Thursday, July 29, 2010

Steakhouse Onion Rings

When you can't cook, and the mere task of mixing macaroni and cheese out of a box seems daunting, there are certain things you assume you can never do.

You can never bake a cake. You can never cook a turkey (still haven't!). You could never make homemade onion rings.

But take a look at me now! When you met me, I was in that sorry state and now, a year and some change later, I'm making my own damn onion rings! Hoo-ra!

And guess what? SO easy. Seriously. Take the journey with me.

First off, you're going to want to find a shallow bowl and fill it with two cups of milk and a large egg. Whisk it together until the little egg bits are no more.

Then you will want to slice up an onion. I used a red one and a white one because that is what I had. The Food Network recipe I used, however, recommends red ones.

When you've sliced your onions into rings, plop them into the milk mixture to soak for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix up 2 cups of flour, 1 cup of cornstarch and about a teaspoon of salt. When you feel ready, you might want to take this opportunity to pull out a heavy-bottom pan or pot and fill the bottom with 4 inches of vegetable oil. Turn it up as high as it goes. It is scary how hot it needs to be.

When 30 minutes have passed, take off your rings and get ready to get messy. Pull the onion rings out of the milk/egg mix and dip into the flour mixture to coat. Then do a quick dip back in the milk and coat in flour again. Set aside on a paper towel until you're ready to fry.

Your hands will accidentally get batter-dipped (Yes, that is my new Kitchen-Aid in the background!!!). You will have to wash them off intermittently.

Eventually, you'll have flour'd onion rings ready to fry.

Using kitchen tongs, drop the onion rings into the oil and let them fry until golden brown. Then pull 'em back out.

Place the onion rings on a paper towel-covered dish and sprinkle with salt. Aren't they gorgeous?

And then, once you've eaten, convince your spouse/roommate/whomever to clean up the tidal pool of nasty that's collected in the bottom of your pot. Be sure to put the oil in a jar or coffee can, rather than down the sink!!

These were awesome; flavorful but not overly greasy. Deep-frying is a deep guilty pleasure for me, so I have to be sure to use this technique sparingly, although I'm already planning on experimenting with beer batter.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Breakfast at Tiffany's Bridal Shower

This weekend I was treated to a "surprise" bridal shower, thrown by my amazing bridesmaid Ashleigh, with help from my mom. I say "surprise" because I kept learning little tidbits about it from people who forgot to be tight-lipped, and I also mentioned some ideas for what I would like in my dream fantasy bridal shower.

Ashleigh, being the amazing person she is, surpassed my dream fantasy! She threw a "Breakfast at Tiffany's"-themed shower, complete with the soundtrack playing in the background, colored balloons and plastic pearl necklaces on the table. Everyone wore black and pearls and sunglasses; my dad said he almost fell over from the chicness when he swung by.

Here are some of the guests. We had the party at a restaurant at my alma mater, Christopher Newport University. The menu was brunch with mimosas! It was fabulous.

And a shot of the pretty balloons!

My mom ordered Tiffany blue gift boxes and a co-worker of hers offered to engrave them "Tiffany & Co" for free! I have to be sure to send a thank-you note to that kind lady!

Inside, my mom put M&M's in our wedding colors with the date of the bridal shower on them.

I got many amazing presents and I can't wait to use all of them. My sweet grandmother can't really travel, but she crocheted me doilies that I plan to use at the gift table and guest book table at the wedding. She can't follow patterns, so everything she makes is unique.

This is my shock-and-awe reaction to my gift from my future mother-in-law: a Le Creuset round oven. SO EXCITED.

And, per bridal shower tradition, this will be my practice bouquet for the rehearsal.
Our amazing wine expert Erica also makes cakes and surprised me with miniature Tiffany ring box-themed cakes with homemade marshmallow fondant. Seriously, it blew me away.

It was such a fun shower and I'm so grateful to everyone who came. One of my wine club girls, Jennifer, pulled out one of the funniest surprises of all. She wrote down my reactions to my gifts and then read them aloud, saying these were the things I'd say on my wedding night. We guffawed with laughter; it was like one giant "That's What She Said" joke. Here's a sampling:
  • "That is the cutest."
  • "No offense."
  • "We're gonna get there."
  • "It's nice and neat and even."
  • "I got one that's huge and gorgeous."
  • "I didn't even notice how hard you were working."
  • "The whole world has changed."

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sunday Best v. 29

We recently had a mini-Tudors marathon and as a result, I was briefly obsessed with the British royal family. I ended up on a website with all sorts of pictures of royals and came across this ethereal portrait of Princess Margaret (Queen Elizabeth's little sister, who died in 2002). She was really a foxy lady in her day, and I think this picture is just amazing. We could all benefit from such lighting, huh?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Steak NOT Au Poivre

Not long ago, I set out to make some simple steak that would pair well with those amazing crispy parmesan potatoes and a side of green beans.

I clicked my way over to Sunday Suppers and found their recipe for Steak au Poivre. I've never actually ordered steak au poivre, a French dish made with cognac and peppercorns. So you'll have to excuse my naivete, when I say I made the Sunday Suppers recipe and thought, "Ta-Da! I'm a French cook."

