Monday, April 30, 2012

Thanks, but no thanks.

Every so often, I take my son to the beach for a nature walk. There's nothing better than finding a quiet strip of sand where we can eat lunch and dip our toes in the water. Usually we come home with our pockets full of shells and rocks and sand, and maybe some beach glass, if we're lucky.

But this? This stayed right where we found it. Ack! I don't even know what it is. Any guesses?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Looking back - LA Times Festival of Books 2011

A year ago, I was at the LA Times Festival of Books with my son. Wandering around, I came upon a huge vinyl banner that asked, "What are you reading?"

At any given moment, I may be in the middle of reading three or more books, a handful of magazines, and a blog reader that taunts me with 1000+ unread posts. So I clearly remember standing there last year, scanning the hundreds of book titles scribbled on the wall, drawing a blank as to what books I was currently reading. 

After about ten minutes, the only title I could think of was "The Girl Who Played With Fire" by Stieg Larsson. 

I never did finish the book. But I suppose I could say I'm still in the middle of reading it.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Navarin Printanier (Lamb Stew with Spring Vegetables) - French Fridays with Dorie

I was excited about this week's recipe, Navarin Printanier. At last, a recipe with a long list of ingredients needing to be browned, boiled, simmered and braised. I love lamb, I love vegetables, and I love stew. I'd already prepped my new-to-me Dutch oven and found most of the "exotic" ingredients at the local grocery.

When I say "exotic," I mean ingredients like lamb, turnips and small white onions. I was surprised to find lamb in the freezer case, already diced and ready to be stewed. I had been dreading having to drive to another market for one item, so I was happy to save myself that trip. I only bought 2 pounds because that was plenty of meat for the family. 

On the other hand, choosing a turnip was a real adventure. I've never used turnips before. Actually, I've never even met a turnip before. I ended up walking up and down the produce aisle several times, rejecting the parsnips, celery root and rutabaga before finally coming across the large, radish-like vegetable labeled "turnips." Even more difficult than identifying the turnip is trying to choose a good one when you don't know what you're looking for. I found one with no blemishes on it and tried squeezing (firm with a little bit of give), smelling (smelled like dirt) and knocking on it like a melon (sounded solid). In hindsight, I should have just gone with more potatoes.

As for the small white onions, I had to substitute small, white onions. What I mean is, I should have used either boiling or pearl onions, but the store had neither, so I just used regular white onions and chopped them coarsely.

This recipe required a lot of steps and used three different pans. After you brown the lamb in two batches and simmer with broth and seasonings, you "meanwhile, work on the vegetables." That involves blanching the onions in one pan (if you use pearl onions) and browning the vegetables with butter and sugar in another. Then you add everything together, simmer a little longer, and braise in the oven. Finally, add the peas, taste for seasoning, and serve.

Usually when I make stew, I'll brown the meat, chop the vegetables, and dump them all into a crockpot with broth and seasoning. After 6-8 hours, dinner's ready, and dear ole hubs isn't looking at me sideways because I've filled up the sink twice with dirty dishes.

And to top it off, I didn't care for the navarin printanier very much. I'm not sure if it was the lamb or the turnips, but something gave the stew a slightly bitter taste that I didn't like. Hubs and the toddler ate theirs happily, so it was just me, but since I'm the one who's doing the cooking, it'll be a while before this makes an appearance at our table again.

The verdict: grade: C-. If I was to try this recipe again, I'd use beef and leave out the turnips. But then again, I already have a beef stew recipe that I love that doesn't involve so much fussy work, so why would I torture myself like that? At least I got the chance to break in my Dutch oven, which worked beautifully.

See how the rest of the FFwD bloggers fared here

Thanks for reading, and happy eats!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

At first glance

I can wear a hat or take it off, but either way 
it's a conversation piece.  ~Hedda Hopper

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

He named that tune in one note.

Bah bop ah dah.

For the last few weeks, my son and I have been listening to Justin Roberts and The Not Ready for Naptime Players every time we're in the car. I don't mind at all, because the music and lyrics are fun, catchy, danceable, and ridiculously addictive. I've even been listening to the CDs when my son's not around. But I haven't been paying as much attention to the music as my little 2 year-old Justin Roberts fan.

Bah bop ah dah.

Today, my son wanted to hear a particular song. He called it Bah bop ah dah. It sounded sort of familiar, maybe "Koala Bear Diner" in toddler-speak? I skipped over to that track.

