Hop worship & throwing the best beer-day party ever!

This is how I roll when it's my birthday...

This is how I roll when it’s my birthday…

If you read Wednesday’s post, you’ll know I’m in the middle of series about throwing the best damned B-day party ever — where the B stands for beer, glorious beer! In this post I’m getting down and dirty with the specifics on how I went about this extravaganza.

I spent the month prior to the party relentlessly planning it. Some things I figured out with relative ease, like the beer-infused party favors and the beer shaped cake (thank you Pastrygirl for making my beer-filled dream come true!).

Hell, even finding super fun beer-shaped candles was a surprisingly easy feat (at least for my friend DB who scored them at a local cake decorating place).

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Beer-Candied Pralines & Planning my Brew-Day!

Beer-Candied Pecans

Planning my birthday is seriously one of my favorite things to do. I pick a theme months in advance and then slowly dedicate myself to making invitations, buying decorations, practicing cake recipes, etc. (This kind of “birthday black hole” is why I haven’t been around much the last two weeks — too much to do!)

But there’s one thing I definitely love more than my birthday — and that is beer. Sweet, sweet beer. I often say that if given the choice between my kegerator or my wedding ring, the keg would win out. I’m (mostly) joking.

So to help celebrate my love for the hoppy, malty nectar of the gods, this year I decided my birthday party theme should be beer. And oh, trust me, this theme proved to be a contender for the best idea I’ve ever had.

But we’ll get to that in time…For now, welcome to the first in my “brew-day” series. To kick-off this series we will be making beer-candied pecans. And, yes, they are amazing.

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The best accompaniment for a new recipe is an old friend

Ricotta & Parmesan Stuffed Sweet Peppers

Ricotta & Parmesan Stuffed Sweet Peppers

Having grown up in a small town, it’s often hard for me to recall how long I’ve known someone or when I first met them. I’ve known my best friend, Nikki Sea, since before I can remember and most of my graduating class in high school I knew in preschool.

One of the people I have no recollection of being introduced to is my friend Florence. I actually remember her from my kindergarten class, though it’s very possible we met before that. While she and I were never really close, we shared enough mutual good friends to stay aware of each other throughout the years, though we could have very easily never spoken again after high school.

But strangely, as social media fate would have it, I can thank Myspace for reconnecting us about 6 or 7 years ago. I can also thank our shared love for drinking wine, eating good food and gossiping about our former schoolmates for cementing our growing friendship.

While she is currently living in Alaska, every summer Florence spends a few weeks in Portland, taking classes and tests for her studies. And every visit she sends me a text, sometimes after a full 12 months with no contact, saying she is in town. And just like that, it’s on — we do what we do best: we drink a bottle of bubbles and stuff ourselves silly while rehashing the past and catching up on the present.

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Messy, awesome & delicious: scenes from a crawfish boil

Portland Crawfish Boil

Crawfish Boil in St. Johns

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you’re probably familiar with that bridge in the background. It’s the St Johns bridge in Portland, OR and it means I’m cooking at my friend DB’s house.

These pictures were all taken at his Fourth of July crawfish boil. Being a bit crazy, he shipped 45# of live crawfish from Louisiana. Then, worried he would run short on food, he bought an additional 10# of Oregon crawfish. I had no idea we even had local crawfish!

Each batch was cooked in a flavorful broth of seasonings, onions, garlic and lemons. Potatoes were thrown in first and then the crawfish were added. Once they were bright red and cooked through, the heat was turned off, corn and andouille sausages were added and the mixture sat for 20 minutes to allow all of the flavors to permeate.

Then the pot was dumped out on a newspaper-covered table for guests to enjoy.

And enjoy, we did. When I left, completely stuffed full of great food, he was on batch number four, with another 10-12# of live crawfish still remaining!

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Summer succotash & impromptu dance parties

Summer Succotash (a la April Bloomfield)

Summer Succotash (a la April Bloomfield)

My friend DB and I try to cook together as often as possible — switching off Saturdays so we each get a reprieve from traveling (we live on opposite ends of town). Cooking at his house is always a very different experience than cooking at my own.

I’m courteous with my neighbors, but we certainly aren’t close, and on my weekends to host our cook-fests, it’s almost always just the two of us. DB, on the other hand, seems to know everyone within a two-mile radius of his place, and they know they are welcome to stop by and visit whenever he’s home.

At his house, I’ve become accustomed to having a crowd of hungry, sweaty and slightly intoxicated softball players show up (his housemate plays in a league) or perhaps just random neighbors who heard tales of homemade pizza being made. In the beginning, I was a little awkward, as I rarely saw the same person twice. But now there’s a group of people that I feel comfortable with, and the conversation flows as easily as the beer does.

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A Very Martha Memorial Day, Part 1: The Savory

Martha Stewart's Macaroni and Cheese

Martha Stewart’s Macaroni and Cheese

While in reality I may not strive to be totally like her, I can say with complete honesty that I really love Martha Stewart. I think it’s awesome that she came out of prison missing fresh lemons the most. And the fact that she can make a crumb cake with Ludacris and bake brownies with Snoop Dogg just endears me further. Martha seems to be able to bounce back — better than ever — no matter what happens to her and I admire that.

I also admire her seemingly always perfect recipes. There’s a reason the woman is an internationally famous domestic goddess. I haven’t ever had a recipe of hers turn out sub-par, which is why I chose several of them for our (pre*) Memorial Day party.

*My MO for Memorial Day (and Labor Day) is to host a BBQ on the Sunday prior. This is useful in case people have already made plans for Monday and it allows me to spend that day recouping and relaxing instead of entertaining. It’s a win/win strategy that I highly suggest.

Anyways, my husband wanted to do a traditional “Americana-style” BBQ. This means he was in charge of the grill — a task he took to happily, deciding to smoke a rather hefty (13 pound) beef brisket over apple wood. Here’s a sneak peek:

Applewood Smoked Beef Brisket

Applewood Smoked Beef Brisket

Oh yeah…it was serious!

I, on the other, took control of the side dishes. My husband had mentioned wanting mac and cheese so I used this recipe of Martha’s, which has a cult-like following online with commenters referring to it as “crackaroni” since it’s impossible to quit eating. Totally accurate name by the way, I actually had to pry myself away from the pan.

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