Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Meal That Almost Wasn't...and Probably Should Not Have Been

It started with a mysteriously empty box of pasta. Only 1/4 of a box left. Hmmm. Very strange. Okay, there's another box of a different shape in the cabinet. They can be combined.

Then there was the missing can of chickpeas. Okay, half chickpeas. Half cannellini beans. I can deal.

This dinner isn't proving to be as simple a meal as it's supposed to be, but that's okay. So, I get out an onion to try out my new onion chopper I picked up at Williams-Sonoma today. Cut the onion open--it's rotten inside. That's okay...I have a red onion. It might look a little funky, but it will work. Yep, you guessed it. It's bad inside, too. So, we went with shallots. Lots and lots of shallots. (Oh, and the chopper didn't work all that well. I'm not sure it gets to live in my kitchen.)

And to add insult to injury, although this is a meal we've really enjoyed it the past, it was just...blah. Nothing. I'm eating a slice of four-day-old pizza. Yeah, that's how bad it was. So, now I have three dirty pans and a dinner I don't want. Some days, ya just gotta step away from the pasta.

(Ever watch Tim Allen's show....can't remember what it's called. You know how the neighbor, Wilson, only showed his eyes? Well, you're getting a Wilson-ized picture tonight, because there was just no way to make this pretty, either.)

Chickpeas and Pasta with Sizzling Sage and Garlic

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

No issues, please

Just to avoid any abandonment issues since I haven't posted in two days, I'm invoking the 12-hour rule for the second night in a row. Tomorrow, I'm at a conference, so there can't possibly be any last-minute urgencies to keep me at work. Right?

Sunday, January 28, 2007

East meets West

Thanks to Nonni’s willingness to scope out some recipes and shop for ingredients, we were able to have dinner tonight, despite the fact that I’ve still just been working throughout the weekend. We started with an Asian inspired Honey Garlic Pork Tenderloin that was absolutely amazing. We only marinated an hour, but that was enough time for the flavors of the honey, lemon, and garlic in the marinade to meld nicely together. What really stood out for me was the way each individual flavor introduced itself to the tongue. Usually, it seems that the flavors of a marinade bunch up like children in a schoolyard, leaving a pleasant impression, but little hope of identifying individual elements. In this case, every flavor stood out, creating a lovely harmony.

I also got a bug to do a little baking, but I needed something quick and easy. I decided to give the Barefoot Contessa’s Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars a try. Judging from the reaction of a foreign exchange student who stayed with us when our oldest daughter was in high school, peanut butter is not as well known other places as it is in the US, although for many of us it is the stuff that childhood comfort is made of. If I want to head straight back to golden summer days of my childhood, a peanut butter sandwich and glass of Kool-Aid will do the trick!

At any rate, these bars went together quickly, and are impressive beyond what you would imagine given the humble list of ingredients. They are tender, but not fragile. The bottom crust is firm and flakey, and the strawberry jam and chopped, salty peanuts bring it all home. If I cut these in circles, would they count as a well-rounded breakfast?

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Nonni Cooks Tonight

Did you miss me last night? Well, remember the 12-hour rule? I don't really want to say how long I worked yesterday, but let's put it like this. I left home in the dark. I came home in the dark. And one of the best ways to stay in touch with younger extended family members, apparently, is to stop by McDonald's at 11:00 on a Friday night. That's all I'm sayin'!

Today has been another catch-up day; it's one of those weekends that I could easily just stay in my pajamas with my laptop on my knees. Come to think of it, that's not much different from the way things are working out! Our two girls, granddaughters, son-in-law, and friends all went to the zoo today for some bonding time, and Nonni decided to cook her specialty for dinner at home, which she calls Gar-Thai chicken. This was originally a Rachael Ray recipe called Thai It You'll Like It Chicken, but she's made so many modifications that it doesn't bear much resemblance to the original. If you want to try it out, check out "Nonni's Notes" at the bottom. I have absolutely no idea what the original recipe tastes like!

