Friday, February 11, 2011

valentines ideas + i'm off!

While making your friends and family homemade meals shows your love any day of the year, with Valentine's Day on Monday, I wanted to share a few of our family's favorite treats and meal ideas that could make the day even more festive. Making the meal special can be as simple as adding something red to the plate, like strawberries on some protein pancakes, or strawberry jam on toast.

Or, if you have the time (which is unlikely, since Valentines is on a Monday this year!) you can get a little fancier and make heart shaped egg in toasts.

If you have a little one coming home for lunch, why not surprise them with a heart-shaped meal, like this one of mine that was featured on The Daily Meal.

Even just cutting that sandwich into the shape of a heart might bring a smile to your little one when they open their lunchbox.

When it comes to dinner, the recipe I just posted for mini turkey meatloaves can be zig-zagged with ketchup to make them festive and red for Monday. If you want to get all Martha, you could even shape them into hearts and serve them up for dinner on Monday. A little over-the-top, I know. My family will be enjoying them just as you see above.

If you do whip up a batch of these meatloaves, they're great with roasted sweet potato wedges-- just cut the sweet potatoes into spears versus rounds, carrot & parsnip fries or mashed potatoes. Someone told me they tint their mashed potatoes pink on Valentine's Day (with beet juice or India Tree red food coloring). I'm not so sure how that would go over here and I'd hate to waste a batch of fabulous mashed potatoes? But it's another idea!

For an after school snack (or a really simple lunch or dinner), you could let your kids create their own yogurt parfaits with yogurt + their favorite granola + strawberries (I add a little sugar to frozen ones this time of year which gives them a syrup-y consistency my kids like).

Or, if you're feeling really inspired (and a little crazy), you could get up at the crack of dawn and bake a batch of my family's favorite scones right before you jump on a plane. While these are amazing, I'd recommend you don't try to make them before the school bus arrives. Instead, give the kids a hug, get them off to school and then make a cup of coffee and relax while making these. Having them ready when everyone gets home from school will be an extra special treat.

Anyway, back to the jumping on a plane thing... this is actually going to be the only post this week because I am going to do a one-week self-imposed media freeze. (This should be interesting, and mildly alarming to my system.) Next week, after baking those scones, I am going to be relishing lots of yoga, thoughtful talks, hiking, amazing meals and time with my mom.

While I am being ever-so-quiet, don't forget that you can still search for old recipes here in the upper right hand corner (though I find that to be an imperfect science, often not being able to locate a particular recipe by keyword even though I know it is there because I posted the darn thing!!) or you can scroll a bit further down and look at the recipes by category. Either way, I hope you have a wonderful week of cooking and enjoying simple, healthful meals with those you love.

mini turkey meatloaves (filled with shredded veggies)

These mini turkey meatloaves are filled with a few cups of shredded veggies, which keep them moist (and healthful). They are easy to make and freeze beautifully, so make a big batch and you'll have a family-friendly meal at the ready on busy nights! Oh, and as far as the veggies poking out go, if you've got a kid questioning the contents, try calling them "confetti meatloaf"...tell them there's a party in there and those are the streamers.

Mini Turkey Meatloaves (a.k.a. "Confetti Meatloaf")
(makes about 8 individual meatloaves)

1 cup shredded carrots
1 cup shredded zucchini
1/2 cup shredded onion
2 large eggs
1/2 cup BBQ sauce
3 Tablespoons tomato paste
3/4 cup whole wheat breadcrumbs OR Quaker oats
hearty pinch of dried basil (or fresh if you have it)
hearty pinch of dried oregano
hearty shake of garlic powder
1 lb ground white meat turkey
ketchup (optional, to swirl on top before baking)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. If not already shredded, simply pulse the carrots, zucchini and onions through the shredder attachment of a Cuisinart. Then, in a large bowl, combine all ingredients with your hands. Form turkey mixture into 4" balls and place on a parchment lined rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle some ketchup on top, if you'd like. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until a thermometer registers 165°.

Once cooled, you can freeze cooked meatloaves in an airtight container. Simply reheat them in the microwave.