No Mommy, I want Bah bop ah dah.

Uh-oh. "Hippopotamus"? "Old Pajamas"? I started flipping through the tracks.

No! Bah bop ah dah!

At that point, I was reminded of one of my favorite "Married With Children" episodes, where Al trys to remember the name of a song he heard on the radio. Hmm Hmm Him, he hums to everyone, and no one can help him figure out what song it is.

Anyway, my little one was getting more and more agitated, so I decided to scan through all of the songs to see if we could find the one he wanted to hear. No such luck. We got home and sat in the garage for ten more minutes before I finally abandoned the search. A full nuclear meltdown resulted, and I rushed upstairs to put him down for his much-needed nap.

Later, as we were driving home from dinner, my husband turned on the radio.

I want Bah bop ah dah, Daddy.

I laughed. "Good luck with that," I told dear ole hubs. "I've already tried every song on the CDs."

"Maybe it's someone else?"

"I don't think so. That's all we've been listening to lately."

We started scanning each song again, letting them play for about 10 seconds so we could feel confident in eliminating them from the running. My son was sitting in the back, saying, "No, das not Bah bop ah dah,"  after we played each song. "No, das not it. No."

We had shuffled through about 20 tracks when all of a sudden....

A new song came on. Barely one note played. Then we heard, "Yes, that's Bah bop ah dah!"

Dear ole hubs and I looked at each other. "What?" he asked me. "Is he serious?" We listened to the first few verses.

"Oh. My. Gosh. Yeah, " I replied. "He's right. That's what they sing at the end." We both turned around to look at our son, who began singing along.

Ba ba ba Bah bop ah dah da da…


* In case you're wondering, it was the song "Picture Day," off the album Way Out. You can hear a preview of the song here. But really, just go ahead and buy the album, or at least go check it out from the library. Even if you don't have kids. You'll come back here and thank me. I guarantee it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Practicing for PIF Day

Little does this person know what's about to happen.

Let's just say that you want to be behind me in the drive-thru line at Starbucks.

I was having a great day and wanted to do something fun, so I paid the bill for the guy behind me in line. I asked the cashier to let him know that I was practicing a random act of kindness today. Though I'll never know how the guy reacted, I'll never forget the sweet smile and gratitude on the cashier's face. I wonder if that happens often?

So, for less than 3 bucks, I was able to spread my good mood around. Try it! It's a cheap high. :-)

Pay It Forward Day is this Thursday, April 26th. I need some new ideas for what I can do, so please leave your suggestions below. You never know, you may be the recipient of someone else's good deed that day, so don't forget to pay it forward!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Food p0rn - Central Station, Fillmore, CA

Tri-tip sandwich with side of baked beans

Not a great picture, I know. My camera lens will NOT stay put, despite my previous optimism. I can't tell if the blurriness is caused by the wonky lens or the terrible lighting. In any case, please imagine the deliciousness that was my lunch the other day.

Tender, juicy tri-tip on a butter-slathered, grilled roll.
Slightly tangy barbecue sauce for dipping.
Real chopped bacon in the baked beans.
Seasoned steak fries stolen from dear ole hubs' plate.
And a pint of Newcastle Brown Ale to wash it down.


Sunday, April 22, 2012

To Bundt, or not to Bundt

Why is it that when I walk into a resale shop and lay eyes on something that I've never seen before, I immediately decide that I have to start collecting them?

That was the case with these gelatin molds.

I can't wait to use them to make little individual bundt cakes. When's National Bundt Day again?

But I'm not entirely sure I can use these to bake. Again, Google tells me I shouldn't be using Google to answer questions like this. I know better than that.

I'll throw it out there - does anyone know how I can find out if it's safe to bake with these molds?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Meeting Cheryl Strayed.

I don't know who introduced me to the Dear Sugar advice column on The Rumpus, but I'd like to thank him or her. Very truly, thank you. After reading the columns for some time, I'd become quite smitten with Sugar. She had a gift for finding the hidden emotional needs of the letter-writer. Then she'd sock you in the gut with a powerful, yet empathetic, response that hit close to home for so many people. It's amazing how many times I'd end up in tears after reading one of her columns. She would tell the truth so simply that you'd wonder how you missed it.

These hands belong to a wise woman.
So I waited with delight for her to identify herself, which she did at her "coming out" party on Valentine's Day this year. Although I didn't recognize her name then, I went straight to Google to find out what she'd written, and then directly to my library's website to put everything that I could on hold. I was first in the holds queue to read her new book, which hadn't even been released at that point. I learned that she often wrote about grief and loss due to losing her mother to cancer way too early in her life. 

