March 30, 2010

Spring Table Setting

With Easter coming up, I thought I would share an easy way to decorate your table. A small bunch of store bought flowers (or cut some daffodils from your yard) and some greenery from any bushes you might have. Lay it all out and add a bunny or two and you have a perfect spring table for entertaining that only took a few minutes of time and very little money.

March 23, 2010

Pomegranate Eureka - a new discovery???

The folks at POM Wonderful sent me a case of their pomegranate juice. Here's the thing, we love pomegranates in our house. The kids know to start looking around Super Bear's birthday because that's when they go on sale. They often request pomegranate seeds for their birthday parties. Other kids have learned what a pomegranate is, by coming to our house and being pressured by my foodies to try it. Once you know how to open and clean the fruit, it's really easy to do. You must cut them open in quarters and then rub the seeds out while holding them under water in a bowl. The seeds will sink to the bottom and the white membrane will float to the top. Pomegranate seeds make a wonderful topping for salads or yogurt, but we like to eat them straight out of hand. Crunchy, crisp, and tart.

Having said all this and making myself look like the pomegranate expert, I had never tried pomegranate juice. Something about that price tag kept me from it. Now with a case of the stuff sent for free sitting in my fridge, I was excited. The first thing I noticed is the shapely bottle. The kids REALLY wanted to hold it and play with it. In fact, our empties have been pulled out of the recycling bin and are now part of the play kitchen equipment. The morning after the POM arrived, I pulled two bottles out and served them with breakfast. The kids LOVED it. Me...not so much. If your kids love those sour gummies, they will surely love this stuff. It's very sour, more so than the actual fruit. My two year old, kept asking for "more please".  I had to move all of the remaining bottles up to the top shelf, so the kids wouldn't drink the rest. After all POM sent me the stuff to cook with for crying out loud!

I cooked a pork loin recipe with the juice that was very tasty. The pomegranate juice added the right amount of tart and fruit and pork are always good together. I added some juice to a party punch that I make from time to time. BUT... my seriously amazing, really wonderful way to use this stuff was created in a moment of sheer genius.  This one will go down in the history books...really it's that good.

I took one small individual serving size bottle of POM juice and poured it into a medium sized saucepan (important to use medium sized). Then I added 1/4 c of sugar and simmer the juice down til it was nice and syrupy. After it cooled, it went back into the bottle it came from. The next morning I presented my creation. The kids wanted to drink it from the cool bottle, but I told them they had to wait for the pancakes to be ready. When I served the hot pancakes, I grabbed the bottle of POM and before they could say anything I poured it over the pancakes. They thought I was crazy, but then they took a bite. Nirvana! Eureka! Yum! I had made pomegranate syrup and the masses declared it good. It's waaaaay better for them than the fake maple syrup. It's feels like we are at IHOP with the special syrups. It tastes tart and sweet at the same time. I can imagine it would be amazing on a fruit cobbler, topped with ice cream and then POM syrup. This stuff is so good, I took the last two bottles and made more. So here I was thinking I had invented the Next Big Thing and with a quick Google search I am shattered. Alton Brown, that know it all, has already made pomegranate syrup. Uggghhhh!

Still, for the most part I am undeterred. I believe I came upon my own eureka and it definitely made the kids happy. This recipe and the pomegranate juice to make it have become part of the repertoire.

Aimee's Very Own Original Pomegranate Syrup Recipe
1 bottle of POM wonderful pomegranate juice
1/4 c sugar

Put juice and sugar in medium saucepan on medium high heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves. After the mixture starts simmering, turn the heat down to med low. You don't want to boil it, just a little popping and sparkling going on the surface. This would make a mess if you were not using a medium sized saucepan. After about an hour when it seems thicker, turn the heat off and let it cool a little. Once it's not fiery hot, pour it carefully back in the bottle. Store in the fridge. This will keep for a long time since it has the sugar in it.

Pomegranate Seed Treats
1 large pomegranate, seeded
6 oz semi sweet chocolate chips

Be sure your seeds are nice and dry for this one. Melt the chocolate, add dry seeds and gently stir together. Drop by spoonfuls onto your silicon mats. Cool and eat. These don't keep well, so make them the day you are serving them.

