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Monthly Archives: August 2012

Orientation Week

I know it’s been a little while since I’ve posted anything, but that’s because this week has been really busy!  (Also, I’m pretty sure that’s the direction my life is headed since classes start next week, but I’ll do my best to keep writing when I find a little pocket of time.)  I spent all day in orientation Tuesday, and also on Wednesday morning.  I completed a bunch of administrative tasks, like registering with the payroll office and enrolling in classes. I did enough running around campus to start to have the layout figured out, and I don’t need my GPS to get between home and campus anymore (woo-hoo!)

Last night, I had most of the other first year clinical students over for a potluck to get to know one another better before our schedules get really crazy.  It was fun, and it turns out everyone’s a pretty good cook!  🙂

I made this zucchini casserole recipe.  I also made the red pepper aioli the recipe mentions, but I totally spaced and left it in the fridge instead of putting it out with the casserole.  Duh!  I guess I’ll just put it on the leftovers.

Speaking of which, I made a few freezer meals last week to have for the middle of the semester when I’m sure I won’t feel like cooking, and I finally finished setting up my office space and got a chair delivered.  I’ll take some pictures and post about that soon.

I already have a good bit of reading to do, so I’m going to try and get caught up on that tonight so I can enjoy the rest of my weekend.  (what and exciting Friday night!)

 
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Posted by on August 24, 2012 in Cooking, Fun Stuff

 

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For the Love of Pickles!!

Anyone who knows me well knows that I love all things salt and vinegar.  Potato chips for sure, but other things too.  French fries at a football game doused in vinegar and ketchup.  Olives, capers, anything brined. But most of all, I love pickles. I’ve never met a pickle I didn’t like, but my favorites would have to be a tie between dill and bread and butter.

Because of this mild obsession, I’ve been hoarding pickling recipes with the good intention of trying to make my own.  And I have to tell you that I made and teeny tiny batch out of two pickling cucumbers today, but it can hardly be called pickling because I ate all of them after they had spent about an hour in the fridge.  Seriously, all of them.  They were delicious!

Before I had eaten quite all of them, I remembered to take a picture. Haha

I used Recipe Girl’s recipe for Bread and Butter pickles, and only made a few slight changes.  I approximately quartered the recipe for the brine since I had such a puny amount of cucumbers, and  I only used white vinegar since that’s what I had.  Also, I used a red onion instead of a white, and I impulsively threw in a very thinly sliced jalapeno, which made them sweet and spicy pickles.  I am definitely going to have to try this again with a regular sized batch, and not eat them all on the first day so they have some time to really “pickle.”

On another pickleish note, I finally decided what to do with the black-eyed peas from my farmshare box.  Most of the recipes for fresh black-eyed peas (or purple-hull peas as they’re sometimes called) involved some variation on soaking in a vinaigrette after they’d been cooked.   I found this recipe for purple hull pea salad from Homesick Texan, and decided to loosely follow that.  It’s basically salsa or guacamole but with beans instead of tomatoes or avocados.  I decided to throw in some red onion, and once I tasted the final product it was quite spicy (i put in cayenne and two jalapenos, so it better be!)  which I like, but I threw in a pinch of white sugar to balance it out a little.  Also, I decided to put in some corn which I had in the freezer, which is also sort of sweet.

The “cast of characters” as The Pioneer Woman loves to say: cilantro, tomatoes, jalapenos, lime juice, olive oil, garlic, red onion, cumin, cayenne, and salt and pepper.

 

After being simmered for 40 minutes the beans turned an ugly beigey color, but they were nice and tender.

The finished salad. I think it will be yummy as a dip for tortilla chips, or on a bed or greens as a meal.

And finally, if you’re in need of some comedic relief, I took Tilly tubing on the Guadalupe River yesterday.  Unfortunately I don’t have any photographic evidence, but a shot of her in her ridiculous doggy life jacket should give you a pretty good idea.   I wasn’t sure how she’d feel about the whole thing, so I invested in the life jacket as an extra precaution (also, it had a handle on the back which made her easier to grab if I needed to).  She was so not pleased with me for putting her in a tube in the middle of a river, but she was a good sport about it, so it turned out to be a really fun day anyway.  

