Jet Setting and Home Cooking

Hello there! Or, should I say, welcome aboard!

Last night I helped out my fabulous coworker (and the Yelp DC Community Manager) Kimberly at Yelp’s Jet Set Fête, a Mad Man-era travel-themed explosion of local businesses and amazing times. I won’t bore you with too many details (just check out the link above if you want to find out more!), but suffice it to say that Kimberly definitely out-did herself on this one!

As always, it was a bit of a family affair, not only because I was there working with my entire DMV Yelp Family/Flight Crew, but because my own family got to join in on the fun! Both my dad and my sister-in-law are members of the Yelp Elite Squad, and my whole fam really brought their A-game outfit-wise, hehe.

This week is actually a bit of a madhouse event-wise. Kimberly’s big Yelper Party was on Tuesday, tonight I have an Elite Event of my own (at a pottery studio! I’m so excited!), and Friday is a double-header with meeting a visiting coworker for lunch and then attending the James Beard Taste America Dinner (!!) that night. I know, I know, my life is really hard.

Obviously I lovelovelove getting to host and attend such awesome events, but hopefully none of you are rolling your eyes too heavily when I say that it can also be a bit draining. I am definitely what I would consider to be a social and extroverted person most of the time, but even so, being constantly “on” can be hard to keep up night after night!

Which is why I think I tend to go in kind of the opposite direction on those nights that I do have to myself. You know, nothing but laying on the couch bra-free, catching up on missed TV, a couple of schnauzers in my lap? Hehe.

Fortunately, while it would also be oh-so-easy just to order pizza or Chinese on these nights, I have been doing pretty well with upping my cooking game lately. Last night’s night “off,” in fact, led to the creation of a pretty spectacular feast, if I do say so myself!

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Sean’s pomegranate short ribs that he’s been sous vide-ing for days (no, seriously, they’ve been cooking for two whole days! Crazy!) were finally ready, so I whipped up a couple of sides to go alongside ‘em.

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I whipped up some mashed potatoes (well, smashed potatoes, since I was too lazy to peel them, haha) with a little bit of butter, sour cream, and some spices, and maple roasted brussels sprouts, too!

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Now, I’m no stranger to cooking brussels sprouts. I love ‘em! I mean, I’m not kidding when I say that I can easily take down an entire pound of roasted b.sprouts in a single sitting. Of course, I try not to do that often as they are a particularly, er, fibrous veggie, but still. It’s happened.

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What can I say? Those little baby cabbages rule my world. I did do something a smidge different this time, though, that I ended up being very happy with.

See, normally I go through the process of cutting the stem off of the bottom of every single sprout, before halving them. While this method completely eliminates the possibility of biting into an undercooked (and thus, bitter), stem part, it’s very time consuming and also results in lots of the little leaves of each sprout flaking off and potentially burning.

So this time, I simply quartered each sprout, stem on! By doing it this way, they stayed intact, and they also cooked faster AND I got even more of all the delicious caramelized browned bits, which are obviously the very best part.

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For this “recipe” (I use that word loosely, since I use zero measurements and pretty much just wing it every time I roast brussels sprouts), I tossed them in olive oil, salt and pepper, and some maple syrup. Just make sure everything is coated evenly, spread them into a single layer on a baking sheet, and pop ‘em into the oven at 375* for about 30-minutes! If you’re impatient, you can do 400* instead, just make sure you keep an eye on them.

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Before long, you’ll have an entire baking sheet full of deliciousness! Of course, roasting the sprouts with maple syrup is super delicious, but they are just as good done plain with just oil, salt, and pepper, or maybe adding a little brown sugar in there instead. Also, adding bacon is always, ALWAYS an excellent idea. There’s just something about bacon and everything brussels sprouts that goes so well together.

Anyway, that covers my latest cooking creation. See, nobody has an excuse not to eat brussels sprouts, because now you know just how easy it is! And I say, if you think you don’t like b.sprouts, it’s just because you haven’t had ‘em done RIGHT. So just let me know if that’s the case, and you’ll come over and I’ll cook them for you, and you’ll be converted, k?

As mentioned, tonight I’m hosting an event at a pottery studio, so send me lots of good, Ghost-y vibes in the hopes that I end up creating something magical (slash actually worth sharing with you), and I’ll see you soon!

