Friday, September 30, 2011

meet sally

In case you've missed my last bajillion posts alternately fretting about and getting excited for the road trip, the adventure beings TODAY. Once Allie and I are off of work and load up the car, we'll hit route 66 (along with a million other people looking to get out of town, I'm sure).

Speaking of loading up the car, Allie and I picked up our rental yesterday. It was a bit of a headache, which threw us both off a bit. Thanks to a tip from a coworker, we rented from a kiosk at a hotel in Arlington instead of from the airport directly (saving us roughly $300), but when we arrived at the hotel, we couldn't find the Hertz kiosk. The overly chatty greeter informed us that the Hertz kiosk inside the hotel closes daily at 5...a tidbit that Hertz failed to share with us despite the fact that we specifically requested a 6pm pickup time. The greeter then said we could take the hotel shuttle to the airport and get our car there.

We spent the entire ride to the airport talking about our "we'll just put our foot down" strategy if the airport Hertz tried to charge us that extra $300. I think we were both geared up to raise a bit of a stink, but luckily the woman who was helping us out was really nice and sympathetic, and even gave us an upgrade from compact to mid-size (posh, I know). I have a feeling Allie's "gold" status with Hertz and her USAA discount had something to do with it, but we'll just pretend that we appeared intimidating.

After we signed all the relevant paperwork, we went out in to the garage to find our home on wheels for the next seven or so days.

Our model is white, not silver, but otherwise looks pretty much just like this. One of my coworkers pointed out that it's a cop-like car, so people will probably "get the heck out of your way on the road." Prior to realizing that, I had already decided we're going to call the car Sally (assuming Allie is ok with that...), which isn't the most fear-inspiring name, but it just fits a white Impala if you ask me.

I'm a little anxious about how Sally and I are going to get along, because I'm used to a big, hulking SUV (as in: I have not driven anything other than my car in...years(?)). But, for better or for worse, I'm headed home soon to finish packing, clean my apartment, and pick up Allie.  Stay tuned for notes from the road...

Thursday, September 29, 2011


I am freaking out maybe just a tiny bit, because in a few hours, Allie and I pick up our rental car. In about 24 hours, we embark on the road trip. In seven days, we'll pull said rental car in to Vegas. 

See, normally Allie and I are master planners. After all, there's a reason we hit it off like mad when we first met nearly five years ago as roomies in Venice, Italy. But we've both been busy and distracted lately, so this road trip didn't get the typical attention to detail we're known for. So, the past day or so has been a flurry of hectic emails and gchats. 

When should we pick up the car? Where should we buy snacks? What the heck am I going to pack for temperatures that range from lows in the 30s to highs in the 70s? Whose rewards program number are we using? Did you find your AAA card? Who is paying for gas? 

So to distract myself for a minute from all the stress of closing up shop at work for a week, and hitting I-40, I cruised over to Pinterest to get a little road trip eye candy. 

If only planning were this glamorous 
While I'm sure our Hertz Toyota Camry will do just fine, 
I really want this car

Would love to see trees like this
And views like this!
Excited and nervous for our destination!

Once I get my wits about me (aka pack and get a good night's sleep), I'll be back with more intelligent thoughts. Until then, get lost in Pinterest.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

ten second tom

I am slacker. Actually, updating this blog that maybe four people read is what I normally do to procrastinate from other things. I just haven't been doing a hot job of that lately, because I leave on FRIDAY for a cross-country road trip (imagine a slightly panicked expression on my face). 

Because of said road trip, I have been completely incapable of concentrating on much of anything for more than about ten seconds. In fact, I'm like "ten second Tom" from 50 First Dates, except instead of reintroducing myself every ten seconds, I think about the road trip.

I'll be standing at my closet trying to decide what to wear to work, and think to myself "what in the world am I going to wear in Vegas? why haven't I packed? we leave in THREE DAYS!" Or I'll find myself staring at the fridge, trying to plan dinner, and end up thinking "we have to get enough snacks for my obscene appetite...should we go to Costco? or maybe Trader Joe's? or..." And my absolute favorite is when I'm supposed to be sleeping at night, and instead toss and turn, thinking of things I need to remember to do before I go out of town for 10 days.

