Sunday, January 31, 2010

MPM--The Longest Month

Maybe where you live, February is 28 days of sunny spring-like weather. Not here. This is usually our slushiest month and the one that feels like 49 days, whatever the calendar says. As I was planning the week, it was 19 degrees in the height of the afternoon with "flurries" that turned in to an actual couple of unexpected inches. But I am trying to take advantage of the weather to try a few more dishes that strike me as definite winter meals. That's one advantage of these sub-freezing days. And I am tremendously grateful that this hasn't been a wet winter--nothing makes me seize with driving dread like ice.

So, with that, my winter-centric (and what's-on-sale-and-in-my-freezer-centric) week of menus, and some reviews from last week at the end.

This week, I'll be making a big pot of soup for lunches for myself. It will either be the red lentil soup from Moosewood Cooks at Home or the Wednesday Chef's intriguingly could-be-great-could-be-awful Leek Soup with Peas and Sauerkraut. I have ingredients for both so we'll see how it goes.

Sunday: Total splurge on the beef tenderloin from my freezer (I'll do the pink peppercorn thing again--why mess with perfection?), crispy roasted potatoes, and brussels sprouts.

Monday: This bolognese sauce from, via the Well Read Hostess. She throws some great Wednesday Spaghettis so I figured I'd have to try it. Glad I did. I used the food processor to avoid the chopping forever part, and my butcher has "meatloaf mix" which is beef, pork, and veal, so that's what I used. And she was right: two cans of tomato paste are better than one here. And it smelled fabulous simmering away on a snowy day.

Tuesday: Roasted chicken wrapped in bacon from The Frugal Foodies Cookbook. Stuffing (not from inside the bird). baked potatoes (or leftovers), Smitten Kitchen's caramelized shallots, and, of course, a salad.

Wednesday: Leftovers.

Thursday: Catherine Newman's pork recipe, rice, or the dal recipe I didn't get to, and broccoli.

Friday: Probably back to our pizza place, and I hope stargazing at night. Bliss.

As to last week, it was a good week. I ran out of mojo and had an emergency pizza run but otherwise a good week. The teriyaki chicken was very good, but I did the cheat and didn't baste (too many small kids running around here this day to open and shut the oven that many times). I think it would be much better with the baste rather than the dump, but it was good anyway. The kids even ate it.

I'm sad to report my first Smitten Kitchen fail, or at least first SK "meh." The tomato sauce with butter was fine, but not the sublime experience it was advertised to be. And I kind of fouled up the pork roast too. I thought it was a little small for my slow cooker so I used the inverted bowl trick...but somehow the cranberry sauce all worked its way under the bowl, leaving the bit that was around the pork not enough liquid, so it overcooked, which was nasty. But the pork itself was great.

For better hints, try I'm an Organizing Junkie!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

MPM--MMMMMMM edition

Welcome readers! I hope you had a wonderful week, food-wise and otherwise. We had recipes old and new here and had the usual set of hits and misses. But the hits were real highlights. Don't miss them below this week's menu.

Monday: Baked Teriyaki Chicken, white rice (and I will take the advice of many posters and add snow peas and water chestnuts, and have some broccoli on the side with the rice)

Tuesday: Super Suppers Cranberry Pork Roast, would love to try this crispy roast potato recipe but might just default to mashed (winner either way!), brussels sprouts

Wednesday: leftovers, with a new veggie twist of some sort. I think I have spinach in the fridge to use.

Thursday: spaghetti night. Cannot resist yet another Smitten Kitchen recipe. (How bored she must be to see me on her trackbacks all the time.) I can't resist her writeup of the super-easy-seeming tomato sauce with butter and onions. I am also severely tempted by the Well Read Hostess Bolognese recipe but I do not have two pounds of ground meat in my freezer whereas I do have the butter in there. And using an extra can of tomatoes hanging around her? Bonus.

Friday: Oh, I don't know. I'm going out twice this weekend so I'll shuffle by with something here.

Now, on to last week. Full of experimentation, I was...not sure what came over me there. Except for the continued drive to use what I have. Which did not at all explain the $135 trip to Acme. (Though part of that was Tastycakes for my husband to make good on an internet giveaway. Don't ask.)

