Sunday, February 25, 2007

Worth the Try...

I have to believe that my little Annabelle doesn't blame me for not thinking to have her professionally groomed until she was well past 3-years old... after all, I grew up with a short-haired dachshund, and we didn't even own a brush for her! Plus, I thought I was getting another short-haired when I picked out AB some 3+ years ago... (excuses, excuses...)

That aside, Annabelle (willingly, or not) spent a lovely 3 hours with "Auntie" at the PetSmart grooming salon yesterday (while I educated myself on how to teach ele. children to read at the next-door B&N); she came out with a much more manageable coat of fur and even little bows in her ears. Though AB is decidedly not the "bow type", I let her keep them in until she'd had enough.I must say... whatever shampoo and/or conditioner they use at PetSmart - it smells a heck of a lot better than AB's usual flea-tick repellent shampoo... maybe I should investigate.

Then some unexpected but beautiful snow (about 6 inches of it!) joined us this morning...

And, Annabelle is NOT one to turn down the opportunity to "romp" in the snow... plus, if you throw it (in this case, her purple ball), she will follow. But then we end up with this... (yes, all that snow is actually STUCK to her fur!)And the 3-hour grooming session was all for naught... oh well!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Happy Birthday, George & Abe!

Being the patriotic citizen that I am, I think it's only fitting that I finally work for an employer who values commemorating the birth of a couple of our forefathers. And, with that, I bid everyone, Happy President's Day!

We've been in the middle of some pretty serious ice, thanks to about 1.5 inches of snow followed by about 5 days of sub-zero temperatures... so after a fun brunch with Megan and Brad, we all decided it was about time to take my fireplace on its inaugural run. Thanks to the previous owner (almost 4 years ago!), there was even a log just waiting for us.
And it worked... so fun!! Bring on more cold weather! (I only wish I'd discovered this sooner!)

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Kevin and Angie!!

Even though it's only about an hour away, I haven't had many opportunities to explore Baltimore in my 5+ years living in DC. But without Kevin and Angie, that time would have been even less... and significantly fewer fun Memorial Day cookouts and explorations of Fells Point, to name a few.

So this weekend, we attended their beautiful and fittingly "Baltimore" wedding! The rehearsal dinner was held at Helen's Garden, a cute restaurant (once we found it) in the Canton area of Baltimore.

Both Kevin's parents and Dan gave very personal toasts - which made the evening so special for the soon-to-be-wed couple. It seemed like no one wanted the fun evening to end... we managed to close the house down... which sadly meant both Angie and "mom" couldn't get their night-caps.

Friday, the guys went to conquer Kevin's wedding-day challenge of running a mile in less than 6 minutes - followed by some hanging out and relaxing before the big evening. The wedding was that night, at 7pm - or thereabouts - at the beautiful Belvedere Hotel.

Chris and John G. gave the two remaining best men toasts - and both brought the house down. The rest of the evening was full of dancing and fun... and many memories made for Kevin and Angie's special night.

Congratulations, Kevin & Angie!!!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Chocolate Heart Day!

Happy Valentine's Day!

No big surprise that rather than really celebrate the mushy part of this holiday, I like to see it as another opportunity to make some (hopefully) delicious treats!

Being Food Network-obsessed, I've seen Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, make her beautiful truffles at least a dozen times so I decided that I would give them a try. Not only did these look straight-forward and still fancy, but I also recently discovered that Trader Joe's sells large chunks of Ghirardelli's semi-sweet, white, and milk chocolate at a GREAT price (check it out - I usually find it in large bins right by the cashiers).

I used Ina's recipe pretty much verbatim, except that I omitted the Grand Marnier. I imagine that you can probably use just about any flavoring at the point where she suggests you add the liqueur, and I'll probably try that next time. Two tips, one a necessity and the other, a nice-to-know:

  • It's essential that you do actually finely chop the chocolate before adding the warm cream - otherwise, the chocolate won't melt completely and you'll have crunchy pieces left in your beautiful creamy chocolate mixture.

  • A melon-baller works like a charm to scoop out the chocolate mixture. She mentions this when she makes these on Barefoot Contessa, but it's left out of this recipe online.

