Continuing my apple theme here on Food Friday, here is one of my favorite pork chop recipes (besides this one). Apples and onions are a classic combination and they work well with the pork chops. Pork is really easy to overcook, so be sure you don't--keep an eye on them! Dry pork is really terrible. The recipe also calls for apple cider, so we're really getting the full apple effect here. (If you don't have cider, you can substitute water or apple juice.)
Mustardy Pork Chops with Apples and Onions
from Dinner: A Love Story
Four pork chops, about 1 1/4 lbs., without bones, salted and peppered on both sides
olive oil, for the pan
one apple, sliced
one large onion, sliced to the same width as the apple slices (You want these fairly thin)
two tbsp. mustard (dijon, whole grain, whole grain dijon....whatever)
2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1/4 c. apple cider, apple juice, or water
Heat a large skillet with a lid over medium-high heat and add olive oil to the pan. When it's hot, add the pork chops and cook for four minutes on each side (they don't have to cook through). Remove the pork chops to a plate. Add the apples and onions to the skillet (adding more oil if needed), reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook until soft, 5-7 minutes.
Add the mustard, cider, and vinegar to the pan, and scrape up any brown bits from the bottom. Bring to a boil for one minute. Add the pork chops back in, nestling them in among the apples and onions, and reduce to a simmer. Put the lid on the pan, and let cook for five more minutes. When time's up, remove the lid, and serve. If the sauce is still too thin, remove the pork chops and boil, uncovered, for a minute.
Note: the original recipe called for the apple to be peeled, but I didn't peel it. The apple skin has a good amount of fiber in it, so not only is it better to eat the whole thing, but it reduced prep work!
I actually have two recipes for apple season, but I want to share the second with you next week.
This is a great time to see if there are any U-pick orchards or farm stands near you, because apples and so many other vegetables and fruits are peaking right now. Every year my parents make at least one trip to the fruit farm near us to buy cider (even peach cider!), apples, and other produce and locally-made products. So while you can always get apples at the grocery, when they're local and fresh, they're even better!
There are so many types of apples, it's enough to make your head spin. I like Granny Smiths, Golden Delicious, Jonathans, Galas, Fijis, and Honeycrisps. You can taste test to see what you like best--I think it's fun to try the different varieties! Apples are high in fiber, vitamin C, and various antioxidants. So besides being delicious, there are plenty of health benefits in them.
This year my bag of apples are BLANK HERE, and when I have the bag on my counter or in my fridge (and you can even freeze them for longer-term storage), I pull out my apple recipes. This first one is a very quick option for a filling breakfast the next morning and it takes less than five minutes to prep. Really.
Overnight Apple Oatmeal
adapted from The Oh She Glows! Cookbook
1 cup oats (I use steel-cut)
1 cup vanilla yogurt (you can use coconut or non-dairy yogurt if you want)
Peel and core both apples. Grate one into a mixing bowl, and dice the other. Place the diced apple in the mixing bowl. Add the yogurt and oats and mix well. Place in the refrigerator over night (or for at least two hours). In the morning, you'll have a ready to eat breakfast, no cooking required!
This is one of my favorite recipes from The Outer Banks Cookbook. Whenever I feel the urge to get the beach, but can't, I usually make this. Shrimp are one of my favorite foods, and they're a good nutritional deal too; they protein-packed (one shrimp contains about 3 grams of protein, and 3 ounces of shrimp is almost equal to a 3 oz chicken breast for protein, having about 20 grams), and provide important nutrients like selenium, Vitamin B12, and phosphate.
This is a very, very easy recipe--it requires only one pot and, aside from the shrimp and Old Bay, these are probably things you keep around your house. (Unless it's my house, in which case, I always have shrimp and Old Bay!) Even if you don't like beer, try this. Trust me.
Shrimp 'n' Beer
from The Outer Banks Cookbook by Elizabeth Wiegand
2 pounds shrimp, unpeeled
one 12-ounce beer (not lite)
1 cup water
1 medium onion, sliced
1 lemon or lime, sliced
4 garlic cloves, slivered
1 bunch parsley, coarsley chopped (or about 1/4 cup dried)
1 tbsp salt
2 tbsp Old Bay seasoning
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. whole black or mixed peppercorns
1 c. prepared cocktail sauce (your favorite brand)
Rinse shrimp and set aside to drain.
