Thursday, February 26, 2009

Phoning it in.....

Well, that was the original plan.

I knew I had some ravioli in the fridge... and who would have thunk, my fridge was talking to me!!

Dates on them all were Feb. 26th. Well, guess I better use them...

The original thought was to open a jar of alfredo and call it a meal. But a look at the clock.... I could do a quick bechamel. And I had stuff to use up. Sounds like a plan!

Milk, steeping with onion, shallot, garlic, peppercorns and bay leaves.... I let that steep while I got in my workout tonight...

Planned on two sauces... one with just some shredded parm, and another with a vat of "spicy shrimp dip" I bought on an impulse at Whole Foods over the weekend, and some tomato confit.

My final shrimp/tomato sauce....

And the cheesy one.... I also added some grated romano cheese....

Hey.... I got the bowl dirty measuring out the milk, might as well use it twice.

Big pot o' ravioli....

And my final plate... shrimp sauce on the lobster ravioli, and cheese sauce on the artichoke ones...


Bechamel is great for stuff that goes in the oven, but pretty much sucks for "over pasta" use. I should have just opened the jar of alfredo.

Overall, just not a good food day around here.

I am a Recovering Catholic (I think I was... maybe 7.... when we left the Catholic church, but my parents were raised Catholic and went to Catholic school, so it was deep inside the family structure in ways you could not always understand) I always get the desire to eat a lot of fish during lent. Now, I've been Lutheran since we left the Catholic church, and they don't have the same "sorry, you're going to hell because you forgot and ate a cheeseburger on a Friday during lent" that the Catholic church, or what my experience of it was, has. It's not forbidden for the majority of my life. But still.... Friday... need fish.

Doesn't help my co-worker is doing a "no land animals" diet and is fond of fast food, so he asked me about Long John Silvers.

Oh, I loves me some trashy LJS.

And not even the fish... the chicken planks.

Sadly, the LJS that was not far from home closed awhile back. I never saw anyone under 75 in that place. They might have become a victim of all the "senior living facilities" that have come up around here.

But, I knew there was a LJS not too far from work. I figured the first Thursday of Lent was probably going to be better than the first Friday of Lent, so I set off at lunch time today.

And it was GONE. Even though Google, Yahoo and the LJS website did not mention this.

No fair.

I hit the local hot dog joint, got a chicken gyros, but it couldn't compare.

I need to go grab my "Top Secret Recipes" cookbooks to see if I can get my bleedin' fix now. Grumble.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Baby, show me some thigh.....

So... tonight was some Crusty Chicken Thighs... a recipe that is also in my latest cookbook acquisition.

Interesting technique.... bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs go down in a covered pan to cook while the skin crisps up.


They came out kinda, golden, but I wish they'd have gotten more brown and crispy. I think my pan might have been too low. I might just crank it next time I try them.

Yeowsa... that is a lot of fat that I drained out of the pan.....

The sauce is some mushrooms, onion, garlic, shallot, cooked in some of the chicken fat.

And you add some chives.

Mashed taters served as the starch side.

I thought I over-salted my potatoes while they were cooking, but upon serving the hubby said "Wow! What did you do to make the potatoes actually taste like mashed potatoes?"

Thanks, dear. I guess at least after 15 years I have finally learned the ONE food you like properly seasoned and not under salted.

All in all, not bad. I would have liked the skin crisper, and I really didn't get much from the sauce but it did clean out a lot of things I had in the fridge. I might try the thighs again, sans sauce and with something like mac & cheese on the side.

But it was still the bright spot of the evening. Stupid Top Chef.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Happy Pączki Day/Fat Tuesday!!!

I'm an equal opportunity food lover... we celebrate both Pączki Day and Fat Tuesday in this household.

For those who don't come from areas with very large Polish populations, "Pączki Day" is a mostly Polish-American tradition for the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday (I think in Poland proper they actually do it on Thursday). There are many people of Polish decent in the Chicago area. I am married to one of them. Every Pączki Day, his mom heads out early to pick up Pączki to bring to my father in law's office, and she always saves a couple for us. Who doesn't love a huge jelly or cream filled doughnut every once in awhile?

First up... enchiladas...

Add some filling to the bottom of the dish....

