Friday, March 29, 2013

Gentile Goes to Seder -- Matzo Toffee


I grew up in a tiny, white, 90% Polish Catholic town in the farmlands of Massachusetts. Diversity was moreso economic than ethnic, and I didn't know any Jewish people my own age or even someone of a different ethnic background than myself until college. The one brush with Judaisim I had was when I was a flower girl for a Jewish wedding when I was 5 or 6, and I wanted to be able to sit on the chairs people were lifting into the air but my mom told me I couldn't. By age 10 I'd decided that Catholicism wasn't my ideal religion, and today my spirituality is kind of all over the place. However, religion has always fascinated me, and I love learning about them.

Fish and soup appetizer

This is why I was thrilled when my good friend Gilana--whom I know well through local theater--invited me to her Seder dinner last night. A holiday with a huge focus on food and WINE? Count me in. Using an electronic copy of a Passover comic book projected onto our friend Bart's big screen television, Gilana began the Seder. The very first Seder I have ever attended!


This was her first time officiating a Seder to a room full of Gentiles, and she was the only Jew in attendance. We were a very captive audience. It was fun to hear my Christian friends chime in with what they knew about the Passover stories through their own religious education. We made Gilana giggle with our interpretations of the symbols like the Haroset (a fruit and nut paste that is delicious) and Maror (spicy-hot horseradish) sandwich. Gilana told us that the Haroset is meant to symbolize compassion, while the Maror is meant to symbolize the suffering of the Jews. We were instructed to eat them separately, and then together on some Matzo. The idea that we were eating compassion and suffering tickled us, and for the rest of the night we would say "pass the compassion, please!" and "My Gefilte fish needs more suffering." Or, when my boyfriend arrived late to the party I explained what he'd missed as thus: "We drink wine after each part, Gilana is reading us the story of Passover, find a pillow to sit on, we had to dip parsley in salted water eat a sandwich of suffering and compassion and eat an egg."


Each section of Seder concluded with drinking a glass of wine. I joked that Seder must be God's First Drinking Game and made one of our friends spit out his wine from laughter. I worried the comment was a bit blasphemous but Gilana was nearly out of her seat with laughter as well. We wondered why the door is set open for Elijah (I suggested Elijah is clearly the life of the party), marveled at how the wine in the cup was gone without our knowing it, and Emily found the afikomen. I assume these traditions began to entertain the children, and that seasoned Jewish youths become disenchanted with them quickly, but as first-time Seder guests we had a lot of fun running around looking for the Matzo that Gilana hid, and trying to figure out when the wine was sipped without our knowing it.

My favorite part of the Seder table was the new tradition of the orange. The mythical reasoning is that at after a lecture by a famous Jewish feminist, a man stood up and angrily said that "a woman belongs on a bima the way an orange belongs on a Seder plate!" and so the feminist reaction was to put an orange on the Seder plate. I love this story, because for one, YAY GIRL POWER, and for two, it is a new addition to an old tradition that was made within our century. It's a symbol that we are forever growing, forever evolving, and bringing our traditions with us. While that story is mythical, I found the real story online, in a copy of an essay written by the feminist scholar who started the tradition.

Then we all played Cards Against Humanity, which probably isn't a tradition that will happen at many Seders but was a hilarious way to end ours!


Gilana, knowing I am "the chef" in our group of friends, asked me to provide a dessert. She fed us well with Matzo ball soup, Gifelte fish, and Matzo lasagna (maybe I'll make a version with the two boxes of Matzo I have left), but there still was a little room for dessert, so this was a good call on her part. I was going to try my hand at making a candy bar out of Matzo, but with my recent fails with cake pops I was a little hesitant to be working with tempered chocolate. Thankfully, I found a recipe for TOFFEE Matzo. Toffee is probably my weakness. Perfect!

Toffee Matzo Bark
(From Once Upon a Chef)
Makes about 25 pieces, or 20-25 servings. Recipe can be halved

  • Enough Matzos to cover 1 large baking sheet or 2 small ones -- I used whole wheat
  • 4 sticks butter
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 1.5 bags dark chocolate chips -- I used a combo of that and semisweet
  • 1 cup pecans (or whatever nuts you wish)
  • sea salt, a few pinches


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray baking sheets with non-stick spray. Cover with Matzos, using broken pieces to fill in any bare spots.

