Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Holiday Cocktails

Happy Holidays, everyone!

The holidays are one of my favorite times of year.  I love Thanksgiving, I love Christmas, I love twinkle lights and baking cookies and, most of all, spending time with family and friends.  With Christmas just around the corner, I'm trying to squeeze in as many moments with people as I can, and also fit in as much Christmasing as I can. 

My lovely roommate and I threw a Holiday Cocktail party last weekend as one of those moments and it was a smashing success, if I may say so myself.  In an effort to be a grownup, I wanted to have a couple special cocktails to offer people other than soda out of red solo cups.  But since I'm po, yo, I didn't want to buy a bunch of different liquors to make mixed drinks.

Enter the cocktail mixers in this post.  After snooping around the internet, I decided to make two different mixers: Cranberry Orange Spice and Apple Ginger Cinnamon.  The beauty of drinks is you can do whatever you want.  You don't have the same kinds of concerns you do when you cook, like your roast burning or your cake not rising.  Drinks are a great canvas on which to experiment with flavors.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Top 5 shows from this fall's freshman class

'Tis the season for November sweeps.

November sweeps is when TV shows pull out their best story lines to bump up their viewing audiences.  Sweeps is a magical time when all your favorite TV shows have new episodes and every week really is must-see-TV.  But sadly, sweeps is also the precursor to that long, dark night that is winter hiatus.  Winter is coming, and it smells like reruns.

But here's the good news: you can use the winter break to get caught up on all the great new shows you need to be watching.  It's not too late to start from the beginning with OnDemand or Hulu.  And I'm here to give you the rundown on the freshman class of fall 2013. Below are my top five picks from this fall's newbies.  I'm serious guys-- you gotta start watching these, stat.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Spicy Stuffed Shells

Hello hello, old friends!

I apologize for the rather long hiatus. In my defense, during the break I was moving from Erie to DC, so that was kind of life consuming.  But I'm back and prepared to start cooking up a storm.

One of my favorite things about fall (besides the leaves and the air and the sunlight and the smell and the cider and the treats and the everything), is the opportunity to break out your favorite comfort food recipes.  Dishes that are warm and hearty and make your house smell amaaaaaaazing as they bubble away in the oven.

This stuffed shell recipe is one of my all-time favorite recipes.  The shells are stuffed with turkey and artichokes and cheese and then smothered in a spicy marinara sauce that is amped up with extra pancetta and garlic.  And of course the whole thing is topped with mozzarella cheese before it's baked.  My mouth is actually watering thinking about it, and I just had this last week. It is that good.

Monday, September 9, 2013

New Shows, Old Faces: Fall 2013 TV Season

It's here! It's here! The start of the fall 2013 TV season has arrived, and with it a host of new shows to brawl it out on prime time.  It will be a blood bath and it will be glorious.

There's been a lot of talk recently about the changing face of television.  Even Kevin Spacey got in on the action.  As anyone with a computer knows, "content" is now no longer viewed only on actual television sets at certain times of day, but on a variety of platforms at whatever-time-I-feel-like-it.  TV bigwigs are just now realizing there is a market for this and the masses will still pay them to give the people what they want.  But some parts of the US television system are just too deeply ingrained to change, the biggest part being the fall premiere launch.  After wading through scripts, screening pilots, and strategically scheduling their lineup, the networks debut their hand-crafted new shows, the majority of which will be canceled before they've even become accustomed to the chill air of reality.

Because so many new shows get the axe, it can be a risk to start watching something new for fear you'll get invested just as it is yanked off the air.  But that's what I'm here for.  If you haven't already gone through the list of the new fall premieres to decide which you are going to invest precious DVR real estate in, let me help you.  I've given my top picks of shows I'm really pumped for and others I'll be watching out of the corner of my eye.  Remember, though, the risk of cancellation shouldn't stop you from sampling something that intrigues you.  What stays and what goes is still a surprise to the oldest of TV veterans.  May the odds be ever in the favor of your new favorites.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Deconstructed Shish Kebabs

Hot town, summer in the city. Or more accurately, summer in the outskirts of a small industrialized town.

One of the best things about summer cooking is the opportunity to grill everything.  I, unfortunately, don't have a grill.  At some point in my life, I'd like to become a real grill master. For now, though, I try to find creative ways around making things sans grill.  This usually isn't too difficult if you are comfortable with your broiler.

