Category Archives: Entree

Whole Grain White Pizza with Carmelized Onions and Garlicky Spinach

For meal number 3 in the Cuizoo Arsenal, we are going to do a pizza. I feel sort of silly talking about pizza, because, come on, it’s pizza.  Crust, toppings, cheese.  Pretty straightforward stuff.  But yet, we still order it and pay $15 for something that (with a little forethought) can be made in about 30-40 minutes (of active cooking time) for half the cost of delivery.  And the end result will have completely controlled ingredients (organic produce, no preservatives, whole grain, etc.) and surely taste better.  The last time I checked, I don’t think Papa Johns offered caramelized onions as a topping.  And I don’t mean to look down my nose at Papa Johns, because there is a time and a place for delivery pizza and we all know that their garlic butter is pretty much made up of crack cocaine.  But, there is no massive conspiracy preventing you from trying to make it on your own. And kids absolutely love making their own pizzas for dinner.

So, let’s start with the crust.  This is the main reason I own a bread maker.  It is fantastic for this purpose because you can use it on the “Dough” setting, dump your ingredients in, turn it on, and in 90 minutes you have pizza crust ready to bake.  I like that I can use organic, whole grain flours and I can throw everything in after the kids get home from school and it just gets mixed and kneaded without having to think about it.  But you have other options here … many pizza shops will sell you a ball of dough and most grocery stores carry pre-made pizza dough as well.  And if you aren’t pressed for time or don’t have a breadmaker, you can certainly make pizza dough by hand too.  I should add that the key to whole grain pizza (in my opinion) is to roll the dough *very* thin, so it is not too dense and “whole wheaty.”

Next, we need to talk sauce.  Or in this case, the lack of sauce.  This is a white pizza and the more I eat it, the more I don’t like sauce on my pizza.  I usually let the kids make their own mini pizzas and they always want sauce, but this time they tried the white and were converts.  It is really delicious on its own or with the greens and onions.

And finally, toppings.  I really don’t need to provide instruction on pizza toppings, do I?  You know the things you like, so just use that stuff.  But I will put in a vote for the sauteed greens.  Spinach, chard, kale, beet greens, etc. all work very well on a white pizza and while kids may not love it at first, most will come around.  It’s a great way to get a super nutritious vegetable into a meal they really like.   Pizza is also a great way to use up leftovers for toppings … BBQ Chicken Pizza with Smoked Gouda which only requires a bit of shredded leftover chicken, Grilled Veggie Pizza with the vegetables left over from the previous night, Sauteed Mushroom Pizza with some Fontina Cheese, or just a plain old Cheese Pizza that uses up all the odds and end pieces of cheese sitting in your refrigerator.

Give it a try and you’ll start to realize that it’s a great middle of the week recipe.  It requires more “unactive” cooking time than some things, but it is still very easy and always a favorite with the kids.

Whole Grain White Pizza with Carmelized Onions and Garlicky Spinach

Serves 4

Crust:
1/2 t salt
3 cups white whole wheat flour
1 1/2 t yeast
1 cup warm water
2 T olive oil

1 large onion
1 T Sweet Marsala Wine
8 ounces fresh spinach
1/3 cup olive oil (plus extra for cooking)
2 large cloves of garlic
Salt and Pepper
Red Pepper Flakes (optional)
16 ounces mozzarella cheese (pre-grated if you like)

1.  Mix crust ingredients in the pan of a breadmaker and set it to the “Dough” setting which typically takes 90 minutes.  (Alternatively, you can mix the dough by hand and do at least two cycles of kneading and rising.)

2.  While the pizza dough is doing its thing (or about 30-40 minutes before you are ready to eat), thinly slice the onion.  Wash the spinach to remove any sediment and set in colander to drain.  Finely chop the two garlic cloves.

3.  In a medium saute pan over medium high heat, heat a bit of olive oil and cook the onion until it begins to brown (about 4-5 minutes).  Add 1 T Marsala Wine, 2 T of water, and salt and pepper to taste.  Scrape up any browned bits and reduce heat to low.  Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, and adding a bit more water if the onions begin to stick.  (This is a quick method for caramelized onions, if you like you can do a more traditional 30 minute method.)  Set the caramelized onions aside.

4.  Meanwhile, grate the mozzarella cheese if it is not pre-grated. (I should add that freshly grated always tastes better to me.)  Make the garlic oil by mixing 1/3 cup of olive oil with half of the chopped garlic, 1/8 t of salt, freshly ground pepper, and a few red pepper flakes.  Warm in the microwave for about 1 minute at 50% power and set aside.

5.  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.  In the same saute pan, heat a bit more olive oil with the remaining half of the chopped garlic. Roughly chop the spinach (it is OK if it still has water clinging to it) and saute for about 2 minutes until wilted.  Season with salt and pepper.  Set aside.

6.  When the dough is done in the breadmaker, split the ball roughly in half.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Roll out half of the dough directly on a parchment-lined sheet until it is very thin (about a 1/4 of an inch thick — at this thickness, this recipe usually makes two oblong pizzas that are roughly 10 inches by 13 inches).  Drizzle with a bit of the olive oil mixture, bake for about 8 minutes, and remove from oven.

7.  Top pre-baked crust with caramelized onions and spinach.  Season well with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle about half of the mozzarella cheese all over.  Generously drizzle all over with about half of the olive oil mixture.  Bake for an additional 13-15 minutes on the bottom rack of the oven until golden and crisp.  You can broil for a bit at the very end if you like.  (Because this makes two pizzas, you can either do two at at time on separate sheets, or you can make one and repeat the process for the second dough ball, using the remaining half of the cheese and oil mixture.)

Sesame Crusted Fish Tacos with Avocado Salad and Slaw

So, here we have meal #2 from the Cuizoo Arsenal.  I’m pretty sure I won’t be getting one done per day, but I’ll try to keep these coming as frequently as possible.  I know I’ll be cooking tonight, but once the weekend hits, I don’t make any promises as cooking cuts into my drinking time.  I kid.  (I should mention though that one small bottle of white wine has lasted me *all* week, which is some sort of healthy living record for me.  And no, I haven’t switched to bourbon in an attempt to take it easy on wine.)

