Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Orange Chicken and Lemon Tilapia

The Orange Chicken didn't turn out exactly how I'd imagined, but it was yummy :)  I found a Japanese blend of frozen veggies, I had some oranges on hand from Thanksgiving, and I went to town.
one or two oranges
a pound of diced chicken
soy sauce
stir-fry veggies - bean sprouts, onion, cauliflower, carrots, mushrooms, whatever.
a jar of baby food
prepared white rice - I do mine in a rice cooker.

Saute the veggies in some vegetable oil.  When most of the liquid has evaporated, add one or two tablespoons of soy sauce, cook for a minute and set aside.

Season the chicken with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and orange zest.  Saute in vegetable oil until completely cooked through, then add the juice of one orange.  Cook for a minute and add some soy sauce.  Just use your own judgement for the measurements; you know what you like.  The chicken should be a pretty brown color now, and should taste slightly sweet and salty.

Put a scoop of rice on a plate, top with veggies, and then with chicken.  Serve with a slice of orange.

The next night's meal was also good and very different.  I had some frozen spinach and fish fillets on hand, but not a lot of time because my husband was going to be home late so I had the girls under my feet.  In times like these it's better to use the oven.  Lemon Butter Tilapia:

4 tilapia fillets
one lemon
three tablespoons butter
one bag or box frozen spinach (if it's in a box, you'll need to defrost and drain first)
couscous, any flavor.  I use Near East brand.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat your oven to 350.  Season one side of the fish with salt and pepper and place the fish on the paper, seasoned side down.  Season the other side with salt, pepper, and lemon zest, then squirt lemon juice all over the fillets.  Just try not to wash off all the seasoning.  Divide half a tablespoon of butter into four pieces and place the pieces on top of one fillet so they will melt evenly over the fish.  Do the same for each fillet, using 2 tablespoons total.  When your oven is hot, put the fish in it.  It should take about ten minutes, and then it will slide right off the parchment paper.  White fish should be white all the way through and a little flaky when fully cooked, but not dry.

Prepare the couscous as directed:  Bring 1 1/4 cups of water to a boil.  Add the couscous and seasoning packet, cover and remove from heat.  Let sit five minutes, then fluff with a fork.

Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter in a skillet and add the spinach.  Sautee until warm and season with salt and pepper.

Put a scoop of couscous in the middle of a dinner plate.  Top with a scoop of spinach, and then a fillet of fish.  Super yummy :)  We like a lot of lemon and a lot of pepper, but of course you can use less according to your tastes.

Much-Needed Chicken Noodle Soup

Pardon me for not blogging recently; I had family in town and you know how that is.  I would be totally back into the swing of things if we weren't all sick.  This cold weather does not agree with the Marks girls.  Last night we were all in need of a nice warm healing soup.  Soups are one of the easiest things to make.  They're cheap and they go a long way to feed a family.  I have suggestions for a thicker version if you need a heartier stew-like consistency to satisfy you.  This is my Chicken Noodle Recipe:

a pound of diced raw chicken (any part of the bird you happen to have)
half a pound of pasta, any shape
12 cups vegetable or chicken broth (or water plus bouillion cubes)
a can of kidney beans, drained and rinsed
a bag of frozen veggies - "seasoning blend" OR two fresh diced carrots, two fresh diced stalks of celery, one diced red bell pepper, and one diced onion.
two jars of baby food - mixed veggie, carrots, or peas.
any of the following:  parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, basil, garlic powder, dill, bay leaves.

Honestly you could throw all of this in the pot, turn it on high and eat in fifteen minutes.  You don't need any oil if you do it this way and it will reduce the fat content.  But I like to babysit my cooking so this is what I do:

Sautee the veggies and the herbs and spices in olive oil for two to three minutes.  Add the baby food and four cups of broth, bring to a boil, and add the chicken.  Boil for a minute, add four more cups of broth and return to a boil.  Add the pasta and the beans, then cook for ten minutes or until the pasta is done.  Keep an eye on it and add more broth to your desired consistency.  I like really brothy soup so I use all twelve cups.  The pasta will absorb more water as it sits, so if you're eating it again the next day you will need to add more liquid anyway. Serve and enjoy!  Just don't eat the bay leaves.

My 3 year old loves soup and my one year old loves pasta so this recipe made the whole family happy, and will for several days.  It's extremely healthy, especially if you leave out the olive oil and use whole-wheat pasta.  There are so many veggies in here it's not even funny.

If you like a thicker soup, use a little less water and add a can of crushed tomatoes to give it a heartier consistency and flavor.  You could also add more baby food, or leave it out altogether if you don't have any on hand.

Another great thing about soups is they are so versatile and flexible.  If you don't have carrots, add mushrooms instead.  If you don't have chicken, add lentils for some protein.  Throw all your going-bad-ingredients in the pot and let it go.

A word on bouillion cubes if you're not familiar:  They are cheaper than prepared broth and take up a lot less space.  A jar of bouillion cubes makes like a truckload of prepared broth and that would not be pretty on your countertop.  I also like them because I don't have to know exactly how much broth I need before making the dish.  I can just keep adding water to the soup, and then add the appropriate number of bouillion cubes.  One cube in one cup of water makes one cup of broth.  I frequently drink straight broth for lunch, and can add more or less water to achieve the flavor I'm looking for.  If you make a lot of soups they are the better option in my opinion.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Sushi and Stuffed Peppers

Last Thursday we had some friends over for sushi.  If you have access to good fish, it's really easy.  Wrap a sushi rolling mat with plastic wrap and lay it flat on a work surface.  Lay a sheet of Nori (sushi seaweed) on top of it.  Cover the nori with cooked white rice mixed with rice vinegar and sugar (you'll want to look up an exact recipe for this part; I don't have one because my husband does it).  If you want the rice on the outside of the roll, you'll need to flip it over.  Then lay your desired ingredients in a line on the edge of the mat, closest to you.  We like salmon, tuna, cream cheese, scallions, avocado, roe (fish eggs), wasabi, and cucumber.  Slice it up and serve it with soy sauce and sake.

Now listen, you can't just stroll into Winn-Dixie and buy fish if you want to eat it raw.  Go to a fish market and ask them if they have anything sushi-grade.  If they don't know what you're talking about, walk right back out of the door.  They should tell you what they have, when it came in, and how much you need for your guest list.  They should have salmon, tuna, and grouper, and they might have some others as well.  They can suggest other accoutrements and should have a variety of sauces, as well as things like wasabi and roe.  They can even slice it up for you length-wise, if you're going to be rolling it.  It's expensive, about 16 dollars a pound, but if you roll it up with other stuff, it's very filling and a little bit goes a long way.  We bought two pounds for seven people.  We ate it all, but we were stuffed.  For just the two of us, we eat it chopped up over rice with soy sauce.

Tonight we had stuffed red peppers.  I've been wanting to try some, having never eaten them before, so I looked up a random recipe.  This one calls for tomatoes, ground beef, olives, and couscous.  Cut the top off of four red bell peppers and scoop out the insides.  Stand them up in a baking dish. 

You may need to fashion a wedge out of the top of the pepper to stick under it so it will stay upright.  Heat some olive oil in a skillet and add a can of diced tomatoes, 1/2 cup chopped pimento-stuffed olives, and half a pound of ground beef.  When the beef is browned, add the couscous (Near East brand), its seasoning packet, and 1/2 cup of water.  (If you were me, you'd add a jar of baby food at this point.  Just saying.)

  Take it off the heat, put a lid on it, and let it sit for five minutes.  Fill the peppers with the couscous mixture and top with shredded italian cheese. 

