Tuesday, August 31, 2010

No, They Wouldn't Say That

While I was taking my sweet time before leaving the apartment for work this morning, I caught a segment on the Today show (after the infomercial with Cindy Crawford pedding magic skincare with melon extract in it should I get it SHOULD I GET IT?) about stress and how to deal with it.

The "stress expert" said a little stress is okay because it motivates and energizes, but too much can take a real toll, mentally and physically. I know, earth-shattering.

Anyway, so at some point they touch on the subject of kids and stress, since young ones could be suffering as well.  The "expert" said you had to look for different signs indicating stress in children as opposed to adults, and that children will express their stress in a different way than adults.

This is a very loose reconstruction of what the "expert" said (you'll see why I keep putting that word in quotes):
For example, an adult may say "I'm so stressed" or "my heart is racing". We can't really expect kids to say things like that.

Instead, a child who is stressed may say something like "Ooh mommy, my tummy hurts" or...

"Mommy, I have loose stool."
Um, no.  No they wouldn't. 

If my kid came up to me saying that I would ask them what the hell their problem was and boy they must think they were so smart using the word "stool" and everything, and that they were smarter than their mom for using such a fancy word.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Spaghetti with Roasted Eggplant and Tomato Sauce

I am stuffing my gut to the fullest with a mid-afternoon snack of spaghetti with roasted eggplant and tomato sauce, but I am taking a break (to give my stomach time to stretch and expand to the newly arrived food) to let you know how I made it.

I know, I made an eggplant recipe again. Surprise surprise.


For sauce:
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cans (28-ounce) whole, peeled tomatoes, drained (I didn't drain them, and ended up with a shitload of sauce--next time I still wouldn't drain them, but would use 1 28 oz can and one 14.5 oz can) (oh and another note--as opposed to the 10 minutes simmering time that the recipe called for, I simmered the sauce for at least 45 minutes while dealing with the eggplant--if I were going with the shorter simmering time, I would probably drain the juice because there wouldn't be enough time for the water to cook off)
  • Handful fresh basil leaves, torn
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For eggplant:
  • 2 small (3/4 pound) eggplants, stemmed but not peeled, sliced 1/2" thick (I used a little over a pound of eggplant. I didn't use the skinny ones so I quartered them lengthwise and then sliced them)
  • 2 to 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
For miscellaneous:
  • 1 pound dried spaghetti
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, stemmed
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino, plus extra for serving
  • Handful fresh basil leaves, torn

By the way, this isn't all the ingredients. I decided the other ingredients weren't sufficiently photogenic.

Mince 5 garlic cloves (I used 4 because my bulb was becoming very bald) and finely chop 1 onion.

Heat 1/4 cup olive oil over medium heat.  Add in onion/garlic and saute until soft and translucent but not browned, about 7 minutes.

Crush tomatoes with your hand in a large bowl.  Add the tomatoes and juices to the garlic/onion.  

Bring to boil, then lower heat to simmer.  The recipe says to simmer for 10 minutes, but as with most tomato sauce recipes, I let the sauce simmer while I'm doing other things, about 45 minutes.

While the sauce is simmering, prep the eggplant.  Preheat oven to 425 and grease 2 baking sheets.

Cut the eggplant into 1/2" slices (I also quartered/halved my eggplants lengthwise because they were much bigger in the girth department than the skinny Asian eggplants I think the recipe wants you to use).

Place sliced eggplant in bowl and toss with a very generous amount of olive oil, chopped garlic, salt and pepper.  I'm not kidding about the olive oil--you don't want them to be dry before going into the oven. That will lead to sadness.

Lay out in single layer on greased baking sheets.

Roast for about 20 minutes, rotating pans from top to bottom and front to back, and flipping eggplant pieces halfway through.  You want the eggplant to be tender.  I actually ended up lowering the heat in my oven because they were going to "burnt" stage pretty quickly.  Also, for the last 5 minutes, I added the cherry tomatoes, halved.

