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Dinner Party

So the picture is a little blurry (I was taking it quickly with my phone, and I’d had a couple of vodka tonics as pre-dinner libations, so), but I know how CPP always wants me to take pictures of what I cook and I never do it, and I was proud enough of this dinner to think to make the effort to do it.

 

 

So what you see before you is a three-pound meatloaf (with beef, veal, and pork, seasoned with sage, salt, and pepper, with carrots, celery, onion and garlic and parmesan, and then wrapped in thick slices of applewood smoked bacon, basically which follows the recipe in Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything), roasted Brussels sprouts (nothing fancy – basically, trim the veg and make sure everything is about uniform in size and then toss in olive oil, salt and pepper, and then bake at 375 until tender and possessing lovely crispy bits on the outer edges), and homemade mac and cheese (with Havarti, Gouda, and Butterkase cheeses, and with swiss chard hidden in the middle).

What you don’t see (because I didn’t get around to photographing these things) is the toasted cocktail-sized slices of pumpernickel bread spread with tapenade that went with the pre-dinner vodka tonics (the perfect combo of salty-umami of the tapenade and the savory-sweet of the bread – side note, cats apparently think tapenade is a delightful caviar-style cat-treat), the tomato chutney that I made to serve as a condiment to the meatloaf (I am decidedly against the “ketchup glaze” on meatloaf, but I found this tomato chutney recipe and thought I should try it…. and it is wicked crazy good and really did complement the meatloaf in spite of my general aversion to ketchup-related gilding of the meatloaf lily… though I should point out that “tomato chutney” is basically fancy ketchup, only chunky, but So. Much. Better. than ketchup and worth the couple of hours it takes to cook, and would be a delightful spread for a sandwich, or as a condiment for other dishes as well, or even great just spread on a cracker or as a dip for some sort of chip), the salad (which is in the covered dish in the upper-left corner of the photo, covered because I put it on the table unattended before the other stuff came out and I do have cats who like to investigate things) which involved arugula, orange segments, and roasted beets, with a homemade vinaigrette with cumin, and the apple crumble that I made for dessert, served topped with salted caramel gelato.

I am happy to report that after this calorific, indulgent meal, neither I nor my guests went into cardiac arrest, a diabetic coma, or similar.  And yes, I have left-overs, but not as many as you might expect given the vast quantities of the food that I prepared.

Also: this was the perfect menu for what was one of the first true fall days we’ve had.  Though it’s also true that what I served was dressed up cafeteria food, or a dressed up version of a weekday dinner that a 1960s housewife might have prepared.  But whatever, it was delightful.  As was the company.

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I know, CPP, you are irritable that there will be no pictures.  I always seem to think of taking pictures when have chicken hands, or after I’ve just eaten what I’ve cooked, or way before I’ve done any cooking.  This, indeed, is why I will never be a food blogger.

But I’ve still got some things to say about Food, and more specifically about the adventure that has been cooking for The Dude.

One of the things that I truly do love about The Dude is that 1) he likes to eat the food I cook, and 2) he is always so crazily appreciative that I cook for him.  (His mother doesn’t cook.  And apparently that weirdo has never gone out with a woman who cooked him meals.  This is astonishing to me, probably because the “cooking for guys” thing has always been my thing, mainly because it’s cheap and I spent a lot of time dating when I was a poor student.  And also, I just like it, so not cooking ever just doesn’t compute.)  But so anyway, those are some good things about cooking for The Dude.

But it’s also the case that prior to my cooking for him, The Dude did not have the most… educated palate.  This translates in a variety of weird ways.  One is that he thinks he doesn’t like vegetables, but if you feed him a vegetable he’s never heard of or tasted, he’ll eat it and, so far, like it.  Or if you hide a vegetable he thinks that he doesn’t like in a sauce, he’s totally fine with it.  And then, sometimes, if you’ve hidden it in something enough times, you can convince him to eat it when it’s not hidden (but not always).  He loves sushi (raw fish and all), but he turns up his nose at things like couscous (which he didn’t know existed until I made it for him).  He refuses to eat cabbage – raw or cooked – but he loves sauerkraut.  My explanation that sauerkraut IS cabbage has done nothing to change his mind about this.  Also, a constant refrain from him is that I cook things that are “too fancy” and I “shouldn’t do so much” – typically after he’s devoured whatever I’ve made.  So it’s… a process.

