It’s The Cowboy Way

Chicken Fried Steak (and Chicken) – Sunday Dinner 14 April 2019

It was Aunt Pat’s last Sunday with us, so we fixed one of her favorites.

Chicken Fried Steak

I had always been afraid of deep frying for some reason, but after a trip to Horseshoe Hill in Fort Worth last year, I had to get over my fears and learn to cook chicken fried steak. Since Claudia isn’t a fan of the steak, I made breaded chicken for her once and it turned out well, and so now I usually make some of each. Aunt Pat’s favorite is chicken, and she asked for this meal as her last in our home before she moves to California later this month.

The recipe is here. I used eye of round steak for mine and Cousin Joe’s, and chicken breasts for the rest of the table. This batch turned out better than any I’ve ever made. In the past, I used a cast iron Dutch Oven on the theory that it would hold a steadier temperature, but I’ve had uneven results, with some cutlets burned a bit and others under done. This time I used a steel pot, and it was much easier to adjust and keep the temperature of the oil right around 350 °F.

Claudia made garlic mashed potatoes, a nice green salad and some killer green beans for sides, and I made a batch of Cowboy Caviar. Wine was a 2014 Crystal Creek Cellars Columbia Valley Riesling, which was a steal from Aldi’s.

Oh, and Claudia made Lemon Lush and Chocolate Lush for dessert.

Lemon Lush

We’ll be missing Aunt Pat at our Sunday Table. We’re thankful for the time that we’ve had together these past couple of years, and send her off to her new adventures in the Golden State with our best wishes and all of our love.

Crock Pot Lasagna

Sunday Dinner – 7 April 2019

I don’t know that I could live without my crockpot. I use it at least once a week during the fall and winter for a big pot of soup or stew. And when we’ve got a jam packed weekend with barely any extra time to spare, it is a lifesaver. I know there’s a lot of hype about the insta pot, but really, if you’ve preplanned, to me the crockpot is the way to go.

One of my standbys for the crockpot is lasagna. You prepare your lasagna exactly like you would if you were putting it in the oven, with just a few minor differences:

  • I don’t cook my lasagna noodles, even if I’m doing it in the oven. You definitely wouldn’t want to cook them if you’re using the crockpot
  • I used one 24 oz jar of pasta sauce and added an 8 oz can of tomato sauce, and some tomato paste that was left over and in the fridge (mainly just to use it up). I didn’t add a bunch of extra liquid to the sauce like I would if it were going into the over because the crockpot should actually create that moisture. The last thing I wanted was lasagna soup…
  • spray the heck out of the crockpot with cooking spray – you’ll thank me later
  • start with a very thin layer of the meat sauce on the bottom, then noodles, cheese mixture, shredded cheese, meat, noodles, cheese mixture, shredded cheese, meat & top with even more shredded cheese. You might have enough stuff to make more layers, and it always depends on crock pot size.
  • don’t be afraid to break the noodles into various sizes to cover your layer..the shape of the crockpot isn’t exactly conducive to easy layers

I actually assembled it all on Sunday night, then turned the crockpot on low around 11 a.m. Sunday morning. It was perfect when we sat down for dinner at 5.

Brian said it was the best lasagna he’s ever had…gosh I love him…

Lasagna Plated

Of course, Sunday dinner would not be complete without a salad. The usual fixings, except I kicked it up a notch and shredded some fresh parmesan on top. For the dressing I used a raspberry balsamic vinegar because it’s Aunt P’s (I’ve been calling her that lately…not sure why!) favorite.

I picked up some Italian bread from Aldi, sliced it fairly thin, buttered it, sprinkled it with parsley garlic salt and shredded parmesan and popped it into a 400 degree oven for about 10 minutes until it was crunchy.

I really need to broaden my Italian dessert horizons. My go to is tiramisu. It is so easy, people! The hardest thing about it is finding the lady fingers, and the past couple of times I’ve used Stella D’oro Margherite cookies and honestly, if you let it sit just a little longer than if using the lady fingers, I think I prefer them. I’ve been making this for a good 10 years now and I can tell you, once I got my Kitchen Aid mixer, it only got better! Here is the recipe:

  • 6 egg yolks
  • 3 Tblsp sugar
  • 1 lb mascarpone cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups strong espresso (or REALLY strong coffee), cooled
  • 2 tsp dark rum
  • 24 packaged Italian lady finger cookies
  • dark chocolate for shaving/grating

In a large bowl using electric mixer with whisk attachment, beat the egg yolks and sugar until think and pale in color, about 5 minutes.

Add the cheese and beat until smooth. Add 1 Tblsp of espresso and mix thoroughly.

In a small shallow dish, add remaining espresso and rum, stirring well. Dip each lady finger on both sides, about 5 seconds or so. Line the bottom of a 13 x 9 with half of the lady fingers, breaking them as necessary to fit the bottom of the dish. Don’t worry about them touching each other – they will expand some.

Evenly spread half of the mascarpone/egg mixture on top of the lady fingers. Arrange another layer of soaked cookies on top of that, and finish the the rest of the marcarpone/egg mixture.

Cover the tiramisu and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, and up to 8 hours, before serving.

I grate squares of Tcho dark chocolate on top just before serving.  (Tcho is seriously the BEST dark chocolate that I’ve ever had, and you should totally check out their website, or visit if you happen to be in San Fran).

Tiramisu

Music was Claudio Villa, and wine was a nice Bolla Chianti.

