Friday, December 31, 2010

Nutty Granola Bars

I discovered this recipe on A Life Less Sweet and we LOVE it. The blogger is a stay-at-home mom with a PhD in chemical engineering. She is trying to revamp the way her family eats and avoid HFCS (high fructose corn syrup). I enjoy checking out what she has to say from time to time, and I really wanted to share this bar recipe with you.

It looks like a lot of ingredients, but it is SO super easy to put together. The only change I make to it is that I put it in an 8x8 instead of the 13x9 indicated. I like a thick granola bar, and I think it's easier to cut without as much crumbling and falling apart.

For those not wanting to click on the link, here is the recipe:

Nutty Granola Bars

3 cups rolled oats (quick oats are fine)
2/3 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon (optional)
5 TBSP butter, softened
3 TBSP unsweetened applesauce
1/3 cup honey
3 TBSP and 1 and 3/4 tsp packed brown sugar
3 TBSP nut butter of choice (optional)
1/2 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips (optional)
3 TBSP flaxseed meal or wheat germ (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 F. Lightly grease a 9"x13" pan.

In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well.

Firmly press mixture into the prepared pan. Bake at 325 F for 20 min or until golden brown. Let cool for 10 min and then cut into bars. Let bars cool completely in pan before removing or serving. (This is so important! They'll be very crumbly until they are absolutely cool.) On hot summer days, might want to store in the fridge so that they're not as crumbly and the chocolate doesn't melt.

Makes about 24 bars.

Besides the 8x8 pan, I skip the flaxseed/wheat germ and only add the nut butter if I don't want to send it with Caleb to school. The nut butter does make the mixture stick a bit better together. However, I stir the mixture A LOT and it seems to do just fine. I also use regular chocolate chips, fudging the measurement a bit. :)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Whew! Through the Holiday Season

The title says most of what's on my mind. However, I thought I'd share a few thoughts about eating in others' homes, especially when those others are well-meaning family. Let me preface everything else by saying that I love my parents and am not writing this as a means of requesting any changes to their behavior! If I wanted them to change, I'd ask or put up a fight or something more direct. That said, I think it might be helpful for others to read musings on holiday time with family and the food situations which may arise during that time.

When I typed the word "holiday," I immediately had all kinds of delicious associations. I wish I could say that I had non-food associations with the holidays, but food plays a huge role in my holiday experience. Whether I'm celebrating a Jewish, Christian, secular or other kind of holiday, food helps set the atmosphere. Go check out my Thanksgiving posts (way too many to link, but a quick search will bring them up). Food and holidays go hand in hand for me.

Now the problem with this food-holiday connection is that most of the food associations are not all that healthy for me, unless I'm eating ridiculously small portions of said food. OK, turkey on Thanksgiving is probably fine, assuming a normal portion size. BUT think about side dishes, and think about the snacking before the meals. And think about whether the meals are "well-balanced." Are the snacks "well-balanced?" Does it all even out over the holiday?

Nope. The holidays are inevitably carbohydrate heavy, lighter on fruits and veggies, heavier on fats, and protein varies depending on the holiday.

My kids are affected fairly obviously by their diets. They tend to be more agreeable and cooperative when they are eating well, and the inverse also is true. So what do I feed the kids when I'm in the situation of lots of carbs and sugar and not so much of the other stuff to balance it out?

When we arrived at my parents' house this year for Christmas, Aaron and I made a grocery list. My parents had plenty of food in the house. Yet we wanted some of our own food comforts and some of what we consider essentials. In no particular order, our list looked something like this:
  • fruit - ended up with bananas, clementines, and grapes
  • yogurt
  • oatmeal
  • diet dr. pepper
  • beer
In retrospect, we could have skipped the yogurt, and we probably should have picked up some salad fixings. However, my parents are in the process of moving and we didn't want food being thrown out after we left. Of everything we purchased, the fruit was the most helpful for me, and I think the kids appreciated having portable snacks. I would have loved more to help me avoid eating nearly the entire batch of buckeye candy. Will power would help too, but I have very little of that. :)

Other than the small shopping trip, I decided that teaching my kids to be polite was more important than waging an ideological battle against my parents. Yes that meant my kids ate bread with minimal fiber, lots of crackers and cookies, more processed food than they do at home, and drank more juice than they do in an average month. Life is about balance, and it's too short to spend it fighting with those I love.

Interestingly, my kids rejected some of the foods I expected them to go gaga for. Neither kid was a huge fan of the peanut butter my mom had. I'm not sure whether it was texture or taste. I generally buy crunchy and natural - something requiring stirring. My mom had bought a popular brand of creamy with some sugar (not HFCS). Neither kid begged for the buckeye candies I adore, which of course meant my own will power was weakened further. After all, I can't let them go to waste!! :P They weren't even big fans of the sandwich bread, though they did enjoy other breads while we were there. It made me wonder about my kids' tastes, to be honest. I mean, isn't it natural for people to drift to sweet foods? And when I look at processed food, much of it is processed to make it easier to eat - requiring less chewing before it gets to your stomach where you can have whatever biochemical reaction that makes you want more. And don't we people like layers of flavor in our foods rather than simple single flavored foods?

My kids seem to prefer their fruits and vegetables straight, no added butter, cheese, sauce, seasonings. OK, Ellie probably would put grated Parmesan cheese on anything, but she doesn't ask for it on food other than pasta (and now popcorn thanks to me). My kids seem to prefer peanut butter made with one or two ingredients - roasted peanuts and salt. And they like high-fiber breads. Both kids love chocolate, but they don't love all chocolate (e.g., Halloween candy).

I don't wonder why they have these preferences. These preferences reflect how food has been presented to them ever since they started eating table foods. Yet I wonder whether they would be considered normal when compared to other kids their ages. I'm not trying to raise weird kids, though I suspect I don't have much choice about that (look at me and Aaron! *grin*). So readers, if any of you are out there, what do you think? How strange are my kids' eating preferences?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Kid Cooking - Part 2

Our second recipe of the day is Mac and Cheese Muffins. The only thing that makes this recipe a muffin recipe is the presentation. That said, my kids will eat almost any food put in a muffin tin, so I figured we would try it. The only thing I did not like about the recipe was it had less opportunity for kid involvement because of the stove steps.

Even with that complaint, I gave Caleb the task of measuring shredded cheese. Ellie had the task of eating the spilled cheese and eventually wiping down the counter. Both kids stirred the mixture. Caleb and I spooned the mixture into the muffin cups. I just about forgot to add the bread crumbs, so we had to pour the mac back into the pan, re-line our muffin pan and try again, but it was all a good adventure.

Mac and Cheese Muffins
From Highlights High Five magazine, Jan. 2010

1/2 pound macaroni
1 Tbsp. butter
1 1/2 Tbsp. flour
1 1/2 c. milk
1 c. shredded cheese
1/3 c. bread crumbs (we use panko)
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350.

Boil water in large pot. Add macaroni and cook until it is almost tender (about 8 minutes). Drain and set aside.

Melt 1 Tbsp. butter in a saucepan over low heat. Sprinkle in 1 1/2 Tbsp. of flour. Stir for 2 minutes. Slowly add 1 1/2 c. milk. Whisk the sauce for 4-5 minutes or until it is thick enough to coat a spoon (see Notes/Changes).

Add 1 c. shredded cheese. Stir until sauce is smooth. Add some salt and pepper.

Add macaroni, bread crumbs, and more salt and pepper. Stir well.

Put mixture in 12 lined muffin cups. Bake for 8 minutes.

I needed to add a bit more flour to make the sauce thick. I probably added more like 2 Tbsp. instead of the 1 1/2. Caleb stirred the cheese into the sauce, and this was a surprisingly great task for him. He was very diligent about getting all of the cheese to melt into the roux (at least I think that's what you call a milk/butter/flour sauce).

I think this recipe has potential for adding vegetables in a stealthy way. I tend to feed my kids vegetables straight up, not hidden. However, I see value to sneaking in veggies when kids absolutely refuse them. One of my friends makes macaroni and cheese with butternut squash. I think she got the recipe from Jessica Seinfeld's cookbook. I can imagine pureeing other vegetables to make a seasonal mac, like pureeing peas or other green goodies and calling the finished product "monster mac" at Halloween.

I'm pretty sure most kids would like this variation on a classic. Ellie definitely enjoyed it, though it's hard to tell with her since she literally picks at food. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Kid Cooking - Part 1

I've read and heard that having kids get involved in cooking will help them to be more willing eaters. My kids are pretty decent eaters, but I figure it is good for them to see how food makes it to their plates. I want my kids to have an appreciation of food being made, and helping to cook it might give them a sense of the effort that goes into putting food on their plates.

