Cooking Notes – January 2013

Throughout the month of December kind church members, local friends, and neighbors provided us with a steady stream of meals on the days Carl had to work. Theoretically he was on paternity leave, but practically speaking there were weeks where he had to go in every day, and days when he had to work until 8:00 or 10:00 at night. Having dinner taken care of was incredibly helpful in the twins’ early days before they had a nap schedule and were still screaming little babies adjusting to some huge transitions. We simply didn’t have ten predictable minutes when one baby (if not both) didn’t need to be held. Between donated meals and  a few frozen dishes, I cooked (if you can call it that – brats and canned sauerkraut) exactly once before Christmas. God bless the lovely people that surround us! A month ago I couldn’t imagine how exactly I was going to get meals on the table with two babies in my arms. However, by the week before Christmas nap schedules really began to shape up and these days we have a long predictable nap in the morning and another in the afternoon. In fact, my first several days back to cooking involved not just us but three additional houseguests – we ate simply, but getting meals on the table felt easy and manageable again.

As a caveat to this glowing picture, I should add that earlier this week I made our favorite Leek and Potato Soup from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It was coming along perfectly, and I turned it up to finish simmering before pureeing it. Then I went upstairs to put a baby down for bed, forgot about it, and came down to a smoky house and a burned mush of vegetables stuck to the pot. Now I know why my mother always burned the lima beans when she had young kids :).

BAKING/DESSERTS

Cream Scones I made these with one of Carl’s sisters when they visited right after New Years. We used my favorite cream scones recipe from The Joy of Cooking and added chopped apricots. I made them a second time when a friend came to tea. With only a handful of ingredients and 15 minutes in the oven this is about as complex as baking gets these days. We skipped our usual Christmas cookie baking throughout Advent this year and instead picked up a few packages of cookie dough for the occasional afternoon or evening of fresh-baked cookies. This Christmas I was very grateful for many items in the frozen food aisle at which I’d previously turned up my nose.

Lemon Sour Cream Cookies from an old sample copy of Cook’s Country. The New Year just seems to call for lemon…

MAIN MEALS/SIDES

Beef Soup with Bread When my parents visited right after Christmas, I asked my mother to help with meal planning as I didn’t have much time to prep for my Dad’s special dietary needs (no gluten, onion, garlic, or beans). She graciously jumped in and did most of the cooking as well – not restful for her, but a huge blessing to us. Carl had to work on Christmas, so we had our big Christmas feast two days later after my parents had arrived – a big prime rib with mouth-watering gravy was the centerpiece. After they left, I cooked the leftover rib meat down and made a stew with onions, garlic, celery, carrots, rice, beef broth, and herbs/spices. It felt so good to be experimenting in the kitchen again! We ate the soup with rye bread sent by my grandmother – a good hot winter meal.

Indian Curry Chicken Salad Piggybacking, once again, on a meal my mother made, I cut up the leftover meat from two roast chickens and tossed it with halved grapes, chopped celery, diced apricots, mayo, cumin, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and LOTS of curry (hot and sweet). It makes a delicious cold chicken salad when you have leftover meat or don’t want to heat up the kitchen. Served with fruit and bread for an easy lunch.

Steak with Salsa and Black Beans and Salad A group effort – Carl cooked up the steaks. I made the black beans in advance using a recipe from Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook. The beans were fairly bland and uninteresting, so the hunt is on for a good slow cooker black bean recipe. I served the steak with several topping options – chopped tomatoes, tomatillas chopped and mixed into salsa verde, sour cream, and shredded mexican cheeses. Served with a salad dressed with olive oil and balsamic by my mother in law to round out the meal. As a nice leftovers dish, I heated a scoop of black beans, and topped with a fried egg, more salsa verde, and a bit more mexican cheese.

Ham with Mashed Potatoes and Wilted Greens My sister-in-law helped out by putting the ham in the oven, and after that it pretty much took care of itself until I added the glaze near the end. I mashed the potatoes with cream cheese, butter, salt, pepper, and a splash of cream (a caloric Christmas treat!), and my mother-in-law infused a bit of olive oil with garlic on the stove, then poured it over the spinach greens with a little balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper.

Ham, Tomato, and Cheese Omelette With leftover ham. I diced up five extra baggies worth of ham and put them in the freezer for soups, quiches, and omelettes this winter.

Spinach Soup I used this recipe, with significant tweaks after realizing that A) a pint of half & half is a LOT, and B) the soup really had no seasoning other than one clove of garlic and a pinch of nutmeg. I used 12 oz. of fresh spinach, three cloves of garlic, significantly less half & half, and added salt, pepper, tabasco, and a few other odds and ends from the spice cupboard. While nothing out of this world, if you cut the half and half it whips up a reasonably healthy dinner in ten minutes. Served with rye bread.

