Only Tuesday – again

I found a stick of butter I didn’t know I had hiding in the very back of the freezer, and as I held its frozen self in my hand I realized that everything was going to be ok. It wasn’t the end of the world after all – it was only Tuesday. I laughed a little to myself, then burst into tears and when I was done crying I couldn’t remember what I needed the butter for in the first place.

Welcome to cooking with a woman entering her 30th hormonal week of pregnancy. I am growing and slowing and laughing and crying all at the same time. It is taking me longer to get up our stairs and I am completely winded when I finally reach the top. My appetite is enormous and while the rest of the world seems to be enjoying their spring greens, I am plotting how to inconspicuously add potatoes to the menu.

Comfort food – that’s what I want. I imagine it must sound insane to those of you not in the throws of prenatal life, but I just want pasta for dinner. Pasta and sausage – preferably with a side of potatoes and bread and butter, please. I would drink heavy cream if I thought for one minute that I could get away with it and pour gravy on my oatmeal. Maybe it’s because I spent the first few months not being able to stomach anything but grapefruit slices and sour candy. Who knows!  The problem to be solved is how to cook hearty, but healthy. How to mix Spring green with my cravings for Winter heaviness, in short – how to eat potatoes more often and yet not gain several hundred pounds in the process.

I think I may have found at least one solution, one of my family’s favorite meals that we lovingly called “Poverty Dinner”. There really is nothing ‘poor’ about it other than being inexpensive and easy to make. It’s a tasty, filling sort of one dish meal that worked perfectly with the first greens that braved the uncertain glory of Spring.

 

Poverty Dinner

4 potatoes, washed and cubed

1/2 lb lean ground beef

1/2 onion, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

several good handfuls of washed greens; spinach, baby kale, swiss chard, etc.

2-3 Tablespoons of oil or butter for cooking

salt and pepper

 

Potatoes and ground beef, comfort food at its finest, mixed with vitamin-packed greens fresh from the garden or market, making a simple meal that can be cooked up after a day in an office or in the field.

I like to use my big cast iron skillet for this. Heat the frying pan over medium heat and then add the oil and the potatoes then cover. Let the potatoes cook for a little while before adding the garlic and onions so that they don’t get too overdone by the time the potatoes are tender. Once the potatoes are feeling a little giving, break up the ground beef into the pan and stir well. Keep an eye on it to make sure that the ground beef gets cooked thoroughly. Another way to do this, although it changes the ‘one-dish’ nature of the meal, is to let the potatoes cook all the way and then remove them to cook the beef. Either way, you may need to add a little bit of water to the pan to keep the beef moist while it’s frying. If you’ve kept everything together, return the cover and let the potatoes finish cooking. Otherwise, return everything to the pan and reheat.

Now – here’s the super healthy part you’ve been so patiently waiting for. Once your potatoes, onions and beef are completely cooked, heap the greens on top. There will be a little bit of water clinging to them from washing which will help steam them. Cover and reduce the heat to low. In a few minutes the greens will have wilted and steamed and completed your meal. Season with salt and pepper as you desire and you’re ready to go!

Enjoy!

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The Easiest thing I’ve ever made

Crockpot Cookery.

That’s it in two words.

Imagine yourself at the peak of some forsaken mountain in a faraway country, seeking the answer to every reasonable American woman’s cry of, “Where will I find the TIME?!” Now imagine me, sitting there in a cave (with my knitting and some crackers and a few good reruns of Doctor Who on a solar-powered portable TV/DVD player) all wrapped up in cool-looking robes, just waiting for you to come. Because I knew you would.

So there we are. I pause my show, put down my knitting and ask,

Why have you bothered me just as The Doctor was explaining his Time Theory?”

Then you say, “But that’s just it- Time Theories! We don’t have enough time! What’s the answer?”

I lean forward, pull the hood on my super cool robe tighter around my old, weary face (because it’s taken you a really, really long time to find me) and utter these two words,

“Crockpot Cookery.”

From out of the very sky itself, bells of victory ring out over the forgotten valley as the sun breaks through the thick cloud cover and bathes us in warm light. You face is illuminated with joy and awe and satisfaction for a moment, but then a dark shadow races across your features as you suddenly realize something…

“I had to come all this way to hear that? You couldn’t have just stayed home and written a blog post about it? It would have saved so much time!”