So first I tried Smitten Kitchen's creamed mushrooms on chive butter toast. I made it for myself for lunch and ooooh, mercy. As a devotee of cream of mushroom soup, this was like distilling all that flavor I like the most and putting it on buttered toast. It was just perfect for a rainy Sunday grownup lunch. It wins few points in the nutrition category but in the grownup indulgence category, I have a new favorite. Yum. Note: I was glad I went all the way with this one, toasting some good Italian rolls, actually buttering them with slivers of butter, using the chives and all. That's what made the dish. I tried just a spoonful of only the mushrooms and didn't love them, but after all that work, I figured I might as well try it as intended. I was SO glad I did.

I also made the Real Simple Slow Cooker Ribs. It was perfect for the night and my husband loved it. I had the ribs in the freezer (woohoo!) and just put them in frozen. It took extra time that way--at the three hour mark, the meat was still raw, which made me nervous--but it kicked in and was plenty well done by the 6 hour mark in my fast-cooking slow cooker. The verdict? A little too much wine for my tastes (to use a whole bottle was a little much); next time I might use some broth instead and mix with the wine. Plus, I would put the meat closer to the bottom; the veggies were so mushy I wished they'd held up a little better. Again, for a rainy Sunday: perfect. And not much work, so I could make the other things I had planned (turkey shepherd's pie, Smitten Kitchen's zucchini & almonds, etc.) and get a start on the week.

And the shepherd's pie? That makes me happy every time I make it. This time it used up freezer mashed potatoes, and I used less oil and more veggies per my usual, and drained more stuff. Almost overdrained but then the cream comes in to save the day at the end.

In something of a small miracle, I finally had all the ingredients together to try the Mark Bittman Autumn Millet Bake as highlighted on 101 Cookbooks. After a challenging search for fresh cranberries, I found some, only to discover my squash was no longer usable. I finally got it all together and was skeptical...isn't millet best known as birdseed? But it was terrific. And, alas, I should have used the Craisins instead. Live and learn, though I do hate to mess with a recipe the first time I make it.

And I am happy to report that my freezer is actually looking better. There are still many random things in there but I am just about close enough to getting them all in my cooler chest for long enough to defrost the thing. Oh, I used to have big goals. Now? I have sunk to it taking months to defrost a freezer AND considering it blog fodder. This reminds me of my favorite Dilbert cartoon ever. I gotta go try out for a play or something.

To go see someone who is actually doing cool stuff with *her* blog, go see I'm an Organizing Junkie! And maybe I'll really up the housewifey ante and join in her organizing challenge this month. Really. I'm in it for the prizes! The last one was awesome.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

MPM--Slow Cooking

Hello again from America's Test Kitchen! It sure felt that way here this week. I'm trying to take it a little easier on myself this week. Reviews are below. We had an awesome success and some so-so's. This week's menu will look pretty similar to last week's since we didn't get to many of the recipes. But I'm having a Sunday cooking day so that should not repeat itself.

Anyone seeing lots of roasted chicken recipes running around lately? I'm jonesing to do one but need to keep going on the project du jour. Or month, really. I'm also really craving lamb biriyani and Chinese shrimp with walnuts. Maybe I'll go cheap and get them for lunches.

Which will be hard with my beige-food-only boy with me. He's on his four week break from school. Hold me. The good news is that his lunch bunch is at a different place so he'll keep going there. (Good not because we need a break from each other--though we do--but good because it gives me a chance to be with the other boy for a few one-on-one lunches a week.)

And I just have to say, this feels embarrassingly luxurious to write, as I think and pray over Haiti. I dialed 90999 and gave at a friend's fundraiser and were so proud of our niece, who won a $50 donation to the charity of her choice at our Christmas gift auction, and is sending it all to Haiti...but to be sighing over a too-full freezer and still more time with the boys I swoon's breathtaking. I am humbled and grateful for my cosmic good fortune, and holding in my heart those who are on the wrong side of that equation this week. We'll be thinking of them on Monday, too, on the day of service, wishing we could serve more closely, but oh, there's plenty to do here too.

This week:

Sunday: Real Simple slow-cooker ribs. Didn't get there last week. Iceberg wedge salad with tomatoes (and maybe bacon if I want to throw caution to the wind.) Maybe the zucchini-almond thing from Smitten Kitchen. Though that might be a lunch too.

