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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

On Failure

Today was one of those days that just did not go the way I wanted it to.* Ordinarily on Tuesdays, I get off work at noon, hit the grocery store, and then have lots of time to spend working on whatever projects I've got going at home in the evening. I had planned to fire up the grill and slow-cook some spare ribs for several hours while working on a little reupholstery project I'm in the midst of.* Oh, but life had a different plan for me. If any of you don't know, my job is as a nanny to a delightful 15-month-old girl, and her Tuesday afternoons are time with her grandmother.

Around breakfast time, she called to tell me she wasn't feeling well, so I ended up working until 4:30pm. Which totally blew my plans for a grocery trip followed by 4-6 hours of slow rib cooking, because that would have me eating dinner about 3 hours after bedtime. No good. Thankfully, Julia volunteered to squeeze shopping into her tech week (thanks, honey. I love you!) and she started the ribs before I left work, so that left me getting home at a decent hour and having a (very) late dinner (alone, due to Julia's aforementioned being in tech.)

So, when I got home I proceeded to cook the ribs, turning them, marinating them, etc. and did a little work on the chair, and then as the ribs were finally nearing the end of cook time around 10pm, I made some plantains. Sounds great, right?

Well. It was not. It wasn't an epic fail like that time I tried to recreate Chief O'Neill's Guinness Cheddar Soup. But. It was not good. The ribs somehow got overcooked, even though they were undercooked the last time I checked on them. The plantains were bland and too crunchy. My plans for awesome BBQ photos that would leave you drooling on your keyboards were dashed. In short - it was a big plate of "eh."

Which I get to eat again for lunch tomorrow. Aha! The downside of always making extra dinner so you never have to pack lunch. Way too much effort for so little reward.

Oh well, failure happens. For now, I'll be happy I'm not going hungry like so many are, and tomorrow I will try again. (Not ribs though. Something faster. And with less chance of blergh.)

*Grammar note: Yeah, I ended two sentences in this paragraph with prepositions. That is one grammar rule I just cannot get on board with. The awkward sentences that result when you try to avoid ending with a preposition are, well, awkward. And snotty-sounding. So I don't do it. All three of you reading this probably know already that I am a high-ranking member of the Grammar Police, and I am all over that shit, especially its v. it's and effect v. affect, but this rule? Stupid. Deal with it. No one's making you read this, after all.

Monday, May 30, 2011

In Which I Try To Keep Plants Alive

A month or so ago, I planted a bunch of seeds into some egg cartons, watered them faithfully, and hoped for the best. I do not have a great track record when it comes to plants. Has anyone ever given you a plant and said, "Don't worry, no one can kill this kind of plant"? Was the plant in question jade, aloe, a spider plant, or mint (which is known for needing to be aggressively cut back lest it take over your entire yard)? Because, friends, I have killed every one of those. (Sorry, Mom. You can send me more cuttings if you want. Apparently, the green thumb you got from Grandpa skipped me right over, but I'm trying.) And a bunch of other things too.

[Except the flowers I planted when we moved into our condo three years ago, which have inexplicably survived. I was sure were dead since I began neglecting them almost as soon as they were in the window box. Those flowers came back entirely on their own last summer, just in time for our wedding - I even wore a couple blooms in my hair! Those flowers? They are back again this year. So - they must really be invincible.]

So, I am happy to report that there are lots of little things sprouting up on our back porch right now. I am keeping my fingers crossed that they will mature into large and lovely actual plants, and someday? Full-grown veggies, fruits, and herbs we can actually ingest. Cause that would be awesome.

cherry tomatoes (left) & regular tomatoes (right)

one teeny tiny, hard-to-see kale sproutling

cilantro (second from right) and scallions (right)

strawberry plant that Julia gave me on the night of our we-met-five-years-ago anniversary

swiss chard (seeds from One Seed Chicago)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

On the Menu This Week

Photo by Jonny Valiant/Real Simple
I thought it might be fun to put our weekly menus up on the blog. Maybe it will give you some ideas for your own meal planning, or maybe you'll just pester me for pictures and then I'll actually remember to take them. [For example, on Friday night, I made this Balsamic-glazed Lamb Meatloaf with Cannelini Bean Salad, but since we didn't get around to dinner until 10pm, by which time we were starving, no photo was taken. And last night I made Chili-Glazed Pork with Sweet Potato Hash, but I was home alone and remembered my camera after I was halfway done eating, which is not so pretty... so I swiped these pictures from the internet, and I am happy to report that both our meals looked and tasted as good as them.]