This week we also had the pleasure of my cousin Joe joining us. It’s bittersweet because we won’t have Aunt P every week with us here shortly…

Another Rotisserie Chicken

Sunday Dinner- 31 March 2019

Rotisserie Chicken

This week we inaugurated the Weber Kettle Rotisserie for 2019, with a whole chicken and drip pan potatoes. It was a small fryer this time, a little less than four pounds. I used the Custom Culinary spice for dry brining, and chunks of cherry wood on the coals. I also cut up about four pounds of potatoes and par cooked them in the microwave for 15 minutes before putting them in the pan.

Because of the cold temperature, after an hour the interior of the breast was still only about 147 °F, so I moved everything to the Genesis gas grill, with the chicken on top of the potatoes, to finish.

We served this with one of Claudia’s lovely green salads and raided the freezer for some delicious local sweet corn that our brother-in-law, Jeff, had given us. Wine was Butter Chardonnay, and Aunt Pat brought a lemon meringue pie from Blue’s Cafe for dessert.

Greek Fest 2019

Sunday Dinner – 24 March 2019

Yes, we do an annual Greek Fest in our house. No, we are not Greek. It’s usually in the winter to early spring as it’s a hearty, comforting meal. It only happens annually because it took me a solid 5 hours in the kitchen this year, and that’s with assistance from Brian, Mom and Aunt Pat. It takes me that long to recover!!!

When we went to Steubenville OH several years ago for the annual Dean Martin Festival held on Father’s Day weekend, we stumbled on the Greek Orthodox Church’s annual festival on the Friday and I think it’s fair to say that it changed my life. I went back to work and explained to my coworkers this amazing food I’d eaten, and that’s how I got the moussaka and spanakopita recipes – a photocopy of a newspaper article from 1983 that had the recipes that I still use today.

Lots of chopping and multiple steps to this meal. Nothing inherently tricky from a cooking or baking perspective. But it is worth every minute!

To start we had a Greek salad with romaine hearts, thin sliced red onions, cucumbers, tomato, oregano, kalamata olives and feta tossed with a homemade balsamic vinegarette (olive oil, balsamic, salt, pepper, sugar & oregano).

The spanakopita was served with the salad while the moussaka finished baking. I will say that to have another set of hands to deal with the phyllo is critical (at least for me). That and keeping the dough in a dampened cloth so it doesn’t dry out too much. (scroll down to the end for the recipe)

The moussaka was beautiful. If you’re unfamliar with this dish, it’s Greek lasagna, but using sliced eggplant instead of pasta, and bechamel instead of a heavy amount of cheese. I used three eggplants, which my husband pre cooked on the grill to save me some time, but I could’ve used four. I also use 1 lb of lamb and 1 lb of ground beef to add another dimension to the flavor. And as typical of my style, I used more cinnamon that the recipe called for, as well as additional tomato paste and wine (1 C instead of 1/4). The bechamel was easy peasy, but I had to use ground nutmeg instead of fresh (since I dropped my last nut in the bread pudding from Mardi Gras weekend). Normally I just buy shredded parmesan but this time I bought a wedge and grated it for each of the layers. (keep scrolling for the recipe)

So I have a confession. I’m afraid of frying anything using more than just a scant coating of oil in a pan, so my usual dessert for this dinner is cream puffs. But that didn’t feel authentic enough for me. Boy do the Greek people like their deep fried dough or what??? I didn’t want to overload on phyllo, either, so baklava was out. A search for Greek desserts resulted in this Revani cake. It wasn’t too intimidating as I’d made a Basbousa cake when we fixed Palestinian food. The beating of the meringue separately was new, and the orange flavor was different. But it was very good, especially with the cinnamon/brandy syrup. Whipped up some homemade whipped cream and it was DELICIOUS. I would definitely make this again.

Revani

 

We started with a Greek Retsina wine from Tsantali, which was supposed to have hints of pine. Totally tasted like cheese that just started to mold to me. That didn’t stop me from finishing my glass though. The ladies around the table agreed it was not a favorite, so we switched to a bottle of F. Stephen Millier’s Lodi Shuraz instead. MUCH better pairing for me.

Aside from the leftovers in the fridge, it’ll be 2020 before I eat this meal again. Although I do have a roll of phyllo dough left to do something with…more spanakopita it is!

 

Here are the recipes, as printed in the Mattoon Journal-Gazette on 23 June 1983.

Moussaka

  • 2 lbs ground beef
  • 3 med. eggplants
  • Butter for frying
  • 4T.butter
  • 3 Ig. onions, chopped fine
  • 3 T. tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 3 T. chopped parsley
  • 14 tsp. cinnamon
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 slightly beaten eggs
  • 1 C. freshly grated Parmesan cheese Breadcrumbs

White Sauce:

  • 4 T. butter
  • 6 level T. flour
  • 2 cups hot rich milk
  • 12 tsp. salt
  • Dash of nutmeg
  • 2 egg yolks, well-beaten

Cut the eggplants (unpeeled) into thick slices and fry quickly in butter on each side until light brown. Heat 4 tablespoons butter in a large skillet and saute the meat until brown. Add onions and cook for 10 minutes longer. Add tomato paste, diluted with wine, the parsley, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Simmer over low heat, stirring often, until liquid has been absorbed. Remove from heat and when cool, mix in eggs. Meanwhile, combine ingredients for white sauce: Heat butter and blend in flour, stirring steadily; when bubbling slightly, add milk slowly, stirring constantly. Continue cooking over low heat until smooth and thickened. Remove from heat and add salt and nutmeg. Pour finished sauce over the beaten egg yolks. Grease a medium-sized, square or oblong roasting pan and sprinkle with bread crumbs. Arrange alternate layers of eggplant and meat with’ bottom and top layers of eggplant. Sprinkle each layer with cheese and bread crumbs. Cover with white sauce. (The sauce forms a thick . crust on top of the Moussaka.) Sprinkle with remaining cheese and bread crumbs. Bake, in a 375 degree oven for about 1 hour, or until top is golden. Remove from oven and allow to set for a few minutes before serving. Cut in squares.

