Archive | September, 2011

Rerun: Pumpkin Pie Parfait

28 Sep

It is raining. I have a weather-induced headache. My son told me he hates me this morning (motherhood is all sunshine and roses, isn’t it?). And I am in a funk.

I did not, however, succumb to the fresh cinnamon rolls and Berger cookies (Google it and thank me tomorrow) at the grocery store, where I went after dropping the kids at school. Warm smells wafting over the bakery, you have nothing over me. Because I have guilt-free pumpkin parfait to look forward to.

Ha. Take that, universe.

Use the link above to check out this recipe I posted last year. It’s delicious and really not bad for you at all. I guarantee that when I pull it out of the fridge after dinner tonight, I am going to be the most awesome mom who ever lived. And I would agree with that statement just on the basis of this dessert. 😉


Crockpot Steak Tacos

27 Sep

The cookbook (Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook, by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann) called these fajitas, and I guess they probably are. But I have to listen to howls of protest when I say fajitas and none when I pull out the hard shells and call them tacos, so they’re tacos. My ears are happier.

We liked these, but I have to tell you I was disappointed in the texture. I’m new at this whole steak thing and even newer at beef-in-the-Crockpot, but the meat fell apart when I pulled it out of the crock, so slicing against the grain (which is what the cookbook said to do) was pretty well impossible. They taste wonderful, don’t get me wrong. It just wasn’t quite what I was expecting, which probably says more about my inexperience in this area than the recipe.

We served these in hard-shell tacos (and thus, they’re marked gluten-free) with guacamole, cheese, and salsa. I had mine as a salad, which was quite good. The family seemed happy enough and truth be told, I was too tired by last night to drill through “how’s your dinner,” which I usually ask, so I took silence as an endorsement and let it slide. I also forgot to take a photo and apologize for that.

Definitely worth trying, and I’d love to hear anyone else’s experience with beef in the crockpot, and cuts that might be more sliceable than others after cooking in there. You need:

3/4 cup salsa (any salsa your family likes)

1 tbsp tomato paste

1 tbsp olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

The juice of a lime

A sprinkling of salt and pepper

1 1/2 pounds flank steak

1 onion, sliced

2 red peppers, sliced into 1/2 inch strips

In a bowl, combine everything up to the steak and stir well. Spray your slow cooker with nonstick spray. Lay your steak inside, pour the sauce over it, and lay the peppers and onions on top of that–don’t mix them in. Cover and cook on low 6 – 8 hours.

Remove veggies from the pot (I served them on top of our tacos). Lift out the meat and let it be for about 10 minutes, then slice (as best you can) against the grain. Serve.

Super-Fast Friday: Cinnamon Honey Butter

23 Sep

A new outpost of a locally-famous restaurant opened in our favorite getaway spot and we were lucky enough to try it during its first week. Fabulous menu–crab cakes (real ones. Like, with crab. Not a lot of filler. Amen.) and shrimp and scallops and rockfish and all sorts of yummies. Lovely decor–very cabin, adirondack, which was perfect for its new lakeside berth. Outstanding reputation before it even opened its doors.

DH had eaten at the original restaurant and he was telling me all of this before we tried the new one. Know what he was most excited about?

The butter.

They have honey butter, he told me, but it’s the best honey butter you’ve ever had in your life.

Crossed fingers and a few hopeful glimpses toward heaven that afternoon were rewarded with a wooden board of warm bread and a little pot of honey butter at our inaugural dinner at the restaurant, and we scarfed it down (I’ve told y’all we’re a carb-loving family. I wasn’t kidding.). And when the poor server came to clear our table for our real food, DH’s face dropped towards the floor and I had to psst her and point all secret-like and half-whisper that she was breaking the poor man’s heart, and she took pity and brought us even more honey butter and warm bread, and now that’s our favorite restaurant.

I digress.

The honey butter was amazing, and I asked what else was in it besides honey and butter; you all should try this trick, by the way. Restaurants are usually more than willing to share their secrets if you smile and say please and thank you and all the other things your mom tried to teach you along the way. Anyway, the answer was cinnamon. Not enough so you’d recognize it, but enough to give that butter an extra yum at the end.

