Cooking with S-BB: Coconut cookies of awesome

April 23rd, 2014

I was craving something delicious and sweet, but not cloying. I decided that cookies were in order, and knew that I had an unopened bag of shredded coconut in my lazy-susan and some coconut oil in my cupboard. A quick search of the internet turned up this recipe, which I adapted with my usual tricks. These are quite possibly the best cookies I’ve ever made. Nuff said.

Ingredients

  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 cup maple syrup (I prefer dark syrup for baking, but we only had medium in the house)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup coconut oil, melted in the microwave until soft but not runny
  • 1 TBSP vanilla extract
  • 1 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
  • 1.5 cups quick cooking oats

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. In large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  3. In another large bowl, mix together syrup, eggs, coconut oil and vanilla. Whisk together until thoroughly combined.
  4. Slowly add the dry ingredients, mixing with a large wooden spoon until thoroughly combined.
  5. Add the coconut and oatmeal and mix with wooden spoon or hands until thoroughly combined. Should form a thick dough.
  6. Spoon 1 TBSP balls of dough onto a baking sheet (I always cover mine with a silicon sheet to minimize cleanup), spacing about 1.5-2cm apart to allow for some spreading.
  7. Bake for 15 to 18 minute, until lightly browned.
  8. Cool on baking sheet for about 2 minutes, until they’re cool and firm enough to move to a wire cooling rack.

How I screwed them up

It goes to show you just how delicious these cookies are if I can tell you that they are the best cookies I’ve ever made even though I screwed them up a bit. Subbing in maple syrup is always a challenge, since the water content isn’t very predictable. So these cookies ended up a wee bit soft, and required nearly double the baking time of the original recipe. In the future, I’d add an extra half-cup of shredded coconut to give them an even more coconutty texture and soak up a bit more of the moisture of the syrup. But even as they are, the cookies are delicious and a crowd-pleaser for kids and adults.

Verdict

See above regarding Best. Cookies. Ever.

Cooking with S-BB: Crispy Fried Tofu

April 20th, 2014

When I was in high school and university, I worked at a vegan, organic cafe in downtown Guelph. I made guacamole with the owner (who happened to be my friend’s mom) every weekend, spent my Saturday evenings peeling potatoes and talking about everything from pop music to aliens with a guy who was also a hip hop musician, and I learned about all sorts of alternative lifestyles and diets from the patrons and other staff. That job helped me put money in the bank to support me through school, and it gave me an appreciation for the wide variety of flavors and cooking styles that were possible in vegan cuisine. To this day, the recipe that I’m about to share brings back wonderful memories from that period in my life, and my place in the community that formed around that café. It’s one of my ultimate comfort food meals, which I indulge in any time that qedi’s not around, since he’s not a big fan. (Crazy, I know.) So, while he was away at PAX East, I bought a block of tofu and made a plan to treat myself. I also bought all the ingredients and brought them to Owen Sound as a baby shower gift for a very good friend of mine when I spent the weekend with her to celebrate the upcoming birth of her 4th child. When she was pregnant with her 2nd child and only daughter, all she could stomach was this tofu recipe for a while, so I thought it would be fitting to give her everything she needed to introduce the wee lad she’s growing to this delicious and healthy treat.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 block of firm or extra-firm tofu
  • 1/4 cup tamari
  • 1/2 cup nutritional yeast (also known as food yeast, you can get it in the hippy aisle at Zehrs or most health food stores)
  • olive oil (enough to cover the bottom of your pan with a decent amount to shallowly fry the tofu)
  • 2 large, flour tortillas
  • broccoli or alfalfa sprouts
  • grainy mustard

Instructions

  1. Slice the tofu in 8 slices, about 1/2 cm thick.
  2. Pour the tamari in a shallow bowl, like a pasta bowl. Soak each slice of tofu in the tamari for 15-30 seconds per side.
  3. Pour the nutritional yeast in a similar shallow bowl. Transfer each slice of tofu directly from the tamari bowl and coat the tofu in the yeast.
  4. Set the coated tofu aside and repeat for each piece of tofu.
  5. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan on medium heat.
  6. Optional: If the tofu is sitting around for a minute or two while the oil is heating, the tamari will often soak through the coating. This means that you can often re-dip the tofu in the nutritional yeast to build up a thicker, even more delicious coating.
  7. Add all the tofu to the pan, and fry the first side until the yeast forms a crispy coat.
  8. Flip the tofu and fry until crispy.
  9. Arrange half the tofu on each tortilla. Add sprouts and top with mustard.
  10. Roll tortillas burrito-style, with one end tucked in to seal it and the other end left open to admire the beauty of this deliciousness.

