Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Trip to WV

So this past weekend was the big trip to West Virginia to visit the Wellses and Annette, and introduce Melissa to everyone. The scheduling changed a bazillion times due to my work schedule, Melissa's work schedule, Annette's work schedule, but eventually everything worked out. It even turned out that Melissa's and my schedules jived so we could all carpool and even better, when I emailed her to ask if that was cool, she said only on the condition that she could drive, which you know was A-OK with me! Totally stress-free weekend thus ensued. Anyone wants to make me happy, utter those three magic words to me: "Let me drive." I'm yours.

We arrived in WV in the mid-afternoon, having left Woodbridge at around 2:00. We made several stops for gas, drinks, and potty breaks (which is how I know I'm getting older!), and got to the cabin just after 4pm. They had left it open, which was incredibly nice of them so that we could just roll on in and not have to worry about registering or waiting for the Wellses to arrive. The cabin slept 6 adults and was totally beautiful! We stayed in Cabin Number 1: Rainbow Trout. There was a room with 2 twin beds and a room with a queen, both of which were on the main level, and a loft upstairs with a king sized bed and jacuzzi tub. On the main floor was also a great big room which served as kitchen/living room (with gas fireplace)/dining room. The main wall, as you can see, was totally made up of windows, and look at the amazing view:

So after we unpacked, Melissa decided that we needed to go up this hinky little forest service road into Dolly Sods. According to the Forest Service website, "The Dolly Sods Scenic Area was created in 1970 to protect the unique scenic qualities of the area north of Forest Road 19. Today approximately 2,000 acres along Forest Road 75 is managed by the US Forest Service as a scenic area. The Dolly Sods Scenic Area is the most accessible and most visited part of the Sods."

It was just hinting at getting dark, we decided to roll on up there and see what was what. The signs warn it is impassible if there is snow, but we were feeling adventurous and kept going up, up, up. It really was quite lovely up there. We had rolled into WV listening to John Denver on Melissa's iPhone, and it seemed like the perfect soundtrack for everything while we were there.

After a while of driving around up there, we were flagged down by a passing Jeep and the driver, a slightly panicked looking young man rolled down his window and said, "I'm lost. I'm trying to get to Washington." We were in shock, as evidenced by Melissa saying, "Washington, D.C.?" and cackling maniacally when the poor dude nodded affirmatively. He looked even more distressed when we informed him he had at least a 3 hour ride ahead of him. He'd been following his GPS. This is apparently a major no-no in rural West Virginia--many of the websites we went to for the weekend's festivities said, "Don't use a GPS to get here" and a couple we ran into later were taking their GPS back to the store after it got them so turned around it took them hours to get where they were going!

Well, eventually it got kinda slippery up there, so we turned around. We decided to check the cabin to see if anyone had made it, but no one had, so we decided to haul it on out to a Pizza Hut we'd passed. This Pizza Hut was the jumpingest place in town--it was PACKED to the rafters. I made the mistake of needing to use the facility while I was there, and it was disgusting. I literally wanted to Purell the heck out of my hiney when I was done in there. Ugh. The pizza was pretty good though, so no complaints. We headed back to the cabin and Russell and Amy had arrived, so that was cool! They headed out to grab some dinner and we decided to go in the hot tub that was out back. It was then I discovered the need for a new bathing suit--the legs of my old one are SHOT! So I will be getting a new bathing suit come beach time. The hot tub was AWESOME though. Wow was it nice.

Afterwards we hung out with Russell and Amy, who'd brought back their grub, and then we all started getting a little nervous because it was late and no Annette yet! Well, Annette also succumbed to the bad GPS and to poor directions, so she was just quite late. But she made it and that's all that mattered to us! The celebration could begin!

Just as soon as I got some shut eye. I was tired. This usually happens to me on the first day of a trip--once I get away from home, from work, the routine, and can let my hair down, it just all comes out and I need some zzzz's. Unfortunately, Friday night I got the worst night's sleep EVAR! Seriously. The room was so stinkin' hot, I just lay there all night, dozing in and out of sleep, but not really sleeping. It was also quite noisy in Cabin 1: Rainbow Trout due to its proximity to the highway and the number of trucks steaming past, especially in the wee small hours of the morning. Melissa reported in the morning that she had a similarly terrible night's sleep, so I didn't feel too bad.

When I got up and came out of the bedroom, which was like a little cave, I was blinded by the bright sun streaming through the windows. It looked like a glorious day, so I got dressed and decided to take a walk around the cabin sites and get some fresh air and exercise. I grabbed my cameras and started hauling. It was COLD outside, but the fresh air was great. I am not partial to the mountains, as you know, I'm a beach type of girl, but the presence of the little stream/river was comforting and the scenery was gorgeous. I walked down off the road and followed the edge of the water, and managed to keep my shoes dry--a major feat (haha) since I had economized and only brought one pair of shoes with me!

I got back to the cabin and we assembled a makeshift breakfast before heading off to start our day. We hit a Bob Evans for lunch, where I had the Wildfire salad and it was HOT BBQ sauce. Like OMGWTFBBQ sauce, as the young people say. It was good, no doubt, but it was HOT.

And then we began our trek to Helvetia. Each year, people gather in Helvetia, WV to celebrate Fasnacht, wherein they parade around in scary masks, dance around the bonfire, and set Old Man Winter alight. I was especially excited about this because it was rumored that there would be many Swiss delicacies to enjoy and I thought I'd cover it as part of the 80 Plates experience. We arrived there after 3:00. Everything was supposed to kick off at about 3:00 and dinner would be served as a buffet at 5:00pm at the only restaurant in town, The Hutte. However, it would seem the townsfolk didn't get the memo about Fasnacht because it was D-E-A-D dead when we arrived. So I did what I always do in such situations--took pictures. There was one little craft shop open, and we did go in there, but there was not much to see, really. The lady who ran it was very warm and personable however and more than happy to chat. I found the loose teas and herbs, and thought I might grab some to experiment with, but they were local to Ohio, not Helvetia, so I didn't bother. Usually on these trips I like to buy a souvenir to take home with me, but nothing really struck my fancy, so I declined a purchase there. Russell and I made friends with the town goat, who seemed kind of unhappy that we hadn't brought him something to eat!

Afterwards, Melissa and I started walking the town. The Cheese Haus and Healing Honey shops were closed, although through the windows of the Honey shop we could see a Fasnacht mask, which was pretty cool. We went to the General store, which was closed, but Russell, Amy, and Annette had the magic touch, for when they joined us, the store opened! There was a post office in front, with old post office boxes on one side and current ones on the other. The back had all kinds of supplies--canned and boxed non-perishables, T-shirts, birthday cards, and the like. But what caught my eye was the Alpen Rose Garden Club's cookbook, Oppis Guet's Vo Helvetia. I have no idea what that means, but that's the title of it. Flipping through it, I found a chapter entitled "Out the Bunghole" and I was sold, because even though it's about wine in the cellar, it's clear that Helvetians don't take themselves too seriously.

