Sunday, December 29, 2013

Don't Let the Door Hit You in the Tush on the Way Out, 2013

I shouldn't be so unkind. 2013 had its moments. The learning to ride a bike moment was a good one. The Nativity pageant was a good one. The Boy Getting Out of the Hospital was a good one. The swim team success was a good one. The trips to Georgia, Indiana, Illinois, New Jersey, the mountains. There were lots of good ones. But my heart just breaks thinking about the losses, so I am trying not to.

Monday: I'm working (I was going to say "boo," but I like my job, and I like that I had off from the Friday before Christmas until Jan. 2 so it's hard to get too wound up), so this will probably be the day we go in town to see the Christmas light shows as a family and then go to dinner. I hope.

Tuesday: My parents always had lobster tail on December 31. I don't think I'll bother. Tacos. Why not?

Wednesday:  Still in flux. This was my father-in-law's birthday and we traditionally hosted a party here. This year, generous cousins (with a bigger house) stepped in and I am grateful. We like hosting but it turns our house upside down to have that many at once. Regardless: crock pot pork roast, and whatever else people bring.

Thursday: Back to work, sort of. My husband is taking off so we can move our son in to the bigger bedroom. Wednesday spaghetti today.

Friday: Leftovers.

So, some of my holiday quests went well. I did a solid job emptying my cabinets. Things are not falling out, and everything is up to date, which is a nice change.

Christmas Eve, I went with my ersatz fishes. I tried this recipe for the salmon, and adored it. I didn't make the sauce (we bought my favorite sauce with the fish) but I will try it next time. This was so easy and delicious.

Christmas morning, we were wiped out. I napped on the couch while the boys played Epic Mickey, and my husband made waffles (with my mom's recipe--so good) and smoothies. It was a joy.

For Christmas, I made:

-pizza dip. Hey, it's red.

-six layer bars (I didn't want to open another bag of white chocolate chips for one half-cup; also I went a little heavy on walnuts and chocolate chips to finish those bags; you know what? still delicious)

-chocolate chip bars. Someone brought these to the 2nd grade party and I was smitten. Run, do not walk, to make these. "Cookie Cake!" my son cried in glee. It was fabulous and much easier than cookies. I'm so happy about this discovery it's embarrassing. They were delicious and almost gone by the end of Christmas night--tragic, almost considering the plethora of Italian cookies made by an aunt. I ate those, though, so in that way, the plan worked brilliantly--distract the kids with the chocolate chip bars and save the thumbprint cookies for me. Yay! (also: in that bar recipe? just butter the pan and the cookies come out. I am the queen of foil because I am very lazy but these don't need it.) Next year I will try to adapt for the cranberry-white chocolate cookies too.

-mini apple-cranberry pies. I used filo dough cups from the freezer section and Trader Joe's pie filling. (I did mention the cleaning off the shelves part, right?) These did not get the love they deserved. I thought they were great.

-Smitten Kitchen gingerbread cake. The 23rd of December was warm but pouring rain. We stayed in pajamas and in the house instead of any of the other ideas we had and I baked. Clearly. It was awesome. Alas, this culminated in a massive flip fail but you know what? That just means you slice it before you go. I am unperturbed. This also did not get the love it deserved. Leftovers work for me.

For the Nth Day of Christmas, I made beef tenderloin with pink peppercorns. It's enough. Oh--and more pizza dip, since all the ingredients come with enough for two (except the cream cheese, but that was on mega-sale).

Finishing off the bake fest (and effort at cabinet emptying), I made the add-in cookies. Difference this time: I refrigerated the dough like I did with the last cookies that went well (before the bars). Big oops: I thought, it's only an hour, and didn't cover it. "An hour" turned in to "four days" so the dough was pretty desiccated and crumbly after four days in the fridge. I baked it off anyway.

So here we are, ending the year and beginning another. The kids got tablets for Christmas, so currently Dad and one boy are watching The Incredibles, another is playing Stack the States, and I am finishing these notes. So here we are, staring in to our individual screens. Tonight, it's cozy, but I am a little uneasy about what it foretells. Here's hoping I'm at least somewhat wrong.

Wishing you a 2014 with all you dream of. Thank you for reading. It's fun to have you visit. See you in the new year!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Ring Noel and Sing

It's time! 

Monday: Jane's crazy chicken, creamed spinach, rice

Tuesday: Christmas Eve > taco Tuesday. Our version of seven fishes: California rolls; oysters on crackers; Trader Joe's bacon-wrapped scallops; lobster bisque; shrimp cocktail; crab cakes; poached salmon. And of course pizza for the boys. 

Wednesday: Christmas. I am taking to potluck dinner: pizza dip (of course), Smitten Kitchen's gingerbread cake; 

Thursday: Taco Thursday. Can't skip it entirely.

Friday: We've delayed our traditional Boxing Day to 12/27 due to work schedules. I am splurging on beef tenderloin with pink peppercorn and something else, maybe.

I'm dreaming of a "sandy claws" last weekend of the year and hoping to sneak down the shore overnight but we'll see--there is plenty to do around here. 

