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Archive for the ‘Dinner’ Category

Never underestimate the power of the sprinkle.

No.  I don’t mean the colored candy kind.  Although if they are chocolate, and called Jimmies, I can’t quite resist those either…  but that’s another post.

What I mean to say is, sprinkle, as in sprinkling seasoning.

Part of getting a kid to try different food is engaging them in preparation.  Something as simple as seasoning is enough to make a kid proud of cooking.

Sometimes in our kitchen, The Child is involved throughout the preparation, and those are substantial experiences.  But more often, she’s playing or reading somewhere and I call out, “Do you want to sprinkle the salt and pepper?”

She pops out of whatever she was doing, grabs a pinch of salt or a shaker of spice, and holds it up high.  Sometimes there is a quick dramatic flourish, and she’s gone in a flash.  Other times it is a focused and slow shower of flavor, watching carefully to see where the individual grains land.

Fresh cut chives sprinkled on breakfast eggs and tomatoes.

Credit, as for so many things in our kitchen, goes to Alton Brown.  Good Eats on the DVR was kid programming in our house.  No freakin’ Barney here.  And as a toddler she started learning from AB.  (Belching yeasty puppets!  Definitely children’s programming!)

In various episodes he points out why he holds his hand so high when seasoning.  Hold it low and all your salt lands in the same place.  Yuck!  Hold it high and you get a wide dispersal area.  Any kid who has played with glitter knows this.  The light went on, and since she was always strapped into her chair at the counter when we cooked anyway, we let her start seasoning things as a young toddler.

A good place to start is roasted fingerling potatoes.  The potatoes, simply cut in half on a tray and roasted skin side up, can take a little over-seasoning on their skins as the kid learns even application.

I do not know if this will help a kid venture to try something new, we make ours try everything.  But it always seemed to help her look forward to sitting down to a meal.  Watching someone else partake of what she made tapped into the pride as well.

Basic Roasted Potatoes

The first cookbook I ever bought for myself was Jacques Pépin’s Cooking With Claudine, and the first recipe is for a steak with roasted potatoes and onions.  He roasted large potatoes, and my preparation has evolved over many years to use fingerling potatoes instead.  Roast just a few for a small dinner, or prep a whole bag for a party.  We have them alongside everything from salads to stews to steak, or even dipped into chili or salsa.

Preheat oven to 400 deg.  Slice potatoes in half, selecting those which are roughly the same size.  Prep a half-sheet pan by pouring some olive oil in the center of the pan.  Use a silicone baking sheet if you have one, but it is not necessary.  Having a quality half-sheet pan that heats evenly is far more important.

Plunk a potato, cut side down into the puddle of olive oil and slide it over toward a corner of the pan, leaving some space around it for air circulation.  In succession plunk and slide each potato.

This is an excellent job for kids, even very small ones.  As you slice potatoes in half, the kid puts them in the oil and slides them into place and patterns emerge.  Sometimes they are in neat little rows, sometimes abstract polka dots, and sometimes a giant smiley face on the tray.  *grin*

The tops of the potatoes will need some oil.  Using your fingers, or those of the child labor, transfer some oil from the pan onto the tops of the potatoes.  They do not need to be coated, but if you let your kid do it, trust me, there will be olive oil on every bit of surface area of both potato and hands.  Kids take this job very seriously.  Handing The Child a pastry brush also works well for this.   “Okay kid, paint the potato tops.”

Then comes the seasoning.  With kosher salt from a ramekin, The Child takes a pinch and holds it high to sprinkle.  The pepper grinder is so much fun The Child loves that too.  BUT, there is the necessary admonishment here…  you season it, you eat it.  There is no getting carried away with the pepper grinder and throwing food away.  That’s a mistake a kid makes only once.

Roast the potatoes for anywhere from 20-45 minutes depending on your oven, size of potatoes and preferred doneness.  Once you can easily stick a knife in them from the top, they are done.  Let cool enough to handle and serve hot.  Leftovers are easily nuked.

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Well, it’s official. I am close enough to the end of our remodeling to start thinking like a rational human again. Or at least thinking about my future rational thinking.

I am, however, a long way from cooking. Our three month project turned into the inevitable 4+ month project due to the realities of construction.

In the course of that time, I discovered I really ought not live amidst construction and hold concurrent expectations. I didn’t write well. And I certainly didn’t cook much surrounded by the dusty, crowded counters.

I managed to get a kid to school and back each day without completely losing my mind. Full stop.

