How it’s Made: Breakfast Pockets

First, a short sketch by Jim Gaffigan:


(video courtesy of youtube.com)

If you’ve never actually had a Hot Pocket, you shouldn’t run out and buy one to see what it’s like and why it is the rest of America finds this sketch so funny. Just trust me when I say the Hot Pocket is as dreadful as Gaffigan says, except it’s not hilarious while you’re eating it. I’ll admit that I went through an extremely brief period in my life when I would (gasp!) buy Hot Pockets — in fact, I went so far as to purchase the Lean Pockets — but I ceased and desisted after perhaps two boxes worth (I know, I know, I should’ve learned my lesson after one).

All that being said, I like the Hot Pocket in principle, mostly because of it’s portability. I love me some portable food (not because I’m a woman on the go…in fact I’m pretty lazy. But sometimes you just need to carry your meal around with you just…because.) Awhile back I was Pinteresting away and found a recipe for chicken pockets made with refrigerated crescent roll dough and realized, in a flash of brilliance, that I could absolutely make breakfast pockets using the same idea. And so I did.

The thing I love about putting pre-cooked foods together and then heating them up is that there are absolutely no rules. You can choose any concoction you’d like, so don’t feel as though you have to follow the recipe to a T. Do you prefer sausage over bacon? (shame on you.) Do you have an affinity for non-cheddar cheese? Do you want to add veggies? Go for it! In fact I don’t even have exact measurements — I kind of guesstimated when it came to how much I thought might fit into the crescent rolls (I was kind of incorrect, so the recipe following has been amended). I also made the ridiculous decision to tear my bacon slices into quarters and lay them in the roll dough, topping them with the eggs and cheese. Incorporate your bacon, people. Incorporate it.

Ingredients
1 package refrigerated crescent roll dough (I really recommend going the name brand route)
4 large eggs, scrambled
1/2 cup cheese, shredded
8 slices of bacon, crumbled

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350. Separate the crescent rolls and roll each out, very slightly. If you roll them out too thinly, then you will end up with holes, but keeping them “as is” means less space to cram all the good stuff in. Portion out the scrambled eggs, placing a small amount in the middle of each crescent roll. Top them with the crumbled bacon and shredded cheese. Pull the two smaller corners up over the egg mixture, then roll the longer corner around the top, pinching together any openings that still exist. Bake them for 11-13 minutes, or till the tops are golden brown, and let them cool for a couple minutes before devouring them like a wildebeest.

Bad Tastes

Click on photo for original location

When I was a little girl, my Nana and Grandpa would take me camping in Eastern Oregon. This isn’t really about the camping, set up in an RV, making mud soup during the day and listening to Grandpa’s enormous snores fill the small space at night. This isn’t really about the time I had to crawl through a tiny RV kitchen window, to unlock the door so Dave (who called me Mayyyyy-REE! in a loud, enthusiastic voice) and his wife could get inside. Or when I chronicled, on a small cassette recorder, my first time pooping in the mountains (much to my Nana’s chagrin). This is about cold Spaghettios.

I’m not sure why I enjoyed Spaghettios in the first place and I really question Nana’s appreciation for them because they’re not what you’d consider adult food. Really, when you think about it, they are small, round pastas in condensed tomato soup. But they were our food and we ate them every time we went to Catherine Creek. And we ate them cold. I know what you’re thinking right now — ‘I shouldn’t listen to a single word this crazy Asian woman is spouting out about food because she clearly doesn’t know anything about it.’ I get it, I really do. If someone told me she used to eat cold Spaghettios straight out of the can, I’d question more than her palate — I’d wonder if she were actually a good human being and whether she made equally stupid decisions in other aspects of her life.

But for whatever reason, this was a camping meal and it was magnificent.

There are other foods I used to eat that I thought were really wonderful and, I’m sorry to say, were not.

Baby food meat sticks

Click on photo for original location

Yeah. I used to eat these when I was not infantile. I don’t know why and it’s kind of embarrassing.

Maruchan Ramen for breakfast

Photo courtesy of maruchan.com

 Every morning during my sixth grade year I’d go to school with ramen breath.

