Well, the response to my last post just bowled me over. Y’all were so kind to send your prayers, suggestions, compliments on my hot physical therapist/husband and recommendations for a massage table. Several of you are fighting pain battles of your own, and there is strength in numbers. Hearing each of your stories made me feel stronger and more determined: “If she can do it, so can I, because I am Superwoman, hear me roar!”
It’s hard to know how to convey thanks over the internet, but I figured you could always use some new recipes, and of course Mothers’ Day is coming up, so gift ideas might be welcome.
(Lawyers love to organize documents with Roman numerals)
One time I tried one of Cooking Light’s desserts. It was a disaster. The magazine took a classic recipe, replaced all the ingredients with fat-free versions, and reduced the amount of chocolate chips required. The end result was crumbly and not even the dog would eat it. It was my fault I guess– desserts are meant to be sinful, not reduced-calorie. Anyway, I quit using the magazine after that debacle, even though some of our favorite recipes originated there, like Pork Lo Mein and I think the Chicken Fricassee with Orzo.
I’ve picked up a couple of the latest issues, however, and had Bill select recipes, and we’ve hit the jackpot.
Like everyone else, we’re trying to cut costs, and groceries are a great place to cut. I still make a master list for the week and try to get it all done in one trip. For chicken recipes, I’ve been purchasing the breasts on the bone, and Bill and I fix ourselves a gin and tonic and have a boning party on Sunday afternoon. You can save at least $2 per pound this way. Publix had boneless chicken breasts on sale this week for $1.50 per pound, so I stocked up on those and froze them.
I’ve proclaimed that I’m a seafood snob, and buy only from the fishmonger. That’s changed. We have plenty of shrimp recipes that are heavily seasoned, and I’ve been experimenting with frozen shrimp. Aldi and Costco sell frozen, uncooked shrimp which are much cheaper than fresh shrimp and my family hasn’t noticed a difference.
Now when I go to Costco I buy seven gallons of milk, Parmiggiano-Reggiano cheese, several packages of Stacy’s Pita Chips, coffee beans, salted and unsalted butter (I freeze it and use as needed) and packages of shrimp.
That said, here’s what we’ve been enjoying lately.
Lemon Pepper Shrimp Scampi (that link will take you to a page where you can print out the recipe)
I’ll admit, I’m more about the Cooking than the Light, so I may have used seven tablespoons of butter instead of teaspoons, and I added more garlic, and of course I used fresh, not bottled garlic, and we all slurped it up. I made extra and Porter ate the rest for an after-school snack.
Dude! I may have actually followed the recipe on this one. I served it with noodles and a cucumber salad. Porter is in charge of making the cucumber salad, but basically it’s:
2 cukes, peeled or not, seeded or not (chef’s choice) halved lengthwise and sliced
Sprinkle with some toasted sesame seeds (you can purchase them already toasted), a tiny bit of sesame oil, some rice vinegar, a dash of soy sauce. For the spicy version, add a squirt of Sriracha .
Not everything we eat is Asian. The Chipotle Sloppy Joes were a great success.
Some of these recipes call for pre-sliced veggies. Knock yourself out if you have that kind of money. Otherwise chop it yourself. Also, I’m getting a bit peeved about the number of cans of chipotle chiles I purchase, just to use one chile. (You find these in the grocery by the taco kits). Last night I made another recipe that called for one chile and a teaspoon of the adobo sauce, so I spread the remainder on some wax paper and stuffed it in a baggie and froze it. If I remember that it’s there, I’ll let you know how a thawed chipotle tastes.
I have the same beef with tomato paste. It’s one thing to buy a can for 33 cents at Aldi and just use a tablespoon. But it irks me to spend 89 cents on it at Publix and use less than a third of it. I know it can be spread out and frozen; again, the trick is remembering that you have a flat square of frozen tomato paste in your freezer when you’re trying to prepare dinner between Cub Scouts and drums.
I thought that Curried Beef Short Ribs sounded nasty, but Bill thought differently and Finn complained that he never gets to eat red meat so I gave it a go. It was one of our favorites of the year. The recipe says that 2 pounds of ribs will feed six, but I would only go by that if three of you are vegetarians. Next time I’ll use at least 3.5 pounds.