Verdict

Perfection. I’ve been enjoying this recipe in this exact configuration for over 10 years. You can also chop up the fried tofu into bite-size chunks and serve them over a salad. I especially like serving this in a vegan caesar salad by mixing up a dressing of 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 TBSP nutritional yeast, a squirt of lemon juice and some salt. Shake well, dribble it on some romaine or spinach topped with the tofu and you have yourself a perfect lunch salad.

Cooking with S-BB: Burrito night!

April 7th, 2014

Life has been busy, to say the least. Last week I participated in a Hackathon at work, did my normal daily job stuff, went on an overnight business trip, and still had some time to see my family. So that’s something. As a result, our meals have been a little less creative. We’ve been falling back on old favorites or stuff we know we can prep really quickly. But we’ve been staying true to eating at home, for the most part. (Yes, we went out to Mel’s Diner last night since I was too exhausted to cook, nevermind go grocery shopping.)

Tonight we resorted to a favorite, easy recipe: S-BBurritos.

Ingredients

  • 4 or 5 large flour tortillas
  • 1 cup of uncooked Spanish rice (we use Uncle Ben’s or a package of Sidekicks)
  • 1 can of refried beans (we use President’s Choice)
  • 1/4 of a large block of old cheddar, grated
  • salsa
  • sour cream (optional – meaning, only if we have it in the fridge and it hasn’t turned blue yet)

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 F.
  2. Cook the rice according to the package instructions.
  3. Place the tortillas on a baking sheet. (I like to put a silicon sheet on my baking sheet to reduce cleanup efforts. You can also use tinfoil or parchment paper.)
  4. Slather an equal amount of refried bean in the middle 1/3 of each tortilla.
  5. When the rice is cooked, spoon an equal amount onto each strip of refried bean.
  6. Sprinkle cheese on the rice.
  7. Roll the tortillas to make a tube. I don’t bother tucking the ends in, since we’re not planning to eat these with our hands.
  8. Optional: Slather a bit on salsa on each burrito. Since qedi doesn’t like cooked salsa, I usually skip this step.
  9. Bake for 15 minutes, or until cheese is melted and tortilla is starting to turn golden brown at the edges.
  10. Serve with salsa and sour cream.

These puppies make for a warm, filling dinner. They also reheat nicely in the microwave if you have leftovers.

Cooking with S-BB: Mmmmmuffins!

March 20th, 2014

For a while, B was calling any form of dessert “muffins”. Show him a butter tart – muffins! Give him a bit of a donut – muffins! Yet when we gave him one of the fresh-out-of-the-oven muffins that I adapted from this recipe, he said cookie, donut and then just stared blankly at us as we repeated the word muffin in our attempts to correct him. Whatever – his refusal to say the word did not translate into a refusal to eat the thing.

Cookie! Donut! *blank stare*

Cookie! Donut! *blank stare*

Banana Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Muffins

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 cup mashed banana (about 2 bananas)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 F. (We happened to be cooking dinner in the oven as I mixed these up, so I was able to pop them in as soon as the main meal was cooked, and then they were ready just as we finished wolfing down our food eating. Pretty awesome timing if you ask me!)
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients (flour thru nutmeg) and stir until thoroughly combined.
  3. In a smaller bowl, beat the eggs.
  4. Add the remaining wet ingredients and stir until thoroughly combined.
  5. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.
  6. Mix together the batter, until just combined. (My quick Google research suggests that if you overmix muffins, you’ll get big bubbles in the middle of them or they’ll be really tough, just like an overworked pie crust. It seems to be caused by creating too much gluten by agitating the mix too much. As long as there are no dry chunks of flour, I’m happy to cut down on mixing efforts.)
  7. Pour into greased muffin tins, filling each cup 3/4 of the way. (I filled 18 muffin cups, but my tins are pretty shallow, so your mileage may vary.)
  8. Bake 14 to 16 minutes, until a toothpick (or in my case, a skewer that I’ve cut into pieces for just this purpose) comes out clean.

Verdict

Success! The chocolate chips provide a nice sweetness on top of a less-sweet base. I wish I was eating one right now.

Cooking with S-BB: Fried rice (and carrot cake!)

March 19th, 2014

Meal planning is still going strong! The only hitch is that if we’re busy on the weekend and don’t get to the grocery store, I’m usually hosed for my Monday lunch and have to eat out. This week I went to the shawarma place for a delicious and way too filling doner plate. Nomnomnoms. But I was a good girl, so on Monday after I went to see the Veronica Mars Movie (so good!!! and on a school night no less!) I went to Zehrs afterwards to do the shopping.

