Focus on the Fish Balls!

30 Oct

After my family’s great adventure to DC’s Eastern Market, we returned to Ellie and Dave’s fabulous apartment for an amazing meal prepared for us by their good friend, Cheech, who introduced us to the unique culinary experience that is Chinese hot pot.

Hot pot, also known as Chinese fondue or steamboat, refers to several East Asian varieties of stew, consisting of a simmering metal pot of stock at the center of the dining table. While the hot pot is kept simmering, ingredients are placed into the pot and are cooked at the table. Typical hot pot dishes include thinly sliced meat, leafy vegetables, mushrooms, wontons, egg dumplings, and seafood.                –Wikipedia

To get us started, Cheech produced two blue crabs to lay the foundation for the flavor of the hot pot broth. Of course, we didn’t quite expect live crabs (!) but apparently that’s the way they sell them at the Chinese grocery store. Our slight guilt was quickly washed away when we tasted the wonderful broth.

One blue crab showing his spirit by holding tight to the bag of scallops.

The other crab making a last plea for mercy.

Since most of the actual cooking of the food occurs during the dinner, most of the prep work beforehand is just getting all the various ingredients ready. One of the best parts of hot pot is the variety of food that you can try, making each dinner a unique experience. Some of the items that Cheech brought for us included slender slices of beef and lamb, succulent scallops, shrimp, beef and fish balls, and various vegetables.

Prep work in the kitchen.

Laying out the table before the feast.

After everything was set out, we got down to business and started choosing what to put in the hot pot. As you can tell from the picture below, we had a good time.

The hot pot was definitely a hard act to follow, but we successfully ended our meal with some tasty baklava and pumpkin bread from one of the Eastern Market vendors.

A delicious meal and an entertaining experience; a win-win situation for my family.

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Exploring the Eastern Market

16 Oct

Last weekend, I made the trek up to Takoma Park, Maryland with my parents to visit my sister and her husband. They moved there after getting married in May so Dave could start his residency at Walter Reed. I hadn’t been able to visit them in their new place yet and I knew I wouldn’t be able to in the next few months with work, so I took advantage of the free ride with my parents to take a much needed break. This is the first of three posts detailing some of my adventures of the weekend.

 

On Saturday, we ventured to a legendary D.C. establishment, the Eastern Market. Founded in 1873 and located in the Capital Hill neighborhood of the city, it is home to many vendors selling a variety of goods, from fresh produce to prepared food to handmade crafts to antiques. Below are a few photos from our trip there.

I was drooling over these hand spun yarns.

Some of the delicious looking produce for sale.

Inside the South Hall Market

The only bad part about visiting the market was that there were so many things I really wanted to buy! This was especially true inside the South Hall where a lot of the amazing looking meats, produce, seafood, baked goods, pasta, and cheeses were being sold. The most drool worthy were all the different types of handmade pastas, from gnocchi to spaghetti to about ten different types of ravioli. I cursed the 6 hour drive home that prevented me from buying some.

After going through the whole market, I ended up with a nice pair of black pearl studs and one truly amazing find. My sister was talking to this really cool artist who had a booth full of great, unique art. He takes photographs using Polaroid 669 film, which is no longer made, and then transfers the image to water color paper before coloring in the image by hand with pastels. I was flipping through some of his stuff, which was mostly scenery around DC, when I suddenly found an image of the Hatteras lighthouse. When I remarked about how cool it was to find an Outer Banks image among all his other stuff, the artist told me that he spends 2-3 weeks in the OBX every year and loves it down there. When I shared that I had lived and worked there for a couple summers to hang glide, he jumped up and starting rummaging through a stack of his art before pulling one out and handing it to me. My jaw dropped when I realized I was looking at a gorgeous scene of a hang gliding lesson on Jockey’s Ridge around sunset and I quickly bought the piece. Hang gliding art is kind of rare so this is definitely a treasure.

My amazing new piece of art.

Overall, not a bad trip to the market.

Hey, I Put Some New Shoes On…

7 Oct

I went shopping for new shoes to wear at work this week. I desperately needed new ones because I had been wearing 7 year old sneakers and they just weren’t cutting it with 10-12 hour days on concrete floors. Even Dr. Scholl’s weren’t helping that much.

So I went to try on some Merrells because they are the world’s most comfortable shoe and I ended up finding a pair that I really like and felt great on my poor abused feet. It wasn’t until I got a good look at the box though that I knew that I had to get them.

There was a hang glider on it! So everyone should go out and buy some Merrells to give their business to a  company that supports flying. Plus they’re awesome shoes.

Boomeranging

4 Oct

So I moved back in with my parents on Sunday.

boomerang kid: noun Informal. a young adult who returns to live with parents after a period of living away from home.

