This is our pantry. For real and tonight and with unswept floors. It’s an awkward little space in our home and one of my absolute favorites. When I was pregnant and we were looking for more room, the old owner’s of this old house neglected to mention that there was a walk-in pantry in the kitchen in their advertisement. They also neglected to mention the washer and dryer and dishwasher and yard, so needless to say we did our darndest to sign a lease before leaving that first time we visited. And though I love those conveniences, it is the space of the pantry that continues to shine for me. I just really, really love this narrow nook.
We’re becoming better at being parents, we think. If not better parents, then better people who happen to be parents. We’re becoming systemized, an efficient team that tackles dinner and bedtime and breakfast and chores and book reading and fort building with ease. We are getting, if not ALL of it, then a lot of it done. And often. Read the rest of this entry »
Ok, so somewhere in my house is the camera that a dear friend lent me after I had posted too many picture-less posts here. Perhaps it’s in M’s train or lost in the shuffle of what has become my endless kitchen reorganization project. Wherever it is, I can’t find it right now (worry not, dear lending friend…it’s here and I will find it!) and right now is when I have time to post so, you know, pardon the fact that there’s no picture.
About a month or so ago, there was this marinated feta on sale at the grocery store. At a steal, we bought it on a whim and promptly devoured it. Everywhere we went people were talking about this incredible marinated feta. This got me to thinking. Maybe I should try marinating feta on my own! And so I went to buy feta and try my hand at this nifty little concoction.
Did you know that there are like, no joke, a million different kinds of feta? Because there are. And I think that I had known this before and just refused to become ensnared in an endless inner debate about which one to buy, but not on the day that I went to pick up feta to marinate. All of a sudden the stakes felt BIG.
So I bought French feta. I think I usually buy French when I’m not sure what my options really indicate. French folks make good food so I figure I’m in safe territory. I brought it home, put it in a little bowl, and doused it in olive oil. I smashed a clove of garlic and put it in along with a big bay leaf. Some chives, fresh rosemary and cracked pepper finished the mixture off. I wrapped the bowl in saran wrap and put it in the fridge overnight. We had friends coming over and about an hour before they arrived I set the cheese on the counter to let the oil return to its liquid state. Everyone kept exclaiming about how wonderful the cheese was and I’ve made it a few times since for John and me.
It’s so simple, right? Marinate some feta! But it makes it feel that little bit special that can go such a long way sometimes.
So, we have a grill, right? I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this before around these parts. It’s kind of been our summer maker. I’ve been looking for work (still am, if you happen to know anyone in the Bay Area looking for someone like me…ok, plug done. Moving on…) and so we’ve–like so, so, so many other folks–have been a single income family. And we’ve been lucky to have that income (so, so, so many other folks don’t even have that) and we’ve known it, but that doesn’t mean that we haven’t lamented how locally we’ve been living as of late. Usually we’d get away for at least a couple of days, a trip north or south for a change of scenery and a fresh perspective on our selves, our home, and each other. That wasn’t in the budget this summer, though, and so our grill became the center to our little bits of get away.
We’ve strung lights and gotten chairs and a little table (which, mind you, just might be the ugliest table ever made, but it was free and sturdy, so here we are…and yes, I was going to paint it…and yes, that was nearly 2 months ago…and no, no I haven’t yet…YET) and at night, after M has gone to bed, we’ve retired to sit under the giant and slightly creepy old pine tree out back, sipping wine while coals get hot and snacking on cheese and crackers while our main meal cooks.
And you know what? Not once–NOT ONE NIGHT–have I not absolutely relished every second of it. Vacation is awesome, and I hope our ability to take them returns soon, but there’s something really magical about stepping out the back door and finding myself in a space that we’ve managed to keep exclusively associated with relaxation. My shoulders sink, my mouth slips into a half smile, my worries are checked at the door. I feel really proud of us for making this little summertime oasis for ourselves, for remembering to find a way to step away from the day-to-day so we don’t get mired down in it, and for remembering to hold a space for us to come together in.
We’ve grilled all sorts of things. Chicken and steaks, vegetables and s’mores and whatnot. The other night, with friends who we’ve enjoyed several evenings out back with, John grilled up a pizza that was absolutely fantastic. He pre-baked the crust in the oven earlier in the day and then covered it with lemon zest, garlic, goat cheese, mozzarella, sliced Early Girl Tomatoes (so, so, so good–go find them and try them before it’s full-blown tomato season and they’re gone), torn basil, leeks (which we sauteed earlier as well) and crumbled bacon. I mean, really. This pizza was GOOD. So good that my mouth is watering right now as I write this even though I just ate half of M’s sandwich and, really, I wasn’t hungry when I sat down and began the post.
