Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Reluctant Omnivore

This is Matt.  You know him, my husband that loves Swedish Meatballs and frying pan-sized steaks and breakfast burritos bursting at the tortilla seams.  He's not big into veggies, especially squashes.  He hates squashes.  Butternut, acorn, yellow, zucchini... I've been creamy fall soup-starved because I hate to make a huge Le Creuset pot's worth for just me.  He also doesn't really like peaches, but that's an atrocity to discuss at another time.

We make compromises.  I'll grill up steak, but couscous salad's coming on the side.  He's always got a pantry full of Rice a Roni and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese he can make if he's not into it.  We've made some breakthroughs, like those veggie burgers we both love.  He'll eat shrimp pasta primavera (provided there's not too much lemon in it; I keep an extra half to squeeze all over my plate).  But I really didn't think I'd see the day that he'd be open to relishing in squash.

Last night we went with my parents to the Canby Grand Station, home of that parmesan soup I loved so much.  Our entrees (Matt's meatloaf and my cedar-plank salmon) both came with a sauteed medley of vegetables that included onions, red bell pepper and... zucchini.  Instead of discreetly scooting it over to the corner, Matt decided to give it a try.  This isn't uncommon; a lot of times it's someone besides me that has to convince him of the wonderfulness of certain things, like sushi crab rolls (GOD DAMN IT OF COURSE THEY'RE DELICIOUS!!!!!!  Why did you have to wait for a coworker to tell you so!??).  "These veggies are really good," he commented, "they're not too soft or anything.  I even like the zucchini."

Of the meatloaf?  "Nothing like yours."  Yeah, that's what I thought

I figured it was a passing fluke, until we were discussing what to make alongside the spiral sliced ham I was roasting for dinner.  Homemade macaroni and cheese?  Perfect.  "What about we try and do vegetables like we had at the restaurant last night?"  Uhh, okay.  You're not groaning when I pick up an innocuous zucchini?  It's a good day for us.

I got the ham into the oven after I got back from the hair salon, but I had to head into the writing room to catch up on homework and put my first semester packet together.  As I was making the cheese sauce to toss with rotonis, Matt offered to make the veggies himself. 

My husband is wanting to eat veggies AND cook them up for me.  A $100 hair day pays off in delicious, stress-free dividends!

I am so impressed and proud of Matt's stellar side dish, which as he claimed, was even better than the restaurant.  The saute at medium heat kept the vegetables cooking slow enough so they didn't overcook and soften.  He seasoned them with Penzey's superstars Tuscan Sunset and Garlic Salt, and used a little butter instead of oil to cut back on the greasy factor.  They were a fresh, light addition - perfect to cut down the decadence of my crazy homemade macaroni and cheese with roasted garlic-panko crust.  MMM.  I think we were both huge successes tonight.

The moral of the story is, don't give up on your picky eaters.  Even if you don't show them the way yourself, they'll eventually find it for themselves. 

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Time Capsule

I'm not a big shop-for-Christmas-stuff-after-Christmas person.  I usually end up paying full price for wrapping paper around December 2nd, fork out full price for the decorations I fall in love with, and pick out my Christmas cards a few days before I send them.  Whenever I do find something at a store on sale and pack it away for the day after the next Thanksgiving, I'm always giving myself a far-off treat.  What's more fun than finding things you'd forgotten you even bought, fresh to make their debut for your new year? 

So today when my mom and I were picking through the clearance section at Kitchen Kaboodle, where 2010's Christmas delights were within hurling distance of Valentine's Day cookie cutters, I found myself face-to-face with.... MY COOKIE BOXES!!!

Yes, the cookie boxes that I wanted so desperately a month and a half ago, the ones that were completely cleared out of Marshall's and The Container Store and left me packing my precious Christmas cookie creations in Ziplocs.  Not only did they have a whole rackful, along with matching adorable parchment sheets, but they were all half off.  Just you wait, friends and family of this/next year!  Those cookies you just finished are going to look AWESOME next Christmas! 

Now, into deep storage you go.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Spring Trends!

I have a new favorite Trader Joe's treat that I'm going to be using all summer (yes, I know it's a long ways off):  Trader Joe's Cilantro Salad Dressing.  It's only 80 calories, or only 1 point for 2 tablespoons!  That is freaking awesome, especially considering your standard restaurant flavored ranch is around 5.  I picked it up yesterday to have on my salad alongside burritos (replacing my normal favorite, Zatarain's Mexican Rice with a little cheese and sour cream on top).  In the last 24 hours, I've used it three times.  It's creamy!  It's herbaceous and fresh!  It has no funky low-fat dressing aftertaste! 