Spanakopita

  • 3 pkgs. frozen, chopped spinach, thawed
  • 1/2 lb. phyllo sheets
  • 1/2 lb. cottage cheese
  • 1/2 lb. butter, melted
  • 2 T. parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 bunch parsley
  • 2 small dry onions
  • 1/2T.salt
  • 1 T. dried mint leaves
  • 1/2 C. grated Greek Cheese, (feta)
  • 8 eggs
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1/2 bunch green onions
  • 1 T. dill weed
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  • 4T. flour

Chop onions and soften in 1 stick butter. Take thawed spinach and squeeze dry. Put in large bowl. After onions are softened, add parsley. Beat eggs. Cool onions. To the spinach add cheese, egsg, dill, mint, flourv cottage” cheese; ” and pepper: t Stir. Add onions after they have cooled. Oh bottom of 9-11 pan place ten buttered sheets of phyllo.

Put spinach mixture over phyllo in pan. Cover with 14 more buttered sheets of phyllo. Cool in refrigerator for about 15 minutes. Cut the top of the Spanakopeta (like a cake, 4 down and 6 across). Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Let cool before serving.

St. Paddy’s Day 2019

Sunday Dinner – 17 March 2019

St. Paddy Snow

The scene out our back windows Sunday Morning showed no hint of green, as a late season snow had covered everything in downy white. Inside the mood was festive though, with St. Paddy’s Day Radio from Sirius XM streaming throughout the house. I began peeling carrots about 7:30, and had them sautéing with onions and shallots before eight. I’d picked up two nice flat cut corned beef briskets (Morton’s of Omaha) from Aldi. They went into the pot next, along with malt vinegar, pickling spices and a can of Guinness.

Corned Beef in the Pot

After that simmered for five hours, I added about three pounds of red potatoes and a couple small heads of cabbage cut into wedges.

This was the second year using this recipe from Sunset Magazine. It turned out perfect this time. Last year I’d used cheaper point cuts from Jewel or somewhere, and it was good, but this year’s meal was dramatically better.

Corned Beef and Cabbage

Claudia made dark chocolate Guinness cupcakes with vanilla icing and caramel that were awesome.

Guinness Cupcakes

For the wine pairing, surely you jest.

Irish Libations

So fill to me the parting glass, goodnight and joy be with you all.

Pho

Sunday Dinner – 10 March 2019

Pho

I love the Pho from Koi Asian Bistro, and have thought about making my own for years, but was a little intimidated by the process. I actually bought a 12-quart stock pot more than a year ago, for the express purpose of making a batch, but didn’t get around to doing it until this weekend.

I used Chef Qui Tran’s recipe, from Nudo House in St. Louis. I followed the recipe to the letter, with the following exceptions. Not finding knuckle bones, I substituted soup bones and shanks. For the rock candy, I used Turbinado Sugar. Star anise wasn’t available in our town, so I used anise seed and fennel seed. Finally, in place of the flank steak, I used bottom round roast.

We served the broth over rice noodles and thin slices of the beef, with bean sprouts, scallions, red onions, Jalapeño slices, lime wedges, Sriracha and chiffonade of basil.

Claudia made an incredible lime and ginger dressed salad for the side, and a Vietnamese coffee mousse for dessert.

Coffee Mousse

Wine was a beautiful Mendocino County Sauvignon Blanc from Franc Dusak, which paired perfectly. The other choices would have been rosé or Pinot Noir, but I can’t imagine those being any better.

I think the only change I would make next time would be to brown the bones and onions under the broiler a bit before starting the broth. The other note is that this should be served piping hot, which I was inattentive to because of the timing of the meal this time.

A little of the Sriracha goes a long way, by the way. I put some on every bite of meat, which was fine, but by the end of the bowl of broth, it had added quite a bit of spice. Caroline seemed to like it. A drop or two on a tiny slice of meat, and she said “Oooh!”

Mardi Gras

Sunday Dinner – 3 March 2019

Table Set for Mardi Gras

We have certain “go to” meals that we fix for specific annual events. For years now, I’ve fixed jambalaya and bread pudding with whiskey sauce on the last Sunday in ordinary time before Lent begins.

A friend and co-worker from my days in Mattoon brought Jambalaya to work for a potluck one time and it was soooo good I had to have the recipe. I can tell you that I’ve never made it with chicken. This recipe really is easy and I’m not really sure why I don’t make it more often!

Jambalaya

Seasonings:

  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 1/2 tsp white pepper (I cut it down to just 1)
  • 1/4 tsp sage
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1/8 to 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

Vegetables:

  • 1 C chopped onion (I just chop up a whole onion…it’s probably more than a cup)
  • 1/2 C chopped celery (again, I probably double that)
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped (you can really use any color…I think I prefer the flavor of the green in this)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced (or more to taste)

Meat:

  • 1/2 lb smoked sausage (I just used a 12 oz package)
  • 1/2 lb shrimp or chicken (I always use shrimp, and always use then entire 1 lb bag)

Other: 

  • 1/2 C tomato sauce (the cans I get are 8 oz so I just use the whole can)
  • 2 1/2 C vegetable broth (you could use chicken stock if you’re using chicken instead of shrimp)
  • 1 1/2 C uncooked long grain rice (I usually use a brown rice, but I had a lot of jasmine in the pantry)
  • 2 Tblsp olive oil

Instructions:

  1. Mix seasonings together in a small bowl and set aside
  2. Chop vegetables and set aside
  3. If making with chicken or raw smoked sausage, brown meat in 2 Tblsp olive oil
  4. Add chopped vegetables and cook about 5 minutes til soft (if not using raw meat, I just start at this step)
  5. Stir in tomato sauce, broth, rice and seasonings.
  6. Bring to a boil and simmer until liquid is absorbed (don’t lift the lid), about 45 minutes to an hour.
  7. I add the shrimp at the very end since I’m afraid of raw shrimp and buy the precooked

Alternatively, after bringing to a boil, pour the mixture into a greased 13 x 9, cover with foil, and back @ 350 degrees for about an hour, until liquid is absorbed.