 

 
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Posted by on August 18, 2012 in Cooking, Fun Stuff, Tilly

 

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My first farmshare box!

I’ve been researching CSAs for a while (Community Supported Agriculture)  but I never committed to one in PIttsburgh. I think they’re such a great concept, and I love the idea of having fresh, delicious produce every week.  One of the consistent complaints I came across was that people would get boxes full of items they had no idea how to cook, but to me that sounds like a challenge rather than a problem.  I love to learn about food and try new recipes, and alien vegetables would be the perfect opportunity to do just that.

There were a bunch of cons, though.  The dropoff locations weren’t convenient, and most of all, I’m only one person and most boxes are meant to feed a whole family.  Since moving to Houston, however, I have found a few farms that offer a partial share box for less money each week. It seems like a more reasonable amount of produce, and there are really convenient pickup locations right near my house.   After researching a few different choices, I settled on the partial share from Wood Duck Farm.  The nice thing about their system is that, if they have shares left, you can buy partway through the season for the remainder of the weeks.  Which means that I was able to buy two weeks of the summer season, and I can try it out before making the commitment (and investment) of the full 12 weeks of the fall growing season.

I picked up my first box tonight, and this is what was in it:

two bell peppers, pickling cukes, two zucchini, an eggplant, an acorn squash, a handful of jalapenos, cherry tomatoes, salad greens, some sort of sprout, and a whole mess o’beans.

I’m not kidding when I tell you I could have eaten the whole bag of tomatoes standing in my kitchen.  They’re so good!!  Everything is something I’ve used before, except for the beans.  I tried to do a little detective work to figure out what they are, but can’t find anything online that matches.

The beans out of their shell

The closest thing I could find were Borlotti, or Cranberry beans, but these look different than those on the inside.

Let me know if you know what those beans are.  I’m pretty excited to have all these great veggies, now I just have to figure out what to do with them.  🙂

On a sort of unrelated, but still vegetable-filled note, here’s what I made for dinner tonight:  Pan Roasted Chicken and Veggies.  I followed this recipe, but I was a little bit more liberal with the seasonings.  Also, I threw in a bell pepper just because.

Potatoes, Onion, Garlic, and Green Pepper all drizzled with olive oil and lots of S&P

After about 25 minutes, I threw in the chicken. This is about 15 minutes later, after the chicken is done.

After I let the spinach “wilt”. . . I may have gotten distracted and let it go for a little bit too long. Oops!

The final product. It was really yummy (and quite healthy, all things considered).

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2012 in Cooking

 

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Experiments in the Kitchen

One of the things I’ve learned after a few years of cooking for myself on a consistent basis is that the week always goes better if I’ve got a plan.  Whether it’s not knowing what to make, or not having all of the ingredients, it’s the worst to have to go to the grocery store multiple times a week or resort to eating out (especially on a tight budget).  One of the chores for the weekend is to plan out the whole week and go shopping.

Yesterday I was in the mood to try a few new recipes, and so I picked a few from this list that sounded interesting.  65 Cheap, Healthy, One-Dish Meals with Good Leftover Potential. . . what’s not to love about that?  Genius.  

First up, Shrimp-and-Rice Stuffed Tomatoes.  After I went shopping, this was the recipe I was most excited to make, so i did.  🙂

Rice, tomatoes, onions and garlic, lemon, oregano, feta cheese, and shrimp. Sounds simple enough, and it really was.  There were a few things I did that were slightly different than the recipe, but nothing drastic.  First, I only had basmati rice, so I used that.  Also, the tomatoes I found were outrageous mutant enormous tomatoes, so I only got three.  Also, I got raw shrimp still in the peel, so I had to peel and de-vein it myself.  This can be a little bit time consuming, but it’s really not hard, and it makes the shrimp much cheaper (I got a half pound for something like three dollars and change).  If you’ve never had to clean shrimp before, this video is a good tutorial.  

Because I only had three tomatoes, I had some extra stuffing at the end, so I just filled a ramekin and baked it in that.  I baked the ramekin about 10 minutes less than the tomatoes.  The reason I felt the need to share the recipe was that it was really delicious and satisfying for a little bit of work and time.  I love recipes that are a high rate of delicious return on your small investment of time/money.  They turned out great! The stuffing on top got browned and a little bit crunchy, the cheese got soft, and the shrimp were really tender. It was a nice light summery meal.  

