Tuesday, July 2, 2013

This Week is Brought to You by the Letter M

I really love to cook, the whole process from beginning to end (except the clean up; I hate cleaning up).  I enjoy putting together menus and choosing interesting dishes for my family to try. I feel at home in the grocery store, the farmers market, or specialty foods shop perusing the fresh items. Handmade pastas, delicate pastries, exotic produce, luscious yogurt, butter, and cheese. Fantastic! There’s a simple joy in feeling the weight of a ripe peach in my hand or bringing it closer and taking in its sweet scent. I feel connected to the land, connected to God, and bursting with love for my husband and our friends when I take the time to prepare good meals and offer hospitality.

I’ve been in a bit of a cooking funk lately, where I’ve gotten out of the habit of putting much care and thought into my meals and instead have been just throwing things together at the last minute. Quick, easy, and lacking passion, this has been the status quo for our meals in June. Part of it no doubt is the oppressive summer heat. And then there is also the project I embarked on to consume our existing store of meat and vegetables in our freezer. This is a project I conduct at least once a year to ensure we never have food over a year old remaining in our freezer.  It’s a practical idea in theory but it really puts limitations on menu planning. While the project is ongoing I am constrained to building meals around the ingredients I have on hand which means I either have to wing it or do a manual keyword search through my cookbooks for recipes that use these ingredients. That just takes an excessive amount of time – hours really – compared to choosing recipes from my cookbooks that I’m in the mood for and then building my grocery list from the recipes.

This week I’m still operating under the project but I’ve taken the extra time required to pre-plan the full week of daily menus built around ingredients on hand. This week is brought to you by the letter “M” for multicultural cuisine.

Sunday I prepared Japanese dumplings, fresh corn on the cob (in season, so we are eating it daily regardless), and spiced edamame. If you’re not familiar with edamame, it’s soybean, and it’s quite lovely served steamed at room temperature. I took my cue from a Japanese restaurant I enjoy in the Atlanta airport and tossed the steamed edamame with sautéed garlic and shallots, toasted sesame seeds and diced pickled ginger. It was really good.

Last night I prepared pork schnitzel and accompanied it with potato dumplings and corn on the cob. The plan was to make use of the mashed potato leftovers from our Sat night fried chicken dinner so the dumpling recipe out of my Vienna cookbook was a perfect fit as it called for a quantity precisely equal to the amount we still had. Except that the dumplings were pretty bland and unappetizing, even with gravy. Win some, lose some I guess.

Today I am putting together a fondue menu for dinner. There will be the usual oil fondue (Jon’s favorite) with steak and shrimp as well as a Caraway Gouda cheese fondue (with the cheese we brought back from Holland), and a cheesecake fondue with fresh berries and kiwi for dessert. This is a menu I’ve successfully executed many times so I’m confident it will go over well with our houseguest Michael. All of the recipes I’m using are printed in my copy of The 125 Best Fondue Recipes cookbook.

Tomorrow Michael heads back to his family and home in the Chicago area for the holiday so it will be just the hubby and I for the rest of the dinners this week. I’ve got some unusual and interesting dishes slated for Wed night – tomatoes roasted in coconut and cardamom, Vietnamese greens stir fried with ginger and fish sauce, and beet cake for dessert – that I’ve found in one of my British vegetarian cookbooks, Tender.

Thursday is our nation’s birthday and so we are having a festive party with a handful of guests. I’ll be preparing my favorite BBQ baby back ribs, my brother-in-law’s ranch bean recipe, my mother-in-law’s potato salad recipe,  and corn on the cob. My husband is preparing a massively complex holiday trifle that required him to begin the preparations two days ago. Should be amazing.

Friday we are going out to dinner in DC at a house restaurant called Thai Xing. It’s basically a restaurant operated out of a Thai couple’s home and gets rave reviews from all the guests. I’ve dinner here once before but it will be Jonathan’s first foray into fixed menu home restaurant dining in DC.

Saturday we swing away from the Thai food of the night before and right into the heart of Mexican cuisine with beef empanadas, Anasazi bean soup, hibiscus tea, and cornmeal berry cakes with cream for dessert. All of the recipes are pulled from my Food of the Americas cookbook that I picked up at the Smithsonian Native American Museum a few years ago.

Sunday I’m diving into recipes from a newly received cookbook that I’ve a deadline to review titled The Lebanese Kitchen. Our menu is comprised of a few mezze plates (hummus with chili oil, eggplant garlic dip, mixed salad), a main course of zucchini stuffed with lamb and orzo, and rosewater crème brulee to finish the meal.

Japanese, Austrian, Swiss, Vietnamese, American, Thai, Mexican, and Lebanese. Seems like a well rounded adventure in multiculturalism. Stay tuned for the eventual cookbook reviews that will be posted later this month.

As always, I’d love to hear from you about what you’re cooking up in your kitchen this week. Any new favorites?

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