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Clueless cook with parents dropping by (long)

I do not know how to cook. When I attempt to bake, I usually end up creating a great big ol’ mess. I would love to learn how to cook better and add some dishes to my repertoire. My parents are coming this Saturday and staying until Sunday mid-day. I think that this would be a great opportunity to attempt some things, especially since I hate going out to eat.

A bit about my parents: They are Russian Jews and like traditional Russian Jew food. When they cook for a company of 5 people, there is enough to serve 50. There is no such thing as too much food for company. Now, I DETEST all Russian food and don’t want to make it in the least, which is fine because they’ve lived here for 20+ years. My mom is a great eater and likes EVERYTHING, though her daily diet veers toward the pre-made and processed. For bfast she likes TJ’s frozen pancakes or French toast, she likes their tuna wraps, she loves meat (usually only eats turkey), eggs, seafood, pasta, savory items in general, yogurt, and when going out to eat suggests, “anything but sandwiches.” All jokes aside, her favorite restaurant really is Olive Garden (they live in the suburbs).My dad is harder. He will not eat poultry of any kind and can’t have red meat for his health. He loves buckwheat, cheese, bread, eggs, potatoes, sauerkraut, and especially chocolate. Neither one drinks alcohol very often, nor do they like spicy things. They definitely don’t keep kosher, but pork is a no-go for the most part.

So, anyway, my idea is to have the following ready for them when they arrive around 11-12 on Saturday:

Salad – Greens, cherry tomatoes, feta, roasted sunflower seeds, dried cranberries, and . . . . anything else?

Roasted vegetables – I can actually make this! Baked bell peppers, zucchini, apples, and . . . what else? And seasoned best with what? I usually use olive oil and salt.

Ravioli - ??

Ground turkey for my mom – prepared . . . ???? With rice? With the ravioli and some cheese? My cooking solution is mostly to just add melted cheese to everything.

Chocolate chip oatmeal cookies – favorite easy recipe?? I want to use the Baker Betty 6-ingredient version of oatmeal raisin cookies and sub in chocolate chips for the raisins. My mom is also trying to limit her sugar, so substitutions are welcome.

I will also have lots and lots of fruit, bread, cheese, and some sort of purchased cake. My supermarket of choice is Berkeley Bowl, for any Bay Area folks who are familiar, so any items that you recommend from there are welcome (it’s kind of like a low-priced, super awesome neighborhood Whole Foods with a bakery, deli, incredible produce section, and imported items).

So my specific questions:

1. Any salad additions?

2. Any roasted vegetable additions? Any seasoning recommendations?

3. How the heck do you prepare ravioli well, and how do you season it?

4. What’s an easy, tasty way to prepare ground turkey?

5. Any simple cookie recs that are both mildly healthy and contain chocolate . . . ?

6. What should my dad eat? I am secretly hoping I can fill him up on bread, cheese, and chocolate.

7. And what on earth should they have for breakfast on Sunday? I was thinking a baked French toast casserole made with challah, but maybe that’s too intensive for something they’ve never had before and may not like. I have no idea how to prepare eggs, but maybe they’re my best bet.

Any and all suggestions, tips, musings, and additional food suggestions are welcome! Please keep in mind that things like using a blender and browning butter are completely foreign to me but might me attempted with a good explanation.

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  1. For the ground turkey, try this: http://damndelicious.net/2013/09/24/a...

    If you're thinking of making Ravioli from scratch, don't; at least, not now. Find a good local source for fresh ravioli and ask them how to cook it. (Generally, as soon as it floats, it's done.) Simple butter sauce with fresh sage is good on most ravioli. You can always plan on making ravioli from scratch a Fall project.

    8 Replies
    1. re: mcsheridan

      Don't worry, I was NOT asking how to make my own ravioli from scratch. I simply wanted to buy cheese/mushroom ravioli at the store and have no idea what to do with it, besides just put it in some (salted?) water. I will definitely use your butter sauce and sage idea. There isn't an exact recipe, so do you mean that you melt butter, add sage, drain the ravioli, then toss the ravioli in the butter sage sauce?

      I'm not going to lie. The ground turkey recipe looks complicated to me, mostly because I'm intimidated by mincing garlic and dicing onions. And grating ginger . . . I don't know. Also, why is the rice already cooked? Do stores sell pre-cooked rice (and does it taste like something worth buying?), or does this mean that I make rice beforehand? I've actually never made rice before. I will think about this one.

      1. re: FeeFee34

        breathe! you're starting to panic a little!!!!! You can make the rice while everything else is cooking. BUT timing everything can be difficult when you're just starting out and nervous. Go to the local chinese takeout and get some plain white rice. heat it up with a few drops of water. BREATHE

        1. re: jiffypop

          Thanks! I mean . . . I can try rice. That seems like a useful skill to know anyway.

          The reason I like the idea of cooking is because it's something I enjoy getting preoccupied with. I will mostly have all of Saturday morning to cook; however, you're right in that I never, ever attempt multiple dishes at once. I go one at a time, as otherwise everything gets out of hand (nothing is 2nd nature, so I'm constantly checking cook times and temperatures), so it can definitely get time consuming.

