28 September 2011

What's for Lunch: Eggs, Veggies and Dip

Lunch for 1 adult and 2 preschoolers
lunch for 1 adult and 2 preschoolers

This is how I get my kids to eat vegetables.* Snack at preschool tends to be fruit and some kind of simple carb.  I'm not thrilled by this, but as that's the only thing about that school that doesn't thrill me I try not to whine too much. Snack yesterday was white rice, soy sauce and pineapple, today was canteloupe and cheese quesadilla.  I try to make lunch focus on veggies since I know the starchy carbs will reappear at afternoon snack (today I made lemon millet muffins) and possibly again at dinner.  

This box provides 1 hard cooked egg per person, lots of veggies and some ranch dressing for dip.  My older son, who rarely eats all the way through a hard cooked egg dipped his egg in the dressing and ate it all, along with a good number of veggies.  Dip is a good way to lure unsure eaters to their vegetables.  If you choose or make a dip with quality ingredients the bit of fat it adds will not only make the vegetables more palatable it will make the fat soluble vitamins in the veggies more available during digestion. 

*Note: this has nothing to do with how you might get your kids to eat vegetables. I know kids who would eat this whole box by themselves and kids who would starve rather than touch even the outside of this box.

Bento Lunch
Check out the other yummy/cute/nutritious lunches at "What's for Lunch Wednesday."

27 September 2011

Fresh Tomato Sauce

I dropped a bunch of cookbooks in front of my husband this weekend and told him to pick meals for the week. He filled out a weeks worth of dinners with references so I could find the recipe.  It was very helpful.  What he didn't do was actually read the recipes.  Once of his choices was spaghetti with plum tomatoes and basil.  I didn't follow the recipe because I'm an inherently lazy cook and because I believe I am capable of throwing together a fresh tomato sauce.  You are also capable of creating such a lovely thing. So I'm not going to give a recipe, but I will walk you through the process.

Fresh tomato sauce

Start with good tomatoes. There's no point in trying this with mediocre tomatoes.  Buy enough to feed however many people you're going to feed.  Set a pot of water in the stove to boil. Coarsely chop the tomatoes, place in a colander and sprinkle with a small amount of salt.  Allow to drain.  When the water comes to a boil, drop spaghetti, I use whole wheat, about 2 ounces per person in and allow to cook about 8 minutes.  While the spaghetti cooks, chop garlic, up to 1/2 clove per person depending on your tolerance for garlic, and fresh basil.

Warm a serving bowl with a few ladle-fuls of cooking water, then drain and wipe dry.  Toss the tomatoes, garlic,  and basil into the bowl along with a pinch of crushed red pepper and some freshly ground black pepper.  When the spaghetti is done cooking, drain and add to the tomatoes.  Toss and then add a splash of really good olive oil.  Serve, and try not to fight over the last few pieces of tomatoes that are left in the bottom of the bowl.

25 September 2011

Urban Cheesecake

You may be aware than I am a big fan of homemade birthday cakes. But my husband doesn't want cake, he wants a cheese custard with a crust. Sure, we call it cheesecake, but it's not cake. I feel like I'm cheating somehow, serving up custard pie when I should be making layers and frosting them, and maybe even trying out some of the tricks I learned at the cupcake workshop I attended a while back. But no, he wants cheesecake and it's hard to argue that the layer cake means I love him more than the cheese pie he really wants.

So it must be the best cheesecake possible. Naturally I turn to someone known for being meticulous about recipes, Jack Bishop of America's Test Kitchen. The cheesecake is fabulous. It is creamy with just enough sweetness. The crust holds together but doesn't require you to hack at it with the knife.

We will ignore the fact that this recipe comes from gimmick cookbook Cooking with Friends where the Friends in question live in absurdly large Manhattan apartments that are missing a fourth wall. We'll just pretend that I wouldn't buy such a cookbook, nor would I have allowed it to survive 15 years of moves and bookshelf purges. That way I don't have to explain why Phoebe, Joey, Monica, Chandler, Rachel and Ross stare out at me from my collection of cookbooks. (“It's really a Jack Bishop cookbook!” I'd have to explain. “And the recipes are really good!” I'd continue. Then you'd shake your head at me and my silly cookbook.)

The cheesecake is in the “Urban Living” chapter, rather than the dessert chapter. In 1995, cheesecake, pesto pizza and grilled corn sprinkled with chili powder were things you would encounter only in a metropolis, so says my cookbook. I don't know if that is strictly true, since my small-town library provided me with an entire cookbook full of cheesecake recipes in 1996 when I first made a birthday cheesecake for my college boyfriend. But it did make me think about the way that our food world has changed in the last 15 years. Both the World Wide Web and the Food Network were in their infancy in 1996, though of course libraries had cookbook collections and PBS had Julia Child. Everybody has heard of pesto pizza now, right? And we've learned to sprinkle chili powder on nearly everything. Cheesecake is certainly everywhere, including Factories that want to serve you cheesecake if you happen to have room after the platter of main course you ordered.

If we were to write an Urban Living chapter today, what food would we use to entice a cook in middle-America who was looking for a change?

Urban Cheesecake
adapted from Cooking with Friends

Graham Cracker Crust
5 ounces graham crackers
2 Tablespoons sugar
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter

2 pounds cream cheese (low-fat works perfectly)
1 ¼ cups sugar
4 large eggs
½ cup sour cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 450 Fahrenheit.

