Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: September 30, 2009

Panini and roasted eggplant dip.

Once again using leftovers from Saturday, I made this dip (baba ganoush) in about three minutes in the food processor. A good thing too, because as soon as I came in from work I had to keep cranky, nap-less toddler supplied with popsicles to prevent screaming; listen to first grader run through math flashcards; listen to third grader's breathing to decide proper course of asthma treatment.

Baba ganoush needs no special attention: Two cups of roasted eggplant (cubed), a clove or two of minced garlic, juice of one lemon, kosher salt, one or two tablespoons of olive oil. Whir until smooth, then stir in some plain yogurt, and you have made a vegetable side dish such that you can boast of having served a balanced meal.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: September 27-29, 2009

A totally inappropriate Erev Yom Kippur dinner. A much more acceptable break fast. And tacos!

Sunday night began Yom Kippur, and a traditional dinner preceding the fast would have been, like, chicken soup, a brisket or a roast chicken, vegetables, challah. That's not what I made. I made: Pasta alla carbonara. Yes, it had bacon. And cheese. Whatever. It was good, if not entirely (or remotely) in the spirit of the holiday.

I think I redeemed myself Monday, at least food-wise if not spiritually. To break the fast, I actually managed to pull together a sort-of traditional meal: Pasta salad with pesto and sun-dried tomatoes (made on Sunday afternoon), bagels and lox, a cheese tray, a banana cake with chocolate glaze (also made on Sunday). My parents joined us so I wouldn't feel stupid serving such a spread to my non-Jewish husband and three little kids, who don't fast for reasons of religious appropriateness and age, respectively.

So tonight, tacos! The fall holidays wear me out. These used the chicken left over from grilling on Saturday, and my kids adore tacos. Nothing could be easier. A good thing, too, since after the busy weekend and the holiday I think we are all about to get sick. (Lots of sniffles at dinner tonight, and my back hurts portentously. Ew.)

Maybe I should have made the soup. Is someone trying to prove a point?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: September 26, 2009

Grilled chicken paillard, roasted potatoes and eggplant.

So, the new patio needs plants. And the local tree nursery is having an end-of-season sale on perennials and shrubs. So at 4:30, there we were, with a cart full of hostas and holly and one Annabelle hydrangea, my particular folly, despite a warning from the tree guy that if it sees daylight it will "spontaneously combust."

We couldn't go plant-buying any earlier because of other commitments, including a stint at the farmers market selling Cub Scout popcorn. Here is what happens when I spend two hours "selling" at a farmers market: I came away with a dozen oatmeal-honey cookies, literature on the many health benefits of bee pollen, a bag full of miniature gourds, and the eggplant that inspired dinner. Here is what happens when my children spend two hours selling at a farmers market: they came away exhausted and crabby and, apparently, ready to kill each other.

We made them go to the tree nursery with us anyway. That was fun.

So dinner needed to be fast because we wanted to put some of our new lovelies in the ground and also because, you know, early bedtime. This dinner worked well because the veggies needed no attention while they roasted, and the grill needed no attention while the coals heated, and the chicken only took ten minutes to cook. That way we adults had time and attention for the other demanding things in our backyard, and I am not just talking about that hydrangea.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What Chuck Made for Dinner: September 23, 2009

Eggs in a nest, hash browns, fruit salad.

He's so nice. I had to grade papers so he watched the baby and quizzed the boys on their spelling words and drove Josh to soccer practice and made dinner.

Monday, September 21, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: September 21, 2009

Noodles with soy-lime sauce and corn.

Chuck went out of town again, this time on a surprise last-minute trip. So of course he was no help at 11 this morning when I asked him if he had any ideas about dinner. Why was he no help? Because it wasn't his problem. I could make whatever mushy nastiness of an experiment I wanted to, but he's eating out tonight.

Hey, that's cool. I'd be the same way. (Except usually, when I go out of town, I leave either complete meals in the freezer or ingredients for easy meals stocked in the fridge.)

Anyway, these noodles are the ones I usually make with tofu and vegetables, only I left out all the pesky tofu and vegetables. I served them with Ling Ling frozen potstickers and edamame. And I let the kids eat in front of the TV. And they're watching something stupid.

What do other people cook when their partner is away?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

What We Made for Dinner: September 20, 2009

Burgers, oven fries, tomato salad with olives and capers.

Nothing remarkable about tonight except: One! Big! Thing!


Eli ate a hamburger.

To understand how remarkable was his eating of the burger, a person would have to live at our house. A person would have to watch Eli, meal after meal after God-help-me meal, reject all protein except for chicken nuggets. (I exaggerate, of course. Last month he ate half a meatball. A few weeks ago he ate two bites of a peanut butter sandwich. So really, he has plenty of variety in his diet, see?) To really get it, A person would have to repeatedly prepare and present a wide range of delicious food and then have it rejected with a conversational, "No, mommy. I hate it."

But a few weeks ago, Eli received as a gift a McDonald's cash register and accompanying false McDonald's food. The food items included not only his beloved nuggets, but also the components of a McBurger. Such that when playing "Old McDonald's," as he calls it, sometimes he will eat a pretend burger.

