Monday, December 29, 2008

Baked Pasta with Italian Sausage

Here's a scaled-down (for 4-6 people) version of what I made the other night for our BIG x-mas gift night extravaganza:

1lb pasta (penne, ziti, or any small tube shape)
1 bunch fresh Italian parsley, chopped
1 bunch fresh basil, chopped
1 pound fresh Italian sausage (casings removed)
8-12 oz Fresh Ricotta cheese
8-12 oz Fresh Mozzarella cheese, grated.
1 onion
1 big can of good crushed tomatoes
1 egg
1 jar roasted red peppers, rough-chopped.
a couple of cloves of garlic, minced.
red wine for cooking (I like to cook with pinot noir - not too tanic for cooking)

For ricotta mixture:
Blend chopped herbs, 1/2 of the minced garlic and egg in a bowl.

For Sauce:
Heat saute pan large enough to make sauce.
Brown/cook sausage and remove temporarily.
Remove most of the fat from the pan, leaving a bit as well as the brown goodness.
Add a T of olive oil to the pan.
Add onions and saute until translucent.
Add the rest of the garlic and saute briefly.
Add 1/4 to 1/2 bottle of red wine. Reduce by half-ish.
Add roasted red peppers.
Add can of tomatoes.
Return sausage to sauce.
Add S&P to taste.
Add wine/water as needed (sauce should be a little some liquid will cook off in the oven)
Simmer for about 30 minutes.

Assemble the dish:
Put very aldente pasta in 9x13 pan
Add large spoonfuls of cheese mixture to the pasta and toss lightly, leaving some bigger blobs of cheese.
Pour sauce evenly over pasta and cheese mixture and cover with mozzarella.
Bake in a 350 oven for 20-30 minutes and remove when cheese on top is bubbly.


Cooking for the Family

I've been quite busy the last couple of days cooking and hanging out with the family. Recipes to follow.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Flying is Fun

Travel by air is great. Everything you have to go through to do it, not so great. Traveling to Texas for the holidays by air I even boldly, and at a cost of $12, checked a bag.

Door-to-door from Bozeman to Dallas took 12 hours. Not so bad, I guess. Twenty four hours will pass when taking the same trip in a car. I am trying not to think of the travel at some sort of horrible, largely uncontrollable, series of near disasters at every turn; but rather an extended zen-like trance that ends when you pop out the other side in a rented auto.

Here's the trip in a nutshell and largely, in fragments:

Get to BZN early. Eat patty melt. Stare at looming snowstorm out large window. Take of shoes, belt, un-pack laptop bag, take off jacket, empty pockets, shuffle through security. Re-dress myself in front of strangers. Which, by the way - what the EFF are they staring at anyway? I mean, did everyone else in the terminal just use some other entrance? Why does a chap in his stocking feet and dangle-y belt draw stares? Back on point....

Listen to TSA's sing x-mas songs. The real ones. Thinking it would have been better if they made up x-mas about how screwed you are as a traveler during the holidays...

An interpretation of "The Christmas Song" could have gone something like this: "effed up passengers waiting for cancelled flights, iPods playing G-n-R...x-mas songs being song by some cops, and folks, sleeping on the floor..... Although it's happened many times in many ways, you're screwed...on this Christmas Day!"

Where was I? Plane arrives. Ramp crew takes smoke break in plane. Gate agent boards by shoe color. White goes first, in case your wondering. "Darker" shoe colors allowed to board some time later. Think to self that shoe color boarding is not good and maybe a bad omen. Take seat 2D. Gloat internally about my forward seating position and ability to deplane quickly for looming narrow connection in DEN. Andre the Giant takes seat 2C. Fly to Denver. Learn that Andre the Giant is a wuss and must give him verbal command that "you gotta just step out there!" as rows 3-10 deplane ahead of us in DEN. Sprint like a track star to gate B15 - starting from B92.

Airplane! the movie internal thought: Looks like I picked the wrong day to quit taking performance-enhancing drugs.

B15 is dark and empty. Told by B18 gate agent that I missed DFW flight and I must go to customer service. Go to customer service. See giant line of doomed humanity. Realize how effed I am now. Not giving up hope just yet, I dial the 800-United number. Speak to really nice Indian national, get good news that I am booked on another flight. Get bad news that it departs at 8:00 pm tomorrow.

