Breakfast for Dinner, for Brunch

I’ve taken a long hiatus, mainly because I got trapped in that thought loop where nothing I made or ate was blog-worthy, which in fact made it absolutely blog-worthy, which in turn made it… just never get written about. This post is actually about what I had for brunch, but it was so completely tasty that I’m going on record with it anyway.

Yesterday I finally opened up the March issue of Food and Wine. Since I was a Gourmet-reading teenager, I’ve enjoyed receiving at least one food-related periodical during most years of my life. This issue was full of “Gaaaaah!” moments and I found that my love of things foodish was waking up from some sort of winter’s nap. Perfect timing: it just so happened that I was expecting a brunch guest for today and I couldn’t not make the porridge recipe (link below). I ended up slicing the bananas differently (in thirds, then halved lengthwise) and using brown sugar sprinkled over plenty of (salted) butter to cook them. I also turned them so that both sides were a nice light brown. Added about two pinches more salt to the porridge. The almonds were a nice touch. Didn’t use cream, but it could be pleasant. I paired it with multiple cups of strong coffee and some unfortunately-mediocre bacon. Four thumbs up, between my guest and me (good enough that my bowl was half-eaten before I realized I had not taken a photo).

http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/spiced-rice-breakfast-porridge

I’m Baaaack!

I plan to rest my chin on my palm before opening things up to post this, because I know I will find that it has been well over a week – perhaps two – since I last wrote. If I let my jaw drop, I drool on my keyboard and that has happened too many times already, for much better reasons than being aghast at the sheer quantity of my slackery.

Time disappeared somehow… I didn’t forget to eat. My children did not go hungry. But I was not present in what I consumed, for the most part. Welcome to Cautionary Tale Time, kids! This is why the Dinner Project exists.  And I completely blew it. Can I get an LOL?

I may have ruined my own precedent by having those three significant meals in a row. My dream at this very moment is to craft a witty Twelve-Days-of-Christmas sendup of the past twelve or more days (I couldn’t wait any longer – had I written on Friday as I had planned, it would have been exactly twelve days). I’m tired and don’t wanna. Probably because I haven’t been eating right.

A few nice things happened. I enjoyed a good buffet at an Indian restaurant near a friend’s house, about an hour away. They had just started an extremely reasonably-priced Sunday afternoon special. Most of the dishes came from regions of India with which I was not familiar, but when I passed along the report to an Indian person I work with, she was able to name most of them based upon my unschooled descriptions. The only obviously not-ethnically-Indian folk in there were my friend and me and our blue-haired teenaged waitress.  To me, that is a sign of ‘real’ ethnic food.

I ate a cheesesteak or two and a burger or two during childless times. There may have been fries and a couple of beers here and there, and a minimum of one milkshake. There were at least two nights with pasta and sauce (score two for Mom and the kids eating the same thing). One Friday night I planned to see a controversial blockbuster hit, which I found had sold out for the 7 p.m. show at 5:30. I bought my ticket for 9 p.m. and munched on the small bag of Combos I had stashed in my purse. I saved the combined bag of Skittles and M&M’s for the movie itself.  The sugar and adrenaline got me home through the snow (some dinners have an express purpose not actually determined until well after they are consumed).

I ate a pre-gallivanting dinner one afternoon – a good bit of heavy and fried food in preparation for an evening out with friends enjoying each other’s company and the kind of beer that is served in pitchers. The dinner itself was unsatisfying but the enjoyment of the evening more than made up for it.

Tonight I returned to the real-food fold. I threw chicken thighs into the crock pot with some barbeque sauce (I would not recommend Sweet Baby Ray’s Cola-Q for this, but it sounded good at the time) and sprinkles of salt and pepper. Tossed some rice into the cooker and frozen peas into the microwave. It was mediocre at best and the kids would not have anything to do with it, but at least everything was organic and had all of the right acronyms and none of the wrong ones. I’ll have a couple of nice lunches.

Why the Cheesesteak Didn’t Count, and Other Memorable Meals

I left off quite a while ago, seeing as I’ve had some frantic evenings lately with kid commitments, homework, all that. Same old story. During the past week and a half since the coconut-shrimp disappointment, I’ve had three memorable meals and (perhaps more memorable – or at least momentous) three nights when the kids and I actually ate the same meal for dinner.

Memorable Meal #1

I have a dear friend with whom it’s fun to cook. It’s fun to be with her in general, because we connect on multiple levels. But doing anything food-related with her is particularly fun because she knows even more than me about quality kitchenware of all sorts and we instinctively link arms to prevent each other from entering (and thereby maxing out credit cards in) a nearby Le Creuset store when we pass by. Not to mention that we are familiar with the “stir constantly” tired-arm phenomenon and we power through it like champs. We had been in need of a food-and-beverage centered mutual gabfest for quite some time, because that’s another thing us gals can do. Last Saturday, the calendaric stars aligned and we were able to have Epic Mac & Cheese night.