Like I mentioned, Use #1 was on a simple green salad.  Whenever it hit a crouton... gold!  Such a nice switch-up from the light Kraft I've been using.  It felt like cheating, but no!  Even icky balsamic would be at least that bad for you.  So I thought, wow.  This stuff could be used for other deliciousness I'm sure.  I made myself a chicken wrap to take to work with leftover chicken, bruschetta and a drizzle of my new cilantro magic.  Deliciousness at my desk!  Then, tonight when I got home, I went all Bobby Flay on its ass to use as a drizzle over my dinner quesadilla.  I think I need to get a squeeze bottle, because my neat drizzling/plating methods are a little on the ghetto side (little Ziploc bag with a scissor snip to the corner).  I thought we were going out for Thai tonight, but apparently Matt went to the Wok Inn for lunch and was still full.  Damn!  I weighed the takeout options, but doing a quick inventory of fridge ingredients (tons of tortillas, Tillamook Extra Sharp Cheddar, shredded rotisserie chicken, Trader Joe's pico de gallo, sour cream and my wonderful cilantro sauce), I realized I could make something infinitely better-tasting for free and sans a stop. 

This would be so good on:
- Fish tacos!
- Tossed with curly pasta noodles, fresh tomatoes and chickpeas for a great pasta salad!
- Drizzled over pitas stuffed with grilled lamb and veggies!
- Funky potato salad dressing!
- In breakfast burritos!
- Anything that sprouts out of your springtime garden!

Go get a bottle and start having cilantro creativity!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Spare Me Your Idle Musings!

I imagine someone might tell me that someday about my blog.  Or much worse, my memoir.  That's okay, though.  They can go read themselves some flash fiction and get over it.

I have another one of those recipes that I just kind of stumbled on and figured I'd try but didn't document in precise detail photographically or anything.  It didn't seem like a blog-in-waiting.  But that's not really the way to live life, right?  Anticipating the next blog?  Shouldn't it all just come naturally? Well yeah, that's the hopeful idea, but if you're not on the lookout then you're going to have a hard time keeping the thing updated.  You have to be ready to savor and remember culinary adventures, and when something catches you by surprise, that's a lot of fun too.

I'd been craving beef, specifically short ribs.  There have been a couple of short rib short films on Food Network recently, including this guy that cooks them on a Himalayan salt grill.  Uh, YUM.  In most applications they require a long, smoldering braise that makes them especially wonderful for Crock-Pots.  You have to buy what looks like a lot for the amount of people you're serving (I had to buy 4 pounds worth for Matt and I), but each piece is a good percentage of bone and fat.  Once you separate the meat from that flavorful waste, you're left with beef that is tender yet still retains its texture.  You don't want to eat meat-flavored baby food, after all.  Tenderness has a tipping point. 

While I was perusing through the New Seasons flyer, I noticed that they were having a sale on short ribs.  Mmm, short ribs.  The craving commenced again.  Like I mentioned, I had to buy 4 pounds' worth at the butcher's recommendation (I did stipulate I wanted leftovers, so you could probably get away with 3 lbs).  There's this guy at the New Seasons Mountain Park meat department that makes ground beef into volcano shapes.  How much fun would that be?  MEAT VOLCANO!  You could have some yummy chipotle spice sauce oozing out of the top and set up a taco bar.


I pulled out my gigantic Recipe File and pulled out the slim collection of 'Beef' recipes.  My beef section is probably the least-clipped.  I'm not a huge red meat fan, so when I'm flipping through magazines they usually don't catch my eye.  I'm always ripping out things like Butter Chicken with Cilantro-Coconut Rice or Lamb in Cherry-Pinot Sauce.  That doesn't mean I ever end up MAKING them, but I guess I read Bon Appetit like I read a menu.  Nevertheless, I'd saved 2 different recipes for Short Ribs.  One was a Martha Stewart Everyday FOOD for Root Beer Short Ribs, the other several years old from Cooking Light--Curried Beef Short Ribs.  I've been running a ban on Cooking Light since they redesigned their magazine into a yuppie, yoga-pose-instruction treatise and I had some serious failures with a couple of their recipes.  Several savory dishes were completely lacking in flavor, and I made some chocolate cookies that tasted like cardboard.  Granted, when making cookies, you should generally just not try a "healthy" recipe.  Take the extra 30-calorie hit and don't skimp.  If you want a cookie, eat a normal cookie as a treat and move on with your life. 

