27 November 2008

Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Cooking Thanksgiving dinner with Kids: A Recipe for Stress-Free Family Fun

My two little helpers ages 3 and 5.  I bought these special aprons for them in anticipation of the big cooking day and they thought they were sooooo cool.


For the past 8 years, ever since my husband and I have been married, I've made Thanksgiving dinner.  Usually it is an elaborate affair with various family members, neighbors and friends joining in.  I would start planning at least a month ahead or more, did my shopping two weeks ahead, and had my cooking timeline written out in twenty minute increments starting two days before Thanksgiving.  The day of Thanksgiving, the kids were usually shooed out of the kitchen and my husband was put in charge of entertaining them.  I would spend all day amidst roasting pans, pots, casserole dishes, and chopping boards creating a gorgeous feast that would get rave reviews.  Of course I was exhausted afterwards and thinking back, I really didn't get to spend that much time with my family outside of eating because I was always holed away in the kitchen.
 
This year, all of the various family members whom we normally would have had to our house for the big day were going to be out of town so it was just going to be the boys, my husband and me.  Since it would be a small Thanksgiving for us, when my normal Thanksgiving meal planning started at the beginning of November (spurred on by Foodbuzz.com's proposal for Thanksgiving dinners), I realized that this year I wanted to spend time with my family instead of holing myself in the kitchen for two days.  I wanted this year to be stress-free and FUN!  This year, I wanted us to prepare our meal as a family.
 
My boys absolutely LOVE to help me in the kitchen, but the traditional Thanksgiving fare doesn't allow them to do that with all of the chopping (they are not knife safe yet), and opportunities to get burned from heavy roasting pans and hot pots.  I knew that if I wanted the boys to help cook, I was going to have to plan the menu around their attention spans, their tastes, and their abilities.  I had to think outside the "traditional" Thanksgiving box.  Thus, this "Kid-Centered" Thanksgiving menu and day was born.  The boys were able to help cook every dish in a stress-free day of cooking that accommodated their attention spans and nap schedules.  They also helped make all of the decorations.  I'll take you through our fun, family day to help give you confidence to include your kids in your next big meal.


Our cozy dinner table set for the big meal


Our edible turkey gobbler centerpiece 
Directions below



Our Turkey Gobbler centerpiece, Turkey Table topper (doubling as a bread basket) and our Sweet T.O.M. turkey cupcakes

The Menu

Appetizers:
-Turkey Tracks
-Spiced Nuts made in the crockpot

Turkey Tracks idea by FamilyFun.com
My little helper with his finished turkey tracks

Ingredients:
Whole wheat crackers
Cream Cheese
Peanut Butter
1 can of LaChoy Rice Noodles
Directions:
1.  Spread cream cheese or peanut butter on crackers.
2.  Top each cracker with the Rice Noodles arranging noodles to resemble a 3-toed turkey footprint.  Here is an example if you don't know what they look like.  (I printed this picture out so my son could see what they looked like too)




Ingredients:
4 cups of whole mixed nuts (I used a combination of pecans and hazelnuts)
1 egg white
1 tsp. water
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt

Directions:
1.  Place the nuts in a single layer in a shallow baking pan.  Toast by baking them in a 350 degree oven for 5-10 minutes.
2.  Place the toasted nuts in a 3 1/2 to 4 quart slow cooker. In a medium mixing bowl, beat the egg white and water with a wire whisk until frothy.  Stir in remaining ingredients.  Pour over nuts and stir gently to coat.
3.  Cover and cook on LOW setting for 4 hours, stirring once halfway through cooking.  Spread on waxed paper, separating into small clusters to cool.  Store in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator for 1 week.
My hubby taking the Sugared Pecans out of the crock pot



The Main Course
-Turkey Meatballs made in the Crock Pot
-Jellied Cranberry Sauce cooked in the microwave
-Whole wheat yeast rolls with flax meal
-Deviled eggs
-Sweet Potato Praline Marshmallow Casserole
-Olive Tray
-Green Salad
-Bamboo skewers of fresh fruit and cheese from Turkey Gobbler centerpiece


I know what you're thinking already, "Turkey Meatballs?  No roast turkey on Thanksgiving?"  Even though it wasn't traditional Thanksgiving food, we had so much fun making dinner that we didn't even miss it.  Below are the recipes.

Crock Pot Turkey Meatballs  recipe from About.com

The finished meatballs in steaming sauce

Ingredients:
3 cups barbecue sauce (your favorite)
2 cups apple jelly
3 Tbls. tapioca (for a thicker sauce)
2 Tbls. apple cider vinegar
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup fine dry bread crumbs, seasoned
1/4 cup milk
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. onion powder
2 lbs. ground turkey
vegetable oil
Squishing the ingredients together (What a face!)

Directions:
1.  In the crock pot insert, stir together barbecue sauce, apple jelly, tapioca, and vinegar.  Cover and cook on HIGH while preparing meatballs.
2.  For meatballs, in a large bowl combine egg, bread crumbs, milk, garlic powder, salt and onion powder.  Add ground turkey and squish up with your hands.  Shape into 3/4 inch meatballs.  
3.  Add a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil to pre-heated skillet over medium heat.  Add meatballs and brown on all sides.  Drain meatballs and add to crock pot.  Stir very gently to coat with sauce.
4.  Cover and cook on HIGH for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Yield:  5 dozen meatballs
Rolling the meatballs

Jellied Cranberry Sauce recipe adapted from Baking Delights
This is a super simple, and extremely tasty recipe from a blog called Baking Delights.  Marye, the author, made this with her little 4 year old helper.  I adapted her recipe slightly by using frozen cranberries thus having to cook it longer.

