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Monthly Archives: August 2012

[4/100] Savory Barley with Tomatoes and Greens

This is one of the few meals that really will come together in 30 minutes on a weeknight — in one dish.  It makes excellent leftovers, too, but the barley will get sad and yucky if you try to reheat it more than once.  Very yummy stuff.  I made it once as my contribution to the “Casserole Brigade” for some family friends having a rough time, and they say it’s the first time their kids have ever eaten spinach without complaining.  So there.

You’ll need one of those large, deep skillets that come with a lid.  (Well, you won’t need the lid for this recipe, but that’s the kind of cookware you should use.  It should be at least a fist deep, how’s that?)

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil — I never really *measure* the olive oil for this recipe.  Just sort of drizzle it in to let the bottom of the pan get good coverage, but you don’t want it to have any depth to it.
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cups quick-cooking barley — look for it in the soup aisle at the grocery store.  It’ll probably be in a little box.  Pearled barley will work too, but it’ll take longer to cook.
  • 28 oz of diced tomatoes  (see below)
  • 1 cup white wine (dry, if you prefer) — this is optional.  Why do I have so many recipes that call for wine?
  • 2-3 large handfuls of baby spinach — you can use mustard greens here, or use more than a few handfuls, if you want to be wild and crazy. Whatever you use, it should be fresh and not canned or frozen/thawed.  They’re just too wet to work properly.
  • 2 ounces soft cheese — I used mozzarella, but you can use something else if it gives you the flavor you’re after (like maybe brie or taleggio, even).  Again, I seldom measure.  We’re talking about a cup or so of cheese, chopped or shredded such that it’ll melt easily.
  • 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan — Romano or another, drier, cheese would work here.  I probably use a bit more than this most of the time.  You can blend it in or leave it on the table for people to sprinkle on their own servings.

I seldom get super-specific about ingredients, but these are the yummiest diced can tomatoes I’ve ever had, and they really make the dish.  I don’t even drain them.  It’s possible that these are the reason the dish works Just Fine without adding wine.

Begin by heating the oil in your pan over medium heat.  Add the diced onion, along with some salt and pepper.  Stir occasionally and cook until tender, about 6-8 minutes.  You want the onions to start looking a little bit translucent.  Now, I tend to have PROBLEMS with dicing onions…as in, I’ve recently had stitches.  Here’s the method I have been practicing quite successfully:

Once the onions are ready, add the tomatoes, wine (if you’re going to use it), the barley, and about 2 cups of water.  You can drain the tomatoes if you like, but I usually don’t bother, especially if I’m not using wine.  Stir well and bring the mixture to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the barley is tender.  That’ll be about 12-15 minutes.  Do not cover this glorious creation.  People will begin wandering into the kitchen, asking what’s for dinner and when it’ll be ready.  Make them set the table.

Once the barley is ready, add the softer cheese (mozzarella) and blend, then toss in the greens until wilted.  That’ll be about 3-4 minutes.  Serve right from the skillet.  Accept praise.

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2012 in Recipes

 

[3/100] Roast Chicken for Dummies

For dinner tonight, we had roast chicken.  I love it when Sunday Dinners work — there’s just something about having everybody sit down on a Sunday evening for a meal I had more than 40 minutes to prepare. Of course, only three out of seven of us were there for one reason or another (many of which were surprising and last-minute), but we sat down for it, dammit.  And there were napkins.

Roast chicken is one of those things I wish I’d learned to cook earlier, because OMG it’s very easy…and also very easy to be impressive.  Start with:

  • one roasting chicken (5-6 pounds) — fresh is best, but thawed is probably fine
  • salt and pepper
  • thyme  — a sprig or two of each if you’ve got ’em fresh; maybe a teaspoon or so of each if you’ve got ’em dried
  • 4 lemons
  • 3 heads of garlic, cut in 1/2 crosswise — even though I frequently “cheat” with the pre-minced stuff in a jar, you really need the actual fresh heads of garlic here
  • about 2 TBSP butter — real butter, salted or unsalted (but NOT margarine)
  • Optional:  about 1/2-pound sliced bacon

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.  Unwrap that chicken and get up in its business.  There is probably *something* bundled up in what we’ll delicately refer to as “the cavity.”  You want to get anything that’s IN the cavity OUTTA the cavity.  (It’s up to you whether you save that stuff for some clever culinary use, but we don’t need it for this recipe.)  Rinse the chicken and then pat it dry with some paper towels.  If there are any pinfeathers, go ahead and pluck those suckers off.  Place the chicken in your roasting pan.

