Sunday, December 21, 2014

Last Minute

I'm really proud this year; for once, I've managed to complete all of my Christmas shopping a few weeks in advance. That's usually not the case, though, and I've become a sort of expert when it comes to last minute gifts. So if you're anything like me and panicking about the next 3 days, here are a few tried and true last minute gift and stocking stuffer ideas that don't include a Starbucks gift card:

The Handmade Scarf: Can you knit? Even the most elementary knitters (like myself) can bang out a pretty scarf before the big day arrives. It's a more thoughtful approach to a simple gift, and can be personalized with its wearer's favorite colors. Want to update the classic style a little? Sew the ends together with extra yarn to make an infinity scarf, or weave some ribbon through the finished knit. Tadaaa!

Fancy Coffee/Cocoa in a mug: Homegoods (HomeSense in the UK) is a great one-stop shop for this sort of thing. If your gift recipient is a coffee, tea, or cocoa drinker, you can find some one-of-a-kind luxurious beverages/mixes and unique mugs. Maybe even through some fancy cookies or chocolates in the mix, as well.  When in doubt, try Anthropologie for the classic monogram mugs (if you know someone who doesn't own one yet). Foodies on your list this year might love some spicy Mexican hot chocolate mix, and who doesn't love a little mini bottle of Bailey's for their Christmas morning coffee?

Handpainted Ornaments: Grab some acrylic paints, some plain glass ornament balls, and get to painting! Personalize it with family names and the year/date and a few sparkles. Here's a little inspiration: paint a row of snowmen representing each family member, with different facial expressions. Have an old bean bag toy lying around? Use the filling beads to fill your ornament with "snow"! Personalized ornaments are so popular, and this is an inexpensive handmade option that can turn out to be super cute.

Gift Wrapping: This isn't a gift idea, but a fun idea for the holidays nonetheless. Put a little laughter into your gift giving by wrapping up your gift to be it's actual shape. Wrapping a sweater? Leave the sleeves out and wrap the item as it is! It's a fun and funny way to brighten up an otherwise usual gift.
Or, perhaps try decoy gift wrapping: disguise your gift as something completely different, whether by shape or by placing a small item in a ridiculously disproportionately large box.

Have any other great ideas for last-minute holiday gifts? Feel free to make suggestions in the comments!

*all found images*

Friday, December 19, 2014

You Have to Smile

First of all, as I write, I am currently 8 people away from having 20,000 views on this blog. Twenty. Thousand. For some bloggers, that's not much - but when I started this little blog nearly 4 years ago, I never expected it to be what it is. I never expected blogging to become such a huge part of my life - between this personal one, and my food blog, I've had so much fun and met so many people and talented other bloggers along the way. So here's a thank you to all of my readers! I can't wait for the next 20,000.

Today is about appreciating the little things. As Christmas is fast approaching in less than a week, the last-minute gift shopping and wrapping can get in the way of remembering why we're celebrating, and how valuable this little season is for bringing family and all sorts of people together. So whether you're volunteering, celebrating, or hosting a family gathering - take a minute to really notice how wonderful it is. You simply have to smile.

Even if your head gets chopped off in the family Christmas party photo.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What's Cooking: Easy Homemade Pasta

This recipe is from my food blog, Street Cred. Click on the photo below to check it out!

BUM-BUM-BUM! I know that this might sound intimidating, but please trust me, it's not. If you can roll out sugar cookies, you can make pasta. No lie! When I started making my own pasta about a year ago, I didn't even own a rolling pin - I used an empty wine bottle to roll out my dough. And it worked great! So there is no need for a fancy pasta machine, and in about half an hour you can have amazing fresh handmade pasta.

do have the advantage of owning a pasta machine now, since it was an anniversary gift this year (and a hint that the hubs wants me to make pasta more often). If you make pasta using this recipe and you decide that it's worth the time, effort, and you like to know exactly what's in your food - you can pick up a basic hand crank model like mine for about 20 bucks (or pounds, or whatever your unit of currency is). It still won't save you from the upper body workout that is kneading dough, but hey! The more calories you burn, the more of that fantastic pasta you can eat later.

So, without further adieu, here are the ingredients for my pasta recipe:

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (plus a little more for dusting)
3 large eggs

That's it! I swear! That's all that goes into pasta. Or, should I say, it should be. This stuff can be hang dried or refrigerated for up to a week, so even if you don't use this whole batch at once, it won't go to waste. Typically this makes 6-8 servings, depending on your appetite. I made lasagna noodles this time around, and about 1/3 of the dough was leftover and cut into fettucini for the later this week. 

Make sure your work surface is washed clean and dried thoroughly. You can use a large cutting board, but I prefer a nonporous surface like a countertop. Place your flour in a pile, then hollow out the center to create a well. Crack all 3 eggs into the center well of your flour, and whisk gently with a fork (if you'd prefer, you can whisk before pouring into your flour). While stirring with the fork, gradually incorporate flour from the center edges of the well. 

When the flour is about 2/3 incorporated, you can begin mixing with your hand until a ball of dough has formed. This dough will probably be flaking off and quite messy now, and that's when the fun of kneading begins! Knead the dough ball using the heel of your hand. Flatten, fold over, and repeat. Continue this for about 8-10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and stops cracking when kneaded. It's extremely important to knead the dough, since this process gives the pasta its elasticity. 

When your dough ball is ready to be rolled out, clean and dry your work surface, and dust it with a layer of flour. Divide the ball of dough into 3-4 even pieces, and work with one at a time. Dust the top of the dough and your rolling pin (or rolling wine bottle) with flour, and begin rolling! If you're using a pasta machine, you can probably begin rolling in the machine once you have the dough at about 3/8" thickness. If you are rolling by hand, skip the rest of this paragraph and see below!
For machine rolling, start on the lowest (biggest) setting, #1, and each time the dough is rolled through, increase the number by 1. I like my lasagna noodles to be a #6 thickness, and my linguine to be a #7. Unless you're making angel hair pasta, I don't think it's really necessary to roll anything out to the thinnest setting, but that's a personal preference. I like a little substance to my pasta. Then you can either use one of the cutting wheels on your pasta machine, or remove your pasta and cut it by hand (instructions below).

For hand rolling dough, roll into a large flat sheet of desired thickness - about 1/8" is usually good. Dust the top of the pasta sheet well with flour, then fold over in half. Repeat until you have a log shaped roll of pasta. Then, using a sharp knife that is lightly dusted in flour, simply slice your log into the desired thickness. Here's a good little demo video, in case you'd like a visual for this process. Shake out your cut pasta so that it doesnt stick together, and dust with another tbsp or so of flour if you're not planning to cook it right away. 

Simply repeat this process (whether by hand or machine) for the rest of the remaining dough, and voila! The first time I made this, I think it took about 20 minutes, so please don't be intimidated - give it a try! You'll never want to buy store-bought pasta again.