Week Seventeen was a busy week for me personally. Our daughter Annie turned 16, then we celebrated my birthday the next day, and the we hosted a party for Annie for following day. Birthday week is always very full, in the best way possible.
I find in weeks like this, where the calendar is overflowing and emotions are running high, that having a plan ready and waiting for me is a source of direction and comfort. The work of figuring out what we are going to be eating along the way (because no matter what is going on, people still need to eat) is taken care of, and working the plan ministers to me in very tangible ways.
Yes, cooking is quite a lot of work and requires effort. But I find that trying escape the work of cooking, either by eating out, eating processed food, or eating food that isn’t worth the effort, brings its own kind of work or negative consequences. Preparing food, even simple food, with care and quality ingredients can facilitate stability and routine during the most stressful of times.
WHAT I COOKED
Parker’s Beef Stew, Back to Basics
Butternut Squash Hummus, Cooking for Jeffrey
Skillet Roasted Lemon Chicken, Cooking for Jeffrey
Zucchini Gratin, Barefoot In Paris
Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Barefoot In Paris
Mocha Chocolate Ice Box Cake, How Easy Is That?
Spicy Turkey Meatballs and Spaghetti, How Easy Is That?
WHAT I LEARNED
PARKER’S BEEF STEW. This is a rare addition to the category “I Thought This Was Going To Be Great But It Was Not.” The finished stew is quite thick, too thick in my opinion, with almost no liquid which makes reheating it quite unruly. The beef is marinated in red wine overnight, which yields a very wine-y flavor, but not in a desirable way as it does in Beef Bourguignon. There is also quite a lot of flour and dredging in this recipe which I didn’t care for in beef stew. I wanted the process and the flavors to be cleaner, and instead they were gluey and muddled. I love beef stew, but this is not worth the effort in my opinion.
VANILLA CREAM CHEESE POUND CAKE. The best pound cake I’ve ever eaten. This is perfection in a loaf pan, and I am hooked. It’s an added bonus that this recipe yields two perfect loaves, which gives you double the fun, or something to store in your freezer for a future dessert emergency or a new neighbor or just because you want to eat pound cake for breakfast (toasted with butter, of course). Pound cake does not have any leavening agents, such as baking powder or baking soda or yeast, so the volume and lift comes solely from the process of creaming the butter and sugar into a fully fluffed concoction. In order to yield the necessary lightness, your butter must be room temperature, left out for several hours (or, as Ina instructs, overnight). You must also mix the butter and sugar for as long as it takes, until it is light and fluffy. In the summer, when everything is warm, this can happen in as little as three minutes. In the winter, when the air and the bowl and the butter are all a bit cool, this process can take five to seven minutes, with several stops to scrape the bowl and encourage the butter to fluff up. Without this step, your pound cake (or any other baked good for that matter) will not turn out as desired.
BUTTERNUT SQUASH HUMMUS. Top ten appetizer! I know I keep saying things are “top tens,” and I promise along the way I am going to start compiling some actual lists, but this will definitely make an appearance on multiple lists. Not only is this easy to prepare, but the flavor is unexpected and satisfying. It has the sweet spicy, salty combination that gets you coming back for more. It is hummus-like, but I would not taste this and think it was hummus. I cannot wait to make this again.
MOCHA CHOCOLATE ICE BOX CAKE. Did you see me make this on Instagram? This dessert is a throw back to a time when refrigerators were called ice boxes. Essentially, this dessert takes thin crisp cookies and layers them between soft clouds of mascarpone and chocolate whipped cream in a spring form pan. While it chills overnight, the cookies absorb the moisture from the cream mixture and they become cake-like. When you slice into it, it tastes and feels like thin layers of cake, and it is incredibly delicious. Even better, and an added bonus, you can easily make this gluten-free by purchasing the gluten-free varieties of Tate’s cookies. You can’t even tell the difference.
CHOCOLATE CHUNK COOKIES. Out of the trio of cookies I baked on my birthday, these were the only ones I would make again. They are definitely worth it. While I love my recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookies, these offer the added heft of chopped walnuts, plus the indulgent pools of melting chocolate that come from hand-chopping chunks of bittersweet bars to stir into the batter. The resulting cookie is excellent, and worth trying. As with the pound cake above, make sure you really cream the butter and sugar for best results.
SPICY TURKEY MEATBALLS AND SPAGHETTI. These are spectacular. I love that Ina has found a way to make homemade meatballs easy as well as flavorful. You mix everything together, you form them, you bake them. Then, you toss them with jarred tomato sauce while the pasta cooks. The texture of the turkey is light and juicy, and the asiago cheese mixed with the red pepper flakes yields a punch of flavor and a kick of heat. And the Rao’s jarred marinara sauce? Worth it. Better than homemade. Yes, it’s expensive ($9 a jar), but the convenience alone of not making sauce from scratch made serving this dish to 24 people for Annie’s birthday a snap. I baked the meatballs that morning, and then when it was dinner time, I boiled water, heated jarred sauce, and threw the meatballs in to warm. I’m not sure I could have been more pleased.