My neighbors are done bringing me dinners. Tonight I cooked! Pork with peanut-apricot crust and sweet potato fries. The food was good. The cooking was heaven.
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One surprising joy of parenting a full-day school kid is preparing lunch. I’m absolutely loving putting together Sammy’s lunch each day. Because of the twins I haven’t been cooking at all, but putting a little lunch together gives me a small version of that value. I enjoy trying to make Sam’s lunch just a little bit different each day, and to put a fun variety of things in her lunchbox. There’s a real challenge in doing this day after day, especially when my grocery shopping is a chaotic mess and the choices in the kitchen are limited.
Today, she’s having half a turkey and butter sandwich (one of her favorites), a wedge of Laughing Cow cheese (which she picked out at the market), a few snap pea pods with a tub of leftover ranch dressing from Popeye’s Chicken (I have 2 ounce cups with lids for ranch dressing on order from Amazon but I was pleased to have figured out a way to do it in the meantime), a small plum, a leftover fortune cookie, and a container of shelf-safe milk.
Someday she’ll prepare her own lunch and I’m sure I’ll be relieved, but for now, I love this little way of caring for her.
It’s time for Jewish Christmas dinner!
I’m spending most of the day cooking today. It’s something I look forward to about Christmas. Most of the food is really simple, but somehow, it’s all very time-consuming. But as long as I have some Christmas tunes on, and as long as I have a plan, it’s kind of like a vacation.
“Mommy, I need help cutting this foam heart into teeny tiny pieces!”
“Go ask Daddy – I’m cooking.”
“Honey, where is the doo-dad that you never, ever use, but which I can never, ever find?”
“I don’t know but I can’t help you – I’m cooking.”
“Adam, the cat is hungry and I’m cooking.”
“Adam, the dog needs to go out and I’m cooking.”
Again, I’m making matzo ball soup as a kind of appetizer. I’ll use real schmaltz again this year, but I’ll prepare it this way, which looks like fun!
The website with the schmaltz preparation also includes a couple of ideas for what to do with it. I can’t resist trying the salt and pepper kugel. My understanding is that kugel is basically egg noodles – yuk. But this recipe calls for schmaltz and chicken livers. I’ll do this instead of the potato latkes. When Adam heard about this plan he said, “Not only do you disappoint me with no latkes but you add insult to injury and you’re going to serve me LIVER? Ack!” I might have to ask Santa to bring him an extra present this year to make up for this offense!
Finally, I’ll try this winter squash recipe. I hope it’s not as bland as the broccoli casserole I made last year. I don’t know what it is about Jewish food, but it’s all beige, and it’s all bland.
And so I’m off to the kitchen! Merry Christmas to all!
This recipe was inspired by the leftover feta cheese from Rational Jenn’s yummy Greek Chicken recipe. I don’t use feta cheese very often but I had a whole chunk threatening to go bad in my fridge, along with some flattened turkey breast, so I put this together with some other stuff I had on-hand and it was quite good. It also meets the Amy requirement of being fast and easy, and you don’t need a side dish.
Amy’s Turkey Scallopini
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- ¼ teaspoon dry mustard
- ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
- ¼ cup honey
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 lemon
- 8 slices bacon
- 1.25 lbs flattened turkey breast for scallopini (mine came in 6 slices)
- Feta cheese (I used about 6 oz.)
- Bag of baby spinach
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. (Actually, you should really use the broiler but, get this: The guy who sold us this house took all of the appliances for himself, replaced them with new ones, but bought the cheapest stuff you can get so that I have an oven with NO BROILER. This is also why I had to replace the hot water heater, the microwave, and the washer and dryer in a period of 3 months earlier this year. Anyway…)
Make up the honey glaze by mixing together first 7 ingredients in a small bowl. (I didn’t measure so the amounts are a guess. I kept adding more honey until it tasted good, and next time, I’d use Grey Poupon instead of the dry mustard, but I was out.)
Juice the lemon into a separate small bowl.
Fry up the bacon in a large pan until crispy. Remove bacon from pan and set aside. Spoon about half the bacon grease into a separate large pot for the spinach. Do not discard grease in the bacon pan.
