Friday, July 27, 2012

{Sweet Friday} Dark Chocolate Mini S'mores

I can't take credit for coming up with this great idea myself.  A local friend hosted a girls' night cocktail party at her house a couple months ago and made bite-sized s'mores as dessert (you can read more about all the wonderful food she made here).  It was like a dessert lightbulb going on in my head...everyone loves s'mores, they're so easy to make, and the mini-size is perfect for just popping one or two in your mouth if you're not looking to sink your teeth into a giant graham cracker, half a chocolate bar, and several marshmallows sandwich post-dinner.  Though, truth be told, I probably ate the equivalent of a whole s'mores sandwich that night.  They were just so good.

I've made these little nuggets a few times since, and at first I thought homemade marshmallows would elevate them straight to s'mores heaven.  Have you ever made (or eaten) homemade marshmallows?  Vanilla clouds of wonderfulness.  However...I made the marshmallows this time around a day or two before bringing them to a 4th of July party at my brother-in-law's and sister-in-law's house and it was very hot and very humid.  The marshmallows still gelled but they were a sticky mess.  They tasted delightful, but were a nightmare to handle.  I managed to cut a few squares, though, and set about assembling the mini s'mores.  Don't they look pretty all piled high?

I popped them in the oven for a quick broil and took them out to find a whole bunch of unfortunate marshmallow puddles.

We still gobbled them up at the 4th of July party but, really, a fork would have been the best way to eat them.  And who wants to eat s'mores, mini or not, with a fork??

I'm not sure if the melting was a function of the weather when I was making the marshmallows or just that homemade marshmallows aren't the best choice for this particular recipe, but either way, next time I made them, for a cookout we hosted last weekend, I decided to use nice, firm, store-bought marshmallows.

You should use whatever kind of chocolate you like best.  For me, that is almost always dark chocolate.  I grabbed a few bars from Trader Joe's.

I cut the graham crackers into little squares using a serrated knife.  It works beautifully as long as you saw back and forth gently and don't press down hard on the crackers.  After I had a bunch of squares I placed them on a baking sheet.

Next, I cut the chocolate into little squares and put one square on top of each graham cracker.

For the marshmallows, I used a non-serrated large knife to cut each one into thirds - just chopped right down through them, no sawing motion this time.  I topped each graham cracker and chocolate tower with a marshmallow hat and preheated the broiler.  


I placed the baking sheet toward the bottom of the oven - I found this toasted the marshmallows much more evenly than placing the sheet directly under the broiler.  I set a timer for 30 seconds and repeated until the marshmallows were browned on top, about 1 minute total.  Beware, it happens very quickly!

I served them warm right off the baking sheet and, no surprise, the kids at the cookout went nuts and asked for seconds and thirds and fourths.  I can't say they were exactly mess-free for the little ones - there was a lot of chocolate to be wiped off mouths and faces and hands and clothes - but they were reasonably neat to eat for the adults, as s'mores go at least, and were just as popular as they were with the kiddos.

Hope you enjoy a sweet weekend! 

Linking this post to Southern Lovely and Lil' Luna!
Southern Lovely


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Herbed Greek Pasta Salad

Another versatile summer pasta for you today (last week I posted about one of my all-time favorites).  For the most part, this is a traditional Greek pasta with tomatoes, cucumbers, and feta cheese, but I substitute mild black olives for the sharper Kalamatas and add lots of fresh herbs from my back deck pots.

It's a great meatless entree option or a side dish for a barbeque and can be made completely ahead of time if you're preparing it for a party.  It would also pack beautifully for a picnic and tastes great at any temperature, though I like it best either cold or room temperature.

I used two kinds of tomatoes here: red grape tomatoes and brown tomatoes.

My ultimate kitchen tool for slicing tomatoes is this small serrated knife.  It's slices like it's going through soft butter.  I can't believe I ever cut a tomato without this knife now that I've experienced how effortless it is.

With tomatoes, cucumbers and herbs in full harvest mode around here, this simple dish bursts with fresh, seasonal flavors.

I had trouble squeezing a few shots in before little hands made their way into the serving bowl...

Herbed Greek Pasta Salad

1 lb. whole wheat penne
3 c. assorted tomatoes, chopped
1 seedless cucumber, chopped with skin on
1 can pitted black olives, drained and sliced
1 c. crumbled feta cheese
1/4 c. fresh basil, chopped
2 tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
1 tbsp. fresh dill, chopped
1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 c. red wine vinegar

Cook pasta in boiling salted water according to package directions.  Drain and set aside.

Add tomatoes, cucumber, olives. feta, and herbs to a large bowl.  In another small bowl whisk the olive oil and vinegar and pour over the vegetables.  Stir gently and season with salt and pepper.  Add pasta and stir everything together until well coated with dressing and herbs.

