Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Lentil Sausage Soup

I saw this recipe on a recent episode of Barefoot Contessa. I wasn't expecting to make it until the fall, but I mentioned it to bf and he begged me to try it before I left. Since the recipe makes so much, I thought it would be a good dish to try, and then I could leave a lot in the freezer for once I'm gone. It was absolutely delicious and I think it's our new favorite soup (which is a huge statement). It's also super healthy, isn't that hard and makes enough to feed a small village- which means leftovers galore. You could also make it with turkey sausage or spicy Italian to suit your tastes.

Lentil Sausage Soup
from the Food Network

1 pound green lentils
1/4 cup olive oil, plus extra for serving
4 cups diced yellow onions (3 large)
4 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts only (2 leeks)
1 tablespoon minced garlic (2 large cloves)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3 cups medium diced celery (8 stalks)
3 cups medium diced carrots (4 to 6 carrots)
3 quarts Homemade Chicken Stock, recipe follows, or canned broth
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 pound sausage
2 tablespoons dry red wine
Freshly grated Parmesan, for serving

I started by putting the lentils in a medium size bowl. I then filled the tea kettle with water and brought it to a boil. Using the tea kettle, I filled the bowl with water until they were covering the lentils with about an inch of water. Then, I let the lentils sit for about 15 minutes before draining and rinsing.

Next, I started chopping. My only complaint about this recipe is that it requires a lot of chopping. I started by chopping the 3 onions, then the garlic and finally the leeks. Once all of those were ready, I heated up some olive oil, added those veggies to the pan, and sprinkled in the cumin, salt, pepper and thyme. I cooked this round of veggies for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they were soft and tender.

While the onion-leek mix was cooking, I chopped the celery and carrots. After 20 minutes, I added the newly chopped veggies to the pot and cooked for another 10 minutes or so.

Then I added the lentils, chicken broth and tomato paste to the pot. I brought the liquid to a boil, then reduced the heat, covered the pot, and simmered for about an hour. I was sure to check on the soup every so often, to stir and make sure nothing burned.

While the soup was simmering, I removed the casings from the sausage and added them to a hot skillet. I flipped the sausages every few minutes and broke them into bite sized pieces using a wooden spoon. Once they were done, I turned off the heat and set the pan aside.

After an hour, I added the sausage and the red wine to the simmering soup and cooked for a few more minutes.

I then served two gigantic bowls with Parmesan on top and yummy Honey White Bread on the side. It was a terrific combination and one I will definitely make again!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Last Week in DC

For my last week, I've been visiting lots of my favorite places (notice almost all of them revolve around food) and seeing my favorite people. Until last night, I did really well staying upbeat and excited. I have been a little down today- mostly just sad to be leaving the place that has been my home for five years. I will spare you the sentimental babble that is filling my head at the moment, just know it is a very bittersweet transition.

Last Thursday, I kicked off the goodbye week by getting dinner with my bf and then drinks with a bunch of friends at Elephant and Castle. While I will always be partial to the Dublin Elephant and Castle, this one is pretty fun too. Great pub food and the service has always been excellent. Apparently it's also quite a rowdy scene when games are on (particularly soccer).

On Friday, I got lunch with my former boss/best buddy at America Eats. The concept behind this place is unbelievable. It's a collaboration between the National Archives and famous chef Jose Andres. Basically, it has pictures and art all over the walls about the history of American food. My favorites were the old posters created by the government during the war to support gardening and such. The menu is filled with food that has been created by Americans and has origins in the U.S. Each menu item has a history below it (so I spent way too long reading the menu and wanted to steal one and take one home). There was even a list of wines and the history behind the wineries and what they did during Prohibition. Super awesome.

After lunch, I got cupcakes with another buddy at my all time favorite cupcake and coffee place Baked and Wired. I know everyone and their mother knows about Georgetown Cupcake, but seriously, do me a favor and do a taste test. Do a wallet test. See the size of these bad boys? Roughly twice the size of Georgetown Cupcakes- and they are the same price. Plus, in my humble opinion, these win the taste test hands down. Don't believe me? Well, when the White House had to order dessert for President Obama's birthday, guess where they went? I'll tell you this much, it wasn't Georgetown Cupcake. I probably have way too strong of opinions on this matter, but as a self-proclaimed cupcake lover, I will tell anyone that asks, that Baked and Wired is the way to go. My usual go to is Karen's Birthday Cake. It's an amazing chocolate cupcake with vanilla cream cheese frosting. Simple. Decadent. An amazing piece of heaven. So I got two of those to go (one for bf who is also a huge fan, and one for me to have on Saturday in the middle of Hurricane Irene- more on that later). At the store, I decided to try the Chai cupcake. It was fantastic. A tiny bit better than mine- but only because it's huge. I'm very humble, I know :).

