Friday, October 31, 2008

Panic Season Has Begun

Halloween is upon us, so the countdown to Thanksgiving has begun.


(Okay. Got that out of my system.)

I'm actually more relaxed this year than I was last year, because I know I survived hosting my first one, so I know I can do it again. I just hope I don't get overconfident and mess something up.

I saved my lists and planning pages from last year, so at least I know I can stick to a game plan. I'm only making a couple of adjustments to the menu this year. Last year I served turkey, gravy, apple cornbread stuffing, green bean "casserole" (green beans and mushrooms in a red wine sauce topped with fried shallots), corn pudding, and pecan sweet potatoes. I made a pear and mixed green salad for an appetizer and chocolate cream pie for dessert. This year I'm swapping out the salad for the sweet potato soup and the pecan sweet potatoes for regular mashed (Kevin really missed having mashed potatoes last year).

My biggest problem this year is head counts. I don't like not knowing how many people are coming ahead of time and unfortunately, I'm not going to have a final headcount until a week or two before Thanksgiving.

My brother's stepson is a Marine drill instructor stationed at Parris Island. He may or may not have leave for Thanksgiving. If he does, he will only have time to visit his in-laws in Virginia. That means bro's family will go down there. It's been a long time since my sister-in-law has been able to celebrate a holiday with her son and she hardly ever sees her new granddaughter. I don't blame them for wanting to go, but I wish I could know sooner. If he doesn't get leave, Bro and family are staying in NY and are having Thanksgiving with me.

If my brother comes here for Thanksgiving, the guest list will come to 17 people when you count Bro, SIL, and their two kids. It's going to be a tight squeeze. I think space is my number one concern. I have a folding table and will have to borrow a second one. I don't think anyone in my family has ever hosted a family dinner that was this big. A few years ago my brother and I decided that we were tired of shuffling back and forth between Mom's and Dad's over the holidays, especially since he now has an extended family of in-laws to visit (I'm glad I didn't marry into a big family. My Mother-in-law just spends holidays with Kevin and me). We realized that it was time for us to start doing the family dinner hosting and that Mom and Dad would have to get over themselves and both attend. Now we're stuck hosting gigantic parties.

My other concern is food. How much do I make for 17 people? I'm looking at my recipes, some of which are my own creations, and wonder if I should double them or at least 1.5 them. Then I remember that last year I had leftovers of everything (with 14 people attending) and sent two people home with care packages. Maybe the same amounts will be okay. My mother-in-law, stepgrandmother, and mother all have fairly petite appetites. None of them will be piling up their plates multiple times. Last year my uncle brought a cheese tray and shrimp ring that we ate prior to the first course. People filled up on that so they ate less dinner (or so I'd like to think). Maybe he'll do that again.

Then of course I have to worry about the expense of it all. Hosting a nice dinner does mean a bit of a financial outlay. I don't like to ask people to bring everything because I feel sort of bad saying, "You're invited for dinner - now feed yourself."

I do plan to delegate some of the food and beverages. I have asked Mom to make her delicious orange and ginger cranberry sauce. We just have to hope she avoids human-flesh-eating ponies.

Blood Blood Blood Blood Blood Blood Blood Blood Blood

Another great moneysaving tip is my brother said he would be happy to give me some of his mushrooms for the green beans!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Making Use of the Pickles

If I can bring myself to wake up early on a Sunday morning, I try to haul my tired butt to the Rye Farmer's Market.

The Rye Farmer's Market is a dangerous place. I go there with the best intentions of just buying some vegetables and fruits, but somehow end up coming home with a $25 wedge of artisinal cheese or a $10 jar of gourmet flavored peanut butter.

Or a $6 container of garlic pickles.

I can't help it. The picklemonger is a very persuasive guy. He's like a carnival barker. He shouts out his available wares to anyone who passes by. He has all sorts of pickles and marinated mushrooms and roasted peppers. I can not resist the lure of the pickle man. I love pickles. (I wonder if I got pregnant would I be turned off pickles.)

I enjoy eating my pickles as is, but I started to wonder if it might be fun to add them to another recipe. Could I make my own relish (and what would I put it on)? What else could I do with them?

