Monday, November 30, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: November 30, 2009

Turkey curry pot pie.

The last of our turkey leftovers went into this pie. I've made a couple of versions since we first tried it at a terrific hole-in-the-wall restaurant in West Yellowstone.

The children (not counting Eli) adore this pie every time I make it. Tonight, Josh would have eaten half of it by himself if I had let him. I think it's okay, although my favorite thing to make with Thanksgiving leftovers is a cold sandwich with turkey, cranberry sauce, and stuffing on rye bread.

For the time being, at least, I think I am finished wrapping leftover meats in pastry.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: November 29, 2009

Individual beef Wellington miniatures.

One thing I didn't mention about Thanksgiving was that my mom brought a full tenderloin of beef with mushroom duxelles and wine gravy. It was delicious, of course. I think variety is fabulous, and I am happy for all contributions to the meal.

Still, part of me wonders: Did she bring it just in case the turkey didn't work out? I'll never know.

Regardless, this recipe is an excellent way to use leftover steak, especially tenderloin that has already been sliced. I used Pepperidge Farm puff pastry dough and baked the wrapped steaks for twenty minutes. In reheating the gravy I added too much Beaujolais, which turned it a slightly ridiculous shade of purple, but it still tasted good.

Friday, November 27, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: November 26, 2009

Roast turkey; sausage, corn bread, and herb stuffing; pan gravy; classic mashed potatoes; baked pears and cranberries; sweet potato casserole with maple-pecan topping; roasted brussels sprouts.

In our family, Chuck and I take over Thanksgiving. The holiday has been presumptively ours to host since we graduated from law school. The first year, we offered to host it because we lived very close to the Plaza, where there is a spectacular lighting display that begins Thanksgiving night. We had dinner and then walked down to watch them turn on the lights.

That first dinner was a bit of a scream. When we moved after graduation, we hadn't wanted to move in together--we'd only been dating for a few months. I found a great apartment that was just my style at the time: cool neighborhood, very close to work, hardwood floors, crown moldings, cheap rent. (Only downside: laundry located in extremely creepy, Silence-of-the-Lambs-style basement.) Chuck took the vacant apartment above mine. And when we hosted our families for that first Thanksgiving dinner, we had to use both tiny kitchens to make all the food. We carried supplies and steaming plates up and down our back steps.

So now, everyone comes to our house. I love it every year. It's worth the work of planning the menu, shopping, cleaning the house, cooking. I love making these recipes. I love the excuse to get out the good china. I especially love when my kitchen office space becomes a temporary bar.

We don't try to have a sit-down dinner. Everything gets served buffet style.

In the front is Deanna's fabulous bourbon sweet potatoes. Next to that, brussels sprouts, tossed in olive oil and duck fat and roasted, then drizzled with maple syrup. The big platter has the turkey and stuffing, which I improvised this year and which I thought came out great.

Sausage and cornbread stuffing (serves 18)
1 lb. bulk pork sausage
1 stick unsalted butter
2 cups sweet onion, finely chopped
2 cups celery, finely chopped
1 T minced garlic
6 cups (one recipe) brown butter cornbread, crumbled and left to dry overnight
6 cups plain dry breadcrumbs
2 quarts chicken stock
2 eggs
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
2 T minced fresh sage, or 1 T dried
2 T fresh thyme, or 1 T dried

Brown the sausage over medium heat until fully cooked. When it's cooked, remove from the pan and finely crumble it. Set aside. In the same pan, pour off all but one T fat. Melt the butter in the pan. Add the onion, celery, and garlic and saute until soft.

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients; allow the mixture to cool before adding the eggs. Add the chicken stock judiciously--add more if the mixture seems dry, or less if it seems to be getting soggy. Use it to stuff a turkey, or spread it in a large baking dish and bake at 325 for an hour.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: November 23, 2009

Spaghetti and meatballs.

This week I've been loose with the meal planning because of Thanksgiving coming up. So I had no plan yesterday after school, when I asked the boys what they wanted for dinner.

"Spaghetti sauce!"

When my kids ask for meatballs, they mean, of course, those meatballs simmered for four hours in our family spaghetti sauce. It obviously wasn't going to happen the way they were imagining it, but I could manage something. This sauce was done in twenty minutes, but I let it simmer for about an hour or so to deepen the flavors.

1 pound ground beef chuck (80% lean), formed into 2-in meatballs
3 T olive oil
1/2 cup diced onion
1 T minced garlic
one 15-ounce can tomatoes (I used whole tomatoes in their juices. Diced or pureed would have worked just as well.)
2 T tomato paste, or sun-dried tomatoes pureed in the food processor
8-10 ounces red wine
2 t each dried oregano and dried basil
salt and pepper to taste

In a skillet, heat one T of the olive oil and brown the meatballs.