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A note about roasting pans:  The picture above is pretty much what mine looks like, but I have to say that isn’t my kitchen counter.  Basically, you’re looking for a deep pan that has a bottom shaped such that whatever you’re roasting is held up off the bottom just a bit.  Having a lid is useful.  In a pinch, use a regular baking dish (like one you’d use for brownies or a sheet cake); aluminum foil works as a lid.  What I’m saying here is, don’t let a lack of the Perfekt Roasting Pan stop you.  Use whatcha got.

Liberally salt and pepper the inside of the cavity.  There’s no graceful way to do this, but the bird doesn’t care and neither will your guests.  Slice one of the lemons in half or quarters.  Shove that inside, plus two garlic halves and most of your thyme.  (Fresh thyme makes a lovely garnish for the finished dish, but you can use it all inside the bird if you prefer.)

Massage the butter into the outside of the chicken.  Some people get fancy by melting the butter and brushing it on with adorable little tools.  Me?  I use my fingers, and speak to the chicken in an outrageous accent as I massage its breasts and thighs.  One or two TBSP of butter should do the trick, but it’s okay to get a little carried away.  That’s between you and the chicken, really.  Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.  If you want to get fancy, use some kitchen string to tie the legs together and tuck the wing tips under the body of the chicken.  (I haven’t ever noticed this making a bit of difference in how the chicken tastes, but it does make a difference in how tidy the bird looks when it’s done cooking, so choose your own adventure.)

If you’re using bacon, this is where you’d artfully drape some of those slices over the top.  Those will “cover” the chicken during the first part of roasting.  If you’re not going to use bacon (pity), then just cover  it with the roasting pan lid or some aluminum oil for the first part.  I can say from experience that it tastes yummy either way.

Roast the chicken, covered either by a “lid” or fancy bacon hat, for one hour.  After one hour, remove your “lid” — even if it’s bacon — and continue roasting for another 30 minutes or until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees F.  (The juices will run clear at this point, but the meat thermometer is a more precise way to measure doneness.)

Let the fully roasted bird “rest” for about 10 minutes before carving or otherwise mutilating it for your guests. Serve with bacon on the side, and garnish with fresh thyme if you saved any.  The stuff that was cooked inside the cavity is a lost cause — discard that stuff.  The flavor of this dish goes well with mashed potatoes and steamed green veggies.

I regret that I did not get a picture of this recipe, but it really does go together very quickly, and my hands were mostly covered in raw chicken juice or butter, so I was reluctant to grab the camera. If you have a large family, or just want to get some extra chicken cooked for leftovers later in the week, it’s not hard at all to double up, though that’ll be limited by the size of your pans and oven.

Some other time, we’ll discuss ways to make gravy from the drippings in the pan. Enjoy!

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2012 in Recipes

 

[2/100] Crockpot “Irish Chili”

One night, before I moved in with him, my husband was looking for spices in my apartment kitchen, and grieved that he couldn’t find anything with more heat than ketchup. So, when I say I’m making “chili,” let’s just be clear that it will not be particularly spicy. I put those little quotation marks around it because my husband is offended that I’d consider calling it chili, but this is America and I can say what I want, right? Also, I can make chili that is neither spicy nor meaty. And this is the recipe.

I like cooking with the crockpot because 20 minutes of effort in the morning, when I have to be in the kitchen and marshaling children through the morning anyway, can pay off in Instant Dinner when I get home in the evening…and, especially on evenings when hardly anybody is able to eat at the same time, that’s GOLD. One batch will feed about 8 hungry people. I usually get some double crockpot action going and make *two* batches because this stuff freezes like a charm. (More on that later.)

 

A quick note on crockpots: I use the regular size — not the adorable apartment size. I also like the ones where it’ll automatically switch to “warm” or turn itself off after a certain amount of time. It doesn’t really matter to this recipe what kind you have, as long as it’s not adorably small.

