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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Last Week's Recipe Wrap-up

Last week was strange. We had 5 straight days of rain so severe that schools and government buildings were closed for two days due to dangerous flooding and concerns about wind going over the bridges. The rain came up pretty high and we had a little trouble with one of our cars that sits very close to the ground. My husband was alert enough to the rising water that he moved the car to higher ground before it got flooded. Anyway, I hadn't gone grocery shopping in awhile so dinner got to be sort of challenging since I couldn't get to the store.

Meatless Monday was a treat though, I still had cabbage to use so I decided to let the "Joy of Cooking" give me some ideas. I made the "Bean Soup with Vegetables or Garbure" recipe because it called for cabbage as well as navy beans, potatoes, carrots, and onion all of which I had on hand but it also called for turnips, leeks and a ham bone, which I lacked. I subbed in some extra potatoes and carrots for the turnips and chopped up some green onion to replace the leeks. I added a bit of "Liquid Smoke" seasoning and extra salt to take the place of the hambone. The recipe calls for water as the soup base, but if you are making the vegetarian version of this recipe I highly recommend you use your best veggie broth for added flavor. The soup was delicious and hearty and made excellent leftovers for lunch for the next couple of days. Add some fresh cornbread muffins and this is a pretty kick-ass dinner and a healthy serving of veggies to boot.

Tuesday I took advantage of the coolness the house due to the rain and I roasted a chicken and made some veggies. I love roasted chicken! When I was a broke and starving actress in Los Angeles I would sometimes splurge on an entire rotisserie chicken at the local bargain grocery store. They were three dollars a piece so sometimes I would have to dig change out of the couch to make the money, but I would walk home with my warm chicken and just smell it and try not to drool on my shoes. Anyhow, when I make chicken myself (roasted or rotisserie) I always try to make it as delicious and juicy as that 20 year old found her precious little grocery store chicken. I remove any giblets from the chicken cavity and sprinkle the inside with salt and pepper, I rub seasoned butter under the skin over the breasts and salt and pepper the chicken all over. I usually place some vegetables or a pierced lemon in the cavity of the chicken prior to roasting for additional flavor. I also like to thickly slice some onions into rings and cover the bottom of a roasting pan with them. I then put the chicken on top of the onion rings and roast the chicken at 375 degrees until the drumstick moves freely and the thigh juices run clear when pierced. You can pour off the pan juices into a sauce pan and cook over medium high heat till it reduces to make a delicious sauce as well.

Wednesday, still trapped inside our house I made some fresh bread and we had leftover soup and chicken. It was all very tasty.

Thursday, the rain had slowed enough that we could get to the store, so we bought some ground beef and taco shells and my husband made a delicious homemade salsa from the book, "Salsa Cooking" by Marjie Lambert. It was very tasty and went together in about 20 minutes.

Friday was beautiful, the kids played outside from the time they got home from school until it was well after dark. We had breakfast for dinner and the kids had fruit and yogurt. Exhausted from a week of intensive family time, housecleaning, flood worries and extra cooking (I got a lot of baking done) I fell asleep at 8:30 and slept until 7 the next morning.

Saturday night we had a friend of our elder daughter's over for a sleep over. I made the kid-friendliest meal I could short of driving them all to Mickey D's, meatloaf, mashed potatoes, roasted acorn squash, and steamed corn niblets. To make the meal more kid-friendly I sliced the acorn squash in half, removed the seeds and then cut the halves into slices which I drizzled with maple syrup, a pat of butter, salt, pepper and a dash of cinnamon. I let it bake at the same time and temperature as the meatloaf. I tinted the mashed potatoes green with food coloring and let the kids taste it and see if they could identify it. Some squealing and cautious licking of forks later they started laughing and said, "It's mashed potatoes!" I countered that in late October it was actually Monster Mash. The meatloaf was pronounced "delicious" by our guest who ate it uncomplainingly even though it was stuffed with spinach, onions and carrot. All in all a success.

