Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Thinking outside the grill

Since grilling season is upon us, the Sweet Pea Family has been using any and all excuses to grill out instead of cook in the kitchen. This weekend we did an easy and quick grill dinner:

Apple Chicken Sausage, Grilled Eggplant and Grill Fries

What are grill fries you ask?

Grill Fries

Yukon Gold Potatoes
Salt
Pepper
Olive Oil
Herbs (we used fresh rosemary and thyme)

Slice or cut your potatoes into wedges. Place in a steamer basket and steam for about 5-6 or until a bit tender, but not completely cooked. Place in a bowl to cool. Once cooled, mix about 1 tablespoon olive oil and salt, pepper and herbs to taste into the bowl and toss to coat the potatoes.

Place the potatoes on the grill and let cook for about 3-4 minutes, and flip and repeat.

Voila, a new yummy take on potatoes.

Sweet Eats,
SPC

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The sky is falling?

A few weeks ago I posted on rising food prices. Are you noticing the increasing prices too? I sure am. Then I read last week about how Costco and Sam's Club are not allowing certain customers to hoard rice. Now, this article in the Wall Street Journal on why we should all seriously consider stockpiling food.

More news:

Increases in food prices the highest in 17 years

Food prices affecting food bank reserves

International impact of food prices

I am not a chicken little, but perhaps this food stockpiling idea does make good sense. I mean, we already do it a bit whenever I buy in bulk. I 've been thinking about visiting Freecycle.org and Craig's List for some extra shelving to help organize and create more storage in our basement. Maybe this is the kick in the pants I've needed!

Anyone else considering expanding their food storage? Or is this just another example of media over-hype?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Friday Night Bites--Picnic season is here

Yesterday was R's big Spring Program at school. Note the professionalism and concentration as the performers prepare to go in to the auditorium:
To celebrate we had our first outdoor picnic of the season afterward for lunch. We ended up just plopping a blanket in our backyard (the program ran late and the Sweet Peas were hungry!), and R, G, Grandma and I enjoyed the picture perfect day. G ended up just toddling around, wearing his bib but what can you expect from a 15 month old?This versatile picnic or portable dish is great for on-the-go or just as wonderful as a side dish for a dinner inside. It is a little different each time we make it, we change the beans and vegetables depending on what we have on hand. Although this recipe has a jalepeno in it, as long as you remove the seeds it is not spicy, just wonderfully flavorful.

This is my favorite way to use leftover rice!

Rice and Bean Salad with a Bit of Kick

Dressing:
1/4 c red wine vinegar
3 T fresh lime juice
2 T olive oil
1/2 t salt

Salad:
2 c cold cooked brown rice
1 c corn kernels
1 bell pepper, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 c black beans, rinsed and drained
1 small red onion, diced
1/4 c minced cilantro
1 jalepeno pepper, seeded and minced

Mix the salad ingredients together in a bowl. Mix dressing in a separate bowl, pour dressing over the salad. Tastes best if you let the flavors marinade a few hours or overnight.

Sweet Eats,
SPC

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Blue plate special

I love homemade macaroni and cheese. This week I was feeling a little under the weather, so I whipped up this recipe I had been tweaking and it was a hit. SPH loved it (and he loves the traditional, southern, extra rich type) and G ate it like he hadn't eaten in weeks. It was super easy to make and I didn't tell any of them it had butternut squash in it, and no one suspected.

I based this recipe loosely off of an Ellie Krieger recipe, but reduced the amount of squash and changed a few things.

Macaroni and Cheese (with shhh! two vegetables inside!)
1 pound whole wheat elbow macaroni
1 - 10 oz. package frozen pureed winter squash
2 c milk
2 T flour
8 oz low-fat or fat-free cream cheese
2 c grated sharp cheddar
1/2 c light sour cream
1 t powdered mustard
1/4 t cayenne pepper
3/4 t salt
(optional: 1 c of broccoli, steamed and diced)
1/4 c panko or breadcrumbs
cooking spray

Cook the macaroni according to the package instructions. In a saucepan over medium heat, place the squash and 1 c of milk, stirring with a wisk. Add the flour and continue to wisk. Once the mixture is well incorporated, add the remaining milk and bring to a simmer. Immediately remove from the heat and add the cream cheese, cheddar cheese, sour cream, dry mustard, salt and pepper, and broccoli if you are using. Drain the pasta and return to the bowl. Pour cheese mixture over the pasta and stir well. *You can either serve immediately or bake in a 9x13 pan with panko on top for 20 minutes.*

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Bringing on the green

What do you do to keep it green in the kitchen? No, not vegetables or fruits. What have you changed in your kitchen habits to tread more gently on this earth?