But tonight, I see hope.

I see a patio door installed. The culprit of the several week back up, it is now in place and the remaining details can finally move forward.

And, I see a radish.

Yeah, that’s right, a gorgeous radish.

I love radishes. When attempting to cut back on calories, my husband and I find them a very satisfying salt conveyance. The Child, however, merely tolerates radishes. She endures them sliced sparingly in a pasta salad, and moderately condones them chopped and drenched in balsamic vinegar. But she has never had that “Oooo! More!” reaction.

Until now.

My friend, Stephany, posted the following in her Facebook status yesterday, “Let’s see how many raw radishes with salt and farm-made butter I can eat for dinner outside in this stupid beautiful weather…” I remembered seeing Jacques Pépin do a Fast Food My Way segment on raw radishes and butter. And I had just picked some up at the store.

The Child and I just had our first warm evening on the porch, with radishes stuffed with butter for dinner. She preferred hers with salted butter but no additional salt. I am a big fan of the extra salt dip. Maybe it’s not a complete dinner, but it is close enough to justify moving directly to dessert.

And why not? I have a radish-loving kid and a new patio door. Cheers!

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Nearly two weeks after Thanksgiving, and we are still eating leftovers.  Turkey sandwiches and quesadillas, french onion soup, breakfast fried mashed potatoes, stuffing frittatas, lasagna, and even a pan of turkey enchiladas.  When it comes to repurposing leftovers, we rule!  Our fridge is finally emptying out and very little has been wasted.

I splurged on a 20-quart stockpot for Thanksgiving this year.  It was a big purchase…  it’s only a cheap-o Target pot, but with cabinet space at a premium, I am still not sure where to store this monster.  No regrets, however, as a 20-quart pot meant nearly as much post-holiday turkey stock.  The old laying hen we brought home from our farm day joined it’s compatriot’s carcass, and I have enough stock to last a very long while.  It is well worth the small up front effort to have homemade stock on hand.

And where there is stock, there is soup.

Leftover Squash Soup

This technique works for any amount or type of leftover mashed veg (root vegetables or squashes in particular) and is merely an exercise in heating things up.  But there are a few basic things to consider for those new to cooking.

Put the squash in a saucepan, breaking it up with a spatula so it is not just a big Tupperware shaped lump.  Liberally season with your choice of spices.  For this go round, I used the Barbecue of the Americas spice blend from Penzeys.  It was a free sample and is a blend of salt, paprika, allspice, nutmeg, cayenne, pepper, cinnamon, thyme and ginger.  The nutmeg and allspice complement squash particularly well, it adds a rich color and a bit of heat, as well as just enough ginger for flavor without pushing it into curry territory.  *sigh* I heart Penzeys and am powerless against the crack like pleasure of Penzeys free samples.

Add enough stock to nearly cover the squash and start reheating, stirring occasionally to incorporate the liquid and keep the bottom from scorching.  A quality silicon spatula works very well for this.  Zyliss makes one which works really well.  The silicon stretches up much of the handle, which is great when you accidentally leave the spatula sitting in the pot between stirs.  (Not that I ever do that…  no…  not me…)

I sliced and toasted some garlic bread from the Gracie Baking Co.  I found a ramekin of goat cheese remnants at the back of the fridge.  Some stray baby spinach was located as well.  Sides were officially done.

Turning attention back to the soup, it had bubbled away during homework negotiations and was now more like babyfood than soup.  No problem, just add more stock until it is just shy of the preferred consistency.

Then turn off the burner before adding the dairy.  In this case I used Straus Whole Milk Plain Yogurt, but cream, half and half, or sour cream would work well too.  Fresh dairy can take a little heat and vigorous stirring, but fermented dairy products can curdle quickly if they are left to boil at this point.  Their proteins have already started to coagulate from the fermentation process and are simply more delicate.  So I just play it safe and turn off the burner before stirring in the yogurt at the end.  Another option is adding the dollop of yogurt or sour cream individually and letting The Child stir it in herself.

Notice there isn’t a measurement of any ingredient through any of this.  This is leftover squash soup.  You start with what’s leftover, you add liquid until it looks right, and then you serve it.  We polished off the squash, the last of the yogurt, some goat cheese, and spinach before any of it went bad.  I love that feeling of rescuing food just before it’s about to go south.  Plus, the entire loaf of bread is now sliced and in the fridge, making garlic toast with eggs much easier next morning before school.