Ingredients:
1 pound frozen whole cranberries
grated zest from one orange
2 cups white sugar
1/4 cup orange juice
1 cup water

Directions:
1.  In a microwave safe bowl, mix together cranberries, zest, sugar, juice, and water.
2.  Cover the mixture with waxed paper and microwave on high power, stirring every 2 minutes, until cranberries pop and mixture starts to bubble up (about 12 minutes).  Chill in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours.  It will jell slightly.
My little helper with cranberries before cooking

Whole Wheat Yeast Rolls with Flax Meal by Joie de vivre

Ingredients:
1 cup warm water
1 egg
4 Tbls. sugar
1 tsp. salt
3 Tbls. dried milk
2 tsp. yeast
1/4 cup softened butter (plus more for brushing on afterwards)
2 cups bread flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup flax meal

Directions:
1.  Mix all ingredients except the flours and the flax meal together in a large mixing bowl.  Add the flours and flax meal and knead on counter for about 10 minutes until dough forms a smooth ball.
My little baker kneading the dough
Mama did most of the kneading

2.  Add dough to a generously greased (with shortening) bowl.  Roll your dough in the bowl to cover it with a thin layer of shortening.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot until the dough has doubled.  (Mine took about 2 hours)
3.  Punch the dough down gently and roll out on a cutting board to 12 x 18 inches.  (I did not need to flour my board but if you are worried about your dough sticking, flour it lightly)  Using a pizza cutter, cut dough short ways into 1/2 inch strips.
4.  Take your strips, make a knot, and then continue to thread the ends through the middle finally tucking them on the bottom.
5.  Place your rolls on non-stick baking pans or on greased baking pans.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise again for 45 minutes. 
6.  Bake rolls at 375 degrees for about 18 minutes.  When you remove them from the oven, brush the tops with melted butter.


My helper and I are cutting the dough into strips

The knotted rolls during the second rise


Deviled Eggs 
This is one of those recipes that I do by feel, but everyone does this one by feel, don't they?

Ingredients:
Eggs
Mayonnaise
Dijon mustard
Sweet Relish
Salt and Pepper to taste
Paprika, for garnish

1.  Place your eggs in a pot of cold water.  Bring to a boil then turn off the heat and cover for 17-18 minutes.  Drain the hot water gently and add cold water to pot.
2.  When eggs are cool enough to handle, peel off the shells.
3.  Cut eggs in half long ways and pop out the yolks.  Put aside the whites and place the yolks in a small bowl.  Add a little mayonnaise, mustard, relish and salt and pepper and squish up with a fork.  
4.  Add the yolk mixture to the holes of the egg whites
5.  Sprinkle a little paprika on top of your deviled eggs.

Peeling eggs (truthfully he liked the cracking part MUCH more than the peeling part)


Sweet Potato Praline Marshmallow Casserole adapted slightly from Emerils.com
*Aside from the yeast rolls, this was my favorite.  It was sweet and creamy with a crunchy praline topping.  Who needs pie when they can dive into this yumminess?

Ingredients:
2 1/2 lbs. sweet potatoes
4 Tbls. unsalted butter, softened and divided
2 Tbls. heavy cream
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar, divided
2 Tbls. orange juice
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/8 tsp. salt
2/3 cup pecan pieces
2 cups mini marshmallows

Directions:
1.  Place the sweet potatoes in a large, heavy pot and add enough water to cover by 2 inches.  Bring to a boil.
2.  Cook the potatoes at a low boil until they are fork-tender, between 30-45 minutes, depending on the size of the potatoes.  
3.  Drain the potatoes in a colander.  Set the potatoes aside and let cool for about and hour.
4.  Meanwhile, place the oven rack in the center position and pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
5.  When potatoes are cool enough to handle, place the potatoes on a cutting board and cut in half lengthwise.   Gently but firmly squeeze each potato to remove the meat from the skin.  Discard the skins and place the potatoes in a large mixing bowl.
6.  Add 2 Tbls. of the butter, the heavy cream, 1/4 cup of the brown sugar, orange juice, cinnamon, allspice, and salt to the potatoes and mix well with a large wire whisk until smooth.
7.  In a separate bowl, combine the remaining 2 Tbls. butter, the remaining 1 cup brown sugar, and the pecan pieces.  Stir with a fork to blend well.
8.  Spoon the mashed sweet-potato mixture into a 12" x 8" casserole dish.  Dot the top evenly with the pecan mixture, then sprinkle the marshmallows over the nuts.
9.  Bake until the marshmallows are golden brown, about 30 minutes.
10.  Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

My helper adding the marshmallows.  This was also his favorite dish of the evening.

Dessert
-Sweet T.O.M. turkeys


Our table set for dessert with our turkey place mats and Turkey Table topper

Sweet T.O.M. turkeys adapted slightly from FamilyFun.com
A Sweet T.O.M. turkey

Ingredients:
Cupcakes
Chocolate Frosting
3 oval shortbread cookies (I used Keebler Sandies 100 calorie pack shortbread) per turkey
6 to 10 candy corn pieces per turkey
White icing
A chocolate sprinkle, for the eye.  One per turkey
Red icing

Directions:
1.  Frost the cupcakes, then press in a cookie head and two cookie wings.
2.  Press in a row or two of candy corn tail feathers
3.  To make an eye, add a small dot of white icing to the head, then add a chocolate sprinkle in the middle for the pupil.
4.  For the beak, cut the white end off one candy corn.  Put a little dab of white frosting in the correct spot and press the white end into it.  Add a line of red icing at the base of the beak for the wattle.

The men mixing up the chocolate cupcakes

The dog, hoping that a cupcake will fall, as the boys frost them




The Crafts:
-Edible Turkey Gobbler Centerpiece
-Turkey Bread Basket
-Thumb print turkey placemats
From Left to Right:  Edible Turkey Gobbler Centerpiece, Sweet T.O.M. turkeys, Turkey bread basket

Edible Turkey Gobbler Centerpiece adapted slightly from FamilyFun.com


Making the fruit and cheese skewers for the Edible Turkey Gobbler

Ingredients:
1 Spagetti Squash (body)
1 Bosc pear (head)
Cheese cubes (beak and tail feathers)
Red pepper (snood, feet, and side feathers)
Raisins (eyes)
Grapes (tail feathers)
Mandarin oranges (tail feathers)
Pineapple chunks (tail feathers)
Bamboo skewers
Toothpicks

Directions:
1.  Stabilize the squash body by cutting a slice off of one side so that the squash will have a flat base.  Using a section of bamboo skewer, attach a Bosc pear head to the melon as shown.  (Close up photo at the very top of this post)
2.  Cut a cheese triangle beak and a red pepper snood.  Attach both, along with the raisin eyes, to the head with sections of toothpick.
3.  Cut red pepper feet and set them in place.  For the tail feathers, skewer cheese cubes, mandarin oranges, pineapple chunks and grapes, then insert the skewers as shown.  
4.  Attach red pepper side wings to the sides with toothpicks.


