Friday, June 26, 2020

Homemade Gin Kit

This Is NOT A Urine Sample!
I'm a bit envious of my girlfriend and my daughter making batches of Amish friendship bread to give out to their friends. I'd love to be part of the share-crafting, but, experience has shown that letting me bake anything is a recipe for disaster. I had always wanted to dabble in making my own beer, but, since Jim Koch and the Boston Brewing Company achieved perfection with their line of Samuel Adams beers, I figured it was a waste. I had also thought about making my own still-less moonshine after tasting a number of concoctions made by various friends over the years. But, after looking at various recipes, I felt that I didn't yet have the time available to commit to such long-term projects. So, I settled on making homemade gin and bought a kit from Bespoke Post.

The process for making homemade gin is easy enough: You basically take vodka or some other kind of cheap grain alcohol (I used 3/4 pint of a vodka that I got for $5), plop a bunch of juniper berries in it for 24 hours, then drop in some herbals for another 12 hours, strain it, and voila: bathtub gin. For my own process, I  cut up one lemon and one lime and added them to the juniper berries. Thirty-six hours later, the end result looked like my urine when I had that bladder cancer scare two years ago. But, the real question is: Can you drink it?

Well, I didn't go blind when I drank a shot of it straight (for Science!) so that's a start. Gin was never really my thing, so I can't compare it to anything, but, as a straight shot, I'm not a fan. This concoction does, however, make a decent Primm's Cup and a palatable Gin & Tonic (with some Jamaican bitters). 

Monday, June 22, 2020

Garlic Herb Butter Steak & Lobster Tail

Surf and Turf is a classic meal. But, it's also a tough one to cook, owing mainly to the lobster tail. If you don't get the lobster tail cooked just right, you end up eating something that tastes more like rubber than lobster. I've never had the confidence to attempt this meal before, but, thanks to Hello Fresh, I decided to take the plunge with their Garlic Herb Butter Steak & Lobster Tail with Lemony Broccoli & Chive Crème Fraîche Mashed Potatoes. The meal cost an additional $7.99 per serving. 

The description sounds like something out of a restaurant: No need to make a reservation at a fancy French bistro—bring the white tablecloth vibes to your dinner table with this surf ‘n’ turf dish. Lobster tails are basted with a rich, aromatic garlic herb butter, which is also used to top perfectly seared steaks. The duo’s paired with lemony roasted broccoli, plus an epic twist on your traditional mashed potatoes. Our secret? We blend in butter, chives, and a generous dollop of crème fraîche for ultimate silky goodness. Bon appétit! 

There's a lot going on in this meal. I usually operate pretty well in sets of three, but the 4 items in this meal put off my game a bit. One of the steaks was cut a bit off, so I had some issues cooking it fully. Otherwise, I'd say that the meal turned out quite well. My girlfriend and I both enjoyed it. My only other regret is that I didn't baste the lobster more while cooking it so that it would absorb more of that butter flavor. 


Friday, June 19, 2020

Balsamic Fig Chicken

I made a subtle change yesterday. Instead of Hello Fresh for dinner, I decided to cook one of the meals for lunch. To me, Hello Fresh meals scream "dinner" so much more so than "lunch". So, just to change things up, I cooked Balsamic Fig Chicken With Roasted Potatoes & Lemony Broccoli for our noon meal. 

The description provided by Hello Fresh is pretty typical: We’re big fans of pan sauces because they’re a simple way to add extra flavor to dishes. Here, fig jam, balsamic vinegar, and fresh rosemary mingle with the fond—the crispy bits and drippings left by the chicken. The result is a condiment that you’ll want to drizzle all over your meat and potatoes before swiping up every bit of sweet and savory perfection. 

This took some effort to make, mainly because of the pan sauce. I wasn't ever sure if I had reduced it correctly. But, I was pleased with the end result and my daughter said that it was her favorite Hello Fresh meal so far. I don't know that I'd say that it was my favorite, but I did enjoy it quite a bit. 


Thursday, June 18, 2020

Clovis Sings To A Scammer

Clovis got a call from an insurance scammer who told him that he could get a policy to cover his burial expenses. Clovis said that he isn't dead yet, so he doesn't need burial insurance. Clovis then went on about how he might actually be immortal so why would he need to buy something that he might not actually need? The rep said that Clovis was just lying to himself. Clovis relented and the rep said he wanted to give Clovis a quote. Clovis wondered what kind of quote he was going to get. A quote from a Kurt Vonnegut book?

The rep went into his spiel and said he'd like Clovis to "go on" which Clovis figured meant that he wanted Clovis to perform. So, Clovis did his best impression of Shug Fisher (a la Uncle Pecos from the old Tom and Jerry cartoons) and launched into a rendition of "Froggy Went-A-Courtin' (Crambone!)".

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Crispy Parmesan Chicken

For this week's Hello Fresh meals, I started with something safe: Crispy Parmesan Chicken. Getting a chicken dish from Hello Fresh is a safe choice. Hello Fresh does chicken well, but most of their recipes are just variations on a theme. Take the Crispy Parmesan Chicken with Garlic Herb Couscous & Lemony Roasted Carrots for example. It's very similar to Crispy Monterey Jack Chicken. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's okay to stick with a winner. It's called "comfort food" for a reason. 

