Cooking with Toddlers

Last night I documented (for posterity and anyone considering having a third child) what cooking with a toddler is like.

This first picture is 10 minutes into cooking. I was able to focus and so was able to pound chicken breasts (tenderize and flatten) and get them in the griddle pan and snap the green beans. What’s my secret? Ye old blind eye.

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1,000 piece puzzle in an even film over entire house.

2 seconds later…

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999 piece puzzle

2 seconds later…

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I promise dinner will taste better than puzzle if you just give me a few more minutes, sweet child.

Negative time later… think we moved backwards 5 minutes. Time concepts get hazy in the kitchen wormhole.

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NOT THE SANDWICH BAGS, STAAP!

Time sense totally gone by now. Me revert back to primitive, pre-civilization time concepts. Somewhere between setting of bright sky ball and earth mother sleep in blanket of darkness later…

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Insert soundtrack of desperately sad and hungry toddler crying here.

If it was only 10 minutes later how did I age 3 years?

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YOU’RE F-ING WELCOME

Did I mention she woke up at 4:30am today? She woke up at 4:30am today.

Good thing she’s cute.

Weeknight Dinner Chicken Piccata Plus

Why the “Plus?” Because sure, this is a piccata in that it’s got a sauce of butter, lemon, and capers, but it also has tomatoes and green olives too, and if you think that’s weird well just you… hey! WAIT, okay? I promise it’s good! And it’s my 10 year old’s favorite meal! And her friends down the street who said they didn’t like olives liked it too! I PROMISE you need to give this one a shot.

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Olive Tree. I was actually looking for an olive image to include here but I like this composition- think I’ll try to paint it… brb.

There is a lot of sauce in this one, so serve this with a nice big pile o’ carbs- I suggest rice, myself. But a bunch of crusty bread or maybe noodles would be good too. Not potatoes though, I can’t really see that.

And I was about to write “4 chicken breasts” in the ingredients, but honestly pretty soon that’d mean 10 pounds of meat! The size of these chicken breasts these days… I’d be terrified of what those chickens must actually look like if it weren’t for the fact that I’ve seen turkeys before. The truth is I usually just use two chicken breasts, pounded to ½ an inch thick and cut into 2 or 3 pieces each and it’ll feed my family of five with some left over. And that’s plenty because it’s not just the chicken breast sizes that have gotten out of hand; it’s our portion sizes too. A serving of meat should be the size of a deck of cards- not a file folder, and a bowl should hold about a cup of something, not those serving platters they give us in restaurants these days! Lord, I could talk forever on this one… it’ll be plenty and just round out your plate with a few carbs and a big salad. You’ll live longer for it. Promise.*

2-3 chicken breasts, pounded to 1/2in thick and cut into 2-3 pieces each
½ cup flour
1 lemon- juiced (reserve) and then slice peel into strips
1 Tablespoon capers
¼ cup good green olives, sliced (I buy whole olives in jars and slice myself. I like the pimento stuffed for this)
½ cup cherry tomatoes, halved
3 cloves garlic, crushed and rough chopped
1/2 cup chicken broth or mixture of ½ chicken broth and half white wine)
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
Salt
Black Pepper
Paprika
Fresh Flat Leaf Parsley, chopped

1 cup white rice or noodles, cooked separately. You should start on that before you start on the chicken.

Pound chicken to ½” and cut into reasonable serving sizes and season both sides with salt and pepper. Mix flour and paprika on a plate and dredge chicken on all sides, shaking off excess and set aside. Heat oil and butter over medium/high heat until hot. Add chicken pieces and brown on all sides, about 4 minutes per. Add garlic, tomatoes, capers and olives, cook for 1 minute. Add chicken broth or broth/wine mixture along with lemon juice and scrape up the brown bits from the bottom. Liquid should come up ½ to ¾ of the way up the chicken in the pan… add more if needed. Top chicken pieces with slices of lemon peel. Cover the pan and reduce heat. Simmer for 10-5 minutes or until chicken is done.

Serve over rice and pour plenty of sauce mixture over the chicken. Top with fresh parsley. And while you could eat the lemon peels I usually don’t. I do serve it on the plate though. It looks purdy.

 

*Promise of longer life contingent on no cave scuba diving.

A Vow of Cake

We had our middle daughter’s 8th birthday party yesterday at noon. And so when 10:17am rolled around and my husband and I were in bed and instead of getting up he pulled the covers over his head I was so, so proud of him. And I then enthusiastically joined him under the covers. It’s like a fort of delayed obligations… I recommend it. (Yes we still have a baby around. We got up at 6:30am with her and then crawled back in bed at 9:30am when she went down for a nap.)