We wandered the historic town square, which was deserted, and peeked in the library, which was also closed, as was the nearby town museum. The local dance and brats and beer were in the Star Hall, but it didn't appear that anything was going on there and in fact, as we were standing around trying to think what else we could do, the band meandered past us on the town bridge, carrying a bunch of beer along with their instruments. Melissa and I decided to take a walk down the road that led along the creek and past the Cheese Haus, and walked a good 10 minutes before turning back due to nothing really being down there.

By now it was 4:50 or so, so we gathered up our group and convened on the steps of the Hutte to get ourselves some dinner! The Hutte promised an extensive dinner menu and I was hungry just looking at it! Hutte chicken, homemade sausage, parsley potatoes, green beans, carrots, applesauce, sauerkraut, onion pie, salad, homemade bread, Helvetia's own Swiss cheese, and peach cobbler--YUM! But we were in for a rude awakening! When the door swung open at 5pm on the dot, the woman running the place said, "What's your reservation under?" and we said, "We don't have a reservation." She was not pleased. "We didn't know we needed a reservation." "Oh dear, oh dear, just a minute," she said and pondered the situation. "We're from out of town?" I tried lamely, before realizing that probably everyone there was from out of town and it was unlikely to melt her flinty little heart.

Finally she said, "I can seat you but you'll have to eat and leave in an hour. I will have to insist you leave in one hour." Anything, just let us in! She did so and led us to the back room, where we had a large round table. The waitress came in to get our drink orders and the hostess came back with two other people and said, "Here, you can sit with these other people who DIDN'T HAVE RESERVATIONS EITHER."

Well, at this point, I was utterly charmed--this woman was a riot! Melissa posted a picture of her on her blog--go check it out. She's wearing feathers and a mardi gras mask. So they brought us our drinks and told us to go ahead and enjoy the buffet. The Hutte is a small restaurant that has been built inside a house. There are lots of little rooms, but not much room to maneuver around the many people who come to Fasnacht. Consequently, it was rather tight getting our food.

I'm not sure how they made the chicken, other than I am certain there were bay leaves in it and something very warming was added. Not in terms of spicy heat, but it just tasted warm, like curry. It was a great dish. I do have a recipe in the Helvetia cookbook for the onion pie, which I will definitely be trying to make here at home, because I loved it. The veggies were all great, and I even got brave and tried the Helvetia cheese, because I figured it was what one should really do when one is dining in Helvetia. Despite not ever eating a piece of cheese like that, I can say I actually didn't hate it. Not to say I plan to start eating hunks of cheese, I don't, but it wasn't bad. The cobbler was not what we expect when we think of cobbler, or at least not what I think of. I think of peaches in a syrup created by cooking them down, topped with a crumbly topping. This was actually peaches in a cake, maybe like a pound cake. It was wonderful! Different, but wonderful! We ate ourselves full.

Then it was time to head back over the mountain. We made our pitstop at Kroger's to get supplies for the fondue party and then headed on home, as there was nothing in Helvetia that was going on to amuse us until it was time for the parade or the bonfire. We decided we could hear the siren's call of the hot tub. When we got back, we quickly changed up and this time Amy joined us out there under the stars! Then it was bedtime. I was so tired I think I could have slept standing up! I opened the bedroom window just a crack so it wouldn't be so hot in there and passed out cold until almost 9am. When I sleep that late, you know I slept good!

Again, our crew got together, and we cobbled up a breakfast before Melissa set out on a hike. She decided to hike up to the top of that giant rock formation we could see from the windows of the cabin. She came back after a while and you could just tell that Russell was itching to go up there too. I decided that if they were going to do it, we should all sign a rock that they could leave up at the top of the hill. I went out and found a perfect little round rock and we used Russell's CD pen to all sign it. And soon they were off!

Amy watched through the powerful zoom on her video camera and in short order (I was surprised how quickly they made it--way to go, Russell and Melissa!) we could catch a glimpse of them up at the top. Russell stuck the rock out towards the edge of the ledge and they were back. It was so great to see the pride in Russell's face, knowing that a year ago, he wouldn't have felt able to make that hike and that this year not only did he think he could, but he did! Hopefully next year, I'll be able to go!

And then it was time for the fondue party, as detailed in my previous post, and then time to roll it on home! We got back to Woodbridge around 5 and to Fredericksburg by 6:30 even with a quick stop at WalMart for rabbit chow. It was such a great trip, I had so much fun.

Thank you, Russell and Amy and Annette and Melissa, for the great time away! It was very much appreciated and needed! Big hugs and love to you all!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

80 Plates: Switzerland in West Virginia

This weekend was our big trip to West Virginia. My friends have become rather as excited as I am about the 80 plates experiment, which is extremely gratifying, but adds a layer of enjoyment to it for me! It makes me feel a little bit less like a lunatic (as do the comments from strangers who somehow find me). So we were discussing our plans for the weekend and Amy suggested we do an 80 plates from Switzerland while we were out there. Why? Because we were heading to Helvetia, WV for its annual Swiss Fasnacht celebration. Helvetia is supposed to have a cheese shop and so our plan was to purchase some native Swiss cheese and then make a delicious fondue out of it--we were truly stumped about what type of food the Swiss eat. It seems that Swiss cuisine is heavily influenced by whatever bordering country is closest--Italy, Germany, France. But fondue is most assuredly something the Swiss love.

(FYI: I will post much, much more about my trip to Helvetia in the days to come, please be patient, I want to do it right)

Unfortunately, when we arrived in Helvetia, this is the sight that greeted us as we parked outside the Cheese Haus:

Yup, that sucker was locked up tight. Now, as it turns out, the back wall of the place was hanging wide open with a big hole in it, but Melissa and I figured they'd probably frown on us enacting a cheesebreak, so we elected not to.

On the way back from Fasnacht, I desperately wanted to make a pilgrimage to Kroger. I used to shop at Kroger all the time when I lived in Little Rock, and our nearest Kroger to Fredericksburg is in Charlottesville, so it's not worth the ride. But we decided to head over there on our way back so I could purchase whatever we couldn't get in Helvetia, which turned out to be everything. We were discussing how to know what the heck we should buy--I had left my fondue cookbook back at the cabin. But then I realized that I had purchased a Helvetian cookbook at the local general store! I looked in there and there was an authentic recipe in the book! SCORE! I brought it into the store with me.

Kroger obliged with a mighty expensive emmenthaler ($10 for a half pound!? OUCH!), some Jarlsberg cheese (which Melissa assures me is Swiss, but I have since discovered is from Norway--so there, Melissa! :-D), white wine (due to the expense of the cheese, I went with a less expensive wine--not knowing anything about wine made me not question this purchase one bit), corn starch and nutmeg. One of the things I dislike most about this project is that I buy all these things I need very little of and then I've got it stuck in my cabinets. Well, at home I had TONS of corn starch, but I didn't have it in WV, so I was forced to buy more. I wound up leaving it out there--if I need any, I have a big container of it here at home already. Maybe Amy or Annette will want to take it home as a memento!

We also bought veggies and bread. Melissa and I split the cost of the 'entree fondue' and Amy purchased the goods for chocolate fondue, our dessert choice! She was in charge of making that, while I was in charge of the cheese. Mmmm, I had a feeling we were going to eat good.

