Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Projects and Thangs

This week is busy! I'm still trying to find my groove at work, and the rest of the week is going to be filled with a walking date with my friend Stacy, a Content Magazine interview with a pizza shop owner at the up and coming San Pedro Square Market, and planning for my birthday party. It sort of feels weird to be turning 28, but then normal at the same time. I remember when I was in high school I used to think being 20 was old. I thought by then that I'd be married with a house and two kids and have everything all figured out. Ha! At least I'm still getting carded for rated R movies.* ;)

I'm celebrating my birthday in two parts because, as Alan would tell you, I like to stretch out the celebration for as long as possible. This weekend, we're going to Shaver Lake with friends for my actual birthday, and then the weekend after I'm planning a little party. The most time consuming part is the creation of an overhead installation (I like how the word 'installation' makes it sound serious and significant when it's really kinda fun and easy to make) involving many, many paper circles, glue, and string. It's going to look amazing once it's all done.

I hope your week has been off to a good, productive start. Happy Wednesday, friends!

*This weekend Alan and I went to see Fright Night with the adorable Anton Yelchin when the cashier asked to check my ID since it was a rated R movie. Does that make me old to be happy that I got carded? Somehow I think it does...

Monday, August 29, 2011

Mapo Tofu

This past week at my new job was really fun. Learning about couponing is so fascinating to me, and the cool co-workers and catered lunches are also helping me adjust :). The one minor downside is that I have a longer commute — just a teeny one, but still, working 11 minutes away from home for the past 3 years has spoiled me. I'm finding it harder and harder to make time to cook during the week, so now I'm on a quest to find recipes that are quick and easy, and of course, really tasty. I recently discovered the blog Not Quite Nigella and when I saw this mapo tofu recipe, I knew I would like it. It looked salty and spicy and aromatic. And when I saw that it cooks up super quick, I knew I had to try it.

The tricky part is finding all the ingredients at your local Chinese supermarket. I couldn't find the fermented black beans to save my life and had to ask a nice looking man who passed by (I know, I'm that person), but luckily, he knew exactly what I was talking about. It was a good thing, too, because I never would have found them on my own. Anyway, aside from getting all the ingredients together, there's very little prep work involved, and the end result is a Chinese restaurant quality dish. I also like how this recipe can be made vegetarian by leaving out the pork and swapping out the chicken broth for vegetable broth. I'm sure it would taste just as good.

Do you have any recipes for quick dinners during the week? I'd love your recommendations!

{fermented black beans}

Iron Chef Chen’s Mapo Tofu
Slightly adapted from NotQuiteNigella.com

Serves 2-3

14 oz. regular tofu (not silken)
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 oz. minced pork
1/2 cup green garlic chives, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

For spicy bean paste:
1 tablespoon Chinese chili bean sauce (or toubanjan or doubanjiang)
1 tablespoons Chinese ground bean sauce (tenmienjan, tenmenjan ir tenmenjiang)
2 teaspoons fermented black beans, chopped finely
1 dried chilli, chopped finely (or 1/2 – 1/2 teaspoon ichimi togarashi pepper) I used togarashi pepper.

For stock mixture:
1 teaspoon chili oil
3/4 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon sake or 1 teaspoon dry sherry (I didn't have any and so left this out.)
1 teaspoon soy sauce

To finish:
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1.5 tablespoons cornflour/cornstarch mixed with 1.5 tablespoons cold water
1 tablespoon szechuan pepper (optional) I left this out and the dish still had a nice kick to it.
Boiled white rice to serve (I used brown. I know. But those catered lunches — they're killing me!)

Buyer’s tip: The Chinese chilli bean sauce, ground bean sauce and fermented black beans can be found at Asian grocery stores.

1. Cut tofu into cubes-the recipes says 1 inch cubes. Heat a saucepan of water and add the salt and tofu pieces gently. Bring to the boil and then reduce heat to medium high for 8-10 minutes and then remove from heat and drain gently.

2. While the tofu is cooking, in a small bowl mix the chili bean sauce, ground bean sauce, chopped fermented black beans and dried chili and set aside. In a jug measure the stock, chili oil, sake or sherry and soy sauce and set aside. Then in a small bowl, mix the cornstarch and water and set aside.

3. When the tofu is done, heat a wok on high and add the oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the pork and brown, stirring carefully to separate. Then add the spicy bean paste above cooking for 1 minute.