Today we are going to talk about tacos.  They are generally a huge kid favorite and when it comes to flexibility, anything in a wrap is about as good as it gets.  Let’s first discuss the shell.  I, for one, don’t really like grocery store taco shells because they just break and make a mess.  When I came across this lightly fried/soft shell method for tacos a while back, I began to enjoy them again.  Basically, you soften a corn tortilla in a bit of oil in a saute pan, fill it with toppings and cheese, fold it over, and let it crisp a bit before flipping it and then crisping the other side.  What you end up with is a crispy (but not crunchy) taco shell with warm fillings and melted cheese.  It’s sort of a cross between a quesadilla and a taco.  This all being said, if you like regular taco shells or if you want to do soft tacos with flour tortillas, it’s totally up to you. One thing to add here is that you should always have some corn or flour tortillas in your freezer (and regular taco shells or tostado shells — which I do love — in your pantry).  It is a no-brainer of a meal.

Second, you need some protein.  Obviously, the choices are pretty obvious here.  A can or two of white or black beans heated up with some garlic and spices and mashed is fantastic in a taco (and about as fast as you can get for a dinner).  Grilled chicken or ground beef are the old stand-bys.  Sauteed veggies with cheese is great too.  You can also do a combination of several proteins and let everyone pick their favorites.  But it seems that the whole world is gaga over fish tacos right now (and I can’t say I blame them), so that’s what we did last night.  On the subject of the fish, I will add that the sesame crusted method I used makes a great and easy stand alone entree with a simple salad or vegetables. You can also add some bread crumbs to the sesame seeds if you like.

Third, you need some condiments.  The easy ones are salsa and sour cream.  Not much more difficult is making some basic guacamole.  When I do that, I simply mash one or two ripe avocados with a chopped garlic clove, salt and pepper, some cumin, and lime juice.  With last night’s meal, I had some tomatoes and cucumbers left over from the previous night, so I just chopped those up with the avocado for more of an avocado salad.  As the veggie or an additional condiment, I like to serve some form of cole slaw or salad greens with tacos because they are just as good inside the taco as on the outside. Find a good hot sauce for the grown-ups at the table and you are basically done.

Now, for variations that we love:  Spicy Mashed Black Beans with a Creamy Red Cabbage Slaw and Queso Fresco or Feta cheese — that is one of my favorites; Grilled BBQ Chicken (or leftover chicken) with Creamy Slaw and Cheddar Cheese; Steak with Caramelized Onions and a bit of Blue Cheese and Balsamic Greens; Fajita style with Grilled Chicken and Sauteed Red Peppers and Onions; or for a VERY quick dinner, just cheese and whatever else you may have leftover or in the freezer (guaranteed to be faster than any fast food).

As for the $15 limit, I might be slightly over because the fish itself was about $10.  But clearly you can make this meal just as easily with chicken or beans and cut that cost dramatically.  So, I’ll let it slide.

Sesame Crusted Fish Tacos with Avocado Salad and Slaw

Makes 8-10 tacos (enough for 4-6 people)

1 pound of mild white fish (I used cod)
1/2 cup toasted sesame seeds (you can buy them pretoasted in Asian markets)
1 T butter
Salt, Pepper, Smoked Paprika or Chipotle Powder
10 – 6 inch corn tortillas
4-6 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
Sour Cream
Salsa
Hot Sauce

Avocado Salad
1 ripe avocado
1/2 cucumber
10-12 grape or cherry tomatoes
Onion
Fresh cilantro from one bunch
1 garlic clove
1/2 of a lime
1/4 t cumin
Fresh cilantro
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper

Slaw
A small Napa or Chinese Cabbage (or any type of cabbage will work)
Fresh cilantro from one bunch
Olive Oil
1/2 of a lime
A bit of orange juice

1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Melt 1 T butter and mix with sesame seeds.  Add to that 1/4 t salt, pepper, and smoked paprika to season (Chipotle Powder if you like it spicier).  Place fish on a parchment line baking sheet.  With a sharp knife, cut it into 3/4 inch slices, but leave whole filet in one piece (See pic above). Pat sesame seed mixture all over top.  Bake for 12-13 minutes until just opaque.

2.  While the fish is baking, mix avocado salad.  Halve, peel, and remove pit from avocado.  Chop it into a medium-sized dice and place in bowl.  Halve the cucumber lengthwise, remove seeds with a spoon, and chop into a medium-sized dice.  Quarter the cherry or grape tomatoes. Finely chop a small piece of onion to make about 2 T.  Chop about 1 T of cilantro.  Finely chop the clove of garlic.  Mix all of the above in the bowl.   Add the juice of 1/2 of a lime and a drizzle of olive oil.  Season with 1/4 t of salt, pepper, 1/4 t of cumin, and a bit of Smoked Paprika or Chipotle Powder.   Set aside.

3.  Prepare the slaw.  Cut the cabbage in half and remove the core.  Thinly slice 1/2 of the cabbage and place in a bowl (reserve other half for a different use).  Chop about 1/4 cup of cilantro and add to cabbage.  Drizzle with about 1/4 cup of olive oil, the juice of 1/2 lime, and a bit of orange juice to taste.  Season with 1/2 t of salt and pepper.  Play with the dressing if needed, adding more citrus, salt, or olive oil if necessary. Set aside.

4.  To prepare the tacos:  heat a bit of olive oil in a large saute pan.  Take one corn tortilla and place it flat into the pan, spinning it a bit to coat it with olive oil.  After about 10-20 seconds, it should be flexible (if it’s not, your shells may crack).  Add one or two slices of the baked fish and about 1 T of shredded cheese.  Gently fold the taco in half and hold with a spatula for a few seconds to make sure it stays folded.  Repeat with another taco (I usually do two at a time).  When the tacos are lightly golden on one side, flip and cook on the other side.  Remove to an oven safe platter and place in oven to stay warm.  Repeat with remaining tacos.