Coat the turkey in the glaze and fry it up in the bacon pan (yes, with all that bacon grease) on medium high heat. Two minutes per side should do it. You’ll probably need to do two batches.
As the batches are finished, put the turkey into a 9X12 glass or Pyrex baking pan (or preferably, a BROILER-SAFE PAN WHICH I DO NOT OWN AND HAVE NO NEED FOR–ARG!). Break the bacon slices in half (or whatever works) and lay them on top of the turkey. Crumble feta cheese on top. Sprinkle the whole thing with lemon juice (I only used about half but next time I’d put the whole lemon on there) and pop it in the oven (BROILER!) for about 5 minutes (1-2 MINUTES!) – just enough to soften (MELT!) the cheese. Seriously, the oven method threatens to overcook the turkey and all you really want to do is melt that cheese a bit.
While the turkey is in the oven, heat up the remaining bacon grease on medium-low and dump in the spinach. Cover and cook for 2-3 minutes, until just wilted. Add salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste.
(If everyone in your house likes spinach, go ahead and pre-cook it and put it on the turkey before the bacon and cheese. I keep it separate to accommodate others in my household, but it is excellent when you put it all together.)
Finally, call suey, like this guy:
Here is another super-easy, inexpensive recipe that I created recently. What makes it good is the combination of flavors, not a lot of fancy chopping, searing, or other time-consuming cooking. Also, I don’t think proportions are all that important.
I can’t tell you exactly how much meat I used because the packaging is gone, but it was a bone-in lamb shoulder roast that I got from the farmer’s market. I’m pretty sure it would work with any kind of lamb roast, though. We ended up with 3-4 servings so I figure it had about 2 pounds of meat on it. We ate it with mashed potatoes.
Amy’s Lamb Stew
Put the following into a crock pot on low for about 8 hours. About an hour before serving, break up the meat:
- 2-3 pounds of lamb roast
- 1 onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, smashed/minced
- carrots (I used about 5 very small ones and left them about 1-2 inches long)
- 1 cup chicken broth
- bay leaf
- salt and pepper
This week I’m going to try Rational Jenn’s Greek Chicken. It’s just my kind of recipe.
I made up this simple recipe for beef stew the other night when I had cubed beef that had to be used soon, but no other traditional stew ingredients - only the ingredients that I keep on hand at all times. It was delicious! It has either a Latin or an Italian feel to it, instead of the typical English style with potatoes, carrots and celery. This is a dish that I think deserves to be served with mashed potatoes, but if you’re anti-potato, it certainly can stand alone.
Amy’s Beef Stew
1 yellow onion, coarsely chopped
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound stew beef
1 can Rotel diced tomatoes with green chilies
1 cup beef broth
1/4 cup red wine
Salt and pepper
6-8 oz. frozen cut green beans
In a wide, large pot, cook six strips of bacon over medium heat, turning often. When crispy, remove bacon and set aside. Keep all bacon fat in pot.
Fry onion in bacon fat over medium heat until tender, a few minutes.
Add meat and garlic. Stir occasionally and cook until meat is browned, a few minutes.
Add tomatoes, beef broth, wine, and a bit of salt and pepper (trust me, it doesn’t need any other seasonings with the Rotel tomatoes).
Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for an hour.
Crumble the bacon. Add bacon and frozen green beans. Return to a boil, cover, and simmer another 10 minutes or so. Taste and add seasonings if necessary. If sauce is too thin, boil uncovered for a few minutes and then let stand until sauce thickens.
Over the last year or so since I gave up my unfounded fear of dietary fat, I’ve had to learn new cooking habits. I think what I’ve learned might be of interest, especially to anyone out there who cooks regularly for a family. Just to be clear – we are not on any kind of paleo diet here. We’ve just allowed ourselves to eat more of the high-fat foods we want (especially meat and butter), and we’ve eliminated meals that are primarily carbohydrate-based like any kind of pasta or rice dish. We still eat most of those carby foods, we just don’t eat much of them.
