Friday, August 28, 2009

Chicken Marsala: A First Attempt

The idea started out so well.

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Try to make Chicken Marsala. It had to be a pretty straightforward dish, didn't it? I googled a couple of recipes, picked one with minimal ingredients, and hey, it was from Gourmet. It had to be good, right?

And in the beginning, everything was looking just right. The mushrooms were sauteeing up beautifully, and they smelled delicious.

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So there I was, slaving over the stove, making an incredible mess of the kitchen on a random Wednesday night, like always...

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And I diligently followed the recipe, right up to the point where it said "2/3 cup heavy cream." Hey, we watched Julie & Julia the other day -- and she spent practically her entire life eating whole sticks of butter. I can't be afraid of a little heavy cream. So I poured it right on in. With a flourish, even!

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And then the recipe said to simmer for 6-8 minutes until the sauce thickened slightly.

So I simmered. And simmered. And simmered some more. And that sauce never thickened one teeny bit. It was still very . . . not saucy. Very thin and liquidy. Not thick and delicious-looking, at all.

After fifteen minutes of simmering, I gave up. Steven looked like he could gnaw his own arm off any minute, so I figured we'd better go ahead and eat.

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So we did. Un-saucy sauce and all. And it wasn't terrible, but it wasn't great by any means. Steven even said, "Its not that bad," which, when translated in our house, means: Please don't make me eat this ever again. Please.

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So the Chicken Marsala has bested me, for now. I managed to redeem myself the next night with this surprisingly good Butternut Squash and Sage Pasta, to which I added some chopped up mushrooms and Roma tomatoes toward the very end of the cooking. It was amazing. So I haven't lost the kitchen mojo entirely, but solely as it relates to Chicken Marsala.

(And believe you me, I will take a mulligan on this, but first we have to wait till Steven forgets how bad this attempt was. Dearest, you can expect another attempt at this recipe (or maybe a Newer! and Better! version in a few weeks. You have been duly warned.)

PS - Everybody go wish a very happy birthday to my brother, Chris! He's on Twitter as @thechuff. Go send him some birthday love. You have approximately 1.5 hours to make this happen. So hurry.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Goin' to the Vineyard and We're Gonna Get Maaaaaarried

No, not us, silly. Been there, done that, remember?

But boy, oh boy, my friends sure do pick some gorgeous wedding locales. I want to build a house right here and have the window over the kitchen sink look out on this view. I'd never leave. (Which would probably tick off the vineyard owners, so its just as well that I can't really do that.)

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And doesn't The Husband clean up so nicely? He's looking quite dapper in his dress clothes and his no-more-braces!

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Seriously, you guys, the farmer in me wants to snatch up this place in a second. How awesome is that backdrop? (See my farm on the hill up there? Yep, I see it too....)

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Since it was an outdoor wedding in August, they had fans on each seat for the guests.

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Steven found this both fascinating and hilarious.

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Helloooo, I have a fan.

Our beautiful bride looked lovely and delightfully overwhelmed by the moment. She planned this whole wedding during law school. I know, right? Amazing.

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It was picture-perfect, right down to the car alarm that went off just as the service began. Everyone had a nice chuckle over that one.

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Ladies and gentlemen, Lindsay and Charles Anderson!

After the wedding, the guests were treated to a tasting of the vineyard's wines while the bride and groom took pictures. Steven picked the cabernet.

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And I picked the chardonnay! I loved the idea that the wines came right from the grapes outside. Very local Virginia. I really like the idea of local foods and wines. Its rather hippy-crunchy of me, but you have to admit that backyard gardens and farmers markets are pretty wonderful things.

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And, as always, getting to see another couple get married is always a fun moment of reflection for us. As we watched Lindsay walk down the aisle, I reflected on our many years of blissful marriage. And then I reflected on the spat we had about traffic on the way there. And then I reflected on whether I'd put the laundry in the dryer before we left the house. And then I reflected on the idea that we could potentially be without clean underwear as soon as tomorrow. You know, those blissful marriage thoughts that everyone has during weddings. Right?

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Right. Love you muchly, dear. (Even if we don't have any clean underwear in the house, again. In fact, I'm going to go start the dryer right this instant. Just as soon as I finish writing this blog.... Ooh look, Project Runway is on!....)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What? You Think I Stopped Knitting?!

Oh, the knitting never truly stops. It just slows down based on whatever else has grabbed my interest in the interim.

