Archive for May, 2010

Beef Skewers with Stuffed Peppers…

Posted in Cooking, Dinner, Food, Home Cooked Food, recipe, Summer with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 20, 2010 by helenphillips

…as well as corn-on-the-cob and a bit of salad.

Despite the lack of barbecue equipment, the hot weather means that summer themed dinners are high on the agenda. The best way to cook kebabs or skewers is always going to be over charcoal, but they are still delicious cooked by indoor methods such as the grill. I use a grilling machine, which also means that they can be cooked pretty quickly. You do have to keep a close eye on them, and keep rotating them so that they don’t dry out.

Beef Skewers with Red Onion

These are very simple to put together. Firstly, the beef needs to be marinaded for an hour. If this can be done overnight, then even better. Prepare the beef by cutting into even sized cubes (I used around 240g / 0.5 lbs for 2 servings). Put the cubes into a bowl with 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, and some chilli sauce. How much chilli sauce depends on personal taste, and what sauce you are using. We are currently using Sriracha hot sauce (no, I don’t know how it’s pronounced, and yes, it is hot). I’m a bit of a lightweight, so added just 1/2 teaspoon to the sauce, and put the bottle on the table so Eddie could add extra to his.

Once the beef has stewed in it’s own juices for a while, it’s time for the impaling. For tonight’s feast, I simply alternated the meat with some red onion (I used 1/2 a large one). Cherry tomatoes are always delicious on skewers, but awful to clean off the grilling machine afterwards. Other alternatives are mushrooms or peppers, but I used both in the accompanying dish.

Stuffed Peppers

They say that everything in the US in bigger (whoever ‘they’ may be). If the bell peppers (aka sweet peppers) in my local supermarket are anything to go by, then ‘they’ are correct. So big, I felt that half a pepper per person was quite adequate as an accompaniment to the skewers. To keep it simple, I decided on a filling of spring onions (aka green onions) and mushrooms. There are several ways of cooking a stuffed pepper, but as I’d left it rather late in the day, I opted for a quick and dirty method.

  • Pre-heat the oven to 375°F / 190°C
  • To prepare the pepper, remove the stalk, but cutting around it, and then chop in half. Remove the seeds and the white ‘seams’ (what’s the real name for these?). Bring some water to the boil, add the peppers to the pan, and boil for 5 minutes.
  • Chop 3 or 4 mushrooms, and 2 or 3 spring onions, and dry fry in a non-stick pan. Once they have started to soften add 1/4 cup (60ml) of rice, and enough water to cover. Bring to the boil, and simmer until the rice is almost cooked (it should still have some ‘bite’ as it will finish cooking inside the peppers). Season to taste.
  • Once all components are ready, carefully spoon the rice mixture inside the peppers. This is the part I find most difficult due to my distinct lack of grace! Wrap the peppers in foil, and bake in the oven for around 15 minutes. The foil parcel keeps everything nicely moist, and cooks the rice.

Comically Good

Posted in events, Food, Home Cooked Food, Information, News with tags , , , , on May 19, 2010 by helenphillips

As a fan of Gordon Ramsay, I follow his posts on twitter. Earlier this week he posted about ‘Seriously Good‘, a range of sauces that he has done in conjunction with Comic Relief. I don’t use cooking sauces, but if I did, I’d probably use these, especially if they ranted at me like the ones on the website (hold the cursor over each label to see what I mean).

To paraphrase the official website, you (the buyer) get a great tasting sauce, developed by Gordon and his Chefs. The charity (Comic Relief) gets a minimum of 10 pence from each jar, and Gordon gets nothing apart from a warm fuzzy feeling.

For readers who are not already aware, Comic Relief is a UK based charity that was formed in 1985. Fund-raising is continual, but the major event is held every other year. All over the UK, the public take part in events to raise money, in conjunction with an evening of televised events featuring celebrities who supply comic entertainment. All the money goes to projects based in the UK, Africa, and anywhere else poverty is a problem.

So, please, next time you are looking for a new cooking sauce, try this and contribute to a very worthy cause.

To conclude, here is an awful photo of me with Gordon in Nonna’s Deli at the York & Albany restaurant in London.

The Road to Employment

Posted in Immigration, Information with tags , , , , on May 18, 2010 by helenphillips

Leaving my old job in order to move to the US was a big deal for me. I’d been with the company (through many changes) for just over 9 years, ever since graduating from University. When Eddie was offered his transfer, one of my first questions was “Will I be able to work?”. And fortunately, due to the visa type, the answer is yes.

