Sunday, July 29, 2012

Quite Possibly the Healthiest Spaghetti and Meat Sauce You Could Ever Make

I genuinely believe that the only way to make this any healthier is by removing entire ingredients. And life's too short to skimp like that.

The ingredients are as so:
- One package of corn pasta (aka gluten-free)
- One jar of organic marina sauce
- One pound of organic, grass-fed beef
- One package of chicken sausage
- A smidgen of salt and oregano (not pictured)

As I've mentioned before, I'm trying to reduce my gluten intake. I'm not here to convert people, but I believe that studies that find a link between gluten and weight gain, sluggish behavior, and overeating. While this personal crusade is a lost cause on bread (gluten-free bread is not bread; it is microwaved cardboard shreds), corn pasta has been my saving grace. Rice pasta is very sticky and doesn't keep well (meaning no leftovers), but corn pasta is absolutely amazing. Corn/rice hybrid pasta is pretty good, but that's for another day.

I first set the oven to 425*F and baked the chicken sausage for roughly 30 minutes, or until the skin had browned. After it was fully cooked, I set the sausage aside to cool off while I worked on the spaghetti.

The best part of corn pasta is that it cooks like regular wheat pasta -- and it tastes the same as well. So I was able to go on autopilot and boil my spaghetti for the standard 8 - 10 minutes.

While the pasta was boiling, I cooked the beef in a sauce pan, periodically breaking the beef apart with my spatula. Organic, grass-fed beef has a slightly different texture than the standard grocery store beef, so more attention does have to be made to dicing up the beef with your spatula.

During that cooking process, I cut the chicken sausage into disks. Once the beef was fully cooked, I mixed in the sausage and the marinara sauce, along with a pinch of salt and oregano, and let everything simmer, stirring occasionally. It's not a lot to look at, but the smell was incredible. Add in a pinch of salt, or oregano, or even a little garlic powder for that extra zing.

Once the pasta was drained and rinsed, I added everything together, along with some parmesan cheese and sourdough bread (which I will fully admit made this a little less healthy, but c'mon -- it's sourdough!). This meal is so filling and so delicious. The best part is that there is less guilt about scarfing down carbs at a near hysterical pace.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Photo Friday: Brattle Book Shop / Exhibition

A couple weeks ago, one of my favorite photographers contacted me. A few photographs that I had modeled in were going on be part of two exhibitions in Boston. This was a perfect excuse to go back to my beloved town, enjoy all of my old haunts, and indulge in a little narcissism.

One of the places I loved back when I lived in Boston was the Brattle Book Shop. The bookstore in my novel is actually shaped roughly around this independent book store (and my love for this place actually helped me continue on with my writing whenever I'd hit a wall). The best part of Brattle Book Shop is its outdoor bargain book area. For five dollars or less, you can get some real finds (fun fact: I once purchased 10 Shakepeare plays and 5 unedited proofs for $15). Since I didn't have the chutzpah to take any pictures inside the store, I decided to wander the outside area instead:


The exhibitions were a blast. It was great getting to talk with Ryuji, owner of Silvergrain Studios. I hadn't seen him since a year before I got married, so it was wonderful catching up with him.

(It was just a little hot that day and a simple walk from South Station coated me in a sweat that I couldn't really wipe away)

It was also a blast getting a little silly at the exhibitions, reenacting some of the more avant-garde pieces.

My husband and I topped off our night with Fire & Ice in Cambridge. We brought along the gift card that I had given him as part of his anniversary present and enjoyed delicious Mongolian barbecue. I had a little fun ogling over the business cards for Ryuji's photography studio. Ryuji jokes that I'm his "blue paint", aka his primarily-used model. I just like that my face is plastered all over the promotional material.

Monday, July 23, 2012

How to Make a Giant Kit-Kat Bar and Reese's Peanut Butter Cup

My husband's birthday was only 2 weeks after our anniversary trip. As you can imagine, we were good and caked out after our trip, as we demolished 3/4s of our top tier within 6 days. I've been making my husband a cake for his birthday every year since we moved in together. I knew we both were tired of cake, but I still wanted to make him something.

And God bless Buzzfeed, as they introduced me to the giant Kit-Kat Bar. After some Googling, I was also able to find a recipe for a giant Reese's bar.

First, the Kit-Kat bar. I needed (for each bar):
40+ oz of Milk Chocolate Chips
1 bag of chocolate wafers (I bought two just in case, with cheap-o back-ups in case I ran out)

I first needed a container for this monstrosity. The website suggested a cereal box cut in half, and I followed along. It was actually really easy cutting the box in half: I'd cut one side all the way to the bottom, flip it over, and cut the other side to the bottom. I could then essentially fold the box in half and cut the bottom part as well.

