Another week! Nobody told me that Halloween was Monday, so now I’m scurrying around like a DIY rat, scouring the local stores for yellow duct tape and a green knit hat and other things that ought to be easy to find but aren’t. And it just now occurred to me I could spray paint a hat the right color, couldn’t I? And so I shall. Anyway, despite the scurrying, we had some pretty spectacular food this week, and that has made all the difference. Read on!
Hot dogs, chips
Saturday we went to the local pumpkin festival, which they had carefully renamed “Gathering of the Gourds.” The festival has been a Whole Thing, because for several years they tried to beat the world record for greatest number of illuminated pumpkins. It was fun, but also very overwhelming and expensive for the town, as tons of people poured into town to see the giant towers of jack-o’-lanterns.
Then came October of 2014, and I think I was in . . . Georgia? I forget where, but definitely away from home giving a speech, and I came down to the hotel lobby to get my free continental breakfast and blearily became aware that the TV was saying there had been riot with tear gas and rubber bullets, fires in the street, and a car tipped over, and I recognized the street. Called home and established that, while Damien and the kids had indeed been at the festival, they had not personally torn a parking meter out of the ground or thrown a beer bottle at anyone’s head. So that was okay.
Anyway, the pumpkin festival has been pretty hit or miss since then, and Covid was really the kiss of death. This year it was basically some stores giving out candy, a pile of pumpkins you could carve if you wanted to, and a bunch of vendors in a parking lot — including Clara and Elijah, so that was cool.
So we did that, and Benny had a party to attend, and I think we worked on Halloween costumes and baked Alaska, and days like this is why they make hot dogs. We also had a Wolf Man movie to watch. We started with Frankenstein, then Bride of Frankenstein, then Son of Frankenstein, and then we had to watch The Wolf Man so we could watch Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. The kids keep saying, “Well, that has to be the last one, now, because he clearly died at the end” and then we explain once again the concept of a movie studio backing up a truckload of cash to one’s house. I think next is a movie that has Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, and Dracula. And a truckload of cash. (I recommend all of these movies, by the way, especially the Frankenstein ones. They are gorgeous, they move right along, and their entire agenda is to be creepy and scare you with spookiness, which is very refreshing.)
Last week I heard myself say I didn’t really know what to do with kielbasa except make a sheet pan meal with potatoes, but then I immediately remembered: hark! you can make jambalaya. I told my husband that I was probably going to make some kind of bastardized version, but he said that was okay, because he was kind of a bastard himself. Who among us.
Jambalaya is one of those things people get a little huffy about, but I myself feel that you should cook what tastes good to you, and as long as you’re not running up to first generation immigrants and saying “try it like this, stupid! It’s so much better my way!” then THERE IS NO PROBLEM. It’s food, food is for eating, boom.
So here is my quickie whatever jambalaya, made with kielbasa and shrimp.Jump to Recipe
I was planning to throw some leftover chicken in there, but I did ask the kids to clean out the fridge really thoroughly, and I forgot to specify to save the chicken. Well, it was completely delicious, really filling, and it was done in about 45 minutes, start to finish. Obviously you can adjust the spices as you see fit.
Chicken cutlet sandwiches, fries
Monday was supposed to be chicken burger day, but I can only find frozen chicken burgers half the time these days. I blame Hunter Biden, for some reason. So I had a sudden memory of the delicious chicken cutlets my mother used to make, and that became the plan.
I don’t even really have a recipe. I sliced chicken breasts lengthwise, dunked them in beaten egg with a little milk and salt and pepper, then dredged them in panko crumbs seasoned with salt, pepper, paprika, and garlic powder. Then I pan fried them in canola oil and melted butter.
Much faster and tidier than whole pieces of fried chicken, like thighs or drumsticks. I easily could have served them as is, maybe with a lemon wedge, but I was already on a sandwich track, so I put out sliced cheese, sliced onions, and sliced tomatoes. I couldn’t find the aioli mayonnaise, so I just had regular, and it was scrumptious.
