Happy Friday! We’ve been eating a little too well for Lent. Don’t tell my bishop. Or, actually go ahead and tell him. I went and got fired from the diocesan magazine already last week, so do your worst. (I don’t really know why it happened, other than that I am annoying. It’s fine. Something else always turns up, and I can go be annoying to a slightly different subset of readers, inshallah.)
Anyway, here’s what we had this week, which was February vacation for most of the kids:
Grilled ham and cheese, chips
Usually, for grilled cheese, I buy a few loaves of sourdough bread that comes in very large pieces, but they were out of them at Aldi, so I got some pleasant-looking Italian loaves that seemed likely. Dinner time comes along, I open the bag, and here is what the individual slices look like:
and I’m like, huh. Possibly I’m a pervert, but this feels slightly awkward. Maybe they will look more normal if I put mayonnaise on them
Ah well, we’ll just call it theology of the body and fry ’em up.
Yes, they all looked like this.
So everyone got one and we also had pickles and let us never speak of this again. Definitely not to the bishop.
40 garlic whole chickens, orzo al limone
I have mentioned in the past how allergic I am to cooking whole chickens, because we had them SO often when we were super poor and they used to be like 49 cents a pound, and I just feel so gloomy and oppressed by whole chickens now. But I’m trying really hard to shop the sales, so I made a tremendous penitential Lenten effort and bought two whole chickens for cheap, which I prepared using this recipe for 40 garlic clove chickens.
You melt butter and oil in a dutch oven and brown the chickens on all sides, take out the chicken and drain off some of the fat, and stir in the garlic cloves. Yes, we peeled 80 cloves of garlic.
In fact, it was after we peeled about 65 cloves of garlic that I more carefully read the recipe I was going to use, and discovered that it calls for unpeeled garlic. So I quickly switched to the recipe I linked above, which doesn’t specify. No, I will not read to the end of a recipe before starting it! You can’t make me!!
So then you put the chicken back in along with a little water, and lemon juice, salt, thyme (it calls for dried but I had fresh), and pepper, cover the dutch oven, and bake it in the oven for 90 minutes. I don’t actually have a dutch oven, so I browned the chicken in a pot and then transferred it to a giant oven pan, covered it with tinfoil, and then put a second pan on top.
Good enough! When I opened it up, the chickens were [Danny Kaye doing his drooling Clever Gretel voice] nicely cooked.
I cooked them breast-side-down in “humble frog” position, because I knew the skin wasn’t going to be the star of this chicken anyway, and I really wanted the meat to be juicy. It was not the most visually stunning chicken I have ever met, but it was extremely juicy and full of flavor. I actually used quite a bit more lemon juice than it called for, and I have no regrets.
Before I made the chicken, I started on the orzo. I was using this recipe from delish, and if it sounds tasty to you (and it will), I recommend taking a screenshot, because they limit how many free page views you get. I assemble the ingredients and knew this would be a winner. Just look:
It’s basically the same as risotto. Sauté some garlic, then lemon zest, and oops, I threw my chives in there too soon
then add your orzo with salt and pepper and toast it a bit. Then you add chicken broth, a bit at a time, so the orzo slowly absorbs it.
When it’s cooked, stir in the cheese (it called for Pecorino Romano, but I had parmesan) and the parsley, lemon juice, and chives.
I actually cooked the orzo first and then put it in the slow cooker, and then got to work on the chicken.
They were SO nice together.
Some asparagus or spinach would have put this meal over the top, but it was pretty great as it was. The cloves of garlic were as soft as boiled potatoes, so what I did was just fork-mash them onto my chicken
and we were all in garlic heaven. “We” being the chicken and the orzo and me.
The orzo is amazing. I loved it so much. It was rich and creamy and cozy, but also piquant and sharp with the garlic and lemon and herbs. Some of the kids did not like the texture, probably because they are used to risotto and it’s not the same. But Damien and I thought it was great.
On Sunday, I also did some winter sowing, which is something I only recently discovered. The idea is that you can start seeds outdoors in late winter even if it’s cold and snowy out, because you’re planting in milk jugs that act as little greenhouses; and then when the frost is past and your seedlings are big enough to transplant into the ground, you don’t have to harden them off, because they’re already acclimated. I have never successfully hardened seedlings off, because I take it too personally and all I can think is that nobody ever carried me in and out and in and out because my little leafies might get cold.
You cut the milk jugs about four inches up from the bottom, leaving the last bit intact for a hinge. Fill the bottom with seed starter material, plant your seeds, water, and put the top back and tape it shut. That’s it.
