Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Raising Foodies: A Good Effort FAIL

I have been comforted by the moms (all moms so far) in the Raising Foodies Cooking Challenge who have admitted that their children are eating bologna and PBJs for dinner while the grownups eat organic veggies and free-range hormone free meats. We sometimes end up with kids having cereal or sandwiches for dinner (hence my pleasure at creating a healthier bread they liked last week) but they usually just eat a minimized version of our dinner. Our younger one continues his beige stage with a very few exceptions. Our older one is getting better about trying things but still swears dramatic aversions to some rather unusual items (hello, cheese, I'm talking to you. You too, soup).

So I thought that in our usual taco rotation I'd add the corn-zucchini quesadilla recipe I found here. So simple, so inoffensive...what could go wrong? Well, plenty as it turns out. The older one decided he not only does not enjoy cheese (though he cheerily eats it on a taco) but now he doesn't like corn. The younger one, despite the beigeness of it, was not interested at all, even to try the bite that dessert depended upon.

My husband and I enjoyed them, but that wasn't the point. We like tacos too, and there are more low-cal veggies in them. It was a worthy experiment, but not a win for us. I include this for a) honesty and b) those of you with kids who will eat cheese and corn! Easy and lovely and easy to augment (black beans would be great in these, and I added avocado and a smidge of sour cream to some of mine as well)...but not a hit with my picky eaters. We also tried Mission Life Balance Plus! tortillas (I had a coupon)--apparently they have Omega 3s and ...let's see...DHAs and calcium and other add-ins. They were fine, better for quesadillas than tacos (though only marginally) but without the coupon, would have been too expensive. Still, I fret over the complete nutritional wasteland that a regular flour tortilla represents so this was a worthy experiment too. The Tipsy Baker makes her own tortillas but if I bring another specialty flour in to this house my husband will seriously consider leaving me. And of course there's Jora's (and Jora's mom's) taco mix that saves us from the MSG in the packets!

Taco Seasoning Mix

6 tsp. Chili Powder
2 1/2 tsp. Garlic Powder
5 tsp. Paprika
3 tsp. Onion Powder
4 1/2 tsp. Cumin
1/4 tsp. Cayenne Pepper
2 t. salt

Use 1/4 c. (or so) of mix and add one cup of water, to one pound of cooked ground beef/turkey/chicken. Simmer for a few minutes until it thickens a bit.

Click over to the Raising Foodies site though--there are some great ideas there and I am excited to try the souffle to see how that goes! The boys do love their basil...I might also try this pesto hummus from my favorite young frugal foodies, TwoFatAls, to take advantage before every last one of my basil plants dies. In fact, let me go make one of those things Right Now.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

MPM--Welcome Fall

Summer must be over, not just because school started, but I know the season ended because...
...all my short sleeved shirts have butter stains from corn on the cob.
...despite the best efforts of SPF 50 sunscreen, my boys have farmer tans and awesome streaked hair.
...that "sentinel tree" at the school is blindingly yellow.
...the amount of sand in the trunk could qualify it as a mobile playyard.

But it's time to move on. Last week didn't turn out at all as we thought it would but that's life sometimes. We'll try again this week. We did try Kelly's chicken, and it was a qualified hit. The qualification, of course, was for something I did. I baked it one night before we ate it and noticed the potatoes looked soft instead of crispy, the way I like them, so in reheating, I left off the foil. Mistake. The potatoes did get a little more crispy, yes, but so did the beans. Oops. Plus, if you try it at home, I used the fresh beans I had but that was not the best use for fresh beans--canned or frozen would probably work better here. The fresh beans were fine; it's just that it didn't really suit them best.

I didn't get to the tinga. I did find my butcher not only had the pork shoulder but when I asked nicely, he cut one in half, cut it in to the 1-inch pieces for me, and did not make me buy the whole thing. He's my hero. My internet connection is not working well so I can't link but they are in last week's post.

This week is much less busy. Only one night out, my aunt and uncle go home (which is sad, but I am just so grateful they came at all!), and not much else. Hope your week shapes up the way you like it!

