Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Tuscany Please

It's Wednesday, I'm half way through the week and should be writing a newsletter for work, but got slightly sidetracked. Last night I had one of those meals that I was hoping for (see my Mediocre Meals post). It was Chicken Parmesan that sent the family scrambling for more, licking their plates and letting out contented sighs. SUCCESS! A perfectly pan seared chicken breast with the crusty, buttery outer layer of parmesan and seasoned breadcrumbs delicated displayed over a traditional long spaghetti and topped with a perfectly seasoned tomato basil marinara and grated parmesan cheese. Oh the delight!

It momentarily took me back to my honeymoon to Italy where my husband and I ate our way from Venice to Rome. There I was, sitting at an outdoor trattoria with fresh pasta and pizza and salad and a cannoli (or two)...being serenaded by two traveling violinists singing "Bella Noche." Sigh....I want to go back.

Perhaps the contest I just entered through Francesco Rinaldi will come to fruition. A trip for two to Tuscany. The odds of winning are just a mere 1 in 150 million. Please Francesco? Pick me?

I'm off to write that newsletter and plan two dinner parties. Ciao!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tang

I would've written a post yesterday, as it's my goal to do a Mon/Wed/Fri schedule on this, but ALAS! I was in the midst of our local grocery store's SUPER DOUBLES marathon and it definately took precedence. For one glorious week, all of my beloved coupons valued at $1.00 - $1.98 are DOUBLED. The savings is enough to make you want to do a happy dance. It was my 2nd trip (as they only allow 20 coupons per person per day) and I had many, many coupons to cash in on. The savings is astounding and I've turned it into my own sort of personal contest (and I do love a good contest) to see how much I can save. To the tune of over $100, I am indeed dancing away at my savings. Whoo hooooo!

So, in celebration (or more of a childhood craving), I made a large pitcher full of Tang and am currently on my 3rd - make that 4th glass of the day. Tang was that special orange sugary beverage reserved only for trips to my grandmother's house. My mother didn't want to have to scrape me off the ceiling each time she made it, so she never bought it. Grandma made it extra Tang-y and delicious by adding more mix than water. I settled back into a brief trip down memory lane while drinking each glass.

Ok, enough of that I bought this Tang to go into a Spiced Tea mix I made at Christmastime and it was a recipe of my mom's that's completely delicious. To prove my point, she was stopped by here the other night and I had a hot mug of it that I'd taken a single sip of. I asked her if she remembered it and wanted to taste it and she handed it back empty. It's that good. This tea mix is great to make in bulk and put in cool containers for friends and teacher gifts. I thought I'd share the recipe so you can enjoy it as well.

Spiced Tea
1/2 cup of instant tea (decaf or regular - you decide)
3/4 cup sugar
7 oz. of Tang
3 oz. lemonade mix (I use Country Time)
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. ground cloves

Mix all of this together well (sift if you wish - I personally use a whisk).

Use 2-3 teaspoons per mug of hot water and enjoy!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Mediocre Meals

I've had a mediocre culinary week in my home kitchen. After staring at 2 pounds of ground chuck for several hours on Monday, I was determined to allow it to reach a greater potential than my traditional standby of tacos. No casserole sounded remotely interesting, I didn't have the ingredients or time to make a fresh marinara and my mom's ultra famous secret meatball recipe, and burgers on a cold monday night that would force my husband to freeze to death while grilling on the deck wasn't an option either. No, this called for reinforcements.

Scanning the web was going to be quicker than madly paging through my vast cookbook library. I settled on a Honey-Garlic Glazed Meatball recipe that received rave reviews and 4.5 stars from AllRecipes.com. I fixed these cute little meatballs and while making the sauce - that consists of ketchup, honey, garlic and soy sauce, I got lost in conversation and added way too much honey. Overcompensating, I added more of the other ingredients to correct the ratios and thankfully it turned out ok. Served with a vegetable rice pilaf and a corn pudding recipe that has been passed all over my church and inevitably shows up at every potluck, the meal was a success. Award winning? Not to me, but delicious enough for hubby to request it again.

Tuesday I had the brilliant idea of making buffalo chicken wings in a healthy way! Is this possible? No, it really isn't, but I awarded myself a gold star for efforts. I took 3 chicken breasts, cut them into lovely nugget sized pieces and tossed them in a casserole dish with a mixture of Texas Pete, Tabasco and melted butter that was then baked not fried. I served this buffalo concoction over cooked barley (Ooo! Barley - a new fav I recently became addicted too) and sprinkled gorgonzola over the top with a side salad that would knock your socks off. It was good - put gorzonzola on just about anything and I'm a fan. Healthy? Somewhat. (Hey - it's better than the bones and fat and skin on the wings, right?). I still think I like the traditional wings better.

