Thursday, May 28, 2015

Exploring RVA: Southbound

Finally, Southside has a hipster eatery - Southbound RVA!

All the good places (except Brick House Diner, YUM) are downtown, and while we can get there within 20 minutes on a good night, it's nice to have dinner in your own neighborhood occasionally. Right?

We didn't plan this out very well and just thought this brand new place from the chefs behind The Roosevelt and Heritage (2 Richmond institutions) would have room on a Saturday night. Nope. We were offered a table at 8pm or a cozy table in the bar, so we chose the latter.

They have since changed their menu, but we got the Thai chicken wings which had just enough spice for my palette. One was underdone, and they were very nice about it. I got the lamb bolognese with their house made pasta and it was fantastic!

We will definitely be back once the hype dies down and we can get a spontaneous table. Next time I'm trying a Bayside Tiger (if they still have it)!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Pecan Pie

A couple years ago, Nate's mom gave Bonnie and I each a huge bag of pecans that she picked from a friend's tree. What to do with all those pecans?

One of Bonnie's co-workers was willing to share a family pecan pie recipe with us, so I tried it out. You know how you think something must be really time consuming and then when you find out how easy it is, you feel really dumb for not trying it before? Yep, that happened here.

Here's what you'll need - I'm sure this is not how anyone's grandmother would make this, but I ain't got time for any nonsense:
  • Frozen pie crust (sure, you can make your own, but I figure Marie Callender has a pretty good routine down, and why mess with perfection?)
    • I recommend the deep dish pie crust because this expands while cooking and it may make a mess of your oven
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 3 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 3/4 cup corn syrup (I've used light and dark and it only affects the final color of the filling)
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
And the very detailed assembly steps:
  • Thaw the pie crust for 15-ish minutes and put on a baking sheet
  • Chop the pecans
  • Mix all that other stuff together in a bowl and throw in the pecans
  • Stir to combine
    • I thought it was weird to mix in the pecans with the rest because then they wouldn't all be at the top. They rise to the top while baking, so don't worry about that. #science
  • Pour all that into the crust
  • Bake at 350* for 45 minutes
  • When it comes out, it's ok if it jiggles a little bit in the middle - it will firm up as it cools
    • Too much jiggle is not ok - that will mean your pie will still taste fantastic but the filling will be soupy
  • Let it cool - it will deflate and become very dense and stiff
  • Refrigerate overnight

We've made this many times since I got the recipe and it is soooo good! I have messed it up a couple of times by being impatient (too much jiggle), not measuring pecans (overflowing pie), and using a regular pie crust (overflowing pie).

It takes like 5 minutes to put together, so give it a try!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Eleanora turns 2!

Our littlest friend turned 2 last weekend, so we celebrated her with a Curious George party! She is *obsessed* with him!

Her mom is very creative and executed this even though Curious George stuff is very hard to find in stores. She found some great licensed stuff and supplemented with lots of bright colors and monkey-themed things.  Let's start with the food:

Dave and I provided monkey bread and banana bread, as well as little No Yo Mama's banana pudding, served in itty bitty Mason jars. Ashley also put out banana chips for the little monkeys and provided the non-sugar food - BBQ chicken, baked beans, roll-ups, etc. There was no shortage of food!

The little ones played with bubbles and colored in Curious George coloring books, while the adults sat around and wished we had their energy. The man in the yellow hat (AKA Grandpa Tom) even showed up! Eleanora could not be fooled - when we asked her who it was, thinking she'd say 'mannnnninahaaat' (that's my best impression), she didn't miss a beat and called him Grandpa. Also looked at us like 'shouldn't you know him?' Haha.

We all crowded around to watch her eat her smash cake like a champ!

Happy 2nd birthday, sweet girl!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Central Virginia Food Truck Rodeo

RVA has an obsession with food trucks! There are food truck nights at churches, there are always several at all special events around town, and Capital One even invited some to the campus during the summer months to add a local dining option to our choices for lunch!

Last fall, Dave and I went to the first Central Virginia Food Truck Rodeo with my brother and SIL - they took over part of the parking lot at Chesterfield Town Center with ~30 trucks and live bands, and it was a great time! Very hot, very sunny, a lot of lines, but it was a good fall activity to get outside and enjoy some fresh air and try some new dishes.

