Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: December 28 & 30, 2009

Family spaghetti sauce with meatballs, Italian sausages, and lamb; eggplant parmesan with leftover sauce.

I love the week between Christmas and New Year's Day.  Love it like no other time of year.  I am on winter recess.  Chuck has been taking some time off.  Chuck's brother, Chris, has been visiting, which is always fun.  So we're all home, and it's been mostly too cold and icy to really go anywhere, and really, where would we go if we could?

Spaghetti sauce is perfect for this kind of week.  It takes four hours to make it, for one thing.  But what a payoff!  Besides a nice dinner Monday night with Chris joining us, we have a whole dinner of leftovers saved in the freezer for some time in February when I'm too swamped with grading to cook.  And we still had enough leftover sauce for tonight's luscious, hearty eggplant parmesan.

In non-food related homebound activities, I've been using this week to organize the house and potty-train Eli.  Other people use winter break to write important scholarly articles.  Me, I cleaned out the pantry, arranged my sweaters by color, and set up a dedicated Lego space, all while taking frequent breaks for either potty-visiting or carpet-cleaning.  A pretty productive vacation, if you ask me.

I won't be cooking for the rest of 2009:  Tomorrow night we plan to get takeaway from an excellent local restaurant.  In another lifetime, say maybe ten years ago, we would have dressed up and gone to the excellent local restaurant, and drank and danced and stayed late into the night.  Tomorrow, we'll put the kids to bed and enjoy a late dinner, delicious and cooked by someone else, and then a glass of port, and we'll probably be asleep when 2010 rolls in. 

Here's to happiness, health, peace, and prosperity--and lots of good dinners--in the new year.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: December 26, 2009

Pasta puttanesca, chicken breast filets, garlic bread.

The Great Plains spent Thursday through today in the middle of a great snowstorm.  It may or may not be going away now, who can tell?  So we spent the day in our pajamas, playing Beatles Rock Band and trying not to think too much about The Long Winter.  (Alex and I are working our way through the Little House series right now.  Although much of what Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote was historical fiction, that terrible winter famine of 1880-81 really happened.)  I mean, even though the city hasn't yet managed to plow our neighborhood, surely it will happen by January at the absolute latest. 

Around 5 this evening, Chuck finally decided he'd better get to shoveling, as it didn't appear the snow on the driveway would magically clear itself up.  So he and Josh and Alex got dressed and went out into the cold.  Alex and Josh found five-foot snowdrifts to slide down.  I have no pictures because, come on, I can't be expected to put on shoes on a day like this.

But I made a nice dinner for everyone, even while in my pajamas.  

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

What We Baked: December 20, 2009


Every year around the holidays, the fabulous Allison and I get together for a marathon baking session. These things have become somewhat epic. One year, we burned out a stand mixer's motor trying to make gingerbread (a tip: stay away from the recipe for Melissa's Gingerbread Cookies found in the Martha Stewart Cookbook). One year, we made about five thousand cupcakes. Baking with the fabulous Allison is always an adventure and never gets old. It also always involves wine--two years ago, we baked while I was recovering from neck surgery, and I discovered I got better pain control from Tylenol and Beaujolais Nouveau than I did from vicodin.

So anyway, Sunday's baking session was one for the ages. We baked at the fabulous Allison's house. Her husband, the equally fabulous Mark, took care of pouring the wine (and, when necessary, bringing in dinner).

We made chocolate-hazelnut wafers in memory of Gourmet Magazine (they were in its 2008 holiday cookie issue).

We made Ina Garten's French chocolate bark, filled with delights.

We made gingerbread cookies, a recipe that actually worked this time and did not destroy any kitchen equipment. (Look at how adorable they are! You dip them in sugar before baking!)

We also made Congo bars, which meant making our own caramel. We'd never done that before; it was very cool. You heat together sugar and water until it boils.

It requires some patience, because it takes a while and it looks like nothing is happening. But after a while, the mixture boils, the sugar dissolves, the water begins to evaporate, and the mixture begins to turn golden.

When it turns golden, you stir it while slowly adding cream, then remove it from the heat and keep stirring, and eventually it turns into the most beautiful caramel imaginable.

This all took us about eight hours, including clean up.

Totally worth it. Can't wait to do it again next year with my marvelous baking friend.

Monday, December 21, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: December 21, 2009

Mushroom Marsala pasta with artichokes.

I got this recipe from Smitten Kitchen, who has posted pictures of it more beautiful than I could ever dream of. I am seriously considering just making for dinner whatever Smitten made the night before.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: December 19, 2009

Savory bread pudding with mushrooms and parmesan cheese.

