Day 378, Ingredient No. 130-Monterrey Jack Cheese

Four hours. Four hours of staring at the same pieces of information, doing everything in my ability to cement the facts and information into my knowledge base. Alas, potassium feldspar, granite and gneiss are only so interesting and my ability to focus was fading fast.

I was studying for my physical geology final exam and had been for many hours when my mind began to wander, as “studying” minds do, to anything that was not related to the material I was studying. Across the muted television I saw a headline on the huge jackpot that was up for grabs that night. And I was hungry.

My brain, in some kind of anti-studying survival instinct, conjured an idea to incorporate food into a lottery system. A system that would force creativity and ingenuity as well as add recipes to my repertoire. And after hammering out some details in haste, the Culinary Lottery was born.

This was in December of 2013. And here I sit, a year and three weeks after my first post, writing the last post.

It may not seem like much, this blog ending. After all, in the grand scheme of things, blogs are to the world of writing what mime is to the world of comedy. But it has meant a great deal to me. All it takes is for me to look back on this past year and it becomes obvious just how much my life has changed.

When I began this blog, I was just another cook slowly trudging through collegiate classes. Now I have a degree in journalism.

When I began this blog, I was living at my parent’s house. Now, thanks to perhaps the most giving person I’ve ever met, my Aunt Pam, Melanie and I have a wonderful, perfect home to ourselves.

When I began this blog, Melanie was only my girlfriend, and only once had I even considered that we would one day marry. Now, she is my fiancé.

When I began this blog, I loved cooking in restaurants. Now, there is nothing I want more than to leave them and begin my journalism career.

And when I began this blog, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

And that’s not meant in a negative way. Every dish seems to hold a memory. There is the grapefruit dessert soup I attempted to make that I can say, without a momentary reconsideration, is the worst thing I have ever tasted. There was the disaster of trying to grill leeks in what was considered one of the windiest days in Georgia history, leading to a bread that had the taste and consistency of, well, potassium feldspar.

But most of the dishes were good, and about a dozen or so were absolutely phenomenal. The short rib lasagna for the ricotta post. The radicchio and rib-eye salad for the radicchio post. The rice for the Serrano post. The beef pot pie for red wine. The blackberry and watermelon salad for blackberries. The chicken thighs with peanut butter sauce for the peanut post. Oh my god was that one good.

And now, every time I make these dishes again, I will look back to my life as it was during the course of this blog. That’s the best aspect of food. It takes us back to places, people and experiences that no other aspect of our lives can. I’ll be able to look back at each of these meals and immediately be able to conjure up the facts of where I was, who I was with and how good the meal was. And one meal, the chicken and fresh pasta dish with raspberry beurre blanc, is the last memory I have of my friend David.

This was intended to be a food blog, but I’m sure you noticed I never really talked much about food. That’s because I realized my vocabulary of culinary-related adjectives only goes so far. That, and I think it’s boring to just talk about food, especially for 144 posts. But in the end, this was a food blog, so in what is typical fashion for this experiment, I shall leave any talks of food short and straightforward.

Many dishes I have created for this blog could be considered hoity-toity. Some were everyday fare with a misdirection of some sort. But if there is anything I’ve learned from the previous 143 dishes, most of the time, simplistic is the way to go.

And that is why for the last post there shall be no fanfare, no grandiose dish that you’d see on the cover of a food-porn magazine. No, grandiose and elaborate it is not, but it is perhaps my favorite thing to eat, and it’s the first thing I ever learned to cook; a grilled cheese.

And thus ends this fantastic experiment, but perhaps it is the start of another…one that somehow utilizes 144 numbered ping-pong balls…

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Monterrey Jack and Jalapeno Grilled Cheese

-2 ½ thick slices of roasted garlic loaf

-Monterrey Jack cheese, grated

-2 tbsp. cream cheese

-1 jalapeno, seeded and half-mooned

-butter

Butter bread, add cheeses, add jalapeno, season with salt and pepper. Grill it and enjoy…like I needed to tell you how to make a grilled cheese.

I’d like to thank some people for sticking with me through this blog.

First off, I’d like to thank my family.

My mother-I’d like to thank my mother for putting up with me constantly making fun of her cooking throughout the course of this blog. Also, for having to endure many of the dishes I created for this blog, which more often than not, were, according to her, “too spicy.”

My father- My father offered help every time he was around when I was cooking for this blog. Though I don’t think I ever took his help considering I’m a bit of a control freak in the kitchen. But I can’t thank him enough for his offers of help, and having to endure hearing my mom complain of my food being “too spicy” (cheap-shot).

My brothers, Brett and Connor- I’d like to thank my brothers for following this blog and showing a genuine interest in it, even though they have about as much of an interest in cooking as I have in hair-care products, of which they both have what seems like an unnatural interest.

My Aunt Pam- As mentioned earlier, I cannot thank my Aunt Pam enough for letting me rent her wonderful second home where much of the dishes for this blog were created. Little does she know she’s going to have to bulldoze it to get me to leave.

My Aunt Jeannie- My Aunt Jeannie made me realize that I was absolutely and totally inept at taking pictures. Thanks to her advice, I started to pay more attention to the photographic aspects of this blog. I’m still terrible at photography, but at least I’ve gotten somewhat better.

Friends-I’d like to thank all my friends who read this blog and gave me input, even if that input didn’t amount to more than “Hey man, I like the blog.”

