What’s for supper? Vol. 187: In which I make good choices and bad choices

I know I said I was ready to start cooking cold weather food, but this time, I mean it. Come for the honey chili acorn squash, homemade applesauce, and heavenly bacon tomato bisque, stay to feel better about the birthday cake you bought at Safeway. Here’s what we had this week:

SATURDAY
Beer brats with onions, chips

The kids unexpectedly begged for beer brats with onions, and that could be arranged. Damien boiled them in beer and onions and then browned them up in a pan. For me, however, he bought a surprise steak, since I was feeling low. 

It helped!

SUNDAY
Spaghetti and meatballs, garlic bread, chocolate cake

This was a birthday meal for Moe. Moe’s birthday is in May. 

Now, you may think it’s pathetic that we wouldn’t get around to celebrating a May birthday until October, but you are mistaken. That’s not pathetic! THIS CAKE IS PATHETIC! 

You will have to take my word for it that the theme was not “mangled remains of a once-proud city after a nuclear holocaust.” It really wasn’t. He is very into theater, so the theme was “comedy and tragedy,” and I made a comedy and tragedy mask with ribbons, and a bunch of olive leaves.

See, last time we made little garnishes out of melted chocolate, they turned out great.

What’s for supper? Vol. 144: Chocolate garnicht

It was easy, even. I don’t know what the hell happened this time. I guess maybe possibly I was rushing a bit. And also, it’s possible my confidence was a little shaky after the cake I had made last week, for Clara’s birthday. 

Now Clara, if you will recall, already had a huge blowout birthday in August when we went to Hadestown

A quick review of Hadestown, which you should sell a kidney to see

So I’m not saying I didn’t try to make a good cake, but after a birthday like that, I did feel less pressure to absolutely nail the cake part.

That being said, this was one garbage cake.

I had meant so bake it the night before, but it turns out I bought cake mix that requires egg whites, and we were out of eggs, and the quik-e-mart was closed, and there’s really no substitute for egg whites. So I asked Damien to bake it the next day while I was shopping. I couldn’t find the right pans, so I ended up giving him two round pans and one flower-shaped pans. 

In my head, it would look something like this:

A sort of grim, underworld nod to a wedding cake, topped with a glowing red blossom and dripping with shiny, dark chocolate. EASY ENOUGH, RIGHT?

So I set about fashioning a glowing red blossom out of fruit rolls and toothpicks, as one does. That part was actually not terrible, except that I got tired of feeling sticky, and didn’t make enough petals.

The inspiration:

And the execution:

To be fair, this was halfway through. It did end up looking a little better. A little.

Then the cake cracked a bit when it baked. That’s fine, that happens. But then, I decided to put the layers together without leveling them off. Why? Who can say? Maybe I suffered a mental injury while trying to fashion a blossom out of toothpicks and fruit rolls. Of course the unleveled cake cracked even more, and continued to crack, in a way that was no longer fine. So I broke up some wooden skewers so they’d be nice and splintery, and jammed them in to keep the layers together. 

But wait, it gets worse! Let’s talk about the chocolate ganache, which was going to rescue the whole wobbly mess by gracing it with a rich, glossy chocolate coating that dripped decadently down the sides.

I have never once in my life been able to make a chocolate ganache. It’s just beyond my capability. Doesn’t matter what recipe I use, what ingredients I splurge on. It never comes out. I’ve wrecked it so many times, and so consistently and so thoroughly, that we’re way beyond the point that there’s anything remotely admirable about trying again. There is a section in the DSM about people who still try to make a chocolate ganache with my ganache history. So naturally, that is what I tried.

You’ll never guess. It didn’t turn out.

It was grainy and soupy and bad. I slopped it on the cake anyway, hoping that a last-minute birthday miracle would make it magically coalesce into something edible. That did not come about. It did not come about, even though I helped it along by dumping a lot of gold sugar into the crack in an effort to make it look symbolic!

So.  That was what I had in my arsenal of cake confidence while approaching this other cake. Yeah, remember the other cake?

I didn’t mean for it to look like a photo you show to a cricket when threatening him about what you could do to his family if he doesn’t spill what he knows. I didn’t mean for it to be straight out of the “this is why you never go to sleep with a cell phone charging under your pillow. Poor Madyson now has a plastic bag where her jaw once was, and she wants you to look at this picture and think hard about your choices” file. It just turned out that way, all by itself.  

