Sunday, December 27, 2009

MPM--Ringing in the New Year

Hello again! I hope everyone had or is having a great holiday with whatever brings you comfort and joy. With all the baking this week, we had some hits and misses...they will be below the menu plan for the week. There were some total winners so don't miss them! But I've had enough kitchen experiments this week and am sticking with the basics for this vacation time:

Monday: tacos. It's been forever and it's time to get back on track. My kids have been patient with lots of unusual foods and something familiar would be nice.

Tuesday: something with tilapia...either the recipe I bought it for, which was from Frugal Foodies and involves sweet potatoes, of which I still have many, or from my new Glorious One Pot Meals cookbook (hooray!).

Wednesday: freezer meal, since there's wrestling tonight. There's a Dinner A'Fare chicken thing in there that should work.

Thursday: New Year's Eve. My family's tradition was lobster tails...yum. But I'm not sure it's in the budget this year so I will probably go for the lobster bisque that never made it in my shopping bag at the fish store on Christmas Eve (sob) and something else low-key; maybe the vegan chili, or leftovers.

Friday: It's my father-in-law's birthday! So we'll ring in the new year with a bunch of different things in crockpots. (Note to self: spend this week collecting crockpots from sisters-in-law.) Regular meatballs for sandwiches; Swedish meatballs because I was too suggestible at Ikea; pork roast because it's New Year's Day. Mashed potatoes and potato salad and creamed onions because they are my father-in-law's favorites. Pizza dip and macaroni and cheese because they are my nephews' favorites. My sisters-in-law will bring veggies and fruit and other appetizers. And we will flip between the Mummers' Parade and football all day.

Meanwhile, we had some surprising successes and some epic fails over the last few weeks. No, no, just kidding about the epic fails. But the surprising success? I should stop being so surprised when Mark Bittman's salads impress me. The latest I tried, his fennel and celery salad, here, was awesome. I am so addicted to vinegar, lemon dressings can seem too dessert-y to me sometimes but not here for some reason. It gave me a good excuse to break out my new mandolin. Honestly? I didn't need to wait for the mandolin (though I am very excited to use it for some other things now too). Regular old very thin cutting would work fine too. I will say the finer the better, so try to slice thin instead of shred (ooh, look at me, throwing around the kitchen lingo! or would that be slinging the lingo?) if you try it at home. But you should. Try it, that is. I thought it was great and wasn't expecting much, but the fennel was just sitting there, and I was tired of celery the way I know how to make it (cut in smallish pieces; stuff with something interesting). I'm very happy with this one and next time I'm in the place with the cheap fennel, I'll buy enough for a family gathering.

CuisineNie's chocolate banana bread was greeted as "CAKE!" by my kids, who loved it. I forgot the trick about how to keep the chocolate chunks from settling to the bottom (toss in flour, I think?) and I'll tell you now, I'll use the whole bag of chocolate chunks next time. Because this was more cakey than bready, and was a huge hit. The batter fluffed up so well and it was delicious. Bonus: the house smelled SO good while it was baking.

The Gramercy Park gingerbread from Smitten Kitchen: My husband loved this, from the excuse to drink most of a beer to how it just got better day after day. I was proud to see it looked just like the picture!

The cranberry brisket: There is nothing like coming downstairs in the morning to that yummy smell of a good dinner already almost done in the oven. Loved that part. I forgot to cut against the grain. Did not love that part. But easy, the boys loved it, the house smelled great--we will do this again.

Really, my house smelled great all week, as you can tell. Other winners:

Christmas night was our big extended family celebration. Besides the carrot mousse, we brought a cheesesteak stromboli (purchased at Cacia's) which never made it further than the cutting board, so that was popular, and I brought the pear-cranberry crumble, suggested here as breakfast, though I brought it as a lighter dessert. And voila--the Christmas dinner was so amazing (hello, individual beef Wellingtons, where have you been all my life? I believe this was the recipe the hosts used)--we used it for both. A few people used it as a light dessert, and we took it to Boxing Day brunch. Personally, I like a little less flour in my crumble topping (and would add more oats) but the fruit was yummy. I will try more cranberries next time too. Also, I think that almost-ripe pears would be ideal for this (or maybe a non-Bartlett pear--I'll bet Asian pears would be great) since the ripe Bartletts turned tender to the point of mushiness.

