Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Very Special Benedict

My boyfriend John, and I love enjoying the Sunday afternoons relaxing with friends, a mimosa and some good brunch eats. This past Sunday when I asked him to text some friends to invite them over for brunch, he informed me that-based on our planned menu-he had invited our friends over for a "Very Special Benedict." I thought that title was very apropos, considering all of the decadence and deliciousness we had planned. You'll see, just wait!
One step at a time, we stacked up all of the ingredients we had prepared into 4 yummy layers: bread, potatoes, egg, mother sauce. This recipe serves 10-12 people.

  • 5 large Yukon gold potatoes
  • 3 Tablespoons butter
  • 2 Tablespoons flour
  • 3 cups smoked cheddar or gouda
  • 1 cup chopped shallots or yellow onions
  • non stick cooking spay
  • Sliced Sourdough bread
  • 15 eggs (12 for poaching/3 for Bearnaise sauce)
  • Dijon Mustard, 1 Tablespoon
  • Lemon juice, 1 Tablespoon
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • chopped tarragon, 5-10 leaves
The first thing we did was create layer two, the scalloped potatoes with smoked cheddar we had brought home from an Amish shop up in Pennsylvania. To make the potatoes we took about 5 large Yukon Gold potatoes and slice them into thin (about 1/4 inch) discs and boiled them in water for around 10-15 minutes; until they began to soften a little (you don't want them super soft though, because they are going to bake in the oven later). After you take potatoes out of the water and drain them in a colander, you can begin making your roux for your creamy cheese sauce and prepare your glass baking dish by lightly greasing it. To create your roux, melt three tablespoons butter on low heat in pot, then add 2 tablespoons flour and combine with whisk. Cook for a couple of minutes to remove flour taste, but make sure to stir continuously so it
doesn't burn. Add 2 cups of warm milk and continue to whisk for couple more minutes. Next, add 1 1/2 - 2 cups shredded cheese and stir just until cheese melts into roux. Take off of heat. In a
small skillet, saute 1 cup chopped shallots or yellow onions in a few tablespoons olive oil, with garlic, salt and pepper, set aside. Lay potatoes in greased dish, top with creamy roux, then sauteed onions, then remaining shredded cheese. Bake in 35o degree oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

The next step is to create a delicious tarragon Bearnaise sauce in your food processor (this is layer four). Seperate 3 room temperature eggs-throw away whites and place yolks in food processor. Add 1 tablespoon dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and 1/2 teaspoon chopped tarragon. Melt one stick butter in small bowl in microwave. Pulse mustard, yolks, lemon juice, and tarragon in food processor. Open opening on top and slowly add melted butter while pulsing blades, this will create an emulsion that turns all the liquids into your mouth watering sauce!

Now, slice up some good good sourdough bread (I used my homemade version I make using my Step-mom's starter). This is obviously layer one. I even plated it up when I sliced it so it was ready for layer two.

Now to prepare layer three; poached eggs. There is definitely an art to poached eggs, and I am still learning each time I do it. Fill a large skillet with water and add a splash of white vinegar. Use a thermomter to meter your temperature, you want it to stay between 140-150 degrees. Have a small bowl close by to crack eggs one by one into for easy pouring into the hot liquid. Also have a spoon close by to encourage the whites to stay together if necessary. When water is ready, very slowly add egg to water and set timer for 4 minutes. Take out right away. The whites will be glossy and almost look runny, but if you check they will be firm.

To assemble, place bread on plate, serving of potatoes on top, poached egg next, then drizzle a healthy spoonful of Bearnaise sauce on top.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Deviled Eggs, Two Ways

Deviled eggs are such a tasty treat, and a go-to dish to bring to any summer, holiday or any party really! Not to mention, they are a cinch to make. I made two of my favorite versions recently: Tarragon Dijon and Siracha with Smoked Paprika. Even if you don't have the ingredients in these versions, I hope I have inspired you to retry this classic snack. Some of the best deviled egg recipes I have come up with over the years have been just using whatever I could find around the kitchen. So, be creative! This recipe calls for 6 eggs, which equals 12 yummy devils.

