Tuesday, December 29, 2009

An Aptly Named Dish

We hosted Christmas dinner over at my house this year so now we have lots and lots of leftovers! Let me say for the record that this was the first time I've ever bought a spiral-sliced ham, and it was AWESOME! Serving it was as easy as falling off a log, and I've been throwing ham into just about everything we've eaten since. But Mike grows weary of the ham, so tonight I decided to use some of the leftover turkey in a dish I like to euphemistically call "Stuff on a Shingle."

Now, I know what you're thinking: "That's not what it's called!" Well, before you tweet about what a know-nothing idiot I am, remember that I'm selling this stuff to a four-year-old and a seven-year-old. What you call it is your own business. I call it Stuff on a Shingle.

It's your basic recipe: white sauce, turkey, some frozen peas, a little salt and pepper and that's it. I purposely made it bland. I had made a loaf of whole wheat bread in the bread machine earlier today, so I toasted up some slices and poured that lovely concoction on top. Brilliant! Add a salad and you have a meal...

...that nobody liked. Jack actually stabbed himself when his fork skidded off the hard crust of the toast!

Come on, it's not like it was battery acid or anything. Take a look:

Mmmm, I've never seen anything so tasty looking!

Another triumph!

I'm having it on a baked potato tomorrow for dinner while the kids eat hamburgers.

Stuff on a Shingle
2 T butter
3 T flour
2 c. milk
Salt and Pepper
2 c. chopped meat (turkey, ham, beef, pork, etc.)
1 c. frozen peas

In a saucepan, melt the butter. Add the flour and mix it in until it forms a roux, a sort of paste. Cook this for about a minute, then add the milk a little at a time, whisking after each addition to avoid lumps. After all the milk has been added, continue cooking and stirring until the sauce thickens. Season with salt and pepper, then add the meat and peas. As the peas thaw the temperature of the sauce will reduce so that you don't burn the roof of your mouth with your first bite.

Serve on toast or a baked potato. Bask in the praise of another magnificent meal.

I've Met The Only Kid Who Hates American Chop Suey

Last night a bunch of little kids ate over at my house. Naturally, I decided to serve the slam-dunk meal for kids: American Chop Suey. Word on the street was that two of the kids hated onions, so Mike, who was acting as the evening's prep cook, puréed the crap out of them until they were undetectable in the final product. Yay, Mike! When it was served, four of the five kids lay into it like starving jackals.

But there was this one kid--let's call him Max--who absolutely hated it. He literally spat his first bite back into the bowl right there at the table! There were extenuating circumstances--his mom had just left him in his aunt's care for a few days--so we decided to coddle him just a little bit. I did something I'm not proud of but that I will lay odds that every mother has done at least once in her lifetime: I rinsed it off.

Now, this is not the first time I've ever rinsed off food to placate a kid who just can't stomach all those darn flavors. This summer I sprayed the seasonings off of a perfectly good macaroni salad. Here's the photographic proof:

Before: Macaroni Salad. Yum yum!

After: "I can't believe I'm doing this."

So, I rinse off the American Chop Suey, right? Then I set it before Max, who stares at it uncomprehendingly. I asked him, "Would you like some ketchup?" He answered yes, so out came the King's Condiment, which he proceeded to load into the bowl. Well, if you rinse tomato soup concentrate from the American Chop Suey then add ketchup, you've basically replicated the recipe. Which Max discovered with the first bite.

His aunt's no dummy, so she asked him, "Max, how old are you?"

"Seven," answered Max.

"Then take seven big-boy bites." Ooo, snap!

Max took seven of the lamest bites that could have been characterized as "big boy," then was mercifully excused from the table.

Guess you can't please all of the people all of the time.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Obtaining Buy-In

My idea to create dinner table harmony worked like a voodoo charm! Here's what went down.