Ask to speak to new, higher-ranking Indian national. Get booked on 7:00 tonight. No seat assignment. Seek out lonely gate agent. Get boarding pass with the word CONFIRMED on it.

Go to gate for new flight. Wait in a state of cat-like readiness to board. Consider dumping centenarian out of wheel chair to board early. Resist.

Realize that lonely gate agent hooked me up exit row. Stretch out. Fold legs. Try not to smirk. Fly to DFW. Chat with affable sky-cap about how my bag pretty much isn't going to make it. Bag doesn't make it. Make lost bag claim. Learn bag is still in DEN.

Take empty shuttle van to rental car lot. Stand in line with other stunned travelers in rental car line that has twenty terminals (counted) and two staff. Also seen are five un-attended "self-service" terminals. When I inquired with those ahead of me if they were working...the person in the front of the line advanced to a terminal; apparently unaware of its existence until my mention of it. Wait for terminal. Play super-rent-a-car video game on terminal. Slide Amex. Give hair sample. Terminal declares "reservation unavailable, see attendant." Attendant asks if I want to "upgrade" to a mid-size Camry from a compact. I decline. Earn respect of attendant and get "full size" Accord with a v6 and all the trimmings.

Sleep very soundly in a way that Dramamine and beer can produce. Awake not so refreshed. Wait for bag.

To be continued...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Holiday Eating and Shopping with the Damned

Doomed businesses and restaurants are scary and sad places any time of year. Throw in 12 hours of daily darkness, sub-zero temps, and a holiday that is thick with social and familial baggage and these doomed businesses start to look like something off of Quentin Tarantino's cutting room floor.

I personally enjoyed eating and shopping with the damned last night - right here in Bozeman!

Having the motivation to flee my home for the evening to avoid a planned all-female holiday gathering, I ventured out into the deep freeze to soak up a little holiday chaos. My concrete objectives were few: burger, beer, shop, return home sometime after 9 pm.

Since I was dining alone, I could go anywhere, having to please no one but myself. I also didn't want to go anywhere crowded or hip. Like I said: burger, beer, shop, home after 9. Since I was in the middle of Bozeman's chain shopping district, I decided to see what happens when the owners of a franchise (Bennigan's) decide to break away from the chain and go it alone (now the Bozeman Tavern) - in the same building, with similar food, but minus all the corporate-supplied buttons and logo'd polo shirts.

I've decided that while chain restaurants are generally not great in their own way; independent restaurants that used to be chain restaurants now trying to pretend to be similar chain restaurants results in something even weirder.

Walking into the Bozeman Tavern was just that - weird. It's got the death vibe all over it; often mentioned on Eater, it's that sense you get that this ship is going down; no matter what the stewards say and no matter how long the string quartet plays on the promenade deck. Ti-tan-ic.

The restaurant was just like some sort of shell - like the one an insect lives in and leaves behind once it transforms and flies away. The sports memorabilia is on the wall, but there is less of it. There's the huge row of draft beer taps. Even the menu options are eerily similar. Monte Cristo sandwich, anyone? Only on these menus, since the corporate ties and glossy food photos are gone, one is forced to make menu decisions based on words alone. Hey, at least the plastic sleeves were new, clean and grease-free!

Additionally, there were about 15 people in the whole place. Yikes. While the beer was cheap - $2, and the fries crispy, the over-done and grainy burger simply filled my hunger void and nothing else. This was truly a great way to start to my night of the damned.

Burger, beer....oh yes, shopping. To continue the theme night adventure, I headed over to the overtly doomed Linens and Things to see if there were any store fixtures or used janitorial supplies left for sale.

"6 Days Left!" exclaimed the huge signs in the windows. Left until what? I guess they mean that in six days you won't be able to buy any mismatched stemware, "California-king" sheets, commercial fixtures and displays, twelve-foot "solid wood" curtain rods, or your choice of shiny ersatz "silver" chafing dishes?

What an evening!

