Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Happy Birthday to Us!

Two Sundays ago, I shared my 23rd birthday with my twin sister Lauren. To celebrate the occasion, on Saturday I ventured to a new mall in Arlington, Fashion Centre at Pentagon City, to do a little shopping for myself and for Lauren (her present didn't actually make it to her on time--oopsies). I can't believe I had not discovered this mall until just this past weekend--it was fabulous! The Nordstrom, alone, was probably the biggest--with the best shoe department--I have ever been to! It is also the home to such stores as French Connection, Kenneth Cole, Coach, Apple, Sony, MAC Cosmetics, Sephora, Williams Sonoma, MOVADO, Tourneau, A/X Armani Exchange, Banana Republic, BCBG, Ann Taylor, BeBe and Arden B. Wow, overload!

Of course I didn't have enough time to do the type of damage I easily could've, but I did make a few laps around Nordstrom to try to find the perfect gift for Lauren. And, as it was also my birthday, I thought I might get myself a little treat too!

It has been my quest to find the perfect mascara, practically since I started wearing my research, I've read countless reviews, asked trusted makeup artists and salespeople, and tried many different brands...and I think I may have actually found the perfect mascara! Christian Dior's "Diorshow" tops the charts! I even managed to get a set of two mascaras...the big one to do the thickening and the skinny one to do the lengthening! (It's my birthday, right? gotta splurge!) It works like a dream!

As some of you may know, I had a little incident with the eyelash extensions that I got for Lauren's wedding. They lasted about a month and still looked surprisingly good; but I was ready to give my eyes a good rub, so I had a friend help me take them off. I got some special lash-remover stuff to dissolve the glue, and we were pretty careful...but not careful enough and unfortunately, my once full set of lashes is now quite sparse. I freaked out and bought some product that is supposed to make your eye lashes grow fuller and faster, and since I'm an optimist, I'm going to say that it's working. But, this mascara is so good (and with a few coats, a la Lauren), and makes your lashes look so full, you would never know that I am actually missing a few!

I am in love! Do yourself a favor and check this won't be disappointed.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

I Feel Bad About My Neck

Over Thanksgiving (and, I swear, this will be my last post about Thanksgiving!), I went to Montana with nothing to, wait, I finished my book on the plane by the time we landed in Salt Lake...but, I didn't bring a back-up because I knew my mom would have something to keep me busy (and I secretly hoped we would take a family outing to Borders to restock my library!).

My mom was two chapters into this book, but let me take over while I was in town and I am SO glad she did. I really enjoyed this book! The author, Nora Ephron, is also the writer of the screenplays "When Harry Met Sally," "Sleepless in Seattle," and "You've Got Mail"--a Stimpson family favorite! I Feel Bad About My Neck...and Other Thoughts on Being a Woman is a series of very clever essays through which the author chronicles her life as an ardent New Yorker, an obsessed cook, and an intern at the White House during the JFK years, among other things. She speaks about hating her purse, redecorating her aparment, hosting dinner parties, getting married, getting divorced, and, one of my favorites: buying an amazing apartment that she can't really afford (to justify this purchase, she takes the cost of the apartment and amortizes it over the time she could live there, until the cost of the apartment per day was less than a Frappuccino from Starbucks--this same process can be used the same way to justify ANY purchase!). But mostly she speaks honestly and candidly about life as a woman of a certain age, as she faces the reality that she’s sixty-five, dyes her hair, and is not happy about her neck, her failed attempts at ambitious exercise programs, and other personal failures shared by many. I admit, I did feel a bit too young to be reading this, and I couldn't relate to many of her insights; but, I found myself laughing out loud in almost every chapter! Nora Ephron writes in an intimate style that makes her seem like a close friend sharing details about her life. I think by reading the wisdom and advice she offers, I will try harder not to take certain things about being a 20-something for the tight, youthful skin on my neck! (Enjoy it while it lasts, girls!)

Here is an excerpt from her chapter of one-liners, What I Wish I'd Known:

People have only one way to be.

Buy, don’t rent.

Never marry a man you wouldn’t want to be divorced

Don’t cover a couch with anything that isn’t more or
less beige.

Don’t buy anything that is 100 percent wool even if it
seems to be very soft and not particularly itchy when
you try it on in the store.

You can’t be friends with people who call after 11 p.m.

The world’s greatest babysitter burns out after two and
a half years.

The last four years of psychoanalysis are a waste of

The plane is not going to crash.

Anything you think is wrong with your body at the age
of thirty-five you will be nostalgic for at the age of forty-

At the age of fifty-five you will get a saggy roll just
above your waist even if you are painfully thin.

This saggy roll just above your waist will be especially
visible from the back and will force you to reevaluate
half the clothes in your closet, especially the white

Write everything down.

Keep a journal.

Take more pictures.

The empty nest is underrated.

You can order more than one dessert.

You can’t own too many black turtleneck sweaters.

If the shoe doesn’t fit in the shoe store, it’s never going
to fit.

When your children are teenagers, it’s important to have
a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you.

Back up your files.

Overinsure everything.

Whenever someone says the words “Our friendship is
more important than this,” watch out, because it almost
never is.

There’s no point in making piecrust from scratch.


If only one third of your clothes are mistakes, you’re ahead of the game.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Toasted Ravioli

Over the Thanksgiving break, not only was I allowed to run away with the menu for our Thanksgiving Feast, but my mom also let me plan the menu for Lauren and Ben's Open House in Monty. I guess my mom considers these good exercises for me, as I hope to one day open my own catering business. To minimize the need for forks and knives, we thought it would be best to plan a menu of mostly finger-friendly food. The final menu consisted of the following:

Lox and Cream Cheese stuffed Cucumbers
Pizzettes with Carmelized Onions, Goat Cheese, and Prosciutto
Chicken Meatballs with Sundried Tomatoes and Basil
Toasted Ravioli with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
Mushroom Lover's French Bread Pizza
Chocolate Hazelnut Tart
Pumpking Cake with Whipped Cream and Pecan Praline (yes, leftover from Thanksgiving...10 of us, and we could hardly make a dent in that thing!)