Cover loosely with foil and bake at 350 for 20 minutes.  The foil should keep the cheese from burning.  Remove the foil and bake for another ten minutes.

My husband LOVED this.  For me, it was just okay.  Audrey wouldn't touch it :

but Ayla enjoyed the couscous we fed her:

  I think I would like it with some sauteed onions and mushrooms in the filling.  I think they would complement the red pepper nicely.

Ayla's first birthday party is this weekend so I have been shopping and party planning.  WalMart, as much as I love to hate it, has the best deals anywhere.  I bought all our party favors and favor boxes there.  I should have bought my plates and napkins there, too, but it's far away and I had already been to the party store for that stuff.  Everything is pink, pink, pink, and I'm super excited to see how it turns out.  I'm hoping to make pink pasta salad and pink spinach dip to go with our pink cupcakes and pink cookies, which will spell out Happy Birthday Ayla.  I think it will be fun to do with Audrey. 

Monday, November 1, 2010

Ghouls, Goblins and Greeks

We live in a large college town (40,000+ students, 3 recent, major national championships) so the Sororities put on a trick-or-treating event for the kids on the Thursday before Halloween.  The houses are all within 2 blocks of each other and are decorated to the nines, each in a different theme.  My favorite was the Princess and the Frog house.  They had their front walk decorated like a river with lily pads, a frog jumping game, and a real Princess Tiana, whom Audrey loves.  The sorority girls go crazy swooning over the cute kids and shower them with attention, as well as candy.  We're talking kiddie pools full of candy.  It was kind of ridiculous.

We went early, fifteen minutes before official start time, and I was very glad of this for multiple reasons:
1) We parked without any trouble
2) We got "extras"; extra attention, extra candy, extra stuff in our goody bags.
3) A reporter with a deadline took our picture and asked us a few questions, and we made the front page!!
4) We were done JUST as it started to get crowded.  It took us an hour and we had a blast. 

I was thoroughly impressed, and I would do just that one event for trick-or-treating as long as I could get away with it, but I don't think we'll be living here much longer.

When we got home at 6:30, I let Audrey pig out while I made dinner (below).  This has always been my halloween strategy and I'm generally prepared to deal with the consequences.  She went totally crazy, with a screamfest, and it was difficult to get her to bed, even after keeping her up later than usual.  She also usually gets a piece of candy for going potty, but she was getting too much sugar in her diet, so on Sunday we started a new strategy.  (We also already had plans to go Trick-or-Treating with friends or we would have skipped it.)  Every time she does a good job, she gets a ball in a jar.  When she misbehaves, she gets a ball taken out of the jar.  When she has five balls in the jar, she can have a piece of candy and a sheet of stickers.  So far it's happened once.  I'm hoping to lessen the number of tantrums, spankings, timeouts, and treats in my house.  Sunday night we went trick-or-treating in a nicer neighborhood than our own and had a barrel of laughs; the girls had so much fun.  She went to bed at ten (yikes) , with one piece of candy, without much of a fuss!

You know my coconut chicken with mango salsa......I made it Thursday night with some baby peaches thrown in.  It made the salsa a little more like a sauce to pour over the chicken, and it didn't affect the taste at all.  Win :)  I started the menus for Ayla's birthday party, Thanksgiving, and my in-laws' visit.  I'm pretty excited about all the entertaining I get to do this month.  Tonight we're just doing risotto....whatchacanfind.  Probably onions, carrots, peas, white wine, and baby food.  And Thursday I'm hoping to have some friends over for sushi which I will absolutely blog about.  We've done it a lot in the past and it might interest somebody out there.

We had our book club meeting on Friday and there were some adorable food items.  We read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (eh), so it was High Tea and Zombie-themed.  Octopus chicken pot pies, brain cupcakes, homemade scones with lemon curd, and my all-time favorite, cucumber sandwiches. 

Spread some cream cheese on your favorite thin-sliced white bread and sprinkle with dill.  Place some peeled cucumber slices on the bread, cover with another slice already spread with cream cheese, cut the crusts off, and enjoy :)

Today we went to a playdate and made leaf rubbings, which I've just realized is ingenious this time of year....the leaves are all over the freaking place.......I'm totally doing it with the kids at Ayla's party!  It will be perfect for their age group.

And now I'm hoping to clean up my house a little bit before my husband gets home.  It has to be done at the last possible second so he notices; otherwise he thinks I didn't do it.  Sound familiar?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Leftover Baby Food: Chicken Cashew

We are participants of the WIC program, which provides free supplemental foods to low-income families, and as a result, we have a large surplus of baby food purees.  My kids really only eat the mushy stuff until they have teeth, and then they're graduated up to finger foods.  So what do you do with all that perfectly good fruit and vegetable matter lying around?  You sneak it in.

It's great in spaghetti sauces, risotto, and soups, most obviously, but you can also put it in any thing you're blending, like cake mix or stuffing.  Today I thought I'd stir it in a simple chicken recipe to see how it would do.

This is a Rachael Ray recipe from her 365 No Repeats cookbook.  She calls it Park City Cashew Chicken.  Season a pound of chopped chicken with grill seasoning and saute in vegetable oil until lightly browned.  Remove and set aside.  Add a chopped onion and a chopped red bell pepper to the same pan.  I actually like them julienned for this recipe; it's easier to do than a fine chop and I like the size a little bit better.  Cook them until they're slightly softer and translucent, then add two chopped chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.  You can find these in the ethnic foods aisle in a can.  If you like it a little spicier, you can add a teaspoon of the sauce as well.  If you can't find them at all, chipotle-flavored Tabasco works really well.  Stir the chicken back into the veggies and add honey and real maple syrup.  I do about two turns of the pan for each.  Then take it off the heat and stir in one cup of raw cashews.  Today I used salt and pepper flavored cashews, but if yours are not seasoned, you may want to add some salt and pepper.  Finally, add one or two containers of pureed baby food.  Today I added carrots.  You can't taste them at all and I figure it's at least half an adult serving of veggies.  Win win win!!  I usually serve this over rice but today I forgot, so we ate it as is and it was delicioso, as my two-year-old would say.

Last weekend we went to the kids' Trunk-or-Treating carnival and it was such a good time!  The kids have so much fun and they are really, ridiculously cute in their little costumes.  These are my girls in their princess outfits:

Ayla was not a fan of her "tiara."  But they look cute!  My trunk wasn't as cute this year as it was last year but here it is:

My favorite trunk was done up like Lucy's Psychiatric Help booth, from Peanuts.  The little boy went as Charlie Brown.  Too Cute!!! 

It was a potluck event so I brought crack-ups, which are a dessert recipe I obtained from a bachelor friend of mine (so you know it's gotta be easy.)  They are a HUGE hit, and super yummy to have sitting around in your freezer for THOSE kind of days.

1 cup sugar
1 cup butter
12 oz chocolate chips
saltine crackers

Preheat the oven to 450.  Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Arrange the saltine crackers in one layer in the bottom of the sheet.  Melt the butter in a sauce pan on the stove and dissolve the sugar into it.  Boil for 3 minutes.  Pour the mixture over the crackers, spread evenly, and bake for 5 minutes.  Remove from the oven and pour the chocolate chips on the top.  Give it a sec to melt, then spread it evenly and put it the freezer.  When it's solid, remove the foil and "crack it up" into bite-sized pieces.  Yummy is an understatement.

In other news, I finished my scrapbooking calendar pages and got them all ready to go into the calendars.  So I go online to purchase the calendars, and.....THEY'VE BEEN DISCONTINUED.  S#!T.  I am still exploring other options.  I may have to have them bound and draw the calendar grids myself.  I'm not a happy camper.  But it will be okay.....I hope.

