Category Archives: Menu Choices

Of Eggplant, Zucchini, and Burittos

Having been able to devote some time to cooking this weekend and today, I decided to try out some new things. Each night offered its own challenges, though, and a much different approach to cooking.

Sunday night is “big meal” night here. Its developed into family tradition that I spend a lot of time in kitchen preparing a tasty and elaborate meal, often with a desert, that we can use to close out our weekend. This is usually followed by a rousing game of Boggle and some Uno, both of which She-Who-Hums does pretty well at for her age. TPE and I both look forward to these nights of good company and good food. I really hope She-Who-Hums looks back on those nights fondly when she is our age and carries the tradition on.

Anyway, I figured last night was as good as any to finally try eggplant with TPE. We had a very small one procured from the farmer’s market, allowing her to experiment without a ton of it sitting around. And it can take a while to cook, making the weekend a good time to try it. I opted for a eggplant, tomato, cucumber pita with a red pepper raita for two reasons. First, the recipe called for the eggplant to be battered and baked, meaning that she’d be getting something close to fried. Second, the flavors more generally are familiar to her. I was basically trying to make the experience go well. Since its a big night in the kitchen, I also tried out the zucchini fritters from the other night, but substituted feta for goat cheese.

The meal was a mixed bag for TPE. On the one hand, she grew from uneasy acceptance of the fritters to enjoying them (especially with some of the raita). On the other hand, she took one bite of the eggplant and gave me the potato look. ( You know, the POTATO! look.)  The pitas were flimsy therefore detracted from the experience, but it was a pretty nice end-of-summer kind of meal.  Refreshing pitas with nice Greek flavors, along with savory fritters stuffed with cheese.  Not bad, all in all.  She-Who-Hums even got in the act and at a bologna pita (don’t get me started…at least her vegetables weren’t pickles and olives for once).

Tonight was a different story.  We decided early on that we’d have a black bean burrito kind of thing, having been inspired by She-Who-Hums suggestion that we go to the “Mexican” restaurant.  (We would’ve gone, but she declined to pay.  He’s absolutely hoarding money in her room, so yeah…I would’ve let her pay.)  Surprisingly, there wasn’t one black bean burrito recipe in any of my trusted vegetarian cookbooks.  So I improvised.

I know what you’re thinking, “He thinks he’s so bad-ass, just throwing things together in the kitchen.  Mr. Kitchen Know-It-All!”  While I assure you my ego is alive and healthy, improvised cooking is outside of my comfort zone.  Sure, I can make do when ingredients of a recipe are gone or I need to adjust, but that’s not me making decisions.  I’m still basically following orders; and that’s easy.

Nevertheless, I pressed forward.  We decided that we wanted black beans, rice, and “lettuce…AND CHEESE?!” (the last part was TPE’s contribution).  The problem was that she also didn’t want anything that you would put in a burrito like, you know, Mexican-themed seasonings like cumin.  (She suggested using taco mix.  REALLY!)  Anyway, I busted out my copy of THE FLAVOR BIBLE to get some ideas.  Seeing nothing all that inspirational, I made the rice and seasoned it with oregano and other assorted herbs and then make a fajita-like mix of peppers, onions, fresh corn, black beans, and diced tomatoes.  I went with about a 1/2 tsp of chili power, salt, and pepper.  I added some stock to let those flavors seep in as well, especially as the tomato broke down.  The resulting dish was fun (we built them at the table), tasty, and very filling.

So, here are my questions:

  1. What are your family food traditions?
  2. And, do you follow directions or just through stuff in a pot that sounds good?

All for now, dear reader.

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No Cooking for Me!

TPE surprised me tonight by having dinner ready by the time I got home, even though I got home early!  Its always a nice surprise when you don’t have to make dinner, but what was really nice about this is that it was pretty good.

Oh, I know that sounds insulting.  I really don’t mean it to be; TPE can cook and cook well.  She especially makes a mean cookie.  Where her and I diverge on food really has to do with what to make.  I’m adventurous; she’s not.  I like cheese and sugar; she triples those in recipes and halves everything that’s good for you.  I kid…sort of.

What was nice about tonight was this was the first time she decided to make a meal since she became a vegetarian…and she wasn’t trying to pretend that she wasn’t.  See, a lot of “vegetarian” recipes spend their time apologizing for the lack of meat and looking for substitutes.  The problem is that vegetables can’t replace meat and vice versa.  And many of the options — e.g., tofu — just really come across as a rite of passage for the newly meat-free.

