Friday, January 31, 2014

Apéritif Friday - New Toys

If you'll recall, we had a slight mishap on Christmas Eve.
It's been a bit of a challenge to cook around here the last few weeks, and for that reason, I'm coming up short today on a true Apéritif Friday post.

But...

But.

If it's possible to be in love with inanimate objects, then I plead guilty, Your Honor.
For the first time in my life, my kitchen is graced with appliances of a higher grade than what some schmucky builder throws in as standard. And it's like Christmas in January around here.

Honey, would you care to break the refrigerator? How about our living room? Maybe the blender? Hee hee. Just kidding.

Lookie there.
That top, third rack is a beautiful thing. Trust me.

More to come next week.

My friend Carrie is many things. Cheese-wise, wine-wise, full of non-important, interesting facts-wise.
She is also hands down the best gifter I've ever known. I think someday I'll write a post on all the incredible presents she's given me over the years. But for now, I will settle on just a wee little gift her family presented to Mr. Musky and me on Christmas Eve.
I am all in tonight. Going molecular on the Apéritif. Expect great things next week, my friends!

Happy Super Bowl Weekend.

XO,
Jen

Friday, January 24, 2014

Apéritif Friday - Deep Dish Pizza, with Entertainment

Last Friday night, I came into the kitchen to music blaring (Springsteen, naturally) with this crackbrained scene unfolding:
And I knew immediately that Deep Dish Pizza Night was going to be a wild ride with the head-banded bandit and his bun-headed sidekick. They were clearly in rare form, perhaps making up for the fact that the real rocker in the house was out ice skating with his buddies.

Backing up a tic, we are still eating Paleo about 95% of the time. The only exceptions are pizza night, the occasional dark chocolate indulgence, and certain Apéritifs. Like the one I promptly poured for myself after seeing Mr. Musky's attempt at the twerk.
I revisited the cold glass website and liked this cocktail recipe, but lamented that I didn't have all of the necessary ingredients on hand. So instead I substituted a bunch of items and came up with a tasty winter treat. I'm calling it the Polar Vortex Manhattan.
1 oz. Makers Mark, 1 oz Cognac, 1 oz Sweet Vermouth, a spoonful of BandB, and a dash of blood orange bitters. Garnish with an orange or lemon twist.
Yummy. Warms all the way down to your toes. Sit back and sip with care, my friends!

So the Deep Dish. If you're not from Chicago and you've never had this, it really is not like real pizza, in my opinion. It's totally different. For starters, one piece and I'm done. Two and I'm regretful. Usually one piece and another bite is perfect. What I'm trying to say is that it's really filling.

And devilishly delicious.

My favorite thing about pizza night is that I get to be a full on spectator. Since I was running kids around town, Mr. Musky cranked the tunes and got to work earlier in the evening. Here's what he used to make the dough:

2 cups flour
3 Tbsp corn oil
1 Tbsp olive oil (not EVOO)
Pinch Salt
1 tsp yeast
1.5 cups water at 100 degrees

Mix 1/2 cup water and yeast, add oil and salt. Add a little flour to make a slurry. Then add the rest of the flour and water. Mix with your hands, and add more water or flour to get the right consistency - slightly sticky, yet all incorporated. Place in a bowl with plastic wrap in a warm spot (he put it on our cooktop) to rest and rise for an hour.

And here's his sauce, which is a bit chunkier than normal pizza sauce:

28 oz crushed tomatoes
14 oz can diced tomatoes
4 oz can tomato paste
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
3 Cloves Garlic, microplaned
1/2 Tbsp Oregano
5 Leaves of Fresh Basil, chopped
1 Shallot, microplaned
1 Tbsp Honey
2 Tsp Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
Salt and Pepper

Mix crushed and diced tomatoes together. Add remaining ingredients and taste. Add more salt, pepper, honey or pepper flakes to taste.

