Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I'll see your Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup, and raise it.

Rainy weather always makes me crave the classic combo of a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup. When I was a kid, my mom would serve this simple dinner when the days were dark and wet. So growing up in Portland, OR meant we ate this meal a lot.
To this day, it is one of my favorite kid friendly, easy meals. But being the over achiever I am, I can't stay contented with the basic cheese on bread, Campbell's Soup team. Noooo, I have to one up you.

The thing is, it doesn't take much effort to make this even better. For example, I'll bet you have no idea just how simple it is to make homemade tomato soup. And it tastes fantastic.

Basic Tomato Soup
1 can good quality tomatoes (chopped or whole, doesn't matter. I especially like to use Pomi chopped tomatoes in the box.)
1 - 2 cups veggie broth (I use Vegetable Better than Bullion and water, but make it extra strong)
3 tbsp butter
2 tbsp all purpose flour
1 medium onion, chopped into smallish pieces (sweet onions are especially nice for this)
one bay leaf
Salt and pepper.
1 cup milk

In a medium sized pan, melt the butter, add your flour and cook briefly.
Stir in the chopped onion and cook until onion is soft and transparent.
Add tomatoes, 1 cup of the broth and bay leaf. Simmer over medium heat for about 15 minutes.
Remove bay leaf, and hit it with your stick blender until it is smooth.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Remove from the heat and stir in one cup of milk. Use a bit more broth if it is too thick for your tastes.
Yep, that's it.

Grilled cheese? That's another one to dress up. My favorite twist is to use extra sharp cheddar and add a bit of Major Grey's chutney. Too tame for you? How about using Gruyere and add thin slices of pears? No? Still not your thing? Ok, try using fresh mozzarella and basil leaves. How about cheddar and dried cherries or brie and sliced tart apples. Really, the options are endless. I tend to use a good quality whole wheat bread as a default, but switching that up can be another way to add interest. Don't stick to the basics either. Sure, sourdough is nice, but what about using that Raisin and Pecan bread? Try that with Cambozola and you'll never go back.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I'm a big fat liar.

So much for meal planning. I may be an organized and driven taskmaster at work, but when it comes to my home life, sticking to a plan is near impossible.

We didn't have curried eggs. Nope, had all of the ingredients, but I punted. Big Dog demanded Macaroni and Cheese, so I complied. Not with fancy macaroni and cheese, but with the basic, easy-as-pie-is-reported-to-be-but-really-isn't-since-I can't-master-pie-crust, recipe.

And then, tortellini and Parmesan with arugula salad, yeah, that didn't happen either.
We had Waffles of Insane Greatness with bacon and eggs. And veggie sasauges for those of us who don't feast on piggy flesh.

So in the spirit of full disclosure, I've added the actual dinner recipes.

Easy easy mac and cheesey.

Big dog is a macaroni and cheese junkie. He jonzes for his fix the same way I jonze for coffee, so I have a hard time denying him. Truth be told, I love macaroni and cheese too, it is easy, I usually have the ingredients in the house, and I love having leftovers for lunches. The added plus is that I get to be a superhero, the loving provider of macaroni and cheese. All I need is a cape.

I have posted other recipes for macaroni and cheese, but this is my fallback recipe. It is simple and tastes great.

Followthatdog's Basic, Unadorned Macaroni and Cheese (aka. Big Dog's fix)
4Tbsp butter
4 Tbsp all purpose flour
2 cups milk (I use 1% or nonfat most times, because that's what we have, but any % works just fine)
12 oz shredded sharp cheddar (aka. 1 package of Trader Joe's Organic Shredded Sharp Cheddar)
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
fresh grated nutmeg

I lb pasta of your choice. We like Trader Joe's Multigrain Fusili with flax, but use what you have on hand.

Cook your pasta according to the package instructions.
While your water is coming to a boil, melt your butter in a medium sized sauce pan. When the butter is melted and is no longer sizzling, whisk in your flour. Let it fully coat the flour and cook for about a minute,
Add your milk, whisking wildly to avoid clumps. Keep stirring over medium heat until the white sauce thickens to a good cheese sauce consistency. Remove from the heat and stir in your grated cheese one handful at a time, letting each handful melt before adding the next. Once the cheese is all melted, stir in the Worcestershire sauce and add 3 or 4 good gratings of fresh nutmeg (or a smallish shake of ground nutmeg if you don't)

Drain the pasta, add the cheese sauce and sit back and be lauded as a Macaroni and Cheese making god. Go on, do it. It feels great.

