How To Train Your Dragon Day

My kiddos are really weird about movies.  They have a few they like to watch (over and over and over) but have a very hard time watching something new.  The most successful method we have to get them to watch a new movie is to sit down and watch it ourselves. About a year ago, my partner and I put on How To Train Your Dragon, which I had never seen and which he loves.  The kids, predictably, didn’t want to watch and spent the first ten minutes in the hallway, “peeking” at it.  Then they were coaxed over to the sofa to watch with us.  Again, not unexpectedly, they loved it and were eager to watch it again, over and over.  They were excited for both sequels and even went so far as to join us at an actual movie theater (a rare occurrence) to watch the third.

As we were planning our summer, the kids came up with the idea of “How To Train Your Dragon Day.”  The first rainy day of the summer, we would watch all three movies, in a row, complete with dragon snacks.  I admit, I maybe thought of the dragon snacks- google is a wonderful thing.

A few days ago, our time had come.  It was a dark, pouring, gray day.  It was time for How To Train Your Dragon Day.  Now, I will freely admit two things:  one, none of these snacks are even remotely good for you.  They are stomachache inducing, heartburn causing, leave you feeling slightly sick to your stomach-ing snacks.  Two, only one of these snacks was our own idea which struck us in the grocery store while we were looking for- but couldn’t find- cheese balls.  By the way, cheese balls?  Super hard to find around me.  Who knew?  Also hard to find?  Bugles.

At any rate, I give you our dragon snacks.

First we needed dragon food.  And what do the dragons eat?  Fish!

For the savory side, we used a combination of goldfish crackers (plain, cheddar, pretzel) . HipstamaticPhoto-585589048.636815

On the sweeter side, we used fudge brownie goldfish crackers and Swedish fish.

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We decided we needed dragon fireballs.  That consisted of cheese balls (so hard to find here!) with red and orange m&ms and (our own idea because we saw them at the grocery store) pretzel bites covered in orange cheese sauce.  (I have to say, the cheese sauce was pretty salty and gross, but the kids liked it!)

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So the first round of snacks were a hit.

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Another savory snack that works with this theme is bugles.  You can call them dragon claws and serve them as is.  My kids don’t like them (yes, there’s some junk food that even my kids won’t eat!) so we didn’t serve them this time.

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For the second round, I made viking helmets.  Both were from sweet items and both simply required some assembly.

One kind of helmet was made from oreo cookies and bugles- a weird combo to be sure.  To assemble, I melted a little bit of white chocolate and used a toothpick to get it on the bottom edges of the bugle.  HipstamaticPhoto-585590112.798194

Then I pressed it into the oreo, sort of between the cookies.

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Repeat on the other side and viola, you have a viking helmet.

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Sort of.

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The second viking helmet was made up of cupcakes, brownie bites, and white chocolate.

I used mini-cupcakes but in retrospect, regular would have been better.  I had to scrape off the frosting from the cupcake, saving it on the side of the plate.  Then I experimented with the brownie bites (mine came frosted which I used like glue to keep it on the cupcake)- I used one as is and another cut in half.

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Place one brownie bite on top of the cupcake.  Then add white chocolate viking horns, using frosting and gentle pressure to get them to stick.

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I made the white chocolate horns by melting some white chocolate wafers in the microwave (heat at 50% power for 30 seconds, stir, and heat an additional 30 seconds at 50% power if needed).  I poured the white chocolate out onto parchment paper and spread it out to make a thin layer.  After it hardened up a bit, but while it was still somewhat pliable, I used a knife to cut horn shapes out.  I let it harden a bit more and then separated the shapes from the layer.

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Freehand means that they weren’t uniform.  Not even close.

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But they still seemed to work!

Happy How To Train Your Dragon Day!

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Kitchen Basics: Hard-Boiled Eggs

Pretty quiet around here just now- it’s mid to late summer and I’m working hard to keep my mind in the moment– it is STILL summer, despite the feeling that it is almost over.  I’m trying to work out as often as I can, to hang with the kids (my oldest is in a day camp this week  and it’s breaking both our hearts!), and to be in the pool as much as possible.

All that said, I am also trying to see friends as often as I can.  The other night, for example, I heading to a friend’s house to drink wine, eat snacks and gossip.  I brought an easy and always appreciated snack, deviled eggs.  Some people like to get super fancy with their eggs and add mushrooms, bacon, chives, etc.  I keep mine super simple and traditional- nothing but the filling and a sprinkle of paprika.  Yum.

Deviled eggs were one of the first things I ever consciously saw made without a recipe (My grandmother almost always cooked without a recipe but I didn’t realize it at the time.).  It was summer, when my cousins and I were staying with my grandmother.  We were probably around 11 or so.  It was afternoon and we had spent the morning in the pool, watching stand up comedy on television and giggling.  Emily decided that she wanted deviled eggs.  Melanie agreed that this was a good idea.  I had never had a deviled egg but I almost never say no to food.

