Menu 47 – Middle East FEAST!

My first favorite entertaining phrase is “make ahead.” My second is “room temperature” especially in summer months. There are few things that make for a relaxed party or dinner than a made ahead meal served room temperature.

This past weekend I had my mother in town AND my mother in law – two women who love me no matter what I serve, but who we also love to cook for. So we did. And boy what a feast it was – the oohing and ahhing – and not just because they are The Moms – they actually liked it!

This menu is Middle East/Jerusalem inspired. Start with almonds – roasted and salted – and olives (the best you can find). Next, a series of salads. Tomatoes and cucumbers; raw squash with a light dressing and feta; burnt eggplant with pomegranate seeds. I also made Green Couscous (for the love of Yotam!) and it’s so easy and different and good.

For the main, we went grilled rack of lamb. You have a lot of leeway here with the main – the salads would go nicely with grilled or roasted chicken, steak, pork or even fish. It’s hard to go wrong so go with what you like best. Since we had the grill going, we toasted up some flatbreads too.

Of course we wanted dessert. We got the most amazing baklava – two kinds – pistachio and walnut. No way was I making baklava. I am not insane. There are certain things one should almost always buy. Support your local businesses – buy baklava.

And that was that. It’s a fair amount of washing and chopping but with a bit of planning (LOVE planning), you can have everything done by 3pm and resting, then just fire up your grill. Put everything on your table on large platters and have at it. One of my favorite menus ever.

Menu 47 - 8 11 2016

 

Tips and Notes

Tomatoes and Cucumbers – this doesn’t really need a recipe (Kirby cucumbers; colorful tomatoes cut into odd shapes; a little red onion; maybe you grate a garlic clove on it; red wine or sherry vinegar; olive oil; salt/pepper; time to come together). But if you must – this is a good basic version: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/rachael-ray/tomato-onion-and-cucumber-salad-recipe.html

Burnt Eggplant – Oh how I love Yotam. Seriously buy his cookbooks. http://www.athoughtforfood.net/blog/burnt-eggplant-with-lemon-garlic-and-pomegranate-seeds

Raw Squash and Feta – puurrty…http://cookieandkate.com/2013/summer-squash-salad-with-lemon-citronette/

More Yotam, Green Couscoushttp://www.marthastewart.com/348890/green-couscous

And the Bakalva – if you don’t have a middle eastern store near you, look here: https://www.amazon.com/Baklawa-Baklava-Walnuts-28-30-Pieces/dp/B0002HDM06

 

Menu 46 – Life Happens

Sometimes, even with the best of intentions, home cooking just doesn’t happen. Too busy, too hot, too tired. Whatever it is, sometimes it’s just too much.

Our last three weeks have been this way. It hasn’t been abnormally busy – everyone is always busy, la di da. No, it’s not that. But I’ve been distracted and not so high on plan, shop, prep, cook, clean. The kids have eaten a lot of pizza and pasta. And look, they’re still alive 🙂

This coming weekend will be a little different. We will reconnect with the cooking process and having a proper sit down family meal. I snagged this menu from HelloFresh, which I’ve done a couple of times. I won’t review the experience here but I will say that if it makes your life easier to have the planning, shopping and measuring done for you, these services (Blue Apron, HelloFresh, many others) are great so go for it.

They posted a menu HERE that is simple, healthy and good. Pan-Seared Salmon to start with Arugula Mint Pesto – really fresh flavors that don’t require a lot of time – good bang for your buck. A quinoa salad that has almonds and peppery arugula…one of those things you’ll make and say “wouldn’t it be nice to have this around more often?” And last a fun side of broiled snap peas. Honestly, this is the kind of meal you could double and serve to company – it’s pretty, fresh and easy.

It wouldn’t be a family dinner without dessert. But on this night we go no fuss and dish up ice cream. Make sure you get some that everyone loves. Not a bad way to get back in the cooking groove, if I do say so myself.

Menu 46 - 7 18 2016

Tips and Notes

You can download the whole process here: https://ddw4dkk7s1lkt.cloudfront.net/card/55d34f5cf8b25e5a1e8b4567.pdf?t=20160707142638

Menu 39 – Home Sweet Home

It’s Spring Break season here in NYC – so some people (not us) got away for vacation. Even if I’m not on vacation, I like thinking about it. Dare to dream.

One of the best things about taking a vacation is coming home. Isn’t that a beautiful thing? Back to your own bed, all of your clothes, your familiar surroundings. And cooking. Back to your own cooking. I love eating out but every night gets to be a bit much. On those nights when we return home, we’re often excited to eat our own cooking.

But not with a lot of effort. There’s unpacking to do and people are tired. So you need an easy and highly satisfying menu to cook on the night you get home from a vacation.