In a large pot, add beer and all other ingredients. Over medium-high heat, bring to a boil, and allow to bubble for two minutes, reduice heat if necessary to keep it from boiling over.
Make sure the beer mixture is at a raucous boil, then add the shrimp. Stir often, and cook just until the mixture returns to a boil and the shrimp turn pin. Drain.
Serve in a large bowl, with an extra bowl for discarded shrimp shells and a small bowl of cocktail sauce.
Sometimes Old Bay seasoning is labeled "Chesapeake Bay seasoning" or "Chesapeake Seafood Seasoning". You can usually find it in the seafood section of the grocery store, or at places like Williams-Sonoma in the spice section.
(And congratulations to Abby, who won a copy of Reading People! Thanks to all who entered!)
There really aren't any recipes, here. Today I'm just being chatty.
Everyone knows that we "should" eat many more fruits and vegetables than we do. The problem is most of us say we don't "like" them, or they're too expensive, or we never eat them all before they go bad, so we throw away fruit...
Here is my secret for eating more fruit:
Get fruit you like to eat.
I know, earth-shattering, right?
Now, I know that this is not seasonal. This is not trendy advice. And I will say that if you live near a farmer's market or a fruit farm, by all means, go and get seasonal fruit when you can! It's usually the same price as at the grocery and it will taste great!
However, if you live, as I do, in a place where lemons and limes and bananas and kiwis, etc., do not grow ever in life, then...buy them. I don't do well with no lemons in my kitchen. They are vital to about every one of my favorite dishes, especially the quick ones. Lemons are magic. If you or your kids love bananas, then get them. Eat them. Enjoy them. Eat them like candy!
I love to get a big bag of cherries and just eat my way through them. They're better than candy, some days. When I can find fresh berries, I do the same thing. They're yummy! They're healthy! EAT THEM!
If you don't like apples, don't buy them even if they are seasonal. If you hate a food, just don't eat it. That's waste. Buy what you like. I've found I like fruit that's small-ish, like cherries, berries, grapes...I can just pop them in my mouth. Apples are OK. They're a good choice to fill in the cracks at a meal, in my world.
We're talking about eating well, eating good things for your body, in this series. No food, no matter how healthy, is doing you any good sitting on your counter posing for a Vermeer-ish still life. It's just not.
Now, that being said--fruit does taste better in its season. But if you are buying it out of season, try to buy the ones that have good color, smell, texture. Learn what you should be looking for, and buy the pieces that fit that criteria as quickly as possible.
Also, there is nothing wrong with frozen or canned fruit! Just get the canned kind that doesn't have five million bits of sugar in the syrup. :) I ate a lot of fruit cocktail as a kid, and it's good!
Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Do what you can with what you have. Remember that seasonality does impart better flavors. But if you live in a place where seasonality would mean kale and rutabagas and potatoes for four months of the year, then be like Laura Ingalls Wilder and get an orange in your Christmas stocking. :) (Technically, blood oranges are a winter fruit, anyway! Score!)
Also: be like the Italians and the Greeks, and have fruit as your dessert. (I think the French might do this too?) Have a little bit of orange or kiwi or something. Make it a treat.
Eat what you like, like what you eat (to riff off of Life is Good's logo). Focus on eating the good stuff instead of the not-good stuff. Worry about seasonality and organicness later.
Avocados are AWESOME. Really, they are! It's high in healthy fats (because we do need some fat in our diet, guys!) They contain more potassium than bananas, and are high in antioxidants.
And did I mention it's delicious?
One of the problems is that avocado flesh can become brown quickly once you've started to eat the avocado. So this recipe uses an entire avocado. All you need for this is a toaster (and you can probably do without the toaster, if you want). And it's really not even a recipe. It's so simple it's hardly even cooking!
One of the changes I made back in April was cutting out bread--but not entirely! I stopped eating pasta except on special occasions awhile back, and I honestly don't miss it. But I still loved cereal, bread, all that other carb goodness. And I've decided I can have it, but I have one piece in the bread basket. A soft pretzel is a treat, and usually when I'm having serious salt cravings in the summer (thanks to my CF genes, since my body doesn't regulate salt secretions appropriately. In the summer, I have to be sure I'm getting enough sodium, which means some not-so-healthy treats, like salty pretzels and popcorn, are important for that.) But sometimes you want a sandwich. Or toast. The key is to have one or two pieces--not four.