Off to the kitchen we went and I watched as Emily and Melanie made hard boiled eggs, peeled them, scooped out the yolk and mixed it into a bright yellow filling, no measurements, no recipe.  They used spoons to fill the eggs, added a sprinkle of paprika and then handed one to me.

I bit into it and my life was altered.  Slightly spicy and tart, creamy and cool- it was the perfect snack.  We made them many times over that summer and I’ve since bonded with The Hippo over them (It’s her southern heritage showing through).

The problem with deviled eggs is the hard boiling of eggs.  I can never, for the life of me, ever recall how long you’re supposed to boil the eggs.  Then there’s the peeling.  I am horrid at peeling hard boiled eggs.  I don’t have the patience, I get very frustrated and I usually end up ripping away most of the egg white.  When I peel them, the hard boiled eggs tend to look like someone was gnawing on them.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_18So, to the internet I went, in search of a way to make the eggs easier to peel and the amount of time needed to cook them.  If you do a search like this, you’ll see (as I did) that there are a number of ways to achieve the perfect hard boiled egg.

I tried the thumb tack method.  Basically, you prick the round end of the egg with a thumb tack or safety pin or something so that you break the air bubble that’s in there.  This makes the eggs easier to peel after they’re boiled.  And don’t leave the thumb tack in while you boil them.  This method worked for me!

Emily and Melanie’s Deviled Eggs

Ingredients

Eggs (Remember that one egg makes two deviled eggs and plan accordingly)- I usually use a whole dozen

yellow (not dijon, not brown, nothing fancy) mustard– about two to four tablespoons

mayonnaise– about two to four tablespoons

salt, pepper and paprika to taste

*Note about measurements:  I never measure.  I use a few spoonfuls or squirts and then taste.  I’m guess at the tablespoon measurement above based on how it looks.  You’ll have to taste as you go and start by adding less than you think you need– always easier to add more than to take away what’s already in there.

Directions 

Prick your eggs with a thumb tack.  Do this on the fatter, rounder end.  Place them in a saucepan and cover with enough cold water to cover the eggs by about an inch.  Put them on the stove to boil, over high heat.  Once the water is good and boiling (big bubbles, lots of steam), boil the eggs for one minute.  Then take them off the heat and cover the pot.  Let them stand for ten minutes (off the heat but covered).My HipstaPrint 973334217After ten minutes has passed, pour out all the water and shake the pan around, causing the eggs to smash against each other and crack.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_13Now fill your pan up with cold water and ice cubes.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_6Wait five minutes and then drain out the water and any leftover ice.  You are now ready to peel.  The method that worked well for me was to sort of roll the egg around on the counter, cracking the entire shell in kind of a spiderweb way.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_12Then peel the eggshell off.  Doing it near and under running water can help get all the little bits of shell off.  I found that with this thumb tack method, the shells slipped off more easily and in bigger pieces.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_5(Yes, one short of a dozen.  The husband always requires a hard boiled egg for him to eat plain.)  Next get a bowl ready and slice your eggs in half.  I find that if you do it lengthwise, there’s slightly more stability when you put them on a plate than if you do it the other way.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_4Scoop out the beautifully yellow yolk and dump into your bowl.  Set the egg white aside.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_11My HipstaPrint 973334217_17Once all the yolks are in the bowl, add the mustard and mayo.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_16Mix all together.  I use a fork but you could certainly use a whisk or a hand mixer.  It seems like the perfect use for The Hippo’s army fork.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_3Now taste it and add salt, pepper and maybe more mayo or mustard, depending.  Want it more spicy?  Up the mustard.  Want it more creamy?  Mayo it is.  Once it tastes as you want it to taste, get out a ziploc bag.  Scoop that filling into the bag.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_9Get as much of the air out as possible and sort of squish that filling into one corner.  Then ziploc it.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_2Snip off just the smallest bit of the corner.  Mazel tov, you’ve just made a piping bag.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_15Place all your egg whites on a plate or platter that you plan to serve from- as long as it will fit into the fridge, you should be set.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_10Use the piping bag to fill each egg white with the yellow-y goodness.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_8About halfway through, I always think there won’t be enough filling.  There always is.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_1Garnish with a bit of paprika.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_7Try not to eat them all since you are supposed to be sharing, right?

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Celebrate Summer

For me, summer means corn.  Lots and lots of corn.  On the cob, sautéed, in corn pudding.  Corn everywhere.  There really isn’t anything like fresh corn on the cob, with just a little bit of butter and salt.

My grandmother used to come home with sweet corn every. single. day. in the summer because my grandfather loved it so.  He’d eat several ears each night.  Which meant lots of shucking corn took place pre-dinner.  We’d sit on the deck, the afternoon sun turning into a cooler evening one,  a paper bag between us and see who could shuck faster.  It still feels a bit wrong to me to shuck corn inside.

It’s been a bit gray here for the last few days, which is not something I’m complaining about since prior to these dark(er) days, it’s been sunny, 90+ degrees and humid.  It’s nice to have some relief and a change.  It also means that I can use corn in another favorite way, chowder.

