Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Baked Challah french toast

There are pros and cons to shopping at bulk retailers like Sam's Club or BJ's. The best part is that you can often save money in the long run. The worst part if you are like me and you buy actual fresh food from BJ's, you have to use that food before it goes bad, or you'll have wasted all the money. I usually shop for nonperishables at these retailers, but sometimes the deals are so good (or the food looks so good) that I grab that 24 pack of Italian sausage or indulge myself with two giant loaves of golden Challah bread. I've stretched that sausage from a cookout with the fiance's coworkers, to a sausage, cabbage, carrot and potato soup, to sausage and cabbage pot stickers. I've even added a few chunks to an omelet and some more to a rendition of the Spicy sausage and rice recipe I posted in February.
The Challah has done little except sit on the sidelines as a slice of toast or half a grilled cheese sandwich to accompany the soup. But no more. I decided to honor the slightly sweet and soft bread by making it into french toast.
I love french toast. But, by the time it takes to grill all the slices (grilling them two at a time in my not-so-giant pan) seems to take forever. By the time I'm done I'm usually hot, hungry and at least one of my pieces has gone cold. This recipe is the best solution to that.

Baked Challah French Toast
Adapted from a recipe by My Italian Grandmother

1 loaf Challah bread
1/2 cup dried cranberries
3 cups milk (I used soy)
3 eggs
3 tbsp sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cloves
1/4 cup butter
1 tbsp maple syrup (or honey)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (or pecans)
  1. Grease a 9x13 inch pan. Cut up Challah into 1 inch cubes. Place into pan. You will have to squeeze the bread together to get it to lay in a single layer. Sprinkle cranberries on top and press them into between the bread cubes.
  2. Whisk together the eggs and milk until combined. Mix in the sugar and spices until the mixture is frothy and well combined. Pour over the Challah. Press the bread down and make sure the milk is soaking all the bread. Cover and put in the fridge at least four hours or over night.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter in a sauce pan. Add syrup, brown sugar and walnuts. Mix to combine.
  4. Pour mixture over the bread. Spread evenly. Bake in the oven for about an hour. Bread is done when a tooth pick comes out mostly clean. Baked french toast is closer to bread pudding. If you want to the mixture more done in the middle, cook longer but know that the outside will eventually burn.
  5. Serve warm, covered with more syrup.

Wednesday wedding inspiration: Mason jars galore

When I think of my wedding flowers I've been imagining bunches of simple flowers placed in mason jars. Like these:

But though I've been planning on white flowers for my bouquet, I'm all about the fun pops of color I could work into decorations.

There's just something homey and amazing about mason jars. And there's a bit more natural feel to the fact that you can see the stems in the vase.

My final photo I discovered is this ridiculously cute metal fly guard. I just want this for my normal life. This is so much better than a paper towel because it won't fly away and you won't be wasting the paper.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sausage and cabbage pot stickers

Remember that blog called Budget Bytes, which I mentioned when I posted about enjoying good food while saving money? Well I finally got around to trying one of her recipes and I am super excited that I pulled this off with only spending around $7. I made pot stickers!
These little guys happen to be one of those Asian foods that I refused to eat as a kid but now absolutely love. But man do they cost a lot. And, wow, are they easy to mess up. I think the last time I had edible pot stickers was a few years ago at an upscale Chinese restaurant in Florida.
So, I decided to try and make them myself. This recipe is super easy, it just takes a while. Not something you want to do when you are really hungry. So without further ado, here goes (with more photos after the recipe):

Sausage and Cabbage Pot Stickers
I modified the recipe to fit what I had and my time constraints. Feel free to use the original recipe for Ginger and Pork Pot Stickers from Budget Bytes.

