Saturday, October 8, 2011

Henry's dental work expands my soup repertoire

Poor Henry. Last week he had to get an expander installed in his mouth, a coiled wire that pushes out on his upper palate to create more room for his crowded teeth. He's been miserable and unable to chew anything because his teeth ache so much. We've tried puréeing solid food for him, but that's just wrong. To provide Henry with some options, Mike got some Carnation Instant Breakfast (rebranded for the new millennium as "Carnation Breakfast Essentials") for him and I've been creating soup recipes.

Vegan Cream of Spinach Soup. Want to know what
Cream of Carrot Soup looks like? Same thing, but orange.
Of course, the challenge is to make a soup that is as nutritionally balanced as possible while also being liquid enough for Henry to eat. So I've been creating some vegan soups for him that he enjoys eating that have a full compliment of vitamins, minerals, proteins, and all that good stuff.

But not every recipe is a winnah. I showed him the black beans I'd bought for a recipe and he ruefully informed me that he doesn't like bean soup. Neither does he like refried beans. OK, then, short of getting some kind of bulk-up powder from GNC, how am I gonna include protein in his diet?

My secret ingredient has been silken tofu. It blends beautifully into the soup, creating a "cream of" style of soup without the cream, which would add fat and calcium but not much else. Silken tofu absorbs the flavors of the other ingredients and blends into a smooth liquid, rendering it virtually undetectable.

So far, I've developed two soups for him, and he likes them both. Here are the recipes:

Vegan Cream of Carrot Soup
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, sliced
2 t freshly grated ginger
3 stalks celery, sliced
5 carrots, roughly chopped
1T vegetable oil
2T Braggs Liquid Aminos
2 quarts water
1 block silken tofu

In a soup pot, sauté the onion, garlic, ginger, celery, and carrots in the oil over medium heat until things have browned a bit. Pour in the water, turn the heat to low, and simmer until the vegetables are soft. Use an immersion blender to purée everything in the pot. Add the silken tofu and purée until blended in.

Vegan Cream of Spinach Soup
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 T vegetable oil
The box has pictures of vegetables on it and I
picked it up in the soup aisle. Therefore, it
must be vegetable soup stock, right?
2 quarts water and powdered vegetable stock/bouillon* OR 2 quarts veg stock
1 large bunch spinach
1 block silken tofu

In a soup pot, sauté the onion and garlic in the oil over medium heat. Once the onions are soft, add the water and powdered vegetable stock or the premixed vegetable stock. Turn the heat up to high and boil briefly until the spinach is limp. Remove pot from heat, then purée with an immersion blender. Add the silken tofu and purée once more until the soup is smooth.

If you don't have an immersion blender, add meaning to your life by purchasing one immediately. In the meantime, you can purée the soup in batches in a conventional blender.

*I got my powdered vegetable stock from H-Mart, an Asian grocery store. Unfortunately for me, the label was printed in Japanese, so I didn't know how many packets went to a quart of water. I winged it, and the results were fine. Bouillon generally is very high in sodium, so you probably won't need to season the soup too much.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Henry Cooks Beef Stew

It's been a while since my last Culinary Mom post. In the interim, I have served dinners that were colossal failures, such as the made-from-scratch ravioli with fresh garden sauce prepared during a heat wave that raised the temperature of the kitchen to about 85° and which everybody hated. Except me, of course. I have also served up some winners, such as the tried and true Taco Night, American Chop Suey, and the ever-popular Ordering Out for Pizza. And earlier this month Henry laid his thumb open by not using the claw grip on some scallions he was chopping (luckily, a butterfly bandage we had on hand closed it up and we avoided a trip to the emergency room).

But today is Henry's birthday, and he wanted to make beef stew because he had made it last week at Cub Scout camp and thought it was delicious. Always one to seize the opportunity to get the kiddos involved in the kitchen, I agreed heartily. Mike found some no-sodium beef bouillon at the store, which was miraculous since bouillon usually has about a million times one's recommended daily allowance of sodium. And of course we needed beef, so I splurged and picked up some sirloin that went for about $6.50/pound. Since Mike really hates celery, we omitted that.

Henry and I got cooking, and I started by sautéeing the onions I had chopped the night before but hadn't been able to use because the power went out just as I was about to put them into the pan (which led up to Sandwich Night). Then I supervised him as he cubed the beef and was about to add it to the onions when he said that he'd meant ground beef. Oh well, at least now I'd know exactly what was going into our hamburger this time. We ground the beef using my trusty 114-year-old meat grinder, which both boys love to operate.

Jack cut up the potatoes and a carrot. At first I had him using a serrated plastic knife so that he wouldn't hurt himself, but he was having a tough time getting through the vegetables. So today he graduated to a sharp knife, a small paring knife with a three-inch blade. At least Jack remembered to use the claw grip!

We added the rest of the ingredients and a half-hour later the stew was done! It was a little bland for my taste, but Henry woofed it up like crazy. Jack didn't like it much, so Henry had his first experience of people not liking his cooking. But that didn't bother him at all. Maybe I should take a page from his book.

