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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hide The Veggies, The Kids Are Looking

If I continue to be good at updating this, and you continue to read, you will notice a recurring "Tex-Mex" theme. It is undeniably my family's favorite kind of food. It's cheap, it's easy, and you if you don't give a frig about authenticity you can throw in whatever you have in the house. It's also a fantastic way to hide vegetables from your kids.

Last night was Burrito Night. Burrito Night differs from Taco Night in that the wraps are bigger and I make rice. I also plan for leftovers - I make a crazy amount of filling and I buy two packages of wraps. Then I make, individually wrap, and freeze a bunch of burritos. We can take them to school and work, they're good for when The Teen is hungry and rummaging around (always) and Jeffrey has a midnight snack when he's up late making comics. Sometimes I throw together a salad or a smoothie to go with, but if the filling has enough of the aforementioned hidden veggies I don't stress about it too much.

Here's the deal with hiding vegetables; if you chop them up small enough and it's in a sauce, they will not notice that the vegetables are there. You can do this in a food processor, but I don't. I have to keep my processor in the basement due to lack of cabinet space and I can never find all the parts and I hate cleaning it. I use this instead, and it is the best. Do not be fooled by it's Slap-Chop-like appearance. It works, it's machine washable and it fits in my cabinet and on my woefully small counter.

Here's a by-no-means-comprehensive list of things that I have put in burritos;

Spanish Rice
Leftover Rice Pilaf
Sweet Potato (with black beans...soooooo gooood)
Spinach or whatever greens I got from the CSA and have to use up
Carrot
Potato, mashed or otherwise
Rotisserie Chicken
Dal/Lentils
Broccoli
Summer Squash
Asparagus
Roasted Winter Veg

Basically if you can put avocado and cheese on it and wrap it in a tortilla, I will serve it as a burrito. We once had roasted winter veg with dinner and the kids wouldn't even look at it. The next night I chopped up the vegetables really small, added a can of beans and a packet of taco seasoning and they each had seconds. I win.

Last night was ground beef, potato, onion/garlic and spinach with yellow rice. We will all be having lunchovers today.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Family (Meal) Planning

I have kids and, as everyone knows, in order for kids to grow into healthy functional adults that don't open meth labs in the back of the trailer in order to earn enough to feed their seven bastard children all named Jayden you have to provide them with a rich buffet of activities and experiences. This school year brings guitar lessons, voice lessons, fencing practice, tutoring, two different dance classes, and carpooling from Eliza's school which is two towns away. Plus, I work.

This could all easily result in the consumption of Burger King four times a week with frozen pizza bagels on the off days. It's easy to get overwhelmed by a schedule, and it seems that a lot of families just eliminate mealtimes all together - they throw any quick food into their kids as they run out the door because hey you have to eat and hurry up and grab your cleats we're late as it is. My daughter brought home a flyer from school for Eat Dinner With Your Kids Day, and I felt profoundly sad. I make a point, even with our schedule, to eat dinner as a family. We're averaging about five nights out of seven, as weekends are more casual and once in a while we eat in front of the TV. The rules are; no phones, no laptops, no TV (you can see it from our dining room table), and no answering "I don't know" and "Nothing" to questions about your day. Even if dinner lasts 15 minutes before we run back out the door, it still counts.

"How DO you do it Holly you are amazing," you say. Oh, you.

The key is planning. I sit down on Sunday and come up with at least six dinners.* I try to get the kids to suggest stuff, it's nice to have them involved in the process. Then I make my shopping list and hit the stores. I've also come to terms with shortcuts. I used to be militant about everything being from scratch, but you learn to make concessions (Rotisserie chicken is now a kitchen staple, makes my life a little easier).

For example, here's our menu for the week;

Monday - Stuffed Shells with Panzanella

Tuesday - Burrito Night

Wednesday - Teriyaki Chicken & Pineapple Kabobs with Sushi Rice Balls

Thursday - Caribbean Quinoa & Peas with Tropical Fruit

Friday - Tomato Gorgonzola Soup with Popovers and Salad

Saturday - Pizza Night

Sunday - Crockpot Smoked Brisket, Polenta, Roasted Broccoli

Sounds fancy and complicated, but none of these will take me more than a half hour prep time. I always have pizza dough in my freezer and I usually budget for take-out pizza just in case we have a Day. I use my crockpot at least once a week, more in the winter.

I feed a family of four for an average of $150 a week - that's three meals a day, because the kids like to bring lunch to school. I do belong to a CSA, which is pretty great for the budget. I throw away a lot less un-used, funky food now.

I realize that every family is different. I understand working 3rd shift and sleeping during the day, and I understand being broke, and I understand Circumstances more than you know. This is what works for me, in my life, with my family, and maybe it will work out for you too.

Hey you know what? Here's a recipe for Panzanella!

