Baking seems to be my default activity when I’m stressed and this cold is stressing me out. Okay, really, I want to have nice baked goods in the house so I can keep up my caloric intake for the winter. Tough work.
Sewing is not my usual default activity (plus I didn’t want to go in the crawl space for my sewing machine) so I used Stitch Witchery (love!) to make a roller window shade out of unbleached muslin. Deciding if I want to go with a fun pattern or keep it simple with this. This was my trial run. Fabric weight is okay, I need to use more starch (yes, I made my own), and measure and cut with precision (also not a strength). Great tutorial here. I found plenty of sites that showed you how to cover exisiting shades with fabric but I wanted to have plain fabric (when we moved in I found a gorgeous old linen roller shade in our basement so that’s my inspiration).
Although my family may tell you that my idea of No-Cook meals this summer has mostly relied on prepared food from Whole Foods, I have actually made some of my No Cook Meals. Look out, Family! I may continue this trend/lifestyle/into our fall if the weather holds or at least until my Mother-in-law visits. So here are some links to places with good no-cook foods (you can put together a nice dinner from Trader Joe’s, too.
From Real Simple – 25 No Cook Recipes and a bunch of Fake It Don’t Make it recipes, too.
Eating Well has a great list of No Cook Recipes, too. Both of these resources also list the nutritional information, in case you need to know.
Entertaining? Still don’t want to cook? Me, either. Bon Appetit has a nice slideshow of good (a bit fancier) recipes, too.
Confession: Sometimes I lack imagination…in my dinner menu. This is what happens – I find something that (blessedly) everyone will eat and make it so often that they get sick of it. Try to understand – the excitement of finding a dinner everyone likes! The comfort level of making it without looking at a recipe or ingredient list! However, my joy is never long lasting and it is followed by disdain and ruin (as in the meal is out of the rotation when the complaints become too frequent or loud) and my previously celebrated meal is a goner. What can I say? My mother did the same thing (your fault, Mom!) and it is a tough cycle to break. But I am resolved – sort of.
I know there is no shortage of amazing recipes – there are many sites dedicated to sharing them (Bakespace, Epicurious, All recipes), to say nothing of the hundreds of thousands of food blogs (Smitten Kitchen, Whisk Kid,David Lebowitz) and even my own collection of cookbooks. Sometimes I am not inspired even with these amazing resources. Sigh, I am a slacker dinner mom.
But then the universe tilts and I am inspired. This time it was closer to home – two talented home chefs that never challenge their families with boring dinners.
So first, a perfect summer salad with tomatoes, feta cheese and cucumbers from Bon Appetit. I tried it Friday night at my friend’s house – it is delicious – think chopped Greek Salad and it takes less than 15 minutes to make. Bon Appetit suggests serving it with lamb – I made broiled chicken breasts and sweet Italian sausage (on sale at Whole Foods this week).
•6 cups coarsely chopped English hothouse or Persian cucumbers (about 2 pounds total) I used English hothouse but found the skin a little tough in my salad – next time I would go with the Persian or peel partially).
•2 large tomatoes (about 1 pound total), coarsely chopped I used small vine ripened tomatoes.
•1 bunch scallions, chopped
•1 cup assorted pitted olives (such as Kalamata or Gaeta), halved
•1 7-ounce package feta, crumbled, divided
•1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh mint
•6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
•Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Combine cucumbers, tomatoes, scallions, olives, half of feta, and mint in a large bowl. Whisk oil and lemon juice in a small bowl; season dressing with salt and pepper. Pour dressing over salad; toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle remaining half of feta over and serve. Disclaimer: No one in my family likes olives except for me but all ate this. I have been requested to make the dressing again but with less gross stuff in the salad. I had it for lunch today over arugula from Newton Community Farm.
Am I finished with dinner? No, there is more! Another friend hosted our mother-daughter book group this past week and had (among other delicious things) beautiful pasta (whole wheat in one huge bowl, white pasta in the other) dressed with five Italian cheeses, served with marinated red peppers and tomatoes in the middle. Then she simply tossed everything together and served with some additional grated cheese. I think she used just olive oil salt and pepper but I threw in some nice balsamic vinegar – terrific – especially nice with the chicken and sausage on the side (yes, that is how she served it) and both went really well with my chopped Greek salad. I grabbed a nice loaf of French Bread (Iggy’s) and the meal was complete.
