Failed experiments

Shelves with Hanging Patterns, Take 2

  Sooo, do you guys remember how my husband set up this shelf for me so I could hang all of my traced patterns?

  Do you see how I have a reasonable amount of stuff on there?  …that’s because it was right after he put it up.  When I have a shelf, I can’t help myself, I have to put everything I can possibly fit on it.  It’s just in my nature you guys.
  Long story short, I put way too much stuff on it and what should have been a perfectly stable shelf, uhm, may have ripped heavy duty anchors out of the wall taking large chunks of plaster with it.  May have.  Ahem.
  So, after some reassessing of what sort of load the shelf should be expected to take and talking about the uses we wanted for this room thanks to this book, my Mr. has made me a way better set of shelves.

  …I’m curious as to if he realizes that he’s basically teaching me that the way to get really nice things is to break the first one he makes me….
  Anyhow, this picture is from part way through the cleaning spree I did to relocate all my fabric and craft supplies up off of the floor based shelves and onto these, so it doesn’t even remotely reflect how awesome it looks in here right now…buuuuut, I live in Michigan and it currently gets dark at like, 4pm, so I take pictures in the 3 minutes per day that the light isn’t horrendous, whether the project is utterly perfect at that moment or not.
  As you can see in the picture, my Mr integrated puck lights into the shelf.  They have 3 different settings so I can either blast them at full strength or, I dunno, set the mood with my serger.  Speaking of lights and my serger… double awesome having the extra light from these shelves, because it definitely broke the light in my serger when the old shelf fell on it.  (This is why I can’t have nice things).
  So, you can see the lights, what you can’t really see is that that man of mine stained the wood to match the gorgeous old woodworking that’s already all over the room, and spray painted the brackets, hardware and the curtain rod for hanging my stuff off of to look like it had always been here too.  Everything went into studs that we double checked the location of this time, so I was given the go-ahead to load them up as much as I wanted.  I got rid of both the wire frame shelves I had all my craft stuff and fabric on, moved it all up above, consolidated everything else down and was able to get rid of an entire table.  My light box is currently jammed onto my sewing table, which isn’t going to work as a long term solution, so we’ll be making it its own little floating shelf, but! with this new set up, this room now functions as office, sewing/hobby room AND has enough open floor space to be used as a guest bedroom again.
  I’m really freaking proud of the results.  It makes the room far more functional, and it looks huge!

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Gouda (Failed Experiment)

  Ok, so full disclosure, I sort of suspect that I didn’t like this recipe because, well, I kinda think maybe I don’t like gnocchi?  I’ve only made it a few times, and it always seems to turn out like funky little dough wads.  My Mr. swears I like it when he has made it though, so, I dunno.  Either way, this is what we’re making:

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Gouda Cheese Sauce
1 lb sweet potato
6 oz ricotta cheese
½ c parmesan cheese, grated
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp Salt
¼ tsp nutmeg
1-¾ c flour
2 c milk
¼ onion
2 cloves garlic
3 sage leaves
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
3 Tbsp flour
1 c gouda cheese, shredded
  Start by stabbing your sweet potato(es) a few times with a fork, placing them on a plate and microwaving them for around 5 or 6 minutes, until tender.  Cut in half and let cool enough that you won’t be working with potato-lava before scraping 1.5 cups of the flesh into a large-ish bowl.  Mash together with your ricotta before adding your parm, brown sugar, salt and nutmeg.  Mix together and then add flour, about a half cup at a time, until a soft dough forms.
  Spread some flour on your counter or a silpat mat and divide your dough into 3 pieces on it.  Roll the pieces into long skinny tubes around 20″ long and an inch in diameter.  Cut each tube into around 20 pieces.  Roll each piece across the back of a fork to indent it.  As far as I can tell, this is just for appearances, but it looks nice and is kind of fun to do.
  Start a large pot of water boiling and add a tablespoon of salt.  Working in batches, boil gnocchi pieces for around 5-6 minutes.  Transfer to a baking sheet to cool when done cooking.  Allow to cool completely, these can be made up to 4 hours ahead of time and left to stand at room temperature.
  For your sauce, combine your milk, onion and sage in a small sauce pan and heat over medium heat for around 5 minutes.  Small bubbles should gather around the pan edge, but your milk should not boil!  Take your pan off the heat and set aside for 10 minutes before removing your solids.  Cover it to keep warm.
  In a separate saucepan, melt your butter over medium heat and stir in 3 Tbsp flour until it’s well blended.  Slowly add the milk from your first sauce pan, stirring constantly.  Reduce everything to low heat and whisk until the sauce is smooth and thick (about 5 minutes).  Stir in the shredded Gouda and stir continuously until melted.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve over gnocchi.
  Well, I already told you guys this was a fail.  It’s just one of those recipes that is so rich you feel a little sick eating it.  The gnocchi seemed really sticky and heavy to me.  Maybe I’m doing it wrong?  There was a strange sweetness to it that played against the richness of the cheese in a really cloying way.  Both G and I liked the first bite, but by the 3rd bite kind of went “Uhm, I don’t want to eat any more of this”.  The Mr. was out of town when I made this, so he wasn’t subjected to it.
  …at least the baby enjoyed the tiny bits of gnocchi I fed to him without sauce on them right after they cooled.