End of Story.

I have no idea who invented this marvelous contraption, but I bless them – a thousand times – each time I pull mine out to use, which is fairly frequent these days. I have no cool history (imagined or otherwise) to share with you about it’s origins, but I can tell you this – it has saved me time and made my life inexpressibly easier, and I think that’s just wonderful.

Don’t get me wrong – I love to cook ‘at the moment’, I truly do, but I work 3 afternoons a week which means I’m getting home almost an hour after our regular dinner time. Alex has to get up at o-dark-thirty every morning for his job and therefore tries to be in bed around 7 pm. This leaves a very, very narrow margin of time for dinner in the evening. A very narrow margin into which a crockpot can slip with ease. If I come home from work and there is a meal hot and ready in the crock, I can throw together a side of rice or pasta and a salad right quick and we can be eating in 15 minutes. Yes.

This is what we had the other night – by far the easiest, best tasting pot roast I have *ever* made, and it didn’t even need another side to go with it since I cooked the potatoes in the crock. Oh, so clever.

 

Pepper and Herb Pot Roast in a Crock

1-2 lbs of roasting meat  (the piece I used was probably 2 lbs and we were able to have this meal twice)

1 onion, sliced

1/2 cup sliced mushrooms

3 cloves of garlic

1 cup of water

1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper

A sprinkling of salt

3-4 lavender sprigs (I just happen to have lavender on the window sill, you could easily use  1/2 teaspoon of rosemary or thyme or a mix of both – whatever floats your boat.)

3 medium sized potatoes, quartered

2 large carrots, cut into three or four pieces (or a handful of baby ones)

 

In the morning, I sliced up the onions, mushrooms and garlic and put them in the bottom of the crock pot, placed the meat on top and added the water, herbs, salt and pepper.  I put the top on and turned the crock pot to High. Then, I quartered the potatoes and carrots and put them in a bowl of water in the fridge. They don’t need to cook as long, so they had to wait to go in. I had laundry and other things to do before going to work that got done during the first half of the day. Before I went to work (about four hours later), I drained off the potatoes and carrots and then dumped them into the crock pot. I tried to get as many of them as I could into the broth that had surrounded the roast, covered it back up and left it on High.

I worked four hours, and when I came home – the veggies had cooked to perfection. The roast was tender and moist and flavorful – it was truly delicious. It surely didn’t taste as if it had cooked itself, even though it actually had!

So there you have it – my secret time-fighting weapon.

Aren’t you glad I didn’t go hide in a cave and make you find me to hear it?

 

 

Make-Ahead Oven Homefries

Because really, who has time to stand over a hot skillet and *fry* the silly things!

Some days I miss living out on the prairie, with my man busting sod all day while I busy myself with bread baking and soap making and chicken feeding. It was a good life, but not exactly the one we enjoy today – and honestly, that’s alright. Our days have gotten so much easier with the invention of electricity and indoor plumbing – I particularly enjoy toilet paper and dishwashing liquid. And who can say that things were better *before* the advent of penicillin and Tylenol?

I’m here to say that there are good things about this modern age, even if it is a bit hedged in by insane busyness, and one of those good things is my oven.

The other night we had our weekly Breakfast for Dinner and I made oven homefries, a mash-up of sorts of oven fries and the hashbrowns you get at the local diner. One of the best kitchen tips I picked up while waitressing is to boil the potatoes before frying them, they cook faster and get crispier that way. Also – I never seasoned them enough. You’ve got to season homefries like you mean it – like you intend to Taste those herbs and spices when everything is said and done.

Oven Homefries

4 potatoes (this number can be easily adjusted to fit a smaller or larger crowd)

Spices

A big pot ‘o’ water

A flat, oven-worthy cooking vessel

Olive oil, or Butter, or preferably Both

Alrighty then.

First thing to do is chop your potatoes into bite-sized, homefry pieces. While you’re doing this, you should have your pot of water on the stove, heating to a boil. It’s up to you whether or not you want to peel your potatoes first,  I like mine a little on the rustic side so I let them keep their skins.

