Totoro Cake Toppers

Writing my not-so-recent paper post reminded me that I needed to share this other little DIY from our wedding!  Kevin and I don’t have an aversion to wedding cake, but I think majority of wedding-goers aren’t typically into it. In menu planning, we challenged our amazing caterer to come up with some awesome mini dessert ideas that would satisfy everyone, and they definitely delivered. We had tiny cookies with shots of milk, salted caramel pot de cremes, mini strawberry shortcakes with orange biscuits, and mini ice cream cones with cookies and cream ice cream and peach sorbet!

Totoro Cake Toppers
Totoro Cake Toppers

I think one of our family members told us we “needed” a cake to cut, so we got one from Cookie Casa, my all-time favorite bakery that sadly has recently closed. We opted for a five-inch chocolate cake with a gorgeous blush rosette buttercream.  In my search for the perfect cake toppers, I probably came across every single Star Wars cake topper the universe had to offer and somehow didn’t love any of them.  ESPECIALLY the Luke and Leia cake topper… someone needs to correct those people. Seriously.

Kevin and I also love studio Ghibli, and I found these Totoro painted dolls on Etsy. The colors were perfect!

Before - Naked Totoros
Before – Naked Totoros

They needed a little something more, so I made a veil with a headband out of tiny pieces of tulle ribbon and fabric ribbon from the 99 cent bin at Michael’s. Jo-Ann Fabric had a cute little daisy chain lace that I just cut a teeny piece from as well to use as a veil garnish.

“Bride” Supplies

I found a black version of the ribbon and cut a tiny little bowtie together for the grey Totoro, and used superglue to adhere everything as it was the least likely to show up on the paint.  Here’s the handsome couple below!

After - Not-As-Naked Totoros
After – Not-As-Naked Totoros

Since the figurines weren’t “food safe” and we opted for that floral frosting pattern on our mini cake, we decided to forgo adhering a food safe bottom liner to the toppers and just had them placed next to the cake.  Unfortunately, it was a hot day so don’t mind our melty top hat of a cake.

Totoro Cake Toppers
Totoro Cake Toppers

Year One – Paper

Kev and I have been in the thick of home shopping the last couple of months and decided to take a break with a trip up the central coast.  Our first wedding anniversary last month was the perfect excuse for a little food and wine adventure in Paso Robles and Santa Barbara.  It was a great little extended weekend getaway to just reflect on what we’ve accomplished together and as individuals in the last year, and also reminisce a bit on our wedding day.  With the traditional “first year” gift being paper, we both agreed to just get each other cards since we were doing the trip and buying a home.  This reminded me to share some of the paper elements from our big day, beyond the stuff we created with the watercolor suite.

Year One - Paper
Year One – Paper

We had the traditional Japanese 1000 origami cranes as one of our motifs.  I didn’t start folding until about six months before the wedding.  I did 800, and several friends helped fold 400.  Yes, I was 200 over.  While I’d like to chalk that up to being an overachiever, I think in my frantic need-to-get-things-done mentality and balancing a very busy season at work, I somehow lost count and ended up making a lot more than I needed to. Oops!

For my non-Japanese friends, here is a little description of the significance of the cranes that we had on the back of our menus at each place setting during the reception:

1000 Origami Cranes
1000 Origami Cranes

Being fifth generation Japanese, I wasn’t planning on folding them but one of my distant aunts basically guilted me into doing it with a “You’re not Japanese if you don’t have the cranes. If you don’t do it, I’ll fold them all myself with my old lady hands.”  In the end, I think we were able to find a way to subtly include them and without having to end up with a crane-themed wedding.

Lining the Aisle
Lining the Aisle

We used the cranes as aisle markers, on each place card, and scattered them throughout the venue.

Place Cards with Mini Cranes
Place Cards with Mini Cranes

Another of my favorite paper elements was the perfect wedding day card that I found for my groom.