So, I worked to get inspired today! I read a couple of days ago about a savory bread pudding with arugula and bacon--and then I utterly forgot where I saw the recipe. No worries, as it gave me an excuse to get out cookbooks and to peruse my favorite cooking sites. It turns out, there are hundreds of recipes available for this kind of thing. I found mine here.

It was absolutely delicious, and a definite step up from our go-to eggs in a nest. I was a little worried that the boys wouldn't eat it, which turned out to be ridiculous. Josh asked what was in it, and I started telling him, and he said, "Oh, so it's like quiche. I love quiche." That's my boy. And Alex, who threatened not to like it because he dislikes mushrooms, ate it up without complaining.

Eli, of course, ate half a dried apricot, then ran upstairs to his room and brought down books for us to read to him. About half the time, that kid subsists on air. That's okay: more bread pudding for the rest of us!

Friday, December 18, 2009

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

Roast pork shoulder.

The past two days have been dedicated to my end-of-semester push to finish grading my students' papers, "equalize" their grades (meaning I make sure I wasn't grading differently three weeks ago than I was at the end), and figure their course grades. It's pretty all-consuming for me.

We needed some quick, low-effort dinners. So on Wednesday morning before I left for work, I seared a pork roast, rubbed it with a paste of olive oil, brown mustard, garlic, and herbs, and put it in a 250 oven to braise in beer and diced canned tomatoes. Eight hours later, when I got home, we had six pounds of falling-apart delectable meat. We made soft tacos with it on Wednesday, and then last night I served it with garlic bread and a mixed green salad.

We would welcome suggestions for what to do with the rest of it, because boy that's a lot of shredded pork.

Anyhow, I am finished with my work for the semester, so now I can get into my cookbooks and magazines for more inspiration!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: December 15, 2009

Stir-fried noodles with broccoli and sweet peppers; Ling Ling dumplings.

December is wearing me out. Chanukah--well, it does go on, doesn't it. And then, of course, there's Festivus, with its hard deadline for gift-giving (and pole-buying and grievance-airing), coming up fast. Impose all this celebration activity on top of grading term papers, which is in addition to the normal rush and tumble of a busy family, and I am becoming frankly exhausted.

But you know, I have to make dinner whether or not I feel like it. So basically, this is one of those dinners that I make just because it's fast and everyone will eat it.

Monday, December 14, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: December 14, 2009

Broiled chicken and artichokes with couscous.

Between an office holiday party and a Chanukah extravaganza at my parents' house, civilization has pretty much broken down around here. I haven't been cooking and the children haven't been sleeping.

It isn't as fun as it sounds.

Maybe it is for some people.

Anyway, bedtime was immediately after this nice, quick, easy dinner tonight. It is peaceful here, finally.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

How to Make Dinner: December 9, 2009

First, what I made for dinner tonight: Chicken quesadillas, black beans and rice.

My inner Depression-era housewife absolutely loves that one roast chicken yields so many meals. (I've done this little project several times now and I get a little happy charge every time.) On Monday, we had a nice roast chicken dinner. That dinner yielded enough leftovers for one chicken salad lunch; a giant vat of chicken soup, of which we ate half and froze half for later; and tonight's chicken quesadillas. We're now out of meat, but I still have the leftover roast veggies to use tomorrow.

I really think there is no meal more satisfying and, as it turns out, thriftier, than roast chicken and vegetables. And it's so easy. I learned how to do it as a kid from watching my mom, and then my Aunt Dawn showed me how to refine my technique.

Use a large roaster chicken, say eight pounds. Make sure the chicken is completely defrosted. Preheat the oven to 400.

Put an array of cut-up vegetables in a large bowl and toss them with a few tablespoons of olive oil, kosher salt, and black pepper. Put them in a large roasting pan, like so.

Try to cut them roughly the same size so they cook at the same rate. The types of veggies can vary, but my standards are carrots, potatoes, sweet onion, and artichoke hearts. In this photo there's eggplant, because we happened to have some. I've used sweet potatoes in place of the potatoes and carrots. Whole cloves of garlic are good, too. One time I put in celery and I thought it made the whole thing taste like soup.

Take a chicken and make sure you've removed the neck and giblets from the cavity. Rinse it and pat it dry, and then put it on top of the vegetables in the roasting pan.

Spread olive oil or melted butter all over the chicken skin. Add herbs, kosher salt, and ground black pepper. I think this chicken has butter, garlic, fresh sage and thyme on it.

