and she made pasta

i’m sure many of us are trying to occupy our suddenly copious amounts of free time, and i am no exception, especially since i have a week of pto coming up.  i’ve already done a little tidying and organizing, but the other night i got a flash of inspiration to make my own pasta dough.  sure, why not!

with flour in the pantry and eggs in the fridge, i set off to follow this recipe by gemma stafford.  i’d perused a few sites before settling on her approach, and i’d be lying if i said her charming smile and accent weren’t a couple of the deciding factors.

i grabbed my ingredients and cleared off the counter and got to work at about 10:30 on friday night.  i’m not in charge of when inspiration strikes!  i just answer when it calls.  🙂

the kneading itself wasn’t particularly difficult, but it did take some patience and those few splashes of water like gemma recommends.  i also should have probably let the eggs come to room temperature, but i was flying by the seat of my pants here and couldn’t wait.

the dough did come together nicely, don’t you think?  once all wrapped up, it sat overnight in the fridge.

now, when it came to rolling out the dough and getting it prepped for cooking, i definitely should have let the dough rest out of the fridge for a bit.  the first half that i rolled out was a bit tough and had me breaking a sweat!  the second half was more pliable and, i think, ended up thinner than the first.  this is called the “living and learning” process.  i lived it and i learned for next time.

i will say it was extremely satisfying to cut up the dough into noodles once it was ready.  look at that happy little pile!

i boiled up a big ‘ole pot of salted water and cooked the noodles for only about two minutes.  remember, because it’s fresh pasta, it doesn’t need too long.  per gemma’s recommendation, i topped our bowls with butter, pepper, and a healthy showering of freshly grated parmesan cheese.  my review?  it was a delicious saturday afternoon snack.  the pasta really was divine, and i can imagine with a homemade sauce on top it would be that much more enjoyable.  sometimes it’s the simplest things in life that bring a smile to your face.

bon appetit!

Coming to America – Day 2

June 20th

Our mission today was to travel to Cheswick, PA to find Deer Creek Cemetery and the graves of our Grandfather George and Uncle Felix.  We had breakfast at the hotel and set off with an overcast sky.  The scenery was beautiful, so green and so different from the Los Angeles area!  We found the very old cemetery and set out looking for the graves.  Gary had looked up the information, and we knew which sections they were in, or so we thought.  We all got a lot of steps in as we went back and forth, row after row looking at gravestones.

deer creek cemetery.

I personally find old cemeteries very interesting and can wander for hours looking at the headstones and wondering who these people were, what their lives were like, etc.  A lot of the people buried here were born in the mid- to late 1800s.

Kyle and Clark found George Despot’s headstone (1888-1941), and we gathered around.  He died of black lung from working in the coal mines.  It was emotional for Gary and I, remembering our mother had told us and knowing that she had been here when he was buried.

It started lightly raining as we looked for Felix’s grave.  Back and forth, up and down we went in the grass.  We couldn’t find the grave, but our shoes sure got wet!  We finally went to the office, and the groundskeeper looked it up right away, so we followed him in his vehicle to the correct section.  We found Felix’s headstone (1916-1947), who died of a burst appendix, and that of this daughter Judith.  We thought of the stories our mother had told us of her big brother.

Our mother had a younger brother who also came to America; his name was Albert, or Uncle Al as we all called him.  He joined the Navy and ended up settling in San Pedro, CA to work as a fisherman.  After our mother’s dad and brother Felix passed away, she moved out to Long Beach, CA to be near her brother Al.  Our next stop was in memory of him.  We climbed into the van and headed to Oakmont Country Club where Uncle Al had worked as a caddie when he was a kid.  Gary fondly remembers Uncle Al telling stories of working at Oakmont.  A little history for those who don’t follow golf:  the course at Oakmont Country Club, designed in 1903, is one of the most difficult in North America.  It has hosted more combined USGA and PGA championships than any other course in the United States.  We arrived at the guard shack and explained that we just wanted to go to the pro shop and pick up a few souvenirs because Uncle Al had worked here many, many years ago.  The gentleman gave us the once over (being sure we were properly dressed because golf courses can have dress codes) and said we could go in.  What we could see of the golf course was absolutely beautiful as well as the buildings.  We picked up some gifts to take back home and set off.