Til Death Star Do Us Part
Til Death Star Do Us Part

In lieu of a guestbook, we printed small cards using the “print suite” we had for people to write words of advice, date night ideas, etc.  I made a small bunting to decorate the vintage breadbox we used for people to drop the idea cards into after.  The font is the same font we used on our wedding invites, but a bit bolder, and the triangles were cut from a piece of gold glitter scrapbook cardstock weight paper.

"Cards" Bunting
“Cards” Bunting

I found a free watercolor image online and tweaked the color slightly to align closer to the blush we were using, and used that as a backdrop for several of the signs we created, including the reserved signage for our parents, bar menu, the 1000 cranes memo above, photobooth signage and the hashtag sign.  The gold ribbon was leftover from our invitations.  (PS – florals by the amazing Jamie!)

Reserved Signage
Reserved Signage

I think that about wraps it up for the paper elements of our wedding.  As I was looking through our photos for the paper crafts, I realized I have one more DIY project to share soon!

PS – Did I mention that all of these photos were taken by the AMAZING and highly recommended Rodney Ty Photography??

Happy First Anniversary, Kevin.  You’re done with year one of your life sentence.  I love you.

Shut Up and Dance with Me
Shut Up and Dance with Me

Learning to Watercolor

Thought I’d share a little DIY work I did for our wedding, now that we got our photos back.

Kev and I DIY’d whatever we could for our big day, including our invites. I didn’t like any of the “free” or “close to free” printable invitation templates out there, and also needed a sort of creative suite that we could use for various assets/signage (i.e., menu, RSVP card, table numbers, etc.). We all know I can’t draw, but I figured I might be able to get away with some amateur watercoloring. It’s fuzzy and messy looking at it’s prettiest, so how could I go wrong, right? Well…

I read forum after forum (after forum after forum after forum) about anything from what sort of techniques there were to what type of watercolor paints (tube, cakes, pencils) and brushes (natural, synthetic, cheap, expensive) to buy.  I bought a pretty decent (but still inexpensive) set of watercolor paints and brushes, and a basic set of watercolor pencils to help with corrections.  I also looked around for artists whose style is similar to the aesthetic I had in mind and quickly fell in love with Yao Cheng Design‘s seemingly effortless but beautiful work.  I even tried mimicking one just as practice, but I couldn’t even figure out how to mix anything close to the colors she used let alone developing the shapes, color concentration, etc.

Yao Cheng Fail
Yao Cheng Fail

After several more tries with different looks, I finally came up wtih a few I was satisfied with.  But then I couldn’t get the watercolor to scan accurately!

Some More Paintings
Some More Paintings

After looking into a few more forums, it turns out that a lot of artists have this problem too and end up just taking photographs of their watercolor in a lot of cases with an expensive DSLR.  Purchasing a DSLR defeated the purpose of DIY’ing the invite to save money, so… I had to figure out a way to make do with what I had and scanning it.  The wreath was the one painting that had the least error, likely due to there being smaller strokes to show texture, vs letting color sit heavier in other places.  However, here is the scanned version of the first attempt (yes, there were multiple attempts).

Original Wreath
Original Wreath

For whatever reason, scanning really washed out the painting and added a grayish-yellow tinge, and it  reminded me a bit of Lamb’s Ear which is pretty but not what I was looking for. I took it to FedEx Kinko’s, scanned it at work, and went to a couple other different printers, and I even went to a few art supply stores to ask where people took their artwork to get scanned.  Turns out that our hand-me-down printer/scanner from Kevin’s mom was the most color accurate of the bunch!  Still – the above image was not what I wanted.

So I painted another “bluer”/bolder version of the wreath, thinking the scanner would balance it out.  And it worked!

Final Wreath Painting
Final Wreath Painting

I also made a few watercolor doodles with the same colors that we incorporated as accents throughout the rest of our “creative suite”:

Watercolor Doodles
Watercolor Doodles

Here’s the finished product.  I purchased blush envelopes from Paper Source (with a discount of course!) to add our wedding colors into the mix, and framed the invitation creative with a blush border to tie it all together.  I found a Pantone color guide online that broke down Paper Source’s paper color specs pretty accurately.  I designed everything in PowerPoint because I’m useless with Photoshop, and thankfully my very kind and patient friend Lingie laid it all out in a printable file that I could send off to my go-to reliable (and inexpensive!) printer.