Then was the Kit-Kat logo. I drew out the Kit-Kat on an extra piece of cardboard, cut the letters out, and scrapbook-taped them to the bottom of the cereal box/trough.

Looking back, I should've used something stronger than scrapbooking tape. Or I should've at least sprayed the box with Pam. But, eh, live and learn.

I didn't own a double boiler, but I was able to finagle one out of two sauce pans. I melted the chocolate halfway down before adding just enough milk and butter to keep it creamy.

I then filled the cereal troughs about a centimeter deep with the chocolate. After smoothing it with the spoon, I set them in the freezer to harden.

While I was waiting for the Kit-Kat bottom to harden, I started on the Reese's Cups.

For this, I needed:
- tall pie tins
- 20 oz per Reese's cup of chocolate chips
- Milk and Butter
- Pure, unsalted peanut butter (meaning the only ingredient is: peanuts)
- Graham Cracker Crumbs
- Confectionary sugar (for those who don't speak kitchen, that's the extremely fine sugar, usually found absorbing oil on fried dough)

Like the Kit-Kat, I melted down the chocolate, adding butter and milk to keep it creamy. If ever I needed a reminder as to how horrible candy bars are for you, creating these was definitely it for me!

I then filled three pie tins with a centimeter of chocolate, and set them in the freezer to harden as well.

Now it was time to create the peanut butter concoction. I used an entire jar of peanut butter, 2 tbsp of butter, 3 cups of confectionary sugar, and 3 cups of graham cracker crumbs. I fully suggest starting with small amounts, mixing and adding things in until it's the same thick consistency as bread dough. And I suggest using a mixer, as this is a pain in the butt by hand and I gave up by stir #40.

The bottoms of the Kit Kat bars hardened after a few hours. I (very, very carefully) arranged two rows of chocolate wafers, adding levels until it was roughly an inch shorter than what I wanted the bar to be.

Pouring in the chocolate is supremely difficult, as the wafers don't like to stay in place. The best bet is to slowly spoon it into the sides until it is to the same level as the wafers before pouring in the top layer. And never, never, ever pour directly onto the wafers. They will scatter and it is a pain in the butt to get them back in their correct spots. I leveled the bars with the spatula and put them in the freezer again.

The sides of this box were incredibly flimsy, so I had to prop both sides with various things in the freezer.

To make the peanut-butter insides of the Reese's, I unrolled wax paper and shaped three inch-thick disks with the peanut-mixture. If the consistency is right, this is super simple to do. Once they are ready, it's as simple as placing them on top of the hardened chocolate.

Thankfully, it is a LOT easier to pour in the rest of the chocolate with the Reese's than it is with the Kit-Kat.

As you can see, both are essentially hidden in plain sight. If my husband opened the freezer expecting to see what he always saw, he wouldn't find them. But if he rummaged around even just a little bit, the whole thing would be exposed.

I let both sit overnight in the freezer. The next morning, I cut around the edges of the Kit-Kats with a knife and cut the corners with scissors. This was a very messy process and I was incredibly worried that the "top" part would be a mess.

Thanks be to God, the top part peeled off easily. The cardboard that created the logo stayed on, and no amount of picking would peel them off. Eh, live, learn, and get a better adhesive.

I wrapped the Kit-Kat in foil and, since I was running low on time thanks to an exhibition that week (more on that later), I just used wax paper as my Reese's wrapper. I combined that with the last two slices of our top tier (because, really, why not? It is a birthday, after all, even though these last two pieces got good and smooshed during our trek back home) and my husband's present, which was expertly wrapped in Disney Princess paper.

The treats were so decadent, and worth all the hard work. The entire thing, from set-up to clean-up, took about 5 hours total, but it was a labor of love. The best part was the look on my husband's face when he realized he had a giant Kit-Kat bar in his hands.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Photo Friday: The Roadtrip

Our drive to Niagara was something straight out of the Twilight Zone. Aside from the fact that, on 90 West, you pass places like Rome and Montezuma, the weather was having nothing short of a complete identity crisis. We went from torrential downpours to perfect sunny weather and back at least three or four times. At some points, we'd be driving down a patch of sunny highway, only to see a dark ominous cloud off in the distance (just one, small, ominous cloud). The results were spectacular to look at, especially as we cut through the Appalachians. While they fall second to Niagara, I felt like the photos I tried to capture from a moving vehicle deserve some recognition as well.

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