Stop and Smell the Pastries

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Making yourself love Monday morning is tough. I’m pretty sure returning to the office after a few days of sleeping in and doing as you please was the impetus for the snooze button.

My Monday mornings involve taking out the trash and recycling, in addition to my normal routine of simultaneously eating and showering. EFFICIENCY! I’d make a metaphor about garbage and starting fresh, but it’s Monday. I was cruising along this morning and left the house earlier than normal. Today was going to be a great day. AFFIRMATION! I drove to the parking garage near my train station, gathered my work stuffs and started walking to the stairs.

Wait. Where’s my wallet? I emptied all my pockets like a depression-era cartoon character. Phone. Keys. No wallet. I had $5 in my trunk, but that’s not enough for the train. What? You don’t keep a small amount of cash in your trunk? I looked in my car and didn’t see a wallet.

Welp. No shot of catching the express. I drove home. Looked around inside my car and, again. My detective efforts resembled Inspector Clouseau instead of Colombo. As soon as I got home I remembered that I put something in my wallet when I was in my car. Back to the car!

There it was. Lodged between the black leather seat and the black door. Today I discovered the merit of a flourescent, Velcro wallet.

Hoping to learn something from this adventure, the takeaway was to take a moment before making a decision. Acting impulsively cost me time, gas, stress, inner peace, reaching nirvana. If I took a moment to breathe before looking around my car, I could have avoided speeding home and stressing out. Learn from my Monday morning. Take a pause to assess before acting.

Trying to salvage the frenetic start to the day, I made another stop and bought myself this bear claw pastry on the second trip to the train. Every morning, I pass this bakery. Every morning, I debate leaving earlier to grab a treat. This was the first time in seven months that I stopped.

After telling the woman of my morning shuttle runs she smiled and said “at least it has to get better.”

Chicken a la Vomit – The Worst Meal I’ve Ever Made

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“Oh my God.” [Weird noises that don’t belong in the kitchen]

“…this…is…amazing!”

If you’re like me and watch cooking shows more than is societally acceptable, you’ve noticed the hyperbole of mind-blowing culinary masterpieces. Today, I share the dark side of cooking for yourself. Mercifully, this dish was only consumed by me. Well, me and the garbage.

20140127-212526.jpgWhilst flipping through Bon Appetit — in between watching cooking show episodes on my DVR — this recipe caught my attention. White beans with broccoli rabe and lemon. Simple ingredients. Minimal effort. Sounded like my type of dish.

I never had broccoli rabe before, but it was a green. Would this be the next kale?! My mind wandered with the possibilities. It doesn’t take much to make me happy.

So there I was. Me and the ingredients. Let’s call it a date.

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I seasoned and seared butterflied chicken breasts in olive oil. After they were done, I put them on a plate to rest. Then I began following the recipe. Because of my hubris, I opted to add in a few extra ingredients. Nothing radical, a diced tomato, sliced baby bellas, and chicken stock instead of water. Otherwise I followed the recipe.

Once all the ingredients were ready to simmer for a spell, I added the chicken on top of the beans and greens, put a lid on top and finished cooking the chicken.

I plated the dish and had my ritualistic photo shoot, that I fear is becoming a compulsion.

As I sliced the chicken I knew, like you know, the chicken was tender and moist. Spearing it like Poseidon with my four-tined fork, I gathered a bite of the greens, beans and bird.

Instantly I knew, like you know, the taste.

Vomit.

100% organic, locally-sourced vomit.

The acidity was overwhelming. The lemon slices imparted an incredibly bitter taste from beginning to end. Short of dumping a bag of sugar into the pot, I couldn’t think of any way to salvage the dish. I suffered through it for a while. Then I remembered I had some self worth, not much, but some. For the first time, I threw out an entire meal. Shitty meals happen. I’ve heard you learn more from your failures than your successes. They really meant you die of starvation from repeated failures.

I removed and sliced the chicken, put it on a tortilla with pepper jack and lettuce.

The cause for the Chicken a la Vomit was one of a few things. Cooking the chicken in the pan beforehand probably didn’t leave the greatest of flavors to build a sauce, but I think the main culprit was a sour lemon. You know what they say, when life gives you lemons, you chuck them as far as you can and make a burrito.

chicken, tortilla, wrap, dinner, lunch
I’ll never leave you again sweet, sweet tortillas.