When we returned from some quick morning errands, I announced that the kids would be helping to make their lunches today. Caleb squealed with delight, which Ellie then echoed. Much cheering and joy in the kitchen, so much that it needed to be tempered with jobs. Although I don't have a pictorial version of this, I bet your imaginations will do the trick. :)

I gave Caleb the task of cutting the banana. Each kid took a turn mashing the banana. We count to 3 for each kid's turn so it seems fair. Of course, the kids try to count for me, and they are learning that counting generally doesn't apply to Mom. I cut up the cream cheese to help mix it better (see Notes/Changes in recipe below). The kids again took turns stirring. Before opening the dinner roll dough, I remembered how much I loved doing that as a kid. So I started the tab but gave the job to Caleb. I used a serrated knife to separate the dough and let each kid smush the dough into thin circles. I went back over their work with the hope of making slightly more consistent and thinner circles. They of course argued a bit about who got to push which dough circle, and Caleb and I had an argument about his need to wash his hands after scratching/picking/playing with his nose. Then I gave Caleb a spoon, and we each scooped some of the banana-cheese goo into each dough circle. He tried to fold the circles around the goo, but this was a messy difficult task even for me.

Banana Rolls
From Highlights High Five magazine, Dec. 2010

1 banana
4 oz. (1/2 c) cream cheese, softened
dinner roll dough (the pre-made stuff you find in the refrigerated section of a supermarket)

Preheat oven to 375.

Peel the banana and cut it into chunks. Mash chunks in a small bowl. Add 1/2 c. of cream cheese and stir well.

Separate the dough into 8 sections. Press down on each section until it is a thin circle.

Add a spoonful of the banana-cheese mixture. Fold up the edges to cover the mixture. Place the rolls upside down (seam side down) on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake rolls for 10-12 minutes, until golden brown. Let them cool for 5-10 minutes.

I probably did not stir well enough since some of the cream cheese seemed to be missing a banana flavor. I did grease the cookie sheet because the dough instructions said to do this. I recommend greasing lightly so that you can get the rolls off when done.

I thought these were quite tasty, but the kids seemed indifferent at best. Caleb thought they were too creamy, which is his usual complaint for dairy foods. With this feedback, I suggested other filling combinations which might be more appetizing to him. Strawberry or raspberry-banana, mango, peach, etc. I think the banana could do the job of making another fruit creamy without the dairy. I also think this basic recipe could be used as a way to introduce new or difficult to accept vegetables.

The second part of their lunch was mac-and-cheese "muffins." I had my doubts about this recipe again because of the dairy, but the process was fun enough to report. It's coming up in the next post!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Update on Meals of the Week

On Monday, I made a meal plan. Then I made Oven Chicken Fingers, green beans, and broccoli. The broccoli was leftover and the green beans just needed to be heated up. The chicken fingers were received well by all. The last of them were eaten today at lunch.

On Tuesday, I continued my meal plan, excited that the first day had gone well. I made Tuscan Pumpkin-White Bean soup with a side of cornbread. Unbeknownst to me, the pumpkin goo had turned bad on us. I didn't realize this until we sat down to eat. After the big blech, all I can say is "wah." At least the bread was delicious and we still had leftover latkes.

Today Aaron made pesto tortellini for the kids, and he and I had our "special" dinner after I returned from my Weight Watchers meeting.

Tomorrow brings turkey burgers and squash, as well as grocery shopping. This weekend, Aaron goes to Florida, so I know I need to get a plan in place so that I don't have to think about meals while he is gone. I think I'm sensing cheesy lentil rice casserole in our future.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Menu Pondering...

This morning Aaron asked me if I had any ideas for dinner tonight. Yeah, menu planning is not happening around here lately. :( He suggested the leftover latkes (yum yum) or turkey burgers. Since I sent latkes with Caleb for lunch today, I'm not loving the idea of more of the same for dinner. I like variety in our diets. I figure variety helps give us the nutrients and vitamins we need AND keeps us from getting bored with food. Turkey burgers feel a bit uninspired though, so I thought I should try to come up with some food for the week.

Some ingredients I have on hand:
Proteins - turkey, chicken
Fruits/Vegetables - cranberries, clementines, bananas, various root vegetables and winter squash such as butternut, broccoli?, green beans
Carbohydrates - tortillas, rice, pasta, various breads

Yes, there is more food than that in the house. :)

Some meal ideas:
  • chicken fingers breaded with seasoned panko, side dish of green vegetable
  • turkey burgers with side dish of spice-roasted butternut squash and perhaps another starch the kids prefer like potatoes
  • pumpkin-white bean soup with bread (I have much pumpkin goo)
  • Friday night will be fish and such.
Aaron still can do pasta for Wednesday night with the kids. I get back into a cooking groove without having to cook too intensely since the turkey burgers are pre-made. I would prefer to make our own, but Aaron really likes the ones we have. Hmph.

I'm going to let those ideas stew (pun intended) and check out WW for other recipe ideas.

What are you eating this week?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

New Weight Watchers Program

Weight Watchers launched a new program this past week. I was looking forward to learning about it and revitalizing my motivation to get these last few pounds off.

Then the Big Ten/ACC basketball tournament came to town. Boston College played Indiana University (my alma mater), and Aaron knew we could get tickets. The game was the same night and time as my WW meeting.

Yeah, basketball totally won out. A more dedicated WW might have skipped a rare opportunity like awesome basketball. I knew I was up 1-2 pounds from Thanksgiving, and I didn't want to see that on the scale. And when was the last time I got to watch Indiana basketball IN PERSON? Um, no idea! Pretty sure it was before I had kids, so more than 4 years ago.

The great thing about Weight Watchers is that they meet every week. Another great thing about Weight Watchers is that I can learn how the weight loss plans work, even a new plan, whenever I go. Yet another great thing about Weight Watchers is that I could follow the old plan and still lose weight. SO, this week on Wednesday I will return to my meeting so that I will be accountable for my whole weight loss journey - the food, the pounds up or down, the whole megillah. I can make reasonably decent food decisions between now and then, and with the new plan I will resume some meal planning so my family continues to have the opportunity for healthy yummy food!

Back to Cooking

For several days after Thanksgiving, I really didn't feel much like cooking. I like cooking - A LOT - but I needed a break. We lived on leftovers and quick meals for a few days, but now I feel like I'm ready to rejoin the world of cooking.

This weekend Aaron made latkes, the traditional potato pancake associated with the holiday of Hanukkah/Chanukah/choose your favorite spelling and move on. Hanukkah is called the festival of lights since we Jews light a 8 branch menorah (candelabra) + the helper candle (shamash) in honor of a mythic miracle of oil for the Holy Temple's menorah lasting much longer than predicted. The actual story of Chanukah has to do with a battle of cultures and religions, but this blog is about food and not religious history, so back to food. In honor of the supposed miracle, we Jews eat a lot of greasy food during the 8 days of Chanukah.

Aaron makes some of the BEST latkes I've ever had. He of course does not cook with a recipe, but he does stick to a formula - one onion for every two potatoes. Most recipes I've read suggest one onion for four potatoes, and I don't find this formula as flavorful. In addition to the grated onions and potatoes, Aaron adds enough egg to make the vegetables stick together. It looks fairly soupy before he fries it. After he fries a batch, he puts the latkes on paper grocery bags in a dish in the oven to stay warm and drain. Let me try explaining this more like a recipe. :)

Aaron's Latkes
For every 2 potatoes, 1 onion
Salt and pepper to taste
Cooking oil of your choosing (Aaron likes peanut oil)

Grate potatoes and onions, preferably with a food processor since it is quicker and less dangerous. Put grated potatoes and onions in a large mixing bowl. Begin to add beaten eggs until you have a fairly soupy mixture. It won't be a liquid, but it is somewhat pourable. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Prepare a baking dish such as a 13 x 9 Pyrex and preheat your oven to 200 degrees. Cut some brown grocery bags to line the baking dish and eventually to layer between rows of latkes.

Heat oil on a griddle or in a large skillet. You will want to heat a shallow pool of oil and consider having a pan lid nearby in case of grease fire. Aaron has yet to cause a grease fire, but other family members seem to be prone to latke fire starting. Scoop potato mixture on griddle into 3-4" diameter "blobs"/pancakes. Fry for several minutes on each side. As the latke fries on the first side, you can test its "flippability" with a very flat spatula after a few minutes. Latkes are ready to flip when they do not threaten to fall apart when you touch them with a spatula.