Tonight's cooking was a great example of the difference certain ingredients make in a finished dish. I normally buy kosher chicken at Trader Joe's, but the local market doesn't carry it. Shouldn't be a problem. Unfortunately, tonight's chef was disappointed in the texture of the chicken in her dish. The kosher chicken just has better texture and flavor. However, dinner was still Del-ish (another Rachaelism). She succumbed to Mom and Dad's pleas to tone down the heat a little bit from her prior preparations, and we all enjoyed it. I like spicy, but there's a certain level of heat that, for me, just overrides the flavor of a dish. When cooking's this good, I want to taste it!
Hopefully, I can get through my stack of work in time to do some menu planning and grocery shopping before the weekend is over. I do still have Thursday's planned vegetarian meal on tap, so that's enough to get us started. Tomorrow, someone will cook something, so check back with us then!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

My new rule

Everyone needs rules, don't you think? Maybe it's the "Squeegee and Dry the Shower" rule, or the "No Staying Out After 10:00 Rule." My new rule is the "No Cooking On Days I'm Gone for More Than 12 Hours" one. It seems reasonable to me. For some reason, twelve hours is a no-brainer, the long jog through which I can pace myself. Let it get just one minute over, though, and I'm done. Had it. Can't do any more.

What that really means is the quick, easy, vegetarian meal I promised last night turned into this:

So, please accept my apologies, and check back tomorrow for tonight's dinner!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Issues with Ina

Sorry about yesterday; I was gone from home for 16 hours. By the time I made it through the door, I was too tired to read blogs, much less cook and post to my own. It was just a walk-through-the-door-and-go-straight-to-bed kind of night. This has been a busy week with meetings in the evenings; there is another tomorrow. However, I should get home in time to make the oh-so-simple vegetarian meal I have planned.

Which brings me to Ina. Certainly, the Barefoot Contessa has yielded some winners in the dinner department. And she certainly makes it sound easy--and it is. None of her recips have been complicated or required tricky, professional-chef techniques. What they are, though, is time-consuming. I find it hard to get dinner on the table in less than an hour and a half when using any of her recipes, and many of them aren’t even in the realm of possibility for weeknights. I still want to finish cooking recipes of interest from Family Style, but I’m going to have to branch out to manage weeknight dinners.

On my very best work days, I’m gone from home 12 hours. I just can’t give two and a half more to dinner and blogging. (Unless, of course, I give up other habits, like washing my hair or feeding the dogs.)

So, this weekend I’m going to take a look through some other cookbooks, perhaps Sara’s Secrets for Weeknight Meals. Sara has never steered me wrong, so perhaps that’s a good next direction.

Tonight’s dinner was out of the second-most-recent edition of Joy of Cooking. I got my first copy of Joy when I got married in 1978. I would never get rid of that copy; the pages fall open to my favorite recipes. Plus, there are enough drips and splatters on those pages to see us through a blizzard some winter if we got really desperate! I wanted to do something with pork tenderloin, so I revisited a recipe I hadn’t made for quite awhile, Pork Tenderloin Scallopini with Citrus Balsamic Pan Sauce. One of the tricks to this recipe is to be sure to allow the chicken broth to reduce sufficiently. Otherwise, you end up with more soup than sauce. Don’t ask me how I know; just trust me!

Paired with some roasted broccoli studded with Peppadew peppers (piquant, sweet-hot peppers found on the olive bar of my local supermarket) and twice-baked potatoes (first in the microwave, then in the oven), we had a satisfying dinner. Plus, we had pie. Long story. Let me just say, though, that people at work should NOT talk about pie all day long!

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Brits Got It Wrong!

British psychologist Cliff Arnell has rated today as the "Most Depressing Day of the Year." Must be all those bangers and mash, because if he got to come home to a dinner of Sweet and Sour Ribs, I think even he would have a big smile on his face. This recipe was originally posted by Oceanjasper over the CLBB during last week's Sunday Game of the Week. For the uninitiated, that's a Sunday event where a random number is chosen, and everyone who wishes to play finds their cookbook that corresponds to that number by its place on the shelf, then chooses a new recipe to cook from it.

I have to admit to skepticism; after all, these ribs came out of the Crockpot. I figured I would com home to either a mass of mush and empty bones or dried out, unpalatable ribs. Boy, was I ever wrong. These beauties are toothsome and silky, dripping with a thick glaze of sauce. To round out the plate, I cut up the rest of the potatoes from yesterday's pot roast and sauteed them, along with red peppers and onions, in butter and olive oil until the developed a nice, crisp crust.

