Savannah Day Two

Day two in Savannah! It was a bit more active than Day One in the sense that we partook in more activities than just laying on the beach and eating. Not that I have anything against laying on the beach and eating. In fact, I really enjoy both of those activities! But there is a lot to see in Savannah, so we wanted to make sure we had time to see some of the city.

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We started out with brunch. I can’t remember a notable Sunday in recent history that has not begun with brunch. Initially, when we outlined our plans for the trip, we had planned to go to Paula Deen’s restaurant, Lady and Sons, for brunch on Sunday. Luckily, though, we realized before getting there that Lady and Sons doesn’t actually serve brunch – just lunch. We debated still going, but ultimately decided against it. I have to say, I think this was the right decision. The main draw in going to Lady and Sons is obviously the Paula Deen factor. But if you take Paula Deen out of the equation, there is just no way that any of us would still want to eat there. Heavy southern comfort food is just not really my cup of tea and I think Allison and Andrea feel the same way. Combine that with the fact that we all love brunch, and it was kind of a no-brainer to change our plans.

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We ended up doing a little online research about good brunch spots in Savannah but I couldn’t help but notice that brunch does not appear to be as prevalent in Savannah as it is in other cities I’ve been to. A high percentage of restaurants that we looked into did not have a brunch menu. We ended up walking around for a while to see what the options were and decided on a place we had seen online called Papillote. I think they more specialize in grab-n-go orders, but they did have some seating in the restaurant. The food was good, but the overall atmosphere of the restaurant was only okay. But, like I said, it was delicious food, and it felt great to sit down and get out of the heat. Papillote is also in a great, central location, so it was a great jumping-off point for the rest of our plans for the afternoon – shopping on Broughton Street!

Savannah has a ton of cute little shops and boutiques, so we set aside Sunday afternoon to walk around the shops in the downtown area. There were a ton of cute stores including the Salt Table, the Savannah Bee Company, which specializes in different varieties of honey, and then some cute clothing and home goods stores like Villa, Copper Penny and Paris Market.

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We all especially liked the Paris Market, which was an adorable french-themed home goods and gift shop.

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I had not planned to buy anything on this trip…no wait, I had actually planned to NOT buy anything on this trip…but some of the stores had some really great stuff, so I didn’t quite stick with my initial plan. After exhausting our budgets, we headed back to the hotel to get ready for our extremely exciting plans for the night – a HAUNTED PUB CRAWL!

Yes, that’s right. A pub crawl to some of the haunted bars in Savannah. Apparently, Savannah is one of the most haunted cities in the country, so there are a lot of ghost tours to choose from. Even if you don’t believe in that type of thing, it’s still kind of a fun thing to do. Plus, you actually end up learning some history of the city in the process. We chose the pub crawl ghost tour because it sounded like it would be pretty lighthearted and silly rather than spooky and serious.

The tour was set to kick off from a bar that was right by our hotel, Moon River Brewing Company. We were supposed to meet our group there at 8, so we went over at 6:30 to get some food before the tour. Moon River Brewing Company has two sections – the outside beer garden and the inside, which is more of a regular pub. We sat outside because it was an absolutely gorgeous night!

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The food was nothing special, really, but it wasn’t bad. We had burgers and brats that were served on paper plates. Andrea noted that it really wouldn’t be a good Labor Day weekend if we didn’t eat burgers and brats on paper plates at some point, so really we were just celebrating appropriately :)  It actually was a really fun place to hang out, though, because there was live music and the beer was pretty good.

Another cool thing about Savannah is that there are no open container laws. When you want to leave a bar, you can pour whatever is left of your drink into a plastic cup and take it with you. After we finished eating, we ordered to-go beers and headed out front to meet up with our tour group to begin the pub crawl!

None of us really knew what to expect from this pub crawl, but I think we were hoping it would be light-hearted and fun. We were told that we would have no trouble finding our tour guides because they would be carrying lanterns and wearing colonial attire, so right away I was thinking that this might actually be kind of weird. Thankfully, I was wrong!

Right away, our tour guide, Jamie, instructed those members of the group who did not already have drinks to go get some beer from inside Moon River Brewing Company and meet us back outside. Once everyone had drinks, Jamie led us back into Moon River and down into the basement where he gave us a brief history of the building and recounted some of the ghost stories that have come from there.

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It turns out, that while we were blissfully eating our burgers and brats upstairs, we had actually been hanging out in one of the most haunted places in the country! I don’t know how much I really believe in ghost stories or hauntings (…but it’s a lot), but Jamie’s stories had me convinced that something weird was going on in this building.

Essentially, the building that is now Moon River Brewing Company used to be a hotel in the 1800’s. There were several famous acts of violence associated with the hotel, including a murder and a fist fight that made the front page of the New York Times. Eventually, the hotel closed and the building sat empty for years and years.

Then, in 1996, someone decided to revive and repurpose the building. The plan was to have a brewing company on the first floor and turn the upper floors into something else. The first floor was successfully converted and has been running as Moon River Brewing Company ever since. But the contractor could never get anyone to finish the second and third floors.

Apparently, the contractor went through three different construction companies, but each refused to finish the job. They couldn’t get the workers to stay on site as they kept reporting having weird experiences. Apparently, the workers reported hearing people whisper their names right in their ears only to turn around and find that they were along, feeling people brush up against them and things disappearing. The nail in the coffin (appropriate figure of speech…) was when one of the workers wives came to the building to meet him for lunch. As she was walking down the stairs to leave, she felt an “icy presence” just behind her. She turned to look, but no one was there. As she continued down the stairs, she felt it again. When she looked behind her, again seeing no one, she reported feeling a cold “hand” on her back that forcefully pushed her down the stairs.