 Heat butter and brown sugar until they come to a rolling boil. Whisk vigorously until mixture is thick and bubbly. Pour over Matzos and put in oven for 10 minutes, until toffee is crackled.

Pour chocolate chips over Matzos and return to oven for 1 minute. Immediately spread with spatula and then sprinkle with pecans. Let chill in fridge.

Before serving, break into large chunks--I used a meat hammer--and serve.


PS. I've decided to pull the Giveaway winner on Tuesday. Two hand-picked-by-me gift baskets are being given away to say thank you for all of the love and support I've received this week with the Sign Me Sal/Do You Wanna Write a Cookbook contest. Seriously, I am absolutely FLOORED and I wish I could hug every last one of you! Please enter the contest for a chance to win some awesome goodies!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

I am about to pee my pants.

I WON!!!!!

I am one enormous step closer to being a published author.

Today is the best of days :)

WE FIND OUT TODAY. HOLY AHHH!!!


I find out today if I won the Sign Me Sal competition...

I can't tell if the hell going on in my stomach is excitement, nervousness, or period cramps.

Well, it's DEFINITELY the latter but probably good portions of the other two as well.

Oh, those mushrooms will be my next recipe, just FYI. They're mighty tasty.

Yep. That's all.

Oh, right, I AM HAVING A GIVEAWAY! My first one ever, not sponsored by anyone but myself. Click Here to see what's up for grabs--two gift baskets, hand-picked by me, to say thank you for the OVERWHELMING support I've received through this whole crazy journey with the contest. I bought them myself and tried to find interesting little knick knacks and food stuffs that you'd love. One is a Kitchen Goodies bag (with ADORABLE apron set!) and one is a basket of New England-themed goodies (Yankee Candle stuff included!) Seriously, you guys rock. I wish I could give you each a gift basket, and a hug, and all of the baked goods :)

Whatever happens today, the love and support is prize enough. I'll make Quarter Life (Crisis) Cuisine a book someday, whether I win or not! Thank you all so so much, it really means the world to me <3

I'll end with another cat picture, because this IS the internet, afterall. Here's Finn again, to say thanks. And Baxter, in case you like dogs better.

Monday, March 25, 2013

IT'S TODAY IT'S TODAY!!

GAAAHHH IT'S TODAY!!

The last challenge in the #signmesal cook book/literary agent contest is a Twitter Chat on TODAY between 1 and 2 PM Eastern Standard Time! I am going to be en route to somewhere and tweeting via phone (NOT while driving, I'll find a place!), but I encourage you all to tweet your support to #signmesal when the time comes and tweet questions to me at @AshleyBeeCooks! The final task is answering questions about my book proposal, and in the end they'll be asking for followers to weigh in on the decision. I need your help now more than ever! If you're by a computer, or a phone (and like my book idea, of course!) please join the chat! It would mean the world to me. Thank you yet again!

Have you ENTERED MY GIVEAWAY YET? A cool gift bag put together by yours truly! I want to get at least 25 entries before I give it away, so I'm gonna keep on pluggin it until I reach the minimum :)

Also, Google Reader is going away... How will you read my blog?? That's easy--Follow my blog with Bloglovin. Sweet!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

GIVEAWAY!!

video

If for whatever reason you can't watch the video here, I'm explaining a little giveaway I'm doing to say THANK YOU to everyone who has been so amazingly supportive through this past week! (See my Last Few Posts if you're confused about what I'm talking about).

This is my first giveaway I've ever done on the blog, and I thought the time was right, to say thank you to all of you :)

Gift basket of kitchen items (apparently in a red theme?)

I have TWO gift baskets I put together--one of fun kitchen items, one of "New England" things--which will go to two lucky winners. To enter, just leave a comment here! I will choose a winner at random after all the Sign Me Sal stuff has come to a close.

Gift basket of New England goodies!

Whether or not I win or lose on Monday, it means so much to me that you all have supported me in this journey. Thanks again!!

For extra entries:

-LIKE me on Facebook
-Share the contest on Facebook (tag me so I can see it!)
-Follow me on Twitter
-Tweet about this contest with a link back
-Share the contest on whatever platform you wish! (pinterest, facebook, twitter)

Just be sure to leave a comment for each, so that I know they've been completed. I will be manually drawing a random number and notifying the winners by email and on here, so be sure you leave your email :)

IMPORTANT: The last challenge is a Twitter Chat on MONDAY between 1 and 2 PM Eastern Standard Time! I am going to be en route to somewhere and tweeting via phone, but I encourage you all to tweet your support to #signmesal when the time comes! The final task is answering questions about my book proposal, and in the end they'll be asking for followers to weigh in on the decision. I need your help now more than ever! If you're by a computer, or a phone (and like my book idea, of course!) please join the chat! It would mean the world to me. Thank you yet again!

