Tuesday, May 22, 2012

My very first kitchen explosion.

Dinner literally blew up in my face tonight.

I was looking forward to making it for a long time: chicken with a whole-grain mustard pan sauce. I was going to make it just for myself, seeing as Josh doesn't like mustard (his parents knew this when he was younger and made him wash out his mouth with mustard, not soap, if he swore in front of them. And it was very effective).

There was only one thing that was daunting about the recipe: the little note at the bottom of the page implying that the wine could flame when added to the hot oiled pan. Although I was shaking like a leaf and even had the fire extinguisher standing by, I was prepared for that. I added the first splash of wine: no flames. Whew. So I added the rest of the 1/2 cup and started to deglaze a heavily smoky, boozy smelling pan sauce. It popped once, splattering a bit of grease on my arm. Then it popped again. My cookbook, which was sitting 6 inches away, is a pretty good indicator of just how much grease splattered out:

I was standing as far back as I could from the pan, but since I'm so short, my arms don't stretch as far as most people's and my face was closer to the pan than was probably safe. I got completely splattered with hot grease. I turned off the oven before I ran to the bathroom, surprised that my face didn't hurt as much right away. I ended up with a couple small burn marks on my upper arms and chest, but got a pretty bad one on my face:

So what did I learn? When adding wine to a hot pan, add it slowly. And maybe wear a haz-mat suit. Or get a yardstick to deglaze the pan. All I know is that I'm probably never doing that again unless I can find a non-alcoholic alternative to white wine (hah). But for now, I have plenty of whole-grain mustard in the fridge if Josh feelings like swearing at the baseball game on TV.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Manic Monday/Hoorah for Cleveland!

I officially have a new appreciation for that song after seeing how today went. I woke up feeling like I got no sleep at all, probably because it was about 85 degrees in the bedroom (which was a good reminder to call my uncle about this air conditioner he's going to give me). I poured myself a nice big cup of coffee (read: 8 ounces. Pretty much all I can digest without flying off the walls, even when I'm half-asleep, half-dead). Usually I can drink work coffee black because Chris C buys it from Caribou, but I think this stuff was far past its prime. It tasted, I kid you not, a little bit like pickles. A ton of creamer later, it wasn't so bad.

As I finished one of my assignments and e-mailed it to my supervisor, I went to the kitchen to rinse out my coffee cup. I came back to find this on my screen:

("System error, hard disk failure detected") (plus 20 other error balloons)

Huh?! I closed out of about 19 of those error balloons and hit "scan and repair." This is what the scan came back with:

A toasted hard drive. Then I saw the little "repair 7 items" button at the bottom of the window. After I clicked it, the screen said "You must buy full version of this software in order to proceed." Uh, no thanks. So I talked to our CFO (and resident computer-whisperer), who e-mailed our off-site IT repair guy, who said he would work on it remotely. Suddenly, my computer shut down on its own and restarted. Thinking our IT guy was working on it, my hopes perked up. Nope, just the Windows login screen asking for my username and password. I entered it, and within seconds this appeared:

Wah, wah, wah, wah.

Then I got a call from the front desk. It was our other intern, Shauntina, asking if I was going to this luncheon the company was sponsoring. When I told her I wasn't invited, she told me that our CEO, Rob, hinted to her that we should probably (definitely) go. Awesome! I can get away from my brick of a computer and talk to Clevelanders about our company (although what on earth would I say?). As Shauntina and I walked through the Renaissance Hotel, we stopped along the mirrored hallways to brush our hair, check our teeth, and wish helplessly that we were wearing nicer clothes. As we walked up the carpeted stairs, I realized this was no charity luncheon with about 20 or 30 guests like I thought it was. No, this was the "Greater Cleveland Business Leader's Conference" with about 200 of the biggest names in the Cleveland business scene, taking place in the vaulted ballroom of the Renaissance Cleveland.

Am I even supposed to be here?

There was little time to ponder that as Rob whisked us into the ballroom and pointed out our tables. We were the third row from the stage, about 20 feet away, and my seat was literally right in front of a live news camera. I was glad I stopped to brush  my hair.

The food was spectacular. Veal dappled with an herb that I sadly could not place (but looked a lot like wild clover?), rice, and cooked carrots and yellow pepper. Dessert was a vanilla-bean cheesecake with a caramel icing and white chocolate chips sprinkled on top. I only stopped eating because I thought I would get overstuffed (and who wants to get sick in front of a live news camera?). If the cameras, big-time Cleveland business leaders, location, and food weren't enough, our discussion moderator took the stage:

David Gregory from Meet the Press. And he was 20 feet away from me. I don't know if star-struck was the right word; more like just "struck." This was definitely no simple charity luncheon like I thought. This was a full-scale, live-broadcast discussion with a panel of Cleveland's most influential leaders on how Ohio, a crucial swing state, will play into the upcoming election, and how we can keep the forward momentum of Cleveland going.

