Home - is where I want to be / But I guess I'm already there /I come home -
she lifted up her wings /
Guess that this must be the place...
- Talking Heads, "Naive Melody"

Monday, September 29, 2008

Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chip Bars

It was a good weekend in just about every way (the exception being the weather, by turns downpour and muggy overcast). On Saturday we went out to look at houses and actually saw one that we like quite a bit, was in our price range, and was in pretty decent shape. We're not sure yet what we're going to do about it, but the existence of one such prospect makes us feel better about the whole endeavor.

On Sunday there was the usual cleaning and errands to be done, and in the afternoon I got to spend some time baking. I made D an apple pie, something I do every three years or so. I don't have much of the normal fear of piecrust, but I don't really care for pie most of the time, so he ends up having to eat the whole thing. I use a Mrs. Fields recipe, and previously it's turned out all right, but this weekend the filling failed to thicken. Not sure if it was the apples I used or some other error, or just one of those things. It did look awesome, though:

While the crust was chilling, I threw together these bars, which are one of my favorite things to make. They're basically Toll House cookies with some of the butter replaced by peanut butter, baked in a pan; what's not to love?

1 1/3 cup plus 1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp AP flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
8 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temp
1/2 cup commercial smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs, room temp
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

  1. Preheat the oven to 350. Lightly grease an 11x7 baking pan with butter or vegetable oil.
  2. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together into a medium-size bowl and set aside.
  3. Cream the butter, peanut butter, both sugars, and the vanilla until light and fluffy, about 1 1/2 minutes. Scrape the bowl.
  4. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat on medium speed until partially blended after each, about 10 seconds. After the second, beat until blended, about 30 seconds.
  5. Add the dry ingredients to the batter and mix with a spatula until the flour is absorbed. Then mix on low speed until blended, 7-10 seconds. Scrape the bowl.
  6. Add the chocolate chips and blend for several seconds. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan.
  7. Bake the bars on the center oven rake until the edges are deep golden and the center is lightly golden and slightly puffy, 25-30 minutes. The center will drop when the bars are taken out of the oven, creating a chewy texture. Cut the bars into squares after they have cooled a bit on a rack.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Black Bean Soup for a Rainy Day

After last weekend's budget-busting entertainment extravaganza, I was determined to be a bit more frugal this week. Saturday was soggy as can be, and we spent a goodly chunk of it looking at a couple of houses in Framingham, one of which actually seems like it might be a good prospect (finally). I did not have time to do grocery shopping; I did have the leftover ham and a bag of black beans. So--black bean soup it was! I made some bread while it simmered, and there you have it, a decent and decidedly cheap meal (with leftovers to have for a couple of lunches).

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Got Eggplant?

Then you can make Penne with Sausage, Eggplant, and Feta! Which is what I did on Monday. File under "quick and delish." I like to buy eggplant in the summer, when the farmer's market has small, smooth, perfectly purple fruits, but I have few means of using them so far.

I discovered with this rendition that if you turn the heat waaaay up and don't use a nonstick pan, you get some awesome browning on the sausage, and the eggplant is done without getting mushy (yuck).

You may have noticed a distinct bias around here toward things that can be made in less than twenty minutes and put on top of pasta. There are days I like to fuss around in the kitchen for hours, but they're hard to come by.

Monday, September 22, 2008

JJ's Baptismal Lunch

It was an enormously busy weekend--a D&D game on Saturday, and one of the group had a recent birthday so I made Nigella Lawson's Chocolate Cloud Cake. It was absolutely fantastic and I wish I'd taken a picture. The only problem was the presentation, in that the whipped cream tends to slide around a bit when you cut into the cake. Minor problem, though, since it tasted great. While we played, I put together Ina Garten's Outrageous Brownies. (Take a pound of butter....)

My in-laws were here to watch the kids during the game. For dinner we gave them Bistro Chicken with rice pilaf and steamed green beans, and then we finished off the cake.

On Sunday morning I made some French-style potato salad, chopped up veggies for nibbling with hummus, plated the brownies, and put the ham in the oven. JJ was fussy at first during church, and complained quite loudly about the water, but soon after that he fell asleep. Here's the little guy in his gown.

We caravaned the family back to our apartment, and it was short work to put all the food out. D's mom and dad brought some bread and iced tea to round out the menu, and his aunt and uncle had thoughtfully brought some prosecco and glasses, and we toasted our little guy and then fell to demolishing the food.

That didn't take long, and there isn't much left over, which is pretty much the best compliment one can have for this sort of event. Everyone stayed for a while, catching up, taking pictures, playing with the kids (L was a little hyper but generally pretty good, and JJ behaved fabulously--must have been the nap).

