Sincerely, Stasia

Living and learning on a teacher's salary.

Best Sandwich Ever January 8, 2013

Filed under: Recipes — sincerelystasia @ 8:53 pm
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My time off after surgery has flown by! I’ve accomplished next to nothing, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing since it’s what the doctor actually told me to do. I was hoping to get a bit more done, however, before I go back to work this coming Monday. Yesterday I had my post-op appointment, where I was finally cleared to drive and lift up to 20lbs (watch out large bags of potatoes, toddlers, and car tires – I’m coming for you; my fat dogs, however, are still safe). Naturally the first place I drove to by myself was the mall. I’m getting away from the point, but those of you who follow the blog should be used to that by now.

Despite my crazy day of driving 20 minutes from home yesterday, however, I decided to take it easy today. Doc cautioned me against too much too soon and, stubborn as I am, I guess I should listen. In lieu of a 20lb lifting spree, I decided to try out two Pinterest pins I’ve had my eye on – One is a sugar scrub for legs, the other a homemade cleanser for makeup brushes. I’ll share my opinions on those in my next post. Afterwards I showered (still no small feat) and thought about what to make for dinner. That’s when I made the best sandwich I’d ever eaten. True story.

I’m obsessed with goat cheese. If I see anything on a restaurant menu that lists goat cheese as an ingredient, I have difficulty turning it down. Goat cheese on burgers? Absolutely. Goat cheese on pizza? Hell yeah – Roman was onto something even though Chet wasn’t willing to give it a chance [obscure 80’s movie reference]. Alas, I didn’t have any ground beef or pizza dough. Booooo. But, I did have a few items you’ll always find in my fridge: butter, goat cheese, yellow onions, and bacon. I don’t always have bread, but I happened to have a loaf of boring white bread in the pantry. It had no idea that it was about to go from super blah to absolutely spectacular.

Grilled cheese is awesome, right? Duh. Grilled goat cheese with caramelized onions and bacon? Good Lord, yes, such a thing exists. And it’s glorious. I didn’t come up with something completely new, but I was annoyed with myself that I’d never considered it before. It seems like a lot for a weeknight dinner, but you can get a quite a bit done around the house while the onions are caramelizing and the bacon is cooking. Welcome to heavy rotation in my dinner menu, beautiful.

 

Raw Onions

I started by slicing up a medium sized yellow onion. It might seem like a lot for two sandwiches, but it reduces in size a lot when it cooks. Onions go in a pan over medium low heat with one tablespoon of butter and one tablespoon of olive oil. Give them a little toss every now and then. They’ll be beautifully caramelized in about 40-50 minutes.

Raw Bacon

Next I threw my bacon in the oven. Yup – In the oven. The great thing about this is that it’s much easier to clean afterwards, the bacon is crisp and delicious without curling up, and you’re free to do whatever you like while it cooks since you don’t need to keep an eye on it. Oh, and no burning yourself with wayward grease splatter. Bonus. I used to line a baking sheet with aluminum foil only. Now, in addition, I add a layer of parchment paper. It helps the bacon crisp up a little better and absorbs some of the grease. Put the bacon in a cold oven and then set it to bake at 400 degrees. Don’t worry about the preheating time – It’s factored in! It will usually take about 20 minutes to cook, depending on how crispy you like your bacon.

Finished Bacon

 When the bacon is done, transfer it to some paper towels as you usually would. Bacon CleanupTo the right you’ll see one of my favorite things about this method. That, my friends, is a neatly folded little package that gets tossed directly in the garbage. Baking sheet is still clean, no disgusting grease container necessary. Do not, however, get cocky and forget grease can still drip from the seams if you don’t keep them facing up. You don’t need to know how I know that.

Caramelized Onions

This is what my onion looked like after 40 minutes over medium low heat. See what I mean about the reduction in size? I had a bit left over when building my sandwiches, but I absolutely should have used all of the onions evenly split between the two.

Partially Built

Ready for Grill PanHere you’ll see the next steps in my sandwich building endeavor. First I melted a few tablespoons of butter. Those of you who’ve been here before are familiar with my OCD-ish tendencies. I really dislike when I try to butter bread and the bread tears. Problem solved with a microwave and a pastry brush, with which I brushed one side of two slices of bread. On the other slices I layered a healthy amount of goat cheese, the caramelized onions, and two slices of bacon (each broken in half then layered horizontally and vertically). Once you put the sandwich together you’re ready to roll.