On Sunday, I called a family meeting to discuss all of the stress that's been visiting our dinner table lately. I told everybody how depressing it was to try night after night to feed them a wide variety of nutritious dinners only to have them gag and retch at the very thought of putting it into their mouths. I equated what I create (dinner) to things that the boys create (artwork, LEGO sculptures, etc.), and asked them how they would feel if I didn't even want to look at their drawing/LEGO/whatever because I'm sure I didn't like it even though I'd never seen it before I just knew that I'd hate it. I think it sunk in a little bit when I explained it like that.

After working on the emotions, I gave everybody an assignment. I spread out the cooking magazines and kid cookbooks all over the dining room table. Then I told everyone to pick three dinners they like to eat. The only restriction was that it couldn't be pizza or macaroni and cheese. Since all of the publications feature full-color photos of the food it allowed everyone, even pre-reader Jack, the opportunity to have his say.

I gotta tell you, it worked. Not only did we come up with a comprehensive list of non-gagworthy dinners, that night Henry himself helped cook the lasagna he'd found in one of his cookbooks! But it couldn't be a Foley dinner without a twist ending: Jack declared at the table that he hates lasagna. Of course you do, Jack, that's why four hours ago you said how much you love it.

Here's what we came up with and our success rate so far:

I'm going to convene this family meeting once a month from now on. The results speak for themselves!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

I'm Tired...Tired of Playing the Game

Oh, man, the family wore me out this month.

Last night, Jack literally cried when faced with the prospect of eating my wretched Chicken and Turkey Pot Pie. Henry muscled through half of it, since now he's at the age when he can see that a) it upsets me when people don't like my cooking and b) he'll get dessert if he puts in a "good, honest try" as they used to say around my own dinner table as a child. Even Mike chimed in. "What is this I'm tasting? You didn't put tarragon in here, did you? (I know he hates tarragon.) Did you put celery in this? (I know he hates celery; see "Cream of Yuck Soup.")" Well, since I made two and froze the other one, I have an emergency covered dish to give to some ailing family that lacks taste buds. Or I can give it to my mom. She'd eat it. She'd love it.

Two weeks ago I poached some chicken breast, then made a creamy chicken and rice casserole topped with panko. Errrrrrgh! (That's the sound of the "wrong answer" buzzer on a game show.)

Later that week, to use up the chicken I made Chicken Pasta Alfredo using Trader Joe's Alfredo sauce, frozen veg, and little wheel-shaped pasta. Errrrrrgh!

I think I've got it figured out. My family's enjoyment of dinner is in direct inverse proportion to the effort I put into it. All three of these dinners took just minutes to make. And seconds to criticize. Coincidence? I don't think so.

However, the month wasn't a total wash, foodwise. Last Saturday, I shopped at a fabulous supermarket new to the area, H-Mart. It's laid out like a Western supermarket, with a huge building, wide aisles, and it's clean (No offense, C-Mart in Chinatown, but your bathroom would gag a maggot.). It sells food from all over the world, with a focus on Korea. There's a whole kimchee section (!), and you can buy pre-marinated meat that you just grill up and you've got Korean barbecue. I was in foodie heaven! But guess whose kids don't like Korean barbecue? Oh well, at least they liked all the shumai, edamame, and seasoned seaweed I got. I guess things aren't as bad as they seem.

Well, today I'm going to call a family meeting. I have a scheme to get everybody on board with the meal planning. Check back to find out how it went...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Samosas? More like Sa-GROSS-As.

The other day I found what I thought would be a new and improved way to serve ground beef...samosas! If you don't know what these are, basically it's a pastry stuffed with savory filling, either meat or vegetarian. But I knew that traditional samosas had a snowball's chance in h-e-double-hockey-sticks around here, so I thought I'd get crafty. Why not just season half of the mixture with spicy curry powder for me, and keep the other half plain for the boys? What's not to like?

Plenty, as it turned out. Jack actually spit it back into his napkin, twice! And Henry muscled through it just to make me happy. And I thought I really had something! Oh well, at least it didn't end in tears.