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Panzanella (Bread Salad)


8 oz Ciliegine (those little balls of fresh mozzarella), drained
16 oz cherry or grape tomatoes
1 c chopped basil (I like a nice chiffonade)
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 head green or red leaf lettuce, rough chopped
1 tsp - 1 T finely chopped garlic (to taste)
1/2 c olive oil
1/4 c balsamic vinegar
s/p to taste

about 6 cups of cubed bread. I recommend a nice dense loaf. I usually use a whole grain peasant boule', which sounds fancy but I can get it at Stop & Shop. Day old bread works best. If you have time to plan ahead, cube the bread in the morning, leave it out on a cookie sheet or your cutting board or what-have-you, and let it dry out. This dish was born out of a need to use up day old bread so think untoasted crouton.

How I did it:

It's a salad, so it's not real hard to figure this one out. I like to toss everything but the bread and lettuce together and let it sit and marinate a little while I cook the rest of the meal. (This can, however, be a nice meal on it's own - especially in the summer when it's too hot & gross to cook.) Then you can toss in the bread cubes about 5 minutes before serving. It is a style choice of whether or not you toss in the lettuce. I like to, but it also looks real pretty sitting in a bed of greens.

*Most often used for inspiration & recipes: Food Network, Real Simple, The Crockpot Lady

I only read Real Simple for the recipes, I swear.

I do read other magazines, visit other blogs, and have a f-ton of cookbooks...but if I just want to hurry up and figure it out and be done with it, those are my favorite three.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Chillin' With Chilaquiles

The weather was gross yesterday, the kind of New England fall rain that sucks all ambition and energy out of you and leaves you a soggy brain dead heap huddled under a blanket on the couch, staring soullessly at the TV. I've been so busy lately that I didn't even put up a fight. I ran some laundry, cooked some stuff, and my friend Kaliis and I drank wine and caught up on a bunch of shows. It was glorious.

I made Chilaquiles-Style Chicken and Rice & Goat Cheese Stuffed Acorn Squash. Kaliis contributed delicious and seasonal apple crisp, and my daughter Eliza baked 3 Hour Cookies.

(3 Hour Cookies are just like chocolate chip cookies, but it takes Eliza 3 hours to make them because she keeps getting distracted. Teens, man. Teens.)

I did not think to take pictures of dinner, this time. I promise that I will for future posts.

The Chilaquiles-Style Chicken is based on a recipe from the October 2009 issue of Food & Wine. I tend to look at recipes, retain the basic info, chuck it aside and start thinking bout how to change it. (It's never that the original recipe isn't good, I just have Ideas.) It was really easy, it tasted delicious, and my boyfriend did a little dance he liked it so much. Here's the recipe;

Ingredients:

family-sized package of chicken thighs (about 8 or 9 thighs)
garlic
ground cumin
chili powder -or- taco seasoning
olive oil
small red onion, diced
4 oz can of green chiles (I like fire-roasted, if you can get them)
28 oz can diced tomatoes, drained
can hominy, drained
bag of tortilla chips

Pre-heat the oven to 450.

How I did it:

First, crush the garlic into a paste. The best way to do this is with a mortar and pestle, but I realize that not everyone has that lying around. An easy way is to finely chop the garlic, then add a little bit of salt and work it around with the back of a spoon. The salt will help macerate the garlic with Science. I did not give a measurement here, because I cook with a lot of garlic. The average person will probably want to use about 3 cloves or so.

Mix the garlic paste with your cumin (about 2 tsp) your chili or taco seasoning (about 1T) and a tablespoon or two of olive oil. I used taco seasoning because I have a big thing of it that I bought at Costco, but if/when I make this again I will probably switch to chili powder. Chipotle chili powder would also work nicely! Set this mixture aside.

In a 9 x 12 casserole dish; mix the onion, tomatoes, hominy, green chiles, and half of the spice paste. Lightly crush the tortilla chips, then fold into the sauce.

- a note on chips: I used Trader Joe's tri-color veggie and flax chips, to add a little more flavor and because they're denser and heartier than the average chip. Blue corn would also be nice, but you can use whatever chips you want and they will be fine, don't worry.

Trim any extraneous fat/skin from the chicken thighs, but leave the skin on for the most part. You want the skin, and you want to use thighs instead of boneless skinless breasts so that as the chicken bakes, the juices blend with the rest of the casserole and the flavor all comes together. If you're concerned about fat content and you choose to go with naked breasts, then I would mix some bouillion powder or concentrated broth* into the sauce.

Rub the rest of the spice paste on the thighs, and lay them on top of the chip & sauce mixture. Bake for about 45 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.

*more on concentrated broth packets in a later post, but you can get really good ones at Trader Joe's

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Rice-Stuffed Acorn Squash

My kids hate squash. I love squash. We belong to a CSA, which means that come September, we have tons and tons of....squash. I always take it home in the hopes that someday I will find the magical recipe that tricks the kids into liking squash. This was not that recipe, but they did pick the rice stuffing out and eat that, and sometimes you take what you can get.