Top Chef, Eat Your Heart Out

You guys know I love to cook, right? Everything about cooking, I love. Chopping, dicing, mincing, searing, simmering, blending, whisking… I love it all! Of course, the main reason I love cooking so much is because I love eating, naturally, but I think there’s something in the act of cooking itself that calls to me as well. The catharsis of working in the kitchen, the instincts that creative cooking calls upon, it lights me up!

So it is especially great to be dating a guy that has a passion for cooking as well, albeit with a slightly different twist. Sean is an engineer by nature, and while my cooking philosophy is all about a dash of this, a smidge of that, let’s add this and see how it all turns out, Sean is fascinated by the nuts and bolts and science of it all. So as molecular gastronomy and modernist cuisine has made its way further into the mainstream, he’s been especially enraptured. And his interest in that side of cooking means that I get to benefit from all his investments.

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Including sous vide cooking! While I was staying at my parents’ place last week during Jen and Mia’s visit, Sean and I cooked up a feast of epic proportions for the whole fam with his shiny sous vide machine.

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For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of sous vide, it involves cooking food sealed in airtight bags in a water bath heated to a very precise temperature. This method allows food to cook for long periods of time (depending on the type of meat, you can cook some things like short ribs and other tough cuts of steak for several days!) without losing flavor, overcooking, or breaking down, resulting in melt-in-your-mouth textures and full-flavors.

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Sous vide tends to get a lot of screen time on Top Chef because it’s kind of a set-and-forget it method of cooking until it’s time to finish whatever you’re cooking, which frees up a lot of time to work on other stuff in between. Alongside the sous vide chicken thighs (and a roasted cauliflower steak for my vegetarian sister), I also whipped up some potatoes au gratin, green beans with caramelized onions, and a cauliflower puree. Mmm!

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Now, speaking of finishing whatever is being cooked via sous vide, the one thing about this method of cooking is that it doesn’t leave food looking particularly aesthetically pleasing when it’s all said and done. After all, when everything is cooked perfectly evenly, with heat permeating from all sides all at once, no browning, searing, or crisping will occur. Which just means it needs to occur after the food is finished cooking in the sous vide!

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By searing food in a pan, on a grill, or with a cooking torch at the end of its cooking process, you end up with a delicious, crispy skin and some color that makes it look just as delicious as it tastes! We cooked the thighs for about 90 minutes in the sous vide, then finished it in a hot cast iron pan for just a minute or two on each side. The result?

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A fabulous meal that I was even more proud of than usual! The consistency of the chicken was absolutely perfect, with the flavor completely permeating every bite. We seasoned the chicken with salt and pepper, put a little bit of butter, some thyme, and garlic into each of the sous vide packs before cooking, and it all was perfectly balanced at the end.

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On the same night we did the chicken, actually, we also experimented with eggs cooked via sous vide. I didn’t know this before, but you can actually pop eggs — in their shell and all! — into the sous vide at certain temperatures for the perfect cooked eggs! 145-degrees leads to amazing, soft poached eggs, a little bit higher and you get soft-boiled, all the way up to hard-boiled!

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We cooked the eggs for just shy of an hour, and they were pretty much the perfect Eggs Benedict consistency. This is particularly great, because there’s no limit on the number of eggs you can cook at once! So we were able to make a dozen poached eggs for a big brunch we held at the house later in the week, and it was awesome.

I can’t wait to experiment more with this fascinating form of cooking! In fact, as you read this, Sean has some pomegranate short ribs going in the sous vide. We’re letting these ones cook for a reeeeeeeeeeally long time, so here’s hoping it works out just as well as this one did!

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Babies, Black Eyes, and Bobs

Hello!

I know, another week+ long blogging hiatus has occurred. My only defense is that I was pretty much permanently camped out at my parents’ house the entire time my sister and niece were visiting, which meant zero access to my desktop, which is where I edit all my DSLR photos.

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The good news there, however, is that this means I actually took a lot of REAL photos over the past week! Which really worked out since, as you already know, Mia is pretty much the best thing to take pictures of ever.

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I rest my case.

Although, I do have to admit now that I have an iPhone 6, my phone photo game has stepped up significantly anyway. Guess that means my excuse really doesn’t fly, ahaha.

