Monday, January 31, 2011

The "It's-Almost-Over!" Flowers

As I have previously stated, January is my least favorite month of the year.  It is definitely the worst month to live in Seattle, and is dark, gray, and rainy almost all the time.  This was alleviated slightly last week by my super wonderful husband, who came home one night looking like this:

Yes everyone, those are flowers for me charmingly lashed to the front of his trusty bicycle.  Ugh, disgustingly adorable.  (Don't worry, we are NOT like this all the time.)

However, look how gorgeous they are!

So cheerful and anti-January!  Begone gray weather!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Beefy le Boeuf

For me, the art of cooking is something of a work in progress.  I've been making great strides since getting married, having someone to cook for seems to help.  This past Tuesday, I had ten someone's to cook for.  At work, the project that I (and Fred) have been working on for two years has finally come to a close.  Celebrating the completion of monumental tasks seemed to call for some monumental food.  I felt like something special was in order, and a friend suggested something comfort-food like and seasonal, so we chose Julia Child's Boeuf Bourguignon. 

Boeuf Bourguignon is a fancy French way of saying Burgundy Beef, or beef stewed in wine.  It actually wasn't toooo difficult, although it does take a lot of time.  We made a double batch to accommodate the giant team of burly dudes we were cooking for.  The oven rack groaned under the weight of two dutch ovens and six pounds of meat.  But in the end, it was so worth it.  Check it out before serving:

Surrounded by boiled potatoes and topped with the pearl onions and mushrooms which are made separately.  Since (sadly) I don't actually own Julia Child's lovely cookbooks, I followed the recipe below from  The guests seemed pleased:

 Sorry for the goofy picture, it was hard to get everyone to sit still with the meat, salad and wine already on the table.  This photo is missing our friend Giancarlo, who helped plan the menu but more amazingly the dessert.  The dessert we had was this:

This is definitely not my photo because the dessert was so good we annihilated it before I could take a picture.  Like ravening dogs really.  Dogs armed with forks. 

The inspiration (and photo), came from here, but our version went something like:
- Thaw a frozen pecan pie
- Buy and mix a couple boxes of brownie mix (or a box of chocolate cake mix) according to the instructions on the package
- Pour the mix in a springform and invert the pecan pie into it
- Bake the sucker until it looks done
- Demolish

It was unbelievably delicious.  It came from an article entitled "Take it to 11", which it definitely did.  I'm a little ashamed of eating something so decadent but I don't regret it!  We were celebrating!

The meal and celebration were incredible.  In case you'd like to follow in the footsteps of the inimitable Julia, this was the recipe I followed for

Boeuf Bourguignon a la Julia Child

For the Stew

  • 6 ounces bacon, solid chunk
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 lbs lean stewing beef, cut into 2-inch cubes
  • 1 carrot, peeled and sliced
  • 1 onion, peeled and sliced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper, freshly ground
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 3 cups red wine (a full bodied wine like Bordeaux or Burgundy or Chianti)
  • 2 -3 cups beef stock (Simple Beef stock is posted on the site, unsalted and defatted)
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 garlic cloves, mashed (you may choose to add more)
  • 1 sprig thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon dred thyme)
  • 1 bay leaf, preferably fresh

For the braised onions

For the Sauteed Mushrooms


Prep Time: 1 hr
Total Time: 5 hrs
  1. First prepare the bacon: cut off the rind and reserve.
  2. Cut the bacon into lardons about 1/4" thick and 1 1/2" long.
  3. Simmer the rind and the lardons for ten minutes in 1 1/2 quarts of water.
  4. Drain and dry the lardons and rind and reserve.
  5. Pre-heat the oven to 450°F.
  6. Put the tablespoon of olive oil in a large (9" - 10" wide, 3" deep) fireproof casserole and warm over moderate heat.
  7. Saute the lardons for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly.
  8. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon.
  9. Dry off the pieces of beef and saute them, a few at a time in the hot oil/bacon fat until nicely browned on all sides.
  10. Once browned, remove to the side plate with the bacon.
  11. In the same oil/fat, saute the onion and the carrot until softened.
  12. Pour off the fat and return the lardons and the beef to the casserole with the carrots and onion.
  13. Toss the contents of the casserole with the salt and pepper and sprinkle with the flour.
  14. Set the uncovered casserole in the oven for four minutes.
  15. Toss the contents of the casserole again and return to the hot oven for 4 more minutes.
  16. Now, lower the heat to 325°F and remove the casserole from the oven.
  17. Add the wine and enough stock so that the meat is barely covered.
  18. Add the tomato paste, garlic and herbs and the bacon rind.
  19. Bring to a simmer on the top of the stove.
  20. Cover and place in the oven, adjusting the heat so that the liquid simmers very slowly for three to four hours.
  21. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.
  22. While the meat is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms and set them aside till needed.
  23. For the onion, if using frozen, make sure they are defrosted and drained.
  24. Heat the butter and oil in a large skillet and add the onions to the skillet.
  25. Saute over medium heat for about ten minutes, rolling the onions about so they brown as evenly as possible, without breaking apart.
  26. Pour in the stock, season to taste, add the herbs, and cover.
  27. Simmer over low heat for about 40 to 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but retain their shape and the liquid has mostly evaporated.
  28. Remove the herbs and set the onions aside.
  29. For the mushrooms, heat the butter and oil over high heat in a large skillet.
  30. As soon as the foam begins to subside add the mushrooms and toss and shake the pan for about five minutes.
  31.  As soon as they have browned lightly, remove from heat.
  32. When the meat is tender, remover the casserole from the oven and empty its contents into a sieve set over a saucepan.
  33. Wash out the casserole and return the beef and bacon to it (discarding the bits of carrot and onion and herbs which remain in the sieve).
  34. Distribute the mushrooms and onions over the meat.
  35. Skim the fat off the sauce and simmer it for a minute or two, skimming off any additional fat which rises to the surface.
  36. You should be left with about 2 1/2 cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly.
  37. If the sauce is too thick, add a few tablespoons of stock.
  38. If the sauce is too thin, boil it down to reduce to the right consistency.
  39. Taste for seasoning.
  40.  Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables.
  41. If you are serving immediately, place the covered casserole over medium low heat and simmer 2 to 3 minutes.
  42. Serve in the casserole or on a warm platter surrounded by noodles, potatoes or rice and garnished with fresh parsley.
  43. If serving later or the next day, allow the casserole to cool and place cold, covered casserole in the refrigerator.
  44. 20 minutes prior to serving, place over medium low heat and simmer very slowly for ten minutes, occasionally basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce.
And as she always says, "Bon Appetit!"

