Sunday, October 29, 2006

No recipes this week

1. There were so many leftovers from Saturday night's dinner party, it fueled most of the week's suppers. And lunches.
2. The one night we cooked, it was Hub doing his famous fried fish. Unfortunately, he doesn't measure anything, so I don't think I can do the "recipe" justice.
3. I've been singing, singing, singing, my voice out over the past few days. We have a yearly UU Choir Festival in NC, which takes lots of preparation and then one very long day of group rehearsals before a big performance. This was yesterday (the "mass choir" pieces were a few selections from Orff's Carmina Burana and a fantastic piece called _The Awakening_ by Joseph Martin.)
4. Today my parents and I and a few other members of the UUFR choir went up to the Peace Fellowship in North Raleigh to perform one of my father's compositions, _Evolution_. I felt like I disappointed him because my high notes were simply fried from yesterday, and I had to sing the soprano part an octave lower. Oh, well...I don't think I'm really a soprano anyway, I just tend to be placed in that section because I have a very strong (think loud) voice, and for some reason sopranos seem to be hard to hold on to in many choirs.
5. I start a new job this week Wednesday, so we'll see about new recipes this week.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Roasted Root Vegetables

Oh, wow. Just finished watching the most recent episode of Heroes.

Ms. J has given me the compliment of not only reading the blog, but actually cooking from it recently. Today she sent me an email asking for an appropriate vegetable accompaniment for the pork loin recipe. This is what I gave her -- not recently tested or measured, but it's a pretty easy concept.

Get an assortment of turnips, parsnips, carrots and medium-size yellow-skinned potatoes (or sweet potatoes), cut the carrots and parsnips in half lengthwise, quarter the turnips and potatoes. Toss lightly in olive oil and some fresh thyme, kosher salt and black pepper. Roast at 450 for about 40 minutes (I think, this is from memory, it might be a bit less) -- actually since you're doing the pork, just put them on the bottom rack and they will likely take the same amount of time as the pork, at those temps. Stir them around occasionally. They should carmelize a bit.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Dinner Party report

I'm only now feeling somewhat recovered from last night. It went both really, really well and also maybe not so well from a planning/execution standpoint. But did we have fun? Oh, yes, oh, definitely, oh my was my head hurting this morning. But not so much that I don't remember the excellent conversations we had, and I did manage to make it to church to sing a gorgeous piece that I didn't want to miss.

I think I forgot to mention that this was a politically-themed party, and I selected my guests carefully to ensure that we all fell on the liberal side of politics -- not necessarily Democrat, but definitely liberal. This close to an election, I get very, very sensitive about politics, and I wanted a group where we could loudly declaim this or that policy, and not get into actual fights about it. That's exactly how it turned out -- we had wonderful, very loud discussions about a fascinating array of topics.

The loudness was one of the logistical problems. Kiddo, E. (5) and A. (2) were upstairs with the hired sitter, as planned. But they did not go to sleep. I've discovered that our house, with it's open floor plan, is just not suited for our party-loving children to tune their party-loving parents out enough to go to sleep. Hence, Kiddo and I did not go to bed until 1:00 AM. Oops! I think next time, I'll have him stay at Yia Yia's and Papou's house.

Logistical problem #2 - the schedule slipped due to A. still being asleep at 5:30. So the first guests didn't arrive until about 6:15. The rest of the adults trickled in over the next hour, with the final couple arriving at 7:15 or so. No big deal...Ms. C and Ms. J brought appetizers, so no one was hungry. I had made some cheese quesadillas for the boys - since they arrived a bit late, it was already too dark to play outside, so they went upstairs to the pinball machine, skipping dinner downstairs. I think it was close to 8:00 when Ms. C reminded me that they should probably be fed! The parenting skills were definitely a bit loose last night.

Logistical problem #3 - after we had soup, we convened back in the kitchen so I could cook the dinner. I don't have enough burners on my stove for the menu I had planned! So it took a fair amount of time -- enjoyable, loud, fun time, and Mr. M and Mr. E both chipped in to help (they are both excellent cooks in their own rights). So, in a way, this was not at all a bad thing. Dinner parties are NOT restaurant experiences!

I think we finally sat down to eat at around 10:00. On a plus note, everything turned out absolutely perfectly. On a minus note, I made waaaay too much food. I think we have enough chicken/duck to last a week of sandwiches. And I've frozen the turnips and turnip greens in the hope that they will reheat well for Thanksgiving.

