Tuesday, August 08, 2006

A Wicked Weekend in the Kitchen

Nothing seems to have gone right in my kitchen over the weekend. Okay, so I exaggerate. In fact, all of Saturday night's dinner went beautifully. It's just that by the time it was ready, we were too tired to want it. Friday was much worse. I tried out a crock pot recipe for "mock lasagna" that I got from a cooking list I used to be on. I was so pleased that I would have dinner all ready for my darling when she got home. However, it was not to be. Something was very wrong with the recipe & I am not experienced enough with crock pots to pick up on it until it was too late. I got everything done & in the pot by 8:30. I was supposed to cook it on low until 4:30 and on high until 8:30. Looking at those directions now, I see that the cook time looks quite long even for a crock pot. Around 10, I started to really smell it. Around 10:30, the smell began to resemble burning and I became alarmed. I added extra water when I saw the burned crust forming around the edges. I stirred & stirred & then put the lid back on. Around 1:30, it was utterly clear that it must cook no longer. I kept it warm until J got home, but I had already decided it was not edible. All the extra water I added (if I'd only thought to use tomato sauce) rendered it flavorless, even though I had managed to keep it from really burning.

So, we decided to eat dessert first and I made a white chocolate & walnut blondie similar to the one they serve at Applebee's. That turned out great! I served it with vanilla ice cream. My favorite part was the sauce. Oh, the sauce! Incidentally, I got this recipe from the very same e-mail list as the disastrous phony lasagna. This isn't as complicated as it looks.
White Chocolate & Walnut Blondie
4 egg whites
1/2 c. butter, softened
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/4 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. milk
8 oz. white chocolate chunks
1/2 c. chopped walnuts

1/2 c. butter, softened
1/2 c. powdered sugar
1/4 c. cream cheese, softened
2 tbsp. maple syrup
1/4 tsp. salt

8 scoops vanilla ice cream
1/2 c. chopped walnuts

Make the cake: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Whip egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Add butter, sugar and vanilla and mix until smooth. Sift together floir, baking soda & powder and salt. Add to the wet ingredients and mix well. Add milk, chocolate and nuts. Pour into greased 13x9 baking pan. Bake 40-45 minutes. Cut into squares. Don't make them too big...you don't want anyone to get sick from the richness!

Make the sauce: Mix all the ingredients with a mixer until smooth. Heat through until melty. It probably wouldn't hurt to double the sauce recipe. Or triple it. I could have cheerfully licked it from the pan.

Serve the cake: Top each slice of cake with a scoop of ice cream. Drizzle with sauce and sprinkle with nuts.

After we ate our dessert, we went book shopping & then had dinner at Hoggy's Barn & Grille. It was remarkably empty for a Friday night. Sadly, they were out of sweet tea so I settled for an anemic glass of lemonade. Sadly, we chose the chicken fritters for our appetizer. Not fritters at all, they were merely chicken tenders masquerading as something interesting. They were very good chicken tenders, but they were still chicken tenders. The bbq sauce was tasty and the buffalo sauce, while mouth-scorching, was too. I got a brisket sandwich, which was overstuffed & a tad bit bland. The macaroni and cheese with chili was an inspired idea. I liked it, but felt that if the chili had not been on top, I would not have liked the mac & cheese one tiny bit. I am opposed to cottage cheese in that dish. J got some kind of sandwich involving pulled pork and Jamaican sauce I think, which also seemed pretty blah. Oh, the food was actually pretty good. I am just being whiny & spoiled. Its major fault was that it was not Bubba's Q in Avon, a far superior barbecue joint, in my humble opinion. Or Hickory Home in Fairview, TN. Or any number of not-chain, for-real barbecue places.

Saturday morning, I had good luck in the kitchen. But, you really can't screw up scrambled eggs. I mixed some salsa & colby-jack cheese in with them, along with a sprinkling of spices...cumin, chili powder, cayenne. I warmed up a couple flour tortillas & satisfied my craving, which came on while I was reading The Hummingbird's Daughter by Luis Urrea, by pinching up the eggs in bits of tortilla. Yum!

Saturday lunch was so good that we made reservations for Sunday on our way out the door. The Tree House Gallery & Tea Room was heavily laden with cute vintage-y Halloween decorations, rhinestone-studded jackets and purses and scads of women. I should say scads of ladies. For, while they aren't really a tea room, they do specialize in lady food. I am still wondering if I should have had the peach salad. What I did have, both days, was wonderful. On Saturday, I had a cup of chicken artichoke soup & a half chicken salad sandwich on vegetable herb bread. This came with a plateful of fruit. Have I mentioned that I think chicken salad is one of the world's perfect foods? I do and this was up at the top of the list, tangy and delicious. J had lobster bisque, which she loves on any occasion and loved enough this time to order a second cup, and tuna salad on honey oat bread. Their tuna is superb, too. For dessert Saturday, I chose grasshopper pie. Since I was a child, I have been fascinated by this dessert. I never actually tasted it until Saturday, though, since hardly anyone makes it anymore. I felt as though I were at a Junior League luncheon in the years before I was born...or perhaps bridge club in the same era. It was delightful. It gave J all kinds of memories of her childhood & her mom's parties. I was raised on shrimp in beer, lentil pilaf, apple crisp & the blues. She had the card club, Singapore-Sling-drinking ladies, Rat Pack experience.

