Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Another Failed Casserole

What's with my kids? They must be the only kids in the whole United States of America who don't like casserole. I guess it's too many flavors packed into a single bite. I don't know. All I'm sure of is no matter what kind it is, the kids eat it only reluctantly and with the promises of desserts ahead. Oh well.

I thought it was dynamite. Mike hasn't tried it yet, but I'm confident he'll like it.

I got the recipe from About.com Cooking for Kids, and I of course tweaked it a little. Best of luck to you. To those about to make a casserole, I salute you.

Mexican Rice Casserole
(adapted from About.com Cooking for Kids)

1 c. rice
1 1/2 c. chicken broth
1 14-oz. can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 8-oz. can tomato sauce
1 t. cumin
1 t. coriander
1 packet Goya Sazón
1/2 c. chopped onion
1/2 c. chopped red bell pepper
1/2 c. chopped carrots
1 c. pre-cooked, shredded pork
1/2 c. shredded Monterrey Jack cheese

Preheat the oven to 375°. Bring the chicken broth to a boil. Spray a covered casserole dish with cooking spray. Combine everything but the broth and the cheese in a bowl, then dump it into the casserole dish. Pour the chicken on top, cover with the lid, and bake for 45 minutes. Uncover the casserole, sprinkle with cheese, and put back into the oven for a couple of minutes until the cheese melts. Serve with hot sauce on the side.

Note: This came out of the oven pretty soupy, but the rice absorbed the extra liquid after a while.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Fail.

Hope Springs Eternal Crockpot Chicken hit 75% on the Foley Fail meter. The good flavor of the dish saved it from a 100% Fail, but its other attributes dragged it down:
  • Flavor: Great! High fives all around.
  • Consistency of Sauce: Decent, after I added a roux and boiled it in a pot on the stove. I fixed the recipe to include this step.
  • Consistency of Chicken: Awful! It suffered the Crockpot Paradox: it came out dry and fall-aparty after cooking in sauce for too long.
  • Remedy: Save the sauce to put on noodles or rice. Reimagine the chicken into something edible.
So tomorrow's project is to transform the chicken into chicken nuggets using a food processor, eggs, and maybe some mayo to add some moisture. I'll let you know how this little caper unfolds.

Hope Springs Eternal

Today I decided to dust off the ol' crockpot and play dinner roulette. This is how the game is played: I put good, decent ingredients into the crockpot, stir them up, put on the lid, and wait six hours. At dinnertime, I lift the lid off of the crockpot. An enjoyable meal that doesn't cause too much grousing = I live to cook another day. On the other hand, if I am the only cheerleader of the meal and nobody wants anything to do with it = well, you know.

I've played and lost many times before. Here's a photograph of Hoppin' John from All You magazine:


Boy, howdy, doesn't that look good?

And here's a photo of how it turned out at Chez Foley:

Sweet Mother of Mercy, where did I go wrong?

I swear, I followed the recipe word for word. But even I couldn't muscle this mush down.

This weekend my family and I went to McKinnon's Market in Somerville, Massachusetts, which is one of those butcher shops where they're practically giving it away. A chicken-leg-quarters-for-59¢-a-pound kind of place. We loaded up on chicken breasts, so today I found a dead-simple recipe at Cooks.com for crockpot chicken. I've added a few tweaks; we'll see how it goes. Here's the recipe, just in case it turns out well:

Hope Springs Eternal Crockpot Chicken
1 can Cream of Onion Soup
1/2 c. water
1/4 c. white wine
1/4 t. black pepper
1/2 t. paprika
2 carrots, sliced (I used a crinkle cutter. Marketing!)
1 small onion, diced
2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 T. flour

Mix everything but the chicken together in the crockpot. Add the chicken and moosh it around until the chicken is covered in the sauce. Put the lid on the crockpot and cook on low for four hours or until done.

Remove the chicken from the sauce, then pour the sauce into a pot. Mix the flour with enough water to give it the consistency of heavy cream. Bring the sauce to a boil, then stir in the flour and water mixture, stirring constantly. Turn off the heat when the sauce has thickened.

Serve over rice or noodles.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Peeled Zucchini...Your Secret Ally

Who doesn't like zucchini? Well, it turns out the answer to that question is "Everyone in my house except me." I don't understand these people. It's green, it gets squishy when steamed, it's bland...oh, now I get it. But it got me thinking: with these qualities going for it, zucchini could be my secret ingredient in a lot of dishes, lending its nutritional value without standing up in the middle of the dish yelling "I am zucchini! Hear me roar!" Except for one thing, that telltale green skin.

You know where this is going, right?