That was when construction was abandoned. I know this all sounds like a crock. But we actually got to see the second floor of the building and based on what we saw, I have a hard time believing that reviving that space would have been given up lightly. It is an absolutely gorgeous space – high ceilings, original doors that Jamie said would be worth around $24,000 each, and original finishes. Plus, the building is right in the heart of downtown Savannah. The space would be absolutely amazing, were it finished. So for that reason, I actually do believe that, whether it’s legitimately “haunted” or not, something weird is going on there. So on the first stop of the tour, I was pretty hooked.

We continued on and ended up going to see four or five places. Some we went in to get drinks, some we just walked past, but for each, Jamie had a great story. As we walked, Allison, Andrea and I were chatting with Jamie at the front of the group and he was telling us some “unofficial” stories and anecdotes. We were highly intrigued.

Our tour ended at one of the haunted bars we had been in. We had consumed several beers and shots and we decided to stay for a while. We also decided to invite Jamie to hang out with us, too…ya know, just three girls and a 40-something-year-old man in colonial garb. Normal Sunday night.

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As weird as this all sounds, we ended up having a GREAT time with Jamie. He talked about living in Savannah, his own personal experiences with ghosts and spirits and told us more stories. We literally stayed until the haunted bar closed and then went to another! This may or may not be one of my top ten most random and potentially creepy things I’ve done in my life, but it ended up being a ton of fun.

So, our last night in Savannah was a successful one. When we woke up the next day, we were so sad to have to leave! At least I was headed up to Hilton Head for a week at the beach, so that helped ease the pain quite a bit. All in all, our girls weekend was a HUGE success! On our way to the airport, we were already plotting for the next one so hopefully this will become a tradition!

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Stay tuned for a recap of Hilton Head Island and try not to be too jealous of our new bestie (Jamie).

Farro with Tomatoes, Mushrooms and Sausage

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Ah you guys. Two quick promises: 1) I will get back to posting the rest of my Savannah and Hilton Head posts ASAP, and 2) I will NOT post any more tomato-based recipes any time soon. If you can’t tell, I’m kind of having a moment with fresh tomatoes right now so just bear with me. It’s not even like I’m generally obsessed with tomatoes. My philosophy toward tomatoes is basically that good tomatoes are GREAT and mediocre tomatoes are terrible. Since tomato season is so short, I’m really “leaning in” to tomatoes this year and trying to make sure I don’t take this time for granted. (Uh…I didn’t read Lean In…did I use that term appropriately?) 

I actually planned to make this Smitten Kitchen recipe (with a few material modifications) for dinner last night and let it go undocumented on this blog due to the fact that my most loyal reader is an avid and lifelong tomato hater and my last recipe was heavily tomato-oriented. But the final product was honestly way too good not to share. 

The only notable change that I made to Smitten Kitchen’s recipe was that I added sausage and mushrooms to it. Doing this, in my opinion, upped the delicious-ness quotient quite a bit, but it also negated the “one-pottedness” appeal of her version. Taken on balance, I definitely think the benefit of adding sausage and using another pan outweighed the cost of additional cleaning. 

To me, this recipe was the PERFECT summer/fall transition dinner. It had a lot of freshness from the tomatoes (how many times do you guys think I can say “tomatoes” in this post?), but it also felt really hearty and cozy thanks to the farro and sausage. 

Here’s what I did: 

In a medium sauce pan (not yet on the heat) soak one cup farro in two cups water. You need to let the farro soak for just a few minutes, so you can just do this while you prepare the other ingredients. 

While the farro soaks, thinly slice half of a large onion into quarter moon slivers. Toss the onion in the pot with the farro. 

Slice two cloves of garlic and throw the garlic into the pot as well. 

Halve or quarter around 9 oz of cherry tomatoes and toss them in the pot. 

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Then, to the pot, add salt and red pepper flakes to taste and one tablespoon of olive oil. Stir everything together, turn on the heat and set a timer for 30 minutes. 

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You’ll bring this concoction to a boil and then reduce it to a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally. Once your timer goes off, you will have a finished product on your hands! Now, that is the entire Smitten Kitchen recipe. How easy is that? 

My additions were really just as simple. While the farro was simmering away, I browned 3/4 pound of mild italian sausage. Once browned, I transferred the sausage to a plate and used the same pan (with the sausage “renderings” remaining) to saute 8 oz of baby bella mushrooms. If I make this recipe again, I’ll probably reduce that to 6 oz of mushrooms – just due to my personal preference. I sauteed the mushrooms until they softened quite a bit.  

Around the same time that the mushrooms were getting nice and soft and delicious, my thirty minute timer went off. I ended up letting the farro simmer for thirty TWO minutes just to let a tiny bit more water get soaked up, but honestly, thirty minutes was very close to being the exact right amount of time.

Before adding in the sausage and mushrooms, I took a bite of the farro. I wanted to make sure I tasted the unadulterated Smitten Kitchen version so that I would know whose fault it was if the final product didn’t turn out well…haha I love to blame others for my failures.

Well fortunately for Smitten Kitchen, the farro tasted amazing! The red pepper flakes added a surprising element that I liked a lot. I can actually say I would have been extremely happy to eat just that as a meal. 

But why would you do that when there’s sausage in the world? 

I simply transferred the sausage and mushrooms to the pot with the farro, gave everything a big stir and magic! 