Once I settled in with my Apéritif, he got down to business, starting with the crust.
After pulling back the plastic wrap, he floured his hands and incorporated a bit more flour into the dough to take out the stickiness. Then he pressed it into a springform pan that he greased with ghee. Butter also works, as would palm oil, coconut oil or vegetable oil. Just make sure the surface is coated so the dough doesn't stick.
After lining the pan with the dough, he placed sliced mozzarella cheese on the bottom.
Then came the sausage and pepperoni. And yes - the sausage is raw, thinly patted out, and lines the entire surface. I prefer smaller pieces of sausage, but am not complaining as I got to sit back and sip. Don't be concerned about the raw sausage though - it will cook long enough in the oven.
Next comes another layer of cheese, then sauce.
Mushrooms and spinach top the sauce, then shred some parmesan cheese and oregano to finish.
He popped it into a 450 degree oven. What to do for an agonizing forty minutes? Why, tell stories of course. Mr. Musky told his daughter an interesting story about Mr. Moby that involves Kryptonite and stage diving in the delightful town of Green Bay, Wisconsin.
He had her at stage diving.
And even demonstrated, in Ov Gloves. But I don't think Mr. Moby was wearing kitchen gloves when he stage dove. Or maybe he did. Har har.
And she had to text an unsuspecting gentleman likely sipping wine and watching soccer in Hampshire for proof. He would not confirm or deny any Kryptonite swashbuckling stories.
Finally, the unveiling! See why a springform pan is key? How pretty.
To prove that I really do exist on Pizza Night, and am not just relegated to snapping photos, here you go.
But oh. Ooey, gooey, buttery tasting goodness. The crust is crunchy and has just enough thickness to hold everything in. The sauce has a slight kick to it, and all of the ingredients and cheese smoosh together to create a feast for the eyes, and my belly.
Miller's drool pockets work overtime on Pizza Night.
While pizza number two cooked, the two Soul Train members got back down to business, entertaining the sole patron for the evening. This time to a sixteen-year-old's musical choice.
I don't think American Bandstand will be calling for our services any time soon.

Happy Friday, and thanks for reading!

XO,
Jen





Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Full Circle, Thanks to Plainfield School of Rock

In the very angst-filled days called Jr. High School, I found a daily refuge from bullies and snot-nosed, vicious brats in the form of choir. For an hour every afternoon, I entered Mrs. Holcomb's safe haven and sang in harmony, grateful for the reprieve from the farm town version of Mean Girls. I ultimately tried out for show choir as an incoming freshman in High School. I surprised myself and made the elite group as an underclassman, thanks to a great dancing partner who eased my nerves and made me smile and enjoy myself during the tryout.

Show choir was hands down, unequivocally the best extra-curricular activity I ever participated in, and it was on a short list of things I was sad to abandon when we moved away. The feeling of squelching your nerves to perform on stage with all eyes on you, personally connecting with an audience member who returns a smile and forgets their own worries for a moment is a rush like none other. Better than any apéritif, and I'm sure better than any drug. Although...that stuff they jacked me up with after my firstborn's c-section was pretty sweet. I'll call that a close second.

Hearing the audience applaud your performance electrifies your entire being. I'm talking goose bump central, man. The adrenaline rush is better than winning any sporting event. Music and dance can reach people and lift their spirits like nothing else in the world, in my not-so-humble opinion.

So when my son said he wanted to play guitar, I quickly relented, and bought him an electric guitar.
He started lessons a few months later, and it went just so-so. Then the School of Rock opened their doors in our little town.

This company, but more importantly, the local chapter of this company, is one of the best things to ever happen to downtown Plainfield. They not only teach young people about becoming better musicians, they teach young people to make something out of nothing by working together and melding several parts into a single work of art while becoming better human beings.

I'm gushing. I can't stop.

Jake switched instructors and began his real musical endeavor in September. At first, he said that he only wanted to take lessons - he wanted no part of the performance group and certainly didn't want play on stage in front of a crowd. I talked to the owner behind Jake's back and asked him to talk him into it. Because sometimes, Mamas just know better, but their kids need to hear it elsewhere.

