Category: random

baking day

So a combination of factors resulted in this uber baking/cookie day for me (and Jeremy):

  • I needed to bake cookies to bring in to my office building’s holiday cookie exchange on Tuesday
  • I had decided earlier in the weekend (after watching Bravo’s Chef Academy where that episode they focused on baking bread) that I wanted to try making bread
  • Saws a tasty looking cookie recipe in December’s Martha Stewart Everyday that I wanted to try
  • and after all that Β baking, needed a quick dinner that could provide some leftovers for lunch for the week

So the baking began around 1 and we finished around 7. The bread probably took the longest overall (3 rising periods plus oven time, per the “French-Style Country Bread” recipe from King Arthur Flour) but the results were very tasty. Jeremy made the dough and then split it in half, I supplemented “my half” with chopped rosemary and kosher salt on top and we both sat on the kitchen floor staring through the oven window watching the bread rise for at least half the time it was in the oven, we are such cooking geeks.

The cream-cheese cookies with jam (on the cover of December’s Martha Stewart Everyday, couldn’t find the recipe, pretty close one found on recipezaar) were the most difficult of the projects. I had a heck of a time getting the dough to the right thickness without it warming up too much, in which case it would stick to the counter, or being too cold, in which case it would crack when i tried to form the cookies. It was at this point I also realized I don’t have a rolling pin, so I used an old Illy coffee can, worked pretty well actually but think I will pick up a rolling pin the next time I’m in a store that carries one. I searched the fridge for all the jams I had and ended up with strawberry-rhubarb, blackberry-raspberry, and peach jams and apple butter. Since the cookies were being difficult when I was forming the little cups to hold the jam they ended up opening up while they were in the oven, resulting in a bit of a jam spill. So theend results weren’t the prettiest thing ever, but they were really tasty, so now it’s a challenge for next time to get them to look as good as they taste.

The peanut butter blossoms (standard recipe off the back of the Hershey Kiss bag) were not nearly as feisty, I think I left them in the oven a bit too long as they are a bit drier/crunchier than when my mom makes them but aside from that they turned out well.

In between baking the cream cheese and jam cookies and the bread we tossed together a fritatta from the contents of my freezer (chicken sausage, peas and broccoli) and the remaining eggs I’d bought for all the baking. It looked good coming out of the oven but boy was it stuck to the pan and the resulting attempt to flip the pan onto the plate resulted in a bit of a fritatta fail but Jeremy pieced it back together and it was very tasty regardless.

And thus ends the cooking adventures for today, and the lesson? Things frequently can taste way better than they look πŸ˜‰


Pumpkin three ways

Pumpkin tower

Pumpkin tower at College Run Farms in Surry

So I’ve spent most of the day today (10am to 3pm to be exact) cooking, roasting, toasting, baking and simmering three different preparations for pumpkin. A few weeks ago Jeremy and I went out to a local pumpkin farm (College Run Farm in Surry, VA) and I bought (along with about a half dozen cute tiny pumpkins and some very Martha Stewart-y white and green and speckled orange pumpkins) 3 “pie pumpkins” (or sugar pumpkins). I had never cooked with fresh pumpkin before but figured now was as good of a time as any to try it out.

Pumpkin field, College Run Farms, Surry Va

Pumpkin field, College Run Farms, Surry Va

Seizing on the cooking mood I had been in this weekend I decided to tackle the pumpkin-cooking this morning. I knew I wanted to toast the seeds, I had done that last year with tasty results using the Toasted Pumpkin Seeds recipe from Simply Recipes, but I also wanted a bit of variety and Jeremy found some tasty variations on 101 Cookbooks.

Halved pumpkins

Halved pumpkins

Now came the issue of what to do with all of the actual pumpkin, roasting was definitely the way to go so after halving each of the pumpkins, scooping out and separating the seeds and stringy bits I roasted the halves cut-side down in a 350 degree oven for an hour (checked them at 45 minutes and they weren’t quite tender enough). As the pumpkin halves cooled I flavored and toasted the pumpkin seeds (conveniently the oven was already hot), the results, although a pain to get off of the cookie sheets, were very tasty, especially the sweet and spicy (sugar and cayenne) ones, that’s a combination I will definitely add to the pumpkin-seed-flavoring repertoire.