All other readers- Thank you for your “likes,” your links to this blog, your comments and your interest. If not for that, I would have never made it to post 144.  

Finally, I would like to thank Melanie-Melanie has been with me throughout the entire course of this blog and has eaten almost every dish I created, good, bad and ugly. She gave me many of the ideas for the dishes I created and always gave me her honest opinion, again, good, bad or ugly. I am so happy that we are now engaged. Thanks for putting up with me and this blog. I love you.

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Day 366, Ingredient No. 67-Dijon Mustard

Apparently I can’t count. My last post stated that it had been 364 days since I began the blog. Well, upon further research, I realized this number was off quite a bit. And in the process of finding out that information, I realized I had made another mistake.

When I began this blog, I never set a time-frame for its completion, something I was adamant about. I assumed if I created a deadline for this blog I would rush through it and not receive any pleasure or joy out it. And given the fact that I’m a student, have a full-time job and now am an intern at a newspaper (yes…I forgot to mention that, but it’s fantastic), I knew that creating 144 recipes and writing about said recipes would be something that I would want to take my time with.

That being said, I did create a deadline for myself at the halfway point of this experiment. I wasn’t writing nearly as often as I had intended to, and therefore, I knew if I didn’t start cooking for the blog and posting more, this blog could easily take me years to complete. Therefore, I gave myself a deadline of one year from the first post to complete this experiment. That meant I would only have to post every 2.5 days and that, I figured, was manageable.

And you may have noticed I have been posting a lot more in the past few weeks. And yes, it is directly correlated with my set deadline. However, I realized something last night. I realized that all along I was under the belief that I began this blog on Jan. 17 of last year. Well, thanks to Melanie, I realized that I had actually started the blog Jan. 7th of last year. Unbeknownst to me, I had already passed my deadline. Damn.

So it was an unexpected turn of events. By no means, a big deal, but certainly something that took me by surprise. Something else that took me by surprise was the noxious odor coming from a pork tenderloin I had intended to cook with today’s ingredient, Dijon mustard.

Upon opening the vacuum-sealed package, I was hit with a smell that I can only describe as a mixture of rotten egg, high school gym locker and sewage plant all rolled into one. The pork was slimy and instead of a nice pink color, I received a sickly pale gray.

Even though the “sell by” date had afforded me another 8 days, I wasn’t taking any chances with this log of potential intestinal destruction. Into the bin it went.

I was upset that I just thrown away 10 bucks worth of what had once been (maybe a month ago) delicious pork. However, I did realize that the entirety of this blog was built around creativity and experimentation. Therefore, I decided that I would just make-do with what I had available. That, and I was feeling too lazy to go to the store.

I had a large chicken in the fridge that I had intended to fabricate. Hmm. Maybe a spice-rubbed chicken with a Dijon glaze? Well, it sounded good to me.

And good it was. The spice mixture was, well, interesting, but I definitely enjoyed it. And you’ll see with the glaze I essentially made a mayonnaise-less honey mustard. That one could have been given some more thought, but it still paired well with the chicken nonetheless.

So, this is it. The final countdown. Only one more post to go. Although come to think of it, I better verify that too.

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Spice-Rubbed Chicken with Dijon Glaze

For the chicken

-1 6 lb. chicken

-1/4 tsp coriander seeds

-1/4 tsp fennel seeds

-1/2 tsp mustard seed

-4 allspice berries

-4 cloves

-1 cinnamon stick

-1/4 tsp black pepper

-2 tbsp salt

-1/8 tsp curry powder

-1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

-1 tsp granulated garlic

-1/4 tsp smoked paprika

-1/4 tsp ground turmeric

Toast all whole spices. Add whole spices to a spice grinder and blitz until smooth. Add the other spices. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels until completely dry. Rub the spice mixture onto the chicken until fully coated. Roast at 450 F until well browned. Turn the heat down to 375 F and cook until chicken is done.

For the glaze

-1/4 cup Dijon mustard

-1/4 cup maple syrup

-2 tbsp sugar

-1 tbsp salt

Mix ingredients. Apply to the chicken in the last 15 minutes of cooking.

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Day 364, Ingredient No. 14-Bell Peppers

When you live with someone, no matter the relation, that person’s likes and dislikes can directly affect you. When I first moved out of my parent’s house, I lived with a couple that had a puppy, a puppy that they didn’t like to house-train. Every day I would have to carefully walk through the house, hoping that my foot didn’t suddenly find something wet and/or squishy. It was incredibly frustrating having to constantly make sure I wasn’t going to walk through dog excrement just to grab a glass of water. Because these people let their dog treat every square foot of the house as its own personal “spot” to mark, I was severely affected.

Luckily, most of us don’t have to worry about their hallway becoming a slalom course of excrement. However, because of those we live with, what we eat can be severely affected. If mom doesn’t like Brussels sprouts, they won’t be cooked for the household. If dad doesn’t like instant potatoes, they aren’t going to be cooked…unless mom likes them. If Junior doesn’t like cornbread, well, mom is going to force him to eat it anyway. Come to think of it, it seems as if the women in our lives almost always dictate what we eat. The aforementioned examples were all from my childhood.

Generally speaking, women dictating what those around them eat is a good thing. After all, if it was only the male’s choice on what to eat, the pantry would be barren of anything remotely resembling actually food and instead be filled with products called “XXXTREME CHEEZY WHIZZ.”

So, in many cases it is good that the women in our lives dictate (or at least used to) what we eat. But sometimes they affect us in ways we don’t appreciate.

