Making myself useful

23 09 2007

We bought our washing machine six years ago. You’d think they would last longer than that. But apparently not. Our motor died a spectacular death last week, making the downstairs lights flicker rapidly every time it tried to start spinning. I was given two options on the phone by the repair guy. Spend $250 to fix the motor or probably $350 to replace the whole thing. Fixing the machine wasn’t really worth it. But then I started looking online, and I found a motor on ebay for $160. I started thinking. I could save us two hundred bucks, or I could end up costing us an extra hundred sixty. Karen resignedly gave her support, so I ordered the part. It happened to be in state, so UPS ground got it here the next day.

First thing, I had to go get a new tool just so I could take out the old motor:

Oh no! I’ve got to buy something!

While I’m at Lowe’s, I really should get a new tool box.

I need somewhere to put it…

Even with this new tool, it was a real pain getting the old one out and the new one in. About a half hour each way.

Please, never break again.

I also had to drill a hole so I could mount the new startup capacitor:

I made all those electrical connections, too!

Karen was shocked and relieved to see that it worked. I was pleasantly surprised as well. They changed the design of the motor, so hopefully this one will last until the kids graduate college. Now, if I could only fix that toilet paper holder…

I lost the other piece…

Wings & mushrooms

20 09 2007

football finger food

I’m starting to enjoy posting football food. I get to use my grill. But alas, cold weather is on the way and I will have to move my enterprises inside soon. We’ll see if Man Food can be made indoors.

So this past weekend I was thinking wings. Karen gave me these great grilling cookbooks for my birthday and I’ve got to use them, right? Weber’s Big Book had two recipes I wanted to try. And I found a recipe in Bobby Flay’s book for grilled portabella caps. Sounds like fun.

Among the ingredients for one of the wing recipes was Tabasco, for heat. My wife is from Trinidad; we don’t have Tabasco, we have Chatak, remember? I used two teaspoons of it in the marinade and bought an extra gallon of milk.

I made two different kinds of wings.  They were both very good, but I only marinaded the sweet & spicy ones for a couple of hours. I ran out of time Saturday night, but next time they’ll both marinade overnight. Of what I made, the last wings on the grill had more pepper to them. Either the extra time in the marinade helped, or pepper sauce sinks to the bottom.

It’s wings!

As you can see I can burn chicken on a charcoal grill just as well as I can on a gas grill. It helps if I’m paying more attention to the game than the grill.

Help! I’m burning!

I liked the looks of Bobby’s grilled mushroom caps, but decided to take things a step further. He wanted Parmesan cheese crusted over the mushrooms toward the end. We didn’t have any fresh parmesan so I figured I could use mozzarella, and I even decided to put a little slice of tomato under the cheese. (I’m thinking pizza here. Genius, I know.) Toward the end I found some shredded parmesan in the fridge so I threw that on too. They turned out great, but in the future I’d make them out of regular sized creminis so that they’re bite-sized. I’ll keep you posted.

hot shroomy goodness

After all was said and done I had 3 good appetizers suitable for catering my Super Bowl party this year, should I have opportunity to host one. Go Steelers.

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Dear Commissioner Goodell,

16 09 2007

I would like to watch a football game without seeing 8 commercials for ED medicines. Please make them stop.

Thank you.

Postgame sliders

13 09 2007

This is Part II from my previous post on chili. That one was running a little long so I decided to give the sliders their own post.

If you have enough energy after eating all that chili, you can go ahead and make some sliders, or mini hamburgers, as a postgame top off. I got this idea a couple years ago from a cookbook for toddlers, and it said that these were just as popular with adults as they are with kids. Further confirmation came from Top Chef last month, where they made these for late-night partygoers in Miami.

I love mushrooms. The problem with putting them on burgers, however, is that they all tend to fall out onto your shirt. You can’t taste them on your shirt. I’ve been on the lookout for months for an idea to put shrooms on a burger successfully. And I had my epiphany right there in the supermarket. I know, I’ve had those before, but I didn’t have the kids with me this time. My idea: small burgers, big mushrooms:

small burgers, big mushrooms

I know what you’re thinking. Thank you, I thought it was brilliant too. And while I’m grilling mushrooms I may as well grill some onions too. Oooh, and I found this great recipe for grilled fries from Bobby Flay, so we even have a side dish.

So how’d it go, you say? It went well. I took a pound of ground chuck and mixed it with a pound of what I later found out was Karen’s special ground round that she uses for a “burn Mark’s taste buds off” Thai dish of hers. So the burgers should be awesome. I mixed in 3 minced cloves of garlic and some kosher salt. Out of 2 pounds of meat I ended up with 17 burgers, so that’s about 8 per pound. I basically shaped them to be a little bigger than the rolls.

slider patties

I slice up an onion and those big shrooms and take everything outside. I put the onions and mushrooms on the piece of foil and transfer it to the grill, only on the way everything drops to the ground. One of the mushrooms actually breaks into five pieces upon impact, furthering my humiliation.