Place all crust ingredients in the work bowl of a food processor and pulse until butter is fully incorporated. Alternately, melt the butter, crush the crackers and mix all the ingredients together.
Place in the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan and press down with a smooth bottomed glass. Set aside.

Beat the cream cheese in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in the sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs one at a time. Beat in the sour cream and vanilla.

Pour the batter into the springform pan.

Bake for 15 minutes.

Open the oven door all the way. Turn the oven temperature down to 200 Fahrenheit. Close door and continue baking for 45-60 minutes. The cheesecake should be set at the edges but still jiggly in the middle. If you bake until the center is set you'll get a very over-baked cheesecake.

When cake is ready, remove it from the oven and run a knife around the edge of cheesecake to free the custard from the sides of the pan. Allow to cool to room temperature on a wire rack and then refrigerate for at least three hours before serving.

The cherries in the picture were canned in light syrup, but the cheesecake will be completely delicious on its own.

23 September 2011

Swedish Meatballs

We were in week five of a kitchen renovation that the designer blithely assured us would take three weeks. We had just gotten to “functional kitchen” and we'd been eating at restaurants and from take-out containers so much that I just needed to cook, and I owed a meal (or twelve) to some friends.

Our new cabinets, counters and most of the appliances came from IKEA, so Swedish cuisine seemed appropriate, and I broke out my copy of Aquavit: And the New Scandinavian Cuisine Marcus Samuelsson offers up a variety of modern dishes from his restaurant that are inspired by the food he learned to cook in his grandmother's kitchen. Naturally I went straight to the cliché of Swedish Meatballs.

I'm told that the Italian-American classic spaghetti and meatballs is an American invention, meant to cater to the meat loving Americans that the Italian immigrants wanted to attract to their restaurants. My guess is that my own Swedish-American ancestors were part of that crowd of carnivorous Americans. Chef Marcus Samuelsson assures us that these meatballs in lingonberry cream sauce make a weekly appearance on family tables in Sweden. They're not any more complicated than meatball simmered tomato sauce and served over pasta, so I hope you'll give them a try. If you don't have a Swedish population nearby you might need to take a trip to IKEA for the lingonberries, but everything else is standard grocery store fare. Try serving these with mashed potatoes the next time you crave something home-cooked.

Swedish Meatballs
adapted from Marcus Samuelsson's Aquavit
for the meatballs:
½ cup panko breadcrumbs
¼ cup heavy cream
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
1 ½ lbs ground free-range beef
2 Tablespoons honey
1 large egg
salt and pepper to taste
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  1. Combine the breadcrumbs and heavy cream in a small bowl and set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat and sauté onions until softened. Remove from heat.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the beef, onion, honey and egg and mix well with your hands. Season with salt and pepper. Add the bread crumbs and cream and mix well.
  4. Sprinkle some water on a large plate or platter. With wet hands, shape into balls about the size of a golf ball, you should get about 24 meatballs. Place formed balls on the moistened plate.
  5. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Place the meatballs in the skillet, in batches if necessary, crowding is not good for browning, and brown on all sides.
  6. Remove the browned, but not fully cooked meatballs from the skillet and set aside.
  7. Remove all but 1 Tablespoon of fat from the pan. The assemble the sauce.
for the sauce:
1 cup low-sodium chicken stock
½ cup heavy cream
¼ cup lingonberry preserves
2 Tablespoons pickle juice, preferably from a sweet pickle
  1. Return the skillet to the heat and add all ingredients for the sauce. Stir to combine.
  2. Bring the sauce to a bare simmer.
  3. Nestle the meatballs into the sauce and simmer for at least 10 minutes until meatballs are cooked through. If you're preparing other foods (like mashed potatoes, mmmm,) then set the skillet at the absolute lowest setting, put on a lid and ignore the whole thing until it's time to serve.

21 September 2011

What's for Lunch Wednesday: Fruit and Veg

After several weeks of blowing off playgroup (It's hot outside in the summer!) and then showing up with a grocery bag full of whatever seemed lunch like at the local grocery store, I finally got a lunch packed.

Lunch at the playground

One apple, one cucumber, and a handful of carrot chips with some ranch dressing for dip was enough for me and the boys. We each had a yogurt and water.  Those of you wondering where the starch is, it was at breakfast, morning snack and dinner.

Don't forget to check out the other lunches at What's for Lunch
Bento Lunch

A tibit

A hearty welcome to Maud's readers. She's right. This space is sadly neglected.  I actually have a couple of posts in the hopper though, including one about Swedish Meatballs that will be ready just as soon as *someone* gets the photos processed.  Ahem.

In the meantime you might enjoy the following posts which seem appropriate to the changing weather:

An easy, delicious chili cornbread casserole for when you need to take something to a potluck, or you want to make something on Sunday that you can portion out for lunches during the week.
A lovely, moist but not oily, carrot cake, great for birthdays and any cake requiring occasions.
And finally this Red Kidney Bean Stew is perfect for miserable days when you think it might never stop raining or be warm again.  It's so good it will make the sun shine in your house.  (Maybe)

I hope you enjoy these, and that you'll come back for the meatballs (ooh, and there's cheesecake coming soon, too.  You don't want to miss that, do you?)


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