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Thanksgiving 2016: I’m Unprepared!

If there’s one thing I can say about myself, it’s that I’m consistent. I have consistently broken my promise to write on this blog consistently. I will try to be better.

It’s almost Thanksgiving, which has become my favorite holiday as of late.

Christmas? It used to be cool. But now, it’s just a lot of build up for a whole lot of nothing. Like when I lost my virginity.

HEYO!

Anyways. Thanksgiving is 4 days away. Even with my proclivity for procrastination, I am normally flipping through Bon Appetit and browsing Food52 for inspiration. But this year, I have not been.

This year has been a bit weird. Between some pretty heavy family dramz and the fact I’m on production right now in Salt Lake City, I’ve planned almost nothing. In fact, I only decided to go home to Jacksonville a few days ago.

Which means, I need to cook.

So, here we are. Real life Top Chef Challenge. Put together a Thanksgiving Dinner in 45 minutes of meal planning/grocery list writing. Dad will shop for ingredients at the best grocery store in the world, Publix. I will fly in on Wednesday to prep and the big day is on Thursday.

Game on.

Here’s what I’m doing.

  • Rosemary and Citrus Turkey For a Crowd from NYTimes Cooking
    • I made this turkey last year and it was a real crowd pleaser. And by crowd, I mean: me, my mother and father.
  • Cornbread and Sausage Stuffing from Martha Stewart
    • This has been my go-to stuffing recipe for the past few years. It smells and tastes like being home for the holidays. And unlike being home for the holidays, this stuffing will not ask you why you’re not married yet or if you are a lesbian. (‘I have a busy job’ and ‘no, but like, a little bit in college.’)
  • Best Ever Green Bean Casserole from Alton Brown via Food Network
    • Lovers of my prose will know that I have been searching for the right green bean recipe for Thanksgiving for a few years. Previous green bean casseroles have been too fancy. Regular green beans are too plain for Thanksgiving. Alton Brown has never let me down, so let’s audition this one.
  • Classic Mashed Potatoes from NYTimes Cooking
    • Potatoes? Good. Milk? Good. Butter? GOOOOOOOD.
  • Cranberry Sauce from Alton Brown
    • Cranberries? Good. Sauce? Good. Ridges made by molding cranberry sauce in your own can? GOOOOOOOD.

I’ll get a little help from Sis Schubert’s rolls and some sort of frozen pie. A frozen pie is not my preference, but there are only so many hours in a day.

Bring on the Thanksgiving pants!

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You are my Everest.–via Tumblr

 

 

 

 

 

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Paloma My God: Steak Tacos, Palomas & Crunch Dynasty

A good weekend requires a nap to recover.

A great weekend requires two naps.

Either I had the best weekend ever or I’m 80, because I took two naps Sunday afternoon and then fell asleep again at 7 pm. As you do.

I did have a pretty terrific weekend. My friends Lindsay, Sarah, and Anna came up to visit from North Carolina and it was just all kinds of fun. Great friends, all the food, and all the tequila. Seems like a recipe for success.

On Friday, they got in 40 minutes early than expected and banged on my back door like cops coming to do a drug bust. I jumped and shrieked a bit, because as I said earlier, I’m 80. Also, I keep a lot of illegal drugs in my house. We made beer-marinated skirt steak tacos on the grill and ate dinner on the porch. Fan living, y’all. The charred tomato salsa is oh-so-good. It’s got that slow burn from the ancho chile, but the sweetness of the charred tomato. I might have eaten the leftovers for breakfast Monday morning.

Taco bar is the best bar after alcohol bar.

Taco bar is the best bar after alcohol bar.

On Saturday, we went to a yoga class. It  was a hilariously hippy-dippy class. “Put your hand down on the ground like an angel is kissing the earth.” I don’t know what it says about me, but I really want to go back.

