The Holidays, y’all

I could attempt to recount the things we’ve eaten over the last week, but really, you can probably imagine it.  You’ve been reading about our meals for a year.  You know that before we go out of town for a few days, we try to eat down the fridge, which is what we did on Wednesday.  You know that on special occasions like our anniversary or a Thursday, we like to have snacks for dinner, which is what we did for Christmas Eve Eve as we watched Love Actually and opened our gifts for each other.  And you know about the holiday excess we’re trying to avoid.

Festive Shane

We spent Christmas in Rockford with my family, including this handsome fellow who dazzled us with his crawling and his good looks:

Christmas Max

There was the traditional Christmas Eve corn chowder, more bland than it should have been, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed with the salt shaker and the most important spice. There were dozens of cookies stashed in the cold garage: gunk bars, brownies, chocolate coconut pinwheels, and sugars.

Mark and Evonne

We had German food for Christmas lunch – Mexican last year – sauerbraten and spaetzle, warm red cabbage, German potato salad, and an assortment of sausages. Somehow – perhaps thanks to the gym – we made room for Swedish pancakes at Stockholm Inn on Sunday, Beef-a-Roo, and cocktails and snacks at Garrett’s with Jenn.

Open wide!

And then on to Lakewood for a few non-holiday days with Shane’s family: tacos and Blizzards with his brothers, scones and excellent coffee at The Root after a visit to Trav’s funny gym:

Post-run olive scone at The Root

A visit to the Cleveland Art Museum, where we saw an incredible Damien Hirst piece made entirely of butterfly wings, followed by a tasty but cold and stressful lunch at Tommy’s in Coventry – I had tempeh salad, nom nom nom. Watching the Hawks win – or at least most of the game – over beers and food with the whole family at Buckeye Beer Engine. Time with kitties, cousins, and grandpa. And a couple of remarkable hot dogs at Happy Dog before heading home:

Happy Dog-14
Photo by edseloh

Among the toppings we tried were blue cheese coleslaw (me), marinated mushrooms (Orin), and habanero pickled red onions (Shane) – plus a really great chimichurri and a garlic-tomato jam for our tater tots.  I wish I had photos of any of this, but despite taking the camera everywhere with us, we only managed a couple of pictures of the cats.  I’ll try harder next time, promise.

1221 Taco Tuesday

Oh hello, Taco Tuesday.  We meet again.  We are utterly devoted to you and your $1 tacos.  We had planned on leftovers tonight, but they could hardly compare to the promise of salty chips, sweet-savory salsa, and, oh yes, tacos al pastor.  Shane had four tacos –  chorizo, chorizo, al pastor and al pastor – which he did his best to enjoy slowly, despite post-workout hangrrr.  I forgot that the hard tacos are superior to the soft, but still enjoyed my shrimp, roasted veggie, and al pastor.

I’m really glad that after a year and change of bemoaning overpriced sandwiches, we found a very cheap favorite place to eat in A2.  A Christmas taco miracle!

1220 Sausages and Polenta

Sausages and polenta are our go-to healthy comfort food.  We’ve made them enough times this year to cement that fact – in the spring with canned tomatoes, with spinach for extra bulk, with cherry tomatoes from the garden – occasionally subbing meatballs for the sausages, but never leaving out the sauce or the buttery polenta.

There are few things better – or easier – to make on a cold and tired Monday night.  I suppose that macaroni and cheese from a box would be easier, as would throwing a frozen pizza in the toaster oven for ten minutes.  We certainly do both of these things often enough.  You do have to open a container of thawed tomato sauce and empty it into a dish, which you then have to place under the broiler.  While it’s warming up, you might need to give your sausages a few minutes in the grill pan – or, if they’re precooked, you might just need to open a packet.  Oh the arduous task of adding the sausages to the warming sauce!  Bring your water to a boil, then whisk in the polenta and reduce the heat.  Cooks Illustrated has a no-stir method, but you have to get behind their pay wall to access it.  If you’ve timed this all right, your sausages will be golden by the time your polenta has absorbed all of the liquid – this took 15 minutes or less tonight – and you can sit down with a delicious dinner.

Recipe:
Basic Polenta from Giada De Laurentiis (I’ve been halving the recipe, which makes enough for four)

1218 Simple Pleasures

rice krispie treats from weikel's bakery in la grange
Photo by sass_face

We’ve been craving – no, fiending for – Rice Krispies treats for the better part of the week. We stopped by the bodega* at the end of our street for ingredients one night, but couldn’t justify paying $5 for a box of cereal and $2.50 for a bag of marshmallows when buying two individual treats (less than $2) could sate our cravings while preventing further treat binges.

True to form, however, the individual treats only made us want more treats. Isn’t that the way it always goes when fat and sugar are involved?

And so I found myself making Rice Krispies treats at 9 o’clock this morning, melting butter and marshmallows while Shane did the breakfast dishes. In an attempt to be fancy, I spread melted butterscotch chips on one half of one pan, and melted peanut butter chips on one half of the other. The melted gooey everything had barely cooled before Shane sliced out a peanut butter coated treat – and then asked me if we could please wrap up the treats in controlled portions. Sure thing. And if this is the only Christmas baking I get to this year, I think that’s just fine.