Mr. D called to say he and Ms. P and their girls would not be able to make it after all, which was too bad. But the ice cream and dark chocolate bark worked just perfectly for dessert. And then everyone pitched in to help with the cleanup. Mr. T and Hub stayed up until 3:30 or so gabbing (T is Irish and Hub is Scottish, they are both champion talkers), and then Hub stayed up even longer to do more cleanup.

Exhausting, fun, delicious and we met two new friends who are thinking of moving to the area (Ms. C and Mr. M brought them, and we clicked immediately). Overall, a success. I'll be ready to do it again in about six months. :)

Friday, October 20, 2006

Dinner Party prep

I just spent an enjoyable evening preparing for a dinner party I'm having tomorrow night. I really can't remember the last time I had an honest-to-goodness sit-down dinner party. With china and everything. I think it was before Kiddo was born.

Dinner parties are quite different from bigger, appetizer-heavy grazing parties. The menu planning must include courses, side dishes, presentation. I am not a Martha Stewart fan...for the most part, I let the food speak for itself, and any presentation finesse is provided by Hub. In our house, he's the one who can arrange flowers, he's the one who will drizzle sauce expressively on a plate, he's the one I turn to when meats must be sliced Just So.

And really? It's because I think that's all hooey. What I always remember from any party or gathering is the conversation, and how happy and comfortable I felt. Too much presentation lowers actual hospitality, in my opinion. In fact, my brand of cooking may even lower the hospitality meter, because I love to cook...sometimes it dissuades those who don't love to cook from inviting me over for dinner. What most people don't understand is...I'd be happy with pizza and beer! Plus the right combination of people to talk to.

For this one, I've hired a sitter to watch kids here, if the parents so desire. Partly that's because I remember being sent upstairs when my parents had parties, with my siblings and the other children who came. We always had an excellent time. Our children are still a bit too small to send up on their own. Not all the participants are planning to bring their kids (some have decided they'll have a better time if they don't have to think of them in the house) but enough are coming to provide playmates for Kiddo.

So here's the plan -- I'll let you know how it actually turns out:

Start at 5:30 pm -- adults start grazing on appetizers (which my friends Ms. C and Ms. T have graciously voluteered to provide, we thought cheese fondue with bread and crudites would be lovely) and the kids in attendance will have quesadillas, veggies and juice boxes, then be sent out to play on the playset with the sitter. Hub's planning on mixing his killer martinis.

When the light starts to fail (7:00 or so), send the kids upstairs with the sitter. At our house, the TV is upstairs, along with Dance, Dance Revolution, Kiddo's playroom and a real, full-size pinball machine. The hope is, they'll mostly stay there. Sitter will be provided with popcorn when needed, and pajamas, and maybe we'll set up a group bath. Or what we call "Penis Soup" since most of the kids in the cohort are male.

Actual recipes for the following will depend on whether they turned out well or not...

Soup course. Roasted Butternut-Squash and Garlic, which I prepped for by roasting the squash and garlic and doing the food-processor thing (Kiddo ran it). I'll reheat, add Greek yogurt and seasoning tomorrow.

Dinner. Spice-Rubbed Chicken/Duck with Port Wine Sauce. Hub removed the skins from the duck breasts tonight and I made, then rubbed in the spice mix. Also, I prepped the sauce.
Brown-butter orzo, no prep needed
Turnips and greens, no prep needed

Dessert: I made a dark chocolate/dried cherry/walnut bark last weekend, which I will serve with vanilla ice cream. And Ms. P (who can't make it until dessert) promised some kind of divine-sounding chocolate pie.

I don't have enough good china to go around. Oh, well. Like I said, that's not what matters!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Fig-Stuffed Pork Loin Roast

Today was a good day. I slept last night (having given in to the realization that Benadryl is simply necessary right now). I resigned my current job yesterday, and signed a contract for a very exciting new project. I had no contact with any of the excessively dramatis personae of my life today. I walked with Hub, played with Kiddo, started transferring my work.

And I cooked something really, really satisfying. In November, I won't be able to start a roast at 5:30, because I'll be in an office again. That will certainly be a change, one I'm more than ready for, as working from home has become lonely. Roasts will be weekend food again. Still, this one didn't take much time at all...