The discussion was incredibly fascinating and, surprisingly, very uplifting. Clevelanders have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and have an unquenchable passion for our city that will keep bringing an ongoing chain of construction, business, revenue, revival, and residents to Downtown. We're moving forward as a city and as a people- sure, there are a good number of recent college graduates like myself that are fleeing the state for greener pastures (like where? New York City? Good luck losing yourself in a sea of 8 million people) and warmer weather (don't call us crying when a [fill in natural disaster here] comes). But like it or not, for us and them, this is home. And I've stubbornly decided to stay here. So have a lot of people. This Rust Belt Renaissance is real, and Cleveland will rise again. And as David Gregory himself said, "I know you've all known this for a while, but Cleveland rocks."

Amen. And wow. I left feeling like I had just left a pep rally (minus the annoying forced cheers and football team parade and...basically everything about a high school pep rally). Shauntina and I talked the entire way back about how true it all was, how excited we are to be working in Cleveland, and how Downtown is changing so fast, and that we're really lucky to be here when it happens.

As we set our stuff down on our desks, I remembered I had forgotten all about this:

Oh, well. It is Monday, after all.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Summer starts here.

It's abut 80 degrees here in Cleveland, Ohio. Perfect weather. Sunny and hot with not a whole lot of humidity. In my eyes, it's officially summertime. May is one of my favorite months of the year: anniversary with Josh is coming up, Memorial Day is approaching, and the weather is heating up fast. Unlike last year, I'm home in Ohio as opposed to being exiled in my-parents'-house-but-not-really-my-home in Michigan. I see Josh every day, not every two weeks. All my friends are around me in the city I fell in love with 11 years ago. The air is thick with possibilities for the summer that won't suck. Cedar Point. Headlands Beach. Tennis. Running. Anything in Downtown Cleveland (including the brand new Horseshoe Casino!). Josh's brother's baseball games, like the summer we first started dating. Maybe I'll finally golf my first real game. Maybe I'll go back to the radio station and DJ a guest shift. But one thing's for sure: this summer won't be like the last.

And so far, it's promising. Josh and I spontaneously went to Dave & Buster's last night. He hit not one, but TWO jackpots (which is a more common occurrence than should be possible). The most impressive thing I did was win 200 tickets by the sheer power of friction:

I mean, that was close.

Josh now has enough tickets on his PowerCard to buy an electric guitar from the prize shop. Not sure whether I should be proud of how much he earned or peeved at how much money he spent to get 16,000 tickets.

Today we took it easy and spent the whole day together. Since he works most Saturdays, it's the only day of the week we can do this. So, naturally, he installed a dartboard (which we found at Marc's for $12):

And I made my family's top-secret spaghetti sauce. This was only my second time making it, and I think I nailed it!

(although I got a little help from some fancy Merlot.)

I finally got some use out of my tennis dress as Josh and I hit the cracked-up courts at the town park. It looks like it got hit with an earthquake, and every time the ball flew down the center crack, it flew back in my face. Next time we'll go back to the desolate but smooth college grounds.

Exciting? Not incredibly. But for what I know as the first official weekend of summer, it's a good start. Next week is a multitude of rib cookoffs, Memorial Day, and our anniversary- which translates to gorging on delicious barbeque, kayaking, spending too much money at the new casino, and settling in the summer that won't suck. It starts here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Cake Pops: Sisterly Bonding or Kitchen Fail?

"As long as you and your sister make these cake pops, that's all you have to do for me for Mother's Day."

Well, naturally, I didn't listen. I got my mom a bottle of Frost Bitten Ice Riesling, which she LOVED. She was totally surprised and went on a tangent about how she was only able to surprise her mother like that three times in her whole life. Obviously I did something right!

Then there was the box of cake pop mix that sat dauntingly on the counter top. Seemed simple enough: all my sister and I needed was an egg, some oil and some water, add the cake mix, bake it, add frosting, shape into balls, dip in chocolate, and top with sprinkles. After wrestling with confusing directions ("Add cake mix to batter" and "Add half the frosting packet") (which left us with half a frosting packet you had nothing to do with), we tried to shape them into uneven, meatball-sized cake balls. Then things started to get a little unnerving:

A: "Place chocolate-dipped stick into cake ball."
L: "OK."
A: "nonononoNO!" *cake ball splits in half*

Then came the dipping-in-melted-chocolate part. If the cake pops didn't break apart inside the molten chocolate bowl, they fell off the stick in midair and splattered chocolate everywhere. (A: "nonononoNO!" *SPLAT*) Amazingly, we managed to get all 11 cake balls (the directions said it yields 20?) onto the cookie sheet, and instead of adding sprinkles to all of them, my sister just scattered sprinkles all over one and gave up. When we got all the sticks to stand up straight again, we finally had our gift for Mom:

Even Bridget Jones would have been embarrassed. Mom, at least, thought the whole thing was hilarious. "They still taste good!" she said through a mouthful of cake-chocolate-icing-sprinkle-stick.  "I'm glad you and your sister had fun. See, you two had a good time together."

