Monday, January 31, 2011

Best Ice Cream Ever?


Some of you might remember our post on Vegan & Coffee Free.  In an attempt to find the perfect dairy milk substitute, we may have stumbled upon our favorite milk beverage yet: Coconut Milk!  Not to be confused with "coconut milk" found in cans and used in cooking (think Thai coconut curry), this is the equivalent of almond milk or soy milk.  We tried "So Delicious" vanilla, which was on sale at the local EarthFare store.  In addition to being delicious in lattes, cereal, hot chocolate or drinking by itself, we wondered if there was anything else you can do with So Delicious.  We were familiar with the ice creams sold under the same brand name, and thought they were awesome, but were daunted by multiple ice cream recipes online with BOLDED CAPITAL LETTER caveats threatening our first-born child if we dared tamper with their precious recipes.  And we believed them, as our first few attempts at making ice cream with our ice cream maker were so-so at best.

After a frustrating day searching endlessly for an ice cream recipe featuring our new found beverage, we were empty-handed (and hungry!).  We thought, what is the worst that could happen if we just experiment?  End up with delicious coconut melted ice cream?  And thus we proceeded to take the simple chocolate ice cream recipe that came with the machine and substitute So Delicious in place of whole dairy milk, and a can of Trader Joe's Light Coconut Milk (aka the canned stuff) in place of heavy whipping cream.  We sat back and awaited disaster...


The result? To say we were pleasantly surprised is an understatement! The coconut milk made some of the creamiest ice cream we've made so far, and it tasted amazing, and the coconut flavour was quite subtle. And even more incredible, this recipe worked on the first try! We can't wait to experiment and tweak the recipe, but in the meantime, here's our recipe for Chocolate Ice Cream made with 'So Delicious Coconut Beverage': 

  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups 'So Delicious Coconut Beverage'
  • 3 1/4 cups (about 2 cans) Coconut milk (NOT light coconut milk)
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Before starting, make sure you follow your machine's instructions, which usually includes freezing the mixing bowl overnight! 

Place the cocoa & sugars in a bowl & stir. Add the So Delicious and use a mixer or whisk to combine until the solids are dissolved (about 1 min).

Stir in the coconut milk & vanilla. Turn on ice cream machine & pour the mixture into the frozen bowl. It takes about 20-30 minutes until it's soft and creamy. At this point it's perfectly edible, but for a firmer texture, transfer to an airtight container (see below) & freeze for about 2 hours or more. Remove from freezer 15 minutes before serving. Enjoy!
We packaged it in a leftover plastic ice cream tub from another gelato brand called Talenti
CONTRARY TO OTHER ICE CREAM RECIPES: We encourage experimenting with coconut milk (beverage) or other non-dairy ice creams as there appears to be a lack of recipes online.  Let us know your results and recipe success stories!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Car Hunting

So the time has come to introduce a new member into the Amato household... a new pet? A baby? A quirky piece of oddly-named IKEA furniture? Actually we are looking to purchase a new (well, probably used to be precise) car in the next 6 months before we move. Some background:

When we met, Tony had a 1997 Honda Civic with 145,000 miles on it & Robin had a 1997 Honda Civic with 145,000 miles on it. Coincidence? Anyway, we thought it best to sell one of them before one or both of them died and we could actually still get some money for it. Since they had the same amount of miles on them, we figured they'd both die at the same time and wanted to at least have ONE working car come that sad day. As luck would have it, Tony's parents had a 2007 Honda Civic coupe that they were willing to sell us for cheap and we managed to sell Robin's 1997 Civic by coincidence when one of Tony's coworkers overheard him talking about selling the car on the phone. Fast forward a few months of dealing with out-of-state banks for the loan & title and we are the proud new owners of a 2007 Civic that we've completely paid off.


With Tony's car aging (going on 160,000) and appraised at only $775 trade-in value, it still works just fine but again how much longer does it have? Our worst fear is that it will poop out on us while he is at grad school and we only have one income and a need for 2 working cars. We won't bore you with details, but long story short we are looking at buying a replacement while it's not urgent, and here are some of our thoughts:

-MUST have 4 doors (we already have one 2-door car)
-We would like a hatchback for the storage capabilities
-We do not want an SUV (despite increased storage) since we don't have any large pets or kids, and can't afford a gas guzzler for both $ and the environment's sake
-We are also thinking about used cars for the value
-Budget is $15,000
-Want to buy, not lease

Source


So far, frontrunners include the Honda Fit, Kia Soul, and Nissan Versa. We aren't big on domestic cars and we LOVE our Honda. We started our venture into car buying at Carmax, and then crossed the street to the Kia dealership, where the new cars were as affordable as most of the 2007 Honda's at Carmax. We test drove the Versa and Soul among a few others, and are yet to drive our preliminary fav, the Fit. So far, Tony's sold on the Kia Soul, although neither of us is a big fan of it's boxy look.