5.  To serve, put a bit of the avocado salad inside the taco and serve with slaw, sour cream, salsa, and hot sauce.  The slaw is also good inside the taco as a condiment.

Crispy Calamari Chopped Salad

Mark Bittman has me thinking again.  He has a way of doing that.  After reading his latest NYT piece, “Chop, Fry, Boil:  Eating for One, or 6 Billion,” I once again realize that people who like to cook have a way of making things way too complicated for those who don’t (Bittman is not one of those people). We teach using recipes, when we should actually be teaching with models and systems.  Whenever I talk to someone about cooking a meal, it’s always the same complaint:  “I can usually follow the recipes, but I have no idea how to pull the meal together and time things correctly.”  And that’s the problem  — getting a handle on the bigger picture is truly the hardest part of cooking when you are learning.  But recipes don’t help with this unless they are written in a “non-mise en place” manner.  (For the non-French speaking, mise en place means simply to have everything in its place and ready to go — chopped, toasted, sauteed, etc. — before cooking.)

So, my plan for the next few weeks is to teach 7 basic meals using a systems focus.  We will talk about soups, curries, pizzas, salads, rice and beans, tacos, and stir fries.  The goal is to give you a meal for each day of the week that you can confidently play with using the ingredients you have on hand.  The meals will be cheap (less than $15 to serve 4 people), easy (done in 30-60 minutes), healthy (whole grain and light on meat), family friendly, and flexible for many types of ingredients.  Because once you know the method for a stir fry or a hearty soup, you can rework it endlessly and never get bored with it.  And the “recipes” may not look like my normal ones (and may seem longer because of it).  I will try to focus on listing the ingredients, but not indicating how to prepare them in the ingredients list (e.g. I won’t write “2 onions, finely chopped”).  Instead, I will work the preparation into the directions so you can save time by chopping onions while water is coming to the boil, etc.  Mise en place is necessary for a restaurant kitchen, but it’s not always realistic for the home cook who is trying to get dinner on the table while doing third grade homework with children hanging off his/her legs.

I think by giving you models and showing you how I would actually cook a meal like this with logical instructions, rather than recipe notation, you can increase the repertoire of meals you cook on a regular basis and start to cook based on intuition rather than following a recipe word for word.  And when you get to that place, I can almost guarantee that you will begin to enjoy cooking more because it becomes an expression of creativity and more of a challenge.  So, our first recipe in the “Cuizoo Arsenal” is a Crispy Calamari Chopped Salad.

A main course salad like this needs only a few components:  salad greens or cabbage, some protein (fish, chicken, beans, or tofu all work), extra chopped veggies, some nuts or seeds, fruit or cheese if you like, and a dressing.  Use the veggies that you have, or the ones that your family loves the most.  We like chopped salads with a creamy dressing, but feel free to use a vinaigrette too.  Making your own dressing takes all of 1 or 2 minutes and is so much more flavorful and healthy than a bottled variety (Here’s my recipe for Balsamic Vinaigrette which you can leave as is or tweak with herbs, mustard, etc.).  In this salad, I lightly fried our calamari, but it would be equally good sauteed or grilled if you don’t feel like frying.  And this easily feeds 4-6 people for less than $15.

Variations I could easily envision would include a Leftover BBQ Chicken Salad with greens, thawed corn, avocado, tomatoes, Jack cheese,and a creamy cilantro dressing; a Turkey, Dried Cranberry, and Pecan Salad with greens, carrots, celery, chopped apples, white cheddar cheese, and an Apple Cider Vinaigrette; a Vegetarian Greek Salad with greens, chick peas, roasted red peppers, green onions, feta cheese and a basic Greek Vinaigrette; or a Pizza Salad with greens, peppers, tomatoes, torn basil, some crisped prosciutto, rustic croutons, mozzarella, and a Basil Vinaigrette.  The key is to take flavor combinations that you enjoy and convert them into a salad.

I’m looking forward to this challenge and I hope it gets you in the kitchen more in 2011!

Crispy Calamari Chopped Salad

Serves 4-6

3/4 pound of calamari (squid) bodies (Not tentacles —Here’s a before and after pic)
1/2 cup of pumpkin seeds
Large bunch of salad greens (or enough to fill a large salad bowl or spinner)
1 cucumber
1 pint of cherry or grape tomatoes
2-3 radishes
1 lemon
3/4 cup of corn starch or arrowroot starch (or flour if you like)
Smoked Paprika (or Chipotle Powder if you want it spicier)
Salt and Pepper

Thousand Island Dressing:
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup low fat plain yogurt
1 T low fat milk
1 T pickle relish
1 T finely chopped onion
1 T chopped parsley
1/4 t salt
Dash of cayenne pepper
Freshly ground black pepper
Lemon Juice

1.  Preheat the oven (or toaster oven) to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Clean squid bodies by making sure there are no remnants of cartilage, etc. inside the pouch.  Slice in thin rings and toss with juice of 1/2 of a lemon, salt and pepper, and a bit of smoked paprika.  Let marinate while you prep the veggies and toast the pumpkin seeds.

2.  Put pumpkin seeds on a baking sheet and toast for 10-12 minutes in preheated oven.

2.  While pumpkin seeds toast, place salad greens in a salad spinner or bowl to wash.  Meanwhile, wash cucumber and slice in half lengthwise.  Using a spoon, scrape out the cucumber middle to remove the seeds.  Cut the halves into quarters lengthwise and cross cut to make bite sized pieces.  Wash the tomatoes and set aside. Wash and trim radishes, quarter them, and chop into bite sized pieces.  Remove the salad greens from their rinsing water, and spin or towel dry. Tear dry salad greens into bite sized pieces if necessary and place in a large salad bowl with chopped cucumbers and tomatoes.

