Sunday, February 27, 2011

MPM--In Like a Lion...

Hello, and welcome to almost-March! I, for one, welcome our new weather overlords. This February wasn't as epically terrible as some but there was so much fallout from January, I am ready to weep with relief over the change of month. Here's hoping that lots of good changes are in the air for you and yours, and me and mine.

Monday: cider vinegar chicken, roasted potatoes, salad (maybe Moroccan carrot salad? could be too much vinegar, we'll see)

Tuesday: taco Tuesday, plus Pioneer Woman's spinach and mushroom quesadillas for the grownups

Wednesday: freezer meal--could be Trader Joe's, could be something I made. We'll see!

Thursday: Plum Jelly chicken again, this time with cashews (see below), rice, broccoli

Friday: leftovers.

Last week:

The plum jelly chicken was a hit again, which was nice, though of course neither child ate any. And it left me with a lot of plum jelly, so we'll make it again, and soon. This time, though, I think I'm going to add cashews, and I'll also say: don't skip the scallion garnish. That's what really makes this dish, in my experience, the tang with the sweet sauce.

Speaking of jelly, Amazon keeps flogging One Big Table to me based on my cookbook browsing. I finally took a look at it and I loved the idea, and got hooked by the recipe for LaVerne's seedless black raspberrry bars. I used a few "stripes" of jellies from jars in the house, and instead of doing half-and-half with batter in the bottom and over the jelly, I went a little heavier on the bottom since that's how *I* like cookies like these. And it was so easy, and I love a recipe with no eggs so the kids (yes, the kids) can eat the batter without me hurling silent prayers to heaven to protect from salmonella (or worse, being mean mom and saying NO to licking the spatulas at all). It was fascinating to see the difference between the "good" jellies (Polaners) and the cheapie store brand jellies and how they cooked up. (Store brands, in general, thicker and less appetizing looking to me.) They all tasted good, though, and were a hit with the family and my moms' group. Next time, though, I will go with even more dough on the bottom and less on the top; there was so much left in the pan after cutting and so much left in the container after transporting, it felt like a waste. And I like the idea too of serving warm with ice time!

In a fail almost before I started, I made the orange-cumin slow cooker pork roast. While it smelled great cooking, I was reminded of several things while making it, because the first thing I did was botch getting it in to the pan to brown, splashing shimmering hot oil all over my wrist and forearm. A) this is why I usually brown in the toaster oven, but (despite the cookie story above) I usually like to follow a recipe exactly the first time so if it's a mess-up, I know I don't have to wonder whether it would have worked if only I'd followed the directions. B) this is why I usually use my high-sided pan to do my browning. C) this is why I should do the dishes before I go to sleep, no matter how tired I am. Happily, it wasn't a bad burn, but it's painful for sure, and made it harder (and hurtier) to do those aforementioned dishes I'd left in the sink. Sigh.

Where was I? Oh, yeah, the pork. I'll brown it in the toaster oven next time; I do think it makes a difference to brown, but it's pork, why add oil? And it made the house smell great and tasted delicious. It went with our Taco Tuesday well; with the cumin, it could be a taco filling, or, you can do what we did, and just serve over rice with broccoli on the side.

In a fit of desperation for something healthy with a complex mix of flavors, I tried the butternut squash galette from Catherine Newman, whom I've followed since she wrote for BabyCenter. Her good natured earthy crunchy recipes are always so appealing, and seem like they should fit right in to the lefty liberal town where I live. (I always felt out of it, since we ate processed food, like squishy white bread, or Italian food, and everyone else seemed to have brown bread and lettuce on their sandwiches and fruit in their lunches...but I digress.) I liked it but didn't love it, partly a function of not loving butternut squash (I know, but I still had one leftover from the CSA), and partly because the roasted onions were so great, I wanted a ton more of them in there. So I think I might play with this a little more with some different fillings to see how it goes. Next time, I'll toast the pecans first too. And I did like it even better for lunch the next day right out of the fridge.

And while it was Galette Day, I made the cherry galette from Dinner: A Love Story. It sounded so good and easy when I first read the recipe forever ago, I actually had the cherries. Mine was not as good looking as hers (of course I used a crust from a box) but mine also bubbled way over so I was glad I had foiled the pan. And then I tried to get the galette off the foil and was, well, foiled in the attempt. But it was a popular dessert among those in the house who eat fruit. Which makes three of us, for anyone counting.

