Monday, July 30, 2012

DALS Cook-A-Long #2: Barbecue Ribs with BBQ Sauce

50 Cent's other hit, "In da Rub" inspired this caption
In this second installment of the DALS Cook-A-Long I wanted to cook something that was screamed summer to me and for me that would be ribs on the grill. However, I had a mental block with ribs and I had no idea how to even cook the darn things. Seriously, they were as mysterious as Turducken to me. Do you know what I mean? This rib mystique probably came from logging far too many hours watching barbecue competitions on the Food Network in my formative cooking years (aka - unemployed after the dot com bubble popped).

I used to think that cooking ribs required a third generation family recipe, four days of marinating and cooking and a rotisserie barbecue grill about the size of my dining room table. Everyday Food disspelled this myth when they explained that delicious ribs simply required that one bake the ribs for three hours and then grill the ribs for about 10 minutes after that. Before reading this helpful nugget of information, I was the one who bought the pre-cooked and pre-marinated ribs at Trader Joe's. I didn't know any other way to do it.

Now that I am no longer a naive rib nerd, I had a feeling that Jenny's rib recipe was going to be a keeper. However, I did tweak a few things in the recipe.

BBQ Rub recipe notes

The recipe said the rub would make enough for 4 rib racks but I wasn't sure how many ribs were typically in a rack. So I  used half the rub for the 14 ribs in the rack and it worked out great. I baked the ribs at 300 degrees for three hours with no problems.
  • I opted to use 2 tablespoons of smoked paprika, since I didn't have regular paprika... we all survived.
  • I used fennel seed instead of celery seed. Delicious.

Barbecue Sauce recipe notes

First and foremost, the number one page turner in a recipe for me is the use of sugar with meat. My stomach turns at the thought of it, actually. So naturally I wanted to pass on this recipe but I had faith and I knew I could adjust the sugar contents.

  • I used 1/4 cup brown sugar instead of 1/2 cup brown sugar. I survived!
This barbecue sauce was incredible and I made enough to use for a dish later this week. It isn't sickly sweet and isn't too spicy for the kids. I had my hesitations, but this recipe was a winner.

And you can bet your bottom dollar I was singing the Scrubs version of 'Baby Back Ribs' while making these bad boys.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Olympic Pizza

Team Pizza USA!

I have been eagerly awaiting the start of the Olympics for months and now that it's finally here, I can hardly contain myself. The usually quiet television is on non-stop for the next two weeks when we are home.

When the games are over I experience a Olympic-sized hangover, mainly from the let-down of the games ending to the sudden silence around me when television used to be on 24/7.

In honor of the Olympics (and a sly effort to break our traditional pizza topping issues) I made this Olympic-themed pizza with blue potatoes, black olives, cherry tomatoes, kale and yellow bell peppers for our Friday night dinner.

May the odds be ever in your favor... oh wait, wrong games.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


The last of the kale is in the background. Rest in peace old friend.
A good friend of mine has a really nice backyard garden here in San Francisco. Often we sit back there while watching the kids play and chat about about what she has growing in her raised vegetable beds. When she went inside to get a drink for the kids one day, her husband came over  to me on the sly and said, "When she needs to do gardening, she says she is going to "go harvest the garden." But then she only brings in a few cherry tomatoes! That's not a harvest! That's just picking what happens to be available at that moment!"

Well, I can relate to her choice of words because anything I bring into my home out of my garden is a harvest to me. I had an amazing amount of kale awhile back and now that that situation has died down, we are harvesting delicious cherry tomatoes and the delicious sugar snap peas pictured above. In previous seasons, these little gems never made it past the back door because my kids would mow through the vines while playing in the backyard. But this year I managed to harvest a few before the kids got to them. I was quite proud of my harvest - all 12 of them that I promptly placed into their lunchboxes. (These are our favorite lunchboxes!)

Monday, July 16, 2012

Mom Camp 2012

Egg carton painting

Every year families across the United States scramble to find glorified childcare camps for their kids during the summer. The prices can really set a family back when you add up how many weeks of camp one must schedule for their children, particularly if the parent works outside of the home like I do.