Our Final Invite
Our Final Invite

In forgoing a design fee, we were able to get it all done including envelopes and RSVP postcards for under $125. We splurged a bit by using a really thick matte textured paper for the invite that almost looked like watercolor paper.  Here’s what the final suite looked like. Photo courtesy of Rodney Ty Photography.

Invitation Suite
Invitation Suite

I also used some little watercolor doodles to accent our address labels, favor labels, table numbers, menu, etc. Check out the gallery for more!  All of the professional photos were taken by Rodney.

Changing Your Last Name

Taking a quick break from baking and crafting to share some information that hopefully any newlyweds can use!

I got suckered into paying $29.95 for a name change service when I got married and realized later that there was no actual “service” being given to me.  I just filled out a little information and the site populated most of the info to various forms that already existed that I still had to mail in myself.  They actually didn’t contact/notify ANYONE on your behalf. And there were a TON of other places I needed to change my name with that I didn’t realize until after I paid for the service.  The irritating part is that they don’t tell you any of that until after you pay for the $29.95.

I think the service is great for those that get married young and don’t have a lot of assets, programs, or policies in their name yet (more than one savings, mortgage, lots of different bills, frequent flyer accounts, etc.).  But for a working girl, it is A LOT of work, time, and people to contact, and there is just no way around it.  The process is overwhelming but I’ve written out a little checklist/tutorial here and included links to as many of the required name change forms as possible in this post (including what you’d get in the paid service).  I don’t have exact forms/instructions for everything, but hopefully this list is a solid starting list of things you need to think about.

First thing’s first – get your marriage certificate.  You basically can’t do anything until you have that, about 4-6 weeks from when you mail your signed marriage license.  You will need to mail your license within 10 days of your marriage. Otherwise, you’ll need to bring it in to court and do it in person.  NOTE:  When you go in to order and pay for your marriage license, purchase at least three certified copies of your marriage certificate. You’d be surprised at how many places you need to physically mail it to, and it’s a pain to re-order them later on if you don’t get some of your copies back.

Once you have the marriage certificate in-hand, the first thing you have to do is change your name with social security. Here is the form with address for where to mail it and a certified copy of your marriage certificate included.  I’d recommend mailing it in unless you want to wait HOURS at a social security office.  You can’t make appointments.

About a week after you mail your SS card application, you can notify the IRS. For tax purposes, you’ll need to tell the IRS you’ve changed your last name. At this juncture, you’ll have to figure out if you’re going to file your taxes jointly with your spouse next year or not because you have to indicate that on the form.  You can take both of your incomes and see what makes sense by using this tax bracket chart. Once you figure that out, fill out this form and mail it to the address on the form.

Once your name is changed with social security, you can change your name with:

  • The DMV for your California drivers license.  This will cost you $27, and the DMV only takes cash or check. Make a DMV appointment online to save a ton of time. You’ll need to bring your current drivers license and a certified copy of your marriage certificate. You’ll need to fill out a DL44 form, but this form is not available anywhere online.  The DMV also won’t allow you to mail in the DL44 form for drivers licenses – you have to turn it in to the DMV in person. It takes 2 weeks for the new drivers license to come in the mail, once you turn in the form and show your marriage certificate. Alternatively, you can also call to get the DL44 form mailed to you at 1-800-777-0133, press 1 for English, and say the following when prompted: “Driver’s License”, “Name or Address Changes”, “Name Change”, “Get Forms”.  You will then need to slowly state your zip code and then your full mailing address. You will recieve a blank DL44 form in approximately 10 days. But honestly it’s faster to just fill out the form in person at the DMV since you have to go there anyway. The DMV will punch a hole in your old drivers’ license and issue you a temporary paper drivers license with your new name until the new official drivers license comes in the mail. Hold on to your old drivers license, just in case.
  • U.S. Department of State for a new passport book. You have to pay for it – The passport itself is $110 for non-expedited processing, and I paid another $15ish to have the shipping expedited, just in case. If you aren’t traveling any time soon, you can do this option too, or you can pay an extra $60 for expedited service to get them to produce it faster.  Here is the form with mailing address included, as well as payment instructions.