I use a grill pan for my grilled cheese. Heat it up over medium heat and put the sandwich buttered side down. This is helpful information if you’ve never made grilled cheese before. If that’s the case, I’m about to ruin grilled cheese for you. Forever. Anyway, once it’s on the grill I butter the other side of the bread and throw a lid on the pan to help the cheese start to melt. Use your judgement regarding when to flip – Usually about a minute and a half. Flip the sandwich, cover, wait about a minute. The second side cooks more quickly then the first, so keep a close eye.

Heavenly Deliciousness

Here you have it. A seriously heavenly sandwich. Like, one-bite-in-and-automatically-my-favorite-sandwich-ever good. I had planned to pair this with a box of tomato and roasted red pepper soup. However, since it had found a home in the back of my pantry, the expiration date was past due. Typical. So instead? Corn. Total insult to this sandwich. Next time I’m thinking either tomato or another attempt at tomato and roasted red pepper soup, but mixed with some cream cheese for an extra rich kick. Don’t ‘tsk tsk’ me – If you’ve made it this far you’re obviously not all that concerned with your caloric intake.

Straight to the Point: Grilled Goat Cheese with Caramelized Onions and Bacon

Ingredients (for two sandwiches)

  • Bread
  • Butter
  • Olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, sliced into strips
  • Bacon
  • Goat cheese (about 3oz)

Steps to Deliciousness

  • Over medium low heat, melt one tablespoon of butter with one tablespoon of olive oil. Add onions. Stirring occasionally, cook for 40-50 minutes or until caramelized.
  • Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil first, then a layer of parchment paper. Place four slices of bacon side-by-side on the baking sheet (more if you’re like me and need extra on the side to make sure it tastes good enough for everyone else and possibly share with others). Put baking sheet in a cold oven and set baking temp to 400 degrees F. Bacon will be finished in approximately 17-20 minutes depending on how well done you prefer your bacon.
  • Spread butter on one side four slices of bread. Placing the buttered side down, spread a healthy amount of goat cheese on two slices.
  • Top with caramelized onions, evenly split between each piece.
  • Break four pieces of bacon in half. Layer two halves horizontally with two halves vertically on each piece of bread.
  • Top each sandwich with another piece of bread, buttered side up.
  • Heat a dry grill or frying pan over medium heat. Place both sandwiches in the pan and cover to help cheese melt. After about a minute and a half, flip the sandwiches with a spatula. Cover and cook for just about a minute.
  • Remove from heat, enjoy your sandwich, don’t count your calories, and thank me for it all later.

And that, my friends, is the best sandwich I’ve ever eaten. And I thought of it myself (mini pat on the back). I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. If you try it, I’d love to hear how it goes!

Sincerely, Stasia

 

I’m back – And I made you guys candy! May 9, 2012

Filed under: Recipes — sincerelystasia @ 3:35 pm
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I know, where have I been? The past few months kinda got away from me. I’ve admittedly had way too much going on between work, grad school, and life in general being more than crazy. While it would have been a lot more fun to hide from my research papers and personal life by blogging, it wouldn’t exactly have been the most productive plan.

But, I’m back! Considering summer is my busiest time of year, I’m not sure how often I’ll be posting, but I’ll be around.

Shortly before I left you for my productive hiatus, I had attempted a recipe involving candy that turned into a complete and utter fiery disaster. You can read about my expert use of a fire extinguisher here. I decided to redeem myself and made my white chocolate macadamia nut toffee for Easter. To say this went better than the candied popcorn is thankfully a huge understatement. Below I included my step-by-step instructions, with pictures, so that you don’t end up with the inferno that was my oven on St. Patrick’s Day. However if you do, indeed, almost burn your kitchen down, I’d love to hear about it. And see pictures.

Straight to the point: White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Toffee is amazing. It looks impressive and tastes like you slaved over it, but it’s really quite simple. Disclaimer: I don’t do food photography. These are “barely have time while I’m rushing around but managed to grab my iPhone” pictures. Maybe someday. You can also scroll down for the “super straight to the point” version, which is just the recipe.

First arrange a cake pan (I find that a standard 9-inch round pan works well for this recipe) with aluminum foil so it is covered on the bottom and at least halfway up the sides. I use two pieces, but be sure they are well placed so none of the mixture will seep through the seam. Butter the aluminum foil and sprinkle in a handful of white chocolate chips and roughly chopped hazelnuts. The amount and ratio really depend on your taste – It’s hard to overdo it.