Monday: Turkey Shepherd's Pie. Didn't get there last week (see below). Salad.

Tuesday: Citrus Chicken (didn't get there last week), Mark Bittman's dal, Bittman's beet salad.

Wednesday: Leftovers, probably. Otherwise, the chicken satay recipe from Glorious One Pot Meals.

Thursday: Spaghetti with crab sauce (for the grownups, or butter and cheese for kids).

Friday: back out for pizza.

I also want to try this 101 Cookbooks sweet potato recipe. I have a bunch of them hanging around and would love to use them well.

As to last week, as I said, we had a great week with some really interesting foods. I know you are on the edge of your seat about the walnut pestos, but first, let me be the eight-zillionth person to rave about the Smitten Kitchen Slow-Cooker Southwestern Brisket. This is the meal that threw off the week. I completely forgot as I designed the week that I had that brisket hanging around. So since the ribs were already frozen, and another week wouldn't change anything, I flipped the two.

When I use the slow-cooker, I tend to be a dumper. As in, if I can't dump it in and walk away, I throw my hands up and walk away. I am SO glad I didn't do that here. The prep really didn't take that much time (especially since I assembled the spice blend the night before), so I seared, sauteed, and then dumped. And had a meal that made my house smell awesome. We made it with SK's favorite green onion slaw (due to my no-peppers thing, it is a great change from salsa for us). And seriously, it was amazing. The flaw: even though he adores tacos, the one boy didn't like this as a taco at all. But bonus for me, he asked to have just the veggies (salsa, tomatoes, lettuce) with taco sauce and sour cream instead. Worked for me. He doesn't even like the cheese so it was overall decently healthy, even. But my husband loved it. And the twist for us: we added avocados, and they added exactly the right note--a little creamy, and a little bit of texture contrast. It was great--and my husband usually doesn't even like avocados. A slightly-less-than-three-pound brisket made a ton. We had this two nights and I had it for another lunch and I still (ahem) froze one more dinner's worth. I strongly, strongly recommend this.

And score another point for Smitten Kitchen. In the initial tasting, I preferred the Real Simple Walnut Crostini recipe. It had fewer flavors and a heartier texture that didn't feel as oily. But I made them the day before I intended to eat them, and overnight, my perspective switched completely. The SK version had more flavors that blended together better and created a smoother spread. And the lemon flavor faded from the other and its smaller amount of oil meant it wasn't as cohesive. So--for drop in guests--the Real Simple recipe wins. But for a party in a day or two? Go with Smitten Kitchen's.

Finally, the cheeseburger pie. Bear with me for a digression: my husband and I loved to watch Iron Chef years ago, before we had kids, and there was this awesome older woman with a variable title ("food critic" sometimes, "fortune teller" others) who would make cryptic comments we tried to guess the real meanings of through the translations. The one we still joke about was "It reminds me of my childhood." We both howled at the opaque comment and laughed at how that could really be taken any way. That said, I'm clearly exploring casseroles, looking for food to remind me of my childhood, I think. But you really can't go home again; they are tasting gloppy and artificial and I'm feeling kind of stuck here, looking for a way to move on. Which brings me to the cheeseburger pie. It was easy, and it used the Bisquick. But it almost ended up quiche-like (which really, two eggs and milk later, I should have figured out, but I was thinking the Bisquick mix would sit on top like a dumpling-esque crust rather than bind the whole thing together). My kids ate two or three pieces and were done. My husband finished it off without complaint, but without the raves the brisket brought. So: a worthy try, but actual burgers are really just as easy. And making that beef made me crave lasagne. So expect to see that sometime soonish.

Don't forget to check out the menus over at I'm an Organizing Junkie! She does a great job. And if you are looking for an excuse to re-organize a space in your life, she's running an Organizing Roundup Challenge again next month.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

MPM--In the Swing

Welcome back! I hope everyone is having a good week. We are back in the swing, just in time for my younger son's school to close for break again. Sigh. Fortunately I have some good plans coming up so we should have some fun with it. This week is a light one for us as far as obligations go so I'm trying some new things as I continue the effort to clean out the freezer. Perhaps I should unplug the freezer in winter. It's really very useful for ice cream and popsicles in summer but this time of year, it only gets me in trouble!

If you're looking for inspiration, don't forget to visit I'm An Organizing Junkie! for an astounding collection of great ideas.

