Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!

It's New Year's Eve, and we have planned an evening at home. It's what we always do, stay home, put the kids to bed and then flip channels past infomercials and drunken stage acts until Dick Clark counts down to the ball drop. This year, my kids have decided they want to stay up with us. We shall see if they make it!

To celebrate and make this eve memorable, I decided to cook a special dinner. I hope not to disappoint you, if you were looking for another humorous mishap, but it came out perfect. What a relief, to have something go right in the kitchen every once in a while, and most especially, when it counts on a holiday.

The menu:
Mango Pork Chops (I left out the peaches from the recipe because my four-year-old is allergic to them.)
Potato Pancakes (Hubby had requested latkes recently, so this was the night.)
Steamed Broccoli

Since it was so yummy, I wanted to share the recipes with my friends and readers. I was inspired by the beautiful mangoes that came in our co-op basket this week (thanks to Bountiful Baskets!). The pork chops came out moist and full of both tart and savory flavors. The latkes were so good we all had seconds and stuffed ourselves silly.

Now I am going to plant myself on the couch with a bottle of Martinelli's and giggle at the ridiculous programming automated for your pleasure this evening.

In honor of the occasion, I wish for you success at every endeavor you choose. A toast to the year gone by, and cheers for the year to come!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Where there is smoke, there is..., in the kitchen.

This is a regular scenario in my home. I am in the kitchen cooking dinner. My husband comes home and the first words out of his mouth are, "What's burning?"

Tonight we had pizza for dinner, by request of the kiddos. My seven-year-old made sure to ask me at the store while we were buying the ingredients, "Mom, please don't burn the pizza this time, okay?"

I didn't, not this time. But the last time, well, that's what prompted her to say that.

About three weeks ago, hubby and I were heading out to a concert in Tuscon, about two hours south of where we live. On a rainy Monday night. He had to rush home from work, and the plan was that we would eat dinner quickly, then get on the road. His brother was coming over to babysit.

The girls asked me that day for pizza for dinner. Easy-peasy, I thought. We picked up some yummy Amy's brand pizzas at the store and pre-made salad. We got home, I popped the pizzas in the oven and dumped the salad in a bowl.

Then I remembered that I needed to print out the directions to the venue. So I went to the computer to mapquest the theatre. See a pattern here? Me on the computer=fire in the kitchen.

A few minutes later I rushed out of the room and raced to the kitchen to get the pizzas out. Too late. When I opened the oven door, smoke billowed out and immediately filled the room. My kids and brother-in-law hopped off the couch and coughed out, "What happened?"

Not understanding how they could miss the OBVIOUS evidence of burned pizza, I cried out, "I ruined dinner!" My husband had just arrived home from work, saw the horrible look on my face, and announced, "I'm going to McDonald's. What do you want from there?"

Even Happy Meals didn't fix the kids' moods. They had wanted pizza that night. We left for the concert with my two children's eyes watering from a combination of disappointment and smoke inhalation.

The next day, I was folding laundry that had been left on the couch from the day before. Something wasn't right... I picked them up and inhaled the scent of burned pizza, captured in my family's pajamas and socks.

So today, I was very attentive to the pizza in the oven, not leaving the kitchen except to announce that it was perfectly cooked and ready. I hope the previous homemade pizza disaster will now be forgotten.

(Fat chance, I know.)

(Would you believe, that my brother-in-law peeled off and ate the unburned toppings from the charcoal pizzas that night?)

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Lucky Pie

Christmas dinner was a prime example of my ineptitude, hidden by stunning good luck and a little (desperate) ingenuity.

The menu:
Turkey (a 12-lb. organic, free-range bird ordered from my favorite butcher shop)
Cornbread stuffing
Mashed potatoes
Green salad
Homemade sourdough rolls
"Frantically Getting Ready for Christmas" Blackberry Pie
"Safeway Lied to Me" Banana Cream Pie

The guests: my husband's parents and his older brother, in addition to my family of four. Cooking for seven people, not too bad. Right?


The results, broken down:

Turkey -- Ingredients: check. Oven bag: check. Roasting pan: check. Okay, so far so good. Seasoned with white wine, vegetable stock, garlic, salt & pepper. Outcome? Dry. Now I realize what I forgot--to add some fat. At Thanksgiving, I also used olive oil to baste the turkey. That one was moist. Oops.

Cornbread stuffing -- Thank you, Mrs. Cubbison, for making this easy for me. Followed the instructions on the box, stuffed the bird, and the stuffing came out just fine. At least this dish was, um, uneventfully average.