Even better, there was almost no mess to clean up, because I lined the Crockpot with a Reynold's slow cooker liner. Just pick it up and throw it away! What a way to end a Monday!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Just like Sundays past

It must be some form of child abuse to raise one's offspring without providing at least some memories of the Sunday pot roast. That's what I prepared today, and all of us at the table turned into children again--at least inside our heads. The favorite sentence starter around our table was, "I remember...." I started the roast, carrots, and potatoes this morning about 9:00, then put the roasting pan in the oven, leaving the 300 degree oven to work its magic. It took awhile, but by noon, the house was filled with the fragrance of memories, and the family started drifting into the kitchen, a bit dreamy eyed, asking "When will it be done?"

By 3:00, we were at the dinner table, having completed the meal with gravy and rolls. Simple and satisfying, nourishing the soul as well as the body. I don't know why I don't make this more often; it's truly a "stick it in the oven and forget about it" meal. My wish for you is that you have your own pot-roast memories to share, especially because my memory card wasn't in my camera. I took pictures, but don't know how to get them out of the camera memory into my computer. Needless to say, the transfer cable for the camera is somewhere...else.

To cap off the experience, about halfway through dinner, we looked outside and it was snowing. Remember, we live in the desert, so it is a very rare treat for us. It's too dark now to take a picture, and so far, the snow has not stuck, but the last time it snowed, this is what the mountains behind our house looked like:

What are your favorite food memories...the ones that take you back to childhood?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Hot--Not Haute--Cuisine

I don't like New Year's resolutions and, for the most part, refuse to take part in the ritual of making and breaking them. This year, however, I vowed (although I did NOT call it a New Year's resolution) to eat less food that came wrapped in paper. Yes, it's true--far too many of my meals were ordered from a speaker and thrust at me, encased in a paper bag, through a tiny window. And I think I've been doing a pretty good job of it, cooking almost every night.

Sometimes, however, no matter how good the cookin' at home is, there is some old food friend just calling your name. That's exactly what happened today. For the past couple of years, we have been frequenting Carolina's, a family-owned and operated Mexican food place (I hesitate to call it a restaurant) only about 12 miles from our house. (In our neck of the woods, there is very little that is closer than 8 miles, so 12 really isn't bad.) This place started as a tortilla stand on the wrong side of the railroad tracks. Eventually, they attracted a clientele that drove from all the surrounding suburbs for chorizo, red chile burros, silky refried beans, and most of all, those homemade tortillas--newspaper thin, the size of tires on some people's cars, piping hot, and--best of all--less than $2 a dozen. So, they opened another place, farther north. The ambiance is nonexistent, there is counter service only, and it's almost impossible to find a table that has been wiped down. However, the food is irresistible.

So, after errands and attendance at an event for work, our car just found its way there, where we feasted on chips, salsa, tacos, tostadas, and chorizo burritos--and walked out the door for eleven bucks and change. Tomorrow, I'll eat off of china. Tonight, paper was just fine.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Rachael and Ina make a perfect couple!

Can you imagine a more schizophrenic duo in the kitchen than Rachael Ray and Ina Garten? I mean, there's Rachael, giving things a "shimmy shake" and declaring every single dish as "YUM-O." And then there's Ina, the Queen of Cool, high energy never ruffling her calm demeanor. I can't imagine that smile disappearing from her face even if the dog ate the $200 prime rib she had purchased from a personal friend who runs a farm raising heirloom beef.

Can you picture those two in the kitchen together? How long do you think it would be before someone’s Santoku knife “accidentally” entered the eye socket of the other? Nonetheless, we had an excellent dinner tonight that combined recipes from both of these ladies.

Our main course was Rachael’s Pork Chops with Spiced-Apple Pan Sauce and Roasted Broccoli, paired with Ina’s Roasted Winter Vegetables. Rachael’s pork chops were browned, then lifted out of the pan long enough to sauté apples and onions with cinnamon and nutmeg before being finished with a splash of lemon juice and a handful of chopped parsley. While the pork chops simmered on the stovetop, the broccoli roasted in the oven with a wisp of garlic until the broccoli florets developed into crispy, browned, caramelized goodness.

