More Bits and Pieces

I have started about twenty posts since I last posted.  The problem I was having prior remains:  lots of kitchen fails.  Add that to the heat and the baby weight and the fact that I’m not really cooking anything interesting and you get a whole lot of nothing.  But I can report that we have had a minor miracle in our house tonight:

It is 9:15 and the baby is asleep in his crib and my daughter is asleep in her bed.  This has never happened, ever in the history of, well, ever.  We are not a cry-it-out family so it’s been several years of coaching G. to sleep in her bed by herself and we are traveling the same path with baby M.  Though, we are trying to let him sleep alone whenever we can.  So I finally have time to write but, sadly have nothing about which to blog.  Sigh.

I have done some minor entertaining in the last few days.  If you’ve been following along at home, you know that last September I started at a new school.  This means lots of new work socializing, something we all know I loathe.  Not because of the people themselves but because of me- I hate, hate, hate social situations which do not involve people I already know.  So it was a nice turn of events that I grew to adore one of the administrators at my school- the one I work with most directly.    We agreed that when the year was over, we would need an outside-of-work adult playdate (which sounds so much dirtier than it was) which would involve yummy snacks and wine.  That came to fruition this week.

I know I don’t speak about it as often as I could here but my grandparents knew Julia Child.  My grandfather was well-known in our area because of his knowledge of wine and his wine shop in our town.  My grandmother knew all the gourmet chefs in the area, Julia foremost among them.  In my kitchen I have a few pieces of correspondence from Julia and Paul framed and hanging by  my oven to remind me of all of this.  I have only the vaguest of memories of Julia Child- mostly I remember tall.

At any rate, I tend to forget just how neat it was that my grandparents knew Julia and Paul Child.  It’s only in the re-telling that it comes back to life.  Which it did this week when my new work friend came over for snacks, wine and gossiping.  Turns out she’s a huge Julia fan and we share a love of cooking, reading cookbooks for fun and cooking shows. We also share a love of yummy snacks.

Deviled eggs because, why not?

Lady Gouda’s Peppery Cucumber Crackers.  To which I added cherry tomatoes which made them even more delicious (and slightly breast-like).

Ina Garten’s Green Herb Dip (I added some garlic and basil as well).  Note:  if you happened to have a whole bunch of cilantro (yuck! why would you?!) around, it would be good with this dip.  I’m just saying.)

It all went nicely with some prosecco and lots of gossip.

This week I also made the Hippo’s Delectable Radish Spread/Dip/Slaw.

It was good and did not taste like dirt.

I also added some celery seed and a pinch of sugar to sweeten it slightly.

I’m trying to avoid desserts these days which is killing me.  I have a few things I’d like to try over the next few weeks but will need to plan carefully so that there are others around to eat my creations.  Stay tuned for that.

Meanwhile, I’ll get around to more family recipes, I promise.  I plan to flip through Grandma’s recipe box this weekend.  Stick with me!

What I Eat When I’m Alone

See, the title sort of evokes something here, no?  Images of either stupidly easy meals (cold cereal, scrambled eggs, toast) or richly decadent and so bad for you (a pint of ice cream, pork belly) come to mind.  I will tell you, prior to having children, these images would have been somewhat spot on.  Now, it’s different.

Mainly because I am never, ever alone.  Ever.

Which, on the whole, is not bad.  In the two plus years of having my daughter (and now, my son), I have only seriously considered running away three times.  Once was this morning, when everyone (including me) was crying.  The beauty of life, though, is that time fixes everything.  Five minutes after plotting my escape, my toddler was happily playing with her playdough and the baby was snuggled in his swing, drifting off to sleep.

At any rate, these days, “alone” really means, I’ve fed the toddler and the husband is at work.  The baby eats what I eat, so to speak.  Last night, I opened the fridge and decided I was tired of snacking on Chickasauras Rex and pasta.  I reviewed the veggies I had to use up and realized I was craving something fresh and simple.  I threw it all together and came up with this, served over multi-colored couscous.

Just in case you find yourself in a similar position, I thought I’d share my process.

I chopped up garlic, onions and mushrooms and threw them into a pan to brown with a little bit of olive oil.  Medium-ish heat. 

I let that all cook down a bit and then added some halved cherry tomatoes.  I think I tossed in some salt, pepper and a splash of chicken broth (though water or wine would have worked too).  I let that all cook while I heated about a cup of chicken broth in a separate saucepan.