I had a little trouble trying to keep the hot things hot, so that is something I will have to work on for the next time, but I would say for the most part, it was a success!

My dear, sweet husband couldn't get enough of the toasted ravioli, and especially the sauce that went with it--and was kind enough to tell me how much he loved it with each bite!--, so I thought I would share that recipe with you all. I know if it were up to Mike, we would eat that every other night!

Here's what you'll need:

2 eggs
Splash of milk or half-and-half
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 cups Italian bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
12 large fresh spinach and cheese ravioli, about 3/4 pound (or whatever kind you like)
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Pinch red pepper flakes
2 roasted red peppers, drained
1 (14-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

Beat eggs and a splash of milk in a shallow dish and season with salt and pepper. Combine bread crumbs with cheese and parsley in a second dish. Coat the fresh pasta in egg then bread crumbs. Heat 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil over medium heat in a skillet then toast the ravioli until deep golden, 3 to 4 minutes on each side.

In a small sauce pot heat the remaining extra-virgin olive oil and the garlic and red pepper flakes over medium low heat. Grind the roasted peppers in the food processor and add to garlic after it sautes for a couple of minutes. Stir in tomatoes and season the sauce with salt and pepper.

When ready to serve, transfer sauce to a small bowl. Surround the sauce with toasted ravioli for dipping and serve.


Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Last summer, just before Michael and I moved to Virginia, and when Tessa was coming home from her study abroad program in Tonga, Lauren, Ben, Michael and I went up to Montana for a few days. One night while we were there, we ate at this Italian restaurant called Moroldo's. My parents discovered this restaurant sometime in the year that they've lived there and have eaten there pretty regularly ever since. They have become pretty good friends with the Owner and Executive Chef, so when he found out that the whole family was coming to dinner, he prepared a special "Chef's Selection" 5-course menu for us. The food was SO YUMMY and we all LOVED it.

When we were in Montana for Thanksgiving, my mom planned for us to have a live cooking demo at Moroldo's and I was really excited, to say the least. For insurance purposes, we weren't actually able to do any hands-on cooking; so Fabrizio, executive chef and owner of Moroldo's, took us back into the kitchen to demonstrate how to make each dish, one by one, and then sent us out into the dining room for the tasting. By the end, we had completely stuffed ourselves on a delicious 4-course Italian meal.

First, Fabrizio showed us how to make this yummy appetizer that was like a Napoleon--with a layer of puff pastry, then a layer of thinly sliced zucchini, then a layer of a tomato/basil mixture, then another puff pastry, etc., until there were three complete layers. It was so delicious! Then we went back into the kitchen and Fabrizio showed us how to make gnocchi and a simple tomato sauce (with just grape tomatoes that had been pureed in a blender and then sauteed in a skillet--that's it!). I couldn't believe how fast and easy it was to make this dish...not to mention how the gnocchi just melted in my mouth!

Our third course was a chicken breast that had been baked in the oven and then finished off in a skillet with a gorgonzola cream sauce...also, so simple and SO DELICIOUS! All Fabrizio did to make the sauce was to melt some gorgonzola cheese into a little bit of heavy cream (just enough to get the melting started) and then let the cooked chicken breast warm through in the sauce. By this time, we were pretty full, so I don't think any of could possibly finish..and of course we had to save room for dessert! For dessert, Fabrizio first had us come in the kitchen and taste a mixture he had prepared to see if we could identify the ingredients. We each guessed one or two, but we weren't able to get them all. Finally, he told us how to make this creamy, custard-like dessert. First, he put some lady fingers in the bottom of each individual serving dish. Then he made a simple syrup with poppy extract to pour over the lady fingers, and topped it with a cream mixture of marscapone cheese, lemon juice, and pine nuts. Over the top he sprinkled some chocolate shavings and come crushed Italian cookie bits.

We had such a blast! And I can't wait to try these dishes at home!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Which is Which?

One of these is the Pumpkin Cake with Whipped Cream and Pecan Praline that I made as part of my family's Thanksgiving Feast. The other is the Pumpkin Cake that Rachael Ray made for her Thanksgiving edition of Everyday with Rachael Ray. Can you tell which is which? (If you are judging by the quality of the photography, that is cheating.)

From my earliest preparation of our Thanksgiving menu, I was most excited making this cake. This little project was one full of firsts for is the first time I have 1) sliced layers of cake in half, as evenly as possible, of course, 2) made my own whipped cream frosting from scratch, and 3) assembled a 4-layer cake with a lazy susan and an offset spatula. This is one of my greatest culinary accomplishments, if I do say so myself. It was almost too pretty to eat...but not quite!

What a Thanksgiving!!!

I'm not sure if I've mentioned this before, but I have never been that crazy about Thanksgiving. (Don't get me wrong, I love the holiday itself and love any excuse to leave work or school to get together with family and friends and reflect on the blessings I enjoy, but I'm just not a big fan of the traditional Thanksgiving Feast.) I don't usually get excited to eat turkey and stuffing, or apple pie, or mashe potatoes and gravy--I don't even like mashed potatoes and gravy! I've been almost embarrassed to say that I don't like Thanksgiving, feeling like it is unAmerican to admit it.

Maybe I just haven't had the best experience with this Thanksgiving fare. (My Mother, bless her...she is a GREAT cook, but I've noticed that she has really gotten into it since her daughters left home. When we were growing up, we had so much going on all the time, that not only was there not a lot of time to sit down to a big meal as a family, but she also had to work around the picky appetites of 4 teenage daughters. She would constantly hear things like, "What's in that?" or "I can't eat that, it's too fatty!" And now it seems like she is trying all kinds of new things for her two boys, or men, shall I say, still at home.)

