Monday, September 8, 2008

Deceptively Delicious...With Mixed Results

So by now you've no doubt heard about Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld. In this cookbook, Ms. Seinfeld describes how to incorporate various vegetable purées into your everyday cooking, thereby giving your family their necessary daily allowance of seventeen servings of vegetables, or whatever it is these days.

Anyway, the other night I decided to try puréeing two carrots and sneaking them into our usual Sloppy Joe recipe. Guess what? Everyone scarfed it down like there's no tomorrow! I felt like a super genius.

Buoyed by my success, I decided to try slipping some puréed butternut squash into the Kraft Mac and Cheese Jack and Henry can't seem to get enough of. It's the same color, right? I tasted it before dishing it out to them, and it seemed fine to me. But the kids weren't fooled. Henry complained of the weird texture of the cheese, and Jack called it quits after two bites.

Tonight I used the rest of the butternut squash in my standard meatloaf recipe. I'll let you know how that goes...

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

"Hamburger Sticks" a Hit

After a while, I just get tired of preparing macaroni and cheese, pizza, and spaghetti for my little ankle-biters. So last night I decided to try a recipe for Thai meat skewers out of a Marks and Spencer cookbook (they're the authority on all things Thai, don't you know). The recipe included little green things, garlic, and chili paste--yuck-o. I figured I'd better have a backup plan, so I served plain rice and edamame on the side.

Rather than call them "Thai meat skewers" (ho-hum) I called them "Hamburger Sticks" (wow!). I'd cooked them using metal skewers, which I removed before serving. But for the boy's plates I reinserted bamboo skewers so that they boys could pick them up and eat them without forks.

After one bite, Henry said, "I like this!" and went to town on it, finishing every scrap of food on his plate. And Jack ate as well as I'd expected from a two-year-old. I was flabbergasted.

So the lesson here is never to give up!

Thai Meat Skewers (from a Marks and Spencer cookbook, Thai, with some adaptations)
1 lb. ground pork
3 scallions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 T cilantro, chopped
1 t freshly grated ginger
1 t Thai curry paste
1 egg

Put all ingredients into a food processor and blend into a paste. Divide the mixture into six parts. Form each part into a sausage shape, mush a skewer into it, then pat the mixture around it to enclose the skewer. Refrigerate the skewers for at least an hour, then grill on a medium hot barbie or grill pan until done, about 8-10 minutes. Serve with sweet chili sauce for dipping (or ketchup if you want to swallow your pride in exchange for your kids' membership into the Clean Plate Club).

Friday, May 2, 2008

Oh, My TVP-15!

In my ongoing effort to include at least one vegetarian dinner a week in the menu rotation, I decided to prepare a sure-fire classic, Taco Dip with Miracle Mexican Filling, with TVP instead of ground meat. I had heard about TVP, textured vegetable protein, for years as being a decent substitute for meat since it has a similar chewy texture. At our local Ocean State Job Lot, they sell Bob's Red Mill products at a good discount, so I was able to pick up several bags of TVP on the cheap.

Miracle Mexican filling is an all-purpose Mexican flavored stew that can be served in many ways: straight up, wrapped in a burrito or taco, or scooped up with chips. Make a bunch of it and freeze some for later.

I didn't say anything when I served the meal. My husband Mike pronounced it "delish" and went back for second helpings. They boys kind of pushed it from one side of their bowls to the other, but they're in a "we hate everything" phase right now, so it was to be expected. When I spilled the beans about dinner to Mike, he told me he'd suspected it wasn't meat, but that it was really, really good!

I'm looking forward to incorporating TVP into another meal soon. Maybe the next time the boys will give it a try. Or not.

Taco Dip with Miracle Mexican Filling
Flour tortillas
Cooking spray

Cut the tortillas into wedges and put them on a foil-lined baking sheet. Spray them with cooking spray and toast them for about six minutes in an oven set on "broil," turning the chips over midway through cooking. Keep a close eye on the chips so they don't burn.

1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bell pepper, chopped
1T vegetable oil (omit if using ground meat)
1 lb. ground meat, or 2 c. chopped cooked meat, or 2 c. TVP
1T ground cumin
1T ground coriander
2t Adobo seasoning
1 can beans, drained and rinsed
1 can chopped tomatoes, with juice
1 can tomato sauce
1 c. water or broth (if using TVP)
1 c. frozen or canned sweet corn

Chopped lettuce
Grated cheese
Sour cream
Chopped tomatoes
Chopped avocado or guacamole
Hot sauce

In a large skillet, sauté the onion, garlic, pepper in oil. If you're using ground meat, sauté that as well and omit the oil. When the vegetables are soft and the meat (if using) is cooked, add the spices and cook for one minute more. Add all remaining ingredients. If you're using TVP and the mixture seems dry, add some more water. Cook this for about 10 minutes to allow the flavors to blend.

To serve Taco Dip, give each diner a bowl filled with MMF. Pass around the chips and toppings.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

April Fool!

