Monday, February 19, 2007

A stroke of luck...

Today was going to be THE day. You know, the one where everything gets organized; where the larders get filled; where a PLAN is created. Didn't happen. I had already cleaned out the refrigerators (both of them) and gotten rid of all the stuff that, frankly, rotted while I was working unexpectedly long days last week. Today, we woke up to overcast and rainy, which I love. It just wasn't a day to rev into high gear.

In fairness, I really needed a weekend this weekend. Saturday was my birthday (an ugly sounding one--I'm not really acknowledging it), so there was much ado about nothing. It did result, however, in some nice visiting time with the Husband, the kids, and the granddaughters. I came into the weekend utterly spent, and it seemed like I fell asleep every time I sat down. Eventually, I just gave into it. Once I realized that today was not going to be THE day, I relaxed--really, really relaxed--for the first time in weeks. I know I'll kick myself later for all the things I didn't get done, but someone very wise has said to me many times, "You've got to go slow to go fast." I get it. This was my slow weekend.

With that said, though, dinner still needed cooking tonight. I did buy meat at Costco yesterday, so the rest became a scavenger hunt. I had some new red potatoes that had begun to sprout, some zucchini that was a little hinky on the ends, and all kinds of meat. I did NOT have any fresh herbs, milk, cream, or much of anything else. I don't keep a heavily stocked pantry, either, so it was really a challenge. When faced with a challenge, sometimes I just go do something else to let my subconscious work on it, which is when it happened. While sorting through all the magazines I haven't read, I dropped the Thanksgiving (insert embarrassed face here) issue of Gourmet (or Bon Appetit, don't really remember) on the floor. It fell open to a recipe for a spice rubbed pork tenderloin with a sauce made from pomegranite juice. Voila! Dinner.

It was really quite good, and I'll post the recipe later in the week. In the meantime, I've decided to scale back on my planning. Honestly, I shouldn't shop for more than a couple of days at a time, because it irritates me to no end to throw food away. Tomorrow will be ahi tuna on the grill--which was supposed to be today's dinner, but even intrepid desert dwellers don't necessarily like to grill in pelting rain. Off to bed, and ready to begin another week.

Monday, February 12, 2007

After all, 12 hours is only a half day!

I find myself once again invoking the 12-hour rule. Crazy. Actually, I only missed it by half an hour, but cooking tonight would have also involved a stop at the grocery store, and it was just too much. I really find that it's important for me to try to have a reasonably sane Monday to keep from being really depleted by Friday. Therefore, it was Chick-Fil-A night. And even that, my friends, seemed as if the food gods conspired against me in retaliatory anger for so many non-cooking nights.

“What?” you ask. “Fast food. Chain. What can go wrong?”

Plenty. First of all, the “Fil-A” part of my sandwich only covered about half the bun. It sort of looked like two fingers and half a palm, and was about 2x3 inches overall. The coleslaw, which was my “fresh” food of the day, was definitely over its prime. But hey, the Diet Coke was just fine—nice and fizzy!

I came home and consoled myself with a slice of lemon cake, a hot bath, and a look through the stack of new cookbooks that just arrived. That’s right—I just keep feeding my addiction. Unfortunately, the Husband was home and intercepted the package. I just plead, “Hobby, honey.” He sort of secretly rolls his eyes, but it’s cheaper than some hobbies, and he benefits, too. After all, I could take up making beaded jewelry (which I secretly lust after), and I’ll bet he wouldn’t wear it. But he DOES get to eat what I cook. That’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it!

Now I’m off to take something out of the freezer so I can cook tomorrow night without the necessity of a grocery stop.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Back in the kitchen again...

Well, not me exactly, but Kira. Who can say no when you get a phone call asking, “Want me to cook dinner tonight?” Um…yeah. And it’s a good thing somebody wanted to, because I just wasn’t there yet after my atrocious work week. However, when one person gets into the kitchen, it sort of opens the portal, and pretty soon, I followed to do some baking.

Kira decided to explore Giada’s Everyday Italian,, although I do think she needed to pull her top down more to really replicate Giada’s style. (For those of you who don’t want Giada, pretend I didn’t say that. For those who do watch Giada—yep, you’re laughing.) She made whole wheat spaghetti with Checca Sauce, an uncooked sauce made with cherry tomatoes, scallions, garlic, Parmesan, basil, olive oil, and mozzarella cheese. Just a few pulses in the blender and a quick toss with hot pasta put dinner on the table. This was good, and I’d make it again, although it wasn’t necessarily one of those “Wow! I’ve found the ultimate!” recipes.

