Tag Archives: dinner

Merry Christmas!

It’s been a nice, but somewhat busy few days here around Casa Poolman.

Most of Mrs. Poolman’s family came up from Jacksonville to visit over the weekend. This included both sisters, a brother-in-law, a niece a great-niece and a large boxer. Only two nephews and a girlfriend were otherwise occupied. We ate a lot, drank a lot and talked a lot. We had not all gotten together since sometime last summer, so it was a nice visit. Niece Ansley was down in the dumps because her husband is in the middle of a nine-month deployment on board a guided missile destroyer in the Persian Gulf. She was able to have a video conversation with him via her new smart phone. Not too shabby.

The gang headed home on Monday. Mrs. P and I went to Christmas Eve Mass at 6 pm. Some of my CCD children were the narrators for the Christmas Pageant which was part of the Mass. They did a great job. I’m proud of them.

Last week, I mentioned one of my students whose mother is somewhat frustrating. The problem is that she never can seem to get her son where he is supposed to be and when he is supposed to be there. This child desperately wanted to be a part of the pageant, but “Mom” couldn’t seem get him to any of the rehearsals, even those that were held during our regular class sessions. Unfortunately, the child is dependent on the Mom to get him where he needs to go. We can’t get too angry at the child, but the mother is another issue. He did show up for the first of our two programs during the regular CCD time slot last Wednesday and we allowed him to read. “Mom” promised me she would have him there for the Christmas Eve Mass. All the other kids were there by 5:30 as directed.  Jack was a no-show. My co-teacher, Sherry, and I were steaming, but we had a Plan B for the rest of the team. Then, at 5:55 pm, just as we were ready to walk the kids from the school to the church for Mass, young Jack came running up. Sherry and I shared some not-very-Christmas-like thoughts about “Mom.”

Christmas Day was fairly low key. Our children and their “sig-others” spent the first part of the day with the other sides of their families. They came over here around five o’clock for a Christmas dinner and opening presents.

Mrs. P is working today and tomorrow. I was pretty-much a slug today. Leftovers for dinner. Not to bad.

 

An absent-minded priest and a moist turkey

We’re in the middle of a very nice four-day Thanksgiving weekend, at least for me, that is. This is Mrs. Poolman’s year to work the Thanksgiving holiday and to be off for Christmas. She was at the hospital  on Thursday and today (Saturday.)

With Mrs. P taking care of babies and both our children doing the day-side of the holiday with their husband’s and girlfriend’s families, I had a quiet day to myself.  I went to 9 o’clock Mass where I was scheduled to lector. That is usually an adventure, especially when Monsignor C is celebrating. I really like the Monsignor. He is a 70+ year old Irishman with a dry sense of humor. We get along very well. However, he tends to change things and not tell the other members of his team. On Thursday, we couldn’t find any copy of a “Prayers of the Faithful” for that date. When I asked Monsignor about it, he said, “Oh, they are in a special booklet. I’ll have to give them to you at the altar.”

Oh, great, that meant a “cold read.” That’s not usually a problem unless there are some difficult names in the petitions for the deceased, sick, etc. Then Monsignor decided to skip the Creed, which is normally my cue to go to the podium to read the Prayers. As it turned out, as I walked up to the altar, our other priest, Father John, met me half way and handed me the booklet. No problem, after all.

Actually, I have been doing the lectoring long enough that I can roll with the action pretty well. Just about everything that can go wrong has done so for me at one time or another. I do become a little concerned about some of our younger lectors, many of whom are some of my former CCD students who I have recruited and coached. They are significantly less confident about handling some of Monsignor’s curve-balls.

I spent the rest of the day hanging out, working on some photos from a friend’s daughter’s wedding I shot a couple of weeks ago and finishing preps for the Thanksgiving meal. My main responsibility was the turkey. At Mrs. P’s suggestion, I tried a radically different roasting technique. I have cooked holiday turkeys more times than I can count. Usually, I roast it covered with foil at 325 for about 4-5 hours,, uncovering for the last hour and periodically basting. I may never do that again. Here is a great method that produced a fantastic, very moist bird.

1. Prepare the bird as usual, seasoning it and placing an apple, celery and a bay leaf in the cavity.

2. Place in a covered roasting pan and put it into a cold oven.

3. Turn the oven to 450 degrees and when it pre-heats to that temperature (about 15 minutes) set your timer for one hour.

4. When the timer goes off, turn the oven off and just let it sit for five hours. DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN!

I was a skeptic. I didn’t think it would work, but it sure did. Our turkey was a little over 15 pounds. You might need to adjust a little for a larger bird. I really don’t know. The key was the white meat was very moist, which I can’t say is always the case with my more traditional roasting technique.

Another advantage of this technique is that it would work very well to cook overnight.