Last week I did a little research on funny food gags I could pull for April Fool's Day. Well, they all looked pretty complicated and time consuming to prepare, so I fell back on an oldie but goodie that my mom had done to us kids when we were little. She changed our milk into pudding by adding rennet and sugar. It still looked like milk, though. I remember that for some reason I decided to sample my milk with a spoon that night, and my mom jumped at me yelling, "NO!" I was pretty taken aback until I realized that I had almost ruined her joke.

Since rennet is pretty gross when you think about it (it is derived from the stomach lining of cows — yum!), I decided to thicken the milk with cornstarch. Here you see the "milk" just after I poured it into the cups. Note the clever addition of straws to further disguise it!

I served the "milk" with great flourish, expecting everyone to gasp with amazement at my joke preparation and the irony of solid milk. Instead, I got a wry chuckle from my husband and no yuks at all from the kids. Henry did manage to drink it up through the straw, though.

Here's the recipe for the pudding. If you want to make it chocolate milk, add 1/4 c. cocoa powder. I don't think it would be as convincing, though.

Vanilla Pudding
1/2 c. white sugar
3 1/2 T. cornstarch
2 1/2 c. milk
2 t. vanilla

Mix the sugar and cornstarch together in a microwave-safe bowl. Add enough of the milk to make a paste and stir until all the lumps are gone. Add the remaining milk.

Place the bowl in the microwave and cook for 3 minutes on HIGH. Take the bowl out of the microwave and mix the contents. Continue to cook on HIGH in one-minute intervals, stirring after each heating, until the mixture becomes thick and glossy (about 3-4 minutes).

Stir the vanilla into the mixture, then pour it into cups. Put these in the fridge to set.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

An Oldie but Goodie

Two nights ago I made a delicious egg fried rice with shrimp in coconut sauce. least it was delicious to my husband and me. My older son, Henry, soldiered through it but admitted he only ate it without complaining so that he could eat dessert. My younger son, Jack, literally swatted his plate across the table like it was some loathsome bug.

Usually after a night like that, I'll serve a dinner that everyone's liked in the past. My no-fail, slam-dunk dinner of this kind is Grandma Pitney's American Chop Suey.

Grandma Pitney was my friend's mother-in-law. This woman had seven kids, so she had to get loads of food on the table that everyone would eat. Every time I make her recipe the whole family shovels it in like there's no tomorrow.

So here it is, your comfort food of the day!

Grandma Pitney's American Chop Suey
1.5-2 lbs. ground beef
1 onion, chopped
16 oz. short pasta, such as rotini, elbow macaroni, or penne rigate
1-2 14 oz. cans condensed tomato soup
Grated parmesan cheese

Bring a pot of salted water to boil and cook the pasta according to package directions. In a very large skillet, cook the beef and onion until the beef is cooked through and the onion is soft. Drain any accumulated fat, then add the cooked pasta. Add tomato soup concentrate until desired consistency is reached. Serve with grated parmesan cheese.

Monday, March 24, 2008

A Family Dinner for Easter

This Easter, I decided to prepare a traditional family meal for my mother, stepfather, husband, and kids. But I didn't go for the roast ham or leg of lamb. This year we had a traditional Korean family meal, bi bim bap.

Basically you serve a bowl of rice with a variety of toppings, with a big ol' fried egg on top. The diners then plop a dollop of chili paste into the bowl then vigorously mix the contents, yielding a big ricey mess. It's great!

I only ever prepare this dish on the weekends, because although it takes minutes to eat it takes hours to prepare due to the many toppings one must prepare. But since I love to cook and since we have an open floor plan in my home so that people can relax on the sofa while I do it, I didn't mind in the least.

For this meal, the toppings included marinated steak; spinach with sesame seeds, rice vinegar, and sesame oil; sautéed mushrooms deglazed with red vinegar; and a cucumber and red pepper salad.

My husband's mother, when told about my plans, declared it "sh*t food." We all declared it "delicious."

Bi bam bap before mixing

Bi bim bap after mixing. Bon appetit!

I made onigiri (Japanese stuffed rice balls) out of the leftovers since Jack had slept through the main event. As you can see, he was delighted with the results:

Ahhhh! This food is the Devil! Take it awaaaaayyyy!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


Oh, happy day! Last night on the way home from after-school care, Henry asked what was for supper. "Rice and beans," I told him. "Yay!" he replied.

Are you kidding me!?!
"Yay!" All right!

Lately I'd been throwing lots of air balls. Last week I made a corn chowder using Better than Boullion vegetable stock base that was so bad that I threw the entire batch away after I'd muscled down a bowl to prove "how good it was." It wasn't. And two nights ago I made a concoction that can only charitably be described as "loaf." I learned that there is such a thing as stretching a pound of meat too far.

My new favorite cookbook is Cheap. Fast. Good! by Beverly Mills and Alicia Moss. It is a textbook-thick tome detailing all kinds of money-saving, nutritious meals. Oh, did I mention the recipes come together really quickly? Granted, the Loaf recipe came from this book, but it redeemed itself in spades with its rice and beans recipe. I added a couple of Latin American flavorings I had around the house and came up with a keeper. Henry could not shovel it in fast enough. In fact, he had his mouth right next to the plate and was literally shoving the food into it with his spoon.