3.  Finely chop onion and parsley for dressing.  Make the dressing by combining mayo, yogurt, milk, relish, onion, parsley, salt, cayenne pepper, and black pepper.  Thin with a little leftover lemon juice if needed.  Place in refrigerator until you are ready to serve.

4.  Preheat a large saute pan with a thin layer of olive oil in it over medium high heat. On one plate (oven safe), place a double thickness of paper towels and set aside. On another plate, mix cornstarch (or arrowroot) with some salt, pepper, and a bit of smoked paprika or chipotle powder.   Take about 1/3 of the calamari rings and dredge in the cornstarch or arrowroot mixture.  Shake off excess and lightly fry in the preheated saute pan.  They will take only about 1-2 minutes per side.  When they start to look just golden, flip them with tongs and cook about 30 seconds more. (Don’t overcook your seafood!)  Remove with a slotted spoon and place on paper-towel lined plate and stick it in your still warm oven (shouldn’t be on, just warm from toasting the seeds).  Repeat with the remaining calamari until it is all fried (if you need to, add a bit more oil to the pan).  When it is done, remove the warming plate from the oven and toss the calamari with a bit of salt and more Smoked Paprika or Chipotle Powder.

5.  Assemble the salad by tossing the vegetables with most of the prepared dressing (reserving about 1/4 cup).  Mix in pumpkin seeds and either place on a platter or leave in a large bowl.  Top with Fried Calamari and serve with additional dressing if needed.

Smoky Scalloped Potatoes with Sausage

I’m thinking there is a guide to parenthood somewhere that I forgot to read.  Before I had kids, I imagined parenting to be similar to, um, living — except with children.  And I know that sounds simplistic and parenting is much harder than just living, but I guess I imagined that I would continue to do things that I enjoy, rather than things that I do not.  This isn’t making much sense, is it?

You see, there is an entire underbelly to our culture that I truthfully had no idea existed until I had children.  Festivals.  Apparently, once you procreate, there is an unwritten rule that you must both enjoy and faithfully attend all festivals occurring within a 50 mile radius of your home.  These can include, but are not limited to, Fun Fests, Fall Fests, Arts Fests, Music Fests, Octoberfests (those I enjoy more), Jazz Fests, Spring Fests, Renaissance Fests (sometimes called Fairs), Apple Fests, Maple Syrup Fests, Strawberry Fests, Ice Cream Fests, Chili Fests, Winter Fests, First Night Fests, and Random Nature Event Fests.  Corollary events can include Carnivals, Public Easter Egg Hunts, Holiday Plays and Pageants, Santa Parades, and Bug Fairs.

And let me just make myself clear.  I do not particularly like festivals.  Maybe it’s the walking around aimlessly saying “Look kids, a donkey!”  Or maybe it’s the whiny kids who are generally just looking for the funnel cake stand.  And refuse to STFU until they get a funnel cake.  Or maybe it’s the same old Lion’s Club food truck.  Or maybe it’s for the simple reason that NONE OF THESE FESTIVALS SERVE BEER.

For example, this recipe for Smoky Scalloped Potatoes with Sausage could inspire an entire festival.  There would be crafts for the kids that included painting a potato.  There would be some sort of Scalloped Potato cook-off.  And a potato peeling competition.  That sounds fun, doesn’t it?  And don’t forget about the food vendors.  There will most assuredly be kettle corn, funnel cakes, and french fries.  And some sort of random animal to visit — llamas, donkeys, reindeer, or horses (of course) are logical choices.  I can’t wait to spend my entire Saturday afternoon at the Scalloped Potato Festival, now that you mention it.

Actually, I made these scalloped potatoes the other afternoon when we were skipping out on some random festival in our area.  It’s been fall (season of lots of festivals!), so I have already forgotten which one it was.  It is a wonderful, easy dinner for a cold night with its simple but delicious flavors.  The smoked sausage bastes the potatoes as they cook and you won’t believe how few ingredients you need.  I questioned the idea of scalloped potatoes without cheese, but this really works.  And made with 2% milk (which I did), it isn’t nearly the calorie and fat hog that some scalloped potato recipes are.

And I must mention that this is my dad’s recipe.  And I’m pretty sure he hates festivals too.  That afternoon, I cooked and sipped a glass of wine while the kids played school (after helping me peel the potatoes).  Donkey rides kick some ass, but this is more of what I imagined motherhood to be.

Smoky Scalloped Potatoes with Sausage

Serves 6 as a main dish

6-7 medium potatoes, peeled
1 lb. smoked sausage (very important to get high quality, local smoked sausage for the best flavor)
Flour (1/2 T per layer)
Butter (about 1 T per layer)
Salt and Pepper
2 cups of 2% milk (approximately)

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2.  Slice potatoes thinly. Slice smoked sausage into thin rounds (or chunks, however you like it).

3.  Butter a 9 inch by 13 inch glass pan.

4.  In the greased pan, make one layer of potatoes.  Sprinkle 1/2 T of flour over the potatoes and season well with salt and pepper.  Break 1 T of butter into little pieces and scatter it over the potatoes.  Top potato layer with slices of smoked sausage.

5.  Repeat by layering potato slices, flour, butter, salt and pepper, and smoked sausage.  Your top layer should be potatoes.  (I made three layers of potatoes, with two layers of sausage in between).  On your final layer of potatoes, sprinkle with 1/2 T of flour, additional salt and pepper, and 1 T of butter (in small pieces).

6.  Pour milk over top the potatoes until you can start to see it come up the edge — it should be about 2 or 2 1/2 cups.  Using a metal spatula, press the potato layers down into the milk, so the milk mixes in well.

7.  Bake uncovered for about 1 hour and 30 minutes (mine took more like 1 hr. and 40 minutes).  Every 20 minutes or so, press the layers down with the back of a metal spatula again so the top layer gets saturated.  The potatoes are done when the milk is absorbed and the top is very golden brown.  Let rest for about 10 minutes before serving. (Helpful hint:  you may want to put a baking sheet underneath your baking pan, as the milk tends to bubble and make a mess of your oven.)