Once the chicken broth was boiling, I added some couscous, salt and pepper.  I covered it and took it off the heat.  After a few minutes, the couscous was ready to go, just needed a little fluff with a fork.

I added some baby spinach to my original pan and let that wilt down.

I threw a little more salt on for seasoning and then dished it up over the couscous.

I have to say, it was perfect.

Ok, back to the two reports left, the two crying children and the two turkeys in my yard.  Sigh.

First Kitchen Fail of the Year

Hey There.

No baby yet.

Which is ok.  I’ve been saying I need to get to tonight (I had a big week of meetings and other work obligations, wanted to be able to teach yesterday and to go to the theater with my mother- we saw American Idiot, about which I have many opinions but the basic one is, fantastic production!- and to be able to get some work done today, along with domestic things (laundry! food shopping!  cooking!)) as well as go to the theater again- this time, God of Carnage– and have dinner with my mother for her birthday).  If I can get to tonight, I’d also like to get some time in the upcoming week to get even more work done but, hey, I’ll consider it bonus time.

Of course, I’m due on Super Bowl Sunday- does this mean we have to name him after Tom Brady?

No, of course it doesn’t.  We have actually picked a name but we’re keeping pretty quiet about it until he’s here, just in case we change our minds.

At any rate, I thought I’d finally bring you a new post.  It was my first Kitchen Fail of 2012.  I actually made this on the 2nd of January, just to be sure to get it in early.  I was looking for something light and healthy, quick and easy, but not boring.

It passed on the first four but not the last one.  It was kind of bland.  I spiced it up a bit with some soy sauce but I’m not sure what it really needed.  Maybe some green onion (which I didn’t have so, to be fair, it may have been better if made correctly!).  I’m also not sure where I first read about this but I just googled it and came up with a dozen different sites with it so, you can always do that as well.

Chinese Egg and Tomato

I made the larger size since the husband adores eggs.  You can adjust for portion size- I’d say 2 eggs to 1 tomato ratio for each person.  Also, not a visually appealing dish, as far as I can tell (based on my search).  So maybe good quick-comfort-food but not dinner-for-the-queen-food.

Ingredients

2-4 eggs

1-2 tomatoes

pinch of salt

pinch of sugar

1/2 onion, minced or several scallions, chopped

Oil (I used sesame but I think peanut might have added a nice flavor)

Directions:

In a bowl, crack the eggs and beat them with the salt until they’re well combined.

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a non-stick pan over medium-high heat.  When hot, add the eggs and let them set.

Don’t let them cook all the way through and really, don’t let them brown.  Like I did.  Set them aside.

Meanwhile, chop your tomatoes into quarters.

Chop your onion as well.

In the same pan you used for the eggs, over medium high heat, add a bit more oil (if needed) and the onions.  Let them get soft and then add the tomatoes.

Cook for 2-4 minutes, letting the tomatoes release their juice and get a little bit brown and soft.  Sprinkle with a little bit of sugar, just to balance out the acidity of the tomatoes.

Add the eggs back in and mix around so that they cook throughly.

I served mine over rice and with a bit of soy sauce (I am in the camp that soy sauce makes everything better).  As I said, not visually appealing and not that exciting but it was quick, easy, filling and healthy.  Who knew they used tomatoes in China?  Not me- I always associate tomatoes with Mediterranean cuisine.

If you try it, let me know if you jazz it up and how- I have the feeling that this could be a spectacular dish with the right additions.

I’ll see you after I have a baby- I’m pretty sure I won’t have time to post until then.  Happy eating!

 

Sunday

It’s Sunday morning here, around 9:30am.*  Sunday mornings are funny.  I know people who are just getting out of bed at this time, people who are just going to bed at this time and people who have been up for 3-4 hours by this time.  Some people spend Sunday mornings going to church or eating big breakfasts with friends and family.  Some people volunteer at food pantries or soup kitchens.  My dad used to turn on jazz and make pancakes.  My mom and I used to send one of us out for muffins and then curl up in bed with a good book.  My grandmother used to go out for bagels and lox so that her middle son and his wife could come over for breakfast.

Me?  I cook.  As much as I can because morning seems to be when the toddler can best amuse herself.  So as of the writing of this post, I have made chicken chili, cornbread and 7 loaves of challah.  I’ve also cleaned the kitchen and started removing things from the shelves (we’re moving around furniture today).  It’s been quite a morning.  I’m sure you can guess which of the above categories I fall into in terms of waking time.

Also, it’s freezing here all of a sudden.  I can’t really complain since it’s been an extremely mild and non-snowy winter (the only snow we’ve had so far was on Halloween) but, wow, is it suddenly cold.  Like 11 degrees out with a wind chill making it feel like 0 degrees kind of cold.  So chili is the thing to make on a day like this.  Plus, since it can sit on the stove all day and simmer while it gets more tasty, it’s the perfect thing for thanking my friends who will be coming over to help us move furniture (the husband is convinced that if I move heavy stuff this late in the pregnancy it will send me into labor).

Without further delay, I give you my chili recipe/guidelines.  The great thing about chili is that it is versatile.  Sometimes I add more veggies, other times, more beans.  Sometimes it’s really spicy, other times less so.  Chili is also one of those things that vary by region.  Some areas of the U.S. are aghast if you add beans to your chili, other areas serve it over pasta.  I refuse to get into that debate and simply make my chili as suits my mood each time.  So use this recipe as a jumping off point for yourself- make your chili to suit your mood.

Chili

This makes a big pot of chili which can probably serve 5-8 people, depending on portion size.  Chili also gets better over time so it’s good to have leftovers to eat throughout the week.  You can also substitute any kind of veggie or bean that sounds good to you at the time.

Ingredients

1-3 red, yellow and/or orange peppers (you can use green as well but I don’t like green peppers)

1 onion, chopped

3 stalks celery, chopped

3 carrots, peeled and chopped

3-4 cloves of garlic, smashed and chopped

1 lb ground meat (I use chicken)

2 cans kidney beans, 1 can black beans, 1 can garbonzo beans or any combo you like

1 large can diced tomatoes (or stewed or crushed)

1 cup frozen corn

salt, pepper, olive oil, chili powder, cumin, cayenne pepper

Directions:

In a large, heavy pot, heat some olive oil over medium-high heat.  How much?  A tablespoon or two.  Add your chopped onions and let them soften and get a bit charred.  It adds some nice, smoky flavor.

Once the onions have done their thing, add the ground meat (if using) and let that get brown. It helps to use the back of a spoon to break up the meat into chunks.

Chop your veggies.

Check your meat/onion mixture.  If it’s browning up, add some chili powder, cumin, cayenne, salt and pepper.  Maybe a few teaspoons.  I like to season at this step and then again further along in the cooking time.  The spices really need to be to your taste- some people like it really hot (cayenne) and others like the smoky, sort of earthy flavor of the cumin.  Stir the spices around and then add your veggies and stir again.

Let this cook for a few minutes while you open the beans and rinse them off.  You can use any combo of beans you like.  I tend to favor kidney (because they scream chili to me), black (because I love them and they’re a superfood) and garbanzo (I find them delightful in  any mix).  Just make sure to rinse them well since canned beans can sometimes taste like tin.  Of course you could use dried beans but that involves a soaking process which I never remember to do.

Add your beans to the pot and stir.

Add the tomatoes (juice and all) and stir again.  I’ve use fresh tomatoes as well, it just depends on what you have on hand.

Now, let it just sit, over low heat, covered for as little as 30 minutes to as long as all day.  Stir occasionally.  Towards the add, you can add the corn if you like.  I find it gives a nice sweet pop to the chili but I’m also loving corn right now, for whatever reason.

This chili is actually really good for you- it’s all veggies and good protein.  Which is why I do not feel badly eating big bowls of it and topping it with shredded cheese and sometimes even some greek yogurt or sour cream.  I also usually make cornbread to go with it.  I’ll save that one for another post but I have a really good cornbread recipe.  Really good.

As the chili sits, the liquid will release and make a kind of sauce.  You can add tomato paste if you want it thicker but I like it the way it is.  Adjust seasonings to taste.  I will often add a teaspoon or two of sugar, just to cut the acid of all the veggies.

Really delicious, pretty healthy and will definitely warm you up on a cold day.  Even if you make it in the morning.

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*Of course, I’m posting this around 6pm so that just tells you how my days tend to go.  To be fair, all furniture is moved (thank you to T, K and T!) and things have been put away but really, this is the first time I’ve sat down long enough to finish this!

Confessions

I have to confess something.

Food is currently not my friend.

I’ve been having a hard few weeks.  When I’m pregnant, I apparently get gestational diabetes.  It happened when I was carrying Super G. and it’s happening now with the boy.  Last time it was easily diet controlled, this time I’m having a harder time.  Which makes me feel six thousand kinds of guilt and shame since food/weight/body image is such a tender spot for me.  In real life I’m short, strong, healthy and overweight.  I work out a lot (or did before I had Super G.- did triathlons and whatnot) and eat well.  My weight has always been high and I’ve always worried about it- in healthy and not so healthy ways.  So to be diagnosed with gestational diabetes, despite all the lectures from all the doctors about how it’s a hormonal thing, not a weight thing (though there is some debate about that as being overweight is one of the risk factors), just doesn’t sit well with me.

Add to this the fact that I’m apparently back to my first/second trimester routine of nausea/vomiting at random times of day and third trimester constant heartburn, well, I can’t find anything I want to eat.  I’ll eat something- say last night’s chicken/green beans/little bit of stuffing & mashed potatoes- and then an hour or two later, nope, not at all what I wanted.  Ick.

Tonight, though, I thought of and made exactly what I wanted.  Soup.  Which is what I craved during the first few weeks of pregnancy, which was weird since it was spring-moving-into-summer.  Tonight, however, soup is both appropriate and hardy.  I threw together a vegetable soup which could easily be totally vegetarian if you use veg broth rather than chicken.  I used what I had in the house so it’s a random assortment of veggies but it worked.  Seeing all the brightly colored veggies in the pot cheered me immensely.  And so far, it’s staying down.

Vegetable Soup

Ingredients

Broth- I used about 6 cups of chicken but you could easily use more/less depending on how much soup you want and you could also use vegetable broth

1/2 onion, chopped

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

3 stalks celery, washed and chopped

1 can stewed tomatoes

1 can white beans, drained and rinsed (you could also use kidney or any other kind, I think.)

about half a cup of green beans, chopped into smallish pieces

frozen corn- I used about 1/4-1/2 a cup

1 small white potato, peeled and chopped into cubes

olive oil, salt, pepper

Optional:  small pasta such as orzo or stelline (which I like because they look like stars and when you’re down on food, who doesn’t love stars as a staple?) and parm cheese

Directions:

In a soup pot over medium heat, saute the onions, carrots and celery until soft.  Add the rest of the veggies and cook for about two to five minutes.

See?  How can that not cheer you up if you’re feeling badly about food?  So bright and colorful!

Add broth to cover and then let the soup simmer for a bit.  How long?  At least until the potatoes are tender.  I think mine sat for about twenty minutes.  At the tail end you can either add your pasta to the soup and let it cook or you can cook it separately and add it to the bowls as you serve.  If you do put it directly into the soup, know that it will get both somewhat mushy and soak up a huge amount of broth, which may need replenishing when re-heating the leftovers.

Not as pretty now, but still good.

Serve with a little bit of parm cheese on top or plain.  Season to taste.  You could add some oregano, basil and/or garlic but I wanted mine plain.

Again, not so pretty but mighty yummy and good for you too!  Just the thing if you’ve overindulged on T-giving pies and cakes.

Marriage

This week marks my wedding anniversary.  The husband and I have been together almost 12 years and have been married 4.  It hasn’t always been easy- we’re both very independent, opinionated and stubborn.  This is not always a good combination.- but at the end of the day, I can’t really picture my life without him.

Because it hasn’t been an easy relationship, I’ve spent a lot of time observing, talking with and thinking about other couples I know.  These couples range in age, type of relationship and length of time together.  In the time I’ve known them, some have had children, others have gotten married and others have gotten divorced (and some, re-married, though not to each other).  It’s a pretty diverse group.

One couple I met through a former job.  They had an adorable daughter and eventually I babysat for them and we became friends.  The husband was a large, gregarious fellow and his wife was smaller and quieter. They were both well-educated and well-traveled, leading to some extremely interesting conversations and discussions.  They were open and honest about almost every aspect of their relationship and, at times, somewhat too honest.  Their relationship was also not easy and in the few years I was close with them, they moved to a new state, had a second child and got divorced.  In the three months before they separated, they moved to an island off the coast of Georgia and spent the time figuring out the logistics of the dissolution of their marriage.  It was, well, different.  In the end, it was the best thing for both of them as they are now both re-married.  One half of the couple now has stepchildren and the other half has new biological children.  I’m not close with them anymore- after  their divorce they both moved further away and as more about their relationship was revealed it got…awkward.