Last year I read somewhere about making corn broth.  I tried it and was blown away.  Sweet, light, fresh and delicate.  I put it into a corn chowder and could truly taste the difference.  Of course, I can’t remember where I read about it and I have the suspicious feeling that I may have blogged about it at the time– a quick search through the posts here and I couldn’t find it so maybe I just thought really hard about blogging it.  Or maybe this is my second time talking about it which would suggest that you really should try it; it’s that good.

So, based on my need for corn broth, I threw together this chowder recipe.  It’s more of a soup than a chowder because while it’s cooler here, 70’s does not scream thick, heavy chowder to me.  Let’s call it more of a summer chowder.  Chowder-lite.  Nothing lite about the taste though.  And you’ll still have to shuck corn.  Ready?  Go!

Summer Corn Chowder

Ingredients

4-6 ears of corn, shucked

about 8 small red potatoes (or one to two larger)

half of a large onion or one small onion (I prefer sweet but yellow would be fine)

one half to one of a sweet red pepper (optional for those of you who don’t like pepper)

1 Tablespoon butter

2 Tablespoons flour

2-3 cups corn broth (wait for it, I’ll tell you how) or chicken broth or veg broth or water

1/2-1 cup milk

Directions

First, we make the broth.  Cut the kernels off of the ears of corn.  Set them aside, as we’ll be using them later.  Using a fork, sort of scrape down the ears of corn into a large soup pot.  Throw in the ears themselves and add enough water to cover.  Bring it to a boil and then let it simmer for as long as you can.  You may need to add more water if it gets too low (i.e. most of the cob isn’t covered).  I was somewhat lazy when I cut my kernels off.  You can see that there are some still on.

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After it simmers for at least an hour or longer if you like, take out the ears of corn and discard them.  They’ve served their delicious purpose.  Pour the broth through a fine sieve so that all the solids stay behind.

photo 3You will be left with what looks like, unfortunately, urine.  Which can lead to some funny conversations if left in your fridge in a glass container.  But if you take a spoonful, you will be rewarded with the light, delicate, sweet flavor of corn in liquid form.  Try not to drink it all please.

photo 4Now that the broth is made, get to work on the rest.  Peel and chop your onion.  Clean and chop your pepper and potatoes.  Small dice is good for the onion, a little bit chunkier for the potato.

photo 1Melt the butter over medium heat in a heavy soup or stock pot.  Once it’s melted, add the onion and saute until soft- don’t let it burn or brown.  You may need to lower the heat.

photo 5 Add the rest of the vegetables and cook for a few more minutes, until they are soft as well.  Nothing should burn or brown.  Sprinkle the flour all over and stir well.  Let it cook over medium heat for a minute in order to get the raw flour taste out.

photo 2Pour the broth in and stir.  It will thicken a bit- I used a bit less flour because I wanted it thick but not too thick- feel free to experiment with this to taste.

photo 3Let everything simmer until the potatoes are soft and then season to taste with salt and pepper.  You can add a little bit of milk as well, to make it even more creamy or you can serve without.  Either way, it’s the perfect cold-for-summer-weather-soup.

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I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream For Ice Cream

Yesterday was one of those sunny, spring-almost-summer days where the sky is blue, the air is clear and you just want to be outside, in the sun, eating ice cream and hanging out with someone you love.  On our way home, my daughter asked for ice cream and the playground.  We decided we needed portable ice cream and the idea of making cones was born.

I searched around the internet a bit and ended up using this post as my guide.  I used Food Network’s Gale Gand’s recipe but I halved it since there was no way I needed that many cones.  I also burned my fingers a bit and there were a number of cones that went directly into the disposal since it took a few tries to get both the timing/heat of the Panini press/method of rolling just right.

My advice to you is this:  be patient.  Also, be prepared to burn your fingers a little bit.  It’s worth it.

photo 5Ice Cream Cones

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

3/4 teaspoon vanilla

3/4 cup powdered sugar

3/4 cups flour

1/2 Tablespoon cornstarch

Directions

In a small bowl whisk together the sugar, flour and cornstarch.  Set it aside.

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In a medium bowl, with a whisk or a hand mixer, beat the cream and vanilla, just until it thickens and becomes sort of mousse-like– don’t whip it into whipped cream.

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Add the dry ingredients to the cream and stir to combine. You’ll end up with something between pancake and cookie batter.   Let it rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

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Enlist help with the clean-up.

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Meanwhile, make a little cone template. I used a file folder on which I had traced the outline of a roll of packing tape and cut it out.  I taped it together into a little cone shape.

Heat up your Panini maker.  I found that the best setting for mine was actually the highest.  Drop about a tablespoon of batter onto the Panini maker and cook for roughly one to two minutes.  The little glob will turn into a sort of oval-ish shape.

Place your mold in the middle of your dough.  Wrap the dough around and make sure that it overlaps so that you don’t end up with a little hole in the bottom of your cone.

photo 4You have to work quickly because the cone will be very hot.  As it cools it will stick itself together and that will happen within 30 seconds.

photo 5Let it sit on the mold for a minute or two while it cools.

photo 2Even with the smaller recipe, I ended up with a number of small cones.  They were delicious.

photo 4And we got our portable ice cream for the playground.  Yum.

