Monday, April 29, 2013

Fried "Rice" and The Longest Short Weekend

How was your weekend? If the weather was anything like New England's the past few days, I hope you all were out in the sun enjoying the amazing weather! I was dead set on getting my first sunburn of the season and stupidly went outside without SPF for a full day. Oops. I need to remind myself that somehow in my family of lovely even-tanners I was blessed with porcelain skin dotted with freckles that takes all summer to adhere some sort of color to. Oh well.

My friend said yesterday, "this weekend feels like it lasted two whole weeks!" --and I certainly agree! In four-ish days I sure packed in a lot...

Thursday: Not technically the weekend, but my roommate and I hosted a surprise party for our friend's birthday. She's gluten-free, so it was a challenge for my friends and I to come up with a proper dinner. I was in charge of appetizers, and I made a super guacamole and two homemade salsas--one with jalapenos (mild) and one with habaneros (medium to blazing depending on who you ask). My roommate made a lovely strawberry goat cheese salad and roasted herbed potatoes in butter, and our other friend made chex mix crusted chicken. I made cucumber infused gin lemonade as a drink.

Party at my house? Finn likes to be in the middle of it all.
Friday: Work all day, but got out a little bit early. My friends and I gathered before play rehearsal and walked to the liquor store for a wine, beer, and pizza tasting. It was really cool, and I picked up a bottle of what will definitely be my new summer drink: Ginger Libation. The ginger taste is incredible and it's 8% alcohol. A bit pricey, but worth the splurge! After we ate/drank our fill, the cast of A Midsummer Night's Dream went off into the woods to rehearse our play at the director's cabin nestled in the woods of Bernardston. It was really cool, doing a play that takes place in the woods while actually IN the woods. Too bad we can't perform the actual play there! Afterwards we had a cookout around a fire pit. It was a wonderful cast bonding experience, even if it did get too dark halfway through the rehearsal to continue.

Rehearsing in a clearing in the woods

Saturday: This is the earliest I've gotten up on a weekend in YEARS: 7am. Some friends and I traveled an hour to go to a town-wide yard sale our friend was helping out at. It was pretty neat, and for about $10 I got a bunch of kitchen stuff I've been needing! After the yard saling I went to a fancy dinner for my step-grandma's birthdayat Monte Carlo. Their signature beef Marsala is to DIE for. Tender, juicy, drizzled with a thick and flavorful Marsala sauce and mushrooms--droooool. I am DREAMING of this dish now.

Check out our Website for ticket info!

Sunday: Up early for the Flea Market, but didn't give ourselves nearly enough time. We barely made it through half the flea market before having to hop in the car and go to another town to look at a house. A bunch of friends and I want to split the rent for a house, and we're looking to rent in the area. I am excited of the idea of FRIENDHOUSE and the place we looked at was awesome, but we have a couple more to look at though, so here's hoping! Later in the day we saw Jesus Christ Superstar, which a few friends of ours were in (the guy who played Rocky when I did Rocky Horror was Jesus, LOL!) and then we laid by the river and I got the majority of my sunburn. The day was finished with sushi, and watching some documentary about "The Biggest House in America." And cuddles with Cory, who sadly worked most of the weekend.


So, yeah. A lot of stuff packed into just a few days. Summer is on the horizon and I couldn't be happier!


As I try to fit into my bikini for summer, I've been looking into that whole "low carb" thing. Not completely cutting carbs, since I am not totally convinced that is the right choice for me, but I definitely see the argument that we consume more carbs and sugar than we need overall, and that unless you're very active you're probably not burning them enough. Considering I have a job where I am at a desk most of the day, I can see the benefits in at least paying attention to how many carbs I'm burning verses consuming. Here's hoping this experiment with lower carb/sugar intake at least helps my butt deflate a little before I hit the beach.

My friend and former high school science teacher, Stephanie of Stupid Easy Paleo, has some amazing recipes that I constantly drool over. It's really opened my eyes to how many amazing things you can make without the usual carbs/dairy! I remember her having a fried "rice" recipe way back in the beginning, but couldn't find it so I referenced a handful of recipes and came up with my own. Cauliflower takes the role of rice in this awesome substitute, and I actually like it better than the takeout favorite! Thanks for the suggestion, Stephanie--though it's impossible for me to not think of her as Mrs. Castonguay, since that's who she was to me in high school!