Now, I’ve cooked many amazing things for him (but regular stuff, too, obviously).  The first “fancy” dinner I made for him was after we’d been dating for about a month, when I made my fabulous braised chicken.  Then there has been lasagna bolognese (sauce from scratch), Boeuf Bourguignon, a beef roast, sauerkraut and kielbasa, a lovely pork roast with rhubarb chutney and scalloped potatoes, herb-roasted chicken thighs and quinoa with bacon, pork chops with homemade applesauce and mushroom risotto….

And this is a man who boils – BOILS – chicken breasts EVERY week to make terrible chicken salad (in which the only ingredients are the awful boiled chicken and mayo), and chefs up some macaroni to drown in jarred cheese sauce, to make his lunches for work every day.  It never changes.  In seven months, no change.  (You see why I force vegetables on him.  He claims that he takes vitamins so it’s fine, but I disagree.)

But even after all of that, he still didn’t truly believe that I enjoy cooking, and that in fact I’d prefer cooking to going out most of the time.  But then, this past weekend, we reached a major milestone that has appeared to change his perspective.

I roasted him a chicken.  Now, let’s be real, it’s really not that big of a deal to roast a chicken.  Sure, it takes time, but if you’ve got the time to let it roast away and you know how to use a meat thermometer, well, it’s pretty hard to fuck up a roasted chicken.  Now, it is true that the one I made for him was divine, and it involved (a full stick of) lemon-herb butter, and I have a convection feature on my oven so the skin gets extra awesomely crispy, and I served it with a lovely arugula, avocado, and orange salad and summer squash gratin and mashed potatoes with goat cheese and I even went to the trouble to roast peaches for desert, so really, I do understand that it was awesome.  When I brought out the chicken, he was hilarious: “That’s a whole chicken!  I don’t know what to do with that!”  (Let’s note: we did not eat the whole chicken.  I made it because I wanted to do other things with the leftovers, including to make stock with the carcass, so in many respects this dinner was more about my own thoughts about food for the week than it was about cooking something special for him.)

Seriously, that meal took only maybe an hour total of me actively doing stuff in the kitchen.  Yes, it was a delight, but it was easy, in contrast to some of the other stuff I’ve made.  And yet.  This meal apparently convinced him, in a way that nothing else has done, that 1) I love cooking and 2) I can cook anything in the whole world.  Indeed, this was “the best” thing I’ve ever cooked for him.  (About this I disagree, but it’s also the case that he has said this before… I feel like maybe everything is the best thing he’s ever eaten until he eats the next thing.)

But so anyway, here is the turning point.  So he’s coming over tomorrow, and he texted me to ask whether I just wanted to have dinner and watch a movie or something, and I said that was fine and I asked if he had any preferences about what I made for dinner.  Because he is lovely, he said if I didn’t want to cook then he could pick something up on the way, but I said, “oh no, I’m happy to cook.  But nothing fancy.”  Now, before that chicken, he would have just said, “oh, whatever you want to make!” but now – NOW – things are clearly different.  So here is The Dude’s menu:

Salad (but he wants croutons and blue cheese dressing!); garlic bread; fettucine alfredo.  Oh, and RED wine.  Because now that he’s with me he’s Mr. Wine Guy, even though before me he was Mr. Beer Goes With Everything Guy.  (Beer still serves in a pinch.)

Now, it’s funny, I was already thinking pasta, and it just so happens I have everything in the house to fulfill his wishes except croutons, blue cheese dressing, and garlic bread.  He magnanimously insisted that he will pick those up on his way to my house.  Ha!

But I do think it’s fair to say that I have majorly transformed his notion of a “not fancy” dinner.  When I asked him why *that* dinner, he said, “Oh, it sounded good and I figured it would be easy for you.”  Which, of course, it is.  But I did remind him that of course we would not be having store-bought Alfredo sauce, so it’s not *that* easy.  His response?  “Yummy.”