Monday’s dinner was inspired by the need to use up the lackluster mini eggrolls that have been taking up room in the freezer. We bought them on sale a few months ago, and discovered that they majorly skimped on the filling (you get what you pay for, I guess) so I’ve been glaring at the half empty box taking up space in the freezer ever since. I’m so glad that I didn’t impulse-buy two boxes (they’re on sale! must buy multiples!) or I’d be extra bitter about the experience.

Fried Rice

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons + 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped (I use my frozen cubes)
  • 1 cup frozen carrots, chopped
  • 1 cup edamame
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups of leftover basmati rice (white or brown rice would be fine, too – this is just what I had lying around)
  • 1/2 cup of chicken stock (I prepared mine using Better Than Bouillon)

Instructions

  1. In a large frying pan or wok, head the first 2 tablespoons of sesame oil. (I love the smell of cooking sesame oil!)
  2. Add the onion and cook until it starts to turn translucent.
  3. Add the carrots and edamame and cook until tender.
  4. Crack the eggs into the pan, and stir quickly to scramble and combine with the veggies.
  5. Push the veggies to the side, then heat the extra tablespoon of sesame oil in the open pan.
  6. Add the rice and dribble the chicken stock. Stir and break up any rice chunks. Cook until the rice in heated through.
  7. Stir in the veggies until they’re thoroughly combined.

Verdict

B liked it, the grownups liked it, and it covered up for the fact that the egg rolls were still very disappointing. Bonus: The meal was entirely vegetarian. This recipe made a lot of food, so I’ve enyoed two days of leftovers as a side along with my sandwich at lunch. So yummy!

Pay no attention to the used Kleenex or nail clippers.

Culinary photography at its finest. Pay no attention to the used Kleenex or nail clippers in the frame.

In addition to meal planning, a few other great things are happening, and I credit the general acting-like-grownups trend that’s been pervading our lifestyle of late. For one thing, we’ve been tackling problem areas in the house bit-by-bit. For example, we finally rearranged some things in the kitchen so that all the deadly items (like the super sharp veggie cutter thingy) are no longer in reach of our very active toddler. That shelf is now home to our glass storage containers, which makes them easier to access and they don’t seem in immediate peril since they aren’t terribly interesting to B right now. We also reduced the stuff in our kitchen gadget cupboard to only the essentials. Looking around my house, it used to be overwhelming to think about all the crap that needs to be reorganized or jettisoned (my new favorite word, btw) but now I’m taking it in stride. Twenty minutes of concerted effort by qedi or I while the other person wrangles B is all it takes to kill a problem area. I notice a significant uptick in my house satisfaction level once an eyesore is eliminated, too. (Seriously – a newly non-cluttered surface makes me sigh with joy. Makes me think there might be something to Feng Shui.) And so far we haven’t been too bad about backsliding into the same old messes. It helps that we’ve been minimizing our possessions to the stuff we actually use regularly, and putting the rest in storage, rather than just shifting it around the main floor. It would take a big effort to clear out all the excess from our storage spaces, but I think it would be worth trying to approach that in bursts, too. Getting it officially out of the house and out to Goodwill will be the biggest challenge to overcome. (Ask me how long my donation clothing sat in black garbage bags all over the house during my last purge…)

Speaking of being a grownup, it was my Dad’s birthday on the weekend and I was organized enough to bake him a cake! From scratch! And we even bought him a card well ahead of time! Woah!

For the cake I followed this recipe (seriously – I didn’t change anything) that my sister-in-law shared with me. She used this recipe when she baked my father-in-law’s birthday cake the previous weekend, and it was phenomenal! I guess I did change one thing – I got qedi to multiply everything by 1.5 times. (He was sitting in the other room drinking coffee, and I yelled out measurements that were too awkward to multiply myself. It worked very well for everyone involved.) I didn’t want to double it, since that resulted in a way bigger cake than we needed for my father-in-law, which would be super overkill for my family. So 1.5 times worked out for us. (Yes, for those keeping score at home, that means I used approximately half an egg and wasted the other half. Better than creating a superfluous half a cake.)

For the icing, I hacked together something more diabetic-friendly for Dad, which I think worked out well.

Diabetic Cream Cheese Icing

Ingredients

  • 1 package cream cheese 
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup Splenda (or more, if you like it sweeter)

Instructions

  1. In a deep bowl, chop up the cream cheese into chunks.
  2. Add the butter, and whip it together using a hand-mixer.
  3. Sprinkle in the Splenda.
  4. Whip with the hand-mixer until it fluffs up. (It won’t be super fluffy like whipped cream, but it should increase in volume a bit.)