Outta the park, Mom!

Best meal ever, Mom!

I mean, come on! Just look at 'em! I even folded them up differently so that I wouldn't mix up the spicy ones with the plain ones.


Well, I thought they rocked, and if Mike'd been here he'd've said the same thing.

1 small onion, diced
1 potato, peeled and diced
1 T oil
1 c. frozen peas
1 lb. ground meat (optional)
1/4 c. ketchup
1 T curry powder (optional)
1 package prepared pie crust (should contain two crusts, rolled up)

Heat the oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and the potatoes and sauté until the potatoes are nearly done. If you want to speed up the process, add about 1/2 c. water and cover the pan with a lid. Add the ground meat and peas and cook until the meat is no longer pink. Remove the pan from the heat, add the ketchup, and mix well. If you want spicy samosas, add the curry powder now.

Unroll the pie crusts and cut them into quarters. Moisten the edges of each quarter, and fill with the stuff you just cooked. Fold the crusts over and pinch them to seal or use a fork to crimp the edges. Put the samosas on an ungreased baking sheet and cook at 450° for about 18 minutes or until the crusts have browned. Let them cool for a few minutes, then serve and wait for the compliments to start rolling in.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Roast Turkey the Lazy Way

When I was a kid I remember my mother reorganizing the refrigerator every year a couple of days before Thanksgiving to make enough room for the huge honking turkey that had to thaw out before it could be cooked. Heck, I've gone to great lengths myself to thaw out a turkey...even setting it in a cooler full of warm water (which is now discouraged due to the increased intelligence of bacteria these days). Oh yeah, I've done the whole Silver Palate turkey roasting routine. Been there, done that.

Well, these days my time is much more precious than it used to be. I don't have time to oversee the days-long thawing process. Who needs it? Not me, since I learned that it's possible to roast a turkey from stone cold frozen.

How? Easy! All you have to do is unwrap the frozen bird and plop it breast side up into a roasting pan with a cover (or a shallow roasting pan covered with aluminum foil). You cook the turkey at a lower temperature (325°) and 1.5 times longer than you normally would. At about the second hour, the bird heats up enough for you to remove the goody bag, which is usually stuffed where the neck once was.

About an hour before it's done, take the pan out of the oven and remove most of the juice (there will be a lot!) with a turkey baster. There's your gravy base. Then coat the bird with a light misting of cooking spray, hit it with a little salt and pepper, and put it back in the over uncovered so that the skin gets nice and brown.

Sure, you can't cook the turkey with the stuffing inside using this method, but who cares? Just do a stovetop or oven-baked stuffing in a casserole and you're good to go.

So here are the approximate cooking times for frozen turkeys. Poultry should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165°, taken with a thermometer stuck in the thickest part of the thigh. Set the oven to 325°.

Cooking Frozen Turkeys
8 to 12 pounds 4¼ to 4½ hours
12 to 14 pounds 4½ to 5½ hours
14 to 18 pounds 5½ to 6¼ hours
18 to 20 pounds 6¼ to 6¾ hours
20 to 24 pounds 6¾ to 7½ hours

PS This works great for frozen chicken, too!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Market Basket Saves the Day

Here in New England, there is but one choice for the frugal grocery shopper: Market Basket. Their products are consistently less expensive than those of other area supermarkets. This enables me to justify the 25-minute drive to the closest one a couple of towns away and not to shop at the Stop and Shop just five minutes from my house.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I bought a store-brand frozen Shepherd's Pie from Market Basket. It was kind of pricey--$7.00--which I didn't notice until I was at the checkout line. But my fears of having overpaid for a frozen dinner were banished last Friday as I basked in the glory of another home-run meal for the kiddos.

At first Jack didn't like it, since "Shepherd's Pie" doesn't exactly resonate with a three-year-old, but after Mike christened it "Potato Pie" Jack couldn't eat it fast enough. Plus, Henry's friend Justin was over and he loved it, too!

