This Progresso Commercial Fills Me With A Very Specific Kind Of Rage

Every single time I see the above commercial for Progresso’s Recipe Starters I let out an audible sigh of rage. It’s not that a company has created something to help home cooks get one step closer to their meal that bugs me. Instead, I find the character of the Progresso chef here to be so patronizing and insulting that it boils my blood. Why shouldn’t that lady make her own fire roasted tomatoes or churn her own butter? You can buy tomato sauce or spend a day making your own, like I did. I don’t want to get too soapbox-y, but there really is something primal and satisfying about spending the time in your kitchen making some of the basic ingredients we tend to take for granted and just pick up off the shelves. I know people are busy and can’t always do that — which is the need the product fills — I just wish they’d taken a less insulting approach to getting their product out in the public consciousness.

Cooking Smitten Kitchen’s Linguine With Tomato-Almond Pesto (Sorta)

As my go-to, single person recipe blog, I spend about as much time flipping through Smitten Kitchen’s archives as I do going through books by people like Betty Crocker, Alton Brown and Michael Ruhlman. We’re just on similar wavelenghts and she has a killer eye for good food. So, I was pretty excited when I came across her recipe for Linguine With Tomato-Almond Pesto. I was far less excited, however, when I went to the grocery store that week and they didn’t have any basil. I wasn’t really prepared to sub in another recipe, so I decided to wing it and the results weren’t half bad.

I followed the recipe for the most part, but added and subtracted a few things based on what I had on hand. Obviously, the basil was out of the pesto, so I tried making it a little more flavorful by adding some olives, but I don’t think that flavor really came through in the finished product. I also decided to heat up some of the frozen Thanksgiving turkey and warmed that up in the same pan I toasted the almonds in.

When the sauce was done whirring in the food processor, I added it to the defrosted chicken and let those guys get to know each other a little bit while the pasta finished doing its thing. Before draining, I pulled out some of the pasta water which I later mixed back in to thicken everything up a bit. I haven’t made the recipe yet as written, though I intend to at some point, but I can say that mine was pretty almond-y. It did feel like it was missing a little something without the basil, but overall it felt like a pretty good save.

Wok This Way: Barbecued Pork Lo Mein

I’ve said in previous Wok This Way posts how surprised I’ve been by the ease I have cooking in the wok. Depending on how I’m feeling a particular day that can either be a good thing or a bad thing. If I’m really looking for a challenge or to try something different, it falls on the negative side of things, but if I want to make something really simple but also always tasty, it’s a good thing. When flipping through my copy of Grace Young’s Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge I came across her recipe for Barbecued Pork Lo Mein (page 273). While reading through the ingredients, I saw that I would need some Chinese Barbecued Pork which took me to page 285 and another recipe. I figured the multiple day process would make for a more interesting dish.

Of course, because I’m still less than a novice when it comes to cuts of meat, I got the wrong kind of pork. Instead of getting shoulder or butt I wound up with Blade Steak. I can’t remember now if it’s because they were out of shoulder or what, but that’s just what went down. Anyway, you rub sugar over the cubed up pork and then get it in the marinade which includes soy sauce, hoisin sauce, dry sherry, beans sauce, sesame oil, white pepper and honey. Once that’s all combined, the marinade goes into the fridge. The next day you broil it. If you’re doing shoulder there’s a whole rack system involved and water, but since I was using a different cut and don’t actually have all the necessary equipment, I just cooked my pieces on a foil-lined baking sheet and everything turned out fine.

The actual cooking of the main dish actually takes a lot less time than all that. I was pleased to discovering my grocery store carries both Chinese round noodles and packages of bean sprouts, so I picked up the appropriate amounts and felt like this one turned out a little bit more authentic than it might have otherwise. I liked the candy-like quality of the pork which popped in different bites along with the noodles and firmer bean sprouts. Next time I’m going to get the right kind of pork though, I even know where it is at the store now!

