Wednesday, March 29, 2017

What I'm Cooking in April 2017

-Vegetable soup, Greek orzo salad, fruit
-Quesadillas, salad, refried beans, fruit
-Artichoke & egg spread sandwiches, chips, veggie slices, fruit
-Penne with kalamatas & pancetta, lemon, mint, & spinach salad, garlic bread
-Garbanzo & yogurt pitas, Greek salad, chips, fruit
-Vegetarian chili, corn muffins, pineapple raspberry salad
-Ham, asparagus quiche, potatoes au gratin, salad, rolls, some kind of lemony dessert or lamb cake
-Stir-fried pork/tofu, spicy green beans, veggies with Green Goddess dip, rice
-Hot dog & cheese casserole, salad, fruit
-Chicken with peanut ginger sauce, rice, baby carrots & snow peas, fruit
-Asian chicken salad, fruit salad, lemon bread
-Shrimp in beer, parmesan rice, kale salad, garlic artichoke bread, chocolate nemesis cake
-Panzanella, sausage potato soup, fruit
-Pork chops & scalloped potatoes, green beans, fruit
-Tamale pie, salad, fruit

-Pear ginger scones
-Skillet cake
-Chocolate damnation
-Cream cheese danish
-Asparagus & potato frittata
-Yogurt with granola crunch
-Seattle dogs
-Banana buttermilk pancakes
-Scrambled eggs with avocado, cream cheese, & dill

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Hot Dogs, March 28, 2017

Wee Boy and I had an errand in Aurora today, so we treated ourselves to lunch at Cuba Bakery and Cafe. It's just a little storefront joint, with a big bakery case full of cakes and pastries (including my favorite, guava & cheese pastelitos), a lighted board of sandwich offerings (classics like the Cuban sandwich and the Medianoche---I am guessing they'd probably make me an Elena Ruz, if I asked), a steam table full of daily offerings like picadillo, carne con papas, ropa vieja, and masitas de puerco), and a scattering of tables. The walls are adorned with a mix of photos and classic "Visit Cuba" travel posters. Latin music made my son dance in his high chair. The staff is always friendly, chatting with most of the clientele in Spanish. I'm usually the only non-Spanish-speaker there and I'm always pretty sure they think I know nothing about Cuban food. Today, she described the picadillo to me simply as, "Ground beef."

I'm always hoping for masitas to show up on the steam table, but I've not lucked into those yet. Today, though, I had a styrofoam plate of well-seasoned picadillo, generous with the olives and bell peppers, accompanied by black beans, rice, and maduros. To wash it all down, I had a cafe con leche. Wee Boy shared my plate, devouring most of the beans and some picadillo, but steadfastly declining plantains.

So, I think we'd have a super-simple dinner. Looking in the fridge for inspiration, I spotted a pack of hot dogs and decided that sounded great. To counter-balance the processedness of the hot dogs, our sides were cucumber slices (Wee Boy yelled, "Moon! Moon!" and chomped down happily), grapes, and blackberries.

Pancakes, March 27, 2017

Usually, when I make breakfast for dinner, it's eggs of some sort. I'm not much for having the main event be sweet. If I do make some sort of sweet thing, though, it's almost always waffles, not pancakes. I am not a pancake fan, generally speaking, even though I have wonderful memories of my grandmom getting out the griddle on the weekends to whip up a batch of pancakes for us. She always mixed the pancakes in her Tupperware batter bowl/measuring cup, which was white with red markings. However, my wife and baby both really like pancakes. So, tonight, I made pancakes, sausage (just the Jimmy Dean sort you can warm in the microwave), and fruit salad (which, unfortunately, all absorbed the flavor of the blueberries and ended up tasting off).

Since I'm not much of a pancake-maker, I wasn't sure how they'd turn out. I started with less flour and the pancake batter was very, very thin. My first attempt spread way, way out across an entire half of the skillet, not quite a thin as crepe batter, but nearly so. I ended up doubling the flour before making any more. Jeannene, though, said she actually preferred the flimsier of the bunch, although she liked all of them. So, I present the original version, with the caveat that the batter may be way too thin.

If anyone has a really excellent pancake recipe, feel free to pass it along to me!

