Cooking Notes – September 2011

Somewhere in July I fell off the cooking notes wagon. And then kept hesitating to restart because I couldn’t remember everything I’d made. Of course, the longer I waited, the less I remembered. Silly human. These notes pick up somewhere in September covering whatever odd meals I can remember from this month. Looking over the list, I can tell I got lazy with planning regular vegetarian meals into the menu. Time to experiment with more produce!

You can view previous months’ cooking notes here.

Baking and Desserts

  • Buttermilk Cornbread – Recipe from the latest issue of Southern Living. Holds together nicely. I never buy buttermilk anymore. Instead I use a trick learned from Pioneer Woman: fill my measuring cup mostly full of milk and pour in just a splash of vinegar at the end. Voila, buttermilk! Made this again at the end of the month for guests and it disappeared quickly.
  • Chocolate Chip Cookies – From a mix, no less. My from-scratch self is sniffing disdainfully. My exhausted-and-just-wanted-comfort-food self enjoyed them thoroughly warm with a glass of milk after working over the weekend . Plus, this was Carl’s first time baking cookies independantly, mix or not. He’s very good at following recipes. We finally figured out why. As he puts it, treating patients is a recipe. Take base issue A. Mix in exact amounts of B and C. Let stand for one hour. Pour off D, add E. I suppose a healthy human is a nicer result than melty chocolate chip cookies, but it’s a close call.
  • French Almond Apple Tart – Carl’s birthday dessert, a favorite from his childhood in France. The crust is a basic pâte sucrée. I use an 11 inch tart pan, an almond paste made from pureed almonds, butter, and a few other goodies, and apples tossed with sugar and brushed with butter for the topping. It’s a compilation of a few different recipes, so no link.
  • Oatmeal Raisin Cookies – These seemed appropriate for the start of fall. In addition to the cinnamon listed in the recipe I sprinkle in a bit of ground nutmeg and allspice. We enjoy the basic Quaker Oats recipe (though we buy the cheap generic brand – they’re oats for Pete’s sake), and these vanished quickly at the weekend’s church potluck.
  • Artisan Bread – My usual recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.
  • Blueberry Streusel Muffins – Second try at this recipe. It’s still our favorite thanks to the combination of blueberry muffin, streusel, lemony tang, and great texture. These were for Carl’s birthday breakfast, but he got called into the ICU in the middle of the night. Guess that’ll be Carl’s day-after-birthday breakfast.
  • Easy Bars – A family favorite. If I hadn’t grown up with them and then looked at the recipe I’d think it looked disgusting. It is, in fact, wonderful, and every family member, friend, or stranger I’ve ever fed it to has taken one bite and gotten a blissful smile on their face. Warm melty chocolate and crunchy nuts in a chewy caramely bed.

