Friday, January 30, 2015

What I'm Cooking in February 2015

In case you need inspiration for menu planning! I've divided what I'm cooking into categories. Regular dinners are pretty self-explanatory. Sunday dinners are for our youngest son and his girlfriend, who come to be fed something besides cereal and ramen noodles every Sunday night. We are hosting 2 potluck dinners in February and attending another, so I've included my contributions for those. On Friday nights, we usually stay in and play with a craft project while sipping cocktails and nibbling on something yummy. Some Saturdays, I get to make us a special breakfast, so I've included those. The miscellaneous includes recipes I'm making for neighbors & friends, special lunches just for me, and, this month, a special Valentine's Day cocktail and dessert. My wife is slated to make dinner Valentine's Day, so I wanted to do something nice for her, too. Since our legal wedding anniversary is February 21st, we'll wait until then to go out for dinner. Hope this is inspiring to some of you who have a hard time planning menus.

Regular Dinners:
-Lebanese veggie soup, good bread, fruit
-Fried chicken, mac & cheese, salad with pears, walnuts, & blue cheese, baked apples
-Filets with creamy paprika sauce, egg noodles, limas, pumpkin bread
- Pasta e fagioli, roasted beet salad w/apple & goat cheese, good bread
-Broiled citrus chicken, black beans & rice, maduros, avo & onion salad
- Corn dogs, fries, salad, corn
-Corn chowder in bread bowls, fruit
-Jambalaya, salad, corn, good bread, King Cake (Mardi Gras)
-Chicken sofrito, jasmine & wild rice with garbanzos, currants, & herbs, roasted cauliflower & hazelnut salad

Sunday Dinners:
-Chili, appetizers by my darling wife, spice cake (Super Bowl)
- Slow-cooker roast, mashed potatoes, corn, salad, ginger-pumpkin mousse
-Brisket with carrots & onions, mashed potatoes, salad, apple & cranberry sauce, rolls
-Pumpkin bread pudding (wife’s night to cook)

Potluck suppers:
-Baked spaghetti
-Apple & brie toasts, red beans & rice, chocolate lavender truffles, Westminster punch (hosting)
-Baked spaghetti, pimiento cheese dip with crackers, brownies (hosting)

Cocktails & Crafts:
-Cheddar cheese ball & crackers, from-scratch hot chocolate with peppermint Kahlúa,
-Oniony chicken dip with tortilla chips, Smooth Operator cocktails
-Garlic spread & crackers, Moscow Mules
-Fruit & nut spread with crackers & fruit, Canalettos
-Kahlúa velvets, pesto coins

Special Breakfasts:
-Chocolatey gingerbread waffles, bacon, fruit
-Slow cooker oatmeal with walnuts, apples, & raisins

Miscellaneous Yumminess
-Mocha coffee mix
--Chocolate fallen soufflé cake + Raspberry Royale cocktails (Valentine’s dessert & cocktails)
-Super Veggie Sandwich

Rosemary Lime Tuna Steaks, January 29, 2015

Last night, I made a couple of beautiful tuna steaks, with jasmine rice and pan-steamed broccoli on the side. The broccoli got a tiny bit burned on the edges. I wasn't thinking when I put the broccoli pan on the burner---it was still hot from cooking the rice---and so, it got too hot. But we couldn't taste the burntness on the veggie & it was perfectly cooked, otherwise, so it was fine. I am used to my steamer, which has gone to the great appliance yard in the sky, and am just learning to pan-steam. Next time, I'll make sure to start with a cold burner---and maybe just a smidge more water. I put 1/3 c. of water and a tiny bit of salt in a pan with the broccoli (cut into florets). Then, I cooked it 3 minutes on high (covered) and 3 minutes on low.

For the tuna, I used 1" thick steaks. You could use any firm fish---halibut would be great, as would swordfish. Salmon would, as well, if you like it. I'm not a huge fan. Brush each steak with about 1/4 tsp. melted butter before broiling. Then, broil it about 4" from the heat for 7-10 minutes, turning once halfway through the broiling (although, it's not the end of the world if you forget to turn it). Make sure you grease the broiler pan! When it's done, you can either sprinkle it with lime juice, salt, and finely chopped rosemary or top it with butter that's been mixed with lime juice, salt, & rosemary. It's wonderful either way!

C-Pub, January 28, 2015

I'd planned to make supper so we could eat before we headed over to the C-Pub, in Lake Orion, for the library trivia tournament. We love playing trivia! Jeannene was worried that maybe I'd got the time wrong, so we decided to go early and just eat there. We'd had lunch there once before and had liked it just fine. This time, I chose their Italian sandwich (like a sub, but smaller) and Jeannene had a patty melt. She thought it was superb, but it wasn't done enough for me. My sandwich was good, although a little too dressing-y. Neither of us much liked the chips---very bland---but my amaretto sour was really excellent!

It's a cozy little place, too, and the servers are awfully perky and upbeat, given that they were kept busy climbing up and down the stairs all night for the trivia crowd. There's going to be another in April & I think I'll just plan for dinner there. Maybe we'll have pizza next time. It looked yummy!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Mac & Cheese for Sonya

After posting on my Facebook page about mac & cheese (& getting all kinds of creative responses---including Jill's idea of using crushed BBQ potato chips in place of crushed Ritz/breadcrumbs on top! I want to try that!), my friend Sonya said she's been looking for a good "grown-up" mac & cheese. Here are my top 2, one baked, one stovetop, both ridiculously good:

American, Blue, & Cheddar Mac & Cheese
8 oz. macaroni (or other small, shaped pasta---you can go as big as cavatappi, if you want), cooked
2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. flour
Salt & pepper
1 2/3 c. milk
1 c. shredded American cheese
1 c. shredded extra-sharp cheddar (I like Cabot or Tillamook)
2 tbsp.-1/4 c. blue cheese crumbles (I lean toward the latter number and I like Maytag)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter in a saucepan. Add flour, salt, & pepper, stirring until smooth. Add milk gradually, stirring constantly. Cook until thickened & bubbly, about 3 minutes, stirring the whole time. Add cheeses and stir until melted completely. Add pasta. Place in casserole dish. Bake 20-25 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Serves 4.

This is my favorite mac & cheese of all, really easy to make & quick, really good & gooey:

Simple Stovetop Mac & Cheese
8 oz. macaroni 
2 tbsp. flour
1 c. milk
2 c. shredded extra-sharp cheddar
(sometimes I add a smidge of Worcestershire sauce; also a shake of dry mustard is yummy; hot sauce is also very tasty with this, especially if you have leftovers---ha!---you are re-heating)

Cook the noodles al dente, then drain well. In still-warm pan, sprinkle with flour, stirring to coat noodles thoroughly. Add milk and cook over low heat until slightly thickened. Add cheese and cook until melted throughly. See if you can get it to the table before you've eaten the whole pan right from the stovetop with a wooden spoon. Serves 4. Well, or 2. 

