Monday, December 31, 2007

French Laundry, take one.

I did some online research when I got my FL cookbook, and it seems two of the dishes that are most common for those starting with it are the "Parmigiano-Reggiano Custards with Romaine Lettuce, Anchovy Dressing, and Parmesan Crisps" and " Butter-Poached Maine Lobster with Leeks, Pommes Maxim, and a Red Beet Essence". I can see why... two things that are pretty approachable as long as you understand it takes several steps to make them. It's a cooking idea I'm becoming really fond of lately.... cooking steps that don't take a lot of work but may take a bit of time (like stocks) that really impact the final dish. As long as you don't mind spreading it out in stages, it doesn't seem like a lot of work.


Cooking started yesterday, with the parm custards. Easy, although my cheese didn't get melty enough and I had a bit of goop left after straining them. I did them in a mini-muffin tin.

Also did the dressing for the custards, also not difficult.

Today it was getting and early start with the Brunoise and the clarified butter for the pommes Maxim. I really should have had one more cup of coffee before I started my chopping. The pieces started out teeny-tiny, but kept getting bigger as I kept chopping. I also discovered today is NOT a good day for my hands as I kept dropping the knife. Damn you, carpal tunnel!

But still, not too bad.....

All that for the stinkin' 2 tablespoons the recipe calls for. I based it all off the smallest turnip I could find.

Then it was blanching the veggies and the leeks, no big whoop. Blanched and draining....

Also started the beet essence. I do not have a juicer, so I was trying to find beet juice. Some sources indicated it'd be easy to find, since there is a large eastern European population in the area. Ha. I found something that claimed to be 100% beet juice, but a look at the label showed it was beet juice concentrate and apple juice. I decided to just go with the flow. The juice itself is a little apple-y, but not too bad.

After I did the clarified butter, it was time for the actual pommes Maxim. I love what the cookbook says... "They may not hold together completely." Who knew that Keller and Ruhlman were such comedians???

I drained the potatoes as best I could after coated with butter, but they started a full-on slide in the oven. I tried, a few times, to smoosh them back in to the pretty overlapping pattern I originally had them in, with no luck. Oh well.

The pommes - drianing....

Next was getting the lobster meat out of the shells. The recipe states, pretty clearly, to use live lobster, not frozen. The full plan to do this for NYE came together too late to order some live lobsters from the fish dude a couple towns over. And, frankly, frozen tails are much cheaper. Yes, I know, it's all about starting with the high-quality ingredients, but I am still a home cook and I'll commit these horrible crimes against the cookbook every once in awhile. Which is worse.... using frozen lobster or having Hamburger Helper for dinner???

When starting the boiling water, I realized I was out of white wine vinegar after the last plumbing incident where my kitchen sink got plugged up and I tried some vinegar and baking soda to get it unclogged. I did have a LOT of rice wine vinegar, so that got used. I'm not running to the store today. Sorry. I also threw a lemon in the water to just add a little more acid.

The tails steeped for three minutes, then I pulled them out and got the meat out. The cooking made it all pretty easy, I have to say. Cleaned up the tails, halved them, and stuck them in the fridge.

By then, it was time for lunch... frozen veggie enchilads from the freezer for me, and Ravioli-os for the hubby. Seriously. He was so excited to find them in the cabinet.

Another one of the beautiful parts of "stages" cooking... for the final "plating", you're not left with too much to do. I was able to make a complete mess of my kitchen several times over, but know that the final mess would be managable. I like that.

While the dishwasher was running, did the parm crisps.... mmmm...

Yeah. Six went in to the oven. One busted while I was putting it on the paper towels, so I was forced to eat it. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Final prep.... and on to the good stuff....

One of the custards went plop and landed on its side when I was trying to get them out. No matter, since you really couldn't tell in the final plating.

This was overall kinda "meh". The taste of the parm just got kinda lost for me. All the cream just made it more mellow, and that's not one thing I want when I think parm. Still tasty, and the dressing made for a damned find ceasar salad on it's own, which we both did.

And the butter poached lobster........

Extra room left on the plate for some more potatoes (steamed in the microwave) and asparagus.

We both decided to pass on the beet sauce. I think it was mostly because it wasn't pure beet.... the sweetness to it was just odd and overpowering.

The lobster was amazing. Not much was said as we ate. I can say for sure I'm never making lobster any other way. I have to imagine that some high-quality cold water lobster would utterly rock. And it is a pretty fool-proof method, so I wouldn't be scared to try this with some damned pricey lobster.

All said and done... a good first impression of the French Laundry cookbook. Not every dish is a winner, which is the way life goes. But I'm excited to keep looking thru the cookbook and figuring out what other recipes and techniques I can use.

And damnit damnit damnit damnit damnit..... I just realized I threw out the lobster shells, hours ago. Damnit. Meant to throw those in the freezer, since I know I have other lobster shells hiding in there somewhere. Sigh.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

We interrupt your regularly scheduled broadcast....

Pickled cherries.


They're like marichino cherries for adults. A little sweet, a little tart, somehow more "cherry-like".

Must put them away before I eat them all....


The vehicle pictured above is now sitting in my driveway.


I've been in the need of a new car for awhile now. In December of 1998, I bought my first new car, a 1999 Mercury Cougar, in Melina Blue. I loved it. It was sporty, it was cute, it was the car I wanted since I couldn't really afford a Mustang right then.

And my husband hated that car from the start. And I have not heard the end of it. For nine goddamn years.

For awhile, we've wanted to get a car that can actually hold more than two adults (he drives a Camaro). But, when I was done with my car payments we decided to focus on saving up to buy a place, so no new car for me. And we had figured it'd be at least a year after we moved before I could get a car.

We started looking over summer, but with the impending layoff, we figured it wasn't a good time to buy. Smart decision.

Hubby had some time off the past week, so he went and test drove a couple. He's got some work deal thingy with Ford (his company does business with them) where we basically got the car at "employee price". Sweet. I test drove it on Saturday, claimed it to be good, and left him to hammer out the details with the sales dude. He drove it home.

So far, I love it. After years of being in a sporty car and being constantly blinded by people's headlights, I'm finally up on the same level. I do feel a little guilty about not getting the hybrid or going for something more friendly to the planet, but not that guilty. At least I'm not one of the many area ladies who feels the need to drive themselves, and only themselves, around in a Hummer.

Did some joy riding yesterday, and today it went on errends. Hit the grocery stores, also went to Crate & Barrel and Williams Sanoma.

Came home, cleaned. Then I started some garlic confit, and started a shellfish stock with the many little bags of frozen shrimp shells I had in the freezer, and some of the leftover veg I had in my freezer. Then I made a simple dinner of steaks, potatoes, creamed spinach and some steamed veggies (veggies leftover from last week's veggie tray).

After dinner cleanup, it was the start of the real prep for the Parmigiano-Reggiano Custards with Romaine Lettuce, Anchovy Dressing, and Parmesan Crisps from the French Laundry cookbook. Did the dressing so far, and have the cheese/milk/cream waiting on the stove top for the next step. Last time I checked on it, it looked kinda curdly, so I am still suspicious at this point. Hopefully tonight I'll get the custard done, and I also wanted to at least do the Pickled Cherries from the one foie recipe to serve with duck on New Year's Day. That just leaves the final stuff for the custrards, and then sometime tomorrow I'll start the prep of the lobster tails for the butter-poached lobster. I searched high and low for bottled beet juice, and the best I came up with is something that is not 100% beet juice, it looks like it's also got some apple juice but I don't know how much. I'll give it a shot anyway, if it stinks, it just doesn't make it on to the final plate.

Thursday, December 27, 2007


Think I'm gonna do the butter-poached lobster from the French Laundry Cookbook for New Year's Eve.

Probably going to wuss out and just go for lobster tails... since I'm cheap and busy, I know I can get frozen lobster tails at the plain old grocery store and don't need to make the extra trip over to the fishmonger a couple towns over. Yeah, I suck that way. And I have not planned ahead enough to order two live lobsters. Go me!!

I do plan to do the leeks and the beet reduction, provided I can find beet juice at the grocery store. I live in a heavily eastern- European populated area (and hell... my married last name ends with "ski"), and I have it on good authority I might be able to find it right at the ethnic market. I'm still fairly new to beets (and need to find out how to do the good, broth-y polish borscht that I can no longer find near my new job) but I think they are something that I like very, very much.

Might also try the "Caesar salad". I was originally looking over the recipe and went "1 to 2 ounce molds? Who the hell has those?" until I saw it mentioned foil molds. I can do foil molds. Heck, I've got at least three mini muffin tins floating around in my cabinets.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Whoopie!!! A Zeppelin!!!!!

Christmas has come and gone here in the Casa de Hausfrau.

