Sunday, September 25, 2011

two lunchboxes from last week

ham & cheese quesadilla in a whole wheat tortilla (cooled to room temp before packing so it didn't get soggy) + slices of red pepper (aka "swords) + whole wheat rotini (leftover from the night before, a favorite finger food of his) + organic applesauce cup (and spoon) + a bag of Annie's organic bunny fruit snacks, as a special treat for the first day of lunch bunch

cream cheese & jam sandwich on whole wheat bread (cut with a large cookie cutter) + steamed broccoli and slices of red pepper + fresh strawberries + a Chobani Champions Greek yogurt cup + a squeeze cinnamon applesauce + a ClifKid "ZFruit Rope" as a treat

Friday, September 23, 2011

pizza with a tiny purpose

Last winter break, we were making our way back up north from Williamsburg & Washington D.C., when lo and behold, what did we spot at a Maryland rest stop?! None other than the "pizza mobile"!!! To say that my boys were excited would be an understatement. My older son played it cool, staying in the car. (But I'll be the first to tell you he's now got a Laughing Pizza sticker (permanently) adhered to his "office" window. Teenage lead singer, Emily, gave it to him that fateful day...) And thankfully, everyone appeared to be in line at Starbucks and not pulling out just then because my younger son went zipping off through the parking lot, squealing at the sight of Emily. Those who have little ones in the Fairfield County, CT or Westchester, NY area and are not yet well versed in "the pizza dance" take note: Laughing Pizza is putting a benefit concert on at Wee Burn Beach Club this Sunday from 2-5pm, rain or shine!! The family event is being hosted by, The Tiny Miracles Foundation, a non-profit that is near and dear to our family. Now, I'm no dancer...but you just might see me doing the pizza dance alongside the boys this weekend.

Online ticket sales go through Sunday, 9am. You can also try to get a ticket at the door. Here are the concert details. Come join us!!!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A New (Creamy, Smooth) Beans & Greens Soup

Last winter, I made a fabulous, easy "beans & greens" soup. Yesterday I made up another version that might have even been better. Well, maybe not better, but it was enjoyed by everyone in our family and I am thinking it was due to the last step, when I blended the soup into a creamy puree. I had green soup on my mind when I did my marketing the day before. I think it was last weekend when I read an article about one woman's venture into satisfying green soups. (I'll have to dig up the article...) We all know leafy greens are good for us. And when the weather turns brisk and drizzly there's nothing more satisfying than soup. I like soups, my kids don't love them. My motive for coming up with a health and protein-packed soup that they actually like stems from the fact that both kids have already missed a day of school because they were sick. After a summer of chicken nuggets and other junk from snack bars, it's time to get back to nourishing meals when we're at home.

The "recipe" (if you can even call it that, because it's so simple):

A New Beans & Greens Soup
(makes a giant pot, at least 12 servings)

1 lb dried navy beans, soaked*
8 cubes Rapunzel brand vegetable bouillon
16 cups of water
2 T frozen garlic, or a few cloves (minced)
22 oz (two large boxes) kale or other leafy greens**
optional: chicken sausages, sliced (see my notes at the bottom photo)

Bring the water, bouillon cubes and garlic to a boil. Add soaked beans and cook over a medium simmer until the beans are tender (about 1 hour). During the last few minutes of cooking, add the leafy greens and cover. Let the greens wilt and stir them into the soup.

The soup is done, your kitchen will smell fabulous and you can sit down and enjoy the soup as is-- very chunky. Or, as you'll see in the photos below, you can blend it until smooth. You can either do so using an immersion blender (which I don't have), or you can let it cool down and run it through a regular blender, until desired consistency. This soup freezes beautifully, so making a big pot and setting some aside for a busy night is ideal.

*I quick soaked the beans, because I had not planned ahead to make soup. The method for quick soaking beans is to bring 1lb of beans to a boil for 2 minutes, in 10 cups of plain water. Then turn the burner off, cover the pot, and let the beans soak for 10 minutes. Drain and proceed as you would with beans soaked overnight.

** Our local Whole Foods has many convenient packages of greens these days. Yes, they cost more. But....if their convenience encourages you to use them in your cooking, then I think they're worth it!

I first served the soup to the kids as is, plus I added some whole wheat rotini I had leftover in the fridge to their bowls before heating them. My little one had a hard time getting the soup from bowl to mouth without in slopping everywhere and dribbling down his chin...

I enjoyed the texture and the individual tastes of the beans and kale. But, I did wonder what it would be like pureed...

So, the next meal, I popped it into the blender...

and whizzed it around using the pulse function, stopping at this point to check and see if they wanted it a bit chunky still? Nope. They wanted it smooth.

So, this is where we ended up, and all four of us enjoyed it. I had my bowl vegetarian, or as is. For the kids and my husband, I added a few cooked chicken sausages when blending the soup. They loved this addition. It gave the soup even more bulk, protein from the chicken and a nice smokey flavor.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Make-Ahead Dinner: Chicken Chili Bake

Both of my kids are in school five days a week. You'd think I'd be this happy-go-lucky mom, all fit, organized and zen-like. Not quite. In fact, not even close. Despite my best efforts to maintain balance and carve out "me" time while the kids are in school, I am totally failing at it. I look at my calendar of meetings and activities and my head spins. Volunteer work has me tethered to my computer. I'm not sure how I got into this chaotic place, but I am going to have to find my way out. In the meantime, the boys still need me noon or 3pm on, and breakfast, lunch and dinner still need to be made each day. Thankfully, mealtimes are the one area where I feel like I've still got two feet on the ground. Well, I did until I assembled this super simple casserole, went to pop it in the oven this afternoon and the oven would only go up to 100 degrees. So, we are officially down to one working burner and one working oven around here. Fabulous. Stay tuned for raw recipes at the rate that this kitchen is falling apart. Anyway, takeout averted, it was a perfect comforting dinner to end this Monday.