Mac & Cheese Casserole, January 27, 2015

Last night was another thumbs-down dinner. I made the "hearty macaroni & cheese" from the Gooseberry Patch Fall" cookbook and did not enjoy it. I was pretty sure boiled eggs, peas, onions, Italian breadcrumbs, and chicken were a little much to add to mac & cheese for my tastes and I was right. Jeannene thought it was pretty good. She wasn't so sure about the endive & radicchio salad and downright disliked the dressing I made. I thought the dressing, a cherry balsamic dressing, was yummy. I think I would have liked the salad better with watercress or arugula (our grocery had no watercress and the one container of baby arugula they had was browned on the edges) instead of radicchio, but it was good, too. Since I didn't like the casserole, I am offering you another one, to which you can add whatever you like. If that includes all that stuff I mentioned above, have at it. Me, I like my mac & cheese a bit plainer---although I think I might really like cured chorizo in this. I also usually like it unbaked, just made atop the stove in a saucepan. Baking seems to dry it out. This one, however, stands up well to the oven. If you want, though, just stop at the end of the stovetop directions and serve it like that.

Honestly, the best part of dinner last night was dessert. My sweetie had been through a rough day at work, so to cheer her up, I picked up a pint of Ben & Jerry's Peanut Butter Half-Baked, which is chocolate and peanut butter ice cream, mixed, with hunks of brownie dough and peanut butter cookie dough. It's too bad it's a limited edition flavor because it's stupid good.

Baked Mac & Cheese
1/2 lb. ditalini (or macaroni or whatever small pasta you like), cooked
1/2 stick butter
1/4 c. flour
2 c. milk
8 oz. extra-sharp cheddar, shredded (plus extra for topping)
Salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt the butter in a saucepan. Whisk in the flour, stirring until you have a smooth mixture. Gradually whisk in the milk. Simmer on medium heat, whisking, for a minute or two, until thickened and bubbling. Add cheese, salt, and pepper, and stir until well-mixed. Add macaroni, then put into a 2-qt casserole. Bake 25 minutes. Sprinkle with extra cheese and bake another 5 minutes or so. Serves 4-6. 

Endive, Watercress, & Orange Salad
2 Belgian endives, torn into bite-size pieces or sliced
1 large bunch watercress (or half a head of radicchio or a bunch of arugula)
2-3 oranges, chopped
1 shallot, minced
1/3 c. great quality extra-virgin olive oil
3 tbsp. cherry balsamic vinegar (or whatever other fruity flavor you like)
2 tbsp. mayonnaise
1 tsp. Dijon
Salt & pepper

Toss the endives, watercress, oranges, and shallot gently. Whisk the rest together until thickened. If you're going to eat the whole salad immediately, toss the dressing with the salad. Otherwise, toss individual portions with dressing. Serves 4. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Sausage & Potato Stew, January 26, 2015

Jeannene decided she'd like to come to the gym with me in the evening to check it out, so I made a simple meal that was easy to get ready by the time she got home from work, just a pot of sausage & potato stew and some Pugliese bread. We like to swim and we're wimps about the cold, so it seemed like a good idea to have something that would warm our bellies, too. This stew fit the bill perfectly!

Sausage & Potato Stew
1 lb. breakfast sausage (turkey sausage would be great, as would veggie crumbles, but I would add a tablespoon or so of olive oil, if you use those)
1 tbsp. flour
4 medium red potatoes, diced (peels left on)
1 onion, diced
2 large cloves garlic, minced
32 oz. chicken broth (I like the low-sodium variety)
Salt & pepper
Thyme (a generous pinch or two)

Cook the sausage in a stock pot until browned. Drain off the fat and toss the sausage with the flour, stirring to coat well. Add the rest and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium heat, cover, and cook about 15 minutes. Uncover and cook another 10 minutes or so. Serves 4-6. 

Brunch at Fire: Food & Drink, Dinner at Lucky's Prime Time, January 25, 2015

While we were in Cleveland over the weekend, we finally ate at Fire: Food & Drink in Shaker Square. I'd started wanting to eat there back when we lived in Cleveland, but we never got there. I am so sorry we didn't, now that I've been. The focus is on local, sustainable foods, done beautifully. We were meeting our friend, Mary, for brunch and arrived a little early, so we sat at the bar and had lattes. The bar is very simple, with important little touches many places forget, like purse hooks. They had a beautiful collection of very good liquor brands and a bartender who made beautiful (and tasty) lattes. I've only gotten pretty foam on a latte a small handful of times & have never seen it actually done, so his creating our foam art right in front of us was an added treat. I liked getting to see how it's done. It kind of looks like magic being performed. They have a collection of Mason jars full of house-made elixirs like limoncello and the smoked vanilla bean syrup that went into my latte. When I have an actual bar in my house again, I hope to have a similar collection. They really seem to care about their drink ingredients.

Based on the taste & appearance of the food, I'd say that's the case with it, as well. I'd've loved to get a tour of the kitchen. We had some drinks while we waited for our food, a mimosa for Mary, bellinis for Jeannene & me. I ordered the traditional peach bellini, while my sweetie-pie opted for the guava, which was great. We all split a sticky bun, which was yummy but not amazing and not terribly sticky, and a plate of seasonal fruit, which was superb! I'm pretty sure raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries aren't actual seasonal, but the specimens on our plate were very flavorful and gorgeous. The pineapple and oranges were fab, too.

For our main courses, Mary ordered an amazing-looking cheeseburger. I didn't actually try it, but Mary said it was great. I did try one of her fries and had fry envy the rest of the meal. They're perfectly browned and sprinkled with garlic and herbs.

My Yukon Gold home fries were pretty stellar, too, all creamy on the inside and crisply browned on the outside. I chose the eggs Benedict, which were cooked just exactly as they should be, placed on a beautiful house-made English muffin. The eggs were very clearly fresh, with a rich flavor, and the hollandaise was sunny and quite lemony. I have often gotten bland hollandaise, but this was bright and wonderful. I think the choice to use their excellent house-made ham rather than Canadian bacon boosted the dish, as well.

Jeannene had 1 egg, over easy, with their sausage and an order of grits & goat cheese. Everything was fabulous. The grits were incredibly flavorful and the sausage, even though it had a bit of sweet to it, was fantastic.

We will definitely go back when we're in the area again.

We rolled back into our own neck of the woods a little late, but found Lucky's Prime Time in Rochester still open and happy to serve us. We've been to a couple other Lucky's locations, but this was our first visit to this one. We were both tired and not hungry for a big dinner. We'd hoped to hit Panera for soup, but they were already closed by the time we arrived. Our server was very friendly and right on top of everything. Jeannene had the soup of the day, a beef vegetable soup that was quite yummy. I opted for French onion soup, which they do quite well. I'd had it at other locations and, while it's not as good as what I get at The Laundry in Fenton, it's very good, with a fairly robust broth.

Our "main course" was salad. I love wedge salad and theirs is usually good, with very crisp, fresh iceberg and plenty of blue cheese crumbles. Their blue cheese dressing is just right. I remembered to ask for no tomatoes, but forgot to ask for the dressing on the side. They tend to be incredibly generous with the dressing and it overwhelms the salad, but it's good, nonetheless. Jeannene had a dinner-sized salad with chicken---I didn't try it before she gave it the French dressing treatment, but she said it was very good.