When latkes are fried, remove them from heat and transfer to your prepared baking dish. Keep dish in oven while you cook remaining latkes. Make sure to put a layer of paper bag between the rows of latkes. After you have made all the potato mixture into latkes, serve latkes warm with applesauce and/or sour cream.

Speaking of applesauce, I made a cranberry applesauce which complemented the latkes rather nicely. My usual applesauce recipe follows:

8-9 apples, cored and sliced, possibly peeled
1 c. water
cinnamon (optional)

Combine ingredients in large pot. Bring to boil. Continue boiling/simmering until apples are mashable (10 minutes?). Mash with potato masher or immersion blender.

For cranberry applesauce, I added just under 3 cups of fresh cranberries. The resulting sauce was quite red, a bit tart but still sweet enough that the kids really enjoyed it.

More cooking coming as our week starts again!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving - Pumpkin Pie

Thanksgiving dinner is not complete without pumpkin pie. I am not a fan of pumpkin pie. Yet I was determined to make a reasonably decent pumpkin pie. Thanks to Weight Watchers, I found a pretty good recipe. Everyone else seemed to like it, and I found it tolerable which is as much as I expect from pumpkin pie. At this writing, Aaron is enjoying a piece with some leftover chocolate frosting. *grin*

Pumpkin Pie with Graham Cracker Crust
From Weight Watchers - 3 points per serving
Serves 8

3 oz reduced-fat cinnamon graham crackers, about 5 1/2 sheets
1 Tbsp packed light brown sugar
2 Tbsp butter, melted
2 large egg white(s)
1 large egg(s)
1/2 cup(s) dark brown sugar

1/4 tsp table salt
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice, or less to taste
1 cup(s) canned pumpkin

1/2 cup(s) fat-free evaporated milk
1/4 cup(s) lite whipped topping

Position rack in middle of oven. Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Place graham crackers and light brown sugar in a food processor; process into crumbs (or smash into crumbs in a sealed plastic food bag with a rolling pin). Spoon crumbs into a small bowl; add melted butter and combine with fingers into a coarse meal. Distribute crumbs evenly on bottom and up sides of an ungreased 9-inch pie plate. Chill for 30 minutes before baking. Bake until crust starts to turn golden, about 8 to 10 minutes; remove from oven and let cool.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, using an electric mixer, whip egg whites until frothy; fold in egg, dark brown sugar, salt, pumpkin pie spice, canned pumpkin and evaporated milk. Beat pumpkin custard until smooth and pour into pie shell. Bake until a knife inserted in center comes out clean, about 45 to 55 minutes. Slice into 8 pieces, top each piece with 1/2 tablespoon of whipped topping and serve warm or at room temperature. Yields 1 slice per serving.

For pumpkin pie spice, I used cinnamon. For canned pumpkin, I used actual pumpkin puree from a pumpkin. For the graham crackers, I bought full fat natural honey graham sticks. The fat content was not THAT different, and the reduced fat grahams all had HFCS. I'd rather choose a more real food over a less real food.

Thanksgiving - Mustard Potatoes

One type of potato is never enough, especially if a key member of the family refuses to eat sweet potatoes. My mom gave me this recipe, and it's a winner.

Mustard Potatoes
Serves at least 6

6 medium red potatoes, rinsed and quartered
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. Dijon/spicy mustard
1 Tbsp. rosemary
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 and spray a baking dish. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. When potatoes are well covered with other ingredients, transfer to baking dish. Bake in oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until potatoes are fork tender.

I cooked this dish rather inconsistently this year. The oven temperature was set for the turkey, at 325. The potatoes looked done after an hour or so, but I still found a few quarters that were not so well cooked. The ones which were cooked enough were quite tasty.

Thanksgiving - Cranberry Orange Relish

People have strong opinions about cranberry sauce and jelly. They fall into camps - those who like sauce with whole or chopped cranberries; those who like the canned jellies. Each camp insists on its own preferred cranberry concoction and feels excluded or slighted if its own concoction is missing from the table. I am a canned cranberry jelly type. I am delighted to have found organic jelly which uses sugar instead of HFCS (high fructose corn syrup). Despite my own cranberry affiliation, I respect the right of others to have their own tastes. For my Thanksgiving table, I made the following "relish" for those who refuse the jelly.

Cranberry-Orange Relish

From Weight Watchers - 1 point per serving
Servings: 16

12 oz cranberries, fresh
1 medium orange(s), navel, washed, unpeeled and cut into chunks
1 cup(s) sugar
1 piece(s) ginger root, fresh, peeled, about 1-inch, chopped
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

Put cranberries, orange, sugar, ginger and cinnamon in a food processor; pulse until finely chopped. Scrape into a serving bowl (or a plastic container if making ahead). Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Yields about 2 2/3 tablespoons per serving.

If the flavor from using the entire orange peel is too strong for you, add some fresh orange zest instead. Then remove the peel and white pith before cutting the orange into chunks.

If you want to give the relish a different spin, add chopped cilantro or mint and minced jalapeno pepper.

You can make this relish up to 5 days ahead.

This recipe is great as a spread for leftover turkey sandwiches or as an accompaniment to roast pork or chicken.

Thanksgiving - Green Beans with Mushrooms and Crisp Onion Crumbs

So many Thanksgiving foods are brown, white, or orange. I think this is why green bean casserole became a traditional food. We just wanted more color, right? The problem I have with green bean casserole is the cream of mushroom soup and I don't like it THAT much anyway. A few weeks before Thanksgiving, I saw this green bean recipe at my Weight Watchers meeting and thought it looked really good.

Not my picture - I got lazy about my picture taking as the day progressed. :) I really liked this dish and thought it was pretty easy. If you don't want to use bread crumbs, you could substitute something like crushed rice crackers or corn flakes. The flavor wouldn't be quite the same, but I bet it would be just as tasty.

Green Beans w/Mushrooms and Crisp Onion Crumbs
From Weight Watchers - 2 points per serving
Serves 8

2 Tbsp uns
alted butter, divided
3/4 cup(s) dried bread crumbs, panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
2 Tbsp dehydrated onion flakes, minced
3/4 tsp table salt, divided
2 spray(s) cooking spray
1 1/2 pound(s) uncooked string beans, fresh, trimmed, cut in half
1 pound(s) button mushrooms, thinly sliced


To make crumb topping, in a large, deep, nonstick skillet, over medium-low heat, melt 1 tablespoon of butter; add bread crumbs, onion flakes and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Increase heat to medium and cook, stirring often, until lightly toasted, about 3 minutes. Remove from skillet and set aside; carefully wipe skillet clean.

Coat skillet with cooking spray; place over high heat. Add string beans and mushrooms; sauté until lightly golden and tender, about 6 minutes.

Add green beans, remaining tablespoon of butter and 1/2 teaspoon of salt to skillet; toss over low heat until butter is melted and mixture is heated through. Transfer to a serving platter; sprinkle with crumbs. Yields about 1 cup of vegetables and 2 tablespoons of crumbs per serving.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving - Butternut Squash Soup

I've posted about the butternut squash soup before. For Thanksgiving, I doubled the recipe from Whole Foods and made it on Wednesday. We reheated it in the slow cooker a few hours before our dinner time.

Instead of writing about how to make the soup, I wanted to share some pictures and ideas. Some people have told me they think cutting the butternut squash is difficult. One tip someone shared with me is to microwave the squash for a few minutes first. Not only is it easier to cut, but it's also easier to peel. I also was told to poke a few holes in the squash to prevent it from exploding in the microwave. I've never had a squash explode in my microwave when I forgot to poke the holes, but I figure it's not really worth risking -- images of Gremlins going through my mind.

Even after you microwave the squash, it's still pretty firm.

But persistence pays off.

The butternut squash pictured here gave me more than 8 cups of peeled cubed squash. I did not use all of that squash in my soup. Eventually I'll make some spiced butternut squash and onions for a side dish with what is left.

Anyway, the soup was enjoyed by all and really can make a meal unto itself. Some nice crusty bread goes quite well with it.

Thanksgiving - Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are one of my favorite vegetables. Aaron cannot stand them.

"They are neither sweet nor potato. They are bitter tubers." He tells me this every time the vegetable is mentioned. According to Wikipedia, sweet potatoes are "large starchy sweet tasting tuberous roots." They are rich in complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, beta carotene, vitamin C and vitamin B6. In other words, sweet potatoes are good for you even if you think they are bitter tubers.