Anyway, my mom let me run away with the menu this year and I was so excited! It has been my little project and it has been such a party for me! I prepared a prelim-menu with all the yummy recipes I've read and seen on FoodNetwork (well, not ALL, are you kidding?! Do you have any idea how hard it was for me to pick only a few out of the hundreds I've seen/read?!). After I submitted my prelim-menu, I asked each of the fam what their favorite Thanksgiving dish is--the one that it really isn't Thanksgiving without. (Everyone should be able to eat their fave on Thanksgiving, right?) Then I revised the menu, printed recipes and created a grocery list for momma. So Fun! On the menu this year was the following:

Roasted Butter Herb Turkey
Turkey Dripping Gravy
Homemade Cranberry Citrus Dressing
Parker House Rolls
BLT Mashed Potatoes
Cornbread Stuffing w/ sausage and apples
Thanksgiving Green Beans
Sweet Biscuit Wreath
Whipped Sweet Potatoes and Bananas w/ Honey
Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Nutmeg and Sour Cream (more savory)
Pumpkin Gingerbread Trifle
Pecan Pie
Pumpkin Cake w/ Whipped Cream and Pecan Praline

My sister Tessa got some great shots of each dish, which I will share next time. It's going to be a week of cooking, that's for sure (true to form for us Stimpsons). After the Thanksgiving Feast, we will turn around and prep for Lauren and Ben's Open House in Monty. I'm still finalizing that menu. ;)

Monday, October 23, 2006

A yummy new soup!

One thing I love about when the weather first starts to get cold in the fall is that it means I can start making soup! I'm not sure what happened to me, but last year I just started craving all kinds of soup...maybe it is because eating soup makes you feel so warm and full. ha! I found this recipe and had almost all of the ingredients laying around my kitchen, so I gave it a try. If I didn't have any will power, I promise I would've finished the entire pot in one sitting! It tastes almost as good as Cafe Rio's tortilla soup. And, even better, if you have cooked chicken, it only takes about 30 minutes from start to finish! Give it a shot, you won't be sorry!

Here's what you'll need:

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
4 large cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 jalapenos, seeded and sliced
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried cumin
1 (28-ounce) can chopped tomatoes
3 cups shredded cooked chicken
Few dashes Worcestershire sauce
3 to 4 cups chicken stock
1 lime
1 cup cooked white rice
Kosher salt
Sour cream, for garnish
Fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and saute for 1 to 2 minutes. Add garlic and jalapeno and sweat until soft and translucent. Add spices and cook for 1 to 2 minutes until fragrant and aromatic. Add tomatoes, chicken, Worcestershire, and stock.
Bring to a simmer and cook 20 minutes.
Cut the lime in half, squeeze juice into the pot, and then add the juiced halves as well. (If you have some leftovers and want to reheat the soup for another day, take the limes out--they will get pretty bitter if you heat them up in the microwave.)
Add white rice and cook 5 minutes longer to warm rice through. Season, to taste, with salt.

Ladle into bowls and garnish with sour cream and cilantro. (Why stop there? Try adding tortilla chips or Fritos, shredded cheese, pico de gallo--whatever you would put in a taco!)


Monday, October 09, 2006

Our day with Dan

This past weekend, we had our first houseguest! One of Mike's friends, Dan, was on Fall Break at Duke Law School and decided to come up to DC for the weekend. He has been to DC a couple times in the last year, and has seen all the main museums and monuments, so he wanted to do some things that were not on the usual sightseeing tour. Mike took this opportunity to do some of the touristy things that he has been wanting to do for a while, but felt like no respectable "local" could actually get away with doing.

Dan arrived in Arlington at about 7pm on Friday night and we walked down the road to Clarendon to find a place for dinner. Much to my delight, Dan had never been to The Cheesecake Factory (my favorite restaurant in the whole world!), so we thought it our duty to take him there, so he can at least say he has been there once. One of my favorite things to do, now that we live in "the city" is to walk to and from our dates--whether they be out to dinner, or to the bookstore--there is something so great about being able to walk (especially with the great weather we've been having) and it sort of prolongs the event of the can walk as slowly or as quickly as you like, you can hold hands if you want to, and it gives you a lot more time to chat than you would have if you were to drive both ways. Anyway, when we got home from dinner, we watched a movie and then went to bed.

The next morning, the boys tried to fix our Tivo--something is amiss with our Internet connection, or something, so we haven't been able to get it working yet. This took a little longer than any of us planned on, and by the time that was done (still not fixed) and we were ready to face the day, it was noon! We didn't let this stop us from seeing and doing as much as we could--and we headed out and took the Metro down to Union Station in DC for lunch.

I LOVE Union Station--I don't know what it is about could be the amazing architecture, or the fun shops and yummy restaurants, but I could really stay there all day long and be totally content. But, I don't think our guest would've liked that, so we pressed on.

After lunch, we walked from Union Station up to the Capitol. Unfortunately, we weren't able to go inside, but it was still pretty cool to walk around the grounds and look out over the lawn to see the Washington Monument and the rest of DC. The Capitol actually looks MUCH bigger when you are on the front steps than it does when you see it even from a few blocks away. When we had enough at the Capitol, we walked up the hill to the Library of Congress. We walked in and found that the last tour of the day was going to start in just a few minutes; because it was only 35 minutes long, and it was free, we decided to do it. This place was UNBELIEVABLE! The architecture was phenomenal, the artwork and sculptures inside were fantastic, and there were mosaics on the ceilings that were absolutely amazing! We had no idea we were walking into such a find! The tour turned out to be a little longer than 30 minutes, so we ended up bailing and cruised the exhibits we wanted to see on our own.