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But when the newest obsession resides, the knitting is right there waiting. Sort of like a stalker made of yarn. Kind of scary now that I think about it. Like that Geico dollar bill creature. That thing freaks me out.

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Another reason the knitting never stops? Because everyone we know keeps procreating. And tiny babies = tiny knitting, which I absolutely cannot resist. So be fruitful and multiply, ya'll. I'll be right here churning out the infant sweaters.

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This one is a favorite pattern of mine. Its Elizabeth Zimmerman's "February Baby Sweater," from the book Knitter's Almanac. Its done in Louet Gems Pearl, and it took a little more than one skein.

And I adore it. I finished it off with some pearl snaps which are, admittedly, kind of difficult to un-snap. Let's just hope the mom-to-be doesn't feel like bothering to snap her kid into the sweater and just uses it like a cardigan...

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This little sweater was so fun and quick that I've started another one, this time in purple for a co-worker's sister-in-law's baby. (I am clearly a fiend for baby sweater requests, no matter how far removed the actual baby is from my daily existence.)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Wardrobe Refashion

Now that I've renewed my interest in the (still kinda scary) sewing machine, I thought it might be time for my first entry into the world of "Wardrobe Refashion."

Wardrobe Refashion is basically just taking old clothes from your closet and re-vamping them into something new.

And, as always, I tend to plunge right into these things without a whole lot of forethought. "Measure twice, cut once" isn't really my forte just yet. :) Besides, patterns are for sissies, right?

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Aack! A dismembered sleeve! Let's hope she knows what she's doing...

So here's the setting. Just a big table, a beginner sewing machine, a mini ironing board, and my eternal optimism.

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As they say, "Close only counts in horseshoes and grenades." But for as bad as my sleeve-cutting skills are, a few well-placed and ironed hem folds can work wonders.

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And after 10-minutes of concentrated folding, ironing, pinning, and praying, I ended up with a new short-sleeved shirt.

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Hello, I used to be a long-sleeved shirt from The Gap that didn't make much sense.

This shirt has very thin fabric but used to have really long sleeves. You couldn't wear it in the winter because it was so thin, but you also couldn't wear it in the summer because of the sleeves.

Enter the Steele Wardrobe Refashion, Version One.

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From a useless piece of clothing that I never wore, to a perfectly functional (albeit wrinkly) dress shirt for work!

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And, as a special bonus to all you dedicated folks out there who read all the way to the bottom of the post, here's a picture of me, my unmade bed, and our toilet! How attractive!

Happy Sunday, Everybody. Now, go cut up all your clothes and make new stuff!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

They Should Really Call It Ironing And Pinning...

Because you end up doing much more of that as opposed to actual sewing.

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The folks at my work are always asking me on Friday afternoon, "So, what are you doing this weekend?" I have a fairly good idea how most twenty-somethings would respond, and I wouldn't imagine that "Oh, sewing cloth napkins" would be a typical answer.

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But then again, they've come to expect some odd answers to that question from yours truly. Prior answers have included making a lasagna garden, mixing a sourdough starter, and making potato gnocchi from scratch (with my cousin!).

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Hey, at least I keep it interesting.

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So, when I saw the post on The Kitchn blog for how to make cloth napkins, I realized it would be a perfect "first" sewing project for me. (I say "first" because Steven bought me the sewing machine back in 2006, right after my Spring semester exams ended. In my usual overly-ambitious zeal for learning how to do something new, I bought a pattern for pajama pants and a jersey shirt. Four hours and two bent needles later, I had something, but it did not resemble pajama pants. Sewing has been in time out ever since.)

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This weekend seemed as good as any to jump back on the sewing wagon. And I figured if I can't handle straight square lines, then perhaps I should just stick to knitting.

And look! Lookie what I made!

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I am unreasonably excited about these little cloth napkins. I still can't really believe that I made these.

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And it really wasn't difficult at all. If you really inspected them closely, you'd see that they arent the same sizes at all, and the edges really aren't even straight, but I don't care. I love them. I am totally and absolutely hooked.

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Unfortunately, there aren't any good fabric stores near me (although now that I think of it there is a fun quilt shop near the Fairfax courthouse... I might have to stop by this week). If I can really get this napkin thing down to a science, I might consider doing cloth napkins for everyone for Christmas this year.

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And once I've got cloth napkins nailed, I might try for an apron next. Maybe.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Harvest Time

The harvest has finally arrived!

