Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Conversation Hearts Magnets

Is there a treat more often associated with Valentine's Day than Necco's Sweetheart Conversation Hearts? Whether you like the taste or not, you can't deny that they're a V-Day icon and, using some items you can find around your house, I'll show you how I made Conversation Heart Magnets.

You'll need:

paint chip samples (cut into hearts with scissors or heart shaped punch)
thin magnets (also cut into hearts)
glue & brush

These were all things I owned already.  As with the Valentine's Day banner, I used paint color samples from the Home Depot.  For the magnets, I used those business-card style magnets that small companies send to you or have at their check-out counters.  We have a TON from when we moved and every local business sent us information about their services.

Once my hearts were cut out (but before I glued them onto the magnets, in case I made a mistake or didn't like how the writing looked), I wrote some "conversation" on these hearts.  I know there are updated versions now that say things like "TEXT ME", but the only things Jesse and I text about is picking up dinner on the way home or Fred's recent visit to the vet.  Thanks, but I think I'll stick with the classics.

Use a thin layer of glue to stick the paint chips to the magnets, let dry, and hang up...

Easy to make and free... what's not to love?

Stay homey!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Green Apple Fennel Salad

There's no real recipe for this since it's a salad, but the combination of flavors were so delicious I had to share.  

Fennel tastes like black licorice which is hilarious because I HATE black licorice.  When you mix it with tart green apple, peppery arugala, with fresh lemon juice and olive oil, something magical happens and you get this unbelievably bright and refreshing taste.

I like garnishing salads to make them special so I utilized the fronds of the fennel to add a little somethin' somethin' to the top.

I tried plating the salad two different ways.  I piled the fennel, green apples, and fronds that had been tossed with lemon juice and olive oil and then placed it on TOP of a little bed of arugala (shown in the first two photos).  Here and below, I tossed everything together.  I think I prefer it this way.

What do you think?

Here's to starting the week off with something besides meat and cheese.  Don't worry, the Super Bowl is right around the corner so I'll get back on track.  Stay hungry! 

Green Apple Fennel Salad Recipe
1 Fennel Bulb
1/2 Green Apple 
Fennel Fronds
Lemon Juice
Good Olive Oil 
Salt & Pepper

Slice the fennel and green apple as this as possible.  If you have a mandolin, this would be the perfect time to use it.  Add some fennel fronds, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and drizzle of olive oil and some salt and pepper.  Whenever I add acid and olive oil to a salad, I just eyeball it, usually 1 part acid 2 parts oil.  Enjoy! 

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Damatos Bakery

I LOVE Damatos.  This is another place that my parents found while visiting us.  Boy am I glad they did. 

Charlie's and my Saturday morning tradition is to go to Damato's Bakery and pick up some goodies to snack on over the weekend.

Our favorite?  The meat arancini.  It's absolutely out of this world.  They also have roasted vegetable, roasted red pepper, and spinach and ricotta. Meat all the way baby.

The last FOUR times we've been there they've been sold out.  So this time, I woke up at 8am, called in and asked them to put some on hold for me.  I've tried arancini all over Chicago.  Hands down the best are at Damatos.  The rice is creamy, yet light and the filling, made of ground beef, tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, and peas, is so flavorful.  YUMMMMMM.  I like to put them in our toaster oven so the outside gets really crispy and chewy.  BTW - half way through typing this I got up and heated up an arancini.  See what you do to me food blog?  Damn you.

Damatos also makes their own bread and...PIZZA.  This is a sausage and ricotta cheese pizza.  Need I say more?  I didn't think so.  Stay hungry! 

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Country Life

While doing some CraigsList- and GoodWill-hunting today, we happened upon these lovely ladies...

As we drove off, I turned to Jesse.  "They're milk cows...right?"  He assured me they were.

We were on the hunt today for a handful of items: a daybed for my office, a coffee table for the living room, a non-tacky cabinet for holding our china.  We came back with this fixer upper:

A trunk (storage coffee table?) for an upstairs bedroom.  It's going to take some elbow grease & TLC.

Have a great weekend and stay homey!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Galletti Pasta with Braised Short Rib Sauce

I set out to make braised short ribs and had absolutely no idea what I was going to end up with.

What turned out was one of the most delicious pasta dishes I have ever made.  I need to tell you something.  It's very important.  Ready?  Cancel your dinner plans and make a date with this dish.  He or she will not let you down.

I've never made braised short ribs before and it was actually pretty easy.

Oh baby.

This ingredient shot is incomplete, because like I said I switched up my plan half way through.  I was going to make braised short ribs over polenta but the voices told me to make a sauce.  Some people have that little voice in their head.  My little voice comes from my mouth.  From my taste buds to be exact.

Here are our ingredients:

Short Ribs
Red Wine
Beef Broth
Olive Oil 
Tomato Paste (not pictured)
Tomato Sauce (not pictured)
Pasta (not pictured)
Parmesan (not pictured)
Parsley (not pictured)

Chop up all of your aromatics.  Shallots, garlic, onion, carrots, and celery.  This is what gives you that deep, rich flavor that make braised short ribs so deliciously decadent.  My mom calls short ribs stew meat but I call them heaven.

Season the short ribs liberally with salt and pepper. Some people dredge the short ribs in flour, which I don't totally understand.  This seems like a unnecessary step and I tend to drop flour all over the place whenever I have to use it so for all of your sakes, I just left this step out.

My mom got me this SUPER SWEET slow cooker for Christmas last year.  You can put the nonstick insert directly on the stove to brown your meat  before beginning the slow cooking process.  This thing has seriously changed my life.

Ok so add your olive oil and then put the ribs fat side down and cook over high heat to brown the ribs.