And more recently, Eli discovered the joys of ketchup.

So tonight, convergence. A mini-burger, toddler-fist-sized, prepared specially for him. A mound of ketchup next to it. "Look, a burger! You can dip it!" And he did.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

What I Made to Share: September 18, 2009

Honey cake with apple-bourbon glaze; sauteed green beans; steamed vegetables with warm vinaigrette.

My mom hosted Rosh Hashana dinner this year, and the preparatory conversation went like this:

Me: What can I bring?
Her: Oh, don't worry about it. The soup is already done. I'm making a roast.
Me: I can make challah.
Her: I already got it at Hen House.
Me: Dessert?
Her: Oh, you're busy. If you feel like it, you can make something.

My mother is something of a dynamo when it comes to large family gatherings.

As it happened, I didn't feel like it at all. I have a stack of papers to grade and Chuck went out of town this week, so the thought of baking something was singularly unappealing. But then I went over to my parents house early on Friday afternoon, and as it turned out, there was a lot of cooking left to finish. So I made myself useful. Never let it be said that I would leave my mom in the lurch.

I adapted this honey cake recipe from the 1952 edition of The Complete American-Jewish Cookbook, by Anne London and Bertha K. Bishov. I made up the glaze; the bourbon was my sister's idea.

Honey cake with apple-bourbon glaze

For the cake
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 t. baking powder, borrowed from neighbor after discovering mother's baking powder moved with family from New York State in 1979
1/2 t. salt
1 cup honey
1 cup butter
3 eggs
1 t. vanilla
1 T. lemon juice
1 t. grated lemon zest

Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour a Bundt pan.

Sift together the dry ingredients and set aside. With an electric mixer, cream together the butter and the honey; beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and beat gently until combined. Pour into a Bundt pan and bake 50-60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean. Cool cake in the pan 15 minutes, then turn it out onto a rack and cool completely.

For the glaze
1 1/2 c brown sugar, borrowed from same neighbor when mother can't find brown sugar she was sure was somewhere in that damn freezer
3/4 c water
1/2 t salt
1/4 c bourbon
2 round apples (I used honeycrisps), sliced into 1/4-in thick rounds (to prevent browning, place the slices in ice water until you are ready to use them)
1-2 t. lemon juice

In a medium saucepan, bring the water, sugar, bourbon, salt, and lemon juice to a boil. Stir until everything is dissolved. Lower the heat to simmer the liquid and gently add the apple slices. Simmer until the syrup is reduced and the apples are very soft, about 20 minutes.

Finishing the cake
When the cake has cooled, gently poke intermittent holes into it with a toothpick. Gradually drizzle the glaze over the cake so that the glaze soaks in. Drape the apple slices over the top of the cake and drizzle with glaze. Be very careful not to spill glaze all over your mother's nice clean floor as you carry the cake plate into the dining room, or else you will have to wash the floor in front of a house full of company.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: September 16, 2009

Greek salad, marinated chicken tenders.

I got home from work this afternoon and snuck into the house. Our nanny, Deanna, was playing outside with Eli and Alex; Josh was playing video games in the basement; and I couldn't deal with anyone knowing I was home, at least for a few minutes. It gave me a chance to change my clothes and get this dinner going.

Then we ate very quickly so we could get Josh to soccer practice and spend the rest of our evening enjoying this!

Our new patio is finished! It is so beautiful, I may pitch a tent and live in the backyard for a while just so I can look at it more. (Yeah, not really, because oh my Lord, the mosquitoes.) Our friend's company built it, and did a fabulous, timely job.

Minor side bonus: we now have correctly-graded property! Appropriate, fancy drainage! And a retaining wall! So maybe our land won't slide down the hill every time it rains, leaving our foundation supported only by rebar and goodwill. Oh, the delightful details of home ownership.

Monday, September 14, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: September 14, 2009

Steak with green sauce, sauteed potatoes, arugula salad.

Oh my goodness we have been too busy. Three birthday parties last weekend, including one we hosted for Josh. Soccer games and practices. Sunday school started up again. Scout meetings. Other kinds of meetings. One of the reasons I like making dinner is that it's something calm and dependable to look forward to, regardless of how insane the schedule gets.

So tonight, Chuck's parents joined us for steak, because this afternoon we picked up our next year's supply of beef from Mettenburg Farms! The freezer is full and we needed to use up a few last cuts from last year's cow. (Steer?) Chuck's parents came over to help us out because this family is moving in so many different directions that sometimes two adults just aren't enough.

Friday, September 11, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: September 11, 2009

Roasted vegetable and goat cheese pizza; tomato, basil, and mozzarella pizza.

Just look at all this gorgeousness:

The eggplants on the first pizza, the tomatoes on both, and the basil came out of our garden.

Look, I know full well the dangers of using food as comfort. But today, well, it holds a lot of ugly memories, even out here in the hinterlands. So what can the harm be in making something so beautiful and delicious?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What Chuck Made for Dinner: September 9, 2009

Corn fried rice with spinach.

