Friday, April 5, 2013

With a spring in my step, I'll try this again. . .

Okay, I have been thinking a lot about passion lately and I really want to give this blog thing a try again.

Anyone who knows me, knows I love to cook. And not just the grind of getting something somewhat nutritious and delicious that the boys, now almost 8 and almost 6, will eat. (I know I'm blessed in that department of "good eaters," but  enough wild salmon for a family of four is no joke either. . . )

To cook? To really cook... the community part of it. Buying as fresh and local as possible (how many days 'til my early season CSA at Norman's Farm starts?), simple but not overly processed, and trying new things that are satisfying, but somewhat healthy, quick and easy too.

Like many of my friends I feel a bit in the weeds lately in regards to raising these youngins . . . They are older and more independent, but that extra time "when they're both in school!" hasn't come, and we're in the 4th quarter of Kindergarten for my little guy. Among other things that have been swept into my PK life, that community feel of cooking that I so adore seems relegated to holidays and the occasional family dinner party, which is next to impossible to arrange with all of our activities and family commitments.

But, that connection to how I feel as a mom and how my kids eat still is alive and well. I mean, seriously, if anyone had every told me the connection between a mama and how her babes eat -- from journaling how much milk I fed my newborn to my heart jumping up and down when my little foodies claim they "love it!" -- I never would've believed it. Somewhere between carpool and working part time I manage to cook the majority of nights, but lately it's been less and less healthy or rewarding. My true passion is really good food and sharing it. On my run this morning I dreamed about starting a catering business, but it's really not in the cards right now (that weeds/grind thing I referenced. . . )

So, instead of said catering business, I'm coming out of my winter produce-tastes-like-paper funk and trying this blog thing again to keep me accountable on fun family (or in today's case, happy mama who finally has all kids at school and can eat lunch alone) dishes. I will try to share my ideas and what "works for me" on my quest to buy as fresh and local as possible and create dishes that my family and friends enjoy.

Today, I start with a little something I concocted in my mind while in the produce aisle trying to figure out a way to avoid the current lettuce situation for salad, where everything tastes like nothing.

Kale and Grain Salad

  • 1/2 cup of dry grain of choice (I use an Italian 5 grain, pictured below) from Costco, but I think Quinoa, Farro, Barley, etc. would work just as well.
  • 1 bunch of flat leave kale (sometimes called Tuscan)
  • 1 red pepper
  • Small handful of fresh parsley, chopped fine
  • Mustard, red wine vinegar, one clove of garlic, salt and olive oil for homemade vinaigrette (don't freak out, I'll walk you through how to do)
  • Feta cheese, if you care for it

First, cook the grains to package directions. While they cook prepare the vegetables. Cut the Kale very thinly (like a chiffonade almost) and the red pepper thinly as well. Mince the parsley.

Grab a big bowl suitable for mixing ingredients. Begin working on the vinaigrette. In the large bowl put a small dollop of mustard (you'll learn, I don't measure when it comes to cooking), and mince or mash one glove of garlic. Mix mustard and garlic together and add some salt. Pour a bit of red wine vinegar (maybe 2 tablespoons) and mix together. Now the hardest part: get your whisk ready and as you whisk the mustard mix, beat in the olive oil (maybe 4 tablespoons). The result will be a creamy yellow dressing that just sticks to the whisk.

By now the grains are done. Dump them in the vinaigrette. Add the kale, peppers and parsley and mix well. Sprinkle on the feta cheese last and toss. And voila, see below.

I would imagine this makes 2-3 servings and would be very easy to double or make as a side dish for dinner.  I will eat rest tomorrow!

The verdict: Literally took 12 minutes. Yum. I will definitely make again. Which of my girlfriends here in MD wants to join me for lunch some Friday soon? If only I had the willpower to not add the piece of crusty bread, but it looked so good at the bakery. . .
The grain I am currently using:

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I'm back...

January 8, 2010! My last post. I guess that was about the time we decided to turn our lives upside down, sideways, and back forward again with a move to Maryland from Massachusetts. While we loved our life in New England and friends who were like family, we opted to try to raise the kids closer to their blood family in Maryland. We bought a house in Potomac, where we moved in late June. The boys seem to be getting settled into Kindergarden and preschool and B and I are slowly feeling like this is home.

One key part of feeling home? We joined a CSA. Norman's Farm for the fall share. So far it has not dissapointed. Staymen apples, collards, and peppers, oh my! I am already loathing the 6 months from December 1 to June 1 where everything is shipped and void of taste.

The kitchen is old, but spacious. I look forward to trying new recipes in my 27inch (gasp!) oven and when we have the energy and money (neither of both right now!), we will make it our dream kitchen.