I was sort of full, and now I was wandering in the comforting confines of 30,000 square feet of brightly lit, mostly empty home wares chain store goodness. The best part, I actually overheard a couple questioning the value of the now 80% off! aforementioned chafing dish. At this point, I really was expecting Tarantino or Chritopher Walken to enter the scene.

After getting my fill of middle-class house ware leftovers, I headed next door to see what a store that is still alleging to be solvent looks and feels like. In contrast, the yet to go out of business World Market seemed somehow charmless and safe. Like a show home in a new neighborhood. This definitely didn't fit the bill tonight...or did it?

Managing to achieve my final goal of getting back after 9pm by stopping by the grocery store and topping off the gas in the car; I basked in the warm glow that only a night with the damned can provide.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Snow Cometh and the Heat Stayeth Away

Funny how we want snow and cold, but we don't want Canada snow and cold. The skiing is great; arguably one of the better openings in recent years. But when the temps hardly climb above zero, it sure makes just a bit less tempting to get out there and freeze. That said, perhaps an adjustment to the deep freeze conditions can occur...

The latest update from the National Weather Service:


My question is this: When they say "very cold" temperatures will "return" by Thursday night - what exactly does that mean? It was -20 this morning, which doesn't exactly sound tropical to me.

Maybe it's going to "warm up" to +2, before the "very cold" weather "returns"?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Lunch time warm-up?

Bozone es Frozone

As discussed recently, too much of a good thing is not only attainable, but sometimes likely; be it Pork products, or, in this case: snow and cold. A cold front with some real teeth to it roared into the Bozone this weekend.

Last Friday night it was 28 degrees when I went to bed. It was 26 degrees when I woke up at 5:00 a.m. As the cold front rolled in Saturday morning is was snowing hard and 10 degrees by 6:15 a.m.

The National Weather Service had issued a "Blizzard Warning." Which, now that I think about it, should have been my first clue to stay home on this day. Ignoring this warning, as well as my gut feeling, I headed out into the soup with Big Sky as my destination. We don't get "blizzards" here very often in the way that I think of them: in a Fargo/high plains kind of way. That said, I think what I drove in on Saturday morning actually qualifies as Blizzard. Snow was going sideways. Really. There were regular drifts of snow on the highway that looked like waves in a choppy sea. It was downright Hemingway; or maybe a winter version of the opening scene from Shakespeare's The Tempest. I especially liked the way the snow was getting kicked up by my front tires and swirling up against my drivers-side door window. Cool. Not cool was how you couldn't see the back of any car thanks to the billowing snow or even less cool, was how presumably invisible my car was from the rear.

After taking waaaayy to long to go about 15 miles, I decided that I had enjoyed enough foolishness and it was time to abandon the Big Sky concept and return to base...or maybe just go to Bridger for a bit. The drive to Bridger is only 16 miles...and I could return much easier. Plus, my ski pass removes the cost factor of the Big Sky experience.

Pulling into Bridger's parking lot at 8:30, the thermometer on my dash was reading 6 degrees now; the cold front was really pushing in. By my fourth lap in the new powder or "cold smoke" snow, it was -5 or five below. That's minus five on the "F" side on the thermometer; as opposed to the "C" side of the thermometer. Which, by the way, I think stands for "Canada"?

After a few laps on the hill, the bottom of my goggles, edges of my helmet, and collar of my ski jacket looked like it had been flocked with a thick coating of the fake snow they spray on x-mas trees in the South. Only it wasn't fake, it was moisture that came out of my lungs only seconds before hitting the chilled atmosphere and freezing solid.

The snow was spectacular. But my legs, hands, feet and toes all hurt. Not to mention, I am wearing the fleece equivalent to a burqa around my face. I think whoever invents a face mask that isn't a pain in the ass to wear could make some real money selling it to Canadians and other fools that ski in sub-zero temps.

Sunday brought even colder temps; a daytime high of -10. We hit -24 this morning. It's a good thing that I am off to work today to sit in my warm little office; this way I won't have to feel like a total pansy for staying indoors and avoiding the chill.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Too Much Pork for Just One Dork

Project porcine was activated this weekend. On Thursday, the call came that my special-ordered cut of pork was "ready." And by ready, I think the Miller Farm rep meant "slaughtered"; further suggested by the assurance that they picked out a "pretty" one and that it (the pig) had been "eatin' grass just last Wednesday!" Mmmm....Fresh!