I can't say that I bothered to even read the description on this one. Though, in hindsight, it's nothing exciting: Consider plain chicken breasts a thing of the past: in this recipe, the white meat gets gussied up in a gorgeous golden breadcrumb topping with paprika and Parmesan cheese. You’ll roast it and the lemony carrots on the same sheet—once they’re in the oven, the only thing left to do is boil the couscous and toss in the garlic herb butter. Simple, satisfying, and supercharged with flavor—what more could you ask for?

This was an easy meal to make, as it just involved breading some chicken, cutting some carrots and putting them in the oven while boiling the couscous on the stove. I was happy with the taste and the texture of the entire meal, and the chicken tasted particularly good when paired with the couscous. My daughter thought it was a good meal, but was not a fan of the lemon on the carrots. 



Monday, June 15, 2020

I Attended A Wedding During The Pandemic

This weekend, I had the honor of being part of a wedding ceremony for a close friend of mine whom I went to high school and college with. Due to the restrictions on government services brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, it's apparently very difficult to get a marriage license in any of the larger Illinois counties. So, the bride and groom opted to get a license in Macoupin County and, the next thing you know, my girlfriend and I are wending our way through the back-roads of Illinois to get to Sunset Lake in Girard, a town of about 2,000 people. We spent the day boating on the lake, cooking out, chasing the dogs  around and just generally having some wholesome, mask-less fun, which is a rare thing for all of us these days.

At Sunset, the small gathering of family and friends congregated at the dock and the ceremony began. It was short and sweet and began with a benediction from myself. Once the bride and groom were officially presented and congratulations were received, my girlfriend and I went off to meet the happy couple in Springfield for dinner and drinks at Obed and Isaac's. It was nice to get out to a "normal" dinner experience amid the current climate. After dinner, we walked down a few blocks and checked in to our rooms at the Inn At 835. My girlfriend and I had a room next to the bride and groom's and we shared a balcony which allowed the four of us to relax and have a few drinks while we mulled over the events of the day.  

It has been a crazy year so far, and it's only half over. We've been through an impeachment trial, Australian brush fires, Brexit, a pandemic, mass protests and riots. Our very way of life has been challenged in so many ways and there is a myriad of different opinions on how to handle those changes. And those opinions tend to boil down to right or left, Republican or Democrat, Trump supporter or rational human being. Whatever side you're on of the National debate, I think we can all agree that, when the chips are down, we all side with love. And I was happy to be a part of one couple's love story this weekend. 

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Crispy Southwest Corn Fritters

I  admit it: I don't know what a corn fritter is. I know what an apple fritter is: It's a doughnut with cinnamon and chopped apple. But, apparently, a corn fritter isn't a doughnut. But, it's in the doughnut family in that it involves fried batter. I'm told that this sweet and savory dish has its origins in Native American cuisine and was perfected in the Depression era. It involves corn kernels fried in a batter of some sort. Ultimately, I guess a corn fritter has more in common with a potato pancake than it does with a doughnut.  

To my knowledge, I've never had a corn fritter in my life. But, I was in the mood to try something new, and the description from Hello Fresh caught my attention: It’s hard NOT to love eating your vegetables when they’re fritter-fied, aka covered in batter and cooked until perfectly golden. This zesty corn version is as easy as making pancakes, and just as fun to eat! Southwestern spices and tender corn kernels go right into the batter, which you’ll fry until crisp. Paired with roasted sweet potato wedges, a crisp side salad, and plenty of creamy, smoky ranch dressing for dipping—this is a veggie-packed meal for the books.That's just what I wanted, an all veggie based meal. After all, I've been trying to lower my meat intake. But, is a fried corn fritter any better for you than a grilled chicken breast? 

This recipe wasn't difficult to make, though I do think that perhaps my batter was a bit too thick. The first corn fritter in the pan got sacrificed to the kitchen gods, as is tradition. The end result, while edible, didn't wow me. My daughter was unimpressed as well. The sweet potato wedges and the salad were fine as well, but, overall, the entire meal was a loser for me.  


Thursday, June 11, 2020

Firecracker Meatballs

I didn't think much about it while I was choosing, but the second meal this week is a lot like the first. Instead of Southwest chicken over rice, we've got firecracker meatballs. 

I can't remember the last time I had meatballs as the star of an entree. Usually, the're relegated to co-starring status with my spaghetti, and, even then, they're overshadowed by the garlic bread. But the very idea of Firecracker Meatballs with Roasted Green Beans & Sesame Rice sounded interesting, at least. In my mind, I pictured Jim Carey in his Mask persona exclaiming "That's a spicy meat-a-ball-a". The description sounded enticing enough on its own: This recipe is here to blow up everything you think you know about meatballs. All dramatics aside, these meatballs are truly game-changing thanks to a certain onomatopoeic sauce. What exactly is “firecracker,” you ask? Well, mystery asker, it’s a creamy, spicy, sweet, and savory (yes, all those things!) sauce so good, it’ll make your taste buds explode! Once the meatballs are baked, they’re tossed in the magical condiment, then plated atop sesame-seed-flecked rice along with crispy roasted green beans (AKA more things to dip in sauce). Don’t be surprised when you find yourself swiping up every last drop. 

