A Hausfrau's Kitchen -- Pizza

When I posted my thoughts on love and logic in the kitchen a few days ago, you may have noticed the picture that had my sourdough starter. I was feeding it. One of the things I did this past week with sourdough was to make pizza.

But let me roll back a little bit. I read, recently, that people with digestive issues such as IBS will often feel better when they give up commercially-prepared regular breads and switch to only fermented breads like sourdough. I decided to give that a try, so for the next several weeks, I am eschewing any commercial bread and only eating my own homemade, sourdough breads. It is definitely worth a try. In addition, I am lactose intolerant, so I like to control how much cheese is on a pizza. And anyway, it's so hard to find a place that will make a green olives and bacon pizza. 

For those reasons, plus the simple pleasure of being responsible for my own food, I usually make our pizzas. I am happy to note that I did not inherit my Mom's pizza-curse: the few times she made homemade pizza? Some distant relative would drop dead! Now that all my rellies are distant, I'm doubly grateful she did not pass that one on to me.

We'll start at the beginning (a very good place to start...name that movie). I let my starter come up to room temp and divided it. I used half for my pizza dough, and the other half was fed and left to ferment a bit before it went back in the fridge for the next feeding.
I love this old brown yard-sale find of a bowl, by the way. I also love that I keep my starter in a repurposed green olive jar. Who else loves greenies on a pizza? Can I hear a hellya?
I added a cup of flour to the remaining starter, and then poured a cup of warm water into my (now empty) starter jar. Swish it around and pour that in, too.
Then I just throw a towel over the top of that and let it rest in a warm kitchen until it's bubbling like the partyers on New Year's Eve:
Meanwhile, I started my pizza dough.
Bear with me here, because I'm not a big recipe kind of cook. I'm more of a pantser, in writing, cooking and in life.
To my starter, I added about a cup of warm water, a little bit of mashed potato (maybe 1/3 cup), about 1/4 cup of olive oil and 2 teaspoons of salt.  You read that right: 1/4 cup of olive oil. I know it seems like a lot, but IMHO, a pizza dough should be a short dough. You want it to have that focaccio-esque chewy richness, and not just seem like a french bread pizza. I also added a teaspoon of regular yeast, because I needed my pizza dough to be ready rather sooner. I realize, of course, that this partially defeats the purpose of the whole only-fermented breads thing, but it's a journey. Right? 
In the bowl of my Best Beloved Kitchenaid (BBK), I threw 2 cups of bread flour, poured in the starter-mix mess and started the dough hook on its happy roundy-round.

As the dough mixed and clearly required more flour to become dough instead of batter, I added sprouted-wheat flour, a quarter cup at a time and continued beating, until I had a nice, bouncy dough.

This was about 1/4 cup of flour away from perfect: 

Just don't be fooled. Go ahead and let your BBK keep working a while, as unincorporated flour, water or fat can give a dough a more finished look than it should have. You want a dough that is kind of springy, smooth and elastic and with a little sheen from all that olive oil. But it shouldn't be greasy or shiny-looking. There it is, ready to rise in the bowl.
And since we're admiring the dough, check out the bowl: This is the one I mentioned that I bought direct from the potter at a craft fair in Pine, Arizona. Ain't it pretty?
After about an hour, I came back inside and punched down the dough, rounded it and set it for a second rise. I really stink at this because I did not take a picture. All it means is that I washed my hands, made a fist, imagined a politician's face in the middle of the dough and SMACK. OK, I pressed the dough down, then folded the sides up to about 1/3 of the way to the middle, gave it a few turns at kneading right in the bowl. Then I covered it up again and let it think about who was boss.
In another 30-40 minutes, it had doubled again and was ready for shaping and the final rise. If you look close, you can see a second sourdough starter in the background. I'm an animal that way.

Now, some people have the ability to throw a pizza crust, but I seem to be missing that gene. So out comes the rolling pin.

Then some more hand-stretching. For me, it works well to let the dough rest in the pan for 5 or 10 minutes, and finish stretching it. All that handling makes a bread dough get all elastic. If you let the dough relax a bit, it behaves better.
Hey! That's true of me, too!

The next picture is an optical illusion. The pan on the right is much smaller than the pan on the left. The left one is an actual extra-large pan pizza one from Pizza Hut. 
I promise I did not pilfer it.

Did I mention I'm really bad at this? I also got no pictures of topping the pizzas.
But here's a tip: sprinkle a bit of shredded mozzarella on the dough before you add the sauce. It helps to keep the crust from getting soggy.
And in case you're wondering, which I'm sure you are, my favorite is Contadina Pizza Sauce. 
Sweet Hubs wanted pepperoni, mushrooms and black olives.