  • Hard boil 6 eggs whichever way you prefer (I boil them for about 8 minutes, and then immediately empty water and ice for quickly cook them. Then crack shells all over and peel). *Don't forget that egg shells are great for your compost bin!
  • Carefully slice eggs in half and put half hard yellow egg yolks in one bowl and half in another.
  • In first bowl, use fork to mash up egg yolks and add 1/2 tablespoon dijon mustard, 1/2 tablespoon mayonaise, 1/2 tablespoon chopped shallots or chives for crunch, salt and pepper to taste and tarragon. I chop up between 5-10 tarragon leaves and put half in mixture and save rest to garnish top. Tarragon is a lovely french herb that has a delicate sweet anise flavor. So good! Spoon into half of eggs white cups.
  • Next version, use fork to crumble/mash up hard egg yolks like before. Then, add 1 tablespoon mayonaise, salt to taste, 1/2 tablespoon siracha sauce (this is very spicy, so you can add less if you don't like things very spicy or more if you are crazy). Spoon into remaining egg white bowls and garnish with a good quality smoked paprika. EAT!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Wilflowers from Georgia

I went this past weekend to visit my old college roomate, Rachelle. We were celebrating her recent marriage over BBQ and conversation out in rural Georgia. On the way back, I swiftly pulled the car over and pilfered some beautiful wildflowers from the side of the road. I got some orange lillies (my favorite) and Queen Anne's Lace, also very beautiful. They have been brightening up my home all week! :)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Duct Tape Wallet

I went to Atlanta last week and stayed with my friend Kristi. When I was leaving, I noticed a cute wallet on her counter and commented on it. It was made out of duct tape and she had made it herself. If you don't already know, duct tape comes in many fun colors and patterns (not just your ordinary boring dull gray). You can get yours at Walmart or check your local crafts store.

So, Kristi was coming into town that following weekend and offered to give me a crash course in making my very own duct tape wallet. I got a little to into the project and neglected to take the "demo" pictures I had planned on, but I did take a few. Also, I made another one on my own after she left and it really is just a matter of working with material and learning how it works. I will try to lay out the basics of what to do down below, but if it is too hard to understand, you can always get templates online, or like I said, just give it a go and see what works for you and what doesn't!
What you will need:
  • Duct Tape (in colors that you like)
  • Good scissors
  • Exacto Blade (Rotary Cutter is helpful too if you have it)
  • Large cutting board
  • Money and library card for measuring pockets
What to do:
  1. Start by covering the front and back of a pre-cut piece of cardboard. This piece will be the overflap of your wallet that you will see in the front and that will fasten to the wallet "pocket." Make sure to overlap your tape to create a consistent look and to make it sturdy. It doesn't matter where, but if you do it in about the middle, that helps for visual consistency.
  2. Trim the edge off with scissors. Now you will start edging it to cover up the exposed cardboard. Cut a piece of tape (same color or different, up to you) a little bit longer than the sides of your cardboard. Lay it carefully down on your board and use the rotary cutter or exacto blade to cute it in half lengthwise. Put one piece on one side, covering half of the edge. If you center it you should have a little bit hanging off of each end. Use your blade to cut a square corner off (like picture below). Then fold smaller piece over on both ends and finish by folding long half piece over the edge. This completes your side egding. Repeat for bottom and leave top blank (you will edge it when you attach it to your wallet "pocket").
  3. Now you will create a large sheet of duct tape that will later become your wallet "pocket." Your pocket should be the same width of your cardboard top piece and double or a little more than double the length (because after the sheet is made, it will be folded in half and edged to create the pocket). Start by laying tape sticky side up and attaching pieces to it (make sure to make it a little larger than you actually need it so you can trim it to the exact size). After it is the right size, finish it by taping onto the sticky sheet sticky side down. Then trim it to size. This will mean you have a sheet that has duct on both sides (no stickiness exposed).
  4. Now you can create an inside pocket to hold any cards or driver's license. You can do this by making a smaller sheet (the same way you just made your large sheet for the wallet "pocket"). I usually do mine 4 x 4.5, but you can use your card to measure and make a tighter fit for your card pocket if you wish. It does need to be a little bit large though so you can tape it down. When you tape it into your wallet pocket, you want to tape sides first (with half piece), bottom and then top. When you tape the top you can tape right above it so you have two pockets.
  5. Now you will attach the top to your pocket, and edge the sides of your pocket to close it up. Finish by adding velcro for closing and adding any decorative details to the front of your top.
  6. These pics below show a little bit of how the edging works.
Above you see me cutting the square piece to pull out of corner. After you do this cut, you do one on the other side to create the square that you are removing.
Corner cut out, now you can fold small piece on each side then large piece (below)