4. Then add the stock mixture as well as the tofu pieces. Stir fry very gently for 1-2 minutes.

5. Take the wok off the heat and cool for a minute so that the sauce isn’t bubbling. Add in the chives. Add the cornstarch and stir very gently. Drizzle with sesame oil and serve with Szechuan pepper if desired. Serve over white rice (or brown rice if your waistline is getting upset about all the Pop Tarts you've been eating.)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Autumn Brights

The other day my friend Stacy was telling me about a recent shopping trip and how she ended up getting lots of pieces in bright colors, even though she was shopping for fall. I love that idea (and Jenna Lyons agrees). I'm excited to inject pops of unexpected color into my fall wardrobe and am currently looking for the perfect (and comfortable) pair of deep purple heels. I'm also lusting over this bright yellow skirt and this pair of colored denim pants. These AG Stevie Ankle pants have an awesome fit (especially for the shorter gals) that are slim but also stretchy and forgiving. Balanced with a flowy white tee, both looks are ready for the transition to fall — which is now just a few weeks away!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Walking Adventure: The Presidio

{Mountain Lake}

Sometimes Alan and I will make plans to visit a place we've never been before to have an adventure. We don't plan anything elaborate except for maybe where we'll park and a general idea of what we'd like to see. Other than that, we just show up, get out of the car, and walk around. Usually we'll walk leisurely, but almost always we'll walk for at least a few hours. This is always the best because:

1. Being outside is fun. (And once I read about a study that said people who spend more time outdoors are less likely to get sick, but I could just be making this up.)
2. The methodical act of walking is both relaxing and rejuvenating.
3. You see so many cool things while walking that would go unnoticed if you were simply zooming by in a car.
4. You have time to really talk to the person you're with.
5. It's free and can be done almost anywhere!

This weekend we went to San Francisco and walked around the Presidio. There were tons of blackberry bushes everywhere, and if Alan hadn't scared me into not eating all the ripe berries, I would have.

We walked through a mini forest. There was barely anyone around which made it all the more magical.

We walked across this winding boardwalk while Alan admired the beachy fauna. He is a big fan.

After a few twists and turns and accidentally ending up in someone's backyard (which was impressively huge and could easily be confused for some sort of public park), we made our way to Baker Beach. The beach in the City has never lived up to my idea of what a beach should be (with sun and people swimming in bathing suits), but it was fun to sit and rest for a while and watch the massive ships sail across the ocean towards the Golden Gate Bridge...

...and slip quietly underneath through to the other side.

Everyone on the beach was all wrapped up, except for these adventurous kids. Nobody thought they would get in after their feet touched the freezing water...

...but they proved us wrong! Everyone around us stopped mid-conversation to watch them swim out and you could tell people were impressed (Alan and myself included -- it was so cold!)

After the beach, we drove across town to visit our friends Jennifer and Mike. They live in Russian Hill, a crazy hilly area where parking is hard to come by. We finally found parking at the very tip top of this hill and my heart raced a bit thinking about tumbling over, but Alan had it all under control. And then, there was this beautiful view.

After our visit, we walked down a set of stairs in the neighborhood to North Beach (where all the Italian restaurants are), but since neither of us could decide where to eat, we ended up at our favorite pizza place on the way home.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Top Nosh Cafe's Watermelon Salad & Savory Pies

Last week I had lunch with friends at Top Nosh Cafe in Willow Glen. I'd been wanting to eat there ever since my friend Sarah (the one who's a fantastic cook) told me that they make the best salads and savory pies--and she was so right! Mixing seasonal ingredients like watermelon, pistachios and brie together, their salads are an exciting departure from your typical lunch fare. I got the half salad + pie combo and it was the perfect pairing. The Yukon potato pie (I'm a sucker for taters) had a flaky crust and piping hot, well-seasoned filling, a nice contrast from the light, refreshing salad.



Friday, August 19, 2011

Back-to-School Shopping List + New Job!

I have some exciting news to share... Remember a few weeks ago when Alan and I went out for a celebration dinner? Well, it was to celebrate my new job--I'm going into the couponing business! I'll be joining Coupons.com's marketing team starting Monday, and after three years of working in IT, I'm so excited for an industry change. Coupons.com's clients are largely consumer packaged goods companies, so it will be fun working with brands I interact with every day.

