Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Gift Ideas!

Most of my blogs center around cooking and cooking tips however my ultimate goal is to give you tips about everything! I am still getting my creative juices going for this blog but here is a fun post about some awesome gifts that I recently received. Both of these gifts would be perfect hostess, bridesmaids or birthday gifts. 
My best friend gave me the first gift which is a monogrammed fishing shirt. This is something I never would have bought for myself but I find myself wearing all the time. 
The brand is Columbia so you can buy this shirt at most sporting goods stores like Academy or Cabela's. I really like this shirt because it looks nicer than a t-shirt and does not make you look like a frump!!!
The next gift is a bracelet that was made just for me! I got this gift for hosting my sister in law's baby shower.
NOTE: There is a little charm that is monogrammed with my initials and a little pink stone which is the baby's birth stone! Both of these things really gave the bracelet a personal touch.
You can find this bracelet and all sorts of jewelry at this new store in Houston called Hila.
2609 Greenbriar Drive
Houston, Texas 77098

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Mussels in White Wine

I got this recipe from Mussels are my favorite appetizer to order when I go to Italian restaurants. The other day I decided to work my magic and "whip" up a batch of mussels. They were so easy to make!!! I am still perfecting the white wine sauce but for now this is the best recipe I have found. The hardest part about cooking mussels is cleaning each shell. If you do not clean the shell thoroughly, your mussels will taste very fishy. Besides that, they are simple as pie to make and dirt cheap! I bought a 3 pound bag for less than $7 at Central Market.
3 1bs of fresh mussels (come in a bag)
2 cups of dry white wine
4 large shallots, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic minced
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/3 cup of chopped flat leaf parsley
6 tablespoon of butter (optional) or you can substitute I Can't Believe It's Not Butter
This is my favorite pan to use when cooking mussels because it is not too shallow !
1. Rinse and scrub mussels under cold water.
2. Use a pairing knife or your fingers to remove the beards (brown strings that hang from the mussel shells) and discard.
3. In a large pan over medium heat, combine wine, shallots, garlic and salt and cook for 5 minutes.
4. Add mussels and cover. Increase heat to high.
5. Cook mussels until all the mussels are open. This usually only takes 5 minutes.
6. Stir in butter (optional) and add parsley. Of course, butter makes anything more delicious however it will kill your cholesterol! I used "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter" and it still tasted good. You could also do 1/2 butter, 1/2 I Can't Believe It's Not Butter.
8. Remove from heat and enjoy.
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Friday, August 26, 2011

Parmesan Cheese

Nothing beats fresh parmesan! I used to buy the cheapest grated parmesan I could find. Now I realize you get what you pay for. There is a noticeable difference between fresh parmesan and the cheap stuff. Here are two kitchen gadgets that I use to grate my parmesan. The first is the kind they use at the restaurants. It is awesome! The second one is just a vegetable peeler that I use to make strips of parmesan cheese. These strips of parmesan cheese dress any boring salad up!

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Sauteed Squash and Zucchini

I wanted to share with you how easy it is to saute vegetables. It takes no talent whatsoever. If you have not noticed from my previous posts, I try to incorporate different vegetables each week to give you healthy ideas on what to serve with your main course.
1 yellow squash
1 zucchini
3 fresh sprigs of thyme (optional)
2 tbsp of olive oil
Salt & Pepper
Slice your vegetables about 1/4 inch thick.
Heat your olive oil on high before adding your vegetables and herbs.
After heating your olive oil, add the squash, zucchini and thyme and cook at medium heat.
Stir occasionally making sure your vegetables do not brown too much. The vegetables should cook for at least 15 minutes. The longer you cook the vegetables, the softer the vegetables become so cook them to your liking. The last thing you should do is season your vegetables with salt and pepper. 

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Teriyaki Flank Steak

My husband prefers filet mignon but at $31 per pound, I refused to buy it. I love filet mignon, don't get me wrong, but the reason I am cooking is to save money by not going out to eat. Since I opted against getting the filet, I found a wonderful piece of flank stank. Ask the butcher to tenderize it one time. This will allow the meat to absorb the marinade better and keep it moist. My husband really enjoyed his flank steak so this will definitely be something we eat again!
Marinade:  Yield: a little less than 1 cup
1/4 cup light soy sauce
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp. vinegar (red wine vinegar is ok)
3/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/8 tsp. garlic powder or 1-2 tsp. fresh minced garlic
3 Tbsp. Ketchup (optional)
1 1b - 1 1/2 lbs. flank steak
Combine above ingredients.  Mix powdered seasonings with a little of any above liquid first, or it will ball up.  Taste it.  Marinate meat overnight.  A ziplock bag is fine but put it in a dish just in case of a hole.
Broil or grill meat. We grilled the flank steak for 4.5 minutes on each side.
Slice meat thin against the grain at a slant.
NOTE-The ketchup will give your flank steak more of a bbq flavor.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Baked Acorn Squash

I absolutely love making this dish. It is a great fall recipe. Fall could not come sooner here in Texas! I am so sick of the heat. Anyways, I got this recipe from the blog, "Dine with a Darling."
1 acorn squash
Brown sugar
2 tsp of butter or "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter"

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cut acorn squash in half. 
Remove acorn seeds and set aside. (DO NOT THROW AWAY!)
Put 1 teaspoon of butter in each half.
Sprinkle with cinnamon, nutmeg and brown sugar. 
Place both squash halves into a pan with 1/4 inch of water.
Bake at 350 degrees for at least one hour or until tender.
This is what your squash should look like right before it goes in the oven.
Now it is time for my favorite part, the acorn seeds!!!!
Cover baking sheet with foil and spray with Pam.
After you wash the grime from the seeds, place the seeds onto a baking sheet. They should still be wet.
Sprinkle with garlic salt.
Bake seeds at 350 degrees for 7 minutes then toast for 1 minute (until golden brown).
Garnish your acorn squash with the seeds and serve.
These seeds are so good. They remind me of pumpkin seeds! 
Finished product. I served my acorn squash with trout and asparagus. Note the how I garnished the acorn squash with the seeds.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Donating Your Hair

After growing my hair out for over a year and going 10+ months without a haircut, I decided it was time to get the "ultimate chop"! I felt like a load had been lifted off of me when the stylist cut 8 inches from my hair! I am donating my 8 inches of hair to PANTENE'S BEAUTIFUL LENGTHS program. Most people are familiar with Locks of Love but this program is equally as credible and you only need 8 inches versus 10.
Go to Pantene's website for more details on how you can donate your hair. G-this picture is for you since you love my sixth grade photo where I tilted my head and looked like a freak.
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Friday, August 19, 2011

Oriental-Inspired Chicken Marinade

Our chicken last week turned out so good that we wanted to try another chicken marinade. This marinade was equally as good. It is more oriental-inspired so if you do not like that kind of taste then you will not like this recipe. I got this recipe from a cookbook given to me years ago from my Aunt. My Aunt's best friend made this cookbook, "Cooking with Class" and after trying this recipe, I can't wait to try more recipes!
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup mirin (sweetened sake in Oriental section)
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. ginger, grated
Chicken breasts or chicken pieces
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk together. Marinate chicken at least 4 hours or overnight. Grill and enjoy.
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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Best Dog Food

Last night I made baked papaya. I had a feeling it was going to be bad when I sliced the papaya in half and a pungent odor was released. I thought I was going to vomit. I shrugged the smell off and decided to still make the dish. The recipe called for sauteed onions, tomatoes, and "papaya meat." I combined all three of these ingredients in a pan then scooped the "SLOP" into the papaya skins. I topped the SLOP off with bread crumbs and parmesan cheese and put it in the oven for 30 minutes. Needless to say we had our delicious leftover pizza for dinner instead!!!!
I did buy an overripe papaya. You can tell a papaya is too ripe if is soft and yellow with brown spots. Honestly, I think every papaya looked the same at Central Market so I really did not have a choice. Ripe or not, I still think papaya is nasty.
What the slop was added to....
Finished product. May not look bad but inedible. Dogs deserve better than this.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Fig, Caramelized Onions, Prosciutto Pizza-WOW

This will be the most savory pizza you will ever eat! It is the combination of all the ingredients that makes it so great. The caramelized onions, sweet figs and salty prosciutto will give your palate a taste of heaven. I can't wait to make this again!
3-4 figs cut into 1/4 inch slices
Fig Jam/Preserves
1 large yellow onion
Olive oil
Goat Cheese
Fresh mozzarella
Shaved parmesan
Pre-made pizza dough (the best is the frozen ball of pizza dough from Central Market)
Let pizza dough thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
Remove pizza dough from the refrigerator. Pizza dough should be left at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before using.
Slice yellow onion into less than 1/4 inch slices.
Now, it is time for you to caramelize your onions! Place onions in a nonstick pan with olive oil. Cook the onions on low for one hour, stirring occasionally. If you do not have the patience to cook the onions for one hour (this used to be me), then you can cook them on medium heat for 20-30 minutes but be sure you do not burn them. The onions will turn light brown. Set aside onions.
Wash your figs and then cut them into 1/4 inch slices. I was not familiar with figs before trying this recipe so I peeled the skin from the figs then tried to slice them. The peeled figs are hard to slice because they are so slimy. I later figured out that you can slice the figs with the skin on for a more pronounced flavor.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees or whatever your pizza dough calls for.
Cover your baking pan with foil and spray with nonstick PAM.
Flour your pizza dough and form into the shape of your pan. Make sure you form a pronounced crust because this will hold all of your ingredients and prevent the cheese from melting everywhere.
Lightly spread the fig jam on the dough. You do not want to put too much jam on the pizza otherwise it will overpower your other ingredients.
Add the figs and caramelized onions.
Finally, add your mozzarella. I also added a few small pieces of honey goat cheese which was really delicious.
Cook your pizza until your cheese starts to bubble and your pizza crust turns a golden brown. My pizza took at least 15 minutes if not 20 to cook. Use your judgment and spot check the pizza.
After removing the pizza from the oven, lay the prosciutto over the pizza while it is still hot.
Sprinkle a handful or more of arugula on top of the pizza.
Garnish with freshly shaved parmesan.
Helpful Hints:
  • I have tried making pizza dough hundreds of times. Still, the frozen ball of pizza dough at Central Market is the BEST. If you do not have Central Market, Trader Joe's also has great frozen pizza dough. Trader Joe's has several different varieties of pizza dough and the whole wheat one is my LEAST favorite (just giving you a heads up!).
  • Instead of buying an entire block of goat cheese which can be very expensive, I bought ONE SLICE of honey goat cheese at Central Market for $2.80. This honey goat cheese really added a lot to the pizza.
  • I made the mistake of adding the prosciutto to the pizza before cooking it. Even though it was still good, it is better if you put it on after the pizza has already cooked. The prosciutto will warm itself from the heat of the pizza.
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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Roasted Pears with Blue Cheese

This recipe comes from Ina Garten's book, "Back to Basics." This recipe was a hit and once again easy to make. Don't be intimidated by all of the ingredients. I usually steer away from recipes with multiple ingredients because it is pain to buy tons of different things. However, this recipe looked to good to pass up and sure enough I was right!
2-3 Ripe Pears (depends on how many people you want to serve)
Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice (3 lemons)
3 ounces of Crumbled Blue Cheese
1/4 cup Dried Cranberries (optional) I did not use these because I forgot to buy them :)
1/4 cup of Toasted Walnut halves
1/2 cup Apple Juice
3 Tbsp Port or 3 Tbsp of Cranberry Juice+1 Tbsp of lemon juice (substitution for port, this is what I used)
1/3 cup Light Brown Sugar
1/4 cup of Olive Oil
Baby Arugla or Spring Green Salad Mix
Preheat oven to to 375 degrees.
Roast walnuts in the oven until golden brown, approximately 10 minutes. Watch the walnuts carefully as they can burn very easily!
Peel the pears and slice them lengthwise into halves. Remove the core and seeds of the pear using a knife or melon baller. I used a knife as I did not have a melon baller.
Arrange the pears core side up in a baking dish large enough to hold the pears.
Mix the blue cheese, cranberries, and walnuts together in a small bowl. My husband despises blue cheese because of the stinky smell so I mixed feta cheese and walnuts for him and blue cheese and walnuts for myself!
Fill the pears with this mixture.
Combine apple juice, port (or substitution), and brown sugar in a bowl. Stir the brown sugar until it dissolves. Pour all of the mixture over and around the pears.
Bake pears at 375 degrees for 30 minutes.
Mix olive oil, 1/4 cup lemon juice, and 1/4 cup of the basting liquid together. The basting liquid is the leftover liquid that is in the bottom of the pan.
You can either toss the salad with the dressing before or you can go ahead and plate the pear on top of the salad. Your guests can then put as little or as much of your homemade dressing on top of it.
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Monday, August 15, 2011

Homemade Mango Pico De Gallo

It is very easy to just buy pre-made pico de gallo and not hassle with making it yourself. However it takes less than 15 minutes to prepare and is much cheaper. I decided to change it up and make both fresh pico de gallo and mango pico de gallo. Here is my favorite recipe for the mango version.
2 large mangos
1/2 cup of red onion
1/2 seedless cucumber
1/2 cup of cilantro
1/4 cup fresh lime juice (*most important ingredient)

Cut mangos and cucumbers into small bite size pieces (see picture).
Finely chop onions.
Combine all ingredients together and let flavors meld together for at least an hour. This is a great recipe to serve as an appetizer with tortilla chips or for a taco bar as seen in the picture below.

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Friday, August 12, 2011

UNIQLO (Best Clothing Store)

Imagine my excitement when I found out UNIQLO, the greatest store in the world, was opening in Bangkok on 09/09/11!!!  My husband and I are going on a trip of a lifetime to Thailand hence why I am so excited that it is opening in Bangkok this fall.

For those of you who are not familiar with UNIQLO, you have to check it out. If you are short then this will be your favorite store ever! It is the only place where I can buy normal-sized pants and never have to get them hemmed! Did I mention that it is super cheap too???!!! The catch is that there is only one store here in the US. Right now, you can find UNIQLO in Soho however they are opening two more stores in NY at 53rd and 5th Avenue and 34th between 5th and 6th Avenue. One of the new stores is literally next door to my old apartment. Tear. I guess I will just have to make more trips to New York to get my UNIQLO fix!

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Mandarin Orange Salad

This is a wonderful salad to bring to a dinner party. If you follow this recipe exactly and have leftover salad, it is still delicious the next day (just a tad soggy)! If you do not like soggy salad and you are only making this recipe for two people, then use your judgment and use less lettuce, dressing, etc. You can use the remainder of the lettuce and ingredients the next day to make a fresh salad. Hope that makes sense!!! Read ahead for all the ingredients.
Yield-6 People
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped fine (or 2 tsp. dried)
3 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
½ tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper
1/8 tsp. Tabasco®
Mix above ingredients into a glass jar.  This will make a sweet and sour salad dressing.  Refrigerate overnight to meld flavors.  Store covered.
1/3 cup sliced almonds
2 Tbsp. sugar
Place above ingredients in a nonstick pan.  Heat on medium until sugar caramelizes.  Stir constantly with a wooden spoon. 
Turn out of pan immediately…they will burn really quick.  Cool on wax paper or foil, break apart and store in a baggie until later.
1 pkg. of ready-to-eat American Blend iceberg lettuce
1 pkg. of ready-to-eat Hearts of Romaine lettuce
2 med. stalks celery (chopped into thin slices)
2 green onions (thinly chopped, green tops too)
1-11oz. can mandarin oranges (drained)
Wash and dice your celery and green onions.
Toss above ingredients together. Right before serving, add your dressing and toss. Finally, add your almonds and toss.  Everyone will love this salad!
Hint:  for 13 adults, I doubled dressing, almonds, celery, green onions, and oranges.  Then I used 2 bags of precut Romaine and 1 bag of precut tossed salad.
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Monday, August 8, 2011

Bachelorette Ideas

I just got back from an amazing weekend for my best friend's bachelorette party! It took months of planning and lots of  coordination with the other matron of honor to organize this entire weekend. The weekend went off without a hitch. Here are some fun ideas of things to do to make any party special.....

Order a galvanized ice bucket with the couple's last name on it. Assign everyone in the bridal party a type of alcohol to bring with a "first" tag. "First" tags may include: "First Anniversary," "First Time Your Dog Eats Your Wedding Gift," "First Time You Misplace Your Wedding Ring," "First Dinner with Your In-Laws" and the list goes on. 
The next idea that was a huge hit was the photofetti. You choose 10 photos and upload them to the Photofetti site and they create this masterpiece that is perfect for decorating tables!
We found these awesome cans of Sofia Champagne. Each can of champagne came with a pink straw and each girl got a can during the lingerie shower! 