I've started using Ezekiel bread (Trader Joe's carries it now! Yay!), which is good toasted. I don't really like it un-toasted. But you might. So try it.
This is adapted from a Weight Watchers cookbook, and I've actually left out the prosciutto the recipe calls for, because I don't think it really worked here. But hey, if you want to try it, go for it. Just go easy on it.
Open Faced Avocado Sandwich
Makes four slices
1 ripe avocado
1 lemon, zest and juice (so zest it first!)
four slices regular bread or Ezekiel Bread
Toast the bread. While that's happening, split the avocado and put the flesh into a mixing bowl. Crush it with a fork to break the flesh into small pieces. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, salt, and pepper to taste, and combine with fork until well-mixed. Spread on toast. Place the rest of the mixture in a container such as Tupperware or Pyrex, and refrigerate. Can be used again the next day.
This is one of the easiest and most made recipes in my healthy food box. I hope it makes it to your house, too!
I love fish, almost all of it. And that's a good thing, because we can get a lot of great nutrition from fish, especially salmon. It's an excellent source of high quality protein (which keeps you feeling full longer), potassium, selenium, and vitamin b12. They're also a great source of Omega-3 fatty acids, which contribute to healthy brain, heart, and joint function, as well as general well-being. It's a power-packed bit of fish!
I know fish can be pricey, so try to find the best and most affordable source in your area. Even adding it to your diet once a week can reap great benefits.
(And for the Catholics among us, it's good to stockpile fish dishes in the recipe boxes to use on Fridays during Lent, or every Friday, if you want to do that, or your diocese requires it.)
This dish takes maybe 20 minutes, and 10 of those are preheating the oven.
Salmon with mustard dill sauce
(from the book Dinner: A Love Story)
4 6 oz. salmon fillets, skin removed
1/2 cup Greek yogurt (any fat content, but I usually go 0%)
1 heaping teaspoon dijon mustard
1/4 tsp. dried dill weed
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. While that's happening, place the salmon on a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment paper. (If you have a stoneware baking stone, that's great for this too, and easy clean up!) Sprinkle salt and pepper over the fillets and roast for 10-15 minutes.
Meanwhile, add the yogurt, salt, pepper, dill weed, and mustard to a mixing bowl. Add half of the lemon, whisk together, and add the rest of the lemon if needed. Taste for seasoning and adjust as required.
When the salmon's done, place it on a plate and top with the sauce.
I use one fillet for me, and eat all the sauce. It's delicious and healthy and so filling.
Roasted cherry tomatoes, or even raw ones, are good served along side this. You can also put them in a hot pan with some extra virgin olive oil and toss them around for a few minutes, until they start to blister/open, and serve.
You can get fresh dill weed, but I prefer the dried, because it's more cost friendly (given how often I make this).
So I've missed writing every week in Catholicism 101, but I haven't had any great ideas for a new weekly series, until recently.
I'm going to be sharing healthy and easy recipes once a week. I know, there are five bazillion recipe sites out there. But I'm going to do this differently: one recipe a week, with some background about it, including why I love it. The recipe will be healthy and simple. It will not be overwhelming. It will cover dishes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even things you can take to parties that are healthy.
Healthy in this context doesn't really subscribe to any particular bent. It's not paleo. It's not the Mediterranean diet. It's not vegetarian. It's just...simple, easy, yummy food that doesn't have a million ingredients.
Since Easter, I've been implementing a new way of eating and I've lost 22 pounds so far. I'm really happy with this, but that doesn't mean that there haven't been hard parts. So I want to encourage people with these recipe suggestions, and show that just because you want to lose weight doesn't mean you have to abandon cooking, you don't have to use weird fraken-food substitutes, and it can still be yummy and delicious and simple.
For a sample of what this will look like, this post is a good template.
I'm excited to be sharing this with you--and maybe some food tips along the way? We'll see!
Twelve years is a substantial amount of time, if you think about it. It's your entire education from first to twelfth grades. It's an entire pro sports career, if the player is lucky. Ad it's how long I've been alive with another person's lungs inside me.
