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Adventures in Cooking

I am not by any stretch a gourmet.  I am not great in the kitchen, and the things I know how to make are simple things, or things that my mother and Grandmom Fee or Grandmom Bilbrough made for years.  As she gets older, I think my mother does more experimenting in the kitchen than I do.  But having three kids, all with different palates, can make adventurous cooking a dangerous – and wasteful – thing.

With Jim in Milwaukee and only the three palate princesses to cook for, our weekly menu had become a bit of a rut.  One night we did hot dogs.  One night we did grilled cheese sandwiches.  One night I did something in a crockpot or roasted something in the oven.  And the first night Jim is gone usually consists of left overs from our weekends eating out.  I was determined this week to find things that the kids would mostly like – or at least TRY.  I scoured my own personal cookbook – which, when I first got it nearly 20   years ago was filled with things that sounded good at the time (of course, that was before kids, dogs, husbands, and the limits those things put on your time), but are not practical right now.  David Rappaport’s Lamb Stew, a page I ripped out of the book this week and threw away, was an event like Hanukah, multiple nights long, which seemed to require an intimate relationship with a butcher to get the right cut of meat and access to a vegetable co-op to have enough of the various vegetables to make this dish a success.  I also yanked some ambitious pasta dishes, anything that required me stuffing various fruits and vegetables into a cornish game hen, and everything that contained quail eggs (people with 3 children do not need recipes that require quail eggs).  I was left with a few recipes that looked easy enough to try, and the family favorites we just cannot live without.

As a result, we tried two new recipes this week.  The first one was Pasta Pronto – fettucine in an Alfredo type sauce with asparagus, onion, and Canadian bacon.  The kids LOVED this recipe (and I’ll post it on the recipe page).  They scarfed down a good bit of it for dinner, and the rest of it was easily devoured for lunch the next day.  It is definitely a keeper recipe for us, and the fact that it’s easy, has only a few ingredients, and was eaten by all 3 kids without complaint makes it a regular in the dinner rotation.

The other recipe we tried this week was a Scallop and Bacon chowder.  Since my surgery, I eat a lot of soup, and I find that scallops are very easy for me to eat most of the time.  This seemed like the perfect meal to me.  I didn’t factor in the fact that since it’s a chowder, it is made with heavy cream, which made it thick and rich, but I could barely eat any of it, so I know I didn’t get the full benefit of the protein in the scallops.  Brighid really liked it and wants me to make it again.  Eilis thought it smelled bad, but she doesn’t typically eat scallops.  I thought I could cleverly disguise them in this dish and she wouldn’t realize she was eating scallops.  She does eat a lot of other seafood, so who knew she’d be aware enough to know this wasn’t in her normal seafood diet.  Granuaile ate it without complaint, but it’s hard to give her a bowl of soup – even as thick as this one.  It’s more work to feed her than it was to make the chowder.  This will become a once in a while, maybe on a cold winter’s night type dish.

I’ll post both recipes on the recipe part of our family website.  As soon as I remember how to get there.

The Birthday Party Wrap Up – Granuaile’s Second

Post from April, 2007  

Well we all know that sometimes even the best laid plans go awry, so when I wait until the last minute, can’t figure out what to do, and put way less effort into a party than I should have, I should expect stuff to go wrong.  Stuff did, but it worked out okay in the end.

To begin with, I made 2 dozen cupcakes to supplement my 1/4 sheet cake, which I knew was going to be too small to serve the number of guests I ended up having.  I food colored each group of 6 cupcakes to reflect a color of one of the Backyardigans, and then I iced them in complimentary Backyardigans inspired colors, topping each with a Backyardigans fruit snack.  They looked so good that Rosie, our 5 month old Irish Wolfhound, decided to help herself to one.  And another.  And another.  9 cupcakes – with wrappers – later, I worried that my 1/4 sheet cake and my 15 cupcakes might not be enough dessert 🙁

