Merry Christmas!

It’s been pretty quiet around here lately.  Let me explain.

My laptop died.  You know, the one I’ve had since 2007?  My beloved, solid as a rock, ancient-but-still-totally-usable 2007 Mac Book?

One day it was totally fine, and the next, gone.  Just gone!  It was seriously upsetting, and I may have cried big crocodile tears every day for a week.

So, there I was with pictures in my camera, an exciting blog post to write, and no computer.  In a stroke of pure generosity, my husband wiped his iPad and handed it over to me so that I could at least feed my Pinterest addiction and upload photos.  Unfortunately, writing an entire blog post with photos on an iPad is a little bit more than difficult.  Probably doable, but more time consuming than I could manage.

Oh, did I mention that this was just before Nutcracker?

Yeah, I had a few things going on to distract me from my laptop woes.

So after the Nutcracker, when visions of Sugar Plums had cleared from my head, I started to really think about how I was going to make this work.  Sure, I could find a cheaper laptop than a Mac, but that’s what I wanted, and really, if I’m going to drop hundreds of dollars on something, it darn well better be exactly what I want.  Why spend $600 on a laptop if I’m going to have to do it again in a year or two?  I might as well make an extra investment and not have to do it again for a long, hopefully really long time. (By the way, I’m not trying to advertise for anyone here, I’m just a huge Apple fan-girl and can’t help but gush.  I’m certainly not getting paid or perked in any way.)

I did the calculations.  Even if I saved up $100 every month (ha!), it was still going to take me at least 10 months before I got a new laptop.  I’m no stranger to sacrifice and saving, but almost a year of borrowing someone’s computer to write blog posts was a bit daunting.

But on Christmas morning, Santa totally came through for me.
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I think I scared my in-laws when I made that first tear in the wrapping paper. I may have screamed something like “SHUT UP!!”  Sorry GG, I was more than a little surprised.

I don’t know how those elves managed, or how Santa pulled this off without even giving off the slightest hint! My Christmas spirit was strong to begin with, but this just put it over the top.

It was absolutely perfect timing, because tomorrow I have a giveaway to announce.  It’s not a laptop, but it will definitely make a difference for someone.  Let’s keep this spirit of giving alive, shall we?

By the way, I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas or Hanukkah.  Any other “SHUT UP” inducing gifts out there? Did you get to spend time with your loved ones?

See you tomorrow!

Pasta Salad

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You know how every family has a set of side salads that appear at functions? Like Grandma’s broccoli salad, or Auntie’s guacamole? We’ve got those too. But we have things like “Romance Jello” or “Frog Eye Salad.” We were hilarious as kids.

Those side dishes are wonderful, but this one is a little different. It has vegetables. It has noodles. It didn’t come from the back of a romance novel. (I think)

My mother in law brought this salad once, and was told in no uncertain terms that she was to bring this to all future functions, no matter the occasion. That’s how we roll. You bring good food, and you’re in for life. Whether you like it or not!

It is so easy, too! Technically, I consider this a “cheat” recipe because the “sauce” isn’t homemade, but sometimes cheating is essential for success (in the case of food, not life). My sister and I made up a recipe for the 4th of July because my mother in law was out of town, and I think it was darn near perfect. Maybe Anita can give us some pointers in the comments section 😉

Anita’s Pasta Salad
Not sure where she got this one, but I’m so glad she did!

1 box of pasta (your favorite kind, but we like the colorful noodles)
1 medium head of cauliflower, chopped
2 cups of olives, either sliced or halved
1 or 2 large cucumbers, diced
1 bottle of your favorite Italian Dressing

Prepare pasta according to package directions. Drain and rinse the pasta with cool water. Add chopped vegetables, and 3/4 to 1 bottle of Italian Dressing. Mix. Serve. No kidding!

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I don’t usually peel vegetables, but some people don’t like the skins. Do what you will.

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Thanks for doing the work, Amanda!

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Colorful noodles are really fun. And they totally taste better!

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For some added color, you could add sliced cherry tomatoes or chopped red pepper. We were kind of in a hurry though, and didn’t really think ahead. It happens.

So now you have another item to add to your family’s repertoire. What are your family staples?

Poaching Victory!

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We all know I suck at presentation. It’s something I’ve learned to deal with, because for the most part, I can make it taste good.

I’ve made cheesecake without the top cracking.  I’ve made creme brulee the perfect shade of golden, caramel brown.  I’ve even made chicken pot pie without a pie dish!

But there was one thing that I’ve just never been able to achieve. I’m not talking “It didn’t look pretty, but it was edible” or “I made some mistakes but ended up with something almost as good.”

No, since I started this fun, laughable, delicious culinary journey, I have always wanted to poach an egg. Folks, it’s harder than it looks.

I’ve seen the tutorials. I’ve watched Julie & Julia more times than I’ll admit.

And I’ve wasted so. many. eggs. It saddened me. So I tucked it away in the back of my mind, in that place where I store things that nag me. Things I can’t admit to anyone else for fear of ridicule. What self respecting food blogger can’t even poach an egg?

Me.

Months after I had given up on my poached egg dreams, I got a call from my mother in law. She was visiting family, and someone brought up how delicious but difficult poached eggs are. In her sweetness, her blind faith, she said, “I know someone who can do it for sure!” And then she proceeded to call me.

I had to admit–out loud, no less–that I had never successfully poached an egg. The shame! It was too much. I knew I had to do it.

Ladies and gentlemen, I did it. On my very next try. I freaking did it!!

