Friday, February 17, 2012

To Shellac or Not to Shellac

Shellac manicures are all the rage right now, at least here on the East Coast. And why not? The benefits promised by indulging in a shellac manicure are alluring: a beautiful manicure that lasts for up to three weeks, no-chip color, and extra savings for you in the long run.

Deciding to see what all the hype was about, I went to get a shellac manicure with a friend about a month ago. The manicure started off as one would expect – soaking, trimming, filing, cuticle-grooming, etc. However when it came time to apply the color, the nail technician slathered my hands in SPF 60 baby sunblock and inserted them into small boxes with the creepy purple glow of UV light. Apparently this is the only way that the shellac nail polish sets properly. It kind of creeped me out, but I decided that for the low, low cost of $28, surely this manicure and its promise to last 2+ weeks was worth it.

As we left the nail salon with our pretty manicures, the nail technician reminded us to make an appointment to have our polish removed properly - that is, by her at the salon again. We promised to obey and left.

Fast forward two weeks – my manicure was still intact, but hanging on for dear life. Admittedly, I am hard on my hands – I type on a keyboard all day, I do a lot of cooking, and I wash a lot of dishes; not only that, but the time during which I had my manicure was also when my husband and I were busy doing a lot of prep around the apartment for our baby boy (due this summer). Also, my nails currently grow super-fast due to the prenatal vitamins, so it was painfully noticeable that my manicure was growing out at the base of my nails. I noticed that the polish was starting to peel off, and having heard that this was a major no-no, I tried to apply some top coat to keep it on for another few days until I could visit a salon. No dice – the very next day, while running my hands through my hair, the polish peeled right off of my finger. Two more followed. I rushed to CVS to purchase some acetone, which I had read was the only way to remove the polish. That didn’t work. I soaked. I scrubbed with cotton balls. I soaked again. No dice. I ended up peeling off the rest of the polish from my other seven fingers. My nails, usually healthy and pink and white and hard (people often ask if I have a French manicure when I’m not wearing any polish at all) were soft, transclucent, and bearing the scars of the shellac peeling off the top surface layer of my fingernail. I was horrified – and very sad.

Bottom line regarding shellac manicures: they do serve their purpose. I could see going out of the country for a business trip and getting one of these manicures so that I don’t have to worry about a chipping manicure while traveling. However, I’m not sure that I would get another shellac manicure just for the day-to-day. Below are my “Lessons Learned”: 
  • Go to a salon and have the manicure removed properly by a nail technician
  • Don’t get a shellac manicure just for the day-to-day – signing up for the same color for 2+ weeks is quite a commitment
  • If you are someone who is particularly hard on your nails, aim to keep your shellac manicure for at least 10 days, but at the first signs of distress, go to the salon and have it removed (otherwise you’ll end up peeling it off like I did)
We would love to hear what you think about shellac manicures - have you had one? How did it work out for you? Did you like it, or hate it? Let us know in the comments section.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Meatless Monday: Pea-lafel

Last week, WCM was down to the dregs in the pantry - I had reached the point when all that was laying around was rice, peanut butter, and tuna (well, and loads of frozen oatmeal banana chocolate chip cookie dough and 5 kinds of homemade ice cream). A dinner this makes not. AND I had zero time to shop. My weekly menu went something like this:

Monday night - take out Thai
Tuesday night - tacos from my local taqueria and a bottle of chardonnay from the corner store.
Wednesday night - I don't remember, but vaguely recall the last bits of three different kinds of pasta mixed together with some butter and a can of black beans....and the rest of that bottle of chardonnay.
Thursday and Friday - who knows.

So last night, I fiiiinally got to menu plan and grocery shop. I felt quite relieved that I would spend the rest of the week eating "real" food. One of the things at the top of my list - pealafel! Pealafel is the invention of the beautiful and spunky Aarti Sequeira. For anyone living under a rock, Aarti ran a blog for a long time and posted fabulous cooking videos. She then joined the cast of The Next Food Network Star. And she was AMAZING (she won)! The Muses were definitely backing Aarti during that competition - she is so real and radiant, and it seems as though she's the kind of person that would easily slip into your friend group and come over for brunch (which would be great because I bet she'd bring something delicious to brunch). Not only that, but she's brilliant when it comes to infusing Indian flavors into modern American food. Pea-lafel, for example. This dish is the same basic concept as falafel, except it is made with peas and edamame instead of chickpeas. So delicious and fresh! I love to load plain ole pita bread with pealafel, tomatoes, cucumbers and tatziki.

PS, Dear Food Network, this photo is awful. Common people, really. The whole point of your company is to make food appetizing. 

Pealafel - recipe loosely based off of Aarti's on Food Network

1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/4 tsp coriander seeds
1 cup frozen peas, thawed and drained
1 cup frozen edamame, thawed and drained
1 shallot, peeled and chop roughly
1 clove garlic, peeled
Handful of fresh mint leaves, plus another handful for yogurt sauce
Glug of extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Squirt of horseradish sauce (optional)
1/4 cup besan (chickpea flour; regular flour is a fine substitute)
Canola oil for frying
1 cup plain yogurt

In small skillet, toast the fenugreek, fennel and coriander seeds for a couple of minutes until they’re fragrant and slightly darker. Don’t walk away from the pan! They’ll burn! Remove from pan into a small bowl and allow to cool. Meanwhile, make yogurt sauce: Mix yogurt with finely chopped mint leaves and a generous pinch of salt. Chill in the fridge. Throw seeds into a coffee/spice grinder and powder.