And what's so bad about waffling?

Seriously, they're delicious. I don't get the negativity. I mean, sure, maybe I wanted tortellini when I did my weekly meal plan, and then, on the way home, I decided "ya know what, I don't want tortellini, I want waffles!" Nothing wrong with that.

And part of the problem is that these waffles are just too damn delicious. Look at the name, it says it all. I originally found this recipe on the FoodTV website, and made one or two tweaks that make them our favorite waffles of all time. My only advice, make a double batch. You'll want more. And if you do end up with leftovers, freeze them, pop them in the toaster the next day and relive the glory.

Waffles of Insane Greatness

This link takes you to the original recipe, but if you want perfection, try them as they are made at our house.

1/4 cup corn starch
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1/4 cup vegetable oil

Put your dry ingredients into a mixing bowl, use a whisk to mix them together. Add the wet ingredients and let sit for 15 minutes.

Make waffles according to your waffle iron manufacturer's instructions. And enjoy.

Top with butter and syrup. Real maple syrup, or what's the point. Or try jam. That's good too.

Thinking inside the box.

Mr. Dog thinks I'm nuts, but I really love making Big Dog beautiful bento style lunches. We have a couple of the Laptop Lunchboxes and I try to use them to their fullest. Not only does it encourage me to have more diversity in his lunch, it makes for less waste, and more crafty-mom fun when I pack them. Mr. Dog still thinks I'm nuts.

Is is sad or crazy that I love making roll up sandwiches and packing them like maki rolls? Is it bizarre that I strive to have them filled with wonderful colors so they visually pop when you open the box? Yes? Ok, then maybe Mr. Dog is right. Still, Big Dog loves them, so I'm going to continue making them.

Last night we pulled together a new fancy roll up. Smoked salmon cream cheese, shaved cucumber and shredded carrot all wrapped up in a whole wheat tortilla. And yeah, he eats that. If you have it handy, add some fresh spinach to the mix and it will be even prettier when cut into rolls.

Smoked Salmon Cream Cheese Spread.
1 12 oz tub Light Spreadable cream cheese (Trader Joe's is what I use-are you sensing a theme?- but any light cream cheese would work.)
1 can smoked salmon, skin removed (again with the Trader Joe's, it's like I'm obsessed) If you can't get a canned smoked salmon, use a chunk of hot smoked salmon, not lox. about 6 oz. You can use more if you'd like. I have and it only gets better the more salmon you add.

Dump your two ingredients into your mixer and whip until it is all smooth and salmon-y. Sounds too easy right? It's one of those things that makes you feel like a kitchen rock star, but any slacker could do.

And is it good? After having a taste, Big Dog looked up at me and said "If I never have more of this, my life would be.....harder." So there you go, it makes life easier for a 4 year old, it is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, makes a mean roll up and stores well in the fridge. What more could you want?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Curried Eggs, humor me.

It sounds super exotic, and it tastes great, but this is a weird little recipe I've pulled from Everyday Foods magazine (March 2008) and modified to make more enticing for our family.

I have this feeling you're going to read the recipe and think, "Holy crap, that sounds terrible! Why would she eat this?" and I assure you, it is actually really really good. Give it a try, you can thank me later.

Curried Eggs

8 eggs, hard boiled and peeled
1 jar good quality marinara sauce (I use the Trader Joe's Organic Marinara)
2. tbsp olive oil
1 medium sweet onion cut in half and sliced thinly
2 cloves garlic
2 tbsp grated fresh ginger (I'll give you a tip on how to do this in the steps that follow)
2 tbsp good quality curry powder (don't cheap out on this, the good stuff is worth it)
Salt to taste
Low fat plain yogurt (about a cup for 4 people)

In a medium sized sauce pan, heat the oil over medium heat.
Add the garlic and onion and fry until soft.
Add the ginger and heat for about a minute, then dump in the marinara sauce. I used a big piece of fresh ginger, washed and grated with my microplane. I don't peel it and I don't worry about the little chunks that fall in as I grate happily away. If I knew who developed the microplane for cooking, I'd probably kiss them. I love mine and use them all the time.
Add your curry powder. Let simmer for about 5 minutes, then add your whole peeled hard boiled eggs. Keep on the heat until the eggs are warm through, about 5 more minutes.

Serve over rice or not (we don't since Mr. Dog has some sick aversion to rice, but you probably don't live with a similarly afflicted individual, so go for it!) Top with about 1/4 cup yogurt.

Serves 4.