Yesterday was out busy. Work up and threw the Creme Brulee French Toast in the oven while I was still half-asleep, and continued to wake up. As always, the french toast was a hit, as was the smoked salmon & bagel fixins I brought over to my mom. I'd seen a recipe for a Peachy Fruit Dip that I passed along to my sis-in-law (she's got two kids so I understand her need for things that are easy!) that was nice with some fresh fruit, and my mom made some baked scrambled eggs. Much eating was done, presents were opened. Highlights for me was a beautiful bamboo cutting board from my mom (I'm going to try to be nicer to my knives in 2008), a neat weather station from my bro & sis in law. We got my older nephew (he's 4) this big, huge Nerf gun, and he had a blast with it.

Quick stop at home, and it was over to my in-laws. The bagel dogs and green beans I brought there were also a hit. Again, great food, great company, and fun watching the kids. The other older nephew got the same Nerf gun, and this time the hubby brought his own identical Nerf gun and all the kids had a Nerf gun fight for about a half hour, which ended with the hubby trying to pull a double-gunned John Woo rolling maneuver that ended up with him smacking in to the sweets table and me in hysterical laughter. Although his aunt was taping the kids, I fear she missed that screen(or YouTube)-worthy gem. My mother in law got me a nice bread knife and they gave me some cash, so I am a happy woman.

Finally got home about 11pm, and we opened our presents here. Did pretty good for the hubby, he loved his little Hertz Shelby Mustang car (Matchbox size) that I got him, and spent the rest of the night burried in the two "Wrestlecrap" books I bought him. I got Gordon Ramsay's "A Chef for All Seasons" and "The French Laundry Cookbook" which makes me oh so happy, since I can now play along at home! Also already eyeing some recipes that might get made in a highly modified manner. First might be some butter-poached lobster for New Year's Eve.

Also got one present that the hubby also gave me last year.... a trip to Vegas in March! Very excited. Partly because our last trip was such a crap trip and we're at least in a more stable place right now, and also because the hubby treated himself and has already rented the Hertz Shelby convertable for the day we arrive. And I fully plan on him taking me to Rosemary's for lunch this time around.

Today the parents came over. Threw together a quick "meatballs in a crock pot" similar to this, using my own turkey meatballs and mandarin oranges instead of pineapple (yep, I am the only household in America that doesn't have a stinkin' can of pineapple in the pantry). They were still good. Also just laid out a variety of cheeses - cheddar, a huntsman cheese from Trader Joes, gouda, brie, Dubliner cheese, Boursin, a cheddar/horseradish spread, some apple-cranberry chutney from Trader Joes, two types of salami, some liver sausage, and a spread of raw veggies and ranch dip. Mostly opening packages and putting things on my new cutting board to spread them out. That's a wonderful cooking 101 lesson... it takes little effort and no cooking skill to throw together a fantastic cheese tray (darn, I wish I'd taken a picture). I did follow the Ina advice and had some chunks pre-sliced to get people going, and just put everything out awhile before people showed up so there was time for the cheeses to "bloom". My mother in law made a remark about "what a good cook" I am, and I had to admit this was a case of having a daughter-in-law who was just able to take the wrapping off hunks of cheese and thwap them on a platter.

Everyone had some nibbles, the moms and I had had some champagne mixed with pommeganite juice, we watch A Christmas Story.

Now everyone is gone, the house is quiet, and I plan to spend some time this evening flipping thru the new cookbooks. Might crack open one of the specialty brews that a friend sent me in a gift exchange (although I do also have some more champagne to polish off still). A good night, indeed.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Is it Christmas yet?

Been in the kitchen all day.

The day started with mini bagel dogs. Awhile back I made some kick asss bagel dogs, and for the holidays I decided to do a version with mini sausages. I was also inpired by a recent article in the Chicago Tribune that as an "update" of the mini sausages in the grape jelly/chili sauce that is often a staple. Their recipe was just sausages with some fancy dipping sauces. Stole two of the dipping sauces, a citrus mustard and a horseradish cream sauce.

Just did a basic egg bagel dough. Action shot!!!

After the dough was made, I just cut it down to size, and I was going for about 32 "strips" of dough. Just rolled each out in to a snake....

Each snake got cut in two, and I wrapped each piece around a mini sausage.

Boiled/baked per the bagel recipe instructions, and these little gems were my prize....

Very happy with those.

Also attempted to make some cinnamon palmiers from a recent Gourmet recipe.

Those pans were put in at the same time, and came out at the same time. I was not happy. I did them on the convection setting on the oven, on pan was fine and the other got burned. I decided I'd try again, since I still had cinnamon sugar left, and I was half-assing the recipe anyway and using store bought puff pastry rather than the "Easy" puff pastry-like dought the recipe had you make. I had the puff pastry anyway, it just needed to defrost.

Easy enough recipe to make, and doing them one pan at a time, they all came out the way they were supposed to.

Also prepped the Creme Brulee French toast for tomorrow's brunch. No biggie. I made it for the first time last year, and since then I've made it a half dozen more times, and it's always good. And easy.

For dinner tomorrow, I'm bringing a kind of "modified" green beans almondine ala the trout recipe in the Bouchon cookbook. Browned butter and almonds, and tomorrow I'll just nuke the beans at the in-laws, and toss them with the butter and almonds.

Also made some tomato confit, to use in a quiche. I was finally going to give the quiche from the Bouchon cookbook a try, using an 8 1/2 inch springform pan.


Dough was easy enough to make, and I chilled it, and then put it in the pan, and chillled it some more, and put it in to the oven. Right now, it's sitting on top of the stove, and it will probably soon be in the trash. It shrunk terribly on me, and right now it's just not worth continuing. I'd be surprised if I could get an inch of egg filling in there. I had spinach prepped for a florentine filling, I might give it a try again on Tuesday. Or I might just use the spinach for some creamed spinach this week (which is sounding more likely at this point in time). The recipe was one I wasn't counting on coming out, so it's no biggie if I drop it.

Still have to prep some veggies, make meatballs and pita chips, but that might just wait until Tuesday. I'm about out of energy, and I still have to clean up the kitchen. I also wanted to slice up some red onion and tomato for tomorrow's brunch (for serving with bagels, cream cheese and salmon) but that might just wait until tomorrow, since I don't want to cut up the tomato until tomorrow anyway.

But, the failure of the quiche at least gives me a start on meals for later in the week... I'll use up the cream and the tomato confit to make some pasta sauce, and the spinach can become creamed spinach. I'm almost ahead of the game??

Friday, December 21, 2007

How much is that doggie in the window?

When the hubby came home today, I heard him talking very loudly in the garage.

Then the garage door opened, and in came a very large golden retriever.

The Hell???

The hubby found her wandering the streets, made an effort to find the owner, then piled her in to the car and brought her home. I gave her some water, he took her for a short walk to go to the bathroom, and we just tried to pet her and keep her calm until the cop/animal control showed up to take her.

Very well behaved dog. Responded to every "No" and "come here" and "sit" very well.

And the cop came to take her to the shelter until the owners call, and our house is empty again.

Man, the place seems empty. We've talked about getting a dog, but just haven't done it since we both work full time. I should talk to my friend Kim, who works at a shelter, about any older dogs that might be a good fit. Sigh. We're both big dog people, and have been without a dog for too long.

Holiday plans are in full swing. Hit Trader Joe's tonight to find they were out of half of the things I wanted. Hope to wake up early tomorrow to make it to the grocery store and then spend the afternoon scrubbing.

Sunday will be cooking and prep. The list...

Xmas Eve Day Brunch
Creme Brulee French Toast (assemble ahead of time, bake it on Xmas Eve morning)
Bagels, smoked salmon and cream cheese (was thinking of a salmon cheesecake thing.... screw it... I don't have the engery to make something that may not be any better than the basic sum of its parts)
Prosecco and sparkling blueberry juice

Xmas Eve Dinner
Mini bagel dogs & dipping sauces
Green beans almondine (kinda ripped off from the Bouchon cookbook)
Raspberry Chocolate cheesecake (purchased for some fundraiser thing, just gotta defrost)
Cinnamon Palmiers
Brownies with Cherries & White Chocolate chips (this is still a maybe, I have all the stuff on hand, we'll see if I get around to making them)

Christmas Day:
Crackers & cheese & salami (just have to pull out of the fridge)
Brie & chutney (just have to pull out of the fridge and open jars)
Veggies & spinach dip (dip is store bought)
Quiche from the Bouchon cookbook (this is the big cooking undertaking of the weekend)
Some little desert bite thingies I got at Sam's Club

Not too bad.... relying on enough quality store-bought things to keep it easy. The quiche is the big stress.... have not made it before, but if I blow it, I'm not going to worry. Might also throw together a "mini meatballs in the crock pot" thing for Xmas day as a backup. Or just pull out the quiche for an easy dinner on Wednesday. Don't know yet at this point.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

I don't need this... my man has two jobs.....