Then I remembered that I also bought these potatoes at the same market. They're not Yukon Golds, but they were supposed to be similar. I can't remember what they were called. I'm sorry. Please forgive me.
The inspiration came on like a pack of wolves running from a Palin-piloted helicopter. I would make a potato salad with pickle bits in it!

I used a recipe that I half-remembered from a label on sack of baby yukon golds I purchased a while back. It was a mayonnaise-free recipe, which is good since neither I nor Sir Pickypants likes the stuff. This one had olive oil and white wine, lemon juice and vinegar. I changed it around and added lemon vinegar and mustard.

Potato salad goes best with barbecue, so I decided to do my own grilled chicken sandwich with a nice side of potato salad. I made a nice sauce of sriracha and honey and cooked it on the grill pan.

I made some garlic roasted broccoli to ease the vegetable guilt.

I put avocado slices on the sandwich because I like it.

Recipes are for two people with a little extra. Adjust amounts as you see fit.

Sweet-Spicy Grilled Chicken Breasts

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 Tbl sesame oil
2 Tbl honey
1 Tbl sriracha
1 Tbl cider vinegar
Salt and pepper
Crusty rolls
Avocado slices

Mix together first five ingredients.

Light a grill or warm up a ridged grill pan (as I did). Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper and cook chicken on both sides. When chicken is almost cooked through, brush with sauce and grill both sides again until done.

Serve on rolls with avocado slices.

Pickle-y Potato Salad

8 small potatoes
1 cup finely chopped dill pickle
2 Tbl olive oil, divided use
1/4 cup white wine
1 Tbl lemon champagne vinegar
2 Tbl dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook potatoes in boiling water until tender. Remove from heat and cut into chunks. Toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and some salt and pepper. (Go easy on the salt as this salad has pickles in it). Whisk together wine, vinegar, mustard and remaining olive oil. Add pickles to the potatoes and toss it all with the dressing. You can serve it warm or cold as you see fit.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

There is nothing like a beautiful Fall day in the country.

Nothing better ends a Fall day than a birthday dinner with Kevin's Family at the Iron Forge Inn, my most favorite restaurant in the world. Let's see what they had in store for me this weekend.

We came in from the cold, rainy night into this sweet little porch that smelled of cinnamon and spice. I love this room.

From there, we were seated in the Garden Room. It's a small, intimate space that (surprise) has French doors overlooking a garden.

We began with a tasty amusee bouch of potato croquette with truffle butter along with fresh, warm bread. It was a delcious bite as always.

My appetizer was duck "prosciuttio": thinly sliced cured duck wrapped around pear slices and drizzled with truffle honey.

My entree was a ginormous pork chop topped with sauteed greens and pulled pork. It sat in a pool of plum-chardonnay cream sauce and little spatzles, slightly charred to give them extra flavor.

Two members of our party had a short rib that sat on top of an onion bread pudding.

Kevin had the specialty fish of the day. It was a rainbow trout, covered with beautiful squares of polenta.

My dessert was a Chocolate Plate. I had two chocolate-filled beignets and a scoop of rich chocolate sorbet on top of a homemade cookie. It sat in a pool of ganache.

There isn't much else to say. Everything was delicious and skillfully prepared. It was served with a smile in an unhurried manner (but this time we didn't have to wait a half an hour for dessert). Kevin got his dessert for free as he was celebrating his birthday. They're nice to us like that. We eat there often enough now that the owners know us by name.

This was the first time my mother-in-law and her friends have ever eaten at the IFI. They were very pleased with the place. I haven't brought anyone here yet who didn't love it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Birthday Spaghetti Dinner with Cookie Experiments

Last night was Kevin's Birthday. We have plans to go out with his family this weekend to the Iron Forge Inn (and I'm sure there will be yet another Iron Forge Inn post), but I wanted to do something a little special for him on his actual birthday. I asked him what he wanted for dinner and he said, "Spaghetti and meatballs." Well, that's done easily enough, so let's get to work.