Cooking Sweet & Spicy Beef With Egg Noodles

Last week I wrote about a few meals that I made a while back that had kind of fallen away from memory. I remember them not being bad, but didn’t really remember enough about them to accurately evaluate them here on Monkeying Around The Kitchen. This post is about a recipe from around that same time, but it was so good that it’s burrowed its way into my brain and wants to become a recurring player in my kitchen.

The meal in question is Sweet & Spicy Beef With Egg Noodles as seen in Michele Urvater’s Monday to Friday Pasta (page 132). It’s based on some Middle Eastern flavors and turned out to be uniquely tasty. I also appreciated that I didn’t have to buy too many ingredients to whip this up as most of them were already in my pantry or spice rack.

The recipe calls for cooking a clove of garlic, onion and chili in vegetable oil (I usually use olive oil with pasta, but I’ve found that it lends itself better to Italian and Greek dishes and stands out in a bad way sometimes when working with a different spice palette). I skipped the chili because we’re not super into spice here, but got the garlic and onion cooking like normal. I also mixed allspice, cinnamon and cumin for use later on.

After the onion and garlic cook for a bit, then you throw in the spices followed by the ground beef in. Once that starts to brown you insert tomato puree (which I didn’t have on hand, so I went with a combination of V8 juice and jarred tomato sauce) and let that simmer until the egg noodles are done cooking. After that, you just mix it all together and wind up with what reminded me of goulash a bit in look, but comes off with a much sweeter, tangier flavor.

The recipe also calls for garnishing with plain yogurt, sour cream, feta cheese or Asiago. I decided to go with both sour cream and Feta and I really enjoyed how the mildness of the sour cream became a kind of intermediary between the pasta and the bite of the feta. Just thinking about this one is making me hungry. Looks like I’ll be adding it to next week’s menu!

A Few Forgotten Recipes: Giada’s Orzo Stuffed Peppers & Jeff Mauro’s Meatloaf Sandwhiches

giada's orzo stuffed peppersOne of the problems I have with this blog is that, even when circumstances come up that delay me from posting, I’m usually still cooking. That means, when I do get the chance to sit down and write about what I’ve cooked, I’m often left with several pictures of food that looks good that I vaguely remember making and don’t really remember eating. But, I hate just deleting all these pictures and hope that some day I might have a spontaneous memory that pops up. By posting about these forgotten meals here, I hope to give my future self a record of what I cooked.

Anyway, above you can see the finished product of my attempt at making Giada De Laurentiis’ Orzo Stuffed Peppers. I want to say that we enjoyed this meal and from looking at the recipe, it doesn’t look too difficult to put together. I like that she mixed it up with this one and included mint and orzo, which I’ve also used when making food in my wok instead of rice. This isn’t the first of De Laurentiis’ stuffed pepper recipes I’ve tried, I’m a big fan of her Couscous-Stuffed Peppers With Basil Sauce, which I’ve made a few times now. jeff mauro's meatball sandwichesHere you can see my attempt at making Jeff Mauro’s All-American Down-Home Patriotic Meatloaf Sandwich which, again, I want to say turned out well. You basically make a meatloaf and a sauce and combine the two on bread with cheese and pickles (I went with dills because bread & butter pickles gross me out). I also tossed on some mayo because it’s not really a sammich without mayo.

I want to reiterate that I haven’t forgotten about these dishes because they were bad, I would have definitely remembered something bad, it’s just that my memory — especially my taste memory — fades more the longer away I get from something unless it was mind-blowingly amazing.

Cooking Rachael Ray’s Reuben Mac & Cheese

I love a good mash-up, that old peanut butter and chocolate two great tastes that taste great together thing. Give me a good comic book crossover or a movie that combines two of my favorite genres well and I’m a happy guy. That also translates to food, of course. I mean, if you like mac and cheese and Reuben sandwiches, why wouldn’t you like a Reuben Mac & Cheese?

I first had this dish, invented by Rachael Ray and posted over on FoodNetwork’s website, years ago when my wife was making dinners. She knew of my separate loves, saw this recipe and figured I’d like the combination of the two. Of course, she was right on the money and it has become a somewhat regular addition to our menu (as much as I repeat dishes, which isn’t all that often, really).