Party Punch
1 liter of tonic water (if you like bite) OR 1 liter of any light colored soda
1 liter of assorted juices: orange, apple, grape, grapefruit, pomegrante, cherry, limeade, lemonade (you get the idea)
Slices of limes, lemons and/ or oranges

Combine the soda and juice and right before serving add the citrus slices. Serve over ice. Looks beautiful and nobody serves punch anymore. Try it for a baby shower or birthday celebration. We made it for the Princess party and called it Princess Punch.

March 20, 2010

The Truck Party

For my littlest one's two year old birthday party, I knew trucks had to be the theme. I decided on a general "trucker" theme instead of focusing on one kind of truck. He is obsessed by trucks, the louder and bigger the better!

I made his cake into a trash truck, complete with chopped up candy bar trash in the back. The wheels are chocolate mini donuts, which I recommend getting at a bakery outlet because they are gross tasting and we just threw them away. The headlights are candy coated chocolates. The exhaust pipe is a rolled cookie covered in icing and the recycling bins are Reeses cups. I made two square cake pans and cut them in half. I then stacked the halves and cut off the very end. I used the cut ends to make the stacking front cab. Then I used the top of the cakes (where I cut them off to level them flat) to make the rounded top of the truck. When I got to the trash area, I just cut out some cake from the back and to make it look pretty messy inside, I left it unfrosted and added the crushed candy and some cookie crumbs.

The decorations were all the trucks we have laying around the house. The outside walk was lined with outside earth mover trucks and even the table had truck centerpieces. The older kids took the decorating task on with gusto.
The food was "upscale truck stop" style. We had venison sausage with cheese and crackers, a pickled platter (but no pickled pigs' feet), egg salad, carrot sticks, mini hotdogs and stoplight salad (red apples with kiwi fruit). 

In the goodie bags I put matchbox trucks, truck coloring pages, crayons, and truck tire cookies. These were not as beautiful as they were in my mind's vision, but the kids didn't seem to mind.
Here is the invitation I made to send to our party guests. (The personal info is whited out.) All the kids had a great time, mostly they played with all of the trucks laying around - those were a big hit!

Easy Roasted Chicken

Crunchy, crispy skin - that's what half of my family goes for. I am in the other half with tender, moist meat. Whichever side you pick, this roasted chicken has it all. It's as easy as picking up a rotisserie chicken from the deli and much tastier, not to mention cheaper. For about $.70/lb you can easily get two, maybe three meals out of a whole chicken. It's a great meal to make for company since it looks very delicious. My favorite recipe for roasting chicken comes from a Dacor oven cookbook. It's meant for a convention microwave (I was lucky enough to get one of these beauties when we moved into our house and it is incredible) but I have converted the recipe to a traditional oven for those of you mere mortals. Superpowers are found in the convention microwave. Where else can you bake brownies and muffins, turn around and roast a chicken, nuke some frozen veggies and top it all off with popcorn? If you have a convection microwave, you don't need anything else (well except an oven big enough for Thanksgiving day).

Roast Chicken

1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground coriander
dash of pepper

5-6 lb roasting chicken (thawed, emptied of disgusting giblets, rinsed with water and patted dry)
2 tbsp margarine, melted
1/2 c minced onion (and yes, I've substituted 1/4c dried minced onion)
1/2 c plain yogurt (again, I've used Greek and when desperate vanilla, but I wouldn't recommend strawberry)
1/2 c half and half (or whipping cream or whole milk)
1 tsp turmeric (this I never have, but I'm gonna invest one of these days)
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. The official recipe says to combine the first three spices and rub them into the chicken. I'm not a fan of rubbing chickens. When I get that intimate with them, I only think about our Girls in the backyard, not good for my appetite. So I cheat and combine all the spices with the melted butter, yogurt, and half and half. Then you spread this mixture all over the chicken with a sauce brush  - no touching necessary. Once the chicken looks like a kid who's overprotective mom slathered them with a little too much sunscreen, you are ready to cook.

Put in the oven for about an hour. The white meat should no longer be pink and the leg should come out easily. Take it out of the oven and let it rest for a while. You can build the chicken a little teepee out of foil to keep it moist during it's naptime if you like.

There it is, no trussing, tying, stuffing or even touching the bird. A very easy main dish. Keep napkins nearby when eating this, because it's crispy, crunchy, moist AND tender! And leftovers are perfect for any meal calling for cooked chopped chicken. Although, it's likely you won't have enough leftovers because this stuff makes the best chicken sandwiches.

