Sunday, September 28, 2008

Its Kinda Nice Not To Eat French Fries Three Times A Week

Now that I'm doing this whole cooking-more-often thing, I've developed a bit of an obsession with Everyday Food magazine.

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The entire menu from last week's Five-Days-Five-Meals came from the October 2008 issue.

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(Including the fifth meal -- yes, I did eventually make it -- Irish Beef and Stout Stew. Pictures coming up soon.)

Steven and I went to Barnes & Noble yesterday, and I was perusing the cookbooks aisle, thinking about buying a new cookbook. I flipped through several, including Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, the old classic Joy of Cooking, and the Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper. They were all good cookbooks, and each of them was chock full of interesting recipes (and would make great Christmas presents to moi', should any of you be lacking in ideas...).

But none of them could top my good old Everyday Food collection.

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I'll admit, I was setting a high bar. I wanted big clear pictures, short simple ingredient lists, and quick prep times.

I wasn't sure that anything could measure up.

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And then I found it.

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OMG. Everyday Food has its own cookbook!

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I officially love it. For two reasons in particular:

Reason #1 -- its organized by season. For a newbie cook like myself, I still don't have a clear grasp of which foods are available and freshest in which seasons. The book is organized into Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. I totally love that.

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Reason #2: An enormous, full-page picture of each recipe. (That way, I don't have to guess at what it ought to look like once I'm done.)

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I've already planned our whole next week's worth of meals. I'm going for a more reasonable 3 or 4 nights of home-cooked meals this week.

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I mean, let's not go crazy or anything. Right?

(The Menu:
Monday - sauteed chicken in mustard cream sauce (pictured above) with broccoli and polenta
Tuesday - One Pot Pasta (penne, chicken, broccoli, parmesan)
Wednesday - Skirt Steak and Spinach Orzo with feta
Thursday - Chicken Toscana Soup (I stole the Macaroni Grill recipe)
Friday - Longhorne Steakhouse (why break a streak?)
Makes you want to eat supper at our house, eh? Yeah, all's well and good until I burn half of it and over-season the rest. Give me a break, I'm still learning.)

Friday, September 26, 2008

Excuses, Excuses

My excuses, in order of persuasiveness:

1. I made dinner Sunday night (tacos), thus fulfilling my five-nights-in-a-row yesterday.

2. I had court this morning and today was a long day and hey, I created this whole five nights, five meals thing, I can dismiss it with a wave of my hand, right?

3. I intend to make the rest of the cookies tonight. That totally counts.

4. Our trip to Longhorne Steakhouse was kind of like making dinner, except for the part about cooking the meal myself.

5. Challenge? What challenge? I'm too busy to be doing any challenges -- what are you people talking about?

Anyway. I will make dinner tomorrow, in the crock pot. Four out of five weeknights ain't bad. And besides, I accidentally picked a recipe with a three-hour cooking time, and poor Steven can only take so much.

Let's distract you with pretty knitting, ok?

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Pattern: Olga Hat, available at Ewenique Fiber
Yarn: Cascade 220
Needles: Size 3 circular, and Size 4 double-pointeds (I didn't have a size 3 in dpn's and I was too lazy to go buy a set. It worked out fine.)

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The pattern is written for a hat that's waaaay too tall, so I started at Row 20 of the graph. (That is, after I had already knitted the whole hat one time, only to discover that it was more like a dunce cap than a winter hat...)

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And I'll even give you the time-travel effect and show you my hat-in-progress pics, which I didn't manage to post until after I'd already finished the whole hat.

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This was a really fun knit. I might make another one in the exactly opposite colors.

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Side note: I totally wore my slouchy hat to work today. I have deemed today the beginning of Cold Enough To Wear A Scarf And Hat Season. When I picked up Steven for dinner, the first words out of his mouth were, "Why are you wearing a beret?"

I had no real answer to that.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Home Stretch

The closer you are to a goal, the more impediments seem to fall in your way. Or at least that's how it felt when I opened my fridge today to find pizza dough, wholly unrisen.

I had mixed up my standard homemade pizza dough recipe (below) this morning, and I'd stuck it in the fridge, with the understanding that it would rise during the day and be ready to cook by the time I got home.

Only it didn't. And I have no idea why. And simultaneous with finding out that my pizza dough didn't rise properly, I got a return email from an opposing attorney to whom I'd just sent a set of revised documents. And his email was ... well, it was just uncalled for. It said things like bad faith and was rude and pushy and argumentative, and basically just said I was a rotten person in general.

And combined with unrisen bread dough, folks, that is hard to take. So I did what any normal person would do in similar circumstances.

I had me a nice little mini-meltdown.

