Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Whole New (Walt Disney) World

Hey everyone, I'm back! I had planned to post a bunch of pictures in this post, but I just spent hours going through them all on Flickr to label and add descriptions, so I'm just going to link to the Flickr sets, instead. Hope you don't mind. It won't be as pretty, but I don't think you'll be disappointed in the pics, so please take the time to click through the links. If you want an overview, the whole collection can be found HERE.

The trip was incredible. Walt Disney World is a park on a scale like no other. The resort area spans for miles and the size of each individual park is intimidating. Disneyland in Anaheim feels like an intimate, cozy park. Magic Kingdom in Orlando feels truly like another world. It was nice having ample walkways and the kind of theming you can only do with that kind of space. But enough about general impressions- on to the tour!

Port Orleans French Quarter
Port Orleans Pictures
This was the first time Melissa and I had stayed anywhere other than an All-Star Resort and the difference was palpable. While I'm sure there were plenty of families around, the layout just made it feel like there weren't screaming kids everywhere, even the public areas. The river and jogging trail made for a very serene environment. The pool was incredible, with fountains and a slide and plenty of alcoves and spaces that made it feel rather private, even when it was crowded. The rooms weren't luxurious, but they were certainly a level above Motel 6. The tv wasn't great, but really, who cares? You're at Walt Disney World. How much TV time do you need. Also, the arcade had Donkey Kong. Score!

Our first night in, Melissa and I went to The Wave at the Contemporary Resort. I can't wait until we can afford to stay in a place like that. It felt classy top to bottom (and I hear the rooms have all been remodeled to be extra fancy). The dinner was top notch, focusing on contemporary fusion cuisine with an emphasis on sustainable and organic foods (which I appreciate). I had a pork loin with roasted fingerlings (which are becoming my favorite potato) and a flight of organic ales. The seared tuna appetizer was cooked perfectly and set things up nicely. The wine pairings all worked and Melissa and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The only downside was how many crying children there were. There was no doubt when you walked in that this was an elegant, fancy restaurant (and the prices confirmed it). I understand you're at Disney, but who thinks their kids are going to enjoy a meal like that? Also, our reservation was at 9:20, pretty late for most kids. Eventually, the families cleared out and the restaurant calmed down considerably. I would certainly eat there on my next trip (though I hope to be able to eat at the California Grill on the top level of the hotel). We also ate at Boatwright's, the full-service restaurant at Port Orleans. It was fine, but felt more like an Applebee's than a destination restaurant.

Animal Kingdom
nimal Kingdom Pictures Day 1
Animal Kingdom Pictures Day 2

There's not a whole lot of attractions at Animal Kingdom (yet), but it's a very enjoyable park. The theming in Africa and Asia is very detailed and immersive. Expedition Everest looms over Asia imposingly, and the ride itself doesn't disappoint. Going backwards in the dark is pretty intense. I do wish the giant Yeti was operational, though. He's so cool, but not as mind-blowing as when he's actually moving around. The Dinosaur ride uses the same ride technology as Indiana Jones, though it's a little slower-paced. The many dinosaurs are very well done and I enjoyed the ride more than I remembered from our honeymoon.

Speaking of dinosaurs, on Day 2 Melissa and I decided to be silly. In Jurassic Park, the little girl always screams at things by putting her arms at her side stiffly and tilting her head. So, every dino Melissa and I saw (and there were a lot of them) we took a picture doing that pose. It's a good way to get people to look at you funny.

The main highlight of the park, though, is the wild animals. Between the Safari ride and the two walking trails, you can see a lot of animals that feel much closer and more natural than they do in most zoos. Look at the pictures on Day 1 to see what I mean. They'll say more than my words can.

We also took in two shows- Finidng Nemo: The Musical and Festival of the Lion King. Nemo is a retelling of the movie with a bunch of new songs created for the show and extensive puppet use. It's Broadway caliber. The performers were pros and the songs were catchy. Very cool. Lion King is setup by a troupe of singers who are celebrating with Simba. There are four animatronic animals (Pumbaa, Simba, a giraffe, and an elephant) a Timon walking around, and a whole troupe of acrobats and dancers. It's high energy, audience involving, and just beautiful to watch. It was much more impressive than I was expecting.