The good news is, there are no birthdays in November. 

MONDAY
Buffalo chicken salad

This actually tasted far better than it looks.  And yes, that is a sheet in the background. I was eating salad in bed. 

I wanted to make something like the salad I had at Wendy’s. I love Wendy’s salads. They are fresh and delicious, and let’s face it, sometimes you get a little surprise, especially if Pilar is working that day. 

I bought two bags of breaded chicken strips, one regular and one buffalo. I cooked those and cut them up and served them along with mixed greens and shredded pepper jack cheese, with buffalo ranch dressing and some of those crunchy fried onion things people put on that gross Thanksgiving string bean casserole. I thought it was very good! And of course extremely easy. The cheese didn’t really hit the spot, and I did mean to get tomatoes. I think maybe blue cheese next time. But there will be a next time for this salad.

TUESDAY
Pork ribs with applesauce, mashed squash, mashed potatoes

It’s edible squash season, motherfuckers.

I had the kids pick all the terrible apples they could reach from our terrible apple tree, Marvin.  We don’t do anything at all to take care of this tree, and the apples aren’t great for eating, but most of them are just a little spotty and weird, so fine for cooking. 

Well, some of them are terrifying. 

Doesn’t it look like it wished it could scream? This one didn’t go into the pot.

We also had an awful lot of bruised, dinged, maltreated apples left over from apple picking. 

I cut out all the bad spots, quartered them, and chucked them, peels and cores and all, into a big pot with a few inches of water, and set it to simmer with a loose lid. A few hours later, the apples were mushy and collapsed, and the kitchen smelled heavenly, and I suddenly remembered I had gotten rid of my food mill. So I was reduced to shoving the cooked apples through a strainer to get the peels, cores, and seeds out. Bah.

 I still stand by leaving the peels on when you cook the apples, for color and flavor, but if you don’t have a food mill, be smart and core them before cooking. Bah. What a stupid week. Anyway, I put the strained applesauce back into the pot and added a hunk of butter, some cinnamon, and some honey and let it cook down a little bit more. SO GOOD. There is nothing like warm, homemade applesauce.

I had two acorn squashes. I cut them in half and scooped them out, then put them in a pan in a 400 oven for about an hour, until the flesh was soft. Look how October it is:

Then I scooped it out, mashed it a bit, and added butter, honey, a little salt, and chili powder. I figured I was the only one who would eat it anyway.

I thought it was delicious! And yes, I was the only one who ate it. 

The pork ribs, I just sprinkled generously with salt and pepper on all side and put them in a 450 oven for about 25 minutes, turning once. This is the best way to make pork ribs. Fight me. 

Behold, my Salute to October:

WEDNESDAY
Meatball pizza

Aw yisss, leftover meatballs! I did not take a picture. Too busy eating meatball pizza.  

THURSDAY
Bacon tomato bisque, grilled cheese

This really is the soup of all soups. It takes even less skill than some soups, but it tastes both delicious and fancy. It is absolutely packed with flavor. I tweaked it a bit after last time I shared the recipe card (below). Bacon, garlic, onion, rosemary, tomato, and so creamy and rich. 

I also sprinkled the top of mine with some of those crunchy onion things we had left, and that was an excellent choice. 

I made a bunch of grilled cheese sandwiches with sourdough bread and American cheese, because dammit, I like American cheese. It melts good. I cooked them in the pan that the bacon, onions, and garlic had been cooked in. 

FRIDAY
I don’t know. I think I wrote spaghetti. 

***

4 from 1 vote
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Tomato bisque with bacon

Calories 6 kcal

Ingredients

  • 1/2 - 1 lb bacon (peppered bacon is good)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 35 oz can of whole tomatoes
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 46 oz tomato juice
  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • salt and pepper
  • crispy fried onions (optional garnish)

Instructions

  1. Fry the bacon until crisp. Remove from pan, chop it up, and drain out all but a a few teaspoons of grease.

  2. Add the diced onion and minced garlic to the grease and sauté until soft.

  3. Add tomatoes (including juices), bay leaves, rosemary, and tomato juice, and simmer for 20 minutes. Save some rosemary for a garnish if you like.

  4. With a slotted spoon, fish out the bay leaf, the tomatoes, and most of the rosemary, leaving some rosemary leaves in. Discard most of the rosemary and bay leaf. Put the rest of the rosemary and the tomatoes in a food processor with the 8 oz of cream cheese until it's as smooth as you want it.