I'm not kidding when I say you can't taste the baby food.  Give it a try if you've got some you don't know what to do with.  I haven't tried it with any fruit yet, but I bet you could mix that into yogurt and give it to your older kids!!


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Capes, Alphabet Bling, and Cricut Cutouts

I finally finished the cape for my husband's Henry VIII costume, just in the nick of the time for the kids' Halloween trunk-or-treating carnival this weekend.  Trunk-or-Treating is a safer alternative to trick or treating.  You line up your cars and open your decorated, candy-filled trunks so the kids go from car to car instead of from door to door.  It works really well for the 5-and-under crowd because they don't really know the difference, and they'd rather do it in the middle of the afternoon, at a party anyway.  Picture from last year:

We were bees and a beekeeper and the trunk was a garden.  This year I'm going with a castle / princess theme, so I used my Cricut Personal Electronic Cutter to cut out some shapes.  It should be pretty cute.  Pictures to come.

As of four days ago, I had our dresses and the girls' tiaras, so I just need to finish Justin's cape, and find myself a tiara and an Anne Boleyn necklace.  She wore this letter "B" necklace in the most famous picture of her, and I felt I really needed it to complete the costume.  (I'm also going with a faint red line across my neck in case some people need another hint.)  So I look online, but they're too expensive; I scour the costume shops; I check the craft stores; nobody has a letter B necklace or bead.  I find a couple of bead shops in town and I check them out, to no avail, when someone suggests Piercing Pagoda.  DUH.  Why didn't I think of that?  What high school cheerleader doesn't have her monogram hanging around her neck??  So I head to the mall with my two kids and I check Claire's (nothing) some jewelry kiosks (too expensive) and Piercing Pagoda.  They had one that would have worked for $15, so I seriously considered it, but thought I'd check Hallmark first.  The lady at Hallmark said her daughter got her monogram necklace at Justice, which is a little teeny-bopper store (with some adorable clothes I might add).  They had exactly what I needed for $7.50.  Score.  I picked up a $4 tiara for myself at Claire's (and $20 in hairbows........I might have a problem) and called it a DAY.  Next year I might take a page out of my friend Carrie's book and just buy the damn things online.....which brings me to my next point: the cape.

I mentioned previously that I didn't want to spend fifty dollars on it.  I now understand why one would do this.  I spent $25 and 12-15 hours on it.  So you know, time or money.  But I feel accomplished, even though all my friends think I'm nuits for doing it completely by hand.  My reasoning for this is that learning how to use a sewing machine would have been infinitely more stressful to me.  At least this way was relaxing.  I know enough about cross-stitch to be able to make a simple halloween costume.  I can't do anything that will hold up in the washing machine, or has any complicated seams, but a cape I can handle.  The finished product:

I used 2 yards of the red material and less than one yard of the white material.  I had my husband drape it over his shoulders, pinned it in a few places, hemmed it here and there, and added the fur trim.  I sewed the outer seam inside-out, so you can't see the stitches (obviously I don't know any technical terms here) but I didn't know how to do that on the inner seam, so I stitched it right-side-out.  Joining the fur together on the corners was a little tricky, but I just swag'ed it, and it turned out okay.  Then the chain (which I found at Michael's for $3) I just secured with some thread, and there you have it!  A regal cloak.  The costume store wanted ten dollars for a plastic chain. 

Tonight we had the coconut chicken again (I'm telling you, it's good!) and a side of asparagus.  My husband got some white truffle oil for his birthday and we drizzled it over the asparagus.  It was just okay, but we'll try it again in another way soon.  At the store this time I bought several bags of the frozen mango to keep on hand for this recipe.  I also bought some frozen pineapple to try in place of the mango.  It should be pretty good I think, especially with the coconut.

AND I got my new issue of Every Day With Rachael Ray!  It's mostly thanksgiving food, of which I am not the biggest fan, but there were some good dessert recipes that I tore out before recycling the magazine.  Since I'll have a large crowd for the few weeks around that time, I'm sure I'll plenty of opportunities to try them out.

We had some crazy meltdowns today, and I'm hoping I can keep it together until the weekend.  Or at the very least until bedtime :)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Risotto WhatchaCanFind

"Whatchacanfind" is a term coined by an old college roommate of mine that refers to a dish with a bunch of stuff thrown in it that was just laying around asking to be cooked, is not good for anything else, and/or is about to go bad.  She usually made Chili Whatchacanfind.  I do this a lot with soups, throwing in random vegetables, but my whatchacanfind ingredients the other night included shrimp and peas, so something a little more elegant was in order.

First let me say that risotto is an elegant, delicious dish that is very versatile and also impressive.  You can make it with chocolate or seafood, chicken or vegetables, champagne or vegetable broth;  you can serve it as a meal, a sidedish, an appetizer, or a dessert.  It looks expensive (and is, in restaurants) but is relatively easy, doesn't take too long, and can be very healthy.  Risotto is a rice dish that eats like a pasta; it's warm, filling, comforting, and creamy, though it doesn't usually have any cream in it at all.  If you're only going to master a few recipes to keep in you repertoire, make risotto one of them.

Risotto is made with arborio rice, a short-grained starchy variety.  If you can't find arborio, just use the shortest-grain white rice you can find.  I've had to use medium-grain in the past, and if you've got the technique right, it will still work.  The trick to risotto is to add the liquid slowly while constantly stirring, as opposed to "regular" rice, where all the liquid is added at once and you don't touch it.  Stirring it constantly agitates the proteins (or something.......if you want to know, watch Alton Brown's Risotto episode) to release the starches into the liquids slowly, thickening the liquid and creating the creamy consistency.  But I'm not a food scientist.  I'm not even a chef or a TV host.  But I love me some risotto.

Another excellent resource for learning to master risotto is Giada di Laurentiis' Everyday Pasta cookbook.  She simply lists ingredients that work well with risotto and go well together, to show you how versatile it can be.  We frequently use asparagus and champagne, or mushrooms and red wine, but like I said, what I had on me this partucular night was shrimp and frozen peas.  Find your largest frying pan or a soup pot and get started.  First I sauteed the shrimp very simply, with salt and pepper, just until it was barely cooked through, then I removed it from the pan and set it aside.  Dice an onion (or shallot if your other flavors are more delicate).  Saute it in the same pan with some butter or olive oil.  Add 3/4 cup uncooked arborio rice and toast it just for a minute.  Add 3/4 cup white wine or 1/2 cup chicken broth.  I only had veggie broth this time, which is fine.  You can also use fruit juices for sweeter varieties, red wine for a richer taste, or champagne for fancier dishes.  Stir the rice constantly at a medium pace until the liquid is almost evaporated/incorporated, then add another 1/2 cup of liquid and continue stirring.  Add all of the liquid, 1/2 cup at a time, in this manner until the liquid is gone and the rice is fully cooked.  Your risotto should be on the verge of boiling during the entire cooking process.  Not quite at a full boil, but still reducing the liquid and hot enough to cook the rice.  I added the peas toward the end, but when I still had about a cup of liquid left, because they were still frozen and I wanted to give them time to cook.  I also needed to be able to play with the temperature, to maintain my rice after throwing frozen peas in it.  If your peas are at room temperature you can add them at the very end along with the cooked shrimp. 

I usually add parmigiano-reggiano at the end but I wanted to keep it low-cal on this night.  Shrimp is fat-free and full of protein.  There's a small amount of fat in the chicken broth, but other than that this is a healthy, delicious meal, complete with 'meat', veggie, and starch.