Summer Dinner

When I asked a few people long ago what they remember most about my grandmother’s meals, they all replied in the same way.  They said they couldn’t always recall what she made but they did recall how delicious it was and how comfortable and loved they felt while they were eating it.  Of course, then, depending on who replied, they also remembered her chocolate chip cookies, her summer squash and zucchini, and her potatoes.

The other common memory?  Lobstah Dinnahs.

Forever, when the whole family would gather at my grandmother’s house every summer, we’d have a lobster dinner.  Grandpa would pick up lobsters from the harbor and Grandma would set up the pot to boil them.

Grandma would also make corn on the cob, potatoes and salad.  People would generally not have room to eat these sides, but she made them every time.

A side story for you, my grandfather used to buy the lobster bodies only because they were cheap and he’d bring them home for dinner.  This means that anyone who grew up with my grandparents is able to find all the meat in the lobster body- no easy feat.

My father was visiting this week so it meant that we had the perfect excuse for a big lobster dinner.  Everyone was invited and almost everyone came. We ended up with 18 people but lobster is incredibly cheap right now so that was just fine with us.  We gathered around our big table and cracked our way to full bellies.

Another side story for you, when my cousins and I were younger, we had one of these dinners.  My cousin, M., was somewhat inexperienced with lobster so we were coaching her through the process.  As we did, there was much giggling and laughing.  At one point, she cracked a claw and parts of it went flying, just like in Pretty Woman, landing in the living room.  There was much mirth and we’ve never let her forget it.

You know it’s been a good lobster dinner when you’re left with this:  dirty tablecloth, used butter dishes, empty wine and beer bottles and a bowl full of shells.

A bit of lobster info for those not from this area:  there’s hard-shell and soft-shell lobster.  Soft-shell is lobster that has grown and shed the old shell and is just getting comfy in the new one.  The downside of this is that there’s less meat for the weight.  Hard-shell lobster is lobster that has gotten into its shell and has more meat for the weight.  It’s also more expensive.  Since there was an early summer this year (so I’ve been told), there’s an abundance of soft-shell lobster around here.  The nice fishmonger that sold me 20 of them packed them nicely in boxes with damp clothes and ice.

So, we boiled the water.  Lots and lots of water.  Now, my grandfather used to tell me that you can hear the lobster scream when you put them in the pot (untrue).  My father tells me that lobsters can’t feel pain (untrue).  My cousin-in-law and my husband tell me that it doesn’t matter because we are higher up on the food chain (true) and they taste good (also true).  Nonetheless, I can’t put them in the water.  So I called on the aforementioned men to do it for me.

Into the boiling water the creatures went.  Once the water comes back to a boil (putting them in lowers the heat), cook for 7-10 minutes depending on size.  (Useful cooking time chart here).  You can also steam them but that’s not how my grandmother did it, so I don’t either.

It’s impossible to have lobster without butter.

Empty butter dishes, patiently waiting.

 

I melted about a pound and a half of butter.  It’s a lot.  But so worth it.

I also made the requisite sides:  corn and grandma’s potatoes.

I even made mashed potatoes because it’s not a real dinner at my table without them.

Once the lobster was done, the butter was melted and the sides were ready, we put it all out on the table and served, buffet-style.

We all got busy eating.  The table was quiet for a few minutes, just the sounds of cracking, empty shells hitting the sides of the bowl and chomping.  Then, slowly, there was chatting among the adults, the sounds of children babbling and laughter.  Lots and lots of laughter.  People lingered at the table long after the food was gone.  Some of us took the kids swimming in the backyard. Others of us arrived fashionably late, ensuring that the dinner went on for several hours.  In the end, all the lobsters were eaten, all the butter was used up and only a few pieces of corn and potatoes were leftover.  People began to arrive around 4, we sat down at 6 and the last person left at midnight.

It was just as I’d always remembered it.  And for that, I am so very grateful.

Happy summer!!

 

 

 

Two Under Two (or What We’re Eating Now That I Have No Time)

I am cooking, I promise.  I even tried a brand-spanking-new recipe last week.  Of course, I didn’t love it.  But I tried it.

It does make me wonder how my grandmother managed to do it.  She had three kids within four years of each other and I have no idea how she got dinner on the table every night- no microwave, no take-out, no heat-and-serve food.  I know how she got dinner on the table every night when I was a kid- because I was there and saw it- but she wasn’t working then- Oh, did I not mention that she also worked in the store with my grandfather?  I do know that when I was a child, she’d start cooking dinner around 4pm, after picking me up from school and giving me a snack, while asking about my day.  I realized this afternoon that I’ve modeled myself after her- we get home from daycare pick-up around 4pm and I start cooking around then as well.

I also know that my grandmother’s children used to grade her meals.  Yes, with letter grades.  I found this charming when I was younger and now I think it would just piss me off to no end.  I mean, I get annoyed now if my husband doesn’t like what I make.  These days my feeling is something along the lines of, “there’s food in front of you.  be grateful.”

