0427 Happy Hour at Packard Pub

Tonight Leah convinced me that I had to go to happy hour.

I’ve been bemoaning the lack of “hang out” friends in my life right now – you know, the sort of friends that you can email at 3pm to make plans for dinner that night, or who would be down with sitting on the couch and watching a terrible movie.  I feel like that’s a kind of friendship I haven’t cultivated here yet, and it’s something I really feel the need for in my life.

So when work people called a happy hour, Leah wouldn’t hear of me staying home, despite my reticence and my desire to sit on the couch and eat pizza.  I convinced Shane that going out would be a good idea, and off we went to Packard Pub, which turned out to be a TOTAL sports bar.

You know the type – a bajillion TVs all tuned to the same game, waitresses (no waiters) in referee outfits, $6 pitchers of shitty beer, and food served in paper-lined baskets.  The sort of place you might want to go if you are a Big 10 undergrad who has just turned 21.  Or if you’re a middle-aged man who likes to relive your days of collegiate sports (or drinking) glory.  Or if you enjoy sub-par service and adequate food.

OK, OK.  Focus on the food.  I had a turkey Reuben, and Shane took advantage of the half-priced appetizers and had a chicken quesadilla, both of which were totally adequate.  My coworkers ordered the fried pickles, which were strange and soggy.  Several pitchers of Bud Light were split amongst those in attendance.  I don’t know if I cultivated any hang-out friendships, but I did make an effort to be social, and that’s half the battle, right?  Right?


0426 A Different Kind of Roast Chicken

Roasting a chicken is one of those things that just doesn’t seem possible on a weeknight.  We tend to eat dinner early – usually around 6 – which doesn’t leave much time for heating up the oven, letting the chicken come to room temperature, and then roasting for 90 minutes or more, depending on the vagaries of our oven.

Keeping all of this in mind, I decided to try something new tonight – roasting in the cast iron skillet.  Our friend Kevin has led me to believe that ANYTHING is possible in a cast iron skillet, and the internet seemed to confirm this argument with promises of a whole chicken roasted in half an hour.  Half an hour!

We both left work early for an appointment with a mortgage lender – fact finding in hopes of buying a house next year – making it possible to set the chicken out with plenty of time to get to room temperature.  As soon as we got home, I fired up the oven to 450F and cleaned the chicken, stuffing herbs under the skin and in the cavity.  Following a tip here, I put the cast iron in the oven near the end of the preheat.  Using an assortment of veg, I built a little log cabin to keep the chicken breast off the searing heat of the cast iron.  I’m not sure this was worth it, but it did clear out some fading veg from the crisper while making the kitchen smell delicious.

Once in the oven, the chicken roasted about 20 minutes breast up, then another 20 minutes breast up.  The temperature readings were a bit uneven, so we left it in for another 5-10 minutes.  We probably should’ve let the chicken rest a bit longer before carving it up, but we were hungry and I was impatient, so Shane braved the very hot bird and burnt his fingers serving up dinner.

The verdict? Good in a pinch, but I’ll stick to my usual recipe from Jamie’s Dinners.  The meat was moist and the herbs imparted a lot of flavor, but there were no noticeable advantages other than speed of preparation.

Recipes consulted:
Fastest Roast Chicken from The Paupered Chef
A Thomas Keller Roast Chicken from MeatHenge
Roast Chicken with Lemon and Rosemary Roast Potatoes from Jamie’s Dinners

0425 Rainy Day Eats

Today was just – gray.  Gray.  And wet.  And sleepy.  I kept opening the front door to check on the weather, hoping that the rain had let up so that I could run, and then closing the door and pouting.

Shane got home mid-afternoon, exhausted from Dark Lord Day debauchery and from the drive home, and we both crashed out on the couch in front of the Cavs game.  When we woke up, I was totally unmotivated to roast the chicken we’d planned to have for dinner, especially when Shane mentioned that he was craving a grilled cheese sandwich.

I wonder if this is a typically middle-American thing, or if grilled cheese sandwiches and bowls of soup are universal comfort foods.  For me, they’re an essential part of childhood – slices of American cheese peeled from their plastic wrappers, melted between two slices of bread and served with a bowl of Campbell’s cream of tomato soup – and then of my early adulthood, when Eva introduced me to homemade tomato bisque, and when Jeff Perri would stand his sandwiches on end to avoid total grease saturation.

Tonight’s sandwiches were made with a very sharp cheddar and slices of Avalon‘s Rustic Italian bread.  We were too hungry and too impatient to make soup from scratch, so we split a jar of smoky roasted red pepper soup.  Fast, simple, and just right on a rainy night.

0424 A Perfect Spring Brunch

Shane left in the wee hours to drive to Indiana for Dark Lord Day, which, along with the drizzly spring weather, made it a perfect morning for brunch and baking – or, as I like to think of it, Fancy Lady Baking Brunch.

After last month’s relatively successful batch of Twinkies, we settled on pop-tarts for our next baking adventure, nudged on by the good fortune of a recipe in this month’s Bon Appetit.  As it worked out, I had very little to do with the preparation of the actual pop-tarts, as I was busy with the main brunch event: bacon-wrapped asparagus and soft-boiled eggs.

Susie and I washed and snapped the asparagus, fresh from the farmers’ market, and wrapped each little spear in lovely bacon from Sparrow Market.

Jamie’s recipe recommends baking for 10 minutes, but I’ve found that it takes a LOT longer to get crispy bacon. In this case, 25 minutes, with a break in the middle to switch the pans around. While the asparagus soldiers were in the oven, I boiled a dozen 5 minute eggs – long enough for the whites to be set but the yolks still lovely and molten.