I prefer bacon bits and green olives.

Oh, did I mention that I stink at this? Because I also did not get a picture of the finished pizzas.

I guess it's a good thing that I have a real job.

Snapshot-A Trip to the Post Office

Today's drive to the post office....

Oh, how I LOVE the autumn!

The colors, the cool kiss of rain.

It is a beautiful life.

A Hausfrau's Kitchen - Market Day Soup

Let's begin by telling you a little story.

My Holland Grandma was a lovely woman and an excellent cook. She was NOT a creative cook, though. I don't think that my mom and her sisters exaggerate to say that you always knew what day of the week it was by what was for dinner. If I remember right, Tuesdays were for beans.

Grandma had a couple of different bean recipes. One of them was a black-eyed pea dish with Indonesian spices that my Mom loved and my Aunt hated. I must concur with Auntie on this one. When Mom would get a hankering for this childhood food and make it for us, I could barely face the evening for knowing that damn pot of beans was in it. It smelled like the north end of a jackass walking south and I detested that crap.

So I won't share that recipe with you.

Partly because, oddly enough, I never asked Mom to teach me how to make it.

Grandma did make a fine bean soup that was nearly good enough to redeem her black eyed peas. Grandma used salt pork in her recipe, but I'm going to share my lightened up version here. It is very simple to make this a completely vegetarian dish by choosing only veggie stock and omitting any meat. You may recall that I said previously that there is no way to make a little bit of soup. This is true. What I'm going to share with you is how to make soup packets to freeze. Then all you have to do is grab one out in the morning, toss it in the crockpot and when you come, add 3 things to it and chow down.

You'll need, first of all, a bean soup mix. Bob's Red Mill makes a nice one. Mine came from the grower in Willcox, Arizona. But let's go healthy all the way and look for an organic one, such as these:
It doesn't matter how many varieties of beans are in there. You can even make this with all one kind, such as Anasazi, pinto, white beans or black beans. Me, I like a mix.

You also need:

  • 1 32 ounce container of unsalted chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 large sweet onion
  • 2 leeks or 3 shallots
  • 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, crushed or minced
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 6-8 good sized carrots
  • 1 bunch of celery
  • Dried or fresh thyme
  • Ground pepper
  • Olive oil
  • if you want to add meat, you'll need about six slices of bacon, or some bacon ends, or some cubed ham, or some sausage. But you really don't need to add meat to this. 
  • Quart sized freezer bags, or other similar sized freezer containers.
Separately, you'll need:
  • Tomatoes: 2 cans of petite diced or crushed tomatoes, depending on how chunky you want the final soup.
  • 1 Tablespoon of lemon juice 
  • salt to taste, which you may not need at all if you included bacon or ham in your beans.
  • More freezer bags, sandwich bags or something to freeze this in separately.
A few notes on beans.
Many recipes say you must soak beans overnight. I used to do that, but I haven't done so in years. After a lot of reading and personal experiences, I find that it does not significantly shorten cooking time (which doesn't matter in a crock pot soup anyway) and it DOES increase -- uh--- the flatulent properties of this magical fruit. Which makes you toot. It doesn't have to. Take 2 or 3 fennel seed capsules before you start eating your soup and you'll notice a drastic improvement in the tooting later on. Even though we aren't going to do a traditional soak on the beans in this recipe, we are going to do a pre-cook in stock, to help the beans incorporate the flavors and give the right all-day cooking time later on.

You should never add acid (tomatoes and lemon juice, for instance) until the very last things. Add them at the beginning and it messes up the texture of the beans. 

First, pick over your beans very carefully. Look for little rocks and any beans that are too shriveled or not the right color.

Place your beans in a pot large enough that the beans fill it to halfway or less. Then cover the beans with the chicken stock. Add some water if you need to so that the beans are completely covered and you have about equal amounts of beans as liquid. Heat over medium heat until simmering. Stir them occasionally until the cooking time is complete. Just keep an eye on them because they will start absorbing the liquid.

Meanwhile, prep your veggies. This is so easy. How big do you like the veggies in your soup? Cut them that big. Chop the onion rather small. Cut the tough green end and the root end from the leeks, slice them lengthwise and wash them well, being sure to get any grit and dirt out from between the layers. Scrub the carrots (no need to peel unless they sprouting a bit and kinda hairy), chop off the root and tip and cut up the good part. Cut the root end from the celery, wash the stalks thoroughly. Save the largest outer stalks for another use if you want to, but do be sure to include the celery leaves and hearts in this.