Saturday, I spent the day inside. We were super lucky in that we missed the worst of the storm. We never lost power and had no flooding because we are in high ground. Other than some whistling due to the wind, my first hurricane experience was downright pleasant. (On a more somber note, my thoughts and love go out to those who are still suffering or who lost their homes or loved ones.)

Sunday morning, bf and I went to our favorite brunch place, The Front Page. I know it sounds weird (because most people know it as a bar), but they have an incredible Sunday buffet. Basically, I go to eat some fruit and way too many biscuits. I love these biscuits. I dream about these biscuits. I salivate just thinking of them. I've never tasted any other biscuit that even comes close, although you better believe I keep trying new recipes to see if I can recreate the magic.

Sunday night, we got Pho takeout from Minh's in Arlington. Their pho is absolutely delicious and you get two gigantic bowls for under $20. That's one hell of a deal. I'm determined to find a great new Vietnamese place near my new home, but last night's dinner will have to hold me over until I do.

Today, I planned to me another buddy here for lunch. However, the line was insane and the huge crowds of people were a little overwhelming to my rather fragile state of mind, so I grabbed a lemonade and we headed over to Potbellys. Two notes: the fresh lemonade at sweetgreen is amazing. Worth standing in line for, although the cups are tiny, so if you can get refills, do. Two, I love potbellys sandwiches. (Not a particularly special comment, but it's true.)

Tomorrow, I'm grabbing frozen yogurt with my boss/buddy as a last goodbye outing. I expect tears. Drat. I'll get extra desserty/yumminess as a way to feel better. Probably a bad idea after all of the crap I've had in the last five days. Oh well, I gave myself license to eat whatever I want in the last week before I leave (and clearly I'm making good use of this time).

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Baked Potato with Sausage and Arugula Sauce

I know this meal sounds sort of weird. I was quite skeptical when I read the description on the tv guide. But after watching Giada make it, I thought it was worth trying myself. I'm super glad I did too, because it's one of the only recipes of Giada's that tasted as good as it looked on tv (I've had significantly more luck/success with Rachel Ray and the Barefoot Contessa). Anyway, this meal is awesome because it has lots of great nutrition in it, is fast, and so unbelievably filling. Seriously, I couldn't finish my potato and that was my entire dinner. But not for a lack of trying, it was so tasty, I kept eating long after I was full because it was so darn tasty!.

Baked Potato with Sausage and Arugula Sauce
adapted from the Food Network

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, diced
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1/2 pound sweet Italian-style sausage, casings removed (you could use spicy if you were so inclined, or turkey sausage as well)
1 1/2 cups tomato-basil or marinara sauce
3 cups baby arugula or spinach leaves (I used a mixed green bag from the store, worked just fine)
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese (4 ounces), at room temperature (the grocery store didn't have this, so I used the new Philadelphia Cooking Creme, worked great)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
4 baked russet potatoes, 8 to 10 ounces each

I started by washing all four potatoes and then poking them with forks. Then I wrapped each one in tin foil.

I baked them like this at 350 for an hour and 5 minutes. Unfortunately, they were still a firm for my liking and I was getting quite impatient. So I microwaved them for about 5 more minutes and then they were the right consistency. Moral of the story: if your potatoes are large and you don't have an hour and a half to bake the potatoes, just microwave them.

Anyway, when the potatoes had about a half an hour left in the oven, I started with the sauce. I heated up some olive oil, then added the onions and let them cook for a few minutes. I then added the garlic, salt and pepper and cooked for another minute.

While the onions were cooking, I removed the casings from the sausage and then added them to the pot once the onions were tender. Using my wooden spoon, I broke them into pieces as they cooked.

Once the sausages were cooked through, I added the sauce and the greens. At first it will seem like there are way too many greens, but keep working them into the sauce and they will wilt and reduce like crazy.