Toasted pumpkin seeds three ways

Toasted pumpkin seeds three ways

Looking around at two of my mainstay recipe sites, 101 Cookbooks and Simply Recipes I found some very tasty sounding ideas for pumpkin bread and pumpkin soup with smoked paprika. You can check out the recipes on your own but the general idea for the bread was 6 cups of roasted pumpkin, lots of spices (fresh grated nutmeg and cinnamon and allspice) and a standard quickbread recipe, and the soup was 1 cup of pumpkin, chicken stock, onion, garlic, apple, cream and smoked paprika with a dash of cayenne.

I was rather pleased with myself that I had exactly 7 cups of pumpkin from the three sugar pumpkins, no extra at all (although I still have one small sugar pumpkin that didn’t get used, that may become another loaf of pumpkin bread later this month).

Pumpkin bread

Pumpkin bread

Using the pumpkin was definitely easier than I thought it would be, the cleaning and seed separating was probably the hardest part. This was also the first time I had ever done a pureed soup, I have to admit, I was a bit intimidated by the whole thing, but again, simple to do and really sounds

Pumpkin soup

Pumpkin soup

more complicated than it is…although the blender did get a bit obnoxious with me a few times, spitting up air bubble soup rockets (yes, I’m creating a new term) at me when I’d open the lid, but I blame the blender, and not the soup for that πŸ˜‰ In the end both recipes came out great. I was a bit dubious that the soup wouldn’t be overpowered by the smoked paprika but once everything was blended together the apple and cream mellowed out the strong smoky flavor and I ended up with some very tasty (and surprising low-calorie, about 200 calories per serving) soup. The bread came out probably the best I have ever done bread-wise, it was moist but also had the lovely crunchy layer on top and very flavorful with all of the spices. So with all of this I now have breakfast and lunch for at least half of the week, excellent πŸ™‚

btw, all photos documenting the pumpkin-ness are up in a set on my Flickr page.


Muse and U2 concert in Charlottesville

So Jeremy managed to acquire tickets to the U2 concert in Charlottesville and last night we went to the concert at the football stadium at UVA, what a great show! The city definitely has getting people into the parking lots down to a science and we arrived just as the lots opened at 5pm (the concert was scheduled to start at 7pm). We were guided to the parking deck next to the basketball stadium and then walked the mile or so to the concert venue with a stop at Foods of All Nations for some tasty sandwiches for dinner.

Our tickets put us at one corner of the endzone and in the center of the field is this giant 4 legged octopus looking thing that is the stage with all the lights and a giant cylindrical video display in the center. We were behind one of the “legs” so our view of the band when they were playing in the center was a bit obstructed, and they were facing away from us, but they were great seats as the ticket office had not sold the 12 rows of seats in front of us (since they were “obstructed views”) so we didn’t have to worry about people standing in front of us and had plenty of room to stretch out. (pics below, more on Flickr)

Muse started off the concert by playing “Knights of Cydonia”, which I only knew from playing it on Guitar Hero but it was great to hear live (and yes, I was playing the Guitar Hero fingerings during the song πŸ˜‰ ), they played 6 more songs or so and then after a full out lighting switch and a bit of stage rearranging U2 came on to much cheering and flashing lights. They played most of their classics (Beautiful Day, Elevation, Sunday Bloody Sunday, Walk On, Where the Streets Have No Name (and Bono played an acoustic version of Amazing Grace to prelude it which was great)) as well as some songs of their new album. They put on a great show, the stage was amazing and a great time was had by all πŸ™‚

Getting out of the parking garage and back on 64 took longer than it needed to, they were funneling everyone away from the “quick route” to 64 so it was very very backed up and it took us about 30 minutes to get out of downtown but we got back to the bed and breakfast around 1:15 and promptly went to bed, definitely a fun way to spend an evening πŸ™‚

expanding 360 video screen

The Edge and Adam Clayton


first soup of the season, the prep

Well, this morning started as a cool, rainy early fall day so I had the thought to try and use my crock pot for the first time to make a meal (I’ve used it for appetizers at parties before but never for actually slow-cooking something). Of course, as is typical Williamsburg weather, by the time I got all of the ingredients for the dish and had things going the rain cleared out and now it’s 81 degrees and sunny, oh well, it should still be tasty anyway.