11 Holiday Cooking Tips I Wish I Knew Sooner

I feel like there should be blurring or black bars for this shot.

I feel obligated to share that I’m eating cold, left-over pizza as I write this. The leftovers are all gone from Thanksgiving. A few weeks ago I started planning what new things I’d try this year. For fellow home chefs, holidays are the day we have been training for: making stocks, timing multiple dishes to finish at the same time, drinking enough to keep up with/tolerate the relatives, and avoid spilling anything on yourself thereby making others question your competency. This year’s turkey day served as a warm-up for Christmas.

The shopping and prep work started a week ago. I hit 5 stores to get all the ingredients. Since I don’t believe in making lists, instead, relying on my faulty memory, where was I going with this…Ah! Yes. Shopping. All told the meal cost about $60-75, which is lower than normal for my family.

Onto the cooking stories and lessons, lest I bury the lede any deeper. Here are the things I wish I knew before embarking on today’s feast. These are now useless until next year. You’re welcome for my planning ahead to help you.

A. Don’t apologize. However things turned out is how they were meant to be. Embrace it. Learn from your missteps, and do better next time. Enjoy the people you’re with and the time you have together. In the end, that’s all that matters. Not that you brined, smoked, and photographed a trollop of a bird, made mashed potatoes of the perfect texture, constructed gravy that would make grandmothers weep.

2. Make-ahead stock. Purchase turkey wings. Roast those with halved onions, roughly chopped celery, some salt and pepper for 45 minutes at 400 degrees. Flipping 20-25 minutes in. Then de-glaze the pan with 2 cups of water. Once you have gotten most of the bits off the bottom, add 10 more cups of water. Simmer the wings/bones/aromatics for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally. Upside: this is mostly a passive activity and beats store-bought stock which is loaded with sodium.

D. Salt your food. I usually omit this step and rely on salting dishes individually. This bothers me largely due to watching cooking shows where chefs lambaste contestants  for not seasoning their dishes. All the dishes I made today needed salt. Otherwise the flavors were balanced. So, as a reminder, salt your food.

4. Delegate photo duties to someone you trust. When handling raw turkey and most meat, you don’t want to be spreading those bacteria to your phone. I had my sister take a few of the pics as I manhandled the bird on the grill. In retrospect, I should have discussed my preferred angles and framing.

5. Mashed Potatoes as God intended.  Heat milk/cream and half a stick of butter. I always used to add them cold to the hot potatoes. When you heat the fats, it makes for a much creamier end result.

6. You can’t eat all day, if you don’t eat breakfast. I had 2. My usual cereal upon opening my eyes. Then I made hash browns with my sister. Homemade hash browns. Added that with bacon, poblano, onion and cheddar for a frittata/omelette.

7. Post and post often. Your friends won’t invite you to friendsgiving if you don’t fill their feeds with food instead of kind notes about how thankful you are. By constantly posting, you’re screaming to the world that you have better food than they do. And that you need attention. But I prefer the former justification.

8. If you aren’t getting the necessary compliments on social media, take the direct approach. Text friends extreme close-ups of the bird or crudites. Possibly calling them, then rushing off the phone. “Gotta go check on my turkey smoking on the grill.” If possible, use a hashtag during the call. The more incoherent the better. I suggest #nevergohungry

9. Try something new. Every year I change something. Some of the changes are small. Some are new dishes. A few years ago, I started making stuffin muffins. Now, largely because of the hype I’ve created, all my friends request I bring in leftovers on Monday. This year saw two changes. First, was smoking the bird, which freed up the oven for other dishes, and was one less pan to wash. The second modification was a second gravy. I roasted poblano peppers after the turkey was done, then blended them with 2-3 cups of my finished gravy.

10. Find someone to wash dishes. Based on my straw poll, very few people like doing dishes. I’d consider marrying someone solely for their willingness to always wash dishes.

11. Embrace tradition. Maybe yours is guessing which relative will become uncomfortably intoxicated. Who will disappear before the dishes are done? If you don’t have any, create some! My family always watches Home Alone. This year I fell asleep sitting upright. No apologies.