Monthly Archives: January 2014

The week in review – some successes, some failures, and some geese butchery

I feel like I packed a lot into this week; a few highs, a few lows, and then lots of stuff in the middle.  Kind of typical, I suppose.

Despite being on vacation on Monday, I was absolutely not ready to go back to work on Tuesday.  The DC Snow Gods must have heard my desperate please, because we were blessed with a whole 6 inches of snow on Tuesday, more than enough to shut the city down and allow me to work form home.  Being able to work from the couch, in my pajamas, while having access to an endless supply of hot tea, was a definite high point.

Unfortunately, having that extra time at home, led to my biggest failure of the week.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you – the bread that did not rise.

This is supposed to be fluffy white sandwich bread.

This is supposed to be fluffy white sandwich bread.

This is a bread recipe I’ve made at least 20 times.  Every other time, prep has gone smoothly, the bread has risen on schedule, and it has baked up perfectly.  So what happened?  Well, I’m not so good at multi-tasking, and in between trying to get all my work done and make bread that by the time the bread was ready to go into the oven, it was time for us to leave for our 6:30 gym class.  Thinking I’d be smart, I popped the bread in the fridge to retard the rising and keep the yeast from growing into a giant blobby monster.  We got home from the gym, I immediately went into dinner prep, and tossed the loaf straight from the fridge to the oven.  Not exactly my best idea.  When it was time to take the bread out of the oven, and I saw this misshapen horror, I was hard pressed to keep from shedding tears.  That’s the biggest Kitchen Fail I’ve had in awhile.

I did (barely) manage to salvage the loaf by leaving it out on the counter for a few days and then turning it into breadcrumbs.

But on Wednesday, things turned around.  I had a pretty productive day at the office and was able to make it home for the 6:30 gym class being taught by my favorite trainer.  The Boo and I joined a nearby Crossfit gym back in November, and for the most part, I’m obsessed.  The workouts are fun, incredibly challenging, and are closely supervised by great trainers, so I really feel comfortable pushing myself, knowing that someone is always around to check my form.  The only part I wasn’t sold on were the complicated, frustratingly difficult Olympic weight lifts that frequently make an appearance.

Complete gibberish, as far as my body is concerned

Complete gibberish, as far as my body is concerned.  (Source.)

Until this week, nothing about cleans, jerks, or snatches made any sense.  And forget about compound movements, like the clean and jerk.  My coordination just wasn’t up for the challenge.

Then finally, unexpectedly, miraculously, my body got it.  It just clicked.  The trainer came over to check my form and told me to add weight.  This is the first time I’ve done any Olympic lift with any sort of weight on the bar.  The seas parted, angels sang, and I felt like this guy:

Fortunately, I don't also look like him

Fortunately, I don’t also look like him

So that was awesome.

And then yesterday.  Yesterday, I got to butcher some geese.

Yup.

My face says it all

My face says it all

The Boo is a redneck at heart, and he gets antsy if he goes too long without hunting something.  I’ve recently come around to the belief that if I’m going to be willing to eat animals (even ones that are humanely raised), I need to be comfortable butchering my own.  I need to know where my food comes from, and that includes getting my hands dirty on occassion.  So, with the Boo’s guidance, that’s exactly what I did.

Geese butchery

Geese butchery

In the process, we scattered approximately 9,000 feathers across our apartment, but hey.  We got our goose meat.

 

Goose butchery completeSo that’s been my week!  I’m taking a week off from my “Making it Through Monday” series, but after I showed y’all pictures of a dead goose, you’re probably ready for a break.

 

How to survive a Southern wedding

(Maggie reminded me today that I haven’t given y’all nearly enough details about my wedding, aka the BIGGEST DAY OF MY LIFE.  Therefore, you can thank her for this wedding-related post.)

As a young girl, I never played at being a bride.  I never dreamed about my wedding, never fantasized about my perfect dress, never poured over wedding magazines.  I can’t rattle off styles of bustles; I don’t know the different shapes of bouquets; I can’t tell organza from tulle.  I never thought I’d be getting married at all, much less be getting married this side of 30.

