Thursday, May 31, 2012

Classic Strawberry Shortcake

Oh, do I have a sweet tooth.  Though a slightly discerning one.  Slightly.  I've never been one for straight-up sugar - jelly beans, candy corns, and such, though I rarely meet a dark chocolate I don't love.  I like most anything that has cream - creme brulee, custards, and so on.  But perhaps my most favorite dessert genre is fruit desserts - crisps, cobblers, pies, tarts, you name it.  And when the weather starts to turn warm, I find myself making strawberry shortcake again and again.  How perfect...fruit and cream!

I'm all for a good pound cake, but for me, this isn't the place for it.  I like strawberry shortcake with a biscuity base, crumbly and buttery and only a little bit sweet.  Top it with some lightly sugared strawberries and vanilla whipped cream and I am pretty much in dessert heaven.

I'm not sure exactly where this biscuit recipe came from.  It has been passed from my great-grandmom to my grandmom to my mom to me.  I know my great-grandmom was a great baker but I don't know if she made this up or it came from a 1920's cookbook or where it actually originated.  But it's the only biscuit recipe I ever make.  If you are sure not to overstir the dough, you will get melt-in-your-mouth biscuits every time.  If you're looking for a biscuit to accompany something savory, cut the sugar in the below recipe in half and they are perfect with eggs or chicken or, heck, straight out of the baking dish and into your mouth.  Believe me, I've done it.

Strawberry Shortcake

2 c. flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg
milk (see below for amount)
1 lb. strawberries, hulled and sliced
3 tbsp. sugar, divided
1 c. heavy cream
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Mix flour, baking powder, salt, and 1/4 c. sugar in medium bowl to blend.  Cut butter into mixture using a pastry cutter.  You want some fairly large chunks of butter left in here.

Crack the egg into a measuring cup and add enough milk on top of the egg to measure 3/4 c.  Whisk to combine, then pour over flour mixture.  Fold gently together with a rubber spatula.  You want the flour to be sticking together but the whole mixture should look quite lumpy.  The lumps are what give you lovely, tender buscuits.

Spoon into a 9" square glass baking dish and bake for about 12 minutes, until the top and edges are golden.  (This is kind of the easy way out.  You can also shape into balls or use a cutter to make shapes, but I love the ease and rusticity of using a baking dish and then having a chunk of biscuit under my strawberries).

While the biscuits are baking, stir together the strawberries and 1 tbsp. sugar and let sit.

Whip the cream, vanilla, and 2 tbsp sugar until you have soft peaks.

When the biscuits have cooled a bit (or, honestly, a few hours later they are still just as good), top a wedge with a big spoonful of strawberries and a hearty dollop of whipped cream.  I've said it before...classics are classics for a reason.  They are just so good.

I'm clearly not the only one in the family who has a thing for whipped cream.

Click here for printable recipe.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Table Runner {DIY}

My sewing machine is seeing a lot of action these days.  I'm actually a pretty average seamstress, as my capacities don't go much beyond sewing straight lines.  But there is an awful lot you can do sewing straight lines...pillow covers, hemming pants, taking clothes in, furniture slipcovers, and now, you guessed it: table runners!  

If you've been paying attention, this fabric may look familiar.  Turns out there was just enough left over from my pillow shams project in Ada's room to make a little table runner for the kitchen.  Our kitchen is mostly ivory and pale yellow with some pops of red and grey.  I usually have an embroidered turquoise runner on this table (can be seen here) so putting this red and turquoise print one on the table isn't such a far cry from what is usually there.  But the print of this fabric feels cheerful and summery to me and it's nice to have another option for when the other runner needs to be washed.

As far as taking my fabric scraps and turning them into a runner, it almost couldn't have been more simple.  The already hemmed edges of the fabric were 60" long, which was perfect for my table.  I cut a strip 17" wide, ironed 1/2" fold and then another 1/2" fold down each cut side, pinned in place, and sewed straight seams, giving me a finished runner measuring 15"x60".

And just because before and after pictures are so darned fun, here is a shot into the kitchen eating area from when we bought our house followed by an image of what it looks like now.  Maybe I will do a little before-and-after series down the road of some of the rooms in our house, to walk you through all of the "big" changes we've made since moving in.  But for now, just a couple of general photos:

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Blue Cheese Burgers with Dried Cherry Mayo

Once Memorial Day has arrived and summer has unofficially started, I really start to crave grill foods.  It's just so easy to toss something on there and shortly thereafter have dinner.  And, seriously, doesn't everything taste better on the grill?