Turkey Bread Basket adapted from FamilyFun.com
Painting the paper plates that make up the feathers, wings and head of the Turkey Bread Basket

Supplies needed:
Cheap white paper plates
Washable acrylic paints and paint brushes
Clothes pins
Hot glue gun
Two google eyes
Large brown paper bag
Piece of corrugated cardboard
Clothes pins

Directions:
1.  The day before assembly, paint a bunch of paper plates and let dry.  These you will cut into feather shapes.  Also, paint one paper plate red on both sides, and three others red on one side only.
2.  When the plates are dry, cut them into large feather shapes.  Save your red plates, as well as two other plates that will form the side wings.  Hot glue the feathers onto clothes pins.
3.  For the turkey's body, trim the brown paper bag so that it measures about 8 inches tall.  Then, fold down the sides so that they are half the height and double the thickness.  Hot glue these sides together.  Cut the cardboard to fit in the bottom of the bag and hot glue in place.
4.  Take one of your red paper plates and place on the inside back of the bag, glue in place.  Take another red plate and place on the outside of the bag to reinforce the first paper plate.  Glue together.  Another red paper plate will be folded in half and attached to the inside plate halfway down so that two rows of tail feathers can be attached.  Glue to the first plate.
5.  For the side wings, take two paper plates and fold in half, glue one to each side of the bag.
6.  For the head, using the red paper plate that was painted on both sides, fold in the sides to make a point.  Fold down the point to make the head.  Glue onto the front of the bag.  
7.  Attach google eyes with glue and attach feathers with clothes pins to the paper plates in the back in a fanned out position.
8.  Place a napkin in the middle of the bag and add your dinner rolls!
9.  If you are confused, just click on the FamilyFun.com link.  I adapted their directions slightly, but they have better diagrams.

Thumb Print Turkey Place Mats idea adapted from Thrifty Fun
The boys, holding their freshly laminated Thumb print turkey placemats

Supplies needed:
One place mat sized poster board per person
Washable acrylic paint in brown, red, orange and yellow
A white acrylic paint pen
A permanent black marker

Directions:
1.  Using a paper plate as your paint pallet, put a small amount of each color of paint onto the plate.
2.  Dip your thumb in brown paint and make one print for the turkey's body.  Wash your thumb and then dip in Red.  Stamp a ring of red around the brown for the turkey's tail feathers.  Repeat for orange and yellow. 
3.  Set aside to dry.
4.  When dry, use the white acrylic paint pen to make the whites of the turkey's eyes.  Let dry.
5.  When dry, use the black permanent marker to make the turkey's pupils, draw legs and three toes on turkey, and write "Happy Thanksgiving" around the turkey.
6.  Laminate your finished place mats (I took mine to Kinkos) to make wiping up Thanksgiving spills easy.
The little Picasso's working on their Thumb print turkeys

The End Result:
Thanksgiving was so much fun this year.  No one was stressed, we had a great dinner, and there were lots of fun memories and funny conversations.  This was definitely trial by fire in terms of initiation into letting the kids help in the kitchen, but the result and process was so positive, I will not hesitate to let them help in the kitchen again.  (Unless they have snotty and drippy noses, but that is for a different reason!)  Just look at the smiles!



How to cook with your children:

1.  Keep it simple.
2.  Keep them on their schedules.
3.  Take breaks.
4.  Have FUN!
Although the cooking was done in a day, the crafts were started 4 days beforehand.  This allowed us to enjoy each activity and not get overwhelmed with things that needed to be done.  The cooking started around 9:00 a.m. for a 5:00 p.m. supper, so the pace was slow.  Also, utilizing the crock pots helped immensely as it allowed us to put things on early and move onto other things.  When the boys needed a break, they took it, and spent the better part of an hour in the morning playing cops and robbers.  They were always excited to come back and help cook when they were done playing.  We also kept them on their schedules, ate lunch (the turkey tracks with some fruit and ham slices) when they normally did and put the little one down for his nap at the right time.
When doing this on your own, think of what your children can do and be successful at in the kitchen, adding ingredients, stirring, kneading, etc. and keep it simple.  But most importantly, have fun!  Enjoy your time together because they won't be little forever!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

25 November 2008

Cooking with Kids: Dog Bone Cookies


Yesterday my oldest came home from pre-school beaming.  He had been chosen to take their class mascot, a stuffed Clifford dog, home for the week.  When students take Clifford home, they also take Clifford's "overnight" bag with them filled with fun activities the kids can do.  There is a View-master with  Clifford pictures in it, several Clifford books to read, a Clifford video, a journal to chronicle Clifford's adventures with your family, as well as a recipe card for "Dog Bone Cookies" that had a dog bone cookie cutter attached to it.  
I knew that if my son wanted to make the cookies and share them with his class, we would need to make them for class today since they are out of school for the rest of the week.  So, last night, my two little ones pulled up chairs to help me make the dough for this very simple sugar cookie.
I have decided that I need to cook/bake with them more.  They love it so much but I'm often reluctant to let them help since it often takes 3 times as long.  But I knew when I gave my oldest a cup of flour to add to the bowl and he poured it in from a height of about 18 inches thus powdering himself in a fine dusting of flour as it plopped in the bowl, that cooking is not necessarily intuitive.  I know somehow that you should not add flour to a bowl from a height of 18 inches and should instead add the flour gently from a height close to the bottom of the bowl, but where did I learn that?  Probably through trial and error when I was their age.  I resolve right now to let them help me in the kitchen as often as I can so that when they are 18, they are no longer learning through trial and error, but are self-sufficient and comfortable in the kitchen.
The sprinkles on the cookies are very uneven, but again, the kids did it themselves and loved every minute of it.  They were so proud of their work.  As for the taste, the cookies were just okay.  They had a nice soft texture to them and were mildly sweet.  I'm sure there are lots of better recipes out there, but this one scored points on the ease of the recipe, and the smiles it got out of two little boys who were able to help make them.