My favorite exhibit was called "Enduring Outrage" and featured political cartoons by HERBLOCK. Some of them were pretty old, and I was too young to understand the political history of what was going on, but it was still really interesting. We spent a little over and hour inside and walked away totally impressed--I decided that this would be a must-see for future visitors.

After the Library of Congress, we got back on the Metro and headed to Georgetown. We walked down M Street--another hot spot near DC that has every store you could ever want to go to! Boutiques, Bistros, Cafes, Antique Stores, Mainstream Shops--you name it, M Street's got it! Unfortunately, we were on a time crunch to make our next activity, so we didn't have time to go into these amazing stores. We walked down to the docks, where we boarded a water taxi that took us down the Potomac River from Georgetown to Old Towne Alexandria. This was what Michael had been looking forward to ALL DAY! The taxi took about 45 minutes and it really did offer spectacular views of the city--a much different perspective than you normally get. There was an automated tour guide who would give us snip-its of info as we passed by certain landmarks. However, we found that the better way to do the water taxi is to take it from Alexandria to Georgetown because as we passed by the monuments and landmarks that we wanted to learn about most, the tour guide would say, "I will have much more to say about this on the return trip." (We were only one-way passengers.) Boo.

When we got to Alexandria, the sun was just starting to set and we decided to have a quick dinner before we headed home, so that Dan could get on the road at a reasonable hour. We found a little Italian bistro and had some yummy pizza and then got back on the Metro and headed home. By the time we made it back to our apartment, we were completely exhausted! I pretty much hit the couch and didn't move again (until Mike woke me up to tell me it was time for bed).

So, guys, all this to say, if you come to visit, we will do our best to show you a good time!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Sunday Brunch

What could be better than a brunch on Sunday? And what more perfect day to have a Sunday Brunch than Conference Sunday? This was my first Conference on the east coast, which means the morning session started at noon and the afternoon session started at four. So, Sunday Brunch with nothing to do and nowhere to be until noon was a no-brainer! While the boys were at Priesthood session on Saturday night, I planned the menu and went to the Mecca of all Grocery stores--Wegmans--to get the best ingredients for the feast. On the menu was Oatmeal Cookie Pancakes, Breakfast Pizza and Breakfast sandwiches. I tried to pick my favorite dish, but they were all so good! These are some great recipes to add to your breakfast repitoire, so give them a try the next time you feel like having more than just cereal in the morning!

Oatmeal Cookie Pancakes

Here's what you'll need:

1 cup old fashioned oats
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 ounces, 1/4 cup, chopped walnuts, optional
3/4 cup sour cream
3/4 cup whole milk
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 really ripe bananas, mashed up
3/4 cup raisins, optional
1/2 stick butter, 1/4 cup, melted, plus additional for buttering skillet
Maple syrup or honey, for drizzling

I think the fastest way to ruin oatmeal cookies is to put raisins in them, so I opted for chocolate chips instead. A much better idea, in my opinion.

Here’s a great tip: if you cannot find really ripe bananas, just place them in the microwave for about 15 seconds and they will become soft enough for mashing.

Mix dry ingredients, the first 7, in a bowl. In another bowl, mix the wet ingredients, the next 4. Whisk the wet ingredients into the dry until just combined, then fold in the mashed up bananas and the raisins (or chocolate chips). Stir in the melted butter.

Heat a griddle over medium heat and brush with additional melted butter (or Pam, if you are feeling healthy). Cook pancakes, each about 1/3 cup, until bubbles form on the top, then turn. Cakes will cook in about 2 minutes on each side. Keep pancakes tented with foil as they come off the griddle to keep them hot. Serve with drizzled honey or maple syrup over the top. (Seriously, these are yummy and sweet enough without anything on top!)

Breakfast Pizza

Here's what you'll need:

1 storebought pizza dough
2 tablespoons butter, melted
4 tablespoons Cinnamon-Sugar, divided, recipe follows
2 cups mascarpone cheese
1 tablespoon heavy cream
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest (from 1 lemon)
2 cups mixed berries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Using a rolling pin, roll out the pizza dough to a thickness of about 1/4 inch. Transfer the pizza dough to the lined baking sheet and brush the dough with the melted butter. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons Cinnamon-Sugar and bake until golden brown, about 10 to 15 minutes. Cool the pizza crust on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, mix together the cheese, cream, lemon juice, and zest.

Spread the cheese mixture over the cooled crust. Top with mixed berries and sprinkle with the remaining Cinnamon-Sugar. Slice like a pizza and serve.

1 vanilla bean
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

Cut the vanilla bean in half, lengthwise. Using the back of a knife, scrape along the inside of the vanilla bean to collect the seeds. Scrape vanilla bean seeds into a small bowl. Add sugar and cinnamon and stir to combine. Set aside in a small serving bowl.

Breakfast Sandwiches

Here's what you'll need:

1 Italian baguette (the bread needs to be dense)
Unsalted butter, softened
Thin chocolate squares, unwrapped (recommended: Ghiradelli Chocolate Squares)
Sliced banana
Sliced strawberries
Sliced blackberries*

Heat a griddle or a small skillet over medium heat.

Slice the bread into 1/4-inch thick slices. Take 2 slices and butter 1 side of each slice. Put the bread, buttered side down, onto the griddle. Place a square of chocolate on top of 1 slice and top it with some sliced fruit. Cover with the other slice of bread, buttered side up, and grill on both sides until the chocolate is melted. Repeat with remaining ingredients. Serve immediately.

*Cook's Note: Experiment with other fruits, chopped nuts, or different kinds of chocolate.


Thursday, September 21, 2006

Let them eat Cake!