Vegetable Soup with Basil Pistou

I read this article in the New York Times yesterday (Told to Eat Its Vegetables, America Orders Fries).  Here’s a little quote to blow your mind:

For example, only 23 percent of meals include a vegetable, Mr. Balzer said. (Again, fries don’t count, but lettuce on a hamburger does.)

Truthfully, I am not surprised by this.  With busy schedules, it does seem difficult to eat enough fruits and vegetables.  There are plenty of nights in my house when I ask my husband, “Do we really need a salad tonight?”  I am often hoping for a response that goes something like this:  “No.”  It’s just that washing the lettuce and spinning it dry and making dressing and then washing the salad spinner and washing the salad bowl sometimes seems like an insurmountable task.  It’s ridiculous, I know, but I am pretty sure ours isn’t the only household where this happens.  (And yes, I know I should wash all of my salad greens the minute I bring them home and store them in a bag with a paper towel and then magically use as needed while wearing a Mary Poppins costume.  But I don’t generally do that, OK?)

What did surprise me about this quote is how the study authors defined a “vegetable.”  A single piece of lettuce on a hamburger apparently qualifies as eating a vegetable.  One piece.  A piece that is probably a wilted up scrap of iceberg with more water than nutrients.  If only 23% of meals contain a vegetable serving with those pathetic standards, we are in trouble.

And I’m sorry, but I don’t think putting baby carrots in a vending machine with super cool graphics is the answer.  First of all, the junk food they are competing against is so loaded with fat, sugar, sodium, and chemical flavor enhancers that the carrots are just not going to win.  They’re just not.  Beyond, a super sweet vegetable like a carrot is not the flavor profile we need to develop in kids (and obviously adults too).  We need to get children eating the non-sweet, non-starchy vegetables — things like dark leafy greens, broccoli, cabbage, beans, and zucchini.  When we start our babies out with sweet and starchy things like sweet potatoes and peas, do we really expect them to develop a taste for broccoli as two year olds?

In my entirely unscientific opinion, I think we need to begin training our children’s palates as soon as they begin solid food.  That means pureeing some zucchini or broccoli and as the infants get older, maybe even adding in some spices or a bit of garlic.  If we constantly train them to expect sweetness (in their vegetables, in their snacks, in their yogurt, etc.), I am just not sure how they will ever develop an appreciation for the other wonderful flavors that exist.

Beyond, here are a few ideas for the older ones … My kids have learned to love sauteed garlicky greens (spinach, chard, kale, etc.) and they especially enjoy the fact that they can eat a tablespoon or two and that equals about 2 cups of fresh greens.  Another idea is roasting vegetables.  This works well with asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, or green beans.  Simply roast at about 425 degrees Fahrenheit after tossing with olive oil and salt and pepper.  The veggies get crispy on the edges and are delicious.  A soup like this is also a wonderful way to integrate a lot of vegetables with different flavors or textures.  You could puree it for the most finicky, but I do think that if we always hide vegetables or puree them away, it is harder for kids to learn to like anything in its normal form.

So, make some vegetable soup and be truly Un-American.  You are not limited by the vegetables that I have used here.  This is what I needed to use up and you can certainly add or substitute based on what is languishing in the back of your crisper.  And by the standard of one-piece-of-lettuce-equals-a-serving, you should be good on nutrients for about a month and a half.

Vegetable Soup with Basil Pistou

Serves 6-8 with leftovers

2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2-4 sweet peppers, chopped
8 cups of broth (I used homemade beef broth)*
24 oz. pureed tomatoes (I used the Bionature Brand in glass)**
1/2 cup of red wine
2 cups of green or yellow beans, stemmed and in bite sized pieces
1 1/2 cups of edamame (cooked and shelled soybeans) or peas, limas, etc.
1 cup of pasta or rice (your choice, I used penne)
2 T fresh rosemary, chopped
Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper
Red pepper flakes
1/2 cup of heavy cream
Olive Oil

Pistou:
Handful of fresh basil, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup of olive oil
3/4 cup of parmesan cheese (freshly grated)
1/2 t salt
Freshly Ground Pepper

1.  In a large stock pot, heat 1 T olive oil.  Sauté garlic, onions, and peppers until just softened.  Deglaze pan with 1/2 cup of red wine and cook until reduced slightly.

2.  Add broth and pureed tomatoes.  Season with 2 t. of salt, freshly ground pepper, and a few red pepper flakes (more or less depending on spice preferences).  Simmer for about 15 minutes uncovered on medium heat.

3.  Meanwhile, make the pistou.  You can chop it finely, use a food processor/chopper, or a mortar and pestle.  Simply chop up the basil and garlic, add the olive oil, cheese, salt and pepper, and stir to combine.  Set aside.

3.  Add green/yellow beans and pasta to soup.  Simmer for an additional 10 minutes until pasta and beans are done.  Add edamame, chopped rosemary, and cream.   Cook for about 5 minutes longer.   Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. (You can certainly let this simmer and reduce longer if you like, but we like ours with vegetables that aren’t cooked to death.)

4.  Ladle soup into bowls and serve with a spoonful of the Basil Pistou on top.

*Use a simple homemade broth rather than buying it.  It’s much better for you and much cheaper. Just cover some chopped onion, garlic, a few herbs, celery if you have it, salt and pepper, etc. with water and simmer for as long as you have.  Strain out the solids and use the broth in just about anything.

**Research is showing that BPA is easily transferred to anything acidic in a can.  If you don’t have your own tomatoes to use, buy tomatoes only in glass containers if possible.

Late Spring Couscous with Spinach, Zucchini, and Pumpkin Seeds

So the school year is wrapping up  and I am firmly planting my head in the sand related to how I am going to a) keep everyone entertained all summer, b) get my paid work done and deliver a large project at the end of August, c) maintain some sanity amidst the fighting siblings and wet bathing suits and towels on the floor, d) have a house that doesn’t look like it needs an intervention, e) keep the plants thriving outside given that hoses are quite possibly the most annoying thing to use ever, and f) do grocery shopping with an entourage who likes to find every possible piece of crap and put it in my cart.