 In a large skillet or everyday pan, heat a little olive oil (or, if you're using bacon or sausage in the soup, brown it and reserve a little bit of the grease for the next part:). Toss in the onion and saute until it's browning nicely. Throw in the bay leaves and toast them a bit. Add the leeks or shallots. Add the rest of the herbs: a good palmful of fresh minced thyme or about a tablespoon of dried. A teaspoon of pepper or so, and then the garlic. Saute a little longer, then add the carrots and celery and cook another 10 minutes or so. Stir in the meat, if you're including any.

When your beans have simmered for 30 - 40 minutes (time is not critical here, in case you get caught up in an episode of Housewives of Palo Pinto County) OR when the liquid has been pretty much absorbed, remove them from the heat and let them cool completely, without draining them.

In a perfect world, when the beans are at this stage, there may not be a lot of liquid left. After they are completely cooled drain the beans and reserve any remaining liquid (IF you are confident that your freezer containers won't leak it out).

Combine your sauteed veggies with the beans and mix them well so that everything is evenly distributed. Set aside the bay leaves.

For one person, I would use one dry-measure cup of bean-veggie mix per quart bag if you don't want a whole ton of left overs. Gauge your portions to fit your own needs.

In a separate bowl, combine the tomatoes and lemon juice and give it a righteous stir. This part is important, now: DO NOT add the tomato mixture right in with the beans. They'll never cook to that happy, creamy texture.

How many bags of beans do you have? Divide the tomato mixture among that many separate sandwich or freezer bags. Cut the bay leaves into that many pieces and tuck a piece in each bag of beans.

At this point, I freeze all the bags independently. Then when they're all frozen, I tuck a tomato bag into a bean bag so everything is together in one handy packet. You do whatever suits you.

On cooking day, Just empty a bag of bean mixture into your crockpot (the smallest sized ones work great for this) and cover with plenty of water. Probably 2 cups of water to 1 cup of beans. Set the tomato packet into a bowl or something in the fridge. You'll deal with that when you get home.

Put the cooker on the lowest cooking setting and go save the world for the day. When you get home, taste a bean to make sure it's cooked through. If not, crank the cooker up for half an hour or so, but it will be cooked through, I'm sure. Toss in the tomato-lemon packet and when everything is hot again, enjoy your dinner.

Serve with crusty bread, a bright green salad and a nice red wine. Something like a grenache would be lovely with this. Excellent when eaten while wearing feety pajamas. Trap door UP, if you please.

It's a Beautiful Life

Sweet Hubs took this picture at work the other day.

It underscores the beauty of nature, the meaning of determination and demonstrates a work ethic.

It also illuminates the meaning of the phrase "busy as a beaver".... and I don't mean the X-rated kind. :-)

A Hausfrau's Kitchen - Love and Logic

OK, maybe love seems like a strange word to use when talking about a kitchen, but let's get real. Let's get real in several ways.

Cooking can be a labor of love, even if we're only cooking for ourselves. It can also be a gratifying task, creative, functional and deeply meaningful. Think about it: what do we do that has more direct effect on health and happiness than the way we feed ourselves and our loved ones?

Cooking is also, at times, time-consuming. A lot of us spend more of our waking hours at home in the kitchen than in any other room. For these reasons and many more, I believe that it is important that you curate (yes! I said curate!!!) a kitchen that pleases you. You need to have the function of a kitchen, yes. You should also have the heart.

Whatever it is that makes you smile when you see it, that should be what you look for as you furnish your kitchen. It doesn't have to be all straight from a high-end retailer (unless you really do have that kind of taste and budget, then go for it). My own kitchen is the result of many years of gifts, purchases and even rescues.

Let's roll back in time a little. I grew up in an age where young girls were still sometimes given a "Hope Chest". My very traditional parents liked that idea, but they were also very smart. So my sister and I each had an "Independence Chest". After we reached our teens, Christmas presents usually contained some useful object for the Independence Chest. The idea was that we would have a good start on furnishing our first homes when we flew the family nest. Some of what is in my kitchen today came from that Independence Chest.

I was given a fabulous cookbook, which I basically beat the hell out of until it was only a collection of stained pages, loose from a binding. When I saw the same cookbook in an antique store in Missoula a few years ago (that kinda hurts to even say .... ) in much better condition, I glommed right onto it and fondly kissed the battered volume goodbye.