Dog Bone Cookies  *For human consumption only!

3/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt

Cram butter and sugar.  Add eggs, vanilla, flour, baking powder and salt.  Mix.  Chill dough for at least 1 hour or overnight, placing it in a ziplock bag first.  Roll dough to 1/4 inch and cut with dog bone shaped cookie cutter.  Sprinkle with sugar.  Bake for 11-12 minutes at 375 degrees or until bottoms start to brown.

24 November 2008

Clean Out your Fridge Week!

It seems I missed National Clean Out Your Fridge day on November 14 (who knew?), but I am using these last few days before Thanksgiving to clean out my fridge.  It's leftovers for us this week as well as wiping down the inside walls and shelves of the refrigerator.  While I'm at it, I may even go through my condiments as well and throw out those pickles that have been in there a few months.  There is nothing like the feeling of being able to fit all of your Thanksgiving leftovers into your newly cleaned fridge.

21 November 2008

Kids' Choice Chip and Fruit Oatmeal Cookies AND French Fridays


The folks at the King Arthur Flour blog have come up with another winner in the form of their Kids' Choice Chip and Fruit Oatmeal Cookies.  Of course they had me when they professed these cookies were for every time challenged parent who didn't want their reign as the home baked goods king/queen to vanish when their teenage son comes home and "reminds" them of the hockey potluck that night and "don't you remember you promised to bake 5 dozen cookies?"
I was just that parent yesterday except it was me saying to myself, "Oh yeah, you promised to have play group over here today and wouldn't it be nice to offer them something warm from the oven?" that got me to try this recipe.  King Arthur Flour promised 10-15 minutes of hands on time before popping the cookies in the oven and I needed them to be that quick.  Play group was expected at 9:30am, I started mixing ingredients at 9:17, and at 9:31am, when the doorbell rang, I was scooping the last tablespoons of dough onto the pan to pop in the oven.  Talk about quick and I was even putting the ingredients back in the pantry as I went!
The cookies were VERY yummy!  I usually love to try new recipes but this will be one that I pull out again and again as it was just too good and too quick not to.  I will print out the recipe as King Arthur Flour blog wrote it, and then I'll also (in parenthesis) write how I adapted it.  It was Kids (Mom's) choice after all!

Kids' Choice Chip and Fruit Oatmeal Cookies slightly adapted from King Arthur Flour blog


Hands on time:  10-15 minutes
Baking time:  12-14 minutes per batch
Total time:  22-29 minutes
Yield:  4 1/2 dozen

1/2 cup butter, right from the fridge, or at room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup brown sugar, light or dark
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 tsp. salt
1 Tbls. cider or white vinegar
1 large egg
1 tsp. baking soda
1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 cup old fashioned oats
3 cups chips, chunks, dried fruit and/or nuts of your choice.  (I used 2/3 cup chopped dates, 1 1/3 cup chopped pecans, 1 cup dried cherries)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease or line with parchment two baking sheets.  (I did not grease or line my non-stick cookie sheets and the cookies didn't stick.)

1.  In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter, shortening, sugars, vanilla, salt and vinegar.
2.  Beat in the egg, then the baking soda, flour and oats.  Stir in the chips, fruit, nuts, or whatever combination you chose.
3.  Drop the dough, by tablespoonfuls, onto the prepared baking sheets.
4.  Bake the cookies for 12-14 minutes, until they are golden brown.  Remove the cookies from the oven, and cool on a rack or right on the pan.  Lighter colored cookies will be chewier; darker colored, crunchier.

Your reputation as the home baked goods king/queen is saved!



French Fridays

*On a side note, a few of you expressed interest in reading French Women Don't Get Fat after my previous post.  I am very exited to invite you to a "book club" of French Women Don't Get Fat, Fridays in January.  I'll call it French Fridays.  We'll take those 5 weeks to read through the book which will be very slow but will allow for incorporation of new ideas and shedding of old ones.  For me, the timing will be perfect.  I have maintained my 34lb. weight loss for six months now.  However, I am ready, and will be MORE than ready after the holidays, to re-read this book that helped me lose the weight and to start losing more.  The format will be a discussion format either through the comments, or if you are interested, through links to your own blog if you have a lot to say.  If you don't own the book already, you can order it through my Amazon store here, or put it on your Christmas wish list and hope that Santa brings it for you.  If you are planning on joining in, just drop me a comment so I know how many to brew some virtual tea for!  Your first mission, should you choose to accept it, is to keep a food journal for the month of December.  There will be no one checking it but you so be honest with yourself.  So you had two (or six) of the above cookies, and then also had ice cream after dinner, this journal is for informational purposes for yourself so you can gauge your weaknesses (petite demons) so be honest with yourself.  Good luck with your food journal and I'll see you here Jan. 2 for our first discussion!  Bonne chance!