So, as tends to happen when life is, well, being lived, lots of stuff happened over the past week. First and most importantly, as you already know,  Jen and Mia came up for a visit. This meant lots of time spent hanging with my family, listening to baby babble (it’s the bessssst!), and emotionally reverting to my sixteen-year-old self. (Oh, and if you were wondering, Mia LOVED the Elsa doll I got her!)

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Also, I managed to slam my eye socket into the corner of a chair and give myself a black eye.

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I actually think it makes a much better story if I just say that Mia punched me in the face, so let’s pretend that’s what happened. You know, instead of me getting into fisticuffs with an inanimate object, mmkay?

All kidding aside, it actually was pretty awful. I’ll spare you some of the much uglier, nastier pictures I took, but suffice it to say that my whole eye was hugely swollen for a couple of days, and the bruise on my eyelid is just finally starting to lighten up now. (Thankfully, it just kinda looks like I’m wearing purple eyeshadow, and also that I must be reeeeeeeeally tired… in one eye.) I definitely realize how lucky I am not to have damaged my actual eye or vision though, especially given the $4K I spent on LASIK not too long ago.

Aaaaanyway, self-inflicted injuries aside, we all tried to cram in lots of hometown nostalgia for my sister while she was here, but I couldn’t let her leave without introducing her to something new, too. Specifically, my absolutely wonderful hair stylist, Linh at Be Scene Studios. I booked her an appointment so Linh and I could both try to convince her to do something fun and fashionable with her hair. And the result of our persuasive effort?

A fabulous, chic bob — Linh’s specialty! And it looks even better in person, and is nice and low-maintenance for someone who doesn’t even own a blowdryer… like Jen.

Sadly, though, ultimately my sister and my beautiful niece did have to return home. How did I soften the blow of their departure?

Why, by volunteering to groom Sully from Monsters, Inc, of course.

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Er, I mean, by hunting down a unicorn and cutting off its tail.

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Jk, jk. Obviously, I went ahead and let my own hair go under the knife, as it were. Yes, merely days after Jen got her rad new ‘do, I headed straight back to Be Scene for some new locks of my own. I guess seeing my sister’s stylin’ new haircut just made me crave one too badly to wait!

For good measure, here are a few final pics to remember my (faded) hair as it once was:

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The during:

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And, the after:

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As it turns out, it is actually really easy being green!

It’s funny, every time I’ve gone to see Linh in the past, I’ve always been that girl, all “Keep the length! Not too much off the bottom!” even though I was more than game for pretty much any color on the rainbow spectrum. Also, it’s a little weird that I was so stubborn about the length for so long, since it’s not like my hair has never been short, right? I mean, my hair’s been everything from pixie-short blonde to super-long rainbow. Oh well, at least I finally got to a place where I was willing to shed more than an inch or two, ’cause I’m loving it!

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Plus, this color, man. It’s beautiful! It’s like a super vibrant emerald green, and I am having SO much fun with it! We’ll have to see how it ends up fading (hopefully it’ll still be pretty), but for now it is so bright, so flouncy, and it actually shimmers in the right light! I’m thinking… Elphaba for Halloween?

Wellps, that about catches us up with what’s been a-going on over the past week or so. While camping at my parents’ place, I did get to do a lot of fun cooking, including a sous vide dinner with Sean that I actually managed to document in photos for once! So keep an (unbruised, unblackened) eye out for that, amongst other things, and I’ll see you on the flip side!

Happy Times Are Here Again

HAPPY VAMPIRE DIARIES DAY! Here is a gif of Ian Somerhalder to get you in the right spirit:

Shirtless Damon is best Damon.

Don’t worry, for those of you who aren’t caught up on The Vampire Diaries, all five previous seasons are on Netflix. Start it now, thank me later!

A-hem. Anyway, now that that’s out of the way, of course, we can move on. I’m feeling much better, thankfully, because by the time you read this I am hopefully already deep in Mia-land. My sister and niece arrived late last night, so from here on out it’s going to be pretty much all Mia, all the time.

In case you need a reminder as to why, despite having just been to Macon to visit a few weeks ago, this is still so exciting, I present the following:

I mean, COME ON. It’s just not FAIR for one to be so cute, right?? Okay, I know I’m slightly biased, but… still.