I might have created a monster.

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Ideas?

So let’s say that in one week’s time you are going to be introducing your man-friend to your parents for the first time.  And let’s also say that you haven’t introduced anybody to them since the year 2000. And you’re going to be making dinner.  It’s spring, but the weather has been wintry; your man-friend loves your cooking, but he also has a prejudice against 90 percent of the vegetables in the world, and also you don’t want to make anything too heavy or or that takes too much attended cooking time.

In other words, what the fuck am I going to make for this dinner?  Ideas?

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It’s been a busy couple of days.  Last night I had the ladies over for a delicious end-of-semester meal and (gallons) of wine.  More on the gallons of wine later.  For now, here is what I made for dinner last night.  You all should make it immediately.

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Double-Dutch-Mac-and-Cheese-with-Chard-352670

I did adapt the recipe slightly, and I will make one other adjustment the next time(s) I make it, but seriously?  This was the best Mac and Cheese recipe I’ve ever tasted.

Adaptations: While I used Gouda and Edam, I also added about a cup of Butterkase cheese (following recommendations to use more cheese in the comments); I didn’t reserve any of the Edam, but rather mixed all the cheeses together and had the layer in the middle all three cheeses; I didn’t really measure the nutmeg and the cayenne but rather just went with what tasted right; I also layered crispy bacon crumbles when I layered the cheese and swiss chard in the middle.  When I make the recipe again, I will definitely double the amount of swiss chard.  I didn’t bother with the bread crumbs; if I make it again I may try them, or I might just put bacon on top as well as in the middle.

Seriously, this is one delicious Mac and Cheese recipe.

So the ladies and I scarfed it down, in addition to eating a delicious salad with persimmons provided by CC and to yummy dessert provided by CF, while consuming the gallons of wine (again, which will come into play as the grand finale of this post), and we talked about lots of things and basically celebrated the end of the semester.  It was delightful. And then the ladies went home.

[Time passes while I make poor choices, go to sleep, and wake up with a hang-over]

7 AM – Time to make quiche!  For my Joyce and Woolf students!  Does this recipe require some effort?  Yes.  Is it ENTIRELY WORTH IT?  Yes!!!!!  I mean, I can’t even talk about how good it was.  And it’s no mistake that the recipe comes from a restaurant where I’ve had one of the best meals in my entire life.

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Ham-Leek-and-Three-Cheese-Quiche-234261

I did the recipe as written, except I used butterkase instead of the fontina, just because I couldn’t strap on another block of cheese when I was shopping. OMFG.  This was DIVINE.  And yes, I will not be eating “food” as such for the next few days, because frankly, after last night’s dinner and this morning’s breakfast, I probably have consumed the daily calories needed for a small village.

So, when the quiche was in the oven, I went over to the computer, and I discovered that beside it my copy of Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse was sitting open, turned to the entry for j’taime.  Huh, I thought.  I don’t recall consulting with Barthes last night.  I wonder what that means?  Ah well, I am sure it’s nothing.

And then I proctored two exams, and really had delightful conversations with students, and it was all in all an ok day.  I’m done with grades for two courses, and I’ll have the other two done tomorrow.  Huzzah!

Oh, except.  You know those gallons of wine that were consumed?  They might have led me, once my ladies left for the night, to do some serious thinking.  And that serious thinking might have led me to believe that I needed to consult with Roland Barthes.  And then Barthes might have led me to decide that The Dude does not love me, and that perhaps he should just go away now, since he does not love me with a love that’s pure and true.  And then I might have thought it would be a good idea to get all of this down in writing, in the form of an email.  And then I apparently believed that hitting send was the only way to conclude my reverie. Tra la!  Time for bed!

And then I forgot all about it.

Until of course I was reminded of last night’s psychotic break this afternoon, when The Dude alerted me to the email that I had sent.  Woops.  And then I read over the email and the events of the night before came rushing back, and I was mortified, except for the fact that The Dude responded in a way that was entirely perfect and we seem to have gotten through the freak-out as a result!  Indeed, all that I needed to do was to express my actual (drunken, maudlin) feelings and he appears no longer to be freaked out!  When you’d think that he would be more freaked out because I’m fucking nuts! So let this be a lesson to you: 1) don’t email people when you are drunk and 2) if you do email people when you are drunk, make sure they are the sort of people who don’t frown on lunatic pronouncements and who will only find you more adorable for having made such a blunder.