Last night, being In A Mood and needing comfort, I baked a batch of sweet bread rolls (recipe coming–stay tuned) and then made some cinnamon honey butter of my own. This morning, I was all but canonized by my family. It’s that good. It’s also super easy–less than three minutes start to finish–and will keep beautifully in your refrigerator, just like butter. Take it out a little while before you want to eat some so it softens up or pop it in the microwave for five-second increments until it gets creamy if you’re in a hurry, and enjoy at your whim.

My directions tell you to change your mixer attachments halfway through–this, of course, only applies if you’re using a stand mixer with said attachments. If not, ignore that and keep on going. A hand mixer will absolutely work just as well, without changing anything.

Give this a shot, gang. Your family will flip. In a good way. You need:

1/2 cup of butter at room temperature (that’s a stick and STOP IT with the gasping–you make this and keep it and use it a little at a time)

1/4 cup of honey (spray your mixing cup with nonstick spray before you measure. Trust me.)

1/2 tsp of cinnamon

Using your paddle attachment (if applicable), whip the butter around until it’s fluffy in the bowl. Add your honey and mix that together until it’s well incorporated. Then, switch to your whisk attachment. Slowly (so it doesn’t poof up in your face) add the cinnamon and blend it in, and then crank up your mixer to whip it all together.

Store in your refrigerator in a sealed plastic or glass container. Enjoy your time on the pedestal your family is about to erect in your honor. 😉

I Hate It!

21 Sep

That’s the phrase we all struggle with, isn’t it? You put a nice dinner together (what, with all your free time) and set it lovingly on the table, and a short person sniffs at the plate, crinkles up a nose, and blurts out, “I hate this.”

It’s yucky.


That’s disgusting.

I’m. Not. Eating. Followed by a shove to the plate towards the center of the table (or the floor, depending on the night and the mood).

Contrary to what the Perfect People say, it happens to all of us. Every single parent who has ever taken the time to plan and shop for a meal and then cook it (and clean up afterwards) has had those phrases spring from their beloved children’s mouths. And every single one of us has felt a heart-sinking sensation and the instinct to bury said child’s nose in the middle of the supposedly inedible entree to force them to eat for the love of all that’s holy. Just. Eat.

It happened here last night. I’d heard a ton about the Pioneer Woman’s chicken spaghetti over on Pinterest and I gritted my teeth and went against everything I love about cooking and stirred together cream of mushroom soup (Healthy Request, but still) and cheese and noodles, and then glopped it into a casserole dish and baked it and let it sit, and then scooped it into bowls before presenting it to my kids with a cheerful, “Everybody loves this!” Because everybody does love that recipe and there are worse things in the world than occasionally breaking one’s rules about cream of ick out of a can so you can serve your kids a kid-friendly bowl of soft noodles in grey sauce that they’re supposed to love, yes?

They didn’t love it.

They tried it–I’ll give them that. DS took a bite, grimaced, looked at me, and gamely ate his portion, bribed maybe just a tiny bit with the promise of chocolate afterwards. I’m already breaking the rules, here. Might as well pull out all the stops.

DD took her bite, stuck out her tongue and “blech”ed, shoved her bowl to the center of the table (my personal favorite move), crossed her arms, and said she would. not. eat.

I didn’t choke her with the noodles. Points for me. (Oh, stop it. You’ve thought it too and I know it. I just say it out loud.) I did shrug, turn my back to busy myself with something else, and say, “Fine. Don’t eat. Go brush your teeth.”

She ate. Score.

But even if she hadn’t, know what? She is not going to starve herself into malnutrition in one night. She is not even going to starve herself in a week. And I have neither the time nor the budget (nor the patience) to make her something else just because she’s feeling like not liking a dinner.

I’m not completely heartless. My kids don’t like spicy food–it’s an honest dislike–and I do accommodate that with simple alternations or options when DH and I enjoy a meal with a little kick to it. My son honestly doesn’t like mac n cheese (I KNOW!) and I don’t ever expect him to choke it down just because I felt like making some. My daughter truly didn’t like baby food, and so we skipped it and went right to real food that I chopped up into dollhouse-sized bits. But these little snits where they don’t want to try something new or protest because the food on the table doesn’t fall into the “favorite dishes” category? I’m just not playing.

