At Least I Can Make Dinner

My daughter said the other day, “We have like three things for dinner,” meaning we do not have enough variety in our dinner menu. This, despite that I just made rice with a homemade Yumm style sauce with peas and potatoes, something I had never tried before, which was, if I may say, even though I made it myself and may be biased or at least have a stake in that particular meal’s success, particularly tasty. Three things indeed.

My son really likes pizza. When my daughter is not around we have pizza at least once a week. What can beat fresh dough that can be garnished with a variety of sauces and toppings and cheeses? I mean, pizza is great, and fresh from the oven? It can’t be beat. So I was going to make pizza, since it has been a couple of weeks since we have had that (I’m sorry did you say three things?). But apparently pizza is one of the three things, so instead I made a pizza wannabe.

I guess you could call it a stromboli. Instead of dough with carefully scattered toppings, I mixed a bunch of stuff together–sauteed shallots and orange bell pepper, chopped spinach, cheddar and parmesan, and goat cheese. The goat cheese was the kicker. I rolled out a huge square of dough, laid out some tomato sauce and spread out the mixed stuff. Then I pulled in the corners and tucked them in to make a square pie. And baked.

And that thing was good. I had never made quite that same dish. I mean, I have wrapped up ingredients in dough and baked it, but never in a square. A square stuffed pizza/stromboli/new thing for dinner. It was hot and savory with a crunchy chewy crust and gooey yumminess in the middle. I may be crappy at other aspects of parenting/husbanding, but at least I can cook up a quality dinner. Dammit. I got your three things. Plus a whole lot more. You want some variety, kid? Bring it.

Wild Leeks Soup

It is the season of wild leeks. That season is short. In the woods, green covers the forest floor. The bright new leaves pierce the dried maple and beech leaves that fell in the fall. When the sun shines through the bare branches, you can smell them.

My son and I popped into the woods late in the afternoon. We each had a trowel. We dug up some leeks. Drive the trowel straight down, pull it back to loosen the soil and shake out some leeks. They are sort of similar to leeks you might buy in a market, but much smaller, smaller than typical scallions. And they are softer, more fragile. We made a small pile, enough to hold in one hand. Bright green on one end, covered in dark dirt on the other.

I washed them in the sink. I collected quite the pile of soil in the trap, mixed with a few dried leaves and grass stems. I had a clean bunch in the end, ready to be made into soup. I cubed several potatoes and sliced the leeks, tossed them with butter and olive oil, and sauteed. I added some water, some stock, some salt and pepper, and cooked it all into a soup.

I also made dinner rolls. I hear yeast is getting hard to come by. We always have a lot on hand anyway, so we are good to go for now. Dinner rolls are like the lazy bread–make some dough and knead it and let balls of the stuff rise in a pan. Then bake it and… fresh rolls, easy and quick. Soup and bread–pretty standard dinner around here.

Oddly, by the time the soup had reduced and gotten thick, it turned a bit green. I mean, the leeks were green but I have never had them turn other stuff green. And this new green was much darker–not the bright green of the fresh leeks. So it had a bit of an off color, but it was dang tasty. Those cut leeks smelled strong before they cooked down so I admit was a little nervous that I had put in too many leeks, but my fears ended up being unfounded.

Our wild leek window is small so I need to dig up some more before they fade away. Omelets? Quiche? Pizza topping? I’ve got lots of options. Especially if I want some green food.

Pancakes for Dinner

I have been cooking dinner pretty much every night these days, what with being home all the time. I don’t have a drive home after working later than I should and then a day’s worth of fatigue to dissuade me. Instead I close my laptop and head to the kitchen.

I used to make pancakes fairly frequently. Saturday morning I would whip up some batter and fire up the griddle and, once everyone was up for the day, I would cook up some pancakes. Maple syrup and berries and bananas and nuts and whatever we had that seemed appropriate to top of them off–that was the extra prep work. But now that our kids are older, they sleep in. Pancakes for breakfast? More like pancakes for lunch.