So he agreed. And simply because of our hectic schedule, he became one of the guitarists for Team GreenDay. Every Wednesday he played with other kids, preparing for a live show. During the fall I purposefully did not sit in the lobby during the practices, as I wanted to be surprised on performance night. Along the way, in his usual easy-going manner, he said it was good. Or it was cool. Or he liked it fine.
Sheesh. I wonder where the lack of enthusiasm comes from? Clearly not my genes.

One night after practice, he casually mentioned that he was assigned a solo in a couple of the songs.

"Really?" I questioned cautiously. I didn't realize he was good enough to play a guitar solo.

Fast forward to January 10th. Show time. There were two sets - ACDC and GreenDay, and they played at a local venue in Joliet that hosts live music nightly. We walked into a real bar, complete with an elevated stage, balcony viewing areas, the works. Mr. Musky was impressed at the scale of the venue, despite sticking to the floor like we were drinking Pabst out of a bucket at KAMS.

We arrived about an hour early, only to realize we'd be in the standing room only contingent. The place was packed. I'm guessing there were over 200 people present to cheer on the kids. Jake was beside himself with nerves. I sent him a couple of reassuring texts, knowing exactly what that anxiety feels like...the roiling in the gut threatening to bubble to the surface.

When it came time for Jake's first song, we moved forward a bit in the crowd. I took one look at my poor kid, and commented to my husband, "He looks like he's going to hurl!" I knew he was nervous, because the first song he performed would be his guitar solo. The lead singer kicked them off, and they sounded AWESOME!
Jake didn't play immediately, but when he did?
Crocodile tears. I could not control myself. I know how terrifying and gratifying it is to perform musically on a stage, and I knew. I KNEW! Right there, at that moment, the bug bit a giant hole in his soul, and he became addicted. I felt thrilled and nostalgic and marveled at how full circle it all seemed. I turned around and looked at Mr. Musky who also had misty eyes (although he denies this - but I saw them!). "He's doing it! He's awesome!" I shouted. I simply could not control myself and bawled through the whole song. I was proud of him for overcoming his fear and executing wonderfully. I screamed a "Woo Hoo!" after his solo, and caught the glimpse of a smile on the corners of his lips. He knew Mama was out there, cheering him on.
The rest of the night flew by and the band performed so well - their musicality after just four short months together exceeded everyone's expectations. After shaking the jitters, the kids were all more relaxed and did even better on Sunday night, catching the bug even more feverishly.
The week before the big show, Jake said that moving forward he just wanted to continue with private lessons because the group performance practices were getting to be a bit much. By Saturday night? Before we even walked out of the venue, he declared, "I'm in." So next up he'll be playing No Doubt and FooFighters. I can't wait for the June shows.

The only thing we are arguing about now is whether or not he should sing backup on a few songs. Because you know what they say...when a man picks up a guitar and begins to play, he instantly becomes 10,000,000 times cuter.
As if that's even remotely possible with this one. But if he sings AND plays that guitar?
He instantly becomes the hottest man on the face of the earth. Go forth and sing, my son! You can do it!

XOXO,
Jen


Friday, January 17, 2014

Apéritif Friday - Brown Butter Scallops, and Cards Against Humanity

The Apéritif Friday portion of today's post is quick and easy, because I've got to tell you about something very disturbing. So let's get the obligation out of the way.