And also: although I am still mortified, it turns out I’m a pretty coherent and direct writer when under the influence. Good to know.

 

 

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I tried to start getting in the swing of tracking workload this past week, as well as back in the swing of WW.  Now, this was sort of stupid, as my week was all nutso because it was the first week back, I was trying to get back in the right timezone, I had stupid work-related social events that involved food and drink…. So anyway, I’m going to try to get back in the swing of things this week for real.

Some observations from my less-than-successful tracking week last week: 1) At least for the first month of the semester, I’m going to be spending at least 40 hours a week on teaching.  The problem is reading.  Reading takes time.  And while it might seem like reading isn’t “work,” the kind of reading you have to do to prepare to teach a bunch of people who may or may not have done the reading is, in fact work – i.e., not terribly fun or relaxing or restful.  2) The major problem with food tracking is having food in single-serving sizes that I’ve already calculated the points for, i.e., cooking at least one major meal ahead to get me through those days of the week when I’m a nutso.  Given the fact that I didn’t return from MLA until like 11 PM on the eve of the semester, that just didn’t happen last week.  3) I did get some research reading done last week in spite of the challenges, but no writing.  This week I’ve got to do better.  4) I’ve also got to get better about remembering to track the work.  Food is easier as I’m eating much less of the time, and I don’t do as much multitasking while eating.  With work, I’m doing it more often and I’m doing other crap while I’m also working more often.  Maybe the trick to workload management is not to multitask quite so much?  Something to ponder.

On that note, let’s begin the second of 15 brutal Tuesdays.  And yes, I plan to count down like this all semester, because it does help to see that I’m getting closer to being finished with this terrible schedule.

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So, my original plan was that today was to be a travel day.  Since the weather changed my plans, I decided that this should still be a free day for me – the mad work pre-MLA could surely wait until Wednesday.  And so my “free day” involved nothing that was a chore.  I only did activities that I wanted to do.  Those included:

- Going to the grocery store.  Turns out when you don’t host a holiday, you return home to no food.  Well, not no food, but no food that combines into a complete meal.

- Making a boss pot roast accompanied by roasted potatoes, parsnips, and rutabaga.  What?  You would like to know how you, too, can make this delicious dish?  I shall tell you!

Ingredients:

  • Chuck roast (the one I used was about 1.25 pounds, but you could do bigger if you don’t live alone)
  • 1 medium-large onion, chopped
  • 4 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 12 oz. sliced white mushrooms
  • 2 Hungarian hot peppers, seeds mostly removed, minced
  • 3 biggish cloves of garlic, minced
  • dried rosemary (I feel like somewhere between a teaspoon and a tablespoon, but I didn’t really measure)
  • salt and pepper (no measurements – I season throughout the process)
  • 2 bottles of Sam Adams Winter Lager
  • like 2 tablespoons of olive oil (no, I don’t measure)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat Oven to 300.
  2. In a pot that can go from stovetop to oven, heat the olive oil on the stovetop at high.  While it’s heating, season the roast with salt and pepper.
  3. When the oil is hot, brown the roast.  While the roast is browning, and in between turning it, chop your onion and celery.  I went with a fairly rustic chop, as this is a pot roast, after all, and that’s rustic food.
  4. When the roast is browned, transfer it from the pot to a large plate, and then throw in your onions and celery.  Maybe reduce the heat to medium high, depending on how quickly you can mince other ingredients while those are cooking.  Though there is some salt and pepper left over from the awesomeness of the roast, I did season the onion and celery with salt and pepper, too.  While the veggies are cooking (you want to cook them until soft), mince your peppers.
  5. When the onion and celery are “glossy”, add in your minced peppers.  While those are cooking a little, mince your garlic.
  6. Next, add in your rosemary and garlic.  After about two minutes, add in the mushrooms, and cook until they are browned.
  7. With the heat on high, add in the two bottles of beer.  Bring to a boil, and boil for about five minutes.
  8. Turn off the heat, and then stick the roast back in the pot.  Make sure it’s covered with the liquid/veggies, and then cover the pot (my pot is stupid, so I covered tightly with foil.  If anybody wants to buy me a a Le Creuset Dutch Oven, a big one, I will be your girlfriend, and maybe even marry you).
  9. Stick the pot in the oven for an hour and a half.  When the hour and a half is up, remove the veg and the roast from the pot.  Let the roast rest.  We’ll get to the eating part in a bit.

