50 Women Game Changers in Food: Rachael Ray (Week 13)

In 2011, Gourmet released their list of the 50 Women Game Changers in Food. I stumbled on this entirely by accident. One week a couple of months ago, I was meal planning, and didn’t have access to my Ina Garten cookbooks. So, I googled the recipe I was looking for and found it on a blog that was making its way through the list (she’s number 39… I’m a little disgruntled that Rachael Ray is higher up than she is). I was inspired to do the same. I need to challenge myself more in the kitchen, and I thought this would be an excellent way to do so.  As I’ve been planning for this, I’ve been flipping through cookbooks, checking out websites and buying new equipment, and I’m excited. I’m also really looking forward to learning more about these game changing women, and introducing myself to recipes I’ve never cooked before.

(And since this entire year-long project will be all recipes I’ve never made before, I can’t promise that everything will turn out the way I want it to. But whether a dish is a winner or an epic fail, I’m going to be completely honest about it.)

Week 13 brings us to Rachael Ray.

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I owe my desire to do this project to Rachael Ray.
I owe every recipe on this blog to Rachael Ray.
I owe all of the cookbooks and kitchen gadgets I own to Rachael Ray.

Are you sensing a pattern here?

Rachael Ray is the reason I started cooking. Once upon a time (back in 2003), I was home sick. I was laying in bed, flipping through the channels, and I landed on Food Network. 30 Minute Meals was on, and for some reason I stopped and watched. She wasn’t making anything exciting or all that interesting, but she was interesting to watch. And I started watching her show every day. I remember one day, I had to go to court for a speeding ticket. After court, before going to work, I stopped by the house and watched an episode of her show. The first meal I ever made on my own was one of hers. It wasn’t anything exciting, and honestly it wasn’t very good, but I made it. And it made me want to cook more. And almost 12 years later, here we are.

Rachael Ray was born in 1968 in Glen Falls, New York. Her mother had always managed restaurants, and in 1995, when she moved to New York City, she started working with food herself. She moved back to upstate New York, and was working as a food buyer when her 30 Minute Meals fame began. She would meet people who were reluctant to cook, and she began offering classes on how to cook a meal in 30 minutes or less. This led to a segment on a local morning show, a book deal, and eventually her Food Network contract in 2001.

One thing I always liked about her, is how self deprecating she is. She mentioned all the time that she was guilty of constantly burning bread under the broiler, how she couldn’t bake (since baking is an art that requires a level of exactness that cooking doesn’t), and how she has absolutely zero formal training, which considering the empire she’s built, is inspiring. She’s published over 20 cookbooks, has won three Daytime Emmy’s, has moved up to a major network talk show, and has endorsed everything you can possibly imagine, from dog food to pots and pans (both of which I have purchased.)

That very first show I watched was all about foods for a southern tea party, and I thought it would be nice little bit of nostalgia to make one of those recipes for this week. The ham salad sandwiches didn’t sound very appealing, so I went with the spiked sweet tea.

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I have a confession to make. I may be southern born & southern bred, but I can’t make a decent pitcher of iced tea to save my life. I think I try to “healthify” it too much. I either sweeten it with Splenda (and yes-I know it’s not good for you, & definitely not healthy) or I use a very minimal amount of sugar. The end result is always pretty disappointing. 2015-02-27 01.35.12

This pitcher of tea turned out pretty good. It would have been excellent if not for the lemon. The flavor of lemon completely overpowered everything else. So, I sliced up another orange, and floated the slices in the pitcher. It was pretty, but it also added more orange juice to the tea, which helped cancel out a little of the lemon flavor.
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Adding the rum to it was a nice little addition, but it didn’t really need it. The tea was really good on it’s own (once the lemon flavor calmed down a bit). I made this on a really cold, snowy day, and while I’m sure hot tea would have been more soothing, this tea was bright, cheerful and exactly what I needed. Although the Air Force was annoying me at the time, so the shot of rum was most definitely appreciated. 2015-02-27 01.48.01

So there you have it. I’ve lived in the south for my entire life (nearly 32 years), and this was the first time I’ve made a pitcher of iced tea that I would be happy to share with friends. Thanks, Rachael Ray. Thank you for the recipe for this tea, and thank you for being the catalyst to my obsession with food, and cooking.

Rachael Ray’s Spicy-Spiked Iced Tea
(Original recipe found here.)

