Thursday, November 29, 2012

hearty + healthy breakfasts for little-- and big-- bellies and minds

We all know we're supposed to have a good, healthy breakfast before we start our day. And, I'd like to think that I send my kids off daily with their bellies full of good things. But, just as Facebook is a "highlight reel", I will fully admit to providing some less than stellar breakfasts... and those do not show up on this blog.

But, when a letter goes home to all school parents announcing that standardized testing is happening this week and next and, "The only preparation that children require is a good night’s sleep and a healthy breakfast."  Well, I pull out the big guns. No dry cereal (no, I am not coming clean on what I have served up for breakfast-- let's just leave it at cereal, ok?) for this crew this week and next. Here's what I whipped up this morning... and to rave review, I might add:

 My Version of "Chilaquiles"
makes 6 servings
(can be made ahead and reheated)

I know that the mainstay of traditional chilaquiles are the tortilla chips.... but we didn't have any chips on hand, and my method is way simpler (and inauthentic), but it's really good. Maybe I should change the name. Oh well, here goes....

olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup your favorite salsa
6 eggs
1/2 cup shredded cheese, plus more for topping
1 avocado, chopped (optional, as topping)

In a fry pan, over medium-high heat, sauté the onion in a bit of olive oil. When the onions start to turn translucent, add black beans and salsa. Simmer until some of the liquid from the salsa evaporates, about 5 minutes. Crack eggs into the pan, and sprinkle in the cheese. Scramble the eggs amongst the beans and onions, stirring occasionally, until eggs are cooked through. Serve topped with a bit more shredded cheese and chunks of fresh avocado. 

Looking for other protein and good-fat packed breakfast ideas? Here are a few more of my favorites:
Protein Pancakes (can be made ahead)
Frittatas (can be made ahead)
Yogurt Parfaits (assemble that morning)
Baked Oatmeal (can be made ahead)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

what kind of cookies should we bake first this year? and sent me a little package today, filled with supplies to get our holiday baking off to a festive start. Needless to say, on a wet-snowy-rainy-icky afternoon, coming home to a package on the stoop was super exciting for my kids. (OK, fine, for me too.) 

One thought we'd been gifted a puppet, that just needed a face...

The other excitedly transformed the cardboard box into a rocket ship. Yes, people, that is a rocket ship.

Tell me I lack imagination, but I was thrilled with the actual contents. Now we just have to figure out what to bake! Our holiday go-to's are always: Gingerbread, Iced Sugar Cookies, and last year we whipped up these demure-looking Orange Cardamom Cookies that were amazing. I also love the Cranberry-Pistachio Biscotti we made a few years back. What's your favorite holiday cookie? I'm always looking for new ideas, so link up your favorite recipe here in the comments, and maybe we'll start the baking season off with a batch of your family's favorite!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

on the menu today...

Lunch today while I am studying for one of my nutrition exams by the fire? Leftover Pumpkin Cannelloni with Sage Cream Sauce (made into Pumpkin Lasagna this go round, since my sous chefs had tired of rolling).... balanced out with a nice big salad, a green smoothie for breakfast, and homemade soup for dinner. Perfect meals for a post-Thanksgiving chilly weekend....

World's Best Gravy - the secret ingredients

This is how we spent Thanksgiving morning/afternoon. Bliss.

We got home with about 5 minutes to spare, before we were due over at a friends' home for afternoon libations. So, I literally smothered our bone-in turkey breast with butter, grated some orange peel on top, sprinkled some freshly ground salt and pepper over that, surrounded it with fresh sage and onions... popped it in a 450 oven, then off we went. (I ran home once to baste the bird.)

While there I was coaxed into the kitchen "to taste the World's Best Gravy", whipped up by our friend, Henry. I had my doubts. Gravy is gravy, right? And how many of your friends' husbands can cook.... let alone the "World's Best Gravy"?

I am now a believer. The secret ingredient? Espresso. Espresso? Yes, Espresso.

I am popping this up onto the blog so I can remember this gravy the next time I roast a turkey: drippings + a roux + port + curry powder + brown sugar. Amazing. Trust me.

p.s. Looking t what to do with your leftovers? I am making a batch of these pot pies, and I froze the turkey bones so I could make a batch of nutrient-rich bone broth that will morph into comforting soups this winter.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Chocolate-Orange Cream Pie (a.k.a. if you want something in particular you should go get it yourself)

My younger son had fallen asleep in the car earlier this week, so I sent my older son into the market with $20 and instructions to "buy a pie crust, preferably organic"... He came out 10 minutes later proudly producing an Oreo-branded chocolate cookie crust, "that was only $2!" He "couldn't tell if it was organic because there was so much writing on the package, but it will DEFINITELY be yummy!!"

What I thought: "Seriously? Gross."
What I said: "Wow! That's different. We'll have to come up with a really cool filling too!"

