Posts filed under 'Family Dinner'
When I originally proclaimed Wednesday night to be “leftovers night!” I feared that Kevin would revolt. We had a lot of Leftovers Nights when I was growing up and they were usually met with reactions that ranged from mild groans of dissatisfaction to downright tantrums of refusal (those were the nights that Ali or I (why couldn’t we ever coordinate, I wonder, because it would have been a lot more fun together) would remain at the table until we ate two/three/four more bites. We’d be there for hours, in some cases. Funny, I have absolutely no recollection of how those stand-offs resolved themselves. Did I really eat the bites? Did my mom cave? I’ll have to ask her.
Anyway, back in 2008, it turned out that Kevin was thrilled with the idea. He was delighted to heap a stack of leftover pizza slices next to a dollop of refrigerated-for-two-days risotto. He was more than happy to nestle in a few forkfuls of Monday’s chicken cacciatore (the clear winner among the leftovers, by the way). And, quite expectedly, he had no problem capping the whole thing off with a remaining wedge of chocolate almond torte.
(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos & the recipe.)
After my sister, Ali, upped the ante last week with her dinner pick (which she was forced to make in the wake of her Biggest Loser Bowl loss), I knew I had to come up with something pretty good when one of my teams got booted next. And if there’s a dinner that’s only too happy to one-up all the other dinners, it’s lasagna. A couple reasons for my choice …
(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos & a layer-by-layer recipe of sorts.)
I am bursting at the seams to tell you about all of the action in my kitchen over the past couple days. As I’ve said, I’m busy cooking and baking for back-to-back parties this Friday and Saturday. Since Friday’s more of a casual, small gathering, the real kitchen action has been dedicated to Saturday night. And I’d love to tell you all about it. Really, I would. And I will. I promise. But one of the two guests of honor on Saturday night has expressed her desire to be surprised by the line-up of tapas and treats. And, when I take a teensy tiny step back, I too realize that it will be much more fun for her to be surprised.
(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos and the recipe.)
I may have just planned my last Family Dinner for quite some time. Oh, don’t worry: the Family Dinners will continue. Its just that I might only be cooking and enjoying them, rather than menu planning for them. Let me explain.
Ali, Kevin and I have entered into a friendly wager involving the latest season of The Biggest Loser. Let’s face it, the TV pickings are slim these days. What’s more, we don’t have a team in the NFL playoffs, the Bulls are completely awful and March Madness is half a January and a whole February (complete with an extra day for Leap Year!) away. So, folks, we’ve created our own sport.
(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos & the recipe)
Santa was very kind to me in the kitchen department this year. As you’ll see in a slew of upcoming posts, I was lucky enough to receive a host of cooking implements. One such gift was clearly in response to one of my recent kitchen failures. One weekend this fall, we endeavored to make our own ravioli. Well, the fillings we created were delicious, but the pasta itself was a disaster. I had read in a few places that it was entirely possible to roll out pasta sheets for ravioli by hand. Well, it might be possible, but it certainly didn’t occur when I tried it. Most of the raviolis ended up in the trash (Kevin was kind enough to eat a few, but I couldn’t take more than one). Santa must have known about this disaster and, in response, he got me this:
It’s not quite as scary looking as our potato-ricer-disguised-as-torture-device, but it’s definitely a somewhat ominous-looking contraption. It’s a pasta-making Kitchen Aid attachment. Various inserts allow you to make linguine, spaghetti, fettucine and even sheets of pasta. I spent quite a bit of time perusing the instruction manual and the reviews of the attachment online. Let’s just say that they didn’t exactly ease my fears. In what I thought was an effort to increase our chances of success, I decided to use Kitchen Aid’s pasta recipe included in the instruction booklet and the least risky-looking of the inserts, which promised to yield a thick spaghetti strand. Well, thick it was. And also completely bizarre looking:
Using the machine itself was a challenge. After mixing and kneading the pasta, we began feeding the dough into the attachment in walnut-sized bits, following the instructions. And when I say “we,” I mean it. Using this thing kind of reminded me of assembling Ikea furniture: half-way through the instruction manual full of user-friendly photos depicting two people assembling a dresser you turn the page and–bam!–suddenly there are three people in the photo with the dresser. Likewise, this pasta attachment requires at least two people. At least it does if you want to remain halfway sane during the process.