I was, honestly, a little disappointed with their bread. I usually really love the bread at Lucky's in Imlay City, which is covered in a variety of seeds and is impossible to stop eating. This bread was still good, but had scarcely any seeds and way too much garlic powder. I love garlic as much as anyone, but this was not integrated into the bread, just sitting atop the loaf in a fine dusting. I don't know if this is the standard for this location or we got an end-of-the-night, not-awesome loaf. Still and all, it was a lovely dinner, just what we were in the mood to have.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Stonetown, January 24, 2015

When the event at which I presented in Cleveland this past weekend was over on Saturday, we had the luxury of another night in town. We'd made arrangements to meet with friends, Mike & Donna, who are also interested in good and interesting food. We asked where they might like to eat and they suggested Stonetown Southern Fusion, just across the street from the denominational headquarters where the event was held. It was so much fun to be in the Gateway District again and to see how very lively the streets are at night. People poured down the street Friday night for the Cavs game and Saturday night for the Monsters hockey game. Lots of folks came into Stonetown, too. I'd never heard of it. It opened after we moved away and had somehow never made it onto my radar. Man, am I glad they suggested it!

Stonetown is all clean lines and words from various quotes, strung together and painted onto the walls as a sort of manifesto for good living. The combining of the messages (and the mis-spelling of one of the names) is a little confusing, but the overall message is really positive. The colors are vibrant and the fireplace cozy. It looks like they have a nice sidewalk patio in summer and the big windows are great for people-watching as the crowds flow by in the street. Our waiter was incredibly patient with our slowness to decide. The staff and patrons remained relaxed in the face of a quick, enthusiastic outburst of commentary on recent racial tensions by a couple of young men on their way out the door after a birthday celebration, who yelled "Black lives matter!" a couple of times before exiting. Nobody became alarmed, although I imagine it sparked some good conversation at some of the tables, in this city that so recently experienced the shooting death of a 12-year-old boy by police who mistakenly thought he had a real gun. The whole place felt much more like a comfortable neighborhood gathering spot than a fancy, fine-dining establishment.

The food wasn't fancy, either, but it was delicious! We started with the soul rolls and an order of fried green tomatoes. I know you all have probably ordered fried green tomatoes that arrived sodden and floppy and falling out of their batter. I know I have. They can be a dicey thing to order. At Stonetown, they are small and crisp and perfectly firm. Not greasy at all, they are a bit tart, as they should be, and just superbly executed. The spicy remoulade that comes alongside is more spicy than I'd expected, and less creamy, but a great foil for the dish. The same sauce is yummy with the soul rolls. I was a little skeptical about ordering them, thinking they'd be the same old thing as the Southwestern Eggrolls at Chili's. However, they were worlds apart from that. I'm so glad Mike ordered them. They're filled with chicken, greens, black beans, roasted corn, and cheese. They were not at all blah, as I'd feared they might be, but were velvety smooth and full of flavor. I found myself sorry we didn't have more.

However, it's a good thing I didn't overstuff myself on the appetizers, because dinner was very generous. I ordered the buttermilk fried yardbird, white meat, which came with beautifully creamy, tasty grits and another side. I chose mac & cheese, which turned out to be a disappointment. I am picky about mac & cheese and love mine, with extra-sharp cheddar that clings to the noodles without being overly saucy, the best. This version didn't have enough zing to it, with hunks of mild cheese adhering to, but not coating, the noodles, kind of like cheese tossed in with noodles and stirred. I imagine it would be fabulous to most people, though. The chicken, on the other hand, was terrific, with a crunchy, delicious coating and beautifully juicy meat. I had way more than I could eat, so half of it went home with Mike & Donna. If I'd had a refrigerator in my hotel room, I'd never have surrendered it, though. Jeannene couldn't eat more than half of hers, either. She opted for the version that came with mini red velvet waffles and those were stellar! Mike and Donna said their blackened chicken and blackened catfish were excellent, as well.

We shared the peach cobbler for dessert, but did not finish, not only from restraint imposed by all the other good foods that went before, but because it just wasn't that great. It was more like a slice of peach pie that had fallen apart between the pie plate and the dessert plate than like any cobbler I've had. It was fine, but not worth the calories to finish and I wouldn't bother ordering it again. However, I would definitely bother going back. There were a bunch of things on the menu that I really wanted to try. Next time, the catfish, I believe.

Winking Lizard Tavern, January 23, 2015

I presented at a youth leaders' event in downtown Cleveland over the weekend. It's an annual event, a wonderful one, and the tradition for Friday night after the closing of official programming is that we go to the Winking Lizard Tavern, just a few doors down from the hotel. When we lived in Cleveland, we really liked to go to the Avon location (which, sadly, has since moved to a different location---we always loved the layout there), so Jeannene was especially excited to get to eat there. They have terrific wings, so she had those, 5 traditional with garlic sauce and 5 boneless with a spicy mustard sauce called Goldfinger (if I'm remembering correctly). She oohed and aaahed all the way through her dinner and lamented not living in the area any longer.

I have a hard time going to the Winking Lizard without trying their seasonal offerings. Friday night, they had a New Orleans-inspired menu, including a variety of po'boys. I wrestled with whether I should get their truly yummy Buffalo chicken sandwich or a po'boy. In the end, I had a roast beef po'boy with an order of hand-cut Cajun chips. The sandwich was good, if a little cool around the edges. The gravy was nothing as good as the great version I had at Remoulade in the French Quarter, but it was flavorful and the beef was nice and tender. I was disappointed in the chips, which could have used a heavier hand with the Cajun seasoning, but I made up for them yesterday by sharing a bag of Zapp's Voodoo chips with Jeannene on our drive home. If you can get your hands on a bag of those, your tastebuds will thank you.

Another thing I really like about the Winking Lizard is their wonderfully extensive bar menu. They have just about any beer you could imagine and some creative and tasty cocktails, as well. Jeannene likes to get their featured beers that come with a take-home glass, this month, North Coast Wintertime Ale, to which she awarded a big thumbs up. I tend toward their cocktail of the month, if it sounds good. This month, it sounded great---the Svoboda, a mix of Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey, Amaretto, orange juice, and sour mix---so I ordered it. It was delicious! We also had a glass of the only beer I will drink, Lindeman's Framboise lambic ale, which tastes like raspberry soda from heaven.

Spaghetti with Slow-Cooked Pork Sauce, January 22, 2015

I have a confession to make. For all my love of cooking, I had never, until Thursday, made one of those pasta sauces that you cook all day. I had actually considered it a huge accomplishment even to have made pasta sauce from scratch sometimes, the sort that takes 45 minutes to an hour to make. Honestly, though, when I'm making spaghetti, I almost always just add stuff to a jarred sauce, something like Newman's Own, and call it good.

Last week, though, I finally made a sauce that cooked for about 7 hours. It started with pork tenderloin. I was pretty nervous when people started telling me that was too lean a cut ever to work with a long, slow cook like this, but it collapsed into lovely, tender shreds in the sauce. I'm also not usually a "sweet" spice in red sauce kind of person, when it comes to mainstream foods. Allspice in kofta or nutmeg in pastitsio seem altogether different than cloves in chili or allspice in spaghetti sauce. But, it worked! I'd hoped to serve this over bucatini, but there was none, so it was served with De Cecco spaghetti, a Caesar salad (bagged), and some Pugliese bread.

