Kind of Learning to Bake

fixed

Today’s post is kind of the complete opposite of yesterday. Today, we took a free cooking class at our local William Sonoma and ate lots of dessert. That’s right, every single William Sonoma offers free cooking classes. Well, technically they offer free technique classes and free junior chef classes. The actual cooking classes cost money. We have taken a couple of the technique classes before (always by accident) and learned a lot, but we always forget to come back for more. I happened to see the sign up sheet while shopping for nothing on Friday and decided to sign us up.

I am just now learning to cook and I NEVER bake…unless you count boxed cakes, which I only make for very special occasions. Learning about baking seemed like a good idea, but if I’m being completely honest here, I was in it for the free food. We were learning to make a layered coconut cake and a strawberry tart, who can resist?

coconut cake tart

The woman teaching us seamlessly whipped together both desserts while explaining each step and tool with great detail. She was good enough to convince me to try and convince Husband to buy me the cake pans that I will probably never use. (He did not cave…yet.) While drooling over each ingredient I did pick up a few tips… like have you heard of pie weights? Apparently you are supposed to use them (or beans) to hold down the middle of the crust and keep it from rising when it’s baked.

berries

All in all, it was a great Sunday afternoon of sipping espresso and eating as much homemade desserts as we possibly could. My Mom-in-law even went and walked Luna around the mall while we learned a little. I might even attempt one of these recipes for Easter. Hopefully we’ll remember this in the future in take some more classes. It’s a very inexpensive and fun way to spend some time together.

eat

Cheers!

Belated Turkey Day

2013

Our first Thanksgiving in Nashville in 5 years was about as perfect as a Thanksgiving could be. First of all,  I cooked two dishes and BOTH turned out edible. In fact, one turned out to be freakin’ awesome. I cannot tell you how many times I read the recipes while cooking. I quadruple checked each step because for once I wanted to not screw up a dish. I still burnt the heck out of the top of the sweet potato casserole, but who really likes the marshmallows and pecans anyways?

I got both recipes from the Chew (spectacular mashed potatoes and candied sweet potatoes) because it’s the only cooking show I’ve ever actually watched…and if Clinton Kelly can make mashed potatoes then by golly, so can I!

We ran (walked) 5 miles in the Boulevard Bolt Thanksgiving morning (more to come on that later). Then, came home with enough time to watch the last 2 hours of the Macy’s Day parade, which is my all time favorite thing to do on Thanksgiving. Seriously, I don’ t even care for most Thanksgiving foods, but the parade is always so magical.

We had Thanksgiving lunch at our Aunt’s house with about 14 people and about 24 dishes. I ate enough for me and three babies and made sure to ask each person if my now famous mashed potatoes were the best mashed potatoes they ever had….they were, and I’m sure no one was just humoring me, right guys?

pregnant
baby or a soccer ball?

zoey

I was so tired from all the staying up late, cooking, running/walking 5 miles, being pregnant, eating and forgetting the $65 worth of ice cream for everyone (woops!) that I passed out on the couch while everyone chatted around me.

exhausted

There were sooo many deer having their own feast right outside the window!
There were sooo many deer having their own feast right outside the window!

AND because no Thanksgiving is complete without multiple dinners we had supper at our friend’s house with another amazing prepared feast and about 20 more people. This Thanksgiving dinner is more friends than family and more food then 100 people could eat. After stuffing our faces one more time, we retired to the game room for a night of “Just Dance” on the Xbox…another honored Thanksgiving tradition.

just dance me the boys

We danced until midnight, and I have to say that watching Husband and his friends dance to synchronized choreography together while competing for the highest score is one of the most hilarious and enjoyable things we EVER ever do. I think these pictures speak for themselves.

woops, who is supposed to be hugging who here?
woops, who is supposed to be hugging who here?

pandd dance line

Now that Thanksgiving is officially over I am overwhelmed as I lie in bed and think about how so so lucky we are… If I’m being completely honest, the day was not perfect…I was more tired than I’ve been since my first trimester, I burnt things, forgot things, became highly annoyed with Husband for stupid reasons, felt guilty for being so irritable this time of year, missed my family in Texas and accidentally locked my cat out all night in the freezing weather. (Yes, I cried and I feel AWFUL.) However, now that the day is over and I realize how trivial my worries are I can fully appreciate that the good far outweighs the bad in my life… and I have more to be thankful for than I could ever imagine. Oh, and before I forget it’s also the start of Hanukkah! Yay for more celebrations!

hanukah

Hope each of you had a day to be thankful for and many more to come.