It's insanely lucky. It really is. When I consider the people who don't get listed, who don't get the call, and then who don't survive past five years (which more than half of female lung recipients don't)....it's amazing to be so gosh-darn lucky. It's miraculous, really.
So I thought it would be appropriate to share a good bit of food with you. Before transplant, I hated food. I liked cooking and baking, but I really didn't like eating much of it. Post, I loved it. The entire world of food opened up to me.
Just recently I've been working on tempering the two--eating what's good for me, in good portions, and not going overboard on the stuff that's delicious but not so healthy. I'm seeing results on a lot of levels, which is exciting, but I'm also learning how to embrace cooking really great food that's also not terrible for me. Thus, this pork chop recipe.
You can eat it just as it is, or serve it with some buttered leeks.
Here's to more celebratory pork chops.
Celebratory Pork Chop
This is the best pork chop you will ever have. I guarantee it.
Start with two thick pork chops, about an inch. Don't trim the fat off. Season with with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.
Preheat the oven to 375. Drag out your oven proof skillet (cast iron is great). Heat it over medium high heat, and add olive oil to it. When the pan is hot, add the chops. Cook for three minutes on each side, then throw the whole thing, pan and chops, into the preheated oven for 30 minutes. Remove the pan and put the chops on a plate to rest for four minutes.
Make a pan sauce--in the hot pan, add 1/2 cup water or stock, let it reduce a bit. Add 2 teaspoons dijon mustard and a good knob of butter--about a tablespoon, but whatever odd pieces you have in the fridge. Whisk together. Serve the chop with the pan sauce.
(Also, are you an organ donor? Please be one. When I was first listed, 18 people died every day waiting. That number is now 22 people, and the national list stands at 118,000 people who are waiting for new organs. Sign up here. )
There was a time in my life when I didn't know how to scramble eggs. It was a sad time.
To scramble eggs, you need four things:
* an appropriately sized frying pan
That's it. You don't need anything fancy, you don't need herbs and spices. You don't even need a knife. (Well, you need a heat source. Oven. Fire. Hot plate. Whatever.)
Scrambled eggs are a great go-to meal, especially during Lent, when we're supposed to be fasting and abstaining from meat on Fridays (and Ash Wednesday, which is tomorrow). Scrambled eggs can be deliciously decadent (I've seen recipes that serve them with caviar) or monastically simplistic. I'm going to give you three versions here, all of them Lent appropriate: one basic, one sweet, and one savory.
You decided what one you want for your abstinence and fasting days. Or really, any day. I love to make scrambled eggs for lunch. They're filling and delicious and super-economical. Perfect for Lent, or any time you want something filling and healthy--and simple.
Version 1: Monastic Simplicity
- 2-3 eggs
- 1 tbsp. unsalted butter (or salted, if you have it. I usually use unsalted.)
Crack the eggs into a small bowl, and add a pinch of pepper and salt. Whisk together with a whisk or a fork until the yolks are beaten up.
In a small skillet (8-9"), melt the butter over medium heat. When the butter is melted, pour in the eggs. Move the fork in a back and forth pattern through the eggs until the eggs are scrambled to your preference. Slide onto a plate and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Version 2: Savory
(Based off a Rachael Ray recipe)
Tabasco sauce (if you want it)
herb and garlic cheese, such as Boursin.
1 tbsp. butter
Combine eggs, tabasco, salt, pepper, and a few chunks of the Boursin into a mixing bowl. Whisk with a whisk or a fork. Melt the butter in the skillet and proceed as above.
You could also use grated cheese in this: pepper jack, cheddar, colby, etc.
Version 3: Sweet
(Based off a Giada de Laurentiis recipe)
- 2-3 eggs
- 1 tbsp. of sugar
- dried mint flakes--anywhere from 1/4 tsp. to a full tsp. (Or even more, if you love mint)
- 1 tbsp. heavy cream
- 1 tbsp. butter
Mix eggs, sugar, mint flakes, and heavy cream as above. Proceed with preparing the pan and scrambling eggs as above. These are really good when served with strawberries.
(And if you missed it: Here's my post on fasting and abstaining during Lent.)
Happy Friday, everybody!!!!
Here's what I wrote about this week, ICYMI:
Hospital Hair Salons (With a follow up next week!)