But curry sounded way better than root beer, so I decided to go with that.

The night before when I was putting everything together, I got treated to two wonderful smells: the smell of searing meat, and the smell of coconut milk and curry.  Sweet and spicy with a hint of a fruity tropical paradise that's nowhere near Oregon in January. 

When I got home that night, the coconut and curry smell had really mellowed out.  I was a little bummed, since it smelled so good the night before, but they still tasted fantastic.  Just not as blatantly Asian as I'd expected.  The next time I'll probably follow the comments I see online for the recipe, which calls for using the whole 4 oz of curry paste and entire can of coconut milk.  Either way, absolutely serve them over rice, and add a little Thai Chili Sauce on top.  A good squeeze of lime like the recipe calls for gives it an extra pop of freshness after such a long simmer. 

Try to use the best quality short ribs that you can find.  Otherwise you'll have way too much fat and you might end up eating beef-flavored jelly on top of your rice.  Not cool.

Leftovers keep beautifully!  I ate them today at my desk before I remembered to take a picture I was so intoxicated by the smell again.  Damn it!!  Oh well, you'll just have to take my word that they come out a deep mahogany color and the extra bag-sifting step keeps the greasiness to a thankful minimum.  I got my fix, but with a treat this good, I'm not sure my short rib craving is gone.  Maybe the carne asada tacos we're having tonight will help.  

Curried Beef Short Ribs from Cooking Light, whom I may have to give a second look to
  • 2  teaspoons  canola oil
  • 2  pounds  beef short ribs, trimmed
  • 1 1/2  teaspoons  kosher salt, divided
  • 1/4  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 1/3  cup  minced shallots
  • 3  tablespoons  minced garlic
  • 3  tablespoons  minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 1/4  cup  water
  • 2  tablespoons  red curry paste
  • 1/4  cup  light coconut milk
  • 1  tablespoon  sugar
  • 1  tablespoon  fish sauce
  • 1  teaspoon  grated lime rind
  • 1  tablespoon  fresh lime juice
  • 4  cups  hot cooked basmati rice


1. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle ribs with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Add half of ribs to pan; cook 2 minutes on each side or until browned. Place ribs in an electric slow cooker. Repeat procedure with remaining ribs.
2. Add shallots, garlic, and ginger to pan; sauté 2 minutes. Stir in 1/4 cup water and curry paste; cook 1 minute. Stir in coconut milk, sugar, and fish sauce. Add coconut milk mixture to cooker. Cover and cook on LOW 6 hours.
3. Remove ribs from cooker; keep warm. Strain cooking liquid through a colander over a bowl; discard solids. Place a zip-top plastic bag inside a 2-cup glass measure. Pour cooking liquid into bag; let stand 10 minutes (fat will rise to the top). Seal bag; carefully snip off 1 bottom corner of bag. Drain drippings into a small bowl, stopping before fat layer reaches opening; discard fat. Stir in remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt, remaining 1/8 teaspoon pepper, rind, and juice. Shred rib meat with 2 forks; discard bones. Serve sauce over ribs and rice.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Cupcake Craving

Today was a good day.  A good day because my debit card got a hefty workout.  The fun started at Penzey's Spices, where I stocked up on goodies like bay leaves, my favorite Italian seasoning called Tuscan Sunset (doesn't that sound pleasant?), spicy red pepper flakes to replace the blah Kroger ones I bought back at our first apartment, and other beautiful jars of happiness.  I've officially gotten more spices than my cabinet can hold.  Looks like I'll be doing some consolidating tomorrow; I probably don't need three different jars of curry.

At the mall, I went on a mission to find work pants that don't look like clown trousers.  Pleasantly surprised to find that I've gone down two whole sizes!  I will now add Weight Watchers to my list of unpaid endorsements, alongside Pampered Chef, aforementioned Penzey's Spices and forthcoming White Rabbit Bakery.  You can eat your favorite, wonderful foods and be a food blogger and still lose weight.  What more could you want?  To eat all the cheese and pasta you wanted?  Well, yeah.  That would be nice.  Small favors though, people.