Cheers

I Cooked: Part 2

I have had a busy and exciting week, which means I have SO much to write about and share, but for some reason I have not been able to write this weekend. It’s been a cross between recovering from the busy-ness and a lack of motivation. Anyhow, instead of writing about Blue Men, Shakespeare’s ladies, picnics and rock climbing, I will write about cookies…because who doesn’t like cookies?

I do not have much of a sweet tooth, but every once in a while I get a hankering for a specific dessert, which typically includes chocolate. Last night, I HAD to have no-bake chocolate peanut-butter cookies. I tried to forget the craving by taking a 3 hour nap (I had a migraine), but I woke up feeling headache free and ravenous for cookies. The craving was so strong that I walked to the grocery store to get the needed ingredients

-2 cups sugar
-4 tablespoons cocoa
-1 stick butter
-1/2 cup milk
-1 cup peanut butter
-1 tablespoon vanilla
-3 cups oatmeal
-Waxed paper

I was pretty confident in making these cookies because I have made them numerous times with my Mother. It’s a favorite treat of ours. The directions are simple…

1. Boil sugar, cocoa, butter and milk for a minute.

2. Add peanut butter, vanilla and oatmeal (I also add a handful of chocolate chips because, why not?)

3. Drop spoonfuls of the mixture onto wax paper to cool and harden.

The only part that is a little nerve-racking, for me, is the boiling. I have made the mistake of letting the mixture burn to the bottom so I made sure to constantly stir this time. I asked Husband to measure out the rest of the ingredients for me and slowly add them so I could keep stirring. (Cooking is a team effort in our house, or until I become trustworthy in the kitchen). Husband was rightfully worried I was screwing up the recipe so he repeatedly asked me things like “Really, 1 tablespoon of vanilla? Are you sure?”

I was a little annoyed at how little he trusted me. I mean, come on, I can READ the recipe. After saying to him, ” Would you like to read the recipe yourself?” I immediately recognized a little mistake… I accidentally doubled the amount of milk I was supposed to use.

Shit.

I tried to boil the first ingredients for an extra 4 minutes to evaporate some of the milk, but nothing worked. I went ahead with the rest of the recipe, and everything seemed to turn out right. Only now, 12 hours later, the cookies are still extremely gooey, delicious, but very gooey.

cookies

 

Oh well, at least no one will ask me to host Thanksgiving dinner!

Cheers!

I Cooked

When Husband first left for Nashville a couple of weeks ago I promised myself to learn to cook at least one meal while he was gone.  I had been craving Spanish rice and beans for days and began searching recipes on Pinterest*. I came across one that used a crockpot, was very simple and sounded delicious. Perfect.

The only thing it needs is rice, dried kidney beans, celery, onion, bell pepper, scallions, seasoning, and garlic. The directions basically said to add these all to the crockpot, cook for four hours, and poof! Rice and beans at your service.

riceandbeans ingredients greenonions

I did exactly what the recipe said with one exception; I used canned beans instead of dried because I already had them. Four hours later, I opened the crockpot to give it a taste and discovered that the rice had yet to cook and it all tasted very bland. I add more salt and seasonings and continued to let it cook, checking on it every half hour.

Six hours later, it was all cooked, but tasted absolutely disgusting. I tried to bear it. I added hot sauce and more seasoning, but then it just tasted like a spicy bite of disgustingness. I kept it around for another day, wishing that it would improve with time like wine or soup, but it did not. It all ended with me pouring it all in the garbage and ordering a large order of rice and beans from a nearby Mexican restaurant.

