Ringing in the New Year

In 2012 we welcome in the New Year on the beach in Costa Rica

In 2013 we welcomed in the New Year on a yacht in the British Virgin Islands

This year, we welcome 2014 in Jersey. IMG_1082-MOTION

I’d say life is moving in the right direction.

After a few years of pretty intense trips with our friends, we decided to tone it down a bit and stay local. Thankfully, a lot of our friends made the same choice. And our two favorite San Fran natives added the dirty Jerz on their east coast tour, so they were in town to celebrate with us as well.

Matt and I spent December 29th making our own decorations for the party. Needless to say, Matt was thrilled with this idea.

We made a few garlands and added some NYE-themed artwork to our faux “mantel” shelves.

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To make the circle garlands, Matt used a 1.5″ circle punch on gold, silver and black glitter paper. I then broke out my sewing machine to stitch the circles together in one long line. I chose not to put any spacing between each circle but if you want to make a longer garland, you can certainly do so.

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To make the tassel garlands, I followed these instructions (thanks Linen, Lace and Love).

It really doesn’t look like we did a lot, but somehow we were up until 1am making these things…

We ended up having 13 people over our apartment – a good number but one that proved a little challenging for food. It was a small enough group that we needed to provide more than just appetizers/snacks, but a big enough group that a full sit down meal would be a little challenging.

Dun dun da dah — Crock pot to the rescue!

After starting with a few different appetizers: Spinach and Cream Cheese Pastry Puffs, Buffalo Chicken Meatballs and a new Flatbread (this one Matt liked, as compared with this)

Our main menu consisted of the following:

Pulled Pork Sliders w/ creamy coleslaw
Baked Beans
Mac and Cheese Casserole
Cape Cod Potato Chips (regular and salt & vinegar)

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Matt went out the morning of the 31st to pick up a pork butt. He came back with a 6 lb piece of meat. It goes without saying, we will be eating pulled pork for a while. Thankfully they make GREAT leftovers (and Matt will actually eat them)

Starting the year off with leftovers!
Starting the year off with leftovers!

Thank you to all of our friends who helped us ring in 2014 in our new place and in style. We are so lucky to have you in our lives. Can’t wait to see what the new year brings for all of us!

"Family" photo
“Family” photo

Generic

Generic is defined as something that is general, common, or inclusive rather than specific, unique, or selective. Many times this word is associated with generic brands; a product that mirrors a more well-known product, lacking one thing, the “band name.”  While it is often inaccurate to describe these products as “lacking a brand name”, as they usually are branded, albeit with either the brand of the store in which they are sold, they are generally identified by product characteristics.

They may be manufactured by less prominent companies, or manufactured on the same production line as a ‘named’ brand. Generic brands are usually priced below those products they imitate. Generic brand products are often of equal quality as a branded product… or so I thought.

Let’s be honest, we are experiencing an economic downfall. Although I have heard that the economy is getting better, I am still watching my spending. As a result, when I was at the grocery store tonight, picking up something delicious for dinner, of course I bought the generic mac and cheese; it was 55 cents less than the Kraft. The boxes were similar, the ingredients were exactly the same, and the cooking directions on the generic box were consistent with those that I followed so many times before while making a trusted box of Kraft. So I walked out of the store with a box of Krasdale Spirals and a smile on my face.

I cooked up my delicious dinner and sat down to enjoy a yummy bowl of mac and cheese. On a side note, I have been feeling a little under the weather the past few days and I was looking forward to my comfort food dinner. Well, as soon as I took one bite, I realized something was wrong. Something was missing from this bowl, but I couldn’t figure out what… I added the correct amount of milk and butter. I had added the magical powdered cheese packet and cooked the pasta thoroughly. What could I have done wrong? What was missing from my mac and cheese.

I will tell you what was missing… 85 cents of deliciousness. I promise, I will never sacrifice taste for price again. Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, you are my little thing for the day. I only wish I had realized this sooner…

If you were born in 70s:

If you were born in the 80s:

If you were born in the 90s:

If you were born in the 2000s:

Date Night

After Matt and I got engaged, my mother shared with me a photocopied section from a 1954 home economics text book.

HOW TO BE A GOOD WIFE
Home Economics High School Text Book, 1954

Have dinner ready. Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal, on time. This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they come home and the prospect of a good meal are part of the warm welcome needed.