You can do this with almost anything-you-can-find.  When I use asparagus, I boil it in the broth first to partially cook the asparagus as well as flavor the broth.  You can use dried mushrooms too, boiling them in the broth to rehydrate them and flavor the broth before adding them into your risotto at the last minute.  You can use lemon juice for a light lunch, or chocolate and pomegranate juice for a decadent dessert.  It does require you to stand in front of it for 30-plus minutes, but it is so worth it, and it will be better than anything you find in a restaurant.  I'm always disappointed in restaurant risottos, but mine always turns out.  I think this is because they sit on a heating surface in restaurants and dry out, but at home you get it fresh off the stove.

Tonight is taco night, nothing special but easy and yummy.  The halloween festivities are coming up and it's costume central at my house.  The kids have a trunk-or-treating carnival to go to next weekend, so I made the decorations for our trunk today, and I bought the treats.  I'm a lame mom, I guess, and for as long as I can get away with it, I'm giving out raisins and fruit snacks instead of Snickers.  I still haven't found my Anne Boleyn necklace and my husband's cape is half done, but it's really crunch time now and I've got to get going.  On the upside, I did finish two scrapbook-calendar pages the other night.  I swear as soon as this year's calendar is done, I *will* start on the baby book for my youngest, who will be one in about six weeks.  Yikes!

After trying my hand at sewing and beading, each for the first time, in the last two weeks, I can definitely say I do NOT need another hobby.  I have five unfinished novels that will testify to that.

Anyway, go digging around in your pantry and see whatchacanfind :)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Time! Time! Who's Got The Time!

Ugh.  There just is not enough time in the day.  Right now I should definitely be cleaning my house and not blogging.  But I've been promising a Disney blog so I need to get to it, because that's a LOT of information.  This morning I discovered that if my children are not up by 8, we're not getting anywhere by 10:30.  This morning we JUST made our playdate, and we were glad we did because we had a good time and got some great pictures.  I mean, tell me this isn't adorable:
But they sure gave me hell this morning.  I put Audrey's pants on, and her boots over top of them, and she tells me her underwear is wet.  So I undress her and start all over.  Then I get Ayla half dressed, and she throws up on me.  I change my shirt, I finish dressing the girls, and we're all ready to go with not a minute to spare.  I strap them in the car, I sit down in the drivers' seat, and Audrey has to pee.

I don't know how we got there at a reasonable hour but it was fun.  Now at 2 in the afternoon I'm finally making coffee.

Anyway my husband turned 29 on Monday and we went to Disney World for the weekend to celebrate.  Here it is, the much-anticipated "How To Take Your Toddler to Disney World and Come Home With Your Sanity" instructional manual.  Enjoy:

First let me say that Disney World is a large collection of theme parks, resort hotels, and attractions.  Disney is not a single theme park.  So when you say you're going to Disney, and somebody says, which part?  you don't say, Disney.  If you mean the Magic Kingdom, then you should say the Magic Kingdom.  The four main theme parks are Magic Kingdom, EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow), Disney's Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom..  There are also water parks (Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach), a large shopping / nightlife area (Downtown Disney)  and multiple resort hotels.

To fully experience all four parks for the first time, I recommend at least one day in each park.  This is what we're doing when my niece visits in November.  Some basic information on each park: 

EPCOT is all about culture and knowledge.  Some kids will find it to be boring, but it's usually the adults' favorite.  All the great food, wine, and shopping is at EPCOT.  There are a few rides that the little ones can do, and a few that they can't.  My 2-yr-old loves Journey Into The Imagination, Spaceship Earth, and Ellen's Energy Adventure.  She can also participate in Maelstrom, Living with the Land, The Living Seas, and the Mexico Boat Ride with Donald Duck, as well as any of the sit-down shows.  She is too small for Mission: Space, Test Track, and Soarin'. 
One-Day plan for EPCOT:
Eat breakfast at your hotel or home, then head to the park.  Arrive at the park probably around 10, realistically.  Go straight to Soarin', located in the Land.  Get your Fast Pass for later.  (See Fast Pass description below).  Ride Spaceship Earth, Ellen's Energy Adventure, and Journey Into the Imagination.  Also check out the sights, the gift shops, and the Innovations building.  Pick up your Kim Possible Phone at Innovations and do a cute little scavenger hunt if you want to.  Eat lunch at Coral Reef if you want a nice meal, or the food court in the Land if you want a quick meal.  Ride the Nemo ride and check out the aquarium.  Check out the Lion King Show and the Living with the Land boat ride.  Then ride Soarin' if enough time has passed.  Head over to the World Showcase.  It's a big circle, so head left or right depending on what you want to do first.  Every country has a show, ride, shopping, or dining to enjoy while you learn a little about their culture.  Each location has cast members from that country to help you and chat with you, as well as a Kidcot location.  These are masks or other crafts for them to color, to entertain them for a few minutes.  An older child will enjoy having a little collection of projects to take home.  World showcase highlights:  Canada film, shopping in China and Japan, drummers in Japan, pub in UK, Beatles cover band in UK, singers in US, Boat ride in Mexico, shopping in Mexico, admiring the inside of the pyramid in Mexico (it's awesome), glass-blowers in Mexico, tequila shots in Mexico, boat ride in Norway.  The following have restaurants that are all amazing:  Mexico, France, Japan, China, Italy, Canada.  You may want to make a reservation (see below).  If you don't want a sit-down dinner, many of the countries have little kiosks at which you can buy snacks, or you can find a counter-service dining location.  I know China and US have them.  If you're into fireworks, pick out a spot by the water around sunset and enjoy the show.  If you're into avoiding a mass exodus with two (probably sleeping or screaming) kids, skip the fireworks and go home early.

Hollywood Studios:
The kids can ride Toy Story and the Great Movie Ride, as well as view any of the shows.  This a movie-themed park and there are a lot of really good shows.  They are too little for Tower of Terror (awesome, and pretty scary), Rockin' Roller Coaster (also awesome), The Studio Backlot Tour (cute), and Star Tours (eh).
Go straight to Toy Story and get a Fast Pass.  There is a 54" requirement to sit on your own, but you can have a lap rider of any size with you on this ride.  While you're on that side of the park, check out the Little Mermaid Show (awesome) and the Playhouse Disney Live Show (also awesome).  There's some good shopping in this area too.  There is a place you can meet Toy Story characters, and there's a Narnia show which I've never seen.  The Brown Derby restaurant is supposed to be awesome, but I've never eaten there.  When you're done in that area head over to the giant hat and ride the Great Movie Ride after you look for your favorite stars' handprints.  I like Audrey Hepburn.  Then check out the rest of the park in whatever way you happene to be headed.  The Muppet Show is cute if your kids will wear the 3D glasses.  The Honey I Shrunk The Kids playground is pretty cool for photos.  The Indiana Jones show is cool, and a classic.  There are street performers frequently.  We didn't care for the Beauty and the Beast show, but it might be worth checking out for someone else.  We really like the Sci-Fi Dine-In theater for a sit-down meal.  It's done up like an old drive-in, and you sit in cars to eat and watch your movie.  They have a delicious marinated tofu dish, and some great pastas.  We also enjoy the counter-service locations near the Tower of Terror.

Animal Kingdom:
The greenest and shadiest Disney park, Animal Kingdom is mostly about the animals and exhibits.  We did all that once with Audrey because she loves animals, but we're not that into this park.  The Yak and Yeti restaurant is very good, and I really enjoy Expedition Everest and the Kali River Rapids, but these are both thrill rides and not suitable for little ones.  There is some great shopping at this park.