I always considered myself a pretty darn good recycler until we moved to our community here in Columbus. They curbside recycle *everything* here, from juice boxes and magazines to aerosol cans and old auto oil, along with the traditional paper-cans-plastic bottles.

We've also built a compost pile behind our garage. Between composting and recycling, our kitchen garbage is almost non-existent. Only plastic bags and wrap from packages, animal food waste and lids from jars are thrown away.

To cut down on the amount of freezer bags I use for leftovers, etc., I wrap the food I want to freeze in wax paper (easily decomposes) and then put the items in the freezer bag. I can use the freezer bag again and again, without tossing it.

Another big change is I exclusively use a vinegar and water solution in the kitchen for disinfecting and cleaning. The "distinctive" odor fades as soon as it dries and I love that when I use it on G's highchair tray, I know that there is no yucky residue. My friend E uses Shaklee items exclusively and is really happy with them. Another friend S uses Mrs. Meyer's Cleaning products. Here is a website that has "recipes" for other homemade cleaners too.

Lastly, I have dubbed myself the human garbage disposal. I know, I know, it is not a very appealing name, but I find myself nibbling on the leftovers that my boys (within *reason*!) leave on their plates in order to cut down on the amount we throw away.

Now, how 'bout you?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Learning about ladybugs

I feel a little guilty, but I have been avoiding the constant "circle of life" discussion with R by telling him that the frequent ladybugs we find in our house are, er, sleeping. Apparently our home is very attractive to ladybugs because we find one or two a day that have found their way into our home just to pass on to ladybug heaven. I am not sure why they don't live long in our home...hmm...but sweet R finds one every few days (despite my trying to beat him to it) and brings it to me.

"Look mommy! A ladybug!"

"Ohhh" (to be said with a tone of forced interest/secret annoyance)

"Is it sleeping?"
"Umm, it looks like it is!" (not quite a lie, right?)

"Does it sleep during the day like raccoons?"

"I guess it does!" (again, merely a fib, yes?) "Why don't you put it so it can sleep."

"OK!"

R then runs off to do his normal 4 year old routine and forgets all about the ladybug. Case closed. For now.

On to our meals for the week:

Chicken Parmesan (from the freezer) and Spaghetti Bolognese
Cobb Salad
Baked Burritos
M's Corn Chowder
Chicken Kaffir Lime and Chili Stirfry with Baby Corn and Peapods (sauce is from a jar)

Have a sweet week,
SPC

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Tomatillo Dip

Before we moved to Ohio, SPH and I and three other couples had the best Supper Club group ever. I seriously think we never had a bad meal in the nearly 5 years we met, and the recipes that came out of our meals are ones I use regularly.

Here is a dip that my good friend Jenn made once that is an absolute favorite. Originally a dip, it works great as a sauce for grilled chicken, pork, or even a baked potato. We made it this year for Easter with some crudites and it was a hit.

Jenn's Tomatillo Dip

5 tomatillos, husks removed (see picture above--usually by the tomatoes in the grocery store)
1 bunch of cilantro
3 cloves of garlic
1 small onion
15 pickled jalepeno slices
12 oz (a package and a half) of fat free cream cheese
1 T dried parsley
1 t salt
1/2 t pepper
1/4 t dried dill (optional)

Place all ingredients into a food processor or blender and puree until smooth.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Friday Night Bite-Zucchini with feta, mint and lemon

My cousin Ann has the green thumb so many of us seem to lacking. One year she brought a bumper crop of zucchini to me and shared this recipe. It is an amazing, unusual way to cook zucchini...and hands' down SPH's favorite vegetable side dish. This week we are throwing some pork on the grill and cooking up this zucchini and some potatoes for dinner.

Ann's Roasted Zucchini
5-6 medium to large zucchini, cut lengthwise and then into 1/2 inch slices
1 T olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
2 ounces of crumbled feta cheese (or more if you wish)
juice from one lemon
1 T minced fresh mint

**Before you bake the zucchini, be sure to place the zucchini slices in a colander and salt them. Let them stand for 1/2 hour to 1 hour so the extra moisture seeps out.**

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place the zucchini on two cookie sheets, so they are in one layer. Sprinkle with olive oil, salt and pepper on the tray and toss to coat. Roast for about 20 minutes, flip zucchini pieces and roast an additional 15+ minutes, or until the zucchini is soft and browned. Remove from the oven and immediately toss in a bowl with the feta, lemon and mint. Tastes best right from the oven while still warm.

