Monday, October 25, 2010

Cajoling the Carnivoire

So, this is my meat-eating, potato mashing husband, Matt.  You probably know him, or have at least seen me rant (lovingly) about him.  He's not into the whole fake animal protein scene, but lately he's been a good sport.  Sunday he shocked me by digging the Boca breakfast sausages out of the freezer and serving them to me with a plate of egg whites.  We both agreed that the sausages were pretty damn disgusting, but it was the heartfelt effort that counts.  He's been a good sport, but it's nice when the experience is good for everyone involved.

Luckily, we've been making a few trips to New Seasons recently.  This is wonderful.  I'm not sure why the change of heart from the days we lived 10 minutes from one and never went.  I think a lot of the guys he knows have been singing the praises of organic foods and why hfcs sucks, because god knows he never paid any attention to my The Omnivore's Dilemma rants. 

So we were at New Seasons a couple weeks ago, and Matt picked out a box of Amy's Kitchen veggie burgers.  "These look kinda good," he said.  I'm not going to argue - my husband is putting a box of veggie burgers in the cart, and I don't even see a gun to his head. 

Tonight I pulled them out of the freezer, a thankfully easy dinner after we spent most of the night signing refinance papers (YUCK). They were huge!  Probably twice the size of a Boca burger.  Yet when I calculated them out, they were only 3 Weight Watchers points - in case anyone's counting. Anyway, a few minutes in the pan, a couple slices of sharp Tillamook, and dinner was ready.

I couldn't believe how much he loved them.  Like, plotting when we can go back and get more loved them.  Ate two loved them.  Compared them to Burgerville deliciousness loved them.  Couldn't believe he was full from a veggie burger, and I had to agree. 

It's not easy to try and lose weight.  In fact, it really blows.  But when you find something that you can both enjoy, it's pretty great.  Especially when it's not easy - the man doesn't like butternut squash.  How can you hate butternut squash in October??  Well, maybe I'll convert him eventually.  We've already come a long way, baby.

Friday, October 22, 2010

57 Minute Meals

"Hey, kiddos!  Today we're makin' a grrrrrreat Polish Dog Risotto with lotsa cheese, creamy rice, and big ol' portobello mushrooms!  And can you say DESSERT?!  Teerameeeesooo you're just gonna love!  DEEEEE-lish!  And it's all in just 30 minutes!"

Unfortunately you didn't get the full effect, because I wasn't waving my arms around and making gestures like an ASL translator trying to keep up with Aaron Sorkin.

I can't stand this woman.  Maybe not quite as much as I despise Sandra Lee, but my god it's close.  And "30 minute meals"?  Bitch, please!  It's called prep time.  And you can't buy every single vegetable in the produce section pre-sliced, so you can shove your fake promises up your EVOO ass.

If you're actually going to cook something, you're going to be in the kitchen for longer than 30 minutes.  You have to get out your dishes, utensils and ingredients.  You have to wash things, slice things, peel things, answer the phone, rinse off that dirty knife you really need.  We don't have a camera crew and Food Network interns washing dishes in the back, dreaming of the day they'll usurp Guy Fieri from his greasy throne.  It takes 30 minutes to warm up a Freschetta pizza once you've dug it out of the freezer, unwrapped it, reread the directions for the 129th time, let the oven preheat, dig out a baking stone, realize you're supposed to just set it on the rack so you put the stone away, wait for it to cook, turn it, take it out, let it cool, cut it into pieces, put them on plates, ask if anyone else wants a Diet Coke, sit down and EAT.

So, when I told Matt we were going to have the Deep Dish Baker 30 minute roasted chicken, it was a little bit of a lie.  I had to mix up the spices, unwrap and de-neck-and-gizzard the chicken, and start baking my sweet potato in the oven.  But he was still in disbelief.

"You can't cook that in the microwave," he warned.  "It's going to be disgusting."

"I will make a believer out of you," I promised.  I was taking a pretty huge leap of faith, putting a whole fryer in this stoneware basket and expecting it to be edible.  But Pampered Chef promised it was so!  I had to prove it to myself at least as much as my unenlightened husband.

The baker spun for 30 minutes, unattended as we watched missed episodes of 'Outsourced' in the other room.  Light, cute stuff.  Much better than 'The Office' is nowadays.  God.  Kill it, it's suffering so badly! 