As an L-2 spouse, I am eligible for an EAD (Employment Authorisation Document).  Of course, this isn’t received automatically – forms need to be filled,  evidence of eligibility supplied, all with a fee of $340. It’s taken me longer than originally planned, but last night I finally had everything gathered together in an envelope ready to go. Surprisingly (to me anyway), the most difficult part was getting some passport photos, but I’ve already blogged about that. It is possible to file the form electronically on the USCIS website, but I have heard from other ex-pats that this takes a little longer to be processed for some reason, so I opted for the old-fashioned paper system.

The main form is the I-765, which at first glance seems simple enough. It’s just one page long, so not too daunting. The most perplexing question is #14 – Manner of Last Entry. After some research, I concluded the answer in my case is L-2 spouse. I used the same answer for #15 – Current Immigration Status.

Accompanying the form is an 11 page instruction document. This needs to be read very carefully as you need to know which eligibility category you fall into for question #17. There are a LOT of choices, 4 pages of them in fact.  I found mine on page 4 – ‘Spouse of an L-1 Intracompany Transferee – (a)(18)’. Then page 6 tells you everything else you need to include with the application. In my case, this was:

  • A copy of my I-94 form (the form that I filled out when I arrived in the US and is stapled in my passport), both sides.
  • A government issued ID documents, so I used a copy of the page in my passport showing my picture, name, DOB
  • A visa issued by a foreign consulate – so a copy of my L-2 visa
  • Two identical passport photos, in colour and taken within the last 30 days. These need to be marked on the back with name, and much to my amusement, Alien Receipt Number. I don’t have the latter, so just stuck to the former!

Page 8 of the instructions onwards tells you where to send your form. After carefully reading all the categories, I determined I fell into ‘all other Form I-765s’. As a resident of Minnesota, my form goes to the USCIS lockbox in Phoenix.  As an added bonus, I was able to submit an extra form (G-1145) that allows be to receive electronic notification that my application has been accepted.

DISCLAIMER – this article is based on my own experiences and circumstances, and the application has not yet been approved. If you are looking for more information or help on this subject, please visit the USCIS site – they have all sorts of stuff on there!

Summer Pasta

Posted in Cooking, Dinner, Food, Home Cooked Food, recipe with tags , , , on May 17, 2010 by helenphillips

What’s this? A food post? It’s been a while, but it’s about time this blog returned to it’s roots. Unsurprisingly, moving across the Atlantic has taken over everything. My cookbooks and kitchen equipment are all in a container waiting to be shipped across the ocean, so I’ve been pretty much sticking to well known recipes. But today I fancied something different. The sun has made a comeback to Minnesota, so something summery for dinner was called for. We had roast chicken for dinner yesterday, so the other requirement was to use some of the leftovers. Beth at Jam and Clotted Cream blogged a fantastic looking Lemon Carbonara a few days back, which obviously planted some seeds in my mind, and I was fancying pasta. I don’t often do pasta with chicken, as it usually means a creamy sauce, and I’m not a huge fan. My husband is even awkwarder, and doesn’t do cream or cheese! I also had some asparagus, which always goes nicely with chicken. I’m going to leave quantities to viewer discretion, as I didn’t measure anything as I threw in ingredients, so please, adjust to your own tastes!

First off, I pre-cooked the asparagus. I would have steamed it, but my lovely silicone steamer basket is in the aforementioned container, so they were boiled.

The other ingredients included sliced onion, and sliced mushrooms, which were sautéed until soft. The next additions were a jalapeño pepper (which actually failed to give the dish any heat), and garlic. These were followed by halved cherry tomatoes (to make the sauce a bit juicier), and then basil and seasoning.

The final additions to the sauce were the cooked chicken and asparagus. The pasta only took 5 minutes to cook, so just enough to make sure the final ingredients were heated right through.

For the past few years I have always bought fresh pasta, rather than dried. I haven’t seen any here yet, so may have to make my own once my pasta machine makes an appearance with the rest of our goods. The pasta of choice today was Angel Hair, and a low carb product which I haven’t seen before. Dreamfields make a range of pasta which are low in carbs, lower GI, and higher fibre. And it tastes great! Bargain. The second photo shows the cooked pasta shortly before I dropped the fork in the boiling water. And then on my bare foot.

To make this dish perfect, add some parmasan. Then pour yourself a glass of white wine (Pinot Grigio?), and take your plate outside and dine alfresco.

