Happy Friday! I see lots of you poor suckers are going back to school already. We, on the other hand, are still enjoying the last lazy days of summer, by which I mean frantically running around Doing Vacation Things and feeling terrible and panicked about summer being almost over, and also mortality (maybe that’s just me. I am fun).
I also made two wonderful culinary discoveries this week: Collard greens, and lamb breast plate. We had two days of rather elaborate meals and then a bunch of very much not so meals. Read on!
On Saturday, the Fishers were uncharacteristically sociable. Lena was carousing with a friend in Boston, Clara met up with Dora and they went off to see The Mountain Goats; Sophia, Lucy, and Irene had tickets to see Ricky Montgomery; and Damien, after bowing to his fate and driving them to said concert, brought Benny and Corrie to see the new turtle movie. That just left Elijah, who had to work, and me, who had ten minutes at home COMPLETELY ALONE, which I spent eating TWO cartons of yogurt without explaining myself to anybody, and going to the bathroom with the door open, before going shopping. Then I picked up Elijah and, since it was just the two of us, we had dinner at Chili’s. I had some kind of salad with shrimp. I almost always order some kind of shrimp when I eat at a restaurant. It’s just good! Elijah had a burger, presumably for the same reason. We talked about Godzilla.
Sunday we got to the ocean! The sky was blue, the sun was hot, and the water was about twelve degrees. Seriously, that one year when we went a few miles further south with slightly warmer water has absolutely ruined me for frigid New Hampshire beaches. I did go in the water, out of sheer honesty, but I spent most of my time on the shore saying, “Whoa, that was a big one! Woo, look at you!” and wondering if it’s as much fun to be a seagull as it looks like.
Bunch of pictures here:
We chose Hampton Beach because, if you’re only going to have one day at the ocean, it should be ocean that has fried dough and skee ball. We packed sandwiches and fruit and Twizzlers for lunch, and hit the drive-thru on the way back for dinner.
Hot dogs, chips, corn on the cob
A little yellow dinner. Sometimes that’s just what you want. (And if that’s a thing on Urban Dictionary, I don’t want to know about it.)
Damien mentioned that maybe the nachos I make could use a little more cheese, so I thought I would be fancy and buy a second KIND of cheese, and a Mexican one, at that.
Sadly, I am dumb, so I picked something called “queso fresco,” which is apparently known for its incredible ability to withstand heat. So we had tortilla chips with seasoned ground beef, cheddar that melted and queso fresco that did not, jalapeños, and some corn I shaved off the leftover corn from yesterday, and then sour cream and salsa. Pineapple on the side.
It wasn’t bad, but next time I’ll just buy extra cheddar for that “more cheese” experience.
I was feeling pretty good on Tuesday, though, because I got home from my annual physical knowing my blood pressure is NORMAL. I cannot tell you how good it feels to have that back under control, after it was so bonkers for so long. I also haven’t lost the weight I gained when I tried Lexapro, but I haven’t gained any more, and I been eating nachos, so that seemed fair. And I’m not anemic and my lungs seem more or less back to normal. I guess I had Covid, I don’t know. My OBGYN was trying to convince me to go on an IUD for medical reasons, and I was trying to tell her that I don’t have any ethical problems with getting one for medical reasons, but right now I have all my other symptoms like
and I don’t want to MESS with anything.
Anyway, we had nachos.
Oven fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, biscuits, collard greens, watermelon
This meal came about because a few months ago, I was looking for strawberry plants and they were sold out, but they had some collard greens on clearance, so I got a few plants and stuck them in my garden. Now they look like this
and everything else in my garden is making flowers or vegetables or something, but the collard greens are just getting bigger and bigger, so it was time to figure out what they heck they are for.
Chicken drumsticks and thighs were 99 cents a pound, so I figured chicken and collard greens sounded like a thing. First thing in the morning, I started soaking the chicken in milk and eggs (one cup of milk per two eggs) with salt and pepper.
Then I made some biscuits. I actually have an excellent biscuit recipeJump to Recipe
but it only turns out really well if you bake them right after you make the dough; or maybe if you refrigerate the dough and then bake it. I never remember this, though, and always make the dough and cut out the biscuits in the morning, when I have time, and then bake them in the afternoon, because I want hot biscuits, and so the butter has softened and the biscuits turn out flat. I swear, it’s a good recipe! Just don’t leave the dough out like I do.
Anyway, the chicken “recipe” I followed last time calls for putting a few inches of melted butter and canola oil (half and half) in a couple of roasting pans in a 425-degree oven and letting that heat up, but I had used up all the butter in the biscuits, and all I had in the house was olive oil, so OH WELL, I guess I had to use that.