Thusly, when the Boo proposed back in August 2012, I immediately assumed we’d have a low-key wedding, with 50 or so guests, possibly held in the city where we’d both gone to college, maybe with a band that played music we could all shag to, likely with an afterparty at one of our favorite dive bars, with cheap beers poured into red solo cups.

But in the South, a wedding is not just a wedding.  It’s a Wedding.  It’s an excuse to throw parties, to eat, to drink, to laugh, to get together with old friends and far-flung acquaintances.  It’s an occasion to show everyone just how darn hospitable you are.  I was truly and utterly unprepared for the consequences of being the only daughter, and the eldest granddaughter, in a southern family.

Allow me to share some of the things I’ve learned during the process of planning a wedding in the South.

One. The wedding is not about you.  Southern brides-to-be, get this through your head now.  This marriage is about your parents, who are paying for the whole shindig.  Evidence: I wanted a 50-person wedding in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  I’m getting a 250 person wedding in my hometown in Florida.  I wanted a “rustic chic” feel with burlap accents.  I’m getting an “elegant winter wedding” with silver Chiavari chairs.  Just accept that your mother has been to 5 different weddings in your hometown over the past 12 months, and she feels the need to top them all.  Therefore, if “rustic chic” is not in style this year, you’d better save your burlap for another occasion.

Two.  Do not underestimate how much your grandparents will drink.  As I mentioned, I’m getting married in small-town Florida.  There are no suitable reception venues (other than our local country club, which may or may not be going bankrupt in the next 30 days) within 20 miles.  Therefore, the ceremony is being held in Smalltown A, while the reception is being held in Slightly Bigger Town B, about 25 minutes away by slow car or fast jog.  My 85-year-old grandfather (who still likes his vodka cold and plentiful) has made it known to me no less than 5 times that he’s highly upset the reception will be so far away, because how is he supposed to get home afterwards?  Just make sure you order enough booze, otherwise you might have a riot of cane-weilding octogenarians on your hands.

Three.  Your engagement is an excuse for other people to party.  The Boo and I have traveled to Florida twice now for two separate engagement parties.  And we’re getting off light.  One of my Dad’s friends shared that when he was getting married, they had no less than six parties thrown in their honor.  For both occasions, all I could think was, between the money we spent to travel down here and the money that was spent on this party, we could have bought a car.  Not a very nice one, but a car nonetheless.  My aunt offered to either throw us a party or put that money towards our honeymoon.  I think you can guess which option the Boo and I wanted, but my mother almost ripped all her hair out at the thought, so we had a party.

Four.  You will know next to no one at your own wedding.  Remember that 50-person guest-list I wanted?  Just wait until your parents get ahold of it.  The list now includes women from my mother’s bible study group, my father’s business associates, men who play poker with my grandfather, and relatives I haven’t seen since I was 8.  True story: at our latest engagement party, my mother had to stand at the door with us to greet guests because she was worried (and rightly so) there would be people coming through the door that neither the Boo or I would know.

Five.  Etiquette-ness is next to Godliness.   Your friends have nicknames?  You’ve called someone by other than their Christian name their entire life?  Too bad.  That’s not the name we’re writing on the invitation envelope.  We need to make invitations formal enough so that they don’t think you actually know who they are.  See point Four above.

So there you have it, friends.  The best advice I can share with you for surviving a Southern wedding.  I hope you can take it and learn from it, and elope if you have the chance!

Note: My parents are the greatest people in the entire world and I love them.  They’re paying for this wedding, so it’s completely up to them to spend their money how they so choose.  I write all of this with love and a sense of humor.

Have you been through a wedding (Southern or otherwise)?  How did you survive?  We have 30 days to go and I’m looking for inspiration!

Making it through Monday

Due to the holiday weekend, I’m a little behind schedule, so forgive my lateness. Tuesday is the new Monday?