Since that morning rise time is unpredictable (could be 9:00, could be noon) and since it is rare that everyone gets up at the same time, I just don’t make pancakes anymore. It isn’t as enjoyable to eat them alone and the batter doesn’t last for hours. It is a breakfast that just doesn’t make sense these days.

But we do eat dinner together. And I have been wanting pancakes. So we had a marriage of convenience last night. And that relationship was one to savor while it lasted. I made yeasted batter and while it rose I sliced strawberries and washed the few blueberries we had left and cut a banana into discs. I heated some maple syrup, as well as the griddle and off we went.

We enjoyed dinner. I mean, pancakes are great, especially these yeasted pancakes. I did not make them with buttermilk, which really makes them excite the taste buds, but one has what one has. Dinner together–that works. We pretty much never have breakfast together so this was a bit of a throwback.

I did polish off a half gallon of maple syrup and cracked open the next one–our last one I am afraid. We never got down the road to the sugar shack to get more this spring. I am sure they still have some as their season was cut a bit short. I need to give them a call and set a time to stop on over to get more. Everyone wins with that deal. And it means we can have pancakes for dinner another night. I am sure we will have the chance. We will be stuck at home at least a month more yet.

Saturday Bagels

In the past I have gone with the overnight rise. Make the dough, shape the bagels, let them rise in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning? Boil and bake. Bagels for breakfast. I went the standard route yesterday, however. I made the dough in the morning, let it rise, then shaped the bagels. One more rise, then boil and bake.

I tried something new with this batch. I have made plain bagels and I have made cinnamon raisin bagels. This time I used some whole wheat flour along with all-purpose flour where I have used just bread flour in the past. Flour is in short supply these days, what with all the quarantine baking happening, so I added whole wheat flour to increase the gluten content. And I also added toppings.

I have to admit I had a bit of a fear of toppings in the past. Wouldn’t they burn in the oven? Or fall off? But this time I added Everything topping (King Arthur makes a quality mix) to some, and grated parmesan to others. And I left a couple plain as well.

They were not ready for breakfast, but they were just right for a hot afternoon snack. We had no cream cheese (also out of stock these days) but hot bagels are great any time, if you ask me. And the toppings worked like a charm. So good. Will definitely do that again.

I have said it before, but bagels are easy to make. Letting them rise overnight makes them easy, no doubt, but when you have the time, letting them rise on the counter is just as simple. I am pretty sure my family enjoyed them. My wife almost burned her fingers and her mouth she was so eager to eat one. So quarantine bagels? Doing that again.

Chips and Pickles and Stuff

We have not had to go out much, since we stocked up well before the order came to stay at home. But still, things will run out eventually. We have plenty of staples–flour, rice, beans, potatoes. We have Popsicles in the freezer along with frozen fruits and vegetables. I have more time to cook these days, so those staples come in handy. We are waiting for the right time to bust into the Popsicles.

But we are stuck at home. Right now we are eating more chips than usual and our tastes are flip-flopping all over. One day we want plain chips and one day we want dilly chips. We are snacking more and trying not to snack too much on the chips, but one must find pleasure in simple things, no? Those chips do us a world of good when the stir craziness starts to tingle. And we ran out of popcorn the other day. We eat a lot of popcorn.

We also drink a lot of coffee. Typically I make myself a double shot of espresso to sip on in the morning. I get coffee at the office and sip on that the rest of the morning. But now I make all the coffee I drink, and there are two coffee drinkers in the house, all day. So we put that on the list for this morning’s run to the market.

Some things you need and some things you want. We are fortunate that we can run out and get both. We definitely used to make many more trips to the market. It is kind of nice to have so much to choose from when making dinner. Or when snacking. Now we are making fewer trips, for sure, and we are much more deliberate about it–not just about what we get but about how to be as efficient as possible. We want to get in and get out.

So you can see from this morning’s list that some things might be classified as needs and some things definitely fall into the want category. The pickles? Well, I’m still deciding on that one.