Brown Butter Seared Scallops with Thick Cut Bacon, Ciabatta Breadcrumbs and Chopped Chives.
Trust me when I say you need these in your life. Here are the ingredients for three to four appetizer plates:

12 scallops
2 pieces thick cut bacon
2 pieces day-old ciabatta bread, grated or crumbled into small pieces the size of peas. About 1/2 cup.
butter
chives

Crisp the bacon in a pan, chop it up, remove to drain on a paper towel and leave a tablespoon of grease in the pan. Add a teaspoon or so of butter to the bacon fat, melt it over medium-high heat, then toss in the breadcrumbs, stirring until crisped like croutons. Remove the bread from the pan and wipe it clean. Ensure the muscle is removed from all the scallops (you'll see it on the sides of them), dry them THOROUGHLY with paper towels, season with salt and pepper and set aside. Brown 1-2 tablespoons of butter in the pan on medium-high heat until it just starts to turn brown. Don't burn the butter - watch it closely. Once it just starts to turn, add the scallops. Brown for about three minutes or until the scallops are golden brown. Turn them and cook for three more minutes or until just opaque in the center. DO NOT OVERCOOK! Scallops are delicate little suckers and will turn rubbery and nasty if you cook them too long.

Place the scallops on a cute plate, garnish with the bacon, breadcrumbs and chopped chives, and serve with a sparkling glass of dry champagne.
Pure, decadent goodness on a plate. And the champagne tastes like a bubbly slice of heaven with them. Make this. You'll thank me.

Now...on to more entertaining stories from New Year's at the cabin.

Stumbling around Amazon in December, I came across an adult party game. Now don't go there...I'm not talking about the X-rated kind. More like R rated. R Rated Plus. Santa must know us well, because he only brought us two presents this year. One was Trivial Pursuit Kids vs. Parents so our children will indulge in Mr. Musky's cabin obsession and are more apt to engage in a game that lasts thirty minutes versus thirty hours.

The other gift from Mr. Jolly came in a black box with white letters.
Cards Against Humanity. You won't be finding this at your local Target. They'd probably get sued for selling it. It's awful. Filthy. Appalling. Politically incorrect. Dripping with sarcasm. Like the box says: for horrible people. In other words, it's perfect for my family.
The game is simple. If you've ever played Apples to Apples, you know how to play Cards Against Humanity. The only differences are that you get ten cards in your hand to play with (allowing for more lecherous options), and sometimes you have to play two or three cards to fill in the blanks of the statements on the black cards. Like this winning combination. I apologize in advance...
This game made every single one of us blush. Multiple times. It even appalled Mr. Musky more than once. It is so twisted and wrong it's unbelievable.
Just like the proverbial train wreck though, we couldn't stop ourselves. We played through the entire deck of black cards the first time we cracked it open, just to see how awful it could get. My examples on this post are tame. Imagine if the movie Superbad were broken down to a few nasty statements, and you're on the right track. I can't even begin to tell you some of the words on the cards. Let's just say that they are vile, awful, horrible things. So bad that I'd never speak them aloud, other than when playing the game. They truly are that bad.

Sometimes, I guess it's fun to be bad? I don't know. All's I know is that after a couple of cocktails, this game is hilarious. Hilariously naughty. And nobody gets hurt. Except for maybe George Bush, Rush Limbaugh and our current President's feelings.

Now I know the box says for ages 17+. And neither of my children are seventeen (one is close). However, we adopted a very open line of communication with our kids early on in our parenting adventure. Why, several years ago in that very cabin you see in the pictures above, my then nine-year-old daughter asked exactly how does a baby get in the Mommy's tummy?

"I mean, I know there's fertilization between an egg and sperm," she thoughtfully considered. "But exactly how does the sperm get there?"

Mr. Musky promptly went to the garage to organize fishing gear. How convenient. I told Jake to stay put...that he might as well listen to my watered down version as well. Once I got past love and marriage and certain necessities that physiologically happen in order to reproduce, my seven-year-old interrupted me and took over. He patiently explained to his big sister the workings of fertilization of a sperm and egg and how exactly the resulting child grows in the uterus of a fertile woman.

You can imagine my surprise. "How did you learn that?"

"Brain Pop."

"Come again?"

"Brain Pop. When I broke my arm, I had to go to the Media Center instead of going outside for recess. I did a bunch of Brain Pops on the computer, and once I chose to learn about the human reproductive cycle."

