Man food

Last night, all I did was heat up my garlic mashed potatoes (threw almost a half stick of butter on top of it), and then made a frozen skillet meal of yankee pot roast. So there were roasted potatoes on top of mashed potatoes. At least there was some beef and vegetables in it, too.

Anyway, my cousin loved it due to its "man food" quality. It was filling, warm, and plentiful. From all his years in the Army, he says that as long as it's "brown, warm, and lots of it," he'll like it. His critiques of my food aren't as primitive, though, so I'll keep him around for when I try the gourmet stuff.

In other news, the wind and my hair do not mix.


I'm going to need more tupperware.

Right now, it's storming pretty heavily, and we're under a tornado watch. I like to think Mother Nature is trying to pull the proverbial fire alarm on my company, as the FDA is here this week doing an audit. So far, no dice. Those FDA folks don't mess around. "Yeah, so I've got a branch sticking through my chest. WHO CARES. WHERE'S YOUR CALIBRATION LOG. RAWWWWR."

So I've started to do trial runs of some of my Thanksgiving menu items. Last night, it was the garlic mashed potatoes. I seem to remember making mashed potatoes with my ex-fiancé's family once, and I remember it taking FOREVER. But this took about five minutes, once the potatoes had boiled long enough. They were pretty good; my cousin loved them. The only thing is, I put in about an ounce and a half more butter than was called for, and the potatoes were still a little dry. Other than that, they were great, and I'm going to try to serve potato leftovers tonight. "Try" is the operative word.

See, D. and I aren't so great with leftovers. I'm running out of room in my fridge. I have a tupperware full of smokey chipotle meatloaf and broccoli marinara, a six quart stockpot full of spaghetti, a tupperware full of spaghetti, the stockpot of potatoes, and random small tupperwares housing my chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, a fourth of an onion, etc. By the time I think to eat any of these things, I'll wonder, "Hmmm. It's been three days. Is that okay?" and then I'll make something new instead out of fear of communicable disease.

Also last night, I made my green beans and a couple of bacon-wrapped filets. I'm not a fan of bacon-wrapped anything, so I took the bacon off, cut it up, and threw it into the green beans. D. isn't a fan of bacon in green beans... this is the second time I've done this, and now neither am I. I don't know why. It just doesn't do anything for me. Anyway, I'd bought the filets from Walmart -- does anyone know if cuts of meat vary between different grocery stores? The last time I bought filets, it was from Payless, and those were soooo juicy and tender... the ones last night, from Walmart, were a little tough. Both were cooked the same, both were about medium to medium rare. Both were the only bacon-wrapped filets in the store, but I forget if they were the same brand. I just didn't know if Walmart skimps on quality meat purchases.

Might try the reader-suggested meatloaf tonight. Should go well with the leftover potatoes (see, if I VISUALIZE the meal and PLAN it with leftovers, maybe it'll have a better chance of happening...).


Thanksgiving menu

Feedback, please! This isn't a typical menu, pretty much because I don't like turkey.

thanksgiving 2010

deviled eggs
spinach dip in sourdough bread
turkey nachos

the meat
beef rib roast with zesty rub

garlic mashed potatoes with beef gravy
country green beans tossed with ham, onion and garlic
prosciutto-wrapped asparagus
sausage, apple and cranberry stuffing
cranberry spinach salad

sweet potato casserole
pumpkin pie

featured beverages
spiked and spikeless fall cider

Okay. I got pretty much all those recipes from allrecipes.com. I wanted to do Thanksgiving this year because it'll keep me busy; I don't want to sit around and think about how this was supposed to be my first round of holidays as a married woman. My guests: both my parents, my brother and his family, and my aunt and uncle. David doesn't know if he can make it, and one of my nieces is only a year old, so I'll be serving 8-9 people. Any changes you'd make with the menu?


Steak sauce and memories of servitude

There's a ref, one of the chain gang, down at the Saints game. I always get nervous when they go to commercial. I'm about to order my second Long Island Iced Tea.

I saved the recipe for meatloaf that was suggested by a reader. This came to mind because I'm making bacon-wrapped filets tonight, and since I don't believe in anything else on filets, I take the bacon off and cook it into my green beans -- two tablespoons of steak sauce are recommended, but I'm thinking about subbing barbeque sauce. I don't typically keep steak sauce in the house, and here's why:

I worked at Outback Steakhouse for about two years, and during that time I developed an aversion to steak sauce and the people who use it. Okay -- before I receive hate mail -- there isn't anything wrong with steak sauce or the people who use it. I just don't like them.

Outback seasons their steaks with 17 different spices and is such an opponent of steak sauce in general that they are the only steakhouse in my town that does not keep sauces on the tables. Every Friday (or payday), people would come in because they can afford a meal (not facturing tip into their budget), and they'd order a filet, well-done and butterflied. They would then further bastardize our most tender, flavorful steak with (a) ketchup, and/or (b) steak sauce. After a while, I no longer hid my disgust when someone would begin to drawl, "I wants uh filet, well-done..." I think I actually once said "ew" to a customer when she was ordering that. She didn't hear me, because I was just a waitress.