I don't know if it's regular job + contracting a couple hours a night, or just the overwhelming-ness of a new job, or the holiday season, but something is just kickin' my ass lately. I just have no energy to do anything.


I won't even go in to cooking efforts this week. Sub-par at best.

Got Christmas cooking looming. More ugh. Xmas Eve brunch is french toast casserole, a salmon cheesecake if I can find a recipe I like. Xmas eve cooking is just going to be some mini bagel dogs as an app and maybe some green beans almondine. Also have one more batch of cookies to make, but that should be easy.

Still have to do the shopping list. Ugh. And the shopping. Triple Ugh.

Maybe it's the lack of decent holiday programming on TV this year (how did I miss the Charlie Brown Xmas special?? Did they run it the week after Turkey Day????). Hopefully my bah-humbug will go away. Soon.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Changes are a coming........

Come the new year, I'm going full force on the diet front again.

I've done Weight Watchers in the past, and I lost 30 pounds doing it. Unfortunately I've put those pounds back on and my own "self" efforts have at least kept me at the same weight, but not helped take any off.

So, come the new year, after I have a replacement for my now-dead Palm that I use for tracking (I'm not a joiner-type-person, I did my original WW stint doing online only and there are some great tools to use on a Palm that do the same thing while feeding no money to a huge corporate machine) I'm starting over. And it'll be interesting this time, since I'm also commited to go "eat out" every day for lunch since my current employer has a rule about no eating at your desk.

As an additional tool, I'm going to be posting about some of the diet efforts. For now, I imagine it's going to be general rules about HOW you can eat out and still loose weight. Take that, Morgan Spurlock!!

In other Hausfrau news......

We got more snow this weekend. Great. Fantastic. It was coming down so hard on Saturday that I didn't make it to my work's holiday party.

Today was brunch for my mother in law's birthday. It's a place we've been to eat many, many times, and we do brunch there pretty frequently. Pappadeauxs. Yeah, it's a chain, but it's always good. At least when they're not out of oysters.

We went over to the in-laws for awhile after, just to hang out. Then it was home again to our sadly plowed driveway (the plow service for the townhouse association always does a HORRIBLE job on our little section) and I headed out to hit the grocery stores. Wooo.

The reorganized my regular store and everything is in a different place. That makes for worlds of not fun.

Got home, chilled a little, didn't make dinner since I'm still full from brunch. I did also make up some of Ina Garten's Outrageous Brownies for the hubby to take to work this week for some work party. Man, those things are awesome. I usually make them without nuts, but otherwise follow the recipe. Provided you have the half-sheet pan, a HUGE bowl to mix it all up in, totally foil line your pan to make them easier to deal with and don't mind getting chocolate and butter all over yourself in the process, it's super easy. And lord, people gush over them.

Which brings me to another rambling point that hit my brain as I was looking over the Food Network reviews of the recipe to recall what changes I make (use less coffee) -- what the hell is with people who "won't tell" someone else's recipe?? I understand if it's some award-winning, passed-down family recipe... but why wouldn't you pass on some massively available recipe in hopes it will inspire someone else? Someone mentioned that they passed off the recipe as "their own".... well, it's not! Why not tell people? When I make a recipe like that, I'm always more than happy to gush about how great a recipe was or how easy it was to make, since that love will be passed on to others. Why wouldn't you want to spread that love???

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Wooo... Tree..... Pretty.......

So, the Xmas tree is finally done. Yay!!

Well, except for the star on top. I can't reach that high.

I usually "group" my ornaments, so there is time taken in the planning and placement of ornaments. But the results are worth it.

The Barbie section...

The Simpsons section..

.... Sesame Street....

But as much as it is a big toybox, it's not all kids stuff.

Like Marilyn......

And my Bettie Page ornament....

The Vegas section....

And I picked up one of the Christmas Story ornaments at Hallmark. Ahh.. the soft glow of electric sex....

Been slacking on the Hausfrau duties. Still adjusting to the new job, and ending up doing more work for the old job than I anticipated. Good, since they're paying me. Well, if they got all the invoice crap worked out today, they'll be paying me.

Tonight was chili cheese omelette. I know, it sounds gross. But it's tasty. I usual make one "family" omelette ala America's Test Kitchen, and just cut that up. Today's omelette featured some melted cheese and leftover chili that I pulled outta the freezer. We first had it in Vegas, and we're now addicts for a chili cheese omelette. Yummers.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Oh Xmas Tree, oh Xmas Tree..... damn you, Spock!

So, I figured I let sloth rule over Xmas for long enough.

This weekend was the holiday party over at my brother in laws, and after seeing how decked out their house was (and apparently has been since the day after Thanksgiving) my guilt got to me, and it's time to get the tree up.

The party was fun, the appetizers I brought were good, much champagne and beer was drunk, and it was fun. The drunken "exposure" incidents have dropped greatly in number over the past few years, but still, the hubby's side of the family (all the "kids" who are now married and in their 30s) still give waaaaaay TMI when they get some booze in to them. These people are technically family, and I just don't need that level of detail, thankyouverymuch.

I started by getting up some of my window decor. And then knocked down the old retro globe floorlamp that was my grandmothers (didn't break it, thank god) and had to clear up all the decorative stone that fell outta the bottom. Sigh.

Pulled up all the Christmas tree stuff from downstairs. Started to assemble to three at about 1:30pm. It is now 7:30pm, and it is still not working correctly. I thought pre-lit trees were supposed to be easier?? We bought this one last year, and it was not this complicated.

Part of it was my own fault, I apparently forgot I pulled out a couple lights to plug in my old Star Trek ornaments. Those fixed some problems.

But there is still what is one string of lights that is unhappy. When you plug it directly in to power and no thru the "string" of lights on the tree, it works. When you plug another string of lights in to the same plug, THAT works. It's a Christmas mystery. I suspect there is a single light that is out, and color me pissed about that. I've already gone thru and tested some of the "out" lights with no success, looks like I need a more organized plan.

Sigh. Stupid tree.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

More adventures in crap-tacular food...

Kraft Mac & Cheese. Etouffee from a box (hey, I added my own sausage and shrimp at least). It's not been a week of large cooking efforts around here.

Tonight dinner was McDonalds. I had a salad, and a Big Mac for the hubby since whatever animal it is that they use to make the RibWich has gone extinct again (that's an inside "Simpsons" joke, for those who may not get it).

I had some individual pizzas I had planned to pull out in a pinch this week, but the hubby's work "surprised" them all with a pizza party for lunch today. I got home late - I was trying to solve some software issues and also go stuck trying to make Word 2007 somewhat reasonable to work with. Microsoft is just being downright stupid and stubborn right now. Yes, you can offer me a whole new interface and everything, but it's damned stupid to make it so I can't make it work like the old one. Let people ease in to it. Because you've already assured me that my old Word 2000 is still damn fine, easier to use and a friendlier than anything else you've put out since, Microsoft. And at the current job, I actually have to use Word for some stuff (no more FrameMaker, sniff sniff), so in every way it lacks from the high-powered and feature rich tools I am used to, I gonna be bitching. And feeling stabby. Especially since we were also seeing some weirdness in how it plays with docs that were originally done in an earlier version of Word. Not pretty.

I did make it to the grocery store on the way home, got the fixings for the Creamy Mushroom Phyllo Triangles and Chile Crab Wonton Cups I'm making for an Xmas party on Saturday. If I don't get the fillings done tomorrow night, it shouldn't be a big deal to do them on Saturday.

Hell, I might even do them tonight.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Hamburger Helper

Now, I consider myself a foodie... but there are some things you don't argue with.

Mac & Cheese from a box.

Pulling a slice of cold cheese out of its plastic wrapper.

A frozen-dinner salisbury steak.

And Hamburger Helper.

Yes folks, the thing that is largely responsible for the whole "convenience foods" movement. A box, with a sauce packet and noodles, add your own ground beef.

(But those ones now that contain a can of the meat of choice? Evil.)

Tonight's dinner was Hamburger Helper. And I do not feel guilty about it. There is something comforting about it... being able to whip dinner together in 20 minutes without any thought.

And I was dead tired tonight. A whole days worth of new information in my head (New Job went well, and had to do some Old Job contract work tonight). Not time to tackle a new recipe. Or anything complicated.

The totally-not-a-foodie husband was excited. And he wanted to see the empty box to prove I indeed made Hamburger Helper and didn't do one of my "skillet" dinners that is the same concept - meat plus stuff for a sauce and pasta and cook it all together. He's odd like that.

Was it tasty? Of course it was. It's one of those things... it's like the McDonalds of home cooking... tastes the same now, in your house as it does in someone elses, the same it tasted 20 years ago when Mom pulled it out one night.

I'm not saying it should be an every day thing. But is it bad, every once in awhile??

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Running water. Whooot!!!