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Friday, August 5, 2011

Hot Dogs

Every Sunday when I make my weekly grocery list, I find myself spending hours trying to think of something different to serve. I am not sure if anyone has as much trouble as I have, but I am always scouring the internet for new EASY recipes. When I lived in New York with no grill and few kitchen appliances (2 pots, 1 casserole dish, and a tiny oven), gourmet hot dogs and Bush’s baked beans were a staple.
Whole Wheat Hot Dog Buns
½ small white onion (chopped)
97% fat free Hebrew National Beef Franks (hot dogs)
Mustard and Ketchup
Chili (optional)
1 can of Bush’s Original Baked Beans

When I did not have a grill, I made these hot dogs in the microwave.  Of course, they are better on the grill but don’t get me wrong they are still good in the microwave! While cooking the hotdogs, I always toast the hot dog buns in the microwave oven.

I know this is not really a recipe. However, I wanted to share this idea with you because sometimes you just have to go back to the basics because it is not practical to make such elaborate recipes everyday of the week. 

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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Greatest Pepper Shaker Ever

I gave my husband an electric pepper mill 3 years ago. To date, this has been the best gift I have given him.   He loves freshly ground pepper and swears it makes everything taste better. When you go to a restaurant, my husband is the guy who never passes up freshly ground pepper. Usually the waiter is grinding pepper for at least five minutes at our table because my husband likes it that much. Anyways, I recommend you INVEST in an ELECTRIC SALT AND PEPPER MILL STAT. It will change your life. Seasoning steaks, salmon, etc. will never be the same! We bought our electric pepper mill at Sharper Image and it has held up very well. I am sure there are tons of brands out there that are equally as good.
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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Parsnips > Carrots

Yes this is true. Parsnips are way better than carrots. Parsnips are from the same family of carrots but look much different. I cook these almost the exact same way I cook my other roasted vegetables (carrots, asparagus). However, I felt inclined to share this recipe with you because this is one of those vegetables that most people do not know about and would never buy at the grocery store.
1 Bag of Parsnips
Olive Oil
Kosher Salt
Freshly Ground Pepper
Preheat oven to 475 degrees.
Line cooking sheet with aluminum foil (easy cleanup).
Wash, peel and cut parsnips into 2-3 inch pieces. When you get to the "head" of the parsnip, cut it into a 2-3 inch piece but also half it because it is very thick.
Toss parsnips in olive oil.
Sprinkle salt and pepper over the parsnips.
Roast for 20-30 minutes. Make sure you turn them with a spatula ten to fifteen minutes through to ensure they do not stick to the pan.
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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Birthday Surprises: Hotel Saint Cecilia & Congress

For my birthday this past weekend, my husband surprised me with a room at the infamous Hotel Saint Cecilia and a 4-course dinner at Congress. Hotel Saint Cecilia is a super chic boutique hotel in the heart of Austin. Below is a picture of me in our room against one of the upholstered walls. We stayed in Suite 1 so google Saint Cecilia if you want to see better pictures of how cool this hotel is.
Outdoor shower! It was surprisingly refreshing taking a shower in 101 degree weather!
We had the most amazing dinner at Congress. David Bull, former chef at the Driskill Hotel, opened 2nd Bar +Kitchen, Bar Congress and Congress late last year. Congress is the most acclaimed of these three places. Let me just tell you, this place was worth the money! It is an experience to go here but be prepared to spend $200+ for two people. You have your choice between a 3 course meal for $75 or the Chef's tasting menu for $125.
Amuse bouche: Chilled Aspragus Soup with a dollop of cream and a toasted crouton
1st Course: Texas Peach Salad with Mizzuna (whatever that is), Smoked Marcona almonds, Guanciale (this was delicious and I definitely recommend you get this if you go there! My husband got a sashimi salad which was not picture worthy) 
My Husband's Second Course: Garlic and Chive Potato Gnocci with Braised oxtail, Eggs parmesan
My Second Course: White Lobster Bisque, Fresno Tomato Jam, Lobster Ricotta Fritter (sorry no picture because I forgot to use the flash). I was in heaven because this was a cream-based soup which is my favorite!
Third Course: Pistachio and Caper Crusted Wild Bass (I hate capers but this tasted nothing like capers)
Husband's Third Course: Rack of Lamb, Salsify, Cardamon Yogurt, Candied Orange
(this was amazing especially because the meat was so tender)
This was one of our two desserts. They made these mini doughnuts filled with pecan pie for my birthday!!! We also had the Feta Cheesecake with Corn icecream which was amazingggg. However, my husband was getting annoyed with all my pictures so I restrained myself and did not take a picture. Congress will definitely go on my list of favorite restaurants in Austin. This is not a place I will be able to go to often because it is so expensive. However, it is a place I would love to frequent on special occasions!!!! 

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