I'm also excited because the timing of my new job makes it feel like I'm waiting for the first day of school. I've missed the feeling of looking forward to something entirely new each fall and everything that comes with it, like picking out my outfit for the first day. I recently got an Anthropologie gift card and have been totally eyeing some "back-to-school" pieces. A few of my favorites so far are this classic blazer, this Mad-Men-inspired blouse, and these sweet flats. I can't wait for my first day!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Gordon Ramsay's Lasagna al Forno: The Best Lasagna Ever


Last night, my friends Irene and Roy came over and we had a little cooking party. Roy had the brilliant idea to make his favorite lasagna al forno (a recipe by Gordon Ramsay) and it was hands down the best lasagna I've ever had in my life. I'm not even embarrassed to admit (okay, maybe just a little) that I went to bed with a stomach ache because I couldn't stop eating! It's a delicious, sophisticated take on the traditional version, substituting a creamy bechamel sauce for the ricotta and requiring extra attention to the meat sauce--there was even wine added!

You can find Gordon Ramsay's recipe right here, but you may want to tweak it to your liking. (Roy adds more wine, Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, and garlic.)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Almond "Croissants"

I have a happy story to share today about how two unassuming blobs came together, fell in love, and made the loveliest almond "croissants." While they're distinctly different from the flaky French variety, these are more like almond pastries and way easier to make (from my quick comparison of scanning traditional croissant recipes) but just as good. They're tender, buttery, and filled with that wonderful almond paste that makes an almond croissant.
This recipe calls for dough rolling, which always makes me nervous, but it turned out to be a cinch! To start, mix up all the ingredients in a bowl and stick it in the fridge overnight. The next day, cut the dough in half and roll each half into a 12" circle. Spread the almond paste filling over each circle while leaving a quarter inch edge. Slice each circle into 8 wedges (think pie slices). Roll them up from the long end to the point and place them point side down on a baking sheet.

Brush them with an egg white wash and sprinkle with sliced almonds.

Bake until golden (one of my batches came out a little darker/over-baked than I'd have liked; the best tasting ones were just lightly golden) and finish with a dusting of powdered sugar.

So pretty and tasty! Perfect for surprising your grandparents with on a Saturday afternoon--which is just what I did this weekend. Nothing impresses my grandparents like home baked pastries still warm from the oven :)

Almond Croissants

2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (105 degrees to 115 degrees)
4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold butter
3/4 cup warm milk (110 to 115 degrees F)
3 egg yolks

FILLING:
1/2 cup almond paste
1 egg white
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
EGG WASH:
1 egg white
1 tablespoon water

TOPPINGS:
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar for dusting

Directions
1. In a bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar and salt. Cut in butter until crumbly. Add milk and egg yolks to yeast mixture; mix well. Stir into flour mixture; mix well. Do not knead. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

2. In a mixing bowl, beat filling ingredients until smooth. Punch dough down. (I skipped this step since my dough didn't need it). Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface; divide in half. Roll each piece into a 12-in. circle; spread filling over circle leaving a quarter inch edge. Cut each circle into eight wedges; roll up from wide end. Place with point side down 3 in. apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Curve ends to form a crescent shape. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour (dough will not double, but will get puffy).

3. Beat egg white and water; brush over croissants. Top with more almond paste if desired, then sprinkle with almonds. Bake at 350 degrees F for 15-20 minutes. Remove from pans to wire racks to cool and dust with confectioner's sugar.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Simplified Sleeves

I like clothes that have special details which is why I was drawn to this blouse I found on the clearance rack at the Gap. It has beautiful pleating and is the softest shade of peachy pink. The only thing that ruined it for me was the bow ties on the sleeves. They made an otherwise structured classic top look rather trendy and fussy. Since the shirt was such a good deal, I picked it up anyway, but after a few wears, I decided simpler sleeves were in order. I had the ties removed and put in snaps instead. It's made a huge difference! Now when I wear this blouse it gets noticed even though it has less going on. Perhaps this is what people feel like when they get compliments on their new look after they've just cut their mullets? I'm not sure, but I think it just goes to show that lots and lots of times, simpler is better :)

{tie-less}

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Capitola Beach

Summer has to be my favorite season, so I've been bummed because this one feels like it's flying by--I can't believe we're already in August! I've been doing everything I can to soak up the warm sun and long days while they last, including spending time at the beach (something that always seems harder than it should be given how close we live). This past weekend, we hung out with our friends Stacy and Robbie in Capitola, a really quaint beach town near Santa Cruz. (We ran Wharf to Wharf here a few years ago--the most fun race I've ever run!)
They stayed in one of the candy-colored houses right on the beach!

I thought it was cute how they stayed in a place called the Venetian and right out their window was a view of a bridge and romantic waterfront restaurants.

