Culinary drama in a one act.
Me: (Opening refrigerator and staring) Hmmmm. What do I want for dinner?
Stomach: Not much to choose from, is there? No box this week?
Me: No, we're taking this week off from our culinary adventures.
Me: (Reaching for a box in the freezer)
Taste Bud #1: Oh, please, don't tell me you're even thinking about those frozen corn dogs....
Me: But we've always liked corn dogs.
Taste Bud #1: Yeah, but that was before you actually learned to cook.
Taste Bud #2: How can you feed us elote and pork tenderloin with au jus on Monday, and now expect us to eat a frozen hot dog wrapped in grease-soaked fried bread?
Taste Bud #1: Ooh, ooh, what about that orzo and chirozo we had a couple weeks back? Could we have that? Please?
Taste Bud #2: Yeah, man, that was da bomb!
Me: Please. Nobody says "da bomb" anymore.
Hands: Look, I don't care what you eat, but I'd appreciate a break from all that damned chopping. Since you started cooking, our carpel tunnel is acting up. And I permanently stink of garlic now. Can’t seem to get rid of the smell no matter how much I wash.
Feet: Hey, Hands, you're not the only one suffering here! You know how long it takes her to cook anything? I'm the one all of you are standing on!
Hands: All you have to do, Feet, is stand there. I'm on the front lines of battle. I’m the one that has to be quick and graceful and dexterous. I've been burned, sliced and scraped... Do you have any concept of the pain a grater an inflict? It's only a matter of time before one of our fingers gets the ax--
Pinkie: It's gonna be me, isn't it? Because I'm the littlest, right? The runt always gets picked on--
Index: Shut up, Pinkie, you whiner. If anybody is in danger, it's me. I still got that scar from where she cut a 1/2" sliver off my top and that was just trying to get the new knife out of the packaging.
Pinkie: I have no sympathy for you, Indie. Ever since we got diagnosed with the sugar diabetes, I’ve gotten stabbed nearly every day. I don't see you volunteering to take a stick for the team.
Right Boob: I don't wanna hear it from any of you. I've got third degree burns from that boiling water that splashed on me because Hands couldn't hold onto a damned ear of corn.
Hands: Sorry about that. It was slippery.
Right Boob: Whatever.
Brain: This isn't getting us any closer to dinner, folks. Could we please focus here?
Heart: A corn dog really isn't a great choice. Health-wise, hot dogs are basically a coronary on a stick.
Brain: Yeah. Have you seen the sodium and fat content on a hot dog?
Budget: But corn dogs are something we have. A whole box full. They will have to be eaten at some point.
Taste Bud #1: Can't we please have some more of those brown sugar and pecan-crusted pork medallions?
Taste Bud #2: Yeah! Yeah! (jumping up and down) We want pork medallions!
Me: We don't have any pork medallions or pecans, so just shut up and decide on something we do have.
Taste Bud #2: (sighing) What else is there?
Me: Frozen pot pie?
Taste Buds in unison: Bleh....
Me: Frozen lasagna?
Taste Buds in unison: No.. not feeling it. What else?
Taste Bud #1: It’s all yucky and frozen. Don’t you have anything fresh?
Me: Tuna fish sandwich?
Taste Bud #2: Seriously?
Brain: You have no bread. You used the last two slices yesterday.
Heart: (disapprovingly) Yes. With enough of that fancy French butter to put all of us in a coma.
Taste Bud #1: Oh, but that butter was marvelous!
Taste Buds #3 - #1,043: (swooning) yes, yes, please.... more butter!
Brain: There's nothing to put it on.
Heart: And don't any of you dare suggest eating it with a spoon.
Taste Bud #6: I don’t see the problem. Butter is food.
Taste Bud #1: There's nothing to eat here. Let's go to Sonic!
Back/Shoulders/Leg Cooperative: NO! We are not getting dressed and going out into that traffic and heat again!
Right Boob: Leftie and I agree. We're not going back into that bra.
Taste Bud #2: Okay, let's order pizza!