Yep, peeled and grated, zucchini fades into the surrounding ingredients and takes a back seat to stronger flavors. And I know for a fact that it's undetectable because I've included it in a number of dishes lately and my supertaster husband, Mike, hasn't noticed it at all. I know that he reads this blog, so I'm only going to reveal the recipe for one of the zucchini hiders. Mike, I love you, man, but sometimes it's better that you don't know. I'm doing this for your own good. Really. Did I mention that I love you?

Try it for yourself, and you'll see that it works. But for goodness sake, get rid of those incriminating peels and zucchini ends before somebody sees them!

Garden Sauce for Pasta
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
4 tomatoes, seeded and diced
2 bell peppers, seeded and diced (use red bell peppers for maximum invisibility)
1 c. zucchini, peeled and grated
1 T fresh herbs, minced (parsley, oregano, basil...whatever's handy)
Salt and pepper to taste

Put everything except for the herbs in a pot, cover, and cook over medium heat until all the vegetables have softened, stirring occasionally. Using an immersion blender, purée the vegetables until smooth. If the sauce seems too thick, add water to thin it out. Add the herbs, salt and pepper. If the kiddos don't like leafy green things, you can add the herbs before you purée the sauce.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Le Pièce de Résistance

There's nothing like a buffet-style dinner to bring out the creativity in the kids! Recently here in the Northeast US we had a heat wave, so naturally I didn't want to heat up the kitchen by cooking. So I thought a savory salad would do the trick. I put a dry rub on a piece of steak, then cooked it up on the grill. The kids and I went out to the garden to pick some fresh lettuce. A couple of sliced peppers, cheese cubes, tomatz, and a drained can of beans later, dinner was done.

Henry surprised the heck out of me by piling on the veggies, then drizzling the ranch dressing around the rim of the plate like a sous at Babbo.

He wanted to make a video of his masterpiece, so I let him. Here it is:

video

Monday, July 19, 2010

Looking to Video Games for Inspiration

This spring, I became one of those parents who downloads a boatload of little-kid apps for the iPhone to keep the rug rats happy during long waits. One of the apps I bought is Cooking Mama, a fun little game where the idea is to succesfully to prepare a variety of meals. The player performs kitchen tasks -- stuff like chopping vegetables by dragging his finger across the screen and sautéeing things in a pan by shaking the phone around -- in order to complete the recipe. The kids and I all love this game, so one day I decided to prepare one of the Cooking Mama recipes, Hamburgers Cooked in Tomato Sauce.

At first, my idea was to involve Jack and Henry in the food prep so that they would see how the various things they did in the video game translated into real life. But when it came time to cook they had better things to do, so I prepared the recipe myself.

And boy, did it turn out great! The burgers were mild enough to be very accessible to both boys while having enough flavor for me. Henry and Jack really scarfed them up, giving the big thumbs up when I asked them how they liked it. I can't wait to try some of the other recipes that Cooking Mama taught us!

Cooking Mama Hamburgers in Tomato Sauce
1 onion, chopped
1 T vegetable oil
1 lb. ground beef
1/2 c. breadcrumbs
1 egg
1/2 c. milk
salt and pepper
1 14 oz. can tomato purée

Sauté the onion until it is soft, not brown (or Cooking Mama will get fire eyes and you will FAIL). Put the onion in a large bowl, then add everything except for the tomato purée. Knead this mixture with your hands until it is completely blended, then form patties. Sauté these on both sides in a large skillet, doing this in two batches if necessary, until the patties are almost cooked through. Drain any accumulated grease from the pan, then pour in the tomato purée and cook, covered, for about five minutes. Serve the patties with the sauce from the pan.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Mom Hates Something, Too

Ever since I'd heard about it on Iron Chef (the original Japanese version, thank you--there is no other kind), I had wanted to try natto, which is fermented soybeans. Apparently, it's all the rage in Japan and has been for centuries.

Last week I was on a business trip to Denver, so I decided to have some sushi. There was a natto roll on the menu, and I ordered it. The sushi chef asked me hesitantly if I was sure that's what I wanted. "Yes!" I confirmed.

Long story short, it sucked.

First, the smell was very off-putting. Sometimes when things are fermented better things result from the process. Think beer, wine, and cheese. But fermented soybeans just aren't an improvement on the original.

Then there was the texture, or "mouthfeel" for all you foodies. The natto made everything except the outer nori wrap slimy. It was a real exercise to keep on chewing.

I was able to eat five out of the six rolls. I figured by that point I had proven to myself and to those in my immediate vicinity that I was a brave soul, someone who walks the "just try it" talk. It was hard, but I dood it.

