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On the Menu This Week

Finally, a post about food! It’s been too long, hasn’t it? I know I should be rounding up all the tasty things we’ve consumed since whenever the last time was I mentioned something on here, but the truth is the idea of doing that is overwhelming enough to incapacitate me.

So, as I attempt to get back in the swing of meal planning (yeah, we have not been so good these last few busy months. We have had a lot of food delivered, and a lot of last-minute trips to the store.) – I thought I’d maybe try to resurrect that thing where I share my menu for the week with you. Here goes.

In case you’ve forgotten, we try to eat one red meat, one poultry, two fish, and three vegetarian meals each week. Designated below as (M), (P), & (V), respectively.

(V) Pasta (our default I-don’t-feel-like-cooking meal: angel hair with marinara)
(F) Crispy Fish with Tomato & Leek Saute
(M) Tacos
(V) Sweet Potato with Beets, Greens, & Almonds
(F) Maple Glazed Salmon with Pineapple
(P) Chicken, Squash, & Chickpea Salad with Tahini Dressing
(V) Ricotta Gnocchi with Leeks & Fava Beans (!!! It’s fava bean season again! Finally! Are you as excited about that as I am? You should be.)

I also bought beets for roasting (and they had golden beets today – score! I saw them and immediately thought of the golden beet borscht we had at Sprout. Anybody have a good borscht recipe?) and tossing into salad greens for any meal which feels like it wants more veggies. We’ll probably have this with the salmon and on pasta night.

This week, Julia is in tech for a show, and consequently not home until Thursday, so I get to eat the things I usually skip because of her preferences/restrictions. For example, tacos! Which I would happily eat on a weekly basis, but she would prefer to have only once every other month or so. Also? Goat cheese. Which I LOVE but she cannot stomach, so I don’t eat it as frequently as I’d like. And that salmon dish with the pineapple? I could eat it all week long; Julia finds it a bit too sweet.

What are YOU eating this week? (If it’s vegetarian and delicious, please share your recipes because I never seem to have enough of those!)

Taco Night

When we get busy, we fall back onto certain favorite recipes. You know the ones – you’ve made them so many times that you need neither a recipe nor a grocery list, and you can pretty much make them in your sleep? They never let you down. They always taste the way you expect (delicious) and even if they were once difficult, the repetition has made them easy. We’ve eaten a lot of these comfort foods in the past few weeks. Taco night is one of my favorites.

Tacos.
Tacos are so easy at this point that we can make the entire meal happen in less than 20 minutes.

What You Need:
1 lb  ground beef (I prefer 85% lean, as it all but eliminates the need to drain after cooking)
1 medium onion
Salsa
Chili Powder
Cumin
Ginger (fresh is better, powdered is fine)
Curry Powder (optional)
3-4 plum or 2-3 regular tomatoes
Queso Fresco – smallest package (or your preferred taco cheese)
Bunch of cilantro
Tortillas (I like flour, fajita size)
Greek yogurt or sour cream (optional)
1 Avocado (optional, strongly recommended)

How to Make It:
1. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Mince the onion. Put it and the ground beef into the pan. Break up the meat with a spatula. Douse it with generous amounts of chili powder, cumin, and ginger. I measure by smell (see my pasta sauce) but here’s a start: Sprinkle chili powder evenly over the pan until everything is covered. Add about 2/3 that amount of ginger and cumin, and a dash of curry powder. If you like spice, a pinch or cayenne wouldn’t hurt. Stir the whole thing so the spices coat the meat and onions, and let it cook.

2. While that’s happening, dice the tomatoes. Slice the avocado, if you bought one (and I hope you did) and then stir the meat again. It’s probably cooked by now, so drain it if you need to, dump in some salsa, and set the burner to low to keep it warm. Get out your tupperware to pack up the leftovers. Get a couple plates ready with tortillas on them (hint: warm them in the toaster oven or microwave). Open a beer/pour a glass of wine. By the time you get that stuff taken care of, the meat should be ready to go. If not, you can always do the dishes, put your pjs on, or queue up your DVR/Netflix/whatever.

3. Assemble your tacos! Everyone has their own way of doing this, I know. Here’s mine: Spread yogurt on the tortilla. Spoon some meat on, crumble cheese over that so it gets a little melty. Next, tomatoes and then avocado if you have it. Top with cilantro. Devour, as though the world will end if you don’t get every last bit into your belly.

