Friday, October 30, 2009

Impromptu pasta

This hearty pasta is perfect for all seasons, and is a snap to throw together. We call it Florence Pasta because we cooked several variations of it in Florence a few years ago on a trip -- we'd hit the San Lorenzo market and pick up everything we needed, from vegetables to fresh cheeses and sausage, then head to our rented apartment and toss it together. There's really no recipe for this pasta -- it's really just a list of food groups. Pasta, protein, vegetables, cheese. Try it with whatever you have on hand, and I promise it will be delicious.

Some ideas:
  • Penne pasta, chicken, sun-dried tomatoes (if your garden fails you like I do and you have no fresh ones, and certainly not enough to make your own sun-dried tomatoes), mozzarella, spinach, Parmesan (pictured)
  • Bowties, Italian sausage, eggplant, red bell pepper, lemon juice and olive oil, asiago cheese
  • Orrechiette, prosciutto or pancetta (or plain ol' bacon), kale, pecorino

Monday, October 26, 2009

Goodbye, garden

After an entire summer of birds and too much sun and more birds and squash grub and ants, and an autumn of rain, I finally, finally got a tomato. ONE TOMATO. It's a cherry variety, at that, so it's just one little mouthful of summery tomato. The weekend was sunny and warm, so I had high hopes for the fat green tomato hanging on one of my vines, but today is cold and rainy and I think my garden dreams are over.

I had big dreams this year (like every year) of homemade salsa and pickled okra and home-canned vegetables, and ended up with a few baby squash and delicious fried squash blossoms in early spring, and my one tomato this weekend. Last year, I managed to have tomatoes all summer and into November, but vicious hungry birds dashed all those hopes this year. I will admit I'm a very laidback (ahem ... lazy) gardener -- I did no soil amendment beyond scratching some compost into the soil when I planted, I often forget to water and I don't do pest treatments or fertilizing like I should (and when I do, I use neem py for pesticide and Garrett juice for fertilizer) -- so I'm sure I'm getting what I deserve. But maybe next year will be different. I can always dream.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Already? Really?

Cross-stitch potholder for an aunt's Christmas gift one year

October's almost over (I know!), and I'm just starting to think about the holidays. Most crafty types and organized people usually have Christmas shopping taken care of by Halloween. As much as I'd like to be finished, I'm just starting, and today I was thinking about gift giving and crafting and where the handmade/homemade fit in. There's always that one recipient who thinks a handmade gift is automatically worth less than something storebought.

5/7 of the overdue wedding gift

Time is also a factor -- how in the world is it possible to make something for everyone on your list and get finished anywhere near on time? I have a wedding gift that's 18 months overdue, and still not totally finished -- somehow doing something handmade and thoughtful doesn't really make up for ridiculously late gift giving (although a surprise gift in March is rarely unwelcome). Also, there's no real way to do something handmade for everyone on the list, unless you're Martha Stewart. Which I'm not.

Crocheted clutch for a friend's Christmas gift last year

So what to do? I'm planning a few things handmade by me, and a few things handmade by other folks, and definitely a few storebought items (thoughtfully selected, of course). I love the idea of donations to charity in lieu of big gifts, and we do that with some family, but it's still nice to have something small and thoughtful to go with it. And how to find the time to get things finished ...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Anonymous needlework

I organized a crafty stash swap at the library a couple weeks ago, and amongst all the really crappy stuff (hello, no one wants your weird fake, frayed grass that sheds bits and pieces everywhere) and pretty nifty stuff (I scored some extra sewing machine bobbins and embroidery hoops, and there was loads of fabric and yarn), there were these two needlework pieces. I don't know who did them but I snapped a couple of pictures to share. I like the colors and the fill work. A really darling little girl, about 8 or 9 years old, ended up taking them home.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Apple sweater

Holy moly, I'm not doing well keeping up here, am I? The problem is I'm in the middle of a big craft project, but one that's not very interesting to follow, and some personal things are keeping me busy. This little apple sweater was great because it was a quick project, and it also (I hope!) made someone smile. Happy birthday, Rose!

The pattern is ravelled here and I just changed the edge of the opening -- I thought a nice little picot would be a bit more interesting than a plain single crochet. I've been disappointed with this Peaches 'n' Cream Fiesta yarn before, but it striped well for this project.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Crepes and French Onion Soup

Anyone can turn their kitchen into a quiet bistro with this simple and satisfying meal. Great for the cool days of autumn, when fresh greens are easy to come by, and surprisingly easy to make, spinach and cheese crepes and French onion soup are a perfect pair to add a little rustic charm to your day. The other day, I started the soup in the morning before work, and within 45 minutes of getting home from the library, Chris and I sat at our tiny kitchen table to share this delicious dinner. Would you like a taste?

The Easiest French Onion Soup
from Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook 

Cooker: medium round or oval
setting and cook time: HIGH for 9-10 hours
(this makes a lot of soup -- I'm going to freeze the leftovers, but I'm unsure how that'll work out. Anyone had experience freezing onions before? Do they get all mushy?)

6 large yellow onions
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for brushing
1 14-oz can chicken broth
1 10.5-oz can beef broth
2 tablespoons Marsala or red wine (optional)
4-6 1-inch-thick slices French bread
8 oz Gruyere cheese, cut into thin slices

Peel and thinly slice the onions by hand or in a food processor. Put in the slow cooker and toss with the olive oil. Cover and cook for 9-10 hours on high.

Add both the broths and Marsala; add no water or salt. Cover and continue to cook on high until hot, 15-30 minutes.*

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 F. Put the bread slices on a baking sheet and brush with olive oil. Bake until golden brown around the edges, about 10 minutes. Set aside.

Ladle the soup into individual ovenproof soup bowls and place on a baking sheet to prevent the bowls from tipping over. Top each bowl full of soup with a toasted bread slice and cover with a slice of the Gruyere. Adjust the oven rack to comfortably fit the bowls under the broiler with at least 4 inches to spare. Turn on the broiler and slide the soups under the flame; broil until the cheese is melted and bubbly, 1-2 minutes. Serve immediately.

*Before you add the broth to the soup, mix the crepe batter. Add the broth and let the soup heat up while the crepe batter rests.

adapted from The Silver Spoon 

makes 4-6 large (9-inch) crepes

2 eggs, lightly beaten
scant 1 cup all-purpose flour (white whole wheat works great)
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon butter, melted, plus extra for greasing

handful of torn spinach leaves
a couple slices Swiss cheese
optional: a few slices prosciutto

Whisk together the eggs, flour, milk and a pinch of salt to make a smooth batter. Let rest for 30 minutes.

About 3 minutes before you're ready to cook the crepes, put the spinach or other greens in a microwave-safe bowl with the cheese and cook it just until the greens are wilted and the cheese is melted -- about 1 1/2 minutes. Set the filling aside. 

Brush a crepe pan or a heavy skillet with a little of the melted butter and heat the pan. Pour in enough batter to cover the pan with a very thin coat of batter.

Watch the batter -- it'll start changing color from the outside toward the center, and small bubbles will form in the edges. If bubbles form before the color changes, you might need to lower the heat a little bit. When the crepe has almost changed color, but the center is still unchanged, and there are bubbles in the edges, gently work a spatula under the crepe to loosen it completely from the skillet, then flip it quickly. It only takes 30-90 seconds to cook each side.

Place a small amount of filling in the center of the crepe, then fold it in half, and in half again. If you're using proscuitto and cheese instead of spinach and cheese, you can roll the crepes like cannelloni.

Cover to keep warm until serving.
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