Go ahead… laugh.  I know you want to.

I salvaged one of the mushrooms and grilled dinner.

The mushrooms were already done in this pic

I learned something. When grilling mushrooms, don’t put them on foil. They stick. Put them directly on the grill, or maybe even in a little cast iron skillet on the grill. That sounds good. Put the onions in there too, while you’re at it. Now I’m getting hungry again. Anyway, everything turned out well. I did char the fries a bit, but it was getting dark and I couldn’t really see that well. But I did make a successful mushroom swiss burger:

how’s that for perfect?

Next time I may make my own burger buns, Karen’s already tried it.

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Halftime Chili

11 09 2007

Yes, football is back. It’s really been too long. In honor of this auspicious occasion (and in appreciation to NFL officials for scheduling Cleveland in Mike Tomlin’s coaching debut) I’m making Man Food. But it’s not just Man Food, I’m providing a public service here. You see, all prep work is done before the game or during commercial breaks. I told you I’ve got your back. If you start about an hour before the game you should have the chili simmering nicely just in time for kickoff. At least that’s how long it took me.

Many people make beef chili, many people make bean chili. I always put both in. And we also always have it with rice. This is due to Karen’s Trinidad upbringing. They have rice and beans. All the time. And I must admit it’s very good that way. I just won’t win any awards for this because all competition chili is either one or the other.

Chili is actually pretty easy. You start by chopping up some veggies and sweating the aromatics (as Alton Brown likes to say).

Do not brown!!!

Then you dump everything else in, bring to a simmer, and then go watch the game.

oops, I forgot something…

Wait! I almost forgot. You know, I was on my way to the couch when I remembered the beef. I had my Bettis jersey on and everything. Don’t forget the beef. Note: Do not sear the meat before you put it in. I did this once. Can you say shoe leather? This was our steak, and yes I chopped it into little bits.

oh yeah, there’s meat in this dish!

If you want rice, you can start that at about the time the Brows fans start chanting “Brady Quinn! Brady Quinn!” At the two minute warning go chop the cilantro (my secret ingredient. Shhhh!) and stir that in.

You’ll know it’s done when:

Hungry yet?

At halftime everything is ready, go enjoy.

Chili with beef and beans. Booyeah.

WARNING: This chili is extremely filling and possibly nap inducing. Beware eating this dish during an exciting game; you may fall asleep during the crucial last few minutes. Perhaps you should only make this when your team is playing the Cleveland Browns.

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15 Weird things in the Wal-Mart dairy section

9 09 2007

Daddyforever had this great meme, called “15 weird things about me.” It quickly turned from “weird things” to “his wife will stab him 15 times with a kitchen knife for this.” Hopefully the wounds won’t be fatal and the police won’t find his body washed ashore on the Pacific coast somewhere.

So instead of airing my laundry I decided to stay on the Wal-Mart theme I started on Friday. When you’re shopping you kind of have blinders on, and if something’s not on your list you don’t really see it. Well I didn’t have that luxury while stocking the shelves, and let me tell you the dairy section has some of the nastiest products in the store. So here they are, in ascending order of nasty, fifteen weird things in the dairy section of Wal-Mart.

Before you ask, yes, the refrigerated juices count as the dairy section. Don’t ask me, I’m a mindless drone. Start the countdown!

15. Goat’s milk – Not really weird, but we never had it in stock. The day before I left we got a shipment of one carton. A customer was very happy that day.

14. Pineapple Orange Banana juice

13. Frigo Cheese heads mozzarella/cheddar swirled cheese sticks

12. Soy chocolate milk

And now, something from the yogurt wall…
(that’s right, it’s the wall where the yogurt is.)

11. Thick & Creamy Light key lime pie flavored yogurt – “Thick & Creamy” and “Light” don’t go together.

10. Boston Cream Pie flavored yogurt

9. Pina Colada flavored yogurt

8. Vanilla yogurt with mini Reese’s Pieces to stir in it

7. Coffee flavored yogurt

6. Flan – This isn’t really weird, it’s just not something I’d buy from a box at Wal-Mart.

5. Gallons of Great Valu orange juice – didn’t resemble juice at all, so naturally we couldn’t stock it fast enough.

4. Yoohoo! – does anybody really know what’s in that stuff?

3. Soy yogurt

2. Cottage cheese with pineapple jam for you to mix in with it

1. Salmon flavored cream cheese

and the winner is…

There was also an extensive selection of items in the pre-made dough section, but that’s another post.

Mark ruins August

6 09 2007

Benchmarks are always good. It’s good to know “Ick, I ruined dinner, but it wasn’t as bad as last week’s Jerk chicken.” or “This pizza isn’t very good but it’s not the shape of Wisconsin.” Our family (and by that I mean Mark) has a new benchmark for success, or more specifically, failure.