Pork Sauce for Pasta
2 tbsp. butter 
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 and a half pound pork tenderloin
3 lg. onions, diced
4-5 stalks celery, diced
1/2 bunch parsley, chopped
5-6 cloves garlic, minced
14 oz. can diced tomatoes
28 oz. can tomato sauce
8 oz. can tomato paste
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. cloves
A big glug of dry red wine

Heat butter & oil in stockpot. Add pork and brown on all sides. Remove from pot. Cook onions, celery, parsley, and garlic in same pot until tender. Add diced tomatoes and cook 15 minutes. Add all but wine and stir well. Add pork, submerging in sauce, and cook on low, covered, 6-8 hours, stirring occasionally. When you hit the 4 or 5 hour mark, you may need some more liquid in the pot. Add dry red wine until it looks right. Even if you don't need more liquid, the wine adds terrific flavor.  Serves 6. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Kofta with Tahini Sauce, January 21, 2015

I seem to be on a meatball kick, with the "nursery food" meatballs in tomato sauce I made last week---or was it the week before?---and the kofta, a sort of Middle Eastern meatball, I made last night. My secret pal, knowing how much I love to cook, sent me a truly marvelous Christmas gift, Jerusalem: a Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. It's absolutely beautiful, with glorious pictures and a really nice layout. I've been wanting to pick up one of Ottolenghi's cookbooks for awhile now, so it was fun finally to dip into this one. I didn't follow the kofta recipe strictly, but it turned out to be delicious, anyway. I am not so much for very hot food and neither is Jeannene, so I subbed a judicious amount of crushed red pepper flakes for his fresh red chile. If you like it hotter, go for it! With the kofta, I served pilaf with labneh and a salad of cucumber, tomato, red pepper, and red onion, dressed with olive oil & lemon juice. It was a great dinner!

Kofta B'siniyah
8 oz. ground lamb
8 oz. ground beef (I used 94% lean)
1/2 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 tbsp. toasted pine nuts
1/4 c. minced parsley
A pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 tsp. allspice
A good grating of fresh nutmeg
A good grinding of pepper
A good pinch of salt

1/3 c. tahini
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 c. water
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. oil

Toasted pine nuts

Mix kofta ingredients gently, but thoroughly, with your hands. Form into 9  3" long, oval-shaped cylinders. Chill until ready to cook. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Whisk sauce ingredients together. Ottolenghi directs that the sauce should be, "...a little runnier than honey." If you need to add a smidge of water to make it that consistency, that's fine. Heat oil in skillet on high. Add the kofta and sear it so that it's golden brown on all sides. Place on baking sheet and cook for 2-4 minutes. Pour the tahini sauce around the base of the kofta---drizzle some over, too, if you like---and put in the oven for another minute or two. Serve with sauce, garnished with pine nuts and paprika. Serves 3.

Grand Azteca, January 20, 2015

Jeannene was supposed to be out of town this week, so I planned to go to dinner at a Mexican restaurant with one of my Meetup groups. I usually try to reserve evenings and weekends to spend with Jeannene, since we didn't find one another until I was already 30. I figure I want to spend all the time with her that I can. However, the trip was cancelled and she was actually able to come with me, which was terrific! She's never met these gals, although she hears me talk about them after I've been to lunch or the movies with them. We have not yet discovered our terrific Mexican place here---although, we've been to a couple not very good ones, one pretty good, and one that seems over-hyped to me. This one, in Sterling Heights, is a little bit of a haul for us, so we'll probably stick with our pretty good find, Casa Real, in Oxford. We don't go out for Mexican a whole lot, but the one time we went there, it was worth another trip back.

I would say Grand Azteca is another pretty good one, although not incredible, by any means. Their margaritas are certainly enormous & fairly tasty. Jeannene had a couple of soft tacos, no sides. The bite I had tasted pretty fresh and good. I ordered the chile verde, which is one of my favorites, when done well. This version was tender and quite yummy, but I felt the sauce needed a little something to brighten it a bit more---perhaps a wedge of lime served with it? The beans and rice were both flavorful, which is very often not the case, and the tortillas were good. The service was prompt, if not particularly friendly. The only issue we had, in terms of service, was due to the language barrier (I really should learn Spanish!)---Jeannene requested 2 more small, empty bowls to put some of the queso we already had at the table in for individuals (sharing one bowl was not practical, due to there being 8 of us) and our waiter quickly brought 2 large bowls of queso to the table (and, of course, charged us for it---it all got eaten, so it was just fine, really.) I would definitely go back, if I were in that neck of the woods, but I probably wouldn't make a special trip to eat there.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Panda House, January 19, 2015

I love Chinese food! My wife, not so much. Luckily, Pie and Bubbles love it, too, so when we do Sunday dinner out, we sometimes get to go out for Chinese! We'd not yet found a Chinese restaurant we loved since we moved to Michigan when we finally discovered Panda House in Lake Orion because the kids wanted Chinese food. We've been there several times now and have always had fresh-tasting, delicious food and really personable service. It's a tiny place and not terribly warm in winter, but the people who work there are completely delightful and work very hard to give diners a good experience. Their carry-out business is quite brisk.

This week, we moved Sunday dinner to Monday & met the kids there for dinner. Both their crab rangoons and pork dumplings are light, delicate, and delicious. We usually get them. The kids had egg drop and wonton soup, while I got my customary hot & sour, which is just spicy enough to be interesting, but not mouth-searingly so. Jeannene somehow doesn't like any Chinese soups, so she gave hers to Pie. I am really picky about egg and spring rolls---I really only like the Vietnamese-style fried spring rolls with pork and bean thread noodles in them, which are terribly hard to find---so the kids got our egg rolls, as well.

I was feeling noodly, so I had the pork ho fun. The noodles were perfectly cooked (they are often overcooked so they turn into one giant, gluey mass) and not over-sauced, but with enough to make it flavorful. The pork was good quality, too. I am happy to have plenty left over for lunch today! Jeannene always gets General Tso's chicken and their rendition is a good one. Again, the quality of the meat is good---you don't get gristly pieces at all. The kids both got sweet & sour, not a favorite of mine, pork for him and chicken for her. They reported that it was good. It's basically chicken nuggets with sweet sauce, so not something I am keen to  eat. Pie has loved it since he was a kid. Since the mamas were paying, he ordered a second entree, as well, a plate of curry chicken. I didn't try that one, but he seemed really to like it. Their fortune cookies, too, have a lot of flavor, something I seldom find. When the guy sitting at the table next to us complained because his cookie had no fortune in it (seriously, dude?), the waitress apologized profusely and brought extra cookies for the whole table. She brought us an extra cookie, too, in case one of ours didn't have a fortune. Me, I figure if your cookie doesn't have a fortune, that means you get to make up whatever fortune you want for yourself---not a bad deal!

Leftover Quiche, January 18, 2015

Sunday before church, Jeannene was all excited about having the whole day to just relax and not have to worry about the kids coming for Sunday dinner (Pie had to work until 10 p.m.) or going to work the next day. So, she cajoled me into letting her cook that night and kept asking me what sounded good to me. All through our stellar brunch at Sullivan's Public House (on which more in a moment), she considered various dishes. I suggested homey things like chicken à la king, beef stroganoff, soup. I was pretty sure she was going for soup, as she really brightened up and said, "I'm great at homemade soup!" However, we got home, watched several "Librarians" episodes and the "Transformers" movie, dozed a little on the couch, and it was clear she didn't want to cook. She was still full from brunch, too. So, she heated up some of the delicious quiche from Saturday's brunch for me. When she got hungry later, she warmed up some rice and put labneh on it for her supper. Thank heavens for leftovers on lazy nights, eh? Who can complain?

