Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Tradition

Every year my husband's office cooks a ham for their holiday luncheon and ever year, we get leftover ham from this luncheon. We've developed our own holiday tradition of ham and cheese omelets, using leftover ham and the leftover cheese from the cheese and cracker platter.

This year the six-year-old ate TWO for Christmas breakfast.

Now I can finally reveal that I made my stepmom and my dad pork with apples in individual portions and probably the smoothest batch of mac and cheese I've ever made. I used cheddar and whole milk for the base of the sauce, with lots of chives from my garden, and some grated Parmesan and asiago.

I also made some of my homemade granola for my husband's brother-in-law and sister. This batch used my standard sauce of blackstrap molasses, brown sugar and canola oil. Fruits included raisins, dates, dried pineapples and prunes. Nuts included some unsalted cashews and several lightly salted nuts. Some candied ginger... Some peanut butter kid's crunch cereal...

Tonight I used some of the leftover beef from the Christmas dinner my stepmom had catered to make some chili as the family is all sick. I used the beef, my usual seasonings, some black beans, some light red and some dark red kidney beans. Then, I made vegan cornbread in my Le Creuset skillet. Delicious, if not a tad contradictory.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Chicken Salad

Today is my little Christmas mixer with one of my editing clients. He told me he'd prepare hot mulled cider that we could mix with rum, cheese and crackers. When he interviewed me, he served me real tea. With loose leaves and a tea pot. That's when I knew I could work with this guy.

So, he said I could bring something but no hinted as to what.

What would complement but not upstage cheese and crackers, preferably with some fruit/veg matter?

I decided on chicken salad.

Today's Christmas Chicken Salad
- one can white meat chicken, chopped (12.5 ounces)
- half a large cucumber, diced
- one box 'sour' peach infused golden raisins
- 1/4 cup blueberries and raspberries, frozen, and thawed (reserve about two to three tablespoons berry juice for dressing)

For the dressing:
- less than 1/4 cup light mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons lemon-dill mustard (Archer Farms)
-1/2 teaspoon organic four-color pepper
-1/2 teaspoon country herb blend
- juice reserved from berries

Mix dressing. In a bowl, mix salad ingredients. Apply dressing. Stir and chill long enough to allow flavors to blend.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Dad's almost steak dinner

Dinner with Grandma and Pop-pop on the mountain was an awesome success. My stepmom was still raving about the pork from our previous dinner, and one again she could not believe that she ate vegetables! In this case, asparagus.

I kept things as simple as I could since I was cooking in a strange kitchen-- a new experience for me. My step-mom's stove has a slight slant opposite the one my stove has and in sink is across the room from her stove, which in my house, the sink and stove are neighbors.

Now, the ingredients for dinner probably cost between $16 and $20, to serve 5. Most of the ingredients came from Aldi. I splurged and bought a $12 bottle of French brandy (St. Remy, since I can't afford Hennessey).

The menu: steak au poivre (pepper steak in a brandy cream sauce), mushrooms, parsleyed potatoes and asparagus in lemon-dill sauce. 

Problem strikes right off the bat when I open the meat and see I got some sort of flank steak instead of real steak. It looks like the kind of meat you use to a make a real steak sandwich that's not a chip steak.

I worried what my dad would think, but I couldn't waste time on that. This was dinner and I had to make it. My husband trimmed the fat off and I turned my attention to my work-in-progress. I started the Le Creuset skillet on low with a smidgeon of extra virgin cold pressed olive oil from Forks Mediterranean  Deli. I spread it with my fingers to cover the whole pan and when it got hot I added a tablespoon of butter and the small can of mushrooms I picked up at Aldi. I sautéed them for a few minutes and added probably about three tablespoons of brandy and about 2 teaspoons of my organic four-color peppercorn that I've had for a while.

I opened three cans of whole new potatoes and drained them. I'm a relatively large saucepan I melted six tablespoons of butter with close to a tablespoon of dried parsley and a sprinkle or two of Italian seasoning. Then I added the potatoes and let them cook on low for the entire remainder of the cooking time. 