There are still tomatoes at the farmer's markets, so I took advantage of them. My recipe was the same recipe I used to pour over Roman Gnocchi a couple of weeks ago.

Look. I got a new camera!

I had to make turkey meatballs of course, because Sir Pickypants won't eat beef ones, but I tried to make them as tasty as possible. Sometimes I like to make beef meatballs for myself in addition to turkey ones, but I was lazy last night.

I never seem to make my meatballs the same way twice and I'm always looking at other people's recipes for inspiration. I did something I have never done before. I used two eggs in this recipe and I usually use only one. It seems many other meatball cooks use two eggs, so I wanted to see how it changed the taste and texture.

The extra eggs didn't do much one way or the other for the meatballs. They were soft and I thought a little bland. I would add more cheese and garlic the next time.

I really had to think hard about what I wanted to make for dessert. I knew I could come up with some kind of sundae or booze-and-ice-cream combo, but I thought it would be a bit more special if I actually baked something. I didn't know how much time I had for baking, but I really wanted to at least try to bake. I knew Kevin would love it.

I considered a simple cake or some brownies. Then I had an idea. I have always wanted to try that trick with the chocolate chip cookies where you age the dough. I thought I could make the cookie dough on Monday when I'm home all evening, and then bake them up after dinner so Kevin would have warm, out-of-the-oven cookies on his plate.

I used the Sugar Plum recipe. I was terribly afraid I had overworked the flour/butter and the egg/sugar mixture, but I told myself not to panic. These were cookies and not piecrusts. I hoped for the best.

This is from Tuesday night after 24 hours of aging. I had to double wrap the bowl. I wanted to make sure no fridge odors got into the dough, and I also needed to keep hands out of it! Having cookie dough in your house for three days is HARD.

The resulting cookies were delicious, but it's hard to say if there was a noticeable difference between ones that have been aged before baking and ones that went from bowl to oven in the same day. The dough was really dry and hard to scoop out of the bowl.

Texturally they were excellent. I had hoped they would be thicker and denser when they were baked, but that was not the case. The edges were delicately crispy. The insides were almost fluffy textured. I don't think the taste was any more intense than that of a non-aged cookie, but I would really have to taste them side by side to see.

Regardless of what the aging process did or did not do for the cookies, Kevin loved them. He said they were the best chocolate chip cookies he ever ate. I think I will credit Em's delicious recipe rather than the aging of the dough. Although he doesn't like salt on things he liked the little sea salt sprinkle on top. We have a winner.

I meant to serve them hazelnut gelato, but I forgot. Oh well.

Birthday Meatballs
1 pound ground turkey
2 cups crumbled stale Italian or other dense bread, crusts removed
3/4 cup milk
2 eggs
2 Tbl finely chopped fresh parsley
2-4 cloves garlic (depending on size)
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup grated parmesan

Put bread in milk to soak.

Finely mince garlic with salt and mash into a paste. (You don't want garlic chunks in your meatballs)

When bread is saturated, squeeze excess milk out and mix together with all remaining ingredients. Shape into balls.

Heat some olive oil in a big pan and add meatballs. Brown well on all sides. Then put them in your simmering tomato sauce for about 30 minutes.

Serve over your favorite cooked pasta.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

My Brother's Mixed Blessing

When I went to my niece's birthday part yesterday, my nephew asked me if I wanted to see their mushrooms.

My brother lives in the house previously occupied by my grandparents. In the yard are two giant, majestic old oak trees. They are the only such trees in the neighborhood. Charles led me to each of the trees and showed me the massive clusters of mushrooms clustered around its base. My mother told me they were edible mushrooms, but couldn't remember what kind they were. Seeing the massive size of the things I said, "Hen of the woods?" she said yes. That was exactly what they were.

My brother is pleased with his mushroom crop as they grow plentifully around the base of both trees. Since he is the only person in the neighborhood with old oak trees, it is a rarity. He has been experimenting a bit with how to cook them. He let me taste one he had in the kitchen. It tasted like a button mushroom, but had an acidic aftertaste.