Smitten Kitchen's spinach and gruyere strata: really, how bad could this be?! I used Cacia's for this too, making the bread cubes from their rolls. It was great, but not the transcendent experience Smitten Kitchen described. Of course, my oven got bumped up to 375/400 for some significant portion of baking so this too may have been a problem. I would definitely make it again, though, maybe with more cheese? or something? to bump up the taste.

I also tried making these broccoli/gruyere quiches, but had some epic fail moments with them. First, I do not have a tart pan so I used two pie crusts from the freezer. Then I don't know what happened but the custard started dripping out of the bottom of both pans...could they have had holes? It wouldn't make sense to me but there's not much other explanation. It was also hard to tell since I had to fuss with the proportions to get it to two plates instead of one. But, I left them in the hot oven with a cookie sheet below to catch the drips and then baked them off later, which seemed to work well. They tasted yummy, though the crusts stuck to the aluminum foil pan, so while the family would have been forgiving, just as well I didn't take it there. Worth repeating, though. And next time, I'll look for actual chervil, just for kicks. (I used the last of the wilting parsley and tarragon in my crisper drawer.)

Have a great week--enjoy the last days of 2009--me being me, I'll miss the "double Os" in the years (what will the novelty sunglasses people do?!) but I am looking forward to seeing what 2010 has to bring. Maybe because I loved that movie? Maybe I should see it again...wonder how I've changed since then and whether I'd even like it? But--back to the homelife for the week. Happy New Year and do check out the most inspired meal plans on the web at I'm an Organizing Junkie!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

MPM--Ho Ho Ho!

And here we are, all four advent candles lit, ready to close out 2009...almost. We had an amazing amount of snow here this weekend, and while my husband shoveled and my boys sledded on our hill and built snowforts with the neighbors, I spent a lot of the time holed up here cooking. We went through a gallon and a half of milk in cocoa, lots of popcorn, and other snuggly meals and treats. Alas, my living room looks like a winter storeroom moved in--we were not really expecting the second-largest-snowstorm-ever-in-our-city this early in the season. So between the Christmas stuff and the huge assortment of sizes of winter gear that apparently blew up in my closet, I have a lot to do to get ready for Santa. And he is coming on Thursday. I got the email. He's all set. (I love that tradition...for 100 years he's made personal visits to any house that asks in our town. It's awesome.)

This is another "keep it easy" week for me. I had stocked up on freezer meals and it's time to bring 'em on out. For lunches, I have Pasta Fagioli and I made the "Zero Point Soup." To be honest, it's scoring zero points in zing, too, but it's healthy, quick, and nutritious (especially since I am apparently the only North American with too-LOW sodium levels). (And I did find that three cups of liquid was not even close to enough--I used three cans of bouillon and three of water.) And despite the fact that Pillow Pets are sold out until 2011, and one boy suddenly wants the Playmobil mummy more than anything else in the world, I am working hard to remember: Christmas will come just the same. And I will get to reflect on the wonders that baby boys can bring the world.

Monday: cranberry brisket (trying to recreate an amazing meal from a friend through the wonders of the internet); Kelly's potatoes; broccoli

Tuesday: Dinner A'Fare pork chops; rice; salad; brussels sprouts (the obsession continues)

Wednesday: Depends a bit. Two cousins might be with us for the night. If not, I'll have the Trader Joe's pulled pork again, because holy cow, we all loved it, I still have the rolls left, and it was exactly enough for all of us. If the cousins are here, I'll be picking up a tomato and more lettuce and we'll have tacos instead.

Thursday: And then it begins. After Mass, it's seven fishes for us. Shrimp cocktail, oysters (because I like 'em and they are so easy from the tin), bacon-wrapped scallops (thank you again Trader Joe's), lobster bisque, crabcakes, salmon, and California rolls. I know--no baccala, no smelts...I'm a heretic. But I'm the only one who likes the anchovies, and at least this way I have company for some of the meal. My husband doesn't even like tuna (unless it's seared or in sushi) so our old tuna-on-cracker standby doesn't even work out here.

Friday: Bacon and waffles for breakfast. Sandwiches for lunch. And a formal dinner for 30 at the cousins' house. We're bringing the carrot mousse and I'm looking at a pear-cranberry crisp.

