And the Oscar goes to…

Definitely not the roast chicken I made last night! Last night’s dinner was a clunker. The roast chicken was a little too salty and dry, the gravy was a lumpy disaster, and the garlic mashed potatoes with goat cheese didn’t seem to get anyone excited. I was so underwhelmed with dinner, I found myself struggling to even eat it. Last night also happened to be Oscar night, and as I was watching the drama unfold on the red carpet, I started thinking about how home-cooking is a little bit like the best and worst dressed on Oscar night.

For example, last night’s dinner should have been great. I’ve made it many, many times before, but for some reason last night it fell flat. Yes, it was edible, but no one will be talking about that roast chicken two weeks from now. It reminded me of Angelina Jolie’s dress last night. It wasn’t horrible or anything, because let’s be honest, it’s really hard for Angelina to look bad.

But the leg notwithstanding, who’s really going to remember this dress? When I think of Angelina, I think show-stopper. Remember this?

Yes, I’m comparing Angelina to roast chicken. Because it’s something you expect to always be good, so when it’s not, you feel doubly disappointed.

Not all my kitchen exploits leave such a bitter taste of disappointment. On occasion I can really wow the audience! A few years ago, my mother-in-law was in town for her birthday. So I decided to cook her a celebratory birthday dinner. That night we had pan-roasted salmon with a lemon-rosemary butter sauce, artichoke risotto (with FRESH artichokes, which I only mention because using fresh artichokes is a pain in the ass!) and grilled asparagus. And for dessert, I whipped out a chocolate cake with cinnamon-caramel ganache. I’ll be honest (if not exactly humble) and tell you that the meal was spectacular. And when I say spectacular, I’m talking Michelle Williams spectacular.

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She’s pulled off my two favorite Oscar looks EVER. I’m also partial to Michelle Williams because of my past obsession with Dawson’s Creek. But seriously, there’s no disputing the fact that when it comes to the Oscars, Michelle Williams isn’t just stunning, she’s memorable!

And finally, as it goes with Oscar dresses, so too it goes in the kitchen. Some things are just complete, unmitigated disasters. I will own up to the fact that I have turned out some un-edible eats during my years in the kitchen. They are fewer and farther between than they once were, but still memorable in their own right. You see where I’m going with this, I know you do. Who can forget Bjork’s swan (ostritch?) dress?

Bjork donned this um, ‘memorable’ dress in 2001, and I don’t think anyone has forgotten it! Much like one of the first meals I cooked for Scott soon after we got married (almost 15 years ago). I made chicken picatta that long ago night. There were so many things wrong with that meal, I hardly know where to start. Ultimately though, it boiled down (literally) to the lemons. I was not aware at the time that my husband had a strong aversion to anything citrusy in his food. However, I love all citrus, especially when it makes an appearance in my food. I’ll throw some lemon zest on anything and think it’s delicious. But I digress. This particular recipe seemed to call for an inordinate amount of lemon, sliced whole and added to the sauce. I think there were also some capers involved that I may have forgotten to rinse. And finally, there was the sheer amount of food I cooked. A whole 16oz box of spaghetti. Six whole chicken breasts. I know there were only two of us eating that night but hey… it’s what the recipe called for. When we finally sat down for dinner, we each took a bite and immediately spit it out. That picatta wasn’t just lemony, it was completely bitter. And inedible. So inedible, that six chicken breasts and a whole box of spaghetti ended up in the garbage. Awful, yet very memorable!

Despite what you might think, I’m not always trying to cook up an “Oscar-Worthy” meal. Most nights I’m lucky to get a decent, healthy meal on the table. Like tonight, I’ve been so wrapped up in my Oscar dress metaphors that I forgot to cook dinner completely! So by the time we get home from swim practice tonight, I think the best I’ll be able to do is to trot out old-reliable: breakfast for dinner. It’s not a show-stopper, but I know everyone will like it!

Football Food

I used to love football, all sports really, but mostly football. I’m pretty sure the reason my husband (a true sports nut) fell in love with me was because I bested him in a sports trivia contest. (thank you Babe Laufenberg). These days though, I could find myself caring less and less about sports, unless, of course, one of my children is involved. I just don’t have the time or the energy to keep up with it.

Every now and again, though, my interest in sports is renewed, and it usually has to do with food. The Super Bowl is fun, but what really gets me excited is Super Bowl (you guessed it) FOOD! The Kentucky Derby is the most exciting two minutes in sports, but planning the food for our annual Kentucky Derby Party has me excited MONTHS in advance!

So when my husband asked me to make chicken wings as a ‘snack’ for him and my son to eat while watching the playoffs, you can pretty well bet that he knew I wouldn’t be pulling a bag of chicken wings out of the freezer! A few years ago I was watching The Food Network and Sunny Anderson was making her chicken wings ‘3 ways’. Those wings looked GOOD! The secret, so said Sunny, was the addition of corn starch into the flour. Makes the wings extra crispy! She wasn’t lying! You can find the recipe here. I made the butter sauce and the bbq sauce but stayed away from the zest as the hubs hates anything too citrusy. You might also keep in mind, prior to making these wings, that if you don’t ventilate well your house will smell like Kentucky Fried Chicken for a week!

It was the best darn football game I’ve seen in years! Josh thought so too!

Firing up the Grill!

Spring is in the air, and right around the corner, the long, lazy days of summer. Ever since the end of the Urban Produce Box deliveries, I’ve been counting down the days until summer is back in full tilt and I can once again cook with the finest produce around! Until then, I have to make do with what I can find at the Harris Teeter.