In addition to the jambalaya Brian baked a  bread boule, and it wouldn’t be Sunday dinner at the Noe household without a green salad. This week I decided to make Penzey’s Green Goddess dressing to help balance out the seasonings from the main dish.

I stumbled on this recipe from Emeril Lagasse for bread pudding with whisky sauce and it is ah-maz-ing! I do alter it slightly, though. The first time I made it I read the the cinnamon as TABLESPOONS instead of TEASPOONS, only realizing it later when I decided to write it down on a recipe card. But you know what, it’s really, really good with that much cinnamon in it, so I make it that way all the time now. I also put in 1 cup of raisins…half a cup just doesn’t seem like enough.

New Orleans Bread Pudding with Bourbon Sauce

The meal was paired with nice Eldorado County Cuvée from 2016, the Coloma Mother Lode (55% Syrah, 35% Grenache, 10% Zin). This wine was Rhonish and delicious.

We’ll see…maybe I’ll make the jambalaya again some weeknight, otherwise, we’ll see again next year before Lent!

India in Kankakee

Sunday Dinner – 24 February 2019

This week, since the boys were with us and I’ve been telling Aunt Pat about it forever now, I fixed Indian dishes. It’s a a hearty way to eat vegetarian, and mix up the ethnic themes. As long as you have the spices, most of which can be found in your local grocery (I did have to get the Garam Masala from Amazon), there’s nothing unheard of in these dishes. It just takes a lot of chopping, and I’m thankful that Aunt Pat was here early to dice the potatoes and cut up the cauliflower!

Indian Meal Plated

I first fixed Indian food a few years back when our Girl Scout troop had India as our country for World Thinking Day. What an opportunity to grow as a cook. Just goes to show that it’s not just the kids who learn new things through scouting.

The salad dressing this week was also inspired by the cuisine. I had a very little bit of fresh ginger left from the main dishes, so I decided to make it into a vinegaratte, much like I did for the Chinese New Year. I used avocado oil, white wine vinegar, grated ginger, a little garam masala and agave to sweeten. It was absolutely delicious!

I started with the Indian Chickpea Curry with Spinach so I could put it in the crockpot since I was making two main dishes. Onions, garlic, ginger, chickpeas, tomatoes and a slew of aromatic spices are simmered, before adding to the crockpot. I doubled the recipe, so it was A LOT. To the pot I added about 12 ounces of spinach, and just stirring wilted it nicely. I added another 8 ounces of spinach later, once I had enough room in the pot again.

I prepared the Gobi Aloo last so I could serve it directly from the pan. Potatoes, cauliflower, coriander seed, ginger paste, turmeric, cumin, paprika and garam masala blend nicely together for a beautiful dish. I stumbled on this one awhile back when I had some cauliflower that I needed to use up, and remembered from my Sundays spent at the Hindu Cultural Center in Park Forest that we’d have something with that and potatoes. What did we ever do before Google?

To accompany the main dishes, we had Naan bread, which our local Aldi carries year round. You might wonder why we didn’t have rice as a side, but you’ll understand when you get to the dessert!

I’ve never been a fan of rice pudding. So much not a fan that I never tried to make it until the aforementioned World Thinking Day. Basmati rice (I use the white for visual appeal), coconut milk and cardamom really make this Indian Rice Pudding something special. Of course the whole milk, sugar and heavy whipping cream don’t hurt, either. The golden raisins add a nice sweetness and texture. The first time I made this, I didn’t use any nuts, but I also don’t think I used Alton Brown’s recipe. Thankful to Aunt Pat, Thomas and James for shelling all the pistachios (risking injury no less). I’m still not sure how I feel about having them in the pudding. Maybe I’ll have a more decisive feeling after I have seconds.

Indian Rice Pudding

Wine accompanying the meal tonight was a Shiraz from F. Stephen Millier.

Kudos to my family for being adventurous and trying new things. While nothing was “hot” spicy, the flavor profiles are certainly not something most of us are accustomed to.

One disclaimer…I do make Indian food more than once a year. It’s so quick and easy that I sometimes whip it up during the week. We always have chickpeas and frozen spinach (this was the first time I used fresh) on hand, so particularly during Lent on a Friday night, it’s a a hearty and comforting meal.

Busy Sunday – Crockpot Beef Stew

Sunday Dinner – 17 February 2019

Family Around The Table

Like the title of this post says, it was a busy Sunday, and apparently the week following was no less hectic based on how long it’s taken to get this blog post done! I have a much greater appreciation for my husband and how he wrote every single blog post last year. Why did I decide I should guest host again???

We had tickets to see the last performance of KVTA’s Little Women for the afternoon (fantastic production, by the way) so there wasn’t a lot of spare time for meal prep that day. What better tool to use than the handy dandy crockpot? In the winter we use it at least once a week. I know there’s all this talk about the Insta Pot, but really, both require preparation. It’s just a matter of when you want to do it, in my opinion.