Rosemary is good too, except rosemary makes me nauseous ever since I was pregnant with Josh and cooked a big meal with rosemary and then had morning sickness for three months. I try to avoid it. Dried herbs are fine too—in fact, they're better because they don't burn the way fresh herbs do. (Minced garlic tends to burn too.) Quarter a lemon or an orange, or both, squeeze a little of the juice over the chicken, and put the pieces in the cavity.

Put it in the oven. It will take about 90 minutes.

If the skin starts to get too blackened before the chicken is done, cover it with foil. But that's a matter of taste; we like really crispy skin. It's finished when the juices run clear and the drumsticks become very loose. And then you'll feast for a week!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: December 8, 2009

Chicken noodle soup and whole-wheat biscuits.

This is what it looked like in our backyard at 6:30 this evening.

There's no snow on the ground. The widely-heralded winter storm went north, mostly; the flurrying flakes in the photo are really the first we've seen all day. This was not a blizzard requiring an emergency run to the market.

Still, I had my roast-chicken-leftovers plan in place. And it was pretty bleak all day. It was nice to have hot soup on the stove.

Leftover-Chicken noodle soup

Carcass of a large roasted chicken, most meat removed
4 carrots, peeled
4 ribs of celery, leafy tops removed, chopped, and reserved
one large sweet onion, peeled and pierced with a fork
One bunch cilantro (or Italian parsley, if you prefer), tied with a string for easy removal
2 T ground ginger
salt and pepper to taste
8 oz. egg noodles

Put all ingredients in a large soup pot. Cover with water and simmer on medium-low heat for 60-90 minutes, until the broth is golden and the bones have gone very soft. Remove bones and set aside to cool. Remove and discard the onion, cilantro bunch, and celery ribs. Remove the carrots and set aside. Pour the broth through a strainer into another large pot. Chop the cooked carrots and return to the pot. When the bones have cooled, pick off the remaining meat and add it to the broth. Add the celery tops. Stir, taste, and adjust seasonings; add more ginger, salt, or pepper as needed. Simmer 20-30 minutes. Add noodles and simmer 10 minutes more. Serve, adding more fresh cilantro as a garnish if desired.

Monday, December 7, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: December 7, 2009

Roast chicken with roast sweet potatoes, artichoke hearts, onions and garlic cloves.

The weather forecasters have been beside themselves all day because we might get snow. They have no idea, really. Snow and rain? Rain with snow? An inch? Fourteen inches? Last night, the local NBC guy said, "Well, there's 100% chance of something."

Nice work, dude.

Anyway, never one to ignore a weather panic on the local news, I went to the supermarket today to make sure we had enough milk and so forth. And this roast chicken will give us about a week's worth of dinners, just in case we get snowed in. You know, so we don't have to resort to eating our shoes while we wait for the spring thaw.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: December 5 & 6, 2009

Pasta with roasted tomato sauce; beef and black bean chili with garlic bread.

I cooked this weekend, but it was almost an afterthought. It's that time of year: There are so many papers to grade and presents to buy! And then, just to add some excitement, we had to switch Eli from his crib to a bed.

The transition from crib to bed is always a rough one. The kid, of course, is leaving the only sleeping environment he can remember. The freedom and size of a bed can be a little intimidating. Plus, after two and a half years sleeping in jail, how could any kid resist the temptation to get up out of bed and turn on all the lights and play with all the toys and run around screaming?


Friday, December 4, 2009

What I Made for Dinner: December 4, 2009

Crab cakes with chili-garlic sauce.

These are the best crab cakes ever and I have to preserve the recipe right now, because I have had too much wine and I won't remember what I did.

For the Crab Cakes
  • 2 cups dry unseasoned breadcrumbs
  • 1 pound crabmeat
  • 2/3 cup chopped sweet onions
  • 1-2 T dried cilantro
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 4 T olive oil
Mix first 4 ingredients in medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Whisk egg and 2 tablespoons water in small bowl. Stir egg mixture into crab mixture. Form crab mixture into four 2 1/2- to 3-inch round patties, using about 1/2 cupful for each.

Heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add crab cakes and sauté until golden brown, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to plates.

Drizzle sauce over and serve.

For the sauce
  • 2 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 shallots or 1/3 c. sweet onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chili garlic sauce
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup dry sherry, cream sherry, or port
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
Heat oil in heavy medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add onions and garlic and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add chili garlic sauce and stir 1 minute. Add cream, sake and lime juice. Simmer until sauce is slightly thickened, about 7 minutes.