I love things fried in panko crumbs. If you fried a socket wrench in panko crumbs, I would be like, “Ohh, it’s so fluffy and nice” and I would have seconds. The chicken stayed juicy, and it was just a tasty treat all around. I also bought some malt vinegar for the fries, and that was a hit.
Korean fried chicken, roast broccoli, rice, baked Alaska
This was our anniversary meal! The baked Alaska, I already wrote about in excruciating detail yesterday Now we must talk about the meal we had, that Damien made. It was magnificent.
He took a chance with a new recipe, and I think it was the best chicken I’ve ever had. It was one of those twice-fried recipes, with a sauce that dances around in your taste buds in three distinct phases. It has a crackly, crunchy skin and is coated in a sticky, sweet, gingery sauce that is just TRANSPORTATIVE. I can confidently say that it was totally worth all the time and energy Damien put into it.
Didn’t hurt my feelings at all that he spent the afternoon cooking and wearing the kilt I got him, either. Ahem.
The chicken recipe is from delish.com, and it also has a recommended side dish of large pieces of grilled broccoli in a hot garlicky sauce with parmesan, which Damien also made, and which was also fantastic.
I made a big pot of plain rice in the Instant Pot and man, what a feast.
It was really hard to stop eating.
Zuppa Toscana, french bread
Wednesday was supposed to be nacho day, but it was rainy and chilly and just begging for soup, so I complied. I made a big pot of Zuppa Toscana, which only has nine or ten ingredients (which is not a lot for soup) and is absolutely the soul of comfort and coziness. Mild sausage, red potatoes, cream, and kale.Jump to Recipe
I had heavy cream left over from all the ice cream making, so I used that along with the half and half, and wow, it was rich.
I was in a rush, so you can see I ended up putting the soup out before the kale was completely soft. It was cooked all the way, but it wasn’t noodle-soft. It wasn’t bad, just different!
I also made four loaves of French bread. I was literally running around trying to get stuff done, and was trying to sell emergency raffle tickets that it suddenly turned out we had to unload twenty of before tomorrow, and we had to get to a soccer game, and I kept forgetting I was making bread, so it’s a miracle it turned out at all. This should be a testament to how easy this recipe is!Jump to Recipe
The loaves were not terribly photogenic, and I suspect someone squonched one of them before I put it in the oven, and if I were on the Great British Baking Show and they really wanted me to produce four completely identical loaves, I would not have gotten a handshake
but man they tasted good! Piping hot from the oven, so perfect with the rich, creamy soup.
I did run a little butter over the tops when they came out of the oven. The purpose of this is to make them more buttery. Look, I’m working on building up my neck fold. For winter.
I also did the trick of throwing a few ice cubes into the oven along with the unbaked loaves, which is supposed to produce a cloud of steam, giving the bread a thin, fragile crust. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. This time it worked great. The inside was pillowy soft, and the crust absolutely shattered when I cut it.
Couldn’t be more pleased.
Didn’t have a super solid plan for this. I had a big bone-in pork shoulder, and put it in a shallow pan with a bunch of cider vinegar, then rubbed it with mustard and rubbed in a bunch of salt, garlic powder, a little chili powder, and lots of cumin, covered it loosely with tinfoil, and cooked it at 325 for several hours.
Usually I will shred the meat and distribute it over the chips and melt cheese over it for nachos, but this time I made the chips and cheese separately (one pan with jalapeños, one without), and let people make their own choices about pork, which they appreciated.
The best thing about this picture is that I labelled it “nacho table” and my phone was like, uh, no, ‘scuse me, that a macho navel.
Kids are making tuna noodle, Damien and I are scooting away for a little day trip to round out anniversary week. Smell ya later!
