Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Dining Room Transformation

It's amazing how sometimes the smallest things can make the biggest differences. And while the thing I'm referring to isn't exactly small, I definitely didn't expect it to pack quite the punch it did.

H and I decided to see what the stores had to offer on Black Friday last year, and there were definitely some good deals. I had wanted to put a mirror above the buffet in the dining room for a long time now, and when we found this gorgeous frame for 60% off, I scooped it up right away. We bought some mirror glass for it, and this past weekend, we FINALLY got around to getting it framed.

And while the guy at the framing department at Michael's kind of laughed at us for not doing it ourselves, I really thought it would best be done by a professional. I didn't want to ruin H's grandmother's antique buffet, or be cleaning up shards of glass for days on end, after the glass would have inevitably fallen out of the frame.

Here is the before (at Christmas):

And here it is now:

But anyway, I love how it turned out! It really anchors the dining room, and it's a great focal point. I think it makes the room look more formal as well, and I love how it reflects the kitchen. I just really love those little things that make such a big difference! We are slowly coming along...

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Herb and Mustard Encrusted Rack of Lamb

Happy belated Valentines' Day! I hope you all had a wonderful day and were able to spend some quality time with those you love. While some may see the holiday as cliché and over-commercialized, I stand by the belief that it's still a wonderful opportunity to show those around us how much we care.

H and I were lucky enough to have a two-part celebration. I planned the first half, which was a quiet dinner at home on Saturday night. I love a chance to cook something a bit fancier than I would normally, and searched long and hard for something that H was sure to enjoy. I finally decided on Herb and Mustard Encrusted Rack of Lamb and Wild Mushroom and Potato Gratin. They looked fancy, but not difficult, it was definitely out of the ordinary for us, and the recipes had very high ratings. Seem like winners to me!

And boy, this turned out beyond my wildest expectations, I was totally impressed. It was really easy, still special, and soooo delicious! And most importantly, H LOVED it! I am so glad I found this recipe!

Herb and Mustard Encrusted Rack of Lamb
Serves 2

1/2 cup of panko bread crumbs
1 Tablespoon of chopped fresh parsley
1/2 Tablespoon of chopped fresh mint
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 teaspoon salt
dash of black pepper
2 Tablespoons of olive oil
1 rack of lamb (8 ribs per rack), trimmed of all but a thin layer of fat, at room temperature
2 Tablespoons of Dijon mustard
Directions: Preheat oven to 400. Mix bread crumbs, parsley, mint, rosemary, salt, and pepper in a small bowl, then drizzle with one Tablespoon of olive oil and stir until well combined.

Season lamb with salt and pepper. Heat other Tablespoon of oil in a large heavy skillet over moderately high heat, then brown lamb, turning once, about 2 minutes on each side. Transfer to a roasting rack, fatty side up. 

Spread fatty side with Dijon mustard. Pat bread crumb mixture over lamb, pressing slightly so it sticks well. 
Roast lamb for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until thermometer inserted diagonally 2 (without touching bone) registers 130 (for medium-rare). Transfer to a cutting board, let stand 10 minutes, then cut into chops. Enjoy!

Adapted from, original recipe here.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Cheddar Beer Dip

As any warm blooded American knows, last weekend was the Super Bowl. I am not a huge football fan as it is, and if I have no connection to either team playing my fan-dom dwindles even more. I still watch the game though, I'm a fan of the commercials and I enjoy any excuse to enjoy company and have snacks and beer. H's parents' were hosting a get-together, so we went to their house for the game.

I wanted to bring something that kept well, and stood up to being on the coffee table all evening. Nothing warm, and nothing too heavy as we were having a right old feast of lasagna, meatballs, salad, chicken tenders, and crab-cakes. Of course, some sort of dip was the logical choice, and when I found this recipe, I knew it would be perfect!

I didn't have a chance to get a picture of the dip as we were running out the door, but got one later in the day. I wasn't going to include it, but then I realized this picture perfectly describes how delicious the dip was!