Click here for printable recipe.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

{DIY} How to Hang a Quilt

When my friend Karen recently asked me to come up with an idea for hanging a handmade quilt her sons had been given, I jumped at the chance.  My mom made a beautiful crib quilt for Ada (that later passed to Ellie) that I'll almost certainly hang once we move Ellie out of her crib, so I was excited to research some hanging options.  I sent Karen five ideas, but my two favorites were these:

Karen liked the idea of a ledge or shelf above the quilt to hold little decorative accessories so I set out to gather up my lumber supplies: a long dowel rod for the quilt to actually hang from, a poplar board to be used as the shelf, doorstop moulding to give the edge of the shelf a finished look, two pine shelf brackets, and two finials.

I cut the poplar board to 58" to allow it to overhang the quilt a bit, which was 54" wide.  The dowel rod was cut to 56".  I then measured the width of the sides and cut the doorstop moulding with a miter saw into three segments: the front piece had a 45 degree angle at each end and the side pieces each had one 45 degree angle and one straight cut.  I ran a thin line of wood glue along the edge of the shelf and pressed the moulding into place. 

After the glue had set a bit, I used very small finishing nails to finish attaching the moulding to the shelf.  To make holes in the shelf brackets I used a paddle bit attachment for my drill that was slightly larger in diameter than the dowel rod.  A little tip I picked up here is to clamp the shelf bracket to another piece of scrap wood and drill down into the scrap to cut down on any splintering of the actual bracket.

Next step was painting, which Karen had requested in white.  To make painting the finials a little easier, I screwed them into a scrap piece of moulding I had in the basement.

I gave everything 2-3 coats of white latex paint, with drying time in between.

To allow the quilt to hang from the dowel rod, I needed to sew a pocket onto the back of the quilt.  I used some cotton fabric I had leftover from an old tablecloth (the same fabric I used for the underside of the Scandinavian chair I reupholstered a few weeks ago), and cut it to 56" x 6".  I ironed 1/2" and then another 1/2" on each long side and then sewed a quick straight seam down each ironed fold.  Then I flipped the fabric sleeve inside out, pinned it together, and sewed another straight seam 1" from the edge down the entire long side of the sleeve.  After the sewing was finished I flipped it rightside out, ironed it flat with the seam facing the back, and loosely hand-stitched it to the back of the quilt.

Then came time to slide the dowel rod through the pocket...except it didn't exactly slide because I hadn't allowed much wiggle room in my measurements for the pocket.  I was able to get it through, but in hindsight, allowing for another 1/2" or so of width would have made this process much easier.

A couple days later I headed over to Karen's house for the big install, and got there with a bag full of materials, excited and ready to put all the pieces together...and realized I'd left the quilt at home.  I thought I could get some of the pieces hung without the quilt there but messed up the spacing a bit, as you can see by the extra holes I left in her wall.  

What you need to remember when hanging a quilt in this manner, and what I did not initially remember, is that the space between the brackets needs to be the same width as the quilt.  The general process for hanging is to draw a level line across the wall where you want the shelf to go.  Mark spots for your two brackets that allow enough space in between to fit the quilt.  For this particular installation, the quilt was 54" wide so (the second time around) I spaced the inside edges of the brackets 54" apart.  


The dowel rod was 56" so once slid through the holes in the shelf brackets (which were 1" thick) the ends of the rod lined up with the outer edge of the brackets.  Still with me??

The quilt was now hung and just needed the finials screwed into the ends.  I pre-drilled guide holes in the center of each dowel rod end to make sure the finials were centered, and after twisting them in the installation was complete!

I love the way it all came out and couldn't be happier to have helped hang this beautiful quilt for two such sweet boys.  I can't wait to hang Ellie's crib quilt soon is too soon to move her into a bed??

Monday, July 23, 2012

Watermelon Feta Bites

I love these fresh little watermelon and feta bites as a summer appetizer.  They almost couldn't be easier - three simple ingredients skewered on toothpicks.  The watermelon is juicy and refreshing and pairs beautifully with the sharp, salty feta.  You can spear a little mint leaf on top of each bite but I chose to chop the mint and sprinkle it on top to make it easier for little-mouths-with-not-many-molars.

No real recipe to follow here - cut watermelon and feta into bite-sized cubes, put one cube of feta on top of each cube of watermelon, sprinkle with some chopped mint, and skewer each bite with a toothpick.