This is what you want to see.

Brown each side and then remove.  This process should take you about ten minutes.

Add the aromatics to the olive oil and the beef drippings.

Season with some salt and pepper once the veggies start to cook down a bit.

Put the ribs back into the slow cooker over the veggies.

Now it's time to add our liquid.  Add about half a bottle of red wine.  I used a Cabernet Sauvignon because it's a full bodied wine.  Pinot noir would be too light and wouldn't stand up to the other rich flavors.

Add your chicken stock.  Sorry...not sure what happened to the photo here.  Either I had a seizure or sneezed.  It's hard to tell.

Ok now that everyone is in the pool, I covered the ribs in my slow cooker and let them go night night for four and a half hours on the highest setting.

Yummy. So, you can trim up your short ribs if you want less fat but the fat is what gives the sauce flavor.  So, it's up to you.  Oh that's good sauce or OMG this is incredible sauce. 

Add 2 Cups of the braising liquid, half a can of tomato paste, and a can of tomato sauce.

Let it cook over medium high heat until the sauce begins to thicken.   So here's the deal.  See that fat on top of the sauce?  That's not really ideal.  IDEALLY you would let the sauce sit in the fridge over night so you can skim all of the fat that raise to the top.  I mentioned this to Charlie and I just couldn't stand to see a grown man cry.  So I painstakingly skimmed the top with a ladle until I got most of it out.

I should mention I skimmed the fat AFTER adding the short rib meat. 

Cook your pasta per the packages directions.  This is galletti pasta.  I had never heard of this before until my mother in law, Nancy, told me about it.  I call them mini octopus legs and Charlie calls them mini Roman helmets.  

So dump the sauce into the pasta in a big bowl so you can really toss everything together.  

One thing I learned in Tuscany was to toss the cheese into the pasta OFF the heat.  If you add it to the pasta or the sauce on the heat, it won't get all creamy and delicious.  Who doesn't want creamy and delicious?  I would seriously kill myself if I was lactose intolerant. 

Chop up some fresh parsley and sprinkle over the pasta.  Also, get a peeler and peel some chunks of parm over the pasta as an additional garnish.  This just makes it even more special. 

Doesn't this just look amazing? 

 One thing I like about my pasta bowls besides the fact they are so pretty is that they are HUGE.  So, a serving is just a bowl size.  So sue me.

The tender, unbelievably flavorful short ribs are just incredible with the al dente pasta.  

 Serve with some red wine you cooked with....

...and do your best not to eat the entire pound of pasta in one sitting.  Stay hungry!

Galletti Pasta with Braised Short Rib Sauce
3 Large Short Ribs
2 Cups Red Wine
4 Cups Beef Broth
1/2 Bunch Celery, chopped
3 Large Carrots, chopped 
1 Onion, chopped
3 Garlic Cloves, chopped
1 Shallot, chopped 
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Thyme (or 6 fresh sprigs)
2 Tbs Olive Oil 
1/2 6 oz Can Tomato Paste 
1 14 oz Can Tomato Sauce 
1 Pound Pasta (not pictured)
1/2 Cup Freshly Grated Parmesan, more for serving
1/4 Cup Parsley, chopped 
Salt and Pepper

Heat the olive oil in a pan.  Season each side of ribs and brown on each side over medium high heat.  Remove from pan.  Add celery, carrots, shallot, onion, and garlic to the pan and saute until veggies become softened, about 5 minutes.  Add thyme and salt and pepper.  Add ribs back in and add wine and beef stock.  If using a slow cooker, cook on highest setting for 4.5-5 hours or until meat become incredibly tender and easily pulls apart.  Pull as much meat as you can off the bone and set aside.  In a pan, combine 2 cups of the braising liquid, the tomato paste, braised short rib meat and sauce.  Simmer until sauce begins to thicken.  This will take about 15-20 minutes.  Cook pasta to packages instructions and toss the sauce and the pasta together.  Toss in the Parmesan and parsley.  Add additional Parmesan on top before serving and enjoy.  *If not using a slow cooker, you can cook the short ribs in an oven save dish with lid on 375 degrees for 3-4 hours or until tender.  

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Custom Framing, Without Breaking the Bank...

I've mentioned that Jesse and I are in the middle of decorating the large two-story wall in our living room with framed maps. We have over 30 maps of varying sizes and, while it was easy to frame some of the standard-sized maps, we had plenty that needed custom framing because they were oddly sized.

We've had some custom framing done before and boy, is it expensive. I visited the framing section of our local craft store, thinking it would be reasonably priced, but even so, it would have been $350 to frame just ONE map, our largest (42" x 53"). And that was with a 55% off coupon. Definitely not in our budget.

Not willing to give up on our map wall, I hit the Google machine to see what I could find. Searching for "custom frames" brought up a bunch of hits but luckily led me to Poster Frame Depot. The website has an easy custom frame configurator, a nice color selection, & seriously reasonable pricing. Best of all, they're made in the good old USA. Plus they're headquartered pretty close to me so they shipped quickly.

Once they arrived, we were faced with actually putting them together. The trade-off, of course, is that when you go with less-expensive frames, you don't just go to the frame shop and pick them up fully assembled. I was nervous.

The frames were all organized and came with detailed instructions & all of the necessary hardware. It was as simple as attaching the sections at the corners...

... and then sliding in your prints with the backing and clear covering.  They even come with wires & hangers...

The frames are sturdy and look great. (I should probably also mention that, despite my gushing, I was not paid by Poster Frame Depot in any way to write this!)

Once we get all of the frames, I'll show the final product, but here's a peek for now.

How do you buy your frames? Do you attempt to do it yourself?  Let us know and stay homey!