Friday, June 24, 2011

Sunday #22: Birthday Dinner for Motherface

Sunday #22 my mom invited herself to my house for her birthday.

Not out of nowhere or anything. She asked a couple months ahead of time because she needed to make a great escape from Yakima. Let's see why .

Yeah. Not so much, actually.

After we got the weekend all sorted out, I started making grand plans for what we'd do, and then figured out that I wasn't really capable of "grand." After a couple of other things fell through I made an off-hand comment about how I was just going to make dinner and then go watch my best friend play roller derby. To my delight she was excited for that.

So, entertainment was solved. Finally. I'd been stressing about it for weeks because, as anyone charitable enough to spend and evening out with me will tell you, I super suck at making plans. Plus I was pretty bummed that I'd be missing the team's second bout ever. So it all worked out. Mom was happy. Hooray for me!

Hooray for me?
Uhhh - yeah! Because as any kid knows celebrating your mom's birthday is really all about bringing glory unto  yourself.

So anyway, my mother screamed her self silly ("have a seat!" being one of her favorite statements any time a Betty went to the box) and we all had a blast.

And by "we all" I mean me and mom. Mark and my dad held up the back wall and waited until it was time to go home for dinner. They're manly men that way. Sturdy.

So! After derby (is it bad taste to talk about how Toxic 253 totally kicked ass? It was fan-fricking tastic) we went home and I made us all a nice Sunday dinner.

...on Saturday. If you haven't been paying attention, Sunday has been happening on any damn day of the week I feel like.

So there.

The Menu
Appetizer: Shrimp Bruschetta
  Entree: Chicken Caprese
          Dessert: Strawberry Shortcake

Okay, so my original plan had been to feed us all and then go to the bout but that would have required me having my shit together really early, and totally stressing out.

Plus we would have been eating around 4pm. Who does that?

It feels like this is where I should take a crack at old people, maybe under a hilarious-in-context googled old-folks pic. I tried!  I really did! I just couldn't find anything about the old people that was very inspiring, and a lot of them were flipping me off. So there's that.

Just... nothing.
My brain has entered a "making fun of old people" dead zone.
I'm broken.

Since we wouldn't be getting home until almost 9pm, I got a lot of prep out of the way.

The bruschetta prep goes something like:
4 plum tomatoes
Shallots or onion - about a third as much as the tomatoes
Garlic - as much as you like
Basil - ten leaves or so
Shaka-shaka italian seasoning
Shaka-shaka-shake salt
Grindy Grindy Grind Grind of pepper
Handful of leftover shrimp from the previous evenings "appetizers for dinner" menu.
Drizzle of Balsamic vinegar

Chop the tomatoes into like, little pieces. 1/3 of an inch cubes? Yeah, something like that.
Okay, so when doing this you don't want all the crappy seeds inside, but you want the juicy goob they live in. To get this I quarter the tomatoes, and then scoop the insides out, reserving them in a bowl-like sieve I've set over my mixing bowl.

So, once you have everything chopped and in the bowl, you run a spool around in the sieve so that all of the liquid is in the mixing bowl, but those craptastic seeds aren't.

Everything gets mixed together and then set in the refrigerator for at least an hour (or five, in our case.)

Oh - also, you'll want a really good and loyal spouse-type fella who had nothing better to do (except shop at three different places and clean up the living room and kitchen - laze) but slice and toast baguette for you the day before. This way you don't even have to worry about it the day of dinner.

Okay, so that's bruschetta prep.

Chicken Caprese prep was surprisingly similar:
So, all of the above ingredients, less the vinegar and shrimp, and loads more basil. The recipe I linked to is just a guide. Recipes are for, like, people afraid of cooking.

Because seriously, do not ever EVER attempt any of the things I blog about if you're afraid of cooking. I mean, I'm not really all that clear on what I do in the writing and I set stuff on fire. Also, half the time when I sit down to do this I've got a half bottle of wine in me so... yeah, you've been warned.