Bananas dipped in sugar

Click on photo for original location

This was actually a perfectly normal snack in my family, but the first time I did it in front of a friend, she was shocked that I was dipping an already sweet piece of fruit into granulated sugar. I realized maybe it was only normal for us.

Much like the heart, the stomach wants what the stomach wants. Amidst all the wonderful foods I was discovering, these somehow slipped through the cracks. Clearly the baby food meat sticks are the most appalling and I think I can kind of explain my way out of the ramen for breakfast/bananas in sugar situations. I’m sure there will be other equally bizarre concoctions that will make their way past my teeth and into my stomach and I’ll eat them and love them and not care what other people think.  I believe we all have within ourselves the ability to have really horrible tastes and that’s an okay thing.

The Best Thing I Ever Ate: Full Meal

[Disclaimer: I realize I haven’t blogged for *coughs* a week now, but I have good reason (see also: stomach flu with the hubs). I didn’t really want to lead into the best meal I’ve ever had with that anecdote, but just like Lucy Ricardo, I had some ‘splainin to do. So with that out of the way…]

“One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.” – Luciano Pavarotti and William Wright

I’ll admit that I eat out very regularly; before I got married and joined bank accounts with my husband, I probably ate more meals prepared by someone else who was paid to do so than I actually made myself. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy cooking or baking, but I really hate cleaning. Anything. (I am still an awesome wife, nonetheless…plus Husband does the dishes so it all works out beautifully. He needs food to survive and I need someone to clean up after me — it’s a symbiotic relationship.) And in all the years that I have been eating out; all the soups and salads, the appetizers, main courses, pastas, lean proteins, fatty meats, and desserts I’ve had, there is literally just one meal that really sticks out to me, and it is The Meal to beat.

My mother and I were meeting some friends in downtown PDX for dinner before “Wicked,” so it stood to reason that we needed an equally impressive meal. We decided upon Carafe, a small French bistro that has probably the most prime location any restaurant could; directly across the street from the Keller Auditorium (where Broadway touring companies visit, concerts are held, etc.) I hadn’t eaten French food before (or if I had, it was watered down Americanized French food), so I wasn’t entirely positive what to expect. I wasn’t even sure I’d enjoy it. But my mother had been previously and said the food was delicious, so I knew there would be something on that menu that I would like.

Image

used with permission

The Meal

Moules a la Creme – pacific mussels, shallots, thyme, white wine, creme fraiche

The special of the evening: roasted duck in a blood orange reduction, served atop butternut squash

A seasonal fruit and cheese plate

Image

used with permission

For whatever reason, I love mussels and clams but cannot tolerate oysters under any circumstances. It’s a texture thing; mussels are meatier, chewier, where oysters are a little slimy and slithery. I just can’t get behind them. When I took the first bite of the mussels in that creme fraiche sauce, with a little bit of soft shallot, I couldn’t believe food could taste so delicious and have been hiding from me for so long. I think it’s safe to say that I ate the majority of the appetizer, unabashedly, wishing it was socially acceptable for me to lap up the remaining sauce. You know how I feel about sauce. There are some people who pooh-pooh the appetizer, arguing that it’s just unnecessary, additional food that fills you up before you get your entree. To those people, I simply say: you’re doing it wrong, then.

I should interject at this point that my mother is a moral eater. By that I mean she doesn’t eat foods like foie gras or shark fin or veal that are more torturous to the animal than delicious to the eater, and for whatever reason, ducks fall into that category. But I am a rebel, with little cause, and ordered the roasted duck, knowing full well I’d hear about it for the remainder of the evening. I don’t eat a lot of duck; partially because it makes me feel so terrible (emotionally, not physically) but also because to me it’s a special type of meal. I eat it when I’m in the mood for something fancy. If you haven’t eaten duck and don’t have any moral opposition, I highly recommend it. Imagine, if you will, chicken that only has the delicious aspects (flavor, tenderness) and none of the downers (potentially dryness). Duck is chicken, elevated. Literally — I mean, they can fly, after all. I digress. The skin was crispy, which is an absolute necessity if you’re going to be serving poultry, skin on, and the meat inside was rich and flavorful and so tender that it melted in my mouth. The squash was roasted, a little sweet, and soft in the middle, and the reduction was tart and refreshing.

