What’s for supper? Vol. 166: Everything is awesome

Raise your hand if this was your favorite week ever. Yeah, I thought so. Oh well, at least we have food. Here’s what we ate this week:

SATURDAY
Grilled ham and cheese; chips; string beans

Just another busy Saturday. You can see I made another stellar shopping list, too.

Grilled ham and provolone on sourdough bread with a little mayo on the outside, fried in butter.

Sometimes we slip thin slices of Granny Smith apples inside these sandwiches before frying, but not this week.

The string beans are finally looking less wretched, though, so we had just washed and trimmed them and ate them raw. Dreaming of the garden, if the snow ever leaves.

SUNDAY
Porchetta pork roast, farro salad, garlic bread

This was most certainly a bright spot. Best porchetta pork roast in the world. A few weeks ago, the Herreid clan was in the area for a wedding, and John stopped by with a bounty of leftover food. The Herreids are all, as far as I can tell, food geniuses. Ben is the chef at Wildflour artisan pasta restaurant in Leavanworth, WA, and this porchetta is one of his dishes. If you’re ever in the area, I highly highly recommend going to Wildflour. I’ve had the chance to taste Ben’s dishes a few times, and they are outstanding.

Damien recreated the porchetta this week, with a few minor adjustments. I’ll put a card at the end (probably later today. I can’t seem to ever finish this post!).

I was working while Damien cooked, and didn’t get a lot of pics of the pork, so here are some from John Herreid, when he made the same recipe at his house:




Eh? Eh? Have mercy; it’s the food of the gods.

I couldn’t find a nice big roast so we could roll and tie it like you’re supposed to, so we just had some sort of slabs to fold in half; and I couldn’t find white pepper, so he used black pepper and a little red pepper. I always think I don’t like fennel, but when it hangs around with the right flavors, it’s heavenly. So this was fennel root with onions, sweetened with apricot preserves and golden raisins, and heated with the peppers, along with sausage, white wine, coriander and garlic. Amazing. The smell alone will absolutely murder you, in the fun way.

He prepped the meat the day before, and then started it cooking in a 185 around 8 a.m. on Sunday and cooked it until about 5:30, turning it up to 500 for the last 20 minutes. Then you blast the heat and the end and crackle up the fat until it’s ready to melt under the crust. Hot damn.

For a side, I made this farro salad which was good, but not really the right accompaniment to this particular porchetta. They both had very strong flavors which didn’t complement each other as I hoped. The porchetta was more dusky and autumnal, I guess, and the farro more piquant and summery, or something. Anyway, next time I’ll probably just serve plain bread and asparagus or spinach or string beans with the porchetta, and save the farro salad for steak or grilled chicken or something with less complex flavors.

The farro salad was gorgeous, anyway, and really fed my hunger for color. Check out the vegetables:

and check out the dressing:

I do love farro. It’s like if barley and pasta got married and had a kid, and everyone’s like, “Whoa, look who got all the best genes!”

Overall an excellent meal.

I say the combination wasn’t ideal, but yet I also ate a lot of it. A LOT.

MONDAY
Chicken burgers, fries

Monday got eaten up by the locusts, so we had some late, hurried frozen chicken burgers. Which are actually pretty tasty.

TUESDAY
Calzones, banana splits, fried cheese balls

Tuesday was Irene’s birthday, and she asked for calzones. Recipe card at the end. I made some plain, some pepperoni, and some olive. I had a lot of help from my kitchen buddy.

I made sixteen calzoni, using four balls of readymade pizza dough cut into fourths. Sheesh, I love calzoni. Is there any friendlier food?

Then you brush a little egg wash on top and they are so plump and shiny.

Notice those little balls on the plate. I had a bunch of cheese filling left over, so I added a few beaten eggs and some panko bread crumbs to it, rolled them into balls the size of ping pong balls, and rolled them in bread crumbs again.