Throw peas, spices, shallot, garlic, mint, extra virgin olive oil, salt into a food processor. Whizz it up, and if it isn’t grinding well, then pour up to 1/4 cup of water and puree until smooth. It won’t get completely smooth, because of the edamame, but process until as smooth as possible.
Scrape into a big bowl. Add horseradish sauce (optional) and flour. Mix.

Pour enough oil into a nonstick skillet so that it’s 1/8″ thick. Heat over medium heat until shimmering. Meanwhile, shape mixture into a small pattie in your hands, then gently drop into oil. Fry until the bottom is dark caramel brown (about 2 minutes), then carefully flip over. Brown other side, then remove from the pan and drain on paper towel-lined plate.

Serve in a pita bread pocket with some fresh veggies and a spoonful of the yogurt sauce.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Caramel: on the rocks with salt

Ok, maybe you don't want your caramel on the rocks but you do want it on ice cream, drizzled on cookies, or even on pretzels (Lisa!) and you certainly want it with salt. A co-worker of ECM asked this morning where she could buy high quality caramels to melt down and schmear on cookies (yum!). But why buy when you can make?! Well, I guess because buying is easier but you are talking to WCM who has been pegged as the "Made It Myself!" Foodie (this description is an uncomfortably accurate depiction of real life events in this girl's SF kitchen).

In any case, the Muses conferred over email about our caramel making strategies.

ECM likes the wet method described in this Cooking Channel recipe. WCM prefers the dry method illustrated by David Lebovitz. They are the same basic concept except one doesn't have water. Even if you go with the wet method, check out David's troubleshooting and tips. Thank you David Lebovitz, we bow to your genius.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Aunt Brenda - Food Muse for a Sick Day

Yours truly (the West Coast Muse) is working from home today since I'm feeling under the weather. All I can (day)dream about though - is soup. Nice hot soup. Since I am "cold sick" not "icky stomach" sick, I am really yearning for a filling, soul-satisfying soup, too.

When I was in college (at Florida State, woop woop!), I spent my first year in Tallahassee living with my Aunt Brenda, her awesome husband Roger (who lovingly teases me to no end), and their twin boys. Brenda and I loved to cook. I'll be honest: there were occasional weeknights on which we could be found scarfing down cans of Spaghetti Os. It's true. But she and I both really loved to entertain and cook for a crowd. ... and crowds were frequent at Brenda's. She and I would cook from the stash of well-worn copies of Gourmet and Bon Appetit that collected high on a kitchen shelf.

Also during my first year at school when I was living with Roger and Brenda, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and for the next five years fought like a damned champion. Funny bit of info for you ladies: after her double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, she was elated that her bra cup size increased from an A to a C. She also loved to brag about her absence of the monthly "blessing" because the chemo caused her to go into early menopause. I very specifically remember her saying, "I should have gotten breast cancer years ago!" I adore my memories of Brenda, how she fought, how she cooked, and her sense of humor.

The last time I was able to talk to Brenda was at my grandparents house when she called from Florida on Thanksgiving day. I had just gotten engaged and I remember asking if her twin boys would be ring bearers in the wedding (the three of us had talked about this extensively while I was living with them ;). Sadly, a month later my favorite aunt, who had become more like a best friend, passed away. Just a few short months later I received a wedding gift from Uncle Roger: a complete collection of all the stock pots one could ever possibly need. The card attached to the package said that my newly-acquired, fully-stocked kitchen was from Aunt Brenda, too.

The following soup recipe is one that Brenda and I loved to make together. In a bit, if I feel up to it, I think I'll make a trip to the grocery store, snatch up some ground turkey, pull out one of my stock pots from Brenda, and make a hot pot of turkey meatball soup. Soul-satisfying, indeed!

Escarole and Orzo Soup with Turkey Parmesan Meatballs
via Epicurious

1 large egg
2 tablespoons water
1/4 cup plain dried breadcrumbs
12 ounces lean ground turkey
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

8 cups (or more) low-salt chicken broth
1 cup chopped peeled carrots
3/4 cup orzo (rice-shaped pasta)
4 cups coarsely chopped escarole (about 1/2 medium head)

For the meatballs...whisk egg and 2 tablespoons water in medium bowl to blend. Mix in breadcrumbs; let stand 5 minutes. Add turkey, Parmesan cheese, parsley, garlic, salt, and pepper; gently stir to blend. Using wet hands, shape turkey mixture into 1 1/4-inch-diameter meatballs. Place on baking sheet; cover and chill 30 minutes.

Bring 8 cups chicken broth to boil in large pot. Add carrots and orzo; reduce heat to medium and simmer uncovered 8 minutes. Add turkey meatballs and simmer 10 minutes. Stir in chopped escarole and simmer until turkey meatballs, orzo, and escarole are tender, about 5 minutes longer. Season soup to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be made 2 hours ahead. Rewarm over medium heat, thinning with more broth if desired.)

Ladle soup into bowls and serve.  Also, I really seem to remember this tasting lemon-y when Brenda and I made it. So I would top each bowl with a squirt of fresh lemon juice.