In fact, I realized today how few of those there are. I seldom repeat meals, as I always feel there is going to be something a little bit better if I just keep looking. I think Kira was a bit discouraged because I didn’t do cartwheels—although everyone who knows me knows that it just isn’t my style—no matter what. I rarely get excited over my own cooking, either. I guess I need to put some thought into the things that I do make over and over again. Not very many, that’s for sure.

Kira also borrowed from Bobby Flay’s Grilling for Life, and extrapolated a Mustard-Dill Vinaigrette from a pasta and grilled shrimp dish. We just had it over a spinach salad. It was also very good, but we forgot to toss the feta cheese into the salad, and I think it would have nicely offset the acid notes in the dressing. It was a very pretty, vibrant green color, though.

For me, it was another try at the Stonewall Kitchen Lemon Cake with Lemon-Vanilla Glaze. The first time I made it, it was a little bitter. This time, I started the glaze without the lemon zest, waiting to add that until the last couple of minutes of simmering. Perfect. All the tart, tangy goodness without any bitterness. This is going to be a go-to dessert, I can tell. See, already—a repeater.

I also made another dessert, which I’m going to keep under wraps until tomorrow. It’s really good, though, but I didn’t have time to take pictures, and I’m still trying to decide whether to dress it up or leave it as is.

For now, it’s off to bed to prepare for another (hopefully not so) long day! (I'll catch up on recipes later in the week.)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

12-Hour Rule times 3

What a crazy week! I know the full moon has passed, but apparently the residuals are hanging around. It's been one thing after another, with the 12-Hour rule being invoked four times this week. Honestly, today won't be much better, as I'm at work trying to catch up on all the paperwork that didn't get done since I was so busy dealing with people-work. Next week looks better, with only one late-night meeting. Let's all keep our fingers crossed, and I hope to be back by tomorrow with some cooking and recipes to share!

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

12 Hour Rule

Another long day, although it wasn't supposed to be. I hate for you to come here for nothing, though. In honor of all of the frigid weather around the country, I'll show you some of my favorite snow pictures from Sedona, where we encountered a blizzard (at least it seemed so to us) last spring. In the meantime, I'll bask in the balmy 80 degree days we're enjoying right now. (Stop--don't throw snowballs at me!)

Monday, February 5, 2007

It Might Be Cold There, But It Was Hot On My Plate!

Since I had a meeting after work tonight, I didn't get home until almost 7:00, just barely avoiding the 12-hour rule. Fortunately though, I was able to put dinner on the table in just 45 minutes--not bad for a supposedly 30-minute meal. As soon as I walked in the door, I cranked up the oven to 475 and started chopping the ends off of fresh green beans to make one of our favorite sides. Technically, they are "roasted" green beans, but we call them green bean French fries. Simply tossed with olive oil and roasted at high heat until they begin to crisp and caramelze, these are addictive just sprinkled with salt. They are best right off the pan, but you have to be careful not to burn your fingers.
I also put the big skillet on the stove and let it begin to heat, and within minutes, I had the pork chops (Rachael Ray's Pork Loin Chops with Sweet and Hot Peppers) seasoned and browning. While those were developing a nice, brown crust, I sliced yellow and orange peppers, and a new-to-us ingredint, jarred hot cherry peppers, which were all tossed into the pan, along with a generous splash of white wine, once the pork chops were done. Meanwhile, I started browning some garlic slices and, subsequently, wilting down some spinach.
The end result? An antioxidant-rich meal: garlic, leafy greens, peppers...pretty much everything a body needs. Just a warning: Those hot peppers are hot. I'm used to quite a bit of heat, but I have to admit to a little bit of watering eyes.
Fortunately, it's getting to be grilling season--84 degrees today (contrasted with barely 50 just five days ago). That simplifies things a lot, and I'm looking forward to concentrating on rubs and side dishes. Tomorrow, though, there's a dish coming up that was planned in the depth of the cold snap. See you then!

