On a mission

Note: As I endeavor to unearth this blog and sort through the pile of unfinished drafts cluttering up the collection of posts, I’m marching a few things out…the moments for them may have passed but the lessons and ‘things to remember’ are still present…

For a time, I lost my muse–I don’t know, somewhere around the time all of the beautiful, bountiful, fresh seasonal produce disappeared from the grocery stores and soccer games started to eat up our Saturday mornings and made the farmers market no longer an option.  Oh, yeah, and that whole two kids in activities and school + work + life routine kinda put the brakes on innovation in the kitchen.  Innovation suddenly became “how can we not eat fast food or breakfast for 3 out of 5 weekday meals?”  And I didn’t think that was worth writing about.

So here we are.  Life is just as full but nevertheless I hope to make a go of this again.  Let’s jump right in, shall we?

Much as I’d hoped to celebrate some summer-fresh veggies or some such wholesome noshery, what was on my mind and in my kitchen when this draft originated was cake.  My baby bird turned 5 (gah!) this spring and desperately wanted to make cupcakes to share with her class.  Due to allergies, we avoid eggs and nuts in any treats for school; the absence of eggs in baked goods boggled me so I deferred to the tried-and-true recipe the class has used before:  sub applesauce for eggs in a boxed cake mix.

Ew…

Boxed anything and me are like {this}.

BUT I have learned to make concessions on occasion — birthdays being one of them.  To my kids, cake is so quintessentially “BIRTHDAY” that it simply must be part of the day, and after 9 years I have officially (for now, anyway) abandoned the stress I used to pour into making from scratch the *perfect* cake for them.  They do not care from whence it came; all they want is the final product.

And the frosting.

We went the boxed route this time (for school.  I ate one and instantly regretted it–why waste calories on something that tastes so ridiculously artificial?!).  And I’m kicking myself that I didn’t make this.  A dear friend calls it Wacky Cake and makes for occasions from book club to birthdays.  Next time, I vow!

The following weekend, we celebrated Easter and the big birthday with the grandparents and awesome uncle, so I was confronted with the cake dilemma again.  I wondered if she’d go for strawberry pie?  Or unfrosted cupcakes with homemade frozen yogurt?

We went with homemade frozen yogurt and her grandpa made her an angel food cake. All was right in the world.

{Still, I wish I would have made these little beauties, even if just for home.}

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Valentine’s dinner

Welcome to my brainstorm.

I’m regularly updating this work in progress…Stay tuned!

Beef tenderloin?  Maybe.

Stuffed mushrooms?  Oh, how I love thee…  But if stuffed mushrooms are a starter, can I still make mushroom risotto??

Cocoa pancakes.  Yeah.

Red velvet cupcakes.  Oh…  Though a friend suggested this one.

Or molten lava cakes.  Because, well…obviously.

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The final analysis:  I should have listened to my brother.

The mushroom-stuffed tenderloin would have been divine.  Instead, I did a collection of pepper-crusted tenderloin medallions.  They were okay, though just this side of overdone, and the pepper was much stronger than the last time I made them (um…three years ago).

I did make squash risotto, which was fantastic, and I soooo wish it was lunch time because I want to eat the rest right! now! 

My roasted green beans were far from ideal and plainly illustrated the case for using fresh, beautiful-looking produce.  The beans I used looked a little sad from the get-go; they were pale, with very little body.  Hence, they shriveled up during roasting and the texture was odd.

The cake?  Was okay, but the frosting was a massive fail.  Unless, of course, you’re the type who likes a cottage-cheese-y textured frosting that tastes like pure butter.  But I seriously doubt any of you exist.  I’m less bummed about the frosting fail than I am about losing half a pound of butter in the process.  (Damn! Do you know what I could make with that much butter?!  Cookies, roux, brownies, more mushrooms…aaahhh!!)

So, here’s what went right:  Tenderloin, after all, is tenderloin, so the meat was actually delicious.  I sauteed some sliced mushrooms in oil in the pan I used for the meat, and then deglazed the pan with some Zin.  Oh! those were fabulous.  They were a fantastic bridge for the steak and risotto. 

The big winner:  The Brie-stuffed mushrooms.  The easiest, most delicious stuffed mushrooms I have every made or tasted.  Go forth and make them.  Now!

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.

Holiday Hooplah at Dad’s

Hosted the Wendehl crew and its various branches and leaves this year at Dad’s house.  Josh and I made 4 soups and other assorted edibles.  And everyone brought their assigned “dish”…and other assorted edibles.

Menu in review:

Beer Cheese Soup (and, yes, it was a soup!) – Josh

Chicken Noodle Soup

Turkey Wraps

Guac

Beef Barley Stew

Chili

Cookies & Fudge

Cinnamon Rolls

Cranberry dessert

Meats & Cheeses

Pickle Dip

Bread, bread and more bread

Pumpkin Bars

Dill Dip x2

Veggies

Chips

Pretzel Jello Salad

Puppy Chow

And probably more that I forgot…Man, oh man, it was a lot of food!