[Speaking of bellies, and I promise I will try to keep the cute-things-my-charge-did-at-work-today talk on this blog to a minimum, but she is so dang smart. At a precious 20 months, she can successfully relate to me when asked that the oatmeal she at for breakfast this morning is in her belly, and it got there because it went in her mouth and down her throat. And then I taught her to say esophagus (“soffagus!”). Do I love her times a million? Yes, yes I do.]

So. Taco night. Give it a try and let me know how it turns out.

Things We Have Eaten Lately

I’m trying to come back friends. Really hard. I’m finding myself at a loss for words (shocking, I know) when it comes to these posts, and maybe it’s just because I’m busy and burnt out, or maybe I’m not sure where this blog is going, but I’m gonna try to just write and see what happens. As always, your comments are appreciated! I can take constructive criticism, for real. Tell me what you most enjoy reading about. (You’re only here for the food, aren’t you? That’s ok.)

So, because it’s been a while since any food was featured, here’s a roundup of some of the things we’ve consumed recently:

Three-Bean Salad with Gouda (vegetarian) – I LOVED this dish. Julia was not a huge fan, but I think that was mostly because I bought smoked gouda and she does not enjoy smoked cheeses as a rule. Too bad for her. I love them.

Ghetto dinner. Ok, this is no high-class meal, but sometimes? You just have to pick up whatever you can eat as soon as you get it home. So. Salad. Chicken. Forks. Wine. DONE.

Oh – you may remember me mentioning how awesome my wife is? And that on my vacation, she totally pampered me food-wise, even though she was NOT on vacation? She made a whole menu of really nice meals, mostly from a Spanish cookbook we have, and let me pretend like I was in a fancy restaurant, where I didn’t have to cook or clean up! And she was all sweet about it, like it was no big deal for her to spend several hours cooking every night for me while I sat on my butt and did nothing. I love her. (Duh.) Here are some of the things she made for me:

Grilled Basa with Chickpea Salad – Julia says she put too much garlic in it (as you do, because the amount of garlic in every recipe should always be doubled. You do that, right?), but I thought it was awesomely garlicky. Then she made this lovely little bean salad with chickpeas, tomato, cilantro, and red onion. I wasn’t expecting it to be a cold salad, and it was really refreshing. Also just as good warmed up the next day.

Potato, Spinach, and Pine Nut Gratin – I’m sure you can guess that this was delicious. I don’t think I need to say anything more about it. By the way, that little salad? Mixed greens with tomatoes, nothing fancy, but the trick is that instead of our usual dressing, she drizzled it with olive oil and cracked a bit of fresh pepper on it. So simple, so good.

And then? Then there was the night she took a couple sea basses, wrapped them in Serrano ham, and stuffed them with more of the ham and garlic. Crisp, salty ham around tender bites of flaky fish? Holy crap, that was yummy. And I haven’t even told you about the vegetables. They were stir-fried with a sesame sauce and amazing on their own. Five star meal.

Oh, and I almost forgot – it was followed by dessert. To be fair, I actually made it, because, you know, I am the dessert-maker. I know what’s what when it comes to custard. (Ask Keely about those Napoleons I made her that one time. Or anyone who ate the top layer of our wedding cake.) Anyway, I digress as usual, I made Crema Fritta. Literally it translates to fried cream. But essentially, it’s custard (think flan or crème bruleé, minus the bruleé), and then it’s battered and fried. And drowned in blackberry sauce, and topped with whole berries. It was SO. GOOD. Not the prettiest thing I’ve ever made, but really really tasty.

And I’ll leave you with that to drool over.

By Request: Crispy Ginger Lime Chicken Thighs

So yesterday, I begrudgingly made dinner even though I really didn’t feel like it. I was grumpy (maybe because I was tired and hungry?) and I had no desire to chop or even turn the oven on. But. I was hungry and so was Julia and she’s in tech again this week (seemingly, every week, lately) which left me no choice but to suck it up and cook.

[I think there is an extent to which cooking, much like exercise or chores or anything really, is all about fighting inertia and getting into a habit. Ok, I just realized I have a lot more to say about this topic, so I’m gonna table it for now and get back to the chicken.]

I wasn’t gonna post on this dish, but I mentioned it on twitter and Ms. Bunny asked for a serving, but since she lives far away and cannot possibly come over tonight, I decided to make the recipe available on the blog instead. So you can all eat it, no matter how far away you live. And some of you live very, very far. (According to my stats – India & Singapore? Really? Who are you and how did you find my little corner of the internet?)