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that blue apron thing

after much advertisement dodging and internal reflecting, i decided to take the plunge, jump on the bandwagon, and try out blue apron.  for those of you who do not know, blue apron is a meal-delivery service.  now, when i say “meal” i mean that they mail you all the ingredients and instructions for a few meals that you then get to cook in the comfort of your own home.  now, there are all sorts of companies like blue apron, but considering they were offering three meals for only $20 in your first week, it sounded like a deal too good to pass up.

when you sign up for blue apron, you do get to decide what day of the week your box arrives.  i figured tuesday was as good a day as any, so a few days ago our first box was waiting at the back door for me to scoop up and bring inside.

in addition to designating your delivery day, you get to provide some meal preferences.  for example, if you’re vegetarian or only eat seafood, you can indicate just that in your profile.  a handy feature, especially for someone who might be on a more restricted diet.

the box that arrived was quite compact, at least in my opinion, and i got as excited as a child on Christmas morning when i grabbed the scissors and cut that box open.

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before i proceed much further, it is clear that blue apron definitely has some thinkers working for them.  the way they package the ingredients and recipes along with the charming notes and witty branding really does the job it should:  it gets you excited to cook!

one of the delightful things about blue apron is that each refrigerated item is individually packed, “pantry” produce is loose in the box (which is fine because less packaging means less waste), and you get these awesomely large freezer packs that you can re-use or, if you desire, you can have blue apron recycle for you – nifty!  however, maybe above all else, the best part is that everything comes in the cutest little bags and cutest little containers with the cutest little labels!  again, their marketing dollars hard at work.

our box had three meals that have two servings each.  of the options in front of us, phillip and i decided to make the burgers and slaw because we were hungry.  as such, we wasted no time at all grabbing the recipe (complete with instructions, pictures, and recommended wine pairings) and getting to work.

now, the estimated completion time for this particular recipe was 25-35 minutes.  my friend judson who had done a similar meal-delivery service said that it always takes him longer than what the recipe says.  well, challenge accepted!  i kept our trusty chef timer around at all times to see if we could beat the clock.

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the recipe’s step-by-step instructions were perfectly clear.  i chopped away and mixed up the slaw while phillip was on burger duty.  phillip enjoys being in the kitchen and was especially entertained as he marked off each completed step with a little check on the recipe.  #adorable

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just as phillip was flipping the burgers to finish them off, our chef timer rang out loudly, sounding the buzzer for the suggested 35 minutes to cook the entire meal.  well, it turns out we needed about 10 minutes more.  but still, a home-cooked meal in under an hour isn’t something to be too upset about, right?  sure!

with the oven off and the stovetop cooling down, phillip and i plated our first blue apron meal, poured a couple glasses of delicious red wine, and dug in.  first things first, yes, this meal was as delicious as it looks.  the slaw was a great crunchy texture to have with the tender beef patty and schmear of sriracha mayo.  and, as you can see, there was plenty of slaw that we really even had it as a second side next to the sweet potato wedges.  those wedges were cooked through just right and were so easy to make!

now, i know what your next thought is.  “that looks like a pretty big plate of food.”  well, it certainly was.  in fact, the portion size for this meal was so large that i almost couldn’t finish!  i let phillip polish off the last few sweet potato fries and then i think we were both stuffed.

besides the end result of a delicious and different dinner on an otherwise normal tuesday night, what is our review of blue apron?

  • are you happy you tried it?  yes, especially with the first week at only $20!
  • did the box provide everything you needed to make the meal?  almost.  blue apron assumes you have things like extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper on-hand.
  • was the food you got a good value for what you paid?  again, for the first week, yes!  it’s hard to go out to restaurants and spend only $20 on six humongous meals.
  • what are you liking most so far?  i think the convenience factor is the ultimate perk of something like blue apron.  i didn’t have to stop at the store on the way home from work, which saved me time and got us cooking earlier in the evening.  i also very much like the variety of recipes.  for example, this week’s recipes were the burgers and slaw, creamy shrimp spaghetti (which we made last night and also was quite tasty), and then chicken enchiladas.
  • will you do blue apron again?  well, considering i forgot to cancel next week’s “order,” yes!  at least for one more week.  do know, though, that the regular price for three meals with two servings each (so six meals total) bumps up to $60 per week.  however, if you don’t like eating monstrous dinners, you could likely split these two servings per meal into four, so then you’re getting twelve total meals for $60 rather than just six.  so, in the end, still a pretty good price.
  • anything else we should know?  well, yes!  apparently i have three free meals i can give to my friends, so if you’re interested, let me know and i’ll hook you up!  also, for those of you who want more per meal or have more than just a pair like phillip and me, they do have family-size options you can order.  and (i promise this is the last thing) you can also skip weeks without any penalty at all.  just make sure you do so a week before your next delivery date.