Red curry paste used to be difficult to find – I had to go to the Asian market for it. No longer! Now it’s in the aisle with the soy sauce in a glass jar. Always start with half the amount a recipe calls for and add more, tasting as you go. Some people must like to use the stuff to blow out all their earwax during dinner, but I think that’s what Q-tips are for.
Coconut milk is in the same place – there will be some in the Mexican section and some in the Asian section and one will be cheaper. I never buy the low fat or light anything. Fish sauce is there, too, but I do think it’s worth going to the Asian market or Whole Foods and getting a decent bottle. Don’t smell it if you’ve never cooked with it before. Just use it.
The rest of these recipes are Asian. But if you click on the Let’s Eat tab in the left sidebar you’ll see plenty of family-friendly non-Asian recipes.
Hoisin Flank Steak with Asian Cucumber Salad fulfilled Finn’s desire for red meat while giving us an alternative to our usual cucumber salad, and it was yummy. I sprinkled cashews on my salad to be daring.
I usually don’t fool with goofy ideas like the wonton chips that they mention, but I did those, too. We hate five-spice powder, though, so I brushed the wontons with sesame oil and sprinkled them with sesame seeds. The guys felt like they were getting to eat bread, which is rare in our house. Every week they say they want rolls with dinner and every week I come home and tell them I forgot to buy them at the grocery store. I figure that makes up for the fact that we are sinners who eat white rice instead of brown.
Guess where I got the cashews I sprinkled on my funky salad? They were left over from our Chicken, Cashew and Red Pepper Stir-Fry. I wasn’t going to try this because sometimes I think all stir-frys are alike, but this one got Cooking Light’s highest rating, and why would I ignore a winner? It was peppy and simple.
Finally, Finn has become a devotee of Chicken Panang, which he’s had at a restaurant in NYC and here in Birmingham. We’ve cut back on eating out, but he didn’t cut back on his desire for Chicken Panang, so I explored the internet, mixed a little of this with a little of that, and came up with the following recipe:
1 pound chicken cut in strips
1 cup coconut milk
2 T red curry paste (I actually use about 1.5 t)
1 T fish sauce
2 T peanut butter (choosy moms choose Jif)
1 T sugar
1 sliced red bell pepper
8 basil leaves, sliced
Brown the chicken in a little oil. Push it to the side and fry the curry paste for a minute. Add the coconut milk and stir til the paste is mixed in. Add the pb, fish sauce, sugar, and bell pepper. Stir everything together. Cook about five minutes and add the basil.
II. Mother’s Day
While we’re on the topic of cooking, I have a couple of kitchen related gifts to suggest. You know how you always buy a pepper grinder and it works for a couple of months and then dies? I did quite a bit of pepper grinder research last winter and discovered the Unicorn Magnum Plus Pepper Mill . I gave it to my mother-in-law, who has been pleased with it. They offer a smaller version also.
Nothing is more infuriating than to cook in a kitchen without a sharp knife, but knives can be costly. New York magazine had an article about a knife that is reasonably-priced, a good size for many tasks, and holds its blade. I bought it for my mother-in-law also. The Victorinox Cutlery 8-Inch Chef’s Knife is quite a bargain – though you can spend more if you splurge for the one with the rosewood handle.
The best item I’ve purchased all year is unromantic. We had a set of two cordless phones with an answering machine, and then we bought another phone, but they were cheap, the batteries kept fizzling, and we didn’t have enough phone coverage for the house. The phone would ring and I’d sprint from room to room, only to stop in disgust as the machine picked up and recorded Bill saying, “Honey, I know you are at home. Why don’t you answer me?”
I invested in the Panasonic Dect 6.0 Series 4 Handset Cordless Phone System with Answering System and my life is much improved. The handsets are numbered so we know which one is missing, there’s an intercom system if I need a boy to refresh my ice water while I’m in bed, and I am nicer to my family as a result.
Of course, some would argue that Mother’s Day is for sweeter gifts, like a Mac Viva Glam VI Lipstick and Lipglass. (I can’t make a link to it, but it’s a color that’s flattering on most.) Does your mother work out? Has she been wearing the same faded shirt to exercise in for years? Buy her some new workout wear. Academy has a large selection at great prices.
