Dinner: November 3, 2014

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There were two fat roast chickens, roasted rainbow carrots, and buttery brussels sprouts.

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There was a big bowl of fluffy mashed potatoes, a lemony pan sauce, and plenty of chilled rose’, to toast to our last first year.

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There was a cake with sprinkles and one red candle, and a little girl to blow it out (with the assistance of her big brother).

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I hope she takes on everything in life with such gusto.

Dinner: October 19, 2014

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I didn’t leave the apartment once this weekend. While Mike was visiting old friends and new in Boston and Providence, signing copies of his book and doing demos at The Boston Shaker and Stock Culinary Goods, I was home, desperately trying to rid myself of the last dregs of a nasty upper respiratory bug, and playing solo parent to our two sick little ones.

Despite our collective crud, I had high hopes for my weekend at home with the kids, envisioning living room dance parties, the construction of blanket forts, and a few special kid-friendly meals we could prep and eat together, but sadly, those plans fell through as well. Julian and Mira were completely off-schedule in terms of sleep and meals, and they missed their daddy fiercely. I eventually sat down with a mish-mash of leftovers for myself Friday night sometime after 10 pm, and hoped for better luck on Saturday. The kids did well with their breakfast on Saturday morning (their favorite pork sausages and some multigrain toaster waffles – a new item for both of them), but by lunchtime, I had two cranky, needy, desperately-tired-but-refusing-their-naps screamers on my hands.

In the ten minutes or so while they were both quiet, I made myself a plate. I sat down to eat, then Julian started yelling so loudly he woke Mira up – and that was all the naptime that was going to happen that day. I proceeded to graze on this for the next three and a half hours.

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I was very grateful that I had had the foresight to order a rotisserie chicken with our Instacart order, so I could quickly and easily feed the kids roast chicken and applesauce for their dinner. But I didn’t have the heart to feed myself. Sunday just had to be a better day, right?

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It was.

All three of us had a full and restful night of sleep, and were in much better spirits in the morning. I made a big pot of steel cut oats for breakfast (savory for me, with a sunny egg, tamari, and chives), the kids played and napped well, and I was able to get Sunday’s dinner prepped in advance of Mike’s return home.

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My favorite lasagna recipe is still Marcella’s, and I love to turn it out for special occasions, but it’s not the most practical dish for our current lifestyle. I’m also usually disappointed in the simpler, ricotta-based lasagna dishes I’ve tried. I wanted to come up with a weeknight-friendly lasagna that would give me the texture I love in a bechamel-based version, with a minimum of fuss and cleanup. I also decided to go for a tomato-free version, just to change things up a bit.

What I ended up with hit all the notes I was aiming for, and was actually even better than I had hoped. You could certainly substitute ground beef or pork or turkey for the sausage, increase the amount of mushrooms and omit the meat entirely, add your favorite fresh (or dried) herbs or some chopped spinach, or switch up the cheeses. I used what we had on hand, and I think I came up with a pretty great template that will certainly lend itself well to adaptation.

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Experimental One-Pan Lasagna

olive oil
1 lb. bulk Italian sausage (hot or sweet – we use a locally-made sweet fennel sausage)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/3 cup unbleached all-purpose (“AP”) flour
3 cups whole milk plus 1 cup heavy cream (what we had and used), or 4 cups whole milk
Kosher salt
½ lb. crimini mushrooms, trimmed and sliced thin
4 oz. low-moisture whole milk mozzarella, torn or shredded (do not use fresh mozzarella)
2 oz. finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano
2 oz. finely grated Pecorino Romano
2 oz. finely grated Fontina
9-12 no-boil lasagna noodles
½ to 1 cup tap water

Add a drizzle of olive oil to the bottom of a 12-inch oven-proof skillet. Crumble the sausage into the pan, and cook over medium heat, breaking up unto chunks, until the sausage is nicely browned. Remove the sausage to a small plate or bowl with a slotted spoon, leaving the fat in the pan. Swirl the butter into the olive oil/pork fat mixture until melted. Sprinkle the flour over and whisk until combined. Cook for just a minute, then slowly whisk in the milk (and cream, if using). Add a big pinch of salt and cook over medium-low heat, until the sauce is thickened and coats the back of a spoon.

