Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Ode to Fried Pickles at The Pub

My new favorite eatery in Hampton Roads is The Pub in the Peninsula Town Center in Hampton. It only opened on Sept. 17 and Sean, a lover of burgers, is always on the prowl to try the newest burger spot.

Their beer selection is lengthy (and tasty), and they've got all the fine British staples, like fish and chips, bangers and mash and shepherd's pie. That's all fine and good. But I'm going back again and again for the fried pickles.

Have you ever had a fried pickle? It's heavenly. I'm not the biggest pickle person, but somehow, when encased in spicy batter, the pickle is elevated to fabulousness. It retains the sour crispness, but with an added bonus of spicy bread. SOOOO good. Ashleigh and I went last night and shared drinks with a plate of fried pickles and I tell you, that is the secret to a good friendship: beer, Captain Morgans and Ginger Ales, and a plate of fried pickles.

If fried pickles aren't your thing, the restaurant is still pretty nice. It has a very nice patio area with fire pits where Sean and I spied too men sharing beers and a game of chess on a Sunday afternoon.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Chicken-Fried Rice

After a busy couple weeks, I'm finally back in the saddle with cooking. I decided to make something I've been promising to make for months: Chicken-Fried Rice.

Chicken-Fried Rice is a favorite of Sean's, but because cooking both eggs and Asian cuisine scares me, I had been putting it off.

So, right off the bat we encountered some fairly large challenges, i.e. I only have one skillet. This is a problem when I need to be making chicken, scrambled eggs AND stir-frying. We kept having to clean the pan between each step, which made this a seemingly endless process.

Anyways, I used this recipe found on Chicken-Fried Rice. I started out by frying the chicken pieces in vegetable oil, while Sean started the white rice.

Sean's handiwork. I suggested he put the rice in a bowl. He ignored me. It's okay, though; plates work just as well.

Here's where things get embarrassing. I hate eggs, Sean hates eggs and as such, I've never learned how to make eggs. This is something that maybe I'll get over someday, but I'm not eager to get over it, either. Eggs smell awful to me; I hate how they jiggle, I hate the taste of yolks. EWWW. I know I'm much pickier than almost all of you, dear readers, but cut me some slack on this one.

Anyway, I had NO idea how to make scrambled eggs (which we felt we could stand in the fried rice), so I literally had to look it up on YouTube. After watching a "Kids Cook" segment (I know, how sad is that?), I figured I could do it. I added some water to the eggs, beat them with a fork and poured them in and started that scraping action.

People: This is the grossest thing ever. And kind of fun.

After scraping out the egg (which we reserved on a nearby plate), I added one teaspoon of vegetable oil and one teaspoon of sesame oil to the pan, then tossed in some onions, garlic and peas. We were supposed to have peas and carrots, but Sean couldn't find a frozen mix bag (he claims).

Once the peas and onions looked good, I added the rice, then doused it with soy sauce until it tasted right.

Frying that mess up.

Then I added the egg and chicken, added some more soy sauce, swirled and flipped it around and finished, just in time to eat chicken-fried rice while watching Gossip Girl. Life is good.

Not too shabby, if I do say so myself. It tasted pretty good, very much like takeout. Sean said it could have used more onion, which was my bad, but otherwise, quite enjoyed it.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Bobbi Brown Bridal make-up tutorial

Remember how in high school, there were some girls who just seemed to "get it"? They had perfected the blowout by 9th grade, seemed to understand makeup in a way I didn't get and most impressively, they could create an updo with nothing more than two pencils?

I was never that girl. I would argue that perfecting one's look could be construed as becoming domesticated (especially in Betty Draper's world), but I don't want to put too much importance on make-up. That said, I spent half of this weekend completely sucked into make-up tutorials on YouTube, learning the secrets I didn't learn in high school. This is a favorite and deflnitely worth the ten minutes.

Getting back to cooking this week; I'm supposedly making chicken fried rice tonight even though eggs scare the bejesus out of me! 

Thursday, September 24, 2009

From the Holcomb Test Kitchen

Since I haven't been doing any cooking, I'm very grateful my friend Sarah sent me a recipe for garlic herb cheese spread to share! 

