One pot wonder…

I’ve been in a funk all week. My anxiety has been extremely high and I just haven’t wanted to get out of bed or see anyone. But yesterday afternoon was so gorgeous I decided to lay on the couch on our patio, get some fresh air, and read. The air was warm with a nice breeze gently blowing, birds were chirping, the Spanish moss on the neighbors huge oak tree was swaying in the wind, and the calming sounds of Brazilian singer Joao Gilberto on his guitar (great pandora station, you should give it a try you’ll feel like you’re at a cafe in Rio or on a beach in Bali) were coming from my little Bluetooth speaker. So of course I fell asleep. I woke up to the butcher, who had just gotten home from work, gently stroking my forehead (my mom used to do this as child, he knows I love it) as he lay next to me on the couch. All of the aforementioned conditions combined with a nap must have been exactly what I needed, because I was in a much better mood. After chatting a little bit about his day, he promptly fell asleep as well. But now I was awake and hungry, and I knew he would be too when he woke up. I decided to go in and make dinner. I wanted it to be quick and was in the mood for pasta. 

We very rarely eat pasta so I wasn’t sure if I even had any but I found a box of spaghetti (yes ma, white flour, so shoot me) in the back of the cupboard. I had seen on Pinterest several “one pot” recipes where you throw a bunch of ingredients in with pasta, cook it all together, and you’ve got a meal. So I decided to give it a try. I had some grape tomatoes from the farmers market that needed to be used before they went bad as well as some spicy andouille sausage. The rest is history (see recipe below) and as I came out onto the patio with two steaming bowls of deliciousness, the butcher sat up from his nap and smiled, ready to eat. 

  

Beauty & The Bitcher’s                   
One Pot Pasta

Ingredients

  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • 1 12 ounce package smoked andouille sausage, thinly sliced
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 cups halved grape tomatoes
  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves (just a really good handful, you can never have too much basil) 
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • Kosher salt and black pepper, just a good pinch of each 
  • grated Parmesan

Instructions

  • In a Dutch oven on medium high heat, combine spaghetti, sausage, onion, tomatoes, basil, garlic and 4 1/2 cups water; season with salt and pepper, to taste.
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  • Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until pasta is cooked through and liquid has reduced, about 8-10 minutes. Stir in Parmesan.
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  • This truly was a “one pot wonder”, SO easy, and really yummy to boot! Enjoy! 
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Flattery will get you everywhere…

If you read this blog regularly you know one definite thing about me; I love to feed people. I especially love to do so in the form of an elegant dinner party, it’s fun for me. Some people don’t get it, but I love it. I’ve also realized that when people like my food or hostessing skills, it’s personal validation that some part inside of me desperately needs. It keeps me busy and distracted from the sad reality that I’m not changing diapers or packing school lunches. Irrational perhaps, but honest. It’s so rewarding to feed people you love and hear expressions of praise or mouths full of food saying “mmm”. Even more rewarding, albeit rare for most people I assume, is when a friend writes about you doing the thing you love most. A friend who has quite a way with words, and although a bit over exaggerated and undeserved, a kindness and gratitude for all of my hard work. (Well I should say our hard work, even though I am the hostess and do most of the planning, the butcher is instrumental in the execution of the dinner party plus he really takes a beating when I’m stressed…and I couldn’t do it without him.) But seriously you are going to be very impressed by what you’re about to read, this guy is seriously talented, and I’m not just saying that because it happens to be about me. It just makes me realize one thing though, actually two; I really need to have a dinner party soon and also, we have some pretty amazing friends. So, without further delay, I present you with this literary treat by our dear friend, Mr. Aaron Klingerman.  

 

A (DINNER) PARTY FOR THE SENSES

(Or WHY THE RAOS ARE GENIUSES)

 

 

Some of the finest dining experiences I have ever enjoyed were at dinner parties hosted by the Raos.  Their dinner on the evening of January 26, 2014 was no exception, in point of fact it was by far the most impressive to date.  It isn’t just that the food is great – which it is – it’s just so, so much more than that.  The food is tremendously delicious, the portions are perfect, the evidence of planning and forethought are abundantly evident, and as you partake, you quickly realize that you have been magically transported to what seems like an entirely undiscovered world of culinary delights.  From savory to salty to sweet, every taste bud on your tongue will be dancing with pleasure as each new course is offered.  But it’s so much more than that.  

Please indulge me as I attempt to put into words how each of the five senses are enticed, thrilled and completely and utterly satisfied at a Rao dinner party, or as I refer to them, the dinners that dreams are made of.

