Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Pliable Charisma

While Courtney worries about the important stuff relating to our trip to Talladega I am left to concern myself with more entertaining pursuits. My top priority: fitting in with the local inhabitants of Alabama. Some things that we need to do are obvious:




  • Display NASCAR themed flags.

  • Wear nothing related to Barack Obama.

  • No beer in green bottles (or bottles at all for that matter).


We bought Coors Light cans and we already have Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart flags, so we're good there. What was still missing were some subtle signs that we are down with the Jesus and redneck extracurricular activities.

Solution #1: We are bringing our totally awesome "I Love Jesus, but I drink a little" beer can coozies.



Solution #2: I built a washers octagon set (popular backyard activity in Alabama).




Let me know if you think of something else that will raise my street cred ... too bad we haven't made a Camp Bacon flag yet. :)

Monday, September 29, 2008

NASCAR Weekend Number One.

This past weekend the NARSCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Races came to Kansas Speedway.  Race weekends are always a lot of fun, despite Kansas Speedway being a "cookie-cutter track" and one of the most boring tracks to watch as a fan.  It's not just about the racing, however, it's about the tailgaiting, the people watching, the beer drinking, and looking (and feeling) like a true NASCAR fan while wearing a headset and scanner.

Saturday was the Nationwide Series race (formerly the Busch Series).  These racers are one league below the big Sprint Cup guys- they still race the old style cars and their engines are a little slower- but are still fun to watch (you never know what inexperience will cause on the racetrack).  Anyways... we left for the track around 9 A.M. to start tailgating.  The race didn't' start until 2:30 P.M. so we had plenty of time to relax, cook our food, and get some beer into our bellies.

Mikey, Nate, Clint and Jason also had tickets to the race that day, so they called us and ended up being able to park right next to us and tailgate too.



Nate brought along Grandpa's Balls (a.k.a. Ladder Golf) to keep us entertained.  Brian is going to make the washers game to bring to Talladega, so next time we go camping or tailgating, we can play both!



We went into the race with my parents (thank you mom and dad for the tickets!!!) around 2 P.M.  It was hot, hot, hot!!  They happened to have built the stadium in such a way, that no matter if there is a breeze or a wind gust, the people in the stands won't feel it.  Why couldn't it have been cool like last week?

It was a pretty boring race overall.  Mark Martin crashed at one point, which was somewhat exciting.  Luckily my parents wanted to beat the traffic (really I think my dad was too hot) so they asked us if we would like to leave early and go get dinner at Outback.  Of course we said yes and ended up watching the end of the race there.  Denny Hamlin won.

We went home, both of us had headaches (lots of beer + too much sun = feeling like you have a hangover), so we watched a movie called Vacancy with Kate Beckinsale and Luke Wilson which was pretty good, and called it an early night.

On Sunday we got up at 8 and left again by 9 A.M.  We thought that would be plenty of time to beat the race traffic and get our usual parking spot, but we were wrong.  Lots of people had the same idea as us, and we almost missed being able to park where we wanted to.  Next year we will be leaving at 8 A.M. to make sure we get where we want to be and avoid all the traffic.  We set up with the same stuff as yesterday and made some really great burgers for lunch.



We didn't have the pleasure of hanging out with Mikey and those guys because they got there are 7 A.M. and parked right in front of the stadium.  We would have never been able to get over there, plus we weren't sure if we wanted to hang out with a bunch of drunk single guys.  I'm sure we'll be getting enough of that this weekend at Talladega.

One of the best parts of the races is the really cool military fly overs.  We've seen the stealth bomber and fighter jets, and Sunday we got to see really cool helicopters (I forget the name of the big one right now). That double propelled helicopter actually brought the pace car othe track, but we missed it because we were still outside eating and drinking.  They actually brought it down an hour before the race started (we have no idea why) so I doubt very many fans got to see it.  Those giant helicopters are amazing to see fly and maneuver in the air.



The race finally got started, and guess what, we got to see single file racing for most of the race.  I think cautions are called at Kansas Speedway on purpose so they can stack the field back up.  At least we were able to listen to the Chiefs game during the race- that was a much needed win!



It was also very hot again.  Hotter than Saturday.  Brian and I didn't come prepared with enough water so we were eating ice cubes and drinking the melted water from our coolers (we didn't want to spend $3 on a bottle). Jimmie Johnson had won the pole position, so he led most of the laps.  Brian and I hate Jimmie Johnson (I am a Junior fan and he is a Tony Stewart fan) so we weren't pleased to see him lead most of the race.  We also weren't pleased because Brian Vickers hit Tony Stewart which caused him to spin through the grass and finish towards the back of the field.

