Sparkles

I wholeheartedly believe in retail therapy. But the bad part about retail therapy during the holidays is all of the sales – it makes it even more challenging to exert any sort of self-control. Then add the current retail obsession with all-things-glitter for holiday parties. It’s turned into a “one for you, two for me” kind of month.

My most recent purchases – as in the last two weeks – include six pairs of glitter encrusted earrings, three different glitter-colored nail polishes, glitter embellished high heels, eye shimmer (what am I, 13?) and a sans-glitter cookbook. I suppose it could be worse?

Essie Winter Leading Lady

Photo by Beautezine.

I’ve spent a lot of late nights recently painting my nails from day-to-day. First up was Essie’s Leading Lady. A deep crimson red with glitter. Definitely will be wearing this again on Christmas Eve.

Disco Dolls

My go-to work color has been Nicole by OPI Disco Dolls. Now I know this is part of the Kardashian Kolor nail polish line (ugh, they spell color with a K!), but who’s judging? Gold glitter matches my favorite gold glitter ballet flats.

Essie Mochacino

Essie’s Mochacino will be my January color. It’s a bright gray with a light glitter shimmer and reminds me of winter snow days.

Nine West Flax Pewter

I am still eagerly awaiting the arrival of these Nine West Flax Pewter Glitter classic pointy toe heels. Not that I have plans to go anywhere at the moment where I will be wearing these, but I just. Needed. Them. Even if I wear them for myself on New Year’s Eve in my apartment for my champagne and movie-watching marathon.

I’ll be taking a break from posting for the next week or so while I drive the few miles home to Baltimore for Christmas, and spend personal time back in D.C. finding closure to 2012 before everyone returns to the city from their travels. All of the emotions from the last several weeks and questions that will hopefully get answered in the next ten days need to come to a head so I can decide where 2013 is going to take me. In the meantime, enjoy sipping on a few of these sparkling champagne cocktails, all on my to-try list this week – Cranberry Clementine Prosecco, Pear Rum Blush and Pomegranate-Champagne Punch.

Christmas Cards

As a kid, mom and dad would spend a December Saturday with a box or two of store-bought Christmas cards at the kitchen table with the address book. Each card got a new year’s greeting and a signature, sealed inside an envelope, addressed, and stamped. Simple.

Fast forward a few years. Christmas cards started to include long, typed mass produced letters with a synopsis of the last year – who was playing what sport or had broken that bone or got accepted to this college – along with a few photos from summer vacation added digitally through this newfangled thing called a scanner.

Last year, the Christmas cards that arrived in my mailbox began to cross a threshold; the digital photo postcards created by online companies like Snapfish and the like with engagement and wedding and birth and family photos outnumbered those old-fashioned store-bought boxed cards with a handwritten note.

I still buy the store-bought boxed cards. I don’t have an engagement or a wedding or children to put on display on the front of my cards – unless of course I used a photo of myself, in which case my friends would probably submit me to some “Awkward Family Photos” website for singles. I also still write a customized handwritten note for each recipient, longer than the generic two-sentence holiday greeting. It’s one holiday tradition that I think is important to preserve and your one chance before the end of the year to make that personal connection with a friend you haven’t kept in touch with or make a wrong a right.

It took me writing several cards per night for two weeks straight to check off every person on my list. Some nights exhaustion or the carpel tunnel in my hand stopped me. But many more nights I was an emotional stress ball – any watermarks are just proof of authenticity.

I saved the hardest Christmas card for last. The one I’ve agonized for days over whether to send or not. And it couldn’t just be a boxed card. I perused the greeting card aisles for half an evening and then considered stashing it away in the desk drawer with the leftover boxed ones that inevitably get passed on to someone else the following year.

And then, what do I write?

The truth won out, like it always does for me. No elusive words or pretend niceties. At least for today, I’m now out of words.

One Line a Day

This isn’t a Thanksgiving recipe, so I apologize if I burst your bubble.

A wise chicken once said, “Take it one day at a time.”

Back in September, when I was counting down the weeks and days until 7,926 miles didn’t separate us, I bought a “One Line a Day” journal. I’ve always been horrible at writing on a consistent basis – as demonstrated by this blog alone. I figured this might be my best shot at it and passing the time. I mean, how hard can writing one to two sentences to fill five lines be? I did really well at working through my thoughts until October 22, exactly one month ago. Then I just stopped.

I’ll admit I’ve been an emotional mess even if I’ve done a somewhat decent job of hiding it the few times I’ve seen friends in the recent weeks. I’ve turned into that girl. The one who cries in her boss’ office to her boss and to her co-worker in her boss’ office when her boss isn’t there because there’s no where to hide in an office building of thousands. The one who cries in an elevator to a stranger because they say you look sad and in random public places. Any of the few people who know the extent of my relationship history and the unbelievable sh-t I’ve been through know I’ve never been that girl (well, except that one time in a Chinatown alley, but that was something no one has yet to relate to).

I’m having a hard time processing how I can be bitter toward someone I’ve never met – and then so disrespected and angry toward another, yet still miss them every day and care the world about them. It all seems like an oxymoron. I don’t think I’ve ever been this confused or felt as bad about myself as I do.