I did some in corn tortillas for me (for tonight, and some for lunches for the week) and some in flour tortillas for the hubby. He hates corn tortillas. When he told me this, I looked at him like he had two heads.

Top that with the rest of the filling, and then cheese. I've learned that no matter how much cheese I put inside enchiladas, the hubby doesn't believe it unless he sees cheese on top. So I usually put most of the cheese on top. Just easier that way.

The proper directions give instructions on putting them in the oven to melt the cheese and heat through. I usually just throw them in the microwave and heat them up that way, because "enchiladas = microwave" to me after our old apartment, when turning on the oven to any temp for any length of time meant it would be 90 degrees in the apartment - no matter what time of year. But this time, I decided to throw them in the oven.

Yeah. Should have gone with what I know. The cheese on top did kind of melt, but they were stone cold in the middle and I ended up nuking them anyway. Go, instructions!

For a side, red beans and rice. I use a bag mix. Deal with it.

I actually love Vigo rice mixes, for the most part. In college, the read beans & rice was cheap and easy and was dinner very, very often.

I also picked up some already-boiled and frozen crawfish at Whole Foods over the weekend. They looked good, but I suspected they might not be. I was right. I just steamed them and they weren't overcooked, they just also weren't very tasty.

But they do look pretty, at least.

The enchiladas... or what was left after I scooped out our servings that I threw in the microwave.

The jalepeno was not NEARLY as strong as yesterday - good thing - and they were very tasty. Filling was a little runny but that was my own doing, since I added some more milk to try and tame the heat, and the Wondra flour I also added didn't do much to thicken them. In any case, it was a nice, tasty dinner, and I was able to get it all done while running up and down the stairs while trying to get my workout done in the basement.

And the workout was worth it, because I got to have desert tonight....

That, my friends, is a Bostome Cream Pączki. Chocolate glaze, and a very non-sweet cream on the inside. And HUGE. Like twice the size of a regular doughnut. And I enjoyed every bite.

Monday, February 23, 2009

At least the cats liked the bacon....

Dinner tonight was Breakfast For Dinner, since I didn't pull anything out and had no menu plan. It was that or Cincinnati Chili, and the hubby voted for breakfast. Works for me.

I personally like the flavor of Farmland bacon better than Oscar Mayer, but I like OM's center cut bacon, so I have been buying that. But Farmland was on sale the last few times I bought bacon, so I've got a couple pounds of that on hand.

Hubby's only complaint about dinner was the bacon. He said it was too fatty (and it is more fatty than the center cut bacon, which he has apparently gotten used to). Oh well. At least the feral cats were happy happy happy for the leftover bacon.

I didn't want to spook them with the flash (although I doubt it would spook them, there was pork product to be had and those two guys - I call them "Gray & White Fluffy" and "Black & White Fluffy" - are ALL about anything pork that I throw out) so it was hard to get a totally clear picture, but that is a lot better than the old camera would have done.

After dinner I figured I'd get a jump on tomorrow night's dinner... crawfish enchiladas. It's a Fat Tuesday tradition around here... well, that or going out for cajun. And since I'm expecting a very long and tedious workday tomorrow, I'd rather sit in front of my own TV in my stretchy clothes with a Dixie beer and eat.

Red pepper, yellow pepper, green pepper, green onion, red onion, jalepenos and some buttah, chopped and ready to go...

Look at it... it just looks like Mardi Gras...

Think I can get beads for flashing my cooking and not the rack? I think I should be able to.

I added my garlic not too soon after, when the colors were all a little more faded/blended. I almost always miss with at least one garlic clove, and it ends up on my teapot.

Sorry, teapot! But c'mon... you love garlic, don't you??

This is one of those recipes that calls for like 1/4 cup amounts of all the peppers and onions. C'mon. I hate having to cut up a half a pepper for a recipe, since I usually forget about the other half until it's turned into a science experiment in my fridge. So, I just chopped up all I had, and removed about half of the pepper/onion mixture. I can find another use for that. Until then, it'll likely end up in the freezer.

Added my flour and started with a little chili powder...

Added my milk and the rest of the spices....

