Saturday, October 31, 2009

What Chuck and I Made for Dinner: October 31, 2009

Pressed sandwiches and popcorn.

Yeah, there's no chance we'd bother making a proper meal tonight.

Snickers bars have a lot of protein, right?

Especially if you drink milk with them?

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 30, 2009

What Chuck and I Made for Dinner: October 30, 2009

Brined short ribs and mashed sweet potatoes.

We used our Crock Pot to braise the short ribs while I went to work and Chuck took the boys to the children's farmstead. Chuck reported that Eli had fun, but intensely feared the goats in the pen next to where the guys had to wait for the wagon ride out to the pumpkin patch. So when I got home, I mentioned to Eli that I'd heard he didn't like the goats.

"No," he reported. "I liked the goats."
"You did?"
"Yes, they were cute! And they were very friendly to me! And also they are in their pen and they cannot get out."

It's so great to come home after a day of work or, you know, goat avoidance, and have the house all nice and warm and smelling of short ribs braising in wine. It is too bad that I can't take a decent picture of this meal, because it was beautiful and delicious. All my photos make it look like dog food.

Let's pretend the photo below is mine, and not a publicity photo by photographer Phil Harvey for Michael Chiarello's restaurant in Yountville, California.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: October 28, 2009

Pasta with cauliflower and hazelnuts.

One of my very favorite food blogs is Smitten Kitchen, who cooks and writes about it and takes gorgeous pictures of it from somewhere in New York City. She made this dish a couple of days ago and I just had to try it.

I made a couple of revisions: Served it with pasta to make it heartier for dinner. Eliminated the raisins, because we do not cook with raisins over here. Swapped hazelnuts for the almonds. And, of course, no roasting of the cauliflower, 'cuz my oven is a giant paperweight.

Yummmm. Smitten always knows what she's talking about.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: October 26 & 27, 2009

Bacon and eggs; deli sandwiches.

The oven, we discovered today, requires a new heating element, which GE must ship to us from lands far away. Until it is fixed, there is live electricity zapping around in there. (It is just pure stupid luck that Chuck and I didn't electrocute ourselves on Sunday when we were poking around in there like chimpanzees trying to figure out what had happened.) Additionally, while the repairman was here, he realized that our particular oven has been recalled due to a wiring issue--a separate issue unrelated to our fire, requiring a separate and unrelated fix.

No oven until at least November 4.

It is time to get creative! Breakfast for dinner and deli sandwiches are delicious, to be sure. But who needs the oven? A week-long equipment failure challenge: I like it.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: October 25, 2009

Pasta puttanesca and grilled chicken breasts.

Something kind of exciting happened tonight! Our *insert favorite expletive here* oven caught fire.

I turned on my oven to preheat for roasting the tomatoes for this sauce. One of the heating elements started to spark and emit little flames. I turned off the oven--and it kept on sparking and flaming. This thrilling action traveled all around the oval heating element, leaving charred metal as it went.

We watched it, horrified. Chuck pulled out the fire extinguisher, but I thought it better not to open the oven door. It's a sealed box, right? Fire can't get out of it, right? We debated and the kids and the dog went outside. Within a few minutes, it had burned itself out and we didn't have to decide what to do, other than calling the GE repair hotline.

So. No oven tonight, or for the next several days at least. No roasted tomatoes for me!

The pasta puttanesca was fantastic anyway, though. (I've never made it before. Josh and I got the idea to try it from The Bad Beginning, in which three orphans prepare pasta puttanesca to appease their evil guardian. That Lemony Snicket knows his pasta sauces.)

Pasta puttanesca

12 plum tomatoes, halved
1 T brown sugar
2 t kosher salt
2-3T olive oil
1/4 cup red wine (optional)
1/2 cup diced sweet onion
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 t. red pepper flakes
16 kalamata olives, pitted and halved
1-2 T capers

Sprinkle the cut tomato halves with the sugar and kosher salt. If the oven is working, roast them at 375 for 30-40 minutes. If not, put them in a pot with one T olive oil and the red wine. Simmer them until they are very soft, about 30 minutes.

In a skillet, heat one or two T olive oil. Saute the onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes for about 8 minutes, until they are very soft but not browned. Add them to the tomatoes. (If the oven was working and you roasted the tomatoes, add the tomatoes to the skillet, instead.) Add the olives and capers and simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes. Remove the lid and simmer until the sauce has reduced slightly to a pleasant thickness.

Serve over whole-wheat pasta.

Friday, October 23, 2009

What We Made for Dinner: October 23, 2009

Pate de canard en croute.

No, I am not kidding. A while back, after seeing the film Julie & Julia, my sister and I resolved to make this monster (in English, boneless stuffed duck in pastry). We are not used to making fancy and complicated food, but we really like eating it. Amy decided the time was now, and we had ourselves a project.

