Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Dinner fail

Last night we had ratatouille with egg pasta made with fresh vegetables from the farmers market, you couldn't get more organic and fresher than this (did my kids eat it? No way). But Geoff and I did, we lapped our bowls and greedily arranged lunches for the next day with the leftovers.

And then you have a day like today. A mere 24 hours after VegFest I had what I consider a dinner fail.

Sometimes the weather thwarts the greatest of plans - even dinner plans. I had big dreams to use up the basil, the yellow wax beans with some salmon from Trader Joe's. But an unseasonable June storm came through the Bay Area and I had to put the salmon on hold. I opened the freezer with no plan and saw my stash of frozen Trader Joe's orange chicken, frozen brown rice and those wax beans in the fridge. Dinner was done. The kids loved it - naturally and I got to use my get out of jail free card. I consider it a dinner fail because god knows what is in that "chicken", but then again, we all sat down together and ate dinner together and isn't that what it's all about? I do believe it is.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Just a girl and her frosting gun

My son has gone the typical route with youthful obsessions - trains (ages 1 - 3.5 years), insects (ages 3.5 - 4 years) and now dinosaurs (ages 4-6 years). When I asked what kind of party he wanted for his sixth birthday he said without hesitation, "Dinosaur Party." I decided to be one of the first in my child's age group to have a birthday party without supervising parents or siblings in tow, I could already envision the party the way I wanted it to be and then quickly realized the party it was going to have to be. I wanted everything to be dinosaurs, but then reality hits and you are just lucky to throw a few plastic dinosaurs on the cake.

Cake from 2010

About a month ago I scored a bucket full of unused party supplies at a thrift store in the dinosaur theme. I was all set for napkins, hats and a bag full of dinosaur eggs with little dino figurines inside for a treasure hunt. I also knew that last years dinosaur cake was nice and all and was a great use for my many Wilton color gels, but I had to up my game. And finally, since no parents would be here to admire my hard work I could let go of caring about details that only an adult could appreciate. Because lets be honest, all a six year old cares about are frosting amounts per slice of cake and games and pinatas.

I originally wanted to do individual molten chocolate cakes but the molten part of the cake would have to sit for about 6 hours before I served it, so that was quickly nixed. I borrowed my mom's popover pan and thought they could be passed off as a volcano if I turned them upside down. I'll admit I used a box devil's food cake mix here, but I always make my frosting. This is where I can relate to the six year old - I appreciate good frosting!

After the cakes cooled I dug a little well from the center using a fish knife (never once did I use this knife for a fish, so it was nice that I found a use for it finally). My friend from work loaned me her frosting gun and once I got the hang of this baby I wanted to inject everything! You'd like to have a pancake filled with syrup? Let me get my gun! What's that you say? The bakery gave you a doughnut with no jelly in it? Step aside while I load my frosting gun. Of all the kitchen gadgets, this one is my favorite. So I made my favorite buttercream (recipe below) and colored it deep lava red and got to work.

I thinned out a portion of the icing with a little extra milk so it would be runny and drizzled it over the top of the volcano to give it that oozing lava look. I loved the way these came out.

Lunch was simple cheese or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches cut into dinosaurs with our cookie cutters, a rainbow fruit salad and some Trader Joe's cheese poofs.

For games we had a treasure hunt in our tiny backyard with all those dinosaur eggs and a few Easter eggs thrown in for good measure, Fishing for Dinosaurs game where my husband took some old bamboo rods and made little fishing poles for the kids to use to pick up dinosaurs in our kiddie pool, Pin the Horn on the Triceratops, and a pinata filled with all the crap we've accumulated from previous birthday parties and their goody bags. I hate goody bags and refuse to do them, so it felt slightly mean spirited to be sending this junk back home with other kids, but we have no use for that stuff. All in all this was one of those great birthday parties that I'll certainly never forget. Every parent that came commented that these parties should be the new way of doing them, drop your kids off and get a few hours to yourself. I couldn't agree more. it was easy as long as you have a helpful spouse and have pretty much accounted for every minute that the kids are with you.