Look around the house and see if there are things she uses every single day that have gotten beat up and gnarly. Some ladies would love a new set of measuring cups. Others would spit in your eye upon receipt.
I saw that Pottery Barn has some colorful cocktail glasses. Fun!
Okay, it’s time for me and Bill to head to physical therapy for another lesson. I’ll let you all put suggestions for recipes AND Mother’s Day gifts in the comments.
The theme for Flashback Friday this week is “The Letter R.” I don’t have a clue how I came up with that or what I’ll do with it, but feel free to join in.
One year ago on My Tiny Kingdom: All For One
Every spring my thoughts turn to gin and tonic. The drinks are even lovelier served in these glasses, which Aunt Lulu gave me for a wedding present over fifteen years ago. She bought them at a store in Nashville and I have looked everywhere for others to add to the collection.
They make the gin smoother, the ice colder, the tonic fizzier, and the lime looks gorgeous against the colors of the glasses. The indentations make them easy to carry around.
Miraculously, although the boys have been unloading the dishes from the dishwasher for years now, and I have only one everyday dinner plate left from those wedding days, all four of these have managed to survive unmolested.
Do you have a favorite wedding survival story?
One year ago in My Tiny Kingdom: Bavarian Apple Torte With Prejudicial Ingredient
I never saw it, so I can’t be sure, but I suspect that my mom’s hamburger recipe went something like this:
NO MORE COMPANY HAMBURGERS:
Take 2 pounds of hamburger meat and leave it on the counter all day. Make sure the meat is segregated from all available seasonings so the cardboard flavor of the ultimate product is preserved. Form thick patties and grill the hell out of them for one minute. Serve.
I remember taking a bite of one of her hamburgers. It was protesting cow flesh encased in crunchy carbon, pressed between two buns from the day-old bakery. I ran outside and spit it into the bushes and earned a spanking for my efforts.
While I’ll happily cook Thai Chicken, Shrimp with Angel Hair Pasta and Feta Cheese, Bowties with Peas and Prosciutto and Korean barbecue, I’ve never made hamburgers for my kids. I don’t believe in torture.
Bill, on the other hand, can make a burger. We’d been married for years before I agreed to try one, but it was delicious. He pats the meat as if sculpting a masterpiece, marinates it in a combination of Dale’s sauce and exotic spices, and tends the grill while I prepare pillowy buns, sliced red onion, several kinds of mustard, cheese, bacon, lettuce, and tomatoes. It’s a fabulous family meal, but Bill is the key ingredient.
Every Sunday I sit my Type A butt down and plan all my meals for the week. Last week the boys requested Bill’s hamburgers and I penciled them in for Thursday, thrilled to get a night off.
Thursday I was home from work and watching Messer and Montana flirt on CSI when Bill called to say he’d forgotten that the baseball draft was that night. He wouldn’t be home until after eight.
“Honey, your boys will starve. I need you to come home and make dinner before you go,” I said.
“Can you say that again? I think my Blackberry is on the fritz. I thought you said you needed me to fix dinner.”
“I do. It’s hamburger night. I haven’t made hamburgers in my life, and you know the story about my mom. She–”
“I remember. Live cow inside a carbon crust.”
“Well, it clearly gave me emotional scars, and I don’t want to do that to the boys. I’d rather feed them cereal,” I said.
“I’ll see if I can run home before the meeting and get them started,” Bill said.
On CSI, Stella had subjected the mysterious substance on the debutante’s dress to an array of scientific tests before identifying it as Cheese Doodle dust. Then I heard Bill dash in and call Drew. They puttered for a few minutes and Bill left. The charcoal was lit, the patties were marinating, and I didn’t have the vaguest idea of what to do next.
I called Bill.
“When do I know the fire is ready?”
“The charcoal will be white around the edges. Then you put the hamburgers on and cook them until they’re done.”
“Roger. How long is that?” I asked.
Bill sighed. “You just cut into one and look at it.”
“Dude, give me an estimate. Is it more like five minutes or thirty?”