I was delighted to find a sack of seed starter I had bought on clearance last year, so I got out my saved seed stash and did three jugs of eggplants, three of pumpkin, and two butternut squash; and I did two jugs of morning glories for my friend Millie, who is in the nursing home again. And I got some more spiles and tubing for maple sugaring! But I used up all the milk jugs, so we have to build up some more supply before I can get going on that.
Spicy chicken sandwiches, fruit salad
Monday I went to see Millie in the morning. If you could keep her in your prayers, please, I’d appreciate it! She’s going to be 90 the first week in March and she’s hoping to be able to get back to her house and garden soon.
I had some boneless, skinless chicken thighs I had stashed in the freezer when they were on sale a few weeks ago, and I made these wonderful sandwiches that everybody likes. They come together really fast. You just season the chicken thighs with Cajun seasoning — actually I used Tony Chachere’s, which is creole, but close enough — and then pan fry them on both sides. While they are cooking, you cut up some shishito peppers (just cut the tops off) and slice some red onions. When the chicken is done, you blister up the peppers in another pan, and lay some American cheese on top of the chicken and put a lid on it so it melts.
(I didn’t actually cook the chicken this close together; I used two pans, and then transferred the chicken to one pan for the cheese treatment.)
Layer the chicken, peppers, and onions on brioche buns, with BBQ sauce top and bottom. Boom, amazing sandwich.
I just love this sandwich because it’s so SIMPLE. One bottle of spice, one step with the peppers, easy sliced cheese, bottled sauce. You really couldn’t improve it if you made it complicated and fiddly (although I’m sure Sam Sifton would like to try).
You can see that I made a fruit salad, which we haven’t had for a while. Strawberries, blueberries, grapes, and kiwis. Nice to have some color.
Beef barley soup, french bread
Beef was on sale, so I got a likely-looking hunk and made some soup. Garlic, onion, and carrots, chunks of beef, tomatoes, beef broth, mushrooms, and barley, and plenty of pepper. So good.Jump to Recipe
This is the soup I sometimes make in my head when I can’t sleep.
While that was simmering, I thought it was high time to test out my lovely new marble countertop, which I purposely installed lower than the rest of the counter, to make it easier to knead dough. (I’m kind of short; I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this.)
IT WAS PERFECT. Made such a difference. I never realized I was struggling with dough on the higher countertop, but now that I have a lower one, it was so much easier.
Here is the simple french bread recipe I use:Jump to Recipe
It makes four long loaves — or, in this case, three long ones and three shorties, because I was sending some food over to one of the kids.
I do love rolling the loaves out. Zoop!
Then I set them for a second rise and managed to drop BOTH pans as I was moving them, so they got kind of wadded up, but they baked up well enough.
They had a really nice thin little shattering crust on the outside, and they were soft and tender on the inside. Good stuff.
So we had the soup and the bread
and at this point I’m just dragging the narrative out because I have more pictures.
And now I’m done!
Korean beef bowl, rice, raw veg, crunchy rice rolls
Wednesday we had a bunch of errands – haircuts and what have you – and I started supper late, but it was a quickie: Good old Korean Beef Bowl. I had bought extra ground beef when it was on sale for the Super Bowl, and this is a fast, easy recipe, even if you do go for fresh garlic and fresh ginger, which I did.Jump to Recipe
So I put the cooked beef in the slow cooker, and made some rice in the instant pot, cut up some cucumbers and took out the packages of crunchy rice rolls I had been saving.
Tasty little meal. The beef has sesame seeds and chopped scallions for garnishes. I don’t know why I feel the need to point that out, but there you are.
On Wednesday I cut up the leftover chicken and made a simple chicken salad (just mayo, I think maybe lemon juice or cider vinegar, salt and pepper, celery, and green apple), and then I made soup with the rest of the carcasses, just so as not to waste it. I had a brainwave and realized I could freeze it all and get a jump start on Passover cooking this year! I really hate making the chicken soup some years, so I’m delighted to have this already done. I will need to add parsley and dill, but it already has the chicken, carrots, celery, and onion in it.
The kids had mainly been playing board games all week (including Dixit, which was a Christmas present, and turned out to be a hit) for vacation week, but I did promise/threaten a trip to an art museum; so five of the kids and I went to the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester. Great stuff. Admission is reasonable (one adult, two students, two youth, and a kid got in for $35) and their descriptive cards are good, providing enough context and explanation to help you see, but without leading you too much. They have a really solid, varied collection for a small museum.