We did finally get the kitchen sink pipes fixed on Saturday. And with only one trip to Menards. I didn't think that was possible!

The husband ended up pulling apart pretty much all the pipes under the sink, and finally pulling out about six inches of some nasty-ass clog. I seriously think the previous homeowners must have been disposing of small animals thru the garbage disposal, since the clog was actually fuzzy. Ew.

Happy to have my kitchen back, it was Eggplant Parmesan for dinner. Yum. No recipe... slice eggplant THIN, salt it lightly and let it drain for about an hour. Blot it dry, then dump it in flour, then egg, then a mix of dry breadcrumbs and shredded parm, then fry those puppies up. I do mine in "stacks" of three, with a little sauce and a lot of cheese in between them. Then throw it in the oven until the cheese is melted, or even throw it in the microwave to melt the cheese.

The hard part is the eggplant. That's one reason why when I do it, I do A LOT. The cooked eggplant slices freeze wonderfully, which means an easy meal of pulling out the eggplant and using jarred sauce to make eggplant parm for dinner in about fifteen minutes.

It was a nice dinner, especially since we've been skipping on the veg for the past week with me being under the weather and just generally busy.

Tonight was a new recipe for me... Jacques Pepin's Instant Beef Tenderloin Stew. I've been meaning to make it for ages, since I bought the cookbook, and couldn't remember why I hadn't made it yet. It was easy enough, along with making a batch of drop biscuits, it took no more than 45 minutes to get dinner done. The hubby came downstairs, looked in the pan and asked what it was. I replied, a beef stew kinda thing. He replied "I hate beef stew".

Oh. Heh. That might be why I haven't made it yet.

And how does a man who likes pot roast hate beef stew? I don't get it.

In any case, he tried it, ate a few bites, and then went for the leftover eggplant parm in the fridge.

I liked it a lot.... if he wasn't so stew-phobic, I'd definately make it again. It's also a decent way to stretch some beef tenderloin, I only used two steaks I'd gotten at the grocery store, and it was probably enough for three to four people.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The joys of Previously Owned Home Ownership...

Yeah. The damned clogged sink.

It was still like that on Thursday, after I got home from pizza/beer with a former co-worker and some of my, well, now former co-workers. It was good times. And the best work stories always come when the booze is flowing.

Anyway, I picked up some Drano, an auger and some other clog-busting supplies at my lunch on Thursday. When I got home, I tried a plastic clog-buster thing that didn't work, realized I was a moron when I bought the auger and it wouldn't fit down the sink drain, so we went for the Drano. Poured half the bottle in to the non-disposal side.

Two hours later, no change. Poured in the rest of the bottle and went to bed.

Woke up, still no change.

It would have been nice to take an hour to deal with it this morning, but on my last full work day in the office (have I talked about that here? I'm "taking" the last severance date they gave me - which was today - since I got an offer for a full time position elsewhere, but I'm still going to be doing contracting work for my, well, now-former place since I was the only one left who did my job). Usually, when you're leaving a job of your own free will, a last day should be easy-peasy. Not so for me. Other people/stuff was running late and I knew I had to get in early if I planned to still pack up my desk and get all my stuff done and get outta there by four.

Figured I'd deal with it when I got home. It was a lot of "hurry up and wait" for the first half of my day until people delivered on what they needed to give me and I could get on with what I have to do. And then some MAJOR changes were told to me at about 3:55. Yeah. I'll jump right on that on Monday when I'm on the clock again.

Good-byes were a little sad, but I'll still be around in some form, so not totally sad, not nearly as bad when all the other laid off folks went in August.

On the ride home, decided to stop at Ace Hardware for more Drano, an auger that would work in the sink, and see if they had the zig-zag Christmas tree decoration I bought there several years back that I loved, that died on me last year. No Christmas tree thingy, but I did find an auger that would work for the sink, and some more Drano.

Came home, and found that the non-disposal side of the sink had drained. Cool! But why not the other side? Hmm. Didn't think too much, ran upstairs for a quick costume change in to work clothes, and back to tackle the drains.

Started running some hot water thru the now open drain. Hey... how come my socks are getting wet?

Opened the cabinets below the sink, water everywhere. GREAT.

Big, gaping hole in the U part of the pipe. Sigh.

Started to clean that up, then opened the dishwasher, which was filled with water. GREAT.

Suddenly recalled when our dishwasher broke and it got in to the heating ducts and started leaking in the basement. Ran down to the basement, and sure enough, water. GREAT.

My entire house now smells like cole slaw. WONDERFUL.

Worked on cleaning up what I could, which involved getting two utility buckets worth of water out of various places, cleaned up under the sink. Was about to pour myself a glass of wine when the hubby arrived home, so I left the bottle unopened and we examined the damage and discussed the action plan.

Hope to get up early tomorrow and hit the grocery stores for actual food, since they're talking about an icey storm hitting in the afternoon. Really, all I need is fresh veggies. And maybe soda. Shouldn't be too bad. I'm hopeful that by tomorrow night I'll have a kitchen with actual FLOWING water again and I can cook dinner. If I don't, it'll be take-out on paper plates with plastic utensils.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Quote Rosanne Rosannadanna.... if it ain't one thing, it's another...

Been fighting some kind of wicked sickness the past couple days. I think it's how I get the flu... none of the um... "body needs to expel stuff" symptoms, but I've been just absolutely beaten and tired and achy. Not fun.

Dinners have been lame. Sandwiches on Monday, take out yesterday and eggs & bacon & toast today (I am starting to feel slightly human again).

My reward for cooking tonight? What I first thought was a messed up garbage disposal.... turns out to be blocked up sinks. FUN.

I tried some home remedy shit for them, but have not had any luck yet. Baking powder & vinegar did get some draining to happen, but sadly I'm already low on baking powder and out of vinegar (and not willing to dump more expensive vinegars down the drain, literally). I just had to resort to apple cider vinegar so my kitchen smells like colesalw now.

Thankfully, cooking is not on the menu tomorrow. Old co-worker from is going to be in town, and a bunch of people are gathering for some fun times. I'm looking forward to that. I'm not looking forward to coming home and having to deal with the sinks.

And for the first time in awhile, the hubby came home all happy... he hit his comic book store, and in addition to his comic backlog, he picked up a new statue of The Beast that he was really looking forward to. He ooooh'd and ahhhh'd as he took it out of the box and set it down to look at it.... and the while trying to put a shelf in the bookcase he's ignored for a year and a half, whacked it with something and knocked off The Beast's hand. I expected him to be more grumpy about it, but he just ran to Menards to get ceramic glue, repaired it, and went on with the evening. And... after sitting in a box right by the bookshelf for a year and a half.... he finally put up his Dr. Doom statue. I'm at least glad I don't have to look at the box anymore.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Take that, Bill Gates!!!

It's always a happy moment when you manage to beat Windows in to submission.

For at least a year and a half, I've been trying to really get my current work's VPN working on my laptop. With little success. And it wasn't that big of a deal, since with working 10 hour days, I was pretty happy to come home and actually not be able to work due to technical difficulties.

But... since I'll still be doing some work crap for the soon-to-be-former-company, I needed to get it all straightened out.

And of course. It. Was. A. Nightmare. I hate Windows sometimes.

Started trying, in earnest, to get it all working last Wednesday. Gave up for the holiday weekend, and spent all last night trying everything I could think of and a couple of web suggestions.

Tonight, more web suggestions and other crap, and after finally re-setting a zillion and a half things, it is working. It is happy.

And god, I hate Windows. And god, I am SO happy I was not trying to do this on Windows Vista. I have at least a minor respect for XP.

Monday, November 26, 2007

It's gonna be a loooong week....

It was just one of those work morning when you arrive and BLAM! everything is an emergency. Not to mention that something I have feared messing up for the entire two years I have been there, I messed up for the first time this week. D'oh. That pissed me off big time. In the big picture, it's not a huge deal and all of the usual checks and balances to catch this error also failed, so it's not entirely me, but it is mostly me. Sigh.

Still have my cold, so I did not attempt any big cooking tonight. I fell alseep on the couch and when I woke, hubby had attacked the turkey I cooked yesterday (You weren't saving this for anything, were you sweetie? Not anymore!) and was making himself some sandwiches. I slapped some ham and cheese on bread for me and heated up tomato soup and it was dinnertime. Gourmet, huh??

I hope to be more motivated tomorrow, I have oysters I need to deal with. They had them at the grocery for the Thanksgiving holiday, and I just had to get some even though I had no plans to use them for Turkey Day. Might do some oyster & shrimp po' boys. Tomorrow for lunch, I'm meeting my old co-worker at the the Thai restaurant owned by another old co-worker, since the restaurant owner took a really good job offer in Texas, so his place is not going to be open for too much longer.

