Tonight’s lessons

1.  Easy with the mustard, Lassie

2.  Turns out you can roast frozen green beans!  Who knew?!

Re: #2:  I saw this recipe for roasted green beans and wanted them, like, right then.  But then the day happened, what, with its weather and all and it got all freezy and blizzardy and there was no way in h. e. double-hockey-sticks that I was going to the grocery store on a night like this.  Even if I were wearing more than sheers on my legs (yeah, who decides to wear a dress in 30 mph winds?! that would be yours truly.).  A person wants to be nowhere other than home when the wind and snow are blowing and howling like a pissed off bear.  Anyway, the point?  I wasn’t going to seek out fresh green beans, but I did have a bag of frozen beans.  The recipe says “or frozen,” so I decided to give it a go. 

Eh, they’re not exactly pretty but the flavor’s good.  And they’re a far cry better than the water-logged taste of most frozen veggies.

Now, about the mustard.  I love Dijon mustard.  Love, love it. 

But I put too much in my cheese sauce.   Damn!

I usually put ground mustard into my sauce for homemade mac ‘n cheese, so I figured I could sub some Dijon along with a few other tweaks (bit of herbs de provence, nutmeg).  Tasted the sauce and it was crazy overboard on the mus.  So I added a little sugar, plus it needed some salt.  We’ll see if it’s salvageable.  Stay tuned….

_________

Yay!  File this under “Happy Accidents,” folks, ‘cuz this was fantastic!!  The flavors mellowed and melded just right in the oven and this was the best mac ‘n cheese I’d made in a looooong time.  My Hubs thought it was the cheese that was different and perfect and inquired after just what I’d done differently.  The kids even ate it (but only after expressing severe disappointment upon seeing baked mac instead of their favorite box of Annie’s on the counter)!  The Pink One even declared, “Mommy, you make the BEST mac ‘n cheese!” 

The green beans met some initial skepticism but the flavor won us all over.  We’d always prefer fresh, but these were great in a pinch.  I’d definitely make them again…you know, if we were homebound with nary a fresh green bean in sight.  In this winter, that’s an all-too-common prospect.

The cheesy pasta was just rich enough to warrant a glass of wine, so the sommelier selected a Malbec.  Good ’nuff.

And, after a dinner like that, who needs dessert?!

Lunch at the best restaurant in town

Okay, so I didn’t prepare it, but if this space is about celebrating food, then any trip to Alba is worth documenting. 

The downside: my fingers still smell like my salmon burger.

But I can deal with that, ’cause lemme tell ya about the upsides:

1.  The chef seated us and served us our salad and meals.  He graciously accepted my kudos on the spot’s features in local papers in recent weeks.  I’m enamored with nearly anyone who makes amazing food from (mostly) ordinary ingredients, and he is certainly one of “those people.”  Which leads me to…

2.  I’m still tasting and loving the beet salad — beets with roasted fingerling potatoes and fine-diced red onion meets perfect baby spinach expertly dressed with oil, acid, salt and just the right amount of pepper, and two hard-boiled egg halves sidled up next to the spinach.  The presentation was beautiful and the taste was spot-on.

3.  Round 2 for the salmon burger; I’d had it before and loved it.  Much as I try to be adventurous and go for variety, especially at a place like this, it wows me way more than any chicken or pasta dish ever could.  It rocked.  The fries were not so fantastic this time around but that’s nothing to cry about.

4.  Josh had the duck.  He declared it a teensy bit overdone but still seemed pleased. 

5.  Signature chocolate dessert…ohmyheavens!  The chocolate molten lava cake with a side scoop of house-made buttermilk ice cream is singularly the. best. dessert. in. town.  Period. The end.  It gives me goosebumps, it’s THAT good.

I can’t wait to see the spring menu…

Potato soup, sans potatoes

Well, not really “sans.” But there certainly were not enough potatoes to warrant it being called “Potato” Soup. 