Saturday is Boxing Day: Whatever the real celebration is supposed to be, the is the day my husband's nuclear family gets together for a casual, intimate brunch for all 21 of us with an easy food theme: Anything from a box! Though I think we're cheating a bit this year and having quiches. There's a broccoli and gruyere one I'm looking at to use my leftover gruyere. And to go with the "from a box" theme I think I'll make the spinach quiche with the Seabrook Farms creamed spinach box's recipe. (Usually we do lunch and have pizzas and fried chicken and crackers and citrus from the band sale, but this year we had to switch to a brunch due to work schedules for some of the family. This'll be fun too though!)

Also this week, I'll be getting ready for the party of the year that we host: my father in law's birthday on January 1. I'm very excited that I found my sister-in-law's make-and-freeze mashed potato recipe, so I will be doing that in her honor. I'll post the rest of the menu next week but in case any of you need a good freezable mashed potato recipe, I'll include it here.

Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes from Mary Jo

for 7 cups:

5 lb. potatoes (SO excited the organic ones were on sale this week--cheaper than regulars! woohoo!)
1 egg
1/2 t. garlic powder
3 T melted buter
1t salt
8 oz cream cheese
1/4 c sliced almonds (optional)

Peel and quarter potatoes. Place in a sauce pan, cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer gently until tender. Drain well. In the same pot over low heat, combine the egg, garlic powder, salt, and cream cheese. Dump the potatoes back in and mash well b hand or with an electric mixer. Do not use a food processor, you will get paste.

Adjust seasoning if desired. Place the potatoes in a spray treated or greased 3 qt casserole or 9x13 pan. Drizzle with melted butter. Top with almonds. Refrigerate up to 2 days or freeze.

To serve, thaw completely. Bake at 375 F for 30-40 minutes until top is lightly browned.

If you want to get fancy, put the potatoes into a pastry bag fitted with a star tip. Pipe the potatoes into rosettes onto a greased or parchment covered baking sheet. Freeze in a single layer. Once frozen, place in a hard sided container. To bake, place FROZEN rosettes on a greased baking sheet, and bursh with melted butter. Bake at 400 F until lightly browned--about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with paprika and minced parsley.

I don't know that I'll get that fancy, but there are certainly advantages to it so I just might. I'll be making two batches so maybe I'll try one of each. I'll also be putting up some mac & cheeses for the new year. But that will have to wait for another post.

Still looking for ideas? Try I'm An Organizing Junkie! for the best list on the web. And have a great holiday, wherever you are!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

MPM--Ingredient of the Month Edition

Ho Ho Ho! Sorry to disappear there for a bit but I had an unusual week and was not cooking much. But, due to an amazing batch of brussels sprouts done by my sister in law at Thanksgiving, I've been on a sprouts kick. Now, anything can be gussied up with cheese and bacon, but if you are in the mood for that, her recipe (from Emeril on Good Morning America, here) was unbelievable.

I wasn't up for the extra work or calories, so at home, I started with Kelly's Barefoot Contessa recipe. Very basic, and very yummy! But I also had seen The Bitten Word's paean to sprouts on their website, so I also tried them their way, roasted with bacon and apples. Verdict? They were nice with the apples and bacon, but I actually liked them best in Kelly's recipe. I may not be totally fair to the Bitten Word here, because my bacon over-roasted things a bit, but apparently, when roasted, I really enjoy the sprouts themselves and don't need them all gussied up. Who knew?

One reason for nothing major last week: my kids have started wrestling. They may not last long there because it exhausts them and throws them off at school for the next day, which is not acceptable. But meanwhile, it means that two days a week, I give them dinner-for-lunch and just grab peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and fruit for a quick boost after practice.

So, this week:

Monday: sandwiches (wrestling)

Tuesday: my husband's holiday party (without families) so I will either go out with the kids (Chik-Fil-A family night, anyone?) or have friends over. We'll see--it's a lot of nights out, but at least the CFA has an indoor playground.

Wednesday: wrestling again.

Thursday: a Thursday Wednesday Spaghetti--woohoo!

Friday: something from the freezer--chili maybe? I think we'll get our outdoor tree this night.

Not much inspiration but for a few of you who wondered if I fell off the face of the earth--I'm fine, just in the holiday swim, and without much inspiration to share meal-planning-wise. I hope your December is going beautifully!