But I did take a small break from the fretting last week to go to Opera in the Outfield with Sophie. I think it's an annual event (I haven't heard of it being done more than once a year, although I could be totally wrong) in which the Kennedy Center broadcasts a live opera from their stage to the jumbo tron at the Nats stadium. You can literally sit in the outfield and watch, or you can sit in the grandstands, too.

When we got to the stadium, we were prepared to spread out on the grass (I had brought trash bags to buffer us from the wet ground, and a blanket to set on top), but it looked like it could rain. So we hemmed and hawed for ages (we're both terrible at making decisions), and finally decided to go for the grass. After all, we'd spent all day in office chairs. 

We claimed a patch of grass, and went in search of pricey, greasy stadium food. I had mistakenly assumed that especially because the event was free, we wouldn't be able to bring in our own snacks, but I was proven wrong by many people around us (we'll get our act together next year). We made the best of it with our $8 glasses of wine and our shared tray of chicken tenders and fries.

Despite the expensive food, and the chill in the air by the end, it was a great distraction from my road trip anxiety. There's something distinctly relaxing about stretching your legs out on the grass, laying down on a blanket, and watching an opera in such a relaxed environment.

ps-speaking of food, I haven't done hardly any cooking or baking in the LKTC lately, but I do have some ice cream disasters to detail. Stay tuned for those, and what I'm sure will be many little updates from the road as Allie and I make our way towards VEGAS in the coming week!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

you win some, you lose some

I generally don't successfully bake and cook all in one night. If I cook something resembling a grown up meal, dessert is a few spoonfuls of brown sugar in a bowl (no, really, I eat it straight...weird, but delicious and satisfying). If I go on a baking spree, I'll probably have a bowl of cheerios for dinner. 

Last night was a bowl of cheerios night, I'm afraid. I say "I'm afraid" because let's just say my pants are fitting a little tighter than I'd like these days, and the last thing I need is (multiple) dessert(s) for dinner. I also declared it a cheerios night with some trepidation given my latest "final hurrah" project. Being elbow deep in sugar means I won't really have time to make a dent in the meat supply in my freezer. And with my Vegas road trip looming, my self-imposed vegetarian experiment is also quickly approaching. 

But I was determined to come back from the sweetened condensed milk failure of last week and finally make Hello Dolly bars. I also somehow got it in my head that I need to make a mini apple crisp. I have some aging apples in my fridge, and DC is experiencing an early taste of fall, so it just seemed right. And I had been looking for an excuse to use the mini red pie pans I picked up at World Market ages ago. 

So when I came across this recipe for apple crisp after minimal searching and comparing, I immediately knew I had to pick it. See, it calls for flour OR finely crushed graham crackers. The Hello Dolly bars also call for crushed graham crackers. If two recipes can benefit from the same ingredient being whirled around in my (wait for it) mini food processor, sign me up. I really, really hate doing dishes. It takes away a small percentage of the post-stress baking satisfaction.  

After what was supposed to be a quick, frugal trip to a newly discovered Harris Teeter near my apartment, I came home with an hour less of my life and a lot less money in my pocket (never again will I go to the HT after accidentally having skipped lunch). Bowl of cheerios in my shaking, food deprived little hands, I started with the Hello Dollys...

butter + graham cracker crumbs 
(may or may not have scarfed down what didn't fit in the pan)

I really dislike coconut, but in the spirit of high school dessert nostalgia, I went for it

Mmmm, chopped pecans

a whole slew of chocolate and butterscotch

and finally, sweetened condensed milk 
(which I am convinced is the crucial ingredient)

So how did they turn out? I am really disappointed to say that they came out all wrong. See, Smitten Kitchen's recipe didn't specify how to layer the ingredients, so I just put them down in the order they were listed. Big mistake. If I had to do it again (and I most likely will try them again as I hate to admit defeat), I'd miss the coconut, pecans, and chocolate and butterscotch chips all together, then throw them over the crust. They taste ok, or at least ok enough to eat straight from the pan at 3am (I'm having some serious insomnia these days), but they just aren't spot on. All my hopes were pinned on the crisp at that point. 
chopped fuji apple in a lemon, sugar, nutmeg, and cinnamon bath

butter, dark brown sugar, and graham cracker crumb crust

finished product + a baby scoop of ice cream

The crisp was definitely the success story of the night. Perfect size, perfect flavors, perfect maiden voyage of the mini pie pan. Surprisingly I'm not in some sort of sugar coma today, although I do feel like I need to brush my teeth a few extra times to stave off cavities...