Source


Does anyone have any insight either with the car buying experience or about a car that you know and love? We have so many questions, with the biggest being new vs. used? Stay tuned as we continue our hunt for the elusive perfect/cheap/functional car!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Semi DIY Aerogarden

Us being semi organic and all, we like to garden some.  Granted we live in an apartment so it makes it a little tricky.  Think balcony + pots.  We've been known to grow heirloom tomatoes and actually be semi successful.  As a rider package to our traditional gardening we have an Aerogarden.  This baby is amazing!  It grows plants from seeds hydroponically under special grow lights.  All you have to do is program it and fill with water when the light indicates every week or so.  It works so well and so quickly!  Here is a shot from our last Aerogarden adventure:
tomatoes circa 2010
The one expensive part about the Aerogarden is buying the seeds pods every go-around.  The company sell all sorts of packages like herbs, lettuces, tomatoes, peppers, flowers etc.  We decided this time to make our own pods from our own seeds and craftiness.  We had some seeds already like tomatoes, basil & other herbs.  The official pods have 2-4 seeds per pod that are held in the foam cylinder inside the tank.  We thought that a regular kitchen sponge would suffice. 
We cut up the sponge.   Then placed the seeds between 2 sponges and placed inside the plastic cradles that sit in the tank.

Water continuously runs over the pods which is the key to growing hydroponically (apparently!)


Pardon the terrible iphone photos - the lighting is crazy.  On a good note it does light up our kitchen a ton!  We have it programed to come on in the morning and turn off around 9pm.  This cycle is set by the machine for 'herbs' and lets the plants do their thing when it's dark. 

We also started sprouting some other plants.  We found this way cool baking tray at goodwill and tried it out as a sprouting dish.  These larger plants like {all organic} tomatoes, green onions and carrots will get transplanted to our deck in larger pots when it gets warm.  Note: not sure how well they'll transplant to Richmond; we'll see.  These benefit from the aerogarden right now since they sit right up next to the light.  Win Win!


I'll keep updating on our progress!  Check back soon! 



Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Coffee

It's official  probable that I have a coffee intolerance.  Sad day.  I have come to the conclusion my stomach does not enjoy it as much as my taste buds do. 

My method: I faithfully abstained from coffee for one month.  I started to feel MUCH better!  No more stomach aches by the afternoon and surprisingly more energy.  So by month two I was interested to see what would happen if I drank coffee just once, "it'll be fiiinnnneee".  Boy was I wrong!  After a 6 oz coffee + 6 hrs I was not a happy Robin.   I had a couple more relapses (just to see) and had a cup while at work or an espresso at home.  These were not comfortable days.  I seem to get stomach pain very high up (not lower intestinal or anything) about 6 hours after drinking the delicious brew.  Is that weird?

Coffee with Milk.jpg
photo credit: tony

I've tried it black, with organic beans, with regular milk, soy milk, almond milk, that gross non-dairy-creamer we have at work, sugar, no sugar, other sweeteners and nothing makes a difference.  It's too bad since I just got some yummy new coffee syrups this past Christmas and adore lattes - especially made on our new espresso machine gifted at our wedding.  I'm coming to terms that coffee may not be in my future.  One day I suppose I could get medically allergy tested to see what comes up but up until now I've never seen the need as I'm not allergic/intolerant to anything.  I still love coffee flavored things (ice cream, cakes, desserts) and those are still a go; for now.

Ideas still to try (cling to): try caffeine free diet, low acid coffee, coffee alternatives, teeccino... learn to love tea?

le sigh... we'll see.  Bye coffee, I loved you.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Meals of the Week - January 24th


Since my meals-of-the-week posts (also) are very popular I'll continue the weekly tradition.  Wahoo!

So we do our grocery shopping on the weekend and then make our menu from there.  Unless I'm planning something specific or special we just buy whatever's on sale or fresh at the farmers market.  This week we haven't bought any meat - so meatless Mondays are turning into meatless weeks. 

enjoy.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Stylish Blogger Award!

