Brown Rice and Wheatberries

This recipe (from Foolproof) might be the sleeper hit of the season. Brown rice and wheat berries sounds like a sad crunchy mix of healthy grains, but it was delicious. I used an additional half-cup of stock, which I simmered off at the very end of the cooking time. The rice was that nice m-word for not-dry, and very flavorful.

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I served this at a dinner party with chicken marbella, some roasted asparagus, a green salad, and the New York Times plum cake for dessert, all to rave reviews. I think it might be my new favorite side dish. We served six for dinner and probably still had 3-4 servings left over, so the serving sizes are extra generous. Don’t worry, though, because the leftovers are just as good.

Completed/remaining: 678/108

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Strawberry Rhubarb Compote

I give this blog credit for a lot of things – keeping me (somewhat) sane by giving me a creative outlet during long Minnesota winters, expanding our family menu beyond the regular rotation, and “teaching” me how to cook things I never would have tried if I hadn’t been challenging myself with a ridiculous list. But one of the finer things to come out of this project is that I learned to like rhubarb. It’s true, boys and girls, that you can still learn to like new things, even when you’re a grown-up. I was always kind of “meh” about rhubarb when I lived in the land where it was plentiful, and now that I’ve moved away, I actually kind of miss it. Thankfully, it has spread its stringy arms all over these United States now, and you can buy it in the frozen foods section of even the most proudly Texan grocery store.

If you do, don’t make this with it. It’s a recipe from Make It Ahead, and it’s garbage.

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I simmered it forEVER, or at least four times as long as the recommended 10-15 minutes, and the thermometer never reached 220F as promised. I raised the heat, I stirred, I sighed, and still … 200 at most. Boo. I probably would have eaten it anyway, but it scorched the bottom of the pan.

There’s probably a lesson here somewhere. Appreciate the good things in life (like rhubarb) before you move away from them. Or don’t make anything that requires a candy thermometer.

I made this over Labor Day weekend, which I think I spent last year making homemade play-doh for the pre-K classroom, so maybe I just had the urge to ruin some cookware. The weekend wasn’t a complete kitchen bust, though. We spent the first few days at Camp Allen, where we were kept fed and busy, and then I came home to make four plum cakes and two huge batches of chicken marbella (for future dinner parties, all in the freezer), purple hull peas, roast chicken, chicken stock, risotto, chicken noodle soup, and Rowan’s favorite chocolate cake. The dishwasher might just have a chance to catch up before next weekend, if I don’t scorch any more saucepans with rhubarb.

Completed/remaining: 677/109

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End of Summer Pool Party

Before we moved to Texas two years ago, I spoke with my friend, Sandy, a lot. She and I went to law school together in Virginia, and she happens to live in our neighborhood now. How cool is that? It was so wonderful to have a pre-installed friend here, and she had some good advice. We drove around the neighborhood, and she pointed out the neighborhood pool. “That,” she said, “is where you are going to want to be. Before you go to the DMV, or find a doctor, or a dentist, you’re going to want to sign yourself up for a pool membership. Because it’s HOT here. Trust me.” It was probably the best advice we received. A few months after we moved in, Sandy invited me to her son’s birthday party at that pool. Rowan, then 6, came with me, but we left Ben at home with Neil because it was kind of late at night. At one point during the party, Rowan got out of the pool, wrapped himself in a towel, and ate a cookie by the pool. He said, “I’m the luckiest kid in the world.” We all feel that way when we get to spend time at the pool in the hot, Texas summers.

Two years later, as we stepped into the pool for the first time this past summer, I told Neil that we should have a church pool party there this summer. He got the wheels moving, and it all led to the first Palmer pool party this past Saturday night. It was so much fun! It was post-dinner-hour, so people brought snacks and desserts and drinks, and we had about 150 people enjoy the pool with us. It was great.

I had to decide what to bring. Now, I’m not exactly up on my Emily Post etiquette, but I swear I’ve read somewhere that a host or hostess should dress one level “down” from the expected attire. The reason for this is that if a guest comes without the expected “level” of attire, the host’s relatively casual clothing will put him or her at ease. Of course, I can’t find that passage in Emily Post when I’m looking for it, so it’s very possible that I made it up. But I do like it a lot. It reminds me of all that the Gospel says about hospitality and turning expectations upside-down, and it harkens back to the reason for etiquette rules in the first place: to make guests more comfortable, not less comfortable.

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What does this mean for the parish pool party? Caveat: I hesitate to use the word host/hostess for this situation. I don’t work at Palmer, and I wasn’t the official hostess for the evening. But still, people look to the rector’s wife sometimes to see what the protocol is for a certain situation. (Here’s a secret: I never know what I’m doing.) But for better or worse, one of those expectations is that I’ll lead the way and set the tone. For me, this etiquette rule  meant that I was getting in the water at the pool party. It’s hot here, after all! I am not a size zero, and I never will be, but I got in the water anyway. We had a great time.

The other thing that the upside-down-etiquette meant, for me, was that I should bring something fun and casual. Neil suggested a chocolate silk pie, which has raw eggs and is nearly impossible to serve. I promised him his own silk pie if he stopped making suggestions. Instead, I made the smitten kitchen’s browned butter rice krispie treats, in disposable foil pans, naturally, for easy clean-up. The treats disappeared, because they’re delicious. (And yes, foil pans are horrible for the environment. But earlier that day, I had literally brushed our (rescue) dog’s fur into the compost bin for future use in our butterfly garden, so I feel like maybe I get a little bit of environmental dispensation here.) The foil pans were also excellent for Ina’s coffee granita, which was a little bit like a grown-up sno-cone. I used decaf coffee because it was an evening gathering, and it was delicious.

