4:00 am Ramblings

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I’m laying awake at 4:00, like happens too often these days, and I’m browsing my social media apps on my phone. It is amazing how connected we are in this day and age, I know what’s happening with friends I haven’t seen since 4th grade! But I’ve noticed it’s been very easy for me to fall victim to comparison. Teddy Roosevelt was a wise one.

I’ve been feeling a lot like my home isn’t good enough; it isn’t big enough or well decorated enough. That one girl who just had a baby is way skinnier than me! I don’t have the right clothes, I don’t dress nearly as cute as my friends. I’ve even had crazy thoughts about how I don’t take good enough photos of my child, I’m going to scar him for life because he doesn’t have amazing photographer quality photos of his childhood! (Yes, I’m totally insane.)

Social media is amazing, and I think it’s awesome how I’m able to share day to day with my friends and family, and they’ve expressed appreciation for being able to keep up with our new baby life. But it’s one major downfall is this ugly monster of comparison. I keep having to remind myself that the internet doesn’t give the full story. Generally people only discuss their rainbows and sunshine. I see my bad days, my messy house, my stress…but I don’t see theirs, but that doesn’t mean they doesn’t exist.

When I find myself caught up in these thoughts I know it’s time to take a step back. It’s time for me to focus a little more on my home and my family and less on what others are doing. Maybe I’ll actually get some things done, too!

 

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One pot Coq Au Vin

This has been on the back burner for a bit. I made it, loved it, took lots of pictures and then did nothing. I’m guilty of that sometimes. But today seems like a good day to revisit this recipe. It’s been rainy and a bit cooler than it has been lately, a great day for Coq Au Vin if you ask me. It sounds pretty fancy, no doubt people will be impressed when you say you made Coq Au Vin for dinner. Just don’t tell them how simple it really is, it just means “rooster with wine.”

When I made this, I consulted a handful of recipes, but I wasn’t happy with all of the complex steps. Some required it to sit overnight, all required more than one pan. I decided I could surely make this in just one pot, my Dutch oven.

You will need:

  • a cutting board and knife, for prepping your ingredients
  • a Dutch oven
  • a plate and a large bowl
  • spoon, whisk, and tongs

I think this is a respectable number of items to be washed following a nice dinner.

It will take some time to bring this together. There are a good number of steps, mostly just sauteing one thing at a time, but the steps and ingredients are all very simple.

Ingredients:

  • 4-6 oz bacon, diced
  • one 4-5 lb chicken, divided into legs, thighs, breasts, and wings
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2-3 medium carrots, cut at a diagonal into 1″ pieces
  • 8 oz mushrooms, sliced or quartered
  • 2 Tbl butter
  • 2 Tbl flour
  • 1/2 bottle dry red wine, preferably burgundy but any good drinkable dry red is fine
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • several sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • one 8 oz bag frozen pearl onions

I’ll spare you any lesson on breaking down a chicken, it’s not my strong suit.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and adjust your rack to the lower 1/3 of the oven. Brown bacon in Dutch oven over medium heat until lightly crisp. Remove to large bowl, leaving the rendered fat in the Dutch oven.

Season chicken pieces with salt and pepper and place skin side down in Dutch oven. Work in batches, if necessary, so that you do not crowd the pan. When they have browned nicely, flip over. Once all sides are evenly brown, remove to plate.

Add diced onion, garlic, and carrots to Dutch oven and saute until onion is translucent, remove to bowl with bacon.

Add mushrooms to Dutch oven and cook until edges begin to brown, turn up the heat if necessary. Remove to bowl with the rest of the sauteed ingredients.

Finally, add butter and flour and cook together about one minute.

Add wine and chicken stock and cook for a minute or two, whisking roux into liquid and scraping all those good brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Turn off heat.

Return all your ingredients from the bowl to the Dutch oven, stir in pearl onions and add thyme. Nestle chicken pieces down into the stew you have made.

Place the lid on your Dutch oven and transfer it to the oven.

Two hours later you’ll have this deliciousness.

I recommend serving it over mashed potatoes. I also recommend skipping lunch so you’ll be good and hungry when this is ready. :)

Oh, and this is all I dirtied for this dish (not including the Dutch oven):

Pork Carnitas Tacos

If there’s anything better than carnitas, I haven’t come across it yet. Except maybe chocolate.

I crave this recipe. These are the best carnitas tacos I have ever tasted, a former boss taught me to make the pork and my taste buds thank him every time I make it.

Start with a 3-4 lb pork shoulder/boston butt roast, cut away any big pieces of fat. Salt GENEROUSLY with kosher salt. Let it hang out in the fridge for a 3-5 hours. (Sorry for the dark photo, not sure what happened…the rest are better!)

Once you’ve let it hang out with the salt for a long time, start your slow cooker on high to preheat.