How I’ll tweak it next time

I wasn’t at home when I made the icing, since I needed Dad to supply the Splenda. But next time I think I’d add some vanilla to bring up the flavor just a bit more. I find that adding flavorings like vanilla or cinnamon & nutmeg to a recipe fills out the flavor when you reduce the sweetness.

Verdict

When I started mixing, I was nervous I wouldn’t have enough to cover the cake and almost sent qedi to the 7-11 for another package of cream cheese.  But this icing fluffed up surprisingly well. It was enough to put a decent coating between the layers of the cake and then fully cover the top and sides of the cake, and it spread really nicely. I got rave reviews of the cake from everyone there (including B who voiced strong opinions about his right to a second piece), and Dad took both leftover pieces home with him, so I’ll score this one as a total success.

Let’s get juiced!

March 12th, 2014

So winter, eh? It just won’t quit.

</obligatorybitchingaboutweather>

Tonight I finally tried out the juicer that I received as an Xmas gift from my BFF. When she gave it to me, she told me it was ok if it sat on the kitchen floor for several years before I gave it a whirl. She knows me so well!

The impetus to get out the juicer was the result of a race against the clock. I bought some kale and had some apples that were starting to go, so I needed to use them up quickly. I know that juicing is better with fresh foods, but whatever. At least this situation motivated me to put the effort into unpacking and washing the thing.

Juicing is pretty easy. Just set up the machine, throw stuff down the hole, and watch the guts splatter impressively inside the contraption while the juice dribbles out the other end. (I’m really selling it, aren’t I?) Oh yeah, and you have to clean the thing, which wasn’t nearly the pain in the ass I was expecting it to be. I think it’s like a blender – as long as you clean it right away, it’s not so bad. But let the crud dry out and you’re screwed.

For my inaugural juice, I washed the kale and picked off the not-so-good bits, washed a few apples and cut them in half, and threw in some spinach for good measure. The result of all that was a little over a cup of grass-green juice. It tasted like a light apple juice (i.e. not sickly sweet like store-bought stuff) with a fresh-cut-lawn taste. It was more pleasant than it sounds, especially since anything that remotely reminds me of spring is very welcome right about now.

B was pretty interested in the whole production, so I let him try a sip. I fully expected him to spit it out, and was ready with a paper towel for that eventuality. But he surprised me by gulping it down and asking for more. I think part of it was the novelty of being able to drink from a real glass (he’s been using a plastic big-boy cup more and more, especially since starting pre-school where all the kids use open cups rather than sippies) and possibly the novelty of the taste. But the fact that he kept going back for more was impressive. So we’ll chalk this one up as a win. He ended up drinking at least 1/3 cup of juice, so I didn’t feel bad for not making a veggie side to go with our fish & chips for dinner tonight.

Enough with the pictures already, and let me drink my damned juice!

Enough with the pictures already, and let me drink my damned juice!

My BFF signed me up for a juicing website that she follows, so I’ll actually be able to use a proper recipe in the future, and hopefully end up with a better combination & ratio of juiced produce.

If anyone out there has a favorite juice combo, leave it in the comments!.

Adventures of Beep Boop and the Princess Scientist

March 10th, 2014

We had a B & Mom day on Saturday while qedi was in Mississauga nerding it up with his nerd friends. As a bonus, my bff and her older daughter E were free that afternoon as well. So, we decided to check out the International Women’s Day event hosted by the Centre for Women in Science at Wilfrid Laurier University. I actually heard about the event through a company news post; a couple of women from the Development and HR departments were hosting an activity at the event on behalf of the company. To be honest, I didn’t realize it was International Women’s Day, so I wasn’t on the lookout for anything to mark the occasion. This event just happened to catch my eye because it was a bunch of local technology clubs that I’d encountered through Hive Waterloo.

When I contacted my bff about attending, I told her that events like this make me want a little girl if/when we have another kid. And since I don’t have a girl of my own at this point, I’m happy to borrow hers. But when I thought about it some more, I’m realized that I’m also glad to have a boy who I can raise with a strong respect for women – and people in general. I like to think that I am and will continue to be a good role model for B, as is qedi. We’re hard-working, independent, intelligent, curious about the world, doing our best to balance home life and careers, and doing our best to be good global citizens. My great hope is that regardless of sex or gender, my offspring grow up to respect others and make the most out of their own lives.

Of course, once we got to the event, all the introspection ended and the fun began. Because: Robots!

The future is now!

The future is now! And it’s not much shorter than B.