Mashed potatoes -- While the peeled potatoes were boiling, I was on the phone with my husband trying to direct him to an open grocery store to get some last minute forgotten items. Sitting at the computer looking up holiday hours meant that I couldn't smell the potatoes burning on the other side of the house. He walked in, empty-handed from the fruitless driving around, and helped me rescue some of the spuds from the smoking pot. We smelled each one to detect any residual odor, and found that the majority of the batch was fine and only the bottom layer was black and stuck. After washing out the pot, I mixed them up with more veggie stock, salt & pepper, and the dish was passed around the table without a question or comment, except "Yum." Whew.

Green salad -- If I had the talent to screw this one up, then I wouldn't even bother with the rest of dinner. You'd find me at Boston Market instead.

Homemade sourdough rolls -- I love Krusteaz Sourdough Bread Mix. I put the mix in my bread machine with warm water and the yeast packet, set the dough cycle, then split the dough into little balls, let rise, then bake. So easy, and without starter. Except... the box must have been in the cupboard for a while. Actually, a long time. The included yeast packet was a dud. The rolls didn't rise, and we actually ended up with little unleavened flat sourdough-flavor bread disks. (Note to self -- remember to use fresher yeast with the other box still in the cupboard.)

"Frantically Getting Ready for Christmas" Blackberry Pie -- My kids spent the night of the 23rd on a sleepover at their grandparent's house. My in-laws made this offer so hubby and I could get ready for Christmas without little elves getting underfoot or making ourselves stay up all night. Since we had this time, I decided to get a head start on Christmas dinner by making dessert a day before. My preschooler had requested blackberry pie, so I had bought two pie crusts and two cans of berries. I had intended to make two pies with crumble topping, rather than one two-crust pie. Well, I should have bought four cans of berries. First mistake. After pre-baking both crusts, I realized that I would only get one pie's worth of filling. Second mistake, not being able at this point to make a two-crust pie. So I went forward with the crumble topping idea... which didn't crumble, but congealed into a batter. I dropped this by spoonfulls on top of the berries and baked it anyways, hoping for the best. It turned out alright, more like a "betty" than anything else. (The name is a nod to the film "Waitress," which you should see if you like to eat pie.)

"Safeway Lied to Me" Banana Cream Pie -- Since I had a leftover baked pie shell wrapped up in the fridge, I decided on Christmas morning to use it for banana cream pie. Except, I didn't have all the ingredients for the quick version (namely, banana instant pudding). This (along with milk, eggs and margarine) was one of the things for which I sent hubby to the store. I called all the surrounding grocery locations, and only found one Safeway that was open on Christmas day. The recording said they were open from 8 am to 2 pm. Hubby arrived at 1 pm to a throng of angry people ready to break in the doors of the store, which had closed at noon. There was a feebly scribbled note taped to the door announcing the revised hours. The steady stream of disappointed shoppers including several husbands clutching paper lists and cell phones, sighing head-shaking grandmothers moaning over missing ingredients and a pair of rednecks cursing with multiple inappropriate adjectives and nouns because they couldn't find a single open mini-mart or grocery store to buy beer. Forced to improvise, I decided to make the custard for the pie from scratch. With Eggbeaters. Except I only had egg-white Eggbeaters. Not good. With hubby dutifully asking if he could help in the kitchen, I set him at the stove whisking the custard. And whisking. And whisking. And complaining that his arm hurt from the whisking. The custard wasn't thickening. My mother-in-law arrived, so I put her to whisking. And it still wouldn't thicken. Hm. So I added cornstarch, and wow! It thickened! Like that! Once it was thick enough, I poured the "custard" over the bananas in the pie shell and chilled it. The mixture tasted fine, but it wasn't the best banana cream pie I've ever made. I blame Safeway.

It all made for an interesting and memorable Christmas dinner. My eternally hard-to-please father-in-law gave me probably the best compliment to date: "Michelle, by the time you're sixty, you'll learn to cook." I guess that means I am on my way.

I hope you had a happy, and successful, Christmas feast!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


I put on a good show, but the truth is that I suck at what I do.

This may not always be true, but I seem to always be attempting projects requiring more skill than I possess, and I have never taken classes to be able to refine any of the skills I wish to have. I mostly learn from flailing about, making mistakes, living life.

I don't get how some people are just born with talents. Like beautiful singing voices, or ears that tell fingers where to find musical notes on a piano. Some people can bake a gorgeous loaf of bread every time, or whip up knitted socks before I have even finished asking them where they bought that fabulous yarn.

I am envious.

So I plod along, doing what I know how: following recipes, puzzling out a crochet pattern, ripping stitches out of my sewing over and over, trying to get things right.

Sound familiar?

Then my blog is for you, too. Welcome!