And this all with cocktail time not starting until 5:00 PM?  Can’t we push that up a little?

Oh, but I kid.  I complain a good game, but I am actually looking forward to summer.  Just the idea of relaxing mornings where we aren’t rushing around to get out the door … or the idea of making a pot of coffee and actually being able to drink a few leisurely cups… and not having to think about getting homework done every night… or throwing dinner together at a seriously uncivilized time just to get to soccer practice.  We are all ready for a little vacation.

This dinner was put together on one of those rushed evenings where we were hurrying to get to an end of the school year concert, but I think it would also be a great aprés swimming dinner when you have to divide your energy between hanging up that wet stuff, making a meal, and unpacking the pool bag. To non-parents I know this sounds like a pathetically small task — but you are wrong. Unpacking the pool bag is a terrible task filled with wet stuff, soggy snacks, water bottles, leaky sunscreen, loose change, hats, visors, goggles, Spiderman diving toys, wallets, cell phones, floaties, allergy medicine, and reading material that rarely gets read.

Ahh.  Summer.

Late Spring Couscous with Spinach, Zucchini, and Pumpkin Seeds

Serves 4-6

2-3 cups of spinach, stemmed and chopped
1 small zucchini, trimmed and diced
1 clove garlic
Salt and pepper
Olive Oil
1 1/4 cups water
1 cup couscous
3/4 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted
1-2 large green onions, trimmed and finely chopped
4-5 sprigs of oregano (remove leaves from stem and chop)

Dressing:
2/3 cup canola or olive oil
1/3 cup sherry vinegar
1 large clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 t salt
Freshly ground pepper

1.  In a large sauté pan, heat a few teaspoons of olive oil with chopped (1 clove) garlic.  Sauté spinach until wilted.  Season with salt and pepper.  Remove to a bowl.

2.  In same pan, heat a bit more oil and sauté diced zucchini until lightly browned and softened.  Season with salt and pepper.  Remove to a bowl.

3.  In a medium saucepan, bring water to a boil.  Add one tablespoon of olive oil and a pinch of salt.  Add cous cous, stir, and cover pan.  Immediately remove from heat and let stand for about five minutes.  Stir to fluff the cous cous and allow to cool a bit.

4.  Whisk together dressing ingredients.

5.  In a large bowl, combine cooked spinach and zucchini, cooked cous cous, toasted pumpkin seeds, chopped green onions, and chopped oregano.  Re-whisk dressing and pour about 2/3 of it over cous cous mixture, tossing well to combine all ingredients.  Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.  Salad can be served at room temperature or chilled.  Reserve remaining dressing and add to the salad before serving if necessary (if the cous cous sits in the fridge for a while it will soak up the dressing and may need more.)

No Hangover Tequila Chicken Tacos with Guacamole

Well, I guess I cannot entirely guarantee that you won’t have a hangover with these tacos.  If you are so inclined to drink the remaining tequila in the bottle after you make the marinade, then you are on your own.  And it is a lonely place to be — trust me.  The tequila hangover is something that one just can’t explain.  You may ask:  as bad as way too much cheap red wine?  Yes and worse.  And different.

A tequila hangover is like childbirth.  It is so painful that it keeps you from doing it again for a while, until the cloud of happiness infiltrates your brain and you think “hey, let’s have some tequila tonight.”  Several years in between episodes at the minimum.  And I am pretty sure there might be a heavy correlation between tequila and childbirth, as it can be used to both make the baby and sterilize the forceps.

My worst tequila hangover was like having quadruplets in a field somewhere.  The night started innocently enough with some Indian food takeout and a bottle of red wine (probably not advisable, but also not terrible).  The night ended with tequila shots and then finishing another bottle of red wine. And if there ever needed to be some rhyme made up about what to drink and when, this is the combo:  red wine, Indian food, tequila shots, and more red wine.  You are never in the clear in this situation.  It will be a two day hangover and you will struggle to remember what the hell happened and why you were playing Gin Rummy.  Just take my advice on this and don’t do it.

The tacos, however, are delicious.  We like to have them either in soft tortilla wraps or lightly fried to make them crispy, but not so annoying as to fall apart all over your plate.  (To do that, just put some oil in a saute pan, soften the wrap slightly in the oil, add your fillings, fold it in half, and pan fry until golden and then flip and repeat.  I love soft tacos this way because the cheese actually melts and they are a cross between a taco and a quesadilla.)  Either way, the chicken is succulent and lightly kissed with the flavors of your favorite Mexican drink.  And served with some homemade guacamole and fresh salsa, you will be ready to kiss someone.  Just try to keep your shirt on.

No Hangover Tequila Chicken Tacos with Guacamole

Serves 4-6

Marinade:
1.5 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1/2 cup canola oil
1/4 cup agave nectar or honey
1/4 cup tequila
1/4 cup orange juice
Juice and zest of two limes
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 t sea salt
1/2 cup of cilantro, chopped
Freshly ground pepper

Guacamole:
2 avocados, peeled and pit removed
1 large clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 t sea salt
Juice of half of a lime
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Soft taco shells
Salsa (freshly made takes it to another level)
Sour Cream
Freshly shredded cheddar cheese

1.  Whisk together marinade ingredients, except chicken thighs, in a pyrex baking dish.  Place chicken thighs in marinade and turn to coat.  Marinade for about an hour if you have the time (longer is OK too).

2.  Mash together guacamole ingredients and set aside.  (Before mashing, I like to reserve one half of an avocado and cut that into chunks.  I then add the chunks to the mashed guacamole for better texture.  Your choice.)

3.  Grill chicken thighs over indirect heat for about 15-20 minutes until done.  Remove, let rest, and slice into strips.