  5. Return pureed tomato mixture to pot. Salt and pepper to taste.

  6. Heat through. Add chopped bacon right before serving, and top with crispy fried onions if you like. Garnish with more rosemary if you're a fancy man. 

What’s for supper? Vol. 170: All weather is soup weather

Sorry it’s been quiet on the site this week. There were so many people saying so many things that I just. . . kept shutting up. Anyway, thirty Helens agree: It’s time to talk about what we ate this week! 

SATURDAY
Hamburgers and chips

I think maybe we had burgers on the actual outside grill? I have no memory of Saturday. 

SUNDAY
Deli sandwiches, onion rings, spicy honeyed pineapple with ice cream

Mother’s day! I was showered with gifts and flowers and treats all day, as is truly right and just. We were supposed to go hiking, but it was crummy out, so instead I wandered around Home Depot and picked out some wonderful peonies. And I requested deli sandwiches for my special mother’s day dinner because, dammit, I like deli sandwiches. I think I had roast beef, smoked provolone, bacon, and onions. Mmm. And one of the boys, in addition to giving me a homemade present, ceremoniously threw out his most egregiously ratty sweatpants right before my eyes. *grateful tears*

For dessert, we had caramelized pineapple with vanilla ice cream.

I made some of the pineapple sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar before it went under the broiler, and some dressed with a mixture of honey, olive oil, and tabasco sauce. I had the latter, and I thought it was scrumptious. Some of the fruit crystalizes, and the hot juice mingles gorgeously with the ice cream. Great texture. I absolutely adore sweet, spicy, and creamy flavors together. Next time I will make some rum caramel sauce and maybe sprinkle with pralines, but it was very good as is. (Recipe card at the end.) I should add that I was the only one who liked it, but oh well. 

MONDAY
Tacos

 . . . for the poor unfortunate souls at home. I went skippingly off to the city to meet three friends from college for dinner, and I had such a nice time, I didn’t even take a picture of my food. I did, however, ask if the waitress if had Blue Moon on tap, even though I was sitting directly in front of seven ceiling-high copper brewing vats that wordlessly proclaimed, “We are a brew pub, you witless bumpkin.” Anyway, I had a Cuban panini and sweet potato fries and . . . some kind of beer that was good. 

It snowed. 

TUESDAY
Kielbasa, cabbage, and red potato with mustard vinaigrette; asparagus

A few kids have been asking for this dish, and I’m happy to comply, as it’s a nice easy meal with very little prep work. (Recipe card at the end.) Chop kielbasa and red potatoes and slice up some cabbage, and it’s all in one pan, and the dressing is easy and tasty as well. 

This meal is better if you let it brown up longer, but we were starving.

I also had some asparagus which I just sautéed in olive oil. A little bland, but this is my favorite way to prepare asparagus for texture. 

WEDNESDAY
Bacon tomato bisque; grilled cheese

Wednesday was the first day we finally emerged from the damp, shivery, blustery outrage of late spring in NH. I had to cover my new peonies and geraniums to protect them from the freezing rain. But Wednesday was fair and mild, verging on balmy. So of course I whipped up a heavy, creamy soup. 

Honestly, all weather is soup weather, as far as I’m concerned. Last time I made this soup, I used canned tomatoes. This time, I had fresh. I briefly considered blanching them and maybe seeding them, but then I decided that the extra work would render me too exhausted to enjoy the soup, so I just chunked them in, skins, seeds, and all, and pressed on the food processor button a little bit longer. 

Here’s the magical moment where I added the bacon, rosemary, and cream cheese-tomato puree to the pot:

Yeah, no complaints from anyone. Long live the bisque. Although I think I might add the bacon it at the end, next time, so it stays crisp. The onions and garlic get cooked in bacon fat, so the flavor would still be there. 

THURSDAY
Cumin chicken and chickpeas with red onion and pita

Every single person in my family likes this dish. A few of the kids only eat the chicken, but most of them went for the chickpeas as well. It’s another easy, one-pan dish, and I highly recommend marinating it as long as you can, because the skin is just stupendous.

I don’t necessarily recommend wearing a bright purple shirt in the evening sun when you take your food photos, though. In real life, the food was far less psychedelic. But the chickpeas gleamed like pebbles in a brook. I don’t know how I lived so much of my life without roasted chickpeas. 

