Cooking Dinner… After Dinner

radishes2The ease of dinner from the fridge or freezer on weeknights means that the cooking time must come from some other time in the week. Rather than doing a big freezer cooking day, my routine has always been to simply cook more than we need and freeze the extra. But when 5 of 7 days of the week have little cooking time after work, another strategy is needed… and that’s when I cook dinner after dinner. Continue reading “Cooking Dinner… After Dinner”

Thanksgiving Simplified: Lessons from my Mother 


This year, since the loss of my mother, who was the queen of holidays, I  working on changing up our holiday celebrations. I have so many wonderful, glowing memories of her over-the-top celebrations. I truly enjoyed every one of them, but I am not my mother. She greatly enjoyed every bit of time and energy she put into our holiday celebrations, so the work was not a burden to her, but a joy. When I became a mom, for many years I tried to keep my childhood holiday traditions, the things my mother enjoyed doing, and add to them the parts that I enjoyed doing. I ended up pretty overwhelmed. This year, I’m working on simplifying Thanksgiving by paring it back to the things that are enjoyable to the people actually celebrating this year. 

Farming it out

My mom did not love to cook. She loved to decorate, do crafts, and shop for holiday supplies. She loved to set a tablescape fit for royalty, and have every little detail in place. She was willing to make the basics, but she did a lot of what she called “assembling” when it came to food. She knew the places to buy the best baked goods, appetizers, cheeses and desserts. She didn’t feel any pressure to make everything from scratch herself. I do love to cook, but I’m in a phase of life where trying to make everything myself is anything but a recipe for a happy holiday. This year, I am planning on buying some of the pies from a church fundraiser. I’m buying Pillsbury crescent rolls instead of making my own. 

Sharing the Load 

In part because my mom didn’t love cooking the way I do, she had no problem asking other people to do their part. My dad  did as much of the cooking as my mom did, and I was contributing to the feast by the time I was 10. I loved it. This year I assigned each kid a dish. Cheyenne made the green bean casserole the Saturday before, and Bella made the mashed potatoes. James made the sweet potato casserole, and I made the stuffing. Bella volunteered to do a baking activity, and help the little girls make pumpkin and sweet cream pies. Zach is in charge of the turkey, Travis will make the crescent rolls and my dad will bring the cranberries. The kids are excited to show off their contributions, and I am less stressed. Bella loves to decorate, so she wants to take care of the table. 

Expectation Management

If it doesn’t look like a magazine shoot, that’s fine with me. The point is for our family to get together and enjoy each other’s company. Anything that takes away from that is not something we need in our celebration. Having teenagers now, I’m always surprised when they talk about things they did when they were little that seemed like no big deal to me, but made a big impact on them. It’s amazing how little we really need to be happy. 

Homemade Bread Routines

wmbread2Bread.

One of my favorite aromas: a bakery that uses a sour rye culture.  One of my least favorite aromas: the packaged bread aisle of supermarkets.

I’ve been making most of our breads, of all shapes and sizes, for years. Slightly fluffy whole grain sandwich bread, crusty and fragrant sourdough, tortillas, pita, and naan, pizza, and occasionally bagels – I enjoy the process and product both.

Baking bread has the reputation of being time-consuming.  I’ve experimented with various means of fitting the bread cycle into our days, and I’ve assessed the competition Continue reading “Homemade Bread Routines”

Cool Summer Cooking

greens potatoes w
Dinner baked outside = cool kitchen inside

When I used to visit my grandparents in the 1980s, the original 1940 gas stove was installed in the basement, having been replaced by a 1960-something model.  It was a beautiful appliance, porcelainized with that granite finish still seen on some cookware, and which looked nice for decades more than my 1990s white-finish gas stove.  The house had no air conditioning, and that stove was used all summer to reduce heat added to the main floor of the house.

Today many houses have air conditioning, but in the interest of energy conservation and comfort, as well as channeling the spirit of my grandmother, I don’t use the oven from May through September.

There are so many different small kitchen appliances that they are their own category of clutter.  Many promise, at least in the advertising copy, that holy grail of cooking: dinner without any actual work or time.  I’ve tried my share of them, and know that dinner without any work or time usually isn’t worth eating (unless the work and time were previously done, otherwise known as leftovers).

Small appliances can be tremendously convenient, though, for cooking outside of the kitchen – including cooking outside, keeping the house cool in the summer, and also reducing indoor humidity.  Added to the grill, they expand summer cooking options:

Slow cooker: dried beans, granola, fish, and all the slow cooker standards

Toaster oven: Anything that’s usually baked and can fit.  My toaster oven can hold a 6- muffin tin, a loaf pan, a 9″ pie plate, or an 11×9 rectangular dish.  Small baking pans can be easily sourced at thrift shops.

Grill: pizza and other flatbreads, vegetables, and the usual grilled fare

Today I had more of our endless stream of garden greens, some gigantic onions, and the end of a bag of potatoes.  So I made

Greens and Potato Gratin

This has flavors similar to spanakopita without the bother of a crust.

Preheat toaster oven to 350F.  Oil an 11×7 baking dish.  Scale recipe accordingly if this is too large for your toaster oven.

Steam until tender:
6-8 c chopped kale or collard greens
½ large onion, chopped

Microwave or steam until tender:
5 small red potatoes

Saute over low heat until soft and browning but not caramelized:
½ large onion, finely sliced lengthwise

Slice the potatoes.

Add to the greens/onions mixture
4 oz feta cheese, crumbled
2 tsp oregano
2 tsp dill
black pepper to taste
salt if desired (feta is salty)

Add half of the greens/onions mixture, then top with ½ of the onions and ½ of the potatoes. Brush potatoes with olive oil and repeat layers. Sprinkle more olive oil and feta over the top layer of potatoes if desired.

Bake until heated through, about 20 minutes when everything is hot on assembly.