19 November 2008

Leek Soup


In the book French Women Don't Get Fat, the author recommends, as a kick off to becoming French, that you start your French journey with a leek soup weekend.  A leek soup weekend is when you eat nothing but leek soup and drink leek broth and water.  When I first "became French" I was very scared of leek soup weekend and skipped it.  However last April I went to visit my parents in Hawaii for two weeks and gained 4 pounds while I was there!  To offset the weight gain and get myself back on track, I decided to do a leek soup weekend.  The leek soup I made was so thin, very watery, extremely unappetizing with yucky chunks of boiled leek in it.  Needless to say, I didn't make it 24 hours eating this disgusting fare.
However, for the past two weeks, we have been receiving leeks in our final CSA baskets of the season.  Finally, I had about 10 of them crowding my crisper drawer and it was time to clear some space.  Last night I decided to make a starter of leek soup as I knew I could do so much better than last time if I just put my mind to it.  What I created had very subtle flavors from white wine and chicken stock, had a little "meat" to it with added olive oil, and was chock full of yummy, sauteed pieces of leek.  Much, much better.  Now I understand leek soup weekend.  I could happily survive the weekend on this soup.  Last night it was relegated to a mere starter to a main course of baked salmon, but I can't wait for lunch today to give it a starring role all it's own.

Leek Soup by Joie de vivre

Made at least 8 big servings

10 leeks, cleaned and chopped into 1/2 inch chunks
3-4 Tbls. olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup white wine
2 quarts of chicken stock

*Note*  If you have never worked with leeks before, the key to using them is getting them clean.  The way farmers grow them is to mound dirt around the base to make for a longer usable white part.  This results in lots of dirt in those little groves.  What I do is chop off the green leaves.  These are good for stock but are not going to be used for the soup.  We are working with the white parts here.  Chop off the root of the white part, turn sidewise and slice long ways down the middle.  Then turn the leek and chop short ways into 1/2 inch size chunks.  Put these chunks into a salad spinner.  Continue in this manner until all of the leeks are cut.  Put the salad spinner insert containing the leeks into the salad spinner bowl and fill the bowl with cool water.  Swish around the leeks with your hands, lift out this insert and drain the water.  Repeat 3-4 times until you are convinced the leeks are clean.  
 
Instructions:

1.  Heat the olive oil in a big soup pot over medium low heat.  
2.  Add the leeks and sautee them, stirring frequently, until they are very limp and starting to stick to the bottom slightly (maybe 10 minutes)  Don't let them burn!
3.  Add the white wine and scrape the bottom of the pot clean with a wooden spoon.
4.  Season with salt and pepper to taste, give the pot a good stir and then add the chicken stock.
5.  Raise the heat to medium-high and bring the soup to a boil.
6.  Ladle into soup bowls and enjoy.

18 November 2008

Osgood Pie


I love the library.  If it weren't for the library, I think I'd have to get a second job to pay for my cookbook addiction.  I love how all of the books are together by subject too.  I've recently been boning up on Christmas cookies and low and behold, right next to the book I'm looking for are other wonderful books on Christmas cookies.  It was while I was searching for Christmas cookie books, that my eye fell upon Pie by Ken Haedrich.  Being a cookbook addict, I naturally picked it up.  At 639 pages, this is one enormous book devoted to all things pie.  Flipping through, I was filled with giddy wonder as I found delicious sounding recipes for pies I had never imagined or heard of.  Every few pages there was a new recipe for a pie I am going to have to try.  From his notes, it sounds as if the author has personally tried all 300 of the pie recipes this book contains.  Not wanting to regain the 34 lbs. I have lost, I know I have to reign in my desire to make all of these at once, but the author did have the fabulous idea of sharing your pies with neighbors.  This makes for good neighborly friendships, and keeps you from devouring the whole pie alone.  This idea kept in line with "French" living and enjoying small amounts of desserts so as not to feel deprived.  After an enthusiastic reassurance from a neighbor yesterday that she would OF COURSE eat pie, I started out to make something called an Osgood Pie.  The author wasn't sure of the origin of the name, but after tasting the pie, I thought it might be named after some hard working midwestern farmer, who after tucking into this pie, responded with a full mouth, "Os good".  Translation for those of us who aren't dentists:  "That's good".
The pie was creamy and very sweet, studded with pecan and raisins in a custardy middle.  My favorite part was a crunchy meringue topping which floated to the surface during baking.  It was yummy, yummy and well worth consideration for gracing your Thanksgiving table.


Osgood Pie adapted from Pies by Ken Haedrich

Ingredients:
1 recipe worth of single pie crust (I used refrigerated pie crust)
1 cup dark raisins
4 large eggs, separated
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
3/4 cup chopped pecans
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1.  Place pastry in a 9 inch pie pan.  Sculpt the edge into an upstanding ridge.  Line with foil, place beans or pie weights into the foil and partially bake your pie crust in a pre-heated 400 degree oven for 12 minutes.  Remove the foil and the beans and set the crust aside to cool.
2.  Put the raisins in a small bowl and cover with hot water.  Set aside for about 10 minutes.
3.  Combine the egg yolks, sugar, butter, and vinegar in a large bowl.  Using an electric mixer, beat on medium-high speed for a bout 2 minutes.  Drain the raisins and stir them into the egg mixture along with the pecans, vanilla, and spices.
4.  In a medium-size bowl using clean, dry beaters, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.  Add to the filling, folding them in gently but thoroughly with a large rubber spatula.  Slowly pour the filling into the cooled pie shell.  Using a fork, gently rake through the filling to distribute the raisins and nuts more or less evenly in the shell.
5.  Place the pie on the center oven rack and bake for 10 minutes.  Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake until the filling is set, about 35 minutes.  Rotate the pie 180 degrees , so that the part that faced the back of the oven now faces forward, about 15 minutes before it is done.  Give the pie a little nudge and watch the surface carefully.  The filling should not move in waves, not even slight waves.  If in doubt, bake 5 minutes more.
6.  Transfer the pie to a wire rack and let cool thoroughly.  Serve at room temperature or cover with loosely tented aluminum foil and refrigerate it before serving.

