Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Alotta Frittata

For the last couple of weeks, it seems that I can't get my fridge any less packed-to-the-gills. Last night was yet another night of trying to take bits and pieces of leftovers and put them to use once and for all.  I have 2 cooked chicken breasts and half an onion that have been staring back at me.  So, I grabbed the eggs and decided to whip up a big, puffy frittata.

I learned to make these from a cool cookbook called How to Cook without a Book.  I can't remember how long I've had this book, and in truth, I still read it just to make sure I have my measurements correct.  I've decided to make some notes in it and when Vivian is old enough to move out on her own, I'm going to give her my copy.

Last night, I chopped up most of that leftover chicken, used 3 slices of bacon, chopped up that onion, used a little Parmesan and the last little bit of the Colby we got from the Wisconsin cheese box that my brother-in-law sent.  All you do is cook the bacon and as it begins to render, add the onion.  Once these were cooked, I tossed in the chicken.  You spread all this out to cover the bottom of your skillet.  I'd already mixed 8 eggs, the cheeses and salt and pepper together.  You pour that over the bacon/onion/chicken and cook for about a minute or so to get the eggs to just begin to set.  Then, into the oven for about 13 minutes and you get a golden, puffy frittata.  Very little effort and very big payoff in the delicious department.  

I've never been able to get the Vivver to embrace the idea of an omelet.  But, as she ate her dinner and told me how much she liked it, she said "Hmm, this is kind of like an omelet and a pie, isn't it?"  Call it whatever you like, as long as you eat it!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Fresh Pasta

I am notorious for saying things like "uhh, I don't know" or "I haven't even thought about it" or "hmmm, let me think about it" when asked what I want for Christmas, my birthday, etc. Well, this year, I had a break-through.  When my mom asked, I had an answer!  Where did this come from?  The dark recesses of my mind had opened but how, why? My answer:  "I want the pasta machine attachment for my standing mixer."

There, I said it.

So you may ask, "Wow, where did that come from?"  For years, I've read a gazillion recipes calling for fresh pasta, if available. I've also read countless articles about how fresh pasta just can't be beat for lasagna, ravioli, you name it.  You may have come across recipes that describe to you how you can roll pasta dough out by hand and then cut into the shapes you want.  Yes, I suppose that is possible.  But rest assured, to roll pasta to true pasta thickness would take you about 2 hours of rolling pin work.  No thanks. You need a pasta machine.

As I'm sure you've surmised, mom and dad came through with the Kitchenaid attachment. I was elated!  As soon as I got it home I had to try it out.  Here's the coolest part of this story: it is insanely easy to make pasta. I made a basic egg pasta dough, then used my machine to create fresh spaghetti.  If you have a Kitchenaid mixer, you simply mix up the dough in the mixer.  Let it rest for about 20 minutes, then attach the pasta roller to the front.  You effortlessly roll the pasta to the right thickness, then switch to one of the cutter attachments (I have spaghetti and fettucine) and viola! you have pasta.  

I bagged some up for mom and dad then cooked up some for the three of us to try.  Vivi wanted hers plain.  Neil and I had it with a basic red sauce.  The noodles were so tender!  Store bought noodles never have this subtle tenderness.  Right out of the pot, they taste good from the simple salted water.  Since making the initial batch, I whipped up a little lunch for Neil using the fresh spaghetti, some cooked chicken I had in the fridge, leftover asparagus, parmesan and olive oil. He left not one noodle in that bowl!

My next attempt is going to be lasagna.  This is one of my mom's favorite dishes and I can't wait to make one with fresh pasta sheets.  We'll start with traditional but then I want to try out a recipe in one of my Williams-Sonoma cookbooks for duck lasagna with a cabernet sauce.  Oh yeah...

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Merry Christmas to Me!

I invited my parents to come to our house for Christmas Eve this year.  I can't remember the last time I had them come over for dinner, much less dinner for a special occasion.  I contemplated various menus and ideas.  One thing I knew was that I wanted to go all out and make it a special dinner. After all, we're talking about Christmas.

As most of you are aware, I truly love to cook.  More than cooking for the sake of cooking, I really love to cook for others.  I'm fortunate that I have Neil and Vivian who are very appreciative and adventurous eaters here at my disposal. But, when other people get in the mix, it really gets me going.  Having mom and dad coming for dinner got my heart pumping, my brain whirring and my cookbooks flying.  This, for me, was the ultimate Christmas present.  To cook for my family and to cook something special.

