Cooking Notes – June-July 2011

With the Man home, cooking is back in full swing. To be honest, I have no idea what I cooked for the first half of June before he came home, nor do I know which items I cooked in June and which in July, or what we actually ate for half those meals. Consider these notes a slap-dash retroactive attempt at record-keeping. For previous months’ notes, click on “Cooking Notes” in the Archive tab. As usual, newer items will be added in at the top of each list. We’re enjoying produce from our garden every day, sometimes with all three meals. I don’t record it, but there’s some variation on cucumbers or salad most lunches and suppers. We also enjoyed several meals out as a treat during the initial reintegration period.

Baking/Desserts

  • Chocolate-Chip Banana Bread – A friend mentioned that she adds a dollop of sour cream for moisture to boxed cake mixes. When my usual banana bread recipe (from Joy of Cooking) looked a little dry, I decided to try it. Oh. My. Goodness. The best banana bread I’ve ever had – moist, but holds together well without crumbling. I will be trying the sour cream technique with a lot of baked goods from here on out. A little goes a long way – perhaps an eighth or quarter cup at most?
  • Cheesecake – Used the “Cheesecake Cockaigne” recipe from Joy of Cooking. A delicious dense cheesecake, and very simple to make. We both agree that we prefer it plain without the recommended sour cream topping though.
  • Blueberry Syrup – I combined a few different recipes from the internet since blueberry syrup seems much less of an exact science than jams. This recipe used up the last products from our blueberry bushes, plus extras from our neighbor’s bushes and a handful  from the store. I canned all of it – two medium jars and four small jars waiting for cold winter mornings with pancakes.
  • Chocolate Muffins - My mother used to make these as a special breakfast treat a couple of times a year. They’re actually only very mildly chocolatey or sweet, so they don’t overwhelm first thing in the morning. I finally found my copy of her recipe, and made them at Carl’s request for a Sunday breakfast.
  • Butterscotch PuddingAfter making chocolate pudding from scratch for the first time this spring, I wanted to try making Carl’s favorite kind. I used the Joy of Cooking recipe, which was quite easy. It’s too sweet for me, but perfect for Carl’s tastes. Since butterscotch = butter melted with brown sugar, that’s no great surprise. Incidentally, I ran across this (delicious looking) recipe the next day: http://120dollarsfoodchallenge.com/2011/07/12/desserts-butterscotch-pudding/ . I had to laugh when the author stated: “Butterscotch pudding has an amazing number of variations. Firstly, in the US it’s not even a pudding – ask for a butterscotch pudding there and you will get a butterscotch baked custard. ” That’s what pudding is here – a custardy item, though usually made on the stove top. What’s pudding to her would be bread pudding or a sticky or molten cake here, I guess? I love how we all speak the same language, but the variations (especially in nouns) are just big enough yet just similar enough to be thoroughly confusing. I’ll have to see if I can convert that recipe over to cups and ounces – it looks amazing, whatever you call it!
  • Blueberry Muffins - A perfect breakfast for Independence Day. As a teenager at summer camp in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Carl used to compete in (and win!) the annual Length of the Lake swim, a five mile swim across the camp lake. As the exhausted kids climbed out of the water at the finish line camp staff rewarded them with blueberry muffins and hot chocolate. He loves those memories, so I’ve baked blueberry muffins as our special holiday breakfast treat since we were married. This version was the best I’ve tried. It’s going to be our standard recipe from here on out. The slight tang of lemon and the sweet crumble topping really boost this from good to amazing.
  • Raspberry Streusel Bars (twice!) – Can you tell we’re fully in the swing of summertime fruit desserts? If you try one new dessert this summer, choose these. Our state symphony came into town for an Independence Day concert in the park, followed by fireworks. We spread blankets on the grass with friends from church, and I baked these to share during the concert. They were a huge hit, with everyone going back for seconds (and thirds…and fourths) and friends asking for the recipe. Unlike a lot of fruit bars, these call for fresh raspberries as well as jam, producing a fresh fruity flavor. The two sticks of butter don’t hurt either… These are best within the first day, as the crispness starts to go after that. I left out the nuts since some of our friends don’t like them. Made them again for brunch at a friend’s house the next week.
  • Cornbread
  • Blackberry Jam and Triple Berry Jam – My best friend from church and her family just moved in across the street. Another church friend stayed with her temporarily while her husband hunted for housing at their new posting in another state. We made the best of the time with a canning party (just give us bonnets and call us Laura Ingalls Wilder). I picked up extra cans and lemons from the grocery store, one woman contributed several bags of blackberries she’d picked in her yard, the other chipped in with a few more berries from the freezer, and we were in business. Carl, meanwhile, got in some peaceful movie time without his delighted-to-have-a-husband-home wife clinging leech-like to his arm.
  • Buttermilk Biscuits – I think I’ve finally found “my” biscuit recipe. I grew up on baking-powder biscuits, but this recipe from the Martha Stewart Cookbook was the best I’ve ever tried.
  • Tortillas – These have little-to-no connection to the thin dry versions on grocery store shelves. Thick fresh tortillas are the best comfort food. Maybe there’s a little Mexican mixed in with my Danish-Norwegian-German-English-French-Welsh-Russian-Scottish blood? Incidentally, our children will be the ultimate mutts – all those nationalities plus a French-speaking Dad born in Canada of Romanian-Turkish-Greek-Jewish-English-Polish ancestry.
  • Raspberry-Almond Tart - The Man’s favorite dessert from his childhood in France: fresh fruit baked in a sweet and flavorful almond paste. This was his official “welcome home from deployment” dessert.