Back story: a number of weeks ago, I came across a Facebook post with a number of delightful-looking macaroni & cheese recipes. I printed out my favorites. So far I’ve made the same favorite twice, because it is simply incredible. The first time I made it, I paired it with white wine. The wine just didn’t stand up… this stuff cries out for beer. I decided on a tricky accompaniment of Brussels sprouts (my personal beer consultant was skeptical but recommended Chimay (gold label) and I was not disappointed). Without further ado, I present to you a heart attack on a plate: Bacon Pretzel Mac & Cheese (with Brussels sprouts shown in-progress):

macncheese   brussels

I have considered making a beer-cheese sauce and using ‘real’ crunched-up pretzel chunks, but I have yet to try it. I do recommend thick-cut bacon (use a full package but consume at least two of the slices with your beer while you are cooking), Pipette pasta, and taking a handful of bacon and mixing it in with the cheese sauce. Also mixing up the bacon with the pretzel crumbs and misting the top with oil or (what I had at the time) spraying it generously with cooking spray. I tossed the Brussels sprouts (big ones halved) in the bacon fat and let them sit in the warm pan with the lid most of the way on for about 10 minutes until they got beautifully green, then tossed them on a baking sheet and put them in with the mac & cheese. The only thing we could handle for dessert was single scoops of ridiculous dark chocolate gelato. We put this all down college-style in front of the TV, plates balanced on our laps, watching the movie Sideways and stopping it every 10 minutes or so to discuss every single “WTF is happening here?” moment in that wonderful flick. Truly memorable.

http://picky-palate.com/2014/08/13/skillet-baked-mac-and-cheese-bacon-pretzel-topping/

Memorable Meal #2 (the first of two dine-outs)

This week, my overseas work counterpart was visiting our site. The obligatory night out took place on Friday. A small crowd of us headed to the Federal Taphouse in Lancaster, where there are (I dare you to count them) 100 brews on tap. I decided to indulge in their Duck Confit Grilled Cheese. I’m a sucker for a fancy grilled cheese and this one delivered, hands-down, accompanied by some nice crunchy house-made potato chips. I feel awkward taking photos of my food in restaurants (it just seems wrong somehow… food porn should take place in the comfort and privacy of one’s own home is the way I feel). There were chunks of duck, and cheese, and something fruity. All very, very good things.

I also added a few things to my fledgling Untappd profile, including a Hard Root Beer which I’m quite glad I tasted.

Memorable Meal #3 (dine-out #2)

I went to the Baltimore Museum of Art with a friend yesterday. She recently had a birthday so I told her last week to pick someplace nice to have dinner after geeking out on the art and I’d treat her. She picked someplace Super Duper Nice, and it happened to be right in the museum. And they had several veg-friendly menu items for her, too. SCORE. This would be Gertrude’s, and it was really very good. Again, no food porn pictures. Had there been a soundtrack with said photos, it may have sounded vaguely pornographic. That. Good.

We started off with cocktails at the bar because our art-geekery took a little less time than expected. My friend had something pink with Electric in the name and it was so delicious that she ended up having two. Had my own cocktail not been so tasty, I might have tried to drink half of hers when she wasn’t looking. Or perhaps just ordered my own, but hey, that’s what friends are for, right? I had a Rosemary’s Lady, which was rosemary vodka, rosemary-lemon soda, and a rosemary sprig. Sounds a little heavy on the rosemary, right? Wrong. It was delightful.

I wholeheartedly participated in a meat transgression, enjoying pulled pork sliders to start. There was also bread and butter, since there’s always bread and butter, and yes that was nice, too. My companion went back to her veg ways with some non-crab cakes, spinach, and noodles. I savored a path through parmesan crusted cod with squash & tomatoes and risotto, topped off with a Gruner Veltliner because I wasn’t feeling the house recommended Sauvignon Blanc. I know only embarrassingly-teensy bits about wine but that just sounded right to me. Might have had something to do with the fact that I like saying Gruner Veltliner more than I like saying Sauvignon Blanc. All of it was so tasty that it didn’t even occur to either of us to share.

Dessert was pumpkin ice cream for the pumpkin fanatic, and a candy-bar-like concoction for me which was a little disappointing. I realized part way through that it was probably just too cold… kind of like drinking stout when it’s too cold. But I was not patient enough to wait for it to warm up and I kept sipping on my coffee and savoring small bites of chocolatey caramely goodness, and all was well. Thumbs up.

All of this leads to the cheesesteak I mentioned in the title. That was last Friday and it was just fine because I wanted something I could eat with a beer, but my Memorable Meal Trio blew it clean out of the water. If only I could eat this well three times in the space of a week more often. Oh, and one night I had this:

EVOL_Classics_BeanCheddarEnchilada

It was kinda good in that frozen-meal kind of way.