I’d dreamt of it all day:  rich and creamy mashed Yukons, half and half, warm, mmmm.  I was even going to break out The Bacon.  And I still had leftover ham from Christmas.  In efforts to be as bold in the kitchen as my brother, I was even planning to puree that ham!  It all came together in my head–I could practically taste that cream, salty, smoky bowl of heavenly potato soup….

And then.  Then I get home, start pulling stuff out of the fridge and cupboards, open the cupboard to grab the potatoes and am hit with a sense of dread.  Oh, no I didn’t, did I?  Did I really use all of the potatoes last time I reached into this cupboard??  Please, no, tell me my memory is failing me!…

Sho ’nuff.  All I find are two rinky dink Yukon golds.  Two.  Even Jesus may have had trouble making those two potatoes serve my small crowd.

Alright, time to improvise.  I have a large stalk of broccoli, about 7 pounds of carrots, and cheese.  Got it!  California medley-ish soup with the pureed potato/bacon/broth concoction as the thickener.  And cheese.  Ready, set, go.

Cooked The Bacon in a bit of oil.  (Why?!  I dunno…)  Removed the slices, then sauteed some onion, celery, garlic.  Added potatoes, tossed ’em around.  Added stock, boiled till taters were tender.  Removed that lovely concoction and let it cool a bit.

Added more stock to the pan, along with some sliced carrots.  Boiled a bit, then added the chopped broccoli (wished later that I’d chopped it smaller–now I know). 

Pureed the potato concoction, along some ham.

Stirred the veggies and stock.  Panicked a bit when I realized and yelped, “I forgot to add The Bacon!”  Husband graciously volunteered to run the boat motor and puree The Bacon into the Potato Stuff.

Stirred the Stuff into the veggies.  Wasn’t the consistency I was aiming for so added a little slurry.  Meh, close but not there.  But didn’t care so much because by now we were all starving.  Added some shredded cheddar and a bit of parsley.

O.M.G.  Veggies–they were the centerpiece and made it seem so much more wholesome and not totally a dinner indulgence.  Creamy–even the two rinky dink potatoes made their special contribution. Smoky– The Bacon added an irreplaceable dimension. 

I would totally make this again.

You know, if it were possible to recreate something you totally made up on the fly and have it taste the same a second time around.

the birthday dinner that wasn’t

Argh!!!

That was me just as I was set to serve Brian’s birthday dinner. 

I got off work early, ran to the store (gah! along with the rest of midtown DM…), got the kids, and headed home so they could sign their card, make a big birthday sign, decorate his chair with balloons and streamers, and have dinner nearly ready when he got home.    Picture it, he’d walk in to the delicious smells of dinner, I’d hand him a glass of chilled wine, he delight in the kids’ decorations and we’d all have a lovely start to the evening.  Lovely, no?!

scuh-reeeeeeeeeeeeeeech!!  That’s the needle scratching the record across that little pipe dream.   Instead, imagine the birthday guy walking in on dining room chaos (m’kay, maybe that’s a little strong, though it was messy!), markers strewn about and the birthday sign in progress, radio blaring, chair undecorated, kitchen not quite smelling delicious yet.  Well, it might have smelled like cake as I had just rummaged through the recycle bin to find an empty wine bottle onto which I could invert the angel food cake that had JUST come out of the oven.  (Thank you, Betty Crocker.)  Alas, no chilled wine; so I promptly moved to put that in the fridge.  Nor had I signed his birthday card–though I did leave it lying in the open on the table, hopefully too obscured by the big sign to stand out.  But in a stroke of luck, his replacement headlight had arrived that day, (not-so-)artfully wrapped in kraft paper and an entire roll of packaging tape.  So I handed that over and wished him a happy birthday.  He scuttled off to the basement with that so I could make the pork loin. 