In a sturdy pot, mix together a stick and a half of unsalted butter, 3 tablespoons of light corn syrup, and  3/4 cup of granulated sugar over low heat. It’s okay for it to be a sloppy mess like this…

because after stirring constantly (and when I say constantly throughout this recipe, I mean constantly. This mixture burns ultra fast if it sits for even a few seconds too long) for about a minute you’ll have a beautiful sauce that looks like this:

Turn the heat up to medium and continue to stir constantly, even as the “sauce” bubbles, because it goes from the smooth mixture above to the bubbly, frothy, gooey [technical term] mixture below within seconds. This is where there the danger of burning the toffee gets pretty high.

Now you need to keep a very, very close eye on the color of the mixture and be very aware of anything that smells even remotely like burning. If you smell just a hint of burning, get the toffee off the stove immediately. I’ve found that the perfect color for the toffee is what you see below – I originally had expected a darker color, but this lovely caramel color is how I can tell that I’m ready to rock and roll. If you wait for it to get any darker, it will burn.Trust me, the toffee will get darker on its own as it settles. It usually takes me anywhere between 12-15 minutes to get here.

Immediately pour the toffee into the prepared pie pan. Using approximately the same ratio as you did earlier, sprinkle more of the white chocolate chip/macadamia nut mixture on top so it looks like this:

From this point, it’s smooth sailing. I usually give the toffee an hour or two to set up before breaking it and sometimes make a second batch while the first is settling. When you’re ready, lift the toffee out by the aluminum foil. Flip it upside down and gently remove the foil – Some bits might get stuck and you may have some where the seam was, but you can chisel it away fairly easily. Then simply use your hands to break the pieces apart however you like. The pieces won’t be symmetrical or uniform, which is fine – they shouldn’t be. They just have to be delicious.

Super straight to the point:

  • Macadamia nuts (roughly chopped)
  • White chocolate chips
  • Stick and a half unsalted butter
  • 3 tbsp light corn syrup
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  1. Line a baking pan (such as a 9-inch round cake pan) with aluminum foil, ensuring foil goes at least halfway up the sides. Butter the foil.
  2. Sprinkle a mixture of white chocolate chips and macadamia nuts around the bottom of the pan. It does not need to cover the entire pan.
  3. In a pot over low heat, mix the butter, corn syrup, and sugar. Stir constantly.
  4. When melted and smooth, increase heat to medium and continue to stir constantly until the mixture is a LIGHT caramel color. (If at any point you smell anything that even remotely hints at burning, remove the mixture from the stove immediately.)
  5. Directly from the stove, pour the mixture into the prepared baking pan. Sprinkle more white chocolate chips and macadamia nuts over the top of the mixture.
  6. Let sit for one to two hours to settle and cool. Peel aluminum foil from toffee and use your hands to break into pieces.

I’ll admit it took me several tries to get this right, which is why I posted so many pictures. Hopefully they’ll be helpful in keeping you confident that you’re on the right track! If you have trouble, try again. Corn syrup and sugar are very fickle and will turn on you in an instant. When you get it right, though, it’s definitely worth it.

Sincerely, Stasia

 

Guinness, Smithwick’s, Fire Extinguishers, and Guacamole? March 18, 2012

I’ve been MIA this week, I know. Spring break from grad school meant trying to fit in everything I usually don’t have time for after work. Yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day and I wasn’t in the mood to battle sloppy drunk 21-year-olds for a spot at the bar (although a friend and I did spend a good amount of time reminiscing about our Erin Express days and kinda wishing we had gone to Philly), so I invited a few friends over instead. Remember that time I said that I don’t typically do “theme-y” parties? My 50% Irish side makes an exception for March 17th in honor of old Éire. Below are some of the recipes for what I put out last night. They were mostly new recipes and one of them didn’t go so well, but I’ll get to that in a sec. These recipes are definitely best while listening to Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphys and when served alongside Smithwick’sGuinness, and Jameson. It would be a sin to reserve those for St. Patrick’s Day only.

Green Candied PopcornI’ll start with the epic fail of the evening. To say this recipe didn’t quite go so well is a mammoth understatement. You can find the recipe here, and on the left you can see what it was supposed to look like. This was a disaster from the get. First, I didn’t use my candy thermometer. That was mistake number one. I have plenty of experience with corn syrup. I love making candy – My favorite candy to make for people is white chocolate and macadamia nut toffee. I’ve made it a million times, and learned through trial and error how corn syrup and sugar behave and how  quickly and easily it can burn and become an absolutely disgusting burnt mess instead of sugary toffee goodness. So, there was no excuse for what I did to this recipe. It went from a lovely bright kelly green mixture to a horrid puce muck resembling vomit almost instantaneously. Added a little more food coloring and it brought the color back a bit. Continued following the recipe, mixed in the popcorn, and put the baking dish in the oven… without noticing how high I had the rack set from when I was toasting bread recently. That would be mistake number two. About a minute later I noticed smoke wafting out of the vents of the oven and opened it to find the entire baking dish on fire. After I panicked for a few seconds, watching the flames dance out of the oven, I grabbed the fire extinguisher, pulled the pin, and sprayed… directly at my feet because I’m a genius and didn’t unhook the hose first. It looked like there was a rock concert going on in my kitchen. Once the fire was out, I was left with the culinary masterpiece you see on the right. Nailed it.