1/4 onion, chopped
2 Tbsp of minced garlic
1/4 head of cabbage, sliced thinly
4 links of Italian sausage (I picked this protein cause I had some leftover from a cookout. The meat in pot stickers is supposed to be uncooked, but these were already grilled and they worked perfectly and added a alight smoky flavor. If you want to use raw meat, just refer to the Budget Bytes version because I skipped steps you need to follow for the raw meat).
Approx. 2 Tbsp cumin
soy sauce (no measurement here. It's kind of up to your taste buds)
Approx. 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
Approx. 1 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp. brown sugar
1 package of won ton wrappers
1 bowl of cold water (to use as glue for wrappers)
  1. Saute onions and garlic in a pan with oil of your choice over medium heat. As these are cooking, slice cabbage and chop up sausage.
  2. Season onions with spices, brown sugar and soy sauce (The sugar adds a lovely teriyaki flavor to the sauce). After onions have softened and turned translucent, add cabbage. Add more soy sauce (to assist in steaming) to taste. Cook until cabbage is translucent and soft.
  3. Add sausage. Cook Just until flavors are incorporated. Remove from heat and transfer filling to a bowl. You will need the pan later, so don't clean out the yummy flavors just yet.
  4. Put a large pot of water on the stove and bring to a boil. Add 1 cup of broth (we had frozen leftover stock from last week's corned beef and cabbage) OR season the water with salt.
  5. As the water is coming to a boil, set up your won ton station. You'll need a bowl of water, a place to fold your won tons and a place to put them when they are done boiling. Place a 1/2 of Tbsp of filling on each wrapper. Fold into a triangle, and then fold the outer tips together, as if the pot sticker is hugging itself (aww! I think I said "That's so cute!" every time I folded one. Seriously.)
  6. Place folded pot stickers into the boiling water. Cook for about five minutes (Remember, our meat was already cooked, so we were really just cooking the wrappers and further meshing the filling flavors). As the first batch is bowling (we did about 7 - 10 pot stickers at a time), put a little more oil in the pan that you cooked the filling in and put it over medium-high heat.
  7. Pull cooked pot stickers out and place on a grate over a cookie sheet to drain the excess water. I even dried the super soggy ones with a paper towel. **This is a crucial step. If you just dump the sopping wet pot stickers into the frying pan it will turn into a sausage and cabbage stir fry with gooey won ton wrappers all over the place. Not so awesome.**
  8. Place pot stickers into the pan, fold side down and cook for about 7 - 9 minutes, or until the bottom gets a gorgeous golden brown crust that is slightly crispy. Don't let the pot stickers touch each other, or they will stick together. This means you can really only cook 6 - 8 in the pan at a time, depending on the size of your pan.
  9. Serve with more soy sauce. Eat with chop sticks. Watch an old Jackie Chan movie and enjoy life.

A note on using grilled Italian Sausage in my pot stickers: I know it is not traditional. That being said, the light smoky flavor was awesome with the teriyaki-inspired sauce. When it comes to having good food on a budget, you have to be willing to compromise the "traditional" aspects of a recipe with what you can afford. Why not tweak a classic based on what you have on hand and what might add a delicious twist? People who yell about me not using plain raw meat can go spend $10 on 5 pot stickers at their Chinese restaurant. I'll stick to these, which cost somewhere around $7, made 48 pot stickers and taste better than almost any other pot sticker I've had. Alright, there's my rant.

One last note. My won ton wrappers were not perfectly square. So, when I folded them to make a triangle there was extra wrapper hanging off. The good thing is the second fold (to make the "hug") pretty much seals the extra wrapper off and helps keep the yummy package together. Also: If they do happen to get little holes in them, don't sweat it. These will taste great no matter what they look like.

Easy, right? A little time consuming, but wow, these are totally worth the wait.
I'd have a picture of the final product, but I got hungry and started eating instead of taking photos. Looks like you caught me!
Have you ever tried to make something that seemed too complicated to be worth the effort? What is your favorite pot sticker filling, or do you just hate pot stickers (don't be afraid to admit it. My 6-year-old self is encouraging your irrational hatred)?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

We all live in a yellow submarine...

This might be the best thing I have ever seen.