Once the greens were wilted, I added the cooking creme and stirred until it was incorporated. Then, I turned off the heat, added a little more salt and pepper, as well as the Parmesan and stirred again.

When the potatoes were ready, I cut them in half like so, leaving a little bit connected at the bottom so the sauce doesn't go straight through to the plate.

Then I added a big heaping pile of sauce to the potatoes and burned my tongue several times because I was too hungry to wait. It was delicious!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Travel Recap and Book Review: The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory

Last night I got home from my visit to upstate New York. It was one heck of a whirlwind three days. It definitely turned out better than I was expecting as I began my trip. See, I woke up Saturday morning to go to the airport and on the way got a call from my mom saying their flight was going to be four hours late. That meant that once I connected in Detroit and got into Rochester, I would have to wait four hours. Let me assure you, my mood was as dark and foul as the weather over Chicago that was delaying my parents flight. I think I told you about this "read and return" thing in the airports. No? I don't remember, so I'll tell you again. At the Reno Airport a few weeks ago, I bought "The Art of Racing in the Rain". They told me about this read and return policy and I was a little skeptical, but I thought I would give it a shot. So I brought the book and the receipt with me to Reagan Airport to buy a new book. The thought of buying a new book did perk me up a little, as it usually does. However, when I got to the bookstore, to my horror, it was closed. Permanently. So take that awful mood and multiply it. I was able to find a news and convenience store and luckily was able to find this book. I've read almost all of Gregory's books, and while I think they have declined in quality, I new it wouldn't be terrible and would at least get me through my first flight.

Then when I got to the Detroit Airport, a news stand there had the Read and Return sign! I was so excited, I found a book that looked fairly decent and went up to the register to pay. I returned "The Art of Racing in the Rain" and got half of the price back, around $7.35! So when I went to buy my new book, it was like $7.80 with tax, meaning I paid $.50 for a new book. How awesome is that! I was really excited and will continue to use this ingenious system, as my travel plans aren't decreasing in frequency (because bf will be in DC and we will be visiting). Right as I was about to board, slightly perked up by my two new books, my mom called and told me they would only be about 45 minutes later than their original arrival time (we had coordinated our arrivals so we could drive to our destination together). I was unbelievably relieved. With this amazing turn of events, my travels were relatively pain free, other than the screaming babies that are constantly on my flight. Seriously, I must be cursed. I was able to finish this book right before my parents got in and then had my second one for the return flight. Perfect.

So on to the review. In general, Philippa Gregory does historical fiction really well. Although frankly, once she wrote The Other Boleyn Girl, I think her work really faded. What made her big hit so successful was the personalities and development of the characters. They were real. Flawed, but likable. Their motivations were also human and understandable. I think this aspect was really missing from The Red Queen. The main character, Margaret, isn't always the most likable. She also is extremely religious- motivated by her belief that she is chosen by God to guide her son to the throne. This point of view is hard to understand for modern readers. It is just hard for people (and me) to lose themselves in the story.

The story also lacked a certain amount of cohesion. It seemed to jump around a lot. Not really back and forth, but skipped several years at a time. While that's not always a problem, in this book I think it broke up the flow of the story. Also, there were aspects of the book that really burned out too early. There was a love interested that really seemed like it needed a little more life to it.

Altogether, the book was enjoyable. It got me through two small flights and a really quick read. But it wasn't fabulous and not even close to Gregory's best work.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Mascarpone and Lemon Gnocchi

I love gnocchi. Love love love. If I am at an Italian restaurant and there is gnocchi on the menu, I'd say about 98 times out of 100, I'm going to order it. I love the consistency and the flexibility of the dish. I love that it can be paired with just about any sauce, although my favorite is a meat sauce. I am dying to try making gnocchi from scratch, but it is a recipe that requires some serious space. I decided a ways back that it simply wasn't possible to attempt in my current kitchen. I'm thrilled to get the chance to try it out as soon as I can in my new place. The other day, I was watching Giada at Home and she made this recipe. I thought it would be an amazing way to try gnocchi immediately, without having to wait. Although this recipe is good, it's really not great. I didn't love the basil olive oil sauce- it didn't have an pizzazz and was frankly too oily. It also is different than potato gnocchi in taste. It is cheesy, rather than doughy and a little grainy as well. Although I think the grainy part was maybe because I didn't cook it long enough, as I did make the little dumplings too large. Since I am bound to try real potato gnocchi soon, I probably won't make this again. Although, for people with small kitchens, it is a nice alternative.