In a 4-6 quart pot, warm the rest of the olive oil. Saute the onions until soft but not browned. Add the garlic and saute until just golden. Add the rest of the ingredients. If using whole tomatoes, break them up with a wooden spoon. Add the browned meatballs. Simmer the whole thing at low heat for at least 20 minutes, or longer according to taste. Before serving, taste the sauce and add salt and pepper if needed.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: November 22, 2009

Chicken parmesan, penne with basil oil.

My parents had planned to join us for dinner tonight. We see them, and Chuck's folks, at least once a week. I think this is pretty great because when I was a kid, we never lived anywhere near my grandparents so we only got to see them a few times a year, tops--much less after we moved out here. The boys adore their grandparents and are always impatient for the next visit, even though it's never more than a few days since they saw each other last.

But after a weekend of travel to an out-of-town wedding (and a fancy schmancy one at that, I hear), they were pretty tired. My mom had caught a cold and wasn't feeling up to coming over. So around mid-afternoon, my dad called, presumably to cancel. Josh took the call. I heard only his end of the conversation:

Hi, Grandpa! When are you coming over?

Oh, really? But you can still come over, right?

Great! Be here at five. Bye!

Talk about a command performance. (Josh wasn't even here at five; he had soccer practice. I suspect he wanted to account for tardiness.) This should be a warning to all the grandparents: Stay healthy, or Josh will leave you by the side of the road. My father, being a dutiful grandpa, showed up as promised. At dinner, we amused the children with stories of various minor car accidents we were in as teenagers.

I sent extra chicken parm back so my mom doesn't have to cook tomorrow. I hope she feels better after a good night's sleep. If she can't come for Thanksgiving, you know who she's going to have to answer to, and it isn't me.

What I Made for Dinner: November 21, 2009

Chicken and black bean chili, brown-butter cornbread.

I have this group of girlfriends. Most of us met in law school, and we've hung together ever since--which is starting to be a long freaking time, as we discussed last night when we got together for dinner and some quantity of wine. A long time, a lot of career dilemmas and family crises and milestones and celebrations.

Notice the empty chair. It's where our friend Gail belongs, only she moved away to take an awesome job and now she is Big Time. But we'll always reserve a chair for her anyway.

We don't get together often enough. So when we do, it involves a lot of talking. Like so much that last night, men within a three-mile radius of our patio got a splitting headache and didn't understand why, thought it was an early sign of the flu or disappointment over KU's absurd football season. Nope! It was a bunch of highly articulate women discussing months of personal news and celebrity gossip and, at one point, some tax law issues.

My friends are awesome. I'll make chili for them anytime.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: November 16 & 17, 2009

Marinated chicken and cucumber salad; custom pizzas.

I seem to be having a hard time with inspiration this week. It's a weird combination of feeling oppressed by the schedule demands of everything November has to offer, in full swing, and anticipation of time off and family gatherings next week. To illustrate, so far this week: Our snack day at Sunday school; massive pre-holiday shopping trips I and II; two doctors appointments; a Scout meeting; a plumber's visit; a recalcitrant first grader with a "Challenger" spelling list; and many, many, many stressed-out law students needing my guidance with their term papers. It's only Tuesday.

This week, I am just trying to get by.

Although, I must say: It really helped that last night, I got a chance to visit with some old friends. It was bad circumstances for some of them (a relative's funeral). For me, it was a much-needed chat with nice people who do not demand that I pretend to be Diego Marquez.

If a person is just getting by, these two meals are good ones. Neither one takes much effort--in fact, the kids made their own pizzas. And both meals are reasonably well-balanced and healthy. Because no one here better get sick, so help me.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: November 15, 2009

Steak salad.

At around 4:30 this afternoon, Chuck and I decided to go to Costco, braving the cold miserable rain. Late afternoon is a terrible time to go to Costco. I was hungry but waiting, figuring maybe there would be some snacks available at the store.

The samples were all gone.

It was so sad. And then I was tempted: Frozen, ready-to-microwave Angus burgers. The most gorgeous dried fruit array ever. An intriguing selection of soft ripened cheeses. And, of course, the pizza that they hit you with on the way out the door.

Did I succumb? I did not! Because I knew that waiting for me at home were beautiful strip steaks, grilled but uneaten on Wednesday. I sliced them thin and put them over a mixed salad of leaf lettuce, charred corn, shredded carrots, diced red onion and cucumber, and dijon vinaigrette. It was great. Maybe not as great as a microwaveable cheeseburger, but still.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What Chuck Made for Dinner: November 11, 2009

Bacon-wrapped filet mignons, salt-crusted baked potatoes, brownies for dessert.

It is Veterans Day. At our house, we celebrate.

My father-in-law is a veteran of the Vietnam war, where he served in the Army. He was wounded in combat and has scars on his leg and hand from shrapnel. He came home and resumed his life, went back to college and then to law school, got married, had children, became a success. His grandsons think it is cool and they sometimes ask to hear about it, how he was in the Army, or what it was like to be wounded, or to ride in a helicopter.