It was going to be a challenge to cook in a different kitchen than my own, not knowing what kind of gear I would have available to me. Amy and I discussed fondue pots and she ordered one for the chocolate fondue. I decided to bring my grandma's crockpot, because it gets quite warm and I've used it with good results for fondue before. Unfortunately, Amy's fondue pot did not arrive on time! She decided to microwave the chocolate fondue. We were fortunate to find a corkscrew to open the wine, but there was no cheese grater and the supply of measuring cups was limited.

Consequently, I knew I'd have to chop up the cheese with a knife instead of grating it. I wanted it to be fairly small and thus easier to melt. It took just a little while to chop it all up pretty nicely, so I didn't need the grater after all!! In fact, I wondered if it might not have taken me longer to grate than it did to chop.

I turned on the crockpot base--my grandmother's crockpot is awesome in that the top of it comes off leaving just a burner underneath that can heat up rather nicely. The first instructions were to rub a clove of garlic all over the inside of the fondue pot. The garlic wasn't broken up or crushed or anything, so I decided to go by smell. When the pot smelled good, I stopped. I rubbed it all over for a good few minutes, though, to make it nice and garlicky and we all agreed it was smelling so good!

Once that was done, I put the pot back on the base and added the wine. And waited. And waited. And waited. Unfortunately it was not really heating the wine to a point that I felt it'd be able to melt the cheese at any point even close to being 'reasonable'. I took the pot off the base and stuck it on a stove burner and jacked up the heat. Soon, it was steaming away and I added the cheese! Mmmmm, the cheese melted down beautifully.

It was quite runny, however. But this was quickly remedied by the fact that there was cornstarch and nutmeg to be added!

I stirred that all in and it thickened into a luscious, beautiful pot of bubbling cheese. It smelled so good and was hard not to dive right in and swim in it! But first, we gals needed a group photo of ourselves preparing to dine on fondue, as well as one of our beautiful table laid out with yummies!

I can't say enough about this simple recipe for fondue. Honestly, it was probably the best cheese fondue I've ever eaten--and I'm including the fondue from the Melting Pot in that assessment. I LOVED this fondue--and this is coming from someone who does not like cheese very much. We were scraping the bottom of the pot, trying to get every last delicious mouthful of cheesy goodness.

The cheese was wonderfully stringy, but smooth and wonderful and clung to our crudites and bready beautifully. The hint of nutmeg was fantastic. I was truly sad to see it end. We sat snacking on the veggies long after the cheese was gone, so it felt a wee bit healthy. While we were polishing off the veggies, Amy moved onto preparing the chocolate fondue. She did a simple fondue using just chocolate and heavy cream.

For dippers, we had strawberries, marshmallows, and angel food cake, and Amy, Annette, and Melissa also enjoyed bananas. Melissa especially enjoyed the bananas.

We ran out of cake before we ran out of chocolate. The strawberries and marshamallows fared better, but we did our best. The chocolate was great and it was fun to have a co-chef in the kitchen! What fun, not only for the trip, but for 80 Plates! We'll have to do it again sometime, ladies!

Almost Heaven...West Virginia...

I am home from the weekend away in West Virginia with the crew. I am totally wiped out and am going to curl up on the sofa with some popcorn and the Oscars and will write when I find the energy! There's too much to say about the fun we had, but I want to do it justice.

In the meantime, a public thanks to Russell, Amy, Annette, and Melissa for the getaway!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sunday @ NPR

This past Sunday was one of my twice yearly treks to DC for the express purpose of volunteering at WAMU for their annual member drive. As always we sit and answer the phones, taking pledges, and eating donated food, which often is not that great on Sunday nights. (On the two occasions I volunteered during the day, the food was awesome.)

Well, I got a little bit excited and got up there waaaaay early, so I hung out for a while with my niece. Then we decided to leave Judy's place at 5:00ish because my GPS remains devilish and we really didn't know what to expect in terms of how Jane was going to take us or what the traffic in town might look like. Oddly enough, Jane was cooperative and the traffic was light and we made it up there in plenty of time. So much in fact that we were at WAMU before 5:45. So we just had to sit there as the volunteer start time for the 7pm show is 6pm. We got to see Ed Walker arrive (he's the host of The Big Broadcast) and then the craziest thing happened.

We were parked on a meter outside the Sport and Health Club, which is right across the street from the station. We were the first meter on that side, and up ahead of my car was a tow away zone. We're sitting there gabbing and all of a sudden, this white van--and we're talking a FULL SIZED VAN, not the family funmobile--decides to cram itself into the 6 inches between the front of my car and the tow zone sign.

So I'm like, "Um, I don't think this is going to work out so well" and then the guy starts backing in. And I'm talking this van is getting closer and closer and closer. And finally, I had no recourse--there was a car parked behind me fairly close--I had to start laying on the horn. And guess what? IT DID NO GOOD! The guy kept coming. We were leaning back in our seats while I was laying on the horn, and finally, with literally 2 inches to spare, the guy gets out of his van and comes around the back. Judy yells at him, and he looks at us and GETS BACK IN THE VAN AND STARTS BACKING UP AGAIN.

How he did not hit the car, I do not know, but I assure you, he would have had one hell of an insurance claim on his hands. Then he went into the health club and worked out. I was like, "Go f'ing figure, right?" I get out of the car and check, and there was not room to stand sideways between the two vehicles. There was literally an inch to spare. I was thinking, "If this dude isn't out of here by 10:00, I'm officially calling the cops myself to have him towed." Of course, DC parking never showed up to tow the son of a gun, so I guess they aren't too concerned about fire zones in the District.

So 6pm rolls around and in we go. We stopped at the tables of books out in the lobby and selected a few freebies. This time I walked away with Robert Bosnak's Tracks in the Wilderness of Dreaming, Masha Hamilton's The Camel Bookmobile, Cheryl Simone and Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev's Midnights With the Mystic, and Robert Schwartz's Courageous Souls: Do We Plan Our Life Challenges Before Birth?. Rather heavy on new age and mysticism, but I'm excited to read the pre-birth challenges book in particular due to the fact that I read a book in which a psychic claimed to be talking to late Princess Diana who imparted to the psychic that she and Charles had pre-planned everything before either of them was even born as there were challeges they each needed to face for their souls to grow.

Ok, it's a little crackpot when it's the late Princess of Wales talking, but still the idea intrigues me. So I'm interested to see what this guy's basis for such an idea is.

Anyway, so we go inside and they have re-arranged the room. Up until Sunday night, we had "OUR TABLE" that we had always sat at, but our table was officially gone. We gave the volunteer coordinator a little bit of crap and then selected a new OUR TABLE which turned out to be the very first table I sat it the very first time I ever volunteered. So that was kinda cool.

So we're sitting around and Rob Bamberger (host of Hot Jazz Saturday Night) comes around and shakes hands with everyone and stops at our table and asks if we volunteered. So I pipe up that not only do we, but that my sister has never once said hello to Ed Walker and has always been too nervous to do so. So Rob says, "Well, we'll have to fix that, I'll be back later!" and disappears.

The tables where you volunteer seat 4. So we were soon joined by an older black gentleman named Sid and an older white woman named Deborah. The 2 of them seemed to know each other and before long, the four of were talking like old friends in and around the calls, which started rolling in at exactly 7:10pm.