Once you get your drivers license in the mail, you can go in person to:

  • The DMV (again) to update your car title (if you own your car in full) and car registration. Yes, a second appointment to the DMV.  Fortunately, this won’t cost you anything this time. You have to wait til you get your new drivers license to do this because you have to provide proof that you’re the same person. Fill out ONLY section F on the statement of facts form before you go, and bring it with you to the appointment to speed things up. you’ll also need to bring your current car title. They’ll keep it and give you a temporary registration under your new name. The car title takes 2 weeks to come in the mail.  The DMV will give you a temporary car registration that you can use til it’s time to renew your registration. They won’t mail you a new official one with the sticker.
  • The Bank for your checking/savings account. You can’t change your name on your bank account until you have your new drivers license. They don’t care about the marriage certificate (I tried bringing that) – all they care about is your drivers license.  Only then can you cash checks made out to you with your new last name.  Note that if someone wrote you a wedding gift check made out to “[your spouse] and [you with your new last name]”, your spouse has to be on your bank account too in order to cash it. You can’t add him unless he’s there in person and he has a valid drivers license too.  Order a new debit card while you’re at it if you have one.

Once all that is done, you should alert your employer.  Be sure to tell your:

  • Payroll Specialist.  Let them know that you’ve changed your last name, so they can alert ADP or whoever controls your paycheck or direct deposit output.  I did this right after I changed my last name at the bank, so that there wouldn’t be any payroll confusion if you have direct deposit. I have a feeling it doesn’t matter if the bank account and routing numbers stay the same, but no one likes to take a chance on a bounced paycheck.

IT Department. In addition to getting your email address and email display name changed over, be sure to ask them to set-up email forwarding so that anything sent to your old work email address will auto-forward to the one with your new last name.

  • Facilities Department. Get your new business cards, updated building access and parking garage key card, name badge, etc.
  • HR/Benefits Specialist. If you get your health and/or disability insurance through your employer, talk to this person about changing your last name with your insurance providers. You may need to reach out to them on your own and provide proof of marriage – it’ll likely be different for every company.   Same for your 401k. If you have a flexible spending account (FSA) or health reimbursement arrangement (HRA) account, you’ll probably need to call the number on the back of your card. But check with your employer first in case they can do it for you.

Speaking of insurance, make sure to connect with all of your insurance agents to get the last name updated on your account:

  • Health Insurance (medical, dental, vision) – if not through work. Once you get your medical ID card, you can probably wait til your next appointment to tell them and also provide your new medical ID card for their records. You can also call your various doctors offices to let them know, but I don’t think that’s necessary.
  • Life Insurance.  Contact your financial advisor to let them know of the change. You’ll also need to change the beneficiary of your policy to your spouse (if that’s what you want to do) where applicable, including retirement savings. Note that at least in California, the default beneficiary is your spouse.
  • Disability Insurance – if not through work.
  • Car Insurance – Just email your agent. Depending on what provider you have, they may need a scanned copy of your new and old drivers licenses. While you’re at it, it might be worth looking into adding your spouse onto your car insurance policy. You may get a small discount for being married (no joke!).
  • Homeowner’s/Renter’s Insurance – contact your agent.