Much love to you all!

video

PS. Boy do I need some lessons on how to speak on camera... SO many "um's" and I call lobster dip "cute." I call everything cute. Wow. Jeezum.

PPS. When I said "I can't wait to have pancakes" I totally meant waffles... we all should know by now pancakes are on my very short list of "foods I don't like"--sorry to lie to you all like that...

Thursday, March 21, 2013

I Can't Even.


Why is my un-makeup'd, frizzy-headed, moon-ish face freaking the heck out?

I AM IN THE FINAL FREAKING TWO OMFG!!!!
And clearly that means I no longer can care about taking a current picture of my face despite looking like hell. No time for that!

 If you are a casual reader of my blog and don't know what the heck I'm talking about, please refer to this post (throwing my heart on the table and explaining my idea), and this one. For an actual overview of the contest, follow this link.

Winning the contest would not be a guarantee on a book deal, but it'd be almost a sure thing. Representation with the award-winning Lisa Ekus Group, and seasoned agent Sally Ekus pitching your book to publishing houses. I'd be very surprised if the winner didn't see their book in print!

At the Final 8 I looked at my competition--many were already published authors. All had Facebook and Twitter followings that doubled mine at LEAST. I felt hopeless. But I've made it to the FINAL TWO somehow.

Thank you so so much for your support. I seriously cried last night seeing the re-tweets, the comments, the shout-outs, and new Facebook likes I'm getting from all over the place. I feel loved. And what's more, I feel like I owe you guys--I need to do this. I need to make it to the end, even if it's not through this contest, and accomplish my dream of writing a book and seeing it through to publication. I WILL do it.

I'm going to be putting together a basket of goodies this weekend and giving it away via a blog contest this weekend--so please check back! Something to say thank you for all of the overwhelming support!!

And, if you haven't already and would like to show your support, please follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Love you all so much!

IMPORTANT: The last challenge is a Twitter Chat on MONDAY between 1 and 2 PM Eastern Standard Time! I am going to be en route to somewhere and tweeting via phone, but I encourage you all to tweet your support to #signmesal when the time comes! The final task is answering questions about my book proposal, and in the end they'll be asking for followers to weigh in on the decision. I need your help now more than ever! If you're by a computer, or a phone (and like my book idea, of course!) please join the chat! It would mean the world to me. Thank you yet again!
A Picture of my cat. Just because.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Just Keep Swimming, Just Keep Swimming -- Blood Orange Salad




So, aside from making it to the final 8 for the Sign Me Sal competition from the Lisa Ekus Group (check out my last post about it), I accomplished a crazy personal goal last night.
-----
*UPDATE!!*
We interrupt this blog post to say, OMFG I GOT IN I GOT IN! I am now in the Final Four!! (If you have no idea what I'm talking about, please refer to THIS POST!) This is crazy, I was certain I'd be out in the first round, nevermind make it this far. I need your support now more than ever! Follow me on Twitter and tweet to #signmesal that you'd love to see Quarter Life (Crisis) Cuisine as a book (Facebook couldn't hurt, either!). If I make it through the next round, they will be asking for people to vote for their favorite! I am seriously the underdog here--all of the other contestants have much bigger followings than I do, and have way more street cred as writers. I KNOW I can do this and I know I can write a funny, informative book about surviving the "quarter life crisis" through food. I appreciate your support endlessly and thank you so so much for all of the love! Onto the FINAL FOUR!
-----

I swam six laps at the YMCA!!

This may not seem like much but...I CAN'T SWIM.

Well, I guess this means I can swim? Up until yesterday, I didn't think I could. Put me in water, I stay off to the side, thankyouverymuch. No water polo or Marco Polo for me. Give me my noodle and let me float in peace, and in a beach situation I am staying firmly on the sand lest I get carried out to sea: I don't swim.