The Sunday Suppers recipe is simple: Take a skirt steak and rub with olive oil, then coat in freshly ground pepper and sea salt.

Then cook.

See? Cook.

What it didn't call for was cognac or peppercorns. And me, being ignorant of such things, just went along with it, thinking, "Geez, what was Julia Child moaning about? This is crazy simple."

And this is where I'd like to address the humor in teaching oneself how to cook through Google searches. When you're as ignorant as I am, you just go along with what you read. How am I supposed to know if what I've made is REALLY an authentic mole sauce for enchiladas? I'll take your word for it that this cookie is a French macaron!

So I dimly broadcast on the Facebook that I had made steak au poivre, prompting my good friend Bret to note how he would try it if he weren't scared of cooking with cognac. Er...what?

I was pretty embarrassed when I read the recipes for steak au poivre. But I will say this: the simple pepper-and-salt steak was pretty damn good and flavorful. So how about we call it easy steak au poivre?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Home Office Re-Do

This is bravery. I am posting an unadulterated glimpse into our office, as it stood on Saturday morning.

I have been on a big kick lately to really examine why I don't use things and how my living space could be more functional. I really sat down and considered why we never go into the office except to add another bank statement to the pile. I thought about why my winter sweaters were piled in front of the closet. (Answer: because the TV we were supposed to give away was blocking my access to my winter clothes Rubbermaid container.)

I got it in my head that now, a week before my mom and stepsister come to visit, was the time to re-do the office/guest room.

Men: I want to apologize for womenfolk everywhere. I'm sorry we disdain your stuff. I'm sorry we make you give away your stuff. I'm sorry about the pink.

I presented my plan to Sean, who was pretty much not interested in it at all. My plan was this:

  • Downgrade to one desk because we don't use the office for its intended purpose at all.
  • Get rid of his near-death desktop computer that hasn't been turned on in over a year.
  • Get a filing cabinet and create an easy filing system for our financial, health and car info.
  • Get canvas bins to house the random assortment of cords and mailing supplies.
  • And, perhaps most unappetizing to Sean, hang shelves.
It took a lot of elbow grease and HOURS of fighting about whether studs really matter, HOURS of thrifting for the perfect chair (fruitlessly) and up until last night, DAYS of shredding, but here it is, our new and improved office space:

I still have dreams of finding the perfect thrift store chair to spruce up, and of course, I hung more pictures after I took this one, but this is the gist.

We stuck with my white IKEA table-turned-desk because my reasoning was that it could easily perform other functions (spontaneous buffets?) and c'mon, it's white, which is my jam.

I got canvas bins to sort our various items and managed to hide almost all the cords except that pesky printer one. I hunted high and lo for an affordable file cabinet and picked up this simple black one at Office Depot for $75.

I usually try to buy real-deal antiques, but card catalogs can be surprisingly hard-to-find and expensive, so when I saw this replica at World Market, I scooped it right up. I'm hoping to use it at the wedding in some way because it looks very old-school newspaper office, I think.

I put some of my aqua mason jars on the shelf to roost until the wedding. They bring a nice pop of color and go along with my old-timey-meets-mod office look.

And yesterday, I got around to hanging up my two new favorite little objects: a tin newspapers sign I picked up at the antique mall for $10 and a hand-painted French ceramic sign saying "Journaliste" that I purchased at Creme de la Creme in Charlottesville.

The room isn't quite finished yet (lord knows it will never be done because I don't really believe in "finished"), but it certainly looks neater! And I'm typing from the desk at this very moment, something I couldn't have done last week.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Crispy Parmesan Roasted Potatoes

That picture right there? That's my nightmare.

I've spent a lot of time on this blog bemoaning Sean's various food quirks, but I've spent much less time talking about mine. My biggest, most offensive one? Potatoes. I'm not that much of a fan.

I like my potatoes to be void of potato taste. That means I liked them fried to oblivion, covered in seasoning salt or cheese or bacon or ranch dressing or ketchup. I had conquered many food mountains that once scared me, like shrimp and Indian food, but mashed potatoes are still my Everest.

People wonder how can this be. I can't offer reasons. I just wince when I take a big mouthful of mushy, unadulterated potatoes.

It is my fortune, then, that I'm marrying a man I call Irish McIrish O'Bunch whose favorite foods are potatoes, meat, more potatoes and peas.

I knew I couldn't deny him his favorite food forever, but I wanted to find a potato dish I could enjoy, too. So I did a search for roasted potatoes and came up with several variations on a theme: Crispy Parmesan Potatoes.

I boiled 9 or 10 Baby Dutch yellow potatoes for about 5 minutes and allowed them to cool.

Once they cooled, we cut them into quarter slices, then I drizzled them with (in this order): olive oil, salt and pepper, garlic powder and grated parmesan, tossing as I went.

I then placed the potatoes in a dish I spritzed with PAM and put them in the oven to roast at 350.