For those who like to see the recipe in action, here are a few'll notice that I doubled this recipe, because I was doing a major re-stock of our meals in the freezer!

mix all of the ingredients together with your hands

then form them into equal-sized mini meatloaves (whatever size you want, just make them uniform so they cook evenly...I tend to make them about 4" or so)

a squiggle of ketchup to liven things up

my batch, out of the oven and ready for the freezer

and as far as my kids go, they split one between them. This week they were a hit with a side of parsnip & carrot "fries".

parsnip & carrot "fries"

Looking for a veggie side your kids can pick up? Or, achem, even dip in ketchup (pick your battles, right?)...

Parsnip & Carrot "Fries"
4 servings

1 lb. parsnips and carrots
about 1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt
garlic powder
ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Peel parsnips and carrots, then slice each in half crosswise to separate the thick end and the narrow end. Cut the narrow piece in half or quarters lengthwise and the thick piece in quarters or eighths, depending on the thickness. (Each "fry" should be about 2"to 3" long and 1/2"- to 3/4" thick.) Place the parsnips and carrots on a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil then sprinkle with salt, garlic powder and pepper. Shake so they are all covered in a bit of oil and spices. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn each "fry" with togs, and bake again until golden brown and tender, about an additional 10 minutes. Season with more salt and pepper, to taste.

simple spinach lasagna

Lasagnas freeze perfectly. Since my freezer is stocked with so many chicken and turkey entrees right now, I decided to make a veggie lasagna this week. I was using what I had on hand, so it wasn't a traditional lasagna prep (with ricotta or bechamel), but the result was delicious and if you're a fan of spinach, then this is a simple recipe to add you your repertoire.

Simple Spinach Lasagna
(makes 2 6-serving lasagnas, one for now and one to freeze)

2 lbs frozen spinach
1 brick cream cheese
salt & pepper, to taste
mozzarella (or your favorite cheese), sliced
oven-ready lasagna sheets
2 jars of your favorite pasta sauce
shredded Parmesan/mozzarella blend (or your favorite shredded cheese)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a Cuisinart (using the metal chopping blade), combine the frozen spinach (no need to thaw it), cream cheese, fresh or dried basil, a few cloves of garlic and a sprinkle of salt & pepper. Pulse until a puree. Set aside. Then, in your two baking dishes, you'll alternate pasta sauce, pasta sheets, the spinach mixture and slices of cheese, ending with pasta sauce and a layer of shredded cheese on top. Wrap one dish tightly for the freezer. Bake the other for 45 minutes, or until pasta sheets are cooked through. (You test this by inserting a butter knife into the center...if is cuts in easily, the lasagna is ready. If not, let it cook for another few minutes.)

The frozen lasagna can either be thawed in the fridge and then baked as above, or you can cook it from frozen. If cooking from frozen, put the baking dish into the oven as it is heating (to avoid shocking the dish with a temp change) and then double the cook time. Check if it's done the same way as above.

I know some of you like pics, so here's the prep in photos:

2 lbs of spinach, 1 block of cream cheese a few cloves of garlic, a handful of basil (or a few teaspoons of dried basil), and a sprinkle of kosher salt and freshly ground pepper are pulsed until they turn into a puree. I used frozen spinach and did not thaw or drain the spinach, because I wanted that extra moisture in the lasagna to help cook the noodles. This is the crux of the filling, so make sure it has enough basil and garlic for your taste!

I always start with a layer of sauce on the bottom of my baking dish, as it prevents the lasagna from sticking...

Then you'll alternate pasta sheets, spinach filling, slices of cheese and more sauce.

Ending with a layer of pasta sauce and shredded cheese.

This is not the most appetizing "after" photo, as I'd already scooped out our dinner. But, it'll do!

linguine with lemon cream sauce

I have been cooking up a storm this week, stocking the freezer with mini turkey meatloaves, enchiladas, chicken pot pies, chili and spinach lasagna. So, on the "off" days when not making meals for my family to enjoy while I am out West, I have tried to whip up super simple recipes. One day I made a farro tabbouleh...right now there's a lentil-sweet potato stew bubbling away on the stove... and last night I made a quick batch of Linguine in Lemon Cream Sauce. I'd originally seen the linguine recipe in the September 2010 issue of Vegetarian Times under the header "10 Outrageously Easy 5-Ingredient Dinners". Not just simple. Outrageously simple. Sounds perfect.

