What’s for supper? Vol. 313: The eptimistic kitchen

You did it! You made it to Friday! In lieu of a treat, here is a little food post.

Grilled ham and cheese, chips

I think people may be well and truly burnt out on grilled ham and cheese, even with the good sourdough bread. We had a good run. I’ll try again in May or so. Or next time I cannot think of literally any other kind of food that people eat for dinner. 

Aldi pizza 

We were supposed to go apple picking on Saturday, but people were too busy, and then Sunday, but then someone threw up, so, no. 

We did go ahead and make the long-promised giant garbage bag spider. As the name implies, this is made with garbage bags, plus packing tape zip ties. The legs are stuffed with giant weeds, and the body is stuffed with a slightly deflated pool floatie. It looks . . . fine. 

It’s just not what I was hoping. I think if I make a second big round part and make that be the head, and put a lot more eyes on it, and maybe fangs. And maybe give the skeletons some swords, or maybe a fly swatter. I don’t know. It’s just a little lackluster. But I did get it done, and being able to cross “giant garbage bag spider” off your list is not nothing. 

Beef barley soup, pumpkin empanadas 

Nobody was throwing up, so we thought maybe possibly we’d go apple picking on Monday, because nobody had school, except a few people did, and then also oops, I had therapy, but we could still go after that, but then it rained. It was also only about 50 degrees and windy, and driving an hour and half in the afternoon to pick wet apples in the cold wind and then driving home in the dark honestly just did not sound like a lot of fun, even by our standards, even if we stopped to plant crocus bulbs on my parents’ grave, which, yes, was part of my fun-fun plan. So we didn’t do any of that, and instead I stayed home and made soup and empanadas, and that was actually quite nice. 

First beef barley soup of the season. Pretty popular meal in a family that is fairly soup skeptical. It’s just so full of tasty things, and it’s so cozy and colorful. Plenty of carrots and onions and garlic, beef and mushrooms, tomatoes and barley, and the broth is made with red wine. Super easy and if give it plenty of time to cook, the beef gets wonderfully tender. 

This recipe has instructions for stovetop and Instant Pot. 
Jump to Recipe

I got some empanada dough discs at the supermarket, after the NYT comments section clued me in that Goya frozen dough was just as good as homemade, and it’s like $2 for a package of ten.  The Goya dough discs are very easy to work with. They go from totally frozen to workable within about twenty minutes, and they stretch well and don’t tear easily. You can bake or fry them.

For the filling, I sorta followed this recipe, which is just canned pumpkin, vanilla, brown sugar, and pumpkin spice. (I think I used cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice.) I decreased the amount of sugar by about 25% and it was still a bit sweeter than I thought was necessary. You just cook it in a pot for a few minutes, then spoon a heaping spoonful onto the discs, seal them up with a fork, brush them with egg wash, and bake them on parchment paper.

I was a little concerned that the empanadas wouldn’t hold together, because the filling was the consistency of thick homemade applesauce. I briefly considered adding egg or flour, but it didn’t seem like a good day for winging anything, and in the end they didn’t leak. I do think something more solid would have been a bit more appealing, though. Here’s the inside:

This isn’t a flaw of the recipe, it just wasn’t exactly what I wanted (even though it was exactly what I made, duh). They certainly were easy to put together, and they came out of the oven glossy and cheery. This particular dough is flavored with annatto, which gives it a very mild peppery taste and a pleasant ruddy color. 

Corrie has been having homemade empanadas for breakfast and packing them in her lunch all week, which I am telling myself offsets the fact that it took me three days to notice her lunchbox is moldy.

Someone said something about pineapple empanadas, and this intrigues me! And I did, in fact, buy another several packs of empanada discs to keep in the freezer for next time. Maybe pineapple empanadas next time we have chili verde, or tacos al pastor. Maybe apple empanadas next time we go apple picking. Which we’re going to do if it kills us. 

Ham, peas, mashed potatoes

We are contractually obligated to have this exact meal at least three times a year. I know it’s because they like to make little sculptures with it, and I don’t care, because it’s a damn tasty meal. Ham, peas, and mashed potatoes. 

Also, last time I made mashed potatoes, they came gross, because  I left the skins on and then slightly undercooked and undermashed them, so this was my chance to redeem myself. 

I also redeemed myself by having leftover soup for lunch.