The Boo and I were in Florida this weekend to attend an engagement party thrown in our honor and take care of some last minute wedding planning. We are officially in the 30s for our Days Until Nuptials countdown, and although there’s a lot that has been accomplished (wedding invited went out last week, which was our last big to-do), we still have a lot of little things to take care of (ceremony music selection, ordering bridal party gifts, putting together gift baskets for the out-of-town guests, finalizing rehearsal dinner plans, yada yada yada). I know everything will come together, so I’m not particularly stressed; mostly I’m ready for the Big Day to hurry up and get here so we can go on our honeymoon.

Anyway, enjoy this week’s list of things that are helping me make it through Monday Tuesday!

Best dose of Vitamin D: Florida sunshine. This afternoon, I was sitting out on my parents’ patio, soaking up the gorgeous sunshine and enjoying a delicious veggie avocado sandwich. When I was growing up in the Sunshine State, I’d complain about the lack of seasons, but after spending 3 cold, gray winters in DC, I’m thankful to come home to flip-flop weather in the middle of January! (Of course, everyone here is bundled up in boots and scarves, but hey, to each their own.)

Weather in FL

Lunch on the patio

Best quirky character: Tucker.  Also providing me with great entertainment and happiness this weekend was my parents’ dog, Tucker. He’s a two-year-old Boarder Collie they rescued from a family who couldn’t keep him any more.  Tucker is a sweet, good-natured dog, but he clearly has a few screws loose (bless his heart).  When he greets new people, he jumps up to sniff their eyes, he keeps himself occupied by chasing his own shadow, and occasionally he licks the walls.  Not only did he provide my “dog fix” for a little while, but he provided several minutes of entertainment throughout the weekend as we watched him sprint back and forth across the lawn, trying to catch his shadow.

Tucker

In other, non-family related links…..

Best internet list: Distractify’s 28 Most Flawless Responses to a Wrong Number Text had me laughing out loud throughout the whole thing.  I know this has been circulating the internet for a while, but this gets me every time I read it.  Warning: inappropriate language, probably not safe for work.

Best science: NASA scientists take first steps to building faster-than-light warp engine that could make Star Trek a reality.  Don’t be deterred; the article title is nearly as long as the article itself.  If you’re like me, just gloss over the science part and marvel at the intelligence of some of these guys.  Achieving warp speed is even a remote possibility?  How.  freaking.  cool.

Picture from Daily Mail

Warning: the next link is not for the squeamish.

Best home cleaning: Drain Wig.  Like I said, not for the faint of heart.  Clogged drains are always disgusting; but, if you have long, curly hair like I do, they’re a way of life.  This product promises to eliminate the need to dig it out yourself.  (Like I said, gross, but worth sharing.)

Try not to think about what it actually does...

Try not to think about what it actually does…

Best one-bowl dinner: Maple-Miso Glazed Tofu with Broccoli and Winter Squash.  Sweet + Salty = happy Erin.  I’ll probably sub Brussels sprouts for the broccoli, but everything else about this dish looks divine.

Photo by Joanne Bruno

Photo by Joanne Bruno

Best gift: Savino Wife Saver Carafe.  I discovered this contraption while adding some last-minute items to our wedding registry, and I allowed the sales lady to make me into a total believer.  You pour leftover wine into the carafe, drop in the stopper, and your wine keeps for 5 – 8 days.  Best of all, when you’re ready to drink again, you can pour straight from the elegant carafe.  I can promise you that this will make it into our kitchen, one way or the other!

 

 

 

 

Savino wine saver carafe

 

And that’s all for now, folks!  We’re supposed to have a minor winter storm tomorrow, so cross your fingers for a snow day!  I’d love to work from home instead of traipsing about the city in cold, gray slush.

Making it through Monday

I’m pretty sure it’s one of those universal rules, like death and taxes – no one likes Mondays.  One of my favorite blogs, Iowa Girl Eats, has a feature called Friday Favorites that I absolutely love.  I always look forward to reading through her favorite finds from around the web, so thought, why don’t I create a similar list on Mondays?  At least then everyone’s least favorite day will have some redeeming qualities!

Whether you’re searching for something to jump-start your day, or you’re at work and need a mental distraction, scroll down and repeat after me: We will make it through Monday!

