Monday, November 5, 2012

What I Made for Dinner: November 5, 2012

Russian feast.

Last week, a friend mentioned the delights he found at a local Russian grocery.  Coincidentally, our synagogue recently hosted a little program about Eastern European shtetl culture in the 18th century.  I was inspired.  A visit to the shop, and I am hooked.

What's here? 

Jewish rye and black bread, which the shop gets from a bakery in Brooklyn that labels its stuff all in Russian.

Pickled tomatoes and sweet onions (made by me).

Assorted smoked fish. Here we have trout, salmon, sturgeon, and butterfish. The shop has all these whole smoked and dried mackerel and pike, but I was too intimidated to buy a whole fish.  Next time.

Salami and liverwurst.  The shop features a comprehensive selection--almost a gallery collection, really--of sausages, salamis, and dried and cured meats.  It has a similar collection of pickles--kosher dills, mushrooms, tomatoes, all kinds of vegetables.  It is truly impressive.

(I bought some full-sour dills imported from Poland, but I forgot to take pictures of them. The jar says "ZPOW" and that's about right.)

Of course, boiled eggs and sauteed cabbage.  I was pleasantly surprised by the cabbage; I followed this recipe.

Shopping at this grocery was an adventure, largely because I couldn't read any of the labels and I was constantly at risk of buying pickled herring or, I don't know, Soviet-era canned spam hash.  (There is a wall completely full of nothing but pickled herring and Soviet-era canned meats.) 

I didn't take pictures of my favorite part, which is the candy aisle.  There are these crazy candy boxes and bulk candies, all of them labeled exclusively in Russian.  To know what you're getting, you have to guess by the pictures.  So, really, good luck.  My favorite was a tie: either the prune, filled with nougat and covered in chocolate, or the dark chocolates filled with vodka.

Yeah, chocolate-covered vodka is a thing that exists in the world, and my life is better for it. Dasvidaniya.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What I Made for Dinner: October 23, 2012

Penne Alfredo with chicken, broccoli, and roasted garlic.

Most of this dinner was leftovers.  (The very best kind of leftovers, covered in butter, cream, and cheese.  Mmmm.)

On Sunday, something cool happened.  Round-Trip America stopped at my house!  My friend Jenna has driven all over the country, from New Jersey to Alaska, and now she's on her way back and we got her for about a day and a half.  That's pretty generous--she's a woman with places to go.

While she was here, we ate at the Free State Brewery (one of the eight wonders of Kansas cuisine) and Oklahoma Joe's (inexcusably, not one of the eight wonders. For shame).  But also, I wanted to cook for her, and just hang out around the big dining room table and chat without worrying about the kids getting bored or whatever.  Here was Sunday's menu:
  • Chickens roasted on a bed of garlic heads (the garlic gets soft when it roasts under the chicken, and the chicken gets infused with the garlic's aroma)
  • Oven-roasted potatoes and artichoke hearts
  • Sauteed broccolini
  • Sourdough toast, spread with the roasted garlic
Most of that stuff gets thrown together in a roasting pan and stuck in the oven for a couple of hours, so we were free to hang out and play catch with the dog (a particularly interesting version, invented by my nine-year-old son, involving rolling tennis balls up the slide), and chat, and eat brie and crackers.

That was a pretty good dinner.  Sunday was a pretty good evening.

And then, leftovers!  Jenna and Round-Trip America have rolled on to the next adventure.  I had fifteen minutes to make dinner tonight.  Chopped up the rest of the chicken and broccolini and tossed it with a nice penne Alfredo. Not half bad.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

What I Made for Dinner: October 18, 2012

Beef Stroganoff.

It's fall, the weather is changing, the daylight is fading, I'm slammed with grading papers, and I'm reading a Russian novel. What else to make besides beef Stroganoff (in the slow cooker, of course)?

Of all things, why read a Russian novel, and why now? One friend pointed out that it would be depressing even if I read it in the middle of summer, in Stockholm, with twenty-four hours of sunlight perking things up.  True enough.

I'm reading Cancer Ward by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.  It's a powerful reflection on illness and its oppressions.  I needed to read it.

Back in March, I had a recurrence of the thyroid cancer I've had since 1998. This recurrence was my fourth; the bastard is never really gone. This time, though, in the course of treatment, a nerve in my neck was damaged and I lost my voice. 

That was five months ago.  The surgeon repaired the voice and at this point, the nerve seems to be healing.  I could be lucky enough that there's no permanent harm done.  The experience horrified me, though.  I felt disabled.  Even now, almost back to full volume, I imagine future recurrences and what else they might destroy. I don't know how to cope with any of that.

So I'm reading a Russian novel for some kind of clue about how to deal with suffering. (Go to the experts.)

