Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The BEST beef stew

So it's been a while! I may be a slacker in the blogging department, but let me tell you... life has been crazy. I'm a senior in college and have been taking 7 courses all semester (most college kids take 4 at once), so it's been a lot of work and not a lot of time for me to relax and pay attention to my creative side. This weekend marked the beginning of finals week, and I knew I needed some good food to help me write my 10 page essay. Something comforting, and there needed to be potatoes (because I love them!). I knew I needed beef stew. So those of you that live in warmer climates are probably thinking that I am NUTS! Why would I want to eat stew when it is warm out? Stew is for WINTER, you silly person! However, you have to remember that I live in New England. And it has been rainy and damp here for over a week. Right now it is 55 degrees and pouring, and it's not going to get any better for at least another week. Something warm and comforting was definitely needed.
Let me start out by saying that I've had bad experiences with beef stew in the past- tough meat, grainy-textured potatoes. I grew up thinking that I didn't even like beef stew. I finally had it when I stayed over at a friends house a few years back, and it was amazing. The potatoes were perfect, the meat was tender, and the broth was amazing. I scoured the internet, and finally settled on using a Paula Dean recipe for a guide, but added a few touches of my own. While this does take a while, most of the time is just letting things simmer, so you can just leave it be and go do something else for a while. If you're me, you'll get back to that paper you're writing. All of the simmering time is worth it though- I can honestly say that this is the best beef stew I've ever had. The meat becomes really tender, the vegetables are cooked to perfection, and the flavor of the broth is amazing. So if you're as chilly as I am right now, you may want to consider having this for dinner- it will warm you right up!

Old Time Beef Stew
Recipe adapted from Paul Dean
You will need:

  • 2 pounds stew beef
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 boxes low or no sodium beef stock (that's 8 cups)
  • 1.5 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • Dash ground allspice or ground cloves
  • 3 large carrots, sliced
  • 3 ribs celery, chopped
  • 5 or 6 baby red potatoes, diced

Heat the butter in a large, heavy pot over medium heat. I used my favorite dutch oven. Brown the beef on both sides (you're just browning it quickly- don't worry about it cooking through as that will happen when it simmers), then add the onions, worcestershire sauce, garlic, paprika, salt, sugar, pepper, onions, and beef stock. Cover and simmer for 1.5 hours over low heat. 

Add carrots, celery, and potatoes. Cover and cook for another 30-40 minutes, or until the potatoes are fork tender. Serve and enjoy!

Yum- It was amazing! I hope that most of you are enjoying some nice weather. If not, make sure to cozy up and read a good book- that's my favorite way to spend a rainy afternoon!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Rise and shine!

So we all know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But sometimes breakfast food can get a little boring, especially if you're like me and you aren't a morning person. I am so focused on that pot of coffee brewing that I pretty much eat the same bowl of cereal every single morning. But sometimes I want nothing more than a nice steaming bowl of oatmeal, which is literally the healthiest thing you can eat for breakfast. But let's face it- those instant oatmeal packs are loaded with sugar, and plain oatmeal is too blah. Thankfully, I discovered steel cut oats. They are delicious!!!! Steel cut oats have this amazing texture, and a lovely nutty taste that I cannot get enough of. However, the cooking time is a bit long... try 30 minutes. I can barely get myself out of bed and into clothing when that alarm goes off at 7 every morning (wooo 8 am classes!), so I am certainly not going to spend that long making oatmeal. After some internet browsing, I came up with something great... crockpot steel cut oats! Turn these on before you go to bed, and wake up to an awesome bowl of oatmeal that is chock full of nutrients and happy things such as fiber!

You will need...
- a crock pot
- PAM or other type of cooking spray
- 1/2 cup steel cut oats
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup skim milk
- topping of your choice

1. Spray the inside of the crockpot with the Pam. This will help out when it's clean up time, trust me!
2. Add oats, water, and milk to the pot and stir.

3. Put on low right before bed (give it at least 6 hours)

4. Scoop it out and enjoy! Serves 2

A note on toppings... all of these internet sites told me to put a little pat of butter on my oatmeal in the morning. I thought "what? That sounds so gross!" But really... every single site! I decided to trust them, so I put a little pat of unsalted butter on my oatmeal (maybe 1/2 tbsp). It was so good! It enhanced the nutty flavor of the oats, and honestly... if you're eating something this healthy, a smidge of butter is totally ok when it adds this much flavor. I also love adding walnuts and blueberries, which according to is a perfect balance of nutrients to start your day! So go crank on your crockpot and get some oatmeal going!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Chicken soup to cure a cold

So I've been sick... really sick. I've had a chest cold for about a week, and then I ended up in the ER on tuesday night (yup, that's right folks... spent Valentines in the ER) with severe back and abdominal pain, which ended up being a kidney infection. Who knew they would hurt so much?? So I've been hanging out and taking it easy, but whenever I'm sick I become totally obsessed with soup, and I knew I wanted some homemade chicken soup. So I got my better half to pick up a rotisserie chicken on the way home, and I got to it.