"Huh," I replied. Silently reconsidering homeschooling, I decided to not make a big deal about it, but found it interesting that my tax dollars led to an unsupervised environment where my son learned something he wasn't supposed to officially learn about in our public school system until the ripe old age of eleven.

He just informed me that now, as an eighth grader, sex ed begins in the next few weeks. Then he corrected himself.
"It actually just continues. I had a good dose of sex ed when we played Cards Against Humanity."
Ugh. To say it's slightly awkward to explain sexual deviance to your hormonal, teenaged children is the understatement of the New Year. But you know what? It reinforced that they really can come to us with any awkward, inappropriate questions they will ever have on the topic, and we will answer them honestly. If you find that you have a hard time with this topic in your house, then maybe this is the game for you to break the ice with your kids.
I'M JUST KIDDING! Don't take that suggestion seriously! You'll be after me with an icepick lobotomy if you adopt my sarcastic advice.

Sometimes the card combinations were so bad that it was difficult for us to read them aloud without blushing and shaking our heads at the ludicrous combinations. We even had to revert to the Urban Dictionary to determine the meaning of some of the more exotic topics. I'm slightly disturbed that Mr. Musky knew the meaning of every single deviant card.

There's no way this game was coming home where sneaky teenagers might play with their friends. I enjoy my life, thank you very much, and I don't need DCFS coming after me to throw me in the clink. There are definitely some people we would never play this game with (Hi Mom!) and I don't recommend playing it with ANYONE who is easily offended, cannot appreciate a thoughtful dollop of sarcasm, or can't tap into a dark side of humor. It is NOT suitable for most children under the age of 17. I can see where the more people play, the more crazy and fun it would be. It's quick - I don't recommend playing for more than about 30-45 minutes. And it's not one I would play all the time because the novelty would wear off.

But I do see the expansion pack winding up under our tree next December. That Santa knows us well.

XOXO,
Jen

Friday, January 10, 2014

Apéritif Friday - Award Winning Chili, Whole30 Style

Welcome to the New Year, I keep repeating to myself. Like so many others, I gave up resolution planning at the age of 25 when I realized I'd never keep them. That doesn't mean that I don't face the turn of every new year without some optimism; quite the contrary. I just don't set myself up to fail with a list of to-dos that I should already be focused upon anyway.

Like going to the gym more often. Check.
Like eating healthier. Check.
Like spending more time with my family. Check, and thank goodness school started back up Wednesday after an extra loooooong winter break.
Like writing more. I'm working on that one. So hopefully a big fat RED check coming soon. Well, a check in the black would actually be better.

This week I'm finally posting something that under normal circumstances would have been up the first week of November. We were eyeball deep in our first Whole30 - yes, I said first, as we just started another one since we are masochists were unable to really finish the first one to our satisfaction - and we participated in a blind Chili cook-off. We all agreed to taste the chili entries, but refrain from adding carbs, dairy and/or processed sides to the chili (cheese, sour cream, crackers, etc.). And of course, I entered a Whole30 version, which I must humbly admit, was killer.

Up for grabs? The coveted spoon, previously held by our good friend Mr. Boy Scout.
People.   I WON THE SPOON!

Yes - the below recipe won the Chili Cook-Off this year, and I am the proud owner of one very infamous traveling spoon, not to mention the happy host for the next Cook-Off in November with several of our college friends. Which will be a breeze after hosting Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve this year.