We FINALLY had rain! Lots and lots of rain! My plant doesn't look like it's going to die now! Yay!!!!! (Even when you water a plant copiously, when it's 90+ degrees for many days in a row, the plant will look very sad.) Just in time for school starting, the weather has become less hot and more normal--70s and low 80s. I can handle this. In fact, this is sort of my perfect type of weather. I am ready for my sweaters!
This was this week's Kitchen Adventure:
This is the Guinness Cake. The Cake of My Heart. And next week, it'll get its own Food Stories post! (It's been awhile since I've done one of those!)
I'm falling down on the reading this month, but I do have the new Mother Teresa book, A Call To Mercy on my iPad, as well as Shauna Niequist's Present Over Perfect.
In my own writing: I'm working on some submissions and still editing the memoir. Always, right? And NaNoWriMo 2016 is over the horizon, so I need to come up with a novel idea to write this year!
After a long hiatus, I'm back to the knitting, because my new yarn bowl arrived. So back to those knits and purls. I'm using up some odds and ends of yarn so this is definitely a project for me, and not a gift. And I need to start thinking about Christmas gifts too, yikes! And birthday gifts for my fall people!
Has school started where you are? I remember when it started at the end of August. The beginning/middle of August feels so odd for school start dates. Course they also get out a lot earlier than I did, too.But starting on August 16 (when a lot of schools here started) seems wayyyy too early for me.
The weekly recap:
Last weekend, I visited my grandma with my parents. My grandma is 86 years old, and she's my last remaining grandparent--and I love her to bits. She raised eight kids on a music teacher's salary, and all 8 kids are married (STILL married! Not divorced!--several of them in the 30+ years category of marriage), and all have had children. There are 25 of us grandkids, and 9 great-grandchildren. Grandma gave me my lifelong love of piano. (And listened to me play even when it was more like....random noise.....than music.)
Anyway, Grandma's house always has good reading. I was reading her back issues of Catholic Digest, and found some food columns written by Emily Stimpson, whom I love to read. And then I remembered that Emily had a blog about Catholic food and friendship and entertaining called The Catholic Table.
So I went home and read through her archives, where I found this gem:
Really, don't we need these? Eating, one of our most basic tasks, has become so complicated, hasn't it? It was so refreshing to find Emily's level-headed advice, here.
And I am definitely going to start entertaining people again. I love dinner parties, and though my place is small, I love having people over to eat.
Today is the Feast of St. Martha. DRAGONS, people. DRAGONS. (Click the link for Dragons!)
Seriously, I love St. Martha. She gets such a bad wrap for the "Martha, Martha" story. But geez. She is really a pretty awesome lady.
Some musical inspiration, as well:
This week I've been crazy into my painting and sketching. I'm working on adding some SoCal trip pages to my "big" sketchbook . Here's some of this week's work:
I'm trying to work with my watercolors and brushes, to get to know them a little better, and see what they can do. But I really had fun with the charcoal pencils.
I'm on snapchat now as emdeardo, if you're in to Snapchat. I think I have the hang of it. Maybe? Not sure. But I do see how it can be fun. I haven't used any of the silly filters yet. :-p
One of my favorite Columbus Summer things is next weekend--the Dublin Irish Festival! And thank goodness, it looks like decent temps for the day I want to go. I love going and hearing the Irish bands, eating the good food, and it's a great time for sketching. I brought my sketchbook for the first time last year and I had a lot of fun with it. I can't wait to sketch some more this year! One of my favorite bands is Cassie and Maggie, sisters from Nova Scotia. They don't just sing and play; they dance, too. Seriously. They are fantastic!
Does anyone else really like the month of August? I like June because it's like the unfolding of spring and summer. It's full of possibility. July, I don't really like. I don't know why. And this has even been a particularly good July, with all sorts of fun things happening.
But August just seems like such a lovely month. A slow month, a month to sort of enjoy the summer and prepare for fall. I remember when I was going back to school and I was always ready for school to start come August. August is like that slow transition from summer to the demands of fall. (But I do love fall.)
Like most good things, this recipe was created sort of by accident.
My friends and I spent a weekend in Hocking Hills in July, in a lovely cabin that had a full kitchen, so we decided to do most of the cooking. We have a lot of culinary-minded friends, so I was planning on making a few things: my Irish soda bread (made ahead and brought down for breakfast), and a Caesar salad. I also decided to do balsamic strawberries as an ice cream topping or fun dessert, because I love balsamic strawberries and more people need to like them too.