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I sprinkled a bit of parmesan cheese (and basil but I don’t recommend using basil if you use sausage) on top and enjoyed about three times the amount you see in the above photo ;) 

Okay and there ends my tomato-related blog posts. I’ll be back soon with the rest of my vacation recap! 

Savannah Girls Weekend

We are taking a tour down memory lane this week and revisiting this blog’s roots of being a travel blog! I just got back from a week-long vacation, which I wanted to document here. So without further ado: Summer Vacay Two K Fourteen (hashtag). Awwww yeah.

The timing for this trip happened to work out surprisingly well. A couple of months ago, my mom started talking about planning a family trip to Hilton Head Island. Around the same time, I started planning a girls weekend trip over Labor Day weekend with two friends of mine, Allison and Andrea. My mom kept picking weeks to rent a house in Hilton Head, then changing her mind, though, so it eventually started to seem like that trip might not happen this summer.

Meanwhile, and I’m not entirely sure how, but Allison and Andrea and I settled on Savannah as the destination for our Labor Day trip. We had everything planned out and we were committed to going when my mom sent a family e-mail asking about everyone’s availability to go to Hilton Head for the entire week starting Labor Day weekend.

At first, I was kind of annoyed because the Hilton Head trip conflicted with my Savannah trip. Eventually, though, I realized that the timing actually worked out perfectly! Savannah and Hilton Head are less than an hour drive from each other, so it was possible for me to do both of the trips. I spent Friday night through Monday morning in Savannah with Allison and Andrea. On Monday, I dropped off Allison and Andrea at the airport so they could catch a flight back to Columbus and then I drove up to Hilton Head, where I stayed until the following Saturday.

I’m going to dedicate a couple posts to this trip – one or two for the Savannah portion and another couple for the Hilton Head portion. Both parts of the trip were really, really fun and I’m extremely depressed about being back in the real world now.

Savannah Day One:

I can’t really remember now how we got the idea to do this girls trip, but I’m glad that we did and that we actually followed through with it. Remember a couple of weeks ago in my #TBT post, I said I had been going through old photos for a specific purpose, but it ended up not working out the way I had hoped? I was going through our old family photos looking for some good ones of Allison, Andrea and me from back in the day.

Our families have been friends for literally our entire lives. Growing up, Allison and Andrea’s parents were “Uncle Andy” and “Uncle Linda” to my brothers and me. To clarify, Uncle Linda is a woman, I was just a moron as a child and apparently had trouble grasping the difference between Aunts and Uncles. All of the kids grew up calling each other “cousins,” and actually we still do call each other cousins. Some people might think it’s weird, but I think if you’ve known someone for this long, you can call them whatever you want.

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So anywho, Allison, Andrea and I had the genius idea to take a girls trip somewhere and we settled on Savannah. We left after work on Friday and had just two quick flights on two tiny planes. We arrived in Savannah on time and without incident.

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I’m going to skip over Friday night in Savannah because our flight didn’t arrive until around midnight. Combine that with a…snafu…at the rental car counter and it’s just better for everyone if we move past this portion of the trip. We arrived at our hotel, the Andaz Savannah, at around 2 am, and we were so exhausted. We commented that our hotel seemed to be in a great, central location and that it was very nice, and then we passed out.

On Saturday, we slept in until around 10:00, which is something I haven’t done in FOREVER (thanks, Sasha…). It felt amazing! The rate for our hotel room included breakfast, so after we woke up, we went downstairs to check out the breakfast buffet. We discovered that “free hotel breakfast buffet” is a really unjust way to describe what the Andaz actually serves. That term conjures images of continental breakfasts and cold scrambled eggs at the Hampton Inn, which, while not without merit, is so inferior to the “free breakfast buffet” served at the Andaz that it really isn’t fair that the same words are applicable to both experiences.

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After fueling up for the day, we headed to Tybee Island. It’s a really neat beach area about twenty minutes away from Savannah. We spent the afternoon just hanging out on the beach. It was so incredibly relaxing! Between sleeping in until 10:30 and laying around in the sun all afternoon, I can’t remember a time I’ve been more relaxed.

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IMG_5236Between bouts of reading magazines, wading in the ocean and chatting, we also snuck up to a snack bar to have a couple beers and a light lunch. We had reservations for a somewhat late dinner, so we felt like it was important to eat something mid-afternoon. I actually forget what this place was called, but it was right on the beach and it was pretty good.

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After our pleasantly uneventful afternoon, we packed up and headed back to Savannah to get ready for dinner. We planned to eat at the Olde Pink House, which is one of Savannah’s most historic and well-known restaurants. It is, quite literally, in a very large old pink (haunted< – will get into that more in my second Savannah post!) house so the atmosphere is really different than most modern restaurants. The Olde Pink House serves a lot of what I would consider “elevated southern food.” It’s not Paula Deen style comfort food – it’s lighter and fresher, but still notably southern.

By the way, I’m so thankful I have friends who love to eat as much as I do because we ended up ordering four courses – each of which were really, really good. Sometimes, when you go to the “famous and historic” restaurant in a city, you find that it’s become a tourist trap that doesn’t end up living up to the hype. Fortunately, I didn’t find that to be true of the Olde Pink House at all.

