Archive Page 2

Ode to the Fatherland.

Last week we had ravioli for dinner. Not just any ravioli, but ravioli from the Bronx. Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, to be precise. My kind father made one of his frequent pilgrimages back to his hometown to buy the homemade pasta (along with the best cookies in the world), and gave us a box to bring home after the holidays. The raviolis motivated me to make bolognese sauce. I make my bolognese very informally: I basically saute garlic, onion and carrots and then add whatever meat I have on hand. You can use beef, pork, veal, sausage, whatever. Add tomatoes and simmer. I made a huge vat, so we have a freezer full of sauce now.

But this meal is about the ravioli, not the sauce. If you haven’t been to Arthur Avenue, go. Now. It is the Italian neighborhood in the Bronx. People are scared of the Bronx, but Arthur Avenue is lovely. Well, lovely in a Bronx sort of way. It isn’t far from the zoo, so you can combine a trip. So many people go to New York and spend a zillion dollars on an Italian meal in Manhattan, when they could go to Arthur Avenue, pull up a bench to a picnic table, get wine in a juice glass, and enjoy the best Italian food that New York has to offer. All for about half the price. Just don’t ask for a menu.

Or you can send your Dad to pick up ravioli for you.


New Year, New Tools.

The tree is dumped the conservation land, the presents are in the playroom, and I am officially sick of food. Actually, I am still eating like a pig, and trying to work my way through the piles of candy and treats that we received from students and my husband’s work colleagues. (Food gifts are always appreciated, by the way.)  We ate really well throughout the holidays, and I got cooking tools for Christmas, so I am still somewhat inspired to cook despite being an estimated five pounds heavier than I was in November.  My dear husband granted me my wish for new pans, and got me two new All Clad frying pans. I also still have a gift card to buy more kitchen tools, although I am waiting for my kids to return to school to go shopping. Which reminds me, did my kids have the longest vacation in history? They were out the 21st of December, and go back January 3. Ridiculous.

A couple programming notes from holiday cooking: One tradition our family really likes is to do fondue for Christmas Eve dinner. I started this years ago when I realized we had not yet used our fondue set that we received as a wedding gift. I continued it because Christmas Eve is a night where we need a quick turn-around for dinner. We go to church late afternoon on Christmas Eve, so when we get back everyone is hungry. Fondue is perfect because I can prepare it all ahead of time, and just melt the cheese sauce when we get back from Church. There are lots of variations, but I like the very easy gruyere cheese with white wine and garlic. Add a little flour to thicken. I usually cut up lots of french bread, salami, pepperoni, peppers, and broccoli. Then we do chocolate fondue with strawberries and pound cake. There is nothing more fun than dipping your entire dinner, and somehow we manage to get some vegetables in. Every year my children’s only complaint is that we only do fondue on Christmas Eve. This year I resolve to remember to drag out the pot more often.

Now, on to 2012. Tonight in my All Clad pans I made Giada’s Roman Chicken.  It is not hard to make, although I would cut the chicken breasts into smaller parts (or use those pre cut chicken tenders) to make the chicken cook faster. This is a good meal for everyone because it is sophisticated enough to be interesting to adults, but actually everything in it is fairly familiar to kids: chicken, peppers, tomatoes. Throw it over spaghetti, and everyone will have something they like on the plate.

There it is, in my fancy new pan. I should be relatively inspired over the next few weeks, as I have new tools and I am in what I call the glory days. Glory days would be defined as days my children are in school but I am not teaching. Happy Glory Days!

Catching up.

The last month has been insane here, as it has been for everyone. We have had something every weekend, plus work is insane in December as I grade final papers and exams, and give out grades. That is always followed with a flood of complaints. This is a new phenomenon to me. Can any of you remember a time you complained to a professor about a grade? If I got a grade I was upset about, I assumed I was stupid and just cried in my dorm room. I certainly never would have emailed my professor and asked why I didn’t get an A. I feel like I should tattoo on my forehead the following: “Everyone cannot be the top 10%.”

I digress. Despite all this holiday chaos, we have eaten pretty well. Here is a quick summary of a couple good recipes.