In a sign of the times, this Sunday was the first time in the 3 or so years I've been volunteering that I've had calls where people apologized for being unable to do more and have contributed such amounts as $20. As late as last fall, the show raised over $30,000 in one night. This night, it was not to be. We probably did somewhere close to $22,000, but it was definitely in small amounts. My largest donation was $250, and it has not been unheard of for me to get donations of $500 in the past.

So we get through the breaks and the evening has worn on and I'm thinking Rob has forgotten about us when he pops over to our table and says, "When Ed came out, did he ask for Judy?" So I said, "Nope!" and shook my head sadly. "Well he was supposed to!" said Rob. "It's not his fault," Judy said, weasling out of it, "He came out in the midst of volunteer training." So Rob says, "OK, Judy, come with me" and she stands up and he takes her right into the studio, throwing me a wink over his shoulder as they depart. HILARIOUS! She came back blushing furiously and uttered, "I'm going to kill you!" Apparently she wasn't entirely successful at talking to him in the studio either. hahahaha I gotta send Rob a thank you email.

So, I'm not sure what caused it to be brought up, but towards the end of the night, we were sitting and talking about things and Sid mentioned one of the office workers at the station and Deb immediately chimed in that said office worker was anorexic. Sid leapt to her defense and said she was just skinny. So Deb said, "It's too bad she's not working, you guys could decide. She is so skinny and she's got a big head of black hair." We all laughed a bit at that image and then the phone rang at Deb's station and she answered it using her work name, like "Hello, Vandalay Industries" or wherever she worked. So we all started cracking up.

She is wrapping up her call and Sid's phone rings. Deb hangs up, and guess who strolls in at that exact moment? A young woman, extremely skinny with a big head of black hair. Yup! It was her! And we agreed she was anorexic, and the three of us started dying laughing. And poor Sid is on the phone, turns to see what we're laughing about, catches sight of this poor girl, and he busts out laughing into the phone, which only caused us to laugh even harder. Finally he says to whoever he's talking to, "We're having a time over here!" and I guess the guy on the phone started laughing too, and the volunteer coordinator and the phone room coordinators were like, "Geez, I guess that's the party table over there!" Boy, it was funny. I don't know what was so funny about it, but I had to take my phone off the hook--I was doubled over, crying. I'm laughing now!

So it was another great night at WAMU. I love volunteering there for the OTR show and meeting other people and getting free books. Hopefully in the fall we'll get to see Deb and Sid again!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

80 Plates: A Trip To the Orient

Monday night, it was time to knock off another couple of countries. I changed Israel's blintzes to cover Ukraine. In hearing from a couple of people, it was suggested blintzes are Eastern European and my own independent research suggests Russia and Ukraine are where blintzes are heavily consumed. I didn't want to toss Russia away on blintzes--I want to learn to make a really good beef stroganoff--so although I haven't changed the post except for the title, blintzes are now Ukraine.

Anyway, I hadn't done 80 plates in almost a week, and if I am going to get through this project, that's not gonna fly. So I was at Borders the other week and found a cookbook, The Essential Asian Cookbook, for a whopping $5, so I picked it up. It's kind of exciting because the book contains recipes from a number of smaller countries and "weird" countries, like Pakistan and Singapore, where you might have a hard time finding good recipes. So I'm excited about this book for that reason too! Because we had people here to help with the baby's room, it seems like a good time to make the 80 plates meals--we always have waaaaaaaaaaaay too many leftovers and can never eat them all, which is kind of disheartening to throw away food like that. So if anyone's starving and has a country request, please plan to come to Fredericksburg for dinner. Seriously.

Also, Manda, if you're out there, do you still want these ham hocks? They've been in my fridge, but they don't seem like the type of thing to go bad. I've got 'em if you want 'em. Cindy, I don't have your email address to send you the beef wellington recipe, so I'm going to send it to you this week via Facebook.

Ok, so we read through the new cookbook and looked through the freezer at things that we needed to get rid of. There was a pork tenderloin in there, so we chose to do China and make Pork with Plum Sauce as well as stir fry vegetables. I wanted to make something from another country, so we selected Japan and as a dish, chicken teriyaki. This allowed us a couple main dishes and some veggies, plus lots of food for hungry builders. I was also going to make shrimp toast, but I just got to feeling like it was all too much and I'd never really attempted making 3 dishes before, much less 4 of them, so the shrimp toast got put to the side.

Unfortunately, we got so stinkin' busy, I didn't get the brown rice into the steamer till nearly 6:00, which meant that dinner wasn't really going to be ready till 8:00. I would have prefered white rice, but we didn't have any and it's not WW approved. So I let the brown rice cook. Besides, Lucas was taking a nap, Judy was doing something on the computer and I had Dottie's undivided attention, which I didn't mind at all.

Alas, an hour elapsed and I decided I'd better get cracking on dinner. I decided to do the pork and veggies first and then do the chicken second. But you know me, timing is not my thing and I should have done exactly the opposite. The chicken took twice as long to cook--less time to prep but more in the pan time.

Overall, however, these dishes were an absolute snap compared to the foods I've been preparing--the ease with which they were done was a real breath of fresh air. We're talking 15 minutes prep, 15 minutes to cook, and we're done. So let's hear it for Chinese cooking!

So, I did the veggies first. As you can see from the picture of my assembled ingredients, I did have shiitake mushrooms, but due to a food allergy, I was obliged to leave them out. Otherwise, the directions were quite simple: chop up veggies, fry them in a little oil, add some chicken broth, corn starch and sauces, and voila! Only, I suppose I was feeling over confident. And I did it wrong.

As I chopped each vegetable, I put it in a bowl. When I was done, I mixed them all together--I liked the color of them and how they all looked so nice together. Plus, it's not often I get to cook with fresh green beans, so I was enjoying that.

But once I did this, I read, "Fry carrots first, then add remaining vegetables." And I was going to be damned if I was going to pick out all those little carrots that I'd so thinly and lovingly sliced up. So I just threw them all in together. Basically, it was carrots, red pepper, and green beans. I heated the oil and put in some garlic, which I let soften and then I fried the veggies for 2 minutes or so, before it was time to make the sauce.

The sauce was comprised of a little bit of cornstarch dissolved into some chicken broth, to which was added a little bit of superfine sugar, sesame oil, and soy sauce. I mixed it all up and poured it over the veggies, letting it cook down a bit and thicken up to a nice sauce. It smelled so great that I had a feeling it was going to be a homerun. Of course the recipe said, "Serve immediately" but that was impossible due to the fact that the rest of dinner was not even close to ready. So I clamped a lid on the pot and threw it in the oven to wait it out.

One of the reasons I have trouble with cooking more than one thing at a time is that my work space is approximately 3 feet square. The ingredients pictures I take are taken on what amounts to all the counterspace I have for cooking. The area to the left past the kitchen sink is taken up by the mixer, canisters, coffee pot, and to the right past the stove is where I set up my electric frying pan, which is often in use for these recipes. If I'm not using the stove top, I'll put the electric frying pan on the stove and give myself a little more room to work. Otherwise, space is at an ultimate premium.