I’m actually especially excited because I got her a present the other day when I was at Potomac Mills, and based on the 987298432857 times I watched Frozen in the single week I was visiting, I think she’s gonna like it:

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I mean, personally I think this particular Elsa’s face falls a little bit on the creepy side, but I’m still hoping it’ll be a big hit. I’m gunning hard for the Favorite Aunt award (suck it, Uncle Ben and Aunt Taylor!) after all.

All in all, it’s shaping up to be a pretty great week while Jenny and Mia are here! I’m feeling better (still not completely at 100%, but I’m pretty sure I’m not contagious at least, haha), and I’ve got some fun things lined up over the next few days. Hooray for things happening!

Panda’s Gettin’ Married!

Oh, hey.

This is awkward.

Two weeks, huh? I guess I probably should’ve called. Or at least texted. I mean, it’s OCTOBER already, for cryin’ out loud! My bad.

It’s not you, I swear. It’s all me. After my last long, declarative, overly verbose post, I really did intend to come back to blog again the very next day. And when that didn’t happen, I meant to come back the day after that. And, well, here we are, two weeks later.

But the good news is, that kind of statement USED to be reserved for making excuses as to why I didn’t go to the gym. And for, like, the first time in my life, that hasn’t been necessary. I’ve been maintaining a pretty regular gym schedule for the past couple of weeks actually, and I think it’s already paying off! My clothes are fitting a little bit better and, more importantly, I’m feeling pretty dandy too. So hooray!

Alas, though, the past few days have been woefully absent of any fitness activity. Or any activity at all, really, except for slowly dying in my bed. And sometimes on the couch. I’ve been crazy sick since the weekend, and it hasn’t been fun. My throat feels like I basically swallowed a razor blade, I’ve been running a temperature for the first time since high school, and just the simple act of going up or down the stairs has made me feel totally wiped out.

Soooo yeah, not so great. And since my beautiful sister and Mia are coming up to visit tomorrow (I know, it seems like I I just went to visit them, but this is why life is amazing!) I’ve been trying to get on the fast-track back to health. Lots of green tea, water, drugs, schnauzer cuddles, and REST. I am feeling much improved today (although it does still hurt to swallow), and hopefully this is the last bit of it.

Anyway, so that also has contributed to the distinct lack of blog-age this week, which was especially lame because I actually, miraculously had something to blog about! On Saturday (before I realized I was truly down-and-out sick), I attended my good friend Amanda’s bridal shower.

And because she is already oh-so-aware that I am that friend I took a few obnoxious photos while I was there!

Of course, as with most things, this is mostly a thinly veiled excuse for me to show off my new dress to those of you who don’t follow me on Instagram. Isn’t it pretty? $40 at Nordstrom Rack, baby!


Amanda’s bridesmaids threw a beautiful shower that was perfectly themed around her. Not only were there classic Bridal Shower games like toilet paper bridal gown making and “How Well Do You Know the Groom?” trivia (complete with video-recorded responses from her fiance!), but there was also one that I would ONLY ever get to experience at a party for Amanda, who is a huuuuuge history nerd. I mean, history buff.


Yep, there was Presidential Trivia at this shower. Well, First Lady Trivia, to be specific. Suffice it to say, I did not do great on this challenge. In my defense though, they didn’t exactly make it easy on us! There was not one single “Jacqueline,” “Michelle,” “Hillary,” or “Barbara” on there.

I tried not to be too obnoxious with my camera during present-time, so I only snapped a couple pics as Amanda opened my gift, which was OBVIOUSLY a wok set. I mean, c’mon.

In addition to adorable and delicious-smelling candles (pumpkin-scented!) as our bridal favors, we each got to go home with our own chalkboard champagne glass as well. Such a great idea! I gotta remember to Pin that after this is posted, hahaha.



So there you have it: definitive proof that I still have some semblance of a life outside of Yelp, hahaha. Hopefully by the end of today I’ll be back in tip-top shape health-wise and will have even more fun stuff to report on throughout the next week! And if by some unlucky circumstance another couple of weeks goes by between now and when I see you again, just remember: it’s not you, it’s definitely, definitely me.

And remember: if nothing else, I am almost certain to be back here on Friday, if not solely to express what I’m sure will be CONSIDERABLE FEELINGS after watching the season premiere of Vampire Diaries tomorrow night. OMG I AM SO EXCITED OK BYE.