This combination is lovely in a salad too - add some arugula and sunflower seeds, almonds, or something else with a little crunch, and a light vinaigrette.  Summer perfect!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Mocha Almond Chip Gelato

I think I should start calling Friday posts {Indulgent Fridays}, as lately I seem to be always writing about an indulgent breakfast (dried cherry scones), decadent dessert (dark chocolate brownies), or a tasty cocktail (fresh margaritas).  Seems a theme is emerging here...apparently I need a little treat by the time Friday rolls around!

Here we are again on a Friday and I've got another sweet little something for you...though, I promise, this is nowhere near the decadence of the dark chocolate brownies.  This gelato is still creamy and chocolately and all things good about ice cream but it's made only with milk, no cream in sight.  In fact, you can choose whichever percentage milk you like - I've made it with 1%, 2%, and whole milk and it's been great every time.  I've not actually made it with coconut, soy, or almond milk, but it has turned out so beautifully all the other ways, I can't imagine it would be a flop with a non-dairy milk.  Almond milk could be an especially delicious complement to the sliced almonds in the gelato.  Just one caution if you use a non-dairy milk - make sure it's unsweetened or the gelato will be much too sweet. 

You'll need an ice cream maker for this recipe, which actually makes the whole process pretty light on labor.  You make a quick pudding-ish concoction, cool it down a bit, pour it into the ice cream maker and the work of turning it into gelato is done for you.

 Mocha Almond Chip Gelato

 3.5 c. milk (1%, 2%, or whole)
3 tbsp. cornstarch
2/3 c. sugar
4 tsp. cocoa powder
2 tbsp. decaf instant coffee granules
2 tsp. vanilla
2 oz. dark chocolate, chopped
1/4 c. sliced almonds

Whisk 3 c. milk, sugar, and cocoa in a saucepan and bring to a boil over moderate heat, stirring occasionally.  Whisk in coffee granules.

In a small bowl, whisk remaining 1/2 c. milk and cornstarch, then add to mocha mixture and whisk over medium heat until mixture thickens, just a few minutes.

Off the heat, add vanilla and a couple pinches of salt to mixture and whisk to combine.  Let cool to room temperature.

Pour mixture into an ice cream maker, add chocolate and almonds, and process according to your machine's instructions.  Transfer to a lidded container and freeze.

Little lesson learned during my gelato photo shoot: when photographing frozen desserts, one must move very quickly!  

For printable recipe click here
Adapted from recipe here

Thursday, July 19, 2012

{DIY} Moroccan Tile Stenciled Table

I've been at it again.  Scott says I get "a look."  I'm not exactly sure what the look is but I think it involves standing very still, hands on hips, and staring intently into a room in which nothing is happening.  Yep...something's about to get moved.  This time it was on the screened porch, which we've been absolutely loving during its first habitable summer.

We'd pulled a couple of freebie-with-our-couch, parson-like side tables out of retirement to use on the porch when we first furnished it a few months ago.  They were originally a scuffed dark stain but I painted them soft ivory. 

Nothing wrong with them at all, but nothing particularly exciting about them either.  When I recently came across a moroccan tile stencil I had stashed away with a set I'd bought when I was finishing my girls' playroom (post and pictures to come soon!) I thought I'd give stenciling the table a shot.  If I hated it, well, I figured I could give it a quick sand and spray paint it back to ivory.

First I gave the whole table a fresh coat of soft grey spray paint (Rustoleum since the table would be semi-exposed to the elements).

I was planning to paint the sides of the top an antique white, so I didn't worry about the splotchy grey there.

After the spray paint had completely dried overnight, I used a small foam roller to roll the antique white paint along the edges of the top.  And then it was time to stencil.  I had done a little research on stenciling prior to undertaking this and so knew that spray adhesive was a necessity (I used Elmer's Multi-Purpose Spray Adhesive).  I also knew that the best tool for applying paint to a stencil is a foam brush.  Which I swore I had in the basement but when I went to retrieve it, it was nowhere to be found.  I had an abundance of bristle brushes though, so even though I knew it wasn't "right" I decided to give it a go.  And it all worked out fine, but next time I stencil I will use a foam brush.  The bristles are a little too unwieldy for the control you need stenciling and the finished look is a bit mottled.  Which I am okay with, it looks sort of rustic and handmade, but I can imagine that a foam brush application would have a more crisp look.

On to the stenciling.  I gave the back of the stencil a light coat of spray adhesive and then positioned it on the table so it lined up straight against the edge.  Next I applied a bit of paint to my brush and dabbed it on newspaper to remove excess paint.  I dabbed the brush over the stencil until everything was painted, then carefully removed it.  I found I could use the same coat of adhesive for 2-3 repositions of the stencil before it needed another spray.  I'd periodically check the back to be sure no paint had seeped through that would make splotches on the table.  When in doubt, give the back a quick swipe with a dry paper towel.  To make the next several rows of the tile pattern I overlapped the last row I had done to be sure everything would line up and repeated the process...

