Friday, October 21, 2011

cooking ahead

I have an action-packed week ahead, so this week I made a bunch of meals to stock in the freezer. Here are a few of the meals I made, that all freeze perfectly. These are good ones to whip up if you're in the mood to do some cooking ahead too:

My Favorite Beef Meatballs. The night I made them, we ate them simply as is, with a bunch of veggie sides. They are also great on top of spaghetti. I freeze them in heavy duty freezer bags, each one filled with enough for one dinner for the four of us.

Sun-Dried Tomato Beef Stew. I haven't had a chance to type this recipe up, but it is loosely based upon this recipe. I will type mine up and share it the week after next.

And of course, my go-to chicken enchiladas. Or, if you're a visual person you can watch the recipe in action here. The video's here.

Because there is nothing better than ending the day with a homemade dinner...that was already made.

lunchbox ideas

dried cranberries + homemade applesauce (but you can certainly use store bought if you didn't go apple picking and cook with apples for a week straight!) + cream cheese & jam sandwich + carrots and cucumbers + a Chobani Greek yogurt cup

cream cheese and jam on a mini whole wheat bagel + a banana that I thought I'd get all cute with (which he then wouldn't eat b/c he thought the ink was on the actual banana...oh well, so much for being all crafty) + Earth's Best Kidz Pear Raspberry granola bar as a treat + an organic yogurt cup + cut up fruit (leftover from when I made fruit skewers for class school snack that week)

Back-to-Nature Crispy Wheat crackers + lemonade as a treat + a carrot + provolone cheese cut into the shape of ghosts (I didn't give up on being cute apparently...but if you really want to see over the top ideas, check out this link that a friend sent me this week. whoa. crazy, hmm?!) + a slice of homemade apple pie (remember all of those apples?) + Greek yogurt cup

meatballs + Crispy Wheat crackers + chunks of mozzarella cheese + shredded carrots + roasted acorn squash (from dinner...I'm not whipping these things up in the morning, thank you very much) + a ClifKid Fruit Rope as a treat

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

homemade apple cinnamon oatmeal

If you've made homemade apple sauce, then apple-cinnamon oatmeal is a must try. Nothing like the packaged stuff. This make-ahead breakfast is the perfect start to a crisp, Fall morning.

Make one big pot of oatmeal at the start of the week and store it in the fridge. This way, breakfast can be made in minutes on busy school mornings.

cider braised cabbage and apples

By now, you know my family went apple picking because there have been apples in just about everything I have made this week. Here's my latest savory apple recipe, which is similar to the Balsamic Braised Red Cabbage I told you about a while back. As with any weeknight meal I'm going to make, this side dish is so easy. Paired it with brats, chicken sausages or pork tenderloin and you have dinner made in a few minutes.

Cider-Braised Cabbage and Apples
(makes 4 side dish servings)

2 medium-size apples, cut into chunks
10 oz package of shredded cabbage (either white or red)
1 cup fresh apple cider
1/2 cup cider vinegar*
salt & pepper, to taste

In a medium saucepan, combine all ingredients and bring to a simmer. Cook over medium-low heat until most of the liquid is absorbed and apples are softened (but not mushy). This side can be made ahead as it will keep in fridge for several days.

*I really like sauerkraut, so this amount of vinegar is going to give you a very zippy side dish, similar to kraut. Feel free to add less vinegar if you wish to have it less zingy.

homemade applesauce

I've made apple sauce twice this week, which is more than I think I've ever made it. In fact, this might be the first time I've ever whipped it up? Now that I see how easy it is, I might have to make it more often as a healthy snack to have on hand, or as a special addition to our breakfast oatmeal.

Homemade Applesauce

(makes about 1 quart)

8 medium-sized apples, cut into chunks, skins left on*
1 cup apple cider (or water)
sweetener (agave, turbinado, honey, maple syrup...), optional
cinnamon, optional
vanilla, optional

In a saucepan, combine apples, cider, and sweetener, spices and vanilla (if adding). Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook over medium-low heat until apples are soft. I stirred the sauce about every 10 minutes to mash the apples a bit. The longer you cook it, the softer the apples will get. When you reach the desired consistency, remove from heat and let cool. Can be frozen for up to two months.