A few other important things to think about:

  • Cell Phone – Sprint is my wireless carrier, and I had to submit a scanned copy of my marriage license online in order to make the change to my account.
  • Mortgage/Rental Agreement – I don’t have a mortgage, so I assume you can just contact your lender. You can just write a letter notifying your landlord if you are renting.
  • Miscellaneous Investments – mutual funds, stocks, IRA, retirement, CDs, etc.   I had to mail a name change form and a photocopy of my marriage certificate to get my IRA changed over.
  • USPS – There is an area on the “change of address” form where you can change your name, even if your address hasn’t changed.  Your mail will be forwarded to your new address (if you have moved) under your new name.
  • Credit Cards – American Express let me change the name via my online account, but I had to upload a scanned copy of the marriage certificate. I then had to call the number on the back of my credit card to ask them to issue a new card. My 2 Visa cards let me do it over the phone with no proof required.  I just called the number on the back of the card to tell them as well.
    • NOTE: Once your new credit cards come in, you’ll need to change anything that is automatically billed to your credit card to the new name too. For example, my Time Warner Cable bill, LADWP, and cell phone bills were all billed directly to my credit card.
  • Prescriptions – You may need to call your doctor to let them know you’ve changed your name and need any recurring prescriptions (birth control, etc.) to be updated with your pharmacy.  Also important so that you don’t get dinged for the discontinuity in your insurance paperwork. Show them your new medical ID card so they can change everything over.
  • Travel Loyalty Programs – You have to change your name with all of your frequent flyer accounts (like Starwood, Hilton, Southwest, Enterprise, etc). You otherwise won’t be able to book or execute travel for yourself under the new last name, because your ID won’t match the name on the account. I’m sure it’s a TSA security issue for the airlines. If you travel a lot for work or pleasure, this is especially important because some of the programs may take longer (up to 3 weeks) than others to process the change request. It’s not the end of the world if there is a gap between program changes – just be sure to bring two forms of ID to prove you are the same person. Most of these programs require photocopies or scans of either two drivers licenses (maiden and current name), OR your marriage certificate. You can write a letter saying you got married and need to change the last name on the account, give them your contact info and program membership number, and included a scanned copy or photocopy of the proof. I either mailed, emailed, or submitted it online depending on which loyalty program it was.  Here are the deets on each travel program:
    • American Airlines AAdvantage Program: Submit these requests via fax to the American Airlines AAdvantage Department at 817-963-7882. If you don’t have a fax machine, you can initiate the request by emailing American Airlines Customer Service, and then sending the information they ask you for when they respond. Also include photocopies of either your marriage certificate or two forms of photo ID (including your old name and new name).
    • Hilton HHonors: Email  your request to They didn’t ask for proof.
    • Hyatt Gold Passport: Your written request must be mailed to Hyatt Gold Passport, Customer Service Center, P.O. Box 27089, Omaha, NE 68144. You can also fax the information to 402-593-9449.  Include a photocopy of your marriage certificate or two forms of photo ID (including your old name and new name).
    • Marriott Rewards: Your written request must be signed and mailed to Marriott Rewards Customer Support, 310 Bearcat Drive, Salt Lake City, Utah 84115-2544.  You can also fax the information to 801-468-4033.  Also include legal proof – either your marriage certificate or two forms of photo ID (including your old name and new name).
    • Southwest Rapid Rewards: Name change requests must be submitted in writing to Rapid Rewards, P.O. Box 36657, Dallas, Texas 75235. You can only make email address and physical address changes on after logging into in your account.  The proof can be photocopies of either your marriage certificate or two forms of photo ID (including your old name and new name).
    • Starwood Preferred Guest: Email or fax your information to 519-633-8870. The form of proof should be the marriage certificate.
  • Any professional licenses you may have (CPA, MD, etc.)

Things you can probably change at your leisure:

  • Utilities – Protocol varies by company. I was able to do LADWP and SoCal Gas via my online account with no proof of name change required. However, a friend who has Pasadena Water and Power had to go in person to change it. Time Warner Cable said I needed to go in person and show my new drivers license, but I was able to change the payment form over with no problem which is all I’m sure they really care about. My last TWC store experience was on par with going to the DMV, so I’ll just let them keep billing my maiden name.
  • Gym Memberships – I was able to just email the “contact” at the fitness studios I work out at. Each gym may be different, so you’ll just need to call and see what the protocol is.
  • Subscriptions – magazines, newspapers, etc.