However, before I even started on Rachael’s recipe, I had popped Ina’s Roasted Winter Vegetables into the oven. Within 20 minutes, even though the vegetables had nothing on them but salt, pepper, and EVOO, the house was redolent with the aroma of cinnamon and nutmeg. It smelled like Christmas, Thanksgiving, and gGrandma’s house, all rolled into one. I pulled the winter vegetables out while the broccoli roasted, then popped them back in the oven for a few minutes before plating dinner.

Not only was dinner delicious, I felt like we were doing our bodies a huge favor with the nutritional double whammy of the broccoli and the beta-carotene rich winter veggies.

We finally got the rain that we have been waiting for, so this was a great night to have something that calls up some vague ancestral memory of a farmhouse after harvest. Of course, we were going to have chili, but the store I stopped at didn’t have the fire-roasted tomatoes I wanted. Don’t you hate that? For the sake of one ingredient, the whole plan has to change. Of course, I could plan ahead, but where’s the fun in that? Actually, I do plan for a week at a time, but sometimes I just don’t want what was on the menu, or something isn’t thawed out (like the pot roast that’s been in the refrigerator for five days now).

Also, I’ve now posted the recipes for Ina’s Real Meatballs and Spaghetti, along with my own spaghetti sauce that a friend of mine very much wanted to see. Good luck with that, Mr. K. You know that no one makes it like Mom, right?

Thursday, January 18, 2007


What a long day! Just walked in the door, and I have to walk back out in nine hours. There will be no cooking in this house tonight. G'night, John-Boy!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Prepare to be Amazed!

It is my hope that each of you who reads my blog finds a measure of inspiration at some point. After all, if I can find time to cook, anyone can, right? And I'm honest about the mistakes, proving that everyone strikes out sometimes.

If I can't inspire you with food, I hope that somewhere you take away something to remind you to spend time with those you love, no matter how full your schedule is.

With that said, though, I know that tonight's offering will simply blow you away with its creativity. Now, you might wonder how I could top last night's divine spaghetti and meatballs. It was, after all, pretty good. Well, tonight, we had....

Drum roll, please...

Ta-da! Meatball sandwiches! It's okay, go ahead. Oooooh! Aaaaah! Yes! Worship at my orange kitchen clogs! (I don't really have any; I was just channeling Mario B.)

In fairness to me, the housekeeper is coming tomorrow, so I have to clean my house tonight. I don't think she's ever seen the kitchen so....cooked in. I'm afraid she'll quit if I don't tame the wild beast a little bit. Plus, there are a ton of meatballs left over. I need to get friendly with my Foodsaver and freeze them for the future, but tonight they made a great dinner. They really are the best meatballs I've ever eaten.

I promise to get caught up on recipes before Saturday. By special request, I'll be including "my" meat sauce recipe, although it's not much of a recipe. There's a lot of what looks right, what tastes of those that it's hard to write down. For now, though, I have a date with a dishcloth!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Mama Mia!

I have to confess. I've never made meatballs. Not once. I've made plenty of marinara sauce, Bolognese sauce, and ragu, but never meatballs. In fact, I'm guilty of scoffing at those who would go to the extra fuss. And, if I do say so myself, I've done a pretty good job of it. When your son-in-law loves your spaghetti, why would you mess with it, right? However, part of what this blog is about is trying new things, so I didn't just flip past Real Meatballs with Spaghetti in BCFS.

So, tonight when I got home, I started to make the magic happen. Three kinds of ground meat. Fresh bread crumbs. Dried bread crumbs. Freshly grated Parmesan, chopped parsley...mixed lightly...barely kissed with the fork to blend. And the secret ingredient, of course...water, which Ina Garten herself claims will keep the meatballs soft and moist. Then, the meatballs simmer in a mixture of EVOO and vegetable oil, turned with barely the caress of a spoon, until all sides are browned.

Once the meatballs were done, my attention turned to the sauce. This is not my kids' mama's red sauce, but I'm cooking Ina's way this month. Sort of. I knew right off that there wouldn't be enough sauce, so I doubled it. And pasta sauce without any basil? So I added some. Other than that, I stayed true to the recipe, sauteing onions and garlic, deglazing the pan with red wine, then adding the other ingredients, slipping the meatballs back into the pan, and simmering while the wonderful fragrance filled the house. While the meatballs finished off, I dropped some whole wheat spaghetti into a pot of hot water, sliced and heated a baguette, and waited.

