Thursday, November 23, 2006

Lazy Thanksgiving

Often in the hecticness of two working parents, it's easy to forget how completely blessed I am. I have two wonderful families -- mine and Phil's; two healthy, good kids; a job that I generally like and that keeps us from wondering where the mortgage payment will come from; great friends who are loyal and consistent, even if we can't get together as often as we'd like. It's beautiful to me that there's a national holiday to celebrate all that we have and all that we're grateful for, and that the celebration centers around food. Lots of food. I love it.

Today's going to be pretty low-key, and the meal's low-effort. It's just us, M & T, and Phil's parents for the day. We're having a bigger family gathering on Saturday with Phil's side of the family -- we won't be going to Michigan to see my family until Christmas.

I've been passing holiday menus back and forth with a couple of friends, and have decided my day is going to be the easiest and laziest of all. I think the food will be great, though. Here's what we're having:

  • Curried pecans, olives, and a vegetable tray: Olives are purchased, I made the curried pecans yesterday (I'll post the recipe later this week), and Phil's mom is bringing the vegetable tray. So it's all done.
  • Grilled Cornish game hens stuffed with wild rice stuffing: I brined the game hens overnight because a co-worker said it makes them incredibly flavorful. Phil's consulting a great grilling book called Taming the Flame to figure out how to keep a flame going for 90 minutes. I need to make the stuffing and stuff the birds, but the stuffing's a cinch, and there are only five little birds to stuff.
  • Cranberry relish: Just a low-fat mixture of a bag of cranberries, 2 peeled and seeded oranges, 1 cup of chopped scallions, and 2 Tbsp sugar. Whir it up in a blender or food processor until it's a smoothish consistency with little bits of fruit still left in it. I made this yesterday.
  • Waldorf salad: Phil's mom is bringing this. She makes a mean Waldorf salad that I think might have derived from a recipe in her high school Home Ec class; you don't mess with the classics.
  • Roasted Brussels sprouts: I just have to cut them from the stalk, pour onto a big baking dish, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with kosher salt. Then bake at 400 degrees for about 35 minutes, sprinkle with more salt, and serve.
  • Roasted potatoes: Same as the Brussels srouts except I'll add some minced garlic and bake for about an hour. So those will bake together.
  • Homemade bread: Phil's dad is a fantastic baker and is bringing some great bread. He even made a couple little loaves for the table to go with the "little chickens" (as M calls them) we're having for supper.
  • Crustless pumpkin pie: I made this yesterday. It's low-fat, smells great, and the recipe's here. Can't wait. Phil's mom is bringing some whipped cream to go with.
  • Apple crisp: Like the roasted vegetables, this is a Barefoot Contessa recipe. I made the sugar mix to sprinkle on the cut-up apples yesterday and put it in a little bag. I also made up the topping and put it in another bag. So today I'll just cut the apples, add a little lemon juice, mix it with the flavored sugar, pour it in the casserole, top with the second pre-made mix, and pop it in the oven.

I'm seeing some cranberry wine and good socializing in my future...

I'll post tomorrow about how it all went. If you get a chance, post about your Thanksgiving.

I hope you have a great day!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

STUPID Blogspot!

So I did something in this blogger window and poof! my entry disappeared. Never to return. So here's the short of it:

Gingerbread House. Horrid. Never again. M ditched me to watch a Max and Ruby cartoon and I half-heartedly made the worst-looking house you could imagine. Sloppy sloppy sloppy. And I consumed about half the big tube of pure-sugar icing that came with the kit and reeled from the sugar high and then crash all afternoon.

Fortunately, the lamb stew was fabulous so salvaged the day. It was incredibly simple and not theme-y as lamb dishes can be (minty, super-sweet, heavy Indian influences). This was just a great meal that let the slow-cooked lamb shine. We all loved it except T, who's decided he's now giving up solid food. His loss.

If you're feeling lamby this weekend, you might want to try it before the turkey glut starts. Here's how.