 We stopped at McMenamin's in Oregon City on the way back for a late lunch, which brought us right into the earliest end of happy hour.  $4 Gardenburgers, woo hoo!  It was good, but I was still not quite satisfied.  "I feel like a treat," I said as I polished off my saintly lunch.  "Something chocolatey, with, like, ganache."  I flipped to the back of the menu, which had an enticing line I'd never noticed:  Cake of the Day:  Ask Your Server!  I wanted to ask my server, but I felt like I'd already exhausted all of my goodwill with the exhausted-looking woman.  "What's your soup of the day?  Oh.  Hmm.  OK, well, I'll get the salad.  But I don't want blue cheese.  What other dressings do you have?  Which one is low fat?  Oh, ok then.  No blue cheese crumbles either."  And then, realizing we were on happy hour... "can I change my order?  Can I get the Gardenburger instead?"  I was afraid wanting Cake of the Day details would get me nothing but loogie pie.

Instead, on our way home I turned into Aurora's White Rabbit Bakery.  Inside I was greeted by a most distressing sight--all of the glass case shelves were empty.  The bakery had been cleaned out of all their treats, including their scones and cookies, even their loaves of bread. 

Except for one tray on the other side, filled with three rows of what were called Hot Fudge Sundae Cupcakes.  Dark chocolate covered in a frothy whipped cream, drizzled with chocolate ganache and garnished with a sprinkling of nuts and a darling maraschino cherry. 

"Oh my god," I breathed, "that is exactly what I wanted."  It was as if Fondantina, Cupcake Goddess and Protector had heard my cries and answered with the most divine incarnation of my dreams possible.  I mean, just look at this thing.  Just holding it in the car had me grinning like I'd just gotten a new baby puppy. 

As much as a treat it was on the eyes, it was even better on the tongue.  Nothing was too sweet; the chocolate was dark and the whipped cream tasted even better to me than frosting (buttercream can be so cloying).  Smooth, crunchy, moist, gone in approximately 35 seconds.  I keep thinking about the rest of that tray, wondering if it's still there, looking sexy as hell, up for sale tomorrow...

Probably best to just enjoy once, especially if I want to keep wearing those new pants.  But a decadent treat every once and a while is okay, right?  I think so.  Guess I'll find out.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Story Starter

It's like sourdough, only with more typing.

I'm back!  Seaside was great, except for the weather most of the time.  Which culminated in the Great Cheese Curd Tragedy:  I'd told my friend Kathryn that we could stop on the way back to Hubbard at the Tillamook Cheese Factory, where huge blocks of cheddar are cut down to those relatively small "baby bricks" we buy at the store, the ice cream is somehow sweeter next to the cows, the grilled cheese sandwiches are legendary and you get lots of free Squeeeeky Cheese! 

As we pulled out of Seaside, we were met by a police car parked in the middle of the road and a lady holding a stop sign like Gandalf - "You Shall Not Pass!!"

"Highway's closed," she mumbled when I rolled down the window.

"But... how will we get home?!"  I asked, when I actually meant how will I get my cheese, but figured that the cruel world doesn't understand how big of a deal that really is.

"I don't know where home is, ma'am."  Can I even express how much I hate being called Ma'am?  It's what I say to people on the phone when they're pissing me off just to be a bitch right back.  "Hold on a second, ma'am.  Let me get someone for you, MA'AM."  Ma'am = you psychotic, cranky whore I really don't want to deal with.  Either way, ma'am or no, she didn't give a shit about my plight.  Apparently, for some reason, flooded-out roads are a bigger deal.

I did get to go to Pig 'N Pancake, though.  I even got Pigs In Pancakes!   And a souvenir that lives on my desk and reminds me of the stormy and misunderstood coastal paradise where I learned about narrative distance and started really, honestly and for truly believing I can do this whole writing thing.  I actually got a smidge of a taste leaving me hungry for the rest of the writing life.

This semester I'm going to be writing a piece about canning, and how its rise reflects our political and cultural situation.  When I was talking to Kathryn about it on the ride home, she suggested how it would relate to my Disneyland piece as a food memoir.  There are a couple other pieces I've already been wanting to write, including one about my dad and wine and a really snobby wine hack at my first job, and a story about all of the restaurants I've always wanted to open but never did, relating to my experience doing personal chef work and looking at vacant retail space for a cafe while I was laid off.  So that's my new goal, an untitled food memoir.