Camp Split Rock Beef Stew
1 onion, chopped
1 T vegetable oil
1 lb. ground beef (or ground filet mignon if you're feeling wealthy)
2 potatoes, cubed
2 carrots, cubed
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 packet no-sodium beef boullion
1 t. Italian seasoning
1 3/4 c. water
Black pepper, to taste

In a stew pot on medium heat, sauté the onion in the oil until it is translucent. Add the beef and cook until there are no pink bits left. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Turn the heat to low, cover the pot, and let the stew simmer for a half hour or until the vegetables are soft.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Vegetarian Dinner Fails to Win Fans

My cousin and her family are vegetarians, so when her family came overfor dinner I had a complete, meatless Mexican menu planned. I had read one of the cookbooks by Jennifer McCann, author of the Vegan Lunch Box blog, that had a recipe for black bean tamales. So I hinged my hopes on making them for dinner, unaware of the obstacles that lay ahead. Chief of which being that corn husks are in very short supply in Central Massachusetts.

Since hope springs eternal, I started by calling the supermarket down the road from where I live. The grocery manager was incredulous that such a product exists, then he looked up and down the International aisle looking for them, with no luck. And when I asked him for masa
harina, the superfine corn flour that's used to make the tamale dough, he told me that they sell cornmeal but that was it.

I asked a friend if she knew where to buy corn husks, and she suggested buying some fresh corn and using the husks to wrap the tamales. This was an excellent suggestion, but I didn't feel like eating dry, out-of-season corn just to get the husks.

A Web search didn't reveal any bodegas in Worcester, so I drove to Fitchburg because I knew of one there. When I arrived, I found that it had gone out of business. Then it was on to the
Fitchburg Market Basket -- my last, best hope -- and struck out. They did have frozen tamales, however, which I bought. I also picked up the fixings for enchiladas and a box mix for little cheese breads.

I worked on dinner for about 90 minutes. Here are the stats:

Dinner was such a huge failure that Mike made quesadillas with customized queso for the kids: Olivia's had no cheese, only refried beans; Eli's had a microscopic layer of cheese; Henry's had a good amount of cheese; and Jack's also had turkey.

Oh, and I forgot to serve the tamales. Not that it would have mattered, I imagine.

So if you're ever entertaining some vegetarian adults, here's how you can wow them with dinner:

Vegetarian Enchiladas:
1 T. vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 c. vegetable broth
1 packet Goya Sazón
1 26 oz. can crushed tomatillos
12 corn tortillas
1 c. grated cheese (leave out for the vegan option)

Preheat the oven to 350°. Heat the oil in a frying pan and saute the onions and garlic over medium heat until soft. Add the potatoes, tomatoes, broth, and seasonings. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and cover the pan. Cook until the potatoes are done but not mushy (I left it about 10 minutes; check often.) Take the pan off the heat, then stir in the TVP, cover the pan, and set aside until the TVP has absorbed most of the liquid.

Pour about 3/4 c. of tomatillos into the bottom of a 9" x 13" baking dish. Microwave the tortillas for 30 seconds to soften them up. Fill each tortilla with some of the TVP mixture, roll it up, and place it seam side down in the baking dish. When done, pour the rest of the tomatillos over the enchiladas. Top with the grated cheese, if using.

Cover the pan with foil and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the foil, turn the oven up to broil, and leave in the oven until the cheese is browned, about five minutes more.

If you're trying to please two vegetarian kids and two omnivores, I suggest Frosted Flakes.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Easier It Is to Prepare, the Less the Kids Like It

Jack really, really, really likes shrimp. So when I found a recipe on for 10-Minute Shrimp I was over the moon. Because nothing says "weeknight dinner" like "10-minute" in the title. And I figured that I was covered by substituting cannellini beans for the shrimp to satisfy on-again/off-again vegetarian Henry.

Alas. The beans failed to tempt Henry's taste buds.

The shrimp, however, was a monster hit and, as ever, I loved them both. So here are the recipes:

10-Minute Shrimp Scampi (adapted from

1 lb. frozen shrimp
2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
3 T unsalted butter
1 fresh lemon

Place shrimp and garlic in a microwave-safe bowl and cook on high until the shrimp are hot, 3-5 minutes. Drain the liquid, then add the butter and parsley and cook on high for 1 minute or until the butter has melted. Remove from microwave and squeeze lemon juice over the shrimp to taste. Serve over spaghetti with lots of grated cheese.

Mmmm, bwah, don't that look good?

10-Minute Cannellini Scampi

1 14-oz. can cannellini, drained and rinsed
2 t vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
3 T unsalted butter
1 fresh lemon

Place cannellini, oil, and garlic in a microwave-safe bowl and cook on high until the beans are hot, 2-3 minutes. Drain any liquid, then add the butter and parsley and cook on high for 1 minute or until the butter has melted. Remove from microwave and squeeze lemon juice over the beans to taste. Serve over spaghetti with lots of grated cheese.

Oh boy, when do we eat?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Can You Fall Off a Log? Then You Can Make Granita!