Remove about 2 cups of the sauce and set aside (I ended up with about 2.5-3 cups of sauce total), leaving a shallow depth of sauce behind in the pan. Arrange one layer of noodles in the bottom of the pan, nestling them into the sauce so they are coated (I used 3 noodles per layer – two in the center of the pan, and a third noodle broken into 4 pieces and arranged around the edges). Scatter ½ of the sausage over, then ½ of the mushrooms. Scatter 1/3 of the mozzarella over the top, then repeat with each of the other cheeses. Add another layer of noodles, then spoon a cup of the sauce over them, spreading it gently. Add the remaining sausage and mushrooms, then another 1/3 of the cheeses. Add your final layer of noodles, the remaining sauce, and the remaining cheeses. Carefully drizzle about ½ cup of water around the edges of the pan.

(NOTE: At this point, the lasagna can sit for a while. I left ours on the countertop for about an hour before putting it into the preheated oven to bake, but I did add a little more water before baking since it looked dry around the edges.)

Bake the lasagna uncovered in a preheated 400 degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour, until the top is browned and the lasagna is bubbling at the edges. Allow to rest before serving.

Dinner: September 17 and 18, 2014

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I usually cook in a more improvisational style, but with Julian starting preschool and the resulting change in our schedules, I’ve been relying more and more on recipes from trusted sources. While I sometimes miss getting creative in the kitchen, I have to admit that it’s nice to have a small rotation of meals that either Mike or I can start or finish, and it’s so nice to know that we can all eat the same dinner, even if we do so in shifts.

Last night’s dinner came to us from Bon Appétit – and while I don’t know if I’d agree that it’s “the Greatest Recipe of All Time,” this one-pot dish of meatballs and string beans was pretty darned inspired, and a great use of the green beans and heirloom sauce tomatoes we got in this week’s CSA box. Mike and I ate ours with the suggested crusty bread, while the kids enjoyed theirs with a little lightly sauced pasta. We all loved it.

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On Wednesday night, Mike headed into the city for a swanky booze event, but dinner for me and the kids was ready when I got home from work, thanks to our trusty crock pot. We’ve been collecting slow cooker recipes on Pinterest, and this Slow-Cooker Curried Lentils With Chicken and Potatoes from Real Simple did not disappoint. It was so good, in fact, that the kids ate two bowls apiece.

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I’ll be back in the kitchen this weekend, and flexing my long-neglected baking muscles for a certain little guy who is turning THREE this Sunday. I can hardly believe how quickly the time has gone.

sausage and chard bread pudding

Dinner: September 7, 2014

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The last few weeks have been… something. We’ve got the excitement of Julian’s entry into preschool, plus the countdown to the arrival of our newest “baby”, but also the stress of health concerns and a really difficult sleep regression. There’s a lot on our plates right now, and we are trying to manage it all by creating new schedules and building even more structure into our daily routines. I’ve always been a list-maker and meal planner, but now that I’m packing lunches for Julian, Mike, and myself as well as coming up with our weekly dinners, it’s critical.

Despite the heat, I find that I’ve been turning more and more to comfort food, to old, reliable dishes that I know I can get together with a minimum of fuss or mess, in a short amount of time on work/school nights. One-pot/one-pan meals are also key, and that’s where this savory bread pudding comes in. While there were multiple steps in the assembly (cooking the sausage, sauteing the chard), I cooked everything in the same iron skillet, which simplified cleanup. Here’s what I did:

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I took about a pound of sweet Italian sausage out of its casing, and browned the crumbled sausage in the iron skillet with a pinch of red chile flakes. While that cooked, I mixed up a custard of half a dozen eggs, a cup each of whole milk and buttermilk, salt, pepper, and a pinch of Colman’s mustard powder. I added about 4 cups of cubed semolina bread to the custard and let it sit. When my sausage was done, I removed it with a slotted spoon and added it to the bowl with the soaking bread. My stemmed and torn chard leaves went into the iron skillet with a pinch of salt, and I cooked them in the rendered sausage fat until soft and wilted. While they cooked, I grated cheese – about a cup each of cheddar and a random hunk of an Alpine-style wheel that had been lurking in the cheese drawer. When the chard was ready, I squeezed out as much of the liquid as possible before transferring the leaves to the bread/sausage/custard bowl. I discarded the liquid left in the pan. I mixed the grated cheeses into the bread mixture, then tipped everything back into the iron skillet, grating a little extra cheese on top. It baked in a 400 degree oven for about 30-40 minutes. And it was so good.

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green thoughts

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Finally.

We’ve finally made it through what felt like the longest winter ever. I spent the better part of it housebound with a newborn and a very cooped-up 2-year old, cursing the weeks upon weeks of blustery weather, most days too dangerously cold to venture out with the little ones.

