Wednesday, July 28, 2010

10 Fun Facts About Wine

1. The color of the wine comes from the skin of the grapes. Even red grapes have white juice, and will only become red wine if it comes in contact with the skins. A Rose, or Blush, will have only brief contact with the skins.

2. According to Wikipedia, wine’s origins seem to be able to be traced to the borders of Georgia and Iran, from around 6000 BC.

3. France, Italy, and Spain have the highest wine production in the world.

4. A 2007 study found that both red and white wines are effective anti-bacterial agents against strains of Streptococcus, commonly known as Strep.

5. The most effective packaging method to preserve the wine is in a vacuum-sealed bag, often put in a box to dispense. Commonly associated with low quality wines, however, this method is not likely to be adopted by serious wineries.

6. A Garagiste is an amateur wine-maker.

7. The science of wine is called oenology.

8. A “cork-tease” is someone who talks about the wines he or she will open, but never does.

9. The Code of Hammurabi (1800 B.C.) includes a law that punishes fraudulent wine sellers: They were to be drowned in a river.

10. One ton of grapes makes about 60 cases of wine, or 720 bottles. One bottle of wine contains about 2.8 pounds of grapes.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Yarn Wreath

I have been seeing yarn wreaths everywhere lately, it seems. Between Etsy, crafty blogs, and the real world, yarn wreaths seem to be a great craft that's really catching on! I look at them and think, how cute! But especially the ones on Etsy seem to be $50 and up - yikes! So this past weekend, I decided to venture out to Michael's and get some supplies to make my own version.

I started with a green floral wreath. I thought I was going to go styrofoam, but this is much sturdier.

I then decided I would do an alternating stripe pattern around the wreath with light blue and charcoal yarn. But before beginning to wrap, I measured and marked how wide I wanted the stripes so that they would look uniform.

Then it was time to wrap! I started by hot gluing the end of the yarn to the back of the wreath, and began wrapping around until I reached the next measured marker. I glued the end to the back again, and snipped it off. I continued on then with the next color.

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I made sure to pull the yarn nice and tight, and was constantly pushing it tighter together so that no green from the wreath had a chance to show through.

Once I had two colors down, I knew I wanted another design on top for a little pop of color. So I got out a royal blue yarn, and made a criss-cross pattern where the two stripes met.

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I continued this pattern all the way around until the wreath was completely covered in yarn.

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Once I was done with wrapping the wreath, I wanted some sort of decoration to give it some dimension. So I decided to make a couple felt dahlias! Using the same method I used in my post on the felt dahlia tutorial, I made a light blue felt dahlia. Then I made another charcoal dahlia, but skipped the outside layer of petals and only did the smaller two layers so I had a smaller dahlia.

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I hot glued the flowers on at the bottom of the wreath, slightly off center.

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Then to hang the wreath, I made a little yarn braid with two pieces of royal blue yarn, and one piece of light blue yarn.

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Now my door looks so much happier and more inviting!


Monday, July 19, 2010

Crab Pomodoro

I love crab.

For me, crab is up there with oxygen. I can't live without it.

So when I went to a restaurant years and years ago, and they had Crab Pomodoro on their menu, I couldn't resist. I should have known when I ordered that dish that it would end up being one of my favorite dishes ever! But the best part about the dish is that there is really nothing complicated about it - it's really a simple pomodoro sauce with a bunch of luscious crabmeat in it. So why not do it yourself for 1/4 the price!

Crab Pomodoro

First and foremost, you're going to need crab. I generally use king crab legs because they have a lot of meat in them, and I try to get more claws, less knuckles. Take your crab and put them in a pot of warming water with the juice of 1 lemon and a hefty pinch (or two) of sugar.

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Bring to a boil for about 5-7 minutes.

Once your crab is done, remove from the water and put aside to cool.

Next, grab a large shallot and either 4 normal-sized cloves of garlic, or 2 mutant-gigantic cloves of garlic as I have here.

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Chop them all finely, and set aside.

Now time to prep the tomatoes. I'd like to take a minute to stray for a very important lesson: when making your own italian tomato sauce, you must use whole canned tomatoes. Not stewed, not diced, not crushed, but whole canned tomatoes. They have infinitely more flavor than any other canned tomato, and will create a wonderful sauce. Also they have been peeled, so you won't get that chewy skin-roll that often accompanies other types of canned tomatoes.

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Ok, rant over. But do it!

