Sunday, April 28, 2013

Branching out

After yet another long break, I've decided to get back into posting on the blog. For this post I've decided to branch out and talk about my other recently picked up hobby, which is carpentry. I hadn't actually done any woodworking since the Camp Pocono Ridge wood shop in 1998, unless you count assembling Ikea furniture, which you shouldn't. I was excited about getting back into it, but also concerned that I was going to accidentally cut off a finger. Given that my goal was to keep all my fingers, this project turned out great. Even by normal standards it turned out pretty good. The worst thing that happened to my hands is that I got polyurethane on them.

I got the idea to try woodworking again after watching a lot of home repair and remodeling shows. My fiance is obsessed with the HGTV network, particularly House Hunters, which I generally enjoy. She's also watched a lot of Say Yes to the Dress since we got engaged, which makes me want to throw a chair through the wall. (Wall and chair repairs may be an upcoming blog post. Stay tuned.)  Anyways, the various repair projects on HGTV got me interested in seeing if I could try my hand at furniture restoration.

To get started I went to a used furniture store in DC called Miss Pixie's. They have a great variety of pieces and the woman who runs it is very helpful. My goal was to find a bench or other piece of furniture to put out on our patio. After searching around for a while I settled on this bench:

My original plan upon buying it was just to refinish and repaint it, but after thinking about it for a couple days I decided to add a back onto it to make it more like a park bench. This was easier than I actually thought it was going to be thanks to some useful articles online and some help from the guys at Home Depot.

I started out by sanding down the base of the bench and purchasing some unfinished lumber from Home Depot. They cut down some 1" by 4" boards for me to make the back. The vertical pieces were 21" and the horizontal pieces were 42".

I used black Sherwin Williams all-surface acrylic latex high gloss enamel for the legs of the base and vertical pieces of the back.


After that I used Minwax golden oak wood finish to stain the seat of the base and the horizontal strips of the back.

After letting the pieces dry for a few hours it was time to assemble everything. This was the part I was concerned about as I'd never really done anything like this before. I used a C-clamp to hold the pieces in place while I drilled in the wood screws and put the vertical strips on for the back.

I used a kitty litter box for balance while I attached the horizontal pieces for the back of the bench. I may not have any actual idea what I'm doing, but occasionally I have enough creativity to successfully wing it.

After that, all that was left was sealing it, which was actually the biggest pain in the entire process. I used Minwax Helmsman spar urethane clear semi-gloss, which looks nice and seems to have worked well, but it was a pain to apply and is disgusting if you get it on your hands. This was mostly my fault as I could have: A) worn gloves; B) sealed the pieces before assembling them; or C) just worked less sloppily. The picture below shows the wood with the shiny gloss:

The project turned out about as well as I could have hoped given my relatively low skill level. The seat of the bench is a little bit shorter than ideal with the back added on, but its not a major problem. The bench looks great and the seal seems to have held up well through a couple of rainstorms. I'll tarp it up in the winter to prevent any damage. After finishing this up I moved on to a couple of other projects, which I'll be posting in the near future, assuming I don't get lazy again. And there should be some food posts mixed in.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Thai Shrimp Curry

My 2012 New Year's Resolution was to post on my food blog more frequently. As with most resolutions it didn't stick past January and it's now been three months since I last posted on here. I have still been cooking and trying new recipes, but my will to actually post the results online has waned. This lazy Sunday afternoon has compelled me to do something productive and write this post up. I actually made this Thai shrimp curry recipe from Emeril Lagasse back in January, but I'm just posting it now. You shouldn't take that as an indication of my feelings towards the dish because it actually turned out very well. It had a nice bit of heat without being too spicy. It's a really simple dish, which anybody should be able to make at home. I'd recommend at if you want to take a shot at homemade curry.

2 tablespoons peanut oil
1/2 cup chopped shallots
1 large red bell pepper, cut into strips
2 medium carrots, trimmed and shredded
2 teaspoons minced garlic
3 tablespoons Thai Red Curry Paste
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 teaspoons palm sugar or light brown sugar
1 (14-ounce) can coconut milk
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 tablespoons chopped Thai basil leaves
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Cooked jasmine rice, accompaniment
Sprigs fresh cilantro, garnish

1. In a large wok or saute pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the shallots, bell peppers, carrots, and garlic, and stir-fry until soft, 2 to 3 minutes.
2. Add the curry paste and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute.
3. Stirring, add the fish sauce and sugar, then the coconut milk and bring to a boil. Simmer until thickened slightly, about 2 minutes.
4. Add the shrimp and cook, stirring, until pink and just cooked through, about 2 minutes.
5. Remove from the heat and stir in the basil and cilantro.
6. Serve over jasmine rice, garnished with cilantro sprigs.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Buffalo chicken panini

For my birthday this year my girlfriend's parents got me a Cuisinart Griddler, which is a panini press/griddle/grill/waffle maker. Since then I've been experimenting with different types of paninis. I made version of the turkey avocado grilled cheese sandwich I'd previously posted, along with a sliced chicken and brie on focaccia sandwich. I was pleased with how both of those turned out. If you're looking for a panini press, I'd recommend the Griddler. It's worked very well and has a bunch of different functions. The griddle plates pop right out which makes it easy to clean after each use.