That afternoon, I hosted a happy hour at mine to introduce some of my North Carolina friends to some of my Richmond friends. And when I say I hosted this party, I mean I drank all the drinks while Lindsay, Sarah and Anna did a lot of the work. I mean, I prepped a lot ahead of time. But they helped so much to cook, clean, buy ice, refill water, pass out mini-Atlantic beach pies, make all the Palomas, drink all the Palomas, etc. I’m pretty sure they hosted the party more than I did. What was I doing? Holding witty, engaging sober conversation. Well, I held conversation. The Palomas were flowing, y’all.

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Double fisting like a champ.

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Another in a series of photos of me taking photos of Anna taking photos of me. I plan to do this for the rest of our lives.

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Seriously, Lindsay and Sarah did all the work. I just pointed at the ice. Photo by Becca! 

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Not pictured: tiny pies. And allllll the palomas. 

Our weekend ended with brunch at Stella’s and a trip to the Stella’s Grocery. Stella’s is no joke in the brunch department. You like sweet brunch? GREAT. Greek Easter bread done French-toast style topped with whipped Greek yogurt, sour cherries and pistachios. You like savory brunch? GREATER. The Loukaniko sausage skillet and the black kale skillet are both excellent. Start your meal with an order or hummus and Bloody Mary or a mimosa. (Virginia lacks the alcohol-limiting blue laws that North Carolina holds onto so dearly, making it so much easier to drink on Sunday. Hallelujah and pass the bottle.)

We stopped by the Stella’s Grocery after brunch.  It’s been open for about a month and sells specialty food items, like boozes, meats, prepared foods, such as smoothies, Greek Salads, and desserts (baklava!). Also, condiments. Why do condiments get their own section? Because I found a condiment, Crunch Dynasty, that is made right here in Richmond and it is made right here by my very own friends, John and Anya. I met Anya through work and John through Anya. They are a hilarious, kind, and cool couple with some kids who are the same. One of their kids knows all the knock-knock jokes ever and the other one told me my hair was like mermaid hair. I’m a big fan of all of them.

But I digress. Condiments.

If Chris Pratt were a condiment, he would be Crunch Dynasty.

Delicious, delicious dynasty. 

Crunch Dynasty is this amazing, mysterious condiment that somehow works on everything. Honestly. It’s as good on vegetables as it is on rice as it is on salmon. It genuinely tastes good on everything. Nay, it makes everything taste better. It makes you happy. And it is spicy. Crunch Dynasty keeps you on your toes. It’s like the Chris Pratt of condiments. If Chris Pratt was from Richmond, was Chinese, and tasted of garlic. To be fair, I haven’t tasted him. He might taste of garlic.

Then as quickly as they came, my friends left. And I took all the naps. And then I wrote this post.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m going to take a nap.

Tecate Skirt-Steak Tacos from Bon Appetit

  • 1 pound skirt steak, silver skin removed, cut into 6-inch pieces | I doubled the amount of steak b/c it looked wimpy.
  • 1 12-ounce can pale lager (such as Tecate)
  • 4 tablespoons fresh lime juice, divided
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more
  • ¼ medium onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 large plum tomatoes, cored
  • ½ canned chipotle chile in adobo, coarsely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, plus leaves for serving
  • 8 fresh corn tortillas
  • Avocado slices, crumbled Cotija cheese, and lime wedges (for serving)

Combine steak, beer, 1 Tbsp. lime juice, 1 tsp. salt, and ¼ tsp. pepper in a resealable plastic bag. Seal; chill 3 hours.

Cook onion, garlic, and oil in a small skillet over medium heat until soft and translucent, 5 minutes. Let cool.

Prepare a grill for high heat (if using charcoal, prepare two zones of heat, high and medium-high). Grill tomatoes over high heat, turning occasionally, until well charred but still holding their shape, 6–8 minutes.

Reduce grill to medium-high heat (or use medium-high zone if using a charcoal grill). Remove steak from marinade and pat dry. Season with salt and pepper and grill until charred, about 3 minutes per side for medium-rare. Transfer to a cutting board and let steak rest 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, blend onion and garlic, tomatoes, chipotle, and remaining 3 Tbsp. lime juice in a blender until smooth. Add chopped cilantro, season with salt, and pulse until just combined. Transfer salsa to a small bowl.