*cough cough cough cough* Holy moly, um... I tasted one of my jalepenos and it didn't burn the skin off my hand while I was chopping it so I didn't think it was that strong, but wowsa, at this point in time I realized that one of my peppers was REALLY potent. Oh well. I'm just happy we've got a few Dixie beers on hand, since we may need them tomorrow.

Add the crawfish and some cheese... I usually do less cheese in the filling so I can add more cheese on top for cheesy, gooey goodness.

Stir.... pretty.... (*cough cough cough cough* I hope this mellows by tomorrow....)

So, filling is done and I just need to do assembly tomorrow. Piece of cake. And I should be able to get that and some red beans & rice (fromabag... hey, I like the Vigo rice mixes) and get more workout in. Because I'll need it. Sure, this recipe is pretty healthy and all, but tomorrow is also Pączki Day around these parts, and the parent-in-laws usually bring us some pączki (pronounced poonch-key... I know, I know... it's Polish. How it looks and how it is said is really different. Look into Russian sometimes, that language is WAY whacky) from the good Polish bakery, so I'll need to make sure my behind gets in a very good 30 minutes on the elliptical if I want to enjoy my big ol' jelly doughnut.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Picture-tastucal weekend!

So... the weekend celebrating the anniversary of my 29th birthday is over.

Friday night we went out to dinner, a local place called Vittorio de Roma. We've been meaning to go there, well, since it opened several years ago, but I will admit I can do pretty decent Italian food at home, so we don't go out for it as much as we used to when our old Italian place was still standing. It's right in the area... right next door to the liquor store we usually buy from (owner is a sweetie) and the produce mart I go to almost every weekend. And it's one of those places where the parking lot is always full when it's open. Always a good sign.

We started out with cocktails. I got a gin martini with blue cheese olives, the hubby went for a beer. Awesome bread basket... some warm slices of Italian bread, and a wonderful foccaccia. Just enough rosemary to be tasty, but not enough where it was overpowering. Add to that some awesom olive oil at the table and some freshly shredded asiago for the bread. I was already happy (heck, after the last couple weeks, a couple more refills of the martini and the bread basket would really have been enough to make it a fantastic night for me).

We ordered some calamari, and I was not happy with the first piece I had. If you've never tried cooking calamari yourself, it is one of those things that goes from perfect to overdone in a matter of seconds. I think this was a case where someone was standing over the fryer with calamari in hand, someone asked them a question and they dropped a couple pieces in then answered the question, then dropped in the rest of the calamari. Because the rest of the calamari was perfect. Maybe a little oily, but they fried it in good olive oil, so it wasn't too bad to have the nice taste of the oil.

Hubby got the pasta e fagioli, I had the salad. The spoonful of his soup that I had was good, and my salad was very nicely dressed with a balsamic that gave a nice hint of the vinegar without feeling like I was sucking it right out of the bottle. And I had to laugh at the cherry tomatoes in the salad that were just like the ones I'd bought at the produce mart earlier that week.

Hubby got the zuppa de pesce, and I got a monkfish filet in a mushroom/cream sauce. Sadly (and unsaid on the menu) it came with a very uninspired baked potato. Would have preferred some pasta, especially with that wonderful sauce, but at least I know for next time to ask what the side is, and ask for a substitution.

We ordered some cappuccinos and the profiteroles for desert, and while we were sipping out coffee the waiter came out to tell us that unfortunately they were still frozen, and asked if we wanted something else. Nothing else on their desert menu sounded good (I'm not a creme brulee person, and everything else involves hazelnuts and I'm not a big hazelnut person). We finished our coffee and headed home.

Saturday, we had some snow that was coming in. It ended up not being as bad as first predicted, and I was actually thinking of heading out on Saturday, until I saw that Gone With the Wind was on.

Oh yeah. Bring it on.

Popcorn with a little black pepper and shredded parmesan, some Scarlett O'Hara, and my day was nice.

I did have to think about dinner though... luckily I had the makings for scrambled eggs for crabmeat and chives on hand, it was a back-up plan in case I ended up cooking on Valentine's day rather than ordering a pizza.

The mis en place.... really, it's all you need to make a tasty dish. There is something to be said about simplicity.

Eggs, claw crab meat (lump is way better, but at the time I bought the crab meat I though there was a very good chance I'd soon be jobless, so I figured I'd excercise a little frugality. And Trader Joe's only had the claw meat - no lump) chives and creme fraiche.