Magic Kingdom:
This is what people mean when they say "Disney."  This park is geared toward the kids, the characters, and the magic.  There is no alcohol available for purchase at the park.  There aren't many good restaurants, either, unless you like American buffets, which I don't.  We do enjoy Tony's on Main Street, very near the entrance.  Cinderella's castle is in the middle of the park with everything else in a circle around it.
First we head to the People Mover in Tomorrowland, and the Astro Orbiter on top of it.  Older kids and grown-ups can check out Stitch's Escape, Space Mountain, and the Buzz Lightyear ride.  The whole family can enjoy the Carousel of Progress.  Fantasyland is home to Cinderella's Castle, Cinderella's Carousel, The Mad Tea Party, Dumbo, Peter Pan, It's a Small World, and Mickey's Philarmagic.  These are all suitable for all ages.  Audrey's favorites are the carousel and Small World.  We usually skip Dumbo because the line is always really long, and the Astro Orbiter and Aladdin's Magic Carpets are exactly the same ride.  Adventureland contains Aladdin's Magic Carpets, Jungle Cruise, The Enchanted Tiki Room, Pirates of The Caribbean, and the Swiss Family Tree House, again all suitable for little ones.  Get yourself a pineapple float while you're in this area.  Frontierland has the Hall of Presidents (naptime), Splash Mountain (not for babies), Great Thunder Mountain (not for babies), and the ferry to Tom Sawyer Island (all ages).  Tom Sawyer has a ton to explore for kids of all ages and there are some great photo ops.  It's a huge attraction with something for everybody.  I think the Country Bear Jamboree is in Frontierland as well, but I haven't done that in a very long time.  The Haunted Mansion is in between Fantasyland and Frontierland.  The kids can go on it, no problem.  Mickey's Toontown Fair is behind Fantasyland.  Here you'll find Mickey's House, Minnie's House, Donald's boat, and the Judges Tent, where you can meet Mickey and friends.  There's a kiddie coaster in this area with a 36" requirement that mine doesn't meet yet.

To get around we take a double stroller with one bag for diapers and stuff, and another bag for food and stuff.  We take buses from hotel to park, from park to hotel, and from park to park.  My kids nap in the stroller, eat off of our plates, and we never wait more than 15 minutes in a line.  We stay at a Disney resort and purchase the Disney Dining Plan, which a great deal if you're going to be purchasing food at the park.  We make reservations at the restaurant where we want to eat.  You have to collapse the stroller to get on the bus, but not on a monorail, so if you can take a monorail to get somewhere definitely go for that.  You can bring your own food if you don't want to pay for it at the park.  Kids are free under 3 to get in; and they don't have a meal plan for that age so they just eat off your plate.  There's a ton to do at the hotels as well; swimming, playing, eating, shopping, entertainment, everything.  Fort Wilderness Campground is a great place to stay with kids because of the campfire sing slong every night and the splash park near the pool.  Tons of fun.  Baby Care Stations are available at each park; check them out.

Fast Passes
Obtaining a Fast Pass is like making an appointment to come back to the ride at a later time, so you don't have to wait in the long line.  For instance, at 9 AM you insert your ticket and get a Fast Pass with 2 - 3PM written on it.  You are supposed to come back between 2 and 3 PM.  You get in the express lane and you're on the ride in ten minutes or less.  Something I found out recently is that they will take your fast pass anytime after the beginning of your window, so you don't really have to rush to make your appointment.  You can have 2 Fast Passes out at a time per ticket, and they do fill up.  They only give out a certain number for each ride.
If you have little ones who can't ride, you can do a rider swap.  Mommy gets in line while Daddy waits with the kids.  Mommy tells the attendant she needs a rider swap card.  When Mommy gets off the ride, she gives Daddy the Rider Swap card and he doesn't have to wait in the regular line.  He goes on the Fast Pass line with up to 5 members of his party while Mommy then waits with the kids.
Note that Daddy did not need a Fast Pass ticket here, even if Mommy used one.  So he could use his 2 allowed Fast Passes on 2 different rides than Mommy is using them for, and the party would be able to have 4 Fast Passes out at a time.  So even with kids you can ride the grown-up rides with little to no wait.

We don't do any of the extra stuff like the Christmas Party, Halloween Party, Bibbity Bobbity Boutique, or Character Dining, but we do purchase reasonably-priced souvenirs.  One good thing about going back and forth is that you can think about the purchases and they're not impulse buys.  If you go back and it's till there, then you buy it if you still want it.  We also don't usually watch the parades; we would rather take advantage of the shorter lines.

Characters are pretty easy to find; just take a look at your map when you get there and head to their designated location.

I'm happy to field Disney questions, and hopefully soon I can get back to my food blogging :(

Happy Time-Managing!!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Zzzz's, Capes, and Honey Mustard.

I have not blogged in a few days because I've been utterly exhausted, as my children went on a sleeping strike.  A new tooth and a Twilight Turtle nightlight seemed to have fixed both their issues for the moment, and I woke up not wanting to inject caffeine straight into my veins.  So here I am!  I would even cook tonight if my husband's schedule weren't so crazy.

My husband Justin made the last of my seven new recipes, Sesame Chicken Tenders with Honey Mustard sauce, and he did an awesome job as always.  He's a good cook and usually does the breakfast at our house.  This recipe required him to dip the chicken "tenders" (I use cutlets for everything, though) in egg mixed with honey mustard, then a mixture of crushed almonds, sesame seeds, and bread crumbs before lightly frying and finally transferring to the oven.  Super easy, and yum-O!!!  He got the edges a little too black and crispy (which he swears is the fault of the recipe) before putting it in the oven.  You just have to pay attention to the heat on the stove, and know your pans to make sure they don't get too hot.  Just because the recipe says medium-high heat doesn't mean it has to stay at that setting the entire time.  You have to use your common sense too.  Once the chicken is browned, transfer it to the oven to finish cooking through, and then serve it with some more honey mustard.  Honey mustard is just that, honey and mustard mixed together.  You can make it yourself, just like that, or you can use your favorite store-bought brand.  I am quite the connossieur of honey mustard and the best I've found is at Steak and Sheak, but they don't sell it.  We used Gulden's Mustard to mix with the honey and it was pretty good.  I would have added a little more honey to my portion, but my husband really likes mustard so it was probably too sweet for him.  I would certainly make this in the future as a quick comfort go-to; when I really want steak and shake but can't have it for whatever reason.  I wish I'd had this recipe when I was pregnant with my oldest.

The next night we made the coconut chicken again because the ingredients I purchased were enough for two nights of it.  That's another reason I will definitely be using that recipe a lot as a staple.  Aaaaand last night I had a peanut butter sandwich.  I told you I have nights like that!!

The Henry VIII cape is going to be AWESOME.  I'm super-excited about it; I think it will look great.   I'm pretty impressed with my skills considering I've never made anything much before.  Maybe a pillowcase in seventh grade or something.  The fur trim is coming along nicely.

Tonight my husband is going to a friend's house for a beer-tasting event so I'll have a little alone time; not a bad thing in small doses :)  And we'll be back to our old staples for a few days before trying my next batch of new recipes.

Happy Slumbering :)  Good luck with that........