Instead of the "traditional" marshmallow sweet potato concoction or the particularly yummy one with the pecan topping, I decided to try another Weight Watchers recipe. I was really pleased with it and definitely want to do it more often. Really easy and quite tasty!

Mashed Sweet Potatoes
From Weight Watchers - 2 Points per serving
Serves 8


3 medium sweet potato(es), peeled, cut into 1-inch chunks (about 2 pounds)

2 medium garlic clove(s), peeled

1/2 cup(s) plain fat-free yogurt, Greek-variety recommended

4 tsp sugar

1/8 tsp table salt, or more to taste

1/8 tsp black pepper, freshly ground, or to taste


Place potatoes and garlic in a large saucepan; pour in enough water to cover potatoes. Set pan over high heat and bring to a boil; boil until potatoes are fork-tender, about 8 minutes.

Drain potatoes and garlic; transfer potatoes and garlic to a large bowl. Add yogurt and sugar to bowl; mash until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Yields about 1/2 cup per serving.


I didn't have an actual bulb of garlic. I added pre-minced garlic after the potatoes boiled when I was mashing them. The yogurt makes a very creamy dish. And I do think you could add brown sugar as a topping if you want a bit more sweetness.

Thanksgiving - Stuffing with Sage and Chives

I tried a new recipe for stuffing this year. I didn't love it, but I thought I would share it because maybe someone else will have better luck with it.

Stuffing with Sage and Chives
From Weight Watchers - 2 Points per serving
Serves 8


1 spray(s) cooking spray

12 slice(s) whole-wheat bread, or white bread, preferably day-old, cubed

2 tsp olive oil

2 tsp light butter

1 cup(s) onion(s), diced

3 medium celery, stalks, diced

2 tsp dried thyme

2 tsp dried sage

1/2 tsp table salt

1/4 tsp black pepper, freshly ground

2 cup(s) canned chicken broth

2 Tbsp chives, fresh, chopped


Preheat oven to 350ºF. Coat a 4-quart shallow baking dish with cooking spray.

Arrange bread cubes on a large ungreased baking sheet in a single layer (use 2 sheets if not enough room). Bake until lightly toasted, about 8-10 minutes. Remove bread from oven and set aside; leave oven set to 350.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat oil and butter together for 1 to 2 minutes. Add onion and celery; saute until soft, about 3 minutes. Add thyme, sage, salt and pepper; stir to coat. Cook until herbs are fragrant, about 1 minute.

Transfer onion mixture to a large mixing bowl. Add bread, broth and chives; toss to combine. Spoon mixture into prepared baking dish and cover with foil; bake 20 minutes. Uncover and bake until top is golden brown, 15 minutes more. Yields about 1 cup per serving.


I thought the stuffing was dry and not terribly flavorful. I over-toasted the bread, and the chives were not noticeable. I probably would try this again with some changes - more seasonings and maybe some other vegetables. I think I should have taken the effort to cube the bread instead of tearing it. Oh well! The rest of the meal was great!

Thanksgiving - The Turkey!

I've only roasted a turkey once or maybe twice before. I was very nervous about doing it this year. We bought our 15.5 pound turkey from the Natick Community Organic Farm. The farm is about 7 minutes down the road from our house. I am delighted to buy a turkey so very local to us when we live in the middle of suburbia. Maybe it sounds weird, but I like that I've seen the rafter of turkeys living on the farm before I bought one of them for my dinner. And yes, I looked up what a group of turkeys is called. :) On with the cooking!

First I let the turkey thaw in our refrigerator for about 4 days. On Thanksgiving, I unwrapped the bird, removed the giblets, rinsed the bird and patted it dry with paper towels. I briefly considered making gravy with the giblets, but I am a bit lazy and Aaron gets grossed out by giblets. There's always next year, right?

So here is the bird before I added any seasonings and such. I rubbed the inside and outside of the turkey with kosher salt and cracked black peppers. Then I loosened the skin around the breast so that I could tuck herbs and vegetables under the skin. I managed to make 4 cavities under the skin, and I rubbed olive oil with sage and thyme in there. Then I tucked in some fresh rosemary - our rosemary bush does not seem to mind the cold. I chopped up a couple of carrots, some celery, and about 1/4 of a medium, peeled turnip. I put the chunks of vegetables into the 2 holes. I poured a 1/2 c. of red wine and 1/2 c. water in the roasting pan.

By this point my oven was preheated to 425. I put the bird in the oven for 40 minutes. According to the farm instructions, doing this "sears" the turkey. After 40 minutes, I covered the turkey loosely with foil, turned down the temperature to 325 and set my timer for 4.5 hours. When I put the bread in the oven, I checked on the bird.

When the Patriots game ended, the turkey was done and sitting out of the oven to "let the juices resettle." I'm not sure where the juices go during a roasting, but the instructions said to do this, and I didn't want to screw up the main dish. Before I forget, the instructions said to cook the bird until the internal temperature reached 160. The thermometer instructions said roast turkey should reach 165. Mine got to 170.

Everyone seemed to enjoy the turkey, so I think I did all right!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving - Dinner Rolls

Aaron reminded me that most people have some kind of bread or dinner roll with Thanksgiving dinner. I decided to make the "5 minute artisan bread" into dinner rolls. It's a super easy recipe and gets better as it sits.

5 Minute Artisan Bread - Basic Recipe with Herbs
3 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 Tbsp. yeast
1 1/2 Tbsp. coarse salt (I use kosher salt)
1 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. dried rosemary
6 1/2 cups flour (I use either all purpose or white wheat or a combination)

Add yeast, salt and herbs to water. In large mixing bowl or stand mixer, add flour to water mixtures. I usually add 2 cups of flour at a time to prevent a huge flour cloud. Mix until dough is evenly moist/wet. This dough will be quite wet.

Cover loosely and let dough rise about 2 hours, until doubled and top has flattened.

After dough has doubled, you can shape it into loaves or rolls. I sprinkle cornmeal on a thick plastic cutting board and place the shaped dough on the cornmeal. Do NOT knead bread. Shape it quickly. Let it rise for another 20 minutes if you are making it the same day. If you have refrigerated the dough, you'll need to let it rise about 40 minutes.

While dough is rising a second time, preheat your oven to 450. Place your pizza stone and a broiler pan in the oven at same time. Once oven is heated, take the pizza stone out and place your shaped loaves on the stone. When you put them in the oven, pour 1 cup of cold water on the broiler pan and close the oven door quickly. This is what makes the hard crust.

Bake 30 minutes. More yum!

NOTE: Pictures will be forthcoming. Making rolls was a VERY messy process.

Thanksgiving - Kentucky Derby Pie

What is Kentucky Derby Pie? Only the most supreme decadent pie EVER. Also known as chocolate bourbon pecan pie, it is my absolute favorite Thanksgiving dessert. Words cannot describe how excellent this pie is. Let me see if I can put it in perspective.

First, I am not a huge fan of pie. Given a choice of desserts, pie is about the last thing I will choose. That's not to say I won't eat it when offered, but I greatly prefer almost any other dessert you can imagine, even just plain ol' ice cream. Yet I have fantasies of this particular pie. It is just that good.

I have made this pie to prove to people that it is the absolute best pie ever. One of my friends is a Bible scholar and has quite the talent for baking. He makes amazing cookies, rivaling those made with my family recipe. He makes cheesecake to die for. His desserts have been known to produce Meg Ryan reactions (think When Harry Met Sally). He didn't believe me that this pie was so awesome until I made this pie for him. His review of the pie included a lot of blushing - apparently he enjoyed it rather thoroughly. I'm pretty sure he remembers this pie with great fondness even though it has been years since he ate it.

Now if you don't like rich decadent desserts or you prefer fruit for your dessert, then this is NOT the dessert for you. Our cousin's wife doesn't like chocolate, so this is not for her. Yes, she's still my friend. After all, more chocolate for me! :)

Without further ado, here is the recipe and pictures for this delectable and delightful dessert.

Kentucky Derby Pie (Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie)

1/4c. butter
1 c. sugar
3 eggs, beaten
3/4 c. corn syrup (dark is more intense)
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. bourbon
1/2 c. chocolate chips
1/2 c. whole pecans, rounded cup
1 9 inch unbaked pie shell

Cream butter. Add sugar slowly. Before I knew how to bake, I had no idea what creamed butter was. It looks like snow. Some people think it looks like popcorn.