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

30 Before 30

Well, for those of you that were hoping this would be a strict home-renovation blog, with plenty of details about sheetrock technique and hot tips for the perfect grout job...prepare to be disappointed.  I'm veering off into more personal territory, which is probably good since home projects are in a lull right now.  We're busy living in the house rather than working on it and that, my friends, is completely awesome.

So, I don't usually make New Year's resolutions.  They seem made to be broken.  Often they're based on improving yourself, which is wonderful, but often what I want for the new year is to have more fun, go crazy, etc.  Making a New Year's resolution of "be more dissolute and drink lots" seems counter to the whole spirit of the thing.  However this year, in July, I will turn 30.  I decided to make a list of 30 things I want to accomplish before reaching the big day.  The 30 before 30 concept is not new, but I like the idea of 30 little things that put together maybe get you a little closer to the life you want to be living.  (Within reason, of course.  I left things like "buy a chateau" and "get abs like Angelina" off the list.)

My 30 Before 30 list is as follows:
1. Host mah jongg night.
2. Make jam.
3. Host brunch.
4. Go for a picnic.
5. Go grocery shopping on my bike.
6. Finish my year-end photo albums.
7. Take Fred to Lost Lake.
8. Rearrange the backyard.
9. Eat at the Space Needle.
10. Stay in bed all day.
11. <edited for privacy.>
12. Have a really girly slumber party.
13. Play a round of mini-golf.
14. Get the craft room sorted and gorgeousified.
15. Go for a weekend in the San Juans.
16. Have an individual date with each NGS.
17. Go for a hike.
18. Plan and cook a week’s worth of dinners.
19. Go to Portland to see old friends.
20. Perfect a signature recipe (one slightly more nutritional than Bundt cake.)
21. Go to the drive-in movies.
22. Get a mani-pedi every month. 
23. Go ice skating.
24. Find the perfect shade of lipstick.
25. Host a big tea party in the back yard.
26. Make a quilt top.
27. Take six dance classes of any kind.
28. Ride on a Ferris wheel.
29. Organize our finances and filing system.
30. Plan an awesome 30th birthday party.

So, it turns out I've actually been working on this list for a couple weeks and in the meantime, I've crossed one item off the list!  Last week I hosted brunch, in honor of a dear friend who was home for a few short days.  It was awesome.  Look how adorable we are:


And more importantly, look how adorable the food was!


Oh cinnamon rolls and pork products, you had me at hello.  So, I've crossed #3 off the list!  Woot!  I also had a mani-pedi and took a country dance lesson so I'm making in-roads on #22 and #27 as well.  I'll keep you posted on my misadventures of mini-resolutions as I go.  Wish me luck!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Crush the January Blahs - Part One

As many people know, January is my least favorite time of year.  The skies are gray, the rain is endless, winter seems like it will go on forever.  Feels like there is nothing to look forward to other than a lot of gloomy skies and mud.  Some years I try to come up with a grand plan for circumnavigating the blues.  (Witness: pink hair, 2006.)  Other years it happens more organically. This year, I didn't really have a plan.  I've booked out the next two weeks with a different fun activity every day, which might help.

Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans.  Tonight I had planned a hot date with the hubs, to go have dinner and see Picasso at SAM.  Um, yeah.  Epic fail.  Turns out I'm the last person in Seattle to know Picasso tickets are sold out (even for freaking members!)  OMG.  Cue morphing of me from a perfectly normal person into a pouty, pouty princess.  The hubs steered me into Maximilien and whistled me up a French martini and some mussels.  This was a good start.  With that much butter not even I could keep up a pouty face.