And now I’m realizing this is another meal made almost entirely from canned, frozen, or otherwise shelf-stable goods. Yeesh. I’ll have to make something from scratch soon, or else lose my Cancerian homemaker card.

Add to the crockpot in no particular order:

  • one can pinto beans — halfheartedly drain them, but don’t rinse them
  • one can black beans — you can vary the beans if you like, but this is my favorite combination
  • 10 oz corn — frozen or canned
  • 8-10 oz of your favorite salsa — I use MILD, yo
  • 1-2 TBSP of taco seasoning — one envelope, or measure it out of the gigantic Costco-sized caniser, if that’s how you roll
  • one good-sized sweet potato, cut into smallish cubes — no particular need to peel it as long as it’s clean

 

If you’re a silly person like me, who studied German and a zillion other Germanic languages instead of Spanish, then you might not know that Frijoles Pintos and Pinto Beans are *the same thing.*  Thankfully, daughter knew better.  Yeesh.

Schlorp it all up good and let it cook on LOW for 6-8 hours. Serve with cornbread and a big green salad if you’re ambitious, or over Cheez-Its if you’re not. Goes great with some sour cream and shredded cheese. Freeze flat in single-serving Ziploc baggies. Reheats well, but consider not eating it two days in a row because it’ll go through you like…uh, well, like the FINGER OF G-D. I’m sure you wanted to know that. Enjoy!

 
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Posted by on August 22, 2012 in Recipes

 
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[1/100] Daddy’s Special Spaghetti

Daddy's Special Spaghetti (1)

The “Daddy” in this title is my husband, who is really good at walking into the kitchen and randomly throwing ingredients together to create a meal. I prefer to start with a recipe and riff on it. He first cooked this for his kids and it became an Instant Favorite, so he’s had to remember how he did it. Tonight, the kids asked me to make it, even though he’s not home. I’m happy to say it turned out well!

One thing I love about this meal is that I get to use my little glass bowls for prepping the ingredients. There’s something very comforting about chopping things and arranging them for assembly. Whenever I have time to cook, I love doing this. They’re such impractical bowls — not even safe for the microwave, and awkward in the dishwasher. I bought the set of 8 at a garage sale for $5. I do have a set of ramekins, but they’re not big enough for these ingredients. Anyway.

This recipe is scaled to feed 8 hungry people, with enough (usually) for seconds and leftovers. It also takes liberal advantage of canned/jarred things — the kind of stuff that’s in the pantry. When we’re making Daddy’s Special Spaghetti, it’s usually because we don’t have time to shop for ingredients and need to stretch some staples to feed a lot of people.

Assemble approximately 1 cup each of these ingredients, chopped into smallish pieces as appropriate: black olives, marinated artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms. Sometimes we remember to add onions (raw or carmelized) or garlic; sometimes not. Meatballs or sausage are optional (shown above in the black bowls) and usually slice up and kept to the side for people to add as they like (or not).

Prepare the spaghetti (enough for 8+ servings) according to package directions. Add some olive oil and salt the water liberally. When it’s done, drain the pasta. Dump the pasta (with or without ceremony) into an enormous bowl with all the mix-in ingredients. Combine. It takes a lot to get all the YUM up from the bottom! We use a gigantic “popcorn” bowl, no kidding.

As a finishing touch, hubby usually adds about 1/2-cup of Paisano (cheap Italian red wine, like Carlo Rossi jug wine). We’re trying to figure out an alternative here, because college student isn’t 21 yet and can’t cook something involving booze in her dorm. It’s possible this recipe would be Just Fine without the Paisano. Serve in bowls with grated parmesan.

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2012 in Recipes

 

Step One: begin

I’m starting this as a way to chronicle a 100 Things project focused on gathering some of the family’s most-used recipes.  Eldest daughter is off to college this fall, and she’s asked for recipes, but I think it might be fun to include pictures and stories with the ingredients and instructions.  Not sure if anybody else will ever read this, but I hope it’ll be both fun and useful.  Here goes!

 

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Hello world!

Welcome to WordPress.com! This is your very first post. Click the Edit link to modify or delete it, or start a new post. If you like, use this post to tell readers why you started this blog and what you plan to do with it.

Happy blogging!

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2012 in Uncategorized