1 c. buttermilk (I used a scant cup of whole milk with a tbsp. of lemon juice, which I then allowed to stand and thicken for 10 minutes)
1 egg plus 1 yolk, beaten (Wee Boy helped whisk the eggs)
1 tbsp. oil
1/4 c. evaporated milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tbsp. sugar
1/2 tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tbsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. yeast
1 c. flour

Mix everything together and whisk well. Pour by 1/3 cupfuls into a hot, greased skillet. Cook until you see lots of little bubbles appear atop the pancakes. Flip and cook until the other side is light golden brown. Makes 5 or 6. Serve with real maple syrup that's been gently warmed. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Spaghetti, March 26, 2017

It was Jeannene's choice last night for dinner, but she has some big presentations coming up, so I told her I would be happy to cook, instead. I gave her the choice of either pancakes with sausage & fruit salad or pastitsio with Greek salad and fruit salad. She decided to make spaghetti. While we were out shopping for jeans for the wee boy, though, she asked if we had everything we needed for me to make my spaghetti. I was glad to hear that, as I've been hungry for my spaghetti (which is basically my grandmom's spaghetti) for a couple weeks. We picked up some Italian bread, but otherwise, everything was on-hand.

When I make spaghetti, it's nearly always incredibly low fuss. I doctor sauce from a jar (I often use Newman's Own Sockarooni or Marinara, but this time, it was some fancy brand of vodka sauce Jeannene found at Whole Foods) with some dried spices (usually a mix of Italian seasoning, basil, and oregano), a good shaking of grated parmesan (usually the crappy canned sort), and some browned ground beef. I added a smidge of water this time, as well. My favorite pasta shapes are tagliatelle, pappardelle, and bucatini. Last night, it was bucatini. We had bagged Caesar salad and garlic bread with it. I mixed garlic salt and chopped garlic from the jar my wife keeps in the fridge with some softened butter. I smeared it evenly on the halved Italian loaf and broiled until the edges started to brown. Oh, wait, that's Idealized Me. Real Me broiled until she exclaimed, "Oh, crap!!!" and dashed to the oven, then heaved a sigh of relief that only the edges got a little black.

Chicken and Black Bean Burrito Pizza, March 25, 2017

While I was making hollandaise sauce Saturday morning, my wife needed to run some errands. I didn't want to start poaching eggs and toasting English muffins for Eggs Benedict until she was home---nobody wants cold eggs. So, I started work on dinner, mixing up some tomatillo salsa and marinating chicken for our chicken & black bean burrito pizza. I popped those in the fridge and dinner was nearly done when we got home from the zoo. I even got to take a little nap before
I started cooking. I only used half the chicken on the pizza---the rest will be nice in soft tacos for lunch this week. The original recipe came from Todd Wilbur's fun cookbook, Top Secret Restaurant Recipes, and is his approximation of California Pizza Kitchen's Southwestern Burrito Pizza, which I've never had. If it's still on the menu, I'd like to try it! If you've not checked out this cookbook, you should pick up a copy and play with it. We had salad and Sumo orange sections with this.

Chicken and Black Bean Pizza
Juice of 2 limes
3 tbsp. olive oil 
2 tbsp. soy sauce (I used reduced-sodium)
5 cloves of garlic, peeled & smashed
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 lb. skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized chunks
14 oz. can refried black beans
Baked pizza crust
1/4 onion, sliced into slivers
1/2-1 c. shredded quesadilla cheese or Monterey Jack
1/2-1 c. shredded cheddar (I used mild)
Tomatillo salsa
Sour cream
Hot sauce

Mix lime juice, 2 tbsp. olive oil, soy sauce, garlic, salt, and red pepper. Add chicken & marinate at least 2 hours. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Heat remaining tbsp. olive oil in skillet. Remove chicken from marinade to skillet, using a slotted spoon, and cook through. Spread beans evenly on crust. Sprinkle with onion slivers. Scatter chicken evenly across the pizza. Top with cheeses. Place pizza in oven and bake 12-17 minutes. Serve with tomatillo salsa, sour cream, and hot sauce. Serves 4. 

Eggs Benedict, Saturday Brunch, March 25, 2017

Saturday morning found me making breakfast for the family. I've decided it would be fun to make some kind of special family breakfast on Saturday mornings, time permitting. I've only managed to do it one other time this month, a batch of granola, which was much appreciated by my wife. Saturday, Bear got scrambled eggs, as he hasn't yet acquired a taste for poached or fried eggs, but I made Eggs Benedict for the grown folks in the house. If you can believe it, I had never made hollandaise sauce before Saturday. I looked up the recipe in Craig Claiborne's New York Times Cookbook and decided to go with the quick blender version, although a smidge altered. I added more lemon and used (O heresy!) salted butter. I doubt real chefs would approve, but I thought it turned out beautifully lemony and smooth.