I will never. Ever. Ask my family to eat natto. Sorry, Iron Chef and any Japanese people who may be reading this blog. I'm sure I've offended at least one person who grew up savoring the rich, unique flavor of natto. Well, if it makes you feel any better, go ahead and rag on something I adore eating. Here are a few to get you started: oysters, deviled eggs, stuffed cabbage, and lychees.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Modified Shepherd's Pie a Complete FLOP

Since Jack has declared mashed potatoes unfit for human consumption, I decided to try a modified Shepherd's Pie using white rice as the topping instead of mashed potatoes. I used a great product from the King Arthur Flour Company, Vermont Cheese Powder, which I mixed in with the rice, thinking that it would make it tastier. Well, for me it did, while the kids thought it was extra-disgusting.

As ever, I thought the dish turned out spectacularly, while the boys thought it was worse than field rations. They only finished their meals after I threatened to cut off their ice cream supply for the night.

For what it's worth, here's the recipe:

Laura's Failed Shepherd's Pie
1 lb. ground beef
1 chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 c. cooked corn (I used fresh; you may use canned or frozen)
1 can condensed tomato soup
1 1/2 c. cooked white rice
1/2 c. shredded mozzarella

In a large skillet, sauté the beef, onion, and garlic until the meat is no longer pink and the onion is soft. Drain off any accumulated fat, then mix in the corn and soup. Put this mixture into a casserole. Combine the rice with the cheese powder, then put this on top of the meat mixture. Sprinkle the mozzarella over the top, then broil until the cheese melts and browns a bit. Serve to the undying adulation of your grateful family. Or not.


Monday, April 12, 2010

Jack and Henry's Redeeming Qualities

I spend a lot of time ragging on my kids on this blog, when in fact they are pretty good eaters. As Krusty the Clown once said, "I kid because I love." Why, just last night Jack volunteered to try a little broiled cod after he saw Henry's friend eat some. "Not bad," he said just before frantically reaching for the milk to wash it down. "I was tricking you," he explained. But at least he ate it! And I didn't even have to ask!

And last week at the grocery store he asked me to buy some kumquats. Now, when I was a little girl, my gourmet fancy-pants uncle gave me a taste of candied kumquats. Which, to his horror, I spit right back into the jar. So I didn't have high expectations for these regular, unsweetened ones. The label on the package instructed us to squish the little beggars between our fingers to get the juices going and make the flesh nice and pulpy. On the count of three, we both took a bite. "One...two...three...HOLYMOTHEROFGODTHESESTILLTASTEAWFUL!!!" Into the trash they all went.

Another thing my kids eat that other kids don't is seaweed. They love the dried seaweed (nori) used to make sushi. And they especially love the Korean kind because it's roasted and salted and it tastes great. The whole family can't get enough of it. But the kids at Henry's school were giving him the business because they thought he was weird for eating seaweed. I asked him to ask his buddies if they liked yogurt, chewing gum, and salad dressing. After the big setup, he was to tell them that all of these things contain...seaweed! Ha! Eat that, nay-saying gradeschoolers!

So, yeah, I complain a lot even though I have much to be thankful for. But let's face it, would anybody be interested in reading about how every single thing I cooked was a smash hit? Nah, disagreement creates drama, which is interesting.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

"Mom, I HATE This April Fool's Joke."

I can't believe this.

This April Fool's Day, I thought I'd surprise the kids by serving cupcakes for supper! Ha ha, they're really meatloaf cakes with mashed potato frosting! Big laughs. Well...not really.

Henry thought they were a riot, and gamely posed for his picture before wolfing his "cupcake" down.

Oh, Mother, you're a real card!

Jack, on the other hand, was not amused. He thought he was going to get actual cupcakes and that, coupled with his newfound aversion to mashed potatoes, put the nail in the coffin of this joke.

Mom! I thought you meant real cupcakes!

Incidentally, cupcake-sized meatloaf cooks a lot faster than one huge meatloaf and automatically creates individual portions, so I'll probably use this method of cooking it in the future. The instructions called for foil muffin cups, but I didn't have any so I just baked the meatloaves in the muffin pan and placed them into paper muffin cups after they were cooked. These splayed out and didn't really sell the gag. Plus, cleanup was a real drag.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Jack's Wild Imagination

Last Sunday, Mike's Irish mom prepared a corned beef dinner for everyone. Much to everyone's surprise, Jack was woofing it down like there was no tomorrow! So, since tonight was Leftover Night, I figured that Corned Beef Part Deux would be nuthin' but net. But once again, I learned that I should never assume...