* I am thankful that my family doesn't mind the texture of skins in our apple sauce (which we also leave quite chunky), because I don't have to peel the apples, making this a super fast snack or side. But, if you are more of an applesauce purist, then go ahead and remove the skins. You'll end up with a much smoother end product, which you can further mash til smooth with a fork, potato masher or food processor.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

apple picking!

so far, I have posted recipes for apple pie, savory roasted apples...and there will be more to come!

simple roasted acorn squash

A few years back, I shared a simple fall side with you all, roasted acorn squash. That recipe, was a sweeter version of what I made last night.

Simple Roasted Acorn Squash
makes 8-10 servings

2 medium acorn squashes
2-3 Tablespoons of butter
kosher salt & freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 425. Wash the squashes (you will be leaving the skin on). Slice the squash in half and remove seeds. Then, slice the squash into 1/2 inch slices and lay them on a rimmed baking sheet. Break butter with your hands (a good job for your kids) and toss small pieces on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for approximately 25 minutes, flipping the squash half way through, until tender and lightly browned. Serve warm, or room temperature.

The rippling edge should give it away, but if you aren't sure which squash is which, here's a helpful visual.

savory roasted apple side

After seeing his ideas in the New York Times' magazine, I couldn't wait to try Mark Bittman's ideas for savory apple sides with our bounty from apple picking this weekend. Of course, when I actually went to make the first recipe, I realized that I didn't have all of the ingredients. Still, they were delicious, and super simple.

Savory Apple Side Dish

apples, cut into chunks
olive oil
salt + pepper
onions, chopped (optional)
garlic, minced (optional)
cumin (optional)
chili powder (optional)
cinnamon (optional)
smoked paprika (optional)

Heat oven to 375*. Spread apples on a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with garlic and spices. (I trust you to know how much of each spice to add, depending upon your family's tastes. Roast for 15-20 minutes, until apples are tender. (Be careful not to overcook or the apples will become mushy. Then again, if you prefer them more like a savory apple sauce, feel free to leave them in the oven for another 10 minutes, or so.)

*It will also work well at 400, if you have one oven and have something else that needs to be roasted at that higher temp. If you roast them at 400, you'll probably only need to do so for about 10-15 minutes.

I gave a hearty serving of these apples, along with roasted acorn squash and cider vinegar-braised onions to a friend. The combination of these flavors and textures was incredible, if I might say so myself!

homemade apple pies

With the bounty of apples from our picking adventure, we made 4 apple pies. I'd never made an apple pie before. Crisps? Plenty. But we winged it on the apple pie front and they came out fabulous. Here is our recipe:

Homemade Apple Pies
(makes four 8" pies)

store bought pie crusts (yes, you read that right)
1 dozen large apples (or more if your apples are smaller), cut into chunks
apple cider
raw honey
maple syrup

This was not a perfect science, so I've listed the ingredients that went into our pies, but you should tinker with the amounts to get to a taste you like...

Preheat the oven to 425. In a large pot, combine the apples and cider. You want enough liquid so that the apples are simmering in it...but not so much that the filling will be soupy. For a dozen large apples, I eventually added about 2 cups of fresh cider. Start with 1 cup and add more as the liquid boils off. You want to start the apples and cider at a boil, then lower heat so it is at a fast simmer. Add your favorite sweetener (we added a combination of raw honey, agave and maple syrup) and a few hearty shakes of each spice, to get to the taste of your ideal apple pie filling. Stir the apples a few time, just to combine everything and make sure they are cooking evenly, during the 10-12 minutes it takes for the apples to soften some. Ideally, you'll end up with about 1/2 cup of liquid remaining in the filling.

Line pie plates with crust. Fill with warm pie filling. Top with crust (lattice or a full top crust with a small hole cut in the center to let steam escape). Bake for about 30 minutes, or until crust is golden.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

late night cake

I have two fabulously creative friends who inspire me with their talents and seeming ability to juggle it all. They are both way more hip than I can ever hope to be, and I always wonder what they are discovering or dreaming up while I am pouring over recipes. One used to run the most wonderful children's art studio and now has a blog that makes me smile with her beautiful imagery. The other is a dedicated mom by day, and talented graphic designer after the kids go to sleep. She just launched a new little business. I love receiving their card each year, and am thrilled that the rest of us can now send out these special postcards too.

