Thursday, April 28, 2011

Tropical Rice Salad

It might appear to some that I'm obsessed with rice salads.  I don't think it's anything clinical, but I do seem to make them a lot.  They're basically just a cold version of the fried rice I used to make all the time.  Some people really don't like cold food; I am obviously not one of them.  In many cases -- fruits and vegetables, meat and seafood, breads and other baked goods -- I'd rather have things just barely cooked, if not raw.

Anyway, about that rice salad.  This is another one inspired by Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.  After seeing a whole bunch of other vegetarian cookbooks yesterday at the library, I'm even more aware of what a wonderful collection he came up with.  I think the fact that he's not vegetarian himself may be part of why I like it so much; we have similar taste preferences.

He suggests combining tropical fruit -- pineapples and mango -- with macadamia nuts.  I spent a long time not liking nuts at all, so I had actually never had those.  I thought I might try cashews in this dish, but I decided that even at $17/pound, my weekly budget would allow me to buy just a few macadamias and give them a try tonight.  I tasted one before I ground them up to put in the salad, and seriously thought twice about putting them in.  They tasted like peanuts, only harder and nuttier.  But I went ahead anyway.  What an amazing effect they have in combination with sweetness!  I guess that's why you see them so often in desserts.

Another surprise was the brown rice.  In my cooking, brown rice tends to be just a healthier substitute for the starchier kinds that everyone likes better.  But this time, the brown rice combined with the chopped macadamias and some coconut to create a really nice nutty complement to the extra-sweet tropical fruits.  (By the way, I also bought a papaya to add.  Definitely not worth it... the pineapple and mango were more than enough.)

I wish I had added a little cilantro or, as MB suggested, mint, but I didn't think of it and I'm sure the rest of my family is quite happy that I didn't.  Oh well.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I made enough for at least four people, so there is a lot of this left over and rice unfortunately does not save well... unless you're planning to stir-fry it!  I can't wait.

Tropical Rice Salad

2 cups brown rice
1/4 fresh pineapple, peeled, cored, and sliced
1 mango, peeled, cored, and cubed
1/4 cup chopped macadamia nuts
1/4 shredded coconut
1/3 cup dressing of your choice (I used champagne citrus vinaigrette)

Cook the rice well before serving time, and let it cool.  Mix in the rest of the ingredients, and enjoy.

Grilled Peanut Chicken

Menu: Grilled Peanut Chicken; Tropical Rice Salad; Stir-Fried Green Beans

Lessons learned:
  1. When buying chicken thighs, multiply the number of people you'll be serving by how many pounds of meat you think each of them might want to eat.  Then, add at least another half pound to that.
  2. Plain macadamia nuts = "why do people get excited about these?"  Macadamia nuts in tropical rice salad = very exciting!
  3. Brown rice was MADE for this salad.
For a few minutes, last night was a little disappointing.  John invited a couple from his department over for dinner last night at the last minute, so I changed my dinner plans in order to make something special.  Not a big deal; went out shopping for that.  After I got home and started cooking the rice, John got a call saying something came up and our guests wouldn't be able to come over after all.  So if I still cooked as planned, we were going to have a whole bunch of food.  I was kind of bummed about that, until I thought, wait, why would I be bummed about that?

The main question was, were we really going to go ahead and grill all 2.5 pounds of chicken I'd bought, or should I freeze half of it?  We decided just to go for it... whatever we didn't eat would keep for lunch the next day.

Let me back up.  We haven't made this in a while because of my no-meat-in-dinner experiment, but before that, grilled chicken thighs was one of our very favorite meals.  My mom used to make this amazing chicken when I was a kid, and I didn't realize that the reason it was so delicious was mainly because it was all dark thigh meat!  All she would do was make a recipe of Good Seasons Italian dressing, dump it in a bag with some chicken thighs, and bake.  SO good.  Most chicken recipes I see call for white meat -- I suppose because it's healthier -- so for a while, that's all I bought.  But forget that.  Thigh meat is more delicious and less expensive.  Once that light bulb went off, I've never gone back.

Anyway, I don't ever really make the same marinade twice; I always just start with sort of a general theme or inspiration, see what I have on hand that seems to fit with that, and throw everything in a bowl haphazardly.  Definitely no measurements.  Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't.  Last night, though... um, yeah, you might say it worked.  You might say it totally rocked that chicken, and you would be correct.  You might also say it's a good thing that nobody else came over wanting any chicken after all, and that would be correct as well.

When I stopped cooking with meat, I wasn't really sure where or how long the experiment would go; I mainly wanted to see if it was possible, and I wanted to adjust the extent to which we (I) crave meat.  I'd say on both scores, it's been more successful than I anticipated, with the exception being that we eat bacon probably once every couple of weeks.  But two things happened yesterday that made me come to a decision about how far to take this.

First, I got a rare chance to go to the library by myself, where I naturally made my way to the cookbook section.  I discovered that the vegetarian cookbooks are relegated to the "health food" section, and are mostly filled with recipes that my family and I are just never going to be excited about eating.  I know that the library's selection isn't necessarily representative of everything that's out there, but it made me a little sad to realize that so many of the wonderful recipes in the majority of other cookbooks were no longer conducive to my diet.

Second, it's been a long time since I've seen my kids so focused on a meal.  As soon as they heard we were having chicken -- I mentioned it while I was cooking -- neither of them could stop talking about it and asking for it.  Chicken has always been one of the few things Sophie actually eats consistently, so cutting that out was a significant sacrifice (although we have mostly made up for it with Quorn).  After she ate all of her chicken, she came over to our plates to get more.  Ben, who is normally up and down during dinner, just sat there very quietly for several minutes on end, just eating and enjoying.  Now, I don't think the kids are deprived.  If I wanted to keep meat completely out of our dinners, they would be fine, as they have been since the beginning.  But seeing them eat like that just made me so happy.

So I think that sometime soon, I'm going to designate just one day a week where I make meat for dinner.  Maybe Saturday or Sunday, and it can be a special meal.  That way I can still try out delicious-sounding recipes for carnivores from time to time, and I think it would make my family a lot more excited about dinner -- always a good thing.  And to balance, I might also (more discreetly) designate one night a week as vegan.

Back to last night's divine chicken: unfortunately, as I said, I don't measure, but I'm going to attempt to reproduce what I did for the sauce here, because I'd like to be able to do it again next time.  If you make this, I strongly suggest that you read the amounts below as mere guidelines, and just put in what feels right to you.  Also, my husband is the grillmaster at our house and his technique is similarly ad-hoc, so keep that in mind.

The rice salad was really wonderful, too; I will address that in the next post.

Grilled Peanut Chicken

2.5 pounds chicken thighs (I used to spend a lot of time trimming the fat off, but now I don't bother... most of it melts off on the grill anyway, and you can always cut off whatever you want when you're eating)

3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon powdered ginger
2 tablespoons orange juice

Put the chicken thighs in a large marinating bag.  Mix up the remaining ingredients in a bowl and pour it over the chicken in the bag, mixing it in evenly to coat all of the chicken.  Let it sit for about an hour.

Preheat the (gas) grill on high.  When it's ready, add the chicken and let it sear.  My husband does a lot of flipping unless I give him explicit instructions not to; some people say to flip only once, but his method seems to work for him.  He did lower the heat after a few minutes, and kept the meat covered when he wasn't flipping it.  The thickest pieces were on the grill for about 15 minutes, with the thinner ones coming off a couple of minutes before that.

Tropical Sushi

Menu: Sushi with Shrimp and Coconut-Fried Plantains; Edamame; Sliced Pears

Lessons learned:
  1. Tropical sushi is scrumptious!
  2. ... but next time I will cut the plantains into eighths, not fourths.
  3. Also, next time I need to make another nori sheet spread with rice.  Apparently Ben really likes to eat the rice that way, rather than loose.  I suppose that's reasonable.
Tuesday was sushi night, and I decided to change up my normal roll.  I think *certain* diners in my house might be getting a little tired of my old standby, the spicy tuna and avocado (even though they would never, ever go so far as to say so).  I'm a pretty conventional girl when it comes to sushi -- aside from the whole raw fish thing, which some of my favorite people see as decidedly unconventional, to put it nicely.  But one year for Christmas, someone gave me a little book of sushi recipes, so I checked that out to see if I could find some inspiration.  When I came across a sushi roll made with shrimp and plantain, I recalled the coconut-fried plantains I made several weeks ago and figured I'd try to actually put them in the roll.

When I went shopping the day before, I bought the ripest plantain I could find, which still wasn't all that ripe -- not nearly black, as Emily suggested last time.  I put it in a paper bag as soon as I got home and hoped for the best.  When I took it out to cut it up, I was relieved to discover that it was ripe enough to be a significant improvement over my last attempt.  I cut the plantain lengthwise into quarters, coated them in flour, then an egg/milk mixture, and finally the coconut.  Here they are frying in my pan:

Let me take just a moment to apologize for the photography in this post.  I'm not all that good to begin with, the lighting in my kitchen is terrible for pictures, and my camera doesn't seem equipped to remedy either of these setbacks.  Regardless, these tasted very good.  I know they could be even better if I could get a hold of a riper plantain (or plan far enough in advance to buy one in time for it to ripen completely in my kitchen).  But these worked quite well for that night.

In the same pan over high heat, I fried up 1/2 pound of large shrimp with nothing but some oil and a little salt.  Then I cut each of the shrimp in half crosswise so they would lay better in the roll.  (You can find my recipe/technique for sushi here.)  I rolled and cut the pieces, then mixed up a little mayo with lime juice, zest, and just a teeny tiny bit of chile sauce.  Here's (a disappointing photo of) what I ended up with:

And wow, I LOVED them!  Yum.  The only thing I would change for next time -- besides getting an even riper plantain-- is that the plantain sticks were too thick; they kind of took over the roll.  So next time I'll cut them in half one more time to have eight of them.  I also think the tropical flavor of these could be rounded out with a little pineapple.  Months ago, I accidentally bought crushed pineapple instead of chunks, so I just stuck it in my freezer to pull out if I ever make a smoothie or something (I never make smoothies).  But I think spreading a thin layer of that into these rolls could be fantastic.  I'll try it out and update below if it works!

I wish I could say the rest of my family loved these as much as I did.  John liked them ok, but after a few of them he was picking out the plantains; he said they were too thick.  He also doesn't love the texture of coconut, so if I'm feeling generous next time I might grind up my coconut into powder before coating the plantains with it.  The kids wouldn't try them, which is unfortunate because I really think it would be up their alley.  Ben ate rice on nori and pears, and Sophie ate pears.  At this point, if it's more than nothing, I call it success.

The other drawback here is that the quick preparation of sushi was a huge bonus for me.  When I have to actually cook the components of the roll, that advantage goes away.  But these were so good that I think it's definitely worth the extra time.

    Sunday, April 24, 2011

    Penne alla Vodka FAIL

    Menu: Penne alla Vodka; Peas with Champagne Vinaigrette

    Lessons learned:
    1. Time for a new penne alla vodka recipe.  Now accepting submissions.
    2. I hate angel hair.
    I made penne alla vodka for the first time four or five years ago, and it was divine.  It was so good that I took a chance and tripled it (quadrupled it? I can't remember) for my husband's extended Italian family.  That time, it was perfect.  BUT more often than not since then, something goes wrong.  I don't understand this because I do almost the same thing every time, and any adjustments are to try to fix what went wrong the last time.  Once, the sauce still tasted quite alcoholic, so the next time I turned up the heat and the sauce had a burned flavor.  But still I persisted, believing that somehow I could get the delicious pasta sauce I managed those first few times.

    My past few attempts have resulted in a singular, persistent problem: the milk separates when I stir in the tomato paste and liquor.  I know this is a common problem when you mix milk with acidic ingredients.  I've tried keeping the heat extremely low, switching the order in which I combine the tomatoes and milk, adding things slowly... it doesn't matter.  Every time, the sauce curdles and looks disgusting, even if the flavor is ok.

    To make matters worse, I didn't have any penne.  My choices were angel hair or conchigliette (fat elbows).  I have no idea when or why I purchased angel hair, but I have to hope that I won't be doing it again because I really hate it.  It's hard to handle and doesn't hold any sauce well that I know of.  I also don't know why I chose to make it last night... maybe I had some vague notion of saving the conchigliette for Emily's Homemade Mac 'N Cheese.  Anyway, mistake.  The picture looks ok, but the actual eating experience was not what I was going for.

    So I think it's just time to say goodbye to this recipe.  It produced a few very satisfying meals, but I'm sure I can find another one that can measure up, and more reliably.  Here are my requirements: it has to be simple.  I'm not dirtying up my blender to make this dish.  No whole tomatoes; what I loved about the recipe I'm saying goodbye to was the smooth sauce.  And no jarred tomato sauce, either -- that's cheating.

    I'm on the lookout.

    Friday, April 22, 2011

    Corn Fritters

    Menu: Thai-Style Corn Fritters; Hash Browns; Asparagus with Mustard Dressing

    Lessons learned:
    1. Unless I want to eat the entire bushel of asparagus myself, I shouldn't bother buying it.
    2. Hash browns may not be the most sophisticated thing to do with potatoes, but when Sophie will actually eat some of them, not much else matters to me.
    This post is a couple of days late because yesterday I got hit with a 24-hour bug (yes, sick AGAIN) and felt nauseous even thinking about food.  John made his specialty again, and by that time I was feeling well enough to have some.  Fantastic.

    The night before was my last planned dinner before my next shopping trip, and those can always be a little dicey since I may not have always saved everything I needed for it.  In this case I had a different problem: there were some potatoes on the verge in my refrigerator.  A few days before I had thrown them in there hoping to keep them going for a few more days, but I figured I'd probably reached the limit and it was now or never.  So although I think these corn fritters would have been matched better by a cool tropical rice salad, my kids got to eat some plain ol' hash browns (and ketchup of course) for once.

    By the way, I pretty much only buy Yukon Gold potatoes.  They have a built-in buttery taste and what I consider to be a very satisfying texture.  I may buy red potatoes if I'm doing a cold salad, just to change it up.  But when I say "potatoes," I'm only talking about one kind.

    I discovered these corn fritters in HTCEV when I decided I wasn't cooking with meat anymore and kind of panicking because of how few vegetarian dishes I knew and liked (let alone how few my family would like) at that point.  Can I just say again how thankful I am for this cookbook?  I think I paid $25 for it.  It was too little.

    Basically, you bind corn together with egg and flour and fry it up.  The best thing about these is how creative you can get with them, though.  His version is "thai-style" because it has some hot chiles, soy sauce, and is fried in peanut oil, and I used that combination plus some cilantro.  But when the tomatoes and peppers come out in my garden, I like to throw those in, too, and you can leave out the soy sauce, draw from more traditionally Mexican flavors -- maybe even throw in some black beans! and some cheddar! -- and serve them with sour cream.  These are some versatile little doodads, is what I'm saying, especially with a dipping sauce.

    A dipping sauce is another thing I was missing this time.  Sigh.  I still am not good with the dipping sauces.  I've got to get on that!

    Here is the asparagus that no one but me ate.  John said he had "some."  I think he ate one stalk.  I broiled them in the oven for about 8 minutes, mixed up a champagne citrus vinaigrette I had with some mustard, and drizzled that over the stalks when they came out.  What a waste!

    Fortunately, I had my Corona to take my mind off of that.

    Corn Fritters, Thai-Style (adapted from Mark Bittman's HTCEV)

    2 eggs
    Salt and fresh ground black pepper
    1/2 cup chopped scallion (I grabbed about 1/4 cup chives from my garden)
    1 teaspoon minced fresh chile, or hot red pepper flakes to taste
    2 cups corn (soon I hope to be able to get the corn right from the cobs)
    1 tablespoon soy sauce
    1/4 cup all-purpose flour
    3-4 tablespoons peanut oil

    Separate the 2 eggs, letting the whites fall into a small mixing bowl and putting the yolks into a larger bowl.  Add all the remaining ingredients except the oil to the yolks and mix well.  Start heating the oil in a skillet over medium heat -- you don't want the outsides to cook too fast.

    Beat the egg whites until they're stiff.  Gently fold them into the corn mixture, just until they are mixed in evenly.  Spoon dollops into the heated pan in the size you prefer and cook until nicely browned on one side, 3-5 minutes, then brown the other side.  These taste best hot, so serve them right away.

    This recipe is supposed to contain 4 servings, but that seems awfully stingy.  For four adults, I'd increase by 50%, especially if this is intended to be more than just a side.  However, I think they could make good appetizers, too.

    Thursday, April 21, 2011

    Lamb with Cherries and Citrus Cous Cous

    I wanted to do a pseudo Passover meal this week and since we were having some friends over Monday night it felt like a great thing to participate in together. Grant and I have seperately and individually joined in more official seder meals in the past but as an intro to our girls about what will hopefully become a yearly tradition for our family this is what we ate:

    Lessons Learned:
    - Orange Cous Cous is MUCH better than plain.
    - I CAN cook yummy lamb! (contrary to my last two attempts which were dry dry dry)
    - Grape juice is better in a wine glass.

    Official Menu: Lamb boiled down in onions, orange juice and cherries, citrus cous cous, green beans, sparkling grape juice, matzoh, honey

    Zola looking super psyched about having her own wine glass:

    Lamb With Cherries And Couscous
    (I googled 'Lamb recipe' and found this one here)

    8 ounces whole onion or 7 ounces chopped onion (1 2/3 cups)
    1 teaspoon olive oil
    8 ounces assorted wild or plain white mushrooms
    8 ounces boneless leg of lamb
    Fresh or frozen ginger to yield 1 tablespoon coarsely grated
    1 lemon
    1 large orange
    1 cup whole wheat couscous
    1/3 cup dried cherries
    1 tablespoon tomato paste
    1/2 cup fresh orange juice
    Freshly ground pepper to taste

    1.Chop whole onion.
    2.Heat large nonstick pan until very hot. Reduce heat to medium high; add oil, and cook onion until it begins to soften and brown.
    3.Meanwhile, clean, trim and slice mushrooms; add to onion as it cooks.
    4.Wash lamb and remove fat. Cut lamb into small cubes, add to onion and mushrooms as they cook, and stir to brown on all sides; remove from heat.
    5.Following package directions, bring water to boil for couscous.
    6.Coarsely grate ginger; finely grate lemon and orange rinds.
    7.Add grated ginger and rinds and couscous to boiling water; cover and remove from heat, and allow to sit until water is absorbed and couscous is tender, about 5 minutes.
    8.Stir the cherries, tomato paste and orange juice into the lamb; season with pepper; return to heat and cook through. Serve over couscous.
    YIELD2 servings

    Emily's Version:Omit the mushrooms because I accidentally used the ones I bought in a dish the previous night and it didn't sound good with mushrooms anyway.
    Use lamb steaks with bones in because that's all I could find at Publix.
    Double the recipe.
    Add extra cherries because, hello! delicious.

    Zola (3) ate the cous cous and some green beans and a few cherries and some matzoh without honey. She tried one bite of lamb, declared she LOVED it and wouldn't try it again. Niva (16 months) ate everything except the lamb which she promptly spit out after it made it's way into her mouth along with a bite of cous cous.

    Tuesday, April 19, 2011

    Pad Thai

    Menu: Pad Thai, Stir-Fried Broccoli, Sliced Pears

    Lessons learned:
    1. It takes 3 limes to get to 1/3 cup of lime juice.
    2. Just adding broccoli and pears means there's twice as much that Sophie could potentially eat.
    When I lived in Columbus, there was a place called Tai's Asian Bistro where you could get an enormous portion of good pad thai for less than $6, so it didn't seem worth it to find my own recipe.  But once I made it my mission to cook for my family every night and moved to a city where you can't find good restaurant pad thai at any price (Tallahasseeans, am I wrong?), I figured it was time to learn to make it myself.  I checked out several different recipes and found what looked like the best one in my cookbook from America's Test Kitchen.  They say it's good to use tamarind paste, but that you can substitute lime juice instead and it doesn't lose much.  Since I always have limes around and not tamarind, that's what I do.  I made a couple of other minor adjustments and added some Quorn cubes for my kids, who are spurning shrimp for the time being.

    I've been really heavy on the Asian noodle dishes these days, I know.  But this is definitely a winner around here.

    Pad Thai (adapted from The New Best Recipe from America's Test Kitchen)

    8 ounces rice noodles
    1/3 cup lime juice
    1/3 cup water
    3 tablespoons fish sauce
    1 tablespoon rice vinegar
    2-3 tablespoons brown sugar
    1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
    4 tablespoons peanut oil
    2 large eggs
    1/2 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
    1 medium shallot, minced
    4 garlic cloves, minced
    1/4 pound Quorn or firm tofu cubes
    2 tablespoons dried shrimp, chopped fine (optional)
    1/3 cup chopped or shredded carrots
    6 tablespoons chopped peanuts
    5 ounces bean sprouts
    5 medium scallions, green parts only, sliced thin on a sharp diagonal
    1/4 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves (optional)

    Cover the rice noodles with hot tap water and let them sit for about 30 minutes; they should be soft and pliable but not yet tender when it's time to use them.

    Combine the lime juice, water, fish sauce, vinegar, sugar, cayenne, and 2 tablespoons of the oil; set aside.  Beat the eggs with a dash of salt; set aside.

    Heat about a tablespoon of the remaining oil in a nonstick pan over high heat until it just begins to smoke.  Add the shrimp with a dash of salt; toss them to coat with oil and then let them brown on each side, for about 3 minutes total.  Transfer them to another dish and set them aside.

    Turn the heat down to medium and add the shallots, garlic, and protein cubes; cook them until they are just starting to turn brown.  Add the beaten eggs to the pan and stir them until they are scrambled and barely moist.  Add the rice noodles (drained of water, of course), the dried shrimp, and the carrots and stir for a few seconds.  Pour the lime juice mixture over the noodles, increase the heat back to high, and cook, tossing constantly, until the noodles are evenly coated.  Scatter 1/4 cup of the peanuts, the bean sprouts, all but 1/4 cup of the scallions, and the cooked shrimp over the noodles, and toss everything together until the liquid has been absorbed.  Garnish with the remaining scallions and peanuts and the cilantro.

    Makes a scant 4 servings... if I were serving 4 adults, I'd increase the proportions by 50%.

    Monday, April 18, 2011

    Too Good For Applebee's

    It used to be that going to a place like Applebee's or TGIFriday's or Max & Erma's was a treat.  I could order whatever I was in the mood for, and even get a soda or lemonade to go with it.  That was one of my favorite things to do with friends in both high school and college.

    But over time, I just stopped wanting to go to restaurants like that. At a certain point, John started joking about it: "when did we get too good for Applebee's?"  At the time I was just a graduate student with school loans and credit card debt, so it definitely wasn't because I had outgrown Applebee's financially.  But we just stopped going.  We'd either go to little hole-in-the-wall local places we'd found, or we'd go to a nicer restaurant if we had a reason to celebrate -- and we can always find one!

    This weekend, we drove over to the Jacksonville Zoo, and on our way home we needed to stop for dinner.  Our choices were limited since we didn't know the area and are still, sadly, without smart phones.  We knew we didn't want a fast food joint, but it needed to be somewhere you could take a one- and three-year old and be able to make it through the meal.  Applebee's it was.

    Their menu actually looks quite impressive.  There are all kinds of choices for different price ranges, health considerations, flavor preferences, etc.  I ordered some grilled seasoned shrimp, skewered and served on a bed of tropical rice pilaf, with broccoli on the side.  The picture looked appetizing, and it was only $11.

    When our (super nice and helpful) server brought out the food and I saw what their version of grilled shrimp on rice pilaf looked like, it suddenly hit me that I knew the answer to our question: "when did we get too good for Applebee's?"  It was when I started cooking.  It was when I went there and ate a pasta dish that just didn't measure up to what I would make for myself on a weeknight.  It was when I started unconsciously thinking of it as fast food -- food I didn't have to cook -- only a little more expensive and not as fast.  Cooked by college students instead of high schoolers, perhaps.

    I don't mean to sound all snobby about Applebee's.  To be honest, these days I'm skeptical of most food that isn't cooked by me or someone I know.  And that isn't because I'm the world's greatest cook, obviously.  It's because when I cook, I cook it just how I want it, and I have a good idea of where everything comes from (although not good enough).  Taking those two things away for the convenience of not having to cook is, frankly, usually not worth it to me.

    Wednesday, April 13, 2011

    At least I'm eating well

    I hope my blog is proof that my family has access to good food every night, because sometimes I really worry.  Maybe that worry is just a given for mothers and I'll get used to it over time, but I can't help but notice how little the kids are eating at mealtimes lately.  It's possible they have physical issues going on that are making them confused about what they food they need, but I don't think that can completely account for it.  I believe I'm relatively stingy with snacks, but lately they seem to be really depending, both nutritionally and emotionally, on those once-or-twice-daily offerings of crackers and pretzels.

    Sophie is now down to eating only her banana at breakfast, skipping lunch entirely, and limiting herself to eating whatever morsels of fruit I may have included with dinner.  Possibly also some protein here and there, if it's something she likes (less than half the time).  This isn't too different from her normal attitude toward food, but with her baseline being so far toward the "picky" end of the spectrum anyway, I can't help but feel some anxiety as I watch her get more extreme.

    Ben's change is more pronounced.  He's been a great eater since he started eating solid food, but I see that wonderful quality disappearing and I can only hope it's temporary.  He asks for food all day, and then doesn't eat it once I've given it to him -- it's starting to feel like a major waste of groceries, time, and money.  He's learning to pick out only his favorite parts of a meal and leave the rest; for example, he now picks apart his PBJ and only eats the bread with the jelly on it.  He asks for carrots and dip so that he can just eat the dip.  He also seems to be developing some mental idiosyncrasies about his food.  Like, he only wants to eat what's on his plate if there's way more there than he plans on eating; if you give him just a few Cheerios to reduce waste, he asks insistently for more Cheerios.  And he's been a lot more likely to eat food if it's from my plate than if it's on his plate.  I know that is common, but I'm not used to it.  I like my food to be MY food.  Just because I'm a mother doesn't mean I lose all my boundaries.

    Last night was even more discouraging than usual because I made some gorgeous-looking sushi rolls, and I was the only one who ate them.  It's not John's fault; he was feeling sick and raw fish just wasn't going to happen for him last night.  I ended up having to dismantle his rolls, sear the tuna, and make a sushi bowl out of the components for lunch today.  Ben actually wanted to share it with me, despite having none of it for dinner the night before.

    Tomorrow night we're eating Chick-Fil-A take-out for Sophie's birthday.  So if nothing else, for one night I won't have to deal with the nagging question of whether my children are starving themselves.  That, and no dishes!

    Emily's Top Ten: Favorite Foods

    I should lay down a disclaimer first... I cannot control myself around most food. I love to eat. I love different tastes and textures and it's rare that I'm not in the mood to eat something.

    That said, there are also few foods I won't eat. But since you don't want to take all day to read this post I suppose I can name just 10... especially since I would also hate to wimp out of a challenge.

    Fruit. All fruit. I have never met a fruit I didn't like. I make a list of our weekly meals on the refrigerator and I include fruit in each one. Then when I am about to totally devour the pint of strawberries in the fridge I can look and see that if I eat them now we will have no fruit for lunch the next time. And since tugging two small children along to the grocery is not on my Top Ten: Favorite Things To Do list, I put the berries back. Oh man oh man...just scrolling through the google images for fruit made me start jonesing for a kiwi.

    Rubbed Dalmation Sage. I discovered this deliciousness a few months ago. I had a coupon and spices were on sale at Publix so I tried some new ones. This is the. best. spice. ever. in eggs. Which brings me to..

    Eggs. I know, I know. This doesn't exactly follow the rules of the challenge because it has to be cooked- but so does bacon, so there. I could eat eggs twice a day. Scrambled, omelets, fried, quiche, deviled, on a sandwich, in a bread hole, hard boiled, in cookie batter, in muffin batter, in brownie batter, in cake batter, in a box with a fox. Incredible, edible, eggs.

    Chocolate Milk. A total treat. We never had chocolate milk in the house when I was growing up but if you were lucky enough to go to the grocery store by yourself with mom there would often be a small carton of chocolate milk to pass between you both. I still don't stock it in our fridge but occassionally I treat myself and the girls to a bottle at the grocery. And it makes me smile every time. Salsa. Not the kind in a glass jar or large plastic pouring container. It has to be kind in a little tub in the refrigerated section. Forever and ever I didn't like salsa very much. I liked it in restaurants but not at home. But that is only because I wasn't eating the right kind. This stuff plus some tortilla chips or some eggs is a meal for me. Throw in some black beans...omg. Niva and Grant love it too and I really have a hard time sharing.

    Vinegar. I buy this vinegar in all flavors and containers large and small. I add it to pie crust, pasta dishes, rice, sour kraut dishes, sauces, dressings, marinades, chicken, eggs(!), salads... I love to make things sweet and sour at least once a week. Eventually I imagine myself making different flavors on my own. (pic with a little shout out to my fave pittsburgh company!) Diet Coke. But only from a soda fountain. Cans are okay if it's over ice but only from a plastic in an emergency situation. And if I find it in a tall glass bottle please don't talk to me until it's finished. I'm obsessed. For some people it's coffee in the morning, for me it's Diet Coke. I know, I know, yadda yadda yadda, it's not healthy, yadda yadda, all that caffeiene...I'm over it. I know and I still love it. Quaker Steak and Lube's Golden Garlic Sauce. This restaurant is a family obsession. We have been known to plan entire vacations around where we can get Quaker Steak wings. A few years ago we all realized we could buy their sauce and use it home and our kitchens have never been the same since. I only make wings once a year for the superbowl but other times I use this sauce on baked chicken or as a sandwich spread. They make other flavors too but this is the best one. Buy it and then try to deny it if you dare. Cinnamon. Did you know cinnamon is a natural blood sugar stabilizer? It is. And it tastes great. Added with sugar on toast. Sprinkled over yogurt or fruit. In pasta dishes. On sweet potatoes. In pancakes and french toast. In cookie batter and cake batter and muffin batter. Yellow Rice. By far my favorite of the rice varieties. I know it has to be cooked but I really just throw it in my rice cooker with some water and it's done in about 20 minutes. And I then I use the large serving spoon that came with my rice cooker and I eat it right out of the pot. Sometimes I throw in some black beans and sometimes I make a bunch so I can share it with my family. I love it hot but I'm not opposed to eating it cold out of the fridge a few hours later or in the morning.

    Tuesday, April 12, 2011

    Becki's Top Ten: Favorite Foods

    This week I'm mostly making meals that I've already blogged about, so today I'm calling Emily out to do a list with me.  The question is simple: what are your ten favorite foods?  The rules: first, the foods don't absolutely have to be single-ingredient, but they shouldn't be something that someone cooks or assembles for you.  Second, it has to be all about the pleasure of eating!  No practical considerations allowed.  They should be the foods that you can barely stop yourself from eating straight from the package as soon as you bring them home from the store, or the ingredients that automatically make a meal ten times better for you.

    Here are my top ten in no particular order, along with scintillating pictures I've pilfered from other online locations:

    Bacon.  Just, bacon.  I love most other salted pork products too, especially Italian ones.

    (By the way, if you're in the mood to do some double-takes, Google "bacon" in Images.  I thought bacon was just for eating, but apparently some people's obsession goes far beyond that.)

    Dark chocolate.  When I was younger, I didn't like chocolate.  I still don't really care for milk chocolate, but in my adulthood I have developed a deep longing for dark chocolate, and I mean DARK.  Love it.

    Cheese.  I know I should be more specific, but I love it all.  (Well, almost all... I must admit I'm not a fan of feta.)  I don't even know if I can name favorites, but I'll try: mozzarella, Gorgonzola, Romano, Muenster, Havarti, Gouda, Monterrey Jack, and Brie.  But it doesn't really matter.

    Soy sauce.  Maybe the best and most versatile seasoning there is... as long as you don't use too much!

    Rare beef.  Over the past few months I've come a long way in losing my taste for meat, which I think is a good thing.  The best part is that I don't have this craving that's satisfied with meat that really isn't very good, but I still appreciate the good stuff just as much.  And in my opinion, the good stuff is best when it's RED.

    Now, I don't want to misrepresent myself here.  My steak order is medium-rare, and of course I'm even more conservative with burgers.  But not because of taste.

    Raspberries.  I can't wait until there are sales on these at the store.  Then I buy a pint and eat the entire thing when I get home, sometimes with dark chocolate chips.  I really don't know what I'm going to do when my kids expect me to start sharing raspberries with them.

    Garlic.  It know it's not exciting.  But I'd put garlic in just about anything I made that wasn't dessert and I would think it was an improvement.  I almost always use fresh garlic and I even love the spicy taste of it raw.

    Smoked salmon.  I know this is kind of an odd one, but the texture of good smoked salmon is so decadent to me.  I love the flavor as well.  Lox and a bagel is my favorite breakfast.  A couple of months ago, I had the best smoked salmon ever for brunch at the Tabard Inn in Washington DC.  I can still taste it.

    Balsamic vinegar.  The flavor is so distinctive and rich.  You could serve me a salad made of grass, and if it were dressed with balsamic vinaigrette, I'd probably eat it.  I also love it in pan sauces.

    Vanilla.  Why is vanilla a synonym for boring?  It's simple, but so smooth and satisfying.  I like it in many contexts, not just dessert.  If only the beans weren't so expensive!

    Well, my mouth is watering.  Your turn, Princess Granola!

    Monday, April 11, 2011

    Italian Quiche

    I LOVE quiche. The first time I remember eating quiche was at Chez Pierre in Tallahassee about 10 years ago. I was invited to lunch for a friend's birthday and being a poor college-aged person I ordered the cheapest thing on the menu. Broccoli and Cheese Quiche. It was pure culinary delight at first bite. The silly thing that happened next was that it was years (YEARS!) before I ate it again...and then I had to learn to make it myself.

    At first I was totally could I make something that could ever compare to that first taste!? Turns out it's pretty easy...

    Lessons Learned:
    - I don't think there's anything I wouldn't eat in a pie crust smothered with eggs and cheese.

    - Double check the recipe BEFORE you make a pie crust... even an easy one.

    Official menu: Italian Quiche, green salad with craisins and sunflower seeds in Italian dressing, cantaloupe

    Italian Quiche

    1 easy pie crust:
    1.5 cups of flour (I used white flour this time but I want to try it with whole wheat)
    3 tablespoons olive oil
    1 teaspoon salt
    2 teaspoons white sugar
    3 tablespoons milk

    - mix with a fork in a 9x13 baking dish. press into bottom and slightly up sides.

    Saute or boil or steam your choice of chopped veggies.
    For this one I used:
    1 zucchini
    1 onion
    1 green pepper
    1 yellow pepper

    - spread the veggies over the crust.

    In a mixing bowl whisk together:
    8 eggs
    Milk (a couple tablespoonsish)
    Salt and Pepper
    (this is just what I used for our Italian version...but I mix it up according to the taste I'm going for)

    - pour over the veggies.

    Top with grated cheese. I used mozzarella and asiago.

    Bake at 350 until it is browning on top.

    Kid Note:
    Zola (age 3) wouldn't even try it...weird. But she ate handfuls of sunflower seeds and craisins. She also ate a bunch of cantaloupe. Niva (16 months) tried everything and ate most of it.

    Thai Rice Salad

    Menu: Vegetable Potstickers; Thai Rice Salad

    Lessons learned:
    1. I don't even miss the meat in these potstickers.
    2. It's not that Ben stopped liking rice.  He just doesn't want to eat it with his fingers anymore.  I guess that's reasonable.
    I don't remember the last time I enjoyed a Sunday this much.  And it was really because of everything I didn't do.  Didn't do chores.  Didn't run errands.  John made us breakfast!  Then we went running, then out to lunch at Chipotle.  Then we just hung out for the rest of the day.  I actually enjoyed just sitting on the couch and watching golf.  For like three minutes, I sat there and thoroughly enjoyed it.

    Then I decided to go make the potstickers early so they'd be ready whenever we wanted dinner.  I was in a great mood when I started making them.  After a while, though, I was like "is it me or is this taking forever?"  Turns out I had made 64 of them.  That's cool, so I guess I made enough for next time, too!  Today was awesome.

    I looked at a couple of different recipes for vegetable potstickers and just ended up winging it.  I crumbled up some firm tofu, then put some broccoli, carrots, bok choy, onions, and garlic in the food processor.  Mixed it all up with some ginger and an egg.  After that, same deal as usual.  But I did give them their own pretty plate this time.  They were really good, but I need to fiddle with the filling a little.  When I find the right configuration, I'll post it.

    I also made another rice salad tonight, Thai-inspired.  It was actually quite popular over here.  I think it could be its own entree if you're in the mood for a light meal.

    Tonight, Sophie's dinner was a quarter of a pear and some milk.  She had a small snack of pretzels after her nap, which she ate after she made them walk around and talk to each other for a while.  She didn't eat anything for lunch besides her leftover Cheerios from breakfast.  She did eat some French toast at breakfast along with her Cheerios.  I will not stress about this.  I will not stress about this.  I will not...

    Thai Rice Salad
    OK, this is my official recipe.  However, tonight instead of making the dressing below, I decided to finish off the cilantro-lime vinaigrette I made several days ago since I didn't know how long it would keep.

    2 cups sushi rice
    1/2 cup water
    3 tablespoons fish sauce
    Juice from 1 lime
    3 tablespoons brown sugar
    3 tablespoons minced lemongrass
    1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
    1 Asian pear, chopped (tonight I used one of the Bartlett pears that New Leaf had on sale last week)
    1 cucumber, chopped
    1 avocado, peeled, pitted, and chopped
    1/2 cup chopped peanuts, or more to taste
    1/4 cup chopped cilantro

    At least two hours before serving time, cook the rice and refrigerate.  Make the dressing by whisking together the water, fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, lemongrass, and pepper.  Mix the pear and cucumber into the rice and add 3/4 of the dressing.  Mix in the avocado, peanuts and cilantro, and finish with the remaining dressing.

    Makes about 4 servings.

    UPDATE: I think sushi rice may taste the best, but when I'm just making it for us on a weeknight, I usually use brown rice because it's healthier and works pretty well here.

    Sunday, April 10, 2011

    French-Style Rice Salad

    Menu: Japanese-Style Egg Rolls; French-Style Rice Salad

    Lessons learned:
    1. If the herbs are big enough for my husband to pick out, he'll take the time to do it.
    2. Sophie loves these egg rolls.  Thank goodness!
    I know this menu sounds strange, or at least awkwardly international.  Both recipes are from HTCEV, which is full of variations on themes -- that's what I love about that cookbook -- and often those variations are sensibly named after a national cooking style.  He's got to call them something.  But if you don't think about what the food you're eating might be named -- as my family doesn't -- then it turns out the menu isn't strange at all.

    We've been eating outside lately.  The kids eat at their little table in the grass, and John and I sit on the futon couch that we never ended up bringing back inside.  It's nice to get out of the heat of the kitchen after I've cooked in it and sit under the fans we have on the ceiling of our back porch.  After being sick so many days, it's also nice to get some fresh air.

    You know, the only thing that seems slightly odd about this pairing is the soy sauce in the egg rolls.  Next time I might just replace it with extra broth and layer some brie into the rolled crepes.  Why didn't I think of that last night?  I even have some brie!

    On the other hand, everyone loves these eggs.  It's hard to want to mess around with that.

    French-Style Rice Salad (adapted from HTCEV by Mark Bittman)

    Long-grain white rice, cooked and cooled
    Green beans, trimmed, cut into 1" pieces, and steamed briefly
    Radishes, halved and sliced thin
    Carrots, shredded (I only had teeny tiny baby carrots, so this was annoying even though it looked pretty)
    Slivered almonds
    Fresh tarragon (didn't have any, so I used some lemon thyme from my garden instead, which my husband picked right back out)
    Citrus-champagne vinaigrette (made from citrus-champagne vinegar, a Good Seasons dressing packet, and olive oil)
    Salt and pepper, to taste

    Toss all ingredients together in amounts that suit you!

    Thursday, April 7, 2011

    Cold Sesame Peanut Noodles

    Intended Menu: Scented Fish Salad; Cold Sesame Peanut Noodles

    Actual Menu: Scented Fish; Random Salad; Cold Sesame Peanut Noodles

    Lessons learned:
    1. Just because it's at New Leaf Market doesn't mean it's a responsible purchase.  If you check out the Monterrey Bay Aquarium's sustainable seafood guide -- provided right on the New Leaf website! -- it says to avoid Gulf Red Snapper.  So why do they sell it?
    2. At some point, enough substitutions make a dish completely unrecognizable.
    I'm still feeling quite lousy, but this is Day Three and at some point you have to start tending to at least some of your responsibilities again.  Last night my husband gave me a break by staying home from work in the morning and cooking his specialty for dinner, pasta with tomato sauce and Italian sausage.  He even got Publix's Greenwise Italian chicken sausage instead of whatever he would have gotten when we were younger (probably Johnsonville).  It was a lot like the pizza we'd had the previous night and there was no vegetable dish, but someone besides me cooked it and it was delicious.

    My kids aren't really eating.  It's not just that they're not trying things at dinner, but they're even abandoning crackers, bread, and apples at the table.  Sophie has barely eaten anything in days.  I'm trying very hard not to stress about it, because she isn't asking for other food and doesn't seem to be uncomfortable.  Maybe they are both coming down with my cold and just don't feel like eating?

    After two days shacked up in the house, I took the kids to New Leaf Market, mostly for some produce.  I'm still trying to understand the availability of mangoes and avocados in this region, because all of a sudden they are more expensive again (both priced at $2 each at NLM).  I would think that they would be more in season in warmer weather, but no?

    I needed to get fish, and saw that the snapper in NLM's seafood section was $2 off.  I knew it was risky not to get it from a fish market and I wondered why it was marked down as well, but not feeling well, I was happy not to have to make a separate trip so I took the chance.  The fish turned out to be tasty, but looking it up later I see that it's not harvested sustainably.  I really wish that by shopping at New Leaf, I could feel confident that what I'm buying is at least somewhat environmentally responsible and sustainable.  I sort of thought that was the whole point of the co-op, and I'm willing to pay more for that confidence.  But just like at any other store, it turns out I have to do all my own research.  It does frustrate me.

    There's a recipe for Scented Fish Salad in my Thai cookbook, and it looks great.  However, it called for cucumber, mangoes, and something called pitaya, also called dragon fruit.  None of these were available to me, but I figured that I could ad-lib it a little bit and I'd get the idea.  Well, what I ended up with was some lettuce, tomato, and apples which I still tried to dress with a coconut-lime dressing (my standard cilantro-lime vinaigrette with some leftover coconut milk whisked in).  It didn't taste bad.  Well, actually I really don't know since I honestly can't taste much right now.  But I'm pretty sure it wasn't disgusting.  Not yummy, though, either.  Just kind of weird.

    The fish, though, was quite good.  I cut it into strips and marinated it in some spices: ground coriander, fennel, cumin, and garlic, plus some sugar and oil.  It was supposed to go on top of the salad, but it seemed like it would just wilt the lettuce, which I hate, especially when all I can really sense right now is texture.  So we just ate the fish by itself, and it was yummy.  Tilapia is a "best choice" according to Monterrey Bay Aquarium, and I think this way of preparing it would work just fine with that fish.

    I've been wanting to try this peanut noodle recipe from HTCEV for a long time, especially since my husband seems to like anything prepared with peanut butter.  It's super easy, and I ended up doing a blend of tahini (sesame paste) and peanut butter so as not to be overwhelmed by the latter flavor.  Recipe below.  If you use regular semolina noodles instead of egg noodles, it's vegan.

    Cold Sesame Peanut Noodles

    8 ounces Chinese egg noodles or other long pasta, like linguine
    2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
    1/2 cup tahini, peanut butter, or a combination
    2 tablespoons sugar
    3 tablespoons soy sauce
    1 tablespoon minced pickled ginger
    1 tablespoon rice vinegar
    Chile sauce to taste (we left this out for the kids, although I might add some on the leftovers to clear my sinuses!)
    1 large or 2 small zucchinis (original called for cucumbers, but there were locally-grown zucchinis at NLM) 
    Fresh ground black pepper to taste
    1/4 cup minced garlic chives (I forgot these, unfortunately...use scallions if you prefer)

    Cook the noodles as directed on the package.  When they're done, run them under cold water and/or toss them with ice cubes.

    Meanwhile, mix together the oil, paste(s), sugar, soy sauce, ginger, vinegar, and chile sauce.  Toss the cold noodles with the mixture, then peel the zucchini and grate it into the noodles.  Toss again, then garnish with black pepper and chives.

    Makes about 6 side servings.

    Homemade Mac 'n Cheese

    Last night we had some wonderful friends over for dinner. Sam and her two girls who happen to be the same ages as my girls! Both husbands weren't able to be home for dinner so we had a girl's night complete with talking about our periods, 80's music on Pandora, and lots of giggling little girlies. It was fantastic.

    I was 14 years old the first time I had macaroni and cheese from a box. I was staying with a friend and I loved it! My mother, chef du jour de la homemade food, was horrified. Since then I've elevated my tastes from Kraft to Annie's in a box but I'm back to realizing homemade is really the best.

    Lessons learned:

    - Food is always better when shared with friends.

    - Homemade macaroni and cheese is a crowd-pleaser (unless your crowd includes someone dairy-free, which our party did not last night)

    - A mix of american and sharp cheddar give the pasta slight twist.

    - Fruit salad is extra delicious with a little bit of cinnamon.

    - When I'm really hungry it's easy to forget to take a picture of the meal.

    The official menu:
    Homemade macaroni and cheese, broccoli, peas, fruit salad

    Mac 'n Cheese My Mom's Way

    1 box of elbow macaroni (last night = 1.5 boxes)
    1 lb of American cheese (last night = plus 1/2lb sharp cheddar cheese)

    Boil the elbow macaronies according to the box directions.

    Drain the noodles and pour them back into the big pot.

    Add some butter. (a couple tablespoons should be enough but it's all about personal taste)

    Add some milk. (a tablespoon at a time as needed)

    Break the cheese into small chunks. Add a few at a time stirring constantly.

    Continue adding milk and cheese until the consistency looks good to you.

    Eat. And if you're like me and my dad you'll want to add some pepper to your bowl.

    Wednesday, April 6, 2011

    Decent Pizza

    I've caught something again.  It seems like every time I get my affairs in order, I get sick, which means I fall behind on everything once again.  I'm trying not to get too depressed about it and just get better.  Last night I would have made pizza anyway, so I just asked John to pick one up for us on his way home.  I've been wanting to try Decent Pizza, so that's what we did.

    We ordered a 20" pizza (that's right) with Italian sausage.  I thought it was better than decent, probably the best I've had in Tallahassee.  Well, after The Loop closed, anyway.  The crust was fluffy but not thick and the sauce had a nice flavor.  The cheese was possibly a little thick, but it's hard to call that a flaw with a straight face.

    The only problem was that our pizza was slightly burned.  I didn't really mind, but John was scraping off the bottom of his crust.  Because of that, I'm not sure I'll be able to convince him to give them another chance.

    Score: 7/10

    Monday, April 4, 2011

    Coconut Rice Noodles with Shrimp and Mango

    Menu: Coconut Rice Noodles with Shrimp and Mango; Sauteed Broccoli with Garlic and Soy Sauce

    Lessons learned:
    1. I don't usually saute broccoli, but I will be doing it often from now on.  Tonight's was perfect.
    2. Don't forget to shake the can of coconut milk before you open it!
    Last time I made this, I didn't even finish my portion.  The only thing I could taste was watered down noodles.  But tonight I gave it another shot, and I think everyone is glad I did.  Even Sophie ate a varied dinner: mangoes, "naked nuggets" (Quorn tenders), carrots, and broccoli.

    I was good and cooked the broccoli first.  I don't know why I never saute broccoli, but I gave it a try tonight with peanut oil over medium-high heat.  After the broccoli had cooked for two or three minutes, I added some minced garlic and a couple splashes of soy sauce.  I let it cook for another two or three minutes, then decided it needed about 1/3 cup of water.  As soon as that boiled off, they were still just slightly crunchy -- perfect.

    Coconut Rice Noodles with Shrimp and Mango

    8 ounces rice noodles, medium thickness
    1/2 pound shrimp, peeled (deveining is good, too... I forgot tonight and we didn't notice)
    More protein for kids, if needed
    2 tablespoons peanut oil, plus more as needed
    1 tablespoon minced pickled ginger
    4 garlic cloves, sliced
    1/2 cup chopped or shredded carrots, your preference
    3 tablespoons fish sauce
    1 tablespoon sugar
    3/4 cup coconut milk, or maybe a little more if you like
    1 mango, cubed
    Crushed red pepper to taste

    Break the noodles (wrapping them in a dishcloth is helpful) and cover them with hot tap water.  Let them soak for about 25 minutes, not much longer or they'll get waterlogged.  Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large frying pan over high heat.  Prep the shrimp as needed and add it to the pan, letting it cook without stirring too much.  (Note: I now add Quorn tenders to many meals with shrimp so my kids get some protein and I can still say it's from the same meal.  I also happened to have some egg whites in my fridge, and I decided to use it with some cornstarch to coat the shrimp.  I don't think this recipe needs the egg, but if it just happens to be convenient for you, it works well.)  Cook the shrimp until it's pink on both sides, then take them out and put them aside.

    Lower the heat under the pan to medium-high and add more oil if necessary (it probably is).  Add the ginger, garlic, and carrots and stir-fry them for about 30 seconds.  Then add the fish sauce and sugar and combine them evenly with the other items in the pan.  Add the noodles, which should still be just slightly stiff and starchy.  Pour the coconut milk over the noodles, then stir them continuously to ensure that they absorb the flavors in the pan evenly.  Add the shrimp back to the noodles and stir in the mango, too.  Sprinkle with red pepper and you're done!

    This serves two adults and two kids pretty well.  John and I both had small second servings, as we usually do.

    Fresh Pasta Ravioli with Ricotta Cheese Filling

    Menu: Fresh Ravioli with Ricotta Cheese Filling; Random Crunchy Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette and Rosemary

    Lessons learned (so many tonight):
    1. The first thing you need to do when making homemade pasta is pour yourself a glass of wine.
    2. The food processor doesn't make mixing the flour and egg any easier.
    3. Flour.  Flour.  Flour.  Flour.  Flour.  Flour.  Flour.  Flour.
    4. The pasta maker is not my friend.  Not yet, anyway.
    5. Roll the dough through the pasta maker in small batches.
    6. Flour, and flour some more.
    I love fresh pasta, and I love ravioli.  When I got married, one of the things I put on our registry was a pasta maker.  I also added a ravioli attachment that turns out not to work so well, which I found out after a blood-boiling seven-hour stint in my mother-in-law's kitchen one evening (finally served dinner at 10pm, very grumpy).

    Even without the ravioli attachment, my pasta maker is not what I would call user-friendly, but at least you can learn the pitfalls and get used to them.  Not that I have, but I'm trying.

    Tonight I got the idea to let my food processor do a lot of the kneading of dough.  It's no electric mixer, but it has a dough attachment, right?  Definitely not worth it, as it turns out.  I still had to do plenty of kneading, and just ended up getting a big dish dirty.  This is the first lesson I learned.

    After messing with my pasta maker for several minutes and learning that I needed to practically drench it with flour due to the consistency of the dough, I finally started rolling some sheets successfully.  That's when I realized that I should have opened the wine first thing.  I'd like to claim that my unkempt hair below is a result of my efforts in the kitchen, but I'm pretty sure it was looking that way all day.

    As I was making the sheets, I had problems with them getting too long for me to handle, or too sticky to make it through the thinnest, most hazardous, setting.  I learned to use pretty small clumps of dough -- like just big enough to fit in the palm of my hand -- and eventually I abandoned the last setting.  Next time if I have more patience I might try it again.  Here's what I finally ended up with:

    Wow, that's a lot of flour.  And you know what?  THEY STILL STUCK TOGETHER.  And to the paper underneath.  Rrrrrrrrrrgh!  OK, so next time I will dump a cup of flour onto the paper and definitely not let any of them touch each other.  You will also notice that they are not gorgeous.  After all the frustration with the pasta rolling, I decided I couldn't care less if they were pretty.

    Let me address the obvious question here.  Why make my own ravioli from scratch?  Is it really that much better than frozen ravioli, or especially the fancy fresh ravioli that you can buy in many stores?  I don't know if this would be true for other people, but my answer is yes.  The filling was so fresh and fantastic.  Not even in the same category as cheese ravioli from the freezer section; plus I got to use organic ricotta.  Also I love that you can flavor homemade pasta any way you want.  I just went with plain for tonight because I was so rusty on the prep, but in the past I've done spinach and lemon-pepper and they were yummy.  I would also love to do roasted red pepper and one full of Italian herbs.  The possibilities are endless.  And the more I do it, the easier it will be.  I'll get my method down.  And they really were yummy.

    I had to do a blind shopping trip this afternoon while we were out, so I ended up just throwing together an odd salad of lettuce, apples, carrots, radishes, and croutons.  I threw in some rosemary and dressed it with the last of my mustard vinaigrette.

    Fresh Pasta Ravioli with Ricotta Cheese Filling

    2 1/4 cups all-purposed flour, plus more as needed (I needed LOTS more)
    1 teaspoon salt
    3 eggs

    1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
    1/4 cup grated hard Italian cheese, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano
    1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
    1 egg

    OK, so most recipes for fresh pasta that I've ever seen say to just pile your flour on the countertop or table and then make a "well" in the middle for your eggs, which you then start cutting in with a fork.  I much prefer to just use a bowl!  Put the flour, salt, and eggs in a small mixing bowl.  For me, it worked to keep my canister of flour open and next to me with a scoop at all times during this process; that way I could always dip my ball of dough right in it if needed, or sprinkle it over any of the surfaces I was using.  Once you're all set up there, just start kneading and keep going until the dough isn't sticky anymore.  When it's the right consistency, cover the bowl with a damp towel to prevent the dough from drying out as you work.

    Next make the filling, so it's ready to go when you need it.  Just mix the cheeses, seasonings, and egg together in a bowl and keep it next to your work area with a small spoon.

    I happen to have a pasta maker, so I'll give directions for that.  For ravioli, you could try using a rolling pin, but that's just not going to get the dough as thin as a pasta maker will, so be warned.

    Divide the dough into 8-10 pieces.  Each piece may seem small, but as you feed it through the pasta maker at each setting, it can get very long and hard to manage without tearing it.  Clamp the pasta maker to your counter or table, attach the feed tray, and turn the dial to the thickest setting (on my machine, that's number 1).  Feed your first piece of dough through each setting once or twice, trying to keep the sheets straight and even as they go through.  My dough was fine going through only once on each setting until I got to the thinnest one.  If you're going to use the thinnest setting, you probably need to feed the dough through the previous setting at least twice beforehand.  Mine tore and crimped each time I didn't do that.

    Now you need to decide what size you want your raviolis to be.  I ended up making larger ones.  In my opinion these are tastier because there's a larger amount of filling to be had in each one.  But they can look kind of shapeless and sloppy, too.  If you want the large ones, lay out one sheet of pasta horizontally (from your view) on a floured surface and spoon large globs of filling onto either the right or left side of the sheet, spaced out by about 1/2" - 3/4".  Then fold the other side over the filling side and press down around the globs to seal them in.  If you're worried that it won't stick, sprinkle or brush a little bit of water on the dough first.  If you want to make smaller ones, you can put smaller globs of filling all along the horizontal sheet on the half closest to you, then fold the far half over toward you and seal in the filling.  When you're done, cut the squares with a pizza cutter and arrange them on a floured tray.  Repeat until the dough and filling are all used.  You can get 20-25 large raviolis or maybe 35-40 smaller ones.

    Boil a large pot of water.  When the water is boiling, add the raviolis but make sure you don't overcrowd the pot; they're done when they float at the top.  It takes very little time, like less than 2 minutes.  It's easy to work in batches if you have a slotted spoon or similar tool to fish the raviolis out when they're done.

    Serve immediately with your favorite tomato sauce and some grated cheese.  And save some wine for when you're eating.

    Surf 'n Turf

    I've been trying to cut back on the amount of red meat we eat. Except for the occasional steak to grill we haven't really noticed. But there are days when my PMS is calling for some extra protein and iron in the form of red meat. Plus Grant really appreciates it when I make a bunch of his favorite dishes that also includes something for him to grill.

    Lessons learned:

    - Even if it's a really good cut of delicious grass-fed beef, rubbed down with yummy spices and grilled well, my girls still won't eat it.

    - Panko really does make the best breading for fried seafood.

    - I don't need anything to dip into the mango sauce. I could eat it on a spoon.

    The official menu: Grilled strip steak, beer-battered fried shrimp (regular and coconut) with mango sipping sauce, grilled peppers and onions, tri-color cous cous, boiled corn on the cob, twice-baked potato (the last bit of our Omaha Steaks Christmas present from my grandparents- we are mourning the emptiness of our freezer.)
    I obviously do not have mad food picture taking skills. Those white things that look like eggs are actually grilled onions. This is a picture of Grant's plate- he doesn't really like corn on the cob... The cous cous was mixed in with the veggies and the little mound on the other side of the steak is half of the last Omaha Steaks twice-baked potato.

    I will say this was the best batch of fried shrimp I have ever made. It was perfectly golden and lightly breaded and Grant and I devoured a 1/2 pound of jumbo shrimp. And since our closest grocery only sells beer in 6-packs or larger I have several Heineken's left in the fridge to enjoy.

    The girls ate cous cous and some veggies and I gave them some yogurt. Grant wants them to like meat but I say it just means more for us!

    Beer-Battered Fried Shrimp - Regular and Coconut
    Set out four bowls for dredging the shrimp.

    Bowl #1:
    enough flour to coat all of your shrimp

    Bowl #2:
    1 egg
    1/2 cup flour
    2/3 cup beer
    1 1/2 baking powder (I forgot I had recently run out of this and so I couldn't add it and I didn't notice a difference)

    Bowl #3:

    Bowl #4:
    Shredded sweetened coconut

    Roll each shrimp in the flour, then the liquid mix, then either Panko or coconut.

    Place on a baking sheet covered in wax paper.

    Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

    Heat oil in a large pot- deep enough to cover one layer of shrimp. Heat it on medium or less. If the oil is too hot it will burn the shrimp and possibly pop and splatter drops of hot oil that may or may not hit the other hot burners on the stove where you are cooking and catch a kitchen towel on fire. It is quite possible I know this from experience.

    Fry the shrimp for about 2 minutes, flip and fry 2 more minutes. Drain on a paper towel.

    Serve with this amazing sauce:
    Mango Dipping Sauce (I've also done this with orange marmalade with equally pleasing results)
    Just mix these things according to your taste:

    Mango Preserves
    Brown, Dijon and/or Yellow Mustard
    Horseradish or Vinegar

    I've made all sorts of combinations using these ingredients and it is impossible to make it taste bad. I also use this as a marinade for fish.

    Introducing My Family

    I've been reading Becki's blog since she started and since I also know her in real life I know that we have similar ideas for how we want to feed our families... healthy, yummy, sustainable meals that won't kill our bank accounts.

    I'll be posting about my family's dinners as well as lunches and snacks and the occasional trick to cleaning up the food one of my young children smushed into the rug.

    Here are some of the challenges I'll be facing along the way:

    1. Money. We are a family of four living on one income. This has been our choice for over 3 years. We love that I get to be home with our kids all day. We do not love that we can't go out to eat whenever we want or totally fill the shopping cart with all the organic, sustainable products we could eat in a week. We participate in a little game of give and take.

    2. Allergies and food preferences. My 3-year-old is allergic to nuts. It's not so severe that she stops breathing if she comes into contact with one but she will wake up in the middle of the night and vomit for several hours. It took a year of regular GI problems before we figured it out with an allergist. In general a nut allergy like this is not hard to plan around but she also does not like meat. So nuts; peanut butter, cashews, almond milk, walnut bread, were all staples in her diet. I am always on the lookout for creative ways to get protein into her diet without meat or nuts. Our youngest daughter doesn't like meat either. Other than those things we all eat just about everything. And since Grant doesn't cook (by choice)he loves to eat whatever I set before him.

    3. Time. I love playing with my kids. I love reading books. I love sewing and making craft things. And even though I do love to cook I do not have extra hours to be in the kitchen every day. Most days 30 minutes is my max... and once or twice a week I'll have an hour or more if Grant is home hanging out with the girls. I don't love cleaning though, so there's some extra time in each day..and also the reason pictures of my food will always be close-up and never include the backdrop of our living space!

    Here's a little virtual 'cheers!' to Becki as I join her in sharing our stories of successes and fails and everything in-between from our kitchens.

    Sunday, April 3, 2011

    Mom Food Bloggers

    I didn't look around the interwebs too much before starting The Full Table, but I just now found this list of 100 excellent food blogs written by mothers.  Check them out!  I'm getting through them slowly, and will put my favorites over in the blogroll.

    I came across the list on a blog sent to me by my friend Emily, aka princess granola.  Like me, Emily has two toddlers and loves to write and cook.  She's also full of great ideas!  So when she approached me with an interest in contributing to the blog, I was super excited.  I'm thrilled to introduce her as a guest blogger, so watch out soon for what Emily's doing to fill her table.  I can't wait.

    Saturday, April 2, 2011

    Bean Salad with Corn and Tomatoes

    Well, looks like I was wrong about having no more dinner guests for a while.  I'm happy to be; I love having people over.  And now that we are mostly meatless, my husband is all the more eager to take hosting opportunities so he can grill some meat, like a man!  He invited over a colleague and his wife, who is due to have a baby this month so we figure we probably won't be seeing them much in the near future.

    John and I had another one of our little discussions before our dinner, sparked by his realization that the local, grass-fed ground beef I get costs $7 a pound.  I don't mean to trivialize things; it's just that neither of us ever says anything new.  The gist is that my husband is a nostalgic person who has, for pretty much his whole life, thought of grilled burgers as a delicious and cheap meal, and he is still in mourning for the loss of that second attribute.  He believes me that cows' digestive systems aren't designed to process corn, that it makes them sick and more prone to E. coli and "superbugs" that are resistant to antibiotics, and generally fills their increasingly short lives with pain and discomfort.  And tonight his colleague, who grew up on a farm, told him that grass-fed beef contains more nutrients as well.  It's just that there was a time when we would grill burgers every weekend and think nothing of it.  (Yes, I am aware that this is the second weekend in a row we've grilled burgers! It's unusual.)

    John made a point about how if we had less money, we wouldn't be able to shell out for ground beef like that.  I told him that if we had less money, I wouldn't be buying cheaper beef; I just wouldn't be buying beef.  To be clear, this is a perspective I've worked up to over the course of about two years.  When we go to a restaurant, I still try to avoid beef (and other meat), but sometimes I do have it and in those cases I'm sure it's corn-fed.  So this is not an issue about which I have any standing to be self-righteous.  Food choices are intensely personal, as my kids teach me every day.  Unfortunately, we have mostly lost our ability to make those choices based on information about how that food is produced.  The results are worsening health, environmental damage, and prolonged suffering for millions of animals, some of which are more intelligent than the dogs we keep as pets.  I can't live with that, so I'm trying to be the change I want to see in the world.  It is not easy.

    It's especially not easy because I can pretty much count on my kids to eat meat when it's served to them, so that's just one more reason I like burger night: it always makes me happy when my kids eat dinner.  Tonight, Sophie ate her meat, the bun, pineapple chunks, and some strawberries that John's colleague brought for dessert.  Ben did much better, as usual: he ate his meat, his bun, pineapple chunks, some guacamole, and some cheese.  Oh, and we had chips, too... and then ice cream after that.  It was a good night for the kids.

    I also made this bean salad with corn and tomatoes from, recommended to me by my friend Daniela!  I didn't make it exactly as written, and I probably should have.  The dressing looked like a cilantro-lime vinaigrette that I already had made, so I just used that instead of mixing up a new one.  But this recipe calls for some sugar that I think was missing in my version.  It was still very fresh tasting, and a great substitute for that second burger I might have eaten!  Very filling, though.  I don't think the four adults even got through half of it.  I guess I know what I'm having for lunch this week.