Grill to the rescue! So many benefits to grilling – the great outdoors, no kitchen mess, my husband does it. Everyone wins. But wait! Are we going standard burger and hot dogs? Not tonight, we’re not! We’re going seafood and making a few things that are super tasty on their own with no work. Grilled clams to start. That’s it. Everyone forgets about grilling littleneck clams but it’s the easiest thing in the world and SO satisfying. Next, break out that package of skewers you have tucked away. Skewer shrimp/chorizo/shrimp/chorizo (make the kids do this – kids love putting things on skewers). Since shrimp and chorizo are flavorful to begin with (and you’re tired because you just got home), you can grill those and leave it at that. If you want to do more, I’ve added a slightly fancier recipe below. Last, actual vegetables. Everyone likes grilled vegetables and since we are leaning Spanish we are spiffing these up with just the littlest bit of cooking (I know, you’re tired). The grilled vegetables are topped with a super simple garlicky mix of breadcrumbs. Everything is better with breadcrumbs.

And last, you want dessert. Spanish Rice Pudding. I did include a recipe below if you actually want to cook but I have a great cheat for you. Buy the rice pudding (Kozy Shack is the BEST), and then add just a little cinnamon and vanilla. It’s basically the same and easier.

See! Now you’re unpacked. You enjoyed a really simple menu that felt like vacation but had all the benefits of arriving back home. Life, and home, is sweet.

Menu 39 - 4 28 2016

 

Tips and Notes For grilled clams, you do just that, put them straight on the grill. Take them off when they open, which is likely after a few minutes. You can stop here and just eat them. Or you can add a little pepper and a squeeze of lemon. OR if you want to get a teeny bit fancy, put some herb butter on them like this one.. http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/grilled-clams-with-herb-butter

Skewers! http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/brian-boitano/shrimp-and-chorizo-skewers-recipe.html

Only the smallest bit of non-grill cooking involved here: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/spanish-style-grilled-vegetables-with-breadcrumb-picada-238806

If you want to make it yourself: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/spanish-rice-pudding-351306

Menu 35 – Easter Day

When your dad is an Episcopal priest, Easter is more than bunnies and chocolate. It’s about getting to church early so you can get a seat, and seeing parishioners you haven’t seen since the Christmas Eve service. It’s about looking serious while you prepare communion with your dad because you are an acolyte and this represents the body and blood of Christ (“for heaven’s sake stop that smirking”). It’s about wearing a spring dress on a cold April day so you bundle up with a winter coat and make the best of it. It’s about tulips lining the alter. There was one Sunday my mother got all commercial on us and we woke to bunny prints (powdered sugar!) all over the house which eventually led to a monumental basket of chocolates. That was a great day. But then, off to church.

It wasn’t all about bread, wine and hymns. Dinner was an event in our house. Usually ham. Often scalloped potatoes. A green vegetable. I don’t know if we had dessert. My mom isn’t big on desserts.

I almost never go to church now. This is for another blog post OVER HERE sometime. In short, Easter for me is another way to be present with family – kids and grandparents – and enjoy hunting for eggs together, making a meal together (definitely an expression of love and perhaps rising again) and coming together at a table. This year will be no exception. I have never hosted Easter, but if I did, I would make this menu. Lovely deviled quail eggs that are a cute surprise. A braised lamb dish that is (yay!) cooked ahead and dreamy – and comes alive with a bit of lemon. Serve with, as the recipe suggests, over fregola. It’s a day partly about bunnies so let’s make some delicious carrots. And then this cake – I’ve wanted to try this cake for a year. I even bought a special tart pan. Rhubarb is barely around and worth grabbing up. Happy Easter everyone, whatever that means to you and your family.

Menu 35 - 3 25 2016

Tips and Notes

Eggs: http://www.dartagnan.com/deviled-quail-eggs-with-bacon-and-thyme-recipe.html

Lamb: http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1018017-braised-lamb-with-egg-and-lemon

Order Fregola: http://www.amazon.com/Rustichella-Abruzzo-Fregola-Sarda-17-5/dp/B000B38C6A

Carrots: http://www.marthastewart.com/863971/glazed-carrots-thyme

Cake: http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/rhubarb-almond-cake

Menu 32 – Scandinavian Night

In 1999 I did a bike trip through Denmark where the roads are flat, the people are pretty and the beer is awesome. I remember leaving Copenhagen and saying “I know I will be back.” What a wonderful colorful city. So when I asked my mom what she’d like for a menu, I was happily surprised to hear “How about a Scandinavian menu?” Excellent! It’s always good to please your mother. And it also gave me a chance to research new cuisines, and attempt to sketch a Danish port. What could be better.

My dad always wanted to be Scandinavian. He was half Finnish and kept grouping himself with the Scandinavians but really, that is a stretch. We also share a family rumor from my mother’s side that we have Viking roots (based on some hand issue my grandfather had that a random doctor in Arizona said had only been traced back to the Vikings…I know. Did the doctor quack when he said that?). Back to the food….

This is a simple menu with nods to Denmark, Sweden and Norway. I wanted to go fancier but my mother is the QUEEN of simple (except when it comes to popcorn toppings where she lets it all hang out), and since this is her menu, I thought I would oblige. If I dare say, it’s about as Scandinavian as you can get – pickled herring, delicious roast pork with cracklings (go Denmark with the cracklings), a new way to make potatoes (hasselback, accordion potatoes!), a cucumber dill salad and Sabayon Lingonberry Mousse. I chose simple dishes as I found those were very traditional and because I’m suggesting you make something that sounds and looks fancy “Sabayon!” but is actually pretty straightforward and must be made ahead. I just love the idea of this creamy, brandied mousse layered with pretty tart lingonberry jam. Go to Ikea and grab those lingonberries (Challenge! Try to get out of Ikea with JUST the lingonberries!). Then make everyone in your family research interesting facts about each Scandinavian country. See? I took care of your dinner, your dessert and your table talk.