When I say I like them crispy, I mean crispy, so I let them roast for a little more than 25 minutes. I can admit our steak probably suffered because my timing was all off, but the potatoes were MAGIC. I LOVED them.

They were potatoey (yeah, it's a word I just made up) enough for Sean and crispy and flavor-packed enough for me. They are totally my new staple side dish.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Chicken Fajitas

Let me tell you a story about fajitas.

In a fit of anger/stress/work-related crazy, I asked Sean if he could handle making fajitas for dinner. He said, "Ummmmmmmm.....ok." Then, while I was trying to finish up an article, he kept asking me how to make fajitas, which cookbook to use, what he needed to do, etc. Needless to say, I was quickly losing my mind.

This is where the ladies in the audience are nodding, cause they feel me. I'm not sure what it is about our genetic make-up or learned gender roles, but when women need to know something, we look it up and when men need to know something, they find a way to avoid looking it up. I hate to generalize, but in this instance, Sean's suggested recipe for fajitas was, "I'm just going to chop up some peppers and cook the chicken and roll in up in a thingie."

I said he had to season the meat, and he said, "With what?" And that's when I turned into Medusa.

Needless to say, the fajita plan got scrapped until a couple nights later. And because I'm a woman who wields Google like a weapon, I had no qualms about looking up a recipe.

Sean might not be great at looking up directions, but he's stupendous at taking them. These are the peppers he diligently chopped.

These are the radishes he diligently chopped!

I quickly put together a marinade of cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, olive oil, salt, pepper and a tablespoon of cornstarch (the scariest of ingredients!).

I then added all the peppers, radishes and bite-size pieces of raw chicken breast and massaged the marinade into the mix. I popped it in the fridge for about 15 minutes.

With the stove set to medium-high heat, I tossed the bag's contents in the skillet and cooked until the chicken pieces were done.

Ta-da! Quick and easy chicken fajitas that even a Sean could make (assuming someone could follow him around the kitchen, explaining where everything is and what cornstarch does). If we had a food processor, it would have been very quick and easy to make, so I can recommend this for weeknight cooking.

As for Sean driving me into Gorgon-level crazy anger, I think we've come to an agreement. We'll have to keep some food on hand for those instances when Sean has to make dinner, like those frozen pasta meals. What's another dish that's easy and self-explanatory for a man who doesn't like cooking?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sunday Best v.28

I spotted this picture over at A Cup of Jo and was totally struck by how romantic it looked. This would be such easy party decor and would make for an awesome photo booth wall, too. I think it would take a LOT of flowers, though.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Kate Spade Book Clutch

Hey remember me? That girl with the blog? Yeah, something happened this week where I just completely lost my voice and had not too much to say. I've been stressing a little about the wedding, working, trying to plan dinner, failing to make dinner, and generally running around like a crazy person. I'd like to talk about a big HUGE domestication failure I plan to tackle this weekend, but for now, I think we should talk about this Kate Spade clutch because it is the cutest.

Kate Spade has a special, limited-time-only "bestsellers" line of clutches, including The Great Gatsby, The Importance of Being Earnest and Great Expectations. They are crazy cute, and retail for (way out of my price range) $325.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sunday Best v. 27

This is another shot I saved from a home tour on The Selby recently. Looks like a fire hazard for sure, but wouldn't that be a nice spin on the candles for a birthday cake? A table of candles could be super fun, also, for a romantic Valentine's Day party or a meal outdoors.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Sausage-stuffed Zucchini

I recently put the call out to the Internets that I was bored with cooking and needed some inspiration. Over and over, people said "Zucchini!" Zucchini is, apparently, the greatest thing ever, according to everyone. I honestly have only had zucchini here and there, and never in a creative format. Thus, I set out to experiment with zucchini.

I consulted my newest cookbook, The Illustrated Quick Cook by Heather Whinney, and found a recipe for sausage-stuffed zucchini, which sounded very Sean-friendly.

I started by splitting 2 zucchini down the middle, then using a melon baller to scoop out the middle. Keep the zucchini middle meat to the side!

Now they look like pea pods!

Sean bought Italian sausage, which is of course delicious, but not what I had in mind. I think it might have given us a mild case of heartburn, so keep this in mind when you do your own sausage-buying.

Preheat the oven to 375 (I think...or it might have been 450...hrm. I'm not very helpful am I?) and brush the zucchini shells with olive oil, then season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, saute red onion and minced garlic in a skillet.

Add the zucchini meat (which I forgot to chop up!) and then the sausage meat. When it's good and browned, scoop the mixture into the zucchini shells.

Bake the zucchini shells for about 25 minutes, until they're good and soft.

Then enjoy!

So how was my zucchini adventure? Well, the sausage kind of completely masked the taste of zucchini, so in some ways it was a good place to start and in others, it didn't really enlighten me to the glory that is zucchini. The sausage was also a bit too spicy, but we can try a different type of sausage next time.

The hardest part, for me, was coming up with a side dish. We ended up being lazy and just cooking up some potatoes, but I really would like some creative help on this one.