Thursday, April 30, 2009

Freezer-ish Tacos for Lunch!

Last weekend, we decided to make tacos. Tacos have three great things going for them. (1) They are very easy to make. (2) They allow everyone to have their own flavor mix. (3) They are toddler-help friendly. Remembering that my kid will eat anything he helps to make, you can see how tacos make a great, fast, easy dinner. 

My husband made up the ground beef mix, and somehow he made far too much. I think he made a whole pound of meat. Needless to say, we did not need that much. So I decided to freeze the left overs, as I had heard that taco meat was a good food to have around in the freezer. I had been skeptical. WHY keep pre-cooked taco meat in the freezer when it takes about 10 minutes to make fresh?

I'll tell you why. 


Today, I stood in front of my stupid refrigerator trying to figure out what to make for lunch, when it hit me that I not only had frozen taco meat but also 4 remaining taco shells, lettuce, tomato, sour cream, and shredded mexican cheese! I don't know why this made me giddy, but it did. 

I pulled out the remaining meat, noticed I still had 1/2 pound (way too much for just me and the toddler), broke it up and put 1/2 of it back. I transferred what I was going to use to a bowl and threw it in the microwave for a minute and a half. While doing that, I threw the taco shells in the oven to crisp them a bit (as they had been stored in plastic), cut up some lettuce and tomato, put everything in small bowls, and set up or table for taco making.

Lunch was quite a success. A little messy, but quite a success. I could see myself making up an extra large batch of taco meat in the future to have on hand, perhaps storing in smaller portions to have for lunch.

Here's my recipe for the taco meat:

however much you want of very lean ground beef (we use Laura's Organic but whatever--just make sure it isn't fatty)
a small onion for every pound of meat, diced
Chili Powder
Jane's Krazy Mixed Up Salt

Spray a nonstick pan with just a little cooking spray. Toss in onions and cook until they begin to soften. Add the meat, and sprinkle the whole thing with chili powder and krazy salt. We tend to start off easy and add more seasoning as we think is necessary, but everyone has their own beliefs on what is too spicy, so use your judgement. Cook through and use whatever you need that night. Freeze the rest in servings you need for your family (I would probably do 1/4 lb (ish) servings in the future, as that makes lunch easier and dinner can just be 2 servings.

You can use this meat for tacos, taco salad, enchiladas, or whatever you want it in. It's yummy. And it freezes great. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Cookbooks that will make you fat but you won't care because YUM

I have a lot of cook books. Having lived through omnivorous, vegetarian, and vegan phases in my life, I have accumulated an awesome array of cookbooks, some of which I have never opened, and some of which include recipes so loved that they will automatically open to the right page. 

Now, it is well known to my friends that my two favorite treats in the whole world are pie and muffins. And it is less well known that my husband's two favorite things in the whole world are ice cream and breakfast. It doesn't matter what time that man wakes up, he eats breakfast. Awake at noon? Pancakes it is. He repeats "breakfast is the most important meal of the day" but I think he doesn't get that it means you're supposed to eat when you wake up, not that you're supposed to make waffles.  I love him anyway, and I gladly eat the breakfast when he makes it, so it's all good.

Soon after we were married, I discovered the most amazing boxed set of books there ever was. It was made for our household. It was incredible! It was:

Williams-Sonoma Boxed Set: Ice Cream, Pie and Tart, Muffins, and Breakfast

I have no link. They don't make it anymore. But you can get the individual books, which is good. 

I admit it. I have been having a love affair with these cook books since we bought them. We don't use the books all the time. Our ice cream maker and thus the Ice Cream book got the most use early in our marriage, until I gained 30 pounds and had no idea where they came from. Then we put that one away for a while. Each of the other books has one or two recipes that we can't live without. I am sure that we will eventually make nearly everything in the books. We have yet to come across a bad recipe in one of these books. Really.

Why am I talking about this now? Well, I just had leftover home fries for lunch and I couldn't stop thinking about them. From the Breakfast cookbook, these home fries have potatoes, green and red peppers, onions, and a spice mix that is to die for. The cayenne pepper really gives them kick. When he feels up to it, Adam makes up a huge batch and serves them topped with a fried egg or two. The best thing about the potatoes is that they make everything else you eat taste that much better too. Home fries with egg? Best egg ever. Home fries with bacon? Best bacon ever. Even the coffee is suddenly spectacular when augmented with the deliciousness of these home fries. It's my favorite recipe from that book. 