For those of you who happen to be seafood lovers, you may have noticed a severe lack of seafood in the recipes I create. Well, don’t blame me.

Melanie is not a fan of seafood. She doesn’t like “fishy” fish as she and so many other non-fish eaters put it. And that’s okay, food likes and dislikes are completely subjective. However, because she doesn’t enjoy “fishy” fish, I don’t get the chance to enjoy it.

Of course, relationships are built upon compromise (read: just do what she wants), and I have agreed that when I prepare seafood, it must be something she enjoys (which, surprisingly does include squid and octopus). She has compromised by stating that if I ever want to cook a fish she dislikes like salmon or tuna, she would gladly make herself something else. But, being a female, she knows damn well that I wouldn’t do that, so she wins either way. But I love her anyway and I guess I’ll just have to eat my “fishy” fish when she’s out for the night.

I wasn’t sure what to create for bell peppers, seeing as how I’ve probably put them in about 120 of the 141 recipes I’ve made so far (yes, 141, only 3 left!). But in looking at the fruit bowl, which contained mangos, I was inspired to create the outdated, but wait, it’s suddenly fashionable again, wait, now it’s again considered old-fashioned, mango salsa.

So, if your significant other is changing how and what you eat, maybe find a compromise. But if Melanie ever declares that we can’t eat pork or butter, I’m going to put my foot down…into a pile of shit.

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Tilapia with Rice and Mango Salsa

For the salsa

-1/4 cup red bell pepper, diced fine

-1/3 cup mango, diced

-1/3 cup yellow onion, diced fine

-1/2 tsp lime zest

-2 tbsp lime juice

-1 tbsp cilantro, chopped

-1 tbsp jalapeno, diced fine

Combine all ingredients and season with salt. Refrigerate for 3 hours.

For the rice and tilapia

-4 tilapia filets

-1 cup rice

-2 cups water

-1/4 cup red bell pepper, diced

-1/4 cup orange bell pepper, diced

-1 tbsp garlic, minced

-1/4 cup yellow onion, diced

Season the tilapia with salt and pepper and sear or bake until done. Sauté the bell peppers, onions and garlic until tender. Add the rice and water and simmer, covered, until rice is done.

Serve the salsa over the rice and tilapia filets.

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Day 359, Ingredient No. 45-Brussels Sprouts

“We kids feared many things in those days – werewolves, dentists, North Koreans, Sunday School – but they all paled in comparison with Brussels sprouts.” This Dave Barry quote is exemplary of most people’s opinion on one of the newest members of the cabbage family, Brussels sprouts. My mother, a lover of all things leafy and green, absolutely despises them. They make even well-mannered and proper people wince and yell out “bluhhh!” Is it some deep-seeded hatred of all things Belgian? Is it because the name confuses us and we aren’t sure if they are brussel sprouts or Brussels sprouts? Or, could it be that most people don’t have a clue as to how to prepare them?

Take my mother’s insistence that Brussels sprouts are the culinary equivalent of torture. She states that she has not eaten them since she was a kid. Given the fact that her mother is an Irish immigrant who, at least from what I’ve seen, doesn’t necessarily enjoy cooking, the sprouts she consumed were undoubtedly boiled to death in a salt-less pot, drained and served. Not a scrap of seasoning or trace of butter to be found. Well, if that’s how most people eat them, it’s no wonder they are the vegetable we love to hate.

It is my belief that many people look at Brussels sprouts and forget that, after all, it is a cabbage. And no cabbage tastes good plain. Cabbages are strong, bitter and “earthy,” which is a nice way of saying they kind of taste like dirt. However, cabbages can add a strong and bitter component that lends itself very well to many dishes. But again, if you boil them into oblivion and then leave out seasoning, the resulting gas-inducing digestion won’t be the only thing that is upsetting and stinky.

Because of my mother’s hatred for the sprouts, I am relatively new to Brussels sprouts. But what I have found in my short time of cooking them is that the sure-fire way to find enjoyment in them is to treat them like a hot green salad.

Bring other veggies to the party. The addition of herbs will brighten them up. Dress them properly, even if it’s just butter. Nuts pair wonderfully with them. Cheese works wonders as well.

And before you think I’m just another Brussels sprouts hater that is insisting on masking the flavor of the sprouts with loads of other ingredients, just remember that a salad should be harmonious, and everything in it should work together but still stand on its own. That is my intention in treating the sprouts in this way, because, after all, I really do like them.

The first time I consumed Brussels sprouts they were dressed with a basil pesto, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Therefore, I treated the pesto and a bit of butter as the dressing, added some nuts in the form of walnuts, a bit of fruit with an avocado, and the pesto provided herbs and a bit of cheese.

This was fantastic, easily the best sprouts I’ve had. And yes, there was still the distinctive taste of the sprouts themselves.

So, Mr. Barry, if you haven’t gotten over your childhood fear of Brussels sprouts, give this one a shot. I’d still look out for North Korea though…

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Brussels Sprouts with Basil Pesto and Walnuts

-12 oz Brussels sprouts, trimmed of any loose leaves and stems, and halved

-1/2 cup walnuts, chopped fine

-1/3 cup pesto (you can use the store-bought stuff, or make my pistachio pesto-

https://theculinarylottery.wordpress.com/2014/05/17/day-126-ingredient-no-138-pistachios/

-1 avocado, pitted and chopped

-1 tbsp butter

Blanch the sprouts in boiling water for 3-4 minutes. Remove, drain, and move to an ice-bath. Toast the walnuts in butter and add the pesto and sprouts. Cook until the sprouts are fork-tender. Finish with the avocado, tbsp of butter, and season liberally with salt and pepper.