As you can see, we had pita and onions with lemon juice and cilantro (and you can see I was still wearing that purple shirt), and I also made a big tub of nice garlicky yogurt sauce. I probably could have made a meal out of just the pita, yogurt, chickpeas, and onions.  

FRIDAY
Mac and cheese

I think I’ll once again return to making a white sauce with cheese in a pot, then adding it to the macaroni and baking that in the oven, rather than using the Instant Pot for everything. I somehow never got the hang of adding the right amount of liquid to the IP so pasta reliably comes out cooked. Still love it for some things, just not this.

And now it’s the weekend! I ran the optional hill today, so I am feeling pretty impressed with myself, and shall almost certainly reward myself with food. Hey. It’s an ethos. 

5 from 3 votes
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Yogurt sauce

Ingredients

  • 32 oz full fat Greek yogurt
  • 2 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • fresh parsley or dill, chopped (optional)

Instructions

  1. Mix all ingredients together. Use for spreading on grilled meats, dipping pita or vegetables, etc. 

Cumin chicken thighs with chickpeas in yogurt sauce

A one-pan dish, but you won't want to skip the sides. Make with red onions and cilantro in lemon juice, pita bread and yogurt sauce, and pomegranates, grapes, or maybe fried eggplant. 

Ingredients

  • 18 chicken thighs
  • 4 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 3 Tbsp cumin, divided
  • 4-6 cans chickpeas
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 red onions, sliced thinly

For garnishes:

  • 2 red onions sliced thinly
  • lemon juice
  • salt and pepper
  • a bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 32 oz Greek yogurt for dipping sauce
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced or crushed

Instructions

  1. Make the marinade early in the day or the night before. Mix full fat Greek yogurt and with lemon juice, four tablespoons of water, and two tablespoons of cumin, and mix this marinade up with chicken parts, thighs or wings. Marinate several hours. 

    About an hour before dinner, preheat the oven to 425.

    Drain and rinse four or five 15-oz cans of chickpeas and mix them up with a few glugs of olive oil, the remaining tablespoon of cumin, salt and pepper, and two large red onions sliced thin.

    Spread the seasoned chickpeas in a single layer on two large sheet pans, then make room among the chickpeas for the marinated chicken (shake or scrape the extra marinade off the chicken if it’s too gloppy). Then it goes in the oven for almost an hour. That’s it for the main part.

    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. Sometimes when I make this, I put the chickpeas back in the oven after we start eating, so some of them get crunchy and nutty all the way through.

Garnishes:

  1. While the chicken is cooking, you prepare your three garnishes:

     -Chop up some cilantro for sprinkling if people like.

     -Slice another two red onions nice and thin, and mix them in a dish with a few glugs of lemon juice and salt and pepper and more cilantro. 

     -Then take the rest of the tub of Greek yogurt and mix it up in another bowl with lemon juice, a generous amount of minced garlic, salt, and pepper. 

 

4 from 1 vote
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Tomato bisque with bacon

Calories 6 kcal

Ingredients

  • 1/2 - 1 lb bacon (peppered bacon is good)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 35 oz can of whole tomatoes
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 46 oz tomato juice
  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • salt and pepper
  • crispy fried onions (optional garnish)

Instructions

  1. Fry the bacon until crisp. Remove from pan, chop it up, and drain out all but a a few teaspoons of grease.

  2. Add the diced onion and minced garlic to the grease and sauté until soft.

  3. Add tomatoes (including juices), bay leaves, rosemary, and tomato juice, and simmer for 20 minutes. Save some rosemary for a garnish if you like.

  4. With a slotted spoon, fish out the bay leaf, the tomatoes, and most of the rosemary, leaving some rosemary leaves in. Discard most of the rosemary and bay leaf. Put the rest of the rosemary and the tomatoes in a food processor with the 8 oz of cream cheese until it's as smooth as you want it.

  5. Return pureed tomato mixture to pot. Salt and pepper to taste.

  6. Heat through. Add chopped bacon right before serving, and top with crispy fried onions if you like. Garnish with more rosemary if you're a fancy man. 

 

5 from 1 vote
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Spicy honeyed pineapple with ice cream

You could drizzle this with a caramel rum sauce and maybe sprinkle with pralines, but it's good just with fruit and ice cream, too. 

