Wasn’t feeling brave today

My day started having an enjoyable coffee with a friend as part of a larger group and felt an encouragement regarding my blog from yesterday.  After coffee, I went grocery shopping.  I nipped into Tim Horton’s for a bagel and a chance to think about what I needed at the store.  I was shopping blind – no list – another thing I want to improve about my cooking is my planning menus ahead and shopping with a list, which can also be a juggle because you could put some planning together and then get to the market and discover that item you needed is out of stock and it may be months before you see it again.  Apparently, years ago when there was a problem with an author in Denmark who said something negative about Islam and so all of the UAE stopped importing butter and other products from Denmark until there was some sort of resolution and somebody got over there issues… or maybe they just wanted their favorite butter back.  Anyway, I digress… I just need to improve my planning.

I was not terribly excited to get groceries.  After yesterday’s disaster, I was not feeling very encouraged by the selection of meat entrees.  Even my husband made comments about eating more vegetarian-based meals.  But I needed other essentials – laundry soap and such – so I could not avoid it.  I went and grabbed all the non-food based essentials and started moving towards the foods section.  I thought about the space I currently have in my fridge, which was not much.  The holidays and my other recent attempts at some unique and inspired dishes have left me with quite a few odds and ends that I should try to use up in the next few days.  That led me to thinking about my freezer and the conversation David and I had about getting a deep freeze – an uncommon appliance here.  But I went over to the appliance department of the supermarket (kinda like a Super Target/Walmart) and Voila, I bought a freezer and it will be delivered on Saturday.  I finished up the grocery shopping.  I didn’t buy anything too terribly excited.  I did buy a roast so that we might have a second chance.

But I came home and was fighting a headache and truly was dreading making dinner.  I was not feeling at all motivated to make anything for dinner worthy of my blog.  It was going to be a very busy evening with church youth and my son had company over – big boys who really like to eat good food.  So, I opted for an old standby – fried chicken.  Not exactly the healthy endeavor I wanted to move toward when I started this blog, but this is not going to happen overnight, is it?

When I was thinking about the space in my fridge and odds and ends, I thought about my earlier attempt weeks ago to try and copy the KFC “Secret Herbs and Spices” and I had some of that sample leftover – enough for dinner.  There are copycat recipes for just about everything.  While I did not think that this chicken tastes like KFC, my family thinks this is better.

From 11 Secret Herbs and Spices( Kfc Copycat)

2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon onion salt
1 teaspoon celery salt
1 teaspoon rubbed sage
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground oregano
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon basil leaves, crushed
1 teaspoon marjoram leaves, crushed finely
Directions:
Combine all ingredients as listed in a small jar with a tight fitting lid (baby food jars work good). Shake mixture to combine. Stores for months. Keep out of direct sunlight, heat and humidity.

I had all of this mixed together but did not follow the recipe from the website simply because I had forgotten about the rest of it.  I took 3 Tbsp of this mixture and put it in with a heaping cup of flour.  I put 4 eggs into a dipping bowl and a splash of milk and commenced my assembly line of frying chicken.

I am always pleasantly surprised when something I cook actually comes out of the pan looking like the original cook’s photo.
The rest of the meal was the resurrected potatoes and snow peas from yesterday’s disaster.  The snow peas were simple.  I don’t think I mentioned them yesterday, but I can tell you what I did.  I took a bowl full of snow peas – about two cups worth – and put about enough olive oil to coat them and a Tablespoon or so of a salt-free mixture of herbs.  If I had been in the states, I would probably just use something like Mrs. Dash.  But I can’t get that here and so I just used a generic blend of herbs good on veggies and just a pinch of salt.  I mixed that altogether by hand and it was ready to go in the oven last night for about 15 minutes.  But since THAT didn’t happen, we had to bring it back to life with a splash more oil and David just stir-fried it for me in a pan.  Not as good as it would have been yesterday, but not gone to waste either.
The other side item was the English Potatoes that were also salvaged from last nights meal.  They tasted just perfect.  
Well, not the healthy meal I wish I had put some forethought into… but healthier than the bucket of KFC I might have ordered in a different time.  Baby Steps.
Tomorrow, we go for a do-over on the roast.