Hope your weekend is sweet,
SPC

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Spring planting

I have never been able to grow things from seed. Botanically speaking I lack the green part of the thumb that allow seed cultivation. Give me a plant and I seem to be okay...but seeds, just haven't had much luck.

But last Halloween, when my dad and R carved pumpkins, he saved some seeds, took them home, let them air dry, and then mailed them to R a few weeks later.

We held on to the seeds and decided to plant them at the beginning of April. I set R's expectations low, telling him we would probably have to go to the nursery to get plants in May to plant in our garden. Yet, every morning for a few days R would ask, "are there pumpkins yet?" We don't have pumpkins yet, but I am amazed that I managed to get this far. Thanks Dad!

So here is update #1 on the Sweet Peas' pumpkin project:
They're actually growing!

Life is Sweet-
SPC

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Spring Organizing

I feel like a new blogger. I dusted (sorely needed), decluttered (painfully needed), filed (desperately overdue) and organized (excruciatingly necessary) my desk and workspace. My desk looks awesome and makes me feel good every time I sit and look at my things.

{pause for another look and grin}

My friend P asked me about organizing family recipes, so let's talk organization.

Awhile ago I started a system of saving my recipes in a binder filled with pocket pages that are laminated. They are great for protecting my recipes from splashes of food stuff and for keeping small recipes together. I gather the recipes I write out by hand, cut out from magazines, or have printed of the internet and tape them on 8x11 sheets of paper that I slip into the laminated pages:
Before I had kids, I also kept a printed sheet of paper in the front of the binder with my running list of "make-again" meals grouped by category. This would serve as a speedy list to view when doing menu planning. I would also include cookbook recipes with something like this "CL 2003 p. 89" (translation Cooking Light 2003 Recipes Cookbook, page 89) so I could find those too. I think the last time I updated this sheet may have been 2003.

However, I am wondering what you do for keeping your recipes neat and readily-accessible. I am betting that you all have great ideas I haven't even thought of yet. With my organizing rampage in full swing (next stop: my bedroom closet), who knows what I will have accomplished by the end of the week.

Keep life sweet-
SPC

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Maximum taste, minimum ingredients

After a gentle ribbing from Slacker Mama about the number of ingredients in my Super Bar recipe, I thought of this recipe.

These cookies are ridiculously good (I mean, how could they not be with two sticks of butter?) and require minimum ingredients. Use salted butter to compensate for the lack of salt in the recipe.

I know bathing suit season is just around the corner, but these are good to bake for *other* people too. Everything in moderation, right?

Short and Sweet Slacker Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 sticks of butter
1 1/2 c brown sugar
1 egg
2 1/4 c flour
1 t baking soda
2 c chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg, mix fully. Add the flour and baking soda, mix until just combined. Add the chips.

Place on a cookie sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes.

Sweet eats-
SPC

Monday, April 14, 2008

Decommissioning

I finally did it. G is fully weaned. This was not an easy task and to be honest, one that was fraught with all sorts of mixed emotions. R was an easy baby to wean, but not so with G. G would be nursing right now if he had his druthers.

When I was pregnant with R, I figured I would give nursing a try and see what happened. If I got through one day, I reasoned that was better than never trying. Both the boys were seemless feeders, never once giving me all those newborn nursings travails that I read about and wince. So week after week I just took it one day at a time and before I knew it, R was 1 and weaned.

G was not going to give up nursing without a little fight. But as time went on, and the inconvenience of nursing in the middle of the day grew tiresome (nursing a newborn in your son's preschool parking lot is not so bad, but a one year old? A different story.), we slowly cut back and cut back and so did my production.

What started as an experiment in nursing turned into a really special experience. Since a third child is still an unknown, as I weaned G I found myself feeling, hmmm, a bit decommissioned. Don't get me wrong, I feel an incredible sense of freedom and accomplishment too...but there is also a twinge of bittersweetness. I know, I know, onward and upward, there are plenty of things to look forward to in this adventure we call parenting...

The meals this week are a bit in flux since SPH has his orientation for his new job, two night classes and R and SPH have their new class "Sporties for Shorties" too. I think we will be doing a lot of "winging it" and easy pasta throw-together meals. Slacker Mama, thanks for your idea of putting pasta, pasta sauce and peas together for an easy kiddo meal. We do this all the time now. Any other good and creative meal shortcuts for nights like we are going to have this week?

Have a sweet week-
SPC

Friday, April 11, 2008

Friday Night Sweet Treat--Super Bars

Awhile ago I was given a recipe for homemade granola bars. They were okay. Over the past few weeks, I have done a couple tweaks, trial runs and tests and came up with a dah-dah-dah-DAH!...Super Bar recipe.

