Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Leftover Christmas Ham = Split Pea Soup!

This Christmas, we had a spectacular meal at my uncle's house which included scalloped potatoes, green bean casserole, apricot yams, and ham. It was so delicious, and following dinner I asked my uncle what he was planning to do with the ham bone. Apparently my mom and dad already had "dibs" on the ham bone—can you believe it? After playing the "Oh, come on! We need it more than you!" game with my parents, I finally won out and got the ham bone. Seriously, what kind of family fights over a darn ham bone? Oh, I'll tell ya—one that LOVES pea soup! The scary part is, I think I'm going to owe my parents a favor sometime in the future, I can already see it coming..."Remember, last Christmas when you got the ham bone..."

I made the pea soup on Monday and we've been enjoying it for our lunch every day since. Seriously, it's the best!

3 Slices of Bacon - diced
1-2 Onions - diced
3 Carrots - diced
2-3 Stalks of Celery - diced
3 Garlic Cloves - diced
1/2 Tsp Salt (sometimes I eliminate the salt due to the pork intake)
1/4 Tsp Pepper
1 Tsp Oregano
1 Bay Leaf
1 Package Split Peas
2 Quarts Water
Diced Ham - (if I have some leftover I add it, sometimes I just cut what I can off the bone or just use the bone)
Ham Bone

Render the bacon until it's crispy, then add the onions, carrots, celery, and garlic—sauté 5-10 minutes. Add the salt, pepper, oregano, and bay leaf—sauté for another minute. Add your peas, water, ham, and ham bone. Give it a good stir and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to a low simmer, cover it, and let it go for 3 hours. Stir it every half-hour or so to make sure all is well. Be sure to top the individual servings with more black pepper!

Because I'm Italian and put pasta in everything, I usually boil small pasta shells and add them in when it's time to serve it. Little shells are good because they fill with soup!

Do you have a favorite use for Christmas ham leftovers? Please share! Also, if you try this recipe, let me know how it comes out.

Thanks for the world's greatest ham bone, Uncle Bob!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas To-Do List - 3 Days Left

Our Christmas "To Do" List:
  • Decorate
  • Make Ornaments
  • Send Cards
  • Buy Gifts
  • Bake Cookies
  • Make Fudge
  • Assemble Cookie Boxes
  • Wrap Presents
  • Figure Out Christmas Outfits
  • Pack
So here we are just a few days from Christmas, and all I need to do is pack and go! Getting this list done early was a smart idea - I didn't have to make a frantic last-minute shopping trip! I can't wait to see my family, catch up, and eat my weight in ham and desserts. I mean, that's pretty much what Christmas is all about, right?

Hope you have a fantastic Holiday!



Sunday, December 12, 2010

Christmas To-Do List - 13 Days Left

Our Christmas "To Do" List:
  • Decorate
  • Make Ornaments
  • Send Cards
  • Buy Gifts
  • Bake Cookies
  • Make Fudge
  • Assemble Cookie Boxes
  • Wrap Presents
  • Figure Out Christmas Outfits
  • Pack
We had a wicked-productive weekend! We got up super early on Saturday, and finished the last-minute Christmas shopping. I was even able to find a dress to wear for my holiday parties/Christmas day! We spent Saturday night watching Christmas Vacation and Elf while wrapping presents. It was pretty fun, and it felt good to get that part out of the way while it was still fun and not rushed. My husband finished making his famous fudge tonight, so our sweeties are all done! I'll assemble my cookie boxes tomorrow and start to distribute them later this week. I'm feeling pretty darn accomplished right now!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Turkey Leftovers: Turkey Pot Pie

Here I am, at the end of my turkey leftover adventure. To end it on a high note, we decided to make a pot pie with the rest of the turkey. I say "we," when I should say "my husband." He's did everything, and I sat on the couch and read my book. He basically followed Cook's Illustrated's Chicken Pot Pie recipe, but substituted the chicken for turkey. Instead of using a can of chicken stock, he used my turkey broth that I froze after making the big soup. Oh, and he used a pre-made pie crust dough - yeah, sometimes you gotta take shortcuts! It was a delicious dinner, and he even got creative with the crust - check out the photo!

As if the pie wasn't calorie-loaded enough, we decided to enjoy it with a side of tots. I mean, seriously, when are tots a bad idea? The photo to the right isn't that great - it's so hard to get the pieces of pie out nicely. I suppose we could do individual pies, but that usually lends to me if I really need to finish the whole thing!

As usual, we had a great time being inventive with our turkey leftovers. For as much money as we spend on the big Thanksgiving dinner each year, it's good to know that we're getting the most out of the leftovers. It sure makes the next few week's trips to the grocery store less expensive! So long turkey, we'll see you next year! I'm already envisioning Turkey Tamales...

Turkey Leftovers: Turkey Salad

We are almost done with our turkey leftovers. I absolutely hate food waste, so I'm trying to be as creative as possible with this leftover meat. On Thanksgiving day, once the carved turkey cooled and no one else was interested in any more, my husband took one whole breast, sealed it in a food-saver bag, and froze it. This week we thought was as good a time as ever to break it out. I took a quarter of the meat and decided turkey salad sounded like a good idea. The weather has been oddly warm lately, and a cold sandwich just sounded really good the other day.

  • Turkey, chopped or shredded (as much as you want for your sandwiches)
  • Celery, a couple finely diced ribs
  • Onion, finely diced (I usually use green onions, but all I had was red and it was great!)
  • Mayo
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Just mix all that stuff up. Use as much of each ingredient as you like. Taste it as you mix it up so you get the flavors that you prefer. Spread it on your favorite bread, and you've got a Turkey Salad Sandwich going!

Sometimes when I'm feeling sassy, I'll dice up a dill pickle and throw that in too!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Christmas To-Do List - 17 days left

Husband's Darth Vader Snowflake
Our Christmas "To Do" List:
  • Decorate
  • Make Ornaments
  • Send Cards
  • Buy Gifts
  • Bake Cookies
  • Make Fudge
  • Assemble Cookie Boxes
  • Wrap Presents
  • Figure Out Christmas Outfits
  • Pack
Since my last post, I've totally made progress! The cookies are done, I only have three more gifts to purchase, and we're going shopping for Christmas outfits this weekend.

I completed the shortbread last night, which was the last of my baking. It's my great grandmother's recipe, and it's always amazing. I was lucky enough to inherit my Gram's shortbread cookie cutter, and I enjoy thinking about her as I make my shortbread each year.

As I write this, my husband is making truffles. I signed up to be the truffle-taster. Since I'm the only other person in the house, I think I stand a good chance at getting the job.

My husband also expressed interest in making tamales this weekend. We made them two years ago, and they came out terrific. Last year, due to some unexpected family emergencies, we weren't able to make them or do any baking. This year, however, we're giving our kitchen a run for its money. I thought about adding the tamales to my list, but since it's a "bonus" and not part of the main plan, I won't feel bad if I don't complete it.

I'm really excited at our progress, and we have 17 more days to get the rest done. Hopefully by this time next week I'll have most all of the list crossed out!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Christmas To-Dos

This weekend my husband and I started our Christmas "to do" list. It feels really good to get going on this stuff so we don't have a last-minute scramble the week of Christmas. Since we have to travel to see our family, it's just easier to get everything in order early.

Our Christmas "To Do" List:
  • Decorate
  • Make Ornaments*
  • Send Cards
  • Buy Gifts**
  • Bake Cookies***
  • Make Fudge****
  • Assemble Cookie Boxes*****
  • Wrap Presents
  • Figure Out Christmas Outfits
  • Pack
* Every year my husband and I go to the craft store and pick out some goofy ornament kits. Sometimes we paint pieces of wood to look like gingerbread men or we glue goofy stuff to felt - this year we made reindeer! Pretty cute, huh? It's neat, our tree gets more ornaments on it every year, and it's always fun to look back at our goofy handmade ones and remember the time we spent together...sometimes cursing over the hot glue gun...but together all the same.