Heretical Blender Hollandaise & Eggs Benedict
Melt a stick of butter over low heat. Place three egg yolks, the juice of one lemon, 1/4 tsp. salt, and a pinch of cayenne in your blender. With the lid on and the speed on low, very slowly drizzle in the melted butter. Blend until the sauce pulls together and thickens. Makes enough for 3-6 portions of Eggs Benedict. For Eggs Benedict, you'll want to poach 1-2 eggs for each person. Martha Stewart offers good directions here. Heat some ham slices or Candian bacon. Place the ham, then eggs on toasted English muffins. Pour hollandaise over eggs. If you only have 2 diners and have a bunch of Hollandaise left, you can always use it on veggies at dinner. 

Frozen Pizza, March 24, 2017

Friday night, we decided to grocery shop. Usually, we do it Saturday or Sunday, which eats away at weekend time more than shopping Friday feels like it's doing. So, Wee Boy and I met Jeannene at work and visited with her colleagues there. We got to try some purple sweet potato pie and some chocolate pie I suspect was vegan. Both were made by folks from work. Both were tasty. The sweet potato pie reminded me of Asian desserts starring red bean paste.

We went to Whole Foods first, then met back up at the King Soopers closest to our house. We'd considered dinner out, but couldn't come to a conclusion on where we'd like to go. So, I thought I would make the burrito pizza I'd not made earlier in the week. However, when we got home, lo and behold, I'd forgotten that the chicken on the pizza needed to be marinated. We'd bought a pepperoni pizza and a BBQ chicken one, both California Pizza Kitchen, in the frozen section, so I decided to make the pepperoni one. It was just what we needed. We had some salad left from the night before and peeled a glorious Sumo orange for dessert.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Anthony's Delivery, March 23, 2017

Tonight was Jeannene's night to choose. She was in the mood for Italian and asked me whether I wanted to go out or have her cook something Italian. I was happy with either choice. She makes yummy pasta dishes and there's an Italian place in town that we drive by often, but have not yet visited. I have been in the mood for my own spaghetti, too, so I offered to make that, if she wanted me to. When she got home, she had been thinking it over, but asked what I wanted to do. The baby was asleep, so we thought it might be best for her just to run out and pick up either ingredients or take-out. Then, we remembered that one of the local pizza places, Anthony's, also delivers pasta---and it's quite good.

The wee boy woke up before we ordered, so we asked him if he'd rather have spaghetti or pizza. He gleefully chose pizza, so we ordered him a white pizza with spinach. It should have been really good, but instead, it turned out to be dry and flavorless. What a pity! I don't know if their other pizza is as bland, but I would definitely never order that again. The boy thought the cat might eat it, but he certainly didn't want to.

He did, however, quite happily dig into our ravioli (me) and lasagna rollatini (his Momma). We also had a beautiful Mediterranean salad. I didn't like the heaviness of the Caesar dressing with the fresh, cold crispness of the salad, so I ate it without any dressing at all---it was heavenly! The rest of the family agreed.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Ropa Vieja, March 22, 2017

Yesterday morning, I started a batch of ropa vieja, one of my favorite Cuban dishes, going in the crockpot. The name literally translates to "old clothes" in English. The messy, stringy appearance the beef gets makes it look, they say, like a pile of old clothes. The smell of it perfumed the air all afternoon, making my stomach growl. When it was nearly ready, I fixed a batch of lime rice, heated some Goya black bean soup, and had supper all done. The finished product tasted really good to my wife. To me, it needed something. It was good, just not as good as in Miami, a bit insipid. I think next time, I'll toss in some tomato paste and red wine, to give it a fuller-bodied flavor.

Slow Cooker Ropa Vieja
1/2 c. chicken broth (I will use beef broth next time)
1/4 c. red wine vinegar
1/2 lg. onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 green pepper, chopped
1 bay leaf
15 oz. can diced tomatoes
1/2 tbsp. cumin
Salt & pepper
1 1/2 lb. flank steak
Lime wedges

Mix broth, vinegar, onion, garlic, green pepper, bay leaf, and tomatoes together in your slow cooker. Combine the cumin, salt, & pepper. Rub all over the meat. Submerge in sauce. Cook 8 hours on low or 4 hours on high. Remove from pot and let rest about 10 minutes on a cutting board. Shred and mix back into the sauce. Serve with lime wedges. Serves 4-6.

