The week in review

How is it Friday already? This week flew by in a whirlwind of gardening, doctor’s appointments, buying school supplies, and watching the Olympics. And playdates. Lots of playdates. So here it is Friday (I swear I thought it was Thursday when I woke up this morning), and the blog posts in my head are as yet unwritten, unpublished.

So here’s a quick summer-is-winding-down summary of my week for you:

Garden:

As a result of the drought this summer (and our neglect while away on vacation), we are now performing triage on our ragged lawn and garden. Our efforts to water the front lawn seem to be making a difference (let’s just agree not to talk about the weeds or the layer of pine needles). I have been hacking away at the wilted brown daylilies and miles of weeds that have overtaken the flower beds. My doctor told me I need to do more cardio, but I think my daily hour (or three) swinging a hoe is going to count this week. I planted some mums, spread some mulch, and have created many piles of yard waste to bag for pickup next week. And in a feat of superhuman strength, my husband single-handedly chopped down two-thirds of our overgrown hedge. Next week: more weeding, more mulch.

 

Do you have any great hints for maintaining your lawn and garden in the worst of the summer heat?

Cooking:

In the kitchen, I’ve been keeping things simple. Sunday night we were so wiped out, we ate popcorn for dinner. I jazzed up the popped kernels with a generous handful of grated cheese, leftover bacon, melted butter and salt. Mix it up and bake on a rimmed cookie sheet at 250 degrees for 5-10 minutes, until the cheese melts. Serve with Chocolate Banana Milk Shakes (from Mollie Katzen’s kid’s cookbook Pretend Soup).

Cheddar Bacon Popcorn

I also tried one new recipe from Kim Boyce’s Good to the Grain. With the illicit stash of cheap quinoa flour that I brought from Ecuador in my suitcase, I made the Banana-Walnut cake. My kids often say they don’t like nuts, but they sure liked the cake. It was lovely with a tall glass of iced coffee while catching up with a good friend. (It’s a super moist cake and keeps really well for a few days–two, at least!) I’ve got some amaranth flour to try next. Next week I’ll share a recipe for a cool Avocado Shrimp Roll–wonderful for a summer lunch or light supper. I need to make it one more time to get it just right…

Cleaning:

HAHAHA!!! By that I mean that things are getting pretty dusty–possibly even sticky–around here. The daily laundry routine has helped me keep on top of the dirty clothes, and I’ve managed to make the bed and do the dishes every day. I even broke out the vacuum and attacked the family room rug (and then issued one of my frequent bans of food in the family room–frequently broken by everyone, including me). But any serious cleaning is going to wait until next week. We’re expecting houseguests again next weekend, so I’ve divvied up my cleaning tasks throughout the week on my list at TeuxDeux.com. I love TeuxDeux because I can’t misplace my list! It automatically moves any items you haven’t crossed off onto the next day’s list–so easy.

How do you prepare for houseguests? Mints on the pillow?

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Weeknight Pad Thai

We don’t get takeout very often, but if we do, it’s likely to be Thai food. And though I love a good curry, there’s something so comforting about a container of Pad Thai. Salty, savory, sweet, sour, crunchy–a little bit of everything, without any one flavor dominating the others. Now that our kids are past their toddler years (and Mr. Nine has declared himself Too Old for the kids’ menu), even takeout is no bargain–one meal can easily equal a week’s grocery bill.

But with a short trip down the Asian foods aisle of your local market, you can stock a few ingredients for a reasonable homemade Pad Thai whenever the mood strikes. You’ll need fish sauce (nam pla), rice sticks, and tamarind concentrate (but if you can’t find this your noodles will still be yummy–just add more lime juice). The rest are easily recognizable ingredients: brown sugar, green onions, limes, garlic, peanuts.

This recipe makes a large batch, enough to serve six as a main course. We ate a little more than half for dinner, and had several servings leftover for lunch. Sure beats another sandwich.

