Well, we didn't come close to winning Team Trivia last night, but 1) we did have a perfect first half 2) good god was our waitress cute 3) Mara impressively guessed that the airline begun in 1948 whose name means "skyward" is El-Albut 4) she talked herself out of it 5) we learned that if the question is "what movie beat out Scent of A Woman, The Crying Game, and A Few Good Men for Best Picture Oscar"...
...the year is 1992 (we were off by one), and the answer is The Unforgiven. What a shitty year for Hollywood movies that must have been: Scent Of A Woman is unwatchable, and A Few Good Men is one step up from a Grisham movie. No wonder we didn't get it. Well, OK, it was probably also the year that the four of us were least likely to care about movies in general: we had probably all just realized that we were supposed to be adults soon.
So, New Year's has changed a bit. We're now doing pulled pork with sides. Against the wishes of my advisers I am lobbying for a good coleslaw, a corn pudding, hoppin' john, and a collard green/andouille soup. I have to do the collards b/c I already bought them.
I mentioned that we're making gnocchi today, I may have misspoke: I am not making gnocchi. They are making gnocchi, they being mostly Dennis and then Mara. He's been making gnocchi this way for about 20 years by his estimate, ever since he saw some cold mashed potatoes in the fridge one day and thought, "hey, I wonder if I can make gnocchi out of those."
He and his mom had been making them with warm mashed potatoes, but were having problems because you could keep adding flour and adding flour and they wouldn't firm up (because they were warm), and then all of the sudden WHAMO they were like superballs.
So now, he boils 5 pounds of potatoes, mashes them til they're completely lump-free, and refrigerates them overnight. Then, the next day you get them out and they look like this.
You add flour.
Then you keep adding flour a couple tablespoons at a time, until you think they're "about ready", which means that the dough isn't sticky, but it's still very pliable.
Then you cook a few to see how they are.
Based on their consistency here, you add flour until they "should be perfect". Then you taste some more. Then! You call in the troops. One person is the snake station:
One person is the flipper.
Sometimes the tasks and stations overlap.
And one person takes the results and boils them until they float. And then they go on trays to cool and be frozen.
I have gained 10 pounds since I left Amsterdam, darned impressive. I'm hoping it's the kind of 10 pounds that can come off pretty easily with a month of exercise, vegetables, and beerlessness.
However, we've still got a couple of tricky wickets to navigate before we can start going backwards. Tonight: Team Trivia at the old faithful Suburban Tap, which usually means beer and some kind of Tex-Mex thing.
Today, Dennis decided that it would be a good day to make gnocchi, and actually it is: cold, overcast, everyone's off from work so there are lots of hands. So we'll freeze a big batch of standard gnocchi, and since we've also got leftover sweet potatoes lying around, I wanted to try a version with those. If I had more time I'd love to experiment with a flourless version, using Parmesan to bind the gnocchi, but...some other time.
Then, we're having a couple people over for New Year's Eve, looks like we're having some kind of chicken wing cooking contest. And finally I'll make collards and black-eyed peas for New Year's Day, cause dayum some good luck wouldn't hurt anyone at this point would it. Some possibles:
Mara's dad Dennis really hates cilantro. He used to just dislike it, but at some point he became offended by its overbearingness and now they're pretty much mortal enemies.
Thus: while we used to just sneak cilantro into things and wait for him to detect it or not, it's a gamble no one is willing to risk anymore, lest you find yourself on the receiving end of a Cilantro Tirade. So it goes on the side now.
Last night's goal was "fajitas", that Tex-Mex concept that pretty much means "DIY tacos". I marinated some steak, a few shrimp were defrosted, and I threw a few country-style pork ribs in a carnitas marinade and stuck them in the oven for a couple of hours.
The pork was easily the best protein of the night, seen below in a pre-cilantro love pile with chipotle slaw, calabacitas, peppers and onions, pico de gallo, and a little sour cream.