It's a yellow submarine, which you then fill with tea and it works as an infuser. Super cute, right? I've been in more of a tea mood lately. Don't get me wrong. I still need my first cup of joe in the morning, but there's nothing quite like curling up with a good book and sipping a soothing cup of tea. Get it here and see what else they've got.

Dispatches from the job search: Networking

The following is from a new blog I've created to record and cope with the trials and tribulations of my job search. Follow it here.

I wanted to get this topic out of the way because I've always found it to be sort of a confusing subject. And yet the No. 1 thing you're told as you begin any job search is network, network, network.
Here's the main principle: Introduce yourself to as many people as possible. It's so simple it almost makes you feel silly, right? I've never been big on networking. A lot of searching for a job, as Joe Grimm (recruiter extraordinaire and one of's job experts) explains it, is selling yourself to possible employers. That's not really my style. I prefer to let my actions speak for themselves. But here's where that philosophy doesn't hold water in a job search: Potential employers have never seen you in action and they can only base their decisions on what they've heard about you, whether their source is you or one of your references. And that's where networking comes in.
Back in the day networking required putting a lot of miles on your car and shaking a lot of hands.
Now, like almost anything else out there, the process has gone high tech. But in the end, you're still doing the same thing. Your connection to your boss connects you to everyone else they've worked with, which connects you to everyone those people have worked with and so on. And this doesn't even need to be just with your boss. Say you volunteer at an animal shelter (guilty). The volunteer coordinator might be able connect you to someone else in your field.
The most exciting and well-known tool for networking is LinkedIn. Think Facebook for professionals. It's a place where your profile includes your recent employment and your qualifications rather than your favorite movies or those embarrassing photos from that one party. You know the one I'm talking about.
Thursday morning, the day after I learned I was joining the ever growing ranks of the unemployed, I logged onto my little-used account with LinkedIn and "connected" with every person I could find at my company. By that afternoon I had received four recommendations (these are posted on your profile, which can then be viewed by your connections and anyone else you allow to see your profile). Recommendations can also be read by the connections your boss or coworkers have, thereby exposing you to professionals you have never even met. Essentially this is almost effortless networking.
It's actually kind of exciting when you get right down to it. So there you have it: A quick and simple way to network. Of course that's only the beginning, but at least it is a beginning. And every job search has to start somewhere.

Want to join my network on LinkedIn? Click here to see my public profile, or click on the LinkedIn badge on the right side of this page.

I will post the first few posts from "Dispatches" here, and then I will discontinue. I'll continue to do my normal posting here. Please follow both, if that's what interests you.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Dispatches from the job search: On cookies and (un)employment

The following is from a new blog I've created to record and cope with the trials and tribulations of my job search. Follow it here.

I was in the 11th grade when I took an advanced writing class at my high school. By then I knew I was going to be a wordsmith, I just hadn't quite figured out where to apply my talents. It was in that class that I was introduced to the field of journalism. My senior year I was accepted into a mentorship with the local newspaper. From day 1, when I was assigned my very first story as a reporter, I was hooked.
When I graduated from college - armed with a journalism degree, a year of experience as the editor in chief of the school paper and an undying passion for the art - I took my first job as a copy editor at a hyperlocal newspaper. Unfortunately that was also the year the newspaper business began a nosedive that ended with a phone call and the giant cookie you see above.
Alright, the path to that cookie wasn't nearly direct as I make it sound. I enjoyed almost two years of wonderful people willing to teach me the ropes. I grew to enjoy designing pages and eventually became a little obsessed with the online medium that all newspapers are moving into. And I will be forever grateful to those who took me under their wing and fought to keep me around. But, alas, I couldn't stay there forever. It seems a twist of fate has finally bulldozed me a new path.
On Wednesday morning - St. Patrick's Day - I received the summons to the HR office that all of us were dreading since the announcement came that layoffs were imminent. I was among those who were being laid off. It was the third round of layoffs that I had experienced since joining the paper, and I suppose my luck had finally run out.
I'm not embarrassed to say that I went to a bar that night. Of course, so did the rest of the nation. It was St. Paddy's Day, after all.
My fiance made me promise that I would not attempt to do anything for a few days. Take a break; that was his advice. But I'm not much of a take-a-break kind of person. I did start my job the day after I accepted my diploma, instead of taking a week off like everyone said I should have.
So, after celebrating that I was one quarter Irish (and mourning my career), I made the giant cookie you see above. And then I ate it. With ice cream and peanut butter. Because I could. And then I fell into a coma.
I woke up this morning, less than 24 hours into my newly unemployed condition, and I was already bored.
And this is where this blog comes in. You see, I love writing. I realized about half way through my enormous cookie that I would not be able to survive a job search on writing cover letters alone. I also realized that many of you might be in the same boat as I am and could use my failures as lessons on how not to go about recovering from being laid off. And eventually, you could learn from my successes on how to find a job. At the very least you can laugh at me as I struggle to network, apply and interview my way into the next step in my life.
Won't you join me?