Then I chilled them a few hours and deep fried those suckers.

They were good! I wasn’t sure if they would hold together, since they were mostly ricotta, and I wasn’t sure if the crust would be thick enough, since I didn’t bother dipping them in egg; but they turned out really nicely. I think the small size and the chilling helped them hold together.

They were very light and tender, as tasty as fried mozzarella sticks but not so heavy. We dipped them in hot marinara sauce.

The only down side was that they were absolutely overkill as a side dish for calzones! It was like going to see a Shakespeare play and then stopping off for some sonnets on the way home. I would make these again as a side dish to something that wasn’t already mainly hot cheese, and maybe stick a little pancetta or basil or something in them.


WEDNESDAY
Ham, mashed potatoes, peas

Benny asked for this dish very ardently.

I think mainly because I found some Wooly Willy dishes at a thrift store. I went looking for an Amazon link out of habit, and this is what I found:

Decorative use only, you guys. You’ve been warned.

The only useful advice I have about ham is this: if you buy a pre-cooked one, you can slice it up and then heat it, and it heats up much faster. You don’t want to know how long it took me to figure that out.

THURSDAY
Beer brats, smoked wings

Damien made this outside on the grill. Very delicious. He used his sugar rub for the wings and let them sit for several hours before grilling. He boils the brats in beer and onions before grilling. I’ll put recipe cards at the end at some point today.

I feel like we had an assortment of chips. It was only yesterday, but my memory is foggy. I blame the locusts. You can see the lengths we went to to prepare an attractive table, too. Ehh, the meat was good.

FRIDAY
Waffles, eggs, home fries

That’s what it says on the blackboard, anyway. Looking back, this week’s menu was designed to kill us quick, but here we still be.

And now I find out if the formatting is completely screwed up. I updated my blogging system and now everything takes an extra four steps and sometimes doesn’t work! It’s awesome. Everything is awesome.

Calzones

This is the basic recipe for cheese calzones. You can add whatever you’d like, just like with pizza. Warm up some marinara sauce and serve it on the side for dipping. 

Servings 12 calzones

Ingredients

  • 3 balls pizza dough
  • 32 oz ricotta
  • 3-4 cups shredded mozzarella
  • 1 cup parmesan
  • 1 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1-2 egg yolks for brushing on top
  • any extra fillings you like: pepperoni, olives, sausage, basil, etc.

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400. 

  2. Mix together filling ingredients. 

  3. Cut each ball of dough into fourths. Roll each piece into a circle about the size of a dinner plate. 

  4. Put a 1/2 cup or so of filling into the middle of each circle of dough circle. (You can add other things in at this point – pepperoni, olives, etc. – if you haven’t already added them to the filling) Fold the dough circle in half and pinch the edges together tightly to make a wedge-shaped calzone. 

  5. Press lightly on the calzone to squeeze the cheese down to the ends. 

  6. Mix the egg yolks up with a little water and brush the egg wash over the top of the calzones. 

  7. Grease and flour a large pan (or use corn meal or bread crumbs instead of flour). Lay the calzones on the pan, leaving some room for them to expand a bit. 

  8. Bake about 18 minutes, until the tops are golden brown. Serve with hot marinara sauce for dipping.  

Ben Herreid’s Porchetta pork roast

Ingredients

  • 1 deboned pork shoulder
  • 2 sweet Italian sausages, removed from casings
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1 bulb fennel, sliced like the onion
  • 2/3 cup apricot preserves or quince paste
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 3 cups dry white wine
  • kosher salt

spice rub (makes a little less than a cup)

  • scant 1/2 cup ground fennel
  • 1/4 cup ground coriander
  • 1/4 cup garlic powder
  • 2 Tbsp ground white pepper OR black pepper with some red pepper flakes thrown in

Instructions

  1. Directions:

    Cut open pork shoulder so that it can be rolled up. It should be cut sort of like a tri-fold brochure, keeping the fat as the outside layer. Season liberally on both sides with spice rub and kosher salt.

