Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Braise Training for the Apocalypse

My husband and I just had a discussion- an actual conversation- about what we think we would taste like if eaten. We were placing ourselves in the zombie apocalypse (Oh. Did I fail to mention that we had just finished watching an episode of The Walking Dead?  Right.  Sorry.) and debating over what humans would taste like.  First, chicken was tossed out.  (Because...that's just the obvious initial comparison everyone makes, right?  Tastes like chicken.)  But I said I thought we'd be more pork-like than chicken-like.  We've got more fleshy parts than a chicken.  I, for one, definitely have smaller breasts and a larger roast, so it was just logical for me to make the pork parallel.  I threw out there that there's the possibility we could be kinda alligator-ish: part fishy/part chicken-y.  Neither one of us thought beef.  Then my husband had a good point.  He said we have so much muscle structure in our bodies that we would probably taste pretty good.  He also said he thought I would be so lean and muscular that I would be one of the hardest to cook- (Aw!!  Have you ever heard anything so sweet?!)  I said, well yeah but we would probably require some slow cooking to tenderize the muscle and really bring out our flavor.  I said we would need to be braised.  He agreed.  Then we ended the discussion and went to bed.

So, for today's recipe...

*Syrah-Braised Person over...

(too far?)


I love a good braised meat.  It's perhaps one of my favorite things to cook and eat this time of year, something I quickly get excited about at the beginning of October.  That, and anything pumpkin.  My go-to braised dish is my Beef Short Ribs over Sour Cream Grits.  I have to tell you, without any sort of ego being attached to this, based on sheer fact alone, I make the bestest and most amazing Short Ribs you have ever eaten.  And I have to be careful who I serve this dish to because they'll become so attached to me that I have to eventually become Mean Abbey to get them to give me some space.  I've broken a lot of hearts over this dish.  It's a thing.  I've posted a Short Rib recipe before, after I just had my daughter, but I generally don't follow a recipe when I'm making a meal.  (Plus, I've perfected my method a bit since then...) Instead, I really just keep a few tips and tricks in mind to ensure that it's awesome every time, and that way I can interchange certain ingredients based on what I have on hand at the time.  So, instead of giving you a brand new recipe, I'm gonna bullet point some important steps for you to follow the next time you braise.
And if you have any questions, you let me know (promise I won't cook you).

K?  K.

*Abbey's (Short Rib) Braising Tips

(These tips will work with any braise-worthy meat: chuck roast, brisket, pork shoulder...I'm just specifically speaking of beef short ribs today because they're my fav.)

-I know it's controversial, but I prefer using boneless beef short ribs over the bone-in.  And I only do this because at my grocery store/butcher, I have never been able to get really meaty bone-in pieces, so I go for the boneless ones, as they are the biggest with the most meat.  And I would plan on 2 short rib pieces per person.

-Season your meat at least 4 hours in advance, but overnight/all day is preferred.  I usually do a ton of kosher salt, cracked black pepper, and dried rosemary.  Refrigerate, uncovered til ready to cook.

-Always begin with room temperature meat.  Allow your meat to sit on the counter for 20-30 minutes before you begin to cook it, as this will guarantee even cooking.

-Sear your ribs first!!!  Always.  That's what begins the braise.  That's what gives you your desired texture and flavor.  Skipping this step is a bad idea.  No bueno.  High heat skillet-a little light oil-sear on each side til dark brown and crusty.  Remove and let rest after they've been seared.

-Add in your mirepoix- I prefer large chunks of onion, celery, carrot and whole cloves of garlic.  But adding parsnips, beets, turnips, potatoes, anything root-like is great here.  Let them begin to brown a bit.

-Deglaze with booze.  I prefer a dry red wine usually, but a dark beer is a fabulous switch up.  Scrape up brown bits from the bottom of the pan.

-Add your stock.  I prefer beef stock.  You will need enough to halfway cover the ribs/veggies (when they're back in there).  Sometimes I'll add a couple bouillon cubes...(shhh)

-Add in something with a sweet/twang.  I prefer balsamic vinegar and a bit of brown sugar.  Any other vinegar would work, fortified wines are great, and dried fruit (prunes) is also good here as well.

-Add in aromatics.  I prefer bay leaves/rosemary stems.

-Put ribs back in, make sure liquid comes up to about the halfway point.  If not, add water.

-Bring to boil.  Cover, reduce to simmer.  Place in 275 degree oven for 3 hours- (This is approximate.  You'll know when it's done when the meat is falling apart if you fork it.)