We started with an order of blackened oysters on the half shell per our waitress’s recommendation. I don’t know that I’ve had blackened oysters before (actually I know that I haven’t), so I don’t have any basis for comparison, but this dish was absolutely phenomenal. Before the oysters came to our table, the waiter walked past us carrying them and we all three commented on how great whatever that waiter was carrying smelled. When he turned around and brought them to us, we were so excited! An order comes with six oysters so we each had two. Even before we had eaten the first order, I honestly considered suggesting that we put in another order. It was a really nice way to start out the meal because it was just a light appetizer of a couple bites, but it took the edge off our hunger.

Then, I had a salad. To be exact, I had the fried green tomato BLT salad, which was apparently featured on the Food Network’s “Best Thing I Ever Ate” show. I definitely wouldn’t consider it to be the best thing I ever ate – in fact, it already wasn’t even the best thing I had eaten at this meal – but it was still good!

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Next, I had the pecan crusted tilapia. It came with grits and vegetables. I feel like a broken record right now, but this dish was another winner. Like I said, every single thing we ate there was delicious! It’s kind of funny, though, because between tilapia, grits and vegetables, the part of the dinner that stands out most in my mind was the vegetables – to be exact – the green beans. At one point, I even said, “I am weirdly obsessed with…” and Andrea chimed in and said, “these GREEN BEANS!” How weird. I have no idea what made them so good – I suspect they were just incredibly fresh or something, but they were outstanding!

And then of course came dessert. We ordered key lime pie and chocolate mousse to share. I had a bite of each, but I was honestly uncomfortably full at that point that I wasn’t able to eat much. But again, just to reiterate and bore you all to death…the desserts were both REALLY GOOD TOO. Nothing was bad.

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Sorry – I just realized that I dedicated four paragraphs of this post to describing food I ate two weeks ago. #Priorities. Hopefully you’re not all bored stiff at this point!

After dinner, we went out to a bar on the roof of The Bohemian hotel. It was a cool bar and they were playing some epic old school dance music (WHATUP NELLY!). The only downside – and this is actually applicable to Savannah as a city, not just to this particular bar – is that there were a TON of bachelorette parties there. Now I don’t have anything against bachelorette parties in general. We all know I have been to my fair share of them this year! But the thing about bachelorette parties is that…they are super obnoxious to anyone who isn’t a part of them. I’d say there were probably between 8-10 bachelorette parties at the Bohemian that night, so that was less than ideal. We still had fun though, so it obviously didn’t ruin our night!

And here’s where I’ll leave you, my loyal and intrepid readers. But before I go: a cautionary tale about hanging out with people who are significantly younger than you. When the DJ started playing Nelly, Andrea (who is 23) got super excited and said, “Aw this is sooo elementary school!!” And I died a little bit inside.

More of Savannah to come! Hopefully my next post will be considerably less rambling, but I make no promises…

Tomato Tart

Getting a bag of fresh produce every week has really opened my eyes to just how amazing it can be to cook with seasonal, local and fresh produce. Having such great ingredients makes it easy to cook really simple foods that still taste great.

Not surprisingly, in the month of August, I got a LOT of tomatoes in my market bags and I’ve loved experimenting with different ways to prepare them. I haven’t cooked with tomatoes very much before, but getting so many each week has made it kind of a necessity. Coincidentally, right before I received a bunch of cherry tomatoes one week, the Pioneer Woman had posted this recipe for a tomato tart, which I thought looked really yummy.

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My one hesitation in making the tart, though, was the fact that it requires making (or using a frozen <– clearly the option I chose) pie crust. I’m not sure how much I’ve talked about this here, but I absolutely HATE baking. And I’m not good at it. And yes, I fully recognize that in no way, shape or form could thawing and reconfiguring a frozen pie crust be considered baking, but it is close enough that I was very wary of trying to make a tart.

Like I said, though, I had a bunch of cherry tomatoes that I didn’t really know what else to do with, so I decided to seize the day and attempt the tart! I followed the Pioneer Woman’s instructions exactly.

I started out by chopping up and caramelizing onions. 

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I received a bunch of these little tiny sweet onions in that week’s market bag, so rather than use two large onions, I used a lot (I didn’t count) of these instead. So okay, based on this, I lied before when I said I followed the Pioneer Woman’s instructions word for word. This was the one deviation, though! 

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While the onions were caramelizing (because it takes quite a while for this to happen), I began working on the pie crust. Dun Dun Dun. 

As directed, I bought two pre-made pie crusts and planned to attempt to meld them together into one giant, paper thin crust. Seems pretty easy, right? Ugh. Right away when I took the pie crusts out of the package, I could tell this wasn’t going to end well. I had a brief moment of clarity where I considered leaving the pie crusts in the tins they came in and just making two smaller tarts, thereby eliminating the need for me to really do any baking-related activities whatsoever.

But my intention in ordering the market bag was to force myself outside of my culinary comfort zone, so I persevered. As I was taking the crusts out of their tins, I was again filled with a sense of dread. They were already very, very thin and I was having a hard time getting them out of the tins in one piece.

OH and let me interrupt you here to tell you that because I hate baking, I don’t necessarily have a lot of baking-related supplies on hand (i.e., a rolling pin). This is where my handy-dandy wine addiction saved the day! 

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Now for all of you bakers out there, you are probably looking at the above photo and shaking your head for a few different reasons. Number 1: No flour on the baking surface. Number 2: the “baking surface” is aluminum foil. And Number 3: the (also flourless) wine bottle rolling pin. Yes. This method ended disastrously. 