Actually, I accidentally ordered two large orders of rice and beans and was able to eat of them for 3 days. I also ordered vegetable fajitas and I managed to use all of this to create my own nachos every night. I just tossed in the chopped veggies, the rice and the beans into a skillet with a little olive oil. After, it sautéed for a about 5-10 minutes I poured it over a plate of tortilla chips, added fresh tomato and avocado and had my version of “homemade” nachos.

photo

Even though my original plan failed miserably, I attempted one more simple recipe. I decided to make fruit infused iced tea. This was SO easy, and actually came out great!

First I made pomegranate tea.

herbteas tea

Once it cooled, I added chopped strawberries, oranges and blackberries. To finish it off I stirred in a little honey and fresh lemon juice.

fruit

That’s it, and the tea was delicious, fruity and not too sweet.

glass

I’m not going to give up yet, I am determined to learn to cook, and hopefully enjoy it.

Cheers!

*I searched for the recipe again on Pinterest so I could share the link, and give the original author credit, but I couldn’t find it. Also, she may not want to be connected to the outcome in this post, but I’m sure her’s came out much better than mine.

Do Not Cook Your Socks Above 350 Degrees Fahrenheit

When I was a little girl we lived in a house on piers. I loved our little cozy yellow house with it’s screened in back porch, but living in a house on piers is not always ideal. During the winter the floors were very cold, and we lived in Texas! My wonderful Mom would often put our socks in the oven before waking us for school. (She would put our entire outfit if it was an extremely cold day.) The feeling of freshly baked socks on your feet on a cold winter morning is definitely one of the best feelings ever.

I have carried on this habit, and often bake my own socks when my feet our feeling chilled. Tonight was one of those times. Because Mother Nature is apparently angry with NYC we were hit by a snowstorm today. (I believe the newscaster is calling it a New Easter storm, but I’m not paying very close attention.) Anyhow, it’s winter. There’s no other way to explain it. Last week, we had a summer hurricane, this week a blizzard*.

*I tend to exaggerate cold weather….also the size of bugs.

I did not dress weather appropriate this morning because like the rest of Manhattan, I didn’t think I’d walk to work in the sunshine and leave in a White Wonderland. By the time I got home my little tootsies were wet and frozen. I immediately put a clean pair of socks in the oven and set the temperature to 350. (That’s my standard sock baking temperature.) Then, I began making the world’s largest pot of vegetable soup and a hot cup of tea.

Fast forward 2 and a half hours later: I’ve had two bowls of soup, 2 cups of tea, aanndddddddd “Oh shit!”

I ran into the kitchen and flung the oven door open to find my stiff socks smoking and discolored. First, I was relieved they hadn’t caught fire. Seconds later, I was panicked when Husband came in wondering what the rush was all about. As quick as lightening I took the hot socks out of the oven and threw them in the shower to hide the evidence. I just could not stand one more lecture from Husband about my lack of attention, patience, and carefulness.

These were blue and white originally.

This is why I should never cook!

Eventually, he discovered the socks and solved the mystery. Luckily, he was too busy laughing at me to give me a lecture. Whew!

Now, I’m wondering if this little incident will persuade him to bake my socks for me….

Happy baking and stay warm!!!

Cheers!

What to Do When You are Stuck Inside during a National Disaster

Hurricane Sandy has given a me a few much needed days off work to relax and check a few things off my to-do list. Normally, I’d get out and do something fun and adventurous during a 5-day weekend, but this national disaster has put us all under house arrest. After writing some blogs and lesson plans, cleaning the entire apartment, painting my nails, and working out I had to get a little creative.

Here’s “Hilarie’s list of what to do to keep from getting bored and wishing you could go to work”.

1. Cook something. I made two giant pots of butternut squash and vegetable soup, which was really delicious. (Husband says it’s not okay to compliment my own food, but how else will you know that I managed to successfully make a yummy dinner!?!?)

2. Annoy your dog. I took pictures of Belle and teased her for looking nervous when it hadn’t even started storming yet.

3. Because soup isn’t enough…make cookies!

Halloween funfetti mix with chocolate chips, my own special combo

4. Annoy your dog some more. I took some more pics of Belle being cute and sleeping between our laptops.

5. Leave your house and visit a friend with a better view. When, we got really bored we left and went to a friend’s house to enjoy their rooftop view.

The wind gusts are A LOT stronger from 45 floors up!