As far as the making of this dish goes, it’s not all that different from making any other mac and cheese. You’re cooking the pasta while also putting together the cheese sauce and making breadcrumbs. The newness comes in the ingredients, which include rye breadcrumbs that you make and the inclusion of spicy mustard, corned beef and sauerkraut which you can’t really see in that first photo. The result is the creamy goodness of mac & cheese combined with the salty brininess of corned beef and the sourness of sauerkraut along with the bitterness of the toasty rye bread crumbs on top. So, really, you’re getting everything but sweetness in this dish which makes it a real party for your tongue. It’s amazing how versatile of a dish mac & cheese can be!

I was glad that this recipe turned out so well because I also recently made The Neeleys’ Macaroni & Cheese and was disappointed. Even though it had crispy bacon mixed in the lack of  breadcrumbs and Swiss called for in the recipe really lessened it. So, it was a bummer that the recipe didn’t really do much for me, but on the positive side, it made me realize some key components in my like of mac & cheese recipes. I love the toasty breadcrumbs and that added crunch, it’s as much a flavor thing as a texture thing, but the Swiss cheese also adds a depth of flavor, an almost-sourness or bitterness that makes things a little funkier. I also learned that bacon can and should be added to mac & cheese whenever possible.

My Little Kitchen Helper

tiny helperAnyone with babies or toddlers knows that cooking with them can be challenging. If you’re really lucky, you can schedule their naps for cook time, but for me that’s usually around 5 PM which doesn’t work with her bedtime. When she was a tiny baby, I’d put her on her play mat right outside the kitchen or in her bouncer. That gave way to giving her toys and hoping she’d just hang out and putting her in her eating seat so I could cut meat. But, she’s not always super excited about me focusing on something that’s not her. I’ve been halfway through trimming a chicken breast when she’s wedged herself between myself and the counter and forced me away from it. What I’m saying is that it can be tricky.

I had a kind of kitchen epiphany a few weeks back after changing the battery in the smoke detector. We’ve got this three step ladder that I used to perform the task and then leaned near the kitchen. That’s when it hit me that it would be perfect height for Lu to climb and “help” me in the kitchen. I give her a big bowl, a small measuring spoon and the masher and she’s usually good. Sure, I’ve got to be a lot more careful about where I put my knives and ingredients, but she seems to get a kick out of it.

When that doesn’t work, I put Sesame Street or Disney on in the living room and hope that soothes the savage beast long enough for me to finish making dinner!

Bonus Food Pic: Janie’s Uncommon Breakfast Sandwich & Potato Hash

potato hash at janeysWhile visiting my inlaws for Christmas we went to our usual breakfast spot, Janie’s Uncommon Cafe. I like Janie’s because the food’s always good, they’ve got a solid regular menu and also usually have some interesting specials. The last time we visited, I wasn’t feeling super hungry, so I went with the Uncommon Breakfast Sandwich which the menu describes as “A fried egg with bacon, sausage, black forest ham and cheddar cheese on an English muffin.” I wasn’t sure if that would be quite enough food and I happened to see something called Potato Hash on the menu and decided to try that.

The sandwich was good, but that hash was ridiculously good. “Shredded Idaho potatoes grilled with sauteed peppers, onions and cherry bacon.” It’s such a simple sounding dish with only four ingredients, but it tasted so damn good with the saltiness of the bacon mixing in with the starchiness of the potatoes and the crunch of the vegetables. This doesn’t usually happen, but I liked this dish so much that I want to try and make it myself. I’ll keep you posted on how that goes.

Making Tony Packos Chili Dogs

The only thing most people know about my home town of Toledo, Ohio comes from MASH. That series starred a guy named Jamie Farr who, aside from Katie Holmes and Adrianne Palicki is probably the most famous person from there. His character, Clinger, was also from Toledo and therefore he represented his hometown by way of Mud Hens and Tony Packos references. The former is our minor league baseball team and the latter is a local restaurant that specializes in hot dogs and pickls. In fact, you might have seen the restaurant on food shows because they have any visiting celebrities sign a hot dog bun and then said buns get put on display.