The very end of the race was exciting.  We are talking the last half of the last lap here.  Carl Edwards had been fighting Jimmie Johnson for the lead for quite a few laps and on turn number three of the last lap, Carl Edwards gave his car all the gas he had and shot around Jimmie Johnson for the lead.  But then he shot right into the wall which let Jimmie pass him for the win.  Booo!!!!

Carl Edwards is the #99 hitting the wall and Jimmie Johnson is the #48 getting ready to drive right past:



So Jimmie Johnson did his burnout and we got the heck out of the stadium.



It's surprisingly easy to get out of the parking lots and onto the highways.  They really know what they're doing out there.  It's nothing like trying to leave a Chiefs game where you are better of waiting until everyone has already left.

We got home, took showers to get rid of all the sweat and relaxed for the rest of the night while catching up on old TV.

We can't wait for Talladega!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Monkeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

More pork, and other fun things from the weekend.

Last weekend we had a friend from out of town visit our house (Hogs from Manhattan), as well as a couple of friends from in town (Nate and Meglet).  For this special occasion we smoked a giant pork shoulder, baked a lot of goodies, hung out on the porch, and watched a craptastic Chiefs football game (no surprise there).  Insted of doing a write-up of the whole weekend I will just highlight it with pictures.

Yumm... Pork...



Hanging out on the porch.



Can't go wrong with a little game of drunkin' Jenga.


Oh my god, the pork is finally done.  Let's shred it!


Taigan taking Brian and Nate for a walk.



And that was our weekend.  It was nice to finally be able to relax a little.  The next two weekends are going to be filled with NASCAR.  This weekend is the Kansas Speedway race and next weekend is Talladega baby!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

Something that pisses me off:
Wealthy company executives got richer on sub-prime mortgages. Example: Lehman Brothers gave out 6 billion dollars in bonuses last year. None of those executives have to account for that now that the company is bankrupt.

Something that scares me:
Now we have more huge companies ready to go under because Americans can't pay house loans and are leaving their house keys in mailboxes ("bailing out" on their home loan).  So what is happening? The government is swooping in to bail out bad loans and bankrupt companies (buying those companies in the process). Not only is this socialism, but it creates a scary situation.

Flash forward 1-2 years into the future, the U.S. taxpayers have absorbed so much debt that McCain says we have to cut spending to get out of this crisis. He won't raise taxes so he privatizes social security, he eliminates social welfare programs, he cuts investments in green initiatives. Then maybe we get unlucky and he dies. Next we reverse Roe vs. Wade, claiming it should be a states issue (we'll see how long that lasts ... and what about all of those poor kids that live in red states). Along with that we ban books in schools, teach creationism, and do god knows what else crazy fucking religious people do.

Well, at least these cold war relic religious conservatives (who are not really conservatives) are going to die soon right? Wrong, our education system is so bad that, for the first time in American history, our kids are going to be dumber than their parents. Mate that with the fact that they are growing up in a society where creationism pulls as much weight in the education system as evolution, and we are doubly fucked!

Get to the point:
The deadline for registering to vote is less than two weeks away. We are at a point in American history where we young folks have to shit or get off the pot. If you haven't registered all you have to do is Google your local elections board and find out where you can register in person.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Let the baking begin!

I've decided that I want to become a better baker, and the only way to do that is to practice.  So starting this past Thursday night I did just that.

Brian and I are having company this weekend, which is always the perfect excuse to make food that you don't normally allow yourself to eat.  This time, that food happens to be Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies, Peanut Butter Criscrosses, and Apple Bread.

BAKING ADVENTURE #1


Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies



Ingredients:
2 cups plus 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour

½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
12 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled until warm

1 cup brown sugar, packed
½ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk

2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 ½ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips



Directions:
Adjust oven racks to upper and lower-middle positions. Preheat oven 325°. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.


Whisk dry ingredients together in a medium bowl; set aside. With electric mixer, or by hand, mix butter and sugars until thoroughly combined. Beat in egg, yolk, and vanilla until combined. Add dry ingredients and beat at low-speed just until combined. Stir in chocolate chips.



Roll a scant half-cup of dough into a ball. Holding dough ball in fingertips of both hands, pull apart into two equal halves. Rotate halves 90 degrees and, with jagged surfaces facing up, place formed dough onto cookie sheet, leaving ample room between each ball.