Anyway, the best way to prepare whole tomatoes is to open the can, grab one tomato, and with your hand still over the can, gently push your thumb through the flesh of the tomato. The reason to do this is that a whole canned tomato is plump full of liquid. If you take it out and start chopping it, the juice will run all over the place and after two tomatoes you'll have a never-ending tomato juice mess. So let the tomato drain in the can before moving it to your cutting board.

Then, one by one, roughly chop the tomato.

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See that? My tomato juice has not runneth over. Case in point.

Some people prefer to crush the tomatoes by hand, but I find that ends up with extremely uneven pieces of tomato in my sauce, so I prefer to roughly chop. But do as you wish!

Now it's time to assemble the sauce.

Put some olive oil in a pan, and heat until the oil sizzles upon contact with water. Add your shallots and garlic.

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Stir frequently on medium heat to get the deliciousness to soften and sweat, about 3 minutes.

Add about 1/2 cup of dry white wine. Bring to a simmer, about 4 minutes to boil the alcohol away.

Now all the tomato juice should still be left over in the can - pour about 1 cup of it into the pan with the shallots and garlic. Bring to a simmer.

Add your tomatoes, as well as some spices such as basil, parsley, etc. Just make sure not to over-season, as this is a dish where the tomato and crab should be the star, not the spices! The acidity of the tomato will go wonderfully with the crab, so you don't want to cover it up with too many herbs. Oh - but don't forget two essentials though - salt and pepper too!

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Let the sauce simmer over medium heat, while you turn your attention to the crab and the pasta.

Put your choice of pasta - I prefer linguine for this recipe - in boiling water.

Now on to the crab! Using your kitchen shears, cut the shell of the crab so you can easily pull out the meat. Make sure you get every ounce!

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After letting your sauce simmer for about 10 minutes, you can add the crab.

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At this point, your noodles should be about done, so drain them and add them right into the pan with the sauce. Carefully toss it all together. Make sure not to stir as you don't want the crabmeat shredding too much! I recommend using tongs to lightly toss together.

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And you're done! Plate in a pasta bowl (wide shallow bowl), and finish with a pinch of fresh parsley. Serve with a hearty chardonnay. Yum!

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Friday, July 16, 2010

Pop of color in my drawers!

I’ve got to admit, I’m in love with situations where you can throw in a pop of color. For example, I love wearing a white blouse, black skirt, and bright red heels. It just makes you feel wonderful, for some reason. This applies to more than just clothes though – I also love when it’s incorporated into a home. Whether it’s the bright, patterned pillows on a beige couch, or a funky lamp against cream walls, I think a pop of excitement can bring a lot! My next project perfectly embodies this obsession!

I’ve always admired posts I’ve seen where people line the drawers of their dressers with a fun paper; it makes you smile when you open the drawers to see this pop of print and color! This is one project I’ve been meaning to do for a long time, once I found the right paper and the right time.

Instead of a dresser, I decided to line the drawers of our nightstands. This is what our nightstands look like:

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They’re very pretty black carved nightstands, and I really love them. But you open the drawers, and it’s just so plain!

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So, time to Mod Podge some paper on them to give them a pop!

In a normal situation, I would’ve removed the drawers from the nightstand, and taken them to an open area to give myself room to craft. However, with these nightstands, the drawers wouldn’t come out. The problem is what you see below: a power strip in the drawer. While it’s incredibly handy, those cords are attached to the back of the nightstand, so without some serious surgery, these drawers weren’t going to budge.

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I started prepping the drawers by wiping them down with a damp washcloth. We don’t want to Mod Podge on an unclean surface!

Then I grabbed my paper. I found this paper at a little paper store just down the street from my place, and I instantly knew this was the paper for my drawers! The bright turquoise with small wavy black lines works perfectly with the black of the nightstands.

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I started by cutting my paper to be the length and width of my drawers. Luckily this paper was big enough to fit the entire area as one piece, instead of smaller papers where you have to piece them together and you get a seam.

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I then grabbed my matte Mod Podge, a foam brush, and a roller.

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I brushed the Mod Podge down directly onto the entire surface of the drawer, trying to work quickly so it didn't start to dry.

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Then I very carefully put the paper down, starting on one edge and slowly rolling the rest of it down. It was relatively difficult because of the large size of the paper, but the roller definitely helped! Once I had done that, I moved onto all the other drawers (2 nightstands x 2 drawers each = 4 total). I let them dry extra long (2 hours?) because it was very humid that day, and then put the top coat on. Although I did have some bubbling - you always do! - I fixed that by filling the drawers with books when the paper was dry to the touch but still slightly moist/pliable from the glue. I let them sit overnight with the books on top, and they turned out perfectly!