Yeah, the pork.  I avoid pork because, well, I am completely incapable of cooking it properly.  It’s either completely dried out, tough, and tasteless or is underdone, pink, and tastes like the butcher counter smells.  I can eat a pink steak but cannot bear the thought of pink in my white meat (though much reading indicates that pork is safe and actually better at 155…hmm…).  (Have I mentioned my meat thermometer that must have been assembled by a paranoid nit (not me this time!) because it indicates that absolutely everything is undercooked.  I could stick it in a burnt hunk of meat and it *might* register 150.  So, yeah, need a new one, preferably an instant-read digital.)  BUT! I aim to please.  So I bought a pork tenderloin, figuring it’s the tastiest and tenderest of the bunch, and it should cook pretty quickly, and maybe I could not screw it up. 

I started with renewed confidence and a grand plan.  Butterfly the loin, pound it out to about 1/2 inch thickness, spread the sausage filling all over it, roll it up, tie it, cut it into 2 large pieces to it could fit in the already-seasoned pan, sear it on high on all sides and pop it in the oven.  I had the oven at 400 (mistake #1…or #31, but who’s counting?!).  It was nicely browned, though starting to burn on one side of the pan.  I splashed a little stock in the pan to settle the smoke, popped it in the oven for 20  minutes, figuring that would be enough because, eh, there were two smallish pieces and the oven was nice and hot and I didn’t want to overcook it.  Mistake #2…

Timer sounded. It looked beautiful, so I took it out and tented it, and set to work on the sauce.  In mistake #something, I forgot to saute the onions first, but went ahead and dumped in wine, a splash of cider, dijon, honey, and only then threw in the onions (tiny dice). Scraped up the brown bits and boiled it to reduce.  Seasoned it w/ S&P, readied some parsley.  Tasted — fantastic, perfect balance of sweet and tart.   While it finished up, I got ready to plate the pork.

Apparently, while camping out, the pork had elected to conspire against me for keeping it from my kitchen all these months. 

Slice #1, “Hmm, is that pink, I see?”  By slice #2, there was no doubt, “Yes, Watson, that is in fact pink.”  [)*(@$*$ insert any and every expletive here, along with the barely-quenchable urge to throw something and make loud, crashing, very messy sounds)#*($&]  While the rational side of my brain tried to hold the Other Side’s hand, pat it gently, and resume rational thought, the Other Side swore like a mute sailor.  (Hey, there were kids in the room!  Until I bid them “Go! Away! Get out, get out! Ineedtothinkpleasestoptouchingme! Out!”) 

Damn! I’d already turned off the oven AND used the pan from the pork to make the pan sauce.  So I busted out another pan, cranked up the eat and slapped (not an exaggeration) the medallions in the pan.  And, since the kids had alerted the birthday guy AND it was 7-something (more than an hour after I’d started cooking dinner), the kitchen was full of hungry bodies.  I whined/cried to Brian that his dinner was not, after all, done; it was not what I’d wanted it to be for him; and I was pissed/frustrated/near despairing that nothing EVER goes right in the kitchen for me/I’m a complete failure/F*CK/blah blah blah.  So, while the drama was clearly overdone, the pork was…not so much.

The supporting cast: 

Crouton salad with apples, raisins, celery and onion.  Also known as “Stuffing,” but for Stuffing one usually remembers to add an egg and adequate butter, along with the stock.

A pretty tasty salad with sliced Granny Smith apples and julienned pieces of aged sharp cheddar, served with a nice OJ/dijon/S&P/oil/honey dressing that I didn’t screw up actually made.

Angel food cake (from a box), frozen strawberries (wha?!…fresh were over $5 for the saddest looking box of berries you’ve ever seen.  Even berries shrivel up and pout when it’s this cold outside.), and sweet cream butter over-whipped whipped cream (note to self: don’t walk away from the mixer while whipping cream).

The kids, in their very sweet attempts to make me feel better, declared the pork to be “delicious,” “the best ever,” and because he’s a numbers kinda kid, Mason found it “about 90% better than [insert anything here].”  He even tried to fix my bruised ego by saying, and I quote, “that’s a nice, uh…, um…, shirt-thing, whatever that is you’re wearing!” 

Cliff notes version:

Dinner was late but delicious.