I can't really take credit for most of this recipe...the burgers are basically Ina Garten's recipe for blue cheese burgers and the mayo was inspired by an idea I saw at Whole Foods.  But then, I'm not a chef, most of my recipes come at least partially from some other source.  Regardless of the origin, if you're looking for an essentially old-fashioned burger with a little more flavor complexity, this is it.

Blue Cheese Burgers with Dried Cherry Mayo

Makes 6 burgers

1.5 lbs. ground beef
1.5 tbsp. steak sauce
3 eggs
3/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
6 sesame burger buns
blue cheese
1/4 c. mayonnaise
2 tbsp. dijon or whole grain mustard
1/2 c. tart dried cherries, chopped

Preheat grill.

Using a fork mix ground beef, steak sauce, eggs, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl to blend.  Do not overmix, just stir until combined.  Form into six patties.  Place patties on hot grill and grill about 4 minutes on the first side and 3 minutes on the second side.  Remove to plate and tent with foil.

Meanwhile, stir mayo, mustard, and dried cherries in a small bowl.

Slice blue cheese and tomato.  I like a milder blue cheese and used Castello here.

On sesame buns, layer burgers, lettuce, tomato, and blue cheese on one side and spread some of the cherry mayo on the other side.  We had olive oil and salt roasted potatoes and early-season corn with our burgers.

Bite into that juicy burger and feel summer a-comin!

For printable recipe, click here.

Friday, May 25, 2012

DIY Standard Pillow Shams in a "Big Girl" Room

Ada's big girl room has been something of a work in progress since she "moved in" a year and a half ago.  And if I'm being honest, I suppose all the rooms in my house are kind of a work in progress.  I'm always seeing little items or ideas that change how I see the spaces around me and drive me to add, edit, alter, and build (to the tune of much eye rolling from Scott who does not understand why anything ever needs to be added, edited, altered, or built).  In response to a single friend once swearing off marriage because "all girls are crazy," my sage husband replied, "Yeah, well, you have to pick your crazy."  I'm not sure he made this wise tidbit up himself, but true enough - everyone's got a bit of crazy somewhere.  You need to pick one you can live with for a good long time.  And this constant changing of things, well, that's my crazy.  Or one of them, at least.

Back to Ada's room.  There is actually not a ton I still have on my to-do list here.  I bought the striped duvets and euro shams from Pottery Barn well before she was even born, when this room was still one of our guest rooms.  I've always liked them though and so decided to work with them for her "big girl" room.  It's actually proved a bit challenging at times, with red being a very non-traditional choice for a little girl's room.  But I love that it's a different color scheme than you usually see for girls' rooms, and with the more feminine accents I've added, I certainly don't think it's at all masculine-looking.

At some point, I settled on turquoise as the main accent color in her room and bought the patterned sheets from Garnet Hill.

The beds were coming together, especially when I found the cute little bird lumbar pillows on Zulily that were both red and turquoise.

But I'd still been on the lookout for a standard sham that incorporated both colors.  And then I walked into Home Goods last week and happened to take a stroll down the tablecloth aisle and, tah-dahhhhh!  There it was, the exact fabric I didn't know existed, in a rectangular Badgley Mischka tablecloth.

Pillow covers from a tablecloth...why not?  And mine for the bargain price of $19.99.  You have to wade through a lot of kitsch, but I've found an awful lot of gems at my neighborhood Home Goods.

So I got the tablecloth home, washed and dried it, and hacked the thing up to make two new standard sized pillow shams for Ada's twin beds.  And they are perfect, just the look I had been hoping for.  Flowery enough to work in a girl's bedroom but not too precious.



I used the same envelope-closure pillow cover technique outlined here, with one small addition.  After finishing the inside-out sewing you flip the cover rightside-out, iron it flat, and draw pencil or erasable marker lines 1.5" inches down from each side (I drew them in pencil on the back).

Then sew along those lines to get a finished "flange" edge.  Not necessary, but you usually see bed shams with this kind of edging, so I gave it a shot here.

For this style pillow sham, to fit a standard 20x26" bed pillow, each piece of fabric should be cut to 25x51".

The only thing still on my agenda in Ada's room is swapping out the animal pictures, which are starting to look a little babyish to me.

Makes sense, because they are transplants from her nursery.  I love these two petitcollage prints already in her room.