Sunday night we ate a very simple meal of hotdogs, baked beans and macaroni because I had neglected to defrost the roast I had planned on making. Maybe next Sunday!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Julia and Irma

I am a big fan of Julia Child, I admit it. I used to watch her cooking show on PBS as a child and I was fascinated by her height, her laugh and her inimitable voice. I remember thinking she must be English or maybe from France, since she could speak French so well. I watched her as a sort of performance artist with food, never even thinking about trying to cook her amazingly lyrical sounding food, crepe Suzette, Poulet Poele a l'Estragon, Salade Nicoise! In fact my first attempt at "cooking" I mixed together some ketchup with some leftover kidney beans to make "chili". I stood over the stove perched on a step stool and carefully heated my concoction and then fed it to my all too trusting babysitter. I couldn't have even been in kindergarten yet. Anyhow, I knew Julia was clearly way out of my league.

When I left home at 19 I had a few recipes in my repertoire, a meatloaf, nachos, orange chicken, baked fish. I could make rice and steam vegetables, I knew how many minutes to microwave a "baked" potato. I remember making dinner for a big group of college student friends one night, and I tried something "fancy": eggs cracked into and cooked in a cheese sauce and then served on toasted english muffins. I sweated over those eggs like a woman in labor. By the time everyone was ready to sit down and eat my hands were shaking from the tension of trying to keep the eggs from breaking into the sauce and getting the slippery things onto the damn muffins without falling apart. I can't even remember if I made a side dish. I do remember thinking cooking was just not my strong suit, but I maintained my fascination with cooking shows, and dear Julia, who by now was collaborating with special guest chefs; her voice still reedy and whimsical to me though her shoulders were stooped with age. I watched her like one watches an athlete or a dancer or anyone else who is doing something very well; with complete awe and reverence for her craft and no real hope of emulating it.

I started reading my roommate's cookbooks on the sly. She had been packed off to college with a pretty wide assortment, the Better Homes and Garden New Cookbook with its distinctive red-checkered cover, some thin books about Asian Food, and a huge plastic coil bound volume with a floppy cover called The Joy of Cooking. I read that book like a novel, learning new words like "barding a fowl" which meant to tie on pieces of fat or bacon onto the chicken or turkey to keep the breast meat from drying out. I had heard of turkey bacon, but BACON TURKEY? This was crazy! I wondered exactly who Irma Rombauer was and pictured some gray-haired little granny plucking her own chickens and making homemade fruit punches.

When I moved out of the apartment I stole my friend's Joy of Cooking cookbook. I flat-out stole it. I never had any intention of cooking anything out of it, I just loved reading it and looking at the nifty illustrations for how to dress a quail and such. It was a window into a world I never had any hope of entering; like Narnia, but with cleavers.

I grew up, met and married my husband and slowly expanded my list of acceptable dishes. I remember one disastrous early dinner party. I made an attempt at arroz con pollo with black beans, a dish I had seen my mother prepare a hundred times. I called my Mom to get all of the ingredients and check on cooking times. I decided to use canned black beans instead of making them fresh just because I wasn't sure how long you needed to cook dried beans. I had never cooked them before. I think I dirtied every pan in the house and I wrecked the kitchen and when we sat down to eat, the rice was crunchy and the beans were cold. Fortunately I had lots of sangria and witty conversation to distract from how crappy everything came out. I was so disappointed and flat-out mad at myself. I was raised by an amazing cook, my Mom could make dinner for 12 on a moment's notice with whatever she could find in the pantry and the freezer and here I couldn't make dinner with a roadmap and 4 hours to prep. My great-grandmother was a formidable Southern cook and once fixed my botched chocolate chip cookie dough by eyeballing the exact amount of flour it needed and beating it in with a spoon. My abuela (my dad's mother) had been an amazing cook as well, rarely using a complicated recipe, but always making the most of whatever she put on the table. I once wept at a Mexican restaurant because their rice tasted just like hers, rich and spicy and tomatoey. Since she had passed away it was the first time I had eaten rice and not felt bitterly disappointed. How could I have come from such a long line of food-lovers, chefs, cooks and hostesses and not FIGURED OUT HOW TO MAKE DINNER?! Was I destined to be the Salieri of the food world; a passionate appreciator but unable to make ethereal music of my own?

