Not Manly Enough

Farro Prep

I think I’ve figured out a couple of things after charring the boneless pork chops tonight.

1) S is a much better grill cook than I. He babysits his meats and vegetables on the grill and makes sure that everything that comes off of it is cooked to perfection.

2) I always wondered why grills were sold with side burners. Now I know. It is hard to babysit the grill when the sides are inside on the stove.

3) Maybe men are so great at grilling because they are not making sure that everything else is ready as soon as the grilling is complete? Yeah, yeah, I know, that sounds sexist. Oh, well.

I asked S’s advice for cooking the meat and thought that I followed his directions. But, I took the directions as gospel (when they were only guidelines) and I didn’t keep checking the meat. I just turned the grill heat down to medium, let the meat sear for 5 minutes on one side, turned it, 5 minutes on the other side, turned it again….well, it was probably done already. Probably should have done the first turn after 3 minutes, etc. No trichonosis at our house tonight!

I guess I’ll learn at some point, but I think I’d rather have S do the grilling – unless we get a grill with side burners.

The farro turned out well, though. Farro is a grain that is similar to wheat. It looks a little like a large, darker pearled barley and it can be cooked like a risotto. In Italy, we had it in a soup with peas and asparagus. That soup was memorably delicious.

Farro Risotto
serves 4

1 cup Farro (semi-pearled)
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 Tbsp. olive oil
5 sundried tomatoes, chopped (optional)
2 1/2 cups chicken broth, heated
1/4 cup grated parmesan
salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and saute for about 5 minutes until the onion is beginning to brown and is fragrant. Add the farro and sundried tomatoes, and stir to combine them with the onions and the olive oil. Slowly pour in about half of the chicken broth. Bring to a boil and turn the heat down to a simmer. Stir frequently. When the liquid is just below the level of the grain, add more broth to cover the farro. Continue stirring and adding the liquid in this manner until the grains are barely cooked through (al dente). This should take about 20 minutes. Then, cook a little longer so that most (but not all) of the liquid is absorbed. Add the parmesan and about 1/4 tsp. of freshly ground black pepper. Taste and add additional pepper and salt as desired.


More Baking, Less Restraint

I went to the farmer’s market with the girls on Saturday and it was packed. There were so many new purveyors of unusual foods, not just the usual fruits, vegetables and flowers. People were selling all sorts of baked goods, grass fed beef, fresh fish, crepes, brick oven pizza, chocolates, and more. It was really amazing.

We saw some gorgeous strawberries, and as we got there late, the sellers were trying to get rid of the inventory and we bought a half flat of beautiful organic berries for $11.00. I couldn’t help myself. But, what to do with 6 pints of berries?

Well, it was the perfect reason to make my favorite strawberry pie to bring as dessert for dinner on Sunday night at a friend’s house. I use a very old-timey recipe from the Better Homes and Garden’s New Cook Book (the one with the red gingham cover). I have always loved strawberry pie, which I first learned about while visiting my grandmother in Florida when I was a kid. It was a very special dessert served at a restaurant called Testa’s. Testa’s had these huge family steaks that they would serve charred on the outside and rare on the inside. It was always a treat to go there. My favorite dish at Testa’s, though, was their strawberry pie. Now, this is not a cooked, double crusted fruit pie. It is fresh strawberries, no top crust. But, it is also not a strawberry tart – it has no pastry cream. It is a regular, buttery pie crust, heaped with fresh strawberries and glazed with a fresh stawberry glaze. I’ve never seen a pie like it at a restaurant before or since.
Which gets me back to that old cookbook. When I was living in Philadelphia in the late ’80s, I only had a couple of very basic cookbooks because I was a student and didn’t do all that much cooking, at least not compared to today. Nonetheless, one day, I got it in my head that I wanted to make this strawberry pie and I found a recipe that looked like it could be THE ONE in my paperback copy of The Better Homes & Garden’s New Cook Book. I remember walking to a fresh fruit market that was quite a distance from my apartment and buying a box with 6 containers of strawberries, and purchasing some other groceries, only to have to walk back with bags and the box held straight out in front of me. I made two pies and my arms hurt for days from carrying all the groceries in such an awkward position. It was worth it.

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Menu for the Week

Here is the current plan – subject to change as my whim may take over and I’m not feeling very organized. That old inertia kicking in.

I didn’t have much self control at the farmer’s market on Saturday and we have a lot of vegetables to polish off this week, so they may take center stage. We’ll have at least two vegetables for each meal. No complaints from me and S, in that regard.