We hadn’t had beef stew for a while, and I don’t think we had it for Sunday Dinner since we started documenting. I don’t actually have a written recipe for beef stew – I learned from my mom and have adjusted it a bit over the years. But I thought I should do a little research anyway. I normally don’t brown the stew meat first, but Brian does, as apparently everyone else that has a recipe on the internet. So after cutting the beef into bite size pieces, the meat was lightly flowered and browned, and then the pan was deglazed with some frozen red wine cubes (handy tip for left over wine, not that we have that occur very often!). Along with the beef, carrots, onions, potatoes and garlic were added to the crockpot along with some beef stock and bay leaves. The other thing that I did differently was to add some worcestershire sauce. About 2 hours before serving time, fresh mushrooms were added, and then 1 hour before serving, frozen peas. As soon as we got home, I made a quick slurry to thicken the sauce.

What would Sunday dinner be without the salad? I dressed it this week with a raspberry vinegarette, and we served Hawaiin rolls.

My inbox is regularly spammed by Betty Crocker, and it turns out that they had an interesting cake that I thought I’d try out.  This Chocolate Chip Cake doesn’t use actual chocolate chips. Instead it requires lots and lots of grating of semi sweet chocolate. Thank goodness Thomas was willing to help me out with that task. The marshmallow butter cream frosting in the recipe is to die for. I was afraid it was going to be way too sweet, but everyone seemed to like it.

We had an unusually full house for dinner this week as dad’s youngest sister, my Aunt Mary Lou, joined us for the musical and dinner, and the boys were here for a visit as well.  It was hectic and loud with lots of laughter and talking over each other, but it was wonderful to have everyone around the dinner table. It reminds me of Sunday dinners at my Grandma Wulff’s house.

The wine that accompanied the meal was a 2015 Le Grand Chai Médoc, at the request of the boys, and there may have been after dinner drinks of Rumchata and Kahlua by some of the adults around the table.

Quiche for Sunday Dinner

Sunday Dinner – 10 February 2019

This week we had Quiche Lorraine and Quiche Florentine, along with one of Claudia’s lovely salads.

I cheated and used store bought crusts, baking them blind for about twelve minutes first thing Sunday Morning. I also crisped up a pound of bacon, chopped an onion, and shredded 4 ounces of Swiss cheese for the Lorraine. For the Florentine, I chopped up a couple cups of fresh spinach, and grated the rest of the block of Swiss.

The custard was four eggs, two cups of whole milk, a little sugar, some salt and black pepper, and about a teaspoon of Herbs du Provence. I put the other ingredients into the shells, and then poured the custard mixture on top. They baked for 15 minutes at 425 °F, then I turned the oven down to 350 and let them bake for another half an hour.

Claudia and Aunt Pat put together the salad, and Claudia made the vinaigrette with raspberry vinegar and avocado oil.

Wine was Jacqueline Bahue’s Cabernet Franc from 2016, one of our favorites.

I think I’ll make my own crusts next time, and will nearly double the amount of custard. The Florentine might benefit from a little grated nutmeg, too. Might also use either Gruyère or Emmental cheese.

Kid loved this meal, and Claudia especially liked the Lorraine this time.

Claudia also made lemon bars for dessert.

Lemon Bars with Blueberries

Chinese New Year 2019 Celebration

With Chinese New Year coming up on Tuesday, February 5th (Year of the Pig, if anyone is interested), this Sunday was our New Years celebration.

I tend to maybe go a little overboard when I do themed meals…I always want to make sure there is something for everyone, and that no one walks away hungry. Although, really, I’m not sure anyone leaves our house hungry!

Details are important to me, and we usually put on background music that is appropriate for the cuisine. Brian asked if I’d like to listen to Chinese music, and at first I was like, “Ugh, no”, but then I said “You know, if you can find some relaxing Chinese music, like if you go to a nice Chinese restaurant and you hear it in the background.”  He found just the right channel and it reminded me of being in a spa. Louie seemed to like it…

Louis Relaxing

Place settings that I bought in Chinatown in San Francisco in probably 2009 created just the right tablescape.

I started planning the meal probably in the middle of the week. Lots of research and figuring out what to fix. I knew I would make Crockpot Beef with Broccoli because it’s good, easy and I’ve made it before. I always seem to Google for a recipe whenever I make it, and I’m not sure I’ve made the exact same recipe more than once. But, I found this recipe at Damn Delicious, and it’s a keeper.  Couldn’t be easier, and I had all the ingredients on hand anyway. Hardest part was slicing the chuck roast, and that was a cinch after having been gifted some proper chefs knives from a very dear friend. Recipe can be found here – seriously, super easy. And if you don’t have oyster sauce in your fridge, you totally should! At all times!!!

Broccoli Beef

Because one entree didn’t seem to be enough, I started thinking about other options. I’ve made fried rice, but figured with the jasmine rice, we didn’t really need more rice. I’ve also made vegetable lo mein, but for some reason, I was thinking about chicken. I don’t know that I’ve ever had cashew chicken before, but I like chicken and cashews, so what could go wrong? It didn’t take long before I settled on this recipe from Ree Drummond. She’s never led me astray before, and this time was no different. I did substitute red and yellow pepper for the green that the recipe called for. After I completed the recipe, I put it in the crockpot to keep it warm as I worked on other things. I did wait to put the cashews in until about 60 to 90 minutes before serving. The cashews held their shape but were tender. Sliced scallions and sesame seeds served as garnish.