I feel like most of the dates that Michael and I go on are centered around things I like to do...going out to eat, spending an evening at Barnes & Noble, window shopping in Clarendon (a posh community of Arlington). So, last week, when Mike asked me what I wanted to do that evening (one of his afternoon classes had been cancelled, freeing up some time), I told him that I wanted to do something that HE really wanted to do.

When I got home that night, Michael told me he had a surprise for me and that we needed to eat dinner quickly and then hop on the Metro to go into the city. (First thought: ok, we are not going out to eat.) Michael was so pleased with himself and the surprise he has been planning all afternoon, and probably more so that I really didn't have a clue what it was. As we rode the Metro, he would periodically get this look on his face--like he was an ecstatic little kid--knowing that I was going to LOVE my surprise. As we rode the train, I started to think about what "my surprise" could be. I first thought that we were going to Union Station--one of my favorite places to walk around right in downtown with lots of fun shops and restaurants. But, we passed that train stop. Then I thought we might be going to the National Gallery--Michael knows I love to look at art and we haven't been there since last summer. Nope, we passed that train stop too. At this point, I don't recognize any other Metro stops, so I'm out of guesses. I asked Michael to give me a hint and he said, "It has to do with economics." Great. Then I remembered that he asked me before we left if I was going to bring the book I am reading--The Armchair Economist (it has become one of Michael's favorite books and I thought I would understand why he is so obsessed with economics if I read it). So, because he asked me if I was going to take this book on our trip (his copy), I thought we were going to a book singing of The Armchair Economist.

When we finally got off the Metro, we were on U Street in northwestern DC. We started walking down the street and I started to wonder if Michael even knew where he was going. I didn't recognize ANY thing in the area, but when we finally got to the corner of U Street and 15th street, I noticed a bakery called Love Cafe. It made me remember a bakery I had read about last summer in the Washington Post that I wanted to go to....and maybe this was it! Michael started to slow down and asked, "Do you know what this is?" YES! It WAS the bakery that I read about last summer. The article what about a lawyer turned baker who had recently opened a bakery and was going to be starring in a new show on the Food Network called Sugar Rush. I was SO EXCITED! A date that was supposed to be what Michael wanted to do, and he plans something that he knew I would love! What a guy.

This bakery specializes in cakes made from scratch and cupcakes with many flavors of buttercream frosting. Michael got the German Chocolate cupcake, which he at in about three seconds flat.

I opted for a chocolate toffee crunch layer cake. Wow, was that good! I'm already planning my birthday cake for this year (and only 3 months away!)

Monday, September 18, 2006

The yummiest lasagna ever!

This lasagna recipe is SO SO DELICIOUS! Not only do I love it, but it is honestly the only thing Mike requests when I say, "What do you want to have for dinner this week?" And, if I try to make a new dinner the night after I make this lasagna, he would always rather have the lasagna again.

This is what you will need:

1 package lasagna noodles
1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 cans tomato soup (condensed, do NOT add water)
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Nonstick cooking spray
2 cups cottage cheese (small curd)
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add salt. Boil noodles according to package directions.

While noodles are boiling, brown beef in a large frying pan over medium-high heat, adding chopped onion, garlic and oregano to meat as it cooks. When meat has browned, drain off fat and then add tomato soup and apple cider vinegar. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Preheat oven for 350 degrees F.

Spray a medium casserole dish with a nonstick cooking spray. Lay noodles lengthwise across bottom of casserole dish. Spread a layer of cottage cheese over top of noodles. Add a layer of meat mixture, then cover with mozzarella cheese and repeat for a total of 3 layers. Finish with a layer of cheese and bake for 30 minutes or until bubbling. Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes before cutting and serving.


Thursday, September 14, 2006

"I am here to challenge you to a throwdown!"

One of my new favorite shows is called THROWDOWN with BOBBY FLAY on, of course, the Food Network. The premise of this show is that Bobby is on a secret mission to challege masters of one kind of cooking--wedding cake pastry chefs, award winning BBQers, bakers--some with a roomful of trophies to show for it. In each episode, one of these cooks is made to believe that Food Network is shooting their profile for a show. They film a spot about their dish, how they got started, the awards they've won and then they plan to have a party where all the locals come to celebrate with the chef for their profile on the Food Network. What they don't know is that Bobby is going to drop in for a surprise visit and challenge them to an unexpected cook-off .

I think this is a great new idea for a competition-type of cooking show. It shows how versatile Iron Chef Bobby Flay really is as he is able to create recipes off the top of his head to stand up to each of these master chefs' famous dishes. And, he definitely isn't always in his element--he once competed in a wedding cake throwdown, having never made a wedding cake before. Another thing I like is that Bobby isn't guaranteed a win, just because he is a Food Network star...I find it a little bit endearing.

Check it out!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Justin 99.5

So, now that I have a 45-minute commute every morning, I had to find something to listen to that would keep me awake on the road. Unfortunately, my XM radio membership has expired and that isn't exactly an expenditure that is in the monthly budget for now. I thought about getting the Book of Mormon or some other book on tape to make me feel productive on my way to and from work everyday, instead of mindlessly flipping through radio stations trying to find a song I like. I haven't yet gone to the library to check out the books on tape; but, I happened to find a radio show that is pretty entertaining!

"The Morning Mess" on HOT 99.5 is a pretty funny morning show, and, more importantly, their hosts don't annoy me. I'm sure you've all heard dozens of radio hosts that just grate on your ears so much so that you can't even bare to listen to them and you change the channel as soon as there is a break in the playlist. These guys, Mark and Kris, among others, have really nice voices, they talk about topics that interest me (not really intellectually stimulating, but who really wants that at 7:30am anyway?!), and they are pretty funny. I think I would like to be friends with them...but for now, I will just pretend to be their friend as they drive with me to work every morning.

