Friday, October 31, 2008


Happy Halloween to All out there!
That's our scary skull jack-o-lantern carved by Pete and I earlier this week. We live in condos so I hope leaving this outside will attract at least 1 trick-or-treater. I just love this time of year as it marks the beginning of the holiday season. In keeping with tradition of both the sweetest of the holidays and my family's long-time love of holiday baking, I decided to take on my first pumpkin bread (which also turned into cupcakes) as well as my first cream cheese frosting all seen in the spread below.
Pumpkin Bread, Cupcakes, and Cream Cheese Frosting
First I must admit that I have an ongoing love affair with Out of all the major cooking sites, and trust me I have been to them all, has the best variety and the best community interaction. Before I start any recipe I read as many reviews as my attention span can handle and then I dive right in! The recipe I used for the pumpkin bread and cupcakes is linked by Amy Posont. The minor changes I made were to the temperature and time as well as the amount of spices. I turned the temp up form 300 to 325 and baked the bread for 1hr. 15min but the cupcakes were done in about 30min. For the spices, I upped the nutmeg and allspice to 2 tsps. and the cinnamon to 3 tsps. Other than that, this recipe is the bees knees and totally easy for a first timer. :0

The cream cheese frosting recipe also came from and is by Susan Lugdon. Once again, the reader reviews were uber helpful and helped me figure out before hand that my pumpkin cupcakes are going to be very sweet so I didn't need to use 5 cups of confectioners sugar. Instead, I used 3 cups. I also chilled the frosting for about 2 hours before heaving it on top of my cupcakes. All that was needed was a candy corn on top and these pumpkin cupcakes are all the Halloween treats me and my family need!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Chicago was GOOD to me!

Last week I traveled to a suburb north of Chicago to the Naval Service Training Center in Waukegan, IL directly on Lake Michigan to test a Flood Control Trainer Simulator developer by BBN Technologies and Alion on newbie sailors. In short, we tested 64 sailors and we ended up with great results with means more gaming work between us, our partners, and The Office of Naval Research. So SUCCESS! Hooray! After the two days of testing, I ventured into the city to downtown Chicago to hang out with my brother Jeremy because coinicdentally, he is working in Chicago too. We got a room at The Palmer House Hilton on E. Monroe St. and hit the town! Check out our pics...

Well, I am sure most are concerned with what did we eat? The first night we ate Greek in the GreekTown section as a restaurant called Costa's. Jeremy and I were in rare form so our cheeky waiter didn't quite appreciate our ridiculous sense of humor. We started with the saganaki. It was good but still not as good as the saganaki Pete and I had during the Central Florida Greek Fest. Next, Jeremy had a whole bass and I a lemonato lamb. We both had the potatoes as a side and the entrees were succulent and exquisite! 4 stars to say the least! My lamb was expertly seasoned and fell off the bone into the divine sherry sauce moat surronding the main dish. Jeremy filleted his fish like a champ and when the waiter remarked his skills as , "Alright," Jeremy retorted with a stining, "You're a jerk." It was too funny for me not to bust into laughter. We topped off the meal with a lemon custard tart. It was good but a bit dry, so I wish I ordered the bread pudding instead. All in all, it was the best meal we had in Chicago for sure-BRAVO!!

The next day we ate lunch at The Oasis Cafe. The food is Middle Eastern and while the vegetable couscous, the Egpytian salad and baklava were all good, the reason we really wanted to go is that this cafe is situated oddly enough in the back of a jewelry store in the jewelry district of Chicago. How many times have your ordered lunch in a jewelry store? I'll bet not many. :) That night after hitting Millennium Park, The Art Institute of Chicago, and some shopping we ended the night at Andy's Jazz for dinner and live music. We decided to go traditional and ordered a Chicago-style thin crust mushroom pizza. It was surprisingly not greasy and very tasty. Tried as we might to finish the 14", we just couldn't do it and had to leave some behind because of course I had to try the cappuccino cheesecake. It was dreamly creamy. Although my gut was busting, I did not leave one iota of cake on that plate. All in all, my first trip to the windy city was first and foremost windy but it was also a really great time.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Two Hits and a Miss : Braised Lamb with Roasted Onions and Aspargus and Parsley Mashed Potatoes on the Side

Have you ever made an entree where your sides are shining stars and your main dish came to be a disastrous dud? This unfortunate scenario befell me a few weeks back all because my local supermarket put some lamb shanks on sale.