Most recently I made a buffalo chicken panini sandwich. I found this recipe on The blue cheese and caramelized onions are a really nice cool contrast to the spicy buffalo sauce. I used Wing-Time medium buffalo sauce, which had a nice kick without being too hot for me. The recipe uses pita bread for the sandwiches. I decided to go with some focaccia loaves from Trader Joe's. 

1-1/2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, sliced into 1/2″ strips
12-oz. bottle of Buffalo wing sauce (i.e., Frank’s Red Hot Buffalo Wing Sauce)
1 tablespoon butter
1 large red onion, sliced into thin rings
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
4-6″ pita breads
1/2 cup blue cheese, crumbled

1. Add chicken and Buffalo wing sauce to a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, then lower heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until chicken is cooked through well.
2. While the chicken is simmering, heat butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. Saute onions for 13 minutes until soft. Stir in sugar and saute for another 10 minutes or until onions are caramelized. Set aside.
3. Assemble and grill each sandwich one at a time. Place 1/4 of the caramelized onions on each sandwich. Add chicken on top of the onions with a slotted spoon, draining most of the sauce through the spoon. Top the chicken with about 2 tablespoons of the blue cheese.
4. Transfer it to the panini press. Grill for 5 minutes until cheese is melted and bread is toasted. Serve hot.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Chicken Florentine Pasta

This recipe comes from the Pioneer Woman, also known as Ree Drummond. Personally, I'm a big fan of her recipes, though she has a fair number of critics. I understand why her personal manner bugs some people, and I recognize that she sometimes uses an almost Paula Deen-esque amount of butter, but she also has some really great recipes. This recipe isn't overloaded with butter and is actually a good, light spring pasta dish. I bought fresh grape tomatoes and spinach from Eastern Market in D.C., which gave the dish a nice bright flavor.

1 pound Penne
4 whole Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts
Salt And Pepper, to taste
2 Tablespoons Butter
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
4 cloves Garlic, Minced
3/4 cups Dry White Wine
3/4 cups Low-sodium Broth, More If Needed
1 bag Baby Spinach
2 cups Grape Tomatoes, Halved Lengthwise
4 ounces Shaved Parmesan Cheese

1. Cook pasta according to package directions in lightly salted water. Drain and set aside.
2. Cut chicken breasts into chunks and sprinkle on salt and pepper.
3. Heat butter and olive oil over high heat in a large skillet. Add chicken chunks in a single layer and do not stir for a minute or two in order to allow the chicken to brown on the first side. Turn the chicken and brown on the other side. Cook until done, then remove chicken from the skillet.
4. Turn heat to medium. Add garlic and quickly stir to avoid burning. After about 30 seconds, pour in wine and broth, stirring to deglaze the pan. Allow the liquid to bubble up, then continue cooking until it's reduced by at least half (most of the surface of the liquid should be bubbling at this point.)
5. Turn off the heat. Add spinach, tomatoes, chicken, and cooked pasta to the skillet. Toss to combine; the spinach will wilt as you toss everything. Add plenty of Parmesan shavings and toss to combine.
6. Serve with extra Parmesan shavings.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Chocolate peanut butter pie

So back in my first post of the year I made a New Year's Resolution to post more often. That didn't last very long obviously, as it's been about three months since I posted on here. So I'm getting back to work with this post. I made this chocolate peanut butter pie for two parties over the Christmas season and it was a big hit. It's very rich and delicious. I used a pre-made crust, because I was feeling lazy. The filling comes from a recipe from The chocolate ganache recipe comes from

One pre-made pie crust
Chopped peanuts and shaved dark chocolate for topping

For the filling:
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 package (8 ounce) softened cream cheese
1-1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 package (8 ounce) Cool Whip, thawed

For the topping:
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
2 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup whipping cream