...many, many times... 

...until the entire tabletop was covered in the moroccan tile pattern.  I let it dry a bit then gave the top a hearty coat of Rustoleum Crystal Clear Enamel to protect the stenciled design and to give the top a nice glossy finish.  I let the top coat dry overnight and then moved the table back to her home on the porch.

And now the moving furniture part.  Nothing terribly significant here (Scott has come home before to the entire living room having been moved around) but I decided to shift the accent tables around a bit and put the yellow table between the chairs and the newly stenciled moroccan tile table against the wall between the sofa and chair.  I liked the idea of having a table lamp on that side of the room and the yellow table fit a bit better between the chairs.

The table has so much more character now and is leaps and bounds more interesting than the plain, square, beige table it was before.  For my first venture in stenciling furniture, count me one happy gal.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Pasta Caprese with Pine Nuts

In general, I'm hesitant to say I have a "favorite" dish or favorite food.  I like a lot of food.  I like some modicum of variety in my food and in general I just love to eat good, interesting, delicious things.  In fact, the only things I think I could say I won't let cross my lips are oysters.  I have tried - oh, have I tried - but when the fried variety still made me openly gag at a restaurant I threw in the towel.  No one needs to see that.

Even if I don't have a single favorite, I think we all have at least a few favorites, and this pasta has been in my top five for a long time.  The original recipe came from a Bon Appetit of my mom's sometime in the 90's.  I think this version may differ slightly from the original but it's close and I've made it so very many times by now I know it by heart.  It's great warm, it's great room temperature, it's great cold, it's great leftover for days and days after it's made.  It has very few ingredients - mostly the classic caprese components of mozzarella, tomato, and basil - and goes together in the time it takes to cook the pasta.  I make it year-round but it's especially awesome this time of year when great tomatoes and fresh basil abound.

You can absolutely make this whole dish while the pasta is cooking (and I often do) but if you have ten minutes earlier in the day, mix up all of the ingredients besides the pasta and basil a few hours beforehand.  The marinating really increases the depth of flavor and the tomatoes release some of their juices.  I often use grape tomatoes, but use whatever great tomatoes you have on hand.

The recipe as follows serves two adults and two little ones with leftovers, but I often make a double recipe because the leftovers keep so well.

Fusilli Caprese

1/2 lb. whole wheat fusilli or rotini
1/4 c. olive oil
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 small clove of garlic, pressed
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
2 large balls fresh mozzarella, drained and cut into cubes
1/4 c. pine nuts, toasted
1/4 c. sliced fresh basil

Bring pot of water to boil, add a tablespoon or so of salt, and cook pasta according to package directions.

In a large serving bowl, whisk the olive oil, balsamic, and garlic to blend.  Add tomatoes, mozzarella, and pine nuts.  When pasta has finished cooking, drain and add immediately to the mixture in the serving bowl.  Top with basil, season with salt and pepper, and toss well to coat mixture with sauce.  Add more oil and vinegar to taste.

Click here for printable recipe

Monday, July 16, 2012

Chef Salad

Chef salad was a regular, and a favorite, on our summer dinner table when I was growing up.  I still love it now, but for much more than just its great flavor.  It's packed with vegetables and is a great way to showcase fresh, summer produce in the simplest of ways.  It's super quick to make and requires only one itty bitty stretch with the stove on (crucial on a scorching day in a house with no central air).  The salad itself is cool and refreshing.  And it tastes just downright delicious.  Perhaps the greatest thing about chef salad, though, is that there are no hard and fast rules.  If there's something that you don't like, leave it out.  If there's something you love that I don't list here, add it in.  If you have a different kind of tomato or pepper or cucumber than what I suggest, substitute it.  It's a great I-need-to-use-this-extra-stuff-in-my-fridge kind of meal.

This is pretty much my M.O. for summer cooking - little time at the stove, crisp and cool, but still a tasty and satisfying meal.  If you make enough to have leftovers, be sure to store the extra without salad dressing so the lettuce doesn't get watery and wilted.

Chef Salad

3/4 lb. smoked turkey or ham steak - I like the turkey best because it's a bit leaner
1 large ball fresh mozzarella
4 hard-boiled eggs
red bell pepper
yellow bell pepper
1 pint grape tomatoes
1 english cucumber, peeled
3 carrots, peeled
several handfuls of baby romaine or spring mix greens

Cut all ingredients except greens into bite-sized pieces or strips.  Toss together gently and serve with Russian or Blue Cheese dressing.

Click here for printable recipe