This is a very specific kind of redemption, redemption soup. Limited in its way, but also very tasty, and full of carrots. All I ever have, / redemption soup.

Pork gyros

Yes. Yes. Gyro time. In the morning, I cut up a big, cheap pork shoulder into thin strips and marinated it. I made the marinade with honey, wine vinegar, olive oil, fresh garlic, red onions, fresh rosemary and oregano (the very last from the garden), and then some dried oregano, too, just to be on the safe side. This is a pleasantly mild, somewhat sweet, herby-tasting marinade, and it makes the meat nicely tender. 

Jump to Recipe

At dinner time, I just spread it in a shallow pan and roasted it with the marinade, stirring it up a bit halfway through to keep it from burning

while cooking some french fries in a second pan. I sliced up some more red onions, then cut up some tomatoes and cucumbers, and made a big dish of garlicky lemony yogurt sauce, and gathered up plenty of big pieces of fresh wild mint.


I skipped the french fries in mine and just went for plenty of yogurt and hot sauce. A perfectly satisfying meal, the tender juicy meat and hot sauce and the cool, garlicky yogurt all playing so nicely with the crunchy fresh vegetables. Just couldn’t be better.  The fresh mint leaves really put it over the top. 

Meatball subs, veg and dig

I often make the meatballs in the oven, but this time I felt like frying them, which really does make them better. I just browned them in a pan in batches

with the help of a supervisor

and then let them finish cooking in the oven, went to pick up the kids, and then moved the meatballs to a pot of red sauce to continue heating up until supper. 

Nothing extraordinary, but good for a rainy fall day. 

Shrimp lo mein

For some reason, the price of frozen shrimp has remained the same while everything else has expanded to … the opposite of shrimp-like, in price size.

That reminds me, Corrie is very interested in opposites lately. She wanted to know the opposite of optimistic, and when I told her, she informed me that Sonny is optimistic, but the cat is pessimistic. Which is true.

Then the next day, she forgot the word “pessimistic” and referred to something as “eptimistic,” and was embarrassed; so we decided that eptimistic was a perfectly good word that must mean the opposite of being inept. Like if you know how to cook, you’re pretty eptimistic in the kitchen. Let’s make this happen, everybody. Let’s eptimistically whip up a quick little lo mein sauce, and make a surprisingly simple, tasty dinner

Jump to Recipe

with a couple pounds of store brand fettuccine and maybe some chopped up zucchini and yellow bell pepper. Won’t that be pretty? I’m feeling fairly optimistic about it. 

And we are going to go apple picking this weekend if it kills us. And it will! 

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


  1. 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. 

  2. Add the cubes of beef and cook until slightly browned.

  3. 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. 

  4. 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. 

  5. Before serving, add pepper to taste. Salt if necessary. 


honey garlic marinade for gyros

Marinate thin strips of pork for several hours, then grill or broil. This is a mild, somewhat sweet marinade that makes the meat quite tender.


  • 4-5 lbs pork shoulder or butt, sliced into thin strips
  • 6-8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • small bunch fresh rosemary, chopped
  • small bunch fresh oregano, chopped

Meatballs for a crowd

Make about 100 golf ball-sized meatballs. 


  • 5 lbs ground meat (I like to use mostly beef with some ground chicken or turkey or pork)
  • 6 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups panko bread crumbs
  • 8 oz grated parmesan cheese (about 2 cups)
  • salt, pepper, garlic powder, oregano, basil, etc.


  1. Preheat oven to 400.

  2. Mix all ingredients together with your hands until it's fully blended.

  3. Form meatballs and put them in a single layer on a pan with drainage. Cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes or more until they're cooked all the way through.

  4. Add meatballs to sauce and keep warm until you're ready to serve. 


basic lo mein


for the sauce

  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • 5 tsp sesame oil
  • 5 tsp sugar

for the rest

  • 32 oz uncooked noodles
  • sesame oil for cooking
  • add-ins (vegetables sliced thin or chopped small, shrimp, chicken, etc.)
  • 2/3 cup rice vinegar (or mirin, which will make it sweeter)


  1. Mix together the sauce ingredients and set aside.

  2. Boil the noodles until slightly underdone. Drain and set aside.

  3. Heat up a pan, add some sesame oil for cooking, and quickly cook your vegetables or whatever add-ins you have chosen.

  4. Add the mirin to the pan and deglaze it.

  5. Add the cooked noodles in, and stir to combine. Add the sauce and stir to combine.

What’s for supper? Vol. 295: Skinny doesn’t taste as good as EMPANADAS EMPANADAS EMPANADAS

I never got a food post up last week, I forget why. I didn’t want last week’s menu to get lost, though. Why? Because EMPANADAS, THAT’S WHY.