Wednesday night was choir practice so I pulled some frozen bbq out of the freezer that I bought from the Boy Scouts. It truly is the best bbq in the galaxy - just like they market it. Eastern Style, the tangy heat of a vinegar base. A meal of champions. I also found a green bean casserole from (dare I say...) last JULY in the deep freezer that I unthawed. Mistake. Friends, don't keep a green bean casserole that your mother in law made you in the deep freeze for 7 months and try to feed your family with it. It's just wrong.

Thursday I was determined to pull myself out of my slump of mediocrity by making a Sage, Apricot and Dried Plum roasted chicken straight from the pages of the Food Network cookbook I received for Christmas. I was definitely concerned about the side affect of the dried plums as they are HELLO PRUNES! But we're fine and found them to be quite tasty in the chicken glaze. No one in my family went madly running to the restroom mid-meal (except for my 3 year old who does this every time we sit down for dinner). I again fixed a side salad that should be showcased in a salad expo, if they even have those sort of things. I personally wasn't wowed by the chicken, but it was good enough for the wonderful hubby to request it again too.

I guess I was hoping for something extraordinary - when suddenly, every bite of each meal was better than the last and my family was licking their plates and clamboring for one more morsel like Oliver Twist begging for more gruel (wait, maybe that isn't the best analogy as Oliver drew straws to ask for the nasty stuff, hmmmm). It was good food, undeniably. But it wasn't spectacular - and THAT is what has me continually inspired to try new things. I want spectacular and sometimes you have to have a freezer burned green bean casserole to remind you of that.

I'm off to make some mouth watering lemon bars for a funeral. Enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

I'd like the $69.00 Crustacean, please.

This story has been told many times in my life since it's such a crazy mishap - I had to share it with you as well, since it involves an amazing restaurant and and incredible meal.

Picture me fresh out of college and convinced I'm going to live life forever as an old maid. Then a magical wedding invitation for a dear friend arrives in the mail and I immediately book my ticket to fly to Pennsylvania. Not wanting to be the old maid amongst all of my old classmates at the celebration of wedded bliss, I get the harebrained idea that I should invite a date. Not just any date, but the guy who I had a massive crush on in Junior High (he was four years my senior). One would think I would do a bit of a background check, but remember, I'm in old maid status here and desperation tends to reign supreme in dire circumstances.

I get in touch with said Junior High Crush. He takes the bait and agrees to pick me up from the airport and be my date. A few phone conversations later and I've agreed to a day trip to Washington DC.

I step off the plane in the most perfect black dress with one hour to spare until the wedding and lay eyes on my date. Oh Lord. It's going to be a long weekend. I'm going to be an old maid for the rest of my life. We attend the wedding and I should have run when I had the chance to take a cab at the airport. On the way to the wedding - the date asks if I like his car. Yes, I complement it's nice shade of black and modest sedan appearance. He chimes in wholeheartedly that he bought the car because I was coming to town. Folks, it was a KIA.

The wedding is perfect - my dear friend looks like a princess and I couldn't be happier to be there to see her marry the man of her dreams - while the nightmare of mine doesn't know when to stand, sit or say amen.

The reception is equally as charming (I'm trying to ignore my date). Things go downhill when he makes a scene over not wanting to participate in the champagne toast and I learn he doesn't have a blockbuster card. Does one actually live without the means to mindless entertainment? OH boy. Let's skip forward. The wedding - perfect, the date - awful, but I had agreed to the Washington DC day trip and he was kind enough to pick me up at the airport. I will stand by my promise and see this through (let's not mention I tried to bribe all of my friends to attend the day trip too - I was willing to drain my bank account over this). None took me up on the offer. I was stuck.

Washington DC - the 2 hour car ride is uneventful and the day was carefully planned by me. I know the city like the back of my hand and had done extensive research to show him special exhibits that I hoped would appeal to him. We start off on our journey through the city and I quickly see we have absolutely nothing in common - there are no exhibits that interest him. I got mad in the Holocaust Museum at his lack of compassion and interest so I stormed out and ran smack dab into a hot dog vendor. "I'd like the foot long with chili and cheese please - he'll be paying for us." Comfort food at it's finest.

Let's fast forward a bit, the day can't go by fast enough and in the back of my mind I recall this dinner he wanted to treat me to. "Sky's the limit - choose any restaurant in DC you want. I'd like this to be special." Me being the self proclaimed foodie that I am, chose the Willard Room. It's posh - the Crown Jewel of Pennsylvania Avenue. I'll be surrounded by Senators and Diplomats and the menu is extremely expensive. Perfect!

I suffer through the day, listen to mindless chatter of why "the date" doesn't listen to music despite being a music major and watch in horror as his one purchase of the day (besides my chili cheese dog) is a few crusty dinner rolls from a bakery in Union Station. One can tell a lot from a guy based on his bread purchases. While I lovingly selected a chocolate filled croissant, a small loaf of kalamata olive bread and a delicious crusty sourdough, all he can come up with is a few day old dinner rolls. Sigh.