But I did come up with a great pitch for it while I was driving back from Safeway yesterday!  "Fanatical foodie hits the bread lines during the Great Recession."  Hells yeah.  Now I just have to write the fucking thing.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Grass is Greener (or, the burrito has more cheese)

So many nights driving home from work I think, "if only we could just go out."  Get those greasealicious tater tots from The Burger Hut with one of those simple, fry sauce-dripping cheeseburgers and turn on Chopped.  Grab a half-baked pizza from Pizzicato just up the road from my office and dump it in the oven as I kick off my high heels.  Dig into a heaping plate of Pad Thai from the place I haven't bothered to learn the name of, because it is just ubiquitous of the cuisine.  I don't want to always be the chef, especially when we're in the drudgery of weekday routine and the work lacks inspiration, motivation, craft and beauty.  Before I left I stuffed Manchego into chicken breasts and topped them off with artichoke pesto - it tasted good, but it felt hollow, like cheating.  I didn't make the pesto.  I didn't make some inspired side dish specially chosen to compliment and elevate the main course.  I let Trader Joe's do the work out of a frozen bag.

Since I got here to my residency in Seaside, I have had virtually every meal prepared for me.  We're staying at a very nice condo-style hotel a bit off the beach's boardwalk, and as the website promised me, there is a continental breakfast every morning.  My favorite hotel continental breakfast is at the Residence Inn on Bangy Road in Lake Oswego, where we used to stay when we visited Portland before I ever knew I'd be an Oregonian.  There are quite a few Asian business travelers that go in and out of the hotel, and as a consolation they have a steaming rice cooker full of sticky rice every morning.  I'd eat it with butter meant for toast, and marvel at how delicious and comforting this was - oatmeal's cousin.  There was a waffle maker with berry toppings, trays of scrambled eggs and bacon strips, and lots of bagels and pastries to choose from.  In short, it spoiled me for what 'Continental' actually needs to contain.  We're offered a bowl of hard-boiled eggs, syrupy fruit cocktail from a can, hardtack-style biscuits and bland gravy, waffles that are toeing the line between Eggo and Belgian.  I've perused the selections and varied every day, trying to find something I can like and stick with.  So far, the oatmeal is the only thing that's decent, and it's the same thing I make for myself every day when I arrive at my office to appease my Weight Watchers point count.

"I need my own food," I lamented out loud yesterday after only five days of continental breakfast, hotel-prepared lunch buffet that's been kinda not great and pretty good for Best Western catering, and dinners at the coastal town's various restaurants.  Not only the taste and the authenticity of meals crafted out of ingredients you select, but the release my mind feels when I let all of the day's bullshit evaporate at the counter and just concentrate on the cooking.  I miss the joy of setting a plate in front of another human being and see them smile and know that you've just nurtured them in the most basic way - a survival need met by another, for another. 

"I'm making breakfast tomorrow," I announced to my program soul mates Leann and Kathryn.  Dearest Leigh was holed up in her room, her body battling through a blight of food poisoning.  Crab eggs benedict can be sketchy.  I drove over to Safeway to get the most basic things I'd need for a wholesome set of breakfast burritos with only the most basic of utensils:  pre-shredded cheese, tortillas, green enchilada sauce, Morningstar veggie sausage patties (my soul mates are also vegetarians, and it can't do any harm to my trying-to-stick-to-diet-on-vacation efforts).  This morning, between my room key and brochures for pizza, I constructed our breakfast with the bare basics in the kitchenette's cabinets.  I had a can opener, miniature cutting board, butter knives masquerading as steak knives, and a pan that was very much not All-Clad.  Mysteriously there were no baking sheets but there was a broiler pan, which lent itself just fine to holding veggie patties that warmed in the oven.  They even got a slight sizzle when I took them out, which is rare for any kind of veggie patty.  It was probably just evaporating steam. 

I rolled out four burritos, as I had invited my graduating friend Jennifer to join in as well.  As big a game I talk about cooking with these people, it's good to prove I can kind of pull it off.  The tiny oven could only broil one at a time, but as we all staggered in a few minutes behind the other, it worked out just fine.

As I warned the girls of "hot plates!" and handed out forks, by some magic, I just knew today was going to be a good day.  Sure enough, it was.  But I won't get into my whole ethereal writing community experience, because that's a story for another blog.  A little nibble of home works wonders when you're away.

What was different: housekeeping did the dishes.  If only I could take that back to Hubbard with me....