When I got home the next day and sat down with her published essays and her first novel, Torch, I was completely taken by what I read. Some of the stories sounded familiar, as she had included variations of them in the Sugar column. But somehow, especially in Torch, she put into words the confusion and desperation and grief I've felt since my own mother passed away from cancer last year. I just kept thinking, through my tears, "That's it, exactly."


Anyway, it was strangely uplifting to read such things. As depressing as it may be, when you're in the thick of the messy shit, it helps to know that other people have been there too and that they get it. Cheryl Strayed, she fucking gets it.

So, for months, I had been eagerly looking forward to the LA Times Festival of Books. Not only is it a fun way to spend a weekend (surrounded by books! yippee!), but Ms. Strayed was going to be appearing in a panel discussion and signing books. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to go to the discussion, but that allowed me to be first in line for the book signing.

I'm in the right line.
She was very gracious and sweet, and when I told her I was a huge Sugar fan, she said it was nice to meet people who knew her from the Sugar columns. I let her know that I appreciated her writing so honestly about her mom, and how those stories personally affected me, having lost my mom too. She kindly offered her condolences and I went on about how Torch was my favorite of her works, and how I'd read Wild and was impressed with her skills at reading a trail guide. By that point, she'd already given me back my book, so there was nothing left for me to do except grin and thank her profusely before walking away.

Wishing you wild beauty on the journey, sweet pea.
As soon as I stepped away, I thought, "Did I really just tell her that the other book she wrote, not the one she's promoting right this second, but the other one, that THAT was my favorite? And what a downer I am. 'Hi, nice to meet you, you were probably having a great day, but hey! My mom died too. Look, we're members of the same shitty club, wink-wink.'" Damn. I'm such a freaking jerk.

The signing queue for Cheryl Strayed. Did I mention, I was first in line?
So, Ms. Strayed, my sincerest apologies. I really loved Wild too and could hardly put it down. I've been telling my family and my book club and my Facebook friends and now my blog readers (of which there are none, but one day!) about you in hopes that someone else will read your work and say, "That's it, exactly." And, even though we are members of the same shitty "I-lost-my-mom-too-young-and-it-sucks" club, well, all I can say about that is that I'm sorry. And thank you for understanding.

UPDATE 4/28/2012: I figured out who introduced me to Dear Sugar on the Rumpus. It was Megan from Not Martha in her post from 2010. I'm glad to be able to send my gratitude to her as well.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Coconut Friands - French Fridays with Dorie

As I sit down to write this post, I have a mug of hot tea, some lemon mousse and the rest of the coconut friands within reach. Can I tell you how much I loved these little teacakes?


So good that I'm surprised there are any left. 
So good that I've been hiding them and not sharing with dear ole hubs or the toddler.
So good that I ran an extra day this week.
So good that I've accepted that my diet has to wait until later.

I've been amazed at how simple these recipes have been and how delicious they are. I guess I decided to start FFwD at the right time! This week, the hardest part was getting my cookbook to stay open to the right page. I didn't even have to go shopping, as I had exactly 1 1/2 cups of unsweetened coconut in the pantry. Kismet!

I did have trouble melting the butter, of all things. Rookie mistake: I used the "Melt Butter" function on the microwave. It took about a minute at low power to make a butter volcano. Lesson learned: the microwave is not to be trusted.

After I added all the ingredients to the bowl, I had a thick batter with a satiny shine, like Dorie promised. I thought it looked just like oatmeal. Pass the brown sugar and milk!

Using a mini-muffin pan and a Pampered Chef medium (1oz) scoop, I was able to get exactly 24 mini cakes. When I popped them in the oven, they started looking like this after about 10 minutes...

Excuse the dirty oven door.
Don't they look like little fried eggs? Adorable. Actually, I'm wondering why they bubbled up only in the middle and on the sides. Oven too hot or not hot enough? Either way, they still turned out lovely. 

They were a little crispy on the browned edges, which added to the overall swoon factor of these cakes. Shortly after taking this photo, I may have eaten 7 of them. Maybe. I'll never tell.

I spent all week trying to remember what Filipino dessert they remind me of. Luckily, yummychunklet came to the rescue. The French friands are very similar to Filipino Puto, a steamed rice cake that contains coconut milk. I personally have had no luck with steaming desserts (perhaps one day I'll share the tale of the Kutsinta  fiasco) so I'm glad to have found a suitable substitute that I can make in the oven!