I adopted this attitude a year ago, and while they still do complain and I still hear about who doesn’t like what for this reason or that, they eat. Every night. Nobody yells, nobody scrambles to “fix” it, and nobody starves to death.

So that’s my house. What works for you all? How do you handle “I hate it?” Post it in the comments and let me know!



Better Baked Chicken Fingers

19 Sep

My kids have a teensy bit of a chicken fingers (nuggets, tenders, whatever) obsession. I’ll be honest with you–I don’t get it. We eat a lot of chicken around here, and they’ve been to enough restaurants to understand that there’s not usually a toy lurking under the napkin (and we eat fast food about three or four times a year, max), so it’s not a bribery thing. Maybe it’s the complete lack of fried chicken in their worlds–I grew up eating Kentucky Fried once a week or so at my grandmother’s house and am kind of permanently fried-poultried out as a result.


My poor deprived kids.


Anyway, the first thing they generally want to order when we eat out is chicken fingers, and one of my dear friends is a hero in their eyes because she almost aways has them on the table when we dine with her family.

Try as I might, I just can’t bring myself to buy the nuggets in my grocery store freezer. Have you ever read the labels on those things? Y’all, I can’t pronounce half that stuff, much less explain what it’s all doing in a bag of chicken. We don’t really fry around here (nothing against it, but it trashes my stove with grease and that breaks my heart; I really love my stove), and the usual bread-and-bake recipes are both lacking in the crunch department and, to be honest, not very tasty.

Enter Panko.

Panko are Japanese-style bread crumbs. They’re much larger and dryer than regular bread crumbs, which translates into lots of crunch even when you use less (which you generally will), and thankfully, are starting to appear on the shelf right next to their more ordinary brothers and sisters, even in my sad excuse of a Soviet-esque grocery store.

I threw this together over the weekend on a whim, after thinking a bit about my garlic bread spice mix and wondering how those same flavors (which are yummy!) might translate to chicken. The answer?

Cleaned plates without my hounding the short people to just eat already. Success.

This technique, by the way, would be equally great on fish; I plan to try it on some rockfish later this week and think baked fish sticks will be just as popular as these chicken fingers were. Amounts are approximate, as I was literally tossing together this and that; taste the mixture on your fingertip until it seems good to you.

Last hint: Cut the chicken across the grain (cut the breasts across the short side instead of down the long side) for the most tender fingers out of the oven. Cutting through all those fibers makes for some soft, yummy meat inside its crunchy crust.

Enough from me. Give this a go–you’ll need

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced thin across the grain

2 eggs, beaten

About a cup of Panko bread crumbs

1 teaspoon of paprika (sweet if you have a choice)

1 tablespoon of garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon of salt (I use No-Salt substitute and recommend it)

Heat your oven to 350 degrees and either line a cookie sheet with parchment paper (yes, I said parchment paper–it doesn’t stick) or spray it with nonstick spray.

Toss together your Panko, garlic powder, paprika, and salt in a bowl with a fork. Arrange your workspace in an assembly line: chicken, egg, breadcrumb mixture, cookie sheet.

Dip each piece of chicken in the egg and then roll it in the breadcrumb mixture to coat. Lay them on the cookie sheet so they don’t touch. Bake them about 15 minutes or until they’re cooked through. Enjoy

Note: I used two chicken breasts because this does not reheat well–the crumbs lose their crunch. Adjust up or down as needed, but I don’t recommend making more of these than you’ll eat in one sitting.



Screwing Up

16 Sep

My knee grew a purple baseball last night.

My knee grew a purple baseball because my Taekwondo class sparred last night, and while my classmates delivered carefully calculated kicks and punches, I flailed around like a purple dinosaur and got nailed in the kneecap (which is, by the way, one of the only bits of my body that peeks out from what feels like miles of padding…figures.). The women who nailed my knee was decidedly not taking it easy on me, and it hurt. A lot.

