Friday, December 22, 2023

Friday Food: Birthdays and Burritos


Short version: Leg of lamb with yogurt sauce, roasted potatoes, green salad with ranch dressing, crustless pumpkin pie with whipped cream

Long version: This was A.'s birthday, and he requested lamb for his birthday dinner. I used a boned leg roast from the ram we slaughtered a bit ago, marinated it in olive oil, vinegar, garlic, and salt, and then just roasted it in the oven. The yogurt sauce is just drained yogurt, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and garlic. It's delicious with lamb, and also on the roasted potatoes.

The roasted potatoes are cut up potatoes covered in fat--this time the lard from the pork roast I had made recently--and salt, and then, well, roasted at high heat. Way better than they have any right to be.

After making our pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, I had enough pumpkin cooked down with sugar and spices for another pie. I had frozen that, so making this crustless pumpkin pie was as simple as thawing the pumpkin, adding all the dairy to it, and baking it on Thursday to have it ready for the Friday birthday dinner.

The baking is where it all went sideways. 

It wasn't even close to done after 25 minutes, so I left it in there. And then we were doing Zoom school because of the snowstorm, and the one boy's basketball game got moved up two hours so I was getting him out of the house to meet the bus . . . and I forgot about the pumpkin in the oven.

It ended up baking for I think just over an hour. It seemed very . . . firm when I took it out of the oven. Overbaking custard--all the eggs and cream and all makes this basically a custard--is disastrous because it separates and gets all weepy and wet. Not appealing. I crossed my fingers that the squash in this would make it sturdier and better able to handle (way) overbaking, and stuck in the refrigerator until Friday.

And lo, it was fine. Tasty, even. 

Nice to know that pumpkin pie filling isn't ruined if you forget about it for a few minutes in the oven. Or an hour. Ahem.


Short version: Thrifty lamb stew at home, spanish tortilla and cocoa on the road

Long version: This stew is the sort of thing that makes me feel very clever.

I had quite a bit of the leg of lamb left, but leftover lamb is definitely not as appealing on its own. A. was feeling poorly, so I decided a stew was in the order, using the leftover lamb.

I also used the liquid from cooking the pork roast, some of the last tomatoes from the box in the kitchen, cooked in the microwave and pureed, the last of the garden parsley that's been in a jar in the refrigerator for, um, two months, AND the last of the yogurt sauce with some cornstarch in it to thicken the liquid. Many things were used up. This makes me happy. And it was very tasty.

Thrify stew.

I was driving a couple hundred miles to a basketball game, so I left the stew for the ones at home. I brought with me some of the spanish tortilla I had also made earlier in the day. I mostly made this because I had some bacon that really needed to be cooked. It also used up the two egg whites left after making the pumpkin pie filling, and the very last of the garden tomatoes.

So long, tomatoes.

The basketball player and I ate this in the car on the way home. A reasonably portable food, and way better than anything at the concession stand.


Short version: Pork ribs, elk steak, fresh bread and butter, broccoli, crispy rice treats

Long version: I had one rack of baby back ribs in the freezer that I cooked this day, although it wasn't quite enough for everyone given how many ribs my boys will eat. So I had some leftover elk steak, and I supplemented A.'s two ribs with some steak, too.

And then everyone ate two pieces of the bread I had just baked, which rounded out the meat.

I left some of the broccoli raw for the children and gave them ranch dressing for it.

And the crispy rice treats were a bit I took from the big batch I made for our new nine-year-old's birthday treat. Well, one of his treats. Since his birthday was on Monday, he had both school and his First Communion class. He asked me to make chocolate cupcakes (Grandma Bishop's, of course) with peanut butter frosting for his school classmates, but he also wanted to bring something for his First Communion class. 

There are only five students in this class, but then there are parents and a bunch of younger siblings that stay for it, so I needed enough for about 15 people. And I was not going to be baking and frosting more than a dozen more cupcakes. Crispy rice treats are way easier. They also have the advantage of being dairy-free, gluten -ree, and nut-free. And delicious, of course.


Short version: Birthday sandwiches, barbecue potato chips, ice cream sundaes

Long version: Our new nine-year-old requested this meal. He loves sandwiches more than anything, and I first thought it would be fun to get one of those giant sandwiches for him at Subway. Then I found that the Subway nearest us--60 miles--doesn't make the really big sandwiches. And the cost of getting a foot-long sub for every family member would be . . . a lot.