Sunday, September 18, 2011

make it a double

Lately Fiona and I have been spending a lot of quality time together, and I know Kitty the Kitchenaid [stripper] was feeling lonely and unloved (yes, sometimes I assign not only names, but feelings, to my inanimate kitchen gadgets). So when I had a day last week when I just really needed to bake, it was time to put Kitty to work.

I had grand plans to try and fit in three different chocolate-based recipes: chocolate chip cookies (my go-to), chocolate chip banana bread (quickly becoming a go-to), and the afore-discussed Hello Dolly bars. The grocery near my metro stop, however, does not stock sweetened condensed milk, which is crucial for the third dish. After a near meltdown in the grocery (not at all about milk, that was just the final straw of the day), I relented and nixed the Hello Dollys. 

Turns out two chocolate chip-laden sweets were more than enough to keep my coworkers stopping by my desk all day long. Never one to resist chocolate, I did my fair share to decimate the supply, too. I may or may not have been contributing to that effort when my new boss stopped by our offices for the first time ever. It's about as awkward as you might expect to have a mouth full of cookie when you're meeting the new guy at 7am. 

I've really been slacking on the cooking front lately. I thought life would slow down a little once summer came to an end, but time is skipping along with the road trip coming up so soon. I'm already sitting here wondering how I can be watching Sunday football and planning for the work week again. 

Speaking of the end of summer, since I don't have any recent cooking/food photos, I'm bringing back the nostalgic little kid snapshots. Here's to the beginning of fall!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

micro obsessions

{I promise, if you hang in there until (or scroll to) the end, there's something cooking related in here}

I don't collect much (if you've seen my closets, you might beg to differ), but lately I've casually acquired a series of tiny bowls. (I realize there's nothing to help me prove scale here, but trust me, they're baby-sized)

If you know me well, you probably aren't surprised that I'm not just collecting bowls, I'm collecting tiny bowls. I've always had an odd fascination with all things small/tiny/petite/name your interchangeable adjective. Maybe it's because people have always had an odd fascination with how tiny they think I am...?

So when I came across this blog post about micro cars made by Vespa in France in the late 50s, I was so charmed by the adorable, tee tiny little two door cabriolet. I mean, how precious is this thing:

It would be totally, utterly useless in the context of my current car needs/usage (I drive a big, hulking Jeep that serves primarily as my protection on my 7 hour drives to/from NC, and secondarily as transportation for the many large pieces of furniture I've bought lately). It would also be a terrible car for a lengthy road trip. But I want it.

Speaking of lengthy road trips, I'm taking one very soon. And as fabulous as Allie and I would look cruising in to Vegas in the Vespa 400, I think we'll rent something a little more practical for our 2000+ mile trek across the continent. 

And speaking of practical, we're going to need plenty of sustenance for the trip. Which is how I am finally going to get around to something cooking-related. Huzzah.

On the same day that I discovered the Vespa 400, I rediscovered what is easily one of my top five favorite desserts ever (yeah, it was a goooood day). I first sampled the addictive gloriousness that is contained in a Hello Dolly bar when I went to a prospective student day at the high school I would later end up attending. (This happens to be a more recent Hello Dolly encounter as I snapped a picture of the legendary dessert at my five year reunion).

No one at my school would ever dispense the recipe for the "special occasions only treat," but my entire family knows of my addiction, and sends recipes my way any time they think they've found something close. Having abandoned anything kitchen-related upon my entry into grown up life, I had forgotten all about my quest to replicate the sugary goodness. Until I stumbled upon Smitten Kitchen's post on the matter. Consider the quest reinvigorated. After all, I think they'd make an amazing road trip treat. Healthy? Not at all, but I don't exactly think of cross country adventures as conducive to salads, do you? No, they're more about soda, beef jerky, and Cheetos.