Pork Fried "Rice"

  • 1 large head cauliflower
  • 5-10 slices of bacon, diced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tbs grated ginger
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrot
  • 1/4 cup frozen peas
  • 2 green onions, sliced into rings
  • 2 eggs, scrambled
  • 1-2 tbs soy sauce (shoyu sauce if you're really being paleo/low carb)
  • 1 tbs Sriracha sauce


-Using a cheese grater, grate as much of the cauliflower head as you can. This will be about 4-5 cups of shredded cauliflower--this will be your "rice."

-In a large skillet or wok, cook the bacon pieces over medium-high heat. Remove to paper towel to blot off excess grease and remove all but a few tablespoons of bacon grease from the pan, saving a few tablespoons in a bowl to use if needed.

-Using the reserved bacon fat to fry the onions over medium heat. When onions are just translucent  add the garlic, ginger, and carrot. Cook for about five minutes, until carrots have begun to get soft. Add the cauliflower and cook for another five minutes.

-Slowly add the eggs, stirring constantly so that the egg pieces are incorporated entirely into the rice mixture. Add the soy sauce, green onions, peas, and return the bacon to the pan. Cook until the peas are warmed through and the sauces are evenly combined.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Happy 2 Years/200th Post/Blogiversary! -- Meyer Lemon Cupcakes with Strawberry Buttercream

Photo by my former-photographer-turned-print-artist boyfriend ;)

Two years. I feel like it was just yesterday that I'd destroyed my kitchen and decided to take pictures of it for the first time. Just yesterday that I posted my first recipe, Mac and Cheese, thinking that if nothing else, this blog would simply be an online recipe collection for personal use. My pictures were horrible, and while I still have a very LONG way to go, at least my pictures are somewhat tolerably decent these days. Basically, this blog began because I was addicted to trying new recipes and wanted some way to document the process.


In that sense, this blog is everything that it ever was. Something to show for all the money I keep spending on kitchen adventures.

...and cats. Always cats.

I've come quite a long way from my first few months/year of posting though. It's fun to look back at older posts and see how much I've grown as a blogger, as a cook (or chef? I can never remember), as a writer, as a recipe developer, as a still-very-novice-but-learning food photographer, and as a person. Not to mention the fact that this blog is inspiring a freaking BOOK in the near future... wow. If you'd told me two years ago that today I'd be sending in my final book proposal to my AGENT I'd probably laugh at you.

Met this guy this year, isn't he handsome?

Life certainly has changed in the past two years, that's for sure. In addition to this blog changing and growing and becoming a bigger part of my life than I ever thought possible, I accomplished so much in this year. I had my first published piece in a national magazine. I moved out of my parents' house. I held the titular role in a local community theater production. I visited Iceland. I got my first pet that is all my own. I met the most amazing man who became my boyfriend. I developed a strong circle of friends who I love and admire. I FINALLY HAVE A LE CRUESET DUTCH OVEN (guys, I'm really excited about this). And I won a contest that snagged me an agent and is paving the way for my first published book.

Wearing the local fashions of Iceland with friends

There is surely a lot to celebrate.

My party-time outfit, and my messy kitchen

Despite putting myself on a frantic diet in order to fit into last year's bikini before summer hits, I felt like a cake is the only proper way to mark this milestone of a year. However, there was one problem: can you believe I don't have a cake pan?? I'd been borrowing a friend's set and he'd cashed in and taken it back. So, my cake idea turned into cupcakes.


I love lemon. When I indulge in a dessert, despite an undying love of chocolate, I rarely actually opt for chocolate. If there's a lemon tart or a citrus cake I am all over it. Plus, I had just bought two pounds of meyer lemons that were sitting in my fridge, waiting to be used. Meyer lemons are the best lemons, because they think that they are oranges. Sweet, but still tangy and almost sour, the zest and the juice of these lend themselves perfectly to baked goods. So I figured it was only fitting that my two year cupcake be a lemony cupcake with a lemon curd core and a strawberry buttercream topping!



