Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's edition

Insert excuse-y, self-deprecating comment here about how long it's been since I posted anything here. Okay, moving on.

I've made it clear that I like themed menus, especially at holidays. Valentine's Day, of course, lends itself well to this kind of silliness.

With vegetarians in the house, I don't do the traditional steak and potato type of thing. I go more with color than anything else, so...Red Beans and Rice. Not sexy, necessarily, but fits the theme and makes my family happy. (My daughter is obsessed with rice. It's weird.)

For dessert, though, I like to get a little crazy. I stared at Pinterest for a few days, looking for inspiration, but nothing jumped out at me, except maybe the thought of red velvet cake in general. I went with a trifle (because I am no good at all at decorating cakes or cupcakes, and I'm great at whipping cream).

Keep in mind that this is a WORKING MOM's blog, so this recipe fits well into the semi-homemade category. By the way, calling it a recipe is putting it strongly. Here's what I did.

Delegated the cake-making to a teenager. Two teenagers, actually. They had a great time and took pictures (which I do not have permission to share). Use a mix. (Duncan Hines was the brand I selected, because it was on sale.)

Whipped the cream - 1/2 pint, with 1/8 cup of sugar and a splash of vanilla - in the Kitchenaid mixer. (I insist on doing this part from scratch. I hate Cool Whip.)

Opened a can of cherry pie filling.

Made instant vanilla pudding (if I were on a school break, I would have whipped up some homemade pastry cream, but it's been a LONG week at school already. Pudding it is.).

Tore up that cake. Into bite-sized pieces.

Layer it all in a glass bowl. Cake, pudding, cherry pie filling, whipped cream, then repeat until you're out of everything. Try to end on a whipped cream layer. I sprinkled all that with a little hot cocoa mix powder.

My son called it love in a bowl.

Monday, July 20, 2009

I dreamed this one up

and it was delicious.

So, it's a Mexican-inspired bean and vegetable and rice dish. Here we go.

In a large skillet, saute
One diced onion
Three cloves garlic
with 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1/2 cup strong brewed coffee
Add 1 teaspoon (or more) ground cumin and 1 teaspoon (or more) ground coriander.
Oh, and some splashes of Cholula hot sauce.

When onion is translucent, add
One diced summer squash or zucchini
Three diced tomatoes
One finely diced jalapino pepper

Add more coffee if needed. The goal is to make a wet sauce.

Simmer an hour or more. Everything should be soft and mushy.

Mash everything by hand.

Add 1 can red beans and 1 can black beans.

Cook some rice.
Dice an avacado.
Grate 1 cup of extra sharp cheddar cheese.

Serve the sauce over rice. Add avacado and cheese to taste. Green onion isn't a bad idea, either, nor is a bit of lime juice. I'm never opposed to cilantro, either.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

NaBloPoMo, day 2

It's only day two and already I'm not so sure I'm up to this daily blogging. I did fine in November, but life was different then.

My eldest child, my daughter, just had a birthday last month. She was out of town with my parents on her actual birthday, and we've had a busy, busy summer, so we haven't been able to schedule her birthday party until tomorrow.

So here's the deal.

She wanted our neighbor, Ashleigh, to make the birthday cake. Because, in her lovely words, "I want a pretty cake this year, Mom."


My desserts are not known for their beauty, but they do taste good. But apparently my cake decorating efforts at my son's birthday party were so laughable that she won't ever forget.

Not wanting to disappoint my delightful, if painfully honest, spawn, I placed an order, and we're looking forward to enjoying it tomorrow.

But after the sleepover, the kids will be eating the breakfast that I cooked from scratch. And they'll love it. Because pancakes don't need to be pretty.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Day One, NaBloPoMo

My relationship with food has been a bit of a roller coaster over the past few years. Now, that statement seems loaded. Do I have an eating disorder, or do I fight with my weight? No, and no. As far as eating goes, my relationship with food is pretty steady: I eat when I'm hungry, and I mostly eat what I like.

No, the relationship to which I refer is more about the kitchen. See, sometimes I get really passionate about cooking and meal planning and grocery shopping. Heck, here I am, posting in a food blog.

