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"

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Chicken in Red Wine Sauce with Root Vegetables and Wilted Greens (whew)

I mean, I get that it's not quite the same thing as coq au vin, but couldn't they come up with a shorter name? I forgot to take a picture, but there's one on epicurious, so you needn't feel bereft if you really need to know what this dish looks like. The important thing is that it tasted great for very, very little effort. Given that we were getting another storm on Wednesday, I was working at home. Threw the marinade together in the morning, started cooking around five, and had dinner ready a little after six. Other than L's meltdown at the sight of her plate, the meal was entirely successful.

Needless to say, I didn't make this exactly as written (do I ever?), but I don't think my changes were significant enough to write up. I served it with some corn bread (the recipe on the back of the canister), for which I have had a serious hankering lately. I suspect that what I really want is to make chili, but I didn't have the things on hand for that. Will probably make some this weekend.

I have started leaving the subjects off my sentences. Time to get off the blog and on to something else....

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Cookies

The first time I made these, a perpetually-dieting friend ate three and told me I was never allowed to make them again. I don't actually make them very often, in part because it is horribly easy to eat too many of them, and in part because I am iffy about peanut butter cookies generally, finding them somewhat dry. These definitely benefit from a cup of tea or glass of milk. Also, the recipe makes a ton of cookies, and one can get tired of them after a while, so make sure you have a good home in mind for them.

I got this recipe from Bon Appetit--the RSVP column, which attributes them to The Inn at Cedar Falls in Logan, OH--but the epicurious site doesn't appear to have it, so here it is:

2 1/2 c AP flour
3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 c unsalted butter, room temp
1 1/4 c creamy peanut butter
1 c sugar
1 c brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
1 1/2 c semisweet chocolate chips

  1. Preheat oven to 375F.
  2. Whisk flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl to blend.
  3. Beat butter, peanut butter, and both sugars in large bowl until well blended.
  4. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.
  5. Add dry ingredients, and mix until just combined.
  6. Stir in chocolate chips.
  7. Form dough into 1-inch balls and place on baking sheets, spacing them 2 inches apart. Flatten with the back of a fork, making criss-cross pattern. (Note: This step is important if you don't want weird-looking little lumps instead of nice, shapely cookies.)
  8. Bake until dry on top and golden brown on bottom, about 10 minutes. Transfer to racks and cool.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Goal Roundup - January

Because there's nothing like public exposure to encourage brutal honesty....
  • Buy a house. Nothing doing. I'm watching the new listings, but nothing has jumped up and down at me saying, "Come and see!"
  • Decluttering. I ripped and packed away three boxes of CDs, so they are no longer spilling out of their allotted shelf space (except when JJ takes them down, of course), gave away a bunch of baby stuff to a friend who's expecting, and I joined the Worcester Freecycle group.
  • Finance. Not too shabby, despite the high winter utility bills.
  • Health/Fitness. No progress. I suck.
  • Food-Related. I have been hit or miss about trying new things, but very good about keeping track of what I've made and what we thought of it. More posts here than any time since June!
  • Wish list control. Retrograde progress, in that my list is actually growing, but I did buy one thing for myself (on sale) while doing some late Christmas shopping.
So, 50/50. Not bad for the first month, I guess.

Whole Wheat Orange Juice Muffins

Lately it seems like baking anything other than bread is something I do for company. This is not good for my mental health, or for my baking skills. This morning, after another up-and-down night with the Little Guy Who Does Not Sleep, Not Even When He's Tucked All Cozy Between Mommy and Daddy, I got up around 5:30, checked my email, did my usual web rounds, and did my usual musings to the effect of, Everyone else is still in bed. I could do something useful.... Except this time, instead of heading off to another pointless web site, I actually did it! I got up from my chair and made muffins.

OK, I realize this does not exactly qualify as heroics, but it's the little things, right? In this case, the very little things, since in a moment of wild abandon I hauled out my mini-muffin pans. I have no idea why I have these, and I have only previously used them to make party appetizers. But today I wanted to make muffins, and the idea of a bounty of miniature ones pleased me, so here we are.