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Day One, a super-mega-FAIL

I started my morning announcing my new blogging endeavor and was determined to put a great deal of effort into the blog and into my effort to really cook well for my family.  It is my husband’s birthday and the plan was to make him a nice dinner and a cake.  My daughter Natalie wanted to learn how to make a pot roast and my husband David’s only request for the dinner was English roasted potatoes and a red velvet cake.  Sounds easy, doesn’t it?
The roast we were going to cook was something that David picked out with Natalie at a grocery story called “LuLu”.  We get most of our meat from LuLu but it can be a bit of a gamble as to the quality of any cut of meat.  The meat is labeled with the name of the country that the beef was raised in – New Zealand, Pakistan, Ireland, Brazil, etc.  This particular roast came from New Zealand.  But even if the beef was raised there, the quality is still not something you can depend on and I would not be surprised at all if some beef cuts were mislabeled.
I instructed Natalie when she got out of bed this morning to go and quickly take the beef roast out of the refrigerator because I was concerned that it may be still partially frozen from having just been pulled from the freezer the day before.  When I went down to investigate for myself, I saw that it was indeed still frozen and my husband was also concerned that it was not going to be fatty enough to be on the rotisserie.  I recommended to Natalie that we put the meat in a marinade to improve the flavor and speed up the thawing process.  We found a marinade we could agree on – a basic red wine marinade.  Natalie astutely pointed out that since the marinade would not be on very long that perhaps we should make it an injectable marinade – no problem – we just used garlic powder and fine herbs and put it in the blender.  Not a big deal
I instructed Natalie to put the roast into a Ziploc bag and then we poured the marinade over it, reserving some for the injection we would do in a few hours.  Natalie sealed the Ziploc and went to flip and it spilled all over the floor AND ME!!  Truthfully, there was plenty of marinade was left in the bag and the meat was still marinating but oh, the MESS!!!  We busted out laughing!!
Would now be a bad time to mention I have a maid?  Living here in Abu Dhabi, we decided to have a live-in housekeeper because life here can be very time-consuming and difficult.  Our housekeeper came to us out of a difficult situation and we feel blessed to be in a position to not only help her and give her a job, but to have a maid is a *huge* blessing.
But, guess what?  She left for her annual vacation yesterday and so I was left to my own devices to clean it up but the odd part was that I wasn’t 100% sure where all of the cleaning supplies were!!
Anyway, it took a while to get the floor cleaned up.  I’ve always thought it very strange that there are drains in every floor of this house, but today I particularly appreciated it.
I had to go and take my clothes (fortunately I was still wearing my pajamas) straight to the washer and get a shower and wash off the marinade that had now dried to my toes.  By the time I was done getting cleaned up, it was time to think about the red velvet cake.  Fortunately, the kitchen floor dried quickly.  >Sigh.<
I found a fantastic recipe for the red velvet cake.  We have had some disastrous experiments with red velvet cake in the past and did not want another experience like that again.  But, I found a great red velvet cake recipe online and Natalie and I worked on mixing it up.  Mixing it up went incredibly smoothly and we really had fun and worked well together.  My other daughter Morgan even joined in and helped grease the baking pans while the oven was pre-heating.  The pans are a special cake pan with a pop-out bottom.  The bottoms are weighted to keep the batter from leaking.
So, the cake batter was put together but as I poured it into the pans I noted that the batter was much thinner than a typical cake batter and I was a bit concerned about baking them in these pans but once the batter was poured in, there was no leakage on the counter.  I continued to put them in the oven.
No sooner did I have the batter in the oven, that I could smell burning cake batter.  I checked and sure enough, the batter was leaking but it was truly too late to swap the batter to a different pan.  We put a layer of tin foil in quickly to try and catch the dripping cake as the kitchen started filling with the smoke of burning cake batter.  Eventually, the cake did seal off and stop leaking and once it was finished, it was the best tasting red velvet cake I have ever had.  I had been able to remove the tin foil when it had stopped leaking and the rest of the burnt cake was easy to scrape out of the oven drip pan.
Once the cake was out, we could put in the roast in.  The injection method did not work like we wanted to – our marinade was still a bit to thick for the injection needle – so we just poked holes with the injection needle.  So, the roast was in the oven and I had a while before I would need to start on the potatoes.  Despite the issues we had had earlier, everything was coming along and the only reminder of the earlier disasters was the spot of marinade I’d missed on the floor and the smell of burnt cake lingering in my clothes.
So, I started the potatoes and had Morgan help me a bit with those.  They had to be peeled and then cut up into pieces.  But I went to check on the roast and discovered it was on the brink of being overcooked.  I took it out and then sort of pressed dinner into high gear because the roast had cooked so quickly.  I realized much later that I had forgotten to boil the potatoes, but by then David was home and resting after working on his birthday.  I was worried that I had over cooked the roast and so I cut off a piece and found it perfectly moist….. but it tasted terrible.  There was no marinade that could make that piece of meat better.  It was bad.  I called David downstairs and directed him to taste the beef and he agreed with me.  It was bad.  What a disappointment.  I don’t think I could have tried any harder to get a good dinner on the table.
I was just about at the end of my patience and I realized I also had not bought cat food and took the opportunity for David and I to have a quick run to the pet store to buy it and in the meantime, Natalie had the cake frosted.
David came to the rescue by recommending that we just go out to eat.  We went to the Brauhaus and just took the cake with us and served it there.  We even got the whole pub to sing Happy Birthday to David.
A heck of a Day to start a blog on gourmet cooking at home.