Photo by Con Poulos/Real Simple
In any case, here's what we're planning to eat in the near future. As I mentioned (I think?), we try to eat vegetarian at least 3 nights a week. To fill out the week, we do 2 fish meals (usually salmon and basa fillets), 1 poultry night (chicken, unless there's a holiday), and 1 meat (lamb, pork, or beef). Rather than breaking this down by day, I'll divide by type of meal. Recipes are linked where possible. (You'll notice a lot of them come from Real Simple. They have great, interesting, easy recipes which include side dishes, so we look there a lot.)

Three-Bean Chili with Spring Pesto
Southwestern Sweet Potato & Quinoa Salad
Chickpeas with Chard and Pan-Roasted Tomatoes

Salmon with Lemon-Cilantro Vinaigrette (a favorite that takes less than 20 minutes!)
Crispy Fish with Tomato & Leek Saute; Mixed Greens

Lasagna or Tacos, depending on what I'm in the mood for
Cayenne Chicken with Avocado Salsa; Mashed Plantains with Leeks & Fresh Herbs

A little meal-planning analysis: chickpeas, leeks, tomatoes, avocados, and cilantro are all used in more than one recipe. I always try to use cilantro in more than one thing because the bunches at our grocery stores are HUGE. See my post from the other day here.

What are you cooking up this week?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A New Cookbook

It's Saturday on a holiday weekend, so I'm gonna keep this short and sweet. 

Yesterday, my copy of The Chicago Homegrown Cookbook: Local Food, Local Restaurants, Local Recipes arrived, and I am pretty stoked about it. I cannot wait to dive into some of the recipes inside. Maybe as soon as next week. Especially since the farmers' markets are about to start up, and fresh, local produce will be readily available. I'm sure I'll have more to say after I've cooked through it a bit, but for now? Yum!

What are your favorite cookbooks?

The link above will take you to Amazon, which has both paper and Kindle versions available. It appears to be available, at least locally, at the big chains, and I'm sure it will appear in some smaller operations as well. I'll post an update if I find out where.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

We Are Stage Managers, And Therefore We Plan What To Eat.

We haven't always been meal planners. In fact, we only started doing it about a year ago. Friends, if you aren't doing this, you are seriously missing out. I know it sounds like a lot of effort, and like you have to be really anal and/or an amazing cook to make it happen, but I promise it's really not that bad. Without further ado, pros and cons and how we do it.

