Thursday, November 30, 2006

Fish in Grape Leaves

Last night, we had Ms. N and her two little girls, I. and Baby K. over. Ms. N is a very dear friend and we have cooked together for years and years...I told her I was in the mood for fish wrapped in grape leaves, and she said "Wow, we haven't had that in a while" and I responded that I thought she had done it last -- four years ago?

Anyway, follow the link for the recipe. The only modifications I made were to use Tilapia and to use goat butter for the sauce. The sauce is best if you don't cook it hardly at all, just slightly over low heat until the flavors are blended.

I am now looking into Hungarian dishes for Saturday night. We're having a couple of friends over who are interested in cooking with us. And of course, it will be more fun if I'm learning too!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Italian veggies

Yesterday we went for a play date/supper at Ms. J and Mr. B's house. Kiddo and M. had a grand time after learning how to negotiate with each other -- it's a little odd having two such verbal and manipulative small ones to deal with. I've learned from another parent at Kiddo's school that he is a "ringleader." I'm not quite sure what to make of that, if anything. Hub asked at school and they very diplomatically said he simply takes the lead on activities, because he is so excited to be doing them. They're so nice. :)

Ms. J toiled over a lovely dish that her father makes. She was nervous to mess it up on two fronts -- one, it's one of her Dad's signatures, and she had a mental taste/look picture that she was going for. Two, she was cooking for me. I reassured her that honestly, I was just happy to be there! And I was.

Funny thing is, I don't usually like peppers very much. Hub loves them, so I kind of put up with the occasional grilled or roasted pepper. The dish Ms. J was making was ALMOST ALL PEPPERS! And Mr. B even was amazed at how much they had I was steeling myself for disappointment.

It was lovely. I mean it. I had seconds and thirds. Whee! I've found a way to enjoy peppers! This had 2 red onions (two!), something like one green, one yellow and one red pepper (but it may have been two of each?), garlic, a quart of cherry tomatoes and bowtie pasta, with parmesan on top. I'll either ask Ms. J for the recipe, or try to figure it out on my own.

She also has a HUGE frying pan that I covet.

Tonight, Hub made dinner and it was edible. Enough said.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Thanksgiving at my brother's

Whoo hoo! For one of the first times in years, I didn't host Thanksgiving at my house. Instead, we went down to Bro and Sis-in-law's down in Wilmington. Bro had always wanted to try a deep-fried turkey, especially since he now resides in the South. Hub picked up a fryer at Home Depot a few days ago, and since then, the two of them have been studying up on the dangers and methods of using the thing.
  1. Make sure the turkey is completely defrosted (or fresh, which is the option we went for) and dry. If not, kaboom!
  2. Make sure the fryer is outside, not under a roof, and not on a combustible surface (we had it on the patio surrounded by sand). If not, kaboom!
  3. Make sure the oil is not too hot and not overfilled. If not, kaboom!

The guys did a fantastic job, and the turkeys were amazing (they did two). I've cooked a lot of turkeys in my life, have done some pretty interesting things like injecting them with wine/butter solutions, roasting them in a bag, brining, etc. I've even roasted a goose. Never has the carcass been subject to every single adult picking at it. And a super-bonus is that the oven was free to make/heat big pans of macaroni & cheese, stuffing, dinner rolls, sweet potato casserole, turnips & greens, gravy...the only "missing" item was mashed potatoes, but since Sis wasn't with us, no-one cared.

My contribution to the meal was to make two pies and bring the leftover frozen turnips and turnip greens from my last big dinner party. I actually made a fresh pumpkin pie, which was 100 times better than any pumpkin pie I've ever had before. I don't usually like pumpkin pie, to tell the truth. This was great. I'll post the recipe when I get back home. The other pie was a chocolate scotch pecan pie, also delicious. Kiddo helped me in the preparation of both...if by "helping" we can also include the slurping of leftover pumpkin pie filling with a spoon.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Slow cooker beef stew

Also on Sunday night, Hub followed my directions to prep for a slow-cooker beef stew. This is part of our effort to figure out how to actually work out of the house and get dinner on the table and not resort to fast food too often. He did the prep Sunday night, then I threw everything into the pot on Monday morning. YiaYia and PaPou came over and brought bread...other than that, it was a complete meal and provided enough leftovers for the next night's supper and for my lunch today! I love leftovers...

2.5 lb cheap beef (beef chuck underblade is what we bought)
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp fresh ground pepper
2 onion, coursely chopped
4 medium potatoes, cubed to about 2"
1 12 oz bag of baby carrots
2 branches rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 cup mushrooms, quartered
1 quart mushroom broth (Pacific brand is what I used) or I suppose beef broth would work
  1. Cut beef into 2" cubes, removing fat and membranes as desired
  2. Mix flour, salt and pepper in a freezer bag
  3. Put beef into the bag and shake, refrigerate
  4. Mix vegetables and herbs and broth in a bowl, refrigerate
  5. In the morning, put the beef on the bottom of the crock-pot, then throw everything else on top. Set on low.
  6. When I got home, the potatoes were still a bit hard (they were cut too big) and I put the heat on high for 30 minutes. But I think if the potatoes were cut smaller like I've said in the recipe, that wouldn't be necessary.