It's always been kind of a sore issue for me. It's not that I don't WANT to swim, I just get freaked out when my feet don't touch the bottom. This results in swallowed water and near-panic-attacks. And the ocean? Fuggetaboutit. I've gotten knocked over in waist-deep water too many times to even want to venture to dip a toe in. Years ago, I never made it past the intro-level Pollywog 1 at the YMCA despite taking it twice, and since I was 6 when I started I was embarrassed to be the oldest kid in the class. I begged my parents to take me out of it, and they did. Many friends have offered to teach me, but get frustrated quickly when I refuse to budge from the shore, pool edge, etc. These days, when it takes more than an hour to straighten my stupid-curly hair, I have even more of an excuse to not dunk my head in the water. No thanks.

My relationship with water = SITTING IN IT.

In all honesty, I really don't know what happened. My roommate let me borrow her suit, I needed motivation to go to the gym, and I decided it was a good as time as any to see what I could do when I was REALLY trying. I guess I just let my body do what it thought it should do, and aimed for the other end of the pool and didn't stop--I knew if I stopped, I'd realize my feet can't touch the bottom and I'd freak. To strangers, I probably looked like a drowning dog who was ferociously paddling its way across the pool, despite being the slowest person in the lane. 

But I didn't care. I WAS SWIMMING. My roommate and two friends were doing laps, plus my other friend was life guarding, so I felt safe. Today, my muscles are killing me (swimming is HARD, who knew!) but I am happy. I know my form was abysmal and I need to remember to breathe, but that will come in time. The initial fear has been overcome, this is a start. I have accomplished something that, to me, is amazing. I swam. IN THE BIG KIDS POOL.

My cat's fluffy, tail-less butt

FYI: I've decided when I get all verbose like this and don't have relevant pictures, I am going to break up the text with pictures of my cat. You're welcome.

Finn, looking rather dapper.

So, even if I don't get to the final four final two in the contest, I accomplished something awesome this week. And that's enough for me. It's a good lesson: if I want to be a writer, if I want to write a book, I need to just jump in and DO IT. I need to get freelance gigs, work on promoting my blog and myself, and make time to write write write. No excuses. No more saying "I can't" or "I don't have money" or "It's too hard." Just jump in, look for the other side of the pool, and DO IT.

See what I did there? I made a life experience into an analogy. Someone sign me already, jeesh.

Onto the recipe! Blood orange season is already thinning out, so do try this before it's gone completely. I love blood oranges, they're just so pretty and make the perfect Blood Orange Mojito (I drank it before I could get a decent picture, oops). I used this recipe as a base and added a few extras to make it acceptable to the blood orange flavors. It's a lovely little side dish, and pairs well with Asian cuisine. It was actually the side dish for the Curried Chicken of a few posts back!


Blood Orange Salad
3 tbs shredded coconut
2 tbs fresh lime juice
2 tbs fish sauce
2 tbs brown sugar
2 cups blood oranges, cut into bite-sized chunks
2 tbs almonds
1 tbs coarsely chopped green onion
2 tsp finely chopped jalapenos
1/2 cup coarsely chopped mint

-Toast the coconut in a dry skillet until lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes.

-In a medium bowl, combine lime juice, fish sauce, and sugar and stir until dissolved. Add the blood orange, coconut, almonds, jalapenos, and mint and toss well.




Monday, March 18, 2013

THIS IS MY EXCITED FACE!!

To be fair, this is my excited face in Iceland, not right now. It looks very similar, except I am in my office and not in front of a snow-covered lava field. My excited face right now is accompanied by no-makeup blotchy skin and frizzy hair so I figured this snowbunny-esque one might be better. It's the day after St. Patrick's Day and despite the fact I stopped early and got plenty of sleep I'm still feeling the effects of an overabundance of alcohol that comes with the celebrating.

But why am I excited?

I MADE IT TO THE NEXT ROUND OF THE LISA EKUS GROUP'S SIGN ME SAL COMPETITION!! 

If I can make it through the next two rounds, I will basically win a literary agent for my book, who will help me flesh out my proposal and pitch it to publishing houses. Basically, it would be a huge step in accomplishing my dream of publishing a book.

My idea: well, basically the idea for this blog. Life advice and foodoir (food memoir) about making it through your 20s in one piece. How to survive the "quarter life crisis" with food, and I don't mean binging on Ben and Jerry's. What to cook for a first date, what to cook when you get laid of from work, homemade ice cream for breakups, the best party hors d'ovres whether you want to host a drunken rager or a classy dinner party like the adult you are, cheap meals when your boyfriend has just broken up with you and you spent your last $10 on emergency wine... with some fun and quirky memoirs from yours truly.

