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.

Cranking Out Some Dinners

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There are definitely times when I am not on top of making up quality dinners in our house. I do get lazy. We don’t always end up together for dinner. But I do feel that dinner as a family is important. I want it to happen every night. It is one time during the day that we all sit together and connect. It matters. And lately I have been making some decent meals to make that sitting together worth it.

Those vegetables in the photo above, tossed on top of some buttered orzo, was one dinner not to be missed. I made that a couple of times recently. I also made chili with fresh biscuits. And smooth squash soup with honey oat bread. Tonight I made up some burritos.

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Beans simmering before getting wrapped

Some fresh garlic, two kinds of beans and some spices. Dump that into some locally made flour tortillas (So flaky! So light!) with shredded extra sharp cheddar and steamed broccoli and you have yourself a delish dinner. Simple and a winner.

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Hot and ready to be dressed

I need to mix things up a bit. I do have a couple dozen dinners I make in rotation. It is a solid rotation but I need to take some time to gather a few new recipes. Maybe I will try something with polenta. Or a new take on shepard’s pie. Those one-pot meals are certainly handy. I’ll do some digging and come up with something new

It is the harvest season. There is always something to whipped up with squash or potatoes or late greens. If I can’t figure out something new I can always just make apple pie for dinner. I can’t imagine I will get any complaints with that on the menu.

New Dish for a New Year

IMG_5633For Christmas we got a new cookbook from some friends: River Cottage Veg, by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. It was a gift from friends who run Pass the Pistil, a site dedicated to gardening and making use of what the garden offers (worth some time perusing if you fancy that stuff–I recommend it). I hate to see a cookbook languor, so today I tried an easy recipe from the book, Pinto Bean Chili, fit for a winter day.

Stage one: most ingredients in the pot

Stage one: most ingredients in the pot

Like any good chili, it consists of simple ingredients and is hardy yet easy to prepare. It took me maybe an hour, all told, and we had dinner. My son can be somewhat finicky at times but even he ate it up, despite the zucchini involved. Despite the season I did add that summer squash. I couldn’t resist, and I wanted to follow the recipe before trying my own variation.

Just about ready to eat

Just about ready to eat

Some canned tomatoes, some canned beans, a few vegetables to cut up and we pretty much had a meal. It needed to simmer for about a half hour. Easy. And it was tasty as well–not too spicy, savory and filling–certainly worth trying again. And we even had some left over, just what I need for a week of work after a bunch of days off.

Busy Kitchen Today

Ready to dress some pizza pies

My daughter is into making cupcakes lately. She got a cupcake cookbook for Christmas and has been busy crusting its pages with flour and eggs and confectionary sugar. She wanted to make some chocolate cupcakes today but did not want all of them to be chocolate. She was making half a batch (I mean, we can only eat so many cupcakes) so had to halve the ingredients to start with. Then she split the batter and planned to add cocoa to one half. She had to halve twice to figure out how much cocoa to add. It was a good math problem. And what a mess.

That got cleaned up. No problem. The kids have friends over for the night so we made homemade pizza for dinner. I spent some time slicing and sautéing and grating toppings so everyone could make their personal pie. I made the dough, even though we did not have enough flour when I started. I didn’t know we were short on flour but I found out soon enough. My wife was out and so eventually brought more, but the dough sat for a while before I could finish it off. It was quite the sponge.

Making individual pizzas takes lots of counter space. It was a respectable mess to attend to, but I cleaned up most of it before dinner and the rest after those pizzas were consumed. Dishes done, pots washed, counter wiped down. We’re good. Then it was time to make breakfast.

As a treat for the weekend and the sleepovers, I figured I would make waffles. The problem with that is that I need to start the day before. I used to make your usual baking powder waffles but once I tried yeasted waffles there was no going back. You make them with yeast instead of baking powder, as you may have guessed, which means they need to rise. Of course, if I let them rise on the counter I would have to get up a 3:00 am. Not happening. So I whipped up the batter and stashed it in the refrigerator. Slow rise, ready for breakfast.

This, of course, was one more mess to clean up, which I accomplished with a rosy attitude. I like a clean kitchen. I think I’ve got all the loose kitchen accoutrements and plates and spatulas washed at this point. I was thinking I might have a little ice cream. But that would mean another bowl to clean. Nah. Who needs ice cream anyway?

