Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What I Made for Dinner: October 23, 2012

Penne Alfredo with chicken, broccoli, and roasted garlic.

Most of this dinner was leftovers.  (The very best kind of leftovers, covered in butter, cream, and cheese.  Mmmm.)

On Sunday, something cool happened.  Round-Trip America stopped at my house!  My friend Jenna has driven all over the country, from New Jersey to Alaska, and now she's on her way back and we got her for about a day and a half.  That's pretty generous--she's a woman with places to go.

While she was here, we ate at the Free State Brewery (one of the eight wonders of Kansas cuisine) and Oklahoma Joe's (inexcusably, not one of the eight wonders. For shame).  But also, I wanted to cook for her, and just hang out around the big dining room table and chat without worrying about the kids getting bored or whatever.  Here was Sunday's menu:
  • Chickens roasted on a bed of garlic heads (the garlic gets soft when it roasts under the chicken, and the chicken gets infused with the garlic's aroma)
  • Oven-roasted potatoes and artichoke hearts
  • Sauteed broccolini
  • Sourdough toast, spread with the roasted garlic
Most of that stuff gets thrown together in a roasting pan and stuck in the oven for a couple of hours, so we were free to hang out and play catch with the dog (a particularly interesting version, invented by my nine-year-old son, involving rolling tennis balls up the slide), and chat, and eat brie and crackers.

That was a pretty good dinner.  Sunday was a pretty good evening.

And then, leftovers!  Jenna and Round-Trip America have rolled on to the next adventure.  I had fifteen minutes to make dinner tonight.  Chopped up the rest of the chicken and broccolini and tossed it with a nice penne Alfredo. Not half bad.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

What I Made for Dinner: October 18, 2012

Beef Stroganoff.

It's fall, the weather is changing, the daylight is fading, I'm slammed with grading papers, and I'm reading a Russian novel. What else to make besides beef Stroganoff (in the slow cooker, of course)?

Of all things, why read a Russian novel, and why now? One friend pointed out that it would be depressing even if I read it in the middle of summer, in Stockholm, with twenty-four hours of sunlight perking things up.  True enough.

I'm reading Cancer Ward by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.  It's a powerful reflection on illness and its oppressions.  I needed to read it.

Back in March, I had a recurrence of the thyroid cancer I've had since 1998. This recurrence was my fourth; the bastard is never really gone. This time, though, in the course of treatment, a nerve in my neck was damaged and I lost my voice. 

That was five months ago.  The surgeon repaired the voice and at this point, the nerve seems to be healing.  I could be lucky enough that there's no permanent harm done.  The experience horrified me, though.  I felt disabled.  Even now, almost back to full volume, I imagine future recurrences and what else they might destroy. I don't know how to cope with any of that.

So I'm reading a Russian novel for some kind of clue about how to deal with suffering. (Go to the experts.)

And this is how we get to a Thursday when I wanted beef Stroganoff.  (Which is so hilarious it its way: whatever else is going on, you gotta eat, right? Or at least, I do.)  Challenges:  I'd never made it before, plus I had to adapt it to the slow cooker, because I'm awash in papers and tests to grade.  I researched some recipes, but the slow cooker ones sounded awful--all involved cream of mushroom soup and all essentially called for boiling the beef. Ew.  So I looked at more traditional recipes and adapted them to the slow cooker. 

Big success.  BIG success.  Delicious, warm, and comforting.  Everyone liked it.  It goes in the rotation for winter.

Slow-Cooker Beef Stroganoff

1 T olive oil
1 T butter
1/2 cup flour
kosher salt & black pepper to taste
1 lb. beef chuck or other stew meat, cut into thin strips
1 onion, sliced
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup white wine
1 can condensed French onion soup (note: if you don't want to use canned soup, substitute 8 oz. of beef broth and add more sliced onion.)
1 T dijon mustard
1/4 cup fresh dill
1/2 cup plain 2% Greek yogurt (note: sour cream or creme fraiche is traditional, but the Greek yogurt was tasty, tangy, and lighter than the other two.)

Season the flour with salt and pepper to taste.  Dredge the beef in the flour and shake off the excess.

In a skillet (preferably cast iron), melt the oil and butter over medium-high heat.  Brown the beef until golden brown. Transfer the beef to the slow cooker.  If the skillet seems dry, add a little more oil. Saute the onion and mushrooms together until the onion starts to become translucent, about 10 minutes or so. Transfer the vegetables to the slow cooker.  Put the skillet back over the flame and add the wine. Bring to a boil, scraping up the drippings on the bottom of the skillet, until the wine is reduced by about half. Add to the slow cooker along with the soup, the dijon mustard, and 3 tablespoons of the dill.  Turn on the slow cooker and let it do its thing.

Right before serving, stir in the yogurt and the rest of the dill.  Stir until the yogurt is melted and evenly distributed.  Serve over the buttered noodles of your choice (we used whole-wheat bowties).