Microwaved sweet potatoes and an update on Moroccan-style braised pork |Recipe report card

23 Jul

Dave LOVED the Moroccan-style Braised Pork with Couscous I made a while back, and consequently, that has been added to the repertoire. But I have struggled to settle on a good side dish for it. Also, it’s a 45-minute recipe with a flexible cook time (the braising can take anywhere from 20 minutes to 1 1/2 hours, your choice), which is perfect for the days I’m home and go to pick the Bug up at daycare, but not so ideal for the days when I’ll be working all day and then picking up the Bug.

Yesterday, I tried it in the slow cooker. The unfortunate thing is that, since our slow cooker has a ceramic insert, I could only use it for the braising step, which turns it into a two-pot dish. What you lose in ease-of-cleaning, you gain in flexibility of timing, so it’s a good solution for when I need to come home to dinner already made. I cooked it on high for about 4 hours, but you could also do low for longer.

Although the slow cooker solution wasn’t ideal, the side dish was.

Microwaved sweet potatoes

  • Meal: dinner, 7/22
  • Kid tried?: Yes.
  • Keeper?: Yes.
  • Cook’s grade: A+. While we were back East, my mom made baked sweet potatoes, which reminded me how much I love baked sweet potatoes. They are soooooooo gooooooooood. But they take 45 minutes to an hour, which doesn’t really work for us. I read something that suggested pricking them all over, then microwaving them for 10 minutes (5 minutes, then do another minute or two, check for doneness, repeat). I microwaved three sweet potatoes (actually garnet yams) for about 7 minutes, and they turned out well. Next time, I’d go for closer to 8 or 9 minutes, but they were tasty, especially with a little butter and a tiny sprinkling of brown sugar.
  • Kid’s grade: A+. Bug asked for seconds and thirds. SUCCESS!

Microwaved sweet potatoes recipe

  • Prick one or more (up to three) similarly sized sweet potatoes all over with a fork or paring knife
  • Microwave on high for 5 minutes. Check for doneness.
  • If they need more time, microwave them in intervals of 1 or 2 minutes at a time, checking for doneness each time. The total cooking time will likely be around 10 minutes.
  • For toddlers, cut up the sweet potato and place it in the freezer to cool off. They will be “hot hot hot hot hot,” as the Bug says.

 

 

Citrus-marinated steak tacos, avocado-lime salsa, and arroz a la mexicana |Recipe report card

23 Jul

 

Someone kept trying to steal my cheese whenever I tried to take a shot of my food.

Someone kept trying to steal my cheese whenever I tried to take a shot of my food.

Today was one of those, “Oh god, I have a tiny amount of time to prep dinner and feed the lil guy before the Bug wakes up” days. So of course the meat I bought was still frozen by 2 pm, sending me reeling, trying to think of alternate dishes to make, debating whether I should just eat out (we recently decided we’ve been eating out WAY too much lately), deciding to return to plan A, and then frantically trying to straighten up the kitchen to make it functional for cooking.

But that’s why I keep testing Taco Tuesday (which never happens on a Tuesday) recipes. And this meal was exactly the right one to make. Bug likes steak, rice, and tortilla chips, so even though I hadn’t tried it before, it seemed like a safe bet for a night when just she and I were eating dinner. (And a heck of a lot better for us than mac and cheese from a box.) I made a corn tortilla version of the tacos for myself and, taking a cue from Dinner: The Playbook, a deconstructed one for Bug. For dessert, I made Banana Paletas, which were a big hit. The popsicle-size ones weren’t frozen enough, so we ate the icecube size ones that I made with the leftover liquid. I hope to write about those later.

The deconstructed, toddler-friendly version of dinner.

The deconstructed, toddler-friendly version of dinner.