How Not to Shorten Pants

  Hooray it’s time for a failed experiment!

  Don’t worry…I know how to do it the right way and will walk you through that as well, but man I’m a space cadet lately…so I of course did it wrong.

  I’ve been continuing my ongoing battle against the piles of stuff we don’t need, and have been focusing on my closet.  I’m trying to make sure that the things I keep are flattering and fit me properly, which means I’ve been doing a lot of alterations.
  These pants were a great deal I found years ago…nice brand, good general fit, good quality, cotton…perfect for working out.  Only problem was, they were supposed to be capris and they hit mid-ankle on me.  Have I mentioned that I have really short legs?  They functioned perfectly fine being longer, but where they hit was really unflattering, so I decided that rather than grimacing every time I saw myself in the mirror in them I’d shorten them.
  Unfortunately, because there was a pocket detail I wanted to keep low on the leg, just hemming them wasn’t really a valid option.  I needed to take the pants up 5″ and the pocket started only 4″ above the hem.  Instead, I decided to gather 5″ of fabric out of the pant legs.
  Now, I’ve already told you this was a failed experiment.  It didn’t fail because I decided to gather the legs, it failed because I gathered them in a really dumb way.
G’s face says it all: WTF Mom?!?
  So what I did was this: I took a length of doubled over thread, used a hand needle and stitched through a 10″ portion of the leg.  I then gathered that portion down to 5″ and tied it off.  I repeated that on the opposite leg and then gathered the inside of both legs the same amount.  BAM, done!  Right?  NOPE.
  I wore these to zumba pretty much immediately after these pictures were taken and the first time I even remotely aggressively bent my knee I busted out all the gathering on the inside of that leg.  My pants were back to that unflattering, overly long length within 5 minutes.
  What I should have done was this:  Done exactly what I did, but then attached a ribbon or strip of cloth to the inside of the seam and sewn a line of stitching over everything with the fabric already gathered.  The way I had everything set up, all of the tension of any pulling on the pants was put on one, itty bitty little knot at the top of the gathering.  Stitching through the gathers into a (not gathered) ribbon would transfer that tension to all of those stitches instead of just one point.
  I’m not entirely sure if I’m going to go back and fix these pants again or if I’m just going to donate them at this point.  I’m pretty annoyed with them, but it seems like after investing the time I have I ought to just fix them and then wear them to pieces.  We’ll see.  Either way, learn from my mistake and don’t do the same thing yourself!