  • Save Money. When you've planned a whole week (or more) of meals, you hit the store with a really functional list. If you stick to it (takes a little practice, and yeah, sometimes I still fail at it) you will avoid most impulse purchases, which means you spend less.
  • Shop less often (and Save Money.) Way fewer stops on the way home because we're out of this or that or we need to pick up something for dinner tonight and oh god, what do we feel like making and do we have any couscous left in the pantry? Seriously, this point alone could just about convince me. Fewer stops = fewer impulse buys = spend less money.
  • Waste less food (and Save Money. See a theme here?) You only buy stuff that's going in a recipe plus any pantry staples you're running low on. If you pay attention when you plan, you can make several meals using similar ingredients, thus avoiding that half-bunch of cilantro rotting in the veggie drawer. Plus, you don't buy a bunch of grapes and then forget about them. Everything you buy, you use. 
Ok, onto non-financially tangible benefits. 
  • No more frantically wondering what to make. Once you've planned, you don't have to think about it until the next planning period. You just look at your plan and do what it says.
  • Easy lunches plus a portion-control bonus. We make all our dinner recipes to serve four. We serve two portions onto plates to eat, and immediately pack up the other two servings for the next day's lunch. Let me tell you how long it takes me to pack my lunch for work: however long it takes me to get it out of the refrigerator and put it in my lunch bag. Done and done. If you are not a morning person, this helps. (And maybe it should go above, because packing lunch means not buying lunch which equals saving money.) As for the bonus - because we pack lunch when we serve, not when we clean up, there is no going back for seconds. It forces us to eat the amount we are supposed to. (Not a fail-safe though, some recipe portion sizes are out of control to begin with, so... you gotta watch for that.)
  • Healthy eating just got way easier. When you sit down and plan your meals while you're neither hungry nor at the grocery store, it's easy to decide on lean proteins, more fish, less fat and sugar, and plenty of vegetables instead of whatever you can defrost fastest because you got off work late and you're famished and you just want to eat already.
  • Less spontaneity. The menu is pointless if you don't stick to it, so, yeah, sometimes you're not going to be in the mood for whatever you decided on last Tuesday. And if your spouse did the planning this week and your food preferences differ, you risk a week of meals that you don't necessarily love.
  • Time spent planning. Particularly if you are not already sitting on a stash of tried and true recipes, this can be somewhat time-consuming. (Though if you keep it up, you will build that stockpile pretty quickly.)
  • You have to cook it. Working on the assumption that your meal plan isn't going to be comprised of frozen dinners that you only need to pop in the oven, you'll likely be spending more time and effort cooking than you have in the past. And sometimes, you just won't feel like doing it and neither will your spouse.
  • Know Thyself. Meal planning does not have to equal gourmet cooking. As you know, we enjoy making fancy meals, but we are busy busy busy like everyone else, so most of the time we are looking for recipes with basic ingredients that take 30 minutes or less. [Should I start a "quick dinners" series?] Because after a long day at work, when you're hungry before you even get home, you do not want dinner prep to take any longer to make than the pizza or Chinese you're thinking about ordering would. Know what your personal limits are, in both skills and in time available.
  • Write it down! The menu and the grocery list. And check the list against the recipes twice. And then check the pantry to make sure you're not running low on anything you've put on your mental "I don't need to buy that because we always have some on hand" list. For real. And it's homey and fun to keep a menu on your fridge.
  • Shop the sales flyers. Before you plan, glance at the weekly sales from your regular grocery store(s). Plan your meals around what's on sale (which, produce-wise, also tends to be what's in season, so there's some effortless 'cooking seasonally' for you) and you will save money.
  • Pick meals that go together. Mentioned above, but let's say you're having tacos this week. A bunch of cilantro can be shared with a salmon dish, which can share couscous with a chickpea dish, which can share Swiss chard with veggie lasagna... and on and on.
  • Be flexible. I usually plan 8-10 dinners and do a big shopping trip every other week, knowing that there will be a few nights we don't feel like cooking or we have extra leftovers or whatever, and those extra meals will be filled in with simple staples like pasta or homemade pizza or even a meal out from time to time. I also plan the number of meals, but not really which day we'll eat them on. That way I can decide a little more based on what we're in the mood for. We do 3 vegetarian nights each week, so there's usually an alternative to a meat or fish dish if we don't feel like having it. Flexibility ends there though, since to swap out a veggie meal, we have to defrost a protein... Anyway, leave yourself some wiggle room and don't feel guilty if you don't stick exactly to your plan.
And that's all there is to it. Questions? Fire away.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A New Title!

It came to me in a flash of brilliance (while pondering what to blog about today.) What do you think of this:

cooking, sewing, laughing, talking, dreaming, fighting, making up a life

...thoughts? edits? too cheesy? help.

[p.s. to anyone who wandered over here from Lollygag Blog today... I'm not usually this short-winded and boring. Sorry. Please check the archives for something more exciting. Perhaps our very first post, which features one P.J. Schoeny, wedding officiant extraordinaire. Or some New England Clam Chowder? I have a feeling you're a bunch that might appreciate that.]