Meyer Lemon Blogaversary Cupcakes with Strawberry Buttercream

Cupcakes (adapted from The Alchemist)
  • 2 sticks butter
  • Juice and zest from 5 Meyer lemons
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs, whisked
  • 1/2 cup vanilla greek yogurt 
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda

Buttercream

  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 5 large strawberries
  • 1 tbs sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3+ cups confectioner's sugar

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line cupcake tins with the prettiest cupcake liners you can find.

In large saucepan over medium heat melt the butter. Whisk in lemon juice and water until completely combined, then slowly whisk in sugar and continue whisking until dissolved. Remove from heat and add the yogurt, eggs, vanilla, and lemon zest. Stir vigorously until completely combined.

In a separate bowl whisk the flour, salt and baking soda together. Slowly add the dry ingredients into the wet, transferring to a larger bowl if saucepan is too small. Pour batter into the cupcake liners 3/4 of the way full. Bake for 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a cupcake comes out clean.

If frosting immediately, place in the refrigerator to cool, about 20 minutes. If desired, core cupcakes and fill with lemon curd (recipe forthcoming!).

Buttercream: Slice strawberries in quarters and sprinkle with sugar. Microwave on high for one minute, then smash with fork. Let cool for at least ten minutes.

In a stand mixer or large bowl using a hand mixer, blend together strawberries, butter, and vanilla until just combined. Slowly add confectioner's sugar until desired texture is reached. Frosting should be fluffy, hold shape but still be soft and not wet-looking.

Use a piping bag to pipe frosting onto tops of cupcakes. Keep in fridge in an airtight container for up to three days.
Thank you for all your support!

Monday, April 22, 2013

I'm Still Here!



Just popping in to say hello! I'm still here! Just haven't had time to post a real recipe with everything that's been going on. The above picture was from the one day I had to relax this week--yesterday. Went to the beach with friends and had a great time sipping on terrible malt beverages and playing with kites and frisbees and all that good stuff.

Bud Light Lime-a-Rita... you're too bizarre and chemically to be good. Oh well.

Between the Marathon Bombings last week making me cry on a nearly daily basis last week and trying to use my spare time to test recipes for my book and finish my proposal--I've hardly had time to do any blog recipe making.

I realized my past few posts have had lots of text, but no food. I guess you guys got a little taste of my more emotional/verbose-writery side lately. New followers, scroll back a bit, there IS food here...

Expect something in the next few days or so though, promise!

My 200th post and 2nd Blogiversary are coming up. I need to bake a cake or something to commemorate. My, what an exciting year it's been :)

Friday, April 19, 2013

Stay Safe


And the horror continues.

Boston friends, please stay safe. Stay inside.

CT friends, it looks like the remaining living suspect might have fled to your state. Be on the lookout and keep your distance.

I just want the nightmare to be over.

Once everyone is safely in custody, you bet your ass I'm taking a nice long weekend in Boston. It's only been a week since I've been there, but already that feels like too long. I just want to lie down in the Boston Common and cry for a bit, then walk around my old haunts and remember all the good things.

Stay safe, everyone. Stay strong.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Every time a friend posted an "I'm okay" Facebook status, I felt a punch in the chest. "Thank God," I would think, "they're safe." It's funny how, even those of us with shaky faith and little or no religion still call out to a higher power like that. It is comforting, reaching out to something bigger than oneself I guess. I don't even know which friends still call Boston home, as many of us have scattered across the globe since graduating Emerson College in 2010. I felt guilty, for not keeping in touch, for not knowing who was where, but the same relief washed over me every time. "Thank God they're safe."


That night, my boyfriend had to pry my cellphone away from me as tears streamed down my cheeks. I was watching the same video of the explosion, over and over. Seeing the too familiar Copley erupt into chaos. Seeing the people running from the blast, running TO the blast, stumbling and running and trying to help. I saw the pictures of the wounded and bloody and while I felt it was disrespectful for those pictures to even be posted, I could not look away. I felt connected to it all--this was MY city. MY city in such chaos, in such pain. The city I called home for four years, the city that's always called my name to return, someday. I couldn't handle it. If you were to walk just one block up Boylston you would be able to see my alma mater. No doubt current Emerson students were there, taking notes, taking video, covering the Marathon for some journalism class--Emerson's big draw is the excellent experience you get for every major--and seven students were injured in the blast. These were my people, my Bostonians, my Emersonians, how could someone do this to them?! My boyfriend put my phone on the other side of the room and held me until I calmed down. When the tears stopped we put on Futurama and promised not to look at the coverage until the next day.