Last year my friend Emma and I searched around for a few friends to do a week of Mom Camp, asking each parent to put in one day of watching kids for the other four days off. It was originally to save money, but Mom Camp forces you to think out of the box. It can get all too easy to take your kids to the park or the same old places every single week. We kept the Mom Camp structure simple: Hours were from about 9-4, each parent had to watch the kids one day that week and siblings were not included, unless you were the host parent and then you could have both of your kids at your day of camp. This rule was bent on Friday when the younger siblings had a separate camp at Emma's house (Never again. Right, Emma?). Besides sibling camp, I thought the whole thing went really well and I am eager to do it again next year.

This year the dad's got involved and proved to be as much fun as the mom's. This should not come as an surprise to any of our friends, both dad's involved this year should have 'Fun Dad' stamped on their foreheads.

Dad Camp - Monday, July 2nd

Dad Camp was fueled by strawberries and hot chocolate

My husband drove three seven-year-olds and our two-year-old daughter down to Swanton Berry Farm in Davenport for strawberry picking. For $28, the kids had a blast picking and eating berries along the coast, eventually walking away with 10 overflowing baskets of organic strawberries. After they ate their packed lunches at the farm's picnic benches, they drove to Año Nuevo State Park  and walked around the trails, ending their adventure on the beach, digging for sand crabs and running in the waves. My husband commented that this was probably the best day he's ever had with so many kids all at once. He came home happy and the kids were thrilled with the strawberries as well as the copious amounts of hot chocolate he gave to them to keep them warm (hey, this is Coastal California after all, folks!). With sand in their hair and shoes and strawberries to share with their families, these kids were happy campers.

Mom Camp - Tuesday, July 3

The Butterfly Hunters of San Francisco

My friend Emma hosted camp at her house and being the crafty one that she is, had art projects ready to go for the kids. They created plastic water bottle bumblebees and Fourth of July luminaries, hunted for caterpillars and butterflies in her backyard, baked Peanut Butter Cup Brownies in her kitchen, and went on a geo-caching treasure hunt at Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park. Whew! I am exhausted just reading the list of stuff they did. My son came home with his arms filled with art projects and stories that dominated our dinner hour. It was a great day of camp!

No Camp - Wednesday, July 4

Dad Camp - Thursday, July 5

Breakneck speed required on the cement slides in San Francisco
This dad took all the kids to the Exploratorium in San Francisco. The kids had a blast trying out the science experiments and ate their packed lunches in the cafeteria. Afterwards, he took them to the infamous concrete Seward Street Slides. This part of the day turned out to be the highlight moment for all of the kids. After they were done with the slides, they all came back to his house to play in the backyard and drink gallons of lemonade. Perfection!

Mom Camp - Friday, July 6
Tin can stilt races
Looking for sea otters at Mori Point
I had a few things planned for the "at home" portion of the day, but as usual they took up less time than I expected. Our friends down the street joined our camp for the day and the kids painted egg cartons for the treasure hunt I had planned in Pacifica. Then they made their own popsicles with pudding and/or fruit juice with toppings to eat later on in the day. The night before camp, I made coffee can stilts for the kids to walk around on and they played on those for awhile (Best DIY Project: Old coffee cans with jump ropes from the Dollar Store for stilts. The kids loved them!). I took the kids on a hike to Pacifica's Mori Point and we brought along the egg cartons for the nature treasure hunt. I was surprised at how seriously the kids took this hunt, they were on a mission to find every color in their carton, however blue was the only color we weren't able to find. When we got to the lookout at the top of Mori Point, my son wanted to go higher and so we climbed this beast.

One child claimed this hill to be 380 stories high.

If the kids did not sleep well that night after this hike, then I did not do my job! It was quite a hike and they were exhauted when we got to the top. Afterwards, we went to the Pacifica Pier to watch the fisherman and then headed home to eat our popsicles. It was a great day for everyone. 

All in all, this was an incredibly successful Mom & Dad Camp. I would love to do it again next year and I hope our friends are up for the challenge. If you put it in dollars, the three families saved nearly $900 dollars for three kids in our camp and each day probably only cost about $20 for each parent to host. Definitely worth trying if you can find friends to do it with and have the time to put into it.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Foggy Day Popsicles Round 2

A little San Francisco fog never slows us down when it comes to making popsicles around these parts. My son had been drooling over the Fruit Salad Popsicles from the cover of last summer's Everyday Food Summer issue and we finally got around to making them. Since his sister was in school that day we had some time to do these together and it was a perfect afternoon shopping trip and home project. These could not be easier and I don't know why I didn't do them sooner - it's just white grape juice and sliced fruit, after all. My son took great pleasure in using a knife on his own to cut up the fruit and these were all consumed in one day.