How do you know if I'm talking about you?
If you absolutely cannot make anything - particularly something you've made a half-dozen times- without pulling out and following a recipe then you're afraid of cooking. I'm sorry, you may not feel like you are, but you are. But it's okay, I'm afraid of lots of things.

It's little foot could be in the disposal right now!
Babies are so stupid.

I should clarify here that the status of your cooking bravery (or lack thereof) has no bearing on whether you're a good cook or not. You could be world class with that cookbook in tow,  but if you don't have the balls to just waltz into the kitchen all unarmed and just make shit happen then you're a cooking weenie.

Uhh, yes. So the other difference with the caprese prep is that you don't chop the tomatoes and such as small and you use less onion and lots more basil. This all goes into a bowl and then into the fridge with the other bowl of tomato stuff.

I was making this for four, so I had four chicken breasts prepped. That's way more chicken than four people need, by the way, but I'll never learn.

You lay out a layer of plastic wrap on the counter, put the chicken on it, but more wrap on top of that and then pound it until it's good and flat.

You do this so that the batter you'll put on the chicken later doesn't get overcooked while leaving the middle maybe-raw.

That goes in the fridge too, not left out on the counter to rot while you loiter the beer garden at your friendly neighborhood derby bout.

Or so I've been told.

Strawberry shortcake prep:
Slice all the strawberries
Strawberries go in bowl
Shaky shake the sugar in there until you think you have enough. Then take some out because you put too much in there.
cover and refridgerate.

For the cake part...
So there are a lot of schools of thought on the cake portion of this:
-Some people just buy the little rounds that are like twinkies minus the filling
-Some people use angel food
-Some people use pound cake

And any of those are right. I happen to like them over a scone-type bakery good and so I made this recipe.

I would have really liked some lemon zest to go in it. I didn't have any so I put a few drops of Fiori di Sicilia in it. I really love that stuff. Also, I think the butter I used was pretty rank - not bad, but it had absorbed a lot of kitchen flavors while out on the counter - so I'm pretty sure this extract saved the cake from being a little off.
That there's a cake-hole.
You're welcome.

Post-game Feeding Frenzy
So, as mentioned, the derby bout kicked ass. We were invited to their after party (everyone is) and mom really wanted to go, but Mark and Pat had patiently waited through 2.5 hours of derby stuff and were ready to be fed. They told mom we'd do whatever she wanted. Luckily EAT! won out over partying with a bunch of derby girls in a seriously over-crowded bar.

Which is good, or this little story would be about how I spent all this time prepping for dinner and how my parents lamed out on me and left me with 20,000 calories worth of pasta prep.

When we got home we were starving.
Thanks to diligent prep we were able to have bruschetta in about 10 minutes.
Take the pre-toasted bread slices. Mark very lightly brushed olive oil and garlic tastiness on these before lightly toasting them. (did I mention that before? Guess not. Whatever, I'm not going back for editing now!)

Sprinkle some shredded parmesan on the toast slices. As much or as little as you'd like. Even if you're weight watching I would recommend using some cheese, otherwise the juice from the tomato mix will suck all of the crunch out of your toasties.

Oh - also - you'll want to use freshly shredded parm, because the powdered stuff equals automatic fail in this application, and the pre-shredded tub stuff will never ever melt. You could also use mozzarella as I have before. I find I'm able to get away with using a lot less parm though.

While pre-heating your oven to 400 or so, spoon your tomato mixture over all your little breads. You'll want the pan to be ready to go in the oven as soon as you're done spooning, otherwise the bread stands to get soggified.

Then you pull it out and behold the glory.

Just look at it.

That stuff was awesome. It made quite a lot, but it was tomatoes on toast, so it wasn't super heavy. Plus, the four of us hadn't eaten since very early afternoon, and were still at least an hour away from dinner. A pizza pan full of toast was definitely not too much.
Nope, "too much" came later.

