A legendary party

1211 legendary party introWhat do you put on the birthday menu for the guy that’s been kickin it strong for 70 years? Whatever the heck he wants.

My father in law loves filet mignon. He loves shrimp cocktail. He loves all things Italian. And he loves great wine. Pretty good taste, right?

So for his 70th birthday party we did a soiree at his place with all his favorites. And despite a late afternoon presentation to senior executives, a mad dash to the market to pick up the heirloom carrots special ordered for me, and an hour drive to get to their place, it truly couldn’t have been easier. This would work great for an easy holiday gathering as well, either as a sit down menu or a buffet.  [Read more...]

The week in food

pizza making CollageOnce a week I usually lay out what I plan to make for the following week with a list so I can gather all of the ingredients in one go. Then I get completely distracted by farmers markets, sales at the grocery, or the arrival of my Food and Wine mag so my plan evolves, or devolves. Either way, it’s usually delicious and generally pretty economical. Here’s what evolved this week. What’s your favorite weeknight cooking tip? [Read more...]

Gourmet Mommy B&B

Oh happy day, our friends came to play. Which means something so different than what it meant in pre-kids days. Even with the 4 kids running around underfoot though, we can still manage to have good food, good wine and good conversation:

“How’s your book coming along? Nicholas PUT THAT DOWN.”

“Jo Jo stop moving the furniture. Great, almost done”

“I can’t wait to read–WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH”

Ok, well at least we can have good food and good wine.boeuf bourguignon meal

Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon and boiled potatoes. A cheap cut of meat simmered in wine and bacon all day. Yeah, it didn’t suck. It could also all be made ahead so I wasn’t spending too much time in the kitchen, unless I was trying to escape the chaos.

breakfast casseroleI also made breakfast ahead so when the kids woke us up at 5:30am after a big night of visiting, we didn’t need to worry about cooking. Just turn on the oven and pop in the Southern Breakfast Strata. An hour later it’s done.

So, the menu for an effortless weekend of entertaining with 4 kids?

Dinner
Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon
Buttered Parsley Potatoes
Apple Fennel and Celery Salad (a la Gourmande in the Kitchen)
Wine: Coates du Rhone

Breakfast
Southern Breakfast Strata

Merry Christmas Eve! Cioppino

After Thanksgiving, Christmas dinner is probably the most well orchestrated and planned meal of the year. But what about Christmas Eve? You’ve got a huge meal planned the next day, but it’s still nice to make something special that night before. Something special that:

1. Is easy clean up, since you’ll likely be making a huge mess the next day (or have already started cooking on Christmas Eve)

2. Is relatively light to prepare yourself for the gorging that is to come the next day

3. But is still warm and hearty to get you in the Christmas spirit

What could possibly fit all of those criteria? Cioppino! A seafood stew native of San Francisco (where my mom also happens to be a native of) that consists of a fragrant tomato-y broth and basically whatever seafood you can get your hands on. It’s also reminiscent of Zuppa di Pesce, an Italian fisherman’s stew–one of my dad’s favorites.

Dan and I are often in charge of the Christmas Eve dinner, and this year is no exception. My mom has been experimenting with her own sourdough, so this year we have freshly made sourdough bread as an accompaniment.

Menu:

Cioppino
Sourdough bread
Garden Salad
Champagne

Date Night, no sitter required

date night from a long time ago

A date night from a long time ago...our honeymoon.

With 2 kids, date nights are more important than ever. Life gets so crazy that Dan and I sometimes forget to look at each other and say “hey, how are you doing these days?” But getting a sitter, making a reservation, dressing up, can make date night out feel like it’s more effort that it’s worth. It’s a sometimes occasion, but not something we do too regularly.

What we do do regularly though is make a nice dinner after the kids go to bed. Add a nice bottle of wine and maybe a movie rental, and you’ve got an awfully nice evening that didn’t need to be strategized and coordinated like a presidential campaign.

I have a ton of recipes for this kind of meal, but one of my favorites is grilled steak, creamy polenta, and a great salad. It’s a special occasion meal that I often have all of the ingredients for in my house: steaks I bought on sale in the freezer, polenta in the pantry, and salad fixings.

Menu:date night

Grilled Filet Mignon
Roasted Tomato Polenta
Pear & Blue Cheese Salad

Wine: An Oregon Merlot was on sale so I grabbed that and it ended up being a perfect match. Since the filet doesn’t have a big sauce, it’s a pretty mild dish so a typical steak-y wine like Cab or Zinfandel would probably overpower the meal.

The steak is so simple you don’t even need a recipe. Just get your 6-8 ounce filets to room temp while you’re putting the kids to bed. Season well with salt and pepper. Then put on a VERY hot grill for 3 minutes per side for medium rare steak. Let them sit for 10 minutes before serving. Done.

The tomatoes take awhile to roast for the polenta, so get them started while kids are eating dinner. The polenta actually keeps fairly well sitting warm on the stove, so you can start that relatively early too, and then just stir it up, maybe add more liquid to get it to a nice creamy consistency, right before serving.