The Kindergardner is pickier than ever (nothing with grill marks and very definite opinions on what food should look like to be eaten); and we need to get a cow, apple tree, and nut farm just to sustain the Preschooler.

Here's to some new adventures in how to feed my family local, fresh, healthy, as least processed as possible . . . and on a budget in Maryland!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Kim's Turkey Meatballs (shh... they have spinach!)

My brother's wife, Kim, is an excellent cook. Maybe it's that she is the daughter of former caterers; or that she is half-Mexican and half Italian and whether her "secret ingredient" is cumin or parsley, the result is usually magical. Her trademark: Give her just a few ingredients and she can make a crowd-pleasing, healthy, meal in nanoseconds.

I had a four-pack of ground turkey to use from Costco. I usually freeze 2 and use two at one time. Last month I made turkey meatloaf and wasn't ready for a repeat quite yet. I had told a friend who just had twins that I'd bring her dinner. And, the turkey meatballs Kim had made over Thanksgiving were lingering in my memory. Seemed like a delicious and easy to double so both families could get a healthy, easy-to-prepare meal with ample leftovers solution.

I'm not sure where she got the original recipe, but hopefully through translation and us both taking liberty of a dash of this and and dollop of that, I'm not plagiarizing anything.

Turkey Meatballs

  • 1 egg
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Italian Seasoning (or a mixture of minced fresh parsley, oregano, basil if you have it)
  • 1 lb of ground turkey
  • Frozen spinach, thawed and the water pressed out (a 10 oz box or whatever bags you use)
  • 1/2 cup of bread crumbs or panko (approximately)
  • 1 cup of Parmesan (approximately)

Preheat oven to 375.

Lightly beat egg in a large bowl. Add the minced garlic, S &P, and Italian seasoning/herbs.

Add ground turkey, spinach, bread crumbs and Parmesan. Mix well with your hands so it's all blended.

Scoop meatballs onto a large jelly roll pan (I used a cookie scoop so they were all the same size); okay if they are close together as they will keep their shape.

Bake for 15-20 minutes (until cooked through) and remove from pan shortly after they come out of the oven so that they don't stick.

I added mine to a marinara sauce immediately. Use whatever marinara you want/usually make. I made one in the slow cooker this morning as I had a lot to do today and needed to make the sauce in advance with the ability to leave the house without a stove on. Mine was approximately: 1-2 cans of Hunts regular spaghetti sauce (it's .99 cents a can, low sugar for a canned marinara, and a great base for many of my lasagnas, marinara, etc.); 1-2 cans of diced tomatoes (depending on how chunky you like your sauce); 2 cloves of minced garlic; Italian season; S&P. I cooked on low for 4 hours so the flavors could meld.

1) This is very easy to double, which I did today and used 2 lbs of turkey, etc.
2) If you don't have spinach or spinach isn't your thing in meat, substitute a finely chopped onion in its place. Either way, the spinach or onion are key in keeping the meatballs moist.

The Verdict: A new classic. Fantastically easy, delicious, and I *love* that the kids are getting spinach without realizing it. Our usual meatball recipe is a classic mixture of pork/meat/veal and this was much healthier and just as delicious. Husband gave two thumbs up as well!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Dwindling Down the Meat Share; Easy Veggies

From June through November 2009 we participated in a meat share with Chestnut Farms in Hardwick, MA. Every month we would pick up 10lbs of family-farmed meat at the Waltham Community Fields.

Although fabulously delicious, and family farming is something my husband and I both want to support the best we can, it just wasn't a long-term thing for us. There was a lot of red meat and while the occassional word-defying, delictable, bone-in chicken breast like nothing you've ever tasted before found its way into our cooler, many of the cuts of meat, which comprised the majority of the loot each month, were not what we wanted to eat over and over.

Although not my favorite thing to eat (for a variety of reasons), Husband was licking his chops for the frozen lamb chops hanging out in the freezer from our last pick-up. So, after sitting in the fridge defrosting for few days, said lamb chops sensed my procrastination, and implored me to finally do something with them. (Real willpower here: our bi-weekly cleaning crew came on this particular day and while we usually dine out on these nights to have at least 12 hours of a beautifully clean dining room floor, I felt compelled and didn't want to waste food.)

Loaded with roasted vegetables and served with whole wheat couscous, it was a good dinner and a good use of resources in the fridge. Not much other than the meat was local, but it is January.

There was no real recipe for this and I made it up as I went a long, but I can give a nod to my mother-in-law who made a salad of roasted green beans and onions (from the Moosewood Cookbook) to complement (and frankly, outshine) our Christmas Eve Ham for inspiring the idea of roasting green beans.
  • We had four small/medium pieces of mostly bone lamb chops from the farm, I'm guessing about 2 lbs with the bones.
  • Roasting vegetables. I had the following on hand: 1 orange pepper (Costco and likely from Europe, but we go through a bag of 6 each week), 1 onion, 1 pint of grape tomatoes (US, but not local) and about 3/4 lbs of green beans (from the regular grocery store and no clue where they are from.)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Get out a roasting pan.