We also took in a dinner at Animal Kingdom Lodge. From the hotel, you can look out on to a savanna where more animals roam (we saw some antelope and ostriches). We ate at Boma, an all you can eat place much classier than any buffet I've eaten. All of the food is African-inspired (except for the coward's table (my name), which has chicken fingers and such) and very unique. I probably tried about 25 dishes and was blown away by all of them. The roast steak they were carving was unique, especially with the spicy mustard sauce. I loved the watermelon rind salad. So many spices and flavor profiles I don't usually get to eat made this my favorite dining experience on the trip. I can't recommend it enough.

Magic Kingdom
Magic Kingdom Pictures

What can I say about the Magic Kingdom? It's taller and wider than the kingdom in Anaheim, and, as a whole, a better experience. Disneyland's Fantasyland is cooler, and our Pirates is a much more complete ride. Also, our Tiki Room isn't the embarrassment they've created in Florida (Iago and Zazu take over and basically rape the classic show right in front of your eyes). Other than that, everything is better in Florida. Most rides have two or three additional scenes and just feel more impressive than their California counterparts. The Haunted Mansion stands out. As many of you know, this is my favorite ride by a wide margin. I probably rode it ten times on this trip (and would have gone more if I felt like abandoning my wife and her family). Last year, they upgraded the sound system (the Ghost Host moving around you in the stretching room and the bats and whispers after you are let out of said stretch room are spine-tingling) and added a couple of new scenes. Most notably, they took out the cheesy spiderwebs and put in an MC Escher inspired staircase room, with stairs going in every direction and ghostly footsteps appearing and disappearing. Then, you encounter glowing eyes which blend into the wallpaper of the next scene. Some of the eyes in the wallpaper even blink at you, which took me by surprise. I could go on (the pop up ghosts in the graveyard still really pop, the Madame Leota projection is cleaner, the whole ride feels darker), but suffice it to say that the whole ride is creepier and feels much better cared for than the original at DL.

The whole park was, to borrow some cheese, magical. It really transports you out of the everyday world and into a world of fantasy and adventure. We went on the Keys to the Kingdom tour our second day in the park, which led us backstage and showed us the operational secrets of the park. I didn't learn much I didn't know, but it was neat to walk around those areas and really see things working (we got to witness a parade rehearsal, for example). We had a lunch at the Liberty Tree Tavern, which was good, filling food (pot roast, pot pie, turkey and gravy), but not necessarily anything to write home about. Plenty good, just not on the level of some of the other meals we ate. I enjoyed the nighttime parade, Spectromagic, more than I remembered, but it still feels a bit like a cheap replacement for the Main Street Electrical Parade. The Chernabog float makes it all worth it, though. Basically, from the extra height of Main Street to the towering castle, the whole park was a sight to behold.

Epcot Pictures

I can see where Epcot may be boring for kids, but I adore it. Test Track is 30 seconds of very thrilling ride, preceded by a 3 minute riding commercial for anti-lock breaks. Mission Space, on the other hand, is a thrill unlike any you've ever felt. They do an excellent job of simulating a rocket launch and the g-force you feel can't be matched by a roller coaster. A completely unique experience. I'm also a big fan of Spaceship Earth, the ride in the geodesic dome. Anything with a ton of animatronic figures is cool by me, and I love traveling through world history. The new voice-over by Judy Dench is a little cheesy, but it works.

The World Showcase houses the best theming in any of the Disney parks. Even though each country occupies a small physical space, you really can forget that you're in the middle of Florida. There may not be any great rides (Norway's Maelstrom and Mexico's river ride are basically like Pirates of the Carribean, if Pirates taught you about a country's exports instead of being exciting), but the experience is unforgettable. Moving from England to France to Morocco to Japan is exhilarating. I also appreciated that each pavilion had unique items from the represented country in the stores, instead of generic Disney junk. It also helps that each employee in the pavilions is a native of the country on display.