Rice Krispies treats
Recipe adapted from the Kellogg’s original
3 tablespoons butter
4 cups miniature marshmallows
6 cups Rice Krispies cereal
1/2 cup chocolate, peanut butter, or butterscotch chips (optional)

In a large saucepan, melt the butter, then add the marshmallows and stir until melted. Add the Rice Krispies and stir until coated with sticky goodness. Press into a 9×13 pan or two 9×9 pans.

If you’re feeling fancy, melt 1/2 cup chocolate, peanut butter, or butterscotch chips over medium heat, then use a spatula to spread as thinly as you’d like over as many treats as you’d like. 1/2 cup chips should thickly cover half of a 9×9 pan.

*Side note: I refer to the corner store as a ‘bodega’ because I like to pretend we live in a real city. In Michigan, they’re known as ‘party stores’, which Wikipedia claims is a hold-over from Prohibition.

1217 Leftovers & Recommendations

There’s no polite way to put it: we both slammed leftovers for dinner. Shane’s excuse was that he was starving – mine was a run in 25F weather. It wasn’t pretty.

Rather than elaborate on our voracious eating, let me share a few more blog recommendations with you.

I’ve just started reading Sasasunakku, but her food photography is fantastic, and I have either bookmarked or drooled over everything she’s posted recently. I also really like that she mentions cooking to fight the onset of Hangrrr, the anger that arises from being too hungry.

Pete Bakes hasn’t posted anything in forEVER, which I consider a real travesty. His site is helpfully organized by type of baked good and features great process photos. I’ve had recent success with his English muffins, and look forward to trying a number of other breads in the near future.

Sprouted Kitchen is consistently lovely, and I often wish that our MI seasons were more in line with theirs in CA. Lots of vegetarian-friendly recipes and beautiful baked goods. I just skimmed through a few posts and I’m drooling already!

A Year of Slow Cooking can be hit or miss. On the one hand, there is absolutely no need to ever look elsewhere for a slow cooker or crock pot recipe. On the other hand, the recipes tend to rely on processed foods – individually frozen chicken breasts, etc – and/or are things I’m just not inclined to make. I consider A Year of Slow Cooking a good reference site, but not necessarily a regularly required read.

I would love it if this little nudge were enough to get the Gastronomical 3 posting again. I’ve had the pleasure of sharing the kitchen with two of the three in the last year, and their perspectives on and enjoyment of food are downright wonderful.

1216 Tuna Noodle Casserole Attempt #1

I’ll be honest: I’m looking forward to the end of the Kitchen Diaries project.  It’s not that I don’t like posting about our food – I’m just looking forward to telling you about just the good stuff, the recipes and meals I recommend, the things I’m definitely interested in eating again.  Tonight’s dinner is a good example of this – it was a fine recipe, probably better than the original, but still needs some refinement before I feel comfortable recommending it.  Instead I give you what I made, amended with notes at the bottom, and will look forward to giving you a real knock out version of this sometime in the future.

Tonight was my first stab at the 25 Recipes challenge – specifically at fancying up tuna noodle casserole. I started from this Martha Stewart recipe, as it didn’t call for canned soup and added in a couple of vegetables – a step in the right direction. Shane doesn’t like artichokes, so I left them out, instead adding in a handful of slow-roasted cherry tomatoes from the freezer. I subbed 2% milk for whole, and two big shallots for the scallions.

Tuna Noodle ingredients

Ingredients:
Olive oil
Coarse salt and ground pepper
6 oz wide egg noodles
1 red, orange, or yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
2 large shallots
1/4 cup slow-roasted (or sun dried) tomatoes
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups milk
2 5 oz cans tuna packed in oil, drained
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan

Making the sauce

Preheat your oven to 400. Lightly oil or spray a baking tray. Saute your veg – in this case, shallots and peppers – in a tablespoon or two of oil, and season liberally with salt and freshly-ground black pepper. Add 1/4 cup flour to thicken, then gradually add 2 1/2 cups milk and stir til combined. Bring to a simmer.

Noodles and tuna

In a separate pan, cook your noodles until just before al dente – or about two minutes short of the recommended cook time. Drain, then return to the pan. I tossed the noodles with the drained tuna in hopes of preventing giant noodle knots, which didn’t really work.

Ready to bake

Add the sauce to the tuna and noodles and stir to combine. Pour everything into your prepared tray, then top with the shredded Parmesan. Bake for 20 minutes, or until everything is golden and bubbly and the noodles on top have crisped up a bit.

Ready to eat?

Should yield 4 large servings – dinner-sized portions if you’re not eating anything else – or 6 smallish servings, which would be good with a salad or another small side dish.

IMG_5770

Notes:

  1. I seasoned the heck out of the veg, but the resulting casserole was surprisingly bland. More seasoning next time, please!
  2. More vegetables next time – perhaps peas and mushrooms instead?  The orange pepper added very little flavor or texture to the dish.  The tomatoes were good, and if I were making this just for me, I’d probably add some olives, both of which would make it more “Mediterranean” than the Martha Stewart original
  3. While I’m sure it would’ve been richer with whole milk, I’m fine with the 2% substitution.
  4. The crispy noodles on top were the best parts.  Maybe add some caramelized onions or – in keeping with the spirit of the processed-foods original – French fried onions?