(**edit: several people have asked me, "What IS this 'fabulous cookbook' you love so much?" So here's the link: )

Beyond the actual objects in your kitchen, I think it is important to arrange your kitchen in a way that makes intuitive sense to you. For many of us, a kitchen with zones works well: a prep area, a cooking area and a plating area, for example. Other kitchens might have a baking zone, where the mixing bowls, appliances and baking staples are kept, and cooking zone with the pans, knives, etc. What works for you? The simplest way to find out is to start cooking and note what you wish was in easy reach as you go along.

So let's talk about my kitchen. My ACTUAL kitchen.

It's in a state of transition right now. Even as I sit here typing, Sweet Hubs is working on a building that will house the pantry of my dreams, with a place for large kitchen pieces that don't get used frequently but are still needed: canning equipment for one. Also, it will be a place to store all the food I can, and the foods I buy in bulk. It kind of makes my heart race a little bit just to envision it.

My kitchen is also in a state of transition right now because we moved in full time recently and combined two fully-stocked kitchens into one very small kitchen. There is a level of disorder I am not comfortable with or happy about, but this is life at the moment.

So here we go:

First, some things I love. I love the hutch because Sweet Hubs built it for me. Also because it contains a selection of beautiful and useful bowls. And wine. Storage for kitchen electrics behind the doors. The earthenware bowls on the bottom-left and top-middle section were rescued from Great-Grandma's hoard. And that giant bowl in the middle-middle (Alice's Brady Bunch spot) is my bread bowl. I bought it from the potter herself at a craft fair in Pine, Arizona. Also note the platter at middle-top and matching bowl on the third shelf on right. Sweet Hubs had them custom made by another Arizona potter, just for me. The lovely bowl on the third shelf on left was a gift from my sweet Risa. I am a blessed woman.

My spice cabinet. Kept away from the stove, as all spices should be.

It's one of those rotating things,

So I can fit a lot of stuff in there.  You'll note that I generally keep baking type spices on the top shelf, since I don't make a lot of desserts, and cooking herbs and spices on the bottom two. 
Incidentally, that meat tenderizer you see there? I don't use it for that. I use it for bee stings and mosquito bites. I have NO idea why it's in with the food.  Go figure.

More spices plus cooking oils and such.... in another cupboard. Heaven help anyone who needs to find anything in my kitchen right now if I'm not there to guide them. Things are so scattered!!!

Then there is the pantry cabinet. Also built by my beloved, and horribly disorganized right at the moment. But it's chock full, that's for sure.
 Please take note of a box of Ding Dongs, and also the liquor on the top shelf. We aren't monks, after all.

 This cabinet also has a huge bottom drawer, where I store my skillets.

As if that isn't enough of a mess, there are the condiments and spices in the fridge. You know that all red spices should be refrigerated, right?

Here is where the magic happens as far as prepping and baking:
 That's a sourdough starter that I'm feeding there.
See my darling Kitchenaid mixer and knives? Also, the useful and beautiful cutting boards: the olive wood one in the back is so pretty I almost hate to use it. The Kobi one below is my daily workhorse. And isn't that cast iron pot a thing of useful beauty?
My stove. My buddy. It gets a lot of action. And being a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants cook, that's just a bowl of kosher salt, for pinching, grabbing, scooping and spooning.
The whole picture overall? It's a little, happy kitchen where little happy Hausfrau things happen almost every day:

Last but not least? A huge help to me in the kitchen because I'm not much over 5 feet tall?

I love this place and this space and what happens here. If you don't feel that way about your kitchen, I suggest you take steps immediately to turn it into a place where you can express yourself.

A Hausfrau's Kitchen - All By Myself

OK, every hausfrau needs some down time, right? What about the simple, de-stressing pleasure of cooking a dinner just for you?

Let's talk about a simple, nutritious pasta dish you can throw together just a few minutes, and one that would make nice leftovers for a weekday lunch, too.

You'll need to swing by the grocer and pick up:

  • Boneless, skinless chicken breast(s): one will give you enough for dinner tonight + one lunch, unless you're really hungry tonight.
  • 1 package of short pasta: penne would be great. Mostaccioli? Sure! Orecchiette? Nice. Just look for something that isn't long enough that you have to boil a big pot of water. One note: I don't really love shapes like farfalle (bow-ties), because when the center is finally al dente, the edges are mush. FYI.
  • 1 leek  
  • Something green, whatever you might like: asparagus, spinach, kale, broccoli, chard would all work. Artichoke hearts (not marinated!) would be good. Belgium endive would be yummy. (Look for compact heads, without too many bruised or discolored leaves).Image result for Belgium endive
  • White wine that would be nice in both the cooking and in the drinking. A dry riesling, unoaked chardonnay (ONLY unoaked, in my opinion), rhine, chablis blanc, sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio would all work.
  • Good quality chicken stock (you should have this in your pantry, you know.)
  • Olive oil, coconut oil (also a pantry item).
  • Seasoned bread crumbs (Pantry! Hello!!!)
  • butter
  • minced garlic
  • good parmesan cheese
  • herbs: dried basil and parsley would be my choice and you should have some of these in your pantry.
  • a thickening agent. You can use flour, cornstarch or even two eggs for this step. 
  • If you want to add a small loaf of foccacio to the cart, great. Worried about carbs? OK, pick up some crunchy raw veggies or a salad or whatever you like to round out the meal. But this is a pretty complete meal without anything on the side.
  • Don't forget a bouquet of flowers. Just because you're only feeding you doesn't mean you should ignore the proprieties. Besides, you spend more time with you than with anyone else. You should treat you with love and affection.
How simple!

You'll need a good sized skillet, with the deepest sides you have, and oven-safe if possible to cut down on washing later, and a large saucepan. Also grab your dinner plate. You're going to use it pre-eating, too.

Turn on some music, decant the wine and get into your comfy clothes. You've had a tough day. 

Fill the saucepan about 2/3rds full with water and throw in a good bit of salt. Bring it to a boil. 

Meanwhile, a little prep: Trim the root end from the leek, and then cut off the tough green top. Some green color is fine, just make sure it's still the tender part near the white end. Now slice the leek in half lengthwise and wash wash wash. Leeks tend to get dirt in between the layers and nothing says ICK like a crunch of dirt in your dinner. Then slice one of the halves into small pieces. Save the other half for another day. Heat your skillet over medium heat and add your coconut oil, olive oil or a bit of butter. Just enough to coat the bottom. Throw in the chopped leek and prep the rest:

Wash your green veggies and cut into smallish-bite sized pieces. If you chose Belgian Endive, then pull off any discolored leaves and slice it in rounds from root to tip. Separate pieces that are all leaf from the ones that have the little core. It's all delicious, they just cook at different rates.

Set the prepped veggies aside and then cut up the chicken breast into bite-sized pieces.

When the leeks are starting to brown a little, here and there, throw the minced garlic in the pan and cook that all together for a few minutes. Removed these from the pan (just put them on your dinner plate), add a little more oil to the pan and give the prepped green veggies their turn. 

Here's where things change, depending on your veggie of choice. If you picked chard or spinach, a quick couple of minutes is all you need. For broccoli or asparagus, you want to get them just a little brown in a few spots, then add a splash of the chicken broth and cook a bit longer. If you picked Belgium Endive, then start with the little solid bits, saute them for a couple of minutes, turning once, then throw in the leafy ends and cook until you have that yummy kiss of brown edges. Artichokes hearts don't really need any time in the pan at all.

Remove your veggies to the plate with the leeks, being careful not to get any oil on the outside of the pan. Is there still a little oil, or even a bit of chicken stock in the bottom of the skillet? Great! Leave it in there and throw in the chicken. Add a little more oil if you've been stingy up to here.

By now your pasta water should certainly be boiling. Reduce the heat a bit and toss about 1-1/2 to 2 cups of pasta in there. Stir it regularly, and leave the wooden spoon in the pan to help avoid boilovers.
Your momma may have told you to add a bit of oil to the water, but I disagree with that method. The oil keeps the pasta from sticking together, up to a point, yes and helps discourage boiling over. It also discourages the sauce from clinging to the pasta later! Cook the pasta al dente, meaning completely cooked but still firm to the bite and drain it completely. 

Preheat your oven to about 375 degrees.

Cook the chicken until it is kissed all over with lovely brown bits.

**Here's a little tip for you: are you having problems with meat sticking to your pans? The problem is most likely that you are trying to move it too soon. Let it cook on that side until it is getting brown, and it will usually release just fine. This is true, as well, for things that you are breading and frying such as eggplant parmagiana or even fried chicken. If your breading is coming off, you're moving that food too soon.**

Remove the chicken to your plate of veggies (again, avoid letting anything drip on the outside of the pan) and deglaze the pan with a good, healthy splash of white wine. about 1/ 3 cup would work. I hope you have that much left in the bottle? Add a couple of tablespoons of parsley and about a teaspoon of dried basil.  Stir the simmering wine around, scraping up any tasty bits from the bottom of the pan into the wine. When the liquid has reduced to about half of where you started, add 1-1/2 cups of chicken stock. Simmer this for a few minutes and thicken:

To thicken it you have a couple of choices. 
  1. You can get a small jar, put 2 or 3 tablespoons of flour or cornstarch in there, add 1/4 cup of chicken stock or wine, put the lid back on the jar and shake it like Elvis. Then just stir that into the simmering sauce and keep stirring it until the sauce thickens. One note: if you want a glossy looking sauce or gravy, use cornstarch. If you want a more country-looking matte finish, use flour. OR, 
  2. to thicken it with egg, which will amp up your protein level and make this reminiscent of a coal miner's pasta (tempering an egg for sauce is a technique you really should learn, anyway), beat two eggs in a small bowl with a fork. Beat them well. Beat them like you always wanted to beat that mean kid in grade school. OK, really, you're just looking to make sure that you can't tell white from yolk in there. Then add a ladle full of the hot liquid from the pan to the beaten egg, continuing to beat with the fork while you pour the hot liquid in. Mix it well. Then you want to add the egg mixture back to the pan, stirring the pan the whole time, pour the egg in a steady small stream until it's all in there. Continue stirring until the sauce has thickened. 
Add the pasta and all that mess on your dinner plate to the skillet full of thickened yumminess. Stir it all around. Either leave it in the skillet, or pour it into an oven-proof casserole dish.Sprinkle it with parmesan cheese and bread crumbs and then a bit more parmesan. Drizzle a little bit of melted butter over that and pop it into the oven until the topping is golden. Meanwhile, wipe off your plate if you feel you need to, and get ready to dish up when your pasta is done!

Nothing to it! 

Now. One last note.

You took the time to cook yourself a real dinner. Please do eat it like you actually appreciate your effort! Set a place and sit down at the table. Have a glass of wine. Notice your food. Take the time to savor what you have cooked. Not only will you enjoy your food more, you'll lower your stress, probably eat less than you would if you mindlessly stuff your face while binge-watching old episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show. 

A Hausfrau's Kitchen - ShowTIME!

Your guests will be arriving in a couple of hours. The wine is chilled, the music has been selected, much of the food has been prepped and you're dressed so freakin' cute that no one will probably notice the dinner, anyway.

The first thing to do is double check that you have everything you need. Ice? Enough of everything? Check! If it's all good, pour yourself a glass of liquid confidence guzzling wine and let's look at what you're making:

Appetizer: Spinach Artichoke Dip with Pita Chips

Baked Salmon Fillet with Dill and Capers
Roasted Fingerling Potatoes
Steamed Broccoli in Lemon Butter Sauce
Baby Greens with Pears and Feta

Dessert: Apple Crisp with Whipped Cream

At this point, I would set the table or set up the buffet, depending on how you plan to serve. Assuming that your guests will arrive earlier than the dinner hour to enjoy wine, appetizers and spicy talk, at two hours before launch, pop that covered dish of Spinach Artichoke Dip you made in the oven: make sure your oven racks are placed in the middle of the oven, probably the second-slot from the top and the second slot from the bottom will work. Turn the oven to 350 degrees (yes, put the dip into a cold oven, and let the dish warm up along with the oven). If your dish doesn't have an oven safe lid, spray a little pan spray on the down side of a piece of foil and cover the dip with that. 

While the dip is heating, start getting the butter sauce and the salad ready:

In a small saucepan, put one stick of REAL butter near the back of the stove (where the oven vents) to begin melting. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze half into the saucepan, too. But don't throw away the squeezed half!
Add a good 3 tablespoons or so of parsley, fresh or dried and a generous pinch of salt, kosher preferably.

Wash the greens again and spin them drip. You can also spread them out on a tea towel and toss them around until most of the moisture is gone. Cut the pears into slices the same way you did the apple for your dessert, and rub the slices with that cut lemon. If you need a little more lemon, then squeeze the other half, reserving the juice for the salmon, and use that other rind, too. Whisk together 1/4 cup of the light olive oil with 2 tablespoons of Balsamic vinegar. Add a smidgeon of the oil from the sun-dried tomatoes, and chop 4 or 5 the julienne strips of sun-dried tomato very finely. Whisk that into your oil and vinegar mixture, along with a nice healthy pinch of parsley and/or basil or a mixture of both. Set your vinaigrette aside. 

Toss the pears with the baby greens. Slice the feta if you bought a block of it, and arrange the slices on top of the salad. If you have crumbled feta, sprinkle a plentiful amount on top of the salad, and pop that in the refrigerator. You'll dress the salad right before you serve it, because it would wilt if you dress it now.

