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Archive for the ‘Recipes’ Category

Never underestimate the power of the sprinkle.

No.  I don’t mean the colored candy kind.  Although if they are chocolate, and called Jimmies, I can’t quite resist those either…  but that’s another post.

What I mean to say is, sprinkle, as in sprinkling seasoning.

Part of getting a kid to try different food is engaging them in preparation.  Something as simple as seasoning is enough to make a kid proud of cooking.

Sometimes in our kitchen, The Child is involved throughout the preparation, and those are substantial experiences.  But more often, she’s playing or reading somewhere and I call out, “Do you want to sprinkle the salt and pepper?”

She pops out of whatever she was doing, grabs a pinch of salt or a shaker of spice, and holds it up high.  Sometimes there is a quick dramatic flourish, and she’s gone in a flash.  Other times it is a focused and slow shower of flavor, watching carefully to see where the individual grains land.

Fresh cut chives sprinkled on breakfast eggs and tomatoes.

Credit, as for so many things in our kitchen, goes to Alton Brown.  Good Eats on the DVR was kid programming in our house.  No freakin’ Barney here.  And as a toddler she started learning from AB.  (Belching yeasty puppets!  Definitely children’s programming!)

In various episodes he points out why he holds his hand so high when seasoning.  Hold it low and all your salt lands in the same place.  Yuck!  Hold it high and you get a wide dispersal area.  Any kid who has played with glitter knows this.  The light went on, and since she was always strapped into her chair at the counter when we cooked anyway, we let her start seasoning things as a young toddler.

A good place to start is roasted fingerling potatoes.  The potatoes, simply cut in half on a tray and roasted skin side up, can take a little over-seasoning on their skins as the kid learns even application.

I do not know if this will help a kid venture to try something new, we make ours try everything.  But it always seemed to help her look forward to sitting down to a meal.  Watching someone else partake of what she made tapped into the pride as well.

Basic Roasted Potatoes

The first cookbook I ever bought for myself was Jacques Pépin’s Cooking With Claudine, and the first recipe is for a steak with roasted potatoes and onions.  He roasted large potatoes, and my preparation has evolved over many years to use fingerling potatoes instead.  Roast just a few for a small dinner, or prep a whole bag for a party.  We have them alongside everything from salads to stews to steak, or even dipped into chili or salsa.

Preheat oven to 400 deg.  Slice potatoes in half, selecting those which are roughly the same size.  Prep a half-sheet pan by pouring some olive oil in the center of the pan.  Use a silicone baking sheet if you have one, but it is not necessary.  Having a quality half-sheet pan that heats evenly is far more important.

Plunk a potato, cut side down into the puddle of olive oil and slide it over toward a corner of the pan, leaving some space around it for air circulation.  In succession plunk and slide each potato.

This is an excellent job for kids, even very small ones.  As you slice potatoes in half, the kid puts them in the oil and slides them into place and patterns emerge.  Sometimes they are in neat little rows, sometimes abstract polka dots, and sometimes a giant smiley face on the tray.  *grin*

The tops of the potatoes will need some oil.  Using your fingers, or those of the child labor, transfer some oil from the pan onto the tops of the potatoes.  They do not need to be coated, but if you let your kid do it, trust me, there will be olive oil on every bit of surface area of both potato and hands.  Kids take this job very seriously.  Handing The Child a pastry brush also works well for this.   “Okay kid, paint the potato tops.”

Then comes the seasoning.  With kosher salt from a ramekin, The Child takes a pinch and holds it high to sprinkle.  The pepper grinder is so much fun The Child loves that too.  BUT, there is the necessary admonishment here…  you season it, you eat it.  There is no getting carried away with the pepper grinder and throwing food away.  That’s a mistake a kid makes only once.

Roast the potatoes for anywhere from 20-45 minutes depending on your oven, size of potatoes and preferred doneness.  Once you can easily stick a knife in them from the top, they are done.  Let cool enough to handle and serve hot.  Leftovers are easily nuked.

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Well, it’s official. I am close enough to the end of our remodeling to start thinking like a rational human again. Or at least thinking about my future rational thinking.

I am, however, a long way from cooking. Our three month project turned into the inevitable 4+ month project due to the realities of construction.

In the course of that time, I discovered I really ought not live amidst construction and hold concurrent expectations. I didn’t write well. And I certainly didn’t cook much surrounded by the dusty, crowded counters.

I managed to get a kid to school and back each day without completely losing my mind. Full stop.

But tonight, I see hope.

I see a patio door installed. The culprit of the several week back up, it is now in place and the remaining details can finally move forward.

And, I see a radish.

Yeah, that’s right, a gorgeous radish.

I love radishes. When attempting to cut back on calories, my husband and I find them a very satisfying salt conveyance. The Child, however, merely tolerates radishes. She endures them sliced sparingly in a pasta salad, and moderately condones them chopped and drenched in balsamic vinegar. But she has never had that “Oooo! More!” reaction.

Until now.

My friend, Stephany, posted the following in her Facebook status yesterday, “Let’s see how many raw radishes with salt and farm-made butter I can eat for dinner outside in this stupid beautiful weather…” I remembered seeing Jacques Pépin do a Fast Food My Way segment on raw radishes and butter. And I had just picked some up at the store.

The Child and I just had our first warm evening on the porch, with radishes stuffed with butter for dinner. She preferred hers with salted butter but no additional salt. I am a big fan of the extra salt dip. Maybe it’s not a complete dinner, but it is close enough to justify moving directly to dessert.

And why not? I have a radish-loving kid and a new patio door. Cheers!

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Nearly two weeks after Thanksgiving, and we are still eating leftovers.  Turkey sandwiches and quesadillas, french onion soup, breakfast fried mashed potatoes, stuffing frittatas, lasagna, and even a pan of turkey enchiladas.  When it comes to repurposing leftovers, we rule!  Our fridge is finally emptying out and very little has been wasted.

I splurged on a 20-quart stockpot for Thanksgiving this year.  It was a big purchase…  it’s only a cheap-o Target pot, but with cabinet space at a premium, I am still not sure where to store this monster.  No regrets, however, as a 20-quart pot meant nearly as much post-holiday turkey stock.  The old laying hen we brought home from our farm day joined it’s compatriot’s carcass, and I have enough stock to last a very long while.  It is well worth the small up front effort to have homemade stock on hand.

And where there is stock, there is soup.

Leftover Squash Soup

This technique works for any amount or type of leftover mashed veg (root vegetables or squashes in particular) and is merely an exercise in heating things up.  But there are a few basic things to consider for those new to cooking.

Put the squash in a saucepan, breaking it up with a spatula so it is not just a big Tupperware shaped lump.  Liberally season with your choice of spices.  For this go round, I used the Barbecue of the Americas spice blend from Penzeys.  It was a free sample and is a blend of salt, paprika, allspice, nutmeg, cayenne, pepper, cinnamon, thyme and ginger.  The nutmeg and allspice complement squash particularly well, it adds a rich color and a bit of heat, as well as just enough ginger for flavor without pushing it into curry territory.  *sigh* I heart Penzeys and am powerless against the crack like pleasure of Penzeys free samples.

Add enough stock to nearly cover the squash and start reheating, stirring occasionally to incorporate the liquid and keep the bottom from scorching.  A quality silicon spatula works very well for this.  Zyliss makes one which works really well.  The silicon stretches up much of the handle, which is great when you accidentally leave the spatula sitting in the pot between stirs.  (Not that I ever do that…  no…  not me…)

I sliced and toasted some garlic bread from the Gracie Baking Co.  I found a ramekin of goat cheese remnants at the back of the fridge.  Some stray baby spinach was located as well.  Sides were officially done.

Turning attention back to the soup, it had bubbled away during homework negotiations and was now more like babyfood than soup.  No problem, just add more stock until it is just shy of the preferred consistency.

Then turn off the burner before adding the dairy.  In this case I used Straus Whole Milk Plain Yogurt, but cream, half and half, or sour cream would work well too.  Fresh dairy can take a little heat and vigorous stirring, but fermented dairy products can curdle quickly if they are left to boil at this point.  Their proteins have already started to coagulate from the fermentation process and are simply more delicate.  So I just play it safe and turn off the burner before stirring in the yogurt at the end.  Another option is adding the dollop of yogurt or sour cream individually and letting The Child stir it in herself.

Notice there isn’t a measurement of any ingredient through any of this.  This is leftover squash soup.  You start with what’s leftover, you add liquid until it looks right, and then you serve it.  We polished off the squash, the last of the yogurt, some goat cheese, and spinach before any of it went bad.  I love that feeling of rescuing food just before it’s about to go south.  Plus, the entire loaf of bread is now sliced and in the fridge, making garlic toast with eggs much easier next morning before school.

The Child turned her goat-cheesed garlic toast and salad into a spinach sandwich and proceeded to dunk it into her mug (punning about squashing it into the little cup of squash soup).  Then she asked for seconds on everything, even the spinach, and double-checked I didn’t skimp on refilling the soup.

I love it when a meal comes together.

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Thanksgiving is the most important holiday of the year for our little family.  The Spouse and I each have a long history of preparing feasts open to any and all friends in need of a cozy place to go.  Long before we dated, we were friends on opposite ends of the state consulting each other on menus, recipes, and cooking methods.  Once engaged, and finally in the same city, Vagabond Turkey Day was born.  For ten years, it has been about opening our home to an array of interesting people and watching them all connect.  Nothing fussy or fancy, just old friends and new sharing food, drink, games, and conversation well into the evening and often through the next day as well.

Day Two has, in fact, become an event unto itself.  Traditionally, the stock simmers all night while stragglers stay playing games through the wee hours of the morning.  As guests raid the fridge, bones are added to the bubbling cauldron on the stove.  Then on Friday, we make Jacques Pépin’s recipe for French Onion Soup (from his book The Apprentice).  Typically a few folks crash for the night, and a few decide to return the next day.

We added experimental doughnuts to the mix this year.  It was quite a draw.  Throughout Friday we had a constant full house.  French Onion Soup quickly became a ‘deconstructed’ stockpot of stock and onions while getting a few friends to pot luck lasagna and salad.  We were low on savory items, but were overrun with desserts.  The onslaught of sweetness muscled in on counter space – squeezing out most of the traditional game play.  But we will have to rejigger and perfect our strategy in years to come because the doughnuts were an unmitigated success.

There will be doughnuts again.

Oh yes, there will be doughnuts again.

The Spouse attempted these once before, after watching Chris Cosentino recommend Dynamo Donuts on an episode of The Best Thing I Ever Ate.  The Second Try was better still, and The Spouse has already posted the recipe.  But they were so good they merit repeating here.

The Child punted on helping out this time.  There were friends over with bikes and games outside.  So her dad brought out a fresh plate of warm doughnuts for all the kids.

Best.  Dad.  Evar.

Maple-Glazed, Apple Bacon Doughnuts – The Second Try

(Adapted from Alton Brown’s Yeast Doughnuts)

For the doughnuts
•    1 1/4 cup milk
•    2 tablespoons apple juice
•    2.5 oz shortening
•    2 packages instant yeast
•    1/3 cup warm water
•    2 eggs
•    1/4 cup sugar
•    1 1/2 teaspoons salt
•    1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
•    23 oz all purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
•    2 medium apples (gala or fuji)
•    1 lb bacon
•    1/2 – 1 gallons peanut oil

For the glaze
•    3 cups powdered sugar
•    4 tablespoons of maple syrup
•    2 tablespoons of vanilla extract

(Will make approximately 50 doughnuts)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place bacon a rack inside a foil-lined half sheet pan. Cook bacon for 15-20 minutes, until crisp. Reserve rendered bacon fat. When bacon has cooled a bit, dice bacon and split in half.
Warm milk in sauce pan until hot enough to melt shortening. Pour milk over shortening and stir until combined.
Place yeast in warm water for 5 minutes.

Peel and finely dice apples. Place 1 tablespoon of reserved bacon fat into a frying pan and saute apples over medium heat. Keep diced apples moving constantly until they give up some liquid and pick up a hint of color, about 5 minutes. Remove apples and any remaining bacon fat from pan and add to milk/shortening mixture along with 1 tablespoon of reserved bacon fat.

Lightly beat eggs.

Combine water/yeast, apple juice, eggs, nutmeg, milk/shortening/apple mixture, nutmeg, sugar, salt, half the bacon, and half the flower in the bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment. Mix on slow speed until flour is incorporated, then increase speed to medium. When well mixed, stop mixer and add remaining flour. Again, slowly increase speed until well mixed. It will be very sticky.

Switch to dough hook and mix on medium until dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and forms a shiny ball.

Move the sticky, elastic dough to a bowl and allow it to rise for one hour, until it has doubled in size.

Dump dough out onto well floured surface. Flour your hand and gently flatten dough until 3/4″ thick. Flour a 2″ and 1″ biscuit cutter. Carefully cut out 2″ disks and move to wax paper, the use the smaller cutter to cut out the holes. When done, cover with more wax paper and allow to rise for another 30 minutes.

In a heavy stock pot, add enough peanut oil to fill to 2-3″ deep and heat to 365 degrees.

Prepare the glaze by whisking together the powdered sugar, maple syrup, vanilla, and 6 tablespoons of reserved bacon fat.

Working in batches of 4-6 doughnuts, fry doughnuts until golden brown and delicious on both sides, about 1 minute per side, using chop sticks to gently flip the doughnuts. When done, transfer to cooling rack and let cool for about a minute before dipping in glaze. Return to cooling rack and sprinkle with bacon from the other half you reserved.

(This works best with two people, one frying, one glazing.)

The most difficult bit will be giving the glaze about 5 minutes to set up. Doughnuts will still be warm and delicious!

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Knowing in the back of my mind that there would be a Day 2 to follow Day 1, you’d think I would have put more advance planning into our meals today.  But it was another whirlwind day.  No tears over homework, fewer scrapes, and I even remember all the productive things I did today.  Today was a definite win over yesterday.  The house still looks like a tip, but no worries, it will have to be dealt with soon.  I have taken surefire measures to ensure it is tidied, inviting a pack of friends over Friday night.

Plus, I wasn’t as concerned about dinner tonight.  I had a rough plan in mind this time.  The Child was looking forward to polenta leftovers from the weekend, we had two leftover bockwurst, and I just needed to pull together a vegetable.  The weekly delivery from spud! came  this afternoon so there must be some fresh veg in there to whip up.  I wasn’t quite sure what was coming as I had spazzed customizing my order before the deadline.

I cracked open the Rubbermaid tub of veg from spud!

Oooooo-kay.  That’s a whole lot of lettuce. We’re looking for comfort food here.  Salad seemed like work.  It all looked good but I came away with “blah” for ideas.

Spying the lowly zucchinis I decided to roast them with some onion to top the polenta.  Totally last minute.  Complete freestyle.  Stabbing the pre-cooked sausages with a fork, they took a minute zapped on high in the microwave.  The polenta followed suit.  Scooping the roasted zucchini, onions, and paprika’s olive oil from the pan gave the other bland components of the plate some color and flavor.

Roasted Zucchini & Onions

2 small zucchinis, sliced into thick rounds
1 medium onion, roughly frenched
Olive oil
Salt, pepper, and paprika

Preheat oven to 400°F.
Chop veggies.  Toss with olive oil, and spread out on Silpat lined half-sheet pan.
Season liberally with salt, pepper, and paprika
Roast for ~20 minutes

Rejected…  Sorta.

The Child made clear that the zucchini was not her favorite, and that frankly zucchini is never her favorite.  She was quite adamant about it.  But she ate it all.  She was hungry.  Had I not cooked it gorgeously I would have let her get away with leaving it, but this was really good.  Besides, the polenta, onions, and bockwurst were excellent pairings.  Sometimes it’s a spoonful of polenta that makes the zucchini go down!  She tried every combination of bites on the plate.  In the end she was making jokes about how pairing zucchini with another zucchini was her favorite while cramming two giant rounds in her mouth at one time.  She ate it all and asked for seconds on the onions.

Life is good, and Day 2 of fending for ourselves while Daddy travels was not a disaster.  So…  tired…  Zzzz…

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It was unbelievably hot this week.

The Child and I were flying solo on dinner and I did not have it in me to cook.  Having been home less than a week, the cupboard was still really bare.  Unless somehow I was going to work magic with evaporated milk, a can of crushed pineapple, and a little lonely leftover baked chicken thigh from the night before… we were out of dinner options.

But our produce delivery from spud! had arrived the day before.  I had one nectarine which seemed ripe enough to eat, one heirloom tomato left, and a single scallion.  Found some flour tortillas and some lettuce in the fridge, and I set to work chopping, muttering lines from The Princess Bride, “Why didn’t you list those among our assets in the first place??”

A quick salad was born of nectarine, tomato, scallion, and a minuscule amount of leftover chicken. It was lovely.

Nectarines and tomatoes are prolific at farmers markets this time of year, and I highly recommend giving this combo a try.  Child loved it, and she beat me to the single second helping.

Nectarine, Tomato & Scallion Salad

1 Nectarine, chopped
1 Medium to Large Heirloom Tomato, chopped
1 Scallion, chopped
1 Cold Chicken Thigh, chopped (any small amount of leftover protein will do – pork chop, steak, crumbled bacon, etc. – even canned black beans – or leave the protein out altogether)

Chop.  Salt.  Mix.

Serve as is, or wrapped in warmed, buttered tortillas with some chopped romaine hearts.

Makes about 3 wraps.  Feeds one mom and one ravenous kid.

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First Day of School

The Dog and The Child

The first day of second grade was this past week.  We are a little excited around here as the roller coaster of the school year begins.

Reflecting back a few years, I remember the first “so how was it” conversation with my little four-year old after her first day of pre-K.

“We sang the breakfast song.”

From what I remember, the breakfast song was a little sing-songy verse about what each of them had for breakfast that morning.  It bounced from person to person in circle time to help the kids learn names.

“Do you remember what you had for breakfast this morning?”

“We had oatmeal and banana and maple syrup!”  At which point she joyfully burst into song, singing  her verse about eating oatmeal.

Apparently all of the other kids had cereal, and *solemn pause* some kids didn’t have breakfast at all.

Wow.

This is when I carefully reminded myself that the stories shared were through the filter of a four-year old mind.  Given what we were paying in tuition, there probably were not any kids that had really shown up at their first day of pre-K without breakfast.  Right??!!??

I Must Admit…

Over the summer, I totally forgot to give my kid breakfast.  Often.  But it was a lazy summer, right?  There is no schedule.  We had no place we had to be.  And since we always eat breakfast of some sort eventually, I had a hungry kid to remind me.  It rarely got past 8:30 am before her growling tummy won out over my distractions.

But for school, we know we have to be out the door at a certain time.  So we always sit and have breakfast together before school each morning.  This year it was fried eggs with a slice of melted cheese, salami, and a side of sliced tomato.

Embellished Eggs Over-Easy

Make these one at a time in a small, non-stick omelet or crepe pan.  Melt some butter before cracking an egg into the pan.

Right after putting the egg in the pan I slice through the albumen of the whites to help them cook faster.  Runny yolks = Yum.  Runny whites = Yuck.

Sprinkle with chives or scallions if you have them. Then quickly top it with a slice of cheese before anything has time to set up too much.  Add a layer of salami or favorite lunchmeat.

Then…  to the best of your ability…  flip the whole darn thing.  This basically gives you an over easy egg with melty cheese and fried salami on the bottom.  If I am on my game I manage to flip it back over again and slide it off onto a piece of toast or half an english muffin…  crispy edges of salami on top and hidden runny yolk on the inside.

I was not however on my game this week, seeing as how I had zero bread products of any kind in the house (oops!), plus I managed to have mine fall completely apart on my first flip.  Conveniently a jumbled mess of breakfast still tastes just as good.

And no, I did not get a photo.  Just because I managed to make breakfast does not mean it wasn’t a chaotic zoo getting out the door for school!  We’re lucky I snapped a photo of her first day at all, much less her breakfast.

I like to pour a cup of coffee with my portion of breakfast, whatever it may be, and join The Child for at least part of her meal.  She seems more inclined to talk about what’s happening in school at breakfast than at dinner.  Plus, I know that if I don’t have breakfast myself I’m…  um… difficult.

And by the way, for all of you adults out there who think you are just not a breakfast person…  trust me when I say you are difficult too.  Eat something, dammit!

Which leads us to the genius of the teacher’s welcome-to-school song.  Beyond learning names, it probably gave her a good indication as to which kids would be melting into hungry puddles before morning snack time…

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