DIY mini greenhouse: A quick kids craft

Last week was our son’s third birthday party. He requested it be Lorax themed, which is fitting because his birthday is on Earth Day. Although I consider myself of the crafty variety, birthdays are overwhelming to me and going all out is too exhausting. So I choose activities and decorations with minimal prep work.

One of the save-the-trees crafts I put together was a miniature greenhouse where the kids could plant a seed, create the greenhouse, take it home and watch it grow. It was a hit among two partygoers and that’s a success in my book for a 3-year-old birthday.

DIY mini greenhouses || a quick kids craft from Alaskaknitnat.com

DIY mini greenhouses

Materials:

  • Clear plastic cups
  • Potting soil
  • Dry beans
  • Painter’s tape
  • Knife

Directions:

Fill a plastic cup halfway with potting soil. Wet the soil so it’s moist, but not sopping.

With a knife, poke three holes in the bottom of another cup. Set aside.

Let your little one plant two or three beans in the soil. There’s no wrong way to do it. Jack barely put them beneath the soil and they still sprouted.

DIY mini greenhouse || a quick kids craft from Alaskaknitnat.com

DIY mini greenhouse || a quick kids craft from Alaskaknitnat.com

Place the other cup on top and affix a few pieces of painter’s tape to hold the cups in place.

DIY mini greenhouses || a quick kids craft from Alaskaknitnat.com

Set in a sunny window. No need to water it. About three or four days later your beans should sprout. You can transfer your sprout to a small pot if you like. Be sure there is a drainage hole.

DIY mini greenhouses || a quick kids craft from Alaskaknitnat.com

Mini meatloaves with mushroom marsala sauce

Growing up I rarely had the chance to eat classic dinner foods such as tuna noodle casserole and meatloaf. I absolutely love these dishes. My mom started making meatloaf after I had moved out of the house and it quickly became a favorite. I don’t know what magic she puts into her recipe, but I’ll never know because, like me, my mom just throws stuff together and doesn’t keep track. Well, tonight’s meatloaf was worth remembering.

I doubled the recipe so there’s plenty of leftovers for meatloaf sandwiches, which are almost better than fresh-out-of-the-oven.

Mini meatloaf with mushroom marsala sauce | An easy recipe from Alaska Knit Nat

Mini meatloaf with mushroom marsala sauce

Serves 8

Ingredients:

  • 1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 cup chopped pistachios or cashews (optional)
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 slices of good white bread
  • 2 Tbs. milk
  • 2 Tbs. tomato paste
  • 1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 Tbs. soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2/3 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped pimiento olives (optional)
  • 2 Tbs. dried parsley
  • 1 Tbs. dried basil
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup Italian bread crumbs
  • 2 Tbs. butter
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil

Mini meatloaf with mushroom marsala sauce | An easy recipe from Alaska Knit Nat

For the sauce:

  • 2 Tbs. tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup Marsala wine
  • splash of beef broth
  • up to 1 cup of reserved mushroom liquid (read recipe for details)
  • 2 Tbs. chopped parsley

Mini meatloaf with mushroom marsala sauce | An easy recipe from Alaska Knit Nat

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Place dried mushrooms in a small bowl with hot water. Cover and let sit for 20 minutes. In another small bowl, tear up the bread and add the milk. Let sit for a minute and mash up with a fork.

In a Kitchen Aid bowl add the meat, nuts, yolks, soaked bread, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, onion, garlic, cheese, olives, dried herbs, salt and pepper. Finely chop the mushrooms and add them to the mixture, reserving the mushroom liquid for the sauce. Use the paddle attachment on a low setting until well combined.

Pour the bread crumbs on a tray or pie plate. Heat butter and oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Form four small loaves and dredge them in the bread crumbs. Brown the loaves in the pan two at a time.

Place the loaves in a casserole dish. Top each loaf with decorative olives if you’d like them to resemble a 1950s Betty Crocker cookbook.

Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes or until the center of the loaf reads 140 degrees on a meat thermometer. Remove from oven, transfer loaves to a cutting board and let sit, covered, while you make the sauce.

The sauce: Reheat the pan that you used to brown the loaves. Pour any drippings from the casserole dish into the pan. When the pan is hot add the marsala and tomato paste and whisk until everything is well combined. Bring to a simmer and turn down the heat. Add about 1/2 cup of the mushroom liquid and a splash of beef broth. Add more mushroom liquid if it’s too thick. Add parsley just before serving.