So what are we eating?  Well, really nothing that would garner an “A+”.  We’re eating things that are simple to make and that don’t take up a ton of time.  I’m also trying to be on the more healthy side so am trying hard not to make pasta every night. Some nights it works, other nights we’re eating eggs.  What can I say?  I’m adjusting. But, to honor family tradition, I’ll add some letter grades to what I’m about to share.

Without further ado, here’s what we’ve been eating:

On Valentine’s Day, I made Lady Gouda’s Lovebirds and Alton Brown’s Stovetop Mac and Cheese (Final Grade: A).

Last week we had Taco Salad (Final Grade: A) and we had homemade Chinese Food.  Normally, I avoid frozen, heat-and-eat dinners but I bought spring rolls and dumplings at Whole Foods, thinking perhaps they’d be marginally better than the regular grocery store stuff.  I made the fried rice.  The results?  The rice was good.  The frozen stuff, not so much.  (Final Grade: B)

Last night we had BLT salads (Romaine lettuce with bacon, tomatoes and homemade croutons- really easy, chop up some bread, toss it in a bit of melted butter and some salt and then toast in under the broiler for a few minutes until golden and toasty) with ranch dressing.  (Final Grade: A).

I got my latest issue of Cook’s Illustrated a few weeks ago and decided I wanted to try the Chicken Adobo recipe in it.  I managed to photograph it so I’ll share but we weren’t that thrilled with it.  Not sure if I made it wrong or if it just wasn’t what we wanted but the final grade for that one was a B.  I may not make it again.  But you try it and let me know what you think….

Cook’s Illustrated Chicken Adobo

Ingredients

8 bone-in chicken thighs

1/3 cup soy sauce

1 (13.5 oz) can coconut milk

3/4 cup cider vinegar

8 garlic cloves, peeled

4 bay leaves

2 teaspoons pepper

1 scallion, sliced thin

Directions

Toss the chicken in a bowl with the soy sauce.  Let it marinate for 30 minutes to an hour.  When you’re ready to cook, remove the chicken from the soy sauce (but save the soy sauce, don’t get rid of it!) and place it, skin side down, into a room temperature skillet (non-stick is good) large enough to hold the chicken.  If you don’t have one large enough, do it in batches or two different pans.  Or make less.  You decide.  Put the pan over medium-heat on the stove and cook for about 7-10 minutes, or until the chicken is browned.

Chicken, skin side down, in skillet.

Meanwhile, add the coconut milk, vinegar, garlic, bay leaves and pepper to the soy sauce you saved and whisk it together.

Soy sauce with garlic.

 

soy with coconut, vinegar and garlic

When the chicken is brown, remove it from the skillet and put on a plate.  Pour out the fat that has collected in the skillet (don’t save) and return the chicken to the pan, again, skin side down.  Add the coconut and soy mixture and bring it to a boil.  Once it has boiled, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for about twenty minutes.  Do not cover.

Chicken, returned and waiting to boil.

After 20 minutes, flip the chicken so that it is skin side up and cook for about 15 minutes.  If you’re into it, you can cook it until the internal temperature is 175 F.

Chicken, flipped and cooking.

Once the chicken is cooked, remove it from the skillet and cover it loosely with foil.  Don’t use the same plate as before as you had raw chicken on that one and you don’t want to mix raw and cooked chicken.  Yuck.  Remove the bay leaves from the sauce in the skillet and turn the heat back up to medium-high.  Cook the sauce until it thickens, about 5-7 minutes.

Pour this over the chicken and serve topped with the chopped scallion.

We served ours over rice with broccoli on the side.  It wasn’t bad, just… not what we wanted.  The husband hates eating bone-in, skin-on chicken because he doesn’t like the work involved and doesn’t eat the skin.  I’m not sure this recipe would work with boneless-skinless chicken but I suppose I could try.  It was a sort of soy-y, vinegar-y taste, not bad but a bit plain.  A good hearty meal, though, that was pretty inexpensive.

Tonight we’re having pizza and tomorrow we’ll be having club sandwiches and maybe soup.  My big fancy meal will be Friday night- Chicken Picatta.  If it’s good, I’ll report back. Meanwhile, I also managed to make some pumpkin bread this week to share with a dear friend who came to visit with her beautiful 9-week old daughter.  It was delicious and perhaps the best thing I’ve made all week.

 

Old Friend Cornbread

I have spoken here before about one of my oldest and dearest friends, S.  We’ve known each other since the second grade and while we’ve traveled far and wide from each other, we have remained close.  Naturally, we’ve been cooking together since the second grade.  Back then, I was the more “experienced” cook.  These days we’re about equal (this is a lie, she is far more advanced than I, especially when it comes to healthy food.  Hey, she made me like both kale and quinoa- that’s no small feat!) and I often turn to her when I need a good, hardy, healthy recipe.