When it beeped, I jumped up to get it out.  I gave it a good poke.  Hot, crispy skin and firm flesh... it felt done.  I cut into the breast, revealing nothing but white, clear-juice doneness.  The skin crackled under the knife, much crispier than anything I've desperately tried to do in the oven.

Without too much fanfare, I dished up my sweet potato and chicken ration, and Matt's heaping helping of chicken, Stove Top and Velveeta Mac and Cheese.  I used up almost all my points on free pizza during lunch.  Not the best choice, I learned when I went back to tally it up.

I sat back, and let the reactions roll forth.

"This really came out of the microwave?!"
"It's all crispy, like we fried it or something."
"I am amazed.  I had no idea you could do this."
"It's not dry at all!"
"It's energy-efficient, too!  You're not heating up the whole oven!"
"This is amazing."
"Well, you've convinced me!"

I sat back, a sly smile on my face as I pried every last fiber of potato off my plate.  Told you so.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Brought to you by...

No, I'm not sponsored by The Pampered Chef.  I don't even sell the stuff, although it's becoming a tempting prospect to support my crippling addiction.  But a few weeks back I did have a fun Pampered Chef party, which was just filled with showing off my not-so-new house, my Halloween decoration psychosis, and attempts to further indoctrinate friends and family into the Pampered Cheffery cult.

What can I say?  I love the stuff.  It works well, it holds up to use after use and wash after wash, and the catalogs have fun little recipes!  Like the Williams-Sonoma ones, but with a little less demi-glace and slightly more weeknight realism.  So, if all 16 of you are listening, I fully endorse them.

During the party, the host lady made this Mexican-style chicken lasagna in the legendary Deep-Dish Baker.  Now I've heard about this thing, a piece of their Stoneware collection that was so very popular, so very coveted, that the Pampered Chef Factory couldn't keep up with production.  It's the only item they've ever had to make exclusive for show hosts only, to limit orders. 

(Ooo, the Pampered Chef factory.  They should live up to the name and have a huge, sprawling spa upstairs where women that cook on weeknights can get pedicures and massages and canapes served by shirtless firefighters.)

I never thought I needed one.  Psh, whatever.  Fie to your covered baker.  I have my Le Creuset. 

Then, I tasted a delicious casserole made in the microwave.  Which sounds absolutely disgusting.  Soggy, uneven, slop.  But I would never have ever guessed it didn't come straight out of the oven.  Crispy, bubbling top, evenly cooked throughout.... I was hooked.  I had to have one.

For the next week I collected a crazy number of orders, sent them off, and then waited.  Mail order, you are a cruel mistress!  Luckily we've made advancements, like getting rid of that whole 4-6 weeks stipulation.  And stalker-friendly FedEx tracking numbers, that allow you to GPS navigate through the poor delivery guy's day until you KNOW he's at your doorstep. 

"MALIKA!"  I bellowed from inside my office, "it's ON MY DOORSTEP, RIGHT NOW!!"

Unfortunately cookery delivery does not constitute a PTO day, so I had to remain, fiddling with graphics and papers until the workday was done.  Traffic was kind, and I made it home to find the boxes Matt dutifully left undisturbed on my doorstep. 

It rivaled Christmas, seriously.  Not only did I get to unpack my personal fix of loot, but I got to snoop into everyone else's picks as well.  Cool cookbooks, fun spices, little tools I'd never thought about before.  Hmmm!  Notes for next time!  I love sorting everyone's stuff out into bags, too.  When I was 17 or 18, I was an Avon lady for like 3 months.  I didn't try or succeed in selling that much, I just kind of wanted to load up on body wash for myself.  I'm a really, really horrible salesperson.  Anyway.  For the people that did buy stuff, I put them in these pretty Avon logo-ed paper bags with ribbon and little lipstick samples and tissue paper.  Presentation!  I had so much fun handing them out.  And then I thought, hey!  I should minor in Marketing!  Because it's got to be just, like, doing that kind of stuff and planning parties.  But that's a whole other whale of a tangent.

A few nights later, I took out my virgin Deep Dish Baker (now living next to its cultured cousin the Le Creuset) and told Matt I was going to make a microwave casserole.  "Yuck!" was his apropos response.

"No!  The baker makes it taste like it's from the oven!"


