Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Alphabet Christmas Tree

The idea of a Christmas tree decorated with alphabet cookies has been stirring in my head for several years, and recently adopting two kids made for perfect time to bring this idea to life. Michael and I have been collecting cookie cutters for several years which include a set of all 26 letters. Our three year old, Nick, and I both share a love of the ABC’s and are quite happy to sing their praises any chance we get. With these elements and a little extra free time at the end of November I seized the opportunity.

Like many projects I take on, this one proved to be a little bigger than I had expected. It took three batches of gingerbread cookie dough and a LOT of rolling (doing this in small batches was key) to ensure the tree would be properly decorated. Cutting the cookies was easy but remembering to make a hole at the top for string wasn’t. After all the baking was done I lost my free time; thankfully the cookies sit around without trouble and made the kitchen smell wonderful. We decorated at least two dozen of the cookies late one night and tying all the red string so they would hang “just right” took me about three hours. But it was a labor of love and I am thrilled with the results.

In all the projects around our house, I strive for a twist of modern luxury and I think this happened so nicely on the tree. A simple color palette was used to decorate the cookies: white icing, white sanding sugar, peppermint pillows and silver drages. By keeping many of the cookies in their natural state the tree is kept from being too folksy.

Nick is so excited about the tree and he can pick out the ornaments that spell his name … which I’m sure will impress Santa when he comes for a visit.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

After: Magnolia Condo

Amazing how a little color can completely transform a space. For several months this Magnolia condo sat empty and my client was eager to get it rented. The plan was divided into two phases: new paint and carpet first, followed by a kitchen update. To capitalize on the views and make the space feel bigger, we chose a Benjamin More Beachside Green as the primary color. We worked from the same color strip for the fireplace wall, picking Sage two colors down and continued down for the trim choosing the lightest color on the strip as the primary. The dining room light fixture went from a dated glass and gold number to modern stainless steel. To tie everything together all the white plastic switch plates were replaced in matching stainless. Immediately the condo felt more elegant with its modern color pallet and a bit of dressing up.

The makeover worked some magic --- before we could get the tile guy in to start on the kitchen, the condo rented. Phase two will just have to wait until next time.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Sausage Fennel Stuffing

Celery and onions sautéing in butter are one of the first things I think about as Thanksgiving approaches. I have very clear memories of sitting in the kitchen early Thanksgiving morning, watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade in black and white on a little orange TV while mom cooked up these vegetables as she prepared her stuffing. Sage was one of the most important ingredients adding a complexity of flavor, and another important scent to my memory of this day. Mom stuffed the bird and without fail the stuffing always turned out perfect, both wonderfully crusty and moist. I've never been as lucky. The few times I've tried to stuff a turkey, the filling has steamed more than baked and soggy bread wasn't what I was after.. I've gave up on Mom's way long ago and now always cook the stuffing separately.

My friend Marina turned me on to this Sausage Fennel Stuffing from
Epicurious a few years ago and I've never looked back. I've made a few changes, including adding celery and sage just like Mom's version. The combination of sausage and fennel is a great accompaniment to the turkey and the rest of the trimmings. This year we are going to celebrate Thanksgiving with Michael's family in Olympia, WA. I volunteered to make the stuffing months ago.

Sausage Fennel Stuffing

1/2 lb sweet Italian sausage, casings discarded
1/2 lb spicy Italian sausage, casings discarded
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
2 medium onions, finely chopped (2 cups)
3 celery stalks, chopped fine
1 1/2 lb fennel, 2 medium bulbs, stalks discarded, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
2 teaspoons dried thyme, crumbled
3 teaspoons dried sage, crumbled
7 cups packaged corn bread stuffing
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Cook sausage in a dry 12-inch nonstick skillet over moderate heat, breaking up pieces with a fork until browned and cooked through, 6-8 minutes. Transfer with a slotted to bowl. Add corn bread stuffing

Melt 6 tablespoons butter in skillet over moderate heat, add onions, celery, fennel, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are softened, 10 -15 minutes.

Finely grind fennel seeds in coffee/spice grinder then add to vegetables along with thyme and sage. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.

Transfer vegetables to bowl with stuffing and sausage and toss gently but thoroughly. Spoon stuffing into a buttered 3 to 3 1/2-quart shallow baking dish. Drizzle with stock and dot with remaining 2 tablespoons butter, cut into bits. Bake covered in middle of oven 30 minutes, then uncover and bake until browned, about 30 minutes more.

