Menu for the Week – 3 days left

The girls are still at camp. S & I are finally home after a lot of traveling. I don’t know how people who travel constantly for business do it. I’m exhausted and I’ve done no work. The travel just takes it out of you. That, and not exercising enough. And, eating too much.

We are home for a while and I’m going to cook very healthfully – which, for me, means a focus on cooking dinner and not on making dessert. Luckily, the farmer’s market was open today with its summer bounty there for the feasting. I am going to use it as an inspiration.

I’m only looking forward 3 days. Keeping my options open. Here goes:

Wednesday: Grilled wild salmon, roasted beets and fennel, sauteed rainbow chard
Thursday: (Grandma & WG for dinner) Grilled steak with home-made pesto, polenta with fresh corn, roasted tomatoes and carrots
Friday: Brown rice with chicken, spinach, mushrooms and ginger, red cabbage slaw with asian seasonings


Spicy Seafood Stew

J is away for the week, which is a good opportunity to eat the foods that she won’t eat. Last night, we went out for Indian food. The night before, we had chicken breasts stuffed with spinach and ricotta, a dish that L has been asking me to make for a while.

Tonight, we had additional foods that J dislikes: shell fish. I got the idea to make something with mussels from a new cookbook that a friend gave me. But, I didn’t feel like following a recipe. When I went to the market the mussels looked good, and they also had cleaned squid. I had some frozen, jumbo shrimp at home, along with some small dutch fingerling potatoes. Olive oil, leeks, garlic, tomatoes, saffron, vermouth and white wine, salt, pepper, thyme and red pepper flakes.

Big, big success that L declared to be one of my best dishes ever. I served it with a simple salad and a baguette.

I didn’t use any measuring cups, so the amounts are approximate. Here is how I made it:

Spicy Seafood Stew

serves 4

Next time, I would probably add about 1/2 bulb of fennel, chopped. I tried to this time, but there was no fennel at the market. Too bad. On the other hand, this really was a keeper as is.

1 1/2 lbs. mussels, cleaned and de-bearded
1/2 lb. cleaned squid, cut into rings, squiggly parts left in tact
12 jumbo shrimps, peeled and deveined
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 large leek, white and light green parts, cleaned and sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. fingerling potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch rounds
3/4 cup dry vermouth
3/4 cup white wine
3 Roma tomatoes, chopped
1/2 tsp. saffron threads
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a large (12 in.) deep frying pan over medium heat and saute leeks until soft and beginning to barely brown. Add the garlic and continue to cook for another couple of minutes. Add the vermouth, wine, and saffron. Simmer for 3-4 minutes, until the liquid has reduced a bit. Add potatoes and about 3/4 cup water, enough so that there is enough liquid to cook the potatoes. Cover the pan and simmer for 5 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. Remove the cover and add the chopped tomatoes, thyme, dried red pepper flakes, salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 5 minutes longer, if the mixture gets dry, add additional wine. Add the seafood, and cook until the shrimp is opaque throughout and the mussels have opened, approximately 3-5 more minutes.

Teriyaki Chicken

Last night I made something that I have never made before, strangely enough: Teriyaki Chicken. I love it. I order it when I am not in the mood for sushi at a Japanese style restaurant. I even bought a Trader Joe’s frozen chicken teriyaki for the girls’ lunches (very good, I might add).

I was perusing some old cooking magazines when I came across a recipe in Cook’s Illustrated for chicken teriyaki. Their recipes are always very well tested and authoritative, if occasionally quite complicated. The chicken teriyaki was not complicated. However, it vociferously called for skin-on chicken thighs instead of skinless, and I bought skinless (health week, remember?). And the sauce sounded incredibly sweet. So, I went on a search for another recipe.
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A True Kids Cook Sunday

L and 3 of her adorable friends made a plan at school during lunch one day last fall. They decided that they wanted to cook a gourmet meal for their parents and siblings. L was very excited about the prospect of this meal because she likes to cook and she likes to hang out with her friends. Why not do both together? But, she was skeptical because she wasn’t sure they would (1) find a mutually agreeable date [which proved to be very difficult indeed!] and (2) be able to pull it off, since the girls wanted to do this without any parental nosing-in. The kids were very motivated to do his ALONE.

I was incredibly impressed by what these girls accomplished – maybe I’m just a proud parent. But, it is not easy to make dinner for 19 people: to organize the recipes, figure out the quantities, figure out the timing, etc. They did it without a lot of parental help – in fact, the parents (with the exception of the parents who generously let the kids cook at their home) arrived ready for some hors d’oeuvre just before dinner was served. All we brought was the wine!

The girls gathered at 1:00 pm and cooked, chopped, rolled, stuffed, stirred, sautéed, set tables and then served. They were exhausted (or at least L was), but so satisfied and pleased with the dinner. As a parent, I loved watching the process of the kids thinking out the evening, from the menu to getting the parents together. It was a very social and warm dinner party, where the parents didn’t all know each other well, but got to know each other better. Frankly, I think there are very few adults who could have thrown a more lovely gathering.