Wishing you a peaceful and happy week, whether you celebrate this set of holidays or not. See you next week with a New Year's plan!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Oh What Fun

Here we are, the last week of school--whee! Are you ready? We are trying to RELAX this week....or at least I am trying to relax in the kitchen. So, my boring week and my crazy week before:

Monday: school spirit night, so easy: nuggets and apples for boys, leftovers for parents.

Tuesday: tacos

Wednesday: spaghetti

Thursday: total craziness! Two class parties, pageant practice, birthday party (school night parties are ok by me if they are before that throwaway last day before break)...leftovers or freezer food for those of us eating at home.

Friday: let the merriment begin! With a doctor's appointment. Oh well.

Last week turned in to a grand cooking adventure. Wander through with me if you dare...

So, I linked last week to the 7-layer bars, which I went for since that's what I had ingredients for. (And since I don't use butterscotch chips for anything else, I was eager to get a move-on with them.) The recipe was terrific with one exception-there is no way 5 oz of graham cracker crumbs covers a 9x13 pan. So I went with the stick of butter to 1.5 cups ratio and that worked much better. (Edited to add: whoops, no I didn't link. Sorry. It's here.) Other tips: doubling up on aluminum foil to keep the pan clean was awesome. The old-school, non-pull-off lids on the condensed milk work much better; open about 80% of the lid and that allows for a nice, thick ribbon of milk to pour and covers the top more effectively. And the tip to wait as long as possible before cutting was huge. I baked off two (easy, since the tin foil let me lift out batch 1 and just put it aside while I relined and reloaded for batch 2 without a ton of cleanup. I do overlapping parallel sheets instead of the crisscross pattern that leaves the corners exposed and ergo sticky) and let them sit, still in the foil, until the morning, when I cut them pretty easily in to bars of random sizes. The less-well-coated ones were prettier, the others held their shape better.

In a happy coincidence, the day before the cookie swap, there was a snow day! And just one more reason to love my office: they had one too, so I didn't have to try to cram in a work day around the kiddos. Then they went wandering off to play with neighbors, so I got down to business in the kitchen in a big way.

I was still on a bake-off mode, trying very hard to work down the shelves, so back to TBBE's Add-In cookies. I had plenty of white chocolate and cranberries, so we went for that version.

Speaking of TBBE, I also made (sort of) her roasted carrots and quinoa recipe. (Hers via Food + Wine, obviously.)  I had made the taco mix the day before, and finished the paprika (which the younger one remembered, because I didn't think we'd have 5 TBS, and he eyeballed it and said, Sure we will, and sure enough, we did). I figured with 7 other spices, it would still be pretty good. Meanwhile, I rearranged my spice drawer and discovered I am ready for the Great Cumin Shortage of Any Year This Decade. The salad was good, even paprika-free, though I might eliminate or downplay one of the spices (cumin? cayenne?) if I make it again; also, if I make it again, I will stick to my instincts and make the carrots bite sized. Who wants to fight a long carrot in a salad? I also used the Trader Joe's tricolor quinoa I had in the house so I don't know if that makes much of a difference. The only downside: this is a long process. Not hard, but long, and a good one while the kids were out of the house and I had the counter space and head space to myself.

In the spirit of cleaning out the cabinets, I also made chocolate chip pumpkin muffins and coconut chia seed pudding. I was originally inspired by this recipe from Come and Cook with Us!, the blog of friends of a friend. Then I couldn't find it (don't ask) and combined it a bit with this recipe. I used the 2 cups milk to 1/3 cup chia ratio, then used honey and vanilla to finish it off. I put it in two containers with screw-top lids so I could shake to keep them delumped.

Monday, December 9, 2013

So Many Surprises

So, how was your weekend? Ours was a whirlwind. It started with the older one at a sleepover party on Friday, and then a swim meet Saturday morning. We won't do that again. He was so slow, he literally looked like he wasn't moving in the water at all. Not that we care about his times, but you could tell people were worried he was drowning. It was pretty comical for those of us who were confident he wasn't. Then there was his first basketball game, where they were lucky to escape with an 18-18 tie after being up 14-4 at the half.

I have no idea how that happened because we had the 3 and 5 year old cousins at our house for the night, and younger son and I were taking them on a tour of the school. We had a great Cousinfest, with a trip to our downtown with all kinds of holiday fun--scavenger hunts and a ukelele band singing Christmas carols at the coffee shop (no, I am not kidding; it was like stepping in to a lifestyle magazine shoot).

The little ones were supposed to go home at 1pm on Sunday, after Mass and chocolate chip pancakes, while we dropped off our older one at Party #2 of the weekend. That did not happen. The "light dusting of snow starting around 3pm" turned in to "a ton of snow starting at 11 that will make driving treacherous." By 12:15, the birthday boy was calling to say that he couldn't get to his own party due to the car accidents on both sides of the street out of his development. Another friend reported on Facebook that it took her 2.5 hours to go from the cousins' town to ours--usually a 30 minute trip. So--Cousinfest continued! We blew up the mattresses again, called friends frantically for small sized snowsuits and boots, and changed plans. The kids sledded down the hill in front of our house; we got extra Nutcracker tickets from families that suddenly couldn't get to the theater, and took all the kids (minus the oldest) to go see their two cousins dance in the Nutcracker. Even the 3 year old enjoyed it, which was awesome. The dancing cousins were so excited to have their fans--it was very sweet.