Started scrambling my eggs....

Add in your drained and picked over crab meat when the eggs look about half done...

Continue to cook, and when it's still a little wet in the pan (before your eggs have overcooked) add your chopped chives and creme fraiche. I had half a package of creme fraiche left, so I just added it all.

Tasty as it was at that point, I thought it needed a little hot sauce.

I just love hot sauce and the magic it performs. In small amounts, it's just the slightest bit of heat along with that touch of vinegar that can just totall balance out a dish.

Usually I serve this over eggs, I also heated up a baguette from the freezer for me, and I just scooped up the eggs with the bread. Served with a nice salad, and it was a happy dinner for all.

Today, I wanted to just stay home, but there were things to get done.

Oh, okay... I did goof off a little. The video poker game I have for my Palm is SO unfair. It's one of those games that was designed for mobile devices back when internet gaming was legal, so the "play without spending money" mode is obviously designed to make you think you're going to make out like crazy if you just play it "for real". I wish I could hit royal flushes as much as I do on this stinkin' game.

Oh... yeah... exciting news... we finally booked the next Vegas trip. Yay! With airline miles and a freebie room (THREE nights for free at Caesar's? We've never had an offer like that) our non-gambling out-of-pocket is minimal. We're actually going to be back at the scene of the crime... back in Vegas just a few days after our wedding anniversary. But I still think we'll try to go more low-key with everything... no plans for ultra-big meals or anything. Like most other times, the big excitement is just not being here for a couple days.

Today, in between sessions with the video poker games, I hit the grocery store. For my birthday, the hubby got me Jacques Pepin: More Fast Food My Way. I'm a fan of the PBS series and I have the last book, and this one may even be better than the first one. There were two recipes that I wanted to give a whirl right away... his brussels sprouts and turkey culets with a cream & morel sauce. Only snag was that turkey cutlets were eight bucks a pound.

Um, no.

Chicken cutlets were five bucks a pound. Much better.

I started with the veg.... is any recipe bad when it starts with bacon?

Add in the brussels sprouts that took a whirl in the food processor with my "I need to use it more" slicing blade....

Cover it, let it cook down, covered, then uncover and let any mositure cook off...

Very quick, very easy, very tasty.

Chicken, browning...

When that's browned, add shallots and some re-hydrated morel mushrooms (recipe says like an ounce... the package I had was a quarter ounce and it was fine).

Add the mushroom soaking liquid...

Added cream and I put the chicken breasts back in since if the slightest bit of pink is in the hubby's chicken, he'll call it underdone.

Recipe calls for chives or tarragon. I know tarragon is a no-no with the hubby and I wanted to save my chives for later in the week, and I have a LOT of parsley on hand, so I just added some parsley.

The hubby proclaimed it "a chicken dish I actually *like*" which is high praise coming from him. It was good... even though it uses half a cup of cream it was still pretty light, and my first time having morels and I liked them a lot. I'll make both these recipe again.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Economic Stimulus

Are ya happy, Mikey??

Today after work, I spent exactly five minutes running into Best Buy, and I bought myself a proper digital camera. Did my research online last night and I knew I could get what I wanted for under a hundred bucks, so I am now the proud owner of a little, itty-bitty Sony Cyber-shot.

I've been meaning to do this for awhile... really, since Christmas... and I decided to just go for it.

Like a lot of Americans right now, I've been in "saving" mode for awhile. We didn't spend a lot at Christmas, and I've been trying to be budget-conscious when menu planning and doing my weekly shopping. When I got my usual Christmas Cash from the parent-in-laws, I spent a little and tucked a hundy in my undie drawer, wanting to hold on to it for a rainy day.

You know what? That day is here.

Sure, we're now facing the 10% pay cut I'm dealing with, but since a raise kicked in right before they calculated all this, it sure could be worse.

My particular industry niche basically makes stuff that tests all those chips and doohickeys that go into all sorts of high-end electronic stuff. The stuff that no one bought over the holidays. The stuff that is still sitting in store rooms at retailers across the country. And with a backlog of inventory, no need to buy new stuff. So they haven't needed to test new doohickeys, and the bottom dropped out with our sales stuff. Not good.