Now, the house had been cleaned, food bought, and the cake baked the night before- we’re not total monsters over here. But what were the first 2 things I did upon finally getting up and getting ready at 10:30am? Winged eyeliner (HEY I’VE NEVER TRIED THIS BEFORE SURE SEEMS LIKE A GOOD TIME FOR IT) and painting my toenails. THIS is what happens when I don’t make a list, for god’s sake.

We got everything done by 11:54am though, so it all worked out.

And I think we can all agree that cake is the worst. Not mine, I make decent cake- I just mean in general.  Icing is gross. And even the best cake is just nuthin’ special. I don’t tie up a lot of pride in my baking- but I made a promise, many many years ago that I would make every one of my children’s birthday cakes. And they get to pick whatever kind of cake they want. Shark cake? plastic sharks on top. Giraffe cake? Plastic giraffes on top. Dolphin cake? You see where I’m going with this, I think. And I have made each and every one and did it with the hand mixer I bought at a Big Lots at 18 before I left for college and that has somehow made it through about a MILLION moves and that I actually don’t think I used, ever, until I started making my kid’s birthday cakes.

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Image by C. Glass… half full? Half empty? if I was that photographer I’d go by my full first name, honestly.

It’s a weird promise to have made, and I made it only to myself- but it absolutely stands in as a symbol of the mom I want to be. It stands in as a succinct version of all of this- rolled up in my head.

  • I promise to be the mom that can make you dinner.
  • and make you laugh and to also make sure your sense of humor is top tier.
  •  to mend your clothes and sew on buttons and who can make curtains if I have to and gives you a clean house to live in.
  • I promise to call you outside to see possums and hawks and birds and snakes. And point out the biggest earthworm I’ve ever seen in my life holy hell that thing is HUGE!
  • I promise to impart upon you a concept of self that is more than to be decorative.
  • But also to let you see that being a feminist badass doesn’t mean having to deny one iota of the nurturing that goes into home cooked dinners or mending or you know. Cake baking.
  • I promise to give you a chore each and every time you say “I’m bored” and that you’ll get to a point where you’ll open your eyes wide in horror after you say it and say “NEVERMIND, NEVERMIND!” and run off to your room to do something creative.
  • I promise to make you play on at least one team in your life.
  • But I also promise to not overbook you because free time is important to kids, and also your father and I like sleeping in on Saturdays.
  • I promise you’ll love reading.
  • And hell no you can’t get a phone!
  • And I promise to sing you a song at night as often as I can and you know what? You’re 10 and 8. I really should just do it EVERY night still, because how much longer will you even let me? But the baby still gets the Silent Night treatment every night.
  • I promise to have National Geographic in the bathroom and that it’s totally cool if you drop them in the bath, I’m just glad you’re reading them. (hasn’t happened yet, but they’re in there for y’all. Ready for whenever you pick one up.)
  • And while I’ll bake your birthday cake, I promise to never get tied up in the Pinterest-y competition between moms and do all the stupid other crap that isn’t for the kid who’s birthday it is, but to show off for the other moms. I’m looking at you, mom who prints labels saying “Caitlin’s Birthday!” for the goddamn water bottles.
  • Also? No goodie bags, ever. Though we did give out whoopee cushions that one memorable time. That was awesome.

And so, I will continue to make birthday cake, every year, three times a year and neither rain nor snow nor heat nor gloom of night will stay this faithful courier from the swift completion of her appointed rounds.

And the only other promise I’ve made myself that I have never ever once wavered on? No more tequila. Super committed to both. Make kids’ birthday cakes and no more tequila.

Words to live by.

The Best Italian Wedding Soup Recipe Ever

You know, the only soup I’ve ever had at a wedding has been Menudo, but I dig the concept. And I forget exactly where I first read about Italian Wedding Soup, but I do remember why it piqued my interest. The article I was reading was written by some mother who mentioned this soup was her daughter’s favorite and the prepackaged brand she bought was discontinued and she didn’t know what she was going to do. DIDN’T KNOW WHAT SHE WAS GOING TO DO. Sheesh. That reminds me of stories about people getting trapped on escalators because they stop moving or people who are locked out of their car because their key fob batteries died. Are we that helpless, humanity? Make the soup yourself, that’s what you’re going to do.

