Friday, March 30, 2012

A Mushroom and Green Pea Risotto

Mushroom and green pea risotto is another recipe I learned from helping my mother in kitchen. This dish takes constant stirring and attention, but the steps are quite simple. It is also very flexible. I used low sodium, fat-free chicken broth for all of the liquid, but part water or all vegetable broth can be substituted. The veggies are also optional and switchable.

the final product still steaming
First, I sautéed the mushrooms in the iron skillet. I used a carton of sliced mushrooms. I added a thin layer of olive oil and cooked the mushrooms in rounds so they weren’t crowded.

While the mushrooms were browning, I roughly chopped half a sweet onion and began to sauté the onions in another pot with two tablespoons of olive and one tablespoon of butter over medium heat.

After about 15 minutes, I added 1 1/2 cups of arborio rice and let the rice cook with the onions for 5 minutes.

Then I added the first of 4 cups of chicken broth. This is when the constant stirring becomes key. I don’t add anymore chicken broth until the broth is absorbed into the rice enough that it does not seep past the rice when I run the wooden spoon through the middle of the rice. This is one of my mother’s tricks, and I am positive it is what made stirring risotto fun when I was younger, making a game out of knowing when to add more broth.

This is what it should look like when it is time to add more broth.
 After the first cup of broth, I add the rest in smaller increments as to not cool down the rice too much as it cooks. Heating the broth in a sauce pan before adding it to the rice also helps with this problem.

With the last 1/2 cup of broth, I incorporated the sautéed mushrooms and 1 cup of thawed frozen green peas into the rice and cooked the risotto for about 5 more minutes.

It's almost finished. Just five more minutes or until there is no longer standing broth at the top.
 I checked to see if it needed salt here because even though I used low sodium chicken broth. I didn’t want to add any salt until all of the chicken broth was in the dish. I added about a half tablespoon of salt and stirred it in. Then the mushroom and green pea risotto is ready to serve.

To go with the risotto, I made very simple grilled chicken tenderloins and a thrown together salad. I used only salt and pepper for chicken seasoning and cooked the strips in a thin layer of olive oil in my cast iron skillet.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Vintage Inspiration

As my mother always tells me, there is something magical and empowering about taking a flat fold of fabric and making a one of a kind garment with your own hands (and trusty sewing machine). This lavender dress was just that kind of sewing project. I didn't need it for a particular event, so I took my time and worked in sections: a night to cut, two afternoons to make the bodice, a couple of hours after dinner to make and attach the skirt, a trip home and consultation with Mom to make sure the fit worked, and then one last afternoon to put in the zipper.

I just love this dress! It has pockets and a collar. What more could you ask for?

How did I pick this pattern? Well, sewing a vintage dress from an original pattern has been a goal of mine for quite a while, so I did some research on the fit and sizing of vintage patterns and found this 1/2 size gem in the Etsy boutique Miss Betty's Attic. This shop has a wonderful collection of vintage patterns, and they provide very precise description of the measurements and pattern conditions. I loved the silhouette, collar, and pockets of this dress, and since most vintage patterns aren't multi-sized, I had to find one that worked with my bust and waist measurements. 

This pattern had wonderfully specific directions. I don't know if that has to do with it being an older pattern or what, but the English major in me appreciates a set of well written directions. 

I almost went a little wild with fabric choice, planning to use a blue and grey retro bicycle print, but I decided on this springtime color instead. A good friend gave me this lovely lavender fabric from her mother's stash of 70s and 80s fabric. It was just the right yardage, too. I finished cutting with less than a 1/4 yard to spare. I hope Hannah and Mama Wilkes approve of my choice for this fabric. And don't worry the bicycle fabric will be making an appearance in dress form by the summer. 

As I said, I worked in stages because I had the time to do so and I was unfamiliar with the pattern. This was also my first attempt at a collar and side invisible zipper. I spent the longest amount of time on the bodice. There are 4 front waist darts, 2 bust darts, and 4 back waist darts, and then the collar. The darts weren't difficult just time consuming because of the measuring and marking necessary to make a precise dart. (Maybe I should write a blog post on my mother's technique for making precise darts.) I learned the most about the fit of vintage garments from these darts. Being a 50s pattern, the bust is shaped for a woman wearing undergarments such as cone shaped bras and waist cinching girdles that we no longer wear today (unless you count Spanx). So the front waist darts come higher and the both the back and front waist darts are deeper. This turned out to not be too much of an issue fit wise for me, but I will adjust the darts, if I make this pattern again. I also learned that I used an iron-on interfacing that was probably too thick for the collar because even after cutting away the seam at an angle, the facing wants peak out from the collar. The very thin mesh type of interfacing would be my pick for a next time. The sleeves are “kimono style,” meaning they are an extension of the bodice and not a different piece, definitely a perk. 