And then I made Steven take me to the grocery for ready-made cookie dough (and dog food, since Pringles was out -- see, we really did have a reason to go other than my need for the comfort of chocolate chips) so we could talk about how nasty and hateful people can be sometimes when they don't really have a good argument to make.

While we were at the grocery, my bread dough was in the oven on "warm," with hopes that we could force it to quick-rise in about 45 minutes. (We also bought "insurance" at the grocery -- Freschetta frozen pizza. I was not above it, I tell you. Desperate times ...)

I am proud to report that I did not have to break my streak. The dough rose nicely after all, and Thursday's homemade dinner was accordingly chowed down.

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And I'm going to go put those cookies in the oven in approximately nine minutes, so that I can forget about Mr. Jerk, Esq. and just go on with my life.

Reflective

Besides, I bet he didn't have homemade pizza for dinner. With cookies.

(Edited to add: I was so wrapped up in my cookie-making-plans that I forgot to give you the pizza dough recipe. Adapted from Smitten Kitchen:

1.5 cups flour
1/2 cup warm water
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 little clumps of brown sugar (maybe 2 teaspoons?)

Pour warm water into large bowl. Add yeast and stir to activate. Add other ingredients and stir to form dough. Knead a bit, then shape into a ball and spray with non-stick oil. Cover and let rise for 2 hours. After it has risen, you get to do that throw-it-up-in-the-air thing that the pizza guys always do. Enjoy!)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Minestrone (or, Where's the Beef?)

Day Three. Don't count me out yet.

Classic Minestrone, from Everyday Food:

Sauteed some onions, carrots, garlic, and celery in olive oil. Colorful = healthy, right?

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Threw in a diced potato, some cannelini beans, some kidney beans, some green beans, and chopped-up-and-drained whole tomatoes. And some leftover salad greens. For fun, and mostly just because they were laying around, unused. I also added rosemary, fresh basil, and salt & pepper (not the singers, the spices) . (The recipe called for crushed red pepper flakes. I didn't have any. We went without.)

Oh, and seven cups of water.

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Sensing with my keen spidey sense that Steven doth not live on soup alone, I used the rest of the hoagie rolls from yesterday's chicken subs to make garlic bread.

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Ooh... smelling good now...

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Sprinkled parmesan cheese on top to serve. The picture is foggy from the steam.

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The soup got the Steven seal of approval, in that, he did not ask if we could order pizza after trying it. And he ate the whole bowl.

(He did, however, also eat three pieces of garlic bread. I think next time I will serve the soup as a side dish, or at least put some meat in it somehow. Sorry, dear.)

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Also, I somehow managed to make enough soup to feed twelve people. The leftover soup is currently residing in my largest tupperware bowl in the freezer. I intend to have it for lunch for the next 37 days straight.

Maybe. With garlic bread.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Two In A Row

For the first time (I believe) since I began law school in August 2004, I have hereby cooked dinner two nights in a row.

I know. You're shocked. Apparently I do have a bit of that old follow-thru left in me from all that schooling.

Tonight's dish was actually supposed to be Thursday night's dish. But, in the words of Steven, he needed something "more Twins gamey" than what I had planned (a soup of sorts).

I have no idea what that means. But I figured chicken cheesesteaks would fit the sports-watching bill.

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I realize it treads upon the depths of laziness to show you pictures of the magazine; however, my excuses are as follows: (a) we were, yet again, quite hungry, and (b) mine weren't nearly as pretty.

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The recipe called for chicken cutlets broiled with a bit of vegetable oil on an aluminum-lined baking pan for 5-7 minutes. I executed that part, no problem. The trouble began when I tried to then broil my vegetables (read: onions and garlic. I omitted the red peppers on account of I've seen Steven pick them out of our chinese food before. He swears that he would have eaten green peppers in the sandwich, so perhaps I stand corrected -- it is not the actual pepper that is offensive, but merely its hue. I have so much to learn.)

When I tried to broil the onions and garlic, they went from soggy to burnt in 0.000001 seconds. Steven even asked, "Um, what's crunchy in here?" I replied, "Oh, chargrilled onions, dear." :) Nothing like a little spin...

Overall, I think Steven liked the chicken cheesesteaks better than I did. I'm not really the submarine sandwich type. And Steven was a Sandwich Artist in high school...

Two down. Three to go. Can we make it?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Five Days, Five Meals

Confession time, people. We eat take-out food way too much. And by "we," I don't mean the royal we of civilization as a whole (however true it may be), I mean "we" as in yours truly and the hubby.

Now, while this was not a problem when I was younger and working on my feet 8 hours a day as a waitress, it has increasingly become a problem in my older, desk-job days. (And I use increasingly in the most literal way.)