Jesus.  "I don't know!  It just does!"  I unloaded everything I could think of from the freezer - a 1/3-full bag of frozen spinach, hash browns, leftover ham, Schwan's onion and mushroom mix (the last bits not used for Beef Ghettington), a menagerie of cream soup and cheese.  A good mix, a generous dose of garlic salt and pepper, and it was in.

Ooo, it looked so pretty, spinning around...

15 minutes later, the moment of truth.  Using the most sanitary and scientific methods of testing, I stuck my finger in the middle of it.  Still a little cool.  I gave it another 5, and we were good.  Still much less than it would have taken in the oven.  Oh, and it looks kinda wonky because I didn't put cheese on my half.  Anyway, it was hearty and homey, and certainly better than most things that evolve from forgetting to get out any chicken or anything and living somewhere that isn't at all close to a grocery store you'd actually want to shop at. 

Tomorrow night we're doing the 30-minute whole roasted chicken, one of the big "talking points" for the baker.  Although apparently they don't have to try very hard to sell it anymore, being limited and all.  Matt doesn't believe it's possible, but I believe in the baker.  We'll see if faith triumphs!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Ghetto Style

I haven't been planning my menus out lately, which is freakishly uncharacteristic.  I grew up in a household where the menu was posted on the side of the fridge two weeks out, so I feel a little more than scattered going through the week without a script.  Not sure what my deal is: I'm busy.  My mind's on other things.  I'm somehow saving us money by not buying ingredients.  Whatever it is probably isn't true or rational, but anyway.  I ended up headed to Whole Foods last week, with Matt on the phone.

"What do you want for dinner?"

"I've been craving those Swedish meatballs," he offered.  Ugh.  I am so not in the mood for meatballs.  We just had parmigiano-studded turkey meatballs in the Italian Wedding Soup on Tuesday.  Not to mention creamy, delicious gravy will cost me way too many precious points.

Hmm, what sounded good?

I started running a mental inventory of the contents in the fridge freezer.  Half a bag of crabmeat from our last sushi night.  Mmmm, sushi.  I'd love some sushi.  I wouldn't love to make sushi, though.  Not on a weeknight.  Way too much Zen rice-fanning for a post-work meal. A kielbasa.  Meh.  A single puff-pastry sheet.  Yum, what if I wrapped something in puff pastry?  Not chicken.  I'm sick of chicken.  Salmon?  Well, maybe good, but then I'll have to figure something out for Matt.  What about...steak?  I could wrap up the steaks, maybe throw in some of those frozen Schwan's mushrooms and onions, and make a kind of beefy, puffy......



I tried to explain to the guy at the Whole Foods meat counter what I wanted to do.  "I want to wrap some steaks in puff pastry."

"Phyllo dough?"

"No, puff pastry."

"Are you making beef wellington?"

"Uh, kind of."  Apparently the staff at Whole Foods are unfamiliar with ghetto-style.  "I mean, kind of like that."

"Well beef wellington is made with tenderloin," he explained, gesturing toward the $24.99 a pound cuts.  "But if you wanted something a little like it, you could do some small steaks."  $5.98 for 2.  PERFECT!  Sold. 

When I got home, I told Matt we were having Beef Ghettington for dinner.  Without blinking, he said, "ghetto-style Beef Wellington?"

Girls, when you find a man that understands you, marry him.

Gorgeous steaks seasoned with Penzey's kosher salt and cracked pepper?  Check.  Kroger Swiss "Style" slices?  Double-check.  We're ready to get real classy up in this bitch, yo!

I seared the steaks on a super-hot griddle, just to get a nice crust on the outsides.  I rolled the puff pastry out as thin as I could and filled it with steak, mushroom and onions, crappy (but melty) cheese that I can't even believe was in the fridge (what happened to you, specialty cheese distributing Tabitha? :( and a little Dijon mustard.  I sealed them up, poked holes in the top, and set them on the baking stone.  I had my fall leaf pastry dough cutters at the ready to make them all fancy, but I didn't have any extra snippets of dough.

"They look like Hot Pockets," said Matt. 

Not a compliment.

OK, well they kinda did.  But when they came out of the oven, golden-brown and brimming with warm, savory goodness, we didn't have too much to complain about.  Despite the lack of the most coveted cut of beef, or pate coating, or leaf-cutter garnishes, it was still much better than most other lazy weeknight options.  In between microwave pizza and hand-rolled sushi lies beef ghettington.  Here's to finding your own happy compromises. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Longer Commute

This weekend was brimming with my favorite things: family (including not just an Annie sighting, but a whole MEAL with my elusive little sister!). Seattle.  Cake.  Birthday presents!  Pulitzer-winning theater.  Uwajimaya.  Halloweeniness. 