Mascarpone and Lemon Gnocchi
from the Food Network

1 cup mascarpone, at room temperature (8 ounces)
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 large lemons, zested
1 cup grated Parmesan (4 ounces-make sure it's really finely grated, I think that my pieces were too large)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus extra for forming the gnocchi

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, for serving

I started by mixing together the mascarpone, parmesan, nutmeg, eggs, salt and lemon zest. If I were to make it again, I would use my hand mixer (if it weren't packed up in boxes). I think that would help with the texture problem. Sorry for the weird formatting, no idea what that's about. Then I added the flour and mixed well.
Then I put about a cup of flour onto a baking sheet an d started to form the pillows. I used two spoons to form the dumplings, dumped them in flour, rolled them around, then placed them on the side.
When I had made all of the dumplings, I put them in boiling water. Once the dumplings began to rise, I cooked them for about five minutes. While the dumplings were cooking, I heated up the olive oil in a skillet. Once the olive oil was hot, I added the chopped basil and let sit for a few minutes. Then I drained the dumplings and added them to the skillet. I stirred until the dumplings were covered and then served. Kind of "meh" in both appearance and taste.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Book Review: Unfinished Revolution by Sam W. Haynes

When I met with my adviser in the winter, there were several books he recommended I read to help narrow down my potential dissertation interests. For a while during the winter, I didn't have time to read them, and then once I had the time I kept hoping they would pop up at my local library. As much as I love the act of going to the library, it's not always the most practical. I love that it's free, but the holdings aren't too impressive. The fiction section is bigger, but most of the new releases or the really popular books (you know, the ones people tell you about and you really want to read) aren't available and have so many holds I wouldn't get my hands on it for months. The non-fiction section isn't bad either, but the biographies are very limited and so many of the books on my list apparently don't exist. Finally, after months of avoiding it, I bought the books used on Amazon. This book was one of my purchases, and while I am glad that I read it, it wasn't my favorite.

The part I did enjoy: the novelty of the topic (at least for me). I always enjoy reading books about topics which I am relatively uneducated about. I guess it's sort of a bittersweet thing actually, because it makes me feel like I have so much work left to do and goals to accomplish. But generally, I love learning new things and the opportunity to do so brings me great excitement. I also really liked the author's writing style. It was infused with details, interesting stores and tidbits about fascinating characters. That's pretty much where my enjoyment ended.

Technicalities first- I found the organization of the book to be confusing and counterproductive to the author's argument. The author chose to organize the book by topics. The book is about the often contentious relationship between Great Britain and the United States after the end of the War of 1812 up until the end of the war with Mexico. Each chapter focuses on a different area of contention between the two nations and their citizens. For example, Chapter 3 is about the relationship between the English and American literary communities and Chapter 7 is about the power and influence of the English banks and financial institutions upon the American public and economy. The idea behind this configuration was to focus on each aspect of society and how fears about the British Goliath permeated every part of American life. I believe the author was attempting to show how each event played and built upon the fears of the American people that Great Britain was attempting to reconquer or destroy the United States. The problem with this system of organization is that it isn't chronological. Granted, the chapters were roughly in order- really rough. But, as a result, it was hard to keep track when I was reading Chapter 9, exactly which events in Chapter 2 had already happened and which were yet to occur. This complaint wasn't purely about preference either, it really undermined the strength of the argument.

Another nit-picky thing. Almost every time the author was talking about slavery, he called it "the peculiar institution". I recognize that the term was used by many contemporaries who struggled with how to deal with slavery and at times I think the phrase is appropriate, but it was a bit much. Not only does it get redundant and bit annoying, it began to feel like the author was uncomfortable with the word slave. As awful as the history is, I think trying to sugar coat the past and the reality of the situation doesn't help matters and is insulting.

