Thursday, March 26, 2009

I was far away last week

I'm pretty certain I've started, filled or ended almost every post in the past couple months with a comment about how work has interfered with my blogging. I've been busy, people! :)

Usually, I don't have much to show for my work. I mean, I guess I could post a picture of an excel spreadsheet or a video of me on a conference call, but I can't imagine that would be very interesting to you.

This time, however, I do! I have something to share! I was in Beijing last week. And I have pictures!

Shortly after arriving, we went out in Houhai - as far as I could surmise, it's a fairly large lake surrounded entirely by bars. I've never seen so many lounge acts in one spot and in such close proximity!

Most of the bars were pretty tiny, but this one was impressive enough to share. So authentically decorated and, well, then again, so...not. Something tells me this area is not intended for the native Chinese.

The next day we did a quick tour of the Forbidden City before our meetings started in the afternoon. I'm so glad we did. Without that visit, I would have felt silly to fly so far for a couple meetings (except for the whole part where that's my job).

We started out in Tian'AnMen Square, where the military guys are the most serious (and the most fun to photograph).

And we were incredibly lucky to have blue skies. Yep. Blue sky. In Beijing. Wow.

After walking through Tian'AnMen Gate (the entrance across from the square) and before formally entering the Forbidden City itself, there are a ton of Chinese military trainees practicing, um, stuff. Some of the guys are more impressive than others.

One of these kids is doing his own thing

The Forbidden City itself is beautiful. And HUGE. After a while, it looks like you're seeing the same buildings over and over again, but it's still beautiful.

Gorgeous (restored) details

Bronze vats, which were filled with water historically and used as fire extinguishers, were throughout the Forbidden City

I was particularly enamored with the roofs. So lovely.

Oh, and apparently my reddish brown/blond hair, blue/green eyes and fair skin are fascinating to Chinese people. I was stared at a lot, especially when we encountered groups of Chinese tourists (from outside Beijing). My colleague pointed out to me that this guy was staring at me. And he was staring at me intensely. Even when I looked directly at him, he did not avert his stare. Not even a little. He was fascinated with me. When my colleague stood next to me, this man gave him a thumbs up.

So my colleague did what anyone would do. He told this guy to pose for a picture with me. And this man invited his wife to join us. It wasn't as weird as it sounds.

It was weirder.

There was a lot of touching my hair and my skin and staring to confirm I was human, I suppose. Anyway, here are my tormentors, er, new friends.

It's nice to be home. Click here to read more!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Happy Birthday Alex!

Today is my favorite husband's birthday. It's the day we celebrate all the days that came before it and everything that makes him who he is.

The serious days.

The adventurous days.

And the silly days.

I truly have the best husband! :)

Here's to many more years of many more days that make you so wonderful - Happy Birthday!
Click here to read more!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

When the train door closes, an oven one opens?

This is a story about chicken. Tasty, tasty chicken. But first how I got there...

About a year ago, Alex and I realized that we live close enough to the suburban train line (the Metra) to consider taking it, instead of the el, to and from work:
* The el can take 30-40 minutes to lumber its way into the loop. The Metra takes 8-10 minutes.
* Walking to the el takes 10 minutes. Walking to the Metra takes 15 minutes.
* Even better - the downtown Metra stop is essentially in the building where I work. The el is not.
Even without that last fact (in Alex's case), the Metra is a far superior way to go to work. Except maybe on really cold days when walking 15 minutes outside instead of 10 seems like the utter insanity.

Two Metra lines run from the stop near our house to the loop and so there is a good number of options during peak times. Only recently, I've found myself going home after the evening rush. Trains run pretty consistently through 6:44pm, but after that, they run hourly on the half hour. So sometimes, I cut it close, miss the 6:44 and find myself with the choice of going back to my office to risk missing the 7:30 train or trying to entertain myself for 46 minutes in the train station.

Last Thursday, I chose the latter and went to the Hudson News to read magazines. The most recent issue of Gourmet intrigued me, in particular, this article. Not wanting to be an impulsive magazine buyer, I decided to mull it over. Thank goodness the article was available online, because on Sunday, I decided I wanted to try it - roasting two chickens at once, using the meat throughout the week for tasty dinners and the carcasses for stock. Brilliant!

So far, we've roasted the chickens, which we ate for dinner with the pan sauce - amazing! And last night we had the cheesy chicken and mushroom lasagne - really good! Leftover lasagne tonight. Tomorrow, gyros. I'm excited for the gyros!

I've copied the recipes below in case the link stops working.

