Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Fresh Pasta Down the Block

If you're a food fanatic (or maybe a food snob) and have become as obsessed with the Food Network as I have recently, then you, too, understand how much high quality ingrediants can make a dish taste that better. My dad has always been a bit of a health freak, and I remember how jealous I'd be of other kids when I was growing up who were allowed to drink Kool-Aid and eat white bread (things that were never stocked in our house). We drank juice or water and ate wheat bread. I remember being upset that I couldn't eat the junk food that the other kids were eating. Don't get me wrong, it's not like we never ate chips or pizza or fast food, but my parents always tried to limit our intake. Years of misunderstanding have finally paid off as I now choose to eat wheat bread over white and buy fresh foods and veggies, and try to shy away from processed foods. But, another thing my parents instilled in me was to strive for a high quality of food that I took for granted in my younger years. We weren't rich...we didn't buy gourmet...but we did eat well. Thanks mom and guys were right.

Anywho, I've been loving the Food Network show Everyday Italian with Giada DeLaurentis - her recipes are overall simple and always tasty, and thanks to her recipes, I've finally started cooking with fresh pasta. Wow! What a difference it makes...even if you just get the fresh pasta from the regular grocery store. So, when I found out there was a place nearby that makes fresh pasta daily, I knew I had to check it out...asap!

When you enter Pasta & Provisions, you are greeted by a cooler filled with yummy sauces, including Marinara, Marinara with Meatballs, Alfredo, Basil Pesto, and more.

Follow the counter to the left and take a peek as you walk to see their fresh olives, roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatos, pine nuts, and other goodies that can be nearly impossible to find at the grocery store sometimes.

Just past the counter is another cool stocked full of more sauces and fresh pastas, including manicotti, ravioli, and stuffed shells. The fresh pasta is ordered at the front, cut to your order and sold by the pound.

Inside the other side of the store is a collection of fine wines and other gourmet goodies like Amaretti cookies (often used in Giada's dishes) - this is the first place I've seen them sold.

I ended up coming home with a complete dinner: manicotti, bolognese sauce, freshly shredded mozarella, rosemary foccacia bread, organic salad mix, and a bottle of pinot grigio

I put everything together and baked for about 45 minutes. A far longer cooking time than the other fresh pastas, like angel hair, which literally cooks in under a minute.

See - all done and looking good!

All I have to say is, "Squisito!"

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Halloween Dinner Party

As I mentioned when I made my pumpkin favors, I decided to have my first official "dinner party" with a Halloween theme - primarily themed with the color black. Although it was lots of work and took up most of my weekend, I really enjoyed putting this together. Here are some shots from the evening:

I decided to make a nice, cold-weather comfort food, with a nice red tomato-juice-based sauce to resemble blood (just a bit...nothing realistic). It's the Brisket with Carrots & Onions by Ina Garten of Barefoot Contessa. I also served it with spinach dip (from The Fresh Market) and roasted potatoes:

Roasted Potatoes Recipe
1-3 lbs small, red-skinned potatoes
4 garlic cloves
1 TBSP Italian seasoning (or other dried herb of choice)
2 TSP salt
1 TSP pepper
4-5 TBSP olive oil

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees Farenheit. Peel rough parts of skin and eyes from potatoes (I like a little skin left on, but feel free to peel the whole thing). Slice potatoes into 1/2-1" chunks (the smaller the chunks, the faster they'll cook). Put potatoes in baking dish. Top with garlic, spices, salt, pepper, and drizzle olive oil on top. Toss potatoes to cover and distribute seasoning and oil. Potatoes should be lightly covered. Bake for 40-60 minutes until to desired tenderness.

I went with an all black table setting...well, except for the plates. A black, sparkly table cloth from target, 3 black candles, & the black flowers/vases I crafted earlier

A closer look

An armoire in the living area got a scary makeover with these Michael's skull luminaries, red/black candies, and black web-covered branch

I wanted to do a themed dessert since the dinner wasn't too scary looking, so I chose the spider "creep-cakes" from the Martha Stewart mag and re-created them without the fangs.

Unfortunately, one snuck away and we haven't seen him since.