So there we go. I plan to test Smitten Kitchen's recipe out very soon. Fellow Hello Dolly addicts, I'll let you know if it's a keeper...

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

angry paella

Once upon a time while living in Italy, I got so mad that the only thing I could channel my energy in to was cooking. I've never enjoyed cooking, but I fired up the gas stove in Casa Artom and made what will forever be known as angry paella. 

I can't remember where I found the recipe, but I tried in vain to lay my hands on it for months after I got back from Venice, because it was really, really good. Prior to that point, I'm honestly not sure I'd ever cooked a meal, not to mention a good one. 

Eventually I found a recipe that I think gets pretty close to the original. I can't remember where I found that one either (noticing a pattern here?), but here it is, fresh from my recipe box on the ever-useful Epicurious site:

-1 garlic clove, minced
-1 TBS olive oil
-1/2 lb hot or sweet Italian sausage (w/o fennel seeds)
-1/2 lb skinless chicken breast, cut in 1 inch pieces
-1 c (arborio) rice
-1 c onion, chopped
-1 1/2 c chicken broth
-1 (8oz) can stewed chopped tomatoes
-1/2 tsp sweet paprika
-1/8 to 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
-1/8 tsp ground saffron
-1/2 lb medium shrimp
-1/2 c red bell pepper strips
-1/2 c green bell pepper strips
-1/2 c frozen green peas

1. heat the garlic and oil in a large skillet.
2. remove the sausage meat from its casings. add the chicken and sausage to the oil and stir until browned (about 10 min)
3. spoon off all but 1 TBS drippings from the skillet. add the rice and onion. cook, stirring until onion is transparent and rice is lightly browned (about 5 minutes)
4. add the broth, tomatoes and their juice, paprika, red pepper, and saffron. bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.
5. add the shrimp, red and green pepper strips, and peas. cover and simmer for 10 minutes, or until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed.

I've never actually made it with sausage, chicken, and shrimp all at once. Normally I just make it with chicken and/or shrimp. And although the recipe doesn't specify, I take the chicken out after it's cooked, but before I put the rice and onions in. Because chicken isn't greasy like sausage, I normally splash a little more olive oil in there pre-rice/onions, too. I've often forgotten the tomatoes, sometimes forgotten the garlic, and never have found sweet paprika. What I'm saying here is that it's a pretty forgiving recipe, so long as you get the rice toasting/cooking part right. 

Anyways, I made angry paella last night not because I'm particularly angry right now, but because one of my coworkers wanted to learn how to make it. I also happened to need help moving a new piece of furniture from my car to my bedroom. So, after work, a few coworkers caravanned back to my apartment. We moved furniture, then the boys watched tennis while I taught my friend how to make the dish (and I realized that I make a terrible instructor). 

During last night's paella lesson, I tried a combination of regular and smoky paprika in lieu of sweet, and while I liked the flavor of the smoky paprika, I was a little too heavy handed with it. I also forgot the garlic. What can I say?...I never cook both quickly and well. Regardless, I think the best paella is truly born out of anger, but there were clean plates all around the table, so I'm proof that it's worth giving this a shot, even if you aren't ticked off. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

the weekend waffle routine

I always go to sleep Friday night really looking forward to the idea of sleeping in. After a week of 5:30am alarms and the subsequent mad dash to get from bed to bus in less than an hour, sleeping until after the sun rises is all I want to do. 

But then, some time before 7am Saturday (or Sunday), I wake up, look at my phone to check the time, and hatefully curse my inability to sleep in. I think it's partially because my body is so used to waking up at 5:30. It's also due in large part to two highly obnoxious noises that are completely out of my control. One is the garbage truck that picks up my building's trash before 7am on Saturdays. The other is the barrage of flights that depart from Reagan beginning around 5:30 every day. Five days a week, that doesn't bother me, as I'm already up. The other two days, it is obscenely obnoxious to be woken up before 6 by the roar of jet engines. 