You can also start gathering your other ingredients:

  • 1 Tb. chili powder
  • one dried ancho pepper with seeds and top removed (mines a guajillo, it’s what I happened to have on hand today, you could also use 1 tsp. ancho chili powder)
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 2 Tb. fresh minced garlic
  • 2 tsp. cumin
  • one cinnamon stick
  • one 12 oz. bottle of beer (Ideally, you’d want a pale ale or amber, I only had stout on hand today.)

Now remove the roast from the fridge and brown it in a little canola oil over medium high heat.

Don’t skip the edges.

Once you’re browned all over, pop it into the slow cooker. We’re not going to forget all of this good stuff, though.

Turn the heat off the burner and add the bottle of beer. Gently scrape the bits off the bottom of the pan.

Pour this goodness over the roast in the slow cooker. Add enough water to come about half way up the side of the roast. Add all your other stuff and mix it in.

Cover, drop heat to low, and cook 4-6 hours.

Remove from slow cooker to a cutting board. Shred with two forks, if you’ve cooked it long enough this should be super easy.

Now, turn your broiler on high and position your broiler rack 3-5″ from heat. Spread shredded meat out on a cookie sheet and broil for 10-15 minutes, turning with tongs every 2 minutes or so. You want to get some nice caramelization going on. Sorry I didn’t get a picture of this part.

Add some of the cooking liquid and toss.

Now serve!

The accompaniments I think are absolutely necessary are:

  • finely diced Spanish white onion
  • lime wedges
  • chopped fresh cilantro
  • crumbled queso fresco
  • salsa verde (best if you can make it, but the stuff from the jar isn’t bad)
  • and these:

The corn/wheat blend makes them flexible, but they still taste like the traditional corn tortillas that are served with carnitas. Regular corn tortillas frustrate the heck out of me because they won’t hold together.

Enjoy! (I’d recommend a margarita to go with it!)

“The best meatloaf I’ve ever had.”

“This is probably the best meatloaf I’ve ever had in my life.”

Cooking is absolutely an act of love for me. I cook because I love the food, but mostly I cook because I love the people I cook for, so these are some of the sweetest words a lover of food can hear. This is what my husband told me tonight. I had the day off and spent the morning drinking coffee and catching up on some Food Network recordings on the DVR, about half of which was Pioneer Woman. She made an awesome looking meatloaf, that was the inspiration for my dinner tonight.

Ree’s meatloaf was a much looser consistency than I have always made mine. I didn’t so much follow a recipe, but I loosely based mine on hers, making sure not to make mine too dry.

Here is (roughly) what I did:

“Best Meatloaf Ever”

  • 2.5-3 lbs ground beef
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup milk or half and half
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 Tbl fresh chopped parsley
  • 1-2 Tbl seasoning of your choice, I used a dressing mix from Penzeys…you could use the packets of ranch dressing mix, etc.
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup oatmeal
  • 8-10 slices bacon

Saute onion in a small amount of olive oil or butter until soft. Whisk eggs in a large bowl, add all other ingredients (except bacon), adding just enough oatmeal so the mixture holds together but is not firm. Mix the ingredients well with your hands. Form mixture into two loose loaf shapes and place on a greased sheet pan. Lay four to five strips of bacon across the top of each loaf, leaving about 1″ excess on each side (cut bacon if necessary). Tuck the ends of the bacon under and pull the bacon taut to pull the meatloaf into shape.

Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes, or until 135 degrees. Glaze with sweet and spicy glaze (recipe follows) or ketchup, return to oven until loaves reach 160 degrees in the center.

Sweet and Spicy Glaze

  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 2 Tbl brown sugar
  • 2 tsp dry mustard
  • 10 shakes Tabasco, or to taste

Mix all together well. Makes enough to glaze both loaves and extra for spreading on at the table.

This meatloaf is moist and flavorful, the glaze is sweet with a kick. My husbands only complaint is that the bacon doesn’t cut well with a fork, haha.

Twice baked stuffed butternut squash

I love butternut squash. This recipe was so good and so simple, it falls into the “why didn’t I think of that?” category. Please make this, you won’t regret it.

My pictures aren’t nearly as pretty as the original, so I’ll show you Erin’s of Naturally Ella.