    Make filling by sautéing fennel, onion, sausage, garlic. Once sausage is browned and both fennel and onion is soft, set aside and let cool. Mix in golden raisins and apricot preserves. Season with salt.

    Put fennel/sausage mix inside pork shoulder and roll tightly. It will be messy. Tie with baking twine as you would a roast. Transfer to a covered roasting pan.

    Roast at low temp (185) in covered pan with three cups of dry white wine for 7-10 hours, or until the pork is fork tender. Drain the drippings and set aside.

    Uncover and roast at 500 for 20 minutes or so, rotating the pan midway through. You want to crisp the exterior up and render the outside fat.

    Slice and serve.

    If you like, reduce the drippings to add back in on top of the pork.

Expose your kids to art! (Or vice versa)

Expose your children to art! Or vice versa.

Portrait of a youth who stopped and looked closely at a work of fine art. This is a win.

The other week, we visited the Worcester Art Museum in MA. I heartily recommend it if you’re in the area (and it’s free all through August!). They had a world class collection with tons of variety, from pre-Columbian art to this guy; it was quite kid friendly (a docent in the armor display helped the kids try on helmets and gauntlets), the docents were genial and well-informed, and they had the exhibits arranged well to really help you see them. We saw everything in about three hours, and had time to go back and look at our favorite rooms.  Looks like they have a pleasant cafe and a bunch of programs, classes, and demonstrations, too.

About what happened in the photo above, I take full responsibility. I’ve been reading them Black Ships before Troy: The Story of the Iliad and he got kind of hung up on Helen of the Fair Cheeks.

Of the Fair Cheeks.

I’m just glad he didn’t notice what was going on on the B side of some of those Grecian urns. Whoo-ee!

Anyway, we had such a good time that I want to encourage everyone to bring your kids to an art museum this summer, even if you don’t think of yourself as one of those high culture families. If you’re in New England, don’t forget about Free Fridays (which includes art museums and lots of other fun stuff).

Here’s something I wrote a few years ago, on that topic of why adults sometimes struggle with visiting art museums, and how kids can show us how to do it better. For more reading on this topic, check out “Introducing Children to Art” by an actual artist, John Herreid, who is raising three hilariously arty kids.

***

Remember the scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, when the Holy Grail is being snatched again by the bad guys?  Indy cries out in righteous indignation:  “That belongs in a museum!”  I love me some Indiana Jones, but I have regretfully come to the conclusion that this line was not meant ironically.  This really is the highest compliment that Americans can pay to an object of beauty and worth:  that it belongs in a museum.  I heard someone say the exact same thing in real life, when our college group first stepped out into one of the teeming, sun-drenched piazzas in Rome.  There was a magnificent fountain in the middle of the square, featuring a sculpture carved by one of the giants of Western art.  And people were sitting on it, and smoking, and drinking terrible wine, and flirting with each other, trying to sell socks out of a duffle bag, and generally acting like this timeless piece of art was theirs.  Almost tearful with outrage, the fellow cried out, “That should be in a museum!”

He meant that it ought to be protected from the elements, and also from bird droppings and graffiti and vandals.  But he also meant that it ought to be tucked away indoors, where the lighting could be controlled, where people would speak in hushed tones as they file past in reverence — where only the select few, acting in a very select way, would see it, and no one would get comfortable with it.  And there, he was disastrously wrong.

Art museums are necessary because they are the most convenient way to preserve and share works of art which would otherwise be tucked away in the private homes of the very wealthy.  But there is always the danger of museumishness taking over the work of art — making us forget why the artist made the piece in the first place.  It’s a relatively new idea that art is here to “challenge” us, to jar us out of whatever cultural sin is currently considered intolerable.  Instead, the great artists of every century have all said one thing:  “I see something!  You come and see it, too!  Do you see?”