And the recipe was outrageously simple. But it was a little one dimensional, if you want my opinion. Here's the original recipe and how I modified it last night:

Linguine with Lemon Cream Sauce (from Vegetarian Times)
4 servings

8 oz. dry linguine
1/2 cup light cream cheese
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 lemon, zested and then juiced
1/2 cup chopped parsley

True to their word, the recipe couldn't be easier: Cook linguine according to package directions. In a saucepan, warm cream cheese, oil and lemon juice over low heat. Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup cooking water. Stir reserved cooking water into cream cheese mixture. Add pasta, lemon zest, and parsley; toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper, if desired.

And if you like creamy lemony goodness then you can just stop right there. But I was thankful I had pine nuts on hand, to toss on top, for a little texture and alternate taste. Then about half way through my bowl, I decided I wanted more flavor than just lemon so I added my sides to the pasta and mixed it all together. I'd made: roasted zucchini (400 degrees on a cookie sheet, drizzled with a bit of olive oil and a sprinkling of kosher salt for about 12 minutes or until al dente and turning golden brown) and some chicken sausage I'd run through the shredder attachment on my Cuisinart b/c I wanted it "ground" instead of sliced for a few things coming up. And with those two additions, it was a pretty interesting meal.

I am posting the original recipe now because I said I would on the FB page, but I think I'll work on tweaking this recipe a little more when I get back to town. It's got potential...

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

chicken pot pies for the freezer

I am getting ready to leave my dad and husband in charge of my boys for a week. If I am going to really relax, at least I need to know that everyone back home is well-fed in my absence. While this recipe is more decadent and more involved than my average weeknight dinner, it's a favorite of my husband and kids so I made a big batch to pop in the freezer. You can make your own pastry crust. But I didn't. I did, however, get all Martha with the extra puff pastry.

Chicken Pot Pies
(makes 8 servings, freezes beautifully)

1 1/2 sticks of butter (yes, sticks)
2 yellow onions, diced
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup dry sherry
1 1/2 cups half & half
2 1/2 cups of whole milk
4 teaspoons rosemary, minced
2 teaspoons herbs de provence
2 teaspoons dill
8 stalks of celery, diced
8 carrots, diced
1 lb mushrooms, diced
4 chicken breasts, cooked, diced
1 lb peas, frozen, thawed
salt & pepper, to taste
1 package puff pastry (2 sheets)
egg wash (1 egg yolk + 1 Tablespoon of water)

Let puff pastry thaw at room temp for at least 30 minutes.

To make the filling: in a large pot, melt the butter then add onion and cook until soft. Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring consistently for 2 minutes. Add sherry, half & half, milk and herbs and whisk until blended. Add celery, carrots, mushroom, peas and chicken. Simmer until vegetables are tender, about 8 minutes. Season with salt & pepper, to taste. Remove from heat and divide mixture evenly between 8 individual ramekins or 2 larger casserole dishes.

Top each dish with a round of puff pastry. Brush puff pastry with egg wash (1 egg whisked with 1 tablespoon of water). The egg wash is optional, but it will make the puff pastry turn a pretty golden brown.

If baking now, preheat oven to 375. Baked for 30-45 minutes, uncovered until warmed through and golden brown. Cover with foil if top gets too brown.

If freezing, wrap tightly. Thaw in fridge the day you plan to enjoy it, then bake in preheated 375 degree oven for approximately 45 minutes...maybe longer, depending upon whether part of it is still frozen. Simply cover with foil if top gets too brown.

I doubled this recipe to make a huge batch (4 individual, two 2-serving, two 4-serving dishes) so we had a few family dinners on hand in the freezer plus I could share a dinner with a friend that could use a homemade dinner this week. If you're going to be spending the time cooking, why not double the recipe since it freezes perfectly? Enjoy!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

"meatless monday" idea: cilantro-walnut pesto over whole wheat rotini

Those in the NY area may remember the first storm that kicked off this winter season? Or maybe it's all just a blur now? Anyway, this was what I made for our family when we arrived home-- at lunchtime-- after a more than 24-hour travel "adventure". The fridge was bare and we were all hungry and wiped out...but a peek in the freezer (frozen herbs & garlic), snack drawer (nuts) and pantry (pasta) I was able to improvise a delicious meal. This hit the spot and has become a consistent, simple, family-pleasing recipe in my "meatless" meal rotation.