Jack: What's for dinner?
Me: Dad, Henry, and I are having mac and cheese, which you didn't like. But you get to have the corned beef!
Jack: I don't like corned beef.
Me: What are you talking about? On Sunday you were woofing it down like there's no tomorrow.
Jack: My imagination told me to like it. But I punched my imagination and now it went away and now I don't like it.
Me: You control your imagination. Why don't you imagine that you like corned beef?
Jack: No.

Unfortunately for him, my imagination told me to serve him the corned beef anyway. He managed to eat it all, with the help of the King's Condiment, ketchup.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

iCarly provides inspiration for tonight's mega-hit dinner

My son Henry likes to watch iCarly on occasion, and I have to admit I like it too. One of the characters invented Spaghetti Tacos, which Henry thought would make a great dinner for the Foley family. My first thought was to enclose the spaghetti in a tortilla and wrap it up like a burrito. But I quickly realized that it was hard taco shell or nothing at all, since both boys have told me in the past that they hate flour tortillas.

So we had Spaghetti Tacos, with veggie sticks on the side to give the meal at least a slight nutritional value. As you can see from the pictures, it was thumbs up all the way!



Spaghetti. Tacos. So. Good!



Don't bother me, can't you see I'm eating?


I'm not going to provide a recipe for this post. If you can't put two and two together on this one, I really can't help you!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Ham Chokettes, or "Favorite Food + Favorite Food ≠ New Favorite Food"

When I was a kid, one of my favorite meals was Chicken Croquettes. My mom used to cook them in a deep-fryer that had belonged to her father, and they were little slices of heaven. Of course, in these modern, fat-free times I hesitate to deep fry anything. Yet somehow, I can get behind "shallow frying" things in a pan that has about a 1/4" of oil in it. Basically it's the same thing, but it takes a little longer because the morsels aren't being cooked on all sides at once as they do when they're suspended in oil. Hey, I sleep at night.

After Christmas we had an abundance of leftover mashed potatoes and ham. (Note to self: From now on always buy spiral-sliced ham.) So I thought that since the kids both like mashed potatoes and I could kind of sell the ham to Henry (Jack loves ham, so no problem there), what could possibly go wrong with combining the two into croquettes?

Plenty.

"Mooooommm, what is this?"

"Mom, what kind of meat is this?"

"I don't like these!"

Of course, Mike and I both chowed down like there's no tomorrow. They came out just fine, but the boys' underdeveloped palates couldn't make the intellectual leap into novel flavor combinations. At least that's what I keep telling myself.

Ham Croquettes
2 c. leftover mashed potatoes
1 c. diced ham
1 egg
1/2 c. leftover gravy (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 more egg*, beaten
1 c. breadcrumbs
Oil for cooking

Combine the first five ingredients until well blended. Form mixture into smallish patties. Dip each patty in the beaten egg, then in the breadcrumbs to coat, putting them on a plate as you go. Refrigerate the patties for at least an hour. Do not omit this step! If you do, the patties will fall apart in the hot oil, guaranteed. Been there, done that.

In a deep skillet, heat 1/4" oil until just about smoking. Cook the patties a couple at a time, turning once when they have browned. Drain on paper towels and serve with whatever sauce will keep your little rug rats happy.

* Don't you hate it when a recipe calls for a certain measure of stuff, then halfway through the recipe you find that you were supposed to have used only some of it in an earlier part of the recipe, saving the rest for a later step? Me too! That's why I've put eggs on the list twice. You're welcome!

Friday, January 1, 2010

What They Don't Know Won't Hurt 'Em

Henry's on this "I'm not hungry" kick when I ask him what he wants for breakfast, to which I always reply, "You have to eat breakfast, that's what gives you energy for all the stuff you're going to do today," blah blah blah, static static static. Anyway, sometimes I can get him to drink a fruit smoothie at these times, which satisfies my desire for him to have something nutritious to start the day.

So the other morning, I blended some frozen raspberries, frozen peaches, strawberry yogurt, and some water to thin it out. After it was done I had a taste. Swa...swa...SWEET! I couldn't serve him that in good conscience. How could I bring this beverage back from the brink of disaster? Easy...silken tofu.

This bland food is much softer than regular tofu. It's great for sauces, dips, and spreads because it takes on the flavors of whatever it's combined with. So, I figured, why not smoothies? As it turned out, it worked perfectly. Not only did it cut the sweetness of the smoothie, it was virtually undetectable and added protein. Both Henry and Jack guzzled it down. Score one for mom!

Fruit Smoothies with Silken Tofu
1/2 c. frozen raspberries
1/2 c. frozen peaches (about 5 slices)
1/2 c. strawberry yogurt
1/2 c. water
6 oz. silken tofu

Blend. Serve. Give yourself a high five.