Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Creamy Fresh Tomato Soup

As a full-fledged first-grader, Looly has made a pledge to embrace more soups this year in her lunchbox. I'm not sure what inspired the declaration but it might be the croissant that often accompanies her soup rather than any deep seeded desire to expand her palate. Or perhaps it has more to do with the cool travel spoon in her thermos. In any event, I'll take what I can get.
She's already a staunch supporter of broccoli cheese soup and ever since we made grilled cheese sandwiches with roasted tomato dip, she's been clamoring for more homemade tomato soup. Thankfully the kids are just as excited to pluck a few heirlooms off the vine now as they were 6 weeks ago when the first green bulbs were starting to blush.
Creamy Fresh Tomato Soup
adapted from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics by Ina Garten

3 tbsp olive oil
2 cups onions, chopped
4 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
1&1/2 tbsp garlic, minced (about 4 cloves)
4 pounds fresh, juicy tomatoes, chopped (about 6 medium tomatoes)
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped, plus more for garnish
2 tbsp fresh oregano, chopped, plus more for garnish
4 cups chicken stock (homemade, if you have it)
1 tbsp kosher salt
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper* (much less, if serving to children)
1 cup half and half
1 tbsp sunflower seeds, for garnish

1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot. Add the onion and carrots and saute until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a minute more. Add tomatoes (including juice and seeds), sugar, tomato paste, basil, oregano, chicken stock, salt and pepper. Stir well, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer uncovered for about 45 minutes.
2. Process until smooth with an immersion blender. Alternatively, transfer hot mixture to a blender in batches and process until smooth. If your audience is sensitive to textures like mine, strain the soup through a sieve and discard any remaining pulp or seeds.
3. Stir half and half into the strained, hot tomato mixture. Garnish with sunflower seeds, fresh oregano and basil leaves, or grilled cheese sandwich croutons for kids.

*2 tsp of black pepper give this soup a delicious kick, but if you're preparing it for kids or anyone else who is sensitive to spice, tone it down. A lot! I recommend no more than 1 tsp, and to be safe, maybe 1/2 tsp if I'm serving it to my own spice-averse kids. You can always add a dash of hot sauce or extra pepper to grown-up servings later. 
Now let me clarify one thing. Just because this soup might show up in a thermos at the elementary school cafeteria should you consider it kid food. This is serious soup. Really good, grown-up, creamy, zippy, gut-warming, leaves blustering through the intersection kind of day soup.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Chicken and Rice with Ginger Salt Sauce

This one's quick and uncomplicated.

You know those nights when you're about to chew your way through the cupboard because you worked out hard and never got around to eating lunch besides the nub of a banana your kid left in his booster seat cup holder and gymnastics starts in 45 minutes and someone just bit someone else and now two people are sobbing and someone else is calling for bathroom assistance and everyone, including you, is way too grumpy to try anything even remotely unfamiliar but dinner has to be awesome and ready ten minutes ago? You know those nights? This is dinner for those nights.
Chicken and Rice with Ginger Salt Sauce
adapted slightly from Cooking Light, January 2005

1 fresh, hot, rotisserie chicken, shredded
2 cups brown rice (Make extra and keep some in the freezer. Trust me.)
3 tbsp canola oil (or other flavorless oil)
2 tbsp minced ginger (Fresh is preferable but you can use the stuff in a jar in a pinch, especially if it's one of those nights.)
1/4 cup green onions, chopped
2 tsp kosher salt

1. Make the rice, or if you have some ready to go in the freezer, heat it up. Throw a handful of shredded chicken on top of the rice.
2. In a small bowl, combine the oil, ginger, salt, and green onions. Mix well. Dot the sauce sparingly on top of the chicken and rice and dig in. It's delicious but really really salty. A little goes a long way.

For extra picky, grumpy kids who sometimes bite each other, leave the sauce off completely and you've got simple chicken and rice at the ready. If you feel a sudden wave of ambition (aka guilt), add a little edamame on the side.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Mufasa's Fork-Tender Baby Back Ribs

At last, here's a much-anticipated guest post from Mufasa! He's a super star husband, extraordinary father to Looly, Bean, and Roo, master fly hunter, and a force to be reckoned with when he has a slab of meat in his hands. Take it away, Mufasa...

Three years ago when Amy was thinking about starting this blog, I played the role of dutiful husband. I told her how therapeutic it would be to write about the trials and tribulations of our family. I guess I must’ve gotten carried away because I promised to be a regular guest blogger.

