Thursday, March 31, 2011

cashing in a prize

well, not me.  remember my first cookie giveaway (that was a comment recordbreaker!) ?  cara, my winner, deferred her prize for a few weeks so that she could bring the cookies to a wedding shower she's attending this weekend.  and so after trading a few emails, i finally got to put her winnings in the mail.

the shower invitation was in green with a daisy theme.  simple, but pretty.  so i figured it would be best to just follow its lead and do green daisy cookies.  now, at this point, i had gotten it mixed up and thought it was a baby shower.  i was all set to do cute little baby faces as the centers of the cookies and was going to try making them ahead of time like the letters on the "due in october" cake pops.  thank goodness i went back and double-checked the details...that would have been pretty bad to be giving out baby themed cookies.  imagine the confusion i would've caused?  yikes.

mixing, rolling, cutting, and baking the cookies is practically like second nature to me by now.  as for the royal icing, i decided to use up the remaining mix i'd bought for those letters.

this would prove to be a move i completely regretted.  oy.  why i didn't just stick to my usual recipe, i don't know.  well, yeah, i do.  the mix was super easy, and i let my laziness get in the way.  never again.

it seemed okay at first.  i only had to mix two colors - different shades of green.  i outlined and flooded the cookies in the lighter color.



after giving them some time to dry a bit, i went back over them and outlined the petals in the darker shade.


so far, so good, right?  but then i mixed up a bit more of that royal icing mix to make the white centers and started filling them in.


still no biggie, right?  except that when i finished the last cookie and went back to check on my handiwork, i realized that the white icing was too thin.  it was bleeding out of the center and onto the petals.  hell and dalmatians.


i didn't have time to redo them, so i just had to go with them.  i decorated the rest of the cookies i'd had to ignore when i ran out of light green icing and started cleaning up.


but i had a little dark green icing left.  i decided to play a little and see if i could make something work.


heh.  i'm such a cheater - but i was all excited to find a new way to make fun royal icing transfers, plus a new use for that iPad.  woohoo!

and then the next morning, i wanted to throw those cookies out the window.  not only had a lot of them bled in the middle, but those damned centers cracked.






so angry.  so, so, pissed.  but again, i had no choice but to continue on.  i wrapped them in cellophane bags, tied them with green satin ribbon, packed them carefully in a box with a ton of tissue, and shot cara an e-mail to give her the heads-up.


they look nicer all dressed up, though.  and when i sent cara a few pictures, she didn't seem to mind the imperfections that were completely stressing me out.  lest you wonder why i was so freaked out, you should know that she ordered an extra dozen cookies from me in addition to the free dozen she'd won.  so not only had i fucked up her prize, but she was paying for half of them.

but i decided that no way was i going to charge her for these things.  nuh-uh.  and when she found out, here's how sweet she is - she not only covered my shipping charges but threw in some extra bucks anyway.  thank you, cara.  you're awesome!  i just hope you doesn't regret that when the box arrives and you get to see the cookies up close and personal.  bah!

so, the moral of this story:  don't stray from a tried-and-true recipe.  especially when it's not just for fun.  lesson learned!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

drive-by blogging

okay, so i'm up to my ears in stuff to do today.  but i have a couple of things to toss out:

i have a crapload of box tops i've been saving in a drawer for months.  neither of the girls' schools use them, but i got into the habit of clipping them like MIL always has.  if you can use them, i'd be happy to pass them along.  first commenter takes 'em!

we've been talking about where to vacation this summer.  because the teen really doesn't like hawaii (and airfare is ridiculous right now anyway), that's out.  the hub hates cruises, so that's not even a consideration.  we did our awesome east coast road trip last summer, but i know something like that won't do again - way too much time in the car.  any suggestions on where we should go this year?  we can take up to two weeks - i'm allowed to have the teen for that long in the summer for vacay.  i don't think we can do anything overseas, as much as we'd love to - it still has to be relatively affordable.  i just can't think of where to go.  how lame is that?

oh, and one more thing.  so i'm renting this dress for my junior league black-tie fundraiser ball next weekend:


yeah, i'm renting it.  i don't want another dress i'll never have a chance to wear cluttering my closet, and it costs less to rent a dress i really like vs. to buy one i just settle for.  know what i mean?  i'm using rent the runway to outfit myself for my cousin's wedding too, and she loves the dress i chose.  she just asked us to pick out knee-length pewter gray dresses and yellow patent heels, and i'm pretty happy that i've found both items and am all set.  at least, clothing-wise.  pardon my messy office and the self-portrait i took with super messy hair, using my handy-dandy camera remote:


ugh.  that's the best picture i found of the bunch i took.  yikes.  i better get myself in shape, stat.