Start with hot water. Put it on the stove over medium/high heat.
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Crack an egg into a bowl. Cracking it right into the water isn’t going to cut it. You don’t want it hitting the bottom and then spreading out everywhere. Putting the egg into a bowl allows you to gently tip it in right at the surface of the water.
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When bubbles just start to form:
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Place the bowl right at the surface of the water and tip the egg in.
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And then leave it be!
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You don’t want to move the water around and break up the egg. After about 30 seconds, you can gently ever so gently start to lift the edges from the bottom of the pan.
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After awhile, you can gently ever so gently start to move the egg around.
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Then, after about 7-10ish minutes in the water, you can lift it out with a slotted spoon.
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I was so excited to try making a poached egg that I hadn’t really thought about how I’d serve it. Fortunately, I had some feta and an English muffin. Perfecto!
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I feel it is my duty to inform you that runny yolks can pose health risks. You’ll notice that my yolk wasn’t runny at all, but I didn’t know that until I had bitten into it. To be on the safe side, make sure you err on the side of more done, probably at least a 10 minute cooking time, depending on how hot your water stays. (It felt like it took foooooreverrrrrrrrrrrrr to cook, but I was really hungry at the time.)

Poached Eggs

Add about an inch and a half to two inches of hot water to a deep skillet, place on the stove over medium high heat. Crack each egg into its own bowl.
When the water starts to form bubbles on the bottom of the pan, turn the heat down slightly.
Place the edge of the bowl right at the surface of the water and let the egg slide into the water.
After about 30 seconds, use a wooden spoon to gently nudge the edge of the egg to loosen it from the bottom. If you get too overzealous with your nudging, the egg will separate and you’ll have a pan full of nastiness.
The more done the egg, the easier it will be to move around. Eventually it will “solidify” and you can take it out of the water.
***It’s important that you never actually allow the water to fully boil. Especially when the egg is in the water. You just want it right on the verge of bubbles.

Try this soon, and if it doesn’t work, give it a few months. Don’t give up!
Poached egg victory tastes so sweet.

Pierogies

Boiling Perogies
I remember that first bite vividly.  The whole family was staring at me, waiting with bated breath to see my reaction.  This was an extremely important dinner, as it would be the deciding factor in shaping my future.  You think I’m kidding, but I was specifically told that I couldn’t marry into the family unless I liked pierogies.  It’s a lot of pressure for someone who’d never had sauerkraut, let alone heard of a pierogi.

I knew about pasties and pot pies (I am Irish, after all), but pierogies?  My husband’s family is Polish by descent, and celebrates by eating pierogies every Christmas Eve.

And so I poured a little butter over the top, added a few shakes of salt and pepper, cut off a small corner piece and cautiously took a bite…

It was amazing, needless to say (as anything drenched in melted butter tends to be).  I was surprised by the contrasting flavors–vinegary sauerkraut, moist, chewy shell.  It was what I thought it would be:  simple, recognizable; but I was surprised at how well the few ingredients complimented each other.

We’ve tried pierogies a few times on our own, to great success.  But nothing compares to that family meal.  During the holiday season when everything is so sweet-centered, it’s nice to have a meal that’s tart and savory.

And now I have some bad news.  My mother in law starts this process first thing in the morning.  And she’s a very early riser.  I came up the stairs and the dough had already been assembled and she was rolling it out and cutting it into triangles.  I don’t have the photo step-by-step that I normally include.  The good news is that this means I’ll just have to make pierogies sometime soon.  Darn, huh?

It starts with eggs and flour.  A lot.  To quadruple/billionuple her normal recipe, she used two dozen eggs and 12 cups of flour!! (Don’t worry though, we seriously love our pierogies, and that amount of eggs and flour gave us about 80 of them. You can use 3 cups of flour and 6 eggs to start)  She also added a bit of salt and pepper to taste.  You can start with a wooden spoon, but eventually combine with your hands to make a pie crust like consistency.
Dough Mound

Roll it out pretty thinly, and then slice into triangles.
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While that’s going on, start your sauerkraut in a frying pan with some buttah. We usually use a whole, very large, jar.
Saur Kraut
The frying time of the sauerkraut is a bit of a debate between my husband and his mother. She likes to cook it for quite awhile, but my husband likes to cook it just until the kraut absorbs the butter and is heated through. I tend to side with my husband, because I really like the flavor of the kraut to burst.

Assembly
Fill each triangle with kraut, and pinch the edges to close. The kraut will be moist enough that you shouldn’t need to add water or egg wash to the edges. Make sure they’re really sealed though! You don’t want any of the good stuff to escape.

So many Perogies!
Place sealed pierogies on a slightly damp towel. Repeat the process again and again until you run out of dough. If you run out of sauerkraut, make more, silly!

Here’s another point of “contention” between my husband and his mother. When she’s finished stuffing all the dough, she lets the pierogies rest between two damp towels for several hours (until dinner time) like so:
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My husband is ready to go as soon as the last pierogi is stuffed. This usually results in a few of the resting pierogies disappearing.
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Yum
I may or may not have consumed a few of these a little early too. Can you blame me?

When it’s actually dinner time, bring a big pot of water to a boil. Add the pierogies in batches. You’ll know when they’re ready because the dough will change color and harden. Before you pull them out of the water, melt “some” butter.
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To serve, place hot pierogies on a plate.  Drizzle with butter, flavor with salt and pepper, and then keep track of how many you eat to know who the winner is.  Oh wait, maybe that’s just us…

And now I have more bad/good news. We were in such a hurry to eat that I didn’t snap any photos of these beauties plated and ready for eating. Further reason to make them again, yes? I’ll just have to post a follow-up…and buy more butter.