Thursday, December 21, 2006

Oh, the weather outside is frightful

And my commute should be quite delightful. But since I'm to go with the flow... let it snow let it snow let it snow.

I've only been planning the dinner I was going to make all week! Probably longer. Eric and I have been trying to get together, but something always seems to come up! Finally, tonight things were going to change and he was going to bring me good wine. He, Pierre, Matt and I were to sit down to something scrumptious, but what? I was wracking my brain. First, there's the stove to contend with, which I'm not even going to get into at this point, because you've got to be sick of me bitching about it. Then there's the actual meal. So far, I've been skating along - no pun intended (look at that poor guy in the ditch up there!) But, I'd been making my most tried and true recipes. These are dishes I could cook in the dark, or oven a molten electrical element, whatever the case may be. But Eric and I have been cooking in tandem for years! I couldn't feed him my equivalent of PB&J. Besides, I don't think that I've cooked for Pierre before and I'm really quite vain about my culinary reputation. (Yeah, never picked up on that, didja?)
Weeks and weeks of pouring over my tomes of cuisine. To add an extra twist, because it's Christmas this weekend, I thought it would be a good idea to keep it healthy and light.
The very second inspiration struck, the rain turned to snow and my dinner plans were all but demolished. Stupid White Christmas Danny Kaye Singing/Dancing Snow Gods!! I had a great dinner menu.
So, I give you, the Dinner that Never Was:
Warmed pita wedges and smoky hummus for appetizers
A salad of orange wedges with shallot slices and red wine vinaigrette
And entree Smoked trout on caraway flat bread with shaved fennel, chevre, Parmesan slivers, drizzled with lavender honey.
Doesn't that sound fancy pants incredible! But, no. Now, I'm going to have to brave the treacherous roads just to get to my house, where we barely even have any groceries! I'm going to end up eating Bumblebee Tuna out of the can.
Sigh. At least it's still healthy, right? Yeah, whole lotta cold comfort that is.

Monday, December 18, 2006

A HA!!!

I have done it! Mission: SUCCESS!! The Oven of Food Destruction has been brought to its broiler drawers! I made my Tuscan Soup and it was really, really good dammit! Tony and Sarah showed up with a bottle of one of my favorite table wines, the Bonny Doon Big House Red. We drank beer from Missoula and Madison, two towns where the guys had gone to college. (Matt's a real college conniesuer.) We snacked on the wonderful cheese that I picked up at Kowalski's and then had the soup. It was so good. Granted, it's one of my foolproof, favorite recipes, but then yesterday, the ultimate test, I made my enchiladas in the inferno of the Oven del Diablo. They were wonderful. Try it out in your own oven (of hopefully more sustainable temperatures.)

Enchiladas del Oven de Destrucio`n

4 small chicken breasts
2 shallots - diced
2 cloves of garlic - minced
1 pastillo pepper (or 1 serrano and 1 jalepeno)
Handful of Cilantro, chopped
2 green onions - sliced
2 diced tomatoes or can of Rotelle Tomatoes
Salt and Pepper
1 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
6 flour tortillas
1 jar of your favorite salsa

Prehead oven to 350 (or your best guess, if your stove happens to suck rocks.) Bring a pot of water to boil and add chicken breast. Poach until cooked through, when there is no more pink in the middle. 7-10 minutes. While the chicken is cooked, in a large bowl combine other ingredients through tomatoes. Shred chicken after it is cooked and add to the bowl. Liberally salt and pepper and toss together. Adjust seasonings to taste. On large dinner plate pour enough salsa to thinly coat and set flour torilla on it. Put a small handful of cheddar cheese in the middle of the tortilla. Add a handful of chicken mixture. Tuck ends of tortilla over the chicken and then roll up. Place seam side down in a greased 9x13 pan. Repeat using all of mixture. (makes approximately six.) Top with a little bit of the shredded cheese and bake. There's no telling how long this is going to take, if you have an oven with an ill-disposition. The enchiladas are done, when the tortillas have browned and the cheese is crispy. This used to take about 1/2 hour to 45 minutes in my old oven. It took 20 minutes in this one.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

El Oven Del Diablo

The only way to conquer your fear is to face it headlong! Tonight I will conquer this POS stove. I will make it my bitch.
Our friends Tony and Sarah are coming over tonight . I've promised them food.
They may starve. We'll see.
Expect an update tomorrow... If I survive! Mwha ha ha! HA Ha! Ha!

An Ode to Taco John's

After weeks of sucking down Lean Cuisines and so called Smart Ones, I broke down and went to Taco John's yesterday. It was glorious. I was inspired to epic lengths.
Taco! Taco! in my sight
From the store of tummy delights
What immortal hand or eye
Can feed my terrible hunger nigh?

