Monday, April 30, 2012

Operation Kumquat

Have you ever eaten a whole kumquat? You should. 

In a continuing effort to expand the culinary horizons of my berry-crazed fruit worshipers, we sampled our first kumquats this week. When I say "we" I mean it. Neither Mufasa nor I could remember having tasted a kumquat before.

These olive-sized beauts look like baby oranges and are completely edible. You can eat the rind, which proved an endless source of delight to my children. The thin orange peel is sweet and floral, which is a very good thing since the juicy inner pulp can be shockingly tart.

I took one bite and just about sucked my cheeks down my throat. The pulp was so acidic that I considered scrapping the experiment with the kids all together. But then I ate another one. Three kumquats later, my lips and tongue numb, I was completely addicted.


 As an added bonus, slicing these little lovelies gave us a chance to sharpen our knife skills.
By the way, this Kuhn Rikon serrated paring knife is my absolute favorite for teaching kids how to cut. It's sharp enough that it glides through the skin of most fruits and vegetables but not so sharp that it draws blood with any frequency. It's small enough for little fingers to handle, cheap enough that I don't worry about throwing it in the dishwasher, and it comes in bright colors that kids love to use.

Time for the taste test...
Bean preferred the sweet rind to the pulp.
Seriously sour. He ate four.
Bean liked the sweet rind. Looly and Roo fell hard for the acrid pulp and spent the afternoon trying to outdo one another's sour face. Between the three of them, they finished a pint.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Pork Chops ala Roo

Last night Roo got to try out the Pork Chop Seasoning he picked out on our trip to Penzey's earlier this week. He handled the meat while Bean took over preparations for a Lemon-Feta Orzo Salad. All I needed to do was steam a little broccoli and dinner was done.

My little pork chop seasoning pork chops

Bean has mastered the Microplane
Sous chefs
Here's a glimpse at Roo's not-so-secret recipe.

Pork Chops ala Roo

8 boneless pork loin chops, 1 inch thick
3-4 Tbsp. Penzey's Pork Chop Seasoning, but be careful.  If you don't love salt as much as Roo does, decrease this to about 2 Tbsp. It is salty!)

Dump Pork Chop Seasoning in a clump on top of pork chops. Rub, scrub, wallow, and bathe the chops in seasoning on all sides until your mom say that's enough. Grill in a grill pan until done.

Bean's Lemon-Feta Orzo Salad

1 package whole wheat orzo
1 lemon (zest and juice)
1/2 Cup feta cheese, crumbled
2 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
2 Tbsp. Olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

1. Cook orzo according to package directions, drain, rinse in cold water, drain again and transfer to large bowl
2. Zest lemon, set aside the zest, and squeeze juice into a small bowl
3. Add olive oil to lemon juice and whisk together
4. Pour lemon-olive oil over orzo, add feta cheese, lemon zest, parsley, and mix. Season to taste with salt and pepper
Dinner is served!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Kid Cultivation

Well Fed Garbage has become Kid Cultivation!

Despite the recent name change our garbage can still eats pretty well sometimes. This week it was chicken, rice, and broccoli casserole. White people food. When will I learn that any time a recipe calls for a can of cream of mushroom soup, I need to just stop. Seriously.

Still, it's exciting to be focusing on the thrill of food again. Reading back on some of my older posts I'm struck by what a whining, driveling fool I sound like sometimes. And while I can't promise that's going to change, I can promise that we're having a lot more fun in the kitchen these days. 

Yes, Roo still has food allergies, eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE), textural sensitivities, and barfs a lot, but for the moment, he's under control. He can't eat peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, beef, or peaches. So that leaves about a billion other things he can eat.

Mufasa's controlling diabetes with diet and exercise alone. No easy feat and he's rocking it with no help from his cake pop-crazed housemates. 

Looly prefers ice cream and pizza to salmon and Brussels sprouts but her self-control is unparalleled. Who eats half a cookie?!

Bean, my little Beanie Bean, dream child of culinary delights, counts kale, lima beans, pickles, hard boiled eggs, avocado, and filet mignon among her top 10 foods and is just about always willing to try a bite. Thank you for having been born.

And as for me, I'd still love to lose 5 (meaning 10) pounds. At some point I am going to have to face the cruel reality that two nightly servings of salted caramel gelato are not part of a healthy weight loss plan. Fortunately today is not that day.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Field Trip to Penzeys

About six years ago, when I was pregnant with Looly, I saw a video of a toddler who could identify a slew of herbs and spices by name based on a single hearty whiff. Impressive, no doubt, but I had an inkling that much like the alphabet song and learning colors, repetition was key to recognition of scents and flavors too. Armed with bountiful childless wisdom, I set out to make Looly a spice prodigy.