March 12, 2010

The Green Salad that Bites You Back

When I was in the middle of the Eat from the Pantry Challenge, the thing that was hardest to do without was a green salad. I love eating salads, we eat a bunch during the summer when it is just too hot to cook, but we also eat them throughout the winter. I know these greens have to be grown in a hot house and I prefer my garden's greens, but still, when there is snow on the ground, you can't be picky. Something green and crunchy just seems to make you feel fresher and healthier. The kids are partial to the ginger dressing mentioned here on their salad but I have found a new favorite.

My brother's fiance shared her fabulous homemade salad dressing with the family as a Christmas present this past December. I will say, it has a SERIOUS kick when it's first made, but if you let it sit in the fridge for a while, it does mellow. It is a garlicky, balsamic vinaigrette and it's prefect for waking up sleepy taste buds. The great thing is a little dressing goes a long way, so it will last a while. My SIL recommends making it in a Magic Bullet but I don't have one of those so I did it my Cuisinart food processor. Seemed to work just as well. Thankfully, I throw all my food processor parts in the dishwasher when I am done.

Nadia's Kickin' Vinigrette

2 tbsp minced garlic

1/4 cup dijon mustard
1 tsp clover honey
1 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp basil
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

Put all ingredients in a well sealed, lidded container and shake well, or emulsify in a blender.

I use this dressing on all kinds of salads, but the one pictured above has sliced apples, colby jack cheese and another new found fave - crunchy topping. A friend of mine made this topping for our Bible study one week. She served it over fruit salad, which was delicious. I asked for the recipe and quickly made up a batch. The crazy "secret" ingredient is Rice Crispies! These work perfectly in the recipe because they have a neutral taste and they extend the pecans with a much lower cost (much like using refried beans to make the meat in tacos serve more people). I have made candied pecans many times. One year the kids and I had a taste test with three different candied pecan recipes. We really like the simple butter and sugar ones the best over the more complicated egg white ones. Either way, making candied nuts is expensive unless you have a nut tree growing in your backyard. I love the idea of extending the basic candied nut recipe with cheap generic cereal. We ate the crunchy topping over yogurt, fruit salad and green salads. It's a perfect complement to the tart dressing and makes your salad more like a restaurant salad. You can make the topping and store the extra in the fridge sealed tightly where it will keep for a long time. However, I'll warn you it didn't last long in our house. This stuff is addictive!

Crunchy Topping

2 1/2 cups rice crispy cereal
1 1/2 cups chopped hazelnuts, pecans, almonds or walnuts
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup margarine, melted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Stir together the cereal, nuts, brown sugar and margarine in a bowl. Spread out on baking sheet (use your silicon mats). Bake for 10-15 minutes, stirring a couple of times while cooking. Should smell toasty and be lightly browned when done. Cool and use or store in sealed bag or container.

March 10, 2010

This Lunch is a Masterpiece

It's not every day that my kids get a lunch "masterpiece", but I try every once in a while to make something fun or silly. Nothing special here, but bologna, crackers, homemade hummus, raisins, banana and a little piece of cheddar. The kids had fun rearranging bologna man's face with different combinations. Sometimes is just presention that makes lunch more fun and playful.

My Mom used to give us "candlestick salad" which was a pineapple ring placed on a plate with half a banana stuck into it. On top of the banana was a cherry with the stem (the wick part of the candle). You could up the nutritional value of the salad by surrounding the pineapple with a pool of cottage cheese. Tell them they have to blow out the candle before they can eat it and make sure it's not hot anymore! Your kids will crack up over that one.

March 6, 2010

Fighting Childhood Obesity with Jamie Oliver

I just came upon a TED (technology entertainment and design) video clip about Jamie Oliver aka The Naked Chef. In this clip Jamie talks about how he wants to fight childhood obesity in America. He lays out the facts, pinpoints the problems and provides solutions. This clip is 21 minutes long, but I was fascinated, especially the part 11 minutes in that shows him in a West Virginia schoolroom where the kids don't know what any of the veggies are!!! This is a problem near and dear to my heart. I love food, I love my kids. As I blogged yesterday I want to teach them about food choices right alongside teaching them reading and writing, through exposure and cooking. Check out Jamie's speech here.