In what distant heap of fries
Ole`s and softshells cause my sighs
In what sack, do I aspire
For the taco of my desire
And then stupid reality came crashing in. I've got to get my picture taken on Saturday. Anyone know a crash diet that can shed a good 20 lbs in three days? No? Hrmpf. What good are you people for anyway! I'm going to sip a Crystal Light and sulk now.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Gang

Here's the last picture I'll post for now. I know it's a little dark, but there's Aisha in the foreground, Heath on the couch, Andy in the back and Scottie clapping.
Also note the empty wine bottles representing only a fraction of those imbibed. We had so much food, wine and fun. And that's just the way I like it.

Matt brings me my cake, while Zack lurks, plotting evil deeds

Me, Andy, Julie and Scottie

Our direction was "Look like you're having fun."

Fancy cake next to Oven of Death

Another year older

Thank you, everyone, who made my birthday party what it was. I had so much fun! Laura came up with the concept and Andy designed these divine inviatations. It was so much fun having a bunch of people in the house, too. I'm getting more and more used to the place. It's finally starting to feel like I'm not just on vacation, but I actually live in a quiet, peaceful house of our very own.
We had all manner of wines and I wish I'd written them down to archive here. But, I didn't. So, since I claim that the blog is about the food, I'll detail that here.
Using the magic of puff pastry Andy spent pretty much the entire night pacing back and forth from the (overheated) stove to the table with Procuitto pinwheels and pesto puffs. They all disappeared as soon as she would put them down on the table. They were wonderful. The piece d'resistance was the cake and Laura went all Martha Stewart on me. It was a double layer chocolate cake with pink frosting and coconut shavings. She'd shaped it like a little hand bag! There were Milk Duds on floral wire for a handle and a coconut Hersey's kiss for the clasp. The cake was super dense and the frosting was so buttery. It was wonderful.
My mom made her famous clam puffs, but nobody would have been able to tell you that. Matt, Julie and I scarfed them down before the first guest even arrived. I made what I was calling an Italian Club Sandwich. I heated some olive oil on the stove top (easy to do, what with the uncontrolled inferno of heat that rises from that contraption every time I turn it on) I sprinkled in some dried Italian herbs and a dash of red pepper flakes. I infused the oil with the flavors. I sliced in half a loaf of focaccia and brushed the bottom later with the infused oil. I then layers on mortadella, teeny (perfectlly sliced thanks to the original anal retentive chef, my sister) tomatoes, shallot and provolone cheese. I put on the lid and sliced them into one inch squares. I'd wanted to put on a layer of arugula, but my new store, Kowalski's on Grand, doesn't seem to carry it.
Everything was delicious, the thougtfulness that all of my friends possess was really humbling and, by the by, I looked FANTASTIC! Hopefully, sometime this week I'll be able to post some party pictures.
So far, I think I'm going to like leaving my 20's in the dust.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Somebody's got a birthday coming....

Day by Day by... Day

As I mentioned in my last post, we're having a hard time adjusting to not waking up on Sunday (or more realistically, I wake up on Sunday. Watch Sunday Morning on CBS -- best TV show ever. Switch over to the Food Network and my homegirl Paula-- That's right honey! More butter and mayo! Maybe a little Rach, BIG HEAD FREAK Giada and just as I'm about to be forced to suffer through that drunk on Semi-homemade screw up perfectly good food, Matt stumbles out of the bedroom, wanting to know if I'd like to get breakfast. At 11:30. Breafast. Whatever.) So, we'd bundle up and walk up the street to Barbette. We'd sit in Danielle's section, this little wisp of a sweet thing that wears the cutest skirts. Get some of their wonderfully strong coffee. Matt would always get the Eggs Benedict and I'd always try to get something different. We were regulars and we were comfortable. What to do now that they're so far away?
Last Sunday, I was starving and booted his butt out of bed as soon as I couldn't stand it anymore. We no longer have cable, so I didn't have to wait until that Boozy Sandy McBooze-hound and her crazy matchy kitchen drove me berzerk. We went down West 7th to the Day by Day. I'd remembered being there once before and liked it. The name makes Matt sing some song I don't know and I'm always leary of the Recovery Program. I don't exactly "like to abstain." I find it hard turning my booze over to a "higher power." I don't "work well with others." They must have been able to tell because when we walked in and waited, next to a sign telling us to do just that, in front of a completely empty and welcoming looking booth, it was a good 10 minutes before anybody showed up. 10 minutes might not seem like that long, but staring at a perfectly good seat, jonseing hardcore for coffe and sweating under five winter layers, it's an enternity!!! Plus, we went from no line, to at least a dozen people behind us, some with kids, all of them boring holes into the back of my skull, like it was my fault for refusing to admit that I even have a problem. Like they know what it's like to be hungover and surrounded by recovery people! It's not easy! I have problems, sure, but I'm cool. I had can handle it. It's not like I have a problem! Not like that!!!!
I was so glad when the waitress showed up and stuffed us into the back in a very private, sunny booth with a view of the street. She (thankfully!) left a whole pot of coffee on the table and left us to contemplate our options. I opted for the Huevos Rancheros, two sunny side up eggs served with hashbrowns, salsa and a tortilla. For an extra $1 I could get avacado. Matt got the heart-buster, or something like that. Eggs, sausage, bacon, cheesey hashbrowns and eggs. Extreme, but it was the only option for meat, potatoes and eggs, which was what he wanted.
My eggs were good, the plates were warm, which I always think makes such a difference. The salsa was all kinds of oddly shaped veggies and huge chunks of raw onion. Not spicy and really not all that great. I liked having the tortilla, though. I carefully placed one egg in there with the superfluous cheese melted atop, a fork full of hasbrowns, some salsa and a little bit of the avacado, wrapped it up, took a bite and made a mess worthy of a 1st birthday party. Everything smooshed out and went everywhere. It was damn tasty, but impossible to eat. The avacado was underripe and really cold, like it had just come out of the fridge. I'd defintly say that you can skip those if you try it.
Matt's breakfast was wonderful. The sausage was good link sausage and the cheesy hasbrowns had a nice, crisp crust under the cheese. All in all, it was a good breakfast, but a little pricey. The prices were comprable to Barbette, but the level of ingrediants weren't the same. This was pretty much diner food served at gourmet prices. I'm sure we'll be back. I'll be avoiding that avacado.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Bennett's on West 7th