Weeknight Pad Thai

1 lb. Thai rice stick noodles

2 Tbsp. peanut or vegetable oil

2 Tbsp. minced garlic

1/2 lb. ground pork (or choose shrimp or thin strips of chicken)

1/2 lb. firm tofu, diced in 1/2-inch pieces

5 Tbsp. fish sauce

2 Tbsp. brown sugar

1 Tbsp. tamarind concentrate

5-6 green onions, sliced diagonally in 1/2-inch pieces

3/4 cup finely chopped peanuts

2 Tbsp. lime juice

Other additions: bean sprouts, chopped cilantro, scrambled egg, fresh or dried chilis

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Add rice sticks and cook for 7-8 minutes. Drain and set aside. In a small bowl, stir together the fish sauce, brown sugar, tamarind concentrate and lime juice.

Heat oil on medium-high in a wok or large sauté pan, and add the garlic. Stir fry for a few seconds, just until the garlic begins to color. Quickly add the ground pork, raise the heat to high, and fry until all pink is gone. Add the noodles and mix well. Pour in the fish sauce mixture, tofu, green onions and 1/2 cup of peanuts (and any of the other additions you might have–if using egg, just push the noodles to the sides of the pan and scramble the egg right in the well). Keep tossing mixture until all the noodles are coated and everything is heated through, 4-5 minutes.

Serve immediately with lime wedges and a sprinkling of peanuts.

Hummus

We’re watching the first season of Mad Men these days (don’t spoil it, friends), and just saw the episode where Pete Campbell exchanges a wedding gift–a ceramic  lettuce leaf and red pepper atrocity of a “chip and dip”–for a shotgun. Now how will they serve the sour cream and onion dip?

While it’s hard to beat a good sour cream and onion dip (with a bag of Ruffles), it’s not exactly a snack I’d feel good about offering on a regular basis. Enter the bowl of hummus. I’m sure hummus was unheard of by most people in the Mad Men days, but now it’s everywhere, and every grocery store has competing brands and multiple flavors. Roasted garlic! Red pepper! Mild! Spicy!

Hummus, pita chips and baby carrots was standard fare at playgroup gatherings when my kids were toddlers. My kids still love hummus, and we do, too. I like to make my own, because it’s easy and significantly cheaper, especially when I start with dried chickpeas instead of canned (though canned work perfectly fine). I also know exactly what’s in it, and can season it to our taste.

I usually cook beans in the slow cooker, preferably overnight. It takes about one minute of prep, and the next morning you can let it cool and divide the cooked beans into containers to freeze or use right away. It takes half of a one-pound bag of dried chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans) for a single batch of hummus. No need to soak ahead of time, either–10 hours on low and they are just right.

Some people prefer to remove the skins, but I find it an unnecessary step.

Rinse 1 lb. dried chickpeas, and put them in a slow cooker with 8 cups of cold water and 1 Tbsp. kosher salt. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours, until the chickpeas are tender. Use about half of the cooked chickpeas for the following recipe. Freeze the rest or make falafel to go with the hummus!

Hummus

3 cups cooked chickpeas

3/4 cup-1 cup cooking liquid or water

juice of one lemon

1/2 cup tahini

2 garlic cloves warmed in 2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 tsp. ground cumin

1/4 cup fresh parsley

salt and pepper to taste

Add all ingredients to the bowl of a food processor (start with the smaller amount of liquid and add more if necessary) and process until smooth (or leave it a little chunky if you prefer). Taste and adjust the seasoning.

TGIF

Maybe it’s just the second glass of wine talking, but Friday night is the best night of the week. Bedtime isn’t so urgent. My husband is bathing the recalcitrant four-year-old, whose defiant attitude seems to have washed away with a liberal application of bubble bath and plastic mermaids. We’re going to the farmer’s market in the morning, and our dinner tonight (along with that bottle of wine) was just an assortment of appetizers pulled together from leftovers from the past week: Brie and crackers, smoked trout dip (leftover from Sunday’s bagels), hummus and carrots, a bowl of blackberries, rosemary focaccia from that last bit of dough in the refrigerator, cantaloupe and prosciutto (unused from a recipe gone wrong). Who says you can’t have happy hour for dinner?

