Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Incredible, Edible Egg(plant)

I love eggplant. It's such an exotic, royal looking fruit. There was a short period about two years ago when I bought it quite often.  At first, my husband was excited and supportive. I made us ratatouille, and roasted eggplant with sausage and feta over polenta, and he was a little disappointed. To him, eggplant meant two things.  Eggplant fritters or Eggplant Parmesan (okay, two closely related things).  When I told him I was thinking about making an eggplant gratin for dinner this week, I had to list all the ingredients in the recipe and get his approval prior to going shopping.  Apparently there was enough cheese to get the go ahead.

I made it last night, and all I can say is "OMG, it's so good!"  It's one of those dishes that on first bite, you know you are going to add it to your recipe arsenal.  It can't be considered healthy with over 4 oz of Parmesan cheese and 12 oz of cream, but there is a difference between healthy and wholesome. Everyone in my family loved this dish.  Even Max, my pickiest eater, ate every bite.  Okay, we did have to tell him that eggplant was the stegosaurus' favorite vegetable to get him to try it, but after the first bite, he needed no more encouragement.  My husband is singing tonight so won't be home for dinner. I've never been so excited for leftovers!

There was also something else about making this dish yesterday, something a little more ethereal.  I have recently read And I Shall Have Some Peace There by Margaret Roach and just yesterday finished Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery.  Both books inspire a new way to look at nature and life and the complex joys simple things bring.  Making this meal of fruits and vegetables and herbs on a bright, warm day took me to a summer over a hundred years ago.

You can find the recipe here at the beautiful blog, farm + house + table. I made the recipe exactly as written, no modifications necessary (although I did use a jar of store bought marinara for the simple tomato sauce).  I can't wait to make it again.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Recovery Week

What happened to me last week?  I think at least four out of six meals came out of a box from the freezer or were take-away.  I just couldn't bring myself to plan my meals and write out my grocery list, a chore that I normally look forward to.  Of course, not doing it cost me more time than it would have taken to just write out the thing.  Going grocery chopping with two kids and no list is an unorganized mess.  Asking the kids what they want to eat leads to a lot of freezer items (explains some of last week's meals) and with no list I easily forget some basic staples, like eggs, milk, oil (partially explains the rest of last week).  Of course, fatigue is also to blame.  We had my family over on Saturday to help celebrate Max's 4th, so there was cleaning and baking to be done on Friday.  Max is all about dinosaurs so we trekked through the National Museum of Natural History and then had a late lunch and cake at my house.  I think I had my pajamas on at 6:00 pm that night.  Sunday and Monday were spent chasing down supplies and working on things for the home (I almost finished my first ever sewing project!  The curtains are hanging, but I want to add one thing before I can call them complete).  In short, I was tired and didn't want to cook at all last week.

Felt like this guy by the end of the day

I am trying to make up for it this week, however.  I made my meals and my list, and yesterday we did our shopping.  We are paying our bodies back for the shabby treatment we gave them last week with lots of fruits and vegetables.  I won't lie, a little thrill went through me when I heard the woman in line behind me say to her toddler son, "Look at all the yummy stuff she's buying.  I feel a little guilty."  Hopefully I will use it all and we won't be throwing out any produce on Saturday.  We started last night with this, penne with artichokes.  I found the recipe on Pintrest, but you can find it here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day!  I realize that it is an incredibly commercial holiday, but it's so much fun.  I went into Wegman's yesterday and it seemed Cupid became store manager over the weekend.  Roses were everywhere, of all shades of pink, orange, red, and yellow.  Bunches of balloons tied with ribbons hovered at the ends of every aisle.  Oh, and of course, chocolate, chocolate, chocolate!

Right now, Valentine's Day doesn't have too much meaning at our house.  Max was born this day four years ago, so we're in birthday mode.  We'll probably be feasting on a gourmet meal of McDonald's, Max's favorite, and having an ice cream cake from Baskin Robbins.  Maybe, after the kids are asleep, Ed and I will try and watch at least part of a movie together before I drift off.