Makes 8 to 10 servings or about 10 cups

Friday, November 21, 2008

Easy Succulent Garden

I thought this was a great idea for a window sill. My friend Rachel buys mini terracotta pots and small succulent plants on her walks around their Soho neighborhood in New York. After a few months she had a quite a little garden growing. As the plants get bigger she just divides and propagates them. I think I’ll start our own garden after the New Year. As long I stick to plants that aren’t too prickly, I think our older boy will really dig taking care of them. And if we forget to water, well, they are succulents!

I Even Do Windows

Almost everything in our house has been replaced or restored except the windows---and there are a lot of them. The small panes along the front and back of the house are one of the things that sold me on the place, but after we moved in I started to notice how dirty they were. On a sunny Saturday afternoon with the boys napping I finally tackled the job. A little bit of online research led me to a pretty good little tip from Martha Stewart: dishwashing detergent. I cut open a pre-measured dishwashing pack (one that has both powdered and liquid soap) and mixed 1 tablespoon of the powder with a gallon of hot water. Using a rag (and wearing rubber gloves) I wet the windows down with the solution and then wiped them clean with a dry cloth. I had to dump the solution out a few times and switch to a clean dry rag, but I covered a lot of ground quickly and the results were very satisfying…until it rained later that night.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Before: Magnolia Condo

The territorial view is the first thing that struck me about this 1 bedroom Seattle condo. Now that it’s between renters, the owner is looking to make this investment property work a little harder for her. With new paint, carpet and light fixtures, we are looking on bring the outside color scheme in which will make the condo feel bigger. The kitchen is also in need of a facelift with new flooring, countertop and a cupboard face lift. Look for the final results soon.

Before: Bryant Living Room

This Seattle couple is looking to transform their living room, form a catch-all dumping space for their 10-year-old son and three cats into a space where they can entertain. The room is just off the front door of the small craftsman home, so we are working on a solution for coats, backpacks and mail, while trying to keep the living room clutter free and chic without breaking the bank. Pictures of the transformation.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Nearly everyday I worked at CBS News in New York, my friend B.J. and I got lunch at a little place around the corner called Fabulous Food. When their Butternut Squash soup was on the menu, news of this traveled fast around broadcast center. After I moved back to Seattle I started searching for a recipe that filled this soup void in my life, but nothing I found compared to the rich and tangy taste I remembered. So I started working on my own recipe and I think I’ve come pretty close. Roasting the squash first adds a caramelized flavor, giving the soup an extra kick without a lot of extra spices. This soup is a great start to a festive Thanksgiving dinner and goes well with fish or grilled sandwiches.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

2 butternut squash (seeded, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes)
olive oil
1½ teaspoons of kosher salt
¼ teaspoon of ground black pepper
1 teaspoon of fresh thyme leaves
3 springs of thyme
2 granny smith apples, seeded and cute into ½-inch cubes
2 medium leeks, well washed, white and pale-green parts, cut into ½-inch slices
1 orange, zested and juiced
5 cups of low sodium chicken broth (I prefer Swansons)
salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 400-degrees. Line a 9 x 13-inch rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. On the baking sheet, toss together the squash, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1½ of kosher salt and ¼ black pepper and thyme leaves. Arrange the squash on the baking sheet in an even layer and top with 3 springs of thyme. Bake for 30 minutes. Coat chopped apples with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and then add to the squash and bake for another 15 minutes or until the squash and apples are tender and easily pierced with a knife. Discard the springs of thyme. Set aside the roasted squash mixture.

2. In a large saucepan over medium heat, coat the bottom with a thin layer of olive oil. Cook the leeks until they are soft, about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the roasted squash, apple mixture and orange zest.. Add chicken broth. Cover the rest of the mixture with water, just to the top of the squash (about 2-3 cups). Bring the soup to just below a boil and then lower the heat to simmer, for about 20 to 25 minutes.

3. Remove from heat and let stand and cool slightly. In the same pot, use an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth. (You can also use a food processor to puree, working in batches). Return the pot to the stove and reheat, finish with orange juice and thin with water to desired consistency. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediate or make in advance. This soup is better if it sits refrigerated for a day or so.