Main Meals/Sides

  • Bruschetta – Lots of garden produce in this one – diced tomatoes, basil, fresh mozzarella, garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper, plus diced radishes as a (pretty tasty) substitute for red onions. Mix together and let marinate, then serve on bread toasted in olive oil and rubbed with a sliced garlic clove. Salad on the side.
  • Avocado Deviled Eggs - Good! I added cumin and additional seasonings to taste. The avocados make the (already creamy) eggs even richer and more flavorful, and the cayenne adds a nice bit of zip. Served with sliced tomatoes on the side. This makes more filling than you can fit in the eggs. I used the extra for a sandwich the next day, with thin-sliced tomatoes. A very nice update on the traditional egg salad sandwich.
  • Ravioli – An “emergency” dish for us. I usually keep a sack in the freezer, and pull it out once every month or two for nights when we need a fast easy dinner. In this case, I mixed it up with some leftover homemade pesto, plus a salad, for a quick dinner together at the hospital when Carl couldn’t escape work.
  • Spaghetti – A large pot of spaghetti sauce, part for now, and part frozen for future meals, plus salads.
  • Chili – A big stew pot of it, part for now, and part frozen for future meals.
  • Cold Curry Chicken – One of the first recipes I ever learned from my mother. You can’t get any easier as far as cooking dinner on a hot summer day goes. Poach some boneless skinless chicken breasts in boiling water using whatever method you prefer. Shred. Toss with a combination of diced dried apricots, halved grapes, diced celery, nuts, raisins, other dried fruits, whatever you have (apricots, grapes, and pecans this time around). Season very liberally with curry powder and cumin. Stir together with a big spoonful of (real) mayonnaise, enough to lightly coat everything. Taste test – it should have a strong curry flavor. Add more if necessary, along with any sprinklings of garlic powder, salt, and pepper that you’d like. Maximum flavor for minimum effort, and only one small pot of boiling water to heat the kitchen.
  • Lemon-Herb Salmon with rice and tomatoes - An epic first for me. I’d never cooked fish before. I cannot stand the smell or taste of seafood (my only real “picky eater” item). It took me over four years to steel myself up to make it for Carl. While I’m comfortable in most areas of cooking, I don’t know the first thing about cooking seafood or seasoning it. I don’t know what flavors work, because it all tastes horrible to me. I can’t taste-test the recipe to see if it’s fine. I don’t know what “done” looks or tastes like. As a first attempt, this one went well, and Carl liked it. The recipe wasn’t terribly helpful to a first-time fish cook (“Cook until center looks opaque”…buhhh?) and it certainly wasn’t done when the timer went off, but a few more minutes at a higher heat finished it off and I was able to check for doneness with instructions from my sister-in-law (“it will flake with a fork when it’s done.”) That’s another one that didn’t really make sense just hearing it, but was self-explanatory once I poked the cooked fish with a fork and it came apart in bits. I, meanwhile, ate fried rice, and my husband graciously did the fishy dishes.
  • 15 Minute Asian Beef Soup – Carl absolutely loved this one. I didn’t have mushrooms or cilantro (cilantro on asian food? sounds odd to me…), and upped the seasonings a bit after tasting. It’s best the first day (rather than a big pot/doubling) because the vegetables are supposed to be just cooked but still crisp.
  • Spaghetti - Just the basic kind – noodles and a quick homemade sauce.
  • Fried Rice – A couple of times, actually – the first with egg, bean sprouts, scallions, and seasonings, the second with ham, diced carrots, bean sprouts, and scallions.
  • BLT Sandwiches – You can’t get more summery than that!
  • Steak with corn-on-the-cob and tomato-cucumber salad - This was supposed to be a special meal for Independence Day and it was….a dud. There are no butchers down in our area, and the expensive cut of beef I got from the grocery store was a disgusting spongey wreck. Neither of us could finish ours, and I actually threw out the leftovers – a first for me! A farming friend from church lets people buy partial shares in cattle he raises. We may go with that option for the coming year, though it’ll take some creative shifting to fit a butchered steer quarter in our freezer.. The salad was good, but it’s tough for someone raised on perfect midwestern sweet corn to stomach the corn options down here. Midwesterners would use the varieties sold in the produce section here as hog feed. *sigh*. The fizzy clementine juice we picked up at Trader Joes on our last trip to the “big city” was delicious though! A week later we had a
  • Homemade tortillas with refried beans, cheese, tomatoes, and salsa verde - If we learned anything in San Antonio, it’s that you can’t go wrong with tortillas and beans. That and “salsa verde is good on everything except pancakes.” And also “encountering mountain lions alone in the Hill Country is pretty darn scary.” And maybe “expect to find lizards in the shower.” So many things to learn from a posting, so little time.
  • Spicy Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta with Hot Italian Sausage – Carl requested a “spicy meaty pasta dish” and loved this. I added a splash of wine and some extra seasonings to up the flavor.
  • Pitas stuffed with hummus, beef, radishes, cucumbers, tomatoes, and seasonings
  • Leek and Potato Soup – The basic recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. This is standard fare in our home, but this time I toned down the seasoning and the cream so that it would be bland enough for Carl’s post-food poisoning queasy stomach. We had several other mild meals I can’t remember around the same time.
  • French toast with nutella, raspberries, and bananasYes, I ate this for dinner. And your point is?
  • Cashew Chicken with Rice - The same recipe I made up a month or two ago. The Man loved it (as did I).
  • Creamy Pesto Pasta with Chicken – Basil from our garden, and Carl made the pesto using the recipe in The Silver Palate Cookbook! He’s excited to learn more about cooking after seven months’ mess hall slop. We had plain pesto pasta a couple of weeks later with the extra frozen pesto.
  • Julia Childs’ Saute of Beef – The Man’s all-time favorite dish. We cooked it together the day after he got home.

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