Friday, May 31, 2013

Super Easy Herb Roasted Potatoes

More nights than not, simplicity is key. 
It never fails. Just as I'm starting dinner someone pinches their finger in a drawer or can't find their leotard or is suddenly in dire need of help stapling 30 sheets of paper together. More than likely all three. That is why, my friends, recipes like these easy-enough-to-pull-off while applying band-aids and stapling through mountains of paper yet deeply satisfying and delicious roasted potatoes are absolutely essential. Your welcome.

Super Easy Herb Roasted Potatoes
adapted from Fine Cooking

1/4 cup + 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
2-3 pounds small red potatoes, washed and halved (quarter larger potatoes so they're all about the same size)
1 tsp kosher salt
1 handful fresh thyme sprigs (roughly 8-12 sprigs)
1 large onion, sliced
1/4 cup fresh chives, chopped

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Drizzle a baking sheet with 2 tbsp oil. Use your fingers to spread the oil to coat the entire pan.

Put the potatoes in a large bowl. Pour the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil over the top. Season with salt and toss together.

Arrange the thyme on the bottom of the prepared baking sheet. Layer the onion slices on top of the thyme.
Arrange the potatoes on top of the onions, as many cut sides down as possible. If there's any olive oil still hanging out in the bottom of your bowl, pour that over the top of the potatoes.
Put the whole ensemble into the preheated oven and roast for about 35 minutes until the potatoes are soft and starting to brown.
Use a spatula to loosen the onions and potatoes. Sprinkle chives over the hot potatoes, adjust the seasoning with more salt and/or pepper as needed and toss again.
Not bad for 10 minutes of hands on time.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Panna Cotta with Strawberry-Rhubarb Sauce

The little KC kids are obsessed with jello. Like a lot of kids, the infatuation has more to do with the slip and jiggle than any particular flavor profile. I mean, when you assert preference by color, how important, really, is taste? I'm going with not very.

Given the penchant for wiggle, I thought panna cotta might be right up their alley, especially topped with a glossy bright strawberry-rhubarb sauce. And bonus, real vanilla and fresh strawberries taste so much better than red.

Disclaimer time. The original recipe calls for creme fraiche, which while picking up rhubarb and buttermilk at Whole Foods, I could have sworn was happily residing in my fridge just waiting to be called into action. Alas, when I got home, that very creme fraiche mysteriously had morphed into mascarpone! I hate when that happens. Fortunately there's almost always some Greek yogurt hanging around our house, which valiantly stood in for the mysterious traitor.
Buttermilk-Yogurt Panna Cotta with Strawberry-Rhubarb Sauce
adapted from Bon Appetit 

For the Panna Cotta

1 & 1/4 tsp unflavored powdered gelatin
1 & 1/4 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise
1 & 1/4 cups buttermilk
1 & 1/4 cups full-fat plain Greek yogurt

For the Sauce

1 & 1/2 cups (about 10 ounces) strawberries, hulled
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 cups rhubarb, (about 8 ounces) sliced 1/4-inch thick
1/2 tsp unflavored powdered gelatin

For the Panna Cotta, pour 1/4 cup of cold water into a little bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over the top. Let is sit for about 10 minutes until the gelatin swells and softens.
In a medium saucepan, combine the cream, sugar, and salt. Scrape the gooey seeds from the vanilla bean into the liquid, then toss in the pod too.
Bring the mixture to a simmer then add the softened gelatin mixture. Stir to dissolve all the gelatin, then remove the pan from heat and let it cool. Once cool, remove the vanilla bean pod. Whisk in the buttermilk and yogurt. Pour the mixture into small ramekins or dessert glasses. Chill in the refrigerator until firm, at least 2 hours.
For the sauce, combine the strawberries, rhubarb, and sugar in a medium heat-proof bowl. Toss everything together so the sugar coats the fruit.
Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, folding and pressing the wrap so it extends just along the top edge of the bowl. If it helps, you can wrap a large rubber band around the rim of the bowl to hold the plastic wrap in place.
Set the bowl over a pot of simmering water, careful not to let the plastic wrap touch the pot. Heat the berry-rhubarb mixture without stirring for about 45 minutes, until the rhubarb looks pale and the fruit is soft.
Use a fine sieve to strain the fruit mixture, reserving the liquid only. Don't press and push on the fruit to get more juice out or your sauce won't be nearly as lovely. Get what you can, then add water to make 1 cup total.