Studying the picture so he could cut the strawberries the same way

Ta Da!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Dude Abides

Point Break meets The Big Lebowski
For the past few months my son was set on having a Mad Scientist birthday party. We had been watching fun science experiments on YouTube and researching ideas for transforming our garage into a labratory for his party. But then in the month leading up to his birthday he changed his mind and begged asked for a bowling birthday party at the local bowling alley. I was a little disappointed not to be able to execute the Mentos and Diet Coke experiment on our street, spraying cars and houses with soda. But then the idea of keeping my house clean and not turning it into a science lab also sounded very appealing.

My son has had a love affair with bowling from a very early age as you can see below. At three years old he was bowling in our hallway and told me, "This crown makes me bowl better." What can I say? The dude abides.

With the location and theme out of the way, we started to talk about his cake. At a restaurant later that night he pulled a notebook and pen out of my purse (any other neurotic list makers out there?) and drew a picture of the cake he had in mind, saying, "It's a surfer bowling cake where the surfer is actually bowling on the water and then a shark leaps out of the water at him!" Wow. I had no idea how that would even come together, but I brainstormed for a day or two and searched around for cake ideas on the web. I almost gave up and went to the dark side for help (the dark side being a bakery), but then I figured I could swing something along the lines of what he wanted.

I asked a few friends if they had a toy surfboard that I could use on the cake, but no one had anything like it. Then one friend suggested drawing a board, so I ran with that idea and made my own cake topper using old photos of my husband's long board and of my son surfing.

I used Mod Podge to adhere a couple of photos to stiff cardboard (an old box) and then I carefully cut out the figures with an X-Acto Knife.

I wish I had thought to take photos of the cake as I made it, but I was having a slight panic attack as I assembled it, thinking it was going to look like a Cake Wreck. I just focused on getting it done by that point.

I  used two boxes of Trader Joe's devil's food cake mix and baked them in two jelly roll pans so I would have plenty of space to work with. Then I baked another box cake mix in a 8x8 pan to use for the wave, cutting it to size. To make the wave, I placed a few blocks of cake on top of the sheet cake and frosted it, then I stuck a small sheet of foil into the wedge of the cake so that it would look like a wave, and I bent the foil to form the curl of the wave and covered the whole thing with frosting. I found the little bowling pins and bowling ball at a cake decoration store and used a rubber shark from our bath toys (Yes, I cleaned it thoroughly). The look on his face was priceless when he saw himself surfing on his own cake.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Dinners for July 8 - 14, 2012

Our kids are with their grandparents for the week so my menu is all over the place this week. We want to enjoy our nights and leave the dinners flexible for this week. I saw a great slow cooker Chicken Tikka Masala on Pinterest that I am dying to make so that is going to happen for sure. For some reason that I cannot explain, but Indian food in San Francisco is so expensive. Yet over in the East Bay it's affordable. Maybe it's the rent? In any case, maybe this crock pot version will take care of my craving.

I have chosen to make BBQ Ribs on page 239 for this week's Cook-A-Long recipe and will also be making the Barbecue Sauce from page 238 to go along with it. Looking forward to hearing what you make and how it's received by you and your families.

Sunday: Dinner out

Monday: TBD

Tuesday: Crock Pot Chicken Tikka Masala with yellow rice

Wednesday: Dinner out with friends

Thursday: TBD

Friday: Reunion with the kids - not sure where we'll be, so I am leaving this TBD

Saturday: Barbecue Ribs with Broccoli Slaw and corn on the cob <-- DALS Cook-A-Long meal!

DALS Cook-A-Long: Salmon Salad

Last week was our inaugural leap into the very well-chartered waters of cooking from the new Dinner A Love Story cookbook. This diary/cookbook is such a joy to read and the bonus for me is that I have made enough of her recipes that I know that they will pretty much all work with my family.

I actually made two dishes last week, one planned and one on the fly. Below is my review of both and I'd love to hear your reviews as well if you want to leave them in the comments.