Cheese spread in the food processor.

Bagels with a schmear.

Topped with shredded cheese.

And ready to devour!

Sarah's Garlic and Herb Cheese Spread
  • 16 oz cream cheese, softened. 
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed.
  • 2 tsps dried parsley
  • 1 tsp. dried chives.
  • 1 tsp. dried dill
  • 1/2 tsp. dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme

Add salt to taste, if needed. 

Blend by hand or food processor, then spread on bagels (or anything else). Enjoy!

"When I was looking at going to college at Mary Washington in Friedricksburg, my roommate, Marie and I came to an Einstein Bagels for lunch. I got the pizza bagel and she got the garlic and herb pizza bagel. Basically, it was heaven on a bagel. Ever since then, I've been obsessed with trying to figure out how to create the garlic spread. Thus the searches online for a good spread. I finally found one, though I can't find the website anymore. 

I made half of all this recently and it was still just as good. Though, I have a tendency to leave out the sour cream and use the Parmesan cheese from the container. It gives it more of a spread or schmear consistency then. Also, that much dill might be too much, I know it is for me. Usually I will switch the basil and the dill measurements. I've also learned that if you let it set a little bit, the flavors meld so much better. 

Whenever I make this, I spread it on bagels, then top the bagels with shredded cheese. Then I pop them in the toaster over on broil until the cheese melts. It is SERIOUSLY amazing."

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

More Engagement Shots from Ryan Burke

Ryan sent me some more of our engagement shots. These are the second best of the best, so I can't imagine I'll be posting more of these. You can see the first group of shots here. Enjoy!

Status: STILL not domesticated


I'm back from vacation, which was super, but we had a death in our family, which was emotionally draining. 

I've been in a bit of a fog, so beyond making tacos from a box, I haven't really worked too hard on cooking. Hopefully I can find some good inspiration. 

I struggle a lot in my newly domesticated life with going out of town and coming back to the mess I left behind. I think I have to start scrubbing the house before I go out of town because when I get home, I'm always spent. I really have no idea how the rest of you do energy is kaput. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Freezer Smorgasbord

Today's post comes care of Laura Rennie, who was an intern at my first newspaper. Laura is a recent graduate of JMU and has been married to her husband, Andy, for a year. 

My husband is a manager at a grocery store, which means we have access to whatever food cravings are haunting us because Andy can simply pick it up after work.  If I see something delicious being made on the Food Network, you better believe we’re eating it for dinner. 

Inevitably, by the end of the month we’ll have overspent on items such as fresh fish, fresh produce, organic sauces, bakery items and even cereal.  I spent $18 on salmon that was gobbled up in minutes and $12 on chicken legs that took so long to cook on the griddle that Andy and I ended up eating salad for dinner.  I haven’t even told you how much money I waste on produce that never gets eaten … like when I bought a basket of mushrooms, used 1/3 of it for our meal, and let the rest sit in the back of the fridge for three weeks.  Oops.

Not to worry, though.  We have come up with the perfect solution:  eat out at home.  At the end of the month when our grocery budget is more than used up, we throw open the freezer and pantry door and take inventory.  There is almost always something, because when I go out of town Andy gets to buy what I refer to as “bachelor food.”  Here is what we usually come up with:  Ramen, chicken patties or fish sticks, tuna, frozen veggies, rice, tomato soup and boxes of crackers.  Here is what we do with them:

  • Reinventing Ramen:  Add corn or other vegetables to Ramen while it boils.  Drain if desired, top excessively with broken crackers (we use Saltines). 
  • Easy Chicken Parmesan: Chicken patties can be the starter for an easy Chicken parm, but my personal favorite is to melt cheese on the patty, toast a bun, add mayo and then bacon and lettuce if I have it.  A fish stick sandwich made the same way is delicious, too.
  • Tuna Melt: Another hot sandwich we love is a tuna melt.  Toast a slice of bread, spread tuna over it and top it with a slice of cheese. Broil until cheese is melted. Also delicious with bacon and lettuce, but wait until the melt is out of the oven before adding lettuce.  Eat open-faced or add another slice of toasted bread.
  • Mashed cauliflower: Prepare frozen cauliflower like you would mashed potatoes.  Cook until tender, add salt, pepper, butter and milk to taste, then use an immersion blender to work out the lumps.  The end result will blow you away by its subtle flavor and extraordinary texture.
  • Frozen Veggies and Rice: Cook frozen vegetables in sesame oil or soy sauce and serve over rice. 
  • Veggie Grilled Cheese: Grilled cheese with veggies cooked inside and tomato soup topped with crackers (we use Cheez-Its) is the perfect comfort lunch. 