I haven’t been so regular. It turns out blogging is a lot of work. Well, after a few gentle reminders I decided to gear up and tackle a topic that doesn’t get much airtime on this site: grilling. Now, I know that Amy has the talent and interest to be an excellent griller, but she leaves the domain of outdoor cooking to me. I think she likes having Looly, Bean and Roo see their father cook. I like having them see me cook, too.

I decided to have the kids help me make my slow cooked, fork-tender bbq ribs. This isn’t an endeavor to be taken lightly, not because it is hard to pull off, but because it is a whole day affair. My dirty little secret is that when I make these ribs, I usually (over)emphasize the time commitment. If people jump to the conclusion that they must be a lot of work, there isn’t much I can do about it, can I?
My most memorable rib making adventure happened in Albuquerque when we were visiting Amy’s sister. I decided to break in her new grill with these ribs and unfortunately “missed out” on a day trip to Santa Fe. Instead, I started a glorious day with a trip to the grocery store with an early 80’s vintage manual transmission pick-up truck as my chariot. Next I enjoyed some quality me time as I prepared my ribs accompanied by a frosty 6-pack. When the gang returned I was eager to greet them with some falling-off-the bone meat. Amy’s mom dubbed them “fork-tender” and the name stuck.

This version began at Blue Ribbon Meat Market, my favorite old school, always packed, family-owned butcher shop. I love taking the kids to this place where the display cases barely contain all the meat and the 10 minute wait to be helped provides delightful people watching.
Like all good rib recipes, this one starts with a rub. The measurements are approximate and should be fiddled with liberally.

Mufasa's Fork-Tender Baby Back Ribs

4 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp onion powder
½ tsp chili powder
2 slabs baby back ribs                          

1. Combine spices in a small bowl and mix well (preferably with your fingers).
 2. Cut two slabs of baby back ribs into sections with 3 or 4 ribs each.   
3. Find some helpers and get them to rub the rub into the ribs vigorously. 
4. Put the ribs into a foil pan, cover with foil and cook on indirect heat for 2 – 3 hours, after which they should be fork-tender
5. When the ribs are tender, brush liberally with bbq sauce and put them back directly on the grill grate (still cooking with indirect heat) for 10-15 minutes, enough for the sauce to develop a hint of crispness.
You can use any bbq sauce you like but I prefer to make my own. 

Mufasa's Favorite BBQ Sauce

1 cup ketchup
½ cup chicken broth
4 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
4 tablespoons brown sugar
2 cloves chopped garlic
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Just combine all the ingredients in a pot, bring to a boil and let cool.
 Enjoy, but don’t let on how easy they were to make!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

25 Kid-Friendly Nut-free Lunchbox Sandwiches

School is in full swing which means I'm spending my evenings packing up bento boxes and washing out Snack Taxi bags. 3 kids times 170 school days equals 510 lunches. That's just this year! But hold onto your whole wheat, people, my kids are finally embracing the sandwich. This opens up an entirely new realm of possibilities for us. And I admit it. Placing a neatly wrapped sandwich in a lunchbox like a normal parent, knowing that in all likelihood it will be (partially) eaten by one of my children, by their own free will, is nothing short of spectacular.
By now you're probably more familiar than you ever wanted to be with our nut-allergy issues, but like it or not, we're not the only ones going peanut and/or completely nut-free at school this year. If you're in need of some nut-free sandwich spread ideas, look no further than my list here. Or if you're staring aimlessly into the fridge wondering what to pack your brood for lunch tomorrow, read on.
#2 Sunbutter and apple on a cinnamon raisin Bagel Thin
First, let's talk bread. There's a whole wide world out there beyond whole wheat. Sometimes jazzing up a boring old turkey and cheese sandwich requires nothing more than a toasted cinnamon raisin Bagel Thin and a few apple slices. How about any one of these?