1 ¼ lb boneless pork loin roast
4 figs, sliced
1 bunch parsley, chopped
1 t kosher salt (Is it common knowledge that a small t is a teaspoon, and a large T is a Tablespoon? I learned that a long time ago when getting my cooking badge for Girl Scouts, but does everyone know it?)
½ t fresh ground pepper
1 T olive oil
1 cup water

  1. Preheat the oven to 450°
  2. In a small bowl, combine the sliced figs, 3 Tablespoons of the chopped parsley, the olive oil, the salt and pepper
  3. Using a long, thin knife (like a slicing knife), pierce the roast lengthwise, running the knife down close to the hilt but making sure you don't get too near the outside circumference.
  4. Do it again, making an X lengthwise down the roast.
  5. Stuff the cavity with the fig/parsley mixture.
  6. Roll the roast in the rest of the parsley, then put in a roasting pan. Top with any remaining parsley.
  7. Add 1 cup water to the pan
  8. Roast for 15 minutes
  9. Reduce heat to 350°, roast for 40 minutes more or until a meat thermometer reads 150°.
  10. Let rest for 10 minutes before slicing.
I served this with fried polenta (purchased, sliced, then fried in olive oil) and turnips and greens (frozen), so it was very easy. Kiddo opted for chicken nuggets, but that's not unusual. Really, they are just a ketchup delivery system. He did try a little polenta. Maybe if I let him put ketchup on everything, he'd eat more of my food?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Mussels and Swiss Chard

We just got back from the NC State Fair, which, for the first time, surpassed my expectations. I always loved going to our little county fair growing up, and idealized what the Ohio State Fair must be like. Six years ago, when we moved here, I was terribly excited about finally going to a real state fair! I ended up being disappointed.

This year, with a 3-year-old experiencing everything for the first time, and Hub in tow (he had declined to accompany on the previous visits) we had a grand time. We rode 2 of the available 4 ferris wheels, ate a giant turkey leg and sweet potato fries, saw 8 piglets follow their mama pig around rooting for a nipple, and Hub won Kiddo a HUGE Nemo fish - it is bigger than Kiddo. He did this at the start of the afternoon, so he got to carry it around the whole fair for 4 hours.

Hub is a former carnie himself, and knew the trick to this particular game of skill, so it only took him one try for $2. You could tell the guy running the game was none too pleased. Hub, on the other hand, carrying the fish for 4 hours was not really a burden.

Anyway, last night I did cook something new...recently I've been working from recipes a bit more, hence haven't had as much to write about. But I was inspired to try a new spin on a mussels dish last night, and it turned out beautifully.

1 bunch swiss chard
3 med tomatoes or 8 small
2 lb mussels
1/4 cup cornmeal
1 shallot
Rossi parsley garlic fettucini (I seem to be tearing through this box fairly quickly)
4 T salted butter
2 anchovy fillets
2 rosemary branches
1 cup wine (red or white, I find it doesn't really matter, both taste nice. Last night I used some Pinot Noir)
2 T chopped flat-leaf parsley
Fresh grated parmesan

  1. Soak chard in the sink, in cold water. Stem it, chop coarsely, spin dry.
  2. Check the mussels - if they are not very clean, scrub with a brush and pull their "beards" off. Discard any that are open or that do not close when prodded. Put mussels in a large bowl, cover with cold water, and sprinkle the corn meal over. Let rest for about 20 minutes. The mussels will feed on the corn meal and disgorge sand.
  3. Start heating water for the pasta
  4. Start heating a large, heavy pot, such as a Le Creuset
  5. Chop the shallot
  6. Separately, chop the tomatoes and smash the anchovies.
  7. Heat the butter in the large heavy pot
  8. Add the shallots, saute until butter is golden
  9. Add the anchovies and tomatoes, stir
  10. Add the wine and rosemary branches
  11. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the mussels from the bowl of water into the pot, checking to make sure they are closed tightly.
  12. Put the chard on top.
  13. Cover and steam for about 14 minutes. The chard should be wilted, and the mussels should be open...but it will be difficult to check the mussels since they are buried under the chard.
  14. Start cooking the pasta after you cover the mussels, cook according to package directions.
  15. Serve the mussels over the pasta, with chopped flat-leaf parsley and fresh grated parmesan on the side.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Lost recipe - Blueberry-vodka cream sauce with roasted chicken and pasta

Darn it. I knew this would happen sooner or later...I'm diligently trying to write down my recipes as I cook them, but if I don't run in and transcribe them...they get thrown away. And this was a REALLY good one, too! Don't worry, though, I'll try again.