Citrus-marinated steak tacosReal Simple June 2015

  • Meal: dinner, 7/23
  • Kid tried?: Yes.
  • Keeper?: Yes.
  • Cook’s grade: A+. How can you go wrong with a tasty four-ingredient marinade? This literally took less than five minutes to whip together. I usually buy my meat at a local market that has locally raised meat, but I was in a rush this week and bought “carne asada” cut at our local chain supermarket. This turned out to be a great move because it was so thin-cut that it defrosted quickly, once I pulled the pieces apart, and it cooked in seconds. If I were cooking for Dave and I, I would have preferred a better cut of steak, but tonight, when I wasn’t sure how much time I had to cook before the lil guy woke up for his first cluster feed of the evening, it was perfect. I heated the corn tortillas on top of the last batch of beef, which actually worked out well, giving some flavor to the tortillas and getting them the perfect balance of crisp/moist.
  • Kid’s grade: A. “What’s this, Mommy?” “Steak. They’re steak tacos.” “I like steak.” And then she proceeded to eat all the steak on her plate.

Chunky guacamole

  • Meal: dinner, 7/23
  • Kid tried?: Yes.
  • Keeper?: Yes.
  • Cook’s grade: A. Fearing that I was running out of time, I abandoned my plans to make Avocado-Lime Salsa and just made chunky guacamole, by chopping the avocado into big chunks, squeezing the lime juice on it, and dousing it with a good-sized pinch or two of kosher salt. It’s not the most amazing guac I’ve ever made, but it hits all the right notes, and it made me wonder why I don’t make even an easy guac more often.
  • Kid’s grade: B. Bug ate a piece of it and slightly grimaced, but I think she went back for more…

Arroz a la Mexicana, The Best Recipes in the World (similar recipe)

  • Meal: dinner, 7/23
  • Kid tried?: Yes.
  • Keeper?: Yes.
  • Cook’s grade: A-. I skimped on this recipe, too, throwing the rice, a half can of diced tomatoes with juice, garlic, stock, salt, and pepper into a rice cooker. We left the playground later than I hoped (which happens exactly always), so it was a bit dried out. But still–super easy and a great side for Mexican food. I threw some frozen corn into the rice cooker too, just to get some veggies in the meal.
  • Kid’s grade: A. Bug didn’t notice the rice until the end of the meal, the point when it’s difficult to tell if she genuinely wants to eat or if she just wants to stall going to bed. “I like rice!” she said and grabbed a big clump with her fingers, eating it as delicately as a toddler can eat a cluster of tiny pieces of food barely held together with moisture and residual heat.

Cooking tips for busy parents:

  • Use your appliances. I have been relying more and more on the rice cooker and slow cooker to help take the heavy lifting out of some of these dishes. Yes, the flavor of the food isn’t as good, but it’s good, and it helps me get better-tasting, more interesting food on the table.
  • Follow the advice from Dinner: The Playbook and make super easy sides. The arroz a la mexicana can be made using all pantry staples. Yes, Bittman says that fresh tomatoes made this dish transcend taco place fare, but, again, if your goal is to put a healthy dinner on the table without spending all your (very limited) free time cooking, this works. Similarly, the no-smash guac isn’t my ideal guacamole, but it works and was delicious.
  • The night or morning before, make the rice in the rice cooker and set the timer. Also make the marinade.

Baby body tracing | Toddler art

18 Jul
Bug ponders how to add more decoration to the tracing of the Lil Guy.

Bug ponders how to add more decoration to the tracing of the Lil Guy.

We are still recovering from our big trip back East, so I was looking for a quick project to do with the Bug after she got back from gymnastics class today. As I often do, I consulted Tinkerlab, specifically the “12 Art Projects for Toddlers” post. Body tracing! That seemed like fun. (Note: This post contains affiliate links.)

Body tracing!

Materials

  • Big piece of paper or cardboard
  • A pen for tracing
  • Various art supplies for decorating

I pulled out a roll of medical exam table paper — which I use for pattern tracing — and unspooled a length of it on the floor. “OK, Bug, lay on top of the paper,” I said. She was not going for it. So I thought we’d try it with the Lil Guy, who at 4 months, is too young to protest. I moved the paper to our rug, laid him down, and started tracing. “No, I do it,” Bug said, taking the pen from my hand and scribbling on the paper (to her credit, she only got a tiny bit on the Lil Guy). I grabbed a crayon and finished tracing, and when she relinquished the pen, I retraced his body.