Twice Baked Butternut Squash Stuffed with Quinoa and Gorgonzola

 

Ingredients

  • 1 butternut squash
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 medium shallots (or sub red onion, like I did)
  • 1/2 cup quinoa
  • 1 cup water or broth (I prefer to always cook quinoa in broth)
  • 1/2 cup gorgonzola cheese, plus extra for topping
  • pinch of salt
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400˚. Slice butternut squash in half and scoop out seeds. Place each half cut side down in a 9×13 pan and pour 1/2″ of water in the bottom. Place in oven and bake until tender, about 45-60 minutes, depending on the size of your squash. Once done, remove and set aside.
  2. Rinse quinoa and set aside. In a medium pan heat olive oil over medium low heat. Dice shallots, add to oil, and saute until shallots are fragrant. Stir in quinoa and toast lightly. Add cooking liquid. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer at let cook until water is absorbed, 12-15 minutes.
  3. While quinoa cooks, scoop out butternut squash, leaving a 1/4″-1/2″ on the sides and bottom. Drain water from pan and return butternut squash to the pan, cut side up.
  4. Mash butternut squash and stir in gorgonzola cheese. Once quinoa is done, add it to the butternut squash. Taste and add salt if need be.
  5. Scoop filling evenly into butternut squash halves. Sprinkle with gorgonzola cheese and return to oven. Let bake for 10-15 minutes or until cheese has melted and the tops begin to brown. Remove from oven and serve (maybe cut in half, if you’re working with bigger squash).

Pinterest, you’re not just to look at anymore.

I pinned did that! I finally got on it and completed a project I pinned on Pinterest. Sure, I’ve cooked from Pinterest before (actually, I have a recipe I made yesterday I need to blog), but this is big (sort of). It involved tools, and wood, and nails. This was my inspiration pin:

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I thought it was someone’s DIY, but when I clicked through I discovered the site where this photo originated was selling 3 of these 4 foot picture ledges for $225! No comment. I am sure it is some fine craftsmanship.

Anyway, I figured I could probably take this on myself. I figured out where I’d want them and how long I would need for that space. I decided on my dining room, I’ve been collecting some fun prints for a gallery wall but couldn’t seem to bring them together in a way I really liked. These would fill the large blank wall better and allow me to bring in a few other non-hanging items. I decided on 2 four foot ledges and 1 two foot ledge.

I did a bit of googling, but I mostly I winged it. I went to Home Depot and found the straightest but cheapest 1×4 boards I could find, they were “common wood,” the salesman who cut them for me said they were likely pine or fir. For the front piece I chose 1×2 “furring strips.” I had them cut (for free!) by the nice gentleman at Home Depot.

First thing I did was to glue and clamp my ledges together. It took a little coaxing at times. BTW, I used a wood glue that was stainable, so if it seeped out of the crevices it wouldn’t be a problem later.

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Once they were all lined up neatly and clamped, I let them dry for a short time, maybe 30 minutes, before I drilled and screwed the back pieces on.

After pre-drilling each hole (about 9-12 inches between each), I went back with a counter-sink bit to make sure each screw would sit flush with the wood.

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After securing the back side with screws, I flipped the ledge over to attack the front. I went with finish nails, so they’d be nice and easy to hide later for a seamless look. A nail set allowed me to set the nails deep so there would be a good putty-able hole.

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Once assembly was complete, I sanded them and wiped them down really well with a damp cloth to remove the dust.

The putty packaging told me I should putty after staining (it was dark putty, to match my stain), but the one ledge I puttied pre-stain (before reading any instructions) actually turned out better in my opinion. So this is the point at which I would recommend putty, right before paint or stain.

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I used a foam brush for staining, which I would NOT recommend. I didn’t want to change methods in the middle of the project and end up inconsistent, though, so I made it work. After about 30 minutes of allowing the stain to sit, I wiped off the excess with a rag. Then I allowed them to sit undisturbed for a full day, and it was really hard. I really wanted to hang them right away. After the stain had fully dried, I sealed them with two coats of a spray acrylic and allowed them to dry another 6-8 hours.

While they dried I contemplated how I would style my shelves. I laid everything out on the floor with boards as stand in ledges. This also helped me to figure out how much space I wanted between each ledge.

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Back to the ledges. I did have some trouble with the so called “stainable” glue. I hadn’t sanded all the glue off of one of the ledges and this is how it ended up.

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Being that I was going for a pretty rustic look and the fact that two of the rails were hung above eye level, it wasn’t enough of an issue for me to sand and re-stain, so I let it be and hung that one at the top. Lesson learned, however, don’t spend extra money on stainable glue, instead spend extra time making sure you sand all the glue off.

To hang I just figured out where I wanted my ledges, located my wall studs, leveled them and predrilled right through the back of the shelf into the stud and set a screw in it. They were hidden by the stuff on the shelves anyway. Just one minor setback, one screw ended up in a knot in the wood and there was a tiny split, but it was easy to hide.

I’m so so thrilled with how they turned out.

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It is a much better scale for this large wall.

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A couple credits on the art:

The mason jar print was a Christmas gift from my little sister, purchased from Esty shop Ex Libris Journals and the Kitchen Aid mixer print is from Oh, Dear Molly. I honestly can’t remember where the silverware print is from. The heart art in the bottom corner I made using Piknik.

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You can click here for the free printable.

Oh, almost forgot. Total cost of my 3 ledges: less than $17. We already owned the putty and the stain, but less than $17 bought stainable wood glue and all the necessary wood.