This is my standard muffin recipe, since it uses things I always have around. Plus of course it's tasty, appallingly easy, and you can tell yourself it's okay to eat a lot of them because there's whole wheat flour. Yum. I am doubly pleased with myself, because I have been meaning to do this for weeks--why suffer through stale grocery store bagels or overpriced donut shop fare, when it only take five minutes to whip up a batch of these suckers?

Whole Wheat Orange Juice Muffins

Also, I have been rereading bits of Much Depends on Dinner, which D got out recently and left where I could pick it up (I get a lot of my reading material from things he's left lying around). It's a fascinating book, full of weird trivia (like the fact that there are caverns under Detroit where salt has been mined out... I've never wanted to visit Detroit before!). It's not entirely free of preachiness, the besetting sin of food writing, but it does at least endeavor to take a balanced approach, and has just a ton of fascinating historical tidbits. A fun read, even if it does make me long for summer's fresh corn more than is good for me in January.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Back to Basics: The First Loaf

I don't actually remember the first loaf of bread I made very well.

I know it happened at our old apartment in Brighton, with its teensy stove and ancient refrigerator (the one with the freezer compartment inside, that was too small to hold much of anything and required defrosting every couple of months). I didn't have a stand mixer in those days, and the biggest surface in the kitchen was a cheap card table, not the sturdiest of surfaces for kneading. I overfloured the dough, naturally, and the results were dense and on the dry side. I seem to recall it was a while before I tried again, but I did. And again. And somehow it turned into routine, this business of making bread, the way things do when you're busily living life and not paying it too much attention. You pause and look around and suddenly wonder how you got here? I suppose that blogging, like most other writing, is an attempt to capture the steps of the journey.

But the bread. I'm pretty sure this was the recipe I used that first time, since this is my oldest bread book--Bernard Clayton's Complete Book of Breads. Lo, these many years later, I have still only made a handful of recipes out of it, and annually I swear I'm going to do something about that. Friday's schedule required that I take some time out of work to watch the kids while D went to a doctor appointment. We were out of bread. I wanted to make something other than my usual, and I didn't have much time to think about it, so I pulled out this one, like an acquaintance you haven't seen in ages and suddenly feel an urge to call.

I've abbreviated the written recipe somewhat, assuming that most people use mixers these days. One thing that I hadn't noticed before and thought was interesting is his kneading time instruction. 10 minutes by machine is much longer than most other recipes recommend, but I suspect it is much closer to the time required to fully knead a batch of dough.

5-6 c bread or AP flour
3 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp salt
1 package dry yeast
1/4 c nonfat dry milk
2 c warm water
3 Tbsp shortening (I used butter, I generally don't have shortening around)

In a large mixing bowl, measure 2 c flour, sugar, salt, yeast, and dry milk. Pour the water into the dry ingredients and beat to blend thoroughly. Add shortening, continue beating. Add 1 cup flour and beat 3 minutes on medium speed. Continue adding flour, 1/4 c at a time, until the dough becomes a shaggy mass. Attach the dough hook and continue adding flour until the dough forms a soft, elastic ball around the hook. Continue to knead for 10 minutes. If the dough sticks tothe sides of the bowl, add sprinkles of flour. Should it try to climb over the protective collar the top of the hook, hold it back with the edge of a rubber spatula.

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and leave at room temp until the dough has doubled in bulk, about an hour.

Turn back the plastic wrap and punch down the dough. Turn it onto a floured work surface and knead for a moment to force out any bubbles. Divide the dough into two pieces with a sharp knife. Shape each piece into a ball and let it rest for two or three minutes. Form a loaf by pressing the dough into a flat oval roughly the length of the baking pan. Fold the oval in half, pinch the seam tightly to seal, tuck under the ends, and place seam down in the pan.

Cover the pans with wax or parchment paper and leave until the dough has doubled in volume, about 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400F. Place the loaves in the hot oven for 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350F for an additional 25-30 minutes. When the loaves are golden brown and sound hollow when thumped on the bottom crust, they are done.

Turn the loaves out onto wire racks to cool. If you want a soft crust, brush with melted butter while still hot.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Fettuccine with Sausage and Kale

This is a simple recipe and absolutely perfect for a weeknight, since it takes almost no time to put together; waiting for the water to boil is the most arduous part. It is also, dare I mention, cheap to make. We'll be having this again, no doubt.