          1. re: FeeFee34

            You don't want to try to cook rice from scratch - that's okay! They sell the stuff frozen in white or brown... just go buy a bag and there's your rice. Dump it right in the recipe when you need it and the pan heat will thaw it out for you in less than two minutes. You can also buy the onion/peppers in a little tub in the veggie section ready to use so you don't need to worry about getting the dice 'just right'. Open the tub and dump it in! (I used them when my hand was injured and I couldn't chop...) If you want to make things even simpler don't worry about the vegetables - Birds Eye sells bags of frozen rice with finely chopped vegetables mixed right in. You can use that in the wrap and it'll be just fine and save you from buying extra products. All you need to do is season it.

            1. re: Kajikit

              I just bought a bag of frozen peas for tonight's little dinner party. No big deal!

        2. re: FeeFee34

          Mario Batali's recipe is very straightforward: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ma...

          Go ahead with jiffypop's suggestion and buy the cooked rice if you're concerned. Cooking rice is simple but, for some, rice can be tricky to get right. Read the recipe again and you'll see why the rice has to be cooked in advance. Once the rice is added, there is almost no additional cooking going on. If you do buy precooked rice, it needs to be hot or at least warm when it's added to the mixture.

          As far as grating the ginger and garlic; do you own a food processor or mini-prep (small food processor)? If so, you can just do it in there. You can peel fresh ginger with the back of a spoon; it's not difficult at all - the skin comes right off - then just slice it and chuck it in the processor.

          General note: As a beginning cook, you should read a recipe through two or three times before you even think about preparing it. In this way, you ensure that you fully understand it, have everything you need, and do anything in advance that may be required.

          1. re: FeeFee34

            In addition to frozen pre-cooked rice, you can also buy jars of minced garlic at any supermarket and sometimes even jars of grated ginger (try an Asian specialty market for that). You may also be able to find frozen chopped onions at your supermarket -- I'm not familiar with Berkeley Bowl.

            Rice can be something to practice another time. Rice is easy, I promise. Cook it like pasta and drain it when it's done.

            1. re: P_penelope

              I'm a huge fan of my $15 rice cooker. One thing I never need to think about.

        3. For the salad go simple with outstanding ingredients. I recommend a heirloom tomato salad with fresh mozzarella and basil. Serve with balsamic vinegar and olive oil 50/50.

          Roast veggies that are in season and are plentiful. They'll have the best flavor for your buck. Again simply season them, just salt pepper and your herb of choice (thyme, rosemary, etc..)

          Salt pepper and then brown the ground turkey, then remove from heat. Sauté onions and garlic until they are soft. Combine together with a some feta and stuff a bell pepper that has its insides cut out and top removed. Bake at 375 for 40 minutes or until you like the consistency.

          For dad you could try rice and cheese in his pepper. My thinking is to make something like this where you can stuff to their liking and avoid making separate dishes for everyone.

          For breakfast loads of fresh fruit, yogurt, granola, cereal, and this egg dish. Bake ahead of time a crustless quiche with cheese and veggies (leftover roasted or whatever you like). You can bake this while you roast the veggies in separate quiche pans or in a muffin tray. I have these individual cupcake molds that are made of silicone that are a great portion for me.

          Don't forget your parents want to spend time with you so don't work yourself needlessly if cooking aint your thing. Buy premade options and bake or serve them yourself.

          1 Reply
          1. re: carrytheone

            The salad and roasted vegetables I think I can handle. I'm in California and have some great produce. I actually never thought to add herbs to the roasted vegetables, so thank you!

            What I want to do is have a lot of food prepared for them already when they arrive on Saturday. That way they can eat, and we can have the whole day to explore without worrying about eating out until dinnertime. Also, it's a cultural thing: the way to make someone feel welcome for us is to have food prepared from the heart available. In copious quantities. There will definitely be a lot of pre-made stuff: bread, desserts, juice, etc., plus we're spending the day in San Francisco, and it would be an injustice to the city not to buy SOMETHING out.

            I have a muffin tray but don't know how to make a quiche. Do you have a specific recipe? They definitely like eggs. Maybe something with eggs, cheese, and sundried tomatoes? And olives? Is that gross?

          2. 1- salad sounds fine, maybe add cucumber? You could impress mom with olive garden salad dressing..... ;) if you don't have parm and romano just use all one kind
            http://www.copykat.com/2009/03/29/oli...

            2- go with what looks good at the market, apples don't seem summery...with the potentially picky parents stick to olive oil and salt/pepper

            What about an easy frittata for lunch? You can bake in the morning and serve at room temp or chilled, basically mixed eggs and veggies baked together. This recipe is straight forward:
            http://www.realsimple.com/food-recipe...