I should be less of a slacker and get on top of the Christmas decorating this week. But, I figure i gotta clean and vacuum first, which means this weekend at the earliest. I'm one of those people who doesn't want the tree up too long, but we've got stuff coming up every other weekend until Christmas, and well, I don't wanna be that much of a slacker. And my tree is pretty and I do love looking at all my ornaments (note to self... must talk about my ornaments in a future rambling edition).

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Stuffing report

Not a success at recreating my dad's stuffing, but not too far off in any case. And I knew where I might be going wrong while I was making it, but forged ahead.

Too many giblets. I just went a little too nuts with the giblets in the stuffing. I remember my dad always trying to sneak in more and more each time he made them and my mom fighting it... well, I guess my mom was good at keeping him in check. I had no problem with the giblets being used for the stock - that wasn't too overpowering - but chopped in to the stuff was a bit much. Especially since I used several of them.

Also, I used a couple loaves of Italian bread, and it was a little to much "white" and not enough "crust" for my tastes. But, all told, it's stuff that is easily fixable next time around. I might have another go around Christmas, and bring it to our Christmas brunch to make my mom & bro try to see if I've got it down right.

In any case... I'm happy. It's not a horrible, total mystery on how my dad did his stuff. I guess i did spend enough time poking around the kitchen and asking questions when I had the chance.

No pictures of the process.... apparently I'm the last stop on the cold that was being passed around the hubby's family the past two weeks. Woke up feeling like I was hit by a truck, immediately counter-attacked with large amounts of OJ and chicken soup for lunch. Feeling a bit better, but still pretty out of it.

I'll most likely be spending the rest of the evening browsing appetizer recipes. We've got the brother in law's annual Christmas party on the 8th and I'd like to bring something (since I usually do). Thinking the mushroom/phyllo triangles out of the current issue of Cooking Light, but was thinking maybe something else too. Hmmm.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Happy Shopping Day!

Yep, I am an idiot. I went out and did some shopping.

I hoped to catch some early bird specials, mainly Michaels, to get more garland for my tree. The "early bird" specials ended at 10am. I woke up at exactly 9:59am. Whoops.

Headed out anyway. Drove over to Menards... saw the parking lot... and kept on driving. It was a madhouse.

Went over to Michaels and spent about twenty minutes yanking the garland I wanted off the back of the hook things. Of course, the ones in the colors I wanted were way in back behind 20 other hanging garlands, and I wanted four and they only had three. No matter, made my way to the register and with all the coupons it ended up being about 1/3 off rather than 1/2 off. Still worth the price of sleeping in. And there was no waiting at the registers.

Walked around Staples, nothing interesting. I'm in the market for some kind of NAS (that's "network attached storage" to you non-techies) and while everyone seemed to have USB external drives on sale, no ones that you can attach to the network.

Drove past Menards again, and it was still a madhouse. I'm not dealing with a madhouse just for a couple bucks off something. Sorry, retailers of America.

Tried to go to Dunkin Donuts to get some coffee, but they were apparently "out" of coffee coolattes. And this DD can't properly cream and sugar coffee, so I just headed home to get caffeine in to my system.

Putzed around a the house a little, and decided to head back out since TV viewing options sucked, and I might as well get some of it out of the way. Hit Tuesday Morning and got a couple small gifts and some backup Christmas cards, hit TJ Maxx and finally found a new Christmas tree skirt that fits my tastes, picked up Jacques Pepin's "Complete Techniques" at Half-Priced Books for myself, and walked around a few more stores with no success. I think tomorrow I'm hitting Hallmark, Crate & Barrel and some other stores to get some more odds and ends. Hopefully with more success for picking out gifts for others and not just buying myself stuff.

Then - to the online stores!!

Some people in my life are getting sweaters for Christmas. Lame, I know, but they've given no indication of what they want, and I was at the Old Navy site. Looked at Kohls, but their website was waaaaay bogged down and kept losing the contents of my shopping cart, and I got pissed and gave up. Sorry Kohls... learn how to provide enough resources for your site and maybe you'll get some of my business next year.

Then it was on to looking for a present for one of the little cousins... her mom mentioned last night that she wanted a bunk bed for her American Girl dolls. Looked at a bunch of cheap-ass shit that is probably coated with lead paint, and finally found some handmade ones that were decent. But apparently, the market for crafty type-products over mass-produced shit must be going up, because prices are steep. I'm trying to get something cheaper off Ebay, but I know that may work. In any case, I'd rather spend the money on something of quality.

Browsed a bit more, looking for stuff for the hubby. He's a hard one to buy for. I know he mentioned he wanted a couple books off Amazon, but he has yet to give me the list. And I'd like to get him a couple of "surprises"... they apparently did a Shelby GT-H matchbox-type car that I missed (he's driven them in Vegas, twice, and has flat out said he's trade me for that car. And he's serious.

I've also seen a couple things that I think he'd like, but they've been out for awhile, which makes me wonder if it's stuff he's already seen and was "meh" about. Grumble.

And I'm lazy. It was pizza for dinner. But that should be expected on a day where I spend a lot of time shopping and the hubby is sitting upstairs in his underwear until 5pm, playing video games.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy, Happy Turkey Day!!!

Happy, happy Turkey Day,
Hunger pains will go away,
When you hear the Pilgrims say, it's Happy Turkey Day.
Happy, happy Turkey Day,
Let's all eat the Indian way,
As Bastille and Cape Cod Bay, it's Happy Turkey Day!

As much as I love cooking for the holiday, the point at which I am done is kinda like the "it's time to open presents!" moment from when I was a kid. Weeeeee!!!

Last night, they were all over the TV talking about SNOW! that was supposed to hit us overnight. Chicago sees a lot of snow, but it seems like everyone has amnesia and forgets every year before the first snow that it's now big deal, it'll melt quickly, and there will not be a rash of weather releated deaths and disasters from it. Yeah. This is what was on the deck when I woke up this morning....

Terrifying, huh?

Woke up, had some coffee, and tackled pecan pie numero uno, my usual pie. This is the world's easiest pie crust, seriously. I usually make it a day ahead and let it chill in the fridge overnight, then let it rest for a few minutes on the counter before I start working with it. Of course, it's easier with a food processor, but it's also not hard to do with just a pastry blender, one year I even used two forks, and got it done.

My preference for a pecan pie is more pecans and less of the goo that holds it together. I know a lot of people like the goo, but I like the nuts. In fact, the first four letters of my maiden name are "Nutt" so I'm pretty used to being a nut by now (rimshot!). I never bother to toast my pecans beforehand, and when filling the pie I do my best to make sure all the nuts get in there, which sometimes leaves some goo in the bowl. Which is fine. I also mixed up the fillings for both my pies last night and just let them chill in the fridge overnight, so this morning in a sleep-haze, it's just getting the dough in to the plate and pouring everything in.

Tart Pastry

1/2 flour -- 140g
1/4 teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons cold butter -- in small pieces
2 egg yolk
4 tablespoons water

Mix the flour and salt in a bowl. Cut in the butter with your fingers or a pastry blender until the mixture resembles course meal or tiny peas. Whisk the egg yolk and 2 tablespoons water together in another bowl, add to the flour mixture, and blend until the pastry is smooth and holds together in a ball. It can be mixed in a food processor; process first the flour, salt and butter quickly together, then add the egg yolk and water through the funnel and process until the dough balls up around the blade. Wrap in foil or plastic and refrigerate it for at least 20 minutes. You can roll this dough out with a rolling pin, but you would have to chill it, wrapped in plastic, for at least 20 minutes. We find it easier to pat it into a pie pan or springform with our hands. Pull pieces of dough from the ball and press them over the bottom and sides of the pan, using the heel of your hand. The dough should be thick enough to hold the filling, but be careful that it is not too thick around the bottom edge or the finished tart will seem coarse. If there's time, cover the lined pan snuggly with foil and refrigerate it before filling and baking it. Bake as directed in the filling recipe. Or prick the bottom with a fork and bake it unfilled for 12 minutes in a preheated 425 degree oven. If you use a springform pan, do not remove the sides until you are ready to serve the tart.
Pecan Pie

3 large eggs -- slightly beaten
3/4 cup sugar -- 150g
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup dark corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons melted butter
1 1/2 cups pecan halves -- coarsely chopped
1 Tart Pastry Dough

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a 9 inche pie pan with the pastry dough. Combine the eggs, sugar, salt, corn syrup, vanilla and butter in a bowl and blend well. Stir in the pecans. Pour into the lined pan. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 and bake for another 35 minutes. Serve with whipped cream.

And the food porn shot.... woooo.....

Then it was time to tackle pie crust number two.... actual rolled pie dough. It was my first attempt ever at a rolled pie dough, since I never had a rolling pin or enough available counter space to do a rolled pie dough. It started out slow since my dough was pretty firm, but once the dough temp got more to room temp, all was right with the world. I rolled it between sheets of parchment paper, and it was a breeze.