I looked around online a bit for a recipe that peaked my interest, was initially thinking of doing a pot roast or something of that nature involving a large piece of meat, so I Google-ed for “healthy crock pot recipe” and turned up few viable results so I went to the old standby of the Food Network website. That is my default place to go when looking for a recipe and I was not disappointed. Found a few “big piece of meat” recipes but the highest rated “slow-cooked” dish was Robin Miller’s Minestrone Soup. Reading through the comments it seemed like it was a very good and simple recipe that could take on a lot of variations, so I saved the recipe to my Instapaper account (very cool little online and iPhone/iPod Touch app that saves text versions of websites so you can access them offline later…although oddly the Food Network recipes never convert to plain text correctly and the ingredients list goes missing so I have to find the same recipe posted elsewhere), and headed to the store for all the ingredients.

So here’s the list of ingredients (with my various modifications inline):

(modified) Slow-Cooked Minestrone Soup

  • 3 cups reduced-sodium vegetable or chicken broth (already had chicken brothΒ  from a stock-up Trader Joe’s trip yesterday, is 4 cups rather than 3 but, yay more leftovers)
  • 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes (bought diced tomatoes with garlic and basil already in it to add just a bit more flavor rather than plain diced tomatoes)
  • 1 (15-ounce) can white (cannellini or navy) beans, drained (got navy, couldn’t find cannellini)
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped (ended up using 3, just scrubbed not peeled)
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped (used 2 stalks of celery)
  • 1 cup onion, chopped (used half of a medium-sized white onion)
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried sage (didn’t have sage so put in a healthy dash of poultry seasoning)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • 2 cups cooked ditalini pasta (skipped the pasta altogether as it had a tendency to get mushy, especially upon reheating, which I am planning to do to take the leftovers as lunch for tomorrow)
  • 1 medium zucchini, chopped (they only had small zucchini so I got 3 small ones plus two squash for some more veggie goodness)
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped fresh or frozen spinach, defrosted
  • 4 tablespoons grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

I also bought some Italian sausage to bring in a bit more protein and heft to the soup since I was skipping the pasta and added in 4 cloves of garlic finely chopped, figured rather than a simple mirepoix as the soup base I’d go for a bit more flavor with the garlic. I have a lot of carrots and celery left over as well as half an onion so I may attempt to make vegetable stock out of what’s left. A reviewer on Food Network recommended tossing in a Parmesan cheese rind which sounds like it could be very tasty and then you could skip adding any salt altogether.

So essentially you open various cans and chop and toss in everything except the zucchini, spinach and Parmesan cheese (and squash and sausage in my case) into the crock pot, stir it up a bit, and then leave it be for 3-4 hours on high or 6-8 hours on low. About 30 minutes before you’re ready to serve add in the rest of the ingredients and let it finish cooking, removing the bay leaves before serving it up. Planning on serving it with some garlic bread and I think it will make a pretty good meal

Things have been going in the crock pot, on high (didn’t get it started early enough to do the “low and extra slow”, so opting for the high temp) for about 2 hours now, veggies are softening up nicely. Planning on cubing and cooking the sausage separately and adding it in at the end, also going to be browning/sauteing the squash and zucchini in the same pan the sausage browned in before putting it in just to get a bit of tasty carmelization flavor going on.

So, yeah I guess this is really “based on” the Food Network recipe rather than followed exactly, but that’s the beauty of soup right? lots and lots of variations.

I’ve been taking photos as I’ve gone along so stay tuned for photographic documentation and results!


Adventures in Latvia – picture note

Many of you may already know via my twitter feed (@tb623) but all of my photos from the trip are now on my Flickr page:

In total, posted over 250 pictures. I tried to balance out between putting up lots of pictures so that everything we did was documented and to also put up pictures I thought turned out really well.

Jeremy also has his photos up, broken out in about the same way, on his Flickr page.

Hope you all enjoyed following my adventures in Latvia, it was a great couple of days. Until next time!