One of the groups that has suffered the most from the recession is recent college graduates who have had a difficult time finding jobs, resulting in unemployment of almost 15% for adults between 20 and 24 years of age. This has forced many  to move back in with their parents post graduation while they try to find a job. According to a CNN article last year, 85% of college seniors were planning on doing just that. These young adults returning to their parents’ home after 4 years in college have been dubbed boomerang kids.

Thankfully, that’s not quite my situation.

I beat the odds, got a good job after graduation, and moved into my own awesome apartment (except when my car is getting broken into) . However, I’m working at my company’s digital print facility for the next three months, which is unfortunately about an hour and twenty minutes drive from my place in Durham. That’s just not something I can do twice a day especially with the long hours I’ll be putting in. Lucky for me, my parents only live about 40 minutes away. So on Sunday I packed up everything I thought I would need for the next three months and headed home to Winston-Salem.

While I’m thankful that my parents have opened their home to me and allowed me to stay with them, thus simplifying my life for a little while, it’s still a weird situation. I have a big girl job, an apartment, bills, basically an entire independent adult life, yet I’m currently sleeping in the grandbaby room with toys strewn everywhere (my niece and nephew were here Sunday night) and I have to tiptoe around after 10 pm to not wake my dad up. I miss the home I’ve been creating for myself in Durham.

So to cheer myself up, I have decided to compile a list of all the good things that come from living at home right now:

  1. Shorter commute! Sure, it’s still about almost an hour and half total drive time each day, but that’s better than three.
  2. Home cooked meals waiting for me when I get home from work courtesy of my mother. That translate to yummy leftovers to take in for lunch the next day.
  3. I get to play with my dogs! Anyone who has met Cliffy will understand.
  4. I’ll get to see my niece and nephew a lot more often (Maybe I should have put this above the one about the dogs).
  5. DISHWASHER! I hugged the dishwasher in my mom’s kitchen when I saw it. That’s what living without one does to you.
  6. I’m hopefully going to save a bit of money. I still have to pay rent on my apartment, but my utilities should be pretty low and I won’t be spending much on food.
  7. I get to drive my dad’s Jeep to work while my car is in the shop! I was meant to drive a Jeep.
  8. I don’t have to stress about keeping anything clean beyond the room I’m staying in and my bathroom.
  9. Having cable TV and being able to watch HGTV (House Hunters is my guilty pleasure) and the Travel Channel.
  10. My mom offering to do my laundry. I could get use to that again.

I have a feeling I’m going to end up really enjoying my time at home, but I also know that the next three months are going to fly by with the craziness that will be my job. Let’s just hope my apartment doesn’t get broken into while I’m gone.

Birthday Brownies

2 Oct

Brownies are one of my favorite things to bake, mainly because I am lazy  (which should be apparent from my last post). I love brownies because all you have to do is mix everything together, pour it in one pan, and stick it in the oven. Cookies and other treats that require multiple baking sheets and trips to the oven are often too much of a time commitment. As a result, I bake brownies… a lot.

One of my favorite recipes to use is the Tasting is Believing Whole Wheat Brownies.I love love love this one because it’s on the healthier side (compared to normal brownies), fairly simple to whip up, and it’s so versatile. I’m also a huge fan of King Arthur Flour. Here’s what they have to say about their recipe:

These whole-wheat brownies are the treat we serve when we’re trying to convince folks that baking with whole grains doesn’t have to be an exercise in deprivation! Moist, rich, and deeply, darkly chocolate, these brownies are the ones to go through life with. We discovered something interesting when sampling these. Their texture is greatly improved if you wait 24 hours before cutting them. Why? The wait gives the wheat bran a chance to soften and “disappear,” texture-wise.

I tried this recipe out for the first time near the beginning of my first summer at the Outer Banks working for Kitty Hawk Kites and I brought in a big plate of the final result to the hang gliding school the next day. I later learned that one particular instructor (*cough* Eric *cough*) ate four of the brownies and pulled the empty plate out of the trash can to finish off the crumbs. I think those brownies are the reason we ended up together.

Anyways, Eric’s birthday is tomorrow, though he doesn’t want anyone to know, and these brownies immediately came to mind when I started thinking about what I should make him. So I whipped up a double batch to bring some into work and send the rest to Eric in New Hampshire. These brownies are always delicious, but I added about a cup of peanut butter this time and it definitely took them up a couple of notches. They turned out so great it was a little hard to give them all away!