This whole "deconstructed shish kebab" fiasco started when I picked up some sirloin tips for a great price at Wegmans.  It being summer, though, I didn't want to make a stew, so I thought-- aha! Shish kebabs! My plan was all set and I was ready to start cooking when I realized I forgot to get one very important thing at the store...skewers. I had reached the point of no return with my preparations, so I did what any good cook (but not great because a great cook would have remembered skewers and probably been doing this on a grill to start) would do and threw everything on a sheet tray under the broiler.

Was the method fancy? No. Did it require any cooking skills whatsoever? Not really. But was the end result delicious? You can bet your sweet patootie it was.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Stoneware Baked Pizza

Hola, mis compadres! Long time no talk. Sorry about the gap, but after so many TV-related rants, I needed to take a break to prepare some more cooking goodness for you.

I know it's a cliche, but pizza is one of my all-time favorite foods, competing closely with ice cream and really good Indian food. I could eat pizza every day and not get tired of it as long as I got to change up the type and toppings. I just had a stroke of genius for an Indian pizza where you take a naan and put some tandoori chicken and a curry sauce on it. My wheels are spinning. That sounds amazing. But I digress...

For a more traditional, Italian style pizza, I've gotten really into making pizza at home. Partially because buying pizza, even if you get a frozen one, can be expensive. When you consider how inexpensive the ingredients are, you realize the pizza industry is a real racket.  And nothing gets my goat more than a racket. (Apparently today is talk like your grandpa day in MiloLand.)

The other weekend I made a pizza for my Dad and I, but I was hungry and didn't want to wait for a yeast dough to rise, so I found a quick bread recipe to use as my crust.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The New Who

In less than 24 hours, the identity of the next Doctor will be announced, and I could pee myself I am so excited.

After the initial grieving period I went through upon hearing of Matt Smith's departure, I began to get really excited for the Doctor's regeneration. I expect I will love the new Doctor just as I came to love all the others. So I have been dwelling on the question of, Who will the next Doctor Who be?

There are a million lists out there with odds and speculation on different actors who might be given the role. I'm guessing whoever the next Doctor is, his or her name isn't on any of those lists. The powers that be have a way of choosing someone no one had thought of and yet is perfect for the job.

But because I've been thinking about this for weeks, I have a lot of thoughts on the subjects that I'm dying to share with you. So I made a list too, except without odds because I don't understand how betting works...

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The beginning of the end for Parks and Rec?

Did you hear that?

That was the sound of my heart shattering into a million tiny pieces.  It's just been confirmed that Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe will be leaving Parks and Recreation.

Don't ask me to comfort you, I have nothing left to give. I used all my cheering-up energy on myself, and so far nothing has worked. I'll be resorting to chocolate later. You can expect a chocolatey blog post in the near future.

Apparently Jones and Lowe will be in the first half of the new season, and then leave in episode 13. Somehow knowing exactly when it will happen is making it worse for me. I'm just going to be dreading that episode.  Also, knowing they are leaving takes a little of the surprise out of their upcoming storylines.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Veggie Fried Rice

I have a deep dark culinary secret. It's something I'm really ashamed of, so don't laugh when I tell you...I'm terrible at making rice.

I know, I know, it's ironic in an Alanis Morissette way that I have a cooking blog and yet I'm bad at making rice, one of the most basic things you can do in the kitchen right along with boiling an egg.  But the fact remains, I'm just not successful in the rice department. Either I undercook the rice and it turns out soggy and hard, or I overcook it and end up with a layer of charcoal in the bottom of my pan. Sometimes I manage to do both at the same time.

You might be wondering why, then, I decided to make fried rice, which involves both making regular rice and then the more difficult task of stir-frying it. Well, the answer it pretty basic: I was hungry, and the ingredients I had on hand lent themselves to fried rice.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Emmy Nomination Blues

It all started out so well.