However you are spending the day, with a singular special someone, with friends, or just hanging out on your own, I hope you stay warm.  Winter seems to be making sure that we don't write it off quite yet.  Here, it threw a small tantrum over the weekend, but I see it's been more stubborn elsewhere.  Make up your own hot cocoa mix to have on hand when the cold is getting to you, or when you just need a rush of endorphins.

Drinking Chocolate adapted from Making Artisan Chocolates by Andrew Garrison Shotts

Apparently, his staff calls this a "liquid brownie."  The moniker is apt.

To make the powder:

8 1/4 oz of bittersweet chocolate, chopped.  (He specifies 64% cocoa.  I typically use  a combination of Ghirardelli 60% and 70%)
1/3 cup nonfat dry milk
1 cup sweet ground chocolate

Combine the chopped chocolate with the dry milk in a food processor.  Pulse until the chocolate is ground into small granules.  Be careful that the chocolate doesn't start to melt from the heat of the processor blade.  If it looks like it is starting to melt, take a break and come back to it in a few minutes.  Once the chocolate and milk are mixed in a fine powder, add the sweet ground chocolate powder.  Pulse until completely combined, and then store in an airtight container.  The chocolate powder should keep in a cool place for six months.

To make the hot drinking chocolate:

Add 3 heaping tablespoons of the chocolate powder to 8 oz of whole milk in a small, heavy saucepan. (I suppose you could use 2%, but it just won't be the same.)  Whisking constantly, heat over medium heat until all powder has dissolved and mixture reaches a rapid boil.  Immediately remove from heat and serve.

Shotts also suggests an adapting this for a chocolate martini.  You simply allow the hot chocolate to cool down in the refrigerator, add some Kahlua and vodka and shake it over ice.  Yes, please!  

Monday, February 13, 2012

Taking Sides

Max already has a loose grasp on good and evil.  When Tom gets hurt, he laughs.  When Jerry gets hurt, he doesn't.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Everyday Cake; Does that Mean We Get to Eat it Everyday?

Sometimes you just want to bake a cake.  Lately, it seems I haven't had a reason to make anything.  We'd been to some parties with plenty of desserts, and we seemed to have a few weeks where we were keeping Ben and Jerry's on hand (that's a slippery slope.).  It finally got to me two days ago.  I wanted to bake something, but didn't want to make a run to the grocery store.  I had only one stick of butter and one stick of butter does not go far (how could I only have one stick of butter!).  I looked over my cookbooks for the most simple recipes I could find, but was not having any luck.  Finally, I remembered something I had seen on Orangette called the Everyday Cake.  With a name like that, how could it fail me?

I love this cake.  It's not very sweet; almost a snacking cake instead of a dessert cake. It's perfect for elevenses, if you're into that sort of thing (which I am). This is the cake I imagine Anne Shirley making in the kitchen at Green Gables.  The kind of cake people made when it was common practice to always have a cake on hand, just in case someone would be dropping by.  A practice that for better or worse, I am close to keeping with.  Probably for worse, considering the small number of drop-ins I get.

Everyday Cake adapted from Orangette (I am adapting Molly Wizenberg's recipe, which was inspired by a recipe from Edna Lewis )

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
A pinch of nutmeg, or more to taste
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ¼ cups sugar
3 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup buttermilk, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Grease a 9" springform pan.

Put flour, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg in a medium bowl.  Mix with a wire whisk to combine.

Beat together the butter and sugar with an electric mixer or a wooden spoon until it is light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each one.  Add the vanilla and stir to combine.

Add about 1/4 of the flour mixture, stirring just enough to incorporate.   Pour in 1/3 of the buttermilk and mix well.  Add the rest of the flour and buttermilk in turns, alternating between the two.  Stir until well blended, but be careful not to overmix. 

Pour batter into your prepared pan, evening out the top.  Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick poked in the center comes out clean.  

Store cake for up to three days, covered at room temperature.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Sunday Suppers

It is wonderful.  My books are off the floor, back on shelves where they belong.  The cream-colored outlets and plates have been changed out for pristine white ones.  We even hung up a picture.  It looks rather lonely right now, but it will have neighbors in good time.  It feels so good to get things done, completely done.  We were able to knock out our to-do list in the morning, and then relax and enjoy the rest of Sunday afternoon.

