Leftovers

On Sunday, I made this chicken. And then, something MIRACULOUS happened. Tonight, my husband called home from work, where he’s staying late thanks to the POTUS needing to address us this evening, and said (and I quote), “Tonight’s leftover night, right? Is there any of that delicious chicken left?”  I’m not sure I can remember the last time the hubs sounded excited about leftovers. Usually, when I say it’s leftover night, that means I eat leftovers and he makes himself a sandwich. So it’s a big deal that he actually wants to eat the chicken again.

Tonight, I made some homemade tortilla chips by brushing corn tortillas lightly with vegetable oil, sprinkling them with kosher salt, cutting them into quarters, and baking them for 15 minutes at 350. I love them – they’re firmer than store-bought tortilla chips and you can control how salty they are. And then I reheated some of the chicken, mashed half an avocado with some red onion, salt, and lime, and grated some cheese – and voila, delicious nachos out of leftovers.  Yum!

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It worked

The cooking experiment and blog started off strong, with the plan to try at least a new recipe a week – but it pretty quickly slowed to 1 to 2 new recipes a month.  And initially, when I looked back to my trials in 2013, I felt like I hadn’t really conquered as many recipes as I hoped (my To Try list is still very long!) and hadn’t added enough staples to my list.

But tonight, I’m eating homemade tomato soup with grilled cheese on french bread I baked myself, and a spinach salad with homemade balsamic vinaigrette. I made the soup after a pretty crappy work day, start to finish while answering work emails and helping my kiddo make “basil soup” in the kitchen next to me. And I was sitting down to eat by 7:30. Not too shabby.

So in the end, I feel like the experiment paid off.  Not because I have a whole host of recipes we want to eat again and again – but because I dared to try new things – and on weeknights, no less! While I aimed a little higher than maybe I should have, the end result is pretty satisfying.

Lamb Steak

Last night, the old man went out with a friend for drinks and dinner after work, so the little man and I were on our own. A few months ago, I bought a pack of lamb loin chops at Costco. Costco doesn’t sound like the kind of place you’d go for good meat, but they have GREAT lamb loin chops – thicker than they generally are at my grocery store, and (as you would expect) reasonably priced. But you have to buy a lot – I think there were 8 to the pack, which is kind of overkill since the old man doesn’t care for lamb. I cooked a couple pretty much right away (I LOVE LOVE lamb chops) but froze the rest, and if I know in advance that G is going to be out and if I think about it, I pull a couple out of the freezer. The last time I did so, I was kind and shared a few bites with my kiddo – and he’s now a fan of “lamb steak*” too. And thanks to the blast of cold, snowy weather we got Thurs night, I worked from home yesterday and had the presence of mind to pull some chops out for dinner last night.

I like lamb chops grilled, broiled, pan sauteed – with pretty much nothing on them to flavor them other than the Lawry’s Salt I sprinkle on when they’re done and a side of mint jelly.  I know, mint jelly sounds like it should be disgusting, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it on lamb – yum. Anyway, I don’t require a lot of prep when it comes to lamb, but last night as I was flipping around on the internet, I found this recipe for Pan-Seared Lamb Chops with Cippolini Onions. I didn’t have the onions, but we happened to have some leftover parsley, and I have fresh rosemary (well, frozen rosemary really, thanks to the current weather conditions) in my garden – and we always have garlic handy – so I decided to try this marinade.

I cooked these on my cast iron skillet, which was still holding onto the smell of garlic roast chicken which I made in there on New Years Day. I didn’t need to worry about that, though, because as soon as these chops hit the hot pan, their aroma completely overtook any leftover scents. They smelled SO GOOD while it was cooking that I could barely wait the 5 minutes a side it took to get these chops to medium rare. Unfortunately, they were very thick chops and I didn’t let them defrost in the fridge overnight, so it took me a little more than the 3 to 4 minutes per side to get the chops to medium rare – and as a result, the garlic on the outside got a little darker than I had hoped. But even with the seasoning a little darker than I might have hoped, the flavor was good – and the aroma was fabulous. I will definitely make this again, though next time I will make sure my chops are fully defrosted so I don’t have to add any cooking time. 

I will also not be an idiot and accidentally touch the surface of my cast iron skillet while heating it. Not sure how I did it, but if I ever get arrested, they are going to have trouble fingerprinting me. I spent a good portion of the rest of the evening squeezing ice cubes. 

Verdict: Charlie ate his whole chop, minus gnawing on the bone, which he hasn’t quite figured out yet. And I, of course, had no trouble devouring mine, even while maimed.

*Explanatory note: at our house, cuts of meat (as long as they aren’t ground) are known as “steak”. This is because ever since he was very small, the little guy has enjoyed steak. In an effort to get him to expand his repertoire, I have been known to call something steak that – well – isn’t. So in addition to regular (beef) steak, we eat pork steak and lamb steak at our house. 

I made French bread!