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Finally, I used my (possibly self-created) etiquette rule to boldly carry the booze into the party: Ina’s rosé sangría, and her jalapeño margaritas, in plastic pitchers from Costco, no less. I came home with empty pitchers, so they must have been OK. I’ve been waiting to make the margaritas for a crowd, because I might kill Neil if I made them at home for just him, and I haven’t checked our life insurance to see if “death by spicy beverage” is covered. Everyone said they were spicy, which is saying something coming from a crowd of Texans. I kept the seeds and ribs in the jalapeño peppers when soaking them in tequila, as directed in the recipe, and then strained them out when it was time to mix the tequila with the other ingredients. I used two peppers instead of one, but only soaked them for about 4 hours instead of the directed 24 hours, so I thought it would all balance out. If I make these again, I might scrape out the seeds, as Sandy (remember Sandy? she was there!) told me that some people make the same margaritas without the seeds, and they’re less kick-in-the-pants-y. Good to know.

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Overall, the pool party was a great success, and I can’t wait to do it again next year.

In other news, we used the pressure cooker twice this weekend, and we haven’t blown anything up yet. Success!

Completed/remaining: 676/110

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Someone’s in the Kitchen with Carrie

It’s back to school time! The kids love being in Kindergarten and third grade so far, and we are looking forward to being back in our routine. I’m still getting my pep talk routine down, but I feel like that can always be a work in progress.

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I made a peach cobbler from Smitten Kitchen which was, unusually for my experience with that website, pretty disappointing. I think maybe I used peaches that were too big. Or something. I dunno. At least they weren’t laced with listeria.

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We’ve also made a handful of chocolate cake recipes at Rowan’s request, and we’ve discovered that the best ones involve melting chocolate (New York Times recipe) versus cocoa powder (America’s Test Kitchen). I buy melting chocolate in the shape of discs from Central Market for this purpose, and for the chocolate silk pie that everybody loves. I love having my very own Star Baker in the kitchen with me, regardless of how the final product turns out.

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Ben was fixing something different in the kitchen last weekend: germinating milkweed seeds to expand our butterfly garden in the rectory’s backyard. There is a space to the side of the house that doesn’t have much going on in it, so we’re going to try our hand at monarch husbandry. We had quite a few caterpillars and a few chrysalii (?) last spring, so here’s hoping for more!

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The best thing that happened last weekend, though, was that I got a much-needed nap (back to school prep is tiring!), and Neil found himself an Ina Garten recipe that’s not in any of her cookbooks yet. It’s called a lemon drop, which might just be the perfect late summer drink when late summer is promising to last until Thanksgiving.

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A few weeks ago, I was lamenting the fact that once summer break ended, I wouldn’t have anything to look forward to, for a while anyway. So, just to keep things interesting, I ordered a pressure cooker this week. I’m going to be just like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, except I haven’t been that thin since I was a fetus, and hopefully I won’t blow up our whole kitchen. Stay tuned!

 

 

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The Fastest Summer Ever

How is it time for back-to-school already?

This summer has flown by. We have had so much fun for the past few summers, which has been a nice change of pace from the two previous summers, which we spent moving or getting ready to move. I think our kids have enjoyed the summers as much as we have, or at least I hope they have.

We just spent a week at Camp Allen, where Neil served as chaplain for a week at our diocesan camp and conference center. It was really wonderful family time, and a huge gift from the Diocese of Texas and Camp Allen that we were able to do that. We ate well, slept well, and swam every day. I wrote a little bit about our back-and-forthing here. 

On our last day, floating around in the pool, I told my husband that I needed something to look forward to, after our somewhat laid-back summer schedules. Our daily grind is about the best daily grind we can imagine, and yet… I get a little restless sometimes in the daily grindiness of it. And so, we talked about a few dinner parties (stay tuned!), and of course the Gilmore Girls revival, which I wrote about here.

But of course, the thing that I’m most anticipating this fall is Ina’s new cookbook! I vaguely recall that the smitten kitchen’s new cookbook should be arriving soon, too, but amazon hasn’t been pestering me to pre-order it yet, so I must be mistaken.

I’d really like to get the list of recipes I haven’t made yet down to under 100 before the new cookbook comes out, but the first few weeks of school are going to be brutal, and that list is looking uglier and uglier. I need to add “learn to like blue cheese” to my to-do list, stat.

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Scalloped Tomatoes

From How Easy Is That?, another way to make sub-par tomatoes taste delicious with bread, cheese, and heat.

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If you’re smart, you’ll take a note from the smitten kitchen and put an egg on it.

Speaking of the smitten kitchen, get a load of her chocolate silk pie, from her cookbook. If you need to win friends and influence people, this is the way to do it.

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Completed/remaining: 674/112

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Tomatoes Provençal

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We’ve lived in Houston for a few years now, and we love it. Sure, the traffic is hellacious and the summers are misery, but we kind of knew about that before we moved here. My only real disappointments are that nobody really says “howdy,” and the general lack of good tomatoes. Even our CSA brought us moldy tomatoes here. Every once in a while, I impersonate an optimist, and I buy tomatoes at the farmers market. These tomatoes were mediocre at best, which made it not so risky to use them in this recipe from Family Style. As it turns out, the French really know what they’re going: adding bread and cheese to anything – cruddy tomatoes, crabby kids – make them much more palatable. This was a winner. I wouldn’t use this recipe with really good tomatoes. You should eat those raw, and not tell me too much about what I’m missing.

We had this (http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/9404-chocolate-dump-it-cake) for dessert for Rowan’s half birthday and for Ben’s “camper of the week” at day camp. Rowan is eight and a half – here he is on his first half birthday at six months. He is growing up so fast, and just as handsome as ever. Happy Friday, everyone!

 

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