Were the results worth it? I'd say so. The meatballs were meltingly tender. Really. The sauce, although simple, was rich. This was comfort food at its best, and my son-in-law may have give this one a try.

Before I go, I have a reflection to share. This morning, on my drive to work, the KMLE 108 Morning Mayor, Dave Pratt, made an offhand comment. It was nothing, really, but it caused me to realize that I miss something very, very much. I miss being the mom of little kids. I love my grown-up girls, and I'm proud of them, but I miss the intensity with which a child (most specifically mine) experiences even simple things. I miss having a tiny sun around which my universe orbits. I miss the simple acts of grace that make up a child's life, and the laughter that echoes off the walls, and the tears that can be quelled with a hug and a kiss.

Life is more complicated now. Their problems are bigger. Mom's hugs and kisses don't solve anything, although these beautiful young women are kind enough to pretend they do. And they did, really, grow up too fast.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Homey. Comforting. Sane.

There has been a lot of buzz over at the CLBB the past few days over a Lemon Lentil Soup with Spinach first posted by Alysha from The Savory Notebook. After last night's cooking debacle, this sounded like just the right thing to have for dinner tonight. Brightened with lemon and tomatoes, and redolent of garlic, this soup is loaded with antioxidants. To top it off, dinner would have been ready in less than half an hour if I hadn't been playing around with a Sara Moulton recipe for roasted cauliflower, then at the last minutes decided to make some Parmesan garlic bread wiith the leftover Roasted Garlic Cloves I made last night. Then, I decided to pull out the Oven-Roasted Tomatoes I also made last night, which I don't think I even mentioned in the rest of yesterday's saga. Then I sat down on the couch, with my husband on one side and two dogs begging for scraps on the other, and simply ate dinner. Aaah....bliss.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

I really should have known better...

Boy, was I ever ambitious tonight! Three new recipes, and not one in the bunch quick and easy. Well, the fish, perhaps....

Remember how I said way back in the beginning that I really, really don't like fish? I AM trying, though, because I know it's good for me. I decided to try a recipe from The Stinking Rose Restaurant Cookbook, Hawaiian Sunfish with Cherry Tomatoes, Roasted Garlic, & Olives, thinking anything based on garlic has to be good. And in fairness, it actually was. However, before I could begin the recipe, I had to roast the garlic. This cookbook's recipe calls for two cups of peeled cloves to be gently warmed in a cup of olive oil for 40 minutes, followed by 20 minutes in a low oven. It really did produce some wonderful roasted garlic--mellow and sweet. (Is anybody counting the minutes here--and this was before I could start cooking--and after I peeled two cups worth of garlic cloves.)

While the garlic roasted, I started the Wild Rice Pilaf from Barefoot Contessa: Family Style. It needed an hour to cook, but I figured not too bad, because of the long cooking time required for the garlc. A quick chop of half an onion, a shimmer of olive oil in a brasier, and we were off to the races. Fifteen minutes later, I added the water, salt, and wild rice, then covered to simmer for another 50 minutes. Meanwhile, I chopped scallions for the final preparation of this dish.

But was I done? Oh, no. I also madeMashed Yellow Turnips with Crispy Shallots from The Barefoot Contessa: Family Style. This recipe required six shallots to be peeled and cut into sliver-thin rings, then cooked in olive oil (no lower than 220 degrees, nor higher than 260 degrees) for 40 minutes. While those were cooking, there was the peeling, cubing, boiling, and pureeing of the turnips. And let us not forget slicing the multi-colored, heirloom cherry tomatoes and kalamata olives, or preparing the chiffonade of basil for the fish.