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Pot Pies, and Henry VIII

We are going as the Tudors for Halloween.  Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, and the Princesses Mary and Elizabeth.  Our dresses were easy to find inexpensively, but I was having trouble finding a good deal on my husband's costume.  The cape I wanted at the costume store was fifty dollars.  So I thought, it's just a cape....I could make it myself for cheaper, right?  So I stroll into Joann's, and I pick out all the fabric I want, and I take it to the woman who measures and cuts it for you, and I say,"I've never ordered fabric before, can you help me figure out how much I need?"  To which she replies, "No.  I don't sew.  I just cut fabric."  Lovely.  She tells me to go in search of a pattern.  The pattern I want is $20, and I don't know how to read the back of it to find out how much fabric I need.  I call my friend Michelle, who is in the proicess of talking me through it, when a woman overhears me and offers to help.  The pattern says I need six yards of the $4 fabric, and five yards of the $13 fabric.  Wait a minute....I thought this was supposed to be cheaper?  I ultimately convinced myself that is a CAPE for Halloween, and I don't need F!#$ing 13 yards of fabric.  He's 5'10" , that's less than two yards, I'll take two yards of fabric.  Having a new appreciation for why someone would spend fifty dollars on PART of a halloween costume, I headed home to find my sewing bag.  And guess what?  It is nowhere to be found.  I have to go back out tomorrow to purchase more supplies.  I was able to start it a little bit, and it looks like it will actually turn out quite nicely.  I'll post pictures of the ordeal when it's finished.

This afternoon I made the salmon pot pies that I was supposed to make yesterday afternoon.  The recipe was featured in the October issue of Everyday With Rachael Ray.  It was good, but not something I want to make again anytime soon.  I didn't have individual ramekins, so I made one big one, and it made kind of a runny mess when I tried to serve it.  It would have worked better in individual portions.

Cut some puff pastry dough to fit whatever baking dish you're using.  How I did this was I inverted the dish over the puff pastry and made an indentation in it, then cut along the indentation.  Brush it with cream, prick it with a fork, and bake it on parchment paper for 15 minutes.  Set it aside.  Wrap some green beans up in aluminum foil with butter, salt, and pepper, and bake for 20 minutes.  These were not so yummy....green beans are one of the few vegetables I prefer canned.

Prepare a leek:  Cut off the thick green leafy part, and the bottom white part.  Slice the leek in half lengthwise, then slice into moon-shaped ribbons.  Put them in a bowl of water and swish them around, then let them sit for a few minutes.  Any dirt on the leek will sink to the bottom and you can skim the clean leeks off the top.  Dry them off, and saute them in a pat of butter.  Add eight ounces of mushrooms to your leeks and cook for 4 to 5 minutes.  Add a tablespoon of butter and two tablespoons of flour; cook for one minute.  Stir in 3/4 cup heavy cream and 1 1/4 cups water.  Bring to a boil and cook for 3 to 4 minutes.  What you're doing here is reducing the sauce; thickening it by letting the water evaporate, and thereby concentrating the flavors.  Add a pound of diced salmon, seasoned with salt and pepper, and cook for 4 to 5 minutes or until the salmon is done. 

Pour the salmon and veggies into a casserole dish, or four individual ramekins, and top with the prepared puff pastry.  Serve with the green beans.

My husband devoured it, but it's a little too much work for an everyday meal.  The salmon was delicious with the mushrooms, especially after being cooked in cream and butter, and we eat salmon with leeks frequently.  I'm just not crazy about the presentation.  I almost think the filling would be good over rice without all the puff pastry nonsense.  I love puff pastry, but trying to cut into and eat it with whatever's underneath it just doesn't really work.  Everything runs all over and you end up eating the pastry by itself.  A breadstick would serve the same purpose.  And I would go with asparagus instead of green beans, they have a better flavor in my opinion and do well with simple preparation like this. 

Tomorrow I'm trying a light chicken tenders dish, and then it's back to some household staples.  Until then.....Happy Cooking :)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Maybe Just Order Pizza Tonight.

Salmon With Mustard Sauce.  It sounds so innocent.  This was a strange one.  Let me first say that salmon might be the best thing on the whole damn planet.  Smoked, raw, sauteed, grilled, baked, whatever you do to it, I will devour me some salmon.  It is the most flavorful of fishes, all by itself, without any seasonings, but add a little salt and pepper and olive oil, and it is just heaven.  So it really doesn't need to be smothered in a sauce.  Let alone a 1400 calorie sauce.  1400 calories in this sauce.  For 1400 calories, it damn well better be made of chocolate and butter.

1 1/2 lbs salmon
2 tsp dijon mustard
3 tbsp white wine vinegar
4 hard boiled eggs

Sprinkle the salmon with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil, and roast it in a 400 degree oven on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.  Odd thing #1 :  it says to roast the salmon for 8 minutes.  In my experience, it always takes at least 20, so I left it in much longer than directed.  Then I started on the sauce.  Whisk the vinegar into the mustard, then whisk in half a cup of olive oil.  Odd thing #2:  Press the hard boiled eggs through a fine sieve into the mustard. 

Wait, what?  Press the hard-boiled eggs through a sieve?  Yes, it sounds strange, it was strange, and it tasted strange.  All I can figure is maybe they meant egg *yolks*.  That may have made a large difference.  I know that egg is an emulsifier for oil and vinegar-based sauces (namely mayonnaise), but I found this to be a weird request.  I whisked all this together and I tasted it.  And it was not so yummy.  I added more mustard and some salt and pepper to make it edible.  When we ate it on the salmon, it tasted okay, but that was largely the salmon pulling its own weight.  Without this sauce, the meal would have been healthy and delicious.

I served the salmon with sauteed asparagus and some white rice.  Very simple, and very tasty.

I had planned to make salmon and mushroom pot pies today for lunch, but I caved and had some fried chicken at the deli at Publix.  I had been to the gym, and to the retired horse farms to feed them carrots, and crashed for a couple hours when we got home.  So I'm hoping my puff pastry isn't going bad in the fridge, when it's suppose to be in the freezer.  We shall see.

I have been asked about nutritional information.  Rachael Ray does not have much in the way of nutrition facts on her website, but I'm told if you belong to Weight Watchers you can build a recipe on their site and have it calculate the info for you.  We have a scale that does it, which is pretty freakin' awesome.  You tell it what kind of food it is, then weigh it, and it gives you the nutritional information.  My husband got it for father's day.

Both my girls love white rice, and Audrey ate her share of asparagus and salmon too, without any sauce :)

Happy Cooking :)

Friday, September 24, 2010

'Tis The Season For.......Well, Autumn Squash.

Tonight we had Butternut Squash Soup.  It was another Take Five recipe, which leads me to believe I'm getting my months confused.  This one is definitely from the current issue, and the previous post from September, or maybe August.  Gotta get my citations right.  With five relatively cheap ingredients and a little manual labor you can have a lovely, healthy soup in about an hour.  If you're into fall, you will probably really enjoy this with some fresh bread and maybe some mulled cider or gluwein on a chilly night.  I'm a beach girl myself, and I prefer pina coladas and coconut shrimp, but I appreciate the autumn festivities sometimes.  I find now that I have children I pay more attention to what I should be doing according to the current season.  Like I'm supposed to take them to pumpkin patches and give them apple cider, even if I've never done these things and seemed to turn out fairly normal.

Prior to this time last year, my only experience with squash (besides jack-o-lanterns) was summer squash, grilled or sauteed with zucchini, a side dish I hate with the burning fire of a thousand suns.  You will never find a summer squash or zucchini in my house.  It's one of those things you're forced to eat as a child that you vow to never make your kids eat.  Meatloaf, brussels sprouts, and Velveeta are also on my list.  Then about a year ago my husband brought home a butternut squash and I told him he could cook it and that he would he be eating it by himself.  Of course he made me taste it.  And I liked it!  It's more like a pumpkin than a summer squash, so I suddenly had this whole new family of foods I could try now.  Root vegetables are yummy anytime, but especially when it starts to get a little chilly outside, and you feel like taking a few extra steps at dinner to make a warm, comforting soup for everybody.