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Day 357, Ingredient No. 139-Garbanzo Beans

We are told to never judge a book by its cover. We are told what is truly important is beyond the surface. We tell our kids this, but as adults, we know it’s complete crap.

If I see a man under the age of 40 wearing a bow-tie, he is automatically an insufferable person. If I see anyone driving a German SUV, they are immediately a moron with a bit of money. Show me a family who dresses in the same color shirts for a family photo and there I will see a family with serious underlying problems. If a person says “literally” in a sentence that in no way could be misconstrued as a figurative statement, in my mind they are, by default, as intelligent as excrement.

You may disagree with these opinions. You may say, “But hey! My family always dresses in the same color shirt for family photos and we are exemplary of what a perfect family should be!” Or, “My husband loves bow-ties and everyone loves him!” I say you don’t acknowledge your family problems because you’re probably the crazy control freak in the family who doesn’t understand that some people like to wear whatever they desire. As for the bow-tied husband, well you’re with him, so obviously you’ve accepted his flaws. Again, you may disagree with these statements based on only momentary observations, but I’m sure you do it as well, the subject matter just may be different.

Although we know that it’s impossible to not judge a book by its cover, as we mature we do realize that it is also important to scratch below the surface, sometimes anyway. In many cases we find that our pre-conceived notions were false, or perhaps, they are affirmed. No matter the result, we at least have conclusive evidence. Of course, sometimes our nails never get to scratching.

I have quite a knowledge of certain types of cuisine. Italian, French, Spanish, Mexican, and of course, Americana. However, I have neglected the cuisine of a nation that contains about one of out every 6 people on the entire planet, India. Simply stated, I know there is much more to the cuisine of India than the clichés such as Nan, masalas and curries, but I have yet to look beyond this surface dishes. Therefore, until I further my knowledge on Indian cuisine, I can only judge a book by its cover.

The dish I made for today’s ingredient, garbanzo beans, was a mash-up of a chicken tikka masala and a chole masala. It had the chicken and wetness of a tikka masala with the garbanzos and spice of a chole masala. As stated, I have a lack of knowledge on Indian cuisine. Therefore, I have no idea how “authentic” this dish is, but you must remember, “authentic” is a subjective term anyway. I may have been judging the cuisine of India based on its “cover,” but what I found was a dish that, no matter what label you attach to it, was damn tasty.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, Melanie is already going nuts with wedding planning and wants me to pick out what kind of suit I’ll be wearing. And no, there will be no bow-ties. (Note-“Masala” means a mixture of spices. Therefore, this may not be authentic, but it still fits the name.) DSCF8099

Chicken and Garbanzo Bean Masala

-1/4 tsp mustard seeds -1/4 tsp cumin seeds -1 tsp coriander seeds -2 star anise -2 lbs chicken drums -1 cup onion, half-mooned -2 Serrano peppers, sliced thin on the bias -2 tbsp garlic, minced -2 tbsp sugar -1 ½ tbsp turmeric -1 tbsp smoked paprika -3 oz. tomato paste -28 oz can crushed tomatoes -2 16 oz cans garbanzo beans -1 tbsp butter -1/4 cup cilantro, chopped fine -1/4 cup plain yogurt -2 cups cooked rice Season the chicken with salt and black pepper and sear, finish in a hot oven. Toast the spices and grind. Sauté the onions, Serrano peppers and garlic until tender. Add the spice mixture along with the turmeric and paprika. Add the tomato paste and cook for a few minutes. Add the tomatoes and reduce by 1/3. Add 1 can of garbanzos to a food processor and blitz. Add the sauce and blitz until smooth. Return the sauce to your pan and add the other can of beans, the yogurt, butter and cilantro. Season with salt and serve over the rice and chicken.

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Day 354, Ingredient No. 131-Habanero Peppers

Mise en place. To the professional cook, is not just a phrase, it’s the key to success, or more accurately, the key to not getting “in the shit.” Mise en place is the term that applies to everything being in its place. This makes the phrase sound like it is meant for organizing, which it undoubtedly is, but it is much more than that. Mise en place is about the preparation of every aspect of the professional kitchen.

Cooks rely on all five sense at any given time. We know when a scallop is done just by looking at it, we can smell when the heat on a sauce is too much, etc. But there is another sense that cook has. It’s the sense of knowing exactly where something is just by his relative position.

If I’m standing on my line, I don’t have to look to know where the onions are in my bench. I can reach out and 10 times out of 10 my hand will end up on the onions. This is one of the key fundamentals of mise en place.

But again, it is not just about organization. Mise en place also deals with the proper preparation of items. If your parsley is where it’s supposed to be, great, but if it has been chopped into slimy submission, your mise en place is screwed.

Mise en place also deals with having a sufficient and correct stock of items you will need throughout the night. And that brings me to this; I really screwed myself over on my mise en place for this dish.

First off, the proper stock of items was way off. I had intended to buy Spanish chorizo sausage but ended up with the Portuguese alternative, Chourico, similar in name, but not so much in preparation or taste. I also got home before I realized I had completely forgotten to purchase bell peppers which I had intended to add to the dish.