My October copy of Everyday Food came in the mail last week, and I was flipping through it on Saturday, stopping occasionally to show Steven a picture and ask, "Would you eat that?" (I got several nods from Steven; however, he was watching the baseball game, so I'm not sure if he was nodding at my question or nodding at Blyleven's commentary...)

I wrote down the ingredients for several of the meals and checked our fridge to see what I might need to get from the grocery store.

Oh.

Right.

My fridge has nothing but bottled water and yellow mustard in it. Awesome.

Two hours and one very long receipt later, I was the proud owner of a week's worth of food and a five-day meal schedule. I promised myself I'd eat the leftovers for lunch each day at work, thereby achieving approximately 17 total meals from one rather pricey grocery trip.

My goal (and you people have to hold me to this) is to cook dinner every night this week. Every single night. (PS - I'm considering a "week" to consist only of the weekdays. I can cook on the weekend, no problem. Its those getting-home-at-seven-and-we're-starving-let's-go-to-Arby's nights that kill me.)

So... how have we done thus far?

Sunday's dinner was sort-of cheating. It didn't come from the magazine, and it was mostly an afterthought. As I was finishing up my grocery shopping, I realized it was 6:30 PM and I would come home to a starving husband with no Sunday dinner plan. As I had this thought, I was walking through the "international foods" aisle, wherein one might find such international delicacies as the Old El Paso Dinner Kit. (Yesss.) Ground beef, sour cream, and one bag of shredded mexican-blend cheese later, Sunday dinner was achieved. (There were no pictures. I barely escaped with my fingers intact, we were so hungry.)

Monday's dinner was straight out of Everyday Food - a dish called "Lighter General Tso's Chicken."

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While it was not the most amazing thing I've ever tasted, the pictures also do not do it justice.

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It was also the first time I worked with fresh ginger. I wasn't entirely sure how to go about peeling it, so I basically just cut a big whack of it in half and sliced off some of the outside skin, then ran it back and forth across a cheese grater. My motto for kitchen devices is basically: Is it clean? Yes? Great, then you can use it however you want.

(It is at this point that the combined executive staff of Williams Sonoma and Pampered Chef simultaneously shudder. Sorry guys. I adore your products but sometimes sloshing an egg yolk back and forth between the broken shells to get at the egg white is so much more tactile and pleasing than using your sixteen-dollar Egg Separator with its Durable Stainless Steel and Soft-Touch Handle. Having said that, I will fight you if you try to take away my KitchenAid mixer.)

So, day one of Five Days, Five Meals was relatively successful. (We are ignoring the enormous sink full of dishes right now. These aren't the dishes you're looking for....[waves hand]...)

I have the whole week sketched out, complete with a tupperware container full of homemade trail mix for Steven to snack on whilst I fumble around the kitchen.

What's next on the menu?

Come on, I won't tip my hand that easily... stay tuned.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Hunt

We went house hunting for the first time last Saturday. Actually, that's not accurate. We've been house hunting since we moved to this area in 2004. Steven spends at least half an hour every night scouring Realtor.com for the latest houses on the market.

Back in 2004, when we lived in Arlington, Virginia, we would look at the two-bedroom, one-bath tiny single family houses in our Clarendon neighborhood, and the price tags were seriously $999,999. One dollar short of one million dollars.

We looked at those houses and shook our heads. We're not necessarily poverty stricken, but even our two-income household wasn't about to swing a million dollar mortgage.

But now, four years later, things are very different in Northern Virginia. The bubble has burst, the market has dropped off, and while it seems like this might be a bad thing for lots of folks, for us it screams Carpe Houseum.

:)

And thus we search. Like I said, we went out last Saturday and looked at three houses. We only liked one of them, and even that one badly needed an update to the kitchen.

We went again this morning to look at six different houses. This time, we saw two houses that we liked. One was owned by an older lady, and while her furniture and decor looked outdated, the guts of the house were great, and all it really needed was a good coat of paint, some new carpet and perhaps new appliances and hardwood floors down the road a bit.

The other house was a foreclosure. That sounds scary, I know. Words like "as is" and "with all faults" make me shudder. BUT! The main level of the house was stunningly beautiful. Brazilian cherry hardwoods, granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, bay window... Gorgeous.

And then I looked out the window to the backyard and there's a pool out there. A swimming pool.

I can't decide if I'm excited or alarmed about that. A pool is a lot of work. And where would I put my tomato garden?

The basement level had a sink and a place for a fridge. The basement bathroom needed a fix-up - there was a big hole in the wall. And the upstairs of the house was not updated at all. Bathrooms were old and super ick. Oh, and in the ceiling of the kitchen, there was a plastic bag holding up part of the ceiling. It might have been molded under there. Not sure. (That's a whole OTHER problem.)