This spring, they decided to have another one so I took my Bonnie so she could see what the fuss was about :)

Well, she tried some new dishes. I got exactly the same things I got last time. ;) I'm sneaky like that.

*all photos are Bonnie's because I was too busy eating to take pictures. #fatkid

First stop was Goatocado for a mountain tropp. Yum - quinoa, avocado, corn, black beans, arugula, apple, and a mango lime sauce. Oh my this thing is so good - and good for you! I'm sure the sauce has some naughty stuff in it, but this is way healthy!

Then we went to Happy Empanada for some deep fried goodness. Not healthy. We shared some fried plantains, Bonnie got a beef empanada, and I got a spinach/feta/mushroom empanada. We had to wait about 25 minutes for our order, which was annoying since we were first in line, but it was worth the wait. I suppose? Very tasty.

Last stop was Gelati Celesti for some dessert. This place is right next door to our grocery store, so you would think we go there all the time, but I had never tried it until my brother and SIL introduced us to it at the last rodeo. Bonnie got a cone of chocolate decadence, which I think is their most popular flavor. I got a cup of just ask - they line the tub of white chocolate ice cream with peanut butter and mix in some oreos. I mean, why would you get anything else?

I think there was one more place Bonnie wanted to try, but after these 3 stops we were both stuffed. I didn't even finish my ice cream, which is *so* unlike me. :) We were in and out in under an hour and before the crowds really showed up, and then headed across the river to spend some time with Ashley and Ellie-belly!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Exploring RVA: Proper Pie

Now that it's not 15 degrees out, some of these Exploring RVA posts should probably include non-food places ;) Where should we go?

Last fall, we finally went to Proper Pie! I feel like we were the last people in RVA to try it out, and I'm not sure why we waited so long. Church Hill is a part of town we don't visit much, so we need to change that because the views of the city from the top of the hill are amazing!

I love the design of the space - concrete floors, exposed duct work that is so popular around here, and industrial style decorating that I think is timeless. I think I remember some of the floor was left unpainted so you could see some logos from previous tenants of the building - but I could be wrong.

They post the available flavors every day on Facebook, so check out their page before you head out to make sure they have something you'll like. There are some flavors that are always there, but they also love to try new things.

The savory pies come in these adorable bags - no plate necessary because they recommend you eat them with your hands like an empanada. I didn't do that because Idon'tknowwhy so I asked for a fork. They obliged.

I chose the savory mince and cheese. It tasted like homemade pot roast, but the sauce was really thick so it wasn't soupy. Sooooooo tasty! The meat was not in bug chunks so the texture was consistent throughout, and the crust was buttery and flaky and so, so delicious.
Nehi orange was a bonus!

For dessert I chose a Dutch apple pie. I think I had this once before when Bonnie and Ashley went there for lunch and brought me a treat when I met up with them later in the day. The crumb topping was crunchy and the apples were still in tact - I hate when you bite into apple pie and the apples have turned to mush. Ew. This was perfect!

After we finished our lunch we took a drive around Church Hill - so pretty in the fall!

My only complaint about this place, and this is really stretching it, is that there wasn't much seating. We went on a Sunday at lunchtime, so it was understandably busy, but there are only a few tables in the space. There is a also bar with stools where you can see the kitchen, and another bar along the front window which is where we sat. I was right next to the door and felt like I was in the way every time someone came in. There isn't much space for them to add more seating, so this isn't feedback they can act on, and I feel like they've made good use of the space they have at the front of the house.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Pantry Organization

It only took 10 years of living in this house with an actual pantry to figure out how to organize it!

Take a look at this before shot - so gross:

You can sorta tell I was trying to keep the stuff organized. Similar items are corralled near each other, but there was no real organization. I had some bins for flour/sugar/snacks, but the bins were all different sizes so they didn't stack very well, and some had lids/some did not. If there was a sale on canned vegetables and I stocked up, they were put on different shelves wherever there was space. I never knew what I had, which made putting together meals difficult.

It was just not working for me. So let's fix it!

First, I took everything out and threw away anything that was expired/about to expire as well as items we would never use (I'm looking at you, big crinkly bag with exactly 4 croutons inside and 'Christmas in a jar' that I'll never simmer on the stove). 