Well…let’s just say that TPEs appetites will often lend themselves to recipes of that type and, not surprisingly, we’re both usually less than satisfied with the results.  Tonight she resisted that normal impulse and really thought about the meal from the vegetarian point of view — what would fit her dietary needs (we hadn’t had much protein this week), would fit into her schedule, and would satisfy her snooty husband (if she’s The Picky Eater, I’m clearly The Snobby Cook).  She hit the nail on the head with a white bean salad.

While this salad was very similar to what I’ll serve her, she had an inspired use of garlic to really beef up the flavor (pun intended).  She also accidentally pureed the tomatoes.  Though I was skeptical of that, it made the dressing very close to a tomato vinaigrette.  That was a serendipitous moment that I plan on using in the future.  Of course, I’ll have to do it my way…the TSC way.

Pesto! With a Twist!

We’ve had an uneventful couple of days, marked by one night where we just sort of picked at food from the fridge and a second night of an OK quiona salad.  You know, that’s all well and good but its not really blog material.  And believe it or not, I really don’t plan the meals with this blog in mind.

My inspirations often come from elsewhere.  In my most cliche’ moments, I’d say my inspiration often comes from the local Farmers Market.  That is certainly true of this week’s meal.

Usually our Farmers Market trip is fairly routine.  The selection here isn’t overwhelming compared to other parts of the country, so we usually get the things that I know I like to cook with.  This week there was — as usual — a lot of herbs.  I don’t often pay much attention to those because I have a small selection of fresh herbs in pots in the back.  But this week TPE was asking for “something with dill” (I have no idea why…stay tuned), which I don’t have.  I didn’t really find the dill I was looking for, but there was one organic stand with a lot of nice looking basil at a good price ($3 for a large bunch).  So I decided that pesto would be one of the meals of the week.

Pesto is easy enough but, honestly, I’ve been avoiding pasta since TPE became a vegetarian.  Not only is it “too easy” but I’m worried that it will become so much of a crutch that eating it becomes unhealthy.  The basil was just too much to pass up in that quantity at that price to not eat it this week.  That challenge is to do something interesting with it though.

I used a fairly basic recipe for starters.  About a 1/2 cup of cheese, a couple of cups of basil, 1/2 of olive oil, two cloves of garlic, and some butter.  “No pine nuts?,” you must be asking Faithful Reader.  Nothing is that easy.  TPE doesn’t like pine nuts and generally doesn’t do well with nuts at all.  Yet pesto without the nuts… what thickens it and helps it cling to the pasta and not be too oily?  My solution was to replace the pine nuts with chickpeas.  And that worked great with respect to flavor and texture.  I’m a big fan of this now, if only because it means I can feel ok about the protein thing.  Yeah, I know that’s not as much of a worry as people think.  Still.

But how to spice it up?  How to make it better than the normal pesto?  She-Who-Hums has been begging me to make caramelized onions lately.  She got hooked when I made some for the lentil croquettes that are becoming as stable of our family cuisine.  TPE calls them “lentil balls.”  That makes me giggle.  Anyway, I decided to caramelize onions and put them in with the pesto.  I could get a veggie into She-Who-Hums that wasn’t an olive or pickle, plus it would be a nice little twist in our relatively simple meal.

It worked wonderfully!  I even called them “a revelation,” but that was probably hyperbole.  But the sweetness of the onions, the saltiness of the cheese, and the slightly bitter garlic in the sauce made for some pretty darned good eating.  In retrospect I need to pay a little more attention to how much garlic goes in there and just how pungent it is (dinner was a touch bitter), but it was great.  And She-Who-Hums had a nice meal to boot, with onions, pickles, cucumbers, and onions to match her bologna sandwich (cut into the shape of a star).

It Was Bound to Happen

Tonight was like my personal kitchen Armageddon.  Really.

We’ve been out of town the last couple of days attending my high school reunion.  That means that pickings are slim in the pantry.  I figured that this would be a good time to try out the red lentils I bought a couple of weeks ago.  The green lentils have been a hit, I figured, so these might be a nice addition to our repertoire.

