Monday, August 22, 2011

Too fast

So I took a break from blogging, but, honestly, you haven't missed much. I kept a diary in elementary school and felt the need to write in it daily, even if there was nothing noteworthy to write. Many an entry was "I got up. I went to school. I came home. I went to bed." That's kind of been my life these past few weeks. Not to say it's been boring...just very routine.

Work is heating up as we prepare for a bevy of special events this fall. If you really know special events, they aren't that glamorous - they boil down to a bunch of spreadsheets and to do lists. And at home, we continue to carry on. Morning and night routines contain at least 42 steps apiece, and by the end of the day, I'm beat in my t-shirt stained with spit-up.

Amid this routine day-in and day-out, my babies are the measures of time. My almost-4-year-old treads between being my baby and turning into a little kid.  He's the one who will ask me in all seriousness if the meter is hungry, after I chirp, "Time to feed the parking meter!" And he's also my guy who looks so grown up after getting his back-to-school haircut as he asks me questions about preschool and making friends.

Even my preemie is growing up - at last weigh-in, Jossie is 15 lb 4 oz at 7 months old. Yes, I have an app on my iPad to track her growth, and it tells me she's in the 17th percentile for her actual age! I try to hold her on my lap, and she wiggles and wriggles, looking around for something to chew on (we're teething). Tonight, she feel asleep in my arms as we rocked, and I couldn't help but hold her close. I know this time around that this won't last for forever.

So this is another thing I've learned about parenthood: Life is a constant treadmill of the same activity...feeding, cleaning, disciplining and repeat. And then, suddenly, you stand back one day, and the biggest project of your life - your child - is becoming more and more independent.

I don't know about you, but the very thought of Jack and Jossie not needing me sends me directly to comfort food. Here's a mac and cheese recipe I tried this weekend:

Mac and cheese

  •  Kosher salt
  •  Vegetable oil
  •  1 pound elbow macaroni or cavatappi
  • 1 quart milk
  •  8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 12 ounces Gruyere, grated (4 cups)
  • 8 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, grated (2 cups)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  •  3/4 pound fresh tomatoes (4 small)
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh white bread crumbs (5 slices, crusts removed)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Drizzle oil into a large pot of boiling salted water. Add the macaroni and cook according to the directions on the package, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain well.

Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don't boil it. Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a large (4-quart) pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minute or two more, until thickened and smooth. Off the heat, add the Gruyere, Cheddar, 1 tablespoon salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked macaroni and stir well. Pour into a 3-quart baking dish.

Slice the tomatoes and arrange on top. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, combine them with the fresh bread crumbs, and sprinkle on the top. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Food-rific weekend

I love that food is always more than just food. It's friends and family coming together for a shared experience.

Friday, Jack, Jossie and I dropped off a meal to a new friend, who is a beautiful person inside and out, and mom to a 2-year-old daughter and newborn twin boys. Oy! You can check out her blog here. I love bringing new parents brunch (because, honey, you ain't going out to brunch anytime soon with a newborn), and this dish is over-the-top in every way:

Savory breakfast bread and sausage strata
Adapted from Fresh Every Day: More Great Recipes from Foster's Market by Sara Foster
Serves 8 to 10

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, plus more for buttering the baking dish
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1/2 lb breakfast sausage, de-cased (your butcher can do this for you)
1 5 oz bag of pre-washed baby spinach leaves
2 1/2 cups milk
8 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
6 cups 1 1/2-inch cubes day-old French bread
1 1/2 cups shredded Swiss cheese (about 6 oz)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 3 oz)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

1. Butter a 9x13 baking dish. Melt the 1 tablespoon of butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the sausage and cook for 4 minutes or so, breaking into pieces as it cooks.  Stir in the spinach and saute until it is just wilted, about two minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat, and drain off any liquid.

2. Whisk together the milk, eggs, mustard, salt and pepper. Add the bread and stir to coat. Stir in the sausage mixture, cheeses, thyme and rosemary and pour into prepared dish.  Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour or, preferably, overnight.

3. Twenty minutes before you're ready to serve, remove from fridge.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until it is puffy and golden brown.  Remove the bread pudding from the oven and let it sit for about 5 minutes before serving. Serve warm and enjoy.

Saturday, we headed to the Green City Market with our friends Emily and Steve. On his own, Jack discovered pickling cucumbers at Genesis Growers, and Auntie Em encouraged him to make pickles. So we bought four, and Jack and I made a batch of these yesterday afternoon. This is an easy recipe for kids, and Jack proudly peeks in the fridge from time to time to see how his pickles are doing:

Jack's superhero "get you out of a pickle" fridge pickles
Adapted from The Foster's Market Cookbook by Sara Foster

Makes about 1 quart

2 cups white vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoon sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon pickling spice
4 to 5 small pickling cucumbers, sliced in quarters
1/4 small white onion, thinly sliced into rounds

1. Combine the vinegar, sugar, salt, black pepper and pickling spices in a quart jar. Place the lid on the jar and shake until the sugar has dissolved.

2. Layer the cucumbers and onion in the jar using a wooden spoon to press them tightly into the jar. Place the lid on the jar, shake it well, and refrigerate at least 4 hours, shaking the jar occasionally to keep the ingredients mixed. These pickles will keep in the refrigerator for at least 1 month.

Last night, we met friends Scott and Sarah for dinner out at Nightwood in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood. It's been a long time since the four of us have been out sans kids, and this place was perfect. They used locally sourced organic ingredients, integrated into wonderfully creative dishes with Latin and Asian influences. 

And now it's Sunday. I had high hopes of going to church by myself but it's raining and we're all tired and hanging out in our pjs. As you can see, I'm on a Foster's Market kick - Sara Foster worked with Martha Stewart before opening this market in Durham, NC in 1990. We had the opportunity to visit when my cousin got married in Raleigh in 2007. I love all of her cookbooks. Here's another favorite recipe, which we made this morning:

Buttermilk pancakes 
Adapted from The Foster's Market Cookbook by Sara Foster

Makes about 20 (4-inch) pancakes.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 eggs, separated
2 cups buttermilk
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla

Mix the flour, both sugars, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl and set aside.

Whisk egg yolks, buttermilk, 6 tablespoons of the butter and vanilla in a separate bowl and set aside. Beat the egg whites in a separate bowl until soft peaks form.

Meanwhile, heat a griddle over medium-high heat until a drop of water dances on the surface. Add flour mixture to liquids and stir just until well blended. Gently fold in the whites; do not overmix.

Scoop about 1/4 cup batter to make each pancake, spreading it or allowing it to settle. Space pancakes 2 inches apart. Cook until batter forms bubbles. Flip the cakes and cook about 2 minutes more. Top with berries, bananas and/or syrup. Enjoy!