Wow, is it Friday? Sorry for the radio silence on the site. I’ve been working on a bunch of other projects, like, a BUNCH. It’s a real feast-or-famine life for a freelancer. By which I mean I don’t know how to budget my time and I’m a mess. No, a planner would not help, because I would lose it. Yes, even if it was a special holy planner with stickers and lifestyle bookmarks or whatever you people are doing.
My mother has COVID. She had her first dose of the vaccine before she tested positive, and her symptoms are fairly mild so far, no fever, just bad cold symptoms. Of course we can’t visit her, and I keep thinking how she used to be such a stoic, but now she doesn’t have any means of understanding what’s happening to her. But she does appear to be recovering, and they are taking good care of her. I keep thinking how this is her favorite kind of weather right now: Sparkling bright, dry, cold, plenty of snow on the ground. She absolutely loved shoveling, for some reason, and I remember being awestruck at her going at it without a jacket on. Here’s a picture of her when she had some dementia but was still living at home:
In the background you can see her beloved grapevine, which she pruned and netted, where she poured out Elijah’s cup after the Passover seder, and where she buried precious things. At some point we are going to have to figure out what to do with that house, but NOTTTTT NOWWWW. P.S., does anybody want to buy literally 12,000 used books? DM me.
Anyway. Distance schooling has been extended for another week. I have lost one of the slippers I got for Christmas, and it’s so dang cold. But, I had a massive craving for cheese before bed last night, and managed to muscle it into submission and just go to bed cheeseless, so **feeble cheer for minor victory**
I need to shake up my menu. People just aren’t eating what I’m cooking, and I’m throwing away so many leftovers. Also, the kids have taken to storing any and all leftovers in ziplock bags, which works, but it’s just so squalid. We need to either buy a goat or, you know what, maybe I’ll stop buying so many delicious snacks. The snacking situation is UNTENABLE. I’m going to start a system where they can eat as much as they want, as long as they’ve grown it themselves on windowsills in little recycled egg cartons. Then we’ll see who’s hungry for . . . [checks notes] . . . slow cooked . . . thing. Anyway, I need to shake up my menu.
You know who likes my cooking? The birds! Chickadees, tufted titmice, and nuthatches, with the occasional cardinal and dark eyed junco. Here’s my recipe for birdseed cakes, and I’ve discovered a coffee filter makes a great liner when you freeze it. Helps keep the shape and peels off easily.
bird seed cake
This recipe makes a sturdy hunk of bird food full of fat and protein. It's best for the kind of bird feeder with an enclosure or support system to hold it as the birds peck at it, but you can make your own free-hanging "bird bell" by feeding a loop of thick string into it before you freeze it, or by making a spot for a hole and then threading a rope through afterward.
We like the kind of bird feeder that has a little platform and a central prong, so I make the seed cake in a round food storage container lined with parchment paper or, even better, a coffee filter. To make a hole, I roll up a wad of tinfoil to make a column for the center, and pour the bird seed mixture around that, and then dig the tinfoil out when it comes out of the freezer.
This recipe makes TWO flat, round cakes about 5" in diameter and 2" deep
shortening (can add bacon grease)
raisins, popped popcorn, cranberries, seeds, nuts
Prepare a container for the birdseed for a mold. If it's not a flexible container, line it with parchment paper.
In a pot, melt the shortening and peanut butter over low heat, and stir to combine.
Stir in the rest of the ingredients. Pour the mixture into the prepared container. Remember, if you want to hang it or put it on a prong, you will need to put something in so there will be a hole.
Freeze for several hours until the cake is solid. Remove from the mold and put it out for the birdies!
Here’s what the humans had this week:
Pulled pork sandwiches, coleslaw, tater tots
Not much to say about this. I put beer, apple cider vinegar, fresh jalapeños, and a couple other things in the slow cooker and let it cook all day, then fork shredded it. It was fine. Nice with some raw red onions.
We briefly discussed learning how to make actual BBQ sauce, but the concluded that Baby Ray’s or Sugar Ray’s or Honey Ray Ray’s or whatever it’s called is fine, and we always have 11 open bottles anyway.
I made six 16-inch pizzas, and was relieved to discover that was too much pizza. I made one cheese, two pepperoni, one olive, one olive-basil-ricotta,
and one basil-ricotta-fresh garlic-artichoke hearts-red onion-anchovy-red pepper flakes
which melded together verrrrry nicely.
They all got mozzarella, parmesan, and garlic powder and oregano. That last one was magnifico.
I also had a lovely lunch of scrambled eggs mixed with various fajita beef bowl fixins from last week, so I got rid of some ziplock bags that were sloshing around in the fridge. I was excitedly telling my son about this wonderful lunch option, where you scramble a few eggs while heating up leftovers in the microwave and then jumble it together in a nice bowl, and he just looked at me. In a way that reminded me how we used to look at my mother when she would take whatever was leftover and heat it up in a pot with a giant glug of salsa from her giant salsa jug.
