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Baked Cauliflower Macaroni and Cheese: Is there any pay-off in pandering to a kid?

27 Mar

This was not at all a sneak attack. This was a straightforward “Hey little dude, do you think you would like cauliflower if I made this recipe?”

Oh, yes, yes, I would eat it up, it looks delicious, definitely make it Mommy, make it right away, blah, blah, blah.

Baking bacon!

Baking bacon!

So there is no reason why, after troubling myself to get all the ingredients and getting my unwilling, intermittently vegan dad into the process, and committing myself to joining my son in eating a stodgy, creamy, cheesy, bacon-y mess of a fantastic casserole that in no way advances my desire to look good in a bathing suit by summer…there is absolutely no reason why said five-year-old little dude should be allowed to not eat the damn cauliflower, whether he likes it or not.

Mustard seed and rosemary, crushed

Mustard seed and rosemary, crushed

But of course, you know what happened. Continue reading

Shrimp Scampi (Shrimp in Garlic Wine Sauce)

4 Mar

“This is the best lunch ever, Mom, the King of All Lunches,” says Leandro, The King of All Understatements.

The source of his enthusiasm was Shrimp Scampi (kind of an Americanized misnomer for an Italian recipe: read here). And if it wasn’t the best lunch ever (he has fewer lunches to compare with than I do) it was pretty damn good.

Simmering off the wine

Simmering off the wine

Continue reading

Meatballs for Good Friends (and a full freezer) Part 1 (with cheese)

23 Jan

(Three hundredth post!!!!)

Cooking a nice meal for both parents and kids does not have to involve making two separate dinners.Well, not exactly, anyway.

I confess to getting cold feet halfway through my prep and making myself a safety net, so let’s say this time I made one-and-a-half meals, but in the process, I really stocked the freezer for the new semester.

The juicy, savory, binding

The juicy, savory, binding

I made some “fancy” meatballs and some basic ones (that recipe later in the week) for a Single Mothers By Choice-three-family dinner here at home last weekend…pasta, meatballs and red sauce…can you really go wrong? My friend, Pam, brought the salad fixings, and Kim brought a sinful dessert (which one pretends is for the kids, but is really just as much for the growns) and everything went swimmingly! And everyone liked both fancy and plain.

On their way to the oven

On their way to the oven

Continue reading

Pasta e piselli (Pasta with Ham and Peas)

9 Nov

These Northeastern storms (Sandy and the nor-easter) have brought out the darker side of humor in many of us, as in “What next: plagues of locusts? Frogs?”

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse seem to have taken a liking to New York and environs; they are galloping through with thundering hooves and much of it is pretty horrible. Mind you, we are doing fine at my house, now that the power is back and school has started  – in fits and starts, actually, as sudden power outages have closed us down a few times. We are lucky!

Easy-peasy ham and peas….

But we are striving for normalcy and for me normal is blogging about food. Continue reading

Everything Must Go! How to make a mad-mixed pasta sauce to eat now/freeze for later)

22 Aug

We are drowning in abundance. It happens every August if you garden or belong to a CSA; there are so many tomatoes, so many peppers, so much zucchini….it all gets lost in the fridge faster than you can cook it!

So, with pick-up coming the next day and a fridge full of last week’s haul getting ugly, I took as much as I could and cooked it down into sauce – some for now and some for the freezer, in small containers that will make a fast meal when school starts and dinner needs to be now and lunch needs to be ready the night before. I have freezer-packing panic!

Blanche! (Tennessee Williams moment)

Here is an Everything Must Get Used Before Our Next Pick-Up tomato sauce recipe. I used SunGolds, cherries, paste tomatoes, slicers, heirlooms, anything that had been sitting all week getting sad.

How-to for blanching tomatoes follows the recipe….

Everything Must Go Pasta Sauce

3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

1 Cup onion, chopped

6 cloves garlic, chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped

2 green peppers, chopped

3 carrots, chopped

3 stalks celery, chopped

(Optional bits and bobs: half a zucchini, a bit of eggplant – bung in anything that will cook down soft and not mess up the overall color too much — chopped small).

6 lbs tomatoes (paste tomatoes preferred, but I used an incredible mix), cored, blanched and peeled*

1 Tbs dried oregano and thyme (2 Tbs if using fresh)

¼ Cup red wine

½ tsp salt (or to taste)

Heat olive oil in a heavy-bottomed soup pot at medium high until liquid and fragrant. Lower heat to medium and add the following vegetables one at a time, stirring to coat before adding the next: onions, garlic, peppers, carrots, celery. Cook at medium (or lower if you have time) until vegetables are soft and translucent, at least five minutes. Add tomatoes and bring to a boil. Add herbs and wine and lower to a lively simmer. Cook down for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The more you cook it, the smoother it will get, but also the more dense. Add water 1/4 Cup at a time as desired.