Quirky anecdotes because I am quirky even though that word is SO last season
and SO Zooey Deschanel

Writing a book would be a dream come true. Since the time I learned to read and write I've had a pen in my hand and ideas in my brain. Sadly, my writing has taken a backseat to more "grown-up" things like a job or whatever. To be able to have the opportunity to publish a book? To see my name in print on a hardcover at Barnes & Noble? I would probably faint. And cry. I don't even care if it ends up in the dollar bin in a week (oh please, no though), it would be my greatest accomplishment.

At age 6 I won the annual Jane Yolen Writing Contest at my elementary school for my story about a magical flower the size of a house. I was hand-picked by a famous author to win a prize! My little-kid brain was hooked--I AM GOOD AT THIS! it screamed, and I was a gonner. I filled composition notebooks with stories based on my Lisa Frank stickers (Marky the Unicorn deserved a novel!), Animorphs books (fanfiction much?), and the antics of my friends and fantasies of how our lives would turn out.

At this age I was writing about unicorns

 As I got older I became the star student in English class, and a few amazing English teachers convinced me that this was MY THING, writing. That this is what I should pursue, this is what I should do. As I crossed the stage at graduation I received every writing scholarship they offered, and set out to earn my BFA degree in Writing, Literature, and Publishing at Emerson College.

High School graduation

College is where, as most of us do, I really came into my own. I discovered a type of fiction I could write well and loved (Magical Realism) and published a story in the school's literary magazine before becoming fiction editor the next semester. I impressed my professors with my unique style, but also learned how to write nonfiction--memoirs, magazine articles, scholarly papers--and developed a love of that too. My trip to Europe, my two years as a vegetarian, my first apartment--all of these things began to develop my passion for fiction into a fully rounded love of writing, as well as plant the seeds for my sudden love of cooking.

Love of cooking and fashionable aprons

I love writing fiction, but I also love this blog. These past few years, since graduating, this blog has been my saving grace. Despite working in a field that offers little creativity in the written word, I've been able to come here and escape. To put my words out into the world and see what people think. To develop a love of cooking I never knew I had, a love and passion that would save my sanity countless times as I realized your 20s are not always smooth sailing. The opportunity to turn this blog into something physical, a real book that could help or at least empathize with other lost 20-somethings, and share my "secret" to surviving it all by messing up my kitchen?

And on a career note... publishing a book could help me become the writer I've always wanted to be. I know it's not the cure-all for a struggling writer's bank account, and it's likely any advance I'd get would be small, but it would be something. Perhaps enough to pay off a little of this "expensive writing degree" I grumble about paying for so much. Or maybe enough to jump start my dreams of moving to California. Who knows. But it really could change my life, and that is both a terrifying and thrilling idea.

If you're going to be lost, the apple orchard MIGHT just be the best place

What's making me nervous is the fact that I seem to really be the underdog here--my competitors all have HUGE followings on Twitter, as well as their blogs. I love my blog and I love my followers, but I've never gained a very huge following. It's never really been important to me. If I have a few favorite blogs that I regularly interact with, a few blog friends that matter to me, that's what I want. However, that doesn't convince publishers you could hold a book deal. This is where you, my lovely readers, come in.


Please follow me on Twitter if you haven't already, and Like me on Facebook. Simply make yourselves known! It would be a huge help and I'd really appreciate the support! Share anything you feel like sharing, any new eyes to my blog would be appreciated. This could make my dreams come true, and I'm not even begging for Kickstarter handouts ;)

Books behind me = Image of a Writer, yes?

Now, to figure out how to ace the next step of the competition. Wish me luck!! Much love to you all <3

New Here? Want to know more about me? Why not check out my About Me page, 100th Post Favorite Recipes, My Review of Icelandic Cuisine or Bahamian Cuisine, How I Got Over a Really Dumb DumpingThat Time I Got a Cat And Boyfriend in the Same Week, Admitting I Like Fall in the Valley, Posts About My Dad/Grief, How I Lost My Gallbladder (on ashleyblom.com), My Love of Theater, and the Best Meatballs You'll Ever Eat.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Guinness Pot Au Creme

IMPORTANT UPDATE: Did any of you hear of the #signmesal competition my friends at the Lisa Ekus Group put on? The winner will work with agent Sally Ekus to develop a fleshed out proposal to pitch to editors at publishing houses... meaning, it will be likely the winner's book will be published! AND I MADE IT THROUGH ROUND 1!!! I think that a solid fan base is important later in the competition, and I know my "fan base" here is small, but it is lovely and beautiful and I am so grateful for it, so I know y'alls would give me a fighting chance :) Twitter is very important in the competition, so if you haven't already, please follow me on Twitter! also Facebook. The more "fans" I have, the more likely I'll look desirable for an agent or publishing house. I still need to get through the next few rounds, but I'd appreciate the support! SO MUCH LOVE TO YOU ALL!