We had a lunch at Le Chefs de France (guess what country that was in) that was quite entertaining. The food was delicious and well-prepared. My salmon was cooked perfectly and I will be looking up a recipe for that tomato bernaise. I also experienced my first escargot. I enjoyed it, though I didn't taste much of the snails. It mostly just tasted like garlic and parsley. The highlight of the meal, though, was Remy. There's a little animatronic figure that they wheel around on a serving platter. Ok, I'll post just one picture:
The man behind Remy is his "handler," Armand. Armand was hilarious. Since Remy doesn't talk for himself (he just squeaks), Armand did all of the talking. He played the part of an arrogant egotist beautifully, insisting that I wanted a picture of him, not Remy. It was just delightful; one of those little surprises that make Disney dining so special. It's these little things, these little details, that made Epcot (and all of Walt Disney World, really) just so special.

Disney's Hollywood Studios
Hollywood Studios Pictures

Hollywood Studios (formerly MGM) is the least impressive of the parks, really. Tower of Terror and the Aerosmith roller coaster are great thrill rides, but that's really most of what the park offers. The Great American Movie ride is a neater idea than an execution. It could use an update (and some new animatronics). I do love the Muppet 3D movie, though the print has seen better days (thankfully, it's being digitally restored as we speak). I enjoyed the Toy Story Midway Mania, but it's exactly the same ride we have at California Adventure (albeit with a much cooler queue area). Melissa and I did manage to get the top 2 scores of the morning, though. Even though I don't care much for cars (at all), the Lights Motors Action stunt show was kind of mind blowing. There were cars jumping over ramps, spinning all around, driving backwards at high speeds- The fact that they hit those marks every single day was very impressive. Add in some explosions for good measure and it's a very cool show. The last thing we did in any of the parks was take in Fantasmic at this park. We got there more than 2 hours early and were among the first ones in the amphitheater. We were third row dead center. The show is much longer out there, though I'd rather have California's awesome Peter Pan scene than Florida's lame Pocahontas scene. The extra emphasis on the villains is cool, too. It was as magical and inspiring as it is intended to be. It was a great, totally fitting way to end the trip.

Sooo, still with me? I hope you enjoyed my tour and had a chance to flip through the pictures. It was a great experience and I can't wait to go back. I'll be back tomorrow as Selzer & Smuckles gets restarted. You won't want to miss it. Hope you've all been well while I've been gone.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Is It Safe?

Yes, long-time readers, I have used "Is it safe" as a title in reference to Marathon Man before. But that time, it was "Is it Safe? Is it Safe?" I only said it once this time because I ran a half marathon. Get it? Get it!?! Maybe this is why no one's paying me to write right now. Also, that post was about the dentist, this one's not. Anyway, if I'm going to keep writing about marathons, I obviously need to come up with another pop culture reference from which to cull titles.

So, all of this is to say that two weekends ago I ran the Disneyland Half Marathon. I had run the 5k last year and decided to step up my training to go for the whole 13.1 miles this time around. I gradually built up my strength over the past year, and by race time it was mostly a piece of cake. I ran with my good buddy Mike, and we finished with a time of 2:22 (that's two hours, twenty-two minutes). Very respectful for a first time, I think. We could have gone faster, but since we didn't have qualifying times, the first 3-5 miles or so were spent weaving around people who think walking a half marathon is the same thing as running one. I don't know if this is an issue in other races, but it's kind of a problem at Disney. I think a lot of people just assume that because it's Disney it will somehow be easier. Whatever, we won't have that problem next year, our time should be plenty good enough to qualify us for an earlier starting corral.

Now, in the course of my training, I've lost A LOT of weight (I don't ever weigh myself, but I'd estimate it's in the 35-50 pound range). I've lost 4 inches off of my waist. Now, I know this sounds like bragging, but being thin and sexy's not all it's cracked up to be. I mean, none of my clothes fit right anymore. My pants literally fall off if I don't have my belt tightened to the last hole, and half of my belts aren't short enough anymore. The jeans I used to call my "sexy jeans" (they were tighter than the others) are now just the jeans that fit better than most. My dress shirts that used to fit like they were tailored no feel like I'm wearing a pillowcase. It costs a lot of money to replace a whole wardrobe, people. Think of that before you start that next diet.