To be honest, I don’t have a long history with the restaurant, at least not when I lived in town. I think I only ever went to one of the restaurants once and then they opened one in a local supermarket called Andersons that I went to a few times. But, when I met my future wife and she told her parents where I was from, her dad got excited because he’s a big MASH fan. As such, I started giving them Tony Packos pickle sets. That’s really where I discovered how tasty their pickled products are. I’m a fan of their dills but also their banana peppers.

Anyway, when my parents visited for Second Christmas, they brought with them two packages of Tony Packos hot dogs and two cans of their chili. After they went home, Em and I wanted to just have a relaxed dinner in, so I popped open the cans of chili (probably could have gotten by with just one in retrospect), warmed them up on the stove and then got a pot of water boiling for the dogs. I also got the steamer basket ready and put the buns in there. Unfortunately, I put just a little too much water in the pan and those buns got ruined. We had more, so those went back into the basket with less water with a lid and we were good to go.

The chili is actually spicier than I remember, but I thought the Hungarian hot dogs and chili popped so well with some basic yellow mustard. I probably should have cut up a few onions and mixed those in there too, but that’ll be next time. If you’re curious about trying Tony Packos yourself, either go to Toledo — they could use your tourism bucks — or click that link above and you can order a ton of stuff, including these handy dandy gift packs (one even comes with a Mud Hens hat!).

Second Christmas Remembered: Traditional Ruhlman’s French Onion Soup

The last thing I made for Second Christmas was French Onion Soup. It also happened to be the most complicated and worrisome of the group because you basically cook these onions for hours until they get to the right color. Because of the long cook time I was worried that I might let them cook too long or not enough, but thankfully I seemed to get it dead on and we had our French Onion Soup!

But, I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself. The recipe itself from Ruhlman’s Twenty is called Traditional French Onion Soup (page 75) actually comes with pictures which was really helpful for such a long-form dish. One thing I didn’t mention in the other posts is that I went for a solid no-meat meal because my mom is a vegetarian. When I mentioned I was making FOS, she asked about the beef broth and I told her it didn’t have any. I hadn’t read the full description of the recipe, but Ruhlman writes that a lot of FOS recipes call for broth, but that’s not how it was made in France where poorer houses wouldn’t use more-expensive broth when you can get a solid flavor from just cooking onions in a tablespoon of butter.

Of course, the key to this dish is the onions. I sliced up almost a full bag of white onions on the mandolin which was faster than cutting them by hand, but still felt kind of clunky. Anyone, those went into the Dutch oven with a tablespoon of butter and cooked for about four hours. After you get to the right shade of amber, you add in the water, taste and then alter with vinegar, salt, pepper and sherry to get the flavor you want. Then you put your dried-out bread on top and the cheese (I actually used the Emmenthaler shown in the post about Mac & Cheese from the same meal), pop that under the broiler and have FOS a few months later. I actually thought it wound up being a little sweeter than I usually like, but as a whole I thought it wound up being a really good dish. The whole meal might have had a lot of cheese and onions, but I think it worked well together! Happy belated Second Christmas!

Second Christmas Remembered: Ruhlman’s Mac & Cheese With Soubise

As I explained yesterday, I made what turned out to be a pretty great Second Christmas dinner for my family all from Michael Ruhlman’s book Ruhlman’s Twenty. In addition to the Leeks Vinaigrette, I also made his recipe for Mac & Cheese With Soubise (page 87). As regular readers — and anyone who knows me — will remember, I’m a huge fan of macaroni and cheese and have been since my Kraft’s Blue Box days. But, I also like trying new recipes and seeing how they compare to one another. I don’t know if I’m ever going to find one that will become the default version, but if so, this one might be up for the spot.

This particular recipe has four kinds of cheese involved including basic Swiss, sharp cheddar, Emmenthaler (which I’d never had before, but is another kind of Swiss) and Parmesan for the top. If you look closely at the picuture, you’ll see that there’s Asiago on top there, but I just grabbed the wrong block for the picture.