I had asked a friend of mine to bring eggs for the Caesar salad, since I was going down right from work and didn’t want the eggs to be destroyed in my car. Sadly, friend forgot the eggs, but that led to this creation, so I guess that’s OK.
Anyway, this salad was quickly imagined, and everyone liked it–the guys even fought over the leftover strawberries. I have made it for another meal with friends and they liked it so much that one of them asked for the recipe so she could make it for her friends.
So here it is.
Summer Strawberry Salad
This serves about six people, give or take.
2 heads romaine lettuce
2 pints strawberries
1-2 tbsp. brown sugar (light or dark. Or Splenda! really like splenda brown sugar because it doesn’t get hard and gross in the bag)
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
First, make the strawberry topping, because this need to sit for at least 20-30 minutes (If you can get an hour of sit time, that’s optimal)
Lop off the top of the berries and cut in half. Place in a bowl. Add the sugar and balsamic vinegar and stir to combine. Let sit.
When you’ve got about five minutes to dinner (or you’re ready to eat), start the salad.
Starting at the frilly top end of the lettuce head, cut the lettuce into 1-2 inch pieces. Discard the stem end. Then cut down the middle of the lettuce, which will cut each piece in half, leaving you with smaller and easier pieces to eat. Continue with the second head and place the lettuce in a serving bowl.
In another small bowl, add 1/2 c. of EVOO, depending on how much dressing you like. Add the juice of two lemons, then whisk together. Remember, there’s balsamic going in here, too! Taste, and add more lemon juice if necessary.
When ready to serve, add strawberries to salad. Add dressing. Toss. Eat a piece of lettuce to check seasoning. You may need some kosher salt or pepper added for seasoning. Totally up to you.
Well, Winter has finally shown up here in Ohio. It's going to be three for a low this weekend. Brrrrr. Glad I have lots of warm socks and boots and a heavy coat that's good for clearing off the car.
I'm learning Italian! I'm using the Duolingo app and I have to say it's really fun, although there's some weird Italian grammar things that do not exist in French or English. For example, the word "dinner" (cena) can mean the noun, dinner, or "eating dinner." So if you want to say I'm having dinner, It's "Io cena." IT IS WEIRD. In French, it would be Je mange diner. You need a verb! Not in Italian!
Also, their possessives are sort of tricky. I'm working on it. But learning Italian is something I've been wanting to do for a long time, so I'm glad I'm finally getting on it.
Lent has begun, but you can still join Restore! It's not too late.
I'm taking my first Barre3 class next week. I will hopefully survive. ;-) Cristina loves them, and I've taken similar classes before, so I think I'll survive.....It's only an hour! One can do anything for an hour! (Right?)
One of the great things about winter is that I get to experiment with my cooking. When it's summer and gorgeous I don't want to be working with a hot oven. But tonight is perfect for something like Tuscan marinated chicken and couscous with feta and lemon. It's warm and filling and really easy!
Fasting is something I didn't have to do for the first 23 years of my life. And now that I have to, it's HARD. Man, I was GRUMPTASTIC Wednesday night, and I also inhaled my dinner like there was no tomorrow.
Outlander season 2 premieres on my birthday! (April 9) Happy birthday to me! I can't wait for Season 2 with my favorite time travelers.
Outside my window::
Sunny and hot. Hot. Hot. HOT. Did I mention, hot? Not that I'm ready for two feet of snow, mind you, but I am ready for it to be not ninety.
In the CD player::
Cassie and Maggie, and Joyce DiDonato's ReJoyce! recording.
Cloud Atlas--I'm more than halfway through, and am by turns intrigued and frustrated. I'm trusting that the everything will congeal into a Pleasing Whole as I go through the second half. Since that's a library book, I'm giving it more attention than the other things I'm reading (including Middlemarch) and it's just one of those books that requires close reading, because if you put it down for too long, you'll forget everything, and that's not good in this book.
So I am preparing to send the Memoir Manuscript to a publisher, to see if they'll take it. They want it completed. So I was doing what I thought was a brief perusal for formatting errors yesterday morning. No. It turned into a slash and burn editing session. I took out entire pages, plot lines, and people. I embraced the idea of "nothing that does not serve the story", and out went a lot of things. It was liberating, in a sense, and it definitely tightens things up. I also decided that it definitely needs an epilogue, which I'll write this week. Before I fell asleep last night, I was toying with the idea of moving some pieces around, and I think I might do that today/tomorrow too. This is what makes things better. And it's sort of exciting, actually. It's like cutting away the fat from a piece of meat.
