Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Why I Haven't Made Dinner: July 26 etc.

I am on Vacation!  Lovely lovely Vacation!  Eating things others have prepared, sometimes things I don't even know the names for.  The cooking and childrearing and complaining and general whatnot will resume momentarily.

Friday, July 24, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: July 24, 2009

Chicken paillard, mashed potatoes, baked tomatoes with hazelnut breadcrumbs.

A lovely Shabbat dinner tonight with my parents visiting. We have a ton of ripe tomatoes right now,
and I needed only the faintest push (supplied by the August issue of Gourmet) to make them into this:

See that topping? That's sourdough breadcrumbs and hazelnuts, browned in butter and sitting on top of all those ripe tomatoes. And those tomatoes? When you bake them in the oven for about twenty minutes or so, they melt. And the breadcrumbs soak up all that tomato juice. And what you are left with? Is mighty hard to quit eating.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: July 22, 2009

Asparagus frittata, buttermilk biscuits.

Biscuit success at long last!

I love biscuits so much. But I am so not southern. No one in my family, immediate or extended or even in-law, ever made biscuits at home (at least not for me). So it has been a long quest for me to figure out how to make biscuits like the ones I've eaten in Virginia and Atlanta and New Orleans.

For a long time, I used Alton Brown's biscuit recipe, but they never came out right for me: they didn't rise enough, they weren't light or particularly flaky. I had to double his recipe to get enough for the family. I always thought I was doing something wrong, and if I could just figure out the right technique, his recipe would work for me.


Tonight I made the biscuits I should have been making all along, from the Amateur Gourmet. I should have known. Adam is a Jewish New Yorker! Of course his recipe would work for me! Golden, light, fluffy, and tasty, all on the first try. I didn't even bother taking pictures because Adam's are so great. Thank you, Amateur Gourmet!

But that's not even the best part. This is:

When I announced I'd be making biscuits, Alex, who has been taking a cooking class this week at camp, exclaimed, "I know how to make those!" And he totally did--he knew about rolling the uncooked biscuits in flour, he knew how to place them in the cake pan, and he knew exactly how much butter to brush on top. (Awesome. I have been trying and failing at biscuits for like fifteen years; my six-year-old spends three days at day camp and figures it out.) And then he got the eggs ready, although I put them in the pan to cook. How about that: All of a sudden, I have a kitchen accomplice.

Monday, July 20, 2009

What My Mom and I Made for Dinner: July 20, 2009

Stuffed peppers, Caesar salad.

Remember the dearly-departed comic strip Calvin & Hobbes? In one, Calvin's mom makes stuffed peppers for dinner and to get Calvin to eat one, she tells him it's stewed monkey brains.

We should have tried that tonight.

It still probably wouldn't have worked.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

What I Brought to Share: July 19, 2009

Pasta salad with artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, pepperoni, and mozzarella cheese.

This salad was our contribution to the Cub Scout family potluck picnic this afternoon. The food everyone brought was great, but the eating played far second fiddle to the exploring of the park. There was a creek! With a waterfall! That you can climb! And bugs! And rocks to throw in! And rocks to check under! And plants that might or might not be poison ivy! And a bridge! With no railing!

I wanted to take pictures but obviously I couldn't or we might have lost a certain small person. This particular small person could not get over the space, the freedom, all the delightful hazards. At one point he lost his balance and sat down in the creek, then looked at me, crestfallen: "I'm wet. Make me dry."

We left the park happy, full, extremely dirty, and covered with bites from mosquitoes who laughed and laughed at our Off Family Care Smooth & Dry formula.

What I Brought to Share: July 18, 2009

Tomato and arugula salad with shaved romano.

My parents had a little dinner party for a friend who was visiting from England, and the tomatoes from my garden were my contribution. Dinner was fun, maybe a little bit crazy with all the children running amok. Hopefully our guest had a good time and was not too alarmed by the following:

At one point Alex came in from outside and asked my mom for a magnifying glass. She said sure--such a supportive grandma fostering Alex's love of the natural sciences--and started looking for one until my sister said, "Hey, Mom? Ask him why he wants it." He and my nephew were looking for fire-making materials and Alex figured he was more likely to score a magnifying glass than a Zippo. Lordy.