There were a few robotics-oriented booths that caught my interest. The one pictured above gave kids a chance to direct a robot to walk within a maze (the area marked out in green painter’s tape). It was interesting to see how much some kids struggled with the concept of giving a robot explicit commands, but from what I saw they were all pretty good at keeping at it until they figured it out. Of course, there was one kid who figured out that there was nothing really forcing the robot to stay inside the lines, so he just directed it to take the straight route to success. Not sure if that makes the kid a genius or a troublemaker. Probably both. For his part, B was interested in watching the robot from a safe distance, but he was a little intimidated. I had expected him to be more enthused, since one of his favorite books right now is Teep and Beep Go to Sleep, and if you ask him what a robot says, he replies “Beep Boop!” without hesitation.

Another booth offered kids a chance to play with remote controlled cars made of Lego. The best part of this booth was that is was basically being run by kids, for kids. Two young girls somewhere between 8 and 10 years old – who were obviously seasoned Lego engineers – were showing off the cars, giving directions, and making repairs as needed. It was pretty awesome to see the confidence and excitement from these girls. It was also really cool to see E figure out the controls when she drove one of the cars. At first she had trouble figuring out how to make the car turn, since there were just two forward buttons and two backward buttons. But once I told her that she just needed to press one button forward and the opposite button backward, she had no trouble with the concept. After that, she seemed to have a great time maneuvering the car. B was a little freaked out by the cars at first, but once he was sitting in my lap he was fine and was pretty interested in watching E walking around with the car she was controlling.

There weren’t all that many hands-on activities, especially for younger kids. But it was still fun for E to walk around and touch or look at things. And she had a pretty good chat with a Biology student and a Chemistry student as they explained the various things their booths were showing. B was just happy to be able to roam relatively freely, and then sit in the middle of the floor to eat cookies. It was a pretty awesome day for him.

I’m really looking forward to the days when B can play with Lego or build robots or try out a science experiment. For now, it’s pretty awesome just to see him people-watching and trying to make sense of his surroundings. As for E, as we were heading home, I asked her if the event made her want to be a scientist. Without missing a beat, she said “Yeah. A princess scientist.”

Cooking with S-BB: Déjà food

March 7th, 2014

It turns out, meal planning is less creative when your husband is hung over and in no shape to think about – nevermind shop for – food. (I can’t fault the guy too much, since I started it by calling for the 2nd and then 3rd bottle of wine at dinner the night before. But he and K-Rad didn’t have to hit the hard stuff afterwards. Glad I drew the line where I did. Also: I tease because I love… to tease.) We sat down on Sunday to plan our week, and it was a copy of the previous week’s items, but in a slightly different order. Fortunately qedi was in good enough shape later in the day that we could tweak our meal plan to swap a few meals for something else. Plus, he was back to normal before the visit with my brother.

One benefit of the lack of creativity was the opportunity to repeat the Moroccan Chicken experiment, trying lentils instead of couscous. We were aiming for a quick, filling meal that was appropriate for company since my friend Nessa was joining us for dinner before she and I headed to the Basia Bulat concert that evening. So, the recipe was basically the same, except it eliminated the step of adding couscous to the pan to soak up the leftover broth. Instead, while I was cooking the chicken, I was also preparing lentils in broth based on these instructions. I skipped the suggested spices, since the broth carries its own flavors, as do the olives that I was cooking with the chicken.

Lentils in broth

Ingredients

  • 4 cups chicken broth made from Better Than Bouillon
  • 2 cups dried brown lentils

Instructions

  1. In a medium pot over medium-high heat, bring broth to a rolling boil.
  2. Meanwhile, place dried lentils in a colander and rinse thoroughly under cold running water.
  3. Shake out excess water, then add lentils to the boiling broth.
  4. Bring back to a simmer.
  5. Reduce heat so the lentils are lightly simmering. There should only be tiny bubbles and not much movement.
  6. Stir occasionally, and allow to cook until al dente, so for about 25 minutes.
  7. Drain excess broth before serving.

How I screwed it up

I tried to prepare the lentils according to memory, based on a very quick review of the site linked above. But I mis-remembered the ratios for lentils, thinking it was 1:1. By the time the lentils were rinsed, there was no going back, so I just doubled up the broth and hoped for the best. 2 cups of lentils is a lot of lentils, even with three adults and a hungry toddler eating. I had a large lunch of leftovers today as a result. I’m not complaining, because the leftovers were delicious, since the night in the fridge really allowed the broth flavors to soak in. But be prepared to eat a ton or have some leftovers if you follow the recipe above.

