Seafood Stock + Shrimp Bisque +Sidecars

As long as my parents are still in town, they’re stuck with my kitchen experiments. I made seafood stock from the liquid in the clambake (from Barefoot Contessa Parties!), and then made shrimp bisque out of that (from Barefoot Contessa at Home). While it was all simmering, I made sidecars with dried cherries (from Foolproof). Everything got rave reviews.

After dinner, I used our peaches from the farmers market to make the smitten kitchen’s peach dumplings (from the smitten kitchen cookbook), but with puff pastry instead of pie dough. Amazing.

Completed/remaining: 672/114

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Kitchen Clambake

This has been, bar none, the most intimidating recipe to me from the entire Ina collection. A native Midwesterner, I’m not super savvy in the shellfish department. I didn’t want to make something this big for just Neil and me, especially since he’s not a big seafood guy, but I also didn’t want to make something this new and intimidating for a big crowd the first time I made it, either. And so, it’s no wonder that it took me this long to get around to it.

I made the Kitchen Clambake (from the Barefoot Contessa Cookbook) for my parents this weekend, who are here for their 50th wedding anniversary. I joked that this recipe is he perfect celebration meal for them, because it involves cooking time with both a covered pot and an uncovered pot, and the biggest conflict of their five decades of cooking to get her has been whether to put a lid on it … literally and figuratively. You also want to choose someone for your life partner who will encourage you to take risks and expand your comfort zone, but won’t be disappointed if you end up ordering a pizza.

 

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For the record, we did not end up ordering a pizza. The clambake was delicious. We omitted the lobsters because there was more than enough seafood without them. I bought the shrimp at a seafood store (Blue Horizon off of Bissonnet for the locals) and the clams and mussels at Costco, where they’re kept (gulp) live. The kielbasa also came from Costco.

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At Blue Horizon, they peeled and deveined the shrimp for me, expertly and efficiently, and offered me whatever I wanted for stock, and said I could come back any time for it. Oh, I’ll come back. I’ll definitely come back.

We added corn on the cob and fresh rosemary polenta bread from the Eastside Farmers Market (where we also bought tomatoes, peaches, figs, and flowers). The bread was especially good for dipping into the beautiful broth made by the seafood and white wine.

 

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My dad’s super fancy farmers market cooler

The whole meal was delicious, and I’m so glad I took a few risks to make it. I also took a few risks in my latest piece for mockingbird, which I thought about this morning as I helped Rowan make brownies to take to a sleepover (NBD, now that he’s  a seasoned sleep-away camp veteran). My sister and I made brownies a lot, and I cherish those memories, as I hope Rowan will love the memories of spending time together in the kitchen, too.

Completed/remaining: 669/117

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Above the fruited plain

I’m not an entertaining expert, but I think the way it goes in most households is that a host decides to invite some people over, and then creates a menu and makes a bunch of food. In our household, it sometimes happens that way, but more often it’s the opposite: I make a bunch of food, and then decide we should probably have some guests over to help us eat it all. And so, if you ever get a last minute invitation from me, you should be flattered instead of offended, because I’ve decided that if I’m going to share and have to spend time with other humans, I’ve chosen you. You’re welcome.

This time, it was a 4th of July impromptu picnic. A boat of sangría, a red white and blue trifle, and this pie were the bounty that started it all. Rowan and I made it together, and it was as delicious as it was patriotically beautiful. Sure, it doesn’t meet the standards set forth in the U.S. Flag Code, but it’s not like we we’re saluting it. We declared independence from conventional pies, and we were quite happy to share this one.

Happy Independence Day!

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Summer Dinner Party for Ten

I’ve had another piece posted by mockingbird, which has nothing to do with food. I’m in the middle of another several pieces for different places, and nothing is moving as fast as I’d like it to, and so I’m bringing us all back where we started: food!

This was the dinner I made for the Golden Crust Society.

For once, I did not take even a single dish from Ina’s cookbooks for this dinner party. (Unless you count her sangría,  which is always a hit on a hot Houston night.) Instead, I did something new. I used an entire menu from the New York Times magazine, by Sam Sifton. The magazine spread featured a series of recipes borrowed from Yotam Ottolenghi, whom I’ve admired for a while. The menu consisted of a roast leg of lamb and a series of Mediterranean appetizers and salads to along with it, which seemed perfect for a warm summer evening, and to show off our new ovens, which were the reason for the event. I did something else that was new this time: I printed every recipe and slid it into protective sleeves in a binder. This seems like such a simple thing, but it made a world of difference when I was juggling multiple recipes at prep time. Instead of scrolling through my phone or my iPad and unlocking the screen every time and then getting distracted by Facebook, or having a half-dozen cookbooks strewn all over the countertops, I had everything in one small binder. And now, I can put the binder on the shelf and pull from it another time.

I made just a few modifications from the menu. I added chicken marbella, or a somewhat Ottolenghi-like modification of it, for people who don’t like lamb. Instead of the cake in the menu, I made a New York Times berry buckle by Melissa Clark. I made some other minor modifications as well – I purchased hummus and baba ghanouj instead of making it from scratch, and I used brown rice (with more liquid and a longer cooking time) for the saffron rice. I felt like the lamb was a little overdone and the buckle was a little underdone, but everybody had a wonderful time, and it was a seriously low-stress evening to entertain that many people.