Ignoring Pinterest guilt and NOT making this project

  Sometimes I need saving from myself.  I’m (fairly obviously) a huge proponent of making things yourself when you can.  Pinterest, of course, feeds this by having endless tutorials saying things like “You too can easily make this cashmere shrug with only dryer lint and a bit of chewing gum!”  It makes it hard to remember that making it yourself isn’t always the best approach.
  This was one of those projects for me.
  I’ve been wanting to make G a geoboard since last fall when I was still pregnant with R.  For whatever reason, I just kept not getting around to it.  But, lately I’ve been a bit on a roll with checking things off my to-do list and I finally got the initiative to do it.  “This will be a quick, easy project” I thought to myself…because apparently I’d forgotten that nails don’t magically pop themselves into wood?
  Now, I’m good at a lot of things, but hammering nails isn’t one of them.  I inevitably smash my thumb or ricochet the nail across the room or both, simultaneously.  A master carpenter I am not, so why I thought hammering 100 nails into a particle board square was going to be a good time is utterly beyond me.
  But, there I was, with my square of board marked off into 1″ squares, my box of finishing nails, a tack hammer and a yoga mat to keep everything in place, pounding away, smashing my thumb and generally not particularly enjoying what I was doing.  And as I hammered those first 10 nails, it occurred to me that, oh, I don’t have a monitor out here and the baby could wake up at any moment.  And then it occurred to me that, huh, I’m spending my only free time today, while both boys are asleep, doing something that I don’t really like, that hurts my fingers and that, what do you want to bet, I can get for far cheaper than my time investment here.
  So I put down my hammer and headed to the computer and did a quick search…and lo and behold, I found this geoboard for $4.  …pretty sure I invested more than $4 worth of time just marking the spots I was going to put nails on my DIY version.  Granted, it doesn’t have 100 pegs like my DIY version would have, but really, if I’m honest with myself, G probably isn’t going to get nearly as into a geoboard as I’m going to want him to, and 100 pegs is probably too many for a 3 year old anyhow.  It doesn’t have the old school black wood with the metal pegs…but this way I also don’t have to worry about anybody getting clocked in the head with it, or putting out an eye on a nail.  It’s a bit smaller, but that way it can go in the car.
  I feel a bit like a cop-out that I’m buying a geoboard rather than making one, but it’s important to remember that your time has value too.  Making things is grand, but only if you’re enjoying yourself!

Country Club Chicken

  Sharp cheddar, wine, mushrooms and bacon…what else do you want on your chicken tonight?
1 lb spaghetti*
4 chicken breasts
1 large onion, minced
8 oz mushrooms, sliced
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
4 or 5 slices bacon, cooked**
1/4 c dry white wine
2/3 c sharp cheddar, shredded
1 apple, chopped
butter or oil
salt & pepper
*We made “noodles” out of zucchini, since we’ve found they’re a good substitution in the past
**Don’t clean the pan!  You want the grease to cook in.
  Start by seasoning your chicken with salt and pepper.  Add a bit of butter to your bacon fat and brown your chicken breasts on both sides over medium heat.  When the outsides are brown, set your chicken aside in a casserole dish.  Start your oven preheating to 350 degrees.
  Add your onions to the pan and cook for a few minutes before adding your mushrooms.  Allow the mushrooms and onions to cook another few minutes before adding the apple.  Cook everything for 3-4 minutes and then add your wine, crumbled bacon, soup and cheese.  Mix everything together to form a sauce and pour it over your chicken.
  Place your casserole dish into your preheated oven and allow to cook for about half an hour.  In the meantime, prepare your noodles.  Serve together when the chicken is cooked through.
  This wasn’t bad per say, it just was kind of one-dimensional and uninspiring.  A little bland.  I’m not sure I understand why…with the ingredients in it this should have turned out wonderfully, but it just kind of fell flat.  I wouldn’t discourage you from trying it, but I don’t think it’ll be going on our “cook again” list.

Very Cheesy Casserole

  Today’s recipe is a new one from our good ol’ stand-by, the Everything One-Pot Cookbook.
1 tsp peanut oil
1 c onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 c mushrooms, chopped
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp marjoram
1 tsp cumin
1 can kidney beans, drained
2 c brown rice, cooked
3 eggs, beaten
2 c ricotta cheese
1/4 c feta cheese, crumbled
2 Tbsp soy sauce
salt, pepper and cayenne to taste
2 medium tomatoes, sliced
1/2 c Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 c bread crumbs
  Start by preheating your oven to 350 degrees.
  Heat your oil in a large skillet (make sure it’s ovenproof) and saute your onion, mushrooms and garlic until cooked and nearly soft.  Add your remaining ingredients, minus the tomatoes, Parmesan and bread crumbs and stir well to combine.
  Cover your mixture with slices of tomato and top with Parmesan and bread crumbs.  Place in the oven and allow to bake for 40 minutes.
  This one got a bit screwed up.  I didn’t buy any new feta at the store because I happened to have some in the fridge already.  When I opened the container the feta was in however, it became painfully clear that it was not something any of us wanted to be eating…so my version was absent cheese…and a fairly flavorful cheese at that.  If I remember I was out of one of the spices as well…so take it with a grain of salt when I say that this wasn’t bad, but wasn’t particularly flavorful.  I don’t know that I’ll be bothering to go back and make it again…I’m not a big fan of the beans and rice combination, so I’m not feeling terribly motivated to work for this, but if you do like beans and rice, give it a try…actually add all the ingredients and let me know what you think!