Grill tortillas until soft and beginning to char, about 30 seconds per side. Slice steak against the grain into ½” strips. Top each tortilla with a few pieces of steak, then some salsa, cilantro leaves, avocado, and Cotija cheese. Serve with lime wedges for squeezing over.

The Paloma from StyleMePretty

  • 2 oz. Reposado Tequilla
  • 1/2 oz. fresh lime juice
  • 2 oz. fresh grapefruit juice
  • a pinch of salt (or a salted glass rim)
  • agave syrup to taste (optional)
  • Ice
  • Garnish with lime, mint leaves, thyme, or jalapenos if you like some heat

In a shaker filled with ice mix tequila, grapefruit juice, and lime. Shake, shake, shake. Pour over ice, add a pinch of salt, and garnish. Add agave if you feel it’s not sweet enough.

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Richmond Restaurant Wars: Graffiato

I’ve been on a real Top Chef binge lately.

All of the seasons are on Hulu and it’s the perfect background show. Drama! Suspense! Foie gras! I’d already seen most of seasons, but it’s been fun to go back and watch from the beginning. It’s shocking how dated the hair, clothes and food are back in the early seasons.

Since I’m a stranger in a strange land and I don’t have many friends yet, Padma and Tom have kinda sorta been my friends. (Oh my god, that sounds so sad.) (How do people make friends as adults?) (Seriously, though…how do you do it?)

My favorite season by far was season 8, Top Chef All-Stars. It was Top Chef turnt up. All your favorite competitors who didn’t win vying for the title! Bigger challenges! Tears! Family connections! Cookie Monster! Hoodie hoos! It was everything and everyone you wanted to watch.

Including the one and only Mike Isabella. I actually hadn’t seen his original season ’til recently, but Mike is one of the best people to watch. His food always looks stupendous–typically Mediterraean inspired, but he’s Italian American and his Italian dishes got him some high praise. Also, he’s got the best laugh–just seems like a really fun, happy dude. So you’ll have to imagine my excitement when I found out he has a restaurant here in Richmond. Mike opened the first Graffiato in DC in 2011 and the Richmond chapter just a month ago. And with my friends Emily and Paul coming up to town for a wedding last weekend, it seemed like the perfect time to try it.

I just watched an episode of Restaurant Wars and something that my best friend Tom said was sticking in my head. “People come to a restaurant for the food, but they return for the service.” It’s very true. And unfortunately, that quote speaks to my experience at Graffiato.

The dishes ranged from ok (American pie pizza) to extraordinary (kabocha squash casonsei). The concept is family/tapas style with Italian and mediterranean influences. Dishes are meant to be shared, and that part is pretty successful.

Casonsei WHAT?!

Casonsei WHAT?!

But the service. Oy, the service. Our waitress had a good attitude, but ordering was difficult.

Emily: I’d like the Hoptober.*

Waitress: Oh, I actually think we’re out of that.

Emily: Ok, I’ll have the 8 Point IPA.*

Waitress: Oh. We’re actually out of that too.

::Emily looks at menu to make another decision.::

Me: I’d like the ‘Put Me in the Mix’ cocktail.

Waitress: …I’m sorry…we’re actually out of that, too. Sorry, we’re actually switching over our menus right now.

Me: Ok, do you have a glass of sauvignon blanc?

Waitress: Yes, we do.

Me: Great, I’ll have that. Anything else you’re out of?

Waitress: No, I think that’s it.

*The names of the beer have been changed because I forgot what they were.

I understand that restaurants change their menus, but I’d find it a much more tolerable offense if we’d been warned in advance. That plus the fact that one of our drinks came out after we’d gotten the check meant I walked away disappointed with the experience.

I’m sad to say that in this episode of Restaurant Wars of Bethany’s Life (registered trademark of no one), Graffiato would not come out on top. The food was altogether good, but the service left a lot to be desired.

Padma?

::Dramatic Pause::

::Dramatic Pause::

::Looks up with really wide eyes::

Graffiato. Please pack your knives and go.