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These are by far my new favorite drawers!

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Monday, July 12, 2010

Homemade Pizza

One of my favorite things to make is homemade pizza from scratch. When we were first married, we had the bbq chicken on the boboli crust mastered. But it was pretty simple - store bought crust (Boboli), Sweet Baby Ray's bbq sauce, cheese, shredded chicken, red onions, and cilantro. Pretty tasty, but after a couple times making that we were ready to take it to the next level.

The next level included buying some uncooked pizza dough at Whole Foods, attempting to make our own sauce, using fresh mozzarella, and unique toppings like pancetta. From these early trials, we learned a few things. First of all, while fresh mozzarella is great, it has a ton of moisture. Either you need to press some of the moisture out, or use the shredded low moisture stuff. Also, we learned that when you make a homemade sauce, it too has a lot of moisture, especially if you use any sort of canned tomato. So lots of moisture from the sauce + lots of moisture from the mozzarella = runny, unevenly cooked, soggy pizza.

But now we've learned better. I now make the sauce ahead of time and let it sit in a mesh strainer for about an hour before use. This allows all the tomato water to seep out, leaving only the wonderful saucy flavor. We also use a ton of basil. And finally, we make our own dough. The beauty of making your own dough is that you can cater it to your tastes - some people like saltier doughs, some like sweeter doughs, some like thin crust, some like thick. Pizza dough is pretty basic, so there's lots of room to get creative!

Here's what we like to do:

Pizza Dough
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 tablespoon white sugar
1 cup warm water (110 degrees F)

Put yeast, warm water, and sugar in a mixing bowl. Let sit until frothy, about 10 minutes. Then add the oil, salt, and slowly mix in the flour until dough is elastic and smooth, not sticky. Place in an oiled bowl, cover with a towel, and let sit for 1-2 hours in a warm dry place. Then punch the dough, knead for another 5 minutes, and roll out to desired shape/thickness. Let sit for 15 minutes, top with desired toppings, and bake until dough begins to brown.

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The great thing about making your own dough is how much fun you can have! Not only can you play with the toppings (pepperoni, onions, and basil shown above), but you can also play with the dough itself! We like to sometimes mix herbs directly into the dough before baking to give the nice italian seasoning flavor all throughout. You can also spread just a little bit of the sauce on top, and make pizza bread with dipping sauce. And if you have a family, make-your-own-pizza night is always a hit! Split the dough into little balls and let everyone have a shot at making their own!

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Thursday, July 8, 2010

Felt Dahlia

I came across one of the most amazing felt flowers I have ever seen about 3 weeks ago, and I've been saving it for an evening when I had a little free time to spare because it looked like it might take a while. But looking at the picture, doesn't this look worth it??

The best part about this felt dahlia is that it comes with an awesome tutorial, which you can find here. I encourage you to actually go to that site for the full tutorial, but I'll still share my attempt!

Last night, I grabbed my felt and some scissors.

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Then, per the instructions on the tutorial, I cut out my strips: three 1.5" strips, two 1.25 inch strips and one 1 inch strip. I then laid them out nicely to take a picture, and by the time I put my camera up to my eye, someone decided to lay right on them!

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So if you want a pretty picture, you'll have to go to the original tutorial.

I then began to cut out the squares, and subsequently the petals.

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And you know what? 30+ squares then 30+ petals take a really long time to cut out. By the time I reached this point in the flower, it had been an hour and a half and it was 10:30pm. So instead of venturing into the assembly part of the flower, I called it a night and started again after dinner tonight.

So here's where I differed a bit from the tutorial: instead of using FabriTac, I used hot glue. Why? I didn't have FabriTac. Simple as that. So I used my hot glue gun to hot glue the base of each petal so it curled around.

The next place I strayed: the diameter of the cardboard. I originally cut out a 2" diameter circle like the tutorial suggests, but when I hot glued the 3.25" felt circle around it, it looked nothing like the picture. I then decided to do a 2.5" diameter circle instead. I'll let you be the judge, but I definitely think the larger circle looks much more like the picture in the tutorial.

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Once I had my base ready, I moved on to the petal assembly. Using a spot of hot glue on the base of each petal, I moved my way around the circle, gluing them all down as close to each other as possible. I ended up needing 2 more petals of each size than I had already cut out, so I had to make some more. I think I put my petals closer together though than she does in the tutorial. Here's the progress after the first outer ring:

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I worked my way around with all three sizes of petals, until I had filled all three layers.

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How awesome does that look already?!