Lamb Stew a la Kitchel (with help from Mark Bittman)

1 Tbsp. or so olive oil
1 2-pound or so lamb shoulder roast, trimmed of hard fat and cut into 1 or 1-1/2 inch cubes
Salt and pepper
1 medium onion, chopped
1 head garlic, separated but not peeled
1 bay leaf
About 1 Tbsp. lamb or other seasoning (I used lamb seasoning from Penzey's Spices)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup or so leftover red wine
1 cup or so water
Some potatoes -- I used about 4 medium-sized red -- unpeeled, cut in half, and then sliced into thinnish slices

In a Dutch oven-type pot, heat up the olive oil over medium-high heat. Without overcrowding the pot, brown the lamb pieces in the hot oil, a few pieces at a time. When pieces are nicely browned, remove them. Once all of them are browned, add the lamb back to the pot with the onion. Stir this around for a bit (5 minutes or so) so that the onion can soften. Now add in everything else. Bring the pot to almost boiling, then lower the heat so that it's just kind of simmering nicely. Cover it and let it simmer away for an hour or so -- until the lamb is cooked through. If it gets too dry, add some more wine or water. While you're eating, fish out the garlic cloves; the garlic squooshes out of the skins nicely and tastes delicious on crusty bread.

A couple notes:

  • Phil and I both agreed that this was fabulous but a bit brown. So next time (and there will be a next time) I'm adding some fresh or frozen peas in the last 10 or so minutes.
  • Also, a couple years ago I was feeling flush and sprung for a Le Crueset Dutch oven. I'm not snobby about kitchenware, but this thing really is amazing despite the staggering price. (I got mine on, so the price was shocking but not staggering.) For dishes like this one, it browns meat perfectly, and it cooks stew well without scorching anything. Target now has a line of enamel-covered cast iron knock-offs that retail for about $40, and I bet work basically as well.

I'm still a little honked off at Blogspot, so I'm signing off before the computer blows.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

This Whole Blogging Thing Is New to Me, So...

Yesterday my sister-in-law told me I need to set up my blog so that anyone can comment, not just Blogspot members. And I said, oh, no, no, you can't do that; I know it's annoying, but that's just the way Blogspot works. Then I checked the settings, and it turns out I just needed to select "anyone" on one of the drop-down lists and voila! Anyone can leave comments. Who knew?

Now if I can just figure out how to delete spam comments, like yesterday's about hot, funny female robots.

T's taking a nap and M and I are going to tackle the gingerbread kit from Costco that he begged for. He'll lose interest in 10 minutes and I'll spend my afternoon using icing to glue Sprees to the house. Just wait...

Lamb stew tonight. If it turns out, I'll post the recipe.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Second-Chance Foods and a Plea for Ideas

Election night. The easy but lovely soup. I even told a friend I'd drop some by for her. Then I ended up needing to stay late at work and work more when I got home. I didn't feel like eating or cooking -- even cooking the minimal-effort meal I'd planned. So Phil got out some soy sauce, olive oil, vinegar, and Chinese five-pepper spice and stir-fried up some leftover chicken breast, broccoli, and cauliflower. He heated up some leftover couscous to put under our stir-fry. It was wonderful; he's quite the master with the spices. I'm still planning to make the soup, but I can't imagine it's going to be better than that makeshift, fridge-cleaning meal.

Meanwhile, yesterday I was in our east coast office for a one-day trip, and I got this e-mail on my Blackberry from Amy, which made me sorry I had an airport meal in my future:

"Last Monday I made turkey stock for gravy for the upcoming holiday. Anytime I see turkey parts in the market I've learned to buy them because when I actually get around to wanting to make stock, I can't find a cut up turkey anywhere in a 5-miles radius. So I made the stock using wings and legs, which of course are so super meaty because turkeys are so freakin' big, that the idea of giving the cooked turkey parts to the dog or, heaven forbid, tossing them out of sheer laziness after is kind of unthinkable. So, i just make the filling for turkey pot pie for dinner tonight using what i had in the fridge - 1 leek, the rest of a bunch of carrots, some celery, thyme I've been drying from the garden, the rest of a head of broccoli I bought at the farmer's market last weekend, salt and pepper. Tossed the cut-up turkey in flour, added it to the cooked vegetables and poured in a can of vegetable broth. This is tonight's dinner. "

This was so resourceful. I know how well Amy cooks, so I know that the pot-pie was delicious. And it used things she had on hand that would probably have been chucked in a couple days when pulled, limp and fuzzy, from the back of the fridge -- at least, it would have if it were my fridge.