In a separate small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over 2 tablespoons cold water. Let it stand for 10 minutes.

While the gelatin is softening, bring the strawberry-rhubarb liquid to a boil in a small saucepan for about 3 minutes, stirring every now and then to prevent burning. Add the softened gelatin mixture and stir well to dissolve any stubborn gelatin granules. Remove from heat and let stand until completely cool.

Top the cold, set panna cotta with the cooled sauce and chill until the sauce is thickened, at least 2 hours.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Looly's Library Birthday Party

Shhh...Looly's library-themed birthday party was a quiet success.

Last year it was all about art. Before that, Little House on the Prairie. This year, Looly, the consummate book-lover, celebrated her seventh birthday literary-style. Thankfully, none of her friends are too cool for school just yet and all the young ladies (and Roo of course) had such a great time.

I'm kicking myself but I totally failed to get a picture of the invitations before we handed them out. So, you'll have to use your imagination. I ordered these old school library cards and pockets on and we wrote in the party details. So cute and totally easy!

On the invitations, we asked guests to bring along a used book or two to trade in our homemade exchange library.
Looly invited 6 girlfriends and along with Bean, Roo, and herself, that made for 9 kiddos. We kicked off the festivities by painting and decorating book bags. Fabric paint, stencils, fabric markers, felt and foam stickers were a big hit and kept the kids occupied for some time.

Next we made these stained glass bookmark crafts. Due to the requisite abundance of glue on my kitchen table, hands, and everything else, I didn't manage to take any photos. They were simple enough, if somewhat messy, for the youngest kids to handle on their own and they all came out great. One word of caution if you attempt this craft: make sure you leave enough time for the glue to dry! Ours went home on paper plates with saran wrap because they were far from dry when the party ended.

After a thorough hand-washing, the kids took a book-themed trivia quiz. The questions were broad, covering everything from classic board books like Brown Bear Brown Bear to Harry Potter, so all the kids could participate regardless of reading level and experience. You can find the quiz here. It was even more fun than I had anticipated and the kids loved showing off their knowledge. To up the excitement, we handed out these adorable crocheted bookworm bookmarks as prizes.

Then it was on to writing our own books. Bare Books has a huge selection of blank books, puzzles, and all sorts of make-your-own crafts. The kids used markers, pencils, and crayons to write and illustrate their own stories.

Roo was especially proud of his masterpiece cleverly entitled, "My Own Book". Of course, that is a blank page he's showing off, but you get the idea.

Obviously for any KC party, snacks are key and we had no shortage. Check out the spread.
We served fruit, veggies, gummy "book" worms, fresh raspberry lemonade, and donuts from our farmers market but these chocolate cupcakes with pink and orange book cupcake toppers were the star of the show. I love etsy.
It was such a fun theme and really very easy to execute. Looly has such sweet friends who share similar interests. A couple of them even plunked down in a cozy spot during the party to get started on their "new" books from the exchange library.

Happy birthday, Looly! I can't wait to see what's next.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Roo's Steamed Artichokes

Roo has a new fave vegetable.
Hello, lovely.
I can not express how giddy this newfound love for artichokes makes me. Artichokes were, and quite possibly are still my own most favoritest vegetable. So, there's that.

But the real reason I cannot get over the fact that my kid, my boy, is sucking down artichokes like they're going out of style is that they have a really complicated texture. I mean, you have to get the teeth involved to effectively scrape the yummy yet decidedly gunky meat from the leaves. This is not something that comes easily to my child, Mr. Textural Sensitivity.