In a Pyrex dish, I arranged one bag of frozen asparagus spears (also Aldi) which I thought had thawed out during the drive. In a small saucepan, I combined about three tablespoons butter, the juice of one small lemon, and a teaspoon or two of it's a dilly seasoning, a former favorite McCormick spice that I'm almost out of. I poured this over the asparagus and the fats instantly re-hardened. Yeah, the asparagus was still frozen. Oops. So I put it in the oven on 250, my temp for holding the steaks.

So, now the steaks. I removed the mushrooms from the skillet and put them on the holding plate to go in the oven. The steaks have been seasoned on both sides with more four-color peppercorn, thanks to my husband's help.  We toss them in the skillet and their thinness and their lack of fat make them stick in the now hot pan. I quickly add two tablespoons of butter. 

I flip each piece of meat every two minutes because they are so thin, removing them to the holding plate when I think they're done enough not to make anyone ill. By the time all the steaks are done, I add some olive oil to the skillet and try to loosen the glazed bits. I add another 3 or 4 tablespoons butter, drain the meat juice from the holding plate into the skillet and replace the meat in the oven.

The asparagus is still frozen. But the plan is to microwave briefly and "fluff."

Back to the sauce... The butter and meat juices bubble and when they start to boil, I added the 1/2 cup brandy.  I reduce it down as the recipe says, 2-3 minutes, by half I think, and then I add 3/4 cup whole milk (my step mom doesn't have the constitution for heavy cream.). I repeat the boiling down. 

Then, we microwave the asparagus and serve everything. Everything disappeared. Everyone had seconds of everything. Except me. I don't like mushrooms. 

Over the mountain... To Target on the way to pop-pop's

Before heading to my dad's to cook dinner, I had to stop by the liquor store and buy a bottle of French brandy ($12).  Then I stopped by Target for milk and a few last minute Christmas items.

Spent $53.47 before my discounts: $5.35 as a team member (10%) and the red card discount anyone can get $2.43 (5%). more than half of that cost was for food-related Christmas gifts. So, I can't tell you that stuff...

But for my husband's Christmas party at work there is Rold Gold sourdough pretzels ($2.33) and more buffalo blue cheese dip ($2.69-- we also got a second one for us). Market pantry rice kris pies, $2.34, and my husband asked for Market Pantry raisin bran, $2.34. and then there was that New England blueberry cobbler coffee that I like, at $5.57. 

A bottle of garlic powder for $1.47
A bag of dried pineapple for $2.49
Some individual box of "peach infused" golden raisins, $1.99 
Half gallon of whole milk, $1.94
The big box of trash bags, $6.49
The 100-count box of snack bags, $2.19

Pre-holiday Aldi trip

To motivate myself to get out of the house and do some grocery shopping of the kind to facilitate food Christmas gifts, I called my dad and asked if I could come make dinner for my family, him and his wife. What fool could say no to that?

So, I headed to Aldi to get a few staples.

I spent $43.04 which surprised me because I thought I was closer to the $60 I had in my pocket.

I got:
- aldi's version of peanut butter captain crunch, $1.69
- graham crackers, $1.19
- animal crackers, 99 cents
- flour tortillas, 99 cents
- 2 big boxes of elbow noodles, $1.49 each
- old fashioned oats, $1.99
- 64 ounces soy milk, $2.39
- one pound salted butter, one pound unsalted butter, $2.29 each
- whole new potatoes in the can, 4 cans at 59 cents each
- small can of mushrooms, 50 cents
- four Anjou pears, $1.89
-Parmesan cheese, $2.29
- thin sirloin steak, 4 steaks, $6.34
- pint of heavy whipping cream, $1.59 ( I would have preferred plain old heavy cream but they didn't have any )
- aldi's version of dark chocolate little schoolboy cookies, $1.29
- brown mustard, $1.19
- steam-in-bag broccoli florets, 99 cents
- frozen peas, 89 cents
-semi sweet chocolate chips, 1.29
- frozen asparagus spears, $1.99
- large pitted black olives, $1.19
- marshmallow creme, 89 cents
- large eggs, $1.55


Friday, December 17, 2010

Betty Crocker's lemon bars

Betty Crocker's Lemon bars

I have a love affair with my old 25th anniversary Betty Crocker cookbook.  It's a testament to the prepared foods so central to American household cuisine. The marketing guru that decided, "hey, let's make up a woman who's a great cook and have her be our branding device..." The cookbooks are an obvious attempt to develop trust in dear old Betty and I'm sure to get one you had to eat a boatload of Betty's scalloped potatoes and pancake mix...