Mike and I were very proud of the fact that we didn't slow down to walk a single time during the race. Neither of us had ever done that for longer than 10 miles before, so it was a pretty big deal (it's all in the pacing). Of course, at about mile 12.5 (in other words, almost to the finish line) I could feel all of the Powerade sloshing around in my stomach and it made me nauseous. Nauseous to the point where I actually threw up in some bushes. It was pure Powerade that came back up, leading me to think that I'd taken in too many electrolytes (an energy gel and several cups of the stuff). Maybe next time I'll stick to just water. To my credit, I didn't miss a step. I did my disgusting business as calmly and discretely as I could, never breaking stride. It's a silly thing to be proud of, but there it is.

Here's a handful of pictures (sorry for the low quality, these are the digital proofs. The actual prints are insanely expensive). Unfortunately, there was no lucky photographer to catch my yakking. Properly timed, it could have been a spectacular shot. I would have it blown up to a poster and made into a Successories-style motivational poster. By the way, in the picture at the head of the article, I'm the guy with his arms raised above his head, next to Mike, who is clapping. That's my go-to "finished running" pose.
Running into California Adventure. I like how it almost looks like I'm hovering.

Mike and I liked mugging for the camera.

I always knew I was pasty, but DAMN! Also, I look 20 years older in this picture and like I am about to die. Even when throwing up, I never felt as bad as I looked in this shot.

Running around the field at Angel Stadium. A very cool experience (there were thousands of Girl and Boy Scouts cheering you on inside) and my favorite picture of the bunch.

Crossing the finish line. Note that while the clock shows 2:38, our corral didn't cross the start until 16 minutes after the gun went off (that's what happens when you have 15,000 people trying to run down one street), so our electronic chip time was 2:22.

With our medals at the end.

It was a great experience. Mike and I are officially hooked on running. He's already signed up for the full LA Marathon in March, and I'll be signing up as soon as I've got $125 (I'm about to be out of work, doncha know?). I don't just feel physically great, it's a big emotional accomplishment, as well. I set a goal, and I reached it. Feels pretty good.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Smoked Salmon on Potato Coins (p.15) and Perfect Deviled Eggs Every Time (p.14)

I apologize for the length of time between my previous post and this one, I've been extremely busy. I also apologize in advance for the upcoming length of time between this post and the next one (see bottom paragraph). Anyway, on to the food:

We decided to have an appetizer night again, since so many of the recipes in the Achewood Cookbook are best served as sides or hors d'oeuvres. We started with one of my very favorite things to eat, Perfect Deviled Eggs Every Time, brought to us by Roast Beef (who is living once again in the comic strip, in case you were worried). It seems like around my family, we only had deviled eggs around Easter and Christmas (or Thanksgiving if we were real lucky), but I see no reason why they should not be enjoyed year round. Sure they make me gassy, but that's a small price to pay for a rich, eggy treat. I can't tell you how excited I was to give this one a try.

Well, maybe I should have tempered my enthusiasm just a hair. I can tell you for certain that this is not how deviled eggs usually look:
Maybe I can pull a Top Chef kind of trick and just say I made "deconstructed" deviled eggs. I'm not sure what that means exactly, but it sounds better than "failed" deviled eggs. Don't get me wrong, they still tasted pretty good. But the runny filling was an unappetizing texture and made them messier than a pop in your mouth treat should be. There were problems from the start. First, most of the eggs didn't peel very well. From research, I've found that I likely used eggs that were too fresh. Older eggs peel easier because of something about the albumen. I don't know. I stopped reading when it got too sciency (full disclosure- this is a lie, I'm a big science nerd and the science of cook fascinates me).