Check out how the others did here: Coconut Friands

The verdict: grade: A+. I'll be making this again very soon. I'd like to try some of the add-ins that Dorie suggested (fresh fruit, candied zest, preserved ginger).

Thanks for reading, and happy eats!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The word I'm looking for is "aAARRrrgGGGhHH!!"

I don't know exactly what happened, but my son took my camera while I was making dinner and this is what I got back. I heard a "thunk!", which is never a good sound when toddlers are around. I didn't start hyperventilating until I saw the inside of my lens rolling around on the floor.

Luckily for all parties, I was later able to snap it back together. And I even think it still works!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Found at the market - Rillettes

I saw these today at the market and did a double-take. Then I took a picture. Strangely, there were other people taking pictures of food at the market tonight too. I don't know why. 

I'm glad I know what rillettes are now. But I'm not really inclined to try either of these. I mean, look at them. Go ahead and blame my camera.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Lemon yellow sun

Oooh ooh oooohhh! I'm so excited. Here's why!

I went to the swap meet yesterday and found this beauty. It's a Descoware 3QT dutch oven and I picked it up for only $20! The inside's in pretty good shape, but I do need to sand and reseason the edges because they're a little rusty. I guess I should get on that before next week's FFwD - navarin printanier (lamb stew).

Sunday, April 15, 2012

We'll be over again tomorrow night.

We went to visit our friends for dinner tonight, and look at what we were presented with for dessert! Lavender honey cupcakes AND banana mocha cupcakes. And they tasted as delicious as they looked! Our friends spoil us so.

* Many many many thanks to the Shelleys for the wonderful meal and conversation tonight!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Humbled by a pair of googly eyes.

Today, my son and I were working on some arts and crafts. His job: create a monster from a dried gourd, pipe cleaners, tissue paper and glue (and a little help from Mama). When I handed him the googly eyes to glue on, he stuck them on the bottom of the gourd, as you see in the photo. I started to say, "No, not there, put them here," and then, thankfully, I caught myself and decided to shut my fat trap. Do I really know better than him about where the eyes on a monster are?

He has a pretty good imagination, that one. And I absolutely adore what came out of it today.

The hardest thing about reality is returning to it after an hour inside your child's mind.  ~Robert Brault

* Thanks to the Japanese American National Museum and Target for hosting the free Monster Mash event today!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Sardine Rillettes - French Fridays with Dorie

I was happy when I saw this week's recipe. When I first got my cookbook, I went through it and marked off all the recipes I wanted to try, and this was one of them. The dear ole hubs loves sardines and I love simple recipes. Win-win.

But I started getting nervous after reading some of the other bloggers. I've never actually tasted a sardine before. And I'm still not totally sure what rillettes are. I was imagining a spread similar to the heavenly smoked trout dip they used to serve at Houston's when I worked there.

Well, my guess wasn't too far off, but there's definitely something *special* about these rillettes.

Why should I have been nervous? I eat sushi, for crack sake! And I'm not talking about California rolls or Philly rolls, as good as they are. Hubs and I want to go to an omakase where, for the first course, they'll test us with soupbowls of extra fresh fish before they start sending over the good stuff. We just saw Jiro Dreams of Sushi and we drooled throughout the entire movie. So if I can't stomach a measly sardine, then what? Our dreams are dashed. Look for us at the conveyor belt sushi bar.

I decided to use only one can of sardines - why waste two? - and I went with chives for the fresh herbs. I couldn't be sure how the dill or cilantro would taste with the sardines, so I wanted to play it safe. The recipe wasn't complicated - the hardest part was the tasting. After I added the sardines, I tried a teeny bit to see if I needed to add more salt. Hmmm...not too bad. Kind of okay. And then, all of a sudden, I started to feel nauseated. Ack! I knew it was just my head and my stomach in a battle of wills, but it was best not to think about it or eat any more. Cover and chill and worry about it later. 

All day today, the little bowl in the fridge taunted me. If I wanted to get my blog post up on French Friday, I'd have to taste the damn recipe and take pictures. I could wait no longer.

I plated some crackers and rillettes to take photos and my son came right over. "What's that?" he asked. "I want."

"Are you sure?" I imagined the face he'd make when he tried one. I hoped he wouldn't spit it out onto the floor.

"I want." He grabbed a rillette and shoved it into his mouth. I grabbed a napkin.

