Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Recipe | Korean Beef Tacos with Mango + Cilantro Slaw

Thanks to Pinterest, I've been exposed to more slow cooker recipes than I ever imagined.  Oddly, until recently I was never too keen to try them.  It's not the recipes so much as the idea of cooking in a Crock Pot.  The thought of chopping up onions, whisking together marinades, and handling raw meat at 8 in the morning didn't appeal to me, even though the idea of simplifying week night meal times certainly did.  So I continued to peek at recipes now and then, trying to persuade myself.  When I pinned this one for Korean beef tacos I started to consider buying a Crock Pot (so hard to justify an appliance that size in a kitchen my size.  thankfully, I am able to store it in a spare pantry outside of the kitchen when not in use.) Then I saw others raving about the tacos on Instagram and I knew I had to give them and slow cooking a try.  Even if just to confirm my preconceptions.  Haha!  Well, that was several months ago, and I've honestly made this recipe about 2x per month since.  I've made some tweaks, mainly that I serve it with a different slaw, and switched up a couple ingredients.  The boys love it, Jimmy loves it, and there are always plenty of left overs so I get two nights "off" in the kitchen.  Win, win, win, all around.  It's worth having my hands smelling of garlic before I finish my first cup of tea for the day. :)

Korean Beef Tacos
(adapted from Crockpot 365)
3-4 pound chuck roast, trim fat
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup soy sauce
whole head of garlic, peeled
1 inch french ginger, diced
1 small onion, diced
1 TBS toasted sesame oil
2 TBS seasoned rice vinegar

Combine all ingredients in slow cooker and cook on low for 8-10 hours.  Remove meat and shred with 2 forks, when there is about an hour cooking left, then return to slow cooker to finish cooking.

Spoon into corn or flour soft taco shells alongside the mango, cilantro slaw (my favorite part!).

Mango, Cilantro Slaw
(adapted from Food & Wine)
1 bag of shredded cabbage/slaw mix (14-16 oz bag)
1 mango, peeled and diced
1 bunch cilantro, minced
1 small shallot, diced
1 jalapeño, seeded, diced
1/2 cup mayo
the juice of half a lime
1 TBS sugar
1 TBS seasoned rice vinegar
salt + pepper

Combine slaw mix through jalapeño in a medium bowl. Whisk together mayo through salt and pepper in a small bowl, then toss with slaw mixture.  Can be made ahead of time and stored, covered, in fridge.  It's amazing!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Photo Books | Preserving Our Family Memories

I'm excited to share a glimpse of what has been a time consuming (yet very fun and rewarding)  undertaking this summer, catching up on 3 years worth of family photos!  After seeing friends, Linsey (her new blog here) and Jenny, create gorgeous photo books to preserve their family memories, I was inspired to do the same.  Old high school yearbook editing skills, don't fail me now!  

In the past, I would print 4x6 photos and tuck them in leather bound photo albums, which has worked perfectly well, up to a point.  Photo albums don't tell a story the way a photo book (or blog post) does, also they are made up of all 4x6 sized photos (other than those few I would enlarge for frames each year).  The photo book both tells a story and allows for favorite images to be enlarged without the need to frame them.  Sort of the best of all worlds.  I have long been impressed with Mpix quality for reprints, so after hearing Jenny's positive experience with their photo books I decided to give them a try.  I was hoping for a dark navy linen bound book but it wasn't an option (please add it to the mix Mpix, if you are reading! :)), but the charcoal linen is really nice too.  The colors of the photos and the quality of the books are incredible.  As is their customer service and turn around time!!  I had four books made.  The 11x8 1/2 landscape size is my favorite because I take more landscape oriented pictures than portrait and I preferred the way I could layout my photos in that sized book best.
^^ A foggy morning on the beach in Cape Cod last summer.  The colors are absolutely perfect and take me right back to that very happy morning.^^

^^ I started and ended each book with a full page picture.  I especially like this one for all its imperfections.  It was an outtake from a Christmas card photo session with my Dad a couple years ago.  It captures the reality of that morning, with the boys silly antics and challenge of getting that one shot where we are all looking at the camera with our eyes open. ^^

^^ My tan, happy boys just a few years ago, from our summer trip to Michigan.  I really like the large images best in the books. ^^

^^ The double page panoramic pics are fun too.  I discovered this option when working on my second book and incorporated a few in each of the books thereafter. ^^

^^ I found myself including more scenery shots in the photo book than I ever would have in prints for a photo album.  It is a good reminder to point my camera away from just my family when I'm photographing our everyday life or adventures.  It's these shots that help add details to the memories. ^^
^^ I love this spread from last Christmas and winter.   All that snow was so magical. ^^

^^ Sometimes I used the preset templates in Mpix but most of the time I re-sized and moved images around to create my own.  With each book I got a little better and faster at figuring out what looked best together.^^

^^ Charlie's 5th Birthday, some of my favorite pictures!^^

^^ Our Chicago visit 3 years ago.  Photos taken at dusk are always the prettiest.^^

^^ Occasionally, I apply filters to my photos when editing.  Typically it is when I've messed up the manual settings on my camera and I'm trying to adjust or correct my mistakes.  I'm always a bit leery as to how they will look when printed versus on my computer screen.   In the case of the photo books they were gorgeous.  I use PicMonkey (I vow to learn Photoshop one day!) to add filters.   The above image is a favorite from apple picking last fall, I applied the "dusk" filter when editing.^^

^^Anniversary celebration at the Castle House Inn in Newport, Rhode Island.^^

^^I could just keep going and going, because I love each spread for different reasons, but I'll stop here.  Charlie's 4th birthday.^^