We were out of our depth. We are home cooks. Home cooks with day jobs and small children. We are used to making simple meals in a reasonable amount of time. This recipe is seriously complicated and designed for people who have nothing else to do all day long but wrap fancy meats in pastry.

First, you have to make pastry dough. And then, you have to take the bones out of a duck, leaving the skin intact. Both of these jobs are way beyond my skills and interests. Amy came over last night to make the pastry.

We had the butcher at McGonigle's bone (or de-bone? Either way sounds vaguely dirty) the duck, and he did a darn fine job of it too.

Then you make a "stuffing," which is really a "meatloaf." That's right up my alley. Meat? Seasoning? I'm your gal.

Here are the softened shallots and reduced cognac.

Here is the meat mixture: Veal, pork, and butter (the recipe calls for pork fat, but I just couldn't do it), eggs, and herbs. Add the two bowls together, and it's an extraordinarily fancy meatloaf mixture.

Then stuffing meets duck:

and then came the first very hard part, which was stitching up the duck around the stuffing. At first, I was left to try to figure it out by myself.

Harrumph. But I proved so positively inept that Amy had no choice but to step in.

We tried like four times before we finally figured it out. There might have been some yelling. Eventually, though, we managed it and made up with each other and had a more-or-less tidily trussed duck to brown.

Then came the second very hard part, which was wrapping the browned duck in the pastry dough. This part did not go well. We didn't even take any pictures because it was so frustrating to try to get the pastry dough to adhere to the sides of the duck. We finally settled, or gave up, depending on your viewpoint, and put the whole thing in the oven to bake for two hours.

Here is the finished product. Josh took one look and named it "the very ugly duckling." The bottom pastry did not adhere, so it flopped down as sort of a lower crust. Technically our duck wasn't in pastry, it was on and underneath pastry. You could call it pate de canard près de croute.

C'est la vie, I guess.

It was pretty good, actually. The duck and the stuffing were very flavorful, and the pastry served as a convenient duck fat delivery system. In fact, the whole thing had so much fat content that we could only eat tiny little portions or we risked making ourselves sick. That would not have been a happy ending to the Saga of the Duck.

Here's a great ending, though: My niece, Grace, devoured both duck legs all by herself.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: October 20, 2009

Chicken quesadillas, guacamole, tomatillo salsa.

I am positively swamped with grading, so of course I made fresh salsa and guacamole. I also started another sourdough bread experiment.

Hey, there are worse things I could do to procrastinate. I could, for instance, write rambling blog posts.

Monday, October 19, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: October 19, 2009

Roast chicken and vegetables.

I am on a very tight paper-grading deadline, made worse by my loss of last week to flu. (Did I mention I was sick?) My productivity for five whole days looked like this:

1. Grade half a paper.
2. Lie down and moan for two hours.
3. Fall asleep while watching Home Shopping Network.

Now, of course, I have to scramble to make up for it. I hope that this one big meal will facilitate several small, quick ones later in the week.

A few people have asked for my chicken-roasting method. I took some pictures tonight, so hopefully if I get enough work done I'll be able to put together an illustrated guide. For now, though, back to the grindstone. And by grindstone, I mean my dining room table and a mechanical pencil.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: October 18, 2009

Barbecue beef chili.

Today was almost a normal day after so many days of being sick! We got the Halloween stuff out and let the boys decorate the house. We went to the store to fill in some gaps in our decorations. Josh has been agitating for a front yard cemetery for years and I keep telling him no, but we did need a new skeleton and some lights.

Outrage: Target is charging $20 for a skeleton that comes assembly required. What the hell, Target? (I bought it, of course.)

I wanted to make homemade sourdough bread to go with the chili. Before I got the flu, I started a yeast culture, inspired by Dan. It seemed to be going just fine. After it had foamed and I fed it, I refrigerated it, because I was in no shape to make bread (and who would have dared to eat my virus bread, anyway?). Yesterday, I took it out to proof it, and . . . nothing. Not a bubble. I fed it, I waited forty-eight hours, and still nothing. It started to stink. I threw it out.

What is it with me and homemade bread?

Oh, well. Persevering, I have started a new yeast culture, and I will try again.

Friday, October 16, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: October 16, 2009

Fettucine alfredo.

Tonight is the first time I have tried to cook a meal since waking up with full-blown flu on Monday morning. It went fine, in the sense that I managed to boil water, and then put pasta in the water, and then melt together butter, cream, and cheese, and then combine the pasta and the sauce, without having to sit down more than once. Having eaten it, I can't say it was the best idea I've ever had.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: October 11, 2009

Cheddar biscuits and fried green tomatoes.

The weather seems to have bypassed autumn in favor of winter, as sometimes happens here. A frost warning last night made us haul our sick rear ends out to the garden to bring in the last of the eggplants, and while we were out there we noticed a lot of little green tomatoes.