Great for an on-the-go snack, breakfast, a treat or quick pick-me-up, I am addicted to these bars as if they contain some kind of illicit substance. They are chewy, slightly sweet (but not nearly as sweet as commercial bars and without any funky ingredients), healthy and just plain yummy.

My favorite part? The recipe below is the framework, but as you can see, you can make it work with whatever ingredients you have on hand. I asked R the other day which batch he has liked best and he replied, "all of them!"

Super Bars
2 1/3 c old-fashioned oats
1 c whole wheat flour
2/3 c brown sugar
2 T ground flax seed (or wheat germ)
1 t ground cinnamon
3/4 t salt
2/3 c raisins (or use a mix of any dried fruit...craisins, diced dried apricot, dates)
1/4 c molasses (or honey or maple syrup)
1/2 c applesauce
1/4 c vegetable oil
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 T vanilla extract
1/2 c sliced almonds (or use walnuts, sunflower seeds, peanuts, etc)
optional mix-ins: you can substitute mini-chips, coconut, etc for some of the nuts or dried fruit

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together the oats, flour, sugar, flax seed, cinnamon, salt and raisins. In a separate bowl, mix the molasses, applesauce, oil, egg, and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients into the oat mixture. Mix well and then add the nuts.

On a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper, a Silpat liner or just well-greased, spread the mixture with a spatula until your mixture is in a uniform shape, kind of like this:
It is important it is uniform so the bars cook evenly. Bake for about 25-27 minutes or until the bars seem firm. Remove from the oven and cut immediately like so:
Notice there is already a bar missing...I don't think they were even cool yet.

Sweet Eats,
SPC

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Lunchtime laughs

Remember that song on "Sesame Street" that helped kids learn to count that went, "1 2 3 4...5, 6 7 8 9...10, 11, 12?" Today during lunch I started singing it silly to entertain the boys while I was trying to get lunch together. I would sing the first 10 numbers in a "Miss America" sing-song voice, and then for 11, 12, I sang it a la Barry White (God rest his soul). For some reason, the boys went crazy for it. I felt like Jerry Seinfeld on stage...huge laughs each time. This made me laugh more because quite frankly, I couldn't understand why it was so funny.

During lunch, R tried to do it too, which cracked me up even more. G listened intently each time, and then had this silly sort of delayed laugh. Enjoy!


video

Monday, April 7, 2008

Weekend fun

Another fun weekend…on Friday we packed up the sweet peas and headed to the local Prime Outlets. Both boys were due for some new shoes and we needed a novel way to entertain them on a rainy day.

Three observations:

Choices for preschoolers are good, but only if you have a tight rein on your options: If you are diametrically opposed to light up shoes, you need to be absolutely, positively sure none of the three options you give a child to choose from light up. A pox on your house, Stride Rite, for slyly putting lights into a seemingly benign pair of shoes.

Trying to keep a new walker in a stroller, when big brother is gallivanting around, almost teasing him that he is strapped to it, is not easy: ‘nuff said.

(Again…)These Sweet Pea days are precious: A nice woman came up to me while the boys were destroying the shaggy rug pile at the Pottery Barn Outlet and said, “oh, how old are they?” She then went on to nearly tear up about how cute they were and told me that hers were teens…and that I need to enjoy these days since they pass so fast.

Speaking of precious days and tearing up, my sweet friend M emailed me about the Trace Adkins song, “Your Gonna Miss This.” If you can listen to this song and not tear up (I’m a sucker for sentimental country music songs), you are a stronger person than I.

Saturday we had some new friends and their two boys, ages 4 and 1 over for dinner. SPH grilled out chicken and steaks to make fajitas. He used an amazing marinade for the chicken:

Tequila Lime Marinade

1/4 c tequila
juice and zest from 1/2 a lime
4 t honey
3T olive oil
3 pinches of salt
6 turns of black pepper
1 t cumin
1 t garlic powder

I also made my favorite homemade salsa, the world's easiest, tastiest salsa. You basically just pan roast 3-4 plum tomatoes, one onion and one jalepeno. Once they are roasted, deseed the jalepeno and pop the veggies in a food processor, add some cilantro and salt and puree well.

YUM.

Sunday was just beautiful. We went to church and G, for the first time since the fall, stayed in the nursery the entire time. Halleluiah! SPH and I kept checking our pager, thinking surely it must be broken, since it was not paging us. After church we spent the better part of the day outside, cleaning things from the winter, playing, grilling and getting the yard ready for the spring. We took a break before dinner and popped the boys in “the chariot” and went for a bike ride. They loved it!