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I then needed to do the center. This part also took me a long time, because I didn't have pinking shears and thus had to slowly and carefully cut a uniform wavy edge around the circle for the center as well as the strip that gets all coiled up. But in the end, it was completely worth it, because it put the finishing touches on my fantastic dahlia!

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Though I didn't end up putting the picture pocket nor the pin on the back, I will probably end up finding something to affix this to soon! I'm thinking maybe a purse? Haven't decided yet, but wherever it goes I will display it proudly! I think it turned out so great, and was totally worth the hours it took to complete!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Homemade Pretzel Bites

I'm a sucker for all things carbs, and let me tell you, soft pretzels are right at the top of my list! The dough has a familiar but strangely unique flavor that only pretzels have. They're chewy, but not too chewy, soft, airy but not overly so, and the topping/filling/sauce possibilities are endless!

So when I came across the Pretzel Bites recipe from Alice and the Mock Turtle, I couldn't wait to give them a try myself! My parents were coming into town that weekend, and knowing that they love to cook as well, I held off to make them until they got here so we could all try it together.


2 1/2 tsp active yeast
2 Tbsp plus 1 tsp brown sugar, divided
1/4 c warm water
1 c warm milk
3 c flour

Dough bath
6 c water
4 tsp baking soda
4 tbsp butter, melted

Start by combining the yeast, 1 teaspoon brown sugar, and warm water in your mixing bowl. Set aside until foamy, about 10 minutes.

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Next, warm some milk and stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons brown sugar until it has fully dissolved.

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Add the first 2 cups flour and the milk mixture to the yeast mixture. Mix until blended well. Then, add the last cup of flour and mix dough in mixer with dough hook until soft dough forms. Place the dough ball in a well, oiled large bowl, roll it around to coat the dough, and cover with a towel and place in a warm, dry area to rise.

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Impatiently wait for 2 hours, until the dough has doubled in size and bubbles appear on the surface.

While you're waiting for the dough to rise, you can get your filling ingredients ready. Although Alice uses cheese and Canadian bacon, that's just what she did - what you do it completely up to you! We happened to have a Boar's Head pepperoni stick in the fridge, so we decided to use that. It's pretty small in diameter, but these pretzel bites are pretty small too, so I cut them in quarters.

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Once the dough is ready, punch it, knead it a little bit more, then divide it in four pieces. We'll be working in batches at this point, which actually makes the experimenting even more fun!

Roll out one of the quarters of dough out into a square. Then divide that into 8 smaller squares. I used a pizza cutter for this, it made it super simple. Then place your filling on the dough squares.

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Then wrap the edges of the dough up and press them together so you get a little ball. Turn them edge-side-down on a greased cookie sheet as you work through the dough.

Here's where the creativity allowed by working in batches gets fun! I rolled my next quarter out, and...

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Crunchy Peanut Butter!! This suggestion came from my dad, who absolutely loves crunchy peanut butter. (Gee, I wonder where I get that from!) Side note: this would be such a fun recipe to do with kids because really they can choose from a million different options!

We finished out the third quarter with 4 peanut butters, 4 pepperoni's, and laid them all on the cookie sheet.

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For the last quarter of dough, we decided to do old fashioned pretzel knots.

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Anyone else think that looks unusually like Australia? No? Just me? Moving on...

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Once all your pretzels are ready, begin to preheat your oven to 400F. Then start a large pot of boiling water on the stove (6 cups), and add 4 tsp baking soda.

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When your water is at a rolling boil, work in batches to put the pretzels in.

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Allow the pretzels to cook for about 20 seconds each, making sure to turn once while cooking.

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Put them back on the cookie sheet when they are done, and work your way through the whole batch.

Before sticking them all in the oven, we decided to sprinkle a little garlic salt on the plain pretzel knots for a little flavor.

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Then put in oven and impatiently wait some more.

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After 10-15 minutes, they should have turned a wonderful golden brown.

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Then brush them all with melted butter, and serve!

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Here's what the pepperoni bites looked like when we bit into them:

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...and the PB bites.

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And the verdict? We all agreed that of the two filled pretzel bites, the peanut butter was better. It actually became this really nice firm, almost chewy center filling, which complimented the dough well. The pepperoni was good, but I think because it was so dry, it didn't add much other than a saltiness. Maybe had we added cheese it would've been better.

But overall, we actually agreed the plain pretzel knots were the best! They just tasted like a true pretzel, and we couldn't get enough of them!

Either way, this is a fun recipe to do with a group since you can do so many different things with them!