Main Dishes and Sides

  • Chili – Served with the required topping options (sour cream, cottage cheese, cheddar cheese, and jalapeno pepper slices) plus cornbread and a salad. An easy way to feed a crowd of new Army doctors who just PCS’d to our fort.
  • Chicken and Sausage Gumbo – The original dish I’d made to feed the doctors. We both thought it was delicious, and I thought it was mild, but Carl found it so spicy his eyes were watering. We decided against making our guests cry. Served over brown rice.
  • Broiled Sandwiches
  • Italian Antipasto Platter – I saw a picture of a delicious-looking array in Southern Living and sat wistfully thinking “I wish we could eat that. It looks so good.” Then I realized, duh, we can. Salami, proscuitto, calamata and green olives, artichoke hearts, brie cheese (not Italian, I know, I know), thin-sliced tomatoes and cucumbers arranged nicely on a platter. With bread heated in the oven on the side, this made a fun and flavorful break from normal dinner routines and was very easy to prepare at the end of a long day. You’ll definitely want the fresh veggies to break up the saltiness of the preserved foods.
  • Spicy Black Eyed Pea SoupThis is not fancy or long-simmered or anything like that, but it’s an easy tasty base for using up scraps in the pantry and fridge when you’re overdue for grocery shopping and exhausted from work. I used the recipe I’ve linked to as a base, then altered it based on the recipe comments, what I had in the house, our preference for very flavorful soups, and taste tests. I also halved it since there were just the two of us. Here’s how I made it: Saute one half chopped lg. onion and 4 cloves minced garlic in olive oil until golden and tender. Add in 1 can drained rinsed black-eyed peas, 1.25 cups chicken broth, and 1 8 oz. can tomato sauce (or pureed tomatoes if you want to just add more seasoning). Realize it looks a bit thin and drain and add a can of black beans as well. Add 2 tsp(ish) oregano and a few generous shakes of red pepper. Realize you have green beans you could use up, chop, and throw in as well. Add tsp. red wine vinegar (nice touch – hadn’t seen this in a soup before). Realize it’s still missing something flavor-wise. Since you’re in a hurry, add a few shakes of worcestershire sauce and some ground black pepper. Taste and serve with leftover cornbread. This could be nice with several other leftover fresh veggies chopped up, or with pasta noodles cooked in at the end. Using tomato sauce as a soup base never occurred to me, but when you’re in a rush it works (the canned kind you use as a base to make your own, not the jarred kind that usually has sweeteners and other ingredients added).
  • Roast Chicken with Herbs, Lemon, and Garlic – Delicious! Not really a recipe, though a common enough dish you could find directions for. I chopped rosemary and thyme from our garden, stirred them up with a bit of olive oil, and smeared them all over the chicken between the skin and the meat, along with some minced garlic. Then I slid very thinly sliced lemons under the skin all over the body as well. I stuffed the cavity with quartered lemons, a few spare rosemary sprigs, and more garlic. Finally I rubbed a bit of butter between the skin and the meat and over the outside of the skin, along with a little bit of leftover herb-garlic mixture (though not much – it can burn outside the protective skin). Roasted about an hour and 15 minutes (varies by the weight of the bird, of course) turning and basting three times for moist meat and even browning. Good with some salad and thick-sliced bread.
  • BLTs – Yum. A great dinner after a late day in the ICU. I can whip it up in the time Carl is driving home, giving a hot meal and lots of veggies in one easy package.
  • Steak tips au poivre – Or, as Carl called them “unnecessary use of French by the recipe author” steak. For his birthday – quickly seared steak chunks in a shallot/red wine/butter/thyme sauce. Surprisingly quick and easy – you can wip them up in 15 minutes. Served with mashed potatoes (boiled peeled potatoes, mashed with butter, then fluffed with a fork with just a splash of cream and some salt and pepper), and sliced seasoned tomatoes.
  • Chicken Breasts in a Port and Cream Sauce – Recipe from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Very delicious, very easy. My only complaint with the recipe – the baking time was waaaay off. At six minutes the chicken was still completely raw on the outside, let alone the inside. They took three times the recommended baking time to cook through. Maybe chickens were just smaller in her pre-industrial chicken farming France? Served with a side of salad and some bread.
  • Shepherds Pie – A staple from my childhood, and one of Carl’s favorites since I first made it for him. I make it with one layer of corn, one layer of meat in gravy, and a top layer of mashed potatoes. Thanks to fresh thyme and rosemary from the garden, this made one of the tastiest, most savory versions of the dish I’ve ever made. I like to work off the basic Joy of Cooking recipe with my own adjustments and substitutions.
  • Broiled Sandwiches – Actually, Carl took care of these on a night when I was under the weather.
  • Bratwurst with baked beans – Camping food. Normally I like cooking from scratch, but when camping it’s all about easy clean-up. Brats fried, then a can of beans heated in the same pan, with some oranges on the side. It’s not fancy, but nothing tastes better after a long day working and hiking in the woods.
  • Steak and Tomatoes – Also known as, easiest special treat ever.
  • Spinach Lasagna – One of Carl’s favorite dishes from Rachel Ray’s 30 Minute Get Real Meals. He helped make it this time. A bottom layer of creamy spinach, a layer of richly seasoned meatballs in a spicy tomato sauce, and a topping of italian cheeses quickly browned under the broiler. It kept him well fed during my business trip to D.C.
  • Homemade tortillas – One of my all-time favorite comfort foods, served up with refried beans, eggs scrambled with potatoes and sun-dried tomatoes, and cheese and salsa verde for toppings
  • Marinated Asian Crispy Chicken with brown rice and tomato salad
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