::Tear::

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A Cure for Ebola: Chocolate Chip Cookies

They say 10,000 hours is how many hours you need to do something to master it. 10,000 hours of harmonica? Master of harmonica.

This is why I’m so EFFING GOOD at sleeping.

I’m 29 years old and assuming I’ve slept around 8 hours a night, I’ve slept nearly 85,000 hours. NAILED IT.

In the culinary world, with the exception of eating (roughly 32,000 hours), I’ve only ever done one thing even remotely close to 10,000 hours. That is bake chocolate chip cookies.

I can’t approximate how many times I’ve made them in my life. I just remember that I started making them when I was in elementary school (Beaches Episcopal School, where you at!?!) and I really never stopped making them.

There is nothing more soul satisfying than a chocolate chip cookie. It’s comforting. It’s reminiscent of childhood and lunch boxes and Christmas and hugs and everything good in the world. A chocolate chip cookie is the antidote to every bad thing in the world. Chocolate chip cookies have healing powers. Chocolate chip cookies can cure ebola.*

*Cookies probably can’t cure ebola, but it certainly couldn’t make ebola worse. Please note, I am not a doctor.

I don’t do anything fancy with my chocolate chip cookies, but I swear to you they’re practically perfect every time. They’re puffy and chewy, yet super light.

I do have 2 things I do every single time that give me success.

  1. I use an ice cream scoop to form the dough. Every time you get big, beautiful cookies.
  2. I don’t overcrowd the pan. A standard sized sheet pan holds 5 cookies, staggered to give them room to spread. (This was very difficult when I only had a convection oven that fit a half sheet pan and only had one rack in it. Baking took HOURS.)
The Scoop Method

The Scoop Method

So if you want chocolate chip cookies that cure ebola**, try this recipe from my grandmother, Nestlay Tollouse.

**These cookies have not been scientifically proven to cure ebola.

Original NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Chocolate Chip Cookies from the back of the bag, adapted from VeryBestBaking.com

Ingredients

  • 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened | I almost always microwave it. Good for you!
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups (one 12-oz. pkg.)  NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels
  • 1 cup chopped nuts | Listen, this is a personal choice here, but I think nuts in chocolate chip cookies are disgusting. Their texture gets weird. Eliminate them and focus on the perfection.

Preheat oven to 375° F.

Combine flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Whisk ingredients together. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in morsels and nuts (yuck). Drop by ice cream scoop onto ungreased baking sheets.

Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

FOR HIGH ALTITUDE BAKING (5,200 feet):Increase flour to 2 1/2 cups. Add 2 teaspoons water with flour and reduce both granulated sugar and brown sugar to 2/3 cup each. Bake drop cookies for 8 to 10 minutes and pan cookie for 17 to 19 minutes.

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#peaseparty: Learning to spell ‘Niagara’

This weekend, I had the immense pleasure of going to my friends Evan and Lauren’s wedding up in Niagara Falls.

It was my first time in the Buffalo area and in addition to wedding things, I did some tourist things and plenty of eating things. I learned a lot from this experience and will share this vital information with you below.

