Supper In a Bread Loaf

In which I do not make Beef Wellington

There are days where making supper is just hard.  I am crap at following recipes (before this).  I am a reforming bad meal planner and never seemed to have the right combination of ingredients in the house to make the meal that I really wanted.  I’d have to scour cookbooks and the internet in order to find something that I was in the mood for using the ingredients I had on hand.  If you don’t already realize it, this is a very bad, time consuming way to go about meal prepping and planning.  It can result in creative and tasty dishes, but ends up being very frustrating.  It seems much easier to just do take out than have to go through that stress every night.  It also doesn’t help when you ask the family what they want to eat and either no one has an idea or everyone has different ideas.  Making these decisions after a long day of making other far more important decisions is hard.  It’s a lot of pressure.  Making the decision to go through all of these recipes and make them all has taken a lot of pressure off.  I still don’t always have the right ingredients, but meal planning is significantly easier.  DSCN2433Supper in a bread loaf.  This recipe is the poor man’s version of Beef Wellington.  It is because of this recipe that I had frozen bread dough in the house for the French Apple Coffee Cake.  Had my house already been clean, my children all in school, etc, I might have taken extra bread dough and made beautiful decorations for this.  I might’ve egg washed it, made gorgeous cuts to make this into a work of art, but instead, I just did the most basic version of this dish.  Well, sort of.  The directions say “season to taste.”  For those of you that know me well, you know that my brain automatically shot in infinite directions.  “Oh, this could be good seasoned with taco seasoning.”  “Ooooohh, what about using my Krakow Nights seasoning?”  “I have some fresh herbs in the garden, but I think those might be the wrong choice.”  I settled on adding a bunch of Fox Point Seasoning.  I thought it would add flavor, but keep it true to the original intention of the dish.  I guess it worked. The kids inhaled the meal.  John took leftovers to work and was asked about it.  He said it was good reheated.  DSCN2439In order for busy people to make this dish in time for supper, there is some pre-planning that needs to happen.  The night before, get the bread dough out of the freezer and put it into the fridge.  It will start the thawing process.  When you get up in the morning, move the bread dough into a container on the counter and cover it with plastic wrap. (Speaking of plastic wrap, John told me that due to some environmental concerns, plastic wrap no longer has the coating on it that allows it to stick to anything, it now only sticks to itself.) Leave this on your counter until it’s time to actually make supper.  For this purpose, an overly lengthy rising time is not going to affect your end product enough that you will notice.  It may even allow some of the bread dough flavors to develop a little more.

 

 

 

If you cook extra ground beef, throw it in your freezer for something else.  It’s much easier to do dinner in a hurry when at least part of it is already cooked. DSCN2443Substitute chicken, turkey, pork, or whatever for the meat.  For a vegetarian version, use mushrooms, cooked lentils, or eggplant as your filling, add some sauteed greens.

This is one of those unapologetic dishes that is basic and filling.  It’s open to all sorts of interpretation.  Open up your fridge, your pantry, and your spice cabinet, get creative.  If you have a great version of this dish, please feel free to let me know about it. Supper In a Bread Loaf

Birthday Edition: Shrimp and Olive Pie

In which I invent a recipe to make sure the birthday girl gets exactly what she wants.

You asked for it and here it is.

Eating dinner the other night, we asked the kids what they would like to eat for their birthdays.  This year, I was going to be making them whatever they wanted instead of going out for it.  We discussed the merits of this favorite dish and that one.  Nicholas mentioned having a pie birthday.  Nothing but different types of pie all day long.  Including chicken pot pie, apple pie, and pizza pie.  Miles wants red beans and rice.  Caroline’s favorite foods are shrimp and olives, but she thought having pie seemed like a really good idea, so jokingly I suggested she have shrimp and olive pie.

I should’ve realized that she was going to latch onto the idea and not let it go.  It’s the sort of girl she is.  The problem is, I don’t know that I have ever heard of shrimp and olive pie.  I threw those exact words into Google, hoping there would be a brilliant recipe.  There wasn’t.  I asked some friends and relatives and mostly got “ew” as an answer with a few helpful suggestions.  It was edging nearer and nearer to the date and I still hadn’t had a brilliant inspiring flash as to how this was going to work.  Even more so, one brother declared he hated shrimp, one brother hates olives, John is not a fan of olives, but I wasn’t planning on cooking more than one meal.  I just don’t do that.