So I put plenty of flour in a bowl and heavily seasoned it salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika and I think some chili powder. I put the chicken in the pans of oil, skin side down, and let it cook for about half an hour, then turned it and let it finish cooking for another 25 minutes or so, baking the biscuits at the same time.
And yes, I felt might accomplished pulling these two huge pans of hot food out of the oven.
But back to the collard greens! You can make them with bacon or ham hocks, but I didn’t have either one, so I poked around until, to my immense relief, I found the website that carried the information I was too shy to google directly: BlackPeoplesRecipes.com. This is the link for vegan collard greens, and it uses liquid smoke. I always feel like that’s cheating, but at what, I’m not exactly sure.
Anyway, you fry up some onions and garlic, smoked paprika and hot pepper flakes, and then add in some cider vinegar to sweeten the bitter collard greens.
I washed the greens very well (because I’ve been watering them with duck poo water) and then stripped the stems off
and cut them into strips, and put them into the hot onion mixture and cooked them down a bit, then added chicken broth (no longer a vegan recipe, but that’s what I had) and liquid smoke, and some salt and pepper. Then I moved it to the Instant Pot and set it on “slow cook” for the rest of the day.
They were magnificent.
Just a beautifully intense, smoky, savory dish. The closest flavor I can think of is kale, but the texture was much more tender, between cabbage and spinach. Damien and I thought it was just wonderful, and we’ll definitely be having this again.
Benny helped me make a giant pot of mashed potatoes (I saved out a little pat of butter for this purpose), and I made a pot of gravy with the chicken pan drippings and some flour and some leftover chicken broth from the collard greens.
OH WHAT A MEAL.
I didn’t even finish the chicken or the mashed potatoes, although they were very good, but I went back for seconds of the collard greens.
Okay, I had three biscuits, because I’m a monster.
But wow, everything was so tasty. The chicken was crisp on the outside and juice and tender inside, just perfect. It felt so good to cook a big meal from scratch, which I haven’t done in a while.
And it was nice having leftover baked goods in the house, which certain other people enjoy with jelly the next morning.
Also on Wednesday, I started some ice cream going for the next day. Mid-August, and I’ve barely made any ice cream! I made one batch of strawberry, using the Ben and Jerry’s recipeJump to Recipe
and one of mango-peach-nectarine, which less fancy than it sounds. I just couldn’t find any pureed mango in cans, which I usually use, so I ended up mashing up all the fruit in the house that was about the same color and just blending it together.Jump to Recipe
When the ice cream was done churning, I put the freezer bowls back in the freezer, hoping to make at least another batch the next day.
Lamb breast plate, stuffed grape leaves, yogurt sauce, taboon; strawberry, mango, and almond ice cream
Thursday was the day I was ready to find out what I had bought on Saturday. I can’t remember what the original plan was, but I got to Aldi and discovered several packs of something called “lamb breast plate” for $2.99 a pound.
Nothing lamb is ever $2.99 a pound, so I bought three three-to-four-pound packs of it, and then went back for a fourth pack later. I put two packs in the freezer and cooked two on Thursday.
Moses and his girlfriend were coming over, and I wanted a middle eastern meal, and I briefly, longingly considered a recipe where you slit the meat open to make a pocket, and stuff it with rice, dried fruit, nuts, and more ground lamb, and then sew it shut; but prudence prevailed, and I went with this recipe from I’mHungryForThat, because all you do is marinade it, cook it slowly, and then pour a little sauce on at the end.
The marinade is hot pepper flakes, cumin, sumac, pepper, brown sugar, minced garlic, vinegar, olive oil, and sea salt, all of which I had, and juniper berries, which I did not, but I substituted fresh rosemary.
Then I just rubbed it all over the meat and let it be.
So, you can see that lamb breast plate has little ribs and is quite fatty, and the meat is mostly in between the bones, plus there are sort of flaps of meat on the other side. Everything I read said that this is a severely underrated cut of meat, and is very tasty and tender as long as you prepare it properly.
While that was marinating, I went out to gather grape leaves. I usually only make stuffed grape leaves once a year, when they are flush and green and tender. This is mid-August, and they are somewhat past their prime, and many had succumbed to beetles, but were also twining all over the place, in places grapes have never been before (I have three Concord grape vines I planted, and several wild grape vines in other spots in the yard). I found one enormous leaf, the size of a dinner plate, sagging under the burden of two overgrown wild blackberries that had fallen under their own weight and half rotted already, too much for even the birds and bugs to keep up with, and I suddenly realized I was standing right next to the spot where my old garden used to be.