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Eats by the Sea


Okay, I'm nowhere tropical.  But it's as close as I've gotten to a seafront resort vacation in ages.  I'm in Seaside for my MFA residency.  I get to be away from it all for 11! days, reacquanting myself with the friends and faculty I met in June at the Forest Grove residency.  And I get to eat every meal out.  I've been scoping since I got here around lunchtime, and I already have my eye on a big sushi place and a funky-looking Cajun restaurant.  Oh!  And there's seafood shops with crabs and clams and all kinds of fresh stuff to bring home, so maybe I'll do that too.  We'll see.  Anyway, I'll be working on getting a step closer to being a real, officially-certified writer.  Then you can read this blog and know it's got cred.

My comma key is sticking.  That sucks.

Anyway, that's what I am, and what I'm doing.  Let's see if I post anything.  If not, I will when I get back fo'sho!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Revisiting Mercer's Mussels

What is it that makes a dining-out experience memorable?  It's a tricky equation with one part tasty food, a healthy dose of personable service, and a combination of company and conversation that feeds your soul along with your stomach.  Your whole body leaves feeling satisfied. 

I don't think expensive and extravagant are prerequisites; some of my favorite meals out were over cheap Chinese (going to South China Doll when I was a kid), Chevy's Mexican (Matt and I's first date, when they ran out of tortillas for my fajitas and he was so adorably irritated over the hiccup), or picking up Kentucky Fried Chicken after my family helped me move into my college dorm (we were so hungry, it tasted like the best food ever made).  Still, an outstanding restaurant does set the stage for a favorite time.  I will never forget the multi-course French-style meal (complete with cloches) my parents invited Matt and I to while they were staying at the Columbia Gorge Hotel, or 7th-grade me and Neely Shingledecker going to the Titanic menu dinner at Seattle's Georgian restaurant at the (then) Four Seasons Hotel.  I wadded a huge truffle off my plate because I thought it looked nasty. 

So when Matt and I were cruising around Whole Foods on New Year's Eve looking for dinner inspiration, the sale on mussels brought me right back to dinner at Ten Mercer with Brynne and Dan.  I was either just over or just under 21, so that one or two cocktails made me totally tipsy.  It's one of the restaurants they're frequent enough at to know the owner and sommelier, so we were getting all of the attention and great recommendations and all that good stuff.  I felt like such a grown-up, dining with my oh-so-metropolitan friends and finally being twentyish and being able to find the place without too much help from my dad, the living Seattle GPS, on the phone and having my Ford Aerostar minivan valet parked by a guy wearing gloves.  I know I ordered lamb and it made me fall in love with the poor roasted dears, and the drinks were great, but what I can't shake are those mussels.  They were served bathing in a shallow pool of broth that had... something.  Something that made you massacre an entire baguette to lap up every last drop.  That friend-manager even brought out more, noting "I know you love that broth!"  Buttery, rich, deeply simmered and spiced.  I could vaguely feel it exploding on the toothsome bread as I stared at the black beauties inside the case.

Maybe I could make it myself, I thought.  I picked up 2 pounds of mussels and went to rummage around in the produce section.  I grabbed fennel, leeks, tarragon, garlic... trying to piece together a recipe from the start of Bush's second term was going to be difficult, but I was convinced I could do it.  I sauteed the vegetables in butter with garlic, then added pepper flakes, chives, white wine and chicken broth.  It smelled good, anyway.  When the liquid was at a boil I dumped in the scrubbed mussels, which I've never cooked before, but I knew needed to open up in the steam before you could eat them.  As they were busy in the sauna, I presumptuously stuck a big New Seasons French baguette in the oven.  No need for butter, I thought.

When we sat down I ripped a healthy chunk of bread and, before even considering a mussel, dunked it deep into the broth.  I took a bite.

It was okay.

Let's just say, I've got half of that baguette leftover and wrapped up in the pantry.

What is Ten Mercer's secret?!  Saffron?  Clarified butter?  Heroin?  What did I miss?  How could I give my innocent mussels the pretty-good treatment?  They deserved more! 

So maybe I can't crack every recipe.  There are some things I'll always want to go out and have:  sweet and sour chicken at Rice Time, Chicken Schwarma at Aladdin's, Pad Thai and Thai Princess, that Parmesan Soup at Canby Grand Station.  I guess I'll add Ten Mercer's Mussels right up there on the list.  If we could have everything perfectly at home, there wouldn't be too much reason to ever leave the house.  And I really, really want to leave sometimes.  Doing dishes sucks.  Not to mention those unique dining out memories that just aren't the same in your own kitchen.  The anticipation, surprises and leisure of sitting and enjoying prepared dishes is in a league of its own.

However.  If anyone wants to come by for the world's best lasagna, dinner's at 6 tonight.