Mini meatloaf with mushroom marsala sauce | An easy recipe from Alaska Knit Nat

Slice loaves into thick slabs. Serve with egg noodles and green beans. Slather with delicious meat sauce.

mini meatloaves with mushroom marsala sauce
Yay, leftovers!

The Aspen Ascot – a free knitting pattern

Happy Easter! It’s currently snowing here in Anchorage, which makes today’s pattern just perfect.

I was scrolling through some old knitting patterns on my blog and I came across my Chunky Ascot Pattern, which included a terrible Hipstamatic photo (before Instagram existed). I decided it was worth making a new ascot just to update the photo.

This pattern uses chunky yarn or you can knit two strands of worsted weight yarn together. It takes very little yarn, so it’s a great way to use up any leftover high quality fibers. I used Malabrigo and Manos de Uruguay worsted alpaca.

The Aspen Ascot is just right for a chilly spring morning when you don’t need a bulky scarf. The two spade-shaped ends create a lovely bow look.

The pattern isn’t difficult, but it does require thinking outside the box. You’ll use three double-pointed needles for the part where you create the loop. The instructions sound sort of whack, but trust the way it’s written and it should make sense in the end.

The Aspen Ascot | A free pattern from Alaska Knit Nat. Perfect afternoon project! The Aspen Ascot | A free pattern from Alaska Knit Nat. Perfect afternoon project!

The Aspen Ascot – a free knitting pattern from Alaska Knit Nat

Materials:

One ball of chunky alpaca, or two strands of worsted knitted together

3 size US 10 double-pointed needles

darning needle

Abbreviations:
M1FB — make 1 stitch in the front and 1 stitch in the back of the same stitch, thus increasing the piece by 1 stitch

k2tog— knit two stitches together

Directions:
Cast on 2 stitches. M1FB of the first stitch, K the next stitch.
Continue to M1FB of the first stitch of every row till you have 16 stitches.
K 12 rows in garter stitch. I slip the first stitch of every row to keep the rows neat and even.
Next row: *Knit the first stitch, transfer the second stitch to the third double point needle.* Repeat * to end of row. You should have 8 stitches on each needle.
Starting with the needle that has the working yarn, K1, P1 for 9 rows. Cut yarn, leaving a 6-inch tail.

The Aspen Ascot | A free pattern from Alaska Knit Nat. Perfect afternoon project!

The Aspen Ascot | A free pattern from Alaska Knit Nat. Perfect afternoon project!
With the other needle holding 8 stitches, leave a 6-inch tail and K1, P1 for 9 rows, but don’t cut the yarn when done.

Next row: *Knit the first stitch from both the front and back needles together, then knit one from the front and one from the back.* Repeat * till there is 1 stitch on each needle. Knit these two stitches together. You should now have 12 stitches on one needle.

Knit in garter stitch till the work is long enough to go around your neck and touch the loop you just created, about 12 inches.

Next row: *K1, K2tog* Repeat * to end of row. You should now have 8 stitches again. K1, P1 for 9 rows.

Next row: M1FB in each stitch. You should now have 16 stitches.

Knit in garter stitch for 12 rows.

Next row: K1, K2tog, K to end of row. Repeat the last row till there are 3 stitches remaining.

Bind off. Weave in tails. Sew on decorative button to one side of the loop if you desire.

 

Decorating Eggs with a Toddler – The Last-minute Way

Easter is an unfamiliar holiday for our family, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get creative with hard-boiled eggs.

Pinterest will show you endless egg possibilities but I’m frankly too lazy to attempt most of them. I also don’t have egg dye.

We decided to bust out our $2 water colors and paint our eggs. It turned out to be far less messy than egg dye and our 3-year-old had a great time coloring his eggs.

We baked the eggs to prevent cracking. Then we just set them out in a muffin tin with some water colors and markers and let our son go to town. Fun!

Perfect Beef Stir Fry — A Free Recipe

For years I’ve struggled with stir fry. It seems easy enough: chop meat and veggies, fry them up in a hot pan, toss with sauce and serve over rice or noodles. I could do the veggie part right, but the meat always turned out pale and chewy. I wanted that crispy beef you get at a restaurant that’s tender and flavorful.

I finally figured it out. It isn’t even hard. First, my kitchen stove isn’t hot enough. It can’t heat a wok like an industrial restaurant flame can. So right away I was set up to fail. My first step was to ditch the wok. My stove just can’t heat the bottom of a wok to a high enough heat. Instead I place a cast iron skillet in the oven and heat it to 500 degrees before putting it over a hot flame. This produces the hottest pan and will help with that caramelized sear I’m looking for on the meat.