And now, to your regularly scheduled blog post....

***

Here's another Guinness recipe for ya, lads and lassies!--alright, that might be too cheesy for me, forget I called you "lassies," ok? Anyway. I've been wanting to make pot de creme foreverr and figured my night of Guinness cooking needed some chocolate to go with the amazing Guinness Pie. Guinness is the best addition to a chocolate dessert--in fact, I don't think I'll ever make a chocolate cake without it after the amazing-ness that was my Irish Carbomb Cupcakes last year!

These are thick, creamy, dreamy little puddings. I topped them with a dollop of Bailey's whipped cream for an extra boozy punch. My puddings didn't set as much as I wanted them to, but they were still delicious.


I'm not Irish, despite my multitude of freckles and curly hair that is occasionally red, but I do love the stupid craziness that is St. Patrick's Day. When I lived in Boston I somehow had to work every single year, so I never REALLY got to participate in the festivities. Sad, I would have loved to experience it in Boston.

I'm excited for St. Paddy's day this year, since I can wander around town in green and pretend I'm still in college and act like a fool (it's needed, sometimes). My friends and I are bar hopping from my friend's house, which is central to the downtown area. I miss being in Boston during the St. Patrick's Day weekend, it was always very crazy but a lot of fun. These days usually go to the parade in Holyoke, the other predominantly Irish town besides Boston, but this year I don't have any friends on the parade route and the traffic is just too much to deal with. So bar hopping it is!

I guess my inner party-girl still hasn't totally given up. It's okay, she likes chocolate too.

What are your St. Paddy's Day plans?

Guinness Pot de Creme

1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup Guinness
2 cups (12oz) semisweet chocolate chips
4 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Bailey's Whipped Cream
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tbs Bailey's

Directions
Combine heavy cream, Guinness, and vanilla in a medium saucepan over low heat and let simmer just barely. Remove from heat.

In a food processor, combine the chocolate chips, eggs, and salt and blend for 1 minute until the chocolate is completely chopped. Pour in the Guinness mixture, and blend again until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is thick.

Divide mixture into ramekins (it made 4 large for me), cover with plastic wrap, and place in refrigerator to chill for at least 4 hours and up to 2 days.

Before serving, prepare whipped cream: Whip in a hand mixer until cream is thick, fold in Bailey's and whip until desired texture is reached. Serve pots cold with dollop of cream on top.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Guinness Pie


I always hated when people claimed that they "didn't like Guinness unless it's in Ireland." Like... seriously? That's got to be the snobbiest thing someone could say about a beer. It is snobby for a few reasons:

1. Elitism! Gah!
2. Beer is BEER, c'mon, what could they be doing differently over there?
3. You're humble-bragging about the fact YOU'VE BEEN TO IRELAND, while the un-cultured peasants that surround you are forced to drink the swill that is American Guinness. THE HORROR!

I never thought I'd actually BE one of those people... with a touch less snob, of course.

My first taste of Guinness was in a black and tan my exboyfriend made me at a party in college where I most certainly was not underage or anything. After half a sip I handed it right back to him--yuck. Even mixed with a milder beer it reminded me of coffee grounds or kitty litter. No thank you.

Downtown Dublin

The second time, I was actually IN Ireland, and a friend shoved a glass into my palm despite my insistence that I loathed the stuff. She had been studying there for a semester, I was visiting during my study abroad in Amsterdam, and she swore up and down that "Guinness is better here" so I reluctantly took it. No, I didn't have a grand beer epiphany, I still was not thrilled. Kitty litter. Coffee grounds. Yuck.

A castle we visited in Ireland

The third time I was in Ireland yet again, as a graduation gift to myself my exboyfriend and I were doing a mini-tour of Europe. I hadn't been thrilled about the idea of a return to Dublin, as it was my least favorite spot overall the first time around, but since he has direct roots to Ireland through his grandma I agreed. We were only there three days and were trying to fit everything in--the Guinness factory was one of those things.