Add eggs, corn syrup, vanilla and salt - stir or mix. There is a lot of corn syrup in this pie. I've toyed with the idea of using a different syrup such as Lyle's Golden, but I have no experience with it and am nervous about changing my pie.

Stir in bourbon, chips and pecans. The bowl now contains butter, eggs, corn syrup, vanilla and salt.

Seriously, don't forget the bourbon. :)

Pour into pie shell.

Bake 50-60 minutes in 375 oven, until set and not watery when knife is inserted. Bake longer if necessary, wrapping edges in foil to prevent burning. After 55 minutes, I wrapped my pie in foil messily and popped it back in for 5 minute intervals. After 10 minutes and I still had a wobbly pie, I popped it back in the oven for another 7 minutes. I have little patience for this part of baking.

YUM! At long last, it is done. Look at the caramelized goodness. Can you imagine the smell? Hmm..

Thanksgiving Preparations

The time has come for the Thanksgiving preparations. Food! Glorious food!! I'm going to share recipes here as I go (or after the fact in the case of the cranberry relish and fudge. When I'm really with it, I'll share some pictures too. The next several posts will be our Thanksgiving recipes for this year.

I wish all of you a very happy and healthy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Turkey Sloppy Joes - Almost a Hit

Aaron mentioned he wanted to try making sloppy joes with ground turkey. I didn't want to buy Manwich because of the ingredient list. However, we had about 3 pounds of ground turkey in the house, and the Weight Watchers recipe database is HUGE. I figured I would find some good ideas there, even if I didn't find a sloppy joe recipe.

Much to my delight, WW has a sloppy joe recipe. I had high hopes for this recipe, and I still think this recipe will work for our family. I simply need to find a less spicy or less smoky barbecue sauce.

Turkey Sloppy Joes
From Weight Watchers - 8 points per serving
Serves 6

1 Tbsp canola oil
1 medium onion(s), finely chopped
1 medium green pepper(s), finely chopped
2 medium garlic clove(s), minced
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1 pound(s) uncooked ground turkey breast
1 cup(s) barbecue sauce
4 item(s) mixed-grain hamburger roll(s)

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Swirl in the oil, then add the onion, pepper, and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chili powder, oregano, and mustard; let cool 1 minute. 

Add the turkey and cook, stirring to break up the meat, until no longer pink, 3–4 minutes. Stir in the barbecue sauce and cook until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and serve on the hamburger rolls. Yields 1 roll with 3⁄4 cup meat.

Why buy the salty packaged flavoring mix when you can easily make them yourself? This dish can be made with ground skinless chicken, ground lean beef, or, for a vegetarian version, textured vegetable protein crumbles, now found in the freezer case in most supermarkets. 

Just cook the crumbles according to the package directions and add them to the cooked vegetable mixture at step 2. 

If you’d like a little more heat, try adding 1 chopped jalapeño pepper to the vegetable mixture in Step 1, then stir in 2 tablespoons of chopped cilantro just before serving.

Like I said, I had high hopes for the recipe. And as far as Aaron was concerned, this recipe is awesome. Ellie was pretty happy with it too, and she is pickier than Caleb about most food. Caleb, however, was not a fan of the dish. He said it was too spicy/hot. I only can blame my BBQ sauce from Trader Joe's. I don't remember which variety I have, though I remember something about "smoky" in the description. I asked Caleb if he would try the meal again with a different sauce, and he said he would try it. I still have some hope for this one. :)

If you make your own sloppy joes, what do you use for the sauce?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Turkey Chili Mac - a HUGE hit

Some more good meals to share from our house to yours! Do let me know if your kids end up liking any of what I share. It's nice for me to know whether I'm sharing useful stuff!

Whole-Wheat Chili Mac
From Weight Watchers - 4 points per serving
Serves 6

12 oz uncooked lean ground beef (with 7% fat) - I use ground turkey
1 medium onion(s), chopped
14 1/2 oz canned stewed tomatoes, Mexican-style, undrained
1 1/4 cup(s) canned tomato sauce
2 Tbsp canned green chili peppers, diced, drained
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 cup(s) dry whole-wheat elbow macaroni
15 oz canned kidney beans, rinsed and drained

In a large skillet, cook meat and onion until meat is browned, about 10 minutes; drain off fat. Stir in undrained stewed tomatoes, tomato sauce, chili peppers, chili powder and cumin; bring to a boil.

Stir in uncooked macaroni and kidney beans. (I needed to add some water for the macaroni - maybe half to a whole cup) Return to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer until macaroni is tender, about 15 minutes. Yields about 1 1/4 cups per serving.

Other than substituting turkey for beef, I didn't change much about this recipe. The stewed tomatoes I have are not specifically Mexican-style (whatever that means!), and the tomato sauce I used is whatever Aaron made with our tomatoes, but I'm sure a store-bought tomato sauce would be fine. You may want to serve this with some grated parmesan cheese ("shakee cheese" in our house) or shredded cheddar. The cheese will add to the Points value in Weight Watchers world.

Naptime never happened here today, so I must return to my regularly scheduled life!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Twinkie Diet

A friend sent me a link about the "Twinkie Diet." After reading it, I decided I should write some of my thoughts about it, but I had my paying job to do and I had a hard time coming up with something coherent to say. I decided to start writing when I needed a break from the job, figuring I can edit later.

The article touches on at least 2 issues which are rather near and dear to me - weight loss and eating real food. The gist of the article is that a nutrition professor lost 27 pounds on what may be called a "convenience store diet." Two-thirds of his diet came from junk food such as Hostess cupcakes, Doritos, and sugary cereals. He limited himself to 1800 calories per day. By limiting his calories, he lost weight. I suppose I should be shocked, but I'm not. Weight-loss is not some great mystery. It can be summarized in an equation even I, the mathematically challenged, can understand.

When Calories In < Calories Out = Weight Loss

The challenge in this professor's diet, like any diet, is portion control and keeping those calories consumed lower than the calories expended (i.e., eat less, move more). Not binging on junk food is challenging for many people. Some people struggle with the salty stuff; other people struggle with the sweet stuff; some of us struggle with all of it. All of that is to say, I am not surprised this man lost weight, even by eating nutritionally empty foods.

A slightly more surprising piece of information from the article is that the man's cholesterol improved. I'm not that surprised since cholesterol can be related to one's weight (not always as there is a rather strong genetic component). The article mentions his BMI being lower (duh - another way to measure weight), and his body fat percentage lowered as well.

A dietitian for the American Diabetes Association,
questioning how the lack of fruits and vegetables could affect long-term health said, "There are things we can't measure. How much does that affect the risk for cancer? We can't measure how diet changes affect our health." I add to her question that we don't know what these foods do to our metabolism, the chemical reactions in our body which keep us alive.

As far as the weight loss is concerned, I feel there are many ways to lose weight. There are good ways and bad ways. Yeah, I'm judging how people choose to lose weight. At the end of the article, part of me was happy for the man who lost weight and part of me was disgusted by the foods he chose to eat.

The article left me wondering, "Why should I bother teaching my kids WHAT to eat if they can maintain a healthy weight by eating junk?" A few days later, I remembered that one of my favorite food blogs has my answer:

"It's Not About Nutrition"

The title of her blog is my answer. What we eat is NOT just about the nutrition. I'm not a purist, and I certainly think there is a time and place for processed junk food. That said, I have a feeling, call it a hunch, that perhaps science hasn't caught up with the reality of our relationship with food. I know that I feel better when I eat real food - less processed,
closer to the original source, and recognizable by my great-grandparents as food. My new jogging routine is easier when I've eaten well the previous day, and it is harder when I've eaten what most of us recognize as junk. My opinion is just that - an opinion. It's not based in peer-reviewed experiments, though I understand there are some experiments which lend support to my position that real food is better for you. My opinion is based in personal experience, which is by definition anecdotal.

So of course the "Twinkie Diet" still rubs me wrong. I'm delighted the professor was able to lose weight as I think weight loss can have great health benefits. I think eating healthfully is a better option for the long run, and I'm continuing to pursue that despite the temptation.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Good Thing I'm Not a Professional

It's a good thing I'm not trying to make money blogging. :) My blogging frequency is lousy. As other food bloggers I read have written, we just haven't been doing much interesting with food lately. And the kids have not been enthusiastic eaters - of anything! I don't just mean my cooking, but even of "classics." For example, what child rejects applesauce? Yeah, one of mine.