Oh, here’s some recipe cards for the week:
completely inauthentic, just things that seem tasty to me
- 2-3 tbsp cooking oil
- 1 rope jambalaya, cut into bite-size pieces
- 1 onion, diced
- 2 bell peppers, diced
- 5 stalks celery, diced
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- salt and pepper
- 2 tbsp chili powder
- 2 tbsp oregano
- 2 tbsp cajun seasoning
- raw shrimp
- 6 cups chicken broth
- 5 cups raw brown or long grain rice
- 10-oz can diced tomatoes with chilies
In a heavy pot, heat up the oil. Brown up the kielbasa. Add in the onions, celery, and green pepper and continue stirring and cooking over medium heat until the vegetables are somewhat soft.
Add in the garlic and spices and cook a few minutes more. Add in the raw shrimp and stir.
Pour in the chicken broth, rice, and tomatoes with any juice. Cover and simmer for 25 minutes or until rice is cooked.
- 2 lbs. sweet Italian sausages
- 1-2 red onion(s), diced
- 4 medium red potatoes, sliced thin with skin on
- 8 oz mushrooms, sliced (optional)
- 3 cups kale, chopped
- 4 cups half and half
- 9 cups chicken broth
- 1 Tbsp minced garlic
- olive oil for cooking
- 1/2 cup flour
Squeeze the sausage out of the casings. Saute it up in a little olive oil, breaking it into pieces as it cooks. When it's almost done, add the minced garlic, diced onion, and sliced potatoes. Drain off excess olive oil.
When onions and potatoes are soft, add flour, stir to coat, and cook for another five minutes.
Add chicken broth and half and half. Let soup simmer all day, or keep warm in slow cooker or Instant Pot.
Before serving, add chopped kale (and sliced mushrooms, optional) and cook for another ten minutes (or set Instant Pot for three minutes) until kale and mushrooms are soft. Add pepper. Add salt if necessary, but the sausage and broth contribute salt already.
This makes a creamy soup. If you want it thicker, you can add a flour or cornstarch roux at the end and cook a little longer.
Makes four long loaves. You can make the dough in one batch in a standard-sized standing mixer bowl if you are careful!
I have a hard time getting the water temperature right for yeast. One thing to know is if your water is too cool, the yeast will proof eventually; it will just take longer. So if you're nervous, err on the side of coolness.
- 4-1/2 cups warm water
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 Tbsp active dry yeast
- 5 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup olive or canola oil
- 10-12 cups flour
- butter for greasing the pan (can also use parchment paper) and for running over the hot bread (optional)
- corn meal for sprinkling on pan (optional)
In the bowl of a standing mixer, put the warm water, and mix in the sugar and yeast until dissolved. Let stand at least five minutes until it foams a bit. If the water is too cool, it's okay; it will just take longer.
Fit on the dough hook and add the salt, oil, and six of the cups of flour. Add the flour gradually, so it doesn't spurt all over the place. Mix and low and then medium speed. Gradually add more flour, one cup at a time, until the dough is smooth and comes away from the side of the bowl as you mix. It should be tender but not sticky.
Lightly grease a bowl and put the dough ball in it. Cover with a damp towel or lightly cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rise for about an hour, until it's about double in size.
Flour a working surface. Divide the dough into four balls. Taking one at a time, roll, pat, and/or stretch it out until it's a rough rectangle about 9x13" (a little bigger than a piece of looseleaf paper).
Roll the long side of the dough up into a long cylinder and pinch the seam shut, and pinch the ends, so it stays rolled up. It doesn't have to be super tight, but you don't want a ton of air trapped in it.
Butter some large pans. Sprinkle them with cornmeal if you like. You can also line them with parchment paper. Lay the loaves on the pans.
Cover them with damp cloths or plastic wrap again and set to rise in a warm place again, until they come close to double in size. Preheat the oven to 375.
Give each loaf several deep, diagonal slashes with a sharp knife. This will allow the loaves to rise without exploding. Put the pans in the oven and throw some ice cubes in the bottom of the oven, or spray some water in with a mister, and close the oven quickly, to give the bread a nice crust.
Bake 25 minutes or more until the crust is golden. One pan may need to bake a few minutes longer.
Run some butter over the crust of the hot bread if you like, to make it shiny and even yummier.