Or, to put it another way:

Knock knock.
Who’s th–

Or, to put it another way:

Whatever you’re doing right now is the interruption, when what you really ought to be doing is shopping for empanada ingredients, making empanadas, eating empanadas, or making plans for the next time you will do one of those things. 

We did eat a few other things this week, so here’s the food post:

I have no idea. This was 400 years ago.

Chicken caprese sandwiches


I have also planted some tomato plants and some basil seeds as of Sunday, so I expect to have some wonderful home-grown basil to eat in about . . . never. I’m the world’s worst gardener and I have the lowest hopes ever for my garden. But I’ve had fun planting it.

I have tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, lots of various lettuce, one onion, one cucumber, mini pumpkins, lots of string beans, celery for some reason, oregano, basil, dill, catnip,and strawberries. A fence made of chicken wire and the frame of an old trampoline, and little cups of moth balls to deter the rabbits. The soil is a combination of old dried out sunflower stalks for drainage, old potting soil from last year, rich soil from the swamp, and some store-bought soil and compost. 

Gochujang pork chops, rice, sugar snap peas

I only had a little gochujang left, so I mixed it up with tons of honey and soy sauce and crushed up some garlic, and away we went. If you want a more precise recipe than that, here it is:

Jump to Recipe

I let the pork chops marinate all day and then broiled them in the oven.

This marinade is also wonderful if you cut the pork into strips and marinate it along with matchstick carrots and slices of onion, and then fry it all up on the stovetop. But it’s great on whole pork chops or ribs, too. Pot of rice, some raw sugar snap peas, and you have a great meal.

Someone should give the Koreans an award. 

Empanadas, beans and rice, pineapple

Okay. Empanada day finally arrived. I had only ever had empanadas once in my life, but somehow got fixated on them, and my experience on Tuesday totally justified that fixation.

I will tell you in advance the four things I learned:

1. Goya sells empanada dough discs that are cheap and super easy to use, and they taste great. I tried the kinds with and without annatto and couldn’t taste much difference, but the ones with were a prettier color. 

2. You can deep fry them or bake them. Frying is not hard, as they hold together well, but baked is way easier. Baked tastes different from deep fried, but it’s honestly just as delicious. Hear me now: The harder way is not clearly superior. 

3. I realize I’m from New Hampshire, but it seems to me you can put whatever you want inside the dough and cook it and call it an empanada, and it will probably be delicious. 

4. If you have some spicy filling and some mild filling, and some plain dough and some dough with annatto, and you are going to bake some and fry some, and thus you have six, no, twelve different varieties of empanadas that you have to make in batches, and they look more or less the same from the outside, and even though it’s very hot and you’re standing over a pot of hot oil and you’re running late and you don’t know if anyone’s going to eat this food, but you think you can probably keep all the different varieties straight in your head if you pay attention . . . you know what, go ahead, you cockeyed optimist. 

Anyway, they were just delicious. I loved them so much.  Like at one point during the week, I got up out of bed to rummage around in the fridge and eat some cold empanadas, even though we’re going to an awards banquet and I’m trying to fit into this trashy dress I got from Shein. That’s how much I liked these empanadas. 

I followed this Argentinian Smitten Kitchen recipe (omitting the raisins). But when I tasted the finished product, it was astonishingly bland, even after I increased all the suggested spices. So I did half with the bland filling for the kids, and then I added a bunch of stuff to the rest: a bunch of chili powder, some red pepper flakes, salt, and quite a bit more cumin than I planned, because the top fell off the jar. 

It’s so easy. You grab a disk, you slap a spoonful of filling on,

flip it closed and crimp it with a fork,

give it a little egg wash, and bake it. I used a heaping tablespoon of filling for 5-inch wrappers. I kind of smooshed the scoop into an oblong, to make it more evenly distributed, but the wrapper holds up well and you could probably smoosh it after crimping, too.

I tried using a little dumpling press I have, but it was a bit too small and didn’t save any time. The dough was very easy to work with, though, and I made forty empanadas in a short time. As you can see, the dough discs are separated with squares of plastic film, so they separate easily. 