Menu 32 - 3 3 2016

 

Tips and Notes

To start: http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/herring-in-mustard-sour-cream-on-rye-bread

The pork, thank you very much: http://sweetsoursavory.com/blog/2013/11/17/danish-pork-roast-flskesteg

It’s not summer but who cares. Maybe like age, summer can be a state of mind….http://www.outside-oslo.com/2013/06/21/cucumber-salad-for-your-scandinavian-midsummer-menu/

Potatoes http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-hasselback-potatoes-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-199763

The Pretty Pretty Dessert: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/sabayon-lingonberry-mousse-109137

Menu 31 – Not an Oscar Menu

Geez you really want an Oscar menu? You’re having an Oscar party to see how Chris Rock handles the tone deaf lack of Oscar diversity? Well that’s the only reason I plan to watch too, so I can relate. I am not providing a full Oscar menu but here’s a suggestion: eat whatever you want as long as it’s diverse – since, you know – diversity is GOOD FOR US as a society and as individuals. We can’t survive on hummus alone. Mix it up and you’ll have a much healthier, richer and more interesting experience. Oh and start with a bubbly champagne cocktail.

We had a great dinner with my husband’s mother and her boyfriend a couple of weeks ago. It was cold as bones outside and right before Valentine’s Day. This is a lovely meal for four that can easily be expanded for a larger party.

Start with a simple hors d’oeuvre – maybe a bowl of marcona or smoked almonds and a cocktail. Nothing heavy. Nobody makes meatloaf anymore, so we made meatloaf and it was delicious. Ina has a great recipe from a place in the Hamptons – The 1770 House. It calls for beef, pork and veal. None of my local stores were selling veal so I left it at beef and pork and were none the worse for wear. It calls for a garlic sauce. This part needs work. It was somehow tasteless and took some gussying (a bouillon cube; more butter; a dash of Worcestershire). I would make that part again but next time I might start with a roux and homemade beef stock.

We’re going homey here – let’s make a blinged up Potato Celery Root Puree (when I think BLING I think CELERY ROOT). Ina Garten buried a ridiculously good potato/celery root puree within a scallop recipe – I’ve linked to it for you below. I followed it almost exactly (I added a little milk to the cream to just cover the vegetables). This can be made earlier and reheated.

And then we roasted broccoli. It’s really the best way to eat it. Just before serving grate some lemon zest on top and well, it’s just like mom used to make but better.

We weren’t skimping on dessert. I had a disc of holiday sugar cookie dough left in my freezer so made round sugar cookies, topped with royal icing (pink) and then decorated with hearts (red). They were delicious and GONE. I think you should do the exact same thing but decorate however you want. Serving homemade cookies never gets old.

Menu 31 - 2 25 2016

Tips and Notes

Behold, meatloaf: http://www.barefootcontessa.com/recipes.aspx?CookbookID=33

Ignore the scallop part, focus on potatoes and celery root here: http://www.weeknightgourmet.com/fish/shellfish/barefoot-contessas-seared-scallops/

Broccoli – start here but eliminate the lemon juice part. I find it gets bitter. Do everything else and then just toss some lemon zest on it before serving. http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/roasted_broccoli/

Best Sugar Cookie recipe: http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/ultimate-sugar-cookies

Easy royal icing for your splendid cookies: http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/the-most-royal-of-icings

My cookies: cookies

P.S. Why the rooster? My mother-in-law has a thing for birds like this so I thought I would draw one.

P.P.S. Sneak preview for next week….my mom requested a Scandinavian menu….Ooohhh Challenge! Tune in later for that one…

Menu 30 – Apres Ski!

This menu is actually good après most cold weather activities…skiing, skating, shoveling. It’s make ahead, humble and filling. We’ve even got a nod to Quebec in here this week with a very rich, very simple dessert. Forget après…how about “anytime” is more like it.

When everyone is back and throwing their wet snow pants around, get the hot toddies going. We drink these all year round and definitely when we feel like we’re getting a cold. Best elixir ever. You can make the pot pie filling in advance and cut out your dough. If you get lazy (I might), substitute puff pastry which you can easily buy in the freezer section. Puff pastry makes everything better and always looks pretty. Beets. You know, I keep trying to like them. My family razzes me about this (“how can you not like beets!”) but these have a shot. Horseradish cream got me going. This dessert can be made in ramekins or in one larger pan. I would definitely opt to serve with cold heavy cream poured over. If that’s not your thing we can’t be friends.

Menu 30 - 2 17 2016

Tips and Notes

http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/apple-brandy-hot-toddies

http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2012/10/pancetta-white-bean-and-swiss-chard-pot-pies/

http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/roasted-beets-with-horseradish-cream

http://food52.com/recipes/416-pudding-chomeur