It had been a while since I'd driven all the way up to my parents' house.  I tried one time this summer, but a 12-vehicle pileup in Centralia sent me back to Hubbard.  I did try to wait it out a couple hours in Kelso, but as anyone who has tried to kill a couple hours in Kelso knows, this will drive you pretty much to the brink.  This time I was able to duck out of the office at noon, and made it up to Seattle  Buckley in 2.5 hours.  We had plans packed together for the two-ish days: my friend Brynne's production of Doubt in Edmonds Friday night, afternoon Seattle Sounders game with Dad on Saturday, Sumner's Autumn Fest in the evening with dinner at my favorite greasy-spoon Chinese place in Enumclaw, and finally breakfast on my way out Sunday with Brianna.  We set out right away for the show up north, taking a detour in Sumner for dinner at The Buttered Biscuit.  I've heard this place mentioned gratuitously during my visit sabbatical this year: taking grandma to The Buttered Biscuit.  Zach wants to go to The Buttered Biscuit.  We met the Herrs at The Buttered Biscuit on Saturday.  Rumors swirled over epic portions and comfort-rich flavors.  Luckily, my visit was another excuse to go. 

As I was reading through the menu, a waitress passed by with orders bound for another table - yep, no one's been pulling my leg.  These portions could feed Chewbacca.

I ordered the Chicken & Artichoke sandwich, and my mom got the turkey dinner special.  We each got salads, me with a garden salad and her with a warm bacon and spinach salad.  I was instantly jealous.  The simple romaine, crisp thick-cut bacon and tangy vinaigrette was like first-course candy.  Although the garden salad was much more substantial than most restaurants.  Some shredded cheddar, onions, cucumbers, leafy greens, tomatoes - none of that sad iceberg on a saucer garbage.

My sandwich was messy, but huge and delicious.  There was something about the bread that I couldn't quite pinpoint, but that made it irresistible.  A little sweet, toasted and spread with a nice garlic-chive cream cheese.  I could've just eaten a basket of that, but the artichokes, onions, chicken and Swiss cheese were welcome to the party.

Doubt was fast-paced and provocative, filled with important debates and lessons to learn.  Including the fact that when you give a friend a bath-bomb cupcake with vanilla cake scent and sprinkles, you need to TELL THEM that it is a bath product and not a cupcake.  Overlooking technicalities in these cases can only lead to disaster.

The next morning, Dad and I left for Qwest Field.  It's so funny to think back on the old Seattle Sounders games he would take me to in the 90's at Memorial Stadium: paltry attendance, no sponsors, no suites... just some guys, a ball and a few bleachers.  Now, selling out a stadium built for the NFL and commanding international attention... wow.  We've come a long way, baby.  Dad, a die-hard since the team formed in the 70's, wears his original championship scarf to every one of his all-inclusive season ticketholder games.  Keepin' it REAL!!

As soon as we stepped off the Sounder train at King Street Station, my Sailor Moon sense started tingling.  "Hey, we're next to Uwajimaya, aren't we?"

"Yep," said Dad.

"OMG can we go!?" 

Seattle Uwajimaya makes the one in Beaverton look like a Plaid Pantry.  It sports a tour-of-Asia food court, two-story mangatropolis bookstore, and a Fred Meyer expanse of grocery aisles.  It even has its own apartment complex on top, which I vowed all through high school I would absolutely someday live in.  Well, I guess I haven't exhausted all somedays, but the possibility of relocating our lives on top of a specialty grocery store in a different state is growing increasingly slim.

As hard as it was to pass on the geoducks (We'll Clean For You!) and $28 bunny-encrusted bento lunchbox ("but Matt, it had BUNNIES ON IT!!"), I didn't feel like hauling souvenirs all over the stadium and back onto the train.  Just a refresher that yes, it's still there and yes, it's still awesome is enough to keep me going until next time.   

