What’s for supper? Vol. 117: Cumin is king

Ready, set, food.

SATURDAY
Grilled ham and cheese, pickles, chips

This weekend, the kitchen ceiling fell in. We knew it was on its way out (here was one hint from earlier that day:)

but the schedule got pushed up abruptly in a shower of dirt, pencils, and mouse poop. We mulled it over, did a few tests for lead paint, and decided our lives were already ruined anyway, so I tacked up some plastic sheeting and spent the day pulling down the stained, droopy, acoustic tiles that remained.

Underneath, as we suspected? A very promising stamped tin ceiling

with, um, a few problematic areas.

and

for instance.

Also we found a very fetching mouse skeleton, which, in my frenzy of productivity, I threw away. I now regret this. I also wonder where his head went.

We bought out house from the bank with no information, and have had to do some sleuthing to patch together a history. The previous owners’ home improvement choices are a mixed bag. When the basement was on fire, they just walled that area up. Okay, fair enough. But after the kitchen fire(s), they apparently decided that re-insulating was too much of a hassle, that the ceiling could easily be four inches lower, and that cheap and crappy never goes out of style. And who can fault them?

Oh yeah, us. We fault them! We fault them!

Anyway, here is what the ceiling looks like now:

When we have the emotional wherewithal, we’ll take those beams down (they were just nailed to the tin as a base for the acoustic tiles), remove as much paint as possible, shove a bunch of insulation (and a soupcon of mouse poison) into the holes and patch them up, and paint. Onward and upward.

Here’s an account of some of our previous half-assed kitchen renovations.

SUNDAY
Enchilada bake

Several friends tipped me off about making enchiladas so much easier by simply layering the components in a pan, as for lasagna, rather than rolling individual enchiladas.

The result: Yes, far far easier. Not much to look at, though.

The taste is, of course, just the same. I used too much sauce, so they turned out flabbier than even I would like (and I like flabby foods a lot). Verdict: will make again, because they were tasty and satisfying; but will also roll individual enchiladas again, if I have the time, because they’re nicer.

To make them, I coated some chicken breasts with oil, chili powder, salt, pepper, cumin, and garlic powder, and broiled them, then shredded the meat. In some casserole dishes, I made layers of tortillas, chicken, canned enchilada sauce (I did one pan with red and one with green), shredded cheddar cheese, and sauteed, diced onions — probably 3-4 layers of each ingredient– and then baked it in a 350 oven for maybe forty minutes.

We also had sour cream, but I personally declined. I was prepared to scarf down eleventy million calories in chicken and cheese, but forbore to indulge in a dollop of sour cream on top. Please! I am not from Havana!

MONDAY
Moroccan (?) chicken with chickpeas, pomegranates

Pretty fancy meal for a Monday! I was having such a productive day on Sunday, I went ahead and started the chicken marinating then. The rest comes together very quickly. It’s a simplified version of this recipe from the NYT Cooking.

 

And this is the recipe that taught me I’ve been spelling and saying “turmeric” wrong my entire life. I solved that little problem this time by being clean out of turmeric. I never did have fennel. I decided that as of now, cumin is king.

Let me tell you, there was nothing lacking in flavor for this meal.

It was just screamingly delicious. My husband who hates chickpeas loves this meal.

To make the marinade, I took half a large tub of Greek yogurt and mixed it with four tablespoons of lemon juice, four tablespoons of water, and two tablespoons of cumin. This I used to marinate probably eight pounds of chicken thighs and wings. I normally don’t like wings — they don’t seem worth the trouble — but for this dish, they were perfect. I let it marinate for 36 hours, but a few hours would work, too.

About an hour before dinner, I drained and rinsed four 15-oz cans of chickpeas and mixed them up with a few glugs of olive oil, a few more spoonfuls of cumin, salt and pepper, and two red onions sliced thin.

I spread the seasoned chickpeas in a single layer on two large sheet pans, then made room among the chickpeas for the marinated chicken. Then it all went in a 425 oven for almost an hour. The chickpeas and the onions may start to blacken a bit, and this is a-ok. You want the chickpeas to be crunchy, and the skin of the chicken to be a deep golden brown, and crisp. The top pan was done first, and then I moved the other one up to finish browning as we started to eat.

While the chicken is cooking, you prepare your three garnishes:
Chop up some cilantro.
Slice another two onions nice and thin, and mix them in a dish with a few glugs of lemon juice and salt and pepper.
Then take the rest of the Greek yogurt and mix it up in another bowl with lemon juice, a generous amount of minced garlic, salt, and pepper.
I just set these three dishes out and let people use them as they liked.

The sweet, tart pomegranate seeds are just delightful with the crunchy, savory chicken skin and the creamy yogurt sauce. Everyone got a quarter of a pomegranate and just dug in.

This is one of those meals where we kept shouting “SO GOOD! SO GOOD!” like a, like I don’t know what. But it was so good! This is a fairly cheap dish, too. Especially if you skip the turmeric.

TUESDAY
Spaghetti with jarred sauce and sausages, salad

I had about a dozen long Italian sausages, which I started to cook and then forgot about. Miraculously, they did not burn; but by the time it was dinner, I was so enervated that I just couldn’t bring myself to cut them into normal pieces. So everyone just got a bowl of pasta with a giant sausage lounging on top. No complaints.

WEDNESDAY
Taco Tuesday

Oops.

THURSDAY
Pizza

Nothing to say about that, except that I tried out one of those pizza pans with holes in the bottom (affiliate link through Skimlinks), and it did make the bottom more crisp. Usually we slide the pizza out of its pan for the last several minutes of baking, but this method is far less of an invitation to cheesy disaster.