(Optional step: Using an immersion blender, liquefy the sauce to desired smoothness)

Correct seasoning and serve over pasta/freeze for later! Will keep three months in the freezer.

To blanch, keep reading!

A pile of peels

*To blanch and peel tomatoes: Bring two quarts of water to a boil. Meanwhile, core the tomatoes (take out the stem and white core with a paring knife) and prepare a large bowl of ice water. When the water boils, drop tomatoes in. In two minutes (or less) you will see the skin begin to peel back or split. Remove each tomato as this happens and drop in ice water. When tomatoes have cooled,  take them out of the ice water and peel (the skin should come off easily). They are then ready to cook down, or freeze in freezer bags for later use (later can be as long as next spring! and you don’t have to peel them if you are freezing for later use).

“Mom. Blog This. Right Now.” (Leandro Makes His First Pesto and Wants You To Know How Great It Was)

11 Aug

It is high season for basil, which means high season for pesto. I forgot to pick up basil from the farm this week, but one of the neighbors’ friends, in gratitude for Sangría Night, sent some over from the overabundance in her own garden.

From Lindsay’s Garden

Between that and my little plants scattered around the yard, I had enough for a quickie pesto for Leandro’s couscous.

From our garden – not the greatest shot, but the other ones showed all the perforations from unknown creatures feasting merrily on my herbs!

And then, BONUS! I had Leandro making his own dinner! He loves the smell of basil, but what he truly couldn’t resist was a go with the pestle. Nothing like offering a five-year-old a club and saying “Have at it, kid. Call me when you’ve beaten this stuff to a pulp.”

The Little Chef at work

He was tremendously excited at every turn, making me smell all the different aromas as we added ingredients to the mortar. We mixed it into couscous for lunch with the grands and wasn’t he so proud to have made The Best Pesto Ever? We were proud too and it really was delicious. I also used some of it to spread on roasted eggplant, peppers and zucchini. What a terrific lunch! And a wonderful kitchen experience!

Note the unorthodox use of walnuts (Poor Marcella Hazan; I use her The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking all the time, but never quite stick to the classical line). I can’t afford to keep pine nuts around so walnuts were a worthy and handy substitute. (Mind you, with the price of walnuts rising — around $18 now for a 3-lb bag at Costco these days, up from $15 not too many months ago — who knows how long I’ll be able to afford those!). Also, this recipe can certainly be increased; I only had a cup of basil.

 

With Couscous

Hand-Ground Pesto (Mortar and Pestle needed)

1 Cup basil leaves, tightly packed (washed in cold water and patted dry)

1 clove garlic, smashed and peeled

2 Tbs walnuts

 Coarse sea salt (pinch by pinch, to taste)

¼ Cup freshly grated parmigiano reggiano (additional Tbs romano cheese optional)

¼ Cup extra virgin olive oil

In a mortar and pestle (marble mortar with wooden pestle is what Marcella Hazan recommends; I use all marble) grind basil leaves, garlic, walnuts, and sea salt into a paste. Add cheese and use pestle to mix well. Add the oil in a thin stream, mixing well with a wooden spoon.

If using pasta, this amount will suffice for about a pound, Reserve some of the pasta cooking water to thin the pesto as you turn it into the pasta. If using couscous, start with two Cups dry (Israeli-style couscous – the big kind – preferred)

On stacked grilled veggies

Golden Tomato Pasta Sauce (freezeable! or make from frozen tomatoes…)

30 Jul

“Tis the season for the tomatoes to overwhelm. In fact, last year we were so overwhelmed that I had tomatoes in the freezer all winter. The texture isn’t as good as in the middle of summer, but the incomparable bright, fresh flavor is still there.

Yes, these icebergs are actually frozen golden tomatoes (yellow seems a bit more prosaic here). The freezer burn was minimal and the flavor was great!

So this is a terrific simple sauce that you can make from frozen or fresh. Instructions for blanching appear at the end!