** I signed up for Amazon Prime and started buying gifts on Friday, and some have already arrived! I'm not one for shopping in general, let alone when things are crazy with Christmas chaos. My husband and I usually go for a few nice relaxing walks around town during Christmas - it's much more fun when you don't have a mission.

*** The cookies have been started! We got through sugar cookies, gingerbread men, and chocolate spritz pressed cookies. Some time this week I'll do my shortbread!

**** My husband makes amazing rocky road fudge, but it requires fancy expensive chocolate. This one will need to wait till we have a few more pennies. There's also a rumor that he'll be doing truffles as well!

*****I do cookie boxes for most of my friends and family as christmas presents. I find this to be both frugal and fun, besides, who doesn't love cookies and fudge?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Turkey Leftovers: Tacos

We still have much turkey! We decided to take tonight's leftovers south of the border with tacos! Turkey tacos are kind of rad, so I suggest you try them if you have any more turkey leftover. Here's an easy method that I like to do - great for after work when you don't have a lot of time:

Shred up your turkey - however much you think you'll need. Then toss it in a saucepan with a can of Herdez Salsa Verde. I'm sure you can use any salsa verde that you like, I just prefer Herdez. If once you stir it up, it looks like you don't have much salsa, you can pour in some soup stock. Tonight we improvised with chicken bullion and water - whatever works. Get that pot a'simmerin' on the stove for a while - until the turkey is thoroughly warmed through. Scoop that goodness onto a tortilla with your favorite fixins, and you're ready to rock. Throw in some rice* and beans, and you've got a hell of a party going!


*Check out my rice recipe here.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Turkey Leftovers: Sandwiches

When talking about leftover Thanksgiving turkey, you can't help but mention sandwiches. It's the easy-peasy thing to do with your leftovers. Especially a day or two after when you haven't had a chance to go to the grocery store (not that it would matter because you're broke from buying all the food for Thanksgiving) and you just want something fast and easy to eat.

I'm pretty particular with my turkey sandwich. Now this only goes for Thanksgiving leftovers, not regular deli meat - that can be any 'ol way. I start off by spreading a Miracle Whip on each slice of bread. Yes, Miracle Whip. Then I grind black pepper on each slice of bread so it sticks to the Miracle Whip. Next I lay out chunks of leftover turkey on one of the slices of bread. I prefer to use the dark meat, but I won't be picky if there's only white meat left. Once the turkey is down, I spoon some of my homemade cranberry sauce on top. Finally, I place the second slice of bread on top, cut it in half, and go to town.

This is the way my mom did our leftover turkey sammies when we were little, and it's just so familiar and comforting to me. Even my husband likes it - although I could see the doubt in his eyes the first time I made it for him.

His turkey sandwich of choice is getting all the fixings - turkey, potatoes, stuffing, and cranberry sauce - and putting it all on his sandwich. Drizzling it with gravy before placing the top piece of bread on, of course. The first time I saw him do this, I was a little horrified. It just seemed so gnarly, but I tried it - and yep, it was pretty good. It's like all of Thanksgiving put into a tiny package.

How do you do leftover Thanksgiving turkey sandwiches? It's okay if it sounds weird - hell, I use Miracle Whip, so I won't judge!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Turkey Leftovers: The Soup

For anyone who has hosted a Thanksgiving dinner, knows about the leftover situation. I think the turkey leftover crowd consists of three main schools of thought:
  • Leftovers rock, I will do so many things with them!
  • Eh, turkey sandwiches are okay...
  • F the leftovers, blah!
Personally, I fit into the first group. I love the leftovers more than the main Thanksgiving dinner! Since I host it every year, I find myself stressed out and tired of the sight of food by the time the dinner is on the table. I pick at it a bit, drink too much wine and then pretend to be interested in attempting to sort of help with dishes...then drink more wine.

My favorite leftover is the turkey soup. Every year my parents come over the day after Thanksgiving, and we enjoy the turkey soup and some leftover bread together. It's relaxing, warm, and delicious.

  • Turkey Carcass
  • Giblets and Neck
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Parsley
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • 8 oz Tomato Juice
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Small Pasta (optional)
  • Grated Pecorino Romano Cheese (optional)
As soon as dinner is over, my husband starts dismantling the turkey carcass.  Dark meat goes in one container, and white meat in another. Once it's thoroughly cleaned off, we plop the bones and carcass bits into the stockpot*. I fill the stockpot with water, cover it, and start the boil. You can season the water if you like. I didn't season the water this year as I did the bacon turkey, and it was plenty salty and good as-is. Once it is boiling, turn it down to a simmer. This will go for as long as you want. I did mine for about 4 hours. Once you're tired and thinking of going to bed, take the stockpot off the stove, let it rest a bit, dump the carcass in the trash, and put the pot into the fridge.

The next day (early afternoon), take out the huge stockpot and see if any oil has hardened on the top. If so, just scrape it off with a spoon.

Put that bad-boy back on the stove, and turn up the heat. Add your giblets and neck if you didn't use them for gravy the day before. Roughly cut up carrots, celery, onion, parsley, and some garlic cloves. Add those to the soup. Pour in an 8 oz can of tomato juice, and season the soup with some salt and pepper. Once it comes to a boil, lower the temp to a simmer, cover it, and let it go. I let mine go for about 2 1/2 hours.

After about an hour or so of simmering, taste the broth and make sure it's seasoned to your liking. Add more seasoning now if necessary.

When you're soup is done, take it off the heat. Now is also the time that you'll want to boil up some small pasta** if you like that in your soup. I always put pasta in my soup, and I highly recommend it.

Remove the vegetables from your soup. I put these in a bowl and cover with some foil to keep them warm. It is now that you're probably going to benefit from some help - you need to strain the soup through a fine strainer. This gets you a really nice broth. Once your pasta is done, strain it and run some cold water through it to keep it from sticking together. Put some pasta in your bowls and top it with a couple ladles of soup.

Personally - it is at this point where I just top my soup with some pecorino-romano, and call it a day. My parents on the other hand, enjoy adding the cooked vegetables to their broth as well as chunks of leftover turkey. To each his own, and that's why this meal rocks. I made enough broth this year for at least 5 dinners!

* My stockpot has a removable strainer inside it - this makes all the difference when you're making soup. You can easily dump out the turkey carcass and strain out your vegetables after your second boil.

** I used tiny star pasta this year, and it was so good!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

No Fail Turkey

My husband and I have been hosting Thanksgiving for seven years now! We've been doing this since long before we were married, so each year we seem to have figured a little more out about this whole hosting a giant meal thing. Sometimes we change up appetizers, sides, and desserts; but we NEVER mess with the turkey. I have found a no-fail turkey, and I think we'd be stupid not to do it every year.

The idea isn't my own, in fact, it was something my dad talked about when I was little. Every year my mom made an incredible turkey, and I recall once my dad mentioning this method. My mom had her own way of roasting the turkey, so she never took the suggestion. I can't blame her, because once you find "your way," there's really no going back. I mean, who wants to try something totally new and have it fail on them with a table full of hungry people?

For those of you who would like to try something new or have never cooked a turkey before, you're going to want to give this a go.

No Fail Turkey

  • Turkey (any size)
  • Thick-cut bacon
  • Veg/Herbs or Stuffing

Pre-heat your oven to 325 degrees. First, rinse out your turkey - make sure to take the neck and bag of guts out before cooking. Pat the turkey down with a paper towel, and place it in your roasting pan. If you are doing stuffing, go ahead and stuff him now. If you're not, roughly chop up some veg or herbs, and put that in the cavity. An onion, some carrots, and celery work well. This keeps the turkey moist from the inside out.

Now the fun part. Lay your bacon on top of your turkey. As you can see, I don't use any particular type of pattern, I just lay it on there. I also don't season the skin of the turkey. I've found that the bacon provides enough saltiness that seasoning is not necessary.