Jack, on the other hand, is on a one-molecule-only dinner kick and couldn't be troubled to eat anything. Too bad, more for us!

Riding on that success, I tried serving Henry some banana custard I'd made with some bananas that had been on the way out. No deal. Oh well, ya can't win 'em all!

So I guess there is hope after all for getting the kids to eat healthful vegetarian meals. Don't give up!

Rice and Beans
(adapted from
Cheap. Fast. Good! by Beverly Mills and Alicia Moss)

1 c. rice
1 onion, chopped
1 T. vegetable oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 c. cooked black beans (or one can, drained and rinsed)
1 c. cooked red beans (or one can, drained and rinsed)

1 can chopped tomatoes, with liquid
1 c. frozen corn kernels

1/2 t. salt
1 t. cumin
1 t. ground coriander
1 packet Sazón Goya
1/2 c. Recaito Goya
Grated cheese and salsa for serving

Cook the rice in a steamer or in a pot on the stove with
2 c. water. While rice is cooking, heat a deep skillet over medium high. Add the oil, then the onion. When the onion is softened, add all the other ingredients. Continue cooking until the corn is heated through and the edge is taken off the garlic. Serve the bean mixture over rice in bowls.

Meet your new best friends!

Friday, February 1, 2008

What a Two-Year-Old Has Taught Me About Food

My son Jack is a font of information. Just when I think I know everything there is to know about something, he brings some new twist to the subject. Take food, for example. I have learned the following by observing Jack at the dinner table:
  • Sugar snap peas are meant to be shelled, the peas thrown on the floor, and the shells discarded in various piles around one's dinner plate.
  • Food is better when served with a dip. It can be conventional, such as salad dressing served with cut-up vegetables, or esoteric, such as toast dipped into breakfast cereal. It helps if you accompany your meal by saying "Dip, dip, dip" while dipping the food.
  • Keep your mother hopping by devouring a particular food one evening, then declaring it "Nucky! Nucky! Nucky!" with a smile the next.
  • Enjoy your food more by eating with your hands. Utensils are for uptight squares.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Cream of Yuck Soup, Part Two

Why, oh why, do I never learn from past experiences? I know my husband Mike doesn't like celery. I know that he has the supertaster-like ability to detect even a single molecule of celery in anything I cook. So why did I add celery leaves to my black bean soup? Because Mario Batali told me to.

Last year I read Heat, Bill Buford's memoir of working at Babbo, one of Mario Batali's restaurants. He describes Mario railing against the kitchen staff when they discard the leafy trimmings from the celery. He'd bellow something like "These make excellent stock!" as he plucked them from the garbage and threw them back onto the cutting boards. So I figured if celery leaves were good enough for Mario Batali, they'd be good enough for the Foley family.

You know how if you you chop celery up and add it to a stock it'll impart a subtle celery flavor? Well, the leaves lend an intense celery flavor. Even though I removed the leaves before I puréed the soup, it was like being smacked across the mouth with a bunch of celery. The soup just reeked of celery.

Mike didn't even get the spoon to his mouth. "Did you put celery in this?" he asked. "Ummm," I mumbled, wondering if I could get away with telling him some white lie about aromatics. Then the steam drifted from the top of my bowl and found its way into my nostrils. "A little," I confessed. That was the first time I ever saw Mike shove a bowl across the table. "I can't eat this."

As ever, I enjoyed my own cooking and drank every drop of that soup. Now all I have to do is eat two more quarts of it.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Old Switcheroo—Volcano Roast Beef

OK, since Volcano Chicken was such a megahit, I figured the concept could be expanded to different types of leftover meats. Thus was Volcano Roast Beef born.

All I did was to cut some leftover roast beef up into pieces about 1/4" wide and 1" long, bump up the leftover gravy with a can of chicken stock (since we ate most of the gravy with our roast beef dinner), and add about a cup of frozen peas. Dump that over some baking-powder biscuits in a lavalike manner and Voila!

If you don't know how to make gravy from a roast, here's a primer. Remember, you must make the gravy right after the roast comes out of the oven. You can't wait until you're about to make this recipe!

Gravy from a Roast
Juices at bottom of roasting pan
2T butter
2T flour
1 1/2 c. chicken or turkey stock (homemade or canned)
Salt and pepper

After the meat has been roasted, remove it to a grooved cutting board and cover it with aluminum foil to rest. Pour the pan juice into a fat separator or skim excess fat off the top of the liquid with a spoon.

Melt the butter in a sauce pan, then let it get a little brown. Not too much or it'll burn. Add the flour and cook this roux for a minute or two to get rid of the raw-flour flavor.

Add the juices to the pan, mixing steadily to avoid lumps. Then add the chicken or turkey stock and stir to blend. Keep stirring every once in a while until the gravy thickens.

Pour any accumulated liquids from the cutting board into the gravy. Season to taste with salt and pepper.