Cilantro Walnut Pesto
(makes 2.5 to 3 cups of pesto)

2 cups walnuts
2 cups spinach, fresh, raw
6 cubes Dorot frozen garlic*
12 cubes Dorot frozen cilantro*
1 cup vegetable broth
dash of kosher salt

In a blender, combine all ingredients and pulse until smooth. Serve over your choice of pasta. Sprinkling of Parmesan optional.

* I get mine at Trader Joe's and just keep a stash of the basil, garlic and cilantro cubes in my freezer.

beans & greens soup

This is one of those fabulously simple made-up recipes that's worth passing along, especially if tomorrow ends up being a rainy day. There's nothing more comforting than a bowl of homemade soup on a rainy day, don't you think? Originally inspired by Kelley, the project manager of one of my favorite local non-profits (who also happens to be a great home cook), this is my version of "kale-white bean soup". I made a double batch last week and shared it with a few special people that could use a night of comforting food. It was a hit.

Beans & Greens Soup
(8 servings)

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions, diced
6-8 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup pancetta, chopped
1 bag Trader Joe's Southern Greens blend (found in the produce section)*
5 (14.5 oz.) cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
2 (32 oz.) boxes veggie broth

* this is a pre-cut, pre-washed combination of mustard, turnip, collard and could make your own 5 cup combination of hearty leafy greens like kale instead but I love that I can save a little time by just popping this greens mixture right into the pot...

In a blender, combine two cans of cannellini beans and one (32 oz.) box of broth. Pulse until smooth. Set aside. (This is what is going to thicken the soup.)

In a soup pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, pancetta and garlic and saute 5 minutes. Add the greens and saute another few minutes. Then add the broth, cannellini beans, and the pureed beans (that you just blended). Cover the pot and cook over medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes, or until greens are wilted and tender. Serve warm with crusty bread and a hunk of good cheese. Freezes beautifully too.

easiest "sausage" dip ever

For those looking for a super simple, creamy, guy-pleasing appetizer for tonight's big game, here's a go-to dip of mine. Originally brought to a book club couples gathering by my friend, Lynne, I now make this all the time because it's so easy and everyone loves it. My version is vegetarian, but most carnivores who try it have no idea. You could, of course, make it with good old Jimmy Dean....but I don't know, I am kind of skeeved out by real sausage. So, here's my take:

"Sausage" Dip

1 onion, diced
1 tube of Gimme Lean Soy "Sausage" or Soy Chorizo*
1 brick of cream cheese (regular, low-fat or non-fat, your choice)
1 jar of salsa (mild, medium, spicy, chipotle, your choice)

In a large fry pan, saute the onion and soy sausage in a bit on olive oil, breaking up the sausage into small chunks. Once the onion and sausage and softened and lightly browned, add the cream cheese and salsa. Stir over medium heat until everything melts together into creamy deliciousness.

*both types of soy sausage are found in the produce section of most markets

Can be made ahead and stored in the fridge. Serve room temp, or warm, with tortilla or corn chips.

I made a big batch of it last night for a charity paddle party I was catering. That version for a large crowd was made with: 2 yellow onions, 1 tube each of Gimme Lean + Soy Chorizo, 2 jars of Trader Joe's Chipotle Salsa, 1 brick of fat free cream cheese and 1 brick of regular cream cheese.

follow-up to black bean cake recipe

There's a meatless meal idea conversation going on over on the Facebook page, and a recipe that I recently proposed to one friend was the Black & Pinto Bean Cakes when asked for a cheese-less idea that isn't spicy. I thought it might be helpful to share a few more photos of the prep of that recipe, in case any of you might be giving it a whirl tomorrow as a "Meatless Monday" option.

The reason I like this recipe, when cooking for varying tastes, is that it's a healthy base from which kids and adults can then customize their toppings. When I make these, I put out a "topping bar" of: sour cream, a mild and spicy salsa, chopped cherry tomatoes, chopped avocado, corn, shredded cheese, jalapenos, etc.