My grandfather, who lives far away from us, is a World War II veteran. He served in the Army Air Corps. He escaped injury, although his pilot was killed next to him while they were flying a mission over Italy. He did not like to talk about his time in the war with me when I was growing up. But when we visited a couple of years ago, Josh and Alex asked him, and he told them stories I had never heard. He showed them photos he had taken of planes next to his in the sky, flak filling the air. We heard how at the end of the war, he had to fly back from western Africa to Brazil--the only transatlantic route the plane could manage without refueling--while he had dysentery. A couple of weeks ago, Alex sent him an elaborately-colored picture with only two words: "You're brave."

I sometimes can't believe our luck, that these two men are still around for our kids to get to know.

So obviously, every Veterans Day, we have to have a party. The kids used to demand that we take Grandpa to Chuck E. Cheese. We had to kill that tradition for fairly obvious reasons. This meal was better.

What I Made for Dinner: November 10, 2009

White bean stew with sourdough croutons.

Interesting idea. I knew I wanted to make bean stew, so I did a little searching and found a Mayo Clinic "healthy recipe." It seemed to have a good concept but lousy details. For example, for the croutons, it says six people should share one slice of whole-grain bread. Yeah, not in my world.

So I made it a little less healthy by using like half a loaf of sourdough bread. It was really good, although Josh says he doesn't like the texture of beans. I was surprised: I thought the song alone would be enough reason for a nine-year-old to eat a big bowl of beans.

Monday, November 9, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: November 9, 2009

Eight-hour pork roast, green beans, sweet potato pie.

I absolutely think pie is a legitimate side dish. (Please see Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farmer Boy, wherein Almanzo Wilder and his family routinely eat apple pie for breakfast.) Anyway, this pie is mostly sweet potatoes and yogurt so it really is healthy and nutritious. Really.

Sweet Potato Pie, adapted from Alton Brown (the Potato, My Sweet episode of Good Eats)

1 pound 3 ounces sweet potatoes (about 3 medium), peeled and cubed
1 1/4 cups plain non-fat Greek-style yogurt
3/4 cup packed, golden brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg
4 egg yolks + one whole egg
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 (9-inch) deep dish, frozen pie shell or refrigerated pie crust
1 cup chopped pecans
1 tablespoon maple syrup

Put cubed potatoes into steamer basket and place steamer basket into a large pot of simmering water. Steam for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are fork tender. Mash with potato masher and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place sweet potatoes in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat with the paddle attachment. Add yogurt, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, eggs, and salt, and beat until well combined. Pour the batter into the pie crust. Sprinkle pecans on top and drizzle with maple syrup.

Bake for 50 to 55 minutes or until the custard appears firm when shaken gently. Remove from oven and cool. Keep refrigerated after cooling.

What I Made for Dinner: November 8, 2009

Burgers with custom toppings.

I offered all the standards: bacon, sauteed mushrooms, tomatoes, avocado, various cheeses, whatever. But this meal was really Alex's idea, born of a burger recipe he has been thinking about for the past couple of weeks.

A bun, then a burger. Pizza sauce. Then bacon. Lettuce, pickles. Melted mozzarella cheese.

The kid made it, and then he ate it. He swears it was delicious.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: November 6, 2009

Chicken fajitas, guacamole, black beans.


These go into the rotation for sure.

Cut 1.5 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breasts into strips. Marinate for 30 minutes at room temperature in 1 bottle of beer and 2 T lime juice.

Slice three bell peppers and one sweet onion into thin strips.

Heat 3 T vegetable oil in a cast iron skillet or griddle. Saute the onion and pepper strips until they are beginning to brown. Remove the chicken from the marinade and add it to the skillet with the vegetables. Saute everything together until the onions are well-caramelized, the peppers are blistered, and the chicken is well browned.

Serve with warmed tortillas.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: November 5, 2009

Eggs in a nest.

This dinner was not the chicken fajitas with fresh guacamole I had planned. I have been trying for three nights, now, to make chicken fajitas. But on Tuesday night, my parents visited, and everyone wanted pizza. Last night, I realized on my drive home that I had forgotten to take any chicken out of the freezer, and by the time I got home it was really too late to start anyway.

Tonight, I really hoped things might come together. The chicken was defrosted, at least. But I was busy at work so I left a little late, and Alex and Chuck needed to get to an evening Scout meeting . . . and before you know it, we're having fried eggs for dinner.

I think it is a sad state of affairs when I can't get myself organized enough to make a stupid thirty-minute meal. Must resolve to improve.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: November 2, 2009

Salmon roasted in butter, roast potatoes.

It's so nice to have my oven back. In its honor, I roasted dinner on Monday night. I haven't been cooking dinner much since then, but I have put the oven to good use. I baked cinnamon muffins last night and tonight, I roasted pumpkin seeds.

Back at regular cooking tomorrow night, probably. Friday at the absolute latest.