When we were moving in, Matt pointed out this place Mitch's to me. Looked like yet another dive bar to compete with the myriad of dive bars in the vicinity of the new house. Later, when we were moving in, I noticed that there had been a big change. The building was now a friendly shade of yellow there was a beckoning sign with jazzy little martini on it. It looked, dare I say, classy. Do they do classy on West 7th? Seemed suspicious.
Andy was our first official visitor to the house. Unfortunately for her, by the time she showed up, I was so sick of moving and packing and shuffling boxes that we needed to escape. Matt suggested that we go check this Bennett's place out. He said that he'd heard that the people were originally from Duluth, but had no connection to Bennett's on the Lake in the Fitger's Complex. (Everyone knows everything about everbody in this neighborhood!)
We drove the block and a half over, because it's been way too damn cold out for me to consider hoofing it anywhere. It had a really cute supper club appearance on the outside, but inside there's defintely an identity crisis brewing. The tables are covered with white linens, but there are TV's playing in every corner of the room. The prices on the menu are all over $11 per entree, but there's a bar with a bunch of dudes in racing jackets. What the hey? Matt pointed at a cluster of nearby tables, "That's where the pool table was."
So, we took our seat at a booth near where the pool table most recently was. Matt explained that the place has been sold and bought back at least four times in recent history. Mitch keeps getting stuck with the place. Apparently, he's gotten on in years and would really like to retire, but each time he sells it, the new owners drink themselves out of a business by treating the joint like their own personal clubhouse.
This time Mitch sold it to a guy, Joe Bennett, who has experience in the food business. Apparently, he's worked for the company that owns Pazzaluna and the St. Paul Grill. Joe was there that night, shaking everyone's hands and making them feel welcome. Of course, this made me feel weird and akward. I wasn't entirely sure that I was going to like the place and I didn't want to feel bad on top of not enjoying my over-priced dinner, if that was the way things were going to work out. They had a great, long list of martinis, but I was so cold, all I wanted was a glass of wine. The wine list leaves a lot to be desired. I got a glass of cabernet for $6.50 that was doable, but not very good. I was cold and when the going gets chilly, the chilly muscle down cheap, red wine.
Our salads arrived and looked like your usual fare of iceburg and winter tomato, but the dressing!! Oh, it was lovely! Hands down, that's the best ranch dressing I've ever had! And when I dipped my still steamy warm from the oven bread stick in the dressing food alchemy was acheived! I even ate most of the tasteless lettuce just as a vessle for the dressing.
When our food arrived I kept sneaking fries from Matt to dunk in the dressing. Yummy!! And they were really good French Fries, too. They tasted fresh and homemade, not like they were delivered via freezer bag from Sysco. Matt had ordered the Bacon Cheeseburger (one of the cheapest things on the menu. I think it was $8 -- so I lied about the entree thing. Except, that's a sandwich, so really, that doesn't count. So, I didn't lie after all. Neener neener neener.) I had ordered the Cajun Chicken Pasta at $12 and Andy had half rack of ribs with gratin potatoes. My pasta dish would have been wonderful, if only they'd called it something else. It didn't taste very Cajun at all. It was served with a mushroom cream sauce and there were some misplaced andioullie sausage in the bottom of the bowl. I'd say that was their only stumbling point. If they'd said Chicken Fettecini served with a creamy mushroom sauce I would have been sold and called the dish a huge success. It took me a while to readjust my expectations for it to taste okay. Nothing was bad about it. I was jut a victim of false menu advertising. That was the only stumble when it came to the food, though.
Matt's bacon cheese burger was cooked to perfection. The cheddar cheese had melted nicely, under a couple of strips of thick cut smokey bacon. All of this was piled onto a moon sized kaiser roll. This thing was massive! No wonder my pasta was left to languish, this was one of the best burgers that I've had in town, I am not kidding. There was plenty there. We could have split this and both been full. (Well, actually we kind of did.) If you go and order a burger, make sure you ask for a side of ranch for those fries!
Andy marveled at her ribs. I didn't taste them, even though she offered many times. I couldn't keep my hands off of Matt's burger. (He has to share. It was in the vows.) I did try a bit of the potatoes gratin, Idaho taters cooked in a boat and topped with ooey gooey cheddar cheese. They were a little under seasoned, but who's going to argue with a cheesey potato? Not me, my friends. Andy had every intention of only eating a coulple of ribs, but couldn't help herself and finished the impressive half rack. I'll have to try them again.
They are slowly working up to make the complete over haul on Mitch's, but it's getting there. I've seen a sign that they now serve breakfast. We're going to have to check it out this weekend. It won't be a replacement for Barbette and my favorite breakfast waitress Danielle, but it might just do.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