The recipe I chose was an Indian dal.  Having learned my lesson with the (almost non-existent) red pepper flakes with my galettes, I kept out any semblance of heat.  That kept the ingredient list pretty simple — butter, onions, garlic, tumeric, salt, red lentils, and water.  You finish it off with a little unsweetened coconut milk, some toasted mustard seeds and shallots, and there you go.  Dinner.

Not so much.  She-Who-Hums decided she wanted to cook something too.  I want to encourage cooking and eating with her, so I said yeah.  That was probably a mistake after a hectic day to start with, but it seemed simple — “fried” chicken.  In reality it was a baked, encrusted chicken breast.  I didn’t have to do much as I had her to most of it.  But its never that simple, because she had lots of questions.  Lots.  That’s not so good for the concentration.

That led to the first big problem.  I cooked the lentils until the became mush.  In my defense, I was following the recipe and had set my timer.  As it turns out, these things become liquid pretty fast and you’ve got to pay a lot of attention to them.  At that point, I had some rice cooking, was waiting for my sweet potato to cook and mash, and put She-Who-Hums food in the oven.  Everything was based on the timing of the lentils.  Well, I tasted lentils and they were terrible.  I couldn’t serve them, so in the trash they went and I started over.  I STARTED OVER!

I hurry up and get everything going again, vowing to check everything every minute or two.  Those lentils wouldn’t get me twice.  I take the sweet potatoes off the stove and mash them.  “Nice,” I thought, “things will be alright.”  Then I checked the basmatti rice.  It wasn’t burned, thank goodness but I had probably needed to turn the heat a few minutes earlier.  “Not a major disaster,” Mr. Brain prattled on.

TPE comes in and asks whats for dinner, and I tell her.  She notifies me that she hates sweet potatoes.  Now you’d think that I wouldn’t be surprised by this, given our last adventure with potatoes.  But I could’ve sworn that she told me she liked them recently.  Turns out, I fabricated that and it was all about She-Who-Hums.  Disaster number 2 or 3, depending on whether you’re counting the rice.  I am.

Anyway, I finally had a meal for everyone.  The dal looked beautiful, with a nice golden hue and a slightly sweet sauce.  I spooned it over the rice, put a plate down for TPE and myself.  She-Who-Hums sat down with her chicken (which turned out quite nice actually) and a plate that included jalapenos, pickles, olives, sweet potato, and rice with soy sauce (I know, right).  Finally, everything turned out great.

Then I looked at TPE.  Her expression said it all.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“There is a smoky taste,” she replied.

“Smoky?  Its just tumeric.”

It doesn’t really matter how the rest of the conversation went.  She decided to make herself a burrito.  To shorten the story a bit, her reaction to the burrito was very similar to the red pepper flakes.  That led to attempt number #3 to feed TPE:

I ate the final product (the dal and, incidentally, part of the burrito).  It was OK, but not outstanding.  So I put a little of She-Who-Hums left over jalapenos on it and…it was much, much better.  Talk about irony…the dinner I made for TPE wasn’t satisfying to me until she blew it off.

Anyway, after 4 disasters I decided to end the dinner in the only way that made sense.

Coming Soon

Peach ice cream and tofu attempt #2.  Stay tuned.

Panzanella!

After last evening’s rather heavy fare, I thought all of our stomachs could use a break.  I was thinking about something seasonal too.  The perfect recipe for this scenario was panzanella, a lovely Italian bread salad.Although the Italian’s apparently use this as way to use up aging, crusty bread it does not have to be seen that way.  I was thinking of it as a method of delivering vegetables to TPE in a way that would be pleasing to the eye and the stomach.

I took my panzanella in a clear Mediterranean fashion.  The onions were red, the peppers were bright green, a locally grown cucumber that was sweet, and some tangy tomatos. There were also some Kalamata olives and capers added in for more punch.  I added in about 6 oz of mozzarella to give a little bit of protein (plus TPE loves her cheese).  It was finished off with basil from the herb garden, red wine vinegar, and a Spanish olive oil.   The bread was a local, organic product from our co-op.

The result was very good.  I was a little worried that TPE might not be a big fan, in no small part because you can’t make the vegetables so small in this that you can’t taste them.  Its a very vegetable front-and-center dish.  But how wonderfully refreshing on a hot day.

If you make a panzanella, I will say this — use good olive oil and a very, very nice bread. Most recipe’s I’ve seen call for cibatta bread, but I’ve had good luck with any crusty bread.  And while this dinner took all of about 10 minutes to make, its better if it can sit for a while and let the flavors blend.  Each bite offers something completely different.