On Tuesday, in honor of Justin Timberlake's release of his new albumn, the Morning Mess decided to rename their entire station for the day. They were no longer HOT 99.5, they were JUSTIN 99.5. They did not have the HOT Hollywood HOTsheet, or HOT Headlines; they had the Hollywood JUSTIN sheet. And, they played Justin music all day long--some throwback tunes to his N'SYNC days and also some unreleased songs on his new album. Even though I don't consider myself a huge Justin Timberlake fan, I thought their promotion idea was pretty clever and it was kinda fun to hear all the old N'Sync songs I used to listen to in High School. Needless to say, I think I'll keep my radio tuned in to HOT 99.5's Hot Morning Mess!

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Pink Motel

This is, hands down, my favorite book from elementary school...but, until last week, when I read it again, I really couldn't tell you why I loved it so much. In fact, I could barely remember anything about it. I decided to refresh my memory and went in active search of this childhood favorite. I searched at Borders, but it was out of print. I guess it wasn't really an active search, because when I couldn't find it at Borders, I gave up...temporarily. Knowing that I had such fond memories of this book and was anxious to read it again, my dear twin sister surprised me with it shortly after I moved to Virginia. I was so excited when I opened the package, I honestly screamed and all of the Wheatleys looked at me like I was nuts!

In The Pink Motel, Kirby, Bitsy, and their parents inherit an unusual and very pink motel in Florida. When they arrive during their winter vacation, they find it filled with eccentric characters, mystery, and adventure. The Mellen family plans to fix things up so that they can sell the motel and be back in Minnesota by the time school starts, but as soon as they arrive at their new motel, the regular winter guests begin to arrive and the adventure begins!

Before reading this book again, the only thing I remembered was that while reading The Pink Motel in the fifth grade, our English teacher Mrs. Newman, (who, as it happens, was from England) taught us about Lady Fingers. One of the characters in the book, Miss Ferry, could always be counted on to have treats and goodies for Kirby and Bitsy; and on one particular day, it was lady fingers that were served. Ever since then, whenever I see lady fingers in the store or being used in some recipe on the Food Network, I always think of The Pink Motel.

I would highly recommend that you pick up a book you remember fondly from your childhood and rediscover why you loved it so much. I was so happy to read The Pink Motel again after so many years, and remember things from our fifth grade English class that we discussed about the book. This will definitely be a book that I read to my children at bedtime!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A literal Labor Day Weekend

For most, Labor Day weekend is a time of complete relaxation...usually filled with bar-b-ques, trips to a lake or cabin, hiking excursions, softball games or other outdoor activities, and most importantly, NO WORK. For us, it was quite the opposite.

Friday was the day that Mike and I were able to pick up the keys to our new apartment. We planned to start taking boxes over when we picked up our keys and start unloading that afternoon. We woke up Friday morning to a torrential down-pour! (not a good sign) It did not stop raining from the time we woke up until the time we went to bed. But, like troopers, Mike and his brother James did end up loading the suburban with boxes and fought the elements as they started to move us in.
When we woke up on Saturday morning, it was still raining, though not as hard as the day before...this was just a steady mist--just light enough so that you couldn't really tell if it was raining by looking outside, but just hard enough so that it was really irritating. We went to pick up some furniture from a lady in our stake whose calling it is to coordinate furniture donors with people in need of furniture. We made two stops to pick up furniture--Mike's dad driving the Burb and Mike and me in his car--and took a load over to the aparment. Then we went back to the Wheatley's to load more furniture and boxes, and this time we headed to Arlington in a convoy of all the cars at the Wheatley house. We decided to hold off on taking the bed and our clothes over until the rain stopped, but we made a lot of progress. That night I went Target to get more stuff for the apartment--it felt a bit like stocking up on the necessities that I did when I first arrived at BYU!

On Sunday, we went to our new ward in Arlington and then headed to our apartment to start unloading boxes. We worked until we were starving--which, as it was fast Sunday, didn't take too long. But, I felt pretty good about the progress we'd made.
By how exhausted we were on Sunday evening, I would've thought that most of our work was done. As it turned out, I WAY underestimated the amount of work we had left to do! As we were cleaning out closets and making trips from various places in the house out to the car, Mike said, "I'm to the point where I feel like no matter how many trips I make to the car, I am never going to be finished." (Very similar to what he said the day we moved out of our apartment in Provo when we were taking things down to the car...I think he counted 87 trips to the car that day--just his trips, not mine.) First we took apart the bed and moved the bed frame, mattress, and box spring. Then we moved all the clothes in our closet and wardrobe's times like those when I wonder how in the world I can often think in the morning, "I have nothing to wear!", but I still do. Finally, with the suburban and the Trailblazer loaded again, we made another trip to Arlington. Two and a half hours later, we were back at the Wheatley's to drop off the car and then off to buy a couch--finally one thing that we can have someone else deliver! The good news is we got a great deal on a couch that I am really excited about. The bad news is it won't be delivered until next Friday. Boo.

Now that our "vacation" weekend is over, Mike has had to get back to his law books, and I come home from work everyday to continue to take things up to the apartment--yesterday is was half of Costco's inventory, today I plan to clean out the grocery--and unpack and try to find storage in our little apartment, but I am very excited to be moved in and finally have a place of our own. It almost felt like Christmas to open so many boxes of things I haven't seen since June, and even some wedding gifts that continue to trickle in. My forcast is that it will be until the couches arrive that (almost) everything is in its rightful place.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Best Ever Brownies

If you choc-o-holics loved Chocolate Cake to "Dah" For, you are going to eat these "Best Ever" Chocolate Brownies up! This recipe is, of course, from the Food Network and if they are calling these the "Best Ever Brownies," you know you've got a winner!

My days of staying with the Wheatleys are numbered, as Mike and I are moving into our new apartment in Arlington this weekend, so I've only got a few more days of having lots of people to cook for, especially delicious desserts. As much as I love to bake, it's harder to make treats for just Mike and me and then have them stare at me from the counter for the next few days until my will power completely gives out and I eat the rest just to get rid of the them. These brownies were a BIG hit, and they are very easy to make!

