Sunday, February 21, 2010

PF Chang's

We've been bad about taking pictures of what we cook lately, so we're gonna mix it up a bit and tell you about our recent meal at the Chinese restaurant PF Chang's.

Last year for Valentine's Day, Thomas and I had Chinese food delivered to my apartment, where we enjoyed it before heading to Salt Lake City where we visited his grandma. As Valentine's Day was on a Sunday this year, and we were blessed with a gift card for the above-mentioned PF Chang's (thank you, Elizabeth & Saki!!), we drove up to Orem last Saturday to celebrate the holiday a day early and to continue our ... is it a tradition if you've only done it twice? We'll say it is. To continue our tradition.

(Thomas, hungry)

The PF Chang's in Orem is part of University Mall. On either side of the entrance, there is an impressive warrior-horse statue. They both tower above the average visitor, perpendicular to the doorway and facing away from it.

Walking in, we could see probably most of the dining area. High ceilings and a lack of partition made for a very open and well-lit restaurant. Although many of the tables were occupied, the hostess seated us immediately. Service was prompt throughout our visit.

The menu featured many dishes I was not familiar with. I chose my dish, the almond & cashew chicken, from the lunch bowl section (we'd gone early so as to avoid the potential hordes of couples having their Valentine's Day dinner). I also ordered a side of spinach stir-fried with garlic; I didn't feel like being too daring, but it sounded interesting so I couldn't pass it up. I love spring rolls so we ordered those too, and Thomas tried the Chengdu spiced lamb.

Our feast began with some egg drop soup. Delicious. Our spring rolls came at that time, too. I'm a huge fan of spring rolls. They did not disappoint!

(me, eating)

The rest of our meal came shortly thereafter. We were excited to find that chopsticks were already on our table. Both of our dishes came with white rice (mine was IN my lunch bowl, with the chicken on top; his was in a second bowl).

(almond & cashew chicken)

My almond & cashew chicken turned out to be alright. The almonds were an interesting addition to the typical cashew chicken with which I am familiar. The sauce was on the sweet side, toned down by the white rice. The spinach was cooked to just the right point; it still somewhat held its shape.

(spinach stir-fried with garlic)

Thomas enjoyed his lamb dish. I tried a taste of it myself. I'd never had lamb before, but it was well-seasoned and tender in my opinion. Thomas just says, "it was good."

(Chengdu spiced lamb)

We both really enjoyed getting to dress up, go out, and try new things. It was a successful celebration for us.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Culinary Creativity

Lately, for some reason, I've had the desire to experiment a little more than usual with my cooking.

Sometimes, I am called upon to use my resources to help celebrate a special occasion:

The frosting on the above cake was created using the recipe found here. I ended up using more like 3 cups of powdered sugar. I separated a bit out and put it in a bag to write the words on the cake; to the rest I added approximately 1/4 cup of cocoa powder. It turned out so deliciously chocolatey...!

On Tuesday night, I was in the mood for Chinese food. Lacking the funds to go out, I decided to see what I could whip up. Having inherited a couple cans of pineapple over the weekend, I thought I'd try to figure out how to make some sweet and sour sauce. I need to perfect the recipe before I post it, but I can tell you that my sauce was made up of pineapple chunks & juice, vinegar, flour, sugar, and water. The sauce was paired with chicken pieces that I breaded and fried, and I rounded out the meal with some fried rice! Yum.

And now for tonight's masterpiece!

When Thomas and I got together today and began planning out our evening, pizza was the dinner buzzword. We set out to go to my apartment with a block of cheddar cheese. With few topping options, here's what we came up with:

Bacon Pizza

Dough Ingredients:

2 tsp active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
~ 1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
3 cups flour
2 Tbsp olive oil

Begin by dissolving the yeast in the warm water (warm, not lukewarm, not hot) with the sugar. I normally add less sugar, but tonight I added about a tablespoon and the dough turned out better than it ever has before. Let stand a few minutes. The yeast will begin to bubble & grow.

Next, mix the salt in with the flour in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Add the olive oil and yeast mixture. Stir.

Knead until smooth on a lightly floured surface. You may want to remove any rings or bracelets before doing so in order to avoid plastering your jewelry with pizza dough. Add more flour if your dough is sticky. Afterward, put dough back into mixing bowl. It's best to cover the bowl and let your dough rise in a warm place for a couple hours; however, if you are short on time, let your dough rise while you prepare your toppings and you should be fine.