"Mmmmm!" His mouth was full of sardines, onions, cream cheese and crackers. Did I mention, he's 2?

"Seriously? You like it?" Shock and awe.

"Yes. More, please."

It's official. My son is a foodie in the making. I'm so proud that he's not afraid to try new foods, but it makes one thing clear. I'm totally pathetic. I spread some rillettes on a cracker and popped it in my mouth. Hmmm...not too bad. Kind of okay. And then, all of a sudden, I realized he was right. It was good. 

The rillettes benefited from the overnight flavor meld. Half of the bowl was gone before dear ole hubs even came home. And he - the only person in the house whom I thought would like this dish - was like, meh. Ha!

Oh, and that *special* something about this dish? Well, it's certainly...aromatic. I think pressing the plastic wrap against the surface of the rillettes is really to keep the odor from permeating your whole refrigerator. Be forewarned!

See what the other bloggers thought here. Surprisingly, it looks like a majority of the others liked it too!

The verdict: grade: B, I'd probably make this again as written, but I'd definitely like to try some other versions - salmon, tuna and smoked trout come to mind.

Thanks for reading, and happy eats!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Take Twelve - April 2012, or How Not To Become A Food Blogger

I have too many blogs on my reader. At the end of the day, I spend my free time trying to catch up on reading blog posts rather than doing anything artistic, crafty or tasty. Way back in December, I read about a photo challenge from Ella Publishing called Take Twelve - take 12 pictures on the 12th of each month. So very simple, yes?


In January, the date passed by before I realized it. I'm going to blame it on the holidays and general new year exhaustion.

In February, I didn't pick up my camera at all. Birthday blues.

In March, I missed it by one day.

And today, I just remembered right now.

Fortunately, tonight I had taken photos of the French Friday recipe and a couple other dishes I made for dinner. Unfortunately, I'm too short to work my camera lens properly and the lighting in our tiny kitchen is horrible. I decided that I'd take all my crap photos and put them together for my very first Take Twelve submission. Focus, lighting and composition be damned!*


Take Twelve - April 2012    How Not To Become A Food Blogger
* None of these photos were cropped or color-corrected in any way. Recipes: Sardine Rillettes; Steamed Asparagus; Chicken, Apples, and Cream a la Normande

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Growing pains

A beautiful flower begins its life in the dirt.   -Author Unknown

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Lasagna Rolls - It's what's for dinner.

Dinner tonight was the Not Just for Holidays Lasagna Rolls from I was happy this was a quick recipe since I waited until late in the day to start cooking. 

I saved some time by leaving out the meat, and I substituted dried Italian seasoning for the basil leaves because I didn't have any. I also eyeballed all the measurements because, again, it's mostly CHEESE, and CHEESE makes everything awesome. Even ice cream!

Is there a difference between lasagna sheets and lasagna noodles? The recipe called for 8 sheets cooked, rolled around the filling and arranged in a 13x9 baking dish. I made exactly 8 noodles and forgot to make extra in case any of the noodles broke. Then it crossed my mind that maybe "sheets" do not equal "noodles", because there was no way I could have stretched out those 8 rolled noodles to fit in a 13x9 baking dish. So I had to make more noodles in order to fill up the pan. Dinner would have been ready that much sooner if I hadn't had to do that.

I used about 1/4 cup of the ricotta mixture in each roll. I didn't spread the filling all the way to the end of the noodle because that made it easier to get the roll started. Just flip the plain end of the noodle over the filling and start rolling!

Everyone was happy with how this turned out. Dinner for tonight, leftovers for tomorrow, and a stash for the freezer too? Sweet.

I think this recipe would have been even better with a homemade marinara or meat sauce. I missed the flavors of onion and garlic, and was kicking myself a little for not adding some kind of meat to the filling. All in all, a good basic recipe with lots of room for modifications.

The verdict: grade: B, will make again but will try using homemade sauce, adding garlic, onions, mushrooms and/or shredded zucchini, or subbing cottage cheese or tofu for some of the ricotta.

Thanks for reading, and happy eats!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Shared interests

My son and I agree that Mater and Finn are the coolest characters from the last Cars movie, since being a spy is so dangerous. They make it look too easy.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Causæ Bibendi, or Reasons to Drink

Here's an interesting question - where did the term "wine flight" come from? Google tells me that I shouldn't use Google to research questions like this.