Herb-crusted rack of lamb

On Sunday, we picked up a rack of American-raised lamb at BJ's -- we're not crazy about the meat there usually, but it's never bad. This turned out to be lovely. I called Ms. J to see if they wanted to come over, but they had other plans. Turns out Hub and I ate the whole thing up, anyway. :)

1 frenched rack of lamb, 8 ribs, about 1 1/3 pound
1 teas. black peppercorns
1 teas. kosher salt
Leaves from 1 branch rosemary
1/3 cup packed mint leaves
2 cloves garlic
1/3 cup breadcrumbs
zest and juice of 1 small lemon
1 Tbsp. olive oil
  1. Preheat the oven to 450
  2. Put all the ingredients (except the lamb, lemon juice and olive oil) into a mini food processor, pulse them together.
  3. Mix the lemon juice and olive oil in a small bowl
  4. Place the rack in a small square glass baking dish, and pour the lemon juice and olive oil over.
  5. Press on the breadcrumb/herb mix
  6. Cook for about 35 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer reads 130 degrees
  7. Let rest for 5 minutes before carving. A normal portion would be 2 ribs per person, unless you're pigs like us.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Sherry-mushroom pork chops with Braised Red Cabbage

OK, another not-quite-right recipe, but it's definitely worth trying again...the leftovers were delicious, and the red-cabbage side dish was AMAZING. Easy, satiny, rich, completely stole the thunder from the entree. Sometimes, I really impress myself. :) In addition to these, I did some simple buttered noodles, which Kiddo ate like a dog. Literally, he just stuck his face into the bowl. Ideally, the dishes should all come out at the same time...

- 3 slices country bacon
- 1 small head red cabbage, sliced thinly
- 1 can butter beans, drained
  1. In a large dutch oven, cook the bacon at fairly high heat until crispy, remove to drain on paper towels
  2. Add the cabbage, lower heat to low and braise for 30 minutes
  3. About 5-10 minutes before completion, add the beans and the crumbled bacon.
- 4 pork chops, boneless, fairly small, about one pound total weight
- 2 cups sliced "baby bella" mushrooms
- 1 cup light sour cream
- 1/4 cup sherry
- 1/2 tspn salt
- 1 Tbspn chopped fresh thyme
- 1 Tbspn flour? (The problem I encountered was that the sauce was thin...flour would help. A roux would definitely help, but I don't really think any butter is needed in this recipe)
  1. Preheat oven to 400? (That was the other issue, it took too long...we started at 350 and raised the temp to 400 later on)
  2. Layer the pork chops in a small square baking pan
  3. Add the mushrooms
  4. Combine the rest of the ingredients in a bowl, then spread over the chops
  5. Cover with foil and put in the oven for 30 minutes?

Ham and potato gratin

I did cook this week, Tuesday and Wednesday, but each time we didn't end up eating until after 8:00 pm, and then I pretty much went straight to time for blogging! I think we'll be able to work out a normal schedule, though.

More because this is the season of change and I'm re-discovering my Fall/Winter cooking bona fides, both of the dishes I did this week weren't quite right. But in the spirit of blogging, I'm going to go ahead and post them...and that way, when I try again, I can remember my mistakes and correct them.

2 cups Emmenthaler cheese, grated
1/2 onion, chopped
1/3 cup chopped parsley
1/3 cup breadcrumbs
2 Tbsp butter, melted
Fresh-ground black pepper
4 medium potatoes, sliced thinly (I use the slicing blade of a food processor)
1 1/4 cups chicken broth
4-5 slices ham (not very sugary, Virginia ham is nice), chopped
Dark green leaf lettuce
  • Preheat oven to 385 or so? We did 350, and it wasn't hot enough.
  • Butter a 13x7x2 glass baking dish
  • Mix the breadcrumbs, parsley, black pepper and butter together
  • Layer the ingredients, starting with potato, then onion, then cheese, then ham, then lettuce, then potato, then cheese, and finally the breadcrumb mixture.
  • Pop in the oven and bake for something like 35 minutes?

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Iron Man

Congratulations to Mr. B! Last week, he competed in his first Iron Man triathlon, and finished in under 13 hours, which is an excellent time. Last night, Ms. N threw a party to celebrate his achievement, and to celebrate that she'll get a little bit more hub-time for a while. Except that he's already signed up to do two more of these crazy races in the next 12 months. And he has a full-time job and is getting his MBA at night school and has two small daughters. I thought I was tired...obviously I'm just not doing enough.

The party was lovely, with lots of cheeses and dips and crackers and chips and wine and turkey meatballs (Ms. N's signature appetizer) and wine and friends and more wine. And small children running around like maniacs.

