Monday, August 31, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: August 31, 2009

Marinated chicken and caramelized onions, cucumber-mint salad with yogurt dressing, hummus with pita bread.

I am trying this Everyday Food "Sunday Strategy" plan, wherein the magazine tells you exactly what to buy and what to do with it all for a week of dinners, including some advance prep work on Sunday night. So far, so good: last night, my "Sunday Strategy" required me to marinate the chicken in olive oil and lemon juice (check!), roast fourteen halved tomatoes for later, make some sauce, and boil some potatoes (check check!).

I bought into this idea because its advance planning and organization seems to promise serenity, a week of stress-free dinners prepared without breaking a sweat. Let's see how it goes, hmm?

So tonight I cooked the chicken with onions and made the salad, which went fine (and was all very tasty, as it turned out).

But: The jar of hummus in the fridge, upon which I was counting, was beset by furry turquoise space aliens. Or perhaps mold. Either way, while the chicken was cooking I had to make the hummus from scratch. Which is absolutely no big deal, hummus only has like four ingredients, no problem, only Eli got really hungry in the middle of all this and needed a peanut butter sandwich, which he then demanded I feed to him because he does not like to touch it, and Alex decided to whittle down a box of crayons to doll size for some kind of school project, covering the kitchen table with all manner of wax shavings and teensy bits of Crayola paper, and Josh needed me to go over his spelling list with him.

Anyway, the Sunday Strategy didn't make my meal preparation tonight any less chaotic. But I can hardly blame that on the editors of Everyday Food, now can I?

There is no Monday strategy.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: August 30, 2009

Eggplant parmigiana, gnocchi with sage and brown butter.

We grew these guys in the backyard:

and tonight we wanted to use them. My mother-in-law graciously gave me her copy of the most recent Everyday Food magazine, which has a ton of good-looking recipes. One of those was for an eggplant parmigiana that turned out to be absolutely delicious.

The tomato sauce I used was just a can of whole tomatoes, pureed and simmered with a tablespoon of olive oil until thick.

While it simmered, I had to salt the eggplant slices and let them sit for half an hour.

In fact, this recipe took a lot longer than I thought it would, owing to my careless reading. It was a little maddening because I was up against the Sunday night soccer practice deadline.

Never fear, I can go fast when I need to.

So then I had to bread and fry the eggplant slices, and layer them in a baking dish with the tomato sauce and quite a lot of cheese. Here it is mid-assembly:

Then I baked it. The Everyday Food recipe said 45 minutes at 375. Are you kidding me? Soccer deadline, Everyday Food editors! Soccer deadline! So I did 20 minutes at 400 and then broiled it to brown the top. No harm done:


Friday, August 28, 2009

What My Mom Made for Dinner: August 28, 2009

Family spaghetti sauce with meatballs and Italian sausages.

He's nine.

We had a family party.

I made the triple-layer triple-chocolate cake.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: August 27, 2009

Tofu stir fry with peas, corn, and carrots over whole-wheat noodles.

I know this goes squarely into the "no one else cares" category, but: WAHOO!!! ELI ATE TOFU! ELI ATE NOODLES! WOOT WOOT!

See, for months he subsisted largely on whole milk and Pepperidge Farm goldfish. He ate the very occasional chicken nugget or tablespoon of macaroni. Our pediatrician told us to switch him to low-fat milk and/or cut back on the amount he drank. But really? At 24 months, the child weighed 26 pounds. I was too scared to cut out the only part of his diet I could depend on him to ingest regularly.

(Plus, I had a nagging feeling, based partly on a vague memory from Alex's toddlerhood, that eventually, all on his own, he would start favoring solid food over milk.)

(Embarrassingly, my solution to the dilemma posed by ignoring the pediatrician's advice was to quit telling the pediatrician how much milk Eli was drinking.)

Anyway, lately Eli's been more interested in chewing his food and joining the rest of the family for meals. And, as I suspected would happen, he's taking in less whole milk. So now on a regular basis he's accepting waffles for breakfast, for example. Chicken noodle soup. Peanut butter sandwiches. Not a really challenging repetoire, but such an improvement.