If you are a Detroit Metro reader, I strongly encourage you to visit Sullivan's for any meal. We'd had a stellar dinner there already and had promised ourselves we'd be back for brunch. I had a hard time deciding what to order, as everything sounded so good. Do I do the Full Irish Breakfast? Or the steel cut oats? How about those Eggs Benedict? But a chicken toastie sounds scrumptious, too. But that black pudding, red onion marmalade, and blue cheese tart sounds pretty fabulous, too. What to do? We both ended up with the full Irish and were glad we did! 2 fried eggs (really rich in flavor---I suspect they source locally), a house-made sausage, white pudding (fabulous!), black pudding (the spices made it a little too sweet&meat for me, but Nene loved it), grilled tomatoes, baked beans, and soda bread. Yum yum! The service was great, too. The only bad thing was that I kept forgetting that the bench seating wasn't one long bench, so I tried to sit and then slide into my seat when we arrived and to slide out, then stand when we left. I fell both times, which must have been quite comical to witness!

Big Top Buffet, January 17, 2015

Jeannene had a Big Top-themed work function Saturday night. We had lots of fun watching the magician, getting fortunes told, and dancing. The less said about the buffet, the better, but the party favors were completely outstanding! We each got a bag of cotton candy and a caramel apple from Blake's Cider Mill, one of our favorites in this area. Their caramel apples are perfect, with crunchy, tart apples and just the right amount of chewy caramel coating. No extra toppings or enormous apples, just caramel heaven. What's more, they make really wonderful hard ciders and have a nice sitting area in which to enjoy them.

Pajama Party Pizza, January 16, 2015

The Wild Mango Queens had a pajama party at our place for my half-birthday. Yes, grown women having a sleepover---try it! It's fun! We talked books, watched a movie, and ate good food. We even played Truth or Dare. At 4 a.m., we finally gave up and retired to our beds. That's the nice thing about a grown-up slumber party---you get to sleep in beds instead of sleeping bags on the floor! Another nice thing about a grown-up slumber party is wine. We had our favorite moscato, Elektra, in the evening and mimosas at breakfast. I thought about making a really nice dinner for us, but then defaulted to pizza, since that's such a pajama party classic. My favorite pizza delivery chain is Jet's and we have one nearby, so, after ascertaining that Jet's was okay with everyone (actually everyone was really enthusiastic about it), I ordered that. Jeannene specifically wanted New York style cheese pizza, so we got one of those. I am partial to their pepperoni 8-corner pizza, so we got one of those. Sue recommended the bbq chicken pizza, which I was a little iffy about trying. I had tried another bbq chicken pizza and thought it was overly saucy and awash in red onions. I generally trust Sue's judgment, though, so we got that one, as well. Man, was it fabulous! Just the right amount of everything, in perfect combination. Yum!

We had some cupcakes, but we never got around to them, so we gave them to Pie & Bubbles, along with a bunch of leftover pizza. They had that weird whipped frosting that my wife loves. It seems most people either love it or aren't even willing to eat it! I am strictly a buttercream girl. Makes it easier to resist cake, that's for sure. We didn't need cupcakes, at all, because Sue brought a yummy hot chocolate cheesecake dip she found on Pinterest and all kinds of fruit & cookie dippers.

Brenda brought breakfast, a terrific country quiche from a Trisha Yearwood recipe. We ate Sue's fruit (and some blackberries we had in the fridge) with it and Jeannene cooked up some bacon and ham, too. Not that we needed it with the sausage quiche, but it's what she does. She loves making breakfast for people. Brenda left the rest of the quiche with us, too---what a great gift!

Chicken & Stuffing Casserole, January 15, 2015

Last Thursday, mindful of the wintry weather, I made a homey dinner of chicken & stuffing, lima beans, and caramel apple salad. I was leery of the salad, given the pudding, Cool Whip, & marshmallow components, but it actually turned out to be quite delicious. I liked the chicken & stuffing just fine, but the salad was the standout of the meal for me. Oh, I also had a nice hot drink while I was cooking, a mug of hot milk with a shot of Amaretto, which was quite yummy but perhaps better suited to right before bed. The originals of these recipes are from the Gooseberry Patch Fall, Family, & Friends cookbook. These are what I actually did.

Chicken & Stuffing Casserole
2 cans cream of mushroom or cream of chicken soup (or 1 of each; I used Healthy Choice)
1 c. chicken broth (I always use reduced sodium)
1-2 lb. cooked chicken, diced
1 box chicken-flavor stuffing mix, prepared according to box directions (I used reduced sodium)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix soup and broth. Put half the chicken in a lightly greased casserole. Top with half the stuffing and half the soup mixture. Repeat layers with chicken, stuffing, and soup. Bake 45 minutes to an hour. Serves 6. 

Caramel Apple Salad
8 oz. Cool Whip, thawed (I used the light grocery store brand; fat-free is also an option)
3.5 oz. pkg. instant butterscotch pudding (You can use sugar-free)
8 oz. crushed pineapple
2 large apples, diced (I used Honeycrisps)
1 c. peanuts (I used roasted, salted ones with skins, which was fine & what I had on-hand)
1 c. mini marshmallows

Mix Cool Whip, pudding mix, and pineapple together. Add the rest and chill until serving time. I was tempted to leave the peanuts out, since I don't like nuts on my actual caramel apples. However, I tasted the salad without them and it really needed something more. Reluctantly, I added peanuts. They took it to a whole new level. Serves about a dozen folks. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Mongolian Sweet & Hot Fish, January 14, 2015

Last night was Jeannene's night to cook. She's been hankering for fish, so she thawed out some tuna and tilapia and made a marinade for it that starred Mongolian fire sauce, molasses, garlic, red pepper flakes, and tamari. More than that, I can't tell you, and I likely will never have it again because most of her dishes are one-shot deals, but it hit the spot on a cold January night! She did a beautiful veggie stir-fry alongside, with broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, snow peas, water chestnuts, peppers---mmm, mmm, mmm! I made some Jasmine rice and she cut us some honeydew slices. I love it when she cooks!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Pork with Dijon Sauce, January 13, 2015

I'm not usually very much of a sauce person and my very favorite way to eat pork chops is simmered in a skillet with sauerkraut. However, my wife loves sauces of all kinds. So, this dinner was right up her alley. I am mourning the loss of my beloved steamer, as that's my favorite way to cook vegetables. I've had it since 1998, though, so I'd say it is allowed an honorable retirement. It simply started taking longer and longer to get veggies to the desired tenderness. We had another steamer that I thought would make a great back-up, a yard sale find of Jeannene's, but it doesn't work much better than my old one does now. So, until I get off my duff and purchase a new one or learn how to steam veggies properly without a steamer, it's boiled or blanched for us. Yesterday, I did broccoli and overcooked it. The stems were tender, but the tops were a hot mess. We also had instant polenta. I can't imagine myself spending 45 minutes stirring the real deal and I never think of baking it, so instant is a pretty good substitute. You can cook the pork chops however you normally cook them. Sometimes, I pan fry mine, sometimes I bake them. Then, just a smidge of the Dijon sauce.