Here's the bodice. Notice the darts. 

The sewing of the skirt and attaching the skirt to the bodice were simple steps. I thought the pockets might be tricky, but they weren’t at all. I basted in one side seam and took the dress home to try on for my mother and get her opinion about fit before I came back and put in the zipper. Now, the dress only lacks a hem, and it'll be ready for Easter Sunday. I only worry about how much I should cut off before I hem it. Any thoughts on the skirt length? 

The belt is a hand-me-down from my aunt, and the shoes are an old Laura Ashley pair. 

Happy sewing, y'all!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Fajita Night!

Every once in a while, I get a craving for my momma's fajitas. I'm sure her version has little resemblance to the authentic Mexican dish, but her fajitas are quite tasty. This was actually the first of my mother's dishes that I learned to cook on my own, and they are relatively easy, except for the amount of chopping and time involved. They do take a full night of cooking, but it is definitely worth it. I promise.

My mother's fajita night came about as a healthier option to both restaurant fajitas and the ground beef quesadillas that my brother requested all through his high school years. Mom and I both make chicken fajitas with onion and bell peppers, but I'm sure you could do shrimp, steak, or just the veggies. We also prefer more veggies than meat so the ratio is about 2:1, but, again, that's up to you. Everything about fajitas is very flexible, and it's easy to adjust the amount to the number of people from whom you are cooking.

The first step is to marinade the chicken. I cut 1.5 lbs of chicken breasts into strips, cover them in marinade, and put it all back in the fridge for about an hour. The marinade includes the juice of one lemon and half of a lime, around 1 tsp of salt and 1 of pepper, and 2 tablespoons of chili powder.

Raw chicken isn't the prettiest, but this is what the marinade should look like.
Next, I chop onions and peppers. I found red and orange bell peppers on sale for the same price as the green ones, so I used one of each color and 1 1/2 large sweet onions. I don't really worry about the size of bell pepper slices or how precisely I chop the onions because as long as they are all relatively the same size with the seeds removed they will all cook down evenly.

All the veggies are finally ready
Now on to the cooking, I use a cast iron dutch oven skillet to cook the fajitas (and most everything else). My mother graciously parted with this high-sided, well-seasoned skillet when I moved to Tuscaloosa, and I will be forever grateful. I could go on about the merits of my cast iron skillet (as any other Southern cook could), but that's a story for another day. Back to the fajitas, I always cook the chicken first because I want the chicken and marinade to flavor the vegetables. Depending on how much I cook, it takes a couple of rounds to cook all of the chicken strips because I try not to crowd them so they will char and cook quickly. I think there were 3 rounds of chicken this time.

Next, I cook the vegetables in the same fashion, and I believe there were 3 rounds like the chicken. When they are finished, the onions should be translucent and have a light brownish tint and the bell peppers should be slightly charred and a little duller in color.

After all the veggies are finished. I put all the vegetables and chicken back in the skillet, turn the eye off, cover it with a lid, and let it all mix together and warm back up for about five minutes.

The topping usually vary as to what is available and personal preferences of the group, but that night we had shredded sharp cheddar cheese, black olives, fat free refried beans, salsa, and sour cream. I also warmed whole wheat tortillas this time, but regular flour or none at all can be used. Sliced avocados are normally a standard topping for me, but I couldn't find a ripe one at the grocery that afternoon.

 All that's left to do is for everyone to make their fajitas to their liking. Here's mine:

Fajita side note: I threw a Tacky, Mexican Christmas Party last semester to celebrate finishing papers and grading and in honor of some long lost grad school friends, visiting from West Virginia and Maryland. The tacky part was just for fun. The Mexican part was because fajitas were one of the only dishes I was confident that I could cook for 20ish people, and they were a success. 

Here's an action shot. At least we know Steve enjoyed the fajitas and Lola, the dog, wanted some, too. 

See, everyone loves fajitas (and friends and holidays and tackiness).

Thursday, March 1, 2012

An Introduction

I am the younger daughter of a dressmaker who also is a wonderful cook, baker, and mother. As most children do, I took my mother's talent and knowledge for granted, expecting that everyone's mother made them beautiful smocked dresses, bright, happy play clothes, dinners from scratch every night and homemade caramel cakes and sugar cookies. Now that I'm in my mid-20s and sewing and cooking on my own for the first time, I look back in amazement and gratitude, and have set out to develop my own sewing and cooking skills with my mother as inspiration. I also draw inspiration from the other women in my family, my mother's good friends, and my own friends. I do not have an entirely clear view of how recording these experiences will turn out, but I hope this blog will be both useful and rewarding. I plan to mostly post about my sewing, cooking, and baking, but I am sure other topics will find their way into these discussions as they do in life.

My sister, my mother, and me in New York City for my 25th birthday