I want you to close your eyes (well, keep one open so you can keep on reading) and picture my kitchen at the end of this. I swear, every single pot, pan, knife, cutting board, and prep tool I owned was either dirty or ready to become dirty. Oil rings covered the granite countertops, and there wasn't an empty inch of counter space. Plus, I was tired and sore (remember the broken foot I told you about from ten days ago?) after the grocery shopping and this marathon cooking session. Finally, though, with everyone's help, we got the kitchen cleaned up, and I prepared to finish off the fish (just a quick saute) and the sauce (a minute in the pan after taking out the fish) so that I could serve dinner.
By the time we sat down, our hopes were high for a really good meal. I took my first bite of the fish, and promptly got stuck in the mouth with a bone. Hello! This was supposed to be a fillet. So, at that point, I was done. Dinner was over. I did taste and nibble at the rest, but I was exhausted and too disgusted to eat.
What did I learn? To trust my instincts. I'd rather waste some ingredients, or figure out how to use them later, than become so focused on a crazy cooking project that it detracts from spending time with the people I want to nourish and love. I did know better, and I ignored the voice inside that was screaming, "Stop! This is insane!"
When I am over my snit about the dinner misery, I'll post recipes, because honestly, every one of them was worth trying--just not all on the same night. Tomorrow, I look forward to a much simpler dinner that will allow me to focus on the ones I love.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Time to Meet the Rest of the Family

Today was going to be blog day in my world (along with menu planning, grocery shopping, and house cleaning day). Life, however, intervened. We had three very welcome visitors to our house, our daughter (Kim) and two granddaughter (Cayce and Brooklynn). Cayce is 8 years old and in second grade; Brooklynn is six weeks old. They are shown here with ther Aunt Kira (who was named "Nonni" by Cayce when she first leaned to talk). Somehow, their beautiful mother always manages to slip out of camera range.
We enjoyed visiting with them. When they left, the Husband (Kent) and I did the most dreaded of all chores; we went shopping at Costco on a Saturday afternoon. Don't get me wrong; I love Costco. I've been member since their very first warehouse opened in our city in 1978. I just hate going there on the weekend. Although we could have filled up on the $1.62 hot dog special, we chose instead to precede our shopping with a visit to Famous Ray's Pizza--the closest thing we've found to John's Pizza since our visit to the Big Apple last June. We love their pizza and their wings, and it's always better to visit Costco without an empty belly.
By the time we got home, I was feeling a bit under the weather. I sat down on the couch, and that was the last thing I knew for the next three hours. So now, after my long winter's nap, I'm up, working on the blog for awhile. I've changed the format a bit; feedback is welcome. I felt the white on black, which I loved from a design perspective, was just a bit too hard to read. So...I'm off to grab a slice of cold pizza and a Diet Pepsi, then back to the keyboard!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Chicken, Tequila, and an Open Flame

Ina seems so detail oriented, doesn't she? So don't you think she might mention that putting her Tequila Lime Chicken on a hot grill is roughly the equivalent of signalling an orbiting spacecraft with a flare? I've never marinated meat in alcohol before, and frankly, I wasn't prepared for the shooting flames. It all worked out okay, as this was a really tasty dish. It's just that I liked having eyebrows!

Nonetheless, this was really good. This recipe calls for the chicken to marinate overnight in a mixture of tequila, fresh lime juice, fresh orange juice, garlic, jalapenos, and chile powder. The next time I make this, I think I'll add some pineapple juice, as well as some chopped cilantro. This recipe also calls for boneless chicken breasts with skin on. Our local supermarket didn't have any, so I had my first experience of deboning chicken last night. It worked out quite well; I wasted only a little bit of meat on a couple of the portions--and I didn't cut myself. Life is good!

Leaving the skin on definitely allowed the chicken to stay moister on the grill, and the flavors of the marinade permeated every bit of the meat. This meat would also be great wrapped in warm tortillas with a sweep of guacamole and pico de gallo.

My choice tonight, though, was traditional rather than ethnic. I served this alongside fluffy baked potatoes and Parmesan Roasted Asparagus. In Barefoot Contessa: Family Style, this asparagus recipe can be found in the appetizer section, along with the explanation that Italians would typically eat their vegetables as part of an antipasti course. I've categorized it as a vegetable, because it's highly unlikely that I would serve it as an appetizer. At any rate, I slipped the pan of asparagus in the oven about half an hour after starting the potatoes. They both cooked happily at 400 degrees, and allowed me to time my dinner to have everything ready at once. Like the other vegetable "recipes" in the book, this one is really a bit of a no-brainer. However, I had never tried adding Parmesan cheese to roasted asparagus. It was good, though--really good. Even the non-veggie and non-cheese eater in our house declared that he could eat vegetables like this. Roasting has been my preferred veggie cooking method for quite some time, and it looks like the addition of Parmesan will join the ranks of tried-and-true methods.