Korean Steak with veggies and bread The Korean Steak recipe came from a cookbook my grandmother sent for Christmas: Food & Wine’s Best of the Best. It was delicious. Tweaks for next time: low-sodium soy sauce so the salt doesn’t overshadow the other flavors, more meat (the marinade made a lot), and a shorter cooking time (the recommended time resulted in well-done beef – tender, thanks to the marinade, but not what I was hoping for).

Bratwurst with Warm Leek and White Bean Salad The recipe for Warm Leeks and White Beans also came from Food & Wine’s Best of the Best. A great, very simple recipe – flavorful, without overwhelming the other tastes on the plate. We will definitely make this one again. Served with raw veggies.

Baked Eggs with Diced Ham – a quick, hot after church meal.

Thai Ground Pork Wraps From a booklet that came with the food and wine cookbook – Best Healthy Recipes. Ground pork (in this case I had to use a pork/beef/veal mix b/c the grocery store didn’t have straight ground pork), mixed with spices, fried, stirred up with a savory sauce and herbs, and served with lettuce for making rolls, and peanuts and sriracha chile sauce for topping. Tasty, though not quite the flavor I was shooting for.

Orechietta with N’Duja and Aragula except not because our little hick grocery store had neither orechietta nor n’duja nor aragula, so we substituted and had Farfalle with hot Italian sausage and spinach. It was very tasty. Also from Food & Wine’s Best of the Best, served with salad.

Baked ham with tomatoes and onions, and crisp-roasted brussels sprouts My Mom’s old easy baked ham dish, plus a very easy, very tasty side of brussels sprouts using a method my friend taught me. You’d never have convinced 12 year old me that I’d one day love brussels sprouts (at least ones cooked in a healthy way vs. soaked in bacon grease…). Sprouts with the stem cut off, quartered, tossed with pepper, olive oil, and lots of salt, and roasted at 350-400 around half an hour until the outer leaves are crispy. Like potato chips but better.

Pesto Prosciutto Sandwiches Pesto frozen from our garden this summer, whipped up with mayonnaise and diced sun-dried tomatoes, spread on bread, then layered up with prosciutto, turkey, and tomatoes. Lots of flavor in one simple sandwich.

Soy Sauce Broccoli A quick side whipped up to go with a casserole someone from church dropped off. I’ve never made broccoli in the microwave before, but this actually turned out a very tasty, simple recipe for fresh veggies in minutes – a handy trick to fall back on for busy nights. Place broccoli in a microwave-safe dish. Add 2 Tbsp. water. Drizzle lightly with soy sauce (I used Tamari), and light sprinkles of garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Cover and micrwave 3-4 minutes until cooked but not soft.

Brussels Sprouts with Avocado, Bacon and Lime, and Polenta with Goat Cheese Delicious dishes, both. Go ahead and click the link – the page of recipes is great! I’m becoming a brussels sprouts convert. These were quartered, sauteed with just a bit of bacon/grease (two pieces for a large pan), and tossed with avocado to warm, with a squeeze of lime over all and salt and pepper. A really delicious, flavorful, and filling plate of vegetables. I make polenta in the microwave – 1/2 cup of polenta, 2.5 cups of water, a dash of salt and pepper. Microwave 4 minutes, stir, microwave another 4, stir, microwave another 2-4 minutes to desired thickness. I like to stir in crumbled goat cheese at the end, but you can also serve plain or with other add-ins or herbs.

Steak with Mashed Turnips and Garlicky wilted Spinach – When I asked Carl what he wanted to eat this week he said “steak” very firmly. Luckily the grocery store had a great sale on. This was my first time cooking turnips. Peeled, quartered, boiled ~25 minutes until tender, mashed with salt, pepper, and sour cream. I meant to add horseradish (per a recipe) but realized we were out at the last minute. For the spinach I sauteed a couple of crushed garlic cloves in olive oil, then fished out the cloves and poured the hot oil over the spinach, tossing to coat. A little drizzle of balsamic, and just a pinch of salt and pepper.

Pasta with Mushrooms, plus sauteed Kale The pasta recipe is a favorite from Lidia’s Italian Table (found at a library sale). This was my first time making kale. On the recommendation of a friend I sauteed it in a bit of olive oil and garlic. Delicious! I love how much more body/texture it has than spinach.

What’s cooking in your house?

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