At the risk of giving all my secrets away and relinquishing the spoon to some undeserved copycat later this year, here's what you need:
1 pound of ground bison
1 pound of grass fed beef
3 precooked andouille sausages, nitrate and nitrite free if possible, chopped
1 cup mushrooms, chopped, not pictured because I found them in my fridge later and threw them in as an afterthought
1 medium onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic, microplaned or minced
14 oz can organic fire roasted diced tomatoes
1 large jar marinara sauce (check ingredients to ensure no sugar or funky processed malarky)
1 cup salsa (again, check label for pure ingredients only)
NOT PICTURED - Chicken or Beef Stock, Optional
3-4 sport peppers, chopped*
3-4T chili powder, not pictured, because I'm a total airhead. It's kinda a key ingredient for CHILI, duh! ***
1 tsp cayenne pepper ***
2T ground cumin ***
1T oregano ***
1T basil ***
1tsp ancho chili pepper ***
2T instant coffee (weird, I know) ***
salt and pepper, or Montreal Steak Seasoning ***

*Any combo of ground meat will do. Be aware though that if the meat you use is extra lean, you may need to add some fat to the pan when it browns. Bacon grease, ghee, palm oil or coconut oil all work.
** Sport peppers can easily be replaced with jarred or fresh jalapeños, a couple of teaspoons of hot sauce, or omitted completely if you don't like things spicy.
*** All spices and herb measurements are approximate. Add to your liking and taste.

Brown the ground beef and bison over medium-high heat in a large sauté pan until completely cooked. Add the andouille sausage and mushrooms and season the meat with salt and pepper or Montreal Steak Seasoning, cook for a few minutes more, then pour it into a crock pot set on high for four hours. Toss the onion, green pepper, carrots, celery and garlic to the sauté pan, adding ghee or animal fat into the pan if necessary to prevent the vegetables from sticking. Wilt them, cooking for about 10 minutes on medium to medium-low heat, then pour them into the crock pot with the meat. Pour in the tomatoes, marinara sauce, salsa, and chicken or beef stock if necessary (that is, if you think the chili needs to be "soupier"). Add the remaining ingredients to taste. TO TASTE! Chili is definitely a unique creature. It's universal in that most everyone knows what "chili" is, but good chili means something unique to every individual. Some like it loaded with vegetables and tons of stringy tomatoes, some prefer just meat and spicy sauce. Some love beans and unique meats included (I've made it with leftover lamb shank before!) and some prefer traditional ingredients only - whatever those are these days. My daughter can't tolerate spicy foods, so I oftentimes dish her out a serving before amping up the spices to the liking of the rest of the family. Do what you like with the spice, and make it your own.

This chili was hands down one of my favorites. Because of one simple ingredient, not yet mentioned.
BACON.
Miller just jumped up from his nap. He does that anytime the word BACON is proclaimed.

I fried up a pound of bacon until crispy, chopped it rather finely, then dumped it in the pot just before the competition was underway. A single ingredient that put my effort over the top into championship category, in my opinion. And in lieu of a dollop of sour cream, I love me some sliced avocado as a garnish. It cuts the heat a bit, and gives the same creamy richness as sour cream. Yum.

Tasting the other entries was rather interesting for us, given that we hadn't eaten a single processed or sugary food item in the prior nineteen days. One included brown sugar, and our tastebuds picked it up immediately. Another was very close to ours; in fact, it was the other entry that made it to the finals. But when I heard our number called and found out we'd won,
I have to admit. I was a proud chili cooker.

Next time, I hope some of our friends bring some babies for me to love on, because as we all know, there are no babies in my life, and I'm ready to be an Auntie again. So instead I will spoil friends' children in the meantime. I also hope that a certain banjo playing friend enters when we host, and brings said stringed instrument along for some entertainment. Because anymore, football only does it for me for about five seconds.

I have to shout out to my friend's quirky kid, Miss Megan the sumo wrestler.
Er, I mean, gymnast, who is on a paleo kick of her own.
I'm sorry it took me so long, my dear. But now you have not only your favorite chili recipe to request from your father, the family cook, but it's Award Winning Chili. So yay.

XOXO,
Jen

P.S. - no Apéritif  with this one since we were abstaining, and besides, I whipped this up at 10:00 a.m. on a Saturday. Not that the early hours have stopped me in the past, but this time it was a rockin' Pelligrino with a dash of Lemon and Lime. Living on the edge during the Whole30, man.