Sunday, February 4, 2007

A Good Cook Always Trusts Her Instincts

I ran across this recipe for Turkey Potato Casserole on another blog, and thought it looked interesting. To be fair, the other blogger wasn't really happy with the dish, but I thought I could tweak it and make it work. It's an interesting recipe: a layer of thinly sliced potatoes, a layer of raw ground turkey and garlic, more potatoes, then a bath of cream and Dijon mustard before baking. The final touch is a layer of cheese and crisp bacon pieces, then back into the oven to brown. I'll admit, I had my reservations. I should have listened to the voices in my head.
This dish remained soupy and my portion went into the trash. For some reason, it had an odd fishy taste--much more so than the tuna we grilled on Friday! Kent swears he's going to eat the rest of it. We'll see. I'm not even posting the recipe, unless someone really wants to see it. The other blogger and I are both accomplished cooks, so I don't think it was cook's error. I think, rather, that the recipe just doesn't work.
Last night's dinner was much better. On the first Saturday of the month, we go to dinner with Kent's family. It's just a way for all of us to stay connected in the middle of our very busy lives. So, last night, it was his parents, sister and brother-in-law, our two girls, son-in-law, and baby Brooklynn. We had some great ribs at Famous Dave's, although they really didn't have that much on the Sweet and Sour Ribs I made in the crockpot a couple of weeks ago. Mostly, it was a nice dinner out. Today was a puttering-around day for me. I have work I need to do, but I needed a day to clear my mind even more. We watched Alexander, which we've had sitting around from Netflix for....ahem.....two and a half months. Have I mentioned that we've been busy?
This week will be hectic, but I have meals planned for all but Thursday, when I know I won't be home until almost 9:00. No cookin' that late, for sure! So check's gotta get better than tonight's dinner.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Can You Guess What It Is?

What starts out looking like this?

And ends up looking like this:

One of Kent's take-out favorites--Hot and Sour Soup! This is a Cook's Illustrated recipe, and they almost never steer a cook in the wrong direction. I do have to admit to some doubt, though, when I first tasted the soup. The white pepper, which combines with chile oil to put the "hot" in the hot and sour, was the dominant flavor. It had a "raw" pepper taste. I set the soup aside, though, as I prepared dinner, then tasted it again. Ah...much better. I would say this rivals take-out (as any home-cooked meal should, I suppose). One variation I would make, however, is the technique given for "wisping" the eggs. I find it works much better to start with the soup at a rolling boil, then slowly pour in the beaten egg in a steady stream, stirring the soup with a fork as you pour. The eggs truly do end up as feathery wisps with that technique.

Also on tonight's menu was Soy-Ginger Ahi Fillets. Ahi is one of a very limited selection of fish that I can eat. I think it's a texture thing; the Ahi is very meaty. I picked up this wild-caught Ahi at Trader Joe's today. It was perfect; no fish smell when I opened the package, and the meat was almost satiny. I let it marinate for a few hours, then just a few minutes on the grill and it was done. The side dish is broccoli rabe steam-sauteed with garlic chips. Just can't get enough of those garlic chips! Enough for today. Some idiot scheduled my hair appointment for 8:00 tomorrow morning. Oops--that idiot would be me. What was I thinking?

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Vampires Need Not Apply

Today was Day 2 of a conference. Very informative, but boy, oh boy, is it hard for me to sit in a room for 8 hours at a time. I definitely needed a little cooking therapy by the time I got home.

Yesterday, the mailman brought me the March/April edition of Cook's Illustrated, which had an amazing-looking Garlic-Potato Soup. As you might guess, it had was a little different from most potato soups, as it had garlic, and lots of it. It even had garlic three different ways--minced and sauteed, whole heads simmered into the soup until the garlic slipped from the skins, and sliced garlic sauteed in olive oil to make crispy chips (which, by the way, is my new favorite snack).

This was a little time-consuming, but really low maintenance. After sauteing a chopped leek and the minced garlic, chicken broth, spices, and two entire garlic bulbs are added to the pot and left to simmer for 40 minutes. That's plenty of time to chop the two kinds of potatoes (russets for their thickening quality and Red Bliss for their ability to hold shape) and the herbs. Once the potatoes are added to the pot, dinner is only 20 minutes away. An immersion blender allows total control over the final consistency--anywhere from smooth to chunky, as you wish.

Also on tonight's menu was a Lemon Pound Cake with Lemon Vanilla Glaze from Stonewall Kitchen Favorites. This was described as a cake for those who "can't bake." The cake was really good, but none of us were crazy about the glaze. It was tart-too tart even for us. It was almost bitter, which would make me think I got pith from the lemon when I zested it. My Microplane has never failed me, though, so I don't think that's it. It could be that I didn't measure the zest and just got too much. I think it's worth a do-over when I'm paying more attention to what I'm doing. In the meantime, I know we're sleeping safe from vampires.