the things we do for love…

September 2, 2009

Most of the married population will tell you that after each year passes, the anniversary becomes less and less extraordinary, save for the biggies (7, 15, 25, etc…). That three-year anniversary that falls smack-dab in the middle of a work week leaves much to be desired. Suddenly the two of you decide you are just fine with noshing on Chinese take-out accompanied by your favorite bottle of vino while catching up with your tivo. Throw kids in the mix and the night changes even more drastically, leaving the two of you to snack on your “pre-dinner” dinner of hot dogs and green beans, catch some Yo Gabba Gabba, read a few books, do the bed-time routine and then pray your head doesn’t plop into your vegetable lo mein as you try to make it through your romantic dinner without crashing. The reason I even bring this up is because my own anniversary is rapidly approaching and, you guessed it, it happens to fall not only in the middle of the work-week, but the day before I am set to go out of town. Throw into the mix that we do, in fact, have a young curly haired toddler dude that rocks our world and you are starting to see my dilemma.

photo courtesy of *Peanut (Lauren)s flickr photostream
photo courtesy of *Peanut (Lauren)’s flickr photostream

The hubby and I celebrate everything through food. Christmas morning, it’s a giant breakfast spread and we even break out the espresso machine that has gathered some dust since my child-rearing days (the steamer was so loud and I would rather die than wake a –finally– sleeping infant). So my mind immediately leaps to what I can cook for our anniversary dinner, after a long day at the office, before heading out for a trip. I am thinking that I can prep my dinner the evening before, so that all I have to do is prepare it when I arrive home. This leads my thoughts to a casserole-type of dish. But come on, it is supposed to be a special occasion, right? A tad frustrated and armed with the drive to find a somewhat elegant dish that I can prepare the day before, I went to, where else, my beloved foodnetwork.com. I quickly found what I would fix! A Lobster Mac and Cheese – easy enough to prep the night before and throw in the oven, day of yet fancy enough because it had the lobster in it. Sidenote: the hubby loves lobster. I myself am more of a crab person but the dish fits the bill and hey, anything soaked in two kinds of cheeses, surrounded by pasta and covered with more cheese is good in my book.

Realizing that I would make this Lobster Mac and Cheese even though I wasn’t so crazy about lobster got me thinking of all of the (food related) sacrifices I have made over the years in my marriage. Things like:

1. Leaving the last bit of cream for him even though I like my coffee creamier and could have used it all.
2. Routinely preparing some of his childhood favorites that I find to be less than desirable (read: smoked sausage with cabbage).
3. Buying the lighter French Roast coffee because he states the kind I like (Columbian or Espresso Roast) will “put hair on your chest.” Wuss.
4. Leaving his ego intact by keeping quiet as he mans the grill and oftentimes overcooks my pork.
5. Re-rinse the dishes he has loaded into the dishwasher because they still have food stuck on them – while he is not looking, of course. And still say thank you for “doing the dishes this time.”

These are all little things, sacrifices I make in my food life as a married woman and I really can’t complain because he is the best eater a gal could ask for. And I know for a fact that he’s shared a couple of his least-favorite dishes with me just to make me happy. The things we do for love. I’ll let you know how the Lobster Mac and Cheese turns out. Am thinking I’ll just do a salad with it. It looks like a pretty rich recipe and I’m certain I’ll blow a bundle on the lobster so all I will be able to afford is a bag of greens.

I remember about 4 years ago catching an episode of Barefoot Contessa in which Ina Garten was preparing a huge spread for an elegant dinner party she was throwing. In the midst of making some of the most refined (and French) dishes, she pulls out her trusty, classic white porcelain place settings to set the table.  In this particular episode, she made a point of saying that using white place settings ensures an elegant, classy and clean-looking table while still feeling cozy, comfy and welcoming.  Not to mention, what you are really wanting to showcase is the tasty goodness you have prepared and what better way to do so than with a white backdrop? Since then, I’ve been slowly adding to my own collection of white porcelain place settings along with serving dishes and must say that I agree with Ms. Garten – they are divine and really make the food possess this “come and get me” attitude. In retrieving my mail from the box a couple of days ago, I happened across the newest Sur La Table catalog (yes, I still get catalogs, I know it’s not “green” but it’s one of those things I can’t help – I live for my catalogs) and noticed they are having a “Stock-Up Sale” on all of their whiteware. If you feel like your old place settings just aren’t cutting it but don’t want to drop a load of money on something you will only break out twice a year, then this is your lucky day! Pop over to their site and check out this amazing deal. This whiteware is the best investment. It’s classy enough for dinner parties, will coordinate with any fresh flower arrangement or centerpiece and yet still practical enough for the regular Saturday night spaghetti dinner with the hubster and kids. And best of all … it’s on SALE!

and another thing…

August 31, 2009

One more note on the supposedly wondrous Houdini. While at our favorite place on the lake this past weekend, the hubby purchased some imported beer to accompany the killer burgers we had grilled and guess, just guess, what tool he used to open said refreshment? That’s right, the wine key! Yet another reason the wine key beats out the Houdini – it’s multi-functional!