Also, I was in the mood for a cocktail, and the peaches grabbed my attention in the produce aisle, so I made Peach Margaritas following Martha’s recipe.  The first step was to cut up the peaches and let them soak in sugar, a little bit of salt and triple sec.

I could have eaten them out of the bowl just like this!

After tequila, lime, and the blender. I’m not fancy enough to have actual margarita glasses, so I’m living it up with plastic tumbler. haha

They turned out pretty well too!  It was a really great summer evening meal.

 
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Posted by on August 12, 2012 in Cooking

 

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Bookshelf Inspiration

One of the things I’m most focused on doing before grad school starts is making sure I have a quiet, cohesive organized space to do work.  If I wait until the work has started, it will never get done ( I know this from experience).  Since I didn’t take my desk with me when I moved, I’m starting with a totally blank slate, which is pretty exciting.  After searching through photos on the internet of beautiful home offices, one of the things I was continually drawn to was very simple lines with walls of built-in bookcases.  Since this is a little bit (read way) out of my budget or the scope of my know-how, I really loved how this space has some of the same atmosphere.

From simplybcreative.blogspot.com

After a quick bit of searching, I found a desk and bookcases that would help me get a similar look at Target. I chose this desk and these bookcases to go with it.  I like that they’re not as narrow as the ones pictured above.

The Carson 5-Shelf Bookcase in White

The Carson Anywhere Desk in White

 

Let me just tell you that after they were delivered and I took the time to put all three pieces together, I didn’t want to look at them for about three days or so.  I was so sick of wrangling tiny little screws!

Now comes the fun part: I didn’t know that there were so many ways to decorate (or “style”) a bookcase, but I wasted a good bit of time investigating all the different suggestions. This article from Centsational Girl made lots of really great points.  Here are some ideas that I loved.

What a cool backdrop, and it looks really nice to use horizontal books as a bookend.

Picture frames and interesting accessories break up the monotony of only book spines

Love the bright, geometric backdrop on this one from Eddie Ross.

This article from The Art of Doing Stuff shows seven (7!) different ways to stack books.

I think this one is my favorite!

I haven’t gotten very far yet, but I decided that I for sure wanted to cover the back panel of the cases with an interesting and cheerful pattern.  The comforter in the extra bedroom is a cool gray and yellow graphic pattern and so I wanted to stick with something that would go with that.  Once I found this contact paper on Amazon, I was sold.  (also, it was only $5.50 since I added to an order of things I had already decided on. . . can’t beat that!)

 

I just received it this morning, and couldn’t wait to get work!  I’ve only done one bookcase so far, but I loved the results so much that I really wanted to share my progress.

The first bookcase with contact paper finished. . . I still have another one to do.

 

I put the contact paper onto the front side of the back panels before I screwed the panels onto the bookcases to that it would be easier to get the edges exact and not have to worry about cutting the corners inside the bookcase.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do you think?  I love how cheerful they look now that they’re not just plain white.  Have you ever done something simple like this to make a pretty big change in the way something looks?

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2012 in Decorating, DIY projects

 

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Exploring “Historic Downtown”

I took a really fun walking tour of downtown Houston last night.  It was a “Historic Downtown Pub Crawl” and we got to learn a lot of the history behind many of the beautiful old buildings that are interesting watering holes.  It was a good mix of education and recreation.  🙂

First we started at Georgia’s Market, a cool downtown grocery store with a focus on locally grown, organic produce and meats.  Also, they have a cute little bar down in the basement with lots of local beers and wines.  My favorite part was a beautiful wine cellar in the back that you can rent out for events.

The cool wine cellar in Georgia’s Market

Next, we walked a few blocks to a bar across the street from Market Square Park (which has a dog park in it!).  The bar is aptly named Market Square Bar and Grill, haha.  I tried a local beer from Karbach Brewery called Weisse Versa Wheat.  One of the other people on the pub crawl told me that brewery tour is really fun, so I’ll have to add it to my growing list of things to do here!

