Hey! Didn’t get a food post out last week, but I have a decent excuse this time: We got about forty inches of snow
and lost power for three days. We had a drought this summer, so the trees are brittle, and tons of them fell on power lines, including the ones right across the street from us.
We have a well, which is run by an electric pump, so that means we also didn’t have water for those days, and that means we had to buy water (in the next town, because the stores here were closed, because the power was out) to flush the toilets. Yes, you can melt snow to get water to flush toilets, but if you’ve actually ever done this, you’ll know it takes about a roomful of snow to melt down into about three cups of rather smelly water, which is not enough to flush two toilets that ten people have been using; and also, if you are trying to keep your house warm, I do not recommend bringing in a roomful of snow to melt, with a heat source that you do not have! Everything was like that: Yes, there is a sort-of kind-of solution, but is it better? Unclear. The dog, at least, had a wonderful time. He always has a wonderful time.
Anyway we survived by the light of candles and light sabers,
and we didn’t have any babies or toddlers, so that made it easier. I had just bought a ton of comforters on clearance, so we had plenty of bundling material. We even lucked out in that I hadn’t done the weekly shopping yet when the power went out, so all we lost was a pack of ground beef. And we are now the proud owners of a small but decent generator, and all my baby trees survived, and we’re very, awfully tired of board games and turkey sandwiches.
The power came back on last Friday, which was St. Patrick’s day, and our bishop did give a meat dispensation, so we popped out and put together a nice meal for that: Irish breakfast with all the parts we actually want, so no blood sausage or anything dyed green, but sourdough toast, fried mushrooms, beans, roast tomatoes, roast potatoes, bacon, and eggs fried in bacon fat.
Very tasty, because how could it not be. I got cherry tomatoes this time, rather than attempting to roast slices of large tomatoes, which are insanely fragile. I mean who isn’t these days, but the cherry tomatoes was a good idea.
Hot dogs and smile fries
I actually love hot dogs. The kids act like it’s some terrible thing when we have hot dogs for dinner, because they are barely American, possibly barely human.
Antipasto plate, pasta and ragu, garlic bread, vanilla bean panna cotta with fresh fruit
Sunday was St. Joseph’s day. We usually have a big Italian feast with several courses, but we were still sort of in shambles from the power outage, so we kept it on the modest side. I put together two big antipasto plates with various cheeses, cured meats, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, and fruit
and yes, I was worried I hadn’t bought enough food.
But I had.
Damien made a wonderful ragù with veal, pork, and pancetta. Wow, it was good. Like especially good. He uses this recipe from Deadspin, but it comes out different every time, and it was so savory and lively.
We had a bunch of bruschetta for the antipasto, and garlic bread for the pasta. And Italian ices, and then also for dessert, I made something I’ve been wanting to try forever: Panna cotta. I used this recipe from Serious Eats and started infusing the cream and milk with vanilla bean pods the night before.
You rub the vanilla bean seeds into the sugar, which feels very fancy. Then in the morning, I bloomed some unflavored gelatin powder in milk with vanilla extract, warmed up the cream, scraped the insides of the vanilla bean pods into it, and whisked in the gelatin mixture and the vanilla sugar. Then I just poured it into ramekins, covered them with plastic wrap, and let it chill for the rest of the day.
Shortly before dinner, I mixed a little sugar with blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries. I didn’t want them to break down a lot, so I didn’t do this far ahead of time. When it was dessert time, I ran a knife around the inside rim of the ramekin and then slammed them upside down on a saucer, and they came out well. Topped with the sugared fruit, plus some slices of mango, and oh it was so pretty
We also had some kind of fragile almond cookies on the side, I forget what it was called.
I’ve never had panna cotta before, but it was a wonderful texture, silky smooth, and very creamy and refreshing. The vanilla bean specks had gathered at the bottom, so they were strewn all over the top of the glossy turned-out panna cotta and looked very elegant.
Some of the kids opted to keep theirs in the ramekin and just eat them like cup custards. This is also a normal way to serve them, although people like to make them in glass containers, even wine glasses, if they’re going to serve them this way.
So, very pleased with this foray. Damien, who isn’t a big fan of custards and such, thought they were great. I see many kinds of panna cotta in our future! You can put whatever you want in there.
Monday I served a truly terrible meal of very burnt chicken nuggets, a wad of very underdone hash browns, and dried-out leftover pasta.
This kind of meal can be made more appealing by taking pains to make the table attractive. You can achieve this look by not clearing away yesterday’s dessert trash. Follow me for more etc. etc.
Tuesday there was still corned beef on sale, so I threw a few hunks in the Instant Pot for a few hours, and we had the meat sliced on toasted marbled rye bread with thousand island dressing, Swiss cheese, and sauerkraut.