Now, get ready to wipe up some drool, because here is what I made:

Ok, I know, it doesn’t look that great in this picture, but that’s because I gobbled the pretty one up before I decided to blog about it and this is the leftovers packed up for lunch tomorrow. Best I can do. Anyway, it tasted great and it’s super easy to make. Takes maybe 30 minutes start to finish. I served it with couscous and a mixed green salad (not pictured) but you can eat whatever you like with it.

You can go get the recipe over at Martha Stewart. She’s got a better picture anyway.

Wherein Regular Life Feels Like Tech

A note to any non-theatre folks who may be reading this: Tech is the week or so right before a show opens, when rehearsal moves from a room with tape on the floor to the actual set on in the theatre; rehearsal props are exchanged for real props; street clothes are tossed for costumes and makeup; fluorescent lights are traded for blackouts and bright, hot lights; sound effects are queued up; and the dancing in the dark that takes place off and on stage between and during scenes is choreographed. It sounds magical and poetic (and it is, once it all comes together) but the journey there is not an easy one. Technicians come in early and stay late; actors play bits of scenes over and over again to get the timing just right; directors and designers tweak every little detail to fit their collective image of the perfect show. It’s a week or so of long (12+ hour) days, little sleep, few breaks, and lots of hard work. In short, it’s exhausting. Which is why it is always followed with a party (booze: required) and if you’re lucky enough to not also have a day job, you may even get the whole next day off to recover.

Sometimes, my actual life outside the theatre gets all crazy busy and feels like a tech week and I just cannot wait until all the things are done and I can sit on my ass for five minutes without feeling like I’m falling behind. This was one of those weeks for both of us. If you are not interested in the minutiae or my rambling, you should just skip right to the recipe. For everyone else, here’s how the week went down:

For starters, Julia’s show, The Chicago Landmark Project, opened last night. So she was super busy all week long working on costumes for that. I think I might have seen her on Tuesday night for about seven minutes. Secondly, I’d volunteered to host this month’s A Practical Wedding book club on Saturday, and for some reason I decided it was imperative that I finish reupholstering some chairs before the event. And also that our condo needed to be spotless. (Which means, in addition to the usual upkeep, things like mopping floors and beating rugs which haven’t been done in a long, long time need to be dealt with.) And that I should plan at least one fabulous appetizer (see below) and maybe make a cake. Oh yeah, and I had to finish reading the book… (You guys know I’m an over-achiever, especially when it comes to hostessing, right?)

So after work every night I was frantically pulling out old staples, sewing piping, and inhaling many years of dust and cat hair. Which is fine, because I’m usually home by 7pm and I planned quick meals, and on Tuesdays I get off work early, so of course I’d have plenty of time to make pretty chairs and deep clean the place before Saturday. At some point during the week, we were invited to a party on Sunday afternoon by a friend we hadn’t seen in a long, long time and decided we could squeeze that into our upcoming weekend. And at some other point later in the week, Keely texted me that her babysitter was sick and she had reservations at Tru for her birthday dinner and could I possibly babysit on Sunday night? And though I was pretty sure all I’d want to do come Sunday night was sit on the couch in my jammies and watch TV, I was also pretty sure that it would be cruel and bad-friend behavior to say no unless I actually had a prior commitment, and I could watch TV my jammies at their place while the baby slept anyway, right? Because – Tru! And her BIRTHDAY! And have I told you how much time she spent helping me write and edit our wedding ceremony? Come on! Only a terrible friend would not help out. So. The week got a little busier but was still totally manageable.

On Tuesday, I was planning to do the grocery shopping and then come home and slow cook some spare ribs after work, since the baby’s grandma comes to take over at noon. But at 9am she called in sick, so I ended up having to work the whole day. Luckily, Julia had a little time, so she got the shopping done, but I still had about five pounds of ribs that had been soaking up dry rub overnight and needed to be cooked. So… I started those at about 5:30pm when I got home and finally consumed my super failure of a dinner around 10:30pm. Wednesday passed without incident. On Thursday, I got stuck late at work again, and didn’t even get home until 9pm, after which I had to make dinner and was so tired from all the getting things done that I didn’t do any work on the chairs or the cleaning and I really felt bad about that, and then, holy crap, it was Friday already.