Finished product! Kristi is modeling them for us!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Owl Purse

I found a new purse at the thrift store that I was totally stoked about! Why? Because it is covered in owls! Woot, I mean hoot! :)

Insalata Caprese

Summer is in full fashion here in the south and the gardens are a'growin'! Sometimes you have more tomatoes than you know what to do with. What better way to use them than in a tomato salad. Great summer dish, and it is so delicious! So easy too. I first had a caprese salad when I was backpacking through Italy several years ago with a couple of my girlfriends. I love making it, because it reminds me of that trip and all the mouth-watering produce I devoured while I was there! If you don't have a garden, or don't have any tomatoes ripe enough yet, you do like I did and pick some up from your local farmer's market. For this recipe, I used a combo of yellow cherry tomatoes and big juicy red ones.

  • Tomatoes (1-2 cups cherry or grape and 4 large)
  • Basil (about 10 big leaves)
  • 1 mozzarella ball
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
All you do is chop your cherry/grape tomatoes in half, chop the larger tomatoes and mozzarella into bite-size pieces, roll basil leaves and chop chiffonade style and add to tomatoes. Top off with a healthy drizzle of olive oil and some salt and pepper to taste. Yummy!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Owl Pictures

I collect owls. I have lots of them. Probably too many if you asked somebody else, but I think it's the perfect amount! Here are some owl pics I have hanging in my bedroom.

Roasted Leg of Lamb

I admire vegetarians for their dedication and discipline to not eat meat. I can't do it. I love meat! Depending on the day, I might say lamb is my favorite, but I might just as easily say pork. It's hard to choose. I roasted a 2.5 pound boneless leg of lamb for the first time and it came out juicy and delicious (not to mention the glorious smells it filled the house with).

I used this recipe from Martha (yes Stewart, which Martha did you think silly?!) as a starting point. I just altered the measurements and cooking times to account for my smaller lamb and the fact that mine was without bone. I also added some lemon zest in the final step (when you put potatoes and olives in oven). I accompanied mine with a yogurt based sauce that had lemon juice, mint, dill, and salt. You could also use a store-bought tzatziki sauce. I love this recipe because it calls for small red/new potatoes that you don't even have to peel, because the skins are so thin and tasty. I substituted the olives in Martha's recipe with 1/4 pound of mixed Greek olives from my groceries deli section.

The main suggestion I would give if you are cooking a smaller portion of meet or one that is boneless like I did, is to pay close attention to cooking time and temperature...the last thing you want is tough, juice-less meat. Yuck! Martha's 5-6 pound, bone-in meat takes 4 hours to cook. My 2.5 pound, boneless meat only took about an hour to cook off in the oven after the initial sear on the stove. To ensure a juicy, medium rare lamb, I put a digital timer into my meat after 30 minutes in the oven and set a timer to go off at 140 degrees. 140-150 degrees is considered medium rare for lamb. If you don't get your potatoes or olives in the dutch oven (or roasting pan if you don't have a dutch oven) in time for them to cook before you have to pull out your meat, you can always continue cooking them on the stove while your meat rests. That is what we did and the timing was perfect!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Sleeping Luna

Isn't this the cutest bug you have even seen? She feel asleep in my lap! :)

Garden Blogs!

I found this post that is a great collective of some of the best gardening blogs. Just wanted to share it!

DIY Earring Holder

How cute is this earring holder? Very! And it was so simple and easy to make. It only requires 2 supplies and 2 tools; and it only takes about 2o minutes of your time. You could spend endless hours organizing your earrings on it into various combinations, but that is all on you! Plus, I really like the look of chicken wire and have really been drawn to octagon inspired shapes recently. I have even seen cabinets in farmhouse inspired kitchens that use chicken wire in the cabinets.

I have already found that I utilize more of my jewelry since making these because I can actually see what I have when I am getting ready. Before, I would just wear my regular go-to's because they were on top of the pile and I didn't really have time to dig around and look for the perfect pair.