bon appetit!

spicy pasta salad!

with the cool breeze in the atlanta air these days, the mood struck me suddenly and i was craving pasta salad.  sure, i could hop into disco kroger and pick up a pint of the premade stuff, but with plenty of time on my hands, i decided to bust out a tried and true spicy pasta salad recipe.  now, when i pulled up the ingredients and directions from my cookbook, my handwriting gave no clue as to where the recipe originated.  after a quick search, though, i found out it was another classic from ree drummond.

the good news?  now i don’t have to type out every measurement and step.  the better news?  i still feel compelled to post all the pictures of me making this dish!  for your viewing pleasure, here is me at work in my little kitchen.  🙂

cook up some pasta.

next, measure out half a cup of mayo.  throw it in a mixing bowl.

pour one fourth cup of whole milk and then add it to the mayo.

get yourself four tablespoons of white vinegar and marry it up with the mayo and milk.

to the mix add the salt and some peppa and adobo sauce!

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whisk it all up.

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next?  chop up some tomatoes.  the grocer didn’t have red grape tomatoes, so i went with cherry tomatoes and just chopped ’em a little finer.  also, it was a very happy coincidence because these hokee tomatoes come from right down the street in forest park, georgia.  cool!

next you’re going to cube up some gouda.  i won’t judge if you consume any awkwardly shaped or sized pieces on the spot.  i’d be lying if i said i didn’t do that exact thing myself.

now, we’re almost done, i promise!  in your bowl, toss together the gouda, tomatoes, cooled pasta, and dressing.  then, use all your self control not to take a bite – it’s not ready quite yet!

okay, the final step is to grab a whole bunch of basil and chiffonade it.  “chiffonade” is technically a noun, but as a verb, it means to stack all your basil leaves…

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…roll them up…

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…and then use your knife to thinly slice it all.  just like that you’re a chiffonade pro!

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take all that lovely basil and incorporate it in with the pasta mix.  this salad will be sure to please at home, at a picnic, at a bbq, just about anywhere that pasta salad is welcome.  the dressing isn’t overwhelming and has a nice kick from the adobo that provides great flavor.  as with all pasta salads and potato salads of this sort, letting it sit overnight makes for a greatly refreshing snack the next day.

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greensboro, nc – day 3

well, my final day in greensboro arrived early sunday morning.  i thought all the crazy fun had already passed, but what little did i know!  we had planned to go out for brunch, but seeing as how there was freezing rain steadily building up all around the house and our cars, we went nowhere fast.  good thing mary had stocked up on bread and eggs, because a homemade breakfast is just what the doctor ordered.

first things first on a lazy and relaxing sunday?  mimosas!  well, i take that back.  we didn’t have any orange juice, so we made ourselves some berry bellinis.  step one was to make a little berry puree to complement the champagne.  mary whipped out her blender and got a little raspberry-strawberry concoction going.  it’s silly how simple it was!

step two is to over pour the champagne so that it goes all over the cutting board and chopping block, wasting about a fourth of the bottle.  whatever!  we never said we were perfect, just a few friends trying to have a good time, and that isn’t too hard with champs and sweets.

i think at about eleven o’clock we finally started cooking actual food.  first up, sausages!  mary had a moment of inspiration and let me in on her sausage-cooking secret:  use a panini skillet of some kind, the ones with the ridges.  you can place those little sausage links right in between so they don’t roll all over the place.  your links will be perfectly browned and juicy, a great side to any breakfast dish.

wait, though.  what was our breakfast dish of choice that sunday?  eggs benedict!  this mary lady just does it all – homemade strawberry puree, eggs benedict.  man, was i spoiled this weekend or what?  mary got out her pioneer woman cookbook and turned to page 16 to find the eggs benedict recipe.  this particular recipe, to quote mary, is not particularly “figure friendly.”  i mean, there are two sticks of butter in the sauce alone.  good thing i’m not on a diet!  before we get there, though, let’s take a look at the adventure that was poaching the eggs.