Make with the Dinner

So yes - making chicken.
I followed part of another recipe and battered my pounded breasts with a little flour dredge and then a dunk through a container of eggs and shredded parm with some Italian seasoning and S&P thrown in.
Then I slapped it down on this here griddle and cooked it until it was lightly browned. It doesn't matter if it's cooked all the way or not. Trust me. 

Seriously, it can be half raw inside.

Oh, don't worry. There's a plan!
'Cause see, it goes here in this pan and then in the oven. It gets good baked while you build the sauce.
I told you it'd be fine. Wiener.  

You put the chicken in the oven for some... amount of time. At some sort of temperature. I don't remember. There's a recipe though! Yeah, look at that. It'll learn ya. Also, if you're worried it's not done, that's what meat thermometers are for. I used one because I was, in fact, a wiener.

Okay! Sauce building time!
Begins with you getting surly and telling your spouse to pick a noodle. Then he takes pictures while you glare. A nice garage hoard makes a lovely backdrop.

We used linguine. You get that boiling in the pot because sauce happens fast and chicken dries out. You could use something that cooks quicker, like angel hair, but linguine is sturdy enough to not get too smooshy if you forget about it.
See my garlic skillet? There's oil or butter in there too. Then you throw in the flour...


and stir stir stir.
Stirring, isn't it?

Once the flour has browned a bit you dump in the juice from that bowl of tomatoes and basil you prepped earlier. I just held a mesh strainer over the skillet and dumped it straight in.
Like so.

Some recipes call for you to measure out a certain amount. I said "screw that!" because measuring is for people who are organized enough to find their measuring cups.
Oh yes, wine also went in there. A half a cup? A couple good sloshes?

Yeah, something like that.

Wine also went in here.

So the tomato stuff bubbles for a while until it's good thick then you add in the cream like you see above. For a while you might try and convince yourself that you're going to cut the fat and use milk, but then you remember that that's just silly.

Then, after you've submitted to your lardly desires,  you throw in some cheese too. 
Because fuck arteries, that's why.

After the sauce gets all good and bubbly (you should taste it before then - see if it needs any salt or pepper - most of the seasoning will be carried in with the tomato stuff though) it's time to plate!
No wait! I'm lying!
(and not for the first time, I assure you)
Okay, so first you take the noodles you'll have already drained by now, and you add in a cup or so of the sauce. The point to this is to get all the noodles covered in some flavor, and it keeps them from clumping together into a giant noodle monster.
Now, once you've done that it's time to plate!

Noodles and a chicken (thoroughly temped, mind) go on a plate:
Signed~Crappy Wedding Photographer

Then it's finally time for tomatoes and basil to come back and party. Hooray
Mmmm. Basil.


Saucing and Cheesing!

And then into the oven.
For... some amount of time. 400 until it's browned and bubbly? Yeah, that sounds good.

While that's happening you can...

  • Drink some more wine and have your handsome kitchen helper set the table.
  • Clarify with everyone that making a salad would be stupid, because it would just be hogging up room the noodles and chicken could take up.
  • Further clarify that making garlic bread after bruschetta is goofy too.


It needed a little something.
Ah. There we go.

The tomatoes could have been cooked just a little more, but I like to lean towards less cooked if I'm not going to do tomatoes right - they just get too grainy and sorta slimy if you over do them.

The birthday girl was pleased.
Let's just get this out of the way:
That's my butt in the background.

Nobody stood in to make a frowny face for Max (they were tucked away at their other grandma's) because this dinner was just that awesome!

And... too much. Way too much food. Of course I ate it all anyway. We all did. We're a family of gluttons.

We saved strawberry shortcake for the next day because there was no fitting it in any time that night. I neglected to get a picture of it then - excuuuuse me. I knew I'd fail in the pic department somewhere this blog. It's what I do. Yay me!

So, yes. Then we played Apples to Apples.

I was drunk. It was hilarious.