I have been lucky enough to have some amazing readers!  I was very surprised and delighted to be awarded the Stylist blogger Award by Eric at the postgrad agenda!  Thanks Eric!  Last time I got an award was probably in 3rd grade when I got the handwriting award!  Yes handwriting - it was a British school; they care about those things.  Us Americans don't.  Anywho...
Now it appears I need to tell you seven facts about myself, and then pass on this prestigious award to a few other lucky bloggers, so here goes:

1. My favorite type of 'reading' is listening to audio books - I can go through one a week sometimes!

2. I both love and hate iTunes

3. I survive on chapstick

4. I convince myself I’m way neater than I actually am

5. I loved college but never want to go back for more

6. My iphone is attached to me at the hip

7. I've been to over 20 countries.

And now I present to you the next recipients of the Stylish Blogger Award:




KC at 200 Jobs

Candice & Alyssa at Nesting Newbies 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

how to find a place to live - pt. 2

Yes I've heard of online apartment search tools.  Yes we are moving and will need to find a place to live.  Yes I've used all of: craigslist.com, postlets.com, apartmentsearch.com, hotpads.com, apartmentlinks.com, vflyer.com, mynewplace.com, apartmenthomeliving.com, rentalhomepros.com, mynewplace.com, roomster.com and more!  Wanna know where you can search all these and more in ONE?  It's the Expedia of home hunting...

use Google Maps!

This is the Robin guide to find a place to live:

step 1: go to http://maps.google.com/
step 2: click "Show search options" on the top right, then in the pull down box that appears to the left of it click "Real estate"
step 3: type the city you'd like to look at. press enter.
step 4: {don't be blinded by the large amount of red circles} enter some info like price, rent/buy/foreclosure, beds/baths. 
step 5: start clicking those red circles!  I recommend opening each link in a new tab


This is truly the best!  It searches from a million sites.  You can search for rental or for sale housing.  You can check out the prices of houses in certain neighborhoods - it searches real estate too yes!  {Nosy much?}  It also can do foreclosures!  It continually updates if you zoom in/out or change areas.  You can star items you like and look at street view of the neighborhood.  Of course all the standard things google maps does - search directions, search nearby for shops, bars, etc.  It is Google after all - don't be surprised it's this amazing! 

See part 1 of my house hunting guide.  Since we don't know much about Richmond any and all information is helpful.  This is just another way I research about our move without having to go with 10 zillion websites when I can just use one!

We're still 7+ months away from moving and still keeping our options open as far as location and type of abode.  We're renting so we have lots of options.  A townhouse would be cool since it may have lots of storage.  We have a lot of stuff - purging may begin in 6 months.  Someplace like that or a rental house that comes with the freedom to do P90X in our own living room (a freedom we've never had) would be ideal.  Although the allure of living in the 'big city' like in the Fan District does seem pretty cool too - although with some costs.  An apartment in a big complex is at the bottom of our list - it's what we're in now.  It's not bad and has many pros like being newer for less bucks, access to gym etc.


a townhouse, little house or an apartment a Fan house?
Check back soon for a pros/cons list!

sources

edit: sorry folks this service no longer exists.  see this post for details.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Semi Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies

This semi vegan adventure was inspired by my brother in law Josh, but taken from the original NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® chocolate chip cookie recipe.  Josh made this recipe vegan on his own!  Really amazing!  I thought I liked cooking but never enough to actually make my own recipe!  Impressive.  So to make a classic vegan-ized you need to substitute butter for vegan margarine, and eggs for something else.  Josh came up with using apple sauce and sweet potato.  Genius!  (and tasty)

Josh's Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 1/4 c. all purp. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 c. vegan margarine
3/4 c. granulated sugar
3/4 c. light brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tbsp. unsweetened applesauce
1 medium sweet potato
2 c. vegan chocolate chips
1 c. chopped nuts (optional)

COMBINE flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat margarine, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy.  Poke a few steam holes in the sweet potato and microwave until soft.  Peel skin from cooked potato and combine with sugar mixture and beat well.  Add applesauce and beat.  Slowly beat in flour mixture.  Let cool for 5 minutes (or else steaming hot sweet potato will melt your chocolate chips).  Stir in morsels and nuts (optional).  Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.

BAKE at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes.  You can freeze the dough as little nubbins & cook from frozen.  Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Made 42 cookies (I think)

For cakier cookies - use less potato & applesauce.

As you can see we didn't entirely use vegan products.  We didn't have vegan margarine (personally not a fan of margarine) and we used regular chocolate chips.  Didn't make much difference - still came out YUM!



This step came out soupier than traditional cookie recipee - I think we may have added too much apple sauce. 