Yet, here he is, clamoring for artichokes, demanding his own full artichoke to disassemble and then savoring every last bit of heart dripping with bright yellow lemon butter. It makes a mama's heart swell with pride.
So totally worth the butter stains all over that sweater.
Roo's Steamed Artichokes

3 whole artichokes
1 quart chicken stock (or water)
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic
2 whole lemons, halved
1 or 2 bay leaves
Several sprigs fresh thyme
salt and pepper
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter

Wash and trim your artichokes. If you're unsure how to do that, take a look at this video. Rub the cut sides of artichokes with one lemon half to prevent discoloration.

Combine the stock, wine, oil, garlic, 2 lemon halves, bay leaves, and thyme in a large pot with a lid. Bring to a simmer and season the liquid with salt and pepper.

Place the trimmed artichokes, bottoms up, in the simmering liquid. Cover the pot and simmer for about 30 minutes. They're done when a knife slips easily into the base.
When they're nice and soft, use tongs to remove the artichokes from the cooking liquid and drain. Flip them right side up onto a serving platter.

Melt the butter in a small dish. Squeeze the remaining lemon half into the butter and use as a dipping sauce for the artichoke leaves.
To eat the artichokes, pull off a leaf. Dip the soft end in lemon butter and use your front teeth to scrape the meat off. Discard the tough leaf. When you get to the small purple-tinged leaves in the center, remove them. Use a spoon to scrape out the hairy choke, trim and tough edges and eat the tender heart.
artichoke carnage

Friday, May 17, 2013

Mixed Bean and Radish Salad

Fish makes me nervous. It's not that I find most fish to be shady characters, it's more the unscheduled trip to the ER kind of nervous. Not rational. Roo has never tested positive for a fish or shellfish allergy and he has been tested. He's eaten fish multiple times with no reaction whatsoever, but for some reason every time I slip a little fish sauce into a marinade or dare place a flake or two of salmon on his plate my knees get a little quaky. Yup that, friends, is my idea of living on the edge.

My goal is to get the KC kids eating more fish, first, because I need to get over my own irrational fear that Roo's going to go into anaphylactic shock if he ingests an anchovy, and second, because kids who squeal at the sight of fish on a plate are annoying. That's not to be confused with kids whose parents choose not to give them fish for religious or moral reasons, sheer personal preference, or obviously, because they are allergic to fish. Those kids are not annoying. Well, maybe they are annoying, I really don't know. That's for you to decide. Anyway, that my kiddos balk at the smell of fish cooking is decidedly irritating and I'm taking steps to remedy it. Baby steps.
So here we go. Anchovies. Look, there they are right up top. Rest assured there is no way my children, particularly my girls, would entertain the notion of trying a bite of salad (or chocolate cake for that mattter) if they had the slightest inkling that there were tiny hairy fish in it. That's why I didn't mention it.
And fortunately they didn't ask.

Mixed Bean and Radish Salad
adapted from bon appetit

2 anchovy fillets, packed in oil, drained
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp capers, drained
2 & 1/2 cups fresh flat-leaf parsley, divided (pack it into the cup to measure if you're a perfectionist)
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch radishes, trimmed and sliced
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
1 15-ounce can Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained
1 15-ounce can Cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup black olives, pitted and halved

Put the anchovies, oil, capers, and 1 cup of parsley into a food processor or blender. Puree until you have a slightly coarse, pulpy puree. Transfer to a small bowl, stir in the vinegar. Season with salt and pepper to taste, but watch the salt. Between the anchovies and capers, this is already one salty dressing.
Put the radishes, all the beans, olives, and remaining parsley in a large bowl. Pour the dressing over the top and toss gently. Do not mention the anchovies to anyone under 10 until they've finished eating.
In fairness, this wasn't the kids' favorite salad but they all managed a few bites (yeah, a few bites of briny, beany, radish salad with secret anchovies!) and that is progress. Happily, Roo survived yet another uneventful fish exposure. Though the idea of him and a bite of lobster still makes me start to lose my hearing. I'm working on it. And still the push for more fish on the KC table continues.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Asian Rainbow Chicken Salad

Asian Rainbow Chicken Salad is the name, deconstruction is the game.