At one point my mom got pretty desperate - desperate to leave my house. It's because she hates me.
We started out saying something like "whoever collects five cards first is the winner then we're done" and I kept upping it because I didn't want the party to be over.

My mom started slipping cards into my pile.

That's what happens - ya feed 'em then they are-you-en-en-oh-ef-tee.
That spells runnoft.

I forgive her though. It was her birthday after all!

and I'm a giver.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Sunday #18: Maxaroni and Cheese Dinner!

I decided that as part of Sunday Dinners, I would recruit the kids to think up and put together a meal. I figure this'll give them a head start for when their home-ec teacher makes them practice opening a jar of sauce in high school.

Seriously Mrs. Wineberg, how is boiling a box of pasta and opening a jar of sauce a valuable life skill?

Max didn't seem all that interested but eventually we came up with a menu.

Okay, I came up with a menu that he agreed to.

Chicken Nuggets
Macaroni and Cheese
Fruit Salad

This Sunday happened on a Wednesday, because we didn't do anything at all for dinner on the actual Sunday #18. It worked out well because I had almost an hour of just me and Max time before Simon got there - plenty of time to prep.

Fruit Salad

We started with the fruit salad. I explained to Max that this was so it could be nice and chilled when dinner time came. Hooray for teaching!

Slicing bananas is serious business.

I helped too, in that I cut up all of the rest of the fruit and then it all went in a big tub. Oh wait - not all of it. He plucked and washed the grapes! Helper!

Let's see. There were strawberries, pineapple, apple, banana, grapes. Maybe there was more. I can't remember. I can tell you there wasn't orange because Mark was all "where's the orange? Noooooo" when he got home.

Part two of fruit salad involved vanilla yogurt, lemon juice and orange juice concentrate. That all gets whisked together and then dumped on the fruit.

Then you slap the lid on and let your kid obnoxiously shake the shit out of it before putting it in the fridge.
Fruit Salad! Done!

Macaroni and Cheese
After you fridge the fruit salad, you can then move on to Macaroni and Cheese. After, that is,  you call your kid back into the kitchen because he ran off to do something more interesting than cooking with mom. For his insolence you make him cube Velveeta.

He won't get away again. I shackled his feet to the oven.

So, I'm totally a snob when it comes to Velveeta. I don't know why I was so against it. Probably because it came in a box very similar to the stuff that came from the government cheese place.

I decided we would allow the V cheese because I wanted to keep the recipies we did simple.
I can't find the recipe we used now, but that doesn't matter because it's not like I follow those anyway.

Though I was really, really trying not to go too off-recipe because this was supposed to be something of a learning experience with Max.

I'm certain that this recipe at least begins with making a roux, adding in milk, and then melting Velveeta and Cheddar in it. Probably there were other flavors. I don't know what they were because it was a month ago!

Month Old Cheese

Okay, so while you may or may not be burning cheese, you also boil noodles. Max picked out these little half-button half-roni looking things. We got them in a 3 variety six pack from Costco. They were VERY fantastic at holding in all of the cheesey saucy goodness.

You have your nose-picking kid wash his hands again, and then have him butter a casserole dish.
Then you strain the noodles and dump the goo on them!
The noodles and goo go in the dish.

None of this is that complex. That's the point because I was cooking with a nine year old.

So, right when you think you're done you discover that your spouse-type fella has NOT in fact sat there and eaten the entire bag of bacon crumbles you bought at Costco the week before and you sprinkle that and MORE CHEESE on the gooy noodle wad.

Max and I had a discussion about the bacon. It was completely off-recipe but we decided to be BOLD - to be CRAZY! We took a chance, America.

Well, Max did anyway. Everyone knows bacon can only make things better, so I immediately knew it was the right thing to do. Max had to put some thought into it though. He did some serious considerations to make. Had he ever had mac and cheese with bacon? How novel! Did he dare?
After careful consideration, Maxwell dared.