On Saturday night, I tried one more thing that had been on my list, and I bit the bullet before the herbs went bad: the DALS Thai-ish Salmon. It was my first attempt at cooking with lemongrass, and shitakes, and it helped move along some Thai red curry paste that was in the fridge. It was mostly a hit--the Thai curry paste was really strong (to the point where I put in only 1/2 tsp to begin with and fished a lot of it out in a prescient moment). Usually my husband loves that but this time, he was grabbing for my son's milk. If I make it again (which I might, on a day I'm innundated with herbs) I'll skip the curry paste altogether. But it was easy, and different, and a one-pot meal (well, two, counting the rice).

By last Friday, I was out of cooking mojo, and was despairing a bit, when suddenly my older son said, "Mom? Can we have pesto quinoa for dinner? With strawberry smoothies?" And I felt like that made a lot of these stumbling efforts worth it: a vegan meal even picky eaters can love. (OK, less vegan for the kid who adds cheese on top. But still: a measure of success.)

And on a mostly different note: Does anyone out there use any money management software or programs? We started a free trial of PearBudget and boy howdy, that's an icy hand around the heart experience, entering every receipt. Still, instructive. And like a food diary, when I know I have to write it down later, whether due to laziness or embarrassment or something, it does make me think twice. Last week, before the trial? No problem plunking down $6.50 for a sushi and coke lunch. This week? I'll get something from the cabinet, thanks.

For more meal inspiration, try I'm an Organizing Junkie!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

MPM--Spring? Snow? Who Can Tell?

Happy last week of February! This month has been better than last, but that 67-degree day was a real gift. We spent it at the beach, in an impromptu day trip that soothed my soul and will get me to June. I really don't have to live at the beach, but I do need to be near the ocean just often enough. Ahhh.

Monday--orange glazed crock pot pork roast, baked potatoes, lemon steamed spinach from AMFT; cherry galette from Dinner A Love Story in honor of George Washington. (OK, should be Tuesday, but I have a meeting and there will be plenty left over.)

Lemon Steamed Spinach
1 3/4 bags (2 10 oz bags) baby spinach, precleaned & trmmed
1-1.5 Tbs evoo
lemon zest
salt & pepper

Toss spinach with 1 tbs evoo, zest, salt & pepper. Taste for seasoning; if dry, add more oil.
Turn in to pot that is ready to go. Cover. Steam 3 minutes and check; will prob need 1-2 more minutes to tender (but a good idea to check and turn).
Serve immediately.

Tuesday--plum jelly chicken, rice, broccoli

Wednesday--spaghetti (nothing exotic, red sauce, meatballs if they are in the freezer), and broccoli from AMFT (maybe the garlicky bread crumbs will make them edible in my little guy's estimation).


Friday--leftovers or freezer meal

Last week:

I'll begin with the end: we were invited to Sunday dinner at my in-laws', which was lovely, and I had two pounds of green beans from my unsuccessful plan to make the Thai-ish salmon, so it seemed like a great time to try the latest Smitten Kitchen green bean salad recipe. Good thing--it was great! I will say that I mixed everything before we left so I wouldn't be lugging too many dishes there (fennel in lemon in one, almonds in another, etc. etc.) and it was better immediately than it was after sitting. I don't know why. And it wasn't bad after tossing and transport, just not as awesome as it was in my kitchen. I'll definitely be making this again--and I'm also psyched because my one (less picky) son tried one of the green beans before I threw in everything else and remembered how much he likes them, and sat there and snacked on a whole bowl of totally plain boiled beans. Score. My other one wouldn't even hold one in his hand. (We didn't even ask him to taste! Just hold! And still--no dice.) It was easy, and with the kids out of the house, even easier. But it was nice because as long as you get started with the onions first, everything else can be done in fits and starts until it's all ready.

Even though I had to return Around My French Table to the library, the lovefest continues. Happily I found several recipes online (apparently I was snoozing when it came out) from the initial publicity blitz and from her extensive cooking career prior to this particular book. The first recipe I tried was the Cauliflower-Bacon Gratin. It was not difficult at all, but I did start it too late for it to be dinner that night. I was perplexed as it cooked because it smelled so much like breakfast (five eggs and a quarter pound of bacon will do that to a dish). And I think because my cauliflower was small, I didn't end up with that rustic, bacon-all-over, florets-sticking-out look in the gorgeous photo with the link. But mine behaved nicely, staying put in the 2.5 quart dish that I happened to have, and coming out looking like, well, a crustless quiche or a strata. For me, it was a great lunch dish (as she said, lovely with a salad) or side dish (I can see where it would be good with a roast as it was almost Yorkshire-pudding-esque). And in my personal world, I wanted more of everything: more cauliflower, more cheese, definitely more bacon. But it was delightful and went with the Aid for Friends meals as well as feeding me.