Wash and prepare vegetables. Remove stems from green beans. Chop onion and pepper into large chunks. Rinse grape tomatoes and use whole.

Toss minced garlic, olive oil, and Salt & Pepper with the vegetables in the pan. Put in oven and set timer for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare meat and let it warm up at bit from fridge temperature. Liberally salt and pepper both sides.

After 20 minutes toss vegetables and set timer for another 15 ish minutes.

After that, add the meat and cook for about 10-15 minutes. We then put the meat on a separate pan and then put it under the broiler, but that overcooked it.

Verdict: Great vegetables; okay lamb. The veggies were the star of the meal -- and a super way to serve a rainbow of color in a short period of time with minimal effort for other busy ladies out there. Slow roasting green beans with peppers, onions, garlic and the pop of the grape tomatoes was very good, and would be great with other types of meats or alone with a grain. The lamb had great flavor, but we did overcook it slightly, and again, I'm probably not the best judge as lamb isn't really my thing.

I definitely treated myself with a piece of after dinner chocolate.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Winter's Night Soup

Home with the kids on Tuesdays = a bit more time to make dinner than other nights. Ironic, I know, but there is less of a schlep on home days and I use their naps/quiet time for prep and save their beloved 30-minute episode of Curious George until 5 p.m. so I can assemble dinner.

Fresh-off reading my new Alice Waters cookbook and viewing the Iron Chef America White House Garden special, I wanted a chock-full of veggies soup for the week.

Although inspired by the Art of Simple Food recipe for Winter Minestrone, like most My Family Dish recipes, I did the best with what was available to me at the time, with the time I had. In turn, I served up a tasty (and rather pretty!) winter minestrone. This is not only vegetarian, but vegan if you omit the Parmesan cheese as a garnish.

Winter Minestrone

  • 1 onion, chopped finely
  • 2-3 carrots, chopped
  • 2 stalks of celery chopped
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil (like Rachael Ray I don't measure, just a few swirls around the pan)
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, finely minced or grated
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Rosemary (I used dried, about a teaspoon)
  • 1 bunch of fresh kale (mine was neither organic or local and from the "regular" grocery store, but what is a girl to do on New Year's Day, fresh off a trip, with zero food in the fridge?)
  • 1 can of diced tomatoes (Alice wanted you to buy organic whole and dice yourself, but I buy diced tomatoes by the case from Costco for moments like this.)
  • 2 cups(ish) of butternut squash (A conventional grocery store tale of ready-to-use chopped up butternut squash, apparently a double foul for its lack of "freshness" and addition to my carbon footprint given the pre-packaged purchase.)
  • 3-4 cups of water
  • 2 cans of cannelloni beans (Alice wanted you to prepare dried ones yourself, but I used canned, a staple in my pantry, and didn't rinse them so that they'd help to thicken soup).
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • Parmesan cheese (optional, for serving)

Heat a large pan (I used my trusty 6 quart Le Creuset) with the olive oil over medium-high heat.

Chop up the onions, celery, and carrots and to the olive oil in the pan. Cook for about 15-20 minutes until fragrant, stirring every so often.

Meanwhile, prep the kale by washing and chopping (okay to keep ribs in kale; cut to about 1.5 inch thick ribbons).

Prep the butternut squash so that it is bite size pieces.

When the onions, celery and carrots are soft and bubbly (you'll smell it!) add the garlic, salt (a good toss of my favorite, kosher) and herbs. Cook for a few minutes.

Add the kale and entire can of diced tomatoes; put lid on pot and let kale cook down a bit, about 5-7 minutes.

Add the water (start with three cups and then add more toward the end if you need it. I didn't.) and butternut squash. Cook for about 15-20 minutes, until squash is soft. Note: my squash sort of fell apart. Likely because I froze it first. The final flavor was superb, but the squash was mushy. Either way, watch it more closely than I did or use fresh squash.

Once the squash is soft, add the beans and let them heat through. Add more water if your soup seems to0 thick for your liking. At this point I had to put my kids to bed, so I just turned the stove to simmer and let it be for 30 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve in bowls and garnish with freshly grated Parmesan if you'd like.

The verdict: Add to the Repertoire.

Delicious. Husband didn't believe there was *no chicken stock* at all in the recipe. The broth was so flavorful and rich, due to the slow cooking of the vegetables before adding the water. The vegetables were dynamite; and I concur, it would've been even better if I had a garden out my back-door, but I don't...