Musings from NYC

A few random observations from this trip:
1) it’s really awesome when kids are eager to learn.
While we walked around the Natural History museum in the planetarium there was a family talking with one of the guides about the Big Bang. The daughter, who was maybe 8 or so made the very awesome observation (and came to the conclusion before her parents did) that “asking ‘What happened before the Big Bang?’ is like asking ‘What’s north of north?'” Learning is cool πŸ™‚
2) the old saying of “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” is still true
Riding the subway back from the Bronx Zoo a trio of teenaged skateboarders came on board. One guy was limping badly and was pretty banged up and I kind of wrote it off as he was just doing dumb stunts on his skateboard with his buddies but then one of his friends pulled out a “Tribeca Film Festival” Crumpler-brand camera bag and pulled out a Nikon digital SLR camera and started going through the action shots he had taken of his friends doing tricks on their skateboards. The few I saw were pretty good. So yay for finding a budding skateboarding photographer.


status report, crazy weather and gardening

So I’m still working on the belated new year’s resolutions. I was sick one week in February so that set me off a week on the various schedules for the push-ups and sit-ups, and insert other excuses here for just being too busy to do the exercises a few times, so currently I’m starting week 4. Doing better on the sit-ups than the push-ups but I was anticipating that, I’ve always liked sit-ups/crunches more than push-ups anyway πŸ˜‰

So a week ago today we had quite a snow storm (for southeast VA) down here,Β IMG_1872 ended up with 3-4 inches of snow, and now in typical Virginia weather fashion it’s going to be sunny and 79 degrees today. Going to take this warm weather opportunity and try and get my courtyard back together. IMG_1890 Had to take stuff apart when I had my AC unit replaced (when they installed it 2 years ago they only installed an AC unit, not heating and AC, so yes I didn’t really realize I didn’t have heat upstairs for 2 years but it hadn’t ever really gotten particularly cold until this year. Thankfully they replaced it with the correct model at no charge), so things were kind of a mess down there all winter and on New Year’s Eve there was a lot of wind and it knocked over the screen all-together and dumped a lot of dirt everywhere. Amazingly none of the pots completely broke, but I’m going to try and get a better soil mix this year so things don’t dry out so quickly and maybe I’ll be able to actually keep my plants alive this year. Also bought some bulbs over Thanksgiving out at the pottery, and I know I should’ve planted them when I got them, but they got stuck in the garage and I forgot about them. So even though they won’t bloom this year I’m gonna plant them anyway just to get them in the ground, I can enjoy them next year.

Pondering what flowers/plants I should go with for the courtyard this year. The spot only gets 2 hours-ish of midday sun for the pots on the screens and the planter box gets even less, maybe an hour. So what are some good, hearty (I know I will forget to water stuff) plants to pick? Unfortunately cactus need a lot of sun otherwise I’d opt for that πŸ˜‰ Suggestions?


belated new years resolutions

So yes, I’ve survived the holidays and no, I haven’t given up on this blog, I promise. Things have just been super crazy busy the past few months between work and social stuff (this is starting to sound like my standard excuse but it’s true!). But I wanted to post on this new exercise thing I found out about, it’s two sites, One Hundred Push Ups and Two Hundred Sit Ups. For each of these the goal is to be able to do that total number of the exercise at one time (with rests in between reps). You start out with an initial test to determine your fitness level and then each week you do this pre-set group of reps three times a week and each week the number in each rep increases until you’ve reached the goal. Both are six week programs, Jeremy started doing the push up challenge a few weeks ago and is seeing some great results so, not to be outdone, I figured I would try it too πŸ˜‰

So now that I’ve written about this on the internets I’m hoping this will make me more accountable to actually complete it. To start, I can do 10 (knee) pushups and 35 crunches/sit ups, we’ll see where I end up in 6 weeks…


fall in va

halloween costume party 08So apologies again for being a delinquent blog author, things have been pretty crazy the past few weeks.Β  I hosted a Halloween party on the 31st, costumes were encouraged but optional and we ended up with lots of “Liz Specials” plus quite a few fun characters, Dr. Horrible, Duff Man, Supergirl, Harley Quinn, Batgirl (that was me), Blue-Footed Booby, Windows Blue Screen of Death, a Stocking and the Stuff-R…here’s the group shot. Also carved pumpkins for the party and roasted the seeds, very tasty, I used a great recipe from Simply Recipes. I got the pumpkins from Bethel’s pumpkin patch, the biggest one was over 35 pounds. IMG_1136.CR2It was quite fun carving them even though I couldn’t find my pumpkin carving knife I got in a little kit one time, instead I used a flathead screwdriver and a tomato knife, gotta love improvisation.