Cook your pasta, shaving off 1-2 minutes.  Drain pasta and add to pasta sauce, tossing to coat. Cook for 1 minute, or until pasta get to consistency that you like.

Toss in eggplant, tomatoes, Pecorino, and basil leaves.

Toss well and serve, topping each serving with a little extra basil and/or pecorino, if you wish.


Thursday, August 26, 2010


The pugs had a very fun morning playdate with a terribly cute puppy last week.  While pugs are a lazy, couch potato breed to begin with (like doggie, like owner), this early morning activity really wore them out into pure and total exhaustion.

Note the egg-shaped protective napping stance of Rikki, resembling very much an armadillo.

And the clear and total downward tilt of the head, smooshed face-down into the couch--a clear signal to ensure that no one thinks of disturbing her.

Bunni was also not immune from the post-puppy slumber.  She prefers to perch on a pillow. The one that was lovingly handmade by her auntie and lives its life crushed on a regular basis under the pudgy weight of turgid pugs.

Note, unlike her sister, she does not take the extra safety measure of burying her head into suffocating cocoon-ness.

What she gets for that oversight is an unwanted kiss on the inverted nose, which leads to said kisser getting a look of utter disapproval.

Momma, you's a beetch

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Chicken Tetrazzini What Was I Thinking

So this is what happens when you don't read an entire recipe (again): in direct contradiction of your desire for easy cooking, you will decide to make something that seems simple but ends up taking ALL DAY.  Oh I read the recipe, at least the ingredients portion, several times.  In fact, I read the ingredients portion of not one, but two recipes--one from Giada de Laurentiis, and the other from Gourmet.  

I decided to be very creative and take a little bit of this and a little bit of that from each recipe. Giada's had a little more pizazz, while the Gourmet one used a whole chicken, poached, for the meat and the broth that would go into the final recipe.

What I completely failed to see in the Gourmet recipe (the cookbook version, it's not in the online version) is that the broth, with poaching time, takes approximately 4 hours. YEAH. Four STINKIN' hours.  It was a shitty day outside so staying in wasn't such a huge deal, but oh my GOD I was so bored by the end.  Tetrazzini is not supposed to be a hard dish. I mean, there are versions out there with rotisserie chicken and cream of mushroom soup--why oh WHY did I not take that route.

If you want something faster, I recommend the Giada recipe without any bastardization, or the one from Joy of Cooking, which I made a long time ago and which in my memory was not a marathon of death.

But made it I did, so you're gonna hear about it.  

Ingredients adapted from the recipes mentioned above:

  • 1 chicken, about 4 1/2 pounds, cut into 8 pieces
  • 3 to 4 quarts water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 TBS butter
  • 3/4 pound mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tsp mined fresh thyme
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
Cream base:
  • 3 TBS butter
  • a little less than 1/3 cup flour
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups of the homemade broth borne of your sweat, tears, and interminable time (oh you'll see)
  • 3 TBS medium dry Sherry
  • 1/2 lb spaghetti (I used fettucine because that's what I had leftover from another recipe)
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • plenty o pepa
  • 1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmesan for topping
Cut your chicken into 8 pieces.

I would show you how to do cut up a chicken into 8 pieces, but while I know the general directions, what I did to my chicken is not suitable for even adult readership. It was messy, it was violent, and I'm not sure exactly how many pieces I actually ended up with. Might have been anywhere from 7 to 12, who knows.

Put your chicken pieces, along with the backbone and breastbone (which you will have separated from your 8 chicken pieces), into a pot with enough water to cover by at least an inch and the salt.  I used about 3 quarts of water.

Cover and bring to boil.  Then lower heat, uncover, and simmer for 25 minutes.  Take pot off of stove, leave chicken in the pot, and let the chicken cool for about 1 1/2 hours, or until you can handle it with your hands (the chicken will continue to cook).

In the meantime, slice your mushrooms.