Sunday, May 22, 2011

How to Make Yummy Sauce

Growing up, my mom did nearly all of the cooking, but once in a while we'd get treated to a meal made by Dad. (Who should really cook more often, because he's pretty good at it.) Through some kind of magical Dad-in-the-kitchen osmosis, I have learned to make excellent burgers, meatloaf, and anything even remotely Italian. [It should be noted that as far as I know, there is no Italian blood in our family whatsoever.] If you ask, my Dad will tell you that he just memorized the recipes from The Joy of Cooking, but I am certain he added his own little twists. As do I, in my grown-up kitchen. Anyway, on these special days, I'd watch him put this and that into a big pot and then smell it simmering for hours and hours, at the end of which was a tasty pan of lasagna or dish of spaghetti and meatballs. (We'll talk about meatballs, meatloaf, and burgers some other time.)

Friends, it's time to let you in on the secret to great pasta/pizza sauce. Are you ready? Here it is:

Taste, taste, and then taste some more.

Your taste buds are the single most important tool you have, and you will need them to make great sauce. I'll tell you how I make mine in a minute, but first I'll say this: next time you pick up a jar of your favorite pasta sauce at the grocery store, turn it over and read the ingredients. Minus the things you can't pronounce and nasty things like high fructose corn syrup, this is what you're gonna want to put in your home made sauce. I can't give you anything more than approximate amounts because I never measure anything when I make sauce. I just keep checking until it smells right, and then I taste it to make sure. That said, here's my basic recipe.

What You Need:
big can of crushed tomatoes (I use the large, 28.something size)
1 or 2 actual tomatoes, your favorite variety, garden fresh if you can get 'em
a few cloves of garlic
generous handful of fresh parsley
small handfuls of basil, oregano, and thyme
a small onion or half of a large one (I like the big yellow Spanish onions, or use a Vidalia if you prefer a sweeter sauce)
salt and pepper to taste
a healthy pinch of sugar

How to Make It:
1. Put everything into a large sauce pot over medium-high heat until it starts bubbling and spurting. Turn the heat down a little so it's not making a Pollack masterpiece on your stove top, and let it cook for a few minutes. Taste and add whatever additional spice it needs. [Or revel in the perfection of correctly-guessed amounts.] Reduce heat to low and simmer for as long as you like. Continue tasting and adjusting until you like the flavor.

Really, it's that simple.

Here are some extra tips:
- I have been known to cook up the whole sauce, including a very, very short simmer time while making the pasta it's going over. The longer simmer really gets the herb flavors into the tomatoes, but if you're in a hurry, a quick and chunky sauce can be done in about 20 minutes and still tastes better than the jar.
- To quickly peel garlic, smash the cloves with the flat side of your knife. The peels will split and you can pull them off really fast without getting too much garlic under your fingernails. If you smash with extra force, you will also mush the garlic itself, which make the mincing easier. Your choice of traditional mincing with a knife or putting them through a garlic press. I'm a knife girl myself, largely because I never owned a garlic press until I met Julia, and because I hate cleaning them!
- The longer you simmer, the more your tomatoes will break down. I usually do about a 1/2" dice, which turns them to sauce pretty fast. For me, it's not about the sauce texture so much as it's about having the flavor of fresh tomatoes in with the canned. If you want to be super-authentic about it, you can skip the canned altogether and increase the amount of tomatoes. Just remember the volume will be reduced as it cooks, so you need more than you think.
- Put all the herbs in one big pile on your cutting board and chop them all at the same time. A bigger pile of leafy greens is easier for the knife to go through, at least in my experience. I like to start at one end of the board and chop my way to the other, which flattens out the pile as I go. Then I use the edge of the knife to re-pile it, and go at it again from a different direction. (Rotate the cutting board if, like I do, you have trouble cutting from more than one direction.)
- Unless you enjoy eating big chunks of onion, dice yours pretty small (1/4" is how I like them). They will not shrink or dissolve as they cook.
- The technical measurement for a pinch is generally agreed to be 1/8 teaspoon, but I really do stick my hand in the sugar jar and pinch. Like in the olden days, when we churned our own butter.
- My Dad always added ground beef to his sauce for a meaty marinara. You could do that, or you could add mushrooms, peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, or whatever you like into your sauce. Don't be afraid to experiment - cooking is an adventure*!

