When I think about it, I haven’t really “cooked” a proper meal for more than just myself since last summer, so a Valentine Dinner at home was just the thing last weekend. I’ve had maybe one “good” Valentine’s day in my adult life… most of the time I’ve either been single, recently broken up or living through the final death rattle of a relationship. So this was a great year……breakfast with the parents, a trip to a huge gun show, and finally a relaxed trip to the grocery store followed by an even more relaxed few hours preparing the meal.
I’m more than a little OCD when it comes to cooking…..I’m kind of psycho when it comes to the planning stages. Once I’ve got a dinner on the calendar, I start by going through most of my cookbook library to get ideas, and this time I was lucky enough to have a partner in crime. We spent a couple of days going through my books and back issues of Bon Appetit, and came up with the following dishes for at-home Valentine comfort food goodness…..
Spinach Salad w/Warm Bacon Vinaigrette
This is a wonderful steakhouse standard and easy to make. When a major component of a salad dressing is bacon grease, how bad can it be? The thing is…..you only want to make enough so that you can eat all of it at once. Once it cools and the bacon grease sets up there really isn’t a good way to warm it up without ruining the fresh spinach.
Caramelized Onion Toast
Here’s a winner and it’s one of those things that is even better the next day. We found this recipe in Tyler Florence’s Ultimate cookbook, and I highly recommend both the book and this recipe. It’s basically just a baguette covered with a mixture of caramelized onions, thyme, chopped anchovy fillets sliced kalamata olives and parmesan cheese. I thought I used too much anchovy, but the flavor mellowed out a lot by the next day and even my family loved it when I took the leftovers to family bingo the next day.
Mashed Potato Casserole
Another winner…..it’s basically like eating a twice baked potato without the skin. Pretty simple dish too….just russet potatoes, bacon, green onions, butter, heavy cream and smoked gouda. I think pretty much any cheese would work in this dish, I really didn’t get that much of the smoked gouda flavor from it, so no sense in spending the money on a specialty cheese next time. Another dish that is even better the next day.
Beef Filet w/Morel Sauce
Under the thick blanket of creamy morel mushroom sauce are two prime beef filets that were pan seared and finished in the oven. Since surgery I’ve gotten more and more into good steaks at home…..the whole protein helps satiety and since I can only eat a few ounces at a time it’s way more economical than it used to be. It’s a very simple and quick dish to make….all that’s in the sauce is rehydrated morels, butter, heavy cream, tarragon and green onions. I usually prefer ribeyes, but with all of the fat they wouldn’t do well with this sauce….the filet is the perfect match.
Well, this is what was left in the pan after we’d already eaten dessert…..I forgot to get a nice picture, but you can trust me when I say this is one hell of a great Valentine dessert. Super easy to make, and extra fun because you get to set it on fire. We picked up some of the new Shatto farms vanilla ice cream to go with it, and it tastes exactly like homemade. This was very tasty, but too rich for me. Between the butter, brown sugar and the ice cream, I did get some of the shaky sweats for a little while….but it was worth it.
So our first Valentine’s Day together was a smashing success….a great dinner followed by watching Mostly Martha. Plus, my girlfriend survived my OCD behavior while we were cooking and was very supportive. It’s pretty cool to think about how this time last year I was doing my Sopranos dinner, and how that basically was the beginning of my current relationship…..and now we had the opportunity to spend Valentine’s Day cooking in that same kitchen. It’s so cute I could just die.
Speaking of cute and dying……sure, I hate sports, am a damn liberal, watch shows like Project Runway, love to cook and sample fine wines, wear expensive shoes, but you know what else I’m all about? GUNS GODDAMMIT! So say hello to the newest addition to my family….
The Springfield XD Sub-Compact 9mm
I don’t know if my love of firearms has come up before on this blog, and I’m not what you’d consider a “gun nut”, but I do love some shootin’. I’ve planned for a long time to take my concealed carry class here in Missouri, but wanted to wait until Kansas allowed it so I’d still be able to carry when I crossed the river. They finally passed the law last year, and I had my class on Saturday. Now all I have to do is run by the Platte County Sheriff’s office this week and submit my fingerprints so that they can send them off to the FBI for a thorough background check, and shortly after that I’ll get my certificate to take to the DMV so I can get my CCW designation added to my driver’s license. I’m not the type of guy who walks around hoping for trouble, and I don’t have doomsday scenarios in mind like so many of the anti-Obama folks who were at the gun show last weekend. There have been a couple of times in my life when I’ve been at home while someone was trying to break in through the front door….fortunately for me and MUCH more fortunately for them, either a neighbor or passing car scared them off both times. Those moments are nothing like the movies…even with a gun you’re scared out of your mind. I do love guns, but I have a very fearful respect for them, and I don’t take the massive responsibility of ownership or concealed carry lightly.
So I’ve been researching sub-compact pistols for the past month or so, trying to decide on which one to buy. I went back and forth on a few different brands and models, and a couple of different calibers. After shooting a couple hundred rounds down at my local firing range, I settled on the Springfield XD Sub-Compact in 9mm. I’ve got a lot of experience shooting large caliber handguns like .45’s, .357’s and .44 magnums, but in addition to the ammunition being much cheaper, the 9mm is easier to control. I know a lot of guys who insist that the 9mm doesn’t have enough knockdown power for personal protection, but unless you’re using a round specifically designed to not exit the body on the other side, the knockdown force is going to be limited in any caliber. One thing that sold me on the XD vs. other pistols from companies like Glock and Kahr is the additional safety features. Many compact autoloaders from the aforementioned companies don’t come standard with added safeties, the Glock has a trigger safety and that’s it, and I think the Kahr’s only safety is “keep your finger off the trigger”. Granted, a gun is only as safe as its owner, but the grip and trigger safeties on the XD just give me added peace of mind. Unless you depress the safety at the back of the grip AND the one built into the trigger, the gun will not fire. You can throw it against a wall, use it to hammer nails (neither are recommended practices), and it will not fire even with a round in the chamber. I know a lot of people carry their weapon “hot”….meaning, they keep a round in the chamber when carrying. Maybe someday I’ll live to regret the extra half second it takes to rack one into the chamber, but I don’t like keeping a live round in the chamber….just my personal preference and added peace of mind. After adding a magazine extension so that my little finger has a place to rest, the XD ended up being really comfortable to hold and shoot for such a small gun. It comes with one standard 10rd clip that will be most comfortable in a concealable holster, as well as a high-capacity clip that holds 16 rounds. I used it to qualify during my class over the weekend, and I look forward to many, many hours of target practice…..if, God forbid, I ever had to use it on something other than paper, I want to be able to thread a needle with the damn thing. For anyone in the KC area who is thinking about taking a class, my instructor was great and I’d love to recommend him to you. For a guy who was in Vietnam, spent a few decades as a cop and worked in the custom shop at Winchester, he’s very down to earth, funny and not at all what you picture when thinking of a firearms instructor. He gave everyone in the class a huge dose of reality when it comes to the responsibilities of gun ownership, and I greatly appreciated it.
Anyway, sorry I’ve been such a slacker with the updates lately. Before I post this I do want to recommend what is arguably the finest television show ever created……Eastbound & Down on HBO. I’m a sucker for gratuitous profanity and the genius humor of Danny McBride (of Foot Fist Way and Pineapple Express fame). If you have HBO, you need to watch this show. And if you don’t have HBO….subscribe immediately.