One day, while in the shower, washing my hair, I had the brilliant realization that Mediterranean cuisine had to include shrimp and olives.  Right?  I consulted my Mediterranean cookbook for confirmation.  I didn’t look up pie recipes, just recipes that used both shrimp and olives.  I found nothing.  I found fish recipes that used olives.  Seafood is seafood, right?  But at least now I had an idea.

I could see it all in a tomato based sauce, except I don’t think the kids would appreciate that.  So I re-evaluated, again.
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I was stuck on the idea of a potpie.  I found a recipe in Great-Grandma’s book for Never Fail Pie Crust.  It’s exactly what I needed because I can make pie crust that tastes delicious, but always have trouble rolling it out.  Every pie I make has a patchwork crust. I made the pie crust.  It was easy.  I divided it into 4 pieces and threw them in the fridge.  I didn’t think it was going to win me points on the Great British Baking show, but it seemed to be a pretty decent pie crust.  Malleable, decent texture, you know, the stuff you look for in a pie crust.  I could immediately tell that it would be much easier to roll out than other pie crust.  As long as I floured my counter and rolling pin properly, it didn’t seem like this was going to be a terrible mess.

Now I was just down to the filling.  I started with some onions because onions go into these sorts of things.  I chopped them up and started sauteing them as I contemplated the contents of my fridge and freezer.  I found a bag of frozen vegetables from Trader Joe’s.  Misto Alla Griglia.  It was a mixture of marinated and grilled eggplant, red peppers, and zucchini.  I had been contemplating just putting some random herbs from the garden into the pie, but this made it much easier.  I chopped those up into bitty pieces and threw them in with the onions.  When that was all nice and the onions were tender, I threw in some flour and stirred.  I added a generous splash or 6 of white wine, a bit more butter and realized that I hadn’t added the olives. I was wondering if it was a good idea to just chop them up and add them to the crust, but realized the birthday girl would not recognize them as olives, so I threw big pieces into the sauce.  I added some milk to make everything creamy, added my shrimp, threw it all in the pie crust, put the top crust on after rolling out with some Romano cheese (inspired by Beverly Goldberg’s Shrimp Parm) and baked until it looked done.

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I don’t have an exact recipe for anything except the pie crust.  It’s just not the way I cook.

The question is then, is this good?  Should I try this at home?  Yes, please do.  I was the only one that ate leftovers.  The crust didn’t microwave well, but as a concept this worked out really well.  Despite everyone claiming to dislike one or more of the ingredients in the dish, everyone ate it without complaining.  I could easily see it made more like any British fish pie recipe with some peas and thyme.  I recommend not using pre-cooked shrimp because it overcooks during the length of time it needs to be in the oven.

Never Fail Pie Crust

Mix together in a large bowl:
4 cups flour
1 t baking powder
1 1/2 t salt
1 T sugar
1 1/2 cup lard or shortening

Mix well, then add:
1 beaten egg
1/4 cup of cold water
1 T vinegar

Blend well, roll out.  Makes 4 single crusts or 2 double crusts.  Keeps 2  weeks in refrigerator.

 

“Japanese” Chicken

In which I discover why reading is fundamental.

It’s probably good that I got bifocals the last time I went to the eye doctor.  Looking at this recipe, I swear I read “Japanese Chicken” and since it was on the same page as the Egg Foo Yung, I decided that we could have an Asian night and I would cook those recipes.  While looking at the recipe, I couldn’t figure out why it was called Japanese chicken when there was nothing Japanese about the ingredients.  When did they start using tarragon in traditional Japanese cooking?  But this was Iowa and well before I was born, maybe tarragon was exotic?  I also had a hard time realizing that “Pour over chicken” was not “Parmesan Chicken.”  Perhaps it was the handwriting?  Right before I went to cook this recipe, I realized that “Japanese” actually said “Popover”.  That gave me a lot of answers.Popover Chicken

But there were still more questions.  Like what kind of chicken?  Cooked chicken?  Raw chicken?  I took a guess.  I think I guessed wrong, but considering the information I was working with, it was certainly not as bad as it could’ve been.

