And the Award for Biggest Moron Goes To…

Let’s play a game called, Can You Spot the Difference? The rules are simple: you study the photo below and tell me the differences between the top two and bottom two packages of ground beef. Take a moment, and when you’re ready, compare your findings to my answer key below.

IMG_0999

Look closely…

Keep looking…

It seems so easy…

Ready? Here’s the answer key:

  • They are different brands.
  • The beef on top is organic and the beef below is simply “all natural.”
  • The beef on top is in a square package and the beef below is in a rectangular package.

The answers are all fairly obvious, are they not? But there’s more to this riddle than meets the eye. There’s one last difference I bet you couldn’t see. It’s that the two packages on top are room temperature and completely inedible, and the bottom two packages are nice and cool, just out of the cooler at the store down the street. So how did we get here, you might ask?

Several months ago I wrote about “Plan B” in my house, which consists of a drive to Chipotle whenever I ruin dinner or fail to plan properly. The particular instance that sparked the “Plan B” post was that I’d taken the chicken out to thaw for an hour in the morning, mistakenly left it out all day while I was at work, and came home to room-temperature chicken that had to be tossed. Most frustrating of all was that this wasn’t the first, second, or even tenth time I’d done such a thing.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

Last night, I took two frozen packages of hamburger out of the freezer. One went in the fridge to thaw out for Tuesday night, and the other went in the sink to thaw until bedtime so it would be ready to cook come dinner time tonight. Well, I woke up this morning to find the beef still sitting in the sink.

So I took the other package out of the fridge and set it in the sink to thaw while I got ready for work. An hour later, I pulled into the parking lot at the office and realized: I hadn’t put the beef back into the fridge. Now, imagine every single cuss word you have ever heard. I said them ALL before I got out of the car.

I am no longer allowed to use the sink method for thawing meat. If it ain’t thawed, I ain’t cooking it. We’ll have PB&J. Or we’ll have cheese and crackers. Or we’ll have cereal. ANYTHING to keep me from wasting $15 on meat.

Did I mention I have a very forgiving husband?

Beef: Nailed It!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I am a master at overcooking meat. Unlike many of my kitchen mishaps, this particular problem isn’t due to lack of skill or inability to multitask. I am terrified of making someone (or myself) sick by serving them undercooked meat. This means I tend to overcompensate and we eat a lot of burned and/or extremely tough, barely-chewable meat in my house.

I’ve been taking extra caution lately, trying SO HARD to cook my meat just perfectly. I’ve made several chicken dishes now with chicken so tender I can’t believe I was the one to prepare it. Despite my improvements in poultry, there’s still…

Beef.

UGH, beef. If I wasn’t thinking of my husband (you’re welcome, husband), I would cook my beef so long it becomes jerky. All you people who like rare or medium-rare, or hell, even medium doneness in your beef: you crazy! I want my “red meat” to be as non-red as it gets.

Source: Unknown

But I know that in cooking, nothing about overcooked beef is appealing. So damn it, I’ll get better at this!

The other night for dinner, I chose a recipe for copycat PF Chang’s Mongolian Beef. It called for sliced flank steak, but I opted for pre-cut stir fry meat. In either case, I was about to fry little pieces of beef in hot oil. This is pretty much a guarantee we’ll be chewing leather at dinner.

I don’t have a method to “not overcooking” other than to take the pan off the burner the very second I’d normally give the meat just a couple more minutes…to be on the safe side. Guys, this is so difficult for me. If only you could feel my internal struggle.

But last night, that’s exactly what I did. And THANK FREAKING GOODNESS, because the meat was cooked so wonderfully. It was soft, but not red and bloody. It was just a little bit crispy on the outside from the cornstarch, but not tough and dry on the inside.

IMG_0990

I don’t often get to say this in the kitchen, so here goes: Nailed it!!!

I also added broccoli to mine, which wasn’t in the recipe. I have no regrets.

IMG_0994

If you have any good tips on how to NOT overcook meat, please share! You’ll be my hero.

Cleaning Revelations

One of my struggles around the house is remembering all the little things that need to be cleaned. When I think cleaning, I think “big picture.” You know: mopping, vacuuming, laundry, scrubbing countertops and toilets, dusting furniture. That kind of thing.

What seems to slip my mind is the little things. For instance, my hair dryer. I never, ever, ever think about cleaning my hair dryer.

Until one day, I’m putting it away after using it, and I notice a big, thick spot of built-up grime right where my thumb sits while I hold it. Only then do I realize the whole thing is coated in rough, gray patches of sticky, aged dirt.

I’ve owned this particular hair dryer for about two years and I haven’t cleaned it even once. I use it at least six days a week. That’s a lot of use that attracts a lot of filth.

Do you ever notice things around your house you can’t remember ever cleaning? For me, the hair dryer forced me to think about all of the things I don’t clean. I consider myself to be pretty cleanly. Before the hair dryer revelation, I considered myself to be pretty cleanly.   But now all I can focus on are the light switches, picture frames, bathroom trash cans, video game controllers, towel rods, doorknobs, mini blinds, and home décor items that are ignored during my regular cleaning routine.

ICK!

I’ve seen these “house cleaning plans” online before and I think it’s time to adopt one of them. I really like this one from Gone Like Rainbows that breaks down cleaning daily, weekly, monthly, semiannually, and annually. I’m going to give it a shot!

For the record, I did clean my hair dryer. Ladies, do NOT go two years between hair dryer cleanings! Blech.

BEFORE:

dryer1.png

dryer2.png

AFTER:

dryer3.png

Do you follow a regular cleaning plan for your home or apartment? How do you typically ensure you’re cleaning all the easy-to-forget parts of your house?

If You Can’t Stand the Heat

Have I mentioned before how much I hate frying things in oil? I don’t mind sauteeing a few veggies, but ask me to drop some meat into a significant amount of hot oil, and you’ve lost me. Not only am I petrified of being attacked by jumping droplets of fiery hot oil, but every time I try to cook meat this way, it burns to a crisp on the outside while staying 100% raw on the inside. Every. Single. Time.

I’ve had a recipe for Crispy Buffalo Chicken Tenders hanging out on my Pinterest board for several weeks. Lately I’ve been playing the “shit or get off the pot” game with my recipe pins. It was time to either make the chicken tenders or delete the pin and admit that I was never going through with it. After all, the recipe involved cooking the chicken tenders in a frying pan and finishing them off for a few minutes in the oven.

I finally opted to shit—er, cook the chicken tenders. If I failed, there was always plan B (burrito bowls from Chipotle, as always!).

This was the first recipe I’ve ever made that involved “dredging” the meat in flour. Yeah…I’ve had this blog for three years and I’m a first-time dredger. I still don’t know what purpose it serves, but my breading clung nicely to the meat, so I won’t argue its importance!

The instructions were to heat the oil on medium-high heat and leave the chicken tenders untouched in the pan for seven minutes. I did lift them up at about five minutes and they were the most perfect shade of golden brown, and I admit that I flipped them at that point for fear of charring them. After a few minutes on the other side, I moved the tenders to a cooling rack over a cookie sheet and transferred them to the oven. Eleven minutes later, the meat was perfectly cooked and (gasp!), the outsides were gloriously crispy.

IMG_0955

IMG_0956

IMG_0960

After removing them from the oven, I may have dropped one of the chicken tenders on the kitchen floor. The dog was quick to attack the fallen food and she seemed thoroughly satisfied with the taste. Good sign!…I think. She also enjoys the flavor of cat poop, so it actually could have been a very bad sign.

The chicken tenders were supposed to be dipped in ranch, which sounded delicious. But it turns out our bottle of ranch was two months past its expiration date. We had nothing else to dip our chicken tenders in. I crossed my fingers and hoped they were flavorful enough without a dipping sauce. And they were. They were fantastic.

They were also hotter than hell.

My husband couldn’t even finish his. He loved the flavor, but his mouth was on fire after his second chicken tender and he wasn’t able to eat the other two on his plate. I ate three, but I think it was at least an hour afterward before I found any relief from the burning sensation in my mouth.

IMG_0965

Thanks a lot, expired ranch dressing. Yeah, I’m blaming you.

So, I guess it’s time to go through my kitchen and check the expiration dates on everything.

At least I did a good job at frying the chicken!

Spaghetti Squashed Dreams

A few times a year, I go through a spaghetti squash phase. Whenever this happens, I have to find a way to make lunches out of it because my husband hates squash of all forms. When I was recently hit by the spaghetti squash bug, I decided to mix things up a bit and try it for breakfast.

When I think of breakfast, the first thing (or even second or tenth thing) that comes to mind is not squash. But I found this post on Oh Sweet Mercy with instructions for squash browns—essentially, hash browns made out of spaghetti squash. I had to try it out.

The post emphasizes the importance of patting the squash dry prior to forming and frying the squash patties. I dropped a heap of squash onto a plate and sopped up as much liquid as I could with a few paper towels. I made the squash as dry as possible until the towels began sticking to it and tearing off in soggy shreds.

IMG_0941

I placed a perfectly formed, and lightly salted and peppered, squash brown patty in a preheated skillet. Several minutes later, I nervously flipped it over. To my surprise, it only partially fell apart! Using the spatula, I pushed the loose strands back into the patty and let it cook several minutes before flipping it again.

IMG_0948

This time, more than half of it came apart. Drat! I tried my damnedest to salvage the beauty of the squash brown, but to no avail. What I ended up with was simply a plate full of fried spaghetti squash that, I might add, never even truly browned on the outside.

IMG_0949

And sad fact: I don’t enjoy the taste of spaghetti squash at 7 a.m.

In the end, I reverted back to my usual breakfast and have been eating spaghetti squash for lunch every day this week. At least it wasn’t a complete waste…

What fun is cooking if you don’t at least try new things, anyhow?