Make a little tent-like structure out of foil and place that on top of your pan. You don't want the foil touching the turkey - it's just a loose tent, not a lock-down on the poor little guy.

Put that bad boy in the oven, the time will vary depending on the size of your bird. So Google that ahead of time so you give yourself adequate time to get everything done. About 20 minutes before the turkey is done, take off the foil. This will brown everything up really nice like.

When it's all done, take it out, and let it rest a bit because that mo-fo is going to be HOT! When the turkey has cooled down a little bit, start pulling off the bacon. I tend to put the bacon on a plate to the side. What doesn't get eaten by the vultures standing around the turkey gets crumbled and put on top of my mashed potatoes.

Carve up your bird, and enjoy!

This recipe has NEVER failed me. The turkey comes out oh-so-moist and good - even the breast meat! Did you notice that part in the recipe about basting? Well, you shouldn't have because it's not in there. The bacon fat starts to render and bastes the turkey through the whole process, so you don't ever need to open the oven. The smell is incredible, and the bacon fat that mixes in with the turkey juices creates a great flavor in the stuffing and some amazing gravy. Yeah, you're going to want to make pan gravy from these drippings.

Yes, this isn't a very timely post since Thanksgiving is over, but you can always bookmark it for next year. Better yet, buy a turkey for cheap since the grocery stores are getting rid of them, throw it in your freezer, and give it a go when you're craving turkey again. Oh, and there's always Christmas...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Too Old For Sparkle Jeans...

In preparation for Thanksgiving, my husband and I went on a cleaning spree. I'm not talking the usual "cleaning," but more of a "purge." We started with the pantry, it led to the spice cabinet, which went on and on, finally ending up at our closets.

You know when you clean out your closet, there are things you save -  things you'll probably never wear again? They usually fall into one of these categories:
  • Too small, but they will fit once I lose this weight!
  • Goofy style, but I paid a lot for it...
  • Sentimental: wedding dress, prom dress, favorite band t-shirt from high school, etc.
My sparkle jeans fell into the "Goofy style, but I paid a lot for it" category. I still remember the day I bought those jeans. It was when I was living in Los Angeles during a month-long film production class. I was so frugal, but some of the girls in my class convinced me to go shopping with them. We went to some schmancy boutiques in Santa Monica. Just for shits, I tried on these jeans. They were super cool, made my but look awesome, and cost $200! I'm more of an Old Navy/on-sale Levis kind of girl - spending more than $30 on jeans is dumb. So of course I bought them.

As I pulled those jeans out of my closet, loads of memories rushed forth. I wore them to clubs, dancing, house parties - hell I even rocked them during a Tango lesson in Argentina! Mind you, I was in my early 20s when these jeans saw those rad events.

Looking at them now, I just see a silly pair of jeans. If I wore them out, I would look goofy. People would think, "What is she doing in those?" "The year 2000 called, it wants it jeans back." Even if I did decide to go dancing with my friends, I would probably dress in something that flattered my body and that I felt comfortable in. Back in the day, comfort was the last thing I cared about when going out.

Alas, I'm too old for sparkle jeans, so I'm going to donate them with the rest of the treasures I found in my closet this weekend. I hope some silly college girl or teenager finds them and loves them as much as I did!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Knockin' Down Fears, One at a Time...

For those of you that don't know me, and maybe for those of you that do, I'm one of the biggest fraidy-cats out there. As a child I didn't like to be left alone, I would have panic attacks before family functions (obviously didn't want to be with people either), and the slight thought of doing something new would send me into a tizzy.

As I grew up, this didn't change a whole lot, but I just got better at hiding it. My mom would usually take me shopping with her on Saturdays - we would go to the mall, and it was just a terrible thing. It's not just that I didn't like shopping - which I'm still not too fond of - but it was all those damn people. What if one of them had a gun? What if one tries to kidnap me? What if we get in a car accident on our way home from that god-awful place? Once we got home, I was so overwhelmed with the worries of the day that I usually had to take a nap. I would feel physically exhausted from the experience. As I got older and began to drive, I found that the mall was a much better place to be than, for instance. I found myself going to said "god awful place" as an alternative to the hell of high school.

Another example of this anxious madness was move theatres. The thought of a dark theatre full of strangers almost made me sick. When I'd find out that I'd be going to the movies, I would worry about it and have bad dreams up until the day when I finally had to go. It usually wasn't so bad, but it didn't stop me from freaking out the next time I had to go. Then in high school, I started going out with boys, and had to pretend that it was fun. It was in high school that I met my now husband, and he worked in a move theatre of all places! I soon found myself looking forward to going to that once frightening place and actually having a good time.

Probably the thing in this world that I was most frightened to do, and never thought I would ever do it is air travel. From a very young age, the idea of airplanes scared the shit out of me. In high school I had a chance to go to London with my cousin's class on a really rad field trip, and I had to turn it down. I wanted to go to London, but I would cry and cry at the thought of riding on an airplane. When I was 18, my folks took the family to D.C. for one of the biggest vacations of our lives...guess who didn't go? Yep, they went without me. I just couldn't get myself to do it. It was even a joint-trip with my best friend's family, and I still couldn't go! This fear was finally conquered in 2004 when my boyfriend - now husband - went to the Oakland A's Spring Training in Tempe, Arizona. The flight was only an hour long, and I had enough Xanax and cocktails to dope a horse. It was scary, sure, but my husband held my hand and distracted me with silly videos and games on his computer. The coolest part was when we discovered that Alyssa Milano was sitting in front of us. I shit you not, she was going to Spring Training just like us! We talked to her for a while and she was the coolest chick. On that trip, I also got to see Barry Zito - not bad for a fear-conquering journy, eh?

I bonus-conquered that fear when in 2006 I went to Argentina and Chile with my immediate and extended family. Xanax helped, as did being surrounded by my understanding loved ones. Since then, I started working for a new company that required business travel 5-10 times per year. I didn't want to come off as a total pussy so I told them I was cool with that. Turns out I had to be, and now I travel by air quite a bit. I don't even need meds now! How about that? I still don't love airplanes, but it's much easier to deal with.

The most recent fear I conquered was public speaking. My aunt's long-time partner passed away, and her funeral was on Friday. The minister called someone up who had told her that they wanted to speak, and after he spoke, she asked if anyone else had anything to say. I thought about talking, but then decided against it as I could barely hear myself think through my heart beating in my eardrums. Then a lady got up and spoke some lovely words, and I thought, "Okay, once she's done, I'm going up..." Then the lady's husband immediately got up and started speaking, I thought, "Oh damn...I'm losing my nerve!" As soon as he sat down, I found myself walking up to the podium. It was like an out of body experience, and before I new it, I was talking. I can't remember exactly what I said, where I was looking, or what I was doing with my hands, but then I was back in my seat. I'm still in shock over the whole thing, but I'm pretty damn proud of myself.

I find that I may be a fraidy-cat, but I don't let it stop me from enjoying life and living without regrets. I just put on my game-face, and pretend that what I'm doing is normal and fine with me, then before I know it, I've conquered a fear. I used to be too scared to talk to people in stores, and just last year I haggled like $4,000 off of our new car like a freakin' pro. Everytime I do something like this, I can only explain it as an "out of body experience." It's like my loser-self gives up to a strong persona, and I just go along for the ride.

Do you have any fears that you've conquered recently or in the past? How did you feel when you made the leap to face the fear? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Spaghetti and Meatballs Done Not My Way

For the first time EVER, I tried a sauce recipe that wasn't my own.

It's not like I was born knowing how to make sauce, well...I kinda was. My mom isn't Italian, she's Canadian (we'll save that for another blog post), but she married into a pretty hard-core Italian family. This meant that she had to master a sauce. From what I understand, my dad taught her his sauce, and she made adjustments over the years perfecting it in her own way. In Italian families like mine, your sauce is very important. You eat it at least once a week, so it better be pretty damn good.