Bake, reversing position of cookie sheets halfway through baking, until cookies are light golden brown and outer edges start to harden yet centers are still soft and puffy (approximately 11-14 minutes). Do not overbake.



Cool cookies on sheets until able to lift without breaking. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.




I think the cookies look a little underdone even though I cooked them for about 18 minutes (4 minutes longer than the recipe says).  Maybe I used too much dough for each cookie (I guess I shouldn't have taken the 1/4 cup of dough per cookie literally...).  But like I said, they still taste damn good.  Especially with a dollop of vanilla ice cream.  Quote from Brian, "These may be the best chocolate chip cookies I have ever had."  This recipe is definitely a keeper.

BAKING ADVENTURE #2

The peanut butter cookies I made next turned out awesome.  Both in look and in flavor.  I think I actually prefer these over the chocolate chip cookies, but I'm a peanut butter freak (you know the kind, will eat it by the spoonful out of a jar, can't keep it in the house or it will be gone, etc., etc.)


Peanut Butter Crisscrosses



Ingredients:
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
pinch of grated nutmeg
2 sticks (8 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup peanut butter (crunchy or smooth)
1 cup packed light brown sugar
¾ cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 ½ cups chopped salted peanuts
about ½ cup sugar, for rolling



Directions:
Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 350°. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.


Whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and nutmeg.



Working with a stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed for a minute or two, until smooth and creamy. Add the peanut butter and beat for another minute. Add the sugars and beat for 3 minutes more. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Scrape down the sides and the bottom of the bowl and, on low speed, add the dry ingredients, mixing only until they just disappear. Mix in the chopped peanuts. You’ll have a soft, pliable (mushable, actually) dough.



Pour the ½ cup of sugar into a small bowl. Working with a level tablespoonful of dough for each cookie, roll the dough between your palms into balls and drop the balls, a couple at a time, into the sugar.





Roll the balls around in the sugar to coat them, then place on the baking sheets, leaving 2 inches between them. Dip the tines of a fork in sugar and press the tines against each ball first in one direction and then in a perpendicular direction – you should have a flattened round of dough with crisscross indentations.



Bake for about 12 minutes, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back at the midway point. When done, the cookies will be lightly colored and still a little soft. Let the cookies sit on the sheets for a minute before transferring them to cooling racks with a wide metal spatula. Cool to room temperature.



Repeat with the remaining dough, making sure to cool the baking sheets between batches.




After making the two batches of cookies I was beat, so I went to bed.


BAKING ADVENTURE #3


On Friday morning I woke up to finish my baking adventures and tackle the Apple Bread.  This was the easiest to make (except for peeling, coring, and dicing the apples, but that's more annoying than anything) out of the three.






Awesome Apple Bread

Ingredients:
1 cup oil
3 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups apples, diced
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)

Directions:
Combine and set aside the oil, eggs, sugar, and vanilla.
Sift flour, cinnamon, soda, and salt. Add dry ingredients to oil mixture gradually.
Add apples and nuts.



Bake in 2 regular loaf pans or 3 foil loaf pans for 1 1/2 hours at 300 degrees.
Cool 10 minutes in the pan.
Sprinkle with sugar, if desired.



I haven't actually tried this bread yet, and it's the first time I've ever made it, so I hope it's good.  It smelled damn good while it was baking!  I will let you know if it's anything but great.

I will keep you posted about our other cooking adventures throuhout the weekend (think PORK, and lots of it).

Monday, September 15, 2008

Another weekend of landscaping, smoking meat and good friends.

Friday night while I was at work Brian played the role of the perfect husband and cleaned and organized the house for 6 hours!! I came home and all of the dishes had been done (2 loads worth), the carpet had been vacuumed, the office had been de-cluttered (we had stacks of paper everywhere!), and the basement storage area was open again.  It was awesome!  Brian- I thank you so much for doing all of that, and you are more than welcome to keep it up!

More than one person can actually fit into the basement storage area now.



Once I got home, we still had a few things to do.  I wanted to make an apple pie with the apples from my dad's trees, and Brian needed to prepare the brine so we could get it cooled off enough to soak the chicken while we slept.

The recipe I used to make the apple pie is here.