Yumm!!!  They came out great!  Like I said we may have mis-measured our applesauce so it was ever so slightly runnier than expected.  STILL, came out great, they were nice and very soft - even 2 days later!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

It's all white

Hand-me-downers unite!  After looking at my dresser for 2 years we finally decided to give it a make over.  This was my father's dresser when he was a bachelor.  Making this dresser waaayyyy old.  Since it was such a well make piece originally we decided that a fresh coat of paint would spruce it up!  It had lots of water damage, stains, crayon marks (from when we were tots) and other non desire ables.

I've read YHL's blog enough to easily find their furniture painting tutorial and go from there.  We sanded, used oil based primer and high gloss regular white paint off the shelf.  I'm not sure we exactly went with the recommended wait times... we sorta skipped that and re-did a 2nd coat once it was sorta dry.  We used both a foamy roller and a cheap brush to get the job done.


disregard all the mess - clothes, hair dryer, random medical sign
notice the before hardware
Another before shot.  lots of marks and stains but nice high quality wood!

me painting after priming - in the middle of our living room yes!
we added nice new handles and 2 coats of fresh white paint to match the existing drawers!
We chose new hardware to match the other dresser we have in our bedroom.  While the other dresser is a dark stained wood and now mine is white, I think they still 'go'.  Sorry for the lack of 'pretty' after shot.

This was my very first home improvement project!  And we didn't even need to own a home!  Also while we had the paint and equipment out, we decided to re-paint our coffee table too.  Dear husband had painted it brown a while back and it just wasn't doin' it for us.  See if you can find a before shot here.  Now it's white too!! 


What was your first home improvement project?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Hummingbird Cake

Saturday was a baking kind of day.  We decided to make hummingbird cake (as found here) since we had a sugar craving.  To preface... this is NOT organic, nor healthy (well it could be organic).  Apparently a southern classic we found the recipe online originally taken from quite appropriately Southern Living here.

Cake-14

Cake-9

Cake-8

Yield: 16 servings (HA!)
Ingredients:
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup vegetable oil (we used 3/4 cup oil and 1/4 cup of chunky apple sauce)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple, undrained (we used chunky pineapple)
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 2 cups chopped bananas (we used 3 bananas large chunk style)
  • Cream Cheese Frosting
  • 1/2  cup  chopped pecans
  • we added coconut flakes in between frosting layers.

Preparation

Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl; add eggs and oil, stirring until dry ingredients are moistened. (Do not beat.) Stir in vanilla, pineapple, 1 cup pecans, and bananas.  Pour batter into three greased and floured 9-inch round cakepans. Bake at 350° for 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes; remove from pans, and cool completely on wire racks.  Spread Cream Cheese Frosting between layers and on top and sides of cake; sprinkle 1/2 cup chopped pecans on top. Store in refrigerator.

Here is a sort of photo montage of the steps.  We basically combined all the dry ingredients, then added the wet stuff.  Then baked in three 9" greased/floured pans and skimmed off the rounded cake tops once cool.  Then once all three cakes were cool and level we used our (cough cough) store bought frosting to make a semi smooth outside layer.  Topped with pecans and coconut and it was done!


all photos courtesy of Tony.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Our Semi Organic Meals of the Week - Jan 10th


More meals for the week!!! 
Coming soon: tutorials of our favorite foods.  Starting with PIZZA!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

One Year of Fancy Dining

For our first year of marriage Tony and I have treated ourselves to one fancy dinner date out each month for a whole year.  It's a celebration of our first year together as a family and a fun date night while getting to enjoy all the fancy restaurants the Triangle has to offer.  Also we can only afford once a month.  These nice places ain't cheap!

  • June.  Angus Barn.  Our honeymoon flight got delayed 12 hours so our very first night (not counting the wedding) as a real married couple we spent not in Puerto Rico, but at our apartment.  We decided to go out to the nicest, fanciest, closest restaurant.  Angus Barn.  It's actually way more classy than the word "barn" indicates.  We got free champagne and flute glasses to keep as well as a free cake!
_MG_0820

  • July. Magnolia Grill.  Probably the best restaurant in the local area as agreed by many.  It's totally swanky with daily changing menus to reflect the local farms and chefs creations.  Very Amazing Food!  All great except this conversation to start our meal.

Robin: "I'd like to order a glass of a Riesling" (my fav.)

Server: "alright do you have an ID?"

Robin: awkward pause as T and I look at each other (are we really getting carded at the nicest restaurant withing 30 miles and we just told her we're newlyweds?) "um let me just look"...

I fake look in my purse knowing it's not there.  "I was just at the social security office this morning getting my name changed due to the marriage. (I emphasise marriage).  I don't appear to have it with me".  (Absolute truth)

Server: she gives me this 'I'm not budging grin'.