Verdict

Cooking the lentils in parallel to the chicken meant that this tweak didn’t add anything significant to the prep time, which is good. But despite being cooked in broth, the lentils felt a bit bland and dry. I think they’d be better if there was a bit of a sauce to them, like a dahl recipe. (Not that I know much about dahl. It’s one recipe I haven’t gotten around to, even tho it’s one of my major goals.) Qedi suggested it might be interesting to try a tiny bit of couscous to soak up the broth in the chicken pan, and mix it in with the lentils to combine the textures. I like that idea, since it would feel less wasteful to use that broth somehow. This recipe definitely felt a bit wasteful with all the broth that got poured down the drain. Still, we all ate it. (Full disclosure: It probably helped that we added a bit of hummus to B’s bowl to help with the chronic lentils spilling everywhere problem.) And as I said, the leftovers were even better.

Cooking with S-BB: Potato leek soup

March 2nd, 2014

This weekend was a quiet one, spent mostly at home. We’re cat-sitting for Ryan’s sister and her boyfriend, so we brought B to visit with Marzipan and help feed her. Giving treats to our two cats has been a really fun new event at home. He gets really excited, bouncing and shrieking, when it’s time to share with the kitties. Yes, he’s sampled the treats himself, but overall he seems to understand the idea that he’s giving food to the kitties. So being able to extend this experience to include a brand new kitty took the excitement and shrieking to an all new high. Fortunately, Marzipan either doesn’t scare too easily, or her interest in food outweighed any intimidation, because she chose to stick around and reap the rewards of having a boisterous toddler around who is generous with the treats.

Our quiet weekend at home included a visit from my brother. B absolutely adores his uncle, so it’s always fun to get together. For dinner, I served potato leek soup, which is based on a recipe from The Williams-Sonoma Cookbook, which I received as a wedding shower gift all those years ago. This is one of qedi’s favorites, and it’s super easy to make, so it sounded about right on a lazy Sunday.

Potato-Leek Soup

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 3 large leeks, thinly sliced (Leeks are sneaky – be sure to slice them in half lengthwise and rise all the dirt hidden inside before you slice them for the soup.)
  • 1/2 onion, or about 4 frozen cubes (See note below.)
  • 1.4 lbs of potatoes, washed and chopped into small cubes with skin on (The skin is full of nutrients, and peeling potatoes is annoying, so if the potatoes are new enough that the skin is still tender, we leave it on. It makes the soup a little chunky-looking, but this is a meal, not a beauty contest.)
  • 5 cups chicken stock, prepared using Better than Boullion
  • Cheddar cheese or sour cream

Note: I hate prepping onions. I will sooner skip onion in a recipe than prep it on the spot. But I also like the taste of really finely chopped onion in a recipe. So I’ve come up with the perfect solution. I buy a bag of onions, peel and chop them all really finely using my Slap-Chop, and then press the bits into ice cube trays. I freeze the cubes overnight, then transfer them into a large freezer bag. Then I can grab a few cubes any time I need onions. I’ve been doing this for years now, and I actually use a lot more onions since I figured out this system.

Instructions

  1. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in the bottom of a heavy pot. (We used to use our beautiful ceramic & cast iron pot, but I accidentally left it on low overnight and burnt the hell out of it. It is currently buried under several feet of snow in the backyard, since we brought the smoldering remains out there to cool down and forgot about it just before the snow hit. Needless to say, I’ll be buying a new one once they go on sale again.)
  2. Add the onions and fry until translucent, stirring constantly to keep them from sticking. (If using the cubes, you can add them to the pot frozen but watch for spitting as the water releases in the hot oil.)
  3. Add the leeks and stir until they’re wilted.
  4. Add the potatoes and stir for about a minute, until they’re coated in the oil and yummy flavors.
  5. Add the stock and bring to a boil.
  6. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for about 25 minutes, or until the potatoes are nice and tender, bordering on mushy.
  7. Remove from the heat and use a stick blender until the soup is a consistency you like. (I tend to blend until the soup is pretty smooth, since it’s easier for B to handle. You could also just remove a few cups of the soup and blend it thoroughly, then mix it back into the pot. This will result in a thicker broth with lots of hearty chunks in it.)
  8. Serve with sour cream or with cheddar cheese shredded into it. (Tonight I added a bit of plain yogurt to cool it down quickly for B, since we didn’t have any sour cream. And I threw some cheddar on top since cheese makes anything look better to B.)