so back to the ball ensemble - i don't want to wear a necklace, but i'm debating between earrings and a bracelet.  i'm eyeing three combos, all from stella & dot (of course).

option 1:


option 2:


 and option 3 (a bit more junior league-ish, with the pearls):


okay.  whaddaya think?  i gotta decide fast, because in each of these scenarios i've gotta place an order and i'm running out of time.  heh.  procrastinating as always.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

shop for a cause

so last year, i mentioned a new party store out on the west side that my friend yvette owns.  she's been working her ass off trying to make a success out of it and has been coming up with all sorts of creative ways to get people in the door.  i'm trying to help her out as much as i can, because you know how i love these little independent businesses.  i really want her shop to kick ass.

one of the things she's got going on right now is an exclusive book signing by matt logelin.  if you don't know matt's story, grab a box of kleenex and check out his blog.  it's such a touching story, and if it doesn't bring a tear to your eye - at least one! - i need to come over and check for your pulse.  heh.

anyway, matt's new book is called two kisses for maddy, and yvette's store is donating $2 from each presale order between now and april 15th to the liz logelin foundation.  the book comes out on the 14th, and he'll be doing a short reading and signing copies of the book at cordially invited.


you don't even have to be local to order a copy of the book and have matt sign it - you can place your order, pay for it with paypal, and just include a note as you pay to let us know you'd like an autographed copy.

by the way, if you get a chance, check out the cordially invited blog.  i know the author - she's nice, smart, funny, and super cute, too.  heh.  plus, there'll be a giveaway coming up soon, and judging from the cool stuff in the store, the prize'll be good.

oh, and one more thing - follow the store on twitter or on facebook, and if you stop in between now and saturday you can save 10% on your purchase!

you can't lose.  yay for fun shops!

edited to add: i'm not getting paid for promoting this book signing.  i just really admire and respect matt, and i want to help my friend get as many people into the store as possible.  i can be nice sometimes, you know.

Monday, March 28, 2011

i am in love. with cheese.

it was at phototasting 2.0 that i was introduced to the magic that is burrata for the first time.

if you've never had it, it's a ball of fresh, creamy, mozzarella-y goodness.  holy mother of cow, this stuff is heavenly.  they pull a handful of hot mozzarella curd out of a salt water bath, shape it into a disc, and fill it with soft, amazing...stuff.  i don't actually know what the stuff is, but it's fantastic.  then they stretch the mozzarella around it, making a smooth ball.

i'd enjoyed my amazing plate of burrata with some lightly dressed arugula and slices of wonderful prosciutto, and ever since, i've ordered this at every restaurant that offers it.  seriously, it is just so damn good.  the hub and the teen like it well enough, but even they just have a few bites and leave the rest for me to melt into a huge, appreciative puddle over.

my buddy dapotato had mentioned a "factory" once before, and my friend lilcee said that she knew of it too but had never had the chance to go.  and last week, i was hit with a ridiculous craving for some burrata that wouldn't go away.  so when i realized that the delivery of cake pops was pretty much on the way to the gioia cheese company, it took about 3.57 nanoseconds for me to decide to take one for the team and head out to find it.

i actually found tubs of gioia burrata at bristol farms a few weeks ago, but wasn't going straight home that morning and couldn't pick it up.  besides, the store had marked it up from the $6 per pound at the factory to $10.  yikes.  i would've still bought it, but alas - i wasn't able to anyway.

it was an easy drive on a friday morning, and i found the place easily.  it's tucked away off the freeway, past a neighborhood co-op garden and a park, and in a small industrial neighborhood.


the door was locked, so i had to ring this bell to get in.


i was greeted with a smile by the president of gioia cheese himself, vito girardi.  i just barely got past my "hi! i'm here to - " and he grinned and said "you are here for burrata, yes?"

absofreakinlutely.

it was a tiny office with a couple of girls working in the back, and i glanced around at the advertisements and price lists on the desk.