When the dip is heated well-through (about 20-30 minutes or so), as evidenced by the bubbling and fragrant situation it's in, take the foil/lid off and turn up the oven heat to about 375. When the top is starting to brown, it's ready to serve. Just warn your guests that the dish is hot.

At 45 minutes before dinner time, while your guests are laughing and admiring you wine choice, get ready to start the final cooking. Put a few inches of water in the bottom of your steamer and turn that on medium heat. 
Pull the potatoes and salmon from the fridge and uncover them. How do the potatoes look? Are they a little too dry? If you think so, you can drizzle just a touch more oil on them, toss them well. Pop them into the 375 degree oven on the lower of the two racks. Check your butter. Is it melted yet? If not, you can start melting it over low heat. When it's fully melted, add a generous pinch of cayenne pepper and set it aside. 

Get the salmon ready. Chop a few sprigs of the baby dill and squeeze the lemon juice from that remaining half over them. Get about 12 capers from the jar and rinse them under cool water. Then chop them kind of roughly and add to the dill/lemon mixture. Make sure the filet is skin-side down and 30 minutes before you plan to serve the meal, put the salmon in the oven on the upper of the two middle-placed racks. Bake the salmon for 10 minutes and then add the lemon-dill-caper stuff: just pour it evenly over the top and spread it around with a silicone brush if needed. Pinch off 3 to 5 more dill sprigs and lay them evenly over the top. Now switch the potatoes and the salmon, putting the salmon on the lower rack and the potatoes on top. Give the potatoes a stir or a shake before you put them back in. They should be getting nice and browned now? If they aren't, then move that oven rack all the way to the top.

Got your serving dishes ready? You'll be dishing up soon! 

Throw the prepared broccoli into the steamer and cover.

Generally, you would cook a salmon filet for 4 to 6 minutes for every 1/2" of thickness. But that is usually done in a faster (hotter) oven. Give yourself just a little extra time in a slower oven. 

When the salmon has been baking for 25 minutes (total), give it a little poke with fork. Does it seem flaky? Fully cooked? Perfect! Turn off the oven, shake up your vinaigrette and dress the salad. Now get the salmon, the broccoli and the potatoes onto their platters or bowls or whatever. Stir the lemon butter sauce and drizzle it over the broccoli. Snip a little bit more fresh baby dill onto the salmon and give it a very light drizzle with light olive oil. And you're ready to serve!

If you want to serve the apple crisp warm, you can just put that dish back in the oven (which has been turned off) and let the residual heat warm the dessert a bit while you and your guests enjoy a lovely dinner.

A Hausfrau's Kitchen - Time to Cook! Let's Prep.

Here you are. At home with all the groceries you bought for your fun, casual dinner party with six friends.

How do you tackle THIS project?

Let's start with the actual groceries. Before you put them away, let's see what you can prep ahead of time. You  bought:
  • 1 large, fresh salmon fillet, about 3 - 3.5 pounds. 
  • 1 bag of washed baby spinach
  • A few sprigs of baby dill
  • About 3 to 5 pounds of tri-color fingerling potatoes. 
  • 2 large bundles of broccoli crowns
  • 1 lemon
  • Fresh baby greens: 
  • 3 ripe pears.
  • 8 apples: 
  • 1 Can or or 1 small bag frozen artichokes, not marinated
  • Either prepared Pita chips or pitas. Ah. Go ahead and buy the prepared kind. You'll be busy.
  • Milk
  • Parmesan cheese, either pre-grated or to grate yourself
  • Feta
  • 8 oz. package cream cheese or neufchatel
  • Butter
  • 1 pint of heavy/whipping cream
(Everything else is already in your well-stocked pantry, right?)

This is a fairly low-prep meal you're making so really there's only a little bit to do. As you're putting your groceries away, hold out the lemon, spinach, broccoli and the can/bag of artichokes. You could wash the potatoes now, too. You'll prep those soon. 

Prepare your broccoli. Slice off the toughened end, and then cut the remaining stem into about 1" cubes. Set those aside. Break or cut the florettes into bite sized pieces. The stems are perfectly edible and you can serve them at dinner, or you can save them to add to a broccoli cheese soup later. Either way, refrigerate your cut up broccoli until it's time to cook.

Prepare the artichokes. Either leave the frozen ones out to thaw and deal with them later, or if you bought a can of artichokes, drain them really, really well. When they're thawed or drained, chop them up into fairly small chunks. Then chop up the baby spinach, discarding the stems (or set aside to add to soup stock later). Refrigerate them in the oven-safe bowl you plan to serve this dip in later and save yourself one dish. 