That said, we have had a few successes in the past few weeks. Fall is in full swing, and the weather is hinting at winter. We had our first hard frost this week. The weather has me in a bread baking and soup mood. Soup is tricky with young kids, mostly because of the mess in our house but also because of the unknown factor. That is, they can't tell what the soup is other than a colored liquid. Soup is a great way to get vegetables into your kids though, if you can convince them to try that first spoonful (and the temperature isn't too hot!)

I've shared recipes for two of our "classic" soups before here. Since then, I've added 2 new soups to the repertoire, both courtesy of Weight Watchers!

Tuscan Pumpkin-White Bean Soup
I just wrote about this one, but I tried it with chick peas (garbanzo) in place of white beans after dear husband Aaron used the last of our white beans for a great chili. You REALLY need to try this soup with whatever white or garbanzo bean you have.

Zero-Point Garden Vegetable Soup
From Weight Watchers
Serves 12

2 medium garlic cloves, minced (I didn't measure)

1 medium onion, diced (probably used a larger onion)

2 medium carrots, diced (used baby carrots or skipped)

1 medium sweet red pepper, diced (might have had a green pepper instead)

1 medium stalk celery, diced (I skipped this)

2 small zucchini, diced

2 c green cabbage, shredded (I had red)

2 c Swiss chard, chopped

2 c cauliflower, small florets (I skipped this, but I bet this would make the soup creamier.)

2 c broccoli, small florets (can't remember if we had broccoli)

2 tsp thyme, fresh, chopped (mine is dried)

6 c vegetable broth

2 Tbsp parsley, or chives, fresh, chopped (mine is dried)

1/2 tsp table salt, or to taste

1/4 tsp black pepper, or to taste

2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice, optional (pretty sure I skipped)


Put garlic, vegetables, thyme and broth into a large soup pot. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat; reduce heat to low and simmer, partly covered, about 10 minutes.

Stir in parsley or chives; season to taste with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Yields about 1 cup per serving.


If you like thick soups, consider pureeing this recipe in the pot with an immersion blender. I blended it because my kids are picking things out of their foods these days. There are so many variations on this recipe. Add or leave out vegetables to suit your taste.

Maybe my kids are just unusual, but they seem pretty willing to try soups, and they generally enjoy them. If you give any of these a try, let me know how they are received.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Zucchini-Potato Pancakes... Sort of

We've eaten this recipe before, but I don't see a recipe on my blog for it. Hmph. Laziness is keeping me from posting the details of the recipe. The gist of it is that you shred equal parts potato and zucchini, add egg, onion/scallion, tarragon, salt and pepper. Lightly fry as pancakes. It's a variation on latkes, and the last time I remember our making this, they were GREAT!

Tonight was a more frustrating experience. Tasted great but more trouble than they were worth. I should have had another meal of the pumpkin soup. :P Since the recipe is a Weight Watchers recipe, it doesn't call for much egg. I ended up adding eggs, which of course means that the ones I made are not 2 points per serving (a serving being 2 pancakes). So much for that controlling my food thing. Even after adding the egg to make the mixture hold together, the pancakes were still pretty flimsy when I would flip them. In other words, what started as a pancake which looked like it would hold its shape ended up being a pile of shredded vegetables. I had a plateful of fallen pancakes before Aaron came home.

Fortunately, I had not exhausted the supply of "batter" by the time he arrived. I handed over my spatula and refused to do any additional work on the dinner. Aaron asked if I wanted a different job, and I angrily refused that too since I had been listening to increasing levels of whine from a certain adorable 2.5 year old for the previous hour. While Aaron saved dinner, I watched the end of Toy Story with Caleb.

All of this frustration does have a happy ending. Caleb ate many of the pancakes, which is not terribly surprising. Ellie ate more than one serving, which is a huge surprise, and had applesauce (another surprise as she has been rejecting applesauce this month). And she looked at me in the middle of dinner, and unprompted said "This is EXCELLENT!" in a perfect imitation of her brother's usual food praise.

Tuscan Pumpkin-White Bean Soup

I seem to have hit a streak of good cooking this week (tonight's dinner excluded, but that is for a later post maybe). Anyway, this recipe is from last night's dinner, and I am SO very glad I made more than a single recipe of it. I note my changes in parentheses as seems to be my habit here.

Tuscan Pumpkin-White Bean Soup
From Weight Watchers - 2 points per serving
Serves 6

1 spray olive oil cooking spray, enough to coat pot (it was a long spray)
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped (I used 2 green onions and 1/2 a large yellow)
15 oz. canned pumpkin (I roasted a pumpkin and pureed the pulp)
3 1/2 c. fat-free chicken broth (I used veggie bouillon)
15 1/2 oz. canned white beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 tsp. ground oregano
1/8 tsp. table salt, to taste (not sure I salted)
1/8 tsp. black pepper, to taste (didn't measure)
6 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese (skipped it)


  • Coat a large soup pot with cooking spray and set over medium-low heat. Add onion, cover and cook until tender, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes.

  • Stir in pumpkin, broth, beans and oregano; simmer 8 minutes.

  • In a blender, process soup in batches until smooth. (Note: Make sure not to overfill blender in order to avoid splattering.) Return soup to pot and reheat; season with salt and pepper. Instead of following these instructions, I used my immersion blender as it is far easier than transferring a soup back and forth

  • To serve, ladle soup into bowls and top each with 1 tablespoon of grated cheese. Yields about 1 cup per serving.
We had to cut Caleb off after 3-4 bowls of soup. That translated to 2 cups of soup, at least. Ellie even ate this soup, despite being much more interested in the herb bread I baked (have I mentioned my love of the so-called "5-minute artisan bread?"). Aaron thought it was one of the best meals ever, and I agree. The beans make for a thicker soup, as though you have added cream. The pumpkin has a different flavor from butternut squash (also a tasty soup), maybe more complex or richer? All I know is that I had leftovers at lunch, and I'm looking forward to another serving tomorrow. :) I think I may send some with Caleb to school tomorrow too... though that does require sharing on my part.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Southwestern Corn Skillet - More yummy food!

Today is Sunday. I teach on Sundays. I love teaching. Despite this love, I come home pretty tired... no, I come home basically exhausted and in need of recharging. Cooking doesn't necessarily help me recharge when I feel completely spent. Nevertheless, I swore to be in control of my food this week. I am struggling to be in control, but I decided to keep struggling today. As I sit here rather bleary-eyed, I really am glad I decided to keep struggling. Another successful new recipe, and it's vegetarian!

Southwestern Corn Skillet
From Weight Watchers - 2 points per serving
Serves 4

1 Tbsp. corn oil (I used olive)
1 onion, chopped (I used both a yellow and 2 green onions)
1 garlic clove, minced
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped (I skipped this for the kids' palettes. I'm sure Aaron and I would like it)
10 ounces of corn kernels
1 medium zucchini, chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, seeded and chopped (I used peppers that were red and green at same time)
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved (I used grape 'maters, sort of quartered)
2 Tbsp. chopped cilantro
3/4 tsp. salt (skipped it)
1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper (didn't measure)

Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, then add the onion, garlic, and
jalapeño pepper. Saute until softened, 3-5 mins. Add the corn, zucchini, bell pepper, and cumin; saute until softened, 7-8 mins. Stir in the cherry tomatoes and saute until just warmed through, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and stir in the cilantro, salt and ground pepper.

1 cup = 1 serving

Notes from Jen:
I doubled the recipe. I added 2 cans of black beans to the doubled recipe. If you do a single recipe, just add 1 can. The cookbook suggests using this skillet for soft tacos by mixing in ground turkey breast, which I think sounds fantastic. Oh, and the original recipe suggests serving over rice, and we skipped it because I didn't bother to start the rice. We sprinkled shredded "Mexican" cheese on top (some kind of cheddar blend). Aaron described it as a dry chili. I thought it was like a dry salsa. It is surprisingly filling. Caleb had 2 good size servings. Ellie was tired and cranky, but she enjoyed the little bit she tried.

Lots of ingredients and lots of chopping, but definitely worth the effort!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Spice Roasted Butternut Squash - Nom nom nom!

Tonight brought a new recipe to our house, and I would give it a mostly successful rating as 3 out of the 4 of us liked it. Also in its favor is its simplicity in terms of preparing it. AND it's a Weight Watchers recipe, so I feel really good about eating and serving it.