The moment I arrive at the Rao home for one of their dinner parties, I’m immediately confronted with a veritable wellspring of wonders for my senses.  The first and not the least of which are the smells.  I challenge anyone to walk into their home and particularly through their kitchen and keep your mouth from watering instantaneously.  It’s not a challenge easily met.  The scent of foods being prepared are so overpowering they nearly send a person to their knees.  I partake eagerly from the aromas floating through the air, like a light and life-affirming breeze, and I soon become desirous of an early seating – as I grow evermore aware of a hunger previously undetected.

The Rao home is a warm and inviting sort of place.  There is an ever-present spirit of welcome and ease.  At no time do I feel uncomfortable or out of place.  It’s as if I’ve come home myself.  But as warm as it is in spirit, it is equally as warm in temperature.  Thus, I feel another of my senses overcome.  The cooking and baking and constantly attentive movement of Joe and Lori as they move about the kitchen – all of these are producing heat.  The smells may have baited me in, but the feel of the heat draws me in further.  The closer to the kitchen I come, the warmer it is.  And it is a most welcome warmth on this crisp winter’s evening.  The chill in the air and the shiver in my bones are both offset by the oasis of warmth, both of their galley and their graciousness.

The sense of sound is beckoned to as well.  Upon nearing the kitchen, I hear the soft sounds of music playing in the background.  It’s a wonderfully eclectic variety of selections, though heavily favoring the big band and swing standards of the first half of the Twentieth Century, as any respectable dinner party should.  The music is entirely appropriate.  It isn’t too loud.  It isn’t too quiet.  It isn’t of objectionable content or suspicious taste.  The songs in the air accentuate the setting in an understated, yet crucial way.  Of equal intensity are the sounds coming from the kitchen itself.  The clanking of pots and pans, the noisy clatter of friendly conversation mixed with instructions being given and received, the steely sharpening sound as Joe Rao, a butcher by trade, slides the tools in his hands together in readiness for his approaching task of carving – all these sounds combine together, as a neatly choreographed ballet, for my utter amusement.

Thus far, the sights of the Rao home have played their usual part.  I know what I’m smelling, feeling and hearing in large part due to what I am seeing.  The sights are enjoyable to be sure, but familiar as I am with these friendly environs, they have not as yet been overwhelming… that is, until I turn the corner.  When I walk around the corner from the kitchen and catch my first glimpse of the dining room, I am struck with awe.  I stand paralyzed and mouth agape as I survey the dinner table.  This table is a picture worthy of publication.  It deserves to be immortalized with paint and canvass.  The finest establishments I have ever frequented cannot begin to make a claim to outmatchthis table.  The colors, the theming, the amply supplied place settings, complete with every possible utensil needed – everything is in its place.  From the flickering candlelight to the bow adorning my place card, and everything in between, it is exquisite.  It feels complete even without the food having been placed upon it.  The look, the style, the perfection of this table gives me a feeling of amazement, as if I could sit here and be served light beer and stale pretzels and still come away with the happiest and most lasting of memories.

To describe the perception of these first four senses seems to me to be child’s play when compared to the monumental challenge of accurately communicating my sense of taste.  To attempt, with words, to adequately explain what it is to share in this meal, what the experience for the palate truly is, seems to be a virtual impossibility.  Impossible to describe the flavors, the textures, the way that each bite urges you to savor it and at the same time lures you seductively into anticipating the next.  Impossible to describe the clearly apparent and Childian attention to detail and preparation.  Impossible to describe how the tastes of every item are enhanced by the euphoric feeling I have being at this table, on this night, with these dearest of friends.  Impossible.  Simply impossible.  

How completely this dinner party has stirred my senses is continually amazing to me.  I am inspired by every detail.  Smelling is believing.  Feeling is believing.  Hearing is believing.  Seeing, of course, is believing.  Perhaps most of all, tasting is believing.  I am a believer!  This dinner party is the standard by which I will hereafter judge all dinner parties.  In this moment it is difficult to imagine it ever being supplanted or outdone.  And this feeble attempt to capture it with words truly does it no justice!

Tasting is believing!