After getting lost twice and realizing that there is no easy public transportation to the factory, we ended up there only an hour before close. At the top of the factory, you are given a free Guinness. If you get to the top with only ten minutes before closing, you are given many free Guinnesses. For two vacationers on a budget this was not something we could take lightly. We grabbed four each (doing some awesome balancing) and started to down them, me holding my nose.


But then, something amazing happened: I stopped chugging and started sipping. This was not the bitter gross-ness that I'd remembered. No, this was smooth, creamy, almost sweet, with a rich aftertaste. I liked it. In fact, I loved it! I wondered what I'd been doing wrong all these years. I loved Guinness!

On top of the Guinness Factory, ENJOYING a Guinness!

Upon returning to the states I ordered a draught the next time I went out. And again, the bitterness was back. Thick, toxic sludge. Ughhh. Since then, I will get the occasional Guinness, but I've found that the canned kind is best. Also, I've begun utilizing it in my baking all year round. To honor St. Patrick's Day this weekend, I'll be posting the creations I've made recently!

Guinness enhances a chocolate flavor in baked goods and adds a delicious moisture and richness. You cannot taste the beer at all, but you can taste the amazing flavors it leaves behind. It infuses its flavors well in meat as well, and makes a decadent sauce for just about anything. I highly reccommend experimenting with it yourself!

Guinness Pie
(Adapted from Closet Cooking and Food.com)

  • 1 lb stew beef or chuck, cubed
  • 5 slices thick cut bacon, diced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cubed
  • 2 parsnips, peeled and cubed
  • 2 stalks celery, sliced thin
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 can Guinness
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 1 tbs rosemary, diced
  • 1 tbs thyme, diced
  • 1 tbs Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tbs tomato paste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tbs corn starch mixed with cold water
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbs water


-Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large skillet, cook the bacon. Set aside, and use the remaining grease to brown the stew meat. Set aside on a separate plate. Add all veggies and cook until slightly soft, about ten minutes or so. If they begin to burn, add a little olive oil.

-Add the Guinness and de-glaze the pan. Add the beef broth, tomato paste, bay leaf, rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper and Worcestershire sauce and bring to a simmer. Cook for about five minutes, until thick. The cornstarch can be used to achieve the desired thickness. Remove bay leaf.

-Press one of the pie crusts into a pie baking dish and prick crust all over. Add stew, and cover with the other pie crust. Press crusts together and prick crust all over to vent. Whisk together egg and water and use a pastry brush to brush on top of the crust. Bake until the crust is golden, about 50 minutes.

*Note* I wanted a more pronounced Guinness flavor, so I cracked open another can and reduced the liquid to a thick sauce and added that to the filling.


Friday, March 8, 2013

Thai Curried Chicken in Rice

Have you ever stockpiled key pantry items when they're on sale, simply because they're annoyingly expensive when you actually need them? I do this often, since I love making new recipes but rarely have the extra cash to shell out for exotic ingredients.

This is how I got five cans of coconut milk in my possession. And why I decided, last weekend, to make an Indian Food Feast with my baking companion, my good friend John. John took over the task of making some naan to go with the dishes.

This was thwarted when I could not find garaham masala, which was needed for just about every Indian dish I wanted to make. Sigh. So I decided on Thai food instead.


This recipe actually doesn't even use coconut milk! D'oh!

But, out of the three dishes I prepared, it was the clear winner. The rice is curried perfection, and you don't even need the special curry pastes to make it. The chicken is moist and delicious, and the entire thing is just the right amount of flavorfully spicy. A great warm meal for the end of winter.

May I also say that Nancie McDermott's Quick and Easy Thai is probably the most-used cookbook in my possession? Seriously, check out her titles, they really are "quick and easy"!

Chicken Hidden in Curried Rice
(From Nancie McDermott's Quick and Easy Thai)

  • 3 tbs vegetable oil
  • 1 tbs chopped garlic
  • 1/3 cup chopped onion
  • 1 tbs curry powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 6 chicken thighs
  • 2 cups rice
  • 3 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 3 tbs cilantro


Heat oil over medium heat in a dutch oven or large saucepan and cook onion and garlic until fragrant. Sprinkle in curry powder, salt, and pepper. Cook for a minute, then add chicken and brown well on each side--you want a little crust, but not for it to be cooked through. Transfer chicken to a plate and add rice and cook until coated in curry.