Okay, now back to me - my mom didn't really teach me how to make my sauce, but I watched her do it almost every week when I was growing up, so when I moved out on my own, I just figured it out. Of course, I've made my adjustments too. None of our sauces are exactly alike, but I'm going to go ahead and say that they are all excellent.

My sauce is very near and dear to me. I did describe how I make it in a previous blog post, but that was actually the first time I've ever written it down. Sometimes it comes out a little different depending on what I consider "a dash" or "some" to be on that particular day, but it's always good. Now this brings me to trying a sauce that's not mine...

It's one thing when someone goes, "Have you ever put ______ in your sauce? It's really good," compared to, "Try this sauce recipe." It's a big commitment to try a new sauce. What if it sucks? What if it doesn't cling right to the pasta? OH GAWD, what if it's BETTER than mine? These are all things that went through my head when my husband mentioned his interest in trying the "Classic Spaghetti and Meatballs*" recipe from Cooks Illustrated.

I probably would have just pooh-poohed the idea, if not for my husband's crazed love for meatballs. I know I'm not the Meatball Queen that my grandmother was, so I thought, "What the hell, he's a pretty good husband, I'll give it a try."

There were some strange differences in this recipe compared to the techniques my family uses:
  • Use of tomato juice instead of puree
  • Adding buttermilk to the breadcrumbs
  • Including diced prosciutto to the meat mixture
  • White wine instead of red wine
 The tomato juice thing really through me off, but it made the sauce thinner, so when I simmered the meatballs in it, it naturally thickened up - not a bad idea. The buttermilk in the breadcrumbs things was super weird, but it worked - those were some rich and moist balls. Adding prosciutto to anything is a great idea, so of course it worked out. Finally, the white wine thing - not sure if I noticed the difference there.

Overall, I have to say that the sauce wasn't my favorite, but it was very good. If I did it again I would also do the meatballs exactly the same with the exception of adding the extra salt as the meatballs and sauce get pretty salty from the prosciutto and cheese. I would also only do the process of keeping a thinner sauce while seasoning it my own way. I'm glad I tried this, it's a sure-way to get some great pasta on the table. Give it a whirl, you won't be disappointed.
*The sauce serves like 12 people, so I cut it by 2/3 and it fed my husband and I with enough for a big dinner, two lunches, and a tad more for snacking. The meatballs make AMAZING meatball sandwiches - I love meals that have leftovers!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Recipe for Success

Yesterday for Halloween my office team dressed up as the cast of Mad Men. Not only did we look totally badass, but we also won first prize in our company costume contest! All in all, it was a pretty cool day. We got to spend time in the bathroom teasing and spraying our hair, wearing false eye-lashes, and putting on WAY too much lipstick. We also went out for martinis at a fancy golf course after work with our $100 prize!

Living in today's world, us lady-folk are so lucky to be able to wear whatever we want. Normally, I'm a jeans and t-shirt girl at work. Dressing up only in black slacks/skirt and a blouse when I'm feeling fancy. Working in Southern California allows you the total surfer, laid-back style. I have to say that I did feel really good about myself dressed up like that. The clothes were flattering to my figure, my makeup really made my good features stand out, and the heels did great things for my legs. Oh, and the hair was kinda rad.

Now the down-side. By the end of the day, I was so uncomfortable! Wearing a panty-girdle all day is just wrong! My ankles almost broke like ten times when I missed a step wearing those shoes. A girl brought her dog in to visit, and I had to be extra careful when I attacked it with luvs as I was wearing a skirt. Oh, and my hair...oh god...I didn't get that next untangled until this morning!

Any women who lived through the 50s and 60s - please let me know how you did it! Do men know how hard it is to keep that look up? 

I still go back to the fact that I felt really pretty, so maybe dressing up once in a while is a good thing. Like everything in life, it's probably only okay in moderation. I've often heard the line, "Dress for the job you want, not the job you have." There might be some truth in that - I feel that I was taken a tad more seriously yesterday than when I wear a "Miller High-Life" t-shirt to work. Maybe the "recipe for success" does have a thing or two to do with wardrobe choice. Our CEO came by our department yesterday joked that maybe instead of "Casual Friday" we have "Casual Everyday" and a "Dress-Up Friday." I think I could handle that.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers

Ok, so I didn't "pick" a peck of pickled peppers, I made pickled peppers. What I don't get about that that goofy old nursery rhyme is that he picked any pickled peppers at all, correct me if I'm wrong here, but have you ever seen "pickled" anything growing on plants? Oh, and I guess I didn't even come near making a peck as that's about 2 gallons. I made a jam-jar worth. 'Nuff said. Moving on.

My husband bought these pepper plants* a while back, and it turns out those mofos are way too hot for human consumption. We've made some dishes with them, but we use just a piece of one pepper, and it's plenty hot. I decided to pickle those bad-boys and see what happens. Here's how I did it...

  • Peppers
  • Garlic
  • Dill
  • Salt
  • Vinegar

  • Mason Jar, lid, etc.
  • Saucepan
  • Big pot for water-bath

I've made pickles before, and they came out okay, so I pretty much did the same thing, only with the usual adjustments that probably make it worse. First I cut the peppers into slices - be sure to wear gloves** when doing this. Put the sliced peppers in your mason jar.

I then skinned 4 cloves of garlic and added them to the mason jar. You might think that's an excess of garlic, and it probably is, but that's just how I roll.

Word on the street is that you're supposed to use dill seed or dill weed, but I had neither. I just sprinkled a bunch of dried dill into the jar.

I remember from making pickles that you need to use equal parts of pickling salt and vinegar for the brine. I don't have pickling salt, so I used sea salt.*** Since I just did 1 jam-jar worth of peppers, I used a half cup of vinegar. As I started measuring out the salt, I thought to myself, "I say goddamn, that's a lot of salt!" So I probably only did a 1/4 cup. Mix them in your saucepan and heat up until the salt is dissolved. Be careful not to breathe that shit in, it's mighty painful and stinky if you do.

Finally, pour your brine into your jar and leave about a 1/4 or 1/2 inch of space. Put your lid on, and do your water-bath thang for about 10 minutes. Make sure your jar seals, or you could get botulism up in your shiz, and nobody wants that.

I really hope this comes out good, or at least edible! If anyone out there has done this before and can help me along in my process, that would be great! Oh, and do you know how long it has to sit before it's thoroughly pickled? Eh, whatever, I'll just Google it.

* Not sure what kind they are - take a look at the pictures to see if you can figure it out.

** One time I was cutting pasilla peppers for fajitas, and I touched my eye a while after, and I damn near went blind. Those weren't even that hot, so who knows what the hell would happen with these bad-boys!

*** Sea salt might have been a bad choice as it didn't dissolve quite right, and I have all these salt crystals floating in my jar now.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Did Somebody Say "Beerfest?"

This weekend was very special, because Sunday was the Santa Barbara Beer Festival! We've been looking forward to this year's beer fest since we left the festival last year. We had so much fun this year! We tried a bunch of beer, ate giant brats, got temporary tattoos, AND learned a few things about beer. Did I mention that we all had matching t-shirts? Oh yeah - it was pretty badass. My girlfriend made up shirts for us that had a little turtle carrying a mug of beer on his shell. It said, "Slow and Steady Wins the Race." We called ourselves "Team Drink," and got mad props all over the place. We will definitely have to do shirts again for next year. Now, enough silliness, let's talk beer.

I found that the festival this year was very IPA heavy - it's like the "it" beer. I understand that beer folk done love that beer, but dang - it's just so hoppy and strong! I tried a number of these gnarly beers, but didn't dig too many. Even though I know that I'm not a fan of these beers, I find myself trying them anyway. I went so far as to try Greenflash's "Hop Head Red Ale" - for God's sake, it's called "Hop Head!" Surprise, surprise, it was extremely hoppy, but my husband and his friends really loved it. So if you dig this sort of thing - check out the pic and go scout it out!