When the water is boiling like mad, add a little salt and then toss in your potato chunks (toss them carefully so as not to bathe thyself in boiling water). You don’t want to cook them all the way – this is important. They’re still going in the oven to bake  *at some point*. This is the lovely part about this process, you can parboil the potatoes any time you wish. I knew that we were going to have a rather frantic evening, so I boiled my potatoes in the morning and let them sit in the fridge all day, ready to be popped into the oven fifteen minutes before dinner. SO easy.

But I digress. The potatoes are boiling for 5-10 minutes, depending on how big your pieces are. You want them to be slightly fork-tender, but not mushy *At All*.

Remove them from the stove and strain them. After they’ve cooled a bit (and most of the wetness on them has evaporated from the heat), you can either put them in the fridge, or if you are going to cook them immediately,  dump them into or onto your oven-worthy cooking vessel.

Turn on your oven to 375 degrees.

Now for the fun part – the seasoning.

I like every sort of season – all at once, but some times just plain old salt and pepper do the trick, it’s up to you. First, however, you have to give the taste something to stick to. This is where the olive oil and/or butter come in. Pour a couple of Tablespoons of oil over the potatoes and stir them around in it, coating them as evenly as you can and allowing some extra for the bottom of the pan so that there is No Sticking. Then, sprinkle on some seasonings. Salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, sage, thyme, oregano, curry powder, basil, rosemary – – the options are endless. My favorite seasoning mix is sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, garlic powder and poultry seasoning (of all things), which is a recipe with its origins lodged in an old folk song, “Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme…”

The whole shibang is going to head into the oven for 15-20 minutes, and half-way through they should be stirred up a bit so they get crispy on all sides.

Yum.

They are definitely house-on-the-prairie-slaved-over-a-cast-iron-skillet-all-day good, without the actual slaving-over-a-cast-iron-skillet part – which is even better.

company’s comin’ Potato Salad

Our short little table was adorned with a patchwork of vintage linens and a clearance April Cornell table cloth. Spare chairs were summoned from the far corners of our fair home and the entire dining/living room had been rearranged in a an attempt to make room for company.

Our guest list had only two names on it, but that is reason enough for a little bit of grandeur here on Park Street, and I worried about the table legs which always seem to be in the way of ours. We did our best to cool the place down for the evening and I sweated away in our room-sized oven of a kitchen, cooking away.

I love entertaining – I always stress and fuss way too much and practically drive myself and the surrounding husband crazy in my effort to have everything ‘just so’. Under it all, however, is this deliciously deep satisfaction at having people come to our home and enjoy themselves.  It isn’t grand, it isn’t showy and the table legs definitely get in the way, but it’s ours and we love it, and I love to welcome people into it and give them good food.

The menu was braised chicken breast sandwiches with tomato, mayo and garden-fresh lettuce, a huge fruit salad (served in a carved-out watermelon because we *ARE* that stinking cute) and a potato salad, with ice cream for dessert.

This potato salad is one that I loosely translated from my husband’s dear grandma’s salad. While we were in Maine visiting YiaYia and Papoo, she served us a potato salad that I ate an embarrassingly large amount of. It was incredible and when I asked her how she made it, she shrugged and said, “A little of this and a little of that!” She did go into the details that I was craving and I tried my best to remember it. Ever since then I have been itching at the chance to make one and try my hand at it.

They say never to make something for the first time for company, but really, what do ‘they’ know?  Never having been one for listening to the random voices of the universe, I dived in and made my first potato salad as a married woman, YiaYia’s spoken recipe in the back of my head leading me onward – – –


Potato Salad

4 red potatoes, boiled

5 green onions, diced

1/2 sweet red pepper, diced

2 tablespoons fresh chopped dill

1 tablespoon fresh chopped mint

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1/2 cup mayo

salt and pepper to taste

The simplicity of this salad is its perfection. As I said before, this is not her exact recipe, but I’d never heard of using mint in a potato salad and it was awesome.  Also, she used red potatoes, which keep their shape well and have an excellent texture. I liked the waxiness of them. The bit of vinegar (her suggestion) cuts the mayo and brightens the salad.

YUM.

The potatoes got chopped into small bite-sized pieces and then mixed with the rest of the ingredients. I made it ahead of time to let the flavors meld together and I think next time I will make it even further ahead, like over night.