Midafternoon JJ finally went to sleep again. I took L outside and blew bubbles for her, and we went down by the pond's shore to see the turtles, and the heron that was fishing off the old pilings. I will miss that pond, but I am really starting to look forward to moving.

Here's a pic of the two kids from earlier this week, just for the heck of it!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Apple Spice Cake with Brown Sugar Glaze

"OMG. So yummy."
"Wow… that is DELICIOUS!"
"Thanks for sharing the delicious apple cake!"

And so forth, from my co-workers. This is a really good cake for fall entertaining. Sweet and moist and big enough for a crowd.

It's been a while since I brought anything in to the office. Hopefully this made up a bit for the drought.

Edit 11/3/08--I just now realized that I have blogged this recipe twice. Oh, well.....

Sunday, September 14, 2008

He slept through the night!!!

I will never figure kids out.

Friday night was awful. L brought a cold home from school and gave it to her brother, and he was up I think four times in the course of the night--crying, snuffling, and more than willing to share his misery with his parents. So Saturday night we were braced for more of the same; we got the car seat ready in case he found it easier to sleep propped up, and agreed to take turns getting up with him as needed.

Instead, he slept from 8:30 to 5, had a snack, and went back to sleep for another couple hours. Amazing. He has also become quite competent at pulling himself to standing. While he had done it a few times before yesterday, over the course of the weekend he has gained confidence and proficiency. When I went in this morning to find him standing up in his crib, it was time to lower the mattress level.

Most of yesterday was taken up with a trip to the Roger Williams Park Zoo in RI. We were there last year with our friends the Rs and their daughter, and are trying to make it something of a tradition, since we don't get to see them as often as we'd like. The zoo is on the small side in terms of the number of exhibits, which makes it just the right size for small children; both girls were pretty tired and edging into cranky by the time we finished. When the kids are bigger we might broaden our activity zone to other parts of the park.

Something to remember for next time: with little ones, do not try to leave something good for the end of the visit; they'll be too tired to enjoy it and will rush you through it, too.

Now to spend a rainy morning figuring out menus and shopping lists. Aside from the normal weekly things, JJ is getting baptized a week from now, and I have to figure out something to feed people afterward, plus we have a D&D game on Saturday. Takeout may figure into one or more of these events....

No further news on the house front; we seem to have exhausted the existing stock that meets our criteria in the Framingham area, and are left waiting to see what else comes on the market. We are hoping to take a second look at that one fixer-upper, just for kicks and to see how much work would really be involved. I keep reminding myself that we have plenty of time... but last night I packed up two boxes of videos we don't watch much. There's a big part of me that really wants to have this done with.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sweet Potato and White Bean Soup

Or just potato and white bean, since I bought a lot of the former at Monday's farmer's market (I always buy more potatoes than I need. Always.). And I had to resort to jarred pesto, since I didn't have everything required to make one from sage and walnuts (which sounds good, but at what point do you have to stop calling it pesto?).

This was one of the best returns on investment I've had in a while. The leeks take long enough to cook that you can do everything else at a rather leisurely pace in the meantime, instead of having everything ready to go before you get started, but the entire recipe can be ready in a half hour or so. And of course, pesto can make almost anything taste good. Together with what was left of the bread from Monday, this made a very satisfying meal for a weeknight.

L ate half the beans out of the colander before I could put them in. She's got the first cold of the school year now. I am still obsessing over that rehab in Maynard, and counting down the days before our big October deadline at work.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Classic Walnut Boule

Two marvelous things happened on Monday: the weather was reasonably cool, and my head was well enough organized that I could make some bread--some new bread, at that, instead of a recipe I know by heart. I'd marked this recipe in the latest Cooking Light issue (yeah, them again, sorry), and even remembered to buy the walnut oil for it, so it was a natural choice.

I can't find a lot to say about the process of making it. It's bread; you mix a few things together, let it sit around for an hour or so, knead in some walnuts, let it sit some more while the oven gets nice and hot, and there you go.

It seemed a little small at first, but after the second rise it was hefty enough to make a good-sized loaf. Following my recent success with my pizza stone, I tried baking this bread on it, and I'd have to say it worked quite well. The loaf did not get much of a crust, but that's something I really have to work on. Perhaps next time I make it, I'll try for some steam and see what happens. I will definitely make this again; it's a tender, slightly sweet loaf, and something about serving up a round loaf just says "special occasion" to me.

Monday, September 8, 2008

House Hunt Update: Maynard

After a long break due to various vacations interfering with the schedule, this past Saturday we resumed looking for a house, this time in Maynard. It's a tiny, tiny town surrounded by farms and apple orchards, but the main street looks reasonably lively, it's close to a number of other towns, and there's a definite appeal to the idea of a place you can walk around.