My second favorite is the German Apple Pancake recipe. It's definitely a once-in-a-while, maybe even once-a-year recipe. We tend to save it for the first week of Honeycrisp apples at the farmer's market--a special occasion breakfast. My God is it delicious. There are never any leftovers. 

Now in addition to the home fries making me think about these books, I also recently made a batch of Jam-Filled Muffins from the Muffin book. Oh yes, you read that right Jam-Filled Muffins. Because the only thing better than a muffin with jam on it is a muffin with jam in it. To counter the sweetness of the jam, the muffin recipe includes sour cream. You end with the perfect combination of sweet and sour and YUM. The recipe makes only 12, and in our case, they are gone after a day and a half. I have never met a person who didn't like these muffins. 

Next to the jam-filled muffins, the orange cranberry ones are also fantastic. In fact, I buy extra cranberries during cranberry season and freeze them so that I can have them throughout the winter. Really.

And now that I'm thinking about the books and the fact that I am getting sick of winter fruit, I am wondering if I should get down my Pie & Tart book and make an end-of-winter apple pie, just for the heck of it. Because the Apple Pie recipe? Also a major Yum. 

Now, I am about to share a recipe and I know I shouldn't but I love you all very much and you should make these. Besides, my friend Amy begged me to. Also, I just raved about the books so if W-S doesn't like it, well I guess I'll just remove it :)

Jam Filled Muffins
2 c All Purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1T baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
6 T unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs
1t vanilla extract
1/4 t almond extract
10 oz sour cream
about 1/2 cup jelly or jam 

Preheat to 375. Grease 12 standard muffin cups with cooking spray or butter

In a bowl, stir together dry ingredients

In another bowl, whisk together all wet ingredients except the jam. I have discovered that you really want to whisk this a lot, until it gets really foamy, or else your batter will be too thick.  Add the wet to the dry. Batter will be pretty lumpy and thick even with the extra whisking.

Spoon the batter into muffin cups, filling only 1/3 of the way full. Drop a heaping teaspoon of jam into the center, and then cover with more batter until it is level with the rim of the cup.

Bake until golden, dry, and springy, 25-30 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes and then unmold the muffins. Serve warm or cool.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Eating at the (National) Mall

Yesterday, the weather in the DC area was beautiful, my husband was home from his week-long work trip to California and Arizona, and we decided that we'd take the kiddo to the Air & Space Museum. For a moment, we vacillated between the one in DC and the one closer to us in Virginia, but we decided that the one in DC is free (you pay $15 to park at the VA one) and, with the weather as gorgeous as it was, it would be nice to just walk around the Mall for a bit.

We managed to avoid the IMF/World Bank protests on our way in, and found a parking spot in front of the Museum of Natural History, which is a bit of a walk from Air & Space but not too bad. We discussed for a moment where we should eat (it was 2:00 and we hadn't had lunch yet) and decided that Air & Space would be fine. We had heard that the cafeteria had converted to a McDonald's but we also remembered there being a sit-down restaurant which we both had fond memories of, and we thought we'd eat there.

We were sorely disappointed. McDonald's actually has taken over the entire cafeteria and restaurant space at the Air & Space museum, so there is no longer a sit-down restaurant. the only saving grace is that they had a couple of options from a pizza chain (that I assume they own) and a few options from Boston Market. The only kid's options were from McDonald's. We ordered a cheeseburger happy meal for the kid (with apples, though they did not appear to offer juice or milk; I might have been wrong about that and I was too flustered, hot, and pregnant to remember to ask). I ordered the 1/4 chicken white meat from Boston Market, and my husband had a carver sandwich. It cost us a total of $24 for the three meals. I'm really not kidding. $24!!! And with NO options. The sandwich was just a sandwich, with no sides. The chicken came with corn and potatoes with no options for anything else. We ate our food as if out of obligation and swore to research food options before our next foray into the city.

This is what I know so far, from my own more recent experiences, some research to make sure some of my older experiences weren't now out of date, and a few other things that I have come across. 