Look! Rolled pie crust! I'm filled with a sense of accomplishment!!

And in the pie plate. Wooo! A half-assed decorative edge!! Don't I rock?

Melted the chocolate and added it to the bottom, and let the shell chill in the fridge while the oven came up to temp. An hour later (used the convection setting of my oven, which usually means I need a few more minutes cooking time) I took this outta the oven.....

Pretty. Mmmm. Pie.

Time to throw the sweet potato casserole in the oven. It's actually kinda a hybrid between the Mashed Maple Bourbon Sweet Potatoes (and I leave out the bourbon) and the Candied Sweet Potato Casserole. I do the potatoes on the stove top, using OJ instead of water, and adding the butter, sugar and maple syrup of the the Mashed Maple potatoes, then pack that in to a dish, and use the pecan topping from the Mashed Maple potatoes. And when all is said and done.....

Yum. Good stuff.

The green bean casserole..... before onions, and after baking/onions.

That's just Trader Joe's haricot verts, nuked, covered with a mushroom bechamel sauce, then the fried onions from the can. Plop the cold bechamel on the top, and pretty much follow the rest of the directions on the can for heating it thru and topping with onions.

Salmon mousse was a disappointment. It could have used a LOT more flavor (beyond just "salmon"). I was trying for a horseradish flavor to it, and it was not there. Oh well. And no picture, since I unmolded it at the in-laws.

I might just be stupid enough to hit some holiday sales tomorrow. Mernards has a neat "adjustable" ladder for super cheap, and an under-cabinet CD player. If I hit the store at 9am and they have them, great, if not, oh well. Also want to hit Michaels to get some more garland for my Christmas tree. Bought some I really liked last year, but I didn't get my huge-ass tree until the next day, and didn't realize how much garland it would need. Hopefully they have the same stuff in stock.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

T-minus 1 day 'til Turkey Day (aka McD's For Dinner Day)

It's a long-standing tradition of the hubby to eat McD's on Thanksgiving Eve. I guess while he was growing up, it was what his family did. I can't remember what we used to do on Thanksgiving Eve... I guess take out, but nothing like the same thing year after year.

Man, there is nothing like a perfectly assembled Big Mac and hot fries. Yum.

But before I get to the activities of the day... it's time for the question and answer portion of the program.

Mikey asks: Being a foodie, is there some 'gourmet' food that everyone else likes but you can't stand?

Hell yeah. Everyone has some food they don't like. Even people who insist that they loooove everything has something - from celery to some obscure stinky cheese - that they don't like. Mine?? Goat cheese. I know people rave about it, but to me it tastes about equal to what a goat's ass smells like. Or at least from what I remember from petting zoos when I was little. I've tried, many times, and I just can't stomach the stuff.

On to more pleasant matters....

Work was boring. As I'm sure it was for 90% of other office workers today. They let us go early, but I ended up staying another 45 minutes while waiting for some stuff to get installed on my laptop.

Got home and went straight to pie dough. Did my standard tart dough that I do every year, and another actual rolled pie crust. Got that dough done and in the fridge, and on to the salmon mousse. The recipe says to mix it in a blender. Couldn't find that damned little rubber circle thingy for the blender (of course) so I ended up doing it in the food processor. I fear it might be under-salted. We'll see, I guess.

Took time to eat dinner, and then I made my pie fillings. Then I actually paused cooking to do my nails (I do UV gels in the privacy of my own home... it's easy to do and I ain't paying a salon $50 a week since I have problem nails and the gel never lasts longer than a week before pulling off). Sweet! I wasn't sure I was going to have time to do it tonight.

Also did the struesel topping for the sweet potatoes, and chopped up the chocolate for my pie. All I have to do tomorrow is roll/pat out my doughs, bake off the pies, bake the sweet potato dish so the topping can get yummy, and maybe heat up the green beans (might just nuke it in the MIL's kitchen, still undecided). Should be smooth sailing. And, I'll try to be a proper foodie and take some pictures of at least the finished stuff tomorrow.

But for now, the kitchen is cleaned, a cool, Old Style Light has been cracked open, and it's time for this gal to call the kitchen CLOSED for the night.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

T-minus 2 'til T-Day... AK-47. When you absolutely, positively got to kill every M...

Oh. Hold on. That wasn't quite right.

Sweet potatoes, salmon, and mushroom bechamel. When you absolutley, positively got to use every muthafuckin' cutting board in the house.

That's better.

Pumpkin Gooey Butter cake went down well at work, several people wanted the recipe to try for other holiday parties. Other than that, work was uneventful today.

Got home and jumped right in to food prep. Did the sweet potatoes first, then dinner (Reuben sandwiches), then a bit of TV viewing with the hubby, then nuked my salmon and made the mushroom bechamel, then shredded the salmon.

Also found out my mom is not going to be going up to visit my aunt for Turkey Day, she's staying in town. Which means she'll be joining me & the hubby at my in-laws (not a problem for the in-laws, my mom always has a standing invite with them for holidays) so I'm not feeling so guilty bringing so much food. And, the mother in law is feeling better do she doesn't think she needs my help on Thursday (whew!).

Wish I had more energy to blab right now, but I'm pooped!

Monday, November 19, 2007

T-minus 3 days (?) until Turkey Day....

Today was actually busy at work. Trying to wrap things up before I go on "part time" status.

Dinner tonight was eggs, bacon, potato pancakes and toast for dinner. Very nice for people who just don't eat breakfast most nights. And easy, not a lot of cleanup.... good, since I had other tasks to accomplish.

Made Paula Deen's Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake. I've wanted to try it for awhile, and while I love pumpkin, no one else at T-day likes it. So I figure it's best to make it to bring in to work and hope people eat it there. I get my pumpkin fix, no leftovers to deal with, everyone is happy. Mainly me. Based on recipe reviews on the Food Network site, I did half the amount of sugar. The crust seemed sweet enough, and my uncooked-egg-filled taste test of the uncooked pumpkin mixture seemed plenty sweet to me.

Also did the cranberry sauce tonight. In the past, I've done a double batch of it and had waaaay too much left over. A single of it looks like a good amount.... considering the T-day crowd is also not cranberry-happy like my side of the family.

Tomorrow, I plan to do the mushrooms/bechamel for the green beans, the sweet potatoes, and poach my salmon for the salmon mousse I'm doing (or I might just nuke it in a steamer bag... man I love those things). That leaves Wednesday night for the mousse, pie dough and filling prep, and I'll bake everything off on Thursday. Provided that my mother in law is feeling better and doesn't need my help on early Thursday (I offered.... she's got a wicked cold right now). If she does need help, Wednesday night is going to be a flurry of flour and baking in my kitchen.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Woooo... kitchen alchemy.....

Turned some turkey stock I made earlier this week in to consumme today. Woooo.

It's something I've always wanted to try, but just never bothered with. A well drained, homemade chicken stock is usually fine on its own for me. But, when I made the turkey stock, damn, that shit was full of teeny little pieces of junk.

The turkey stock, before draining.....

I was thinking of just doing some better straining, but while looking over recipes, I noticed that for my tart crust I need two egg yolks. To do the consumme ala the "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" recipe, I needed two egg whites. Ding ding ding! Jackpot!

I did leave some of the funkier stuff in the bottle of the container. I told you it was mucky.

Pretty easy method when you break it down... mix egg whites with a cup of stock, then add to the heating stock, simmer, let the egg raft thing form, and then strain it.


More simmering...

Wooo... alchemy....

The final consumme....

Yeah, that's a dime on the counter. I swear if I had a better camera, you could read the date. Really. I swear. Honestly. Ok. At least you can tell it's a dime, and that makes me happy enough.

In any case, I'm pretty proud of my first try at it, and it's no longer an intimidating thing to me. Time consuming, maybe, but I can see how it is worth it. I'm resisting the urge to go knocking on the doors of my neighbors to ask if they have any need for turkey consumme, just to show off my skills. But it's around dinner time for most people (we eat late... usually around 7pm) and I don't think they'd appreciate the interruption as much as I think it'd be worth their time. And besides, I want to keep it all for me. Post-Thanksgiving gravy is gonna ROCK this year.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Nothing better on a cold day....

... then walking to a house and BLAM! hit with the smell of a fully cooked dinner waiting for you.

If there is cooking going on in this house (unless it's double chocolate peanut butter filled cupcakes) I am the one doing it. While I love the smells of cooking and building up a dish in to its final product, it's a rare thing when my first smell of something is when it's complete. It might be why I like eating in restaurants more than my hubby does.... I love when the food is placed in front of you and you get that first whiff. Because I don't get it at home a lot.

But on a pot roast night, I do. I open the door and the house is filled with the smell of it. I'm instantly happy. I know that a lovely dinner awaits without a lot of fuss from me (still have to make the gravy, and I usually also make some rosemary scented cous cous for me, I'm not a fan of pot roast potatoes for some reason).