So normally around 7, I finally give in to the non-stop departures and the extreme hunger I seem to develop overnight. And without fail, I open the fridge to discover that I've run out of milk. Which leaves waffles as my only option for breakfast (or breakfast in my apartment, anyways). 
I'm not very fancy when it comes to waffle prep, so usually they're made from the Aunt Jemima boxed mix ("just add water" is highly appealing when your overnight hunger is raging out of control). But the really sad part of the whole process is my waffle iron....

It's not even that old, it's just cheap and falling the heck apart. I can't really expect much, as it was a bargain (for a mere $10) at Target a couple years ago. But it barely crisps up the weekend (chocolate chip) waffles....

So I think it's time to suck it up and think about buying a new one (or adding it to my Christmas list), because I like my consolatory 7am waffles cripsy, dang it.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

final hurrah, part ii

Back in March, I was gearing up for an entirely different kind of final hurrah. Lent was about to start, and I was consuming the last meals that would originate in a restaurant for 40 days. It seemed like an impossible proposition at the time, but it ended up flying by.  While I don't eat in every night, I think I've broken my serial eating out habit, and I even find myself looking forward to cooking on occasion. 

Having experienced moderate success with that project, I find myself considering a new one. Reading The China Study was an enlightening endeavor, and it has me strongly considering a switch to a whole new way of eating. One that doesn't involve any animal protein. Which is just a chicken way of saying, I think I might be going vegan (pun semi-intended).

It's interesting the reactions I've gotten to this potential change. People, especially my southern friends, are more attached to animal protein than I realized. Not eating meat, eggs, or dairy seems pretty incomprehensible to them (if their defensive reactions are any indication). My sister was horrified, and warned me that I'd look positively malnourished. And as someone who loves to bake (and, more recently, make ice cream), and to eat baked goods, I've had a lot of "well, guess I won't be eating any more of this" moments. But I think it's worth a try for a month. I can do anything for a month. 

Anyways, I refuse to let the stuff I have go to waste, though, so I have some work to do on my protein-packed freezer. Anyone want to come over for ice cream? Or steak? Both?

Plus, I'm going to Vegas in less than a month, and that doesn't exactly strike me as the sort of place you can go expecting vegan meals to be readily available.  So that's brought me to a new, "farewell to animal protein" type hurrah. Between now and mid October, I'm going to use up everything in my freezer, enjoy the gluttony inherent with Vegas, and start thinking about what exactly I can cook and consume once I get back.

I kicked things off last night with a giant steak. I wish I could say it had been an overwhelming success, given the imminent end of my meat-eating days, but it just wasn't. I failed to defrost anything in advance, so after some precautionary googling, I threw the frozen steak in the oven and hoped for the best. The best, sadly, did not emerge. It took forever, it didn't cook evenly, and therefore was just kind of blah. The olive oil, garlic, and rosemary potatoes, however, were amazing. (No, you aren't having dejavu, this same thing happened a couple weeks ago). Not exactly the best start, but there's only room for improvement, I guess.  

Now I just need to add a few new, China Study-appropriate cookbooks to my Christmas wish list...

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

super bowl reese's cup

Towards the end of my impromptu week at home, we went in to the city for dinner with our family friends. We were celebrating a birthday, and as I mentioned, I wanted to handle dessert so that I could try and tweak the chocolate peanut butter square recipe that I first attempted for Allie's birthday.

When I made the squares the first time, I couldn't find Nabisco famous wafers, but managed to locate them at our local Harris Teeter this time. I was hoping that'd make all the difference in terms of a more cohesive crust. I just had to crush them with a rolling pin first (which was a surprisingly effective outlet for some pent up stress). 

I was a little over-excited by the presence of a microwave for butter-softening purposes, and things got a little out of control. By a little out of control, I mean in the last few seconds of heating, the stick of butter simply collapsed in the microwave. And no, I did not put it in a dish to warm it...

Gross, right? But butter disaster aside, I managed to whip everything together fairly quickly (which is an impressive feat, as I swear I'm the world's slowest, messiest cook). I'm disappointed to report that the crust was still a bit of a crumbly mess. Next time, I'm nearly doubling the butter quantity in the hopes that it will help things stick together better. Anyways, I threw together a little assembly line, and the (very heavy) pan was in the fridge in no time. 