*Not to be confused with baking, which is a hard science.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Secret's in the Sauce

Actually, that's a lie. The secret is high-quality, fresh ingredients. (Like the Papa John's commercials say, "Better Ingredients. Better Pizza." And, well, they are better than some. But still not especially great.) I like to keep my pizzas simple and fresh, which means I don't put too many different things on and I try to get the best ingredients I can. Because I know you want these pizzas at your house, today I'm sharing recipes.

A disclaimer: I was in a terribly, crabby-ass mood yesterday, and pretty mad that I had to make dinner at all, let alone think about taking any pictures of it. So. I didn't. And it doesn't look great cold in the refrigerated foil packs I stored it in. So you will have to use your imaginations to picture what the Mediterranean & French (see my favorite toppings, below) pizzas I made last night looked like...

So, let's start with the DOUGH. Here's what you'll need:
(this recipe taken from America's Test Kitchen book Baking Illustrated, which everyone should own. It's full of delicious science.)

1/2 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)*
1 packet or 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups water at room temperature
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups flour (bread flour is better if you have it, but I never do, and it's always fine)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Extra olive oil for coating the bowl
Extra flour for kneading

*If you don't have a thermometer or you're too lazy to use one (but, really, you're making pizza from scratch so, come on, you are not too lazy...) you can stick your finger in to test it. It should be pretty warm but not scalding. Warmer than a baby's bath, but not quite as warm as your shower. Hot enough to wash dishes in but not as hot as your tap will go.

1. Sprinkle yeast into the warm water. Do it slowly so each little bit has a chance to get wet. Stir gently if you must to do so. Let sit for 5 minutes while you gather the rest of the ingredients and get your mixer out.

2. Using paddle attachment on the lowest speed setting, combine salt and flour in the bowl of your standing mixer.

3. Once yeast is starting to bubble and smell yeasty, add room temperature water and olive oil to it and stir.

4. Again with mixer on the lowest speed, slowly pour yeast/water/oil mixture into the dry ingredients. When it starts to form a cohesive mass, switch to the dough hook. Let the mixer do all the work, and in about 5 more minutes the dough will be smooth and elastic.

5. Brush the inside of a large bowl with olive oil. Form dough into a ball and put it in the bowl, turning it over once to cover it in oil. Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel and set in a warmish place (65-70 degrees). Let rise until doubled in size, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

(Now is a good time to go make your sauce and prep all your toppings. You'll also want to put a baking stone in your oven, if you have one, and preheat to 500 or as hot as it goes. The secret to awesome pizza is a really hot oven, so do this sooner rather than later. I preheat my oven for a full hour.)

6. Get two pieces of parchment paper just larger than pizza size ready. We'll use those to keep the pizza from sticking to the baking stone and for ease of getting it in and out of the oven. Divide the dough into two pieces. Roll each into a ball. Now, you're going to shape this into a proper pizza crust. I like to make flatten the ball into a disc first. Then I make fists with both hands and put the dough on top of them. Then kinda punch in the general direction of the ceiling as you rotate the dough in a circle. It will thin and spread out. Keep going until it's just about pizza-sized. If your ambitious, you can actually toss it in the air. It's not that hard - really - and it's super fun. Plus, you know, it helps the dough spread out. Then put it down on the parchment paper and press it the rest of the way into a circle. About 1" from the edge, go ahead and press extra deep so that the edge rolls up and forms that rounded crust you're looking for. (I realize now that this step really, really wants pictures. Next time. Promise.)

7. Almost done! Brush the crust with a little bit of olive oil, then use a fork to poke lots of holes all over the middle part. (Don't put any holes in the outer crust edge.) Spread a thin layer of sauce (or not, if you like more) and then add your toppings. I recommend putting non-cheese toppings on first, and then covering them with the cheese. You can do it how you like, but note that putting any fresh herbs and greens (spinach, etc.) under the cheese will keep them from wilting and drying out as it bakes.

8. Using a pizza peel (ha! right, like you have one. I don't.) or a rimless baking sheet (that's more like it), transfer the pizza on its parchment paper to the baking stone. Parchment paper is oven-safe; it will turn brown while it cooks. DO NOT USE WAX PAPER. It will melt. If you don't have parchment, sprinkle your prep surface and the baking stone with a thin layer of cornmeal to prevent sticking.