Sure, none of the above meals are exactly mind-blowing or difficult to come up with.  All we’ve done is taken one thing, added another and made a meal out of it.  Best of all, we didn’t spend a cent!  

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

From the Leach Test Kitchen: Eggplant Parmesan

Since I'm on vacation this week, I've got a couple guest posts for you! 
Today's recipe comes from Sarah Leach, a former co-worker of mine and fellow bride-to-be. She is an excellent cook and was very encouraging when I expressed concern that I wouldn't be able to learn. Here's her recipe for eggplant parmesan:

From the Leach Test Kitchen: Guilt-free Eggplant Parmesan
Eggplant Parmesan
• 2 large eggs
• 2 Tbsp. fat-free milk
• 1 cup Italian-seasoned dry bread crumbs
• 1 (1 3/4 to 2-pound) eggplant, unpeeled and cut into 1/4-inch slices
• 2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 large onion, finely chopped
• 4 garlic cloves, minced
• 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
• 1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes
• 1/4 cup dry red wine
• 2 Tbsp. minced fresh basil, or 2 tsp. dried
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
• 1/4 tsp. sugar
• 1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
• 3 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray 2 baking sheets and a 9x13-inch baking dish with nonstick spray.

2. Lightly beat the eggs and milk in a shallow bowl. Place the bread crumbs in another shallow bowl. Dip the eggplant in the egg mixture, then in the bread crumbs and arrange in one layer on the baking sheets. Lightly spray the eggplant with nonstick spray. Bake until the eggplant is softened and lightly browned, about 25 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, heat a nonstick Dutch oven. Swirl in the oil, then add the onion and garlic. Sauté until golden, about 7 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, wine, basil, salt, pepper, and sugar; bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes.

4. Spoon about one third of the tomato sauce in the bottom of the baking dish. Top with a layer of half of the eggplant, then another one third of the sauce, then another layer of the remaining eggplant, then the remaining sauce. Sprinkle with the mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses and bake, uncovered, until the dish is hot and bubbling and the cheese is golden, about 20 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

A simple side of angel hair pasta complements this dish perfectly.

Nutritional facts per serving:
275 calories
10g total fat, 4g saturated fat, 84mg cholesterol, 863mg sodium, 34g total carbohydrate, 6g dietary fiber, 14g protein, 308mg calcium

Monday, September 14, 2009

Rachel Leigh Jewelry

Not your usual bridal look, but I LOOOOOOOOOOVE this rhinestone necklace from Rachel Leigh. I spotted it in the most recent InStyle Weddings (with the FABULOUS Christina Hendricks on the cover) and gasped because it reminds me of one of my all-time favorite necklaces:

I would looooove to wear a dead ringer for that necklace on my wedding day. If you guys ever spot something similar, let me know!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

10 Years of Summer Sisters

Today I'm hitting the road with my lifelong best friend, Jamie. Jamie and I celebrated our 15th friendiversary last fall by going to see New Kids on the Block, as you can see in the above picture. It was awesome. 

Jamie and I sat beside each other in the fourth grade. We pretended we were married to Dean Cain (Me) and Jonathan Taylor Thomas (her). We fell in love with NSYNC and saw them an embarrassing amount of times in concert. We swam every day of the summer of 96, taking breaks only to watch Days of Our Lives. We took ballet together. We went on our first dates together. She's my maid of honor.

In the summer of 99, Jamie accompanied me to New Jersey to visit my grandparents and go to New York. It became an annual summer tradition; together, we've traveled to NJ/NY five times, to DC twice, to Memphis, Atlanta, Charleston, Lexington, KY, Chattanooga, Knoxville, Charlotte, Virginia Beach and who knows where else. We went to Graceland together, and almost cried! Today, we're hitting the road to go to NJ/NY, to sleep in twin beds in "our" room at my grandparents' house. I am SOOOO excited. 