What I’ve found is that I spend a lot less time shopping and cooking, I cook real meals more regularly, I actually eat more vegetables, and my family enjoys the food more than ever.
I make real dinners almost every night. Sure, there is the occasional mac’n'cheese with hot dogs or fish sticks and frozen peas (and we enjoy those things!) but most nights I cook a meat and a fresh vegetable or salad – no more and no less.
I rarely use recipes. I don’t often make casseroles or anything that requires more than a few ingredients or has to go in the oven for a long time. I make those things on occasion to keep it interesting, but the planning and shopping and preparing of those kinds of meals takes too much time, and we don’t enjoy them any more than our meat and veggies.
Lunch is usually leftovers, but Sammy and I also eat a lot of fast food lunches because it’s fun to go out and we can’t afford real restaurants very often. I feel just fine about it because I know we’re eating well at home, and really, I think fast food is unfairly vilified.
Because I’m cooking differently, I’ve gradually had to revise my kitchen staples – the ingredients that I keep on-hand at all times. Now, I can make any meat or vegetable delicious with these items:
- Canned Parmesan cheese
- Sliced cheddar (for burgers)
- Heavy cream (I now buy it by the quart)
- Whole milk
- Bottled lemon juice (for emergencies since my lemons seem to go bad so quickly)
- Minced garlic in a jar (love garlic, hate chopping)
- Various mustards
- Ketchup (used rarely, but important to have)
- Rice vinegar
- Balsamic vinegar
- Olive oil
- Red wine
- Soy sauce
- Worcestershire sauce
- Sesame oil
- Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning (a must for steaks)
- Canned tomatoes (although I rarely use them)
- Coconut milk (again, used rarely, but I like to have it in case I want to make a curry sauce)
- Currants (for salad)
- Sliced almonds (for salad)
- A few salad dressings, always including ranch, which is like magic sauce for kids (if we ate salad more often, I’d make my own dressing but we only go through a few bottles a year so it’s not worth it)
- All the common dried herbs and seasonings
This is usually how I shop and cook: At the grocery store, I pick out a few meats that are on sale and whatever vegetables tickle my fancy. (I always buy the bagged lettuce and spinach because there is no way I’m washing that stuff if I don’t have to.) At this point, I have no idea what I’ll do with any of it. The other day I bought a cabbage for the first time in years, and had no problem finding a great way to cook it with the things I keep on-hand. When you allow yourself to use fat in cooking, you don’t need so many ingredients because fat tastes good!
At home, I make a plan for the next few dinners, which is usually based on the expiration dates of the meats or the perishability of the vegetables. But the plan is something in my head along the lines of, “Steaks, pork, chicken then burgers; asparagus, spinach, salad, then broccoli.” A half hour before I want to serve dinner, I go in the kitchen and think about how I’ll prepare everything. I rarely take more than 45 minutes to make dinner, but 30 minutes is the norm. Here is something I made for just Sammy and myself last week when Adam was on a business trip. Because I made potatoes, this took a bit more than 30 minutes:
- Lamb chops with rosemary and thyme, pan-fried in butter, and with a red-wine and cream sauce
- Baby Yukon Gold potatoes, sliced and fried in butter with garlic powder, onion powder, and lots of salt and pepper (I don’t make potatoes often, but I love these with lamb)
- Boiled cauliflower, smashed up (but not mashed), with butter, cream, Parmesan cheese, garlic powder, and lots of salt and pepper
And here is where I really have to brag. My daughter eats just about everything I make. She eats every kind of meat I’ve ever made (although not every preparation of it). She actually likes spinach! She even gobbled up that cabbage I mentioned. The reason is probably that all of it is cooked with generous amounts of fat, in one form or another. It’s just so much easier to cook and enjoy food when you realize that fat is not the enemy. And Sammy loves fat, as I’ve mentioned before.
The bottom line is that carby foods are not the only convenience foods. It’s faster and easier to grill up a steak than it is to boil spaghetti and put canned sauce on it! It’s just a matter of habit and mindset.