Second, tenderize the meat. In the past I just sliced my beef thinly and tossed it into a pan. I find poking it all over with a fork or a meat stabber creates a more tender final product.

Third, don’t overcrowd the pan. Adding a large quantity of cold meat to a hot pan will lower the pan’s heat and it’ll take longer to reheat it. Cook your beef in two batches and the pan will stay hotter. Lastly, don’t move that meat! To achieve that perfect sear, toss in the beef and don’t stir it, shake it or flip it for a minute.

Here’s a recipe I came up with tonight, inspired by this recipe, and using what I had available in my kitchen. I hope you don’t feel intimidated by the number of ingredients. Most of them are staples in my kitchen. Use whatever veggies you like. That’s the great thing about stir fry. It’s customizable. Serve over noodles or rice, whichever you prefer. I happened to have udon noodles so that’s what I went with tonight.

The Best Beef Stir Fry | A Free Recipe from Alaska Knit Nat
suziedepingu via Compfight cc

Perfect Beef Stir Fry — A Free Recipe from Alaska Knit Nat

Ingredients (all of these measurements are estimated):

  • 1 pound of beef, I think we used New York strip steak
  • 1/2 pound udon noodles
  • 1 Tbs. corn starch
  • 2 Tbs. soy sauce
  • 2 tsp. vinegar
  • 3 tsp. sesame oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 Tbs. cooking sherry
  • 2 Tbs. oyster sauce
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 tsp. powdered ginger (I didn’t have any fresh)
  • 3 dried red chilis
  • 1/2 onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 bok choy heads, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 6 kale leaves, stems removed and torn
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • cooking oil
  • 3 green onions, chopped
The Best Beef Stir Fry | A Free Recipe from Alaska Knit Nat
lauradeponte via Compfight cc

Directions:

Tenderize the beef with a meat stabber or a fork. Slice thinly across the grain. In a bowl combine soy sauce, vinegar, 2 cloves of garlic, 1 tsp. sesame oil, corn starch, salt and pepper. Add the sliced beef, coat in the mixture and set aside.

Place a cast iron skillet in a cold oven and set the temperature to 500 degrees. Set a large pot of water to boil. Cook noodles for nine minutes, rinse with cold water and set aside.

In the meantime, chop the onions and bok choy. Massage the kale for a minute. This helps it be more tender when cooked. In a medium bowl, combine the sherry, oyster sauce, chicken stock and ginger; set aside.

When oven reaches 500 degrees, remove the cast iron pan and place it over a high flame. Add some cooking oil, enough to coat the pan, and let it heat for a minute. Add half of the beef and spread it evenly on the pan. Now don’t move it! Let it sit and sear for one minute. Flip each piece, toss in the dried peppers and garlic and let it sit another minute. Place into the bowl with the sherry and oyster sauce. Add a little more oil to the skillet and let it reheat for a minute. Add the second batch of beef and cook the same way.

In the now empty pan, add a little more oil if needed and toss in the onions. Stir and let cook for a few minutes till onions begin to soften and brown slightly. Add the bok choy, kale and sugar; toss to coat in the oil. Add a splash of chicken stock and let the greens cook down for a few minutes, until tender. Add the beef mixture and green onions and toss well. Serve over the noodles.

The Best Beef Stir Fry | A Free Recipe from Alaska Knit Nat
Chung Chu via Compfight cc

The best green beans ever

I seem to struggle with basic recipes such as steaming peas and frying bacon. Green beans fall into this category.  I either undercook them or overcook them; either way they turn out not good. Welp, I finally figured it out. Slightly sweet, tangy and caramelized, these green beans were the easiest.

The best green beans ever | A simple recipe from Alaska Knit Nat

The best green beans ever

Serves 2

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 pound fresh green beans, trimmed
  • 1 Tbs. butter
  • A splash of marsala
  • Juice of 1/4 of a lemon
  • salt and pepper

The best green beans ever | A simple recipe from Alaska Knit Nat

Directions:

Heat a cast iron pan over high heat. Add the butter. When melted, add the green beans. Cook on high for about five minutes, stirring occasionally. Toss in the marsala and thoroughly coat the green beans. Keep cooking until beans start to brown and caramelize, about three minutes. Add the lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Continue cooking another few minutes until green beans are tender.

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