Here’s the inside. You can see that the baked ones, like this one, come out perfectly crisp and flaky.

The fried ones have a more blistered outside.

This would make great party food. I made the empanadas in the morning and baked and fried them before dinner.

I stacked the raw empanadas two deep until I was ready to use them, and they kept their shape very well (but I wouldn’t do that for longer than several hours, probably). I believe you can also freeze the raw or cooked empanadas. They held up in the refrigerator for several days very well.

Just an A+ all star food. I’m going to keep the wrappers on hand and use them when I’ve got leftover meat from tacos, carnitas, chili verde, pulled pork, or any number of things. I also want to try putting potatoes and/or cheese in there.

We also had fresh pineapple, and beans and rice. The beans and rice was delicious. I made it with rice, black beans, canned tomatoes with chili, fresh cilantro, chili powder, red pepper flakes, salt, and cumin. It wasn’t that great, so I dumped in some salsa from a jar and then it was delicious. Lots of compliments. 

Chicken quesadillas

I vaguely remember this. 

Meatball subs

Just my regular meatball recipe,

Jump to Recipe

except I threw in a jar of green pesto and half a jar of red pesto, and it was very tasty. I ended up having a couple of meatballs for lunch, and then Damien and I went to the church for dinner, where they were having a meal presentation for the capital campaign. It’s a great parish and of course we’re going to pledge what we can, but I’m looking forward to the personalized letter where they squint at us and make a suggestion about what they think we, specifically, can afford. People tend to think we are probably tottering on destitution. Which we kind of are (some punk stole my debit card at the beach and went on an Amazon shopping spree right at the end of the month, which didn’t help!), but only in pockets, because we have weird priorities. Like I can finally buy myself a box of Ziplock bags (well, Great Value zipping locking bags) without breaking into hives, and we are renting a house on Cape Cod for a week this summer, but also I couldn’t find my toothbrush the other day, and it turned out one of my children had thrown it out, because it didn’t seem possible to her that that could be someone’s current toothbrush. A perfectly good toothbrush, that I’d grown very attached to over the years! Anyway, we’ll see what the letter says. My mother’s friend Eileen once donated some canned goods to her church’s Christmas food drive and then, on Christmas day, she opened her door to find on her porch a cheery basket containing, yes, those same exact cans. Supplies! Anyway, the church dinner was delicious, although my caesar salad had way more chicken in it than Damien’s. And that’s my meatball recipe.

Spaghetti or something

Okay, now we’re all caught up! Got some nice summery recipes coming up for this week, so y’all come back!

And I’m reading over this post and realizing I told the interrupting empanada joke wrong. It’s supposed to be: 

Knock knock. 
Who’s there?
Interrupting empanada. 
Interrupting empanad–

and then there would be the sound an interrupting empanada would make. But I don’t know what that would be, which is, I suppose, why I got the joke wrong. You know it’s been a long time since anyone has asked me for advice on how to become a writer. Coincidence, I suppose. 

Gochujang bulgoki (spicy Korean pork)


  • 1.5 pound boneless pork, sliced thin
  • 4 carrots in matchsticks or shreds
  • 1 onion sliced thin


  • 5 generous Tbsp gochujang (fermented pepper paste)
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 5 cloves minced garlic

Serve with white rice and nori (seaweed sheets) or lettuce leaves to wrap


  1. Combine pork, onions, and carrots.

    Mix together all sauce ingredients and stir into pork and vegetables. 

    Cover and let marinate for several hours or overnight.

    Heat a pan with a little oil and sauté the pork mixture until pork is cooked through.

    Serve with rice and lettuce or nori. Eat by taking pieces of lettuce or nori, putting a scoop of meat and rice in, and making little bundles to eat. 

Meatballs for a crowd

Make about 100 golf ball-sized meatballs. 


  • 5 lbs ground meat (I like to use mostly beef with some ground chicken or turkey or pork)
  • 6 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups panko bread crumbs
  • 8 oz grated parmesan cheese (about 2 cups)
  • salt, pepper, garlic powder, oregano, basil, etc.


  1. Preheat oven to 400.

  2. Mix all ingredients together with your hands until it's fully blended.

  3. Form meatballs and put them in a single layer on a pan with drainage. Cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes or more until they're cooked all the way through.

  4. Add meatballs to sauce and keep warm until you're ready to serve.