Springtime Stew

I know what you’re thinking: spring and stew aren’t normally things that go together. While I’d usually agree, for those of us in the Midwest, we are still waiting for spring. The first week of April gave us about another 12″ of snow followed by actual spring weather that melted the majority of the snow, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have some more snow. I recalled having to delay my birthday last year because we’d gotten 10″ of heavy wet snow and sighed. To cheer myself up, I pulled a newfound favorite recipe out of my large collection: chorizo and white bean stew. It’s perfect for this transitional time: the spicy broth and spinach help lighten and brighten it up, but it is still quite filling.

While it looks pretty fancy and complicated, the ingredients can be found easily and requires very little equipment: a knife, a cutting board and a skillet. Best of all, the dish is quick and made in one pot. I’m not too familiar with chorizo, but knew it had a bit of heat. The first time I made the stew, I wasn’t sure if I could find it at the store. I debated using Italian sausage like the recipe suggested, but I feared the very different flavor profiles might spoil the taste. I ended up finding chorizo prepackaged by the sausages/brats as well as fresh links in the meat/deli counter and went for it.

Best. Decision. Ever.

Since everything is cooked in the same skillet, the broth picked up a nice spicy bite from the chorizo (something I wouldn’t have achieved  if I had subbed the Italian sausage) with some yummy caramelized hints of onion and garlic. I am usually not a fan of broths, but I would have been happy to just have a bowl of it. I love to make it when the Vidalia onions are in season. I am not an onion fan, but Vidalias manage to change my mind. The spinach was lightly wilted, not slimy, making it a good way to convince skeptical friends and family spinach isn’t such a bad vegetable.

Even with all the prep work (and I’m kinda slow at prepping), it really did take about 45 minutes to get it on the table. I used a mandolin to slice my onions thinly; they were much easier to eat and they browned quicker and more evenly. The chorizo I bought was larger than the ones used in the magazine, making getting one “perfect” spoonful with all the ingredients difficult, so next time I will chop the chorizo smaller as well as rip the spinach up (our store’s version of “baby spinach” is not too accurate). If people will be eating the stew at different times, I would suggest letting people add spinach to their own bowls instead of adding it all to the skillet.

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Chorizo & White Bean Stew

From Bon Appetit, February 2013 issue
Serves 4; Prep: 45 mins

Click here for a printable version

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 pound fresh Mexican chorizo or Italian sausage links
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 2 15-ounce cans cannellini (white kidney) beans, rinsed
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
  • 5 ounces baby spinach (about 10 cups)
  • Smoked paprika (optional) 
  • Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add sausage and cook, turning occasionally, until browned and cooked through, 15-20 minutes. Transfer sausage to a plate.

  • Reduce heat to medium. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in same skillet. Add onion, garlic, and thyme sprig. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, 5-8 minutes. Add beans and broth and cook, crushing a few beans with the back of a spoon to thicken sauce, until slightly thickened, 8-10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add spinach by handfuls and cook just until wilted, about 2 minutes. 

  • Slice chorizo and fold into stew; add water to thin, if desired. Divide stew among bowls; drizzle with oil and sprinkle with paprika, if desired.
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Happy Birthday Nova!

Winter here in Minnesota seems to last forever and this year is no exception. After being cooped up inside for weeks, you’re fairly certain time slows down and it’s very easy to lose track of time. Thankfully my phone has my back and reminded me Nova’s birthday was Friday so I had time to get things organized.

Her first birthday was pretty simple so I’d hoped to do a bit more this year, but moving back home made it a bit challenging. I also wanted to make it as fun as possible because she had a serious case of cabin fever. Nova managed to cut the underside of her paw, restricting her movements as well as having to keep her paw dry every time we were outside. On the plus side, winter here has been too insanely bitter to make outdoor playing virtually impossible. She’s been cooped up for about four weeks (or to those of us who have active dogs, it really feels like 40) and I wasn’t sure how to let her be active inside while not scaring the other two dogs in the house who are less than pleased with her happy and sometimes overly friendly attitude.

To my delight, winter cut me a break, and gave Nova the best birthday gift evvvvvvver: not only was it reasonable enough to let her go outdoors and play, we got about five inches of fresh snow. I’m quite aware just how much she loves snow, but until I watched her today barrel through snow drifts taller than her, I began to suspect she might be a Corgi version of Naga, the polar bear dog from The Legend of Korra….