Cashew Chicken

I love Chinese appetizers, and knew I was going to get egg rolls from the store, and thought about crab rangoon or shrimp toast (YUM!). But a person has to know their limits, and I wanted to make a dessert instead.

Dessert was much harder to decide on, as we don’t live in a metropolitan area and the Chinese section in our local groceries is somewhat limited. Some of the recipes were intimidating, others I would’ve needed to plan farther ahead so I could order ingredients from Amazon. I thought about egg tarts, but the last time I made them was a little frustrating. Almond cookies were also a consideration, but I knew I’d be picking up some Fortune Cookies (next time I might try making those myself!). Chinese donuts found on a buffet would’ve been OK if I weren’t scared to death of deep frying things. Then I stumbled on these Easy Chinese Moon Cakes from a link to 10 Easy Desserts on Yummly. Sounded a lot like a thumb print cookie, and bonus, I had all the ingredients (although I did pick up some higher quality strawberry preserves to use). I think this is completely Americanized (no offense to Shirley the contributor)…if I’d had access to some red bean paste, I would’ve been happier. But, they turned out well and were tasty. The only think that I would change in this recipe is to use the egg white that was left over from the yolk in the dough. Wasn’t really impressed with using a yolk for the egg wash, just not visually appealing.

Moon Cakes

Because it just wouldn’t be Sunday dinner without a green salad for me, I decided on Spring Mix (because I always have some on hand anyway) with Mandarins and chow mein noodles (instead of croutons). But what to use for dressing, that was the question. I was inspired by the other flavors in the main dishes so I started with a base of avocado oil, used rice vinegar, adding a dash of soy sauce, fresh minced garlic and ginger, and agave to balance the sour. I wish I could give measurements, but the only one I know for sure is that I used 2 small cloves of garlic. What can I say – some of my best cooking is completely impromptu. Added some scallions and chopped red pepper for color, and I must say, it was pretty darned good!

Salad with Ginger Dressing

I wanted something special to drink, and love the Lychee martinis from Koi Asian Bistro, so I set out to find canned lychees. But absolutely no place had them. Even Koi didn’t have any to spare to sell me. However, Jewel had fresh lychee nuts, so I picked up about three quarter of a pound and hoped we could figure it out. Brian, being the cocktail master and ever inquisitive being that he is, found a recipe to make the lychee simple syrup, and peeled and pitted them. Aunt Pat, mom and I had the lychee martinis with the first course (mom even let dad eat the lychees that were the garnish in her drink), while Brian had his usual martini. And because we were uncertain how the martinis might turn out, Brian picked up a bottle of Sake and Plum Fu-Ki wine, just in case. We had the wine with the main course, and it was a hit! It was on the sweet side, which for Brian and I is unusual, but it was very pleasant. We saved the sake for a digestif, served at room temperature. Bracing would be an understatement. So we heated it in a carafe submerged in hot water. Better. Warming it even more was even better. Brian was ready to dump the rest of the bottle out, but I’m thinking I could use it still to deglaze while cooking. At any rate, if I never drank sake again (and this was our second attempt), I wouldn’t be upset. Perhaps it’s an acquired taste, or our selections have been limited. I can’t even come up with adequate words to describe it…pure grain alcohol is the only thing I can think of!

Here is the menu, just to recap:

Appetizers: Chicken and pork egg rolls, Lychee martinis

Salad: Spring mix with mandarins, red peppers, scallions and chow mein noodles dressed with a ginger and garlic vinegarette

Entrees: Beef with Broccoli and Cashew Chicken, both served with jasmine rice. Plum Fu-Ki wine made a nice pairing

Digestif: Sake

Dessert: Easy Chinese Moon Cakes and Fortune Cookies

It’s a good thing that Chinese New Year only comes around once a year. While none of the recipes were particularly difficult, there was a lot of preparation involved. I’m thankful that I have a husband that also likes to cook and help out in the kitchen. Having someone clean up my messes is so very nice! Not to mention having my own personal bartender. I think I’ll keep him.

Kung Hei Fat Choy, everybody!

Burns Night 2019

Sunday Dinner – 27 January 2019

Faux Haggis and Tartan Veggies

This week was our annual Burns Night celebration for Sunday Dinner.

It was some time in the 1980s that I first got interested in “the Great Chieftain o’ the Puddin-race.” There was a cooking show on Public Television called “The Frugal Gourmet” and the chef, Jeff Smith, made something approaching haggis in a coffee can instead of a sheep’s stomach. I didn’t ever attempt his recipe, but at some point in the last decade or so I found this recipe for crockpot faux haggis which uses ground beef and lamb instead of offal, and decided to try it. It’s essentially a meatloaf with haggis-like seasonings. We loved the taste and the aroma while it’s cooking, so it has since become an annual tradition. We make it as close to Burns Night (January 25th) as we can, and have added some other recipes to the mix over the years, including cock-a-leekie soup, roasted root vegetables and our version of cranachan.

The roasted vegetables are cubes of potato, carrot and beets. I toss them with oil, thyme, salt and pepper, and then par cook them in the microwave for 5 minutes before placing them on a baking sheet and roasting at 400 °F for about half an hour. The cooked peas are added to the bowl with the veggies when they come out of the oven, and we sprinkle on a little chopped chives. I used to make the more traditional “tatties and neeps” but these were a hit around the table, and preparation is a cinch, so I think we’ll keep them.

I adapted Bonny Wolf’s chicken soup recipe for the crock pot for the first course.

Wine was Matt Parish’s 2016 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, and it paired very nicely.

Dessert was a take on cranachan, with a mix of Greek yoghurt, Dewar’s Scotch, honey and oat granola layered with raspberries.

We proceeded the meal with Burns’ Selkirk Grace.