So, today my sous chef and I made a chocolate-orange pie, inspired by this Food Network recipe:

Chocolate-Orange Pie Filling
(makes filling for one 8" pie crust)

1 cookie pie crust (store-bought or homemade)

8oz organic cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup good quality cocoa powder
1/3 cup heavy cream
splash of vanilla
zest and juice of 1 orange

1 cup heavy cream
2 T Turbinado sugar dissolved in 2 T vanilla

Beat all filling ingredients together using a hand mixer. Spread in cookie crust. Make whipped cream by beating cream, sugar and vanilla until stiff peaks form. Smooth whipped cream over top. Chill in fridge until ready to serve. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

2012 Thanksgiving re-set

Last week was my birthday. Lift the flap on the card from my 5-year-old, and you'll see I had the choice of celebrating turning 27 or 14. I also had the choice of having one wild, spinning, psychedelic eye... but anyway.  I don't want to dwell on crappiness, but the culmination of not taking care of myself made me almost miss the festivities because my back and neck had just had it. 

Miraculously, (and thanks to an acupuncturist, 2 chiropractors, deep tissue massage, electric stim, and me slowing down, cutting out the junk I'd been eating, and taking a few forced day of rest... trust me spending the day alternating between icing myself with bags of frozen brown rice and peas, not so glamorous/celebratory....) I bounced back.

I was thankful to be feeling more like myself again. I kind of felt like I'd gotten this awesome second chance to re-set. We took the train into NYC to celebrate. We saw a show, ate incredible food, and I reveled in my kids excitement about going to sleep surrounded by giant buildings.

The next morning, I (somewhat gingerly) traipsed through Central Park with them on one of the most gorgeous Fall days one could imagine. I felt lucky, and thankful.

We came back home, and I knew I had to start prioritizing. I had to start finding the time.  Morning walks had to start happening again. Yoga 1/week was a necessity, not a luxury. If the breakfast dishes were still sitting there when I came home and I got behind on the laundry, so be it. I made a point of going back to my beloved yoga class-- which had lately been replaced with volunteer meetings, errands, things that "had to get done on the computer", writing assignments, etc. Ahhhhhh. I was back. My teacher had me breathing-- even if only for 1 hour.

In a horrible turn of events, just as I was feeling to thankful to be "back on the mat", the next night, my instructor emailed us the sad news that her husband had passed. The husband she always spoke so glowingly of in class. The husband who was putting up a valiant fight against liver disease. The husband to whom she had given part of her liver. Much as I dislike memorial services, I forced myself to go today. I wanted to show support for my teacher, who cares so much for-- and touches-- each of us. In a standing-room-only crowd, a picture emerged of a man who cared deeply for his wife and children, who had his priorities in order. The Rabbi told of a man who raised children who are confident, kind, and knew how much they are loved. A man who had keen interests, a successful career, deep friendships... but first and foremost was his family.    

I left the memorial service, and met up with my own family. We'd made a point this year of joining a local church's Thanksgiving dinner project.

We sat with our boys as they carefully wrote cards,

decorated boxes,

and joined their friends to fill the boxes with

sweet potatoes,

green beans,





hot cocoa,


and snack mix.

It felt good to take a little time out of our busy day to help others. Even if just for 1 hour.

And after a day that was both exhausting and meaningful, then there was still the pumpkin cannelloni project. Each year I think, "I am too busy". But, as a parent, I want to create traditions, and to teach my boys to give back. Plus, cooking is easy for me, and now that this has become a tradition, the kids look forward to giving their teachers this special "thank you" dinner.

So, in a quick hour of cooking, I made the filling and sauce. Then, between bath time and bedtime, they gently filled


and stacked

a special dinner for their teachers.

That is now done... and so am I. Well, not really. But with the events of the past week, I have decided that I'm doing Thanksgiving a little differently this year. A (sage and hilarious) friend sent me an email earlier this week. In it, she wrote, "A week after Thanksgiving when you look back on the day, what do u think u and your family will remember the most? The relaxing time you spent perhaps watching movie or doing a craft... Or the fact that you are held up in the kitchen making a side dish they will eat three bites of?..."   

She's got a point. This year is unique, because unlike past years when we have always had the happy distraction of grandparents, this year it's just the four of us. So, really, Thanksgiving is whatever we make it. No matter what, the food will be good. Heck, a regular Tuesday night dinner is good around here. The difference is simply that I'm not going to stress about creating some elaborate feast. Wednesday morning, my plan is to shop for and spend a little time cooking a meal we'll enjoy together Thursday. There will be no cooking on Thanksgiving, with the exception of roasting a bone-in turkey breast... Instead, we're going to go for a long hike, and do whatever else we decide to do as a family. I have never been so flip about a feast, but there's a first for everything, and this year it feels right to place the emphasis on quality time, as our little family. I hope that each of you has the chance to create the Thanksgiving you want for your family too, and look forward to connecting again after Thanksgiving.  