he came back with a tub of the precious cheese in a plastic bag, and handed it to me as i forked over the cash.  "i'll be back next week!" i said - i'd decided to bring a burrata plate to the baby shower we're putting together for one of our SFAMily mamas-to-be.  there are lots of burrata fans in the group, so it should go over well.

i headed right over to trader joe's to pick up some arugula and prosciutto, and then went straight home to dig in.  oh, i was excited.



i drizzled the arugula with a little olive oil, sprinkled some sea salt and pepper, and gave it a quick toss.  i sliced a generous portion of that gooey, fabulous cheese, and put it right in the middle, and then added the prosciutto. 


i kind of desperately want to be thrown into a big ball of burrata and eat my way out of it.  it made for the most fabulous brunch EVER.

um, maybe lunch, too.

and then as a snack the next day.

i polished off the last of it the day after that.

come on, they said you have to eat it fresh!

Friday, March 25, 2011

a sweet message

so, just kidding.  i'm not done talking about food.  hell, i don't think i'll ever be done talking about food.  i love food.  food loves me.  team fatass!

i was super stoked to receive an email earlier this week from a friend who's expecting her first baby.  she was hoping i could help her out in delivering the news to her ILs in a sweet way.  and with her husband's birthday and their wedding anniversary in the very same week, we decided to skip the obvious sugar cookie idea and went for cake pops instead.

after going back and forth a bit on details, we settled on purple and gold - she's due in the fall, and her husband is a big lakers fan.  because, duh, who isn't (don't answer that)?  heh. 

i've been wanting to try making royal icing transfers, but never really had a reason to until now.  and even these are rather primitive - i really don't have fantastic penmanship, but even i can't screw up simple block letters.  but i wasn't in the mood to whip up an entire batch of royal icing, since i don't have anything to use it on just yet, so i hit my favorite supply store and bought a couple of bags of royal icing mix - just add water.

the dilemma i faced then was that the entire bag is meant to be mixed up at once.  but i figured, i have a good idea of what kind of consistency the stuff needs to have by now.  so i opened the bag, measured out about a half cup of the powder, and added a teaspoonful of water at a time until it looked right.  i added a few drops of "gold" and "lemon yellow" gel coloring, scraped it into a pastry bag with a writing tip attached to it, and voila:


i made so many because, well, i actually had quite a bit of icing in the bag, and besides - i'm a klutz.  i wanted to be completely prepared, in case i broke any of the letters as i worked with them.  plus, i got to get the feel for the bag and the tip and really try to make the lettering nice.  and when i got tired of repeating myself (it was like getting busted at school and having to do standards, sort of), i made some dots and hearts and even an attempt at some roses with a different tip.  but my icing was just a little too runny, and my roses ended up looking like big ol' blobs.  oh, well.  i'll try again soon.

red velvet was the requested flavor, so i took a recipe i found online, cut it in half, and did the same with the frosting.  after the cake had completely cooled, i mixed it up and made up the balls.  the mixture was a little bit gooier than i'm used to - i guess that's what happens when you totally wing the measurements - so i put them in the freezer to firm up.

an hour later, they were much better.


i was afraid that the coating would crack like the last time i made cake balls, so i let them come up almost to room temperature - a trick i found on a site somewhere.  but when i did that, they fell right off the damn stick when i dipped them in the purple candy.  i don't have pictures because i was too busy muttering every curse word i know at the poor things.  twice.

so anyway, i ended up putting them back in the freezer and pulling them out one at a time to work with.  i did the first one, stuck a letter on, and decided it was too plain-looking.  so i went into the pantry and miraculously found some purple sprinkles - it's amazing what treasures are in that cupboard.  you can see the plain "D" in the background here:


the only problem with working with cold cake balls was that the candy hardened fast.  like, way too fast.  i had to scramble to tap off the excess candy, stick the letter on, and get those sprinkles on before it was too late.  in some cases, there were less sprinkles than on others.  but they looked happy and festive, and i think they turned out well.

 
i might have tried one of the rejects (you know, the ones that fell off of the sticks and were totally imperfect), just to make sure they were tasty and up to my standards.  they were, by the way. 

and my friend was pleased with them when i dropped them off.  i managed to cram them into the floral foam and find a box that they all fit into - and even closed!  bonus!