After hanging out and sipping beer for a little while, we walked on to the next few places.  One of the coolest/most unique places we visited was Char Bar.  Apparently this street used to be called Tailor Row because of all the tailor shops that were there, and this is the only remaining one (yes, it’s also a bar).  They also offer shoe shines; what an eclectic mix!

You know, just shopping for a tie while I have a cocktail. . .

The facade of Char Bar

Pictures showing the history of the family that owns it above the bar

After that, we stepped into Warren’s next door, to check out the atmosphere.

The little stage inside Warren’s (historically occupied by burlesque dancers)

Every place we went had such cool light fixtures; Warren’s was no exception

Next, we stopped for a quick minute into La Carafe, the oldest bar in Houston.  Apparently it’s also one of the most haunted places, and there’s a ghost that has to give you her approval before you can work there.  It smelled heavily of incense, and there was a scary gypsy monkey guarding the cash register.

The monkey (sorry for the not so great picture)

It had such a cool atmosphere, I totally want to come back for a glass of wine sometime!

 

Next, we stopped for a drink in a bar called Hearsay.  It’s in a really old brick building, and they have a two story open floorplan with a beautiful chandelier.

The gorgeous chandelier!

They had an awesome menu, and I really wanted to try a bunch of their cocktails.  I settled on the “twelve spot;” a mix of bourbon, orange, sugar and angostura bitters.  It was delicious!  I think this was my favorite stop of the night, it had such a cool vibe, I’d love to come back for dinner.

The back of the bar

Our last stop of the night was the Hotel Icon.  It’s in a building that used to be a bank, and the vaults are still there.  We got to peek into the back office where you can still see the lock mechanism of the safe.  The building sat abandoned from the mid-eighties until 2007, when a business magnate spent 50 million dollars to rehab it and turn it into an absolutely gorgeous hotel.  They even imported artisans from Italy to hand carve all of the crown molding and plaster work in the lobby.  It’s now owned by Magic Johnson and managed by his son, and they’ve put even more money into it.  It’s really opulent, and very Texas (there were cowhide chairs in the lobby)

The beautiful ceiling in the lobby

Another view of the lobby

Overall, it was a really fun night.  As a total newcomer, it was nice to have interesting places pointed out to me, and I won’t be at a total loss next time I”m in the neighborhood looking for something fun to do.

 

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2012 in Fun Stuff

 

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Cheater’s Pho

I had one of those days today where nothing went the way it was planned and everything took longer than it should have.  For example, my couch was supposed to be delivered between 12-4pm, and at 4:30, I hadn’t heard anything from them.  It did eventually get here though, so that was good.  

I didn’t have anything planned for dinner, but when I stared aimlessly into the fridge hoping for inspiration, I realized I had most of a leftover rotisserie chicken I’d bought the other day.  I googled “what to do with leftover rotisserie chicken” (thank goodness for the internet!) and came upon this gem:  25 Things to Do With Rotisserie Chicken.  I didn’t even have to read the whole first page to know immediately what I wanted to make:  Pho!

It’s something I’ve only ever had in restaurants, but the recipe for Cheater’s Chicken Pho made it sound like something I could do relatively easily.  I’m easy to please: anything spicy with cilantro and lime is my favorite.  That’s why I love Mexican food so much.  Actually, it’s kind of surprising how many flavors Mexican and Vietnamese food share for being so far apart in the world.

I made guacamole the other day, so I already had lime, cilantro and a piece of a jalapeno.  I made a really quick trip to the store for fish sauce and hoisin sauce.  They didn’t have any bean sprouts, so I went for snow pea shoots.  Also, no edamame in the frozen veggies, so I got a bag of basic stir-fry vegetables.

The ingredients in five spice powder vary depending on who you ask, but it’s usually star anise, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and some sort of pepper.  I didn’t feel like buying any, so I threw in a pinch of cinnamon, ginger, and a few whole cloves, which I fished out before I added the chicken.  Other than those substitutions, I just followed the recipe.  It was awesome!  Seriously, you should try it.  It was so satisfying and delicious for an impromptu, thrown-together dinner.

Pho in the potWith sprouts, hoisin, sriracha, jalapeno, lime juice and cilantro. Yum!

 
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Posted by on August 7, 2012 in Cooking

 

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