Dad’s cooking


by Caroline

Wednesday afternoon, after lunch. We’re hanging out, starting to think about, maybe, some Thanksgiving dinner prep. My brother-in-law calls; he’s on his way, but can’t stay as long as he expected. He’ll leave after lunch on Thursday, instead of staying through dinner.

Hmm. Thanksgiving dinner is always, in our family, in the evening: at dinner time. But we have been planning to share the meal with the boys’ West Coast Uncle Fun. We briefly consider a midday Thanksgiving meal, but that’s just never been our style. Special meals should be in the evening, with candlelight. Plus, we don’t want him to have to eat and run. It is after 1 PM. Could we get Thanksgiving dinner on the table in just five or six hours? We take on the challenge.

And so I am thankful. Thankful for the friend who loaned us her son for the afternoon so our boys were happily occupied (she thought we were doing her a favor, babysitting so she could care for her stomach flu-y daughter. I’ll keep letting her think that.)

Thankful for my mom, from whom I learned how to make brown & serve rolls, which are always ready when I need them, and who taught me to keep a light touch on the pie crust.

Thankful for my sister, who posts favorite recipes on her blog (like I do) so that we could easily produce her delicious cranberry chutney.

Thankful that no one wanted turkey. This year, after experiments with stuffed mushrooms (very good), polenta-topped roasted vegetable pot pie (excellent) and even lentil-mushroom timbales (meh), we’ve even decided to dispense with the notion of a “main.” All any of us really wants, when we get right down to it, is stuffing, gravy and cranberry sauce. Plus of course rolls and pie. I insist on something green (you should see my son put away the kale salad). And then we make various other things to put under the gravy. It’s a lot of chopping, but nothing needs the oven for four or five hours like a turkey does. The pans of pie, vegetables, and rolls, go in and out of the oven all afternoon.

Thankful for my brothers and my dad, siblings-in-law, niece and nephew, none of whom had much to do with this particular meal, but always figure in my thinking about food, family, and celebrations. I’m looking forward to our next big feast together!

And most of all, thankful for my husband, who has no problem cooking any meal, any time, but really kicked it into gear Wednesday to produce Thanksgiving dinner a day early. He started our in-no-particular-order to do list to make sure we got everything onto the table:

We sat down to dinner at 6:30, at a table decorated with Eli’s flower arrangement, and — so happy to have the meal on the table and my family gathered round — I did not think to take a picture of the spread. But trust me when I say it was delicious, and I hope yours was, too.

Eli’s Elegant Broccoli

by Caroline

I won’t claim to take as much time with presentation as Lisa does, but Eli is either paying more attention than I thought to my small efforts or he is simply reading this blog. The recipe he invented yesterday (with production assistance from Tony) shows he’s as careful with style as substance.

The plan was for our regular rice with tofu and vegetables. I don’t make dinner often under even the best of circumstances; now, after a week locked into a bad head cold, I was just on the sidelines, listening, as Eli chatted about developing a new recipe for the broccoli. His first idea was to serve the cooked spears dipped in beaten egg. Tony balked. Eli cried. I thought about various other nice things into which one can dip one’s vegetables. There was a long conversation on the couch during which Tony successfully distracted Eli from his recipe long enough to return to cooking. We thought the recipe was forgotten, but I should have known my tenacious child would find a way to make his recipe work.

Dinner approached, and then Eli said, “I have another idea for my recipe!” I held my breath.
But in the end, it was OK.

Eli’s Elegant Broccoli

Prepare one head of broccoli by separating the spears and steaming lightly. While it’s cooking, melt a couple tablespoons of butter and let cook until it browns very slightly. Add a sprinkle of brown sugar. Serve in a shallow bowl with the broccoli spears surrounding it.

Now our proud boy wants to write a cookbook; I think we will.

Giant Enchiladas

by Caroline

On Saturday, we made a black and orange dinner — black bean and sweet potato enchiladas — to cheer on our black and orange team, the Giants, who won their game against the Phillies. On Sunday, we ate sushi and our team lost. Yesterday, I ate the leftover enchilada for lunch and things went better for the Giants. Good as these are, I don’t think I can commit to the same meal every time the Giants play, but I present the recipe in the hope that you can help root on our team with a team colors dinner.