Anyway, I digress. Time to make the pork! Another lightning fast recipe, this one involving pork tenderloin. (I was in such a rush, the ingredient photo is blurry--SORRY! Man, that pisses me off.) Anyway, the basic gist of this one is that you fry up some onions and garlic, slice up some pork tenderloin, fry it up, put it and the onions together in the pot, and put some sauce on it. The longest part of making this was frying the pork.

I dredged the pork in a little bit of cornstarch--the recipe called for something called 'corn flour', which I hope is what cornstarch is because that's what I used. The sole mistake I made in this recipe was that I fried the onions in garlic in the full amount of oil called for the whole dish, as opposed to the one tablespoon. However, I was able to salvage the oil when I drained off the onions and not have to use more.

Before and after shots of the beautiful pork

The last picture there shows the pork in the sauce, which I made by just mixing together hoisin sauce, plum sauce, a little bit of sugar, and some soy sauce, and pouring it over the pork and letting it thicken.

It was at this point, I was starting to notice a disturbing side effect of working with all this hot oil, which is that my kitchen was beginning to look as if it had been at the Exxon Valdez spill site. There was oil EVERYWHERE. I need to get one of those spatter guards. It was crazy. My new cookbook--thank God I only paid $5 for it--it's totally wrecked with oil. If you look at the next picture, you'll see it everywhere.

On to Japan and the chicken! I put the pork in the oven with the veggies and turned my attention to the Japanese section of the cookbook. We had decided to make chicken teriyaki from Japan. I would have been willing to be a bit more adventurous with something like udon soup, which I know my friend Joe LOVES and it'd be nice to know how to make it for him, or something else, but in fairness, I also have to cook for my audience, and my audience declared chicken teriyaki the most acceptable of the recipes from Japan, so that's what we decided to have. The recipe, again, was super simple--a minimum of ingredients and a minimum of fuss, but this time there was about 40 minutes of actual cooking. Consequently, we decided to have a "chicken course" later--i.e. I would dish up the Chinese food as soon as I got the chicken cooking.

It was time to make the sauce for the chicken. The sauce called for soy sauce, mirin, and sugar. Basically, you boil it until the sugar breaks down and it gets a bit thick and then pour it over the chicken, which you have fried up in (what else?) oil. I decided to use the superfine sugar since I already had it out and it seemed like it would not be as grainy, even though it was supposed to melt anyway. I cooked it all down and whisked the heck out of it with my whisk, and it was done!

Meanwhile, I'd been frying up some chicken drumsticks. Now, here again is where we are going to have to start taking creative license with these recipes. None of us likes chicken with skin and bones on/in it. However, I wanted to stay true to the recipe, so I used drumsticks. I think I'm going to have to start sticking with boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs. Just my thoughts on the matter. Because we've just gotten so used to eating chicken that way that to eat otherwise is unappealing to all of us.

Anyway, I fried up the chicken legs and poured the sauce over them. Then I clamped the lid on the pan and let it simmer for 20 minutes while we ate. It was time to call the troops to dinner and get ready to eat!

Up first was pork with plum sauce, stir fried vegetables, and brown rice. Everything smelled great, so I was definitely hopeful that we would have a great meal. I had inadvertantly forgotten to make the ever present mashed potatoes however! The General really wanted mashed potatoes, so I jumped up and put them on the stove to cook before we got down to business and ate. Fortunately those little instant mashed potatoes cook up pretty quick, but I wasn't waiting before we ate. He'd just have to get his potatoes in a bit. Of course we had to photograph the ceremonial first bite. The General declared it "Good". Then he made a terrible face and said, "This is the face he makes when he likes something!" So I took a picture of that face and here it is:

Then it was time for the rest of us to have a plate and dig in! I am not exagerrating in the least when I say that we were very nearly licking the plate that the pork was on. It was so freaking good. We ate all the onions, we ate the pork, we scraped the sauce onto the rice. It's a shame that tenderloin was only 1 pound, we could very easily have eaten twice that much. The veggies were excellent too, but the pork was a total homerun. We will definitely be incorporating that into our regular menus, no doubt about it.

By the time we'd finished, the chicken was done. It smelled really good, but when we actually ate it, it didn't taste like anything all that special--just tasted like chicken. It was unfair to eat it after we'd devoured the pork so voraciously and it was so flavorful. I got a little of the teriyaki sauce from the pan and poured it over the chicken and it helped, but it was such an anemic flavor compared to the pork, that it was not something we ate. We each picked at a leg, gazing longingly at the now-empty pork plate, and then gave up. I cunningly packed all the legs into a to go box for them to take home. Mwahahaha

So that was our most recent trip around the orient, bringing our total countries to 11. We are now more than 13% done with our quest to travel the world, and by and large, it's gone very, very well. We've both tried new things and made old things a new way, and it's been a lot of fun! We have a request in for Trinidad, which I am researching and this weekend we will hit SWITZERLAND! Wahooo! I also got a pile of actual recipes from Israel, so I'm trying to decide which one of them to prepare. Stay tuned!

Monday, February 16, 2009

And I would Walk Five Hundred...

This post marks historic post number 500. Yup. If you've been with me from the beginning, or if you're some sort of masochist with nothing better to do and have read all my posts, you have read 500 of my greatest hits. What's taken place in the course of those 500 gems?

* I broke my leg.
* I did Relay for Life.
* We've traveled to Georgia, North and South Carolina, Nevada, Arizona, Rhode Island, New York, Massachusetts, Florida, and Kentucky
* Mike's had a driving lesson
* I've met Alton Brown, Stephen Schwartz, Dave Barry, Michael Ian Black, Christopher Plummer, Alan Alda, Caroline Kennedy, Christopher Buckley, Andy Rooney, Rachel Ray, Paula Deen, Jodi Piccoult, Laurie Notaro, and Dog the Bounty Hunter
* I've met and been befriended by the Glecks
* I've become even closer with the General's Chief Honey, Annette
* I joined WW and lost 60 pounds
* I've got a new car
* I've marched in a pile of war protests
* I shook hands with Barack Obama
* I started the Kosior Fall Fun Festival
* I've been cooking the hell out of my kitchen
* A new baby is on the way
* Found homes for new baby rabbits
* I've won NaNoWriMo 3 times
* I've gotten a Wii
* I've volunteered at NPR a bunch of times
* I've been hurt
* I joined a photography club and had my pictures featured online at Gather.com
* I've seen New Kids, Rod Stewart, Billy Joel, Kenny G and others in concert, and been to see Prairie Home Companion taped live several times
* My confidence was irrevocably boosted by a tubing trip
* I've ben featured in our local paper twice--once for reading and once for cooking. How great is that?!

It's not easy keeping up a blog. Writing is a lot of work and the entries take up a lot of my time. Often, there are posts not written and things not said, sometimes for personal reasons, sometimes for a lack of time or desire to write. Right now, I've got 2 entries banging about in my head, and I'm hoping I'll get them written. The blog is a lot of fun for me to look back over, and I've got my old entries from my first blog, way back in the day, which is no longer in existence. These are fun, in lieu of scrapbooks and diaries, which I suck at maintaining, and not only do I get to write things, you all get to add to my experience as I read your comments and think about what everyone's said. Yes, I've branched out to other blogs--notably the WW blog and the baby blog. By nature, I'm a compartmentalizer and I like things in their place. Still, I don't think that has detracted from this blog in any way, or at least, I hope it hasn't!