My game plan was grocery shopping Wednesday night (because we had a last-minute invitation on Thursday night), marinating the chicken and lamb, and baking the berry buckles on Thursday night, and cooking everything else on Friday afternoon. I came home from work a little bit early that Friday (maybe 2:30pm), and everything was ready by 6:30 pm. That included picking up a non-driving babysitter and sending a husband and one kid off to music lessons at 5:00 pm. Everything came together nicely, and I liked having the menu to work from.

I omitted some of the spices from the lamb, because we don’t love cinnamon in savory dishes, and I feel like I should have basted the lamb more, as directed, instead of leaving it on its own to do its own thing. I ordered a lot of the new-to-me spices from amazon, which was a really handy way to do things. I think my favorite dishes were the tomato and pomegranate salad, and the rice.

My favorite part of the evening was the fact that some people came together who might not have known each other before, and that everyone pitched in to help. Our intention was to thank the people who contributed so generously to the rectory, and that they would be our waited-upon guests. But when it came time to clean up leftovers or dish the ice cream, everyone pitched in, and they seemed to enjoy doing it. I love that part of entertaining.

Here was the final result, and I think it tasted as good as it looked.

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I was sneaky and made extra chicken and rice, and cucumber salad, and as soon as everything came out of the oven, I slipped it into the refrigerator, to feed a friend who had had surgery the week before. We delivered it the next night to a grateful house of hungry people.

I know the dinner party was not too stressful on my part, because I mustered up the energy to make 3 dozen cookies and a pan of brownies for camp counselors the next day. (I am not above bribery for people who are watching over my first baby all week!) Reports from camp are that he’s having a great time, and I’ve even spied a photo of him on horseback. Yee-haw! I’m already scheming to cook up a storm of waffles for him as soon as he gets home.

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New ovens +church camp

The new ovens are in, and they are beautiful! Someone thinks we should read the manual before baking anything.

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Later this month, we are hosting a dinner party to thank all of the generous donors who contributed to the ovens. (It’s going to be Ottolenghi-themed, so stay tuned for details!) In the meantime, I made cookies for the hardworking guys that installed and oversaw the project. I used Amy Thielen’s chocolate chip cookie recipe from her book, The New Midwestern Table. I have to be careful when paging through the pages of her book, because if I look too long at the photos of the Midwest, I get achingly homesick for wide open prairies and rolling hills, and cool summer mornings.

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I’m also getting a little homesick for church camp, which was my home away from home during the summers of my childhood. We’re gearing up to send our oldest to camp, and he is so very excited. I don’t know what he’ll eat there, but we’re already scheming about what to put in his care packages. I wrote about my own summer camp experience here. I am 90% excited for him and 10% worried about him, but he is 150% excited, so it shouldn’t take me long to get on board. In the meantime, he is very excited to help me bake in those shiny new ovens!

 

 

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The Golden Crust Society

When we moved to Houston (two years ago this week!), we started a new adventure and new experiences, which I wrote about here. One of those new experiences was living in a rectory, or church-owned housing. We live in the house as a part of Neil’s compensation, and neither of us had ever lived in a rectory before.  I can’t speak to everyone’s experiences, but our time in this rectory has been extremely kind to us. We love this house. It’s our privilege and our responsibility to care for it, and to continue to build memories here. We have been really fortunate that the church has been generous in encouraging us to make it our home.

As part of feeling right at home here, we invited a huge crew of people to celebrate Thanksgiving with us last year. It was the perfect occasion for the ovens to show off their stuff. And they did, but they were apparently taking the scenic route that day. We figured out that the ovens weren’t maintaining their temperatures. Fortunately, the dinner still got cooked, and nobody was rushed to the hospital with food poisoning. But that was the beginning of the end for the poor ovens. Due to the nature of the problems and the age of the ovens, they had to go. I’ve been cooking with them since then, keeping a close eye on whatever’s cooking, and building in extra cooking time for the temperamental temps.

In the meantime, we went looking for replacement ovens. I don’t pretend to understand the workings of church budgets, but I do know that new ovens weren’t in this year’s budget. Fortunately, there were some very generous donors who contributed to the fund to replace them. I won’t embarrass them by naming them, but I want them to know how grateful we are for their generosity. They’re now part of the Golden Crust Society, which is something I just made up. We’ll have an oven christening party, and maybe oven-anniversaries.

Stay tuned for what’s coming to fill this space!

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You Take It, and You Say Thank You

For the past couple of years, Neil has been following the Mockingbird Blog, which describes itself as “an ever-growing catalog of the ways in which a Christian understanding of reality – what people are like, what God is like, and how the two intersect – is borne out around us.” They focus heavily on grace, which is one of Neil’s very favorite things, and they write about pop culture, current events, and literature with a lens of a Christian understanding of grace. I will admit that I got fully drawn in by their post about The Elf on the Shelf, that love-it-or-hate-it little Christmas nymph.

I’ve been following Mockingbird since then, often silently nodding my head in agreement, and sometimes cringing in self-recognition. So today, I feel extremely grateful that they published something I wrote about grace. It has taken me over a year and a half to write this piece, because I needed some distance from the events I describe in it. I also needed some time to think about how I’d share something so personal about our son, and our family life. I share a lot on this blog and on Facebook, but I’m always thinking about the fishbowl that my kids already inhabit as clergy kids. I hold a lot back, and there’s a lot that we don’t share. There’s an intense, often bizarre, interest in my family, and so I needed to be brave and step out of my comfort zone to write this. I remain protective of our private lives, but I will say, this was worth writing just for the Scrubs and I Love Lucy screenshots and a Led Zeppelin song at the end. I already feel cooler.

Thank you, Mockingbird, for helping me share this part of our story. I’m taking it, and I’m saying thank you.

 

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