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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Take Out Rice Fixes Dinner


Sometimes I just make up a recipe as I go.  It may be based on an actual recipe or simply an idea and a hope that flavors will work together.  The list of ingredients reads:


Kielbasi
Shrimp
Celery
Red Beans
Rice
Chicken stock

Various spices - I went through the cabinet so I cannot be 100% accurate on this but I believe in addition to salt and pepper I used:  garlic, Old Bay, a bay leaf and a sprinkle of chili powder.

The kielbasi was carmelized in my dutch oven on the stove (Click here for the post about the Magic Pot) then add the celery to soften.  Deglaze with chicken stock, add the beans then oh, the rice...the rice is an empty spot in the pantry.  How did this happen?

Well, the same way it happens with anything else.  It was eaten and not replaced.  Argh!  I have already started to prepare the meal.  Substitute?  Think  Think.  Think.

I texted the Mr. on his way home and asked him to stop at any Chinese restaurant and purchase a quart of white rice.  Yahoo.  Problem solved.

Continue adding the remaining ingredients and turn off the heat.  When I can add the rice, I add a bit more chicken stock and heat the meal through.




The funny part is, the Mr. felt a little odd just picking up rice so he did accept a few fortune cookies and....



ordered two egg rolls.  One for himself and one for our older son.  It was a multi-cultural, multi-culinary experience in our kitchen.  Is it sheer irony that the fortune regarding good planning was not mine?
 



Missing all the excitement, when my younger son arrived home a few hours later and simply heated what he knew were the evening's left overs, he began to eat and simply said, "Dinner is good, Mom."  A little help from the Chinese restaurant and we are all Fed Well.

Carrot Cake is Fine for Breakfast


For me, eating begins not at home but at work.  I take medication in the morning that requires an empty stomach and so with just under an hour commute it works out perfectly to eat once I am here.  However, my  food choices are my own and of course some days I make healthier selections than others.  I do want to point out, I feel helpless to say no to the endless supply of goodies we are constantly surrounded with as I have explained in the past:



Also, part of our office culture is birthday snacks.  If it is your birthday and you would like to celebrate with a treat, it is up to you to bring it in for the group.  This method is so no one feels left out when someone forgets to bring in cake for their birthday.  Yes, it happened once to someone I work with and though we are all adults, she was quite upset.  This rule also helps if you decide you do not want to celebrate or do not recognize your birthday as a cause for celebration - whether it is an age or religious reason, doesn't matter.

When birthdays collide as in the the case of myself and another in our department (she is the day before) we work it out and last year we both split the cost of a few pizzas for our group.

One of my coworkers was away on vacation for her birthday a few weeks ago and so she brought in an amazing, slamming, king of the hill carrot cake from Jones Farm (click for their website).  This gorgeous and exquisite baked good should be in a hall of fame.  The cake itself is moist and you can see the finely diced carrot, raisins and nuts.  The icing is sweet heaven.  Reading the ingredient listing and discovering pineapple makes one's tongue say, "hmmm?"  So wonderful.  And, yes, the breakfast of champions.



The photo above is from a visit I made to Jones Farm to do research for an article in Hudson Valley Parent magazine.

In the afternoon, more snacks were placed in our common area and I overheard someone remark, "It is so strange to see healthy snacks here.  I am so used to seeing chocolate and goodies."  Is that sad or just honest?



The healthy snacks were left overs from a group pot luck Super Bowl party.  So does that mean we only housed the rejected goodies?



Honestly, which would you prefer?  I confess, I had two slices of carrot cake.  One for breakfast and a second later on as a snack.  I am gloriously Fed Well.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Scene from a Mexican Restaurant

Lunch with lady friends from work at the Mexican restaurant.  I have photographed and blogged about our meals and since we are creatures of culinary habit, we do not veer away from what we know so instead, I will share a bit about the experience.

A total of 4 different groups of coworkers were in attendance on this particular day.  We knew we would have to keep any conversations about our place of employment on stealth mode.  However, I also found the booth of 3 men behind me quite entertaining at times.  They must have all either worked together at one time or went to school together and now one had moved away.  He was quite happy when the other two arrived and for a few minutes they were quite enthusiastic...

"It's so good to see you."