Creamy Dijon Sauce
1 c. heavy cream
1/2 c. Dijon mustard
Salt & pepper
1 tbsp. cornstarch, dissolved in a little water, if desired

Mix the cream, Dijon, salt, & pepper in a small saucepan and heat over medium heat. Stir until slightly thickened. If you desire a thicker, creamier consistency, add cornstarch and stir until smooth. This should be enough for 6-8 servings.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Meatballs & Rice, January 12, 2015

Spaghetti and meatballs is such a classic combo that it rarely occurs to me to do anything else with meatballs (those funny little cocktail meatballs don't count), especially when they're in a tomato-based sauce. Swedish meatballs seem like another thing entirely, so it makes sense to put them with egg noodles. Last night, though, following Nigella Lawson's advice for feeding children, I made meatballs and rice for our supper. Paired with a butter lettuce salad and a honeydew melon with a scattering of blackberries, this is a very simple, very yummy meal. Jeannene rated it 9 out of 10, saying it would have been 10 if I hadn't called it "toddler food." For the record, I said that Nigella said that it's "nursery food." I was not calling my wife a toddler. Hee hee! Here's the recipe, with my tinkerings (way more garlic, for one, than called for---perhaps that bumps it up to "Grown Person Food" status?

Rice and Meatballs
1 lb. ground beef (I used 94% lean beef)
1 egg
2 tbsp. grated parmesan cheese
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp. chopped parsley
3 tbsp. roasted garlic breadcrumbs
1 tsp. salt
A good grinding of pepper
1 onion, quartered
5 small cloves garlic
1 tbsp. butter (this could be reduced or eliminated, I think)
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 14 oz. can petite diced tomatoes
1/2 c. milk (I used 1% to good effect)

Mix ground beef, egg, parmesan, 3 cloves garlic, parsley, breadcrumbs, salt, & pepper together, lightly but thoroughly. Overworking will cause the meatballs to be heavy and tougher. Shape into very small balls (mine were about 1"). Chill. Add the onion and remaining garlic to a food processor and process to a paste. Heat oil and butter in a deep saucepan. Add the onion/garlic mixture and cook about 10 minutes on low. Add the tomatoes (do not drain) and half a tomato can of water. Season with salt and pepper. Cook another 10 minutes, this time on medium-low. Add milk and bring to a boil. Add meatballs, one at a time. Cook another 20-30 minutes, partially covered. Serve on cooked rice. Nigella says this feeds 8-10 children. I'd say it would feed 4-6 adults. Unless the deliciousness makes people greedy. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Beef Stew, January 11, 2015

Last night, I redeemed myself for the horrible pork chops I made earlier in the week. I started Sunday dinner, a long-cooking beef stew, Saturday night and cooked it an hour and a half then. Yesterday, I popped in into the oven in the early afternoon and let it cook the rest of the way. We'd planned to have Pie and Bubbles over for Sunday dinner, as we usually do, and had a beautiful round of crusty Italian bread, a honeydew melon (and blackberries to scatter on it), and a store-bought chocolate pudding cake all ready to serve them with the stew. However, we got a text shortly before serving time telling us that Pie wasn't feeling well, so we were on our own for dinner. They missed out on the best beef stew I've ever had or made. Next time you have a block of time during which you can run your oven, you should absolutely make this!

Sunday Dinner Beef Stew
3 lb. lean beef, cut into 2" or so cubes
6 slices bacon, diced
1 small onion, chopped
5 larger-sized red potatoes, quartered
3 large or 5 small carrots, peeled and cut into 1" chunks
8 oz. mushrooms, halved
3 medium onions, quartered
A big handful of mixed fresh parsley and dill, chopped
1 c. dry red wine (I used Gnarlyhead cabernet sauvignon)
10 oz. can beef consommé 
6 oz. can tomato paste
1/2 tsp. each salt, pepper, and thyme
1 tbsp. minced garlic
3 bay leaves

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Brown beef, bacon, and chopped onion in a Dutch oven or oven-safe soup pot, about 10 minutes. Add everything else, stir well, cover, and bake, covered, about one and a half hours. Uncover and bake another 2-3 hours, stirring every so often. Remove bay leaves before serving. Serves 6-8. 

Cheeseburgers, January 10, 2015

Saturday night, Jeannene redeemed herself for the peculiar steak on Thursday by producing terrific cheeseburgers for us! She'd picked up some pre-made patties of Laura's lean burgers and I had mine on a whole grain English muffin from Trader Joe's. I love their English muffins! She asked me if I'd repeat the acorn squash and pineapple I made earlier in the week, which I was happy to do, and put together a fruit plate with grapes (red and green) and jicama sticks with Tajin seasoning mix she'd found at the grocery. Neither of us had ever heard of Tajin and weren't sure how to use it. Unfortunately, we overdid it, using the entire packet and making our jicama too spicy to eat. Now, we know! It's a blend of chile, dried lime, and salt and I can imagine loving it on a wide variety of foods, so I'll be looking for it in the store now.

If you missed the acorn squash post, you can find it here.

Sullivan's Public House, January 9, 2015

Perhaps due to a fear of a third ugly dinner, perhaps just in a spirit of adventure, my wife took me out to a new restaurant Friday night. She arrived home, had me get bundled up, and even drove, so I wouldn't discover where I was eating until we got there! I love surprises like that! I told her any time she wants to do that, whether for a meal or an entire weekend, it's fine by me. We arrived in Oxford, Michigan, just down the street from our disastrous and hilarious anniversary dinner at Victoria's Delights (where Jeannene's cedar-planked whitefish arrived cradled in a Handiwipe and where the visible parts of the kitchen were filthy), and she parked behind the row of buildings that contains the bead store. I knew she was taking me someplace we'd never been, but I didn't know there was any restaurant in that row. We often go to Red Knapp's and I had never noticed a restaurant across the street.

Just then, I spotted it, a little pizza and pasta joint. "Yum," I thought. But my wife led me in another direction, through a discreet door marked "Sullivan's Public House." We walked through the lower, bar area, and I was a little worried about seating. I hate hightops and have been known to walk right out of a restaurant that only offers them. I hate to have my legs hanging down while I eat, as much as I hate perching my ample Cuban rear end on wee stools. I was delighted, then, when we were led to the upstairs dining room, all clean lines and coziness, with windows overlooking the main drag. We were seated at a blessedly low table and immediately greeted by our waitress, who turned out to be the perfect combination of attentive and allowing us to have our space.

Jeannene started with a cider on ice, while I went the opposite direction with a coffee with Bailey's and Kahlúa. Given the cold night, we were eager to warm up with soup, but I was also intrigued with the pretzel twists with a Smithwick's and cheddar sauce. I know that pretzels are everywhere ever on earth now, along with poutine, but I almost always really like them and love to try different beer cheese sauces. We didn't need them, but we ordered them, with a potato leek soup for Jeannene and Irish onion soup for me. They turned out to be dainty little things, with a tasty sauce that should probably have been just a smidge warmer. As we were taking most of it home, however, I didn't bother asking and simply enjoyed it as it was.