The Child turned her goat-cheesed garlic toast and salad into a spinach sandwich and proceeded to dunk it into her mug (punning about squashing it into the little cup of squash soup).  Then she asked for seconds on everything, even the spinach, and double-checked I didn’t skimp on refilling the soup.

I love it when a meal comes together.

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Apparently my plan to get through a week without The Spouse is to compensate via over-scheduling.  I have not stopped zipping from one thing to the next since he left.  Volunteering at the kid’s school, errands, and keeping ‘just behind enough’ on the housekeeping so as not be on a disturbing reality show.  Just barely.

I can’t complain.  It is all fun stuff this week.  Today The Child had a half day of school, so we went to the park with friends all afternoon.  The weather was glorious!  The reality of to-do lists could wait another day while we took in some well enjoyed park time.

The day does go a bit smoother when I have thought of “what’s for dinner” in advance of actual dinner time.  Lucky for me, today I had the plastic tub-o-leftovers.  It had been waiting for the fetching of appropriate condiments for optimum enjoyment.

Borscht is good.  But borscht with a dollop of sour cream is awesome.  And The Spouse’s freestyle Goat Borscht with Radish Greens is an out-of-this-world bowlful of pink win!

So there was no cooking this evening.  There was merely zapping in the microwave.  And there was standing in front of the machine quoting Homer Simpson, “D’oh! Isn’t there anything faster than a microwave?”  A few slices of garlic bread and two glasses of milk later, and we were done.

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Fending for Ourselves: Day 1

The Spouse left in the wee hours of the early morning on his way half way around the world.  For years he traveled constantly, but recently he’s been home.  Really home.  Like quit his job and working for himself from home home.

Which means I have gone soft.  He has been gone just 24 hours, and while I managed to get The Child fed and off to school (and subsequently picked up, run through her paces, and packed off to bed) I wonder just how I’m going to keep this up?

Seriously people.  I am looking out over my living room and there is a backpack pulled completely apart at the base of the stairs as the ultimate trip hazard.  The Bactine and stray cotton balls are several feet away.  Homework this evening charted it’s inevitable course through tears territory and into the land of “okay you can stay up an extra 30 minutes.”  And every horizontal surface is covered with something.  Dishes, bills, and laundry are everywhere.  Seriously…  it was not this bad yesterday.

Breakfast was pulled together with the air of Martha Stewart.  I arose convinced that this week would be no problem.  Piece of cake really.  I hadn’t counted on being out of coffee, but no matter, I could channel my inner East Bay housewife and stereotypically stop at ‘bucks later.  I whipped up some scrambled duck eggs with a slice of Monterey Jack melted in.  Some toasted garlic bread on the side and, “Voila!”  easy breakfast.  With snack packed and hot lunch ordered, we even made it to school just in time to be early.

The crash was inevitable.  The post-drop-off latte was too little too late.  Headache.  Crushing.  Coffee fail.  And I know I got loads accomplished today, honest.  I must have.  I’m certain of it.  I do not, however, remember having my own lunch.  In any case, it was suddenly an hour before needing to fetch The Child from school when I realized she had no clean underwear for tomorrow, no snack for before her swim lesson, and my grouchy back was suddenly on red alert.  Dag nabbit!! Laundry started and sandwich prepped.  Half for her, and half for myself, eaten over the sink with an IBU chaser.  Then hurry, hurry so the drive & wait, drive & wait cycle could begin again. A few hours later and I had not yet thought of dinner, despite both of us ravenously thinking of nothing else once we walked in the door from swim lessons.

Sometimes a jar of sauce is just a jar of sauce.

Simultaneously keeping The Child focused on her homework whilst staring into the void of my refrigerator zapped any vestige of creativity.  The fridge may be full of tasty leftovers, but I detest having the same thing the same way again.

So the green beans and bell peppers sauteed with bacon from the night before were chopped up and warmed with a previously opened jar of Wild Mushroom Tomato Sauce from Dave’s Gourmet, and thinned out with some homemade chicken stock.  Quick cooking angel hair pasta meant that literally watching water come to a boil was the painstaking part of the meal prep this evening.  The pasta was done in three minutes, tossed with the sauce and beans for another few, and it really hit the spot.  The Child even asked for an extra serving of green beans mid-way through her pasta.  It may not have been fancy but my jar of sauce and pasta dinner managed to have The Child eat enough to function while finishing up her homework.  Or at least nearly finishing, as the extra 30 minutes of homework time came and went quickly.