We tried something a little different with the brine this time.  Based off of tips we have been reading on the internet and friends that have been smoking meats for a while, we used one gallon of spring water (I guess it's better if the water is not chlorinated), 3/4 cup kosher salt, 1/2 cup of brown sugar, soy sauce, cayenne pepper, 4 diced garlic cloves, and 3 chopped apples.  We let the brine simmer for about 15 minutes to let the flavors blend.



We then let the brine cool down before we put the chicken in.  At about 3:30 A.M. we called it a night and started brining the chicken.  I woke up around 8 A.M. to take the chicken out and let it rest in the refrigerator until it was time to smoke.  I then turned around and went to bed.

After finally getting up around 10:30 A.M. we noticed it wasn't raining anymore, so we set out to work on finishing the landscaping on the east side of our house.  We were supposed to have gotten 2 tons of rock delivered to us on Friday, so Brian could start moving it, but because of the rain, Malone's told us that nobody showed up for work, so it couldn't be delivered.  Since it wasn't raining on Saturday, they were able to bring it out.   On a side note, we do not recommend anyone use Malone Landscape and Garden Center at 72nd and North Oak Trafiicway; they have horrible customer service.



We will be filling the newly landscaped area with plants, but probably not until next spring.

Front of the house:



Back of the house:



Soon after finishing up the yard work, Stephen, Becky and Heather arrived bearing beer dip, corn-on-the-cob, and bread to accompany the smoked chicken, mashed potatoes and apple pie we had made.  It made for one heck of a dinner!





After dinner we went downstairs to burn off calories playing Wii Mario Kart and Wii Fit.





We then moved on to many rounds of Drunken Jenga.  Good times!



One of the "rules" that was made:



We had to salute every time we talked.



I think we ended up calling it a night around 2 A.M.  The southies wanted to leave early to get home before the traffic got bad due to the Chiefs game.

On Sunday I finished up prepping the yard for it's appointment with the aerator and new grass seed.  This involves "scalping" the yard, which means I have to mow it twice to get the grass short enough.  Then we both fell asleep watching the pitiful Chiefs vs. Raiders game and NASCAR.

For dinner we made fajitas with the leftover smoked chicken and then watched Gangs of New York on Blu Ray.  It is a really good movie, and Daniel Day-Lewis does a great job in it, as always.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Fun Friday Feast

Last Monday I was going to make a meal with shrimp, but by the time dinner rolled around, I just didn't feel like cooking (we went to Longboards instead- YUMMY!), so I ended up with leftover, thawed, raw shrimp.  Well, I needed to come up with some way to use the shrimp, so I decided to make a shrimp dish for Fun Friday Feast.  Here we go!

How to make Creamy Shrimp Alfredo Casserole

Ingredients:


3 cups bow tie pasta (I used 14 oz. penne)
1 (10 ounce) container alfredo sauce (I used 2 10 oz. jars sun-dried tomato alfredo sauce)
3/4 cup half-and-half cream
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, shredded
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 (12 ounce) package frozen frozen medium thawed, peeled, deveined, cooked shrimp
1/3 cup dried breadcrumbs (I used Panko- my favorite kind)
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon italian seasonings (Ijust eyeballed dried oregano, basil, and parsley)
2 cans mushroom stems and pieces (optional)
2 T olive oil (for cooking shrimp)
2 heads of garlic, minced (for cooking shrimp)

Heat oven to 350 F. Cook pasta according to package directions.



Drain.



While pasta is cooking, prepare shrimp.  Remove shells (mine were deviened and peeled out of the package).



Mince garlic.



Heat 2 T olive oil in a pan over medium high heat.  Add shrimp and garlic.  Cook shrimp until pink (about 5 minutes).



Once pasta is drained, place into large bowl and add 2 cans of mushrooms,



3/4 cup half-and-half cream,



1/4 cup parmesan cheese,



2 cans of alfredo sauce, black pepper and cooked shrimp.  Stir to combine.



Pour into 13x9 baking dish,  cover with foil (learned this after the fact) and cook in the oven at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.



After 40 minutes combine the melted butter, bread crumbs, and italian seasoning and sprinkle over pasta.  (Hint: I had to sprinkle some non-buttered bread crumbs over the pasta to cover the whole dish).



Place back into oven and cook for 15-20 minutes, uncovered, until bread crumbs are golden brown. (Hint: I had to turn the broiler on Lo and cook like that for a couple of minutes to get the bread crumbs to brown).



Serve your dish with a side of garlic bread and salad and you'll have an awesome meal!

Here is a link to the actual recipe so I don't have to retype it all here.  Creamy Shrimp Alfredo Casserole.