My late office hours + Josh's soccer game = someone else had to step in and make dinner. Chuck made Ming Tsai's $10 recipe for fried rice, which I've made before, but he doubled the egg and omitted the chicken. (We're trying to eat more meatless meals.)

Thank goodness ours is a two-cook family! Apparently, it was kind of a team effort: Alex helped with the eggs and Josh distracted Eli, who was cranky and needy following his flu shot. How long before I can just tell the boys what to make for dinner and they'll make it, on their own, before I get home?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: September 8, 2009

Roast chicken and vegetables.

I loved the Everyday Food Sunday Strategy I tried last week! I loved it so much, in fact, that I resolved to plan one for myself. The only thing is, this week on Sunday we were here:

which is Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve outside Cottonwood Falls, Kansas.

I must digress a moment on the tallgrass prairie. I am a lousy photographer, but even if I had talent I think it would be tough to show in a photo what the prairie looks like. It's like pictures of the ocean taken from a cruise ship; all you see is blue. But when you stand there, looking out over the plains, you can see the swells and valleys of the land, and you can see how the grasses change color. You can imagine what it must have looked like to settlers when they came through on their covered wagons, when they didn't even have a road to follow, only the beat-down grass of earlier wagons. It looked to them like they were heading into nothing, into grasslands that went on forever, as far they could tell.

I bet they thought a lot of bad words privately to themselves as they drove through--or decided to stay put in--that prairie that just would not stop. And it is absolutely no surprise to me that the descendents of those people are as conservative and as religious as they often are. How else would a person ever have the courage to do such a thing? To cross the wide prairie, or to try to live on it? If not for complete faith in God.

Anyhow. For us, it was a great little road trip in our minivan on a beautifully-maintained state highway.

But it left me no time (or inclination) to cook anything in advance. Yesterday was a holiday, so I could have, but--well, instead I took a nap.

Never mind! Part of this week's plan is to reuse the chicken and vegetables I made tonight. And I managed to make some rice and roast some more tomatoes as I was cleaning up from dinner tonight. So I should be well set for the rest of the week.

Monday, September 7, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: September 7, 2009

Vegetarian chili and corn bread.

Can't. move. Hard. to. type. So. full. of. this corn bread:

3 T butter
2 cups cornmeal, preferably whole grain
2 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1 t salt
2 T honey
1 egg
1 3/4 cup buttermilk
1 cup fresh corn kernels (the kernels from about two medium ears of corn)

Preheat oven to 400.

Melt the butter in a cast iron skillet. In a bowl, mix all dry ingredients. Add honey, egg, and buttermilk. Mix well to make a thick batter. Stir in corn kernels.

Add the melted butter to the batter, mix once to incorporate, and add the batter to the hot skillet. Bake about 30 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: September 2, 2009

Pasta with roasted tomato sauce.

On Sunday night, as instructed by Everyday Food (September), I roasted fourteen tomatoes, cut in halves. (I could have roasted more, and may yet. Our tomato garden has given us an embarrassment of riches this summer.) Yesterday, a few of them were a side dish. Pretty good, too.

Tonight, I chopped up the rest, mixed them with olive oil, capers, and lemon juice, and tossed the mixture with hot penne. It was delicious, but that is not the most awesome part. This is: It took me literally twelve minutes to make dinner, not counting the time it took the water for the pasta to boil. I timed myself.

Instead of cooking, I listened to Alex have fun with his homework. His assignment was to read something and tally the "sight words" (the, and, in, on . . .) he found. He picked a children's cookbook and read through a bunch of recipes based on what looked good to him. He is an excellent reader, so the assignment wasn't really much of a challenge. But he had such a great time with it! He was studying recipes, an interest of his, and he was picking things out for us to try. And every time he found a sight word, he called it out like he'd been mining for gold. He likes first grade, and that makes me happy.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: September 1, 2009

Tilapia fillets with green sauce, crispy red potatoes, roasted tomatoes.

Day Two of the Everyday Food experiment. I was so skeptical of this one. First, the recipe called for salmon or striped bass. Collectively we dislike salmon, and striped bass? Really? When there are college funds to pay into and shoes to buy? So instead, I went with tilapia, because we (a) like it and (b) already owned some.

Second, fish. Ooh, fish. Making fish, for me, is fraught with doubt and anxiety. I am a Great Plains flatlander. I like and trust and know how to prepare meat. I grew up just absolutely hating fish and dreading the nights when my mom decided we needed more fish in our diets. So I always expect my children to react with alarm and resistance when I cook fish. (Proof of my point: Tonight, I surreptitously heated and stowed backup chicken nuggets in the oven.)

I needn't have worried! The tilapia fillets, seasoned with salt and pepper and seared in olive oil, were a huge hit. They cleaned their plates and wanted seconds. And this sauce was great: Parsley, basil, mint, capers, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil whirred in the food processor until smooth.

You know what it would be even better on? A nice steak.