Saturday, February 17, 2018

Hot Sticky Napalm

Let me start by saying that I love America's Test Kitchen and its affiliated publications. Cook's Illustrated, Cook's Country, it doesn't matter. I buy their cookbooks, get their magazines, watch their TV shows, and actually make their recipes on a fairly regular basis!

As evidence, here's a picture of our cookbook collection. Almost half of our shelf space is taken up by ATK:

With that said, today's story begins on New Year's Eve 2017. My hubby and I were getting ready to host a fabulous NYE party. I had made a New York Cheesecake from the CI Baking Book the night before, and we had a Prime Rib Roast from the Meat Book roasting away in the oven. 

Around mid-afternoon, I decided to make the Caramel Sauce from the ATK Family Cookbook to spoon over the cheesecake. I've made this caramel sauce several times before and it is DELISH. Unfortunately, I got distracted while the sugar and water were bubbling and scorched the caramel base of the sauce. No big deal, I thought, I'll just pour it out and start over. But as I was pouring the burnt caramel from the saucepan into another container just moments after pulling it off the burner (at which time it was climbing above 350 degrees), it spilled over the back of my hand.

The pain was shocking. I shouted and my husband came running from the other room. Fortunately I was standing at the sink and immediately ran cold water over my hand, but caramel of course is sticky so it didn't just run off immediately. We decided pretty quickly that I needed to visit Urgent Care, so off we went.

The doc was very sympathetic and helpful but basically said, "I can't really tell what kind of burn this is going to be at this point, so take some Advil, put some aloe on it, and call us if anything changes." So at that point I went home and we had our lovely NYE party. The food was great! 

 I innocently posted this pic that evening with no idea of what was do come...

Fortunately the cheesecake was fantastic even without homemade caramel sauce.
The next morning, I had some serious blisters and my thumb was pretty stiff where the burn was. These were red flags that the urgent care doc had told me to watch out for, so we went back for another visit where he wrapped my hand in a much larger bandage and referred me to the specialists at a burn center.

Nancy Drew with Marshmallow Hand
The next day (it's Jan. 2 at this point) we visited the burn experts who recommended surgery. Apparently it's hard to tell just by looking at a burn how deep it goes and what the damage is, so they said it would be at least one surgery, maybe two, depending on the severity. 

Surgery #1 went well. They abraded the wound and applied some cadaver skin to act as a kind of scab to allow the skin to heal as much as possible on its own. But I would have to go back for a second surgery a week later for an autograft, which meant they would take my own skin and graft it onto the burn. Good times. We worked hard at keeping our sense of humor through it all, with mostly good success.

Surgery #2 was also successful. I definitely had a rock star surgeon. I'll spare you the gross post-skin-graft photos, but it was pretty fascinating and also horrifying to see. I felt like one of the Walking Dead extras.

The healing continued and after a couple of weeks I was able to start moving and stretching my hand. I was pretty excited by the progress:


Now here's the funny part: At about this time, exactly one month after my first surgery, I happened to get my latest issue of Cooks Illustrated in the mail. Imagine the howls of laughter when I saw this on the inside cover:

Upon closer reading, I discovered the "No Fear" Caramel was not exactly the same as the recipe in the Family Cookbook that I had made, but the irony was still pretty wild. Oh Cook's Illustrated, if only you knew how spot on you were. 

As I write this, I am now about 7 weeks post burn and healing nicely. The wound is basically just a scar now, but I'll be taking care of that scar for a loooong time. Here's what my hand looks like now:

To be clear, I absolutely do not hold ATK or CI responsible for my burn. It was a freak accident. But come on, the timing of that article is pretty amazing, right?

Monday, June 04, 2012

OK, OK, so I was totally lazy about posting my weekly delicious meals. But I was less lazy about actually making them! I didn't manage to cook something blog-worthy every single week, but I did pretty well. Here are some of the highlights...:

Simple but tasty - garlicky pasta with a fried egg on top 

Extremely delicious pasta with chicken, butternut squash and radicchio 

Steamed sole with simple pea sauce, garlicky green beans, yummy bread 

Veggie burritos

Lasagna in a loaf pan
Herbed steak and roasted beet salad with goat cheese (not Haystack Mountain, Ramona) and pecans

Simple pasta with veggies

Renting, or just to lazy/noncommittal to paint that giant white wall? May I suggest hanging panels of fabric to give a room some color? I'm pretty happy with how mine turned out!

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Food Resolution

I'm not usually big on New Year's Resolutions, but I am making a resolution for this semester: I am going to make at least one nice meal for myself each week. And to hold myself accountable, I'm going to post these meals here!