Interesting things happening in the contemporary art world! There is still a certain amount of “hoo HOO, I bet THIS transgressive bit of plastic really pushes your conventional little buttons, DOESN’T IT??” getting churned out, but also some far more interesting stuff. (Yes, I realize I opened this post with some penis sandwiches, so maybe I should shut my yap about who’s childishly transgressive. On the other hand, they were just sandwiches.) I was especially taken with two large works by Kara Walker, who will have an entire exhibit there soon, but there were other thoughtful, skilled, intriguing, moving contemporary pieces as well. I shared a few images on Facebook:
It is a small museum, so we did a thorough tour in two hours. Then we hit a few thrift stores just for fun, and then we got pizza and talked about art. Lovely day with my lovely kids. On the way there, they played an ice breaker game (“If you were an animal, what kind would you be? What is your favorite movie” etc.), but they played as different characters, so everyone had to guess who they were. Let me tell you, if we had run out of gas, we could have made it home under the sheer white hot heat of the quantity of in-jokes flying around. I had no idea what was going on, but they had fun.
Tilapia tacos and guacamole
I don’t really have a solid plan for this fish, but I’m tired of having it in my freezer. It was on clearance at Walmart quite some time ago, and I don’t want to look at it anymore. Hoping the avocados I got aren’t totally overripe by now.
And I need to make a cake! A Squirtle cake! For tomorrow is Corrie’s birthday party. It’s going to be Pokémon-themed, and Sophia is making a treasure hunt and Irene is making a piñata. This has honestly been one of our nicest February vacations, despite some trials which, nay, I shan’t mention. Love seeing my kids enjoy being with each other.
My other thing is that I’m a little frustrated with yoga lately, partially because I managed to injure both knees (one by falling on the ice, one by doing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING; the little fucker just started hurting for no reason, and now I go up and down stairs looking like I imagine Strega Nona would, on stairs), so I have started pilates. I kind of hate it, but it keeps my attention because you have to be SO SPECIFIC about what muscles you’re using, so at least it’s not boring. I did one random class on YouTube and then I found this lady, Banks (that’s how she refers to herself, as “Banks”), and I have done three of her thirty-minute core classes for beginners. Tough stuff, but I’m hanging on. She is very specific about what you’re supposed to be doing and how it’s supposed to feel, which I appreciate, and she’s not especially annoying. So, now you know everything I know.
Beef barley soup (Instant Pot or stovetop)
Makes about a gallon of lovely soup
- olive oil
- 1 medium onion or red onion, diced
- 1 Tbsp minced garlic
- 3-4 medium carrots, peeled and diced
- 2-3 lbs beef, cubed
- 16 oz mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
- 6 cups beef bouillon
- 1 cup merlot or other red wine
- 29 oz canned diced tomatoes (fire roasted is nice) with juice
- 1 cup uncooked barley
- salt and pepper
Heat the oil in a heavy pot. If using Instant Pot, choose "saute." Add the minced garlic, diced onion, and diced carrot. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions and carrots are softened.
Add the cubes of beef and cook until slightly browned.
Add the canned tomatoes with their juice, the beef broth, and the merlot, plus 3 cups of water. Stir and add the mushrooms and barley.
If cooking on stovetop, cover loosely and let simmer for several hours. If using Instant Pot, close top, close valve, and set to high pressure for 30 minutes.
Before serving, add pepper to taste. Salt if necessary.
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.
Korean Beef Bowl
A very quick and satisfying meal with lots of flavor and only a few ingredients. Serve over rice, with sesame seeds and chopped scallions on the top if you like. You can use garlic powder and powdered ginger, but fresh is better. The proportions are flexible, and you can easily add more of any sauce ingredient at the end of cooking to adjust to your taste.
- 1 cup brown sugar (or less if you're not crazy about sweetness)
- 1 cup soy sauce
- 1 Tbsp red pepper flakes
- 3-4 inches fresh ginger, minced
- 6-8 cloves garlic, minced
- 3-4 lb2 ground beef
- scallions, chopped, for garnish
- sesame seeds for garnish
In a large skillet, cook ground beef, breaking it into bits, until the meat is nearly browned. Drain most of the fat and add the fresh ginger and garlic. Continue cooking until the meat is all cooked.
Add the soy sauce, brown sugar, and red pepper flakes the ground beef and stir to combine. Cook a little longer until everything is hot and saucy.
Serve over rice and garnish with scallions and sesame seeds.