Nostalgic vs. Trendy

August 20, 2009

I used to bartend. Not sure I have shared that yet but yes, for about 4 years, I was slinging drinks at one of the newest establishments in town. This was no “Cheers” kind of bar, mind you, we’re talking a bar that has come right out of Cocktail. Part of the training had us flipping bottles and chucking full 22 oz. beers through the air at each other. Even Tom Cruise would have been impressed. They were some good times. Having fun while making money – how could they not be good times? Of course, the bartending gig could only run its course for so long and for me, it ended upon graduation from college. But during the ‘ole bartending days, I became well acquainted with certain “tools of the trade,” in addition to a hefty arsenal of coveted drink recipes (if you’re lucky, I’ll share some with you eventually).

One of tools that I still use today is the basic wine key. I still remember the first day I learned how to use it and how amazed I was at how simple it became to open a bottle. I was used to fussing with those openers that you have to screw all the way down and then pull the arms up while praying the cork doesn’t just come halfway out or, worse, break in half. I was excited to not engage in a fight between bottle, cork and opener and over the years, I shaved more and more time off of opening a bottle of wine utilizing my dear, dear wine key. Now that I have explained the deep relationship I have with my wine key, you could imagine my surprise when recently confronted by a certain Houdini character that I had heard nothing about. I was doing a cousin of mine a favor by bartending his rehearsal dinner (very sore feet, by the way, I had forgotten how hard it was) and assumed the establishment would have a wine key. When asked by myself for a wine key, the woman who had been running around frantically handed me this contraption called a Houdini. It became very apparent very quickly that I had no idea how to work this fancy piece of, um, plastic?? Awkwardly maneuvering the large object in my hands, a cousin notices my little issue and loudly says, “You don’t know how to use a Houdini?!” First of all, I am not an attention-lover so I really didn’t care to have about 10 people turn and stare at me. Second of all, I did not like the emphasis put on the you part of that statement. I was puzzled for a moment. Does she mean you as in, the one who always has a glass of wine in her hand? Naaaaah. She means you, the one who used to be a bartender. Yes, that’s it. I was feeling a little better once I realized she wasn’t calling into question the frequency of my wine consumption but was not feeling all that much better because I then noticed that she was dissing my wine key! After about 3 attempts, she showed me how to open the bottle and discharge the cork from the amazing (please) Houdini. I managed to use it the rest of the evening without much trouble and I was grateful for that. But really, who needs that piece of equipment? It is huge and would take up a lot of space in my tiny wine cabinet drawer. It reminded me of the silly things that I have seen for the kitchen in the past. Things like toast tongs. When I saw the hefty price of 31.49 at Target that made it even sillier to me.

In an economic state where minimalism is the buzz-word and just about everyone is checking and re-checking their bottom line, the Houdini seems to be a splurge not worthy of splurging on. Perhaps I am over-reacting to this Houdini simply because I am a fan of nostalgia. Maybe the people who love their Houdinis will think that I am old school or not a true “wine enthusiast,” (which I’m not) and that doesn’t bother me a bit. I’d rather spend that $31.49 splurging on my favorite bottle of wine that I can open with my trusty, rusty, old, reliable, fits-in-your-back-pocket for a picnic wine key.

Who Knew?

August 18, 2009

So, I’ve been catching up on my DVR’d episodes of Top Chef Masters and while I am not in love with it as much as I am Top Chef, it still sucks me in. Let’s face it, Kelly Choi is no Padma but she does a decent job and I really do enjoy the fact that the Master who wins each challenge gives the winnings to the charity of their choice.  Plus, the show gets these little breaths of the original Top Chef through snippets of big Tom C., the lovely (so glad she is back) Gail and this last episode even had some of my favorite previous contestants. And I do so love getting the opportunity to watch some of these chefs work – one in particular, but we’ll get to that. First, I have to talk about Rick Bayless! Such a nice guy, such amazing food and so humble. I am one of those people who ventures towards Mexican cusine when selecting an item on the menu anyway, so you get me watching Rick Bayless putting out some of his high-end, authentic, fresh and innovative Mexican cuisine and I am hooked. And then there is that personality that is just so lovable.