Ingredients:

  • 4 orange Pekoe tea bags
  • 3 cups boiling water
  • 5 to 6 cups of ice cubes, plus additional ice to serve
  • 1/2 cup superfine sugar, plus more if desired
  • 1/2 a lemon, juiced
  • 2 oranges, 1 juiced & one thinly sliced for serving
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 10 whole cloves
  • 8 (1 1/2-oz) shots of light rum

Directions:

  1. Place tea bags in a small bowl or large measuring cup. Add 3 cups boiling water and steep tea 5 minutes.
  2. Fill a large pitcher with ice cubes, 5 to 6 cups. Pour sugar over ice. Add lemon and orange juice, cinnamon stick and cloves. Pour hot tea over ice and stir with wooden spoon until most of the ice dissolves and tea has been quick-cooled. Serve, or chill until ready to serve.
  3. When ready to serve, pour into a tall glass filled with more ice,  and a shot of light rum. Pour spicy iced tea through a strainer to remove the cinnamon, cloves and fruit pulp/pits. Fill glass with tea. Serve tea with extra sugar and orange slices.

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This $50 Craigslist dresser was a major pain, but…

… it’s FINALLY done, and even though I wanted to set it on fire many, many times through out this process, I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out!

White & Gold Mid Century Modern Dresser | Bake. Create. Love. We bought this thing almost two months ago to the day. I had big plans for it to be finished in February, but this thing fought us every single step of the way. When I saw it on Craigslist, I was able to look past the neon colors, and see it for what it could be. I wanted to strip the paint off, sand it, stain it, and take it back to it’s former glory. Other than the neon colors, the dresser was in excellent shape, and once we started working on it, we discovered a Bassett marking in one of the drawers, which made me even more excited about the $50 price tag.

White & Gold Mid Century Modern Dresser | Bake. Create. Love.

Obviously, that didn’t happen. The previous owner spray painted it, and didn’t prep it well. So, the paint came up really easily in some spots, and wouldn’t budge in others. After three days of trying to get it up using paint stripper, mineral spirits, steel wool, you name it, we finally admitted defeat & decided to paint it.

White & Gold Mid Century Modern Dresser | Bake. Create. Love. White & Gold Mid Century Modern Dresser | Bake. Create. Love.

My initial color palate initially consisted of the frame being painted white, and the drawers to be painted gray, ombre style. But while I was browsing online for inspiration, I found a picture of what the dresser probably looked like once upon a time. It’s not the exact same, since ours has a 5th leg, but other than that, it’s identical. And I noticed something I didn’t notice before, thanks to the color: the handles actually formed a pattern.

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Noticing this changed my plan completely. I decided I wanted the handles to stand out, so, I decided to paint the whole thing white, and paint the handles gold.

White & Gold Mid Century Modern Dresser | Bake. Create. Love.

White: Behr Moon Rise | Gold: Rustoleum Champagne Mist

Once we decided to paint, I thought it would be a breeze to finish. No. It literally fought us every step of the way. I guess it liked being purple. It took so many coats of paint to get a nice, even look. Then we let the paint cure for a week, before we taped everything off so we could spray paint the handles & legs gold. Unfortunately, it was really cold when we were doing this, and cold spray paint doesn’t work very well. So, we brought the spray paint up to the apartment to let it warm up, and then tried again. MUCH better this time!

White & Gold Mid Century Modern Dresser | Bake. Create. Love. White & Gold Mid Century Modern Dresser | Bake. Create. Love.

So, it was ready for a coat of polyeurethane. Graham wanted the dresser to have a glassy finish, so he decided to spray the poly on with his paint sprayer. This took a special trip to a fancy pants woodworking store in Virginia Beach for a special (and pretty expensive) brand of poly, and it required hanging tarps throughout the garage, so none of our things would end up getting sprayed. So, he was finally ready to spray it. And along with the poly, all kinds of other crap came out of the sprayer. Including dust, dirt, and hair. Not to mention, our garage isn’t very big. It has poor lighting & not a lot of space for maneuvering, so when he sprayed the sides of the dresser, he oversprayed. And it looked really, really gross. This was INCREDIBLY frustrating, and we were both ready to pitch this thing in the dumpster.

Unfortunately, we had to sand the poly off and make the surface smooth again before we could re-poly it. When we were sanding the poly off, the paint started coming off, so then we had to touch up the paint in places.

