The pickle man

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Why I hate my crockpot... and other tales from the first week of school

School started this week - and for my family, that means EVERYONE went back to school.  Michael and I started work, Dixon started preK 4, and William (sniff) started daycare.  And like I do every year, I swear to myself, this year, I'm going to be organized - one of those super moms who gets everything done - dinner cooked, books read, papers graded, kids to bed on time, permission forms signed and bags packed the night before.   At this point, I should have told myself to look in the mirror and remember who I'm talking to! 

  Instead, I decided to make a weekly menu... and stick to it (again, I need to ask myself if we've met)!  Everything actually went OK until Wednesday (I was operating largely on adrenaline I think).  Wednesday started with my forgetting the ring that goes in William's bottle (without which it leaks everywhere.  I swear Avent is trying to test harried mothers.  I failed).  So the lady who keeps William got an unexpected breastmilk bath (I'm hoping she likes pickles - I'm bringing her some as an apology gift).

Also, that morning, I started the crock pot.  This is one kitchen gadget I always fail to master.  And it's not that I don't try.  Michael's grandmother gave me a whole book of recipes last Christmas.  I've made an edible pot roast, but it wasn't nearly as good as the one I make in the oven.  And I've made several dinners that ended up in the dog's bowl.  I think the crockpot may be for people who don't have to be out of the door by 6:45 in the morning.

Anyway, I put in chicken, brown rice, mushrooms, white wine, and other yummy looking things... and when I served it for dinner, it looked almost exactly like the baby oatmeal I was trying to feed to William.

William having his first oatmeal :)

Maybe when the recipe says "7 hours" I shouldn't let it go for ten... or twelve.  Rice that looked appetizing at 3:30 was mush by 6. As I served it, I reminded Michael of all the great meals I make for him and I promised never to try this again, and like the sweet man he is, he ate it without comment.  Dixon took one look, said "Yucky," and ate peanut butter and jelly with me.

What's worse?  Later, he tried to give his rice to Scout, and Scout turned his nose up... which means that my dinner must have been less appetizing than the unidentifiable roadkill he tried to eat when we were running that morning.  Ouch. 

Thursday was much more successful - this penne a la vodka is one of my absolute favorite meals... the fresh basil takes it over the top, but I've made it with dried basil in the winter and it's still good.  Everyone at my house had two servings... of course, that could have been because we were starving after the crockpot incident...

Penne a la vodka
1 Tbs butter
1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 yellow sweet onion, diced
2 Tbs chopped garlic
10-12 fresh mushrooms (any kind) chopped into big pieces
5 -6 fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped OR 1 large can diced tomatoes (I like the no salt added kind)
1/2 cup vodka
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil (or 1 Tbs dried)
1/3 - 1/2 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste
1 box penne pasta, cooked al dente
Fresh parmesan cheese

Heat the butter and olive oil in a large saucepan.  Add the onion and cook until soft. Add salt to taste.  Add the garlic, mushrooms, tomatoes, vodka, and half the basil, and cook for 10-15 minutes.  Add the whipping cream and the remaining basil and heat thoroughly, but don't boil.  Add the cooked penne to the pan.  If the sauce is too thick, add some of the pasta water.  Serve with lots of freshly grated parmesan cheese.
Dixon on his first day of pre K 4

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Today was the first day I had to get both kids out of the house and get to work... ARGH!  Surely I've done more difficult things (the bar exam, a half marathon, labor and delivery) BUT those things had finite ending points.

The day started with the discovery that two of the three tires on my jogging stroller were flat.  And I deflated the third trying to use the air compressor.  Then somewhere in the middle, there was the nice tech support lady with the soft Indian accent who said "Where did you buy this router?  I didn't know anyone was even still selling them!"

So maybe if my life is too crazy, I should give something up.  Only problem - I like everything that makes my life crazy. I love running in the mornings.  I love nursing William. I love my job. I love playing trucks with Dixon. Maybe I just need better organization - always something I crave and admire in others, but never seem to quite achieve myself.  Still, I did manage to get dinner on the table.
The throw-together dinner consisted of baked chicken, a quick okra and tomatoes (the long version of this recipe is in Celebrations on the Bayou by the Monroe Junior League, and it is amazing - definitely worth it.  Mine was OK, but about 1/4 the cooking time), and salad.