Budget: We do have a free reward pizza from Domino's.
Taste Bud #5: The crust was really limp last time. Could we try Papa John's?
Brain: NO! NEVER PAPA JOHN'S!
Conscience: Papa John is a prick. And a Republican. We eat Papa John’s over our dead body.
Taste Bud #797: (in a small, apologetic voice) I kinda would rather have the corn dogs.
Taste Bud #945: Me too.
Taste Bud #14: Corn dogs don’t sound so bad.
Taste Bud #1: Oh, for Pete's sake.
Diabetes: Come on, ya’ll. I’m feeling dizzy.
Brain: Oh, here we go again with “I don’t feel so good...”
Diabetes: I can’t help it. I have a condition.
Me: Corn dogs it is.
Taste Buds: (Breaking out in bickering and whining)
Me: Shut up. I'll give you ice cream later if you just shut up and eat the damned corn dogs.
Taste Buds: Deal.
....’Cause he’s a tasty little bugger who needed to jump into my frying pan, that’s why.
This may not look very complicated or exotic, but it was a milestone for me. I admit it: I have never fried chicken before. I know, I know... it’s embarrassing. What kind of good Southern girl doesn’t know how to fry chicken? Doesn’t even try.
One who doesn’t like to cook, and has always had other people who fried chicken pretty damned well. My granny, of course, made the ultimate fried chicken, with my mom’s a close second. I was always a little afraid to try. All that hot grease! The spatter, the mess, the third degree burns! What if the pan catches on fire? (Don’t laugh; have you ever seen a kitchen on fire? I have. And I don’t want to see it again. And for the record, I wasn’t the one cooking.) And -- again, my chicken phobia -- how do you know when it’s done?
But look at this photo! Look! How beautiful, all that golden crispiness you can almost taste just from the glory of its image! I fried that chicken! I totally rocked it!
This boneless, skinless chicken breast is not really quite the same as Granny’s, of course. Granny was suspicious of anyone taking the skin off a chicken on purpose. She was a true Southern cook, who knew how to raise it, chop it, pluck it and fry the hell out of it. Me? I’ve practically forgotten that chickens actually have bones.
I’m a little annoyed, however, that the Home Chef people didn’t tell me exactly what I was using to coat the chicken. An egg white wash and then a baggie of “chicken breading.” Well, what if I want to cook this again? I don’t know what I used. I mean, it was obviously some kind of flour, right? But it was yellow. Flour isn’t yellow. Is it? And it wasn’t coarse like corn meal -- unless there’s a kind of corn meal that I don’t know about? Which is entirely possible. What I don’t know about cooking could fill a lifetime subscription to “Living.”
The potatoes were lovely, and fast and easy to make, because they sent me Yukon potatoes that you don’t have to peel. That you could dare to make mashed potatoes without peeling was a revelation. It came with heavy cream... oh my sweet lord of cholesterol, heavy cream!
Apparently it is corn season, so all of the food box folks are doubling down on corn. I had corn last week, and I’m having corn twice this week. Tonight’s corn was supposed to be cut off the cob and cooked on the stove top, but as I learned from a previous recipe, cutting the corn off the cob is really a lot of work and why bother? It’s not like I was going to do anything but cook it with butter.
I actually saved the second ear of corn for tomorrow’s lunch. I found some Mexican crema at Kroger’s, and I have some of the Cotija cheese left, so I will be making elote again! That stuff is really good. The bad news is that apparently corn causes me some gastric distress as I grow relentlessly older. But bloating and flatulence is a small price to pay for yum.
What you don’t see in the photo is the “gravy” I made. The quotes should be a tip-off that what they called “gravy” was not, by my definition, actual gravy.
I understand fried chicken gravy made with the actual fried chicken drippings and some flour for thickening. I understand red-eye gravy, and I even understand Wavy Gravy, but milk gravy? I’ve never understood or cared for it. I suppose this was intended to be a sort of milk gravy, though I have never heard of milk gravy made with green onions. First, the green onions were cooked for a couple of minutes with a teaspoon of olive oil. Then a cup of heavy cream was added, and cooked “until the gravy thickens.” Well, I cooked that stuff for a good four minutes, and it never seemed to thicken much at all.