If you're ready to get super fancy, try rolling the refrigerated balls in a ganache and dip them in finely chopped nuts of your choice!!!

As a little Valentine's Day treat... I bagged two truffles each in a little sack; hopefully it will provide some Valentine's and chocolate cheer!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Back in the Kitchen!

After quite the hiatus, fueled by some serious spending habits during and after the Christmas season, I decided enough is enough. I can live with how cute (or not) my clothes and house are... but I can NO LONGER take the lackluster food coming out of my kitchen.

Some things, though, never change... before taking a look at my grocery stores' weekly ads, I did a quick check of my monthly budget to see where I had some wiggle room. February is looking surprisingly good so far; still, I declared no more "fun" purchases, whether clothes, kitchen toys, etc. this month and probably through March, though that remains to be seen. Given that I had a Williams-Sonoma gift certificate just waiting to be finished off and found myself returning something at Tyson's, I did make one, small exception (more on that later).

First however, Jason and Meaghan treated us to a fun night complete with yummy appetizers and a variety of homemade pizzas! Apparently I'm not the only proponent of Trader Joe's fresh pizza dough... Meaghan topped one with a light coating of delicious tomato sauce, chunks of marinated chicken, garlic and chopped onions, grape tomatoes, and crumbled feta; another with sweet Italian turkey sausage (healthy AND tasty!), roasted red peppers, dollops of ricotta, and the same fantastic red sauce, and the third, red and green bell peppers, ricotta, and fresh mozzarella. We rounded off the meal with Helen's take on a Giada salad - rough-chop any greens you have on hand (we had crunchy Romaine), add garbanzo, light red beans and chopped olives, red onion slices, and blanched green beans and serve tossed with a light sprinkling of salt & pepper, fresh lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil! And since I know better than to show up without brownies, I brought Jason a plate of my old stand-bys.

Meaghan's quick appetizer trick - slice any soft cheese in half and spread store-bought pesto through the center, replace the top of the cheese... and serve with crackers!

Being around all of this creative cooking really got me going. And while I headed straight for the internet and my and my Saturday night menu was actually very few "real" recipes, moreso a couple of combinations dreamed up sans recipe! My brother would be proud... as this is a stark contrast to my early cooking years.

I decided on New York strips since they were on sale, and simply rubbed the meat with olive oil, salt & pepper, and then sprinkled my version of Emeril's "essence" on both sides before pan-searing the steaks. Earlier in the afternoon, I'd made Emeril's Beurre Maitre d'Hotel; it was easy and added such wonderful flavor and color to the meat!
1/2 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 TBSP minced fresh parsley
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
two pinches of salt
one pinch ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients and roll into a log between wax paper; refrigerate until ready to use. When ready to serve the meat, put 1/4 inch thick slice of the butter on each portion. (enough for 2-4 steaks)

With the steaks, I served healthy spinach with sauteed shallots, and green peas with turkey bacon and chopped sweet onions. One thing I learned - fresh spinach cooks down almost more than you can imagine so frozen packs of whole-leaf spinach are the way to go.

Last night, I treated us to another new recipe and rarely used ingredient... prosciutto! This one's from Everyday Food. (I halved the recipe and baked it in a square casserole dish)

Baked Pasta with Spinach, Ricotta, and Prosciutto

My cook's notes... I used healthy Barilla Plus and skim milk which worked really well. Make sure, however, to use an adequate amount of ricotta, especially if halving the recipe, as it might be slightly dry otherwise.

Up next: Valentine's Day treats!!

Monday, February 05, 2007

A Good Excuse

I find that I am constantly seeking out occasions to make and eat more food... and of course, the Superbowl is no exception. This time we were treated to an evening of delicious food and great company, thanks to Drew and Amanda.

During the first half (jump-started by Drew screaming that the Bears had just run the kick-off back for a touchdown - first time in Super Bowl history), we started with a delicious, creamy cheeseball and an assortment of crackers. Amanda then brought down a plate of little toasts with a dollop of homemade guacamole, topped with marinated shrimp and a garnish of fresh cilantro - so beautiful and tasty! The food just kept rolling in... crackers with creamy goat cheese and pepper jelly, and meatballs in an incredible sauce. As Peyton and the Colts finished the Bears off, we wrapped up our evening with an assortment of cookies and hazelnut coffee.