Here is the delicious menu that the girls prepared:

Pepper jelly and cream cheese on crackers

Home baked foccacia

Gingered Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Soup

Caesar Salad

Fresh, homemade 3 cheese ravioli (they made and stuffed pasta for 19!!!) with vodka sauce
Mixed vegetable stir fry
Chicken with garlic and parsley

Molten Chocolate Cakes with fresh berries

Many thanks to these wonderful girls and to the parents who graciously hosted all 19 of us! We started talking about another evening together….better get it on the calendars now!!

On to a New Decade

Luckily, I was in pretty good shape by the end of December so that S & I could host our annual New Year’s Eve dinner. While this year’s menu was not as elaborate as last year’s feast based on luck (hmmm, can’t decide if that one worked or didn’t), longevity and prosperity, we did have plenty to eat and I finally agreed to a pot-luck dinner, which was a good move. We were a smaller crowd than usual, but my friends JGK and LH came through with some delicious dishes.

We tried to have a somewhat Italian/Mediterranean theme, but coudn’t stray from our annual shrimp cocktail and pigs-in-blankets. The year just wouldn’t feel the same. And, I was going to make a chicken dish with fresh lemon and parsley that I learned to make at a class in Ravello, Italy, but then I remembered from my research for last year’s dinner that eating foul was bad luck because your luck could “fly away”. Instead, I went with a fish dish (large silver scales mean $$$) and risotto (also for abundance).

New Year’s Eve Menu

Pigs in blankets (LH)
Shrimp cocktail
Caprese skewers

Blood orange, orange beet and shaved fennel salad with arugula, and Parmesan, citrus dressing

Wild halibut Mediterranean style
Risi e bisi (risotto with peas and parmesan)

Dessert – JGK’s choice…Molten Chocolate Cake with whipped cream and mixed berries!! She used Paula Deen’s recipe.

New Year’s Eve Toast with Limoncello and Dark Chocolate with Dried Fruits and Nuts (mendiants)

For the fish, I used this recipe and changed it up a little bit by using nicoise olives (about 1/4 cup chopped), a big pinch of dried oregano, and the full 14 oz. can of chopped tomatoes with their juice. This recipe is one of my staples. It is so easy and so good. You can make the sauce ahead of time and reheat it when you prepare the fish. There was not a bit left on anyone’s plate on New Year’s Eve. Well, that is, except for JGK. She was talking and didn’t get to finish hers at the table. But, she finished it in the kitchen while she was preparing the dessert!

Monday Yuck, Tuesday Yum

Last Monday’s dinner – Orange Beef Str Fry – was, in a word, blah. The picture is way better than the taste of the dish. I’d had such hope for a recipe that was dog-eared long ago. L and S were generous and actually ate theirs. J was not so compliant and ate rice, then made herself a bagel. Instead of interesting conversation, I think most of the meal was spent trying to convince J that she should eat what she is served and dinner was fine, that she was whining for no reason. It is hard to convince this kid and even harder when you know the food is mediocre. I’m a stir fry failure. Further indication to me that I should only eat most Asian cuisine at restaurants.

Tuesday was a different story. Our good friend, JO, joined us at the spur of the moment for dinner. Always a treat (and he brought Citizen Cake cookies for dessert!). We were engrossed in conversation, so I forgot to take a picture, even with the camera on the table, until it was too late.

I made another dog-eared recipe from an old copy of Cook’s Illustrated. The recipe was for pan roasted chicken breasts. Easy, elegant, relatively quick. S ate the leftovers for lunch on Wednesday and L asked for them as a snack. She was pretty sad to hear that the leftovers had been consumed already. I tweaked the recipe because of ingredients on hand. Here it is. Make it. It is very delicious.
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Experimental Entertaining

Generally, when we have friends for dinner, I make something that I’ve made before. I don’t like to treat my guests as guinea pigs. Sometimes, you make dud dinners and I usually don’t like to risk it. Last Wednesday night, however, we decided to have dinner at our house at the last minute (5-4-Dinner) and decided to use completely new recipes.

I neither poisoned our friends nor did I put a strain on our relationships. Yea. In fact, we bonded over Cambodian Summer Rolls , as an appetizer, and Pan Fried Trout with Fresh Herb Salad and Roasted Cauliflower. For dessert, fresh berries with World Peace Cookies (o.k., I’ve made those before).

All three of the recipe links above are, in my opinion, close to flawless.

The first two come from Cooking Light magazine. I know. Light? Generally, I do cook healthy, but I don’t cook “light”. But, in the summer magazine clean-up, I ripped out a few recipes from issues of this magazine. Why did I have any issues of Cooking Light? Well, it all stems from the school fundraiser. Magazine sales. I hate those types of fundraisers and have decided to try to avoid letting our kids sell to friends or family. Instead, I buy myself magazines and send them to people as gifts. I thought I’d give Cooking Light a try, for the sake of the school.

Shrimp RollShrimp Roll PlatterShrimp Roll Prep

First, the Cambodian Summer Rolls. I am a big fan of Vietnamese Shrimp/Pork Salad Rolls and these looked very similar. The recipe includes Shrimp, Rice Noodles, Basil, Mint and Red Leaf Lettuce, wrapped, burrito style, in rice paper (that has been smeared with a smidge of Hoisin Sauce). Then, this roll is dipped in a sauce of low sodium soy sauce, water, lime juice, sugar, garlic, ginger, cilantro and chili paste.
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