You can! Snip some flowers from the garden for the table, raid the refrigerator and serve your spread on the patio. Turn up the music. Mix some Shirley Temples for the kids. Light a few candles, play some cards in the dusk, and watch the fireflies come out.

A few favorite family Happy Hour ideas:

Fresh Herb Focaccia

Smoked Whitefish (or Trout) Dip

Hummus

Fresh Fruit with Honey-Yogurt Dip

Crackers, cheese, cold cuts (fan them out on a platter or fold them up and skewer them on toothpicks)

Garlic, Herb and Parmesan Popcorn

Canned sardines in tomato sauce (I may be the only one who thinks this is a good idea)

What are your favorite Happy Hour munchies?

Food processor mango sorbet

Did you know you can make fruit sorbet without an ice cream maker? We do have an ice cream maker, and I was ready to use it yesterday to make mango sorbet, but stumbled upon this easy method because I began with frozen mango (an impulse buy at Aldi) instead of fresh. If you have a food processor in your kitchen, but no ice cream maker, this recipe is for you.

The texture of the mango lends a creaminess to the sorbet, and the lime juice is a tangy contrast to the sweetness. Miss Six doesn’t like mango (she’s not a big fruit eater), but she asked for an extra scoop of sorbet. I’m not sure the food processor method would work with just any frozen fruit, but it might be worth experimenting. And if you want a sugar-free fruit “ice cream,” try this one made with frozen bananas. That’s next on my list!

Into the bowl of the food processor, put 1 lb. frozen mango chunks1 cup of simple syrup, and 2 Tbsp. lime juice. Purée until smooth. Serve immediately (it will be like soft serve ice cream), or transfer to a covered container and freeze until ready to serve. Best served within a few days.

Applesauce Bran Muffins

I love getting out of bed before the kids. It doesn’t happen very often. In fact, if I plan to get up before they do, someone inevitably hears and pops out of bed ready to start the day. So much for a quiet half hour with my coffee.

But yesterday morning I hauled myself out of bed in a desperate attempt to silence the cat, who was going door to door, loudly trying to rouse someone to fill his empty dish.

So. I was up, and my husband had already filled my coffee cup. A good time for some muffins, before the children started caterwauling, too. They came out of the oven just as the first riser stumbled down the stairs for her dose of morning television.

Applesauce Bran Muffins

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. salt

1 Tbsp. baking powder

1/2 cup wheat bran

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 cup olive oil (or any vegetable oil or melted butter)

1 cup applesauce (I used unsweetened)

1/2 cup maple syrup

2 eggs

Heat the oven to 500 degrees F. Grease 12 large muffin cups and set aside.

Whisk the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Whisk the liquid ingredients together well (I add them to a 2-cup glass measuring cup and whisk them right in the cup). Add the liquids to the dry ingredients and stir together no more than 20 seconds. I like to use a large spatula to make sure I scrape everything off the bottom of the bowl.

Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin tin. Put the tin in the oven and immediately reset the temperature to 400 degrees F. Bake 15-20 minutes, or until the muffins are golden brown and a skewer or toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Serve warm.

Stone fruit pie, chocolate cream pie and a crust discovery

My husband is on a pie baking kick. He’s decided he needs to develop his pastry skills (everybody needs a goal), and who am I to discourage him? For Memorial Day he made this beauty:

Mmmmm…Stone Fruit Pie with Almond Streusel from Food & Wine. This one has peaches, apricots, plums and cherries. While he was at it, I asked him to double the crust recipe so I could make a Chocolate Cream Pie. Why have one pie when you can have two? WELL. The crust was a revelation! A REVELATION, I tell you! Flaky, tender, but also crisp and not a bit soggy under all that fruit and pudding. What was different?

Baking powder.

I did a little research. Rose Levy Berenbaum, trusted author of The Cake Bible and The Pie and Pastry Biblewrites in her own Basic Flaky Pie Crust Recipe that “baking powder lifts and aerates the dough slightly without weakening it, but it makes it seem more tender.” Whatever–it worked. That, and baking the pie in the lower third of the oven.