-Place pan on stove top. Remove solids from the pan, set aside.  Boil braising liquid vigorously until it reduces to a thick, almost syrupy consistency.  But taste as you go along, and add water if needed because sometimes you end up with something too salty.

-Serve your ribs with the veggies over sour cream grits (make your grits how you would normally, then stir in a bit of sour cream before serving), and cover with your reduced braising liquid.

-Garnish with flaky sea salt (such as Maldon), fresh parsley leaves and lemon zest (optional).

Friday, October 17, 2014

Coconut Banana Muffins- Video

Hey!! It's Friday, ya'll!  You made it!

I've got another video for you today, this one featuring my favorite sous chef- my three year old daughter.  She's helping me make my (Gluten and Processed Sugar Free) Coconut Banana Muffins- one of her all-time favorite snacks.

If you only knew how hard it was for me to edit this one.  Good grief.  You see, my daughter loves the camera...a little too much...and I had to cut so many hilarious things out so ya'll weren't watching a movie today!

I've posted this Banana bread/muffin recipe before (see it HERE) and it has since become a big internet hit, as well as a huge hit among my family and friends.  And they are a staple in our home, for sure! These muffins are as delicious as they are healthy...and they're EXTREMELY healthy ;-)

Now, off you go- Go watch this video and then have a killer weekend.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

My BFF, Samsung

OK So I haven't talked about my Samsung in awhile, have I?  Slacking off on my AT&T Brand Ambassador duties over here.  Shame, shame, shame.  Don't let that fool you though- I'm thinking about this thing all the time...dreaming about it...using it nonstop... I love this thing.  This Samsung Galaxy S5 Active is with me everywhere I go.  No, I'm actually serious.  It's even with me now as I write this.


Meet Writing Abbey- she's totally official and stuff
I watch things on it, I listen to my music on it (it's the reason why I'm now a Spotify member!), I take photos with it, I workout with it- both indoors at the gym and outdoors on a run (rain or shine!!)

(Running on the wet and sandy beach...the Samsung can take it.)

I just really and truly love this thing.  AND what makes me love it even more?  I can be rough with it.  I can have my way with this phone.  Slap it around a bit, show it who's boss.  No need to worry or be delicate with it, no no.  This thing is Abbey Proof, remember?  This phone lets me be my true self- equal parts clumsy and strong as hell.  Samsung gets me.  Understands me.  I don't have to pretend to be anyone I'm not with this thing and that makes me love it even more.  Like a friend who just accepts you for who you are, no matter what.

We all need more of those, don't we?

Plus, there's this other thing... This kind of, possibly embarrassing thing that I feel I need to come clean about.  Alright, here goes.  To be perfectly honest, I'm a cell phone-in-the-bath user.  Guilty as charged.  I know I'm not supposed to be, I know it's bad for me, I know it's dangerous, makes me appear needy or too attached to something without a pulse, but it's the truth.  I like to listen to music while I'm in there.... (and, ok, maybe have the occasional text conversation...) and I get so nervous using my iPhone in the bath because it can easily just fall right in!!  (Um, that's totally happened, by the way.)  My iPhone is small and dainty and precious and it really makes me nervous having that thing anywhere near water.  But with the Samsung, I can actually relax while I'm bathing (which is kind of the point in a bath, yes?).  Because if I drop that sucker in, it doesn't matter one bit.

Abbey. Proof.  Love that!!

The screen on the Samsung Galaxy is huge...it was a little hard to get used to at first because of that, I'm not gonna lie, but when it comes to anything media, that big screen is a plus for sure.  Reading anything is much easier on it, and viewing photos of any kind is just plain awesome.  I'm fairly new to Instagram and I gotta tell ya, I much prefer to post things or scroll through my feed on my Samsung.  The pictures are larger (obviously), much more crisp, vibrant, and just plain better all around.

I also get a lot of compliments on it wherever I take it...which is everywhere...so I would like to think that I'm doing a super job at spreading the word about this guy- fulfilling all my fancy ambassador duties...even if you haven't heard me talk about it in ages.  So hopefully this post makes up for that fact.  Because this thing, this Samsung, has become my new friend- my unconditional loving friend who I know I can count on whenever, wherever.

(Yes, I still know it doesn't have a pulse, let me have my moment here.)