I've still got some blog entries scheduled to go up this week, so stay tuned. 

We'll be seeing our good buddy Bret, who lives in NYC. 

This is us, at FAO Schwartz, in 2002. 

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Mini Mint Chocolate Chip Cheesecakes

One of Sean's coworkers is moving away and in honor of cheesecake being his favorite dessert, I decided to make mini cheesecakes again for movie night. But this time, I wanted to try mint chocolate chip. I skimmed a few recipes, but ultimately I went with a bastardized version of the Martha Stewart recipe.

I crushed teddy grahams again for the crust. Seriously, so good; much better than oreo crusts, in my opinion. It's buttery and more crackery (yeah, so that's not a word) than oreos, not to mention less crumbley.

To make a crust, you crush the crackers, then add sugar and melted butter and stir until the crumbs have absorbed the butter. Then pack the crumbs into baking liners and bake for 15 minutes until the crust has set.

In the meantime, I whipped up the cheesecake, which took half the time it did the first time I made it. You just beat cream cheese, then add sugar and vanilla, which is the sepia color you see above.

Then add two eggs and sour cream, which gives it that smooth consistency.

And here's where it got unfamiliar: adding extract and food coloring. I added just a teaspoon of peppermint extract and though I was convinced it wouldn't be enough, I was wrong. A teaspoon is the perfect amount!

Then I was supposed to add two drops of food coloring, but that's harder to do than it sounds. I added more like three drops and two dribbles and waited to see what would happen...

It looks perfect! Food coloring is kind of amazing; two drops yields SO much color. I added chocolate chips, which of course sunk to the bottom. As a result, some of the cheesecakes had one or two chips and some were FULL of chips.

Ready to go in the oven...

And fresh out of the oven. All those burned areas you see are a result of my sloppy pouring method. I am unskilled in keeping my baked goods neat and tidy.

After they came out, I had a notion to top them with chocolate ganache. I mixed chocolate chips and cream and voila! Ganache! It was tooooo easy, easier than it should be. But that doesn't mean I couldn't mess it up.

My error came when I enthusiastically made the ganache seconds after the cheesecakes came out of the oven. They're supposed to cool for an hour before adding the ganache, but of course they cooled for about six minutes before it was ready. Not knowing what to do, I just left it on very low heat and stirred occasionally. When I finally thought it was time to add the ganache to the cheesecakes, it had begun to separate, the thick chocolate leaving a yellow oily mess in its wake. And me being me, I went ahead and poured it onto a waiting cheesecake.

BAD IDEA. Gloopy, scary, separated mess. When it hardened, it had yellow splotches. Very disgusting. Distraught, I whined to Sean, who wisely said, "Okay, so make another batch of ganache."

Oh. Alright then.

So, this is round two of the ganache, which went decidedly better.

Messy, ganache-topped cheesecakes.

The cheesecakes are delicious, the ganache magical BUT I'm not sure it was wise to try the ganache move with mini cheesecakes. I think it would work much better with a full-size cheesecake made in a springform pan; the paper liners were buckling under its weight. Otherwise, this was awesome and I packed one for work today that was the envy of my coworker!

Super salty Cajun Chicken Alfredo

I've always had a soft spot for Cajun Chicken Pasta from Red Lobster and O'Charleys. The other night I had a huge craving and after looking around for recipes, I went with this Emeril one for Bayou Chicken Pasta. I decided to leave several items out — the tomatoes and habaneros, for example. 

I started out melting butter and olive oil.

Then seasoned pieces of chicken with Louisiana Cajun seasoning. 

IMPORTANT NOTE: I did not try this before using it. I figured, What the hey, I'll probably love it. This may have been a big mistake. 

I took the chicken out of the pan and added onions and garlic...

Then added a cup of cream and a tablespoon of the seasoning and salt. BIGGEST MISTAKE EVER. I should not have added salt. What am I doing copying Emeril? He should not be emulated; clearly he likes things a bit spicier than I do.