I think the one problem with the flavor is a hint to why the filling came out so wrong - Vinegar. I did a little more research and found that most recipes call for about 1 tsp of the acidic stuff. This recipe called for 3 TBSP. That's a pretty big difference, not to mention an equal parts mayonnaise (I didn't say "mayo" because Roast Beef says he hates when people do that) to vinegar ratio. I tossed some paprika on (the recipe says you only should do this if you're rich, but I had some laying around- with a large shake lid, if you notice the sloppy plating in the picture) and served them anyway. Melissa's not a huge deviled egg fan, anyway (she is wrong), so I ended up eating most of them. They tasted pretty decent and I didn't get sick, so I can't call it a total failure, just disappointing. Thankfully, the next course made up for it.

The Smoked Salmon on Potato Coins was a perfect recipe from Mr. Bear. It was classy without being pretentious, and flavorful without being overpowering. In short, it was everything an hors d'oeuvres should be. The kind of thing that a man has perfected over years of experience and feels confident serving at an elegant affair.
I apologize for the blurry picture. By the time I realized it hadn't come out, the food was gone. Speaking of the picture, I really need to work on my plating (though in my defense, it was late and had been a frustrating night of cooking). I happened to have some smoked salmon on hand. My friends Josh and Aubrey had brought it back from their trip to Canada last year (or maybe longer ago, I don't remember exactly). Some of you may be thinking that I'm insane to eat salmon that old, but this stuff was smoked and vacuum sealed. Those little pouches can last 10 years or more on the shelf, at least according to the package. It tasted wonderful and smokey and I still haven't died, so I have to believe that the package was right.

The base of these are little coins of fingerling potatoes, spread with mascarpone cheese. It was a little difficult spreading the cheese onto the soft potatoes, but I think most of them turned out ok. The recipe called for the salmon to be folded, which just wasn't possible with the stuff I had, so I just used the chunks as they fell (it was kind of dry and crumbly, but not in a bad way). The toasted sesame seeds and scallions were a very nice touch. They were hard to keep on the appetizers themselves, but any one that had a green onion slice or two on it was a real delight. A bit of a hassle to build, but altogether worth it, I'd say. If you come over for a cocktail party or fancy dinner fete, don't be surprised if I serve something like this.

I had intended to use a couple of left over hard boiled eggs to make Scotch Eggs (another of Mr. Bear's recipes) but at this point it was almost 9pm and I was tired of being in the kitchen. I tossed the eggs in the fridge and decided to move it to this week. As of this morning, the eggs weren't looking so good, so I'll probably have to throw them out and try again later. And by later, I mean in a couple of weeks.

See, Melissa and I leave for Orlando on Friday. We'll be at Disney World for a full week, and thus not cooking. And this week, with all of the vacation preparation, I didn't feel like doing much in the kitchen, so our dinners are all stupidly simple. Open pot, boil water, make pasta, microwave sauce. That kind of thing. Unfortunately, I seem to have exhausted the simple recipes Achewood has to offer. I just don't have time to make a brined pork chop this week (though I am going to make The Dogg Is Home again, or a slight variation of it). So, Selzer & Smuckles is going on a two week hiatus. I'll probably have a couple of blog posts, but they'll be about Disney or running or such things, not cooking from a humorous cookbook. So, take a break, read over my archives, fall in love with my blog again. Don't worry, it loves you back. Until next time,


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Beer Can Chicken (p.45)

Ah, Ray. I still haven't told you much about Ray Smuckles, have I? Well, Ray has more or less become the main character in Achewood. He's a cat who wears a thong, glasses, and a "Chochacho" medallion. Through a series of business ventures and deals with the devil, Ray has become a multi-billionaire. He loves to drink and throw lavish parties, and basically tosses money around like a clown tossing hard candy from a firetruck in your local 4th of July parade. He's basically a good guy, though he's not as much of a ladies man as he likes to think. In fact, he's not as good at most things as he thinks he is. Somehow, this string of characteristics manages to combine into a likable dude. You want to know Ray; you want to be his friend (and not just because he'll give you money or whatever extravagant plaything he's tired with).