We looked at four houses, two of which were too small, one of which was enormous but the location is a little "eh," and the fourth was one of those sad tales that are all too common in this market: a foreclosure that has the potential to be gorgeous, but due to neglect and water damage and the fact that it hasn't been updated in about sixty years, it's going to need someone to gut the place before that happens. I highly doubt that it's going to be us who do that.

So ended our second day of looking at houses. We liked what we saw of Maynard, and will keep an eye on the place. We are also getting a sense of what the square footage advertised means in terms of real space, which is helpful. We have all these books to house along with the four of us!

Dinner and a Movie: Ratatouille

Every once in a while we have a movie night here. It's traditionally been an MST3K episode to celebrate the end of some long week or other with minimally brain-straining fare, but we've recently decided to experiment with Netflix and see if our hectic lives can support actually watching something new once in a while. We inaugurated the experiment with Ratatouille, a movie everyone I know liked. Now that I've seen it, I'm not sure how I went so long without it. I mean, I knew it had something to do with cooking, but has any other animated film in history given a visual shout-out to Microplane? My admiration for the Pixar crew continues to expand; they get so many details right. L, surprisingly to me, lost interest after a while, but a lot of it was pretty well over her head, too. It may be that a second viewing would draw her in.

Along with the movie we had pizza. I have been working on my pizza for a while now. I use a basic pizza dough recipe from Cooking Light, purchased sauce, lots of cheese, peppers, mushrooms, and pepperoni. To the sauce I add some Italian herb mix and crushed red pepper. Bake it on a pizza stone (now that I've finally learned how to get it on the stone rather than the oven floor--parchment paper!) for about twenty minutes. Resorting to delivery pizza has become an option accepted with a resigned grimace.

Friday, September 5, 2008

September Supper Club: Fruit

A bit of an odd theme perhaps, but I was willing to go with the flow. There were only three of this month, and we met at P's little condo and discussed (among other things) the way the group has changed over the four years (!) of its existence, and people we know who might be interested in joining. These days we top out at five attendees, and there's usually one who can't make it; we could use a few more people to reinvogorate the group. We also agreed that we need to get a little better about planning, as things have been very last-minute for a while now.

For all that, we had a pretty good menu. I went a little overboard and did three recipes, taking advantage of JJ's long Sunday morning nap and the cooler weather to get back into my kitchen.
Either K or D will host in October, and we're going to experiment with having the host choose the theme.


JJ took his first cruising steps today. Wish I'd had a camera handy, because he had the biggest grin I have ever seen!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Springfield Chili

I notice that my post count has dropped every month since I started this blog. Well, it's September now--time to get back into the kitchen! though not today, as it's supposed to be in the high 80s.

So you probably won't want to make this chili tonight. I made it on Saturday, my night to cook for what will probably be the year's final excursion to NH for me. I picked it in a state of aggravation and nigh-desperation, not really looking forward to going up there at all. I was sick of driving and being away from home, worried about how the new puppy some of the relatives have would handle the kids, grouchily certain that none of us would get any sleep, and generally in one of those vile moods where giving yourself free rein to wallow in it provides a sort of weird, petty satisfaction.

Fortunately, once we were actually there, this mood didn't last. It was in fact a lovely weekend, with clear (albeit somewhat windy) weather. The puppy behaved himself well, and so did the kids (and the grown-ups, for that matter). A lot of work got done (not by me, which made me feel a little bit guilty, but I did have the baby to keep an eye on). A lot of ice cream got eaten--L had her first-ever cone at the GPC store, and quite surprised me by insisting on getting one, since she's always had it in a dish.

And the chili, which I had worried about, turned out to be great. I might even make this my new standard recipe. I made the following adjustments:
  • I had a green pepper left over from something else, so that went in
  • Although I doubled the recipe, I only used 1 can of beer, since 2 would have meant a great deal of liquid to get rid of. PBR, of all things, that we had in the refrigerator.
  • I used a lot more Worcestershire sauce than they called for. On the order of a quarter cup, which may have been a tad too much, but a couple of teaspoons seemed ridiculously low.
The results? Spicy-good, there were no leftovers, and nine people got fed for something like $5 a person (that includes the salad my mother-in-law made, too).

The rest of this week is likely to be a wash, cooking-wise--I have not had time to shop or plan since we got back on Monday, and we've been throwing together pantry-based meals for the most part. On Friday, though, I should be able to get to the farmer's market in the morning. We're having pizza for dinner and watching a movie (we finally joined Netflix, will see if we can actually find the time to watch anything). This weekend we're looking at cool, rainy days, always nice to spend in the kitchen. Bring on fall!