This was the sort of meal that you close with a sophisticated dessert, so I opted for the fruit and cheese platter, forgetting momentarily that it was wintertime in the Pacific NW. I will say, however, that it was some of the best dried fruit I’ve ever eaten in my life (no, really), soft and moist and sweet without being cloying, and the cheeses my server selected (I told him to surprise me) were perfection. Sharp and a little salty, warm and inviting; and everything was accompanied by these delicious walnut toasts that were so crunchy and perfect that sometimes I think about going back and asking for a plate full of them.

I don’t know when I will ever eat another meal like it, and rather than feel disappointed, I hold within me an anticipation of great things to come.

The Best Thing I Ever Ate: Dessert

We’re coming to the end of my best things series — it’s been a lot of fun sharing my favorite finds with you and hope you’ll get an opportunity to try them out yourself or to even start considering what some of the best things are that you’ve eaten over the years. It’s kind of fun to start remembering all the great dishes (and sometimes even the worst) that have shaped your life.

It’s no big surprise to people that I love dessert. In fact, today after my boss decided to go with the exact same buffet choices for the annual banquet as last year (and the year before that…and the year before that…and the year before that…back about ten years, really) the silver lining was that he let me choose the dessert options. Everyone might remember the dinner, but I hope what really sticks out are the mini key lime tarts and cheesecake bars because they signify change.

Hey, I’m a Democrat. I thrive on hopeful change.

And I know I’m probably starting to sound a little broken record, mentioning Mother’s Bistro once every few posts, but the bottom line is that Lisa and Mother’s changed the way I look at food; how I consume it, how I enjoy it, and even how I make it, thanks to her cookbook, Mother’s Best. So it’s only natural that the best dessert I’ve ever had was the chocolate freezer cake with homemade hazelnut brittle, whipped cream, and ganache.

I’m a sucker for chocolate — the joke my mother and I have between ourselves is “any old chocolate in a storm,” which is why you’ll find me eating out of the Whitman’s sampler come Valentine’s Day. But never fear, my palate is refined enough to recognize that’s some of the most dreadful chocolate I’ll ever put into my mouth, whereas that chocolate cake, tall and dense and moist and still cold, with a rich, creamy frosting and thick, luxurious ganache was high quality stuff. The hazelnut brittle was unlike any I’d ever had before (brittle, that is, since it’s the only time I’ve had the hazelnut variety) — crunchy and nutty and just sweet enough because for as much as I love sweets, I don’t love things that are cloying (see also: sweetened condensed milk straight out of the can.) The whipped cream was light as air, melting as soon as it touched my tongue. I’m sitting here, typing with my eyes shut (yes you may be impressed), just imagining every part of that dessert on my tongue. Heavy sigh here.

It was a dessert special; maybe for the month or perhaps even just for that week or night, and this all occurred before I had the smarts to take photos of beautiful food. I wish I could brandish one right now to share with you, but instead you have to just imagine it with me, piecing it together in your mind.

The Best Thing I Ever Ate: Salad

Before we officially moved to Utah, Husband and I were living out of hotels or with family/friends in Oregon, Arizona, and Utah, which is about as fun as it sounds. In one visit to our current town, my best friend, R, and I made plans to do lunch together. I didn’t know what I wanted to eat that particular day, but when she suggested a soup/sandwich/salad place, I felt less than enthused. But she said it was one of her favorite restaurants and I knew I’d probably manage to find something delicious on the menu, so I headed over to meet her.

It was when I walked in the front door that I realized my previous assumptions (based upon absolutely…nothing) were completely wrong. It was bright and colorful and everyone was friendly and there were more than 30 menu items just waiting for me. To say Zupas is a soup/sandwich/salad place is an understatement. In fact, Zupas puts all soup/sandwich/salad places to shame with the vast variety, fresh ingredients, and a Try 2 Combo that allows you to really maximize your experience.