Since Sunday was so nice, we didn’t do our usual trip to the grocery. I will figure out my meals for the rest of the week (any good ideas?), but for now, I know we are doing our famous grilled pizza tonight. The weather is supposed to be nice all week, so I have a feeling our grill will get a good workout.

Friday, April 4, 2008

FNB--Chili Rubbed Maple Salmon

If you are like the Sweet Pea family, you *know* salmon is a great thing to eat, but perhaps you just don't find yourself eating it that often. Wild Salmon is in season now, so find some Sockeye or other Pacific Salmon in your local stores. For Mama In Training who requested more fish recipes, this one is for you!

We adapted this from a Cooking Light recipe. SPH uses a cedar plank, soaked for about 30 minutes in water, and places it right on top of the grill. If you don't have a cedar plank or don't care to use one, you can use a fish basket for the grill, or broil it on the oven at about 425 degrees. By the way, if you do invest in a cedar plank, they last for many years, as long as you soak them sufficiently before putting them on the grill.

The maple syrup in this recipe makes it fun for the kiddos, but the flavors are spot on for adults too.


photo from Cooking Light

Chili Rubbed Maple Salmon

2 salmon filets, about 8-10 ounces each
Rub:
1 T paprika
2 t chili powder
1 t cumin
2 t brown sugar
1 t salt
1/2 ground pepper
Finish:
1 T maple syrup

Clean and pat the fish dry. Mix the rub and gently rub it on the salmon, but not on the skin side. In a preheated oven or grill (on high), cook the fish for about 6-7 minutes. You do not have to flip the fish. Once the fish is cooked, drizzle the maple syrup on top.

Easy peasy! We serve this with our favorite Parmesan Grits and Bean Salad.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Odds, ends and a side

First, an odd and end:
  • Has anyone tried the homemade microwave popcorn trick I mentioned a couple months back? We have been doing it regularly and each time I am amazed at how good it tastes.
    So easy, so healthy.
  • Recently a friend shared with me the website for "The Art of Real Life," which is the site for Sally Brewer Photography. I do not know Sally, but I just had to share her site, since she has a true gift. If we still lived in DC, I would be giving her a call to set up a session!
Now, a side (dish):

I love asparagus, and since this is the height of asparagus season near our home, I am always looking for new ways to cook it. This is a recipe that Steel Magnolia once made for a dinner when we all lived in DC. My boys are not that keen on asparagus, but with this recipe, I can get a couple "no-thank-you" tastes.

Roasted Asparagus with Balsamic Brown Butter Sauce (from Cooking Light)

40 asparagus spears, trimmed (about 2 pounds)
Cooking spray
1/4 t kosher salt
1/8 t black pepper
2 T butter
2
t low-sodium soy sauce
1 t balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 400°.

Arrange asparagus in a single layer on baking sheet; coat with cooking spray. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake at 400° for 12 minutes or until tender.

Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat; cook for 3 minutes or until lightly browned, shaking pan occasionally. Remove from heat; stir in soy sauce and vinegar. Drizzle over the asparagus, tossing well to coat. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's...supercook!


A friend of mine share this website with me. Supercook.com gives you the opportunity to type a key ingredient you have on hand, and then suggests ones that will complement them that will help create a recipe. It will narrow its recipes (drawn from other cooking websites and individuals who have submitted recipes) to give you options for entrees, sides, etc. to make with what you have in your kitchen. Once you have enough ingredients it will say, "You can make X recipes right now!" like you have won a cooking lottery.

I was playing around with it last night and think it could come in handy for last second meal planning. Anyone ever used this site?

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

April Fools

So, have you pulled any good fooling in your home today?

Sadly, I have never been a good fooler. I cannot "act" to save my life. Seriously. I make Tori Spelling look like Oscar material.

I have been thinking about how a lot of cooking for sweet peas and pumpkins is a big fool. It might not be blatant, but let's face it, if I told my little ones, "tonight we are going to have some pasta I made. It is made up of onion, spinach, tomatoes and lots and lots of vegetables!" I probably wouldn't have a lot of takers.

Of course if you want to go all out and try a real fool, here is something I have often thought about trying: "Eggless Salad"

It is a recipe that uses tofu instead of eggs to make egg salad. I was skeptical at first, but read the reviews! I saw it made a long time ago and actually thought about making it this week but since we had our fair share of *real* egg salad last week, the thought doesn't appeal to me right now.

Anyone tried tofu in a recipe like this? I have been trying to get it into our diets a little bit more and tried a recipe I liked recently that I need to post.