There was a second after that kick when I took my arms out of guard-up position, sucked in on my mouthguard, stepped back, and almost quit the match. Because I’m 40-something years old and I have a family and a career and a mortgage and a dorky old mom-car and absolutely no real business practicing martial arts with other people once a week. Stepping off to the side to pout and nurse my poor knee and unpeel my sweaty self from my body-suffocating vinyl gear sounded awfully good, and in a previous version of myself, that’s exactly what I would have done.

Instead, I pull-step-kicked and hopped forward. I kicked the air, mind you, but I got back in there. No match points as my opponent easily dodged away, but yay for me. It was a victory.

I tell you this because I get an email or two a week from you guys (who both read my blog and let me know about it–God love every one of you, I swear) telling me that you can’t cook. It’s a valid feeling and I respect it. Only…you can.

Taekwondo was something my son wanted to do, but he was afraid to go by himself. Afraid to be the only one making mistakes. So I signed up, thinking I’d take a few classes while he built his confidence, and then leave him to it while I sat in the back of the room with my Kindle. And now look–two years in, I’m working on my blue belt and I’m pretty sure it’s more my thing than his.

It’s easy to ignore the burners in the kitchen. I know. You have so many options, from frozen foods to take-out to PB&J to cereal, that let you eat without figuring out ingredients or braving a flame. It’s intimidating to put perfectly good food into a screaming hot pan. What if it burns? What if I measure wrong? What if nobody likes it?

Have I told you about the first time I tried to make garlic potatoes? I was, what, 22 years old or something, living on my own for the first time, and I got my courage up and bought garlic and potatoes and butter and salt, just like my Five Ingredients Or Less cookbook told me to. And I thought something was odd about the papery covering that seemed cemented to the cloves, but the cookbook never actually said to peel them, and that was clearly an impossible task anyway. So the garlic and the potatoes and the salt and the butter went into the oven and came out, and guess what?

It was inedible. Have you ever tried eating garlic skin?


I quit. Right then and there. Ramen noodles and mac and cheese out of the blue box and tuna sandwiches were just fine, thankyouverymuch, and I couldn’t cook.

Some years later, I made enough money to pay for cable TV and Rachael Ray showed me how to crush garlic with a knife to get the skin off, and I went to the store and bought potatoes and garlic and butter and salt, and I made myself that damned recipe, and it was delicious. And I did it.

You know the rest. Cooking is my hobby and my zen. I think about it nearly all the time–what ingredients might work together, how that saute technique might translate to this other dinner I like, how I can get my paws on that awesome new electric toy for my countertop. I still mess up recipes. I still make things my family won’t touch. I still learn, because there’s always so much to learn.

I go back to Taekwondo every week because my kids (who are in my class) expect me to. It’s a fantastic physical release. I’m getting stronger. I’m feeling more confident. I could defend myself if I needed to, which is very empowering all by itself. I know I really stink at sparring and my classmates know it and I feel like a moron every Thursday night by the end of class, and now I have this purple ball on my knee which is oh-so-attractive and comfy. But I am going to learn it. I refuse to give up. I will do this.

It’s the same in the kitchen. Give yourself some room to screw up. Improvise a little bit. Accept that even Julia Child herself had to take classes (and she was well into her 30s before she started cooking!). You can do this, and it really is fun, I promise. Decide to rock it and you will.

Keep cooking, gang. Thank you so much for the emails. Have a great weekend.



Crockpot (Spaghetti with) Meat Sauce

15 Sep

Fly-by today, gang–it’s one of those mornings. This came from reading a bunch of recipes that had too much stuff in them I didn’t want, and then making up my own. It’s simple and quick and delicious and perfect for our hurricane days. I may have to make it again today.

You need:

1 pound ground beef (ground chicken would work fine; ground turkey gets chewy)

2 tbsp olive oil

1/2 a sweet onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes (you can use diced or sauce if you prefer)

2 tsp Italian seasoning

1/2 tsp salt

2 tbsp tomato paste

Heat a large skillet over a medium flame. Swirl the oil over the pan and then add the onions. Cook them until they start to soften (not brown, but soften), and then stir in the garlic. Keep it moving for a minute, until you start to smell the garlic (it’ll burn and bitter if you let it sit still). Stir in the ground beef, crumbling it up as you add it in, and cook until that browns. Remove the pan from the heat and drain off the fat.