This recipe was thrown together with things I had kicking around, but it came out GREAT. I am looking forward to having the lunchovers later.

This makes 4 servings as a main course, 8 as a side dish.

Ingredients


1/2 c uncooked rice (I like basmati, any rice will do)
1 packet Sazon Goya Culantro y Achiote (best rice seasoning ever, I can get it at any chain grocery and at Costco)

chopped garlic (to taste)
1/4 c diced onion
2 cooked sausages, chopped - I used chicken and apple, I would highly recommend it
handful of chopped scallion
1 c crumbled goat cheese

Cook the rice, like you do, in your choice of broth or water with the Goya seasoning packet. It will be fragrant and bright yellow and wonderful. In the meantime, halve the squash and scoop out the seeds and guts.

Now, I am a cheater when it comes to stuffed squash, and I always give the squash a microwave head start. Place the halves face-down on a plate with a little bit of water in the bottom. Microwave on high for 5 minutes. Remove from the microwave and pop them (face-up) into a baking dish, also with a little bit of water in the bottom. This helps the squash cook faster and keeps it from drying out.

Give the onions, garlic, and sausage a quick saute', until the onions are translucent. Remove from heat and toss the cooked rice, sausage mixture, scallions and goat cheese together. Spoon into the acorn squash - don't be afraid to pack it in.

Loosely cover with tinfoil and bake for about 30 minutes at 450 degrees.

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We had Bota Box Shiraz with dinner. Yeah, box wine, I know I know. I have to say that Bota is pretty tasty, it's a really good value, and it's environmentally friendly. I give it two thumbs up, but I also sometimes choose wine by who has the prettiest label so what do I know. I'm a beer snob more than a wine snob.

We were all excited to crack into the mead that I had picked up to go with dessert. I realize what that sounds like to the average person - "Oh fie, I hath eaten so much that I must loosen my corset...pass the mead kind sir!" - but mead is enjoying a resurgence. A lot of wineries have taken to producing signature meads, and some of them are just amazing. This one, however, was not. I stuck my nose in the glass, deeply inhaled, and my frst thought was, "Liquid Ricola??"

This mead was extremely medicinal tasting. I understand how it happened, some kinds of honey taste like that. Last winter I bought some local wildflower honey and mixed it into a mulled wine and my whole house smelled like cough drops. However, it wasn't what I wanted or what I was expecting - especially since the label boasted that it was flavored with vanilla bean and spices. I will keep it in mind for later in the winter when I'm sick. I can warm it up and have a nice toddy before bed.

Uh, I just tried to find the bottle because I can't remember the name - and the bottle is gone. Stolen in the night by the brewers to avoid a bad review? Spirited away by Kaliis in her need to mix bad with good to make better? Who knows...but I'll remember it eventually.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A little background....

It always seems that chefs, and food writers, and even your average foodies have a great back story as to why they go into food in the first place. Tales of loving Italian Grandmothers, or family vacations in France, or growing up in a big city where they had a world of flavors at their fingertips. Me, I have no idea where this all came from.

I grew up in a flavorless small town in New England. We had four greasy pizza places, an even greasier Chinese restaurant, and a typical Massachusetts fish-and-chips-and-ice-cream drive in shack. My mother is from the "Dump A Box Of Fishsticks On A Cookie Sheet And Call It Good" school of cooking. I don't even know how it started, but as far as I can tell it was because I spent a lot of time at the library. You do that, when you're skinny and tall and kind of weird and poor and nobody invites you to thier house after school. After blowing through all of the fiction (seriously, I read Watership Down in fifth grade), I wandered over to the non-fiction stacks and started leafing through a series of kids' cookbooks that featured recipes from around the world. I didn't get to actually cook any of the dishes in the books, mostly because I had never heard of half the ingredients and also my parents regarded my interest with little more than passing confusion (I once asked for pan-fried shrimp from the Chinese place and my father made a comment on my "expensive tastes"), but I loved the photos of the food and the idea that there was more out there than bright orange mac & cheese.

I left my parents' house when I was 19, moved into a college town, and had sushi for the for the first time. It all snowballed from there. I started working in restaurants, and teaching myself to cook at home. I had kids, and had dreams of raising well-rounded little gourmands...kids who turned up their tiny noses at the mere idea of processed chicken nuggets and who had never heard of Lunchables. They're about halfway there - they do watch TV and you know, leave the house- but way ahead of a lot of their friends in their food repertoire.

I don't cook for a paycheck anymore, so I cook more at home. I'm lucky, because I get to go out to eat pretty often. I travel for work, so I get to try restaurants all over the country (and parts of Canada). I really like to talk about food. My boyfriend tries to humor me, but I can see his eyes glaze over. He just doesn't give a frig about what I read in the latest Food & Wine, and he doesn't want a review of the meal we just had. So here I am, doing what anybody with a free half hour a day and a love of the sound of their own voice would do.......

I started a food blog.