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Posts Tagged ‘cooking’

Well, it’s been a little while since I last posted- I think the last time I checked in I was about to embark upon the weekend of performances for Guys and Dolls Jr. Despite all of our ridiculous hurdles, we managed to put out a nice dress rehearsal performance and I was relatively calm about putting on the show for the public. I had a leisurely Saturday, and went out in the afternoon to do a little shopping and some errands. I had left my phone at home and when I got home after 4:00, I noticed that I had two voice mail messages- both detailing how the male lead of our show had woken up that morning with a fever and vomiting. OMG. Luckily, the mom had some serious anti-vomit medicine handy and, after checking with a pediatrician, gave him the drugs that he needed to get through the day. The kid was a trouper, too- you wouldn’t even have known he was sick that morning. Of course, this was one of the few kids who I never had to worry about breaking character or missing lines… he was the least of my worries- until I had to worry that he might hurl on stage!

Anyway, that aside, the weekend was a success- and while I was relieved for it to be over, I didn’t really get to relax last week, as I was gearing up for the NYSSMA festival I would be taking my students to the following weekend. For those of you not from New York, NYSSMA (New York State School Music Association) has festivals all over the state each spring for students to be adjudicated by a certified judge. My little ones just go for the experience- mostly they’re playing things like Lightly Row and Home on the Range… if there’s a real hot shot they might play a Bach minuet from Suzuki book 1. So, for me, it’s not really stressful- it’s just a weekend when I have to be impossibly perky and upbeat because I’m usually dealing with a kid’s first NYSSMA solo and I want them to have a good experience.

This year at NYSSMA I only had two students freak out and cry. It’s funny- the ones who cry are always the total hams the rest of the time- so it’s always sort of shocking to see them break down over something like a NYSSMA solo. One of my 4th grade bass players was so nervous that he started playing his solo really fast in the warm-up room… and he couldn’t get through it. The tears were just rolling off the tip of his nose. His mom and I talked him off the ledge with the promise of cookies and potato chips afterward and he did fine. The other cryer was this normally sassy 4th grade violin player- she arrived a little late and I didn’t see her right away- but when I did, she had the tell-tale red, puffy eyes and did not look happy. I managed to calm her down with some effusive compliments and a couple lame knock-knock jokes.

So, NYSSMA pretty much ate up my whole weekend and now this is my last quiet night before I jump headfirst into a high school pit orchestra I’ m playing for this weekend. Last night I made some pasta for dinner and I used that Philly Cooking Creme again- this time I bought the original flavor, and as I predicted, it was definitely the way to go. I sauteed some onion and garlic in a little olive oil, then added a cup of chicken stock. I had a whole bag of baby spinach that needed to get used, so that all went in. I also added a can of quartered artichokes. Then I stirred in the cooking cream and added some grated Romano cheese. I tossed it with some tagliatelli and had a nice dinner. It was also good a day later, as I ate leftovers tonight. I’m not going to bother posting pictures because it doesn’t look that much different from the last pasta I made. I think it was definitely a good idea to cut the cream with some chicken stock, though. It actually made it creamier and more saucy. I might go with the low sodium variety next time, as it was a little salty between the broth and the cheese.

I’m not sure what to do about dinner the next three days- tomorrow I have a rehearsal from 5 to 9, Wednesday I’m getting my hair cut and colored and then going to a board meeting, and Thursday I have another rehearsal from 5 to 9. I could try to be good and pack some healthy food, but I know that fast food is going to lure me in. We’ll see. Which do you think it will be? Greek yogurt with granola and a banana or chicken McNuggets?

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Well, yesterday on my snow day I decided it was time to tackle the tagine I got for Christmas. I’m not sure how the whole tagine thing came about… I think I saw an episode of “Nigella Bites” where she cooked something in one, though it wasn’t a traditional one- it was either cast iron or non-stick. I also heard about harissa (a Moroccan sort of hot sauce) on a Food Network show and bought some of that. Then I bought some preserved lemons, which are also common in North African food. (Apparently, I have a real self-control problem when it comes to the international aisle at Wegmans.)

Well, the harissa and preserved lemons stayed in my cupboard for a good long while… and then on a trip to Ikea over the summer, I saw that they were selling a tagine. Score! Except I believe that everything at Ikea should be ridiculously inexpensive and this tagine was not. So I didn’t buy it. Of course, I relayed this story to my incredibly observant mother who bookmarked it in her brain and bought me an even cooler, more traditional tagine for Christmas.

She also got me two cookbooks, both of which had recipes for me to use the exotic Moroccan ingredients I had purchased. So exciting! The only problem was that I couldn’t use it immediately- the tagine has to be seasoned before you use it for the first time, so I first had to soak the thing for hours, then let it air dry, then rub it down with olive oil, then heat in a 300° oven for two more hours, and then cool. You can see why I waited until a snow day to tackle this task. I was determined to be patient and not skip any crucial steps. Instant gratification is no good if you end up breaking a new toy, right?

After this lengthy process, I set to making a marinade for my chicken. Yes, I dared to attempt cooking chicken again, even after I nearly turned my last chicken dinner into jerky. Here is my chicken, marinating in onions, garlic, ginger, lemon juice, cilantro and saffron. Yes, I touched raw chicken. With my hands.

Next, I placed the tagine on my cooktop and set it to ‘lo’ where it then took me several minutes to melt a pat of butter.

Once the butter was melted, I was supposed to ‘brown’ the chicken in the tagine, which I though seemed next to impossible, considering the pan was barely hot enough to melt butter. Guess what? Not only did the chicken not brown, but I then heard a popping noise, not unlike the popping noise that emanated several days ago from my microwave when I reheated those unfortunate ‘quiche’ cups.

The tagine base had cracked! Seriously? I know they ‘recommend’ using a diffuser, but it was barely hot enough to melt butter. Didn’t people put these things right on coals back in the olden days? So, once I determined that there were no ceramic remnants in the food, I dumped it into a regular pan and cooked it that way.

I also cooked up some Israeli cous cous- since it was the only kind I had on hand and I kind of like it better anyway. After the chicken simmered for a while, I was instructed to add olives and two preserved lemons- now, there were only two lemons in the jar, and for whatever reason I decided to err on the side of caution and just use one. I discovered that preserved lemons are a somewhat odd ingredient… salty and lemony in a strangely industrial way, almost like a cleaning fluid. I can’t say that I loved them, but I will say that the flavor mellowed out by the time I had it for dinner tonight.

On a side note, I contacted the manufacturer of the tagine and explained the situation- a nice representative got right back to me and explained that almost always when a tagine cracks the first time it’s used, it’s due to a hairline fissure caused in shipping. The fissure expands into a full-on crack when heat is applied. So that made me feel better- it wasn’t my fault! I also asked him for a recommendation on a diffuser to use, just to play it safe. I don’t want to break another one!

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