Sunday, October 12, 2014

It's a Guy Thing

You know those nights that you just keep re-living, over and over in your head?  Yeah.  I had one of those this past Friday night and I simply had to share because I can't get it off my mind.  My husband and I drove over 4 hours to a wedding of one of our good college friends.  And there, at the wedding, would be a college reunion of sorts.  I was going to see people I haven't seen in in 4 years, and haven't actually hung out with since college.  These people, these old friends are my boys.  My big group of burly and messy boys that I affectionately call my own.  In college, I was always the girl hanging out with the guys.  For no other reason than that's just how it happened.  But I have always loved having boy-friends.  There's just something about it that feels so easy and comfortable.  I have girlfriends too, though.  I feel that maybe needs to be said.  I have girlfriends for whom I would walk through fire, who are a piece of me, but it has always been easy for me to get along with guys as well.  And these particular guys are also a big ole piece of me.

We were in plays and performances and scenes together, me and those boys, some of them I have known for as long as I have known my husband, some of them I met on the same exact day that my husband and I first met...we all spent many a frustrated and exhausting rehearsal together, many a late night out together, many a pajama'ed early morning together, many a class together...

...these boys were a part of my world for years.  They always looked out for me, they treated me like I was just one of the guys, but also never once forgot I was a lady.  I was respected and treated as much as an equal as I was an individual.

Since college we've all gone off and lived our lives, some of us separate, some of us together (I married one of 'em), occasionally our home has been the stop on the way for a few of them...

...I've been able to hang out individually with some when they come through town...

but Friday was an epic evening to finally have them all back again.  Together.

And not only was I going to get to see them all again, but I was going to meet their wives and girlfriends for the first time!!  (Who, by the way, were all so incredible and warm and fun to finally meet!!)  I got ready in the hotel, had my music blaring, started the barefoot dancing early, so very excited for the evening... and then put on a sweet little dress and the most uncomfortable heels I own (you know me).

Aaaaaand set out to walk the 15 minutes it took me to go from hotel to wedding site.  In said uncomfortable heels.  On cobblestones.  And wooden planks.  In the hot sun.  Sweating just enough to make me wonder if I looked or smelled like a crazy person.  Took a quick unapologetic selfie to check hair and makeup before entering...

And I walked in, initially not knowing how things would be (it had been years, after-all...you never know!)... And they all, each and every single one of those boys, treated me like a flower.  They were the kindest and sweetest and most incredible bunch of men that each, individually, took the time to make me feel like a lady that entire night.  We talked about our children, our careers, I saw many a cell phone pic of their babies, rubbed many a pregnant belly of their wives, I was picked up and tossed around by a few, hugged and smooched like I was the sister they hadn't seen in ages, and a few of them throughout the evening pulled me aside, took me in their arms and told me how proud they were of me.  They were all genuinely interested in who I was and what I had done and what I had to say.  I had forgotten what that felt like.  I felt so incredibly loved and it was such a touching evening that I will never ever forget.

It wasn't until I was with all of them again, after we all have matured and grown so much since college, that I realized how much I had missed them all.  I miss them now as I write this.  I almost ache for them.  It was an amazing night.  We danced, we drank, we laughed, we sang, we played... It felt like old times, and yet was better and more exciting than it ever had been.  They say that you never really know what you're missing until it's gone, but I think you never really know what you're missing until it comes back to find you again.  I don't know when the next time I will see them will be, but I know it doesn't matter.  Because we found each other once and we will find each other again when it needs to happen.  Nothing went wrong all night, nobody felt out of place or left out, the vibe was simply...easy love.  And damn, that felt good.  The evening was filled with so much positivity, excitement, camaraderie, comfortability, and love.  It was perfect.

The only thing that wasn't amazing and positive and beautiful and full of love about the evening was the fact that my feet were killing me.  My tiny toes were attempting murder inside those awful and stupid devil shoes.  That goes to show you how much I love those boys- the fact that I wore those shoes for as long as I did.  My feet had gone from feeling sharp and intense pain to numbness to redness to puffiness and by the last bar stop, those stilettos came off and I danced my butt off barefoot.  On the old wooden patio, overlooking the Cape Fear River, of the bar where we spent many a Tuesday night over 10 years ago.  I danced and twirled and jumped, was swung and tossed around like a doll, completely barefoot.  And I wondered in those sweet moments why shoes were even a thing.

And then, after the party ended, after we had all had our fill of love and fun, I walked back to the hotel, down Water Street, still barefoot.  You know how you can burn your feet on the hot sand in the summer?  Yeah, it kinda felt like that.  Only, more specifically, it felt like I had just burned my feet in a raging fire pit and then decided to walk across a nail blanket for 15 minutes.  But you know what?  It was worth it.  So very worth it.  To see those guys again and feel the way they make me feel about myself, was worth every ounce of foot pain.  It's not that I need other people to define my mood, that's never the right way to live your life, it's just that having so many old friends, so many tough teddy bears, make me feel so at home, and so special, and so important, and so...accepted for exactly who I am, was just such an incredible gift to receive.