As with many spice-rich foods, this is even better as leftovers. I love the way the flavors mingle after a night in the fridge, and the fact that the eggs turn a sunny happy yellow from the curry powder doesn't hurt either. Who doesn't love bright yellow globes for lunch?

Meal Planning Monday

I'm starting to feel a little guilty about just how badly I neglect this blog. I'll be working hard to update at least weekly, hopefully more.

One way I can do that, that is mutually beneficial (to me and to my blog) is to do my weekly meal planning here. Awesome! Wish I'd stolen this idea much earlier on.

My weekly plans, when I make them, tend to allow for 5 cooked meals requiring actual ingredient shopping, one meal that is more or less off the pantry shelf and one wild card meal. The wild card can be take out, eating in an actual restaurant or eating up the left overs. This week I'm getting off light since I am going to away on business two days, and Mr. Dog will be challenged to figure the meals out on his own. And, since I'm already slacking, one of my listed meals will be last night's dinner, which was awesome, but clearly falls out of the normal scope of meal planning.

So with no further ado...
What we're eating at the Dog House, this week:

Pan fried sole with shallot butter
Steamed french green beans
Truffled mashed potatoes

Curried Eggs with yogurt
Steamed broccoli

Tortellini with garlic and Parmesan cheese
Arugula salad

Wednesday (aka cocktails dinner and the bitches)
cocktail-avocado daquri
CityMama's Very Green Vegggie Stir-fry with Soba noodles (with added baked savory tofu, just because we like it that way)

After this, it is up to Mr. Dog. See how badly I cop out. Really, not fair is it?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Cocktails for the more or less grown ups.

Wednesday night is for cocktails. Yes, Wednesday. Might not have been that way back before I had kids, but now that I'm a mother of two, my cocktail hour takes place right before I settle in to watch Project Runway with Auntie Chihuahua (not an actual chihuahua, but as close to it as you can get in human form-and no, that's not an insult). The adults have real cocktails and the kids get their own alcohol0-free variation on the theme.

I've been getting recipes and inspiration from Lucy Brennan's Hip Sips, but last night decided to branch out on my own and whip up my own concoction. A quick aside, if you ever are in Portland, I highly recommend you head over to 82o, the cocktails are fantastic, the bar food is amazing and the barstaff are good scenery. Thanks to my sister for introducing me to this fab place.

Now back to my cocktail. As you may know, I work in the software development field. We work under insane deadlines to make cool stuff. And as great as this job is most of the year, the insane deadline part is looming over my head right now. We had a deadline, and missed it. This is not good. No one is happy. I'm not happy, my co-managers are not happy, my manager is not happy, the VP is not happy. You get the picture. So imagine the stress of an already insane deadline compounded by the stress of being checked up on. Frequently checked up on. Checked up on with things like "Are we ever going to ship this thing?" and "How did we not know this was a problem before now?" Really really not good. So at the end of the day, especially cocktail Wednesday you need a drink.

And this is what I made.

Day for Day Slip
1 1/2 oz Pearl Pomegranate Vodka
1/2 oz Harlequin Orange liqueur
1 oz lemon/lime juice
1 oz simple syrup
1 oz Pomegranate juice
2 tbsp mandarin puree

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake briskly for 10 seconds, strain into a highball glass.

And for the kids.....

The Daily Check In
1 oz lemon lime juice
2 oz Pomegranate juice
2 Tbsp. Mandarin puree
1/2 oz simple syrup
club soda to fill the glass

Mix all ingredients in a child friendly glass and serve.

Simple Syrup
In a medium sized sauce pan, combine 2 cups bakers sugar and 2 cups water, heat until the sugar is dissolved and the liquid is clear.

Lemon Lime Juice
1 bottle Santa Cruz Organic Lemon Juice
1 bottle Santa Cruz Organic Lime Juice
Mix together and store in your fridge. You can also squeeze fresh lemons and limes and combine equal parts lemon and lime juices, but I'm under enough stress and Lucy Brennan says the Santa Cruz Organic brand is good enough for her, so who am I to resist the easy way out?

Mandarin Puree
Use fresh Mandarin oranges
10 Peeled and seeded mandarin oranges
2 Tbsp sugar
5 Tbsp water

Puree in a blender until smooth, then strain and store in the freezer in an airtight container.

To answer a couple of questions you probably have after reading this recipe:

Yes, I do have simple syrup, mandarin puree and lemon lime juice in my home at all times.

Yes, I do take cocktails seriously

Yes, I am a bit overly serious about cocktails.

Yes, it is every bit as delicious as you think it sounds.