Opus One


It's not often in life (at least in my life) that one is able to open a $120 bottle of wine, but when you do, oh, enjoy it.  When my husband started graduate school, he made a deal with his mother that when he finished, he would like to celebrate with a bottle of Opus One.  Not knowing what she was agreeing to, my mother in law replied, "Sure, why not?".  Fast forward seven and a half years, my husband has finished graduate school and my mother in law realizes that the bottle she agreed to buy was $120 dollars!  Being a fabulous mother who was proud of her son, she bought two bottles, one to drink soon after he graduated, which we drank a few years ago, and one to cellar, which we opened Sunday night.
My mother in law pulled out all the stops Sunday night, fixed a prime rib, creamed spinach, carrots, and a green salad and we reverently opened the bottle she had been storing for a few years now.  I kind of chuckled to myself as I pictured a younger version of my husband just starting graduate school with his wildest desire for celebrating the completion of the next seven and a half years of slave labor in graduate school being a fabulous bottle of wine.  (Can you see why I married him?)  
My husband was like a kid in a candy store Sunday night.  The wine was so smooth and the dinner and conversation lively with our loved ones.
By the way, at the same time my mother in law promised the bottle of Opus One, she also promised that she would take my husband to a celebratory dinner at the French Laundry in the Napa Valley.  I also don't think she knew what she was agreeing to then, and has yet to make good on that promise with my husband being 5 years out of graduate school now, but he won't let her forget.  Moral of the story moms:  Know the price point of what you are promising your foodie sons BEFORE you promise.  Being a foodie can sure get you into trouble sometimes!

13 November 2008

Taco Soup


My diabolical plan to set myself up with leftovers for an easy weekend of cooking is complete.  Mwah ha ha haaaa....  Last night we had taco soup made in the crock pot and it was quite tasty if I do say so myself.  We have enough of this soup leftover for one more dinner and a few lunches.  I love planned leftovers.  Not only is it economical, but I know that I can just kick my feet up this weekend, rely on the microwave to heat things up, spend time with the boys, and have the only dinner dishes be our plates and bowls.  Ahhhh....
A disclaimer:  my oldest didn't LOVE this soup, but he ate it because it had sour cream and cheese on top.  My youngest contented himself with the tortilla chips and little sips of soup when prodded.  So this may not be a kid favorite yet (although one would sure think it was).  However I loved it and would call it a winner myself, my husband loved it too.  Try it and let me know what you think!

Taco Soup by Joie de vivre

Serves 6-8

Ingredients:

1 large onion, chopped
1 lb. extra-lean ground beef
1 envelope dry taco seasoning
2 16oz. cans of black beans, drained and rinsed
1 16oz. can of corn, drained
2 quarts of tomato juice
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
black pepper according to taste
tortilla chips, optional
shredded cheddar cheese, optional
sour cream, optional

1.  Brown the meat and onions in a skillet until onions are slightly brown (the meat doesn't need to be cooked completely).  Drain and add to the slow cooker insert.
2.  Add taco seasoning, black beans, corn, tomato juice, sugar, salt and black pepper to the slow cooker insert and give everything a stir.
3.  Cook on Low in your slow cooker for 6 hours.
4.  Ladle into soup bowls and top servings with crumbled tortilla chips, shredded cheddar cheese and sour cream if desired.

12 November 2008

Golden Glow Pork Chops with Sauteed Greens


In my opinion, there is no more useful kitchen appliance than the crock pot.  I know I have been talking a lot about crock pots recently (be prepared, I'm making taco soup in my crock pot as we speak so tomorrow will be another crock pot entry!), but that faithful workhorse is kitchen magic to a busy mom.  Yesterday, I again tried out my new cookbook, Fix it and Forget It Big Cookbook, and found a winner of a recipe.  I was first drawn to this recipe because it was a good way to use some of the peaches I had canned this past summer.  But oh, it was so much more than just a good way to use canned peaches.  The sweetness of the peaches perfectly complimented the cinnamon and the cloves.  The pork chops were more tender than any I had ever had in my life.  I didn't even need my knife to cut them because they just fell apart with the touch of a fork.  It did have a relatively short cooking time for a slow cooked meal, just 3-5 hours, so those of you who work outside of the home may have trouble making this for a weekday dinner, but it was perfect for me and I got it in the slow cooker while my boys were eating their lunches.  If you do work outside the home though, don't miss this one.  Save it for a Saturday, it was well worth it.  Mmmmm.....
To accompany the pork chops, I sauteed the beet greens and kale that came in our very last CSA basket for the season.  If you have never made greens before, heat a couple tablespoons of oil in a large pot with a lid.  Add the stems of the greens and saute for a few seconds over medium-low heat.  Put the lid on the pot and cook for a few minutes.  Give the stems a stir and add the leaves.  Again, give a stir and put the lid on.  Check on your greens every few minutes, giving them a stir each time.  When the greens are tender, add a clove or two of minced garlic and stir until fragrant.  Add a couple of tablespoons of red wine vinegar to cut the oiliness and serve.  Enjoy!


Golden Glow Pork Chops by Fix it and Forget it Big Cookbook

Ingredients:

5-6 pork chops
salt to taste
pepper to taste
29 oz. can cling peach halves, drained (reserve juice)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
8 oz. can tomato sauce
1/4 cup white vinegar

1.  Lightly brown pork chops on both sides in a saucepan.  Drain.  Arrange in a slow cooker insert.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  
2.  Place drained peach halves on top of pork chops.
3.  Combine brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, tomato sauce, 1/4 cup reserved peach syrup, and vinegar.  Pour over peaches and pork shops.
4.  Cover and cook on Low 3-5 hours.

11 November 2008

Italian Beef au Jus


Oh crock pot, how do I love thee?  Let me count the ways.

I find as I try to save on our grocery budget, I have been pulling my crock pot out more and more.  Not only does it turn cheap cuts of meat into masterpieces, it is just such a time saver.  I love being able to get dinner started in the morning, do the dishes, and know that I can be playing with the kids right up until dinner time.  Plus, whenever I cook in the slow cooker, I always have leftovers!
A few weeks ago I found a crock pot cookbook at Costco titled:  Fix it and Forget it Big Cookbook:  1400 Best Slow Cooker Recipes.  I used it for the first time yesterday to make Roast Beef Sandwiches au Jus and was so pleased.  It was easy, inexpensive, the boys loved it, and I shredded the leftover beef, added some barbecue sauce and we will have barbecue beef sandwiches sometime this week for another super easy supper.   One cheap cut of meat, one easy day of crock pot cooking, two delicious dinners.  A stay-at-home mom's dream come true.