Our soups were very good and Jeannene's was just beautiful when it arrived, a soft light green, with a lovely flower piped in crème fraîche atop it. Hers was creamy, comforting, and not at all assertive, whereas mine had a pronounced tartness to it and great flavor from delicate shards of leek and onion. The traditional French bread crouton was replaced with soda bread and the mozzarella/provolone with white cheddar.

Jeannene had decided ahead of time that she would have the Scottish salmon, pan-seared and accompanied by braised kale and cabbage, along with a large mound of mashed potatoes. The whiskey cream sauce was well-executed and not dominated by the whiskey and the salmon was delicious, cooked perfectly. Jeannene proclaimed it the best, or very nearly, she's ever had. Having heard that they were out of the cottage pie, I was torn between the bangers and mash (really, colcannon) and the shepherd's pie. I'd declared when I saw the door sign that I was having shepherd's pie, but I am quite a fan of bangers and mash, especially when the sausage is house-made, as it is at Sullivan's. So, I ordered that, only to have the waitress return and very apologetically tell me they had just run out of it, as well. I was absolutely fine with that, figuring I was meant to have the pie. It arrived with a lovely cloud of potatoes piped on top and full of juicy, beautifully-spiced Angus beef, carrots, turnips, and peas. Scrumptious! Of course, I could only eat about a third of the monumental dish, so the rest will be lunches this week.

The desserts were far from the usual boring round of the same old offerings, too. Chocolate Guinness cake, Bailey's cheesecake, Irish soda bread pudding---and yet, we ended up with a dish of crème brûlée, a dessert we both love. I am picky about my crème brûlée, but what I'd eaten so far assured me enough that I didn't even ask what kind of dish they serve theirs in before ordering it. It arrived in a low oval dish, promising just the right ratio of crunchy caramelized sugar topping to creamy custard. It was astonishingly, breathtakingly good. Frankly, nearly the best I've ever had. It was buttery and vanilla-y and the sugar on top was perfectly caramelized. Anne Kearney's might be as good and I love hers. Only the lavender crème brûlée we enjoyed at the Art Institute of Chicago surpasses this rendition.

We are excited to go back for brunch someday. They have all kinds of wonderful offerings, from a full Irish breakfast to Irish steel cut oatmeal to black pudding, red onion marmalade, & blue cheese tart to a chicken toastie. Yum, yum!

Marinated "Flat-Iron" Steak, or This Meat Is Freaking Me Out, January 8, 2015

Thursday night, I'd planned to do egg salad sandwiches, forgetting that every single time I plan to do egg salad sandwiches, my wife is horrified. When she heard that was what was upcoming for dinner, she said she was not eating them. Foot firmly planted, she agreed to be responsible for the main course. Well, usually her cooking is a great success, so I backed down from the egg salad and agreed to let her handle it. I would make the sides I'd planned, a green salad, a hot fruit casserole, and a honeyed sweet potato salad. The sweet potato salad turned out to be pretty tasty, something I'd make again. The hot fruit casserole was fine, if not terribly inspiring. What can you expect from canned fruit, though, really? It was pretty retro and kind of fun to make. The pre-marinated steaks she picked up at the grocery, advertising themselves as "flat-iron steak," were not very good at all. When we have one bad dinner, it seems to turn into a string of at least 3 nights. The texture of the steak was odd, nothing at all like any flat-iron steak I've ever had, and the marinade was terribly sweet and not pleasant. After two bites and a moment of wondering if I was eating organ meat, I simply gave up on the meat. My wife ate more than I did, but not by much. The good news is that we have young adult kids who have neither a lot of grocery money nor terribly discerning palates (they like Vienna sausages, for example, and delight in Hot Pockets) to whom we can pass on weirdo meat, as well as unwanted leftover sides.

Hot Fruit Casserole
1 can peach slices (I used 100% juice for all of these, but if you like the heavy syrup, use it)
1 can pear halves
1 can apricot halves
1 can pineapple chunks
10 oz. jar maraschino cherries
2 tbsp. butter
1/4 c. brown sugar
14 gingersnaps (or other small cookies, such as amaretti or macaroons), crushed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Drain fruit, reserving 1/4-1/2 c. of each juice. Mix the fruit and place in a baking dish. Bring the juices to a boil with butter and brown sugar. Pour over fruit. Top with crushed cookies. Cover with foil and bake 20 minutes. Uncover and bake another 10-15 minutes. Serves 10-15. 

Honeyed Sweet Potato Salad
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
3/4 c. mayonnaise (I used olive oil mayo; use whatever sort you prefer)
2 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tbsp. maple syrup
1 tbsp. honey
1 tbsp. applesauce
1 tbsp. cinnamon
A grating of nutmeg
4 oz. pecans, very roughly chopped

Cook the sweet potatoes until tender in water to cover. Mix everything else but the pecans together. Gently fold in sweet potatoes & pecans. Serve at room temperature or chilled. Serves 4-6. 

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Spiced Pork Chops with Apple Chutney, or The Dinner That Was Too Terrible To Eat, January 7, 2015

Occasionally, I make a dinner that is inedible. Last night was one of those occasions. I was already leery of the meal because of my food rules, as my friend Sue has dubbed them. First, as i have mentioned here before, I don't like sweet and meat together. I can think of zero exceptions. But, I am cooking through this dang thing, like it or not (mostly, I do like it). Besides, Jeannene usually does like sweet and meat & doesn't ever get to have it. Second, I don't like cooked carrots. Well, I do if they are roasted in a pot roast or cooked in a stew. Otherwise, forget it. So, I knew going in that I would likely only want the pork without the chutney and the roasted rosemary potatoes I was going to make. 

However, I ran out of time for the potatoes and ended up just boiling them. Except I over boiled them and they dissolved into mashed as soon as I tipped a little Smart Balance spread into them & tried to stir it in. So be it. They were fine, anyway. If you want to make roasted rosemary potatoes, though, you cube them (peels still on is my preference & you can use whatever potatoes you like, including a mix---throw some sweet potato in there, if you like!), toss them with a little olive oil, several cloves of garlic, a few sprigs of rosemary, a little salt, and a healthy grinding of pepper. Roast them about half an hour in a preheated 425 degree oven. 

The pork's badness was most likely my fault, although Jeannene blames the particular blend of spices.  I decided to be smart (cheap?) and just use the pork chops in the freezer (we got a big pack of them on sale and Jeannene divided them into packets of 2, 3, or 4) instead of buying a couple pork tenderloins. I figured I could just rub the spices on one side of the chop that I would have rubbed on the outside of the pork loin. This, in retrospect, was a bad idea. I should have just seasoned them the way I usually do chops. Further, the chops themselves weren't terribly nice in the first place. Perhaps that's why the sale? I think the spice blend would be nice on pork tenderloin, probably, but is a bit overwhelming for the chops. It's garlic, 3 parts ginger, 3 parts mustard seed, 3 parts red pepper flakes, 1 part allspice, 1 part fennel, 1 part thyme, all whizzed in the blender.