The five ingredients:
one butternut squash
one medium-sized onion
one baking potato
one quart of chicken broth
a cup of milk

Salt, Pepper, and Olive Oil don't "count" as ingredients in this feature of Rachael Ray's magazine.  First, get to work on that squash.  This was kind of hard, and made me want to invest in a good vegetable peeler.  I have one that's not very good, because my husband prefers to use a knife, but lately he's been out longer and unable to help me with the hard work.  So I took to this butternut squash with my chef's knife and a fair amount of determination.  I had to google how to peel and cut a butternut squash, and there are quite a few YouTube videos on the subject.  Watch one once or twice and you'll be fine.  Cut the ends off the squash and stand it on one end.  Run your knife or vegetable peeler down the side of the squash, peeling the rind off from the flesh.  Work your way around the squash to remove all of the peel.  It's harder than it sounds.  Once it's peeled, cut it in half and remove the seeds and goopy insides with a spoon.  It's just like the inside of a pumpkin, but much smaller.  Then chop it up into pieces that are fairly the same size as each other, then chop the onion and potato to the same size as well.  Put all your veggie pieces in a baking dish and toss them with olive oil to coat.  The best way to do this is with your hands, so put your ring in a safe place and dig in.  Sprinkle the vegetables with salt and pepper and put them in the oven for about an hour.  This is kind of nice, this oven time.  I'm used to fast meals that require me to stand in front of the stove for twenty or thirty minutes at a time, so to pop something in the oven for an hour is a nice change for me.  You can change diapers, give baths, dress for bedtime, all while dinner is cooking away.  Lovely.

Take the veggies out of the oven and transfer to a large soup pot, then add the chicken broth and bring to a boil.  This will happen pretty quickly because your veggies are already really hot.  Then you'll need to turn off the heat and puree the soup.  There are several ways to do this:

1) Use an immersion blender.  I don't happen to have one of these guys (I have a gadget rule), but if you do it will make very quick work of your soup and dirty the fewest number of dishes.  Stick the blender right in there and turn it on.  Magic.
2) Use a conventional blender, like you make smoothies in.  This is what I did.  You may have to work in two batches and dirty a few bowls in the process, but it will get the job done.
3)  You could mash the veggies before you put them in the pot with the broth.  It should work, but I haven't tried it.  This would be a good option for you if you don't have a blender of any kind.

Do not put the soup in your KitchenAid stand mixer and attempt to puree it that way.  It will not work, even though it mashes potatoes beautifully, and it will get soup everywhere.  Don't ask me how I know this.

Once the soup is pureed, add the milk.  If it cooled down a lot, heat it back up on the stove and serve as you so choose.  You could serve some bread with it, or some grilled chicken alongside, or just make it a meal like we did.  It's a rich, thick, creamy soup with a lot of flavor, and it made a surprisingly large volume for only having three vegetables in it.  Here it is with a dollop of sour cream and some parsley:

My husband preferred it without the sour cream.  My daughter was melting down and didn't eat any dinner this evening, and when the baby tried it she spit it out.  But Mommy and Daddy thought it was yummy!

You could add carrots to this, or radishes, turnips, celery, really any root vegetable.  Butternut squash is kind of sweet, and so are onions and carrots when they're cooked, so I think kids could get into eating their veggies this way.  I know Audrey would have eaten it had she been herself.  Butternut squash has lots of Vitamin A and Fiber in it too, or so the YouTube lady says.

I chose this to make this evening because it could be done mostly ahead of time, and I had my Mom's Book Club this evening (where I had an AH. MAY. ZING. bruschetta that I will be acquiring the recipe to very shortly).  We read Lift by Kelly Corrigan.  It's a letter to her children about the ways she loves them, and how she is now as a person so they will remember her that way.  Some of the ladies said it inspired them to write to their children, too, but it didn't affect me that way.  I said, well....I started a blog.....it's more about me than anything I would try to write about me, to them.  So maybe it subconsciously inspired me, because they did certainly coincide with each other.  Anyway, I didn't care for the book and I'm excited to read about zombies for next month.

I'm loving the compliments I'm receiving about the blog, though, and the recipes people are now sharing with me!!

Happy squashing :)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Breakfast for Dinner!!!

Wow.  After spending an hour resetting my Google password amidst pre-bedtime screams, I can finally write about dinner.  Or breakfast.  In either case, It was Potato Pancakes with Avocado and Eggs, from the same issue of Rachael Ray Magazine.  This recipe was pretty fun, not too difficult, and maybe just different enough to shake things up in your household.  It was the "take five" feature of the magazine, which every month showcases a different recipe you can make with only five ingredients.  We are frequent breakfast-for-dinner eaters.  If you haven't tried it, there are many mommy-friendly benefits:

Breakfast is comforting.  At the end of the day there is nothing better than a fried egg and some toast with jelly, maybe even a little bacon, or french toast if you're into that.  Mmmmm, Syrup :)
Breakfast items are usually already in your home and ready to use, even if you haven't been to the store in a few days.....weeks, whatever.
It's fast!  Especially if you leave out the bacon, the meal can be done in minutes.

This particular recipe met the above requirements but was a change from our "usual" as well.  The hard thing about cooking and serving breakfast is that all of these foods get cold quickly, so I have a few suggestions on that subject matter as well.

2 avocados (I like Haas)
4 eggs
1 1/4 lbs baking potatoes, peeled and shredded (about 3 potatoes)
1 grated onion
chipotle-flavored hot sauce (optional).  I like Tobasco's Chipotle variety, or you can use some of the sauce from a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.

Peel the potatoes (annoying, I know.) and shred them with a box grater.  You can grate the onions this way, too.  Lay them on a dish towel and fold it over, pressing the potatoes in the towel to draw out some of the moisture.  Put them in a bowl and stir in the oinions, 1 tbsp EVOO, and some salt and pepper.  When my husband makes potato pancakes, he puts egg in them too, to help them stick together, so I will try that next time.  Divide it into four pancakes and saute, turning once, for about 15 minutes total.  You want to do this over medium heat, so the bottoms don't burn before the middle cooks through.  If the heat is too high, it will be burnt on the edges and raw in the middle.  I also tented the pan with aluminum foil to sort of "bake" the insides while the outsides were browning. 

While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the avocados.  With a chef's knife, cut into the avocado until you hit the pit, then turn it around in your hand to divide it in half.  Give it a little twist with both your hands and it will come apart.  Jab the pit with your knife; it should stick to your knife and come out of the avocado cleanly.  Score the inside of the avocado half, like you're drawing a grid on it with your knife.  Then turn it inside out and scrape the flesh from the peel.  When you've done this to both avocados, mash them up with a pinch of salt and set aside.

Carefully take the pancakes from the skillet (I used two spatulas) and put them on individual plates.  Immediately crack the eggs into the same skillet, to cook them sunny-side up.  You could turn them if you wanted them to be more done, but we like runny yolks.  Divide the avocado into four servings and spread one serving on each pancake.  Then put an egg on top of the avocado and serve with the hot sauce.