After you watch that, you can get more on ABC on March 26th. You may already know this, but I'm living in the dark ages over here. I gave up TV for lent and have no idea what's going on out there in tvland. Seems little Jamie is all set to share a Food Revolution with the world. I looked at previews of the TV show and he is going to show some of the things he did while in West Virgina to change the situation. His entire video from the school visit looks like it will be part of the show. Let me tell you, if you haven't been to school to have lunch with your kid lately, you'd be shocked at what's there. It's gross - seriously. You can't depend on school to teach your kids healthy food choices and cooking. It has got to happen at home. Go cook something with your kids this weekend and let me know how the show is, since I won't be able to watch it until after Easter!


March 4, 2010

Getting Kids to Eat Everything

This photo just cracks me up! You can tell he's really enjoying his spaghetti. That face makes me happy cause eating shouldn't be a battle. Mealtimes shouldn't be about arguing or cajoling. And NONE of us needs to be short order cooks. Life is too hectic and family mealtime should be fun not stressful. Isn't that what those sappy Publix commercials that run during the holidays are all about?? I love those ads, I want to pull up a chair and join them at their dinner.

I share this funny photo not for the silliness of it, but more for talking about past experiences. When we had our first child, I was so frightened of feeding him the wrong thing at the wrong time. I read a bunch of books, but I didn't feel like they really helped me at all. Finally a friend recommended Super Baby Food, which has a great chart that details when to introduce each food.. After reading the book I was more confident in my

feeding skills as a new mom. My three kids were introduced to avocados, beets, and leeks right along side of the tamer standards like bananas, apples, and sweet potatoes. When they reached the one year mark, we started to introduce soft whole versions of what they were already eating: chunks of banana, mixed veggies, whole wheat crackers, tuna fish, mangoes, and more. One of my kids' favorite meals was spaghetti, specifically my Aunt Sharon's recipe. As you can see, they really got into it.

While my husband never really liked this extremely messy stage, I felt privileged to introduce them to all kinds of food that would eventually shape their palate. It's much easier to give an 18 month old a papaya or liverwurst than to introduce it at three when they can firmly say "no". Today my kids will eat lots of different foods. We just celebrated my birthday at a Dim Sum restaurant where they only thing they didn't like was chicken feet! Don't even get me started on the kids' menus at today's American restaurants, what kind of choices are those??! One of our friends asked, "don't you all ever eat American food?" We laughed wondering what exactly is American food other than hot dogs? Surely living in the Melting Pot means we get to experience foods from all over the world. Eating kalbi (grilled Korean short ribs) is like taking a vacation without going anywhere.

Of course, we have those nights where one of the kids might not like something on their plate (or the well known phase of not liking something they used to eat). Right now, my daughter is in a funk about any vegetable that's not green. Give the gal some green beans, edamame, or asparagus and they disappear, but offer her corn and it's "I don't liiiikkke that". Who can explain it? The kid can't even make sense of it herself. I'm sure the moment corn-on-the-cob comes into season, that same daughter will be chomping down on corn cobs with gusto. I try not to make these phases a big deal because then become a big deal. Our kids don't have to finish their dinner but they do have to try everything. If they don't eat much, I know the next morning when they wake up they will be hungry for breakfast with it's vast array of cereal, yogurt, or oatmeal they can choose from.

Our kids know each meal must contain three food groups. It's not uncommon to hear, "Mom, is cheese a protein?" coming from someone. I want food to be enjoyable and good for them. It's just like getting them to "exercise", they get out and play, it's not exercise for them, it's fun. Eating a variety of foods can be fun and part of their everyday life. Let them look at colorful cookbooks, let them pick out one thing from the grocery store they have never tried, and/ or let them help cook it. You might have heard these things before, but never put them into practice. Try it this week.

Oftentimes, I think we adults put our food issues on our kids making it harder to get them to eat good choices. Do you enjoy your brussels sprouts in front of your kids? Do you sneak a treat behind their backs? No matter what your preferences are, making meals and enjoying them together is really the key point. If you haven't introduced things to your kids already, it's never too late. Try something new as a family, asparagus grilled with olive oil, salt and pepper or Bee Bim Bop. How about strawberries with balsamic vinegar on them, or maybe try this fabulous fish recipe.  Whatever you do, have fun with it. You may find they even like something you don't! I can't fathom why my kids like fried okra, but they do. They have been accepted into the Pride of Southerners while I meanwhile sit firmly on the Mason Dixon line. I promise your kids will and can eat more than macaroni and cheese if you expose them to more exciting options.

I hope you enjoyed tonight's dinner, but even if you didn't, there is always tomorrow.


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