And then tonight! Noodles coated in orange-soy stir fry sauce! And most astoundingly, stir-fried tofu! And he said as he chewed it: "Mom! This tofu is gooooood."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: August 26, 2009

Salad of arugula, apples, green onions, bacon and brie with balsamic vinaigrette.

This afternoon, Chuck and I went to a memorial service for the father of a friend. It was sad, of course, but not devastatingly so. His family are people of such strong faith, and throughout the service the undercurrent was a very genuine "we'll miss him, but we know he's with God and we'll see him again." The memorial was a time for this tight-knit family to voice their appreciation for everything their father had given them during his life.

Still, he was about our own fathers' age. And as we left the service, my friend and I reflected that even though it's the natural order of things for children to lose their parents--in fact, it's the ideal order of things--the loss is no less shocking, no less sad. I wondered what it would be like if I were sitting in the front pew. I hope I don't have to find out for a really long time.

So food-wise, the upshot is we weren't that hungry this evening. We're feeling reflective. (Do you reflect better when you eat a light dinner?) And we're hoping our friends are feeling comforted.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: August 25, 2009

Garden salad with Buffalo chicken on top and garlic bread.

The madness begins again: School drop-off, rush to work (always ten minutes late for everything), teach, meetings, race home to relieve caregiver; Scout meeting looms; must feed family! Does the big fresh salad with carrots, tomatoes, cucumber, and scallions over green leaf lettuce balance out the Tyson prepared chicken? I hope so, because tonight it will have to do.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: August 23, 2009

Brined short ribs with cavallo nero, sliced potatoes sauteed in butter.

I made this Top Chef Masters recipe because we have a new order of beef coming next month, and we have to use up the remaining cuts in the freezer.

I started at 9:30 a.m. making the brine so the ribs could marinate for enough time. (I was counting backwards from 5 p.m., when we needed to eat so that Josh could make it to 6 p.m. soccer practice and still digest his food. No puking at soccer, please.) The brine was so insanely salty that it destroyed my cuticles. But once the ribs were in it, I went about my day until it was time to heat 'em up.

Cooking the ribs was easy, but I picked the wrong skillet. I used a nonstick pan to brown the meat and caramelize the vegetables, so there was nothing to deglaze at the end. Stupid mistake! Once everything was golden brown and delicious, into the pot it went with some broth (and the wine that I would have used for deglazing), then into the oven for the rest of the day. Easy!

The meat was delicious and easy to prepare, even though it involved three or four steps. The kids loved it, especially the carrots that cook in the braising liquid along with the ribs. This dish is going in the rotation for the school year, when I can brine it overnight and cook it in the crock pot while I'm at work.

The cavallo nero, however, was just okay. It's just braised cabbage and onions, and it was a ton of work with all the chopping, and I wouldn't bother making it again. Plus it made my house smell like cabbage, so I'm a little resentful.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: August 19, 2009

Eggs in a nest, hashbrowns with zucchini, tomatoes with pecan breadcrumbs.

If a visitor had shown up at my house at 4:00, when I got home from work, he would have thought: What a lovely little family! The children were playing nicely and quietly; the baby was content and cheerful. (I love our nanny, Deanna, so much that mere words fail.) Josh had a snack and promptly got himself ready for soccer practice.

If a visitor had arrived at 5:30, he might have been a little concerned about us. I was trying to get dinner going and keep Alex entertained and keep Eli from either setting himself on fire with the hot stove or dismantling the laundry room. Josh was at soccer practice, but as it was beginning to thunder and the sky was threatening, I kept rushing to the window and wondering whether to abort dinner and throw the other two in the car and just go get him, for God's sake, whether or not he'd be embarrassed in front of the other guys.

If a visitor had come to visit at 6:45, he would have thought he'd mistakenly walked in on a performance of Lord of the Flies at the local psychiatric hospital. To spare certain people mortification--and I'm not saying who, specifically, but it is the two people who live at this house who can read and yet cannot drive--I will not share details. It is enough to say there was much melodrama, and it was the loud kind that resulted in certain people going to bed without stories.