FRIDAY
Tuna boats, roast cauliflower, french fries

Ooh, I think I have some sweet pepper and hummus, too.

Make the chicken! You won’t be sorry! Cumin is king!!!!

The kitchen that wanted to be nice

Who wants to talk about my very slow motion kitchen renovation?

If you actually saw my house, you’d actually fall into two distinct pieces laughing at the idea of me giving renovation tips. But, as the sea captain said to his wife, you are there and I am here; so off we go.

Background: My kitchen was put together by grade A morons.

Some cabinets were built directly over the heating vent, so in the winter, the meat you set out to defrost at 8 a.m. would still be frozen by dinnertime. The built-in drawers were all broken, but the hardware was impossible to remove, so the remaining gap was almost useless for other things.

In another spot, someone mounted what was meant to be a corner cabinet in the middle of the wall, so there were shelves all the way across, but a door on only one side, hinged in the middle.

All the cabinets were dark and malproportioned, and the doors were always flapping open, because our entire house lists to one side like a sinking ship. The bottoms were falling out of the floor cabinets, and must needs be held up with a can of squash. And so on.

The result? A tiny kitchen with several big windows and lots of sun, that was nevertheless dark and cramped-feeling. I was perpetually losing my pans and pie dishes into the Black Hole of Calcutta, so if I wanted to make muffins, I had to lie down on my side and feel around with my arm, right in there with all the exposed staples and cobwebs and astonishingly bold mice.

Not cool, kitchen. Not cool at all.

We had next to no money to spend, but I felt a powerful urge to Do Something. So here is what we did:

Tore out all the floor cabinets, which formerly held pots and pans, with a reciprocating saw ($40).

Before:

During:

This took a couple of hours. My husband shored up the remaining countertop (which is not beautiful, but it’s functional) with wooden beams (maybe $20). These were supposed to just be temporary until we could decide what kind of open shelving to put in there; but I think I can live with this:

Functionality is beautiful enough, especially when you’ve been working with dysfunction for so long. So I put the three recycling bins under there, and it’s fine. We keep larger bowls and pots on top of the bins sometimes. Not only can we actually see what’s in there, the whole room looks brighter and more open.
To do: Replace the more Dr. Seuss-looking beams, and put in two shelves under the counter, to store flat pans and cutting boards and such.

Took the doors off most of the remaining cabinets ($0. We do own a screwdriver). Now all the food and plates and stuff are exposed, but it’s so much better and brighter and more open than having the doors always swinging open, bonking people in the face, and blocking the light.

Before:

After:

I don’t know if that looks better to you, but I like it! I like knowing what I have and where it is.

To do: paint at least the fronts of the cabinets bright yellow, to match the window frame. I love bright yellow, especially in winter.

Tore the world’s dumbest wall cabinet off, with a screwdriver and my Donkey Kong ambitions ($0). Before (and yes, it was falling off long before I started tearing it down):

I scrubbed the wall, and my husband put up two long shelves ($40 on eBay for a set of six brackets, $15 for lumber). After:

To do: Nothing! I love it! I just need to rearrange stuff so it’s more decorative. But it’s a bazillion times prettier than it was before.

I still have a corner of shame with miscellaneous stuff stored in a laundry basket and a milk crate (which, come to think of it, I stole from the kitchen in my college! More shame!!):

that I need to figure out. Probably I will buy a couple of metal shelving units (maybe $20 each) and keep pans and bowls there. And switch which side of the mini fridge the door opens on.

Things we have already done in the last ten years: moved the washer and dryer out of the kitchen and into the bathroom; replaced the refrigerator, dishwasher, and stove; bought an island with lots of storage space; put in two sets of metal shelves for large appliances and large amounts of fruit; replaced the dreadful tubular fluorescent light fixture with sharp, rusty edges and put in a nice glass fixture that is kind of dangling, but still much better; and replaced the one window that opens. I’m saying this mainly to encourage myself, because sometimes it feels like we’ve been living here forever and haven’t gotten around to anything. But we have!

Still to do: replace this other area of shame,

 

maybe with more wall shelving and hooks, or possibly a baker’s rack. I’m resigned to always having three baskets of laundry there. Notice the tattered label that says “STUFF ONLY.”

There was originally more to that label, making me seem somewhat less crazy, but only marginally.

Replace the floor. The floor is purgatorial. In some places, you can see through the horrible old linoleum to see patches of the even more horrible even older linoleum. Look at this. It’s not even dirty here, it’s just mean.

I feel like I want a tile floor, but that would mean lots of broken glass and lots of concussions, right? Who can recommend flooring that looks clean even when it’s not?

Replace the ceiling. It’s a crappy, acoustic, water-stained tile ceiling that wants to fall down and rain dead mice on our heads while we’re making stir fry.

Guess what’s under it? STAMPED TIN CEILING. No shit. Do you know how expensive that stuff is? But I haven’t worked up the courage to tear down all the tile and see how salvageable the original ceiling is.

Repaint the walls. I adore the walls. They are wide, tongue in groove wooden planks. Exactly what I would have chosen, given the choice. Maybe they just need a good scrubbing

The dishwasher is also a disaster but I don’t want to talk about it. The only good thing about it is it’s not the previous dishwasher:

It always looked like it wanted to see its son with its own eyes one time before it died.

Thing I am resigned to: This windowsill.

Everyone needs to cram random crap on this windowsill, and I accept that. I clear it off every few months, and they load it up again.

I would like to replace the windows themselves, as they currently house many, many spiders that I can’t get at; but it’s not at the top of my list. The porch outside the window makes it dark anyway. Maybe we just need to tear the porch off . . .

And here’s where I practice saying “Baby steps” to myself, even though “cleansing fire” sounds so much better.