Company Clean

Preparing for visitors in your home is like putting on a pair of glasses for the first time.  Even though I feel like I keep my house pretty clean on a day-to-day basis, getting ready for my in-laws to visit has magnified every speck of dust, every stain on the carpet, and every slightly disorganized closet.  Does it matter that my family is very unlikely to inspect all of my closets for their cleanliness?  No.  No, it doesn’t.  It will bother me if it’s not fixed before they arrive.

I believe I inherited this mentality from my mother.  Before anyone visits her house, it must be what she calls “company clean.”  It’s like a clean house on steroids.  Luckily, since yesterday was the first day of spring, I might be able to get away with calling it “spring cleaning” and look a little less fanatical.

So I’m off to embark on a mass cleaning spree.  Happy Saturday, everyone.

Do you tend to get carried away cleaning before company arrives?

Dad’s Day

Yesterday I succeeded in helping my fiance’s son make some Father’s Day cheesecake brownies.  Today, I once again wore my baker’s hat so I could make my dad some of his own yummy treats.  My dad loves Heath candy bars and as luck would have it, my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook (damn it, there I am plugging it again!) contains a recipe for chocolate toffee bars.

I’d like to say things went off without a hitch, but I did have a knock-down, drag-out fight with the crust.  I had originally lined the pan with aluminum foil, but when I scraped the batter dough into the pan, the foil slid and turned every time I tried to spread any of the dough.  I ended up taking out the foil and chiseling away the dough that was clinging on for dear life.  Once I had all of the dough in the unlined pan, things went a little more smoothly.  I let it bake for 15 minutes and then sprinkled it with chocolate chips.

The recipe advised leaving the chocolate chips for two minutes and then spreading the chocolate over the entirety of the crust.  At two minutes, they looked like they’d hardly softened at all.  But as soon as the spatula touched the chips, they magically transformed into chocolate frosting that spread beautifully over the crust.

All that was left was the pièce de résistance:  the chocolate-covered toffee pieces.  My dad’s lucky these survived the 20-minute drive to his house!

When we cut into them for dessert after the AMAZING ribs my mom cooked, something miraculous happened:  they didn’t stick to the pan…AT ALL!  For me, this is huge.  Also, slightly off topic, but–tonight I learned how to turn on a grill!  (Making fun of me is not allowed.)  I also learned why and how wood chips are used in grilling.  Now I just need to actually cook something on a grill.  That will be a squealing moment for sure.

To wrap up this post, I’ll share with you my other feat of the day.  I made some spicy red bean and corn soup that calls for a cup of chopped carrots.  Following the advice of the video I watched after my last carrot-chopping attempt, I managed to chop a carrot somewhat decently.  I still need practice, as chopping three small carrots took me at least a good five minutes–but things are looking up!

Pinterest-free week, day seven: To the moon and back

Well, it’s the final day of my “Pinterest-free week” and I have to say, though not all of my cooking was “successful,” per se, I feel like I learned a lot more this week than I have in the past months of my fumbling through recipes I’d found on Pinterest.

I spent a preposterous amount of time in my kitchen today.  It started around noon, when my fiance’s 8-year-old son and I teamed up to make some Father’s Day cheesecake brownies.  Last time (which was the first time) he helped me cook, I was a nervous wreck.  I thought:  I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m going to screw this up, and he’ll never again want a thing to do with cooking.  But this time, I was comfortable.  I did know what I was doing, I felt like there was only a slim chance I’d screw up, and I was relaxed enough that I knew I was making it enjoyable for him.  I taught him how to use a hand mixer and I learned that he’s better than I am at cracking eggs (okay, let’s be honest; this was a blow to my ego).

Now, before you see the picture, you need a bit of an explanation.  My fiance has a strange obsession with the moon.  Ask him anything:

Q:  Where do you want to go to dinner?
A:  The moon.

Q:  What do you want for your birthday?
A:  The moon.

Q:  What do you want to do this weekend?
A:  Go to the moon.

Q:  Where have you been?
A:  The moon.

So, while we prepared the batter, I laughed out loud when my fiance’s son said, “We should write ‘MOON’ on the top of this when it’s done!”  Good plan, little man.  Good plan.

And of course, when an 8-year-old is involved, there must be sprinkles.  I’m proud to report that these puppies were pretty darn delectable.

After an afternoon break that entailed purchasing wedding rings (yay!), I was right back in the kitchen making whole grain corn muffins and baked buffalo-style chicken nuggets.  The corn muffins had me a little nervous because the recipe involved a couple of things I haven’t dealt with much in my cooking adventures thus far.  First, I needed to make a “well” in the dry ingredients in which I would pour the wet ingredients.  Now, to me, a “well” is a vague term.  Are we talking a pot-hole sized well or a crater-sized well?  Or a well-sized well?  But it turned out the size of the well didn’t matter much.  I could only dig so much of a hole inside the dry ingredients before they all began to landslide back into the center of the bowl.  Here’s the kicker:  I’m still not sure why I had to go to all that trouble in the first place.  Once you pour the wet ingredients into the well you’ve made, you simply stir everything together until the dry stuff is moist.  Honestly, did the well play that big of a role?