Fettuccine with Sausage and Kale

I used half a box of cellentani that needed using up, rainbow chard since the kale looked a bit dodgy, and sweet chicken sausage with some crushed red pepper sprinkled over it. L ate some pasta (under duress), a couple of teensy bites of chard, nibbled a piece of sausage, then demanded toast. *sigh*

Today is feeling somewhat bittersweet. For the past 11 months, ever since I came back to work after JJ's birth, I have schlepped two backpacks to the office. One of them holds my laptop, and the other is my Medela breastpump. For the past couple of days, I haven't used the latter, and today, I left it at home altogether. There have certainly been many days when I resented the extra weight on my mile-long walk from the parking lot to the office, chafed at the time it took out of my day (and D's, since he had to clean everything at the end of the day), and looked forward longingly to weaning. But there's always a bit of sadness in these transitions, particularly since this expected to be a final retirement, and I find myself thinking mostly about L's first two weeks in the world, when we nearly despaired of feeding her, and the pump was all that rescued my intent to breastfeed.

But hey--I did it! Two kids seen through their first year on the recommended mommy-based menu. I'm fortunate to have worked at companies that recognize the importance of these things, and to have been able to arrange my schedule to make it all work out. It wasn't convenient and it wasn't always fun, but it was wondrous in its own small way, and I'm going to miss it at least somewhat.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Chock-Full Chicken Noodle Soup

Another old stand-by. There's not a lot to say about this -- or perhaps there is, but I'm very tired, after JJ had another rough night battling his tummy virus -- but it's a good, sturdy chicken soup that you can certainly embellish or subtract from as you like. The only change I make to this is that I sauté the onion, carrots, and celery together. Sometimes I leave out the spinach. I use Better Than Boullion these days when I don't have my own stock (which is most of the time); do be careful with the amount, or it will end up oversalted.

Chock-Full Chicken Noodle Soup

The weather has gotten very cold again; it was 18 degrees when I left Worcester, and I trotted a good bit of the distance from the parking lot to the office. Supposed to warm up a bit over the next couple of days, I believe, and then we plunge in the gloom of February. Hopeful enthusiasm over the presidential inauguration aside, it's a difficult time of year. Spring seems a long way away, but the calendar is bare of any closer anticipations.

Admittedly, things will probably look a lot better to me once the kid is back on his feet.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Chicken Tikka Masala

I seem to be on an Indian kick lately... this particular recipe was selected because, last time I went to Zigo for lunch, their trusty chicken tikka--one of my all-time favorite things to eat--was... horrible. The chicken was overcooked, half the rice was mushy and half crunchy, and the sauce lacked zing. What's worse, I was eating in a rush between meetings and didn't have time in which I might go back and complain. As I resentfully finished my "meal," I grumbled to myself that I could do better. Well, I had this past Monday off, and damned if I wasn't going to use some of my free time to cook a meal that would erase the memory of that terrible tikka.

Much of Monday morning was occupied by my continued hunt for a decent grocery store in the Worcester area. I have finally grown sick to death of the Webster Square Shaws--on Saturday I went in there to pick up game snacks, and every vegetable in the place looked like it had been there for days. Even the squashes were wrinkly. (Squash is the easiest thing on the planet to store, people; I can keep it on my counter for a week or more just dandy. What the heck are you doing to it?!) So I went up to the Shrewsbury Stop N Shop to see if it was any better, and it was! Not swoonworthy like the Wegmans my lucky mother has, but a big improvement on what I've been seeing by my place lately. On the way I passed an Indian grocery, which I will have to check out another time. I have never wanted to be one of those people who goes to four different stores in the course of their normal shopping--I spend too much time in the car during the week to enjoy running around in it on my days off--but apparently the alternative is making my family endure my grousing about our produce every week until summer and the farmer's markets return.

But anyway. After my shopping trip, I went to Borders (it was right there...) and used some of my Christmas money to pick up Martha Stewart's Cookies (because I don't have enough cookbooks, or enough about cookies... right). Then it was home for lunch and then out in the back yard to play in the snow with L, then back in for hot chocolate, and eventually a movie. Around four I put the marinade together and glooped the chicken into it.