Bug grabbed her dot markers, and we moved the whole operation outside. Since the tracing paper is thin, I put my cutting mat underneath it. I’ve learned from attempting art projects with Bug that you need to keep the momentum going. So although I would have preferred using cardboard or something I could throw away underneath the drawing, I went with something that I could grab quickly. We taped the paper to the mat, and Bug started dotting away.

She doesn’t often ask for the dot markers, so I decided to take a cue from Rachel Doorley and let her guide the choice of materials. Since I left the Scotch tape out, Bug wanted to play with that. I kept that out, and also grabbed two rolls of Wasabi tape that I bought. One looked like stained glass, so I used that to call back the memory of some gorgeous stained glass windows we saw in a seafood place in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. “Remember those stained glass windows we saw? This tape reminds me of that.”

When she noticed some sidewalk chalk on the ground, we pulled out the chalk, which was less interesting to her. By this point, she understood where the art supplies were, and she pulled out some puffy paints her aunt gave her. I made a rule that we could only keep two art materials out at a time, so we put away the chalk and dot markers and kept the puffy paint and tape. Squeezing out just the right amount of paint was a little too fine of a motor skill for her, but she had fun globbing it on the paper, which began to rip under the weight.

I noticed her using the tip of the paint applicator to drag lines through the paint puddles, so I grabbed a couple of twigs from our yard, as well as some leafs and two clovers. We dragged lines from the blobs of paint and tried to use the leaves as stamps, which transferred shapeless globs of paint on the paper rather than leaf-shaped globs of paint, as I was hoping.

The whole activity kept her occupied for about an hour, which is a really long time for her right now. The Lil Guy admired our work on his outline from the vantage point of his bouncy chair. When we were done, I put the whole thing on an outside table to dry so that the dogs wouldn’t get paint on their noses.

The one thing I would change next time is the paper. Bug headed into her playroom with the last of our homemade play-dough, and I remembered that we had a roll of drawing paper attached to her play table. The drawing paper (from IKEA) is far sturdier than the tracing paper I used, and wouldn’t rip as easily under toddler hands and pools of paint.

Seared pork chops with apples and onions | Recipe report card

18 Jul
A virtually foolpoof way to cook juicy pork chops.

A virtually foolpoof way to cook juicy pork chops.

We returned home on Wednesday from a two-week trip back East during which we ate lots of food that fell pretty much everywhere on the delicious-not delicious and healthy-unhealthy spectrum. (Pro tip: Cracker Barrel is an awesome place to take kids to get a pretty healthy meal that they will actually eat.)

So when we got home, before I did my post-vacation triage grocery shopping, I asked Dave what he wanted to eat. “Pork chops and apples,” he said. So I found this recipe in How to Cook Everything Fast.

Seared pork chops with apples and onions, How to Cook Everything Fast p. 750 (similar recipe here)

  • Meal: dinner, 7/16
  • Kid tried?: Yes.
  • Keeper?: Yes.
  • Cook’s grade: A-. This was so easy to make and virtually foolproof. The recipe calls for browning the chops on both sides for 3 to 5 minutes each, then throwing the apples and onions in the skillet until they soften. You add cooking liquid (stock, water, wine, beer, whatever), put a lid on it, and let it braise for 5 to 10 minutes more. When I’ve tried that approach before, I somehow consistently managed to dry out the chops. But this time, I used extra thick grilling chops. They were so thick that even though I was completely distracted changing diapers, etc., during the braising and lost track of time, the chops turned out moist but with a nice golden sear. The apples turned out well, though Dave wasn’t a huge fan and admitted he prefers them the unhealthy way, when you basically serve pie filling. The apple onion mixture added a nice sweetness to the chops and pan juices.
  • Kid’s grade: B+. Bug seemed to like the pork chops, which may have reminded her of steak, her new favorite meat (supplanting even fried chicken tenders). And she ate a few apples with the onion. I served it with mustard spinach, which was too spicy for her. That’s a good side, though, for anything you make in a skillet, so I’ll have to find some alternate version.