We even had some "Witches Brew" complete with spooky dry ice effects. The dry ice didn't last long though...I'll have to get a bigger piece for next year. Anywho, if you check out the recipe, I subbed Kool-Aid for the soda packets, and I opted for the dry ice effects over the "frozen hand"...I'm sure either is scary. The spiders seemed to enjoy the special effects, watching carefully with their beady, red eyes.

This rustic, hearty dinner was served on a candle-lit table.

I even had time to make little name cards for each place setting.

After dinner was over, the spiders were served up. Unfortunately, the black sugar on top turned everyone's mouths black (lips, teeth, tongue), but them seemed to think it was pretty funny, even reaching for a second spider snack. Hey, it could be a good prank if you want to get one of your friends.

All in all, I'd say it was a successful dinner thanks to special help from my honey. Thanks babe. Hope everyone enjoyed.

Pumpkin Favors a la Martha Stewart

Ahh...Martha, how you've been inspiring me lately...

We decided to have people over for dinner this weekend, so I decided to make it my first "dinner party." Sure, we've had people over for dinner before, but nothing fancy. I wanted to take advantage of the Halloween holiday and use some of the ideas I've been gathering from my Martha Stewart Good Things and Bad Things collective Halloween magazine. In preparation, I decided to make some of those cute, little pumpkin goodie bags:

Start with orange paper bags. Get the smaller ones, though. The first time I tried making these it was with the big ones and it seemed like the bottomless paper bag. Of course, if you want to put lots and lots of candy (think 20 mini-sized candies), then go for the big one. Anywho, fill with candy (the small fits about 8-10 mini candies)

Twist the tops. Cut a piece of floral tape and pull to make it stretchy. Wrap the tape around the "twig" of the pumpkin and leave a few inches for the curly-Q. Twist the end of the tape till it's thin.

Wrap the thin part around a highlighter to make it spiral.

The bags can be ripped into when your friends are ready to snack.

Here they are in the entranceway for our guests to see.

And they're labeled so everyone knows to pick one up on the way out. There, got at least one thing done before our party.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Rainy Day Soup

After weeks of dry weather, the rain is finally here. I'm normally not a fan of the rain, but I realize how important it is at this time, so I'm welcoming the wet weather with a nice, big, hot bowl of soup, b/c there's not much better on a rainy day than hot soup.

I saw a picture of a chicken breast and white bean soup in one of my Every Day with Rachael Ray mags, so I thought I'd try to figure out the ingrediants on my own when I realized I wouldn't have the recipe on me at the grocery store. I got chicken stock, white beans, and a rotisserie chicken, which I pulled the meat from. I also got some fresh spinach.

When I got home, I quickly found the recipe and realized that I'd forgotten or simply missed several of the recipe's ingrediants. I also realized I got some wrong...for example, the recipe called for arugula...not spinach. Oh well, I shrugged. I figured it would have to taste good on it's own.

Care for some soup?

Easy Chicken, White Bean, and Spinach Soup "Recipe"
(in quotes b/c it's not really a true recipe...just something I threw together - very simple and makes a great healthy meal with minimal cooking)

1 Rotisserie Chicken (full or breast only) - meat pulled from bones
1 Box Chicken Stock
2 Cans white beans (I used Northern) - rinsed
1/2 bag fresh spinach (baby may be better, but the regular stuff was cheaper)

~Heat broth over medium heat (add a couple cups water if you want it more "brothy")
~Add chicken and beans to stock
~Bring to boil, turn down to low heat
~Stir spinach into soup to wilt
~Serve with nice crusty bread

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

New Etsy Items 10/23/07

I finally updated my Etsy shop since I first opened it a couple months ago. I was going to photograph some of my new designs, but *grrr* my camera battery just died. It's charging away now, so maybe I'll have time later this week. I hope I do. We're having some people over for dinner this will be like my first real dinner party, so while I'm' kinda scared, I'm pretty stoked, too...I've got some Halloween decorations and other fun stuff and lots of goodie bag ideas from my latest Martha Stewart. And a couple MS Halloween projects to show off.

Anywho, my etsy shop is - I hope you visit soon!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Another Busy Weekend!