Emmy nominations were released on Thursday, and I was as excited as a kid on Christmas morning.  While overall it was a somewhat lackluster year in television, there were some really great performances and exceptional episodes along the way. When I finally had time to go to the Emmys' site, at first I thought all of my dreams had come true--that the nominations were going to reflect the best of the year. The first list that popped up was lead actress in a drama series...and at the top of the list was Vera Farmiga from Bates Motel! This is what I had been waiting for! The Emmys to break their own routines, to recognize great breakout performances. This was such a good omen! But alas, my joy was short lived. As I kept going through category after category, it became clear this year was perhaps one of the worst in terms of snubbing the deserving and rewarding the mediocre.

Awards shows all have their own cliched pitfalls, and the Emmys are no exception.  Because of the repetitive nature of the genre--TV shows can run for years-- we see the same names being nominated (and winning) over and over again.  This year, I was particularly disappointed by the nominees for comedies. But let me go back to the beginning.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Peach and Raspberry Pie

One of the great paradoxes of life is the desire to make fresh fruit pies in the middle of summer.  Berries and stone fruit are in season, so summer is the perfect time to make a pie. But the oppressive heat makes you want to do anything BUT turn on your oven. When faced with the choice of to pie or not to pie, I always choose pie. If only Hamlet had had this kind of clarity.

I'm not actually a huge peach pie fan. When a pie is made with just peaches, I find the flavor to be one-dimensional and sometimes cloyingly sweet. At the other end of the spectrum, raspberries pies are notoriously tart, even for a raspberry fiend like myself.  But when you marry the two together, ahhhhhh.....perfect harmony. The raspberries add some tartness and variety to the pie, and the peaches, when balanced with something else, seem delightfully sweet and summery.

Pies fillings are very straightforward things to make, so to challenge myself, I decided to make my crust from scratch. 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Simple Summer Mojitos

It. Is. Hot.

It is flipping hot, actually. And humid. Thank heavens for air conditioning! I honestly think if I had to live somewhere as muggy as Western PA in July without AC, I would lose my will to live. Call me dramatic if you must, but the humidity right now is seriously out of control.

I'm always astounded that air conditioning wasn't invented until the 20th century, and even after that wasn't widely used until the middle of the century. If I had been around when the distribution of electricity was implemented, the FIRST THING I would have done would have been to invent residential air conditioning... Given I was at least an engineer and probably also a genius.

Fun fact: great strides were made in the technology behind air conditioning during the construction of the Panama Canal. Workers were contracting malaria from mosquitos, but they thought it was from the heat, so they developed AC as a preventative measure. Obviously it didn't work, which was bad news for the guys with malaria, but great in the long run for us today.

I think the best relief during these hot, humid day is a nice, cold beverage.  Preferably made with rum. I made these simple mojitos for my family and they were a smashing success.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Thai Tuna Burgers

When I was little, my mom would make tuna burgers sometimes for dinner.  She would mix up tuna, celery, and seasonings, bind it together with egg and breadcrumbs, and then fry the patties on the stove top (which is of course what made them so delicious).  At the time, it felt like kind of a special treat, as it was something my mom would give my brother and me if we weren't having a family dinner.  In hindsight, I realize it was the opposite: she was just throwing together things that were always on hand to make an easy meal for hungry children.

Whether or not it was a "special" dinner, it was definitely tasty.   A dinner of Mom's tuna burgers is still a warm and fuzzy memory from my childhood.  It was also something I thought was rather unique-- none of my friends had tuna burgers.  Burgers was probably a misleading name, as there was no bun or toppings involved. But still, when was the last time you saw a tuna burger alternative on a menu?

Well imagine my surprise when I came across just that.  A Thai Tuna Burger recipe that's a proper burger on a bun, but is made of a mixed patty like what my mom used to make.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Penne with Spring Asparagus and Chicken

Nothing says "end of winter" to me like asparagus.  After a snowy spring, all I want to do is bask in the warm weather and avoid turning on my oven to make dinner. Thus, we have this "light" dish of pasta and asparagus made on the stove top.

Even when I cook a relatively healthy meal like this one, I end up eating copious amounts of it. So I just ignore the health aspect altogether and add truffle butter.  Truffle butter makes everything better.

Piqued your interest, have I?

Before we get to the butter, though, let's talk about making pasta.  Pasta is one of those tricky things that seems ridiculously simple to make, and yet when you do it at home, it's never as good as when you get it at a restaurant. Box of pasta + boiling water = properly cooked pasta. Right? Wrong.  I've learned there are two tricks to making restaurant quality pasta at home.