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Nova also got a box of goodies from my ex boyfriend. Like most dogs, the box itself was the “fun” part of the gift, at least until she discovered the jolly ball and treats inside.

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All the pups get a special dinner for their birthday and Nova’s was probably the easiest I’ve ever done: a mix of Fromm salmon wet food, slightly crushed Fromm dry food and about a teaspoon or two of prepared Honest Kitchen ice pups mix as a binder (I froze the rest into ice cube trays for summer). I topped it off with some leftover cooked pasta and cut a bit of carrot to make her candles and the sprinkles around the plate. Everyone gets a bit of real cake as well, regardless if it’s a person or puppy birthday. I tried to get the super cute planned picture of her eating cake, but my camera isn’t fast enough for her Corgi appetite, but the photos I did get were more “her.”

Knit One, Two, Thr-…Rip Rip Rip

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve always wanted to knit. Since I was little, fashion and crafting has always intrigued me. I already know how to sew and kinda quilt (I definitely need to improve my skills), so knitting seemed like the perfect next step. I debated learning to crochet instead or first so I spent a lot of time looking up projects, but my obsession with sweaters made me realize knitting would produce what I wanted. I’ve tried to teach myself several times over the years, but I feared being a lefty I wouldn’t understand it (the pictures didn’t help me at all) so I decided to do it the “right way” and take an intro class at Michaels. I even convinced my mom and aunt to take it as well–I figured with three of us learning, we’d be able to help each other or more likely, share our frustrations.

The required materials list was pretty small: a skein of yarn and size 8 or 9 knitting needles, but with three of us it didn’t stay small for long. The worst (and best) part was picking out yarn. I already hoard fabric so why not yarn? I did really try to just stick to one skein, buuuuut we all decided to buy “better yarn” for our first real project and before I knew it, I had enough of my own yarn to fill a few grocery bags, most of which was to make future projects I was nowhere near able to make yet (ie: sweaters and socks).

The class size was small, but due to some very dangerous wind chills and snow, our instructor combined the Saturday beginner knitting and crochet classes. We lucked out: our total class size was six, three knitters and four crocheters, but things got off to a bumpy start.

Everyone ended up rolling their skeins into balls, a process that took a good 10 minutes to do and left your arms feeling too tired to learn how to knit. I was also thankful my mom, aunt and I had watched a few YouTube videos the week before class to learn how to cast on and make the basic stitch or we wouldn’t have made any progress at all. Unfortunately, while we were there, none of us made it far enough to make many of the most common mistakes so we didn’t get a real opportunity to learn how to fix them. She didn’t have enough time to teach us how to purl and had I not asked, no one in the class would have learned how to bind off and weave the tails in. While she was very nice and answered most of my questions, and I realize it was only one session, but I was disappointed I’d learned more about the basics of knitting on my own than in the class.

I chose to do a scarf for my first project, but I decided to make it for Nova. It would be big enough to help me practice, but not so large it would take me forever and if I made many mistakes I’d be less frustrated starting over a few times. And by “a few times,” I mean a minimum of five and it was equally if not more frustrating each time. Nova really enjoyed watching me knit, often climbing on to my lap to have a better look-because learning how to knit wasn’t hard enough without her face in the way.

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Nova’s infinity scarf turned out pretty well. I was amazed I didn’t make as many mistakes as I thought (I cleverly hid the major flaws in the twisted bit) and it was still in one piece after she wore it for a few hours.

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Thrilled with my success, we ended back at Joann to only buy some more needles and various notions. That plan lasted about two minutes, if that. I found some awesome Red Heart reflective yarn and knew I had to have some so I could make myself a hat and scarf to wear while walking/jogging with Nova during those days we were out when it was dark. It dawned on me about a week later I should have bought enough to make something for Nova so back we went and I was lucky enough to grab the last two skeins and they actually matched my dye lot! The yarn was harder to use–I was catching the thin silver reflective strip in the middle of the yarn, shredding the yarn and untwisting the reflective strip. I decided to put the project on hold and go back to learning the basics. My next goals: figure out how to keep my tension consistent, figure out what the heck gauge is/how it works and learn to purl.

2013: A Year in Review

First off, let me say to those of you still following my blog or the ones who visited, thank you for sticking with me! Life got pretty crazy and blogging took a backseat. I was writing posts now and again, but it wasn’t until I went to my site on my laptop that I noticed they never published–oops!! I plan to get back at it, maybe by doing my own version of the “post a week” challenge I’ve done in the past. Anyway, a lot has happened, both good and bad, since my last post.