From all the way back to the first hints of Roo's textural sensitivities and oral delays, the concept of deconstructed dinner has been my friend. Still is. The concept is simple.

See, there's this for you...
And this for them...
And it's so freaking easy! Start with a slew of fresh colorful vegetables. This is the perfect time to shell out a few extra cents for the rainbow pack of bell peppers or purple carrots if you happen to find them. Hit the grocery store, use what I used or raid your crisper drawer and go from there. As long as you have a nice variety of colors and textures, nobody's going to complain. Cucumbers, grape tomatoes, corn hacked off the's all good. Just don't forget the cabbage. It's the base for your salad.
So, have you played Crunch a Color with your kids yet? I'm not getting any kickbacks here, promise, but you really need to own this game. Order it right now. Then serve this salad for dinner an prepare to be amazed at what your children will eat at the promise of 15 points.

Asian Rainbow Chicken Salad
adapted from my personal idols, Jenny Rosenstrach and Andy Ward, via bon appetit

For the dressing
1/3 cup canola or vegetable oil
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp brown sugar
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 tsp grated peeled ginger
kosher salt

For the salad
1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped (keep some seeds if you like it hot)
1/3 small head green cabbage, thinly sliced
1/3 small head red cabbage, thinly sliced
3 carrots, peeled and shredded
1/2 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
5-6 scallions, thinly sliced (white and light green parts only)
3 cups rotisserie chicken, shredded
2 cups baby spinach, thinly sliced
1/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup pepitas
1 tsp toasted sesame seeds

To make the dressing, combine the first 6 ingredients (oil through ginger) in a small bowl. Whisk well. Season with salt. If you'll be serving the dressing to anyone who can't handle a little heat (like my kids for instance), reserve a portion of it in a second small bowl. Add the jalapeño to the remaining dressing and stir.

Arrange a portion of the colorful sliced vegetables, chicken, and pepitas like a rainbow onto plates - one for each kid. Place a small bowl of (jalapeño-free) dressing in the center and serve to the munchkins in your life. 
Bean's a fan too
Roo likes it.

Now, combine the remaining vegetables and chicken in a large bowl. Drizzle the jalapeño dressing over the top and toss it all together. Sprinkle pepitas and toasted sesame seeds on top and elegant dinner for the grown-ups too.

If you happen to have a couple of buttermilk fried chicken strips lying around, go ahead and throw those on the plate too. Special thanks to the Pioneer Woman for the leftovers.

And if you're looking for even more variation and deconstruction inspiration, this Thai Steak Salad deconstructs equally well.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Spring on a Plate (Burrata with Simple Greens and Snap Peas)

The loveliest spring days call for the simplest of suppers.
The unseasonably mild winter was marvelous. The part where it lasted until May, less so. We're finally seeing the sun again. We're pulling out cushions for the patio furniture, scraping bird poop off the swing set, and wiping off the grimy window screens that never seem to make it down for winter. Spring, it's safe to say, has finally sprung here in the great Midwest.
Almost a year ago, the KC kids sampled Burrata for the first time in a mozzarella cheese-off. Despite a staunch vocal majority in favor of string cheese, Looly was swept off her feet by the Burrata. I have always liked that kid, so I've been keeping it in constant rotation strictly for her benefit. The fact that she never eats more than an ounce and I'm left to lick the plate has very little to do with it.

In celebration of Looly and Burrata enthusiasts everywhere, for the fans of chirping cardinals, lilac-scented breezes, humming lawn mowers in the distance and lazy days spent thumbing through cooking magazines outdoors on sun-warmed cushions, a most perfectly delightful spring supper.

So go ahead, pour yourself a cold glass of rosé. Let the kids sip spritzers of fruit juice and seltzer or agua fresca while they work. It'll only take a minute.