The piece of piggy in question was a 14.5 pound slab of pork side meat - pork belly. Complete with skin and other details that make it fairly obvious that this was a girl piggy, it was a daunting slab of meat.

Knowing that such a hunk of animal requires sharing, I began bugging my friend Garth about my special order a couple of weeks ago. I knew that Garth, having both formal culinary training, as well as child-care needs, would want to plan accordingly for such a celebration of porcine delights.

I knew that Garth had captured the spirit of the event when he questioned the proposed menu in an e-mail discussion: "'re forgetting the rillette...what the hell is wrong with you!" Indeed.

We had an eclectic, yet adventurous group of eight attend the actual dinner which consisted of a loosely-connected group of Bozemanites, who had all pretty much run into each other at one event or another. All were fully on board the pork train - as well as displaying varying levels of oenophilic tendencies.

This event, clearly about the Pig, had a supporting wine theme of "barnyard" or as the French say: animale! Several Rhones were on tap, as well a couple of Languedocs and even a stray Italian. Expect a complete wine update in a forthcoming post...

Enough background, here was the menu:

Cola-braised pork belly mini-tostadas with red-chili crema fresca and diced cabbage
Rillette (mentioned above - thanks to Garth)
Home made sausage (also by Garth, and deliciously garlicky)
Roast pork belly with a sweet-onion puree
Mesclun salad (you know, veg-i-ta-bles?), oh, but with a poached egg on top, of course...
For dessert: goat cheese with walnuts and honey served with whole-wheat biscuits; as well as a few stray brownies and a orange-chocolate sauce.

All of this pork does come at a cost - which confirms a bit of discussion from last night:
Pork hangovers ARE possible.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

A bad week ends and a good weekend

After twelve years of gray cat fur accumulating on everything, I've found myself actually looking for the downy stuff this week. It's amazing how much presence eight pounds of fur and claws has around the house - and how quiet the house seems without our spirited feline.

A lousy week has come to a close.

After a normal work week - we've arrived on the weekend and today, by just about any measure, was a great weekend day.

After more latte "work" this morning - it was off to Bridger for the last weekend of non lift-served skiing (opening day is coming up this Friday). Cold temps earlier in the week (allowing for snow making on the lower mountain) and a bit of fresh snow has helped the overall coverage of the mountain considerably. The mountain is waking up - lifties and ski-instructors were training on the hill, droning snowcats were busy packing snow and hauling supplies uphill. Compared to last week, the ski hill was outright busy. In just about any direction you looked, there was someone skinning or hiking up the hill. My ski partner actually got strafed by snowboarder on the way down. Whoa, dude!

Despite the strafing, it was still quite peaceful up there - I managed to get some tasty chill-down time relaxing in a down-hill facing chair at the top of the motionless Pierre's Knob lift. Nice chair, nice view. Almost as icing on the cake: the turns were decent. After a triumphant day of skiing: it was celebratory nachos and beer.

Tonight it was the Christmas Stroll in downtown Bozeman and the mild weather brought the crowds out in force. With Main Street closed off to auto traffic - and seemingly every citizen of Bozeman on foot, wandering from art gallery to funnel cake, the town takes on a kind of dreamy-Rockwell-esque sort of look. The large holiday light streamers that hang over each intersection cast a Christmas-y glow on the streets and faces below.

We ducked into the Over the Tapas to refuel. A crisp, Belgian-style 22oz. Jerome Rubia beer from Argentina is the just right companion to the mini lamb sliders and shoestring fries. Grilled asparagus with a lemon-y aioli fills in as our veggies for the night.

After taking in far more calories than needed, we strolled a block over to the Baxter Hotel lobby for pieces of La Chatelaine chocolate while listening to Erik Funk and his band bang out tight jazz classics.

Thank you, Maire Cat for twelve years of delight in our home.

Thank you, Bozeman for another great weekend.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Goodbye Maire Cat

1996 - 2008

thanks to John Saxon for the photo