Monday, September 24, 2012

the first batch of this year's lunchboxes

If you saw my post over on the full plate blog's Facebook page, you know that I pulled a total dingbat move last night, starting to make lentil soup at 6:00pm... even though dinner should have been ready by 6:30 at the latest for the (hopeful) 7:00pm bedtime. Or maybe it was subliminal, and I really wanted grilled cheeses for dinner, and to not have to make dinner tonight? Either way, we had grilled cheese last night... and the lentil soup finished cooking mid-evening, and I packaged it up so we could enjoy it tonight. But first, I popped a small portion into today's lunchbox.

apple cider as a (super special, he picked it himself) treat + a small portion of lentil soup in the thermos + half a grilled Applegate ham and cheese (which he'd be enjoying cold, good thing he's not picky) + organic strawberries + English cucumber slices

As you guys know, I try to keep our meals colorful. That's the easiest way for me to know our meal is healthful, and to ensure that my children are getting a bunch of fruits and/or veggies throughout the day. No matter what I am planning for dinner/the next day's lunchbox, I try to stay ahead of the curve by having some prepped (washed + cut) fruits and veggies at the ready. This makes assembling my children's meals super easy. Here are a few more lunch boxes from last week to provide some packing inspiration.... and remind you to set aside some of tonight's dinner if you can, so your packing is simple!

organic raspberries + "rainbow" tomatoes and cucumber slices + organic strawberries + baby carrots + cream cheese and jam sandwich + Greek yogurt (don't forget to include a spoon!)

organic dried cranberries + a slice of pumpkin bread + some of the homemade "mac and cheese" (remember the re-purposing post from last week!) + steam broccoli (again, from dinner the night before) + chicken-apple sausages (yes, you guessed it-- from dinner the night before)

turkey-vegetable Bolognese (again from that week when I was re-purposing the extra cheese from the Feta-Fig appetizers... this sauce was studded with lots of cauliflower, broccoli and carrots so I didn't include an additional veggie in his lunch today) + a bit of fruit salad + a fruit smoothie

Friday, September 21, 2012

re-purposing leftovers: amazing Fall appetizer turns into two delicious family dinners on busy weeknights!

A few years back, I shared my recipe for Feta-Fig Tartlets (which are amazing, if I might say so myself...). They are my go-to for an easy Fall/Winter appetizer, that everyone loves.

Last weekend I whipped up a batch of these for a neighborhood gathering (adding fresh rosemary sprigs for a little color and added flavor). They were a total hit, again. But in my haste to get the apps made in minutes I didn't eyeball the amounts very well, and ended up with a sizable tub of the Feta-Cream Cheese (and Parmesan, since I also didn't read the recipe...) mixture kicking around my fridge. I had combined:

8 oz. block of organic cream cheese
4 oz. tub of organic crumbled Feta
1/2 cup of shredded Parmesan

which I had stuffed into the 30 mini phyllo shells (two packages), and topped with a slice of dried fig and a sprig of rosemary. In reality, I only needed a small portion of this cheese mixture for the appetizers.

Fast forward to Monday or Tuesday (these schooldays all blend together, since we're still getting into our school rhythm) and a hearty dollop of the cheese mixture over some orecchiette pasta from the pantry became a decadent "mac & cheese" (served above with some chicken-apple sausages I had in the freezer + sweet potatoes + steamed broccoli and roasted cauliflower).

Then on Wednesday, I was making a turkey bolognese loaded with chopped cauliflower (since the kids didn't love it roasted... and I'd roasted an entire head), carrots and the rest of the fresh rosemary and-- voila-- the rest of the cheese mixture added to the sauce as I was cooking made it creamy and delicious.

Monday, September 17, 2012

guest post by 11-year-old Elena, one of the kids showing us the way to a healthier America

I know many of you have your children home from school today, so I thought this guest post by 11-year-old, Elena Guylay, would be a great one to share with your kids! Elena was a winner of "The Healthy Lunchtime Challenge," a recipe contest co-sponsored by Epicurious, Let’s Move!, the Department of Education, and the Department of Agriculture. Kids aged 8 to 12 were asked to submit recipes for “a healthy, original, affordable, tasty lunch that contains the five food groups” and the prize was a “kids’ state dinner” at the White House. I have actually sampled Elena's "Fiesta Casserole", and can attest that it's a winner... and as for the hat she talked her mom into, well, it caught the eye of many a photographer at the White House event!  So, without further adieu, let's hear from this super neat kid, Elena!
"While most of my friends had summer highlights that related to camping trips and vacations, I would have to say that my highlights boiled down to two things:  1) convincing my mom to buy me the coolest cowboy hat at an Arts and Crafts festival in Sun Valley and 2) getting to wear it at the White House where I met Mrs. Obama and President Obama.