I first saw a recipe for granita in Cooks Illustrated a number of years ago. I blew it off, thinking that it being a Cooks Illustrated recipe it would take a long time to make. (No offense, Cooks Illustrated, but the Mom version of me just doesn't have the hours to devote to cooking as much as the Pre-Kid version of me.) Then, when I was looking for a way to use up a pot of coffee that hadn't been drunk, I came across a recipe for Coffee Granita from Alton Brown. Basically, the recipe called for freezing sweetened coffee. It was cinchy and delicious! But it wasn't something I wanted to feed the kiddos just before bedtime, since I tend to brew me a pretty strong cup o' joe.

Now, all granita is is frozen liquid, agitated once in a while so that it doesn't freeze as solid as a brick. It's fat free, vegan, and appealing. It's as easy to make as boiling water, and the kids can't get enough of it.

Need I say more?

Super-Easy Granita
Ingredient: Your kids' favorite juice

In a 9x13 baking dish, pour enough juice so that it comes up to a depth of about 1/2". Put the dish in the freezer and wait a couple of hours. Take the dish out of the freezer and break up the ice with a fork. Put it back in the freezer, wait about another hour, take it out, and scrape the crystals again. Keep doing this until the juice becomes granulated and kind of fluffy. Tell the kids it's ready, then get out of the way!

Note: Tonight, Henry and I wondered what you would serve V8 granita with. He suggested carrots.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Unacceptable Chicken Patties

Henry has taken the specialization of his dislike for chicken to a new level. He tells me that he only likes Japanese chicken (whatever that is...he keeps referring to a long-forgotten dinner we once had) and the chicken patties they serve up in the school cafeteria. So I thought I'd create some chicken patties of my own that would win his heart and mind.

I had some leftover cooked chicken breasts, so I put them in the Cuisinart along with an egg, a little flour, and some salt. I puréed the crap out of it until it formed a little homogenous ball in the bowl. Then I formed these into little patties about two inches across, which I breaded and fried to a beautiful golden brown.

As experimental dishes go, I had a decent hit rate: 75% favorable, with Mike, Jack, and me declaring them "yum." Henry, on the other hand, didn't think they were anything like the school chicken patties and gave 'em the thumbs down.

I'm still very happy with this recipe, because using wholesome ingredients I was able to approximate something that resembled an institutional chicken patty, but without the laundry list of unpronounceable chemicals and weird fillers that are usually added. I created a healthful dish that pretty much any kid would enjoy. Any kid but Henry, that is.

But I'll soldier on, as I always do. The other day I resubscribed to Everyday Food. The boys won't know what hit them when I start laying the new recipes on them!

Close-to-Institutional Chicken Patties
1 1/2 c. cooked chicken
2 eggs
1/2 t salt
1 T flour plus 3/4 c. flour
3/4 c. breadcrumbs
1/4-1/2 c. vegetable oil

In a food processor, purée the chicken, one of the eggs, salt, and 1 T. flour until the mixture forms a ball. Form the mixture into patties about two inches across. Beat the second egg in a small bowl, then put the remaining flour and the breadcrumbs into two separate bowls. Bread each patty by first coating it in flour, then dipping it in the egg then the breadcrumbs. Heat the oil in a skillet (it should come up to a depth of about 1/4"), then fry the patties until they are golden brown on both sides.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Toasted Kale? What Th'...

Today I noticed a recipe in All You magazine for toasted kale. "It tastes just like potato chips!" gushed the author. So since I just happened to have a bunch of kale lying around, I decided to take her up on her dare. Jack helped me to tear the kale into smaller pieces, but he let me coat it with olive oil so that he could keep his hands clean. Then he sprinkled the kale with salt, and we roasted it until it was dry.

Man, oh man, was it ever GOOD! I couldn't stop eating the stuff! It didn't really taste like potato chips, but the crunchy little beggars were very good and loads better for me than potato chips.

Jack, being the game guy that he is, tried one and immediately rejected it. Henry, however, really dug them! At least at first he did, then he gave the rest to me because he told me it had lost its flavor.

Just to let you know, I found this Web site that tells you how many nutrients are in a cup of boiled kale with salt (not quite the same, but close). How does 354% of the USRDA of Vitamin A sound? How about 89% of your Vitamin C? And just one gram of fat? Well, admittedly there's more in kale chips since they're roasted in olive oil. But that stuff's pretty good for you, too! Full nutrition data for one cup of boiled, drained kale with salt

Compare this to an 8-ounce bag of potato chips. Surprisingly high in Vitamin C, these little slices of Heaven pack 131% of the USRDA of fat into each bag, plus loads of other stuff your body could do without. Full nutrition data for potato chips

All in all, this recipe was a great find! I could picture myself eating a whole head of kale cooked this way. And with Henry kind of liking it, well that's a bonus.

Toasted Kale
by Lindsay Benjamin, All You editor

Fresh kale
1T olive oil*

Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Tear the fluffy part off of the "stem" of each leaf of kale into potato-chip sized pieces and put them on the cookie sheet. Pour on the oil, toss to coat, then sprinkle with salt. Roast at 375° for 12 minutes or until dry. Drain on paper towels then serve.

Note: Ms. Benjamin originally called for 2T oil, which made the kale a little too greasy for my taste. Try it both ways to see which way you like best.