We threw that in the cooler with wine, the mini peanut butter cups from Trader Joe's, and dark chocolate gelato that I'd made earlier in the day. 

If you have an ice cream maker, by the way, I am telling you this with all the seriousness I can muster: drop everything now and go make this. It is insanely delicious. If you can find Hershey's "special dark" cocoa powder at your grocery, that really takes it to the next level. And if you, like me, decide to make the batter before a marathon day of shopping, and leave it in your fridge for more than the one hour they suggest, fear not. That pudding like consistency that you come home to? Yeah, it still makes lick the bowl-worthy gelato. 

After dinner at our friends' house, we pulled out the dessert and set up yet another assemble line. Onto the plate went a peanut butter square, a scoop of gelato, a sprinkling of leftover cookie crumbs, and a few mini peanut butter cups. By dessert, the men-folk were watching football while we ladies chatted elsewhere, and from the den emerged a declaration from one of our friends: "Jenny, I am so proud of you...this is like the...Superbowl of Reese's cups!" He then begged for seconds of what is possibly the world's richest dessert. Success. 

(currently wondering why I didn't steal any leftovers...)

Friday, September 2, 2011

spring (errr, summer) time risotto

It's funny, most people are excitedly gearing up for a long weekend right about now, but I'm sitting here wondering how my unexpected week off is nearly over. With Monday devoted to my drive back to DC, it doesn't much feel like a holiday. As much as I like being home, it will be nice, I suppose, to fall back in to some sort of work routine, and more blog-worthy, some sort of LKTC routine. 

Reading The China Study really got me thinking about my diet, which, I imagine, would be assessed as "bad" by any diet guru, doctor, or nutritionist. Despite having contemplated following the book's "no animal protein" mantra, even just for an experimental month, I've been doing anything but that since I've been home (cough cough trip to Five Guys with my parents cough). 

I thought I'd be doing more cooking at home, given the more spacious, better-equipped kitchen at my disposal (and my mother's reaction to my coming home for a week: "Jenny's coming home! She'll cook for us every night!"). But we've been super busy, so one of the only meals I've thrown together was Monday. 

I completely arbitrarily decided to make risotto, and settled on this recipe from Williams Sonoma. I cut the rice and liquid in half, and it was still more than enough for three people. I skipped the peas (Mom hates them), the mint (didn't seem to fit), and the cheese (I hate it), and added asparagus instead. This part of the process felt very healthy. 

I could even convince myself that the tomato, basil, mozzarella appetizer was a semi-healthy move (although the half off special on mozzarella went a long way in persuading me to throw the package in my basket at the grocery). 

I was apparently feeling guilty and economical, because I refused to let the little loaf of (approaching stale) sourdough on the counter go to waste (nevermind that I wasn't the one who even purchased it), so I slapped some olive oil and minced garlic on it and threw it in a 350 degree oven hoping for the best. I'd say it looks pretty tasty, and the parents at least pretended to agree when they ate it. 

The risotto turned out pretty well, if a touch wine-y (isn't that supposed to evaporate, at least a little?). I think it looked very summery, if a bit monochromatic. (PS-cheese lovers, I know you're still stuck on that "I skipped the cheese part, but the parents and I are here to tell you that it was still perfectly creamy). 

There aren't any other major meals on the agenda for the remainder of my mini-vacation. We're going in to the city tomorrow to celebrate a family friend's birthday, and I basically insisted on bringing the dessert. I'm dying to take a second stab at the chocolate peanut butter squares that I made a few months ago (trying to compose a better crust this time). On top, we're going to scoop dark chocolate gelato with, wait for it!, mini milk chocolate peanut butter cups from Trader Joe's (which reminds me, they're hiding in the fridge and I need to...sample....a few). I know everyone loves Trader Joe's, but I think it's actually a land mine of cheap booze and sugar, which are two things over which I am apparently physically incapable of exercising any sort of self-control.  Proof:

Ok, just kidding, that's all of the wine for a huge charity dinner my parents are planning for our church.  But still, TJ's is dangerous, people (she says, as one hand is in the container of mini milk chocolate peanut butter cups).