Before she could sit upright I wiggled jars of cumin and cardamom under her nose, repeating the names to her catatonically, while she stared back with an appropriate level of cross-eyed bewilderment. As she got a little older, my instructions to sniff led to violent bursts of air exiting her tiny nose, resulting in both of us covered in powdered ginger, much sneezing, and more often than not, tears. Luckily for Looly, I soon got pregnant with twins and traded my spice rack for a comfortable seat on the couch and a stomach settling box of Club crackers, which she was more than happy to share.

Today my kids aren't completely spice deficient. They know some basics; cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg. They recognize basil, fresh oregano, and have been known to use pine needles in their own water table "cooking" to represent rosemary. But, there's still a long way to go and this week, a chance run-in with a whole star anise provided the perfect launch pad for a field trip to Penzeys Spices.

We are fortunate enough to have a Penzeys within walking distance of our home and the kids really enjoyed the in-person visit. One of the coolest things about shopping at Penzeys is that they provide sniffable jars of every herb, spice, and blend they sell. Compare and contrast the California basil with the French basil. Search for the subtle differences between the Ceylon, Korintje Indonesia, China Tung Hing, and Extra-Fancy Vietnamese cinnamons. So much to smell!

For those of you who might not have instant access to a spice store, Penzeys puts out a great catalog that always includes several recipes and often a coupon, and you can order online

Following our big sniff-around, I invited Looly, Bean, and Roo to pick something to bring home. Here's what they chose.

Our haul, including Grey Sea Salt, Very Hot Crushed Red Pepper, and Ruth Ann's Muskego Ave. Chicken and Fish Seasoning (free with my coupon!)
Roo's pork chops are scheduled for Thursday night, and the girls are clamoring to make cookies. Now it's time to get cooking!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Nut-free Kale Pesto

We eat a lot of pasta. Or more accurately, I make a lot of pasta. Bean, Looly, and Roo eat a lot of pasta as long as it's coated in butter and Parmesan cheese or slathered in Rao's Marinara sauce, which by the way, you can order online by the case. Just saying.

I know I could make my own tomato based pasta sauce at home but really, what's the point? They want their Rao's. As far as jarred pasta sauces go, Rao's Marinara is hard to beat. I've got nothing against Rao, and certainly no bones to pick with butter, but seriously, pasta has been getting a little boring over here.

This week I decided to play on Bean and Roo's recent ardor for all things kale and created my own version of pesto. Given Roo's allergies, I opted for sunflower seeds instead of nuts and wasn't quite sure how they'd hold up against the kale, but the results were fabulous. I will be making this again and plan to experiment with other greens...spinach, chard, collards. Give it a try! 

Nut-Free Kale Pesto

2 cups raw, fresh kale leaves, thick stems removed, roughly chopped
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup unsalted sunflower seeds
1/4 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste

Put all ingredients into a food processor and blend to perfection. Mix with warm pasta and a little pasta cooking liquid as needed. Garnish with freshly grated Parmesan and more sunflower seeds.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Middle Eastern Night

Sultan's Market in Chicago is quite possibly my favorite restaurant on the face of the earth. The magicians behind the counter somehow manage to keep the falafel patties superbly crisp even when they're nestled beneath a thick, creamy layer of Jerusalem salad, a hearty squirt of Sriracha, and wrapped in a cozy pita bread hug. The golden chicken shawarma is perfectly spiced, the kefta kebabs succulent, served with zesty onions and juicy tomatoes, and don't even get me started on the baked egg and cheese pie. There have been days I would have gladly traded bodily appendages for a piece of that eggy, cheesy goodness. All that and dinner for two is almost always under twenty bucks.

At home, hummus is a mainstay in the fridge. Bean and Roo like to dip their baby carrots. Looly is underwhelmed by hummus, but she does love a good hunk of feta cheese. I make falafel from time to time but it's usually from a box and the littles rarely try more than a crumble. Even pita is hit or miss with them. Basically, they are not that into Middle Eastern food, which is a complete and utter calamity.