What the heck, I'll try to do it from memory. Later I'll come back and test it again. This fed five adults (Mom, Dad, Hub, Sis and me) on Friday night, and there was 1/2 a chicken breast as leftovers. Sis was in town on her way to Mexico.

This recipe (or a variation thereof) that I invented years ago is one of the reasons I ordered the Rossi pasta recently.

1/2 cup dried blueberries
Vodka to cover (about 1/2 cup?)
1 small container creme fraiche
3 large chicken breasts, bone-in, skin-on
Juice of 2 lemons
1 pkg Rossi lemon pepper fettucine
Salt & pepper

  • About 2 hours ahead of time, put the blueberries into a small bowl and cover with vodka.
  • Preheat the oven to 425.
  • Wash and dry the chicken breasts, put skin up in a roasting pan. Juice the lemons with a reamer right over the breasts (no need to strain). Salt and pepper them.
  • Roast for about 35 minutes.
  • When there are about 15 minutes to go, heat the water for the pasta and cook it.
  • Put the vodka/blueberry mix into a small saucepan and heat gently. When warm, stir the creme fraiche in.
  • Toss the pasta with the sauce. Serve with the chicken and a green salad.
If you don't have lemon pepper fettucini (poor you!), you could add lemon juice and pepper to the sauce. In the past, I've usually used boneless, skinless breasts and sliced them and sauteed them in olive oil and lemon juice, and then incorporated them into the pasta. But this time, I forgot to specify for Hub, and he arrived home with the bone-in, skin-on variety. Honestly...I think it was even nicer.

Friday was actually pretty crazy, hence the need for Hub to go shopping. There was a huge explosion at a chemical plant not too far from here late Thursday evening, and Kiddo's daycare was in the evacuation zone. We were a bit nervous we would have to be evacuated ourselves. Ms. J and Mr. B and their kids were right on the edge, and fled to Ms. H's house. So I took the day off work and Kiddo and I went over to Ms. H's to join the news-watching and fretting. The kids played, the mothers worried...after noon, Ms. N and I and our kids returned to our cul-de-sac, let Kiddo and Boo run around for a while (outside! by that time we had relaxed a bit about toxic fumes) and then retired to nap. So I never got a chance to shop.

After dinner, I dragged Sis to a birthday party at Ms. D's. There was o-so-much wine and crazy conversation. At one point, Sis told me I am in a sorority. I am? Wow. I've never been in a sorority before. I guess the difference is, I'm not paying for the privilege and I don't have to live with these women. And our menses are not in sync.

Saturday afternoon, the church had a block party, and I ran a Name That Tune booth. We kazoo'ed tunes for people to guess. It was a riot.

Saturday night, Bro and Sis-In-Law came in, and we all joined the sorority and fraternity (the husbands) for a big night out to a comedy club in the City. At dinner time, I found myself channeling the General (my dearly departed Aunt who ran social events with an iron fist). Someone needed to organize this crazy party of 16! We dined at a fantastic restaurant right next to the comedy club. While Hub did have to send his sea bass back, the tilapia that came out to replace it was excellent.

Sunday was quiet. I was exhausted.

And then tonight I went out with girlfriends again. Do I never learn???

I'm tired. Good night.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Shrimp and Shiitake stir-fry

Sunday night at the concert, we ran into The Lint Queen and Ms. H and their significant others, and I had my first inkling that someone might be reading this blog other than Jenorama. I think Ms. H's comment was something like "I thought I was a pretty darn good cook until I saw the out-of-everything mac'n'cheese...did you have to go milk the cow?"

Which is soooo not the point! I was kind of hoping to impart my heck-try-it-it's only food philosophy, not make anyone feel daunted. Anyway, she was kidding and we've decided we'll do a cook-together gathering soon, which should be fun. And yummy.

Another thing the ladies had to offer was advice on the alcohol (and cheese and chocolate) issues I had been having, which was...gastro-esophogeal reflux disorder (GERD). Helooooo, Pepcid AC! Yes, I know, I should see my doctor.

I haven't been cooking much this week, but tonight put together a shrimp stir-fry that turned out very, very nicely. Hub's comment upon first taste was "what kind of butter did you use?" None, of course (who uses butter in a stir-fry?) but somehow the combination of the mushrooms and the sesame oil created both the mouth-feel and taste of a very rich butter sauce. Odd.