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be Thankit!

Il Pollo Alla Cacciatora

Sunday Dinner – 20 January 2019

Il Pollo Alla Cacciatora

This week it was a hearty meal for a wintery day, Italian Hunter’s Chicken Stew.

I got this recipe online somewhere many years ago. It’s typical of rustic chicken dishes popular throughout Europe, such as Poulet à la Chasseur, or Coq au Vin in France.

I coated some chicken thigh pieces with seasoned flour (paprika, salt and pepper) and fried them for a few minutes in the Lodge cast iron dutch oven with a little olive oil. I removed the chicken, and sautéed some onion and then garlic for a bit, then added a cup of Chianti to deglaze. Then the vegetables (thin celery and carrot slices, and julienned bell peppers) and two cans of diced tomatoes went in, along with the chicken, more salt and pepper, and a couple teaspoons each of basil, thyme and oregano. Once everything got up to a boil, I reduced it to a simmer and then covered until tender, maybe thirty or forty minutes.

Claudia cooked brown Basmati rice and made a beautiful green salad to go along. She also baked a Vanilla Magic Custard Cake for dessert.

Vanilla Custard Magic Cake

Italian Beef

Sunday Dinner – 13 January 2019

Italian Beef Sandwich

Claudia made Italian Beef for Sunday Dinner this week. This is one of our perennial crock pot favorites. A roast, a packet of Italian dressing seasoning, a bottle of beer, some garlic and some pepperoncini go into the pot on low for hours until the beef falls apart. She serves it on buns with Mozzarella and red sauce.

She also made a salad, and sautéed some zucchini and other vegetables as a side. We picked up a quart of her favorite pasta salad (from JR’s Chicken in Kankakee) as well. For dessert, she baked brownies and served it with Aunt Pat’s DQ. Wine was the Ménage à Trois Silk soft red blend, which was an Aldi find and surprisingly nice.

Another Detroit Pie and Some Old School Cheese Soup

Weekend of January 5th and 6th, 2019

We had dough left over, so I had another run at Detroit Style Pizza for supper on Saturday Night. I picked up a cheap steel cake pan at the dollar store (made in the USA, yet) earlier in the day, browned some Italian Sausage, and made the sauce.

For the sauce, just crush everything together with a potato masher.

  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1-2 T tomato paste
  • 1 pressed clove garlic
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 T basil
  • 1 t oregano
  • 1 t sugar
  • 1 t black pepper
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1/4 t red pepper flakes

I use the Basic Artisan Pizza Crust Recipe for the dough.

  • 3 1/4 cups lukewarm water
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon yeast
  • 1 to 1 1/2tablespoons Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 7 1/2 cups (scoop and sweep) unbleached all-purpose flour

This makes enough dough for several pies. I had just enough left to cover the bottom of the pan when stretched. It was much easier to stretch this time, after having rested in the fridge for nearly a week. This is one of the things that I love about the AB5 dough.

I sprayed the bottom of the cake pan, then drizzled olive oil and coated it well. I also sprinkled it with a little corn meal to add to the buttery taste, and pressed dough over bottom of pan. The Monterray Jack cheese (an 8 ounce block, grated) went on next. I got the tip on that from Cook’s Country. They did tests and it came closest to the characteristics of the Wisconsin Brick Cheese that would typically be used in Detroit. The sausage crumbles went on next, then the three iconic stripes of tomato sauce. The pie baked at 500 °F until the cheese was bubbly and brown, about 17 minutes this time.

I was amazed at how easily and quickly this pizza came together, and at how delicious it was. Our grilled pizzas are still my favorite, and we’ll continue to make the Malnati style deep dish from time to time, but I think the Detroits will be our go to, especially to use up leftover dough, and for a quick weeknight meal. I’m anxious to taste a slice of Chef Garibaldi’s again one of these days to see how ours stacks up to the authentic.

For Sunday Dinner, I made cheese soup. The recipe is one of my favorites, and comes from a restaurant in Decatur from the old days, called The Brown Jug. My Sister Marge gave me the recipe years ago and it was one of the first things I ever learned to cook.

Brown Jug Cheese Soup

I sautéed some diced celery and onion, then added them to a crock pot with some veggie and chicken stock (maybe a quart and a half altogether), and a couple 12 ounce bags of frozen mixed vegetables. Once that all got warmed up, I added 5 diced potatoes and 2 diced carrots. Finally, after all of that was cooked through, I added two cans of cream of celery soup and a pound or so of Velveeta cheese. Once everything is melted and combined, it’s ready to serve.

I baked a largish peasant boule with the leftover dough from earlier in the week. Again, the AB5 dough that’s been resting in the fridge for a few days takes on some great characteristics. It almost tastes like a sour dough.

Claudia made a nice salad, and we had Wisconsin Supper Club relishes, including marinated olives, marinated mushrooms and cornichons. The wine was Sharon Weeks’ Cattoo Red, which was just perfect. Later on, Aunt Pat and Caroline picked up some soft serve from DQ to go with Christmas cookies for dessert.

My sons were with us for a little while in the afternoon, and had their soup with a bit of hot sauce. :)

New Year’s Eve 2019

After Mass on New Year’s Eve, Claudia made a lovely meal of stuffed chicken breasts, mashed potatoes, and broccoli steamed with lemon. Grammy put together a cheese plate and Claudia stuffed some Portobello caps for appetizers. We drank one of my favorite wines, a Colombard and Sauvignon Blanc cuveé from South Africa called “Gooseberry Bush.”

