You know I love to cook and regard the family dinner as a sacred time, although the combination of immature jokes (“Hey Mom- spell icup!”) and constant reminders (“Boys– use your napkins, not your shirts. Finn, don’t steal Porter’s milk. Get up and refill yours. I’m not raising thieves.”) results in the most chaotic part of our day. But I have high hopes that some day all of us will sit at the table and all elbows and napkins and condiments will be in their proper places, and we will have conversations that aren’t punctuated by audible farts, or center on jokes in which we are asked to name the word that starts with “f” and ends with “uck.” (Answer below for those of you who don’t have ten and twelve-year-olds.)++
I don’t see any end to our nightly Hearing on Who Gets Dessert, in which Bill sits as judge, each boy represents himself and makes an argument outlining the reasons he is entitled to Cookies N Cream ice cream, and I serve as adviser to all parties, reminding them of crucial arguments (“Tell him: Your Honor, a look at the evidence will make it clear that I have tasted each food on my plate and consumed seconds of pork.”)
I’ve been slammed at work lately and thus have been even more in need of easy recipes than usual. The last couple of weeks I turned to Simply Recipes to find some winners and I’ve become a devotee of the site. I heard Elise Bauer speak at BlogHer and recognized her beautiful site, but it wasn’t until Playgroupie raved about a Carnitas recipe that I really checked it out.
Here are several recipes that were hits with my family. Some, like the Carnitas, I prepared in the crock pot a day ahead. Most of the others were so easy that I did them the day of, prepping ingredients when I picked the boys up from school and cooking later. The Shrimp Fried Rice was so basic that I made the rice a day ahead so It could dry in the refrigerator, then left Bill and the boys to make it while I enjoyed a girls’ night out.
I’ve divided this into three weeks of menus to make it easier on you so that you can do all your shopping today or tomorrow for the week. I’ve also added two recipes of my own. It’s the last week to make Jack-O-Lantern Pie, which The Voice Of Reason and I have been making for years. It’s no great shakes from a culinary standpoint for my artichoke-loving boys, but it’s a tradition.
It’s officially freezing to me here, now that the temperatures are in the high 50’s and low 60’s. If I were to move as far north as Nashville I might well die of hypothermia. Bill requested a soup or stew, so I’ll be making Sausage and Lentil Stew which is a snap and healthy as well. It’s easy to freeze or take to work for a quick lunch.
Feel free to mix or match these menus; I’ve just tried to provide a good mix of chicken, meat and fish each week. (The Simply Recipes dishes are marked with a *):
Jack-O-Lantern Pie (from the post Food, Glorious Food, which includes pictures of the pie and, for reasons I have forgotten, Brad Pitt.)
*Dad’s Fish Stew (the clam juice is above the tuna at the grocery. For economic reasons I used catfish and tilapia which were cheaper fish. Be sure and serve with bread to sop up the juice. )
*Sweet & Sour Chicken (super-easy, and don’t freak out when you mix up the sauce that seems odd and ends up perfect. Be sure and read her tips about using a very hot pan.)
*Pot Roast (Of course everyone already has a pot roast recipe but sometimes it’s nice to try a new one. I did it in the crock pot.)
Sausage and Lentil Stew (recipe below)
*Pasta With Tuna, Arugula & Hot Pepper (I know– this sounds weird! But it’s fabulous, I’m guessing because you use fresh garlic and oil-packed tuna. I used spinach instead of arugula.)
*Chicken Marinara (to make this even easier you could buy a jar of Newman’s marinara sauce and use that instead of making the tomato sauce!)
*Carnitas (these are fancy tacos. The boys prefer flour tortillas, so I used some corn and some flour. Publix has black beans that are seasoned, so we drain those and add them to the taco. Don’t eliminate the step where you put the meat in the oven to crisp it up. Delish.)
*Chicken, Mushrooms & Tomatoes with Port Wine (this would be a good Election Special dinner; follow it with the always popular Multi-Tasking Ice Cream Pie and plenty of wine and settle in for the night. If you don’t have Port, you can buy some very cheap or use red wine. This would be good with green beans, or brussels sprouts sauteed with garlic and bacon, or zucchini sliced thin and sauteed with sliced almonds and topped with some Parmesan, salt and pepper a la the Red Cat restaurant in NYC.)