I have been refreshing news sources ever since. I want those responsible caught. I want the horror to be over.

I remember, during my college years, I would get scheduled to work on the two biggest "Boston Holidays"--St. Patrick's Day and Marathon Monday. I have always wanted to return to Boston to see it now, as an adult, but my current job doesn't give me the day off. Sometimes I'd make it to the end of the festivities, if I had an early shift at the restaurant. Marathon Monday was always such a fun event, so full of joy and happiness. People achieving an incredible goal while the citizens of Boston, friends and family, and visitors all cheered them on. To think all of that positive energy and encouragement and accomplishment was all put into danger is more than heartbreaking.



You can say a lot of things about Boston, as you can with any city, but it will always hold a special place in my heart. It IS a strong city. You only need to hear the countless stories of the citizens of Boston who helped the victims after the attack. From those who ran into the blaze to save strangers to those who simply offered their couch or guest room to displaced runners--Boston has heart. A huge one. We will move on, we will grow ever stronger, and we will remember.



The best way to help? Don't be afraid. Don't let this stop you from enjoying everything this city has to offer. Take a day trip to a Red Sox game, follow the Freedom Trail, buy things you don't need at Quincy Market, see an Emerson Stage show, eat at a ritzy cafe on Newbury Street, visit the ICA or the MFA and enjoy the amazing art, people watch in the Boston Common, take a Swan ride in the Garden, see Shear Madness or Blue Man Group, have a beer at Cheers or Boston Beer Works, get a cannoli at Mike's Pastry, see if Emerson will let you into the library to view the pointless Will and Grace set... or just get off the bus and walk and explore. Don't let the events of Marathon Monday stop you. Come discover how amazing Boston really is.


Some pictures of my favorite Boston memories, from then and now.

Red Sox game with friends


Sitting on the Charles, my favorite place to be

At the harbor

Random cow statu first day of college

The first friends I made in college

Jellyfish at the Boston Aquarium

Christmas at Quincy Market

Springtime in the Common

On the Charles, again

Going away party when I left Bertucci's (the one under the Citgo sign)

Freshman year of college

College friends

Freshman year fashion competition

Roommates at my first apartment in the city

Skyline over Fenway

Sox game with the boyfriend

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Since You've Been Gone



Happy 53rd birthday, Dad.

September 20th is the day I get to be sad and angry, I told myself that the first year you were gone. April 11th is the day I am supposed to be happy, and remember. Because I had the most amazing father for the first 19 years of my life, and while I deserved so many more years than that, it's more than a lot of people get. I am the luckiest daughter, to have had you as long as I did.



This is now the sixth birthday you've been gone, sixth year. Wow. I want to say "time flies" but I remember my writing workshop teacher sophomore year of college telling me that's considered a cliche and I should not use it in my writing. Stephanie Meyer uses cliches all the time but look at where it's gotten her (were you even around for the travesty that is Twilight?) Also, starting sentences with "I" is frowned upon, but on a blog where I talk mostly about myself it's rather hard to avoid.

Anyway.

It's really amazing how the world has changed, since you've been gone. How I've changed, how our whole family has grown. I wrote a story once where the main character's father came back from the dead and didn't even recognize the town they lived in anymore--it was only the house, with all of its things in the same spots they'd been placed in when he left, that he remembered. I think you'd still recognize it, Hatfield that is, but I haven't lived there for years now. I know they still have yet to install a traffic light, and Smithsonian Restaurant is now Grill n' Chill and the wings aren't as good anymore, but Smithsonian now has a chowder house where you can still get their amazing clam chowder--not as good as Boston Oyster House, but amazing for Western Mass. Other than that, it's probably the same little town where you taught me to ride a bike in the church parking lot behind our house.