Salmon Salad

Photo credit: Dinner A Love Story
 I chose this as my first recipe because she demonstrated how to make the salad on the Today Show a few weeks ago. I also chose it for my menu for its deconstructive-ness, though I overestimated how much this would be true when applied to both of my kids.

You can watch the video here for more information.

When I made it for my family, I carefully set aside the components for my nearly 3-year-old daughter. I knew she'd eat the salmon, the green beans and the corn without blinking, but it would have to be separated. I assumed (and wrongly so) that my 7 year old son wouldn't need this kind of deconstruction and served him the salad all mixed together. Wrong. He saw his sister's plate and looked at his plate and immediately pointed out how unfair it all was. I helped him separate the parts as best as we could, but this was a dinner fail for  him and it was my fault. I should have known better!

I had also hoped that the purple potatoes would entice my kids a little, but they were not impressed. After my son took a tiny bite of potato, he said, "These don't taste any different than regular potatoes." And I took a bite and said, "Really? They taste totally purple to me, I always wondered what purple tasted like." He looked at me suspiciously and took another bite before putting it aside for good. Kid 1, Mom 0.

After I got the kids settled and we all were eating, my husband declared, "Wow, this is like Tuna Nicoise but far better. Why is that?"

Well, for one, it uses salmon rather than tuna. Second, it doesn't have olives. Third, it just tastes better with the vinaigrette recipe she uses. We cleaned our plates and so did my daughter. However, my son was the unhappy camper of the bunch, eating bread with butter and picking at the green beans. Normally he would eat green beans, salmon and corn with no problems, but mixed together was asking too much. Lesson learned.

Playdate Cookies

Nary a peep during the M&M application process

I was with both kids on a soggy, wet Friday and was looking for some fun things to do while the fog whipped around the street outside. Going to a park was not an option that day, but firing up the stove was definitely on my mind. I had a stash of M&Ms in the cupboard and I knew that these cookies would be a hit with the kids, if only for the M&Ms part of the recipe. The cookie recipe itself is good, I thought it was a littler oilier than I would have preferred. But don't think that stopped me and the kids from eating bites of dough as we made the cookies. Since we were going to add M&Ms to the cookie, I opted to keep the chocolate chips out of the recipe since I thought it was a little overkill. I think the genius part of this recipe is the suggestion to give the children their own bowls of M&Ms to decorate with, you could easily do the same with chocolate chips with the same effect. I don't know why I didn't think of this before, but it saved us arguing and tears. And the silence was deafening as they took this task very seriously. The cookies came out perfectly and my daughter is still talking about her M&M cookies.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Dinner A Love Story: The Cook-A-Long!

After the exciting launch of Dinner: A Love Story's new book, I thought it would be fun to host a Cook-A-Long on this blog, merely because I know the recipes are going to be winners and because I am eager to hear how they work with you and your families (or spouses, partners, cats). I would really like to hear from others on how they are using the recipes with their families and thought this might be a fun thing to do together.

Each week I'll choose one recipe from the book and will announce it here by Sunday evening. During that week we all cook the recipe (or another one that you wanted to try) and post your results on your blog by the following Sunday evening or report back in the comments on how it went.

If you want me to link to your blog post about your DALS recipe from the book, then send me an email at dinnersinthe415 at gmail dot com by Sunday evening (11 PM EST / 8 PM PST) and I'll link back to your Cook-A-Long post along with my own recipe review by Monday morning. If you don't have a blog, then worry not, just wait till I post my review and chime in with your own review in the comments.

This is just a fun way to work our way through the book and share our thoughts on the recipes as we go through them. No obligations, no chain mail, no expectations. Just good old fashioned book club fun with a dinner twist.

This week's selection is on Page 62 of the book: Salmon Salad

Happy Cooking!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Dinners for July 1 -7, 2012

Sunday: Frozen pizza - I went to the Castro Theater's 'Grease' Sing-A-Long with friends. So.Much.Fun!

Monday: Salmon veggie salad <--- My first meal in the DALS Cook A Long (Page 62)

Tuesday: Quesadillas with black bean and corn salad

Wednesday: 4th of July!

Thursday: Pasta with zucchini, basil and peas

Friday: Homemade pizza

Saturday: TBD