Robin: Completely embarrassed in front of all the swanky couples nearby who appear to be giving me sympathetic looks.  I contemplate walking out or ordering a Coke to spite her.  "Look I'm 25 I swear"

Tony: "I promise I didn't just marry anyone under 21, she's 25"

Server: she again gives us this 'I'm not budging grin'. "mumbles something about company policy"

Robin: "I think maybe I left it in the car" (total lie I don't think it is.) "Would you like us to go look?"

Server: " Yes that'd be great".

Tony: actually leaves the restaurant and walks (through the mud) to our car and miraculously finds my ID.
(5 minutes later)

Tony: hands me my ID (my 1st real life miracle)

Robin: (to the server) "Oh look we found my ID.  I'd like a glass of wine"

Server: glances at my ID.  "Oh you are 25, that is so young!"

Now I don't blame her for not budging after asking for the ID but talk about customer service!  I realize that once she asked for the ID she couldn't take it back.  I know there are rules and you never know who's watching but SERIOUSLY?!?  Not only were we totally embarrassed but I could tell everyone nearby was listening and felt bad.  I gave Tony this look like "I'm ready to walk away now" but we'd heard the food was amazing and we wanted to eat it!  Despite the rocky start the food was GREAT!  That night were were 100% organic! We're definitely going back (with our ID's).

August. Nana's
September. Four Square - tasted our first Foie gras and purple sweet potato.
October. Pho 9n9 - saw some minor local celebrities there.
November. Sawasdee Thai - burned our mouths with 3 chilli pepper levels of spicy.  NOT my idea but we switched entrees to taste (or cry from) each others food.
December. Schmidt Haus (Technically in Columbus, Ohio but still nice).  See photos here.
January. Watt's Grocery - saw another local celebrity.  We ate Hoppin' John cakes & hummingbird cake.

Overall this has been an amazing fun YUUMMMMMMMMM! 
Check back for more soon!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Our Semi Organic Meals of the week - Jan 3rd


I thought I'd finally post our meals of the week.  It helps to write them all out so you know what to make every day and you use all the fresh produce without letting any go to waste.  Usually T and I just take the leftovers from each night's meal for lunch the next day.  We ALWAYS 'brown bag' it.  I think I've bought a lunch at work once in over 2 years.  It makes it easy to stay healthy and use all the food you've cooked. 

I made this meals of the week background to list what we'll eat each night.  It usually just includes dinner unless something is special for lunch.  Also we as a rule only get meat if we can afford it.  Yeah meat is nice to have but not necessary so it'll be vegeterian unless there's a good sale or I won something free!  (Like this week I used my $25 TJ's gift card to buy turkey - Yay!).  Somehow fish and sausage don't count - we always get those.  No clue where that logic comes from.  Although chicken is listed under the noodle salad for this Thursday I doubt it'll be there since we don't have any.  I'm fine without.  Maybe I'll subsitute beans instead.

What kinds of ways do you do weekly menus?

Monday, January 3, 2011

What a year this will be!

What will 2011 hold?  It's that time of year when it's still foreign to type the numbers 2011.  Usually until around March is when I'll finally stop making the mistake.

  1. So first off for me - the obvious: we're moving to Richmond, VA in 2011.  Has anyone ever made a big move to a new place and not known that much about it?  I've done it only when I was a child (even to London Yes!) but never as an adult.  2011 holds maaannnnyyyy things for my new husband and I.
  2. New job for me - duh I have to apply, interview and actually get a job before August. (no pressure)
  3. New school for him - he's starting nurse anesthesia school 
  4. New city for us - our mission is to learn to love Richmond.  We think it's got enough potential to learn to love it.  Cool history, not too big, lots of different areas, some healthy (and semi organic) people living there. 
  5. New friends (we hope) - obvi we want to make new friends when we move.  This will be achieved through: his school and the 24 other students and their SO's as well as my work and maybe alumna organization and such. 
  6. New home - hopefully a cool new little house we can rent or a cool 'Fan' apartment.  If you know what the fan is - then you're in the cool kids crowd.
  7. The random (yes I'm random): Looking forward to furthering my blog (and yours?... follow me and I'll check you out!).  Will there be a new iphone this year?  Can't wait for Prince William & Kate's wedding!!!  silly but true.  Finally sometime getting around to baking/cooking all my wish lists - crepes, mousse, marshmallows, different chili's, bundt cake, polenta & more casseroles.  And lastly perfecting my hair cutting skills - I've been cutting my husband's hair for over a year and I'm getting better every time. It's easy, quick and saves lots of bucks.
Wow that is a lot of things when I write it out!  Wish us luck!

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