The biggest challenge was breaking up with my boyfriend of almost five years. Not only did I lose someone I deeply loved and wanted to spend my life with, I also had to say goodbye to many wonderful friends and the house we shared together. Sure, there were tons of things I wanted to change/add-artwork, a small garden, updated landscaping, but as I was packing up my belongings, I realized how trivial those things were. It was the memories attached to these things, both ones I’d had and many I was looking forward to. It was so surreal to see the last four years of my life packed in boxes, totes and wrapped up and neatly packed into a storage pod.

Moving back to Minnesota and living with my family was a major adjustment as well. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to be closer to them, but we’ve all adapted differently and combining our lifestyles/choices is not always easy. The trickiest part–after having to unpack everything and find places to store what I don’t need now, of course–getting three dogs to get along but still have their own space. We had two dogs before I moved to Omaha, a Papillon (Pippin) and a Havanese (Indie) who are now in their late adult/senior stage of life. They’re pretty stuck in their ways, so me bringing a huge (at least in their minds), overly curious, super friendly and super bouncy young Corgi (Nova) really upset the balance. Even though I’ve brought her home with me when I visit during the holidays, she was an intruder. We’ve done our best to help them become friends, or at the very least tolerate each other, but even after 10 months it is still pretty iffy and at times I wonder if there’s been any progress at all. Thankfully, the neighbors have a dog and he loves to hang out with Nova.

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My other life changing event was the passing of my grandma. We all know our loved ones will die one day, but it never has comforts you when it happens. My mom and I lived with my grandparents for about 13 years and I always considered both of them extra parents, making her death deal a double blow. When I lived in Omaha, I worried I wouldn’t be able to make it home in time to say goodbye, but I realized despite the stress and negative view about moving back here was actually a blessing in disguise.

So far 2014 has been pretty good. I’m still working out and losing weight (although I’ll be honest, since Christmas, the various sweets more present in the house and our horrible cold weather, I’ve gained a few pounds, but not as much as I could have). I’ve been hanging out with one of my closest friends–she’s a great movie/crafting buddy. My most exciting event so far? After years of saying “one day,” I finally decided to learn to knit, although if you saw how many supplies I have, you’d think I’d been knitting for years.

I’m not a resolution maker, but I’ve decided to make a “happy box:” each day, I’ll write down at least one positive thing/moment, then read them all on New Year’s Eve. Whatever 2014 decides to throw at me, I’m ready for the challenge and to make it my best year yet!

Review: Pawtriotic Dog Treats

Last year, I noticed Wet Noses dog treats promoting a new treat company, Pawtriotics. If Facebook members liked the Pawtriotics page, the first 1,000 would receive a free box of treats.

Despite the page surpassing 1,000 “likes” I was starting to worry her treats were never going to show up, or I wasn’t one of the first 1,000, but they arrived last month! Nova was very excited and interested in the treats, but I knew she would be ecstatic when I saw she had gotten peanut butter treats.

Like Wet Noses, they are made in the U.S. using quality ingredients (so glad to have another treat I can feed her without worrying) and are corn, soy and wheat free. Baking in small batches ensure consistently yummy treats. Plus, some of the proceeds go to helping animals in need and the company encourages owners to send in photos and original artwork of dogs that could be featured on the boxes.

The treats come in four flavors: apple pie, pumpkin pie, peanut butter and cranberry. I wasn’t sure which flavor Nova would get, but I knew she would gladly eat any of them.

more cookies!

What a face…Certainly shows off her intense “strong eye” common in herding breeds

I know what you’re thinking, that is a crazy huge photo, but I wanted Nova’s “I only got a few, I’m starving and I should have more” face very easy to see, making it clear they were a hit (and yes, I gave her another one. How could you deny such a sweet face??). I shared them with my other two dogs during my last trip to Minnesota and even their super picky tastebuds enjoyed them.

I highly recommend buying a box (or four!) for your dog. Pawtriotics is slowly being sold around the country, but at the moment, it seems like L.A. is the easiest place to find them at local pet stores and many Costco locations. You can also ask your local store to consider carrying them, or you can call Pawtriotics directly at (360) 794-190. Each box is $4.99 and there is a flat $5.00 shipping  anywhere in the continental U.S..