So between the delicious stir-fry and the airport coveting of Amy and Dan's dinner, I started thinking of some other ways I have used leftovers and need to remember to use them. Please, chime in with some other ideas; I'm just learning all of this, and I know there are a million tricks I've not thought of.

  • Fried Rice: Stir-fry leftover rice up with a little liquid, a beat-up egg, soy sauce, a splash of sesame oil, and leftover vegetables and/or meat.
  • Faux Sesame Noodles: Cook spaghetti or other noodles (or use leftover, but you'll have to heat them in boiling water first. Drain, and while the noodles are still hot, stir in a glop of creamy peanut butter, a little vegetable or sesam oil, soy sauce, some red-pepper flakes and whatever other herbs and spices you like, and some leftover vegetables. If you've got scallions around, cut some up and sprinkle them on top. Maybe add some sesame seeds. If you have time to wait, stick it in the fridge until it's chilled. Back when I was single and my metabolism wasn't so creeping so could handle many dinners of pasta, oil, and peanut butter, I lived on these.
  • Clear-the-Crisper Vegetable Soup: Any or all of this can be made from fresh, frozen, or cooked vegetables. Just add the vegetables in order of how much cooking they need. Heat a couple teaspoons of olive oil in a soup pot; add a cut-up onion and a cut-up carrot or two. A couple crushed cloves of garlic. Stir it around for about 5 minutes, then add about 6 cups of broth (whatever's around), and all the slow-moving vegetables you have in your fridge. Let it gently boil for 5 or so more minutes. Add in about a teaspoon of dried herbs -- whatever you like -- and some salt and pepper. Add some leftover meat if you're feeling crazy.
  • Quiche: M just kicked an egg and milk allergy, so I'm thinking there's going to be a lot of quiche in our future since I love it so much and haven't really eaten it for years. The basic recipe involves lining a pie pan with a pie crust. You'll need to pre-bake the pie crust for about 15 or so minutes. Then add about a cup of grated cheese and a cup of other ingredients like ham, cooked vegetables, whatever. Then mix up 4 jumbo eggs, 1-1/2 cups milk, a little salt and pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg or mace, and pour it into the crust. Bake the whole thing at 400 degrees until it starts to get brown and poufy. Turn the oven to 350 and bake for another 20 or so minutes. If you're feeling lazy, skip the crust. If you're feeling extra frugal, skip the traditional pie crust and make a leftover rice crust with about 1-1/2 cups leftover rice, 1 egg, and about an ounce of grated cheese.
  • Shepherd's Pie: This dish was made up to use up leftovers -- those frugal Europeans! It's basically a casserole made with a base of leftover meat and vegetables cooked with a little flour for thickening, a bit of milk (maybe 1/2 cup), and some canned tomatoes. You simmer it all until it's a nice consistency: Not dried out, but not overly soupy. Then you put the whole thing in a casserole dish and cover it with mashed potatoes. Broil the lot for about 5 minutes -- just long enough to get the top of the potatoes a little crispy. (A couple weeks ago I made and froze shepherd's pie filling from ground lamb. My plan is when we're in a shepherd's pie mood, I'll thaw out the filling, dump it into a casserole, cover it with mashed potatoes, and bake it at 350 or so until it's all warm through. But if you have any aversion to the smell of lamb, like I sometimes do, I strongly suggest you not do this at 6 a.m.; I was awfully glad to get the Ziploc put away after 30 minutes of lamb aroma first thing in the morning.)
  • Pizza Crust Casserole: While I haven't gotten the exact recipe from my Uncle Joe-by-marriage, I believe this involves scrounging the uneaten pie crusts from church socials, cutting off the bitten parts and then cutting the "good" bits into chunks and freezing them. When ready to use, throw together with some other stuff -- eggs, maybe? -- and bake until the casserole is solid. Serve to family. Wait for raves. [For more, see this post.]
Thanks, Amy and Phil, for being resourceful enough this week to get me thinking about ways not to waste food -- and to eat well while not wasting it. (Amy, if you get a chance, can you post your pie-crust recipe, which is the best I've ever had, and for which I keep losing the recipe.)