At any rate, my sister and I wound up building a pretty decent little campfire on the gravel driveway. I can't believe we've never done that before! I think driveway campfires are going to become a central part of future family parties.

Friday, July 17, 2009

What I Made Instead of Dinner: July 17, 2009

Zucchini muffins and bread.

So okay, I let the zucchini go a little too long in the garden and came out with a monster. I forgot to take a picture of it before I shredded it, but tonight it turned into this:

which is one heck of a lot of zucchini baked goods, and which didn't even use all the shredded zucchini--I froze enough for another batch-and-a-half. I used Smitten Kitchen's recipe, omitting nuts and including both chocolate chips and dried cranberries.

So the question might be, why didn't I make dinner? The answer is that too many children yelled at me this afternoon when they got home from camp. Yes, they were exhausted and hungry, but really, name-calling does not motivate the cook. They got hot dogs and mac-n-cheese. I took on the above project because baking is soothing: It smells great, it gives you clear instructions to follow, it quickly results in something gorgeous, and it never says mean things to you. It's like the opposite of child-rearing.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: July 16, 2009

Chicken quesadillas, guacamole, roasted tomato salsa.

This is Round One of leftovers from our chicken on Monday. I like making quesadillas and haven't in a long time.

I made the salsa from scratch because Alex hurt his head. Around 3, we got a call from day camp reporting a tag collision. Chuck went to get Alex and found him in the nurse's office, covered in his own blood and with a flap of skin hanging on the side of his head, whereupon they departed for the pediatrician. I had to wait a long time for news; there's no cell phone use at the doctor's office, a policy apparently devised specifically for the torture of anxious relatives. I channeled my own anxiety into making salsa with some of the red and yellow tomatoes recently produced by our garden.

Alex came home just fine, three staples richer and starving. He said these were the best quesadillas ever. I really don't know if a kid with a stapled-shut hole in his head is qualified to make that call.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: July 14, 2009

Bagels and smoked fish; salad of artichoke hearts and roasted red peppers.

I didn't so much cook this meal as take it out of its packages and and add some condiments. Who cares? It tasted good and it got Josh out the door in time for his very first soccer practice.

I do have some nagging questions, though. Recently my doctor mentioned that we should be eating four fish-based meals a week. You know, for our cholesterol, because we are becoming decrepit and elderly. Thus: Do lox and smoked whitefish count toward that total? In the spirit of complete honesty, would tonight's dinner be fish-based or bagel-based? If we eat that much fish and improve our lipid profiles accordingly, will we get the kind of severe mercury poisoning that will keep us from completing a run on Broadway?

Modern medicine is so confusing.

Monday, July 13, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: July 13, 2009

Grilled whole chicken, tomato salad with arugula, grilled zucchini with parmesan cheese.

With Chuck traveling and working so much, it's tempting to let things slide a little on the meals front. For instance, last night for dinner, the kids ate frozen pizza (I heated it first) while sitting on a blanket on the floor in front of the TV. I ate popcorn for dinner.

But tonight I needed some civilization. Even though it's the middle of summer, I still crave roast chicken. Of course it would be obnoxious to roast a chicken when it's 90 and humid out. But if you remove the backbone of a whole chicken, rub its skin with olive oil and herbs and salt and pepper, and put it flat over evenly-spread coals, it grills on the Weber very nicely. You get the same meal, and importantly the same leftovers, as if you'd had your oven going at 425 for an hour and a half. This week: the leftovers!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

What I Made for No Reason in Particular: July 9, 2009

Blueberry Cake.

Alex was at a birthday party, I had a late afternoon appointment so we got carry-out Thai food for dinner, and I was left with time on my hands and a large case of blueberries in the fridge.

Here's the result.

I got the recipe from Angie, a friend of mine from way back, way way back in fact, all the way back to summer camp in Indiana. She tolerated my totally embarrassing obsession with Duran Duran and she used to let me borrow her Chuck Taylor hightops because I loved them and my mom wouldn't let me have any. Now she shares her recipe for blueberry cake. Do you get many such friends in a lifetime?