And this is how we get to a Thursday when I wanted beef Stroganoff.  (Which is so hilarious it its way: whatever else is going on, you gotta eat, right? Or at least, I do.)  Challenges:  I'd never made it before, plus I had to adapt it to the slow cooker, because I'm awash in papers and tests to grade.  I researched some recipes, but the slow cooker ones sounded awful--all involved cream of mushroom soup and all essentially called for boiling the beef. Ew.  So I looked at more traditional recipes and adapted them to the slow cooker. 

Big success.  BIG success.  Delicious, warm, and comforting.  Everyone liked it.  It goes in the rotation for winter.

Slow-Cooker Beef Stroganoff

1 T olive oil
1 T butter
1/2 cup flour
kosher salt & black pepper to taste
1 lb. beef chuck or other stew meat, cut into thin strips
1 onion, sliced
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup white wine
1 can condensed French onion soup (note: if you don't want to use canned soup, substitute 8 oz. of beef broth and add more sliced onion.)
1 T dijon mustard
1/4 cup fresh dill
1/2 cup plain 2% Greek yogurt (note: sour cream or creme fraiche is traditional, but the Greek yogurt was tasty, tangy, and lighter than the other two.)

Season the flour with salt and pepper to taste.  Dredge the beef in the flour and shake off the excess.

In a skillet (preferably cast iron), melt the oil and butter over medium-high heat.  Brown the beef until golden brown. Transfer the beef to the slow cooker.  If the skillet seems dry, add a little more oil. Saute the onion and mushrooms together until the onion starts to become translucent, about 10 minutes or so. Transfer the vegetables to the slow cooker.  Put the skillet back over the flame and add the wine. Bring to a boil, scraping up the drippings on the bottom of the skillet, until the wine is reduced by about half. Add to the slow cooker along with the soup, the dijon mustard, and 3 tablespoons of the dill.  Turn on the slow cooker and let it do its thing.

Right before serving, stir in the yogurt and the rest of the dill.  Stir until the yogurt is melted and evenly distributed.  Serve over the buttered noodles of your choice (we used whole-wheat bowties).

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

What I Made for Dinner: March 13, 2012

Cajun-spiced tofu and grits with spinach and corn.

Listen to me:  If I walk in the door after a long day at work, and you greet me by yelling at me and tattling on your brother, and the news of the day is how some of you were mean to the dog, you are getting tofu, grits, and spinach for dinner.

(I know I haven't posted for a long time.  I have been struggling to write and to cook.  We do go through phases in life, don't we.)

Monday, December 12, 2011

What I Made for Dinner: December 12, 2011

Clam chowder.

I was trying to copy some delicious clam chowder Alex had at Bluezoo at the Dolphin resort at Disney World.  We went to Orlando last week for a theme park extravaganza. Extravaganza! Hoo boy.

Theme parks, they are not my thing.  I know many people adore them, and certainly there is much to adore.  I can appreciate Disney's charms, but given my druthers I would never ever go there.  I would go anywhere without insane crowds and price-gouging and rides that simulate near-death experiences.  But where are my druthers, anyway? I haven't been able to find them since I had three kids.

So. Orlando.
With the family. Everything looks dark next to Cinderella's Castle.  Everything in the whole world.

There's an awful lot there; we saw the main Disney parks and the Universal park.  Disney, of course, is gargantuan and thrilling, with marvels around every bend.  It takes at least three days to do it justice; four days would be better. 

Universal-Not-Disney-Islands-of-Whatever, as far as I'm concerned, is all about Harry Potter World.

 The Wizarding World of Harry Potter beautifully realizes parts of the books and films.  It's a must for Potter fans, and certain of us at Chez Dinnertime are Potter-obsessed.  The Harry Potter World is good for a solid three to four hours of fun.  Universal does offer much more than the Harry Potter part, mainly thrill rides and carnival games.  The kids had fun there, but from what I could tell it's basically Worlds of Fun, on crack, with better character licensing.

My niece and nephew were there too. Importantly, not one of those children is actually permitted to watch The Simpsons.
The children were delighted to be in either park.  Every part of those parks made them unhinged with joy. They goaded each other onto scary rides and congratulated each other on surviving.  The big ones encouraged the little ones.  The little ones gave the big ones an excuse to meet Goofy.  Disney knows how to make sure kids are happy.  They enjoyed several days of wild enthusiasm, and that right there was worth the trip.