Another AMFT thing I just had to try (because I had all but one of the ingredients) was the Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good. Guess what I didn't have? Yup--the pumpkin. But I lucked in to a great sale on winter squash so I got a small kabocha and figured it would be close enough. Bread, cheese, garlic, herbs, cream, tucked in a pumpkin or in this case, small kabocha, then left to cook to soft (in this case, about 75 minutes). Alas, something went wrong and I don't know what--how wrong can you go with those ingredients?! But I think my garlic (even with the little green part removed) was too strong and it was not a pleasant combination with the kabocha. This made me sad but I am undaunted and will try again in pumpkin season.

And in keeping with the theme, we did try the Beggar's Linguine this week. I wasn't sure how it would go, so I made it with some extras (chicken leftovers, broccoli, etc.), figuring there would somehow be something for everyone. And, as expected, the boys wouldn't touch the main dish (but you know, I'm fine if "dinner" = broccoli and cut fruit, as it did for the older boy). My husband cheerfully called it "trail mix pasta" and just as cheerfully went back for thirds. It was different and with that much brown butter (though I cut it down to just one stick, hello) it couldn't be that bad, right? But it was really delicious. I wish I had let the trail mixy part cook just a bit longer but even so--delicious.

For more meal inspirations--check out I'm An Organizing Junkie!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

MPM--Can't Top Sunday Edition

Hey, just for kicks I looked at my stats the other day. Welcome, new readers--I'm glad you're here and hope you find something useful! What made me laugh was that my number one search term (and numbers three, four, and five, for reasons I don't understand) are all for beeping key finders. I wish I sold them! But for those of you here for recipes--there, I can help, at least a little. Last week's hits and misses, below.

Not to brag, but a bonus to living where we do: we went for a barely-early Valentine celebration (unusual for us but this was worth the departure) to a restaurant run by Jose Garces, the newest Iron Chef. We had this meal--crazy good. If you watch the video of the Garces meal, that is what was recreated for dinner tonight. It was fantastic--such a great combination of flavors. (And--if you watch the video--tonight had no seeds!) Extra bonus for us: it's in a building connected to the main train station, so we rode the rails in and out. Not that Sunday night traffic is so awful, but you never know, and it was very relaxing to just hang out together and chat rather than worry about parking or crazy drivers.

Alas, I will not be cooking this well this week. I do my best but transcendent is not in my repertoire.

Monday: takeout heart shaped pizzas. Not sublime, but topical. I'll also be baking heart cakes, and a veggie recipe from Around My French Table. (Heart cakes=our favorite chocolate cake, just baked in my heart-shaped bakers that come out exactly once a year.)

Tuesday: Beggar's Linguine for grownups, chicken nuggets in reserve for kids. (I didn't get to this last week because the chicken in packets went two nights for us.) And in case the linguine isn't a hit, there should be enough chicken and salad to tide over en the grownups.

Wednesday: this won't go well with the boys, but I will have leftover chicken for them; for my husband and me, Thai-ish salmon from (of course) Dinner A Love Story. Maybe I'll get crazy and try to make coconut rice to go with it, inspired by the Garces dinner. Or not. We'll see.

Thursday: hot dogs for kids, baked potato soup for grownups. (I wish we were at the Thursday Wednesday Spaghetti, but we have a school meeting, so that can't happen. Alas.)

Friday: I might try the miso fish recipe from last week here instead and go back to meatless Fridays here.

I had my cooking mojo last week...results below...

On Monday, I tried the chicken in packets from Around My French Table (though without the peppers as I can't really eat them). I loved them, my husband enjoyed them, and they were very easy once I figured out how to wrap the packages! I served them with rice on the side, and then made the huge mistake of making the Pioneer Woman Apple Dumplings for dessert (though I made only a half-batch, which is easy to do). I am not a fan of Mountain Dew. I am not a fan of crescent rolls. But somehow, put together with enough butter and sugar, and whoa, Nellie. These are way too easy to eat. The fun part is how nicely the apple cooks. (Really, it is.) It gets all mushy and sweet and YUM. These are clearly hazardous to your health, though, so I do recommend the half batch. And honestly? I might try bigger apple pieces next time. Or a little less...something. But oh-so-good and the house smelled awesome. Special thanks to Shannon at Rocks in My Dryer for drawing my attention to those little buggers.

