April 21, 2012

Rice Wine Vinaigrette

While on my trip to New Orleans, I tried to eat as many new, local foods as I could. Such delights included a crawfish boil, a po boy, alligator, and an unexpected delight- a fantastic rice wine vinaigrette. At one restaurant, the house salad served before the entree turned out to be the best thing of the whole meal. This vinaigrette is why.

My fancy (but so useful) emulsifier.
The server was kind enough to tell me what was in it- not suspecting that I wrote the ingredients down as soon as she walked away so I could try to recreate it at home. I've made 5 versions of this vinaigrette and I think I've finally nailed it. So far, I've eaten it on a salad, on some carrots, and over cold pasta just because I can. I may never get another store bought dressing again.

Rice Wine Vinaigrette
Makes 1 cup dressing

What You'll Need:
1/3 cup Seasoned Rice Wine Vinegar
2/3 cup good olive oil (do not use "light" olive oil)
4 cloves garlic, minced up small
3 tsp Italian herb mix
2 tsp dry mustard (or 2 Tbs prepared mustard)
1 tsp honey

April 19, 2012

New Orleans Road Trip!

I've finally found my way back home after a fabulous time in New Orleans. I had an absolute blast. Music was everywhere, the food was amazing (more on that later), and it was impossible to walk 2 blocks without finding a place to get a drink. What a fabulous town.

By happy accident, French Quarter Festival was going on while I was down there. That upped the music factor by tenfold and it drew a lot of people. We actually met a ton of great people while we were there. I got a little too much sun, but that just tells you I was having a good time!

Jackson Square was hopping with music and festival goers. It also happens to be across the street from the fabulous Cafe du Monde which serves the infamous beignets. Those little doughnuts covered in powdered sugar are a fantastic treat.

French Quarter Festival had a parade down Bourbon Street. It was a great experience, and it definitely assuaged the part of me that wanted to come back for Mardi Gras. I had a great time, but the huge crowd draw and sheer insanity is probably too much for me. French Quarter Fest, though, was just the right amount of fun and letting loose without being over the top. 

I had to do one super touristy thing while in New Orleans, so we went down to the bayou to visit the alligators. I don't have to worry about gators all the way up in Virginia, so it was a big draw. The gators weren't terribly cooperative on the tour, but we got to see one pretty large gator and we all got to hold a small, young one. Totally worth it. Did you know they're very soft? I didn't.

Overall the trip was a wonderful time. The 18 hour drive was a little bit too much, though. Driving in wasn't bad, because of the excitement, but the trip home dragged. Once we left, we were really ready to be home, but it was a long way to go. If you ever get a chance to go down there, do it. Do it, and eat everything you can, because the food was the best part.

April 11, 2012

Blackberry Smoothie

The nice warm weather is in full swing, and so I'm drinking a lot more smoothies. I don't like turning on the A/C in the apartment when it isn't really nasty hot out. So to help keep cool, I've been making smoothies like this for breakfast or lunch.

Blackberry Smoothie
Makes 1 generous servings, 4 Points+ each

What You'll Need:
1 1/2 cups frozen blackberries*
1 ripe banana
1/2 cup fat free milk
2 1/2 Tbs sugar

*Buy frozen ones or put toss them in the freezer for a couple hours. Them being frozen means you don't need icecubes, which I prefer.

The Process:
    Put all ingredients in blender. Blend until a smooth, liquidy consistency is achieved. The blackberry seeds are a little bitter, so you may want to adjust the sugar a little bit to taste.

Serve in a nice tall glass and sip to prolong the cooling effects.

April 9, 2012

NOLA, Here I Come!

When this post goes up, I will (hopefully) be somewhere in North Carolina, on my way to New Orleans! I am heading down with a very good friend from college for a little vacation. We're going to visit cemeteries, drink ourselves silly, and probably get cursed by an angry fortune teller. Should be a great time!

It'll be a 22 hour drive on the way down, because we're taking the Blue Ridge Parkway. It adds a little time, but the views will be worth every minute of it. We're stopping in lovely Asheville, NC halfway down to spend the night (and eat breakfast at an awesome cafe there).

Not to worry, though, I have a few posts already written that will go up while I am gone. After I come back, aside from being extra tan, I have a few new things coming up, including the first Book Nook suggestion!

See you all after some sun and fun... and cocktails.

April 4, 2012

Restaurant Magic Revived At Home

No matter how good you are at cooking or how much you enjoy it, sometimes it's nice to just go out to a restaurant and leave all the cooking (and cleanup) to someone else. Casey and I went out to PF Chang's last night, and like most restaurants, their portions are huge. As you can imagine, we took quite a bit of food home with us.

Leftovers are great, since you get a little more for your money. Sadly, they are often disappointing when you reheat them the next day. I have a couple of tricks to help you get the most out of your leftovers, and therefore the most bang for your buck.

Almost as good as it was last night!
First, you must resist the urge to microwave your leftovers. This is a recipe for disastrously lame food. Even for homemade leftovers, I rarely microwave them because you're often left with dried out, unevenly heated food. Instead, break out a small frying pan and turn it to medium-low.

Here's where the fun begins. You're going to want to add a little liquid to the pan. For the Mongolian beef (pictured above), I added about 1/4 cup of water and a bit of soy sauce. For the Honey Chicken, I added that same 1/4 cup of water, but also a little honey. Water is a good choice for meats, just make sure to only add a little water, you don't want to make it soggy.

If you have some pasta leftovers instead, say with a nice creamy Alfredo sauce, adding a little milk is the ideal choice. Alfredo sauce is always the worst to microwave, because the oil separates from the sauce. To avoid this problem in the pan, make sure you just keep a nice low heat. Stir your leftovers for 8-10 minutes, until thoroughly heated and the liquid is absorbed.

When adding some extras, like the soy sauce I added to the beef, follow your instincts. Anything used in the original recipe is always a good choice to help freshen up the dish. A little Parmesan cheese will go a long way in that Alfredo sauce and do wonders. But don't be afraid to get a little creative and add something else, like the carrots I sliced up.

Your dish will never be quite as good as it was when fresh, but this will help you get the best results you can.

April 3, 2012

Quilting Month Bust

I started March pretty excited about National Quilting Month, but ended it without having gotten much done. I'm really disappointed in myself. I had a set list of projects to work on, and I did not get them all accomplished. I didn't even get most of them accomplished, actually.

Some things got done... but not much.
I finished Piper's crate mat, but that's all. Terrible. I worked on all of the others, but none of them are finished. I got the Java top finished and partially quilted, I made a humungous post about how to make continuous quilt binding, and I finished up many triangles for the stripes quilt.

In my defense, it turns out that I never could have finished the Halloween Circle quilt, because the sewing foot I need is of stock. I haven't yet been able to find one in a month of looking. I will have to set it aside for good until I can procure that foot. So that chopped my seven projects down to six.

The last week of the month, I had a surprise house guest, so I didn't have access to sewing while he was staying. But that's a terrible excuse, because I had two weeks prior to get things done, and I really didn't. My enthusiasm for the challenge didn't sustain me through the whole month.

I still have to finish those projects, since several of them are left over from last year. Next year, I'm going to try a little bit more motivational of a challenge, perhaps a well-planned block-a-day challenge.
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