Well it's Thursday. This time tomorrow I'll be waking up to start my cardamom ice cream. Then I'll do the mango upside down cakes. I have to do 2 at a time, since I only have 2 iron skillets. I'll wait until afternoon to make the honey-caramel because it's just easier to work with still warm. I'll be texting my executive sous, no doubt, making sure he understands my instructions and all is proceeding well. My eye will stay on the clock making the day seem endless.
Yes. I am nervous, if you can't tell. :) I'm not nervous about my food. Everything is delicious, so I'm not really sure what has me so rattled. Perhaps it's my lack of control? This is the first major dinner I'm serving that I haven't actually been in the kitchen busting my buns cooking all day. It's a nice change to have help - to be able to be this elevated from the madness of day-to-day kitchen operations. It's allowed me the freedom to perfect my food in a way I haven't ever been able to. Heck, plenty of these dinners I've actually had to invent recipes the day-of as I was making it. This is far less stressful. There's far less risk and very little chance for error, but I still feel really nervous. I think, because my level of control is so unseen by the customer (I'm hardly present physically) that I'm looking at this dinner as a validation - yes, I'm still here, this is all still my food, and yes - it's frickin' delicious. :) Perhaps this is a way to redefine myself as a chef since it's so changed after having Liam.
Anyway. I fully intend to photograph my plates and post a big update New Year's Day. I want to share my ice cream, since I'm doing it without an actual ice cream maker, and I'll probably share a few other recipes, too. I'm earnestly hoping it's a triumphant update. :)
The past week I've been able to do some cooking for families in need and that has just really made me feel wonderful. It's so nice to be able to use my talent for a good cause, giving me a chance to volunteer without having to spend a lot of money we don't have. I tried to think about the cheapest menu I could plan for one family over Christmas, then sent along the menu, the recipes, all the ingredients, and a few of the meals already prepped for her (which I really hope they all liked!!!).
But this got me thinking - no, my family isn't over-spending on groceries, but I still feel like I can be doing a better job at planning. I estimated the menu I gave this family, which had 7 dinners, 2 breakfasts, and 2 desserts, cost around $50. Obviously a little more money would have to be spent on breakfasts and lunches, so maybe a weekly grocery total of $75 for a family of 4. That would be incredible if I could get our grocery trips down to a comparable number (since we're 6 and not 4). So, yes, combined with the fact that I am now working in earnest on my cookbook, my new obsession will be rollover meals and menus. How can I prep 1 meal and get at least 1 other full meal out of it without simply just serving leftovers one night (which most people hate)? :)
Since Brian and I are on super-save mode for spring for the house-hunt, we went over how we've spent our money this past month. Christmas presents accounted for a good chunk, and obviously I won't be buying those next month. But the largest category of spending was groceries. While I actually feel that's a wonderful category to have be your largest (and comparatively our eating out was $133, which included our really really nice date-night at Plum's at almost $80), I still feel like I can make it cheaper by doing more rollover meals and using my little creative brain to solve this problem WITHOUT sacrificing nutrition or freshness. In fact, I'm making this challenge a New Year's resolution. I'm willing to bet that when this is all over, I can compare to those savvy (and imminently more patient than I, who detest coupons) coupon moms without having to clip coupons or buy pre-pack stuff.
I'll start this coming week with my regular Sunday meal-planning post. I've got a few ideas and some tricks up my sleeve, and I'm somewhat sickly really looking forward to this. That's how I know I'm a chef, I guess. Food is my passion and I love a challenge. :)
As far as dinners this week are concerned, I did make the rollover turkey and rice casserole from our Christmas Eve leftovers. It was tasty!
Rollover Cranberry Turkey and Rice Casserole
Leftover Thanksgiving turkey – about 2 C if you’ve got it
2 C long grain and wild rice blend
5 C chicken stock
2 T butter
sea salt and pepper
1 C leftover cranberry sauce
2 C shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided
½ sweet onion, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, diced (optional)
Combine water, rice, and butter and bring to a boil. Salt the rice, cover and reduce heat. Simmer for 10 minutes. Open the lid, add the onion and celery and replace lid (they will steam and soften this way). Finish cooking the rice for the remainder of the time. You want the rice to be just a hair shy of done as it will cook a little more in the oven in the cranberry sauce.