But sometimes I really can't be bothered to spend more than a couple of minutes thinking about feeding my family.

I'm in one of the valleys these days.

It's probably because of my job.

If you didn't already know, I work in a hospital, in the food service department. It's not really a glamorous department, but my job is very visible and, to be quite honest, awesome. It's probably also of value to mention that my current position was a promotion from another, desk-bound, position in the same department. And my current apathy toward all things culinary pretty much began the day of my promotion.

My job allows me to engage in chef-like behavior (somewhat) and get a lot of ego strokes in the process. My prior position was primarily administrative and involved very few ego strokes and even fewer forays into the kitchen.

But my family is paying a bit of a price here. They used to get creative, well-balanced, well-cooked meals, courtesy of me, nearly every night. Trips to restaurants were special and also well-considered. These days, however, I've mostly delegated the cooking (and the shopping, and most of the planning) to my husband (who does a great job, by the way).

I'm hoping that this process, this daily blogging about food for the month, will help rekindle the passion. I can't remember the last time I tried a new recipe (except for cocktail recipes, which I tried just last week, with excellent results).

At least I'm well-positioned to succeed. Our vegetable garden is thriving in the Memphis summer. With the backyard-fresh vegetables, I've got plenty of inspiration, or at least good ingredients.

So here's the plan: I'll try something new in the kitchen every day this month. I've already started gathering recipes for pickles and jams and such. And I'll document the results. I can't promise passionate cuisine, but I can promise a dedication to fresh, wholesome food that (hopefully) families would like to eat.

Tomorrow: pickles, part 1.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

New post!

I've neglected this poor blog for too many months, but I'm back!

We were a little more ambitious this spring when we planted our vegetable garden. Flushed with success in growing herbs and tomatoes in past years, we raised the stakes a little and decided to try a few more vegetables; jalapeno peppers, bell peppers, and cucumbers have joined a few more tomato plants.

As has been the story for the past two seasons, our basil is an utter disappointment. I've tried several different locations and varieties, but it just hasn't thrived since our first summer at the house (this is our fourth).

The rosemary, however, is trying to take over the world, as are the sage, pennyroyal (not a food herb), lavender, and thyme. The oregano, which has normally been a very aggressive plant, is very politely staying in its corner. And the parsley seeds I planted over a year ago have suddenly decided to sprout. I also planted some stevia, on a lark, and it's looking quite healthy. Now I need to figure out what to do with it!

We've harvested at least twenty tomatoes thus far, and have many more to harvest in the next week. Our cucumber vine grew and grew and grew, and just this weekend I found some fruit. We've harvested a couple of bell peppers and three jalapenos (yum!).

NaBloPoMo's July topic is "food", and I'm planning to post a garden update daily, as well as what we've done with the harvest. This weekend's plan is pickles (small batches to test recipes). Also, finding a use for stevia (besides brewing them with my iced tea).

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Post-Thanksgiving Post

While it would have made sense for me to have blogged about our Thanksgiving dinner, I didn't. I was having way too much fun cooking to remember to take pictures, and I realized that many of our family favorite dishes don't really translate well in a visual way. Plus, frozen vegetables plus a can of cream of mushroom soup hardly strikes me as blog-worthy. (Tasty, yes, blog-worthy, no.)

But what about the Monday after Thanksgiving? The leftovers are just about gone, but there hasn't been a new mission to the grocery store. What then? Especially when it's awfully cold outside?

My family has a love for a soup that we call Pumpkin Soup. I say we call it that because it doesn't have any pumpkin in it. I've never made it with pumpkin. (Too much work, all that scooping.) I suppose it's more accurate to call it Winter Squash Soup. But somehow that name doesn't have the same ring to it.

But with some vegetables dying a slow and ugly death in the crisper, it was time to use them or lose them.

Get a big pot. Peel and coarsley chop 3-4 carrots. Coarsley chop half a "head" of celery (including the leaves). Peel and slice 3-4 potatoes (last night I used sweet potatoes and may make that a permanent change). Dump those in the pot and cover with water (or chicken broth...I used water because of the vegetarians). Simmer. Add thyme to taste (add more than you think you need...it's the defining flavor), and salt and pepper.