Not too many apples

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More than once, before I went to pick apples with my son and a friend of ours, my wife said, “Don’t bring home too many apples.” It was good advice. A couple of years ago my parents went to pick apples at a local orchard and came home with 50 pounds. “Just a few more” and “this one looks really nice” were uttered a few too many times, apparently. So we went in cautious. We did not pick 50 pounds of apples.

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We took small bags when we got there–ten-pounds-worth bags rather than twenty-pounds-worth bags. We filled one with apples to eat straight up–Honey Crisp, mostly. We filled the other bag with pie apples–Cortlands. We only ate one apple each while in the orchard. But we did eat hot cider and cider donuts back at the orchard’s center. By mistake two of us each bought a dozen donuts. We managed to eat them eventually.

I made an apple crisp the next day. Dang that was tasty. I’ll need to make another one soon. I’m craving some pumpkin pie as well. A warm pumpkin pie made from fresh pumpkin, egg whites whipped into it to make it light, now that is a fine bit of sweetness. And with whipped cream? Oy, make me salivate. The orchard had a pile of pie pumpkins. I didn’t get any. Soon, though. Thanksgiving requires that pumpkin pie.

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We have a few apples left, given that we already had some before we went to the orchard, but we are low. There is enough for a crisp, or a pie, if I make one soon. But they won’t last much longer. We keep eating them. I would bake up something with apples every few days if I had the time. But I don’t really have the time to do that. Work and kids and other stuff happening, you know what I’m saying? I guess it really was good we did not pick 50 pounds. My wife gives good advice.

Bread and Fire

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It was Saturday. I had time. So I baked some bread. And it was light and fluffy. Bread flour, that does the trick, I tell you. All that extra gluten stretches things out. Like magic. A big round fluffy loaf of goodness. Hot and fresh and delish. It went well with the soup I made. I put kale in the soup. Trying to be trendy? Nope. It just works in a vegetable soup. So, yeah, fresh bread and hot soup. Can’t beat it.

We lit up a fire outside Friday night. All summer I was thinking it would be great to have a fire in our fire ring outside. Look out over the dark field, watch the stars, flames dancing, sparks drifting up. All that romantic business. But the sun sets late in the summer. Start a fire just before dark and you’re up until 11:00. Some of us have to go to work in the morning.

But this time of year the sun sets much earlier. So crackling flames while we  hang out and listen to the coyotes sing? That’s a good deal. We did smell a skunk that night, but we talked loudly enough we hoped to keep it away. Apparently we did.

Saturday we cranked up the fire pit again. It was windy, but at least that kept the flames alive the whole time. We nibbled on Halloween-themed Oreos, talked about summer and Christmas and school and traveling, and we watched the stars pop in and out from the behind the clouds that were whipping across the sky.

It was so much fun that when friends unexpectedly came over on Sunday night we lit a fire one more time. We polished off those Oreos, and the bread, and laughed under a starless sky. We wore jackets. Some of us had to go to work in the morning so were were not out there too late. But three nights in a row with the comfort of a fire on a beautiful night? Stellar.

Apple Crisp for Breakfast

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We have one apple tree. The first year we lived in this house it was loaded with apples. Come October we had plenty for pies and jam and whatnot. Last year we had exactly zero apples. Spring frost got all the blossoms. This year we returned to the bounty of that first year.

These are Red Delicious apples. Those are your standard, stereotypical apples. You know the ones. They look like, well, like a storybook apple–red and shiny and tapered a bit at the base. They are terrible. Well, most of them are terrible. I would never buy Red Delicious apples from a supermarket; they are bland and mushy and dry. But these Red Delicious are, indeed, delicious.

These are sweet and juicy and crisp. I took advantage of their current ripeness to make an apple crisp today. I woke early, the only one awake, so I got cracking. I peeled and sliced and stirred and assembled a fine apple crisp. After 45 minutes and a house full of apple odor I pulled a perfect breakfast from the oven.

I know apple crisp is not your typical American breakfast, but if we can eat donuts and danishes they we can eat a fresh apple crisp. And it was, as expected, enjoyable to consume. I only had one bowl, at first, but I did have seconds later in the morning. Hard to resist, that.