 

How Nostalgia Made Me Eat Cheap Frozen Seafood and Enriched My Life in the Process

On Thursday evening, it was so cold that the inside of my freezer seemed warm. That’s probably just what the company that makes frozen “coconut shrimp,” accompanied by “dippin’ sauce,” with the word Calypso printed somewhere on the box, intended when they chose their packaging art. It may have been the only thing they actually did right. So the other week I was in the grocery store, shopping while hungry (anyone who knows any pop psychology or really anyone who has any kind of common sense whatsoever knows this is a bad idea). I was primed for this type of purchase even unhungry – it was around New Year’s, I was feeling loneliness pretty hard, nostalgia had just won a major victory in The Head Games… it stands to reason that something reminding me of the first “upscale chain” restaurant that appeared in my area in the 1980’s, while tugging at my heartstrings with all its pseudo-Caribbean charm, seemed a perfect choice.  I bought it (it was also on special – double score). And then I ate something else on New Year’s Eve.

My usual Thursday night craziness involved getting the kids home and fed and ready for an evening commitment to be followed by homework. I fed them and realized that I, too, had to eat. Progress. Not just coffee. In quick succession there was: a decision to use “the big oven” in a two-for-one home heating bonus, a short internal debate over the original purchase including guilt/skepticism/judgment over the source of the seafood, and the final determination to enjoy the heck out of this stuff with its little packet of “mango chutney sauce” to be thawed under cool running water.

Obviously this went nowhere good. I will spare you, reader, the photo comparison. The uncanny resemblance of the redundantly-named “mango chutney sauce” to halfheartedly adulterated duck sauce. The uncrispness. The blah. Not to mention the lack of digestive success in considering a packet of mango chutney sauce a vegetable. I knew – knew – going in that I should not have high expectations, but dangit, there they were anyway. The whole experience was really a fantastic allegory for how and why we make choices. This morning, I did the requisite speed-reading on Calypso (both the goddess and the music), on Coconut Shrimp as a thing, on chutneys, on the history of upscale chain restaurants. It’s funny how obtaining all of that information satisfied me much more than eating that crappy frozen seafood. Silver linings.

Introduction and Week in Review

I’m a single mom who works outside the home full-time. Sometimes I don’t eat on weeknights. Not because I’m not hungry. Not because there’s no food. Just because I… don’t. I get my kids home in the evenings and they are clamoring for mac & cheese (hey, it’s organic) or chicken fries (hey, they’re not, but there are a few grams of protein in there somewhere). I’m lucky to get some slices of pear, or carrot sticks, or maybe a couple of green beans into them. And at 8:30 p.m. I realize that all I’ve had since an afternoon snack at work was multiple cups of coffee. Large ones. This must change.

The nagging feeling of a need for change is often swiftly beheaded by my trusty Pessimist’s Dark Sword of No. I have tried many ways to get rid of the Dark Sword of No, including putting it up for sale (ethical difficulties); offering to donate it to a pessimist worse off than myself (bigger ethical difficulties); and driving far out into the country and flinging it into a field, departing with tires squealing. I shouldn’t have squealed the tires because the sound drew it back. I opened the trunk when I got back home and it was right in there with the groceries.

Because of all this, and so much more, I have joined this food-focused tribe. I’m hoping that the Dark Sword will dull and eventually morph into just another plastic toy hanging out in my household’s version of a weapons locker. What better way to dull a sharp object than to use it to slice up food and perhaps open up a few cans to speed the process? Before the metaphor begins to stretch too far (like taffy… oooh… candy…), I give to you my week in review.

New Year’s Day: 2014 had not released its hold on me. My dinner was something of which I am not proud in any way but that it felt good in my mouth. It was purely comfort, it was all ‘junk,’ and I needed it like an addict needs one last fix. I went to my local drive-in. I bought a six-piece order of mozzarella sticks, a mini Fritos chili cheese thingy, and a small coconut cream pie milkshake. I ate these items  in front of a rerun on TV. It was glorious and I felt horrible.

January 2: On my way home from work, I picked up a steak. I roasted potatoes and onions and put some honey-glazed carrots on the side. I topped it off with a homebrewing friend’s most excellent stout. I felt like a grownup. It was incredible.

January 3: Forgot to eat dinner. Had a turkey sub for a late lunch and was still full at bedtime.

January 4: I realized after a lovely lunch with a friend and a productive afternoon that my children would be home after having spent several days with their father. In panic mode, I blew through a local drive-through at 7 p.m. and barely remember consuming four spicy chicken nuggets and a small chocolate shake. I would like to have made my lunch count for dinner, but it didn’t.

January 5: Ate thawed-out sloppy joes (2) with American cheese. One kid wanted mac & cheese. The other wanted chicken fries. We had three dinners except for the green beans. School has started up again and evenings seem hurried.

January 6: Sloppy joes again. Both kids had chicken fries and slices of pear. Down to two dinners. Progress.

January 7: All of us ate the same thing. Rotini with sauce. Today was not progress, it was luck. But I’ll take it. Reflecting on the week has given me a few ideas. Time to at least put a tarnish on that sword.