When I was a kid, one of my dad’s favorite snacks was “C’s and B’s,” also known as crackers and butter. He would slather butter onto saltines as an appetizer before dinner and eat them with shameless enjoyment.
I loved C’s and B’s until I bought into the myth of how fat is bad for us and how we need to reduce our dietary cholesterol. Then, I was horrified at my dad’s reckless behavior. How could he eat so much butter? I denied myself C’s and B’s for many years.
But I’ve recently come to see the light and I am no longer afraid of fat, thanks to Gary Taubes. (I’m not afraid of carbs either, though, as he would have me be.) I’ve started cooking with butter and cream, and I use as much mayonnaise as I please.
So when Sammy asked for crackers with butter on them, I didn’t bat an eye. Now, C’s and B’s are one of her favorite snacks. I think my dad will like to hear that.
When I was growing up, my family usually had two big dinners for Christmas, one at my parents’ house on Christmas Eve, and one at my aunt’s house on Christmas Day. My mom and my aunt are both great cooks, but despite my aunt’s fantastic shrimp cocktail appetizer and chocolate mousse dessert, by the time the evening of the 25th rolled around I felt like Christmas was over. Santa had come and gone, the presents had all been unwrapped, and everyone was a bit tired.
Christmas Eve was always the big event for me. Even as a child, I think I loved Christmas Eve as much as I loved Christmas morning. Christmas Eve is when we sang Christmas carols and felt the magical anticipation of what was to come the next morning. Christmas Eve is when the kids would plot how we would stay up late enough to catch our parents playing Santa Claus, while the adults got toasted and argued about politics, God, and football.
So as an adult, I decided Christmas dinner would always be on Christmas Eve in my house. And a few years ago, I stumbled upon the idea of cooking traditional Jewish food for Christmas dinner. I think I had the itch to make a beef brisket and the idea just blossomed from there. That year I made brisket, potato latkes, a buttery noodle dish called kugel, and a fruit dish I’ve forgotten the name of, although I do remember it had Manischewitz wine in it. That mostly-full bottle of wine sat in our pantry for over a year, mocking Adam by bringing back all of those painful Passover memories.
Anyway, I fell in love with the idea of making Jewish Christmas Dinner a tradition in the Mossoff home. I was looking for some kind of food-theme that would carry over from year to year, and I’m not really crazy about turkey or any of the other traditional foods. I also love the humorous dig at the supposed religious nature of the holiday!
That was in 2005. Now, finally, in 2009, we are having Christmas at home again and I’m getting my second chance to cook Jewish Christmas Dinner. I spent 3 days planning the menu and making my shopping list. Today, I do the grocery shopping, and tomorrow, I start cooking. I had to create a written schedule for the cooking because so much requires advance preparation (brisket is much better after sitting in the fridge for a day). Here is the menu:
- Matzo ball soup (appetizer)
- Beef brisket
- Broccoli soufflé
- Potato latkes
- Jewish apple cake (dessert)
And check out the cooking schedule:
- Noon – 1pm: Prepare and brown beef brisket
- 1pm: Get brisket into crockpot on high
- 2pm: Turn crockpot to low
- 4 – 5pm: Make chicken soup and refrigerate
- 7 – 7:30pm: Remove brisket from crockpot, separate meat and veggies, and refrigerate
- 10am – noon: Make apple cake
- Noon – 12:30pm: Prepare matzo balls (don’t forget the schmaltz from soup) and refrigerate (for at least a half hour)
- 1 – 2pm: Prepare latkes batter and refrigerate
- 2:15 – 2:30pm: Take 6 eggs out of fridge and separate. Keep whites at room temperature.
- 2:30 – 3:30pm: Boil matzo balls and reheat soup; add matzo balls to soup and cook for a few minutes
- 3:30pm: Serve matzo ball soup
- 4 – 5pm: Prepare broccoli soufflé
- 5pm: Put soufflé in oven
- 5 – 5:30pm: Prepare brisket and veggies in 9X13 pan for oven
- 5:30pm: Put meat in oven with soufflé
- 5:30 – 6pm: Fry latkes
- 6 – 6:15pm: Make thicker sauce for meat if necessary
- 6:15: Dinner is served!