Art Smith was fun too. He reminds me of this couple who owns my favorite B&B in Michigan. They love cooking, entertaining, love saying “honey,” and all that good stuff. Watching him makes me want to pay them a visit asap. As much as I like Art and his pet names for all of the chefs and Rick Bayless in all of his previously stated glorious-ness, I have to say that out of everyone on the show, I am addicted to Michael Chiarello. I remember seeing him when he had a show, Easy Entertaining, on Food Network a few years back and I really did like some of his recipes but on Masters, it’s a whole different Michael. I am watching these intros that Tom C. and Gail do when they discuss the featured chef’s accomplishments and hear Tom, “he’s been out of the restaurant business for some time…just got back into it…got a lot to prove…” along these lines and they are showing clips of him in the kitchen of his place, Bottega, in – where else – Napa Valley. The man owns a vineyard for goodness sake and cooks amazing Italian food, who wouldn’t love him?! So anyway, the clips, I’m watching them and noticing, they don’t even look like the same chef. He is rougher looking, stout with salt-and-pepper hair and very much in charge looking. No fancy sweater with khakis to be seen. A look I remember him sporting on just about every episode of EE.

 After watching that first episode, I gathered that the Michael from Masters is the Michael who is truer to himself than the ‘Easy Entertaining’ Michael. And hey, nothing wrong with that…money is money, right? I’d dress like Mr. Rogers and be hokey if someone threw a TV Show my way. Here is what I think, though: I am thinking his fan base is going to grow hugely from being on this program and viewers seeing him in this whole new light. Especially with the viewers of the female variety. The look, the attitude and the food he puts out – seriously, he might be giving some of the hunky (and younger) Top Chef contestants of the past a run for their money. Move over, Sam from Season 2! If you didn’t catch the latest episode that included Dale attempting to chest-bump Chiarello and get in his face over some fridge space, you really should check that out. I know it was a little Jr. High and I will admit that he had been a jerk for testing the previous contestant’s knife skills, but I was still glued.  All caught up and awaiting the finale, I realize now that I am a larger fan of his, and in turn this show, than I thought possible and hope that I am not alone.

Dinner tomorrow night with a friend…

Secret Weapon

August 15, 2009

I thought it would only be appropriate to provide a tip in my first post, given that the reader likes to feel as though he/she leaves with something out of their time spent.  Let’s just not jump right in though; have to make you sweat, right?  One of my biggest weaknesses is under-planning.  I’ll admit it, I am the one who is always up for anything and when it gets right down to it, forgets what the heck she was up for in the first place.  Ask my friends and they will tell you (although I think I have many of them fooled by now), that I am Miss Let’s Do It until it comes down to doing it.  One of the most frequent occurences of such behavior always happens amidst the workday.  I will be bored, sitting at my computer when, oh yay, an email from a friend comes in and in my hurried response (because I’m at work, hello) I say wouldn’t it just be so lovely if you would come for dinner tonight and we would have the best time.  Of course, I belive this as I am typing it and a good time is always had but what starts out as “this will be so fun” turns into rush-hour, pick up at the sitter’s, hubby needs to shower so no help there, kind of stuff and you’ve casually invited friends to dine.  Everyone knows pasta is awesome for entertaining…easy to re-warm, stretches a buck, pairs great with the Chainti that most dinner guests bring and honestly, who doesn’t love pasta, especially when accompanied by some good crusty bread?!

Ok, so for the weapon part.  This is so bad but you should know what you are dealing with up front.  I am a subscriber (can you even say subscribe when it’s free?) of the Food and Family mag that Kraft puts out.  I know, I know, but I warned you, not a snob and this magazine has gotten me out of many hairy entertaining situations.  My secret weapon came from one of their recipes.  If you are entertaining friends with pasta, you are obviously going for a restaraunt-style pasta dish, right?  Too bad you worked all day and barely have time to change, let alone be a slave to the stove.  Rest easy, my friend, the folks at Kraft have got you covered.  Simply purchase your favorite pasta sauce – I really like the spicy tomato basil variety – simmer it on low in your sauce pan and once it is warmed through, add 1/3 of a brick of cream cheese.  It melts into the sauce beautifully and makes a creamy, light sauce that everyone will think is homemade.  To go the extra mile, I often sautee garlic and onion before adding the sauce and sometimes will add criminis while simmering.  Even by itself, it makes a darn good sauce and people will think you stood over a simmering pot.  If you think I am crazy (and/or lazy) that’s fine and if it isn’t good enough to try on your week-night dinner guests, try it on yourself.  Trust me, you will not be disappointed.