I tell you about them because to me they epitomize the struggle that marriage is.  It’s ups and downs, it’s getting along when you don’t want to, it’s making sure your children have what they need, it’s attending to your own needs, all the while trying to remain partners, friends and lovers.  Not everyone can do it.  What’s not coming through here is just how much I adored them, as a family and as individuals.  They were kind, loving and so smart.  They did the best they could with a situation they thought would have a different outcome- no one gets married thinking, “I’ll do this for a while and then move on.”  The two of them handled themselves as well as they could as they realized that the best thing was to break those vows and allow themselves to change.  I admire them for that.

I also tell you about them because it was on the island in Georgia (with which I fell in love and now harbor a secret hope to return someday) that I first had potato leek soup (or Vichyssoise).  I watched the husband make it and was surprised at how easy it was- he didn’t measure, he didn’t really do much prep and then we had this lovely soup.  I think of them whenever I make it now and hope that they are both happy and well (actually, I hope that one partner is well- I happen to know that the other one is, through the magic of facebook).

Potato Leek Soup

Ingredients

1/2-1 stick of butter

1-2 leeks

1 lb of potatoes

4-5 cups chicken broth

1/2-3/4 cup milk or cream

Directions

Slice your leeks thinly (just the while and pale green part, not the leaves) and separate the rings into a bowl.  Cover with water and let them sit so the sand and dirt will fall to the bottom of the bowl.

In a soup pot, melt the butter over medium heat.  Once it’s melted, add the leeks (drain them first) and let them cook until soft.  Don’t let them brown.  Meanwhile, peel your potatoes.  This time around I used small yukon gold potatoes (stopping up the kitchen disposal with the peels.  It’s a good thing my husband loves me because I plungered it and it’s not fixed.  He’s going to have pull out the plumbing tools.).

Once the leeks have softened, add the potatoes and let them cook for a minute or two.

Pour in enough chicken brother to cover and let it cook until the potatoes are soft.

Take your stick blender and blend until smooth.  Or pour it into a regular blender and blend until smooth.  Or, only blend part of it and leave some of it chunky for texture.  I prefer mine smooth.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Enjoy warm or cool (if it’s cool, it counts as Vichyssoise).  Think of marriage and all its complexities.

*To make this vegetarian, substitute the chicken broth with veggie broth, water or milk.

Grown Up Brunch

When I was little, my family would get together with other families for dinner or brunch or some other meal.  I’d play with the children from that family and the parents would talk. Usually it would separate out by gender but I have distinct memories of looking up and seeing all the adults around the table, chatting, laughing and watching us play.

Today, we became my parents.  It was awesome.

We had friends over for brunch, two couples, one of whom has children.  The adults (though, since it’s us, I use the term loosely) sat at the table, chatting, laughing and eating while the two older kids played.  This is what it looked like when they were done playing:

It was great.  And we had so much food!  Bagels, cream cheese and lox (we’re good Jews), yummy cookies and pastries (thanks to one couple), homemade blueberry muffins (thanks to the other couple) and a mushroom and leek quiche that I threw together so that we’d have some more protein, you know, for balance.

It really was a lovely morning and it was nice to see G. and the other child play together.  He’s the son of a good friend from high school (with whom I’d lost touch but, thanks to facebook, we’ve re-connected) and it was neat to see our children getting along.  Also a bit surreal since most days I still feel like I’m in middle school- it’s hard to believe that high school was over 15 years ago and that many of us now have children of our own.

At any rate, here’s the quiche recipe.  I find quiche quite forgiving and it can take on a number of different flavors.  It’s a great leftovers dish since you can throw almost any veggie in there and have it end up tasty.  Eggs, cream, cheese….  what’s not to like?

Leek and Mushroom Quiche

Ingredients

1/2 recipe of dough (I use the Hippo’s recipe but I add about 1-2 teaspoons of sugar for a bit of sweet)

6-9 eggs, depending on the size of your pie pan

3/4-1 cup of milk, light or heavy cream- use what you have

1 cup sliced mushrooms

1/2 – 3/4 cup leeks (sliced and cleaned)

1/2-1 cup of grated parmesan cheese (other cheeses work well, too)

Directions:

Make your dough and let it firm up in the fridge.  Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Slice and clean your leek.  I make really thin slices and then separate the layers into a bowl, cover them with water and let them sit.  All the sand and dirt will sort of fall out and sink to the bottom. I actually love leeks- they’re milder than onions and sort of sweet.  I saved one leek to make potato leek soup later in the week.  I can’t wait!