Blueberry Cake
1 cup flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup shortening (I used butter instead)
3/4 cup white sugar
3 eggs
1 3/4 teaspoons almond extract
1/3 cup milk
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
1/3 cup confectioners' sugar
6 tablespoons cream cheese, softened

Preheat oven to 350F.
Grease a 9 inch square baking pan.

Crust: Cream shortening, white sugar, one egg, milk, and ¾ tsp. almond extract.
Mix in flour and baking powder.
Spread crust evenly in baking pan.
Top w/ blueberries.

Topping: In a medium sized bowl beat 2 eggs and cream cheese until smooth.
Stir in powdered/confectioners sugar and 1 tsp almond extract.
Spread over blueberries.

Bake 55-60 minutes or until firm to the touch.
Cool in the pan before cutting.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: July 7, 2009

Pasta carbonara with tomatoes.

Chuck had to work late, another in a string of late evenings and nights away on business trips. I don't mean to complain, because I am happy he has a job, especially one that he loves and that allows him to do some good. But you know? When it gets to be 6:00 and it's been a long day (week, month) with the kids and the only thing you're really looking forward to is your spouse coming home from work, and then the spouse does not, it is, shall we say, a bummer. A bummer I improved a little with bacon and tomatoes from my garden.

What I Made for Dinner: July 6, 2009

Beef stir-fry with ginger, snow peas, sweet corn, and red bell peppers.

I forgot to put in the baby bok choy I got at the farmer's market. Damn.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: July 5, 2009

"Barbecue" lamb, chickpea salad with sweet peppers and feta.

This lamb dish was the return of the grilled leg of lamb we had last week. We had about half of it left over, and this is one of my favorite ways to use leftover hunks of roasted or grilled meats. I plunk it into the crock pot with some barbecue sauce, a can of diced tomatoes, and a beer or whatever leftover bits of wine are in the fridge. Four to six hours later, voila! Fake barbecue! (It's not really 'cue because the meat was never slow-smoked.)

While the leftover lamb crock-potted, we took the boys to a nearby park with a good-sized artificial lake. Josh and Alex wanted to catch frogs. We saw lots of them; by this time of year, apparently, they are large and kind of sluggish. They also seem to have some experience avoiding little boys bearing fishing nets. The frogs of Antioch Park are safe. We did, however, notice, scoop, and inspect several large lake-dwelling snails. We also inadvertently gathered a quantity of mosses and assorted algae. (I don't know how to clean a fishing net. I am hoping the slime will dry up and go away.)

Then we came home to the luscious-smelling fake 'cue and this delicious crisp salad, all of which the kids devoured because they were starving after all that exploring. Eli wouldn't eat any of this stuff but I count tonight as a win anyway because I got him to try, and enjoy, whole-wheat bread and butter. Small victories with this two-year-old.

Friday, July 3, 2009

What I Brought to Share: July 3, 2009

Caprese pasta salad, summer beer.

Our generous neighbors had their annual Independence Day celebration and invited us, maybe against their better judgment, but I was happy to go. It was so fun, except when all the boys decided to play dodge ball. I freaking hate dodge ball. Someone always gets upset, and it's usually one of my kids, and tonight was no exception. Can't we all just get along?

I first had summer beer about a month ago sitting on my friend Susan's deck. Today, my friend Holly gave me a slightly tweaked recipe, which I adjusted again to fit the ingredients I had. Really, this is just about the best picnic beverage/adult punch/summer cooler around.

This recipe makes about 120 ounces, which fills a sun-tea type jug. Throw some mixed, frozen berries in the bottom of a large pitcher. Add two quarts of prepared lemonade. Add 8 ounces of vodka (Holly suggested raspberry vodka but I just had plain), one can of Sprite, and 24 ounces (two bottles) of beer (Holly likes Newcastle; I used Boulevard Wheat). Stir. Enjoy, being sure to share because you really should not be drinking so much by yourself.