I will post the first few posts from "Dispatches" here, and then I will discontinue. I'll continue to do my normal posting here. Please follow both, if that's what interests you.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Wednesday Wedding Inspiration: Balloons or Paper laterns?

I had originally thought that balloons would make for fun decor, but now I'm rethinking them, simply because they don't degrade. Besides, how gorgeous are these white paper lanterns all tied up in a tree?

Photo courtesy of Style Me Pretty's Little Black Book Blog

Guests could take them home if they wanted, and we could keep some as mementos. I'm thinking they are cheaper simply because they are reusable.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Bringing Spring home

I was so excited that Spring has seemingly arrived that I went to Trader Joe's recently and bought two bunches of tulips.

I put a few stems into a collection of coke bottles that I brought home from a college trip to Morocco.

I lined them up on the stove to help brighten up my kitchen.

One bunch was yellow, the other was reddish orange with yellow tips. Absolutely gorgeous.

The rest I put in a huge measuring cup that I got for Christmas. It looks a little more like a pitcher than a measuring cup, but it was a simple solution to me not actually owning a vase.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Boozy Irish Cream Brownies: The recipe and the pictures

Boozy Irish Cream Brownies
1/3 cup butter, room temperature (I used apple sauce because I was hoping to cut down on the fat in this one. It worked perfectly, and the brownies stayed super moist, even after a stint in the fridge)
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup Irish Cream liqueur (such as Bailey’s)
Irish Cream Glaze
1 tbsp Irish Cream liqueur (such as Bailey’s)*
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1 cup confectioners’ sugar

*I used 4 tbsp Irish Cream. The original recipe called for a single tbsp of Irish Cream. That just made a dry paste. Keep adding Irish cream until it is a glaze (or until you are happy with the consistency). If you don't want that much uncooked alcohol, sub whatever amount of milk/soy milk you want until it is the right consistency.
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 9×9-inch square pan with aluminum foil and lightly grease.
  2. In a medium, microwave-safe bowl, melt butter. Whisk sugar and cocoa powder into butter until smooth. Allow to cool to room temperature, then whisk in egg and vanilla extract.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt. Pour in butter mixture and Irish cream and whisk well to combine, mixing only until no streaks of flour remain. Pour into prepared pan.
  4. Bake for 22-26 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with only a few moist crumbs (not chocolate batter). Cool in pan on a wire rack before glazing.
  5. For the glaze, whisk together all glaze ingredients in a small bowl. Drizzle over cooled brownies, then use a spatula to spread gently into an even layer. Allow glaze to set for at least 2 hours at room temperature before storing the brownies.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Recipe sneak peak: Boozy Glazed Irish Brownies

I'm so sorry for my absence. The news of imminent layoffs at my company combined with a change-of-the-seasons illness to put me out of the blogosphere for a few days. In fact, it's been a week since I've made these super delicious brownies. Let's just say that after I got off work on Monday (when our editor announced the impending doom), I was really grateful that I had already made myself the perfect food to gorge on in my delirious depression. I was cleaning the pan on Tuesday before I realized I had not shared the recipe with you, my faithful readers. So I offer a sneak peek at the recipe I will post when I return home after work today.