With the supertickets my parents own, you have special access to the VIP Snack Stand.  Anyone who's ever been to a Seahawks game knows what you usually meet at the stadium: $4 sodas, $10 burgers, $6 peanuts.  They've carefully cultivated their wallet-raping skills under the Regal Cinema/Disneyland school of pricing.  But flash your all-inclusive ticket to the watchful gate guards and you are treated to this rare sight:

NO PRICES!!  Whatever you want, handed over without a single debit swipe.  And you know what this means.  Bottomless Diet Coke.  200+ mile drive now = totally worth it. 

The game was amazing.  Hearing those same chants from fifteen years ago in a crowd of 20ish now roared by a mob of over 36,000... pretty surreal.  Just watching those athletes makes me exhausted.  They are running up and down that field NON-STOP for 45 minutes each half.  And not just running.  Kicking.  Jumping.  Hurling balls with their heads!  Maybe I should take a walk or something.  Apparently the human body is made for more than inhaling free hot dogs.  Hmm.  I have not considered this much.

After triumphing over Toronto, we headed back to meet Mom in Sumner.  It's the cute artsy, folksy, antiquey small town downtown street that I've yet to find an Oregon equivalent for.  To celebrate wonderful Halloween decorations, they have a harvest event with dancing scarecrows and free apple cider, which seemed reason enough to come down.  I wasn't too floored by the Halloween decor (what is with this year?!  Target sucks, Cost Plus sucks, even Crate & Barrel's seasonal stuff blows).  But I did spot the most unique kitchen decoration I've ever seen, which I'm currently obsessively in love with. 

It's a vintage cafe pie display. Complete with little pie tins.  I stared at it.  I drooled.  I thought about the pie candles I currently have underneath a cloche at home, which would fit absolutely perfectly inside.  I snapped and sent the phone pic to Matt, angling away from the $220 price tag (marked down from $300!).

"What is that?"

"A vintage pie display?"

"What are you supposed to do with it?"

"Put it in the kitchen!"


"No one else would have one!!"

I'll let him think about it a minute.

We left Sumner pie turnerless, but it was okay.  Because it was time for Enumclaw Chinese!  I don't know why I love it so much; it's just the stuff I grew up on.  Before I was introduced to SinJu sushi and Pok Pok Thai, this was eating out Asian.  All the old-school favorites, like technicolor Sweet and Sour Chicken and fat, flaky egg rolls.  But it's also home to an almost-extinct dish that we'd always get: Almond Chicken.  A katsu-style fried chicken with a sort-of peanut sauce gravy and little chopped almonds. Why is it so good?  I have no idea.  But that's kind of the whole thing about coming home, anyway.  Buckley isn't exactly the most amazing destination, but with my favorite people in the world and reveling in the past and present good times we've had together, there's nothing I crave more.

I'm pretty sure the place used to be a Polynesian restaurant, because it's done in 50's Enchanted Tiki Room decor with a couple of Chinese lanterns thrown in to remind us that we'll be eating chow mein.  The totem lamps remind me of Disneyland which is, of course, a whole other trove of personal nostalgia. 

For my early-birthday, which is the best of both worlds because I get to eat and open presents without actually being 20-fucking-6 yet, we ordered the sprawling family meal with egg drop soup, barbecued pork, fried prawns, chow mein, fried rice, sweet and sour chicken, and the obligatory almond chicken.  This was also a great treat for Matt, since there is no way 3 people could EVER polish this all off and he got a bag stuffed with leftovers.  Being able to order and enjoy these edible memories makes me feel closer to the home I'm almost constantly away from.  It's still up the road, I can still get in my car and, with enough time and patience, be enjoying dinner in Enumclaw with my mom and dad.

In my absence from Washington state, my mom has become a cake sensei.  She's always made fabulous desserts, but now her cakes are growing to the stuff of extended-family-and-friend legend.  For me, she baked a scratch Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Icing.  I could barely eat half a piece after gorging my way across the table, but the light cake, echoing notes of cocoa, danced off the tangy icing like a 50's fairy tale.  I brought home 2 pieces along with the Chinese for Matt, which was absolutely not enough.  Oh!  And I made a wish and got to open presents, just like I was 5.  Being 5 is fun.  Although 26 was calling, and I had to go back to Portland, work, chores, obligations, homework, bills and general sad times after breakfast on Sunday with my little sister. 

The truth is, I could have been up there eating a Ziploc full of Cheerios and been having the best weekend ever.  That's the thing about food - it's not really the thing, is it?