It’s now Thanksgiving Eve and I’m sitting on sofa, alone, in the dark and drunk after a liquid dinner of a bottle of champagne and a bottle of wine. I’m supposed to be going home tomorrow, but to be honest, I haven’t felt like myself in weeks and have been considering every excuse possible to skip Thanksgiving (and hell, every holiday that follows to take me straight into 2013) to stay right here on my sofa.

I pulled out my “One Line a Day” journal tonight. I figured like the wise chicken said, I have to start somewhere, and maybe that and this is an easy place to start where I can stay within the safe confines of my sofa and sweatpants.

Today’s entry: I’m thankful for Christmas trees before Thanksgiving and after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Charlie Brown holiday specials. And champagne. Lots of champagne.

Roasted Artichoke Salad

Antipasto: Roasted Artichoke Salad

You know what’s good? Leftover brasato al barolo ragu sauce. I’d venture to say the meat only became more tender when reheated in the oven over gnocchi, and the flavor of the barolo wine has completely fused with the tomato sauce.

You know what’s also good? Roasted artichoke salad. I have mentioned my obsession with Ina Garten before. A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to catch the episode at the gym while I was on the elliptical when she makes this antipasto and baked shrimp scampi. Since I’ve already raved about the baked shrimp scampi, it was only a matter of time until I made her artichoke salad.

I’ve made a few changes from her original recipe and have cut the recipe in half. Served atop a bed of arugula and baby spinach with fresh mozzarella drizzled with olive oil, this makes a great antipasto that is served at room temperature and generously serves six. The flavors of the roasted artichokes and red pepper are a tasty balance to the zing from the basil-white wine vinegar vinaigrette. If you have a larger crowd or would like to make this into a full side salad, I recommend doubling the recipe below.

Roasted Artichoke Salad

Roasted Artichoke Salad

Adapted from Barefoot Contessa: Ina Garten

2 boxes (9 oz. each) frozen artichokes hearts, defrosted
EVOO
1 large red pepper, cored and halved
Salt and pepper
1 shallot, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons white wine or champagne vinegar
1/2 cup fresh chopped basil leaves
2 tablespoons capers, drained
1/4 cup red onion, chopped
1/4 cup chopped parsley leaves
2 pinches crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. On a baking pan, spread artichokes and red pepper face down. Drizzle EVOO generously over the artichokes and season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes.

To make the vinaigrette, place the minced shallot, lemon juice, mustard, vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Process for five seconds. Add the basil leaves and process into a green puree. With the processor running, slowly pour 1/4 cup olive oil into the bowl through the feed tube until the ingredients are finely pureed. Set aside.

Place the roasted red pepper in a bowl covered with plastic wrap for 20 minutes to allow it to sweat. This will help the skin to peel away from the pepper.

Place the artichoke hearts in a bowl and toss enough vinaigrette to moisten. Add the sliced red pepper, chopped red onion, capers, parsley and red pepper flakes. Taste and add more vinaigrette as desired. Let stand for 30 minutes to allow flavors to blend before serving.

Limoncello Panna Cotta with Blueberries

Limoncello Panna Cotta with Blueberries

Oh, limoncello. How I have a love/hate relationship with you! When limoncello and I were first introduced at a small hideaway on the streets of Florence, I quickly learned (four “shots” later) that Italians sip limoncello as an after-dinner drink… not take it as a shot as it is presented. Stupid Americans.

When I found this recipe I knew I had to try it. For all of my friends that complain all of my recipes are complicated, this one is for you. There is barely any cooking involved, and only five ingredients, one of which is water!

This is great for entertaining because you can make it a day in advance, refrigerate and serve immediately. All you need are ramekins, custard cups or you can even serve the panna cotta in small champagne glasses.

I also highly suggest making the limoncello glaze to accompany the panna cotta and blueberries. The girls thought the glaze made it extra-limoncello-y… I personally didn’t think it was that strong. Then again, I had already downed three filled-to-the-brim glasses of wine on a nearly empty stomach (I had been preparing myself for this amazing dinner I made!). I’m also thinking this blueberry sauce made by Jessica over at How Sweet It Is could be equally amazing.

Limoncello Panna Cotta with Blueberries

Limoncello Panna Cotta with Blueberries

Adapted from Bell’Alimento

1 pint heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup Limoncello
.25 oz. (1 packet) Knox gelatin
3 tablespoons cold water

Glaze
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 tablespoon Limoncello
1 pint fresh blueberries

In a medium size bowl, add the cold water and sprinkle the Knox gelatin on top. Do not stir, and set aside.

In a small saucepan, place whipping cream and sugar over medium heat. Stirring frequently with a spoon or whisk until well combined, cook until it nears boiling. Remove from heat, add Limoncello and stir well to combine.

If you are using custard cups or ramekins, spray lightly with cooking spray as you will be inverting the panna cotta onto plates to serve. If you are using small champagne glasses, you can skip this step!

Slowly pour the cream mixture over the gelatin mixture and stir well until combined. Divide among your custard cups and refrigerate for a minimum of two hours or until firm. Serve with blueberries, limoncello glaze or blueberry sauce, or a combination of your favorite fresh fruits!