Six years... it's hard to really catch you up on everything. Wherever you are, you probably know already, but   I thought I'd give you some highlights, just in case.

When you died, as you know, I was studying abroad. It was really hard to come home and deal with it all--having the most important person in your life gone so quickly like that... to say it "takes a toll on you" (another cliche, whatever) is an understatement. But after the funeral, I flew back. I couldn't NOT go back, you know? You were so excited for me. I had to finish, as hard as it was. And though I wanted so badly to be with my family and friends, it really was the best place I could be. It gave me time to distance myself from the grief, package it up across the ocean and wait until I was strong enough to open it back up. Take pictures in front of the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, the Giant's Causeway, Prague Castle, with a smile on my face that eventually became genuine. You didn't choose to leave us, but if you had to go, I suppose this was a better time than most.

I graduated college, Drew graduated high school and then two year college. I didn't graduate with honors--I could have, but I decided my social life was just as important as my studies and I know you would have supported that. After all, you were the one sneaking bottles of vodka into my dorm room that first year. I tell that story a lot. I want my friends to know how cool you were. Drew's in his third year of college now. It's amazing. I know the struggles you and Mom went through in the beginning for him, to make sure he got the education he needed for his situation, and he's such an amazing young man now--and you should hear him SING! You thought I was the singer of the family, I know, but Drew's far and beyond my singing ability now. You'd be so proud of him. He'll graduate college next year. He's incredible. He misses you too. In truth, he probably needs you more these days than I would have, but he's doing great regardless.



We both do a lot of community theater. I know that if you were still around, you'd be front row center for each show, just as you did when we were in school. It didn't matter that you lived in Boston, or that you sometimes missed the first scene, I hope you know how grateful we were that you made the trip. Don't worry, Mom grabs the front row center seat, and often comes to every show. Brian too. I miss hearing your laugh from the audience--it was really a great, booming laugh--but we know we're supported and loved.

I was in the Rocky Horror Picture Show last fall. I know you would have gotten a kick out of that.

A year after graduating, I landed my first "real" job. I do marketing for an energy company, I like it a lot. I wish you were here to chat with about the ups and downs of office life. I remember showing you Office Space and how hard you laughed because of how true it was. I don't have a cubicle, I have an actual office, with a door, and I got to choose the color of the walls and carpet. Dusty Rose and Petal Pink on a paint chip translate into "Barbie Dream Office" apparently--I hated Barbies, remember? It's nice, though. I grew to like it. It's very hard to be negative when surrounded by pink.

You'd be a Facebook guru by now, I know it. You were so good with computers. Don't be angry that I use a Mac now, I know you were a PC guy.

I moved out of Mom and Brian's house in September--they got their first house together and it is GORGEOUS, you'd be so happy for them!--and now live in Greenfield. It's not my first apartment, that one was in Boston, but it's my first apartment as a real adult. My roommate rocks. I have a cat, and he is awesome. You were always a cat person. You'll be happy to know that we found a good home for your cat. She's gotten nicer in her old age, thank goodness. Scratches from a double-pawed cat are the worst.



I've had a few boyfriends since you've passed, but I think you'd really like this one. He reminds me of you, in ways. Manly man on the outside, big ol' teddy bear on the inside. I can just imagine you meeting him, and saying "Hey man, what's up?" and then "Later, dude," as you always did. I'm glad you liked my stepfather, because he gets to be the Dad when I bring guys home, now. These two look out for me, even when I am dead-set on taking care of myself. I know you'd appreciate that.



I'm writing a book. It's a cook book, because I'm actually pretty into cooking these days (if you couldn't guess from the blog). I won a contest, got an agent, and my proposal is being pitched to publishing houses. I know this news would have made you cry, and I would have cringed in embarrassment because seeing a man of your stature cry (even when they're happy tears) is always kind of ridiculous. But it was so you, and I love remembering it now. Anyway, it's going to be tough, but it's a challenge that I'm more than ready to face. I love writing. You always told me I was meant to be a writer. I know you're proud of me. I'm proud of me, too.



Well, that's about all for now. I'm sure there's more, but those are at least some of the highlights I guess. I miss you so much. I hope you have a wonderful birthday, wherever you are.