Golden Tomato Sauce

Golden Tomato Pasta Sauce

¼ Cup extra virgin olive oil

1 Cup shallots, chopped

¼ tsp hot red pepper flakes

1 Tbs oregano (less if oregano is not your favorite; this is a pretty generous amount)

Pinch sugar

5 lbs golden tomatoes, cored, blanched and peeled*

10-20 basil leaves, chopped

Heat olive oil at medium-high in a heavy-bottomed soup pot until liquid and fragrant. Add shallots, stir to coat and lower heat to medium low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until shallots are soft and translucent. Stir in hot red pepper flakes, oregano and pinch sugar and cook one minute. Add tomatoes, bring to boil then lower to a lazy simmer and cook for an hour or until fat begins to separate from tomatoes and you have reaced desired consistency. Add basil leaves and cook for an additional five minutes. Serve over pasta, as pizza sauce or on bruschetta, or freeze in quart containers for another day.

*To blanch and peel tomatoes, set a big pot of water to boil. In the meantime, core the tomatoes and fill a big bowl with ice water. When the water is boiling, drop tomatoes in so they fit comfortably. They blanch in under a minute, generally. As soon as you see the peel start separating from the flesh, pull them out and drop into the ice water. You can leave the peel on if you are going to freeze them (in gallon freezer bags is fine) or peel once they have cooled to use immediately.

Albóndigas Variation (Meatballs: Eat some now, freeze some for later)

28 Jun

You would think that I came from hunger.

I stockpile like a squirrel in autumn. (And like squirrels, I sometimes forget where the hell I stockpiled my treasures, but that is another matter for a day when we are discussing organization. Today, we are not). I don’t feel safe unless there are plenty of foodstuffs laid by, whether for unexpected guests, an emergency supper,  the coming of The Apocalypse, or the nuclear winter. I’m a Cold War baby and that’s how I roll.

Sauté onion and garlic in a saucepan, drop in frozen meatballs and a tin of crushed tomatoes with your preferred herbs and spices and in 20 minutes of lively simmer – gorgeous sauce for spaghetti and meatballs!

There’s nothing I like more than a pantry full of stuff with which to make meals, except a freezer full of stuff that is already made (by me, of course, because the supermarket has freezers full of simulated-food garbage I won’t pay for, cause it’s  simulated food garbage I won’t eat).

To freeze, place cooled meatballs in a freezer bag. Lay the bag flat on a plate and stick in freezer so the meatballs don’t freeze stuck together. When completely frozen through, remove plate, shake the bag to unstick meatballs, squeeze air out, and leave bag in freezer. Use within three months (or before freezer burn sets in!)

Thus, this meatball recipe – a variation on my dad’s excellent meatballs. We call them albóndigas and like to make them neutrally flavored for freezing, so that whatever the occasion you can drop them in an Italian-style tomato sauce, serve them with buttered noodles, make a meatball sandwich, stick them with toothpicks and call them hors d’oeuvres, do whatever, adding your favorite seasonings later.

Cheese, please!

Use some hot off the stove, and freeze the rest. You never know when they will save your life….

Cloudy, with a chance of meatballs!

Albóndigas (Variation on Pedro’s Albóndigas)

5 cloves garlic, peeled

1 generous Cup onion, chopped

2 Tbs olive oil

1 Cup mixed fresh herbs (or 4 Tbs dry), such as basil, oregano, thyme, marjoram, parsley

2 tsp Old Bay Seasoning

1 tsp salt

3 lbs ground beef (you can substitute 1lb of pork for 1lb of beef)

2 whole eggs (optional)

1 cup breadcrumbs (plain, or seasoned with similar herbs to those you chose above)

Whir garlic, onions, olive oil and parsley in a blender or food processor until minced fine. Add herbs, Old Bay, and salt and pulse a few times until it forms a paste.

In a large bowl place meat, seasoning paste, optional eggs, roasted red pepper, and bread crumbs. Mix well so that breadcrumbs are evenly distributed. Using your hands, roll into balls about 1.5 inches across. You can dip your hands in water to keep from sticking.

Heat 2 Tbs oil in heavy skillet at medium heat until the oil flows like water and a meatball dipped in it sizzles softly. Fry several at a time (use tongs to turn quickly) browning on all sides, then lower to medium low and cook for about six minutes, shaking the pan and turning meatballs occasionally. When they are cooked through, cool on paper towels. Can be frozen for three months in an airtight container.

Cold Rice Noodle Salad with Creamy Tahini

17 Jun

Rice noodles are cool. They start out all stiff and fragile and white and, after just three minutes in boiling water, they turn glassy and soft and a bit sticky. I love their texture and their look, and they remind me of a beloved Filipino chicken and noodle recipe my mom used to make when we were kids, one she got from a very dear Filipino friend.

My son loves them plain; he has taken to burying the fresh peas from our garden under a pile of noodles and carrying on all sorts of conversations with pretend characters as they make their way to his mouth. I am sure there is a whole chapter in the Bad Mommy Handbook about the evils of letting kids play with their food, but I can’t bring myself to care. The last thing I want is for the dinner table– perhaps the last bastion of real family life left to us all — to become a battlefield.