However, I have no right to question anything.  I followed the directions like a good girl, and the corn muffins were so STINKING perfect.

I paired these babies with some baked buffalo-style chicken nuggets, which were also divine–even if they did make all three of us guzzle water and juice like it was going out of style.

(Random note to self:  you eat too many peas.)

It feels good to end Pinterest-free week on a good note.  My mom made the comment the other night that I no longer qualify for Worst Cooks in America, and I’m starting to think she’s right.  I’ve stumbled through some idiotic moments in the past four months, and while I’m sure I haven’t seen the end of them, I know I’m capable of doing this!  Bring it on, kitchen!

Pinterest-free week, day four: Chicken Tetrazzini

I’ve been wanting to make Chicken Tetrazzini (sans mushrooms) for some time now.  Last night, I pulled chicken out to thaw so I could make it tonight.  Then, on somewhat short notice, it was decided that my mom would be joining my fiance and me for dinner.

Cue the suspenseful music.

I fretted about it all day.  I thought at least a dozen times of making something else, something I’d be less likely to ruin.  Finally, I settled on making the Chicken Tetrazzini and I promised my mom I’d buy her a hamburger if it didn’t turn out well.

When she arrived at my house, she was horribly stoked that I was cooking her dinner.  In case you’re wondering, yes, my mother reads my blog.  She knew what she was getting herself into.

Anyhow, this is how things started:  two minutes after my mom arrived, she watched me dump a tenth of a box of pasta directly onto the floor.  Ten minutes later, as I juggled the tasks of stirring the pasta, cooking the chicken, and whisking the sauce, from the dining room she heard nothing but me mumbling, “Okay, it’s okay, this is still salvageable.”  This was uttered when I discovered, after nearly burning my green onions and butter, that I had been sauteeing them on high heat instead of medium.

There were a few more little hiccups along the way, but I finally got the pan in the oven so it could bake for 15 minutes.  This is where I got REALLY nervous.  After all, my last attempt at baking long pasta was a big flop.  Knowing that my mom, a truly GREAT cook, was going to be eating this Chicken Tetrazzini, I was superbly anxious to see how it turned out.

Fifteen minutes later:

To my great relief, when we dished it up, it was nice and gooey, just like a creamy pasta dish should be.

The best part (oooooo, I’m going to squeal just thinking about it):  my mom, my fiance, and I all thought it was delicious!  Ohmygod it was so stinking good.  So good, in fact, that I had to take this picture:

Here’s the thing with Chicken Tetrazzini.  I’d held off on making it in the past because I was looking at recipes online and on Pinterest, and they all made it seem more complicated than it really is.  None of the online recipes I read made it look like something I could pull off.  What encouraged me to make it was the recipe I found in my Better Homes & Gardens cookbook (they should really start paying me to market that sucker).  I couldn’t believe how easy it was to follow.  And look what it got me?  THREE CLEAN PLATES!

This is how I roll

My fiance’s poor 8-year-old son has been a victim of some of my recent (bad) cooking adventures, so tonight I aimed for something a little more “kid-friendly.”  I decided to make these Pepperoni Pizza Rolls.

I’ll admit up front that spreading dough is an area in which I very badly need to improve.  This recipe doesn’t instruct you to “spread” dough, but it requires a fair amount of flattening biscuit dough.  I planned to make 15 pizza rolls tonight, so I gave myself plenty of prep time in anticipation that I would spend a minute or twenty fighting with the dough.

I recently gave birth to this idea that if I film myself doing some of the things I suck at, maybe I can use the videos as an opportunity to tweak or improve my technique.  So tonight, I set up my camera and filmed Pizza Roll Attempt #1–this first attempt took almost two minutes.

From Pizza Roll Attempt #1, I learned that I didn’t flatten the dough enough and that I piled on too much cheese.  As a result, when I tried to close up the pizza roll, I had a little mini-battle.  I got a little better with each one, and around Pizza Roll Attempt #10, I had cut in half the total time to complete each roll.

I didn’t necessarily learn anything from watching these two videos, but it was kind of neat to see the transformation of my abilities after I’d had a little practice.  Corny as it sounds, it was symbolic of my cooking journey as a whole.

A proud moment emerged when my fiance’s son entered the kitchen and, after observing me for a minute, asked if he could help me make some pizza rolls.  I was slightly unnerved at first; after all, I’m about the LEAST qualified person to teach a child how to cook anything!  But I walked him through a pizza roll, step-by-step, and he did wonderfully.  So we finished them up together and let me tell you, we ROCKED!

Since these pizza rolls were so simple, I was brave enough to experiment a little with the ingredients.  Since my fiance and his son don’t care for Gorgonzola (as I recently learned the hard way), I filled some of my pizza rolls with Gorgonzola, spinach, Parmesan, and pepperoni.  Delicious!