But when we were kids we got into more than one snafu with food.  There was the time we made scallops for my mother.  Should have been easy, right?  Yeh, well, we didn’t know how long to cook them and we didn’t want to undercook them so…  rubber.  Yick.  My mom was nice about it- had a few bites and said they were great but didn’t finish.  To be fair, these days, my darling friend makes a really delicious scallop dish that’s usually eaten around Christmas, a dish that’s so good, I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night craving it. And the scallops are never overdone.

Then there was the time we were going to make cookies and S. was reading the recipe as I gathered the ingredients.  “Oh no,” she cried, “We can’t make this!”

“Why not?” I asked, running through the ingredient list, thinking we had everything we needed- butter, sugar, flour, eggs, vanilla…

“It says, ‘cream the butter and sugar’ and we don’t have any cream!”

I burst out laughing, rather unkindly, and explained to her that the recipe meant for us to mix the butter and sugar well, not to actually add cream.

The joke’s on me these days because she can make some kick-ass cookies (she’s not always healthy).

The other wonderful thing about my friendship with S. is that we’re always in sync.  We’ll often email/call/text the other when she’s thinking of us- it’s that weird ESP-telepathy thing that women develop between themselves when they’re close.  Often when one of us is struggling with a particular situation, the other one is going through something similar.  And sometimes it’s just funny.  S. taught me how to make this cornbread once when I was visiting.  It was delicious and I make it often.  Last year I made it for the first time in a while and after I got it in the oven, I sat down to check my email.  One came in while I was checking, from S, asking me if I could send her the recipe since she was at her cousin’s house and wanted to make it.  See?  Telepathy!

Old  Friend Cornbread

I’ve never, ever been able to make cornbread.  Which has always made me feel a bit dumb—I can make Beef Wellington, cook for 200 with ease and improvise with the best of them but something as simple as cornbread eluded me.  Luckily, S saved me.  The following recipe is delicious and I’ve been able to emulate it many times.  Of course, the first few times I made it, it was awful because I was using baking soda instead of powder.  See?  The cornbread gods hate me.  Luckily, S corrected me and once again saved my cornbread from disaster.

This recipe makes an extremely large pan of cornbread- lasagna sized pan.  I tend to halve it and make an 8 inch square size since that’s a more reasonable amount of cornbread for us.  If you’re serving many (when the whole S family is together it’s something like 11 people, minimum), go ahead and make the full recipe I’m giving you here.

Ingredients:

4 c. flour

2 c. yellow cornmeal

1 ½ c. white sugar (although we’ve used brown as well and it’s been delicious)

1 tsp. salt

2 tb baking powder

4 eggs

3 c. buttermilk

2 ½ tb vegetable oil

½ c. butter, melted

 

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Sift your flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt and baking powder.  You know me, lazy, so I whisk them together rather than sift.

Stir in the eggs, buttermilk and oil.  I used a whisk but a spoon might actually work better- I switched halfway through.

As you stir, it will come together but be a bit rough and sort of sticky and dry-ish.

At this point, add the melted butter and mix to combine.  It will smooth out and moisten the batter.

Pour into a greased pan and bake for about 30-40 minutes (for 8 inch pan), about an hour to an hour fifteen for a larger pan.

It’s done when the top is sort of crackly and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Food Identity

I think everyone has a food identity.  Some people identify as vegetarian, others as gluten-free, still others as locavores.  My food identity has shifted over time and is now focused on healthy, whole ingredients.  We’re an organic veg, grass-fed beef, as few processed foods as possible household which is balanced with the realities of our budget, resources and time limitations.  So when I cook, I try to use fresh ingredients and I try to make healthy food.  Of course, I don’t eschew sugar, fat and salt, my thinking being that I know how much I’m adding and I know from where it came.  I use butter not shortening.  I use olive oil, not crisco.  That kind of thing- you get the idea.  Something about it’s better to have a small piece of the real thing rather than trying to make up for the missing fat/sugar/salt and eating more.

This comes up because of what we ate today.  After making my scary dinner on Monday (I will make exceptions for processed foods once in a while- hot dogs in the summer, grocery-store birthday cake, Friendly’s peanut butter sauce), I had hot dogs left over.  I needed to use them up and knew that the toddler would likely eat them.  Every once in a while I’ll give her something like chicken nuggets (applegate farms organic no filler, etc.) and the glee with which she eats them is something to see.  I mean, I grew up eating McDonald’s, hot dogs, fish sticks and all kinds of “kid food”- mainly because no one really knew how bad they were for you.  My husband, given his druthers, would probably eat Kraft Mac and Cheese every day but since I’m in charge of food acquisition, production and distribution, we don’t do that.  Sadly, the toddler also likes this (I used to love it.  The last time I ate it, I immediately vomited.  I’m not sure if it was the result of the pregnancy or the result of having not had it in ages.  Either way, it’s off my personal food menu now.).  At any rate, my point is, this dinner that I made tonight was outside of my usual food identity.  But it was fun.

I made hot dog octopi  (Octopuses?  Geeze, I took Latin, I should know this!) served over Kraft Mac and Cheese.  The toddler and husband ate this.  I ate butternut squash lasagna- a recipe I will blog for you another day.