So instead I got three long loaves of french bread, three kinds of deli meat, three kinds of cheese (pre-sliced, because it was a party), lettuce and tomatoes, added mayonnaise and mustard, and let everyone go to town.

That's a big sandwich.

We actually only ended up using one and a half of the loaves this night. One half had been used for bread pudding for the requested birthday dessert. That left one whole loaf, plus more of all the meat and cheese, for another meal.

I made salted caramel sauce the day before, then chocolate shell (melted chocolate chips+coconut oil) and whipped cream this night, and set out chocolate and vanilla ice cream and sprinkles and everyone got to make a sundae.

First Communion class was canceled, so I had a big pan of crispy rice treats at work with me that I didn't need. So I just made a tour of the school, giving treats to everyone I encountered. In this way I got rid of all the treats and didn't have to bring any home. Yay.


Short version: More sandwiches

Long version: I went to the school staff Christmas party this night, and A. used the rest of the bread and things to make sandwiches again for the children. No complaints.


Short version: Breakfast burritos

Long version: Scrambling eggs with cheese and salsa and putting that in tortillas was about all I was capable of after work this day. It's not a bad dinner, actually. Uses a lot of eggs for this crowd, though. I used fifteen.

I also had some weird "ranch-style" beans we had gotten from commodities that I used in some of the burritos. They had a gross tomato sauce on them, which I rinsed off, and also jalapenos in them. That's why only some people ate them.


Short version: More burritos, carrot sticks with ranch dip, ice cream

Long version: I had taken out a bag of elk fajita meat to thaw and I was sort of planning on making stir-fry, but then one of the kids was sent home with the remains of a seven-layer dip. It was mostly beans with some salsa, cheese, etc., so I decided to use that with the meat to make more burritos. 

Please note I managed a vegetable this day. But then it was followed by small servings of ice cream with some of the leftover salted caramel sauce, which the children definitely did not need after all the treats at their school Christmas parties. 

Okay, your turn! What'd you eat this week?

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Christmas Prep

I am here on a Thursday because I feel the need to share with you that I finally cleaned out the toy box--and the children's room it is in--in time for the influx of gifts.

A clear floor is a wonderful thing.

I do this every year. It makes me feel more prepared for the chaos that inevitably follows Christmas.

Today is our last day of school before our long Christmas break, and then I only have a couple of days before Christmas Eve. School--and work for me--running this close to Christmas this year has me feeling very unprepared. I managed to make all the bread I give to every staff member at school, but I haven't made any for our neighbors yet. I think that's going to be a belated Christmas/Happy New Year gift.

Many of our Christmas traditions are food-related, and of course, being me, I make all that food in pretty much the most labor-intensive way possible. But this year, I'm changing things up a bit.

I've already decided that I'm not going to make tamales for Christmas Day this year, which is what I have done for the past few years. I just don't have the half-day it takes to make them at the moment. So instead, we're going to have them on Epiphany. Technically still Christmas, and it falls during our Christmas break this year, so I'll have plenty of time to make tamales.

I am going to make Grandma Bishop's molasses cookies, though. My plan is to mix up the dough tomorrow morning before taking the post-surgical child to physical therapy, and then bake some when we get home in the afternoon.

I'm going to keep the rest of the dough in the refrigerator and bake some more the next day. We have Mass at 4 p.m. for our Sunday Vigil, but I have all the day before that to get some stuff done. Mostly kitchen things. We're almost out of bread. I've been giving so much away, we've been kind of low on it all month.

Our Christmas Mass is at 7 p.m. on Christmas Eve, so my plan is to make chili and cornbread for that day, with molasses cookies and eggnog for dessert. Christmas Day we don't have to go anywhere, so that's a better day for a bigger meal. This year, it will be ham, scalloped potatoes, and salad, with our usual chocolate roulade for dessert.

It's very satisfying to me that the eggnog uses exactly the egg yolks I have left after using only whites for the roulade.

Right now I need to wrap a few more gifts, and then prepare cheese and crackers for the elementary Christmas party. 

How are your Christmas preparations going? Are you all done, or scrambling to get it all done? Or maybe somewhere in between, like me.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

It's Cookie Season!

'Tis for sure the season to be making, gifting, receiving, and eating cookies. When I was in high school, my church youth group used to gather at my house to make like five different kinds of cookies. Then we would make up dozens of cookie plates to deliver to nursing homes and the elderly homebound of our parish.