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In my defense, though, I kind of knew it wouldn’t end well when I began. Wait, does the fact that I knew this probably wouldn’t work but just did it anyway make me seem more capable or less? Let’s not focus on that too much…

The reason I originally attempted to roll out the pie crust like this is because a big part of my issue with baking is that it is so messy!! I don’t like cleaning flour off of everything after I’m finished. I don’t want to wash the bajillion bowls and utensils it takes to mix all the various components together. So, in my attempt to alleviate that issue, I mangled my first attempt at rolling out the crust. 

After peeling the crust off of the foil and begrudgingly dusting flour all over my hands, countertop and rolling pin (wine bottle), I tried again. I didn’t take any pictures because…flour. But let’s just say this. While this attempt worked far better than the first, I wouldn’t say it was without its flaws (pretty dramatic understatement). 

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Yeah. Not exactly pretty. ALSO. This amount of pie crust was intended to cover an entire large baking sheet. I have no idea how anyone could stretch this amount of pie crust that far. But then again, clearly, not my forte. 

Since I couldn’t roll the crust out thin enough to cover a large baking sheet, I improvised by just using my pie pan.  I figured that the taste would still be the same, if not just a little more crusty than the original recipe would have been. But honestly, who has ever complained about having too much pie crust in their food? No one I want to know, that’s who. 

Anywho, this mess being more or less handled and the onions being caramelized and smelling great, all that was left to do was assemble the tart! You begin by putting down a layer of cheese. I used, per the Pioneer Woman’s recommendation, gruyere, parmesan and fontina. And then I ate like…a lot of just the cheese. Yay for stress eating! 

IMG_5183Next, you pile on the onions (which I forgot to take a picture of…). Then, you just throw the tomatoes on top like this:

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The final step is to brush a mixture of egg and milk onto the crust so that it gets a really nice golden brown color while baking. Wellll. That sort of seems like the kind of thing that you need a pastry brush to do. Right? I actually thought about this fact while I was shopping for the ingredients for this recipe. Did I buy a pastry brush, though? Nope. And the reason why I didn’t buy a pastry brush is because in my mind, I was pretty sure that I had bought one a couple months prior to making this tart. 

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But in my mind, I was wrong. What I had actually bought was the above brush, which is more for cleaning vegetables like mushrooms and potatoes. I tried to use it anyway, but it didn’t really work all that well (DUH). But at this point I was basically like “WHATEVER I AM COOKING THIS STUPID TART IF IT KILLS ME.” So I put the tart in the oven and hoped for the best. 

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Though it doesn’t look pretty, the end result was actually decent. The issue with the pie dish, though, was that it was too deep. The crust ended up cooking way faster than the tomatoes. I would have liked to let this cook for about 5-10 minutes longer so that the tomatoes could have gotten cooked a bit more, but if I had, the crust would have been inedible. And this is where I realized that had I just left the pie crusts in the tins they came in, my end result would have been more or less perfect. The store bought tins are much more shallow than my pie dish and the crust wouldn’t have been all deformed and inconsistent in thickness, which would have helped a lot. Like I said, though, this, though ugly, still tasted good! I will definitely make this recipe again – maybe even for other people (obviously, I would want to perfect my technique a bit first). It was very yummy and it felt so summery and fresh.

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My takeaway from this experience is that I should listen to my gut a bit more when cooking. My first mistake was ignoring my initial inclination to leaving the pie crust in the tins it came in. Why am I so determined to make things harder than they need to be?? I ignored my gut instinct to buy a pastry brush and I ignored my gut instinct that told me I was going to have to suck it up and get flour all over everything to make this dish work.

However, it’s also important to know when to ignore your gut instinct. If I had listened to my initial instinct telling me that I couldn’t make this dish because of the pie crust, I would have never stretched myself to try this in the first place (even though that initial instinct was pretty clearly proved right). Oh well. Live and learn! 

 

#TBT

A couple of weeks ago, I was going through some old photos at my parents’ house. I had a particular purpose in mind, but that ended up not really panning out. In the process, though, I found a lot of forgotten gems! Here are a few:

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At the beach

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Michael and me with our great-grandparents, Nonny and Ompy

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I wore a LOT of tutus and dresses back in the day…

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I had a birthday party at McDonald’s. Because I’m classy like that.

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I look pretty happy considering this was right after I stopped being an only child :(

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Getting a legal education at a young age

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At my grandma’s house with her old dog, San Ban.

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All of us!

Ratatouille: Not Just a Disney Movie

It’s safe to say that we are in peak season for fresh produce here in Ohio. I have been getting tons of amazing produce in every week’s Market Bag and it’s so great!

Market Bag haul

Market Bag haul

In this Market Bag, I got eggplant, squash, heirloom tomatoes, onions, garlic, green beans and carrots, which are all things I enjoy eating and cooking with. However, as I mentioned in a previous post, it’s hard for me to eat all of that by myself. I mean, that’s a lot of veggies for one person to consume in a week. So I took my dad’s “polite suggestion” and decided to make something for my whole family to enjoy so that nothing would go to waste!

This recipe for ratatouille used almost all of the vegetables in the bag and needed very little that I didn’t have. The only ingredients I needed to pick up at the grocery store were one zucchini, two red bell peppers and basil.

Ratatouille

Ratatouille

My parents and brother told me that Friday night would be the best night to get together and eat ratatouille. Well, actually, they didn’t know that we would be eating ratatouille because I was worried they might not be that excited about it if I told them that’s what I was planning to make for them…but regardless, they told me that Friday night would work for them. So on Thursday after work, I prepared the ratatouille.