I added the chicken and pasta and tossed to coat. I was getting really excited and I was starving; it was nearly 9:30 before I sat down to eat.

I topped the meal with scallions, which are my jam. 

I sat down and twirled pasta with my fork and took a big first bite. It was SO SALTY. Like, I cringed. I'm not sure where I went wrong, but next time I'll be much more conservative with seasoning; I think a little bit of the Cajun seasoning goes a long way. 

I was just so disappointed because it was the first time I've made this kind of mistake. I suffered through about half of the pasta, cringing and gulping water in between bites, but I wasn't able to finish it. It was just way too hard. Disasters!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Technology Fail

I promise I have more food-related updates coming up, but I've been plagued by technical problems the past couple days.

Yesterday, I came home to find my computer wouldn't turn on. It seemed the battery had completely died b/c the power cord came unplugged and it took an hour to charge. A very scary hour.

I'm totally that person who says she's going to back her stuff up and never does. I'm also the kind of person who has folders and folders of designs, photos, stories, term papers and more stored on that thing, including my recent designs for our wedding invitations. Needless to say, I need an external hard drive like whoa.

THEN once I got that up and running, I went to upload photos to Blogger this morning and it wouldn't upload. Not sure if that's a blogger problem, photo problem, camera problem or what, so once I troubleshoot that, we're back in business.

In the meantime, I made a special dessert for someone who's moving away, sampled it this morning and immediately felt sick to my stomach. Here's hoping it wasn't the dessert, but the unwise decision to pair it with leftover cream soda.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

New Kate Spade Collection

Loving the new Kate Spade clothing collection, even if it is overpriced and undersized (everything comes in only four sizes). I love how everything is the perfect derivation of Spade's '60s style. Can't you just picture Holly Golightly or Jackie O stepping out in these duds?

Check out the collection here.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Mason Jar Romance

I'm swoooooooooooooning for this shot from One Love Photo. Since I'm planning on jumping on the trendy mason jar bandwagon myself (although I'll purposely note I did that at a party three years ago), I'd love to get a shot like this. 

What did I do on my Labor Day vacation? I:
  • Ate out. A LOT.
  • Watched a "Sonny With a Chance" marathon on the Disney Channel
  • Watched "The Lady Eve"
  • Thought LONG and HARD about many of our wedding particulars. I may post some sneak peeks of what I've been up to. 

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Olive Oil Cakes

I would say the biggest hit of wine club were my olive oil cakes, made from this Food Network recipe, although I've seen them pop up in magazines, too. 

This recipe calls for mixing in the blender, which was a very different experience for me. I've used my blender so rarely, I didn't even know which button to press to pulse it! But I figured it out. 

I started out by pouring SO MUCH sugar in the blender. 

Then adding the zest of two lemons. I blended and then added two eggs, one at a time, pulsing all along.

See? Egg.

Then I added milk, which alternated with this mix of flour:

Flour, baking powder and thyme, which gave the cakes a nice, savory kick.

And here's where things started to get wishy-washy. I was in pouring the batter from the blender into my new mini-bundt pan (which I brushed with melted butter) and I thought, " high do I fill?" 

In instances like this, I usually figure I'll keep going till the batter seems depleted. But that meant I filled very high. I was making these cakes at quarter till midnight, listening to The 700 Club because I forgot to change the channel, and I was convinced I was making a mistake but I pressed on.

I went by the oven, glanced inside and gasped. DISASTERS IN THE MAKING?! I'm pretty sure bundt cakes aren't supposed to have muffin tops.

So, yeah, my bundt cakes were a bit morphed and didn't look like the picture. That was a bummer. But, people, I made that glaze from scratch, too. It was ridiculously simple: confectioners sugar, melted butter and lemon juice, whisked. 

I served the cakes with tiny scoops of Wine Cellar Sorbet in pinot noir. I also served champagne sorbet on wine club night. Both were delicious and subtle; the pinot actually reminded me of rose-flavored gelato I had in Charlottesville once.

All in all, the cakes were delicious and the glaze, while strong, tasted much better a couple days later once it hardened. These cakes were very easy to make and had a refreshing lemony taste but were slightly savory from the olive oil and thyme.