Here is the recipe I used: Chicken Tikka Masala. And it was in fact considerably better than the disastrous one I had last "enjoyed," though I again seem to have overcooked the breast meat a bit--that's becoming a bad habit. All the cumin gave it a wonderful smoky heat without being overwhelming, and I liked the paprika. My changes to the recipe were as follows:
  • I didn't add any salt. I'm not by any means a salt-free sort of person, but a total of seven teaspoons? Ick! Between the spices and canned ingredients, I figured there would be enough flavor to go around. Next time I will add a bit, but certainly less than they suggest.
  • Again, I had no jalopeno, or other hot peppers for that matter. I don't know why I keep forgetting those little suckers. Again, I put some extra ginger in.
  • I didn't have any tomato sauce, either. I used a can of Muir Glen diced tomatoes, which I nearly always have on hand. I think they represented something of an improvement.
  • My cream was way past its prime, so I used about 2/3 of a can of non-light coconut milk.
I also made Saffron Rice with Peas and Garbanzo Beans--an old stand-by and one of the few ways in which I can be convinced to consume peas. The recipe as written makes a ton, but I figured I can take some to work this week. (I go through phases where I am so sick of sandwiches that I can scarcely stand it, but I seldom have the planning capacity to prepare anything else for lunches on office days.)

I'm trying to work on my photography. Here, for kicks, some of my prep work:

The meal was very satisfying, though my daughter refused to countenance any of it and requested toast for dinner--she has been known to eat chickpeas on occasion, but apparently this was not one of those days. And JJ is still battling tummy bug; it hasn't knocked him for quite the same loop it did his sister, but he hasn't been sleeping well, so neither are his parents.

Monday, January 19, 2009

French Toast

I think (hope?) I am learning, as so many other cooks before me have, that getting the simple things right really is important. It doesn't get any simpler than French toast, so small changes in approach make the difference between insipid and inspired.

We had a D&D game scheduled for Saturday, and since I actually had a loaf of challah bread in the freezer I knew French toast would be on the menu. I had a recipe for an overnight version filed away, but instead of hunting for it I found one that I thought was similar enough online: Overnight French Toast. Friday night, after the kids were in bed, I pulled it out and thought Hm, this doesn't look quite like the one I thought I had. Oh, well, I'll just sort of munge this together with what I remember from the other one.... So I put the bread in a 9x13 pan, overlapped because there was no other way to fit it, and put it in the fridge overnight, and baked it in the morning (for much longer than this recipe says to, and I didn't flip them because they would have fallen apart...).

And the result was fine, nothing to complain about really. Maybe a touch underdone, but that's not exactly a tragedy.

Except it could have been much better, and I was bothered by my own laziness. I don't make French toast very often, since I very seldom have suitable bread for it around (might sound odd, but I mostly make sandwich bread these days, and very rarely make challah, which does work best). Which means that I blew a chance to make it really well.

Next time I will try to remember this, and use one of the two recipes that do turn out really, really, really well. One of those being Ina Garten's--also to be found in Barefoot Contessa Family Style, and the other being Cooking Light's French Toast Souffle.

Note to self: Accept no half-brained late-night muddling. Do it right.

Friday, January 16, 2009

0 Degrees...

... is what weather.com says for Worcester right now. This has been an unusually vicious cold snap, even for January.

In other vicious news, L has been flattened all week by a stomach flu that has had her sleeping most of the days away and keeping down very little food. Last night, JJ developed a light fever and threw up his dinner, then had a very up and down night (probably hungry, since we didn't want to give him any solids for a while). Didn't eat much for breakfast, but at least so far it's stayed inside him.

Aaand D has developed a knee problem, which he is going to doctor about today. Somehow I don't think our plans for the weekend are going to happen. The minor miracle? In the midst of all of this, it's been a pretty productive week at work. Not terribly productive in the kitchen, though, but maybe over the course of the weekend everyone will get healthy again.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Chicken Biryani

Life has been unexpectedly hectic this week, with a lively meeting schedule, L's tummy bug, and D's newly-developed knee problem. Times like these I can't imagine not having a menu plan; getting off the highway at 5:30, getting home and having to decide then and there what to make for dinner would result in a much higher percentage of our food budget going to takeout food.