The problem is the rarity of the mushrooms in the neighborhood has opened him up to some poaching. I asked him if foragers ever come to his yard and try to take some. He said he often has to chase people away. He said a couple of weeks ago he saw a woman slunking around his property in broad daylight with a plastic bag. When he ran out and asked her what she was doing, she quickly walked off and he noticed all of the mushrooms were gone. It's not the first time that he has found his trees cleaned of mushrooms when he himself hasn't picked them.

The nerve of some people! I know foragers are a strange lot and will look long and hard for their mushrooms and are fiercely protective of their turf. I never thought that they would walk into someone's yard in broad daylight and proceed to help themselves to someone else's mushroom. One would think they would at least ask first.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Paula Deen: Food Network Villian - Or Victim?

When I first started watching the Food Network, I feel immediately in love with Paula Deen. I loved her warm and friendly personality. I loved her food. I really didn't see anything bad or wrong about her food. I know that many people from her neck of the woods find that it's nothing new, but it was a cuisine I had little familiarity with. I did know that it was not the most healthful cuisine in the world, but that's not why I watched her show.

Paula Deen's show opened up a new world to me and brought me some great recipes. They weren't things I would eat every day, but when I needed a recipe for some classic comfort dishes, she came through for me. I knew that she was the chef and owner of a popular and successful restaurant and her cooking skills, if not CIA-quality, seemed solid enough. I never heard her say anything particularly stupid or wrong on her shows. I also saw her cook outside of her comfort zone. She experimented with international dishes and tried to be somewhat authentic with them.

I was watching one of her older episodes a few weeks ago. She was subdued, friendly, and on the ball. She cooked everything I saw from scratch and she thoroughly washed her hands after handling chicken. Back in those days it seemed that she was well liked by most people. There was a general acknowledgement that she was not a master chef and that her food was not partiuclarly good for you, but she wasn't uiversally reviled.

How did someone so innocuous become so universally hated in the same way that Rachael Ray and Sandra Lee are?

I think that a lot of the early criticisms of Paula were a bit unfair. Because her cooking is high in fat, and associated with a part of the country that less open-minded people associate with rednecks and white trash, she was really looked down upon. It didn't matter that her food was often good, or that it wasn't always so incredibly high in fat. Still, people did things like have the Paula Deen Coronary Watch.

Again, I don't deny Paula uses a lot of cream and butter. I also just wish people would notice how much cream and butter Ina Garten uses, or Emeril Lagasse uses. Apparently, if you're a J&W trained chef, or a caterer to the Hamptons swells, it's sophisticated and normal to use large amounts of fat. If you're a successful restaurant owner who happens to be in the south and doesn't cook haute cuisine, well, then you're just a crazy old lady giving a heart attacks to her viewers.

I've made many Paula Deen recipes and had a lot of success with them. My family loves it when I make her Cheese grits for holidays (how a northern family came to be so fond of grits I'll never know, but they are quite traditional around here on holidays). I love her Bourbon beef tenderloin. Her Basic 1-2-3-4 Cake has been a basis for several fun cake variations. While her Gooey Butter Cakes do require a cake mix, I have to say they are delicious. I can't say that Paula Deen is a bad cook. She's great or at least she was.

But something has happened to Paula. Rather than refute or defend her claims that everything she makes is bad for you and swims in butter, she began to revel in it. The more people called her on it, the more she seemed to play it up.

As her food become more unhealthful, it seemed it also became more dumbed down. I saw fewer fresh ingredients on her show. I saw more shortcuts and boxed mixes. Of course it makes sense since just about every other cook on FN seems to be doing the same thing. Giada is using a lot more packaged ingredients as well. I don't blame Paula Deen as much as I blame the Food Network and its desire to dumb down all of the shows so that the cooks don't "intimidate" beginners with their cooking skills.

People liked Paula because she was easy, so FN made her easier. People liked Paula because she made food that disregarded the health police, so FN made her fattier. People liked Paula because she was so warm and friendly and FN made her - CRAZY.