I hope you all have enjoyed the first 500 posts, and I hope there are 500 more in me. I plan to make it to at least 502. After that, we'll see what happens! Thanks for being here (and other places) with me on the journey.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Reading & Watching Revolutionary Road

Last night, the General and I had a little Thursday night date night. We've both been a little (lot) tense about the adoption and needed something to do together that we could relax and unwind. We had both decided to sort of skip Valentine's Day this year--no need to purchase overpriced flowers and chocolates when we have so many other things to do with our money. But at the same time, we wanted to celebrate somehow.

I've spent the last 8 days of my driving life reading Richard Yates's Revolutionary Road. And of course, Kate Winslet won the Golden Globe for her portrayal of April Wheeler in this film. And although she didn't get an Oscar nod for it, many people thought she should. Well, as I was reading the book, a single thought kept coming to me: how the hell did they turn this into a movie?

So I finished reading it Wednesday (and, coincidentally, started on The Reader by Bernard Schlink, whose main character Kate Winslet did win an Oscar nod for protraying and she better win, darn it!) and decided I just had to see the movie. Now of course, I'm a wee bit behind the eight ball on this one--the movie's been out quite a while. So when I looked at the movie listings, I had exactly one time to choose from in Fredericksburg for Wednesday and Thursday nights before it left the theater: 9pm.

Well, this would have been OK for me, but it's been a long time since we've been to the movies and the General was hot on going with me and so we decided to turn it into a Valentine's Day date. We looked at the listings in Woodbridge and fortunately at Potomac Mills last night, it was showing at 7pm. We decided to kick it off with dinenr at the Silver Diner and then went to the 7pm show--getting home before 10 which allowed me to still do my workout :-)

So, a brief synopsis for anyone who doesn't know what the book is about. The story centers around Frank and April Wheeler (played in the film by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet), a young couple who move to the Connecticut suburbs after meeting in post WWII New York, falling hastily in love, and finding themselves expecting a baby. Frank takes a job at the same company where his father worked, while April busies herself as a housewife. Some years after, with two children, the Wheelers come to see their lives as a trap they've fallen into, and start to wonder if there is any kind of meaning in it, or if they can escape before it's too late.

I'm glad I read the book first, but I'm equally glad I saw the movie. The book spends the majority of its life plunged deep inside Frank's head, examining his thoughts and feelings about everything and everyone, and his motives are crystal clear. April's thoughts are clear, but only as an extension of Frank's own. There is very little actual 'action' to the book--Frank goes to work, April visits with the neighbors, Frank and April go dancing with their friends--the majority of it is truly their disappointment in their lives.

I don't know why, but in reading the book, I felt completely disconnected from the Wheelers. I didn't find them sympathetic characters, I didn't love them or hate them, I just felt total apathy. As they did certain things in the book, I was kind of like, "What the hell!?" but not in a way that made me seriously incensed by the fact that they'd done anything--just that in the overall scheme of things, nothing seemed like it was done because either of them thought that it would improve their lives.

This was the beauty of seeing the film. I was able to relate more to the characters and come to have feelings for them. I do quibble with the choice of Kathy Bates as the neighbor, Mrs. Givings, and frankly whenever I look at Leonardo DiCaprio, I see a 12 year old boy (hate him for that! He and Matthew Broderick never seem to age.), but the acting was excellent. I am pleased to note that Michael Shannon is up for an Oscar for his portrayal of John Givings, Mrs. Givings's crazy son. He was jaw-droppingly fantastic in that role. As was Dylan Baker as Frank's obnoxious co-worker, Jack Ordway.

I will say that the writers stayed as true as I think would be possible in bringing the book to the big screen. There were 2 scenes in particular that I had some issues with their changing, one of which was the very last 20 minutes, and the other which was when April and her neighbor Shep are in the car after a dance. The things that they left out were central to the very core of who April was, in my opinion and had they left in a couple of things, you would have gotten a much better sense of what was going on in her head.

That being said, seeing it acted out did make it all the better. There were times in the book when I would think, "They did what?!" But seeing it made a bit more sense. For instance, in the beginning of both the book and the film (and I'm not giving anything away here), Frank and April are driving home from a play in which April has acted and they start to argue. Frank pulls the car over on the side of the road and April jumps out of the car and the two of them proceed to scream at each other in a big dust up on the side of the road. And I remember the whole time thinking, "Seriously? People actually do this type of thing?" But actually, in the film, it doesn't really seem so weird.

The movie ended and the General said, "On the way home, you're going to have to explain a few things to me." And in fact, I did and to him that made the movie make a whole lot more sense. But because I had the novel's picture of what was going on in their heads, I was able to make sense of it for him and now he's interested in reading the book. So I think that will be a new project for him--I gave him the CD's to read.

If you haven't already seen the movie, do yourself a favor and read the book first. Despite my apathy towards the characters, I really, really enjoyed reading the book, and consequently, I really, really enjoyed the movie.

I'll have to see The Reader on DVD, as it doesn't appear to be playing around here any more. And I will probably miss the Oscars telecast as we'll be driving home from WV that day, but I'll be rooting for Kate all the way. She deserves it!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Dear CP BB

Dear Central Park Best Buy:

I want to thank you for the lack of service your team has provided to me over the course of the past year. If I'm not mistaken, to date your team's service procedures have probably cost you somewhere in the realm of $500.

Take this weekend, for instance. Sunday, we got the Best Buy circular in the mail and saw that you were having a nice monitor on sale for $129.00. We thought we'd go buy it, since my husband's monitor has been on the blink for some time now. We arrived an hour after the store opened, found the monitor on display with the advertised price, and waited while the Blue Shirt Cronies of Best Buy assisted a whole pile of other customers. Finally, one guy pawned us off on another guy, who checked his computer, announced that the monitor in question was out of stock, probably due to the fact that it was being discontinued, and that we could possibly get one at the Stafford store or if not, they'd have them in Springfield.

Um, what?

Do you mean to tell me that you are advertising products that aren't even being made, that your stores have no intention of selling? And what's more, you're displaying them on shelves?

To make matters worse, this is the second time in 6 months that we've gone into this particular store to buy a monitor on the day it appeared in the paper, only to be told that the monitor in question was out of stock.

Really? Why do you keep advertising them? Why are you advertising products you have no intention of stocking or selling?

Additionally, I was totally dismissed a mere two months ago when I attempted to find out about the purchase of satellite radio for my husband's Christmas present. The child working the car electronics section of the store literally gave me 30 seconds of his time to basically tell me no information whatsoever about the programming, much less the equipment, and then turned to work with another customer, who I suppose looks more likely to purchase something than I did.

In the past month, I've also been sent on a wild goose chase around the store to find an external card reader for my camera's memory card. No one knew where they were in three different sections of the store, including at the returns/exchange desk where I had turned in the internal card reader to swap for the external.