I did carry it to the table, though, and poured a little on the plate. It wasn’t too bad, actually. It had a nice creamy contrast to the salty crispy chicken.
I'm not just happy with the meal, I’m with the photograph, too. If you know me at all, you know that I tend to get carried away, particularly if it has to do with the visual. I am so obsessed now with taking good pictures of my cooking achievements that I have actually gone thrifting to find interesting odd plates to use. Isn’t the brown pattern here divine? It seemed perfectly “down-home” for fried chicken.
And because I was making fried chicken, when I saw the Mason jar, well.... it just begged me for a chance to be in the picture, too. And that little white pitcher? I bought it because it was cute and only 69 cents, but it turned out to be perfect for the “gravy.” The table cloth and the basket I already had.
Crap. I suppose this means you all think I’m crazy. And that I need to start using Instagram.
This was supposed to be last night’s dinner until the washing machine had another hissy fit and flooded the kitchen. Again.
But, dear readers, have no fear! I got the situation under control in just 24 easy steps:
Yes, that's right! The dinner of exhausted champions: a hunk of French bread, a slab of salted French butter, and a beer.
That feast was followed by tortilla chips and white queso dip, and a chocolate milkshake.
Tonight, I was determined to have a good meal. I had waited nearly too long to cook this, because my fresh cilantro was looking a little past its prime.
But the quesadilla, made with summer squash sauteed with garlic and a Mexican spice blend, and generously gooey amounts of shredded Monterey Jack, was very good. How could something with that much toasty, cheesy goodness not be wonderful?
But it was the “elote” that surprised me, as these meals so often do. Elote is corn on the cob dressed with Mexican crema infused with lime juice, then sprinkled with Cotija cheese, a dry cheese kind of like Parmesan, and more of the Mexican spice blend. Apparently, it’s a popular Mexican street food. That’s what the card said, and why would they lie? Damned tasty, is what it is. Who’d a thunk it?
The pea shoots were attractive, but taste-wise, a waste of time. I realize that these meals want to do all kinds of fru-fru new age healthy stuff, but I am beginning to wonder if at some point I’ll open a box and find they’ve sent me grass clippings.
To be dressed with olive oil and lemon zest, of course. At least it wasn’t arugula again.
The meal was still a solid win. I enjoyed it so much that I ate both quesadillas and all but half of one corn cob. I’m stuffed.
Belch. Mmm, mmm, good.
Tonight from Blue Apron: Crispy Cod, with summer squash and arugula salad.
I do enjoy a nice, mild, white fish deep-fried -- hence my at least once-a-month surrender to the greasy joy that is Captain D’s. But I’ve never dared to cook it. I’ve baked some tilapia, but that’s about it, except for frozen fish sticks, which in recent years have become little more than fish-flavored fried batter. Even the ones now that claim to be “big fish fillets” are lying. So, I usually end up back at Captain D’s, though every now and then Da Boyfriend and I splurge on Battered and Fried in East Nashville. (Locals, if you haven’t tried it, it’s really, really good. And their onion rings are to die for. I’m a tough critic of onion rings. Serve me frozen onion rings and I will slap you.)
I ate a lot of frozen fish sticks growing up, and I swear they had more fish in them back then. Fish stick night was always accompanied by Kraft mac-and-cheese, and canned green beans. And we liked it that way.
Then again, I was a kid. What did I know? Except for summer vacation trips to the catfish camp with Dad’s family in Bainbridge, GA, I never saw fresh fish until I went to college. At the catfish camp, my mother always ordered fried chicken for my sister and me, because she wanted to be able to enjoy her catfish without worrying that one of us was going to choke to death on a fish bone. We didn’t mind much. The catfish looked, and smelled... well, fishy.