Tomorrow, I will try to post some recipes mentioned earlier in the week, as well as links to some of my other favorite places (and blogs) on the web.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Never trust a weatherman!

Living in the middle of a desert, I crave gray, rainy days. Given the weatherman's promises of late, I was hoping for a little of this:

What I got instead, though, was a whole bunch of this:

Not exactly what I was looking for. I didn't even get a good dinner. Instead, I stopped at the local Subway with a colleague on my way to a board meeting. I had my camera with me, and thought about taking a picture. That, my friends, would be sad. You ALL know what Subway looks like.

However, I did get to see several staff members from our district receive prestigious awards. I'm very proud of what our school district does for kids. While I honestly don't get excited about the thought a meeting after a long day of work, it's always energizing to be reminded of all the good things we're doing and the commitment so many have to making the future brighter for children.

Tomorrow night, The Plan will be back in operation. While I don't want to give away any secrets, I'll give you a sneak peak at some key ingredients of tomorrow night's dinner:

Thank goodness tomorrow is Friday! See you tomorrow night.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A deviation from "The Plan"

I started this blog with a plan--to cook from one cookbook until...I did something different! I knew that there would be times that I just couldn't be limited to one cookbook. Tonight was one of those times. I needed to use up some boneless chicken breasts and didn't really feel up to a labor-intensive meal. I asked my friends over on the Cooking Light Bulletin Board for some inspiration. They had loads of good ideas, and I chose Sauteed Chicken with Balsamic Pan Sauce from an old issue of Cooking Light.
In an effort to stay true to the Barefoot Contessa, I included her Sauteed Carrots from Family Style and Mustard-Roasted Potatoes from Barefoot Contessa Cooks at Home. Doesn't it all look good? See how the sauce caresses the chicken? Well, don't believe everything you see. First, I absolve any of my bulletin board friends from responsibility. Operator error resulted in a sauce that was more like vinegar candy than...well...sauce. You don't even want to know what it took to clean the pan!
On a happier note, the carrots and potatoes were excellent. The grainy mustard tossed with the potatoes and onions before roasting lent an intriguing note to the dish. The carrots are "the essence of carrotness" according to Ina, and I have to agree. They saute in a bit of water until crisp-tender, then cook in a sweep of butter for flavor before tossing with the dill and serving.
Today's mail brought yet another cookbook, Stop and Smell the Rosemary, which I scored for a mere $5.00 at the Barnes & Noble online, after-Christmas sale. It looks wonderful, and might be a contender for the next-in-line cookbook for this blog.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Lemons and Parsley and Shrimp--Oh, my!

Tonight's dinner was, again, from Barefoot Contessa: Family Style. Linguine with Shrimp Scampi was accompanied by Zucchini with Parmesan. This was, once again, a great pairing. I put a large skillet on the stove almost as soon as I walked in the door. As the skillet heated, I sliced the onions for the zucchini, my daughter sliced the zucchini. The onions slowly carmelized, then the zucchini were stirred in, browning in two batches. After developing a nice, brown crust, the zucchini were dusted with grated Parmesan and parked in the oven to keep warm.

I also started a large stockpot of water boiling. While the zucchini slowly cooked, we prepped the lemon in all its forms (zest, juice, and slices) for the scampi, minced the garlic, and chopped the parsley. Once the second batch of zucchini came off the stove, I dropped the linguini in the boiling water and started the garlic sizzling in a skillet. Dinner was on the table ten minutes later, and it was glorious. Lots of "Mmmmm's" were heard around the table, and the leftovers are packed for tomorrow's lunches. Without the zucchini, this dinner could truly be a 30-minute meal. As Rachael would say, "Yum-O!"

Monday, January 8, 2007

No blues on Monday

It's amazing what a sense of accomplishment results from something as simple as cooking dinner and feeding your family. I've been too long away from kitchen, burying my need to cook under the busyness of grad school first, then the demands of a new job. There is such sweet satisfaction in the licorice smell of fresh basil, the tangy green of parsley, and the brightness of lemon offset against the sharp bite of Parmesan cheese.