"I'm so glad you could get away and make time for us."

"It's been forever, hasn't it?"

We are celebrating one of my friend's birthday while one of the tables are honoring a pregnant coworkers final days before birth.  Every table has a story.

Looking around the restaurant, every wall and mural also likely tells a story.  For some reason I think of the Billy Joel song, "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant."




Life.  

The stories that make up a life and how our lives intertwine... all over a simple plate of Mexican food.  

"I'll meet you anytime you want...at our Italian (Mexican) Restaurant...."

The shrimp tacos and guacamole were delicious.  It was the hour with friends that left me feeling Fed Well.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Venison Sausage in Tomato Cream Sauce over Ziti


Winter storms are now being named and Luna is here in the Northeast.  I left work this morning and the roads deteriorated as I drove until less than a mile from home the car in front of me did a complete 180 spin and I carefully tapped my brakes but still slid just enough to the right to avoid the oncoming vehicle.  Behind the vehicle was a school bus full of children being dismissed early.  Heart pounding I maintained a ridiculously slow speed until I reached my driveway which the back end of my car thought would be fun to fishtail past.



Once home, I gave the sidewalks a quick shovel, let the dog run around and then parked myself in front of the computer until I thought it a better use of time to finish reading a book a friend had lent me.

Dinner tonight was crumbled venison sausage with garlic and oregano.  Once the meat was browned and drained, a marinara sauce mixed with about a cup of half and half was added to the pan.  The ziti was cooked and coated lightly with just the marinara.  For a moment, the thought of melted mozzarella was entertained then dropped.  Safe, sound and Fed Well.

















Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sunday Night Pork Sliders with Fries

The trick to keeping dinners fresh and new may not be in switching up ingredients as much as serving them a different way.  A Sunday night pork roast was sliced as thin as possible then served with pillowy soft slider rolls.  Notice the cucumbers three ways in the middle of the table?  Raw, in a cucumber salad and jarred sandwich pickles - I simply knew I wanted cucumber with my pork.  The watermelon balls are the result of taking a chance on the supermarket sale on mini-melons.  Have to admit, they exceeded expectation were sweet and the perfect texture.  The small glass bowl is a sour cream garlic sauce which I used on my slider and dipped a cucumber slice or two as well.


As the pork roasted, I prepared traditional fries in a pan with oil.  Sometimes the standards are preferred.   

Crispy, salty potatoes...


The roast pork was well seasoned and roasted without incident.   The worrisome part was knowing my son's girlfriend is not especially fond of pork.  This meal may have converted her and for that, I am enjoying my ability to feed others well.


We talked about childhood meal memories.  What our mothers made, what other mothers made and some unusual pairings we've eaten in other people's homes.  The Mr. has strongly stated his case against stuffed peppers and I will try to avoid stuffed cabbage at all costs.  How lucky are we to pick our foods based on what we like rather than simply what is available.  We are fortunate to be Fed Well.

Creative Ways to Gift Wrap Cash and Homemade Mac 'n Cheese



Birthday cash.  A wonderful gift to receive.  How to make it fun and exciting?  Last year I wrapped a box in a box in a box and each box had a small amount of money.  For my son this past birthday I used a small chocolate box with the various sized spaces for different denominations of cash.  Time to really be creative for my 10 year old nephew.

Supplies needed:  an empty toilet paper roll, scissors, wrapping paper, tape, a small wooden dowel (we used a chop stick cut to size) and of course, the cash.

1.  Cut a slit in the toilet paper roll the width of the money.



2.  Tape the bills together.  Wrap the toilet paper roll but leave the ends exposed to slide the money inside once it is wrapped around the wooden dowel.  You can try without the dowel if you don't have a chop stick or skewer.


 3.  Once the bills are inside, give it a test run.  Pull gently.  When happy with your product, complete wrapping and leave a tab of the cash exposed.


While creating a crafty gift, I also prepared my first ever batch of macaroni and cheese.  I loosely followed an Alton Brown recipe on Foodnetwork.com.  The cheese sauce involved first melting butter then adding equal parts flour to create a base.  I then added 3 cups of milk and 12 ounces of sharp cheddar.