The morning of the party, we get a phone call from Wegman’s bakery.  They have an order for a plain, white cake.  Didn’t I want decoration or something on the cake??   This call comes just hours before the party and a week after I met with a member of the bakery staff to give them the photo that I wanted on the cake along with the information regarding what to write on the cake and what colors to use.  I end up with an assistant to the bakery manager on the phone, and she apologizes, encourages me to meet with the bakery manager when I come to the store, then asks me to pick the cake up an hour late and she will not charge me.  I ended up with a really cute cake, 1/2 sheet instead of 1/4, everything spelled right, and totally free of charge.  As I’m sorting out the cake issue with the bakery manager at the store, Jim goes to catering to pick up the pre-ordered trays.  Oooppps.  There is an incident with the trays that results in them needing to be redone.  It will take them another 45 minutes to re-do the trays.  On the plus side, they give us a lovely strawberry shortcake to compensate us for the inconvenience.  Just what we need – more dessert!   Lastly, my daughter woke up this morning, and when we wished her Happy Birthday, she immediately asked for a balloon, which a week ago I promised she could have on her birthday.  I picked one up at Wegman’s, but no one knew how much it was or how to ring it up.  They called a manager, who never showed up, and then on the way out, Jim found one, who gave me the balloon at half price.  So while economically, it worked out GREAT to have the party catered through Wegman’s, the stress level was high through the whole day.

Here’s what we had, and what worked well, what didn’t:

Wokery Party Tray – This lovely arrangement of Asian specialties was like a pu-pu platter.  It featured Chinese BBQ spare ribs, pot stickers, shrimp purses; mini pork egg rolls, and garlic chicken wings.  This tray disappeared faster than I thought it would.  At first, I thought people might be put off by the Chinese food, but the spare ribs were a huge hit, and were gone well before the end of the party.  I threw away only one lone little shrimp purse when the party was over.  Everything else was eaten.

Suprimo Platter – The platter was very nice – it was kind of like pepperoni bread – a crusty bread outside, stuffed with Italian meats and cheeses.  The problem with it was it was thinly sliced, and when we heated it per the instructions, most of the cheese oozed out.  As a result, some of it stuck to the tray.  This platter was also pretty expensive.  I could have gotten pepperoni bread from Duffield’s for about $3 per loaf and sliced it myself.  Those who ate this said it was very good, and Eilis and Grace ate it for lunch a couple of days.  I just don’t think it was worth it for what we got out of it.

Just for Nibbles Platter – This was a combo of fresh veggies for dipping and bite size squares of cheese, ham, and turkey.  I had almost this entire platter left over.  Mostly what got eaten was the celery, and that was probably by my girls, who love celery.  I packed school lunches with the mom version of a lunchable – Eilis got a container of the bites of ham, cheese, and turkey, and a few of the fresh veggies, and a little cream cheese for dipping.  She enjoyed it the first day, took it a second day, and asked for a normal sandwich on day 3.  This was about $30 and a total waste. 

Deviled Eggs – Yep, gotta do them

Roast Pork Cuban style with black beans and rice – I made this myself, and was hoping for a sweeter flavor to the pork.  It was still good – and even better the next night with gravy.  I made two small roasts, but had plenty leftover for dinner two nights.  The rice and beans wasn’t a huge hit – I think this crowd is more the traditional meatball kinda crowd.

Spinach Dip – Wildly popular.  I like the stuff, but can’t believe it’s such a big hit. 

Fruit Tray – The dip on this tray did not win any medals.  Usually, the Acme has a cream cheese dip that everyone loves, but Wegman’s tray had like a banana yogurt dip, and the kids didn’t love it, the adults didn’t like it.  There was way more fruit left than I usually have left over, and that was with my kids hogging up all the grapes before company got here.  One of my kids complained that the strawberries were sour, so I think in the future, we’ll be getting the fruit from the Acme, as usual.

Chips and Dip – For the first time ever, I still had chips and dip left.  This usually gets devoured, but with so much other food, I think people just bypassed this for the other stuff.

Granuaile had a great time being the Birthday girl, and Eilis had a great time being the Birthday girl’s big sister.  We had goodie bags that consisted of some Backyardigans toys, and for the little ones, we had Backyardigans plates.  It’s so nice to see the cousins all playing together, and they really did this time around.  Even though my kids are girls and most of the other cousins are boys, they all seem to get along most of the time.

We did good for a second birthday.  I think we’ll go a little smaller next year, but no one can ever complain about leaving here hungry.