Monday--the tinga and the backups (regular old tacos for the boy and corn-zucchini quesedillas)

Tuesday--Autumn Sausage Casserole from A Year of Crockpotting

Wednesday--Chicken Marbella, mashed potatoes, CSA veggie


Friday--football game!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

90 Days and Counting...

I am still blinking in disbelief at the start of the school year, so when I realized I missed my own traditional noting of 100 days to Christmas, I was floored.

Fortunately, someone else was paying attention--the folks over at ListPlanIt and the 100 Days to Christmas countdown blog.

I'm a survivor of the Holiday Grand Plans that start in August and involve redecorating the entire home while canning 100 jars of jelly as stocking stuffers. I still check in on those (because let's face it, my house could use an intense 16 week cleanout/upgrade) but found the 100-days blog last year to be much more realistic for the way I live/clean/decorate/work.

Already we're down to 90 days to go. Thanks to HG (hi HG!), I had already started trolling the web (and ahem, the basement, with stuff I never wrapped last year--I way overshopped in '08) for the kids' gifts. Thanks to my husband's family's goofy tradition (theme gifts, $50, identical or close-to-the-same for each family, all of which are different sizes and ages) I've been fretting over the theme this year since, oh, Dec. 25 last year. Our theme last year was "Have a Green Christmas"--water bottles, canvas bags, etc.; others included local food, or, my favorites, "As Seen on TV" (upside-down tomato grower, aqua globes, ShamWows, etc.--so clever) and "Words to Live By"--family mottoes (as perceived by the giver) on some lovely art. I'm 99% sure I know what we're doing this year...not creative but would be welcomed by all. So I should probably just get going on making it actually happen at this point.

Have you started thinking about holiday plans yet? What's your tipoff that it's time to start? The Sally Foster wrapping paper sales? Halloween? Thanksgiving? December 20?

And just to keep things honest, and admit that perhaps I am not the best advertisement for the effectiveness of this site: the last week's posts were all about planning the Christmas card list. My 2008 Christmas cards were meticulously planned. Ordered. Arrived on time. And still sit in a basket, complete with stamps, ready to be mailed. Maybe I'll be first out of the blocks this year instead. Hey, if you didn't see our photo from last year, it's new to you, right?!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Raising Foodies: The Very Shallow End

Wow, I had all kinds of great ideas for foodie attempts with the kids this week and most of them flew out the window. Out of town visitors, an unexpected death (of a friend's father in law--no one I'm close to but a kind and generous and loving man), and a series of back-to-school meetings meant the best laid plans went awry.

I tried to get the boys to eat the eggplant parmesan from the best Italian kitchen I know... no dice. I ran out of time on the chickpea curry. So when I say shallow end--I mean shallow.


What kid doesn't eat bread, right?

Here's the thing: we live in the world capital of, as my son calls it, squishy white bread. At the local children's museum, he routinely goes on his dream shopping trip in their little grocery store and fills his cart over and over with every kind of bread product they have and nothing else. His request for birthday dinner was a roll. He will eat other breads, but they are distant seconds to his true love...the squishy white.

So, in honor of my sister-in-law, whose bread machine I have inherited, and whose birthday it is this week, and because after months of trying, my bread expert friend and I were able to get together this week, I made a whole-wheat honey oat bread--well, she did, really, but I watched and I swear I can do it too. I'd never used a bread machine before and it was fascinating (particularly as a failed bread baker) to watch how it all came together and poof...three hours later, a whole-grain bread.

We pulled it out, and it was brown, and was immediately dismissed by the little one. But it smelled great, and it was almost lunchtime, so he took a bite. And by dinner, he had two huge slices and was devastated we didn't let him have more. It was delicious; the oats all but disappeared; and I am really excited to see what else we can sneak in to bread that he will find delicious! Many thanks to my friend Lauren for making this possible. Below, her recipe, lifted from this post (which I love) from her blog, Dream Kitchen.

Lauren's Humble Everyday Oat Bread

Combine in bread machine:

3/4 cup oats
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups unbleached regular flour
1/4 cup powdered buttermilk
1 tablespoon yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
slightly less than 1/4 cup honey
1 1/2 cups water

Start machine. When it beeps to add extras, you can add 1/2 cup of flax seed meal, walnut meal, oat bran, millet, or some other grain. You can use molasses or maple syrup instead of honey. Or use all unbleached regular flour. Don't forget the yeast, for Pete's sake. I've done that twice. Share this bread and remember to be delicious!