Chili Chicken Bake

For those of you who like my chicken enchiladas, this is an even easier semi-homemade dinner. Makes 8 hearty portions. Can be assembled and frozen too.

about 1 cup sour cream
8-10 corn tortillas
1 pkg of Bilinski's Chicken Chili (or 2 cups of ground turkey, chicken, beef or tofu cooked in Mexican seasonings...)
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
a few hearty handfuls of spinach
2 cups salsa (your desired heat level...or tomato sauce if you realize you don't have salsa...)
shredded cheese

Layer the casserole then bake at 350 for approximately 25 minutes, or until warmed through and cheese is golden brown. Can be assembled ahead and frozen. If heating from frozen, double the cook time. Reheats perfectly.

Here's the recipe in action, for those who find it helpful to see it step by step:

I smoothed a thin layer of sour cream on first (pictured up above, probably a quarter cup total) then placed 4 tortillas, overlapping on top.

Then the pre-made Bilinski's Chicken Chili. I'm a fan of this company's products, which I stumbled upon in the refrigerated meat case at Whole Foods in Darien. Their meatballs are good too, for something quick to have on hand. You can, of course, saute your own ground meat or TVP/tofu in Mexican seasoning, but the idea was to have this meal be super, super simple, hence the shortcut!

Then another layer of 4 overlapping tortillas....

and a few hearty handfuls of baby spinach, which I dolloped with the remainder of the sour cream.

Tossed on a rinsed and drained can of black beans,

and then I went to put salsa and cheese on top. Only we had no salsa. So, instead I smothered a jar of sun-dried tomato sauce on top. Probably better, since one of my kids is awfully wary of things being "too spicy" these days. That's the finished product, up top, cooling down. And that's that. A one dish meal, ready to go when we got home, ready to settle in for a family dinner.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Back-to-School (Make-Ahead) Breakfast: Baked Oatmeal

I have to be perfectly honest: I had every intention of coming back from our trip ready to hit the ground. I thought I would have mapped out the perfect back-to-school meals, snacks and lunchbox ideas...carefully planned out how I was going to get that elusive "me" time while the kids were at school...organized all of the articles I've been tearing out and piling up all summer into a tidy binder so I could quickly and easily share new ideas with you all. And the truth is, I spent most of August just enjoying the summer with my kids. Now I'm back, but definitely not focused yet. I can't tell if my head's spinning upon re-entry or if it's just still in (blissful) vacation mode? By the end of the week, both kids will be back in school and I'll probably feel a little bit more organized. But for now, I'm just restocking the fridge/freezer after the week long Hurricane Irene power outage, and focusing on kicking off the new school year on a high note. In that spirit, I wanted to share a new make-ahead breakfast recipe with you all! We gave it a whirl yesterday and it was a hit.
Baked Oatmeal (with Bananas & Almonds)
based upon Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Every Day's Baked Oatmeal
(makes 8 servings)

butter, to grease the baking dish
2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup slivered almonds or chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
dash of salt
2 cups milk
1 egg
1/4 cup agave or honey (optional)
3 Tablespoons butter, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 ripe bananas, cut into 1/2" pieces

Preheat oven to 375. Butter an 8" round or square baking dish. In one bowl, combine dry ingredients: oats, almonds, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. In a second bowl, combine the wet ingredients: milk, egg, agave (if using), melted butter and vanilla. Place a single layer of sliced bananas in the bottom of the baking dish. (Pictured above; I used two of the bananas here and the third banana as the topping.) Cover the bananas with the oat mixture. Drizzle the milk mixture over the oats. You may want to gently tap the baking dish on your counter top, just to make sure the milk mixture moves through the oats. Arrange remaining banana on top. Bake for approximately 40 minutes, or until top is golden and the baked oatmeal has set. Let cool for a few minutes before slicing and serving.

Can be made ahead and slices may be reheated in the oven or microwave, until warmed through.

Here is the recipe in photos with a few of my additional notes:

I made this recipe with what we had on hand: bananas and slivered almonds. As such, it came out smelling and tasting like breakfast-worthy banana bread. The original recipe from Super Natural Every Day's cookbook calls for walnuts, bananas and your choice of fresh berries. If you'd like to follow the orig recipe, the steps would stay the same but your measurements would be: 2 bananas on the bottom of the pan + walnuts instead of slivered almonds in the oat mixture + 1 1/2 cups of fresh berries scattered over the top before baking, instead of that last banana. Really, you can use any type of nut you like, and any type of fruit to top it. But the way we made it was really good, so I'd probably just stick with my almond-banana version. Anyway, in the photo above, the bananas have been covered with the oat mixture, and then I am going to drizzle the milk mixture over the oats.
I did gently tap the baking dish on my counter top, just to make sure the milk mixture moved through the oats. Then I arranged slices of the third banana on top.
The baking time should be between 35-45 minutes. It took 41 minutes for the top of my dish to be golden brown and the baked oatmeal to set. It's goopey if you serve it right away. Best to let it cool for a few minutes before slicing and serving.
This is a perfect breakfast to make ahead, and simply reheat slices in the oven or microwave on a school morning. Or, if your new school year resolution is to workout before the kids get up, you could always do the quick assembly, pop it into the oven and let it bake while you workout. The amazing smell wafting from your kitchen as it bakes should get the kids out of bed in time to make the school bus.