How I screwed it up

Meal planning works. It means I don’t have to be creative when I’m starving and just want to get dinner going. It also means that we’re more likely to think of interesting meal ideas, or remember a recipe we haven’t tried in a while. Potatoe-leek soup was on our meal plan for Friday, but it got bumped to Sunday when we realized it would be a good option for dinner when my brother came over. The important part of meal planning is being able to stock up on ingredients ahead of time. Major fail on our part with this meal, as I discovered when I ran downstairs to the root cellar to get the potatoes… and discovered we only had two wee spuds. Luckily, qedi was able to run out to the nearby grocery store and pick up more potatoes. And since he was already there, he grabbed a carrot cake for dessert. Lesson learned.

Verdict

B had a little trouble eating the soup, first because we gave him a spoon that was a bit too big, and then because his usual spoons are a bit shallow and allow the soup to slide off a bit too easily. It took him a few scoops to figure it out, but he got there. So he ate a bit, dipped his toast and crackers in to eat some more with his hands, and then ended up playing around with it more than anything. I think he liked it, so I’ll definitely serve it again. And the grownups really liked it, with everyone going back for seconds.

I always forget how easy soup is, until I’m actually making a soup. I got some soup suggestions as part of my Twitter and Facebook cry for help, so I’ll have to give those a whirl to branch out in this area.

***

Earlier this week I also mentioned some cookies that we made with B. I’ve been looking forward to having B help out more in the kitchen. He loves to “cook” with a pot and the play food he got for Christmas. And he seems pretty interested in what we’re doing while we prep meals. So I’m excited that he’s getting to an age when he can help, even if only a little bit. I made these cookies after dinner on Thursday, starting them while qedi sat with B since he was taking his time finishing dinner. I searched online for a few recipes, trying to look for something that didn’t have an obscene amount of sugar in it and possibly incorporated maple syrup. I settled on this recipe, from a blog I’ve used for recipe ideas in the past. I’m not going to bother repeating the recipe here, since it’s not one I intend to use again. It’s a bit too finicky for me – you have to melt the butter in the oven at one temperature, then preheat it for baking at a slightly higher temperature – a key detail that I think I missed when I was baking these. You also have to chill the dough before baking the cookies, which I didn’t do for the first round of cookies. I chilled the dough for just over an hour before baking the second round, but I didn’t see a huge difference in how they turned out. They were good, but definitely not the instant-gratification recipe I was looking for. I’m going to do some more research and give a different recipe a whirl for next time.

Studying Dad's technique for dropping a dollop of dough on the pan

Studying Dad’s technique for dropping a dollop of dough on the pan

Blurry action shot as B put his whole body into it.

Blurry action shot as B put his whole body into it.

Cooking with S-BB: Winner, winner, chicken dinners

February 28th, 2014

Meal planning is working brilliantly this week! Especially once we actually wrote our plan down somewhere so that we stopped having to remember it/revise it on the fly. (Thanks for the tip, AVD!) But it always works the first week. Also, this week’s meals involved a bunch of fortuitous alignments that I could never have planned in advance. Let’s see if documenting things will help keep the positive trend going.

Green Curry with Chicken

We used to do chicken curries fairly often. In fact, this was qedi’s specialty for a while. I’m a big fan of bringing this back, since qedi usually ends up doing all the cooking, as he did in this case.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 large package of chicken thighs (Ooo! Only half the package. Whatever will we do with the rest? In literary circles, this is called foreshadowing.)
  • 1 jar of prepared green curry sauce (We prefer the PC brand. We’ve tried the VH version, but it was so sweet it was like eating coconut icing over chicken. *shudder* And, in my typical old habit, I bought 2 jars because it was on sale! We couldn’t bring ourselves to use the second jar, so we actually donated it along with some other stuff while at the Santa Claus parade. Hopefully someone else can actually enjoy the taste of it, but it was definitely not our style.)
  • 1 cup of frozen broccoli, chopped into bite-sized chunks
  • 1/3 package of vermicelli noodles

Instructions

  1. Cut the chicken into chunks 2-3cm square. Fry it in a pan until it’s cooked all the way thru.
  2. Add the broccoli and cook until just crunchier than al dente.
  3. Add the sauce and stir. Simmer for 10 minutes.
  4. Put the vermicelli in a large, glass bowl. Boil a kettle and pour the water over the noodles. Drain.
  5. Immediately serve the saucy, delicious chicken curry over the noodles.

Verdict

This meal was a wee bit too spicy for B, which we knew was a risk since he’s been hit and miss on it in the past. He enjoyed the plain noodles, but wasn’t having any of the chicken, broccoli or sauce. To be fair, he did try some, and looked pained as a result. All I ask is that he tries. So B got a turkey dog & smoothie, both of which he enjoyed immensely, and the grownups got to eat a dinner that we really enjoyed. So I still consider this a win.