Step one: Making the stock
This is totally optional. You can get a big 5 qt pot and fill it with boxed stock, but I really like making my own as it tastes amazing and you just know that it isn't full of MSG and sodium. So after we've devoured some of the chicken, I go ahead and take the rest of the tasty chicken off of the bones and set it aside. Then I take everything else (bones and skin- I mean all of it!) and put it in a 5 qt pot. I fill it up about an inch and a half from the rim, as some of it is going to evaporate. Some people add veggies and that's fine, but I hate having to throw them away at the end, so I pass on that step. Turn the burner onto high heat. Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer and put a lid on it. I like to let mine go for about 2 hours, although it mostly reaches the "meat falling off the bones" stage at about an hour. After it is done, you can fish out all of the bones and skin and discard them.

Step 2: Making the soup!
You will need:
- 1 bag no yolk noodles (I prefer the extra wide kind- they're cuter)
- 2 cups cooked chicken
- 2 medium onions, finely chopped
- 4 stalk of celery heart, finely chopped
- 3 peeled carrots, finely chopped
- 3 large cloves garlic, smashed
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp crushed red pepper (use 1/2 tsp if you are crazy and don't like spicy foods)
- 1 tsp dried parsley
- 1/4 tsp ground thyme

Add 2 tbsp EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) to a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the onions, celery, carrots, and garlic and sauté until the onion is translucent, about 3-5 minutes. Add the herbs and sauté until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes. Add the veggies to the stock. Chop the chicken in bite sized pieces and add to stock.

Bring the stock to a boil and add 3/4-1 bag of no yolk noodles. We were pretty hungry this time, so we added all of them, but if you like less noodles in your soup, feel free to adjust! Cook according to package directions.

Serve into bowls and top with salt and pepper. Enjoy!

This is definitely one of my favorite comfort foods. It made me feel so much better, and I hope it can brighten your day as well! Make sure to share it with a friend, but kitties probably shouldn't have any, even if they beg...

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Let's Sew!

So, when starting a new craft, it can be pretty intimidating. I certainly felt that way when I decided to crank up my sewing skills this past summer. I've been hand sewing since I was about 5 or 6. Instead of spending money on barbies or play makeup, my mom took me to the craft store and I would carefully select several fat quarters which were destined to become clothes and mini quilts for my dolls (which I also hand sewed- they were a bit freaky looking, but I loved them). Then, for my high school graduation, my grandma went out and bought me a Singer Inspiration. I tried it out, and promptly gave up. But last spring, the urge to start sewing again hit. I had a great idea- I was going to be a fantastic, DIY queen! All of my clothes would be handmade! DOWN WITH CONSUMERISM!! I hauled out that sewing machine and went to town- and it broke. End of dream sequence. Apart from that, I had no idea what I was doing, and barely had any of the proper tools. Thankfully, after a quick stint working at a stitch lounge, I'd had all of the sewing basics hammered into my brain, and now I want to share them with you so you can get started with this awesome craft.

Buying a machine
So, my first big mistake was the machine I had. While it seems super easy and convenient to traipse over to JoAnn fabrics and get one of those plastic things that are always on sale, I really don't recommend this. See, these machines are made to break and then simply be replaced. When you go to browse machines, try to stick to a local sewing store that does their own repairs (trust me, it's easier and they mostly give you a warranty if you buy there). And the most important thing: look for a machine that is ALL METAL. That way, if anything goes wrong you just bring it into the shop and get it fixed. With a plastic machine, it really doesn't work that way, and it just ends up getting thrown out. You might think that a metal machine is out of your price range, but you're so wrong! My machine cost me $100. I love it. So my next advice is to buy used. That's what I did- my machine is a Singer Touch and Sew from the 70's. That baby is all metal, and runs very smoothly. When buying used, just as if you buy new, make sure to test drive your machine- it should run smoothly without shaking the whole room or making any scary noises. And honestly, when it comes to sewing machines, less is more. Sure, you CAN buy one of those machines with about 5 million buttons on it that all program different wacky stitches, but that doesn't mean you should or need to. All you really need is a basic machine that sews back and forth, and has adjustment knobs for stitch width/length and tension. That's it. How easy is that!