Spice Roasted Butternut Squash
From Weight Watchers - 2 points per serving
Serves 6

1 spray cooking spray (yeah, I don't measure)
2.25 pounds butternut squash, fresh, peeled, cut into 1-inch chunks (mine was slightly larger)
1 medium red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp garam masala - supposedly you can get this spice mix at large supermarkets. I went to a local Indian grocery store. It is essential to the recipe and well worth it.
1/2 tsp kosher salt (I guesstimate)
1/8 tsp black pepper, freshly ground, or to taste (I guesstimate)
3 Tbsp cilantro, fresh, chopped. Again, fresh is worth it. Often I use dried spices, but this was really yummy with the fresh cilantro.

Preheat oven to 400. Coat a large nonstick baking sheet with cooking spray. NOTE: I was out of spray tonight. I put down a piece of foil, drizzled a small amount of olive oil, and spread it with a pastry brush.

Place squash and onion on prepared baking sheet; drizzle with oil and toss to coat. Sprinkle with garam masala, salt and pepper; toss to coat.

Roast, tossing about halfway through cooking, until squash and onions are tender and slightly browned, about 25 minutes. NOTE: I didn't toss halfway and just set the oven timer for 25 minutes.

Transfer the vegetables to a serving platter or bowl and sprinkle with cilantro; toss to coat. 3/4 cup = 1 serving.

Bon appetit!

No Squash, Kale!

Last night I decided to roast a sunshine kabocha squash as part of our dinner. Sunshine squash look a lot like short pumpkins.

Check out the squash in the upper left - those are the sunshine kabocha squash. The others are (from left to right): Sweet Dumpling, Thelma Sanders' Sweet Potato. Bottom row: Muang (a Thai variety), mini pumpkins, and Pink Banana. Thanks to Prospect: A Year in the Park for the picture and labeling!

Anyway, I roasted the squash - cut it in half, scooped out the pulp and seeds, sprayed with olive oil spray and sprinkled some black pepper on it. Yum yum. Aaron and I loved it.

The kids?

Yeah, no go on the squash. Caleb tried a piece. He chewed it so much that he no longer liked it. Ellie wouldn't touch it. *sigh* Caleb asked "How many pieces do I need to have?" I told him he didn't need to eat more of it. In fact, I said:

"You don't need to have more squash. You can eat your kale instead."

His response?

"KALE??? YUM!!!!!!" (munch munch munch)

I am not giving up on the squash, but how delightful that he chose a dark green leafy. :)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Vegetable Recipe Ideas

One of my Facebook friends had this for a recent status:

I am looking for your favorite veggie dishes. We need to break out of our rut and try new things. SO please send me your favorite (healthy) veggie dish."

I know that cooking ruts are lousy, so I sent her the names of 2 recipes and directed her here, which I realize is a bit cocky. I don't think this blog is a great resource of vegetable recipes YET, but I was too lazy to copy the recipes again. Then I thought about my friend's status and had that "doh!" moment. My friend was in a rut; I've been in ruts; other people struggle to incorporate vegetables in their daily or even weekly eating. Why not share some of our favorite ways to eat vegetables just to give people some ideas?

Casserole-type Meals
These meals are an alternative to lasagnas and pasta casseroles, but they may bear a resemblance to them at least in terms of how they are cooked.

Cheesy Lentil Rice Casserole
I've written about the convenience and tastiness of this in the past, so I'm just linking to the post with the recipe. This recipe requires ONE baking dish and a cutting board to make it - no mixing bowls, no sauteeing. I will be forever thankful to the friend who gave me this recipe. It is a regular in our house. One of the many great things about it is the ability to add whatever vegetables you want, so it's always a little bit different.

These are a great way to "hide" vegetables. I'd rather be upfront about what I'm feeding my kids, but I know that isn't possible for everyone, and I occasionally have omitted ingredient information from my kids when I thought the information would prevent them from trying something I knew they would enjoy. This recipe is a variation on the one in The Enchanted Broccoli Forest cookbook.

Ingredients for filling:

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 cups minced onion (I use 2 medium onions, chopped)
6 medium cloves garlic, minced (I use pre-minced garlic and guesstimate)
3/4 tsp. salt (I skip salt)
1 large bell pepper (any color), minced (I use 2 large red bell peppers, chopped)
5 small (6 inch) zucchini, diced (I usually have 1-2 large)
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin (I probably used 2 – 2.5 tsp. when all was said and done)
1 Tbsp. dried basil
1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
cayenne and black pepper to taste
1 1/3 cups (packed) grated jack cheese (I use this much IN the filling and it was a mozzarella and cheddar blend. I put a bunch more on top)

Regarding vegetables, I have added black beans to this recipe, substituted summer squash for zucchini or just added summer squash. I've added chicken breast (chopped) to the recipe, which Aaron LOVES. There is a lot of flexibility in this recipe for vegetables. Also you can minced the veggies instead of chopping/dicing, which does disguise them a bit better.

1) Heat oil in a large, deep skillet. Add onion, garlic and salt. Saute over medium heat for 8-10 minutes or until the onion is quite soft.
2) Add bell pepper, zucchini (other veggies), and seasonings. Stir and cook over medium heat another 5-8 minutes, or until the zucchini (other veggies) is just tender.
3) Remove from heat and stir in the cheese. Allow to cool for a few minutes before filling the tortillas.

Ingredients for sauce:
5 medium ripe tomatoes, diced (we use a 28oz can)
1 large red bell pepper, minced
1 tsp. salt (pretty sure I skip it)
5 large cloves garlic, minced (see above – we estimate)
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
I add more spice than the recipe calls for and don't measure.

1) Place all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower heat, partially cover, and simmer for about 15 minutes.
2) You can leave it chunky or puree in a food processor or blender. I use my immersion blender. For extra smooth sauce, pass the puree through a fine strainer or sieve.
3) Pour a small amount of sauce into a shallow baking dish (e.g., 13×9 pyrex).

Assemble the enchiladas by placing a few tablespoons of filling on one side of each tortillas and rolling up the tortilla. Lay each enchilada seam side down in the baking dish. Pour remaining sauce over enchiladas. Add cheese if desired. Cover with foil, and bake for about 30 minutes in a 325 oven. Serve hot.

Years ago, my mother-in-law gave us a cookbook of her recipes. Most of the recipes have stories of who in the family enjoyed it or when she made the dish. There are a handful in this book which have become regulars in our house, and her "crustless quiche" is one of them. I think a crustless quiche may be more appropriately called a frittata, but the eggs in my crustless quiche aren't fried. Labels aside, here's how it works.

  • 6-8 eggs, beaten - This isn't exact because it depends on how the mixture looks. I start with 6 eggs and determine whether everything looks well-blended. It shouldn't look like a soup, but it should be pretty gooey.
  • 1 c. shredded cheese (rough measurement)
  • 1-2 onions, chopped
  • Vegetables: chopped broccoli, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, asparagus are tasty options. You want something that will have a good texture after being baked. I haven't measured vegetables in a while, but I seem to recall using 1 box of frozen spinach thawed (10oz.) and drained to fill a 9 inch pie dish. With broccoli, I use about 2 heads/bunches. Sun-dried tomatoes are usually a topping rather than incorporated in the egg.
  • Seasonings: this changes depending on the vegetables. Some good combinations include: basil, oregano, parsley, salt and pepper OR dill with s&p. Really, choose herbs and spices which you like. The measuring is to taste. I judge by whether I can smell and see the herb/spice.
In a large mixing bowl, combine chopped onions and the vegetables of your choosing. Add some of your seasonings. Stir in beaten eggs. Fold in shredded cheese. Pour mixture into a pie dish. Bake in 350 oven until mixture sets and any liquid which comes out is clear. I test the quiche by poking a sharp knife in the center. If the liquid looks like water, it's good. If the mixture wobbles like jello, it probably needs a few more minutes.

Squash Kugel
This is another recipe I've shared before, so just follow the link. I'm also very thankful to the neighbor who shared the recipe with me. Her son refuses to eat vegetables but loves this dish. Really it's more like cake than a vegetable. It's pretty easy to make, really easy to double, and great as leftovers.

Soup-type Meals
My kids have pleasantly surprised me by enjoying a number of soups or soup-like dishes. At the Indian restaurant, Caleb sometimes enjoys dipping naan (bread) or chicken into dal (lentil) dishes. At home, I haven't ventured into Indian cooking yet, but my kids do like these next few recipes.

I've written about these 3 recipes before, and the recipes are in one post. I thought I'd add a few comments and any changes here.

