"Bacon is the candy of meat."

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

How I Won Family Dinner, or Two Thumbs Up

Lucas showing the whole hand.

I have previously mentioned the Lucas Dinner Scale, by which my opinionated middle son rates all meals on a thumbs up-thumbs down system, including all points in between. Two thumbs up is at the top of the scale, with a damning-with-faint-praise rating available of one thumb held at about a 20 degree angle to the floor. It's a tough crowd.

But I've been on a roll for the last week, earning repeated double thumbs. I decided to memorialize it, in case it never happens again.

All your leftovers are belong to me.
On Friday I did baked Salmon Teriyaki, with jasmine rice and edamame. Not as highly ranked on the Lucas Scale, but it's a favorite of Teen Gateau, who likes to flake the salmon and mix it with the rice. These guys never tolerated fish at all when we lived in New York, but now that we're in Vancouver they are becoming more open to it. The leftovers of this went into a very nice salad for my lunch -- greens, a honey-mustard-white balsamic dressing, and some sliced mushrooms I tossed in the dressing before adding to the plate.

Saturday was FONDUE NIGHT. Fondue is a huge family favorite, and I'd neglected to make it since we moved. (I also like to preserve its power to impress by not making it too often). We have a beautiful copper fondue pot on a wrought-iron stand that we bought after seeing similar ones at the wonderful (and apparently late lamented) Fonduementale in Montreal. I return again and again to the classic Swiss cheese fondue with Emmentaler, Appenzeller, and Gruyere with white wine and a splash of Kirschwasser. Since we left all our booze behind when we moved, I didn't feel like dropping 25 bucks on a bottle of Kirschwasser to use a couple times a year, so I successfully substituted some of the brandy my dried cherries have been soaking in for about a month. It added a touch darker color to the final product, but not noticeable to anyone who might have cared, and I think the dish is nicer with that touch of sweetness than without it.

I have a book full of fondue recipes -- Roquefort! Cheddar and Beer! -- but the classic is so mouthwateringly good that I never switch it up. Occasionally, we'll do a meat fondue with hot broth or oil and a selection of sauces and aiolis to dip the food into. The Parmesan-Basil Aioli I served on Christmas Eve would be perfect for this, with chicken or beef, and the kids love a Maple-Soy Glaze with pork. Anyway, after every last bit of cheese was scraped up, every bread cube and slice of pear and green apple was gone, we moved on to a simple chocolate fondue with strawberries, apples, dried apricots, and chunks of pound cake. It's amazing we still had room, but that managed to disappear too.

On Sunday, while the rest of the family was out having a swimming test to sign up for lessons, I cast around the kitchen for something to cook. I had defrosted boneless chicken thighs with the notion in mind to make Chicken Malai Kebabs (a/k/a Chicken Kebab the Builder) but when I went to set up the marinade I discovered that the only plain yogurt in the house was at the back of the fridge and practically unrecognizable as a food product. I shelved that idea for later in the week (in fact, Tiny Fuzzy indignantly asked me tonight why I had not made them yet. People.) What I did have, though, were sufficient ingredients to make a simplified Chicken Mole, with tomato, dark chocolate, cinnamon, clove, onion, garlic, and cayenne. We had that with rice, and got something hovering around one and a half thumbs on the Lucas Dinner Scale. There was enough left, and so much sauce, that for Monday night I simply popped the leftovers in their dutch oven back on the stove and added kidney beans and corn kernels to create a Chicken Mole Stew. The flavors had a chance to develop overnight, and my household full of discerning palates pointed out that next time it could use a little less cinnamon. Noted.

Hello, Joe.
Somehow on Tuesday I managed to get a hankering for Sloppy Joes, which I've made maybe once in my life. My kids like burgers, they like spaghetti and meat sauce, they like sweet and sour meatballs, so I figured this would work. I got some whole wheat buns from the bakery, made a nice thick tangy sauce for the organic ground beef I always have in the freezer from Costco, and served it with salted edamame. Cheers around the table and double thumbs. The meal was a hit, and even better, I had played the "let's bake something!" card when the two younger boys were having simultaneous afternoon hissy fits, and we had a pan of freshly-baked Blondies for dessert. No nuts allowed by the Picky Ones, but somehow we survived. Even easier to make than chocolate chip cookies, and there is something about them I like even better. (One enduring mystery of life here in Canada, though, is why we can get Nestle Qwik but not Tollhouse Morsels, and Hershey's Chip-Its but not Hershey's Syrup.)
Blondies have more fun.
And then tonight we again had major success. For American Thanksgiving, my butcher had made me a very nice rolled and tied boneless turkey breast that they had brined and gave me to carry home in a plastic bag with liquid, like a goldfish at the fair. It was so simple to prepare and so delicious that I decided to put it into the repertoire. All the butcher requires is a little advance notice, so I stopped by yesterday and asked them to put one aside for me. Today I simply laid it on a rack inside a rimmed baking sheet and seasoned it lightly with olive oil, salt and pepper, marjoram, and sage. I put some halved baby potatoes, tossed in olive oil, salt, pepper, and rosemary into a baking pan and cooked at the same time, and served it all with some steamed stringbeans (also dressed in olive oil, salt, and pepper) and a little gravy I made out of the pan juices, a bit of chicken broth, and a drop of soy sauce, bound with a little cornstarch. Every morsel was gobbled up, and the thumbs were high in the air. I couldn't have pulled this off when I was still working full time in an office with a commute, but since I'm home now to put things in the oven before five (if the meal gets delayed past about 6, the witching hour starts to be upon us), this is a really nice weeknight dinner that feels more special than it really is.

I'm fairly assured that Chicken Kebab the Builder tomorrow will keep the streak alive (I'm going to try marinating cauliflower florets in the same yogurt marinade and roast them alongside, in part of my effort to restore my lower carb routine -- hopefully my waistbands will thank me). However, I'm sure this will be followed by a month of missing the mark entirely. Stay tuned.

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