Thursday, October 6, 2011

Keeping me guessing, aka Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie

I never know what's going to be a hit with the boys.  I think I know, then it usually flops.  Other times I make something that may or may not work and the gobble it up and demand more.  Tonight was one of those nights.  My friend Sheri over a Pork Cracklins posted this recipe for Shepherd's Pie and it planted a seed.  Later when I was looking for dinner ideas in my cookbooks, I found a recipe for a vegetarian version in the Vegetarian Family Cookbook.  I decided to put it on the menu.  I started from that recipe, but made some adjustments. These are captured below.

Modified Shepherd's Pie

6 medium sized russet potatoes
1 Tbsp butter
 1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion (I used a sweet onion because I do love them so, but a plain onion would be fine too)
2 medium carrots (I approximated with baby carrots since I have them on hand at all times)
1/2 medium cauliflower (I used a bag of cauliflower florets from Trader Joe's because that's how I roll)
1 cup frozen corn
8 oz vegetarian ground "meat" (from Trader Joe's, where else)
2 Tbsp chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
2 tsp Vegetable Better than Bullion
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. 

Peel and cube the potatoes then boil until tender.  Once they are tender, drain and mash with butter and milk until fluffy.  Add the shredded cheese to the mashed potatoes and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Finely chop the onion and slice the carrots and add them to the pan.  Cook until the onions start to turn golden.  Finely chop the cauliflower and add it to the pan.  Cook until it starts to become tender.  Add the frozen corn and the soy meat and the Better than Bullion (in the paste form, don't add water).  Cook until heated through.  Add the parsley and season with salt and pepper.  Add about 1/2 cup of the mashed potatoes and stir until mixed in.

Put the vegetables into the bottom a a casserole and top with the mashed potatoes.  Smooth the mashed potatoes on top into an even layer.  I like to use a fork to make a nice texture on top of the potatoes, but you don't have to do that if you don't feel like it.

Bake the casserole for about 20 minutes until it is bubbling around the edges and the potatoes have begun to turn golden brown on top (at least along the textured ridges if you took that step).

Eat and enjoy. 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Lunchbox #7

The sushi lunch was a big hit with Big Dog.  He asked for an immediate repeat, but he did tell me to "go easy on the sushi" since apparently a 9 piece lunch is too much for him.  Right-sized, this lunch went over well the next day.

Avocado sushi rolls and baked tofu
Freeze dried strawberries
Sliced mango
Dark chocolate square

Lunchbox #5 and #6

Little Dog has been tricky to pack lunch for lately.  He shuns all sandwiches other than his beloved peanut butter and jelly.  He won't help me with ideas about what he might like to be eating, so I'm guessing.  Over the weekend the boys helped me make a roast chicken inspired by Fanny at Chez Pannise and they couldn't get enough of it.  I decided to try packing that for lunch and sure thing, it was a big hit.

Little Dog has asked for a repeat so I did a second lunch working with the same theme

Lunchbox #5
Roast chicken and jasmine rice
Snap Peas
Sliced gala apple
Yogurt tube
chocolate chips

watermelon chunks in snack container.

Lunchbox #6
Porkchop and jasmine rice
Sliced mango
Freeze dried strawberries
Dark chocolate

Lunchbox #4

The night before, I'd been out to dinner for a work function.  Mr. Dog took the boys out to dinner as well.  Big Dog wanted sushi, as usual.  Little Dog wanted to go to Bick's, mainly for the "Mousse in a Mug" dessert, but because Big Dog chose last time, it was Little Dog's turn to choose.  After feasting on smoked duck quesidillas, a hamburger and mousse in a mug, Big Dog was no longer complaining, but it did give me an idea for their lunch.  I got up early to make sushi rice and gave them a lunchbox surprise.

Avocado sushi rolls
baked tofu (from Trader Joe's)
sliced pear
white chocolate chips

Friday, September 16, 2011

Lunchbox #3

Let's just say I'm going to file this one under both "head scratchers" and "lessons learned."  See, I have two bagel-loving kids.  I thought bagels would be a slam dunk. Even when I was packing lunches up, Big Dog told me just how delicious the bagel looked.  So imagine my WTF moment when I opened the lunch boxes tonight and found each bagel only had about three bites in it.  Weird.  The multicolor cauliflower was also largely uneaten despite the boys gobbling it down at home.
I'm not really sure what happened with the bagels.  Too big for polite school eating maybe?  But I have to remember the boys both bow to peer pressure.  The cauliflower was probably a casualty of nearby "yucks" from lunch table neighbors.  Big Dog has given up favorite lunch foods based on the criticism of his peers in the past, I guess I should just expect it.