I’m glad that I decided to cook the ratatouille a day in advance of serving it because a lot of the commenters on the recipe mentioned that it tasted even better the day after making it, so cooking everything in advance worked out really well. Also, from a practical perspective, this recipe did take quite a while to make. It was totally worth it in the end, but this is not something that you can just throw together in a couple minutes. There were a LOT of steps involved.

First, you dice up the eggplant, and toss it with some salt and let it drain for about 20 minutes. While I was waiting on the eggplant, I began chopping the other vegetables. There is a LOT of chopping involved in this recipe. Thank God I just got an insanely huge cutting board.

Lots of colors

Lots of colors

After the eggplant drains, you brown it in a bit of olive oil.

Browning the eggplant

Browning the eggplant

Then you begin adding the other vegetables.

Beautiful heirloom tomatoes in the peak of the season. Sorry Dad - pretend you didn't see this!

Beautiful heirloom tomatoes in the peak of the season. Sorry Dad – pretend you didn’t see this!

 

Smelling great!

Smelling great!

Final product

Final product

I served this over pasta with grilled chicken on top and I think it tasted great! Ratatouille is the quintessential late summer recipe and we enjoyed it on a gorgeous Friday night on my parents’ patio. It was a perfect summer night!

Entertaining FAIL

I’m not an incredibly experienced hostess. However, over the past couple of years, I’ve gotten increasingly comfortable with it and with cooking for people in casual settings. To be honest, I had started to feel like I had gotten pretty good at the whole casual dinner party thing – I would make a couple of simple hors d’oeuvres to have sitting out, I would cook a yummy but not overly fussy meal with a main dish and several sides and a salad, I would have a couple different options for drinks, et voila – dinner party success!

Well. This past past weekend, I had what I would consider a dinner party fail. My friend Meghan and I had plans to hang out on Saturday. Our thinking was that it would be fun to get together, cook dinner and watch a girly movie. I realized that it had been so long since I’ve done something like that! In law school and college when I lived with other girls, it was easy to take nights like this for granted, so I was excited about the prospect of having a low key night in.

In preparation for the night, I decided on a “menu” and went shopping for all the ingredients that we would need. I planned to make caprese salad, roasted zucchini and this skirt steak. I also got some wine (obviously…) and some cheese and crackers. It would be simple, fresh and delicious!

When I got home from the store, I prepared the marinade for the steak and put that in the refrigerator. I set out the cheese and crackers and poured myself a glass of wine. I was feeling like I had really nailed this whole effortless yet elegant dinner thing.

I mean how great does this look?

I mean how great does this look?

And then things started to go wrong.

Let’s start at the beginning – caprese salad. caprese Well to be honest, this turned out incredible. Meghan made it, though, so I can take no credit for what you see above. Before Meghan got to my apartment, I made a balsamic glaze. And that is something that is extremely difficult to mess up.

To make a balsamic glaze, all you need to do is pour balsamic vinegar in a small pan over medium-low heat and let it reduce. Once it reduces by about half and becomes thick and viscous, you have a balsamic glaze. I then set that aside until Meghan arrived and began putting this salad together. She arranged tomato, mozzarella, basil and drizzled it with the glaze. The result was gorgeous and delicious!

While Meghan was putting the salad together, I was trying to roast the zucchini and cook the steak. I have made roasted zucchini a couple ways before, but one of my favorite ways to prepare it is to slice the zucchini very thin, spritz it with olive oil, salt and pepper, and then coat it with a mixture of even parts Italian bread crumbs and shredded parmesan cheese. It *usually* turns out crispy and flavorful. Not to mention it’s really simple. So I did that and I stuck it in the oven at 375 degrees to let it cook for 10-15 minutes. Then I poured myself another glass of wine and got ready to grill the steak.

Like I said, I had already marinated the steak. So, in theory, this next step should have been extremely easy. Grill the steak. steak It looks pretty, right?

I cooked the steak for about 3 minutes on each side, as the recipe says to do. It didn’t feel like it was done, but hey, I have really never grilled before and I trust Alton Brown. So I took the steak off the grill pan wrapped it in foil to let it sit for a while thinking that it would continue to cook a bit.

I checked on the zucchini. It wasn’t as crispy as I wanted it to be, so I turned on the broiler and put the zucchini under the broiler to crisp up while the steak rested.

After a couple minutes, I cut into the steak and it was not even rare. Ugh. I was flustered. I put the steak back in the grill pan. I was really focused on the steak. I turned it, prodded it, turned the heat down, cut into it, etc. until it was cooked the way we wanted it. I started to smell a burning scent, which I attributed to the fact that the grill pan had gotten too hot.

I took the steak off the stove and put it back in its foil packet. But my kitchen still smelled like burning. In fact, it smelled so much like burning that Sasha had moved to the absolute other side of the apartment and begun to look at me quizzically like “uh so it seems like something might be dangerously wrong…are you sure you have this under control?” Something he only does whenever I’m REALLY messing something up in the kitchen (sadly this is not the first time it’s happened…). sasha at door Aaaaaand it was about this moment that I remembered the zucchini, which had been under the broiler for about 10 minutes at this point and was burned to what can only be described as a “crisp.” UGH! The burning. I pulled the zucchini out of the oven and somehow it was still more or less edible. At least certain parts of it.

If I could go back in time and do this night over, I would trust my gut more on the steak. I had a feeling that it wasn’t cooked enough the first time, but I wanted to follow the recipe and I didn’t want the steak to be overcooked, so I took it off the grill before I thought it was ready. I would also probably have like one less glass of wine before cooking because then I might actually REMEMBER ONE OF THE THREE DISHES I WAS TRYING TO COOK. Basically drinking less wine may have salvaged this night. But it also would have made it a little bit less fun. And it did end up being a really fun night regardless of the less than stellar output from the kitchen.