On August 20, I was flown to Washington, D.C. to attend a White House Kid’s 'State Dinner' as a guest of first lady Michelle Obama.  During the two-day event I shook hands with the President and First Lady, enjoyed delicious food prepared by the White House chefs, met iCarly star Reed Alexander (Nevel Papperman) and watched a private concert by the band Big Time Rush.  It was incredibly cool.

I got to do all of this (along with my mom, Dad and brother) as one of 54 winners of Mrs. Obama's Healthy Lunchtime Challenge recipe contest that received more than 1,200 submissions.  A judging panel recreated and tasted 100 'finalist' entries at Washington, D.C.'s DC Central Kitchen, and one winning recipe was chosen from each state and U.S. territory.  I was the lucky winner from Idaho.  I have a dish that I eat for lunch almost every day, despite my mom urging me to have some variety.  It is called 'Fiesta Casserole' and it has rice, quinoa, beans, salsa, cilantro, and cottage cheese all mixed together.  It is yummy and good for you!  I had a feeling that everyone else would like it too.

My brother, Alexander (age 9) was picked as a finalist from Idaho (there were only three finalists in each state).  His Enchilada Pie was had butternut squash, broccoli and Swiss chard all layered with corn tortillas and cooked in a slow cooker with tomato soup on top.  We have eaten both Enchilada Pie and Fiesta Casserole as part of a program my mom does for our school called Nurture’s Food and Fun program.  All of the kids loved both recipes, so I am hoping my brother might win next year.  My mom, a Nutrition Educator, comes in to teach us about healthy eating habits and cooks with us at school.  She is the Founder of a non-profit called Nurture.  She also posts recipes that she creates with us at her other website, Healthy Kids Ideas Exchange.

I am so excited that I now have a recipe that appears in a cookbook!  You can see my recipe, and all the others, in this Epicurious downloadable eCookbook.

I also made a short film about my experience in Washington, D.C. that can be accessed hereEveryone loves the song (by Big Time Rush); it was one of the ones that they performed for us at the White House.

I loved meeting all the other kids at the event.  I spent a lot of time with Kayla from Montana; her healthy lunch pizza was that state’s winner. Now I have a friend in our neighbor state.  What a great event!" - written by Elena Guylay, 11-years-old

Monday, September 10, 2012

September is my new January

I am writing this post with my kids at my feet, building intricate Lego contraptions. After many, many weeks of unstructured summertime out West where my kids bonded over hikes, forts, bike rides, recycled art projects, ice cream and their first "restaurant venture", my older son went back to school last week. This left my soon-to-be-Kindergartner looking for action until his school year starts (which will be Monday-- today, for many who are reading this post). And while I felt this pull to delve back into the "school routine" once we arrived back in CT, last week slipped by with giant piles of summer mail still teetering unpredictably on the floor, flip-flops kicked off in the entry way, a back-up on laundry, and several trips to playgrounds. It was hot and muggy, like summer. But it didn't feel carefree like summer. This slightly unsettled feeling had been building, like I was neither here, nor there.

This is not how I envisioned the school year starting out.

I had this pipe dream that the year my youngest started K would be the year I hit the ground running... Launch a wellness business for busy moms! Continue to volunteer! Plan our meals! Write a meal-planning e-book! Workout daily! Heck, I planned to get in amazing shape! Keep up with facials! Brows! Nails! Figure out "my look" and clean out my closet! Spend time at the Genius Bar! Go to bed at a reasonable hour! Learn to meditate! (That probably shouldn't have an exclamation point after it, should it?...) But what's really happening? I am muddled. I am in that super weird place so many moms find themselves after staying home to raise families: my youngest is heading off to Kindergarten today, and I. Have. No. Idea. What. I. Am. Supposed. To. Be. Doing. With. My. Life. Am I supposed to go back to work? Am I supposed to relax? Am I supposed to juggle more? Less? With this momentous day on the horizon, I even invested in a (ridiculously expensive) slick business coaching program that was supposed to catapult me into some sort of "Spotlight". Instead, the program made me question my professional and personal goals and priorities even more. If only I'd saved my pennies for those facials...