Ingredients

  • 1 pineapple, cut into spears or rings
  • 1/8 cup olive oil
  • 1/8 cup honey
  • tobasco sauce to taste

Instructions

  1. Preheat the broiler; or, if grilling outside, let coals die down.

    Mix olive oil, honey, and a few dashes of tobasco sauce, and slather the sauce all over the prepared pineapple.

    Spread in single layer on pan or over grill and cook, turning once, until it's slightly charred. 

    Serve hot with a scoop of ice cream. 

 

One-pan kielbasa, cabbage, and red potato dinner with mustard sauce

This meal has all the fun and salt of a wiener cookout, but it's a tiny bit fancier, and you can legit eat it in the winter. 

Ingredients

  • 3-4 lbs kielbasa
  • 3-4 lbs red potatoes
  • 1-2 medium cabbages
  • (optional) parsley for garnish
  • salt and pepper and olive oil

mustard sauce (sorry, I make this different each time):

  • mustard
  • red wine if you like
  • honey
  • a little olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • fresh garlic, crushed

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400. 

    Whisk together the mustard dressing ingredients and set aside. Chop parsley (optional).

    Cut the kielbasa into thick coins and the potatoes into thick coins or small wedges. Mix them up with olive oil, salt, and pepper and spread them in a shallow pan. 

    Cut the cabbage into "steaks." Push the kielbasa and potatoes aside to make room to lay the cabbage down. Brush the cabbage with more olive oil and sprinkle with more salt and pepper. It should be a single layer of food, and not too crowded, so it will brown well. 

    Roast for 20 minutes, then turn the food as well as you can and roast for another 15 minutes.  

    Serve hot with dressing and parsley for a garnish. 

What’s for supper? Vol.159: Bisquey business

How’s it hanging? Straight down? Yeah.

Here’s what we had for supper this week:

SATURDAY
Chicken marinara sandwiches; broccoli and dip

We had lots of wonderful sauce left over from the chicken cutlets last week, so Damien roasted some chicken breasts in the oven and we had them on toasted rolls with sauce and slices of provolone.

Feeble picture, excellent sandwich. I looked for basil, but the stores were completely out, for some reason. Probably all those people whipped up into hysteria by the weather forecasters. You best go out and pick up some basil, Travis!

SUNDAY
Chicken with chickpeas, pita and yogurt sauce; fried eggplant

Old reliable. You marinate the chicken (thighs or wings are best, and you MUST leave the skin on) in a cumin yogurt sauce for several hours, and the skin takes on the most amazing texture when you cook it.

I usually make two pans, with the chickpeas spread in among the chicken, which results in some crisp chickpeas on the edges and some rather soggy ones. So this time, tapping my finger cleverly against my temple, I put all the chicken in one pan and all the chickpeas in the other, on a lower oven rack. It worked! The chickpeas came out crisp and wonderful, with nice layers of crunch and a little soft center.

 

Then the kids told me they prefer them soggy. Tra la la.

I usually serve this with lemony red onion slices and fresh cilantro, but I forgot to buy onions, lemons, and cilantro, so it was a struggle.

I bought the eggplants purely out of a magpie impulse. So shiny, so pneumatic, so purply purple.

 

Such a lot of work to make them taste like anything. It actually wasn’t that hard, though. In the morning, I sliced the eggplant (leaving the skin on) and sprinkled both sides of the slices generously with salt, then laid them on napkins on a tray.

This draws out the moisture, and you can do it way, way ahead of time.

Before dinner, I made up a batter of flour, baking powder, water, and seasonings, and just dredged the eggplant through it before frying them in a few inches of hot oil.

This recipe turned out to be enough for about 1.5 large eggplants, so I will make a double recipe next time.  I had to skimp a bit on the batter, which is sad.

Very good. The texture was perfect, crisp and knobbly outside and tender inside.

 

The spices in the batter did a kind of slow burn rather than packing a punch, so I may up the seasoning next time, but I may not. In any case, now I know I can make fried eggplant! About half the kids ate it. Hey, it’s hot, batter fried food with salt on top that you can dip in stuff. They kept saying it was good zucchini, just to drive me crazy. I really don’t like zucchini.

The kids also made a lemon cake from a mix and topped it with strawberries. Pretty!

MONDAY
Pork ramen with pickled carrots

I forgot to make soft boiled eggs for this, but it was still a good, filling meal. I cooked up the boneless pork ribs in oil until they were almost done, then sliced them thinly, doused them with soy sauce, and finished cooking.