When we moved here, the whole yard was overgrown and formless, and I hacked and chopped and mowed and cleared, and dug and sifted and cultivated, and moved so many rocks around, and made a clear spot to grow my little patch of vegetables, and I kept it up for several years.
I have raised beds now, in a different spot, and the old garden spot has disappeared. It’s hip-high in green again, all overgrown and thorny, just wild grapes, wild blackberries, goldenrod, whatever. And it happened so fast.
I’ll tell you, people worry about not leaving a trace when they go out in nature, and they fret about disruptive hikers piling up rocks or disturbing the natural balance of things. They don’t want the world to know that they were ever here. They don’t want to be arrogant and intrusive. Let me tell you, “leave no trace” is going happen anyway, faster than you think. You pass through and it closes right up behind you, and that’s that.
Anyway, I got a good pile of leaves and went back inside. Washed ’em good to get rid of any leggy passengers, and dunked them in boiling water for two minutes to soften them up, and then left them in cold water.
Last time, we tried making stuffed grape leaves with leftover cooked rice, and it was pretty sloppy. This time, I used raw rice with a bunch of herbs and spices (chopped wild mint, salt and pepper, I think sumac, nutmeg, cinnamon, I think coriander and cumin, and I don’t know what, and minced onions) and rolled them. Corrie helped this time.
Not the absolute tidiest production, but we made plenty of them, and for once I ran out of grape leaves and filling at about the same time.
Then I line the Instant Pot with parchment paper, carefully piled the rolled grape leaves in it, threw some lemon slices in, and filled it about halfway up with chicken broth. Then I somewhat recklessly pressed the “rice” button.
I think they may have come out okay with this cooking method, but then I just left them there for quite a bit longer, and the end result was some rather overcooked rice. They were okay! Just kinda, well, you know what overcooked rice is like. I also wish I had used more of every kind of seasoning I put in. It was a good flavor, but I wanted more of it.
About two hours before dinner, I put the lamb into the oven, covered with tinfoil. I also made a batch of dough for taboon breadJump to Recipe
which I think I like even more than pita, and it’s easier, because you’re not trying to get a pocket to form. Sometimes, if I’m make a juicy meat dish, I’ll make a big slab of taboon bread and serve the meat right on top of it; but sometimes I made separate little pieces, and that’s what I did this time. This recipe is enough for twelve little loaves about 8-10 inches across. I love this recipe because it only has to rise once, and it bakes in about twelve minutes, so you can decide almost at the last minute that you feel like making bread after all.
Oh, and I made a bowl of yogurt sauce with fresh garlic and fresh lemon juice, and a little salt and pepper. I misread the lamb recipe, and you’re supposed to take the tinfoil off and finish cooking it and then pour some sauce on; but I poured the sauce on and then finished cooking it. (The sauce is chopped mint, lemon juice, and brown sugar.)
IT WAS STILL VERY GOOD INDEED.
I would recommend getting some shears to separate the ribs, though. We struggled a little with cutting it, not because the meat was tough, but because it was so fatty. The meat itself was so good, though. Tremendously savory and tender. If you like lamb, this is a wonderful way to prepare it.
The bread and the lamb finished cooking at the same time, and I once again felt pretty pleased with myself for hauling out all these giant, laden pans of food onto the table.
I had hoped to make some kind of ice cream with at least a middle eastern nod, but I just ran out of time. People needed to be driven here and there and Thursday was the day the cat, as Damien put it, took his vows, and I went to drop off a kid at work and take another kid for a haircut, and I was like, I think that’s it? That’s all the people I’m responsible for right this minute? So I started to drive home, and then I remembered OH THE CAT.
Pretty rough day for the little guy. First the cut his balls off, then they forget to pick him up. To add insult to injury, we found out that this cat which we got a month ago, and who was allegedly eight weeks old at the time, is NOW eight weeks old. So he was only four weeks old when we got him, poor baby!
We knew he was younger than they claimed, but didn’t realize how much younger. No wonder he sucks on blankets. Anyway, today he is feeling frisk and fine and we just have to keep the dog away from his stitches for a week, which should be easy as pie, hahah ahaha hahahhaaa.
Anyway, I decided to make some almond ice cream, which is the same as the strawberry ice cream recipe, below, except you add a few teaspoons of almond extract, you skip strawberries of course, and you let the ice cream freeze for a few hours, and then stir in 2/3 of a cup or so of toasted almonds, and then let it finish freezing.