My-oh-my was it good!

We had a delightful evening with our guests, everything went swimmingly – everyone enjoyed their meal and didn’t knock their knees too badly. I’d say it was a success!

this is my confession

Here we go, I’m coming clean.

Squeaky clean.

Are you ready?

I had potato chips for dinner.

My husband was at work, I was in the middle of wrapping up fifteen long-neglected knitting projects and knee-deep into the first season of Glee (ack- I’m a hopeless addict now- don’t judge me – the damage has already been done). Potato chips really *were* the only option.

I have a super hard time trying to cook for myself. Does anyone else have that problem? Sometimes I will think of something I really want that maybe Alex doesn’t like, so I’ll make it for myself for dinner while he’s at work – and it’s almost as if I have to force myself to do it and that’s no fun. This is why, Wednesdays through Sundays, I eat like one of those college students you hear tell about, except that even boiling pasta seems like a waste of time when it’s Just Me.

I tried to avoid it. I trounced down the stairs and asked the lady who runs Caraway’s if she wanted dinner- I’d be willing to make her something. It worked yesterday, but today she was headed home to have dinner with her mom. Fail.

But wait – it gets worse.

The day *before* yesterday, I actually factually walked down the street and bought fried rice from the new Chinese restaurant that opened last week and had that for dinner.

Really? That ain’t gonna fly long!

So I ate potato chips tonight…. and a chunk of chocolate for dessert, wrapped up in my fuzzy robe (because it is June in Vermont, as you know, winter isn’t *quite* through with us yet), letting Glee destroy my intellect and self-respect while I eeked out another  four inches on my hat. Come 9:30 I will perk up and start making dinner for when Alex comes home. Inspiration floods in and I feel Alive and Real and Needed.

It leads one to wonder – if it weren’t for my husband – what kind of human being would I be, anyway?

A little terrifying, isn’t it?

Thank God for Alex.

😉

 

they say it funny out here; Chicken Meal #2

They do.

They say it like this, “Chowdah.”  It makes me giggle.

I say it like this, “CHOWDER.” My face gets very grave and serious when I say it – like a command.

It leaves one wondering, is chowder a serious thing, or something that should make you giggle?

 

As we all know, I moved to the Wild, Wild East over three years ago from my relatively tame corner of the world just on the edge of the Midwest. Aside from the obvious language barriers that had to be overcome, it has been one, long, very interesting adventure which has ended in a happily ever after, after all.

The fact is, ladies and gents, I ended up married to one of these wild Yanks who, when in the least bit provoked or absent-minded, drops his r’s and says things like, “My, you’re a wicked-good kissah!”

🙂

The second meal prepared from our lone bird was a mix of east and midwest, wild and tame, unique and classic – “Sweet Potato and Corn Chicken Chowder”

Say it five times fast, I dare ya.


Sweet Potato and Corn Chicken Chowder

Serves 8

Calories per serving: 150

Price Per Serving: astonishingly cheap (sorry, still no receipts.)

Preparation Time: about 45 minutes. I got distracted doing something else so it took me a little longer…

Ingredients:

4 oz boneless, skinless chicken breast cut into small chunks

1 medium onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil

2 large or 3 small sweet potatoes, chunked

1 quart of chicken stock

1 Tbsp chicken boullion plus 1 quart of water

(I had to use the boullion and water because I didn’t have enough stock. If YOU have enough stock, please use that, or if you don’t have stock, use 2 Tbsp boullion and 2 quarts of water. Make sense?)

3-4 fresh ears of corn


Alright. Here’s what’s to be done.

You’re gonna need a big pot – a four-quarter or bigger if you can manage. Pour the olive oil in the bottom of the pot, (which, I should mention, has been moved to a burner and is heating up) and then add the onions and garlic. Once they’ve had some time in the heat, add the chicken – stirring frequently. Frying the chicken first in the same pot, in my humble opinion, adds a little depth to the finished soup. *That’s why you do it like that* Once the chicken is nigh unto done, add the broth (or whatever combination of broth and boullion and water you have decided upon) and potatoes and bring it ALL to a boil.