What you will need:
  1. Chicken Wire (I got a 24ft x 12in roll for about $6 at my local hardware store)
  2. Wire cutters
  3. Picture Frame (Picked up two for $1 at the thrifty)
  4. Heavty Duty hand-held staple gun (like the kind used for upholstery)
  1. Take backing off of picture frame and discard of glass, matte, backing and whatever hideous picture might be in there.
  2. Lay picture frame down onto rolled out piece of chicken wire to see how much wire you need to trim off.
  3. Use wire cutters to cut a piece of chicken wire slightly smaller than the frame.
  4. Use staple gun to secure chicken wire to the back of picture frame.
  5. Hang on wall and fill with your favorite earrings!
**You can adhere felt pads on the back of frame if you are worried about the rough wire edges damaging your walls.

Thursday, June 9, 2011


Down the street from my house is a really charming local plant shop called "Libby's Plant Odyssey." I was passing by and noticed a sign that boasted "annual clearance sale." I quickly slammed on the breaks, and whipped into the parking lot. I got several great succulents (my favorite) and brought them home for potting.
P.S.-I got all of these for $13 (minus the flapjack which I picked up at the farmer's market this weekend).

Tips for Care and Maintenance of Succulents:
  • Ensure proper drainage of your pot by placing pebbles in the bottom of you pot (too much water means rotting, dying plants...insert sad face here).
  • Mix regular potting soil with equal (or close to equal) parts sand.
  • Pack them in tight, they like to be snug. :)
  • Top with small pebbles (not mulch, which could lead to rotting).
  • During a hot summer, water every 5-7 days.
  • Bring in during the winter and only water every 2-3 weeks.
  • When in doubt, don't's better to under water than over water with these guys

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Pecan Pralines

Recently I took a trip to New Oreleans, LA. Upon returning home, I had the intense desire to cook all things creole and to make some homemade pralines. So far I have tackled the pralines. I got some local cajun seasoning from a nifty cookbook and whathaveyou store called "Kitchen Witch." I am hoping it will guide me in the former soon.

Candy making is no joke folks. It takes a lot of precision and patience. So, don't feel bad if you don't get it right the first time...I didn't! The first time I made these they were a little runny and took forever to set. I also decided that including pecan halves as well as chopped pecans helps. The biggest piece of advice I can offer is to make sure you stir the candy long enough before you add the pecans and portion out. The trick is looking for it to loose its sheen and lighten up in color and become more opaque.

  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 3 Tablespoons dark corn syrup
  • 1 cup evaporated milk
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups pecan halves
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  1. Butter the sides of a heavy saucepan.
  2. Add the sugars, corn syrup, salt, butter and evaporated milk.
  3. Over medium heat, stir continuously until it comes to a boil.
  4. Continue to cook until it reaches 236 degrees F on a thermometer (I use a digital one, but if you have a candy thermometer that would be great!)
  5. Promptly remove from heat and let sit and cool for 10 minutes
  6. Add vanilla and beat with a spoon for approximately 3 minutes until it starts to thicken up and become lighter and less translucent.
  7. Add nuts and stir
  8. Use a spoon to portion out onto wax paper.
  9. Let dry/harden thoroughly before storing.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Liz the Art Whiz!

Art of the Day

My friend Liz is an awesome artist. She recently had an art opening at the Alabama Art Kitchen in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The show is up until the end of the month, so you should stop by if you are in the area.

I wish I had taken more pictures of her work when I was there. The only two pictures I got were of the two pieces I bought. I really enjoy her whimsical, almost child-like approach to images and her oh-so dainty lines are so beautiful! Of course I loved her color palette (lots of pastels, vivid jewel tones, and lots of grays).

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Homemade Vanilla Extract

John got me some vanilla beans to bake with for my birthday. I have used them in cakes, breads, and candies. It was coming up on 3 months that I had gotten the vanilla beans. They say they will last a year, but I didn't want to risk wasting any, so I took half of what I had left and made some homemade pure vanilla extract. After you make it, you have let it sit for a month or so before you can use it. I can't wait. Best part, is this was so easy.

What you will need:
  • vodka
  • vanilla beans (3-4 per every 1 cup of vodka)
  • air tight glass jar
What to do:
  • Cut a slit under stem of vanilla beans down to the base (make sure it is still in tact).
  • Place cut vanilla beans in jar.
  • Fill jar with vodka (I used 2 cups, but you can cut that in half or double it depending on the size of your jar).
  • Close lid and shake!
Keep in a dark, cool place for around 2 months and then enjoy! Lasts for year.