Sunday, December 9, 2012

I Need 2 Ovens

What I have learned from my cooking and baking the last few days is that I need two ovens.  It is very hard to make elaborate 5-course meals when you can only bake one thing at a time.  But I'm getting ahead of myseld and I have about a billion recipes to share, so let me focus.

Thursday night, I made dinner for me, Mark, Rachael and Alex.  I had minimal supplies and was tired and stressed, so I wanted to see what I could whip up using one lone leek, some pasta, lemons, and bacon.  Strange ingredients, but I actually came up with a recipe for pasta carbonara with leeks and lemon.  Of course, not having more than 1 leek, I had to be a bit creative to add to the vegetable part of the dish, so I threw in some leftover kale, which I think was an excellent decision.  As for the pasta, I was very limited in my choices: I could use orzo, stuffed shells, or lasagna.  None of those were exactly what I wanted (the recipe calls for "short pasta"), so I got creative again and broke the lasagna into pieces.  It ended up working out just fine.  The one thing that was weird is that the sauce is made of lemon zest and juice, parmesan, and two eggs.  You toss it on the pasta and serve it.  With raw eggs!!!  That really freaked me out a little, so I ended up throwing the pot back on the stove for a quick minute to cook the eggs.  I know that's not what the recipe said to do, but I was all about making things up for myself that night.  In the end, the dish was really tasty and got compliments from all three of my dinnermates.  Plus I was rather proud of myself for thinking like a chef and doing weird things to the recipe!

Then yesterday I signed up to bring dinner to a very good family friend.  You know, one of those friends who will be at your house within 8 seconds of your family emergency with a meal from Olive Garden?  That kind of person who works for every single charity that exists, including running around like a crazy lady during my golf tournament?  The lady who will do whatever you need, whenever you do it?  That would be Tammy.  So when her mother died, I immediately sent her a text and offered to  bring over dinner.  Apparently, Susie texted her at the same time, so she took Friday and I took yesterday.  I asked Susie what she brought so I wouldn't repeat, and she said she had made a ziti bake, and then said, "Oh, and did you know there are 12 people?"  Ha!  Well no, I was not aware of that, but hey, I'm not scared of cooking for large amounts of people.  What scared me more was Susie's hint that most of the people are "big hungry men" who might like to eat meat.  Okay... so I am cooking a whole meal for 12 people and making something meaty.... no problem!  I frantically texted Kenzie for advice, and she recommended a ham dinner.  That requires minimal meat-touching and would allow me to focus on the parts that I like best: breads, dessert, and side dishes.  So Kenzie shopped for me and I got started on my menu: spiral ham, twice baked potato casserole, from scratch green bean casserole, honey yeast rolls, and chocolate crinkle cookies!

I made the cookies first, and thanks to some dough rolling help from Kenzie, they were done in no time.  These are honestly my go-to cookies for anything.  Everyone loves them, they are pretty and easy, and the recipe makes a ton.  This is my third time making them and I know it won't be my last.

Then I started my bread dough.  I knew I wanted to make the family some bread, and at first I thought I would make the herbed dinner rolls I made for Easter, but when I saw this recipe for honey yeast rolls from my beloved Annie's Eats, I knew I wanted to try them instead.  They have honey in them, so they are slightly sweet but still savory enough to serve with dinner.  Plus you brush the tops with honey and melted butter; that right there got me! The dough has to rise for 2 hours, which was good because it gave me time to work on the casseroles in between.  When it was ready, I divided the dough into perfect round little balls (I am finally getting good at that!) and put them into a round cake pan to bake.  I am very glad I doubled this recipe and kept some for my family, because they are delicious.  And I even forgot to use bread flour until my last 2 cups, so I was worried that the consistency wouldn't be perfect, but oh, it was.  They are, like I said, slightly sweet, soft and fluffy.  The top is golden brown and buttery and honey-y (is that a word), and it is very very easy to eat more than one in a sitting.  These rolls will be made again.  Soon,