And tonight? Tonight we’ve got a date on the patio again. We’ll plug in the lights and talk about our days, grabbing sweatshirts as the sun disappears and, for an hour or two, stepping away from it all.
As my mom mentioned on Monday, illness has descended upon our household. And despite our best efforts, over a week later we’re still kicking this uninvited visitor around. John was all ready to sit down and write a post for today (it is his Friday after all), but then I made puppy eyes and asked him to make dinner instead. So, I’m sitting in bed with a heap of tissues and he is off scrounging together leftovers from a most excellent visit we just had with family.
Oh man–mentioning a heap of tissues on a food blog is probably something you’re not supposed to do unless they accumulated from patting something fried down. Oh well. My nose, throat and brain are proverbially fried so…deal.
One of the things that I’ve really been enjoying about generating concoctions for M in the kitchen is that so many of these dishes are simple and make excellent sides for those of us with bigger appetites and more teeth than an almost one year old. It’s been a cool minute since I spent any time rethinking side dishes, usually whipping up something from a rotation of standards that are yummy but, you know, maybe appearing a little too often on our dinner plates. Anyway, in the past few weeks I’ve come up with two meals for M that are absolutely fabulous. They’re simple, interesting and healthy, too. Give ‘em a try and let us know what you think!
ingredients (for 4)
1 large carrot
a knob of ginger
6-8 T. applesauce (homemade, right? right)
Halve carrot lengthwise and then slice. Put into pan over medium heat with a drizzle of olive oil (to prevent sticking) and a dash of salt (to help the carrot cook and to open up flavors). Thinly slice ginger and then mince (do this to taste…we can eat a lot of ginger in this family, but I know not everyone can so start with about a tablespoon and build from there) before adding to skillet. Once carrots have begun to soften (around 10 minutes), add applesauce by the heaping tablespoon, stirring well. If using store-bought applesauce, I’d suggest adding cinnamon to taste, too. Saute until carrots are cooked and serve.
ingredients (for 4)
1 medium zucchini
2 large coves of garlic
freshly shaved aged parmesan
fresh cracked pepper
Peel zucchini. Halve lengthwise and then slice. Place in pan over medium heat with a drizzle of olive oil and a dash of salt (wait–this sounds really familiar, right? See–I told you these were simple sides). Mince your garlic and add, sauteing until zucchini is cooked. Remove from pan and toss with fresh cracked pepper and parmesan to taste. Serve and watch everyone smile.
A while ago I posted about “Toddler Meals” and it’s glorious effort to beat back the dinner blues. When I wrote about it, though, the idea of making a meal for M that involved much more than breast milk was just that–an idea–and nothing more. My first kid, I had no idea what was in store for us as the year progressed.
“Toddler Meals” has become our kitchen bff. Not only does it offer up tons and tons of simple combinations that are baby-kid friendly (because M is definitely a baby-kid right now…), but it also includes recipes for the whole stinking family to enjoy. Be still my beating heart. The recipes are definitely on the bland side (we are feeding an eleven month old after all…and the book is divided into age categories), but John and I are both more than capable of adding salt and whatnot to our plates once M has noticed that we are, in fact, all eating the same thing.
And so, last week I made the Red Lentil Dhal recipe. It’s super easy, which is super wonderful and totally what I’m looking for come 6 o’clock. I doubled the recipe because I wasn’t sure if the serving suggestion of 3 meant kids or adults. Doubling it made a ton and enough for leftovers (always welcome), but if you’re interested in not stocking your fridge with dahl then just follow the recipe and enjoy a warm, hearty and healthy meal.
Red Lentil Dhal, for All
1/2 cup split red lentils
2 cups chicken stock (or water)
1/2 tspn. cumin
1/4 small onion, diced
1/4 mild green chili, diced
1/4 tspn. ginger
1/4 tspn. garlic
Peel garlic and ginger. Chop finely. Bring stock/water to a rapid boil in a medium sauce pan. Add lentils, onion, ginger, garlic, chili, and cumin, and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for about 45 minutes, or until the lentils are completely soft. Serve with couscous or, you know, in a pile on a place mat depending on the age of the eater.
So, we’ve been making pizza. And by making pizza, I mean letting store-bought dough rise and then rolling it out (ok, John’s been doing all of this…he’s just, you know, sooooo good at it) in some semolina flour and topping it as we please. It’s yummy and it’s gotten kind of fun as it’s become a bit of a weekly routine. Plus, it’s cheaper than delivery or take-out AND we can put whatever we want on it.