The problem with Paula is that she has now become over the top in her food and her personality. It seems that the FN executives can't leave a good thing alone. They had to take what was a decent concept and then force it heavily on the audience, overplaying it and taking it over the top. She went from being a pleasant woman cooking tasty food to being almost unwatchable, and made food that veers rather scarily into Sandra Lee territory. It doesn't seem to improve her popularlity much. It seems to me that it just turned people off. Will the Food Network ever learn?

Maybe FN executives do this on purpose. Maybe they think if the oversaturate the market with Paula, people will grow tired of her, the ratings will go down, and they have an excuse to replace her with a younger, bustier woman.

While I don't really enjoy watching Paula Deen much anymore, I don't think it's entirely her fault. If you want to make it on FN, you have to follow their party line, or you're out.

Of course that makes me wonder how Ina Garten has managed to stay on the air all of these years. She's never been one to play by their rules and she's overweight and middle aged. I'm surprised Scripps hasn't shuttled her off to Fine Living. That's where anyone who can cook goes these days and that saddens me since good cooking shouldn't be thought of as some kind of elitist pastime.

On a completely different note, I am finding that FN is changing its tune a bit. I was home yesterday morning and was pleasantly surprised by the lineup. There was only one Rachael Ray show. Alex Guarnaschelli was followed by Anne Burrell, whom I watched for the first time. She created some great homemade recipes with personality and didn't make them look complicated. There was no Sandra Lee and no Ingrid Hoffman. The only thing missing was Jamie Oliver (well, and Sara Moulton, and Emeril...). Maybe they're finally doing something right.

I hate the new FN website. It's slow and full of popups. Just had to say that.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Pork Chops and Potato Experiments

Kevin went to St. Louis for a business trip on Sunday night, promising to return on Monday. I had assumed he would be home too late for dinner, so I had a wonderful solo meal planned. I was going to make pork chops with baked sweet potato fries and sauteed apples and cabbage. There is NOTHING in this meal that Kevin actually likes or can eat.

Then I found out he would be home for dinner after all. I had to think quickly. I had some white potatoes in the fridge left over from the latke-making. I picked up a couple of fish fillets and decided that for once I wasn't going to force Kevin to eat his vegetables and not replace the cabbage. I breaded the fish fillets in a mixture of cornmeal and paprika and baked them. I mashed those potatoes in a whole new way. I made the pork chops for myself as planned.

So about those pork chops...

This time of year always puts me in the mood for pork chops because they go so well with apples. I am salivating at pork recipes everywhere I go. (Darius, you will never hear me say I'm tired of pork posts.) I had been planning for over a week now exactly what kind of pork chops I wanted. Kalofagas had a delicious looking honey-mustard marinade that I've been dying to try. It was meant to be a grill recipe, but I will forever complain that I can't grill. Peter suggested I sear in the pan and finish in the oven and asked that report how it turned out. I am doing so now.

I didn't marinate the chops quite as long as I wanted to. They got roughly 90 minutes in the bag. They got a good browning for a few minutes on each side in a cast iron pan and went into the oven for about 10 minutes more. They were wonderfully flavorful and tender. They had a tasty combination of spicy and sweet with a real kick from the peppercorns. This marinade is definitely a keeper.

My mashed potatoes were a change of pace from how I usually make mashed potatoes. A few months ago I watched Kylie Kwong's show where she and her mother had a mashed potato competition. (Her niece was the judge and Kylie won.) Kwong steamed the potatoes rather than boiling them, saying they absorbed less water that way. I was intrigued and made a mental note to try it at some point. Kylie used a food mill to mash her potatoes, which I thought made them look too liquidy, so I'm all about hte masher. She also used French butter. I stick to Kate's.

So last night was my potato steaming night.

I always love garlic in my mashed potatoes, and I usually roast it, but last night I did something completley different. Instead of mooshing roasted garlic cloves into my potatoes, I warmed the milk with sliced garlic and a handful of rosemary leaves and let the flavors infuse. Then I strained the milk and added it to my potatoes.

The garlic flavor was stronger than I expected it to be, but it was a very consistent flavor. I didn't have a bland bite and a garlicky bite. Every bite tasted like garlic and rosemary. I may do this again. I probably won't do it at Thanksgiving though because I need the burner space on the stove.