i’m sure there’s some exact science to poaching an egg, but we kind of just went on memory and instinct for ours.  after the water came to a slight bubble, mike used a wooden spoon to get some good circulation going.  mary plopped that first egg into the water and, oh!  look at that!  that’s not what a poached egg should look like!  it looked like some weird mess caught up in an f5 tornado!

sooooooo, with that disaster, we dumped the water and started from scratch.  this time we brought the water to a very low boil, didn’t stir as quickly, and gently slipped the egg right into the water without causing too much of a commotion.  the white of the egg delicately fell in on itself, creating a little envelope for that yolk to cook perfectly.  ah, quite the success!

mary served them up on soft toast with generous spoonfuls of the hollandaise.  the sweetest breakfast ever served!  the egg was rich and helped cut out the overly sour lemon in the sauce.  now, the hollandaise calls for the juice of two lemons, but the lemons we were using were a bit larger, so i think we probably didn’t account for that.  i also thought the sauce was a touch too runny, but that’s just my opinion.  regardless, i sopped up all the yolk and sauce with my toast and didn’t leave a morsel on the plate.  a great adventure with a great result!

just when we thought all the handiwork was done for the weekend, another surprise came our way.  we couldn’t get a truck to tow the mazda to the dealership for its bum tire, so mike, the hero that he is, put the spare on my little hatchback.  you never know what life will throw at you, but when you’re given lemons, you’ve got to make lemonade!  never stop learning, folks.  never stop learning.  🙂

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we pretty much spent the entire day in the kitchen, drinking and eating our way through the afternoon.  we had a hoot of a time reliving the weekend’s already wild happenings as the radio played.  all of a sudden, “king of wishful thinking” by go west came on and mary squealed, nearly scaring mike and i off our chairs.  “i love this song!  i just cannot control my body when i hear it!”  after listening and dancing to it, we pulled up the video online.  i think we love it now even more, but i’ll let you be the judge!

aaahhh, the early evening was suddenly upon us, so mary and i switched to wine for the rest of the night.  she’s a white wine lover and i’ve come to love red.  good thing she had plenty bottles of both!

more vino!

more vino!

even though we’d had a late brunch, our stomachs were starting to growl.  well, just what would we have for dinner?  mary had started a pork tenderloin in the slow cooker that morning, so after some serious thinking, we decided pulled pork sandwiches, mac’n’cheese, and brussel sprouts would be a great idea.  am i, right?  yep!

since the pork was already cooking, the brussel sprouts were up next.  i’m warning you now.  i took many unnecessary photos of pretty much the same thing over and over again.  i mean, i had enjoyed almost that whole bottle of red by myself at that point.  give a girl a break!  😉

mary had some red onion she needed to use up, so we figured we’d throw ’em in with the sprouts.  mary armed herself with her onion glasses, looking like a regular pro.  just check out those perfectly chopped chunks!

next we got the pan sizzling and browned the bacon (because bacon makes everything better) and softened the onions.  the kitchen started to smell divine, as i am sure you can imagine.

mary gave the brussel sprouts a rough chop and tossed ’em in with the bacon and onions.  it’s such a shame brussel sprouts get such a bad rap.  they just needed to be served with fatty bacon all this time!

dinner 1

here is what brussel sprouts look like after you add salt…

after salt

…and here is how they look when you throw in some pepper…

after pepper

…and then after you add garlic powder…

after garlic powder

…and then when they’re all ready!

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we finally had everything ready, so we dug in and spent the rest of the night watching old home videos that mary’s dad mark had filmed at the 1996 olympics in atlanta.  ah, we were so young!

om nom nom.

om nom nom.

eventually we rinsed our plates, filled the dishwasher, and headed to our beds.  i cannot express enough thanks to mary and mike for a fantastic weekend, and my heart swells just thinking about how much i love these dear friends of mine.  without any plans written down, we let the days take us where they would, which was, as i had hoped it would be, a lot of fun.

summertime in march

pasta

last night i was looking around for an easy dinner recipe, something that required limited pots, pans, and clean-up.  as i was poking around on ree drummond’s site, i came upon her version of pasta salad.  it was a wonderful choice on a cool march evening!  i paired it with oven-baked italian sausage and had the nicest meal while watching the women of the bachelor tear apart sweet juan pablo.  “it’s okay!”