Somewhere in there, I managed to serve a nice little dinner. Alongside, I must mention, some good strong bloody marys, prepared by my mom.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: August 18, 2009

Grilled pizzas, slow-roasted grape tomatoes with artichoke hearts.

I used sauce and meat left over from last night to make the pizzas. This is my first time cooking pizza on the grill, and I wasn't thrilled with the results. Leaving a pizza on long enough to melt the cheese meant that the crust got charred. I'll have to think about it and try again another time.

The tomato-artichoke thing came from Jamie Oliver's The Naked Chef, mostly. His recipe has you break down four globe artichokes for their hearts, which is a ludicrous task even for someone who doesn't have three restless boys bugging her while she tries to make dinner. I used a box of frozen artichoke hearts; I bet canned would be just as good.

Slow-roasted grape tomatoes with artichoke hearts (serves four)

One pound grape tomatoes, or a combination of grape tomatoes and cherry tomatoes, or regular tomatoes cut into the approximate size of grape tomatoes
Eight-ounce box frozen artichoke hearts
2 teaspoons minced garlic (about 3 cloves)
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons fresh basil, cut into ribbons
2 teaspoons dried thyme (or 2 tablespoons fresh if you have it and feel like running to your mosquito-infested herb garden for it)
2 tablespoons olive oil
kosher salt and black pepper
A little grated parmesan cheese (optional)

Preheat oven to 350.

Defrost the artichoke hearts in the microwave, following package directions. Warm one T of olive oil in an oven-safe skillet. Add the artichoke hearts, garlic, and half the thyme; cook just until the garlic softens, then add the lemon juice and cook for a few more minutes, stirring, until the liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat.

Toss the tomatoes with one T olive oil, salt, pepper, and basil. mix well, then add to the skillet with the artichoke hearts. Mix them together and spread the whole thing evenly in the pan. Sprinkle with the remaining thyme. Cook in the oven for about 40 minutes. Before serving, sprinkle with parmesan cheese, if you like.

What I Made for Dinner: August 17, 2009

Family spaghetti sauce with meatballs and Italian sausage.

The first day of school deserves a special meal.

Look how big my boys are!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Why I Didn't Make Dinner: August 14, 2009

We went to see Julie and Julia.

And now, God help me, I want to make pate de canard en croute. I can't possibly. Maybe if my mother helps me. And my sister. And my husband. Oh, dear.

Also, afterward? We were hungry so we went to McCormick & Schmick's. (I had sole, unfortunately not meuniere.) That place used to serve fantastic food; it was a true special occasion restaurant. When I was in private practice we used to celebrate case victories there; as a family, we have marked birthdays and anniversaries there. But last night? Chuck's lobster tail was not good. Edible, but really not delicious, and a little undercooked in the middle. The orzo it sat on was bland. My sole was okay, but the broccoli (which was supposed to be green beans) was undercooked and completely flavorless.

We went to this film celebrating food and cooking and love and romance, they're all of the same cloth, and we found ourselves hungry and looking for a special meal. Instead, we discovered that a special-occasion place we used to enjoy has now become merely expensive. Kind of a bummer.

But now, what am I going to do about that duck?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: August 12, 2009

Grilled whole chicken, ciabatta toast with roasted garlic, sauteed baby broccoli, tomato and arugula salad.

This is officially my favorite way to cook a whole chicken. I cut the backbone out of a whole, smallish chicken, rub the skin with olive oil and salt and pepper, and put it over very hot coals evenly spread in a Weber grill. Twenty minutes per side, skin (breast) side down on the second half of the cooking time. When it's done, squeeze the juice of a lemon over it. As much as I love oven-roasted chicken, this is better.

Josh was exhausted and beyond hungry. We went to the playground to have a picnic lunch, then swam with friends for a couple of hours, and then he had soccer practice, and by the end of it all he. had. had. enough. "I don't even like chicken," he moaned. "I don't eat broccoli." "Okay," I soothed. "I know you're tired. Just try a little."