After baking, I started work on a birthday card, which became the perfect opportunity to try a quick project. I’m a big fan of the website Craftgawker and had found a really cool entry that gave a short tutorial on how to make a crocheted heart. So I dug into my stash to find some red yarn and came up with a cute accessory for the card. I’m really happy with how it came out. What do you think?

So everyone wish Eric a happy birthday and try out these brownies yourself! They taste the best when you make them for someone you love.

Lazy Enchiladas

25 Sep

One thing that everyone should know about me is that I love love love Mexican food. Seriously, just ask one of my friends. Our favorite cure for a bad day is to hit up our favorite Mexican joint to talk over a bowl of queso dip.

As a result of this love, I have put more effort into trying more Mexican recipes. One of the first I mastered was a fairly simple chicken enchiladas recipe that I still love to share and it was the perfect choice for dinner when I had my dad over last week.

Lazy Chicken Enchiladas

Ingredients

  • Corn tortillas
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 (4 oz) cans green chilies, chopped
  • 1 pound cooked chicken, shredded
  • 3 (10 oz) cans enchilada sauce
  • 1 cup pepper jack cheese, shredded

 

The first step is cooking the chicken. After preheating the oven to 375 degrees, I start with a pound of good organic chicken thighs (from Costco of all places) and rinse them off. I then like to rub taco seasoning onto them to add a little extra flavor, but I didn’t have any on hand this time so I used Old Bay instead. It turned out quite tasty so use whatever you happen to have in your spice cabinet. Lay the seasoned thighs in a baking dish and fill it up with water until there is about half an inch in the dish. Then bake for about 30-40 minutes. After they’ve cooled, shred the meat and you’re ready to start the sauce.

Shredded chicken

Start the sauce by sauteing the onion and garlic over in a large oiled skillet over medium heat for about 4 minutes until cooked. Then add the green chilies, the shredded chicken, and most of the enchilada sauce (saving about half a can for later) and cook for 2-3 minutes. Fold in most of the cheese, again saving some for later, and remove from heat.

Now, I believe that the secret to making excellent enchiladas is all in the tortillas. I had a life changing experience a little over a year ago at the Outer Banks when I first tried Green House Tacos. There’s a Mexican family that lives in this little green house that sells tacos out of their kitchen made with fresh meat and herbs and toppings straight out of their garden. But the best part was watching the little old grandmother cook the corn tortillas right in front of us. After taking a bite out of my first homemade tortilla, I knew I could never buy them from the store again and went out and bought a tortillas press the very next day.

Tortillas are actually incredibly easy, though a little more time consuming, to make and so worth it for the extra taste. Just get a bag of masa corn flour (I use Masca) from the Mexican section of any grocery story and follow the directions on the back to make tortillas. You can even fashion a makeshift press out of a cutting board and pie dish or rolling pin. Don’t be afraid to try!

My tortilla making station.

Now I call these my lazy enchiladas (despite the extra effort for the homemade tortillas) because I assemble them in what I have been told is the Spanish style where, instead of filling each tortilla individually, you spread the enchilada sauce between layers of tortilla in a way very similar to lasagna. I put four tortillas in the bottom of a 9×9 baking dish, spread half the cooked sauce over them, and repeated the process. I laid the third and final layer of tortillas on top and then poured the plain enchilada sauce I had saved earlier over them, topping everything with the remaining cheese. Then bake for 10 minutes at 375 and broil for another 5 or so minutes to turn the cheese on top a nice golden brown.

The assembled dish ready for the oven.

You don’t have to go out to a restaurant to enjoy delicious Mexican food. Enjoy!

The final product served with refried beans and broccoli.

Reality Check

23 Sep

My car got broken into last night.

Guess that makes me an official Durham resident now.

A neighbor called the police when he saw a man sitting in my car a little after 11 pm. They caught the guy and his partner down the street with my GPS and someone’s iPod. My car was in no way damaged and my GPS was returned to me. Overall, I was incredibly lucky and blessed, and I am very thankful to both my neighbor and the great team of cops who handled the situation. It could have been so much worse, but it wasn’t.

That doesn’t stop me from feeling  violated though. Someone invaded my space and rummaged through my life while I slept completely unaware less than 30 feet away. I know I sound dramatic, but I don’t know any other way to explain it. It was all kind of surreal, seeing the center console  and glove compartment of my car gaping open from the light of a cop’s flashlight through the window, watching the forensic team dust for fingerprints, discussing my part in the legal procedures with an officer, and, worst of all, seeing movement from the backseat of one of the cop cars and knowing that they were in there. Things like this never really happened where I grew up and I never thought it would happen to me. I’ll just have to be even more careful from now on.

I guess the novelty of moving to and living in Durham has officially worn off.

Interesting side note: I did learn that cops are big fans of the show Dexter.