This recipe is an adaptation by Tony of one he read years ago in a vegetarian cooking magazine, and I offer it here just as he wrote it down for me. It scales well, so you can make a couple pans to feed a baseball-watching crowd:

3 sweet potatoes, medium-sized
1 15 oz. can black beans
10-12 flour tortillas
1 package jack cheese, grated (grate it as big as you want — truly whatever is fastest and easiest… it’s all going to get melted)
1 big (28-32 oz.) or 2 small (~15 oz.) cans of plain tomato sauce (just not “Italian flavored”)
1 jar of salsa … thinner is actually better than thicker — I use “Mrs. Renfro’s” which is in a lot of supermarkets
(or if you find a can of “enchilada sauce” that would be fine too)
ground cumin to taste
dash of cayenne pepper or hot sauce, if desired

Peel 3 medium sweet potatoes. Cut them into large chunks and boil them until you can easily stick a fork in them. You’re going to mash these, so they’re pretty forgiving.

Drain the water, and put them back in the pot or into a big bowl. Mash the potatoes well, with a fork or potato masher.

Drain most of the water from a can of black beans and add them to the sweet potatoes

Add a liberal amount of cumin (maybe 2-3 tablespoons? Start with two and you can taste it and add more if you like )

If you’re so inclined, you could add a little heat — a dash of hot sauce or cayenne pepper. That’s the filling.

The sauce I usually just make from plain old canned tomato sauce (since it really kind of wants to be thin… not all homestyle-y like a good homemade pasta sauce). But you do want some kind of Mexican flavor in there… so essentially I just spike it with something…

Some salsa from a jar (Mrs. Renfro’s, enchilada sauce, or some other not-too-chunky salsa) It doesn’t need a ton –just a little something, maybe 1/2 to 3/4 cup. As far as quantity goes, for a big dish of enchiladas, you probably want like a 32 ounce can of sauce to start with. That’s the sauce. NOTE: you don’t even have to cook this… just mix the plain tomato sauce and whatever you’re spiking it with into a bowl.

Then it’s just putting filling into flour tortillas (I’m sure corn would be great, too, but we usually do flour just for size, if no other reason) — maybe 1/4 cup or so… add a little bit of grated cheese (jack is what we usually use), roll ’em up and tuck them in real close to each other in a big rectangular baking dish with the seam down.

It’s nice to have a tight fit… sometimes I use baking dish that’s a little smaller than the tortillas and just slice of 1/2 inch from two sides of the tortillas to “square them off” –but that’s not really necessary. Pour the sauce over and around… add some more grated cheese on top.

You can easily split this into two pans if need be… I probably get maybe 8 enchiladas in a big baking dish.

Then just bake it until it’s nice and bubbly… maybe 30-40 minutes at 350 or so… it’s all cooked, so you really just need to get it nice and hot.

I usually start with it covered with foil and then sometimes finish it with a few minutes under the broiler to let the cheese get nice and brown. The broiler’s not necessary, but you could at least just take the foil off for the last 5 minutes or so.

We usually have this with Slammin’ Rice — a really simple spanish/mexican rice.

I’m showing 3 cups of rice here, which is a lot… good if you’re serving 8.

3 cups plain-old white rice… ideally medium or long-grain rather than short grain like you might use for a stir fry
1/2 onion chopped fine
1-2 cloves garlic chopped fine (if you want)
olive oil
3 cups veggie stock
2 1/2 cups plain tomato sauce (just like above for the enchiladas)
1/2 cup “thin” salsa, enchilada sauce, Mrs. Renfro’s — again same as above… you’re just “spiking” the plain tomato sauce with a little flavor.

(the key is 6 cups liquid for 3 cups rice… and you’re essentially doing half veggie stock and half spicy tomato sauce…)

So, this starts out like risotto, but just gets a lot easier because you don’t have to stir. Essentially you’re just making plain rice with 1/2 stock and 1/2 tomato sauce instead of water.

In a good size pot, saute the onion in olive oil (medium heat) until it starts to get brown. Add the garlic, if you’re using it and just saute that for a minute. You might need to add a touch more oil when you put the garlic in so it doesn’t stick.

Add the rice to the onion and garlic… stir them together and cook for 15-20 seconds.

Add all the liquid: stock, tomato sauce, and whatever you’re using to spike it (the key is to use 6 cups liquid total)

Cover the pot, turn the heat to medium high until it starts to boil, give it a good stir (Scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon and make sure nothing’s stuck) and then turn the heat really low and cook for 20 minutes with the lid on.

After 20 minutes, take the lid off, give it a good stir and scrape and see if the rice is cooked. If it seems like it needs a little more time that’s fine… once the rice is all cooked you can just leave this on the stove with the lid on and it will stay hot for awhile.

You can garnish this with the obvious — sour cream, guacamole, chopped cilantro — whatever sounds good.