If you’re curious about the recipes –
Traditional English Roast Potatoes
Red Velvet Cake

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3 years later, a new resolution

There has been a title change on this blog.  It used to be a blog about CrockPot cooking entitled “Meals for Moms on the Move”.  But my resolution for 2013 is to be a better cook.  It’s not that I overly depended on my CrockPot – using a CrockPot for cooking is still a valuable tool – but I did not necessarily want to start a 2nd cooking blog… I just wanted to share my journey from a mom using a CrockPot to someone who just wants to be a better cook.

Since starting this blog (the CrockPot Blog), I have moved to Abu Dhabi.  In our first year here, my husband had an accident and life became very hectic and crazy busy.  He had ruptured his Achilles tendon and for a first year of experiencing a new lifestyle, an injured husband and a completely new culture, we found ourselves eating out… and eating out A LOT.  Did you know that Abu Dhabi is the most expensive city for restaurant eating in the world?  We learned it the hard way and in the past several months, I have been trying to cook more at home.  What our eating out DID teach me is to enjoy really, really, really well cooked and well spiced food.  We’ve had Arabic food, Indian, Asian, Arabian versions of American food! LOL!!!  We can tour the world of cuisine and never leave the island of Abu Dhabi.

So, my blog is about trying to bring that really good cuisine home – try to make it palatable for a family of a few robust eaters and some picky eaters – and I count myself as one of those picky eaters.

When I decided to look into this concept and this New Year’s resolution, I googled “Be a better cook” and I must laugh at what first came up in the search.  One of the first results was 9 Simple Ways to Be a Better Cook.  It recommends good tools, good pre-preparation, etc.  If this idea of being a better cook really grabs your attention, that website has some good rabbit trails you might want to follow and gives me some good ideas for me to cover as I go through this journey. Anyway… back to my train of thought… another link in the first page of Google results was Train Yourself to be a Better Cook.  I must laugh at the disparity between the first result I mentioned at this one.  I think they are *worlds* away from each other and for some people, it’s a very long journey – years – between the need for good tools and the “need” for having 4 different types of salt in your pantry.

I confess that I think that I am on the side of this journey where I am going to be looking at the 4 different types of salt rather than the purchase of a good set of knives.  That’s where I am at.  But it’s taken me a long time to get there.

Let’s see where this journey goes, shall we?  I think we’ll start tonight… but I’m not going to make a rack of lamb with desert truffles… but it’s my husband’s birthday and my daughter wants to make him a very nice meal.  She’s 13 and my pickiest eater.  But she wants to make him a very nice roast.  She likes it and he likes it.  I’ll share with you how it turns out.

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And a month later…

Today marks our 1 one month anniversary of being in Abu Dhabi.  I’m rather surprised at how little I have blogged.  I honestly thought I’d blog some more.  But I didn’t know where to begin to describe the rollercoaster that we have been on.

After moving into an efficiency apartment shortly after we got here, we started our villa hunt.  We were on our own for the most part which made the whole experience challenging.  But we now have a villa and it’s being painted and cleaned up as I type.  I am counting the minutes until we can get in there because it feels like that our life can really get started once we are our own house.  But then there is going to be this massive craziness from the word go to go and get appliances and furniture to make the villa home.

This evening we met up with a man to buy his car that we found on the internet classifieds here.  We should be able to take possession of it by the end of next week.  It’s a 2007 Volvo XC90.  It’s the car I’ve wanted for several years.

We are doing very well, otherwise.  We are very happy with the church and we have made some instant friends here.  The Emirati people are very welcoming to people of other nationalities and faiths here.   But while they are very welcoming, we are still noticeably separate.  Our activities rarely blend… like there’s no Emirati boys on the Rugby team.

I’m afraid that some of our struggles with our villa hunting and our car hunting have colored some of my perceptions and I hesitate to publish some of my feelings as I do not want to rush to those judgements.  I’ll give it more time and more careful consideration.

But we are in a comfortable hotel that has a small kitchen and we have a good rental car.  I know that we are well taken care of despite our frustrations.

I will write more as we progress into our new home.

With love, Andrea

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It was only a little fire

My husband read my blog last night and I asked him his opinion on if I had missed something.  He said “Bread Heaven”.