Now....if you use an oven-proof skillet for the potatoes, you can transfer it to a hot oven while you cook the eggs in another skillet, if you are concerned about the potatoes getting cold while you're cooking the eggs.  This probably isn't really necessary, though, because it's the eggs that are going to get cold the quickest, and I don't have a solution for that except to eat it immediately.  If you are cooking the eggs longer than suggested, though, it may be a good idea for you to keep the potatoes warm.  Also make sure your avocados are room-temperature so they don't chill the rest of the dish.  If you have some plates that hold heat well, you could try using those for serving.

This would really impress a brunch guest; it looks pretty, and complicated.  (I know, I'll start taking pictures soon.)  The flavors all go really well together, and avocado is a pleasant surprise when paired with eggs.  This dish is actually a great benedict variation and arguably healthier than traditional eggs benedict.  It is meatless and breadless, with the addition of a fruit and two vegetables (potato is a vegetable, right?), but still has the elegant layered presentation of a classic benedict.  Simply eliminating Hollandaise sauce saves you quite a few calories ;)

The baby was able to eat some of the avocado, and she tried to eat some potato and egg (though I think before 12 months they are only allowed egg yolk, fully cooked.)  And my older child actually really liked it!  She ate almost half of an adult serving, which is pretty stellar for her.

There's not a lot better than a pretty craft you can eat, that doesn't take months to complete.  Speaking of which, I have a scrapbooking calendar to work on, and eventually I'll need to say a word or two to my other half ;)

Happy Breakfast Eating!!

BONUS:  Mimosas!!

Liquor tastes good with orange juice, luckily for us breakfast-eaters.  My husband likes it with gin or beer, and I like it with champagne.  Recently, on vacation in Vero Beach, we were introduced to a "Lunch Box:"

a shot of amaretto
half a Bud Light
orange juice

delicious, I must say, and easier to keep the ingredients on hand than if you were making traditional mimosas.  Champagne just doesn't last in my house :)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Shepherds Eat Beef, Apparently.

Tonight we tried Sweet Potato-Topped Shepherd's Pie from Rachael Ray Magazine October 2010.  This was a little soupy, but quite delicious.  Maybe I would leave out the milk and butter if I made it again, to try to thicken up the sweet potato "crust" that, in my attempt, just sort of mixed itself into the beef / veggie / gravy part.  It was a pleasant surprise, because shepherd's pie in my experience has always been too dry.  With some fresh rolls it would have been awesome tonight.  My two-year old ate a little of it, in between tantrums, with saltines for dipping, and the baby ate some of it, in between tantrums, that was spoon-fed to her.  She only has two teeth so we tend to stick to the pureed and soft stuff for her anyway.

1 1/2 lbs ground beef
3 sweet potatoes
1 cup frozen peas
a chopped onion
2 cloves chopped garlic
1 cup beef broth
3/4 cup dark beer
butter and flour
8 oz mushrooms

You start by prepping the sweet potatoes, which was a giant pain in the ass.  I do NOT peel vegetables, but my husband wasn't home yet so I had to.  Before tonight, I was a sweet potato virgin, never having prepared them before in my life, so I was rather disgusted when they started bleeding a sticky white stuff (ew) which literally made my fingers stick together like superglue.  I washed my hands, scrubbed them with a Scotch Brite pad, and now they seem to be relatively back to normal.  I did Google this phenomenon, to make sure I wasn't ingesting a large amount of poison, and it's just the starches; totally normal.  Put the potatoes in a large pot, cover them with water, and boil for 20 minutes.  When they're soft, drain them, and mash 'em up.  The recipe calls for milk and butter, but like I said, it was a little runny, so you may want to try it without.

Saute the mushrooms in a large pot for 6 or 7 minutes, then add the beef and brown it.  Add the onions and garlic, then sage, salt, and pepper.  In a small sauce pot, melt 2 tbsps butter and whisk in 2 tbsp flour.  This is called a roux (roo) ; it's used to make gravy.   Whisk the beer into the roux (try to get it completely combined), cook for a minute, then add the beef broth and whisk some more.  Add the peas to the beef, then add the gravy.  Pour the whole thing into a casserole dish and top with the sweet potatoes.  Broil until it looks yummy!

You may want to crank the AC down a few degrees before attempting this recipe.  With all the pots on the stove, I broke a sweat!  After doing it once, though, I know you could do it in advance.  You can prepare the sweet potato and store it, and then prepare the beef and store it, and then combine the two together to put it the oven when you're ready to eat.  I wouldn't do it more than a few hours ahead (maybe at naptime?) but your kitchen won't get so hot all at once if you do it that way, and if you're entertaining, it will give you the time to be a good hostess.

Tonight I have two discs of Glee calling my name, so that's how we'll be celebrating our "living-together anniversary."

Happy Parenting!  Have another martini ;)

Cooking is my Other Craft.

Well..... I'm a new blogger!  Years after learning about the social networking scene, and fully immersing myself in said sub-culture, here I am with my very own blog.  My girls keep me fairly busy, but I like to share news and ideas with my fellow mommies through email, facebook, and yes, even in person.  So here I feel I can share new recipes, kidcare ideas, and crafts with anyone who is interested.
Now, I'm not gonna lie, there are nights I just want a PBJ and a glass of wine, but for the most part I really do enjoy cooking for my family.  I enjoy the challenges of finding something unique, affordable, and easy that both my husband and my 2-yr old will eat, that also did not come out of a box.  Not that there's anything wrong with Hamburger Helper. 
I also like to read, and collect books, so cookbooks are a great resource for me, but lately I've really been enjoying Rachael Ray's magazine.  I don't have time during the day to read an entire magazine, so after the kids go to bed, I skim through it, tear out the recipes whose titles sound appetizing, and put them away to go through later before recycling the rest of the magazine.  When I feel like cooking something new, I dig them out and read them in detail.  Then I make a menu for the following week or two, make a grocery list based on that menu, and head to my neighborhood Publix.
I did this on Sunday but didn't make it to the store until Tuesday, which was just as well because Monday is wing night anyway.  So my first of seven new recipes this week, courtesy of Rachael Ray Magazine, was Coconut Crusted Chicken with Mango Salsa.  I cooked it last night; Tuesday night, before my scrapbooking meetup with the ladies.

1 1/2 cups chopped mango
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1 tbsp rice vinegar
cilantro to taste
4 chicken cutlets
1 egg
coconut flakes
vegetable oil

It was quick and easy, and pretty cheap, the hardest and most time-consuming part being the chopping of the salsa ingredients.  My husband particularly enjoys helping me with chopping, but he was not home this time.  Mangoes are slippery little things and can be tricky to dice, so watch your thumbs.  Also in the salsa was red bell pepper, red onion, rice vinegar, and cilantro.
The chicken cutlets were dipped in a beaten egg and then pressed in coconut flakes.  I couldn't find unsweetened, so I used sweetened coconut and we liked it.  The chicken is browned in an oven-proof skillet and transferred to a hot oven to bake through.  I serve the chicken on a bed of white rice with the salsa on top. 
It was quite yummy, I would go as far as to say "restaurant-quality," and will be a great way to impress company without going too far overboard.  And, since the chicken cooks mostly in the oven and the salsa can be done a few hours ahead of time, you have time to chase around your kid who won't keep her underwear on.  She did eat some of this, but she didn't care for the salsa.  You could set aside some of the mango, without the onions and peppers, to put on top of a child's chicken and rice if you think they won't like those flavors.
And then it was off to scrapbooking!  I worked on my June and July layouts with my Cricut machine and spent FOREVER cutting and gluing little tiny cowgirls.  Pictures to follow.
Tonight it's Sweet-Potato-Topped Shepherd's Pie, also from Rachael Ray.  A twist on a classic; we'll see how it goes :)

Happy Parenting!  Try not to pull your hair out........