This was another super easy recipe to prepare even though my hands got a bit slimy since I had to roll the meatballs by hand. I swear that my grandmother had some kind of utencil that pressed meatballs and I found myself wishing for that. While I was a huge fan of the end result, my daughter was not nearly as thrilled. I think she expected Italian meatballs and these are much more in-line with the Swedish style. She said she would have preferred a BBQ sauce rather than a firecracker sauce. 


Wednesday, June 10, 2020

I Won A Samuel Adams Cooler

I don't know how many times I've filled out one of those raffle slips in various liquor stores in the vague hope of winning some item that I would never have purchased on my own. When one of my local stores offered up a Samuel Adams Coleman steel belted 54 quart cooler, I just had to put my name in. Well, this week, the old Irish luck kicked in and I got a call asking me to come pick it up. 

I've got more than my fair share of coolers already from the classic Igloo 4 quart all the way up to a 70 quart Yeti knockoff. Did I really need a new cooler? No. And, at a retail price of upwards of $120, I certainly wouldn't have bought this on my own. But, I've got to admit, this is one snazzy cooler that's going to look awesome the next time I have a patio party. 

Samuel Adams Coleman Cooler

Monday, June 8, 2020

Chicken & Guac Burrito Bowls

Hello Fresh is on a big tear lately after their dismissal of spokesperson Lea Michele. They have been offering a $60 off deal spread out through 4 weeks worth of kits for people who are willing to join back up. So, I took the plunge with glee. 

The first box showed up this week and out of the three meals included, we decided to start with Chicken & Guac Burrito Bowls with Long Green Pepper, Salsa Fresca & Hot Sauce Crema. It sounds good, especially with the extended description: Bowls are way past “having a moment.” They’ve become a pillar of our lunches and dinners. Why? It’s simple: everything’s better in a bowl! (Nice knowing you, plates.) But seriously, the customizable combo of carbs, protein, veggies, and a drizzle of delicious sauce cannot be denied. True to form, this Mexican-inspired rendition is fully loaded. Steamy lime rice is topped with spiced chicken, fresh salsa, a tangle of veggies, hot sauce-spiked crema, and of course, a big dollop of guacamole. In our bowl, though, guac is never extra. Sounds, great, right? It's like Chipotle or Qdoba, but at home and without a cashier pushing chips and salsa on me. 

This was super easy to prepare as it just involved cutting up vegetables, mixing sauces, and cooking chicken and rice. The guac and "Southwest spices" came pre-made and packaged. I really liked how this tasted and I'd be very eager to track down ingredients to try making this on my own. I had thought that perhaps the chicken cutlets provided were too small to make a filling meal, but I was wrong. My daughter's only complaint was that she's not a fan of having lime zest in her rice. 


Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Another Credit Card Scammer Gets Angry

I have to admire the persistence with this particular credit card scammer, as he stayed on the phone for nearly nine minutes trying to trip me up. He called up trying to get my credit card info under the guise of getting me a lower interest rate. I tried to sound old and slightly senile. I went with the tried and true method of referring to my credit cards by the numbered space they occupy in my walled. The scammer asked for the expiration date on a specific card, so I just started making up dates for all of my cards and giving them to him. Whenever the scammer asked for the actual credit card number, I would give him some version of a customer service number instead. At first, he found it funny and laughed to himself, but he eventually got angry and told me to "shove all the five cards in your candy ass and jump like a fucking frog".

Monday, June 1, 2020

The Protest At Lafayette Square

Earlier this evening, The President Of The United States dispersed a peaceful protest in front of the White House so that he could walk across the street to Lafayette Square in order to get a photo-op of himself holding up a Bible in front of St. John's Church, a non-partisan place of worship. 

At 6:35pm, well before the DC curfew, Trump gave the order to clear the area. Federal police dressed in riot gear bum rushed protesters and reporters, gassed them and physically assaulted them. When Trump actually got to the church, he didn't pray and he didn't offer words of wisdom. He didn't even open the Bible that he brought with him (indeed, he held it upside down). Then, in a final insult, he stayed past the curfew that had been imposed on the city while military blackhawk helicopters hovered above. 

Even if you support Trump in general, you certainly must understand the gravity of this particular situation. Ask yourself this: Was there a compelling, immediate need for Trump to visit the church? Did he do anything of substance there? Was anything of significance accomplished? Is this the behavior of the "President of law and order"? Is this what Jesus would do? No. This is a flaccid attempt to show strength.  This is a campaign stunt as evidenced by the release of the footage set to music by the White House. This is a violation of essential rights and of our democracy. This is the work of a tin-pot dictator of a banana republic. America deserves better. 

"Woe to the land whose King is a child." - Ecclesiastes 10:16