Hey Shorty, It Was My Birthday

So I didn’t make dinner.  Not that it’s a rule you can’t make dinner on your birthday, but it was nice to take the night off.

Steve made a bacon, onion and Gruyere tart and asparagus with bacon and goat cheese.  I love carmelized onions and would eat them on everything, but Steve does not, so I rarely make them.  Steve went searching for recipes on epicurious and said the second he saw the onion in this tart, knew that it would be perfect.  It was.  Less eggy than a quiche, elegantly thin, just like me.  Well, maybe I am about as eggy as a quiche.

For dessert, there was a trio of offerings:  a slice of chocolate peanut butter cake and cannoli from Mastoris (a local Jersey diner) and a pink heart shaped donut from Dunkin Donuts.  Since moving to New Jersey, I’ve been going to Dunkin Donuts for coffee, which really is just as good as Starbucks at a fraction of the price.  But, the donuts haven’t grabbed me.  The people there usually give the girls free munchkins (donut holes if you’re unfamilar) but I just get coffee.  This year for Valentine’s Day, DD was pushing their heart shaped donuts pretty heavily in commercials and I joked that a heart shaped donut was the pinnacle of romance.   For all my irony, it wasn’t bad.  My daughter loved her piece of it.  Right before bed, which I don’t know if we’ll ever do again.  And, if you’re unfamiliar, New Jersey is famous for it’s diners.  There are more diners in New Jersey than in any other state (I know that to be true because I read it in a book review on Amazon) and most have fresh baked goods.  Mastoris is close to us and is always packed.  Both the cake and the cannoli were delicious.

You know you’re married to the perfect person when a cannoli is sitting between you and neither of you can get “Take the gun, leave the cannoli” out fast enough.  It was a draw.

– Catherine

Meatless Monday when Monday is a Holiday

This would have been a great Meatless Monday meal, but to cut the vacation short and then served a salad would communicate that I never want to go on vacation again.

We eat a lot of Big Salads.  Some with store rotisserie chicken, some with mushrooms, lots with hard boiled eggs.  Our favorites are Cook’s Illustrated’s Classic Cobb salad (Worcestershire is the key to the perfect Cobb dressing) and their Salad Nicoise.

Last night we had a radicchio, apple, blue cheese and walnut salad.  I also had hearts of Romaine which I shredded the same size as the radicchio.  I made a basic balsamic vinaigrette.

It was radicchiously good.

– Catherine

Vacation Cut Short Short Ribs

As anyone with kids will tell you, sometimes you just need to get away.  Away from the daily routine and task list that is necessary to keep a civilized home life with clean laundry, kids schedules and the planning for, shopping for and making of dinner.  As a combined Valentine’s Day/Birthday gift, my husband surprised me with a long-weekend getaway “staycation” at a resort about an hour away for three nights.  We stayed two.

As anyone with kids will tell you, sometimes you just want to leave them with someone else and get away.  But, if you don’t have family who lives close by, you foolishly decide that being in new surroundings with lots of fun activities will be enough to keep the kids contented while you do child-friendly things like tour wineries and eat at nice restaurants and visit quaint historic villages with lots of character.

Our room was a two-bedroom, two-bathroom, full kitchen suite.  The plan was to put the kids in one room while we slept in the other.  The plan was NOT to have my husband in one room, my oldest daughter in the other, and me and the baby on the very small couch in the sitting room.  The first night was fine.  The second night, our youngest daughter refused to sleep for a stretch longer than two hours without standing up in the travel bed and crying while looking at her older sister asleep like she was trained to throw her voice.  On morning three, exhausted, doing all we could to keep our one-year old from electrical outlets in the room, whose size just became a liabililty (I had no idea how many electrical sockets were in a nice, roomy suite), we decided to go home, where the memory of toys and a sandbox and big wheels was more compelling than “relaxing” in the pool for another day.

So, last night, to commemorate our first night back from an abbreviated vacation, I made one of Steve’s favorite meals.  Not just to thank him for making such a thoughtful effort to get away from our daily grind, but mostly to thank him for knowing when it was time to come home.  Braised meat is the fastest way to his heart: braised pork fajitas with avocado cilantro and lime, braised pork over any pasta, braised lamb shanks in San Francisco at a restaruant whose name I wish I could remember, but above all, braised beef short ribs.

I used a combination of recipes for short ribs.  I didn’t use Andra’s recipe (Not Roy’s Short Ribs) that was a beef recipe contender on Food52 and recieved amazing reviews because I didn’t have several of the ingredients on hand and I was dead set on using polenta and I didn’t think polenta would work with that version.  I used a combination of Jennifer Reese’s version in her book, “Make the Bread, Buy the Butter” and the “Red Wine Braised Short Ribs” from Bon Appetit.  I served them over creamy polenta with lots of butter and parmesan.

It was so good, we could have easily eaten the exact same meal at a nice restaurant on vacation.  But it was better at home.

