9/17/14

recipe | olive oil potato gratin

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Here's a secret. I'm not all that patient when it comes to cooking. I burn things a lot. I like to blame it on the fact that most evenings I'm cooking while tripping over a tiny toddler who likes to pull all the pots and colanders out of the cupboards and onto the floor before opening the refrigerator door over and over while saying, "hmm, thupperrr." I also like to blame my inadequacies on my gas stove, because it never seems to get low enough. Simmering is not an option. It's low boil, or boil over. Nothing in between. But, no, the truth is that I'm just not patient enough. I don't like to stand at the stove and wait, and flip, and test, and wait some more. Ryan, my dear husband, has unmatched diligence in the kitchen, which is why he is in charge of cooking any expensive cuts of meat we happen to have. He's also the boss of making bacon at our house, and working pizza dough into the most perfect circular shape. I can throw together a mean soup without messing anything up, and lasagna is totally my jam, But you don't want me caramelizing your onions or anything.

Except I really love caramelized onions.

Which brings me to this: Olive Oil and Potato Gratin. It's an easy yet hearty side dish, with just a few simple ingredients. Not super rich or creamy or cheesy like most potato gratins, but it'll warm your toes just right. The hardest part is standing by the stove and stirring those onions into sticky, garlicky sweetness for 15 minutes while your child pulls all the cucumbers out of the fridge drawer and rolls them across the floor. And then empties your purse till he finds the tic tacs. At least, that's how it was at my house yesterday. I did not burn the onions though. Progress!

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And now, the recipe, changed ever so slightly from the America's Test Kitchen version. I served ours last night with a roasted chicken stuffed with onion and lemon, and some steamed peas (Ralphie's fave.)


Olive Oil and Potato Gratin

Ingredients:

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
2 onions, halved and sliced thin
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1 cup chicken broth
3 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick
salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 9x13 baking dish.* Combine Parmesan, 3 tablespoons olive oil, panko bread cumbs, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Set aside.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a skillet until shimmering. Add onions, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until browned (about 15 minutes.) Add garlic and 1/2 teaspoon thyme and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add 1/4 cup broth and cook until nearly evaporated, scraping up any browned bits. Remove from heat and set aside.

3. Toss potatoes, remaining 3 tablespoons oil, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon thyme together in a bowl. Arrange half of the potatoes in prepared dish, spread onion mixture in even later over potatoes, and arrange remaining potatoes over onions. Pour 3/4 cup broth over potatoes. Cover dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour.

4. Remove foil, top gratin with reserved Parmesan mixture, and continue to bake until top is golden brown and the potatoes are completely tender, about 15 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes. Serve.

*It should be noted that instead of a 9x13 baking dish, I used 4 small individual baking dishes (a fun Christmas gift from my sister, purchased here.) and an 8x8 baking dish. I reduced the baking time a smidge, but otherwise followed these directions.

9/10/14

keeping the home | late summer, early fall

I'm trying something new here on The Homebook, a little series called "Keeping the Home." At this point in my life, being a stay-at-home wife and mother is my one, wonderful, profession. And since blogging is a part time gig that I enjoy very much, I'm blending the two trades. With this series I'll pop in every now and then around the changing of each season to talk about how I'm setting the scene at our house. I'm not an expert, just a wife and a mother who enjoys keeping her family happy and her home sweet and tidy (and sometimes festive.) I'm excited to show you how I do it.two
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Setting the scene: September is a funny month-- warm days and cool nights, not quite summer anymore, but not quite entirely fall. The harvest moon has come and gone, and it's time to start bringing the outdoors in. Our vegetable garden is starting to fade, but the tomatoes are in their prime, so every day I pick them and perch them on my kitchen window sills just like my mom has always done.  Bunches of herbs are being hung up to dry. I'm filling bowls with apples and pears and setting them in easy-to-reach places. Candles are lit in the evenings. Throw blankets have been pulled out of the linen closet and tossed onto chairs, just in case.Things are getting cozy over here, but we're not even close to hunkering down quite yet.

Making this meal: Sausage and lentil stew, bread with butter, chopped tomatoes and arugula with our favorite dressing, beer for the grownups.

Listening to this: The Felicity Soundtrack, for getting us in a back-to-school mood. The perfect background music while Ralph and I play all day long. Nick Drake's Five Leaves Left, my old autumn standby. Makes me want to grab my Art History textbook and walk to the library to cram for a test. Good for playing while Ralph naps and I sip coffee, preferably on a rainy day. Chet Baker Sings. This one plays on the nights we clean up the kitchen together after putting Ralph to bed. Open windows, open wine bottle.

Working on: Meal planning. Lazy summer days have made me, well, lazy. Making sure there is something warm and good for the boys to eat every evening is what I'm striving for.