Buttercream frosting recipe

1 stick of butter (room temperature)
3 3/4 powdered sugar
3-4 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Cream the butter for a minute or two, add the sugar, milk and vanilla till thoroughly mixed.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Obsessed with: Everyday Food

Majority of my dinners are planned out of looking at a few blogs and with my collection of Everyday Food magazines. My mother gave me a subscription in 2009 and I quickly fell in love. They clearly know the audience (which I feel is me at times, specifically - how did you know I wanted to make lemon curd??). In the past I'd buy a few issues on eBay or buy some at a garage sale or thrift store. But I truly hit the jackpot a few weeks ago. I was with my mother in law in Sonoma cruising our favorite thrift store, the Church Mouse and I was done looking at the children's books. I looked around for her and found her standing in the food book area. I offhandedly mentioned that I am always on the lookout for Everyday Food magazines and she gestured to a pile sitting on a desk. She gestured towards them the way you would point someone to the bathroom, I mean, come on! My mouth dropped open, there sat 25 issues of Everyday Food in mint condition. I gathered them up and bought them on the spot. I mentioned to her as I bought them that its nearly impossible to find Issue #1 of Everyday Food and that they go for a pretty penny on eBay. We got into the car and headed to the second Church Mouse down the road. I walked into the store and started my usual perusal of kitchen gadgets and my mother-in-law walked towards me with a huge grin on her face and in her hands were issues #1-#10 of Everyday Food. I just about screamed with delight. I quickly purchased my beloved magazines for a whopping $2.50 (@ 25 cents per issue, take that eBay!)

At home I organize them by month and carefully wrote down which issues I am missing. I recently decided to place post its on all my favorite recipes so I can find them easily. The web site does not have a good archive at all, so I find the magazine is what I gravitate towards rather than the web site. When a new issue comes in the mail I pull out my issues for that current month and keep them in my kitchen for quick reference for that month. On Sundays I use them in my meal planning for the week and create a week's worth of meals from these magazines. Yeah, its a little OCD of me to do things this way, but I love looking at the recipes for whats in season right now and I always find a new recipe in there and wonder "Now why didn't I see or even try this last year?" If you have a chance to check them out, I really recommend it. So many friends think that because it's published by Martha Stewart that it's going to be full of difficult recipes. But that could not be farther from the truth, this magazine was made for working parents and people who have about 30-40 minutes to make dinner. Well done Everyday Food, I am officially a fan for life. And for the record, I missing issues #9, #19, #25, #29, #32, #33, #34, #40 and #47.

Dinners for June 12-18, 2011

Sunday: Indian marinated chicken, broccoli and bread

Monday: Pasta with Squash, Peas & Basil (Everyday Food July 2008)

Tuesday: Grilled turkey (Everyday Food July 2003), corn & sugar snap pea salad and campfire potatoes

Wednesday: Grilled sausages, corn on the cob, grilled zucchini and leftover potatoes


Friday: Miles' birthday, he requested Pasta Pomodoro

Saturday: birthday party recovery dinner - not sure yet.

Kettle what?

I just polished off a whole bunch of kale chips while reading blogs. As I munched leaf after leaf I kept thinking how amazing these lovely, crunchy, salty chips were. Let's backtrack a few days. I have been craving Kettle Chips like nothing else lately, it's all I can think about. Problem with me and chips is that I can't just take a handful, close the bag and walk away. No... those chips will siren song their way into my belly and I end up eating the whole bag and then have to listen to the whines and cries of family members who have self control. As a result, Kettle Chips almost never get an engraved invitation to my house. They are rude house guests that foist themselves onto you till you ask them to leave via the trash can.

Today was one of those days where I had some spare time and two bunches of kale in the fridge. One bunch is for Jenny's Pork and Kale this week and the second bunch is for.... hmmm... chips? Kale is a hearty green that lasts a long time (like more than two days) in my fridge and is a food I feel is one of those Super Power Mom foods that basically represent a day's worth of vitamins in one bunch.

When I made this recipe (again, from Dinner A Love Story) I wanted to add a little zing to make it taste like my beloved, but uninvited, Salt & Vinegar Kettle Chips. Here is my recipe:

1 bunch of kale, washed and spun dry
1 T. salt (or to taste)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Tear Kale into bite sized pieces (roughly two inches), toss out the stem that runs through the length of the kale leaf.

Toss the torn Kale in a bowl with EVOO and salt. Put pieces on a cookie sheet, spreading out the pieces so that they aren't on top of each other.

Roast for 8 minutes, turning pan half way through if your oven is like mine and roasts the back faster than the front. Watch carefully so they don't burn.