Guinness and Cheddar Cheese Spread: Now this was good. And very difficult to screw up. I have three absolute favorite kitchen tools: My lovely onyx KitchenAid Artisan Series stand mixer, my secret weapon Cuisinart slow cooker, and my rock star Cuisinart Custom 14 food processor. Anytime I get to use any of those when cooking, I’m a happy girl. For this recipe, I had to pull out the food processor. This dip was ridiculously easy and there’s no actual cooking required. The next time I make it I’m going to add a bit more cheese and Guinness and tone the mustard down just a touch – It comes through very heavily, but in the best way possible. I served it with crackers, but I’m pretty sure if I attempted to put it on a corned beef sandwich I might die of happiness. A lot of dips need time to rest while the flavors distribute, so they don’t work as last minute recipes. One of the things I love about it is that you can make it in advance or make it and serve immediately. This dish is definitely a keeper.

Corned Beef Dip: This recipe needs some tweaking for the next go-round as I found it a bit bland. It definitely gets another shot, though, because it required the use of my slow cooker. Two of my favorite gadgets in one day? Swoon. Most of my slow cooker recipes need upwards of 6 or 7 hours to work, but this dip sets up pretty quickly. To make it, I threw the following in my slow cooker (after lining it with one of my favorite inventions ever, a Reynolds Slow Cooker Liner) and set it on low for two hours: 1/2 pound of thinly sliced deli corned beef (chopped), a bar of cream cheese (cubed), a 16 oz. container of sour cream, a 10 oz. can of sauerkraut and a cup of Swiss cheese (shredded). Like I said, I found it to be bland. The next time I make it, I’m going to increase the cheese to a cup and a half, double the corned beef to a pound, and up the sauerkraut to 16 oz. I’m also planning to add some grainy dijon mustard to give it more of a kick. After it was done cooking, I left the slow cooker on warm and served it from there with rye crackers. Already looking forward to trying this again!

Guacamole: I know, it probably doesn’t get any less Irish than guacamole. But, I’ll use any excuse to make it. And it’s green, so it gets a pass. I’ve been tweaking my guacamole recipe constantly for the past few years. Last night I cheated and used some pre-diced vegetables. It was packaged as “salsa,” but it was really more of a pico de gallo made up of tomatoes, onions, cilantro, lime juice, jalapenos, and peppers. It saved me some time and it was fresh, so it worked pretty well. For last night’s guacamole I mashed 3 avocados with a 1/2 cup of the pico, a large minced clove of garlic, the juice of one lime, a 1/4 teaspoon of oregano, a  heaping 1/2 tablespoon of cumin, and a heavy hand on the salt. Cumin is one of my favorite spices, so I typically play around with how much I use and add a bit more after tasting.

So, what started out as me almost setting my entire kitchen on fire ended up as a great night with a few of my favorite people. I hope your St. Patrick’s Day was a blast and that you made it through without a horrific hangover. Till next year, Erin go Bragh, or Éire go Brách for my fellow Micks.

Sincerely, Stasia

 

UFC, Gin, Buffalo Chicken, and Taco Salad. And Tums. February 25, 2012

Filed under: Lifestyle,Recipes — sincerelystasia @ 9:16 am
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I’m about to blow your mind, I know, but did you know that teachers have lives outside of the classroom? It’s true! I could hardly believe it, either. Okay, it’s not always true. Today is Saturday and my plan consists of grading 45 assessments and 45 center packets before I start reading for my own classes, but after that it’s time for cooking and mixology.

Tonight, friends, is UFC144. I’ll admit it: I love any sport that involves grown men beating on each other. This typically involves my two faves, ice hockey and UFC. Combining the facts that I love to entertain and that I hail from Toms River, NJ, I clearly need to host my friends tonight and watch my hometown boy, Frankie Edgar, defend his title against Benson Henderson.