I could feel my lower back tightening with every back-to-school errand. What had happened to our carefree August? How had my vision for myself gone from crystal clear to needing an entire bottle of Windex? And then my little one dreamily asked from the backseat if I remembered "Pine Hills"?

Pine Hills. The "restaurant" my kids made up out in Idaho. I was still responsible for the cooking... but if you "put your food in the wood square it will be served"...

and, after entering through the homemade duct tape and branch trellis, a cute waiter (toting an ice cream cone) promised me I could "relax in a hammock with an awesome book after dinner". And so, instead of succumbing to my own pressure to "figure it all out" before the school bus rumbles off today I am trying really hard to channel Pine Hills-- the simplicity, joy, and creativity my kids offered me. A chance to just be. A rare gift in the chaotic pace of motherhood these days. I am celebrating the truly amazing children I am sending off to school today, taking a moment to relax, giving myself a pat on the back for a job well-done so far, and embracing this transition like a resolution. It's New Year's in September for me-- and many of you out there too. Cheers.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

make-ahead breakfast: berry-egg bake

Our new school year kicks off this week! So, I am adding a few new recipes to our make-ahead repertoire.  To keep things simple/manageable/doable, I like to have a few basic recipes that I am very comfortable making... and then I simply vary the ingredients to give my family variety. Last September, I added a baked oatmeal into the rotation of deliciousness, and this summer I have mastered a sweet baked berry-egg dish that we absolutely love. This breakfast takes a few more steps than I usually like to do... but the end result is so worth it! And, it stores well in the fridge for several days, so it's a great recipe to make on a Saturday or Sunday morning. Then you can enjoy it another day (or two) in the busier week ahead.

Make-Ahead Breakfast: Berry-Egg Bake
(makes 16 servings)
stores in fridge for several days

8 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 pints of organic berries* 
16 eggs (separated: yolks in one bowl, whites in another)
1/4 cup vanilla extract
2 Tablespoons cinnamon

*Pick your favorite kind of fresh organic berries or use a combo of different berries. You may also use frozen berries if fresh ones are out of season/too expensive. If using frozen, use 4 cups of berries or 32 ounces (which may be easier to figure out when you're staring at the packaging!).

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 

In a large fry pan or saucepan, heat the berries and butter over medium heat until the liquid thickens (about 5 minutes) to a syrup consistency.  Pour the berries and syrup that was made into a 13x9 (or two 8x8) oven-proof baking dish(es).

Your eggs should be separated into two bowls: one with the yolks, one with the whites.

Beat the egg whites, using a hand mixer, until  stiff peaks form. Set aside while you beat the egg yolks. 

Add the vanilla and cinnamon to the bowl of egg yolks, and whisk the yolk mixture for a few minutes until well blended. 

Gently fold the yolks into the whites, then evenly spoon egg mixture over berries. Place baking dish in preheated oven, and bake for 15-18 minutes, or until top puffs up slightly, is golden brown, and knife inserted in the center of the dish comes out clean. (Depending upon your oven, it may take a few minutes more/less to cook the eggs.) The Berry-Egg Bake may be enjoyed warm, or at room temperature. It stores well in the fridge for several days, so make this big batch and enjoy it for days to come!

Here's the recipe in photos for those who like to follow along visually...

The berry mixture was cooked over medium heat until syrup from berries is slightly thickened, then the berries were evenly spread into a baking dish.

I added vanilla to my egg whites-- by accident! No problem! You'll see that the egg whites go from hardly anything to a large quantity once they are beaten, so be sure to start with a big enough bowl!

The egg whites were beaten until stiff peaks formed, using a hand mixer. Then, I set them aside while I worked on the yolks...

I added cinnamon and vanilla to the yolks too. Never can have too much vanilla, apparently!! But you can choose whether you want to add it to the yolks OR whites. Either is fine. In the recipe above, I have you adding them to the yolks.

Beat the yolks for a few minutes, just until frothy...

and then fold them into your egg whites...


Now spread the egg mixture over your berries, and pop it into a preheated oven for about 18 minutes, or until eggs are cooked through. I test this by inserting a knife into the center of the dish.

And there you go! You can enjoy it now, in the company of family and friends, and/or pack some away in the fridge to enjoy on a busy weekday ahead.

I served ours berry-side up. This recipe is a total keeper! Perfect for weekend brunch and then school/work mornings ahead. I hope you enjoy it as much as my family does!!