VEGETARIANS---Skip this part. Trust me.
Saturday night's dinner was supposed to be spectacular. The trouble is, it was so late by the time we actually ate that neither of us wanted it. Oh, we loved the salad, to be sure. But, we simply picked at the wine-braised lamb shanks and lemon caper mashed potatoes. I am guessing that on another occasion, we would have loved it. But, bones & gristle kind of give me the creeps, as does the idea of eating lamb or veal, so maybe the issue was the lamb shanks. I'll try it with boneless beef next time...and at 7 or 8 instead of 10:30! No one in their right mind eats lamb shanks at 10:30 at night. Still, I think the recipe was basically a good one, so here it is.

Wine-Braised Lamb Shanks with Herbes de Provence
5 tbsp. olive oil
2 lg. leeks, white & pale green parts only, chopped
6 cloves garlic, whole
6 (12-14 oz. each) lamb shanks
2 2/3 c. dry red wine
1 c. crushed tomatoes, with some added purée
1/4 oz. dried porcinis
1 1/2 tbsp. herbes de Provence
1 1/4 lb. carrots, cut in 1/2" diagonal pieces
1/2 c. chopped parsley

Heat 1 tbsp. oil in large pot. Add leeks & garlic. Sauté 5 minutes and set aside. Salt & pepper lamb. Dredge in flour, shaking off the excess. Heat the rest of the oil in the pot. Add the lamb and brown evenly on all sides. Add everything but the parsley. Stir to ensure that the lamb is evenly coated. Cover and simmer on med-low about 1 1/2 hours. Uncover & simmer to reduce sauce slightly, about 10 minutes. Skim excess fat. Add salt & pepper to taste. Sprinkle with parsley before serving.

WE NOW RETURN TO VEGGIE-FRIENDLY WRITING (in other words...Mom, you can uncover your eyes!)
Lemon-Caper Mashed Potatoes
2 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled & quartered (I actually used red potatoes)
Coarse salt (so says the recipe...I would use regular salt, though, unless you like salt crunchies)
6 tbsp. butter
3/4 c. milk
2 tsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. lemon zest
3 tbsp. capers, chopped
1/4 c. flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Boil potatoes in water to cover until tender, about 15 minutes. Mix 5 tbsp. butter, milk, lemon juice & zest, capers. Heat to melt butter. Fold into potatoes. Add parsley, salt and pepper. Dot with butter. Serves 4.

And the salad that we just loved, loved, loved:

Iceberg Wedges with Blue Cheese and Toasted Almonds
2 oz. slivered almonds, toasted
4 1/2 c. crumbled blue cheese (I used Maytag)
1 1/2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/3 c. buttermilk
1 1/2 tbsp. olive oil
1 head iceberg, cut into 4 wedges

Whisk cheese, lemon juice, buttermilk and oil until fairly smooth. Add pepper. Put the lettuce wedges on 4 salad plates. Top with dressing & sprinkle with almonds. Serves 4.

Sunday breakfast was part of a rather nasty cheese brioche from Starbucks...why do they insist on scarcely having any non-sweet things in their pastry case? And why did I get this again when I knew I didn't like it last time? Luckily, coffee hour at the new church we tried yielded a wonderful treat! Fat slices of lushly ripe watermelon! What a great summer coffee hour idea!

Lunch at the Tree House was again superb. I had wised up & ordered my own cup of lobster bisque. J had one, as well, and lobster salad that was scrumptious. I had a slice of spinach quiche that was quite good. It wasn't Lenore's, but it was good. I love quiche. I always think of Lenore when I have either quiche or fondue, for she is the one who has made them most fequently in my life. For dessert, we split the ridiculously decadent "turtle brownie", warm, ala. The ice cream was a gorgeous shade of light yellow with a rich vanilla flavor. The brownie turned out to be cake, gooey with hot caramel. So yummy, but too rich! I'd have been in trouble had J not split it with me.

Dinner was good, too, with J decreeing that we should eat dinner out because of her fear of another 10:30 dinner & subsequent morning tummy ache! So, we dined at 6 at the Savannah, which was much less smoke-laden than on our previous visit, when we ended up walking right back out due to the smoke clouds billowing around our heads as soon as we walked in. It was a great call, with huge juicy burgers and hand-cut fries available 3 ways (plain, seasoned or Cajun-style). I was disappointed that they didn't have any low-country cooking, but man were those burgers primo!

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