I’m going to scour some of my old cooking magazines and cookbooks, and recipes that I’ve cut out over the years to get some new life in our meals. Otherwise, I’m going to cook some dishes that have been on the site before. After 2 1/2 months of very few repeats (in terms of main dish), it is getting to be that time. Tonight will be one of the repeats, but it is a favorite, and the weather is nice for grilling outdoors.

I also loaded up on fruits today – so that, as usual, is the dessert plan.

Monday – Grilled Boneless Pork Chops, steamed asparagus, sauteed kale with olive oil and garlic, farro
Tuesday – I’m out at a Mom’s Night Out. J has been asking for Chinese take-out – this could be the night!
Wednesday – Salmon (Halibut for J), beets & beet tops, cauliflower, quinoa (leftover farro for L&J)
Thursday – Roasted Chicken with roasted potatoes, onions, carrots and fennel.
Friday – Birthday dinner for W (Grandma’s husband) – Paella, big salad, birthday cake (TBD, but chocolate will be involved)

Spring break starts at the close of school on Friday. We are having a “stay-cation” because L will still be on crutches, so I’m hoping to cook some good meals and have the girls help out. We’ll also be going out a bunch, having friends over to dinner/brunch, etc. We’ll celebrate Passover at a friends’ house (the first time in years that I won’t be having a seder at home). It will be like one very long weekend. I’m looking forward to it.

Bake Sale Part 2

Healthy Chocolate Muffin
Time for another student council bake sale. I got the e-mail yesterday.

Luckily, this time, there are two additional bakers added to the mix and we are each responsible for 36 muffins. One of the parents had a healthy cookie recipe, but because the recipe had chocolate chips in it, it was given the axe. I suggested a recipe that I found, and clipped, from a local parent magazine (Bay Area Parent) which was written by a nutritionist at ClifBar. I am not a “health food” type of person, but I do, generally, like to cook healthfully (caramel corn, brownies, pineapple upside down cake, etc. excepted…).

But, we have these new California guidelines that have to be adhered to – painful, to say the least: no more than 35% sugar by weight, no more than 35% of calories from fat, no more than 10% from saturated fat.

So, unlike last time, where I tried on my own to figure out the nutritional content of a recipe, I found a website with a nutrition calculator. What a find. All you do is type in the ingredients and quantities, servings per recipe, and it figures out the total nutritional profile – just like on packaged foods. I still had to calculate the percentages of sugar, fat, etc., based on the total grams – makes me feel like I still know math.

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Let the Weekend Begin

Pizza is Ready
I love the beginning of the weekend. It starts for me when school is out on Friday afternoon.

This Friday, we had another family join us for dinner and pizza making. I thought that I’d try grilled pizza, but I couldn’t pull the trigger. I don’t know why. So, instead of trying a new recipe, I made my own, usual dough (double recipe) during the day. Made the quick and easy sauce. Picked up some toppings: mozzarella, gorgonzola (which we didn’t use), pancetta, pepperoni, red peppers, mushrooms, fresh basil.

Cutting DoughRolling DoughReady for the OvenPre-cooked Pizza
Our friends brought a great spinach salad.

And, I made pineapple upside down cake for dessert using a recipe from Everyday Food Magazine. I seem to be on a roll with that magazine lately. My mom used to make pineapple upside down cake and I haven’t had it in years. I love all things carmelized. Pineapple cooked in caramelized sugar and butter is an phenominal combination. In fact, it made me think that I could substitute apples in the recipe and try making a tarte tatin cake. Next time, maybe. The recipe didn’t have maraschino cherries in it, but the cake would have looked so blah and naked with out them. And, I like maraschino cherries, especially when I don’t have to fight L & J for them.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

I made a couple of changes to the recipe other than the addition of cherries. First, I used 1/4 cup buttermilk and 1/4 cup lowfat milk for the liquid. I thought that would make the cake a little more tender. Since I was using a more acid liquid, I added about 1/8 teaspoon of baking soda with the dry ingredients. Second, I used canned pineapple (in juice, not syrup). It was just much easier and I haven’t seen any stellar pineapples at the market. Last, I found the baking time to be excessively long in the recipe – my cake was ready in about 35 minutes. I’m not sure why the baking time was so much less – maybe because my cast iron pan was still hot from cooking the caramel for the pineapples. Go figure. Continue reading

2 Pasta Sauces & Pears

Pasta with 2 Sauces
Tonight, we couldn’t figure out if we wanted Puttanesca Sauce with our pasta or Amatriciana Sauce. J wanted only Amatriciana, L wanted Puttanesca, S didn’t care, and I was willing to make both and try a new recipe and freeze the leftovers.