Prep your onion, garlic and thyme.

Heat 2 TBS butter in wide 4-quart saucepan over medium heat.  Add in mushrooms with a pinch of salt and cook until light golden brown, about 10 minutes.  

Toss in onion, garlic and thyme, and cook until onion is translucent, about 3 minutes.  

Add in wine and let wine simmer off, about 3-4 minutes.

Remove mushroom mixture to a bowl and set aside.

Is your chicken cool enough by now? Remove the skin from the pieces, and tear meat from bones in coarse pieces.  

Put skin and bones back into the pot with the broth.  Bring broth, with skin and bones, to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for about 1 freaking hour.

Strain broth into large bowl.  Discard the spent skin and bones.

Skim the fat off the broth--folks, it was about this point in the recipe that I was wondering what I had gotten myself into, and also really wished that I hadn't always negated the need for a fat separator (like this one) by claiming there was no space in the kitchen.  So despite my deft work with a spoon trying to skim the fat off the top of the broth, there was quite a bit 'o' fat that stayed with the broth.

Put the broth back into the goddamn pot and bring to yet another boil, and boil until reduced to 2 cups, about  another 1 1/4 hours.  

See how concentrated and golden it is?  I would have been more proud had I not wanted to set it on fire in frustration.

Cook your pasta, shaving off a minute from the cooking time, since it is going to be smothered with sauce and baked in the oven.  Drain pasta.

Make the cream sauce. Yeah we're not done. Melt the 3 TBS butter over medium heat.  Sprinkle flour over the butter and cook for about 3 minutes, whisking the whole time to avoid clumps.

Well, in reality it'll be clumpy at the start no matter how much you whisk, but just keep whisking anyway. It'll look better when you whisk in the liquids.

Gradually whisk in broth, cream, and sherry.  

Continue to whisk and bring mixture to boil.  Lower heat and simmer for 5 minutes, whisking occasionally.  

Oh wait, don't forget to let the mixture boil up and over the sides of the saucepan, down the sides, onto not only the surface of the stove, but underneath in the "drip pan", and then further down below in all the crooks and nannies of the gas-filled pipes which will require you to lift up the entire stovetop and use approximately 1 entire roll of paper towels, 1/2 bottle of Windex and a good part of your sanity and patience to clean.  Yes, don't forget about that part.


Ahem, anyway, this is kind of what the sauce will look like.

Add in 1/4 cup Parmesan, grated nutmeg, 1 1/2 tsp salt and however much pepper you want.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter/grease a 13x9x2 baking dish.

Combine the sauce with the pasta, chicken, and mushroom mixture.  I did this in two parts because it is a lot of tetrazzini and one bowl to mix together all those ingredients would have resulted in more spillage, paper towels, Windex, and this time very possibly big, salty tears.

Pour the mixture into the baking pan and sprinkle the 3/4 cup Parmesan over the top.

Bake until Parm turns golden, about 25 minutes.  Frankly, I was sick of this dish at this point and took it out at 25 minutes, although it still looked a wee bit on the anemic side. I don't care.

Ta-da! Now I am going to go pass out. Wait, no, I will make Kevin take me to Grom

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

How to Open a Bottle of Bubbly

I love bubbly. I adore it. It's so festive, it's usually quite tasty, and it comes in pink! Plus it goes by awesome names such as cremant (cwe-mah (all French-like)), lambrusco (lammmm-brUUUsco!), prosecco (prooo-SECCO!), cava and obviously champagne (cham-PA-gna!).  It's our year-round drink of choice at home (okay mine, I'm the one that gets home in time to visit the wine shop).  

Plus, bubbly doesn't have to be expensive--you can find yummy bottles of bubbly for under $20, and a decent number under $15.  For example, Kevin and I really like Gruet, which is made in, of all places, New Mexico. It's about $13 at our local wine shop (and they tend to overcharge, so we could probably find it cheaper elsewhere).