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I felt a little guilty this morning because I didn't get up and go to the Farmers' Market like I'd planned, but once I picked all of these beauties straight out of the garden, I suddenly wasn't so worried about the Farmers' Market. (Although some fresh berries would still have been really nice... oh well.)

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We have: Five (5) Pink Brandywine Heirloom tomatoes, in various sizes (the largest ones), and six (6) Roma tomatoes (the smaller ones), in varying levels of ripeness. They were falling off the
vine, so I presume they are ripe enough. But the most stunning gem of the harvest is my very first cantaloupe!

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Its only the size of a softball, and I had been waiting and waiting for it to get bigger. I finally googled "garden cantaloupes" and discovered that I had actually grown a Charentais Melon. Its basically a French cantaloupe, but they aren't usually sold in stores because they are too fragile to ship.

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So, since I've never been to France and they don't sell these in stores, I've never tasted a Charentais Melon before! I figured there's a first time for everything, so here we go!

Inside, it looks like a cantaloupe, only the seeds seem huge for such a tiny melon. (Granted, I think mine was probably a runt compared to a normal Charentais, so there's that to consider, too.)

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Its the perfect size for breakfast-for-one, which is precisely what it became. My breakfast.

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Also, the cuteness factor here is at an all-time high. I love tiny versions of everyday things (see Exhibits A and B, Pringles and Carlie, our 5-lb dogs), and this was just so perfect and wee.

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Once you scoop out the seeds, there's not much left to it.

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Since it was so small, I didn't slice it up -- I just scooped out the flesh with a grapefruit spoon, which worked just fine. It was ripe, fragrant, and delicious. And I kept thinking with every bite, "Wow, this came from my garden." I guess I've gotten used to growing tomatoes, but the idea that I can grow other food in my own backyard still throws me for a loop.

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I checked the plant and there are two more baby Charentais on the way -- So exciting! Also, I mentioned to Steven that we'd probably be having "something tomatoey" for dinner this weekend, since I picked so many tomatoes this morning.

His response? "Oh great."

Thanks dear. :) Glad to see you're looking forward to it.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

That's-a Spicy Meatball!

I've been trying to conquer the basics lately, perhaps in a nod to Julie Powell (who, admittedly, was trying to Master The Art of French Cooking, which is quite more than just a basic meatball recipe.) One night last week, Steven and I grilled out hamburgers. Between the two of us, we can't polish off a whole pack of hamburger meat, so there are always leftover bits of ground beef. Usually I just make too many hamburgers, which is kind of wasteful.

So the other day, I decided to save the leftover ground beef for something else:

Spaghetti and meatballs!

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I am usually very bad at scraping together meals, although I've been trying to improve. But this meal, I am proud to say, was totally scraped together from leftover bits and bops.

A tomato and some parsley from the garden,

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mixed with the last of the italian bread crumbs from the pantry...

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Throw in an egg and some parmesan cheese...

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Stir it all up, roll out some meatballs, and bake 'em!

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A thrown-together dinner never tasted so good.

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Bonus - I got to use the fancy-schmancy cheese again with the rotary cheese grater!

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Its getting to be all Olive Gardeny Up In Here Lately.

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Even Steven was impressed at how good the meatballs were. (They were not spicy. Not in the slightest. But it was a more interesting title than "I made meatballs!", so I ran with it.)

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Easy Spaghetti and Meatballs, adapted from RecipeZaar
- Meatball Ingredients:
1/2 lb ground beef
1 egg
1/2 c. dried italian breadcrumbs
2 tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
generous pinch of salt
1/8 c. parmesan cheese

- Extras:
- Tomato sauce of your choosing (I just used my regular Five Minute Tomato Sauce recipe, which I now realize I have not shared with you. I will fix that. I just need more ripe tomatoes first...)
- Spaghetti, penne, or really whatever you've got. (I'll bet these would make a great meatball sub, too...)

Preheat oven to 350. Mix meatball ingredients together in medium-sized bowl. Shape into meatballs (half-dollar sized). Place meatballs on parchment-covered baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes or so at 350 degrees, or until nicely browned (but not overdone). Meanwhile, make your 5-Minute Tomato Sauce and boil your pasta. Remove meatballs from oven and add them to the simmering sauce for another few minutes or until your pasta is ready. Pour red sauce and meatballs over pasta, and garnish with parmesan cheese and more parsley, as desired.

Put on your best italian accent, grab a fork, and declare, "Mamma mia! That's-a spicy meatball!" (And hopefully, in your experience, there will be no need for Alka Seltzer afterwards.)