Determined pup: Lucy the Beagle.  She wants chicken nuggets and nothing will stop her!  She moves a chair and conquers a toaster oven in order to get her snack.

 

 

 

 

Lucy the Beagle

 

 

Best new cookbook: Founding Farmers Cookbook.  This is one of our favorite restaurants in DC, and I’ve been meaning to order their cookbook since it was released in October.  I finally picked one up last weekend when we were there for lunch and spent the afternoon reading the book cover to cover.  I can’t wait to try all the recipes!

Founding Farmers Cookbook

 

 

Most inspirational list: 52 Places to Go in 2014 by New York Times.  I love to travel, but I can honestly say I’ve never even thought about traveling to half of these places.  After reading this article, I immediately updated my travel bucket list.

52 Places to Go in 2014 - NY Times

 

 

Unexpected beauty find: Benefit Cosmetics Watt’s Up highlighter for face.  I know I’m super late to the party, but highlighter is the jam.  I’ve never used one before, but I received this in my Christmas stocking (thanks Santa/Mom!) and immediately fell in love.  This version is easy to apply and imparts a super subtle glow.  I use it on my cheekbones and inner corners of my eyes, and it immediately makes me look well rested (even when I’m not).

 

 

 

Benefit Cosmetics Watt's Up Highlighter

 

 

Nerdiest foodie article: Sourdough Primer by King Arthur Flour.  Despite all the breads I’ve learned to make over the past year, sourdough is one I have not yet attempted.  Not only did King Arthur take all the scary mystery away from making a sourdough starter, they created an incredibly interesting article.  I’m mixing up my starter this week!

 

 

Sourdough Loaf from King Arthur Flour

 

 

Next on my reading list: The Hundred Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais (discovered via this Buzzfeed list).  A novel about an Indian family who moves to France and opens a restaurant.  There’s food, travel, and humor – what more could you need in a book?

 

 

The Hundred-Foot Journey

 

 

DIY to make ASAP: Baked Chili Cheese Fritos from Minimalist Baker.  UM.  YES.  I’m about 10000% sure my honey would love me even more if I made him these for dinner one night.  I’ve struggled long and hard to cut processed junk out of his diet, but my Texas boy misses his Frito pie.  This solves the problem and might just save our impending marriage.  

Baked Chili Cheese Fritos by Minimalist Baker

 

 

Thanks for reading, and Happy Monday!

Disclaimer: please note that none of the pictures in this post are mine.  Please click on the related link for the source of the image.

 

Learning to love offal, Part I: How (and why) to cook beef tongue

As I mentioned in my last post, one of my goals for 2014 is to broaden my culinary horizons and push myself in the kitchen.  During 2013, I became comfortable with making fresh, from-scratch pasta and bread.  I feel confident cooking most any cut of meat or type of fish, and I can handle all but the most exotic of vegetables with my eyes shut.

So what’s next?

You got it.  Offal.  Organ meat.  Liver, sweetbreads, and beef tongue.   These cuts of meat are considered “nasty” or “weird” by most Americans, but are staples, or even delicacies, in other cultures around the world.  But simply because our cultural perception of these meats is less than favorable, there’s absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t learn to cook them, learn to eat them, and learn to love them.

For me, the biggest benefit to offal consumption is adherence to the “nose to tail” philosophy.  I truly believe that “If you’re going to kill the animal it seems only polite to use the whole thing” (Fergus Henderson, from his 2004 book The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating).  Animals might have been put on this planet to provide food and substance, but that doesn’t mean we have a right to be wasteful.  Plus, offal is delicious and nutritious.  Organ meats are tender, flavorful, and packed with vitamins and minerals, such as iron, zinc, and B-12.  And if you still need convincing, offal is cheap.  The organs I bought were $4 a pound, coming out to about $1.50 a serving.  

Last month, I ordered beef tongue, beef liver, and beef sweetbreads from Heritage Hollow Farms, our local source for delicious, affordable, humanely raised pork, chicken, and beef, and decided to tackle the beef tongue first.  Beef tongue is the easiest to prepare, but the hardest to “stomach”, if you’ll excuse the expression.  Because, this should come as no surprise to you, it looks like a tongue. 