In life we all make mistakes. We all make bad decisions, errors in judgment. And in these mistakes there are varying degrees of disaster associated with them. And in our house we now know that there are bad ideas, horrible ideas, and then there’s Wal-Mart.

Do I ever have any good ideas?

It seemed like a good idea at the time. If I’m still home to watch the boys during the day I can work two or three nights a week third shift, right? Right? Perhaps not. Had I been working just weekends I still would have failed, but it certainly didn’t help that I was on four nights a week – in a row. By the morning following night #4, the boys were on their own, playing video games all day in their pajamas and eating candy for lunch. And it would take three days off for me to start feeling normal again. Well, as normal as I can be.

I’d been working nights for two weeks when I gave my notice. I told them I’d work the existing schedule and then be done. Problem was, there was three weeks of schedule already done, and two of them were jammed together – four days on, one day off, four days on. Ugh.

It’s amazing just how neurotic you become with sleep deprivation. Do you know how confusing it is to start your shift on Monday and finish it Tuesday? Halfway through the night today turns into yesterday and tomorrow turns into today. And somewhere along the line (I’m not sure the exact time) tonight turns into this morning. People start talking about “tonight” and they really mean “tomorrow.” Then I get to go home and sleep all day watch the kids. Is it any wonder that my love affair with coffee became an addiction? After working those eight nights during a nine day period I actually said to the boys “If you don’t eat your dinner tonight I’m selling the Wii on ebay!”

I once had a college professor who told me “You can’t fail if you never try.” This is something you never want to hear from a college professor. He was trying to make me feel better, knowing that at least I’d had the courage to pluck up and do something stupid. And I suppose it’s true. Adding something to the list of my stupid ideas is better than sitting around wondering what would’ve happened if I’d tried this or that. And boy, I set my sights really high on this one, didn’t I?

Oh, and a guy made a pass at me while working the cheese wall at 2:00am on a Saturday night. Or was it a Sunday morning?

Labor Day Chicken

4 09 2007

The saga of the charcoal grill now complete, I turned my attention to what to cook first on my new purchase. Well, chicken, of course! But how? I must admit that those grilling books Karen got me are a bit intimidating. Bobby Flay likes to play around with gourmet ingredients that I just didn’t have time to shop for, so I opened up Weber’s Big Book. Karen got some small NY strip steaks and I knew we were having drumsticks, that’s about it. Then Karen told me that she bought veggies to make a new BBQ staple of ours, ratatouille. Very nice. While the coals are warming up I can cook the veggies on the gas grill. So let’s fire up the charcoal.

Hello my old friend, it’s been too long:

hello fire

Yes, I’m a pyro at heart. Veggies cooking and coals warming:

one cookin’, one warmin’ up…

Karen thought I was silly for using both grills at once. I reserve the right to be silly.

Then there was the small matter of the chicken. There was a recipe for “Margarita Chicken” in the book so I made the marinade and set the chicken aside for a few hours. It called for tequila but I didn’t have any so I used rum instead. The book also had a recipe for salsa that it said would go well with steaks, so I made that too. I tried to take a picture of the chicken cooking, but my camera is being stupid. Too many things to focus on I suppose, I’ll just have to buy a new camera. So did I burn the chicken?

neener neener

No. To all you who thought I was crazy when I said it was the gas grill’s fault for burning the chicken, I give you positive proof. Add ratatouille, some steamed potatoes (that were on the grill a little too long), and some salad made by Karen and you’ve got dinner.

Labor day dinner

I’m back. Football this weekend. My house. Go Steelers.

steak and salsa

Click <More> for the recipes, with our modifications. Read the rest of this entry »

I don’t need much encouragement

3 09 2007

Perhaps this is why Karen has never given me any positive vibes on the guitar subject. My birthday present this year included two grilling cookbooks:

Grill Cookbooks

Mixed messages aside, my failures with the gas grill are well documented. But I did manage to grill salmon on a cedar plank last week without the fish bursting into flames. While perusing these two books I lamented to Karen that they probably assumed that you own a charcoal grill if you care enough to spend money on a cookbook. Karen’s response was “Well, go out and get us another Smokey Joe grill! They’re cheap!”

That was all I needed. I went to Target last Thursday and grills were on clearance. Smokey Joes were 1/3 off, but so were these:


I was stuck. Should I or shouldn’t I? Unable to decide, I left it up to Jonathan. “Jonny, should I get the big one or the little one?” Guess which one he picked. Good boy, you love your daddy, don’t you? And while I’m here I should really get some new utensils.

I arrived home with my booty and was all happy. Karen came home and said “WHAT IS THIS!?!?! I was joking!!!”


Well then, um, it was on clearance so I can’t really return it. Too bad I hadn’t already assembled it.  Well, here it is, ain’t it cool?  My neighbor thought it was kinda weird when I took a picture of my new grill.  It’s just that kind of blog.

Look! I put it together!

Up Next: Labor day.  Did I burn the chicken?