That was fun, but only because there were a lot of people doing it. It's not something I would do on my own, not being a naturally enthusiastic baker.

I do bake a lot, though, and that is because I have three eating machines in my home*. Cookies are my alternative to buying snacks.

Mostly I make standard cookie-jar cookies, of the sort that are sturdy, have some protein, and will hang out quite happily in the cookie jar all week (with a piece of bread to keep them from getting hard).

But when I want to make a true dessert cookie, I make Mexican Wedding Cookies. 

I had never made them before this year. They are not the easiest cookie to make, because they aren't very forgiving of winging it, which is my typical baking style. Mexican Wedding Cookies are essentially a shortbread with nuts, and shortbread is somewhat finicky.

I tried a couple of recipes, but the one I use over and over again is this one. I like it because they hold their shape well, but I do have a few (uh, ten) notes for you if you want to try them.

First, and most importantly: This recipe doesn't have any salt. BOO. All recipes need salt. I always use salted butter, but they need more salt than that. I add about 3/4 of a teaspoon, but you could start with 1/2 teaspoon and see if you think it needs more after you taste the dough.

Second: You have to use walnuts. The oil in walnuts is important to this recipe. I used almonds once, and they did not hold together.

Third: Some of the walnuts absolutely do need to be ground. Not an optional step. The ground walnuts help them hold their shape better than just pieces of walnuts. Last time I made them, I actually ground them with my immersion blender right in a bowl, which was much less of a hassle than a food processor. Although you can make the whole recipe in a food processor if you want. I did that the first time I made them, and it worked just fine.

Fourth: For the chopped walnuts, you can absolutely just crush them in your hands, so as to avoid having to use a cutting board and knife. I hate dirtying two dishes just to chop nuts. Walnuts break easily enough in your hands to skip the knife.

Fifth: Because this is essentially a shortbread, the dough is weird. It's more like biscuit dough or pie dough than cookie dough, in that it looks impossibly crumbly when you're mixing it, but will hold together if you squish a bit in your fingers.

This is while I was forming the cookies, but you can see all the crumbs at the bottom of the bowl. Never fear; it's supposed to look like that.

Sixth: This dough really does need to be chilled. I usually shove it in the freezer for fifteen minutes or so, because I'm impatient.

Seventh: When forming the cookies, if you squish the dough together quite firmly and then roll it just a couple of times in your hands (too many tries at rolling it will make it fall apart), they will mostly retain the round shape that I think is appropriate for these cookies.

Eighth: Be careful of overbaking. The recipe says the tops should be lightly browned, but you can't really see that very well. Better to carefully flip one over to see how brown it is on the bottom.

Perfect. And you can see they don't really spread, which is handy for fitting the whole recipe on one pan.

Ninth: You really have to leave them on the pan to cool for awhile, or they will just fall apart while you're rolling them in powdered sugar.

Tenth: Rolling anything in powdered sugar makes a huge mess. But I'm sure you already knew that.

Powdered sugar just waiting to explode all over the place.

Because these are a slightly more involved cookie than most, I make them for things like the silent auctions of baked goods we have at school sometimes as fundraisers. They tend to go for quite a bit of money, because they are unusual.

I think these cookies eventually went for $40 at the silent auction last week.

Okay! If you actually read all of that, I hope you'll try making these cookies. They are invariably a hit, and are definitely something different if you're looking for a unique cookie to contribute to a holiday event.

* I refer here to my rapidly growing boys. My daughter doesn't even come close to their level of consumption.

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Snapshots: Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Quite literally, as you will see.

The storm we had this week started with rain, which changed to freezing rain and sleet, and then snow overnight. The resulting landscape around my house was so beautiful, even my terrible old phone camera couldn't mess up the photos. 

Cloudy walk with the dogs.

Ice-coated grass.

Ice-coated fence, on a different morning walk with no clouds.

The sky to the west when the sun is juuust rising is my favorite. It doesn't come through well in photos, but it's layers of pink and purple.

A snowy schoolhouse reflecting the sunrise.

And a snowy windmill and apricot tree just as the sun cleared the horizon.

Last, I will leave you with a couple of photos courtesy of Poppy, who took about twenty pictures of our Christmas tree to send to my mother.

The bedazzled ball sent by my sister years ago is my children's favorite ornament.

Merry and bright, indeed.

There you have it! My (wintery) life, snapshotted.