Before we started on this dresser, Graham had committed to building some bench seating for our friends’ restaurant. They were on a definite time crunch, so we needed to clear some space in the garage so Graham could work on the benches. So, we moved the dresser upstairs to our guestroom. We had wrapped it in a drop cloth to protect it, but the drop cloth got stuck in the tires of the hand truck. The dresser fell against the edge of the hand truck when we tried to pull the drop cloth out, which gashed the paint.

We spackled the gash & repainted the area, and touched up some of the other spots that were messed up thanks to that unplanned sanding we did, and we were finally ready to put another coat of poly on the thing. Thanks to our felines, there is cat hair EVERYWHERE in the apartment. We kept them out of the guestroom during this process, and wiped the dresser down constantly, but we still ended up with a few cat hairs in the finish. It’s barely noticeable, and we were over it at this point, so we just said screw it and called it a day.

White & Gold Mid Century Modern Dresser | Bake. Create. Love.

And I think Charlotte’s glad we’re finished too. She and Buddy are happy to have their room back. And Graham is very happy to have their litter box out of his bathroom, and back in the guestroom/cat room.

White & Gold Mid Century Modern Dresser | Bake. Create. Love.

So, while we love this dresser & we’re very happy with how it turned out, I don’t think I will paint any more furniture white while we’re in an apartment. White is way too unforgiving, we lack the space to do it properly, and all of the complications we ran into made this much, much harder than it needed to be.

Being able to refinish furniture… that’s a definite mark in the pro-column of whether or not we should buy a house next year.

What I’m Loving Wednesday: Popsugar Must Have Box (March 2015)

After what felt like years of waiting for it to arrive (when in actuality it only took a week…), my 2nd PopSugar Must Have box arrived! I was kind of nervous about this one. Last months box was completely amazing, and I was scared all subsequent boxes would be huge let downs. And while this box wasn’t as amazing as last months, I still loved most of the stuff in it. This box is the most expensive one I’ve ever subscribed to ($39.95 per month), but I figure as long as feel like I’m at least getting $40 worth of products I like, I’ll keep subscribing. And I’m already excited for next months box!

2015-03-24 19.53.31(If you want to sign up & try a box, I’d love it if you would use my referral link!)

1122924-bliss-micro-magic-spa-powered-microdermabrasion-treatment-raw#1 | Bliss Micromagic Microdermabrasion Treatment

Hands down, my favorite thing in this months box. It’s a pretty big tube, and the instructions say to use 1-2 times a week, so this should last a while. But as soon as I’ve used this up, I will definitely buy more! Obviously, I can’t tell a difference in my skin tone yet since I’ve only used it once, but I LOVED the way my face felt after using it. I’ve been trying to take better care of my skin, and have slowly been upgrading my Target brand cleansers & moisturizers to better stuff, and this stuff will definitely remain a part of my regimen. Suggested retail is $48 (so this one item more than pays for the price of the box). LemonCucumber_reed002_grande

#2 | Lemon+Cucumber Archivist Reed Diffuser

I was wary about a reed diffuser. I’ve purchased them in the past from Yankee Candle & Woodwick, and they NEVER worked. But once I set this one up in the guest room, it immediately filled the room with fragrance. So, it definitely works, and it smells SO good! The fragrance is really light & fresh, and I absolutely love it. I also loved that they included a coupon for 25% off anything on their website, because I definitely want to try out some of their candles. Especially this one. The suggested retail of this item is $20.00 

CS-JD-B832W-7#3 | The Squirt Wet Brush

I always carry a brush with me. Since I have fine hair, it tangles instantly, especially when there is water involved. I actually have the larger version of this brush, and I love it, so I was really excited to see the smaller one in this months box. It’s actually already found a place in my beach/pool bag. And while this small version is a great ‘on the go’ size for adults, it’s the perfect size for littler girls in general. Suggested retail: $4.99

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#4 | Samudra Pink Pina Zip Pouch

Okay. I LOVE this pouch. It’s already in my beach bag too, and will be perfect to use for smaller essentials (I seriously hate having to dig through bags, so I use pouches of different sizes to help stay organized in all of my bags). It’s HUGE (there was an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper inside it), it’s neon, and there are pineapples on it. What’s not to love? Well, in this case, the suggested retail price of $40. I know this isn’t PopSugar’s pricing, but that’s still pretty insane.