Ever since my mom gave me a KitchenAid mixer, we have bought VERY few loaves of sandwich bread. The recipe for cool rise white bread that came with the mixer was a huge success the first time I made it and has kept the boys happy ever since. It makes 2 loaves at a time, one of which can go into the freezer for a week or two and come out none the worse for wear. And I can swap in a cup of wheat flour for one of the cups of white flour and figure I’m at least slightly improving the nutritional value of their bread.

I also make our pizza dough – it’s so easy and so much better than a lot of the store bought dough we’ve tried that once I started making it, I couldn’t stop. The recipe we prefer makes three to four balls of dough and also freezes okay (the raw pizza dough doesn’t hold up quite as well as the cooked bread, but it’s workable) so I can make pizza dough at most once a month and we’re set.

I have not, however, experimented with much else in the bread family. I don’t know why bread has always seemed too intimidating to me, but it has. When I first started making our sandwich bread, my boss gave me a couple of recipes for other breads she really likes making, but after two failed attempts at Irish potato bread, I gave up.

Tonight, though, we were having garlic roast chicken with potatoes and salad – and we were lacking any good crusty bread to spread the roasted garlic on. George went to the store to see if he could find some, but the Safeway nearest us never has much in the way of decent fresh baked bread.  So I googled a few recipes and found a quick one that sounded good: crusty french bread.

And surprise, surprise, it turned out much better than I expected. The loaves were wider than I anticipated (looked more like ciabatta loaves than baguettes) but they were crusty and crisp on the outside and soft inside, and tasted different enough from my normal, every day sandwich bread to make me wonder, since the ingredients aren’t all that different.

To me, baking bread is like a fun science experiment.  I get to keep trying and tinkering with the yeast, the temperature of the water, the shape of the loaves, the baking time, etc – or sometimes, trying not to tinker with anything and instead just replicate exactly what I did last time. Each time, though, they’re a little bit different. And, I’ll admit, most times, I’m not exactly sure that what comes out of the oven is even going to be good. But the successes are more frequent than the failures and I’m learning as I go!

Pancakes

My boys like pancakes. One likes chocolate chips in his, the other prefers them au natural. I don’t make them every weekend by any means, but now and then, they make for a good start of a Saturday or Sunday. Or new year!   Today, they were requested, but I am out of Bisquick (the easy way to make pancakes) and the Trader Joe’s mix I bought to replace the Bisquick isn’t a favorite. I’ll have to use it for biscuits or something. Anyway, I got on the internet (what did cooks do before the internet??  I guess that’s why everyone had Joy of Cooking…) and searched for a homemade pancake recipe, and found this one: Good Old Fashioned Pancakes. I read a few of the reviews and took their advice – cut the salt down to 3/4 teaspoon, and threw in a teaspoon of vanilla – and these turned out delicious. They were crisp on the outsides and soft in the middle, just how a good pancake should be if you ask me. Thanks to the butter, they are a little more decadent than the Bisquick ones, so I may not make them every time – but I’m definitely saving this recipe for the next time I want to make ‘cakes from scratch.

Ringing in the new year with…more soup

The year is coming to an end, and while I would love to say we have fabulous plans to ring in 2014, it’s not even 7 p.m. and I’m in my bed, with my best little buddy next to me watching tv. I’ve got a cough I can’t kick and a monster headache, and am feeling glad we have nothing to do tonight other than enjoy each other. I love having my little guy right next to me, even if it means I have to listen to Disney Jr shows while I type.

So I didn’t quite achieve my goal of a new recipe a week, but I think I posted at least 1 new dish a month, and some months I managed more. And more importantly, I found some things that have been repeated. I spatchcocked chickens twice this month, and twice made chicken and barley soup out of the bones. Safe to say those are keepers. I also have made the chicken tikka masala a couple of times, as well as the pork tenderloin, and the panzanella continues to deliver. Oh, and that cornmeal crusted chicken – it just keeps showing up, and one of my best friends sent me a REAL meat tenderizer for Christmas so I can quit beating the crud out of chicken with a wimpy wooden spoon. I’m really happy with my year of testing recipes, and plan to keep up the blog in 2014, if only so I remember what we liked (and what we didn’t).

On the “what we liked” note, thanks to the aforementioned cough, I’ve been wanting soup again. Yesterday was my last vacation day for the holiday season (not including New Years Day, of course), so I had time to make a soup that is a little too involved for a weeknight. The recipe comes from the Pioneer Woman’s website. If you’re not familiar with the Pioneer Woman, you are missing out – she’s a former suburbanite who now lives out in the country, a chef of decadent recipes, and an author  of the “Charlie the Ranch Dog” children’s books (of which we have several, for obvious reasons). And she has a fabulous recipe for chicken tortilla soup.  I served it last night with cubed avocado, crumbled queso fresco, corn tortillas that I fried in a little olive oil and turned into crispy strips, sour cream, and cilantro. I know cilantro is one of those love it or hate it things – but I LOVE it, so mine was topped heavily. But that’s the nice thing about this soup – there are lots of topping options, so each person can make it his or her own. G enjoyed it a lot too, but maybe not as much as I did – I brought leftovers to work today for lunch, and am going to eat it again for dinner!  I think it’s just what the doctor ordered for this cold.

Wishing you a very happy 2014!!