My small child wasn't there until late, because he went to the NC Zoo with YiaYia and PaPou and his cousins. Hub and I had ALL DAY to ourselves. We went to the mall and shopped for work clothing, since he also has a new contract starting on Tuesday. Then I spent the afternoon cleaning the crud out of my closet so I'm no so overwhelmed in the mornings. And Hub raked leaves.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Easy Turkey Chili

I had forgotten how exhausting working in an office can be. The commute...the conversations with extremely talkative people...the politics...the commute again. The deciding each and every day what to wear. The attempt to put dinner on the table after said commute.

That being said, I'm really, really enjoying it! The pro's are far outweighing the cons. And, while I haven't cooked that much this week (mostly due to outside circumstances, or the fact that Hub decided he was going to cook) it wasn't because I couldn't due to lack of time or energy. The one night that I did, it was this super-easy, fast and very mild chili...mild enough for Kiddo to enjoy. I'm almost embarrassed to bother to write it down, but perhaps others have not used the "use every can in the pantry" method of cooking chili before...or if you have, now you don't need to be ashamed anymore. You are not alone!

1 Tbsp cooking oil
1 lb ground turkey
1/2 large onion, chopped
1 can kidney beans, 15 oz
1 can black beans, 15 oz
2 cans flavored diced tomatoes, 28 oz total (I used one with mild green chilis and one called chili recipe)
1 tsp salt
1/2 t coriander
  1. In a large pot, heat the cooking oil. Add the onions and saute until translucent. Add the turkey and the salt, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, and cook until all the pink is gone.
  2. Add all the contents of the cans and the coriander. At this point, you might want to up the heat with chili powder or pepper or something.
  3. Bring to a boil, and boil for about 5 minutes.
  4. Reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer for as long as you like (within reason), it will only get better...but really, it's good to eat right now.
We had it over brown rice. The rice took longer to cook than the chili did, so did require a modicum of forethought. Otherwise, the whole thing took about 25 minutes, if that. And Kiddo liked it, which is always a shock. Plus, there were lots of leftovers to pack for my lunches.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The fake farm and the real farm

I have just signed up for a Community-Sponsored Agriculture (CSA) program with Hilltop Farms for next year, and I really can't wait until April to start picking up produce! Just imagine the recipes I'm going to have to create. Mmmmm.

I've been wanting to do this for a while, but never remembered to do the signing up in November when most CSA programs fill up. Strangely, this year that's exactly when I thought of it. Neat!

We went to a completely different kind of farm "experience" yesterday. I started a new job on Wednesday, and managed to snag an invite to the Fall corporate day out at a place called Hill Ridge Farms. They don't seem to do much actual farming here anymore (except maybe some corn, hay and pumpkins to support the real enterprise), it's more of a farm theme park. No matter -- Kiddo had a great time on the hayride and the little train, and I got to schmooze a bit. Hub actually did a much better job at the schmoozing than I did - occasionally the Scot comes out for a blether.

Regardless, we did pick up a nice fresh pumpkin. I have visions of a real pumpkin pie dancing in my head. With fresh ginger? More mmmmmm.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Stuffed Chicken Breasts, Parmesan Orzo and Lemony Broccoli

Well, even though I started a new job today, I still cooked. My fabulous Hub seemed to sense that it would calm and center me after my first commute/cubicle/commute day in over three years. He reminded me of something I usually like to do in the summer -- grill chicken breasts stuffed with ham and cheese. Except this time we both came up with some twists that made it fantastic. He did the shopping with Kiddo after picking him up from daycare, and also bought a very nice bottle of French wine (going over our usual $14/bottle top limit) as a celebration.

This amount will only serve 3 as opposed to my usual 4 -- but it's very easy to expand.

And for once, this is an entire menu. The sides are super-easy and can be used with almost any entree.

3 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
2 oz chevre -- Hub found some already flavored with lemon zest, but if its not pre-flavored you can add the zest of one lemon or the juice from 1/2 lemon to a similar effect
6 large leaves of Basil
3-6 slices Prosciutto (depending on the size of the slices)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 cup orzo
1 tblsp. olive oil
1 oz grated fresh parmesan
2 small heads broccoli, flowers only
juice from 1/2 lemon

  1. Light the grill
  2. Put 2 quarts of water on to boil for the pasta
  3. In a small bowl, combine the chevre, salt, pepper and lemon zest or juice (if using) with a fork
  4. Pound the chicken breasts out to a relatively even thickness
  5. With a sharp knife, butterfly the breasts, making sure to leave a solid "seam" on one side, and open them up.
  6. On each breast, place 1 basil leaf (or several smaller ones to cover the side), 1/3 of the cheese mixture, 1 or 2 slices of prosciutto and then cover with another basil leaf. Close the chicken breast.
  7. Grill the breast over medium/low heat for about seven minutes a side. Don't overcook.
  8. Put the orzo into the boiling water, cook according to package directions
  9. Squeeze the juice of the 1/2 lemon over the broccoli in a microwave-proof dish, and use the vegetable setting on your microwave. If you don't have a vegetable setting, cook on med heat for only about 3 minutes.
  10. When the orzo is done, drain and combine with the olive oil and parmesan.