Coat your slow cooker with nonstick spray or more olive oil, and then stir together all the ingredients in it. Cook on low 4-8 hours. Adjust seasoning before you serve, as they can get pretty mild in the Crockpot.

(If you like your sauce sweet, stir in a tablespoon or two of sugar halfway through the cooking. If you like it rich and restaurant-like, stir in a tablespoon of butter right before you serve it and let it melt throughout the sauce.) Serve over noodles with Parmesan cheese.


Super Simple Garlic Bread Spice Mix

13 Sep

Want to make my family happy at an Italian restaurant?

Plop down that basket of garlic bread. Seriously–it’s like roadkill to vultures. As if we’re not going to have Carb-O-Rama anyway, we attack the bread like we’ve never seen food before and may never again. It’s even worse if there’s olive oil in a little dish for dipping.

I’ve tried to break this sad addiction, but nothing works. And now that my kids are well into elementary school, they know enough to have figured out that garlic bread can come with spaghetti at home, too.

The stuff in your grocer’s freezer is delicious, no doubt, and I’m not above grabbing a loaf or two if I’m making lasagna for 15 people on a holiday. It’s a time thing. But I don’t buy it just for us, because it’s disgustingly bad for us and because it takes up too much room in my freezer (this is an honest food blog, ladies and gentlemen, and there you have my confession on that one).

I’ve bought garlic bread spice mix through the mail for a long time now, mainly because the ones at the grocery store are full of salt and we get plenty of that already. The other day, though, I ran out. There was an almost-empty jar in my spice drawer and a ziti in the oven, and I will admit to you that I had a brief moment of panic before my inner Julia Child spoke up.

“Dude,” she said (Julia’s still cool), “It’s spices. How hard can it be?”

I shrugged. “Dunno. Let’s find out.”

And so I did. I took the remains of my spice jar and shook them onto a plate and got my CSI on, sifting through to see what I saw. Yellow stuff = garlic powder. Red stuff = paprika. And green stuff = Italian seasoning.

“Julia,” I said, “You still rock.”

From there, it was easy to sift together my own spices, put them into a little plastic container, and make garlic bread that was way healthier and cheaper than buying it or using a pre-made mix. I didn’t use a spice jar because my Italian seasoning is cut a little bigger than what was in the garlic bread mix I used to buy, and I didn’t think it would fit through the shaker top. So a plastic container is great–I can pinch out what I need.

Your inner Julia will be proud of this one, gang. Takes two seconds and no stove required. Ready? You need:

3 tbsp garlic powder (not garlic salt)

1 tbsp Italian seasoning

1 tsp paprika (sweet if you have a choice, but not hot)

Mix together in a resealable plastic container. To make garlic bread, slice Italian bread into one-inch-thick slices (I have used sandwich bread in a pinch, but don’t tell anybody). Lightly butter one side, sprinkle the spice mix on that, and pop it under the broiler for a minute or two butter side up, until the edges start to brown. Once that happens, pull it out. flip it over, lightly butter and spice it, and sprinkle some shredded Parmesan on top of that. Back under the broiler until the crusts brown and the cheese melt and you’re done. Don’t tell my family. You won’t stand a chance.


9 Sep

I may be the only one, but I’m on a conscious boycott of the Discovery networks this week.

I remember September 11, 2001 very well–I was on vacation with my husband and then-12-week-old son in a cabin with a lake in front and deep woods behind, watching Good Morning America in hopes of finding a local weather forecast so we could decide whether to rent a boat for the day. Like everybody else, I though the first plane was an accident–some small craft pilot smacking into the building like a kid hitting a tree with his bike. And then the towers collapsed and the world did too, and it was horrible and awful and life-altering.