But that’s shouldn’t stop us!  Mind over matter.  We’re doing great things for the environment, our bodies, and our wallets.  Mentally prepare yourself, take a deep breath, and repeat after me: it’s just another cut of beef, and it’s going to taste delicious.  Imagine the juiciest, most flavorful pot roast you can imagine.  This is so. much. better.

Beef tongue from Heritage Hollow Farms

This is a 1.89 pound beef tongue.  Looks creepy, will taste delicious.  Stick with me!

Open the package and rinse the tongue to get rid of the excess blood.  This was the “ickiest” part for me, because the texture of the tongue “skin” is so leathery and weird.  I decided to give it a quick rinse under running water, then placed it in a bowl with cool water to soak for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables.  I cooked mine with 2 carrots, cut into thick chunks, 2 onions, quartered, and lots of garlic, smashed (we’re going to strain the cooking liquid, so no need to waste time peeling anything).

Cooking vegetables

 

In a large pot, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat and add the vegetables with a healthy pinch of salt.  Sauté for 10-ish minutes, until browned in places.  I used my Breville Fast Slow Cooker for this step, as it can switch from a sauté function straight into a slow-cooker, without dirtying an extra pan.  If you don’t feel like doing more dishes, you can skip this step and add the veggies directly to your slow cooker, or you can cook everything in a large pot or Dutch oven.

So many options!

Anyway, after the vegetables have cooked down, deglaze the pan with a few cups of wine (I used a combination of champagne left over from New Year’s and red wine left over from Tuesday night), stock, beer, or water.  Whatever you have will work.  Cook the mixture for a few minutes to allow the alcohol to cook off.   Now, we’re ready for the tongue!

Remove the tongue from the bowl of water and pat dry with paper towels.  Also, don’t think about the fact that it’s a tongue.  This is where it starts getting delicious!

Looks icky, will taste yummy.  I promise!

Looks icky, will taste yummy. I promise!

Add the tongue to the pot with the vegetables and wine (or stock, whatever).

Also, simply because I had them in the fridge, I tossed in some fresh thyme, rosemary, and sage.  If you don’t have them on hand, just throw in a few bay leaves.

Thyme, rosemary, sage

Tongue cooking

Now for the easy part – leave it alone!  Cook the beef tongue until a knife inserts easily into the side.  Mine went for 6 hours in the slow cooker, but don’t be afraid to cook for longer.  This is a cut that, like chuck roast, really can’t be over-cooked.  So leave it alone and do a few loads of laundry, go for a long run, or sit on your butt and watch 4 episodes of Top Chef.

When it’s done, pull the tongue out of the pot and leave it on a cutting board to cool slightly.  This is where you cut the tough outer skin  of the tongue away from the delicious meat.  It’s incredibly easy to do while the tongue is still warm (in fact, you probably won’t even need a knife for most of it), so don’t let it cool too much.  Mine needed about 15 minutes before it was cool enough for me to handle without burning my fingertips.

Cooked beef tongue

(If you look closely, you can see the slit on the top where I tested the doneness by inserting a knife.)

The outer skin came off so easily I didn’t even have a chance to take a picture of it.  Keep cutting until all the tough and grisly pieces are gone, and you’re left with yummy, tender, flavorful, beef!

Ready to serve up on sandwiches or in tacos!

Ready to serve up on sandwiches or in tacos!

To use the tongue, I went the conventional  route – tacos.  I sliced the meat up into thin strips, tossed it in a skilled with cumin, cayenne pepper, and garlic powder, and cooked over medium-high heat until the meat was nicely browned.  Add that to a corn tortilla with beans, sour cream, a little cheese, and a quick slaw of carrots and red onions, and you have a delicious, easy, healthy meal.