Since that first visit, I’ve ordered everything on the menu, with exception of three sandwiches and two soups, and that’s mostly due to the fact that they added, well, three new sandwiches to the menu. I get things done.

It’s pretty rare that I don’t order a salad with my sandwich or soup — salad is one of my favorite foods in the world. I’ve been working, for the past several years, on figuring out the highest number of ingredients you can add to a salad before it’s a ruined mess. I’ve managed to get to over 20, but I’m not stopping till I have a firm number. I’ll keep you posted.

The difficulty in figuring out the best salad I’ve ever eaten, after having all twelve options at Zupa’s, is that it’s based on taste preference, ingredient choices, and how I’m feeling on that particular day. Do I want something sweet? Nutty? Extra crunchy? Savory? Spicy? Because you can get all that and more. Their most popular seller is called Nuts About Berries; crisp romaine mixed with a poppyseed dressing and topped with three types of berries (straw, blue, and black, to be specific), and sweet, salty, crunchy cinnamon almonds. There was a period of time when it was my favorite, and for good reason — cinnamon almonds make everything better, berries are sweet and juicy and packed with antioxidants, and the poppyseed dressing compliments all the ingredients perfectly.

used with permission

Look at that beautiful salad. I might need to eat one sometime this week. But each time I ate at Zupa’s, I found a new favorite. It seems a little cheaty, but I simply can’t leave out one of the four salads that I’ve decided are the best salads I’ve ever eaten. You take your first bite and the fresh, crisp lettuce is so refreshing, mixed with one of their many housemade vinaigrettes (maple? raspberry? strawberry? sure, why not) or creamy ranch, and all the extra ingredients turn that plain lettuce into something spectacular. A salad to fit my every mood; that’s no small feat. And so, an array of salads (from l to r, Summer Chicken Salad, Thai Peanut Chicken Salad, BBQ Chicken Salad, and Maple Vermont Blueberry Salad):

used with permission

A former boss (man) once told me he didn’t eat at Zupas very often because it was chick food. Well, that may be the case, and if it is, then let us all sing the praises of chick food because it’s really, really delicious. And it’s some of the best food I’ve ever eaten.

 

How it’s Made: Parmesan Chicken

You’ve heard a lot about KS because she is one of my closest friends who also shares with me a major affinity for food and eating. We talk food every single day, even if we’re just sharing our dinner plans while we’re at work, or oohing and aahing over Pinterest. She’s an incredible cook, and plans menus a week at a time for herself and her hubby, J (yeah, the one who doesn’t care much for cheese *shakes head*). So it was only natural that I ask her to share her love and talent and great writing style with the rest of you. So, take it away, KS!

I am by no means a chef — I wish I was, cooking spectacular meals that render people silent as they take the first bite of my glorious food. Alas, I am just an ordinary cook trying to make sure my husband and I don’t constantly eat take-out. My husband, J, loves Olive Garden. When we go there, he orders the Parmesan Chicken (every. single. time.) and basically licks his plate clean. He requested I learn how to make the Olive Garden version, especially since I won’t let him go there as much as he would like. I set out to replicate it. I read recipe after recipe, looked at pictures, read reviews, and even attempted a few. Each ended with him patting me on the head (not really) and saying, “That was good honey,” and I knew the recipe wasn’t right. I had almost given up when Allrecipes came through for me. I gave it a go (one. more. time.) It’s a relatively easy recipe, and as I sat munching on my dinner, J was silent. I looked over and his plate was almost clean, and by the time I was halfway through my meal he was heading back for seconds. I had finally done it! That’s right — for one amazing moment in my life, my food had rendered someone silent. I hope this recipe will bring silence to your home, too.

Parmesan Chicken (adapted from Allrecipes)

Ingredients:
1/2 cup finely crushed herb seasoned stuffing
3 Tbsp. grated parmesan cheese
1 Tbsp. dried parsley
1 Tbsp. Italian seasoning
3 Tbsp. butter
6 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
Mozzarella cheese, shredded
Marinara sauce

Preheat the oven to 350. Combine the dry ingredients.