4.  Serve chicken and guacamole with soft taco shells, salsa, sour cream, and shredded cheese.

Asian Pork and Sweet Corn Hash

Why is it that every stage of parenthood just seems to get harder?  Once they sleep through the night, they begin to move and roll and fall off things.  Once they don’t need to eat every two hours, they start protesting solid foods and stop eating altogether.  Once they can dress themselves, they start talking back.  Once you get used to one baby, you go and have another one and wonder how you ever thought one child was hard.  There is a constant game of “one-upmanship” going on — and somewhere in their cute little faces they are saying, “You fool, I’m going to make you realize how easy you had it back then.”

And so it goes with older children and activities.  You thought your time demands were rough with babies?  Just wait until they have school, and homework, and soccer, and t-ball, and dance, and piano lessons.  I can hear you now, “I am not going to be that parent.  I am going to let each child have one activity at a time and we will not cater to their every extra-curricular desire.”

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.  Ha. Ha. Ha.       Ha.

And you thought it was under your control.  Here’s the deal:  even if each child does one thing, you have to do them all.  Get it?  And in our house, we definitely don’t over commit, but once you get multiple schools and multiple activities, it adds up to some sort of clusterfuck matrix of driving and practices and games and crying over homework and going to plays/parties/cultural celebrations and making quiches (don’t ask about that one) and writing checks and buying snacks (because you can’t have an activity without a damn snack).

It is the reason my right eye keeps twitching.  Plain and simple, we are on overload.

Hence the reason you need quick and easy dinners in your arsenal.  And I call it an “arsenal” very purposefully.  (An aside and a funny thing:  In the food blog world, there is constant conversation about the danger of people like Sandra Lee or those who are proponents of things called “30 minute meals.”  The danger, in the words of some, is that people aren’t really learning to cook and appreciate real food.  The opposing viewpoint is that any cooking is better than none.  Now, you know I am the biggest proponent of cooking real food — but these conversations fail to recognize the point that most of us in this stage of life don’t have a choice related to how much time we spend on food preparation.  On many nights, I’d love to linger over a glass of wine while making Boeuf Bourguignon.  But shit, it’s soccer night.  Get it?)

So, I guess what I’m hoping is that on the nights you can cook, you do.  And on the nights you cannot, you try to do something like this rather than ordering a pizza.  Be smart when you cook and make sure there are leftovers.  Because you can do an infinite amount of things with a little leftover meat, some veggies, and some eggs.  This recipe (when prepared with leftovers) can be done in 15 or 20 minutes and is much more healthy and delicious than some frozen chicken nuggets.

And next up?  Teenage Angst.  Fantastic.

Asian Pork and Sweet Corn Hash

Serves 4-6

1/2 large onion, chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 large leek (white part only), cleaned and chopped
2-3 leftover baked potatoes (2-3 cups), cut into small cubes
1/2 of a cooked pork tenderloin (about 1/2 lb. of protein: can be chicken, beef, or beans too), chopped
1 cup of frozen corn (or fresh if you have it)
4-6 eggs
2 T olive oil
Salt and Pepper
2 T soy sauce
1 T water
Chopped fresh herbs, such as chives or parsley

1.  Heat 1-2 T of olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet or saute pan.  Saute garlic and onions for 2-3 minutes.  Add leeks and saute for 1-2 minutes more.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

2.  Add an additional tablespoon of olive oil and add potato cubes and cook for about 5 minutes (stirring frequently so they don’t stick), or until they begin to brown slightly.

3.  Add 1 T of water and 2 T of soy sauce and stir to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.  Add pork or protein and corn.  Stir to combine.  Cover and cook for 2-3 minutes until heated through.

4.  Meanwhile, fry eggs to desired doneness (we like ours over-light and nice and runny).  To serve, place hash on plate.  Top with fried eggs and sprinkle with chopped fresh chives.

Muenster Chicken

I’m not sure if you have noticed, but I have been posting far fewer dinner recipes lately.  And, trust me, it’s not for a lack of eating dinner.  The problem is purely technical — winter means it gets dark early, and because of that, the lighting sucks. You see, I am still in the “learning” category when it comes to photography and while my knowledge and equipment is getting better, I don’t have any decent lighting.  So, I rely almost exclusively on natural light, the tripod, and post production to get decent low light images.  Sometimes the outcome is OK (never great) and sometimes it is not (usually when a child starts jumping next to the tripod during an exposure which feels like it takes twenty minutes).

And setting up all sorts of equipment at dinner time (AKA the hell or bewitching hour with young children) is just not that realistic.  I should remind you that what you see on the site is generally what we are eating at my house. I rarely do a recipe with the sole intention of posting it here.  Which usually means that while I am trying cook and shoot pictures, my kids are hungry, the homework is scattered across the kitchen, and everyone is fried from the day.   Thank goodness they are addicted to the Wii or you may never see anything posted here.

So, here’s an example of that.  It is actually a delicious recipe that we ate all the time growing up and I have just updated it a bit.  It’s a great casserole for a big group, kids love it, and it makes a great drop off dinner for your friend or neighbor who just had a baby.  (Don’t forget to bring them some Grey Goose too.)  We like to serve it with rice if you want a starch and a green salad or sauteed spinach.  I have a hunch you could make a vegetarian version of this with tofu that would be really great too.  I’d probably fry the tofu in the method I outlined here and then just follow this recipe.  You could use vegetable stock in place of chicken stock if you like. (I should add that you can skip the mushrooms entirely or just put them on half if your kids don’t like them, but mine seem to enjoy them under the cheese.)

I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to sunny spring and summer nights snapping shots of beautiful, bright produce. Hopefully the dark days of winter are on their way out.  After our second foot of snow falls today, of course.