I also can't believe how long this is getting, but I will press on for the sake of my (albeit small) readership. :-D

First of all, just because it is a cafeteria does not make it bad. Some places actually have great options and great kid's options as well. 

The Natural History Museum, which as I mentioned we were parked in front of, actually has a fantastic cafeteria that we have been to since the renovation of the museum a few years ago. In fact, we might have actually gone there if we weren't looking to have a sit-down meal. The museum actually has three places to eat--a small sandwich place, an ice cream stand, and the Atrium Cafe, which is the big cafeteria. There, you can get pizza, sandwiches, soups, salads, and rotisserie chicken. There are different stands for each type of food, so if your family wants different items, you'll have to split up and meet back up. It's a minor annoyance but worth it for the food. The sandwiches are delicious and unusual (and BIG! Two can share), and they have dessert options that include sweets and fruit, and drink options that include juices and bottled water, so you don't feel like you're stuck in HFCS hell. Most of the stands have a kid's meal option, so for instance, you can get a small piece of pizza, a piece of fruit and a drink and have a fairly happy kid as long as he doesn't see the cake on the way out.

The American History museum has a very similar cafeteria plan, with again, a smaller place to eat on the first floor and massive cafeteria on the ground floor. As I recall, the food is pretty much almost exactly the same as at the Natural History museum.

I have not been there yet, but I have heard great things about the cafeteria at the National Museum of the American Indian. Supposedly, the food helps to expand the museum experience by offering native (or native-ish) fare. If you have been, please let me know more. (the plus for this one is that if you happen to be at Air & Space and get hungry, it is the closest museum to the A&S).

If you want a sit-down place, go to the National Gallery of Art. It's been a while since I'd been there so I had to make sure it was still there (the restaurant, not the gallery). While there is a cafeteria on the ground floor between the east and west wings, by far the best food is at the Garden Cafe in the West building on the Ground Floor. They often have a buffet with menu options as well. It's pricey, but truthfully, if you're going to pay for lunch you may as well pay for a good lunch. I have extremely fond memories of this place. They actually have their menu on the web

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the various vendors. I'm pregnant so a hot dog is not the best option for me on a 90 degree day, but sometimes the best lunch can be found from a hot dog vendor. Grab a few, pull up a spot of grass (if you can find one) and have a picnic. That said, if you're driving in from Virginia, stop at the Spout Run exit on the GW parkway and go grab some sandwiches from the Italian Store on your way in. You'll just have to eat them before you hit a museum.

If you happen to be on the Capitol Building side of the Mall, and don't mind a bit of a walk, head over to Union Station. It's probably got the most options for both sit-down and fast food. And if you're the type who wants something familiar, they even have an Uno's that overlooks the great hall; great for the view, standard for the fare. 

I do hope this helps you plan your own trip. I certainly will be planning more carefully next time!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

This Week in Food

Although my efforts to have a week of mostly chicken were thwarted by a son who made it perfectly clear that he was not going to go for it, we did have a pretty decent week of eating so far. We did have the roast chicken on Sunday and Monday. Tuesday was perogies with applesauce and baked corn with red peppers (yum!) Wednesday was the day when the chicken plan was thwarted, and we ordered Chinese Food. I managed, however, to keep our order to $20--$17 plus tip--so I felt a little less guilty about that, and there are enough leftovers for a lunch for us tomorrow. Tonight I heated up onion beef muffin cups, to which my son responded, "Oooh! Meat Muffins!" along with the tomato and avocado salad that I had previously planned for yesterday.

Since I did make the broth for the soup, I might just freeze it and use it in recipes. I have plenty of freezer bags and can probably store them in 1-cup portions. Actually I might use the baby food trays and freeze them in smaller portions for more efficient use. I still have a chicken breast left, and I may just make it into chicken salad for myself. I can understand someone getting sick of chicken, and I didn't want to force it on the kiddo on a week when he's already confused about where his dad is.

Coming soon, I expect to post some recipes. I have a great idea for a Farmer's Market Salad and cannot wait for May so I can make it! Here's the idea (and it's based on a salad dressing recipe from one of the Market merchants but I think I improved on it!)

