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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Filtering by Category: Lunch/Dinner

Twice-baked Potatoes: "to look the world back into grace"

Ben Goshow

Twice baked potatoes are on the menu for tonight. No, my friends, this isn’t functionality for dinner. This is the extravagance afforded when the second draft of Mom’s book has been turned in, and there is time for massaging potato skins with oil, baking them at leisure, scooping out and ricing the entrails, beating them into a frenzy with fat, and then returning them to the oven to let each crown of cheddar cheese get gooey. Nathan is the foodie of the family. Today, when he drops his school bags at the door and asks what’s for dinner, I’ll tell him “twice baked potatoes” and can expect to be emphatically and unapologetically kissed, never mind that he’s eleven and in middle school now. (Yesterday, I had a gigantic hug on the basis of homemade guacamole.)

Food is love. And because I have a piece about this I wrote for Today’s Christian Woman, which will be published in a couple of weeks, I dare not spill all my stories here. Still, it’s fascinating to me that I feel the compunction to begin this blog post to tell you what’s on the menu.

Yesterday, tacos.

Today, twice-baked potatoes.

Maybe I’m thinking of food because, having now turned in the second draft of my book, I’m back to reading and have taken up, The Supper of the Lamb by Robert F. Capon. The entire book is dedicated to one recipe – and to the spirituality of food and the gathering it inspires. This book comes highly recommended, and I know I’ll enjoy it despite that at Camille’s piano lesson yesterday, I was falling asleep through chapter five, which appears to be a long and poetic meandering. Beautiful, I’m sure, but not the kind of reading to keep you awake in a dimly-lit room at 7:30 at night. Not when your head is thick with a cold, and you got out of bed at 4:45 am.

But here is a beautiful part in an early chapter of the book: it’s about seeing and about the beauty we re-see into the world when we pay it some attention.

“There, then, is the role of the amateur: to look the world back to grace. There, too, is the necessity of his work: His tribe must be in short supply; his job has gone begging. The world looks as if it has been left in the custody of a pack of trolls. Indeed, the whole distinction between art and trash, between food and garbage, depends on the presence or absence of the loving eye. Turn a statue over to a boor, and his boredom will break it into bits – witness the ruined monuments of antiquity. One the other hand, turn a shack over to a lover; for all its poverty, its light and shadow warm a little, and its numbed surfaces prickle with feeling . . .

The whole marvelous collection of stones, skins, feathers, and string exists because at least one lover has never quite taken His eye off it, because the dominus vivificans has his delight with the sons of men.”

Our world is beautiful because God made it so and sees it so. And when we do the work of seeing — when we pay the “whole marvelous collection of stones, skins, feathers, and string” some rightful attention — we begin to more fully belong to him.

I suppose the kitchen is a place, for me, of seeing: of seeing my family, of seeing the beauty of food, of seeing the holiness of something as everyday and unextraordinary as whipped potatoes. I feel more alive when I’m living with the materiality of food – and recognizing my body’s presence in space and time.

But then, I must write about it – because it’s almost as if I can only make it most real by naming it. I have to write because without those words, I am tempted by blur and busy and bustle, too hurried to really live.

So then, twice-baked potatoes. And a blog post – to tell you what’s on the menu.

Monday's Menu: An Essay Review and A Recipe for Alfredo Sauce

jenmichel@me.com

I read like I eat, having to decide between the savory flavors of non-fiction and the sweet of a great story. I’ll take the bag of chips any day over a tub of ice cream. Pass the non-fiction, please. And, feeling the pressure of days since past when babies screamed and food got cold if I didn’t gobble it up in three enormous bites, I have the unhealthy habits of eating -reading - too quickly, not letting my body or mind digest the diet I give them. My bedside table is my overstocked refrigerator, and when I feel like munching, there is a book to taste. Right now, you’d find there, along with four back issues of The Atlantic and an article from The New Yorker, which someone has clipped for me:

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Marytr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas

Eat This Book by Eugene Peterson

Confessions by St. Augustine

Ryan asked me the other night, “How many books have you actually finished this year?” And it’s a fair question because like a bored lover, I cast off books abruptly, jilting them for newfound crushes. My reading habits, plagued as they are by attention deficit, are nothing of which I am proud, and 2012 was supposed to be a year of working to stay faithful to a list of books I’d set down in January as books I’d like to meet and sit with. I’m happy to say that this year, I’ve finished:

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard (OK, maybe I didn’t get all the way through.)