The crust I blind-baked for the chocolate pie turned out well, too. I’ve had problems with the last couple crusts I’ve blind-baked–all sorts of shrinking and tough pastry horror stories. This time we remembered to refrigerate the dough overnight before rolling it out, and then froze the unbaked crust in the pan for 30 minutes before baking (with foil and pie weights). Cue the singing angels!

Copycat recipe binder

 

Thanks, Jules, for the impetus to get this project done. In fact, after rereading your old post, I realize that my project is so similar that I don’t have much to add. A good idea is a good idea. Suffice it to say, I had an old, overstuffed accordion file for recipes, plus a stack that hadn’t been filed at all. It was a mess. I also had multiple printouts of favorite recipes, and a flurry of slips of paper with a cryptic list of ingredients but no title. I was able to decipher a few of these, but others remain a puzzle. I tossed them.

 

I tossed a lot–all the multiples, anything we haven’t made in the past ten years, and anything I remembered as unsuccessful. 20 minutes. Then I sorted and put them into sheet protectors in an old three-inch binder that I found in a bin in the basement. 45 minutes. There’s not a lot of room for the inevitable expansion; I’m going to have to add a second binder. Good thing I have plenty of sheet protectors left.

  

Somewhat jokingly, my husband asked me if I had included an index. So I sat down and typed out a spreadsheet. 15 minutes. I got mired in formatting problems in Google Docs (another 15 minutes completely wasted) and didn’t print the list, but it’s easy enough to consult when I want to. In any case, I’m looking forward to easily pulling out a plastic-encased recipe and not worrying about the spills and splatters. The time I spent on the project was minor compared to the time I’ve spent fruitlessly hunting for misplaced recipes, then Googling and printing another copy.

An unintended benefit: my husband has taken the binder upstairs as bedtime reading material. I guess he already finished the latest issue of Food & Wine.

Coconut banana popsicles

What do you feed a kid with the stomach flu so she doesn’t get dehydrated? Did you know the BRAT diet isn’t recommended for children anymore? I didn’t. Miss Six was home from school yesterday, and it was real challenge finding something she was interested in eating. Her total intake yesterday was a piece toast with Nutella, one tube of yogurt, a bowl of popcorn, and 1/3 of a banana. And a popsicle.

I didn’t want to give her a bunch of sugar or juice, fearing it would make her symptoms worse. Banana was an obvious choice, and that carton of coconut milk sounded like a tasty pairing. (This is a good option for my gluten- and dairy-free friends, too.)

She’s feeling good and back at school today, but I’ll be making these popsicles again. Her brothers gave them the thumbs up, too (and then requested chocolate popsicles–maybe next time, boys). If you have extra liquid in the blender, call it a smoothie and drink it up!

    

Coconut Banana Popsicles

2 ripe bananas (frozen ones work fine, too), cut into chunks

1 1/2 cups coconut milk, well-shaken

2 Tbsp. honey

Purée everything in blender until smooth. Pour into a popsicle mold (I like this one from World Market; the kids like how the handle collects the drips and has a spout for drinking them up) and freeze until solid. To unmold, let them sit out for 10 minutes, or run the mold under warm water until the popsicles come loose.

               

Monday Menu

After a scorcher of a weekend (90 degrees! in May!), some late-night partying–keeping the kids up far past their bedtime, with mixed results–and our first trip of the year to the farmer’s market, it’s a cool and quiet Monday. In between games of Hi-Ho! Cherry O with Little Four, I’m going to finish sorting and reorganizing my recipe file and clear the piles of paper off my desk. Lofty goals! As usual, we have plenty of things in the freezer and pantry, so my grocery list is mercifully short. More time to dream up something yummy for Memorial Day weekend! I’m thinking brunch…

Monday: Red lentil dal and rice, roasted patty pan squash (I’m out of chickpeas, but maybe we’ll add something else)

Tuesday: Potato salad & sausages, green salad

Wednesday: Chicken cutlets with a pan sauce (maybe like this one, since we have plenty of lemons), Ricotta Gnocchi (I’m on a quest to make good gnocchi), asparagus

Thursday: Chili and cornbread

Friday: Who knows? We’ll see how the week goes…we can always have pizza!

Do you have Memorial Day plans?