Remove rice from the heat and stir in the cranberry sauce, 1 ½ cups of the cheese, leftover diced turkey, and a little more salt and pepper. Spread into a lightly greased casserole dish then sprinkle the remaining ½ cup of cheese on top. Bake at 375 for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and the filling has bubbled a bit.
For dinner Tuesday night, then, I got the roman stewed sausages going in the crock pot. Since I didn't have any pork ribs (yet again) I substituted the richness I would be missing from the marrow with just a little bacon grease. It really helped add that deep flavor it lacks when I cheat and don't use the ribs. I had an impromtu girl night that night, since Auntie Kristin (Liam's godmomma) was in town for the Holidays and Auntie Sarah (Chloe's godmomma) is off work for the Holidays - she's a teacher. I made a garlic and parmesan polenta that really complimented it well. Usually I just do plain polenta or even mashed potatoes, but this is the way I'm going to do it from now on.
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 T olive oil
3 1/2 C water
1/2 C corn flour
1/2 C cornmeal
1 1/2 t sea salt
1/2 C freshly grated parm cheese
Whisk the corn flour, salt and cornmeal together in a bowl and set aside. In the bottom of the stockpot heat olive oil then add garlic and cook 1 minute. Add the cornmeal mix and then immediately after the water while whisking rapidly to prevent lump from forming, going in only one direction. Bring to a boil and whisk almost constantly. Trade the whisk for a wooden spoon and stir until it's to your desired consistency. Remove from heat and stir in the parmesan cheese.
Then last night for dinner I made my chicken pot pie (and subsequently updated the recipe). I had a family pack of chicken in the fridge since I had planned to do crockpot chicken with blueberry chutney and alice springs chicken. But out of 1 family pack of chicken, I can get 3 large chicken pot pies (large enough for a family of 8, or for a family of 4 with leftovers). Since I'm cooking for 2 families this week that just suffered a loss in the family everyone's getting chicken pot pies.
Tonight for dinner.... hmmmm.... I could do the zesty italian hobo dinner? That would be easiest since my kitchen is even more of a disaster area than when I photographed it for the beginning of crock pot week. I've been testing cheese course after cheese course - making 2 kinds of jam, doing different plating designs, etc... and it's just trashed. That's probably what I'll do. Then tomorrow is definitely rollover penne pasta bake with the leftover sausage and sauce from the roman stewed sausages. I'm looking forward to it. :)
And the final word for the day: hug your kids. Yesterday was momentous for Liam - he rolled over and put himself to sleep! But yesterday was very very very scary for Chloe. My too-smart-for-her-own good 2 1/2 year old daughter had her night light taken away the other night when we found she was getting out of bed and unscrewing the bulb then unplugging it. (She wants to know how things work...) But then she wasn't sleeping well, obviously, because her room was pitch black. We'd talked about solutions but none of them we're ready to implement just yet because they involve things like putting in an actual light in her room. Right now there's no closet light and no overhead light, so she has a lamp (which is also getting taken away) and her nightlight. Anyway. I decided last night to just pull out her dresser a little and plug the night light in behind it. That way she couldn't get to it and she'd still have a little light.
Well, I didn't realize that Santa (her night light) had the wrong-size bulb in him. We walked back by her room an hour after putting her to bed to lay Liam down and I smelled something HOT. I opened the door and found black smoke swirling from her nightlight. I run in, turn it off, run to the kitchen and grab a pot-holder, then pull the thing out of the socket and toss it on the kitchen counter. Santa had completely melted onto the bulb. Her room stank of melting plastic and smoke, yet probably the most frightening thing to me is the fact that she slept through it all. I called Poison Control to ensure the fumes weren't toxic, then we spent an hour with her window open, the front door open, and her bedroom door being waved back and forth to make a fan. I piled blankets on her and just held her and cried while Brian stared at her smoke detector and wondered why in the heck it hadn't gone off....
So hug your kids. I finally drifted off after all of that with my head resting on her chest listening to the wonderful sounds of her breathing. Only then was I able to sleep myself. And even then I woke up from a nightmare shouting "Please!" to Brian, thinking she was screaming and in trouble. Lots of hugs.