I had decided on Puttanesca earlier in the week, without thinking about a recipe. Then, in trying to minimize a pile of old magazines, I started flipping through an old Food & Wine, with an Italian focus from September, 2007. And, there it was, a recipe for classic marinara, with variations for Puttanesca, Amatriciana and Vodka sauces. Perfect and the timing was right! I was a bit disorganized while cooking and my mise-en-place wasn’t very well place-d, so no photos of the preparations. But, suffice it to say, that S, L & I tried both sauces. J only tried the Amatriciana (and had 2 big portions). Favorites were difficult to choose, but L & S liked the Puttanesca better and I like the Amatriciana better. It was very close, both were excellent. I’m glad that issue of Food & Wine was in the pile!

For dessert, we had an old standby. From the Zap It! section of an old Everyday Food Magazine (I found the link on their PBS web-site, but not on Martha Stewart’s), we’ve been making poached pears for several years. It literally takes about 10 minutes prep and 10 minutes to cook, because you make these poached pears in the microwave. And, the sauce is made by melting vanilla ice cream in the liquid that is generated by the pears, butter and brown sugar while they are cooking.
Pre-poach pearsPrepped Pears Ready to PoachMicrowave PearsPost Poach Pears
We didn’t add the vanilla ice cream tonight (a little too rich after all that pasta). You would never know that the pears are made in the microwave, and because good vanilla ice creams are basically Creme Anglaise, the sauce seems pretty decadent. Even without the ice cream, the sauce is just the pear juice that is released during the cooking, a little butter and brown sugar. Can’t go wrong there.

Mmmm. I feel foodier tonight than I did last night, even with the microwave portion of the meal.

Jekyll and Hyde

Meatloaf Pre-Cook

Am I a foodie? Am I not a foodie?

Sometimes I am one or the other. Last night, I was both.

L looked at the menu for the week and declared that “Meatloaf and Mashed Potatoes were made to go together”. Where did I ever get this genius idea? Incredible. As the parent of a ‘tween, I go from brilliance to mind numbing stupidity in the blink of an eye. But, last night I was Einstein at the table. Smart enough to put the two dishes together, and smart enough to not sweat the details….sometimes.

So, here is where I make my foodie/not a foodie admission. I love meatloaf. Not such a non-foodie food, you could say it works well as comfort food or could be considered retro trendy. Especially in this economy. But, I have never found a meatloaf recipe that is as good or easy or flavorful…here it comes…as the one that I make using, gulp, A MIX. I’m looking at the package now: McCormick Meat Loaf Seasoning Mix. Which has a full 14% of your daily value of sodium per serving. I think I only tried the mix because I really wanted meatloaf, couldn’t find a recipe that I liked and just bought it. Now, I don’t even try new recipes for this dish. I’d probably make my own ketchup before I made my own meatloaf at this point. Embarrassing, and yet, predictable, delicious, flavorful, moist (if you use ground chuck), easy. I’m all for ease. I’m all for homemade. Just because I use a mix, doesn’t mean it isn’t homemade.

Meatloaf Prep

Still, I feel guilt. It is in my nature and my genetic make-up. If I were served this meatloaf at someone’s home, I’d ask for the recipe. I’d be surprised that it was a mix, pleased to know that a mix could be that delicious. But, making the meatloaf with a mix myself, I feel like it is somehow not worthy. I’m nuts.

How do I make up for what feels like a lapse in judgement, even though it is clearly not that? What about the consumption of hydrolyzed corn gluten, among other taste enhancing ingredients in the packet? First, we don’t have meatloaf very often. Second, I got 2 lbs. of grass fed beef (unfortunately, not chuck, so it was a little dry). Third, the sides that I served were wholesome. Whoo hoo. Light fluffy yukon gold mashed potatoes. Steamed carrots (raw snap peas for L, because she doesn’t like carrots – though I sweetly request, i.e., force, her to try each time). Crunchy salad with balsamic vinegar and basil olive oil.

We were too hungry to take photos once the meatloaf was out of the oven. The meal was scarfed down before I could find my camera.

And, for dessert….those Pepperidge Farm Bordeaux cookies were still in the cabinet. Served with some fruit, of course.