My contribution to the evening, Peanut Butter Cookies, was meager but ended up a great complement to Amanda's sour cream cookies! Plus, they are easy enough to whip up for any occasion...

Chunky Peanut Butter Cookies

1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup crunchy peanut butter
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
white sugar for rolling

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees

1. Cream together butter, peanut butter, and both sugars. Beat in eggs.
2. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir into batter. Refrigerate batter for at least 1 hour (I refrigerated over-night which worked well).
3. Roll into 1-inch balls and roll lightly in the white sugar. Put on ungreased baking sheets, at least 2 inches apart as cookies will spread. Bake for approximately 10 minutes or until tops of cookies have developed a pretty crust and are a light golden color.

*A special thanks to Amanda for sharing my obsession with Kirs Royales - a fruity, bubbly drink that I learned to love during my semester in Dijon, France. For those who sadly have never had a Kir Royale, it's quite simple:

Start with about 1/2 a shot of Creme de Cassis and fill your champagne flute the rest of the way with any champage of your choice... enjoy!

While Amanda and I refrained from embarrassing the boys in Pictionary like we did New Year's Eve, I have no doubt that a re-match is in order.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

2007 Farewell Tour

At approximately 1AM EST this morning, thanks to Scandinavian Airlines, Christy Parker arrived in her new home for the next 2-3 years... Copenhagen, Denmark!

Many people can say that they have friends who've moved away (i.e. left them stranded), but I'm going out on a limb to say most people have not had friends who up and decided to head for Scandinavia... Copenhagen of all places. Of course, when your friend works for Maersk (officially A. P. Moller-Maersk Group), this doesn't seem so unusual. After about 4 years, spent rising through the ranks business development at Maersk Line Limited, Christy has decided to head across the pond (literally) for a job at Maersk's headquarters in Copenhagen.

So how do you send one of your best friends off for a new job in Scandinavia? Stacey and I started by throwing Christy a send-off bash two weekends ago... complete with much Maersk propaganda (including Maersk tattoos, pens, keychains and the famous Danish butter cookies) and whatever Danish food we thought sounded edible (no pickled herring). As a loyal employee and supporter of Maersk, Christy and I donned the fashionable Maersk button-downs to keep the "look" of the party 100% Maersk. Stacey, our resident scrapbooker-extraordinaire, organized everyone to complete a scrapbook for Christy... entries included anything from travel tips, sentimental good-byes, or just a favorite (or least favorite) picture reminding you of Christy. A big huge Thanks! to everyone who made this evening special... and especially to those who made guest appearances... Christy's parents en route to Mexico from Chicago/Wisconsin and other friends who came in from Atlanta and Charlotte! Next in what will be known as Christy's 2007 Farewell Tour was the MLL party hosted at co-worker Barney's home in Clifton, VA. Christy was allowed to invite a friend or two, and after hearing about all of her Maersk co-workers for the past 4+ years, I wasn't about to miss this. I was not disappointed - even though I don't have the pictures to prove it... Barney had QUITE the European spread and it made for a very nice evening toasting Christy and another co-worker, Katie, also heading across the pond.

After numerous other "last" lunches and dinners, Stacey, Christy and I planned one last hurrah at Tallula - a mere 3 days before Christy was scheduled to take off. We all indulged in their tasty butternut squash, parmesean, and balsamic salad followed by a round of delicious entrees. Towards the end of our meal, we were pleasantly surprised to find other new and old friends also enjoying a meal at Tallula and quickly merged tables with them to make an evening of it. Saturday was Christy's last official meal in the great US of A... Jeff, Chris, and I joined Christy at Lost Dog to cement the memory. Then it was off to Dulles to deliver Christy into the hands of the Scandinavians.

Follow Christy's adventures on her blog.

Good luck, Christy!
We'll miss you, and I'll see you in Scandinavia soon!

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