This is what you'll need:
1 cup unsalted butter
3 ounces best-quality semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup best quality cocoa powder
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese, softened
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon fine salt

6 ounces best-quality semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
6 tablespoons heavy cream
3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter an 8 by 8-inch square pan and set aside.
In a small saucepan, melt the butter and bring it to just below a boil. Place the chopped chocolate in a large bowl. Pour in the hot butter and let stand for 30 seconds. Stir until completely melted. Sift in the sugar and cocoa powder. Beat in the mascarpone, eggs, and vanilla, mixing until smooth. Gently fold the flour and salt into the batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan and spread evenly. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 to 15 minutes.

While the brownies are cooling, make the ganache. Place the chocolate (6 oz.) in a mixing bowl and set aside. Bring the cream and butter to just below boiling point in a small saucepan over medium heat. Pour the hot mixture over the chocolate and let stand for 30 seconds. Stir the mixture until smooth. Spread the ganache over the brownies while it is still warm. Allow the ganache to set completely before cutting into squares. (We couldn't quite wait that long!)

These brownies, with the ganache, are like velvet! You can serve with ice cream, or just go at them with a glass of milk. Mike's comment was, "Ooh, these are really good! I got a corner piece and it is not harder or cooked more than the brownies in the middle," a good indicator of a fabulous batch!


Monday, August 21, 2006

Nightmare at Salon Nordine

It's hard to believe that a day that starts out with such promise can end in shambles. And what's more difficult to understand is that it can turn in the snap of your fingers...or for me, in the time it took my dye to set.

For our first anniversary, my thoughtful husband got me a mini-day at the spa at this seemingly posh salon and day spa close to my office. I decided to add a haircut and color to the end of my day of pampering, and figured that anyone who worked at this beautiful salon could do what I was looking for. (or maybe I just wasn't thinking) But, boy, was I wrong!

After I enjoyed a wonderful pedicure, a relaxing massage, and a cleansing facial, my day went from one of the best of the summer to one of the worst I've had in years!

Maybe I only have myself to blame. I mean, I should've seen the signs. First, my stylist asked me, while sitting in her chair, what I was going to do about my, excuse me? What did she mean, "what was [I] going to do"? That's why I went to see her, duh, so that she could fix them. She asked me if I planned to do my own roots...are you kidding? Isn't that against the cardinal rules of hair care and maintenance? After living with an incredibly talented stylist, I don't use grocery store products--not shampoo, not conditioner, and CERTAINLY not color. I should've stopped her right there, and bolted for the door, but I told her I wanted her to do what she needed to blend them. I told her I wanted highlights (think Jessica Alba--natural and not too light) and a cut like Sandra Bullock (angled to the front and pretty short...but not too short that my face would look chubby). I told her before we began that I was on a time crunch and asked if we would have time to both cut and color my hair, but she assured me we would have time to do both.

She proceeds to put foils in my hair--not as many as I'd planned, but I thought it would be fine. She said, when she was taking them out, that she didn't think they even needed a toner--weird, because they usually do need a toner, but I'm still going along with it. She cuts my hair, but says that I wouldn't want to go any shorter than she cuts because I wouldn't be able to pull it back...whatever. When she starts blow drying my hair, she starts at my chin-length bangs and almost immediately says, "Oh, yeah, I thought this might happen--see how your natural color at the roots picked up the bleach differently than the ends? You will need to come back tonight or tomorrow and get that fixed." I think it might not be as bad once it's all dry and styled...but she just keeps on reminding me of how bad it looks..."at least I'm honest," she says. Then she tells me that I can just color my roots a darker brown and that will cover it...COLOR MY OWN ROOTS? WHAT IS SHE SMOKING? SHE ENCOURAGES HER CLIENTS TO RUIN THEIR HAIR WITH GROCERY STORE COLOR? Now, as she is blow drying my hair, she is not doing it sections, like I usually have to; she is not using a big round brush, like I usually have to; she is not lifting up at the roots, like I usually have to. She is blow drying my hair like I used to in the eighth grade before I knew what I was doing. She stops drying at about 7:25, so that I can get to my appt. at 7:30, like I told her--but my "appt." is at least 30 minutes away. I was supposed to meet Mike at a bbq at George Mason in Arlington--at least 35 miles from where I am getting my hair makeup is all off because of my facial, my hair looks like trailer trash, it's not dry all the way, which means it is fuzzy in the back, it's flat on top, except in the front, where she has poofed my long bang, and it's not nearly as short as I wanted. (I can't believe I'm saying that, but I somehow got really brave and wanted short hair.) And she tells me to call her tomorrow and let her know what I want to do. Uh, I don't think so. I paid $135 for the nightmare she did to my hair and called Lauren immediately, IN HYSTERICS, to complain. AHH! And, can you believe this lady actually had the nerve to say, "isn't it the worst to try to find a new hair stylist when you move?" I have never felt that horribly when I walked out of the salon in my whole life!

The next morning, after speaking with my mother in law and having a new stylist at the same salon recommended to me, I called her to ask her advice. Marissa, the new stylist, told me that she would fix my hair for free and that if I didn't feel uncomfortable at the prospect of seeing the stylist that ruined me the day before, I could come in that very afternoon. So, naturally, I went strait to the salon and three hours later, I had a the hair-do I wanted...or at least a lot closer.