The dressing (from the Crackpot Gourmet web site)
2 t Kiss of Kerala Jam from the Crackpot Gourmet, or 2 t Strawberry jam and a sprinkle of fresh black pepper
1T balsamic vinegar
3T olive oil
Whisk together

The salad:
Baby spinach or other good baby greens
fresh sliced strawberries
goat cheese
sugar-glazed almonds (bought or made)
Fresh grated salt & pepper

Now it may be that I'm just pregnant, but that sounds like utter heaven to me. And if the vendors don't change from last year, I should be able to get nearly all of the ingredients from the market in the same week, sometime at the end of May! Hooray!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


My efforts to not order in or eat out have been thwarted by a toddler!

Me: Micah, we're going to have soup tonight!
Micah: Um.. how bout... egg roll!

Well you can't just mention chinese food to a pregnant woman and expect me to NOT want to just go right along with the suggestion!

Chinese food it is. Tomorrow, though, we will have soup.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Planning Meals for Two (or, well, One and a Half)

Aah Spring. A time when the Farmer's Market will soon start, CSAs begin delivering, and my husband goes on travel for weeks at a time. *sigh*

This week, and every other week until the end of May, I'll be home with the toddler and no husband. I had somehow forgotten about this when I portioned out our last set of freezer meals. So what to do? Cook every night? Use freezer meals and eat them as leftovers? The way they are portioned out, they do not necessarily make two meals for one adult and one toddler. 

Last week, I succumbed to my food frustration and ordered a large amount of Chinese food, which we then had for several meals. That's not particularly healthful or inexpensive, so something must be done.

Last night, we did have a roast chicken (made in my Pampered Chef covered baker, and let me tell you, it came out SO well). It looks like I have remaining 2 chicken legs, 2 wings a breast, and a thigh. I also did some shopping yesterday, so I have some food in the house for some small meals. Here's the plan. Adam gets home on Friday though I am not sure when, so Friday will stay up in the air.  I hope it goes well:

Monday: leftover roast chicken (1 leg +1 wing each) with broccoli
Tuesday: potato & onion perogies (store bought) with corn
Wednesday: chicken salad sandwiches (made from the left over breast) and tomato & avocado salad
Thursday: chicken carcass soup (that should kill off the end of the chicken!)
Friday: Unplanned. Have to find out when husband gets home. This might turn into a dinner out.
Saturday: Freezer Meal: tilapia with peppers with a veggie & rice
Sunday: Shopping Day! Whatever's on sale :)

Here's hoping this goes well! 

Friday, April 17, 2009

Great Kids Menus: The Tortilla Factory

Last week, on a day when I could not bear to cook or even eat something out of the freezer, we decided to visit the Tortilla Factory in Herndon, VA. It's a pretty famous place that I have only been to a few times. We had taken the kiddo before but it was back when he was young enough to eat of of our plates. So I wasn't sure what to expect from the Kid's Menu. 

I was pleasantly surprised, actually. There were three Standard American meals on the kid's menu. But there were nearly twice as many meals that were smaller versions of items available for adults. The Standard American options were the ubiquitous Burger or Chicken Nuggets with the addition of the somewhat-less-ubiquitous Hot Dog. 

But that's where the boring ended. There were 5 Mexican/Southwestern options on the kid's menu:

  1. Beef Taco, Mexican Rice and Refried Beans
  2. Cheese Enchilada, Mexican Rice and Refried Beans
  3. Beef Enchilada, Mexican Rice and Refried Beans
  4. Chicken Enchilada, Mexican Rice and Refried Beans
  5. Quesadilla (did not come with rice or beans)
My son declared that he did not want any meat, so that left us with Cheese Enchilada or Quesadilla. Now, I realize that a Quesadilla is basically a Southwestern Grilled Cheese Sandwich, but I figured he'd also share some of my food, so I allowed it. 

What came out was the cutest and yet biggest Quesadilla that I have ever seen. Big? Take the biggest oversized tortilla you've ever seen and fold it in half. Cute? It was cut into a dozen or so little triangles, just ready for a toddler to pick up without mom having to spend time cutting. I appreciated the simplicity. He appreciated the cheese.

