last weekend

Today, Nick and I had a leisurely breakfast at home of apple and cinnamon oatmeal. Then, we ventured out.

We also took a fabulous walk on the beach. The weather was perfect - not too warm, sunny, with the ocean breeze keeping things cool.

It was so much fun - we rescued a starfish, saw several washed up jellies (just why do they commit suicide when there's a full moon?), a crab and a few pups. I played in what Nick considers fish farts - aka the bubbly stuff at the surf - while he told me that I was crazy.

After our walk and a quick stop at the grocery, we came home and worked on a freezer organization project. I'll give you all the details next week, but stay tuned this week for some fabulous posts from some of you.

Paper Towel Rehab: How to Curb the Habit

Hi, I'm Jessica and I was addicted to paper towels.

Whew. I said it. We would buy in bulk and although they would last a while, I was probably going through a roll a week. Extreme house cleaning and Nick would joke about buying stocks in Bounty. Eek. I wanted to get better and reduce my usage, but the "unpaper towels" that were out there (here and here) were too expensive and it seemed like there could be an easier (read: cheaper) way. I could just buy a ton of dish towels or the expensive unpaper towels, but some of the things I use paper towels for are pretty gross and I never wanted to use my dish rags for, so would I use the pretty new towels? Probably not.

So when Nick said that he needed new t-shirts, a light bulb went off. People have used cut up old t-shirts as rags for as long as they've had worn out t-shirts, so of course I would give it a try. But the thought of having a giant pile of cut up t-shirts just seemed overwhelmingly disorganized. So, I thought about what I liked about paper towels and how I could use t-shirts in the same way without giving up the convience factor.
So, what did I come up with?

This jar, filled with rolled, cut to size t-shirt rags. Meeting all of my criteria, it was a great solution and makes the change from paper towels much easier.

What you'll need:

Fabric shears or sharp scissors
Ruler or template
Clean glass jar
Old T-shirts
Cleaning Solution (Optional)

I started with those old, grungy t-shirts Nick was tossing. I started by cutting out the seams and laying them flat. I had a total of 8 shirts, so they could be cut together, but any more and I would split them into two piles. Figure out the layout. I was able to get seven 6" x 11" rectangles out of one of Nick's shirts, but depending on the size, you may get more or less. Cut the shirts into rectangles of the proper size.

To roll the "towels," overlap the first towel with the second towel by one or two inches. Roll the first towel until a few inches sticks out from the second. Overlap a third towel onto the second towel by one or two inches and roll. Continue overlapping towels until you get about 20 or so in the roll. This amount fits in a 3"  jar pretty tightly. For dry towels, you can simply add the towels into the jar and set on the counter. Reach into the center and pull up the first towel and it should leave an inch or so of the next towel up, just like a wipe dispenser.

Since most of the time, I use these for cleaning, I've also made them into pre-moistened cleaning wipes. Simply wet the rags with the cleaning solution of your choice and ring out excess before placing into the jar.

Since I got about 60 from Nick's shirts, I was able to roll 3 "rolls" of towels. I also have some additional rags from the sleeves I can use for small jobs. Since the paper towels we were using have about 56 in each roll, we can easily use these for a week and then launder.

Steak with Flame Sauce: The Remix

Oh, boy.

We made this before, and each time it gives me heart palpitations, but we continue to make it. Because it is delicious. Except this time, instead of having a beef tenderloin in the freezer (resulting in filets), we had purchased a large strip that Nick had cut into steaks. It's a great cut of meat, but it is a bit meatier than the melt in your mouth filets, so we wanted to switch up the flavors as well.

We more or less followed the original recipe, but with a few new twists. We added Szechuan peppercorns and allspice berries in addition to the regular peppercorns in the rub and tossed a few mushrooms into the cream sauce.

It tasted surprisingly well. I thought that the new spices added some depth and warmth to the sauce and that those complimented the earthy, meaty flavors of the mushroom and steak nicely.

Strip Steak with Flame Sauce and Mushrooms

2 tenderloin steaks, 6 to 8 ounces each and no more than 1 1/2" thick
coarse sea salt
2 tbsp whole peppercorns
2 allspice berries
5 Szechuan peppercorns 1 tbsp unsalted butter 1 tsp. olive oil 1/3 c. Cognac, plus 1 tsp. 1 c. heavy cream
5 large mushrooms, sliced thin

Remove the steaks from the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour prior to cooking. Sprinkle all sides with salt.

Coarsely crush the peppercorns and allspice berries with a mortar and pestle. Coat each side of the steaks with the mixture.

In a skillet (we used cast iron) over medium heat, melt the butter and olive oil. As soon as the butter and oil begin to turn golden and smoke, gently place the steaks in the pan. Cook about 4 minutes a side. When the steaks are cooked to your liking (we prefer medium rare on the rare-ish side), remove them from the pan and onto a plate. Cover with aluminum foil and let rest. Pour any excess fat from the pan (we sop it up with a paper towel and then discard). Do not, however, clean the crusty bits from the pan.

Remove the pan from the heat and add 1/3 c. Cognac to the pan and ignite with a stick lighter. Shake the pan a bit until the flames die and the alcohol has burned off. 

Place the pan back on the stove and add the cream and mushrooms. Bring the mixture up to a boil and whisk until it coats the back of a spoon and the mushrooms are tender. Add the remaining tsp. of Cognac and season with salt.
Add the steaks back into the pan and coat with the sauce. Serve the steaks with a heavy drizzle of the cream sauce.