Junia is Not Alone: Scott McKnight (an e-book, SHORT!)

Hannah’s Child: A Theologian’s Memoir by Stanley Hauerwas

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (uh, yeah, only half)

Dakota: A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris

The real truth of it is, only TWO of these books were on that list I made four months back, and they were the two books I didn’t finish.

But I didn’t start this blogpost with the intention of laying out all my dirty laundry when it comes to my failure as a reader, but it makes for a handy segue to the essay I came here meaning to tell you about. It is a MUST READ for the women out there who have, like I, struggled to find meaning in their daily responsibilities of cooking, cleaning, and laundry.

The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and "Women's Work" was the 1998 Madeleva Lecture in Spirituality given by Kathleen Norris at St. Mary's College in Notre Dame. You can’t buy it in print, I don’t think, but it’s a quick download from Amazon onto your Kindle or iPad.

Norris opens with her an experience at a Catholic Irish-American wedding, which began for her a season of re-exploring the childhood faith she’d left behind. She watched with fascination as the priest, in the middle of the mass, washed the chalice. "After the experience of a liturgy that left me feeling disoriented, eating and drinking were something I could understand. That and the housework. This was my first image of the mass, my door in, as it were, and it has served me well for years." When Norris couldn’t sink her teeth into the non-material ideas of spirituality, she lay hold of the housework present in the mass. It became for her a metaphor of the spiritual life.

Her essay brims with hope for a woman like me, who struggles against her desire for contemplative silence and the realities of my noisy family. "I have come to believe that the true mystics of the quotidian are not those who contemplate holiness in isolation, reaching godlike illumination in serene silence, but those who manage to find God in a life filled with noise, the demand of other people and relentless daily duties that can consume the self."

She reminds me that making dinner, straightening shoes, and matching socks are not the interruptions I imagine: "But it is the daily tasks, daily acts of love and worship that serve to remind us that the religion is not strictly an intellectual pursuit . . . Christian faith is a way of life, not an impregnable fortress made up of ideas; not a philosophy; not a grocery list of beliefs. . .It is the paradox of human life that in worship, as in human love, it is in the routine and the everyday that we find the possibilities for the greatest transformation.”

And she takes aim at my wayward longings for a life that is far more spectacular than the one I lead. "We want life to have meaning, we want fulfillment, healing and even ecstasy, but the human paradox is that we find these things by starting where we are, not where we wish we were. We must look for blessings to come from unlikely, everyday places - out of Galilee, as it were - and not in spectacular events, such as the coming of a comet."

Read the essay, and make dinner tonight for someone you love. Do both for the sake of following Jesus.

Here's an alfredo sauce recipe that is EASY. Make fettucine, boil broccoli with your pasta, and stir in the sauce at the end. Poof. Dinner on the table in 20 minutes. Or, spread it over a pizza crust, and then add your favourite toppings. With alfredo sauce on a pizza, I love chicken, spinach, broccoli, feta, ricotta. Any of the above!

Alfredo Sauce:

  • ½ pint heavy cream
  • ½ cup butter
  • 2 tablespoons cream cheese
  • ¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 - 1 teaspoon garlic powder (to taste, as you like it)
In a saucepan over low heat, mix the cream, butter and cream cheese, stirring constantly, until melted and well-blended. Mix in Parmesan cheese and garlic powder. Continue to cook and stir 15 minutes, or until Parmesan is lightly browned.

Monday's Menu: Marinade (Fire up the grill!)

jenmichel@me.com

Originally, when I started to blog, I planned to feature a recipe every Monday. It was a means of margin in the blog, a sort of free pass for Mondays, which typically tend to be overwhelmed by laundry and lists. And I'm not usually great about margin. I think I've told you about my penchant for over-planning and over-estimating my time and energy. (Um, yes, I'm sure I've told you because I'm recalling a friend who recently came over for dinner and brought me some seed packets. When her daughter handed them to me, I looked at her quizzically, and she was nudged by her mom. "Tell Jen we've been reading her blog."" So back to Monday's Menu: this feature began so that Monday morning, when I was lean on time, I could post something quickly without too much thought. In recent weeks, I haven't really kept the feature up. Maybe I felt sheepish about my blogging sleight of hand. (I hate feeling gimmicky here.) And maybe I just realized that most of you aren't reading my blog to find fabulous recipes.