  • Niagara has three As, not two
    • Listen, I care a LOT about spelling and grammar. If you don’t use commas, I’m pretty sure you were brought up in a shed. But until this weekend, I did not realize Niagara was spelled the way it is. I thought it was Niagra. I was being the Shed Person that I so passionately judge. (Not really, but come on. Commas, y’all.)
  • My friend’s friends very quickly became my friends
    • Evan has some really terrific friends who he talks about a ton: his best man/brother (Jared), his groomsman (Brian) and his groomsgal (Jeighdeane). These are names I hear almost daily. I was a little nervous to meet them all, but I had no cause to be. When I met them, it was that sort of instant camaraderie because I kind of already knew them. It’s clear to me that my coolest friend has the coolest friends ever. I THINK that makes me cool by association. I’m looking into it.
  • Chris Pratt is my new celeb crush
    • Yeah, I still have celeb crushes, but I don’t keep my list laminated. I tagged along to see Guardians of the Galaxy with the crew on Friday night. Chris Pratt was so funny (and hunky). And Karen Gillan? Bonafide badass villain. I cannot wait to see it again.
  • Buffalo’s food is LEGIT
    • Being friends with Buffalonians and watching countless episodes of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, I’d heard tell of the wonders of Buffalo cuisine. But I had never had the opportunity to sample. UNTIL NOW. I had two “must-eats” on my list: beef on weck and some authentic Buffalo wings. DID I SUCCEED? Spoiler alert: yes.
    • Beef on Weck
      • On Friday night, I went with Evan and Tony (my friend/a reality star/the officiant of the ceremony) to Anderson’s, a local joint known for their roast beef and custard. I experienced the magnificence that is beef on weck. It’s a roast beef sandwich on a ‘kimmelweck’ roll. A kimmelweck roll is a white roll topped with caraway seeds and salt (‘kimmel’ is caraway and ‘weck’ is roll in German). This is a perfect vehicle for the thinly sliced roast beef and spicy, nose-burning, eye-watering horseradish. Hurts so good. I’m going to have to learn how to make these because I don’t want to live my life without this roll. And Buffalo is FAR too cold a place for me to live.
    • Wings and Things
      • If you are looking to find the original Buffalo wing in Buffalo, you should go to Anchor Bar. But if you want the best wings in Buffalo, you’ve got to go to Duff’s. It’s a no-frills, no-nonsense experience, and it’s absolutely delicious. I went to the original location on Sheridan Road, which has been around since 1946. The menu is diverse, but I knew exactly what I wanted: Buffalo wings with flavor but that would not kill me and some blue cheese. These are absolutely, without a doubt, the best wings I’ve ever tasted. Perfectly fried, flavorful but not spicy (I did Mild Medium, but there are spicier versions for non-wimps). Wings come with celery, carrots and tangy Duff’s blue cheese. The Buffalo wing is an art form up here and Duff’s is the Mona Lisa (or, the picture of the dogs playing poker. Everyone has different taste in art.) Chase it down with a Labatt’s because we’re basically in Canada.

        I want more now.

        I want more now.

  • The Falls are rull pretty
    • If you’re in Niagara, you really can’t not go to the Falls. They’re right there. It’s pretty magnificent. Breathtakingly beautiful and HUGE. And loud, which shouldn’t have surprised me but did. I walked around the Niagara Falls State Park for about an hour and a half and was constantly worried I was going to drop my phone into The Falls when I took a picture. Stranger things have happened, surely.

      A wonder of the world, says the welcome sign.

      A wonder of the world, says the welcome sign.

  • My friends are way cooler than I am (in a good way!)
    • This was without a doubt the coolest wedding I’ve ever been attended. Evan and Lauren are an incredible couple. They’re smart, they’re fun, they’re creative, they’re artistic, they’re goofy, they’re sweet. And their wedding was a reflection of all of that. We all laughed (slash cried) through Tony’s ceremony. We listened to jazzy covers of pop songs during the cocktail hour and played peg games. We ate amazing food (basque frenched chicken with sofrito beurre blanc and Mighty Taco late night). We played name that tune during dinner (even with some light cheating, Table 9 lost BAD). We played pinball, skee ball, Mortal Kombat, and N64. We danced. We did ridiculous stuff in the slo motion video booth. (Note to EVERYONE: shimmying in a slow motion video booth is both funny/highly embarrassing.) We ate popcorn. Evan and Lauren chose North Carolina popcorn for their wedding favors. ‘Wedding Edition’ Chad’s Carolina Corn came in 4 flavors, with packages adorned with the adorable noses of their two dogs, Reuben and Ninja. I went with Buffalo Wing flavor. Seemed apropos.
      Peg games!

      Peg games!

      Cutest popcorn ever

      Cutest popcorn ever

If you find yourself up in Buffalo, don’t miss Duff’s. Or a beef on weck. But unless you’ve mastered time travel or have you stole a TARDIS, you’re probably not going to have as much fun as I did.

Sorry, not sorry.

Me, Sarah & Jordan with the Bride and Groom!

Me, Sarah & Jordan with the Bride and Groom!

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