Meanwhile...I need a nap and I think blowing up my house is the easy way out of the calamity here. Beach towels are all over the floors, the entire playroom is once again host to wooden train tracks galore, the dog is exhausted, and I am so, so, so grateful for family and cousins and a new heater and a husband who is energized by the snow. Now they are calling for more snow tomorrow. Whatever. Milk and bread are in the house, chili is defrosting for the cold snap this week, the trampled-once-buried-in-the-snow lights are repaired, and we are ready. I hope.

Monday: 7pm appointment means fast dinner. I am making the Armagnac chicken since I am home today from the late opening of school.

Tuesday: tacos

Wednesday: spaghetti after the younger boy's art show.

Thursday: chili or chicken nuggets after the art show for the older boy.

Friday: family talent show OR NCAA soccer semifinals (Notre Dame is playing, and it's very close to our house--so I suspect that the family talent show will have to wait for next year).

Last week, I finally made the pork roast with cider cream gravy. It was still heavenly but it really is better with the amazing pork roast from the Co-op as opposed to the merely good one from the other butcher. The one from the butcher is absolutely the best for pulled pork recipes, but can be weirdly fatty for a slicing roast. (By which I mean, in a piece of meat that looks fine, there is suddenly gristle--yuck.)

My cookie swap is this week, all of a sudden, so I am in high magic-seven-layer bar production mode. My early start fizzled out when I ran out of aluminum foil. I am too old to scrape the 9x13 pan the amount needed after these without lining it.

Otherwise, merrily we roll along. One son was asked to be in our town's ecumenical every-other-year Christmas pageant--a big deal in these parts. I am excited for him; I remember going to see my friends in it when I was growing up. A baby cousin is Jesus in another church's nativity. I caved and got the Lego Star Wars and K'Nex Angry Birds advent calendars, so there is much rejoicing. (And we also have advent wreaths the boys made at church, plus other religious prep.) I haven't decorated much inside but the outside looks Griswoldian and the live tree sale is this weekend, along with the local Nutcracker performance. And of course, the elves are here. So, ready or not, Christmas and its surprises are all over the place! Wishing you easy, delicious dinners together with ones you love this week.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

December Days

This is a strange week coming up; I am out almost every night, mostly for work, which is pretty unusual for me, so lots of cooking ahead and leaving for others to heat and eat.

Monday: cider cream pork roast, rosemary mashed potatoes (can't compete with the "should be a pie filling but we call it a side dish even with the marshmallows on top" dish on Thanksgiving, so I saved it to this week), brussels sprouts

Tuesday: Lego build, and my birthday, so no fast food--we're doing California Pizza Kitchen, whether the kids like it or not.

Wednesday: Spaghetti

Thursday: tacos

Friday: leftovers

This year for Thanksgiving, we brought mashed potatoes (10 lbs--too much), chocolate chip cake, pizza dip, chipped beef dip, bugles, fritos, and of course the carrots. It was a good contribution to a sad celebration. We also made at home a side of Pepperidge Farm stuffing from the blue bag like my mother used to make, and my husband made an amazing turkey breast, just using olive oil, butter, salt, pepper, Montreal seasoning, and an iron skillet instead of a roasting pan. It was awesome. We all loved it, including young Mr. Picky.

As food penance the next day, I made Catherine Newman's lentil soup. I am teasing about that; I love lentil soup and it was part of Operation Cabinet Clean. It was good; not amazing but good. And I, who loves vinaigrette on anything, thought it was ok here but not amazing. The soup, though, was a great, easy recipe and I will keep that in mind for next time I crave lentil soup. We also were hoping  cousins would come over to make the Cranberry Bliss Cookies that they found on Pinterest, but when they got busy, we did them ourselves. (Translation: I did them myself.) I love the cranberry blondies from Two Fat Als (listed on sidebar), but was willing to give these a try. The downside: they were an all-day project. They didn't have to be, but there was the mixing, the chilling, the baking... The good news: I had all day, the new oven had three-at-a-time baking capacity which made it go much faster, the chilling the dough made it much easier to scoop them in to a pretty size, and they were yummy.  The seal-the-deal moment was when I saw they could be frozen with minimal damage. I was on it. The cookie exchange is soon, but not that soon. Then I saw seven layer bars that could be frozen too...bonus! So those will happen as soon as I get more aluminum foil. Final result: I would make these cookies again, but the add-in cookies are just as good, with less work, as are the blondies. Now, the blondies with the frosting from these cookies...that might be spectacular. Hmmm....

Now that Thanksgiving is over and it is less than one month to Christmas, it really is time to start getting ready. We only got out two turkeys this year, so taking down Thanksgiving won't be hard. Rounding up the Christmas spirit, on the other hand, is proving a little more elusive. We'll get there; we have to. We have kids and they need a holiday. So, rally we will. The number of magic holidays is finite and I don't want to miss any.

On that maudlin little note--happy Advent to all, and keep posting your favorites to inspire me, please!