But over this recent Easter week, as I've been meditating on the Scriptures and posting prayers here, I have seen over and over again how much emphasis there is in Scripture on the meal. Our pastors are preaching through the book of Luke, and several weeks ago, one made the observation that in the Gospel of Luke, there are 19 feasts, 13 of which are exclusive to Luke. In the book of Luke, as the events are detailed of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection, there are three meals referenced: the Passover meal, which Jesus shares with His disciples before He is betrayed; the meal shared by the disciples and the resurrected Jesus in the village Emmaus; in another meal with more disciples, where to prove he is a resurrected man and no mere ghost, Jesus asks for something to eat and is served broiled fish. The Scriptures actually tell us that "Jesus was known to them in the breaking of the bread," (Luke 24:35).

So maybe a menu feature on Monday's isn't gimmicky. Maybe it's not laziness on my part. Maybe it's a weekly reminder to hold sacred the meals we share with our family and friends. Maybe it's my not so subtle campaign for slow food and slow church in a culture where we think we can microwave everything, including faith. And for me, I'm in constant need of the reminder that all my kitchen duties are worthwhile. I spend hours shopping for food, preparing food, clearing and cleaning dishes, and it is all too easy to do that work, believing it to be an interruption to the real work of ministry I'd like to be doing. When I give into that lie, I quickly detour into habits of quiet resentment ("Here I am stuck in this kitchen while everyone else is having fun!").

This Easter weekend was all about food and feasting. We hosted four families here yesterday in our not-so-big house: 8 adults, 13 children. And while there were moments of quiet stress (no explosive anger, thank God!), generally it was an occasion of real togetherness and community. Saturday, I did the food and flower shopping with my beautiful daughters while my husband and son tended to other errand-running and yard work. That night, Audrey and I made homemade rolls together when the other kids were finally tucked into bed. I won't lie: it was a lot of work! But my prayers are always that when people enter our home and sit at our table, they would know the presence of Jesus.

More regularly than I've done recently, I'll be back here on Mondays, giving you recipes or tips for having people into your home for a meal. And to tip off this week, here's a great marinade for summer grilling. It works for either chicken or steak, and I need to thank my friend, Lynne Kern, who is the source of the original recipe. Thanks, Lynne!

Marvelous Marinade

  • Vegetable oil – enough to cover the bottom to a large Rubbermaid pan or large Ziploc bag
  • Soy Sauce – 1/2 to 1 bottle ( I use low sodium)
  • Vinegar – 1- 2 tablespoons
  • Syrup – 1 – 2 tablespoons
  • Ketchup – enough to thicken
  • Garlic Powder – lots!

Monday's Menu: Crockpot Beef Stroganoff

jenmichel@me.com

I've been stocking my freezer recently, preparing to leave for almost an entire week. You heard it right. Mother bird is flying the coop, and Dad is taking over. For all the many wonderful ways that Ryan is completely capable, he is not and has never been a cook. And while he'll manage perfectly well without me for a week, getting the kids to and from school and music lessons and hockey, he will NOT be preparing dinner. One of the many things he'll find next week in the freezer will be crockpot beef stroganoff, a recipe I quadrupled last week and now have 3 freezer bags full for future meals. This is an easy-to-prepare, easy-to-freeze dish. (For easy freezing, prepare according to the instructions, and cool whatever you're freezing before spooning it into a ziploc freezer bag. Squeeze all the air out possible, making the bag flat. Double bag, and voilà! You have a meal for the crazy days when you're chauffeuring, or when you, like me, get a chance to fly the coop!)

Crockpot Beef Stroganoff

  • 1 lb. cubed beef stew meat
  • 2 (10.75 ounce) cans condensed golden
  • mushroom soup
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ cup water
  • 4 ounces cream cheese (softened and cubed)
  • Dollup sour cream
  • Salt, pepper
  • Fresh garlic, minced
  • Beef bouillon cube (I like Better than Bouillon, pictured here. I'm telling you, this your SECRET weapon for anything that calls for bouillon. You can find it in chicken or beef flavors.)
  • ½ packet onion soup mix
1. In a slow cooker, combine the meat, soup, garlic, onion, Worcestershire sauce and water. 2. Cook on Low setting for 5-6 hours, or on High setting for about 3 hours. Stir in cream cheese the last hour of cooking time, and add the sour cream right before serving.
** Your crockpot will probably not hold more than 2x this recipe. If you're crazy like me and want to quadruple the recipe, you can use a dutch oven. You could cook everything covered in your dutch oven on a low temperature (250 or 300) for 5-6 hours or until the meat is as tender as you like it.

