Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The warm weather brings them out

No, not bugs. Not leaves on the trees or buds on the roses nor blooms on the tulips. The warm weather brings out door to door solicitors. People selling lawn treatments, security systems, offering to check and see if your ducts need cleaning or your water is too hard (too soft, full of lead, whatever). Kids selling frozen cookie dough for sports teams or raising pledges for school events. Charities are out in force, begging door to door for donations. Heck, today I had a child I have never seen before knock on the door and ask if she could play with "that dog in your yard". I had a surreal moment where I thought I woke up in a peanuts cartoon. Three different religious groups have been by, in as many days. I guess zealots don't get the holidays off. We have been offered restaurant discount cards, oil change deals when buying in bulk, and inspirational message books. Frankly, I am worn out. Between the constant ringing of the doorbell and the telemarketing calls I need a nap. I hate the phone calls where nobody answers my "hello" for a few seconds (you know, while the computer that dialed me switches over to a telemarketer upon hearing a voice at my end) . Then when the person does reach the line, it takes every ounce of concentration I have to figure out a word they are saying. With or without an accent, they can turn a rehearsed script into something bearing no resemblance to actual language from sheer force of repetition. I always pleasantly say "No thank you!" and end the call, but more often than not I don't know if I am refusing a new cell phone, a lower interest rate on my credit card, or a maintenance program for the furnace. Ruby could care less about the phone calls (unless I have to move to get the phone, in which case I have to disturb the pile of snoring pug on my lap) but she isn't sure what to think about these intruders. She wants to kill the ones that ring the doorbell, and desires to seriously maim the ones that knock. Of course, she would never tell them that to their face. She prefers to spit and snot and snort, hackles raised, and bark her fool head off at them from behind my legs. Funny how she knows the difference between a "visitor" and these people. Once or twice she has sat stone still in front of the door and emitted a low growl. On those occasions I did NOT open the door. I have only heard Ruby growl a handful of times, and when she does it means business. Who am I to question pug-tuition? It amazes me the number of people that come to the door, even if no cars are in the driveway. It makes me wonder, when I was working outside the house - how often were people ringing my doorbell while I was away? How many fingers have pressed that doorbell unanswered? How many knuckles have rapped at the front door, paused, then rapped again. Did they wait a while before walking away? Did they shade their eyes and try to look through the little window on the door? When they left, did they walk back down the driveway to the road, or did they cut across the lawn to the next yard? Were they disappointed that nobody was home, or were they secretly relieved? (Yes. I do wonder these things. I never said my brain was normal.) I can imagine how tiring it would be to have a job that requires you to walk house to house all day, in the hot sun or rain or cold wind. Knowing full well of the doors that open, most will reject you - and many not very nicely. Trying to make small chat with strangers tapping their feet impatiently, being distrusted and speaking to an eyeball seen through a crack in the door. Not that I like what they are doing, and yes I do find it an intrusion and a disruption and in this day and age of home invasions and what not it's a bit ballsy to go door to door. But we all have to eat, right? That doesn't mean I have to buy what they are selling. But the least I can do is be polite and pleasant and smile while I say "No thank you". On very hot days I have been known to offer a bottle of water, and more than once I have handed out gloves and hats to somebody obviously unprepared for a sudden weather change. Let's see how long my smile holds out this year.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Better than store bought!

I love the idea of whole wheat pasta. The fiber, the whole grainy-ness, the health aspects. I really do. But I just don't like the dried boxed variety. The flavour is usually okay if you can find some that don't smell rancid or have gone stale - and let me tell you the shelf life of these babies is nanoseconds it seems. It is the texture that is off putting. Mushy (even if you undercook them) and gritty, the bran pieces are sharp and stick in the sides of your tongue. Just not nice. Now don't get me wrong. I still make whole wheat pasta for myself in place of regular because I am willing to comprimise to stay alive a little longer. But it isn't fair that something so wholesome should taste so crappy. There has been an exciting discovery, however (and I will get to that, but the path there is sort of snakey). It is our holiday week-end. DH had Friday and today off and DD had today off. We tend to grill a lot over these holiday weekends and this one was no exception. Unfortunately beef prices are through the roof and the cuts don't look very nice right now, because steak would have added a nice flavour variety to the mix. We did barbeque ribs (rub and sauce, I chose to use store bought sauce to use it up and we were disappointed - it wasn't sweet enough for our tastes. It would have been fine on pork chops or chicken pieces, I think we just like a sweeter sauce for ribs). Then pork chops with a cajun rub. We were rained out (and pooped out LOL one day). The last grilling day was today. What to have though? I didn't want anything with a standard bbq sauce because we already did that and weren't in the mood for it again. Same with cajun style. DH and DD are not fans of lemon type flavourings (greek style marinades with garlic and rosemary and oregano and lemon juice and olive oil? Love it love it love it. But they won't eat it). There