I know this seems like a long ingredient list, but this is the kind of stuff I keep in my pantry, in case the stir-fry mania strikes.

1 cup short grain brown rice, cooked according to package directions. If you don't have a rice cooker, get one!
1 lb shrimp (I tend to buy 2 lb bags of frozen easy-peel shrimp)
1/4 lb snow peas
1 small head bok choy
1/4 lb shiitake mushrooms
3-4 cloves garlic
1 knob fresh ginger or 1 T ground ginger
Juice of 1 lime
2 T Thai fish sauce or soy sauce
1 T chili-garlic sauce
1 T sesame oil
2 T rice vinegar
peanut oil

Mise bowls!
  1. Start defrosting the shrimp, if it's frozen.
  2. Get the rice started. Expect it to require about 45 minutes, if not a bit longer.
  3. Wash the snow peas, snip the ends off, transfer to a mise bowl.
  4. Brush any dirt from the shiitake's, remove the stems and slice the heads into strips, put in a mise bowl.
  5. Slice the bok choy widthwise, put it into a salad spinner, wash and spin dry.
  6. Mince the garlic and ginger and put in a small bowl.
  7. Add the lime juice, fish sauce, chili garlic sauce, sesame oil and rice vinegar to the bowl, and whisk with a fork.
  8. Shell and de-vein the shrimp.
  9. When the rice is done or almost done, heat the wok. When it is quite hot, add 1-2 T peanut oil...really not much.
  10. Very carefully add the shrimp (since it's wet, it's likely to splatter) and stir-fry for about 1 minute, just until barely pink.
  11. Add the mushrooms, stir-fry for about 30 seconds
  12. Add the snow peas and bok choy, stir-fry for about 30 seconds
  13. Add the sauce, stir completely and then cover the wok. Let steam for about 3 minutes.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Dance party!

Last night was busy for us - we had two parties to go to. Kiddo was so excited he couldn't nap, and instead bopped around the house singing "We're going to a party, a party, a party, we're going to a party, yay, yay, yay!" Of course, by the time 4:30 rolled around he was about to fall asleep on his feet, but as soon as we got to the first party he perked right up. Nothing like the promise of birthday cake and the presence of lots of kids to get that boy's motor running.

The first party was a 2-year-old's birthday party in the cul-de-sac behind us. Ms. D had sandwich makings, chicken nuggets, yummy chips and dips, meatballs and plenty of adult liquid refreshments...after all, how do we parents get through the 2's? It was great fun.

The second party also started at 4:30, and I had promised Ms. K to make Mint Pesto pasta, so I had run that over at 4:00. We arrived at about 6:15 and the fun was in full swing. Although Ms. K's birthday had been the week before and her eldest daughter's birthday was on Friday, this party was really more in celebration of her mother-in-law's visit. Sort of a "meet our crazy friends" event. And we lived up to it! Mr. J's mother is a hoot, and we had a fun, fun the end of the evening, we were all dancing to 70's and 80's music. Kiddo did not want to leave, but we managed to drag him out just before 10:00. He fell asleep within about 30 seconds of his head hitting the pillow.

Tonight we're off to see Aimee Mann and the Indigo Girls. Whee!

Yogurt-marinated Lamb

Something about writing this blog is actually inspiring even more creativity in the kitchen. I prepared this Thursday night before choir practice, and it was juicy, tasty and delicious. I served it with tzatziki (Yogurt and Cucumber Salad - I use a recipe from A Little Greek Cookbook, but this one I found on the web is pretty close...just add 1 1/2 T finely chopped fresh mint), couscous and steamed broccoli. We managed to convice Kiddo that couscous is really macaroni, and he also ate the broccoli (hooray!). The lamb was really enough for four people.

1 lb lamb leg sirloin steaks
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup Greek yogurt (Fage Total, if you can find it...if not, use regular plain yogurt that you have strained for 30 minutes or so)
1 T Aromatic Pepper (recipe from A New Way to Cook by Sally Schneider, reproduced here:
- 2 T black peppercorns
- 2 T white peppercorns
- 2 T pink peppercorns
- 1 T allspice berries
- 1 T coriander seeds
- All ground up together )
1 T olive oil

  1. Combine everything except the lamb and stir
  2. Coat the lamb in the yogurt mixture and let stand for about 30 minutes
  3. Grill over medium/indirect heat, turning about every 5 minutes, for a total of about 25 minutes.