#1 Cream cheese, strawberry jam, and fresh, sliced strawberries
25 Kid-Friendly Nut-Free Lunchbox Sandwiches
  1. Cream cheese, strawberry jam, and fresh sliced strawberries
  2. Sunbutter and sliced apple (or for a dessert version, use Biscoff Spread)
  3. Sunbutter and banana
  4. Roasted Pepita Honey Butter and jelly 
  5. Roasted Pepita Honey Butter and pear slices
  6. Ham, pineapple slices, and cream cheese
  7. Chocolate SoyNut Butter and fresh raspberries (try it on a toasted croissant)
  8. Hummus, cucumber, and feta cheese
  9. Turkey, goat cheese, and cucumber slaw
  10. Turkey, cheese, and apple slices (nice on a cinnamon raisin bagel)
  11. Ham, Swiss cheese, and honey mustard
  12. Turkey, hummus, feta, and sprouts
  13. Tomato, basil, and fresh mozzarella
  14. Brie, pear slices, and honey
  15. Edamame hummus, Havarti, and thinly sliced carrots
  16. Turkey, mashed sweet potatoes, and a sprinkle of pepitas
  17. Apple butter and cheddar cheese (yummy on raisin bread)
  18. Smashed black beans, avocado slices, and Monterey Jack (or keep the black beans intact and mash the avocado)
  19. Smoked salmon, cream cheese, and cucumber slices
  20. Sliced hard boiled egg, cheddar cheese, and sliced tomato
  21. Shredded chicken, Sunbutter mixed with honey and soy sauce, and shredded carrots
  22. Pumpkin butter, Sunbutter, and a sprinkle of sunflower seeds for crunch
  23. Chocolate cream cheese, banana, and shredded coconut
  24. Sliced chicken, avocado, shredded lettuce and queso fresco
  25. Turkey bacon, lettuce, and tomato with guacamole spread
I'm using this list as a jumping off point but the combinations are really endless. Mix, match, and experiment and let me know when you hit on a winner. I'd love to keep broadening our sandwich repertoire.
#8 Turkey, goat cheese, and cucumber slaw

Monday, September 10, 2012

Pasta Salad with Bacon, Melon, and Feta

Phew! I thought this back to school thing was supposed to give me more time for myself but for one reason or another I am still running around like a chicken with my head cut off. Fortunately it's all good stuff, visits from friends, school planning, parties, and I recently embarked on my next fitness adventure, Insanity: The Asylum. After doing regular Insanity workouts for over a year, I thought I was ready for the next challenge. At this point my heart, lungs, lats and quadriceps are much less certain. But as long as they keep making mint chocolate chip ice cream, Shaun T remains a requisite part of my day. Here's a self portrait after my first ever Insanity workout. I don't blame you if "stunning" isn't the first word that comes to mind.
Speaking of good hearts and yummy food, have you checked out Eat Your Heart Out lately? My pal, Stephie, is always cooking up something delicious and I'm especially excited about her new Back to Basics series, which is a great starting point for kids or anyone else who's just getting their bearings in the kitchen. As if that wasn't enough to get you over there, she recently nominated me for a Very Inspiring Blogger award. Thanks, Stephie! As part of the award, I am supposed to tell you 7 tidbits about myself, then pass the award to 15 more bloggers. So here we go...
7 Tidbits from Kid Cultivation

1. You might have figured this out already, but I love Insanity. I don't love The Asylum yet, but I'm tripping and stumbling my way through it and hope to be fit and coordinated enough to be there one day.
2. I am the baby in a family of 5 girls. Some say my parents must have kept trying for a boy. I say they stopped when they finally achieved perfection.
3. I ran the Chicago marathon in 2002. It was awesome.
4. I eat almost everything but there are a few random foods I simply cannot tolerate. These include: yellow mustard (stoneground, whole grain, and Dijon are fine!), orange soda, Goldfish or other cheddar flavored crackers, and bratwurst.
5. September is my favorite month.
6. My bladder is the size of a pea.
7. Every time I throw a penny in a fountain I wish that Roo's food allergies and Eosinophilic Esophagitis would go away.

And 15 amazing food-focused blogs you should definitely come to know:

1. spabettie
2. Katie's Cucina
3. What Megan's Making
4. Damn Delicious
5. Great Secret of Life
6. Family Fresh Cooking
7. A Taste of Madness
8. Home is Where the Cookies Are
9. The Spanish Wok
10. Culinary Travels
11. Cooking With My Kid
12. Kitchen Fun With My 3 Sons
13. Food Allergy Mama
14. The Allergic Kid
15. Funky Food - Feeding Kids Allergic to Food

For those of you nominated, here's the deal. Feel free to do the following, but I have to be honest. I won't be mad at you if you don't :-)
  1. Link back to the person who nominated you.
  2. Post the award image to your page.
  3. Share 7 facts about yourself.
  4. Nominate 15 other bloggers.
  5. Post the rules in your blog post.
And last but certainly not least, who wants bacon?! Mufasa made his signature ribs last weekend and has promised to do a guest post soon with the details. While he was manning the grill, I made this kid-friendly, easy, pasta salad on the side.

Pasta Salad with Melon, Bacon, and Feta
adapted from Bon Appetit, August 2012

4 slices bacon, cooked until crisp, and crumbled
1 pound penne, rotini, or other short pasta
1 medium cantaloupe, cubed
1 cup fresh mint, coarsely chopped, divided
1/4 cup scallions, thinly sliced
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup Champagne vinegar
Kosher salt
Black pepper
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and run under cold water to cool. Set aside.
2. Combine 2 slices of the bacon, pasta, melon, half the mint, and scallions in a large bowl.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk together olive oil and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Pour dressing over pasta mixture and toss to coat. Garnish with remaining bacon, mint, and feta cheese.