(savory) apple ideas

Is there anything better than an early start to a weekend morning...big cup of coffee and something inspiring in the paper? This morning I tore out Mark Bittman's ideas for apple recipes from the New York Time's Magazine. Here is the article. (If you can't see the link for some reason simply search for "Mark Bittman Recipes: Baked, Sautéed, Fried or Roasted Apples".) I cannot wait to make either Moroccan-Spiced Roasted Apples or Brussels-Sprout-Sage Sauteed Apples. Hadn't thought of using apples in a savory way...

more lunchbox ideas

Trader Joe's probiotic yogurt smoothie + a little local apple + mini whole wheat bagel with Trader Joe's pumpkin cream cheese (decadent-- basically cream cheese frosting, found in the dairy case....) + chunks of cheddar cheese + grapes + a pear-raspberry Earth's Best Whole Grain bar as a treat (as if the pumpkin cream cheese wasn't enough!!)

whole wheat tortilla "pinwheels" stuffed with plain cream cheese and jam + cucumbers + Applegate brand salami + a cup of apple sauce + "rainbow" carrots (check your local market to see if you have this seasonal version of carrots)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

homemade vegetable soup + my new food crush: wholeG bread

My husband and older son returned from their "Y Guide" camping trip, full of excitement. Really, what could be better than heading off for a special weekend with dad, filled with canoeing, hiking, arts & crafts, romping around the campfire with other kids well past normal bedtimes-- and more junk food than a 3rd grader could ever imagine eating in 24 hours? I wasn't sure exactly what I was going to end up making for Sunday dinner, but a quick trip to our local market resulted in a cart full of fresh veggies. Subconscious? Probably not. The end result was a super simple vegetable soup that was absolutely delicious...and offset some of the junky wonderfulness of the weekend camping trip with dad.

Homemade Vegetable Soup

I've listed amts of the various vegetables here but you can modify them however you'd like, depending upon your family's tastes + how much soup you'd like to make. My pot made 6 pints to share with friends or freeze + dinner for 4 two nights in a row...

5 Rapunzel brand vegetable bouillon cubes + 10 cups of water
1 pint cherry tomatoes (left whole)
1/2 large onion, minced
1 T garlic (i used Dorot brand frozen)
2 T basil (i used Dorot brand frozen)
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled & chopped
3 medium-sized red bliss potatoes, skin on, chopped
1 smallish butternut squash, peeled and chopped
2 small zucchinis, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 can artichoke hearts (in water), chopped
1 can butter beans (rinsed)
1 can white beans (rinsed)
1 head of broccoli, chopped

There's a lot of chopping involved, which takes time. But this is a great recipe to make if your kids are in the kitchen wanting to catch-up on their day.

I started by filling a large soup pot with water, the bouillon cubes, the whole cherry tomatoes, minced onion and the frozen cubes of garlic and basil. I find keeping those frozen herbs on hand convenient because I always have them on hand and can just pop them into any recipe. While waiting for that to boil, I chopped the sweet potatoes, red bliss potatoes and butternut squash into 1/2 inch pieces, because those were going to take the longest to cook. As soon as they were chopped, they went into the pot. This took some time and elbow grease, so by the time they were all in the pot the veggie broth was boiling. I lowered the heat a little bit and then added the zucchini and bell pepper, once they were chopped into 1/2 inch pieces. A quick check of the pantry resulted in artichoke hearts, butter beans and white beans, so a can of each of those went in. (I rough chopped the whole artichoke hearts before tossing them into the pot.) Then last to go in was the broccoli, since I wanted the broccoli blanched not soggy. Really, the broccoli went in right before I served the soup. From start to finish, the soup took about 45 minutes because of all of the chopping. Relatively speaking that's a long time for me to spend cooking a meal. But, it's one of those meals that just gets better with time. So, spend a little extra time making one big pot and you'll get to enjoy this soup over the next few days, or freeze it for a night when you're running around to after school activities but still want to come home to a warm, comforting, heathful meal.