Last semester was so crazy busy that I found myself eating crap food all the time. At one point I realized that a good 6 weeks had gone by without my really cooking a good meal for myself. That was depressing. And a good reflection of how crazy my life felt. I like cooking, I like food! When I don't get to cook and eat good food, I am not in a good way.

So, this semester I am going to make myself a delicious dinner at least one night a week. And I am hoping to take advantage of this opportunity to try a bunch of the recipes out of America's Test Kitchen's Cooking for Two books. I'm not going to promise that will happen every week.

Anyway, here are the first two meals I made:

Pan Roasted Pork Loin with Sweet Potatoes and Maple Butter:

And Gingerbread Cake!

And just last night, a Yummy Cheese Souffle:

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Today's public service announcement

Perhaps it is premature for me to be all evangelical about my new love Pinterest, but I can't help myself.

I love this site! Basically, you can create web collages of all of your favorite stuff. I signed up after reading about it on one my favorite home design/diy blog but didn't really 'get' it until I realized it was the perfect place to log all of the random things I've been starring in Google Reader for the last five years.

My problem with google reader (or bookmarks in general) is that it is easy for the stuff you liked/ wanted to make/ thought you should buy to get buried and never be thought of again. With pinterest, you can look and see pics of all of the recipes you wanted to make, or pillows you wanted to sew. You can create as many different boards as you want, so its a great way to visually organize links for different projects.

Honestly, I probably won't make cinnamon-and-sugar almonds or a fat quarter tote now that I have pinterest. But at least now I can remind myself that I one day wanted to...

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Misadventures in Cooking

Cooking by following a recipe after not doing so for a long time feels a lot like when I started my translation work. I think I know what all the words mean until I really get into it. I start doubting my understanding of the language and probably way over-think it.

Do I really know the difference between chop and dice and mince? I guess it's a given that I'd peel the potato before chopping it? If you simmer onion in broth do you need to bring it to a boil first?

I managed to stumble through the first recipe, which was for a Harira, and it turned out pretty well) and ran smack dab against the second recipes, which was for Greek spinach rice balls.

It called for scallions, and since I was flustered I read that as shallots, especially because they called for browning it. I've put scallions in the oil first but I never really think of that as browning. I only think of browning onions or garlic or meat or shallots (hence my confusion). Next I discovered that I didn't have bread crumbs even though I remember seeing the container in the drawer, so now I had to use panko crumbs instead.

At this point I thought about turning back, but in Chinese there is a saying (a real saying, not like the "may you live in interesting times saying" for which I still haven't found a Chinese version), "When you're wrong, be wrong to the end." I think it can mean to stick with something and see it through to the end to see what happens, or can be talking about someone who stubbornly clings to misguided views. It really depends on the context, or your perception of the situation. Plus I subscribed to the Joey Tribbiani school of eating, if the components taste good the final product can't be that bad, right?

Anyway, back to the regularly scheduled programming. Then the recipe calls for steaming the spinach. I don't really have a steamer so I settled for sort of cooking it all in a little bit of water, so it was kind of like blanching and steaming it at the same time (or so I hoped) and then I spent some time squeezing all the water out. It also called for brown rice but we have this healthy rice mix and the rice was still a little damp after I cooked it twice. Finally I was ready to roll up the mixture into balls and dip it into the panko crumb and then put it in the oven.

It came out ok. The ball of rice was still on the loose side, probably because the rice and the spinach were probably still too damp. It was also a little odd to taste dill in rice. Ah well, maybe I'll put it in the Harira and see what happens.

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Thursday, March 17, 2011


Maybe it's just me, but the plays I have seen seem to be overwhelmingly about misery and suffering and bitterness. I just saw Homecoming by Harold Pinter at the A.C.T. and my reaction can be summed up in a word, "Huh?"

Maybe plays reflect who we are, our real selves. After all, life can't be as glamorous as a musical, even if we walk around with our personal soundtrack thanks to our iPods. Maybe when we feel trapped we do lash out and say mean and hurtful things to each other. I'm not denying that, I know I do it, but it feels that plays are often used to express regret and sadness about life and relationships. Sometimes they do so in a humorous way, but at the end of the day, still sad.

The first plays I ever read were the Glass Menagerie and Death of a Salesman in English class. Without looking at them again, the things that come to mind when I think of them are the longing for a gentleman caller and fragility, and well, death, and the volatile relationship between parent and child. Real. But not very happy or uplifting.

Perhaps if I watched more plays and studied the text I may be able to tease out some bigger themes. For example, the program talked about how memory is used in the play and there is a point made about living in the present and not the past, but if I didn't read that, I don't know if I would have caught it. So it's not really an organic observation. I walk away from the play thinking about how cruel we are to those closest us to us, in blood and in proximity, and the power dynamics between a woman and a group of men, and how odd plays are and would I see another one.