Garbage Salad

by Caroline

critical tools for garbage salad

When I was in 3rd grade, I ate lunch with my dad nearly every weekday. Although my school day went to 3 PM, the school didn’t permit children to eat lunch at school until 4th grade. I remember my mom grumbling that this was a conspiracy to keep moms from working outside the home, and she endured it awhile, but finally when her youngest child (me) hit eight, and having been out of the workforce since her oldest child was born (sixteen years earlier) my mom was ready to get back to work. She cobbled together a schedule for me of lunchtime playdates with friends and — since her job didn’t allow her the flexibility to drive home for lunch each day, but my father’s did — Lunch with Dad.

Lunch with Dad was great. We would sit at the dining room table, he at the end and me around the corner next to him, and play double solitaire between bites. I have no recollection of my meals – a rotating menu of sandwiches, I expect — but Dad always made what he dubbed Garbage Salad. He’d start with a plate, a big carrot and maybe one of the enormous white daikon radishes he’d grown in our front yard, and the box grater. He’d grate himself a bed of vegetables, then rummage in the fridge for good-looking leftovers and toss those on top, together with perhaps a scoop of cottage cheese and a sprinkling of peanuts and a splash of vinaigrette. He ate this nearly every day when he was home, the ingredients varying with the seasons and the contents of our refrigerator. Now that I don’t have kids coming home for lunch any more (happily, mine are fed well at school, from kindergarten on), I find myself reaching for the box grater, looking for good leftovers, and composing Garbage Salad, too.

You might want to rename your version of this salad, though sentiment and honesty will always keep it Garbage Salad in my house. As for the ingredients, I find people have strong feelings about cottage cheese, and while I like it well enough I’m not going to risk family harmony by bringing any into the house. Today, my version of Dad’s salad used more salad greens, because our CSA share is bursting with lettuces, plus a shredded beet, a shredded kohlrabi, a tomato, some leftover stir-fried green beans and some toasted pumpkin seeds. Sometimes I take the time to boil an egg and chop that into the salad, sometimes I toss in some cannellini beans. Tonight, we’re roasting potatoes for dinner, so any leftovers will likely go into tomorrow’s salad. The main thing is to get out that box grater and some shreddable vegetables – carrots, summer squash, beets, kohlrabi, parsley root, radish – and start with that base, because as my Dad taught me, they soak up your vinaigrette and make a delicious bed for just about anything you find to put on top.

Dad in the Kitchen: An Acknowledgment

By Lisa

I’ve been quiet here for the last few weeks because I’ve been working furiously on the final edits to my book (!) , Inside Out,  which won the 2010 River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Award and will be published by University of Nebraska Press next spring. The book has nothing to do with food. It’s a personal, factual and literary investigation of the profound changes of first-time motherhood.

It’s been an extraordinarily busy, heady time around here, and I’ve still been cooking, just not writing about it.  I’ve had to come up with even more, fast, efficient weeknight meals for the family and I’m looking forward to sharing them here over the next few posts.

But first, I need to give credit where credit is due–and that means to my husband.

Kory does not really cook around here. Yes, he bakes extraordinary cakes and cookies sometimes, and he manages the grill superbly in the summer, and he takes care of breakfast every weekday morning, and makes a mean quesadilla for weekend lunch, and the kids think he’s famous for the kidtinis, but on a regular basis, he doesn’t put dinner on the table.

This does not mean he can’t, not that he won’t if I ask him. Over the past month, I’ve barricaded myself in the office and he has taken care of the kids, cooked them lunch, fixed them dinner.  He’s agreed to eating out several times, which is not exactly in our regular weekly budget, but he knew what a clean kitchen can do for a writer/mother’s peace of mind (also her spouse’s).  He rustled up a lovely pesto dinner for them last week, including this good looking appetizer:

And he cleaned it all up, and he did not complain once.

The best dinner I’ve had in recent memory may be the perfect omelette he whipped up, per Julia Child‘s instructions for a late Sunday night dinner. The kids were in bed, and he left me alone to finish my  work for the day, and when I was done, there it was, the perfect, billowy, tender omelette, much, much better than I’ve ever done.  He made a gorgeous salad with the chicory I’d been avoiding for a couple of weeks, which was still fresh (thank you farmers market) and fresh shelled sweet peas, and a white balsamic vinaigrette. We had fresh bread and a glass of wine, and it was perfect.

So, while he has a proper acknowledgment  in the book, he deserves one sooner than next spring:  Thank you, Kory, for taking care of all of us, for feeding us, and for making the space for me to write when it mattered most.