Sunday, March 6, 2011

I cooked all weekend

Next week is housing signup, which means that I have to be at work every night next week until at least 7, when housing signup ends each day. That means that by the time I get home every night I will be tired and won't want to cook, so I decided that I would cook two large items this weekend, and then portion them out to serve myself all week long. Thursday night I looked at recipes and made a grocery list, and Friday night I stopped at the store on the way home and loaded up on groceries.

Since I didn't want to use any of the groceries I'd just bought and I didn't want to dirty up a bunch of pans that I would need the next day, Friday night I made cheddar pepper crostini for dinner, because they were fast, easy, and baguettes were on manager's special at Kroger for a dollar, so I got one. Kroger sells crostini, pre-toasted, in little bags, but that's a ridiculous expense given how easy crostini is to make yourself.

Cheddar Pepper Crostini

1 baguette
olive oil
salt and pepper or herbs, whatever you feel like flavoring it with
cheddar cheese
pepper jelly

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. (I don't know what that is in Celsius or Kelvin, because I live in America.)

Slice the bread diagonally, 1/2 inches thick. Spread the slices on a cookie sheet, without overlapping them, and brush the top of each one with olive oil. (Or spray each one with olive oil cooking spray if you're lazy.) Sprinkle tops with salt and pepper or herbs. Put cookie sheet in the oven for 7 minutes.

While the bread is in the oven, slice up your cheese. You want enough to mostly cover the top of each piece of bread, so that's how much cheese you should use.

When the bread is done, take it out of the oven, top each peice with cheese, and put it back in for another minute so the cheese gets melty.

Open delicious pepper jelly:

mom's pepper jelly

I use my mom's, which is homemade and home-canned. It is delicious. If you don't have access to my mom, you should use whatever inferior substitute you can pick up at the store, or you should call my mom and try to get adopted.

Take the bread out again, and drop a teaspoon of pepper jelly on top of each crostini. The heat from the bread and cheese will make the jelly melt a little and spread out over the top:

pepper jelly crostini

Easy, delicious dinner. It's like having a sandwich, but fancier.

Friday night I also had to do some prep work for the soup I was making on Saturday. I found a recipe in the huge slow cooker cookbook that my parents got me for Christmas two years ago for Navy Bean and Bacon Chowder, and I like bacon and most kinds of beans, so I figured this would be fun to try. I had a little trouble doing the shopping, though, because the recipe called for dried navy beans and the store didn't seem to have any. They had lots of other dried beans, and I wondered if this might be one of those things like how garbonzo beans are sometimes chickpeas and really the navy beans could be sitting right in front of me by another name, but that was still a problem.

I have no idea what a navy bean looks like.

I guessed that they weren't actually navy, because "Top Chef" did a colored food quickfire challenge a few seasons ago and Tom Colicchio talked about how hard it would be for the person who got blue because there are very few naturally occuring blue foods. It's true. Probably all you can think of is blueberries, and those are really sort of purple more than blue. There's blue corn, immortalized as a shade of the moon that the wolf cries to by Disney's Pocahontas, but I've never heard of blue beans. I walked back over to the canned beans aisle and found navy beans, but none of the dried beans looked like them, so I eventually gave up and bought a bag of Great Northern beans.

dried beans

They looked sort of like navy beans, and the Great Northern was the name of the hotel in "Twin Peaks", so it seemed like a positive omen to go on. If I'm going to make arbitrary decisions, they might as well be based on TV.

Friday night I had to cover the beans in water, and let them soak overnight. They swelled up from tiny pebbles:

soaking beans (1)

to actual beans:

soaking beans (2)

so on Saturday I dumped them into the slow cooker with a couple of carrots and an onion that I food processed down into paste:

beans, carrot, onion

In with that went pepper, 48 oz of chicken broth, and some herbs. The recipe called for Italian seasoning, but I don't have that, so I added oregano, basil, and some thyme. Then I had to cook, crumble, and add eight pieces of bacon. This should have been easy, but while I was crumbling the bacon right out of the oven some of it fell into my mouth and burned my tongue. This is, of course, the fault of the bacon, somehow. Anyway, when everything was in the pot:

uncooked soup

I turned on the slow cooker and then ignored it for nine hours. When time was up, I scooped out two cups of the vegetables with a little bit of the liquid, pureed them, and added them back to the slow cooker with a cup of milk. Then I ate a bowl of soup:

finished bean and bacon chowder

with the rest of the baguette from Friday night (I sure got my dollar's worth out of that bread), and split the rest up into four containers for Monday through Thursday dinner.

I didn't want to just eat soup, though, and didn't want to go to the store to buy more baguettes, so for my companion to the week's dinners I decided to make a savory Spinach Bread Pudding with Lemon and Feta that I saw in "Food and Wine" magazine. I made a savory bread pudding once before and it came out really well, so I thought it would be nice this week to come home and heat up a bowl of soup and a square of bread pudding for dinner.

Not surprisingly, bread pudding starts with bread:

bread squares

The recipe said to use 8 oz of whole wheat bread. A loaf of whole wheat sandwich bread is 20 oz, so I figured I'd be fine with half a loaf and cut that up. Unlike when I made the other bread pudding and had to slice a baguette, slicing up the sandwich loaf was easy because it was already sliced in one direction. Once done, I put it in the oven to toast for ten minutes, and started slicing the baby spinach:

baby spinach

That takes forever. I don't know if there's a trick to it or something that professional chefs use, but I just grab a handful, make a pile, and run the knife through it a few times until the pieces look small enough. Slicing a whole bag of spinach takes a while, but eventually I was done, and mixed it with the bread squares and some feta cheese in a large bowl:

spinach, bread, feta cheese

Then I got to work on the part that turns into pudding:

egg mixture

That's two cups of milk, some olive oil, six eggs, lemon juice, salt, pepper, dijon mustard, and some lemon zest. My parents bought me a microplane grater, for zesting, for Christmas, and now I love recipes that ask for zest. I've also been zesting lemons and limes into my tuna salad, but I learned that you have to be careful with that. Too much lemon zest, and suddenly it tastes like you sprayed your tuna with Pledge.

Anyway, after I mixed that I poured it all together in the bowl, tossed it a few times to coat everything, and then poured it into a baking dish and let it sit on the counter for two hours. Then it went into the oven for 40 minutes, and turned out like this:

finished bread pudding (1)

I sliced it into squares and ate one, and it was really good. The lemon stands out, and the spinach cooks down and keeps the rest of it from drying out. The top is crunchy, but the bottom is soft, and it should go really well with the slight saltiness of the soup.

Now I just have to manage not to eat all of this now instead of waiting for the week.

1 comment:

Jeannie said...

This all looks yummy, Joel! Congrats on a productive weekend and I hope room selection this week is smooth and does not cause you headaches. If it does, though, I am sure these tasty meals will make it all better!