But this meal from Blue Apron looked enticing, so I thought I’d give it a shot. I’m glad I did. I enjoyed it very much, though the side dishes turned out to be a little odd.
I’m talking about the summer squash. I assumed I would be baking it; it never occurred to me that we’d be eating it raw. The recipe called for mixing Dijon mustard (again with the Dijon!), olive oil, minced garlic, champagne vinegar, salt and pepper together to make a marinade for the squash cut into thin planks.
It was surprisingly good. Da Boyfried said he would make it again, but then as I have mentioned before, he’s a big mustard fan. I am not. But I am tempted to try it again with some different ingredients. After all, there’s no law that says everything has to be cooked. I’ve been eating a lot of raw sugar snap peas as a snack, but who’s to say I can’t eat them with a meal? The squash certainly made for a light, summery dish.
One thing with some of these recipes: some of the ingredients seem to be everyone’s darling of the moment. This was the second Dijon mustard this week. I not only had arugula last week, I had it tonight and I’m apparently having it again tomorrow night. Could I please get some romaine or spinach?
It was my first time eating, let alone cooking, quinoa. At least I know how to pronounce it now, thanks to Panera. For a long time, I would stammer and then call it “that queen-no stuff.”
Those tiny little grains are a bitch to rinse and drain! I made the mistake of trying to sift them around under the water with my hand, and ended up with the little suckers clinging to me like those little white packing balls that just won’t shake off no matter what you do. I finally had to just rinse my hand and let it go down the drain.
Luckily had a strainer I use for straining stray grounds out of my coffee. A colander would have sent 90% of it down the drain. I’m not honestly sure how I feel about quinoa even now; it’s more texture than taste.
The red quinoa was cooked, then added to the arugula with crushed almonds, and tossed with the leftover squash marinade. Overall, the arugula salad and squash made a filling change of pace.
But the cod... the cod was fabulous. Beautiful white, flaky fillets that, with the help of the recipe’s impeccable timing, was perfectly cooked. Not over-cooked, not under-cooked. That, to me, is still a minor miracle. It’s always been my downfall. And that wonderful panko crumb breading. God, I love that stuff.
So I score this as another win for Blue Apron. Tomorrow it’s either cherry tomato zucchini quiche or squash quesadillas. I might sneak a little ham into the quiche. I don’t know how I keep picking vegetarian meals without meaning to. I am a carnivore after all. Hear my roar!
It had been a lovely evening, and DB (Da Boyfriend) and I were settling down to bed for the night.
I should have known something was about to happen. Doolittle was on the bed, his paw pouncing around, his eyes intently focused and his nose sniffing around. I looked, but found nothing. I decided it must be one of those hallucinatory episodes that cats fall prey to every now and then. Like, you know, when they sit and stare at a blank wall for ten minutes.
But I was sitting on the edge of the bed, finishing up an ice cream sandwich. I turned my head to say something to DB, and I saw something black on my right shoulder. My bare right shoulder, naked and vulnerable... with an SOSS (Spider of Significant Size) sitting there, bold as brass, just looking back at me with his beady little eyes.
I shrieked. I jumped off the bed, screaming, “Get it off! Get it off!” as I danced like no one was watching.
DB: “What? What’s wrong?”
Me: “Spider! Is it still on me? I can’t see my back--”
I twirled like a dervish, slapping myself all over, brushing imaginary arachnids off my thighs and head and anywhere I could reach.
DB: “Honey, I think it’s gone-”
Me: “You think? Thinking isn’t good enough! Do you see it? Where did it go?”
Me (still brushing): “What ‘wow’?”
DB: “I had no idea your voice could reach that octave.”
Me: “It’s not funny!”
DB: “Are you scared of spiders?”
The monumental stupidity of what he had just said momentarily distracted me from the fear that the spider was still on me somewhere. He’d said it before, the last time a spider fell on me while we cleaned out my patio closet.
Me: “Yes, I’m afraid of spiders! Everybody is afraid of spiders!”
I began frantically tearing the comforter and sheets off the bed.
