The first dinner I cooked for us this month was basil scrambled eggs (just add chopped basil to however you make your scrambled eggs), hash browns (just frozen), bacon, a gorgeous cantaloupe, and oven-toasted cornbread.
On June 5th, in honor of what would have been my grandparents' 74th anniversary, I made their favorite summer dinner. On their way home from the rec center (where my granddad played table tennis and my grandmom enjoyed a water workout) on summer days, they would always stop at the farm stand by the river. They'd pick up juicy, sun-warm tomatoes, sweet corn, and a fragrant melon. Dinner would be Russian sandwiches (no clue why they were called that), which were slices of sturdy toast topped with tomatoes, crisp bacon, and extra-sharp cheddar (they liked Cabot and picked up a huge block at the Vermont Country Store on every visit to my auntie), then broiled until the cheese was melted. To accompany them, they always had sweet corn (boiled no more than a few minutes; they kept a special stick of butter, mostly wrapped but with one end exposed, in the fridge just to rub on sweet corn) and often melon. My granddad was allergic to stone fruits, so no glorious plums, peaches, nectarines, or cherries for him, poor guy. At least he could enjoy summer melon.
I also made a mayonnaise cake in their honor. This is a very simple chocolate cake, not overly rich or labor-intensive, and well-suited to an after-school snack or other low-key cake-eating occasion. If you need icing, feel free to add it.
1 c. sugar
5 tbsp. cocoa
2 tsp. baking soda
1 c. warm water
1 3/4 c. flour
2 tsp. vanilla
1 c. mayonnaise
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine sugar, cocoa, and baking soda. Add rest of ingredients and blend well. Pour into lightly greased 9x9 baking dish. Bake 30-40 minutes. Allow to cool before cutting. Serves 6-8.
Another scrumptious dinner I made was an onion and cauliflower tart, with a beautiful green salad and some fresh pineapple. I'm not very proficient with tarts yet, so the sides fell in a bit and some of the filling ran out onto the baking sheet below, but I loved it and my wife and baby both gobbled it up, too. I might just make it in a pie plate next time for less mess. This recipe was adapted from Bon Appetit magazine.
Onion and Cauliflower Tart
1 small head cauliflower, cut into small florets and steamed or roasted
1 pie shell
1 thinly-sliced Vidalia or other sweet onion, caramelized & cooled*
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
8 oz. mascarpone
1/2 c. whipping cream
Salt and pepper
A bit of freshly ground nutmeg (tinned is fine, as well)
1 c. grated Gruyère cheese
1 c. grated parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Press pie shell into tart or pie pan (9"). Line with foil and top with pie weights/beans. Bake 20 minutes on a baking sheet. Remove weights and foil. Bake another 5 minutes. Cool. Brush pie shell with Dijon. Add onion and cauliflower. Whisk eggs with mascarpone, whipping cream, and seasonings. Add Gruyère. Pour into tart pan. Sprinkle with parmesan. If you then realize you forgot to add the Gruyère, as I did, you can just sprinkle it on top, too. Bake 40-45 minutes. Cool 15 minutes before cutting. Serves 8.
*To caramelize onions, heat 1 1/2 tbsp. oil in a large skillet. Cook the onions, stirring occasionally, over medium-low heat, until deep golden brown, 40-45 minutes. To quick-"caramelize" onions, you can melt a tablespoon of butter in the skillet, then add the onions. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until there's a pale brown color in the bottom of the skillet. This will take about 5 minutes. Add a couple tablespoons of water and stir to deglaze the pan. Continue this process until the onions are nicely brown and completely softened. This will take about 15 minutes and produces very acceptable onions for this purpose. This is also a decent technique for onions for burgers and that sort of thing.
I went from this fairly gourmet meal to an old-school chicken and rice casserole, served with a green salad and fresh cherries. I'd meant to make lima beans, but the water took forever to boil and the rest of the food was done. I like to cook my limas about 20-25 minutes, so I decided to forego that side dish. It was good with just the salad and fruit.