Italian Beef au Jus  modified by Joie de vivre from Fix it and Forget it Big Cookbook

3-5 lb. boneless beef roast
10 oz. package dry au jus mix (found with the other one package mixes)
1 package dry Italian salad dressing mix
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup water

1.  Place the beef in the slow cooker insert.
2.  Combine the remaining ingredients and pour over the roast.
3.  Cover and cook on Low for 8 hours
4.  When ready to serve, slice the meat and place on hamburger buns or kaiser rolls to make sandwiches.  Strain the liquid in the slow cooker and spoon off the fat or place in a fat separator to keep only the beef juice.  Ladle the juice into small bowls and serve alongside for dipping.


*Leftover ideas*

Shred any leftover roast with two forks and mix with barbecue sauce until a good, saucy consistency.  Serve the next day on hamburger buns.

10 November 2008

Bed, Bath and Beyond...the Danger Zone for foodies


I have never considered myself a kitchen gadget "collector".  Although that could be because my kitchen drawers are so stuffed to capacity already I shy away from adding more.  Yesterday however, I decided to go shopping at Bed, Bath and Beyond and realized it to be my personal danger zone.  I was in a weakened state to begin with being overly tired from singing in three long church services this weekend plus teaching Sunday school, but I should have realized I was in dangerous territory when it took me two minutes to walk two feet into Bed, Bath and Beyond because I was ogling all of the kitchen eye candy on display.
I mentioned in a previous post that we have started a winter egg subscription from a local farmer.  Because of this, I have been making an egg for breakfast more often in the morning.  However, the smallest egg pan I had was a smallish pan that eggs stick to terribly unless I use copious amounts of oil.  So when I came upon this little egg pan called "small fry" by Joie de vivre MSC (no joke, it has the word Joie written right across the handle) I had to have it.  After all, it had my name on it!
The pan scores a 10 on the cuteness factor early in the morning with the egg face on the handle.  After using it once, I was relatively happy with its performance also.  The company did recommend using a little oil in it to prevent sticking, but it was so much less oil than I was having to use in my other egg pan.  Also, the small size did restrict the amount of heat I put it over, (the flame has to be smaller than the circumference of the pan) but this still resulted in a perfectly cooked egg.  At $7.99, it was a little pricier than some kitchen gadgets, but I think this is a pan I'll be pulling out any time I want to cook just one egg.  Now the question will be, where to put it?

I'd love to hear about your favorite and must have kitchen gadgets too!  

08 November 2008

The Giant


I first saw a Hubbard squash at our farmers market two autumns ago.  It's sheer enormity motivated my astonished question to the farmer, "What is that!?"  "A Hubbard squash, it's sweet," was the reply.  I thanked her for her answer but left without the Hubbard squash because 1. I wasn't sure I could carry that bad boy, 2.  If I could carry it, I knew that I would never be able to cut into it without cutting off a finger, and 3.  Even if I was able to cut into it without maiming myself, there was no way it was going to fit in my oven.
Our CSA box this week contained about a fifth of what had to be an enormous Hubbard squash placed in a plastic bag (Fortunately, our farmer, almost sensing my anxiety about the size of Hubbard squashes, had cut it for us.  Thanks Alan).  I had no idea what to do with it but knew I had to cook it quickly lest it mold.  Two nights ago I placed it in the oven to roast slowly for an hour and a half and scooped out the meat with the intention of finding something to make with it.  I happened upon this soup creation which was quite tasty.  The cinnamon and the cumin pair beautifully together and really complimented the sweet flesh of the Hubbard.  If you don't have access to a Hubbard squash, I'm sure you could substitute any number of the fabulous members of the cucurbita family on the market now.  By the way, the latin name for Hubbard squash is cucurbita maxima.  I find this a very fitting name for this giant.

Winter Squash and Pinto Bean Soup by Joie de vivre

Ingredients:

1 onion, chopped
1 Tbls. olive oil
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1 garlic clove, minced
3-4 cups cooked squash (if you are making this with raw squash, cut into small cubes and increase the cooking time so that the squash is fully cooked)
3 cups chicken broth
1 (15oz.) can of whole tomatoes with the juice, crushed
1 (15oz.) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed


Saute the onion in the olive oil until slightly browned.  Place the sauteed onion in the insert of a slow cooker.  Add the cumin, salt, cinnamon, garlic, squash and chicken broth to the slow cooker and cover.  Cook on Low heat for 3-4 hours.  Puree soup until smooth with your hand blender.  Add the crushed tomatoes and the pinto beans to the pureed soup and cook on High for 1 hour until heated through and bubbling.

07 November 2008

Eating Locally


When we first moved to Eastern Washington from Davis, CA more than 5 years ago now, the thing we mourned the loss of the most was our CSA subscription.  Our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) was our way of eating fresh, locally grown produce, and provided endless hours of entertainment as we tried to figure out how to use certain vegetables.  We moved up here to what seemed like a wasteland (you'll understand if you've ever been to Eastern WA) and tried in vain to find a CSA.  After all, it is such an agricultural area, we figured someone was bound to have a CSA.  After fruitless searches of the web, and speaking to every farmer at the farmer's market, I was resigned to do without my beloved CSA and took heart in the fact that there was a farmer's market to begin with.  
Last spring I was reading our newspaper when I happened to see a small 1" x 3" ad with the very cryptic words of, "Eat Locally" and there was a phone number.  Could it be?  Yes it was.  A fairly large local farm was starting a CSA and put out a small feeler in the newspaper to see if there was any response.  Last year, there were 48 subscribers in the CSA.  Thanks to the glowing reviews of the customers and a large article in the paper this year, there were 250 subscribers this year and the farmer plans to add a couple hundred more next year.  This area was crying out for a way to eat locally.
This is my sad goodbye to my CSA box for this growing season.  Now that it is November, the weather is just too cold to sustain anything else.  But what a season it was.  I took the photo above as I was reveling in the beauty of local food.  The last box of the CSA season, and my first dozen eggs from my winter egg subscription.  I'm thinking a locally grown frittata?  Mmmm.  If you live in Eastern Washington and are interested in finding locally grown eggs or are interested in participating in the CSA, I'll include the resources below.  If you live no where near here, never fret.  CSA's are the hottest thing in farming.  Do a search of your own and I'm sure you will find local farmers selling their products.
The thing I love the best about buying locally grown foods and particularly being in a CSA, is knowing the farmer and whose work went into the foods you eat.  It just makes everything taste all the better.  