But this week I do have a plan, and I was even able to fit in a few minutes over the weekend to look through the latest issues of my cooking magazines and find a new recipe to try. Cooking Light's latest rendition of Chicken Biryani is my first four-star recipe of the year (I'm going to start putting star ratings in the labels so I can find them again later - not sure why I never thought of that!). It's almost no work at all, and though the result might not be quite what you'd get at a restaurant, it's surely good enough to make a standard at home.

I didn't have a jalapeno, but I upped the ginger, and the result was pleasantly warm without being overly spicy. It took just about the thirty minutes called for, making it quite doable on a weeknight--especially since only the first fifteen of that is "active time." I often have problems when making dishes where the rice cooks along with other ingredients, but it was perfectly done. It made for a very satisfying, warming meal on a cold night.

In other news, I've really been sort of hyperfocused on food lately. I think it's the cold weather, or the passage of the holidays, but all I want to do is burrow into a warm place full of good things to eat. I want to make bread and soups and braise things, I want to have warmth. It's not that I mind the weather, per se; I used to say that I hated winter, but now it seems to present an opportunity of sorts. I sit at my desk drinking tea all day, writing online help and dreaming of muffins, chocolate, stews. Unfortunately I can't spend all day cooking even on the weekends, so I've been doing a certain amount of vicarious living through the written word. I am thoroughly out of temper with Bon Appetit after their recent redesign of the magazine, so when my subscription there runs out I will not renew it. But I might replace it with Fine Cooking.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Chicken Run

The Netflix subscription is having its hoped-for effect; pizza-and-a-movie night is becoming a semi-regular event, giving me both excuses to make pizza (which I love to do) and a chance to finally see movies that I've been meaning to get around to for years and years.

Such as Chicken Run. There's a thousand sites out there that can tell you the plot, so all I want to say is that we thoroughly enjoyed it, and I was wondering up to the end just how things were going to fall out (I mean, I knew the chickens were going to win, but just how that would happen I wasn't certain of). The movie gets full marks for style, humor, and likeability. I think L liked it, too, at least I'm pretty sure that she said she wanted to watch it again on Sunday.

JJ is old enough now to be mesmerized by the TV, making it occasionally difficult to give him supper (one reason I love our place's open floor plan, I can sit with him by his high chair at the kitchen table and still watch the movie). He had some sort of Gerber mac and cheese for dinner and seemed to like it okay, but we need to put him on regular table foods (hoping to avoid what we're going through with his sister...). He had a rough night, and is up now, so I'm going to have to cut this short!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Yellow Lentil Dal

Some months ago, on a whim, I bought a package of yellow lentils. Since then, they have mostly been lugged around by my son, who loves pulling things off my "pantry" shelves. Also on a whim, I bought some tandoori seasoning with one of my Penzey's orders. Together, they suggested a meal for a night when I thought I would have some free time to fuss around in the kitchen.

Last night I finally opened the darned lentils, and I'm glad that I did! This recipe I found through a Google search turned out to be reasonably easy and very, very good.

Yellow Lentil Dal

I just did plain rice with it, feeling like I had taken on too much already, and tandoori chicken (replacing the spice mix in the recipe with my Penzey's stuff), which didn't turn out right since I forgot to take off the skin, and then undercooked it a tad. Next time I will try to plan better.

JJ had his one-year checkup yesterday. He's in the 95th percentile for height, but at 21 lb and change, only 25th for weight -- running around all day long will do that! Everything is spot on, his doctor tells us. He got two vaccinations, but was in a pretty chipper mood despite that, at least until he fell off the bed right before bedtime. Just a bump and a scare, fortunately. I am trying to plan a grocery shopping run while he toddles around the place right now, since he got up much earlier than I was hoping he would.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Ham and Bean Soup with Vegetables

I could have sworn I'd blogged this recipe already, but if I did, I didn't label it right. Maybe I'm getting senile already. Then again, this isn't something I make all that often, since I don't generally have a ham bone sitting around.

The most important thing about this? L actually ate two servings!