The major difference between this recipe and other ones that I’ve made is that you not only carmelize the onions, but also put the entire pre-cheese sauce in a food processor to whir it all together. Aside from that, though, you’ve got a recipe that’s similar to other ones I’ve tried. As always, I got all my ingredients as prepared ahead of time as I could, separating out spices and whatnot that would be added together. This all made the process a lot easier. Also aiding the process was the fact that I used the food processor to cut the cheese up, a trick I always use for mac & cheese and also got this whole thing ready in the morning. You can get 95% of the mac & cheese ready, refrigerate it and then pull it out when you’re ready to go. The only thing you don’t add before the cooling process is the buttered breadcrumbs. When we were ready, I got those together, put them on top of the dish and in it went into the oven.

The finished product had a very creamy, very cheesy feel to it. My wife heard somewhere that you can actually replace milk in a mac and cheese recipe with water. I’m going to try that next time I make this or any other similar dish. I just didn’t want to try it like that the first time as I was making food for a larger group than just the three of us. That is a lot of dairy as the recipe is written, so if that’s something that bother’s your system, watch out.

Second Christmas Remembered: Ruhlman’s Leeks Vinaigrette

I know it’s well past Christmas and even our Second Christmas (celebrated with my parents a few days before New Year’s Eve), but I made a pretty great series of dishes for that meal and wanted to both share them with everyone and post so I remember how well they turned out. I don’t usually cook for more people than my wife and daughter, an experience that’s almost always super casual, but it’s fun cooking for more people every now and than. Actually, when we move into a house I’m looking forward to having people over and actually doing dinner for larger groups, but that’s not really the point of this post, is it?

Anyway, as I mentioned in another post, my wife got my Michael Ruhlman’s Ruhlman’s Twenty so I put my new book to good use and came up with three dishes that not only complimented each other well but allowed me to prepare them throughout the day so as to not put too much pressure on me at any one point. While I worked on all three dishes concurrently, I”m going to break them up by dish and try to remember which parts I did ahead of time.

We started off with Leeks Vinaigrette (page 211) which was incredibly easy to prepare. The first thing I did was prepare the four hard boiled eggs the night before. On the day, it was all about the leeks and dressing. You actually prepare the leeks ahead of time by cutting off the green parts and then slicing them in half, but not cutting through the very end, so they stay together when steaming. The steaming only takes about 10 minutes and then you put the leeks in the fridge until you need them.

I also prepared the ingredients for the dressing ahead of time too. For the dressing, I put the vinegar, mustard and honey in a bowl and also got the shallots in the Magic Bullet container and then popped them in the fridge as well. When it came time to actually get the salad ready right before dinner, I moved the stuff from the bowl into the food processor, added the remaining ingredients, whirred the shallots in the Magic Bullet, chopped up the hard boiled eggs (white and yellow parts separately) and then prepared the salad. You cut the leeks at this point, put one half on a plate, add the vinaigrette and then put both kinds of egg and green onions on top.

I’m not usually a big fan of hard boiled eggs, but I thought they added an interesting texture to this first course. With the dressing and the faintly onion-y flavor of the squishy leek, it was a really solid, simple and interesting salad to kick our dinner off with.

Pizza Party: Giada’s Carmelized Onion, Sausage & Basil Pizza

I had such bad results last time I made pizza that I not only didn’t bother posting about it, but also haven’t attempted to make any since then. That was a few months back. I was feeling adventurous a few weeks back, though, and decided to give Giada De Laurentiis’ recipe for Carmelized Onion, Sausage and Basil Pizza a try. I think one of the problems I had when I made pizza on my own is that I put too much stuff on the dough as it cooked. The somewhat wet ingredients got the dough moist and it didn’t cook all the way through, plus there were some structural integrity issues.

The beauty of this recipe is that it doesn’t have a lot of ingredients AND it’s easy to put together. You do need a little time, though, because you’ve got to carmelize the onions. After that, though, it’s just cooking the Italian sausage (I went with sweet instead of hot) with the onions and that part’s done. Since I bought dough instead of making it, I just had to roll that out into the desired shape, load up the pie with the meat/onion mixture and the blue cheese and pop into the oven on top of the pizza stone. That cooked for about 16 minutes and we had dinner after throwing basil on top.