This week:

Monday: Slow cooker red wine short ribs from Real Simple (ribs in the freezer, wine from the party, still--we had lots leftover, not ever a bad thing!); and either Smitten Kitchen's Walnut Pesto or the even easier Real Simple version of walnut pesto, Walnuts and Parmesan Crostini, with both walnuts and parm from my freezer. Since I have the sun dried tomatoes and sherry vinegar hanging around, I whipped up some of the SK version tonight, which I liked, but despite how much I love complex flavors, I think I might prefer the simpler version, so I'll probably do a taste-off tomorrow.

Tuesday: thinking of spring longingly with this one: chicken with citrus sauce; will probably try millet or another "strange" grain in my cabinet to go with it; celery somehow

Wednesday: Super Suppers meatball bread and vegan chili from the freezer (am I a heretic for serving that with meatball bread? too bad)

Thursday: probably leftovers, but I am interested to try this Cheeseburger Pie. I'm thinking it's sloppy-joes-esque without the rolls. But we'll see.

Friday: my favorite turkey shepherd's pie (using ground turkey, mashed potatoes, and peas from the freezer. Bonus!), again, doubling the veggies and halving the meat.


One thing I didn't list but had to do after the report of more snow coming: the overnight crockpot steel-cut oatmeal. My husband loved it last time and since he is always so good to me, clearing the cars and sweeping the walk while I'm still in bed, it felt like the least I could do. I use the linked recipe above but use milk (1%) and let him add his own sugar and fruit.

Last week, we tried Kelly's Swiss stuffing chicken--maybe the Swiss was past its prime, maybe I just can't go home again to cream of chicken soup, maybe the apple juice didn't work for me--but this didn't work for me. Cheese and stuffing--what could have gone wrong!? Still in the mix: her Georgia chicken and a few others. I'm thinking it was the canned soup and I've trained myself out of that relic of my childhood cooking. (Except the poppyseed chicken. That still seems to work.)

I also got adventuresome with the tilapia in my freezer. It was only three filets but it weighed well almost two pounds, which was more than either recipe needed, so I made both, hoping they weren't both terrible. The opposite happened, though, leaving us with lots of fish.

First, I tried the Very Very Mild Fish from Glorious One-Pot Meals. I adore using my mother's vintage Le Creuset Dutch oven; it feels very homey to me, so this book was really a godsend. It teaches a technique the author calls infusion cooking where everything is layered in the pot and cooks together. I was very antsy about it. My carrots were a recent-enough purchase but still looked like they'd seen better days. Then there were so many of them I did the whole cauliflower because it seemed like the only thing that would balance them at all. I was nervous about the potatoes going brown before it even started cooking. And then, she tells you to take it out of the oven 3 minutes after the smell of a meal comes from the oven--and I had started cooking something else! D'oh! Then, when I lifted the lid, the veggies looked kinda dry.

But when I tasted it--oh, yum! It was, as promised, very very mild, so I was of course not knocked out by the flavor. But I did like how things were soft but not mushy and the flavors all informed each other while not erasing each other. And I couldn't believe it was all done with such minimal cooking fat. (The Dutch oven was lightly oiled, and the fish had some butter on it. This was great and now I am inspired to try other things. The Amazon reviews tend to imply that all the things end up only mildly flavored so I will keep that in mind. We'll see what I decide for next week. One thing I LOVED: while unlike a slow cooker in almost every other way, you can use still-frozen meats or veggies in here and still end up the same. Bonus for forgetful defrosters.

Meanwhile, though, the other recipe I tried was amazing! It was from The Frugal Foodie Cookbook, written by the authors of the Two Fat Als blog. They have a recipe for Curried Tilapia and Sweet Potato Stew. I did not have the fresh herbs called for (basil and cilantro) but everything else was already in-house. Even better, it finished off several jars and cans (ginger, curry powder, coconut milk, broth) that were hanging around as well. And even without the fresh herbs (which would really knock this out of the park, I think) it was amazing. It was too soupy to be a stew, really, but I put it over rice (which I made for my fish-hatin' kids) and it was a fantastic blend of flavors and ideal for a night-before-snow. This was SO good and we will clearly have this may more times. I'm including their recipe at the bottom in hopes of inspiring you to buy their book--they have some really inventive recipes and I love that they included total cost and price-per-serving on every recipe too.

