Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Lord of the Rings 60th Anniversary Dinner

Happy 60th, Lord of the Rings!

Yes, that is a Minas Tirith bookend

Tonight we celebrated the 60th anniversary of J.R.R Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.  This book has been the cornerstone of all high fantasy, and the basis for most, if not all, fantasy games, literature, and video games since.  During and after serving in the English military during WWI, Tolkien re-imagined much of the horror, romance, and joy that accompanies such a voyage in his own world, which has come to inspire several generations to follow.  We celebrated this anniversary by having a LotR themed dinner party, inviting over my parents.  We had Shire Cottage Pie, Cold Ranger Chicken, Hobbiton Hot Wings, Troll-Meets-Sun Rock Biscuits, Huckleberry Ferry Salad, Bree-Land Ale, and Butter Pecan Pineapple Upside-Down One Ring to Rule Them All Cake with Mordor Ice Cream (plus toppings).

I made the Shire Cottage Pie, which I think was supposed to resemble actual cottage pie, which I had never made before.  So I winged it, due to working all day and not having a lot of time to plan this out.  That's one thing about me, I enjoy winging it in the kitchen.  So let's get started.

First thing, you need to chop up all the meat and veggies you are going to use.  For this, I used:

  • 1 medium bag of frozen mixed veggies (already chopped up!)
  • 1 plate of sliced up carrots (not sure how many carrots, Robyn and kids pre-sliced them)
  • 5 veggie burger patties (this is where you could sub in some meat if you want)
  • a bag of potatoes
  • Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, garlic
  • butter
Start boiling your potatoes.  Meanwhile, cook your meats and veggies, so that in the end you have a nice mixed-up sort of pie filling.  If you don't know what I'm talking about -- go have a real Shepard's or Cottage Pie at an English restaurant to get the picture.  Basically, get a big pot, and start cooking the things that need more cooking first, then add as you go.  Use a lid to get more heat all around your food. Use generous amounts of butter -- this is where experience comes in; you don't want a big soupy mess, but you also don't want a dried out thing either. Luckily for me, I didn't have any meat to worry about -- the carrots took the longest, so I cooked them first, then the frozens, then the chopped up pre-cooked veggie burgers.  As this is finishing up, add the Worcestershire sauce and the rest of the seasonings.

By now, your potatoes should be done boiling, so drain and make mashed potatoes.  Butter, milk, seasonings as you like here.  I'm going to assume you know how to make mashed potatoes for crying out loud.

Grab a baking dish, preferably a deeper one like a big ole souffle dish, and add in your filling.  Cover with your mashed potatoes, then cheese.  Put in the oven to keep warm until ready to serve.  

Just before serving, blast it with the broiler to brown the cheese, and serve.

Anyway, this is how I made it.  I know its not winning any awards, but I'll make it better next time, and then better still the time after that.

Here are some other pictures of the evening:

Audrey in her hobbit-cloak having some Shire Pie

From L to R: Robyn, Donovan, Audrey, Grandma Julie, Emily, Grandpa Dave, Aunt Carolyn

Grandma Julie with a very small serving of Butter Pecan Pineapple Upside-Down One Ring to Rule Them All Cake, with a small scoop of Mordor Ice Cream, caramel sauce, and a single peanut M&M.  Nice!

Up close single serving of Butter Pecan Pineapple Upside-Down One Ring to Rule Them All Cake with the caramel sauce topping.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Welcome & Breakfast Polenta

Hi and welcome to my new blog!  I'm going to mainly write about cooking at home, and using this to record and share my "recipes."  I used quotation marks around "recipes" because I don't normally write stuff down in the kitchen, and I rarely measure anything exactly -- that's one thing you have to know about me in the first place.  I think cooking is a great way to experiment, refine, and be creative.  So, if I do list any measurements, it's just for some degree of reference, not an exact thing.

This morning I thought I might make some polenta for breakfast.  The kids had never had it before, and I know its one of Robyn's favorites.  Another thing you will come to find out -- Robyn has a lot of top 5 favorites.  If you don't know, Robyn is my wife.  So I had some of these little onions left over from a spicy curry coconut milk soup I made last night, and I thought the sweetness of these cooked onions might go really well with the corn polenta.  That's another thing about me -- every once in a while I come up with a pretty good idea about flavors going together.

Okay so let's get started.  The first thing you do is make some polenta.  In my case, I had to make enough for 4-5 people.  If you don't know, here are the steps to make polenta if you don't want to follow the directions on the package:

  1. Boil water.  The amount will depend on how much polenta you want to make.  The good news is -- you can't screw this ratio up, because if it turns out you need more polenta or water, just add it.  So just eyeball it and move on.  One more thing about me -- I am a firm believer in cooking decisiveness.  Sometimes mistakes lead to something even better than what you originally had planned.
  2. Put some salt in there.  The same way you do for pasta.  This might not really do anything, might just be some old cooking voodoo, I don't know.  Just put some salt in there.
  3. Now that the water is really boiling, take it off the heat.
  4. Stir in the polenta until it doesn't look too watery anymore.  This is the critical moment where you can screw up the whole thing.  Don't just dump all your polenta in the water and leave it to go find a spoon to stir with or anything.  Have your spoon ready to go in one hand, and pour with the other while you stir.  Stop adding when you don't see a bunch of juicy water slashing around anymore -- leave some room because it will thicken up.  Like I said in #1, if it gets too thick, just add more water.
So at this point the polenta is still really hot and retains heat very well on account of it just being ground up corn, so it is ideal to cook some vegetables in without overcooking them.  This is where I added:

  • 2 cups of cut up mushrooms
  • 2 cups of cut up onions into really small pieces
  • 1 cup of grated parmeasean cheese
  • salt/pepper
Stir all that in, then cover it up and let it sit.  You can add whatever you want -- bell pepper is great, eggs, 7 cheese blend, what ever you think might be good.  Be creative.

Meanwhile, using a pan and some vegetable oil, I browned up some diced chicken sausage for the meat-eaters.  Add this in after the non-meat-eaters get their bowls scooped up.

It's time to eat!  Once you bowl it, go ahead and add some Cholula hot sauce & parsley if you're feeling hot or fancy.  Or both.

Sorry for the crumby picture -- my official photographer (Robyn) hasn't started yet :)