Crockpot pulled chicken sloppy joes

The sloppy joe part of this recipe was inspired by the one in A Man, A Can, A Plan which helped qedi survive university without starving to death. We use a larger can of tomatoes than this recipe calls for, so we end up with more food, but I like the tomato-laden permutation we’ve come up with. I also didn’t add the spices that recipe calls for, since B wouldn’t like that much heat.

The crockpot chicken suggestion was inspired by a comment from Megs. She uses soup in hers, but I remembered seeing a suggestion to use pasta sauce in this recipe from a crockpot blog I’ve been experimenting with.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 large package of thighs (See what I did there? One big package of chicken became two dinners in one week. Crazy to think some people make this happen on purpose!)
  • 1 jar pasta sauce
  • 2 cans of baked beans (One can was baked beans with bacon which has been in our cupboard since forever because I don’t eat bacon. Score one for using up old stuff! The *other* can was actually only a half can of beans in tomato sauce from the weekend, which I cooked in a separate pan to keep it from touching the gross bacon beans. That’s *two* leftover things that I reused in one meal! This is downright magical!)
  • 1 can of diced tomatoes
  • 1 Tbs cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup of water
  • 2 pieces of bread per adult, 1 per kid (This is just an estimate. Use as much toast as your belly desires at the time.)

Instructions

  1. Place the chicken in the bottom of the crockpot.
  2. Pour the sauce over top and spread it until it covers all the chicken.
  3. Cook on low for 8 hours.
  4. Shred the chicken with two forks and set aside.
  5. Pour the beans and tomatoes into a pan. (In my case, I put each type of bean in separate pans and divided the tomatoes between them appropriately.)
  6. Simmer the beans on medium for about 10 minutes, or until they start to thicken.
  7. Mix the corn starch and water and pour it over the beans. Stir quickly to thicken the mixture without causing lumps.
  8. Toast the bread. (B loves toast, and is learning how to put bread in the toaster, so he helped with dinner.)
  9. Cover each piece of toast in a layer of the shredded chicken.
  10. Spoon the mixture over the chicken in open-face sloppy joe sandwiches.

I knew there would be leftovers, so I transferred all the food directly into glass storage containers, which doubled as serving dishes and then made post-dinner cleanup super easy since it was just a matter of putting on the lids and popping them in the fridge. We’ll use the leftovers to make breakfast burritos this weekend by spooning the bean mixture over eggs & cheese in tortillas. (Seriously guys – I’m feeling like a domestic goddess after today’s meal.)

How I screwed it up

I made the mistake of thinking “bigger must be better” when I bought my crockpot years ago. When cooking for two people, it just means that the smaller portion has a larger surface area to cook on, so it gets dried out more easily. In this case, the edges got a wee bit burnt (luckily the chicken was fine, so all I had to do was avoid scraping the burnt sauce from the sides while transferring the chicken to the glass storage dish for shredding) and the sauce really reduced.

Note the burnt bits around the edge. But otherwise this method turned out quite well.

Note the burnt bits around the edge. But otherwise this method turned out quite well.

 

I’m going to look online for tips to prevent the burnt factor from happening for next time. Adding some water may help. I also remember reading about using tinfoil to help protect edges. I’ll have to look into it.

How I’ll tweak it next time

I picture using the chicken-in-the-crockpot trick again and again. It’s just so damned easy! My original plan was to serve the chicken over pasta, but at the last minute I decided to try sloppy joes so we could use up the fridge beans. (Still incredibly proud of myself for that frugal move.) Dinner couldn’t be much easier than shredding some chicken and boiling some pasta.

To change things up even more, I want to try throwing some salsa over the chicken instead, and serving it in some tortillas for quick and filling quesadillas or burritos.

Verdict

B wasn’t a huge fan of this dinner, even tho he seemed to like the component parts. I put his chicken on top of the beans, since he seems to like to see what his meal comprises. He picked off some pieces of chicken to eat, and I’m pretty sure he ate a few beans. He also chomped down some of the toast. But he left more than half this dinner on his plate. He might not have been terribly hungry tonight, because he also didn’t touch much of his smoothie. After dinner he demonstrated his new-found ability to open the fridge himself and stole a Baby Bell from the cheese & meat drawer. He’s never been one to turn down cheese no matter how full his is, so that’s not a solid sign of him being hungry after not eating much dinner. The grownups enjoyed it for being super quick to throw together, and pleasantly warm and filling. 

So two decent meals, and all sorts of frugal-friendly reuse of ingredients & leftovers. Feeling pretty good about this one. So good that we decided to bake some cookies in celebration, even getting B to help. But I’ll save that story for another post.