And now it’s been 10 years, and, in my humble opinion, the networks (Discovery being the worst) have turned the events of that day into the Superbowl of terrorism. Nonstop promos and specials and “previously unreleased footage” designed to shock us all over again, glue us to our TV sets, and–let’s be honest–sell ads. The day, which should be commemorated in a respectful fashion, has been commercialized and billboarded and screamed from the rooftops. The kids in my kids’ classes are more than a little wigged out, thanks to the constant media onslaught, and more than one parent has told me tales of being asked what floor they work on during the day, how fast they could get to school if more planes came, and whether that really might happen again.

I won’t be watching TV on Sunday. I’ll be with my family off doing something normal, having said a prayer in my own head and heart that morning for all those families who were ripped apart a decade ago and for all of those ripped apart by similar acts since, and for some kind of peace for everyone. We’ll gather around our table that night and spend some time together watching our favorite shows (assuming they’re not pre-empted by 9/11 coverage), and I’ll tuck my kids into bed that night with our customary stories and kisses and hugs. I’ll likely bake something, because that’s comforting to me on a personal level, and put together a nice dinner, because that’s how we’ve come together for generations, over Sunday dinner.

I’ll be in my kitchen with my family. As will immense numbers of Americans, all hoping for the same things as we all move forward. As it should be.


Yummy Asian Noodle Soup

6 Sep

I had this past weekend to myself.

Did you hear that??

To. Myself. As in, the husband took the children away for two and a half days and I had my own house to my own self, with just me in it, totally alone. For a weekend. A long weekend. A long, quiet, uninterrupted weekend. For the first time in more than 10 years.

It. Was. Beautiful.

Don’t get me wrong–I adore my family. Love them, love them, love them. But do you have any idea what you can do with two and a half days all alone in your own house that you live in? You guys should see the pile of stuff I have outside for charity pick-up today (I’d take a picture but it’s raining and I don’t really do wet more than necessary). And you should see my immaculate basement and my spotless kitchen and my gorgeously clean and organized bathrooms, and the way things are folded and stacked just so in my linen closet. AND I watched two girly movies all by myself and slept late both days and did a little shopping (shhhh!).

Right?? Wonderful and amazing, and I was super glad to see my gang pull in the driveway yesterday afternoon, because I’d had a fabulous couple of days to regroup and recharge, which makes all the difference every so often.

I also cooked. For myself. Things that my family would complain madly but that I made and enjoyed greatly because they weren’t here. It was fun, gang. Serious fun.

One of the things I made was this delicious Asian Noodle Soup from Words to Eat By, which is among my favorite food blogs, especially for moms and dads who have precious little time to get a healthy, tasty meal on the table every day. I give it a big thumbs-up! I had it for lunch and dinner one day, and I have another bowl ready for my lunch today (I also borrowed her photo, which was much better than mine). A few notes:

I used dried garlic and dried ginger from The Spice Hunter in this. The simmering reconstituted it, and sometimes it’s just easier than using fresh, especially in a soup. I used about a tablespoon of each.

I like that the veggie bit of this is wide open so you can use what you want. I used spinach (a lot of it–it shrinks down markedly when you cook it), mushrooms, scallions, a few carrots, and a can of Chinese stir-fry vegetables I found in the Asian aisle of my supermarket, which were perfect for this. You could, of course, ditch the chicken or tofu and make this an Asian vegetable soup as well.

Get the mirin (also on the Asian aisle at the supermarket). You could substitute sherry with some sugar, but I think the mirin makes a huge flavor difference, and it keeps for a very long time so you’ll use it all up. That’s also where you’ll find the soba noodles, which leads me to…

If you’re going to have leftovers or you’re making this for a few days, don’t add the noodles to the soup in the pot. Instead, put some noodles in your bowl and ladle the soup over it, and then store the noodles in the fridge by themselves. Each time you heat a bowl up, add noodles. That way, they won’t disintegrate into mush by day 2.

This would be delicious with a shot of sriracha or other hot sauce if you like your Chinese food spicy. As it was, it reminded me greatly of my favorite soba noodle soup from my favorite Asian restaurant, and was perfect for my calm, productive weekend at home. I hope you try it, and thanks to Debbie for writing it!

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