Today, Ray brings us Beer Can Chicken. It's not too complicated (this may be a direct quote from the recipe, I don't have it in front of me). You throw some spices into a half empty beer can, spray some oil on the outside of the bird, stick the can into "the big butt opening" of the chicken and stick it in the oven for a while. Ray seems to like this preparation because it gives him time to make his move on whatever lady he's making this for. You're supposed to insert the beer can into the chicken slowly, and see if the lady notices. I tried this, and Melissa did not particularly notice. She just rolled her eyes and fell back asleep on the couch. But what did I expect? I'm married! Am I right, 1980s stand-up comedians? Anyway, Ray also promotes using the hour and a half the chicken cooks for to serve champagne and see where things lead. If the lady catches on, just turn off the oven and through the chicken out the next day. I didn't have champagne, so I tried with beer. Again, no dice. Still, the chicken came out pretty well, so I guess that almost makes up for my lack of ability to score. Almost.
I figured that the quality of beer would have a lot to do with the flavoring of the chicken, so I intended to buy a six pack of something nice, maybe imported. Apparently, Ralph's does not carry such things. The only six packs they had at all were those strangely shaped tall cans, which I'm pretty sure wouldn't fit in the chicken correctly. So, I had to go for a twelver. Unfortunately, my budget wouldn't allow me to get 12 good beers, so I made my way to the far left or "bargain end" of the aisle. I settled on Steel Reserve, which I'd never tried. I drank half of one can, and it tasted You know how good beers are all distinct and flavorful, and then there's a whole tier of beers that don't really taste that different and serve no real purpose but to inebriate the masses? Well, this was one of the latter. Nothing wrong with it, but it didn't distinguish itself from the Pabsts and Keystones of the world. I should have gone with High Life.

The chicken itself came out fine. The skin was nice and crispy and the meat was well-cooked without being dry. I had plenty leftover, so I'm having chicken sandwiches for lunch all week. I could do a lot worse. I didn't do a great job of carving it, but it didn't really matter. Still, maybe it's just me, but there is absolutely no difference between good chicken and great chicken. You can cook a chicken poorly (whether it's overcooked and too dry or undercooked and likely to murder you in your sleep) but if you do it right, pretty much every chicken dish just tastes the same. Tastes like chicken! Ha! One more time 1980s comedians! Seriously, though, it's sauces and breadings that really differentiate one chicken dish from the next. I guess it's just a hard meat to modify, so you have to work hard to make it stand out. All told, this was a perfectly good chicken recipe, but nothing that really floored me. I enjoyed eating it, but really, it was just chicken. Ok, I seem to be stuck in a loop, so I'm going to end this. See you next time!


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Homemade Mexican Pizza (p. 32)

Another recipe from the adorable Philippe. This one was actually written more in the style that a kid would write it. Maybe the writing is a little polished for a five year old, but the intention and concerns are very innocent. His main goal seems to be to make a homemade version of Taco Bell's Mexican pizza. I've never had the Taco Bell version of the dish, I'm a man who sticks to the basics. If a place is called Taco Bell, stick with tacos. If a place is called Gyro Joe's, maybe you should order the gyro. Of course, I also enjoy Taco Bell quesadillas and gorditas, so my logic is flawed; but I like the argument just the same. Still, I'm in no place to make a comparison, which is a shame because Philippe provides an address to send him a letter if you think he got close (which struck me as very kid-like). Thinking about it, I know the author/artist of Achewood moved to a different part of the country recently (he mentioned it on the site, I'm not stalking him). I wonder if he forwarded this address. I mean, the cookbook's still in print. Whoever owns that PO Box now will probably be confused when he starts getting mail addressed to a stuffed otter. But I digress. This blog isn't about tracking the particulars of the postal service, it's about preparing food the way a cartoon tells me to.
So, that's how the pizzas turned out. I doubled the recipe so that Melissa would have something to eat, too. The ingredients listed for one pizza seemed like a lot, though. A whole tomato, a whole can of refried beans, a whole can of sliced olives. Even on two pizzas, that would be overkill. I assumed that I was supposed to use common sense (or maybe that Philippe didn't realize he was supposed to be more specific about amounts- the cute little shaver) and used what I thought seemed best. Still, it seemed like there wasn't much beef and there were too many beans. Not that the beans were totally overwhelming, I just probably could have used less and had about the same effect. On a similar note, the beef/bean mixture came out a little salty. I tried to estimate the amount of salt listed (which escapes me off the top of my head), and I may have overdone it, but I think I came pretty close. The saltiness of the canned beans probably didn't help much.