Chicken and Rice Casserole
2 c. diced, cooked chicken (and, honestly, if you don't have time to cook the chicken, it cooks just fine with the rest of the casserole)
2 c. diced celery
2 c. cooked rice (I used basmati because it was on hand)
10 oz. can cream of chicken soup*
1 c. crushed cornflakes
1/2 c. slivered almonds
2 tbsp. butter (can halve this)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine chicken, celery, rice, and soup. Put in 2 qt. casserole dish. Sauté cornflakes, almonds, and butter until everything is very slightly browned. Keep an eye on this or you will have to re-make it, like I did when I burned it. Spread across the top of the casserole. Bake 40-45 minutes. Serves 6-8.
*If your wife graciously does the grocery shopping so you can stay with the sleeping baby and she forgets the soup, you can make a version that is great in recipes, but not something you would eat as soup, necessarily. Just melt 3 tbsp. butter in a saucepan. Slowly stir in 3 tbsp. flour and cook, stirring, until it's fully mixed and thick. Gradually whisk in 1/2 c. chicken broth (I use low-sodium) and 1/2 c. milk (I used 2%). Cook and whisk until it's smooth. Bring to a gentle boil, then cook, whisking, until thickened. Season with salt & pepper. This makes an equivalent amount to a can of the condensed stuff.
Earlier this week, I made pork & artichoke enchiladas, which were quite yummy, and served them with canned refried beans, Mexican rice, salad, and cherries. Imagining enchiladas to be incredibly labor-intensive, I had always just stuck to enchilada casseroles. However, I finally decided to play around with making some. My wife really loves Tex-Mex and she oohed and aahed over these.
Pork and Artichoke Enchiladas
1 lb. pork, cooked & shredded (I ended up using pork chops, since that was what we had in the freezer, and just cutting them in thin strips and sautéing them)
4 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 lg. onion, finely-chopped
14 oz. artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
2-3 tbsp. chili powder (I used 2)
1 tbsp. flour
Salt & pepper
2-2 1/2 c. chicken broth
8 5-6" flour tortillas (corn are fine, too)
2 c. shredded jack cheese (or, if using pre-shredded, Mexican blend is fine)
1/2 c. sliced black olives
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cook half the onion with the artichoke hearts and seasonings in 2 tbsp. oil, covered, for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add chili and flour and cook another few minutes, stirring. Gradually whisk in broth. Bring to a low boil and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened and slightly creamy. Heat 1 tsp. oil in a small skillet. Cook the tortillas about 20 seconds per side in this oil, setting each on a paper towel lined plate when done. Spread 1/2 c. sauce in 13x9" baking pan. Mix half the rest of the sauce with the pork. Put a small amount of pork, a little shredded cheese, a few olive slices, and a scattering of onions in each tortilla. Roll up and place, seam-side-down, in the baking dish. Cover with remaining sauce and cheese. Cover with foil and bake 20 minutes. remove foil and bake another 10 minutes. Let stand 5-10 minutes before serving. Serves 4 very hungry or 8 not as hungry people.
1/2 onion, chopped
1 jar chunky salsa ( I like Newman's Own Medium)
Salt & pepper
2 c. hot cooked rice
1 c. shredded cheddar
Mix everything together & heat through. Serves 4-6. This also makes a good vegetarian main dish with the addition of beans. I like dark red kidney beans for this.
Since Jeannene also loves Italian food, I made her an Italian dinner Tuesday night. It was easy and delicious, fettuccine with rosa sauce, a big green salad, and some fresh Italian bread, still warm from the grocery store bakery.
Fettuccine with Rosa Sauce
1 lb. fettuccine (or whatever your favorite pasta shape is)
1-2 tbsp. olive oil
1-2 tbsp. butter
1 onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
29 oz. tomato sauce
Salt & pepper
A pinch of sugar
1 c. heavy cream (can sub milk, but use a smidge less)
1 c. shredded parmesan (can use less)
Cook & drain the pasta. While it cooks, sauté onion and garlic in olive oil and butter until softened and translucent. Add tomato sauce, salt, pepper, and sugar. Heat through. Add cream and parmesan. Heat through. Add pasta and toss to coat. Serve with more parmesan and basil. Serves 6-8.