6. Find an open restaurant. Hurricanes make me hungry.

You are looking at a fried ravioli stuffed with chocolate and bananas, smothered in berry and grand marnier sauce, and topped off with pumpkin ice cream. Yes, it’s a good as it sounds.

7. Carve a pumpkin! Hello! It’s Halloween!

Draw your pattern.
Rip out it’s guts….
Carve carefully, and tada!!! (That’s a cat and a dog in case you weren’t sure.)

8. Annoy your dog one more time. She could at least pretend to be excited that I just carefully carved her portrait into a pumpkin.

Poor sleepy puppy

9. Play cards. I taught Dad-in-law and Zoey to play Rook (a favorite in my family)

If you play Rook, you know this is a TERRIBLE hand.

10. (Husband’s tip) Play with your camera. Husband’s subjects of choice were my wedding rings.

He’s getting pretty good with that camera.
Highlighting the hidden Mickey

If all of these steps fail then watch a Sex and the City marathon, read a book, drink a few bottles of wine, do some yoga, or take a nap! Work will start again before you know it!

Stay safe NYC, cheers!

Big and Little Italy

While living in Albania, Husband and I were fortunate enough to visit Italy twice! We went to Rome and Venice twice; and Florence, Pompeii, and Naples once. I LOVE so many things about Italian culture: the language, the food, the espresso, the style, the history, the architecture, the young guys in tight pants and leather jackets, and the pretty girls in stilettos and designer duds. I could do without the high prices and the excessive smoking, but every destination has its shortcomings.

One of our most favorite restaurants in the whole entire world is a tiny teahouse hidden on a little side street in the middle of the waterways of Venice. An adorable sweet elderly couple runs the place and serves fresh homemade dishes all day with a wide assortment of teas. They have their regular customers that occupy 4 out of the 5 tables, and have managed to make the most cozy and loving environment.

My first time at the tea house.
Second time I took my Mom and cousin. Look at all that food!

 

One of my favorite locations out of all our traveling is the Spanish Steps. I had gelato when I first visited the Spanish Steps because I wanted to sit on the steps, eat gelato, and people watch just like Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday. The steps are so beautiful and always full of Italians and tourists. I had such a good time that I even bought one of the touristy watercolor paintings from a artist at the top of the steps to commemorate the memory.

View from the bottom

One of our most favorite experiences on a vacation is taking cooking classes with Chef Fabio. Fabio took us all through the Jewish Ghetto of Rome at the crack of dawn to purchase fresh ingredients. Then, he took us to his gorgeous home to learn how to make homemade pasta and ravioli in his actual kitchen! His wife wasn’t home so he told us to make ourselves comfortable and check out every room of the house, even his bedroom, which had a beautiful view of the Spanish Steps!

Checking out his beautiful view
Look at me, all grown up, and learning to make ravioli!

Now, you have to know that after having all of these great memories, plus many more, that I often miss living so close to Italy. So, when I learned that Little Italy, right here in Manhattan, was having their annual Feast of San Gennaro (New York’s oldest and biggest religious street festival) I made immediate plans to check it out.

Little Italy is like a tiny sample bite of Italian culture. There are tiny crowded streets with authentic Italian food, old men drinking espresso and smoking, and lots of restaurant owners standing outside their doors beckoning every pedestrian to take a seat and try their fresh pasta. That’s about as deep as the culture goes.

The Feast of San Gennaro lined every inch of every street in Little Italy. Some of the booths had fresh brick-oven pizza, Italian wines, gelato, or even fresh pasta. These booths were fun (and delicious), but half of the them had tacky carnival games, cheap souvenirs, and lots and lots of fried everything (also delicious).

I think this police officer was posing for me.

Potato Swirls!!!

Very, very, very good fried pickles…mmmmmm
We ended our tour with a healthy batch of fresh fried Oreo’s.

Getting bits and pieces of numerous cultures and traditions is another reason why I love living in the city! Is anyone else attending a cultural festival soon? I know my hometown is celebrating their annual Pecan Festival! I would love to fly home for some greasy food and fresh lemonade…not sure I can find boudain balls or pecan pies at any street fairs in NYC! There’s always next year…

Cheers and Cin Cin!