Whole wheat bagel with low fat cream cheese
Multicolored cauliflower (steamed since they don't really like raw cauliflower-or at least I don't and I project that upon the boys)
Sliced red plums
YoKids yogurt tube
dark chocolate square
Snack container: green seedless grapes

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Lunchbox #2

Well there were going to be mini sandwiches on these adorable little artisan slider buns, but as soon as I put them on the counter, Little Dog told me he hated them.  So I tried to come up with something else. I asked for suggestions and he requested deviled eggs.  Perfect!  Well, it probably would have been more perfect if the eggs were store bought instead of our own eggs that are fresh and thus resist being peeled without shredding into a thousand pieces.  Anyhow they might not be beautiful, but they were tasty.  So, today's lunch was as follows:

Deviled eggs
Berries (raspberries and blueberries)
Heirloom cherry tomatoes
English cucumber in rice wine vinegar (in the small container, turns out it is just about the perfect size for this)
Yo Kids Squeezer
A couple of Trader Joe's Gummy Tummies

Snack container was filled with sliced pluots (not pictured)

Basic Deviled Eggs

2 hard boiled eggs
2 tsp mayonnaise
2 tsp sweet relish
1/2 tsp vinegar (I used rice wine vinegar because I had it on hand, I usually use apple cider vinegar for this)
1/2 tsp brown mustard
salt and pepper to taste

Cut the hard boiled eggs in half, remove the yolks and put them into a bowl with all of the other ingredients.  Use a fork to mash the ingredients into a more or less smooth mess.  Scoop it back into the cooked egg whites.

To keep them from sticking to the lunchbox, place a piece of waxed paper on top of them before closing the lid.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A cavelcade of lunches

We got new fancy lunch boxes this year.  Stainless steel, dishwasher safe, decorated with magnets and just plain awesome.  And as I started packing them up, I realized how nice it would be for me to have a record of what was in them each day.  Mostly I think it will be handy to track what was eaten and what came home untouched.  So here we go, the first day of a new line of work on this blog.

Lunch #1 (for the blog, #5 if you count the ones that didn't get photographed)

Peanut butter and strawberry balsamic jam on whole wheat bread.
Snap peas and heirloom cherry tomatoes
White nectarines (Big Dog brought them home claiming the darkening was "rot")
Trader Joe's organic yogurt squishers
Dark chocolate
Side container snack: black plum

I originally cut the sandwiches into heart shapes, which caused Big Dog to say, "Mama, really?" making me feel like a bit of a dunce, so I cut his in half.  I left Little Dog's as is.  When I picked him up from school he asked, "Was that a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?"
"Yes," I answered.
"Then why was it shaped like a heart?"
"I thought you might like it," I said.
"I didn't like it."
"You didn't?" I asked, a bit surprised.
"I loved it.  After I hated it."
So at least we cleared that up.
Lunch as planned.

And if you're too cool for heart-shaped sandwiches.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Changing it up

So this blog is sadly neglected.  Why?  I don't know.  Well, I do.  I don't seem to know quite what to do with it. Or rather, I didn't.  But lately instead of cooking for the boys, I've been cooking with the boys and that has me inspired.  See my friend has this awesome blog Pork Cracklins where she cooks, reviews the recipe and links to it someplace.  Nice, right?  Well, now that I'm doing more recipe based cooking, cooking with the kids, I've decided to steal her style, add some kids and change the formula of this very blog. 
What you'll be seeing here now will be cooking experiences with the boys.  We've invested in a couple of cooking for kids kind of cookbooks and working our way through those, we'll be keeping track of what we liked, what we didn't like and what alterations we made.  And hopefully with that new format, I'll actually start posting about my cooking more than once a year.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Celebrating their first pot luck win

Tonight was National Night Out, the national get out and meet your neighbors event that our block celebrates with gusto.  Each year we have a big BBQ with the kids running amok and the parents drinking beer saying just how much we should do this more often and remembering how we said the same thing last year.  We generally stay out on the street until the kids beg to go to bed and the parents finally give in.
As you know, I approach all pot lucks as competitions.  I go for the win or I don't bother going.  I usually bake something.  Baked goods tend to look great and since most people don't do a lot of baking they usually have no idea how little effort it takes to make something that looks and tastes amazing. This year it was S'more cupcakes, but that's not what I'm writing about.  No, the big win today was made by the boys.

This week the boys have started cooking camp.  Little Dog has had a long fascination with cooking, I suspect it has a lot to do with his desire to learn to make his own cookies so I no longer play gatekeeper on his favorite food, but I'm happy to have him in the kitchen.  Big Dog likes to cook, but perhaps more because he likes to help.  I have to admit, most days I ban them from the kitchen when I cook.  Our kitchen is not well laid out for more than one cook at a time.  I also tend to think of my time cooking or baking as a reprieve from my busy life.  I like it quiet and controlled.  I should probably include them more, but I don't.  Sue me.