Let's not even get started on the dude you sent to my house to hook up my new TV a couple of years ago who ripped out a few wires, told me my TV was fixed and disappeared. And it took you another week to get anyone out to fix what he had undone and the first words out of their mouths when they got behind the TV to set it up were, "What the hell did Jesse do here?!" They were the only Best Buy employees I've actually felt didn't treat me like a dumb ass simply because I'm a woman, and apparently not a wealthy-looking one at that.

Well, screw you and your stupid monitors. I came home and bought the exact same monitor on Amazon.com for an amazing $97.00. It came with free shipping and was delivered direct to my front door. And I didn't have to deal with any annoying sales pitch about warranties or any of that crap either. Too bad Circuit City is going out of business. I'll always have Amazon.

Adios from an iPod listenin', plasma TV watchin', computer usin', digital picture takin', cell phone callin', Wii playin' disgruntled customer,
S. C. Kosior

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

80 Plates: Rule Brittania!

So this weekend's two countries, as stated, were Israel and England. I have since discovered that my dish from Israel wasn't so much Israeli as it was Jewish, so I think I'm going to have to have a do-over of Israel. As for England, it represented a true success and a true failure, the failure of which was a bit disheartening as I am a real tried and true daughter of England. And there is a recipe that has always been one that I have always thought I would very much like to try, but never have: beef wellington. I am a devotee of puff pastry, and I figured you wrap it around some beef and voila. Oh no. No, no, no. It's not that easy.

I decided I was going to try Paul Burrell's recipe from his book In the Royal Manner. Burrell for many years was Princess Diana's butler and is vilified for being a total sell out after her death. I have 2 copies of this particular book, one of which is autographed and I keep under wraps. I pulled out the other copy, but I noted with some disdain that the recipe was for mini beef wellingtons, and quite frankly, I wanted to go whole hog and make a big one, and also that it called for foie gras.

Ok, well, I did not know this about beef wellington. So I quickly defected from Mr. Burrell and went to Darren McGrady's book Eating Royally. McGrady, you will recall from my review of this book last year, was Diana's personal chef and also a chef for the entire royal family during his career before moving to the US. He had a recipe for a big beef wellington, but also his called for foie gras.

Crap. Well, that was not going to happen. Although I can actually get foie gras at my local supermarket, I have some issues with forcefeeding ducks until they die just so they have plump livers. Yes, you can make the argument that the cow was probably unhappy to face its end so unceremoniously, but at least it wasn't forcefed with a metal tube that could have punctured its esophagus. Still, I decided to put it to a vote--if the General wanted to try it, then I'd buy some and put it in there. But I wasn't going to like it. The conversation went a bit something like this:

Me: Darling, what's your opinion on having foie gras with dinner?
Him: Foie gras? Don't believe I know the chap.
Me: Oh, you know darling, foie gras. It's made of duck liver or sommat...
Him: Go on. Pull the other one then.
Me: No, truly.
Him: Well, if it's all the same to you, I mean...
Me: Right-o, darling.

Well, if we lived in England, that could have happened. What actually happened was:

Me: Honey, the beef wellington has foie gras in it.
Him: What the hell is foie gras?
Me: Duck liver pate.
Him: Like hell it is.
Me: Seriously.
Him: I'm not eating that.
Me: Yeah, me either.

And thus the matter was decided.

Everything else I was completely faithful to.

Sunday morning, I headed out for my supply procurement expedition. I hit Giant first, by virtue of the fact that it is closest. And then I nearly had a heart attack.

I needed 3 pounds of center cut beef tenderloin. Giant's price!? $14.99 per pound.

"Go on. Pull the other one then."

Seriously!? You have to be the Queen of England to afford $45 dollars for beef for one freakin' meal! This is a week when we needed very few groceries, fortunately, but I can assure you, there's no way I'm spending $45 on some beef. I don't care if that was the happiest cow on the planet before he surrendered to his fate. Sorry.

I looked around desperately for other options. Of course, as you well know by now, I know absolutely nothing about cuts of beef. And nothing appeared even remotely do-able. So I went home to think about it. My dad called. He suggested I should get a boneless prime rib. The General and I pondered the matter over breakfast and the Sunday paper. We were looking at the ads for Best Buy, as he needs a new monitor (that's another story in itself), and we decided to go over to Central Park. I figured I could try Shoppers for the beef while we were there. I also needed a souffle dish for the pudding. (more on that later as well)

Although my dad was skeptical that Shoppers might come through ("Really, Cheese, they specialize in very cheap cuts of meat"), I was undeterred, and Shoppers proved my faithfulness was well placed. I got 2 1/3 pounds of beef tenderloin for about $20. I have no idea if it was center cut or not, but the savings made me very happy. After a quick stop at Target, where I used the money I saved on a souffle dish by Corningware, It was time to go home and cook.

On one of the pages near to Beef Wellington in Eating Royally was a recipe for Andrassy Pudding. A chocolate souffle topped by a rich chocolate frosting, I thought this would be a great way to add a dessert into the mix--I don't believe we have done a dessert yet. I have always wanted to learn to make a souffle, and the directions in the book assured that this was a good one to start with, as if it falls, it's fine, you're going to let it fall anyway. Perfect, I figured! So, I decided to make that first, since baking was involved and I knew I would need the oven later for the beef. The ingredient list was pretty simple: butter, sugar, flour, cocoa, cream, milk, and lots and lots of eggs. I combined the dry ingredients--sugar, flour, and cocoa--and added them to a half stick of melted butter in a sauce pan, where they promptly formed a muddy paste.

However, the next step was to whisk in some milk, which made everything go nice and smoothly. It turned into a lovely smelling, smooth mixture, a lot like I suppose hot chocolate might be like if it had flour in it. Per the directions, I took it off the heat and poured it into a bowl to cool while I beat some egg whites into stiff peaked submission. And, if I may, I'd just like to take a chance to re-iterate how much I love my mixer. It's one amazing piece of machinery. It took no time to whip egg whites.

So that done, it was time to butter the living hell out of the souffle dish, which I enjoyed. Normally I don't like getting my hands greasy, but I was feeling optimistic about this souffle, so I enjoyed it very much. Then, I began to carefully fold everything together, and then poured it into the dish.

I baked it up and voila! I MADE SOUFFLE!!!!!!!!! It puffed up beautifully, cracked a bit on top! I was stoked! Not only had I conquered crepes, I conquered souffle, and I did it all in one day!

Per the directions again, I let it cool a bit and then slid a knife around the outside and then flipped it onto a cooling rack to fully cool. That it did not fall apart, I took to be a very good sign. But it was at this time I realized I was running dangerously short on eggs. Remember in an earlier episode when I stated there are certain things we just don't keep around the house because we don't tend to use them very often? Well, eggs is one of those things. However, the souffle part of the pudding called for a full dozen of them, which fortunately I had the foresight to purchase, and the beef needed some too, as did the 'frosting' part of the pudding. When I began this day, I had 17 eggs in my fridge. By the end of the day, I had zero, and I had used up my egg beaters too!!

However, this was to be the last good news on this pudding, which went on to turn into my first kitchen failure. However, my good friends Elizabeth and Jacalyn/Lady Ozma have informed me that I really should report on my failures as well as my successes, and so, despite my desperate need for all of you to think I am the perfect chef, I am going to report on the full treachery of this pudding. Later.