Slow Cooker Balsamic Chicken with Pears and Portabella

  Ok, who wants to be in charge of stenciling the words “no chicken breasts” onto the top of my crock pot?  I did it again and slow cooked chicken and was disappointed.  Those flavor combinations just sounded too tempting though!
1lb skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1 large or 2 medium pears, cored and sliced thick
10 oz portabella mushrooms, sliced thick
1/2 c balsamic vinegar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
  Put everything into the crock pot and let cook it for about 4-6 hours on low, or until chicken falls apart easily.
  There wasn’t enough moisture and the chicken wound up dry and tough.  I should know by now!  The flavors were really good together, but good flavor on shoe leather still isn’t particularly appetizing.  We do have a few ideas for making this either on the stove top or in the oven to take advantage of the flavor combination, but for now we’re going to call this a fail!

Stifatho (Greek Stew)

  Today’s recipe had promise…but I sort of killed it.  A few weekends back my Mr. wasn’t feeling the best, so I was taking care of him and decided to try my hand at braising meat.  It didn’t go so well this first time, but, I learned a lot and I think it should work out much better next time.
  I started out with the recipe above.  The flavors were great, but there wasn’t nearly enough liquid, so the meat wound up dried out.  Next time I’ll add a cup or two of broth to keep everything juicy.
  Here’s what you need:
3 Tbsp fat (some use butter, some use oil. I use coconut oil)
2-3 lbs beef , cubed
1 medium onion, chopped
10 large garlic cloves, smashed
1 c tomato puree*
1/2 c dry red wine 
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
4 whole cloves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 Tbsp dried cranberries
1 c walnut halves
1/2 c feta cheese
*I didn’t have any so I used diced with the juice.  This probably contributed to the lack of moisture.
  Because my method didn’t work out terribly well, you may want to try following the original recipe’s directions.  If you want to experiment with what I did however, I’ll include it below.
  I started by browning the meat in my coconut oil.  I considered cooking the veggies too, as it mentions in the original recipe, but when I consulted the Mr his response was “nah, too much work”.  You see why I love him?
  So other than browning the meat all I did was throw everything from “salt and pepper” up in the ingredient list into a pan with a lid on and toss it into the oven on the lowest heat setting I had and leave it alone for 3 hours.  I put the walnuts and cranberries in about 20 minutes before it was supposed to be done and added a bit of water because I could tell too much liquid had cooked off.  I added the feta at the very end to individual bowls.  (I forgot to add it before I took my picture!)
  Like I said, this had good flavor…I just dried out the meat.  Even using the original recipe I’m not sure how this can be considered a “stew”…it just doesn’t have enough liquid!  I’ll be trying this again, and hopefully next time it’ll work a bit better.
  Screwing up is how we learn, right?

Baked Pesto Chicken

  Today’s recipe is one we’re going to have to try again.  My Mr. is a fabulous cook, and that’s partly because he’s willing to take risks.  Thing is, risks don’t always pan out.  With this recipe he experimented with brining the chicken in a salt water bath to improve the texture.  Apparently the brine wasn’t quite put together right though, because our chicken turned out unbearably salty.  Everything other than the super saltiness was fabulous though, so we’ll be giving this another try without brining sometime soon.

  Here’s what we’re making:

Baked Pesto Chicken

  Here’s what you need:

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips

olive oil (for pan)
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup basil pesto*
1/2 c mozzarella cheese, grated

*Normally I would buy fresh basil to make our own pesto.  Our store was out, so I got premade in a jar, was still delicious!