1 cup dry navy beans
1- 1/4 to 1- 1/2 lbs meaty smoked pork hocks or one 1- to 1-1/2-pound meaty ham bone
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup sliced celery
1 Tbs instant chicken bouillon granules
1 Tbs snipped fresh parsley
1 Tbs snipped fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
1/4 tsp pepper
2 cups chopped parsnips or rutabaga
1 cup sliced carrots
1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well drained

1 Rinse beans. In a Dutch oven combine beans and 5 cups cold water. Bring to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Cover and let stand 1 hour. (Or, skip boiling water and soak beans overnight in a covered pan.) Drain and rinse beans.

2 In the same pan combine beans, 5 cups fresh water, pork hocks or ham bone, onion, celery, bouillon granules, parsley, thyme, and pepper. Bring to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 1-3/4 hours. Remove pork hocks or ham bone; set aside to cool. Mash beans slightly. Stir in parsnips or rutabaga and carrots. Return to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, about 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

3 Meanwhile, cut meat off bones and coarsely chop. Discard bones. Stir meat and spinach into saucepan. Cook until heated through. Makes 4 or 5 servings.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Tender Focaccia

I can't believe I have never blogged this recipe... but then, it's been a while since I made it.

The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion is one of the books I would take with me while fleeing the collapse of civilization. It's good stuff; this focaccia likewise. I am going to post the recipe as they write it, with notes:

2 cups boiling water
3 ¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ cup potato flour or 1/3 cup potato flakes
¼ cup nonfat dry milk
2 ½ teaspoons instant yeast
1 ½ teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 to 3 tablespoons to grease the pan and the surface of the dough
¼ to ½ teaspoon kosher salt, sea salt, or fleur de sel, for topping

Put the hot water and 2 cups of the flour in a large bowl and beat for several minutes to develop a smooth batter. If you have the time, add 1/8 teaspoon yeast once the batter has cooled to lukewarm, and set the sponge aside for several hours or overnight (this helps develop flavor in the finished loaf, as well as the soft interior texture).
Note: I tried doing it this way once and ended up with a gluey mess! So ever since, I have used lukewarm water and a more "normal" way of mixing the ingredients.
Whisk the potato flour with the remaining flour, dry milk, yeast, and salt. Add this to the batter a little at a time, while continuing to beat. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Beat, by hand with a large spoon or with the paddle attachment of a mixer set at medium speed, for 8 to 10 minutes, changing to a dough hook when the dough begins to hold together.
Note: You may feel like you should add more flour. Don't! The wetter, the better with this type of bread, though it may be difficult to move around. It took a good 12 minutes in my mixer before it came off the bottom of the bowl, which I take to be the sign that it's been kneaded long enough.
After the dough has become smooth and shiny, put it in an oiled bowl, cover it with a damp towel or plastic wrap, and let it rise for 30 minutes.

Drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a 12- or 14-inch round pan, or 1 tablespoon olive oil into each of two 8-inch round pans. Place the dough in the oiled pan(s), gently stretching it to fit. Let the dough rest for 30 minutes, then stretch it out a little more. At this point you may refrigerate the dough in the pan(s), tightly covered, for up to 24 hours.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Just before baking the focaccia, dimple it with your fingers, brush it with a little olive oil, and sprinkle it with coarse salt or a few sprigs of fresh herb. Bake the focaccia for 25 to 30 minutes, until it’s deep brown all over. Remove it from the pan(s) and cool it for 15 minutes before eating. Serve with flavored olive oil, or split for sandwiches.

I don't know what I did this time, but this is some of the best focaccia I've ever made! As you can see, I put it into one large pan instead of the two small round ones. I sprinkled the top with fleur de sel and herbes de Provence, and it came out wonderfully, with a crisp outer crust and a tender interior crumb with some nice-sized holes. Not as chewy as you'd get with a proper starter, but a little bit of heaven anyway.

New Year, New Salad

I have to say, I was a little impressed with how organized I was last night (major credit goes to D for keeping the kids out of my hair for the duration, of course)--I managed to whip up a quick tomato sauce (canned diced tomatoes, onion, garlic, Italian seasoning), make turkey meatballs from scratch, and throw together a salad dressing, putting dinner on the table in just under 45 minutes. Maybe it was because I left work a few minutes early, so there was less of a traffic battle than I usually face on the way home.