Slow cooker chicken chile verde | Recipe report card

7 May

In Dinner:The Playbook, Jenny Rosenstrach recommends having a master plan for your weekly meals. Mine would be: something meatless (honestly, this would be fish for us), taco Tuesday, pizza Fridays, and some more elaborate meal on Sundays. Dave loves 1980s home meal-style tacos. You know, ground beef flavored with “taco seasoning,” hard shells, lettuce, salsa, and sour cream. No sides, just three (maybe four) of those and call it a meal. But I really want to make the taco/burrito meats that I like to eat: chile verde, cochinita pibil, carnitas (in other words, lots of Mexican pork). A lot of those are labor-intensive, which means there are slow cooker versions of them like this one, from Chow.com!

Slow cooker chicken chile verde

  • Meal: dinner, sometime last week but not on a Tuesday
  • Kid tried?: Yes.
  • Keeper?: Yes.
  • Cook’s grade: A. LOVED THIS. OMG, I loved this. I love chile verde so much, and although this was not the traditional pork, the flavor was great. The chicken shredded easily, and I wondered if this might be a good way to get that yummy, moist, flavorful chicken that you get from store-bought rotisserie chickens (I know, it’s a guilty pleasure from my single days). I don’t know that it’s really necessary to use a whole chicken for this recipe, though, and it made the last few steps a bit messy. I might try it with chicken parts next time.
  • Kid’s grade: A. The Bug loved eating her “brrrito” and even successfully ate it wrapped up in the tortilla for a few bites before asking if she could unwrap it and subsequently making a mess. But that’s what toddlers do. I’m cool with that.

Cooking tips for busy parents:

  • I can’t believe I didn’t think of this earlier, but after making this, I bagged half of the leftovers and threw them in the freezer. Since I’ve been cooking more lately, we’ve had a lot of leftovers taking up space in our fridge and then going bad in our fridge. I hate throwing out food. My new policy is to immediately freeze half the leftovers so that on nights when it’s just the Bug and me, I can pull something out of the freezer, throw it in the microwave, and eat something healthy and homemade instead of getting burgers or something. I am ashamed to admit that the Bug probably eats chicken fingers at least once a week, which means I eat burgers and fries at least once a week.
  • As I mentioned above, next time I would try chicken parts instead of a whole chicken. Though, if you’re planning on making stock anytime soon, you might as well use the whole chicken and save the carcass for stock.

Moroccan-style braised pork with couscous and grapes | Recipe report card

6 May

A couple of weeks ago, Dave said, “Why don’t you make that pork thing with the couscous? That was really good” “What pork thing with couscous?” I had no memory of it. “It had grapes and Middle Eastern spices…” Apparently this was a hit, but I had no recollection of it. Dave kept talking about it for a few days and then finally, a vague memory started to resurface. (That’s why I’m doing this series on my blog. It’s really just because I have an atrocious memory.)

Moroccan-style braised pork with couscous and grapes, How to Cook Everything Fast p. 786