The punchline?  The toddler looked at her bowl and then carefully picked up the two hot dog creatures and set them aside on the table.  She ate all the mac and cheese but wouldn’t touch the hot dogs proving, once again, that she is the perfect combo of the two of us.

Octopus Hot Dogs

(Thanks to the Hungry Hippo who taught me about this)

Ingredients

Hot dogs

Directions

Put on a pot of water to boil.  Slice your hot dogs in half horizontally.

Next, slice one of the halves in half vertically, about 1/4 of the way down.  In other words, leave some of the hot dog untouched.

Make a quarter turn and slice it the same way again.

So now you have four pieces that are still attached.  Slice each of these in half while keeping them attached.

You should end up with 8 “legs.”

Repeat with all your hot dogs.  Then plunk them into the boiling water.

Let the water come back to a boil.  The legs will curl up as the hot dogs cook (heat?  Isn’t a hot dog already cooked?).  They will look revolting.

Take them out carefully and you’ll see that you’ve made little hot dog octopuses.

Cute or gross?  You decide.  We served them, as I said, over Kraft Mac and Cheese.  I’m pretty sure there was nothing of any nutritional value in tonight’s dinner.  Please don’t judge.  Some nights are like this.

A Week of Meals

“So, what do you eat all week?”

This is a question that’s been asked of me by people who don’t cook.  For many people, the idea of creating dinner/lunch/breakfast seven days a week is daunting.  As I’ve mentioned before, I plan out a week in advance, shop for that week and do as much prep as I can motivate to do over the weekends.  As far as I can remember, my grandmother worked a different way- she decided on the day of or perhaps a day before, what she would make.  Then she’d shop that day and see what was available.  I know from reading, experience and talking with others, that in places where fresh produce and farmer’s markets are widely available, people tend to cook dinner based on what’s there that day.  When I’m on vacation or over the summer, I tend to do more of that since I have the time.  Grandma, when I cooked with her, had retired, had no children in the house (well, except me and my cousins when it was summer) and had many options for fresh meat, vegetables, baked goods and fish.  The neighborhood has changed a bit since then and many of the Jewish bakeries, produce and meat stores have closed.  There’s still a fishmongers, a farmer’s market once a week and a Jewish grocery which has a meat counter.  I use them sometimes and feel like I’m back with Grandma.

Anyway, rather than a long story and recipe today, I thought I’d let you in on what it is we eat all week.  Just in case you were curious or wanted some menu ideas.

Breakfast around here tends to be a hurried affair on work days.  I’ll give the toddler some toast and a scrambled egg or just a banana, depending on what she wants.  Hey, sometimes it’s “ack-ers”.  I figure she eats well at daycare and at dinner so I can afford being  more lax around breakfast.  We eat early- maybe her stomach just isn’t ready.  I tend to have an egg white omelette with Munster cheese.  Protein, baby.  The husband eats cold cereal (the same one.  Every day.  Which always makes me think of this scene in City Slickers).

Today, however, I didn’t have to work  so breakfast wasn’t rushed.  We had french toast made with the challah I’d taken out of the freezer for Friday night.

Lunch is usually salad- I make a big one on Sunday and use it all week.  I’ll cook some chicken breasts as well and slice them, leaving them in the fridge for the week.  If there are good leftovers from dinners, I’ll take that to work as well  Packing your lunch definitely saves money and makes good use of the leftovers.  Plus, as I am “eating for two”, I am constantly either hungry or dissatisfied with what I have.  Good times.

Dinner is where the money is, so to speak.  I plan Saturday or Sunday through Friday.  By Friday I’m often beat and if it’s a paycheck week, might treat us to Chinese or Thai or some other easy take-out.  If it’s not, it might be leftovers or sort of a catch-as-catch can kind of thing.  In a perfect world, I’d cook a good, special, sit-down meal to celebrate Shabbat but I’m not there yet.  Challah and candles are the best I can do right now.

So, our meal plan for the week:

Sunday:  Lettuce Wraps(so good, check out the Hippo for the recipe) and Vegetable Fried Rice.  I don’t really have a recipe for fried rice.  I use leftover rice and whatever veggies I can find in the house.

garlic, celery, onion, carrots, green pepper, red pepper and broccoli

I’ll also throw in chicken or other meat if I have it.And sometimes, for decadence, cashew nuts.  If they’re on hand.  I saute all the veggies in some sesame oil, add the rice, add some soy sauce, siracha or whatever else seems tasty at the time.  I stir it all together and then throw in the nuts at the last minute. If you can find the dark soy sauce, that’s what makes it take like “real” fried rice.  What comes out is different every time, not always pretty but generally pretty tasty.Monday- Tonight I’m going to make a ricotta frittata and salad.  We’ll have been home all day and nibbling on leftovers and snacks so I won’t be that hungry and I’ll want something easy.  Plus, I have some ricotta to use up.  If I were doing it “right”- I’d make the ricotta itself.  But not today.  Today is for catching up on work, spending time outside with my daughter and napping.