Now on the substance of the book itself. While I appreciate the new approach to an old issue and I think a certain about of reinterpretation is necessary to keep pace with new facts, I do think the author overstated his argument. I do not disagree that there were bitter feelings that lingered long after the end of the second war between the U.S and Great Britain, how could there not have been? But to suggest the entire country was consumed by a fear that the British were constantly plotting to take down, take over and embarrass America isn't thoroughly backed by evidence in my opinion. I believe the author takes examples of individuals who had a particularly strong dislike and distrust of the British and ascribes their feelings to the whole of society. One of the author's main arguments is that politicians frequently accused their enemy of acting as a British agent or possessing strong emotional attachments. I don't deny these accusations were frequent, among all sorts of enemies and especially politicians, but I wonder if these insults were simply intended as just that? The author writes in great detail about Francis Trollope, a British woman who wrote a wildly popular account of her time in the United States. She became famous for her extremely harsh opinion of Americans and their new country. When we refer to women today as trollops, we are not actually saying that they posses similar opinions to those of Francis and that they hate the United States, but rather we are using a term that has become part of our common language. I would propose that perhaps people called their enemies Tories or accused them of Anglophilia not because they had fear of and resentment towards Great Britain and sought to accuse their enemies of acting in cahoots, but rather because it was their custom. Of course, my skepticism is not based on intense research like the author's, so I would not dare to state my opinions as fact, but it does give me reason to question his findings.

Furthermore, there were times that I felt like the author was twisting facts to suit his case. In Chapter 10, the author discusses the annexation of Texas and the battle it caused between Whigs and Democracy, abolitionists and slavery supporters, and the North and South. During the heated debate, Southern states had argued that Texas needed to be annexed to prevent it from falling into the hands of Great Britain, who would use the territory to encircle the U.S. and close markets, etc. After the issue was decided and Texas became part of the U.S., the author discusses William Lloyd Garrison's disappointment. Garrison believed that advocates of annexation had introduced the threat of Great Britain  as a way to deflect attention from the real issue: the desire of the slave power to expand into Texas and further West. The author argues that the widespread fears of British interference were what caused so many states to eventually support annexation. But my question is, if that was such a big issue to begin with, why did people believe it was being used as a smoke screen to cover slavery? The definition of smoke screen is that it isn't a central issue at all. To me that simply doesn't add up.

Needless to say, I wasn't really convinced by the author's argument. Many of his points were valid, interesting and excellent contributions to the scholarly discussion, but I think on some others, he overreached. That being said, I do not intend any disrespect. I admire his work and the time that it takes anyone to put together a well-thought out and researched piece. I simply don't agree with a lot of what he had to say. Anyway, it was an interesting read and certainly worth my time.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Last Meals

....or last meals before I leave is more like it. While I will, of course, be continuing to try new recipes before I leave, I asked bf to make a list of "repeats" he wanted before I moved. I don't know if I'd call this the list of all time favorites, but it's definitely the list of favorites he has trouble making for himself. So, these are the repeats we've been having for the last couple of days and will continue to have this week, mixed in with some other new goodies.

Fried Rice. Yes I made this again. Two days after I originally made it. Embarrassing? Yes. Worth it? Yes. So delicious. This recipe is a real keeping. This time I doubled it, and while the sheer size of the recipe is a little daunting, it's definitely worth it. Because this meal is not one where you can easily pass up seconds. So having a lot of food is necessary if you want leftovers for lunch the next day.

Cheesy, Salty, Snappy Risotto. Please pardon the terrible picture quality. This was my original picture when I first made the recipe in December of 2010. I made it again two nights ago, but forgot to take a better, more in focus picture. This recipe is my favorite risotto dish. Bf's is probably the butternut squash and walnut one, but alas, butternut squash really isn't in season so he settled for this one. I love ham and cheese, so this dish is fail proof. Plus, the peas add a really nice crunch and bit of freshness to the dish. It's an amazing combination and one that I will return to again and again- especially during the holidays when leftover ham is every where. But for non-holiday nights, grocery stores sell pre-cooked, packaged ham steaks that work just fine too.

Chickpea Croquettes. My brother lovingly told me that these look like baby poop. Bf was pretty skeptical when I first described them as well. But you know, that sort of doubt is all the more enjoyable when you hear a chorus of "mmmm's" when the food is finally served. For all of you doubters out there, these bad boys are delicious. They are crunchy on the outside and squishy in the middle, have great flavor and are really pretty healthy. For those with dietary restrictions, they are also vegan, unless you serve them with a giant dollop of sour cream like I do. They are also pretty quick to make and don't require an oven (double bonus points during the summer). Can't say enough good things about them.