So for a measly $7.00 (everything's relative), not only did I serve a popular, mildly nutritious meal, but I realized how easy it would be to make a bunch up on my own, freeze them, then reheat them for a quick weeknight meal.

Of course, the Market Basket Shepherd's Pie was kind of bland so that it would have broader appeal. But it wouldn't be difficult to tailor the recipe for any family's tastes, for example by:
  • Using a vegetable mixture instead of corn
  • Making it "Mexican Pie" by using chili or Miracle Mexican Filling for the meat layer
  • Adding a can of condensed tomato soup to the meat mixture
  • Covering the top with Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Cheese Mashed Potatoes, etc.
Shepherd's Pie
1 lb ground meat (beef, pork, chicken)
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can yellow corn, drained
2 c. mashed potatoes

Sauté the meat, onion, and garlic in a skillet until the meat is cooked through and the onions are soft. Drain off any fat, then put this mixture into an aluminum pie pan. Pour the corn over the meat mixture and smooth it out. Finally, cover the pie with a layer of mashed potatoes, flattening it out across the top of the pan.

At this point you can either bake it at 400° until the potatoes are browned and serve it today, OR you can cover it tightly in plastic wrap and freeze the pie for later. To heat, bake it at 400° for 45-55 minutes until heated through.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

EVERYTHING'S Better on a Stick. And With Pizza.

Usually when I cook something that's a total flop with the kids, I'll create a "make-up" dinner the next night. So the day after I made a fabulous Indian dinner from scratch for my husband and me that left the kids gagging, I made Pizza Bites and veggies on a stick. Humungous hit!

The Pizza Bites recipe came from one of Henry's cookbooks, so it was easy to make and really, really tasty. You just use premade pie crusts for the pizza dough and fill it with a mixture of pizza sauce, grated cheese, and either meat or veggies. You can make them as wholesome or as bad-for-you as you like! We went halfsies: meat (the half-moon shaped ones) and broccoli (the rectangular ones). Guess which Pizza Bites were more popular.

Veggies on a stick is my way of serving salad without lettuce. Sure, I could have put the chopped veggies in a dish, but where's the fun in that? Just make shish-kabobs out of them and serve with salad dressing on the side. Boom, you're done.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

EVERYTHING is Better in Color

The other night I had to attend a networking meeting for my business, so I left the preparation of the kids' dinner in the hands of my husband, Mike. I'd set him up with what I'd hoped was a home run: chicken breasts, rice pilaf, and kids' choice veg. Well, Mike took these ingredients and ran with them in a totally novel direction. And the kids ate every bite.

You see, Mike subscribes to the school of camouflage. If the food is basically good, he elevates it to a new level to the kids by dumping a crapload of food coloring into it, thereby forestalling any complaints about the food itself. He's done it in the past with oatmeal and yogurt with great results. Sometimes the kids even get to choose the colors!

You've never eaten grilled chicken, rice pilaf, and corn until it's in Technicolor. Witness the following:

He's smilin', ain't he?

This'll get the chicks!

We prefer the McCormick Neon colors for more vivid results. And here's a bonus use for food coloring: they can be used to color the bathwater, and they don't even stain the tub!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Third Helpings?!? YESSSSS!

The other night was Roast Chicken Night, a no-brainer slam-dunk of a meal that I fall back on again and again despite Henry's assertion that he hates chicken. One of the side dishes was Rice and Beans and both kids went back for seconds. Henry even went for thirds. I couldn't believe it. Not only did I sneak in a vegan recipe, but they went for it like a wolf pack on a roast.

