I've been baking lots and lots of sugar cookies the last couple of weeks. I prefer gingerbread, but the kids are addicted to these buttery little men, cut with my tiny gingerbread boy cookie cutter. They are difficult to decorate, but fun to eat.
I baked bread last weekend, for the first time in the new oven, and it was so well received you would have thought I had spun gold. Such a simple thing--flour, water, yeast, a little sugar--and yet so satisfying. We each had a buttered slice when it was warm from the over. Later, I served the rest of the loaf with soup for dinner.
Nick has always wanted to make a gingerbread house. Finally, this year, I caved and bought one of those $10 kits at the grocery. It was pretty miserly; six pieces of stale cookie, a tube of white frosting "glue," and two tiny bags of candy for decoration. We did heavy construction on the day after Thanksgiving. I had to supplement the kit with another four colors of frosting (highly recommend the "easy cheese" pressurized can of decorating frosting) and two bags of candy. Here is the final product, including Santa getting ready to slide down the chimney.
Thanksgiving is a funny holiday for foodiemom. For the past several years, we have celebrated turkey day at my childhood home in the 'burbs, where my father still lives. Dad buys the biggest turkey he can find, even though there are only four of us. Usually, the meal also includes two cans of BirdsEye corn, heated in a saucepan on low for at least 45 minutes, some Pillsbury biscuits, and "mashed" potatoes whipped with a blender until they taste like potato glue. This year, I took the reins and insisted on preparing the side dishes.
Cooking in Dad's kitchen is like going back in a time warp to the 1970s. The stove is original to the house (1967); the analog clock on the top oven (which is now a storage cabinet) has read 1:10 for the past 20 years. There are two lights and two electrical plugs in the entire kitchen; you have to unplug the microwave to use any other electrical appliance. Dad believes in two kinds of knives: grapefruit knives, which he can get at the grocery for a buck, and the electric carving knife for the turkey. This always makes prep work a little interesting, if not dangerous. None of the dishes or silverware match; most of the "glassware" is plastic. I usually use an old shrimp cocktail glass for wine.
In keeping with the retro theme, I choose familiar sides this year: stuffing, green bean casserole, and corn pudding. Although I prepped the bird with some herb butter, we had no meat thermometer to it check for doneness, and it was a little dry. But, all in all, it turned out to be a pretty good meal. Here's a recipe for the best of the sides.
1 box Jiffy corn muffin mix 1 can creamed corn 1 stick butter, melted 1 cup sour cream 2 eggs
Mix ingredients together. Place in a small casserole (I usually use a souffle dish). Bake at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes until set and golden brown on top.
Nick and I stopped at the grocery after school for a few things, which of course turned into a half cart full of stuff. Wandering through the spice aisle looking for peppercorns, he asked me how to make pumpkin pie. "It's easy," I said. "Would you like to make one?" We grabbed a can of pumpkin, some frozen pie shells, and headed home. Nick helped me mix the ingredients, and we popped our dessert into the oven while daddy-o fired up the grill for dinner.
When I was a kid, we used to eat the "leftover" pumpkin pie for breakfast. Needless to say, we didn't have leftovers for very long.
Weeknight Pumpkin Pie
1/4 cup sugar 1/2 cup brown sugar 1 teaspoon salt 2 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice 1 can pumpkin 2 eggs 1 12-oz. can evaporated milk unbaked pie crust whipped cream
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. In another bowl, beat the eggs. Add the pumpkin to the eggs and mix well. Add the dry ingredients to the pumpkin-egg mixture. Slowly mix in the evaporated milk. Put an unbaked pie crust on a cookie sheet; pour the pumpkin filling into the crust. Bake for 15 minutes. Turn down the heat to 350 degrees, and bake for an additional 45-50 minutes, until the pie is set. Cool on the cookie sheet for at least 1 hour before serving with whipped cream.
On date night, with both kids out at friends' homes for the evening, I decided to fix my sweetheart an old-fashioned steak dinner. The heirloom tomatoes at the grocer were too good to pass up and became the centerpiece of the meal, dressed up with some balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and a sprinkling of shredded basil. Here's another tomato-rich dish.