Topping Ingredients:

Pizza sauce - we used Ragu pizza sauce in a jar. You can use any sort of bottled or canned pasta or pizza sauce.
Cheddar cheese, shredded

Thoroughly cook your bacon.

In honor of the upcoming Valentine's Day: a heart-shaped piece of bacon!

When you're ready to assemble your pizza, begin by punching down the dough in its bowl. Remove it from the bowl and stretch/roll it out to fit your baking dish of choice. We used a pizza pan; you can use a cookie-sheet or whatever baking utensils you have on hand.

Then, spread your sauce onto your dough. Notice another heart:

Next, add your cheese and bacon (or other toppings).

Stick your beautiful creation in the oven at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 to 15 minutes and here's what you'll get:

Be careful when removing your pizza from the pan. Slice it up with a pizza cutter and enjoy!


Monday, February 1, 2010

A Lesson on Emergency Preparedness

On Saturday, I had the opportunity to teach a brief lesson on emergency preparedness for a Relief Society activity where we made personal 72-hour kits. Emergency preparedness and self-reliance have always been some of my favorite topics, so I was really excited to do some research and expand my knowledge on these subjects.

Thomas and I decided that since the 72-hour kits my ward made were mostly food, we'd put the "recipe" for them on this blog rather than our Lotsa Oxen blog. The instructions will be below, but I also wanted to include some of the information I taught about, so please read through everything! :o) My words are not meant to inspire fear of the future or anything of the sort; I just believe it's important to consider possible dangers and to prepare ourselves to better rely on ourselves should a need arise.

"Ye hear of wars in far countries, and you say that there will soon be great wars in far countries, but ye know not the hearts of men in your own land. I tell you these things because of your prayers; wherefore, treasure up wisdom in your bosoms, lest the wickedness of men reveal these things unto you by their wickedness, in a manner which shall speak in your ears with a voice louder than that which shall shake the earth; but if ye are prepared ye shall not fear." (Doctrine and Covenants 38: 29-30; revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith just before the saints were commanded to go to Ohio in 1831)
Just as the Saints in the early days of the Church were commanded to prepare themselves against disastrous times, the prophets in our day have counseled us to "take responsibility for our own spiritual and temporal welfare" (Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; January 2010 Ensign). Like our pioneer forbears, problems we may face could be due to the wickedness of men; but, as we've increasingly seen in recent news, our chances of facing emergencies due to natural disasters are growing, too.

Potential emergencies we could face include:
  • Severe storms causing flooding, avalanches, tornadoes
  • Fire - structural or wildland
  • Earthquake
  • Water Supply Contamination
  • Pandemic
  • Unemployment
Consequences of these events range from being stuck at home for a few days to needing to evacuate. Widespread panic could lead to depleted resources at nearby stores. Destroyed infrastructure (communication, roads) could make evacuation by car impossible.

So what is there to do? Well, it's important to plan ahead! I don't think any of us expect to or want to face any disaster situation, but it's wise to decide ahead of time what you would do if something bad were to happen.

As mentioned above, my ward decided it would be prudent to create 72-hour kits.

"Why 72 hours?... Such organizations [as the government or emergency disaster agencies] perform marvelous services, but when large populations are relying solely upon them, it is virtually impossible for them to meet all individual needs... Most relief organizations would need approximately three days to mobilize and be able to help you." (Emergency Essentials' Tips for Preparedness)
If a disaster area is large, volunteers and resources would need to be brought in from surrounding areas. It takes time and money to move people and things!

A useful 72-hour kit takes into account the most basic human survival needs: FOOD, WATER, and SHELTER. The kits we made provide the needed food; in addition to the items listed below, it is recommended that you have 2 liters of water to prepare the food in the kit PLUS 1 gallon of water per person per day for drinking and hygiene. When it comes to shelter, as you may or may not be able to stay in your home or car, it is wise to invest in an emergency blanket to keep you safe from the elements.