We had gone to the Butterfly Exhibit at the Botanical Gardens and the kids had all gotten a coupon for a free junior cone of custard for completing the scavenger hunt, so we did backwards dinner where we ate dessert first.  I believe that things work out the way they should most of the time.  Because we had bellies full of custard, no one was hungry immediately upon getting home.  So it was less important that dinner took over a half hour longer than estimated.

As a warning to anyone that may try this, raw, still slightly frozen chicken thighs on the bone do not cook

completely at 350 for 50 minutes.  This information will come in handy for all sorts of things, so remember it.  However, if after 60 minutes, you turn the oven up to 450 and cook them for another 15 minutes or so, the pink goes away.DSCN2458

Another note, raw, bone in chicken produces a lot of juice.  This will make the popover part of the dish turn into something that somewhat resembles a dumpling.  Only the top of the popover is that delicious, light airy substance that we love to fill with homemade jam. (Not in this dish, but in general).

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I think done correctly, using pre-cooked chicken, B/S chicken breasts, or some sort of shredded chicken, this would be a really nice sort of fun meal.  Like a pot pie…oh, like a potpie…That is a brilliant idea for someone’s upcoming birthday.

After this meal, I think I owe my family one of my normal meals with a delicious cake or great dessert.  Even if the main courses are crap, Great-Grandma made great cakes and desserts.

Popover Chicken

3 eggs
1 1/2 cups of milk
1 1/2 cups of flour
3/4 t salt
1 T oil
1 T chopped Tarragon

Beat first 4 ingredients together for 1 1/2 minutes.  Add oil.  Beat 30 seconds more.  (Do NOT overbeat)

Pour over chicken in a casserole. (Maybe this meant a chicken casserole, not just a casserole dish?) Bake 50-60 minutes at 350 or til done.

Egg Foo Yung

In which I think I should’ve ordered take-out.

There are times where I fail at a meal completely.  It doesn’t happen often, but it does occasionally happen.  Since John can remember, there have been only handful of meals that we absolutely could not eat.  This was one of them.  It wasn’t something like that episode of Chopped where the contestant mistook salt for sugar.  The dish didn’t burn.  The eggs weren’t spoiled. It was nothing that I did wrong.  It was the recipe.  Maybe cooking Chinese food created by Iowa farmers with German heritage was a bad idea.  Maybe my expectations were too high.  I do remember thinking while looking at the ingredients “how bad can this be?”.  DSCN2449

We spent the meal creating alternative names for this dish.  Egg Foo Yuck, Egg Foo Old, Egg What the F!&@.  It was horrible.  It tasted like the Rock River smelled a few years ago when the carp all got herpes and died.  The river was a stream of dead fish, the fish got caught up in the trees on the side of the river.  The smell was horrific.

The Egg Foo Yung was horror movie worthy.  It was like dirty socks mixed with dead fish.  The texture was silken tofu-y.

It was like something that Gordon Ramsey pulls out of a drain on one of those episodes of Kitchen Nightmares. You know what I’m talking about.

In case you are wondering, cans of chop suey vegetables are really just cans of bean shoots with 3 pieces of carrot and one piece of celery.  It is gross on so many levels.  It looks disgusting, it smells disgusting, there is nothing good I can say about it.  I’m hoping to not find more recipes that call for this ingredient.

Canned shrimp is probably fine in other uses, but even so it didn’t ruin the dish any worse than anything else.  I really can’t think of much that would make this dish worse except a can of tuna…and serving it with soy sauce like the recipe suggested.  Don’t do that.  It makes it worse.   DSCN2451

If you have decided that my description is not scary enough and you are going to insist on making this, it probably takes 20 minutes on low and covered to set the egg, but please, do not make it.  You will regret wasting the ingredients, you will think of all the delicious things you could’ve made with those eggs.

Thank goodness this was not the only thing we had for dinner.  The roasted beets with blueberry vanilla goat cheese and the zucchini and tomatoes cooked with Penzey’s Fox Point Seasoning were delicious.  And the other dish I made to go with it was something I thought was called Japanese Chicken, but that’s the next post.    Popover Chicken

Pork Meatballs

In which I make pork meatballs

Who even knew that Cream of Onion soup was a thing? Apparently, it’s just me.  I asked John that question when he got home and he knew. I know my friends are laughing at me as they read this.