I love the idea of Sunday Suppers.  Without any religious implications, there is something about a day of rest, a day of family togetherness capped with a slow meal in the evening  where we can reflect on our week and be grateful for the things we have.  My family has too few of these.  Our weekends seemed to be filled with running errands, or just running in circles.  It's something I want to change.

One of my favorite things to make for a Sunday family dinner is a roast chicken.  It's simple and casual, but there is something just a little special about it. Most of the time, I simply take some herbs de provence, mix it with some softened butter, and then rub that over the entire chicken and roast it.  Last night I tried something new, and I think it turned out wonderfully.

Roast Chicken with Apples, Onions, and Potatoes adapted from Everybody Eats Well in Belgium by Ruth Van Waerebeek

I love one-dish meals.  All you need is some good bread, and you have a beautiful Sunday dinner.  You need to use a roasting pan that is just big enough to hold the chicken and vegetables.  If it is too big, they will dry out.  Preferably you would use one a little wider and shallower than the one pictured above.  I couldn't find the right pan, and while this worked, my potatoes did not brown as much as I would like, and my chicken thighs were a little underdone.  Still, it was delicious.  The combination of potatoes, apples, onions, and thyme make me nostalgic for something I'm not sure I ever knew.


1 whole chicken, rinsed and patted dry
salt and pepper to taste
2 to 4 slices of smoked bacon
1 T unsalted butter
1 tsp paprika
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
6 medium red potatoes, cut into 1/2" cubes
2 granny smith or other tart apples, cored and cut into 1/2" cubes
3 T vegetable oil
1 1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 cup chicken broth
1 T minced fresh parsley, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees

Season the chicken cavity with salt and pepper.  Very carefully, loosen the skin around the breast and legs with your fingers.  Insert a slice of bacon (I only used two slices and cut them in half) under the skin, covering each leg and breast.  This will give the chicken a wonderful smoky favor.  Truss your chicken with kitchen string, and then rub all over with butter and sprinkle with paprika.  Put it in the pan on its side, and roast for 10 minutes.  Turn the bird to the other side and roast for another 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the potatoes, apples, and onions with the olive oil and thyme.  Season with salt and pepper.

Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.  Turn the chicken breast up, and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper.  Pour your potato mixture around the chicken, and then add the chicken broth.  Roast for about 50 minutes, or until the juices run clear.  You can add more chicken broth if it seems that the vegetables are burning.  Everything should be done with your vegetables are nicely browned, and most liquid has evaporated.

Let the chicken rest for five to ten minutes before carving.  Garnish with parsley and serve.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Start Me Up

Today is the day that I put an end to this procrastination streak I've been on.  So far, I'm on the right track with posting to my blog.  Now, I just have to follow through with the house items.

Painting is still causing havoc.  For the entirety of the past week, furniture has been dismantled and rearranged and my books are spread out along the living room floor.  The mess had finally met my threshold of tolerability, and so I took action.  "Finish painting and reassemble room" is written in large print on the whiteboard in the kitchen.  That may not seem like much of an action, but it seems to help.  The room should be done today (at least painted, furniture may be assembled tomorrow).

I also signed up for the Blogging A to Z April Challenge, where you blog every day in April except Sunday, with the subject of your post starting with A the first day, B the second, and so on.  Right now, at my current rate of one post every week and a half, it seems a little daunting.  I'm looking forward to it though.  I've checked out the blogs of several other participants, and I'm getting amped up for writing so much.  I love the idea of being a writer.  I spend quite a bit of time imagining myself a writer and poet .  Of waking up, drinking coffee, and composing a bit of verse or prose in the morning.  It's one of my favorite past times, dreaming and thinking about writing.  However, given the lack of time I spend with pen to paper (or fingers on the keyboard); I am questioning whether I actually enjoy the writing part.  Hopefully the challenge can add some clarity to that.  If you are interested in joining, you can sign up here.