Love,

Ashley


Click here for past posts about my Dad, they have more food.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Cauliflower Mash and Red Sox!


New Englanders, REJOICE! Spring is here! Easter has passed, the clocks have sprung forward, it is APRIL, and the snow piles have finally transformed into piles of dirt and sand. All of the final signs of Spring--we Northerners know not to trust the equinox as it's very likely we'll get another heaping pile of snow dumped on us regardless of the official "start" of spring--are finally here! 

Also, the Sox had their first home game yesterday:


AND I WAS THERE!

3rd Baseline, GREAT seats!

My boyfriend's mom took my boyfriend, his brother, and me to the home opener for her birthday. It was so much fun! I miss Boston, a lot, and it was a great, gorgeous day to be in the city, cheering on my first favorite sports team. To make it better, the Sox even won! I don't think I've ever been to a game where they've won, and I've been to about five. Every time, it seems like the other team scores while I'm in the bathroom or something, and not only do I miss the most exciting part of the game, but we lose. I tend to eat my way through the game and take a lot of pictures. This time I was way more invested--something about it being the first game of the season turned me into a fanatic sport fan for the day.


I didn't eat my usual Fenway Frank because we got to the park early and decided to visit the Bertucci's under the Citgo sign--the one I worked at through college. The entire restaurant has changed dramatically, and I only recognized a few people who worked there now, but thankfully they had my favorite pizza, the Sporkie. 


At the park, I had my usual beer and some nachos. No Fenway Frank this time, I was too full from the pizza!

Me and Cory enjoying a cold one while the Sox killed the Oriels.

It was a seriously fun day and reminded me to get my butt back to Boston to see another game soon. I always tend to find a good deal on tickets, and it's a great excuse to visit my old city and feel nostalgic for my college days. And spending the day with Cory and his family is always a fun time :)

All gussied up to cheer on the team

In other news, my mom was so excited about my cookbook endeavors that she got me an extremely generous and awesome gift that I've been coveting for YEARS:


 A Le Crueset Dutch Oven! I've been scouring ebay for used ones but I never get my bid in on time. Now I have a brand new one to play with---yay! I was so excited, I hugged the box, hehe. She got me an oval one, and I'm considering exchanging it for a round one. Do any of you have a preference? Is oval better? I can see advantages for both, but I feel like for my first one, maybe I want the original. What do you think?

So, after the junky food of yesterday, I feel like a detox is necessary for this week. Enter, the Cauliflower mash. This was supposed to be part of my St. Patrick's Day recipes, but I missed posting it somehow, hence the green background and the Guinness. The feeling of mashed potatoes all lightened up. No heavy-stomach aftermath here.

Though my veggie-hating boyfriend couldn't handle this mash, I loved it. It's not a substitute for mashed potatoes by any means, but it's awesome in its own right. In this picture it's topped with Guinness Gravy but I know it'd be great with just a dollop of butter. I feel the need to use the huge head of cauliflower in my fridge for this again this week.

Cauliflower Mash

  • 1 large head cauliflower, florets cut into bite sized chunks
  • 1/2 cup sour cream (I used low fat)
  • 4 tbs butter
  • salt and pepper, to taste


Guinness Gravy

  • 1 can Guinness
  • 1 cup chicken or beef stock (I used beef)
  • 1 tbs cornstarch + 2 tbs cold water
  • 1 tsp parsley, chopped
  • salt and pepper, to taste


-For the Cauliflower Mash: bring a pot of water to a boil and carefully drop in cauliflower florets. Boil until florets are fork-tender, about 7 minutes.

-Drain cauliflower and return to pot with sour cream and butter. Using a potato masher or immersion blender, mash until desired consistency is reached.

-For Guinness Gravy: Simmer Guinness over high heat until half reduced. Add stock and reduce a bit more, until just a bit thick. Add cornstarch and water combo and whisk well until desired thickness is reached. Remove from heat and add parsley and salt and pepper.

And oh, hey, check out my post (written after my last big breakup a while ago, originally posted here) over at Quarterlife Conversations, an awesome resource for 20-somethings that is run by a handful of my fellow Emerson alumni!