The girl pouring at Greenflash told me that she's not a huge fan of that beer either and to try the Pauwel Kwak being poured next door. It was such a smooth brown ale! It came off a tad sweet, but I think that was because I was coming off of Mr. Hop Head. I'm going to try to find this bad-boy again and try it with a clean pallet. Plus, it's a super pretty bottle.

I know I said "enough silliness," but I have to tell you about what a genius I am. One of the highlights for my friends that day was when I put on a temporary tattoo using stout instead of water (Firestone's award-winning Merlin). It seemed like a great idea until I realized how sticky the beer was. Luckily my friend had a water bottle to hose me down so I could enjoy the rest of my day without bees following me around.

All in all, it was a great day, and I broadened my horizons by trying beers that I wouldn't normally buy. Below I've listed out some of the various beers I tried.

Most Interesting:


Hops a'poppin':

There were many more, but my memory is failing me. Anyone have any thoughts on this IPA craze? Am I just not sophisticated enough to get it?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Faith in Humanity Restored!

I had a flight to Phoenix this afternoon, and airports almost always bum me out. The "me first" mentality and general grumpiness of airports blows. I tried to be cheerful and just role with everything in my dramamine induced mellowness, when the weird lady next to me at the gate started painting her freakin' toenails! Seriously, that's gross for many reasons, #1 being the stench of nail-polish and the sight of her icky feet. Maybe that's two things, but it just goes to show how uber gross it was. She asked the woman sitting on the other side of her if it was ok if she did it, but she didn't say jack-shit to me. Well, that was probably for the best considering how my interactions with weird strangers generally don't go well. Ok, so that was really the only thing that totally annoyed me today. Now onto the pozzy aspect of my adventure...

I noticed an older woman in line ahead of me for boarding passes, and I was surprised that she was traveling alone. She was probably in her 80s, cute as hell, and doing her best to navigate her way through our airport...which if you've been to it, is about the size of a Taco Bell. For real. Anyway, this older woman got on the plane by herself, and ended up being seated in front of me. Seeing her reminded me of my Gram, who I miss terribly, so I decided to silently keep an eye on her. Just to make sure she didn't run into any issues along the way.

When the plane landed, and the cabin door opened, all these a-holes on the plane started rushing down the aisle, not having a single thought that maybe other people were on the plane and would like to get off too. I'm all about the idea that you de-plane in the order of the seats...up front gets off first, and you wait for the folks in front of you to get off, etc. I'm all about order and I hate the "I have a connection and I'm sure nobody else but me needs to get off this plane!" attitude. I got up and blocked the aisle in order to let the older woman and the people in her row time to exit.

Once we got off the plane we had to walk through the jetway, which was actually a covered ramp sloped upward to get us back into the terminal. I was having a bit of trouble walking on my wobbly legs as we exited, and I noticed the older woman in front of me was too. Well, out of nowhere this young man, I'd say 20 or so, passed by me. I thought he was rushing to get ahead of everyone like some sort of jerk, when he put his hand on the older woman's shoulder and asked if he could carry her bag. He carried her bag, held her hand, and slowly walked her up to the gate. He chatted with her and left her with her daughter who was waiting for her at the gate. Then he was off on his way. Like some sort of do-good Kayser Soze.

Seriously, I'm a bit of a coldy, but this was one of the most touching things I've seen in a really long time. Right when I thought the world was so full of douches, I see such a lovely act of kindness. Whoever you are kid, way to go!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Huzbend's Amazing Burgers

Over the weekend, my husband made some amazing burgers! He totally took charge of this meal, and as odd as some of his instructions were, I have to say they were the best burgers I've ever had. Recipe as follows:

  • 1 lb ground beef 80/20
  • 1 strip bacon (frozen)
  • Salt/Pepper
  • 1 onion
  • Yellow mustard
  • American Cheese singles

  • Sliced tomatoes
  • Iceberg lettuce leaves
  • Wife's Special Sauce:
    • Ketchup
    • Miracle Whip
    • Dill pickles
  • puffy buns

According to my husband, the hamburger patty is the key - its gotta break apart nice and easily. Get some of the 80/20 butcher beef that has been processed. It looks like long strands pushed through a play-doh squeezer. Break it apart into small pieces into a bowl. Grab your frozen strip of bacon and dice it very fine. Sprinkle the bacon, some salt and pepper into the meat. Lightly mix with your hands. No need to smash the hell out of it (his words, not mine...but it's true) to get it mixed perfectly, you'll end up with tough burgers. Grab about a quarter of the meat, and lightly form the burgers into something slightly resembling a burger. Something about the size of the bun would make sense. Parchment works great to put down a patty and then stack them on top of each other. Toss them in the fridge for a few minutes while you get the rest of the goods prepared.

Cut the onion in half, then slice the halves into thin strips. Heat up a pan with some vegetable oil and cook the onions slowly until caramelized. I sprinkled some salt and pepper on them when I first threw them in, eh, it's an option. Now, while you have these going, get that grill heating up. Ok, back to onions...when they are caramelized, pour on some was probably a tablespoon, but I can't tell for sure since I rarely measure anything. Mix the mustard into the soft and oh-so-gooey onions, then remove the pan from heat and let it sit. This part sounded seriously bizarre to me, but it turns out so damn good! You just gotta try it, if it sucks, then don't ever do it again, but please try it once! I think you'll dig it.

Grill the burgers however you can, gas grill, charcoal, home grill pan, Altoids box grill**, whatever. Flap those patties on the grill, they may look like they'll fall apart, and probably will fall apart if you have some weak grillin skills. Who cares though, American Cheese singles are a great burger glue. Cook them burgers until its done...I guess that all depends on how big your burgers are, and how you like them. You're a big boy and or girl, you know when its done! Throw some cheese on about a minute before that last part... or at that last part...whatever that part is for you.

While you're doing your badass grill-thang, husband says to "Have that wife from the second part of the recipe make you some sauce with the extras, and have her grab your puffy buns...hehe." Ok, so let's break down the "wife sauce*." To make "wife sauce," throw a couple of tablespoons or "scoops," as I like to call them, into a small bowl. Add enough ketchup to make it pink when you mix it around. Dice up a dill pickle spear, and mix that in to. Hazzah, you have "wife sauce."

Now, the grand up your puffy bun, add a good scoop of "wife sauce" to both sides. Place your burger on the "bottom" half Add some sauteed onions on top of the burger, then a piece of lettuce, then a slice of tomato, and boo-ya! You now have the most bomb-ass burger ever.

Now eat dammit, eat - what'r ya waiting for?

*Wife Sauce - this goes back to a dressing that my mom used to make for our salads. She mixed miracle whip and ketchup, and sometimes add some hot sauce! I found that it's a great dressing for burgers, artichokes, and pretty much anything. I add the diced pickles for burgers because I like that you get little pickle bits throughout instead of eating the pickle all at once.

**Altoids grill, maybe only for sliders...see more here.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Forever awkward...

So this morning I had a doctor appointment, no big whoop. After I checked in at the registration desk, I walked over to the elevator and got in. Right as the doors were closing a man in his late-60s/early-70s jumped in at the last minute. No biggie, that sort of thing happens all the time with elevators.

Right as we were about to get out of the elevator, he looked back at me (as he was in front of me), then jumped out, and took off for the sign-in desk for the doctor. I was like, "ok, well, he must be in a hurry cuz he's old." I didn't think much of it as I live in a community where there are often rude "me first" types, so sadly, I'm used to it.

Mr. Speedy then walked straight up to the first window at the sign-in desk, as I slowly made my way to the second one. The sign-in took all of 5 seconds, and in no time, I was sitting in the waiting room happily reading The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.

Out of nowhere, as Mr. Speedy sat down in the waiting room across from me, he started up a conversation. At first I thought he was just going to complain about kids these days, elevators not having bright enough buttons, or the way men don't wear hats to ball games, but noooo...he says, "Sorry if I was rude by running in ahead of you out of the elevator." I was shocked, it's so rare to get an apology for bad things let alone trivial annoyances. I told him that it was no biggie and that I was early for my appointment and in no rush. He then said, "Well, the reason is that I came in this morning and held the door in the lobby open for a lady. She then got in line ahead of me, got into the waiting room first, and got my appointment! The nurse said that I was a minute late so they gave my appointment to the lady I held the door for. Can you believe that?"