Happy Spring!!

Yesterday was the first day of spring, although it sure didn’t feel like it in Nebraska. It was pretty chilly, but not as bad as Minnesota, where my friends and family were dealing with tons of snow and very chilly temperatures.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy spring anyway! To me, spring means bright colors and bright flavors and glazed citrus doodles seemed like the perfect recipe to try!

The cookies were quick to make and smelled amazing when they came out of the oven. I’m not normally a fan of lemon flavor in desserts, and I actually debated just doing all orange, but I’m glad I didn’t. The lemon didn’t overwhelm the cookie or the glaze, it just added a nice zippy brightness.

The glaze proved to be more time consuming than making the actual cookies. I decided to place the cookies on metal cooling racks and then glaze them so the extra glaze would drip away–an excellent idea since the glaze is very sweet and each cookie doesn’t need much on top. I also used an offset spatula to help drizzle the glaze more uniformly on each cookie.

When the recipe appeared in the magazine, I noticed a few tweets and complaints to the editors that their cookies didn’t come out correctly or tasted poorly. I didn’t have any issues, but there are some things to note:

-When it says cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy for about three minutes, cream the ingredients for three minutes. It may sound like a long time, but it really does make a difference. Having softened butter and room temperature eggs will also greatly help.

-When zesting the lemons and oranges, make sure you don’t zest down to the pith, or the white part of the fruit. It’s bitter and will definitely make your citrus tones not pleasant.

Glazed Citrus Doodles (from Everyday Food)

  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons grated orange zest, plus 3 tablespoons juice (from 2 oranges)
  • 4 teaspoons lemon zest, plus 3 tablespoons juice (from 2 lemons)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees, with racks in upper and lower thirds. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter, granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon orange zest, and 2 teaspoons lemon zest on medium-high until pale and fluffy, 3 minutes, scraping down bowl as needed. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Add flour mixture; beat to combine.
  • Roll dough into 1-inch balls and place, 2 inches apart, on parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake until edges are lightly golden, 12 to 15 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Let cool on sheets on wire racks 5 minutes, then transfer cookies to racks and let cool completely.
  • Whisk together 1 tablespoon orange zest, 2 teaspoons lemon zest, citrus juices, and confectioners’ sugar until smooth. With a small spoon, spread glaze over each cookie. Let set 1 hour. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to three days.

Review: Parade’s End (Episode 5)

Tonight is the last hour of the miniseries! Usually I am sulky and weep when series are so short, but for once I’m okay, if not glad, to see Parade’s End come to a close. I know I was a bit iffy after the first episode, but if you missed an episode or missed the series  completely, it’s worth checking out later (although I’d probably watch it over a week, not a few days).

I wish episode 2 had been cut and we could have gone right into the war and events seen in episode 4, or they’d focused that hour into episode 5. It was nice to see Sylvia put some of her stubbornness to better use when she went to visit Christopher. These scenes were probably my favorites of Hall’s. I finally came to accept Sylvia as a well-rounded character, not just some crabby opposite for Christopher. Despite her uncaring and seemingly airheaded ways, she is smarter than most give her credit for (as seen in discussing Campion’s war career).

The battle scenes were fairly short, but wonderfully done. Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Christopher in the middle of such chaos, having hallucinations and being so tired and stressed were perfect, and part of me was a bit sad when Christopher’s moment was cut short.

In the end I can see why Christopher and Sylvia’s mismatched relationship worked at times (however weird it was, they did have some sort of connection and genuinely did care for each other), but I’m glad we get to see how the love triangle is resolved. We see an even more brash, irrational and cruel Sylvia than we’ve seen (oh, poor Goby House!) in the past. Her actions are exceptionally awful and they seem like kind of a jolt in the story, but Hall does a nice job of making it work, smirking and playing things off as if they were silly little things.

One of the most powerful and in my mind most important scenes of the entire series between Sylvia and Christopher is one without words-and it’s all of three seconds (although her very bold outfit certainly makes it clear what her thoughts are). The brief look they share makes it clear both parties see how much each one has changed and is an oddly quiet end to their crazy relationship.

Despite all the unhappiness that seemed to weigh down the series I am glad I stuck with it. The acting and writing were well done, and the attention to making the sets, costumes, props and cinematography will surely make Parade’s End another British drama that will be loved years from now.

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