6-8 ripe red tomatoes 1 English cucumber 1/2 purple onion 3 cloves garlic 1/4 cup chopped parsley 1/4 cup chopped cilantro 2 cups V-8 tabasco sauce
Finely dice half of the tomatoes, cucumber, and onion and place them in a large glass bowl. Roughly chop the other half of the vegetables and place in the food processor. Add the garlic, parsley, cilantro, and about 1 cup of V-8 to the food processor. Process the vegetables until smooth. Pour the processed vegetables into the bowl with the finely chopped ones. Add more V-8 until you get the consistency you want. Add tabasco to taste. Salt and pepper to taste. Chill for at least 3 hours. Serve very cold. Makes a nice light dinner with an open-faced cheese toastie.
Succotash is an underrated summer delight. Barb gave us more yellow squash and green beans last weekend, and I decided to saute it all up into a succotash for dinner tonight. Nick wandered through the kitchen as I was cooking the onions; "Mmmm, it smells good, Mom," he exclaimed.
1 yellow onion, chopped 2 tablespoons olive oil 3 cloves garlic, sliced 2 yellow squash, cubed 1/2 lb. green beans, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces 3 ears corn 2 tablespoons butter salt and pepper
Cut the corn kernels off of the cobs and place in a large bowl with the cubed squash and the green beans. In a large saute pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring regularly, for 8-10 minutes until the onion begins to brown. Add the sliced garlic and cook and for a minute or so until it becomes fragrant. Add the squash, beans, and corn, and cook, stirring regularly for another 6-8 minutes until the vegetables are tender. Turn off the heat and stir in the butter. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve.
My friend Farzad taught me this wonderful way to prepare eggplant. Serve it as an appetizer with some kalamata olives, cut up wedges of pita bread, and a big block of feta cheese.
Yummy Eggplant Dip
1 medium eggplant 3 cloves garlic, chopped bunch basil or parsley, chopped olive oil balsamic vinegar salt and pepper
Rub the eggplant with a light coating of olive oilk and poke it several times with a fork. Roast over a slow fire until the skin is blackened and the flesh is soft. Remove from the fire and cool. Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise and scoop the flesh out onto a cutting board. Chop the flesh into a fine dice. In a small mixing bowl, mix the eggplant, garlic, about 2-3 tablespoons olive oil, chopped basil or parsley, a splash of balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve with pita wedges.
In a large saucepan, bring the rhubarb, raspberries, and strawberries to a boil and cook them down for 8-10 minutes. The fruit should give off quite a bit of liquid. Take off the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
Meanwhile, heat a bath of canning water to boil and wash out 8-10 half pint glass canning jars. Boil the jars and rings in the canning water, and set aside to dry on a clean towel on the countertop.
Add the lemon juice and pectin to the fruit and bring it fruit back up to a rolling boil. Add the sugar, and boil the mixture for a minute or so, until the sugar is melted and the jam begins to congeal. Remove from the heat and fill the prepared jars to 1/4 inch of their tops. Lid the jars and screw the rings on finger-tight. Process the jars in the canning water for 15 minutes. Remove carefully to a clean countertop on the counterop. Check to see that the lids are well sealed; if the lid buckles to the touch, refrigerate the jam and use within a month. Sealed jam will keep for six months to a year in a cool dark place.
Barb also left us with some lovely greens from her garden. I've never seen yellow-stemmed swiss chard before. I cooked it as a side dish for dinner last night. Nick lapped his up, inquiring, "Why do people think that kids don't like spinach?"
Wash the swiss chard and spin it dry in a salad spinner. Using a paring knife, score down about 2/3rds of the stem on each leaf; gently pull on the stem to break it from the leaf. Discard stems. Roughly chop or tear the chard. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Saute the onions until they begin to brown. Add the garlic and stir for a minute until it become fragrant. Add a handful of swiss chard. Cook down until it begins to wilt; continue adding handfuls and wilting it down until you run out. Turn the chard with a pair of tongs while cooking. The chard is done when all of the leaves have wilted and begin to give off a scant amount of liquid. Salt and pepper to taste and serve.
two garden-ripe red tomatoes two garden-ripe yellow tomatoes two yellow zucchini, sliced lengthwise and grilled lemon thyme, roughly chopped smoked sausage, grilled 1 lb. cavateppi, al dente olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste
Toss to combine. Garnish with crumbled feta cheese.
Eating is a physical need, a sensual experience, and a cultural activity. As a mom and a foodie, it is my responsibility to ensure that my children learn to enjoy preparing and eating good food. The time we spend together at the table not only ensures our physical well-being, but enhances our spiritual connection to one another.