No sitting around and relaxing for me this weekend. I knew going into it that it would be quite action-packed. Hmm...maybe "action" isn't the right word, but I knew that my plate was pretty full. First, I went to a birthday party for a friend at a local bar where she was collecting new toys or donations for a newly opened hospital. But, I couldn't stay out late b/c I had to go to a jewelry/gift show for wholesale buyers with a friend who also makes jewelry Saturday morning. I was disappointed to see that there was pretty much only wholesale goods for resellers b/c I was there to get wholesale jewelry supplies. I ended up still spending a pretty penny on new bead strands as there was one booth with a relatively good selection, so I'll have lots to work on in the next few weeks (if not longer). It was probably a good thing that there were only a couple vendors with beads, b/c I had something special lined up at 11:30am Saturday. Something I've been dying to try for what seems like the longest time - a fused glass class (to make pendants). Here are some photos:

The instructor uses a special cutter to score the top of a sheet of glass

Then, the black clamp tool is used to completely break off the scored section into two pieces

I quickly picked out my colors - the turquoise was an obvious choice for me

Here are some of the pendants I designed in raw form. These still need to be fused together in a special kiln at a mere 1400 degrees farenheit. Hmmm...I made a bit of a mess, no?

I'd show the finished product, but the pendants go in the cool kiln, which is then heated up in a slow process. Overall, it takes a few hours to completely heat up, fuse and cool back down. I won't be able to pick my pendants up for a couple days since the instructor needs to bring me some bails so I can make these babies into wearable art.

The instructor said we could take a peek at the pendants about an hour or so after she put the first batch in. To kill time, I grabbed a quick bite to eat at a local market - very funky...I should have taken pictures, but was too timid to ask and didn't want to offend anyone by just whipping my camera out. Anywho, see that Famous Pumpkin Roll? It was quite tasty...I knew when it said famous, it'd be worth trying...they were right.

As you can see, the sandwich was quite yummy, too. I had chicken salad on marbled rye. After lunch, it was back to the bead store to peak at my new creation...which is beautiful (I suppose nearly all artists say that of their own work when they're super proud). Can't wait to pick it up...even if it will take a couple days.

No problem for me as I had lots more to do Saturday. Next, I made a quick trip to Salvation Army to do some thrifting

I found this vintage-y floral bowl - quite used - but that makes it easier to actually use it, an interesting plate, a gravy bowl (maybe?), some yellow gingham fabric, and a couple baskets.

Then, it was back to the house to clean before we went to a charity BBQ dinner for a friend who passed away a couple years ago. They had a golf tournament, the dinner, and a silent auction to raise money for scholarships that have been set up in her name. I donated a necklace/earring set with Swarovski crystals for the silent auction. The event was at a golf course, and all around were signs of fall.

Then, it was to the bar to hang out with some of my SO's friends to watch some games. Then, a tennis lesson Sunday morning. Phew! I'm exhausted! Can't wait to see my pendants, though...yay!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Halloween Costume Idea

Can you tell I'm up late blogging all night. I felt so bad neglecting my blog for several months like I did, and there are really so many fascinating things for me to write/photo/blog about...if only there were more hours in the day. I'm sure we all long for that. I suppose we can call these multiple posts in one day making up for all that neglect.

Anywho, I've been trying for years to come up with a unique idea for a Halloween costume that would be perhaps memorable to some, while still not being the same thing everyone else does. I'm a bit of an 80's girl and I grew up watching all those fantasy-themed movies like The Labyrinth, Neverending Story, and Legend (with young Tom Cruise). How cool would it be to make a costume to resemble "Dark Lily" from the Legend movie from this scene?

What's that? No one else will know who I'm supposed to be? Oh well, at least it would look pretty cool and be different. I wonder if my sewing skills will be up to par so I can make this by Halloween? Prolly not - this idea may have to wait until '08.

It's weird how certain clips you saw while growing up and watching cartoons and movies stay with you. This is one of my all-time favorites - very enchanting.

I should add that if you've never seen this movie and like a good fantasy-themed movie, you should def check this movie out sometime. Otherwise, this scene will be completely

I Can't Get No...(Instant) Satisfaction

I'm all about instant satisfaction - especially when it comes to crafting. Sure, I appreciate the long-lasting craft as good as the next girl, but every once in awhile, you want something you can throw together quickly. Kinda like those pre-formed cookies they have the grocery stores these days. Just break apart and bake...mmm. I suppose it's too late for cookies tonight, huh? Anywho, I think part of my desire for the quick projects stems from my busy life. Most people out there are pretty swamped these days - I don't really know any people who just sit around all day with nothing today (sounds boring to me anywho), but you busy girls know what I mean. Sometimes, you don't have time for a project that takes days and days. Personally, I wouldn't mind having one of those going on in the background (and I guess I kinda do with my embroidery), but it's nice to be able to completely create a couple little things here and there in no time.