The evening was relatively quiet. We watched Grace and Frankie for awhile with the folks, and then after they went home we watched WLS TV’s Countdown Chicago, sharing a bottle of Asti around Midnight. I made a Champagne Cocktail for my second glass. Kid drank ginger ale from a crystal flute.

Thankful to see another year in. Here’s wishing everyone a beautiful 2019.

From Chicago to Detroit

Sunday Dinner – 30 December 2018

Chicago and Detroit Pizza

For our last Sunday Dinner of 2018 we made pizza two ways, with a Lou Malnati style Chicago deep dish and our first run at a Detroit style pie.

Inspired by Chef Garibaldi, I’d been wanting to try my hand at Detroit pizza for awhile now. I used my usual dough recipe from AB5. Lacking one of the typical high sided 13 x 9 pans, I used a square cake pan, coating it with cooking spray and olive oil before stretching out the dough. I covered that with shredded Monterrey Jack, and then put the three iconic stripes of sauce across the top.

The sauce was a can of diced tomatoes, some olive oil, two pressed cloves of garlic, a little sugar, salt and pepper, and some oregano and basil – all smashed up with a potato masher. It went into a 500 °F oven for 15 minutes.

The other pie was an old favorite alla Lou Malnati’s, baked in a cast iron skillet.

Malnati Style

Claudia made a marvelous Wulff salad with Balsamic vinaigrette. Wine was a 2016 Sangiovese, for those not drinking Newcastle Ale.

We’d definitely make the Detroit style pizza again. In fact, Claudia said that she actually preferred it today. The sauce was just a bit too garlicky for her taste, and we’ll likely add some Italian sausage next go ’round. It’s nice to add another pizza to our repertoire, and particularly one that is so easy to prepare and quick to bake. I can see this becoming our go-to for weeknights.

Holiday Meals 2018

Here are some photos from around our table Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

On Christmas Eve, Claudia prepared a lovely meal for after Mass. There was a shrimp ring, lobster and crab cakes, crudités, Feta stuffed phyllo, and a choice of potato soup or oyster stew. The oyster stew is our Christmas Eve tradition, and it was the most delicious ever this year. Wine was a very nice Chardonnay from Franc Dusak.

On Christmas Day, we cooked a ham on the Weber Genesis, using Jamie Purviance’s molasses and mustard glaze. Claudia also made pasta shells with cheese sauce, a Pampered Chef holiday appetizer wreath, and a lovely green salad. Grammy brought a tasty cauliflower, broccoli and raisin salad, and Aunt Pat brought a vibrant and fresh Jello and fruit salad. The wine was Jacqueline Bahue’s 2015 Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir.

Of course, there was an incredible variety of Christmasy baked goods – cookies, candies, fudge and more.

Alder Planked Salmon

Sunday Dinner – 23 December 2018

Grilled Salmon

It was Alder Planked Salmon (and near disaster) this week.

We love salmon cooked on the grill, and alder wood is our favorite smoke flavoring for it. We’ve had good luck in the past cooking fish on cedar planks, so we decided to try alder planks this time. I soaked four planks in water for a couple hours before beginning to cook. Here’s how they looked on the Weber Genesis.

Alder Planks

The process for the plank grilling is to char the planks on one side, flip them over, and then cook the fish on the charred side. The planks didn’t get very charred in the first few minutes, so I turned up the burners to high. That was my first mistake. The second mistake was to leave them unattended for four minutes.

When I went back to check them and opened the hood, there was a backdraft and a huge flameup that singed the hair off my left forearm. I was lucky that it didn’t catch my clothes (or rather longish hair) on fire. When the flames died down, the planks were nearly cinders.

Improvising, I scooped the mess toward the back of the grill, turned the burners to low, and closed the hood. I had four remaining planks that hadn’t been soaked, and decided to risk using them to cook the salmon steaks on over very low heat. I watched them closely, peeking under the hood every two minutes. Fortune was with us, and they turned out delicious, despite more than a “kiss of smoke.”

We’d grilled some asparagus and baked some potatoes on the Genesis earlier, and they were waiting in a warm oven while I finished the fish. Claudia also made a nice salad, and we served it with a simple creamy garlic dressing. That’s always Grampy’s favorite that he asks for when dining out. We found the old recipe from the Blue Mill restaurant in Decatur, Illinois online and decided to try it out.

  • 1 qt Mayonaise
  • 3/4 oz Lemon Juice
  • 4 t Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1.2 oz Grated Parmigiana
  • 1 1/4 t Garlic Powder
  • 1/4 c Water

Alder Planked Salmon

Wines were a 2016 Marchesi Sauvignon Blanc and a 2017 Jacqueline Bahue.

Grilled Pork Chops and Vinegar Potatoes

Sunday Dinner – 16 December 2018

Pork Chop Dinner

This week it was grilled pork chops, vinegar potatoes and sautéed green beans for Sunday Dinner.

I usually marinate the chops, but this time I simply seasoned with Custom Culinary Spice and grilled them. I used the Salt & Vinegar Potatoes recipe from Kitchn, and it came out even more delicious this time, roasting the par cooked potatoes on the Genesis. Claudia steamed the green beans for a bit, and then sautéed them with some onions and Penzey’s Mural of Flavor herb mix. She and Aunt Pat made a nice salad with raspberry vinaigrette too.

Wine was the 2017 Crowdpleazin Dry Creek Zinfandel. Really tasty, and we got to try out a Rabbit aerator that Pat gave us. I’d always thought that it was only old, high-tannin reds that could benefit from aeration, but it amped up the bouquet and flavor of this young jammy Cali Zinfandel nicely. Looking forward to trying it on a bottle of white wine soon.

Caroline baked cookies to go with ice cream for dessert.