We didn't do any of the add-ins, but I'm looking forward to trying them.

So. When I said shallow end, I meant it. Here's hoping for more adventuresome eating next time. And we'll have to see if I can get the boys to eat sandwiches on the bread.

Meanwhile, so I don't lose all foodie cred completely, I wanted to add some notes on broccoli, as we were inundated with it in the CSA box this week. I always liked the florets, more cooked than crispy but not quite limp. My husband showed me a great way to cook it in the microwave: cut in florets; place in bowl; drizzle with olive oil and grind some pepper on top. Place a dessert plate off-kilter over the bowl. Microwave 2-3.5 minutes to your desired texture. And: as a floret person, I was shocked to discover my nephew loathes the "little green things on top" of the broccoli but will cheerfully eat the stems. This makes no sense to me, but I pass it along: for some kids, it's not the flavor but the texture. So my nephew and I are Jack Sprat and his wife on broccoli and we are both happy. I've started to play around with this a bit with our kids with both the kinds of broccoli pieces I use and how long I cook them. Maybe I'm overthinking this (or it's already clear to more kitchen-savvy moms) but I thought I'd pass it along!

Can't wait to see what others tried this week! Join in the discussion at Raising Foodies...

A Series of Small Kitchen Disasters

Usually, when I'm talking about kitchen disasters, it's things I tried to make.

This time, it really is the kitchen. And it's really a series of very first-world problems, to borrow Gwyneth Paltrow's phrase.

But, problems they are.

Over the summer, we had ants invade our house. They are teeny, gross, and, as I mentioned on Facebook, the only "natural" solution that was working on them was squishing them. Vinegar wasn't destroying their tracks, they seemed attracted to salt as much as sugar, and cinnamon was merely a delightful scent, no barrier at all. We used the opportunity to clean out our cabinets, put everything in plastic bags or containers, cleaned up as scrupulously as I know how...and still. The ants.

Before that, my drainboard was knocked off so it wasn't draining in the sink, but behind the sink, and I didn't notice and it warped the particleboard under my laminate countertop/backsplash. It bothered the heck out of me at first but now I barely notice it. (More on that later.)

Before that, some of you may remember that we needed a new refrigerator and ended up losing almost 2 cubic feet (which is a TON of space) because the cabinets were built around the old, unfixable-for-less-than-$600 fridge.

Now today, the door to my despised (though oh-so-useful) corner cabinet fell off. Not at the hardware, but at the architectural-interest indentation. So the wood split.

And if you've been with me for any amount of time, you know that my dishwasher is on a long march to death as well.

So. My question to you is: when do you pull the trigger on a redo? On one hand, I hate to do it. The kitchen was one of the first things we fell in love with at this house. The new-for-our-town kitchen was a huge selling point and it has been functional and homey. Neither of us adored the laminate countertops but in some ways, that was fine, because the spot where the superglue exploded or the heat discolored or the kids banged with a rock--who cares? But if I get a new kitchen. I will care, deeply. AND...I don't at all trust my own instincts on house projects. There isn't a single major or even minor re-do here that I wouldn't change somewhat dramatically if given the chance. (Except the sewer line. That was awesome start to finish. But anything with a design element--I just am not happy when all is said and done.) Part of it is I don't know the right questions to ask. Part of it is that I lack the ability to envision things in a way they are not. I would agonize about things like, should we build in a breakfast bar to the peninsula again even though we don't use the one we have because surely this time it would be different?

Did I mention that the "vent" (which is really just part of the microwave) does not in fact vent?

My usual (cheap) MO is to just eke things along and be frugal for as long as possible. But when does frugal cross the line in to shabby (and not shabby-chic, just plain old shabby)?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

MPM--Oh, My Internets, Where to Begin?

Hello! It's been so long but I MUST get back in the swing. MUST. The school year hit like a whirlwind with night after night after afternoon after afternoon of activity and I need to get my act together for dinners. There are so many stories to share from the summer, and the recipes tried, to the start of the school year...

Where to begin? With the Hot Wheels in the water filter? The wedding shower today that included the phrases, "No one told me my teeth weren't in" and "I love the way the flash makes our tattoos look like they are blazing"? The FIVE projects due for kindergarten tomorrow? Never mind. We'll get on with the week.