If you are ever invited by the Raos to attend a dinner party, do not think.  Answer.  Answer quickly, answer clearly and answer in the affirmative.  Break any previous engagements.  Cancel vacations.  Quit your job.  Sell your firstborn.  Whatever it takes, be at that dinner party!  Count your blessings and humbly thank heaven that the invitation has been extended to you.  Soak it all in.  Savor every bite.  Cherish every moment.  You will thank me.  You will agree with me.  Joe and Lori Rao are culinary geniuses!  If you attend one of their dinner parties and you don’t agree with me when it has ended… then you’re an idiot.  And you probably wouldn’t know good food if it was biting you!  The end!

Nutella me about it…

 Was that title too much of a stretch? Whatever, you got the point, this post is about Nutella! Those who know me know I loooove me some Nutella. The creamy chocolate hazelnut spread is a staple in the house, on toast with banana, fried in wonton skins for chocolate ravioli, or just on a spoon to cure a sweet tooth. But we live in Florida where it’s hot and what’s more refreshing in the heat than a nice frosty Popsicle?! I know you have some of those little plastic Popsicle molds lying around somewhere, it’s time to dust them off for the EASIEST recipe ever. Ok get a pen, here’s what you’ll need…ready? Nutella…and milk. That’s it! Just two ingredients! And of course the Popsicle molds, a blender, and a tongue for licking this deliciousness! 

Beauty & The Butcher Nutella Pops

  • 1/2 Cup Nutella  
  • 1 1/2 Cups Milk (you could use cream if you wanted it to be extra rich but it’s really not necessary) 
  • Also optional, a banana 
  1. Put ingredients in a blender and mix until smooth. If you really want a workout you could whisk by hand. 
  2. Pour mixture into molds and freeze for atleast a few hours (much to the dismay of the 8 and 11 year olds who made these with me…they kept checking them in the freezer, “just in case”.
  3. Run under warm water to release from mold and enjoy! 

Don’t “brush” it under the rug…

  Last night I had one of my usual bouts of insomnia. It may have had something to do with a frustrating and anxiety inducing encounter with an family member (ever feel like it’s someone’s life mission just to upset you? Grrrrrr….but I digress) or perhaps the glass of iced tea I had around 8:30…(face palm) either way, I couldn’t sleep. Instead of binge watching Gilmore girls (I finished the show anyway…man I forgot how annoying Zach was and does anyone else think Rory might have scoliosis?) I decided to be productive. My eyebrows were getting pretty unruly so I sat down at my vanity to pluck them. As I rummaged through my various makeup tools to find my tweezers, I came across my little bottle of Sonia Kashuk Brush and Sponge Cleanser. You can get yours here. Realizing it had been quite a while since I had cleaned my brushes and beauty blenders, I decided to get to work. (After flawlessly shaping my brows of course) What is a beauty blender you ask?  

This little guy is an edgeless, non-disposable, high-definition cosmetic sponge applicator which applies makeup immaculately for a smooth, streak-free finish. It’s double-ended, with a rounded tip on one end to apply makeup all over the face and neck. Flip the sponge over for a pointed tip to access hard to reach areas (like the corners of the eye) and for precision blending (like contouring). I use a big one for liquid foundation when I wear it and the small one for my under eye concealer. You can get yours here

Anyway, back to the brushes. You might be wondering why it’s important to wash them in the first place. Think about it, when you clean your brushes and sponges, you’re not just getting rid of old makeup, but you’re also ridding the brush of (and here’s where things gets real gross): old makeup, dirt, oil, dead skin, and bacteria. I know. I know. Being a human is disgusting. I’m telling you once you do this you’ll be amazed by your next clean brushed makeup application.

So here’s what you do. Begin by wetting the hairs of the brush under warm water, with the brush pointing down. Otherwise, water might get stuck in the handle of the brush or in the brush’s ferrule (or the metal part), which could cause, at worse, bacteria, and, at best, a break down of the glue that keeps the bristles of the brush in the handle. The spray I have makes it super easy to wash them, but if you don’t have the spray then a gentle soap like your facial cleanser should work fine. Spritz the brush a few times and gently massage it under warm water, always pointing downwards,  until the water runs clear. You will be amazed at how much makeup comes out of that thing! Dry the brushes a bit with a paper towel or regular towel and reshape the bristles. Leave the brushes (even kabuki brushes) on their side. Leaving them standing up to dry will cause water to seep down and damage the brush (we talked about this already.) You need to let the brushes dry 100% before you use them again, so I suggest doing this at night, once you’ve already committed that you will not be leaving the house and will not need to paint your face again at any point in the day.

Isn’t it fun being productive? Although I guess technically I could’ve had Gilmore Girls on in the background and still gotten plenty done…

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