Things what I have learnt (part 1)

Posted in general, News, Uncategorized on May 16, 2010 by helenphillips

One of the strange things about moving to the US from the UK is that things are so familiar, yet still so different. Simple things like supermarket shopping can be an adventure, as labels need to be scrutinized to determine exactly what the product I’ve just picked up is. The following is a list of some of my observations – some of them are new, others may just be labouring well established facts.

  • The weather in Minnesota is prone to as much change as the UK. The extremes may be a bit more, well extreme, but the temperature easily changes by 20°c from one day to the next. Except around these parts, that’s about 68°F. Learning a new temperature scale is one of the many challenges I face. The thunder & lightning storms are awesome, and definitely something I look forward to attempting to photograph.
  • Minneapolis is the 8th most likely place in the US to experience Tornadoes. I knew that they had them in the area, but didn’t realise we were so far up the list. At 1pm on the first Wednesday of each month, the city tests it’s tornado warning sirens. The nearest one is very close to our building, so there is no way we’ll miss the shrieking if a tornado does come our way. However, there is a chance my head will explode before I make it to shelter.
  • The air is much drier here. For the first couple of days, we constantly got static shocks off just about everything. Even now, sparks fly when I insert my key in the front door lock. It’s also meant dry skin and hair, but I seem to be adjusting to it now. I’m told that soon the dry air will change to humid air, and so another challenge to look forward too!
  • Driving is scary, but only when you first arrive. It isn’t just the fact that we are on the other side of the road, but the road systems are so different. Yesterday I drove for the first time, after 6 weeks as a passenger. It wasn’t so bad, but I’m glad I waited to get into the mind set. Now all I need to do is memorise the driver’s manual, and take my test….
  • There is always something going on in the Downtown area of Minneapolis. Sometimes it’s organised, like the pep-rally for the start of baseball season. Sometimes it’s political, like the group who like to hang out opposite the Christian Science building. And when the sun shines, the buskers come out in force. When the Twins are playing at home, the streets are bustling with people in their Twins shirts, I often feel a bit left out.
  • The library system is fantastic, and free and easy to join. I’m allowed 100 items at a time. Yes, that’s right, ONE HUNDRED. I brought home 2 books. It was all I could carry.
  • Ponds Dry Skin cream smells different. Exact same product according to the labelling, but a different smell.
  • As already mentioned, a trip to the supermarket can be an adventure. Shoppers witnessed my triumph yesterday when I finally located Risotto rice – not in the rice aisle, but in the health food aisle. And we’ve already experienced puzzlement over noodles, that weren’t quite what we expected. Beer can be purchased in Supermarkets, but no  wine or liquor. Gone are the days of our ‘3 for a tenner’ deals along with the food shop. On the plus side, Tetley Teabags were very easy to locate, and so I am able to enjoy a morning cup whenever the fancy takes me.
  • Getting Passport photos done has been quite a challenge (I need them for my EAD application). I suspect (though have not confirmed yet) that my error has been looking for an actual photo booth, which can be found in most supermarkets in the UK. I had some done in a CVS pharmacy yesterday, where the photos were taken by an actual person using a digital camera, manipulated to the correct size  and then printed off. Possibly this is the norm here.
  • Everything requires a form to fill out (apart from joining the library). I think we’re making good progress on that account, now that bank accounts, social security numbers, health insurance, and my EAD are in hand. I don’t think I’ve quite seen the end of it yet though…..

The final thing I learnt this week, is that Apple Customer Services are fantastic. On Monday, the hard drive failed in my laptop, which is almost 3 years old. Due to an extended warranty program, they not only replaced the hard drive for me, but they also replaced the edging around the screen, and fitted a new keyboard. It’s all shiny and new again! The downside is that I have lost most of the photographs I have taken since arriving in the Twin Cities. So, I’ll have to do them again. Here’s a view from our balcony to keep you going until Part 2.

A Really Big Move (Our journey from the UK to the USA)

Posted in Food, general, News, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on May 6, 2010 by helenphillips

As I write this, people in the UK are flocking to the voting polls. There is much speculation about who the government will be tomorrow, but I’m not going into that here. This blog is as far from a political column as you can get it, but on a day like today, who can avoid it? Unfortunately, as much as I would like to vote, the timing of my move to the USA has ruled it out. I can register as an overseas voter, but not until arrival in my new country, and the application has to be signed by a fellow overseas Brit. Added to the volcanic ash saga, there was no way the applications were going to arrive on time. Proxy voting was also ruled out, with no family living in our last registered constituency. I was disappointed that internet voting was not offered, considering that said constituency (Swindon) trailed internet voting a few years ago, but I haven’t seen it since.