The difficulty and odd-looking results aside, the pasta was actually really tasty. Especially tossed in two of the three sauces I’d prepared for the evening. You see, my sister was spending the night with us. Her Friday nights typically involve stories along the lines of: “When that place closed we went to X and when X closed we finished off the night at Y. Oh and we stopped off for some food at Z on the way home.” So the least I could do to entertain her on a Friday night in with old, boring married people was create a “bar” of three sauces ready and waiting to douse our weird, but homemade!, pasta strands.
Kevin’s choice was carbonara, a sauce I know he loves (cream, bacon and eggs: shocking that a sauce featuring these ingredients floats his boat, I know). Ali opted for a spicy tomato-and-sausage sauce, with a touch of cream. I went for a porcini mushroom sauce (any time I make myself something that Kevin won’t be eating, it’s a safe bet that it will involve mushrooms). Ali’s and Kevin’s sauces were both really good–I’d recommend them both without reservation. Mine, on the other hand, was not great–runny, bland and, frankly, a waste of $10 worth of dried porcinis. And after my trials and tribulations with the Kitchen Aid, I needed something great. Fortunately, our dessert (recipe and photos coming soon) more than made up for it.
As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, I’m in the middle of final exams. While I’m moving into the home-strech now, last week was pretty busy. Because of that (and as I’ve also mentioned), our kitchen was a little under-utilized last week. One exception, though: family dinner. I really didn’t want to cancel on my sister, who comes over once a week for dinner. But I also couldn’t bear the thought of planning a menu, grocery shopping and prepping. Frankly, the Uniform Commercial Code had ruined my appetite.
So, we set a tentative night for family dinner (Tuesday) and all agreed that we’d play it by ear. By Tuesday afternoon, I still hadn’t made a call. While I would’ve gladly swapped text books for cookbooks and traded in my computer for a cutting board, I didn’t think I could afford the time away from studying. We were this close to pulling the plug. There would always be plenty of time for family dinners in 2008, right?
But, it was Ali to the rescue! My sister saved the family dinner by planning the menu (fajitas and fixins) and doing the shopping. She even braved Whole Foods for me (no fewer than five phone calls were exchanged for additional guidance). Then she hauled all the groceries over to our place on the bus (after waiting in the rain at the bus stop). When she got here (after toweling off—it was really raining), she unloaded the groceries and started chopping veggies and chicken (yes, mom, Ali was slicing and dicing raw chicken). By the time I finished studying and Kevin got home from work, dinner was well under way.
By the time we sat down to eat—with our tortillas bulging with spicy, smoky peppers and chicken, salsa and guacamole—all thoughts of good faith purchasers for value and the fiduciary duties had disapppeared. It was a family dinner fiesta! And it was just the re-charge I needed.
There’s nothing novel, fancy or complicated about these recipes. In fact, I’m sure mine resemble many of yours. But there’s something wonderful about a meal that involves recipes you know by heart and that you can put together with your eyes closed. And something completely nourishing about sharing them with people you love.
Last night was Family Dinner. My sister was coming over for the evening to not only dine but to help us trim our Christmas tree (which is fake–point of contention–and on it’s very last leg, after moving from DC to Chicago and then again across Chicago) and otherwise decorate our place for the holidays (or Chrismakkah, as this “blended household” likes to call it).
What was on the menu, you ask? One might guess I had planned a festive meal—something pure holidays or perhaps just seasonal. Something that fit the holiday color scheme at the very least (but that’s probably a little too “semi-homemade” for my taste; what’s next? a tablescape & a cocktail?). But, because I am the Grinch, I eschewed these thoughts and instead opted for one of my favorite summer meals–an Asian pan seared/oven roasted salmon recipe. You see, I’m on a mission to make my sister a salmon fan. Yes, I repeat, I’m the Grinch. She comes over once a week and I made her a dinner featuring a protein about which she’s on the fence.