Beets for Dinner

Just pulled from the dirt

I wasn’t really all that fond of beets. My parents grew them in our garden when I was growing up. I ate them with the rest of my siblings because that was one of the things we were served. I don’t remember hating them, but I also didn’t ask for second helpings. Once I moved out on my own I never ate beets. I didn’t buy them, I didn’t cook them, I didn’t order them. They just were not on my radar of delicious things. That, however, has changed.

Last year I planted beets in our garden for the first time. It turns out my parents instilled in me not only a love of gardening, but also a love of beets. Who knew those purple guys could connect generations? I only grew a few of them last summer. I had a spot in one of the beds and so bought a few seeds and sowed them. And they were tasty. The first ones I coated in olive oil and grilled, and I have not turned back. I remember eating boiled beets, but roasting or grilling is my cooking method of choice.

So last night we had beets for dinner. I had a small crop, thinking I would plant a second batch that hasn’t made it into the ground yet. They were fat and bright and red. I peeled them and sliced them thick and grilled them like I did that first time. I also grilled zucchini, several of which we got from our farm share this week. The topper was the pesto I made yesterday as well. Basil and cilantro is bursting so I cut lots of it. I also pulled a couple heads of garlic–the first from our garden this year. I whipped up a batch of traditional basil pesto and one with cilantro. I froze most of it and the rest dressed the grilled vegetables. It was dee-lish.

Basil ready to be turned into pesto

It turns out, after turning into somewhat of a grownup, that I now have a real taste for beets. Soon I am planning to brew another batch of beer. I will add a couple of pounds of beets to that. I will add some sugar for the yeast to snack on and it will likely turn the brew red or pink. That will be interesting. I certainly did not imagine myself, back when I was swallowing those red boiled tubers, that I would be a fan of beets, growing them myself and adding them to homemade beer. Maybe I am more of a grownup than I thought.

More to Pick

Late Summer Bounty

I picked a few more things from our garden today.  The harvest is winding down but we do have more to pick.  I wanted some leaks for dinner (to start off the pumpkin soup) and I had to pick the zucchini before it got enormous. The cucumbers needed to be cut off the vine (they have been getting bitter quickly) and that pepper is going with the roasted potatoes. The melon was iffy.  I am hoping it is ripe as I want to serve it with dinner. If not we have a back up watermelon and a few slices from the last melon from our garden (tastes like candy).

Yet to go: three or four more melons, a few peppers, maybe a zucchini or two, a couple of cucumbers, cherry tomatoes out the wazoo, lots of leeks.  We have several green tomatoes still as well. That isn’t bad for September. And did I mention the basil? More pesto for the freezer (and for immediate consumption) is in the works. Like I said, not bad for September.

More Ice Cream

Made chocolate ice cream again this afternoon. Dang good stuff. I rushed it, however. My son wanted to help. His idea of “mix well” is a couple turns of the whisk. I knew I needed to mix and melt the chocolate more thoroughly, but I caved to his impatience. It has a few cocoa-ish bits floating in it. The upside is that they seem lit little cocoa nibs. High end confectionary.

I made waffles to start off the day. These were old fashioned yeasted waffles. I made the batter last night, popped it in the refrigerator, and this morning–easy waffles. And they are way better than the waffles I typically make with baking powder. Of course, they also have a lot more butter in them. OK, my usual recipe has no butter in it, but if it did, it wouldn’t have as much as these yeasted puppies. Can’t argue with butter, however. It makes everything taste good.

And salad–lots of salad today. My parents came to visit for the weekend. They stopped to pick up their CSA farm share right before they left, so they arrived with a cooler full of greens. We ate greens and salad with dinner. They have a full share and let me tell you that is WAY too much food for two people. Last year the farm did not produce so much. Greens out your ears.

Good food today. That happens in the summer, when I don’t have places to go all day. I like that. We will eat well again tomorrow. Bacon and eggs for breakfast. That isn’t typical fare in this mostly vegetarian household, but it’s Father’s Day. Bacon for dear old Dad.

So we seem to have a theme here–fat. Butter, cream, pork fat. In moderation, however. Everything in moderation. We didn’t eat all the waffles. The ice cream is in the freezer. Bacon? Can’t imagine all that will get eaten. We will have to make sure to snack on more greens tomorrow. All that lettuce needs to get gone.