Since it was my recipe, I'll share this one. I only had three potatoes in my fridge, so amounts will have to be readjusted for more.

Mashed Potato Variation #59082

3 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
3/4 cup milk
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tablespon fresh rosemary leaves
1/2 stick butter
Salt and pepper

Cook potatoes in a steamer until they are fork tender.

Meanwhile, heat milk in a small saucepan with garlic and rosemary.

When potatoes are ready mash enthusiastically with a masher until they are lump-free. Strain the milk and slowly add to the potatoes, mashing until they are fluffy. Add butter and mash in. Add salt and pepper to taste. (I will not tell anyone how much salt to use in her mashed taters. I like lots of salt in my potatoes, but not everyone does).

Monday, October 13, 2008

Experimenting with Autumnal Soupage (and some bad news)

I'll start with my bad news. This blog is going to go unillustrated for a little while. Saturday night was my 20-year high school reunion. There was much merriment and frolicking, fueled by an open bar. There was a need to joyfully greet each new/old face one saw, even if 20 years ago we were pretty sure we never wanted to see said faces again (the open bar probably helped lubricate those moments). So in the midst of the drinking and hugging and photo-snapping, I accidentally flung my camera from my hand and it hit the floor lens-down. It was turned on, so the lens was extended out, and the impact of the blow set it permanently askew, so it won't retract into the camera as it should. Although I can salvage the pictures I took prior to the accident, I can't take any more pictures with it. I'm on the hunt for a new camera.

Since I'm a terrible food photographer anyway, I like to think people read my blog for my witty prose and delicious recipes and no one will care about the missing photos.

On to today's recipe...

I have said many times that I have to be dragged kicking and screaming into fall because I love summer so much. Still, once fall becomes inevitable, I do give in to the season and enjoy the foliage and the good riding weather and, of course, the fall produce. What says fall more than apples and cider and root vegetables and soup? I decided to experiment this week with a soup that would celebrate the distinctive flavors of fall.

Since this weekend was my reunion and my best friend was in town, I stayed home all weekend. (On the down side, I missed the great foliage I would have seen in the mountains had I spent the weekend with the horses.) This meant I could go to a lot of places I don't have a chance to go to very often.

One of those places was the Rye farmer's market on Sunday morning. It's a small market, but has some great vendors. This is a problem. The vendors are too good. This place is DANGEROUS. I went there looking for some fruits and veggies and cider. I came back with the fruits and veggies and cider along with a jar of homemade dill pickles, a wedge of raw sheep's milk cheese, and a jar of chocolate-hazelnut butter (sort of like nutella, only grainier and less sweet). I spent way more money than I intended to. Oops. Oh well. I have some good snacking.

And my soup? It's a parsnip and apple soup. One things I was able to do with the extra hours at home was cook up a huge amount of homemade stock, so I put it to use and made something I could have for lunch for the next few days. I don't know what inspired me to mix apples and parsnips in a soup, but I wanted to try something a little different from all of the squash soups and carrot soups out there.

The recipe calls for big parsnips. Do not underestimate the word BIG. The parsnips I bought were massive (it's times like these I miss my camera so you could see how big they are). They could have doubled as clubs. They were big enough to cause damage if you hit someone one the head with one.

My soup was kind of thin. I would encourage anyone who wants to try this to experiment with adding some bread or some cream. I was trying to save a few calories.

Parsnip and Apple Soup

1 Gallon chicken stock (homemade if you have it)
2 BIG parsnips thinly sliced
2 medium onions cut into pieces
3 medium apples, peeled and sliced
2 bay leaves
1 Tbl. fresh thyme leaves
1 cup apple cider
1 cup almond meal
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage leaves

Set stock to a simmer and add parsnips, thyme, and bay leaves. Cook until soft and add apples and onions and cook until they are soft.

Remove bay leaves. Add cider, sage, and almond meal and puree the contents of the pot with an immersion blender. If you don't have an immersion blender you can use a food processor or a blender, just don't try to blend it all at once.