9. Bake until cheese is browned, about 10 minutes. Yep, that's all it takes when your oven is good and hot. Using the baking sheet or pizza peel, transfer pizza and parchment to a cutting board.

10. Slice and serve with a big glass of wine!

Onto the SAUCE!
Admittedly, I cheated last night because I was grumpy, and I used a jar of tomato-basil marinara instead of whipping up my own. And seeing how long this post is already, I think I'll save homemade sauce for another day.
Moving on...

Some of my favorite pizza TOPPINGS are:

Lamb - ground, pre-cook until it's about halfway done; I like to shape it into tiny balls
Feta - fresh from the deli is the way to go
Red Onion

Ham - I get deli ham and ask for one or two super-thick slices, and then I cube it
Gruyère - shred directly onto pizza
Shallots - yum! I love shallots on lots of things, and pizza is no exception

Traditional Margherita
Tomato (sliced) - I prefer Roma, but if you have access to garden fresh tomatoes of any kind, definitely use those!
Basil - fresh, whole leaf, not the stuff you sprinkle from a jar. It makes a HUGE difference!
Mozzarella - best fresh from the deli, still in the liquid, rather than the little 'gourmet' packaged kind

Veggie Lovers - you can use any veggies you like; here are some suggestions
Spinach - I like baby spinach for this
Artichoke Hearts
Arugula - sounds weird, tastes good
Bell peppers
Mushrooms - I hate mushrooms and I pick them off, but other people seem to enjoy them.
Fresh Herbs - whatever you have on hand; oregano, basil, thyme, and parsley are all good

Ham - I like Canadian bacon style or deli ham
Pineapple - I like the rings as opposed to chunks, you can make a pretty pattern with them on your pie

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What's in a Name?

This is going to be a short and sweet post, sans food. (I know, what?)

One of the reasons I haven't kept up with this blog (besides my inability to commit to regular writing) is that sometimes, I don't want to write about food.

So. I am considering an expansion to allow for posts about stuff we're sewing, possibly home improvements and/or organization, and maybe even some general personal life stuff.

What do you think about that? Are you interested?

And if you are, we're gonna need a new name for the blog. Because "What's for Dinner?" really won't cover all that. Please share your brilliant ideas for a new moniker.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

On Sundays We Have Breakfast Together

Confession: I've been totally spoiled for the past year or so with togetherness. Since Julia and I both started new jobs last spring, we have had all of our evenings together and the better part of the daytime on the weekends too. Arguably, we were spending *too* much time together, and we could have used a little more apart.

But then, Julia added a regular show to her schedule, putting her at work Wednesday-Friday evenings and most of the daytime plus evenings on Saturdays and Sundays. I've continued my Monday-Friday regular(ish) work hours. Which has left us with precious little time together in the past couple of months. For a while, she'd get home after I was in bed and I'd leave before she woke up and the only time we'd really see each other was on Sunday nights (and maybe Monday or Tuesday night if she wasn't working on costume design for yet another show...). Finally, the kids' show ended, and so the past few weekends we've been able to have breakfast together and hang out for a bit before she has to head out to work.

Maybe I haven't mentioned this before, but I love to make breakfast. The list of things I am good at cooking goes like this:

Cake (& other desserts)
Everything Else

And since we are trying to eat better, I am not making many cakes these days. (But if you have a birthday coming up, you should really tell me your favorite flavor because I barely need an excuse.)

So... with our new schedule, which will thankfully be done at the beginning of June, I've been making nicer breakfasts on our weekend mornings than usual. Yesterday, we had buckwheat pancakes (from a mix I picked up in the organic/hippie/gluten-free section of the big box grocery store) and they were pretty good. The first few bites were very whole-grainy, and inexplicably I was not expecting that. (What? I'd never had buckwheat before.) But once I accepted that, they were rather tasty.

And this morning I made some French toast from a loaf of crusty bread, bacon, and really good scramble eggs. I didn't take any pictures but I'm gonna share a couple recipes with you, in case you like these foods. (And if you are a bacon lover, you should get yourself over to Bacon du Jour immediately.)