Muenster Chicken

Serves about 8

1.5 pounds of chicken breasts
3 eggs
2 t Italian Seasoning
2 t Oregano
1 t Salt
Freshly Ground Pepper
2-3 cups of Panko Breadcrumbs
1 cup of chicken (or vegetable) broth
1/2 cup of Marsala (sweet)
16 ounces White Mushrooms (other types would work well too), sliced
6-8 ounces Muenster Cheese, sliced

1.  Cube chicken breasts into about one inch pieces (chicken nugget sized).  In a large bowl, whisk together 3 eggs, 1 t Italian Seasoning, 1 t Oregano, 1/2 t salt, and freshly ground pepper.  Add chicken pieces to egg mixture and set aside (can let it sit in refrigerator like this for an hour or two if you like).

2.  In another bowl, combine 1 t Italian Seasoning, 1 t Oregano, 1/2 t salt, freshly ground pepper, and Panko Breadcrumbs.  Remove a few chicken pieces at a time from the egg mixture (allowing excess to drain off) and toss with breadcrumbs to coat.  Repeat with remaining chicken pieces.

3.  Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat.  (Coat the bottom of the pan.)  In about three batches, brown the chicken pieces on both sides.  They do not have to be cooked through, just browned.  Make sure you do it in batches and don’t crowd the pan so they will get a nice brown crust.  As they are done, place the chicken pieces in a 9 inch by 13 inch glass baking dish.

4.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Wipe out saute pan and heat a bit more olive oil.  Saute the sliced mushrooms.

5.  Mix broth and Marsala together and pour over browned chicken pieces.  Top with sauteed mushrooms and bake for 20 minutes.  Remove from oven and place Muenster Cheese slices over top chicken and mushrooms and bake for 10 more minutes until done and bubbly.  You can broil it for a bit at the end if you like the cheese browner.

Crispy Split Pea Burgers

So I’ve been trying to do some extra clean living lately.  I think the overindulgence of the holidays pushed me over the edge.  On top of eliminating gluten/wheat, I’ve stopped drinking wine, and have been trying to go without alcohol at all.  Crazy talk, you say?  Probably so.  But something has been crying uncle (crazy uncle, perhaps?) and I’m trying to figure out what the hell it is.

Unfortunately, the thing that has made me feel the best is giving up wine.  So that sucks.

Fortunately, I have very little sticktoitiveness so it probably won’t last long.

The biggest hassle with giving up wheat is the inability to cook a quick pasta dinner — which is generally a favorite with the kids and can be a good and easy meatless dinner option.   I know there are gluten-free pasta varieties, but I haven’t found one that’s decent (any recommendations?) and I can’t tolerate sitting around the dinner table WITHOUT A GLASS OF WINE when everyone starts complaining about how much they hate the fake pasta.  I have limits, you know.

So, I was digging deep into my brain (trust me, you don’t want to go there) and deep into the pantry (it’s not too pretty, either) to figure out a meatless dinner last night and came up with these crispy burgers made from split peas.  They are sort of a cross between a veggie burger and a falafel, but the kids devoured them and came back for more.   The boy even wanted the leftovers for lunch.  We served them bunless with some homemade Russian dressing and beautiful salad greens from the solar powered greenhouse at  Village Acres Farm.   I think they would also be great made into smaller fritters for a delicious appetizer.

They are filled with all the best things — split peas (which are full or protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals), brown rice, butternut squash, garlic, onions, and some shredded cheese right inside the burger.  Give them a try and don’t be scared off by the deep frying.  You don’t need any special equipment.  And for the fat phobics, just make sure your oil is at the right temperature and very little will be absorbed into your food.  (I should add that if you are willing to use a non-stick pan, you could probably just pan fry these in much less oil — but I’d rather deep fry than use non-stick.) The other great thing about these is that the filling can be made up way ahead of time and you can fry them whenever you are ready.  Plus they make great leftovers (cold or warmed up).    Feel free to modify the spices and experiment with different sauces — I am definitely going to try a spicy curry variety with raita.

Crispy Split Pea Burgers

Makes about 10 burgers

1 cup of chopped onion (from about 1/2 of a large onion)
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 cup of butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and chopped into 1/2 inch pieces (from 1/2 of a small squash)
1 T olive oil
1 t salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 t smoked paprika
1 t ground cumin
1 cup of dried green split peas (yellow would probably be fine, and lentils might work too)
1/2 cup of brown rice
3 cups of vegetable broth (other broths would work too)
1 cup of cheddar cheese (packed), grated
2 T cornstarch (plus about 1 cup more for breading)
Canola oil (for frying)

1.  Heat olive oil in a large saute pan.  Cook onion and garlic over medium high heat for 2-3 minutes until just softened.  Add in butternut squash cubes, salt, pepper, smoked paprika, and cumin.  Cook for 2-3 minutes more.

2.  Add in split peas, brown rice, and broth.  Stir well to loosen any carmelized bits in the pan and cover.  Cook for one hour or until peas and rice are soft and nicely cooked.  Give it a stir every once in a while so it doesn’t stick.   Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.

3.  Put pea mixture into the food processor (or use a masher if all else fails) and process for 5-10 seconds.  If your mixture is still warm, make sure you leave the feed tube open so steam can escape.  You don’t want a total puree — it’s best if it’s still a little chunky.  But make sure the peas are blended well.  Taste for seasoning and add more if necessary.   Transfer to a bowl and chill for 30-60 minutes (the more the better).

4.  When ready to cook, stir 2 T of cornstarch and grated cheese into pea mixture.  Stir well to incorporate evenly.  In a deep saute pan, heat about 1/2 inch of canola oil to 375 degrees F.

5.  Place about 1/2 cup of additional cornstarch on a plate.  Shape pea mixture into small patties and dredge in cornstarch.  Pat gently to remove any excess.  Gently place into hot oil and fry about 2-3 minutes until golden.  (I found they held together much better when formed into smaller patties and I cooked about 3 at a time.  While they cook, use a metal spatula to loosen them from the bottom of the pan if they stick.)

6.  Carefully flip them over (away from you so you don’t splatter hot oil on yourself) and cook for 2-3 additional minutes until golden brown on second side.  Drain on paper towels and keep warm in the oven while the remainder cook.