Well, there's that, too.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Cheater's "homemade" mashed potatoes: v.1

I love mashed potatoes, yet I typically use Potato Buds when I make them. Blasphemy, right?

Obviously, they're not the same as truly homemade mashed potatoes, but that doesn't mean they have to be boring. One of the things I like best about potatoes is that it's a blank slate: you can put pretty much any combination of spices on there and it'll taste great. Tonight's edition of "cheater's homemade potatoes" is seasoned to match the pretzel-crusted chicken I made earlier.

Here's what you need:

Potato Buds (use enough for the 3-4 servings measurement)
1/2 tsp Parmesan or Romano cheese
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp white pepper (can use less if desired, especially if you don't like spicy)

After you add the potato buds to the liquid, add all the spices seen above and whisk. And there you have it:

(OK, it doesn't look like much, but trust me...)

The cheese adds just the right amount of nuttiness and saltiness without it being...well...cheesy. The garlic powder gives it body while the pepper gives it a nice kick. I may or may not have eaten have the pan.

I'll be adding more spice variations as I post more meals. The possibilities are endless!

College revisited: pretzel-crusted chicken

My college celebrated its annual commencement yesterday. Not only did it make me feel incredibly old, it got me reminiscing about college, including, yes, college food. After four years, cafeteria food was really starting to get old, and my choices became slimmer and slimmer (which doesn't explain how I put on 10 pounds senior year). But there was one thing that I always loved and vowed I would remake- pretzel-crusted chicken. How did they make the pretzels so golden brown? What was that white sauce underneath the pretzels? I decided to remake it tonight, trying my best to figure out how it could have been made.

Was it the same? Eh...no. I'm pretty sure that white sauce was something else, and the pretzels weren't as dark as they were at college (which isn't a bad thing, really). But was it delicious? YES. Here's what you need:

Sea Salt
White Pepper
Parmesean cheese (Romano will work just as well, or even better)
Pretzels (duh)

Preheat oven to 425. On two boneless, skinless chicken breasts, add a coating of sea salt and a light coating of white pepper.

Spread the pepper around with the back of a spoon so it doesn't look all stripey like in the above picture.

On top of that, add a coating of Parmesean cheese.

Break up a handful of pretzels and arrange them all over the chicken.

(Hindsight tip: I should have made these a little smaller. A good idea would be to break the pretzels up fine and and a thin layer of pretzel crumbs over the cheese to make a simple breading.)

Bake in oven for 30 to 35 minutes. And there you have it...

Pretzel-crusted yummyness. I served this with boiled broccoli and "homemade" mashed potatoes. Josh and I were stuffed and filled with college flashbacks (and wishing we could forget the night we split a whole pizza and a six-pack of Killian's) (together we weigh 250 pounds. You do the math).

Topped it all off with some wine:

A good night indeed.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Six spices to burger perfection

I don't normally eat hamburgers. When I'm at a cookout and I'm asked "hot dog or hamburger?", I always go with hot dog. Maybe it's because you can't really screw up a hot dog, but a hamburger can taste like flavorless burger-char if grilled wrong or underseasoned. Today, though, I found my way to burger heaven via the spice rack in my apartment:

Freshly ground sea salt
Freshly ground pepper (McCormick peppercorn medley)
McCormick basil & garlic Perfect Pinch
White Pepper
Cayenne Pepper
Dried rosemary leaves

Okay, so it's technically seven spices with the McCormick basil & garlic blend. All I did was take each spice and lightly coat one side of the raw ground beef. I used less of the cayenne pepper and rosemary- and looking back, I probably should have broken up the rosemary leaves a bit. (Ground rosemary also would have worked, but I don't have that.) Then I shaped it into a patty and put it on this thing:

My sandwich maker that doubles as a George Foreman grill. (I made sure the patty was a little flatter than the last time I tried to make burgers- it turned out to be an inch-thick, mostly pink mess. Yuck.) Soon enough, I had my perfect burger:

Topped (or in this case of this picture, bottomed) with a spread of Alouette Light Garlic & Herbs cheese.

I think I prefer this to a hot dog.