“Bread Heaven” is the display of international breads during the breakfast buffet hours.  Our daughter loves all things bread.  When she saw that display of breads during our first breakfast she just stood there with her jaw on the floor.  She was in awe.

So, this morning, I decided to take a picture of the bread display for this post.  Just as I was pulling out the camera, My daughter had put a croissant into the toaster.  Apparently, it was the wrong part of the toaster because when she frantically called her dad over to the toaster oven, flames shot out!  The waitress and the omelette chef rushed over to assist them.  The croissant that she was just trying to warm up came out in ashes.

It was quite smokey in the restaurant.  But really it was just a little fire because it did not set off the fire suppression system overhead.  Thank God!

~~Andrea

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First Impressions

It’s hard to believe that we have only been here a day and a half and I already feel I am behind on my blog. Lots of things are happening all at once. I’ll try and give you the good stuff.
We landed in Dubai after our 15 hour flight and then had to drive an hour to Abu Dhabi. It took 3 Volvo sedans to move all of us and our luggage from one city to the next. It was quite a circus and I’ll spare you the details. We arrived in Abu Dhabi around 2 or 3 in the afternoon on Thursday, August 25. My concept of time was totally off so I can’t remember exactly what time it was.
This suite is well suited for our family for a short stay. My husband and I have a large room all to ourself with our own full bath. The girls are in a room with two double beds and they also have a full bath. Poor Matt’s stuck out on the rollaway in the living room but I think he likes it that way so he can do what he wants to do after we are all in bed. We’re on the 25th floor and have a fantastic view of the Corniche (reminds me of the Seawall in Galveston, only nicer). My only complaint is that the air is rather stale.
Tomorrow afternoon, we will move into some better, long term accommodations that will be more comfortable for us as we wait to find a villa. It’s more like an efficiency apartment and is fully furnished. It even has pots and pans. It will be really nice to start cooking our own food again and getting settled.
This evening, we had dinner at My husband’s boss’s house. The Boss’s wife and daughter were not at home yet. They’re still stateside. Another of David’s coworkers came, he’s known as JJ.  I met JJ years ago when Jud had to spend a few days in Louisiana working on a special drilling tool. That’s when he worked with JJ in Nigeria. We had a great time getting to know everyone. We took a tour of The Boss’s villa because it’s very similar to what we will be looking at in a few weeks for our own home.
Everybody is settling in quite nicely. David’s so excited he can barely contain himself. I’m excited and anxious at the same time. As a woman, the culture is very different for me than it is for my husband. The girls are doing well as long as we manage the jet lag proactively. Matt is making friends quickly. I think as long as he stays busy, he’ll be OK. We will meet one family tomorrow that he met through Facebook. It turns out, they live across the street from our new hotel!
The whole country is taking a week off to celebrate the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. This delays a lot of our forward processing to get a house, to get our visas, etc. I hope we can take advantage of the time and enjoy our new home in Abu Dhabi.
With love,
Andrea
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We made it!

We have settled into our hotel in Abu Dhabi!  I will blog more when I am not jet-lagged.

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At the airport

I’m writing from the Houston airport. We are resting in the lounge and have about an hour before we get on the plane. We will fly 15 hours direct to Dubai and then drive an hour to Abu Dhabi.

Our morning went very well. We somehow managed to get all the last minute things stuffed into the suitcases. My son’s girlfriend came over to say goodbye. My heart really went out to her. After she left, we waited just a few minutes before our ride came to load up our 16 bags of luggage and take us to the airport.

After such a long wait to get this move over with, My husband and I are very excited. It feels so good to have just our carryon luggage to worry about at the moment. The girls have already made a friend in the lounge but still have teary moments. My son is just happy to have Internet to maintain contact with his girlfriend until we take off.

We have had so many messages of prayers and well wishes. Right now, they are sustaining me. Love to all.

Andrea

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Fun time!

Schlitterbahn

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If you need me, I’ll be in the lazy river…

This past week has been so intense, I haven’t had a minute to write.  The last few days in our house were really emotional.  So many lasts… but when Friday morning came around and we awoke for the last time in our house and were anticipating the movers, it was such a relief.  All the prep, sorting, packing, etc. was over.  Relief!

The packers and movers got there around 8:30 and they were gone with all over our things by 5:00.  We moved into the hotel and have been chasing all of the last minute before you move things for days.  Cell phones, cable, trash, mail, etc.  Just a circus.

So, tomorrow, we are going to a water park to just escape our world for a moment.  So, if you need us, we’ll be in the water park’s lazy river sippin lemonade and trying to relax and not think so much that within 24 hours of that time, we’ll be on a plane to the other side of the world.

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