Serve and enjoy.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Poverty Meals

I'm sure we have all had days like this. Payday is a day or two away, but it feels like a year away. You're down to your last few dollars and you have to figure out how you're going to eat for the rest of the week.

I'm having that kind of week right now.

I'm eating the dregs of my kitchen. I'm using up some of that excess stuff I have in the cabinets, but not all of it makes for a good meal. I've been trying to get around actually having to make dinner these past few nights. Thank goodness we had leftovers from our anniversary dinner. Lunch has been peanut butter and jelly on bread that has spent a little too much time in the freezer.

I was planning to tell Kevin I was too busy to make dinner tonight and that he would have to get his own dinner. That way I could snarf down another PBJ or some scramble eggs before he came home tonight. While I ate lunch today I began to reconsider.

I thought, "Why not buy a box of pasta and some canned tomatoes? It's cheap and will get you through lunch and dinner until payday." It was very true, but after I made that lovely fresh tomato sauce last week, I can't seem to bring myself to make tomato sauce from a can for a while.

"Why not buy some spaghetti and just spread on a little butter and parmesan? That wouldn't cost anything but the cost of the pasta," I told myself. It seemed like a decent idea, but as much as I defend the nutritional value of pasta, buttered spaghetti seemed a little low in the nutrient department.

I continued to munch my PBJ and considered what I might put on top of some nice cheap pasta. Suddenly the peanut butter hit my taste buds. "I HAVE PEANUT BUTTER AT HOME," said a giant neon sign in my brain. I also know I happen to have some red curry paste. I know a wonderful recipe for red curry noodles and all I would need to buy was a box of whole wheat spaghetti and a few veggies.

I went to the store and bought carrots, cilantro, pasta, and lime.

I also bought this instead of mung beans. Why? LOOK AT THIS PEPPER! How could I resist. It was on sale too. I like peppers better than bean sprouts anyway.

I also bought a couple of these really beautiful oranges. My total bill was less than $10.

A really great tip for poverty-stricken shoppers: Shop in markets where they give out a lot of free samples. You can get a decent lunch that way. Stew Leonards is particularly good for this.

I should follow Michelle's lead and do something like her Cheap-Ass Monday. It wouldn't be a Monday though. Monday is the one day a week I'm likely to be home for long stretches of time without much else to do or anyplace else to go. Monday is when I pull out all of the stops and cook up a show. Thursdays and Fridays are good for that sort of thing.

Payday will be here soon though. I'm thinking pork chops!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Scratching the 7-Year Itch

Last night Kevin and I, barely recovered from our meal at the Post House, had to face another big meal out. You see yesterday was the 7th anniversary of the day we had the government legally recognize each other as family. (Isn't that a romantic way of putting it? Would this make it better?)

Talk to people about dining out in Westchester and things will fall into two camps. The first camp will tell you that there is a dearth of good restaurants in Westchester and everything is poor quality and overpriced. The other camp thinks there are all kinds of exciting restaurants in the area.

I just have one problem with finding out just how many good restaurants there are around here.


Okay. It's not super-duper laziness. There may very well be some great new restaurants in White Plains. I know that if I'm willing to drive to Yonkers I could hit the exalted X20. It's just that Kevin often doesn't come home from his Manhattan-based job until at least 8PM most nights. On weekends we're in NJ riding and we tend to get home between 6 and 7 and are dirty and sweaty and exhausted and we want to eat somewhere easy to get to.

What it boils down to is that when it comes to eating out, we just want to go somewhere within walking distance. Maybe we'll drive a few blocks. But most nights even a quick trip to Harrison or Larchmont or New Rochelle seems like too much effort. White Plains is even more effort since parking is either difficult or expensive.

Fortunately, there is one place that is suited to special occasions that is right at the end of the strip we live on. It's called Le Provencal. It's a French restaurant (duh) serving traditional bistro fare with a few interesting twists thrown in. We've never had a bad meal there. I did want to take it easy that night because I had eaten so much the night before. Although our meal was pretty good, I've had better meals here. They were slightly off their game.