Well, that’s a pretty big topic.  But in this little post, I can say that the problem with putting something in a museum is that it tends to give the impression that the question, “Do you see it, too?” is already answered.  We feel like we have to stroke our chins gravely and say, “Yes, yes, of course I see,” whether we do or not, because there it is, in a museum.  It must be Real Art. No wonder so many people have an aversion to art.  They think they’re expected to respond like highly educated robots when the encounter it.

What’s the cure for a case of Stifling Museumishness?  Take your kids to the museum with you . . . and do what they do.

Oh, listen, if your kids are awful, please don’t take them to a museum.  If they can’t be controlled, don’t take them.  If they can’t tell the difference between indoors and outdoors, and if they don’t obey you, and if otherwise kind people groan audibly when they see your family coming, then by all means, stay home.

But many parents underestimate how responsive their kids will be to good art.  Kids in art museums will often behave in a way that is not only tolerable, but which the adult patrons should imitate.

Kids do not talk in whispers, as if they are at the bedside of a dying tyrant.  Why do we whisper in front of art?  We shouldn’t speak loudly, to distract other patrons; but a normal, conversational tone of voice is completely appropriate.  Talking about what you’re seeing isn’t rude!  It’s a natural thing to do, and makes the experience so much more rewarding, when you hear other people’s takes on what you’re seeing. I also like to eavesdrop on strangers’ conversations — so sue me.

Kids do not pretend to like things they don’t like.  It’s one thing to have an open mind; it’s quite another to be a sucker. Many museums have extensive collections in the ever-popular genre of Egregious Crapola, and sometimes it really is only kids who are willing to point this out.  Many adults have been duped into giving up on beauty; most kids have not.  (But really, each kid is allowed to say, “I could have done that in ten minutes with a gallon of housepaint and a stick!” one time, and then they’re done.  This comment may or may not be true, but it gets old fast.)

Kids are also remarkably open to admitting that there is more than meets the eye.  They may shrug or grimace in front of a wonderful piece, but they are usually ready to listen if you point out, “No, look at how the light shines through that leaf!” or “See how realistic her hand looks — but get closer, and it’s just a bunch of paint” or “But why do you think this guy on the side has that look on his face?” or “Holy mackerel, what is this?!?”

Kids laugh at paintings – not only ones that look ridiculous, but ones which are meant to be funny.  There is nothing sillier than a bunch of adults gravely appreciating the finer points of a work of art which is supposed to be hilarious.

Kids do not suffer from appreciation anxiety.  Some adults who feel insecure in their grasp of art may spend their entire museum time wondering how obvious their lack of expertise is.  Well, that’s no way get to be more of an expert!  Kids don’t think about how they appear to others; they just look at the art.

Kids do not waste their time looking at exhibits that don’t interest them, out of a sense of duty or thrift.  They will keep circling back to take another look at that one room or one piece they really like, and that is a much more natural response than trying to “do” the whole museum just because it’s there.

Okay, yes, and some kids will go berserk and behave like little demons, while their fond parents look on and do nothing. Or if you have a generally decent child who is temporarily going through a highly unreasonably, ridiculously loud stage, then this is probably not the best time to work on enhancing their cultural education. But really, if your kids are generally the non-demonic, non-berserker types, consider taking them to a small museum next time you have a chance.  Wear comfortable clothes, discuss expectations ahead of time, plan a small treat for afterwards, and just relax.  You will probably have a lovely time!
**
A version of this post originally ran in the National Catholic Register in March of 2013.

About the cover art for SGNFP

My beloved cover

was done by the immensely talented John Herreid, who is a graphic artist for Ignatius Press.  (He also happens to be my sister’s husband’s brother, and he made the cover for me as a gift!)

Check out John’s latest blog post for Ignatius Press Novels, where he describes a few of the ingenious processes he used

while lovingly creating some of his favorite book covers.  So cool.