So, those were the last three repeats I made. Still on the list: Mahogany Beef Stew and Pork Chops with Maple Balsamic Gazed, Baked Apples and Goat Cheese and Rosemary Polenta. If you were to have a list of last meals, what would be on your list?

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Move: Packing Up The Kitchen

As I continue with my packing process, I am trying to find silver lining in the situation. Not because I am an eternal optimist, but it does help with the situation and make it more manageable. Today is not my best day. It's August 15. That means I move in 16 days. I frankly don't know how that happened. I feel like just yesterday it was the beginning of July and I had stopped working. Where did a month and a half go? Either way, today my job is to get my head around the fact that when I leave in 16 days, the place that has been my home for over the last year will no longer be. Sure I'll be visiting, but I have to build a new relaxy place (yes I know that's not a word). A new place where I am at my basic level, where I don't have to put on any face or be anything for the outside world...gosh I'm being awfully morose about this, it's a bit of a struggle for me today. Some days I'm doing really well with the whole thing, other days could be better. Today is an other day. Bear with me, tomorrow will be better.

But in the meantime, here is the kitchen progress. I'm really lucky (read silver lining) that bf had a reasonably well stocked kitchen before we met. Since all of those things are staying with him in DC, I was able to pack up almost all of my kitchen stuff a little early and continue to cook with his. It's not that I wanted to get the heck out of here any sooner. I just wanted to make sure everything was in CA before I arrived, since I am literally hitting the ground running. In fact, I am going straight from the airport to the Giants game (wooooo Giants!) and then leaving for my new apartment at 6:15 the next morning. Yes I'm nuts. And since I'm totally OCD, I have a tentative move in plan complete with when I'm hoping to unpack things. Kitchen stuff is up first since a) it's super important and b) the kitchen isn't getting painted and therefore can be unpacked while the other rooms are drying in between coats of paint.

We decided to start by going through the kitchen and taking out everything that was going with me. We went very methodically, one cabinet at a time, and did our best to organize or straighten up what was left in each cabinet. When we were done, both bf and I were shocked by how much both remained and was currently residing on our "dining room" floor. How is possible we fit all of this stuff in our itsy-bitsy-teeny-tiny kitchen? In order to control the chaos that is this move, I have given myself a few rules. 1) If I haven't used it or worn it in a year, to Goodwill it goes. 2) Try not to cry. This pile is everything I have used in the last year- and even then I'm still getting some new things in CA because there are no glasses, cutting boards, etc. in this pile.

Step 2 was to separate things into a breakables pile and a not pile. This pile is the not group.

This group is the breakables (duh).

Winston of course helped with the sorting.

Then, I have my huge gigantic box of pantry items. I am only bringing things that are a) brand new and thus closed and b) bf will never use, c) spices because they are really expensive and worth shipping.

Winston was helping here too...sensing a theme? If I'm doing something, he's into it as well. Except heavy duty scotch shipping tape. Scares the bejesus out of him when it makes that pull apart noise.

My parents have been super helpful in this whole process, schlepping bags every which way for me. I'm going up to upstate New York briefly next week to celebrate my grandparents 60th wedding anniversary (can I just take a moment and say whoa to that). My dad is going to take a duffel home for me because he gets to take two suitcases on the airlines for free. So my non-breakable items went into my huge black duffel (surrounded by blankets, towels, etc. to soften the trip).

I did pretty well packing that sucker too because this is all that was left once I was done. My trusty duffel could have fit more too if it wasn't for that pesky 50 pound weight limit. I hate United Airlines...and Delta. Just saying.

These are my five boxes of breakable items. A tip for packing, if I may: there are tons of items around the house that can be used in lieu of packing materials. Old sheets? Perfect for wrapping pots, pans, vases, etc. Dish towels? Excellent for wrapping glasses, mugs, etc. Place mats? Why yes, that fits just right in between dishes and trays. Once I run out of those things, I started using socks to stuff in mugs or clothes I won't wear in the next few weeks as extra padding. Sure it looks silly when opening the box back up, but it takes care of two birds with one packing stone. And when you have just packed up your 19th box (sorry again mom and dad), that is always a good thing.