Fast forward, we change clothes and meet outside the Willard Room. I am once again in a perfect black dress (different from the one I wore to the wedding, mind you) and silver accessories with the cutest purse. I look like I'm about to accept an Academy Award and I'm forced to walk into the refinement and grandeur of the Willard Room with someone wearing a heavy wool sport coat with summer pants and light brown shoes. It's July. Enough said. The maitre 'd takes pity on me and gives me a sympathetic smile.

We have a delightful table by the window and a perfect view to see and be seen. I'm munching away on the flatbread that I've slathered with butter and the date starts to get a little nervous. I'm thoroughly ticked at how the day (or weekend for that matter) has gone and am fully prepared to take this guy to the cleaners. I had already purposed in my heart that I would order the most expensive menu items and enjoy them to the fullest - my reward for suffering through. I knew I was in good hands with the culinary staff - you simply can't go wrong. I'm basking in the glory of the most perfectly written menu in fine scrolling script when the date interrupts my blissful state of culinary happiness to ask what I'd be ordering. I quickly scan the right side of the menu and without hesitation, happily reply "the lobster." (All sixty nine dollars of it). His face grows pale (have I given him a financial heart attack?). Not a chance. The ultimate weirdo replies that he doesn't believe in eating crustaceans. I'm then forced to listen to a 10 minute dissertation on why eating bottom feeders is wrong, unhealthy and will shorten my life span.

The waiter approaches and undauntingly, I order an appetizer, a salad and THE LOBSTER. The date clearly isn't happy with this selection and I could care less. I'm trying to tune him out in between bites of arugula, goat cheese and dried cranberries...something about how wonderful I am and what a great day he had. Blah blah blah. The lobster arrives - he's enjoying the baked chicken and I once again tune him out as I leave no trace of succulent lobster meat behind. Then comes Dessert - why choose one when you can have them all? I'd like the sampler platter, complete with gold leaf decor on the chocolate mousse torte.

Through each course I've been concentrating on the cuisine and half heartedly nodding to the chatterbox who is even more nervous. Why I didn't seen the signs until dessert, I'll never know. Dessert is divine. I'm so stuffed with food at this point, but this sampler of desserts is truly rich and delicious and calling out my name and I'm going to eat it all. The date finally gets my undivided attention with the comment "I've looked all my life and never met anyone like you, and I know that you are the one." Dear God - what have I gotten myself into? This guy is proposing to me. I gently disagree - letting him know there are many, many nice girls out there. He continues...and I gently prod back. Trying to let him down easy is no small task. A marriage proposal is a big deal for a guy and I didn't want to crush his hopes and dreams but I was not his ticket out of Dodge. He was undeterred and I had to come up with a way to save him from utter humiliation and me from the most uncomfortable situation ever.

Suddenly, it came to me. I had blood sugar issues. Seriously. I could use this to my advantage. Terrible, I know, but folks I was desperate. I faked a blood sugar attack to get out of the restaurant. He was quite concerned, immediately asked for the check and rushed me to the car. I told him I'd be fine after about 2 hours, complete silence and the air conditioner blowing right on my face. He bought it - we were 2 hours from where I was staying with one of my girlfriends and it was a happy ending (for me at least). When he pulled into the drive, I had miraculously recovered, I mumbled a don't call me, I'll call you response and have never been happier to set foot on an airplane the next day.

This was many, many years ago and my old maid status went by the wayside when I met the man of my dreams and married him in 2002. We have two beautiful little boys and my life, as they say - is deliciously perfect. My husband likes kalamata olive bread, a good crusty sourdough and lets me enjoy the chocolate filled croissants while he dines on an apple tart tatin. Bliss. :)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

And so it begins...

There's something about seeing your words in print that sends a shiver down your spine - much like the sensation of a York Peppermint Patty (though for me, it's more of a box of chocolate covered dried strawberries from Godiva). Pleasure abounds as you see your thoughts come to fruition on paper...and then there's the element of mystery and intrigue as to who is reading.

I've never been at a loss for words - just ask my husband. Blogging is the perfect outlet. After getting inspired to start this new venture, my natural instinct led me to wonder - Would I be the next Foodnetwork Star? The next Pillsbury $1M winner? The next premier Sutterhome Build a Better Burger contender? The next, um, person who gets lost in the land of blogging who only has her best friends read this and politely encourage her that it's the best thing they've ever seen hit HTML? Most likely the latter, but my love of eats and desire to bring a smile will outweigh Bobby Flay failing to post a response.

So my friends, enjoy the ride with me. Laugh along with my culinary mishaps and adventures and cheers to a happy blogging experience. Who knows where the road will lead?