The rest of the family came over in the evening and Mrs. P got home around 7:30 pm. So our holiday dinner was at 8:30 pm, but it was a great one anyway.

“Répondez s’il vous plait”…What?

I am involved in planning two social events in the next two weeks and our “invitees” are making me crazy. Why won’t people let us know whether they are going to come to our party or not? This is a basic element of etiquette that seems to have gotten lost over the last decade or two. It is very annoying. RSVP. “Répondez s’il vous plait” What is so difficult about this?

I am planning a work related, casual dinner for a week and a half from now. The invitation list includes university administrators, state legislators, county commissioners and business leaders – in other words, people who should know how to behave in public. The invitations went out two weeks ago with a reply card and a stamped return envelope. All they have to do is print their name, check the appropriate box, and drop it in the mail.  We sent 124 invitations and asked for responses by today. Only about a third of the invitees have troubled themselves to respond.

Mrs. Poolman and I are hosting a couple’s bridal shower for the son of one of our good friends and his fiancé. We told the family we could handle 40 people at our house. They gave us a list of 67 invitees with the assurance that many would not be able to come. My daughter ordered the invitations and had “regrets only” rather than a full RSVP. (When I saw that, I knew we were looking at trouble.) Nonetheless, of the 67 people invited, we have had only six regrets. The party is tomorrow evening. We strongly suspect we will have around 40 people, but we need to be prepared (food and drink) for 61. Maybe that isn’t a break-down in the social system. Maybe all 61 who have not “regretted” will be there. That may overwhelm the infrastructure, especially since rain is predicted which may negate our use of the outside space.

I don’t know why I get worked up over this. I should be used to it by now. I realize not everyone has ever taken the time to read an Emily Post, Amy Vanderbilt or Miss Manners etiquette book. (Of course, I think it should be required reading, but that’s just me.) Past experience has shown us that you will have people who say they are coming, but don’t show up, and those who don’t respond and still show up. Sometimes those balance out, but not always.

For my daughter’s wedding several years ago, we invited a couple. They RSVP’d in the affirmative for themselves and also wrote-in the names of their two adult children who were not invited on the response card. We didn’t make an issue out of it. Then, in the end, none of them came.

While planning a work-related event a couple of years ago, a local business leader called to say he could not make it because his wife, son and daughter-in-law would had already invited him out to dinner for his birthday that night. Then he called back and asked if he could just bring the whole family. Reluctantly, we agreed that would be OK. On the night of the event, he didn’t come…but the rest of the family did. Huh?

I really just need to get over it.

How can something that looks so bad, taste so good?

There is one additional thing I did on my MLK holiday this week. I made a pot of black bean soup. As is the case with many things in our family, black bean soup has a story behind it. (Not necessarily an interesting story, but a story all the same.)

Black Bean Soup with onions and sour cream

Having grown up in a very meat-and- potatoes family, I don’t think I had ever heard of black bean soup until I had graduated from college. The summer after I graduated, I was working a summer-replacement job for a radio station in Vero Beach, Florida. (WTTB-AM “Where The Tropics Begin”) I spent most of the weekends that summer driving to visit my then-girlfriend, either in Gainesville or at her parents’ house in Clewiston. But on one particular weekend, I was stuck in Vero without much to do. The GM of the station, Pat Hazel (a really great guy) invited me to share Sunday dinner with his family.

“My wife is going to make her fabulous black bean soup!”

I didn’t know what to expect, but it didn’t sound particularly appetizing to my rather naïve and inexperienced palate. Of course, I went to dinner anyway and had a great time. Pat and his family were warm, engaging people and they made me feel very welcome. And I loved the soup.

In the late 1980s black bean soup started to show up on restaurant menus, and I was reminded of that evening. I thought I would give it a try myself. I investigated and tried several recipes and settled on the one below. Once they overcame the initial problem that the soup doesn’t look very appetizing, even my children started to like it.

One step is to puree some of the soup in a blender and then return it to the pot to thicken the soup. One time I used a long ice-tea spoon to stir it around in the blender, but it accidentally came in contact with the blender blade. I never knew that black bean soup could be explosive.  There was puree’d black bean soup all over the white kitchen cabinets, the ceiling and me. It took hours to clean up that mess.

Today, black bean soup is “comfort food” in the Poolman household.

Here is the recipe.

BLACK BEAN SOUP

Here’s what you need.

  • A bag of dried black beans—cleaned and rinsed*
  • A ham bone with chunks of meat still attached or some cut up left over ham, about two cups.
  • A “ton” of chopped onion and celery (just like the chicken soup above.) Easily two large onions and 4-5 celery stocks.
  • A bay leaf.
  • Salt and pepper.  (Go easy on the salt to start. Ham is naturally salty. You can always add more if it’s not salty enough.)
  • A little dry mustard (powder) if you have it, but it isn’t crucial.