A quick note about this cookbook in general- I don't know if it's because of the altitude or if I have a broken oven thermometer, but either my oven runs hot or Chris Onstad's runs cool. After the oven fries debacle, I knew I needed to keep an eye on the tortillas when I toasted them (which was step one, much like pre-baking a crust when you make a pizza. If you don't do this already, you really should). Sure enough, a good 2 and a half minutes before the recipe said to take them out, they were crunchy and golden brown. If I had left them in for the full amount of time, they would have been blackened. I feel like I'm starting to become one with the cookbook, like I know its tricks and I'm ready to counteract them. Has anyone made a movie like that before? Hm, they probably shouldn't. Never mind.

The pizzas were very tasty, even with the extra salt. Really, they were practically the Galaxy Nachos, just in a more individualized and portable form. Since it was Top Chef night, I did a very cool and artsy drizzle with the taco sauce, but it kind of baked into the tortilla and you couldn't see it by the time it had been "plated." Maybe next time I'll drizzle after it comes out of the oven. That's right, I'm going to break the rules of the recipe. That's what chefs do, right? They innovate? Hello?

Ok, that's going to do it for this week's Selzer & Smuckles. I'm running my first half marathon at Disneyland this weekend, so I'll be off the social networking radar a little more than usual. I'll be back next week with more Tales From the Achewood Cookbook! (If you could say that title in a scary voice, like maybe Vincent Price or the Crypt Keeper, I'd appreciate it).


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Dogg Is Home (p.47)

Childhood Day (patent pending) continues here at the Scribe & Mouse with a variation on another favorite from my youth - The Dogg Is Home, presented by Ray. Ray has a nephew (called, appropriately, Little Nephew- actual name Charley Smuckles) who is really into gangsta rap and is currently living in 17th Century Wales after having been shot by a blunderbuss at Roast Beef's wedding (I'm telling you, this comic is fantastic. How does a sentence like that not make you want to read it?). Anyway, Ray says in the recipe that he likes to make this for Little Nephew when he's been outside playing in the cold and that it's a "perfect dish for a little boy who is becoming a man." Not only do I find that line hilarious, it seems to fit me to a tee (no, not really), so let's get making this thing!
What kid doesn't love hot dog coins cut up into their macaroni and cheese? It's a classic, middle class kid dish (probably lower class, too...hell, why shouldn't rich kids enjoy it? There's nothing not to like!). This recipe goes a step further by adding in bacon and peas. I was apprehensive about the peas. When I was growing up, peas were pretty much the only food I wouldn't eat. That distaste carried over well into adulthood, and only recently have I started exploring the pea as an option for eating, and not just princess-sussing. Thankfully, the little frozen pellets (don't worry, they thaw and cook in the dish) were pretty much flavorless in the context of the dish. Crisis averted. The bacon, on the other hand, was a genius addition. This should go without saying; bacon pretty much makes everything better. That smoky, salty, cured meat made a simple dish feel classier than it actually was.

And now, a sidebar on turkey bacon. When I cook bacon, I expect to have enough grease left in the pan to cook some eggs or something. I used my non-stick skillet, since I didn't feel like getting out the fancy stuff to make a childhood dish, and the bacon still stuck quite a bit. When I finished, the pan was bone dry. Now, the flavor was still pretty good, but I have a hard time really referring to turkey bacon as true bacon. That is all. End sidebar.

This recipe concedes the fact that most of the cooking instructions for it are printed on the box of macaroni and cheese. I appreciated the candor. However, as you may have noticed in the picture, we opted not to buy the standard Kraft blue box of mac and cheese. We went with Velveeta (still a brand name, kids, it's ok) shells and cheese. I could say I did this because I am a grown up and don't need my food to be shaped like Spongebob, or that I prefer the convenience of a bag of pre-made cheese-like substance to a powdery mix to which I have to add milk and margarine. Both of those are true, but the real reason is that I grabbed the Kraft, noticed that it called for the margarine, realized I didn't have any at home, and didn't feel like going back a few aisles at the store to pick some up. Laziness informed this decision, and I'm not going to apologize for that.