Cheddar Beer Dip

3 cups of extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (about an 8 oz. block)
1 package (8 oz.) of cream cheese
2 teaspoons of Dijon mustard
2 Tablespoons of heavy cream
1 teaspoon of hot sauce
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/2 cup of flavorful beer (I used Sam Adams Pale Ale)
2 teaspoons of chopped, fresh parsley

Place cheddar, cream cheese, Dijon, cream, hot sauce, and salt in the base of a food processor. Pulse until well combined. Slowly pour in the beer and continue to pulse in few-second intervals until smooth. Empty food processor into a bowl, and stir in the parsley. Serve with bite-size pretzel logs. Enjoy!

Adapted from Lemons & Love, original recipe here.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Pizza Dough

Doughs with yeast have always intimidated me. The particular temperature the water needs to be, all that fussy rising, and the horror stories I've heard were all more than enough reason to steer clear.

I was craving pizza for dinner this week, and decided I would bite the yeast dough bullet and try my hand at a pizza crust. I heard that pizza crust was a good starting point, and I hoped it was true. I searched for a recipe and decided on Alton Brown's Pizza Dough. I generally like his recipes, the detailed instructions and bits of chemistry he includes. And bonus- this recipe was for two pizza doughs. I hoped I wouldn't mess up!

Well, it turned out to be not that difficult. I was definitely surprised. The only problem I had was that I didn't roll it out enough before placing it on the pizza stone, which led to a slightly small, and denser pizza. Totally my fault though, and now I know for next time.

We topped it with pizza sauce, sausage, peppers, onions, and shredded mozzarella. And let me say, I am never, NEVER buying pizza crust again. This was spectacular! I wasn't going to include a picture, as we devoured this before I had a chance. Then I figured I would just drop in a picture of the second dough that I stuck in the freezer, the one that we will be using very soon!

Pizza Dough
Makes 2 crusts, 4 servings each

2 Tablespoons of sugar
1/2 Tablespoon of kosher salt
2 cups of bread flour

1 Tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil

3/4 cup of warm water (105-115 degrees F)
1 teaspoon of instant yeast

2 teaspoons of olive oil

Directions: In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine salt, sugar, olive oil, and 1 cup of flour. Set aside.

Heat water to between 105 and 115 degrees Fahrenheit, stirring occasionally, and measuring with a candy thermometer. (It's easier to use more water than you need, and scoop out 3/4 of a cup so you can more accurately take the temperature.) Pour 3/4 cup of water into a measuring cup, and sprinkle yeast on top. Allow yeast to foam for a minute or two, and pour into mixer with flour mixture. Add in remaining cup of flour, and mix to just form a ball.

With a greased (with olive oil) kneading hook, knead dough for 10-15 minutes on medium. Tear off a small piece of dough, and pull apart. If it stretches before breaking, the dough is done. If it just breaks, knead for about 5 more minutes.

Drizzle olive oil on dough, and roll into a ball. Place in a ceramic or glass bowl (not metal) and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 18-24 hours.

Heat oven to 500 and place pizza stone in, allowing it to warm up with the oven. Remove dough from refrigerator and cut into two halves. Wet your hands and roll each half into a ball. Place each half in (separate) a bowl, cover with a tea towel or cloth napkin, and allow to sit for 30 minutes.

After this stage, if you are not using both doughs at the time, place one in a greased ziploc bag. Refrigerate for up to 6 days. You can freeze it as well (I wrapped mine in plastic wrap and secured tightly with a rubber band to freeze).

Now, flour your hands and work space and place pizza dough on it. Roll the dough out thin, rotating and creating a lip around the edges. Remove pizza stone from the oven, and slide dough on to it. Top with desired toppings and brush edge of crust with olive oil. Bake for about 8 minutes, or until crust is golden brown and cheese is bubbly. Let rest for a few minutes before slicing, and then enjoy!!

Adapted from Food Network, original recipe here.