Then I put everything into these categories to figure out how much real estate I'd need to dedicate to each:
  • baking sundries - extracts, baking spices, baking soda/powder, cocoa
  • baking dry goods - open flour/sugar/powdered sugar
  • backup baking dry goods - sealed packages of flour/sugar that I'm not currently using
  • grains and starchy sides
  • peanut butter/honey - this probably won't need its own category in anyone else's house, but I'm a fan of peanut butter ;)
  • bulk bins of salt & pepper
  • breakfast - cereal, oats, pancake mix
  • chips and snacks
  • canned goods
  • pasta
I asked for a 3-tiered can stacker/organizer for Christmas last year (and got it!) so canned goods had a plan.  Also, I knew I wanted to move all my dry pasta and open containers of baking dry goods to some glass jars I had been purchasing over the last few months from IKEA. I picked up a few every time I went in different sizes with the beginnings of this pantry makeover idea in my mind. Don't they look so cute? 
{Note} If I were super DIY OCD I'd put chalkboard labels on the jars like everyone else in the blog world, but if 
you can clearly see that it's quinoa vs. orzo, why do you need a label? If they were frosted glass, go for it!

Once my cans and jars were ready, I went out in search of some bins for everything else - 4 small and 2 large. If I were doing this project now I'd get them at Dollar Tree ( I am obsessed) but at the time I went to Big Lots and found 4 identical bins that looked like the perfect size for my smaller categories. They didn't have any larger bins in stock, but I knew that the 2 larger bins would be together on the top shelf, so they could be different in style without making me twitch.

I used those 4 bins for baking extracts, grains/starches, backup dry goods, and pb/honey/salt/pepper:

I found the top 2 bins at Target for way more than I would have paid at Big Lots for matching ones, but whatever. They look complementary at least. As you can see at the top left, we clearly have a chip problem. Top right is breakfast stuff. There is 1 random bin beside the can organizer that has snacks like granola, dried fruit, and almonds. Since snacks like that tend to rotate pretty quickly in this house based on our current cravings, I just used a plastic shoebox sized bin because it fits well in that corner. 

So there you have it. Our working pantry system. Now when Dave needs something he can find it, and when I'm meal planning I can easily see what we have and need!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Easter Weekend

The long Easter weekend started off with a sinus infection! Yuck! I went to the doctor as soon as I felt that familiar headache to make sure I got some good drugs and would be able to enjoy the holiday weekend! When the doctor asked me if I had a drug preference (yes, yes I do) I knew I would be good to go by Saturday.

After we finished at the farmers' market and checked out the book exchange, we headed over to my brother's house so I could deliver Reed's Easter basket. Luckily they were free at the last minute, because even though I've had R's basket ready for several weeks I never made any plans with either them or my parents, who have hosted us for Easter the past few years! OOPS!

In addition to his Easter basket we brought over 15 eggs filled with candy to have an impromptu Easter egg hunt in their backyard. I figured he'd already done at least one other hunt, whether at school or at a local event, but can you have too many egg hunts? Nope.

We snuck in the backyard (well, their dog ratted us out) to hide the eggs, and after Reed had gone through the basket we brought him, we went outside so he could find the eggs. He was so excited to have this hunt all to himself because he had been to a hunt that morning where all the older kids hogged the eggs and the younger kids got the shaft. This hunt had no competition!

He very thoroughly walked through the backyard (with a little help from Uncle Dave) and shouted "I FOUND ONE I FOUND ONE!" every time he spotted an egg. He also might have said "I'm so good at this!" Haha!

He found them all and then we went inside to check out his loot. Dave had convinced me to mismatch the egg colors because it was more fun - but Reed and I agreed that they should match, so he opened every single one and "fixed" them.

We played a few games of hide and seek and played outside for a bit, and then we headed home.

Sunday we did it all over again with our friends! We staged an egg hunt in the backyard - this time the eggs contained no candy because these kids had all been to several hunts already and were candied out, but it was just as fun! While Dave, Bonnie, and Eddie were hiding the eggs I ran inside to get the kids excited, saying the Easter Bunny made a last-minute surprise bonus visit! It worked and they all came running - no shoes, no coats, no baskets! Haha!

These girls and some new friends hunted those eggs and played their hearts out!
taken by eddie, bonnie, dave, and ashley

After dinner we all crowded around the TV to watch the Little Mermaid. Not just the kids - all of us. Who doesn't love the Little Mermaid?

Great weekend! :) Hope you all had a very Happy Eeaster!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Chicken Nachos

Whooo boy, these were good!