Ingredients for the Roasted Veggies:

  • 2 large-ish parsnips
  • like 2 lbs of baby yukon gold potatoes (like the kind you would use for potato salad that you leave the peels on)
  • 1 rutabaga (maybe a 1.5 to 2 lb-er)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Olive oil (drizzled over, no idea how much – not a lot)
  • 1 cup water

Instructions:

  1. When you stick the roast in the oven, you move on to the veggie portion of things.  Spray a baking dish (roasting pan, whatever) with cooking spray (Pam or similar).
  2. Now it’s time to get the veggies ready.  Peel and chop your parsnips and your rutabaga, and wash and cut your potatoes in half.  Basically, you want the root veggies to cook at the same rate, so chop accordingly.
  3. When you’re done, drizzle the whole with olive oil and season with salt and pepper and toss so the veg is coated.  Add in the water.  Cover tightly with foil.
  4. Stick the veg in the oven with the roast.
  5. When you take the roast out of the oven, remove the foil, toss the veg around, and raise the heat to 425.  Let the veg cook for about a half hour more, until it gets all awesome and roasty.

Instructions for the sauce:

Now, once the roast is out of the oven and off on its plate with the mushrooms and celery and stuff, you’ve got the cooking liquid left over.  Put that back on the stovetop, with heat at high or medium-high (use your best judgement) and add in a tablespoon or two of butter and sprinkle in some flour (1-3 tablespoons?  again, I’m not so much for the measuring).  Whisk whisk whisk whisk whisk and cook cook cook until thick and delicious.  (Yes, this is basically a beer sauce.)

When all the things are done, you put them on a plate and eat them.  And you put that sauce all over everything, because it is awesome.

- While making the pot roast, I finally watched the Jane Eyre film adaptation from last year which… it was both great and, I feel, a failed experiment.  Why the hell was St. John (SIN-juhn) Rivers such a large part of the story?  That said, I feel like there is a cat named St. John (SIN-juhn) somewhere in my future.  That said, I think that cat is in line behind Uncle Tannous, Carlos, Kevin, and Reginald.  (Yes, I have gotten in the habit of naming cats that are not yet born, as I won’t get another cat until my two current ones are dead.  I might actually have St. John (SIN-juhn) when I am a senior citizen, which makes the title of this post even more appropriate).

- Also while making the roast, I began a new knitting project, an awesome beret, which I have completed, and which is AWESOME.  I sometimes think that I would be happy if I only ever knitted hats, as if one is a weirdo compulsive person, a hat is done in ONLY ONE DAY!  Problematically, I really want to make a scarf to go with my jaunty beret, and I’ve got like 300-400  yards of this yarn left, and so clearly I need to make a scarf to go with my jaunty beret.  And because I’m bored by “easy” scarves now, this means that the scarf will take at least a couple of weeks.

- Oh, and I spent three hours watching public television while finishing up that beret.  Oh, Michael Pollan with your Botany of Desire!  Oh, Front Line with your investigation of the life of an undertaker, including dead old people and a dead baby!

And I am so relaxed and so happy.  Why exactly am I a professor, again?  I should so be some old lady with enough money that she doesn’t have to work as a greeter at Wal-Mart.  I would be great as an old lady with a ton of money.

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An Inauspicious Start to Thanksgiving

While embarking on the very first of many dishes I will make in 24 hours, I sliced off the tip of my right index finger.  And I still have 7000 things to cook and clean.  Hope my mom is ready to be put to work on her arrival…

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