What to do with the rest of the night?  I suggested going out for a movie, but the hubs wanted to go home.  We came home and looked for a movie in our (newly) vast collection.  (Thanks Jon!)  What did we settle on?  Wait for it...BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.

Wait, it gets better.  SING-ALONG.

Yeah.  The hubs and I sang along to Beauty and the Beast.  Unfortunately, it would have ruined the mood to snap a picture, but the look on his face while singing "I use antlers in all of my deeeeeeeeeeecoraaaaaaaaaaating!" was priceless enough to keep me happy for a whole year.  Suck it January.

P.S. Don't worry, we're almost never this adorable.
P.P.S.  Admit it, you know every word to Be Our Guest.  "Try the gray stuff, it's delicious!  Don't believe me?  Ask the dishes!"  Even manly men have been known to break out into a Disney tune.  Own it, I bet you'll feel better!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Year of Flowers

A profusion of pink roses bending ragged in the rain speaks to me of all gentleness and its enduring.  
- William Carlos Williams

I love flowers.  The arrival of dahlias at the Pike Place Market makes me sad every year, because I know they are the last flowers to come in before the long winter, punctuated only by a few hardy Vietnamese vendors selling sad tacky dried arrangements.

Even this year, in the midst of the renovations, I brought flowers home.  This photo sort of sums it up.
Beautiful giant bouquet of flowers in the center, furry walls and destruction everywhere else.

Another fall bouquet, raging wildly in a milk glass vase left over from our wedding.

One of my goals for the new year is to bring beautiful flowers home at least once a month for a year.  I am continually amazed at the wonders of modern life, one of which being you can get completely gorgeous flowers in January.  Aren't we lucky? 

I recently had some girlfriends over for brunch.  In honor of those lovely ladies, I made some pink arrangements.  I've usually stayed away from carnations, but I was allured by the delicate pink hue of these ones.  There were some exactly matching gerbera daisies, and together with my gorgeous vintage Fiestaware pitcher, they made the table cheerful, dare I say spring-ish?

I made a couple of small arrangements to flank the pitcher.  Aren't they cute?

The central arrangement:

Altogether now:

Cute, right?  Is it perfectly transparent that I hate the month of January and that I'm dreaming of spring?  Fake it till you make it?  If Mohammed can't make it to the mountain, the mountain must be brought to Mohammed?  I'm going to try hard to keep the grey weather at bay by keeping a flow of gorgeous, crazy, energetic flowers coming into the house.  Floral escapades, here I come!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Top Rules for Hostessing

As I previously mentioned, the new husband and I hosted our first big fancy dinner on Christmas Eve.  This was a bit of a learning opportunity for me.  I love to have people over and I entertain fairly often.  Before Christmas Eve I had a loose set of rules for hostessing.

1.) Have something ready to eat or drink when the guests walk in the door.
2.) Make a centerpiece, be it out of flowers, easter Peeps, tinsel or anything else that comes to hand.
3.) Make a playlist appropriate to the occasion.
4.) Tidy the bathroom before the guests arrive.
Etc., etc. etc.!

Christmas Eve I discovered all of those rules can be wiped and replaced by one single step.

1.) Serve a punch that is so mind-blisteringly strong that the guests are all schnockered by one glass and let the good times roll!

In our defense, Fred wanted to serve a festive punch and the New York Times had suggested several excellent options a week in advance.  How the fuddy-duddy editors of the New York Times let this recipe get printed, is a complete mystery to me.  It is way too fun.

Chatham Artillery Punch:
(Courtesy of the New York Times, adapted from David Wondrich, the ol' lush!)
8 lemons
1 pound superfine sugar
750-milliliter bottle bourbon or rye
750-milliliter bottle Cognac
750-milliliter bottle dark Jamaican rum
3 bottles Champagne or other sparkling wine
1. Squeeze and strain the lemons to make 16 ounces of juice. Peel the lemons and muddle the peels with the sugar. Let the peels and sugar sit for an hour, then muddle again. Add the lemon juice and stir until sugar has dissolved. Strain out the peels.
2. Fill a 2- to 3-gallon bucket or bowl with crushed ice or ice cubes. Add the lemon-sugar mixture and the bourbon, Cognac and rum. Stir and add the Champagne. Taste and adjust for sweetness. Grate nutmeg over the top and serve.
(Unfortunately not our bunch of punch.  But next time I totally need a cool punchbowl like this one!  Source.)

OK people, any drink recipe that requires a "2 to 3 gallon bucket"?!?  Top notch party material in my book.  And might I suggest you opt for the 3 gallon?  We did a 1/3 batch (only one bottle of champers, sadly) and it filled our largest mixing bowl to the brim.  The nutmeg we sprinkled on each beverage gaily, as if to say "see, even though this thing is about to replace your brain with lime jello, at least it's festive!"

Side benefits to this beverage were dinner tasted great, all our guests were hilarious and found everything else hilarious, and not being able to see straight meant no one noticed how thrashed the kitchen was.  Use this recipe sparingly, but I'm pretty sure it is an awesome party in a punchbowl.  Make that an awesome party in a 3-gallon bucket.