My first course was a jicama and apple salad that also had mango, scallions, and parmesan. There needed to be a little more apple and a little more dressing or something to add a little more depth of flavor. I tasted too much scallion and cheese and a lot of underseasoned jicama. It was an interesting idea and very light and refreshing after having eaten platters of french fries, hash browns, and fried zucchini the night before.

Kevin had a lobster bisque. I found this an interesting bowl of soup since I often think of lobster bisque as being white and creamy. (But what do I know? I don't eat lobster.) He said it was VERY filling. I know it smelled very lobstery.

I had a roast duck with a thyme and apricot sauce. The green beans on this plate were nice and buttery and the sauce was delicious. There was a nice little ratatouille on the side as well. My only complaint is that the duck skin wasn't crispier. It was sort of limp. At least the meat wasn't dry.

Can someone explain how a mere TWO spears of asparagus, just TWO SPEARS, can cause that long-lasting effect that asparagus has. Really, I shouldn't have been noticing it this morning after having eaten two spears last night.

Kevin had crabcakes again. He's so original.

I forgot to photograph dessert. He had ice cream profiteroles (which I sampled). They were really good. I had some hazelnut gelato. I just couldn't do a heavy dessert last night. Even I have my limits. I got two scoops and wished I had asked them if I could mix flavors. I had been tempted to get the pistachio and it would have been nice to have both.

Service was excellent. The restaurant wasn't crowded on a Monday night, so the pace was leisurely and the waitstaff was attentive. They put candles in our desserts for our anniversary.

Kevin gave me a cute new watch (a cat-themed Swatch) and I gave him a new tie (pictures of gas pumps and signs that said, "Gas, 99 cents).

Here's to another 7 years!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Ballets and Birthday Parties

Sunday several members of my family gathered in NYC to celebrate my father's 70th birthday. Most of the men (my father, my brother, and my nephew) spent the day at the Museum of Natural History while the women (my sister-in-law, my stepmother, my niece, and me), along with Kevin, went downtown to the Joyce Theater to see BalletMet. It was an excellent show (some very interesting choreography) and then we all met up and had dinner at The Post House on East 62nd Street.

My brother has been to a few business meetings at the Post House. Although it's a steak house, it seems he and his associates always order the lemon chicken because it's supposedly the best lemon chicken in New York. He ordered it again that day and I rarely ever see him order chicken.

It was a really good meal. Due to the kids needing to eat early, we arrived as soon as the restaurant opened at 5:30. We were seated right away and the waitstaff was nice enough to take the family photo.

The atmosphere was understated and pleasant. It wasn't stodgy steakhouse, but it wasn't painfully hip either.

I called my niece a spoiled princess when she asked me to butter her bread for her. The waiter then jokingly said we were both spoiled as he poured my cosmopolitan directly from the shaker right there at the table.

We had a surf 'n' turf amusee bouche. Kevin and I took two of these and I ate the turf and he ate the surf. It was a spicy little tidbit.

I started the official part of my meal with a bowl of very nice gazpacho.

My niece and nephew split a filet and an order of calamari as well as an order of fries. The platter of fries was HUGE. I liked how the waitstaff served the fries directly onto their plates. We all ate what they refused.
I had a deliciously spicy cajun ribeye. It's like they put half the cow on my plate. It was so huge I mooed at it when I saw it.
Lemon sole for Kevin. BOR-ing

Our sides were yummy onion rings, home fries, and fried zucchini. We had some steamed spinach too, but everyone forgot to eat it.

At dessert time Penelope surprised us all by ordering the chocolate souffle. It was a lot of food for a little girl, but she attacked it as well as she could. She was so thrilled with all of the chocolate stuff on her plate. She couldn't finish it despite Aunt Rachel constantly taking bites.

Charles's dish of ice cream was bigger than his head I think.

Check out my dessert. It was a treasure box. What's inside?

Oh look! White and milk chocolate mousse with fresh raspberries.

Kevin rarely goes for the non-chocolate dessert, but he did opt for a lemon tart. He said it lacked something and wasn't really sweet enough.

Dad got his chocolate mousse cake with a birthday candle in it. I think he had a really good day.

I'm still full from all that food.