Challah French Toast
challah - 1/2 loaf will totally stuff 2-3 people; a whole loaf will make 4-6 people pretty happy
eggs - 3-4 for half a loaf, another 2-3 for the whole loaf; depends on how egg-y you like it
a tablespoon of creme fraiche or Greek yogurt or heavy cream
a teaspoon or so of honey
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
dash of cinnamon (optional)

1. Preheat griddle to 350 degrees or grill pan to about halfway between medium and medium-high.

2. Cut challah into 1" thick slices.

3. In a large bowl, beat eggs, creme fraiche/yogurt/cream, honey, vanilla, and cinnamon. It's helpful to use a wider, shallower bowl if you have it.

4. Dip the challah into the egg mixture, turning it over so that it's completely coated. (If you like your French toast really egg-y, let it sit in the bowl for a second or two on each side.)

5. Put the challah on the griddle. Flip it over when the bottom side is lightly browned (1-2 minutes): cook for an additional 1-2 minutes until the other side is golden too.

6. Serve with butter and pure maple syrup or with freshly whipped cream and berries. [Or whatever else you like.] Be warned that it's already fairly sweet from the honey, so you'll want to avoid a heavy hand with any sweet toppings.

Really Good Scrambled Eggs
3 eggs
1 tablespoon butter
spoonful of creme fraiche or Greek yogurt
salt & pepper, to taste
fresh herbs (optional)

So here is a different way to make scrambled eggs, which results in moist, fluffy, creamy egg deliciousness. I learned it on the internet from a YouTube video, so please don't give me credit. In fact, you should just go watch it here.

1. Use a medium sauce pot (yeah, NOT a skillet) over medium-high heat. Crack the eggs in and add the butter.

2. Stirring constantly, you're going to move it on and off the heat every 30 seconds or so for 2-3 minutes. At this point the eggs will be starting to form scrambled clumps, but still a bit runny.

3. With the pot off the heat, add the creme fraiche or yogurt and keep stirring. The eggs will continue to cook. Add in the salt and pepper, plus fresh herbs if you like. (I often use parsley because it's almost always on hand; chives, basil, and/or oregano are also lovely.)

Now that we've eaten, I'm off to work on some house cleaning and sewing. (Yes, I am SO domestic.)

Happy Sunday.

Saturday, May 14, 2011


- OR - 
An Appropriate Day* on Which to Remember This Blog Exists
(and Therefore Write Something)

So. It has come to my attention multiple times and from multiple sources this week that, oh yeah, this blog exists. And also? I've written nothing in it since October. I could give you excuses, but who cares? The point is, here we are, and I have some food to share with you. And I'm thinking, in the future, I will be sharing other things that I make. Like, clothes and stuff. And maybe some posts just about life, where no stuff is even made at all. [Travesty!] Plus, I don't believe in guilt.

Five years ago, my hair was short and long enough to be an appropriate length for a Louis XIV-era pageboy. Which is what I was dressed as for schlepping the scenery around Remy Bumppo's production of Power. Julia had worked on their previous show, and so she decided to come to the opening night to support her friends in the production. At the party which followed the performance that night, our eyes met across the crowd, and we've basically been inseparable ever since.**

Anyway.... Julia surprised me with a super fancy dinner at Dale Levitski's (of Top Chef fame) restaurant, Sprout. Which was AWESOME. Their deal is you get your choice of dishes for an appetizer, entree, and dessert course, and the chef decides on a soup/salad and cheese course for you. Total of five courses, if you're counting. They also have a wine pairing option, and I have to say - it was phenomenal. I don't remember exactly what I drank, but I do remember that the food made the wine taste better and vice versa. Here's the rundown:

To start off, we were presented with a delicious baguette and white bean butter. It was reminiscent of hummus and rather tasty.

For the first course, I had smoked duck breast with foie gras foam, cornbread, and sour cherry sauce served with greens, cucumber, and pickled ramps. Overall, it was excellent, though I did not really care for the foam. It was very... foamy... and not very foie gras-y. Julia had a seared scallop with salmon, pineapple, soy beans and mixed greens. The bite I stole was fantastic.