So that's the end of my kitchen packing adventure. Up next, the last of my closet and the move itself. Stay tuned.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Bacon Fried Rice

I mentioned that I found this new blog a few posts back, and so far, it has been a huge hit. Both recipes that I've tried have gotten five stars, so I'm going to keep trying out their dishes and I'm thrilled to have found a new source. Plus, they have cats and love them, so I'm extra fond of them :).

So, in honor of their (and my) love of crazy cats, I had to put one totally unnecessary picture of my ridiculous kitten. See, he's obsessed with the heating pad. He will even go over to it and sit on it and wait for us to turn it on. Then, once he's been on the heat for a while, he gets, as we affectionately call it "high on heat". Basically, he goes nuts and rolls around a lot and vigorously defends the heating pad against any intruders and attacks all that try and pet him. Nuts I tell you.

But, so yeah this fried rice. It's unbelievable. Bf and I agree, it's better than any fried rice we've ever ordered from a restaurant. Something about the (turkey) bacon and relatively fresh veggies is so delicious that we couldn't get enough. In fact, I made it last night and I'm pretty sure I'm making it again tomorrow because it's that good. Go ahead and judge me, I would too. My only complaint is that the recipe doesn't make a whole lot. The original link says four servings, but it's more like 2 large servings (assuming it's your entire dish, and why shouldn't it be? It has veggies, meat, carbs, everything you need!). So next time (aka tomorrow night), I'm doubling it so we have leftovers.

Bacon Fried Rice
adapted from Love and Olive Oil

2 cups (cooked) jasmine rice
10 thin slices bacon, diced
4 eggs, beaten
1/2 onion, thinly sliced (I used one whole shallot because I ran out of onions. I know. The shame. Le gasp as Sherry would say).
4 scallions, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup frozen peas
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons soy sauce, or to taste

I started by dicing the bacon and then adding it to a super large, hot skillet. I know it looks like a lot of bacon and frankly, I adjusted the recipe to add more for a few reasons. 1) It's turkey bacon, so it's healthier, so I can add more. 2) It's the only meat in the dish, so it needs to be heavily represented. 3) Is there such thing as too much bacon? (No is the answer).

While the bacon was cooking, I chopped up the shallot, the scallions and the garlic. Once the bacon was crispy, I added a bit of vegetable oil (because turkey bacon doesn't have as much fat and you need a little liquid in which you cook the veggies). Then I added the chopped stuff and cooked for a few minutes until the veggies were soft.

Then I added the cup of frozen peas and cooked for a few minutes until the peas were defrosted. I then turned of the heat and poured the mix into a bowl.

I then turned the skillet back on to a lower temperature and added the eggs. Scramble until well cooked (no runny eggs in fried rice, that would be super gross). Then remove those too into another bowl.

Next, I wiped down the skillet then added a few tablespoons of vegetable and let it get super hot. Once the oil is hot, I added the rice and smooshed it into as thin as a layer as I could. Let the rice cook for a few minutes, then stir and smoosh down again. Basically, you want all side of the rice to get a little browned and crispy.

Once the rice  was ready, I added everything back into the skillet and stirred it all up, making sure to crumble the rice bunches and break up the pieces of egg.

I then poured the soy sauce into the skillet and mixed again. Definitely start out light on the soy sauce, you can always add more, but you can't take it away! This dish was amazing and quick- I can't say enough good things about it!!!

Friday, August 12, 2011

The New Apartment: My Vision

The move is still a few weeks away, but if you know anything about me, you know I have been planning. There are more lists on my Iphone than I would care to admit. But for the sake of honesty, I will anyway: there is a RiteAid list (things to get there once I move), and grocery list, a general apartment list, a list of notes with information I need for the move, a tentative moving schedule/plan, and a box list (all of the boxes I've sent and what's in them). I know my whole list thing is a bit of sickness, but it helps me feel less frantic about such a big change in my life and keeps me from freaking out.