In addition to the ease of cooking, I also really liked the taste of this pizza. I really like cooked sweet sausage and it mixed super well with the sharpness of the blue cheese. The basil hung around offering little fresh bursts of goodness that really rounded everything out. Next time I make pizza, I’m going to do the dough as well, either following Giada’s recipe or the one that’s in Michael Ruhlman’s book Ratio. Should be fun!

Bonus Food Pics: Grinding Meat For Chili

As I mentioned in my Christmas post, I got a meat grinder that attaches to the Kitchenaid mixer. I finally gave it a run through the other day in an attempt to make Pat Neely’s Famous Beef And Pork Chili again, which involves both ground beef and pork butt (I think the beef was tenderloin, I wound up grinding two different kinds of beef for two different recipes).

Anyway, the process I read about for grinding in Ruhlman’s Twenty suggested throwing them in the freezer for a while to get them cold and tight. Then you cut it into cubes and put it through the grinder and bingo-bango, you’ve got ground meat. One thing I noted, though, was that I should have trimmed some of the fat off the pork because it got pretty stringy in there towards the end. That made the cleaning process a bit difficult, but otherwise, it was super simple.

The recipe itself turned out okay. I know I praised this recipe before and I don’t think the fault lies in there, but instead in my lack of seasoning. I ran out of cumin and don’t think I properly replaced it. I also added some chicken stock for reasons I can’t quite remember forgetting that this recipe turned out a little bit watery the first time I made it. Ah well, it’s still super good and even though I didn’t get that strong bacon flavor as much this time around, it felt good knowing I ground everything myself.

I’ve Got A Spider-Fan On My Hands

my spider-man mug

When I moved away from home — can’t remember if it was to go to college or to come out to New York and work for Wizard because my memory’s pretty bad — my aunt Kristi gave me the mug you see above. As you can clearly see, it clearly features a classic image of Marvel’s longtime superstar character Spider-Man who you probably know more from movies, cartoons, action figures, video games and mugs than comics. This mug had a place of prominence on my desk all through my Wizard career and luckily made it home after I got canned. Since then, it’s been in my regular coffee mug rotation at home and has gotten bumped up to the big leagues after I broke the Blue Beetle mug my wife painted for me which I wrote not one, but two photo diaries about.

Anyway, now that the mug is in more regular rotation, I’ve been telling Lu about Spider-Man a bit. She even has her own take on his name that sounds something like “Pie-Der-Man.” Today, in an effort to get away from Disney’s atrocious live action line-up that seems too immature for my not-even-2-year-old. At first I tried putting on the 90s cartoon that first taught me about the character, but the music in that one’s a little more intense than I remembered. There’s only one real thing that seems to scare Lu and it’s music. If you remember the opening of that show has a pretty gnarly electric guitar piece that does not stand the test of time by any means. Luckily for both of us there’s like eight Spider-Man cartoons and they’re all on Netflix Instant. I decided to go as old school as I could and went with the one that premiered back in 1967 (which you can buy as a DVD set too, of course).

60s spider-manThis is actually the Spidey cartoon I’m least familiar with. I actually don’t think I’d seen a full episode, something I can’t say about the rest of the batch, though I’ve seen the memes around the interwebs. This one is much more Lu’s speed right now as the music is actually pretty funky and groovy and it’s overall very kid-friendly. Like every other Spidey cartoon I’ve seen, this one mainly focuses on introducing the Web Head’s rogues gallery (at least the first dozen or so, which we all watched today). There were two parts of the story that surprised me at least from a mythology standpoint: first, Peter Parker’s main love interest is actually Betty Brant instead of Mary Jane or Gwen Stacy and second, Peter isn’t presented as a high school student, but mainly as a photographer at the Daily Bugle when not in his Spidey gear. I thought that was an interesting point.