Around the house::
So while the above was happening yesterday, I also decided it would e a good day to kick off "Kondo-ing" my house. If you've been anywhere near a bookstore in the past year, you've seen Marie Kondo's The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I've read it a few times, but I decided yesterday to get to it, and I started with my clothes, as she suggested. So far, three bags (trash bags) have been filled (no, they won't be trashed--they'll be donated. If the clothes are full of holes and torn up, then they go in the trash.). There is a huge pile on my bedroom floor that will probably take another two bags, and the hangers! It's incredible! Today we move on to socks, bags, accessories, and shoes (or as many of those as I can get done today).
From the kitchen::
I made Irish Tea Brack yesterday from Clodagh McKenna's Irish Kitchen cookbook. I had a piece for breakfast, and it was delicious. It smells like gingerbread when it's baking. For dinner today, I'm trying a Jamie Oliver salmon stir-fry. I've got a very small grocery list that needs tending, as well.
So in case you can't tell, yesterday was the Epitome of Crazy Busy, but good crazy busy--the kind that leaves you feeling very satisfied when you go to bed and look back at what you did. A good start for the first full week of September!
My dad is 100% Calabrese (Calabria is seen above--it's the tip of the boot). His grandmother grew up on Mulberry Street, in NYC's Little Italy, at the turn of the 20th century. Thus, when my grandparents got married, food was an important part of their household.
One of the things I regret about my life is that I never got to know my Italian grandmother as an adult. She died when I was 20, and she had dementia for the last few years of her life, so I really only got to talk to her to my early teenage years. She scared me a bit a a child, because she was very particular about things. If I got an A on a math test, she'd ask me why I didn't get an A all the time. She didn't have much of a filter when it came to talking to her family. But as I've grown up, I've realized how much we are actually alike. We both love food and cooking, and entertaining people. She received a college scholarship to study voice, but she couldn't take it. She did beautiful embroidery work. I would've loved for her to teach me how to cook. In a way, I guess, she did.
Grandma D. certainly instilled a love of food and cooking in me. When I was a small child, we spent the Christmas holiday in Pittsburgh, and Christmas Eve was spent with my Dad's family. Grandma D's house was a great place for kids, because the basement was essentially another house. There was a kitchen down there, a TV, a bathroom, the parlor organ, a player piano, and furniture. A huge storage room held the tins full of Christmas cookies, wrapped in wax paper, that Grandma made all year. In the basement kitchen, my aunts would be peeling, chopping, slicing, and baking, their voices echoing off the concrete floor, which was covered in some sort of rough, fuzzy "carpet" material. The women always looked so happy, surrounded by cutting boards and knives, laughter ringing through the room. I wished I was old enough to help. I missed the Feast of the Seven Fishes, because I was too young. I ate at the kids' table, and we ate pasta. It was good, but it wasn't the magical meal of seafood that I would've loved (even the crazy parts). Her Christmas cookie plates and special desserts are still mentioned with longing by my dad. Mom got a pizelle maker a few years ago, and she'll make them at Christmas. They're a lovely throwback to Christmas at Grandma D's.
When I was about eight or nine, Dad taught me how to cook pasta correctly. Our family al dente is a bit past "regular" al dente. In the Betty Crocker cookbook my mom had received as a wedding gift, Dad had scribbled a gnocchi recipe. He could make it from scratch, and his mom or grandma had probably taught him. We preferred red sauce to just about anything else; being Southern Italian, we didn't use the creamy white sauces of the north. The south is a poorer region not blessed with the dairy goodness of some other parts of Italy. Dad is a red sauce man all the way. I am too, actually. (Well, red sauce woman.) Not only is it easier to make, but it's so versatile. (You'll see what I mean in a second.)
It's a cliche that food is love, but in this case--it really was. Grandma's affection for us might not have been in typical grandmotherly hugs and kisses and heaped up praise. It was hard, as a kid, to believe she really liked us. :) But now I think I would've understood her a lot better, and I hope we would've cooked together in the upstairs kitchen, overlooking the hills of her property that stretched farther than we could see.