Oh--one last thing I should mention first--Joslyn of Simple Lovely is hosting a cooking group on her second blog, Raising Foodies. The original idea was to concentrate on a new recipe focused on one ingredient or style of cooking per week that we would try to see if our kiddos would enjoy. That morphed in to the perhaps more realistic "try one new recipe this week and let us know how the kids reacted" structure. And that's where we are now. I, however, always need a little more structure than that so I am sort of combining the two. Results go up on Tuesday; click here for more info if you are interested.

With that in mind, since I've done nothing even remotely foodie in a long time:

Monday: foodie vegetarian attempt: chickpea currry, with thanks to The Accidental Hausfrau for the idea. Brown or basmati rice, salad.

Tuesday: Kelly's dinner post from the Kelly's Korner "show us your life/what's for dinner" carnival. While cooking that, I'll roast the beets coming in our CSA box.

Wednesday: We'll see. We might have company for dinner, in which case I won't be trying something new like this on them. Otherwise, inspired by the Tipsy Baker's cook(book)-off between Diana Kennedy and Rick Bayless, I'll be trying the Bayless tinga with modifications (such as, I cannot eat peppers, which will dramatically alter the dish, but there it is). With this I will make tacos for backup.

Thursday: Leftovers. If no leftovers (doubtful but possible), I've been yearning for Rachael Ray's Tagine-Style chicken.

Friday: Football game--we'll eat there. Woohoo!

And the weekend will take care of itself, I hope.

Next week: summer experiment reviews. There were some real winners but I'm not up to posting them tonight. If you want more menu ideas, go see OrgJunkie and her amazing followers' lists!

Friday, September 18, 2009


They're back! I missed a few I think but hey, it was summer. Getting back in the swing here...

What color is your refrigerator?

White. Fine with me. Even if I didn't have kids, I could never keep stainless clean.

What kind of toaster do you have?

Classic Sunbeam but to my enormous surprise, I've been converted to toasting in the toaster oven. We have the fancy-schmancy Cuisinart one that does everything from toast bread and bagels to roasting beets and baking cookie bars.

Do you use a tablecloth? When - always, when eating, etc.

Yaah...no. Not since the older boy was about 18 months old and started pulling them off the table for fun and excitement. He's almost 6 and not over it, I'm sorry to say. I can't wait to start using them again but they are off my table for the foreseeable future.

One tablecloth we do try to use: I read somewhere about a family that had everyone sign the tablecloth at their place (kind of instead of placecards, or like reverse placecards) on holiday dinners. We started doing that with a rainbow of Sharpies and a new, cheapish cream colored tablecloth bought for the occasion. Now we love looking back at how the cousins signed when they were little, or seeing the names of loved ones who aren't with us anymore. I'm thrilled we have it and love using it, even if it's for a buffet.

Do you use paper or cloth napkins?

Oh, one of my big green failures. We try to use cloth. Really I do. But I always write a note on my son's napkin for school, so I need paper for that. And once they are in the house they seem to migrate to the table.

Wanna play? Go see Val! Her button is on top of the right column of my blog.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

It's Official

I've hit middle age. I had to ask my four year old to read the numbers of the product code off the telephone for me because I couldn't find a magnifying glass. Sigh.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Without Further Ado

IF you are lucky enough to have an insane sale in your neighborhood (like mine this week, for $2.99/lb tenderloins!) you must make this recipe. SO easy. SO good. A total winner in every way. With thanks to C0lin C0wie and 0prah for running this originally!

Filet Mignon with Cracked Pink Peppercorns

Ingredients:Serves 8

1/4 cup pink peppercorns , cracked
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 center-cut beef tenderloins (about 2 pounds each)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Tarragon or coarse-ground mustard
Preheat oven to 350°. Combine peppercorns and salt in a small bowl; rub over all sides of tenderloins.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add 1 tenderloin; cook, turning occasionally, until browned on all sides, about 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer tenderloin to a roasting pan. Repeat with remaining oil and tenderloin.

Insert meat thermometer into thickest part of 1 tenderloin. Roast until temperature registers 145°, 35 to 40 minutes for medium rare. Transfer beef to cutting board; let stand 10 minutes. Carve into 1-inch-thick slices. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with mustard.