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.

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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?

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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Egg-stremely Disappointed

I love eggs.  When I was a child, I couldn’t stand them.  But as I came to enjoy onions, yams, squash, and yogurt, I also decided at some point that eggs are the bomb.  Hard-boiled eggs are my favorite.

What I don’t care for is peeling hard-boiled eggs.  I’ve tried the so-called “tricks” that claim to remove an eggshell in one fell swoop.  I call BS, because no matter what I do, peeling an egg always ends in a pile of eggshell confetti.  I also can’t peel an orange worth a damn, so maybe it’s a case of operator error.

You might recall I was recently gushing about my new Ninja system.  It came with a book on healthy eating, which contains some recipes, and I chose to try out a recipe for egg salad that uses the food processor attachment.  I boiled a dozen eggs like it was no big thing, not thinking of the fact that I’d have to peel every last one of them.

The first egg gave me little trouble.  I prayed it was a good omen for the remaining 11 eggs, but it turned out to be a cruel joke.  Most of the rest ended up looking like this:

IMG_0709The recipe called for 12 egg whites, but taking into account all the egg white that peeled off with the shell, I’m lucky if I had a grand total of ten.  I’m also lucky I still had the skin on my right thumb.  LORDY, egg shells are sharp!

I added the only other ingredients to the food processor, along with the eggs:  light mayo or hummus (I chose hummus), and a little Dijon mustard.

The good news is that the food processor attachment performs excellently.  Within seconds, I had a beautiful egg salad ready to eat for lunch every day.

IMG_0712The bad news is that it tasted like crap.  More accurately, it tasted like nothing at all.  Which is equivalent to tasting like crap, as far as I’m concerned.  I peeled twelve bleeping eggs and nearly tore the skin off my thumb, all for an egg salad that, in the end, I couldn’t bear to eat.

I guess that’s one of the challenges of cooking:  that sometimes no amount of effort can prevent the fact that some recipes are just plain awful.

Luckily, my Ninja and I had redemption soon after this disappointing experience.  I’ll be sure to tell you allllll about it in my next post.  😉

Before you go, here’s the newest Barf of the Week:  Pee Cubes!  They’re really almond milk ice cubes, but let’s be honest, they look a lot like pee.

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Freezer FAILS

To a less-than-impressive cook, the internet is both a blessing and a curse. This past week it’s been a seriously awful, horrible, wretched curse.

Exhibit A: Bananas

I drink a smoothie every morning with my breakfast. Bananas are a staple of my smoothies. The problem is, bananas tend to ripen a little too quickly and I’m not a fan of overripe bananas. My solution in the past has been to slice them at the perfect ripeness and freeze them in big freezer bags. It’s easy to grab a handful in the morning and toss them in the blender.

Recently I read on the internet that as long as the peels are intact with no rips or openings, whole bananas can be frozen and the peel will naturally protect the fruit from freezer burn.

Somehow it seemed worth it to save the five minutes it takes to slice a bunch of bananas. I grabbed several bananas on the verge of becoming too ripe and arranged them neatly in the freezer.

The next morning, I extracted a frozen banana. Not sure what I expected, but the rock-solidness of the fruit took me by surprise. Stupidly, I tried to peel it; the stem snapped right off.

At a loss and on the verge of running late for work, I tossed the banana in the microwave for about 15 seconds. It softened the peel just enough that I was able to remove a small piece just at the top. To my horror, the rest of the peel might as well have been super glued to the fruit. I ended up having to slice off the peel little bits at a time with a knife. This was the hideous result:

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So, I thought of a genius idea. I retrieved another banana from the freezer and placed it in the refrigerator. My hope was that it would thaw before the next morning and I wouldn’t go through this ridiculous little battle again.

The next morning:

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Not only was the damn thing solid black, but inside of it was practically liquid banana. It was revolting!

So, no more freezing whole bananas for this girl. It’s well worth the five minutes to peel and slice them first. Which brings me to…

Exhibit B: Potatoes

To pair with my smoothies, I also make a little egg-white and potato scramble in the mornings. I’ve been purchasing a bag of frozen Ore-Ida cubed potatoes each week just for this, but they’re almost four bucks a pop. For 98 cents I could buy ten pounds of fresh potatoes. Money-saving powers, activate!

Again, I turned to my friend Google. I found a Taste of Home article on freezing potatoes for hash browns. Taste of Home is a pretty credible cooking source, right?

I peeled quite a few potatoes—although I didn’t count them—and shredded each one in the food processor. As instructed by Taste of Home, I blanched them in boiling water for exactly three minutes, drained them and rinsed them in cold water, and then patted them dry before tossing them into a gallon-sized freezer bag.  Start to finish, it was about 45 minutes of work.  Not to mention the time it took to clean up the mess it made in my kitchen.  Mind you, this is just one section of the affected counter space:

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The next day when I opened my freezer, 50% of the shredded potatoes had turned dark brown. Google tried to tell me this was due to oxidization and they are still probably okay to eat, but I just don’t know that I can stomach eating something that looks like stringy poop. Anyhow, the potatoes all froze into a single, solid block. I’m going to cut my losses and consider it 49 wasted cents.