Prepare yourself. Take 15 minutes to rest so that you’ll be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your makeup, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh-looking. He has just been with a lot of work-weary people. Be a little gay and a little more interesting. His boring day may need a lift.

Clear away the clutter. Make one last trip through the main part of the home just before your husband arrives, gather up schoolbooks, toys, paper, etc. Then run a dust cloth over the tables. Your husband will feel he has reached a haven of rest and order, and it will give you a lift, too.

Prepare the children. Take a few minutes to wash the children’s hands and faces (if they are small), comb their hair, and if necessary change their clothes. They are little treasures and he would like to see them playing the part.

Minimize all noise. At the time of his arrival, eliminate all noise of the washer, dryer, dishwasher, or vacuum. Try to encourage the children to be quiet. Be happy to see him. Greet him with a warm smile and be glad he is home.

Some don’ts: Don’t greet him with problems or complaints. Don’t complain if he is late for dinner. Count this as minor compared with what he might have gone through that day. Make him comfortable. Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or suggest he lie down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him. Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soft, soothing and pleasant voice. Allow him to relax and unwind.

Listen to him. You may have a dozen things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first.

Make the evening his. Never complain if he does not take you out to dinner or to other places of entertainment. Instead, try to understand his world of strain and pressure, his need to be home and relax.

The Goal: Try to make your home a place of peace and order where your husband can renew himself in body and spirit.

I decided that, although I have over a year before I get married, I should work my way down the list starting with the first one: dinner. While my baking skills pretty strong, I am the first to admit that my cooking skills are lacking. I have tried to improve them by making an effort to cook a few home-cooked meals each week and I have even taken a few cooking classes at the Institute for Culinary Education.

While I enjoy playing the role of Betty Draper, it is the year 2010, and Matt is not going to find himself playing the role of Don Draper. Before we got engaged, I made a comment one day (after being frustrated by Matt’s lack of culinary skills) that he needed to learn how to cook five different meals before I would agree to marry him, While this was more of a joke, Matt took on this challenge fully. The next few months, Matt would surprise me with dinners every so often. His five meals consisted of: fajita pizza, shepherd’s pie, chicken parm, chicken alfredo and enchiladas. He certainly proved himself to be a good cook.

While his cooking skills have slowly fallen off pace since he sealed the deal with the ring, he still makes “Egg McMatt’s” nearly every weekend for breakfast and can make a mean cup of coffee in our K-cup Keurig machine. For Christmas Matt bought me a gift certificate to take a couples cooking class at ICE. So on Friday, we finally went to a class where we could both work to improve our cooking abilities.

The class that we took was called “Couples Like it Hot!” and had a menu geared around spicy dishes. Matt and I had a great time and learned a lot. I’ve included some pictures and recipes below!

Cheese Twists:
1 1/2 cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 sheet puff pastry

Preheat over to 425. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Dust a work surface with flour.

1. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the cheese on the right half of the dough. Sprinkle half the cayenne on top and fold the left side of the dough over the filling. Press the edges together. Roll the dough out lightly to a thickness of about 1/4 inch.
2. Sprinkle half the dough with another 1/2 cup of cheese and the remaining half of the cayenne, fold in half again, and press the edges together.
3. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on the dough and roll the dough into a rectangle about 1/4 inch think.
4. Cut the dough into long half-inch wide strips. Twist each strip a few times, then lay them out about 1/2 inch apart on the parchment-lined baking sheet.
5. Bake until golden, about 10-12 minutes. Allow to cool slightly, then remove from paper and serve.
Spicy Mac ‘n Cheese:
1 pound Barilla elbow macaroni
1 1/3 cups whole milk, divided
1 cup mascarpone
3 cups extra-sharp shredded cheddar cheese
3 cups shredded pepper jack cheese
1 1/3 cups Jalapeno Puree (recipe follows)
1. Cook pasta al dente and drain.
2. Return the empty pasta pot to a low burner and add half of the milk, all of the mascarpone and the hot pasta to the pot, mix well.
3. Add half of each cheese (3/4 cups each) and mix well. Add the remaining milk and cheese and mix well.
4. Stir in the Jalapeno Puree and heat through. Serve immediately or transfer to a serving dish and keep warm.
Jalapeno Puree:
6 to 8 large jalapeno peppers, depending on heat
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onion
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Puree together in a mini-processor.