Major quick tip:

  • The easiest way to find out how to go about changing your name on most types of accounts is to go to the respective website and search “legal name change” to figure out the instructions.

Finally, gentlemen – thank your wives for doing this if they are taking your name.  If they’re not, can you blame them?

Was this helpful?  Did I leave anything out?  Feel free to let me know in the comment section if I did!

[NOTE: This post was written in 2015, so pricing may vary from year to year and in different states.]

Orecchiette Bolognese

When you get engaged, one of the most common questions people ask you is “were you surprised?”.  I know I ask that question a lot, and I definitely got a lot of that when Kevin and I got engaged last summer (yes – it’s official!).  I knew we would get married some day, and we had talked about it a lot.  I guess I just didn’t really worry or think about when.

Looking back, I totally missed the signs.  I had gotten a massive respiratory infection right before 4th of July weekend, and I sounded like a man. A real butch chain-smoking bearded lumberjack kind of man.  Apparently, Kevin had planned to propose that weekend but since I got sick, he decided to bump it a week.  He said that he felt bad I didn’t get to take advantage of the 3-day holiday weekend so he wanted to plan a date for us (clue #1). He had talked a number of times about how special Descanso Gardens was to him and his family and had told me about some of the great memories from his childhood with his grandparents and cousins there.  I had never been, so when I found out that’s where we were going, I didn’t suspect anything (clue #2).  He had a glass of whiskey a little before we left at 2pm (clue #3), but I attributed it to the fact that maybe he needed one after braving the first weekend of the Nordstrom Half-Yearly sale with me that morning.  It was also a warm day, but he was full on sweating – and I don’t mean a delicate dew across his nose.  We’re talking a thick stripe of sweat all the way down the back of his shirt, poor guy (clue #4).  And then there were the awkward silences (clue #s 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10) whenever we would get to a really beautiful, secluded picturesque setting in the garden.   I thought it was because he was tired of all of the steep inclines we were scaling or the mild heat. Throughout the afternoon, we both said how it would be nice to do something special at Descanso someday – like a wedding or take pictures or something.

Then, we got to the rose garden.  I was noting how gorgeous Descanso was and turned around for a quick moment to take in the surroundings. I remember saying, “what do you think?” and not getting an answer.  I heard him say, “Al?”, and when I turned around, he was down on one knee holding up a ring.  He had beads of sweat beading down his forehead and this look on his face that I’m pretty sure I make when I think I’m about to get hit in the face or when I look directly at the sun. He asked me to marry him.  Instead of saying yes the way most girls would say when the man of their dreams pops the question, I said “Is this for real?”.  I have no idea why I said that (What if he said “naw, just kidding”?), but he reassured me it was and I said yes.  So here we are.  We won’t be getting married at Descanso after all, but we did do our engagement photos there thanks to our phenomenal photographer, Rodney Ty. Here’s a sneak!

Descanso Gardens
Descanso Gardens

The day we had our engagement shoot, I was in a rush to get something to eat before meeting up with Kevin, and the only place nearby that didn’t have a wait was a quick service Greek spot.  Being the considerate person I am, I told them not to put hummus or garlic sauce on anything so Kevin wouldn’t have to breathe in my essence for the rest of the day.  However, I did not realize how much raw onion would be in my pita until I wolfed down my first bite. I pulled out as many as I could find, but it was too late. Those suckers were STRONG.  My breath nearly set his eyebrows on fire in the afternoon, but he was a great sport about it.  I love the photo below because his face totally shows him being torn between trying to smile and look happy for the photo while my breath was really making him cry.  Sorry, hun!

Onion Breath!
Onion Breath!

Anyway, Kevin LOVES orecchiette, so making that for his birthday dinner a couple months ago was a no-brainer.  It pairs really nicely with some sort of Italian fennel sausage.  I’m not entirely sure why that is.  My theory is that it’s because the sausage falls apart into little curds of ground meat when its casing is removed, and the orecchiette almost serves as a little bowls to catch it before it falls to the bottom of the dish the way it would with penne, farfalle, or so many others.  But Kevin doesn’t really like fennel.  Or sausage.  So, figuring out what else would pair well with the orecchiette took some thinking.  Okay, maybe not a lot of thinking, because really – who doesn’t love a good hearty Bolognese?