Slow Cooker Roast Beef: I have relied heavily on the slow cooker recently. This recipe is literally the easiest thing you will ever make. I got it from Crock Pot Guys on Facebook: It is called To Die For Roast. I am not sure it is to die for, but it is unbelievably easy and tasted good. You throw in a roast with three packets: gravy mix, ranch dressing mix, Italian dressing mix. And water. Let it cook all day. I served it with mashed potatoes.

My children loved the beef. It was easy to chew (Garrett’s only question when I serve beef: Is it tender?) and flavorful. But they don’t like mashed potatoes. Let me type that again: My children do not like mashed potatoes. If I hadn’t pushed them into the world myself, I would think they were adopted.

BLT Salad: This I read about somewhere, and just copied. My children will eat anything with bacon. I suspect that if I wrapped dog poop up in bacon, they would eat it with a smile. I haven’t tested that theory yet so you don’t have to call Child Services. Anyway, here is the salad: bacon, iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, homemade croutons. I threw in some carrots for some extra nutritional value. And some blue cheese for some extra yum. Toss with dressing of your choice, but I used oil and vinegar. Everyone ate it happily. I don’t really understand why so many children will eat raw veggies by the pound but refuse to eat salad. Here is a strategy I have used with my kids: start out salads that are 100% vegetables, no lettuce. After a couple weeks, add a little lettuce. Serve it a lot. Over time they will adjust to lettuce and you can increase it. Now Garrett’s favorite part is the lettuce.

I hope those ideas give everyone some easy options for the next few weeks of constant cooking and baking. I have asked Santa for some new cooking tools, so maybe I will have some inspiration.

Mother-Daughter Dinner

Tonight was a rare evening where Kyra and I had dinner alone. Garrett was at a friend’s house, and my husband wasn’t home yet. All we were having was panini and crudite, but we decided to eat in the dining room. This time it wasn’t to have ambiance, but because Kyra’s ever-present drawings, cards, and crafts were spread all over the kitchen table. Whoever complains about having all girls should count how many hours their girls sit and draw, and imagine their boys running, throwing, and jumping all those hours.

Anyway, the panini were great: chicken, pesto, tomato and mozzarella. I threw some cucumbers and carrots in a chip and dip plate with dip to have a side. Uneventful, easy, and eaten without complaint. Which is good, because I am sick of food right now.

Much more interesting was the conversation. We lit the candles, dimmed the lights, sat down, and Kyra literally unloaded her life. She talked for 15 minutes straight before she took a bite. About…Matthew. She has a boyfriend, she starts with. His name is Matthew. He is very short. He sits at the table across the cafeteria and looks at her for the entire lunch time (does this kid have a staring problem?). Light skin like hers, blue eyes, brown hair, usually wears a brown shirt. He’s in Room 7. We discussed that she needs to talk to a boy before he is her boyfriend. So far, just staring, and the occasional wave. But she can’t talk to him about being her boyfriend, that is not allowed at school. So then we talked about topics she might want to talk about with Matthew. Her idea, “What is your favorite holiday?” I said that would be a good start.

God help me. I may never have dinner with her again. I can’t handle it.

A little ambiance, please.

When we moved into this house, I lobbied hard to use our large front room as a formal dining room. Not a surprise considering my various theories about eating together as a family, but it has the only fireplace on the main floor, and Marc wanted to put a TV in the room so he could watch football with a fire going. We already have a great room (just no fireplace in there), so I stood my ground. And won.

And then we proceeded to let dust accumulate in the dining room. Outside of holidays, we rarely entered what is really a pretty room. I really like the room, and Marc is a pyromaniac that loves the fireplace, so a few weeks ago we decided it was time to eat Sunday dinners in the dining room on a regular basis. Tonight we started a fire in the fireplace, I lit candles on the table (which had a table cloth on it!) and dimmed the lights.

The results were truly magical. We all sat for more than ten minutes. We ate, talked, and barely fought. Nothing was spilled. The kids were fascinated with the dimmed lights, especially after we figured out that the bulb in the corner was not the correct kind, so it didn’t dim with the others. Which meant that one chair had a shining spotlight. So the golden child decided to sit in it and meditate. Rather loudly, so I am not sure it worked.