I've been at a gathering or two where I ended up with the happy responsibility of opening a bottle of bubbly, because others weren't sure how to do it.  I admit, the first few times can be kind of intimidating.  What if you blow a hole in the ceiling, or worse yet your FACE?  

Many of you know how to open a bottle of bubbly, and quite well.  This post is not for you.  It's for any of you out there that would like a few tips to become more comfortable opening one of these glass containers of effervescent joy. 

What you do is take your bottle of bubbly:

Take your sabre:

And lop that sucker off!

Then cheer like the champion that you are:

Okay I'm kidding, don't do that.  

If that simple missive didn't work, let me mention apparently you can kill someone if you don't do this correctly.  So just DON'T, okay?? Put the credit card back in your wallet and back away from sabrestokillyou.com.

Okay, I'll tell you what I actuallyl do.  It's a combination of tips/technique that I learned from some dude giving a tour at Schramsberg winery years ago, as well as reading a few pages of Great Wine Made Simple by Andrea Immer.  

Just to warn you, this isn't going to be the raucous, foamy (and wasteful) method employed by male professional athletes in a barely disguised attempt to imitate what they think is their "manlihood". Okay enough, get the image out of your head.  

This is going to be a bit more calm, and maybe boring, but really, when you're like me and just opening a bottle of bubbly when you get home, there's no reason to impress my pugs with my "manliness" and showmanship.

Ahem. Let's begin.  First take off the foil.  I'm assuming this will be intuitive for everyone but in case not (you don't have to raise your hand), here are some pics:

Earth-shattering, isn't it? Anybody catch Rikki in the background?

Now, face your mortal enemy.

Untwist the metal hoop of the wire cage surrounding the cork.  Andrew Immer even suggests the extra step of having a kitchen towel draped over the top of the bottle this whole time in case the cork tries to fly off the second the wire cage is loosened.  Don't believe me? Kevin took off the wire cage one time, looked down at the cork, and it flew up in his face. Thank God he was wearing glasses.  That being said, I forego the towel at this stage (but use it later).

So now that you're scared, keep untwisting, flex the sides of the cage a bit to loosen, and slowly remove (again, you can drape the kitchen towel if you want).

Now for twisting off the cork. This is the part for which I do bring in a kitchen towel if there's one around.  I use it to help my grip and for safety reasons.  

To remove the cork, the key word is "twist".  Do NOT try to just pull or push that sucker off. That will hurt somebody.  As I'm twisting the cork with one hand, I grab the base of the bottleneck with my second hand and twist in the opposite direction and to stabilize.  Twist as many times as you want, no one's counting.  The first few might be tough because the bubbly may have dried and gotten sticky. I usually use small, short twists.

At a certain point you will get past the initial loosening of the cork so that it twists relatively easily, and now comes the dialectic part.  While you twist, you want to pull up a bit, but at the same time you want to leave enough pressure so that the cork doesn't come flying off.  It's a push-pull situation.  Think of it as guiding the cork off--all the built up pressure in the bottle is the main force behind the cork coming off, you're there just to give a hand (pun).

This was the most interesting thing I learned at the winery--while the sound of a cork popping is fun, it actually is not the safest, and you lose more carbonation that way. Not sure if that's true, but whatever.

Anyway, so the idea is, as you're twisting, to help *ease* the cork out, with one side coming out first.  You don't have to twist it out all at one time. It's almost like prying the cork out, with a pphhzz sound (like a small, wheezing fart).

hello, i am here!

The sight of this makes me want to weep with joy.

Wait, no, this makes me sob with gratitude.

Oh wait, no, this makes me bawl with utter happiness.

Dagnabbit, now I'm catatonic.

If you're not going to be drinking your bubbly all in one go, and you drink bubbly often, it's worth getting one of these stoppers specifically made for bubblies.  I'd explain how to use it but I think I've insulted your intelligence enough today. Just pictures.

And that's how it's done.