Today was also Beaujolais Nouveau day (happy me!) which is one of my favorite days. I am one of the idiots that will happily buy the wine to enjoy on its release day, knowing full well in about a week and a half it will be two bucks cheaper. The first bottle I cracked open was a Domaine Dupeuble and it's lovely. Actually strong enough to pair very well with the pot roast.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

I found it! I found it!!!


Found the old photocopies of the recipes (tart shell and filling) for my pecan pie.

It was a collision between my home life and my work life.

At work, I tend to keep my areas pretty neat. I have a hard time doing my job in chaos. In the past two years, I've been working on anywhere between 2 and 6 products at the same time. Which means you have to have that many pieces of equipment around the desk in multiple computers. I have to keep papers and all the junk organized, or, to put it in kitchen talk, I'm in the weeds/shit. Damn fast. I've also got to keep things I'm not currently working on neatly, since you never know when you'll have to pull something out quickly to test it or verify something.

I wish I was like this in my home life. I'm trying to get better and actually making some improvements. But my home life really does vary between living somewhere between mild to moderate disarray. Usually I'm fine with that.

So, last night I tore apart my cookbook shelves and every place I thought the sheets might possibly be hiding. They had to be SOMEWHERE. And I could hear them, calling from the bookshelves. They were there somewhere.

Tonight, standing and looking at the shelves with a sense of hopelessness, I notice a pile of some work products that I had purchased but never used. All thrown in to an unvisable corner of our bookshelf that is blocked by a chair, so I don't have to look at it. Total disorganization. But since all this stuff is still in boxes, I really don't have a pressing need for it, obviously.

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a pile of some various stuff under one of the boxes. Of course, on the bottom of that pile, under other unrelated papers and piles of pictures, I found my photocopies. Complete with my moms notes and my notes (I usually do a 1 1/2 version of the crust and I've adapted it). WHEW.

Of course, I really shouldn't be that surprised. I panicked earlier today and shelled out some money for a 1979, 12th Edition Fannie Farmer cookbook (the directions are ten kindsa different in the newest edition, which I didn't know until I bought it last year. That copy went to my mother in law).

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Breathe in... breathe out.....

So.... tonight was continued Turkey Day prep.

Drained off the turkey stock/giblets that I started this morning. Giblets/meat is in the freezer, and the stock is in the fridge. I may even clarify it tomorrow, we'll see.

Also started to plug in the stuff I still need to pick up at the grocery store this weekend in to my Palm, going recipe by recipe. And then I went to find my tart pie shell and pecan filling recipes. And I. Cannot. Find. Them. And it is Freaking. Me. Out.

They are on two copies sheets, with various notes. I usually keep them tucked in to The Joy of Cooking, but they're not there. And I've checked every cookbook and cleared my cookbook shelves to see if they just got tucked in somewhere else by accident. No luck.

Checked Mastercook on my laptop and my desktop, and I don't have it on either machine. Damn.

I can just get them from my mom (they're her recipes) but this means in the already busy weekend, I'll have to get over there to jot them down. And be guilted in to visiting for awhile.

Normally, I wouldn't have a big problem spending the morning wandering around TJ Maxx with my mom and then having lunch, but I *know* the stores will be filled with women out looking to pick up the perfect discount tablescape item, and I really don't need that. I might end up bashing someone in the head with a faceless pilgrim, and while that would be funny, I don't really want it on my record.

At least the stress has me being productive. I de-condiment-ed the fridge and toss some old stuff to help make room for Turkey Day stuff.

Ok. 'Nuff goofing off. Time to go clean some dishes and prep pot roast fixin's for tomorrow's dinner.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The looming Turkey Day holiday......

For someone not hosting Thanksgiving, I've sure got a lot of cooking to be done before the holiday.

It all started out, eons ago when I started dating the now-hubby (cripes... how did 13 years pass so fast?). I did the dinner with my own family, but drove over to his house for desert. And made and brought a pecan pie.

I've been bringing a pecan pie over ever since.

The first Thanksgiving after my dad died, I went up to my aunt's place in Coon Valley, Wisconsin, with my bro, sis in law, their kid, and my mom. But I still made and sent a pie along to the in-laws (well, they weren't in-laws then, but ya get the drift). I also made a Spiced Cranberry and Zinfandel Sauce that I took to my aunt's house. I fell in love with that, and even though I haven't gone up to my aunt's since, I continue to make it, since I love it.

Within the past couple of years, I've also started bringing over the sweet potatoes and green beans to the in-laws, last year was the first year of Not Your Mama's Green Bean Casserole and Mashed Maple Bourbon Sweet Potatoes. Both were hits, and I've been asked to bring them again.

I usually also like to bring something appetizer-ish, and this year I think I'm going to try a Salmon Mousse since it'll be a nice little "something different". The mother-in-law always puts out some cold shrimp and and variety of crackers and cheeses.

This year I also wanted to try a Bittersweet Chocolate Pecan Pie recipe, to actually attempt a rolled crust (my usual pie uses a tart crust, much easier to do) with the snazzy French rolling pin I got for Christmas last year.

And then there is the stuffing. At least I plan on doing that after Turkey Day to help the "there is never enough stuffing!" feeling. And the prep is even started... I browned some turkey necks and giblets tonight to throw in to the crockpot for stock and giblets that I can throw in the freezer. Then I can pull them out when I need them and it won't be such a task to make the stuffing.

I think that's it. I plan to do the cranberry sauce next Monday night (it's easy), do the Salmon Mousse on Tuesday along with the mushrooms/bechamel for the green beans and sweet potatoes up to the topping, pies on Wednesday night, and Thursday I just have to throw the veggies together and warm them before we head to the in-laws.

This is always the point in time where I go "crap.... have I signed on for too much?"

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Stupid laundry.

I just do not like doing laundry.

It is worlds better now, not living an an apartment and having the washer and dryer just steps away.... but it's one of those tasks I am just not fond of. There is so much waiting. I'm really an instant gratification kinda gal.

So, here it is... four minutes to midnight, and the dryer is still going.

It was a weekend of tasks in Casa de Hausfrau. Yesterday was "end of the growing season" tasks outside... cutting down the now pathetic garden, putting the pots under the deck, bringing in the hoses, all sorts of fun stuff (NOT!). It's always a sad time, I'm sad when the season no longer supports the garden. Although hopefully I'll be better about all the herbs I brought indoors this year and actually keep them alive.

Also spent a portion of my morning doing fun stuff like getting the oil in my car changed and getting the car washed. Which, of course, meant it rained last night.

The hubby had a gift card for Potbelly's (from a co-worker whose ass he saved the past week) so that ended up being dinner. Actually pretty good stuff. The hubby was not as impressed with the size of the sandwiches, but I thought it was just right. And boy, he got the Wreck... um... yeah. I need to get one of those for myself. Soon. That was some damned too tasty shit from the bite I had.

Tonight was Pork Chops with Country Gravy, which is a recipe I love but the hubby is not as fond of. How can you argue with pork and a nice, sage-y, milk gravy???? Served with mashed potatoes (which were a little too liquid-y, my fault) and canned corn. I was happy, he was not. He was happier when I had the Profiteroles from the Bouchon cookbook (store bought ice cream, and I took many liberties with the chocolate sauce since I didn't have the syrup on hand, only hard dark chocolate on hand rather than semi-sweet and I like a dash of coffee with chocolate). Damned tasty. Unfortunately I made the puffs yesterday, in anticipation that we'd want them yesterday, so they weren't at peak, but it was all still very good.

Turkey Day is looming. I am determined this year to take a stab at my Dad's stuffing. Dad passed in 2004, very suddenly and very, very, very fucking unexpectedly. I'm still dealing with it. And this time of the year is the worst..... I got my "foodie genes" from him. And that side of the family. And Thanksgiving was his holiday. It was up damned early in the morning to start the stuffing and the bird, and my mom did the pies. And although I knew how he was doing the turkey in later years (including our disasterous try at Alton Brown's brined bird where the bird needed an hour and a half more cooking time than the recipe stated) I never knew exactly what he did with the stuffing. It was a recipe that came down from his grandmother, from the Texas panhandle, that included bread, wild rice, and used the turkey giblets.

At the grocery store today, they had turkey necks and giblets on sale. Oh hell yeah. Bought a package of each, and tomorrow I'll prep them to throw them in the crockpot on Tuesday morning for some fine stock and the giblets I need. I was going to offer the extra stock to the mother in law but apparently she found a recipe in the Fannie Farmer cookbook I gave her for turkey gravy ahead of time that uses necks to make stock, and she gave it a test drive this weekend and loved the results. Good for her!!

But, until then, the dryer taunts. A quarter after midnight, and it still might be 15 minutes before it's done. I really need to do this stuff earlier in the day.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

It's not easy being green??