– Catherine

She told me not to do it.


Sisters know which buttons to push.  I don’t know why, but we get some perverse pleasure out of doing it, too.  My sister will tell me repeatedly how much she and her family loved a recipe she tried recently.  Over the next few weeks, she’ll ask if I’ve tried that recipe yet.  When I finally get around to making it, I will inevitably be missing one of the ingredients on the list. The next conversation will go like this.

Catherine:  “Did you try that pork ragu yet?”

Andra:  “Yes, we had it last night but it was just OK.  I don’t know, maybe I didn’t cook it long enough or maybe it’s because I didn’t have tomatoes so I used a can of Rotel.  Oh, and I didn’t have parmesan so I used cheddar.  I also didn’t have a pork roast so I used ground beef.  And since we were out of pappardelle I served it over tortilla chips.  But, I did have refried beans, so I added those and served it with fresh cilantro and pickled jalapeños.”

It drives her crazy.  This week I was making beef bourguignon using Ina Garten’s recipe, which is delicious.  But, I was out of a few ingredients, didn’t want to go to the store and was committed to having it in the oven quickly.  I called Catherine.  “What should I use instead of brandy or cognac?” I asked.  “I have sambuca, gin, vodka, whiskey, and creme de cassis.”  The Irish whiskey was the clear choice but I had a harder one for her.  “I’m out of bacon, what could I substitute?”  Before she could answer I spied a bag of pepperoni slices in the cheese drawer, problem solved.  I could hear her jaw tense up as she warned me not to use pepperoni in a beef bourguignon.  I argued that pepperoni is another kind of cured meat with lots of smokiness and fat that will render down, making a perfect vehicle for browning the meat in.  Catherine said, “Fine.  Do what you want”,  her tone daring me to do it.  That’s all I needed, the gauntlet had been thrown.

I chopped up 6 oz of pepperoni and threw in the Le Creuset.  I think I heard “mon dieu” moan from the pot.  I  almost lost heart when I saw the orange fat begin to cover the bottom of the enamel but before I could think too much about what I was doing, I laid my first layer of beef cubes in the bottom of the pot and instantly knew I was off to a good start.  The meat sizzled and smelled wonderfully smokey as it started to brown.  The Irish whiskey went in and when I ignited it, blazed much higher and longer than I ever remember cognac doing. I was again a little afraid of what I had created, but at this point, the damage was done and I had no choice but to see it to the end.

It turned out to be one of the better beef bourguignons I have ever made.  It was rich, dark and smokey and the whiskey gave it a sweetness that countered the pepperoni very nicely.  Most importantly, my family loved it.  I don’t think Catherine will ever buy off on the Irish Whiskey Pepperoni Beef Bourguignon but I do know that I could probably make it through at least two rounds of Chopped.


No Dirty Dishes Quiche


At least once a month, we eat quiche.  Quiche is the easiest, least-amount-of-dirty-dishes-created meal I know of.  I have a standard protein/vegetable/cheese formula I use.  Steve’s favorite is bacon/fresh spinach/cheddar.  I love smoked ham/frozen spinach/swiss (or Gruyere if I have it) when it’s cold outside.  During the summer, we make asparagus and goat cheese quiches, which are so delicious at room temperature.

Last night, I had leftover crumbled Italian sausage from our pizza the night before, so that was my protein and I had a good white cheddar open and I always have fresh spinach.

I’ve made my own pie crusts, but I always have some of those roll-out on hand for when I’m not in the mood for pie crust.  I know I should always make pie crust, but there are nights when there’s just not enough time or empty space in the dishwasher to face getting the food processor dirty.  I should probably hand wash my food processor, or even use a pastry cutter, but this is my go-to, easy, room-in-the-dishwasher meal, remember?  Andra makes her own pie crusts, but Andra enjoys doing dishes more than I do.

I’ve tried several quiche recipes, but now only use a variation on Madame Quiche’s Quiche au Fromage from epicurious.  I use less milk than she calls for, sometimes half depending on how much spinach, cheese and ham (or whatever) I have to fill the quiche.  I don’t pre-bake my crust, just roll it out and then layer my protein, spinach and cheese.  I mix the eggs, cream, milk, salt pepper in a tall glass measuring cup (dishwasher-safe of course) and then pour it over the filling and bake at 425 for about 40 minutes.

A quiche pan is essential for great quiche.  I used a pie dish for quiche for years, but the center would take so long to cook that the top and crust would get overly browned.  Then I bought the greatest, cheapest quiche pan at Ikea, which I believe is actually a tart pan.  It’s wide and shallow with slightly scalloped edges and the quiche cooks evenly and gets only slightly puffy in the center when it’s done.

I serve salad greens with a basic vinaigrette with quiche, so simple.  I have great oval plates that a piece of quiche and a pile of greens fits beautifully on, looks so elegant, and take up almost no room in the dishwasher.

– Catherine

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