Our chili still has no real recipe. However, we make both a turkey and a vegetarian chili. The vegetarian chili omits the turkey obviously and adds more beans and other veggies. Our most recent chili included zucchini and summer squash as well as the peppers and beans. For the turkey chili, we brown the turkey often with Montreal Steak Spice (mix of spices like pepper, garlic, salt). We serve it with whatever shredded cheese we have (usually cheddar). Caleb prefers the vegetable chili, and I *think* Ellie prefers the turkey, but they both eat either.

Pea soup
I've actually made this all by myself now! Unfortunately I didn't write down what I did, so I'm going to try to explain this by memory.

1 lb dried split peas (1 bag usually)
2-4 potatoes, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
Chopped carrots, not sure of quantity... maybe 1-2 cups?
6 cups water
3 vegetable bouillon cubes (assumes that 1 cube = 2 cups broth)

Put all ingredients in slow cooker. Cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4-6 hours.

Butternut squash soup
Of the two recipes I mentioned previously, our family has been sticking with the classic one from the Whole Foods site. It's not sweet like the slow cooker recipe with apples, but it's quite filling and feels great on a damp evening. If your kids seem to gravitate towards sweet foods, you may want to try the slow cooker recipe.

I hope these recipes give you some ideas. As I cook some more this week, I'll try to add to this post any successful vegetable cooking. If you do try something you found here, please let me know how it goes!

Colcannon - Food of MY people

Aaron called me from his consulting job one afternoon and told me he had an idea for dinner. He saw what his colleague was eating it and wanted me to make the same. His colleague was eating colcannon, a traditional Irish dish. I'm part-Irish, and it has simple ingredients, so I figured why not? I'm so glad we tried this!

I started with this recipe from and made some changes

Colcannon - Variation #1
2 1/2 pounds potatoes, NOT peeled, quartered/eighthed
4 slices of turkey bacon
1 bunch of kale, stemmed and chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 stick (8 Tbsp. - we don't have milk on hand usually, so I substitute butter)
1/4 c. butter, melted (yes, in addition to the stick)

After cleaning and cutting potatoes, put potatoes in large pot with water to cover. Boil until very tender, easy to mash.

Place bacon in skillet. Cook over medium heat until browned. Set bacon aside to dry on plate, leave drippings in skillet. Crumble bacon after it has cooled and dried. With the drippings, saute onion and kale until kale wilts. Putting a lid on the skillet will help vegetables cook more quickly.

Drain the potatoes, mash with the 1 stick of butter. Salt and pepper to taste. Fold in the bacon, kale, and onion. You can transfer to a serving bowl if you like. Make a large well in the center and pour the 1/4 c. of melted butter in well. Serve immediately.

Colcannon - Variation #2
2 1/2 pounds potatoes, NOT peeled, quartered/eighthed
4 slices of turkey bacon
1/2 bunch of kale, stemmed and chopped
1/4 head of cabbage, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 stick (8 Tbsp. - we don't have milk on hand usually, so I substitute butter)
1/4 c. butter, melted (yes, in addition to the stick)

See above. Saute cabbage with kale and onions.

I made Variation #2 when we had both kale and cabbage to eat. That is, it would have gone bad and wasted had we not eaten it. I also decided to double the recipe when I had 2 greens, mostly because I wanted to get through the greens but also because I know the leftovers are awesome. *grin*

The kid review is mixed. The first time I made this, they really enjoyed it - especially the bacon. The second time, they were both overtired and had a hard time eating anything. Ellie still showed excitement at the bacon, and Caleb professed love for "cold cannon," but I can't say either of them ate a large amount the second time. Still I think you should try it. Most kids seem to like mashed potatoes, and these are only slightly dressed up.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Vegetables? What vegetables?

I just saw this article in the New York Times about Americans not eating their vegetables. Here are some quotes and my thoughts on them, but really I recommend reading the whole article (it's short!).

"The moment you have something fresh you have to schedule your life around using it."

Yes, it's true. To an extent.
Did you know that a head of lettuce can last for about a week in the fridge after you wash it? Same goes for kale, arugula, and swiss chard. We soak the leaves in salt water to get rid of any yuck/critter. Then we spin dry the leaves in our cheap yet awesome salad spinner. We store the leaves in a large plastic container with paper towels in between layers of leaves. You know what that means? That means you can buy green leafy goodness before the day you plan to use it. I'm not suggesting you buy kale without a plan for how to cook it. Instead, buy the kale with the commitment to figure out what to do with it in 5-7 days.

"In the wrong hands, vegetables can taste terrible. And compared with a lot of food at the supermarket, they're a relatively expensive way to fill a belly."

True and false.
My father didn't like a lot of vegetables for years because of his experience with them as a kid. I didn't like tomatoes AT ALL unless they were processed (think pasta sauce, ketchup) until I had good tomatoes. So yeah, you probably ought to follow a recipe or some kind of food preparation tips when trying new veggies. The internet is a great place to look for recipes based on ingredients, and many basic cookbooks (e.g., Better Homes and Gardens) have suggestions for simple yet totally edible/tasty preparations of vegetables.

As for the expense of fresh produce, I justify the expense in a few ways. Fresh produce will fill my belly more than many processed foods. I end up buying fewer processed foods, and I end up eating less because the fresh stuff fills me more. Fresh produce gives me more energy and keeps me healthier. In the long run, I believe eating more vegetables will reduce my health care costs. For what it's worth, I've been noticing that my exercise routine is easier when I eat more fruits and vegetables.

"Before we want health, we want taste, we want convenience and we want low cost."

This is just so short-sighted. What good are convenience and low-cost if we aren't healthy? And as for taste, figure out which vegetables you like and how you like them prepared. Then you'll have taste. For example, roasted cauliflower with some curry powder (or even just salt and pepper) tastes NOTHING like raw cauliflower. Roasted cauliflower is easy to prepare too. Put on baking sheet, sprinkle with seasoning, bake at 400 until done (sorry, I don't watch the clock when I do it).

"A busy Manhattan resident... would eat more vegetables if they weren't, in her words, 'a pain.'"


I have a hard time countering this point of view. Vegetables do take more preparation than a lot of foods. If you are cooking fresh vegetables, then there is washing and chopping and seasoning and cooking. If you start from frozen or canned, you still probably have to wash/rinse. You might need to chop. You definitely still season and cook.

The previous quote is followed with this one:
"An apple you can just grab... but what am I going to do, put a piece of kale in my purse?"

When my son was around 12-15 months old, I used to pack frozen peas as part of his morning snack. No, I didn't try to feed him kale back then. Instead I opened the bag of frozen peas, poured them in a plastic container, and put them in the diaper bag. By the time he was hungry, the peas had thawed. And yes, he actually ate this.

Some vegetables are not very portable, like kale. Other vegetables can be quite easy to grab. You just might need to think about how, which of course is a pain to have to think about how to eat healthfully.

I completed resonated with the next quote though.
"It's just like any other bad habit. Part of it is just that vegetables are a little intimidating. I'm not afraid of zucchinis, but I just don't know how to cook them."

I think there was a time in our society that kids learned how to cook from their parents, by watching and helping, maybe by being given small tasks like washing vegetables or peeling onions. I didn't learn how to cook vegetables from my parents, and I didn't learn much in my middle school home economics course (do those still exist?). I don't think I'm unusual in this respect. I learned survivalist cooking in college, which included things like making teriyaki chicken in the toaster oven and discovering that Lucky Charms cereal with frozen yogurt tastes awesome any time of day. I don't remembering buying that many vegetables in college, and I can clearly remember being uninterested and/or overwhelmed by the idea of a salad bar. The most positive vegetable experience I can remember from college was a dish at Bob Evans Restaurant in which you could have 3 or 4 side dishes as your meal. You inevitably ended up with some form of orange or green vegetable as a part of this. I loved it because it was like having a mini-buffet on my plate.

Anyway, I reminisce too much. :) My point is that I didn't enter adulthood knowing much about vegetables beyond the idea that I should eat them. Sometime after college, probably largely influenced by Aaron since he was a vegetarian when we first met, I began exploring vegetables beyond green beans, peas, and carrots. And since joining a CSA last summer, I've learned so much more about cooking and enjoying vegetables. It hasn't been that much work, truly! I've had to look at recipes on the internet, ask a neighbor or a farmer for ideas, and then just be brave enough to experiment a bit.

Vegetables don't have to be a pain. They can be an adventure. I know I can't really convince anyone to eat more vegetables (see NYTimes article on how the gov't can't persuade us either), but I just had to rant/vent/share some thoughts from the article. Maybe you'll try something new after reading it. I hope so!