Gourmet, March 2009
Serves 4 with leftovers

2 whole chickens (about 3 1/2 lb each)
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, divided
6 large garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
2 lemons, halved
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 c water


For roast chicken:
- Preheat oven to 450°F with rack in middle.
- Pull off excess fat around cavities of chickens and discard, then rinse chickens and pat dry. Melt 4 Tbsp butter with garlic and brush butter all over chickens. Season both chickens inside and out with 2 1/2 tsp salt and 1 tsp pepper (total). Put half of garlic and 1 lemon half in each cavity and loosely tie legs together with string. Roast chickens in a large (17- by 11-inch) flameproof roasting pan, basting with pan juices using a spoon (remove pan from oven and tilt if necessary) every 20 minutes, rotating pan, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into fleshy part of a thigh of each chicken (do not touch bone) registers 170°F, 50 to 60 minutes total. Baste chickens once more, then carefully tilt them so juices from cavities run into roasting pan. Transfer chickens to a cutting board (reserve pan) and let rest 15 minutes before carving.

Make gravy while chickens rest:

- Pour off all but 2 Tbsp fat from pan, then cook remaining drippings over medium-high heat until deep golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Stir in water and simmer, stirring and scraping up brown bits, until thickened, about 3 to 4 minutes. Whisk in remaining 4 Tbsp butter and lemon juice to taste (from remaining lemon halves). Season with salt and pepper. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a gravy boat.

Note: If desired, you can also add herbs such as thyme or rosemary to cavities before roasting.

[Kathleen note: while it doesn't say so here, when you're done eating, shred up all of the chicken you didn't eat. That should be at least 4.5 cups. Save the carcasses for making stock.]

Gourmet, March 2009
Serves 4

1 (10-oz) package cremini or white mushrooms, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced

1 tbsp olive oil

5 tbsp unsalted butter, divided
0.5 c dry white wine

2.25 c shredded roast chicken meat, (approximately 1/2 chicken, skin discarded)
3.5 c whole milk

0.25 c all-purpose flour

2 tsp thyme leaves

0.75 c grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

12 Barilla no-boil egg lasagne noodles (less than a 9-oz package)

1.5 c coarsely grated Gruyère (3 oz)


- Preheat oven to 425°F with rack in middle.
- Cook mushrooms, garlic, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1/8 tsp pepper in oil and 1 Tbsp butter in a 4-qt heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are softened, about 3 minutes. Add wine and simmer briskly 2 minutes. Transfer mushroom mixture to a large bowl and stir in chicken. (Set aside saucepan.)

- Bring milk to a bare simmer in a medium saucepan. Melt remaining 4 Tbsp butter in 4-qt saucepan over medium-low heat. Add flour and cook roux, whisking constantly, 3 minutes. Add hot milk in a slow stream, whisking constantly. Add thyme, 3/4 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper and simmer, whisking occasionally, until thickened, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from heat and reserve 1 cup sauce. Stir parmesan into sauce remaining in pan, then stir into mushroom filling.
- Pour half of reserved plain sauce into baking pan, spreading evenly to coat bottom. Add 3 lasagne sheets, overlapping slightly, and one third of mushroom filling, spreading evenly, then sprinkle one fourth of Gruyère over top. Repeat 2 times. Top with remaining 3 lasagne sheets and remaining plain sauce, spreading evenly. Sprinkle with remaining Gruyère.

- Cover with foil, tenting slightly to prevent foil from touching top of lasagne but sealing all around edge, and bake 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake until cheese is golden, about 15 minutes more. Let lasagne stand 10 minutes before serving.

Gourmet, March 2009
Serves 4

2 Kirby cucumbers, divided
1.5 c Greek yogurt
1 tsp fresh lemon juice, divided
5 garlic cloves, minced, divided
1 pint grape tomatoes, quartered
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
0.33 c chopped flat-leaf parsley
0.25 c chopped mint
0.25 c extra virgin olive oil
1 rounded tsp dried oregano
1 rounded tsp dried rosemary, crumbled
4 8-inch pieces of naan bread or 4 8-inch pocketless pita rounds
2.25 c shredded roast chicken meat, (approximately 1/2 chicken, skin discarded)
0.5 head iceburg lettuce, thinly shredded

- Preheat broiler
- Peel and grate 1 cucumber, then squeeze it with your hands to remove excess water. Stir together with yogurt, 1/2 tsp lemon juice, one third of garlic, and 1/4 tsp each of salt and pepper to make tsatsiki.
- Cut remaining cucumber into 1/4-inch pieces and stir together with tomatoes, onion, parsley, mint, remaining 1/2 tsp lemon juice, and 1/4 tsp each of salt and pepper to make salsa.
- Gently simmer oil, oregano, rosemary, remaining garlic, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1/8 tsp pepper in a small heavy saucepan, stirring constantly, until garlic is fragrant but not browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Toss chicken with 3 Tbsp garlic oil and brush one side of bread with remainder.
- Heat bread, oiled side up, in a 4-sided sheet pan, covered with foil, 3 to 4 inches from broiler 3 minutes. Uncover and broil, rotating bread for even coloring, until golden in spots, about 2 minutes.
- Spread some of tsatsiki on warm bread and top with chicken and some of lettuce and salsa. Serve remaining lettuce, salsa, and tsatsiki on the side.
Click here to read more!