Micah also did eat some of my pork tamale, though he really wasn't very interested in meat at all that night. Hey, we all have our daily preferences, right? He ate every drop of the quesadilla, without once stopping to demand dessert instead (something he has been doing a lot recently). I haven't seen my kid clean a plate in a very long time.

As for the adult menu, it's so vast and delicious looking that Adam and I took much longer than usual to make our decisions. Everything was fantastic, and they were very accomodating of Adam's legume allergy (they let him have double rice instead of rice & beans). The service was a bit slow, but I was feeling forgiving since the food was so good. It has been fast in the past, and it was a busy night.

The Tortilla Factory also has a folk song night on Tuesdays every week. I keep meaning to check it out, but I think I'll have to wait until Adam is not on travel; it's a bit late for Micah though he'd probably love the music. 

Here's your link. If you live in the area, check it out!  

Thursday, April 16, 2009

April's Freezer Cooking: Evaluation

April (well, the end of March) was my first attempt at Once a Month Cooking, and we've now gone through about 2/3 of the meals that I made. Some items were bit hits. Others were not. Here's an evaluation.

Since all of this happened before I started this blog, links are back to my LJ
Most of the recipes are here.
One more recipe is here.

First, the GREAT. By far the number one meal was chicken pot pie. We figured out that if we remove them from the freezer to the fridge in the morning and then bake at 300 for 2 hours, they are perfect. Also, extremely tasty. This one will definitely be on the list in the future. YUM. There was actually nothing wrong with them at all, though my husband asked if we could add edamame next time. No problem.

Also great was the Butternut Squash Soup. The portions I froze (1 qt for 2 adults and a toddler) are perfect. it reheated great on the stove and made a hearty meal, especially when topped with a dollop of sour cream. Another keeper.

Next, the GOOD. These are meals that came out good, that we would certainly make again, but that definitely need a little bit of tweaking for future freezer-meal-making.

Baked Ziti was mostly really good, but it dried out a bit. It's probably just a matter of keeping it covered in the oven when re-heating until the very end, but it might also need a bit more sauce.

Chicken Enchiladas also dried out when re-heating in the microwave. I would probably compensate by ensuring that the tortillas are completely coated in sauce on top. Otherwise, they were great, and with a side of rice, the portions were perfect.

Beef Stew. Nothing particularly wrong with it but it really fell apart on reheating. Probably would crock pot for a bit less time. Portions (1.5 quarts for the 3 of us) was perfect with noodles underneath.

Onion Beef Muffin Cups: The big remider is to always use the regular flaky biscuits. The reduced fat will not work. These reheat great in the microwave and are a huge hit. Once again, thanks so much to Lady Ozma for that recipe!

OK, here we go. The ONE that didn't work. The BAD. The "I can pretend that I love this meal because I made it but ew) one. The Chicken Penne al Fresco (Pampered Chef recipe). The sad thing is that it is a spectacular recipe when made fresh! It just reheats terribly. the cheese manages to stick together into one big clump in the middle, and the pasta either gets too hard in reheating or too soft from too much liquid on the bottom. I could hardly eat it, and my son didn't really want it either (my husband will eat anything and he did eat Micah's leftovers but that doesn't say much. I love him so much.). And, the left overs are making my fridge smell awful and I'm about to go toss it all out because there is no way I am eating it reheated again.

Truthfully, all in all, April has been a success. And you know, the chicken penne dish is DELICIOUS when you make it fresh, and I highly recommend it! It just reheats terribly and does not make a good freezer meal. So avoid it!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


I haven't been blogging much this week, thanks to Easter, Baseball Opening Day, taxes, and a sick cat. But I wanted to share my breakfast because it's so easy, fast, and filling that it just has to be shared.

I've read a lot about people doing breakfast burritos as part of once a month cooking. Because of my incredibly small freezer, I don't have room to store breakfast when, really, breakfast can be a 5-minute prep. Follow along and see how I make a yummy breakfast burrito in under 5 minutes.

For each breakfast burrito you'll need
1 flour tortilla
1 egg
some beans (optional--I open a can and store the leftovers in the fridge in a rubbermaid so they are ready to go)
some salsa (also optional)
some hot sauce (still optional)
leftovers that you think will taste good in your burrito (I have been using spanish rice that I made last week)
shredded mexican cheese (I have this in the house as a matter of course)

OK, ready?