But despite the falsity of dear Betty, I love the cookbook.

I let my daughter do most of the work for this lemon bars, and for once, I followed the directions.

Betty's lemon bars

1 cup flour
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel, if desired
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix flour, butter and powdered sugar. Press into ungreased square pan, either 8x8 or 9x9. Bake 20 minutes. Beat remaining ingredients until light and fluffy, 3 minutes. Pour over hot crust.

Bake about 25 minutes or until no indentation remains when touched in the center. Sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Buffalo broccoli quesadilla

The other night when I got home from work, my husband made me a quesadilla of white sharp cheddar, Archer Farms buffalo blue cheese dip and Morningstar vegetarian buffalo wings. Today we repeated it for lunch with fresh broccoli and a touch of Velveeta.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Lavender tarte tartin

Last week, I attended a party for my local library staff and somehow they got the idea that I made "bitchin' desserts." So, I made a pear tarte tartin and added some lavender to the sugar syrup as I boiled it in order to "perfume" the pears. It works well, though I could have increased the lavender. I used about a half teaspoon and I could have done a full teaspoon I think. I also didn't have eggs, so I substituted applesauce and it worked fine.

Note though: if you don't boil down the syrup enough it can lead to runny bits that don't set under the fruit.

I apologize to any devoted readers looking for ideas. Between working retail at Christmas, final exams, a sick kid and the holidays, I have not cooked. And with no Internet at home, updating the blog is tricky.

Friday, December 3, 2010

My stepmother ate broccoli!

I have had a difficult week, and for some odd reason I thought it would be a good idea to invite my dad and stepmom over for dinner on Friday night. My parents have treated me to a lot of meals and it felt like time to return the favor.

I haven't slept much this week, and our finances and my gumption for heading to the grocery store are not promising. I had eight thin pork chops in the freezer and thought I'd make a variation of my pork with apples.

Pork with apples and berries

- 8 thin pork chops, lightly browned in the Le Creuset skillet and arranged nicely in a large Pyrex dish

In the skillet, make the sauce:
- one cup apple cider
- one 1/4 cup brown mustard
- two tablespoons Dijon mustard with lemon and dill
- less than 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon organic four color peppercorn, ground
- 1 teaspoon country herb mix, a blend of sea salt, Rosemary, parsley,
Oregano, basil, mint, sage and thyme (I found it in a grinder at Aldi.)
- 1 fresh sage leaf, chopped
- 1 gala apple, chopped
- 1 cup mixed berries (frozen and crumbled before added to the sauce) These were blackberries, raspberries and blueberries

Boil until well combined

Pour over pork chops and bake in the oven about 30 minutes at 350. If they dry out, add more apple cider 20 minutes in. I had run out so I used about 1/2 cup white grape raspberries juice instead.

The crowd loved it.

I served with corn, a boxed apple walnut rice stuffing, wheat brown and serve rolls, a Beaujolais Villages and an invented recipe: buffalo blue cheese broccoli with cheese curls.

Now, my stepmom HATES broccoli. She loved this. I'm still shocked and complimented.

Buffalo blue cheese broccoli with cheese curls

Start with about 10 large spears of broccoli, cooked a little less than done. I used frozen Giant brand broccoli florets and they were still kind of cold, but thawed in the microwave.

Arrange broccoli in the bottom of an oven proof dish in a single layer.

For the sauce:
In the bottom of a small saucepan, combine on low heat
- about 1/4 cup 2% milk
- about an ounce sharp cheddar, crumbled
- about two ounces Velveeta
- about two tablespoons Archer Farms buffalo blue cheese dip

Cook, stirring constantly until melted and combined.
Pour on broccoli.
In another dish, melt two tablespoons butter and mix with about 1/2 cup Cheetos crumbs

Sprinkle on top of broccoli and bake in the oven at 350 for 15-20 minutes.