Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Tuesday night fun cooking: only two weeks late edition!

Last time the kids and I cooked together was two weeks ago. Two weeks! And we're due for another round of TNFC tonight, but right now I've got so many balls in the air I can't make any promises. Next post will feature my kitchen and how badly we need a new one (there's progress on that front, albeit slow).

But for now, how about some catch up? We made tomato soup and cornbread a fortnight ago. Summer really stuck around for most of September (warmest on record for southern Wisconsin), so it didn't really feel like soup weather. However, we had a whole bunch of lovely tomatoes from our CSA and my garden and a couple spares from the school garden, and fortunately the excavators didn't dig up all the herbs growing in my front yard. So we made soup with rice and fresh herbs. (Come to think of it, pasta with fresh tomato sauce would have been pretty good, too. Maybe next time...)

What follows are the few pictures I could take, along with what little I remember from cooking that day. I think Daniel was hot and tired and didn't really want to help out until I told him he could be totally in charge of the cornbread. And Anya was happy to slice tomatoes for 30 minutes. And then Daniel got mad that he wasn't getting a turn with the tomatoes. Someone explain to me why my children like chopping tomatoes so much?

I find it extremely tedious to chop fresh thyme, so I opted for the spice ball.

Chopping herbs
Slicing tomatoes
Below is a picture of my kitchen table, aka my main work space. Isn't it awful? That's what happens when you have three people making two things in a confined, ill-designed space.

Sometimes I look at my kitchen and start grinding my teeth involuntarily. There's no room for anything and if you have more than one person working in there you're constantly bumping into each other and getting in each other's way. This time of year, there's a lot of stuff on the counter like onions and tomatoes and squash and apples and all that lovely fall produce that doesn't go in the fridge, so it's particularly cluttered. Stuart can't really stand to be in there. We've lived here for just over 11 years, so I think the overhaul is long overdue.

Anyway, below is a picture of Daniel's hands carefully measuring flour. Too carefully! He likes to be super-exact about measuring dry ingredients so sometimes it takes forever.

Below is another Instagram-worthy photo of colorful ingredients that tells you nothing except that tomatoes and herbs are pretty.

And here's a snapshot of my dinner right before I ate it: tomato soup, blue cornbread, a little bacon. It was pretty good, if not pretty to look at!

Tomato and rice soup with fresh herbs
Recipe originally from Williams Sonoma Vegetarian, a surprisingly useful book I picked up at the used bookstore when I started TNFC.

  • 3 T. olive oil
  • 1/2 cup garlic cloves cut in half (I used more like 1/4 cup because dude, that is a LOT of garlic)
  • 1 small yellow onion, minced
  • 2.5 cups chopped fresh tomatoes (I probably used twice that amount)
  • 3 cups vegetable stock (I think I used more)
  • 1/3 cup long-grain white rice
  • 3 T. mix of chopped fresh parsley and chives
  • 1 T. chopped mix of fresh oregano and thyme (I used dried oregano and fresh thyme)
  • 1 T. red wine vinegar
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  1. In a heavy saucepan over very low heat, warm the olive oil. 
  2. Add garlic and onion and sautĂ© until very soft, about 15 minutes. 
  3. Add tomatoes and stock, plus 1 cup of water and simmer, uncovered, about 15 minutes.
  4. Add rice and herbs and continue to simmer until rice is cooked, about another 15-20 minutes.
  5. Add vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. Simmer 2 minutes before serving.
Blue Cornbread
Recipe from Breads of the Southwest by Beth Hensperger. I don't remember where I got this book - bargain shelf at Barnes and Noble, perhaps? - but it's a good one, featuring several recipes from Mexican and Native American traditions.

  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup fine-grind blue cornmeal, or marina para atole 
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 and 1/4 cups sour cream or yogurt
  • 1/4 cup corn oil
  • 2 large eggs
  1. Preheat oven to 375 and grease a 9" round pan.
  2. Combine flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  3. In another bowl, combine sour cream, oil and eggs.
  4. Combine wet and dry ingredients, stirring just until combined. Don't overmix.
  5. Spoon batter into the greased pan and bake 25-30 minutes or until it is golden around the edges and the top is dry and springy to the touch. A cake tester inserted into the center should come out clean.
It's been a while since I've done pros and cons! Let's see what I can remember from two weeks ago.

Pros: Both recipes proved delicious. Baking with kids is always a good idea. (Always? Usually.) They like to measure and mix and stir and break eggs. Sharp knives aren't involved. And we all love cornbread. This recipe doesn't call for any sweetener in the batter but we like eating the cornbread with maple syrup, southern style. As for the soup, using fresh local ingredients like tomatoes and onions is a plus, as is harvesting fresh herbs from the yard.

Cons: This meal lacks protein (hence the bacon up there, but I think that's mostly fat.) That could easily be remedied with an egg dish of some sort, or cheesy toast instead of cornbread. 

Also, ever since Anya had to have her finger glued shut that one time, I'm a little more nervous when my kids are using knives. They're careful, I'm careful, and I take care of the trickier vegetables for them. But even slicing tomatoes with a serrated knife I'm watching them like a hawk. The other drawback to these savory recipes is that anything calling for onions sends them running from the kitchen with their eyes streaming. I wear contact lenses and don't have that problem, so I cut the onions for them and start them cooking, and by the time they come back I've got half the soup made. I'm not sure what to do about this. Get them goggles? Avoid onions for the next few weeks? Make them tough it out? 