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I think I’ve had my fair share of freezer experiments as of late. For now I’m going to leave it to the professionals.

 

 

 

 

Sink Woes

We have a white kitchen sink and we hate it.  My biggest beef with it is that it gets so dirty SO easily.  Well, it doesn’t get any dirtier than it would if it were any other sink, but because it’s white, it’s more noticeable.

We’ve lived in our house a year now and NOTHING has gotten rid of these grody stains.  Not even my go-to box of 20 Mule Team Borax did the trick.

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At my wit’s end, I consulted with my friend Google and found a website that referenced this website that swears by a simple bleach-baking soda mixture.  The claim:  two parts baking soda and one part bleach will rid the stains from a white sink.  My prediction:  bullshit.  Far too simple (i.e., “too good to be true”).

I mixed two tablespoons of baking soda with one tablespoon of bleach and spread the mixture around the bottom of my sink.  I tackled it with a cleaning brush and I didn’t even have to put muscle into it.  THIS IS WHAT I GOT:

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I’ve never seen my sink so clean.  I don’t even think it was this clean when we bought the place!

IMG_0485Oh…in case you spotted it, I did not miss a couple of spots.  There might have been an incident earlier this year in which I dropped the crock pot dish in the sink.  It might have resulted in chipping the sink.  And it might have broken my crock pot dish, which resulted in my purchasing a much fancier crock pot.  (A blessing in disguise, I say!)

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Now of course I’m obsessed with the bleach-baking soda concoction that worked its miracle on my sink.  I’ve already deep cleaned the bathtub and I’m starting to wonder why I have so few porcelain fixtures in my home.  MUST…CLEAN…MORE!

Truly, I’m excited I’ve found a solution to the dirty sink problem.  A kitchen can only feel so clean when the sink is disgusting!

 

Mango Madness

A couple of years ago, I purchased my first fresh mango.  I’d heard they were a little tricky to slice, and BOY was that rumor true.  Despite following a set of written instructions online, I mangled that mango.  It was a mangle-o.

Because I’ve learned a lot in the kitchen since then, I decided to give it another go.  Mangoes were a great price at the grocery store, so I thought I’d add some fresh mango to my morning smoothies.

The first thing I did was pull up this YouTube tutorial.  Then I washed my fruit and centered it on the cutting board.  It was go time.

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The nice man in the video warned of the seed in the middle of the fruit, and he instructed to cut just off to the side of the center of the mango.  I paused the video, thinking I am gonna OWN this mango!

But of course, my mango was thinking, Challenge accepted.  I pushed the knife into the fruit in the same spot shown in the video, and halfway down, it hit the seed.  A rocky start, but not a “doomed” status quite yet.  I moved the knife slightly further away from the center of the fruit and tried again.  And hit the seed.  Again.  When I finally cut into the mango and didn’t hit the seed with the knife, I’d sliced off roughly a centimeter-thick piece of fruit.

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I attempted to cut the slice o’ mango as demonstrated in the video.  I’m practically a pro at the method when it comes to avocados.  Alas, I’m less than skilled at this same method where mangoes are concerned.

Getting that first slice pretty much blew my opportunity to follow Mr. Nice-Bearded-Man’s guidance on cutting the rest of the mango.  Ten minutes later, I had butchered the stupid thing and I was left with a pile of assorted sizes of mango chunks and a pile of scraps from the skin and the core.  All I can say is, good thing these were intended to be tossed into a blender!

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If you have any good tips for cutting mangoes, PLEASE share them with me!  I still have more to slice and I plan on making an update post when I’m finished.  Help a girl out with your best pointers!

Plan B

In my house, there is always a Plan B for dinner. More often than not, Plan B consists of burrito bowls from Chipotle.

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We utilize Plan B more often than it really should be in one’s household. Whether I cook something that resembles sewage, or I fill up the crockpot in the morning and forget to plug it in, it’s not exactly “rare” that the husband and I end up at Chipotle.

Today it was made clear that I don’t even have to begin preparing food in order to ruin dinner. Not one dish was dirtied and not one burner was turned on, but we had to resort to Plan B.

Honestly, I kind of blame the dog. Let me back up a bit.

This morning, despite it being a depressing 18 degrees outside, Samantha was insistent on running around outside with the four-foot-long stick she recently found on a walk. Upon returning inside, she bolted around the house, ping-ponging off the walls like she’d just chugged a case of Red Bull. In the midst of her burst of energy, I noticed some splotches of red on the kitchen floor.

I called out Samantha’s name, suspicious she was bleeding from one of her paws. She came flying into the kitchen at full speed, running in circles as I begged her to calm down. At last, she stopped long enough for me to confirm she’d managed to cut one of the pads on her foot.

And that’s when I noticed that my kitchen looked like a murder scene. There were bloody paw prints everywhere. To my horror, I realized the blood trailed deep into the living room as well.