Once they are crispy, put them in a bowl and sprinkle a little extra salt and dribble some apple cider vinegar with the kale. Toss one more time. Then present them to your family and enjoy a heightened state of nirvana while watching your children inhale kale. If you think your family members won't like it, then ask your 5 year old to close his eyes and eat just one piece - maybe that will work.

Fight or Flight

My husband and I recently had to take a four day trip out of state for a funeral. As our flight approached the runway on Sunday it occurred to me that I had no plan for dinner that night but I quickly brushed the thought away because I just wanted to see my kids. We got home in good time and played with the kids and began unpacking. I looked at the clock and realized it was dinnertime and I had no idea what to make for dinner. We could either go out to dinner (not appetizing to us after eating out for 4 days straight) or stay home and make do with what we had. I was in no mood to go the grocery store after 12 hours of airports and flying.

Remembering that I had some sugar snap peas in the vegetable drawer and some frozen shrimp, I thought about making a stir fry. But my toddler wouldn't eat it and I wasn't in the mood to make a separate meal for her. Then I remembered my favorite in-a-pinch Everyday Food recipe for Spaghetti with Shrimp and Bacon.

But I didn't have the exact ingredients! I figured I could riff on it and make it with what I had on hand - I also found some bacon in the freezer too! Here is what I made for dinner tonight. I am proud to report that my son asked if this version could be our new Sunday night dinner. The toddler happily ate sugar snap peas and pasta. Mom Score: 1 Family Score: 10

Shrimp, Bacon & Sugar Snap Pea Pasta

3/4 pound whole wheat angel hair pasta
3 good handfuls of sugar snap peas, ends and strings removed - roughly chopped
3/4 pound frozen peeled and deveined shrimp, defrosted (I just put mine in a bowl with warm water and they defrost quickly)
5 slices bacon
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Juice from 1 lemon

Bring pasta water to boil and throw in the sugar snap peas for about 2 minutes. remove them with a slotted spoon (don't throw out the water, you'll use it for the pasta!) and run under cold water to stop the cooking. Set aside.

Now cook the pasta in the boiling water.

In a separate pan, fry the bacon, reserving about 1 Tablespoon of bacon grease in the pan. Cook the shrimp and garlic in the pan with the reserved bacon grease and when they curl up and are opaque, add a small ladleful of pasta water in the pan with the shrimp and garlic. Toss in the sugar snap peas and squeeze the juice of one lemon (or more to taste) into the pan. Bring to a boil and then turn off the heat.

Drain the pasta and place the cooked pasta and the shrimp mixture in a bowl together. Toss well and add salt and pepper to taste.

The 15 Minute Wonder Soup

My husband IMd me at 3:30 during the workday to say that he wanted to play tennis tonight. This notice came at a critical juncture for me in the day when I'm approaching fight or flight. I had a dinner plan for the week, but no way was I going to attempt chicken with a tomato marscapone sauce on SPOD (Single Parent on Duty) Night. I had to change my plan and quickly. I did a mental tally of the contents of my freezer: Frozen pizza, homemade tomato sauce and frozen cheese tortellini. Then I remembered that my five year old was coming down with a cold and it hit me - soup! I needed to make soup for my child, even though I don't have time to chop and dice and sautee. Impossible. Then I remembered 'Avgolemono' which is Greek for "Super Fast Soup."

I came into the door from work with two kids in tow at 6 pm. I set up the five year old at the table with his homework, got the toddler interested in some crayons and some paper (if she ate the crayons, I will never know) and got to work. I defrosted (nuked for 1 minute) some bread I had in the freezer (Costco bread freezes incredibly well), wrapped it in foil and stuck it in the toaster oven at 500 degrees. As it came time to incorporate the eggs into the broth, my toddler started to ram her baby stroller into my legs and my 5 year old is asking me difficult questions from his homework like "What comes after 23?" I pleasantly ask my daughter to stop hurting me and answer "24... I think?" and I whisk the soup into creamy submission and add some salt and pepper and taste it... sweet god,where has this soup been all my life? Delicious! I throw in some leftover chicken from the weekend, get the bread out of the toaster oven, slice it and throw it all on the table as my 5 year old finishes his homework. My son ate it, my toddler gulped it down and I had to resist eating my husband's portion.

I love nights like this where a plan comes together. I felt like MacGyver with my Time for Dinner cookbook! I made a healthy and nutritious meal out of what felt like nothing and I didn't even have to break open the frozen pizza box.

Back to our regularly scheduled menu tomorrow night, barring any last minute schedule changes.