He ate three helpings, and then life seemed more cheerful.
Both he and Alex thought it was fun to squeeze the roasted garlic in ribbons out of the little papery pods onto the toast. There was a lot of dinner conversation about how we're all vampire-proof tonight.

Monday, August 10, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: August 10, 2009

Persian brown rice pilaf with toasted almonds and tomatoes.

I'm pretty deep into the Tomato Imperative cookbook right now. This rice was tasty, but the kids preferred the Costco-prepared mahi mahi with macadamia crust. (I thought the fish was gross. Plus it took twice as long to cook as the package promised. What the hell, Costco?)

It was hard to get motivated to cook, since we're supposedly on vacation. Chuck has taken the week off and we've planned a variety of outings that should be fun for most of us. But these activities are hard on Eli: He does not want to be at the Presidential library and museum, he does not care about inaugurations or Korea, he does not like to eat at the funky old pub on the courthouse square, there is no Wonderpets on at these places, not one single dump truck to play with, and if he has to be miserable, then goddammit, everyone else should be too.

To be fair, he didn't mind the money museum at the Federal Reserve Bank. He liked watching the robots as they stacked cash in the vaults, which we were emphatically forbidden to photograph.

Here he is at a less sensitive location.

Friday, August 7, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: August 6, 2009

Sourdough toast with ham and eggs, green salad with tomatoes and grilled asparagus.

These last few days of summer vacation are tough. The kids are sick of each other and sick of me. Everything is cause for complaint: A trip to the zoo is too hot and involves too much walking. We don't get to stay at the pool long enough, or else the pool is boring. Running errands is out of the question. There's nothing to do in the house. It's too hot to play outside.

I think I did a good mom job on Thursday: An early trip to the zoo, before it got too hot. Back-to school haircuts, with the boys given carte blanche on any kind of hairstyle they could convince the barber to do (Alex got a faux-hawk and a new vat of molding wax). So then why, when it came time to fix dinner, did I hear nothing but moaning about how gross it was going to be?

It didn't matter. They cleaned their plates.

Ten days until school starts.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: August 4, 2009

Barbecued pork burgers, sweet potato oven fries, lentil salad with tomato, cucumber, sweet onion, peppers, and herbs.

I'm pretty tired from all the cooking, not to mention performing my other housewifely duties and taking the kids to the pool and cleaning up after Eli decided to try using the potty (!!!).

Michael Pollan can bite me. And, I guess, my lentil salad, if he wants to come to dinner to reassure himself that Americans still cook.

Monday, August 3, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: August 3, 2009

Broiled chicken and artichoke hearts, cherry tomato and oregano salad.

It's the time of year when I have to find things to do with tomatoes. Things to do besides give them away to friends, I mean; we like to eat them and besides, most of our friends who like tomatoes that much have their own overload at the moment.

So I have a couple of cookbooks I consult. One is Tomato Imperative!, an old one that appears to be out of print, which is too bad because it's got some easy and unusual recipes. The other one is The Cook and the Gardener, by Amanda Hesser. It's not specifically for tomatoes, but it's organized by season and by month, with recipes highlighting whatever foods might be most available at a particular time. (In France. But it works for us ordinary folk here in the Great Plains, too.)

So this simple cherry tomato salad was delicious! It's literally just cherry tomatoes and fresh oregano leaves with an olive oil vinaigrette. I am all inspired now, too, because in paging through my books I found some other things I can't wait to try.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: August 2, 2009

Barbecued-beef tarts, Caesar salad with grape tomatoes.

Alex got this recipe from his cooking class at day camp a couple of weeks ago. The teacher called it "cowboy hats!" How enticing! Look, Mom, I am eating a cowboy hat! Mom, will you make cowboy hats? Mom, how come you never make anything fun like cowboy hats?

Whatever. It's barbecued ground beef and a little cheese in a pie crust, cut to fit into muffin tins for individual servings. It was pretty good, but it seemed like a lot of work for the final product. Also, I caught a lot of grief because apparently I didn't shape the tart crusts quite cowboy-hatly enough. Jeez.