Then, as I was slicing the habeneros, I realized I had moved the trash can and was throwing the stems directly on the floor.

Finally, instead of preparing everything before I even thought about applying heat to it, like I normally do, I instead was jumping back and forth between browning sausages, dicing onions and chopping peppers. Any other professional cook would believe I have been completely lying about my professional cooking experience.

What this unpreparedness led to, as it does in professional kitchens, was me getting “into the shit.” Thankfully for me, my only “customer” was Melanie and I don’t exactly have to worry about a bad “Yelp” review from her.

I’ve learned the troubles of cooking without proper mise en place countless times before, but I guess we all need a reminder from time to time. Also, check the spelling on food items you buy.

(Yes, this one isn’t exactly “home-made,” but we all have an excuse to be lazy sometimes, right?)

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Chourico Enchiladas with Habanero Cream

-1 lb chourico sausage, slice thin on the bias

-1 habanero pepper, boiled for 2 minutes and diced fine (boiling will cut down on the head a bit)

-1 tbsp garlic, minced

-1/2 cup onion, diced

-16 oz can refried beans

-12 oz melting queso

-4 large tortillas

-1/3 cup cilantro, chopped

Brown the sausage. Add the garlic and onion and cook until onions are tender. Add the beans and a tbsp of the cilantro. Wrap the mix in tortillas. Add the habanero to the melting cheese and cover the stuffed tortillas. Heat it an oven until hot throughout. Finish with the cilantro.

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Day 347, Ingredient No. 19-White Wine

The nervousness didn’t hit me until I had a full face of cinnamon bun. And then, it seemed as if a week’s worth of nerves hit me all at once, and I suddenly wished I wasn’t eating. I knew that once Melanie came down the stairs she and I would be opening our Christmas gifts to one another. But I hadn’t been nervous about it until that point, until I nearly choked on that cinnamon bun.

I was nervous for the fact that there was a very, very large box next to our Christmas tree that would forever change our lives. Within it was a heavy wooden board with some painted wooden letters upon it. It may not sound like something to be nervous about, but the phrase that those wooden letters formed certainly was, for they said, “WILL YOU MARRY ME.” Apparently they don’t make wooden question marks, I looked everywhere.

I know now that something told Melanie that I was going to propose on Christmas. It was a hunch she said she had felt in the weeks leading up to Christmas. She had told her friends and her family that she was convinced that the 25th of December would be the day. That is, until this giant box showed up by the tree.

Once this box showed up, she stated she gave up on the idea of me proposing on Christmas. She said she was upset, telling her friends so much for that idea. After all, there certainly wasn’t a ring within this giant box.

Little did Melanie know that the box did contain proposal material. And the journey of getting it there was not so simple.

I had been considering proposing for months, and as all guys must do, I had to think of a way of proposing that was both romantic and from the heart. My original plan was to have her come home and read the final post of this blog, in which I would state how much I loved her and that I wanted nothing more than to have her forever, and then lead her up a trail of rose petals to me on one knee. Good idea, I thought, but thanks to some friendly advice, I decided against it.

I racked my brain for ideas, some good but not really what I wanted to do, and some so bad that she would have said “no” no matter how much she loved me. And then one day while traipsing through a store, my eyes fell upon some wooden letters. Hmm. That could work.

With the idea cemented, now came the process of putting it together. And from the get-go, it seemed to be an omen of sorts that nothing went right.

First, I forgot to buy the two “L” letters, so that the phrase would sound like I was proposing to a game console. Then, I spent 15 minutes (which doesn’t sound like a long time but it was enough to send me into a fit of rage) trying to get a purple (Melanie’s favorite color) can of spray paint to work so that I could paint the letters. I finally figured out that there was a small metal piece that was missing on the cap, preventing the paint from coming out. I went over to my dartboard, grabbed a dart, and suddenly became something out of Willy Wonka, because in a moment, I was violet in color. I pushed the dart into the space where the small metal piece would have been. Instead of spraying, the can decided to explode. Suddenly I was covered in purple paint, from the top of my belt to my shoulders, and in serious need of a scrubbing.

After these troubles, and the troubles of having to fuse two boxes together that would fit this board in it (not to mention wrapping this cardboard behemoth), I was finally ready to set it beside the tree. But there was another bit of potential trouble at hand.

Melanie’s father lives in Switzerland for the better part of the year, making face-to-face communication impossible. Therefore, I had to resort to a means of communication that is wonderful, but not exactly a means you want to use to ask your potential father-in-law if you can marry his daughter. I had to resort to Facebook.

I sent a message to Melanie’s father. It detailed how much I loved her, and how I felt she was a part of my family and I was a part of hers, but I wanted to make it official and spend my life with her as my wife. Two weeks later, I had still heard nothing back.

Oh, no. Does he not want me to propose?

Does he secretly not like me?

Why won’t he message me back!?

Does he not respect the fact I didn’t ask him in person?

Jesus! It’s two days before Christmas, I need to know now!

All these thoughts ran through my head, but the thought that didn’t run through my head is that perhaps the message went to a spam folder considering we aren’t “friends” on Facebook. Well, that should have been my first thought because it was the reason for the delay. So with a little help from a message to his wife, I was able to get through to him, and his blessing was given, albeit almost too late. I also received Melanie’s mother’s approval, setting the plan as final. I would propose on Christmas.