My result was the resulting result of glancing at Guility Carnivore's Ghetto Carnitas and using what we had at hand, so we'll call this an adaptation. Basically the meat braises in the broth/juice/fat mixture until tender, then turn up the heat and crisp the outside. I used apple cider and a little apple vinegar last night, but orange juice is much more authentic. Sorry this isn't really a recipe, but hey.
pork shoulder (or country ribs), cut into two-inch chunks
cinnamon stick, broken in half
chipotle chili powder
1 slice bacon, diced
2 tbsp butter
3 small zucchini
1 small can diced green chile
1 tsp oregano
some kind of cheese
Two cups of leftover bacon jam to dispose of. You'd think some testing might be in order to see what works and what doesn't, but, no, everything works. Green beans and bacon jam? Yes. Leftover sweet potatoes (not the sweet ones from yesterday, just unseasoned ones) and bacon jam? Also. If only there was some salmon in the lab storage closet (freezer).
These aren't good pictures, but they're the ones I've got. The last time it snowed on Christmas in Atlanta was 129 years ago. Jewy is a crazy six-year-old, so you can imagine that we get along great. Chris's towering 14 dollar homemade Honey Baked Ham (vs. the 60 dollar version), detectably different than the real thing but frankly no less good. Last night's leftover beef tenderloin with a kickin horseradish sauce and twice-baked sweet potatoes that were probably the best version of sweet sweet potatoes I've ever had (this photo is pre-baking), the secrets being no sugar besides the marshmallows and yes pumpkin pie spice.
The six-hour omelette bites with bacon jam were probably our best yet. Secret: slow, slow onion cooking and a mix of cheeses (gruyere, swiss, parmesan). Quote from Chris: "Whenever something that small tastes that good, you know a lot of time went into it." Not pictured: plenty. Lamb chops, green beans, salad, peach cobbler, tiramisu, brownies, cookies, etc. We barely got out of there alive.
Phew. Last night was good. The main events being (in addition to our Italian Wedding Soup [above]) a kind of scallop and shrimp rigatoni with buerre blanc, tomato, capers, parmesan, and basil, plus a stack of wilted arugula. Then: steak au poivre with mushroom reduction and polenta, all really perfectly done.
It never ceases to impress and interest me when someone I know cooks something difficult or time-consuming or easy to fuck up, and they do it awesomely...I don't think I could've made last night's ingredients look and taste as good as they did, especially the proteins. Maybe it's my lack of proper mise-en-place (below).
It's a complex moment, walking into a bar you've been going to on and off for 20 years. The name started changing about 5 years ago, so half the time I can't even remember what it's really called anymore. Other things have changed, other things haven't, you register some of it now and some of it later. Seems though that the fewer differences, the better.
I fully understand why we don't live here anymore, believe me, but I have strangely fond and persistently unresolvable feelings about this house.
For a lot of reasons, but last night I realized that my insomnia really blossomed here, allowing/requiring me to roam freely through the creaky halls all night long, and when I'm back here the temptation to do that is very strongissimo, because it makes me feel 28 again.
Luckily the 42-year-old me knows this is a largely terrible and pointless thing to do, at least more than once or so per visit.
Tonight we started with dessert: Mary Mary brought us some white chocolate-pistachio-cranberry bark, in her own cute repurposed Chinese takeout container. Then we started over and made a pretty excellent no-effort dinner: garlic-rosemary-parmesan pork tenderloin; sweet potatoes with butter; salad. Yum.
Afterwards, meatball making and other assorted prep for tomorrow.
We are cooking some things for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day get-togethers. Christmas Eve should be nice, our cousins who are professional chefs are hosting, and we are tasked with bringing an app and a dessert.
Since we don't have a lot of time to plan or cook, we're drawing from our stock bag of tricks: current thinking is Italian Wedding Soup and some variation on the requested boozy peach or blueberry cobbler. We're also talking about a blueberry creme brulee which would be even awesomer if we could find maple sugar for the top. But this may be outside our scope.