Okay... the Plea for Ideas.

This year we're going to go fairly light with the holiday gifts in my family. Money's tighter in some segments, so we figure we'll just do cheap, thoughtful gifts like cookie mixes. So I'm looking for cheap, thoughtful gifts. Some thoughts I had were homemade mustard, Chai tea mix (I'll post the recipe because it's really lovely), knitted dishclothes (I'll post the pattern)... you get the idea. If you have any thoughts, can you post them in the comments or e-mail me? I'll post any ideas that come in so that anyone reading the blog can benefit, too.

It's Friday night and Phil rented The Notorious Betty Page, a movie I saw on pay-per-view in a hotel, but such a beautiful film (I covet her clothes -- especially the sundress Betty wears when she meets Bunny Yeager), that I'm going to mosey on up and hang out with my husband.

Have a great weekend!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Vote Early, Vote Often

This has been a hectic work/life couple weeks, and I've been a bad blogger. While I really want to focus on food and families with this blog and leave the politics to my husband's blog, which pretty much speaks for both of us, I can't urge you strongly enough to get to the polls tomorrow. Mid-term elections are typically poorly attended and barely acknowledged, but this year the election is so important regardless of what side of the political fence you would prefer to pay your taxes on.

If you like where things are and you want them to continue, it's important for you to get out; your party is struggling right now. If you're unhappy with where things are and who currently controls the House and Senate, your vote can actually change things. Again, this blog is about food, but food is politics -- it's the basis of how we survive, and legislation affects things like what chemicals it can contain, how much of it we send to starving countries, and whether U.S. children in poorer families get school-funded nutritious hot meals before going to class. Food and politics are interwoven in the most basic way.

I'm expecting Phil and I will be huddled around the TV tomorrow night, watching the results come in. It's truly anyone's guess what's going to happen tomorrow; I was a bit cocky two years ago based on exit polls that said my candidate was going to win, and, well, he didn't. I'm taking nothing for granted Tuesday night.

Which means we're going to need some good, comforting, fall food to get us through the evening. I'm planning on Rachael Ray's Pumpkin and Black Bean Soup and some good bread. Possibly our last bottle of Cloud Nine Pinot Noir (a splurge for us at $18, but an amazing wine bargain).

I drank the Rachael Ray Kool-Aid five years ago while on maternity leave after I saw her make a chicken/tomato/cremini mushroom dish that was fabulous. Since then, as she's pumped out a book a week , become a bit of a parody of her bubbly self, and started featuring dishes like "Tailgate Nachos" topped with packaged cheese and cut-up hot dogs, I've been less enamored. Three different people have told me this recipe's great, though, so we're risking it. Don't let us down, Rachael; it's going to be a nail-biter of a night:

Rachael Ray's Pumpkin and Black Bean Soup

2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 cups canned or packaged vegetable stock (I'll probably use chicken stock)
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes in juice
1 can (15 ounces) black beans, drained
2 cans (15 ounces) pumpkin puree
1 cup heavy cream*
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Coarse salt
Fresh chives, chopped or snipped, for garnish

Heat a soup pot over medium heat. Add the oil, and when it gets hot, add the onion. Saute onions 5 minutes. Add broth, tomatoes, black beans, and pumpkin. Stir to combine ingredients and bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and stir in cream, curry, cumin, cayenne, and salt, to taste. Simmer 5 minutes, adjust seasonings and serve garnished with chopped chives.

* After knitting weekends, weekends in NY discovering new cocktails, this past weekend in Chicago to see King Tut (post to come), and Halloween, I'm feeling pretty bloated and Orson Welles-in-the-70s-like. I understand you can substitute fat-free evaporated milk for heavy cream, which much to Phil's chagrin, I'm going to do. Keep your fingers crossed it will still be as comforting.

Now get to those polls!