Tonight's dinner, all from Barefoot Contessa: Family Style, was Parmesan Chicken, hearts of romaine with Lemon Vinaigrette, and Provencal Tomatoes. These dishes complimented each other nicely, with the Parmesan in the tomatoes echoing, but not really repeating, the Parmesan in the chicken. It went together fairly quickly once the prep work was done. Somehow, I got my skillet too hot and had a hard time cooling it down, so once the chicken was browned, I put it in the convection oven heated to 325 degrees for about 15 minutes--just for insurance. While the chicken finished in the oven, I cleaned up the kitchen, dressed the greens with the Lemon Vinaigrette, and prepared to plate the meal.

My husband's comment was that the meal just tasted fresh and healthy, and was absolutely correct. I loved the vibrant taste of the vinaigrette against the more solid flavor of the chicken, and spooned some extra over my portion. I'm looking forward to leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Road Food

We just got back from a trip to Las Vegas with our daughter, son-in-law, and two granddaughters. For some ridiculous reason, I thought it would be a good idea to take some snacks along for the morning and late-night munchies. Apparently, I forgot about the abundance of food available at every turn in Vegas. I spent the day before our trip making the Barefoot Contessa's Lemon Cake, Nielsen-Massey Chocolate Chip Cookies, Cook's Illustrated Lime Bars (a riff on their Lemon Bars), Five-Grain Cookies with Coconut and Cranberries (courtesy of Val on the CLBB), and my own chicken salad, salsa, and sloppy joe recipes.

I suppose this was my latent Christmas-baking gene showing itself, as I did absolutely no baking before the holidays. It seems like there is so much food available then that there's just no joy in adding to the abundance.

The goodies did come in handy on the trip, though, when I broke my foot on the second day. I'd love to tell you how it happened, but you already know...what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas! (Doesn't that sound better than a story about tripping over a sand bag in the under-construction pedestrian area on the strip?) The incident did clip my wings a bit, but with enough pain medication and crutches, I still managed to roam at will.

As I learn more about how to move around Blogger and customize my blog, I'll post recipes and other interesting stuff. For now, it's early to bed and back to work tomorrow after a two-week break. Stay tuned to see what I can stand up long enough to cook this week!

Monday, January 1, 2007

What's the point?

Other than ego, why on earth would I undertake the creation of a blog at this time in my life? As a school administrator, wife, mother, and grandmother of two, my life is busier than I would like, and it seems like my days are all too short.

Perhaps it's the frustrated writing lurking in my heart, or the frustrated cook lurking on the outskirts of my kitchen. I like to believe, however, that it's justification for my ridiculously large (and growing) cookbook collection. I read them all, cover to cover, and find tons of wonderful dishes I want to try in each one...then put it down and move on to the next.

My plan (which is subject to change) is to choose one cookbook at a time, and cook everything in it that interests me. Perhaps enough good meals will help me convince my husband that I really DO need more cookbooks, although my friends at the Cooking Light Bulletin Board have no trouble at all helping me justify my addiciton.

This is not going to be a do-or-die plod through any particular cookbook. I admire the cooks who can do that--I really do. That just isn't me, though. For one, there are too many things I just have no interest in cooking. Take lamb, for instance. Sorry...their faces are just too cute. And quail? I could never eat it, not after watching numerous quail families crossing my backyard, heads down, determination written all over their feathery little bodies, as they charge toward their destination. And fish? Forget it. I do want to begin to add it into my diet, but it's a road I have to walk very, very carefully. It just isn't one of my favorite foods; in fact, in most cases, the more I chew it, the bigger it gets. I've spit out far more fish than I have swallowed.

So, for now, I plan to pick up a cookbook and just cook everything that looks interesting to my family and I--things I think we'll really eat. This blog will record that journey--the successes and the failures. It will also record the deviations from the plan, for knowing myself as I do, there will be many. I look forward to sharing the adventure with you.

I believe I'm going to choose Barefoot Contessa: Family Style as my first challenge. For one, it looks good. And it's a slim volume. It seems realistic. We'll see.