Setting up your space
Make sure to set aside a large table for your sewing. I like to have mine near an open window- I think crafting should be relaxing, and sewing while basking in sunlight or watching the rain fall is very therapeutic. Have a comfy chair with good back support, or else you're going to be aching after a while. Keep an ironing board and iron close by- you're going to be jumping back and forth between ironing and sewing, so you may as well make the commute as easy as possible.

 Oh hi!

My go-to tools
These are some of the tools that I use pretty much every single time I sew. I understand that all of these add up to a rather hefty sum of money. I am super cheap, so I only buy things like this when I have those awesome coupons to JoAnn/Michaels/AC Moore. Make sure to join their mailing list and rewards programs, and you'll save yourself some serious cash.

1. Scissors/cutting implements
I always have 4 pairs of scissors at my work table: paper scissors, pinking shears, tailors scissors, and snips. I also have a rotary cutter, with a straight blade and a pinking blade. This was possibly the very best thing I've ever bought- I use it all of the time, and it makes cutting squares a breeze. You definitely want one of these if you are thinking about doing some quilting.

2. Marking tools
My go-to marking tools are: water soluble marking pen, thin sharpie, pencil, and pen.

3. Pins, pins, and MORE PINS
Just get one of those big ass boxes of pins- you'll loose them, your kitty will bat them around (mine pulls them out of whatever I am working on at the time), and you'll always need more. I suggest the 2 inch ones that have the large yellow balls at the end.


 4. So much thread
As you continue to sew, you're going to accumulate tons of thread. I recommend getting some sort of thread organizer. Also, make sure you NEVER use any thread that has a wax coating on it- the wax builds up in your machine and does serious damage. I recommend a 100% cotton or polyester thread. I'm a big fan of Gutterman, but only when it is on sale!

5. Rulers and mats

I usually have one normal, foot long ruler, as well as a yard stick nearby. I take a measuring tape and hang it around my neck as I sew for easy measuring. It also makes me look super bad-ass, which is a bonus. I have a ruler that I use with my Olfa cutting mat. Again, a bit pricey, but use coupons and invest in both- you can thank me later.

6. Extra bobbins!
You are never going to have enough bobbins, but I recommend getting a pack of around 10 so you can have multiple colors ready to go.

7. Iron and ironing board
Whoever tells you that ironing "isn't important" in sewing it totally wrong. It is SO IMPORTANT. Whenever the instructions tell you to iron, just do it. And do it thoroughly. It will make your life so much easier.

8. The seam ripper
At some point, you will do something wrong. Maybe something a little wrong, maybe something SO WRONG you cannot believe you were stupid enough to do it. No worries! Pull out your handy dandy seam ripper and go at it.

So now that you are properly equipped, I hope that you are ready to tackle the toughest sewing projects! I hope everyone enjoyed their weekend, and happy Superbowl Sunday! GO PATS

Monday, January 23, 2012

Statement earring tutorial!

Oooof... and now it's Monday! I spent all morning packing to go back to school tomorrow for my last semester at college. I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel! So after all of that packing I needed some serious tv therapy. I turned on some Pretty Little Liars (why is it that all of the bad shows full of not-so-intelligent girls are really addictive?) and saw something really awesome- a flashy pair of tassel earrings, full of bold yet natural colors. I really loved them because while they are larger than most earrings I wear, the fact that they were beaded and using more natural colors really appealed to me. I unfortunately couldn't find a picture of the original pair that I saw on the show, but here is my version!

Slammin' statement earrings!
You will need:
-thin needle
-assortment of seed beads and bugle beads, about 6 different colors ( I used neutral colors, but use whatever you think would look fabulous!)
-cone beads (I use the Blue Moon brand, shown below)
-crimp beads
-needle nose pliers
-earring wires

First, these are the cone beads I'm talking about:

So let's begin! Take a long piece of string, about 12 inches. Then string on 6.5 inches of your first color of beads. For some of the strands, I used multiple colors and created a fun pattern. Repeat with all of your beads, stopping when you have a total of 5 strands. 

Take each strand and fold it over so the beads are aligned, making sure there aren't any large gaps in between the beads.

Then put all of your strands together, making sure all of the beads are aligned at the top of the strands.

Tie a knot directly above the top of the strands of beads.

Next, thread a crimp bead and then an earring wire onto the strings.

Fold over the strings, and pass all of them through the crimp bead a second time, this time from top to the bottom of the earring. Make sure to get ALL of the strings through the crimp bead!