Continuing with the house-smells-awesome theme, I used my two half-done barbecue sauces from the fridge to make the Crock Pot Honey Barbecue Ribs. These were mostly a success; even though Stephanie from A Year of Crockpotting seems to think that dry meat comes from not being in long enough, these were in on low for 9 hours and were definitely overcooked, not under. They were awesome--falling off the bone, and while it really didn't look at all like enough sauce when I started (not even close to all the pork was covered), it was swimming in it by the end. And it was good, but you really need to have a sauce you love! (We used Sweet Baby Ray's, one regular and a little bit of leftover honey barbecue sauce, and then I cut back just a smidge on the actual honey.) Baked potatoes or mashed are good with this but from our gimpy can't-go-up-and-down-stairs week, I had SO much laundry to do I just wanted to keep dishes to a minimum! So baked it was, and yum. I really need to just remember: my crockpot cooks at too high a temperature, so adjust accordingly.

I couldn't have been any happier that the snow didn't come last week, and twice now, it's been close to 50 degrees! (Sorry, all of you who are still digging out, but we've been there this winter already.) But I already had the pork, so spent Friday braising the pork ragu. (A departure for me, meat on a Friday; these "meatless Mondays" are cracking me up, making the Catholic church look downright progressive for abstaining from meat all those centuries on Fridays! I did too, until very recently, despite Vatican II telling me it was OK not to observe that rule anymore. But I'm overwhelmed by carnivores in my house currently and it got too hard. Maybe I'll go back. But I digress...) The pork ragu was very good. My husband loved it. My kids wouldn't touch it. I have trouble playing nicely with canned tomatoes; even the good ones in the lined cans taste tinny to me. But the pork was yummy and it was a nice Friday night dinner. For a side dish, I tried the Trio Salad from a blog that kind of just showed up in my Reader. It was ok. I liked it fine and it used things I already had, but no one else was enthralled. Welcome to my house. Sigh. Sometimes I think I should just give up and serve hot dogs three nights a week and not deal with the crap.

Further bolstering that idea: "my" copy of Around My French Table goes back to the library today, so I tried to get in a few more recipes. Despite cracking all those pistachios, I didn't get to the Beggar's Linguine yet, but I did make the Roast Chicken for Les Paresseux. "Les Paresseux" roughly translates as "the lazy," which sounded good to me. But it was only ok. I liked roasting it in my beloved Dutch oven, and it really wasn't tough to prepare. I loved that the veggies were prepared while the meat was already cooking; it felt much more efficient than having to get everything in the pan before cooking commenced. But I have decided I am not a good enough cook to try to get by with less than ideal ingredients. I think my main issue here was that oven stuffer roasters were on such a huge sale, they were less than 1/3 the price of an organic chicken, so I grabbed one. And at least in this case, I think it really threw things off. The bird cooks on two pieces of baguette that are supposed to come out crispy and delicious, and the pan juices are supposed to be minimal. While the bottoms of my bread were crispy, the tops were swimming in a lot of pan juices, plus it took more than 90 minutes of cooking to get the thighs to 165, the plastic thingee in the breast didn't pop until it was resting, and even then, all the juices didn't run clear. Now, to the recipe's credit--it was a lovely brown, and very juicy, but compared to the other roast chicken recipe--well, this just didn't compare at all.

There were a few other things that I tried the week before last that I forgot to document...mostly because they were merely ok. In a continuing effort to get Little Picky to eat some vegetables, I tried these broccoli cheese bites. They were easy-ish--the ingredients were all in my house, and nothing was complex to prepare. But. I hate forming anything with my hands. I never thought of myself that way, but it really annoys me to get stuff on my hands. I hate making meatballs, I dislike rolling balls for, I grew up in to that person. If my child had eaten and enjoyed them--I'd suck it up to get the veggies in him. But, not surprisingly, he ate one and didn't like it, then tried to eat around the broccoli so as to only consume the bread crumbs, cheese, and egg. And for him--egg is a big step so I should be grateful. Instead I'm just glad I don't have to keep rolling these things.

I also tried the sweet potato hash from Real Simple's February 2011 issue. I was happy to have an excuse to use the grater disk of my food processor, but my pieces were shorter, and just plain never cooked in the skillet. Eventually I just popped it in the oven with some butter and called it a day, though I loved the idea. I can't figure out what I did wrong. I thought it sounded great; I loved the nutritional powerhouse of the spinich and sweet potatoes; and it smelled great in the skillet. I'm not sure if I'll try again or not as I do have other ways that I love eating sweet potatoes.

The other thing I made was the game-day dip from Dinner: A Love Story. I had other lunch plans and instantly broke them when I saw this. It reminded me of my own favorite artichoke dip recipe from a friend, but easier (only four ingredients! and I had them all!). It was better than my original in that it was even easier, and very cheesy and stretchy and gooey and yum. But I like my original better, so with thanks to my non-bloggy friend who gave it to me: for you. And do whir the hearts in the food processor so you can scoop more easily. It's key.