The mix of beef and chicken broth adds depth to the soup and means you’re getting beef, pork, and chicken in this meal. Making it like a Turduckin… in no way whatsoever. And maybe double the meatballs and freeze them after you brown them- that’d be a nice jump on the next batch of soup or you could finish cooking them and toss them in pasta for a quickie meal down the road. Also? Some people drizzle beaten egg in this for egg streamers like in Egg Drop Soup. I like my eggs in birthday cake, so I don’t do that.

Prep Time: 45 minutes
Refrigerate meatballs for 1 hour prior to cooking
Cooking Tine: 45 minutes

For Meatballs:
Not exact science here- mix ratios till the meatballs stick together. For this soup the smaller you can get the meatballs the better; I aim for large blueberry sized, myself but usually end up at gumball sized.

1.5 lbs. ground pork
1 egg
2 tbsp. milk
4 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, pressed through garlic press
½ tsp. salt
Pepper to taste (around 1/3 tsp.)
¼ finely chopped onion

For Soup:
2 Tbsp. olive oil
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups beef broth
2 cups thinly sliced kale
1 cup cooked Israeli couscous (orzo or other small pasta as a sub)
2/3 cup finely chopped carrot

Garnish with grated Parmesan

Mix ground pork, egg, milk, grated Parmesan, onion, garlic, salt and pepper together well in a large bowl until evenly mixed. Form into small meatballs, place on a cookie sheet and refrigerate for an hour. (This keeps them from falling apart when you brown them)

Heat olive oil over medium high heat in large pot. Add meatballs in batches (don’t crowd the pot or else they steam and don’t brown) turning regularly to brown all sides. Remove to a clean bowl or platter. Or plate. Just not the contaminated with raw pork bowl you used earlier is what I’m saying. Once all meatballs are browned and removed from pot add chopped carrots and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add broth, scraping the bottom to loosen the browned bits (they add mucho flavor) and add kale. Simmer for 30 minutes

In a separate pot cook the Israeli couscous or small pasta. Set aside (Yes. I know. Israeli couscous in Italian soup? That’s the Diaspora for you.) Tradition calls for a small, round pasta I’ve never ever found in stores anywhere, but Israeli couscous looks awfully similar to my eye, and was conveniently in my pantry already. Any small pasta will do though, orzo, stars, etc. Just cook it separately or it will suck up too much of the broth as it cooks. Also store it separately or it’ll get mushy and ruin any leftovers.

For the last 15 minutes of cooking add the browned meatballs back to the soup and continue to simmer.

Fluff the Israeli couscous or drain the pasta then add desired amount to individual bowls. Ladle in soup and top with more grated Parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

Recipe Post: Penne Pasta with Wine Sauce and Sun-dried Tomatoes

And… another recipe post. These will automatically tell you that the paralysis of going too long without a post has set in and so I trot out the already created content as a way of knocking myself out of it. It’s like my L Dopa. (Oliver Sacks reference there. Drink up.)

And , as I’ve mentioned before, I am working on a LONG running project of trying to finish a cookbook which is why I have so many recipes as existing content to use. This is ongoing from 2011 and it’s about damn time to not have hanging over my head anymore. Write a cookbook, I said. It’ll be fun, I said…

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You’ll need a couple of these. Image by Andrzej Jakubczyk

 

Penne Pasta with Wine Sauce and Sun-dried Tomatoes

I would recommend memorizing at least one recipe- it impresses the hell outta your friends if you bust it out of thin air at their house. Also it’ll mean you are pretty guaranteed* to not forget ingredients while grocery shopping. This is the one I always can pull out of the ether,  hippocampus, or wherever memories are actually stored. Typing sounds. Google tells me memories are stored in the limbic system of which the hippocampus is a part. Jesus. Did my hippocampus actually just remember that the hippocampus is where memories are stored?! It’s too damn early for this.

Oh. Does that literally tell you NOTHING about this recipe? Okay, well let’s see, This is universally loved by everyone from the 1 year-old through inlaws and all kids/ teens/ adults in between and that’s great considering the amount of onion it has in it. Ummm… it doesn’t need a side dish- like what a huge plus that is, right? Reheats well for next day lunches (woot, woot- right teachers?), and… ah! Is vegetarian! But not vegan- because of the cheese. And seriously vegans- if you are against cheese then you have NEVER felt the relief of being a breastfeeding mother and being able to nurse after a delay in your normal schedule. Ugh… look. I don’t know where this is going either, honestly. Back to the pasta.

