Cooking Notes – January 2012

Recording cooking notes helps me when menu planning, however inconsistent I may be with regularly updating them. How many meals were meat-based vs. vegetarian last month? Which ones did we love? Where was that original recipe located? Carl’s talented mother cooked most of the (delicious!) food we ate over Christmas. It was a nice break from coming up with meals myself, and left me refreshed and eager to get back in the kitchen and experiment with new dishes. These notes actually start in the last week of December. You can view previous months’ cooking notes by clicking here. Meals will be updated on an ongoing basis throughout the month.

BAKING/DESSERTS

Dixie Dinner Rolls – A very simple recipe from Heirloom Baking with the Brass Sisters. These biscuit-like dinner rolls are baked in a muffin tin and can be whipped up and baked, start to finish, in 15 minutes. I usually make them as a last-minute side for soups or when we’re out of bread. They should be eaten the first day – leftovers become hard.

The Best Chocolate Sheet Cake Ever – From the Pioneer Woman’s website. I made this for a church potluck because it’s normally a favorite. This time something went wrong – too short a baking time? Too much powdered sugar in the frosting? It was fine, but not its usual amazing self.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Muffins and Double Chocolate Muffins – The peanut butter muffins were very tasty, but became dense and dry by the second day. They were still delicious with a smear of Nutella the next day. Next time I might add just a bit more peanut butter and a dab of sour cream for flavor and moisture, and pack the brown sugar a bit more. Part of the problem might’ve been having to substitute a little whole wheat flour when we ran out of white. The double chocolate muffins used up a bag of mix I bought while in a hurry at Christmas. Both were for a ladies’ brunch at church.

Portuguese Broa – A very tasty yeast bread from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. This is essentially the basic boule recipe with a cup and a half of cornmeal substituted for part of the flour. The cornmeal added a nice flavor and texture to the bread – dense and delicious.

Cranberry Crumb – My grandmother gave me a stack of great cookbooks for Christmas. This coffee-cake style dessert came from Best of the Best Cookbook Recipes, a compilation by Food & Wine of the top four recipes from each of the top 25 cookbooks of the year. Cranberry Crumb was originally from the book Rustic Fruit Desserts, one I was already curious about after seeing others around the internet commenting on it over the last year. I accidentally put in an extra stick of butter, but when is that ever a bad thing for flavor?

MAIN DISHES AND SIDES

Pîrjoale Moldovenesti (Moldavian Hamburgers)Enjoying Carl’s mother’s Romanian cooking made me pull out Galia Sperber’s The Art of Romanian Cooking when we got home. These meat patties are heavily seasoned with herbs, breaded, and fried. Tasty, though the amount of dill in the recipe was overwhelming and could be halved. Served with dill sour cream sauce, rice and broiled tomatoes. An added advantage: it used up ingredients from our mostly empty post-holiday fridge without requiring a grocery store trip.

Fusilli with Fresh Spinach and Ricotta – A few months back the library had a discarded copy of Lidia’s Italian Table by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich for $1. We tried it for the first time when the Man asked for pasta this week. The recipe makes a nice base (spinach, green onions, ricotta, half and half, and butter cooked into a sauce) but we both found it a bit bland. I spiced up the leftovers the second night for a dish we both enjoyed a lot: Fusilli with a Sun-dried tomato, wine, garlic, spinach and ricotta sauce. How could that possibly be bad?

Turkey, Cheddar and Avocado Sandwiches – I finely diced sun-dried tomatoes and stirred them into mayo. A little mustard gave spice.

Mushroom and Potato SoupThis one also came from Lidia’s Italian Table and is a keeper. Mushrooms, potatoes, carrots, squash, barley, and shallots in a flavorful broth. I added a touch of red pepper and just a splash of red wine vinegar for zest. Served with bread.

Gruyere and Salami Puff Pastry – This recipe was fine but not great – the salami overwhelmed the other flavors. The real eye-opener here was using puff pastry for the first time. I had no idea it was so much easier than filo dough, and have big plans for exploring its uses in both sweet and savory foods. Served with salad.

Ham with Mashed Potatoes and Salad The grocery store had numerous post-holiday hams on sale. Carl cooked most of this meal while I put the last (finally!) coat of paint on the cabinet doors. Even using the smallest ham I could find, there’s plenty of meat left for a month’s worth of sandwiches, omelettes, soups and more. The second night we had ham with mashed potatoes and garlic-pecan green beans. The third night we had ham with cornbread and carrots.

Spinach, Onion, Pepperjack Cheese, Mushroom, and Ham Omelette – And look, more ham! This was actually a last-minute replacement for an Italian dish of ham and cauliflower in tomato sauce. The cauliflower was leaking brown goo. Nasty. A few nights later we had another omelette – always a tasty fast option when you haven’t planned well for dinner.

Chicken and Dumplings – I combined two recipes to make the dish (this one and this one), and adjusted to fit the odds and ends I had in my fridge. I especially liked the multigrain dumplings recipe from the Whole Foods site, with diced rosemary substituted for chives. My first set of dumplings that didn’t completely disintegrate on top of the soup, too, which was nice. (these northern-style biscuit dumplings, not the noodles that are known as dumplings in parts of the south). I didn’t have any leeks on hand this time, but they’d be delicious in this stew.

Pasta – Carl sent me out for a long walk one evening while he made dinner. And if that didn’t make him awesome enough, he put bacon in the spaghetti sauce. It was delicious, and used up all sorts of scraps from the fridge and pantry like canned tomatoes, chicken thighs, onions, and garlic. Dinner always tastes better when it magically appears :-).

Split Pea Soup – I think I followed the basic recipe from The Joy of Cooking with a few adjustments to fit what we had in the house. Anything simmered with a nice meaty ham hock for that long has to be delicious. Served with potatoes fried with curry, cumin, salt and pepper on the side the first night, and homemade portuguese bread the second. 

Bratwurst with Tomatoes and Portuguese Bread – A good last-minute dinner. This was supposed to be served with a pumpkin puree rather than tomatoes, but I took one taste of the pumpkin recipe and could hardly swallow. We both agreed the recipe was disgusting and threw the entire thing out – a rare occurence in this household.

The Pioneer Woman’s Lasagna – This was a really really really good lasagna dish, and will be our standard going forward. In the past I’ve only tried “fancy” lasagnas – pesto lasagna, or spinach lasagna, or something like that. This, however, was a perfect version of a classic basic lasagna. Nothing fancy, just good comfort food. I did make a couple of changes: 1) I doubled or tripled the garlic. Just 2 cloves of garlic in an entire Italian dish is downright criminal. 2) I substitutde ricotta for cottage cheese, but cottage cheese would definitely be cheaper in a budget crunch. 3) Instead of laying a second layer of mozzarella in the middle I layered it over the top of the lasagna, and turned the oven to broil for a few minutes at the end to give it a nice bubbly, browning cheesy crust. That’s what I eat lasagna for. 4) I would probably put in more basil than she called for, because I used my own homegrown and dried basil, which is way more flavorful than the storebought stuff.

French Potato Salad – From The Silver Palate Cookbook. Very tasty, and hearty enough for a main meal. 

Chicken Gyros with Greek SaladI thought this Gyros was only so-so (mostly because I just love the real thing) but we both loved the greek salad with some modifications, especially the vinagrette. I used only a pinch of sugar and about half the lemon juice and it turned out just right. This salad was such a hit that I made it three times in one week.

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