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I haven’t used canned soup in over a decade.  There were all those articles about sodium content and then I realized that it just didn’t taste like homemade soup from fresh ingredients. I am a snob. I like what Andy Warhol did with cans of soup.  I ate canned soup growing up.  I have eaten recipes that other people have made with canned soup, but I just didn’t buy it or use it in my own cooking.

 

So when Miles chose this recipe and it called for a can of cream of onion soup, I had no idea that was a thing that still existed.  I knew about cream of asparagus, cream of mushroom, cream of chicken, I think I had even seen cream of shrimp at one point, but because I don’t look in the canned soup section of the grocery store, I just didn’t know.

In the rules I set up for myself, I decided that I was going to follow the recipes exactly as written (except in cases where there were no instructions).  So with my shopping list, the boys and I set out for the grocery store.

The grocery store with children is always a challenge.  I like the company, to a degree, but they need to figure out how to steer the cart where I want it.  I hate the number of times I have to say “no” about things.  We are normally the loudest people in the store (and everywhere else we ever go), but our loud is normally more pleasant than obnoxious (or so I like to think).  We enjoy being together and making each other laugh and we are friendly.  Anyway, we went to the meat section and there was no ground pork.  There was pork sausage and pizza sausage, but no plain ground pork.  I asked the guy at the counter if there was any.  He explained that he couldn’t get any out because he was cutting something else and cross-contamination and whatnot, but if I could wait until 2.  It was noon.  I wasn’t going to drive back to Stoughton for ground pork.  I could’ve gone to the meat market across the street from my house, or as the kids suggested, I could just grind my own.  It’s a pain, but doable.  I grabbed some country style ribs and put them in my cart and started to walk to the yogurt area, when I saw the guy from the meat counter waving behind me.  I’m sure we were hard to find in the store since we are so quiet and all…This sweet, sweet man had taken pity on me and had stopped what he was doing and secured me the two pounds of ground pork I needed for the recipe.  He wouldn’t let me thank him or say anything to him about it or even acknowledge that he had done it because the store cameras may pick up the action.  I just hope he realizes how much I appreciate his efforts.

DSCN2340I, stupidly, didn’t start the recipe until much later than I should’ve because I was baking something else that I had started too late.  The oven was set at 375 for that and I forgot to turn it up to 400 which I didn’t realize until the end of the cooking time.  It might’ve cost me a bit on the browning of the meatballs, but they were still cooked through. I ended up getting supper on the table and had just enough time to eat before I sent John off to a Euchre tournament at the coffeehouse.  You know, like everyone does.  I figured it might be a good way to start meeting people in town.  John likes Euchre.

At dinner, instead of having epic rap battles, coming up with punny new jokes, or discussing new game ideas, we discussed these meatballs.  Nick was sure they had too many onions and picked them out.  (Reminder to self to cut them smaller next time).  The flavor of the pork was good.  The bread soak held in the juice.  Nick doesn’t think meatballs should have bread. I didn’t bother to explain the bonding principles to him this time.  I just rolled my eyes.  For some reason, the meatballs’ flavor reminded me of the inside of potstickers.  No idea why.  The cream of onion soup didn’t make the creamy sauce I was expecting from reading the recipe.  It was creamy, but could’ve probably benefitted from the addition of some milk to thin it.  John commented that this was one of those recipes where, if he had made it, he would’ve been very proud of himself, but because I had made it, it was just ok.  Miles ate it and declared it delicious, but that might’ve been partially prompted by the ego he had invested in having chosen the recipe.  He declined seconds and was “starving” by bedtime.

It’s not a pretty recipe.  It doesn’t make something eye-catchingly beautiful.  I’m sure there are ways to make it look better, but I’m not going to make that sort of effort for family dinner when it’s already late and everyone is starving and has places to be.DSCN2354

This is the sort of dish that is a great base for experimentation.  It could benefit from the addition of mushrooms, or French-fried onions on top of it.  You could easily make the balls smaller and serve them at a party on toothpicks.  Throw them on bread with whatever sort of veg you want, add some cheese, make a sandwich. Make the meatballs, make the soup, make meatball soup.  Add to pasta.  Meatballs are good.  Make your own cream sauce for these, if you prefer.

These are good basic pork meatballs.  Not the sort of dish I get overly excited about, but am rarely disappointed to be served.
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*This recipe is part of a red spiral bound book that was originally the Iowa State College Freshman Handbook that was presented to the Class of ’53.  The pages have been pasted over with recipes.