Cavatappi pasta for two reasons - what's more fun than this corkscrew shape and no boxed brand that I know of uses it so this batch is easily identified as home made.


Mix the cheese sauce and pasta, place in baking dish, cover with more cheddar...


Melt a few spoons of butter in a sauce pan and add one cup Panko breadcrumbs.  Once the breadcrumbs are coated, use to create "crispy" layer over pasta.  Bake at 350 until golden brown and delicious.


 Remember to bring dish and gift to the party.


A lovely buffet was arranged which included rolls,


pink lemonade (didn't hurt to add a spalsh of vodka to mine), 
 

pulled pork,

baked beans, 
 

Mommy's potato salad,


 and for dessert homemade chocolate ice cream,


 with brownies!






How will my nephew remember his 10th birthday dinner?  Hopefully his first thoughts will be about the family who love him, the puzzle we tried to complete after the meal, or the games he played with his cousin and uncle, my ego would be ok if he remembers the money rolled in a cardboard toilet paper roll.  Bottom line, a fabulous birthday event where all were Fed Well.






Saturday, January 26, 2013

Chinese Buffet with Forever Friends and Mark Sanchez

We were married in 1987 and within six months we were also expecting our first born, bought a new car and were homeowners.  I was quite young and he only 3 years older.  It was then we met our across the street neighbors who I now consider our forever friends.  9 months after our son arrived, they had their own and our boys would grow up to be lifelong friends as well.

Though we moved away (about 20 minutes drive) from them in 1996, we remain close and enjoy each other's company as individuals and couples, well, as families for that matter.  Last year, our son accompanied the father/son duo of our friends for a trip to England and so I suggested a thank you dinner at the Chinese buffet.  Why?  We used to join each other for dinner through the years at a buffet to simply catch up and spend some time together - a tradition if you will.

2012 was a tumultuous year for me and so I plan on 2013 as a year of growth, healing and appreciation.  These family friends will be by my, well, our side, before, during and after.

We are seated at a long table in the center of the dining room and one of the many joys of a buffet is the ability to eat at your own pace as well as the portion size and selection being personalized.  While most of our party is getting their food, the women catch up.

My younger son returns first with this plate:



CRAB LEGS! Yum.  We know though they will be depleted quickly and restocked slowly.  I wait by the buffet and eventually give up but my older son does return at some point with a leg for me to try.

The chicken on a stick is a favorite for the men in my life.  What is it about meat on a stick?  Does it bring out their primal, caveman tendencies?  Why is it prepared this way?  Does it offer anything to the final outcome?  Is it just tradition?  A marketing ploy? 

This is exactly what I think of when I imagine a Chinese buffet.  The only ones who thought it odd that I was photographing the food were the restaurant staff.  I smile at the image and reversal of stereotype.


I have to admit, my absolute favorite selection at the Chinese buffet is the green beans. They are ALWAYS the right crispness and I could eat them like potato chips.  They must be laced with something addictive.


I typically do not visit the dessert bar, but I have been known to take some fruit with my ice cream.  I also love those little puffy sugar coated donuts.  Why are they never with the dessert items?


My first plate, a generous helping of beans with a side of chicken and broccoli with white rice.  Boring?  Maybe, but it is exactly what I like and makes my taste buds smile.


Conversations ebb and flow.   Sometimes between just two people at the table and others are for the whole group to participate.  Bits of stories about the England trip, school age adventures, future plans and how we care for our elderly versus the treatment of inmates. 

Time to sweeten things up.  The ice cream is also self serve but the tricky bit is seeing two containers of green ice cream side by side.  I prefer pistachio and struggle to see if either container has flecks of nuts or chocolate chips.  Yes, I grabbed the "wrong" one, but it was delicious and sweet.


I brought a fortune back to the table for each of us and we were also each presented with one when our bill came.  Some were perfect and some were nonsense.  Laughter and deep thinking...part of our emotional buffet.

So, where was Mark Sanchez?  After all, he is mentioned in the post title.  Well, my husband has been a Jets fan since birth but these past few years with Sanchez and Rex have been fairly emotional for him.  He strongly blames the quarterback for the team's poor results.  I have to admit, Mark throws a fair amount of intercepted passes, but I don't ever blame one person for the results of an entire team just as I don't think it would be fair to credit only him if they were the National Champions. 

The restaurant is next door to a popular sporting goods store and since my older son and his girlfriend arrived early they went in and looked around for a bit.  When they came across the reduced priced bobble head Sanchez, my son absolutely could not resist an impromptu gift for his father.  I found the entire moment priceless.  The spontaneity, the thoughtfulness, the light heartedness and who wouldn't want to have Mark Sanchez join you, your family and forever friends as you are all Fed Well at a Chinese Buffet?


Friday, January 25, 2013

Frozen Prepared Stuffed Scallops

Quick meals... what are the choices?  Every once in awhile I go out on a limb and try something new.  Though this was our second tasting of frozen prepared stuffed scallops, they have been voted to stay in the rotation by the family, but only as a cameo menu feature rather than a regular.



I served ours with shell shaped pasta and though no one else appreciated my culinary stab at irony, I was amused.

How do you feel about using prepared foods?  What are the limits?  I prefer frozen foods like vegetables and seafood over things like canned vegetables, but I really do feel fresh is the goal.

It was the first dinner we've had in awhile with my younger son since he works in retail while attending college and though the conversation was a bit more concentrated around cars (repair work, refurbishing, powder coating, etc.) and one of the coldest nights of the year, we all certainly ended the meal feeling Fed Well.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Steak and Talk

I started planning this meal this morning and thought about it most of the work day.  I knew I would prepare the steak, but the details of the side dishes remained a mystery until I started pulling pots out from cabinets and food from the fridge and pantry.

The onions were the first to start in a pan with some olive oil and salt/pepper then the mushrooms were added.  The broccolini was next, but the potatoes and corn were mere seconds behind.  The steak was cooked last and since it is quite frigid here in the Northeast, the meat was seared in a fairly hot pan on the stove top then cooked about 6 minutes per side.

Dinner conversation topics included:  coworkers and their unique quirky habits that may or may not irritate others, the ratio of poverty level students in the school my son is interning, the change in parental thinking regarding their children in the classroom - specifically more parents blame the school while less hold their child accountable for everything from behavior to performance. We talked about working with people who try to do as little as possible for a paycheck versus those who sincerely try to solve problems and address issues.  We chatted a little about the evolution of boxing and football respectively as popular sports and when boxing seemed to peak then fall.  Did Mike Tyson biting his opponents ear mark the decline of boxing as a widely viewed sport?  Will American football remain popular?  All of this over a simple meal and during the clean up process.  




It's not just the food that makes a family feel Fed Well.  What did you and your family enjoy together tonight?



Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Chicken Classic

One of the first dishes my older son learned how to make for a lady friend...chicken cutlet parmigiana.  We find something so primal, basic and satisfying in this dish.  I buy the boneless, skinless breast and make horizontal slices myself until they are thin cutlets rather than buying them at a premium price.  To me, this is a wonderfully simple, classic and timeless dish.  We often pair it not with spaghetti but a risotto.  For years, this was the meal my husband requested for his birthday.  Though my older son sometimes will request just the breaded cutlets without sauce or cheese, I still consider it a spin on the classic. 


It is my hope that this simple dish will be passed down along the generations and loved by all I love.  A chicken classic legacy to leave behind for others to be Fed Well.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Le Cirque

Restaurant week in New York...Click here for info NYC Restaurant Week

My favorite dates involve the beach, food or photography.  Not necessarily in that order and if I can include more than one in any particular outing, well it is certainly a 5 star experience.

We previewed the menus available on the restaurant week website and my narrowing down system involved sharing the links with the Mr. to decide which ones had appealing dishes for him as well.  It's funny, when it comes to food, I am the one more willing to experiment although he claims to be more of an adventure/thrill seeker in life.  He's not really, but don't tell.

The decision is made, we will be heading to Le Cirque.  Click here for more on Le Cirque.

An uneventful drive, the modern age of GPS has made driving in and around NYC far less scary.  I have a harder time actually figuring out public transportation and as far as cost, well, when you average parking and gas vs. train tickets (we would still have to drive 40 minutes or so to the station) it seems pretty break even to me.

Ahead of schedule, we wander around a bit before our reservation.  Here's what it looks like from the street:



and one of the bonus' of eating in NY is I can be a tourist as much as I want.  In fact, I wasn't even going to take these photographs until I saw a man doing the same.



We killed a little time in Bloomingdale's and walking around the block taking in the sights.



Although still early, we headed into the restaurant, checked our coats and sat for just a few minutes in the lobby/bar area.  We noticed the extreme 27' wine tower (I looked up the statistics) and the various ways the dining rooms could be shifted for privacy of celebrities.



Yes, Le Cirque is French and the literal translation is The Circus.  A few years of high school French were worth something.  I notice the elephant just inside the entrance.


Something to look at everywhere.  The cocktail menu and wine list keeps me quietly amused for the few more moments until we are seated at our table.


We are presented with both the regular dining menu and the Restaurant Week offerings.  We never even opened the regular menu and with having previewed the specials online before arrival, we are already fairly certain about our choices.


Whimsy.

Not a word I use often, but the dining room is whimsical.  The ceiling of umbrellas or parasols...


We are asked about water choices, still or sparkling.  Still.  Bottle or tap.  Bottle.  If is a flu epidemic after all and a woman already coughed directly on my head while on line for the coat check.



The bread basket choices were all sampled and wonderful.  Dark bread with raisins and nuts, herbed and salted "rolls" and an airy on the inside, crusty exterior almost mini-baguette were all lovely.


I decide to include a cocktail and order the Forest Breeze.  As you can see, a healthy layer of fruit is included so I am already off to a nutritious start.





The Mr.'s first course arrives.  Can you guess?  
Yes, you are correct - French Onion Soup!



I sample the soup and the broth is lovely.  It has the correct balance of body and delicacy.  The onions are a manageable size for the spoon and the bread yields easily to the spoon.


My starter is the Winter Orichette Pasta which includes mussels and chorizo.  This combination can never be bad.



Over the past few years, I have actually had my fill of braised short ribs.  Yes, the meat is tender, delicate and overall simply wonderful.  It is served on a lovely pillow of creamy mashed potatoes and topped with crispy kale (I ate the kale, the Mr. pushed it aside) and the carrot is fork tender and sweet.  However, it is no longer "new" to me and so I order the Merlu.






The fish is served over butternut squash with a parsley puree.  And yes, I have noticed all of the cute monkeys on the various dishes.  Such a nice touch.  The fish is dense with a crispy outer layer, yet moist and succulent.




For dessert, the Mr. order the Fine Apple Tart.  If he can have apple pie in any form, this is what he will order.  I try a bite and it is quite light and flaky.



He also asks for a cup of coffee.  This was one area of the service I thought odd.  We were not asked if we would like coffee or tea with dessert.  An oversight?  Our desserts waited, but we continued chatting away and glancing at the Inauguration on the television in the dining room.  Odd?



The Mr. has stories about his grandmother taking things, salt and pepper shakers, silverware, small glasses, sugar bowls, whatever, from restaurants when he was a child.  She would simply put whatever it was she wanted in her purse and take it home.  He jokes I should put the creamer in my bag.  I would never, but then he asks me to seriously pick it up.  Heavy.  I comply for his amusement - to pick it up, not take it.




My dessert was a bit camera shy for some reason.  I could not get the shot I wanted with pleasing lighting, but here it is... the chocolate cake with a cannelle of ice cream and chocolate bits that remind me of the layer in a Carvel cake.  I'm sure that is not the reference the chef would like to hear, but it is the most familiar to many.



Honestly, I didn't care that much for the cake.  It wasn't bad, it simply wasn't fabulous.  The ice cream was delicious and again, I loved the monkey.



Something else I noticed, the restaurant does NOT want you to forget for one second where you are - not that anyone would.  It is Le Cirque after all.


Yes, I did think of my mother and the circus during my lunch date.  My first memory of the circus was the big tent and the bleacher style seats, the man who walked around selling cotton candy and another with popcorn, the animal acts and Ring Master.  How lucky was I to go to the circus?  How lucky am I to dine with the Mr. at Le Cirque?





Our date is over and we head home.  It is a holiday, it is Martin Luther King Day, it is the second inauguration of President Obama, it is a Monday and we have been Fed Well, together.

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