Here's the original recipe again:

Black & Pinto Bean Cakes

1 onion, diced
olive oil
two 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
one 15-ounce can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1 tub crumbled Feta**
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons chili powder (optional, omit if you want them more mild)**
2 eggs
1 cup whole wheat breadcrumbs (maybe a little more)

Even if you're modifying the ingredients, the first two steps are always the same: preheat oven to 350 degrees and saute the onion in a bit of olive oil, until tender, and set aside to cool.

Then my recipe tells you to mash the beans coarsely. I find using a potato masher works best for this part.

This is where you want to get in terms of texture. Some beans are left whole and some are smashed into more of a paste. But if your family prefers a smoother texture, then keep on mashing!

Next you'll incorporate the rest of the ingredients into the mashed beans. I do this with my hands so I can really tell that things are mixed together.
My friend had asked for a meatless meal without cheese, that wasn't spicy so, here's how I'd go about modifying the original Black & Pinto Bean Cake recipe:

Because I am leaving the Feta out, I'll add a hearty pinch of Kosher salt so I still get the saltiness the Feta gives the cakes. My kids like cumin, so I'd leave that in. But in lieu of chili powder, I would add some or all of the following to bump up the flavor in a non-spicy way:
  • lemon zest
  • fresh cilantro or 1-2 cubes of Dorot frozen cilantro
  • minced garlic or 1-2 cubes of Dorot frozen garlic
  • or I could go for more of an Indian flavor and add mild curry powder...
As you can see, these bean cakes are really a blank palate that you can flavor to, as you wish. As soon as you've added your choice of spices and herbs, you shape bean mixture into 1/2 to 3/4-inch thick patties and place them on a cookie sheet that's been lightly sprayed or rubbed with olive oil. Then bake the cakes at 350 for 15-20 minutes or until warmed through and a little crispy on the outside, carefully flipping the cakes after 10 minutes.

You can also freeze uncooked black & pinto bean cakes for a later dinner. I layered them in a tupperware between sheets of parchment. The day we were going to have them I thawed them in the fridge and then baked them as instructed. Had I baked them from frozen, I would have just doubled the cook time, flipping them after 20 minutes instead.

Extra cooked black & pinto bean cakes can be stored in the fridge, and simply heated in the microwave. They lose their crisp outer edge, but are still tasty.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

where did that package end up?

To say that we're buried would be an understatement. But, I am raising two little Northeasterners who relish the weather and still find joy no matter how messy it gets. So yesterday I mustered up enthusiasm and went out into the icy stuff to build a snow fort with them this sixth snow day of 2011. And not just any snow fort. This was an igloo. Anyway, sometime during the shoveling, packing and scraping the Fed-Ex guys pulled up.

Fast forward to after slip sliding in, drying off, hot baths, cozy PJs and a warm dinner...

"Hey, does anyone know what happened to that package?!"

"I think it's in our igloo mom!"


But I must say, it was worth trekking back out for the package. A company called Berkshire Grain offered to send me samples (yes, for of the perks of this blog!). I like free stuff as much as the next busy mom but told them I would only write about their product if my kids-- and I-- genuinely liked it. Lucky for them, the granola was a total hit!

They sent two kinds: Cinnamon Toast and Cranberry-Pumpkin Seed. I snuck a taste last night and found it totally different than this granola or this granola that I make. I am sort of partial to my homemade stuff, but the reality is that I get around to making granola about every 6 months, so having a good store bought option is a bonus.

We were up bright and early and the boys had fun making up a scoring system... and yes, my little one was very concerned that no one taint-- or take-- his granola during the taste test.

The favorite was unanimous: Cranberry-Pumpkin Seed, earning a capital "G" for VERY good. (Neither one was as keen on the Cinnamon Toast one, which is interesting since they both like cinnamon?) Anyway, we've enjoyed the granola throughout the day as a snack and depending upon how long my "5 o'clock mommy playdate" over at the neighbor's goes, I just might serve up some yogurt-granola parfaits for dinner. Actually, that sounds really good. That's definitely going to be the plan.