Sunday, January 31, 2010

What I Made for Dinner: January 31, 2010

Chicken with lemon and garlic, sauteed potatoes, artichokes.

I haven't felt like cooking anything lately.  January can be rough.  It's hard to be enthusiastic about food (or anything else) when the baby is coughing and you haven't seen the sun in days.

But!  On Saturday, the sun came out!  And we got the approval to take Eli down to just one nebulizer treatment a day, down from three!  So to celebrate, I found a new cookbook, called Perfect Spanish.  It was on the bargain shelf and it's one of those uncredited deals.  Parragon's website says it focuses on "non-author driven" books.  To me, that just means some poor cookbook author is getting screwed.  I mean, someone tested the recipes and wrote this book, and someone took the gorgeous pictures.  Those people deserve credit.

Anyway, Perfect Spanish took me back to my semester in Spain (and even more so, to the week Chuck and I spent there on vacation years ago).  This chicken was one of my favorite things to eat while I was there.  The book's recipes seem authentic.  The most frequent ingredient throughout the book is olive oil, followed closely by various types of jamón.  The kids loved it tonight; Alex says I have to make it a lot now.  Wish I knew who actually wrote it!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What I Made for Dinner: January 26, 2010

Strip steaks and salad of couscous, artichoke hearts, white beans and carrots.

When my parents come over for dinner I am always challenged to think of vegetable dishes my dad will eat.  Seriously, he's as bad as the boys when it comes to veggies.  (Well, not Josh.  Josh will eat almost anything.)  So I thought this salad would work out pretty well, and it did.  (Except for Josh, who would not even try it.)

Eli's lungs are functioning again, but rickety-sounding.  He has started asking for his nebulizer treatments at regular intervals, making me think he feels nervous about impending pulmonary rebellion.  We have been keeping him home from preschool and other activities in the hope that lots of rest will help.  As it turns out, though, you can keep the kid inside, but you can't make him rest.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

What I Made for Dinner: January 23 & 24, 2010

Sliders; Slow-cooker barbecue beef.

Nothing exciting about these dinners; they are standard utilitarian weekend fare for a family with a two-year-old with 'roid rage. (Prednisone: Awesome miracle cure or destroyer of all serenity?) I made the barbecue beef with the leftover roast my mom made for the boys on Friday night.

On Friday, Chuck and I took advantage of unbelievably generous grandparents and went out to enjoy a little bit of restaurant week. It's a nice idea: a multi-course meal for $30, with 10% going to Harvesters. It's going on until the end of January, actually--a great excuse to dine out if ever there was one.

We went to Lidia's instead of trying someplace new. I can't help it, really, so deep is my love for Lidia's here. And it was good; we had a lovely time. In retrospect, though, I wondered why Lidia's seemed not to put its best face forward for restaurant week. First off, I noticed the room is looking a little shabby. The back of our banquette actually had a gaping hole in the upholstery. (I don't think the dining room has been remodeled since it opened back in, like, 1998 or '99.) Then secondly, their restaurant week dinner is just their regular pasta tasting. And Friday night's pastas were nothing special. I wish they'd offered a special on their fabulous seasonal menu, which includes intriguing items like wild boar ravioli and orange-pomegranate glazed quail. If part of restaurant week is to attract new diners, wouldn't you want to make yourself extra-specially attractive? Lidia's didn't.

Regardless, the food was tasty, the wine was great, the service was professional as always. I love the place, and it was fun to be there with my hilarious, adorable husband, who is supremely tolerant of jacked-up toddlers and who expects me to order dessert when we're out.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

What I Made for Dinner: January 21, 2010

Frozen pizza and sandwiches.

Hi, remember me? Eli's lungs? We last saw each other back in October. I bet you thought you'd never see me again! Ha ha! Well, it turns out, I like attention! My favorite kind of attention, the thing that really thrills me, is long afternoons in the pediatrician's office. I love all the listening and the testing and the lengthy discussion and the pondering. Pondering! What to do! About little old me!

Ahem. Eli's lungs, get the hell out of here. Lungs should be neither seen nor heard. Your ridiculous showboating and time-consuming gamesmanship led to this embarrassing dinner. I have had it with you and your attention-getting ways. Piss off and get back to work.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What I Made for Dinner: January 19, 2010

Broiled ham steaks with honey mustard, biscuits, sauteed broccoli.

"I hate this dinner!" I complained to my mom as I stood there trying to figure out what to do with the stupid ham steaks Chuck had brought home from Costco. "I don't know what to do with them! I don't know how to make them taste un-processed!"

(Note: This is a First-World complaint. I am, generally speaking, happy and grateful to have ham steaks or any other kind of nutritious food readily available for my family's use and enjoyment. Within that universe, though: Damn.)

My mom doesn't whine, but she doesn't really like ham, either, so she started looking through my cookbooks. And in my old classic Family Circle Cookbook, she found an answer. A decidedly retro recipe, calling for a glaze of honey mustard, a coating of breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese, and a quick broil. She said, "Do this. I'll get some canned pineapple."