Last Week’s Eats

I’m a little afraid of admitting it—I’d hate to jinx myself—but last week was a really successful week in the kitchen! A little sampling of the things I whipped up…

Black Bean Burgers:

IMG_0896

IMG_0903

IMG_0908

Sweet and Sour Chicken:

IMG_0916

Lasagna Rollups (without using a recipe!):

IMG_0928

IMG_0933

IMG_0934

Side note on the lasagna rollups: Toothpicks are a MUST. In every Pinterest post I’ve ever seen about lasagna rollups, there are NEVER toothpicks holding them together. Well, those people must have magical powers because if I wouldn’t have had toothpicks, these suckers just wouldn’t have happened.  Also, the curvy sides of lasagna noodles fall off MUCH too easily.  Someone should invent lasagna noodles that don’t do this.  It’s 2015, I’m sure it can be done.

Skinny Honey Lemon Chicken:

IMG_0940

The skinny honey lemon chicken was decent, but the sauce was more congealed and gel-like than I would have preferred. What bothers me more, however, is the fact that yet again, my final product looked nothing like the picture in the original recipe.

gsochicken.png

It reminds me of this comparison of a marketing photo of a Big Mac, versus the actual product you get at McDonald’s. Of course the Skinny Honey Lemon Chicken looks like one of the best things I’ll ever eat, until I actually cook it and it looks like I stirred some chicken into a jar of Vaseline.  I realize blogs like Gimme Some Oven use professional photography and I use a non-fancy Canon with horrible lighting in my kitchen, but COME ON…

For the record, I did totally garnish mine with sesame seeds. You can’t even see them. Elusive, they are!

Also this week, I was going to make some oven-fried chicken until I spilled meatball casserole all over my oven and didn’t get around to cleaning it for several days.  So instead, I improvised a creamy noodle dish with seasoned sauteed chicken, and it was actually quite tasty!  I made the sauce from scratch, and it was by far the most flavorful sauce I’ve ever made without a recipe!

IMG_0921

This week I’ll be tackling squash browns (hash browns made out of spaghetti squash). It’s one of those things that will either go really well, or really terribly! Wish me luck!

The Great Meatball Casserole Spillage of 2015

You know how certain workplaces have signs that read This department has worked ____ days without injury? Sometimes I think my blog needs a sign that reads This cook has cooked ____ meals without failure beyond repair.

For the record, if I did have such a thing on my blog, the count would currently be 0.

Saturday night, I spent an hour preparing an Upside Down Meatball Casserole recipe. I was extra proud of myself because it was the first time I’d ever cooked meatballs in a skillet on the stovetop. I’ve always only baked them in the oven because I’m terrified of hot oil, and I avoid cooking in more than a tablespoon of oil at all costs. But I cooked nearly 30 meatballs in a quarter cup of oil and they were just GORGEOUS.

IMG_0864

Once the meatballs were done, I assembled the rest of the casserole. It looked and smelled delicious; I was stoked! All I had left to do was pop it into the oven for half an hour. I set the timer for 18 minutes so I could check on it. As it baked, the most heavenly scent filled the kitchen and the living room.

IMG_0865

IMG_0869

IMG_0870

When the timer went off, I slipped on a potholder and slowly pulled the casserole dish out of the oven. It was clear right away that the biscuits weren’t yet done. As I made to place the dish back on the rack, it began to wobble in my grip…

Quick sidebar: recently I came across this picture on the interwebs, and I simply shook my head and thought, “Wow. I tend to make mistakes in the kitchen, but at least I’m not that bad.”

So, the casserole dish full of meatballs, sauce, cheese, and raw dough, was wobbling in my hand. Yes, I had taken it out of the oven one-handed. That’s not important. (Okay, it’s extremely important. I’m never removing something from the oven one-handed again.) I’m sure you know where this is going.

Once gravity took over, there was just no stopping it.

It felt as if I were watching it in slow motion. The dish hit the oven rack and half of the casserole slid out over the edge and splattered against the bottom of the oven. It sizzled like ten pounds of bacon. I grabbed the dish and placed it on the stovetop and shouted, “Babe! Babe! Babe! Babe! Babe!” to my husband, who was only about twenty feet away from me. He took a leap and landed beside me, and so did the dog, because the sauce and the cheese were dripping out on to the floor.

IMG_0872

IMG_0873

Initially I was in shock, unable to react. After snapping some photos as proof, I leaned back against the counter and buried my head in my hands while my husband used a barbecue spatula to scrape up what he could of the mess. When he was done, I studied the remains in the casserole dish and finally broke into tears. Not because I’d ruined dinner—hell, I’ve done that so many times I’m desensitized to the feeling—but because I’d spent so much time and everything had been going so well, and I’m sure it would have been one of the best things I’ve made in a long time if it weren’t for my dropping the dish.

This is what a shattered dream looks like.

This is what a shattered dream looks like.

Even the dog is giving me that "I can't believe you did that" look.

Even the dog is giving me that “I can’t believe you did that” look.

Luckily my husband gives great hugs and he offered his reassurances that “shit happens, and it doesn’t mean you’re a bad cook,” and then he treated the family to burgers at Red Robin.

It won’t be right away, but I will attempt this meal again. First I have to clean the oven. And also, to whomever was the victim of the pizza incident in the photo above: I’m sorry for ever feeling sorry for you. It turns out I have similar mad skills.