Basic Red Sauce
yield: 4 cups
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
4 large basil leaves, or a palmful of dried basil. (If fresh, chopped)
1 28 oz. can whole tomatoes, and 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes--both with their juices
Coarse salt (I use kosher salt)
freshly ground black pepper
Heat olive oil in a large sauce pan or Dutch over over low heat. Add garlic and cook for 5 minutes. Add half the basil and stir for one minute. Add tomatoes, their juice, and the rest of the basil. Turn heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, season with salt and pepper, and let cook for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally and crushing tomatoes with the back of the wooden spoon. Cool and refrigerate. Use within 3-5 days.
This basic sauce can be turned into a puttanesca sauce with the addition of red pepper flakes and anchovies. It's great for any shape pasta and reheats beautifully. You can use this for lasagne, too.
I throw a dinner party a few times a year, and at least once during the summer. This year's event was last night. (And no, it wasn't as involved as Babette's! Still, that's a great movie to watch before you feed people!)
When I say "dinner party", it's not like a Downton dinner party. (Does anyone have those, anymore, other than the queen?) It's much more casual. For one thing, my house is small, and my dining table is even smaller. I have four chairs, so that's how many people I can have for a dinner party. A party, sans dinner, can be more people, but not that many. (I only have so many spots where people can sit that aren't the floor.)
This one was a bit impromptu, but here's the menu:
Fried Onion Dip with Kettle Chips
Green salad with French Vinaigrette
Lemon chicken with cherry herb tomatoes
strawberries, cookies, and vanilla ice cream
One of the things I've learned over the years is not to make everything for a party. You'll see the dessert is all store-bought things that I can make fancy.
I also plan out how things are going to go. The onion dip needed time in the fridge, and was also the most labor intensive, so I made that first. The chicken needed not only to cook, but to rest for 15 minutes once it was out of the oven. The salad could be made two hours ahead and left to sit at room temp until serving time. The tomatoes can also be served at room temperature, and will be made closer to dinner time. Nothing needs to cook in the same space (i.e., the oven) at the same time. (And yes, I deleted things from the plan as needed!)
I don't mind finishing things up when people are here. That's what the onion dip is for. They can eat and talk and chat while I'm doing the last-minute things, but I like to keep it to one or two at the most last minute things. So, the tomatoes being rolled around in a skillet? That's fine. Doing the onion dip with people around? No. It involves clarified butter, chopping, frying onions--no. I don't want to do that when other people are around. I'll burn something or myself. Better to make that before!
I also cook things I know taste good and can be made in my kitchen. (That's important. This probably isn't the time to test a new Julia Child recipe that will require every mixing bowl you have.) The only "new" thing on this menu is the vinaigrette, and you really can't go wrong there, especially when it's an Ina Garten recipe.
As for drinks--I've noticed this can be a point of contention at dinner parties. I usually offer coffee and hot tea (loose and bagged, because I am a Queen of Tea), my homemade iced tea, and a soda. Sometimes we have wine, and I usually have some sort of diet soda around.
I ask people if they have any food allergies/severe dislikes before I go shopping for the food. I don't want to kill anyone (obviously), and if people have a special diet, I can accommodate it (usually). For example, I'm not supposed to eat a diet high in carbohydrates, so if you have a dinner for me that's all pizza and pasta, I will eat it (because I love it), but it's not the best thing for me to eat. Ideally, I want people to enjoy the meal I'm making for them, and not eat it only because they're too polite to not! And, I'm Italian. Feeding people feeds my hospitable soul! I want them to be happy!
Last planning tip: When you do as much prep as you can before the party, be sure to run the dishwasher too. It always helps to start with everything clean when the guests arrive, at least as much as possible, and an empty (as much as possible) dishwasher.
If you don't usually throw dinner parties, I invite you to do it before summer's over, because this is really the easiest time of year to do it. You can grill! Toss some burgers and brats or whatever on the grill and let it go. Grab some tomatoes from the market (or even better, the farmers' market!) and serve them with mozzarella slices. Make some sangria and serve ice cream sundaes for dessert.
How do you like to entertain? Game nights, dinner parties, bowling parties? Do you have any good party hosting tips?
(Also: have you entered the giveaway yet?)