Anyway, thanks for your patience on this post. We made another delicious soup tonight (which you know about already if you follow me on IG), and I promise it won't take me two weeks to write it up!

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Tuesday Night Fun Cooking! Pastitsio edition

More progress on the renovation this week! Namely two days of concrete pouring. They did the footers yesterday, then came back today to set the forms and pour walls. You guys, it is SO muddy here. I can't even. 

Here's our only way in and out of the house, a ramp to the front door we are affectionately calling "The Gangplank". Part of this project is a new front porch/entryway, and you have to dig below the frostline, which in these parts is at least 4' down, hence the huge pit for a modest concrete stoop.

It will take about 10 days for the cement to dry, so nothing new will happen for more than a week. I let the kids gently scratch their initials into the porch wall (it will get covered up when they do the flatwork in a couple weeks. I'm learning all kinds of new terminology here, see?)

But believe it or not, we actually had Tuesday Night Fun Cooking! on Tuesday night this week. Tuesday is (so far) the only day of the week with no after school obligations for any of us, so as long as I plan things far enough ahead of time, we should be back to TNFC on the proper day of the week for a little while until the kitchen gets dismantled. Then we'll be getting really creative...

I decided we would make Pastitsio this week. I hadn't even heard of this dish until last weekend. We spent the holiday weekend in Indianapolis celebrating the 80th birthday of a spry friend of Stuart's family (they were in South Africa together for some of his growing up years). One evening between festivities we found ourselves at a Greek restaurant, where Daniel ordered Pastitsio, described on the menu as "Greek lasagna." He declared it delicious, so I decided we should all try it at TNFC this week.

I'm not sure how I'd never heard of pastitsio, by the way. It seems to be a popular Greek dish, but it was new to me. When I started hunting for recipes online, I wasn't sure what to think. They all call for SO MUCH MEAT (lamb, mostly, and I have trouble eating lamb because baby sheep are cute. There. I just admitted that.) and a mixture of spices I would never think to add to a pasta dish, like cinnamon. In fact, I have a vague memory of my mom once trying out a pasta recipe that called for cinnamon and she didn't like it at all. It must have been pastitsio?

So I debated...try this recipe with the cinnamon? Leave it out? Make something else altogether? Let my mother's prejudice against cinnamon in pasta dishes influence my choice for Tuesday Night Fun Cooking!? (She doesn't like Cincinnati style chili either, and I love it if it's done right.) In the end I decided to go for it and make pastitsio more or less the way the recipe said, cinnamon and all. If we don't like it, we don't have to make it again.

I know you all are mainly here for the pictures of my kids cooking, so let's get to it!

Anya consults the recipe.
Anya measures the cinnamon.
Daniel dumps meat into the pan. He can't stand touching raw meat, but he loves squishing it out of the package. My apologies to any vegetarians or vegans reading this. 
Anya chops the meat with a handy tool.
Daniel cuts up some fresh mint.
Fancy pants pasta from Italy (via the Willy Street Coop)
Daniel makes the béchamel sauce.
Crumbling goat cheese. 
Possibly my least appetizing plated food photo EVER. Really, this picture looks like I dumped it straight off a school lunch tray. But seriously, it tasted pretty good.
Pastitsio, recipe from the Food52 website with a few adaptations (noted in bold).

Serves 8
For the pasta and meat
  • 1pound dried penne or ziti pasta
  • tablespoon butter
  • 2pounds ground lamb (Lamb is too cute to eat, so we used beef and pork)
  • 2medium onions, diced
  • 1/2cup red wine
  • 1 6ounces can tomato paste (We used 16oz diced tomatoes)
  • teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground sumac (optional) (Left this out, used paprika instead)
  • teaspoon dried mint (optional) (used fresh from the garden)
  • 2cups water (reduced to 1/2 cup since we had diced tomatoes)
  • 6ounces crumbled feta
For the cheese sauce
  • tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • cups milk
  • 1/8teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4cup grated parmesan cheese
  1. Cook the pasta according to package directions, drain and reserve. Stir in the butter to prevent sticking.
  2. In a large saucepan over medium heat, cook the lamb until no longer pink, breaking it into pieces, about 8 minutes. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.
  3. Transfer to a colander and shake well to drain the fat. Return the lamb to the pan, add the wine and cook over medium heat until most of the liquid has evaporated. Stir in the tomato paste, cinnamon, oregano, (sumac and mint if using) and 2 cups of water. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 15 to 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside to cool.
  4. For the cheese sauce, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour until incorporated, about 30 seconds. In a slow steady stream, whisk in the milk until there are no lumps. Cook, whisking often, until the mixture is thick and bubbly and coats the back of a spoon, about 5 - 7 minutes. Stir in the cayenne and the Parmesan.
  5. When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  6. Add the pasta to the lamb mixture and stir to combine. Toss in the feta and combine. Spoon the mixture into a greased 9 x13 inch baking dish. Spread the cheese sauce over the pasta mixture, smoothing the top with a spoon. Bake until browned in spots, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven then allow to cool for about 15 minutes before serving.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

It begins

So this is happening: