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Archive for the ‘dinner’ Category

Last weekend, Kiddo #2 helped me make dinner. She was helpful and engaged. She stirred the sauce, poured and mixed ingredients and pressed up right.next.to.me. while I chopped and diced. I did my best to breathe deeply, let her have fun and not micro manage her when she sploshed sauce over the side of the sauce pan. She did great, and I twitched a lot, forced myself to refrain from making snappy comments and just let her be a part of my kitchen.

I am trying to cultivate more patience with my kids when they help me cook. I wish I didn’t care when floors and clothes got wet, or dirty or covered in paint or tomato sauce, but the wiring in my brain that gives me the patience to be crafty and focused with children is faulty. I have a tendency to short circuit and get bossy easily and say things like, “give me that,” and “let me do it.” I like my cupcakes to look pretty instead of smooshed, I hate picking up bits of paper and glitter off the floor, and I don’t like cleaning paint or glue off my or my kids’ fingers. I avoid most art projects that involve moisture and colors that stain and schedule activities that don’t involve scrubbing hands and faces afterward.

My aversion to messes doesn’t spill over into other areas of the house. I don’t seem to have a problem with piles of papers or clothes. I am not even all that bothered by clutter although I am definitely neater now that we have kids. But I can’t seem to handle wet gloppy kid messes. Even as a kid I didn’t like getting my hands sticky, though I did love to play with flour. I love how soft and cool flour feels while sifting through my fingers–until it turns into a wet gummy paste and then flour is quickly added to the icky list.

I want to let the kids slop on the frosting when decorating cupcakes and not feel my body tense up when they accidentally dump glittery sprinkles onto the floor. My kids have aprons they can wear, and I have a powerful vacuum and a Costco supply of sponges. We spend a lot of time in our kitchen, so I need to be able to teach my kids to cook while refraining from snatching items from their hands when they threaten to pour the entire contents into a dish. How bad could three extra tablespoons of oregano be in a pasta sauce? Apparently, we won’t be finding out because no matter how hard I try to contain my mild obsessive compulsive perfectionist tendencies, I end up hovering over my children, futzing and clucking while I attempt to keep spills to a minimum.

Scott has much more patience with the kids in the kitchen than I. I could leave the impromptu kiddo kitchen classes to him, but that just feels like I am giving up on my kids and myself. I don’t want to miss out on helping them grow up around the chopping block and stove. It would be easier to shoo my kids out of the kitchen and cook by myself instead of slowing down and taking the time to teach them how to chop vegetables and create meals. With limited time to wedge chores, fun, classes, homework, baths, sports and dinner into an already packed evening or weekend, I find it hard to slow my brain down to the speed of my five-year-old. I like to be quick, precise, efficient and focused when attempting to get a meal on the table in under 30 minutes. That said, it isn’t fair of me to deny them the opportunity to experience cooking and make mistakes in the kitchen.

Despite my desire to cook by myself last weekend, I worked really hard at maintaining patience so Kiddo #2 could enjoy herself and feel welcomed. I had to quietly tell myself to slow down a few times, which definitely helped me keep focused on her experience and remain calm. I had to remind myself that a spill can be wiped up easily and hands are super easy to rinse off. And even a less than tasty meal is only a minor inconvenience. I am trying to keep my kids’ kitchen failures in perspective. I expect as my kids grow older and maintain better control of their hands and are less likely to push half of dinner out of the pan and onto the stove, I will feel more comfortable cooking with them. In the meantime, I plan to keep inviting them into the kitchen no matter how much my body involuntarily lunges forward to prevent potential mistakes. I will cut myself a break though, and let them do the gloppy art projects at school.

Below is my stuffed shells recipe. The vegan ricotta involves smooshing your hands into the tofu to get it the right consistency. It’s a great recipe for kids to help make– and a task I much prefer to let them handle.

Stuffed Shells
Directions:
-Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
-Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Once the water starts boiling, add in an entire box of jumbo pasta shells.
-While you are waiting for the water to boil and shells to cook, begin making the tomato sauce and tofu ricotta.

Tomato sauce ingredients:
2 large cans of crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon of olive oil
5-6 cloves of minced garlic
1 tablespoon of oregano
1 tablespoon of dried basil or a small handful of fresh leaves that your kiddo harvested from your garden
6-7 good cranks of the pepper grinder
Salt to taste

Armed with her trusty pair of kid-friendly craft scissors…

…there was no reason she couldn’t tame the bolting basil herself.

Sauce directions:
-Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large sauce pan
-Add the garlic
-Saute until the garlic has turned golden
-Add the two cans of tomatoes to the garlic (give the can opener to your kid and see if he/she can open it on their own) and the rest of the ingredients and simmer on low

While the sauce is simmering, start making the tofu ricotta. This can also be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge.

She started off thinking it would be fun to stick her hands into a bowl of squishy tofu.

But her face quickly proved that she loves sticky, messy fingers about as much as I do.

Tofu ricotta ingredients:
1 block of firm tofu, mashed by little hands if you have an extra pair living in the house
½ to ⅔ cups of Veganaise
2 tablespoons dried or fresh dill
2 teaspoons fresh basil (leftover from the earlier harvest)
2 teaspoons onion powder
2 teaspoons garlic powder
½ teaspoon pepper
salt to taste

Ricotta directions:
-Mash the tofu into a large bowl until it is a crumbly and mushy
-Add all the ricotta ingredients and stir well until it begins to resemble the consistency of ricotta
-Adjust seasonings to taste

Assemble:
-Once everything is ready, take a large casserole dish and scoop a few heaping spoonfuls of sauce into the bottom and spread evenly.
-Take a large soup spoon and stuff each shell full of the tofu ricotta.
-When you have snuggly filled the casserole dish with stuffed shells, cover the shells with the remaining tomato sauce.
-Bake in the oven for 25 minutes or until the sauce is bubbling up on the sides and the filling is heated through.
-Serve with homemade garlic bread and a huge tossed salad.

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Last Thursday, Calla suggested we eat snacks for dinner. Her menu included soy yogurt, ice cream, spring rolls and Popsicles. Lennon requested Costco-style “samples” and dim sum. I didn’t feel like cooking a full meal and neither Scott nor I were interested in the remaining items on our weekly menu. He had eaten Asian food for lunch and didn’t want stir fry, and I had eaten a burrito and didn’t want Mexican. We weren’t able to find cilantro at the Farmer’s Market so fresh spring roll salad with a peanut sauce dressing was off the menu and Falafel would take too long.

After a week of crazy deadlines, skipped lunches at work and general heat malaise, I was feeling a lack of motivation and desire to enter the kitchen. Grabbing a recipe book for last minute dinner ideas wasn’t going to happen. I liked Calla’s idea of snacks for dinner, with some healthy modifications, of course.

Calla wasn’t happy that I changed up her menu. There was some compromising from me and lots of whining from her. I eliminated all the desserts, which basically left the spring rolls. I pulled out some hummus, leftover tofu ricotta from a stuffed shells recipe earlier in the week, carrots, celery, raw broccoli and marinated tofu and put together a veggie platter. I heated up the leftover pasta sauce and threw in a handful of frozen veggie meatballs, microwaved some cashew cream cheesy sauce leftover from a macaroni and cheese casserole from earlier in the week and assembled a couple of sandwiches which I cut into quarters. And I heated up a bagful of those awesome frozen vegetarian spring rolls from Costco–snacks and dim sum all in one. A container of seaweed salad, which Lennon deemed, “too chewy,” rounded out the meal.

Snacks for dinner wasn’t bad. It wasn’t great either, but I’ve been trying to be better about using up the leftovers in our fridge. I can’t say the fusion of Italian, Asian and hummus felt particularly awesome in my stomach, but for dinner on the table in 25 minutes after a long day, a much needed clearing out of the fridge, and a win for the kiddo who suggested the idea in the first place, snacks for dinner served its purpose.

Snack managers surveying the samples.

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This year, Scott uncovered the secret to creating authentic curries. A stroll through a Thai restaurant kitchen on the way to escorting our daughter to the bathroom unveiled an awesome discovery: Thai restaurants use pre-made curry. All those cookbooks that list 20 different ingredients (only found fresh in Thailand) to make a green, yellow, red, or panang curry, fail to tell you that really, all you need are these:

 

Palm sugar, tamarind, and your secret friend, curry paste.

For fourteen years, Scott has attempted to create a Thai curry and Pra Ram tofu that tasted like what we get in a restaurant. Our homemade curries never tasted right. They were good, but failed at curbing cravings, and inevitably I needed to eliminate my green curry obsession with what my taste buds deemed to be the real thing. With the frequency of my cravings for Thai food, that can get pricey.

So as you navigate your third day of Thanksgiving leftovers and your cravings move away from harvest flavors, head to your local Asian food store, purchase a curry paste and some tamarind paste, and try making a curry.

Red Curry and Rice—I could eat a plate, twice*

Ingredients

8 ounce can of coconut milk

Curry paste of your choice (make sure to check there is no fish sauce in the ingredients)

Salt or soy sauce

Tamarind paste

Palm sugar

1-2 carrots

Some combination of the following:

1 bunch of broccoli

10-12 small to medium size mushrooms

Half of a small butternut squash

Firm tofu

Thai basil

Long grain white or brown rice

Directions

Start the rice. Heat the coconut milk in a saucepan until it is just starting to simmer. Blend  curry paste by the tablespoon into the coconut milk until you reach your desired level of spiciness. Let the curry and coconut milk simmer for 4-5 minutes. Add salt or soy sauce to taste, two tablespoons tamarind paste, and three tablespoons of palm sugar. Cut up whatever combination of veggies you have in your fridge into big chunks. When adding the veggies to the coconut milk, start with whatever cooks the longest first. Add in basil last. Simmer until vegetables are soft. Serve over rice. This aromatic dish takes about 30 minutes and is perfect for a weeknight meal.

*Play on Michael Franti‘s song, Red Beans and Rice.

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Potato Comfort

I need some comfort food. Now. I need to sit in a pair of soft pants on my squishy couch with a plate of twice-baked potatoes in front of some brain-cell-destroying TV. The personal and political drama of October spilled into the first week of November.  I think it is okay to just say goodbye to 2010 now and check out until January. The year is like a bad container of leftovers left on the counter to fester and rot. We need to let out the gas, dump all the contents, and start over with a new menu. Fortunately, for my little family, we were only forced to eat a small portion of the 2010 meal, but unfortunately, our family and friends were served much larger platefuls.

So, a few days ago I sent out a call on Facebook for new 2011 menu ideas, and my friends came up with some suggestions. I think they’ve helped to create a lovely meal—one in which we could all enjoy. I only hope that next year’s chef  (God, Obama, the universe, fate, destiny, Oprah, whoever you put your faith in, etc.) will actually deliver.

Proposed 2011 Menu

Cocktail

A warm snifter of justice topped with a sprinkling of organic grassroots activism.

Appetizer

Freshly harvested blessings peppered with economic upturn and paired with a fine vintage of full-bodied health.

Entrées

Grilled sense and reason with a side of unbiased information

or

Pizza*

Dessert

A triple-layer cake of compassion, patience and mindfulness drizzled with a love and tranquility sauce.

Until our sumptuous meal is served, or the pizza arrives in a comforting box at your door, please feel free to join me on the couch for some salty, stuffed potatoes.

Vegan Twice-Baked Potatoes

Ingredients

4-6 Russet potatoes scrubbed clean and pierced for baking

3 bunches of broccoli, including stems

1 package of smoky tempeh strips (They have a bacon-y flavor. Check your natural food store.)

1-1 ½ cups (or as much as needed to reach desired flavor and consistency) of Real Food Daily’s cashew cheddar cheese sauce (We use this versatile, smooth and creamy sauce for casseroles, nachos, pizzas, tamales, etc.)

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

–Heat the oven to 400 degrees and bake potatoes until soft (approx. 45 minutes to an hour).

–Make the cashew cheese sauce.

–While potatoes are baking, chop broccoli into very small pieces and steam until soft and bright green. For added texture, chop and steam the stem as well.

–Cut tempeh into small pieces and heat in a skillet.

–Once potatoes are cool enough to handle, slice in half and scoop the insides into a large bowl. Don’t tear the skins. Set them aside as you will need them later to hold the stuffing.

–Add the broccoli, tempeh, cheese sauce, salt and pepper to the bowl of potatoes  and mix well.

–Heap the potato skins full of the potato mixture and put back into the oven for another 20 minutes or until the tops are crispy and golden and the mixture is heated through.

–Serve with a salad and/or beer and your favorite show.

*Special thanks to Dina for keeping it real.

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We ate at our favorite Mexican restaurant tonight and the heartburn spreading evenly through my chest cavity is a constant reminder that refried beans covered in a rich mole sauce are not my true friends. Instead they are fickle, superficial companions that coax me into believing they won’t hurt me. I fall for their enticing smells and salty flavor every.single.time. I love the New Mecca Café in Pittsburg. Really I do. But seriously, the pain their food causes me afterwards leaves me feeling old. When did I get to the age where food hurts me?

It is after meals like tonight’s greasy potato tacos and refried beans that leave me yearning for a simple vegetarian meal. Brown rice, lightly braised tofu, a mess of collards and kale all covered in nutritional yeast and sprayed with a bit of tamari—these are the foods that make me feel healthy and cleansed after a weekend of decadent New Mecca tacos.

Last fall we signed up for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box from our favorite organic farmers at Full Belly Farm. Once a week, on the way home from work, we pull into the hippy subdivision in town and pick up our brimming box of organic, seasonal fruits and vegetables.

I look forward to our weekly box of produce, but lately the bounty has started to wreak havoc on our refrigerator. Oranges and potatoes dominate the crisper boxes. Leeks, piled high on the shelf, enough for two to three batches of potato leek soup (that I can’t seem to make time to create) rest in a pile against the refrigerator wall. Bags of winter greens, sweet carrots and beets spill over onto the shelves, pushing out the soymilk and other staples. The vegetables in our fridge are threatening to take over the kitchen. They scream “Eat me! Create with me!” And every week I bring home more, dreading only slightly, the need to make room for the new additions in the fridge.

I try to stay on top of the vegetable madness by combing through our recipe books for menu inspirations on Sunday afternoons. A habit I picked up from my mother, weekly menus have helped to remove the dinner guesswork that religiously happens in our house. Even Full Belly Farms tries to help out by printing out recipes for people like me who need ideas on how to cook with Jerusalem artichokes.

If I don’t take the time to develop a weekly menu, the late weekday afternoon rolls around and inevitably Scott or I will IM the other at work and ask what the evening’s meal should be. On the weeks that I create a menu, the dinner decision is so much easier. Coming up with a meal on the fly after a long day of work can be difficult—my brain immediately pushes all creative meals out of my conscious mind and all I am left with are burritos, pasta with red sauce and take out Chinese food from Ding How.

Tonight, after eating a triple dose of Tums for dessert, I feel inspired to cook simple, tasty foods for the rest of the week. Organic, seasonal vegetables harvested from a local farm, though they may clutter my fridge like a messy roommate, will never mock my age and leave me reaching for relief.

Below is a recipe that is very adaptable and open for whatever seasonal vegetables you happen to have in your fridge. This time we used fresh chard still growing in what is left of our summer garden, asparagus from the Farmer’s Market, Romanesco broccoli from our CSA box, crimini mushrooms from the back of the fridge, and of course, lots of leeks.

Spring vegetables with penne in a white wine sauce

Ingredients
-two to three cloves of minced garlic
-two leeks (the white part only), chopped thin
-two heads of broccoli cut into small trees
-one bundle of thin stemmed asparagus cut into 2 inch segments (I prefer the thin stems to the thicker ones. They tend to be more tender and sweet)
-a handful of mushrooms, sliced thin
-one bunch of chopped chard
-one cup of white wine
-half box of vegetable broth
-a healthy dose of olive oil
-a couple of big shakes of thyme and marjoram (or your favorite herbs—fresh is always good)
-salt and pepper to taste
-one bag of organic penne pasta

Directions
-Bring a large pot of water to boil
-While waiting for the water to boil, heat the olive oil and sauté the leeks and garlic
-Add mushrooms and herbs, salt and pepper and sauté for a few more minutes
-Pour in white wine and vegetable broth and add in asparagus, broccoli and/or any other vegetable threatening to turn in your fridge and simmer
-While the pasta is cooking (don’t forget to add salt to the water), add the chard to the vegetable medley and cook down to a wilted state
-When pasta is finished, drain and pour into a past bowl or a large dish
-Smother with vegetables and serve with a warm crusty artisan bread and a lightly tossed salad

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