Down the stairs she came, looking beautiful and excited for the day ahead of us. We opened gifts, leaving the big box for last. She unwrapped the giant box with such fervor that it made me regret spending the better part of two hours wrapping it. Then, as she ripped off the tape connecting the two fused boxes, I grabbed the ring from my pocket, preparing to drop to one knee and recite the words I had been practicing for days.

That is, until Melanie couldn’t get it open.

My plan had been for her to see the phrase and turn around to see me on one knee. The problem was, she could only get one of the boxes off which revealed “L YOU RRY ME.” So, to hell with that plan. I got up and ripped the other box off before she could piece together what it said. This left me on my feet as she read the board, and she ran over to hug me.

I tried to get on one knee but in Melanie’s excitement, she essentially had me in a loving bear hug, making the task difficult. I tried to show the ring, but again, being so close to one another, it was near impossible. And as I’ve heard happens with most guys, everything I had planned to say suddenly rushed out of my mind as I bumbled and fumbled with my words sounding like an idiot.

But in hindsight, none of that is important. She said yes.

I am unequivocally excited for us. Melanie is absolutely wonderful. She is beautiful, smart, charismatic, loving, sincere, funny, and someone I want to spend the rest of my life with. And after all, she puts up with me, and that’s almost reason enough in itself. I love her so very, very much.

It’s fitting that the dish I created for this was a concoction of two separate dishes joined as one. Okay, even that was too cheesy for me.

Anyway, I seared off scallops and dressed them with a lemongrass and parsley puree as well as a beurre blanc. It was wonderful a mix of the rich, but slight twang of the beurre blanc with the brightness and vibrant lemongrass puree. (Insert another cheesy relationship comment).

I usually try and find a somewhat humorous way to end my posts, but today I won’t. All I will say is this;

I love you, Melanie, bunches.

Mel and I engangment

So, now that this blog is almost over, here is what we look like.

proposal board

Yeah, I got a little sauce-happy.

Yeah, I got a little sauce-happy.

Seared Scallops with Lemongrass Puree and Beurre Blanc

-1 lb sea scallops

Dry the scallops completely and season with salt and pepper. Sear over very high heat until browned and just cooked. (Should be a small layer of well-done on outside, small layer of medium, etc. until you get to a rare center.)

For the lemongrass puree-

-2 oz lemongrass puree (you know, that stuff you buy from a bottle at the store)

-1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley

-approximately 1/3 cup olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

For the beurre blanc-

-1/2 cup white wine

-2 tbsp white balsamic vinegar

-3 tbsp butter

-1/3 cup shallots, sliced thin

-3 cloves garlic

-1 tsp chives

Add the wine, vinegar, garlic, and shallots to a pan and reduce by 2/3. Blitz with an immersion blender until smooth. Add the butter, a small piece at a time, until incorporated. Season with salt and pepper and add the chives.

Place a small amount of the lemongrass puree under the scallops and a small amount of the beurre blanc on top.

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Day 336, Ingredient No. 62-Lobster

It’s what you eat to celebrate. It’s what you eat when you get that promotion. It’s what you eat on your anniversary. It’s what you eat when that $5,000 dollars of scratch-off lottery cards finally pays you $500 of it back. It’s what you eat when you’re given a choice of your last meal. Okay, so maybe the last one isn’t so much of a celebratory meal, but it still shows just how extravagantly we treat the “Roach of the Sea,” the lobster.

I can recall every single time that I have consumed lobster because every time has been a special occasion. My first anniversary with Melanie, my graduating from high school, Valentine’s Day a few years back when we over-prepped lobster tails for the night’s special at the restaurant I was working, and every other time I’ve consumed lobster is implanted in my brain because it has been for a special occasion. We remember when we’ve consumed lobster for the fact that it is eaten on special occasions because, well, most of us just can’t afford to eat the damn things more often than that.

I’m sure there are those who drive Rolls Royce Ghosts, Lexus LFA’s and Ferrari 599s and feel that the most stressful part of purchasing a home is finding one with a room big enough for a bowling alley that can’t recall every time they’ve eaten lobster any more than I can recall every time I’ve eaten a green bean. But for most of us, dishing out $20 for a piddling 3 ounces of meat makes us seriously question our grocery budget.

But then we do take the plunge, and we remember why $20 bucks for a few bites isn’t so bad.

The taste. The wonderful, sea-laden, salty, butter-textured, taste of lobster. Once lobster hits our palate the price becomes irrelevant. We’re convinced that this pleasure is worth the price, and our eyes effectively become bigger than our wallets. And though we realize that fact soon afterward, that memory, as all lobster meals do, lives on.

Cooking lobster for this blog would be the first time I had eaten lobster without it being a special occasion. In honor of that, I decided to try something different. Lobster crepes.

Now, if there are two extremely simple things to cook that most people can’t ever get right, it’s lobster and crepes. Most people plunge a lobster into boiling water (do you ever think the lobsters, at the moment of impact with the water, are thinking “Oh good, at least I’m going back in the water”) and boil them into rubbery submission, which takes mere seconds. When it comes to crepes, most people make pancakes, which are fine, but not when you want crepes. So now I’ll do something I have done but a mere few times during the course of this blog and actually talk about cooking for a change.

When a man finds himself on the stairs within a pool, he will take those first few steps rather quickly and without thought. It’s when it gets to that third or fourth step that he suddenly hesitates. This is because he is about to reach crotch submersion, and if he even feels a slight cold-tingle in his toes, he’s going to worry that crotch submersion would result in his dangling bits suddenly deciding they would rather be internal and become ovaries. So slowly, ever so slowly, he reaches submersion where he can decide if he’s going to be swimming in water or swimming in beer on the deck, safe from the shrinking mistress that is cold water.