Chop up your mushrooms while the leeks are soaking.

Heat a small saute pan on the stove over medium heat.  Add some olive oil and toss in the leeks (take them out of the water first).  Let them cook a bit until they’re soft and sort of translucent but not brown- maybe 5 minutes or so.

Add your mushrooms and let that cook until the mushrooms cook down (i.e. release their liquid and get smaller).  Meanwhile, crack your eggs into a large-ish bowl.

I think there's something really pretty about eggs. I know, I'm weird.

Whip them with a whisk until they’re all blended together well.

Add your cream (or whatever dairy you’re using) and some salt (and pepper if you wish).  Whip again to mix and set aside.  Then it’s time to roll out your dough.

Now, I am NOT a dough expert.  I can not crimp or flute to save my life so my crusts are always asymmetrical and sort of ragged looking.  I only started making my own pie crust in the last year or so when I realized that 1) the Hippo’s recipe was easy and did not involve lard (big debate in the pie crust world about how lard is what makes a really good, flakey, decadent pie crust which is probably true but, ick) and 2) I could make it in my food processor.  I love my food processor.  So take my rolling out advice with a grain or two of salt and find what works for you.

I roll my dough on a cutting board because I’m never sure my counters are clean enough and I am never prepared enough to clean it before I put the dough down.  Lightly flour your surface as well as your dough.

Start rolling from the center out, not from either end. I remember this from my bakery days but I’ll be damned if I can remember why- I think maybe it’s more even this way.

Flip it over and turn it 90 degrees.  Roll again, from the center.

Continue this until it is the thickness and roughly the shape that you want.  Again, mine are never symmetrical and never the correct shape.  Keep in mind that you want to work the dough as little as possible and that the more time it has to heat up the less flakey it will be- has to do with the butter melting and other food science-y stuff.  If you really want to know more, I’m sure Alton Brown can tell you. (I just watched the video link and he actually uses a ziplock bag and two pie pans which, if I had two pie pans, I might try)

I put my pretty red pie pan on top of it partly to measure and partly because it’s easier for me to get the dough into the pan.  You can be all fancy and roll the dough over your rolling-pin and then sort of drape it over the pan but I find that fancy makes holes in the dough (at least for me).

Flip it over so that the dough is on top of the pan.

Peel off your cutting board if necessary and then sort of drape the dough gently into the pan.  I press down gently to kind of tuck it into the sides and bottom.

At this point, you should make the edges look pretty.  I do not, but you should.  I just sort of leave it.

By now, your mushroom/leek mixture should be done (did you forget about it?  I hope not!).  Set it aside to let it cool for a few minutes while you grate your cheese.  I am (as well we all know if we’ve been reading along) lazy so I do mine in the mini-food processor.

Sprinkle about half of your cheese onto your crust.  It will sort of insulate it once you add the other things and make it less soggy as it bakes.

Your mushrooms and leeks should look a bit like this:

Add them on top of the cheese and sort of spread them around as evenly as you can.

Give your egg and dairy mixture another whip and then pour over.

Sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top and toss into your oven.  You may want to put a baking sheet underneath, in case some of it spills over.

Let it bake for about 45 minutes to an hour.  About halfway through, I always need to cover it loosely with a bit of aluminum foil as it will be brown but still jiggley.  You want it to be firm and not wiggley in the middle.  When you take it out of the oven, let it sit for a few minutes before cutting into it, otherwise it won’t set as well.

Around here we’ll eat quiche for any of the our three meals.  It’s good both hot, room temperature and cold.  And it’s generally pretty easy to throw together last minute, too.  I’ll sometimes do a bacon cheddar cheese quiche or a sausage and other kind of cheese.  Sometimes it’s just whatever veggies I have on hand- peppers, broccoli, asparagus you name it, it can probably go into a quiche.

Enjoy with your friends and family (even if you’re not having brunch).

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?”

5772

L’Shana Tovah!  Happy new year! No, it’s not suddenly January; it’s the Jewish New Year- year 5772- Rosh Hashanah.  One of the best things about it is that I get to talk with my cousin K. in Israel (of cake fame) each year.  We talk more than once a year, of course, but we always talk on Rosh Hashanah and Passover.  We compare the dinners we made and how many people we had.  It’s a nice way of staying connected.