Let us know if you try one!  I strong recommend it…I’ve never

The week ahead

Obviously — I think — I like to cook. When I first got interested in really cooking, I tied myself pretty clearly to a handful of cookbooks early in the week, made a menu, and then stuck to it religiously.  As I got more comfortable with my favorite ingredients and was less befuddled about how to adjust on the fly, I got out of that practice and mainly asked that we had a handful of things around that I could always use in a pinch (things like plain yogurt and cream, which are not really “standards” in most homes).  With the switch to vegetarian for TPE, I think I’m going to get back into that habit.

That means I need to spend some time today looking up recipes I like (I always like the comfort of a trusted author nearby as I cook).  I also have to figure out what I need to start keeping in the pantry/fridge for those days where I don’t have time to plan like I’d like.  Anyway, here is a short list of ingredients that I’m sure I’ll use this week: tofu (second attempt), another round with quinoa, an avocado (second attempt for TPE), some edamame , carrots, red onion, summer squash, and maybe some flaxseed (we’ll see).

How do you do your menu planning?  Do you stick to it? What are your go-to-ingredients in your veggie, or not, pantry?

A whole post about…fiber?

A really fascinating link about fiber in today’s HuffPo.  It tries to explain why Bushmen are healthier than we are, points to a new kind of “super fiber” and then gives you nine tips for increasing your soluble fiber intake.

Normally I won’t comment on links like this so much as just passing them on, but this one hits very close to the challenges we face in my home.  TPE (The Picky Eater) won’t eat a lot of things on the list in that article (can you imagine me sprinkling flax seed on her food?), but has health concerns directly related to the intake of fiber.  So I have to think about how to slip brown rice into her diet without her knowing, and forcing a blackberry down her throat.  The Child will eat berries, but no grains and nuts of course.

Creative solutions are definitely welcome!

I almost forgot!

A big disaster has probably been avoided…the Picky Eater probably does not have a gluten allergy.  There is one more step to check for things, but at least the challenge of feeding her hasn’t gotten any harder.

Three People, Three Dinners

I promised myself when we started this dietary change that I would resist making each of us a separate dinner. So far I’ve been able to keep that promise…but not tonight.

You see, tonight was supposed to be leftover night. I had a soccer game and the girls had American Idol. Well, my plans didn’t come to fruition and there weren’t really a lot of leftovers in the fridge. We could go with quiona salad that was a week old (pass), leftovers from our failed first attempt with tofu (pass), and something we couldn’t quite identify. So, no leftovers and more time than I anticipated meant cooking.

Right from the start I had it in my mind I wanted to make a tart. Why? I have no clue, but I settled on a neat looking recipe from The Accidental Vegetarian for a carmelized onion and mustard tart. Well, the Picky Eater doesn’t eat eggs and wanted some leftover couscous and a sandwich. Child opted for leftover homemade chicken nuggets from last night, some veggie nuggets, and maybe some vegetables.

Aside from the Kid’s meal, the Picky Eater’s food was the easiest. I sauted some portabello slices with onion, and then put it on a nice fresh bread with Swiss cheese. I toasted the final product and served with the couscous.

My tart was not so easy. Let me just say that pastry crusts and I have an uneasy relationship. The initial product never looks or feels like they say it should in the books. It never rolls right for me and I end up patching it together to hide my mistakes (see the picture looks pretty…right???). Well, I compounded my problem by putting the wet ingredients in before I should’ve and not letting the crust rest enough. So it looked ok, but the crust just wasn’t pleasing.

The filling, though, was great. Three onions caramelized with butter and canola oil, crushed garlic, eggs, and heavy cream. Oh, and some Dijon mustard. Let’s face it, I could throw those ingredients on the floor and they’d probably still taste good.

So, even though this blog is really supposed to be about the Picky Eater and the challenge of feeding her, tonight ended up being about all of us having something different and mine ending up the least like what I wanted (DAMN YOU PASTRY CRUST!).

So, faithful reader, what is it you do on those evenings when everyone has a taste for something different? Do you give in and take the path of least resistance (something the kid picks, probably out of a cardboard box)? Or, do you climb the mountain and try to accommodate everyone? If you do that, who ends up suffering — the cook or everyone else?