Okay, now I’ll actually talk about cooking.

This relates to lobster cooking (no, really) in the way that most people just plunge a lobster in boiling water with abandon, much like the people who dive into a pool without testing to see if it’s warm enough to support testicles that are still on the outside of the body. When you plunge a lobster straight into boiling water, you aren’t giving yourself control over the situation. It becomes an all or nothing situation. That’s why I do not boil lobster, I simmer it.

By simmering, I’m giving myself slightly more wiggle-room to not overcook the hell out of lobster, which really makes the $10 an ounce sting. Also, I simmer lobster in a court bouillon or other flavorful liquid. If I had boiled the lobster in the liquid, there would be no time to actually impart any flavor on the lobster before it became the consistency of a Good-Year. So simmer, don’t boil.

When it comes to crepes, well, practice makes perfect. The musts to successful crepe making include a good non-stick pan with no scratches, constant applications of minute amounts of fat and heat control.

Generally speaking, a medium heat is perfect for crepes, but you must be assured that your pan is not too hot or too cold between every crepe. If it’s too cold, you’ll end up with no browning, and crepes need that browned flavor. Too much heat and they’ll go all rubbery on you. Here’s my crepe making procedure-

  • Put a small amount of oil into a 6-8 inch pan and spread it over every surface
  • Let it heat for a minimum of 5 minutes over medium heat
  • Run a small test crepe, if it’s too hot take it off the heat for a minute. Too cold, let it heat more
  • Apply as little batter as possible to completely cover the bottom of the pan in a very thin layer. No more, no less.
  • After each crepe, apply a small amount of oil onto the pan with a paper towel and let the pan get back up to heat, which will take about 15-20 seconds.

As stated, crepes are not something most people are going to master on their first batch, but they are by no means difficult.

So, the cooking of this dish will go down as another lobster-laden memory, a special occasion of sorts as I only have less than 10 dishes to create before the culmination of this blog. And just like every other time I’ve consumed lobster, I was convinced that I would gladly shell out (get it?) the extravagant amount of money for so little meat if it meant eating lobster more. Then, just today, I saw an article claiming that due to a lower catch than the previous two years, lobster prices will be on the rise.

Damn.

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Lobster Crepes

For the crepes-

-1 cup AP flour

-1 ½ cups milk

-1 tbsp salt

-2 tbsp sugar

Mix all ingredients. Let sit for 30 minutes. Cook as described above.

For the lobster/sauce-

-1/2 lb lobster tails

-1/2 cup white wine

-1/2 cup heavy cream

-1 egg yolk

-1 tbsp butter

Bring the wine and cream to a simmer and add the lobster tails. Cook until the tails are done, approximately 2 minutes. Remove the tails and remove meat from shell. Add the shells back to the sauce. Reduce the sauce by half and add the butter. In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolk well. Add a small amount of the hot sauce to the yolk while stirring to temper the egg (otherwise it will scramble). Add more sauce in small batched until all sauce has been incorporated. Season with salt and pepper and serve over the crepes and lobster meat.

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Day 323, Ingredient No. 112-Bread Crumbs

Domino’s Pizza and Pizza Hut seem to be competing against one another for who can have the most ridiculous way of ordering a pizza. Also, the laziest. Domino’s has rolled out their new app featuring “Dom,” a voice-ordering app that sounds like an ostracized member of Kraftwerk. Not to be outdone, Pizza Hut has unveiled a tablet-based menu that, using eye-tracking technology, will pick toppings for you based on what ingredient you look at the longest. Only one question springs to mind when I read of these ordering systems; But why?

I can understand online ordering. When ordering pizzas, you are sometimes with a group of people, most often drunks or kids, both of which have the attention span than can only be measured in nanoseconds, which makes online ordering very convenient. And that’s not to say just convenient for you. I’ve worked in pizza joints and I can tell you that the people working the phones love online ordering. This is due to the fact that some people, when inundated with many choices of toppings, seem to completely shut down as if they had become unplugged. It’s as if their puny little heads feel that an incorrect choice of toppings could lead to a rift in time and space.

“How about banana peppers?”

“Ew, I hate those.”

“But I really like them, we could get them on half.”

“Okay, that’s fine.”

“Yeah, but if you don’t like them we can leave them off. You know sometimes a piece or two will get on the wrong side. That happened to my cousin, Billy. He is allergic to spinach, well not really allergic, it just gives him gas, but he thinks it’s because he’s allergic, but anyway one time he ordered a pizza that was half no spinach and a little piece got on his side and he ate it anyway because he didn’t know there was any spinach on his side so he ate spinach which he really shouldn’t do since he’s allergic or just kind of allergic since it only gives him gas but anyway he really…”

Meanwhile, the server is standing there, patient on the outside but seriously regretting not calling in sick and hoping these people get into an accident on the way home. So, believe me when I say, pizza joint employees love online ordering.

But do we really need a voice-app for ordering pizza? Let’s break this down.

First off, someone gets their phone out, goes to this app, waits for it to load, and then orders using their voice. If this sounds familiar it’s because it’s how you call an order in! You get your phone out, dial in the number, wait for them to answer, and then order using your voice. What a novel concept.