Until recently, we weren’t re-inventing the wheel with this whole toppings shindig. This past week, though, we upped the ante. And now, with not only no reservations but also kind of intense enthusiasm (I only say “kind of” because, you know, it’s pizza…not the end of the US involvement in the Middle East…trying to keep things in perspective), I can recommend this combination to you:
Fresh peas (so much better than frozen and so, totally worth shelling all those little buggers)
Ok, my mouth totally watered while I was writing that list. When I told my mom about the pizza before we made it she said, “You had me at caramelized onions.” When I asked John whether shoots was “shoots” or “chutes” he answered and then said, “Thanks, now I’m totally hungry.” Seriously, people, make this pizza. I know you’re probably still full from the various April holidays, but hop up and down to make a little more room and then dig in. You won’t be sorry, even if it sends you right back into the food coma you only recently emerged from after the holidays.
And stay tuned. This whole toppings thing just might have to become a regular feature.
What do you like on your pizza?
My brother, S., gave me a cookbook for Christmas that I’ve been meaning to dive into as soon as I found myself with a little leisurely time. The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg is unlike any other cookbook we own. Instead of recipes, as one might expect, it offers flavor combinations, ingredient by ingredient. So cool! So often I find myself cooking and unsure of what to pair with what absent a step-by-step recipe. This book is just the ticket for such moments.
I’ve been wanting to make soup for a while (ok, all winter). With the aid of The Flavor Bible, I concocted a totally delicious chicken, mushroom and white bean soup in a lemony garlic broth.
To start, I made chicken stock. I’m yet to find a store-bought version that comes anywhere near the homemade stuff and so, for the time being, homemade is how we’re rolling when it comes to chicken stock in our house. I piled a stockpot full on chicken bones and one complete breast, big hunks of celery, wedges of onion and halved carrots. A few bay leaves and brimming with water, I let the stuff simmer for hours until our whole house smelled warm and welcoming. I strained the vegetables and bones out, shredded the chicken from the breast and set it aside in the fridge along with the strained stock until evening.
The trick to making your own stock, as I learned from my Great Uncle David, is to leave time for it to chill in order for the fat to solidify on the top. Then, before you put it back on the stove to generate your soup, you can scrape the fat from the top quite easily. It is far preferable to the oily skimming I’ve done in the past, both in terms of ease and effectiveness.
For the soup proper, I diced up half an onion and a few stalks of celery and sliced three carrots. Into a saute pan they went until they were browned and softened, at which point I added them into my stock pot. Then I sliced and sauteed mushrooms, adding these to the soup once they were browned along with the shredded chicken and the juice from one lemon. I minced a few cloves of garlic and thinly sliced another lemon (a la my grandmother’s chicken soup), tossing these in towards the end along with a rinsed can of white beans. I simmered the soup a bit longer, adding a generous dash of hot sauce and salt and pepper to taste until everything came together. John (using store-bought pizza dough) whipped up some breadsticks (rolled in parmesan and fennel seeds and other delicious things that he can’t recall…he doesn’t need The Flavor Bible‘s help the way I do) which finished baking just in time for us to heap soup into bowls and sit down for a cozy dinner on a rainy night.
Ok, so first off, pardon the photos. I accidentally spilled a giant glass of water all over my camera in an effort not to spill coffee all over my computer (ok, probably too many beverages around valuable and expensive pieces of equipment…lesson learned). While my computer was spared (::phew::), my camera has decided to open but nothing else. Awesome. So these photos were taken on my cell phone. Better than no photos? Probably, but definitely not ideal.
What I made the other night was Eggs in Purgatory. What I will now be making probably once a week is Eggs in Purgatory. You know those bits in your fridge that are still good but instead of trying to navigate the tedium of figuring out a delicious way to use them all you close the fridge door, hoping that by the next time you open it they’ll have turned and you can legitimately throw them away? Here is your solution.
Click here for the original recipe that I found on the Food Network. The version I made followed the general form but I had substitutions for most of the ingredients (pepperoni instead of salami, different peppers, no parsley, etc.). Therein lies the brilliance of this dish. I could see it working well with mushrooms or potato, some spinach…really, just about anything.
OH! And it’s easy. Really easy. And quick, too. It’s like, the perfect recipe for weeknight cooking.
Have you ever made this dish before? A variation on this theme? What do you do with the incredible edible egg?
Rachel here: The other night I made, for the very first time, my favorite childhood meal: my mom’s Greek pizza. Growing up, this was what I asked for for my birthday dinners and the leftover I hoped would be mine when my brothers and I ate leftovers for dinner. I remember feeling like I had sophisticated taste buds because I was eating spinach and feta cheese, foods that weren’t staples per se due to the fact that I shared meals with G and S who, as has been mentioned before, weren’t always game for eating food that didn’t come in cute shapes. Anyway, since my mom did a post featuring this dish a few months ago, I’ve been craving it. The day that I was going to make it I felt a little bit excited all day. I don’t think I’d eaten this meal since I lived with my parents and I was nearly giddy by dinner time at the prospect of revisiting my favorite childhood food. If you haven’t made your favorite meal from growing up in a long time, I highly recommend that you do so. Cooking and eating this Greek pizza left me feeling all warm and fuzzy and nostalgic for dinners in my parents’ kitchen, talking with my brothers and my mom about our days. It was fun to share it with John, too, since he had never had it. He dutifully ate seconds and totally understood why I was so excited to make this meal. This is a recipe, for sure, that I can’t wait to make for our kid in a few years. After all of these years of missing this meal, I’m glad I finally incorporated it into my kitchen. I didn’t make it quite as well as my mom, but I still felt like she was there by the stove with me and that, in and of itself, is just the kind of nourishment we all need sometimes.
Janet here: It’s funny to read Rachel’s post because I really didn’t realize as she was growing up, that this was such a big deal meal for her. I knew she liked it, of course, but I had no idea it was infused with so much emotion.
We really are so clueless aren’t we? We work so hard to make a moment special — cooking a special meal with all the right ingredients and candlelight, say, for a significant other — and yet so often it’s the little every day moments that actually make it all matter. While cooking with phyllo dough, a major ingredient in Greek pizza, was not something I did every day, I certainly never thought the nights I served it were “special,” and yet those moments apparently were. I guess the message is we should try to remember it’s all special because you never know the moment that’s going to “count” in someone else’s memory. Good to be reminded of that, I think, don’t you?
Rachel here: For those who’ve been following, you know I’ve been meaning to get around to making a big batch of pasta sauce to freeze. I have this idea that somehow between now and when the baby comes (at the end of June) I will not only baby-fy my house, get straight As in school, spend lots of quality time with John and make sure to do some stuff just for myself, but that I will also somehow prepare and freeze months worth of food so that we can be well-fed during those early sleepless months. It’s a great idea, sure, but I am increasingly aware that there is no way this entire dream to-do list is going to get done. I’m trying, instead, to focus on the little victories, to incorporate a little of each of these things into the coming days and weeks and to figure that, though the baby isn’t here yet, this is just a glimpse of the impending upheaval in our home. But anyway, I now have two large jars of frozen pasta sauce that, some summer evening, I am sure I’ll be glad I took the time to make last night.
I should say that I love making pasta sauce. I’ve only done it twice, but there’s something so liberating about cooking without a recipe. Pasta sauce is up there with making soups for me, both leisurely and informal with lots of stirring (I think stirring calms my brain down). Plus, the end result is a hearty and simple meal that is virtually guaranteed to put a smile on the faces I’m feeding, along with my own. What do you like in your pasta sauce?
Mushroom and Olive Pasta Sauce
makes approximately 12 cups
1/2 c. balsamic vinegar
1/2 lg. white onion, diced
1 c. brown mushrooms, sliced
2 lg. cloves garlic, minced
56 oz. whole peeled tomatoes (nope, I didn’t mill my own…someday)
15 oz. crushed tomatoes
1 c. olives, chopped (I used kalamata and green italian)
4-6 basil leaves, torn into small pieces
fresh thyme, stripped from stems and to taste
3/4 c. red wine
salt and pepper
In a pan, reduce the balsamic vinegar until thick and sweet. In a large pot, saute the onion. Add the mushrooms once the onion has started to brown, and then add the garlic. Add all of your tomatoes. Add olives, basil and thyme. Add the balsamic reduction a few tablespoons at a time, to taste. If you use up all of the balsamic reduction and you want a sweeter sauce, feel free to add a bit of brown sugar. Add salt and paper to taste before pouring in the wine and bringing sauce to a simmer. Simmer until sauce thickens, around 1 hour, checking periodically. Adjust seasonings as needed. Yum!
Janet here: So, yeah, I used to do homemade tomato sauce back in the day when I was childless and an afternoon puttering around the kitchen making up a huge batch of tomato sauce for freezing was something I had the time and inclination to do. And then the children arrived, and between that and the full-time job, something, as they say, had to give. So my tomato sauce looks like this:
And it is still pretty damn tasty.