Fresh snap peas. A few greens. Slice a loaf of good bread and my friends, dinner is served. Because on days like this, you shouldn't part with the sunshine any longer than absolutely necessary.
Burrata with Simple Greens and Snap Peas
adapted from Bon Appetit

8 ounces sugar snap peas
4 cups baby greens (spinach, arugula, watercress, romaine, you name it)
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
zest of 1 medium lemon
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
kosher salt or sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 large ball burrata cheese (about 1 lb)

Arrange your children around a shady outdoor table and have them pull the strings off the snap peas and trim the ends. If you can't drum up some kids, you're going to have to do this part yourself. Sorry.

Cut the peapods in half lengthwise or use your fingers to pry them apart, which turns out to be another fine task for the shorties in your life.

Combine the peapods, greens, mint, and basil in a large salad bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, lemon juice and zest. Season well with salt and pepper. Pour the dressing over the greens and toss gently to coat the leaves.

Now the fun part. This is a job for your favorite know the one that never rolls their eyes, puts their dirty clothes in the hamper without being reminded, never forgets to flush the toilet, and has yet to utter the phrase "that's not fair." Yeah, I don't have one of those either. Work with what you've got. In any event, somebody needs to tear open the ball of burrata onto a platter. Let them make a real mess of it, it's going to get all prettied up with greens anyway.

The other less fortunate helpers can use their clean hands to scoop salad onto the platter around and atop the cheese. Slice some bread and tuck in. Taste spring. On a plate.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Eggless Lemon Blueberry Cake with Lemon Cream

I baked a version of this lush blueberry lemon cake with eggs for book club a few weeks ago. It must have looked good because soon after, Mufasa put in a last minute request to bring one to "food day" at work. Wondering what all the hype is about, Roo's been clamoring for an egg-free version for weeks. Without further ado....
Roo's Eggless Lemon Blueberry Cake!

That's three times in three weeks! Given the rate at which it's being requested, I'm most grateful that this sweet tart little beaut is not only quick to whip up, but as I've discovered through rampant experimentation, a most forgiving and versatile recipe.
See how the berries formed a layer at the bottom of the cake in the photo above? The key difference I noted between my egg-free version and the original, is that the blueberries tend to sink more in the eggless version, making it imperative that your pan is well-greased, floured, and lined with parchment. Consider yourself warned. Otherwise, bake on with abandon. But don't get too comfortable. Chances are good you're going to be baking this one on instant repeat.

Eggless Blueberry Lemon Cake with Lemon Cream
adapted from

For the cake

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup granulated sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
4 tbsp (1/2 a stick) of butter
1/2 tsp real vanilla extract
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt (or vanilla or lemon Greek yogurt)
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
2 tbsp turbinado sugar

For the lemon cream

1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup lemon flavored Greek yogurt

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease a round 9" cake pan. Line the bottom with parchment. Grease the parchment. Flour the bottom and sides of the pan.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Whisk together and set aside.

Put the granulated sugar in a large mixing bowl. Add the lemon zest and use your fingers to massage the zest into the sugar. This is favorite kid job, that is, a job that kids tend to favor,as opposed to a job for your favorite kid. Just make sure your help has clean hands. 
Add the butter and beat with an electric mixer for a few minutes until the mixture is pale yellow, light and fluffy. Don't forget to scrape down the sides and bottom of your bowl. Add the vanilla, yogurt, and buttermilk and beat until everything is well combined.

Add half the flour mixture and beat gently until just incorporated. Scrape down the sides of your bowl, add the remaining flour mixture and beat again until just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan. Scatter the berries evenly over the top. Sprinkle the top of the cake with turbinado sugar.

Bake 25-30 minutes until nicely browned on top and set in the center. If the top of the cake starts to get too brown before the center is set, cover the cake with aluminum foil. Remove from the oven and cool 10-15 minutes. Turn the cake out onto a wire rack, carefully remove the parchment paper, and cool completely.

To make the lemon cream, pour the whipping cream into a medium bowl. Whip with an electric mixer until soft peaks form.
Add the yogurt and beat again until you have a luxuriously thick, creamy topping.
 Slice the cake and serve with a dip fat dollop of lemon cream.