It's important to have people in your life who make you feel like your best self, who don't put you down, who are simply easy to be around.  Effortless friends, I call them.  The kind you can just sit next to, in silence, and not feel the need to make a sound.  People who you can slip on like an old shoe.  And that's what I realized I have with that big group of burly men.  Those boys are my old shoe- my old and stinky, but oh so comfortable shoe.  The shoe I will never have to take off in order to walk home.  But the shoe I will always have by my side, because it makes me feel like I already am.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The One With The Concussion

I hit my head yesterday.  I know, I know, not entirely surprising if you know me well.  I even told one of my good friends about it and their reaction?  'Nice work, you.'  Like, it was just so incredibly normal that I would do something like that, that it didn't even need a sympathy response.  But really, I hit it hard.  Kind of a big deal.  I slammed it into the bed post...just walking by it.  (Stop laughing.)  I was either dancing, or doing something else that required a massive head flip and then just big, fat flipped it hard onto the solid wood bed post.  (Seriously, stop laughing.)  And I had myself a big, fat mild concussion because of it too.  It really messed up my day, that concussion (as they're known to do...)  I still went out and did stuff, but the stuff was just weirder and harder to do.  I found myself talking in circles, (I may have walked in a few circles as well), I had a great big headache, felt dizzy and lightheaded, couldn't make normal things come out of my mouth, I was exhausted all day, I felt like I was in a large bus, going really slow on a bumpy dirt road (which is extra sucky for me because I get car sick), and I also was super emotional.  Case in point- After I picked up my daughter from preschool and put her down for her nap, I changed out of my coffee shop writing clothes (it's a thing) and into sweats and laid down on the couch to watch some Friends reruns.  And I found myself crying at the fact that they're such good friends.  I literally sat there and teared up, thinking to myself,

'I want a group of friends like that.  I'll never have a group of friends like that.  They get to do everything together.  They're so lucky to have each other, those friends.'  

I didn't fall asleep, I just laid there like a zombie.  Then I took a bath at, oh, 4pm?  Then got into bed and watched some more Friends episodes, still not feeling any better.  (And a Friends marathon usually does the trick...either that or Sports Center, which didn't do it either.  So this is serious business I'm talking about here.)  I couldn't eat dinner, nothing really sounded good.  And then I think I dozed off sometime around 7:35?  I just remember that my daughter was still awake and I slowly moved from the propped-up head position to the horizontal position.  And I remember my husband asked me if I was falling asleep and I think I said, 'No. Not necessarily.'  And then I think I closed my eyes and...boom.  Asleep.

Theeeeeeen I woke up at 12:45 (a.m).

Which leads me to this moment in time.  It is now 3:17 a.m.  And I've been awake since that 12:45.  I really tried to go back to sleep, honest I did.  I laid there, with my eyes closed for a whole hour, trying different positions to make myself fall back asleep but I just couldn't.  I kept getting hot and sweaty and just could not make myself fall asleep. Then I googled mild concussion and sleep problems and found that it was totally normal to be abnormal at this time.  Great.

So what did I do?  I came downstairs and started baking.  I walked downstairs and turned on the oven at 2 a.m. and by 2:30 I had scones baking and smelling incredible.  Is that weird?  Probably.  But I have always baked whenever I feel bad or sick or emotional, or have an incredible amount of things on my mind.  It has always soothed me, baking.  I think it's because I can just tune everything else out and do something that doesn't require much thought, something that is guaranteed to come out well.   And that's a great feeling when you're feeling down.  It's like I'm sort of setting myself up for guaranteed success.  And I think my foggy brain went right to the scone because it's one of those things that I've always said I can make in my sleep...which I guess I kinda did.

What probably makes it even weirder though is that I did all of it in the garage, as to not wake up the rest of the house.  Even my still-concussed brain knows that's pretty damn strange.  Garage baking at 2 a.m.

But the good thing is that I now have a batch of Pumpkin Brown Sugar Scones that I will surely need in a couple hours or so for my second breakfast to go along with my bonus cup of coffee...which will be at the normal time that the rest of you are eating and drinking your first.

So, a good morning to you all!  Wish me luck out there.  There's no telling what weird things I'll be doing today.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Lasagna Strata...and the video that almost showed you how to make it.