The salad was this one, posted by foodie18 on the Cooking Light forums:

mixed greens
dried cranberries
toasted pine nuts or candied almonds
goat cheese

3 Tbsp maple syrup
2 tsp Dijon
1/4 c balsamic
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 c olive oil (or to taste)
salt and pepper

Combine all dressing ingredients in bowl. Slowly whisk in olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste.

I am not naturally good with salads--it just never occurs to me to put things like cheese or nuts in it for some reason, no matter how good they are--but I had everything needed to make this, including a half round of peppered goat cheese in the refrigerator, and I am going to try to make it again!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Jamaican Chicken Stew - Bringing Back an Old Fave

This used to be a staple in our household, something I probably made once a month. It's been years now, for one reason or another, but last night I brought it out of retirement to general acclaim. In fact, it tasted better than I remembered, possibly because I'm using higher quality spices these days. It's a bright and tasty one-dish meal, and since it relies entirely on pantry ingredients, it's easy to put together on a weeknight or at short notice. It also doubles nicely, and makes good leftovers.

I really do need to start taking pictures, this is the most boring-looking blog ever....

Monday, January 5, 2009

I hate Runny Babbit

With apologies to the late Mr. Silverstein, but Runny Babbit has to be the most annoying children's book I have yet come across. The conceit gets old on page 2, leaving the book nothing more than a lengthy and obnoxious earworm. And of course, for several weeks before the holidays, L wanted to hear nothing else every night before she went to bed.

Fortunately, we have gotten off that since Christmas, and on to a collection of Just So Stories that I got her. "The Beginning of the Armadillos" is the current favorite, and many of the characters have started appearing in her play.

January Supper Club - Cheese! Dilled Cheddar Cheese Batter Bread

We were even more slapdash than usual this month, the theme being sent out on Friday before we met on Sunday. I dithered for a while and said what the heck, I'll make some bread. I must have gotten this off the Cooking Light bulletin boards, but I didn't note down who posted it there.

I thought that, being a batter, this would be easy to make, but it turned out to have a few problems in the assembly. The first is that there's a typo in the recipe -- the total amount of flour called for in the instructions is more than specified in the ingredient list. I went with the higher number and I think that was the wrong choice, as my dough was quite stiff, not batter-y at all. Second, I didn't have any dill seeds, which I thought I had somewhere, and certainly no fresh dill. I just used a lot of dried dill.

Finally, it took a really long time to rise. I actually thought that I had killed my yeast, a mistake I haven't made in years, but a poke showed that there were teensy tiny air pockets in the dough, so I upped the temperature and it did eventually puff up. Did fine in the oven, too. And the finished product was definitely worth the trouble! I will make this one again, it was quite a hit with the group.

3/4 cup milk
1 1/2 tablespoons dill seeds, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup canola oil
3 eggs, room temperature, beaten to blend
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 package dry yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 1/2 cups packed grated sharp cheddar cheese
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

Bring first 3 ingredients to simmer in small saucepan; cool to 120°F. Whisk in oil and eggs. Combine 1 1/2 cups flour, yeast, salt and 2 cups cheese in large bowl of electric mixer. Add warm liquid mixture and fresh dill; beat 3 minutes. Add remaining 1 1/4 cups flour; beat 2 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rise in warm draft-free area until doubled, about 1 hour 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pan. Do not stir batter down. Spoon half of batter into pan; sprinkle remaining 1 1/2 cups cheese over. Cover with remaining batter; smooth top. Cover and let rise in warm draft-free area until batter reaches top of pan, about 30 minutes.

Bake until bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped, about 45 minutes. Turn out onto rack and cool.

Makes 1 loaf.

The rest of the cheesy dinner:
  • D - salad (naturally) - Caesar-type
  • K - chicken noodle casserole! with cream of mushroom soup and everything. Also ricotta cookies.
  • F - blueberry blintzes
  • P - mini-cheesecakes
Dinner was fine, but the dessert buffet was breathtaking, and I was very glad I hadn't make a cheesecake, too!

Mobile Post - Supper Club Ideas

I'm going to use this to keep track of the ideas we've already used, and those we might want to use in the future, and will bump the post up as needed.