I was recently inspired by a recipe for Middle Eastern Chicken Sandwiches on Epicurious: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Middle-Eastern-Grilled-Chicken-Pita-Sandwiches-with-Yogurt-Mint-Sauce-12158

My kids tend to make a mess with any sandwich bigger than a grilled cheese, so I decided to ‘deconstruct’ the elements and serve it the way my mom used to when I was growing up.

I marinated the chicken as described for most of the day. I also went ahead and whipped up some dough so I could grill my own flatbread, way cheaper (and tastier) than buying a pack of pita bread. I made a cucumber and tomato salad, and the yogurt sauce as written in the recipe. I liked the idea of carmelized onions, but didn’t want to add the tomato, as I already used some in my salad. So I made a pot of Basmati rice and then topped that with my carmelized onions.

The whole thing came together beautifully. As usual, Josh had two helpings and Erin ate her rice. I will definitely be making this again in the summer when the tomatoes are actually in season. I think next time I’ll marinate a whole, butterflied chicken and grill that. The rice and onion combination was definitely a winner!

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If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding!!

I was lucky enough to have been given a sample of locally grown short-grain sticky rice not too long ago. Rice grown by a community of Hmong people out in Hickory, NC. Incongruous, I know. Nonetheless, I had this bag of local sticky rice that I knew I had to find a purpose for. As you may recall, I had checked out the big Gourmet cookbook from the library not too long ago. In that monstrous book was a recipe for rice-studded meatballs. Rice. Meat. Yum.

I knew I had to make those meatballs. I also wanted to make the famous Vietnamese sandwich, Bahn Mi. I had some pork belly that I planned on using for that. So, Asian night at the Mall house was coming together nicely.

I have a freezer full of pork. It seems outrageous to go to the store to buy the ground pork necessary for my rice studded meatballs. So, despite the fact that I gave up shopping for Lent, I picked up the meat grinder attachment for my Kitchenaid mixer at Target a couple of days ago. In my defense, it was on sale AND I had a coupon. I defrosted some pork shoulder, and whipped out my brand new meat grinder, and set about grinding me up some pork. Maybe now the Pink Floyd reference in the title is making sense. If it’s not, let me gently remind you. (it’s 3:30 and 4:15 in)

It might be a while before I grind anymore meat.

Anyway, I recovered from that rather traumatic experience, and had quite a bit more ground beef than I originally planned. So, I’m saving the pork belly to make the famous Momofuku Pork Buns and used my extra ground pork to make little Bahn Mi pork meatballs, a la this epicurious recipe: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/reviews/Pork-Meatball-Banh-Mi-356790

The rice studded meatballs were good, better when dipped in a little ponzu sauce. (also an epicurious recipe): http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Rice-Studded-Meatballs-109195

Josh loved both forms of meatball. But I knew a big Bahn Mi sandwich on French bread would be a little hard for the kids to eat. That’s when I remembered I had an extra dough ball left in the fridge. I rolled that puppy out and put it on the grill pan. That’s when I realized what I really had on my hands… PITA BREAD! I was able to split the bread and fill it with Josh’s little Bahn Mi. It’s really fantastic (the bread. and the sandwich. but really, this is about the bread) and would be even better on a real grill.

Here’s the kid’s version of the Bahn Mi. Okay, it’s really only Josh’s version. Erin’s (HOMEMADE!!!!) pita was stuffed with ham and cheese. I know my audience.

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This is the ‘There’s no way I’m eating that!’ look.

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The rice/meat balls before they went into the steamer.

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Ready to eat!

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The meatballs for the Bahn Mi cooking away in the oven!

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How good does that look? Trust me, it tasted even better!

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This One is for the Kids!

Because I think sometimes they get a little tired of all my ‘experiments’ in the kitchen! So this night was all about catering to the kids, who love cheeseburgers and pizza.

So I made cheeseburger pizza. I have made this recipe before, quite some time ago – but I remember the kids liked it. The best thing about this recipe is the pizza dough. The recipe is from Cuisine at Home and is so simple.

  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 pkg active dry yeast
  • 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup cake flour
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil

Proof the yeast with the sugar and warm water. Put in a stand mixer with a dough hook and add the olive oil. Add in the flours and salt and mix for 10 minutes. Pop into a lightly oiled bowl and let rise for 2 hours until doubled in size. Divide dough into 4 equal balls and let rise for another hour.

Here’s one of my dough balls!

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To make the pizzas, mix together 1/2 cup of ketchup and 1/4 cup yellow mustard. Brown some ground beef. Grate some Velveeta. (I know, Velveeta. This might be only the 2nd time I’ve used it in as many years).

Instead of just rolling out the dough and throwing it on the pizza stone, I decided to grill mine – as the dough recipe really was meant to be used for grilled pizzas. Since it was freezing AND raining outside, I used a grill pan on my stove. I grilled one side, flipped it over and then spread some of the ketchup mixture, topped with ground beef and the blasted Velveeta. I put the whole pan in a 500 degree oven for about 7 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and dough is fully cooked.

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As toppings, toss together some shredded lettuce, chopped cherry tomatoes and chopped dill pickles (which I toss all together). You can mix some mayo with pickle juice and drizzle over the whole thing to really take it over the top.

Josh ate a whole pizza by himself. Here’s his third ‘piece’.

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It’s easy, tasty, and the kids love it. AND, my one leftover dough ball made a star appearance later in the week. Stay tuned for that!