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#5 | Knock Knock What to Pack Pad

I’m a big pan of Knock Knock’s stationary products, so I thought this was a fun addition to the box. But then again, I’m a person who still loves making a paper list instead of using my iPhone & iPad for everything. Suggested retail is $7.00

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#6 | Halfpops Butter & Sea Salt Half Popped Popcorn

Last months food item (a Rocky Road Chuao chocolate bar) was definitely a better snack for me. I actually don’t like popcorn. I worked at a movie theater for nearly two years in high school. I didn’t love popcorn before that, but now I can not stand it. These did have good flavor, but it just felt like you were biting down on a softer unpopped popcorn kernel, which is just unpleasant. Suggested retail is $1.69.

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Bonus item | Benefit Cosmetics POREfessional & Roller Lash Mascara

I used both of these items yesterday, and I loved them. The POREfessional went on super smooth, and helped my make-up stay on all day! Usually I look like death around 2:30, but my make-up still looked perfect when I got home at 5:00. I don’t have big problems with my pores, so I’m not sure if it really minimized them, but as a primer it’s pretty awesome. I really liked the mascara as well, but it wasn’t dramatic enough to pay $24 for a full sized tube. I’ll stick with my Lancome Hypnose.

 

Restaurant Review: Lé Mu Bistro

A few weeks ago I told you guys all about the Lé Mu launch party. And this weekend the pop-up finally opened. Every time I’ve mentioned their pop-up to someone, I get the exact same question: what is a pop-up? Here is an awesome infographic that can give you all of the information you could possibly want. In the case of Lé Mu, they are sharing the space with a Thai restaurant in Hampton, which is closed on Sunday, so (for now), they will be popping up in the same location, every Sunday night. The pop up concept can be a little frustrating at times. Since you’re using someone else’s space, you have to create your own identity, in a limiting location. You can’t paint it hot pink, or replace light fixtures with funky pendant lights. You have to do what you can, with what you have to work with, and then leave it the way you found it at the end of the night. I can imagine it’s challenging & tiring work, but the space looked beautiful for their opening.

I’ve complained in the past about restaurants that have ridiculously huge menus. It’s frustrating. I don’t think any restaurant in the world can do pasta, burgers, seafood, Mexican AND Asian food well. For Lé Mu, the menu is small, but the plan is for it to change every week. And even though it is small, the chef has managed to accommodate a multiple of dietary needs, including dairy free, and vegetarian. We went with a small group of friends, and between the five of us, we ordered everything on the menu. And every dish was absolutely delicious.

Sunday night, there were two appetizers on the menu: waffle breaded chicken tenders with a maple-sriracha glaze & green mango slaw, and green mango, beet & radish carpaccio with watercress & a lime & Thai basil vinaigrette. Everyone else ordered the chicken tenders, but since I knew I was going to get dessert, I wanted to make at least one healthy choice, and I’m so glad I did. I LOVED the carpaccio. It was absolutely delicious. It tasted light & fresh, and was the perfect start to my meal.

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Everyone else was incredibly pleased with the chicken tenders. I had a bite of Graham’s, and they were so good. The chicken was moist, the amount of breading was perfect, and the flavor was awesome. They were sweet, with a slow building heat. A bite of the chicken, with a little bit of the slaw, was absolutely perfect.

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For our entrees, most of us went with the grits. This dish was green curry grits, caramelized galanga braised pork belly & watercress.

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Holy crap, this was amazing! I typically stick to goat cheese grits, so the curry was a nice surprise. The star of this was the pork belly. The pork belly had amazing flavor, and was so incredibly tender. I was starting to get full before I had finished this (and I still planned on getting dessert), so I left some of the grits behind, but the pork belly disappeared quickly.

Graham went with the vegetarian option, which was quite shocking. He had the vegetarian bahn mi, which was grilled Portobello, sweet potato pâté, and pickled mango, radish & carrots. It was served with house made beet & sweet potato chips, and it was so, so good. Graham refuses to order the same thing I order, so that we can share and try as many different things as possible. For the first time ever, I was glad he does that. I wouldn’t have ordered the bahn mi myself. I had ordered one many years ago in Little Rock, and while I liked it, it didn’t blow me away. I think it was the tofu… This tofu free version was hearty, filling and delicious. The grilled mushrooms gave it a wonderful smoky flavor, and all of the flavors just worked really well together. As good as the pork belly grits were, Graham actually said he liked this sandwich better. And don’t even get me started on the chips. They had bowls of these out every where at the launch party, and I think we all ate our weight in them!