But isn't she a beauty?

For now, it was time to turn my attention back to the beef. I gathered up all my ingredients again and laid them out. The first thing I had to do was to make a paste out of a pound of portabella mushrooms. Knowing that they would be turned into a paste, I decided to get baby bellas, which I cleaned and then naively crammed into the food processor.

Note to self: the food processor is a powerful tool capable of annihilating many ingredients. It was not, however, designed to do a full pound of mushrooms all at once. So basically, after letting it run a good 4 minutes, I wound up with paste on the bottom and whole mushrooms on top. I had to pull the whole thing apart, scoop out the paste, slice up the mushrooms so that more would fit in near the blades, run it again, scoop out more paste, cram in more mushrooms, and so on until they were a nice mushy paste. Also, it should be noted that the feed chute for your food processor was not really designed to stick the handle of a spatula down to "try and stir things up a bit". There is a high probability that the food processor will not like this.

Isn't the color of the paste beautifully rich?

Then I hacked up some onions and sauteed them in more butter. When this was completed, I added the mushroom paste and let the whole thing cook until "the mushrooms release their liquid and the pan runs relatively dry."

This seemed like it would take a while, so I decided to turn my attention to the beef. If I'm being perfectly honest, I'm not that crazy about how raw beef smells, and also thinking about those poor little ducks got me to thinking about the poor little cow, and I got a little teary eyed over this tenderloin, which is not a happy looking piece of meat. I mixed up a spice rub of dry mustard, celery seed, and salt and fresh ground pepper and rubbed that beef down, giving it a final massage on its journey to becoming food. Then I put it into the only frying pan I had that was even remotely large enough to handle the task of searing the whole thing, which was my electric frying pan.

Yeah, for a cut of beef, it looks kind of hideous

While it may not have looked too pretty, I will say, the smell of it was FANTASTIC. The General came downstairs, stood in the doorway of the kitchen and just inhaled. We both did. It smelled amazing.

Ok, so then it was time to turn my attention back to the mushrooms, which I figured were in pretty good shape by now. I added some heavy cream to them, along with some Worcestershire sauce, and let them cook up a bit more while I rolled out the puff pastry into what I hoped was a large enough rectangle to cover this whole thing.

After that, the hard part was done, if you can call it hard. It really wasn't that challenging. There was a lot to do, but not anything difficult. I had the pastry on the counter, and then smeared it with the mushroom and onion mixture. Then I put the beef on top of the mushrooms and brushed the edges of the pastry with the egg beaters.

After that was completed, all that was left was to basically folded the pastry up, over, and around the beef and kind of seal it, and then brush it with more egg. Then I put it in the oven and finished cleaning up the dishes while preparing the rest of the side dishes. In this case, I acquiesced to the General's demands for mashed potatoes and I added a side of peas.

I decided to bake the beef on a piece of parchment paper, figuring that it would a) be less likely to stick, b) be easier to clean up, and c) make it easier to lift and transfer the beef from the pan to the cutting surface. It turned out I was correct on all accounts, and I highly recommend doing this if you don't have one of those lovely little silicon mats, which I don't. The beef looked glorious when I removed it from the oven. There was some moisture in the bottom of the pan, which I took to mean that I probably had not let the mushrooms cook up enough to really get good and dry, something I would do if I make this again in the future.

It was time to dish up and eat! I decided to get a little bit creative with my mashed potatoes and my Pampered Chef scoop, in honor of the Pampered Chef party last night, and I made a little daisy out of my mashed potatoes. Oh c'mon, you love it! The General just got a mound of potatoes, but I got a flower. It also made my meager serving of potatoes seem like more than they were, which is always a good thing. I expect mashed potato daisies to be all the rage in haute cuisine in the very near future. The beef sliced up beautifully--it was so tender. I cut off the two ends, as they contained only mushrooms and pastry, but I'll be quite honest--I ate the end later and it was amazing. The only thing I thought was that it was a bit salty, which was when I discovered I had used celery salt, not celery seed as I thought I had done. So read those labels carefully when buying this stuff at the store!

I asked The General to give me a thumbs up after he assured me that he liked it, so here he is giving the dish a positive review while not pausing to pose. He wanted to eat, damn it!

After supper, we cleaned up and the General requested that I put some beef in his lunch for the next day. Mind you, this beef was LOADED with mushrooms and onions. There is hope for picky eaters yet!

Ok, so I cleaned up everything and then it was time to turn my attention to the frosting for the pudding. I had actually made it earlier in the day, combining more flour, cocoa, and sugar with heavy cream, butter, and eggs. It was supposed to sit, so I wasn't too concerned with the fact that it seemed very, very soupy. However, as I returned to it at 8:00 that evening, it was still very, very soupy. I decided to make up some whipped cream, as the recipe said it should be served with whipped cream, so while my mixer was quickly making delicious clouds of cream, I debated the problem with the 'frosting soup'. Clearly, I had forgotten to put something in. I re-read the ingredient list and could not find a single thing I had missed. I went through it line by line and nothing seemed amiss.

I sliced up the souffle, and I was supposed to spread the frosting on the cut part. But there was no way it was going to spread. Honestly, it would have soaked right through. I was also left with another problem: the souffle, when sliced, was falling apart. It was very, very moist in the middle--not underdone, but just very moist--and when I pulled off the top half, it broke. I managed to sort of push it back together on the cooling rack, but this was devolving rapidly.

Ultimately, I decided that what I should do was to fold the chocolate mixture in with the whipped cream. Unfortunately, it was so thin that it really turned the whipped cream into soup too. But even more unpleasantly, some of the cream refused to give in and formed little clumps in the overall mess, so I had a kind of chunky tan mass. But there really wasn't anything to do with it, so I decided to just put it on the souffle and hope for the best. I poured some of it onto the bottom layer, and as you can see, it started to run out all over the place. After this picture was taken, it made a break for the counters even.

In for a penny, in for a pound, so I then picked up the entire cooling rack, said a prayer, and flipped. Well, when a fairly heavy substance hits a fairly soupy substance, you can imagine one result and one result only: splatter. I didn't get a picture of it, but there was soup in the toaster. Ugh. I was getting kind of upset now. I had been looking forward to this chocolate fantasticness for some time, and it was rapidly turning into something horrible. The cake was falling apart, the sauce was going everywhere. Ugh. I poured the rest of the cream over it and quickly snapped a picture, then called the General.

I mean seriously, could it look worse?

We 'cut' into it with a spoon and scooped out a couple of servings. And I have to say, despite its spectacular failure, it tasted delicious. It was chocolately and sweet without being too sweet or too rich. It really was an amazing dessert and I think I will try making it again without messing up the frosting this time! Because, you see, it occurred to me in the middle of the night that what I'd done wrong was to put in 1/4 cup of flour and not 1 1/4 cups of flour. And that clearly made all the difference.

Sadly, we had to put the rest of it down the disposal. While we were eating, it just literally fall apart and went everywhere. I've never had such a chocolatey mess to clean up!

I have lots more recipes to try from this book, but these are the two I'll count from England! Great success and great failure, but everything tasted great, as usual. And if Mikey likes it...