Saturday, May 2, 2020

What I've Been Making for Dinner: March & April 2020

I am trying to keep everyone's spirits up. We have dinner together every night. 

Sometimes dinner is the only real daily interaction with the teenagers. I don't blame them for keeping to themselves. Their lives have been upended so completely, much more than mine. The holding pattern is fine for me, settled into comfortable middle age. The holding pattern is not fine for them. 

More than anything, I hope for timely restoration of the aspects of their world that let them imagine and build their own futures. They need outside so they can do the essential labor of becoming adults. They need--not want, need--to go places and do things. They need their friends. They need structure. They need to interact with role models other than their parents. My college student needs to be at college. Time, for them, is of the essence.

Online-only school is bullshit. Online-only life is bullshit. This--*gestures broadly*--is bullshit.

So. I've been trying to make our favorite comfort foods as much possible. Roast chickens for Passover. Pasta trio sampler for Easter supper (Lidia's is closed). Slow-cooked pulled pork. Rigatoni with vodka sauce. This mustardy beef stew, only with beer instead of cognac, because come on. A lot of cheeseburgers. Chicken parm. Things I have not been making: Anything that's an experiment, and anything with fish. Now is just not the time.

Can food hold us together? So far, so good, but it has been only six weeks of virus jail. I don't really want to speculate about what might be coming. Hopefully only an upswing. Hopefully, hopefully.

Tonight, beef bulgogi and jasmine rice.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

What I Made for Dinner: April 29, 2020

Shredded roast duck.

Another deep cut from the freezer. Sometime within the past eight years, I experimented a couple of times with duck confited in olive oil, following this method. (It's excellent, but kind of a project and impractical for a big family.) Having done it once or twice, I started collecting ducks when I saw them on sale. So we have a couple in the freezer and, you know, now's the time.

I used the NYT recipe here. What would I do without the NYT Cooking app? Much, much  worse, that's for sure.

Anyway, it's ridiculously simple: Make sure all items are removed from your duck's cavity. (There are a surprising number of items in there.) Dry off your duck. Salt and pepper it. Put it on a rack in the largest roasting pan you have. Roast it at 325° for two hours; then use a sharp knife to prick the skin all over, and roast it for two more hours. Raise the oven temperature to 400° and give it another 15-20 minutes to crisp the skin. Pull of the skin in shards and shred the meat with two forks.

I served it with rice, romaine lettuce leaves, salted cucumber sticks, and Korean barbecue sauce. It would have been just as good over pasta with some roasted cherry tomatoes. It would make for some amazing street tacos with, I don't know, probably cotija cheese. Whatever, we're in virus jail and there are no rules except for one: Maintain Virus Jail.

Speaking of virus jail, it's looking like we might have a hard time procuring meat in the months to come. There are lots of amazing meatless dishes; it's more about getting the kids to buy into eating more meals built entirely from vegetables. I am thinking about it and writing down ideas for us.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Quarantime Dinners

We found two steaks. They were in the back of our freezer, ancient and irreparably frostbitten, of uncertain provenance (but probably Costco). In the Before Times, we would have thrown them the hell away. Now, they become empanadas.

You know two old steaks make like twenty-five new empanadas? Magic. Pandemic magic. Some things stretch, others contract.

Dice up whatever meat you have and saute it with some diced onion, potatoes, spices. A little liquid to make a sauce--chicken broth if you have it, or beer. The New York Times has a recipe for beef empanadas you can follow if you want one.

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.)