They say to never work with animals or children.  Well, I've done both.  And I never agreed with that rule.  Working with either creates something you never knew you could have had.  Putting a young child in a scene (or a chimp...) suddenly creates this level of excitement- you literally never know what could happen next, and usually what does happen is waaaaay more interesting than what you had planned.  And if you know me well enough, you know that even though I'm a big planner in my family life, I don't like to rehearse anything I do on camera, because that's when the good stuff happens.  I like to dive right in and see where we can go.  And when things end up being different than what I had initially planned, I just make it a different thing all together.  No biggie.

A couple weeks ago I made a video with a good friend and her two incredibly cute kids.  We set out to make a video showing an easy-to-make meal for the busy-mom-on-the-go.  I wrote a recipe just for her and her family, something I had never made before, and was excited to share and give to them.  I wrote the recipe on the living room floor, in my sweatpants one night.  Which is just how I work...I like to cook things in my head and sketch them out on paper.  I decided I wanted the kids in the video because the reality is that she would be making this meal with the kids around anyway, so why pretend?  That's how I like to write my posts, or make my videos, or teach my lessons- I keep things real...otherwise how are you going to adapt it to your real life?  Not everyone can create a flawless meal in a pristine kitchen with complete silence, hair and makeup and a team of PA's setting up the scene. (Talking to you, Food Network)  Sure, it's fun to watch.  Like, a Kate Hudson movie...totally unreal but fantastic to sit through and dream about.

So...when my friend and I set out to make this cooking video, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.  Seriously.  No idea.  But damn, was it fun to watch back.

So...here's the um, blooper real (?) of what would have been far less interesting to view.

(I would like to take this time to thank Pepperidge Farm and their Goldfish for helping us through this day.  Without you, none of this would have been possible.)


And here's the actual recipe for Lasagna Strata!!  It comes out tasting like everything you love in a lasagna...only it's so much easier to make because you're not boiling noodles and layering anything.  It's a great make-ahead/freezer-friendly meal that I hope you'll all enjoy!

*Lasagna Strata
(just now remembering I never got a photo of the finished product...awesome.)

Grease one large (9x13in) casserole dish, or two square (8x8in) dishes and place along the bottom...
-1 large loaf of stale Italian or French bread (equalling about 5 cups of cubed or torn pieces)

Add the following ingredients on top of the bread, distributing evenly throughout...
-28 oz can of peeled, plum tomatoes, drained and broken up into pieces.
-2 lbs. lean ground beef, browned in a skillet and seasoned well with salt/pepper/garlic powder OR your favorite seasoning salt blend.  Set aside to cool (can be made in advance and stored in the fridge)
-2 cups shredded mozzarella (I like to use light)
-couple handfuls of torn, fresh basil leaves
-a small handful of fresh oregano leaves, minced (or a tsp or so of dried)
-a sprinkling of ground allspice
-a couple pinches of light brown sugar (to offset the acidity in the tomatoes)
-a little crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

In a large mixing bowl, whisk completely...
-10 large eggs

Add in, by whisking...
-4 cups milk, or 1 quart (I don't recommend anything less than 2%, as it would produce a watery custard)

Then add the following (again, by whisking)...
-2 cups ricotta, or 1 (15 oz) container (I like to use full fat..there's no substitute!!)
-1 head of roasted garlic*, cooled and cloves squeezed out
(each of these won't break down completely, and that's ok.  I like the idea of having a chunk of soft garlic here and there and a delicious glob of ricotta placed throughout.)

Then, season the custard with...
-2 1/2 tsp kosher salt
-a good amount of freshly grated nutmeg

Slowly pour the custard over the bread, meat, tomatoes etc.  Make sure to evenly coat all the ingredients, and then once all the custard is in, press down with the spatula to allow the bread to start soaking it up.  You want all the pieces to be moistened by the custard.  (This can be done in the morning, and placed in the fridge until ready to bake.  That actually makes a better strata, but you can also bake straight away, no problem.)

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 40 minutes to 1 hour, or until it's puffed up and golden brown and it doesn't jiggle when you shake it/there is no liquid apparent in the center.

Cool slightly before serving warm!

(*roasted garlic- Slice off the top of the garlic bulb, exposing the tips of the cloves.  Place on a sheet of tin foil and drizzle with olive oil and season with salt/pepper.  Wrap up tightly like a little package. Place in a preheated 375 degree oven and cook for 45 min.  Allow to cool (and continue to cook) in the foil package until ready to use.)