Tonight was different.  I came up with something they could pretty easily make on their own, but something that would also be delicious and look great.  I also knew it would be a winner since I made it as a last minute pot luck entry a couple of years ago and it was gone within minutes of being set down.  What is this easy dish you ask?  Caprese salad.  Or at least a pot luck friendly version of it.
In this version I use mixed color heirloom cherry tomatoes, bocconcinni (little mozzerella balls) and loads of fresh basil.  I get all of these ingredients at Trader Joe's so it makes it easy to pull together on short notice as well.
I set the boys up with some kid friendly knives, a pair of kitchen shears and good directions and they did the rest.  The salad was beautiful and I received repeated compliments which i redirected to the boys.  They were very proud, but maybe their first win came a little too easy.  They didn't seem to want to run victory laps around the folding tables, instead they insisted on playing in the sprinklers with the other kids. 
Super Easy Pot Luck Killer
3 lbs heriloom cherry tomatoes (a variety of colors works best, but in a pinch good basic cherry tomatoes work too)
2 containers of bocconcini (these are just a great size to work with the tomatoes, but if you can't find them use a larger fresh mozzerella and cut it into pieces about he same size as your halved tomatoes)
1 big bunch of fresh basil cut into pieces (I aim for nice evenly-sized strips, but that was not what the kids delivered.  Let's just call their approach more...rustic)
Good Olive Oil (no specific measurement here, but a good slightly heavy handed drizzle over the ingredients to pull it all together and the nicer olive oil you use, the nice the flavor of the salad)
Sea salt (again, no specific measurement, just a few good pinches until the tomato flavor really pops.  You'll know it when you taste it)
Fresh ground pepper (a few good grinds, just don't go too nuts)

Cut the tomatoes and cheese, or better yet get your kids to cut the tomatoes and cheese in halves and put them into a bowl.  Add the cut basil and toss it together.  Add the heavy drizzle of olive oil, use a little more than you think you need.  Add the salt and pepper to taste and toss again.  That's it and yes, it is a winner. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

From the oddly stocked pantry

Sometimes I don't really plan meals, they spring forth from my cupboards, pieced together from odds and ends of my various shopping trips.  I don't think my pantry is quite usual since I pick up things that sound good or look good and if they're storable, it is likely that they will sit on my shelf until a night like tonight.  We are just back from a family trip and I have not done the usual shopping run.  I did manage to pick up some salmon last night, but that's about it, so I went to the cupboard, and this is what I ended up with.

Wild Yam Noodles with Peanut Sauce

1 12 oz package of Wild Yam Noodles (purchased on a whim at the local international market)

1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup water
2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
1/4 of a medium sized shallot
1 Tbsp lime juice
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp ground ginger (fresh would probably be better, but I didn't have it so there ya go)

Cook the yam noodles according to the package (in this case, the quaintly worded package that urged me to "Please do stir the noodles with chop stick").  While they are cooking put all the other ingredients into your food processor and process until smooth.  When the noodles are cooked, drain and toss with the peanut sauce.  Yep, that's it.

I served mine with broiled salmon that had been brushed with soy sauce and mirin and added a side salad of butter lettuce dressed with rice wine vinegar and olive oil.


Friday, July 8, 2011

Now if this isn't neglect...

I'm not sure I know what is!  I can't believe I haven't posted here in a year and a half.  I guess I haven't been doing that much cooking that needs to be documented lately.  In a rut, uninspired or just too plain busy to blog about it.  Anyhow, tonight I made up a recipe and I want to document it. Mark your calendar.
If you're in a marking your calendar mood, go ahead and mark July 30th for the day my new fancy induction range is being delivered!  I'm so giddy I can hardly sit still.  Quite a plunge considered before this morning I had never cooked on an induction ANYTHING.  But since we'd been talking about it, I got an induction counter top burner...ok, it's a fancy hot plate, but it is awesome and I'm putting it through its paces in prep for the big jump to a range that doesn't just flat out suck.
Tonight it was quesedilla for the veggie among us and steak to go with it for those who love their meat. Little Dog saw the sliced up stead on the serving plate and immediately started to complain, "What?!?! I don't get any meat?" but I reassured him he did and peace was restored to the dinner table.
Anyhow, on to that recipe.  I'm going to call it Mexican Pesto, though I just made it up.  I wanted something other than salsa to grace my quesedilla.  I armed myself with the food processor and before you know it, I had a really tasty pesto that made it look like dinner was super fancy instead of just things cooked in my cast iron skillets on my new hot plate.

Mexican Pesto
1 big bunch cilantro washed and the tough stems cut off (tender stem are welcome to stay)
2 cloves of garlic
1/2 a medium sized jalapeno, seeded and roughly chopped
3 tablespoons lime juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup toasted and salted pepitos
salt to taste (it probably takes more than you expect, unless you expect it to take a lot- then you'd be right)
Toss the cilantro, garlic, jalapeno, lime juice and pepitos into the bowl of your food processor (or robot culinaire as they call them in France- doesn't that sound so much cooler?) and slowly add the olive oil until it looks like pesto.  Taste it then add salt to cut the bitterness. 
That's it.  Don't expect the kids to eat it, or at least don't expect my kids to eat it.  Little Dog tasted it and decided it was "disgusting"  as many things are lately.  The grown ups loved it though so I'm taking the "more for me" attitude about it.