One of the nicer things about the townhome development I live in is that lot of people spend time planting flowers and plants and all the pretty stuff that makes a hum-drum townhome look nice. In the time we've lived in the complex, we've had three landscaping companies and they have all sucked pretty badly, so it's extra nice that people to pay some attention to their yards to make up the difference.

Today, a nice, cool fall day after a couple of night time freezes, it was time to tackle the yard and cut down all the veggie and flower plants, bring in the hoses, put the pots away, etc. I made a special run to the hardware store to get some lawn bags to throw all my yard waste in, trying to be a responsible-type person.

As I was bagging uo stuff out front, one of the neighbors came over (she was also doing end-of-season work in her yard) and gave me the scoop... several years back, the management company called the village and canceled the yard waste pick up for the complex, since our landscaping company at the time would also pick the stuff up as part of the contract. Turns out, with the landscaping company we currently have, they didn't bother to check the contact to make sure they also had this service. They don't.

So, trying to be a responsible person with my yard waste, my only option is to drive my yard waste 15 miles and pay $30 to have it dealt with.

Oh hell no.

My other option is to shove it all in a plastic bag and have it go to the landfill with the regular garbage.


Thursday, November 8, 2007

Every cook has a bad night.....

And tonight was one of mine. Ugh

It started out well enough, making a recipe I know well for dinner, my version of Beef Stroganoff. I've made it a zillion times. One thing I love is that it starts off with browning the whole steak, which means on nights where I have totally zoned out, I can even pull a frozen top round steak out of the freezer and start with that.

Step one... brown meat.

Mmmm. Browned meat. Browned meat GOOD. It's just a couple minutes on each side to get some color.

And while that is getting some color, chop some onions and mushrooms.

When the steak is browned, dump the onions & mushrooms in the pan, add some salt, and deglaze the pan.

If you want, you can add a little chicken or beef stock. And if you're smart and unlike me, you'll remember to add a bit of oil to everything.

Meanwhile... slice beef against the grain. Mmm. Beefy. And nice and rare.

When the onions are done, sprinkle on some flour. Then add beef stock, Worcestershire sauce, I add a couple drops (and I mean drops, the hubby can detect it if I add too much) of balsamic, salt and pepper to taste, and let it thicken.

Once that is thick, kill the heat, then add the beef and sour cream and stir to warm it all through.

"Hey, what the hell? How did that become a different pan?"

DAMN. You caught me.

I forgot to add the oil when I added the mushrooms and onions, and I walked away for just a little too long to do something else. By the time the nose went "hey... what's burning?" it was a hopeless cause. Big, burned, onion and mushroom mess totally ruining the goodness from browning the steak in the pan. D'oh!

Not too hard to recover, though. I always have onions around, and I was lucky that I had some extra mushrooms around that I could work with. I got those chopped up quickly enough and didn't loose too much time.

I'm lucky enough that we've got a good eastern European population in these parts, and dried spaetzle noodles are on some grocery shelves. Not the shorter ones.... actual long noodles. Way good with this.

Sigh. In the kitchen, tomorrow is another day. Or wait, I don't cook on Fridays. I guess Saturday is another day.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Happy birthday to......

(not me)

The hubby!!!

Yep, today was his b-day. And I won't mention how old. Older than me. By several years. Ha.

I know the hubby really prefers a lot of "out" cooking to my own, so I offered up many, many choices to him. I work in a corporate/shopping mecca of an area and there is very little I can't pick up and bring home.

Hubby has been working way late lately, and was hoping he'd get out of work at least on time today.

I called him about the time he was supposed to leave work, and got no answer on the phone. Not good. If he was there and saw my number come up, he'd answer.

Drove home, arrived home and hubby was not home yet. Spent some time cleaning/straightening up since his folks were stopping by at some point (his mom gets a little, well, mom-ish sometimes and just feels the need to stop by when she hasn't seen her first born in awhile).

After our last trip to Vegas and the profiteroles we had at Mon Ami Gabi and the way the hubby practically wrestled the plate away from me to take the last couple bites, I really wanted to make them for his b-day. Last night I did the Chocolate Sauce outta the Bouchon cookbook (well, ok, I semi-half-assed it since I did not have corn syrup on hand, so it was a mix of honey and sugar until the taste was good... and ala Ina, a little coffee added to bring out the chocolate flavor). After I was done doing enough clean up where I was convinced my mother in law wouldn't be bad-mouthin me all the way back to her house, I started making the profiteroles, not knowing what kind of mood hubby was in or when he'd be home. At least got the water/butter/sugar part done (also the Bouchon recipe).

And hubby got home. Late. And way cranky. I was just pulling the eggs out to add them to the dough, thinking Screw it! I'll go ahead! when he walked in the door. And wanted to be bothered with NOTHING, much less a decision on dessert.

We ended up getting Chinese food from the ONE place around here that does not deliver (which means, I drove to get it) and I didn't finish the profiteroles. No biggie.

And I was glad I didn't finish them, when his mom brought over some cake slices from the good Polish bakery. Which we didn't even eat (they're waiting in the fridge now).

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Another week, down the tubes...

Well, last week was a looooong week.

There was one company that I interviewed with that I was on the fence about, and they came back and made me an offer. For their offer, it was no contest, no way would I take that job. I gave them a counter offer (first time I've ever done that) figuring they'd tell me to get lost. I was surprised when they came back, meeting my offer (for the most part.... I will loose 3 paid vacation days from what I have now).

So I was stressed about that all week... do I take it? Do I continue to see how long I can ride it out at my current place? Or do I just keep looking waiting for the absolute perfect opportunity?? I suck at decisions like that.

So, being stressed about that, I was just not having the best week. And the hubby ended up working late every night but Friday, so he continued his grumpy streak, and I was dealing with unpredictable dinner times. Fun. I can't even remeber what i made every night. I know one night we had gyros and eggs (cooked gyrps meat served with sunny-side up eggs), one night was South School BBQ sandwiches, and um... stuff. I know we ate every night, so I know I was cooking!

>On Saturday, the hubby had to go in to work, so we got up at a fairly normal hour. I had a couple cups of coffee, watched some Food Network, and then headed out in to the world. I hit Trader Joe's to stock up on stuff for Thanksgiving (making two pecan pies, sweet potatoes and maybe green beans to bring over to the in-laws), then hit Tuesday Morning and was delighted to find a Built NY 3-bottle tote. I've wanted a two-bottle one for awhile, and didn't even realize they made a three bottle one. Now that the in-laws have come to realize it's not a sin to have a couple glasses of wine, we usually go thru 3 bottles on holidays.

Last night was a repeat of the Lighter Chicken Parmesan that I've already made before. Man, that stuff is good. Tonight was Seafood Lasagna since they had snow crab on sale at the store this weekend. I don't use canned crab as the recipe suggests, this time I used some snow crab, and packages of those teeny little salad shrimp.

The starting goods..... sans the scallops that were still in the freezer....

This thing? ROCKS. We got them years ago with a Lobster gram, it's the best thing for getting in to seafood that is still in a hard shell.

A half hour later (my hands are in slow and clumsy mode lately).....

I was not happy with the fact that the salad shimp, which were also on sale at the grocery store, were not cleaned very well. Lots of really black veins. Oh happy me. I'm usually not bicthy about having to clean out shrimp, but not those small little salad shrimp fuckers. I did clean out a few, but a lot of them went right in to the trash.

I also added some scallops - had a pound of bay scallops that have been in the freezer for awhile, and this seemed like a good place to use them. I also made some garlic confit and used that rather than raw garlic, and added a couple grates of nutmeg to bechamel.

While I was cooking them, they gave off a lot of liquid, so I used that in place of some of the chicken stock in the recipe. I also ended up using an old stash of homemade chicken stock. Yay, more open freezer space!!

I also had a huge brain fart when making the lasagna and totally forgot about the cottage cheese. I was using no-bake noodles that I had soaked a little before I started assembly. It'd have been easier, with my mistake, if I hadn't soaked the noodles since dis-assembly to get the cottage cheese in would have been easier. But I did manage to do it.

The lasagna before it went in the oven.......

And the mess I had to clean up while it was in the oven....

The lasagna when it came out of the oven....

I was worried about the no-boil noodles not haing enough liquid, so I covered it cooked for awhile. Um, BOY, was I wrong. When I checked it after 40 minutes, it was still a soupy mess, so back in to the oven it went (luckily I was way early when I put it in the oven, so dinner time was still on schedule).

Looked back at the recipe and realized it was a soupy mess because I didn't use enough butter/flour in the bechamel. Whoops. I used 1/4 cup of each, it calls for 1/2 cup. D'oh.

Served with some steamed asparagus and garlic bread (had leftover bread from yesterday - Italian semolina bread, which I haven't had in YEARS). Despite being soupy, the taste was great.