Day 1 of Operation Daddy’s Traveling Again has come and gone, and we managed just fine.  Tomorrow perhaps I will get more done, but for now I’m thinking sleep.  After I put the Bactine away and get her undies in the dryer, of course.  The backpack booby trap can stay where it is.  What’s the worst that could happen?

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It was unbelievably hot this week.

The Child and I were flying solo on dinner and I did not have it in me to cook.  Having been home less than a week, the cupboard was still really bare.  Unless somehow I was going to work magic with evaporated milk, a can of crushed pineapple, and a little lonely leftover baked chicken thigh from the night before… we were out of dinner options.

But our produce delivery from spud! had arrived the day before.  I had one nectarine which seemed ripe enough to eat, one heirloom tomato left, and a single scallion.  Found some flour tortillas and some lettuce in the fridge, and I set to work chopping, muttering lines from The Princess Bride, “Why didn’t you list those among our assets in the first place??”

A quick salad was born of nectarine, tomato, scallion, and a minuscule amount of leftover chicken. It was lovely.

Nectarines and tomatoes are prolific at farmers markets this time of year, and I highly recommend giving this combo a try.  Child loved it, and she beat me to the single second helping.

Nectarine, Tomato & Scallion Salad

1 Nectarine, chopped
1 Medium to Large Heirloom Tomato, chopped
1 Scallion, chopped
1 Cold Chicken Thigh, chopped (any small amount of leftover protein will do – pork chop, steak, crumbled bacon, etc. – even canned black beans – or leave the protein out altogether)

Chop.  Salt.  Mix.

Serve as is, or wrapped in warmed, buttered tortillas with some chopped romaine hearts.

Makes about 3 wraps.  Feeds one mom and one ravenous kid.

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Shopping at the local Northwoods grocery store is a bit challenging.  We get local items when we can, but when it comes to most things that is not an option.  Our area is historically trapping, logging, and mining country, not farming country.  The growing season is too short, and the soil quality is poor.  Most quality-raised food has to travel much farther than we are used to in California.  Sometimes shopping here is about choosing the least of several processed evils.  This is after all, a part of the world where it is socially acceptable to buy and serve Velveeta.

For the summer we cook like we’re camping.  We try to make careful choices while remembering that, sometimes, food is just fuel.  And without a dishwasher, one-pot meals with off the shelf ingredients have distinct advantages.
Since this cabin is typically occupied by someone in the family throughout the year, the cupboard and freezer are often filled with groceries other people have purchased.  The kind of food men buy on a fishing trip.

But no amount of Michael Pollan-esque food guilt can allow me to waste food.  I may not make the same purchasing decisions, but when the might-as-well-be-generic brand of canned peas (yes, canned peas…  shudder) are taking up space in the pantry, they ought really be eaten up.

The nice thing was that I had both bacon and a ham steak from the meat purveyor at the local farmer’s market.  I had bought a chicken from him as well and roasted it earlier in the week, so I had homemade chicken stock in my arsenal too.

Futility Farms sends a nice guy with a truck full of freezers each Thursday to sell their grass-fed beef.  Thanks to their neighbors raising animals with similar philosophical bent, there are also conscientiously-raised chicken, pork, and lamb.  The meat comes all the way from Gilman, Wisconsin.

I remembered my father mentioning my grandmother’s recipe for my favorite pea soup is made with canned peas.  And although that soup is beef based with drop dumplings, I decided to freestyle with some pork products, chicken stock, and my forsaken canned peas.

Finished in less than 30 minutes, it was fabulously cozy on a stormy, grey evening.  The Child had seconds, and requested leftovers the next day.  Like all pea soups, this one gets better each day in the fridge.

She wondered why we’d never made this before.  Good question, honey.  Turns out we will be putting canned peas on our pantry staples shopping list from now on.  Cheers to not wasting food and taking a chance.

Canned Pea Soup

1 ham steak, diced
1-2 rashers bacon, chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cans, canned peas, drained and rinsed
Homemade chicken stock
Pepper to taste

Saute the onion, bacon, and ham.  No extra oil or salt is necessary to saute as the pork bits provide sufficient fat and flavor.  When the onions are cooked through and beginning to brown on the bottom of the sauce pan, add the drained and rinsed peas.  Stir to combine and add chicken stock to cover.


Stir occasionally while the soup heats through. Some of the peas will break up on their own, and I suppose some folks might like to take a potato masher to it at this point, but we liked leaving our peas intact.

Served dinner for two, leftovers for a day or two, plus half the batch in the freezer for a rainy day.

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