Just a reminder that it’s important to stay on your toes – don’t get complacent or overly confident. Just when you think you’re getting the hang of something seems to be just the time that the universe steps in to remind you that you are not as great as you think you are.

And for the record, Sasha is usually no more than three feet away from me, especially when there is food involved. Case in point:

photo

Vegetarian Lettuce Wraps

Soooo my self-imposed Market Bag Challenge is over. I actually did pretty well with it. I didn’t use everything (ugh stupid fennel and cabbage!) but I did use most of what I got, so I’m calling it a success…even though it was objectively a failure based on the terms of the challenge. Stupid technicalities.

With the romaine lettuce, I made a couple different things throughout the week, including a couple of regular salads. One of my goals with signing up for the Market Bag, though, was to branch out a bit and try new things, so in addition to salads, I made these vegetarian lettuce wraps!

Final Product

Final Product

I have never before cooked with tofu, so this was quite an adventure. In fact, I was such a tofu noob that I ended up walking down EVERY SINGLE AISLE in Whole Foods like three times looking for it! I was kind of embarrassed to ask for help locating the tofu because I thought the Whole Foods employees would be like “Uh who is this fatty carnivore that has never bought tofu before? #TRASHY” Why am I so concerned about being judged by Whole Foods employees? I don’t know. Apparently I have issues. (side note: read this hilarious post. At least I’m not the only one feeling judged at Whole Foods!) But I was a woman on a mission and I did not give up. Tofu located, I went home to start cooking!

Now I have eaten tofu before, but I have never cooked with it. And to say that uncooked tofu is disgusting is a major understatement. Honestly, if this recipe wasn’t a Pioneer Woman recipe, I would have probably thrown the tofu away upon opening the package and just thawed some ground turkey. The whole time I was cooking/looking at the tofu, I just kept thinking, “If the Pioneer Woman, the woman who coats her steaks in butter, the woman who is married to a literal cowboy, eats these lettuce wraps, then they can’t be bad…” But I was cringing internally (and externally…hence the beauty of living alone – no one can see the crazy things you do!)

Blech

Blech

More uncooked tofu...appetizing...

More uncooked tofu…appetizing…

I powered through, though (the recipe is super easy to make…) and it ended up tasting pretty good! I had a ton of leftovers, too, so it made a lot of healthy lunches for the week. I’ll have to try cooking some other dishes with tofu now that I’ve gotten over the initial hurdle…and know where it is at the grocery store.

Yum!

Yum!

Market Bag Challenge: Swiss Chard

I am slowly but surely making progress on my Market Bag Challenge. So far, I have used some of the onions, zucchini, romaine lettuce and swiss chard. I am feeling healthy and accomplished. It did definitely occur to me, though, that this would be a lot easier to do if I had a family to cook for. Yes, I have used a little bit of all of those veggies, but I haven’t used the entire amount that I have. And even still, I have leftovers of all the recipes I’ve made. So I’m going to have to get creative…

Surprisingly, my favorite thing that I’ve made with my Market Bag veggies has been this crustless quiche that I mentioned wanting to try. It seems I am a fan of swiss chard! Well…at least when it’s mixed with eggs, cream and cheese.

This is one dish I haven’t minded having a lot of. As has been previously documented here, I’m obsessed with breakfast. And I don’t always have time in the mornings to cook something or even throw something together quickly (well who am I kidding I would obviously choose being late for work over not even being able to throw something together quickly, but you know). I made this last Thursday night and just heated up a slice for breakfast the past couple of work-mornings. It gets my day off to a rather fancy start.

Breakfast is served!

Breakfast is served!

Crustless Quiche

1 tsp Olive Oil

1/2 sweet onion, chopped (another market bag item!)

1/2 bunch swiss chard, ends removed and chopped roughly (leaving stems in tact)

2 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

4 eggs

1 cup light cream

salt and pepper


 

Preheat oven to 375.

Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium high heat. Add the onion and the chard along with some salt and pepper.

Swiss chard is pretty

Swiss chard is pretty

The original recipe says to make sure not to overcook the chard. I wasn’t really sure what kind of texture to aim for, so I went with this:

Not overcooked?

Not overcooked?

I think, actually, this ended up being perfect! I mean, I guess I wouldn’t really know what overcooked swiss chard tastes like, but this held up pretty well in the quiche without being crunchy or bitter, so I’m giving myself a pat on the back for this one! Once you’ve gotten to this point, you can set aside the onion and chard for a minute to cool.

In a large bowl, mix the eggs, cream and cheese. It’s worth noting that I might mess around with this aspect of the recipe if I make this again. Trust me, the final quiche is AMAZING, but it’s somewhat hard to justify the amount of fat in it if it’s just going to be my go-to breakfast before work. If I was entertaining, I would make the quiche just as the recipe says. But again, for day-to-day life, it’s just a tiny bit decadent.

Lots and lots of cheese

Lots and lots of cheese

I always know I'm doing something right by Sasha's proximity to the food...

I always know I’m doing something right by Sasha’s proximity to the food…

Once you’ve mixed the eggs, cream and cheese, add in the chard and onions. Stir to combine it all and make sure all the veggies are evenly distributed. Pour into a greased pie dish.

About to get good!

About to get good!

After that, all that’s left to do is bake it! The original recipe says between 35-45 minutes. I left mine in for 40 and it turned out exactly right!