Now theme parties are fun and all, but I’m more interested in serving things that are likely to disappear as soon as I set them out rather than making sure the color of the drinks matches the color of the tablecloth and napkins and hors d’oeuvres and so on. Featured on tonight’s menu, among other things, will be buffalo chicken dip (courtesy of The Bitten Word via Pinterest), taco salad (courtesy of my amazing mom, Lady), beer (courtesy of Miller Lite, Sam Adams, and Yuengling), and Bee’s Knees (courtesy of the fabulous bartenders at Catherine Lombardi’s). Note: Absolutely none of those things go together, but they’re individually so awesome that they definitely won’t live to see the title fight. If you make them all together, perhaps leave out a bowl of Tums for dessert.

Straight to the Point: There’s really no point today – Just sharing some of my favorite recipes.

  • Amazing Buffalo Chicken Dip:Click here to get the recipe from The Bitten Word. Not exactly for calorie counters, but you could skinny it up, although I wouldn’t recommend it because it’s perfect as is. Just do a couple extra sit-ups tomorrow.
  • Taco Salad: I’ve been making this for my friends since I lived in my sorority house in college and was shocked to find out it wasn’t a staple in homes all over America. Note: While best on day one with its crunchy/hot/cold-ness, it’s awesome heated up the 2nd day too, in all its soggy glory. Just mix together the following and you’re ready to roll: 1 lb cooked ground beef, 1 pkg taco seasoning, 1 bottle ranch dressing, 1 bag crushed nacho cheese Doritos, shredded lettuce (the amount varies depending on how salad-y [technical term] you like your salad), 2 diced tomatoes. Add two extra miles to your extra sit-ups tomorrow.
  • The Bee’s Knees: This is a gin drink that I fell in love with recently at Catherine Lombardi’s in New Brunswick. You’ll find an interesting history of this prohibition era drink here. Perhaps fitting for a UFC party if you can make the connection between muay thai and 1920’s bare-knuckle fisticuffs. You can vary the measurements to make it more tart or sweet depending on your taste, but this is how I like it. Pour the following into a shaker of ice and strain into a martini glass: 2 oz. gin (I prefer Hendrick’s), 1 oz. honey syrup (made by boiling water and adding an equal part of honey until it dissolves – only takes a hot minute and is completely worth it). 1 oz. lemon juice (don’t be lazy – squeeze a couple lemons and put that awful plastic bottle away). This can also be made in large quantities – If you’re making a pitcher, try topping it with prosecco because sparkling wine obviously makes everything better. Leave Advil, water, and a cough drop on your nightstand. Just trust me on the cough drop. 

So there you have it – A mish-mosh of deliciousness… Enjoy the rest of your weekend and let’s go Frankie! We are TR!

Sincerely, Stasia

 

Ready? February 21, 2012

Filed under: Random Thoughts — sincerelystasia @ 10:40 am
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This blog has been up and down several times over the past few years. As always, I continue my promise to undoubtedly be the laziest, most unpredictable, and unreliable blog poster person ever. Just throwing it out there in advance. In this blog you’ll find all sorts of random things that I enjoy – Music, recipes, ideas for teachers, etc. Promise #2: I am brutally honest, especially when it comes to sharing bits and pieces of my own life.

To get things squared away before we begin, here are some explanations for you. I am many things – including but not limited to a teacher, doctoral student, and lover of all things random. But the one thing, or person, I am not is Stasia. Stasia is my grandmother who, like my grandpa Hunny before her, was taken by cancer a few years ago. She was the most honest person I’ve ever met and by far the most headstrong. She was a very strong influence on me and this blog is my way of keeping her around just a bit longer.

So, as I take this journey into the blog world, here are some things you may or may not want to know about me.

  • I’m a teacher – Fourth grade English at a 4-8 middle school. I know the power of the smelly sticker and the creativity of a 10 year old mind. I love, love, LOVE what I do. I consider myself a lifelong learner and am always looking to learn new ways to inspire my kids. They make me laugh every single day and I love being able to do the same for them!
  • My absolute favorite thing to do is pour a glass of wine, turn on some music, and get busy in the kitchen. I love cooking and baking and I try to do it whenever I can. I’m always searching for new recipes and have an addiction to buying cookbooks.
  • I’m currently finishing my first year as an education doctoral student. While I was unsure about whether I fit in at the start, I’m proud of my current work and am really looking forward to starting my dissertation research within the next year and a half.
  • I am proudly from New Jersey. Not “MTV Jersey Shore” New Jersey, but the real Jersey shore. I grew up with my toes in the sand and that’s where I head whenever I need to center myself – There are fewer cures that work more swiftly than salty air and crashing waves.

Over the course of the next few weeks I’m hoping to get back into the blog world and share some info that I, as a working teacher and full time grad student, find interesting, helpful, and delicious. Now, if I could just find my original five readers, circa 1999.

Sincerely, Stasia

 

 
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