Pull the thread so the cone bead covers the top of the tassel and the crimp bead and earring wire are directly above the top of the cone. When you are satisfied with how your earring looks, use your needle nose pliers to crimp the crimp beads. Then thread the strings down through the bead and cut the strings that are sticking out of the bottom of the cone bead. Your earrings should look like this:

Then make a second pair, try them on, and get ready to get some major compliments for your cool earrings!

Well, I hope that your Monday as going as well as a Monday can! The next time I write I will be back at school, slaving away on 25 page long Spanish papers. Woooo! Bring it on- just give me my diploma!!

*Please only use this tutorial to make fabulous earrings for yourself or as gifts. Please do not commit a crafting faux pas and sell them!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Hello internet folks!

Welcome, folks! I hope everyone is doing well this fine saturday. I'm sitting here watching snow fall- it finally feels like winter! My kitty is not quite sure what this white stuff is that's falling from the sky- she's here making those little wistful cat noises. Her name is Lily, and she's just about the cutest thing in the world. I guess I should probably start out with a little bit about myself and why on earth I am embarking on my blogging adventure. First and foremost, I'm a crafter. When I was 5, my grandmother gave me knitting needles and a ball of lavender yarn. She put her hands over mine, and carefully guided my little fingers until they could knit and purl on their own. My mom still has the first thing I knit- a little square riddled with mistakes and almost falling apart due to some faulty cast-off stitches. But to this day it hangs on her closet doorknob. From there, I've tried pretty much every craft I could get my hands on. And most of my success in those other crafts, such as sewing and crocheting, is due to blogs. Blogs are so important to me- I love getting a glimpse into other crafters/bakers/cooks lives, seeing what they are working on and where they are pulling their inspiration from. So that is what my blog is- a place where people can come and take a peek at what I am working on, maybe learn something new, and share their own crafty thoughts. So in honor of the general wonderfulness of blogs, here is a little tutorial on how to be a totally lazy-ass sewer! I've been doing some patchwork recently, and sewing all of those little squares evenly was driving me NUTS. I'm a little OCD, so any uneven line bugged me, and I remembered this little trick that a friend taught me at my last job. The great thing is that this trick can even be applied to quilts. Wooo!
You will need:
- an assortment of fabrics
- cutting mat*
- rotary cutter, with pinking blade*
- cutting grid
- pinking shears
- iron
- light to midweight fusible interfacing
*these aren't 100% necessary, as I know they are expensive and not everyone has them! But if you have them, USE THEM HERE or be prepared to rip out your hair in frustration.

- Cut out squares from your material, as many as you want, and as big as you want. I was making a small patchwork pouch, so I used 6, 3x3 inch squares. I used the pinking blade for my rotary cutter for this.

Next, you're going to lay down your piece of interfacing with the textured side UP. This is the side that will adhere to the fabric when ironed. The dimensions of the interfacing will vary depending on how large your squares are, but just make sure you are using a piece that is a bit larger than you need, just in case. Lay your squares on the interfacing with the right side UP in the order you want them in. Make sure to leave a little bit of space in between each square, and line up the squares as evenly as possible.

Now, time for the most dangerous thing ever the best part- ironing! Be especially careful ironing if you are using smaller squares- I burn myself all of the time, and have tons of scars on my fingers and arms. So you want use a lower heat setting with NO STEAM to press those squares down into the interfacing until they have adhered nicely. For the record, I used the cotton setting and it worked quite well. Make sure that you aren't rubbing the iron back and forth- just place it on the square and hold it there for a few seconds, and repeat on all of the squares until they are stuck there and not coming off any time soon! Now that your squares are in place, trim the extra interfacing with your pinking shears.

Now comes the sewing! Fold your squares lengthwise, so the right sides are together. It will look like this:

Then you are going to sew the FOLD, using a 1/4 inch seam allowance (1/4 inch is typically to the edge of your presser foot).

Now you are going to trim the side of the fold you just sewed shut. Make sure to stick right to the edge and don't get too close to those pretty stitches you just made.

Now lay out your square with the right side facing down, open the fold you just trimmed, and press it flat.

Now, you are going to sew all of the other seams! With the right side facing up, fold over one of the rows of squares so the right sides are together. Just as you did for the other fold, sew it closed using a 1/4 inch seam allowance, trim the fold, and press it open. Repeat for the last row of squares.

So now that you've sewed everything and pressed all of your pretty little seams, the back of your square should look like this:

And the front should look like this:

See how perfectly all of the rows line up?? Yay! It might seem like a lot of work, but trust me- it's must easier than running back and forth from your ironing board to your sewing machine about a million times and constantly fretting about whether or not your seams will match up.

So, enjoy your saturday, and I hope you get to have some crafty times as well today!

Lily the kitty is glad you stopped by, and hopes that you will share some yarn with her when you return!