Sincerely, Stasia

Living and learning on a teacher's salary.

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


Putting the Smile Back on a Nerd’s Face February 28, 2012

Straight to the point: Between yesterday’s post being kind of a downer and me being home sick from work, I’m admittedly a bit of a bad mood dude today. So, instead of laying in bed and catching up on my grad school work, I’m going to share a few things that generally just make me happy. I’m not going to share all of my happy triggers – I’ll save the rest for other days I need these reminders.

Cupcakes. I’ve mentioned that I love to bake. Usually by the time I’m done, I want nothing to do with eating what I’ve made. This is not because it won’t be delicious (come on, meow) or because I’m watching my girlish figure (more on this another day), but because I’ve been so immersed in tasting and smelling all of the sugary sweet goodness that I can’t even think about taking in any more. So, I like to share. And cupcakes? I don’t think I’ve ever given someone a homemade cupcake and not seen them grin like a 6-year-old. One of my all time favorite cupcakes to make is the pink lemonade cupcake with pink lemonade icing (pictured being all fancy). You can find this Paula Deen recipe here but fair warning: they are ridiculous and rot-your-teeth sweet, but it’s worth it. When I bake, it’s super rarely from a box, so shhh… Don’t tell.

Music. Obvious right? I love all kinds of music and I prefer for it to play, oh, pretty much at all times. When I’m cooking? Cleaning? Blow drying my hair? Commuting? Lesson planning? Relaxing? Working? Yup. And the mix is always random. In fact, I was famous (by my own definition) for my “Random Mix” CDs (volumes 1-6) in college. My list of favorites is constantly changing, but these will always be heavy in the rotation: System of a Down. Unwritten Law. Jethro Tull. Mumford & Sons. Led Zeppelin. Beastie Boys. Dave Matthews Band. Boxcar Racer. Okay, I could go on forever, but I’ll stop before I embarrass myself by mentioning the other bands on my iPod, like Was (Not Was) and Night Ranger. Yikes.

My Drunk Kitchen. If ever I’m a serious bad mood dude, all it takes is a little Hannah Hart from My Drunk Kitchen. I find it incredibly difficult to watch any of her episodes without cracking up. My all-time favorite is still Episode 8: Ice Cream? Someday… Who knew watching a grown, drunk woman slip all over her kitchen floor could be so mood-lifting? I highly recommend it.

Being a nerd. Newsflash, people: I am a huge nerd. Wanna be my best friend? Come on over with a couple bottles of wine and ask to spend the weekend watching the Star Wars saga from beginning to end. Things that are traditionally considered nerdy, like classical music (bonus points for live performances) and nonfiction WWII novels, make me very happy. I thought Camus’s L’Etranger was better than its translated sister, The Stranger. I know way more about professional wrestling than I should probably admit. I secretly miss my pre-Lasik thick-rimmed Buddy Holly glasses. I not-so-secretly love that I get to teach grammar. I will admit, though, that despite four attempts so far I’ve yet to make it all the way through Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. But hey, no one’s perfect.

Finally, this guy. Really, no explanation needed.

And for the record, yes. In the armor. And just like that, good mood restored. Now, go watch Hannah Hart get drunk and make some ice cream.

Sincerely, Stasia


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