So, as I mentioned, I’m now resident in the USA. Minneapolis, Minnesota to be precise. We have been here for exactly 4 weeks, and so far life is good. I find it hard to believe that I have not worked for 4 weeks – the longest for, like forever. Sometimes it seems like I’m on holiday. Some days it seems like I’m working harder than ever. With a move like this comes a lot of research, learning and form filling. I spent a lot of my work life trying to work out exactly what individual customers required of us, and this isn’t too different!

Beginning the Visa Application

The process to get out here was long winded, and at times painful. The world’s economic problems slowed things down, but just before Christmas 2009, we were given the news that they (my husband’s company) were finally going ahead with applying for the visas and getting us moved.  As a manager and long-term employee of an American company, the application was for a non-immigrant L1-A visa for my husband, and a L2 for me as his spouse. The company has moved employees around before, so already had a blanket petition in place. The petition is just the initial stage – it outlines what the company is all about, and in an individual statement justifies the transfer of a non-USC into the American job market. This bundle is sent off to USCIS for approval, and sent back with a reference number. The reference number, along with the first of many payments, is needed when making an appointment with the US Embassy. It was obviously a quiet time, as we were able to get an appointment for the following week, and so on January 27th took an early train to London. The appointment was for 9.30am, and we had a few important jobs to do beforehand. The first was to get some acceptable photographs – US passport photos are square, opposed to the UK rectangular ones, and not so easy to come by. Gould Pharmacy near to the Embassy makes the most of this, and will do a set of photos on the spot. Additionally, they will store all the items that you are not allowed to take into the Embassy – mobile phones, electronic key fobs etc. Once the practicalities were dispensed with, the next job was fortification.

Breakfast

We’d deliberately got an early train to avoid rush hour, and it’s inflated fares. So, we were definitely ready for some breakfast. Before our trip, someone had pointed me in the direction of Truc Vert, a small restaurant practically next to the US Embassy (perhaps influencing the decision to put pancakes on the breakfast menu?). The prices are not inexpensive, but probably about average for the centre of London. Our choice for breakfast were simple, but delicious.  Eddie went for the ‘Big Breakfast’, whilst I stuck to poached eggs with bacon on Toast. The toast alone was lovely, but the eggs were cooked perfectly.

The Embassy

With breakfast over, it was nearly 9am, so time to go and line up outside the Embassy. Armed with the approved petition, photographs, and various other forms that were required, we were ready to go in. An employee outside the building checked we had the right paperwork, and then we were directed through the security hut.  From the security hut, we went around the building to the back entrance. At reception, we were given a ticket with a number in, and told to take a seat in the waiting area. As we were walking through the doors, our number was called out, completely throwing me. We were directed to a window, where we had to produce our paperwork. Everything was nicely organised, but bits of paper were quickly pulled out, put aside, disregarded or generally shuffled. Our fingerprints were taken. We were then instructed to sit and wait until our number was called again, when we would go through to the interview windows. This time, our wait was a little longer, around 1½-2 hours. I’d taken reading material, but found it difficult to concentrate. Eventually our number was up, and we were off again. Once more the paperwork was handed over, and Eddie was asked some questions, and our fingerprints were verified. I wasn’t asked anything at all. We were informed there and then that our application had been approved, and we would just have to wait for our passports to be returned with the Visa inside. The final steps were to go to another window and make a payment, and then to the courier desk to arrange and pay for the return of our passports. And then we were done! We left at midday, meaning we had plenty of time to get to lunch, which was booked for 2pm. It was quite a surreal experience sitting in Starbucks (we’d already started the American transition), and knowing that we would really, actually, for real, be moving to the US.

For anyone planning to visit the Embassy, this video is vaguely amusing. Despite what some of the comments say, we found that this is pretty much how it went.

Lunch

In celebration of our impending move, we decided we should go somewhere ‘nice’ for lunch, so booked one of Gordon Ramsay’s places, York and Albany, where Angela Hartnett is Chef Patron. We opted for the Set Lunch, our second delicious meal of the day, and very reasonably priced. I fear we may have off-set the reasonably priced food with drinks bill, but after all, we were celebrating! To add to the excitement, we spotted Angela in the bar area after our meal, looking as if she was ready to rest after a busy lunch rush. And then, whilst we were being pushed delicious meats in the adjoining deli, Gordon himself walked in. Despite his larger than life, scary television persona, he turned out to be a very pleasant man. He was more than willing to chat, pose for photographs, and wished us well on our American venture. What a day!