Just in case you are stuck in your home for longer than 3 days, and your tap water is not drinkable, it is good to know the following:
  • You can purify your water by boiling it, treating it with iodine tablets or liquid bleach, filtering it, or creating a "solar still"
  • Other sources of drinkable water found in your home include: the water heater, ice in your freezer, water in the toilet tank (but NOT the bowl, people!)
In addition to all of the other things I've mentioned, please consider the importance of including these things in a kit for yourself or your home: eyeglasses, prescription medication, spare keys, cash and checks, toilet paper, soap, a first-aid kit, Chapstick, a toothbrush & toothpaste, feminine hygiene products, light (flashlight with extra batteries or an emergency candle), a map of your region, identification

Other HIGHLY recommended things to include:
  • A battery- or hand crank- operated radio
  • Copies of important records: birth certificates, social security cards, marriage certificates (make sure they are laminated or otherwise water-proofed)
  • A hard-copy of PHONE NUMBERS and ADDRESSES that may at the moment only be in your cell phone..... Especially important would be addresses of people that live nearby but not necessarily in the same town, in case you need to rely on their hospitality in case of an emergency.

For our Relief Society activity, we put together these awesome kits that fit into a gallon jug! These kits are waterproof, light, and easy to carry - exactly what you would want if you had a short time to evacuate.

What you'll need for one kit:
  • 1 1-gallon jug, not previously used for milk
  • 2 granola bars
  • 1 12-oz jar of peanut butter (I could only find 17-18-oz jars; they will work)
  • 1 box of Lipton soup mix (with 2 packages inside)
  • 3 small packages of raisins, fruit snacks, or fruit leathers
  • 3 small beef sticks OR some jerky of your choice OR small cans (with pop-top lids) of ready-to-eat meat or beans (I included 1 can of Beanie Weenies, 1 can of chicken, and 1 can of tuna)
  • 1 can of single-serving stew or pasta with a pop-top lid (I bought ravioli)
  • 3 small cans of fruit (lunchbox size, with pop-top lids)
  • 2 hot cocoa mix envelopes
  • some Tang mix (we just put about 2 scoops worth into some Ziploc baggies)
  • 2 oatmeal envelopes
  • 10 pieces of gum
  • about 10 pieces of hard candy or suckers (I used Werther's Originals candy ... yum!)
  • trail mix
  • a few crackers
  • 1 small box of matches
  • 3 plastic spoons
  • 3 small plastic cups
I won't say it's EASY to fit all of this into a gallon jug, but it is POSSIBLE! I did just realize I did not include any crackers, which might make eating the peanut butter ... difficult. To assemble, you'll have to use a knife to cut the jug open. I cut a semi-straight line about halfway up the bottle, along the 2 sides across from the handle. Then, following the contours of the jug, made the line into a flap by cutting vertically toward the lid.

It would probably have been easier to use beef sticks as opposed to the cans of meat, as the cans take up A LOT of room. I put the cans and the peanut butter jar in the bottom through the flap and tried to utilize the remaining space as best I could. I had to remove the dry soup from the box (but I did write on the package how much water the soup would need). Once everything was in, I sealed the jug using clear packaging tape.

As noted above, the food in the kit requires 2 liters of water to prepare. You'll also want to store 3 gallons of water for drinking/bathing to go along with what is in your kit.

The suggested meals go like this:
  1. Breakfast: Tang, 0atmeal // Lunch: Beenie Weenies, fruit snacks // Dinner: granola bar, beef jerky, hot cocoa mix // Snack: 3 pieces gum, 3 pieces candy
  2. Breakfast: hot cocoa mix, granola bar // Lunch: Lipton soup, raisins // Dinner: stew, fruit snacks // Snack: 3 pieces gum, 3 pieces candy
  3. Breakfast: Tang, oatmeal // Lunch: Lipton soup // Dinner: jerky, fruit snacks // Snack: 4 pieces gum, 3 pieces candy
Lucky for us, the kits we made seem to have been created using a couple different lists so these kits have more food in them (peanut butter, fruit cans, trail mix, ...) than what is accounted for in the above meal list. It is encouraged that cans are saved to heat other foods if other containers are not available. Also, you should try to rotate the food in your kit yearly.

For more reading, see the following:
"Spiritual Preparedness: Start Early and Be Steady" - by Elder Henry B. Eyring
"Principles of Temporal Salvation" - by President Marion G. Romney
"Prepare Every Needful Thing" - by Victor L. Brown
"All is Safely Gathered In"
Provident Living website
Be Ready Utah

Good Luck!! oxox