What I Made for Dinner: August 1, 2009

Butternut squash ravioli with toasted walnuts and brown butter-balsamic sauce.

The boys and I picked out this ravioli at the farmers market last month and I finally had the chance to get it out of the freezer: Home from my little break, no one has had a chance to go to the market, the fridge is kind of empty.

(By the way, Jenna and I had a conversation about how to punctuate the phrase "farmers market." I had been thinking "farmers' market," in the sense that it belongs to the farmers; I have used "farmer's market" knowing it's probably incorrect but thinking it's kind of quaint. Jenna equates it with "Publishers Weekly," no apostrophe needed because it's descriptive rather than possessive. That makes the most sense to me.)

So cooking this only took a few minutes but it was kind of exciting. It turns out that if you dump a little balsamic vinegar into a pan of piping-hot brown butter, the butter will splatter all over your kitchen and you will have to start over. Who knew?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: July 25-30, 2009

Eight-hour pork roast sandwiches, brown rice salad with deli sandwiches (but not all at once).

Before I left town we managed to squeeze in a little dinner party with my old friend Holly and her husband, Brian. Holly and I haven't seen each other for ten years but we've gotten back in touch through Facebook. And then one day, we bumped into each other at the tree nursery and realized we live about a mile and a half apart and isn't it stupid to be friends only inside the computer? I can't take credit for most of this dinner, though: I popped the roast in the oven and went about my day and then set out bread and condiments and quite a lot of gin. Holly, on the other hand, brought homemade salsa, a dish of delicious rice with peas and coconut milk, and a decadent rum cake. We had a great time visiting, sitting outside (at the end of July! Can you believe it?!) until I realized my early flight would be calling my name before I knew it. It was a great start to my vacation.

While I was in New York, I didn't cook much. My college buddy Jenna

lives in a neighborhood that must be the most ethnically diverse in the U.S., if not the world. Why cook? We feasted on Indian and Nepalese and Cantonese food. It was even more fun to walk around and chat with my dear old friend.

We got rained on a lot, hailed on once. This is a rainbow over the Seven train.

Oh, also? I got to have lunch at Richard Gere's restaurant in Bedford. A very cool pick by my grandmother. It was okay but I wish (a) they had brought my sandwich when they brought my grandparents' lunches, not because I cared that much but because that kind of thing seriously pisses off my 86-year-old grandfather; and (b) they had timely served the appetizer we ordered. Nit-picking, right? But I always feel let down when I go somewhere famous and then my experience there is ordinary. (Not like the last time I visited Jenna, when we went to Lupa for one of the most terrific meals I've ever had.)

After a few days I left the city and drove upstate to visit more relatives. My maternal grandmother is 92. I think she looks better than ever.

While I was there, my aunt and uncle and cousins took care of me, which is pretty remarkable considering my aunt is recovering from a broken leg (and I know she will hate this picture, but I think she looks pretty damned good all things considered):

To help out, I put together dinner on Wednesday night--just deli sandwiches, with which I would ordinarily serve pasta salad, but these particular relatives are gluten intolerant. Hmm. Would brown rice work in place of pasta? It would! Sweet peppers, English cucumber, chick peas, scallions, pine nuts, feta cheese, and vinaigrette. Yum. I didn't take pictures of dinner, but I have a good excuse:

I got to meet my newest cousin, Eliana, for the first time! Isn't she adorable?

Much fun was had by me, at least; I can't vouch for anyone else. People were mighty nice for putting me up and feeding me and showing me around. Hopefully everyone there knows they can always expect a comfy bed and a good meal if they come to my house.

When it was time to go, I had to drive back downstate to return the rental car to the La Guardia Airport Enterprise lot. My GPS tried to kill me by sending me through Manhattan, in which I had been, and kind of remain, terrified to drive. But if the Garmin says "bear left over bridge," then by God, I listen. I am clearly alive to tell the tale.