I am so excited to cook all of this good food! And now there are 3 of us to eat it instead of just 2.
I can’t remember where I got this recipe, but I never cook anything without my own modifications and this appears to have been simplified in a typical Amy way, so I think it’s ok for me to post it as my own.
I’m not a big fan of chicken. Boring! But this super-easy recipe makes the tastiest chicken I’ve ever had. I’ve made it 3 or 4 times in the past few months, and that’s saying something. (I improvise so much that I have a hard time making anything more than once.)
1 yellow onion
About 3.5 pounds of chicken thighs, bone in or out (as much as you can fit in the pan)
Dried parsley flakes
- Preheat oven to 350.
- Corsely chop an onion and place at bottom of 9X12 lightly greased baking pan.
- Coat chicken in salt and pepper, a little garlic, and parsley. Put on top of onion and drizzle a little olive oil on top. Bake for 20 minutes.
- Add ¼ cup red wine and ¼ cup chicken broth to bottom of pan and continue to bake for 40 more minutes.
You can also just cook a few thighs in a pan using the same principle: brown them in butter and herbs (I used onion powder instead of onion), then add the liquid, cover and cook until done. Also, you can increase the liquid (within reason) if you like more sauce.
You’ve got to love a recipe that starts out like this:
A classic American dish, this preparation takes full advantage of every delicious bit of the lobster.
Kill with a knife, [see page] 491,
3 lobsters (1 1/2 pounds each)
When they are still, separate the tail and …
From Joy of Cooking
recipe for Lobster Newburg
On page 491, it does indeed tell you exactly how to kill a lobster by stabbing it in the neck. It even gives you this handy tip:
[After stabbing the lobster], to avoid muscular contractions, you can put the lobster in the freezer for a few minutes until it is still.
And no, I haven’t tried it yet. Maybe next Thanksgiving…
I think I’ve entered the hungry stage of pregnancy. I get hungry at the beginning and gain 10 pounds before I start showing. After the first 2 months, the relentless hunger ebbs and I just need a few extra snacks each day. That’s not normal. You’re not supposed to gain any weight for quite a while. I found in the previous pregnancies, however, that in the first 8 weeks or so I needed to have a big meal every 2 hours or I would get the shakes. It’s the same kind of reaction I have when I eat too much sugar without protein and fat. It will be interesting to see if a lower carb/higher fat diet this time around helps with this problem. I’m not on a super-low carb diet. I just cut out rice, pasta, and bread from my regular eating habits. I still eat popcorn and potatoes and occasionally, even potato chips, but I don’t eat carbs as a major portion of any meal.
If I can get through the first 2 months and only gain a few pounds, I’ll be on track for a more reasonable weight gain. With Sammy, I gained about 45 pounds, and that was on top of an extra 15 that was left over from the previous pregnancy. This time, I’m starting out 10 pounds over my normal (but still heavier than ideal) weight, so I’m already doing better.
But, oh, the food is calling! It’s actually quite a hassle. I was in school during my first trimester with Sammy and I remember having to eat in between every class. I love the food, but I hate the urgent, crazy feeling of starvation multiple times a day. I’m going to try to plan my lunches for the next month or so, so that I’m sure to get a lot of good meat without resorting to the fast food hamburgers that were my lifeline 3 years ago.
Lately, I’ve been enamored of simple recipes with very few ingredients. I made up this salmon recipe based on a suggestion from a friend to use heavy cream for sauces, instead of making a roux with flour. I’ve made this a few times now and it’s one of those “no fail” recipes – always good and always easy. I like to serve it with roasted asparagus.