So I stayed up until 3am finishing the reupholstery project, decided I would clean in the morning, and set my alarm for 9am but woke up at 8am anyway. And then I cleaned and re-arranged furniture so there’d be enough seating and baked some currant scones which were still in the oven when the first person showed up but it was all ok and really fun in spite of my crazyness. And everyone brought food, which you can see pictures of over on photographer Christy Tyler’s blog. (See? This post is totally on topic.) And then I got all pretty and went to Julia’s opening, which was great awesome, though I admit I was entering a sleepy haze towards the end, after which I drank a cup of black coffee and a coke so I could stay awake for the party after which the thought of 45 min on public transit to get home slayed me so we got in a cab and promptly crumpled into a giant heap of tired on the bed.

And we slept until 11am.

Did you read that? Friends, I cannot remember the last time I slept that late. My internal clock has been set to “I work at 7:30am so I wake up at the butt crack of dawn, even on the weekends” for several years now. I am nearly always awake by 8:30am on days off, and I’m often up even earlier. ELEVEN A.M. And we blew off the party (sorry Kasey, we will totally make it up to you) and then we watched TV at Keely & PJ’s while the baby slept and got bonus hangout time with them afterwards and it all turned out ok. The end.

Anyway, on to the food… besides scones, I made one of my go-to appetizers for when I’m short on time or just feeling lazy. It’s easy, fast, delicious, and elegant. And tastes really good, obviously. So here you go!

What You Need:
1 wedge of Brie
3-4 big spoonfuls of fruit preserves (I like peach or apricot)
A handful of chopped or slivered almonds
A box of crackers (I like Carr’s Table Water Crackers, or the store brand of same)

1. Put the wedge of Brie on a microwave-safe fancy serving dish. Top with the fruit preserves.
2. Microwave for about 90 seconds.
3. Sprinkle with almonds.
4. Serve with crackers.

Seriously, could it get any easier? It’s exactly what you need during tech, theatrical or otherwise. You’re welcome.

On Failure

Today was one of those days that just did not go the way I wanted it to.* Ordinarily on Tuesdays, I get off work at noon, hit the grocery store, and then have lots of time to spend working on whatever projects I’ve got going at home in the evening. I had planned to fire up the grill and slow-cook some spare ribs for several hours while working on a little reupholstery project I’m in the midst of.* Oh, but life had a different plan for me. If any of you don’t know, my job is as a nanny to a delightful 15-month-old girl, and her Tuesday afternoons are time with her grandmother.

Around breakfast time, she called to tell me she wasn’t feeling well, so I ended up working until 4:30pm. Which totally blew my plans for a grocery trip followed by 4-6 hours of slow rib cooking, because that would have me eating dinner about 3 hours after bedtime. No good. Thankfully, Julia volunteered to squeeze shopping into her tech week (thanks, honey. I love you!) and she started the ribs before I left work, so that left me getting home at a decent hour and having a (very) late dinner (alone, due to Julia’s aforementioned being in tech.)

So, when I got home I proceeded to cook the ribs, turning them, marinating them, etc. and did a little work on the chair, and then as the ribs were finally nearing the end of cook time around 10pm, I made some plantains. Sounds great, right?

Well. It was not. It wasn’t an epic fail like that time I tried to recreate Chief O’Neill’s Guinness Cheddar Soup. But. It was not good. The ribs somehow got overcooked, even though they were undercooked the last time I checked on them. The plantains were bland and too crunchy. My plans for awesome BBQ photos that would leave you drooling on your keyboards were dashed. In short – it was a big plate of “eh.”

Which I get to eat again for lunch tomorrow. Aha! The downside of always making extra dinner so you never have to pack lunch. Way too much effort for so little reward.

Oh well, failure happens. For now, I’ll be happy I’m not going hungry like so many are, and tomorrow I will try again. (Not ribs though. Something faster. And with less chance of blergh.)

*Grammar note: Yeah, I ended two sentences in this paragraph with prepositions. That is one grammar rule I just cannot get on board with. The awkward sentences that result when you try to avoid ending with a preposition are, well, awkward. And snotty-sounding. So I don’t do it. All three of you reading this probably know already that I am a high-ranking member of the Grammar Police, and I am all over that shit, especially its v. it’s and effect v. affect, but this rule? Stupid. Deal with it. No one’s making you read this, after all.