            3- you buy the premade kind from refridgerated section and follow directions on packet, don't try to make your own

            4- dunno, i'm vegetarian ;
            )5- if you are already buying a cake don't bother with cookies also- esp if they need to be low sugar.
            6- your dad will be fine! Frittata and salad at lunch(maybe with store bought rolls?), ravioli with tomato sauce or whatever sauce at dinner, side of roasted veggies, maybe add steamed corn on the cob, storebought cake for dessert
            7- thick slices of sourdough toast top with sliced avocado and sliced hard boiled eggs (make and peel day before, slice morning of), fresh fruit salad on the side. Or layered yogurt/honey/fruit/granola bowl. Or buy frozen croissants that you just need to bake and serve with fruit and yogurt

            6 Replies
            1. re: Ttrockwood

              Hmmm. I feel that people aren't understanding the Russian culture! If there are not at least 5 helpings of 5 dishes for each person to eat, then you have failed as a host.

              1. I have cucumber! Really I have all the fruit and veggies in the world. I was actually going to come back and ask for a dressing idea. Thank you for reading my mind and being helpful!

              2. Welllll, I was thinking of veering more with olive oil and cinnamon and nutmeg and going a little sweet with it. The thing is: I'm in California, and the apples I have are the first of THIS year and quite tasty. And I'm in the Bay Area specifically, and the weather will be 65 degrees, so my theme isn't exactly "summer."

              3. I'm making that. But no scallions, as IDK what they are. Thank you!! I have never in my life needed that many eggs however.

              5. Russians. Plus I think cookies can make a good portable snack for the day. Mostly I just want to try making cookies.

              7. I really like the avocado and egg on bread idea. My dad would love that for breakfast because he's really weird, and I can't believe we're related.

              Thank you for your help! :)

              1. re: FeeFee34

                scallions: you've seen them. Long, sold in small-ish bunches. white at the bottom [where the root is] and then progressively greener the farther up the stalk. Used in probably every asian dish you've ever eaten!

                I'm italian - we're the same way about food, FWIW.

                quick, easy apple crisp: slice apples into a baking dish. sprinkle with cinnamon, brown sugar OR molasses, a squirt of lemon juice. bake at 350 until the apples are soft, THEN sprinkle generously with some granola that you've mixed with a couple of tablespoons of butter. Let the topping brown.

                here's a sun dried tomato, olive, and feta cheese quiche link - you don't need to bake it in a crust - just pour into the [greased!] muffin tins. and you can freeze the rest - makes a great on the go breakfast.

                http://whippedtheblog.com/2009/07/10/...

                COOKIES: you have a lot on your plate already. Betty Crocker has bags of cookie dough mix in several flavors - sugar cookies, molasses, chocolate chocolate chunk, oatmeal, and a few others. Each bag makes about 2 dozen, and you can always dress them up with some additions/tweaks.

                1. re: jiffypop

                  Those bags of mix are GOOD... get the white-chocolate macadamia if you can. It's delicious. Just follow the directions on the pack and you'll have fail-proof cookies in ten minutes flat...

              2. re: Ttrockwood

                Hmm. So I looked at your "straight forward" frittata recipe, and of course immediately got confused.

                What does it mean by: "Add the oil to a 2-quart casserole"

                What casserole?? Why do I already have a casserole? What is a casserole exactly?

                1. re: FeeFee34

                  A casserole is a dish you would bake a casserole in. So any 2 quart dish would probably work. They're usually on the flatter side and made of glass or ceramic, but sometimes you'll see metal.

                  Your salad sounds good, and ravioli is a great way to get something that won't require much prep work.

                  1. re: ErnieD

                    I definitely thought the recipe referred to a casserole DISH, but as I reread it sort of sounded like maybe it meant I'm pouring the mixture over premade noodles or some such. Thanks for clarifying!

              3. Making Omlet in a Bag might be a fun way to share "cooking" on Sunday morning. Good quality zip bags, boiling water, mix/match add-in ingredients, eggs - http://allrecipes.com/recipe/omelet-i...

                2 Replies
                1. re: MidwesternerTT

                  Wow. I read a lot of food blogs and I have NEVER seen that idea before. Hmmm. I'm not positive my freezer bags will hold up. I know water leaks out if I fill them with ice. Have you tried this?

                  1. re: FeeFee34

                    My sister does this when hosting family gatherings, and yes it does work. Maybe get the name-brand bags with "double zip" top, not a "slider" lock. You can read the recipe comments for additional hints from those who have used / modified this specific recipe.

                2. If you've ever wanted to roast a chicken, here's a slam dunk way. And go for the smallest and best chicken you can find.

                  http://www.today.com/id/4401342/ns/to...

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: c oliver

                    Zuni is too salty for me.

                    Easy beginner chicken, thanks to Sara Moulton: salt and pepper a 4.5 pound (roughly) chicken. Preheat oven to 450F. Put chicken on a pan, breast up. Roast for 45 minutes. Done. (Yes, it would be preferable to start breast down, or switch from side to side, but the chance of the breast being a bit overdone is an acceptable trade-off if you don't know what you're doing in the first place, or need to pare your steps down to the simplest method. I would jam the bird neck side down into an angel food cake pan with the opening of the tube covered with foil or a metal jar lid, but I am assuming the OP doesn't even know what that pan is, much less owning one.

                    1. re: greygarious

                      Whereas I love the saltiness of the crisp skin. I love it cause it works every time and, being a white meat eater, I LOATHE it overcooked :)