Leftover alert: this is a great time to use leftover mashed potatoes or cooked carrots!

Simultaneously, cut a winter squash in half, scoop out the seeds, place in a casserole dish along with 1/2" of water, and put it in a 350 degree oven. Bake while the other vegetables are simmering.

After an hour, remove the squash from the oven and scoop out the flesh (carefully - it's hot), and add the flesh to the vegetables and stock. Simmer until the carrots and potatoes are soft enough to mash with a fork.

Transfer contents of pot to the blender (it takes my blender two batches, so you'll need another pot or a big measuring cup or a bowl for half the mixture) and carefully blend until smooth. Carefully. Because you might get a big mess. Use the lowest speed and hold that lid like your life depends on it.

Return to the original pot, taste, adjust seasonings, and serve.

Delicious with a salad and muffins. Or at least that's what my kids tell me.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thanksgiving plans

I've been so busy posting every day on my other blog that I've neglected this one. Truth be told, my kitchen has been neglected a bit, too, but Thursday it'll be back in action!

This year we're potlucking with two other families, one of whom includes a 20-year-veteran chef. He's in charge of the meat, which, at press time, is going to be Cornish hens.

My family has a few "traditional" dishes we enjoy on Thanksgiving, which I'll be making. I'm still trying to decide about bread. I'll either bake bread or attempt to make rolls like my mom makes every year. Last time I tried to make them, it was a hideous failure. It's been fifteen years, however, and I'm a better cook. I think it might be time to try again. Plus, I have a better kitchen these days.

I put a great deal of thought into our Thanksgiving menu when we had our first Thanksgiving in our new house. That was two years ago. Last year we went out of town, to Craig's family. This year we're home again, leaving the next day to see my brother get married. Since we're potlucking, I'm not concentrating too much on the menu. Just on making sure the dishes that have to be on the table for my family are there.

From that feast two years ago, a standout was the roasted winter vegetables. It's a flexible recipe, but make sure you start early. Like the same time as the turkey. They need to cook a long time. If you don't time them right, you'll have raw vegetables on the table. I write from experience, as they were, indeed, undercooked on Christmas, when the ham took much more space in the oven than the Thanksgiving duck had.

I got the original recipe from the Food Network's website. You'll notice that the recipe is on a very small scale. So there's math to do. I also switched to new potatoes, upped the ratio of Brussels sprouts because oh my Craig does love them, substituted sage-infused olive oil (thyme-infused, rosemary-infused, or mixed with white truffle oil would all be good choices), added fresh sage to the herbs, and used kosher salt. So, by the time I'm done with it, it's more like this:

2# new potatoes, scrubbed, skins on (cut the big ones in half)
2# sweet potatoes, 3 carrots and 2 parsnips, scrubbed, skins on, in 1/2" thick slices
20 Brussels sprouts, trimmed
2 heads garlic (may need more, since my son had discovered garlic this year), cloves separated and skins removed, poke holes with a toothpick
3 sweet onions, preferably Vidalias, quartered
1 each red, yellow, and green bell peppers, julienned
1 jar kalamata olives, pitted, drained
bunches of fresh herbs - rosemary, sage, thyme (and if you're feeling it, parsley, too, but only if you start singing)
Black pepper, to taste.

This is my once-a-year opportunity to use the clay roaster. It's perfect for this dish.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F and prepare vegetables.

In a large roasting pan (or tagine), add potatoes, carrots and Brussels sprouts. Add olive oil and salt, and toss thoroughly. Roast in oven for 20 minutes.

Add garlic and onions and toss with oil in bottom of pan. Roast for 20 more minutes.

Add bell peppers, olives, fresh herbs and black pepper. Toss with the oil in the pan and return to oven. Cook for 20 to 40 minutes longer, turning once or twice or until vegetables are nicely browned but not charred. Serve immediately.

If you're cooking this with other foods that need a lower temperature, that's okay. Just increase the cooking time. Test the potatoes for doneness with a fork.