A low stress, inexpensive, relaxing evening will get you saying “hey, how you doin’?”

Weekly Menu: Cook once, eat 3 times

This week is all about cooking one day and then having plenty to eat for the rest of the week. Even though this is 3 meals, you could probably stretch out some of the leftovers for another day or two.

Menu # 1: Grilled Ribs

Honey Garlic Glazed RibsI actually like making ribs in the winter. Most of the cooking happens inside, with just a quick toss on the grill at the end to get a good crust on the ribs. Make a double recipe of the mac and cheese, omitting the tuna from the recipe. Serve some now on the side of the ribs, and save some for later in the week.

Honey-Garlic Glazed Ribs
Very Veggie Macaroni and Cheese
Garden Salad

Tuna MacMenu #2: Very Veggie Tuna Mac

Add tuna to the leftover macaroni and cheese and place in a casserole dish. Top with some extra cheese and bake at 375 degrees for 30-45 minutes or so.

Very Veggie Tuna Mac

Menu #3: Pork & Pineapple Fried RicePork & Pineapple Fried Rice

Use the leftovers from the ribs to make this super quick fried rice.

Pork & Pineapple Fried Rice
Steamed Green Beans

Shopping List:

pork spare ribs–4 pounds
2 6-ounce cans of solid white tuna
garlic
jalapeno
green onions
onion
red bell pepper
pineapple
rice
whole wheat elbow macaroni
flour
chili powder
smoked paprika
coriander
cardamom
salt
pepper
light beer
lime juice
honey
soy sauce
rice vinegar
canola oil
frozen butternut squash
frozen peas
frozen mixed veggies (broccoli, carrots, asparagus are all good options)
butter
milk
cheddar cheese

Impromptu Holiday Gathering

Impromptu brunchSometimes the best gatherings are the ones that aren’t planned. You don’t have time to stress about food or the menu, you just scan the fridge, grab a couple of things from the store, and make it work.

We no longer live around the corner from some of our closest friends, but thankfully have a tradition to meet up the day after Thanksgiving and go on a hike near our house. Their holiday travels bring them through town so we have a chance to spend some quality time together before the real chaos of the holidays settles in.

This year, at the last minute, we learned that other mutual friends were passing through as well. They live across the country or on the other side of the world depending on the week, so we jumped on the chance to catch up with them.

I had a bunch of random stuff in the fridge, including: oranges, onions, capers, and polish kielbasa. So, Nicholas and I grabbed a big piece of salmon from the store, and Dan went out for peirogies and booze from our corner market. Katie bounced in the jumperoo while I prepped for 1/2 hour or so, and then everything went in the oven when friends arrived. Our friends brought a delicious salad. Voila, a quick, easy and elegant brunch was born!

Menu:

Roasted Salmon with Mustard Caper sauce
Pierogies with Polish Kielbasa
Salad (ie, Pear, Walnut, and Blue Cheese Salad)
Dan’s Bloody Mary’s (clearly)

Needless to say we didn’t make it on our hike this year, and that was just fine with us!

Weekly Menu: Turkey Trot

Turkey, turkey, and more turkey. I bet you’re getting sick of talking turkey by now. But if you’ve got leftovers, your turkey days aren’t over yet! Here are some recipes for the week that will help you move on from Thanksgiving and finish up that turkey…one classic recipe, one *hopefully* new one, and one that has no turkey at all (but it uses up some of that turkey stock you made)!

 

Menu #1: Game Day

Make this on Sunday for a football fiesta!

Slow Cooker Turkey Chili
Corn Chips or Cornbread
Garden Salad

The recipe calls for ground beef or turkey. Just omit the beef or turkey, and add in 3-4 cups chopped, cooked turkey at the same time you add the beans. Delish!

 

Menu #2: Make Ahead Casserole Night (and baby food)

A great way to use up all of those leftovers…just put them in a casserole and bake. This is easy to assemble the night before. Then when you come home all you need to do is throw it in the oven and 45 min later you have dinner. For this one, you can also make a Stage 3 baby food version of Shepherd’s Pie.

Nicholas loves Turkey Shepherd's Pie!

Shepherd’s Pie
Garden Salad

Baby Food: Shepherd’s Pie

 

Menu #3: Hump Day Help

Here’s a good one for a cold, rainy midweek meal. You’re sick of cooking, sick of eating turkey, but you can come home to a warm nourishing meal nonetheless.

Sausage, Kale, and Navy Bean Soup

This recipe is for the stovetop, but making it in the slow cooker couldn’t be easier. Just dump everything in the crock pot (you don’t need to soak the beans), set on low, and 8 hours later you have dinner.