I also served with leftover homemade garlic bread from Saturday night's baked ziti (and last of the uber-delicious lamb sausage from the meat share): 1 loaf of french bread (mine was from Costco, of course). Mince 2-3 cloves of garlic, chop a handful of parsley, mix in with 2 tbsp of soft butter. Slice bread in half and spread mixture on both halves. Drizzle with olive oil and then wrap in foil. Bake at 350 until melted and crisp.

P.S. There was a separate kids menu tonight. They were tired and wanted dinner before the soup was ready. Apparently omelets with mozz cheese don't cut it for them. They like their eggs scrambled and scrambled only. They devoured the broccoli (a staple is the Trader Joe's flash frozen organic broccoli for nights when we need dinner in 5 minutes or less) and whole wheat toast, however, both asking for more butter! I wish they could've tried this soup, but I think the texture of the kale might have been more than they could handle and I didn't feel like adding scrubbing walls to my to-do list for tonight.

Monday, January 4, 2010


January 2010.

'Tis the season for resolutions: eat better, exercise more, do more of this, do less of that.

Makes sense. I myself have some resolutions:

  • Rock a true two-piece bathing suit sans skirt for the Florida trip this spring
  • Eat thoughtfully (health, ethics, etc.)
  • Make my exercises count more (I can run 7 miles, but can barely do a push-up)
  • Finally start my blog

Minus the two-piece (if I do get into it, I won't have the literal or figurative stomach to post photos to cyberspace), the following three are related to this, My Family Dish.

I am a mom, foodie, exercise lover, wanna-be chef, and food politics maven. As I try to shop right, cook well, and remain healthy, I find myself conflicted. I imagine many of us (busy, on budgets, but wanting to do what is best for their families) feel similarly. How far can we go with our beliefs? How do we do the best in what time/money we have; all the while pleasing little (and big) palates and setting up how our kids will eat for life?

While I pour over the writings of folks such as Michael Pollan and Alice Waters and agree with much of what they preach, I find them apsirational.

In addition to rearing our two young sons (currently ages 4.5 and 2.5), I work part-time. The boys eat well for their age; and a lot for their age. I have a husband who eats what I cook, but likes to be involved in decisions as well. And, I really like to cook (and eat), so don't want to be "pinned" into a certain style of eating.

I tried to plant a garden, but I don't know whether to blame bad soil, a black thumb, the two-year-old's stomping, or the backyard skunk for its failing. I get to the farmer's market as much as I can in the limited growing season of New England's non-lettuce pickings, and while delicious, it's not predictable. Despite my own dreams of a freezer chest full of locally-grown blanched and frozen vegetables, my husband really might join some frequent diners club at McDonalds if I join a vegetable share and add any more kale, chard or bok choy to the menus.

I shop at Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Costco and even (gasp!) the "regular" grocery store every so often. Trader Joe's and Whole Foods have done the homework for me (very few dyes or high fructose corn syrup) and Costco is the easiest, most convenient, budget-friendly way for me to get much of what matters most to me for my family. I pretty much stick to the whole foods (those homemade cookies count!) at the store and agree that Garelick Farms travels fewer miles from farm to table than Costco's Kirkland 1% Organic milk; but, I don't have the time or patience to run all over town for what already adds up to about $200+ a week on groceries. And, my kids eat so much fruit. Real fruit. LOTs of it. Aren't real grapes from Chile (albeit non-organic, but washed very well) when I can't find anything else better than raisins or applesauce? And those adorable, little, tangy, seedless, Clementines that my toddler eats like candy? I don't even look at their origin anymore.

A couple things I've been thinking about lately:

1) My hero, Alice Waters, shuns the microwave, yet more than half of the Cooks Illustrated Best of 2009 recipes, another publication my husband and I both trust, use the microwave to short-cut steps in the kitchen. I want both: the "Art of Simple Food" and simplicity in the kitchen.

2) Michael Pollan and others shun Whole Foods for sourcing so much meat/fish from other places. Local farming isn't scalable for the masses and impossible if you want to choose what you eat. Sure, you might get lucky at the farmer's market, but it's not guaranteed. Last summer we joined a meat share. Fabulously delicious. 10 lbs of meat per month all frozen in 1 poundish packages. Problem: lots of red meat and cuts of meat that weren't all that desirable or easy to cook for one meal. I found ways around it, but if I'm going to strive to eat less meat, I want to choose it myself, like I do other areas of our family meals.

Alas, thus begins my journey on My Family Dish as I try to navigate the balance between food politics (safety and sourcing) and feeding my family nutritious meals that work within my time and budgetary constraints.

We all do what we can do as we organize our lives so that our families get our very best. With this blog I will dish interesting articles, recipes I have tried, and other ways that inspire us to eat more thoughtfully, healthfully, and pleasurably. Please bear with me on this whole "blog thing," and share your ideas and thoughts.