so much fun.  she's going to present them at lunchtime today, so i'm excited for her.  i love that she enlisted my help in such a happy occasion!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

super slow cookin'

am i going overboard with the food posts this week?  seems like it.  so you'll have to forgive me for doing one more...and then that'll be it.  for this week, at least.  heh.

but first, the bean got to participate in her first school fundraiser last weekend.  it was the "wheel-a-thon," and we were to get sponsors to pledge either a dollar amount of their choice per lap that the kids rode around a track, or a flat amount.  we didn't really make a huge effort to get sponsors (i hate asking people for this kind of stuff), but MIL wrote her name down and we just made up for the rest to make up the minimum to get her a t-shirt.

the hub took her to the fundraiser, while i went off to meet friends for lunch.  i charged the camera and emptied the memory card for him...but he ended up forgetting it.  i kind of think it's because of the pink strap cover i have on it, but oh well.  he did snap a picture with his phone, though:


when i got home, she was totally zoned out in her chair, clutching her prize.


i pried it out of her little paw, promising that she could have some after she took her nap.  yeah, i'm one of *those* moms - i totally bribe my kid to take her nap.  whatever.  it works.  except that this time, when she woke up and asked for her cotton candy, we headed into the kitchen and found this:


and i looked down and saw this:


crap.  well, you can see that i managed to fix it with what you see in her hands.  but still - damn you, humidity!

so on our last trip to NYC, we'd had dinner at a great little italian restaurant near times square. of course, i don't remember the name of it, but the memory of my short rib pappardelle entree is still fresh in my mind.  whenever we go out to an italian restaurant here, i scour the menu for something similar.  sadly, i have yet to find it.  so i decided to check the google and see if i couldn't figure out how to make it on my own.

i was stoked to find a recipe from bobby flay that sounded promising.  and since i'd bought some lovely looking pappardelle at the farmers market that's been waiting to be served with something super delicious, i hit the grocery store and a few other places to pick up the ingredients.




before she left, MIL left me with a final parting gift - she planted an herb garden in the back yard.  now i totally have a black thumb - i never remember to water stuff and most every plant left in my care has been a victim of my lack of attention.  so she made sure to put it in one of the planters where it'll be watered automatically by the timed sprinklers.  sweet!





i went back there, picked some of those fresh herbs, rinsed them off, and made my bouquet garni.  well, sort of.  i didn't have any cheesecloth, so i improvised and busted out a coffee filter instead.  same thing, right?  and, uh, i might not have had any kitchen twine either.  but i used my macgyver-like skills again and stole the bit off of a tea bag to tie the little bag shut.  i am such a freaking genius.



then, i got to work chopping and dicing the onion, carrot, celery, and shallot - that's mirepoix to you foodies.






if you've been reading for a while, perhaps you'll remember the le creuset dutch oven i'd coveted one year and then received as a christmas present.  yeah.  until this day, it was still sitting in my pantry with the labels on and instruction manual inside.  i'd just never found a reason to use it, because it's really small and most recipes that call for one required a heftier-sized one.  i was never really sure exactly how big mine was, so i peeled the labels off and googled the numbers.  i finally figured out that it was definitely one of the smallest dutch ovens ever made, but it was big enough to cook half of the recipe.  since there were only two of us eating it anyway, this was a good thing. 

of course, after all that, i realized that all i had to do was lift the lid and peer inside of it.  because "2.75 qt" was printed right on the damn thing.  heh.


i browned my ribs and then tossed the mirepoix in to soften the veggies.



the actual cooking part went fairly quickly.  i measured out ruby port and red wine and beef stock, and pretty soon my dish looked like this.


in went the ribs and the bouquet garni, and then the whole thing went into the oven for - oh, three hours.  when it was done, it looked like this:


i was most alarmed to find this:


holy shit.  i'd burnt my prized (and only) piece of le creuset cookware damn near to a crisp.  i set it in the sink and ran some warm water over it, and was relieved that the black stuff was rinsing off almost without effort.  whew.

after i removed the bones and shredded the rib meat, i was left with this:




i put it back in the sauce and left it to simmer while the pasta cooked.


with a sprinkle of some pecorino romano cheese (which i had to ask the hub to stop off at trader joe's to pick up on the way home), it was done.


and oh my.  SO good.  just like the deliciousness i remembered from new york.  maybe a bit of a pain in the ass and a super long prep, but so worth it.  

makes me want to make it all over again.
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