Excuse the bad picture quality, it was from a phone!
As part of my on going planning, I visited a bunch of nice consignment stores when I was out in California. I had no luck finding a good couch- they were either too big, ridiculously expensive, or hideous- and I went to LOTS of places. Then, my mom heard about this place called Sofas 4 Less. It's in Martinez and on the way up to the mountains (where I spent the weekend), so we decided to stop there. It was a great place- everything is made in the USA and has a great warranty. They also had tons of sizes, styles and fabrics to choose from and very competitive prices. I originally thought I wanted a tan colored couch, but after looking at their fabrics and floor models, I was much more interested in a charcoal color. It seemed less...brown (obviously), and I also thought the gray would do a better job of hiding pet hair. The above picture is of the fabric color- but that's not the couch. Once it's delivered I'll be sure to show it in all it's glory. I know not everyone is a fan of the microfiber texture, but I personally really like it. I love my couches, beds, blankets, etc. really soft and squishy. It's also super easy to clean and pet hair wipes right off with a wet paper towel. When you have a dog and a cat who love to snuggle, these are very important considerations! Oh and the company also delivers, so I am going to have my couch delivered a few days after I move in. Yay!

Lucky for me, my new home is also on the way up to the mountains. I wasn't able to see my actual apartment, but I was able to see the model. It was so nice to see where I'm actually going to live and get a feel for the place. I love the grounds and the kitchen is huge compared to the one I'm in now, so that makes me so excited. Plus two other major bonuses: there is an in-unit washer and dryer, and there is also a fireplace!

After my visit, I was really able to narrow down my design plan for my new home. While some of the details are still in the works and I'm not going to nail down my exact color choice until I get into the apartment, I am very excited to tell you about my vision.

So for starters, the bedroom. I really want it to be peaceful and calm. Nothing to bright or bold. I'm thinking the room is going to be something in the blue family.

About a month back or so, there was a great sale on overstock.com on bedding. I got white sheets, a big duvet with a white cover and a beautiful blue quilt. The quilt is solid blue, with same color stitching in a gorgeous French tile design. As best as I can remember, the quilt looks something like one of the three colors in the second column from the left. So the second to the top color on each strip. The quilt will be draped on the bottom of the bed with the big white duvet and tons of white pillows. I want to do pillows with all different textures and patterns and shapes, but all white so it won't be too busy, but will still have interest.

Then, when I am able to compare these strips to my quilt, I will pick which one matches the best and paint the walls the lightest color on the strip. I want just a touch of color on the walls, which will contrast nicely with fresh white curtains. I also have a large dresser/wardrobe type thingy at home that I'm going to repaint. I didn't want it to be white, because I thought the room would be too light, but I wasn't sure what color would be best. One of my mom's friends, a designer, saw my quilt and suggested the dark gray in the middle of that gray strip. I think it looks beautiful with the light blue. So the wardrobe will be painted that color and then I thought it would provide great balance to DIY a tufted headboard in a slightly lighter shade of gray. That way there will be two dark objects in the room, each on opposite walls. Ok, so that wraps up the bedroom, on to the living room.

I'm thinking a gray theme, with great white and rich wooden pieces. Then to add interest, maybe some red and navy accents.

This picture, does a better job of showing the tone of the gray. I was thinking one of the second rows of gray would be nice. It would give the walls nice color without being too dark. Then of course, I would have my darker gray couch, crisp white curtains (with maybe a little frill or ruffle or something to add a feminine touch) and I want to get a dark wood dining set (although the search for that is still very much on).

There is one long wall in the living room where I plan to put bookshelves and the tv. Sort of like a media/library wall. Bear with me as I explain this. I want to get four of these Billy bookcases from Ikea- which is $200. I know that seems like a lot, especially on a student budget, but I calculated that I will be buying about 30 books a quarter, or 120 a year. My library is going to expand and rapidly. Plus, books will always be a huge part of my life (the title of this blog could hardly be Young Scholar if that weren't true). And frankly, for as much book storage (and file storage, because I will probably get a few boxes to put on the lower shelves) as these babies will provide me, $200 isn't bad. I know Ikea quality isn't always the best, but I'm pretty good at putting them together and even if they only stay with me for 3 years or so, I think it's really worth it.

So, I'm thinking, I'll have two of the book cases on one side, then something like this little guy in the middle to put my tv on, and then two more book cases on the right. Yes, it is a lot of white furniture, but I think with gray walls and a big gray couch next to it, it will provide a nice contrast to the darker parts of the room. Also, keep in mind, with piles and piles of books, files, boxes, pictures, etc. in the book shelves, that big wall of white will quickly be broken up. Oh, and I also have a big, dark brown leather recliner that was my grandmother's to go next to the fireplace, which will add additional dark tones.

Ok, so that's my plan so far. What are your thoughts? Any suggestions, concerns, criticisms, etc.? I want to hear!!!