Ohh the cat’s in the cradle and the salsa jug
Little boy blue and his ugly mug
When you shutting up, kids?
I don’t know when
I just wanna eat my lunch, guys.
Let your mother eat her lunch.
To be fair, I was the one who called him over to look at my lunch, which is a rookie mistake my mother never would have made.
Asian meatballs, rice, steamed broccoli
I went grocery shopping on Monday and didn’t get home until after dinner, partly because it was Benny’s shopping turn and she had some business to conduct at the Dollar Store, and these things can’t be rushed; so dinner was a real group effort. Started to make meatballs, sent son out to buy crackers, got daughter to finish making meatballs, asked husband to cook meatballs plus rice and broccoli.
Here are some meatballs I made back when there were sunshine and vegetables
I do like these meatballs. A few ingredients, simple preparation, mild flavor, and not too heavy. If you’re feeling inspired, you can dress up the meatballs with nice sauces and dips, or you can just have soy sauce. Soy sauce, brownest of the brown sauces. So tempting.
Spaghetti with bolognese sauce
I got it into my head to make a bolognese sauce, but really what I wanted was a ragu. Don’t ask me why I didn’t use the ragu recipe Damien always makes, which is superb. Well, the reason is that it looked a lot easier. I don’t know what I messed up, but it was extremely watery and kind of bland, despite all the lovely ingredients. I ended up having to siphon off about a quart of liquid, and probably ended up sopping up all the flavor with it.
I used Marcella Hazan’s recipe via Epicurious, and I sized it up x4, and that’s probably where my mistake came in. Also, I guess you’re supposed to use broader pasta with bolognese and save the spaghetti for ragu. This is not Marcella Hazan’s fault. She has been very clear about which sauces go with what pastas, and I just didn’t listen.
Oh well, it was still good. Just not the heavenly treat I was anticipating.
You can see I did buy a block of parmesan and shred it right before supper, so that was nice.
Instant pot beef teriyaki with rice and steamed vegetables
Another okay meal. I used this recipe and it was fine, but a little sweeter than I’d prefer, and it didn’t thicken up very well. No sauce I have ever made in my life thickens up well. IN MY LIFE.
I meant to serve this with fresh broccoli very lightly steamed, but I ended up with microwaved bags of mixed vegetables that turned out to have sauce on them already. It was fine. Nice and easy, and the meat did come out very tender.
Chicken nuggets and pasta salad
I reorganized my cabinets and weeded out a lot of stuff I will want at some point, but not right now. It’s pretty great! Now when I want peanut butter, I can just get it, rather than shoving around coconut cream and matzoh meal and molasses and packets of unflavored gelatin to find it. I know this is why you come to this site: For the amazing kitchen hacks. Tired of having cabinets that need cleaning out? Try cleaning out your cabinets! It really works!
The pasta salad was pretty good.
I had some sun dried tomatoes, fresh garlic, basil-infused olive oil, wine vinegar, pepperoni, feta cheese, and some more of that freshly-shredded parmesan, and plenty of freshly-ground pepper and sea salt. The feta cheese was probably not a great match, but nobody complained.
I guess I had some kind of spasm at Aldi and bought four bags of chicken nuggets, which is 200 chicken nuggets. At the last moment I didn’t open the fourth bag, but of course that was still too many. But if I had only cooked two bags, there would have been a riot. I don’t know. I don’t know anything.
I also managed to use three more boxes of my Ludicrous Pasta Backlog. There’s another hack for you. Tired of having nine boxes of pasta hanging around? Try cooking some of it! It really works!
Mac and cheese
Truthfully, only some of this will be macaroni, because in yesterday’s Pasta Hack, I only managed to use three boxes of pasta. They are not the ideal shape to receive cheese sauce. Nobody tell Marcella Hazan.
Here’s the one and only recipe card for the week, unless you want my recipe for chicken nuggets.
Vaguely Asian meatballs with dipping sauce
Very simple meatballs with a vaguely Korean flavor. These are mild enough that kids will eat them happily, but if you want to kick up the Korean taste, you can serve them with dipping sauces and pickled vegetables. Serve with rice.
Servings 30 large meatballs
Ritz crackers, crushed finely
scallions, chopped (save out a bit for a garnish)
ground white pepper
For dipping sauce:
mirin or rice vinegar
Mix together the meat and all the meatball ingredients with your hands until they are well combined. Form large balls and lay them on a baking pan with a rim.
Bake for about 15 minutes.
Serve over rice with dipping sauce and a sprinkle of scallions.