Orecchiette Bolognese
Orecchiette Bolognese

I didn’t make the pasta from scratch, but I did do the Bolognese.  Here is a recipe as adapted from Anne Burrell.  Note that this recipe is a TIME COMMITMENT.  It’ll take you about 5 to 5.5 hours from start to finish – but it’s worth the time and effort!


  • 1 large onion or 2 small, cut into 1″ dice
  • 2 large carrots, cut into 1/2″ inch dice
  • 3 ribs celery, cut into 1″ dice
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for the pan
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 pounds ground chuck, brisket, or round… or a combination
  • 2 C tomato paste
  • 3 C hearty red wine  (Don’t go super cheap on the wine – use one that you would drink!)
  • Water
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme, tied in a bundle
  • 1 pound orrecchiette
  • 1/2 C grated Parmigiano-Reggiano


  1. In a food processor, puree onion, carrots, celery, and garlic into a coarse paste. In a large pan over medium heat, coat pan with oil. Add the pureed veggies and season generously with salt. Bring the pan to a medium-high heat and cook until all the water has evaporated and they become nice and brown, stirring frequently, about 15 to 20 minutes. Be patient, this is where the big flavors develop.  The bottom of your pan should look like this when you move the veggies aside:

    Cook the Veggies til the Water Disappears
    Cook the Veggies til the Water Disappears
  2. Add the ground beef and season again generously with salt. BROWN THE BEEF! Brown food makes for a more flavorful dish. Don’t rush this step. Cook another 15 to 20 minutes.

    Brown Your Beef!
    Brown Your Beef!
  3. Add the tomato paste and cook until brown about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the red wine. Cook until the wine has reduced by half, another 4 to 5 minutes.
  4. Add water to the pan until the water is about 1 inch above the meat. Toss in the bay leaves and the bundle of thyme and stir to combine everything. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally. As the water evaporates you will gradually need to add more, about 2 to 3 cups at a time. Don’t be shy about adding water during the cooking process, you can always cook it down. This is a game of reduce and add more water. This is where big rich flavors develop. If you try to add all the water in the beginning you will have boiled meat sauce rather than a rich, thick meaty sauce. Stir and TASTE frequently. Season with salt, if needed (you probably will). Simmer for 3 1/2 to 4 hours, stirring occasionally.

  5. During the last 30 minutes of cooking, bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat to cook the orecchiette. Pasta water should ALWAYS be well salted. Salty as the ocean! TASTE IT! If your pasta water is under seasoned it doesn’t matter how good your sauce is, your complete dish will always taste under seasoned. When the water is at a rolling boil add the pasta and cook for 1 minute less than it calls for on the package. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.
  6. While the pasta is cooking remove 1/2 of the bolognese from the pot and reserve.
  7. Drain the pasta and add to the pot with the remaining bolognese. Stir or toss the pasta to coat with the sauce. Add some of the reserved sauce, if needed, to make it about an even ratio between pasta and sauce. Add the reserved pasta cooking water and cook the pasta and sauce together over a medium heat until the water has reduced. Turn off the heat and give a big sprinkle of Parmigiano. Toss or stir vigorously. Divide the pasta and sauce into serving bowls or 1 big pasta bowl. Top with remaining grated Parmigiano. Serve immediately.

This bolognese was so delicious and didn’t require heavy cream or butter, like a lot of other recipes do.  The sauce can totally be frozen in a freezer-friendly ziploc baggie if you have a ton of leftovers – just pre-portion everything out.  When we made our leftovers, we thawed a portion of the sauce in the fridge overnight, and then added a lot of minced veggies (mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower) when we heated it up again on the stovetop.  It made a little sauce go a long way and added some extra nutrition and bulk to the meal. Delish every time!