I also chose this recipe because it’s insanely quick and easy—perfect for this evening, because I didn’t want to miss too much of the tree trimming. I also was pretty sure it would win my sister over. The flavors in the glaze are some of her favorites. The same tactic (smother a potentially un-popular item in ingredients sure to please) worked with my husband when he began to eat more fish.
Operation Make-a-Salmon-Fan-out-of-Ali was a success. She cleaned her plate (which also included steamed edamame, tossed with sesame oil, black sesame seeds and chili flakes, and brown rice). And our place looks gorgeous, decked out with a tree (fake), menorah (a little too early, I know, but it’s all in the same box), garland and wreath. In retrospect, maybe I should’ve at least served some egg nog or glogg …. no, no, no. Who am I kidding? The wine was just fine.
Growing up, my sister was a stand-out hockey player. Yes folks, in Minnesota (and elsewhere), girls play hockey. I, on the other hand, can fend for myself on a pair of skates—but give me a hockey stick, and it’s all down hill (read: it’s all fall down) from there. While she was the captain of her hockey team, I was the student council president. While she shot pucks at our battered garage door, I tucked into good books.
Our differences continued during our childhoods and early adulthood. I hesitantly chose a college that, at 7,500 undergrads, seemed impossibly large to me. By contrast, her Big Ten alma mater seemed just big enough to her at 30,000 undergrads. There, she developed a real flair for the social life, which garnered countless great stories—some riotous and others regretful. As she put it in her Maid-of-Honor-Toast at my wedding last August: “Kristin chose a career in the law. And, me? I’ve had a few run-in’s with the law.” (Don’t worry, nothing serious.)
So I guess it shouldn’t come as a shock that I developed a penchant for complicated recipes and obscure ingredients when I finally had a kitchen to myself after college, while my sister has turned to Lean Cuisines with a vengeance in her newly-fresh-from-college days. Despite my deep, wide, intense dislike for frozen, boxed dinners (especially those containing 50% or more of one’s daily recommended intake of sodium), I can’t complain too much. You see, my sister’s first real kitchen is here in Chicago—less than mile from my place.
This proximity has spawned what we now affectionately call “Family Dinner.” My parents aren’t here (and we always wish they were!), but my sister, husband and I have formed a little Windy City tradition of our own. Each week, Ali gets a respite from the Lean Cuisine regimen and makes the trek west on Armitage to our place (never fear—she cues up her DVR to catch whatever TV shows she might be missing that night). And I have an excuse to hatch a particularly delectable menu approximately once a week (and an excuse to have an extra glass of wine, too!).
During one of our first Family Dinners, we embarked on a homemade pizza recipe I found at smittenkitchen.com. As an avowed pizza connoisseur, I have never been bowled over by the pies I’ve whipped up myself. The crust is too spongy, the sauce lacks pizzazz (wow – that almost spelled pizza – cool), and the toppings just never attain the right level of doneness. They simply can’t live up to my favorite Chicago spots (none of which, by the way, involve the deep dish style for which this fair city is known): Spacca Napoli, Piece and Coalfire.
But I’ve come to trust Deb, the woman at the helm of Smitten Kitchen. And, with her pizza recipe, she didn’t lead me astray. In fact, she even led Ali on one of her first major culinary voyages—she and I staged a pizza cook off, of sorts. We each made a pie and left my husband, Kevin, (all too happy to be the judge) to choose a winner.
In the Family Dinners since then, I’ve taken the reins on much of the cooking. I assumed my sister would much prefer a home-cooked meal (one that didn’t leave her up-to-the-elbows in flour) to being roped into sous chef duties. Much to my surprise, then, my mom recently called while my sister was visiting her in Minnesota. Apparently, Ali had announced a make-your-own pizza night, using none other than the recipe we’d used during Family Dinner. Maybe we aren’t so different after all. And perhaps my assumption that Ali didn’t like being “roped into” a kitchen duty or two was just plain wrong.
Oh, and the winner of the original Family Dinner bake off shall remain nameless!