*Before you do anything with the beans, put them in a bowl, sort through them with your hands and pick out any stones.  Yeah, that’s right, stones, like the kind you find on the ground. Occasionally you will find them. Most beans were harvested in third-world countries and their processing isn’t the most sophisticated. You definitely want to catch these before cooking. Nothing will ruin a good meal faster than having someone unsuspectingly bite down on a rock. Once they are “clean,” use your colander to rinse them well under running water.

First thing you have to soften the beans. There are two ways to do that. The first is to soak them in a bowl overnight. The other is to put them in boiling water and simmer them for about 10 minutes and then let them sit for an hour. In either case, you should drain the beans through a colander before cooking. Do NOT cook them in their soaking water.  The major issue with beans is the gaseous by-product that comes several hours after eating. Draining them before cooking with reduce that significantly.

Once your beans are soft, put them, the ham, the onions, celery, spices and bay leaf all into a pot with a couple of quarts of water. You should have so much onion and celery that it should look like they are the dominant ingredients. Bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and allow it to cook for at least an hour, maybe more. The more you cook it, the more everything will meld together, which is what you want.

Note: Keep a close eye when it starts to thicken that you don’t allow it to scorch on the bottom. Stir frequently and adjust your heat as needed.

When the soup is almost done, take about a cup or two of the bean mixture and put it in your blender. Whip the beans into a thick paste and stir it back into the mix.  This should thicken the broth and give it a creamier texture.

Serve with chopped onions and a dollop of sour cream.

A hint: Most ham bones are extremely fatty. So I usually cook the ham bone by simmering it for an hour or two the day before I plan on cooking the soup. Refrigerate it overnight and much of the fat will congeal on top of the water. You can spoon it off and throw it out. It will reduce the fat-content of the soup significantly, without affecting the great taste.   

My, oh my! What a pot pie!

Mrs. Poolman and I share separate, but similar bad childhood memories of pot pies. Both our mothers cooked (if you can call it that) and served the pre-made Banquet or Swanson pies. My recollection is of an aluminum foil mini-pie pan with only a top-crust and filled with nasty, oozing, yellow gravy, a few peas and carrots and maybe a little meat. The pot pies made those old-style TV dinners look like gourmet feasts. That experience left me with a deep seated aversion to pot pies – until recently.

In an effort to convert me, last winter, Mrs. P made a very good chicken pot pie. She constructed and baked it in a casserole-size baking dish. The filling was full of meat and the whole thing tasted great.

On Wednesday, it was my turn to make dinner, using some left-over grilled steak from earlier in the week. Usually, we will put the steak on a salad or make quesadillas or fajitas. I thought I would try something new.

How about a steak pie?

This was brand, new culinary territory for me. So you can imagine my excitement when it turned out really good. Here is what I did.

Steak Pie

What I used.

  • App. 1 lb (0r more) of cooked steak, sliced into small pieces.
  • One package of pre-made pie dough (2 pieces, top and bottom)
  • One onion – chopped
  • ½ stick butter or margarine
  • One “scoop” of flour
  • 2 cups of beef broth (bouillon crystals or cubes dissolved in hot water)
  • ½ cup of milk (because that was all that was in the carton) The milk is optional.
  • One small can of mushroom stems and pieces
  • App. one cup of leftover green beans (because I had them.)

 The Crust

In a small, ungreased casserole (8×8” or 7×9”) dish, spread one of the pie dough pieces, lining the bottom and sides. The pie dough is probably fitted for a round pie pan, so you’ll have to cut and patch to make it fit. Save the second piece for the top.

The Filling

In a large sauce pan, saute the chopped onion in the butter until the onion is soft.

Add the “scoop” (approximately two tablespoons) of flour to the onion-butter mixture. Mix well and allow it to cook for about a minute or two.

Add the beef broth/bouillon and milk and stir until it is a smooth gravy. Add the bouillon a little at a time, and adjust the amount according to the thickness of the gravy. You want it fairly thick.

The filling -- before adding the meat.

Add the meat and vegetables and mix well.

This is how much meat I had to work with.

Pour the mixture into the dough-lined casserole dish.

Before the top crust was added.

Spread the second dough piece over the top, once again, cutting and patching to completely cover the pie. Try to get the bottom and top pieces to meet and use a fork to crimp them together along the edge of the dish.

Ready for the oven.

Use a knife to put a couple of cross-shaped slits in the top crust to allow steam to escape during the baking. You may have to check on those “vents” during the baking. As the crust bakes, the holes may close up.

Bake at 375 degrees for approximately 45 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown.

...and ready to eat.

Note: I used green beans last night, because that is what I had in the refrigerator. You can add whatever vegetables you like, or skip the veggies all together.

Bon appetite!