We also had pickled carrots (recipe card at end), fresh snow peas, scallions, sautéed mushrooms, and sesame seeds, soy sauce, wasabi sauce, and crunchy noodles of some kind.

Boy, those snow peas were great. Little sriracha sauce on top, yum yum.

TUESDAY
Meatloaf; roasted brussels sprouts and carrots

Nothing spectacular, but everyone is always happy on meatloaf day. I make my meatloaf with salt, pepper, fresh garlic, oregano, and plenty of Worcestershire sauce, mostly beef with some ground turkey, one egg and and half a cup of breadcrumb per pound of meat, and ketchup on the outside. Ghastly but tasty.

I made the vegetables with a sauce of balsamic vinegar, honey, and olive oil and some basic seasonings, and spread them in a shallow pan to roast.

Oh man, those little charred outside leaves of the Brussels sprouts.

The carrots were underdone and it looks like I didn’t do a great job of combining the binder with the meat, but we were too hungry to care.

WEDNESDAY
Bacon tomato bisque; grilled cheese

I was thrilled with this soup. I’ll make it again in the summer when there are decent fresh tomatoes, but it was delicious with canned, and very easy. Fry up bacon, then cook up onions and garlic in the bacon grease. Add tomatoes and tomato juice and bay leaf, and simmer for a while. Then take the tomatoes out and puree them with cream cheese, and put that back into the soup. I threw in some fresh rosemary we had from last week’s porchetta.

I had some cream to add, but it didn’t end up needing it. Tons of flavor and texture.

We had grilled cheese with muenster on sourdough, and it was an immensely satisfying winter meal.

I briefly considered putting out salad, but fought past that impulse.

THURSDAY
Omelettes; home fries

Choice of ham, cheddar cheese, sautéed mushrooms, and scallions.

All ten omelettes I made tasted fine, but were very unsightly. It’s time for me to admit that I am just too jumpy to make good-looking omelettes.

Oh well. We started on a high note because Corrie made her very own omelette (all I did was the folding part)

and she was so extremely proud of herself, it lit up the whole house.

We also had home fries. Potatoes cut in wedges, mixed up with olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika, and cooked in a hot oven for forty minutes or so.

I cooked them in the morning and heated them up in the evening. I had mine with hot sauce, and now I shall do this for the rest of my life.

FRIDAY
Mac and cheese

I think we’re kind of tired of the Instant Pot kind, so I’ll go back to the old style, which I learned from the WIC cookbook, where you make the cheese sauce separately and then add it to the cooked macaroni.

This is actually a really good marker of how my standards have changed. It used to seem like SO MUCH TROUBLE to make a sauce from scratch, cook pasta separately, and combine them in a dish. You end up making two pots AND a casserole dish dirty, and that’s not counting the pan for buttering the bread crumbs; and that felt intolerable. I’ve gotten much more used to the idea of putting time and effort into dinner.

But my life is also much, much easier now, with the kids being older, me sleeping most nights, life being calmer and more predictable in general, and Damien being home so much. And never underestimate how stressful and exhausting it is to be always about to run out of money, and to know that, if you fall in a hole, there won’t be any foreseeable way out. It colors everything you do.

Which is to say: If you cook mainly easy things, and more complex dishes seem out of your grasp, chances are good you’re not lazy or terrible. Your life is just hard right now, and your mental and physical energy needs to go elsewhere. If nobody is starving, you’re doing fine. I just wanted you to know that.

Here are this week’s recipe cards:

quick-pickled carrots and/or cucumbers for banh mi, bibimbap, ramen, tacos, etc.

An easy way to add tons of bright flavor and crunch to a meal. We pickle carrots and cucumbers most often, but you can also use radishes, red onions, daikon, or any firm vegetable. 

Ingredients

  • 6-7 medium carrots, peeled
  • 1 lb mini cucumbers (or 1 lg cucumber)

For the brine (make double if pickling both carrots and cukes)

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar (other vinegars will also work; you'll just get a slightly different flavor)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp sale, preferably kosher

Instructions

  1. Mix brine ingredients together until salt and sugar are dissolved. 

  2. Slice or julienne the vegetables. The thinner they are, the more flavor they pick up, but the more quickly they will go soft, so decide how soon you are going to eat them and cut accordingly!