Then we have Pizza Hut’s new tablet-based menu, dubbed the “Subconscious Menu,” that can supposedly decide what toppings you desire based on your eye movements and how long you stare at certain menu items. Now, I highly doubt that this will ever really be rolled out to actual use, but if it does, I can guarantee it will quickly be taken out of use. The reason is, no one will ever, ever order what it states you supposedly want.

“Oh my God that thing is way off, I hate BBQ sauce.”

“Yeah, it said I want onions, bleh!”

And upon reviewing how this menu will appear, I know for absolutely sure it would state that I wanted shrimp on my pizza. Why? Because I’d be staring at that shrimp and asking myself, “Who in the hell would order shrimp from Pizza Hut?”

Innovation is imperative only when useful. I’m all for technology, but with the stipulation that the technology actually fixes a problem or makes something difficult easier, and let’s face it, ordering a pizza is about a simple of a task as there ever was. Pizza Hut and Domino’s are rolling out useless innovations much like infomercial products in that they create solutions to problems that don’t exist.

“Do you find yourself struggling to make toast while showering? Well, worry no more thanks to the Acme shower-toaster!”

Perhaps one day, someone took a look a turkey and thought, in that infomercial announcer-like voice, “Do you find yourself wanting to take advantage of all that open space in the ass end of a turkey? Why not cram a ton of wet bread in there!?”

And so was born stuffing, or dressing, or whatever you want to refer to it as (I’ll go with stuffing because, to me, dressing implies a sauce, and I’ve never once seen a bread-based sauce). Thus, the problem of a large space of unused realty within the turkey was solved, only for people like me to be “innovative” and take the stuffing part of stuffing out of the stuffing.

I never cook stuffing within a bird for many reasons, the main being it can sop up all kinds of juices from the turkey that are nowhere near a safe temperature and it makes the cooking of the bird take a much longer amount of time. So, if you decide to make this stuffing, just don’t stuff it.

Now, about that shower-toaster. It could be water-safe and powered by steam. Hmm…

(Yeah, I forgot to take a picture)

Pepper Stuffing

-12 oz bag of seasoned stuffing

-1 red bell pepper, chopped fine

-1 yellow bell pepper, chopped fine

-1 orange bell pepper, chopped fine

-1 yellow onion, chopped fine

-1 tsp fennel seeds, toasted

-1 tsp dried thyme

– 1tbsp granulated garlic

-1/2 tsp Italian seasoning

-2 cups chicken broth

-4 tbsp butter

Combine all ingredients well and season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate for 3 hours. Place in a 400F oven for approximately 1 hour or until lightly browned.

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Day 322, Ingredient No. 37-Sundried Tomatoes

Upon discovering something that pleases us, we often repeat that new aspect of life continuously due to it being so new, pleasurable, and exciting. It is why, upon hearing a song I really like for the first time, I will replay that song to death. It is why I watched 10 straight hours of TV after purchasing my first HDTV. It is why, other than sleeping and eating, I didn’t get a single thing done the week I discovered that it felt good, really good, when I started messing with my below-the-belt-bits.

And, perhaps it why dried foods were discovered.

Now, although I love researching the history of everything from civilizations to sporks, I am by no means a reputable source of historical information. But I will now submit my hypothesis on the discovery of dried foods. A hypothesis that, I can assure you, involved no research whatsoever due to the fact I am researching this 6-pack of beer as I write this.

I believe that perhaps, just perhaps, the discovery of dried foods was made right after the discovery of beer.

Again, when we find something new that greatly pleases us, as I’m sure beer did, you want to engulf your life with it. You want it constantly. You want it in great volumes. You want to figure out why it makes the earth spin and makes you get sick when you drink it in great volumes,  at least in the case of beer anyway (case of beer…get it?). So I am guessing that on that day, thousands of years ago, when man discovered that the porridge he had left in the rain had turned into a drink that could make his brain tickle, he decided that he needed more.

Once he was able to surmise how the deliciously intoxicating beverage came to be, he probably shared it with others of his village, leading to the world’s first “kegger.” Following suit, these secondary discoverers obviously wanted more, after all, it was new, exciting, intoxicating, and they wanted more and they wanted it now. In their haste to acquire and consume more of the beverage, they perhaps forgot to attend to their fields. Or perhaps they discovered hangovers.

When the beer finally ran out, they stumbled out to discover that their fruits had become dried and shriveled under the hot sun and wind and now resembled smaller versions of things they found under their loincloths. Thus, dried food was discovered.

Okay, so it’s a load of crap and ridiculously historically inaccurate given that agriculture and dried foods came millennia before beer, so it’s useless as a hypothesis but entertaining nonetheless.

And on the theme of dried foods, today’s ingredient is sundried tomatoes.

There isn’t much novelty in a sundried tomato pesto, but this one is better than most, I assure you. It’s light enough to accompany a plate of pasta without overpowering it, yet it has the rich, slightly sweet and strong taste we associate with sundried tomatoes.

It’s also really good with beer.

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Yes, it’s a terrible picture, but I can blame it on the beer.

Sundried Tomato and Walnut Pesto

-12 oz sundried tomatoes

-1/3 cup walnuts

-1/4 cup Romano cheese

-2 tbsp basil, julienned

-1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped fine

-approximately 1/3 cup olive oil

Add all the ingredients, except the oil, to a food processor and blitz until the sundried tomatoes and walnuts are chopped. Slowly drizzle in the oil while running the processor until a slightly viscous sauce is formed. Season with salt and pepper.

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