9/2/14

notes about summer

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In my head I've been calling this summer The Summer of Country Music, which sounds kind of dumb, but let me explain. Ryan and I went to a small high school full of farm kids, and country music was what almost everyone listened to. It was blasted through the speakers of boys' pick up trucks, and it played in the background at all the bonfire parties. Guys wore cowboy hats to school dances, and nothing got the crowd jumping faster than (unfortunately) the old Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy tune. That's just the way it was. When we went off to college, we stopped listening, because we were college kids who listened to better music than that.

And then in the beginning of the summer my sister mentioned that they were listening to country music again, and it's not so bad, she said. Like a true younger sister, I had to try it out too. At first Ryan and I were quick to roll our eyes, because is this guy really singing about getting drunk on a plane? But by August, we had the windows rolled down and were shouting along, buying drinks for everybody but the pilot, it's a party! There's just something about listening to songs about beer and whiskey and corn, and summer and swimmin' and fishin'. It feels like cheesy, sentimental sunshine. Come to think of it, this whole dang summer has felt like cheesy, sentimental sunshine with my little family.

There was a night back in June that I keep thinking about. We had just gotten Ralph down to sleep for the night, and there was still plenty of light for a walk in the backyard to look at the garden. After a little while it started to rain. And then it poured. And instead of running into the house, we leaned against the garage door, under 12 inches of roof shelter, and watched the rain come down for a long time. The air was warm, and everything looked so green. In the middle of January, when it's cold and grey and dark by 4:30pm, this is the night I'm going to picture in my head.

These pictures were taken the weekend before last, at the beach in Kohler. We walked far enough away from the crowds that it almost felt like we had the beach to ourselves. We let Ralph work some energy out in the waves, but after awhile he grew tired and settled into the sand to dig hole after hole. He was still enough that Ryan and I sat down and let the water splash into our laps. We kept scooting further and further in, getting sand into the bottom of our suits with every wave, and the whole thing was hilarious to us for some reason. After a few hours, we brushed the sand off, packed up, and headed back to the car. We stopped for ice cream cones and drove through some camp grounds, peering into different sites and taking notes for next summer. Ralphie fell asleep in his car seat, so we turned on some country music and drove home. It was good. Cheesy, sentimental sunshine.

8/19/14

morning

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Every morning Ralph Robert begins his day by shouting "Mamaaa" over and over until someone comes to get him. Every morning while he shouts this, he has two fists wrapped tightly around the crib rails, with his face wedged between them, and his cheeks pulled back. I don't think he realizes how funny he looks.

Lately he's been waking up around 4:30 or 5am, and the sound of his voice is precious and kind of dreadful. Ryan always brings him into our bed with hopes that he'll fall back asleep. Sometimes he does, most days he squirms and wiggles and pats our faces with as much gentleness as he can muster. (Not very much.)

Ryan is good to me and takes Ralph downstairs to let me sleep just a little longer. I don't know for sure, I think it has something to do with knowing that Ralph is being taken care of and Ryan is in the kitchen starting the coffee, but that half hour when I have the bed to myself is the best bit of sleep I get all night.

When I finally come downstairs, the scene is always this: Ryan is wrapped up in a blanket, half asleep on the couch. Ralph runs to the bottom of the steps and repeats, "Hi Mom. Hi Mom. Hi Mom." Behind him, a spilled bowl of dry cheerios, a sippy that has been tossed and is now tipped on its side, dripping. Books and toys everywhere. I scoop up my baby and walk to the kitchen to pour a cup of coffee, opening the curtains and then the windows on my way. Everything is bright. Everything feels new again. This is my favorite time of day.

After that begins the mad rush to get things done before Ryan leaves for work. Breakfast is fixed, a lunchbox is packed, a diaper needs changing. Ryan comes down from the shower smelling like soap, and he asks for hugs goodbye. Ralph watches him pull the car out and shut the garage door through the window, and yells his farewells loud enough for the neighbors to hear. Everyone is awake now.

8/4/14

handmade | flower press

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I'm fairly certain my grandma indirectly taught me how to press flowers way back in the day. I spent many a hot summer at her house in Michigan, where the backyard pool and the cool, dark basement covered in electric blue carpet and chock-full of treasures were the two main events. But on a rainy day, and after all the crannies of the basement had been thoroughly explored, my sisters and I spent our time at Grandma's house combing her drawers and closets and bookshelves. That lady had so much interesting stuff, and she never seemed to mind our snooping. It was custom to flip through one of her books or magazines and see a dry, flat, pretty little something flutter out from between the pages. I've taken her lead, and, even though I never really use them for anything, I still love to tuck a tiny flower or leaf into a thick book. Even just for the sake of finding it again later, smooshed and crispy, and still beautiful. A little forgotten fleur surprise.

I realized almost too late while packing for our weekend camping trip that I didn't have a transportable press to take along with me. I wasn't about to bring my Grandma's old hymnal in my backpack, but I certainly didn't want to be unprepared for all the wild flowers I planned on plucking from the hiking trails. Enter the homemade flower press: all supplies were collected from my local fabric store, the bin of crafty stuff I keep in the guest bedroom, and Ryan's scrap wood pile in the basement. It took me one full nap time to make the entire thing, and snap the photos to show you how to make one yourself.