At this point I had roughly ten minutes before I had to leave from work in order to make it to a very important early-morning meeting. So I prioritized and dealt with cleaning the wound and helping the dog, and decided to worry about cleaning up the kitchen floor on my lunch break.

On my lunch break, I spent twenty stinking minutes cleaning dog blood off the kitchen floor and spots I’d missed on the carpet, and spraying down Samantha’s kennel blanket with stain remover before throwing it in the washing machine. TWENTY MINUTES. And this is what caused us to resort to Plan B for dinner.

Okay, maybe you’re wondering how I can blame this on the dog. Let me explain.

When I first arrived home on my lunch break, I remembered the chicken for tonight’s dinner still felt like it wasn’t completely thawed on the inside—although the outside layer was squishy as ever. I removed it from the fridge and set it on the counter, thinking half an hour in room temperature might speed along the process. Well, I had no idea just how much cleaning up I had to do, and by the time I was finished I was once again in a rush to get back to work.

At 4:45, as I wrapped up my tasks at work, a horrible thought came over me. I texted my husband.

Me: Did I leave the chicken on the counter?
Husband: Yup.
Me: Crap. Will you put it back in the fridge?
Me: [A minute later] Is it even still cold?
Husband: Nope.
Me: Craaaaaaap.
Husband: [Sends cartoon image of a smiling turd]

The chicken was completely warm and had been for who-knows-how-long. It had been sitting on the kitchen counter for five hours. Like I said, I didn’t even start cooking and I still managed to ruin dinner. But if it hadn’t been for the dog blood, I bet it wouldn’t have happened.

My husband might argue that last part. But he’s not here to prove me wrong, so I’m still blaming it on the dog.

Steaming, take two: meatballs

Lesson learned:  meatballs belong in the oven.  Let me explain.

Because my current Two-Week Technique is steaming, I found myself perusing the recipes at foodsteamer.org.  When I saw a recipe for Mini Chili Tomato Meatballs, I was ecstatic.  After all, I’m a girl who loves her meatballs (no dirty jokes, please).

Things started off about as uneventful at meatballs normally do.  I mixed my ingredients together, shaped them into balls, and arranged them neatly on a sheet of parchment paper placed inside my steamer basket.  Nothing out of the ordinary here…yet.

Once the water was boiling, I placed the steamer basket over the pot and set the timer.  I left the little darlings to cook.

Ten minutes later, I approached my stove and the sight was horrific.  First lesson:  steamed meatballs should be made with extra lean beef.  Greasy meat drippings, anyone?

I scooped the meatballs out of this mess with a slotted spoon, genuineley thinking this mother of a grease pool was no big deal.  Gross, yes, but problematic?  I ain’t afraid of no grease!  And they looked like regular ol’ meatballs, so surely they would taste like regular ol’ meatballs.

Considering the number of flavors packed into these meatballs (tomato paste, garlic, onion, chili pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and freshly ground salt and pepper, to name a few), there was a HUGE flavor deficit in my meal.  The meatballs were so flavorless I couldn’t even taste the meat itself.  I am convinced–though I may simply be making excuses for a bad recipe–that all of the flavor was left behind in the puddle o’ grease.  Whatever the reason, I took one bite of my meatballs and the udon noodles they were served with, and I tossed it in the trash and made myself a ham and cheese sandwich.  I’m not particularly fond of “cardboard” flavor.

Steaming probably isn’t the best choice for prearing meatballs.  Fattier ground beef is an equally poor choice for preparing meatballs.  Keeping a supply of lunch meat, cheese, and bread while teaching yourself to cook is of the utmost importance.  So many lessons…gotta love it!

Handmade pasta, take two: herbed fettuccine

I’m going to mentally return to my first batch of homemade pasta–the bowties that turned out to be such a success.  You see, revisiting the successful moments in my mind is what keeps a girl like me sane.  Otherwise, I’m left to dwell on my second (and failed) attempt at homemade pasta.

The goal of round two was to make basil-and-thyme fettuccine noodles.  In the beginning, all seemed perfect.

I did struggle a little cutting the dough; who has the patience to cut perfect, even fettuccine noodles by hand?  (Hint:  not me.)  Cutting the noodles so they were the same length and width was a challenge.  They still looked pretty good when I was finished, considering!

And that’s the last hopeful photo you’ll ever see of my basil-and-thyme fettuccine.  Since it would be a couple of days before I’d need the pasta, I followed the recipe’s instructions to store the noodles in an airtight container in the fridge.  My guess is that my container wasn’t quite airtight enough, because when I opened it, this is what I saw:

Gray.  Gray.  Gray.

They smelled funky, too.  Not “bad,” just not “good.”  Not like fresh pasta.  My fettuccine joined my Cream-Filled Cake Roll in food heaven.

Tonight I’m going to make some ravioli.  Somehow crossed fingers just don’t seem like enough.

Oh, before you move on from reading this:  does anyone else see the resemblance between this egg, soy sauce, and garlic mixture, and a big ol’ puddle of vomit?

Happy eating!