DB: “Oh, come on. You are never going to find it.”
Me: “I’m not trying to find it. I’m trying to make sure where it isn’t! You can’t possibly expect me to get back in that bed and try to sleep without making sure it’s not still in bed?”
DB sighed, climbed out of the bed, and began dutifully shaking the twenty-seven pillows I sleep with.
Suddenly, I saw the little bastard, strolling nonchalantly across the carpet at my feet. I shrieked again.
Me: “There he is! There he is!”
Me (pointing frantically): “There! Right there! Get him!”
DB: “Well, hand me something to smash him with.”
Me (throwing a box of Kleenex at him): “Hurry up! Before he gets away!”
DB: “He’s not getting away. There’s no where for him to go.”
Me: “Spiders are crafty bastards! They’re like Houdini. They can always disappear into a crack or something!”
DB bent over and pinched the spider between the tissue as I just stood there shuddering. As he walked past me to the bathroom, he opened the tissue and displayed a tangle of little black legs.
DB: “Oh, look! It’s got a red hourglass on its belly--”
Me (blood draining from every part of my body): “Really?”
DB (grinning): “No, just kidding--”
Me (slapping him on the shoulder): “That’s not funny!”
DB: “Actually I think it’s a brown recluse.”
DB: “I thought you had a catch-and-release policy about spiders? Good for the environment and all that. What happened to not giving in to the ignorant bias against these poor, misunderstood, multi-legged creatures?”
Me (remaking the bed): “Hey, I have a very specific understanding with the spiders. They leave me alone, I leave them alone. And this one broke the pact. He launched an aggressive incursion onto my personal body-- Stop laughing at me!”
DB: “You know, they say a person swallows eight spiders a year while they sleep--”
Me: “That’s an urban myth.”
DB: “Are you sure? My brother woke up once and found a spider leg in his mouth--"
Me: “SHUT UP!”
POST SCRIPT: Later that night I went to the bathroom. Flipped on the light, and there was another spider, sitting on my sink. He died tragically.
Tonight’s adventure in culinary exploration takes us to the lovely Bavarian countryside for pork schnitzel. Ah, I can hear the little goatherds yodeling....
The beautiful pork cutlets from Marley Spoon are first dipped into a wash of egg and Dijon mustard (this made Da Boyfriend very happy, he’s a big mustard fan) and then rolled in panko bread crumbs. I see why panko has been all the rage in recent years, because it freakin’ ROCKS. So light and crunchy! It’s got me looking around the fridge for anything else I can roll in them. Unfortunately, most of what I have in my fridge right now is ice cream....
The side dish is gold potatoes with wilted cabbage, cooked with a shallot and, right before serving, doused with a tiny bit of white vinegar and butter. It was an unusual way to cook cabbage -- yeah, I toss that off like I cook cabbage in a dozen other ways all the time, when in reality I’ve never actually cooked cabbage in my life. I should say, more accurately, it was an unusual way for me to EAT cabbage. Who knew you could cook cabbage that wasn’t boiled to mush?
And lets give a nod to shallots, because they are really lovely, something between an onion and garlic.
The prep was quick -- I think that Marley Spoon over all has had less prep, and I’m all for that.
If only Martha would stop sending me that garlic.... and if you’ll excuse me, I think I am remembering why I don’t eat more cabbage. I have to find the antacid.
June 4, 2016. Last night's dinner from Hello Fresh: Orzo and chorizo with tomatoes, fresh thyme, spinach, mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.
I approached this recipe with some trepidation, because I've never eaten chorizo, mainly because I'm not much of a fan of sausage of any variety. But this really surprised me. Very tasty! My dinner partner (Da Boyfriend) approved, though he would have liked a spicier chorizo. If it were up to him, every meal would set his tongue on fire.
Let me go on record as saying that prepping fresh thyme is a tedious chore, and I am not convinced it's worth the effort.