So as a little bit of self-help to my own industry, I acted. For a hundred bucks I got a camera that is smaller, lighter, more powerful and also "comes with it's own chargeable battery" goodness that is better than our old digital camera. Which was like three times the price just a few years ago.

And a bonus... for a couple bucks more (woo! more cash into the economy!) it looks like I can get an adapter to turn my impulse purchase of a 2-gig Micro SD adapter that won't work in my Palm to work in the camera. Woo!

So Mikey and all... look forward to better pictures here, when I finally do some cooking that is worth taking picture of (dinner tonight was a repeat of frozen chicken cordon bleu, go me) because the inaugural picture I took of the hubby taking his evening nap, drooling on the pillow, is really not very exciting for anyone but me.

Now ya'll... if you are fortunate enough to be in a position where you're just holding in anticipation of what will happen in the upcoming months.... eat desert first since you never know what will happen... and go make that purchase you've been holding off. Not just for high-end techie stuff... every industry and market is feeling this. Even if it's swinging by a nice local eatery for some-take out as a treat (which I'll also be doing three times by the end of the week... lunch tomorrow at a former co-worker's Thai place, going out for a b-day lunch on Friday for some authentic Mexican at a nearby place, and hitting an Italian place we've been meaning to go to for years for my b-day dinner).

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Valentine's Day - Hausfrau style

Hope everyone out there in the blogosphere had a nice day celebrating Valentine's Day, or just an easy time trying to ignore it.

We're not big on the whole "forced romance" thing, and I'm not fond of cut flowers (they look pretty but then it's just slowly watching them die... depresses me) and the hubby always forgets my fondness for all things Fannie May chocolate so I'd need to buy myself candies if I wanted any. Which is probably a good thing since I really need to make up for the lost time where my elliptical was out of service.

We're not big on the "romantic gestures" for Valentine's Day. I set the stage early on... for our first Valentine's Day, I was off in college and the one thing I really, REALLY needed at the time was a set of nice screwdrivers. The hubby hardly believed me when I said that was indeed what I wanted. So I got a nice set of ten Craftsman screwdrivers. I was overjoyed. We still use them.

I was hoping I'd be able to show off the bling of a new, shiny, huge water heater, but that did not happen this weekend. Looks like instead of getting a new water heater for Valentine's Day, I'm getting a new water heater for my birthday. Do we know how to gift-give, or what??

I got the hubby Jason and the Argonauts DVD (old Harryhausen one) and we watched that last night. Nothing to put you in a holiday romance mood like fighting skeletons....

The hubby got me the world's most fantastic poster for my kitchen...

Yep. The Infamous Kwanzaa cake. I can't wait to get it up.

For last night's dinner, we ended up ordering a pizza. That was the plan, I knew I'd be cleaning all day so cooking would NOT be happening. But, I did take the time to whip up a Warm Chocolate Raspberry Cake since chocolate/raspberry is one of the hubby's favorite desert flavors.

Melted the stuff for the "frosting" in the microwave and poured it into my dish...

Yeah... the recipe calls for a round cake pan. Mine were in sorry shape so I guess I tossed them awhile ago. And forgot. Whoops. So, I just went for it with my square Pyrex pan.

Mmmm... chocolate liquid stuff....

Started the batter, and I was a little concerned that it looked a little curdled...

Action shot! Pouring in the chocolatey goodness...

The final batter...

In the pan, ready for the oven...

... and out of the oven.

I made it right about lunch time, and just let it sit out until I threw it back in a warm oven while we were eating pizza. As you can see above, I overcooked it a little, so I was wary of following the exact reheating instructions, and I also wasn't planning on doing the whole "flip it over, warm flowy chocolate frosting goodness ooooh ahhhh" bit, I just sliced it in the pan and flopped it bottom-side-down in some bowls, and added some raspberry sorbet and vanilla gelato and called it desert. There were no complaints.

All in all... very good recipe. Nice chocolate/raspberry goodness at the bottom, and even the cruchy edges weren't too bad since this was a bit more like a cake-like brownie than cake. Great flavor, easy and quick to do, and it even left a minimum of kitchen mess behind...

And now, it's time to deal with the fact that the weekend is over, and there is a hard work week ahead. At least I can relax for now....

Ah. 'Tis a good thing.