I'm not saying that Outback is the best steakhouse in the world, but I do believe in their product. That says a lot, considering I have spent many hours working in their kitchen, and I've seen what goes on back there. I've worked in a number of restaurants, and as most people who've worked in the restaurant industry, I judge based on what I've seen. Much like my NFL rundown, here's my restaurant "can I eat there?" ranking... surprisingly, Outback is not #1. Readers, feel free to chime in with your own list or to disagree with mine. I'd be interested to hear about your experiences.

  1. Olive Garden. One of the worst jobs I've ever had, and morale was terrible among servers. Their servers are incredibly spoiled, as they don't have to do much sidework (e.g., rolling silverware, etc.), and they're only assigned three tables per section. Their turnover is ridiculous, and the all-you-can-eat soup/salad/breadsticks really messes with a server's flow. However, their kitchens are spotless. They were very strict in there... very much an "eins, zwo, drei" management style... like a well-oiled factory.
  2. Outback Steakhouse. Server morale is high. Three-table sections, nothing all-you-can-eat except for the pumpernickel bread, which leaves servers with more time to develop rapport with customers and run other servers' food. Yay for efficiency. Their kitchens follow all the requirements, like hair nets and hand-washing, but the only time you really see 110% in safety is when a health inspector is there. Oh god. An Outback commercial just came on in the bar I'm in. They're watching.
  3. Chi Chi's. My favorite job. The underdog of Mexican cuisine. High server morale, mostly because of the margaritas and that the managers ignored the fraternization rule. Despite regulations, their kitchens were based on the principle of "please try to wash your hands," but since most of their food was frozen and/or pre-cooked, it never seemed to apply as much. I still have a scar from a fajita skillet on my left hand, and I gaze at it fondly sometimes. Really, my only proof that they have a decent kitchen is the fact that I ate there three times a day for three years and never once got sick. Wish they hadn't gone out of business.
  4. Steak 'n Shake. Again, high turnover of servers, but for the opposite reason. Servers are there for twelve hour shifts sometimes, and they never keep it staffed enough, so those twelve hours are usually spent serving half the restaurant. Their grill is clean but pretty much nothing else, because the grill is located in view of the customers. In Sight, It Must Be Right? Sure, but only if you have a steak burger. Everything else goes in the microwave.
  5. Christos. I believe this is a mostly local, family-owned business. I wasn't popular there because the owner and his brothers favored the servers who partied all the time. As a family-owned establishment, they were under a lot more pressure when it came to regulations, as they didn't have a corporation enforcing the rules for them. Once, I saw a cook drop a pair of tongs, pick them up, and handle raw meat. After I quit (thank God), I read in the paper that they were cited during a health inspection because a cook sneezed directly into his hands and continued working. Don't eat there, ever.

Something to smile about, parts 1 and 2

My original post was eaten. Round two.

I'm sitting at a sports bar on the south end of town called The End Zone. My cousin is watching the Titans, and I'm taking advantage of free Wi-Fi. There's an expensive car parked diagonally across two spaces in the parking lot, and if I were still in my beat-up Saturn, I'd try to sneak into one of those spaces.

Anyway, so yesterday I was supposed to get married. I celebrated by being depressed and taking everyone's money in poker.

We then went home and became ridonkulously lazy. I didn't cook. I committed a cardinal sin and something to smile about, part 1: I ordered Domino's. Marinara sauce dripped off my chin and I made orgasmic noises as I ate. D. stayed about ten feet away at all times, because pizza makes him sick.

It's a point of contention between us that I would pretty much sell my first born for a lifetime supply of pizza, but it'll make him sick for days. I woke up this morning with some indigestion -- some of it from pizza, most of it from gin -- but in general I'll survive. After a pizza night, though, I'll wake up at three in the morning and hear him in the bathroom, moaning like a dying animal.

That brings me to something to smile about, part 2: I have never been so happy to know about someone's bowels as I am now. With D.'s stomach issues, I get daily reports of his bowel movements, and they change based on my cooking. (I figure it takes a non-romantic relationship with someone to really achieve intimacy.) He updates me constantly on the quality of his bowel movements... and he has euphemisms:

"Just gave birth to twin girls."
"That was an elephant."
"Why can't I digest corn?"
"I've got a jumper at the door, demanding a green light, and begging for a water landing." (He's former military. Only says that while running.)
"It's a boy."
"Better make something mild tonight."
"That jambalaya was painless... well done, kid."

Needless to say, those plungers are handy. But my point is, the more I cook, the healthier his digestive tract gets. I go to regular seminars on endoscopy (I work for a medical device manufacturer), and from that I learned about hiatal hernias... I strongly believe that he has one, due to the severity and omnipresence of his symptoms. My grandmother (not on D.'s side) developed one and then died from cardiac arrest a few days later. I'd like for him to get his stomach checked out, but he's lazy (and probably nervous), and if my cooking can do something for him in the meantime, then that's okay.

At the end of the day, my cooking has improved the bowel movements of someone I care about, and that makes me happy.