"I don't want any gross canned pineapple! I hate this dinner!" I moaned as I peeled the ham steaks out of their slimy vacuum pack and brushed on gloppy mustard and scattered breadcrumbs all over the kitchen. "What a mess!" It didn't help that in the middle of trying to make the biscuits, I was doing laundry from an unfortunate toddler-related incident this afternoon and talking Josh down off the ledge after he messed up his math homework in magic marker. (Alex, it must be said, was a cheerful delight, hollering "Back in the U.S.S.R." while he built Legos.)

"I hate this dinner! Never buy ham again! It's not even going to be ready on time!" I snarled at Chuck when he came home from work. "Don't worry about it," he soothed. "It smells pretty good."

You know something? It was really, really good. The children ate almost the whole can of pineapple rings and even ate the broccoli. Everyone had seconds on the ham, proving that mid-'80s recipes from Family Circle are unequaled in human history, and confirming that my mother knows more than I ever will about feeding a family. I stand corrected and chastened. With a new appreciation of ham steak.

Monday, January 18, 2010

What I Made for Dinner: January 18, 2010

Cream of asparagus soup.

Interestingly, I made this same soup almost exactly one year ago.  It's still good!

What I Made Instead of Dinner: January 17, 2010

Blood orange and yogurt tart.

Chuck very nicely made dinner, some crusted tilapia filets and mashed potatoes, while I worked on this tart.

One of my holiday gifts was a subscription to Everyday Food magazine, so I don't have to swipe my mother-in-law's anymore. The first issue arrived recently, and it featured several recipes with oranges. Interesting ingredient. I don't usually eat oranges, even though I like them—too much work for too little payoff. But this tart was beautiful and healthy, and it featured Greek yogurt, one of my favorite foods. It seemed like a good project for a Sunday afternoon.

This tart may become a weekend standard, it was so good. The crust was gorgeously simple and easy to make.

Sugar, almonds, flour, and butter, pulsed in the food processor until it could hold together when pinched. The filling, a no-bake custard, uses gelatin instead of eggs to thicken and set the yogurt.

I used vanilla, although the original recipe didn't call for any added flavoring. The custard would take on any flavor you cared to add. I'm imagining an almond custard topped with raspberries, hazelnut with chocolate shavings, and infused lavender for the summertime.

The byproduct of an orange tart, of course, is four oranges worth of peel. The Everyday Food editors thought of that! The page after the tart recipe is a how-to on candied orange peel. I made it, which was craziness, but it seemed wrong to let all that peel go to waste.

In retrospect, it was too much work and mess for the little half-cup of (totally delicious) candied peel I wound up with.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

What I Made for Dinner: January 16, 2010

Roasted shrimp and pasta with roasted tomato sauce.

My in-laws joined us for a little impromptu party.  It was very pleasant, ending with a little vignette that perfectly illustrates Eli's place in the family:

After dinner, the boys and their grandfather sat around the table eating ice cream and Girl Scout cookies.  Grandpa sat down next to Eli, who had a cookie in one hand and a bowl of ice cream with sprinkles in front of him.  Eli looked over at Grandpa, who had a different kind of cookie, and said very sweetly, "I would like that kind!"  Then he took it--Yoink!  And everyone laughed merrily, to a person:  his single-cookied brothers, his dispossessed grandpa, everyone.  Look at the cute cute toddler!  He stole from his grandfather!  He is double-fisting cookies!

That kid has us completely wrapped around his finger.  He could get away with a lot more, and I think it's only a matter of time until he figures it out.

Friday, January 15, 2010

What I Made for Dinner: January 15, 2010

Chicken and cannellini stew.

So! This week was completely insane, busy enough to keep me from making dinner even one night, the kind of thing I hope doesn't happen very often, but we got through it with help from my parents. And tonight, being Friday night, is a good time to take a deep breath and regroup after a week like this.

I sort of made this stew up, but I got the idea from an absolutely wretched cookbook of slow-cooker recipes. (I bought the book a while back from the last-chance discount table at Borders. Got one for my sister, too--Hi, Amy!--because she had recently gone back to work full time and I thought a slow cooker, with recipes, would be helpful. I actually looked at the recipes after I got the book home. Sorry, Amy!) I liked the idea of a hearty stew with chicken breasts and white beans, and the results were flavorful and comforting without being heavy.

Chicken and Cannellini Stew (serves four adults)

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced into chicken-tender-sized pieces
1/2 cup flour
1 medium sweet onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 T. minced garlic
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 cups chicken broth
2 cans cannellini or navy beans, rinsed and drained
3 T olive oil
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, heat one tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat. Saute the onion, carrots, and garlic until soft. Add the cilantro, chicken broth, and beans. Season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, heat 2 T olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Put the flour on a plate and press each piece of chicken into it so that both sides are very lightly coated with flour, shake off excess flour, and place the chicken flat in the skillet. Brown the chicken on both sides, turning once. Add the chicken to the pot.