Remember – don’t freak out if you can’t find everything. You can use an onion instead of shallots or dump in a can of diced tomatoes if those at your market aren’t beautiful, as I did. The point is to end up with edible food.
* Shrimp Fried Rice (the boys did not leave me any to sample. That speaks volumes.)
Oops. I am missing a recipe here. You can check out my recipe posts by clicking on the “Let’s Eat” category in the left sidebar. Or to make it easier, I’ve compiled several right here:
Sausage and Lentil Stew:
6 oz smoked turkey sausage (I use more)
1.5 cups thinly sliced leek
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup dried lentils
2 10.5 oz cans chicken broth
1 tsp dried thyme (I add some fresh, too)
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp Tabasco
2 14.5 cans diced tomatoes undrained
Slice sausage into 1/2 inch slices and cut each in half. Brown lightly in a skillet. Add leeks, garlic, and cook 3 mins. Add lentils and broth and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer 30 mins. Stir in thyme and remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer 15 mins or until lentils are tender. 6 cups.
(I thought I got this from Cooking Light, which I frequently use, but I’ve searched all over their web site and cannot find it.)
Answer to immature joke:
(and you did spell “icup” out loud, didn’t you?)
My mom died three years ago today. I’m holding it together okay so far. This is a picture of her in 1976, when she was 35 years old. This is the exact way I remember my mom looking when I was growing up.
There’s no polite way to say it. Porter, one of my nine-year-olds, talks too damn much. He narrates his actions as if I’m blind and can’t see what he’s doing. “I’m going to make an omelet with ham and eggs,” he’ll say, pulling the eggs and butter out of the refrigerator. “First I’ll mix up the eggs and scramble them,” he’ll continue, as he cracks the eggs into a bowl. “Now I’m waiting for the cheese to melt a little. Is it melted? It looks kind of oozy…”
I’ve learned to ignore most of the running commentary. But Porter’s also exceptionally curious, and his questions would drive even the most enthusiastic teacher to the brink of insanity.
“What would happen if the sky fell? What Mom?”
“The sky isn’t going to fall, Porter,” I’ll say tiredly.
“But what if it did? Just say it did? Would you feel it hit your head? If you looked up, would you see blue? Would the clouds fall, too? Would we be able to see straight into heaven?”
It had been a hot and dreary day. I’d been juggling Finn’s baseball schedule and trying to mark Drew’s clothes for camp. In between, Porter had followed me around, asking, “How many seeds do you think fit in Feather’s bird feeder at one time? Why do we have grandparents? What would happen if we didn’t? Who invented summer camp?”
By dinner I was spent. I could feel the symptoms of PMS creeping up on me like a cagey leopard. Across the table I saw Finn wielding his fork with surgical skill to extract the onions from the Bowties With Peas & Prosciutto I had prepared.
“Dude, just eat it all in one bite,” I snapped.
“I can’t eat onions,” he whined. “They’re like, really nasty.”
“They’re not nasty,” Porter said, stuffing a quarter of an onion into his mouth and chewing. “They’re actually quite delicious. What makes onions so delicious, Mom? And why can’t you eat the skin? Why do they make you cry when you cut them? What if everything tasted like onions—do you think Finn would starve?”
I slid my chair back abruptly and stood up. “I can’t take it anymore,” I said. “The questions, the criticism of my food, it’s all too much.” I looked at Bill. “Honey, y’all take care of this kitchen. I’m going to bed to read.”
I had barely taken a step when Porter asked, “What are you going to read? Can I read with you? If I bring a book, will you read to me?”
I was shaking. I got in his face and yelled, “Porter, if you want to continue to live in this house, The Questions Have Got To Stop.”
Then I got in bed and wept, over my picky eater, over my nutty schedule, over my cruel remark.
A while later Porter tiptoed in my room and handed me a piece of paper. It contained one last question:
It was nice to be forgiven.
Two years ago in My Tiny Kingdom: The Dirtiest Camper