Casseroles, pre-baking
Next it was casserole time.  I started with the potato casserole first.  I made a very similar one back for my family's Easter dinner, but this recipe came from Annie and so I wanted to try it.  Unlike the misleading recipe name implies, these potatoes are not twice baked, or even baked at all until you bake the whole casserole!  They are peeled and boiled, and then mashed with all sorts of delightful goodies like cheddar cheese, sour cream, bacon and scallions.  Can you imagine anything more delicious?  Baked with more cheese and scallions on top for 20 minutes, and voila: twice baked potatoes, minus the skin, minus the re-stuffing!  So easy and so amazing.  I was very glad to have doubled this recipe as well, so we got to keep one of the casseroles.  I am not embarrassed to admit that I just finished off the last tiny remnant of this casserole; it is everything that mashed potatoes in a casserole should be.

my own cream of mushroom soup!
The green bean casserole intrigued me from the minute I saw the recipe (good old Annie's Eats again!).  I have never actually had green bean casserole, actually, but I know what it is: green beans, cream of mushroom soup, topped with fried onions.  It sounds great to me, but my family has just never had it.  When I saw this recipe for the same casserole but with everything from scratch, I had to try it out.  You literally make your own cream of mushroom soup, with mushrooms, half and half,  chicken broth, and, interestingly, soy sauce.  Then you blanch the green beans and put them in the soup, and bake it all together.  Pretty easy, actually.  The not-so-easy part came while the casseroles baked; you have to fry some shallot to sprinkle over the top of the finished dish.  I've never fried anything before, and it was not the bsest experience.  The oil had to be 350 degrees, but how are you supposed to get it to stop once it hits 350? It gets hotter so much faster than, say, caramels.  My candy thermometer was going through the roof, and the oil was starting to burn to the pan.  The second I dropped in my flour-covered shallots, they turned pitch black.  Great.  So I turned the stove to low and waited for it to cool off a little; that worked better.  I guess keeping the unit on high was a bad idea.  I did get some of the shallots to look golden brown and pretty.  And yet, not a one ended up on the casserole.  Do you see where this is going?  Delilah got to eat an entire plate of fried shallots.  So I guess we can ask her how they were, since Tammy's family didn't get to eat a one.  Grrrrr.  And I did not have enough ingredients to make my family one of these casseroles, so I can't tell you how it was, but it looked and smelled amazing, so I have a feeling I will have to try to make this for us soon!

Now, I am not going to waste much time on the ham, since I hate meat, but it made me angry because it had to bake for about 2 hours, at a stupidly low temp of 275 degrees.  This meant nothing could bake at the same time with it, and it took all afternoon, hogging the oven!  This is why I need two ovens.  Hopefully I will never have to deal with giant hunks of meat again, but Tammy and her family were worth it :)

"Seriously?  There is a ham on the floor and it is NOT for us?"
Unfortunately, all this meat-oven-hogging meant that the poor people didn't eat till after 7:00, which to my family is actually rather early to eat, but I have a bad feeling that normal people in normal families eat much earlier than we do.  Let's face it: I am a slow cook.  I am thousands of times faster that I was a year ago (scary thought), but still pretty slow.  Although I would like to blame this slowness on the ham, and the fact that perhaps most people bringing a meal to grieving friends do not make 5 things from scratch.  Ahhhh Tammy, now I see why you go to Olive Garden ;)  With that said, I am really glad that I spent all day running around like a crazy lady in the kitchen for Tammy and her family.  While they might have been close to passing out from hunger by the time I got there, I was told that everything went except a tiny serving of green bean casserole.  What better way to say thank you for all that you have done for us, by doing a little something for that person?  7 hours in the kitchen is nothing compared to what we have gotten from Tammy!  :)

By the way, I recommend all of the recipes I am sharing today.  They were all easy and delicious, so give them a try!

P.S. Mark got the job :)

pasta carbonara with leeks and lemon
chocolate crinkle cookies
honey yeast rolls
twice baked potato casserole
green bean casserole

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