Thursday, November 15, 2012

a first look at 2012 Thanksgiving ideas...

Thanksgiving is one week away! It is my favorite holiday... shocking, I know, that I would pick a holiday geared around food and family as my favorite. Normally I am not quite so laissez faire about a feast such as this. I love to eat, and I love to plan. I usually have a stack of dog-eared recipes at the ready. But, between the Hurricane, doing some ridiculously painful tweaking of my neck and back, and last-minute logistics of who is going to be where for the feast, here I am one week out and I haven't a shopping list, or the faintest idea of what I am going to make (besides the delicata squash recipe I concocted last night, which was divine).

Part of the reason I can sit back and relax a few more days? This morning I happened to look at the "Thanksgiving sides" category (here on the right side bar) and holy cow, there were all of my tried and true recipes in one place, so I can just cull through what I've cooked in past years and pick my favorites. No need to reinvent the wheel this year! There are a couple of traditional dishes that appear on our table each year:
  • I love to brine our turkey. My brining recipe and method is here.
  • My favorite stuffing. I'd love to say I spend my weekend prior dealing with stale bread, but I don't. You can use this recipe to doctor up any stuffing mix you find at your favorite market, just check the ingredients of the packaged stuffing to make sure it's not full of a bunch of icky ingredients that shouldn't be there...
  • And what is Thanksgiving without sweet potatoes? This is my go-to recipe for mashed sweet potatoes. You can leave them plain or top them. I like sprinkling store-bought pralines pecans on top.
  • And then, of course, cranberry sauce. This is my favorite cranberry recipe, that can be made well in advance. It just gets better as the flavors meld.
So really, I am just picking an appetizer or two, the green veggie(s) and maybe another veggie side. And then, there's the pumpkin/other kind of pie decision, which I'll leave up to the kids.

The one thing that is sneaking up on me is our pumpkin cannelloni project. In past years, I have spent the weekend leading up to Thanksgiving whipping up several dishes of Pumpkin Cannelloni with Sage Cream Sauce. Last year, I pared it back and just cooked for my two children's main teachers. (See photos of years prior and prepare to think I was completely nuts...I'd have to agree.) The 4-dish-route lacked the "majesty" of year's prior, but was way more doable. While part of me would like to skip the cooking altogether this year and say I am just too busy between my nutrition coursework, our kitchen renovation, my speaking engagements, writing the blog, and launching a new simple cooking program in the New Year, I think it's good for us to have a tradition that revolves around making something for others to show our thanks. Heck, if someone gave *me* a dish of this decadence, I'd be thankful. So, that's staying a part of the plan this year.

p.s. While making sure my recipes were all tucked away in one place I came across these. Yes, this is definitely my favorite holiday.

orange-infused delicata squash with pistachios

My latest side dish creation for Walter Stewart's Market is up! Enjoy this super simple recipe for Orange-Infused Delicata Squash with Pistachios.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

apple pie parfaits!

I am doing a little recipe development for a local market in New Canaan, CT tonight, and this made me realize that I forgot to share the last recipe I concocted for them! Oh, and it was a good one.... Apple Pie Parfaits! Check it out if you're looking for a new breakfast idea (that the kids will love), or a fun after school snack that makes fabulous use of Fall's apple bounty. My younger son just came up behind me, saw the photo and is now begging for me to make these again soon!

Friday, November 9, 2012

post-storm check-in...

As many of you know from my occasional check-ins over at the full plate FB page, the storm last week devastated our town. This is what our town looked like, multiple times over, on almost every street.

But we, personally, were lucky. We didn't have light, heat, or any of the normal creature comforts we enjoy every day... but we had a safe home, lots of firewood, enough funds to eat out, warm clothing, and very generous friends with generators. And so, we made the most of it.

We spent a lot of mornings and afternoons cozied up next to warm fires...

...and a whole slew of art projects and creations came out of the week.

P.S. That's not an empty packing tape dispenser. It's Santa's sleigh. But you knew that, right? It's ok, I didn't the first time I saw it either.

Anyway, most amazing, perhaps, was that the kids didn't skip a beat. They remained happy, and relatively un-phased by the state of affairs.

Then again, what kid do you know that wouldn't love huddling up in bed, eating trail mix and fruit leathers, (and, ok, fine, maybe a lot of Halloween candy too...) and watching movies from the library?

But the best part of the week-- because, honestly, there was one-- were the evenings spent with friends.

This was the silver lining in a dark week. We feel thankful, and truly lucky, that we were invited in each evening to a different friends' generator-lit home.

While I wish the storm had never happened, our family is eternally grateful for the amazing neighborliness that shone, because of it.