Brasato al Barolo Ragu Sauce

Brasato al Barolo Ragu Sauce

There’s a book called “Like Water for Chocolate.” The main character, Tita, communicates her love and emotions through the food she cooks, flavoring each dish based on her feelings–hopes, expectations and desires. It wasn’t until this weekend that I realized I am, in this sense, Tita.

I’ll be honest with you all. I was supposed to have a date Saturday evening. This was the first time in a very long time I was genuinely excited about a date. Cooking for someone I have found is something I guard as very private. It is my greatest passion and I don’t want to share it with just anyone. I invested a lot of thought into what I was going to cook for my date. I knew we both had a love of Italian food, and wanted to pour all my effort into creating not only a casual and romantic meal, but a new dish that wasn’t defined by any recipe I’ve ever read.

The menu: roasted artichoke salad with arugula, fresh mozzarella and olive oil; gnocchi with brasato al barolo ragu sauce; and limoncello panna cotta with blueberries. Let’s not forget a very expensive bottle of wine to top it off.

Much to my disappointment the date was canceled… at the 11th hour. Approximately 20 hours into cooking. The best thing that came out of this was that while I had already made the tomato base of the ragu sauce, I hadn’t cut the brasato al barolo yet. I feel bad for that poor piece of beef sitting on the cutting board with my santoku knife now…

I’m very fortunate to have a great group of girl friends who canceled their own plans for the evening to come and eat my dinner by candlelight, drink wine and go out to the bar.

I will admit, I truly think this is the best dinner I have ever cooked. I felt pressured my cooking wasn’t going to live up to my guest’s expectations. I certainly had nothing to worry about. I don’t know when I’ll ever cook this again. Recipes can become both good and bad memories, just like a photograph. So enjoy this one for me and only share it with someone special (it does take two days to make after all!). In the meantime, I think my future dates are going to have to settle for Ellio’s Pizza slices out of the box (yes, the pizza you’re served in the school cafeteria) until I’m ready to share.

Note: Today’s recipe is Gnocchi with Brasato al Barolo Ragu Sauce. I will post the Limoncello Panna Cotta with Blueberries recipe on Tuesday, and the Roasted Artichoke Salad on Wednesday.

Brasato al Barolo Ragu Sauce

Brasato al Barolo Ragu Sauce

EVOO
3-4 cloves minced garlic
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1-28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
2-12 oz. cans tomato paste + 2 cans water per can of paste
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
Chopped basil

Brasato al Barolo

2-2 1/2 lb. boneless eye-of-round beef roast or other lean cut
2 cups Barolo wine
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
2 carrots, sliced
1 celery stalk, chopped
3 garlic cloves
1 small fresh rosemary sprig
1 bay leaf
10 black peppercorns
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons EVOO
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 slices prosciutto, chopped
3 plum tomatoes, chopped with their juices

1 package gnocchi
Basil for garnish
Grated Parmesan cheese

The tomato sauce for this recipe comes from my Big Nona’s (great-grandmother’s) kitchen. My mom would say it tastes best if you prepare the tomato sauce at least one day in advance, cool completely and refrigerate before serving.

In a large pot, coat the entire bottom with EVOO. Add the minced garlic, sliced onion and crushed red pepper. Cook on medium heat for approximately 10-15 minutes until onions are completely softened.

Next, add the can of crushed tomatoes, stirring frequently scraping the bottom of the pot to keep the tomatoes from sticking. Cook for approximately 15 minutes until flavors can combine.

Add tomato paste and two cans of water per can of tomato paste to the tomato base. Add salt, pepper, sugar and basil. Stir and cook until contents reach a near boil. Lower temperature to low heat and cover with a tilted lid, allowing steam to escape. This will help thicken the sauce. Simmer stirring frequently to keep from burning for 90 minutes. Cool completely and refrigerate.

Place the beef roast in a large glass bowl. Add wine, onions, carrots, celery, garlic, rosemary, bay leaf, peppercorns and salt. Cover and refrigerate allowing to marinate for a minimum of 6-7 hours.

Remove beef roast from marinade and dry completely, reserving marinade. Heat EVOO and butter in a large skillet on medium heat and add prosciutto. Once prosciutto has started to sizzle, place the beef roast in the pan. Brown and sear on each side for approximately 3 minutes.

Remove beef roast from the pan and place in a crockpot or slow cooker. Pour reserved marinade into the slow cooker, plus chopped plum tomatoes and their juices, and cook for several hours until beef begins to “pull away.” Note: This took approximately 5-6 hours in my slow cooker.

Begin to reheat the tomato sauce on medium heat. Once beef roast is cooked, slice and pull away the roast into shreds. Add the beef roast, carrots and celery to the tomato sauce. Simmer on medium-low heat for 1-1 1/2 hours. The meat will become more tender and fall apart in the sauce.

Bring a pot of water to boil and cook gnocchi as instructed. Pour brasato al barolo ragu sauce over gnocchi, and garnish with fresh basil and grated Parmesan cheese.