That first night (and again last night) I served the soup with a variety of stinky cheeses and chunks of a local bread that I stumbled upon that immediately became my latest food crush: G Whole German Bread. Local folks can find this New Haven-baked bread at Walter Stewart's Market. It is amazing. We tried the "Fitness Bread" in the green bag (which is loaded with corn grits, oat flakes, flaxseeds, soybean bran, sunflower seeds, and more...) and the "Muesli Bread" in the yellow bag (which is made with raisins, golden raisins, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, oats, sesame seeds and more). I am not sure how widespread their distribution is, but found this article on them if you want to learn more about this new bread company. I might just have to make more soup to go with this bread.

Monday, October 3, 2011

banana-chocolate chip-chia seed muffins

I woke up early last week to bake mini banana-chocolate chip-chia seed muffins for a class coffee at my children's school. Seeing a sign-up sheet for paper goods, flowers, set-up or baked goods, I'm a sucker for the most laborious of the bunch. This is a little problem I've got. And so, that morning I found myself baking. It's not that I particularly like baking, in fact I'm not much of a baker. But there's this (achem, self-perpetuated) assumption that since I can cook, I should. And so, I arrived with a tray of tender little muffins. And they were good, well worth the early morning baking session. But, I give myself a little pat on the back for quickly nabbing a beer offering on the sign-up for the next parent gathering...

Banana-Chocolate Chip-Chia Seed Muffins (or loaves) From Scratch
(makes 12 muffins, 24 mini muffins or one 8" loaf)

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
5 1/2 T unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup Turbinado sugar
2 eggs
2 bananas, mashed
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup chia seeds

Preheat the oven to 350. Grease a loaf pan or line a muffin tin with paper cups. Whisk flour, baking soda and baking powder together in a small bowl. In a second bowl, beat the sugar and butter together with a hand mixer until creamy. Add the flour mixture until blended then beat in eggs, banana, chocolate chips and chia seeds. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake: 45-55 minutes for a loaf; about 18 minutes for regular-sized muffins; or about 12 minutes for mini muffins. Check to make the muffins or bread are done by inserting a wooden toothpick in the center, making sure it comes out clean.

Now you've got my go-to recipe for banana bread and/or muffins. But then I realized I hadn't gotten a photo of the muffins before bringing them to school. So, I baked a second batch this weekend (the loaves pictured above), this time using my tried and true TJ's banana bread mix + a fresh banana in each loaf. Just as good (I think) and a tad bit easier to throw together:

Banana-Chocolate Chip-Chia Seed Muffins (or loaves) With the Help of a Mix
(makes 12 muffins, 24 mini muffins or one 8" loaf)

1 package of Trader Joe's Banana Bread Mix (nut-free)
2 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup water
1 banana, mashed (optional)
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup chia seeds

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a loaf pan or line a muffin tin with paper cups. Combine mix, eggs, oil, water, mashed banana (if adding), chocolate chips and chia seeds in a large mixing bowl and beat with hand mixer until blended. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake: 45-55 minutes for a loaf; about 18 minutes for regular-sized muffins; or about 12 minutes for mini muffins. Check to make the muffins or bread are done by inserting a wooden toothpick in the center, making sure it comes out clean.

Chia seeds are one of the "hip" ingredients you hear about a lot these days. I experimented with them this summer, whipping up a raw chia pudding which 3 out of the 4 of us liked. It wasn't pretty to look at (unless you like grey, gloppy things), but it tasted good and almost had the texture of tapioca. When chia seeds are soaked they become gelatinous in texture, hence the reason you can make "pudding" from them simply by adding nut or soy milk, some sweetener and a splash of vanilla and letting it sit for a few hours. Pretty neat. I'm happy to post that recipe too, if your package of chia seeds doesn't already have it there for the asking. As for the chia seeds, I find mine at our local Whole Foods. They are gluten free, if that is important to you, and according to the Foods Alive package, "chia seeds were used as a staple food alongside corn and beans by the ancient Aztec , Incans and Mayans. Known as the running food, they would eat this high energy endurance food mixed with water...chia seeds have a mildly nutty essential fatty acids, calcium, protein, anti-oxidants and dietary fiber are just a few of the vitamins and minerals this little seed packs for a nutritional punch...." Of course adding them to banana-chocolate chip muffins doesn't transform the muffin from treat to just makes the treat have a little more texture and interesting nutritional boost!