On an unrelated note, I would like to invent a bar shot and call it "The Miss Jackson If You're Nasty." What should go in it? I once named a shot at Ace's Pub; they were calling it "Sake and Monster" for the longest time before I suggested "Godzilla."


Starting out with a smash

I want to explain why I have become obsessed with cooking. I began small, having once had a fear of kitchens (growing up, I knew the kitchen was where fire and food-borne illnesses came from), but within a few months' time, I knew how to make spaghetti. I was so proud of myself for thinking to brown ground beef and add it to the sauce. I then started to make my own garlic bread. I made up recipes for sauteéd green beans and roasted potatoes. I added bananas and cinnamon to buttermilk pancake batter.

I began to cook because, in that little hundred-year-old kitchen on Historic Ninth Street Hill, the man living with me said he would do the dishes. I was engaged to him. We'd set a date -- October 23, 2010.

He never did the dishes, and he left me in August. We had the great forethought to buy a house first, though, so that was wonderfully complicated. He made it simple by saddling me with the property because he just had to recapture happiness by quitting his job, selling his truck, and living with his equally-unemployed cousins out East. Seeing the impressive improvements he's made with his life as of late, I started to re-evaluate my hobbies and life path... wondering if "who I am" is really "who I want to be." Trying to see beyond what I thought my desires were. Expanding my horizons to access my complete, whole self.

No, that's not true. I haven't re-evaluated squat. He's an idiot in a quarter-life crisis, and I am growing up.

After he left, I drank for a month. I was smashed, all my picture frames were smashed, my wedding portfolio was smashed (and burned). Dreams, relationships (his friends and family), finances, my quality of life... all of it, destroyed.

I had tried to learn to cook for him. He was of Lebanese descent, so I had made hushweh, baklava, sveeha... is there a spell-checker on this? Basically, I bought a truckload of lamb. Oddly enough, he never really seemed to appreciate my cooking, and I wasn't inspired to seek out new recipes. His mother was lauded as this amaaaaaazing cook, when really she had no passion for it and her food came out too tangy; anytime he wanted me to make something, he would give me one of her recipes. That was one of the problems in the relationship -- I couldn't compete with his family. But that's for my therapist to hear about.

Inspiration hit shortly after he left. I realized that I couldn't handle the household expenses on my own, and I asked my cousin D. if he would like to be housemates with me. He accepted, and I've been cooking for him regularly for the last couple of months. We've renamed my house the Park Ave. Pub.

There are a few great things that have happened because of this:
- D. has started to look like he's lost a little weight. He doesn't have much to lose, but I think he's happy with how things have redistributed. He hates vegetables, but I've gotten him to eat them, as long as they're positioned next to a dead animal of some sort. I'll occasionally sneak them in. In last night's chicken enchiladas, I bet there was a full serving of vegetables among the chicken, sauce, and cheese.
- D.'s stomach hasn't been bothering him as much. He has acid reflux, or something like that, and I haven't seen him reach for Rolaids very often lately.
- I have something to focus on. I enjoy cooking and looking for new recipes. I volunteered to host Thanksgiving this year, and I'm really excited about that. Little by little, it's helping me forget what's-his-face.
- For the very first time, I'm getting feedback on my cooking. My cousin is a pretty picky eater, and I love that he occasionally disses my food. My ex-fiancé would eat the meal, thank me for cooking, and would mutter "yeah, it was good" when I would ask him if he liked it. It doesn't sound like a big deal, but six years of "sure, I liked it" gets really annoying.
- Because of the point above, I am now finally inspired to cook. And after trying to join in on someone else's hobbies when I didn't want him to ignore me anymore... I finally have a hobby of my own.

I'm not cooking tonight. D. and I are going down to Indy to hang out with my brother and my little niece; we'll be going on a Halloween Egg Hunt, then out for a drink (sans the little niece). Tomorrow is a special day -- October 23, 2010 -- so I'm going to play poker at the VFW for a while and then attempt meatloaf again. I got a thumbs-down from the cousin on Smokey Chipotle Meatloaf for too much spice (same thing happened last night with the enchiladas, but I have no idea where the spice came from, as I left out chili powder and green pepper).

Sunday, if I survived my former wedding day, we'll be installing a new front door. My five-foot-nothing, 62-year-old mother managed to pull the ancient, original doorknob off in her hand, and I was unable to affix a new doorknob (with locking mechanism, as that lock has been giving me trouble since I've lived there) to the oddly-cut, hollowed-out original door. The new door is eligible for the tax credit and has a neat, Craftsman-y window. It'll be cold in the house as we're installing the door, and it's football Sunday. This means I am going to have to make some chili.

The household rundown on football teams: I like the Colts (and don't like the Bears) because I'm a Hoosier, I like the Giants because Eli Manning is hot, I like the Saints because Drew Brees went to Purdue, and I don't like the Pats because I think Tom Brady's a jerk. D., who grew up in K.C. and lived in his family's (not my side) current city of Nashville for a few years, likes the Chiefs and the Titans. And we both like LaDainian Tomlinson because he's classy.