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They also offered a seafood option, which sounded & looked good, but I didn’t try it, so I can’t offer anything on that. I can talk about how good dessert was though… There were two options for dessert: a salted charred corn crème brulee (made with coconut milk, so it was dairy free) and & peanut butter masaman curry glazed doughnuts with coconut crème. YOU GUYS. These doughnuts were so, so, so good. The doughnuts themselves were deep-fried balls of deliciousness, but the curry took it to a whole new level. The curry was a really strong flavor, the coconut crème was much more mellow, and when you got a bite of doughnut with both, it just knocked your socks off.

11081381_10101854863780277_8486856554956868605_nSo there you have it. Opening night at Lé Mu. If you’re in the Hampton Roads area, you HAVE to check them out. The food is top notch, the service was excellent, the portion sizes are generous and the prices are great (we had two sodas, two appetizers, two entrees, and a dessert for about $50). The amazing food is all the reason you need, but if you need additional encouragement, it’s so important to get out & support local businesses. So do it. Eat local, HRVA. Eat local.

The most delicious weekend we’ve had in Virginia.

You guys. I probably gained 10 lbs. this weekend… And it was worth it.

We’re getting close to G’s deployment date. We started this year out with the mindset of “we need to save money”, “we need to buy a house”, “we need to pay off debt”. Now, we pretty much have the mindset of “eff it”. This weekend we took “eff it” to a whole new level.

Friday kicked off Graham’s birthday weekend. We drove out to Norfolk and had a highly anticipated breakfast at the Handsome Biscuit. We’ve tried to eat there in the past, but it’s a tiiiiiiiny little place. There are literally three tables inside, and a few picnic tables outside. We went, and there were no tables available. But luckily the breakfast Gods smiled upon us, and a table opened up a few minutes before our food was ready.

I ordered the Mr. Close Love (roasted pork shoulder, sweet hot mustard, cucumber) and it was fabulous! Even though the biscuits look epic, I was honestly worried I wouldn’t like them, since the biscuits are made with sweet potato. I hate sweet potato. But everything was so, so good. The biscuit was perfect & fluffy, and the pork was so tender. It fell apart when my fork just barely touched it. The mustard was the spiciest mustard I had ever had, and the cucumbers seemed a little weird at first, but they were really refreshing against the super spicy mustard.

2015-03-20 09.55.16-1Graham had the Hella Fitzgerald (fried Chicken with bacon, cheddar, and red eye sausage gravy). This thing was a MONSTER. He never even attempted to pick it up, and ate the whole thing with a fork. And it was delicious!
2015-03-20 09.54.23-1After breakfast, Graham headed to Charlotte for the day. One of his oldest friends had graduated from the Charlotte Fire Department, and he wanted to be there to help celebrate. I spent the day running errands, and unfortunately one of those errands included an eyebrow wax. I’ve never had a baby, so I can’t say this with absolute certainty, but I think eyebrow waxes must be more painful than childbirth. So, I treated myself, and my bright, red, swollen eyebrows to a delicious Smallcakes cupcake.
2015-03-20 13.06.45-1Saturday morning Graham headed back from Charlotte, and I headed to Richmond, and we met in RVA for the River City Food Tour. I had read about this on a blog, and I was immediately intrigued. There was a BOGO promo code on the blog, so I immediately bought two tickets for Graham and I. It was the most gorgeous day imaginable for a walking food tour.