I decided then and there that someday I would be a good cook and someday I would make a Julia Child recipe.

Well, prompted by catching a re-run of her making it on "The French Chef" yesterday I made Julia Child's famous Boeuf Bourguignon Recipe and with it I made her Champignons Sauté au Beurre and the delectable Oignons Glacés á Brun. It took me most of the day, 3 cups of wine, 2 trips to the store and countless checking and re-checking of the laptop to make sure I didn't mess it up, but I did it. I served it with my Mom's recipe for parsley potatoes and some broccoli spears steamed in the microwave, just like Mom showed me back in 1990 or so. It was a triumph. It came out of the oven smelling better than a summer day in Heaven. It made my eyes tear up with how good it smelled. And then I tasted it and it was even BETTER. Ooof.

Today I decided I would round out the weekend with the other woman that persuaded me that someday maybe I could make dinner too; Miss Joy herself, Irma Rombauer. I made her pan fried (or sauteed) chicken dredged in seasoned cornmeal, a side of baked cabbage, and some simple seasoned rice. It was all good, all tasty, all done in 30 minutes. My butter softened copy of "Joy" lay next to the stove like an old friend telling me, "now add the olive oil" and "just a teaspoon of salt." I cleaned my plate, the kids wanted seconds, my husband was tucking into the cabbage (a veggie he is not overly fond of) with gusto. It was another triumphant meal from Irma, the Alpha to Julia's Omega, the Cervantes to Julia's Shakespeare. These amazing women have been the textbooks of my cooking education.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Week's Worth of Menus

Monday -- Boca burgers, roasted potatoes and steamed mixed veggies

We prepared the boca burgers according to package directions, personally I like to top the burgers with some salsa and shredded cheese, or vegetarian tomato sauce and cheese but they are just fine plain, or served on a bun with regular burger fixings. The kids really enjoyed them, a great quick serving of protein. I'd recommend them for any quick weeknight dinner. I also made the microwave roasted rosemary potatoes, just chop your potatoes into bite sized pieces, add 2 TB of butter, some salt and pepper and crushed rosemary and microwave them for 10-15 minutes.

Tuesday -- Whole Wheat Lasagna with Lots o' Meat Sauce, we used the Paula Deen lasagna recipe, and the sauce was lovely but the ricotta was sort of bland. My search for the perfect lasagna recipe continues. I want to try one that uses a bechamel sauce soon.

Wednesday -- Cabbage, Peppers and Onion with Kielbasa

My mom taught me to make this for dinner when I was about 12. Take some kielbasa and slice it into half inch rounds, put them in the bottom of a stock pot with a tablespoon of olive oil and let them cook over medium heat. Let them get good and brown on one side before stirring them. While kilebasa is cooking slice some cabbage into thick shreds, I also portioned out about a cup of frozen chopped mixed onion and peppers. When the kielbasa was nice and browned I tossed in the frozen veggies and stirred them about and let them cook for about 2 minutes. Then I add the cabbage and stir everything together, pop on a lid and let everything cook for about 10 minutes. Dinner can be ready in as little as 20 minutes. Taste the cabbage for flavor and see if it needs salt, but usually the kielbasa is usually salty enough. This can be served with roasted potatoes, but we did raw carrot strips and applesauce. I have made it with turkey kielbasa many times, but I'd like to try it with veggie sausage, there are some delicious ones out there.