  • Meal: dinner, sometime last week
  • Kid tried?: Yes.
  • Keeper?: Yes.
  • Cook’s grade: A-. Although it is definitely a 45-minute recipe, this is a fairly easy dish to make: brown some pork, cut thin, with spices, add more flavorings (harissa and tomato paste), then liquid (white wine), then some more flavorings (onion, grapes, etc.). Bring to a boil, let cook for 20 minutes or so, add the couscous, and wait another 5 minutes. This one does pass my “dash out to daycare” test (you can either braise it for up to 2 hours or follow the recipe through adding the couscous and then dash out), and it’s pretty easy to assemble. I like that a lot of the ingredients are pantry staples (yes, grapes are a pantry staple when you have a toddler), so it’s a good end-of-the-week, what-do-I-do-with-this-pork-we-have-in-the-freezer meal. I downgraded it because cutting 1.5 lbs. of pork shoulder (I used tenderloin because that’s what we had) into 1/2-inch pieces takes a while. Though, to be fair, I need to get our knives sharpened. I also downgraded it because I don’t love it as much as Dave does, though it is a pretty tasty dish. I used Israeli couscous, which we like so much better than regular couscous.
  • Kid’s grade: B+. It’s always interesting to see which ingredient in a stew the Bug shows interest in. She wasn’t interested in the pork or the grapes (which I thought were a shoo-in). She LOVED the couscous. “More cooscoos?” I like finding those “gateway ingredients” to help me figure out other things that she’ll like.

Cooking tips for busy parents:

  • I bet, though I have not put this to a test, it would be a good slow cooker dish. I base that on my discovery of Bittman’s ode to the slow cooker, which I recently discovered, in which he says you can use the slow cooker for many braised dishes.

I served it with Bittman’s tomato salad with olive oil and yogurt, which I and the Bug liked but didn’t love and Dave didn’t touch (as I suspected). I probably wouldn’t make it again unless I had tomatoes lying around, waiting to be used, so I’m not doing a report card on it.

Jambalaya des herbes with shrimp | Recipe report card

6 May

Our pediatrician is very interested in getting the Bug (and, presumably, all her patients) to eat fish once a week. I am interested in getting out of my cooking/eating ruts and eating more seafood once again. I am also interested in using the Bug’s love of rice, pasta, and anything in noodle form to help her expand her palate.

I tried to take a shortcut and make the rice in the rice cooker, thinking this would buy me my much-needed 30-minute round trip break to pick the Bug up at daycare. Unfortunately, it became very clear that everything would not fit in our rice cooker, so I ended up dumping it all into a pot, adding some water, turning the heat too high, and letting it cook. Next time I will follow the recipe.

Once again, I did not take a picture, but the link to the recipe has a much nicer one than I could have ever taken.

Jambalaya des herbs with shrimpHow to Cook Everything Fast p. 380

  • Meal: dinner, tonight
  • Kid tried?: Yes
  • Keeper?: Yes
  • Cook’s grade: A. You have to chop an onion, two celery stalks, two green peppers, and two tomatoes, so there’s a fair bit of chopping. Fortunately, the onion cooks while you chop the celery; they both cook while you chop the peppers, etc. So it’s not wasted time, but it does push this up to a 45-minute meal as opposed to a 30-minute meal. Also, there’s only about ten or fifteen minutes when the dish cooks unattended, so it’s not a great “start it now, then dash off to daycare, and serve it when we get home” dish. The spices were right in between adult and kid tastes, probably a bit mild for us and a bit too spicy for Bug, but I would probably just dial back the cayenne next time. Still it was easy, really flavorful, and a good way to get some seafood in our diets. Dave loved it. And it was really good with a beer.
  • Kid’s grade: B. I cut the shrimp into small pieces for the Bug’s bowl, thinking I would hide it in the rice. She ate every bite of shrimp and even ate two or three more “big shimp.” She was fascinated with the Creole seasoning Dave put on his and left on the table (nothing is ever spicy or flavorful enough for him), so she added some to her bowl, then decided her food was too spicy. So this goes down in history as the first time she didn’t finish all her rice.

Cooking tips for busy parents:

  • Don’t try to make the rice in a rice cooker, thinking you’ll add the veggies and finish it off there, unless your rice cooker is very large or you’ve halved the recipe.
  • To cut down on the chopping, you could probably use a can of diced tomatoes.
  • You could cook all the veggies in advance, throw them in a bowl with the tomatoes and bay leaves the night before. Just add them to the rice as you make it.

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.