Melt the butter. Dredge the chicken in the butter, followed by flour (this is not in the original recipe, but I use it to add extra layer and to ensure the breading sticks), and finally in the bread crumb mixture.

Place the breaded chicken on a rack (I use a cooling rack on a cookie sheet) and bake it for 30-40 minutes, turning it over halfway through. Melt mozzarella cheese on top, plate it, and pour marinara over it. I like to serve mine with spaghetti or linguine and marinara. Enjoy!

KS…this looks amazing. It makes my mouth water every time I see it! Thanks for sharing it with us – can’t wait to try it out myself!

I am in the midst of creating new recipe cards, so it will be easier for you to view and print them, so recipe card to come.

A Break from Regular Programming

I had big plans to blog all about the best buffet at which I have eaten (it’s on the top floor of a fancy building, it has homemade rolls with honey butter, cold salmon at the salad bar, prime rib, and a billion desserts). But dinner attacked tonight and I couldn’t resist taking a quick recess to tell you all about it.

This is the dinner from hell that damn near killed me a homemade ravioli, stuffed with ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan, and fresh spinach:

Yes, my hands are dusted with flour, callused from hard work out in the field (er, at the counter with my bamboo rolling pin). Yes, I made that pasta dough by myself. Yes, I thought up the filling all by myself. I didn’t measure — that’s for sissies. I just threw it all in a bowl, stirred it up, and prepared to amaze my husband.

Yep, that one ravioli took me an hour. “Why Mary,” you’re saying right now, “You must have typed the wrong word because there’s no way one ravioli would take you an hour!” Au contraire. The filling came together quickly and easily; the ricotta was soft and a little bit like cloud playdough. I tore the spinach by hand (admittedly this is because I was certainly willing to cover our entire counter with flour and dough, but very unwilling to dirty a cutting board), and stirred the mixture gently.

What I did not anticipate, since I was armed with a rolling pin that would help me dominate the world (I’ve never had a rolling pin before; it made me excited), was how difficult rolling pasta dough by hand would actually be. Let this be fair warning to those of you not equipped with a pasta machine: don’t fool yourself into thinking you will succeed any better than I did. The recipe informed me that the pasta dough would be “stiff” (this, after about 6-7 Tbsp. of water and oil when the recipe called for only 2), but it was actually more like bubble gum you’d chewed on for about an hour and then left on your bedpost overnight. (Do people still do this? If so, it’s really a filthy habit.)

But I am stubborn and Husband was home and hungry and I was going to make him homemade ravioli if it killed me. It took me 2 hours, but I was able to say at the end of that time period that I’d made twenty-two of the finest spinach/three-cheese raviolis you’d find outside of an Italian restaurant. Or the grocery store. (Just think, if I’d just bought the Costco two-pack I’d have finished dinner in about 4 minutes. *lays down in bed, sobbing*) I should qualify that with the fact that I did feed him in stages; he started with nine, then about 10 minutes later I gave him three, then after I ate the six I was going to get all night, I gave him the rest in batches of two or three.

To say that my arms and back are sore from rolling “stiff” dough for about an hour and a half is an understatement. In fact, there is entirely the possibility that I will have to call in sick tomorrow at work, unable to get myself out of bed. It’s like the time I did a boot camp day in high school aerobics and missed school because I could move my head and that was about it.

At the end of my adventure, this was what was remaining:

I’d run out of steam and an interest in making homemade pasta. Those strips looked back at me, with icy stares, and I threw them away without a second thought.

Here’s what I learned tonight: a rolling pin doth not equal world domination and cooking is as much a workout routine as it is enjoyment and eating. Whoever said pasta makes you fat clearly never made any at home. The thing that really killed me was how delicious it turned out; had it been disgusting, I could have easily thrown that dough and remaining filling away and made something else, but I was suddenly driven to continue because it was just that good.

Don’t ask me how I felt, then, when I discovered a woman from church (about two blocks from me, whom I visited fifteen minutes after finishing dinner) has, in her home, at this precise moment, a pasta machine. Let’s just not go there.