In the meantime, Olivia, Shana, Shannon, and Maria were busy rolling out pastry and filling it with a panoply of jams.

For me, asparagus, bacon, soft-boiled eggs, and toast are all simple pleasures. Put them all together, and you’ve got something magic. Add some local greens, a homemade dressing, and a spoonful of thinly sliced potatoes baked with a fair amount of herbs and cheese, and you’ve got a fantastic spring brunch, made all the more amazing by what came out of the oven an hour later:

I’ll take one of everything, please.

Crispy Asparagus Soldiers with Soft-Boiled Eggs from Jamie at Home (oops, temperatures in Celsius)
Strawberry “Pop-Tarts” from Bon Appetit

Thanks to Maria for her photos!

Oh, and how great is it that we totally made these before Smitten Kitchen posted her version?

0423 Food Kryptonite

pizza & beer, pt. 1, originally uploaded by "Cowboy" Ben Alman.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I am pretty much powerless when certain foods are around. I can’t help myself. The best I can do is set a limit and stick to it, but there’s not a chance of avoiding the food altogether.

Pizza is one of those foods. Ice cream is another. There are very good reasons that we don’t usually keep either food in the house – but there’s not much you can do about the food that comes into the office.

Today my office had a party for our graduating student workers, which meant that two dozen pizzas and four dozen cupcakes spent the afternoon on the OTHER SIDE OF MY CUBICLE WALL. Cruel and unusual treatment, I tell you! I had two slices of vegetarian pizza and one cupcake – more than I had planned to eat, but definitely not as much as I wanted to eat. It was all tasty in a greasy, free kind of way – the pizza was laden with things I like, and the cupcake was Hostess-esque – full of flavor and regret. I hadn’t planned on walking home from work, but after all of that, it seemed like the only responsible choice.

Rob Brezsny’s Astrology Newsletter > April 28, 2010

“CAPRICORN (Dec. 22-Jan. 19): What excites you? What makes you itch with a longing to be surprised? What fills you to the brim with curiosity and an agitated sense of wonder? You may not know even half of what you could potentially realize about these matters. Have you ever sat down and taken a formal inventory? Have you ever dedicated yourself to figuring out all the things that would inspire you most? Do it sometime soon, please; attend to this glorious task. According to my reading of the omens, it’s prime time to do so.”


This couldn’t possibly be more timely.

0422 A Simple Chicken Pasta

I don’t know what’s happening, but I just haven’t been feeling the cooking love this last week.  Maybe this is the dénouement of the exciting wedding weekend?  Maybe I’m feeling spoiled after a few weeks of eating out on trips and with visitors?  I dunno.

The net result, though, is that we plan meals and then don’t feel like making/eating them, and THEN end up with stuff in our fridge that needs to be used before going bad.  Last night’s asparagus was intended to be eaten with pork chops, which were intended to be grilled about a week ago.  Instead they’re in the freezer, waiting to be used later in the week (perhaps) (if we don’t flake out again), and the asparagus was perfect with our snacky cheese dinner.  Tonight’s chicken breasts were intended for this recipe from Bon Appetit, but then we got lazy, and then we ate the peppers with something else, and then and then and then…sigh.

SO in the end, we had chicken and pasta.  I sliced the chicken breasts into cutlets and browned them in the cast iron skillet with garlic and a little butter.  While the pasta was boiling, I melted some of last night’s City Goat in the skillet, then tossed it with the pasta and served it immediately.  Simple and flavorful, and on the table in under 30 minutes.  I suppose if this is what ‘not cooking’ looks like in our house, we’re still doing better than most.

0421 A Message from the Universe

The universe wanted us to eat cheese tonight.  We had other dinner plans, but when a cheese board and a set of cheese knives arrived in the mail from Kristen and Lyle, I thought, hmm, maybe we should use these with the City Goat we picked up at the Creamery!

…and then there was a knock at the door, which was the Fed Ex man delivering a bottle of champagne from Mel and Ray.  So that was that, we were having cheese and snacks for dinner.  A round of City Goat with a layer of roasted red peppers.  The last of a wonderful Gouda picked up at the Deli a week or so ago.    Slices of Paesano and focaccia warmed in the oven.  The last of the market asparagus, blanched then topped with flakes of sea salt.  A bowl of muscat grapes, sweet as candy.  Not a large meal, but a flavorful one.

0420 Steak Sarnies

I was vegetarian for ~6 years, and have only recently started eating beef again after 13 years away.  I mention this because tonight I made my second steak EVER.  EVER.  The last one was prepared maybe 9 years ago for a meat-eating ex as a Valentine’s or maybe birthday treat.  I was living in the first 12th Street apartment, and I remember carefully consulting my Joy of Cooking to figure out what the hell I was doing.  I had just started getting into cooking – at this point fresh packaged pasta and a sauce other than straight-up marinara was a fancy home-cooked meal – so who knows how that steak turned out.  I certainly don’t recall.

Tonight’s steak, on the other hand, was delicious.  After some consultation with my Plum Market butcher friends, I picked up a piece of flank steak, then sliced it thin and grilled it quickly on the cast iron grill pan.  We made quick sandwiches with the steak and a handful of arugula on slices of toasted Paesano spread with coarse ground mustard and a bit of mayonnaise.  The sandwiches were hearty and satisfying, especially with a Spotted Cow and some tangy cornichons on the side.  While I’m not sure that steak sarnies will enter our regular meal rotation, the simplicity of this dinner reminded me that a good sandwich is a beautiful thing.

Steak Sarnies from Happy Days with the Naked Chef