It's Like We Don't Even KNOW You

Oh my God, I'm loving St. Paul! Well, honestly, I don't think it's directly St. Paul, it's just that I live in a house that happens to be situated in St. Paul. That apartment shit is for the birds! If I ever have to go back to sharing a wall with 20- something coke fiends-- shoot me! This is great! The open space, the sunshine filtering in has warmed me and my sagging house plants even in the deadest of this winter that has suddenly beseiged us! As an added bonus, Matt has to wear pants on a regular basis for fear the neighbors think he's a pervert.
Over all, I'd like to make some changes to the house, but I guess that's all part of the nesting process. (OMG, I'm nesting. Like Bob was sailing. I'm nesting!!! I'm nesting!!) The downstairs bedroom is painted like an It's A Boy Harlequin costume and I realized this morning that the color of the bathroom too closely resembles the calling cards left by geese around Lake of the Isles. But still, a house it is, with nary a neighbor in sight, God bless 'em.

The real problem with the house is the stove. It SUUUUCKS. The entire kitchen is painted an interesting mustard color, that somehow, I'm workin' with. I mean, mustard, it's a food tone. That's doable. Harvest gold electric range that's off kilter? Nu'uh. That's really not going to work for me. I've barely attempted to cook in the new kitchen because of this monstrosity. As soon as I figure how to save and blow some pennies on a decent dining room table, I'm focusing my energy on replacing The Thing with something cheap and gas powered. What I did attempt was some simple fried eggs over easy. They kept sliding down and on top of each other. I had to keep taking the pan off the heat to adjust the screaming hot element. Things aren't going to go well in my kitchen until this thing gets fixed. In the mean time, there's been a lot of use of the microwave and the nearby bars.
Things to note: A rueben at Skinners can be made even better by subsituting pepper jack cheese for the Swiss. The Cajun Chicken sandwich is healthy because there's no cheese (ignore that mayo!) And their creamy chicken soup is the first gross thing I've ever eaten there. But for $2.50, I got over it.
J.R. Mack's food should never be ordered by anyone under the age of 80. Unless you lived through the depression, this food is not worth eating.
I tried a (nearly burned, but that wasn't the problem) pepperoni pizza by Target's brand Archer Farms. It tasted, okay. They have the round and the itsy bitsy pepperoni like DiGirono's did back in the day. Then you get to the crust and suddenly you're eating a sugar cookie. Really, it tasted exactly like a sugar cookie without any frosting or extra, cruchy sugar. I purposely didn't read the ingrdients 'cause I know that really cannot be good for me. Sugar, pepperoni pizza?? I've probably added a couple inches around the rotund middle I'm already sporting for the holiday season. I do NOT need to shake like a bowl full of jelly when I do anything.
The greatest thing I've found is that at some stores, Kowalski's for sure, and occassionally Lunds, you can buy the Oaxacan tamales from La Loma. La Loma is located in the Midtown Global Market and Mercado Central. Their tamles are incredible. I haven't had a chance to try anything else on their menu, but I love this things! They are spicy hot chicken tamels wrapped in a bananna leaf and steamed. You can purchse them for $5.99, for two. It seems more expensive than the pork or regular chicken varieties where you get half a dozen for $4.99 and only two of these monsters, but really. They are that good. All you have to do is pierce the plastic and pop them in the microwave for a couple of minutes and Voila! You're in Mexico. (Excuse the mixed phrasing. I don't know the Spanish translation for Voila. Eso si, que es!)