Tonight it helped to remember that I don't have to cook instead of playing with Dixon - I just let him play chef.  Maybe letting a three year old handle raw poultry is not the smartest idea I've ever had (on the plus side, he can now say "salmonella"), but it was better than me trying to bread chicken with one hand and feed William with the other.  And he washed his hands with a good half cup of liquid soap afterward.  For a minimal investment in Dawn, I'd say the experiment was a success.
Yes, those are safety glasses.  They came with his toy chainsaw (from Santa).   They were in case we had to use any "hurt eye onions."
Apparently, Dixon took this very seriously. He is rolling a chicken breast in the bread crumb mixture.

Dixon's Chicken
3 - 4 chicken breasts, cut into narrow strips
2 Tbs butter, melted
1/2 cup Italian bread crumbs, mixed with
1/4 cup Parmesan grated

Dredge the chicken breasts in butter, then roll them in the bread crumb and Parmesan mixture.  Bake at 350 for 15 minutes (longer depending on whether you cut your breasts into strips or leave them whole). If you line your cookie sheet with foil, clean up is a lot easier.  This also works with catfish.

Also in the "not so safe, but wow" category - Dixon peeled cucumbers!  He was a little overzealous with the peeler on the first one (it resembled a pale green carrot before it made it to the salad).  But by cucumber #2, he was a pro.  Of course, I couldn't capture him in action because he told me "I can't peel while I'm looking at you because I might cut my finger."  Oh, my cautious child!

Finished product ...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Stuffed eggplant - a la Red Bar

This was my last day of summer break, so I decided to celebrate by cooking something (a little) fancy.  Plus, I still have a lot of eggplant to use up!

But first, my sous chef:

One of my favorite restaurants anywhere is the Red Bar and Picolo Grill in Grayton Beach, Florida.  They keep it simple - only 5 or 6 items on a chalkboard menu.  But their seafood stuffed eggplant is a perennial favorite of mine.  Here's my approximation:

2 normal eggplant or 3 ichiban eggplant
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
2-3 yellow squash, chopped
2 Tbs chopped garlic
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup cooked chopped shrimp (Red Bar also includes scallops, but I had shrimp on hand)
2-3 Tbs chopped fresh basil
1/3 cup bread crumbs (I use Italian)
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese (I used the "green can" variety for the stuffing, but I topped it with the real thing before baking

Oh yes, you will be dinner! 


Split the eggplant in half lengthwise, sprinkle with olive oil and salt, then bake at 350 for 10-15 minutes, until soft.  Meanwhile, saute the onion in olive oil and butter for 2-3 minutes, then add the chopped yellow squash and the garlic and saute 10 minutes.  Add the wine and cook another 2-3 minutes.  Scoop out the eggplants, leaving enough meat to support the shell.  Add the eggplant to the pan on the stove, along with the cooked shrimp and basil.  Cook until warmed through.  Add the parmesan and bread crumbs and toss until combined.  Stuff these into the eggplant shells and top with more parmesan.  Bake at 350 for 10-15 minutes.  Serve with tomato cream sauce (Saute garlic in butter, add tomatoes and white wine and cook until reduced.  Add whipping cream and cook until hot.  Pour over the eggplant shells before serving).

 Out of the oven...

And on the plate!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Chicken Fried Rice

So the original purpose of the blog was supposed to be to share recipes with my brother (who is almost 20, junior at college, and has discovered cooking is cheaper than eating out in New Orleans for every meal, as much as that's a dream come true), and whoever else was interested.

To be honest - I love food.  I basically run just so I can eat (well, there's also the fact that I can escape from the kids for a while, or at least confine them in jogging strollers traveling at speeds where they are not so comfortable trying to jump out).  This week, I actually learned how to braise a lamb shank watching the Food Network while I ran 5 miles.  I think the girl on the treadmill next to me was a little angry.  I mean, that could be her normal workout face, but I think all that butter and lamb fat was getting to her.  Me?  I just can't wait until the heat index drops below 100 so I can try it.  I'm guessing that will be around Halloween.