Also went on a nice weekend getaway with Jeremy to Charlottesville last weekend. We stayed at this nice bed and breakfast right in downtown called 200 South Street Inn. It’s in a big old house and we were on the top floor so the ceiling was all sloped and slanted in various directions because it used to be the attic. Very unique and very fun since I hadn’t been to a bed and breakfast in a really long time. We walked to dinner both nights and even though we were only a block away from the pedestrian mall we didn’t go farther than a few hundred fee from the inn because there were two really good restaurants literally across the street, Bang! and Mono Loco, recommend both if you’re ever in the area. blue mountain brewery flightWe also did some winery and brewery visiting while we were up there, Cardinal Point (visited Saturday afternoon, quite good), Horton (first one we visited Sunday, offers way too many wines, none of which were all that great), Barboursville (second visted on Sunday, fun tour, $4 tasting fee but you get to keep the glass, new favorite), and Prince Michel (last one we visited, heavy pours for the tastings, also good), and on the brewery side we visited Blue Mountain Brewery where we had lunch on Saturday and enjoyed a flight of their beers, my favorite was the one at the front of the picture, the Blue Mountain Lager. Before we visited Cardinal Point on Saturday we drove down the Blue Ridge Parkway and lucked out with some really pretty weather for driving, yielded some nice shots that I have up on my flickr page. IMG_1192.CR2We were a bit past peak on the leaves but I’d say probably half were still holding on to some great color.

And last but not least I started a new job at the beginning of November at Solertium Corporation in New Town. I’m working with a great group of people and get to work on lots of different projects where I can do both web design work and programming so I get to exercise both “sides” of my computer interests, plus I can walk to work now so that is an extra bonus.

So there you go, my life updated in approximately 500 words πŸ˜‰


never grocery shop hungry

I know better than to go grocery shopping hungry, but today it couldn’t really be helped. I didn’t have any milk, therefore couldn’t have any coffee or have an english muffin with peanut butter (which has been my breakfast trend this week, and something topped with peanut butter and only orange juice to wash it down? no thanks) so a trip to the store was required. Decided to roll a bunch of errands into one trip and stopped by the Williamsburg farmer’s market where one of the Williamsburg Winery chefs was doing a demo and offering a “fall salad” and oyster stew. I was really excited about the stew but they didn’t have any prepared while I was there so never got to taste it, oh well, now I kind of want to make some though, my mom makes a really good version, lots of cream and butter, how can you go wrong? Stopped by Bloom to get coffee filters and dishwashing sponges (one thing Trader Joe’s lacks, home cleaning stuff, although I did notice today they had one variety of paper towels and toilet paper) then headed to my friendly neighborhood Trader Joe’s, initially just for milk and soymilk, or so I thought.

I ended up with 5 bottles of wine (all under $5 each!), frozen gnocchi, 2 bags of frozen vegetables, a bag of frozen chicken, torteliini, Trader Joe’s version of Cherrios, blood orange italian soda (excited to try this), soy milk, soy creamer (wanted to see if it was any good since it lasts longer in the fridge I may be able to avoid my no-milk-no-coffee issue), milk, a strawberry-rubarb pie (so excited for this! I was watching Pushing Daisies last night and was totally craving pie afterwards, and according to one of the Trader Joe’s employees the strawberry-rubarb is very hard to come by if you’re not there really early in the day, yay!), and a spinach and mushroom mini quiche which I just finished for brunch with my coffee and soy creamer (conclusion on the soy creamer, not as good as milk-based creamers, thinner and tangy-er). So thus the danger of shopping hungry, be warned! πŸ˜‰