Tuesday- It’s just me and the toddler as the husband is in class so we’ll try this soup I’ve read about but have never made, Avgolemono.  I’ll add some chicken for more protein and call it a day.

Wednesday- It’s supposed to be a bit more chilly so I’m making broccoli and cheddar soup, based on this recipe, and will serve it with salad or good bread (If I can remember the night before to throw it in the bowl).

Thursday- Is my night to work so on Wednesday night, I’ll do some prep work (browning meat and onions) and Thursday morning before I leave, I’ll throw everything into the crock pot for this pasta and beef recipe.  Pasta and meat are never turned down in my house and since I won’t be eating it, I’ll even use real beef (Recently I’ve developed a revulsion to ground beef).

Friday- I’m planning dinner with a good friend/adopted brother and so will probably go with take-out of some sort.  Asian probably, ’cause that’s how we roll.

Meanwhile, in the fridge, along with the leftovers from Sunday night, I also have a yummy carrot and parsnip soup that I created on Saturday.  A friend of mine mentioned it a few weeks ago and I’ve been dying to try it.  Again, I didn’t really have a recipe but here’s how I made it:

I peeled some carrots and parsnips and chopped them into chunks.  I chunked up  half and onion and a few tomatoes I had to use up.  I throw in a handful of peeled garlic as well.  It all went into a roasting pan and was salted and tossed in some olive oil.  They roasted at 425 for about 40 minutes- until things were tender and roast-y, if you know what I mean.

I put all of them into a pot, including all the veggie juices from the pan, and added enough chicken broth to cover.  I let it simmer for a while probably about an hour- I was busy!

I used my stick blender to puree all of it and added some chicken broth to thin it out a bit.

Then, because I needed to use it up and because I’m decadent like that, I added some heavy cream.

A little salt and pepper to taste and it was done.  It was really quite good and didn’t really need the cream.  I’m not sure I’d have missed it.  The carrots and parsnips were just sweet enough and the tomato gave it a nice little bit of acid.  I’m looking forward to eating it for lunch today and a few more days this week.

So, there you have it.  The answer to, “So what do you eat all week?”

Meatball Memories

Growing up, we had family friends with whom we spent a lot of time.  The couple had two girls, one about my age, and my mother and their mother had taught together with classrooms across the hall from each other.  My father and the other father were both lawyers and had, at one point, shared office space.  It was a family friend coupleship made in heaven.  Y’know, until my parents got divorced and, I assume, it got a little awkward for the parents.  I mean, I never saw it as awkward but I was always just busy playing with the daughters.

At any rate, the mom of that family is an excellent cook- I’ve posted about her food here– and one recipe that I associate with her are these meatballs.  Most people have a version of them that involves grape jelly but I can’t get behind that.  This recipe is surprisingly simple and yet so, so tasty- sort of sweet and tangy at the same time-  and no grape jelly needed.  Not that I dislike grape jelly- at times, it is exactly what I want on toast.  Just not with my meat.

We ate these in her cozy little dining room which was white with a window at one end and on the side.  She had a sideboard next to the window and that’s where things like the menorah for Chanukah or the gifts that went along with it stood.  You could see both the kitchen, the front door and the window from where I usually sat and when I make these meatballs, I can close my eyes and be immediately transported back there by the smell and taste.  Cozy, warm, safe and comfortable.  Ah, childhood.

Rosie’s Meatballs (I think they were named for one of the daughters)

Meatballs

1-2 lbs ground meat (I use chicken but I think they were originally beef)

1-2 eggs (will depend on how much meat there is, the eggs are helpful binders)

1/2-1 cup breadcrumbs (will depend on the meat as well as how dense you like your meatballs)

salt, pepper and other seasonings (garlic powder, seasoned salt, you make the call)

*note, normally when I make meatballs, I like to add chopped onion and garlic and other good veggies, with these I prefer them rather plain as the sauce is so tasty.

Sauce

1 can cranberry sauce (jelled)

1 jar chili sauce

1/2 jar of water (use the chili sauce jar)

Directions:

Make meatballs by mixing the meat with the other meatball ingredients.  You want it to hold together when you form the meatballs but not be so stiff that they dry out.

Sort of squish it all together with your (clean) hands.  Kind of fun…

You want it all incorporated.  Once it’s mixed you can roll out the meatballs with your hands- about walnut sized or golf ball if you want really big meatballs.  Meanwhile, heat the sauce ingredients over medium heat in a large saute pan.

Doesn’t look very pretty, I know, but the cranberry sauce will sort of melt into the rest, and then it will look better.   Use a whisk to get it all combined.  Once it’s simmering or even slightly boiling, add your meatballs.

Let them cook for a bit before you stir them- you don’t want them to fall apart.  Flip them once or twice so that they get nice and covered in the sauce.  Cook for about 15 minutes or until they are cooked through (you could be fancy and use a meat thermometer (165 F.) but I simply cut one in half).

Serve over rice or egg noodles.  Enjoy and feel a bit like a kid again.  Or maybe that’s just me.