Thursday -- Homemade penne and cheese sauce, turkey hotdogs, homemade coleslaw

My Mema (southern for Grandmother) makes the world's BEST macaroni and cheese, or as some of the family refers to it "gallbladder killer" because it has enough fat to, well, kill your gall bladder. I rarely make her version because it takes a lot of time, 4-5 different cheese and you have to cook it on the stove top and in the oven. Totally worth losing your gall bladder for though. I made a stove top version that was not as good, but easily twice as fast. First make a white sauce with 2 TB os butter, 2 TB of flour, some salt and about a cup of milk (or half and half). Melt the butter, add the salt and flour, let it cook for a minute or two and then thin it out with the milk, stirring constantly. To the white sauce add several handfuls of shredded cheese. I used a 4 cheese preshredded blend, about a cup to a cup and half. Stir in some squirts of mustard, a few dashes of worcestershire sauce and a shot or two of tabasco sauce. Stir until all smooth and then put on the back burner on warm until your pasta of choice is done cooking, then mix the pasta and the cheese sauce together, stir and serve. My homemade coleslaw is shredded cabbage and carrot mixed with my own coleslaw sauce. Use whatever sauce you like, but I like the one I invented. In a small bowl whisk together a tablespoon of honey and 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar until honey is dissolved. To this add 1/4 C of plain yogurt and 1/4 of mayonnaise and whisk until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste and then you can add poppy seeds or black sesame seeds if you like, though they are optional. Toss your cabbage and carrot mixture with the sauce and refrigerate till you are ready to serve. I find the dressing sweet and tart, creamy and acidic and it is a good compliment to the cabbage.

Friday -- Homemade Pizza using "Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day" dough, with turkey pepperoni and cheese.
I have bragged before about how awesome this book is, the authors were kind enough to give anyone with an internet connection access to their Master Loaf recipe so you can try this ingenious bread baking method. I took the plain master loaf and stretched it into about a 12 inch flat round and pricked it all over with a fork. I placed the circle of dough onto a cornmeal covered baking sheet and then topped it with sauce and turkey pepperoni and cheese. It baked for about 20 minutes and we had pizza! You could even give people individual portions of dough to shape and top as they like in personal pizza sizes with this easy recipe. It is awesome because you just have refrigerated dough on hand when you need it so pizza can still be the impromptu dinner it is probably meant to be.

Happy cooking!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

3 Days, 3 Menus

Monday was as usual our Meatless menu, the kids were sick and my husband had been very ill all weekend, we actually ended up in the ER on Sunday morning. We just fed the kids yogurt, bagels, cream cheese and bananas. DH and I were so tired we just went to bed.

Tuesday we I made some baked chicken breasts, steamed green beans, and "dressing", which is identical to stuffing except not actually stuffed into anything but baked separately in it's own pan. My take on baked chicken breasts is to place the raw breast in between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound the breast until the fatter side of the breast is the same thickness as the thinner end. I seasoned the breasts on both sides with cajun spice mix and some kosher salt and then lightly seared the chicken on both sides in a hot iron skillet. You could continue to cook the chicken on the stove top, but I just wanted to get some color on them before finishing them in the oven (350 degrees). I put a little bit of butter on each piece of chicken as well. While I was doing this I was also steaming my green beans with a bit of butter in the microwave.

To make my dressing I cubed some stale bread I had in the freezer and placed it in a buttered casserole dish. I minced 1 small onion and 1 large carrot and quickly sauteed them with a bit of butter in the same pan in which I had cooked the chicken. I added some rosemary as well. When it was nice and fragrant I tossed the veggies with the bread crumbs, I opened up a quart of chicken broth (you could easily use veggie broth) and tossed everything together, when it was nice and moist I topped the dressing with some dots of butter. I threw it into the oven to bake at the same time as the chicken breasts.

I took my steamed green beans and added them into the same pan with another splash of olive oil. I seasoned the beans with salt and pepper and let them cook over medium high heat until they got come nice brown color. I deglazed the pan with a bit of soy sauce and stirred them all around. If you have some fresh ginger you can add a teaspoon or so at this point and it makes the green beans even better, but I didn't have any; another nice addition to these beans is a bit of caramelized onion or some chopped cooked bacon.

