Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Home Cooking Is A Habit

If a working mother leaves the office at 5:30pm, traveling 35mph through 30 minutes of traffic, fetches her kid from daycare and gets home 15 minutes later, how much time will she have to prepare a meal, cook or bake it, feed it, eat it and get the kid into the bath by 7:45pm for an 8pm bedtime?

Most of the time my husband and I eat after my daughter has eaten and gone to bed. But home cooking is about family meal time, right? So, recently I've been forcing myself to cook dinner for the three of us every night. It's exhausting. It's like starting a workout program. When you first start going to the gym all you want to do is not be at the gym, then your body, mind and schedule go on workout autopilot and you only notice when you don't go.

Cooking at home on a regular basis seems like a hefty task to undertake, but it's not mission impossible. You just have to be ridiculously dedicated to cooking something other than omelets and spaghetti, which means planning the meals in advance, having the ingredients in the icebox and getting home on time.

It's a habit. Just a habit.

A cookbook that has been helping me through the pain of planning and cooking after work is aptly entitled The Busy Mom's Make It Quick Cookbook: 300 Tasty Recipes Using Convenience Foods, by Jyl Steinback.

It's not perfect. She uses a lot of ingredients I think are a little too convenient, like canned soups, and everything is non-fat or low-fat. But overall I think it's a great tool. The cookbook is well-organized. There's a shopping list divided by food and product categories, and nutrition information.

At the very least the cookbook gets you to eat more vegetables because almost every dinner entree contains pepper stir-fry or broccoli, and most recipes use the same ingredients with a few variations, so you can shop for the week without having to buy a bunch of one-time use marinades and condiments. Another plus is that you can tailor these recipes to suit your tastes by adding spices and other ingredients to make them more interesting.

Have you made any recipes from this book? What do you think? Any other favorite cookbooks that help you get dinner on the table in a pinch? Share in the comments section.

Wednesday, September 6, 2006


The Avgolemino soup was a success, and because I knew it tasted very close to my grandmother's soup I decided (at the last minute) to invite family and friends over for a birthday dinner for my Dad. 
To do something so last minute was logistically insane. I really didn't have the time to cook or the energy to shop, cook, host and clean, all while juggling a toddler. And what's worse I promised my husband we'd play nine holes of golf on Monday (our day off).

So, the morning started with a Red Bull. Our daughter went to pl
ay with her grandmother, JP and I shot nine holes of golf at Rock Creek Park, then hit Harris Teeter on the way back, picked up the toddler, ran through the house with a dust cloth and a vacuum cleaner, set a pretty cute table, and started to cook around 5pm. Guests were told to come at 5:30pm. Needless to say, dinner was served late--7pm or thereabouts. In my family, good scotch will save the hapless cook. I served plenty.

I practically stood over them while they ate the soup, making sure I got the right looks and comments. I was begging for it I admit it, but to me this
 was my grandmother's soup. My Aunt and Dad said it was "delicious." Trust me that is real praise. Full recipe (with secrets) below. The rest of the menu was simple: beef tenderloin, cauliflower au gratin, pomme frittes and Harris Teeter's double chocolate cake.

Full Avgolemino Soup:

Chicken Stock:
1 package (1lb) chicken drumsticks (thawed or fresh)
1 package (1lb) chicken backs and necks (thawed or fresh)
1 package (1lb) chicken hearts and gizzards (fresh)
4-5 Quarts of water (an inch over the top of the ingredients)
5 Stalks celery, halved or chopped
4 Medium carrots, skinned and chopped
1/4 Onion, quartered
5 Sprigs of fresh flat leaf parsley
3 Tsp salt
3 Tsp pepper

Bring to a boil all ingredients, reduce heat to the lowest setting, simmer for 7-9 hours. Simmer with the top ajar to let the steam out. Make sure you watch the heat or your stock will reduce to chicken soup concentrate.

Bechemel Sauce:
2 Tsp butter (Presidential or Irish)
2 Tbs flour
4 Cups scalding hot milk

Whisk the first two ingredients until blended.
Pour milk slowly into butter and flour mixture, whisking constantly in the same direction. Bring to boil, reduce heat to medium, constantly stirring for about 20 minutes. Sauce will thicken.
(Secret: If it gets lumpy, simply strain it after it's cooked, put it back in the pot, and put Saran Wrap directly on the sauce so it doesn't form a skin when it cools.)

Egg & Lemon:
(Secret: The more egg yolks the richer the soup).
5 Eggs
1/4 cup lemon juice (This is a taste preference. You can do less or more.)

In a bowl, separate eggs, keeping the yolks. While whisking, add a little lemon juice at a time to the eggs. Keep stiring in the same direction.

Assembling the soup:
Heat up the stock if you've let it cool. Some people make it the day before and store it in the refrigerator. If it's cold and gelatinous, heat it slowly, constantly stirring.

Add the bechemel in teaspoonfuls while constantly stirring the soup. Take your time with this step. You might not want to use all of the bechemel as your soup can get heavy. I used about 4 Tbsps of bechemel for 3 quarts of stock.

After you have blended the eggs and the lemon juice in a separate bowl, slowly add the hot chicken soup to the egg and lemon, one cup at a time, constantly stirring. This is the phase where the lemon and butter meet and might separate, or curdle. To keep this from happening always stir slowly and in the same direction.

Then you now have to transfer the egg, lemon, chicken stock with bechemel to the larger pot of soup. Again, do it slowly and stir in the same direction.

That's it.

By the way, omit the bechemel and this is the best home remedy for a cold.

Questions? Leave it in the comments!