Curried Tilapia and Sweet Potato Stew
from The Frugal Foodie Cookbook by Alanna Kaufman and Alex Small
price $16 servings 4 price per serving $4

We use tilapia often because it's extremely versatile--thick enough to hold its own in a stew, flavorful enough to bake with just lemon, salt, and pepper, and mild enough to take on new flavors when well seasoned. Plus, it's wonderfully inexpensive. In this stew, tilapia is complemented by flavorful Asian flavors, but isn't overpowered. The dish comes together quickly and easily for a tasty weeknight meal.

2 Tbs olive oil
1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 carrot, sliced (I chopped up some leftover baby carrots)
1 1/2 tablespoons curry powder
1 Tbs grated ginger (I used the kind in the refrigerator jar--I'll use a little more if I do that again)
2 sweet potatoes, cut in to 1" cubes
3 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups light coconut milk
2 Tbs chopped fresh basil
1 pound tilapia, cut in to 1" chunks, seasoned with salt and pepper (forgot to season--mistake)
cilantro (optional, for garnish)

Heat oil in large pot. Add onion and carrot; saute 3 minutes until onion is soft. Add curry and ginger; saute 1 minutes. Add sweet potato, stock, coconut milk, and basil; simmer 15-20 minutes, until potatoes are soft. When potatoes are ready, add fish to top of soup; spoon a bit of liquid over it and let cook about 5 minutes, until cooked through. Spoon soup into bowls, garnish with cilantro, and serve.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

MPM--Welcome 2010!

Well, it finally longtime readers of this blog (all seven of you...thanks!) know, it has been a multi-month--nay, spanning two years now--goal to empty my freezer so I can defrost it. I have failed miserably.

But now it is time. I went to put my Aid for Friends meals in the other day...and the door would not shut. Too much permafrost. So...after an emergency duct taping, on to the cleanout. Happily, we were hosting my father-in-law's birthday party anyway on New Year's Day, which helped immensely with the cleanout.

First up: six bags of nuts. Despite an ambivalent relationship with David Liebowitz (all in my mind of course), I was about to take him off my clogged Google Reader list when he came up with this Holiday Snack Mix of nuts and pretzels and kept himself afloat. (I'm just not in to escapist Paris food blogging right now. I need more daily-use blogs, not escape.) But any recipe that needs any blend of nuts, including the ones hogging space in my fridge--well, that's a winner. It was easy, it was effective, I didn't have to buy any ingredients. My nuts looked messier than his--more covered in sugar globs and not as smooth or shiny--but it was useful, and my husband loved them. Good party food.

Second: Ikea's Swedish meatballs. Happily, these were on the docket anyway for the party. I was hoping for easy and yummy (and just like the store restaurant, frankly). And that they were. Super easy. Score.

Third: freezer appetizers. There was an awesome pecan praline brie from Dinner A'Fare, which I would definitely do again, and the lemongrass chicken sticks from Trader Joe's were a huge hit. There were more but after two straight days of cooking, I was done. We'll get to the rest of them. (We have to!)

We also made the other things I'd planned on, and my fabulous sisters-in-law brought all kinds of yummy veggies and desserts, and life was good. Even better: our older set of nieces and nephews (ages 13 to 23) carried the party on to the next house, so I sent all the most tempting leftovers with them.

So, on to this week:

Sunday: pork roast, macaroni and cheese, carrot mousse (all leftovers)

Monday: Swedish meatballs (leftovers), mashed potatoes (leftovers from the freezer), spinach, cranberry sauce, salad

Tuesday: Dinner A'Fare meal from the freezer, salad

Wednesday: crock-pot brisket from Smitten Kitchen, roasted potatoes, celery and fennel salad

Thursday: Glorious One Pot Meals Very Very Mild Fish dish. I'll let you know how it goes.

Friday: leftovers

One of my resolutions is to use what I have more effectively. I am not doing a full Eating Down the Fridge this week but I'm coming close. All I need to buy for the week is brisket and onions, which is kind of a relief. There are other things I want to make but after the mad cleanout of my downstairs for the party, I am reminding myself that open space can be a good thing. My pantry does not need to be overstocked. We'll be ok.

For really thoughtful menus on the web, try I'm an Organizing Junkie!