Monday's Menu: Chicken Parmesan

jenmichel@me.com

When was the last time you invited someone to dinner? Friends we knew from Chicago made hospitality their priority. And their life was no easier than ours: they had six children and lived on a modest pastor's salary. But it became their practice every Sunday to go to church prepared with lunch invitations.  Saturday night, she would have made two pans of lasagna, and if they ended up inviting more than that two pans of lasagne would feed, they would stop by KFC on the way home from church and pick up a bucket of chicken.

Their meals weren't Martha Steward perfect. But it didn't matter because what people really longed for wasn't an elegant meal but authentic fellowship. And fellowship can happen over fast-food chicken any day.

We want to make hospitality our habit as a family, but I need reminders like:

- My house doesn't have to look perfect.

- The meal doesn't have to be elaborate.

- A table set with authenticity and sincere love is the most elegant of all.

source

Here's a great simple recipe for having guests in your home. This is no-fuss entertaining. Open up a bag of salad, and throw some frozen garlic bread in the oven. You're done!

  • 4 boneless chicken breasts, pounded to 1/2 inch thickness (To pound chicken, I cut each chicken breast in half, place it between two sheets of plastic wrap, and whack it with a rolling pin or mallet. Your kids might like to help!)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • seasoned bread crumbs
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil + 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 8 slices mozzarella cheese, or more
  • 1 jar (16 oz) spaghetti sauce
  • Parmesan cheese or four-cheese shredded Italian blend
Whisk together the egg and milk. Dip the chicken breasts in milk and egg mixture and then in bread crumbs. Heat olive oil and butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Brown the chicken in the hot oil on both sides until golden, about 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Set chicken in a baking dish (sprayed with canola cooking spray). Cover each chicken breast with mozzarella cheese slices. Pour 1 jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce over all (or more if you like). Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and a little more mozzarella and bake at 350° for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until bubbly. Serve over spaghetti with garlic bread and a nice green salad.

Monday's Menu: Mexican Lasagna (and 5 ways for making dinner preparation easier)

jenmichel@me.com

Does your house, like mine, erupt with a kind of volcanic chaos just when you're making dinner? This is especially true in winter months when it's simply too dark or too cold to send the kids outside to run off some energy. Making dinner becomes a kind of Olympic feat of the most grueling proportions. Today, I'm sharing five suggestions for getting dinner on the table easier, and I also have a great kid-friendly recipe for you. 1. Make your meal plan for the week. Did you read last week's post? Step one for less-stress dinners is having thought through what you're actually making this week. Check your meal plan in the morning in case you need to defrost something for tonight's meal.

2. Assign a dinner helper who's on-call for whatever you need. (I do this for every meal of the day.) Currently, Audrey is my dinner helper. She runs into the basement to get anything I need out of the second fridge or our overflow pantry. She sets the table and serves the meal. She pours drinks, and the best part is, she's also responsible for the last minute, "I need another napkin!" or "May I have more milk?" kinds of requests that are generated all throughout dinner.

3. Plan easy, healthy meals. A great website is mealmakeovermoms.com, the original source for the mexican lasagne recipe below. I think the work of making dinner feels worth it when you know you're preparing something healthy and yummy that everyone can enjoy. Disclaimer: today's recipe is one of the rare meals that everyone enjoys. Generally, at my house, there is one person grumbling at every meal that he or she doesn't like something. The rule is: you don't have to eat it, but there will not be anything else to eat before bed.

4. Thirty minutes before dinner, try to insist on some quiet play. This is worth your time and focused effort. Make this the time kids look at books independently, or color, or listen to music quietly in their rooms. I've finally realized it's OK to forbid running circles through the kitchen just as I'm getting dinner on the table!

5. Light a candle at the table. Make your gathering as a family around the table a sacred time together. Insist on everyone sitting down at the table, and turn the t.v. off.  Lighting a candle and dimming the lights is a visual symbol for the kids of this sacred space you're creating. Make your mealtimes together even more purposeful by prayer, Scripture reading, and great conversations starters like, "What was your high and your low today?"

Happy Monday!