- Season 2 or 3 salmon fillets in Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning (or some tasty seasoning of your choice)
- Heat 1 Tablespoon butter in a large frying pan on medium-high heat
- Swish the butter around and when it starts to bubble a bit, add 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- Once it’s hot, add the salmon
- Fry for about 3 minutes per side (Tip: cut off and remove the thinner parts before they get overcooked – it doesn’t look as nice, but it tastes better)
- Remove the salmon to a plate, turn the heat to low and then let the pan cool off a bit
- Add about 1/2 cup of heavy cream (I never measure), some lemon juice, and a dash of balsamic vinegar
- Stir, heat it through and reduce it if you like
- Season to taste (if you use Chachere’s, you won’t need any more seasoning) and pour over salmon to serve
Rational Jenn’s latest post about how she handles food issues in her family reminded me of my family’s new dinnertime rhyme:
Adam and Amy could eat no fat
Samantha could eat no lean
And so between the three of them
They licked the platter clean
I’m so glad I’ve been liberated from my fear of fat, or Sam would never have known this love of hers. The dog, on the other hand, is not so happy.
My first pet was a cat named Geddy who was a tabby-Siamese mix. He was orange and white like a tabby, but his short hair, markings and face (and his loud, demanding meow) reflected his Siamese heritage. He was so sweet that we often called him the “orange creamsicle.” Don’t you remember those orange popsicles with the cream inside? We had to put Geddy to sleep almost 3 years ago and I still miss him. He was an irreplaceable value to me.
Anyway, I’m a sucker for orange and cream now. This recipe is just a modification of something I found in Joy of Cooking, but I made it up in honor of my old cat. I don’t like sweet dishes much, but this one turned out delicious, with just a hint of orange/citrus. It was cheap and easy and I loved every bite. This one’s for you, Geddy!
Orange Cream Chicken Drumsticks
- Enough chicken drumsticks (or other parts you like) to fit in your biggest frying pan (I got 9 drumsticks in mine, probably about 2 pounds?)
- 2 Tablespoons butter
- 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1-2 Tablespoons minced garlic
- 1 Tablespoon honey
- Pinch of allspice
- 1 cup chicken stock (or less, to taste)
- 2 Tablespoons fresh squeezed orange juice (I used a lazy squeeze of one whole orange)
- 1/4 cup heavy cream (I might have used more)
- 1 Tablespoon balsamic vinaigrette
- Salt and pepper
Season your chicken with salt and pepper to taste.
Heat the butter and oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat until golden and fragrant. (I used the vegetable oil as recommended this time instead of my usual olive oil but I’m sure you can substitute any fat you like.)
Arrange chicken pieces skin side down in a single layer in the pan. Fry until the chicken is nicely browned on the bottom and detaches itself easily from the pan, about 6 minutes. Turn and repeat. Reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook the chicken, turning often, until the dark meat pieces excude clear juices when pricked, about 20 minutes more. (I had to do it more like 40, including some time with the lid on the pan, but I had reduced the heat to medium-low to keep the fat from burning. You must use your judgement, here.)
Remove the chicken to a platter and cover with aluminum foil (or put in a low oven) to keep warm.
Leave the fat in the pan, keeping the heat at medium, and add your garlic, honey, and allspice. Saute for a couple of minutes.
Increase the heat to high and add 1/2 cup chicken stock and the orange juice. This is where you need to use your judgment about how much liquid to add. The idea is to scrape the bottom of the pan for all the good brown stuff and boil the liquid for a while (5 minutes or so?) until you have a nice, condensed, fatty, tasty liquid of about 1/2 cup. I like a concentrated taste and reducing seems to take much longer than recipes call for, so I add less liquid, but the recipe called for a full cup so you might need it.
Then, add 1/4 cup heavy cream. I didn’t measure, but I think I used about that amount or maybe a bit more. Again, this is the art part. Add enough to make it creamy, but not enough to dilute the flavor. I like cream.
Boil until the sauce is slightly thickened, about 3 minutes (don’t let it boil too much…keep stirring.)
Add the vinegar and stir. Add salt and pepper and any other seasonings to taste. Right now, the sauce should taste STRONG. Remember, you are not eating it straight. If it is bland, you need to reduce and add spices.
Once you have a strong, absolutely delicious sauce, turn off the heat, pour it into a cup, and serve it with the chicken.
I’m trying to reduce carbs now, but this is one dish that goes well with mashed potatoes or anything else that you like to sop up sauce with.