The apple chutney was delicious, but I would prefer it on crackers or over a block of cream cheese or on an English muffin, perhaps. Here's my rendering:

Gingered Apple Chutney
1 apple, peeled & chopped (I used a Honeycrisp)
1 bulb fennel, chopped
3/4 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. ch. pecans
1/3 c. golden raisins
1 tbsp. crystallized ginger, chopped
1/4 tbsp. salt
1/3 c. cider vinegar

Mix everything together and bring to a boil. Cover and cook on low 15 minutes. Remove cover and cook another 15-20 minutes. 

I thought the carrots au gratin were revolting. In fact, my stomach turned at the smell of the dish as I pulled it from the oven. However, Jeannene really liked it (in fact, it turned out to be her entire dinner---me, I had a bowl of Cheerios), so you might, too. If you like cooked carrots, give it a whirl:

Carrots au Gratin
3 c. carrot slices (5-7 carrots)
1 can cream of celery soup (I used the Healthy Request sort)
1 c. shredded cheddar (I used 2% fat cheese)
1/4 c. roasted garlic breadcrumbs
1 tbsp. butter, melted (I am sure olive oil would work just as well)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cover carrots with water and cook until just tender. Drain and mix with soup and cheese. Place in greased (I used cooking spray) casserole. Mix crumbs & butter. Sprinkle on carrot mixture. Bake 20-25 minutes. Serves 6-8.

Fish with Reduced-Fat Béarnaise, Tomatoes, and Capers, January 6, 2015

The night before last was my wife's night to cook. We'd picked up some tuna steaks and tilapia fillets at Whole Foods and she was eager to make some fish. I wasn't 100% sure I'd like the tuna, so she made tilapia for me and tuna for her. Turns out I did like the tuna, but I never know with seafood, so next time, I will have that. She handled the fish while I made the sides, roasted butternut squash and blanched haricots verts.

Jeannene's cooking is usually a winging-it sort of proposition, so I seldom know what she has done and she can't ever make the same dish twice because she doesn't know what she's done, either. However, the fish was fantastic, so I might as well try to reconstruct it. What I do know is that she sprinkled it with dill and a little salt and pepper. I think there was another herb besides dill, too. Then, she baked it. While it was baking, she made a sauce of Knorr béarnaise mix, fat-free milk, Smart Balance buttery spread, cherry tomatoes, lemon juice, and capers. I'd've been completely happy to squeeze a little lemon juice over mine---the dill was really yummy---but the sauce was good, too.

I bought pre-cubed butternut squash and tossed it with a teaspoon of olive oil, a little salt, and pepper. Then, I baked it on a baking sheet at 400 degrees for half an hour. It was my very favorite part of the meal. The haricots verts, I just popped in boiling water for a  minute or two, then took them out. I skipped the traditional ice bath part of the process because Jeannene doesn't like her beans too crisp, so the extra cooking after they were drained was just perfect for her.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Chicken with Garlic-Sumac Yogurt Sauce, January 5, 2015

When I was visiting my bestie in Pittsburgh, we stopped in a Penzey's store. I picked up a few different things. Culinary grade lavender, vanilla beans, some grilling spices for the wifey, and a little jar of sumac, which I knew was required for a proper fattoush salad and which I assumed I would find some use for in the future. In addition to fattoush, and probably hundreds of other things I haven't yet discovered, it turns out to make for a tasty yogurt sauce. The original recipe comes from Bon Appetit, but I altered it to be a little less oily and a little more garlicky. I used this on chicken, but I suspect it would be great on veggies, fish, baked potatoes, baked tofu, and any number of other things. It would make a stellar dip for veggies, Turkish-style bread, pita, or crackers. We put it on our pilaf, too. My vegetarian mom is trying it today on beans. Vegans could sub soy yogurt. With the chicken, I served pilaf (Near East Original, although I personally really love their lentil pilaf), a butter lettuce salad with some goat cheese crumbles, apricots, and pepitas, and baked acorn squash with pineapple. Oh, and with the salad, Maple Grove Farm's fabulous strawberry balsamic vinaigrette, my very favorite salad dressing.

Chicken with Garlic-Sumac Yogurt Sauce
Enough chicken breasts (skinless, boneless) for the number of people you have eating (or cook extra and put the rest on salad or in a wrap the next day)
Cooking spray or a little olive oil or wine or broth
Salt & pepper
6-8 oz. Greek yogurt (I used Fage 0% fat---I also really love Greek Gods brand) per 3-4 people
A dash of olive oil (this can be omitted, as well)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. ground sumac (also available at Middle Eastern groceries; I've seen it at the local Whole Foods, as well)

Season chicken with salt, pepper, and oregano to your liking. Sauté in a pan sprayed with cooking spray (or in a smidgy bit of olive oil or poach in wine or broth) until cooked through. While the chicken's cooking, whisk the other ingredients together, adding a little salt and pepper to the sauce, as well. Serve chicken with sauce. 

Baked Acorn Squash with Pineapple
1 acorn squash, halved & seeded
8 oz. crushed pineapple, drained
1 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. brown sugar
A sprinkle of salt
A grinding of pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place squash in a small baking dish. Mix the other ingredients together and bring to a boil. Simmer until it gets syrupy, about 5 minutes. Scoop into squash halves, making sure to drizzle some over the cut sides of the squash. Bake an hour to 75 minutes. Serves 2-4. You can, of course, just use the pineapple, if you are concerned about the butter and sugar. It would add a delicious flavor all by itself. 

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Beefsteak Pie & Peanut Butter Cookies for My Granddaddy Clyde, January 4, 2015

Today, had leukemia not taken him from us in 2007, my granddaddy would have been 96 years old---and probably would still have loved peanut butter cookies. I think his favorite kinds were the fork cross-hatch sort, which my grandmommy made for him, and Nutter Butters. However, when Jeannene offered to make the Hershey Kiss sort, I happily took her up on it. I'd mentioned liking them & she said, "I'll make you some!" I'd planned to make peanut brittle, but this is perfect for Clyde. So, we have those for dessert. Jeannene used the recipe on the Kisses package, but you can find it on the Hershey website.

He loved his mom, Grandma Sadie's beefsteak pie and that was usually what he requested for his birthday dinner. I made it for him a couple years before he died, but usually my grandmom or auntie made it. However, I have the recipe, so now that he's dead, I make it every year on his birthday. It's delicious with mashed potatoes and corn.

Granddaddy Clyde's Beefsteak Pie
Crusts for double-crusted 9" pie
2 lb. boneless sirloin, fat trimmed, meat cut into cubes (I have used filet before and I think Grandma Sadie used round steak)
Salt & pepper
Butter (a tablespoon or two)
1/8-1/4 c. beer (do not use light beer; you can use water here, instead)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Fit bottom crust into 9" pie plate and trim edges, as necessary. Dredge steak in flour. Season with salt & pepper. Brown in butter in skillet. Add beer/water to skillet and cook until a sauce forms on the steak cubes. Place in prepared pie shell. Top with second pie shell, seal, and crimp edges. Prick top with a fork (I like to make a heart, with my granddaddy's name inside) to vent. Bake 15 minutes at 425 degrees, then turn heat down to 350 degrees. Bake another 45 minutes. Allow to stand 10-15 minutes before cutting into the pie, to allow the juices to settle back into place. Serves 6-8.