The kitchen was pretty hot by the time I got around to making this third batch of ice cream, so it didn’t really freeze up right. I don’t actually mind when this happens, as it results in a kind of ice milk with a pleasant crystalized texture. The flavor was great (I actually used 1 tsp of almond extract and 1 tsp of vanilla) and it was quite popular. It would be great with some bittersweet chocolate chips, but it was good on its own.
Here’s the three ice creams, looking dramatic:
I also discovered that, if I really wanted to make middle eastern ice cream, I would make something called booza, which has mastic in it and is stretchy. I am fascinated with this idea and would absolutely love to try some, but chances of me making it myself are pretty low, because anything that depends on being a certain texture is not my forte. Perhaps in paradise. The leaves will close over me, all traces will disappear, and Allah will appear in a blaze of glory and hand me a bowl of stretchy ice cream. That sounds pretty great. I’ll take pistachio.
I believe we’re going to have scrambled eggs, maybe beans and rice, and leftovers. There MUST be leftovers in this house.
I leave you with one final image. This is the white board which I mounted to the front door, the door through which everyone goes when they leave the house. As you can see, it has the days of the week on it, and I BEGGED and PLEADED and IMPLORED and ABASED MYSELF to the kids, in the hopes that they might deign to write their schedules on it, so I would know before the last minute who needed to be where and when.
Here is that white board now:
Little bastards. Good thing I love them. Maybe I’ll make them some more biscuits, or some ice cream.
Because I've been trying all my life to make nice biscuits and I was too much of a moron, until I discovered this recipe. It has egg and cream of tartar, which is weird, but they come out great every time. Flaky little crust, lovely, lofty insides, rich, buttery taste.
- 6 cups flour
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 8 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp cream of tartar
- 1-1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, chilled
- 2 eggs
- 2 cups milk
Preheat oven to 450.
In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and cream of tartar.
Grate the chilled butter with a box grater into the dry ingredients.
Stir in the milk and egg and mix until just combined. Don't overwork it. It's fine to see little bits of butter.
On a floured surface, knead the dough 10-15 times. If it's very sticky, add a little flour.
With your hands, press the dough out until it's about an inch thick. Cut biscuits. Depending on the size, you can probably get 20 medium-sized biscuits with this recipe.
Grease a pan and bake for 10-15 minutes or until tops are golden brown.
Ben and Jerry's Strawberry Ice Cream
For the strawberries
- 1 pint fresh strawberries
- 1-1/2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
For the ice cream base
- 2 eggs
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 2 cups heavy or whipping cream
- 1 cup milk
Hull and slice the strawberries. Mix them with the sugar and lemon juice, cover, and refrigerate for an hour.
Make the ice cream base:
In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs for two minutes until fluffy.
Add in the sugar gradually and whisk another minute.
Pour in the milk and cream and continue whisking to blend.
Put it together:
Mash the strawberries well, or puree them in a food processor. Stir into the ice cream base.
Add to your ice cream maker and follow the directions. (I use a Cuisinart ICE-20P1 and churn it for 30 minutes, then transfer the ice cream to a container, cover it, and put it in the freezer.)
Mango ice cream
- 30 oz (about 3 cups) mango pulp
- 2 cups heavy or whipping cream
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 mango, chopped into bits
In a bowl, whisk the milk, sugar, and salt until blended.
Add in the mango pulp and cream and stir with a spoon until blended.
Cover and refrigerate two hours.
Stir and transfer to ice cream maker. Follow instructions to make ice cream. (I use a Cuisinart ICE-20P1 and churn it for 30 minutes.)
After ice cream is churned, stir in fresh mango bits, then transfer to a freezer-safe container, cover, and freeze for several hours.
You can make separate pieces, like pita bread, or you can make one giant slab of taboon. This makes enough to easily stretch over a 15x21" sheet pan.
- 6 cups bread flour
- 4 packets yeast
- 3 cups water
- 2 Tbsp salt
- 1/3 cup olive oil
Mix the flour, salt, and yeast in the bowl of a standing mixer.
While it is running, add the olive oil. Then gradually add the water until the dough is soft and sticky. You may not need all of it. Let it run for a while to see if the dough will pull together before you need all the water. Knead or run with the dough hook for another few minutes.
Put the dough in a greased bowl, grease the top, and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm spot for at least an hour until it has doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 400. Put a greased pan or a baking stone in the oven to heat up.
If you are making separate pieces, divide it now and cover with a damp cloth. If you're making one big taboon, just handle it a bit, then put it back in the bowl and cover it with a damp cloth. Let rest ten minutes.
Using a little flour, roll out the dough into the shape or shapes you want. Poke it all over with your fingertips to give it the characterstic dimpled appearance.
Bake for 10-12 minutes until it's just slightly browned.