We had our big dinner last night and so many good friends and family were in attendance.  I cooked for three days leading up to it and managed to get everything on the tables at the right time.  With the exception of the apple crisp for dessert.  I put it in the oven to heat up, put the other desserts on the table and promptly forgot about it.  As a result, we now have a large pan of apple crisp that is, while not burned, deeply browned.  It’s actually delicious but I’m sorry that I didn’t get to share it.

Unlike years past, my house was not clean.  This year, due to the full-time job and toddler, we had to choose between yummy food and a clean house.  The food won, of course.  Also unlike years (and meals) past, I was unable to photograph as I went- something about juggling the food and a toddler did not lend itself to photography.  I’ll give you a run down of the menu, though, and a recipe I tried for last night (I know the adage, don’t make anything for the first time when company is coming- more on that later).

We started with Squash Soup (which I make every year).  This year I roasted the squash in the oven before I added it to the soup- if you’re reading the recipe, put the butter and onions in the pan and when the onions have softened, add the roasted squash and continue as directed.

For the main meal we had steamed green beans, roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, roasted sweet potatoes, rice and an autumn vegetable curry.

Find potato guidelines here.  Someday I’ll post the roast chicken recipe with photos.  I’m surprised I haven’t already.  I use a modified version of Ina Garten’s recipe, found here.

The autumn vegetable curry is a recipe by Ellie Kriegar.  It came in the mail with my annual happy new year letter from Jewish Woman International.  I’m on their list because every mother’s day, I purchase bouquets through them in honor of my mother and mother-in-law.  My mother and MIL don’t actually get the flowers, instead they get a card telling them that flowers were given in their honor to mothers living in domestic violence shelters.  It’s a great program.  Check it out here.

Anyway, I made this curry recipe and have to say it was great.  I had doubts as I was making it because I made it over two days and when I tasted it at the end of day 1, it was bitter and awful.  All I could think was, “This is why you don’t try something new when company is coming!” I consulted with cooking friends to see how to even it out and we decided that the acid from the lime would help.  And I threw in a little sweet as well.   By day two, when it made it to the table, the flavors had mellowed  and it was smooth and comforting.  Pretty healthy as well.  I have the feeling this might make it into our winter dinner rotation. It takes a lot of initial prep- lots of vegetable chopping- but then it pretty much makes itself.  From what I can tell, it also gets better over a day or two so it does seem like the perfect fall/winter weeknight meal.

Ellie Krieger’s Autumn Vegetable Curry

Ingredients

1 large onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, peeled

1 1/2 length fresh ginger, peeled and cut into chunks

1 1/2 tablespoons yellow curry powder

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more to taste)

2 tablespoons canola oil

2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 cups vegetable broth (I used chicken)

1 cup light coconut milk (I used regular as it was what I had)

1 cinnamon stick

3/4 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper (or more to taste)

1/2 head of cauliflower, broken into 1 1/2 inch florets (about 3 cups)

1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes

2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch rounds

2 tomatoes, cored and chopped

Grated zest of 1 lime

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 15 oz can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

5 cups fresh baby spinach leaves (5 oz)

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves (I did not use this.  Why would you ever use cilantro?  Blech.)

Directions:

Put your onion, garlic, ginger, curry powder and cayenne into the food processor and process until it’s all smooth.  Add the oil and process again until you end up with a sort of smooth, paste-like consistency.  Put this into a large pot on medium heat and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often.  Add the tomato paste and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring often, until the mixture darkens.  Add the broth, coconut milk, cinnamon stick, salt and pepper and let it boil.  Then reduce the heat and let it simmer for 10 minutes.  Add the cauliflower, sweet potatoes, carrots and tomatoes.  Season with salt and pepper and let it come back to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium low and let it all simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 25 minutes.  Remove the cinnamon stick.

*this is the point where I stopped and put it in the fridge overnight.  I also added a little bit of honey (maybe 1/8-1/4 of a cup) and a few teaspoons of sugar (maybe 3?) in a desperate attempt to do something about the bitter.  I’m not sure if that really made a difference.  I kept it overnight because I wasn’t serving until the next day.  If you’re making to eat on the same day, just keep going.

Stir in the lime zest and juice, the chickpeas and the spinach and cook until the spinach has wilted, about five minutes.  Check for seasoning again and you’re done.  It’s good over rice.  If you must use the cilantro leaves, sprinkle them as a garnish before serving.  But don’t expect me to eat it.