Okay! Hooray for bacon! 
So that goes into the oven until it's brown and bubbly and while it's doing that you move on to the chicken.

Baked Chicken Nuggets
This recipe is very likely the one we used. I certainly remember the dipping-it-in-butter part

Can I just point out that if you're trying to do baked nuggets to avoid frying them because of lard issues, I really don't get the point in wallering the chicken in a half a cup of butter instead.

If you are a reckless mother you hand a knife to your child and also let him touch and cut raw chicken.

And then if you're me you let that happen for about 2 chicken tenders before you take over and shove him off to dip and crumb duty.
So... the butter dip.
Yeah, that didn't work out so well for me and Max. Probalby because our plan was to shove all the chicken in the butter bowl, stir it around, and then put it into the crumb mix and shake it.

That doesn't work because the butter solidifies before you're ever done cubing up chicken. A thinking person would have realized this. Too bad that's not me!
We did the butter wad plan anyway, and then put nuggets on a baking sheet. The breading didn't stick.It was a bad plan.

To fix I floured the chicken bits, then dipped them in egg, and then knocked them around in the crumb box. Why did I ever doubt that method? Oh, probably because I didn't want my helper slopping around in egg goo.

I took no pictures of this because my hands were goobered in egg, butter, crumbs, and chicken goo. You're fine with that.
That all got shoved in the oven to bake for 20 minutes, or as long as it took for the mac and cheese to cool from molten down to screaming hot.

Once those are out of the oven everyone gets to the table!

Max SUPERAPPROVES while someone else is
clearly phoning it in.

Fruit Salad:

Baked Chicken Nuggets:
Pretty ugly. But also tasty.

Macaroni and Cheese:
Melty Cheesy Awesomeness.
With Bacon.

When we all sat down to dinner Dad (who'd been working all day) asked Max to tell him all about it!

I wanted to include those conversational details here, but I don't remember how that went because it was a month ago.
So, what I went to Maxwell to have him chime in on this with some of his thoughts. Turns out he had better things to do, the wiener.

Special Note: That mac and cheese was the best I ever made. Who knew that a little bit of Velveeta was the answer? We had leftovers through most of the next week and every time you microwaved it it got melty and cheesy again. Prior incarnations would just get cheese lumpy curdles and dried noodles.

The secret?

I burnt the cheese sauce.

While my kitchen misshaps - particularly those to do with excess or prolonged heat - usually result in tragedy, this was nothing but win. The scorched sauce burnt, but rather than leaving it with the usual "mom burnt the shit out of dinner" flavor my family has come to expect, it left it with fancy cheese smokiness that was down right perfect.

Perfectly unreplicatable (that's a word today, folks.)


Hooray for salvaged failures! 
Mmm. Heart Healthy.
On opposite day.

Oh, one more thing.

Max also insisted we make dessert. This consisted of a store-bought chocolate "graham" cracker crust filled with Jell-O Oreo Pudding. I didn't take a picture of that and I didn't eat it either.

Because it's disgusting.

The End.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Sunday # Easter... Whatever Sunday # that was.

Hey, remember how like, over a month ago, I said I'd made lamb and was gonna talk about it soon?
Yeah... I sorta remember that too.

So - lamb!

I cooked it on Easter cause that's what you do sometimes.

Or, if you're just in it to traumatize your children,
any other day of the week.

So yes. I started by pulling this leg-o-lamb I'd purchased with taxtime riches out of the freezer. Or, rather, I had Mark do that cause I was still half-comafied.

We didn't do this until Sunday morning, if I remember right.

Anyway, when I was sure that was thawed I started making the pasty stuff you rub all over your lamb to make it tasty.

Let's see.. I used... rosemary, thyme and something else. Oregano? Sure. That.

That all gets chopped up on your board like so:

What you see on top is a big sprinkle of kosher salt. I then took the knife and tried to grind it all around with the flat of it. Yeah... that didn't work out so well. Plus I was worried about cutting myself or ruining my knife. Hey! I bet this was a job for one of those big 'ole mortar/pestle things. Or maybe a food processor. One of those.