Greene Hills Farm (egg subscription):  http://greenehillsfarm.com/

06 November 2008

Election Day Dinner - 2 days late!


Doesn't this sound like all of us sometimes?  You are running the kids to an activity, you have to pick up a gallon of milk, then you have a quick meeting before running to pick up the kids again.  This was my night on election night.  I had a 5 pm meeting at church when I usually am cooking dinner and got home at 6 pm with the little ones saying they were hungry and my own desire to watch the election results calling for a quick dinner.  Fortunately, one of my stops before church had been to our local fishmonger.  He had fresh Rock Cod in that day and I picked up two fillets as well as his homemade beer batter mix.  While my husband sauteed up some swiss chard, and I microwaved some green beans and put a packaged Caesar salad in a bowl, I was frying up some golden pieces of yumminess.  A quick, delicious dinner, in about 15 minutes, better and healthier than take-out, and then we were all set to settle in and watch the results come in!

05 November 2008

My first attempt at a fashion post


For the past few months, I have been reticent in my promises of discussing how to dress well.  I apologize for my negligence however with the changing of the seasons, I can remain silent no longer.  In the summer, especially here in the desert, I can let a few fashion faux pas go.  After all, it is hot and really, tank tops and shorts are probably the most efficient way of keeping cool.  Now that the weather is cooling off however, one can't be so lucky to get by with slovenly apparel.  The biggest offenders I see of fashion malice are stay at home moms.  When I first "stopped working" I too fell into the trap of, "Why take a shower when I'm just going to be thrown up on 5 minutes after I get out?"  However, within a few weeks, I realized the error of my ways.  I would pass by a mirror and physically lose energy and the will to do anything constructive simply because I hadn't taken the time to take care of myself.  I soon made it a PRIORITY to 1. take a shower, 2. put on make-up, and 3. make the bed.  Even if I accomplished nothing more in the day after that, I felt better about myself as a human if I accomplished those three things.  I'm not saying at the end of the day I wasn't covered in baby vomit head to toe, but I felt better about myself.
Now that my boys are a bit bigger, of course my accomplishments throughout the day are much greater as they are not reliant on me to be a milk maker, diaper changer, and general soother, but my philosophy from those baby days remains consistent, if you dress like your appearance matters to you, you will have more energy and feel better about yourself.
I see so many moms my age whose hair is laying lank and lifeless on their heads, wearing no make-up and in the typical "mom uniform" (jeans and t-shirts).  Not that there is anything wrong with this "uniform", it is very functional especially when you are cleaning bathrooms, you don't want to bleach stain a good blazer, but you can still dress well.
Take my outfit today for instance.  Yes, it is the "mom uniform" a simple sweater from Eddie Bauer and jeans.  I am playing house cleaning catch-up today so I don't want to go too "fancy" because of my above reason, I don't want to bleach stain anything I really care about.  But, I can take my outfit and make it a little more put together looking.  My sweater does have a very plain neckline so I took a nice lacy scarf and tied it around my neck (this can be removed when scrubbing bathrooms!).  When I drove my son to school, I layered a nice fitted 5 button beige blazer over the top and looked quite chic.  
Make-up is a must in my opinion definitely if you are a mother (one must cover those under eye circles) and also if you are not a mother but are over 30.  We no longer have that ideal skin we had in our young 20's and a little foundation goes a long way in helping us to put our best foot forward.
Even though my day will consist purely of caring for my children, carpooling, cleaning and blogging, I still took the time to look my best today and I feel my energy level is higher for it.  Try it and you will be amazed at how much better you feel inside.

04 November 2008

Chicken Soup


This past weekend, all three of my boys were sick.  By Sunday, being quite sick of all the sickness myself and ready for a little break, I headed to Costco to pick up an easy dinner of roasted chicken, bagged Caesar salad, and some green beans.  Last night, finally being back in the mood to cook after the little break, I made a chicken and rice soup with the leftover chicken.  It was yummy and hearty and even the little guys liked it (also the big guy) and used pantry staples and leftovers from the fridge.  I had leftover rice from this weekend also so I threw that in as well and it bulked it up quite a bit.  

Chicken and Rice Soup by Joie de vivre

1/2 cooked chicken with pieces of meat cut into fairly hearty chunks (about 4-5 cups chicken)
A large handful of green beans cut into soup sized pieces
1/2 onion cut into large pieces to allow onion haters to pick pieces out
2 carrots, quartered lengthwise and cut into soup sized pieces
4 stalks of celery, cut in half lengthwise and cut into soup sized pieces
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 15 oz. can butter beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup cooked, cold rice
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
2 vegetable boullion
6-8 cups boiling water

In a large soup pot, heat olive oil over medium high heat.  Add the onion, celery, and carrots and cook, stirring until softened but not browned.  Add minced garlic and cook for 1 minute until fragrant.  In the meantime, pour a little of the boiling water over the boullion to dissolve it.  Add to the soup pot along with the rest of the boiling water.  Add the chicken pieces, beans and the rice.  Add salt and pepper sparingly to taste as boullion is salty.  Bring to a boil and then lower heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes.  If desired, you may skim off the olive oil that floats to the surface.  Ladle into soup bowls and serve to your sickies.

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