Before I could say much of anything, he said "So they wouldn't get me in to see my doctor today. You know what I did? I switched doctors! I'm not waiting weeks to see the doctor when I've had this appointment for months!" If you know me, you know that I'm not very outgoing when it comes to speaking to total strangers. In many respects, I'm still the shy kid hiding behind my mom's leg at church. But this time was going to be different, this time I was going to say something fun and witty, and make a friend out of an unlikely stranger! So I said, "That's what you get for displaying a random act of kindness!" He just gave me this troubled look and started reading his magazine. Conversation over.

Shortly thereafter, I was called in to see the doctor. I will be forever awkward...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What do you do with the most amazing tomatoes ever?

Step 1: Slice them into 1/2 inch slices

Step 2: Lay them on a plate, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and dried crushed oregano

Step 3: Eat them

Seriously, this is something my mom used to do with our tomatoes from our garden. There's nothing better when you have home-grown tomatoes. I've tried it with store-bought, and it's really not worth it. You need the extra red, juicy, and sweet tomatoes that can only come from your own garden.

My plan was to can this last batch of tomatoes that my mother-in-law gave us, but I might eat them all before I get to that. Oh, when these are gone, I won't have any more until next summer. Le sigh...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Pasta Faccia Bella

My husband and I went back to our hometown again this weekend for a friend's wedding. We stayed with my husband's parents, and of course, nobody can leave there without armloads of fresh produce. I've mentioned before how I get the most amazing produce from my mother-in-law, well she outdid herself this time! We got spinach, oranges, beets, carrots, lemon cucumbers, regular cucumbers, raspberries, and of course, tomatoes galore! Oh, we also got a shitload of pumpkins and gourds that they grow in their back yard! Can't wait to display those bad-boys at Thanksgiving!

Pasta Faccia Bella
While deciding on a menu for this week, we figured it would be best to include as many of the veggies that we brought back as possible. I remembered that last week, a friend at work shared her lunch with me, which was a leftover pasta that she made containing collared greens, bacon, onions, and garlic. I decided to use what I had, and the result is Pasta Faccia Bella! For those of you that don't know Italian, "Faccia Bella" means "pretty face," and is often used as a term of endearment. The pasta that resulted from this experiment was so delicious, that I felt actual love for it was a part of mi there ya go.

  • A big bunch of spinach
  • Rotini Pasta
  • 2 slices of bacon (diced)
  • 1/2 onion (sliced very thin)*
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic (paper-thin slices)
  • Splash of red wine vinegar
  • 5 or so tomatoes (diced)
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. While the water is getting up to temperature, cut down the ugly parts of the spinach stems, and wash the heck out of those leaves. Nobody likes gritty spinach. Add your spinach to the boiling water. I didn't time it, but it was probably like 2-3 minutes. Basically, when your spinach looks done to your liking, use a slotted spoon, and remove it. Put the spinach in a bowl and lightly sprinkle with some salt and pepper - set it aside.

Bring your (now green) water back to a boil, and add your pasta - cook it for as long as your package says. It will probably finish before you are done with the sauce, so just strain it, give it a rinse with cold water, and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan or skillet, render your bacon. When it looks nice and crispy, remove it with a slotted spoon.

Add your garlic and onions to your bacon grease. Give them a good long saute until they are very soft, but not browned. There may be bits stuck to the bottom of the pan, and that's ok!

Now throw in a splash of red wine vinegar, and use it to deglaze the pan. After a minute or two, throw your tomatoes in as well as your red pepper flakes. My tomatoes were very ripe, so I didn't cook them for very long. Once the tomatoes start to look soft (but not mushy), take your pan off the heat.

Add your spinach to your sauce, and stir it around. Now add your pasta to the sauce, and really get it combined. Finally, add your crispy bacon bits! Serve with some pecorino romano, and you're done like a duck's dinner!
* My original plan when I went to the store today was to get pancetta for this recipe, but they didn't have any. It came out amazing with bacon, but I'll probably do it with pancetta next time.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Celebrate with Jambalaya!

So now we're wrapping up our anniversary week celebration - I'm totally full of food and booze, so I guess it's about time. Last night we celebrated with jambalaya in honor of our rehearsal dinner that we had at a Cajun restaurant. If you've never made jambalaya, you totally should. It's so easy and tastey! It's also great as we usually have most of these ingredients on hand, so it's a great last-minute dinner when we're in pinch - with the exception of andouille...I mean seriously, who has that "on hand"?


  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1-2 celery stalks chopped
  • 1 small onion chopped
  • 1 green sweet pepper chopped
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1/12 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed dried thyme
  • dash or two of garlic powder
  • 1 bayleaf
  • ground black pepper
  • A few splashes of hot sauce
  • 2/3 cup long grain rice
  • 1-2 andouille sausages diced*
  • 2 cups cooked chicken, cubed**
  • 2-3 green onions, chopped

First, melt your butter in a large saucepan, and add the celery, onions, and pepper. Saute until the vegetables are soft, but not brown. Then add your tomatoes, broth, spices, hot sauce, rice, and sausage. Stir it all up, and bring it to a simmer. Turn the heat on low, cover, and simmer for about 20 minutes. Once it's done, remove it from the heat, and stir in the chicken. Spoon it out onto your plate, and top it with some green onions. Be sure to have more of that hot sauce on hand, it's great to add later!

*If you can't get your hands on the sausage, that's fine - it comes out great with just chicken.
** We often get chicken breasts or thighs (whatever's on sale), salt and pepper it, then grill it on the BBQ. You can also bake it in the over, or poach it in water or broth.

This yummy dish brought us right back to the rehearsal dinner. I remember being so excited and nervous that the wedding was actually coming together. It was the first taste we had of the wedding festivities, and we had a blast. I don't remember what I ordered, but I recall getting an eclair swan with our names in chocolate for dessert. I know it sounds cheesey, but we had a blast!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Celebrate with Tacos!

To keep in theme with the anniversary week, tonight we decided to celebrate a little place called Tacos Break that we visited - numerous times - on our honeymoon. We went to this really lovely resort in Puerto Vallarta, thanks to my very generous parents, but we were still on a budget when we were there. We discovered this little taco stand called Tacos Break that was just a short hop from our resort. They had tacos for under a buck, and they were AMAZING! They were super simple and delicious. After a long day at the pool and beach, we would say, "Need a break? Perhaps a Tacos Break?" Then we would go get tacos. I guess it's not that clever now that I see it written out.

I have to give major props to my hubby for making dinner tonight. He tried out a carne asada recipe we found on Basically, he mixed up this really yummy marinade using our old school tools, marinated it for about an hour or so, then grilled it up. So darn yummy, I highly recommend it. A must with this, is the onion/cilantro/lime relish that is also in that same recipe. It's just a fresh and light taco. Probably not so light when you eat 4 of them, but that's how it goes when you re-live your honeymoon!

I also made my famous Mexican rice. I learned how to make this rice about 6 years ago from a friend at work, and it's so easy - there's just one trick...DON'T lift the lid while it's cooking. Let me share it with you now...

Marco's Famous Rice

  • A tablespoon or two of vegetable oil
  • 1 cup long-grain rice
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 bullion cubes
  • An ounce of tomato sauce
  • A dash of garlic powder
  • A dash of hot sauce (optional)
Heat the oil for a minute or so on high heat, then throw in the rice. Be sure to keep stirring the rice until it is browned...but not burned! Once the rice looks browned enough, pour in the water - be careful to to burn yourself as the water will rice and boil quickly. Toss in the bullion cubes, tomato sauce, garlic powder, and hot sauce - give it a quick stir, and throw the lid on that bad boy. Put the burner to low heat, and let it go for 20 minutes. Don't lift the lid, it will be just fine! After 20 minutes, turn the heat off, take the lid off, and fluff it a bit with a fork. I usually leave it with the lid off for a few minutes to get rid of extra moisture. And there ya go, Marco's Famous Rice!