    Add them to the brine so they are submerged.

  3. Cover and let sit for a few hours or overnight or longer. Refrigerate if you're going to leave them overnight or longer.

Fried eggplant

You can salt the eggplant slices many hours ahead of time, even overnight, to dry them before frying.

Ingredients

  • 2 medium eggplants
  • salt for drying out the eggplant

1/2 cup veg oil for frying

2 cups flour

  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 1 tsp veg oil
  • optional: kosher salt for sprinkling

Instructions

  1. Cut the ends off the eggplant and slice it into one-inch slices.
    Salt them thoroughly on both sides and lay on paper towels on a tray (layering if necessary). Let sit for half an hour (or as long as overnight) to draw out some of the moisture. 

  2. Mix flour and seasonings in a bowl, add the water and teaspoon of oil, and beat into a batter. Preheat oven for warming. 

  3. Put oil in heavy pan and heat until it's hot but not smoking. Prepare a tray with paper towels.

  4. Dredge the eggplant slices through the batter on both sides, and carefully lay them in the hot oil, and fry until crisp, turning once. Fry in batches, giving them plenty of room to fry.

  5. Remove eggplant slices to tray with paper towels and sprinkle with kosher salt if you like.. You can keep them warm in the oven for a short time.  

  6. Serve with yogurt sauce or marinara sauce.

Cumin chicken thighs with chickpeas in yogurt sauce

A one-pan dish, but you won't want to skip the sides. Make with red onions and cilantro in lemon juice, pita bread and yogurt sauce, and pomegranates, grapes, or maybe fried eggplant. 

Ingredients

  • 18 chicken thighs
  • 4 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 3 Tbsp cumin, divided
  • 4-6 cans chickpeas
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 red onions, sliced thinly

For garnishes:

  • 2 red onions sliced thinly
  • lemon juice
  • salt and pepper
  • a bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 32 oz Greek yogurt for dipping sauce
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced or crushed

Instructions

  1. Make the marinade early in the day or the night before. Mix full fat Greek yogurt and with lemon juice, four tablespoons of water, and two tablespoons of cumin, and mix this marinade up with chicken parts, thighs or wings. Marinate several hours. 

    About an hour before dinner, preheat the oven to 425.

    Drain and rinse four or five 15-oz cans of chickpeas and mix them up with a few glugs of olive oil, the remaining tablespoon of cumin, salt and pepper, and two large red onions sliced thin.

    Spread the seasoned chickpeas in a single layer on two large sheet pans, then make room among the chickpeas for the marinated chicken (shake or scrape the extra marinade off the chicken if it’s too gloppy). Then it goes in the oven for almost an hour. That’s it for the main part.

    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. Sometimes when I make this, I put the chickpeas back in the oven after we start eating, so some of them get crunchy and nutty all the way through.

Garnishes:

  1. While the chicken is cooking, you prepare your three garnishes:

     -Chop up some cilantro for sprinkling if people like.

     -Slice another two red onions nice and thin, and mix them in a dish with a few glugs of lemon juice and salt and pepper and more cilantro. 

     -Then take the rest of the tub of Greek yogurt and mix it up in another bowl with lemon juice, a generous amount of minced garlic, salt, and pepper. 

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Tomato bisque with bacon

Calories 6 kcal

Ingredients

  • 1/2 - 1 lb bacon (peppered bacon is good)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 35 oz can of whole tomatoes
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 46 oz tomato juice
  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • salt and pepper
  • crispy fried onions (optional garnish)

Instructions

  1. Fry the bacon until crisp. Remove from pan, chop it up, and drain out all but a a few teaspoons of grease.

  2. Add the diced onion and minced garlic to the grease and sauté until soft.

  3. Add tomatoes (including juices), bay leaves, rosemary, and tomato juice, and simmer for 20 minutes. Save some rosemary for a garnish if you like.

  4. With a slotted spoon, fish out the bay leaf, the tomatoes, and most of the rosemary, leaving some rosemary leaves in. Discard most of the rosemary and bay leaf. Put the rest of the rosemary and the tomatoes in a food processor with the 8 oz of cream cheese until it's as smooth as you want it.

  5. Return pureed tomato mixture to pot. Salt and pepper to taste.

  6. Heat through. Add chopped bacon right before serving, and top with crispy fried onions if you like. Garnish with more rosemary if you're a fancy man.