Wednesday's dinner came out really well too actually. I made a meatloaf, just make whatever meatloaf you like but I can give you some tips from my Great Gramma who taught me to make them when I was about 10 years old. First of all, use enough egg, if you have trouble with your meatloaf falling apart add another egg and see how it goes. Secondly, mix your ingredients thoroughly but gently, use your fingertips and make sure everything is mixed in well. Thirdly, when you prepare the loaf either shaping it free hand or pack it into a bread pan pick the meat up, pat it together firmly and then whack it up and down into the mixing bowl. That way you remove any air bubbles and get a loaf that does not fall apart when you slice it. I placed tonight's loaf in the center of a glass baking dish and surrounded it with cut up carrot and onion pieces which I seasoned with salt and pepper and a bit of rosemary. When the meatloaf was close to being done I snapped and steamed some asparagus. I steamed the asparagus in a bit of chicken broth and some butter. When they were done steaming I salt and peppered them and then added a bit of freshly grated parmesan and then a squeeze of key lime over all. The asparagus was wonderful I will definitely make it again.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Last Week's Recipe Wrap-Up

Monday: Black bean burritos, lettuce, salsa, sour cream, and shredded cheese. I took freshly made black beans and "re-fried" them in olive oil and then seasoned them with adobo and cumin and mashed them with a potato masher.

Tuesday: Spinach egg strata, chilled pear halves. I diced two types of slightly stale bread, one a multi-grain artisan loaf and the other crusty french bread. I defrosted some spinach and layered it over the bread pieces. I put about 2 cups of cheese over the bread and spinach, I used a combination of grated mozzarella and parmesan cheese. I beat 8 eggs with 2 cups of milk, about 2 generous squirts of grainy mustard and a dash or two of tabasco sauce and poured that over all. I baked it at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes or until puffed and golden. You can make this the night before and leave it in the fridge and then bake it in the morning too.

Wednesday: Dirty Rice Mix with kielbasa sausage. I was at cheerleading camp with my daughters and hubby sauteed some onions and green peppers, added it to the dirty rice mix and then sauteed some kielbasa to go with it. Yum!

Thursday: Driving to my brother and sister-in-law's to see the world's cutest baby. We had to eat on the road. But we also received (just for showing up!) five fresh and delicious avocados from my amazing in-laws. My friend Kayla gave me a tip to try Avocado Chocolate Mousse, but only after you make guacamole, BLTA (bacon, lettuce, tomato and avocado sandwich), shrimp salad with avocado, and using the avocado to garnish spicy bowls of tortilla soup. I also had an Eggs Benedict Florentine made with slices of fresh tomato (in place of english muffins) fresh leaves of spinach and slices of avocado. YUM!!!

Friday: Football game, the kids were cheering at half time and dinner with my Mother-in-Law and Father-in-Law. They took us out to dinner where I had a pretty tasty beer cheese soup. This one had pieces of sausage in it, but the kind I make at home is vegetarian. Use a beer that you like to drink and one that you would pair naturally with any nice selection of cheeses. I make a mirepoix in the bottom of a stock pot in some butter or olive oil, then I add some flour and let it cook a bit and add a quart of veggie stock, several shakes of worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, a bit of cayenne pepper and a 12 oz beer and let it come to a boil. I reduce the heat and then add in handfuls of shredded cheeses (usually mostly cheddar cheese, but blended with monterrey jack, mozzarella, maybe colby if I have some) stirring constantly, then I finish it off with a bit of cream, but that is optional. Between you and me, my soup is waaay better than the soup I got at the restaurant.

Thanks for putting up with the paltry posting, in addition to traveling with my family this week, my husband's asthma flared up really badly and my older girl got a 48 hour fever. So it was a little bit hectic.