So he plays with his plain rice noodles and peas (“Oh no, don’t let him find me!” says the pea. “I am going to eat you!” says the evil bad guy, played by my son) while I play around with making cool dressings for the part I want to eat.

This one was inspired by Lindsey at Makes and Takes and I modified to suit our tastes and what was available in our garden and pantry. You will note that I used Veganaise – this was a salad my dad promised to try (yes, he is still on his crazy ass diet, but he is not so militant anymore and for this Father’s Day he was downright anarchic), so I used the vegan mayonnaise as a consideration. It’s actually fine for things like this.

You’ll also notice the pea pod option. Leandro eats the peas from the garden, but not the pods (yet), so I took the pods he was emptying and added them. They are unbelievably sweet and crunchy right off the vine and fit right in with the other stuff.

Cold Rice Noodle Salad with Radish, Cucumber, Pea Pods, and Creamy Tahini Dressing

Salad

8 oz. rice noodles, prepared according to package directions and cooled.

5 small radishes, greens removed and cut into tiny matchsticks (about 2 Tbs)

¼ hothouse cucumber, cut into tiny matchsticks (about 2 Tbs)

(optional – a handful of peapods – peas removed – cut into tiny matchsticks; microgreens; toasted sesame seeds, matchstick carrots)

Dressing

2 Tbs mayonnaise or Veganaise

1 tsp rice vinegar

½ tsp sugar

2 generous Tbs tahini

1-2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced fine

Sriracha or other Asian hot sauce, to taste (I did one generous squeeze)

¼ salt or to taste

Mix salad ingredients together in a bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk together dressing ingredients. Add dressing to bowl mix thoroughly, adjust seasoning, and serve.

Quick Vegetable Soup for a Sick Day You Couldn’t Take

10 Jun

A few weeks ago I got bronchitis. I don’t get sick often, but sometimes you just pound it too hard and the body craps out.

However, it was not the right time to take off from work, which statement is probably a clear indicator of how crazed about work our American society is (And how I have become). “Yeah, I am on death’s door, but I gotta go to work.” Heavy sigh followed by a hacking, wracking cough. Wipe nose on sleeve. Carry on.

And I was one of at least two in our department who were in the same boat. Ah well. In my next iteration, I will go back to being Mediterranean or Caribbean in my approach. It is much better.

Anyhoo, by the time I stumbled home and crawled up the stairs on one of the worst days, I wasn’t up for much cooking. I was, however, very much in the mood for a comforting, nourishing soup. So was my mom, who was in similar condition downstairs.

That is when knowing your way around a kitchen is a good thing. If you can chop, saute, and add flavorful liquids, in about 25 minutes you can have a soup that may not raise the dead, but will smell good, taste good (if you have any sense of smell or taste left)  and make you feel better. If you don’t have any sense of smell or taste, just load on the hot sauce and enjoy a few minutes of steamed and spicy relief.

Feel like you can’t even deal with chopping fresh vegetables? Go ahead, empty out all the useless quarter bags of frozen vegetables buried in the back of the freezer. The tomatoe-y broth and herbs will make it all taste good, even if the texture leaves a bit to be desired.

Easy Vegetable Soup

2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 Cup chopped carrots and celery

2 Cups other mixed vegetables (whatever bits are around the fridge anxious to be used – I used cauliflower, broccoli, summer squash. Potatoes, leeks, spinach would be nice too. You can also use frozen – why not?)

15 oz. can of tomatoes – pureed, chopped, diced, whole, whatever*

1 quart your preferred stock, plus more liquid to cover – can be stock or water*.

15 oz. can of white beans, rinsed and drained

½ Cup of cooked rice or pasta, if you’ve got

½ Cup fresh or frozen chopped spinach, optional

1 Tbs dried herbs (your preferred combination of oregano/thyme/rosemary/parsley/marjoram)

Salt, pepper and hot sauce to taste

In a deep soup pot, heat the oil at medium high until loose and fragrant. Add onions, stir to coat, and lower heat to medium. Add garlic, carrots, and celery, and saute for five minutes, until becoming tender. Add additional vegetables, stir to coat and sauté another three minutes. Add tomatoes and broth, plus enough additional liquid to cover, bring pot to boil, then lower heat and simmer for ten minutes. With about five minutes left in the simmer, add beans, and optional pasta and spinach, and seasoning. Serve with saltines or crusty bread.

*(Note: You can substitute some or all the stock, or the can of tomatoes with vegetable juice such as V-8 – low-sodium preferred)

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