On a microwave safe plate, place a tortilla. Add beans, salsa, and whatever leftovers you're using. Top with cheese. Microwave on high for 1 minute. While it's microwaving, fry or scramble an egg in a pan on the stove. When the microwave beeps, take out the plate, and your egg should be nearly done. Add the egg, spritz on some hot sauce, wrap that puppy up and eat.

OK, now let's say you're making more than one. You might have a kid who will eat a breakfast burrito. Or you could make them for a whole family.

Here's how you prep for multiple breakfast burritos in under 5 minutes:

Beans and any extras you are using go in a microwave safe bowl and nuke for 1 minute
Take all of the tortillas you're using, place between 2 damp paper towels, and nuke for 30 seconds.
Make your eggs.
Assemble and eat.

Oh and if you want to add some breakfast meat, you can nuke a slice of bacon in the microwave between 2 paper towels in about 45 seconds to a minute. Ooh! I have so much left over ham, I might just add ham next time!

Now, how easy was that?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Once A Month Cooking--Modified

The fact is, I have a wretched freezer. There is no way I could ever fit a month's worth of meals into my side-by-side, and I probably wouldn't want to either! For example, I don't much see the point in pre-cooking breakfast. An egg takes all of two minutes to cook, and I can make a breakfast burrito for myself in five. No reason, really, to have them in the freezer for a 2-minute microwaving. We eat waffles or pancakes on the weekends, and they are my husband's joy to prepare! 

I'm still working out exactly what I want to have in the freezer at the beginning of each month, but one thing I do know is that there are plenty of days when I really want to cook! So my OAMC gets modified. 

On my last cooking day, I made 15 meals, which is distinctly NOT a month's worth of dinners.  We're just over a third of the way through the month of April, and we're left with seven of those meals. Obviously I'll be doing some extra cooking between now and my next big cooking day. 

What I had planned to do, and it seems to be working, is to make a double batch of anything that I make that is nicely freezable. Last night, we were at Safeway buying food for Easter, and we noticed that tilapia was on mega sale ($3.99/lb). So for Good Friday, I bought 6 filets and a bunch of peppers and made tilapia pepper foil packets. We prepped all six, immediately froze three of them, and baked the other three. Voila! Another meal added to the stash for later in the month!  Oh, and it was so good, it will definitely be added to my regular OAMC regimen--that said, if I see tilapia on sale again, I'll skip waiting for the end of the month and just buy  and make them when I can!

Now, if I can figure out what I can do with all of the ham leftovers, we'll be golden. Anyone have a great recipe?

Happy Easter!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Great Kid's Menus: Great American Restaurants

It's a recurring theme in my life: I highly disapprove of the Hamburger and Chicken Nugget Kid's Menu. In fact, I will usually order an appetizer for my son from the adult menu rather than allow him the option of Burger or Nuggets.

That said, there are some restaurants that get it right, and in a big way. So I've decided as part of this blog to let the world know which restaurants are really good with the Kid's Thing. 

This time, it's the Great American Restaurant chain in Northern Virginia. 

For those not in the area, Great American is a local chain of different restaurants that all have some basic items in common. The Best Buns Bakery makes all of the bread and many of the desserts for the ten restaurants, and other menu items cross restaurants. From there, everything is different. One is more of a steakhouse. Another is more of a seafood restaurant. One is extra fancy. All have different themes and decor. The newest, Jackson's, recently opened about five minutes from me at Reston Town Center, and I was thrilled. Jackson's is more of a neighborhood hangout with a very large bar but also a grand dining room with an open kitchen. We have been twice, and will gladly take anyone who comes to visit for lunch or dinner, because it is great food, great ambiance, and great service.

And (since this is the actual topic of the blog post), they have a great kid's menu. All of the GA restaurants that I have been to since my son was born have great kid's food.  Now, yes, they do have hamburgers--but Jackson's serves hamburgers to adults, too, so I am not terribly concerned (actually they serve the most amazing Duck Burger to adults as well, and my husband highly recommends it!).