Pickle Me This

When I was in Israel, fresh vegetables were abundant.  The kibbutz had an enormous kitchen, with a huge walk in refrigerator and freezer.  And when I say walk-in, I mean that my studio apartment in DC was smaller than this fridge.  If you had the right clothing, you could comfortably live in it for days on end (y’know, assuming you left to use the bathroom in the dining hall).  In this fridge was a vast assortment of vegetables- tomatoes, cucumbers, avocados (the kibbutz had an avocado…grove?  farm?  field?  Not sure what the correct term is, but they had a large number of avocado trees), onions, potatoes you get the idea.

They were for the use of the kitchen to prepare the meals for the kibbutz.  What never ceased to amaze us non-kibbutniks was how the kibbutz members would come in, plastic bags in hand, and just take whatever they needed for their own kitchens.  They’d just breeze in, any time of day, and fill their bags.  To be fair, when I was there, the kibbutz began an internal audit which lasted quite some time and resulted in a number of changes- among them the cease and desist order for this practice.  Naturally, as volunteers, we didn’t get paid much and so we followed suit.  What resulted were a number of breakfasts of tomato, onion and garlic sautéed down to an almost spread-like consistency, served on toast (the bread was also for the taking).  Sometimes we’d add eggs (which, like everything else, were kept in the walk-in), if we were feeling extravagant.

Anyway, my cousin, Kohevet (of the cake fame) would make use of the kibbutz walk-in to supplement her family meals at home.  Her meals were legendary- she taught me how to make the most delicious vegetable stew ever and her rice was always perfect- I have tried, tried and tried to make my rice like hers and just can’t.  I say it’s the difference between U.S. and Israeli tap water but inside I know it’s because she’s just a better cook!  Her tuna salad- such a simple dish- is yet another I’ve tried to emulate and have been unsuccessful in my efforts.  One of the things she puts in her tuna is pickles.  But not just any pickles, as I found out one afternoon while hanging out in her kitchen.

She made the pickles.  Made them.  From cucumbers.  Now, for some of you, this is not a revelation.  For me, who grew up with a grandmother who cooked but didn’t can or preserve, this was a new frontier.  You could create pickles? In a jar on your counter?  With just some salt, spices and water?  Eureka! I watched carefully and when I came home to the states tried it myself.

I failed.  Kohevet’s pickles were crunchy, salty and just the right mix of salty and sour.  Mine were limp, bland and plain old gross.  I gave up on the idea of making my own pickles- who wants to get involved in all that jar lid sanitizing and water boiling anyway.

Until my friend K. gave me a bunch of pickling cucumbers from her garden.  Then it just seemed wrong to let them remain unpickled.  I mean, this was their sole purpose in life- to become pickles.  How could I deny them this dream?  I had heard rumors of something called refrigerator pickles, which did not involve jar sanitizing and which sounded like they might be similar to Kohevet’s pickles.  Off to the internet I went to find a recipe.

And, oh let me tell you just how easy these were to make.  Collect some jars, slice some cucumbers and boil some syrup.  Add it all together, refrigerate overnight and there you have it- crunchy, salty-sweet-sour pickles.  So good.  Alas, nothing like Kohevet’s but my friend K. recently sent me a dill pickle recipe that sounds like it could be the one.  I’ll try it next summer and report back.  Meanwhile, make these.  They’re really good.

Sweet Refrigerator Pickles

Ingredients

7 cups unpeeled cucumbers or young zucchini, sliced thin

1 large onion, sliced thin

A green or red bell pepper, sliced thin (optional- I didn’t use it)

1/8 cup of salt

1 cup white vinegar

2 cups white sugar

1 teaspoon celery seed

Directions:

Wash your cucumbers.

I asked K. the difference between cucumbers for pickling and for eating- she says the ones for pickles have less water and are more bumpy.

Then slice them thinly.  I used my cuisnart with this attachment:

Peel and slice your onion (again, cuisnart) and your pepper, if using. All should be sliced pretty thinly.

Place the sliced cucumber and onion in a large bowl or pan.  Sprinkle the salt over and then cover with ice water.

Let this sit for 2 hours and then drain.

Put the pickles into jars.  I used old sauce jars- I didn’t want to buy jars just for this.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, combine the vinegar, sugar and celery seed.  Don’t stand too close, as the vinegar is extremely pungent right now and will totally clear our your sinuses.  Bring this to a boil.

Pour over the pickles in the jars and then put on the lids.  Place in the fridge and let them cool.  I let mine sit overnight before I tried them.  My husband ate one and happily exclaimed, “These are just like my dad used to make!” as he served himself more.