1 8oz. package of Penne pasta

3 Tbsp. olive oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

10-12 Cremini mushrooms, sliced

1/2 yellow onion, diced

8 sundried tomatoes, reconstituted in water, drained, and sliced lengthwise

1 small jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and cut into thirds

1 can black olives

1 ½ cup white wine, dry

Juice of half a lemon

1 cup of Parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

Handful of fresh parsley, chopped

Cook pasta, drain, return to pot and put lid back on to maintain temperature. In a large skillet or sauté pan heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add onion, garlic, and mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper and cook for 3-5 minutes until mushrooms have reduced in size and released their juices. Add sundried tomatoes and continue to cook for 2 minutes. Add wine and lemon juice as well as artichoke hearts and olives. Continue cooking until sauce is reduced by half. Pour sauce over pasta, add Parmesan cheese, and mix to combine. Top with fresh chopped parsley.

This is also good topped with grilled chicken or shrimp, but I prefer it just like it is, honestly.

*Nope. I usually forget the olives, myself. It’d be nice if it worked that way in real life though, wouldn’t it?

Recipe Post- Shrimp Cakes

A few tips and worthless info: Make sure you refrigerate these for an hour after you form them- otherwise they will fall apart on you. And serve with some jalapeño tarter sauce or green goddess sauce.  I’ll give you cliff note versions on those right here:

  • Jalapeño Tarter Sauce: Chop jalapeño, lemon, mayo, salt pepper. Capers. Don’t forget the capers.
  • Green Goddess Sauce:  Bunch of herbs (basil and parsley mostly). Yogurt. Lemon. Salt-y and pepper-y. Blender.

Also, this recipe calls for green onions. Or scallions. They’re the same thing, turns out, and I was an embarrassing age when realized that. Let’s just say it starts with “Twen” and ends with “ty-seven”. Oh, and coriander leaves and cilantro are the same thing. And cremini mushrooms are small portabella mushrooms. And… that’s all I can think of right now, actually. Wait- beet greens and Swiss chard are the same plant. There we go.

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And just to REALLY confuse things: this picture was titled “Spring Onion” -Image by Melanie Kuiper.  

1 lb. peeled and deveined US wild caught raw shrimp (large), roughly chopped*
1 large egg
2 green onions, sliced
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp. minced fresh cilantro
1/2 tsp. salt
½ tsp. of ground black pepper
1.5 cups seasoned breadcrumbs
Olive oil

Peel and devein shrimp and roughly chop (about 6 pieces out of each shrimp). Combine with next 7 ingredients and form into patties roughly three inches across, or slightly smaller than palm sized for me and about a half inch thick. Add more breadcrumbs if needed to hold together. Refrigerate for one hour prior to cooking. Heat olive oil in pan over medium heat. Sauté 4 cakes per pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes per side, until shrimp is cooked through.

*And look- I don’t want to make it a thing: but do NOT buy farmed shrimp . Anyone who goes: “Well these things can survive in filth and contamination- think of the profit!” DO NOT EAT THAT END PRODUCT.

Grilled Zucchini Salad

Love, love, love, love, LOVE me some grilled zucchini salad. So easy. So good. Keeps well. Tasty warm or cold. And AWESOME with some turkey and cheese in a toasted sandwich! And a total piece of cake to make! In fact- WAY easier than an actual piece of cake- not to get all literal on you or anything. This is a very fresh side dish and is also great served with grilled chicken breasts or grilled shrimp over a bed of lettuce to make a main dish. Not all sides can make that transition (you mean ALL we’re having is cabbage? Huh.) but this one can step up to that plate easily. Look at me: I can puns. I’m leaving it there, though.

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Photo by: Zsuzsa N.K. You know how difficult it is to find a picture of zucchini that doesn’t look wildly inappropriate? 

 

Ingredients:

2 zucchinis, halved lengthwise

1 avocado, diced

1 medium tomato, diced

Handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped finely

Juice of half a lemon

Olive oil

Salt and pepper
Heat griddle pan to medium heat. Halve your zucchinis lengthwise, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place zucchini on griddle pan, cut side down. Cook for about 3-4 minutes per side, you’re only looking for very light griddle marks and for them to still be firm, so keep an eye on them. Remove to another plate to cool. Dice your tomato, place in bowl, and sprinkle lightly with salt. Add the diced avocado and chopped parsley. Once zucchini is cooled, dice and add to the other ingredients. Add desired amount of olive oil and squeeze on the lemon juice. Add salt and pepper as desired to taste. I like to stir to the point the avocado JUST starts to break down and coat the other ingredients, but not so it’s completely broken down into a paste.