You'll need:
-two pieces of thin scrap wood (I used two pieces of 5x5 ish plywood)
-cardboard, cut the same size as your wooden boards (I used an old cardboard box and cut seven 5x5 squares)
-watercolor paper, cut or torn the same size as your wood and cardboard pieces (I made 12 squares)
-scissors
-a needle and thread, or a sewing machine
-2 sets of square rings
-2 yards of 1in. cotton webbing

To make:
Cut all your materials to size. I wanted my press to be on the smaller side, a 5x5 square, so my wood pieces, my cardboard pieces, and my watercolor pages are all 5x5 inches. I cut my cotton webbing in half to make two straps, 1 yard long each. For each strap, slide 2 square rings onto one end of a strap, fold over twice, and sew. Fold the ends of the other side of the strap over twice, and sew, to prevent it from unraveling. I used my sewing machine for this, but I think a hand-sewn whip stitch would do just fine. Arrange your press like so: one wooden piece, one cardboard piece, two watercolor pages, one cardboard piece, two watercolor pages, etc., until your press is the desired thickness. Top with the other wooden square, fill with flowers, and secure with the straps as tightly as you can.

7/29/14

the garden

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My mom has always kept a gardening notebook through the years, to jot down notes and ideas for the garden she keeps with my dad. It's a small green (or is it yellow?) notebook that she fills with lists of what they planted each year, tiny sketches of where they planted everything, and tips for the next year. I've always loved paging through it and have decided to keep my own for our garden this year. Or, at least, I'm trying to. Right now my notebook contains a list of what to buy from the nursery that I wrote earlier this Spring, and the warranties for our boxwoods and rose bush tucked into the back pages. It's sad, but it's a start, eh?

In case you're curious, here's a list of what we planted this year, that I plan on writing down, with a pen, into my notebook. Sometime. Eventually.

3 rows of lettuce: butter, and romaine, for salads and sandwiches. Eh. We're not that impressed, and will try for a crispier variety next summer.
2 green pepper plants: for stir fry! Or stuffed peppers! Mayyybe salsa, if we can grow more than three.
1 row of green beans: for tossing with salt, pepper, butter, and lemon juice. And for freezing, when we're desperate for something fresh-tasting in the middle of January.
1 row of sugar snap peas: for picking and crunching into while lazily watching Ralph make tracks around the lawn with his tiny lawn mower. See also: stir fry! Note for next summer: don't plant them near the fence, because bunnies.
3 cucumber plants: bush pickles, actually. Extra crunchy and sweet, with small seeds. Perfect for pickling, and midday snacking, and drenching in bleu cheese dressing.
1 zucchini plant: for sweet zucchini bread, and that one dish with onions and tomatoes and basil and olives and cheeeeese.
3 tomato plants: my favorite. for stews and soups and sauces, and most especially, slicing and slurping.
1 cherry tomato plant: for the pop! factor.
1 strawberry plant: for, let's face it, the birds. We've managed to snag two that hadn't been pecked. Note for next year: some sort of cage?
Honorable mentions: my sweet herbs, sage, oregano, parsley, chives, rosemary, and mint. You have some work to do, dill and cilantro. You too, thyme.

Now tell me what you're planting! I love this stuff.

a recipe | summer lemonade

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It's nearing that time of summer where back-to-school ads are arriving in the mail, and shelves of notebooks and loose leaf paper are stacked up at the store. I'm a lover of the changing of seasons, and usually things like this give me twinges of excitement, even if they always do show up a bit too soon. But this year I'm scrolling past all the pins and posts filled with sweaters and apple crisps much more quickly than I did last year. This summer has just been too good to think about it ending yet.

But. As much as I'm not looking, I see you, bouquets of freshly sharpened pencils. I figured I better get these recipes up before people start wishing for a hot cuppa cider over a glass of cold lemonade.

I've made these lemonades a handful of times already, and they don't last long in our fridge. The classic lemonade goes great with grilled burgers and oven fries, and the minty peach is exceptional with ice and a couple glugs of whiskey. If I do say so myself.

Classic Lemonade
1 cup simple syrup
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, about 6 lemons
3-4 cups water

Combine first two ingredients in a pitcher, and add water to taste. Stir or shake, and chill before serving.

. . .

Minty Peach Lemonade
1 cup simple syrup
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, about 6 lemons
1 ripe peach, cut into chunks
a handful of mint leaves
1 tsp sugar
3-4 cups water

Combine first two ingredients in a pitcher. In a bowl, combine the peach, mint leaves, and sugar, and muddle until juicy. Strain out solids, and pour the remaining juice to your pitcher. Add water to taste. Stir or shake, and chill before serving.

. . .

Simple Syrup
1 cup granulated sugar
2 cups water

Combine ingredients into a medium sauce pan. Bring to a boil on stove, and stir until sugar is dissolved. Let cool. Makes approximately 2 cups.