Wednesday, February 29, 2012

In Cod We Trust

(Sculpture by Howard McAvoy as seen over my kitchen sink)

As you may or may not know, the American Heart Association recommends that we eat fish (preferably oily fish) at least twice a week.  I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one that finds this challenging.  I was discussing this matter with my Brunch Girls (we'll be getting to my food groups in the near future) and the consensus was that seafood is expensive and we don't always know what to do with it.  In my house we have made an effort to have fish once a week and try to squeeze in a second round when we can.  Salmon is the fish of choice.  Until recently my kids would only eat salmon and only if prepared with soy sauce and ginger (they have sophisticated palettes I suppose.   Not really, they love fluff and hot dogs also).  While this is a satisfying meal, especially when served with rice and veggies, it can get a little boring having it every week.  I'm doing my best to widen our horizons and here is a recent attempt at switching things up a bit- Linguine with Tuna Puttanesca from (you guessed it) Food TV Magazine's cookbook.

This recipe calls for canned tuna but that happens to top my list of most disliked foods so naturally I went another route.  Nelsy happens to have his name on an e-mail list at a local fish store called Fins and Tails (I'd link you there but they don't have a website).  He got an e-mail last week that the tuna steaks were on sale so it was the perfect time to try this recipe.  One piece goes a long way when you're cutting it up and tossing it with pasta.

I guarantee that this nice looking steak smells nothing like opening a can of tuna...thank goodness.  So if using the good stuff, put a little olive oil in a pan and a clove or two of garlic and sear your tuna over medium heat on both sides until cooked through (it will turn white when cooked).
Doesn't that look delicious? The first time we gave the kids fresh tuna, they thought they were eating chicken...just something to keep in mind (chicken of the sea!).  Give that bad boy a good squeeze of lemon. 

The sauce is a snap to throw together.  A can of tomatoes, a few olives and capers (I do love a recipe that includes capers!) and of course garlic make up the sauce.
Toss it all together and there you have it.  This meal takes 20 minutes to throw together, can't beat that!

Linguine with Tuna Puttanesca

kosher salt
12 oz linguine
2 TBS extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced or thinly sliced
1/4 to 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
2 TBS capers, drained
1/2 cup roughly chopped kalamata olives
1 28 oz can plum or whole tomatoes
4 basil leaves torn, plus more for topping
1 5oz can albacore tuna, packed in olive oil (or Fresh Tuna!)
freshly ground pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Cook linguine according to directions until al dente.  If cooking fresh tuna, saute this at the same time with a little olive oil, garlic and a squeeze of lemon.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring until slightly toasted, 1-2 min.  Add the capers and olives, fry 2 more min.  Crush the tomatoes into the skillet with your hands (with care so they don't squirt all over the place) and reserve the juices.  Cook until the tomatoes are slightly dry, about 2 min.  Add reserved tomato juices, the basil and salt to taste and cook until sauce thickens, 1-2 min.  Add the tuna with its oil, breaking it up with a fork, and season with salt. (If using the fresh tuna, roughly chop it and toss it in). 

Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of cooking water and return it to the pot.  Add the sauce and cooking water and toss.  Season with salt and pepper and top with fresh basil.

*Although puttanesca is the Italian word for prostitute, it is highly unlikely that this recipe will invoke promiscuity. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Call Me Caprese

Since the hilly 4 mile race I signed up for is just 13 days away, I thought I'd better get running today.  I've been getting exercise lately by doing DVD workouts but I have not done much running lately.  Mostly because I hate it.  So I headed out on a chilly, windy, semi-hilly (got to ease into these things) 3 mile run and it pretty much sucked.  I was kind of slow (35 min but my hip was getting sore, I feel old...) but when I got done I felt good and was glad I forced myself into it.  Now, let's get to the good part of this story...the lunch I had when I got home!  Being a little out of breath and a lot tired I didn't want anything too heavy or too involved.  I had all the fixings for the perfect lunch.  Open Faced Caprese Sandwich.  It's one of my faves.  So easy (took about 3 min) and so flippin tasty.
I was pretty lucky that Nelsy had busted out the bread machine again over the weekend but any crusty loaf or even an English muffin will do.

I happened to have some of that delicious fresh mozzarella left over from making Skillet Lasagna recently and tomatoes and fresh basil are almost always on hand at our house.  This is a perfect example of how a few fresh foods thrown together can taste so fantastic.  Toast up your bread, slice some tomatoes and cheese and chop up a little basil (you can use a few shakes of the dried stuff in a pinch).  When the toast is ready, drizzle a little olive oil on it, lightly sprinkle with garlic powder.  Layer the cheese, tomatoes, basil on the bread, drizzle with balsamic vinegar and hit it with a little salt and pepper.

Oh man, I have a really difficult time not using expletives in describing how good this was.  A perfect light lunch, it's simple, easy, quick and so freakin good.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Meat Me At The Table

The more I think about it, the more I feel the need to share this recipe.  Once again from Food TV Magazine, Beer-Braised Country-Style Pork Ribs are really tasty.  At first I was reluctant to share because it did require a fair amount of attention and I am trying to get people to cook more not turn them off.  This is a perfect winter weekend dinner, you'll want to get it started earlier as it takes about 2 1/2 hours to cook. I'll be trying this recipe with chicken thighs next time.
Get yourself about 4 lbs of bone-in country-style ribs and season them up with salt and paprika.
Brown them in batches in a large Dutch oven on the stove. (Don't they look good already?)
Once the meat is browned on both sides, brown some onions in that same Dutch oven, season with salt and paprika. So far so good right?

Now you get yourself a nice bottle of amber.  If there's beer involved chances are I'm going to like it.  It only takes one bottle so you might want to crack one open for yourself while you're at it.
Go ahead and dump that beer right in there with the onions. Scape up all that cooked on yummyness with a spoon while bringing it to a boil and reducing by half. Then you're going to toss in some herbs and chicken broth. Put the meat back in the pot and place in a 425 oven for an hour.  Now you can work on that laundry you've been meaning to get to.
So they will come out of the oven, have a fabulous sauce added, go back in the oven and back out again.  Perhaps you're annoyed by all this back and forth business but I assure you, the only annoyance you will experience while eating these is that you didn't make them sooner.  My parents are going to LOVE these.

Beer-Braised Country-Style Pork Ribs

4 lbs bone-in country-style ribs
Kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp hot (or regular) paprika
3 TBS olive oil
3 med onions, peeled and cut into wedges
1 12oz bottle of amber ale
1 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth
2 bay leaves
6 sprigs thyme
2/3 cup apple cider vinegar
3 TBS honey

Pre-heat oven to 425.  Pat ribs dry and season with salt and 1/2 tsp paprika.  Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the ribs in batches and cook until browned on both sides.  Remove to a plate.  Add onions and cook until browned, about 10 min.  Add remaining tsp of paprika and season with salt.

Add the beer; bring to a boil and cook until the liquid is reduced by half, about 8 min, scraping the up the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon.  Add broth, bay leaves and thyme.  When the liquid begins to simmer, return ribs to the pot and transfer to oven.  Cook uncovered, turning ribs once or twice, until meat is almost tender, about 1 hour.

Mix the vinegar and honey in a measuring cup.  Remove pot from oven and place on the stove top; bring to a simmer over medium heat.  Add the vinegar mixture, bring to a boil and then return the pot to the oven (again).  Continue to braise uncovered until ribs are tender, about 15 to 20 more min.  Return pot to stove and transfer ribs to a plate.  Bring sauce to a boil over med heat and cook until thickened (skimming off the fat) about 10 to 15 min.  Discard bay leaves and thyme, return ribs to pot until warmed back up.  Eat up!

Serve these up with some roasted carrots and potatoes, maybe a green veg of choice.  Plan on one or two ribs per person and load up on healthy side dishes.  They really are delish!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Wicked Good Lasagna

This is no joke.  I freakin love this lasagna.  It's simple, tasty, lighter than your average lasagna and pretty easy to make.  You really must try it.  Many of you will be looking for some meatless meals in the up coming weeks.  Try it.  Some of you do meatless Mondays.  Try it.  We find it to be so darn yummy, we don't give meat a second thought.  No need.  This Skillet Lasagna is from Food Network Magazine's cookbook.  The only changes I have made is using part-skim ricotta (why wouldn't you?) and when it isn't the heart of tomato season (which in CNY is almost never is), I use canned crushed or diced tomatoes.  Check it out:
I highly recommend prepping before you get going because once it's time to assemble it goes pretty fast.  So gather up the goods.  Mince some garlic and if using fresh tomatoes, chop them up.  Heat about 2 TBS olive oil (actually the recipe calls for 1/2 cup but that is unnecessary) and saute the garlic.  Give it about a minute to turn golden and throw the tomatoes in.  while this is cooking get your other ingredients ready.

Mix your ricotta, parm, egg and herbs together with some salt and pepper.

Use your peeler to make ribbons of a carrot and zucchini, they will be nice and thin and cook perfectly. 

Slice up some fresh mozzarella.  I do NOT recommend substituting regular mozzarella.  I think the fresh stuff has a lot to do with just how fabulous this dish is.  Trust me on this.  By the time you're done with the prep your sauce is probably done.  Pour it in a bowl and hit it with (my favorite kitchen tool) the immersion blender.  This can be done using a food processor or blender as well (use caution when blending hot liquids in a blender!).  Once the sauce is blended you are ready to assemble.  It's a cinch when you're all prepared.

No joke.

Skillet Lasagna

2 TBS extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
4 cloves garlic, sliced or minced
1 1/2 lbs ripe tomatoes diced or 1 28oz can crushed or diced toms
4 TBS fresh basil (and parsley if you got it) chopped
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
1 Cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1 large egg
2 TBS grated Parmesan
6-8 sheets no boil lasagna noodles
1 carrot, peeled into ribbons
1 zucchini, peeled into ribbons
3 1/2 cups baby spinach (the grown up stuff works too)
1/3 lb fresh mozzarella sliced thin

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over med-high heat.  Add garlic and cook until golden.  Add 1 TBS herbs, 1/2 tsp salt and pepper to taste.  Cook until saucy (or until prep is done) about 5 min.  Transfer to a blender and puree (or to a bowl and use immersion blender).

Reduce heat to low and return one cup of sauce to the skillet (enough to cover the bottom).  Mix ricotta, egg, parm, 3 TBS fresh herbs, 1/2 tsp salt and fresh pepper to taste in a bowl.  (you can do this while the sauce is cooking)

Place 2 noodles over the sauce in the skillet (I usually break up another to fill in the spaces).  Layer half of the carrot, half of the zucchini on top; drizzle with a touch of oil and season with salt and pepper.  Cover with half of the spinach, half of the ricotta mixture (plop spoonfuls randomly around) a few slices of mozzarella and top it with a ladle of sauce.  Repeat layers ending with noodles.  Top with remaining sauce and mozzarella.  Cover and simmer until cooked through and cheese is melted. About 25 min (you may want to cook a few min uncovered if it there is a lot of liquid).  Let rest before slicing and top with fresh herbs.

With my minor adjustments and the fact that the book calls this 4 servings (It's more like 6), This recipe is about 400 calories per serving.  If you had lasagna at The Olive Garden you would easily double the calories and almost triple the sodium.  Make this for your loved ones.  You will be a star.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Juicy Details

I was never a fan of giving my kids juice when they were little.  They never had it it when they were drinking from a bottle and by the time they were on to a sippy cup they only had a cup with breakfast.  For the rest of the day it was water or milk.  The more I read up on childhood obesity, the happier I am that I made that decision.  Even now that they are 7 and 9 years old, they have a cup of juice with breakfast and a small juice box with lunch (only at school, at home they have skim milk). 

According to the USDA Dietary Guidelines for 2010, childhood obesity is up from 4% in the 70's to 20% in 2007-2008.  They attribute much of this increase to sweetened drinks.  Yikes!  Juice is a problem because its full of calories  (110 per 8oz serving) and the little ones get filled up sipping on juice and don't have much of an appetite for real food.  The older kids don't get full from the juice but chances are they're drinking a lot more than 8oz at a time, and that's a lot of extra calories.  If you were to eat an orange instead, you would get about half the calories and feel more full. 

I think it is wise to get your kids off the juice and get them used to drinking water.  I did a little comparing on some dietary websites and found two major brands of juice (Juicy Juice and Minute Maid) each had 110 calories for an 8 oz serving, 26 sugars and no fiber.  If you gave your kid a cup of chopped apple they would get 65 calories only 13 sugars and 3 grams of fiber.  Which looks better to you?  Grape juice is even worse.  8oz of unsweetened grape juice has 152 calories 36 sugar and 1 gram of fiber (about as much as coke but with some healthier properties of course).  These numbers are much improved (62 cal, 15 sugar, 1 gram fiber) by eating a cup of grapes. 

Soda of course is another problem.  In our house, its a special occasion beverage.  The kids can have a can of soda (one) if we're having a party, or entertaining.  Once in a great while they have it with pizza for dinner. (Milk with pizza is way under rated if you ask me, I think they go great together!)  A regular coke has 140 calories and 39 sugars.  The grape and orange soda's that kids love are even worse.  If you were to drink one regular soda a day for a year, you'd be looking at 15 extra pounds!  No thank you.

So then there's the question of diet soda.  No calories, no sugar, not bad for you? Not so much.  Apparently artificial sweeteners cause hormonal responses that can stimulate appetite and increase cravings for carbs.  Great.  The American Heart Association has shown a correlation between diet soft drink consumption and obesity or factors that lead to obesity. 

So what can we take away from it all?  Juice and soda are just not worth it.  If your kids get hooked now its harder to deal with later.  As the grown ups in the house, it's up to us to keep these out of the fridge/pantry.  So lead by example and cut the sweetend drinks out.  It's a simple change that can go a long way.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Shredded Bliss

I'm all about shredding these days.  I do the 30 Day Shred DVDs by Jillian Michaels,  I play some mean guitar hero, and best of all I like shredded meats.  Mmmm.  Last night we had enchiladas for dinner and man, they were good.  The great thing about shredded meat is you can do it whenever you have time and throw it in the fridge and turn it into something later on.  This is how I do it.

In a little bowl combine 1/2 tsp chili powder, 1/2 tsp garlic, 1tsp cumin, 1/4 tsp salt.  This is enough spice mix for 3 chicken breasts.  Pat your chicken dry and season both sides.  Heat about 1 TBS of olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat.
Lightly brown the chicken on both sides before adding a can or two of Rotel (the original has a little kick to it but they also make a mild version, either will do just fine).  I added a 1/2 can of diced tomatoes, because I only had one can of Rotel on hand. Squeeze the juice of 1/2 a lime in there.  Yum. If you feel it needs a little
more liquid to cook in, add a little water (maybe a 1/4 to 1/2 cup at the most).
Reduce heat to low.  Cover and let lightly simmer for about 25 min or until cooked through.

Once cooked, remove chicken to a cutting board.  Using two forks, pull the meat apart until all is shredded.  Return the meat to the pan and let cook a tad longer if there is extra liquid that you want to cook down.  Now you can let cool and refrigerate for later use in tacos, burritos, tortilla soup, or what ever else you feel like.  Since Nelsy has had a hankering for enchiladas, that's what we had. In the past he has made some really good enchilada sauce from scratch, but that can be a little time consuming.  The canned stuff works just fine!

So you just warm your corn tortillas, put in a little chicken and a little plop of shredded cheddar (another shredded thing I love).

Roll those puppies up and put them in a baking pan.  Next, pour about 1 1/2 cans of enchilada sauce (enough to cover) over the top and sprinkle on some shredded cheddar.  Bake in a preheated 375 oven for 25-30 min or until it's a bubbling, lightly browned melty pan of goodness.

(I'm so happy there are leftovers in my fridge right now!)  Serve them with a little yellow rice if you like and a side salad.

Avocados and light sour cream are perfect with this meal, especially if you make them a little spicy.

See, who needs to go out to eat when you can make things that taste this good at home!  Dig in. (And now I'm going to do my shred video so I can have this for lunch today too.)  

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Friday, February 17, 2012

Sup Before Dawn

I'm not the greatest when it comes to using the Crock-Pot.  I think it's a fantastic concept, the whole "set it and forget it" thing (maybe that belongs to some other gadget but close enough), but I don't do it much.  I tend to get turned off by slow cooker recipes because it seems like there's always canned soup or ketchup involved.  No thank you.  I found a good one though in Food TV Magazine (of course) that you might like.  So I busted out my retro, circa 1978 hand me down Crock-Pot at 6am yesterday.  I do find it a challenge to start slicing and dicing the minute I wake up, but I will say this was much easier than browning a side of pork at 6am (like I did the last time I used this thing).

It is totally worth taking that time (approximately 25 min) in the morning and not having to deal with dinner later on a busy week night.  The one change I would make to this recipe when making it again, is I would use either a Thai style vegetable broth (Wegmans) or even chicken broth (I'm so not a vegetarian) instead of the 6 cups of water.  Even if you split it 3 cups water to 3 cups both it might just add that tiny extra bit of pizazz that I think it needs.  Again, I make a terrible vegetarian.

Slow-Cooker Sweet Potato and Lentil Soup

1 large sweet potato
3 med carrots, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
3 stalks celery, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 leeks, halved lengthwise and and cut into 1/2 inch pieces (white and light green parts only, and be sure to rinse them well after cutting.  Those buggers can be REALLY dirty!)
3/4 cup dried yellow or red lentils
1 4-inch piece of ginger, peeled and finely grated (your hands will smell great all day!)
1 + 1/4 tsp curry powder
Kosher salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 cloves of garlic, minced
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup of chopped fresh cilantro

Combine first 7 ingredients (1 tsp of the curry powder) in a 4-6 qt slow cooker.  Add 6 cups water, broth, or combo and stir.  Cover and cook on low, undisturbed for 8 hours.

Now bust out the immersion blender if you have one (love that thing!).  If not, stir soup vigorously with a whisk to make a rough puree.
Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium-high heat.  Add garlic and 1/4 tsp curry powder, cook about 1 min until slightly toasted.  Stir curry mixture into the soup along with the lemon juice and cilantro and a little salt to taste.
This is a low-cal soup (257 cal if using water, and according to the recipe this is 4 servings!).  Let me know how you like it!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Diet: Noun or Verb?

I read this statistic on Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution website today: "Globally, obesity related illnesses count for as many deaths in young and middle aged adults as HIV/AIDS." That was obtained from the World Health Organization.  The site also stated that currently obesity in the US costs $10,273,973 per hour.  PER HOUR!!! Hearing these facts just makes me crazy!  There is just one (well, two) more reason(s) to get ourselves and our families on track.  There are plenty of creepy things going on in the world and this is one of the few that we can have some immediate control over.

Perhaps it's time we all take a good look at our diet (noun) so that we don't need to diet (verb).  It definitely isn't an easy thing to do but totally worth the effort (and easier than trying to diet all the time I'm sure).  I think if we pay attention to what we eat (and how much and how often) and exercise regularly there would be a wealth of positive change for any of us. 

I'm not a nutritionist or dietitian but I think it's pretty clear that the majority of fast food offerings are something to stay away from.  Did you see that picture recently on the Internet of the pink goo that was being pumped into McDonald's hamburgers?  I told the kids about it and they were thoroughly grossed out.  They haven't been to McDonald's in at least a couple of years (we opt for sub's on those rare occasions when fast food is the best option) but they certainly have mentioned their desire to go.  Until now.  Now they're like "that's disgusting" and the other says "chicken nuggets are made from all the parts that we don't eat".  Thank goodness, let's hope that sticks with them.

If you are a person/family that relies on fast food or take-out often, consider making an effort to eat out less and cook whole foods (not from a box) more.  Your children might not be overweight at this time, but if they don't ever learn the importance of eating good food then they will be set up for a future of dealing with weight issues like a large portion (approximately 65% of adults if I'm not mistaken) of our population.  If you or your children are overweight, why not set a good example and start working on it today.  Plan a couple of meals for this week and get off the couch.  Make the time, before work, during your lunch break, while the kids are at practice (I find that while the kids are at soccer practice it's the perfect time to jog or speed walk around the school, field or neighborhood that is near by).

We talk about food quite a bit in our house (I love food!) and the kids are really interested.  They are definitely learning every night when we sit down to dinner about what foods are healthy and how they are good for us.  Hayden asked the other day where mustard comes from. I explained that its made from the seeds of a mustard plant.  After a little thought, he asked if we could plant some mustard this summer.  I love this for so many reasons, one of which is that he doesn't really care that much for mustard, but it interests him anyway.  There's a good chance that after this summer he will be a fan.  What a perfect and practical learning opportunity.

Don't get me wrong, we do like to eat things that are bad for us too (once in a while I just really need some queso), but we've learned to balance it out with plenty of the good stuff and making sure we're moving too.  Although I am a self-proclaimed pizza snob, I often prefer homemade pizza to most of the pizza places around.  Part of the reason is because mine is way less greasy...what a difference part-skim mozzarella can make.  It doesn't taste different, just less greasy.  Plus Phoebe and I are total suckers for chicken and potato pizza (even better with pepperoncini's on it!) and aside form that killer joint in Boston's North End, I'm not sure where to get one. 

So consider starting with baby steps, no more soda in the house.  Buy chips/snacks in individual servings for lunches instead of having an open bag to graze on.  Find a couple of recipes that are quick and easy that use fresh ingerdients.  Add a salad to dinner when you make something that might be a little on the heavy side (like that meatloaf we had last night).  Make it a family can be really fun!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Cauliflower Mac and Cheese (is better than Valentines)

Seriously, can't we just show how we love and care for each other every day?  I'm so glad that Nelsy and I are on the same page when it comes to Valentine's Day.  Sure it's cute for the kids but isn't it nicer to feel loved or let someone know they're special when the world of retail isn't telling you to?  Do I think my husband doesn't care because he doesn't spend a bunch of money on flowers or gifts with hearts on them?  No.  I know he loves me when he goes out in his jammies when its freezing cold out to start my car in the morning.  Or when he brings me a heated bean bag when I'm in bed and can't get my feet warm.  A Fiesta Salad with black beans from Alto Cinco and a cold IPA on a random week night in the summer?  Now that, my friends, is love.

Enough about Valentine's Day, you need this recipe for Cauliflower Macaroni and Cheese.  This is adapted from Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution Cookbook.  Not only is this really delicious, it is easy, quick and you even get to sneak some veg in.  I will admit, I had never eaten cauliflower before I discovered this recipe a couple of years ago.  It seems I always encountered it in its raw form which I do still find unappealing.  Its so white, and fake looking.  As it turns out it really is good for your cardio-vascular system and after that sprint up three flights of stairs to make it to work on time today, I say bring it!
I think this has got to be one of the healthier versions of Mac & Cheese, aside from the fact that it has cauliflower in it.  There is no cream, milk or heavy flour cheese sauce involved.  I think mine is a little lighter than Jamie's version (I use lite sour cream instead of creme fraiche or full fat sour cream).  I estimate it to be about 430 calories per serving. So here's how it's done:

If you have children, they can do most of the work.  See, how easy is that?

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Cauliflower Mac & Cheese (adapted from a Jamie Oliver recipe)

1/2 head of cauliflower
8 oz cheddar cheese shredded
4 oz Parmesan cheese shredded
a small bunch of fresh parsley
2 cloves of garlic
1 lb dried macaroni (elbows)
1 cup sour cream
sea salt

While bringing a large pot of salted water to a boil, remove leaves from a head of cauliflower and slice off the end of the stalk.  Cut the head into small florets and thinly slice the stalks.  Shred cheeses, chop parsley and mince garlic.  I like to mash the parsley and garlic together with a pinch of salt.  (I love an excuse to use my mortar and pestle but this is not required.)

Add pasta and cauliflower to the boiling water and cook according to pasta directions (9 min).  Meanwhile, add the cheeses and sour cream to a med sauce pan over med-low heat and stir until melted.  When the cheese is melted add the parsley and garlic "paste" and stir until combined. When pasta is done, drain well and add the cheese sauce.  You can eat it as is or we like to transfer it to a baking pan and put it in the oven under the broiler for a couple of minutes until lightly browned.

Now, look how much is on each plate and the pan is still more than half full! In Jamie's cookbook he says it serves 4-6 but I think 6-8 is more like it.  Especially when there's salad involved (which of course I do recommend!).  We just love this dinner and I hope you do to.  It may even move you to do The Robot.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Getting the Bread Out

It may seem a little over the top to make your own pita bread, but if you have a bread machine still in the house from when they were all the rage in the '90's, this is super simple and we got to use local ingredients which is always a bonus.  The last few times we bought pita to make sandwiches turned out to be way more annoying than it was worth.  They're either so soft that when you cut them in half they get sealed shut or if you do manage to get them open, one side of the pocket is so thin that it rips open when you try to stuff it with something.  Either way it's next to impossible for me to make a pita sandwich without at least some swearing under the breath. 

Nelsy was just a baking fool this weekend.  He also made us some super delicious oatmeal craisin cookies ( he made some with raisins too but I'm not a fan).  If you are someone who can't resist having fresh baked cookies in the house, I recommend this wise solution to the problem.  He makes the cookie dough and only bakes what we need for the four of us to have a couple each and then flash freezes the rest for a later date.  Just plop the little balls on a cookie sheet as you normally would (except you can put a lot more on the sheet than if you were baking them) and stick them in the freezer for a half hour or so.  Once they are individually frozen you can put them all in one freezer bag for storage.  When we have a hankering for something sweet after dinner we can then just bake a few cookies. It's portion control made even better because you can have fresh baked cookies on a week night without having a mess to clean up.  And that baked cookie smell in the house isn't so bad either.

I am a fan of cluster cooking. On a Saturday or Sunday afternoon I like to make two or three meals at the same time and have stuff on hand for the week.  Today we're going to make some Vegetable Beef Barley soup (which gets better with time anyway) for tomorrow night.  That reminds me, last week's Roasted Sesame Pork was pretty good.  Phoebe and I were not big fans of the sesame seeds coating the meat but the marinade was really tasty.  I bring this up because you can do this on Sunday (or what ever day you have a minute to spare) and let it sit in the marinade for a really easy Monday night meal.  This recipe is from the Joy of Cooking.

Roasted Sesame Pork Tenderloin (Marinade)

1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
1/4 cup honey
2 Tbs packed brown sugar
1 Tbs sesame oil
1Tbs grated peeled fresh ginger
1 tsp minced garlic

A large freezer bag will hold two pork tenderloins.  Pour the sauce in the bag and leave them in the fridge until you're ready for them, 2 to 24 hours.  Preheat oven to 500, roll the tenderloins in sesame seeds if you like, place on a rack in a roasting pan and cook until the thickest part of the loin reaches 150-155 degrees (temp will rise 5 to 10 degrees out of the oven).  Let stand loosely covered with foil for 5 to 10 min, then slice.  Serve with rice and stir fried veggies.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Mind Games

I'm sure it happens everywhere, after New Years Day you show up at the gym and the place is packed.  There are more people there then you have ever seen (or at least since last January).  Then it dawns on you...resolution time.  Well I guess its obvious that people don't stick to their resolutions because come mid-February it's back to normal.  Finding the motivation to exercise if you're not already an active person can be very tricky.  It is not easy to start (and continue) to do something that you never made time for or never enjoyed previously.  Trust me I know.  I do not particularly enjoy most forms of exercise but once I get in a groove I really do like the way I feel afterwards. 

Presently I am fortunate enough to have the time to exercise without having to go to great lengths to squeeze it in.  Like poor Nelsy, he heads to the gym at 9:00 pm some nights.  Ooph.  There was a time (a few years back) that I used to be at the gym at that time too.  Not totally fun, but at the time, necessary. 

Since I am not fortunate enough to just love doing it, I come up with tactics.  I find that mind games work wonders.  As it turns out these mind games have a name, Commitment Devices. You can learn interesting things on  Freakonomics Radio while tricking yourself into exercise .

Here's what you do: Sign up for a race that involves a distance you've never run before!  Works like a charm.  You sign up, pay money and know that the day is going to come when you have to make your way through 4 crazy hilly miles in potentially really crappy weather (March in Syracuse is not the prettiest thing you ever saw) without dying on the side of the road.  So I hit the gym or during this exceptionally mild winter, the streets, and keep on working on it until I can run 4 miles.  It works for me.  I tried this on my friends last year.  It did not work on them.  They didn't fall for it.  At all.  But that's okay.  We all work differently. 

I just signed up for this year's Tipp Hill Run, and I am a little nervous.  I haven't run 4 consecutive miles in quite a while.  I will manage though.  Last year my goal was 45 minutes.  I know, not the most lofty goal for 4 miles but for a non runner and the God, the hills, its not so bad.  I think I finished in 44 and change. I was pleased.  I'll try for better this year. But even if I'm not faster, at least I'm putting in the time doing something that's good for me. 

If you're looking for motivation to get moving, give it a whirl, it might just work for you too.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Souper Easy Not Boring Chicken Soup!

I don't know about you, but I find plain o'll chicken noodle soup pretty boring.  Unless I'm really sick and my Mom made it.  But that's different.  I had Chickpea Chicken-Noodle Soup on my list this week and with signs of a cold coming on I decided to make it last night.  It was SO easy and very tasty.  This recipe is from Food Network Magazine, which I love.  It's a good day when that baby arrives in the mail.  Whether you cook regularly or not, you cannot miss with this one.  Check it out:

Chickpea Chicken-Noodle Soup

3 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil (I think you can get away with using 2 Tbs)
4 oz spaghetti, broken into small pieces (I used whole wheat-yum)
1 carrot, thinly sliced
2 cloves of garlic, chopped (I used 3 because its good for the immune system)
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 cup fresh cilantro
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 15 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 15 oz can diced tomatoes
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 small skinless, boneless chicken breasts thinly sliced

1. Heat olive oil in a large pot over med-high heat.  Add the spaghetti and cook, stirring, until lightly toasted, about 2 min.  Add the garlic, carrot, cumin, cinnamon and half of the cilantro; cook stirring until the spices are toasted, about 1 min.  Add the chicken broth, chickpeas, diced tomatoes, 1 cup of water and salt and pepper to taste.  Cover and bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium low and cook until the spaghetti is just tender, about 8 min.
2. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add it to the soup.  Simmer until cooked through, about 2 min.  Add the remaining cilantro and season with salt and pepper. 

That's it! How easy is that?  For you non-cooks I will suggest chopping the garlic and slicing the carrot before you get started because that spaghetti toasts up pretty quick.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Feelin' Smoothie

You know when you get that little twinge of sickness coming on?  You don't have any real specific symptoms but you're just not right?  Yeah, I have that today.  Hopefully it will pass (these things often do) but just to be safe I'm having a smoothie.  Or green shake. Or whatever you want to call it.  I have my friend Melanie to thank for this addiction.  It has to be by far the healthiest thing I have ever been hooked on.  I recommend you try it.

It's never the same drink twice but always fantastic.  Today I'm throwing this pretty little assortment into the blender.

One carrot, one apple, a handful of frozen mixed berries, 4 frozen strawberries and two handfuls of kale.  I use a little orange juice to loosen as needed and throw in a few ice cubes at the end.  You may want to use spinach or chard instead of kale if you have "texture issues".  Kale can make your smoothie a little chewy.  Well, it's not that bad but the kids definitely don't like it as much as the other greens that seem to blend up smoother.

My blender is practically smoking by the time I get through one of these suckers.  When Nelsy makes us a smoothie in the morning before work, the kids have the pleasure of waking up to what sounds like a crazy jet skier on a very choppy lake.  I have your basic Cuisinart blender and it is holding up quite well for now but I do have plans to buy a Vitamix when this one bites the dust.  Of course we did just book a trip to Disney, so the Vitamix is going to wait a while.

I swear it tastes so much better than it looks!  And how else can you fit this many servings of fruit and veg in one day.  This batch actually made two pints but since the kids aren't home yet I'm going to drink it myself.  Cheers!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Apprentice

When Phoebe got home from school yesterday she announced "I'd like to cook dinner tonight, and not because I want to get it over with!".  Fine with me.  She's nine.  I'm grooming her so that Nelsy (my husband) and I will one day have our own personal chef.  OK, not really but it is a nice thought.  On Saturday she decided she'd make the spaghetti with homemade sauce from The Everything Kids Cookbook.  We threw in some chicken parm for good measure.  She definitely needs assistance but is a quick learn in the kitchen.  She told me that has learned some "cooking terms" from her Jamie Oliver DS game.  That's right, a whole family of food nerds.  She used the immersion blender for the first time, that was......suspenseful.  I had visions of hot saucy burns on our faces and a tomato spin art pattern on the ceiling.  Luckily my ceiling is still white and our faces are still in tact.

Once we had everything pretty much done (pasta boiling, sauce made, chicken parm in the oven) I noticed something very interesting.  Parents, you'll want to pay attention here- She was getting so excited to serve her meal that she, without being asked once, let alone a hundred times, cleaned the homework mess off the table and set it.  She was fired up.  We made a quick salad and the four of us sat down to dinner.

The pride exuding from this child was really something.  I believe her words after giving it a taste were "This is one dinner I will never forget!" Wow.  I had no idea how exciting and rewarding she would find the process.  I just found out that she's working on a cooking badge tomorrow night at Brownies.  I think she's got this one in the bag. 

So my goal was to arm them with the ability to feed themselves one day when they leave the nest but I might just get my personal chef after all.

Monday, February 6, 2012

What's on the menu?

So here it is, my contribution to the Food Revolution.

One third of Americans are obese and that freaks me out.  Its time to buck up and do what we can to keep ourselves and our families healthy.  There are a million reasons not to cook at home, or cook whole foods or exercise but there are a million reasons to find the time too.  Its all about priorities.  I love what Jamie Oliver is doing with the Food Revolution.  He's not trying to put people on a diet but just to teach them to be in control of what's going in our bodies.  The best way to do that is to know how to cook your own meals. 

Since I enjoy cooking, and even more, enjoy eating, I am always trying out new recipes on the fam.  Many are good and some completely suck.  I'm here to take the trial and error process away for you. I promise only to share the good ones.  I'm making it my mission to find recipes that eliminate some of the common excuses not to cook at home...time, money, skill, etc.

If you heard it once you heard it a hundred times, you have to plan your meals out ahead.  If you don't (and you're like me) you'll get all annoyed when its 5:00 on Tuesday and you can't think of anything to make.  So before you shop make a list of what you'll make and what you'll need to make it.  You will be glad you did.

This week we are having something new everyday.  They all look pretty easy though.  This is what we have (in no particular have to be in the mood for something...)

1. Meatloaf - Never been a fan but I'm trying Jamie's recipe because it looks like it might be pretty good.
2. Spaghetti w/ tomato sauce- My 9 year old wants to attempt to make dinner all by herself.  This is what she picked. We'll see how it goes.
3. Sweet Potato and Lentil Soup- This is a slow cooker meal.  Throw it in before work.  Done.
4.  Roasted Sesame Pork with stir fried veggies- This is out of the Joy of Cooking.  Looks pretty simple and although I consider that book the bible of cooking, I decided I need to try more stuff from it.
5. Tuna Puttanesca over pasta- We're trying to eat more fish.  Once a week is a must but try for two.
6. Chick Pea Chicken noodle soup- Feelin' soupy this week I guess.

Shwew. There's a lot on the list this week. A solid 5 is usually enough but I guess I was really into it this week.  I'll let you know how it all pans out!