Chill the wine. If you have SS mixing bowls, choose a medium sized one that is tall and deep, rather than a big open kind of bowl, and put that in the freezer with the beaters from your mixer. 

Several hours or the day before the meal: 

Make the apple crisp. Grease an oblong cake pan, such as a Pyrex dish, with pan spray. Heat the oven to 375. Peel, core and slice the apples into medium-thick slices (about 1/4 inch thick) and place them in a bowl. There's an easy way to do this: peel the apple and cut down both sides, next to the core. Like this, from Wikihow:
Image result for easy way to slice apples Except peeling it first. Then cut the other two sides, leaving a square core, Then just slice those pieces. It works great. If you're going to do a lot of apples in life, then splurge on one of these:

Apple Peeling Gizmo Red (although I like the clamp-on kind better than a suction cup that never does seem to have the holding power)

When the apples are all sliced, combine 3 tablespoons of tapioca flour, cornstarch or flour with the sugar and mix it well. Stir that over the apples, dump it all into the prepared pan and dot the top of this with about 1 tablespoon butter, chopped into little pieces. Then make your topping. Mix 1 cup of quick oats with 1/4 flour, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/4 cup of melted butter. Just mix it with a fork. Chopped pecans are really good in there, too, if you have any. Sprinkle that over the apples and bake until the apples are tender and the crisp topping is brown and fabulous. Usually about 35 - 40 minutes. Cool.

Now let's make the spinach artichoke dip. You'll need the cream cheese, parmesan, flour, butter, chicken broth, milk, salt, pepper, spinach and artichokes. Cut the cream cheese into smallish chunks, and grate the parmesan if it isn't already. 

In a medium saucepan, melt 1/4 cup of butter over low heat. Add 1/4 cup of flour and stir, cooking, until smooth. Add a pinch of salt and 1/3 cup of chicken broth. Cook, stirring, until it starts to thicken. Then add 1/2 cup of milk. Continue cooking, stirring, until the mixture is pretty hot. Then start adding the chunks of cream cheese, a few at a time and let them melt thoroughly. Stir in some of the parmesan (reserve some for the top), the prepared artichokes and spinach and heat well through. Then pour it back into the oven-safe dish, sprinkle the parmesan on top and let cool. Refrigerate until about an hour before you expect your guests.

Now for the potatoes. Get a large saucepan or dutch oven next to your cutting board. Sort through the potatoes, leaving small ones whole (boop! right into the pot) and cutting larger ones so that they are all roughly the same size. Take out any eyes that may have started and trim off any questionable parts as you go. Cover them with water, throw a few teaspoons of salt in and a bay leaf or two if you have them (no this was not on your shopping list, it's a bonus) and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. When the potatoes come to a boil, reduce the heat to a nice, healthy simmer. Leave a wooden spoon sticking in the pot to help avoid boiling over. I don't know why that works, but it does.

When the potatoes are fork-tender, drain them well, and spread them on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Drizzle olive oil over the top and sprinkle with the basil, parsley and oregano, salt and pepper. Chill the whole sheet until about 45 minutes before the dinner bell rings.

Get the salmon ready. Start by getting a baking pan large enough to fit the entire fillet with nothing draping over. Line it with...wait for it.... you got it! Parchment. Sprinkle some salt and pepper on the parchment. Pat the salmon dry with good paper towels. Brush it lightly with coconut or light olive oil. cover it with another sheet of parchment and return it to the fridge.

Last, no more than a few hours before the meal, whip the cream with 1/3 cups sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla until it's fairly stiff. To save on mess, place the bowl in the bottom of your kitchen sink (on a sponge or paper towel to keep it from spinning) and if you are pretty coordinated, make a little booth out of a dish cloth, making sure that the beaters can't grab the cloth. Little specks of cream are going to fly, I'm warning you. And don't wear anything that can't be washed, because there are going to be specks of cream on you, leaving little grease spots on your clothes. Do you have an apron?

Anyway. Whip the cream until stiff. If you have a sieve or a colander that will work, line it with paper towels, cheese cloth, muslin or even coffee filters, place that over a bowl and spoon the whipped cream into the lined sieve and refrigerate the whole thing.You'll surprised at how much additional liquid will drain out. Be very careful to cover this well, as you don't want the whipped cream to be kissed with a light salmon flavor.

That's a darn good start on your dinner. Now you can make sure that the powder room is ready for company, the table is ready, centerpiece is done, and you can put on your party clothes because there's very little mess from here on out.

Next post: Go time!