Here are the main things to know about the Orlando parks, both the Disney and the Not-Disney:

  1. You should expect to just bring all your money and leave it there.  All of it. Resistance is useless.  You will want to buy your kid a hat and a shirt and a wand and a character set and a sword and a key chain and a glowstick and sunglasses and a jacket and a stuffed animal.  In the moment, those purchases will seem necessary and prudent.  Yes yes yes, we do not want to raise spoiled, entitled children, and as parents it is part of our sacred duty to set limits. I would submit that once you have set foot in one of these parks, that ship has sailed.  Teach restraint and solid Puritan work ethic some other time.
  2. You should be prepared to walk a half-marathon every day you're in a park.  It would be only about five miles, but you must do a lot of zig-zagging to avoid people on mobility scooters, doing a solid fifteen miles an hour and heading right for you.
  3. With very few exceptions, you should not eat any meals inside the park. Snacks, sure, who can help it? Ice cream, just delightful.  Candy, especially, is first-rate.  Harry Potter World has a Honeydukes that just about lives up to its legend. But life is simply too short to eat an entire meal there.  (Notably, the Disney parks have a couple of high-quality places to eat.  The restaurants in the World Showcase part of Epcot, while pricey, offer delicious food.  And we had an excellent lunch at the Tusker House buffet at the Animal Kingdom park.)
You and thirteen of your closest friends can meet Mickey Mouse at the Tusker House and then write a rhyme about it.
For meals, the hotel restaurants are the name of the game.  We had excellent meals--really, really good food--at every resort restaurant we tried.  We ate at Waves (at the Contemporary Resort); 'Ohana (at the Polynesian); Il Mulino and Kimono (at the Swan); and Bluezoo (at the Dolphin), where Alex got that clam chowder. It came in a bowl bigger than his head.

We took small children out for fine dining, including upscale sushi, and it worked out fine. The restaurants at the Disney resorts have nice kids' menus and may offer half-portions of regular food.

Anyhow, we made it back in one piece.  And when I went grocery shopping, what hey, Costco had clams! So I thought I'd try it. It was pretty good for a first attempt, but it was no Bluezoo.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What I Made for Dinner: November 22, 2011

Baked rigatoni.

This baked rigatoni wasn't for our dinner; it was for some friends whose young son is gravely ill.  I made the same thing a couple of weeks ago for different friends under similar circumstances.

Bringing food. Huh.  It's a nice tradition; I do it a lot.  It seems completely inadequate right now.

As a lawyer, I'm trained to figure out a way to solve problems.  I am an extremely pushy, anal-retentive, overfunctioning lawyer-mom.  I am not good with situations where there is nothing to do but hope for the best.  Right now, there is nothing much else to do.  That is unacceptable to me.

So what else is there?  Well, at least my friends could have a nice meal.  Maybe it would make them feel a little better, and maybe they'd be a little more well-nourished, and maybe that would give them just a little more strength to cope with the unimaginable.

Baked Rigatoni (serves about 6)

32-ounce can crushed tomatoes
4 Tbsp olive oil
one bunch each fresh basil and oregano
kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
1 pound rigatoni
1 pound bulk sweet Italian sausage (optional; for veggie rigatoni, omit the sausage)
3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup grated parmesan cheese or Italian 5-cheese blend
1 sweet onion, diced
1 cup carrots, diced
1 sweet bell pepper, diced (optional)
2 cloves garlic, minced (more or less to taste)
2 Tablespoons flour
3/4 cup milk (low-fat works fine)

Note: This recipe can be frozen before baking.  When baking, preheat oven to 375.

1.  Make the sauce.  In a pot, combine the crushed tomatoes, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, the salt and pepper, and the fresh herbs. Cover and simmer while you prepare the rest of the dish.

2.  Meanwhile, boil water for the pasta. Cook the rigatoni until just short of al dente, about six minutes. Drain and set aside.

3.  While the pasta is boiling, heat the remaining olive oil in a large, deep pan. If using sausage, brown it until it's cooked through, remove from the skillet and set aside.  In the same pan over medium-high heat, saute the onion, carrots, garlic, and bell pepper (if using) until the vegetables are very soft.

4.  When the vegetables are very soft, sprinkle the flour over them in the pan.  Saute, stirring constantly, until the flour is light brown and begins to smell a little nutty.  Add the milk and boil, stirring, until it is very thick.

5.  Remove the tomato sauce from the heat; remove the herbs and discard.  Add the tomato sauce to the vegetable mixture in the pan.  Add two cups of the shredded mozzarella and stir until combined. 

6.  Assemble the final dish:  In a large bowl, combine the cooked rigatoni, sausage (if using), remaining mozzarella, and tomato mixture.  Stir gently until evenly combined. Transfer to a 9-by-13 baking dish and sprinkle with the grated parmesan.  Bake for 30 minutes covered with aluminum foil, then remove foil and bake for about 15 minutes more, until the cheese has started to brown.

Friday, November 18, 2011

What I Made for Dinner: November 17, 2011

Chicken pot pie.

Used the leftovers from Monday night.  Delicious, comforting, and hearty.  Alex says pot pie is his favorite dinner; I wish he had told me that before.  I'll have to make it more often.

My mom and dad joined us for dinner and insisted on talking about Thanksgiving.  We will host it, as usual, but my enthusiasm is just missing this year and I've been denying the need to plan the meal.  I need some inspiration. 

So:  If anyone is reading, what's your favorite Thanksgiving recipe?  What's your least favorite?  What do you consider the most unusual food to make it onto your Thanksgiving table?