was a cut up chicken waiting patiently for me to find something suitable. I took a leap, and decided on an asian style sauce from a cookbook - "The New Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book". Typically I would wing it, since this is a flavour profile that I am familiar with. But recently I have been trying to create a recipe base so that if something happens, DH could still make the things that they like. I think it will be nice for DD later on down the line as well. Plus I have a mountain of cookbooks and cooking magazines, I guess I should start trying some of the recipes, eh? The sauce is made ahead and simply brushed on at the end of grilling your meat (it calls for skinless boneless pieces, we used a whole cut up chicken with skin and bones, and ignored the grilling directions). What to have with this? I had pushed the limits of potato-ness already with these two. Baked, sliced and cooked in a packet, hash brown casserole. Fried rice? Good idea, but I like to cook the rice for that the day before and chill it overnight. I know, pan fried noodles! We love them, but DH and DD don't like veggies in theirs. I figured I could cook the noodles, pan fry them in some sauce, and just add a marinated veggie salad to my plate. That way we are all happy. And it was a great idea. Only, I don't have any noodles LOL. And nothing is open (holiday, remember?). Then the idea struck me to make my own. Now, don't hate me when I say that I don't always use a recipe for things like pasta dough. I know the consistency I am looking for and most recipes are largely the same. Flour, salt, egg, water. I started with two cups of whole wheat flour, sifting the bran out of it to use another time. To that I added a palm wrinkle of salt (tee hee!), then cracked an egg in the middle. I let the dough hook on my trusty kitchenaid take care of that for a while. I would check and add a bit of water now and then until all the flour was incorporated. I also added a drizzle of oil and let it knead for a few minutes. Once that was done I added a bit of unbleached flour because it was a tad sticky. Then wrapped it and let it rest for about one hour. Now, this is two big risks in one meal. An untested untried asian marinade and whole wheat noodles for two picky eaters. But I figured they were sort of a captive audience today - it's not like they can run out to eat as nothing is open! Ha HA!. So there ;). I used the kitchenaid pasta attachments to roll and cut the dough with the angel hair blade. DD helped with this, which always makes me a nervous wreck. Every essence of my being is convinced her entire body will get sucked through that thing and crunched up into a pulpy mess. So far, so good as she escaped unscathed yet again today. The noodles were tossed in flour to help separate them, then tossed into boiling water. They cool literally in like two minutes. Drain, and run cold water over them. Sneak a taste. HOLY COW! These noodles are GOOD. No gross texture and a real wheat flavour. Yum yum yum. I tossed them with a little oil so they wouldn't get all stuck together and placed them in a covered container. I made the sauce for the chicken (which would benefit from an overnight marinade I am sure, I will try that next time) and that sat waiting as well. Used a v-slicer to shave a cucumber and some carrot and onion into a bowl, added a dash of salt and pepper and a sprinkling of seasoned rice vinegar (like for sushi). Those went into the fridge to wait as well. DH grilled the chicken, and about five minutes before they were done he brushed on the sauce. I had reserved some sauce to toss with the noodles in a heated pan (about 1/3 of a cup). I did add a dash of soy sauce and about a tablespoon of oyster flavoured sauce to the noodles as well, just to up the flavour profile a bit. By the time the chicken was done, the noodles were hot. I can tell you a few things. First of all, we will definitely be making this sauce again. Maybe on baked chicken pieces. Or maybe on grilled wings. Or maybe even on broiled chicken legs. And I think marinating the chicken pieces in some of the sauce mixed with chinese cooking wine overnight would definitely bring this to chicken nirvana. But as for the noodles? If I had doubled the batch (I made about 1/2 pound, so like half a typical recipe) I think we would have still eaten every last one. DH and DD did not say a word, blink, or acknowledge the outside world while eating dinner ROFL. DD informed me the noodles were even good cold (she got a second helping) and thinks if we added cooked chicken right to them they would make an excellent offering for her Brownie pot luck. She must really have liked them, to suggest that! Sesame Ginger Sauce (for barbequed chicken, from the cookbook mentioned above): -1/3 cup bottled plum sauce or bottled sweet and sour sauce -1/4 cup water -3 tbsp hoisin sauce -1 1/2 tsp sesame seeds (toasted, if desired) -1 tsp grated fresh ginger or 1/4 tsp ground ginger -1/4 to 1/2 tsp oriental chili sauce or several dashes bottled hot pepper sauce -1 clove garlic, minced The recipe suggests combining the ingredients in a small saucepan, bringing to boiling, and simmer covered for 3 minutes. I combined everything in a glass 2 cup measure and microwaved for 3 minutes, stirring after every minute. *Notes: I used 1/2 tsp sesame seeds to get them past these two picky-stickys and I did not toast them. I also used the ground ginger because I am out of fresh and 1/4 tsp hot pepper vinegar for the hot sauce. If you want to use this to sauce chicken, brush your chicken with the sauce during the last 5 minutes of grilling. Reheat and pass remaining sauce (I separated it because I am squeamish ;). So what was the big, exciting discovery? That home made whole wheat noodles are EXCELLENT. Yes, I did sift out the big flakes of bran, but those will find their way into cookies or muffins or meatloaf or something. And that DH and DD not only will eat home made whole wheat noodles, but they will make animal noises while they do it. Maybe I will make another small batch and try freezing some and drying the rest to see how they cook up after.