Shopping List

5-6 cups cooked, chopped turkey
polish kielbasa or other smoked sausage
kale–1 pound
onions-2
garlic
cubanelle or poblano peppers–3
lettuce
tomato
cucumber
carrots
celery
sweet potatoes
1.5 oz dried New Mexico chiles
1.5 oz dried ancho chiles
olive oil
cumin
dried thyme
bay leaf
chipotle pepper in adobo sauce
28 oz can diced tomatoes (preferably fire-roasted)
chicken or turkey stock–3 quarts
kidney beans–14oz can
pinto or black beans–14 oz can
garbanzo beans–14oz can
dried navy beans–1 pound
corn chips
1 oz dark chocolate
yogurt or sour cream
Cheddar or jack cheese
frozen green beans
frozen peas
turkey gravy
mashed potatoes

 

 

 

Weekly Menu: Meals to Prep for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is on Thursday. I bring this up because, if you’re like me, you may not be aware. It snuck up on me. I thought I had an extra week in there somewhere. Recalibrating…

Ok, this week’s menu is all planned around the fact that you are going to eat a big meal on Thursday. If you’re cooking Thanksgiving dinner and don’t have all of your recipes picked out, or if you’re bringing a side dish and need some inspiration, I’m including a Thanksgiving dinner menu. Either way, the last thing you’re going to want is overwraught, heavy meals all week.

So, on the menu: a slow cooker vegetarian meal with a side of cornbread, leftovers to be used for Thanksgiving stuffing. A make-ahead salad, where you could potentially make other Thanksgiving sides at the same time–mashed potatoes or green bean casserole. And of course, the main event, the bird.

Menu #1

If you’re making cornbread stuffing for Thanksgiving dinner, be sure to make plenty of cornbread to go along with this soup. You’ll want to give it a couple of days to get good and stale before making your stuffing.

Slow Cooker Black Bean Soup
Cornbread (make from recipe on box)
Garden Salad

Menu #2

You can get a jump on your Thanksgiving cooking by cooking a bunch of potatoes and pre-make your mashed potatoes. Then on Thanksgiving warm over a double boiler, or bake in a casserole for a new twist on mashed potatoes. You can also steam extra green beans here for the classic green bean casserole

Salad Nicoise

Menu #3Thanksgiving dinner

Brined Roasted Turkey
Gravy
Cornbread Stuffing with Cranberries and Pecans
Mashed Potatoes
Collard Greens
Steamed Green Beans
 

Shopping List

10-12 pound turkey
1 ham hock or ham bone
bacon
garlic
onion–3
celery
potatoes–3 pounds
collard greens–2 pounds
green bell pepper
Boston lettuce
tomato
green beans
solid white tuna in water
1 lb dried black beans
14oz can diced tomatoes
chicken or vegetable stock–2 quarts
Goya Sazon seasoning
kosher salt
whole peppercorns
bay leaves
dried thyme or fresh thyme
chopped pecans
dried cranberries
cornmeal or cornbread mix
brown sugar
capers
assorted olives
dijon mustard
cider vinegar
white wine vinegar
olive oil
butter
egg
whole milk

Thanksgiving Therapy…er, Potluck

We go to a Thanksgiving potluck with family every year. Actually, not sure it was intended to be potluck but you can’t stop people from bringing stuff. As the newest member of my husband’s family–I just earned my 10 year pin–I’ve had trouble finding my annual dish. Appetizers, pies, mashed potatoes, green bean casseroles were claimed when I was still playing with Barbies.Thanksgiving dinner

And the Thanksgiving dish is important. I only see most of these people once a year. This dish defines me for the next 364 days. I need to make an entrance with my perfect 2 children, effortlessly set a dish on the table that needs no attention, play the part of the perfect guest complimenting the house, the food, the weather, and then blow people’s mind when they finally dig in to my casserole of awesomeness. All the while saying, it was nothing, oh it’s so easy I’m so embarrassed to have even brought it.

Right.

One year I made Martha Stewart’s cornbread dressing. Dry as cardboard. It was also one of four dressings. The only one that had leftovers. Ouch.

Another year I begged for a shot at the mashed potatoes. They’re so boring, I wanted to put my own twist on it so it would be truly memorable. I peeled and roasted 40 cloves of garlic and mashed them in with 3 pounds of potatoes. It was memorable alright. The potatoes were returned to their rightful owner after that.

Then I offered wine. Then I priced buying wine for 20 people. Did not bring wine again.

Finally I settled on vegetables–a perfect fit for me. Not sexy. But pretty good for you and never out of place at a table full of food.

I don’t always bring the same veggie, and that’s ok. In fact, that’s perfect. As it turns out I don’t actually like to be defined by one dish. So after 10 years, I’ve got a whole category of dishes to play with. Roasted butternut squash, swiss chard gratin, collard greens, they all go great with a big Thanksgiving dinner and let the turkey be the star. You may have forgotten during my quest, but this is about Thanksgiving. I kind of did.

So, this year is collard greens.

And here’s a menu of the basics if you’re the one hosting. Hopefully you can assign some of this to the guests and hope they don’t emotionally attach themselves to their side dish.

Thanksgiving Basics Menu:

Foolproof Brined & Roasted Turkey
Gravy
Cornbread Stuffing with Pecans and Cranberries
Mashed Potatoes (garlic optional)
Collard Greens (aka, crock pot of awesomeness)