The irony is that the food was nothing remarkable. This past week has been “Clean Out the Freezer” week in our house, so I have been creatively using all my frozen extras so I can clear space for the holidays and get all my food storage containers back. Tonight I made chicken cacciatore with a container of frozen red sauce and a package of frozen chicken thighs. All I needed to buy were mushrooms. Everyone liked it, especially because I put it over spaghetti.

You basically just brown the chicken, remove it and saute onion, garlic and mushrooms, then add red sauce (or tomatoes), wine, oregano and crushed red pepper. Put the chicken back in and simmer.

The point of the ambiance is not that it makes the food taste better, but that it makes the food less important. With kids that may be picky, try making dinner about something other than the food. Before they know it, they may actually eat. Plus if it is dark enough, they have no idea what they are eating…

Fall Back … otherwise known as the longest day of the year.

Any parent will tell you that children get screwed up royally by Daylight Savings. I swear my children adjusted easier when we flew to Las Vegas and changed time zones than when we simply move our clocks back an hour. First, try explaining that concept to a kid. My kids are relatively smart (if I do say so myself), and they were epically confused when we tried to explain that although their clocks said 7:00 p.m. when we told them to go to bed, it was really 8:00 p.m., BUT in the morning they must not move a muscle until at least 6:00 a.m. on their clocks. Yes, I said 6. My kids’ worst quality overall is their early riser status. It has improved slightly over the years (from 5:30 to 6:30/7 if we are lucky), but when I talk to parents whose kids sleep until 9 a.m. I want to punch them. Yes, I mean you. And don’t tell me to keep my kids up later, because that just makes them get up earlier. And did you think I didn’t think of that idea?

Alas, we were all up at exactly 6 this morning. It is now 5:48 and I already made and ate dinner because this day is endless. We have hours until bed time. Never mind that it was dark when the Patriots/Giants game started. In light (no pun intended!) of the dark, endless day, I needed a warm, comforting meal. So we had mini-meatloafs and parmesan crusted potatoes (sweet and plain).

I think I have blogged about my mini-meatloafs before; they are a great way to get kids excited about a food they have had before. And they cook faster than a whole loaf, which is a perk. I tried the Paula Deen classic meatloaf recipe, and it was really delicious. Moist, flavorful, and comforting. The potatoes were a Thanksgiving recipe from October’s Cooking Light Magazine. I really liked these potatoes; they were crunchy and fun to eat. The kids liked them too. Marc is a purist with potatoes: he only really loves french fries. Weird man doesn’t care for mashed potatoes. I figured that the sweet potatoes counted as a healthy veggie, so I ended things there. I am trying to simplify my life a bit, and making 2 things for dinner rather than my traditional 3 (protein, veggie, starch), is both healthier and easier.

I hope you all enjoy the light tomorrow morning. At least we will be back to school and work, so the day won’t be endless.

My Version of Kid Food.

Does she look happy? She was. Well, with dinner. Not so much with being sent to her room for talking back after dinner, sans dessert. But that is an entirely different blog.

I stole tonight’s dinner idea from some celebrity chef or newspaper or website, but I can’t remember which one. So I apologize in advance for my violations of copyright law. It was this delicious, fancy version of fish sticks. My type of kid food. Here is the very simple recipe (that I made up after reading some version of this somewhere):
– Buy tilapia filets (or any firm white fish).
– Cut in half length-wise to create finger/stick-like shape.
– Dip in pesto (home-made if you have it).
– Dip in panko bread crumbs.
– Bake. I think it took about 20 minutes and I flipped them once.

These were the best fish sticks I have ever had. Now, they can’t exactly be picked up like a stick, but who really cares when they taste so good? They are crunchy and delicious. The kids loved them, and felt like they were getting a night of “kid food.” I am sure dipping fish in pesto is not exactly healthy, but the sticks are baked, so that helps. If you make your own pesto you can control the salt as well.

We had Texas Toast (Garrett has been begging for a month) and steamed broccoli with “holiday” sauce on the side. That is how my kids say Hollandaise, and it seems appropriate because we usually save it for a holiday. Sometimes, though, it is fun to make a boring vegetable special on a random Wednesday night.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t keep you out of your room if you talk back.