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Despite being stuck at home so many hours and days in a row, I found little time or energy to cook anything of note, or to write much at all.

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This past winter was a particularly hard one. I feel blessed to have had my mom here with us for a few big chunks of time, and she and some dear neighbors took great care of us, feeding us well in the weeks and months after Mira’s birth, but even with that help I have struggled. I bounced back so quickly after Julian was born, and expected the same this time around, but things could not have been more different between my first pregnancy and my last. I’m battling nerve pain and other physical issues, still, at 6 months postpartum. And the depression that I was so afraid of, and that I managed to avoid the first time around, has reared its ugly head again. I’m trying hard to drive it off, to keep the worst at bay, but it’s not been easy. I wake up, and I am working at it, every single day.

Writing helps, and planning meals, and cooking, and I’m trying to do all of those things more often.

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It was a long winter, but we made it through. And each day is a little longer, a little lighter, a little better.

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Green is all around now, from trees in bloom in our Brooklyn neighborhood, to the first spring vegetables at our farmers markets. It feels like a celebration, and I have never been so grateful, so eager to partake. I’m ready to send our trusty friend the potato on a long hiatus, to get back in the kitchen and cook something a little fresher, a little lighter, a little better.

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Winter is finally behind us. Here’s to a new season, and to embracing the green.

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Green Rice

I’ve been working on a “green” rice for a few years, as a simple and kid-friendly vehicle for lots of tender spring vegetables. You can add whatever young green vegetables and herbs you like, but the below includes our favorites.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped green onion, spring onion, or scallions (green and white parts)
kosher or sea salt
1 cup uncooked long grain rice
1 1/4 cups water (you can substitute chicken or vegetable stock)
1 lb. fresh fava beans, shelled and peeled
1/2 lb. blanched, shelled peas (or an equal amount frozen/thawed)
1/2 bunch asparagus, tips and stalks separated, stalks sliced into very thin rounds
1 can artichoke hearts, drained
1/2 cup very finely chopped fresh herbs (parsley, chives, tarragon, or a combination)
1/2 cup finely grated pecorino romano

Heat the oil in a wide sauté pan until shimmering, then add the onion and a pinch of salt, and cook just until soft. Add the rice and stir to coat with the oil. Add the water and cover, reducing the heat to low. Cook for 10 minutes. Uncover and gently fold in the favas, peas, asparagus, and artichoke hearts. Add another pinch of salt and re-cover, continuing to cook until the rice is cooked and the vegetables are tender, another 10-20 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the herbs and grated cheese. Use a fork to gently fluff the rice and stir the herbs and cheese through.

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a good place to start

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This week has been a doozy. We were able to take our very cooped-up kids out for a bit over the weekend, but the cold and snow came back with a vengeance Sunday night, and we’ve been fighting the bad weather blues ever since. My commutes have been long and frustrating, with truncated workdays and late returns home throwing us all off schedule, but the one thing we’ve been really grateful for is the promise of a good, hearty meal at the end of the day.

We were the lucky recipients of another delicious “meal train” dinner Monday night, and yesterday I put a new spin on an old favorite: Lemon Artichoke Chicken by our friend Liz. Liz’ original recipe is one of those wonderful dishes that is simple enough for a weeknight, but elegant enough for company. We usually love it served simply with salad and bread, but last night, craving something a little more rib-sticking, I decided to make a few modifications.

The first of them was unintentional, but a happy accident: instead of the skinless, boneless chicken breasts the recipe calls for, Mike had pulled some boned-out thighs from the freezer. They were thin enough that they didn’t need pounding, and in the end they lent a more robust flavor to the finished dish.

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After browning the chicken well on both sides, I removed it from the pan and added some sliced crimini mushrooms I needed to use up, as well as a good amount of thyme. I deglazed the pan with the juice of a lemon, and a hefty splash of vermouth in place of the sherry since it was what we had on hand, then I added a can of drained white beans along with the artichoke hearts. I put the browned chicken right back into the pan with the beans, artichokes, mushrooms and sauce, added the panko-parmesan topping, drizzled on some olive oil and then put the whole thing into a hot oven. I ended up baking this for about 40 minutes at 400 degrees, until it was bubbly and browned on top.

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While my variation of this dish isn’t going to win any beauty contests, it hit all the right notes, with its creamy beans, tender chicken and artichokes, the crunch of the panko and the brightness of lemon. The fact that it all came together in one pan was a bonus. Thank you, Liz, for your recipe and for the inspiration – it was a very good place to start.