Voila!

Voila!

Like I said, I actually think this quiche would be a really great thing to serve at a brunch or luncheon if you are the kind of fancy person who does things like that. It is super simple to make and I think it would really be a crowd pleaser – even though the headline ingredient is swiss chard. I can only hope all my Market Bag Challenge recipes will turn out this good!

North High Brewing Company

I’ve always sort of felt like Fathers’ Day is an under-celebrated holiday. By me, yes, but also just by society at large. In elementary school, I remember thinking that dads kind of got the raw end of the deal because Fathers’ Day was over the summer, so dads didn’t get any of the super awesome school crafts that we made for Mothers’ Day. Little did I know that dads were, collectively, probably like, “Thank GOD my untalented kid didn’t make me a dumb craft that I have to take to my office and pretend to like forever!” But in my 10-year-old mind, the disparity seemed unjust.

And yet it wasn’t until 2014 that I finally decided to do something about it.

This year for Fathers’ Day, I decided that my mom, my brother and I should take my dad to a place in Columbus called North High Brewing Company. I had actually never been before, but I had heard of it. I thought it was just like one of the many new microbreweries that are popping up around here, but last fall, one of my friends told me that you can actually brew your own beer there, too, which seemed like a really fun thing to do. My dad (one of my two blog readers – though now that this has switched to more of a food blog, who knows…) is getting very into craft beer. So Fathers’ Day seemed like a good occasion to try brewing our own!

The crew minus Mom

The crew minus Mom

We had a reservation to brew our batch at like 11:30 A.M. on Fathers’ Day, which was somewhat of a weird time to be in a bar. We were basically the only people there when we first arrived and we weren’t quite sure where to go. Pretty soon, though, a bartender materialized and gave us a list of all of the beers we could choose from to make. My mom and dad ended up deciding that we should do a more neutral, easy-drinking beer. This was definitely the right decision because you end up with about 144 beers at the end of this process, so you definitely want a lot of people to enjoy drinking whatever you brew.

Once we settled on the type of beer we wanted to make, the guy (hereinafter referred to as the “Brewmaster”) came back and helped us get set up at a station. The stations were surprisingly uncomplicated. I’m not sure why, but I always imagined brewing beer to be this incredibly complex and scientific process. In reality, our station took up about 10 square feet and was really nothing more than an industrial size cauldron (or kettle, for all of you non-sorcerers out there), a table and a small chemistry class-esque scale.

Then the brewing began! First, we measured out the grain we needed. Then, we ground the grain. Then, we put the ground grain into a “teabag” as the Brewmaster called it. From there, we steeped the ground grain in a cauldron of water, as demonstrated below:

Steeping the beer in the cauldron

Steeping the grain in the cauldron

After the grained had steeped, we put in some caramel (sugar). All kidding aside, this may have been the most difficult part of the whole process. The caramel is (obviously?) really thick, so you have to have one person holding the container, and one person scraping with a giant spatula to make sure that it all gets in the cauldron. Not complicated, by any means, but there was definitely some finagling involved..

caramel

After that, all that’s left is adding the hops. This has to be done in intervals. So we measured out the amounts that we needed to put in at various points in time and then we waited.

This was science-y

This was science-y

At this point, I want to give a shoutout to the Brewmaster. When I called to schedule a reservation, I was told that the beer brewing process would take anywhere from two-and-a-half to three hours, but that we would be able to order food, have drinks, etc. while brewing so the time would fly by. With this in mind, we planned to eat lunch at North High while we brewed beer rather than eating somewhere either before or after.

Waiting to add the hops seemed like the perfect time to order food since there is pretty much nothing else to do during this time. But unfortunately, the Brewmaster told us that the bartender had not showed up that morning so there was really no way that we would be able to order anything (apparently the “bartender” also serves as short-order cook (and I’m actually not being sarcastic)).

The Brewmaster was clearly stretched pretty thin at this point, as a couple of people the night before had apparently drunkenly made reservations to brew beer at the same time as us and the bartender had not added them to the reservation list. Not to mention, more and more people were coming to the bar to watch the World Cup. And the Brewmaster was the only person working. So we understood why it wasn’t possible to order food. But it was still kind of annoying.

Eventually, though, the Brewmaster told us that he didn’t know when the bartender was actually going to make it in, so he was going to turn on the panini press for us and let us order food. I felt so bad for him, but it was also incredibly impressive. He was going from beer-brewing station to beer-brewing station, acting as the bartender out front and apparently also cooking paninis. Like whoa. That guy deserves a raise. The paninis were actually not bad, too. I mean, I wouldn’t suggest going to North High Brewing Company for like a date or anything since literally the only menu item is a panini. But you know, for a Sunday afternoon, it wasn’t bad!

So we ate our paninis and chips, added the hops as directed over a period of an hour, and then, voila, we were finished!

Dad breaking the No. 1 rule of chemistry class. #WAFT

Dad breaking the No. 1 rule of chemistry class. #WAFT

Once you’re finished brewing the beer, you basically just leave. It’s a little bit anti-climactic. They take the beer you’ve brewed and…do something with it. Then, in about two weeks or so, once the beer has fermented, you come back and bottle it, which I will discuss in a separate post.

Overall, I thought it was a good way to spend Fathers’ Day. We learned that my brother is weirdly knowledgeable about conversion ratios and that you can identify a hipster bar by whether they’re only showing the early rounds of the World Cup (non USA game) on the TVs even though the final round of the Masters is also on.