And so... what's for dinner?  Tonight - fired rice.  I don't braise lamb shanks every Monday.   And here's the recipe:

1 Tbs Vegetable oil
1 Tbs Sesame oil (or just use another tablespoon of the Veggie if this is not on hand)
2 diced carrots
2 diced green onions (note - if you pull these from your garden, wash these VERY thoroughly.  Saves time having to stop in the middle and clean the cutting board of grit).
1 Tbs chopped garlic
whatever other vegetables you have on hand and would like to get your family to eat (I love mushrooms, broccoli, green peas, and tonight, eggplant - another garden over-abundance)
2 chicken breasts, diced (or you can use whatever meat you have on hand)
1 cup uncooked rice
1 egg
Black pepper to taste
Soy sauce to taste (my taste = about 3 tablespoons, but this might be too much for some.  I also recommend the Lite version - more soy taste, less salt)
Chinese hot mustard and/or sweet and sour for serving

Dice the chicken and sprinkle with about 1 tablespoon of soy sauce.  Start the rice in a separate pot (bring 2 cups of water to a boil, add salt, add rice, reduce heat and cook with a lid on for 15 minutes).
Heat up the oil.  Add the diced carrots, green onions, and other veggies.  Cook until tender.  Add the chicken.  Cook until done.  Add the egg and fry it (you've been to Hibachi, you know how it's done - just don't try to put the egg in your hat) Add the rice and seasonings.  Stir until combined and serve hot with mustard and sweet and sour sauce.

And, because I like pictures, the carrots.

I was going to include a picture of the finished dish, but the baby woke up.  The food photography has not been going so well, actually.

But I promise - it was good!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The menagerie

I believe you could take away all of my son's toys and games, and as long as you left his animals, he'd be perfectly content.  Some days I wonder if he would even notice.

But then, we have a lot of animals.  Two dogs: Scout, an 85 pound German wire-haired pointer, acquired the month before we got married 7 years ago, and Lola, a 7 pound rat terrier "mix," foolishly acquired when Dixon was 6 months old.  Scout, though huge, is well-trained because he was, in fact, our first child.  Lola, neglected in her youth, got potty trained (sort of) after my son, at age 2.  Now that they are both 3, we think we may survive.   

We also have two cats (a Noah's ark theme).  Our gray one was acquired around Halloween, earning her the name Halle.  And then there is Chocolate, our black cat that my husband, in an attempt at irony, tried to name Milk.  Our literal three year old said, "Daddy, if he is Milk, he must be Chocolate Milk."  And of course it stuck.

Moving down in size, my son also has a red-eared slider named Tree "because he is green."  The turtle previously shared the fish tank with a large goldfish, Stripey, who was recently donated to a neighbor with a very large fish pond and renamed Moby Dick.   Apparently this made an impression, because today my son caught a small green caterpillar in the garden and also christened him after the great white whale. He promptly broke the leaves off several garden plants to "feed" his new pet - tasty revenge for every caterpillar who has ever resented a gardener for depriving it of a food supply.

Other summer pets have included "Becko the Gecko" and two large toads that he brought in to share dessert during my last dinner party.

And then, while leaving church this morning, he caught this

When he asked about a name, I said, "Call him Ishmael."

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Saturday, August 7, 2010

It all started with some cucumbers...

With two young children, a full-time job as a math teacher, and a seasonal job as a yard man for 25 customers, my husband decided he needed something to keep him - and me - busy.  So he started a garden.  First, there was the small (8 ft by 25 ft) plot in the backyard.  But that wasn't enough.  So he asked the man whose empty lot he mows if he could take over a half acre or so and grow green things. 

Next thing I knew, there were 30 pounds of cucumbers in my kitchen.  I couldn't get to the coffee pot, which in my house constitutes an emergency.  So I decided to learn how to make pickles.

With our garden, it tends to be feast or famine.  You can't just have equal amounts of tomatoes and cucumbers for the perfect Greek salad... that would be too easy.  Not even a good balance of jalapenos and tomatoes for salsa, or yellow squash and zuchini for stir fry.  Nope, we grew 76 jalapenos, 84 cucumbers, 10 tomatoes, and a lot of okra.  Oh, and the pumpkins that ripened on the 4th of July.  And he gives me a hard time about still compulsively shopping at the farmer's market. 

But back to the pickles.  First, there's the mandolin.  Way too easy to include a fingertip with a garlic clove at the bottom of each jar.  Then, there is the brew that would enhance my school's next version of Macbeth, which made my large dog and small son sneeze.  But after a lot of burned fingers on hot jars... and two weeks on the shelf... we ended up with some pretty amazing pickles.  I just hope we have some left to give as Christmas presents, but at the rate my three year old consumes them, we may just have to hand out red and green painted pumpkins.  Because I think our second crop should be ready by early December.

The recipe :