide to knits.
It hasn't been updated since 2000, so the styles are pretty dated. However, the advice is detailed, yet easy to grasp, and sound. Knits present some challenges: they stretch when you pull on them so it is easy to distort or stretch the fabric while cutting and sewing, seams have to stretch along with the fabric or they will break, and most knits don't hold a crease, so you can't turn and press a hem. However, on the plus side, knits are easy to fit since they have so much give, and their construction is usually pretty simple since they don't generally have structural elements like darts, or even zippers or buttons in many cases.

Anyway, I have some black jersey tucked away in my stash, but before I get to that I am going to take a page from 2BSewing's book and remake an oversize, boxy tee shirt into a more pleasing form as my first knit project. Here is my "before" tee shirt - it was given to me when I completed my scuba diving certification, inducting me into the KCD dive family. It's been sitting in a drawer since it's too boxy/baggy. I usually get rid of things that don't fit well, but if I could convert this into something that I could wear to the beach or on a dive boat, it would be fantastic.

A rectangle with sleeves. Um, yes... those are deodorant marks...

If this works out, Phineas may have to pad lock his teeshirt drawer. (My love, consider yourself forewarned.)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Ruffles for Her

My sewing machine, adorned with pieces of M's birthday gift,
prior to its construction.

I am nearly done with Magenta's mystery birthday gift and - like her - it is fabulous. I just have a little hand sewing left and (hangs head) I am avoiding it. I sat on the couch, gift in my lap, all of last night, not sewing. I don't like hand sewing (read: I am not good at it). Specifically, I detest the slip stitch, which is used in any number of sewing projects.

Oh how I hate the dreaded slip stitch!

It never seems to come out as smooth or as invisible as it should, and then I get impatient (sloppy). But I won't see Magenta until Easter, so I have time to get it right or at least to continue procrastinating for another week.

...para mi Familia: Back by popular demand

Since you asked, here are a few more recipes from our tapas dinner for my family and a few more photos from our trip...

The Generalife - the summer palace at the Alhambra

Chorizo a la Sidra (Chorizo in Cider)
  • 8 oz chorizo sausage, cut into 1 inch rounds
  • 1 1/2 cups hard apple cider
  • olive or other oil
This recipe could not be easier. Just brown the sausage in a little oil, add the cider and simmer for about 30 minutes until the whole mess reduces. Serve with crusty bread to sop up the juices. You could add any of the following enhancements: pimenton (ie Spanish paprika), thyme, bay leaf, a little onion or shallot, garlic, or cider or sherry vinegar (add at the end). You could replace the cider with red wine or sherry or sparkling (non-alc) cider for a different taste. OH a note on cider: dry cider is better than sweet if you can find it (eg: Doc's, Woodchuck, etc).

We sure built up an appetite during our tour of the Bullring in Seville.

Chocolate con aceite y sal (Chocolate with olive oil and salt)
  • 10 oz chocolate (dark or milk)
  • 10 slices bread, lightly toasted
  • olive oil
  • sea salt
Again, a ridiculously easy dish, but this one is all about the quality of the ingredients. This is not a typical combination for the American pallet, but is well worth trying. You could use any chocolate, bread, olive oil and salt you want. I used a 60% cacao Valrohna chocolate from Whole Foods, baguette and ciabatta slices, fruity extra virgin Spanish olive oil and fleur de sel from Penzeys. Just line up your toasted bread and either pour the melted chocolate (microwave or double boiler - you decide) over them or place about an ounce of chocolate on each piece of bread and gently broil or bake until melted. In either case, follow this with a drizzle of oil and a sprinkle of salt. Delicioso!

My favorite Spanish Chef in the US, Jose Andres
The bulk of the recipes that I made came from Jose Andre's wonderful tapas cookbook, A Taste of Spain in America. I am planning on making his garbanzo and spinach stew this week (my beans are soaking now) and will let you know how it goes. Anyway, if you enjoy Spanish/tapas this is the best of the 4 Spanish cookbooks that I own.