As you can tell, we enjoyed it, because we both cleaned our plates before it occurred to me that I wanted to take a picture.

Before I tell you about the second course, there's something you should know about me: I HATE PICKLES. Hate, hate, hate them... a LOT. [Except for that one time a few months ago when I was suddenly craving pickles and so I ate about 5 of them and they were really good. And before you ask - no, I wasn't pregnant.] You can ask my wife, my sister, my best friend, or anyone else who knows me well, and they will tell you that whenever I'm served something that comes with pickles... I am offering it to them for eating. Because I will not have that.

So, the second course was a soup (Chef's choice) - a play on Borscht, with a twist - instead of the customary red beets, they used golden beets and it was topped with...

... a pickled pickle!

Well, guess what, friends? I ate that pickled pickle and it was delicious. The soup itself was also wonderful, and I am pretty sure I said something to the effect of, "I may like this better than the really awesome duck I just ate."

Oh, but then there was this:

That's rabbit with truffle gnocchi, pistachios, peas, a super-thin sliver of cheese (something hard, maybe Parmesan?) and arugula over some kind of wonderful, creamy sauce. It was rich and wonderful, and I couldn't stop eating it. Except that I had to take a break about halfway through because it was also quite filling. I wondered if I'd be able to finish it all. And then I contemplated - out loud - the possibility that I might not have room for dessert. Um.... what?? That is unheard of.

While I was having these dilemmas, Julia was enjoying a seaweed and mussel dish with beef sashimi and sesame broth. As he poured the steaming sesame-chili broth into the bowl, our delightful waiter informed us that the reason it was poured table side was so that it would cook the beef ever-so-slightly as it sat in front of us. Neat. Julia thought the dish was amazing.

Next we had the other Chef's choice, a cheese course. I was expecting a small assortment of exotic cheeses, but what came out was the fanciest grilled cheese I've ever seen. It was made with an organic, aged Cheddar from Canada, coupled with apple slices and caramelized onions. Next to it on the plate was a bit of raisin-mustard to spread on it. I failed to take a picture, but despite my full belly, I finished it in short order.

And then, it was on to dessert. (Now, remember earlier, how I was so full I thought I wouldn't have room? I definitely didn't. But that didn't stop me from trying.) Lately I have been eyeing the rhubarb as it's started to show up in the grocery stores, so when I saw it paired with strawberries and goat cheese gelato in the dessert choices, I had to have it. In case you weren't paying attention, I just said goat cheese gelato. Wow. It was a giant plate of yummy.


Luckily, Julia was there, and after she finished her dessert, she took care of mine too.*** And by the way - she has a serious aversion to goat cheese. So she really took one for the team this time.

Lillet. It was very good, but more citrus-y than I like my desserts.

After we finished our dessert, the waiter came back - and not with the check! Instead, he was carrying two glasses of champagne, on the house, to help us celebrate five years together. Which, he declared, was a really, really long time in gay years, and therefore worthy of their best bubbles.

- The End -
(of the first five years)

Oh, wait! I almost forgot: once the meal was over, we headed to a theatre because Julia had some costume fittings to do for an upcoming show. It just so happened to be the very theatre whose lobby we'd met in five years prior. So, we had a chance to revisit the night we meant in a very literal sense, and Julia snuck in a card, some chocolate mousse truffle things (which I was still too full to eat) and a strawberry plant. Because a few weeks ago, I mentioned that I saw them outside the grocery store and almost bought them because I desperately want to grow berries and veggies, but didn't because we only have a porch, not a yard, but then after that, the parents of the girl I nanny offered their yard up for anything I felt like growing... so it was really sweet. 

Here are some really terrible cell phone camera pictures of us attempting to look cute in said theatre lobby:

*well, it would have been appropriate if I had actually written or posted this on that day. But I digress...

**yeah, so there was that whole thing where Julia dated another girl for two months while I pursued her relentlessly, but eventually she realized she felt the same way about me as I did about her, and that's what really matters. [If you want the full story, ask and I will write a post about it for you.]

***Because that's what married people do - take care of each other('s unfinished food.)