But, when I do, I'm led to fantastic quotes such as this, a translation of a Latin epigram originally attributed to John Sirmond:

If on my theme I rightly think,
There are five reasons why men drink:—
Good wine; a friend; because I'm dry;
Or lest I should be by and by;
Or — any other reason why.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

This Bunny died for your sins.

When I was younger, I used to love Easter. It ranked right behind Halloween in the category of "Best Holiday for Receiving Stomachache-Inducing Amounts of Candy." My mom would put together huge baskets of chocolate bunnies, jellybeans and Peeps for me and my sisters, and I didn't outgrow Easter egg hunts until I was well into high school. And, only on the rarest of occasions, she'd make us go to Mass as our fee for spending the rest of the day in a sugar coma.

Then I got older and moved out of my parents' house, and I guess I forgot about Easter. I mean, if you're not religious or under the age of 12, what does this holiday signify? It falls on a Sunday, so you don't get a day off of work. Spring Break traditionally falls around Easter, but nowadays colleges take their breaks anytime between February and April. My extended family would get together for a special dinner, but you'd just as soon see a lasagna or meatloaf on the table as you would a ham. And when you have your own money, you can buy as much candy as you want whenever you feel like it.

But now that my son is a little older, it's my job to introduce the concept of Easter to him. (As dear ole hubs is Jewish, the responsibility of teaching Passover falls to him.) I have to decide if my son's knowledge of Easter will include anything religious at all, or if I'm okay with him thinking this holiday is about massive quantities of sugar in different forms, hidden outside in plastic eggs.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Asparagus and Bits of Bacon - French Fridays with Dorie

I'd heard about French Fridays with Dorie a while ago from the fantastic Food Librarian blog and was intimidated by the idea. Cook-alongs? Every week? And French food? No Way.

But dear ole hubs gave me a French cooking class for my birthday. Rather than running from the kitchen in tears, I was inspired and enlightened that day. Maybe it was the wine I had. Perhaps it was the butter and Cognac-induced endorphins. In any case, the next week I found Dorie's cookbook, Around My French Table, on sale and I immediately signed up to participate in FFwD.

This week's recipe, my first, was Asparagus and Bits of Bacon. Only 5 ingredients and basic cooking skills required. I decided to make a main dish from the cookbook to go with it, and chose Bistrot Paul Bert Pepper Steak. Another simple recipe with a minimum of ingredients.

But do you know what happens when you get cocky? This.

Yes, that asparagus cost almost $14.
I went to Whole Paycheck Foods and spent too much money. Well, duh, right?

I told dear ole hubs that it's pretty bad when you spend almost $200 at the grocery store and yet you can carry all the groceries in the house in one trip. 

Did I say $200?!! Yes, I did. This is why.

That Bistrot Paul Bert Pepper Steak?
The pressure to cook VERY well is now apparent. 

Did I happen to mention that I'm not a good cook? I often over-cook (ie, burn) whatever I'm trying to make. Dry, rubbery chicken breasts? Check. Soggy vegetable stir-fry? Always. Nearly burned the house down making baked potatoes? Uh-huh. I've set off the smoke alarm more times than I care to admit. And if it's not over-cooked, it's under-cooked. Don't ask my sisters about the microwave sausage incident. No, really, DON'T.

I only made one substitution for the asparagus recipe, using blood orange olive oil instead of nut oil. I prepped the asparagus as Dorie suggests, by peeling the bottom of the stalks. The recipe came together quickly and easily, although I think I could have used twice the amount of bacon with no harm done. Come on, it's BACON, right? More is always better. Onions, on the other hand...well, you can see the picture at the top. Too many onions for this dish. Will have to cut back next time.

And the pepper steak? The hardest part was crushing the peppercorns without a mortar and pestle (pro Dorie tip: wrap in towel, crush with knife handle). I was also a little apprehensive about lighting the brandy on fire in my kitchen (see aforementioned "nearly burning down the house" comment). However, when it came time for that step, my pan was so hot that the brandy immediately burned off. I was so disappointed that I added more alcohol to the pan and tried again. No big flames, just tiny licks around the edges. Oh well.

It all ended up being quite delicious. I was just happy that I didn't ruin our $70 home-cooked meal. 

No, my math's not off. I, of course, needed a nice wine to go with dinner.

The verdict: Asparagus and Bits of Bacon - grade: A, will make again, with slight modifications
Bistrot Paul Bert Pepper Steak - grade: A+, will definitely make again

Thanks for reading, and happy eats!