I love how quickly sweet potatoes cook – have I ever said that? They soften up so nicely, they’re just a joy to be around in the kitchen. Once the sweet potatoes have become fork-tender (after about 15-20 minutes of boiling) you are going to proceed with what I perceive to be the Midwestern portion of today’s meal – the corn. Being from corn country, I know a thing or two about the veggie (at least, I put on airs as though I do…). I feel as though the fact that I have picked corn for farmer’s market at 3  A.M. gives me some sort of authority to be picky and odd about corn while at the same time enjoying a good ear much more than any person should. We picked our corn at 4:30 P.M from a large bin sitting just inside the door at Price Chopper – the corn snob in me promptly fell over and died. Ah well.

At any rate, whether near or far, Eastern or Western, you should really try to make this chowder with fresh corn – as fresh as you can manage. I shaved the kernels from our ears just before we were ready to eat and dumped them in, letting the soup boil for just a mere five minutes more before taking it off the heat and serving it up.

The result? Sweet, soft potatoes mingling in a salty, fragrant broth with crisp sweet corn and plump chunks of chicken.

I don’t care *how* you say it – that there’s good food!

this meal by any other name would taste the same

Hey folksies!

The sun is making its way behind the brick building next door, Alex is sleeping after a ‘late morning’ at work and I can smell dinner percolating in the crockpot.

I started out to make chili, but slowly migrated to the Caribbean and decided to make, as my father called it, “Rice and Beans”. My dad was not a terrific cook, but he was unfailingly charming and confident at the stove, making this soupy red dish for us over and over again, each time calling it by a different name.

“Rice and Beans”

“Beans and Rice”

“Rice and Red Meat”

“Beans and Red Sauce”

“Red Sauce with Potatoes and Beans”

“Red Beans with Meat and Sauce over Sticky Rice”

“White Rice, Red Beans and Meat Sauce”

And so on. You get the idea.

I haven’t had this meal in many years and although I was tempted to run simply on my  native Puerto Rican instinct and ‘wing it’, I decided to do an internet search instead. Smart lady.

It’s a little complicated, and I found myself scribbling notes on my legal pad as if my life depended on it, you really need to prepare quite a bit before you can actually get your pots dirty with the actual meal. I needed to make Sofrito – a sauteed seasoning made from vegetables and herbs, and  Sason – another seasoning blend made from herbs. I remember big batches of these being made in the kitchen, then packaged up and frozen in portions for future use. Ah so.


Sofrito –

2 green peppers

1 onion

2 cloves garlic

1 sweet red pepper

2 tomatoes (or some tomato sauce)

cilantro and parsley

All of this gets minced to death in the food processor before being sauteed in olive oil over medium heat – for a long time. No one really said exactly *how* long it should take, but I just cooked it until it seemed Done. Native Instinct – invaluable kitchen appliance that is severely underrated.


Sason-

Garlic

Onion

Bay Leaf

Oregano

Coriander

salt

I admit, I was pretty tired of reading and ready to get cooking, so my notes simply have a barely intelligible list of ingredients and scratched out directions to the local recycling center (I got a little sidetracked…) I decided to add the herbs to the big pot when I was ready…


But now for the Meal. Into the crock pot went two cans of tomato sauce and one of water, four potatoes chunked into bite-sized pieces, three half cans of beans (a half of a can of pinto, a half a can of black eyed beans and a half a can of kidney) which had been carefully and thoroughly rinsed (always rinse your beans. Always.), one whole cup of the sofrito, a smattering of oregano and coriander (about a 1/2 tsp each), three bay leaves, a kiss, and then I covered it and left it to work.

Green Olives are a traditional addition, but my husband is opposed to them, so tradition was thrown to the wind and we had olive-less sauce. Meat is also optional, and if this is your option, chunks of stew beef would be usable. Brown them before adding to the sauce. Because everything should be just a little bit fried… just a little.

The Meat-less Red Sauce with Beans has been cooking for hours, and will continue to cook a while longer, until everything is soft and lovely. Then it will be served over sticky, greasy white rice. When I was much, much younger, my dad would form the ‘sticky’ rice into small balls and feed them to us like that. We loved it. My parents raised a bunch of rice fiends – to this day I consider it a staple, a necessity of Life itself.

There you have it. No matter which name you call it, it is a filling and delicious meal you will be sopping up off your plate with small balls of rice…