Lime Rice
2 tsp. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lg. onion, chopped
1 c. rice (I like jasmine)
2 c. chicken broth
1/2 tsp. salt
Juice of 2 limes

Cook onion and garlic in oil until onion is translucent. Add rice. Stir and cook a couple minutes. Add broth, salt, and lime juice. Bring to a boil. Cover and cook on low heat 15-20 minutes. Fluff with fork. Serves 4-6. 

Chili's, March 21, 2017

After my wife got home from work the other night, we sallied forth to look for spring jackets for our wee boy. We managed to find him some very cute clothes, indeed. My favorite new item is a Jimi Hendrix t-shirt. I hope he will like Hendrix when he's older. He does now.

Anyway, we decided it made sense to stop on the way home for dinner, rather than going to the grocery, then going home and cooking. There's not a whole lot to choose from close to our home, so we ended up at Chili's. It was either that or Buffalo Wild Wings. We ordered some boneless wings for an appetizer. I was surprised at how delicious their ranch dressing was. The wings were good, too.

For a main course, I got a pick-three sort of deal, with a beef tostada, a chicken sour cream enchilada, and a salad. The enchilada was yummy, but the tostada was so heavily laden with toppings that it became sodden and not-so-wonderful. The meal came with black beans and rice, but I find their rice to be quite dry, so I subbed mashed potatoes. Jeannene had a combo of ribs and some sort of honey BBQ chicken strips. We ordered pizza with broccoli for the boy, who is actually getting old enough to, when presented with two choices, tell us which he wants. That's pretty cool! He filled up on my black beans, though, so it was pizza and broccoli for lunch yesterday.

Spring Equinox Dinner, March 20, 2017

Eons ago, I read an article, or perhaps in some book, that the author made salmon cakes, new potatoes, and asparagus every year on the first day of spring. That sounded like a fine and delicious tradition to me. When I was growing up, I always hated asparagus. In fact, it rather horrified me. I couldn't understand why my mom liked it so much. It wasn't until my friend, Ben, invited me over for dinner one night when I was about 18 that I began to like it. I can't recall what the meat was, but his mom put plates holding not only asparagus, but squash, in front of us. I thought, "Oh, my lord! I'm going to have to choke this stuff down and pretend to like it." I was astonished to find that I quite liked both vegetables. I've been an asparagus fan ever since! My favorite way to eat is simply steamed, so it's just tender, and then plunged into an ice bath to retain the brightness and keep it from becoming overcooked. Sometimes, though, I get lazy and skip the ice bath. I am always disappointed in myself when that happens.

Fish cakes, on the other hand, have always been something I really liked. My grandmom made both tuna & salmon patties when I was a kid and I happily gobbled them up. So, when I decided to make salmon cakes every year for the spring equinox, I did what my grandmom did. I start by sorting the bones and skin out from a (drained) large can of salmon (about 15 ounces). You don't even have to do that, actually. The skin and bones are both perfectly okay to eat. They just really skeeve me out. My cat's birthday is the first day of spring, so he always gets the parts I don't like, along with some of the legit meat, as a birthday treat. I flake the salmon, then mix it with a lightly beaten egg, about half a sleeve of saltine crackers, salt, pepper, and a dash of worcestershire sauce. I heat some oil in a skillet and form the salmon mixture into 4 cakes. When the oil is properly hot, I add the salmon cakes and cook them until they're browned on each side and heated through.

As for the potatoes, I boil them whole, for the most part, with the skin on. If there are a few larger ones, I will halve those. When they are tender, I drain them and stir in butter, salt, pepper, and snipped dill. When I was in middle school, my friend, Charisma, had me to supper and her mom served us potatoes made that way. They seemed very fancy to me!

I always have the impulse to make some sort of lemony dessert---a layer cake, meringues served with lemon curd, lemon meringue pie. That seems like the perfect spring treat, to me. My wife, however, hates all things tart. So, this year, I cut up some organic strawberries before dinner, added a smidge of sugar, stirred them up, and let them macerate during supper. After the main course, I dished them up into our pretty new pastel bowls and set out a can of whipped cream. My wife proceeded to show our wee boy how to eat whipped cream from the can. He just wasn't at all sure what to think of that, but it did make him giggle.

Happy Spring!