So, in an effort to open the eyes and the mouths of the young to this glorious cuisine, I mandated Middle Eastern Night. The menu was varied but straightforward featuring a few "safe" foods alongside some newer flavors. Pita bread, hummus, garbanzo beans, sliced cucumbers, black olives (Looly's suggestion), and feta cheese are all relatively familiar fare for our crew. Falafel, tabbouleh salad, and Cat Cora's Middle Eastern Turkey Links, a recipe I found in a recent Parenting Magazine, were the floaters for the night.

Looly was anxious to help crumble bread for the turkey links, though not quite as enthusiastic about sampling the finished product.
crumbling bread for the turkey links

Overall the night went much as expected. The hummus and garbanzo beans were a hit with bean-loving Bean and Roo, while Looly preferred her plain pita bread above all else. Cucumbers, feta, and black olives were tolerated by all. The turkey links proved a bit spicy for the kids' delicate palates, but Mufasa was happy to take their extras. Bean and Looly sort of liked the zingy tabbouleh, but it made Roo gag. And the falafel? The best I could summon from the crowd was a cumulative "meh". What is wrong with these people?!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Band of Pipers

We had quite a bit of leftover frosting from our spring cupcakes so I let the munchkins loose with piping bags on some wax paper.  Check out their handiwork. 
Looly's first rosettes!
Overall, not bad technique for their first try. Next time I'll test their skills on an actual cake.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Icing on the Cake

There's a snazzy icing color chart on pages 88-89 of the latest issue of Food Network Magazine (May 2012). Forty-six shades from Pina Colada to Pinot Noir, and you can mix them all with any basic Red-Blue-Yellow-Green box of food coloring. Honestly, what is more satisfying than swirling a few drops of yellow and red into a pristine bowl of ivory buttercream, instantly transforming it to a sunny papaya orange?! I got so excited mixing my colors I busted out the piping bag for some spring flower cupcakes. I didn't even let the kids help!

I made simple buttercream using the following recipe, but the chart in the magazine provides variations if you'd rather skip the mixer and use white grocery store frosting. It's important to use the ratio for your particular frosting, since the butter in real buttercream gives the frosting a soft yellow cast, while frosting from a can will appear more bright white.

Simple Buttercream Frosting

1 cup unsalted butter
3 cups confectioners sugar (or more if frosting is too soft)
2 teaspoons real vanilla extract
3-4 tablespoons milk

Beat butter until smooth. I find that if I use the paddle attachment on my KitchenAid stand mixer, I don't need to soften the butter. If you're using a hand mixer with beaters, you might want to let it sit at room temperature for a few minutes before you begin. Add powdered sugar and beat again, starting slow so the sugar doesn't go flying all over the place. Once the sugar is incorporated, add your vanilla and the milk, one tablespoon at a time, until you get the consistency you'd like. And if you don't like the consistency, don't worry. This is a most forgiving formula.

If your frosting comes out too soft, add a little more confectioners sugar until it firms up a bit. Too firm? Add a splash more milk and beat again. 

Fortunately I had someone to frost for this week. Happy Birthday to my dear friend, Rhea! I hope you liked your cupcakes.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Travels with Roo

Please excuse my absence. We had a busy March!

Our trips to a Wilderness Territory in Wisconsin Dells to celebrate Bean and Roo's 4th birthday, spring break in Albuquerque, and a few house guests of our own left me playing catch up for a while. But, I'm back, and happy to report that our travels were once again, pretty darn successful! Maybe we're getting the hang of this traveling with food allergies business.

Our trip to Albuquerque marked our first family air travel since Bean and Roo were in infant carriers. We've been avoiding it for a lot of reasons.  Roo's nut allergy, lack of overwhelming desire to get on a plane with three small children, the fear of wet underwear, or worse, at 10,000 feet from a mostly-potty-trained child, and the sheer expense of five, count 'em, five plane tickets have kept us in travel by car mode for some time. 

But, this March we faced our fears and took a trip to visit my sister and her family in Albuquerque.  Aside from one intense meltdown at boarding time from Roo, who developed a complete and utter phobia of flying shortly before our trip, the flight was relatively painless. In fact, Roo's outburst somehow landed him a starring role on our flight as he got to assist the flight attendants by handing out pretzels. The kid even got a goody bag to take home. Did I mention he wailed hysterically for the first 15 minutes on the plane? Because he did. Only on Southwest. Here's Roo in all his glory.

Looly, Bean, and Roo had a super time playing with their cousin, having tutu-enhanced dance parties, looking for cacti, going to the zoo, the park, and experiencing their first real mountain. Yes, they are true Midwesterners. A trip to the top of Sandia Mountain was a definite highlight of the trip. 

Overall, we're becoming more mobile.