All of the green stuff got scraped into a bowl with a good blob of course ground mustard, ALL OF THE GARLIC and... something else is in there too. Lemon juice? Olive oil?

I dunno... what do you think?

See, I made this well over a month ago and even if I based any of it off of a recipe, I don't know what that recipe was, so I don't remember exactly what was in there. Hmm.

Let me tell you though, that mustard was awesome. Later on I was making myself a lamb sandwich and felt that more of this mustard would make it extra awesome.

When I went to get the mustard slather out of the jar I discovered my spoon wouldn't fit! What was I to do! Get a knife? No!

Being fantastically lazy I tipped the jar to it's side and tap,tap, tapped it on the counter until the mustard slid forward and the mustard was mine!

That was the plan anyway. It practice, it went something like "tap, tap, tap, KERSMASH" and that was the end of the awesome lumpy mustard.

Plus there was glass all over the counter, possibly on my sandwich. I ate it anyway because I'm mighty and uncowardly and have no concern for my innards. Which are mighty!
Okay, I threw the bread away, but everything else was still secure in their little baggies. I'm don't have to be afraid when little baggies are there to protect me!

Just like with hobo sex, am I right?
No? Too much?

Uhhh. Oh yeah, lamb.

So, after you mix up your mustard/herb slather you get to slathering.

...and that's the last pic of that I have for a while, because I was busy going "oh no!" over my still-frozen-in-most-of-the-middle lamb.

but look, potatoes!

Those are potatoes, with dots of butter on the bottom half of a broiler pan.

Then the top part of the pan goes on, and then you put the lamb there and then you put it in the oven!

That's all I got. I don't remember how the rest of it went, how long it went in - nothin'.

I do remember how it turned out though.

The lamb was okay, but the potatoes...

"Mashed" was the right answer.

Many Sundays back I made chicken and potatoes using the broiler pan method. I was very excited to try lamb this way because OMG CRISPY LAMB FLAVORED POTATOES!

These were lamb-grease flavored. I guess I should have seen that coming. I dumped off the liquid you see in the pic and made gravy. That was awesome.

I also made glazed carrots. I'd told Mark to pick up a veggie when he went to the store earlier that day. He cam back with four carrots.

All the carrots.

So we cracked open a can of green beans. I did nothing to fancy them up. 'Cause fuck fancy, that's why. Really, after frozen lamb, grease float taters, and 1 carrot per person, I was ready to sit down and get that Sunday over with.


I think we were all ready to get it over with.

Sad taters aside, this dinner was pretty good. But hello, it was lamb. I'm pretty sure I could eat that every day and not be sorry.
And really, the potatoes weren't so bad either, just not what I was hoping for. There was really no need to have all the flavors of lamb on the potatoes when you have lamb right there. And anyway, if you do want everything to taste like lamb, that's what gravy is for.

See the bread in that pic? I think that bread was from the Wednesday before. It was mostly dried out and sad by then, but looked pretty as part of the meal. Plus, it soaked up gravy like a champ!

I love you, lamb!

Of course, not everyone feels that way:
Seen here: Genuine disgust.

Max is usually hamming it up one some level when we take a close up of him and his meal. I suppose that the pooched lips seen here are an example of that (I think what he was going for here was "grimmace." Sorry Max, I don't think 9 year olds have enough life experience to pull that one off.)

He crammed in enough for dessert though:
Chocolate and strawberries:
Worth gagging on maggots for ~ Max

Except that above caption is a lie, because unless they've been boiled with pectin and sugar and jarred, strawberries are disgusting!
If I hadn't seen him sliced out of me I would swear he was some other mutant's kid.

I don't know how to end this. How 'bout another Simpson's reference?

Suck it up Lisa, no animal is too cute to not eat.