Add the broth and bring to a boil, stir well and cook until the rice swells and looks dry. Reduce heat and add the chicken pieces and juices from the plate. Bury the chicken to the bottom of the pan under the rice. Cover, and cook until rice is tender and chicken is cooked through, about 50 minutes. Stir gently to distribute the rice.

Move to a serving platter and garnish with cilantro.

*I ended up needing about another 1/2 cup of broth


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Influenster Sweetheart Voxbox

Not to throw another review at you so soon, but I am way behind in submitting my blog post for my Sweet Heart Voxbox from Influenster! I was excited to be chosen this month to receive a complimentary box of goodies from the website, which is a similar program as to BzzAgent, which I am also a part of. You take some surveys and if you're a match for their products, they send you some to talk about. Cool, huh? And since this was a beauty-themed box, it was right up my alley for sure :)

First up, Secret Clinical Strength antiperspirant. Now, I've used the same antiperspirant/deodorant brand for YEARS just because I am not a heavy sweater and have never really worried about my underarm area getting out of control. In fact, I sometimes even forget to wear it altogether, oops! However, now that I go to the gym more often than before (which was like, never) I do find myself needing it more often. This product is specifically designed to target "stress sweat" which supposedly smells worse? Anyway, not sure if my current stress level (medium-high the past two weeks, heh) made me smell slightly stinkier than normal, but the deodorant definitely did its job. The scent was mild and didn't have the overpowering powder scent which I dislike with most deodorants, and even though it was some sort of cross between the stick kind and the gel, it didn't have the sticky feeling that I hate with gel deodorants. Overall, I might not be the target armpit for this product, but I was pleased!

Next up was Olay® Fresh Effects Va-Va-Vivid Contour Cleansing System. This was a GODSEND after two weeks of really messing up my complexion with tons of stage makeup. I'm not prone to acne, but after caking on the makeup for various shows I'm in, my skin takes a beating and I often get a large zit or two front and center on my forehead. The "deep cleansing" gizmos that are trending right now caught my eye on sale at the drug store about a year ago, and I purchased this Neutrogena option but it fell out of my routine after realizing the convenient low price for the device was not so convenient for the replacement pads. The Olay Fresh Effects is great because you don't need replacement pads! It does the same job, but even better, as the little scrubbers really get into your pores for a deep clean. I loved the way my face felt afterwards, so soft and smooth and almost tingly with clean. The thick cleansing cream it comes with is awesome, but the best part is that I'm sure you can use just about any soap with the device. No more buying replacement pads! I will definitely be using this as part of my nightly face cleansing routine.

For a little edible treat in my Voxbox, I got a SkinnyGirl Daily On-the-Go Bar. A filling, low-calorie bar that tastes amazing. I am pretty obsessed with coconut, and these had a nice toasty flavor. I love the SkinnyGirl product line for booze, and found it a little strange that they decided to go the snack route, but it had the same great taste and quality that you'd expect from the brand. The downside? After getting excited about these bars, I found that the price tag was higher than I could afford to spend for a protein snack bar. $8-$10 for a pack of five bars, about $2 a bar. Oh well. Sadly, my broke-girl budget cannot afford SkinnyGirl bars. However, if you do have the cash to shell out, they are a nice little treat.

 
This is the one thing I will not be using from my Voxbox, Not Your Mother's® Beach Babe texturing spray, but I will give it to a flat-haired friend. I understand the allure of nice, beachy waves, I really do. But, as a curly girl, my "beach waves" end up being more like "rat's nest frizz"--not sexy. I have naturally VERY thick, curly hair. New hairdressers will hear my warning but don't believe me until my hair is in their hands. "You have the hair of THREE PEOPLE," they tell me. I tend to straighten my hair before going to the beach, pose for whatever fun beachy pictures my friends want to take, and then wait until the cameras go away before dipping my head in the water, if I even risk it (I can't swim, heh). And, even if I don't, the salty air makes my hair grow ten sizes in volume before the day is out. The idea of willingly putting a product in my hair that does this? Not going to happen. I do, however, have many friends who have straight, fine hair and would appreciate the volume, so I'll gift this to them instead.

Anyways, the Influenster Voxbox was a ton of fun, and overall I enjoyed the products! I love health, food, and beauty products, but with a limited budget, I rarely step out of my comfort zone and trusted products. I appreciate the opportunity to try these out, because I probably wouldn't have otherwise.

Full disclosure: I am part of Influenster and received the products listed for free. However, opinions are all my own.