  Start by preheating your oven to 375 degrees.  Grease a baking dish with olive oil and spread half of your pesto on the bottom.  Place your chicken on top and cover with the remaining pesto.
  Put aluminum foil over the dish and bake until chicken is barely firm and cooked through (25-30 minutes). Make sure you don’t cook too much at this point, or the chicken will be dry by the time the cheese is melted.
  Remove your foil and top the chicken with your mozzarella. Put everything back into the oven without foil and cook it until your cheese is melted.  If you want to brown your cheese a little bit, you can stick it back into the oven under the broiler for about 5 minutes after the cheese melts.

  Like I said, ours got a little jacked up by the brining this time around, but aside from the extra salt, this was incredible.  We all enjoyed it, and lamented that we couldn’t really appreciate the flavors because of the uber saltiness.  

  This really is a very simple dish with great results.  Even using jarred pesto it had wonderful flavor…I can’t wait to make it using fresh-from-the-garden basil!

A failed experiment in Halloween food

**BONUS POST!  Two posts in one day, what, am I crazy?**

  Ok, this post is a little late for Halloween I realize, but I had to warn you guys, just in case any of my fellow Pinterest fiends had found the same recipe and had considered making Thanksgiving or Christmas worms.

  Don’t do it.
  And not just because the idea of Thanksgiving or Christmas worms is weird.  I’m down with weird.  Don’t do it because this is the project from hell.
  I went to a Halloween party this past weekend, and I had said I would bring something.  …I didn’t write down that I was planning on bringing something, so of course I forgot until my friend mentioned it the night before.  Whoops.
  I’d seen this pin on Pinterest and I thought it was a fun idea.  “Jello worms,” I thought to myself, “I can do that!”
  The directions specifically state that you’ll need a “tall, slim container” for this project.  I was sure I’d have something.  The Mr. being an exuberant cook like he is, we have essentially every kitchen tool ever made.  I was wrong.
  Our especially tall and slim juice pitchers were too wide.  Our drinking glasses were too short.  I finally settled on the pitcher that came with our immersion blender.  With sloped sides, it wasn’t an ideal choice, but it was the only thing that was remotely close to working.
  I wrote off my difficulty finding a container as the project’s token frustration and powered forward.  Boy was I overly optimistic. 
  I boiled my water and got my jello setting up.
I used blackberry FUSION (caps totally necessary) for my flavor
  While I waited for the jello to cool, I pulled the straws out of the box…unscrunched the bendy part of every single one and stuffed them as tightly as I could into the blender pitcher.  …turns out, when it’s 100 of them, unscrunching straws is really time consuming and annoying.  Also, because the pitcher had sloped sides (definitely not ideal) I had to rubberband them all together at the top so they would stand upright and not flop all over the place.
  Once the mix cooled, I added the cream and the food dye and poured it into the straws/pitcher.
It took12 drops of green dye to get that, uhm, lovely color
  I let everything set over night and pulled it out the next afternoon.
  …I had gotten it in my head that because I had quite a bit of straw length above the top of the pitcher, I’d be able to more or less wiggle the whole thing out in one clump and break it apart once everything had gelled.  It didn’t work out that way.
  I got my first indication that this was going to be a nightmare project when I had to pull most of the straws out one at a time.
  The next step was to get the worms OUT of the straws.  Couldn’t be that hard, right?  After everything I’d already done, if this part was hard, who would reasonably think this was all worth it?
  One worm done:
  Ok…that wasn’t so bad.  It wasn’t easy, but I’m sure I’ll get the hang of it…
…or not.
  For this to work, you have to be able to keep your water temperature at the exact right level.  Even if you do, by about 20 in, your fingers hurt like crazy from squeezing, but too hot and your worms melt (like above), too cold and they won’t come out of the straw.
  …I live in a nearly 100 year old house.  We don’t so much do precision around here.  About half of my worms melted.
  This is what I had by the time I gave up:
  Pretty cool/gross looking I’ll admit, and fairly tasty, but SO not worth the work.
  To recap:  Really hard to find a container that works properly for chilling.  Really difficult to get chilled straws OUT of said container.  Damn near impossible to get worms out of straws.
  You go ahead and make your Thanksgiving and Christmas worms if you want to, but don’t say I didn’t warn you!!