Anyway, I started playing these episodes for Lu and wound kind of fade in and out as far as what was actually happening in the specific episodes, but it looks to me like she fell in love pretty quickly. At one point in the day, I tried switching over to something else which lead to her staring at me and shouting “Pie-Der-Man! Pie-Der-Man!” until I turned it back on. I try not to give into baby peer pressure like that, but she had a rough night and was all up in my grill most of the day, so the time apart was welcome. Also, when she got up after her nap, I got the same thing but at a much lower volume.

So, it seems like my little girl is a Spider-Man fan which is great. I wonder if her fandom will be like mine which is actually reflected in the sentence I wrote in the opening. I love Spidey as a movie, cartoon and video game star, but never got into his comics. I also have a box FILLED with toys based on his cartoon and have three of his games on my “want to play on the Xbox 360” list. Actually, now that I think about it, maybe she’ll let me play video games if I’m playing Spider-Man. Hmm…

Bonus Birthday Food Pics: Sushi From QQ & Brothers Barbecue

qq sushu1One of these days I’m going to remember to write down what I order from our favorite nearby sushi place, QQ Asian Bistro. I want to say that these are pictures of the 007 Roll (above) which consists of “Spicy tuna, crabmeat, avocado,lightly deep fried, eel, spicy mayo sauce, topped with scallion, masago” and the Spider Roll, but I can’t quite be sure. qq sushu2

Anyway, when my parents were in town for Second Christmas and New Year’s we decided to celebrate another holiday: my wife’s birthday. Instead of going out for a big meal, we instead ordered the big meal and ate it at home. It was a great experience and as usual, the QQ food was wicked good. IMG_2474But that’s not all the food goodness we enjoyed to celebrate my lovely wife’s birth. On her actual birthday I made her a cake and we also went and got dinner at Brothers Barbecue. Brothers actually opened a while back, but they had a fire and shut down for around two years or so. Well, they’re back open and we had some awesome food there. Above you can see the corn bread which was super thick and sweet and yummy. IMG_2478And then there’s the entree. I had the two meat plate with two sides and decided on Kansas City ribs and pulled pork with mac & cheese and collard greens with bacon. The ribs were delicious and fell right off the bone, the pulled pork was perfectly tender. Both were complimented very well by their barbecue sauce which reminded me of a homemade version of Arbys Sauce. The collard greens were really tasty too, I don’t think I’d ever had them before, but they had a very cabbage-y flavor to them. The mac and cheese was alright. Having made several versions of that as a main course and as a side, I know how hard it can be to keep in good shape. It wasn’t bad by any means, just not mind blowingly awesome like everything else. Welcome back, Brothers!

Baking Birthday Cake For My Lady

Sunday was my wonderful wife’s birthday. The one thing she asked for was for me to make her favorite cake with her favorite icing. That happens to be the batter recipe for Betty Crocker’s Sour Cream Chocolate Cupcakes with Martha Stewart’s Fluffy Vanilla Frosting (Cupcakes page 302). As I’ve said before, I’m not much of a baker because I don’t like sweets or deserts too much, but of course I’m going to do my best to make her birthday a happy one.

I got the cakes going in the morning which was as simple as popping all the ingredients into the mixer in the proper order (everything up to and including the baking powder). The only changes I made (as noted in my wife’s printed out copy of the recipe) were using hot water and vegetable oil instead of shortening. Then I mixed in the eggs and popped the baker’s chocolate into the microwave for 2 minutes and then into the mixer. Done. Those went into heart-shaped pans with Crisco and some flour and then into the oven at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.

Later on in the day, I made the icing, which also was pretty simple. Again, it’s a lot of putting things into the mixing bowl, but my wife did suggest I sift the powdered sugar which took the most time. To add a little pizzazz I used some pink food coloring and as you can see, it came out a nice shade of neon pink.

The last part was icing the cake and that’s where I ran into some trouble. I’m more of a “it needs to taste good, not always look good” kind of people, so the first draft of the icing looked pretty crummy. Em came in and finished it up, which is good because otherwise it would have looked like an anatomical heart cake and no one really wants that in that shade. As far as I know, it turned out pretty good. Of course, it only mattered if Em liked it and she did, so there you go. Happy birthday!