I have been watching YouTube videos instead of reading blogs lately. I'll make a separate post on some of my favorites, but OrganizedJen is right at the top of the list. She's neurotic in a good way (or at least in a way I can relate to), super organized (hence the name), and her husband is very talented in the kitchen/on the grill.

They recently posted a video showing how to make his chicken nachos and I almost didn't make it to the end of the video before I raided the pantry to see if we had everything I needed to make them. I was in luck! Here's their recipe:

I made modifications based on the fact that I wanted to eat these that night for dinner and didn't have time for a lot of those steps. Also we don't have a smoker and I don't like dark meat. They still came out delicious.

Here's how I recommend you make these - this timeline assumes dinner is served at 6pm:
  • 2pm: coat 1-2 lb.s of boneless, skinless chicken breasts in 3 tbsp. of olive oil and 3 tbsp. of taco seasoning (here's how I make my taco seasoning)
  • 2pm: put chicken in the oven for 2 hours at 250*
  • 4pm: take the chicken out of the oven, cover it with foil, and let it rest
  • 4pm: put 1 can of (drained) kidney beans and 1 can of (drained) black beans in the crock pot with a cup of stock or water; throw in another tbsp. of taco seasoning if you like spice like we do!
  • 430pm: shred the chicken and throw it in the crock pot with the beans
  • 530pm: preheat oven to 425* and start assembling your nachos (see gif below)
  • 545pm: put nachos in the oven long enough to melt the cheese
  • 6pm: EAT

An assembly gif for fun:

We topped our nachos with some sour cream, pico, and guac - make your own if you desire. I did not desire:


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Book Exchange

A few weeks ago we were driving home from a friend's house and Dave spotted something just beyond the sidewalk near Libbie & Grove. He pulled over and we found that it was a Book Exchange box! It was too dark to really investigate it and find out which books were inside to trade, so we made a mental note to come back in the daytime.

So this past Saturday we went on an adventure.

First stop was the Farmers' Market at St. Stephens - it's my favorite, and just happens to be a block away from the Book Exchange. It was the first outdoor market of the season and I wasn't going to miss it! There weren't too many booths there so early in the season, but we still got some good stuff - 2 Fuji apples, some local honey from Maury Flores (can't find a website or any other record of them online?):

The booth where I normally get zucchini/squash had a ton of herbs!

We picked up some oregano and purple basil:

We loaded our loot into the car and then walked down to the Book Exchange - it was such a beautiful day out and Libbie & Grove area was bustling! Tons of people on walks and running errands - what a friendly neighborhood, too! We brought two books to add to the box - Into the Wild and Silver Linings Playbook. Both good books but neither of us will read them again so we thought we'd pass them along.

We didn't find any books we needed (Jane Eyre was tempting but I have so many books in my TBR pile it'd be a while before I'd get to it) so we left empty-handed. Better to give than receive, right? :)

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Zucchini Tacos

I know, I know. WHAT?

Trust me.

Farmers' Market season is my favorite season. Well, it really spans 3 of the 4 seasons, so it's more like my favorite weekend activity. St. Stephen's hosts my favorite market and if I don't have anything going on between 8am-noon on Saturdays, that's where you can find me. I have my favorite booths, ones I don't even look at because I hate their faces, and others that have great stuff but it's just not for me. I have very clever names for them like 'Goochland potato guy' and 'the one with the huge booth and lots of cilantro' and 'that other big one that's more expensive but their tomatoes always look better so let's go over there before we leave'. Love.

BUT - towards the end of its run, I get sick of zucchini and don't even want to think about eating another squash. In spite of this we keep buying them because they're good for us and we like them and we'll miss them in December. So in an attempt to find another way to use them besides grilling them with olive oil/salt/pepper (boring) I asked Bonnie, my recipe database extraordinaire, for an idea.

She delivered. She had made tacos using the zucchini instead of the taco shell. Good way to consume a vegetable that's covered in tasty goodness rather than on its own, saves some carbs, and supports local farmers. Win-win-win. So we tried it - and it was delicious!

All you do is cut the zucchini longways and scrape out the seeds and enough other guts to create a nice sized well for your taco filling of choice (I use ground turkey or beef), and bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes until the zucchini is fork tender.

Add your toppings (avocado and cilantro from the huge booth!) and enjoy! These are so good that I'm looking forward to making these a lot this summer.