I finally had my first "A-ha! This isn't so hard afterall" sewing moment last weekend when I made my first tote - a project from The Crafter's Companion (a truly awesome book) - except for that little seam ripping incident when I sewed the strap in upside down. Oopsie! Anywho, I was so floored by that experience, I turned out a vintage-style apron - a project from Bend the Rules Sewing - as well as this zip pouch - another fab Amy Karol project from BTRS:

Picking out all the fabrics and accessories - I decided to match the apron fabric b/c I adore it and b/c it was already out.

All done and ready for zipping. Unfortunately, I need to redo the lining inside - it seems to be getting slightly caught in the zipper teeth, but no worries. I already know how to use my seam

I guess my only problem now is that since I'm quite the "newbie" at sewing, projects that would take AK 5 minutes take me more like 5...hours. lol. Oh well, it should get faster with time. One day I'll have my instant gratification sewing projects down pat!

My Kind of TV Dinner

Salisbury Steak is one kind of frozen food that I think is actually pretty tasty. Especially, if you get the Stouffer's version. However, if I have more time, I like to make a Rachael Ray version I saw on TV almost a year ago. Since the first time I made it (back when I first saw it), this meal has become almost a "staple" of my repertoire of cuisine choices, but I finally took the dinner up a notch by getting these cute TV trays from Tar-jhay (Target - but you have to say it with an accent to make it sound b/c it's snooty...just b/c it's funny). Here's my version of the 30 Minute Meal - Salisbury Steak with Wild Mushroom Gravy, Smashed Potatoes with garlic and Herb Cheese and Chives, Creamed Spinach (except with peas instead of spinach):

Gotta start the potatoes first - they take the longest. Although, if you're doing this recipe, don't underestimate how long those steaks will take to cook. Go ahead and get started on at least forming the steak patties next.

All the steak ingrediants go in one bowl. Mix. Form. Wait to cook.

Just a couple mushrooms. I actually don't like mushrooms - mainly the texture. But the flavor can instantly change a meal, so I always try to add at least a little bit of mushroom when the recipe calls for them. There are two creminis (baby portobellos) and 1 shitake here.

These ingrediants will make my mashed potatoes extra tasty. I used alouette for the soft cheese.

Browning the beef...mmm...lookin good! A little on the well-done side, but like my mom, I like things just a tad burned. That and I get paranoid about undercooking food. I'm working on that one.

Then, like the finale of a great musical, it all comes together. Ok, so not exactly like that, but it does look pretty tempting, no?

I think perhaps one of the best things w/ these nifty little trays is that your food doesn't get all garbled together. I saw this movie once when I was a kid...something to do w/ a kid and their toy house (can't remember the name of it for the life of me), but I'll never forget when one of the characters said, "I'm a military man. I don't like my food to touch." My dad poked fun at me quoting that line for years and years after (read he still does today), but it's true for the most part. I'm not a fan of mixing food unless you're supposed to (think stir fry), so these trays keep all my food nicely separated so my gravy doesn't get all over the peas and so my bread doesn't get soggy from the other foods. It's genius. Hmm...maybe I'll eat all my meals on these now? Prolly not - but I'll def be making this meal again soon.

Mini Donuts...Mmmmm...

Homer Simpson would be in big trouble if he worked anywhere near where I work. I recently found out that a man sets up a mini donut stand just a couple blocks from where I work every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday (except today b/c it was raining...I checked). My mini donut craving will have to wait over the weekend. But in the meantime, here are some photos from my most recent visit:

The cart comes with a sort of dough holder, which when a certain button (or lever?) is pushed, creates these perfect hoops, which start bubbling away as soon as they hit the hot oil below.

They follow a path of hot oil, while gently being flipped - to brown both sides, of course.

Then, once they're done cooking, they are flipped into a metal bin where the excess oil drips off and they cool down just a tad

See? There are some cooling right now. Want him to make you a bag?

Top them off with powdered or cinnamon sugar...shake around to coat...

...there! Perfectly sugary sweet little mini donuts that simply melt in your mouth.

Want one?