After much deliberation, I came up with this menu:
  • She-crab soup (no roe, you know, since we can't get it anymore)
  • Prime rib (I've never cooked this before; maiden voyage)
  • Roasted asparagus
  • Syracuse salt potatoes 
  • Creme brulee 
She-crab is one of my favorite foods on Earth. I've never made it at home, so I was super excited about this.  I used a recipe that I found here. The one change I made was that I finely diced celery and sauteed that with the onion.  Some of my favorite she-crabs I've ever had have that little bit of veggie texture.  I know, I know.  I am a life-long hater of celery.  But, I know enough to know its place when cooked to softness. This is the real deal she-crab.  Since it was Christmas, I made it as written.  In the future, on regular days, I'll be lightening it up for sure.  But, Dave, whoever you are, I salute you!  My parents thought this soup was better than any restaurant version they've ever had.

Seasoned & ready for the oven
The prime rib was ridiculously easy.  I followed a basic "recipe" mainly just to know temperatures and times.  I got the oven up to 475, put the roast in then immediately reduced the heat to 325.  Cooked for about 2.5 hours.  Then, rested for about 20 minutes.  I did this without a meat thermometer, seein' as how I didn't have one. (Next day, I got a fancy electronic, remote control one from my parents!)  Regardless, the steak was perfect.  When Neil sliced it up, we all exclaimed that it looked like a restaurant prime rib.  Cooked perfectly, if I do say so myself! I accompanied this with simple roasted asparagus and Syracuse salt potatoes

My dad isn't a big sweet eater, like myself.  However, we both can appreciate subtle sweetness like a simple creme brulee.  And, the Vivver likes it too.  So, again, super easy. I served this for dessert with coffee, Kahlua, champagne or whatever stuck each person's fancy. 

My family was generous with the compliments, which is always great to hear, of course.  However, for me, the real pleasure was simply having them here and creating a special meal for us to enjoy together.  Cooking for people you care about is one of the most special activites in which a cook can engage.  And the fact that all my dishes worked was certainly a big plus! Now, I must apologize for not having any final result photos for you.  We pretty much hit the table with full steam and didn't stop for a photo shoot. 

**I hope you all had a very Merry Christmas!**

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Hamburger Helper

Where have I been?  The last month has been a whirlwind. Everyone keeps saying Thanksgiving was late, thereby making Christmas seem early.  I still can't find a way to understand this...I mean, isn't Thanksgiving ALWAYS the last Thursday of November?  Anyway...

I've told you guys before how much I love Zaycon.  A couple months ago, my mom placed an order for the two of us to split.  In the meantime, my brother-in-law accepted a job in Houston.  He left before Thanksgiving and my sister was to follow once the houses got closed. My dear, sweet parents agreed to drive with her to Texas. To drive with her, my 2 1/2 year old niece and the dog.  Saints, they are.

It just so happened that our Zaycon delivery was coming in the following day.  This "event" was ham and hamburger.  My mom ordered one case of ham, which contained two 10 lb. hams.  This ham is so amazingly yummy too.  She also ordered two cases of hamburger meat.  When I first learned that she'd ordered this much, I thought it must be a mistake, but no, she did it on purpose.  It really wouldn't have been a big deal with each of us taking a case home to portion out.  But, remember, mom and dad had just left on this roadtrip the day before.

That left me here in Columbia holding 80 pounds of hamburger.  Yes.  I said eighty. And, it's packaged in 10 lb. "logs" so you can't just plop those babies in the freezer.  Nope.  You must portion it out and wrap and bag for the freezer. 

This post is dedicated to my husband, Neil.  
He is my hamburger helper.

This is just a fraction of our hamburger haul.
We got in assembly line mode and he and I created 40 lbs of 1/4 lb hamburger patties.  Each wrapped in plastic wrap and put in freezer bags.  The other 40 lbs we cut into 1 lb segments and wrapped and bagged.  Neil looked at the half (40 lbs) that was to go to our house and said, "We won't be able to get this in our freezer."  As usual, I replied "Oh, don't worry, I'll get it in there."  Well, suffice it to say that our freezer is literally packed to the gills with meat.  It helps me sleep well at night.  Now, I just have to start writing a list of ways to use hamburger.  Lots and lots of hamburger!


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