I recently saw that there are a few cute coordinating ones now available as well, so I will likely move four or five of these to the wall next her bed, probably paint the picture frames something glossy, and then...dare I say it?...I think we will be done in here.  

And, just for fun, here are few more shots of Ada's bedroom.

This framed photo sits on Ada's dresser.  It's my favorite one of the two of us.  I was 6 months pregnant with Ellie and Ada is 21 months old.

Happy Memorial Day!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Salmon Salad Nicoise

This really should be called "Nicoise-inspired" salmon salad as it's not a true nicoise salad with olives and anchovies.  I'm actually all for olives and anchovies, and my 3.5 year old, Ada, can put down more olives than you'd believe, but I decided to leave them out this time.  This salad has most of the other elements of a nicoise salad though - potatoes, green beans, and hard-boiled eggs - so pretty close.

It went together pretty quickly - the salmon poached and potatoes and green beans steamed while I was chopping the other vegetables.  I didn't dress it super heavily and the leftovers actually kept beautifully in the fridge overnight - not always the case with dressed salads.  When I pulled it out for lunch the next day Ada said, "Oh! I love this!" and Ellie started pointing at it and yelling, "Dis! Dis!"  So obviously a big hit.  So much so, I'm planning to make it again over the weekend.

Salmon Salad Nicoise

salmon filet, 1/2 lb - 3/4 lb
white wine
dried thyme
1 lb mixed small potatoes (I used purple, gold and red-skinned)
1 1/2 c. green beans, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 head Boston or Butter lettuce
4 hard boiled eggs, cut into 1/2" pieces
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1 avocado, cut into 1/2" pieces
1/4 c. olive oil
1 lemon, juiced
1 tsp. dijon mustard

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Place salmon in a baking dish and partially cover with a mixture of white wine and water.  I used a loaf pan because it fit the salmon filet perfectly and I needed less wine and water to come about halfway up on the fish.  Sprinkle the top of the fish with dried thyme, salt, and pepper.  Poach in the oven until the fish is cooked through and flakes easily with a fork.

Steam the washed potatoes and trimmed and cut green beans until tender.  Wash lettuce and tear into bite-sized pieces.

Add the egg, avocado and tomatoes to the lettuce.

When the potatoes and green beans are finished cooking, let them cool slightly, then cut the potatoes in half.

Flake the salmon with a fork.

Whisk the olive oil, lemon juice, and dijon to make dressing.  Gently toss with all remaining ingredients.

 Ada eagerly watching her dinner while it's being photographed...

...and then just as eagerly gobbling it up.

Ellie digging in to her salad.

Click here for a printable recipe.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wooden Console Table Refinish

I bought this console table seven years ago when my husband and I moved into our first Boston apartment.  There was a very narrow hallway inside the front door and we needed somewhere to toss our keys and such when we came home.  I came across this table at Target and it was perfect...under $100, slim profile, and I loved the flared legs.  This is what it originally looked like:

It came with us when we moved to our house in the suburbs and since then has lived in our entryway, behind the couch, and finally in its current location in the kitchen.

The decision to paint it was the end result of a sanding mishap, but what a happy accident because I like it so much more now.  Months ago, I had been planning to stain it a lighter wood shade but when I started sanding the top with my electric sander I very quickly realized there was a problem.  Turns out the top was not solid wood but the thinnest of wood veneers on top of particle board.  In those few seconds I had obliterated the veneer on one side of the table.  This left me two options - replace the veneer or paint the table instead of staining it.  I priced out wood veneer and it was almost as much as the whole table had cost.  I wasn't into the idea of painting it at the time so I placed another table behind the couch, stuck the console table in the back of the garage and forgot about it for a few months.

When I started thinking about putting a table under the back window in our kitchen, I thought, "Aha!  Perfect!  I will pull out that table in the garage and paint it."  This was before I started writing this blog and so I have no pictures of the unfortunate beard of mold I discovered on much of the table.  Ick.  But some rubber gloves and a bleach and water scrub later, I was back in business.

I primered the table then painted it with two coats of a pale grey semi-gloss latex paint.  I swapped out the three original brushed nickel knobs for glass ones I got on sale at Anthropologie.

And with that this little table went from a leftover piece of furniture I had come to feel just lukewarm about to one I really, really like.  I have a feeling this table has finally found a home where it will be staying for awhile.

Click here to see an update to the table!