I put the rest in the fridge, even though it is tempting to eat the whole dang thing. A guy needs to eat something for breakfast tomorrow, you hear what I’m saying?

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Another Try at a Pie

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Well it looked good. And it tasted¬†good. But it was still too runny. The last time I made a pie it was delish, but just not holding together. The apples were soft. The crust was flaky. But inside, liquid oozed around the apples. Today I tried again with a new recipe (thanks, Mom) but it still didn’t stay together well.

Last time I used cornstarch as a thickener. That makes for a smoother pie, so I’ve heard. This recipe calls for flour as a thickener. It worked just as well as far as I can tell, but did it work well enough? I am just not sure.

My theory at this point is that my lack of patience is the problem. When I took this pie out of the oven I placed it on a cooling rack. I let it sit for about a half hour. I thought that was long enough. But my family was eager to dig in, as was I. So I sliced it open to find it was not all that cohesive. It seemed cool enough–warm but not hot. But I splashed some of the filling onto my hand. That burned.

I may need to approach pie baking differently, give it more time. I had planned to make this one a couple of hours before dinner. But then I took my daughter to the movies with friends. And I made some chili. The pie had plenty of time to bake and some time to cool. Apparently, my cooling time was not adequate.

We only ate half the pie tonight. The rest, at this point, is in the refrigerator. In the morning I will have to see how it is doing. I am sure my children will insist on pie for breakfast. Call it bad parenting if you want but I am going to let them have it. I mean, it’s for science. If it is cohesive enough at breakfast, I will have proved my theory.¬† Thanks, Kids!

Update 10/16: I had some of that pie tonight, about 24 hours after I first pulled it from the oven. It was, granted, pretty cooled in the fridge, but it was also pretty held together. Even after a minute in the microwave it seemed to have no runniness. Inconclusive. But it was still dang tasty!

Home for Dinner

Most of the time my wife mows the lawn. And most of the time I cook dinner. It doesn’t always work that way, of course, but we have settled into some roles after many years of marriage. These two tasks happen to run upstream of the typical gender roles. That is something I can get behind.

I like to make dinner. I like to have a tasty, hot meal ready for all of us to sit down together to enjoy. I like the process of creating something that is worth eating, that makes my family say “This is good!” Yes, occasionally we have a frozen pizza or two and sometimes we revert to pasta with jarred sauce. But mostly I try to be home in time to make dinner so we have time to eat together and to talk about our day and the days to come.

Some days I think about dinner as I get ready for the day, or as I eat breakfast. What to make tonight? What ingredients do we have that we need to use soon? What have we not had in a while? How much time will I have when I get home? When will I get home? My schedule is so varied that I might get home at 3:00 one day and not until 5:30 the next day. I work some evenings. There is no routine so I need to think ahead.

What I like to do is to plan a menu for the week and then to purchase the ingredients by Sunday. That way I can come home and just cook up one of the meals that is already planned. But. honestly, that almost never happens. I just don’t get it together to plan and purchase ahead of time. When I do get it together it makes things way easier. Often, however, I stop on the way home for ingredients, or I just go with what we have.

Typically we have staples on hand to get started. This includes:

  • Base grains like pasta, rice, couscous, quinoa
  • Cheese–we always have sharp cheddar and typically Parmesan and one other variety
  • Milk and butter and cream
  • Frozen vegetables like peas or broccoli
  • Fresh produce–whatever is in season or ripe from the garden or that just looked good at the market

I almost never cook meat in our house. When my wife and I met we did not eat meat at all. We raised our children on a vegetarian diet but my daughter has come to enjoy meat now and again, so once in a while I will cook a chicken dinner, usually when my wife is not home. If it is local and raised well I will eat it as well. That is just a rare event.

For dinner tonight? I’m not sure yet. The sun has just risen on a Saturday. I have time to make a plan. Maybe this is a week I will get ingredients for a week of meals ahead of time. I should make something new, something to mix things up a little, a new recipe. Although, we haven’t had that spinach lasagna in a while; it takes a couple hours to assemble but dang is it worth it. I might just have to do both.