I just started our 2014 book.  It feels great to be all caught up!  Each book has a max of 50 pages. So far I haven't been able to narrow down the pictures enough to fit in a complete year in one book, which is ok because I typically didn't with photo albums either.  Thanks for taking a look! :)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Summer Dinner Party for 10 | The Ultimate Blueberry Lemon Cheesecake

Hello?  Anybody still out there?  My blogging intentions have been so good this summer (5 posts lay patiently waiting in draft form), but my time has been short.  Not because we are so busy, quite the opposite,  sunny days have been spent at the pool, rainy days spent walking to the movie theater or library in town,  I've had days (weeks?) go by without opening my laptop, I've read so many books I've lost count, and Jimmy and I have enjoyed many evenings out.  It's been nice.  I don't want to be reminded that only 5 weeks remain before the boys head back to school.  The thought of sending Charlie to kindergarten makes me want to clutch my chest and weep.  But we aren't there yet.  Plenty of time for me to get overly dramatic and emotional about all that. (Bet you can't wait. Ha.) 

Last week the boys spent the weekend at my parents.  As much as we love their company (and noise) it is such a treat to get a couple weekends a year to ourselves.  On Friday, Jimmy and I tried out a new restaurant and Saturday we hosted our Supper Club for dinner at our home.  I started out taking pictures early in the day, but once our guests arrived I was having too much fun to bring the camera back out, plus I think it can be a little awkward to take pictures while everyone is trying to enjoy themselves.  Never mind pictures that will be posted on a blog!  

I kept the menu very simple.  I purposefully choose food that could be nibbled using your hands or a fork, no knife or cutting necessary.  That way people were free to mingle standing up and could balance the plate and eat at the same time gracefully.  What actually happened was the men ended up on the patio drinking beer and eating, while the girls stayed in the dining room and talked girl stuff.  It wasn't intentional but it was fun.  Entertaining a large group can quickly start to feel like catering instead of a casual dinner party, there is a temptation to make a ton of food and a variety of dishes,  which results in lots of last minute assembly and a tired host.  I prefer to keep it simple, I like people to have enough food to feel satisfied but not so much they leave feeling over stuffed and tired.   It makes the evening feel more effortless and enjoyable (though there is really no such thing as effortless entertaining, the secret is just to make it appear so. :)  there is always planning and house tidying to be done!)  

St. Germain Sangria 
Cheese Board (I have a whole blog post, one of the 5 drafts, coming on how I like to assemble one)
Herb & Garlic Rack of Lamb (I doubled my recipe for the marinade and had 3 racks of lamb)
Herb Roasted Potatoes (made by one of the guests)
Blueberry and Lemon Cheesecake  (recipe below. this was my favorite thing on the menu and I'm not typically a big cheesecake fan.  It is incredibly light, not thick and dense like others I've tasted.  Plus the blueberries are so incredibly good right now.  I kept wishing my brother lived closer because growing up cheesecake was his favorite dessert, he ordered it every time it was on the menu! )

(To make: Combine 1 cup St. Germain, 1 bottle Sauvignon Blanc, fresh fruit (peach, berries, grapes) and let chill in pitcher for 4-8 hours) 

(I actually made the cheesecake again this week to make sure I got the same results before I shared the recipe, so the above pic isn't from the party, in case you were wondering why the napkins didn't match.  I know you guys notice the details. :) )

The Ultimate Blueberry Lemon Cheesecake

2 cups finely ground graham crackers (about 32 squares)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 stick unsalted butter, melted

1 pound cream cheese, 2 (8-ounce) blocks, softened
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 pint sour cream
1 lemon, zested
1 dash vanilla extract

Warm Lemon Blueberry Sauce:
1 pint blueberries
1 lemon, zested and juiced
2 tablespoons sugar

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

In a mixing bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs and melted butter with a fork until evenly moistened. Lightly coat the bottom and sides of an 10-inch springform pan with non-stick cooking spray.

Pour the crumbs into the pan and, using the bottom of a measuring cup or the smooth bottom of a glass, press the crumbs down into the base and 1-inch up the sides. Refrigerate for 5 minutes.

For the Filling:
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese on low speed for 1 minute until smooth and free of any lumps. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and continue to beat slowly until combined. Gradually add sugar and beat until creamy, for 1 to 2 minutes.

Add sour cream, lemon zest, and vanilla. Periodically scrape down the sides of the bowl and the beaters. The batter should be well-mixed but not overbeaten. Pour the filling into the crust-lined pan and smooth the top with a spatula.

Set the cheesecake pan on a large piece of aluminum foil and fold up the sides around it.  I tripled wrapped the pan so no water would leak in. Place the cake pan in a large rimmed baking sheet. Pour boiling water into the sheet pan until the water is about halfway up the sides of the pan; the foil will keep the water from seeping into the cheesecake. Bake for 50-55 minutes. The cheesecake should still jiggle (it will firm up after chilling), so be careful not to overcook. Let cool in pan for 20 minutes. Chill in the refrigerator, loosely covered, overnight. Loosen the cheesecake from the sides of the pan. Transfer to a cake plate, I leave it on the bottom of the springform pan. Using a spatula spread a layer of Warm Lemon Blueberry topping over the surface.

Slice the cheesecake with a thin, non-serrated knife, wipe dry after each cut.

Warm Lemon Blueberries:
In a small saucepan add all the ingredients and simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes or so until the fruit begins to break down slightly. Leave to cool before spreading on cheesecake.

(note: the ingredients and directions are identical to the linked recipe, I just used a larger springform pan and adjusted the cooking time and technique to match.  The reviews of the original recipe reported a lot of under cooked cheesecakes.  I made it twice and it was perfectly set, without being over cooked using the timing I wrote above.)