Chicken – cook in your favorite way – I like Ina Garten’s basic prep or grilled is great this time of year.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Place the chicken breasts on a sheet pan and rub them with olive oil. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, or until cooked through.
Pasta with Italian Cheeses
One large red pepper (sliced finely)
Grape or Cherry tomatoes (about 1 1/2 lbs, cut up)
olive oil (I didn’t measure – just covered the veggies – I know – annoying, right?)
salt and pepper to taste
Optional: Balsamic vinegar – to taste
Slice red pepper and cut tomatoes into bite-sized pieces. Put in a bowl and drizzle olive oil over the vegetables. Let stand for 30 minutes for best flavor – or for as long as it takes for the pasta to cook if for some reason you haven’t given yourself enough time. Never happens to me (last week we made both cookies and brownies in under an hour while simultaneously making dinner. My husband was impressed – just business as usual here).
If making for a large group – use two pots, one for white pasta, one for whole wheat) or combine half whole wheat pasta and half white pasta in one pot.
Cook pasta according to package instructions, drain.
Place pasta in large serving bowl and sprinkle grated cheese of choice (she said five – I can only think of Parmesan, Romano, and Grana Padano) Maybe some Manchego would be nice) over the pasta. Make a well in the center for the marinated veggies (feel free to put in your favorites or more likely, stuff you have on hand) Serve with additional grated cheese on the side.
Presentation is gorgeous – this is my go to for the next potluck!
This is the amazing lamb shank recipe that I coerced from the Owner/Chef Michael Mir of bha! bha! and finally have in my hot little hands. I know it has been a while since I made this (and only the one time) so I am not clear on how long it took me but I have exaggerated it to two days. By next year it would have been up to three days. I know I never got the sour grapes and just did without but this time I am going to find some and no, this is not the Easter Sunday menu. I am either making a roasted turkey roulade or ordering something already made…grin.
3 large ripe (not too soft) tomatoes (cut into wedges)
12-16 cloves of garlic
3 large Spanish onions (thinly sliced)
salt, pepper, turmeric and curry powder
1 cup of tomato paste
sour grapes in brine(can be purchased in Persian stores – called GHOUREH)
Place the trimmed and washed shanks in a large stock pot filled with water until all are comfortably submerged. Place two thinly sliced onions together with 1 tbsp. turmeric, 1 tb black pepper, 1 tbsp. salt. Bring to a boil. Let boil for 10 minutes and then continue cooking on medium heat for 1 hour or until the shanks are fork tender. Although the liquid has been reduced, there should still be plenty for the shanks not to be exposed to the air. Set aside and keep the lid on.
Peel the eggplants and slice lengthwise into 6 slices each and lightly salt the eggplant. In a deep dish ( a wok is good) bring 2 cups of vegetable oil to smoky hot. Pat the eggplant dry, and carefully submerge in the hot oil. Turn them over once. Keep the heat high (eggplants will not be greasy this way). When the eggplant is a dark golden brown, take them out one by one and set on a rack (or a colander) to drip their oil.
In a separate deep dish, sauté pan, start sauteing 1 thinly sliced onion in 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the desired amount of garlic cloves. When translucent, place the lamb shanks one by on into the oil with onions and garlic. Add the tomato wedges and the 1/3 cup of tomato paste. Try to turn everything over at least once. Add 1/2 tbs. curry powder. Add remaining 2/3 cup of tomato paste. Try to saute the paste as well. Add 1 cup of lamb stock (that you have from the original pot – first skim any fat). To this you can add 1/2 cup of chicken stock or plain water. Do not allow the tomatoes become too soft or mushy. Taste and adjust salt and pepper. Add 3 tablespoons of sour grapes along with the juice. Bring to a quick boil and reduce the temperature, Simmer for 15 minutes.
It looks glorious in individual rustic clay pots or tagines. Place one lamb shank, 2 or 3 slices of eggplant, and add sauce with tomato wedges and garlic cloves and make sure that some sour grapes also find their way in. Place in a warm oven until served. Serve with a nice plate of saffron basmati rice or warm bread.
You can also serve it on a large (semi-deep) clay or ceramic tray or pot. Place all shanks with eggplant slices between them and pour the sauce and remaining ingredients in top, making sure that the tomato sauce is not over-served. Serve with a large tray of steaming saffron basmati rice.