This was a great trip down memory lane. We spent dinner talking about Tacos Break and the various adventures we had on our honeymoon. We finished dinner, and then enjoyed some of the cake-ish stuff that I made yesterday. That thing looks like a monster, but man is it tastey!

Looking forward to my special dinner planned for tomorrow!

Celebrate with Mac & Cheese and What Resembles a Cake!

In true Canadian fashion - serve with ketchup!
Yesterday was our 2-year wedding anniversary, and unfortunately my husband had to be at school until 9:30. It was already in my plan to make my famous Mac 'n Cheese for dinner. It really doesn't relate to our wedding in any way except that we both LOVE it! I also had the brilliant idea of re-creating our wedding cake as a surprise. Not the decor aspect, obviously, but the chocolate/raspberry goodness that was inside.

The second my husband was out the door to go to school, I was off to the grocery store. I picked up white cake mix, chocolate frosting, and fresh raspberries. Now let me preface this story with the fact that I'm actually good at making cakes from cake mixes. It's easy, I've done it a million big whoop. When I was a kid I would make layered cakes and have no problem.

OK, that said, as soon as I got home, I whipped up the mix, poured it in 2 cake pans, and baked it exactly according to instructions. I also did the 'ol toothpick in the center of the cake trick to make sure that it was perfectly done. I let those mothers cool for 15 minutes before removing them from the pan and putting them on the cooling rack. While they were cooling, I made the Mac 'n Cheese and got it in the casserole dish. I was feeling pretty damn proud of myself for this multi-tasking awesomeness.

Cake Fail
Once the cakes were thoroughly cooled, I prepped my fancy-pantsy glass cake dish that I got as a wedding gift. The second I lifted the first cake and put it on the dish it cracked down the middle...big time "uh oh." This sort of thing has happened before, I could hear my Gram saying, "Just put more frosting there, you'll be fine." I frosted the top of the first layer, then for extra yums, I put a layer of my mother-in-law's homemade raspberry preserves. It was looking pretty damn good. Then I lifted and placed the top layer, and the cake just started to come apart. I pushed as much of it together as I could, but it was looking pretty grim. I thought, "well hell, I gotta keep going." So I started frosting the top. It was like each time my knife touched the cake, it fell apart more. I just kept frosting the cracked parts hoping it would mask it, and then I realized that the top of my cake was all frosting, and there was none on the sides. Super cake fail! What to do? I guess put some fresh raspberries on top...I thought maybe it would take away from the fact that the cake looked like someone attacked it. It was at that point that the cake started to fall off the dish, so I had to throw the cover on it to keep it all together.

Needless to say I was pretty bummed and frustrated. I mean, It's an effing cake mix! I'm better than that - and I've NEVER seen anything so messed up looking before. Long story short, my husband came home and laughed when he saw the cake dish with the mutant cake bits, but he was very pleased and happy with the surprise. I also had 2 helpings. We used a spoon to get it on our plates, there was really no point in trying to cut it. So much for my wedding cake-cutting set!

The funny thing is, my husband reminded me that at our wedding, the caterers forgot to get us cake once they cut and served it. So by the time we got our share, it was basically a pile of cake bits that really looked like the monster that I made. Maybe I should have said that was my plan all along.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Celebrate with Food and Drink!

9/20/2008 - SB Yacht Club
Tomorrow is my two-year wedding anniversary - I can't believe that much time has actually gone by! After so much planning and preparing, the day came and went so darn fast. For practically an entire year, my life was all about "the wedding." Every phone call I received or made was about the wedding. My mother and I only talked about it, and it's all I could talk about to anyone else. I probably drove the world crazy, but that's just what happens. When the ceremony, and especially the reception finally arrived, I tried to stay in the moment and take it all in, but alas, it flew by at some sort of Star Wars-grade light-speed. I remember looking over at my husband as we were on the plane to Mexico (only hours after leaving the wedding) and saying, "Did that all just really happen?"
Seriously - this was our wedding cake

Since getting married, we saved for a house, bought a house, adopted a dog, and started slowly renovating said house. Thinking back, I guess we've done a lot to fill those two years, but still...when I look at the photos, I think, "that was just a little while ago." I suppose in the long scheme of things, it was. So now what? Our last anniversary came right after we moved into our new house, so it was a bit glossed over. We had too many things going on, so we just went to a special dinner and ate the top of our wedding cake. Was it good? Oh hell yes it was good. We vacuum sealed it in a container and it was AMAZING! So now it's our cotton anniversary, what can we do to make it extra special?

Puerto Vallarta
I thought it would be a lot of fun to plan this week's dinner menu according to the themes of our wedding and honeymoon in Mexico. Tonight will be Chicken Enchiladas in honor of our trip to an amazing restaurant called Chilaquiles in Puerto Vallarta - it was right on the water, and we had a perfect view of the goings-on. I remember ordering enchiladas and my husband ordering some amazing hand-made taquitos. It was so tasty, and we had a never ending supply of beer to go along with it. The waiter kept coming over to our table, chanting "Two more beers! Two more beers!" Who were we to argue? We didn't want to offend being in a foreign country 'n all, so we just went with it.

Tonight's dinner recipe will be courtesy of Cook's Illustrated, "Chicken Enchiladas with Red Chile Sauce." It seems like a lot of steps, but it is so well worth it! I also have a bunch of Mexican beer and tequila on hand. If we're going to re-live our wedding and honeymoon, we need to be thoroughly liquored-up.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Best Day Ever!

After we installed the tile in our kitchen (see previous post for more info on that project), we had to stay out of the kitchen for 24 hours. I am sort of in love with the kitchen because I love to cook, so this was a bit of a downer. Well, a downer until I realized that it was the day of the SB Dog Festival, so my husband and I took Lama, AKA: Mr. Man, AKA: Sleepy-Beard the Pirate.

It was so great, there were hundreds of dog owners, their dogs (duh...), booths with free stuff, live music, and beer. Did I mention beer? The vet, various feed stores, and other vendors had booths. Each had a dog bowl full of treats and a water bowl on the ground. Lama was in heaven. He had about a million treats, and got loves from all sorts of people. It was really quite adorable.

Check out Lama before treats and rubs:

Lama after treats and rubs:

Yeah, he was a pretty happy little dude.

It was a really fun day - they even had an agility course, which Lama wanted nothing to do with, but I found quite interesting. He was probably wondering why those dogs were running around when there were treats to be had all over the place. Oh well, to each his own.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Master of Tile

My husband and I took on one heck of a job this weekend – we decided to tile our kitchen floor. At first we were going to just replace the floor those that self-adhesive linoleum tiles – we did that in a bathroom, and it looks pretty nice. Here's the rub, when we went to the home improvement store, we found that the tile that we've been looking at for a long time was on super-sale, and buying real tile and all of the supplies was actually cheaper than the linoleum tiles we picked out.

I've seen a LOT of shows on DIY Network, and laying tile looks hella easy. I mean, as long as you don't jack-up the cuts on the saw, you should be just fine, right? Yeah, no. It actually takes a very long time, and lots of measuring and cutting, and fitting. Once the tile is laid out on the mortar, you can't even walk on it for 2 days! Once the mortar is dry, you grout it, and then have to let it sit again for a day or so. On the shows the people have it grouted by the end of the first day and are enjoying cocktails with the host – no dice, grandma.