Tongue tacos

I admit, I was a little skeptical about offal in general.  I thought it would be more difficult to cook; after all, the beef tongue served in trendy restaurants (ahem, Oyamel) certainly isn’t cheap.  But seriously, y’all, this couldn’t have been easier.  And it was way yummier than any other “cheap” cut of beef I’ve ever eaten.  I know it looks weird at first, and it does take some manuevering to get over that mental hurdle of OMG I’M EATING TONGUE, but convince yourself that you can do it.  Let’s make 2014 the year of at-home offal comsumption!

Resolving to fail

I’ve never been big on dramatic New Year’s resolutions. They always seemed a little cliché to me. Like a wish-list of goals that will make this year the one where you suddenly lose 20 pounds, stop cursing traffic jams, and become more spontaneous.

However, simply declaring your good intentions on January 1 does not mean you’ll be a Mother Theresa on May 5, when you’re running late for an appointment and find that traffic on the highway has come to a complete stop because everyone driving over the bridge slams on their brakes to look at the body of water they’re currently driving over.  (Seriously, it happens.)

My fiancé though? He’s all over it. Not only does he start thinking of resolutions in November, he writes them down, then crosses them off throughout the year as they’re accomplished. So far, he’s already crossed off two resolutions. (Yeah.  Talk about an over-achiever.)

For me, though, resolutions are a touchy spot. Too vague, and there’s no way to measure success. Too specific, and I could fail.

And therein lies the problem.

What if I fail? What if I’m not good enough, smart enough, committed enough to keep those resolutions?

The world ends, I suppose. We all go up in flames, the universe comes to an abrupt end, and no one ever discovers which really did come first, the chicken or the egg.

…..

Or, you know….not.  Because my inability to keep my blood pressure at a normal rate while driving through DC is actually not what keeps the Earth spinning in its normal rotation.   Me drinking the occasional glass of wine instead of hitting the gym does not help our planet maintain a normal, habitable temperature.  If I don’t keep everysinglelastdamnone of my resolutions, the world will go on turning.

Shocking, huh?

So here’s my resolution. To make resolutions. To accept the possibility of failure as part of life, as the entry fee for trying something new and exciting.

This year, my goal is to decorate cookies, bake cakes, and make pie dough from scratch. Maybe my cookies won’t be magazine-ready, maybe my cakes will collapse, and maybe my pie crust will turn crumbly and unappetizing. That’s fine.

This year, I want to cook offal. I want to take humble cuts of meat and turn them into amazing meals, just like I’ve had in trendy restaurants.  There’s a chance that the meat will turn out rubbery and unappetizing.  There’s a chance that my darling boy, wonderful as he is, will run away from the kitchen screaming and begging for pizza delivery.  No cause for alarm.

This year, I plan to travel to new countries where I don’t speak the native language. I’ll have to communicate in bits and pieces of German, in a horrendous accent, supplementing gestures when necessary. I’ll probably look foolish and silly, and maybe no one will understand a word of what I’m saying.  But you know what?  I’ll manage.  And it will be worth it to experience a new culture and taste delicious food.

So I promise that whenever I screw something up, I’ll share it.  You can laugh with me, or laugh at me.  As long as we’re both laughing, I’ll count it as a success.

As the first step towards goal #2 (Operation Offal), I’ve ordered sweetbreads, tongue, and liver from Heritage Hollow Farms.  (Side note: though I’m not a strict vegetarian, I believe that meat isn’t worth eating unless it’s humanely raised and respectfully treated.  But more on that later.  For now, I’ll just say that if you’re in the DC/NOVA area, I cannot say enough great things about Heritage Hollow – you should check them out!)  I think I’m going to tackle the beef tongue first, and I’ll be sure to let you know how it turns out!

What are your thoughts on New Year’s resolutions?

A short introduction

Hey there!  Introductions aren’t my strong point, so I’ll keep this brief.

This blog is a way for me, a twenty-something accountant living and working in the District of Columbia, to show and share my creative side.  I love to cook and travel, and I’ve recently gotten into photography.  I’ll share restaurants I visit, places I explore, recipes I try, dinners I create, and things that help me make it through Mondays.

My heart and soul will always belong to the South, where I was born and raised, but in the meantime, I’m making the most out of this adventure.

Until next time,

E.