Here's the awesome thing about their kid's menu. Just about everything on the menu can be found on the adult menu as well, in a larger size. Even their Mac n Cheese, another kid's menu staple, is actually the gourmet Mac n Cheese that they offer as a side to the adults. Along with that, kids have an option of Grouper Fingers, Grilled Short Smoked Salmon, or Tenderloin Steak.  Kid's meals come with the option of fries, applesauce, or carrots (my kid usually will go for the carrots or applesauce).  Those are options I can live with.

I have not eaten at Coastal Flats or Artie's (and yes, I have been to all of the others), but from looking at the GA web site, it appears that their Kid's Meals are generally the same. Just as the adult menus have certain dishes that follow through all of the restaurants (and do get the Lobster Bisque), so do the kid menus. I like this, because I know that I can get fish or steak for my son no matter which of the restaurants I go to. What I like is that I'm not saying "I know I can get my kid a hamburger or chicken nuggets."

So thanks, Great American Restaurants! Keep it up! 

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Chicken Pot Pie (for freezer cooking)

I had a request for this recipe today, so here it is:

This is a freezer cooking recipe, and it works really really well. It makes two pies and can easily be doubled for a freezer cooking/swap day:

2 packages pre-made pie crusts (4 crusts total)
2 chicken breasts
2 cups chicken broth plus some more for later in the process
splash of white wine if you have it on hand
corn starch
Penzy's Bouquet Garni (or your favorite herb mix)
2 stalks celery
2 carrots
1 onion
2 potatoes
frozen corn
frozen green beans

Cook chicken in chicken broth and wine
At the same time, chop potatoes, carrots, onion, and celery.
Line 2 pie tins with pie crusts. I used 8.5" pie tins for this.
When chicken is cooked thoroughly, remove from the broth and reserve the broth. Chop or shred the chicken, and add the chicken and chopped vegetables to the pie crusts. Add frozen corn and green beans to fill out the pies.
Now take a look at how much broth remains. If you don't think you have enough for 2 pies, add some chicken broth and wine to give you enough. I don't douse my pies in gravy but I like to have at least 1/3 cup per pie. Mix corn starch with cold water and add it to the broth. Add some bouquet garni, salt, and pepper, and bring to a boil. Distribute evenly across both pies, and add a little more seasoning to the pies. 
Top with the remaining pie crusts and cut air holes. Cover with foil, label, and freeze.

To heat for dinner, remove the pie the morning that you'll be eating it and keep in the refrigerator. Remove foil and restructure it to cover the edges of the pie crust so they don't burn. Bake at 300 degrees for 2 hours. If you remove the pie the night before you can bake it at 350 for an hour instead. 

My experience with babies and food

I have a friend whose husband is a picky eater. When she tells me what her husband refuses to eat, I am astounded. I often will say something like, "what is he, 2?"

But the fact is, I don't have a picky eater for a 2-year-old. 

I don't know why, but when I started having children, I became a little bit obsessed with making sure that they would not be picky eaters. In my late 20s and early 30s, I used to spend time every night making beautiful meals for myself and for whoever I was dating (or married to in the case of my husband) at the time. And I had a friend who said, "well when you have kids you'll be making kid food."

That just seemed so wrong to me. The thought of giving up Lemon-Caper Chicken for Chicken Nuggets seemed anathema to me. I certainly didn't want a kid who always asked for chicken nuggets or burgers and french fries.

When I was pregnant with my son, my sister sent me a whole lot of information on breastfeeding. I certainly had intended to do so, but until I did my reading, I did not equate breastfeeding with the avoidance of creating a picky eater. It makes sense--the more variety I eat, the more flavors he'll taste in my milk. Although I didn't end up breastfeeding for as long as I did strictly for the avoidance of picky eating, I think it definitely helped. 

We started solid foods at 7 months. In this case, it was my cousin Patty who sent me a book: Super Baby Food. This became my food bible. Since my husband has very serious allergies, there were some foods that we were not going to introduce until after a year, or even after two years! But for everything else the book was a great guideline. The book's main food--Super Porridge--is not appetizing sounding to adults. It's pretty much a porridge that is made from a mix of grains, occasionally legumes (we had to avoid all legumes except for soy beans), and a baby food fruit or vegetable that you prepare yourself. It sounds like a lot of work, but it actually was very similar to freezer cooking. I would spend one day a month preparing baby food and freezing it, and then I'd keep a grain mix ready to make into Super Porridge daily.