Wish I had run the whole sandwich under the broiler to melt the cheese, but it was still quite delicious. I really don’t miss boiled dinner at all. Corned beef is great, but it needs to be squashed in among other tasty things, not just lying there like a cadaver.
Pork vindaloo and rice, pineapple
I was having a conversation about real mindfulness with my family — about the experience of deliberately standing as nothing but a witness — and the tremendous sense of gratitude that often arises when you’re able to shift into this mode. I realized this happens to me often while I’m cooking, which explains why this isn’t really a recipe blog, per se, but more of a food experience appreciation blog (as well as a big family slice of life blog). And it explains why I often forget to taste while I’m cooking, which I have frequently felt very guilty and stupid about. It’s because I’m not thinking about the end result, but just feeling overwhelmed with the beauty of the things passing through my hands, the colors and sensations and smells and patterns. This does not make for the best food, necessarily, but it makes my life better!
Anyway, Indian food is very conducive to this kind of experience. Just assembling the ingredients almost always puts me in a different frame of mind. Everyone had been sick for several days with a nasty head cold one of the kids brought home, and I was very optimistic about knocking that out, at least while we were actively eating, when I saw what was going into the marinade for this pork vindaloo
This isn’t even as many peppers as the recipe called for (I was doubling it), but it was all I had. So it’s guajillo peppers, garlic, ginger, cinnamon sticks, tamarind paste, cumin seeds, cloves, peppercorns, and turmeric, sugar and kosher salt. The recipe calls for white vinegar, but I only had cider vinegar.
It’s quite easy. You just make a paste out of all the ingredients above. You just bash them all together until they’re a sticky paste, and then marinate cubes of pork in it. The recipe calls for pork butt and also pork belly, but I just went with the butt. As I often etc etc.
Marinate a few hours
and then add some water and simmer it up along with sliced onions for a few more hours, and then that’s it. You serve it with rice, and throw some cilantro on top.
OH IT WAS GOOD.
Immensely tender, and the sauce was spicy, yes, but not blast-your-head-off spicy. Just enough to make your nose tingle. It was also tangy and a little bit fruity and a little earthy, and wonderfully nourishing and warming.
I had a second helping of rice with just the sauce with little fragments of meat it in, and it was a joy. Wonderful recipe. The kids liked it! This may have been because I really talked it up ahead of time, and purposely acted very excited and happy about it, and mentioned many times that it was called “VINNNDALOOOOO,” but it’s not the kind of thing that they usually like.
I also cut up a few pineapples that were hanging around, and that was not the absolute ideal side, because they were extremely acidic. Mango or something a little more mild would have been better. But it was a wonderful meal all the same. Vindaloo! Knowing my fate is to be with you!
If you use the recipe, be sure to save it, as Bon Appétit only gives you a certain number of free views.
Chicken enchilada bowls
Thursday we had school conferences right before dinner, so I prepped everything ahead of time, and we had an unsophisticated but tasty hot meal waiting for us, and everyone liked it.
I dumped a bunch of chicken legs in the Instant Pot with a can of red enchilada sauce and some diced tomatoes and chiles, and pressed the “poultry” button. When it was done cooking, I fished the chicken out, pulled the meat off the bones, and transferred it to the slow cooker along with the tomatoes and enough of the sauce to keep it from drying out.
I chopped a bunch of scallions and cilantro, sautéed some frozen corn in olive oil to give it a little char (it’s dumb, but everyone loves it this way) and put that in a bowl, and set out shredded pepper jack cheese, sour cream, corn chips, hot sauce, and Taijin seasoning. Then I set up the Instant Pot again with rice and water. When I was on the way home, I texted one of the kids to press the “rice” button, and when I got home, I heated the corn in the microwave.
Boom, hot dinner, with cheese.
One of the kids told me, “Jolly good meal, mother. I said that in a silly way, but I meant it.” When a kid stops to make sure you know they’re sincere, you know they’re sincere.
Just pizza. No tricks!
And I still haven’t written up Corrie’s under the sea cake! I think I will have to give it its own post, as it was quite a journey. It is the reason I happened to have unflavored gelatin in the house for panna cotta.
Oh, one more thing, I got a big sack of flattened rice, something I just found out about (by seeing it on the shelf), which I haven’t had a chance to use yet, but I’m pretty excited about it.
Apparently it is parboiled, so you barely need to cook it, and Indians use it for all kinds of things: A quick, cozy breakfast, savory or sweet, a side dish with vegetables and potatoes, or you can fry it, or you can do whatever you want. It’s healthier than white rice because it hasn’t had as many nutrients polished away.