And, don't worry. You don't need to see the industry you've invested the last 6 years of your life in collapse around your ears as an excuse to make this. It's just as good as a celebratory dessert.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A change is gonna come...

Dear readers, I'm afraid that I sit on a precipice. Yesterday our editor told us that due to outsourcing, copy editors and designers would soon be obsolete at my paper. Those are the two areas I focus on right now (while I build my online skills on the side), so this means I can almost feel the hairs of the scope settling over me as the powers-that-be prepare to lay off 10-15 of us copy editors and designers. We won't know until at least next week, and likely more than three weeks, whether we still have a place here at my shrinking paper. It's just another blow to the newspaper industry and to those of us who attempted to embark on a career in a field that is apparently dying.
My company has gone through 3 sets of lay offs in the less than two years I've been working here. This will be the first time I've actually feared for my job. And the future is hanging heavily over my head.
I do have enough saved up to cover necessities if I were be laid off (call it my 3-month emergency fund that I've steadily grown to cover 5 months because I am so loathe to spend money). But I have virtually no job prospects, at least not in the state where I hope to eventually attend graduate school. I certainly couldn't afford a dog if I were to be laid off, and the fiance and I have been seriously talking about adopting one in the next few months. And, as the fiance said, the wedding is not a necessity at this point.
So, my dear readers, it seems my steady little world has been largely upended. Not only do I not know if I will have a job in three weeks, I also don't know if I will be married in 2010. Right now the plan is to find a venue with openings, but we won't consider offering a down payment or signing a contract until April, when all of this will hopefully be resolved.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

10 minute redesign: Kitchen sink

This is a big fad on the design blogs I read, and I wanted to take a swing at this fun little activity. Here's the deal: There is a space (likely small) in your house that you aren't quite satisfied with. Using items you already have, your goal is to spruce up that space. That's what I did today.
Using the tea containers my dad got me for my birthday last year (the tea is mostly long gone from these beautiful vessels) and my tea pot and french press, I created a lovely sight for my boring kitchen. Bright colors almost make up for the fact that I can't paint the walls of an apartment rental. Makes me want to wash dishes all the time!

Morning pick-me-up
Originally uploaded by Beth Beck

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Wednesday Wedding inspiration: Typography

I really still want a typewriter as my guestbook. Someone needs to hook me up!
Photo courtesy of Millie Holloman, as posted on Snippet & Ink

Monday, March 1, 2010

Blog find: "Young House Love"

If you know me, you know I'm an obsessive blog reader. At last count I follow 81 blogs, split almost evenly among the general topics of design, food and weddings (and by follow, I mean I visit them at least 3 times a week). Whoa, this is the first time I've actually counted them. That's a lot.

Anyway, I've been building this list since senior year of college. Before that, I only ever read my friends' blogs. I still read those, but I only see them when they update, which is infrequent for most of them.

I began my obsession with food blogs, moved to design (think interior design) and, obviously, got on the wedding blog craze in September (I wonder why?).

I didn't discover one of my favorite design blogs until January. To be honest I can't remember where I found this one, but I'll tell you how I've built my 81-strong collection soon. Until then, let me introduce "Young House Love."

Here's the deal: A couple in their 20's buys a house that's over 50 years old outside of Richmond. The savvy couple decides to renovate and chooses to share their experience online. They can't be the only people to do this, but they are so popular because they are so down-to-earth and funny. And their house is lovely. It makes me want to buy a house and paint all the rooms (and change my mind and repaint, and then repaint again, or so their running joke goes). Seriously, one of the things I'm looking most forward to when I "grow up" is making a house my home. This couple takes you on a journey as they update their kitchen, bathrooms and bedrooms to sometimes jaw-dropping results. Through it all they were nice enough to include photo tutorials and fun hypothetical redesigns for readers.
Can I gush enough about this blog? Seriously go there, read it all and be entertained.