“I’d say fifteen,” he said. “But that’s just a guess. I can’t believe you cook these fancy dinners and don’t know a grill from your ass.”
“I can buy a grill. I’m from the Tiny Kingdom. I just can’t use one,” I said.
We hung up and I headed outside to face my nemesis.
Drew was at the grill, tongs in hand, carefully spreading out the charcoal.
“I think it will be at least five more minutes before the fire is ready,” he said.
“Hey, do you know what you’re doing with the fire?” I asked.
“Yes ma’am. I watch Daddy. I know how to grill the hamburgers, too. Can you reach a cookie sheet for me to put them on? It’s too high for me.”
I returned with a cookie sheet, tongs, an oven mitt and the patties. I hovered over Drew for a bit, feeling like it would be child neglect to leave him with a sizzling fire and a plate of raw meat.
“Hey Mom, I can do this myself. If you want to finish your show you can,” Drew offered.
I took him up on it.
The hamburgers were the best ever.
The look on Drew’s face as we applauded his culinary skills wasn’t bad either.
One year ago in My Tiny Kingdom: The Mysterious Disappearance of Feathers
The theme for this week’s Flashback Friday is “What I Was Doing X Years Ago, Where “X” = Any Positive Integer”
It’s hard to write coherently when things are falling apart all around you. Finn has the flu and is pitiful to behold. A boy who doesn’t have the energy to taunt his younger brothers is sick indeed.
Last night I asked Porter to move the sheets from the washer to the dryer, add a dryer sheet and turn it on. When he did, an enormous rattling commenced. Upon inspection, I found a good handful of dog food twirling in the dryer with the sheets. The dog food was already dry. Using my well-honed CSI skills (I’ve finished Miami and am now onto New York, and why didn’t any of you tell me about that hot Danny Messer?) I deduced that Porter had dropped a pillowcase into the bag of dog food while making the transfer then thrown it in the dryer, oblivious to the kibble adhered to it.
Boys. Teaching them to be self-sufficient is a tine-consuming process. “Check the wet laundry and make sure no strange objects or dog food are stuck on it” has now been added to the laundry check list.
What started as a simple task well before dinner ended with Bill and the boys carousing in the kitchen, waiting on the Pasta Puttanesca to be served. It was a big deal when the Silver Palate cookbooks came out. My mom went nuts cooking dishes that relied on fresh, new ingredients instead of cans of cream of mushroom soup.
Pasta Puttasnesca was a meal that my sisters and I adored, and my boys loved it, too.
1 lb spaghetti
2 35 oz cans tomatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp oregano
1/8 tsp dried red pepper flakes
1/2 cup black olives, pitted and chopped
1/4 cup drained capers
4 garlic cloves, minced
8 anchovy fillets, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup Italian parsley, chopped
2 T salt
Boil water. Add salt and pasta. Cook until al dente. Drain.
While pasta is cooking, combine tomatoes and olive oil in skillet and bring to boil. Add remaining ingredients one at a time, stirring frequently
Reduce heat slightly and continue to cook until sauce has thickened to your liking.
Serve immediately over hot pasta.
I use a large can of diced tomatoes and a large can of puree, as I have boys who pick out chunks. I increase the red pepper flakes and use Greek olives. I made this a day ahead so I just had to heat up the sauce and boil noodles on a busy night.
Speaking of self-reliance, it turns out that there is such a thing as teaching boys to be too self-sufficient. I discovered this when both Drew and Porter brought home some sucky grades on their spelling tests. I was particularly upset since I won the 5th grade spelling bee on the word “linoleum.”
“What’s up with this?” I asked. “Why didn’t you tell me you had a test? I would help you study.”
“Why would we tell you?” Drew asked.
“You would help us study?” Porter asked.
Then I realized that I’ve focused so much on having them do things for themselves that it never occurred to them to ask for help. The last couple of months I’ve been on them like a flea on a dog asking about spelling tests, and I give them each a fake test. They write the words they miss three times each and then are tested again.
They may not be able to spell linoleum but they are improving.
One year ago in My Tiny Kingdom: Albert Einstein Needs Love, Too
Don’t forget that this week’s Flashback Friday theme is Love, Look At The 2 Of Us. For instructions on how to participate, see here.