When once we went on vacation and I had to buy some jarred baby food, I was pretty amazed at how few choices there were. The only green vegetable appeared to be peas (a legume that we were not introducing that early). The only orange vegetables appeared to be carrots or butternut squash. It's possible there were other varieties, but I couldn't find them. Everything else appeared to be meat or fruit.

My son didn't eat meat until after the age of 1. But green vegetables? He ate kale, collards, swiss chard, spinach, broccoli, zucchini, and asparagus. For orange and yellow veggies, he ate acorn and butternut squash, summer squash, pumpkin, carrots, and more. His first fruit was the ubiquitous banana (hand mashed by me), but that was soon joined by avocado, papaya, mango, peach, apricot, plums, pears, apples, etc. -- every kind of fruit that we ate, he ate, with the exception of oranges (which came later--they cause very bad diaper rash) and berries (which also came later--they can be a bad allergen, and I was actually allergic to them when I was little).

 Now, he is 2 years and 9 months. And let's face it, he's a toddler. If we let him have a hamburger or pizza or chicken nuggets for every meal, he'll say yes! If we give him beef stew with noodles, he will eat the noodles first and fight against eating.

But get this--he loves to help with the cooking. The other night, I wanted to make a salad. He helped by ripping the lettuce. I then washed it and he ran the salad spinner. I then handed him bowls of veggies to add to the salad. I soon realized that we had more celery in his stomach than in the salad itself. Same went for the peppers and raw broccoli. My kid loves veggies. I'm not going to complain. He did the same last night when we were making Boboli pizza. This is his specialty, and he loves making a pizza with tons of vegetables. My husband made up a veggie bowl for him to munch out of so that some of the veggies would actually make it onto the pizza!

When we go shopping I ask him what veggies we should buy. Last time it was green beans and broccoli. He's been known to ask for corn (he wants it on the cob and who can blame him?)

I'm not saying I have the perfect eater--by far my kid drives me crazy some nights, with the sitting and staring at the food that I know he likes. But when I think of my friend's husband--the man who won't eat anything but beef--I can't help but think I did something right with my kid. 

So from what I see, I did three things that made my kid a non-picky eater: (1) breastfeeding for over a year while keeping a big variety in my own diet, (2) home made baby food with a lot of variety, and (3) now that he is older, involve him in the cooking whenever possible.  I only hope the same works with my second!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Getting Started

It occurred to me that I have been posting to my LJ a lot about food, and part of that may possibly be because I am pregnant and food is very high on my priority list right now. Then again, I've always loved food, loved cooking since college, and figure it's time to start consolidating my thoughts about food and recipes and cooking methods into one place.

I'm not an expert to be sure. 

I've recently started Once a Month Cooking, and to be honest, most of the recipes that I see out there look fairly vile on paper. Having come from a household where we had gourmet-type meals just about every night, seeing so many recipes that include cream of mushroom (or chicken or celery) soup is pretty distressing. I'm not a casserole girl. I'm not a cream of anything girl. And yet I have a toddler, a husband, a career, and another baby on the way, and cooking every night is pretty distressing to me as well. So what's a girl to do?

I've been scrounging the web for really good recipes that I think will stand up to freezing. And I've been trying to convert some of our favorite recipes to something that will also stand up to freezing. So far, it's mostly been good. We'll see. I can stand a few casseroles. But I need to figure out a way to make them a bit healthier, too.

Meanwhile, this is what I've got on my list for next month's cooking. Thoughts are welcome. None of them use cream of anything soup (even the chicken & broccoli which traditionally does:

White Veggie Lasagna (I don't consider this to be a casserole)
Tilapia Pepper packets (in foil packets for baking later)
Pork chops with peppers/onions/tomato (partially cooked for later baking)
Chicken w/ broccoli (the one major casserole)
Chicken pot pies (the perennial favorite)
sausage rolls (this is an experiment using my recipe for sausage & peppers and then wrapping it in dough and freezing for later baking)
mango curry chicken (prepped and frozen without cooking)

So, thoughts are welcome.