The recipe instructs you, once the meal is done, to pour it into a casserole dish, cover it with foil, and put it in a turned off oven. Then, when people come over, you can take it out and pretend like you made something fancy. Well, it was just Melissa and I last night, and we sure don't stand on ceremony. Straight from the pot and into our bowls it went. We probably make shells and cheese as a "man, I don't feel like cooking" recipe more often than I care to admit. The simple addition of a couple of meats made me feel more like I was eating a real meal than when we just have the Velveeta-y pasta, and I was less embarrassed by it. We both agreed that it was a pretty satisfying "comfort food" type meal. We might have to keep hot dogs and bacon on hand for next time we need that easy Shells and Cheese fix.


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Childhood Sandwich (p.36)

Once again, I find myself feeling a certain kinship with Roast Beef (the character, not the food, though I enjoy the food, as well). His Childhood Sandwich is not entirely different from my own, though I dare say that the memories he attaches to his childhood are much less pleasant than mine. Like I said when I introduced him, he's from circumstances. I'm really not.

At it's heart, this is a bologna and cheese sandwich. Which was once a favorite of mine, and still brings up a wave of nostalgia any time I prepare one for myself. My personal childhood sandwich was bologna, cheese, and butter/margarine. This recipe calls for two slices of bologna, one slice of cheese (two if you've been good or "got an A"- neither of which particularly applied to me, so I stuck with one), mustard, and lettuce. Obviously the big differences were the leaves and the condiment. As the book points out, Roast Beef's primal sense must have kicked in and told him that the perfect elements for a sandwich include a meat, a cheese, a vegetable, and a dressing. I guess my childhood self (or, more likely, my parents' parenting selves) just didn't see the need for the vegetable. It never bothered me before, and it certainly won't now.

This recipe had a few options: toasted or non-toasted bread (I went with non, I have to refrigerate my lunch for half a day before I eat it, and refrigeration takes some of the magic out of toast), one slice of cheese or two (see above), whether or not to eat a 1/2 cup of chocolate chips afterward (the recipe description says this isn't really necessary if you're a grown up- I tend to agree. Not because it wouldn't be good, but I have a half marathon this weekend, you know). It also instructs you to cut it diagonally down the middle, so you can see the layering. Mission Accomplished:
That's the office where I eat my lunch. Please try to refrain from stalking me there. Anyway, I don't usually cut my sandwiches for lunch, it's too much hassle for a presentation that only I will see. But I have to admit, this was damn attractive. The interplay of colors and lines was more aesthetically pleasing than a childhood sandwich has a right to be. Maybe I'll have to do this more often. The recipe also instructed to use brand names, as that kind of thing is important to a child (which is true). I didn't disappoint. Oscar Mayer™ bologna, Kraft™ cheese, and Sara Lee™ bread made for one corporate sandwich.

And how was the taste, you ask? That's right, I know what you're thinking. The sandwich was a more refined take on a fond memory of the past. The lettuce gave the sandwich a real heft that made it feel more like something I'd get at a restaurant (you know, one of those cheap deli counter type places) than something I made as a child. I personally wouldn't have put mustard on a bologna and cheese, it just seems inherently, basically wrong to a person who is accustomed to the salty sweetness of butter/margarine (whichever one the health experts claimed was better for you in any given week). But, I was happily surprised to find that the tang of the mustard complemented the meat without overpowering too much (maybe just a little), though I didn't necessarily taste much of the cheese.

I have a lot of ingredients left over (you can't buy single serving bologna- I dare you to try), so I'll be making this sandwich for lunch for the rest of this week (and maybe some of next). I think I'll switch back to butter (or possibly mayo), though, for old times' sake. Now if only Planters still made Cheez Balls.



p.s.- You may have noticed I opted for the "bologna" spelling over the "baloney" spelling. That's because I'm a grown up. Also, it's how Oscar Meyer™ spells it (though I probably would have bet you it was the other way around).