Bring the stew to a boil, cover, and reduce the heat to low. Allow to cook for about 90 minutes. Remove the lid and bring back to a boil; allow to reduce to desired thickness. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Serve with crusty bread or over soft polenta.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Why I Haven't Made Dinner: January 11-13, 2009

Chuck and I have been helping out with an upperclass seminar, and we've been getting home too late to cook anything.  My mother has been taking care of us in excellent fashion, as usual.  (Roasted salmon and green beans with almonds one night, spaghetti and meatballs another.)  What would we do without her?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

What I Made for Dinner: January 10, 2009

Flank steak with peppers and onions, mashed potatoes.

I cooked this dinner while the rest of my family watched a basketball game that was, apparently, both frustrating and disappointing to watch.  I say "apparently" because my back was to the TV the whole time while I sauteed the peppers and onions.  But I could still hear the shouts of anguish. 

I'm going to have to start planning a lot of elaborate, labor-intensive dinners on game nights if a certain team doesn't do a better job getting the ball inside and reducing turnovers.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

What I Made for Dinner: January 7, 2010

Chili and cornbread.

Snow days yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  If there's anyone in the Great Plains who did not eat some form of chili this week, I want to know who and why not.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

What I Made for Dinner: January 5, 2009

Ginger duck with rice, julienned brussels sprouts and carrots with brown butter.

Josh and Alex loved this duck. Loved it and the rice that went with it, didn't once go ewww because it's dark meat or moan about the brown-colored rice, even snarfed the veggies. Eli, however, came to the table and looked at me with disbelief: "Is it Ming-Ming?" he asked sadly. One of his brothers suggested to him that his mother had cooked a Wonderpet. Nice. (To their credit, neither would rat the other out.) Eli ate yogurt for dinner.

The recipe for this duck comes straight out of Amanda Hesser's Cooking for Mr. Latte, one of my favorite food books. It is time consuming. You just-barely-simmer the duck with ground ginger and soy sauce for two hours, then chill the broth overnight so it's easy to remove the fat, then roast the duck the next day to brown the skin.

Usually when I see a recipe that starts with, "The night before, . . . ." I put it down and back away. But I sort of figured, I only have a couple of days of break left, might as well cook. Not to mention that this duck is really, really good. So are its byproducts: You use the defatted duck broth to cook the rice, and then there's more broth leftover for freezing and making something (risotto!) later, and a half-cup of duck fat tucked away in the fridge.

Monday, January 4, 2010

What I Made for Dinner: January 4, 2009

Peppers and eggs, slow-rising bread.

Today was lousy.  I sort of expected it because it was the first day back to the routine after a nice long break.  But a couple of unusual bad things popped up alongside the expected malaise, and between them and the third potty-training-mishap-requiring-carpet-cleaner and the four-degree weather, by late afternoon I had a serious attitude problem.  So much so I sincerely feared this dinner would not turn out at all.  Bad vibes can make bread refuse to rise, can make eggs curdle, can make food burn on the stove.

It all turned out pretty well, despite my involvement (in fact, the bread was great! but I forgot to take a picture).  So dinner was the bright spot, day was not a total loss, off to do more laundry now.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

What I Made for Dinner: January 3, 2010

Pulled brisket tacos.

Smitten Kitchen just made this slow-cooker brisket and it seemed like a good idea for today, so cold and snowy it was almost impossible to get out from under the blankets this morning.  I usually don't like brisket.  But we have several briskets and similar pot-roast kinds of cuts that came with the quarter-beef we bought to stock our freezer, so we have to eat 'em and I'm always looking for new recipes to try.  Recipes that maybe I won't hate.

This recipe was surprisingly delicious.  And serving the meat in tacos hides the texture, which is always my primary objection to brisket.  I will be making it again.  I made a couple of changes to Smitten's recipe.  First off, the name:  She calls it "Southwestern" pulled brisket, but to me there's nothing particularly southwestern about the recipe, save a single chipotle pepper.  Second, she strains the cooking liquid and discards the vegetables--to me, a waste of good onions and tomatoes.  Instead, I pureed the veggies in the leftover cooking liquid and it made a fantastic sauce for the tacos.

Pulled brisket tacos (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

3 pounds beef brisket
Kosher salt and black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
5 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 sweet onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
3/4 cup water
3/4 cup apple juice
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 dried chipotle chile
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup brown sugar

Season the beef generously with salt and pepper, to taste. Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and heat just until beginning to smoke. Add the meat and cook, turning once, until browned on both sides. Transfer the meat to the slow cooker; leave the skillet on the heat.

Add garlic, onion, chili powder, coriander, and cumin to drippings in the skillet and stir until the onion begins to soften. Add vinegar and boil until it’s almost gone, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Stir in water and apple juice; pour the mixture over the brisket.  Add the tomatoes and remaining ingredients. Slow-cook the brisket on low, 8-10 hours. 

Remove the finished brisket to a cutting board.  From the cooking liquid, remove the chipotle pepper and bay leaves and discard.  Transfer the rest of the slow-cooker's contents to a large saucepan.  Using a hand-held stick blender, puree the liquid (alternatively, puree it in a blender).  Bring it to a boil, reduce the heat slightly, and simmer until reduced to desired thickness.  Shred the brisket with two forks.  Serve in small soft tortillas with sauce and diced bell peppers and tomatoes.