I breaded them in flour, egg, and corn flake crumbs, then fried them.

Maybe they're not classic flu-remedy food (are they?), but they sure tasted good.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: October 10, 2009

Chicken noodle soup.

Everyone at my house is sick or getting there. Today we visited the pediatrician for the fourth time in seven days. The pharmacist has stopped asking, "have we filled for you here before?"

The doctor and the pharmacist can do only so much. I hope the soup has some kind of magical powers.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: October 7, 2009

Slow-cooker French dip sandwiches; sauteed mushrooms, peppers, and onions.

I always forget about my Crock Pot. Then, when I remember to use it, it's like magic! Like dinner elves visited my house while I was at work!

Many thanks to my friend Marcia, who mentioned to me a couple of months ago that she makes French dip in her slow cooker. It was easy and delicious. I used this recipe.

What I Made for Dinner: October 6, 2009

Pasta with roasted tomatoes and capers.

We ate the very last of the garden's tomatoes. Two-thirds of my children are hacking up their lungs. Summer is over.

Monday, October 5, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: October 5, 2009

Salmon roasted in butter, pumpkin pie.

Bad news today on the home cooking front, as Conde Nast killed Gourmet Magazine. I made this simple but delectable dinner in Gourmet's honor (even though it's a Mark Bittman recipe; I thought it was in the spirit). I have gotten some tasty, easy-yet-special recipes from Gourmet, and I will miss it.

I am afraid of cooking fish, as I've mentioned, and particularly salmon. Nevertheless, every now and again Chuck and I say to each other, "We really need to eat more fish." Then last week, I got lunch at the student union cafteria across from my office, and the entree choice was baked salmon, and I tried it--and it was really good. So on Sunday, when I saw Costco had a sale on beautiful coho salmon filets, I thought I'd try it again. I mean, if campus dining services can prepare a tasty piece of salmon, then by God it just can't be that difficult.

I did a little research: Joy of Cooking, Julia Child's The Way to Cook, and of course Bittman. All three recommended some variation of this recipe, which calls for roasting the whole filet at high heat with butter and herbs. That is just what I did, and it was delicious!

The pie, which Josh prepared with only minimal supervision, was my insurance in case the salmon was not delicious. We didn't even need the pie. That didn't stop us, though.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: October 3, 2009

Vegetarian chili and cornbread.

Eli seems much better, although he's all jacked up on prednisone and just so pissed about the thrice-daily nebulizer treatments. Moving on.

A gorgeous fall day, a late-afternoon soccer game--what else could a person make besides chili? This cornbread, flavored with brown butter, was much better than the last one.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: October 3, 2009

Reheated leftovers out of the fridge.

Leftovers Night. I didn't even try to turn them into something different. Thus: Reheated chicken paprikash that my mom fixed for us Thursday night, remnants of pasta salad and baba ganoush from earlier in the week, and reheated Oklahoma Joe's smoked meats and fries from last night.

Last night we picked up Oklahoma Joe's as a festive dinner to start what was supposed to be kind of a party weekend: Some good out-of-town friends and their kids were visiting, it was a reunion of sorts, and we had a lot of activities in mind. Friday night was drinks and 'cue, Saturday was meant to be Rennaisance Festival (as visitors only, no costumes thank you), maybe a little shopping for the moms, then Sunday brunch. We got as far as Friday night.

Then around 1 a.m., Eli woke up fussing and never went back to sleep. He ran a little fever, and by 2:30 he was breathing like he'd just run a hard mile. Chuck and I alternated sitting up with him, listening to the panting and weighing the horror of an ER at 3 a.m. against the horror of impending respiratory something. We managed to hold out until light of day and the opening of our pediatrician's office.

When we got there, the Saturday staff whisked us away for prompt oxygen and other assorted breathing treatments. Nasal cannulae can be fun! Only not really. Then we got this:

and although he doesn't appear to have pneumonia again, at least not yet, he has enough goo in his lungs that we came home with a bagful of prescriptions and a follow-up appointment in forty-eight hours.

And here is where things get worrisome, because so far, no one has mentioned what might be causing him to build up goo in his lungs. Why is he always congested? Why does his breathing always sound like he's working on a pack-a-day habit? What is up with the periodic coughing-so-hard-he-pukes shenanigans that crop up at least a few times a month? Is it related to his weight? (He's a svelte 26.5 pounds as of this morning, and he's nearly two and a half--and tall.) I am very interested in getting to the bottom of this.

The upshot of all this, for now: Our weekend, scotched. No cooking happening here, as both the primary and secondary cooks are too tired and freaked out to be productive. Our sweet friends left early, accidentally leaving one child's pants behind. We owe them an apology note. And come to think of it, I bet there's a fairly robust market for "Sorry about last night, here are your pants" greeting cards. Are you listening, Hallmark?