The next play at the A.C.T. is No Exit by John Paul Sartre. The description reads: "A mysterious valet ushers three people into a shabby hotel room, and they soon discover that hell isn't fire and brimstone at all—it's other people." Sounds like a rollicking good time.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

From the Chicken Ranch to the Diamond Cabaret

A few weeks ago, my BF emailed me a Living Social deal (like a Groupon with a different name) for CY Steaks, wondering if I'd be interested in going for a date night. I'd never heard of it, so I did a quick Google and found that "CY" stands for Cliff Young. Hooray!, I thought.

Cliff Young was basically the Frank Bonanno of the late 80s/early 90s. His restaurant at that time, called Cliff Young's, was the pinnacle of fine dining in Denver. White linen table clothes, delicious (and expensive foods), definitely a special occasion kind of place. I ate there with my family a couple of times when I was young, and remember it fondly. So when I saw that CY Steak was Cliff's latest venture in Denver, I bought the deal without further ado.

When doing my cursory research, I'd noticed something about CY Steak being near or next to or in the neighborhood of the Diamond Cabaret strip club, but didn't think much of it. Then a couple weeks later I had jury duty - the new Denver court house is right across the street from the Diamond Cabaret. As I was walking to get lunch, I noticed that CY Steak appeared to be IN the Diamond Cabaret. As in, it is the restaurant OF the Diamond Cabaret. As in, I was about to take my BF to dinner at a strip club. Awesome.

We were not to be deterred from enjoying Cliff Young's food (and making use of our rather expensive groupon), so I went ahead and made a reservation. The big night arrived and we were both excited to see what this dining adventure had in store for us.

Excited to try diner at the strip club...

We drove across on Colfax, and sure enough found the Diamond Cabaret in all its glory. Fortunately, the restaurant has a separate entrance so we didn't have to walk through the club part of the establishment.

Nancy outside the Diamond Cabaret entrance.
Very classy sign for the restaurant entrance.

Pondering the adventures that await us inside...

The restaurant itself is quite lovely. It's all dark wood and stone, black table cloths and red accents around the room. You'd never know it was part of a strip club if it weren't for the windows in one wall that provide a view into the club, or the platform in the middle of the restaurant with poles (for the entertainment later in the evening). Or the thumping bass music that bleeds through the wall from the club. But besides that...

The lighting was bad for picture taking, but this gives you some idea of the
ambiance. Note the poles. Those are attached to a raised platform
in the middle of the restaurant.

The moment we walked in, we were greeted by Cliff Young himself. He was very gracious and showed us to a cozy booth that, conveniently, was up against the wall with the windows, so we were not gazing into the strip club all night. Classy touch, Cliff.

The food was AMAZING. Cliff did not let us down on that front. Truly some of the best food I've ever had in Denver, and probably the best service as well. Here's what we ate:

The amuse bouche: Foie Gras Creme Brulee. Heavenly.

My dinner: 8 oz. Filet Mignon with Caramelized Onion Red Wine dipping sauce and
Roasted Herbed Veal Bone Marrow. Plus a side of Potatoes and Onions Sauteed in Duck Fat.
Rich, ridiculous, seriously delicious.

His meal: Curried Lamb Chops with Israeli Couscous and Cauliflower.
Similarly rich, ridiculous and delicious.

Dessert: House-made ice cream sandwich with vanilla ice cream,
Colorado cherries and chocolate wafer cookies.
Compared to all the animal fat-covered foods in our entrées, this was rather light. Very delicious.

At about 8:30, a couple of the cabaret girls came into the restaurant, climbed up onto the pole-bedecked platform and began to "entertain" the dinner guests. Yep, stripping, strutting and gyrating right there in the middle of the fine dining establishment. This was a little awkward for a date night, but we ended up having an interesting conversation about strip clubs, feminist principles, and the new trend of strip-club-steak-house combos.

When all was said and done, we were happily full of delicious rich food:

After dinner, we headed to Larimer Square for drinks at our new favorite bar, the Green Russell. I got a drink called European Royalty (Port based, delicious), and he got one I can't remember the name of (whiskey based, also delicious to me, but not to his taste so he ended up trading it for something else that I did not get a photo of). They were both beautiful, and Green Russell was once again a great experience. We will be returning often.

While going to a strip club for dinner obviously isn't for everyone, the food really was amazing. So if you can handle the scantily clad women and don't need to worry about someone blackmailing you with photos of you entering a strip club, by all means give Cliff Young's cuisine a chance. I'm not sure I'll be going back any time soon (partly because I can't afford to), but I'm glad I had the experience.