Since my kids tend to be purists, I served the feta cheese on the side for them, but really the whole salad could be easily deconstructed for Littles. Separate and serve pasta, bacon, cantaloupe, cheese and you've got a sweet toddler meal!

Friday, September 7, 2012

No Cook Tomato Sauce

Our tomato garden is producing in a big way, which is awesome because I cannot get enough of this super easy, fresh tomato sauce. I've been tossing it with pasta, slathering it on bread, and eating it by the forkful with Burrata cheese.
Bonus: even the kids are eating it! Little Roo, who can't handle a tomato skin due to his many textural aversions, is eating this sauce, at least sometimes. Of course I peeled the tomatoes.

I think this just might be the closest we've come to a healthful, delicious, true family dinner - one where we all eat the same thing at the same time at the same table and no on cries, vomits, or takes more than an hour to eat a reasonable amount of food. Break out the confetti, I've been waiting for this moment for the past six years!
Fresh Tomato Sauce
adapted from Fine Cooking Aug/Sept 2012

1 pound pasta
6 ripe, fresh tomatoes
1 cup basil, chopped
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp red pepper flakes (optional, I leave it out for the kids)
1 pound perlini fresh mozzarella balls, or other fresh mozzarella cut into 1/4-inch cubes

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and prepare pasta as directed. 
2. While the pasta cooks, peel the tomatoes using a serrated vegetable peeler or this method. Remove core, seeds, and chop tomatoes. Place the tomatoes and basil in a large bowl.
3. Place the olive oil and garlic in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Heat until the oil is hot, but not smoking. Pour the oil and garlic mixture over the tomato mixtures. Add salt and red pepper flakes, if using, and stir. Toss warm pasta with the sauce, then stir in the fresh mozzarella. Let it sit for a moment or two until the cheese gets all melty and oozy, unless you're cooking for Roo, in which case, keep the mozzarella on the side.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Egg-Free Blueberry Lime Bread

Breakfast time is a challenge around here. Bean loves eggs. Roo's allergic. Looly likes oatmeal. Bean and Roo won't touch it with a ten foot pole. Bean likes beans for breakfast. The sheer thought makes Looly gag. Roo would prefer to skip the breakfast ordeal all together and sip a little soy milk. Standard offerings like toast, bagels, yogurt, waffles, and cereal are hit or miss. Mostly miss. And we need to be out the door by 7:40 am. 
Fortunately all the kids love fruit and they do drink milk in the morning, but facing a full day of school on milk and fruit alone won't cut it. More often than not I opt for a pressure-free snackfest to get something into their stomachs. And I'm always, always, on the lookout for new additions to the snackfest platter.
I've been honing my egg-free baking skills in recent years and I have a few really good eggless quick breads up my sleeve. Unfortunately, Roo still won't eat most of them. But the girls enjoy them and at least I don't have to worry about a stray crumb getting onto his apple slices. Now that he's attempting bites of toast and a triangle of grilled cheese from time to time, one of my goals for the year is to come up with a breakfast bread that Roo will eat.
Egg-Free Blueberry Lime Bread
adapted slightly from Bakin' Without Eggs by Rosemarie Emro

3 cups flour plus 1 tbsp to coat blueberries
1&1/4 cups sugar
1&1/2 cups milk
3 tbsp fresh squeezed lime juice
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
3 tsp lime zest
2 cups blueberries (fresh or frozen, but not thawed)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray one large or 4 mini-loaf pans with cooking spray.
2. Combine 3 cups flour, sugar, milk, lime juice, baking powder, baking soda, and lime zest. Mix until well combined. 
3. In a separate bowl, combine blueberries and remaining 1 tbsp flour. Toss lightly to coat. Gently fold blueberries into batter.
4. Spoon batter into prepared pans and bake 50-55 minutes for full size loaves, 35-40 minutes for mini-loaves, or until toothpick inserted in center of loaf comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes, invert pan and remove loaf. Cool completely.

I thought this bread was quite good - summery, bright, zesty, and it really hit the spot with a cup of green tea. Looly loved it and begged for more. The other kids were less impressed. Roo did not appreciate the chunks of real berry, too much textural variability going on for him. And Bean, usually my carb-lover, was underwhelmed. She asked for banana bread instead. hmph. So, the search continues but I'm keeping this one in the repertoire even if it's for Looly and me alone. More for us!