The tour started at Carytown Cupcakes, the only stop on the tour we had heard of (an eaten at). They had two types of cupcakes for us to try. One was a Chocolate Potato (chocolate potato cupcakes with chocolate almond butter cream) & the other was an Irish Car Bomb (vanilla cupcake with a graham cracker crust bottom, Guinness And Bailey’s cheesecake filling, & whiskey butter cream). Both were good, but the Irish Car Bomb was phenomenal. The Chocolate Potato was cool though, because it actually had riced potato in it.
Carytown CupcakesOur second stop was for buffalo oysters at Water Coastal Kitchen. I had never had oysters before, so I was excited to try these. We each got 3-4 oysters, and I really enjoyed these. The oysters were pretty big, and the buffalo sauce was delicious. Surprisingly, everyone was more excited about the pickled celery. I normally HATE celery, but I loved this. I may need to make myself some before I start my Whole30 (more on that later). Their seafood was fresh & locally sourced, and I will definitely stop in for a full meal on a future trip to RVA.
Carytown Water Coastal KitchenOur third stop was Xtras, a place that is incredibly well hidden. Seriously. I would have never, ever stopped at this place in a million years, it’s so well hidden. This place was a lot more casual, and the food was just as delicious. This was the stop we spent the most time at, so I ordered a cocktail (the sang-arita gets two thumbs up!). The chef at Xtras went off menu, and made us beef taquitos with the most delicious avocado sauce ever. It tasted like a mix of guacamole & salsa verde, and I just wanted to swim in it. I also love the activities they offer each week (especially Cards Against Humanity on Tuesday nights).
Carytown XtrasOur fourth stop was at the Virginia Diner Shoppe for an assortment of their peanuts. We tried the regular salted, the Chesapeake Bay peanuts, and the chocolate covered. All were tasty, but the Chesapeake Bay peanuts were definitely my favorite.
2015-03-21 15.31.28-1Fifth (and my favorite) was Don’t Look Back. Here, we tried two of their tacos and they were amaaaaaaazing. We got to try the pulled chicken on a corn tortilla, served gringo style (cheese, lettuce, sour cream & salsa), and a carnitas taco served traditional style (cilantro, red onion & lime). Both were so freaking good, but the chicken taco was epic. I can not WAIT to eat here on our next trip to Richmond.
2015-03-21 15.45.23-1Our final stop was at the Nile at the Portrait House. I would have never in a million years expected to find a place that paired a huge craft beer selection with Ethiopian food. It was an odd combination, but it definitely worked. Here we were served Ayib Tikel (signature Ethiopian cheese seasoned with mitmita, rolled in injera, and cut into a sushi type roll), The cheese was so, so spicy. It was a slow building heat, and was absolutely delicious. The other item we had was a sambusa (crispy pastries filled with your choice of mildly spiced beef), which I absolutely loved! The pastry was so flaky & crispy, and the filling had excellent flavor.
Carytown Portrait HouseEverything we had was really delicious, and we had such a great time. We met some very cool people (including Liz from I Heart Vegetables, and her husband), and got to spend a beautiful day walking around a really fun area. The tour guide was really friendly and did a really great job. He provided some history of the area, along with maps and photos, and was super professional and well prepared.

The only thing I would do differently is to give us a little more information about each restaurant. I would have loved to have had the chef come out and talk to us a little bit about the food. A print out with information about where we ate at, and exactly what we ate, would have been awesome too. But overall, it was a really fun experience and an awesome way to spend a beautiful Saturday.

Since Saturday was G’s birthday, we headed to Virginia Beach for dinner at Thirty 7 North. Last year, I was hunting down the perfect restaurant for our anniversary dinner, and Thirty 7 North was one of the places that was recommended. We didn’t end up going there, but I bookmarked it for a future date night. We finally made it for dinner, and had a wonderful experience. Everything we had was delicious, the restaurant was beautiful, and the service was excellent.

2015-03-21 20.37.22-1We started with drinks & the pimento cheese and house made crackers. I ordered the Lilypad (lemon infused Tito’s vodka, pomegranate & watermelon liqueur. This was really good. It kind of tasted like strawberry lemonade with one heck of a kick to it. And the crackers and pimento cheese were SO good (and if you check in with Yelp, you unlock an offer to get these for free). The texture of the cheese was different from what I was used to, but the flavor was perfect.
2015-03-21 20.34.25-1Graham had the New York strip with a horseradish espuma. He had pan roasted mushrooms and Brussels sprouts with bacon on the side. This steak was amazing, especially with the horseradish. The mushrooms were pretty blah (I ordered the exact same sides as he did) but the Brussels were amazing.
2015-03-21 21.06.39-1I had one of their daily fish options, the yellow fin tuna, also with mushrooms & Brussels sprouts. I know that’s kind of a weird combination, but oh well. My tuna was seared, and the outside had a perfect crust. The tuna was perfect, I just wish I had gotten veggies or greens instead of the mushrooms, but oh well. There is always next time.
2015-03-21 21.06.59-12015-03-21 21.07.19-1We skipped on dessert at the restaurant, since Graham had a birthday cake waiting for him at home. Every year, we requests the same cake: a strawberry cake (made from a box mix), with cream cheese frosting. I tried to make it a little more fancy by using homemade frosting and homemade strawberry jam between the layers.
2015-03-20 17.49.46Of course, I can’t frost a cake to save my life (seriously, it was a hot mess), so I covered the whole damned thing in sprinkles. It was messy, and there were sprinkles EVERYWHERE, but it made him happy, and that’s what counts =)2015-03-21 22.32.37-1And Sunday, our friends Sav & Elise had the grand opening of their restaurant, Lé Mu. A few weeks ago, I wrote about the launch party, and I’ll write more about the food we had in tomorrows post, but everything we had was SO good! We went with some friends, and between the six of us, we ordered everything on the menu. If you’re in the Hampton Roads area, you HAVE to check them out!