We ended up getting most all of the kitchen done and grouted by Sunday afternoon, but we have one more section to do in which we need to move out the fridge, washing machine, and dryer, oh my. That will be another weekend in the not so distant future. Although it was a lot of work, it was very rewarding, and the finished product ain't too bad!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Tomato Sauce Follow-Up - Making Pasta Sauce

Since canning my tomato sauce last week, I've been dying to make something with it. The stuff is pure gold and cannot be wasted; so I wanted to make sure that whatever I made with my first jar of it was worth it. I decided to go a bit nuts and use some ingredients that I don't normally include, such as mushrooms and bell pepper. Notice anything missing from the picture below? No? Look closer...yeah, now you see, I don't have garlic. Can you believe it? I was actually out of garlic, and by the time I got all my stuff together, I didn't want to run back to the market. Un-friggin-believable...

My kingdom for a clove of garlic!
  • Olive Oil
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Meat (optional)
  • Tomato Sauce
  • Tomato Puree (my home-canned original)
  • Tomato Paste
  • Diced Tomatoes (canned or fresh)
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Red Pepper Flake
  • Dried Basil
  • Dried Oregano
  • Bay Leaf
  • Sugar (optional)
  • Mushrooms (optional)
  • Bell Pepper (optional)
First thing I do is chop up my onion. I usually use a small white or yellow onion (depends on what's on sale), but feel free to use more or less, it's not going to mess up the's all about personal taste. Now, if I had garlic, I would very thinly slice about 2 cloves. Sometimes I mince it, but I've gotten into paper-thin slices lately. Must be influenced from a late night watching Goodfellas a couple weeks ago. Ok, so you got the chopped up onion and garlic - now heat up some oil in a large pot and saute it. I usually let it go for about 5-10 minutes. I never timed it, but I know I never let them get caramelized, just soft and smelling delicious.

Next, if you would like to add meat, do it now. You can add ground beef, turkey, or whatever you like. I squeased 2 mild Italian sausages from their casings and dropped them in. Of course there is no picture of that as it just looks obscene. Now brown your meat in the onions, garlic, and oil until there's no more pink left. Yeah, yeah, I know it's going to boil for hours and cook regardless, but that's just how I do things.

Now, time to add your cans of tomato products. After adding each can, I usually fill the can about half-way with water, swish it around in the can, and dump the water into the sauce. This does 2 things: 1.) make sure you didn't miss any tomato goodness, and 2.) makes your sauce go further. Seriously, in this economy, we need all the help we can get. Mix all you tomato products together to get them incorporated with the onions, garlic, and meat. The tomato paste is a little hard to break up, don't worry about it too much, it will eventually make it's way through everything.

Get your sauce bubbling on the stove and then turn the heat down to low; cover the sauce half-way with the lid. After about the length of 1 episode of the Golden Girls, taste your sauce. Since I used sausage in mine and my super-spiced home-canned tomato puree, I didn't need much extra. I threw in a bay leaf* and a pinch of red pepper flake, and stirred it up. This is where your personal preferences come in. It is also here where you might need to add a tiny bit of sugar if your sauce is too acidic.

Mamma mia! These 'a colors remind a'me of a'the old a'country!
Here comes the fun part - drop in your veg products, in this case: sliced mushrooms and chopped bell pepper. Stir it all up and get it bubbling on low again. Sometimes I have sun-dried tomatoes on hand (also from my in-laws), and chop them up and throw them in as well. Now put that lid back on half-way and let it go. I tend to check on it every hour or so just to make sure it's going well...and not burning or bubbling over the edges. Not that anything like that has ever happened...

Dark red, chunky, and thick - this was one of my best!
Finally, you've tasted your sauce after hours of simmering, and you love it! Now what to do?** I poured mine over pan-fried polenta! Since I made the sauce from scratch, I didn't feel so bad about buying pre-made polenta from Trader Joe's...that's ok, right? I'm sure if my Italian Grandma was still alive, she'd think it was a great thing. Now go on, try your own sauce! It will be different than mine, since we have different tastes, but the formula is basically the same. Mangia!
* In my family, the bay leaf stays in the sauce, even when served. Most fancy folks on the television will tell you to remove it when the sauce is finished. My mom used to leave it in, and whoever found the bay leaf in their pasta "won the prize." What prize, you ask? There never was one, but we went along with it our entire lives, and I still have a habit of saying that now when I or my husband find a bay leaf in our food.

** You're going to have way more sauce than you actually need for 1 meal. I let mine cool down a bit, pour it into 1-quart containers, and freeze it. Next time you can't think of what to do for dinner, you have a homemade sauce waiting for you!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Artist Rendering of Shoreline Bird Fight

Regarding the bird fight I saw at the beach on Friday (as mentioned in yesterday's post), I described it in great detail to my husband so he could draw it, and this is what he came up with. When he showed it to me, I could not believe my eyes. This is EXACTLY what it looked like. Seriously, I don't think a photograph would have captured the emotion that he expressed with his pencils. Perhaps his drawings should make more appearances in this blog. Thanks dude!

Bird Fight, 9/5/2010

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Backyard Vacation

Sweet - take a dump and have an ice cream cone at the same time!
My company gave us yesterday off of work, which is totally cool because a.) it makes a four-day weekend, and b.) not working kicks-ass. It has been so long since I’ve had a day all to myself, I wasn’t sure what to do. After feeding and walking Lama, I curled up with a book for about 2 hours. It was pushing 10:00, and the day quickly went from “foggy and cold: stay home and booze” to, “sunny and lovely: go out and booze.” I decided to make myself look presentable and face the beautiful day. But where to go? I thought, “Hell, I live in a tourist town, might as well give that a whirl.” Talk about a cheap vacation.

First Stop: The Mission
I’ve been to the mission many times, mostly to show out-of-towners, but it was kind of cool seeing it with new eyes on my own. I ended up spending a good deal of time in the rose garden – I never really noticed how many different types of roses there are out there. Reminded me of my Gram. I was pretty quickly pulled from my zen when every time I tried to take a picture, a tourist got in my way. Maybe if I was taking a picture of a kid giving the peace-sign in front of the big wooden cross they would have shown some respect. It was time for me to move on.

A lovely place to be sued.
Second Stop: The Courthouse
Now, I know what you’re thinking…a courthouse? WTF? But here’s the deal, the Santa Barbara Courthouse is actually pretty darn nice looking. I’ve seen it a number of times from the outside–in the summer there are weddings there almost every day. In fact, one was about to start while I was there yesterday. Since I had nothing but time, I figured I’d actually venture in. If you like tile and a whole lot of Spanish-flare, this is the place to be. You can also wonder around the entire place, and nobody stops you. Well, I didn’t open closed doors, so don’t totally take my word for it. All in all, I was impressed, and if I’m ever involved in a legal matter, it will be a pleasure to attend this wonderful establishment.

Third Stop: El Presidio
The Presidio is only a few blocks from the courthouse, and it’s…well…a presidio. I didn’t take the tour since I think you have to pay or make donations, and I wasn’t up for that. I did notice that they had a ton of drying bricks out front, and it made me think of that scene in PeeWee’s Big Adventure, where they are at the Alamo, and the tour guide says, “Can you say A-Doe-Bee?” I wonder if there’s a basement in the Presidio?

 Last Stop: The Beach
As I was getting back in my car, my phone rang. A girlfriend of mine had just gotten her hair done and wanted to hang out. I suggested going to the beach for beer and food and beer. We met at this really chill café, sat outside, drank beer, and watched the fog roll back in over the ocean. There was one point where two seagulls totally got into a fight, and one was trying to swallow the other’s head to get the food from his throat. It was one of the most awesome/disturbing things I’ve ever seen. I was too slow on the camera for that, so alas, no picture. I’m going to have my husband sketch it out according to my description, because it’s just too good to miss out on. Stay tuned...

What I learned from my backyard vacation:
1.)   Tourists season sucks. I’m glad they pour money into this town, but they cramp my style. Seriously, just because you’re in a beach town doesn’t mean it’s ok to wear a bathing suit in public like clothing.

2.)   When I'm farting around by myself, people treat me as though I'm invisible. Can be both bad and good.

3.)   I live in a beautiful city, and should probably take more notice of it once in a while.

4.)   I will NEVER try to take food from a seagull.