I think next time, I will just book a flight to Utah every 6-8 weeks for an appointment with my REAL would've saved me time, headache, and money, I'm sure.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Chocolate Cake to "Dah" For

If you or anyone you know is a chocolate lover, you've GOT to try this recipe. I got it from my mom--my inspiration, and the Queen of cakes--and both she and I have made it for many a party and it is ALWAYS a hit.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix together:

1 box chocolate cake mix (it's best with a chocolate cake mix, but you could also use a Butter or Yellow cake mix as well)
1 small box milk chocolate instant pudding (3.9 oz)
1 cup sour cream
1 cup oil
1/2 cup water
3 eggs

Beat for 2-3 minutes at medium speed
Stir in 9 oz chocolate chips (semi-sweet or milk chocolate)
Bake at 350 for one hour, but check after 50 minutes. I have used two 9-inch round pans to make a layer cake, and I have also used a bundt cake pan and that works too. If you make a layer cake, use any frosting you choose and put goodies both in between the layers and on top. For a bundt cake, mix your goodies with your frosting and pour over a completely cooled cake.

**Goodies can be whatever you choose. A couple of yummy ones are Cracklin' Oat Bran, crushed Snickers, crushed Heath Bar, Hershey's Hugs (save some to sprinkle on top of the frosted cake), candy bars, etc.

Note: If you use muffin tins, bake 24 muffin liners for 23-27 minutes.


Saturday, August 19, 2006

Garlic and Sapphires

On a recent trip to Tower Records--a lame excuse for a book store, but the only one nearby--I picked up this book. The cover immediately caught my eye--and, let's be honest, I always judge books by their covers. I think people who say they don't are lying. The cover is the first thing to catch your eye; if you think the cover looks interesting, then you read the title and if that appeals to you, then you read the back cover...isn't that the natural progression? Where did the phrase, "Don't judge a book by it's cover" come from anyway? How else are you supposed to pick books--are you supposed to go down the ailes looking only at the titles? Wouldn't the colors and illustrations on the covers catch your eye before you could even get to the titles? I digress.

This cover looked particularly appealing, so I moved on to the title and then--still intrigued--I read the back cover. It looked like a very entertaining read, so I bought it. What a find! Ruth Reichl, now the editor in chief of Gourmet magazine, writes about her adventures as food critic for the NY Times. In order to maintain anonymity while reviewing some of the biggest restaurants in NYC, she takes on the guise of a series of eccentric personalities. The only rule that Reichl uses when she goes to any given restaurant is that her guests can order as much as they can eat, but she gets to try everything--my kind of rule! The way she describes the food in this book just makes your mouth water. And, she even includes some of her favorite recipes, which I fully intend to try. This is the first break from fiction I've taken in a while, and I was very pleased with this selection. Even if you are not as obsessed with food as I am, you would probably still really enjoy this book. It's interesting, it's funny, it's very well written and it gives an insight into the theater and politics of eating out.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

My day as a Judge on Iron Chef America

Last week, I went on a trip with the Wheatley family to Philadelphia, Martha's Vineyard, and Boston. Being the self-proclaimed Food Network Queen that I am, I was in charge of finding yummy places for us to eat in our travels.
As soon as I found out we would be in Philadelphia, I knew we just had to eat at Masaharu Morimoto's restauarant--morimoto. It was unbelievable! Scott, my father in law, was kind enough to tell me I could get the Chef's Selection (a multi-course tasting tasting menu designed to allow you to experience the essence of Morimotos's cuisine), something that I hadn't even considered. He told me that the reason we went there was to try Morimoto's cuisine and if I wanted to get Omakase, as they call it, I should. With that, how could I refuse?! It was unreal--it was honestly as though I was a judge on Iron Chef America--my dream come true! The first course that I sampled was a yellowtail tartare w/ cruchy shallots sitting in a yummy broth with caviar on top and served with a japanese peach and freshly grates wasabi...ohmigosh. With each course, the server told me what the dish was, what it was served with, and how the chef recommends you each it. For example, with the first course, Morimoto recommends that you mix some of the wasabi into the broth and dip the yellowtail before savoring each morsel. The little japanese peach is about the size of a grape and looks like a fury little redish ball and tastes like a strawberry/peach smoothie. I had a smile from ear to ear!

The next course was red snapper sashimi served with microgreens and a japanese twist on a cesar dressing, with also a carrot reduction sauce (that didn't tast like much, but sure made the plate look pretty!) on the side. The sashimi had been torched on the top, so the skin was a little crunchy (I am only guessing, but I have seen him do this on Iron Chef didn't look like it had been seared, but it had been cooked a little on the top.) So Yummy!

The third course came out with everyone else's main course, and was a chilean sea bass with a black bean paste that was served in a little bit of hot peanut oil with shaved scallions on top. Oh, wow. The fish was steamed perfectly and ever bite seemed to melt instantly in my mouth. The black bean paste was just enough to add a little salt, without being overpowering, and the oil was so like that it just make everything slide down almost too fast.

The fourth course was a platter of nigiri--tuna, AJI--or jackfish, yellowtail, needlefish and salmon. I have seen Alton Brown's episode on sushi, so I knew exactly how to dip the nigiri in soy sause fish side first in a sweeping motion. Apparently, if you dip the rice side in first, it is a complete insult. The fish was so fresh and so colorful and something about the soy sause was so tasty! (definitely not of the kikoman variety)

The fifth and final course was a pistachio dessert with a little scoop of cherry sorbet and a thin piece of peanut brittle on top, served with mascerated cherries and crushed pistachios. I didn't think I was crazy about pistachios, but this was so delicious! I can't remember exactly what it was called--and it wasn't on the menu, so I couldn't look it up--but it was a little bit like a tart with an almost granular texture that melted as soon as it touched my tongue. There was a very thin layer of sliced almonds on top to add a little bit of a crunch and the sorbet was the perfect compliment.

The whole meal took almost two hours--what could be better than enjoying some of the best food you've ever tasted for two whole hours?! Not to mention, it was two hours out of the hot, humid afternoon. It was an experience that I know I will not soon forget.