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50 Women Game Changers in Food: Lidia Bastianich (Week 12)

In 2011, Gourmet released their list of the 50 Women Game Changers in Food. I stumbled on this entirely by accident. One week a couple of months ago, I was meal planning, and didn’t have access to my Ina Garten cookbooks. So, I googled the recipe I was looking for and found it on a blog that was making its way through the list (she’s number 39… I’m a little disgruntled that Rachael Ray is higher up than she is). I was inspired to do the same. I need to challenge myself more in the kitchen, and I thought this would be an excellent way to do so.  As I’ve been planning for this, I’ve been flipping through cookbooks, checking out websites and buying new equipment, and I’m excited. I’m also really looking forward to learning more about these game changing women, and introducing myself to recipes I’ve never cooked before.

(And since this entire year-long project will be all recipes I’ve never made before, I can’t promise that everything will turn out the way I want it to. But whether a dish is a winner or an epic fail, I’m going to be completely honest about it.)

Lidia Bastianich is number 12.

12-8-13-Lidia-Bastianich-Cover-ftrLidia Matticchio was born in Pula, Croatia (at the time it was Italy) in 1947. After nine years of living under Tito’s communist regime, the family escaped to Trieste, Italy in 1956. While her parents were able to find good jobs in Trieste, they lived on a refugee camp, that had previously been a Nazi concentration camp. They remained on the camp for two years, until their displaced persons application was approved, and they were allowed to immigrate to the United States. They moved to New York, and built a life there.

At the age of 14, Lidia started working in the food industry. First, in a bakery, and then in local Italian restaurants. When she was 16, she met her future husband, Felice Bastianich, a fellow immigrant. They married in 1966, and had two children: Joseph & Tanya. In 1971, the couple opened their first restaurant, Buonavia, and after Tanya’s birth, Lidia began training with the chef they had hired and learned to cook some of the more popular dishes on her own. Soon after, they opened a second restaurant, Villa Secondo. However, following her father’s death in 1981, they sold both restaurants and opened up what would become their flagship restaurant – Felidia. The restaurant opened to rave reviews. They continued to open more restaurants over the years, even expanding outside of New York to Pittsburgh & Kansas City. Lidia and Felice divorced in 1997, and he sold his shares of the business to their children. The business continued to be a family endeavor, and in 2010, Lidia and Joseph collaborated with Mario Batali and opened Eataly, a “50,000-square-foot food emporium in Manhattan that is devoted to the food and culinary traditions of Italy”.

Along with her restaurants, Lidia has also authored 13 books and has hosted a television show on PBS.

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From Lidia’s book, Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen, I chose to make her recipe for gnocchi.  And since I promised to be completely honest, I was not happy with the way that these turned out. This was my first time ever making gnocchi, and the directions were frustrating. They mentioned to add flour in until the dough felt workable. Having never made gnocchi before, I had no idea how it was supposed to feel. So, I added it till it felt workable, and cooked a few, and it tasted watery and gross. So, I added more flour. And more. And more. And finally it tasted kind of like gnocchi.
2015-03-03 06.01.43The other problem I had with this recipe was the cooking time. It said to cook each batch for 2-3 minutes, or until they floated to the top. The first batch, I let cook for three minutes, and they turned out sad, deflated, and once again, watery. So, I kept a closer eye on the next batch, and as soon as they rose to the top, we pulled them out, typically around one minute. (I keep saying “I” and “we”, but if I’m being honest, it was all Graham was doing the cooking. I was getting really, really frustrated and just wanted to throw the whole mess away. So, he was boiling them, and I kept rolling and cutting them.)

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They were a lot better once I sauteed them, tossed them with pesto and some shredded mozzarella. But I doubt I’ll ever make this again. Even though I felt like I had figured it out by the very end, it was a lot of work, and a huge mess. I will happily stick with the packaged stuff from Trader Joe’s in the future.
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Lidia’s Gnocchi
(Original recipe can be found here.)