I had a slight issue with directions that nearly derailed the whole thing. The directions said to bring a pot of water to a boil, so I assumed that I'd be cooking the orzo in the boiling water. But no, friends and neighbors and assorted voyeurs -- the boiling water was for pouring into the pan of sausage, etc, and only a couple of cups.
Da Boyfriend was the one who caught this, and when I growled, "What? I'm supposed to know that?", he reminded me calmly that many recipes will call for hot water added to a recipe. That may be true, but I've never had those recipes tell me to boil a whole pot full of water just to get two cups!
But it turned out okay in the end. This is the first time I had even a stutter in understanding directions, so I will be keeping close eye on Hello Fresh. Loved, loved, loved the dish, though. Very much warm and gooey comfort food.
When I pulled this out of the box from Home Chef, I thought it was some kind of particularly ugly ginger, but turns out that it's something they called a "sunchoke." Googling it, I found they are more commonly known as Jerusalem artichokes. If a potato and a raw almond had a baby, it would probably taste like this. Supposedly they are very good for diabetics because of something about fructose. They are also reported to be very gas producing, which is such a relief because I haven't been farting nearly enough lately. I won't be able to confirm this until later, but I can already attest that these babies are a pain in the butt to clean and dice.
But here you see the finished meal: Pecan and brown sugar crusted pork medallions with carrots and Jerusalem artichokes, roasted with sun dried tomatoes and red pepper flakes.
I still can't make my plates look as spectacular as the recipe cards, but then again, I'm not a professional photographer using glue and varnish to stage the perfect plate. I did, however, cook a pretty damn fine plate of pork tenderloin medallions. I take that as a big step forward in my culinary development, because I've never cooked any kind of pork tenderloin, in any way, form or fashion, before. Following the times in the recipe precisely, they were perfectly done.
Verdict: the Jerusalem artichokes and carrots were okay for something different, but probably not something I'll try again. Combining the sun dried tomatoes with roasted veg, though, is a definite keeper for my own repertoire.
The pork however... man, oh, man that was delicious! The sauce made from the pan drippings with the brown sugar/egg mixture from the top of the medallions, with a 1/4 cup or so of sherry and then a veal demi-glace -- made my eyes roll back in my head. I must have made a little moan of some kind because Doolittle, my cat, looked at me funny.
I licked the plate, seriously. I've been told that I can buy that demi all by itself either online or at Whole Paycheck… I mean, Whole Foods. But if you've read my writing for a while you know what I think about Whole Foods. Any store with a $7 loaf of whole wheat bread scares the crap out of me.
P.S. Reports of the flatulency potential for the Jerusalem artichokes were not exaggerated. At the risk of sharing too much information, I will just say that, at one point, Doolittle left the room.
May 17, 2016. I tried one week of Freshly, a service that sends -- supposedly -- high quality, healthy gourmet meals already prepared, all you do is heat them up!
What is it they say? If it sounds to good to be true, it probably is? Well, Freshly gets less appealing with every meal... It tastes okay enough to swallow but it is not particularly enjoyable. Sigh. I had such high hopes for never cooking again. And I have four more of these to eat.
The entree is supposed to be roasted turkey, but I swear it had a weird texture, like some faux fowl. And the side veg? I don't even know what the hell that is. I think it was supposed to be kale and squash and… something.
I mean, look at this. Would you want to eat it? I gave up, and stopped at Sonic on the way home. I needed a chili dog, onion rings and an lavender milkshake to get the taste of this mush out of my mouth.
May 1, 2016. Today's luncheon (and tomorrow's) from Blue Apron: zucchini and spinach quiche. I think the crust got a little over done. I need a decent oven.
I think I may have goofed up the recipe. They sent a big cluster of garlic, and I was enthusiastically dicing it all up, tossing it into the pot, and then I glanced at the recipe card again and realized: OMG I WAS ONLY SUPPOSED TO USE TWO CLOVES, NOT THE WHOLE DAMNED THING!
I tried to get most of it out, but in the end, it was just too garlicky. Not bad, but probably not as good as it should have been.
Still one of the prettiest things I've ever cooked!
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