Pot Luck

On Friday night, Matt and I were invited to a pot luck dinner. I was extremely excited as I had never really been to one before and I love to cook. Cooking at home is quite challenging for a few reasons. First, cooking for one is hard. I am all for left overs, but eating left overs for 4-5 days in a row is another story. Second, I don’t tend to keep a lot of food in our fridge. That is the NYC way and I have found that the food often goes bad before I get around to cooking it. As a result, I stalk up on the Lean Cuisines, which Matt is certainly a big fan of (note the sarcasm). Third, I love to bake and definitely think I my sweet tooth and detail oriented frame of mind, compliment the precise nature of baking. When Rachel Ray starts putting “palm-fulls” of spices into dishes, or “seasons to taste with salt and pepper” my mind starts calculating exactly how much she has just added to the recipe.

So, when the invitation to attend the pot luck came about, I quickly responded to the email and requested that I sign up to make dessert. Unfortunately someone had already called dibs on dessert, so I was left with the choice of making an entrée or a side dish. Knowing that the guest list contained a few male guests who probably didn’t have much experience in the kitchen, I decided to take one for the team and make an entrée. I had been wanting to try my hand at making buffalo chicken mac and cheese (see previous post, S’mac) but I was nervous about making a new dish for other people. After googling a few recipes, I picked one that looked manageable and committed to it.

The recipe I decided on turned out great. Not quite the same as S’mac, but still good. I used pre-breaded/pre-cooked chicken from Perdue and I used all of the hot sauce (not just 4 tablespoons) cause I like things extra spicy and am addicted to Franks Hot Sauce (remember those Lean Cuisines… Franks works wonders on them). Everyone was pretty impressed with the dish and Matt even went back for seconds! If I were to make it again, I would probably add more cheese or bread crumbs to the top of the dish.

The rest of the dinner was great. We had creamed corn, turkey and chicken, fresh fruit and some delicious chocolate cake. While some of the guests didn’t quite understand that the idea of a pot luck is to cook things yourselves, it isn’t too surprising in New York that 1/2 the items would be store-bought. In the end, we all had fun and decided it was definitely something we wanted to do again. It was a great way to start the holiday weekend.

S’Mac

Last weekend, before I left for the most magical girls weekend ever, Matt took me out on a date to an amazing New York restaurant. I will be the first to admit, that I am certainly not ahead of the curve or turning a “hole in the wall restaurant” into something popular. Ever since I moved to NYC nearly 1.5 years ago, I have heard about S’Mac and how delicious their specialty macaroni and cheese creations are. But silly me, I never thought to go to this restaurant before for dinner.

People who know Matt and I, are familiar with our limited ability to pick out good restaurants. One of the first dates Matt took me on, after we moved to NYC, was to a restaurant called “Jekyll and Hyde, a Social Club for Explorers and Mad Scientists.” You would have thought that the name alone would have scared us away… but no, we practically skipped across the street and into the restaurant that had haunted decor and  staff in costume AND in character. To make this worse, we even waited over 30 minutes to be seated. What we were thinking, I am not sure. Needless to say, the food was terrible, the service was slow and we were certainly creeped out by the entire experience. Honestly, the best part of the nigh was when I went to the bathroom, and discovered that they were in hidden doors behind bookcaseed walls. Cool, unless you really have to go to the bathroom and can’t figure out where the doors are hidden.

Thankfully, Matt and I have received a lot of restaurant recommendations from friends since that time. I think I owe the recommendation of S’Mac to my friend, Jessi, who knows a lot about food, as she is the owner of Cupcake Kids, a company that runs cooking classes for kids in New York City. She is certainly one of the best “foodies” I know.

Anyway, I am happy to report that S’Mac lived up to the great reputation that it has across the city. Matt and I ordered a salad and the Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese. It was delivered to our table in a cast iron skillet and smelled amazing. It was the perfect blend of mac and cheese and buffalo wings… not a combination I would have made on my own. I love it when things live up to your expectations. So often in life, we get our hopes up for amazing experiences, like prom, only to be thoroughly disappointed. I am happy to report, this was not one of those times.

While I certainly plan on returning to S’Mac in the future, I have decided to attempt to re-create this wonderful concoction on my own within the next month or so. Keep your eye out for future postings!

In the meantime, live, love and eat S’Mac.

http://www.arkrestaurants.com/pinchandsmac.html