Future restaurant suggestions:
111 Chop House
Sole Proprietor
that Italian place that is run by the same people

For future use:
Derby Day
April Fool!
Mother's Day
Starts with __ (Letter)
Ice Cream
Italian (non-Tuscan)
non-theme (host picks a main dish)
Movie theme
Herb/Spice theme (a single one, a family, by color...?)
casino night

Used (and wow, is my memory bad):
June 09 - Fruit (D's house, and I didn't even realize that we were doing a repeat....)
April 09 - Remembering Pam; meetings go to bimonthly
February 09 - "Stuffed" (D's house)
January 09 - Cheese (K's house)
December 08 - Cookie swap at Framingham Olive Garden
November 08 - "Massachusetts" (H's house)
October 08 - Starts with (first letter of your name)
September 08 - Fruit
August 08 - Stir-Fry
July 08 - Restaurant - Allora Ristorante in Marlboro
June 08 - BBQ/cookout
May 08 - No theme, just a favorite dish
Apr 08 - Eggs
Mar 08 - Green
Feb 08 - Red/pink
Jan 08 - Sandwiches
Dec 07 - Restaurant - Family-style Italian
Nov 07 - Soup night (and a baby shower for me!)
Oct 07 - Pumpkin, squash, or apple
Sep 07 - Back to school (lunchboxes)
Aug 07 - American Cookout
Jul 07 - Restaurant - Thai
Jun 07 - French
May 07 - Indian
Apr 07 - Pizza
Mar 07 - Irish
Feb 07 - Chocolate
Jan 07 - Alpine
Dec 06 - Cookie swap
Nov 06 - Cuban
Oct 06 ? - Greek
Sep 06 - Farmers Market
Aug 06 - Restaurant - Chef Orient (teppanyaki)
July 06? - Crawfish Boil
Jun 06 - Tapas
May 06 - Fish
Apr 06? Baby Shower Tea
Chinese New Year
Wine Tasting
Restaurant - Union Station
Caribbean - my first meeting

It doesn't seem possible that we've been doing this for so long, but I'm pretty sure it was autumn 2005 when I started going.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Korean-Style Noodles with Vegetables (Chap Chae)

First new recipe of the new year! I've had a package of thin rice noodles in my pantry for probably years--I may have bought it with optimist thoughts of spring rolls some long-ago day--and finally used them to make this pleasant but unfortunately not outstanding recipe. To go with it I brushed some boneless chicken thighs with a mixture of hoisin and soy sauce, then cooked them under the broiler.

The recipe made quite a bit, and with a few more vegetables would make a lovely light supper by itself for two or three people.

Friday, January 2, 2009

A Very Quiet New Year

Our plans to drive to the city for a party were derailed by the latest winter storm warning. As it happened, the storm didn't amount to much, but by the time this became apparent it was too late to go (the perils of living an hour away from pretty much everything).

Instead, I made cookies -- Triple Chocolate Cranberry Oatmeal, and some more cutout ones to replace the Christmas cookies long since devoured -- to take to a friends' open house New Years Day.

Try though I would, I could not seem to relax and get into a groove with the day. JJ was cranky, L was pesky, and I was snappish, and finally several cookies slid off the sheet as I was putting them into the oven and commenced burning into a smelly mess. Deep breath time. Open windows, turn off smoke alarms, turn on fans. The cookies got done regardless, and I spent some time playing with L before it was time to start dinner.

Given the uncertain planning, we kept it simple -- pizza and a movie, The Nightmare Before Christmas. We had seen it before, but not since just after L was born, and for some reason, I always manage to forget the musical aspect. It remains a very well-done, stylish, and funny film. I was a bit concerned about L, but she didn't seem to be scared by anything that was going on. It's hard to tell at age 4 what she thinks about most things; she has picked up the concept of "scared," but I have yet to see her really frightened about anything. She certainly isn't afraid of dogs or the dark or anything like that so far.

In the course of replying to a post in an online forum, today I opened up the recipe tracking file I started at the beginning of last year. I was astonished to see how much cooking I did back then, and how many new recipes I was trying (62 in three months!), even after I went back to work. Lately I seem to be all out of energy for that sort of thing, and I really hope to get it back.