I love lamb, not lamp (sorry, couldn't help the Anchorman reference). Every Easter my Italian family served a large succulent lamb roast with mushrooms and homemade gravy that is jowl-watering, so when I spotted a cheap package of dual lamb shanks, I said, "My Aunts can do it and so can I." Boy was I wrong, very, very wrong. My first mistake to my missed main dish was my impatience. To properly braise any meat in a pan (if braising on the stove-top), the lamb should be totally covered for at least 3.5 hours. Well, I didn't have a lid to fit my largest skillet and I couldn't wait only braising for about 2 hours. My second mistake was buying cheap lamb. After gnawing on my shank until my jaw gave way, I was able to tear through the meat enough to see the fattest ribbon of fat I have ever seen in my entire life. So because of the monstrous amount of gelatinous fat and my inability to render it out, my lamb didn't measure up and was a miss of a dish.

'The Miss' Braised Lamb Shank

Hit number one of this meal is my never-miss homemade mashed potatoes. My late brother Nate taught me how to make always spot-on mashers, and his recipe has never failed me in over 10 years. No matter what potato you start with, scrub down about 4-6 medium sized ones and cut them up into quarters or sixths depending on your forearm and wrist strength. Bring a medium pot of water to a rapid boil, sprinkle some salt, and boil those bad boys until your fork easily pierces a few pieces. Once they are tender enough, drain via a strainer and dump into a good size mixing bowl. The rest of the ingredients are measured via eyeball and taste because that's the only way I know how! 2-3 Tablespoons of milk, 4-6 Tablespoons of salted butter, salt, pepper, and in this case chopped parsley-about 2 handfuls. Now comes the is the fun part, or the therapeutic part depending on your personal levels of aggression. First cut up your mixture using a fork and a dinner knife. This will break-up the skins because their texture is too good to take out of your mashed potatoes. Then take your masher and mash to your desired texture. I like a good balance of chunky/smooth (if that makes any sense). TRUST ME, this method will make your everyday starch scrumtrulescent (Will Ferrell reference #2) time and time again.

Hit #1-Nate's Mashed Potatoes

Only recently in my life have I discovered the joys of roasting vegetables at a high temperature, and thank God I did! Hit number two was my roasted Red Onions and Asparagus. So easy and so delicious it should be outlawed. Turn your oven up to 400 degrees, roll your vegetables in extra virgin olive oil, season with salt, pepper, oregano and parsley. Pop that pan into the oven for 6-8 minutes and you get a crunchy, cooked, crav-a-licous vegetable side dish.

Hit #2 Roasted Red Onion and Asparagus

Back to the Dynamic Dimension

If you recall back in May 2008 I began working with the Winter Park, FL custom tile company, Dynamic Dimensions by designing a business card for the partnership. Since that time I have designed two other print products for the company, a flyer and a brochure.

4x6 Flyer

Brochure Out

Brochure In

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Did you See Me in September?

No you didn't unless I ran into you on my trip to Philadelphia. I went home for my mama's 52nd birthday and for Pete to meet the fam I grew up with, i.e. the Italians. We didn't get to spend much time at my ma's nursing home due to her sedation from some recent dental work. Still, the weather in PA was beyond beautiful, we ate great food, saw old friends, took in the sights (amazing Fall art show at Rittenhouse Square), and I admit I cried a little when heading back South to my real life.