Artichoke Dip
1 c mayonnaise
1 8oz block cream cheese
1 jar or can of artichoke hearts (plain or marinated, I've used both & prefer plain but use marinated in a pinch. also: as mentioned, I prefer to whir these through the food processor before mixing for easier scooping and spreading)
1 tsp minced garlic
1/4 c parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 400. Mix all ingredients. Top with a little more parmesan and cover in foil. Bake 45-50 minutes, uncovered for the last 20 minutes.

Finally, because it was less a recipe and more an act of desperation--we made snow ice cream in the big blizzard! I was very grateful to the friend who posted it on Facebook. It was super-easy--I just took my biggest mixing bowl/measuring cup out in the snow, filled it somewhere between 6-8 cups (I took a big spoon and found an untouched area to dig in), brought it in and added 1 cup milk (whole is best); 1 tsp vanilla; 1/2 cup sugar and mixed until creamy. The boys were crazy about it, and it was really fun. It was a great accompaniment to hot chocolate, that's for sure. blizzards that we can see this fact, we might lose the last of the big snow, which would be a relief at this point. I hope you have a great week, whatever your weather...for cooking inspiration, check out I'm an Organizing Junkie!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

MPM--Welcome, February

So, here came the first week of February, and not a moment too soon. To kiss the awful January goodbye, I heard my knee pop on the ice and ended up RICEing it (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation), and my older guy got a new and different cold, just to keep things fresh, while my younger got pink eye. The February weather wasn't really a change, but my husband paid me a nice compliment, telling the boys that I'm an excellent snowy weather cook, and he's right...something about foul weather just sends me to the kitchen to make all kinds of soothing, nourishing food. Reviews of last week below the upcoming menu...

Monday: Chicken in packets from the cookbook of the moment, Around My French Table.

Tuesday: Crock Pot Honey Barbecue Ribs, baked potatoes, carrots...somehow!

Wednesday: Beggar's Linguine, salad

Thursday: more snow, so I'm making the pork ragu from last week.

weekend: I'm sad The Minimalist column in the NYTimes has ended, so I'm celebrating a little with some Bittman recipes; for the grownups, I'm trying the black cod with miso, with rice (of course) and probably broccoli

Last week, I started my week by making this cauliflower soup...I was so excited to try it, because really, it couldn't be easier, we get tons of cauliflower in our CSA boxes in season, and so I had very high hopes. They were dashed. I'm not sure if the lemon I used was too sour, or that I didn't use the Pimente d'Esplette, but the croutons were the only thing that made it worth eating. And let's face it, croutons (mine were from Trader Joe's) make most things worth eating! I might try again with broth instead of water and watch the lemon more carefully, because I loved the texture. But this batch did not excite me.

We also started by using one of our gift certificates from the Christmas family swap, this one to Bertucci's. I used to love that place but lately, I'm not impressed. First, they changed my favorite pizza (Lestina) and kinda ruined it, then this time, it was off the menu entirely. My Alfredo sauce was so watery, it was a stretch to call it Alfredo. I know I tend to the picky side, but I'm just sad that a place that used to be a reliable spot has dumbed itself down. The only bonus: we all had leftovers, so I didn't need to make dinner on Monday. So the turkey shepherd's pie fell off the list.

As mentioned, I've been reading Around My French Table this week from the library, deciding whether to put it on my wishlist; I'm thinking yes, but we'll have to see. The Armagnac chicken was so amazing but I need to add a few more home runs to make it worth the actual purchase. I made her tuna rillettes for my book group, but it was not a hit, including with me...I think I needed to splurge on better tuna as "chunk" was a generous description of the product therein. But see below for a much better result...

Inspired by my eagerness to move bottles off my refrigerator shelf, I tried the French's mustard sloppy joes sliders recipe, taking a break from old reliable Rachael Ray's. I did a pesto quinoa for the side (figuring if the kids didn't eat the sloppy joes, they'd have something they liked). One child liked it. One child didn't. But unlike other items--Picky One actually ate two bites! (Which has ostensibly been the rule around here for a while.) It was a major breakthrough. My husband liked it fine. I thought it was gross and will return to the other, more tomato-y, less condiment-y one. And I will use the rest of the barbecue sauce in the crock pot recipe above.

I ended my week the way it began; with a cauliflower soup, this time from Around My French Table, as reviewed by The Tipsy Baker. This soup was exactly what I was looking for. My husband loved it and I cheerfully ate it all weekend. This was the cauliflower soup I was looking for. Smooth, rich, delicious.

Wishing you culinary success this week! For inspiration, try I'm an Organizing Junkie!