Mexican Lasagna

Ingredients

  • 1 pound lean ground beef (90% lean or higher)
  • 1 large carrot, shredded (about 1 cup)
  • One 16-ounce jar salsa
  • One 15½ -ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • One 10-ounce bag or box frozen corn kernels, thawed (about 2 cups)
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Five 8-inch flour tortillas, cut in half
  • One 16-ounce container low-fat cottage cheese
  • 1½ cups shredded reduced-fat Cheddar cheese

Directions

  1. Cook the meat and carrot in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, breaking up the large pieces, until the meat is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Drain excess fat.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  3. Add the salsa, black beans, corn, chili powder, and cumin to the skillet and stir to combine.
  4. To assemble the lasagna, arrange a third (about 2 cups) of the meat mixture in a 9 x 13-inch baking pan or dish. Layer half the tortillas over the meat, allowing them to overlap. Spoon half of the cottage cheese and 1/2 cup of the Cheddar cheese over the tortillas and spread evenly.
  5. Place 2 more cups of meat mixture over the cottage cheese. Layer with the remaining tortillas and cottage cheese. End with the meat mixture.
  6. Top with the remaining Cheddar cheese and bake uncovered until the cheese melts and the lasagna is heated through, about 25 minutes.

Monday's Menu: Barbecue Beef Sandwiches (in honor of Tim Tebow)

jenmichel@me.com

After the Broncos fantastic overtime win last night, something simply had to be said about Tim Tebow. What do you make of 10 completed passes for a total of 316 yards? Divine intervention? Mere coincidence?

I can't really presume to know if God is helping this 20-something Denver Bronco quarterback. But I can tell you that I am a fan.

No matter what Jesus thinks about football, no matter if He is or isn't helping the Broncos' win, Tim Tebow is real hero, and I'm grateful for his example, especially for little boys like my son, Nathan.

In honor of Tim Tebow, here's a great winter recipe, perfect for inviting friends over this coming Saturday to watch the Broncos play the Patriots.

Barbecue Beef Sandwiches

  • 1 ½ cups ketchup
  • ¼ cup packed brown sugar
  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons prepared Dijon-style mustard
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon liquid smoke flavoring
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 4 lbs. boneless chuck roast
In a large bowl, combine ketchup, brown sugar, red wine vinegar, Dijon-style mustard, Worcestershire sauce and liquid smoke. Stir in salt, pepper and garlic powder.
Place chuck roast in a slow cooker. Pour ketchup mixture over chuck roast. Cover, and cook on low for 8 to 10 hours.
Remove chuck roast from slow cooker, shred with a fork, and return to the slow cooker. Stir meat to evenly coat with sauce. Continue cooking approximately 1 hour. Serve on sandwich buns. Enjoy!

Monday's Menu: Roasted Garlic-Potato Soup

jenmichel@me.com

Originally from the cookbook, Cooking Light: Five Star Recipes, this recipe is great for a light dinner or serving lunch to a group. I've tweaked the recipe a bit and have noted where I eliminated the "light." The recipe makes 7 cups of soup, but my theory is you should always double everything. (For a family our size, that's a no-brainer.) But even if you're cooking for a smaller crowd, soup is great to freeze. After you make it, let it cool before you double bag it in your gallon-sized freezer bags.

Roasted Garlic-Potato Soup

5 whole heads of garlic

4 bacon slices, diced (original recipe calls for 2)

1 cup diced onion

1 cup diced carrot

2 cloves garlic, minced

6 cups peeled, diced baking potatoes (about 2 pounds)

4 cups chicken broth (I like Better Than Bouillon soup base.)

1 teaspoon of salt (and more to taste)

1/4 teaspoon of pepper

1 bay leaf

1 C half-and-half (original recipe calls for 2% milk)

optional: 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (I personally never have time for this.)

Peel outer skin from each garlic head and discard skin. (You're removing the really papery stuff.) Cut off top of one-third of each garlic head (from the root side). Don't worry if the cloves separate. Place each garlic head in the center of a piece of foil sprayed with cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Remove from oven, and let cool for 10 minutes. Squeeze pulp from each clove, and set aside.

Cook bacon in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until crisp. Add onion, carrot, and minced garlic, and sauté for 5 minutes. Add potato, broth and seasonings; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until potato is tender; remove and discard bay leaf.

Combine garlic pulp and 2 cups of the potato mixture (more or less, depending on how chunky you like the soup) into a blender. Cover and puree until smooth. Return puree to potato mixture in pan; stir in cream, and cook over low heat until heated. Remove from heat, and garnish with parsley.

Enjoy!