Ingredients:

  • 6 large Idaho or russet potatoes
  • 1 teaspoon salt (plus more for water)
  • dash of freshly ground pepper
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour

Directions:

  1. Boil the potatoes in their skins about 40 minutes, until easily pierced with a skewer. When cool enough to handle, peel and rice the potatoes, and set them aside to cool completely, spreading them loosely to expose as much surface as possible to air.
  2. Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil, adding a good bit of salt once boiling. On a cool work surface, gather the cold potatoes into a mound, forming a well in the center. Stir the salt and pepper into the beaten eggs, and pour the mixture into the well. Work the potatoes and eggs together with both hands, gradually adding 3 cups of the flour and scraping the dough up from the work surface often as necessary. (Incorporation of the ingredients should take no longer than 10 minutes – the longer you work it, the more flour it will require and the heavier it will become).
  3. Dust the dough, your hands, and the work surface lightly with flour and cut the dough into six equal parts. (Continue to dust as long as the dough feel sticky.) Using both hands, roll each piece of dough into a rope ½” thick, then slice the ropes at ½” intervals. Indent each dumpling with a thumb, or use the tines of a fork to produce a ribbed effect. (This helps the sauce stick to the gnocchi).
  4. Drop the gnocchi into boiling water a few at a time, stirring gently and continuously with a wooden spoon, and cook for 2-3 minutes, until they float up to the surface. Remove the gnocchi from the water with a slotted spoon or skimmer, transfer them to a warm plate.

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What I’m Loving Wednesday

What I’m Loving Wednesday.. I almost threw positivity aside and did a “What I’m NOT Loving Wednesday”. But the post would have been nothing but me complaining about how hot it is. And i figured everyone would just think I’m crazy, and move along. But, seriously. It hit 80 degrees yesterday. I was NOT a happy camper.

Anyways. Here is stuff that IS making me happy.

vogue-a-cinderella-story-01Graham and I went & saw Cinderella Friday night. And it was perfect. Absolutely perfect. So perfect, in fact, I can not think of one single aspect of the movie I didn’t like. The only things I didn’t like, were parts of the story itself that I have never liked (like the scene where the stepsisters tear apart her homemade gown… I literally covered my eyes). They did such a wonderful job of staying true to the story (the animated Disney version), and I left the theater happier than I’ve been after a movie going experience in a very, very long time (I literally left the theater in tears I was so disappointed in Into the Woods…). Cinderella is my favorite fairy tale ever, and I love all versions of it – the animated, 1950’s Disney version, the Rodgers & Hammerstein version (the Julie Andrews one is better, but I do like the Lesley Ann Warren version as well), the Grimm version… I love them all. I was really worried about this, after what Disney did to the Sleeping Beauty story with Maleficent, and with what they did to Into the Woods, but I loved it, and absolutely can not wait for it to come out on DVD.

I’m also a lot more excited now for the live action version of Beauty & the Beast.
Avocado_CartonsOkay. How did I not know that these little babies existed??? I saw these at the commissary a couple of weeks ago, and I was floored. Gator Eggs, aka single serving avocados, are what I’ve been waiting for, only I never knew it! I love avocados so much, but I can’t eat a whole one, but I don’t want to eat just half, since the other half gets brown and gross. This is the perfect solution!!! I found these at a military commissary, but hadn’t ever seen them anywhere else, so I emailed the company. They’re also available at BJ’s. My Sam’s Club membership expired on Sunday, and I haven’t been happy with it for a while, so this sealed it: I’m definitely going with a BJ’s membership instead this year!

2015-03-17 20.33.49So, these dish cloths from TJ Maxx. I’m obsessed with them! I bought the pink ones first, and I love them so much, I bought another set of the blue ones the next time I was there. They are super thick and luxurious. The spring colors are so pretty & cheerful, and I’m currently hardcore obsessed with anything & everything gold.
wn-speculoos-cookie-butter-cheesecake-bitesOh, Trader Joe’s… I love you so much. I love the cookie butter on it’s own, but cookie butter AND cheesecake??? Holy. Crap. Graham wasn’t a huge fan of these (but then again, he doesn’t love cookie butter as much as I do, but we still ate the crap out of these. There are 12 in each box, and each little bite has 90 calories. They’ve become my favorite after dinner treat.
Zac-Efron-Shirtless-MTV-Movie-Awards-2014I just want to stare at him all day. Thank you, POPSUGAR, for compiling this for the world. I’ve been staring at him for five minutes, and I honestly can not figure out which is hotter: that face or that body…

Now. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to pretend to do something productive…. I’m actually going to just sit here and stare at this perfect specimen of a man.