1. Beat the peanut butter with the cream cheese until smooth.
2. Add powdered sugar and beat until smooth.
3. Add in the thawed Cool Whip and beat mixture until smooth, scraping the sides as needed.
4. Pour filling into crust, evening out the top with a knife or spatula. Chill for at least an hour before topping with the ganache.
5. In a pan, combine the sugar and 1/2 cup cream. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar.
6. Lower heat immediately and simmer, without stirring, 5-6 minutes until slightly thick and pale yellow.
7. Remove from heat and stir in butter and chocolate until melted. Let chocolate mixture cool slightly.
8. Pour the topping over pie and spread to cover completely and evenly.
9. Chill, uncovered, about 1 hour until firm.
10. When the topping is semi-cool sprinke chopped peanuts and shaved dark chocolate on top.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Stuffed portobello mushrooms

Last Sunday, after a weekend of heavy meals, my girlfriend and I decided we needed a lighter dinner. After looking around at a bunch of vegetarian recipes, I decided to mix together a few to make my own dish. The balsamic vinegar marinade gave the portobellos a great flavor, which mixed really well with the vegetables and tomato sauce. This turned out to be a really good healthy, vegetarian option. You could use almost any combination of veggies to stuff the mushrooms, but I was really happy with how my picks turned out.

4 portobello mushrooms, stems and gills removed
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1 cup balsamic vinegar
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 small yellow squash, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
6 ounce jar marinated artichokes, drained
1 red pepper, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 handfuls baby spinach leaves
1 1/2 cups tomato sauce (I used half a jar of Paul Newman tomato & basil sauce)
Shredded mozzarella cheese
Grated parmesan cheese
Bread crumbs for topping

1. Preheat oven to 375.
2. Mix the balsamic vinegar, onion powder and garlic powder. Marinate the mushrooms in the balsamic vinegar mix for 30 minutes to 2 hours.
3. Heat olive oil over medium high heat. Saute garlic, onions, squash, artichokes and red pepper until the vegetables become tender, about 4-5 minutes.
4. Add spinach leaves and saute until wilted, about a minute or so.
5. Add tomato sauce.
6. Fill the mushroom caps with the vegetable mixture.
7. Top with mozzarella, parmesan and bread crumbs.
8. Bake 15-20 minutes, until mushrooms are soft and the top is crispy.


Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Chana masala

I was inspired to make this recipe after trying the chana masala at the White Tiger restaurant on Capital Hill and at the Tasty Kabob food truck. Chana masala is a spicy Indian chickpea dish. More traditional versions of this dish use amchur powder (dried mango powder), but that's pretty hard to find in the US, so I went with an alternative version. This recipe comes a blog called Orangette. The author notes that her and her husband have some disputes over whether or not to include yogurt in the recipe. Personally, I agree with her that the yogurt adds a nice cool flavor to the dish, but you can take it out if you prefer. I was very happy with how this dish turned out. Its a very nice vegetarian option if you're looking for one.

Good-quality olive oil
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp ground ginger
1 tsp garam masala
3 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
1 tsp kosher salt, or to taste
1 Tbs cilantro leaves, roughly torn, plus more for garnish
A pinch of cayenne, or to taste
2 15-ounce cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
6-8 Tbs plain whole-milk yogurt, optional
A few lemon wedges, optional

1. Film the bottom of a large saucepan or Dutch oven—preferably not nonstick—with olive oil, and place the pan over medium heat. Add the onion, and cook, stirring frequently, until it is deeply caramelized and even charred in some spots. Be patient. The more color, the more full-flavored the final dish will be.
2. Reduce the heat to low. Add the garlic, stirring, and add a bit more oil if the pan seems dry. Add the cumin seeds, coriander, ginger, garam masala, and cardamom pods, and fry them, stirring constantly, until fragrant and toasty, about 30 seconds. Add ¼ cup water, and stir to scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook until the water has evaporated away completely.
3. Pour in the juice from can of tomatoes, followed by the tomatoes themselves, using your hands to break them apart as you add them; alternatively, add them whole and crush them in the pot with a potato masher.
4. Add the salt.
5. Raise the heat to medium, and bring the pot to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, add the cilantro and cayenne, and simmer the sauce gently, stirring occasionally, until it reduces a bit and begins to thicken. Taste, and adjust the seasoning as necessary.
6. Add the chickpeas, stirring well, and cook over low heat for about five minutes. Add 2 Tbs water, and cook for another five minutes. Add another 2 Tbs water, and cook until the water is absorbed, a few minutes more. This process of adding and cooking off water helps to concentrate the sauce’s flavor and makes the chickpeas more tender and toothsome. Taste, and adjust the seasoning as necessary.
7. Stir in the yogurt, if you like, or garnish with lemon wedges and cilantro.