When we first got there, the beach was shrouded in fog...

...but it eventually burned off and made for excellent beach lounging (but still too cold for anyone to take a dip).

We ate grapes and laid around talking and reading. Some people started playing frisbee, but I preferred digging a huge hole which actually turned out to be more of a modest-sized hole that I could kind of fit into. Still, it was an all-around really perfect summer day.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Nick's on Main

Last week, a few swell things happened that called for celebration. I won't go into the details just yet, but what I will say is that they were exciting enough to warrant a fancy dinner out. I've been wanting to eat at Nick's on Main in Los Gatos for forever, and even though it's not Gary Danko's by any means, it was a place I'd been saving to visit until an occasion such as this. I'd heard that they are always booked, so when I called last Thursday night about possibly squeezing in that same evening, I wasn't expecting much. But Nick, the man himself, picked up and said they had a reservation for 8 p.m.! I swiped on some lipstick and Alan put on a nice shirt and away we went.

It's a teeny tiny restaurant that feels hip on the inside and charming when looking in from the outside. Everyone was drinking wine when we got there which was a little intimidating, but we were soon seated and the party for our mouths began. To start with, we went with the "Trust the Chef," which is whatever the chef feels like making you. Since I love surprises, it was a fun choice, but I was a little disappointed when the dish came out and there were two small bowls of what looked like nothing much. Well, it turned out to be the best foie gras I've ever had. It came with sweet, warm cherries which were a really lovely contrast to the delicate, smooth mousse. This was possibly my favorite dish of the entire night.

For my entree, I had the grilled rib eye with dungeness crab butter, roasted truffle potatoes, sauteed asparagus, and a red wine demi glace. It was amazing.

Alan had the pan roasted veal rib chop with creamy polenta, french beans, and a cluster of wild mushrooms. His polenta was out of this world! Lucky for me, Alan's not the hugest polenta fan, so I got to dig right in.

Even though I was plenty full by the end of the meal, we had to try Nick's much talked about banana bread pudding. It came on a beautiful plate covered in swirly sauces (don't swirly sauces make everything taste so much better?) and was the perfect end to the night.


Friday, August 5, 2011

Simple and Delicate Jewels for Every Day

It seems like I've been wearing nothing but tiny delicate jewelry this summer. My mom gave me this antique diamond ring on her last visit which I love. It's just sparkly enough to be a great everyday ring. I'm also still enamored with simple bows, like these teeny gold earrings I found at Francesca's a while back. And it's nice to pair all these pieces with a classic nail color. Essie's "adore-a-ball" is my new favorite shade of light, natural pink.



Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Bridal Shower Tea Party

Today I wanted to share some of the photos from my friend Lexi's bridal shower. Since I was busy playing photographer, I got to sit back and observe, and I realized just how much bridal showers are like the grown up version of little girls' birthday parties. The first thing that caught my eye when I walked in was the pretty favor table. Whereas we used to take home stickers and Lisa Frank pencils, now we take home bags of delicate teas and sweets.

After lunch, we had a tea tasting. My favorites were the strawberry tea and the grapefruit flavored tea.

Lexi's mom and my cousin Denise brought the cutest selection of tea pots, and I made up little signs so everyone would know what they were tasting.

After lunch, we started playing games. Lexi's mom had a table full of prizes to give away! (This was always one of my favorite parts of birthday parties growing up.)

Lexi was voted "Best Smile" in high school. Isn't she so pretty?

One of the cutest games involved having Lexi guess how her fiance Nelson would answer a series of questions on her behalf. So, for example, before the party, Nelson answered questions like "What is Lexi's favorite article of clothing in her closet?" and Lexi would have to guess how he answered. The best part was that her best friend videotaped all his responses so we got to see what he said. (p.s. Nelson has total Richard Gere eyes!)

After games came presents. And boy, were there a lot of presents.

Interestingly, my cousin Denise leaned over while the 78th present was being opened and confided that she'd felt really uncomfortable opening her million presents in front of everyone during her own shower. And she is not one to be shy! If you've had a shower (or a party where you had a zillion gifts to open) did you feel the same way? I've never thought about how I'd feel, but maybe I would get a little embarrassed...

...or maybe I'll just have a blast. Lexi looks thrilled!

After all the excitement of games and presents (and tissue paper and ribbon collecting for the rehearsal dinner bouquet--traditions are so funny sometimes) we ended the day with everyone's favorite banana cupcakes from Icing on the Cake. Note to self: always end on a sweet note!
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