So, here's my question, faithful readers. Do I want the house with brazilian hardwoods and granite countertops and a pool, but old bathrooms and the potential for mold? Or do I want the older-looking house with the smaller kitchen, pergo floors, space for my tomato garden, but no pool?

This is like an episode of House Hunters, except without pictures and without Suzanne Whang.

(Maybe we'll just keep looking....)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Mr. September

Let me show you Steven's dream residence:

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Seems pretty bland from back there, I know. Let me show you a bit closer.

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Can you see it yet?

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That's right. Stadium view. :) The Twins were in Baltimore this weekend. How could we not go? I had been expecting this trip for a while. What I didn't expect was to have Friday's game rained out, resulting in a double header on Saturday that began at 5:00 PM. We had planned to go to the games on Saturday and Sunday, and with the rainout, we suddenly had three baseball games in twenty-four hours! Oh my word.

Steven, needless to say, was thrilled.

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I was more looking forward to a little mini-getaway. And also the chocolate covered strawberries that came with our hotel booking.

Yes.

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After our snack, Steven tasked me with a Very Important Job.

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The Circle-Me-Bert sign is essential, people.

And I think it turned out quite nice. (I was told we made it on TV -- any confirmations, Minnesota folks?)

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For the Saturday game(s), we sat in left field. If you've ever sat in left field at pretty much any stadium, you know that there are characters in the left field stands. Us, of course, but there were even crazier people (if you can believe it).

And here is one of them:

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This guy -- Pink Hat Guy -- spent BOTH games heckling the Twins' left fielder, Delmon Young. Only this wasn't any ordinary heckling. See those papers that Pink Hat Guy is flipping through? They are filled with random Minnesota-related trivia. And here is how the heckling would go:

"Hey Delmon! Did you know! That the state muffin of Minnesota! Is blueberry!"

"Hey Delmon! Did! You! Know! That in St. Cloud it is illegal to eat a hamburger on a Sunday!"

And so on, and so forth. Sounds like it would be annoying, but it was hilarious. All of the Minnesota fans were shouting out facts or laughing when they recognized a town name (Edina, Maple Grove, etc.)

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It was seriously funny.

And then Pink Hat Guy was walking around with a birthday card for Delmon, claiming that it was Delmon's birthday on Sunday. He told us that he was planning to dangle the card over the dugout so that Delmon would see it after the games were over. We signed it. (Of course.) I have no idea if the card ever made it to Delmon Young. But the idea made me laugh.

And the gem of the night from Pink Hat Guy came in about the 8th inning of the second game, as it started to approach midnight:

"Hey Delmon! Did you know! That it is exactly thirty-two minutes until your birthday!"

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Whoever you were, Pink Hat Guy, you were quite entertaining.

In addition to listening to the random-trivia-heckling, I spent the first game making good progress on the newest pair of Endpaper Mitts.

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By Game Two, I was tired of knitting, so I kept score. (And no. I have absolutely no idea how to keep score. Stop laughing.)

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The Saturday games ended around midnight, and we crashed in the hotel shortly thereafter.

On Sunday morning, we had a lovely brunch in the hotel and headed back over to the stadium. We left a little souvenir in our room, just to show you where we stayed.

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Can you see it? Let me show you closer.

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Still having trouble? Let's zoom in a wee bit.

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Ha! Awesome.

For our last game of the weekend, we splurged a bit on some really nice seats.

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And the benefit of seats right behind home plate?

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Hanging with Joe Mauer. Steven gave him a fist-to-fist high five (and was extremely pumped about getting to do so).

We also got some great pictures of (Home Run Derby Champ) Justin Morneau.

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And we watched as much of the game as we could stand in the 95 degree blazing heat. (In September! It was unreasonably hot.)

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While I would not advise three baseball games in 24 hours for the average fan, I will readily admit that we are not average fans. We've had this trip planned since the schedule came out in April.

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Worth every penny. (And the Twinkies are currently a game and a half out of first. Start praying, folks.)

Friday, September 12, 2008

Supply and Demand

There are a plethora of cold hands in my office this Fall.

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And ever since I made my first pair of Endpaper Mitts, there have been several requests from coworkers for their own set of fingerless mitts.

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Why does everyone at work want fingerless mitts, you ask? Because we have to type stuff. Lots of stuff. And the office is a meat locker.

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A meat locker run by a polar bear with hyperthermia. I am embarrassed to admit that these mitts were promised to my friend from work a long time ago. And I just now finished them. One entire winter later. I am the world's slowest retail outlet.

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I've got a third pair on the needles now, in tan and brown. I'll show them to you when I remember to take pictures in the (quickly depleting) daylight hours.

Anyone else want a pair while I'm on a roll? Send me two colors of Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino, wait approximately 8-9 months, and you can have a set of your very own. (Maybe. If I don't get distracted by some other project. Which I most certainly will.)