Rice and Beans
1 onion, diced
1 T vegetable oil
1 packet Goya Sazón
1 t Goya Adobo
1 can red beans, rinsed and drained
1 c white rice
2 c water

In a deep pot, heat the oil, then add the onions and cook until they're translucent. Add the Sazón, Adobo (both of these are Latin all-purpose seasonings found in the International aisle of the supermarket--think "Señora Dash"), and rice. Stir and cook for about a minute, then add the beans and water. Crank up the heat until the water boils, then reduce heat to low, cover the pot, and leave it alone for 20-25 minutes. When the rice is cooked, mix everything up and serve.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Dinner Psychology 101

One of my favorite uses for leftover roasts is hash. But when I tried to get the kids to eat it they just turned their noses up at it. Maybe they didn't like the sound of it: Haaaaaasssssshhhhh. The word itself conjures up images of a mixed up mess, a naughty body noise, a melange of leftovers and nameless flavors forced upon little kids that defies description because it's different every time it's made.

So what's a marketer to do? Put a new spin on it of course.

"Hey, kids, tonight we're having Roast Beef Scramble!"


Originally it was going to be Ham Scramble, but I'd mislabled some meat in the freezer so roast beef it was. Good thing, too, because Henry reaffirmed his hatred of all things ham after nibbling on a bit of it as a before-dinner snack.

In addition to my hash coup, I also got them on board with the green beans using a tip I learned from the new Gastrokid cook book. Instead of just roasting the beans myself, which is waaay different from my usual steaming method and which results in icky (to a kid) brown spots on the beans, I enlisted their help in drying the beans off thoroughly to avoid steaming the beans rather than roasting them. They took turns pouring olive oil on the beans, then Henry swirled them around in the roasting pan to coat them. After Jack administered a quick sprinkling of salt, I popped them in the oven. When Jack balked at eating the beans later at dinner, I reminded him of how much he helped and that he should at least give them a try. He declared them "great."

So, two negatives turned into a positive at one meal. Plus they ate everything up. Score one for Mom!

Roast Beef Scramble
1 onion, diced
6 small red potatoes, diced
1 T vegetable oil
1/2 t garlic powder
2 c cooked roast beef, diced

Heat the oil in a large skillet. When the oil is hot, add the onion and potatoes. Cover the pan so that the potatoes steam. Every once in a while stir everything up, but not too often because you want to build up the brown cooked spots on the potatoes and onions.

When the potatoes are soft, sprinkle the garlic powder over everything, add the beef, and mix well. Keep the pan on the stove until the meat is heated through. Serve with the king's condiment, ketchup.

Roasted Green Beans
1-2 lbs. green beans
olive oil
fresh lime or lemon wedges

Preheat the oven to 400°. Trim, wash, and thoroughly dry the green beans. Dump them into a shallow roasting pan or cookie sheet large enough to hold the beans in one layer. Pour enough olive oil over the beans to cover them and include a little extra to keep the beans from sticking to the pan. With your hands, turn the beans over and over until they're coated with oil, then spread them out in a single layer. Sprinkle salt over the beans, then roast for about 18 minutes, checking on them periodically and shaking the pan. They're done when they've started to become slightly brownish. Serve with lemon or lime wedges on the side so that everyone can control how much juice they get. It'd be a pity to ruin all that preparation with somebody complaining about the taste of the lemon/lime juice. Pick your battles.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Salami Sushi

Wow, has it been a year already? Well, I just got back from the Creative Freelancers Conference in San Diego where we all agreed that we need to set aside time for fun, "just-for-me" projects. Since cooking remains one of my great passions, I felt it was high time to start posting again. Plus, I met a graphic designer from Miami at the conference who just happened to have read this blog in the past!

Anyway, I knocked one out of the park today with Salami Sushi. For Henry's sushi (above, left) I used a piece of deli cheese and two slices of salami, and for Jack's (above, right) I used salami and a piece of bread that I'd cut the crusts from and flattened with a rolling pin. Both rolls had julienned cucumber at the center. Since Jack specifically asked for toothpicks I used them in his rolls.

As you can see in these unstaged, from-the-heart poses, Henry and Jack enjoyed their lunches. It was the Clean Plate Club for the both of them!

Henry says "yum" to salami sushi!

So does Jack!