Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Kale, Revisited...

My dear, dear friend Emma came over Friday night, toddler and baby in tow, with dinner. I'm so lucky to have friends in my life who not only cook me dinner, but even bring it to my house (my friend, Stubborn--from this post-- does this all the time, too). I love to cook, but it's really a treat to have a delicious dinner and great company come right to my door.

Emma arrived with two incredible homemade pizzas: butternut squash with goat cheese and fresh mozzarella, and kale with fresh mozzarella and ricotta (I think that was the cheese combination...). The kale, oh, the kale...when it baked on top of the pizza, it turned into these crunchy, crispy bites of deliciousness. All of my previously mentioned feelings about kale were out the window...all I could think with every bite was that I could so eat a bowl of this kale!

So, after having kale pizza on my mind all weekend, I used Friday's dinner as inspiration for tonight's. Pizza #1 was butternut squash with caramelized onions, goat cheese crumbles, green apple and mozzarella cheese. Pizza #2 was ricotta and mozzarella cheese, caramelized onions, tomatoes, and kale. I attempted a homemade pizza crust that ended up more like a thick cracker, and these pizzas were still so good I could eat them every night this week. I can't wait to try it again with a decent crust.

There's no formal recipe, but here's what I did.

Prep work:
1. Slice a small onion into thin strips, put into a skillet on med. heat with about 1 tbsp. butter and 1 tsp. brown sugar. Cook, stirring often, until caramelized.
2. Cook a butternut squash, whole, in the oven, for about 45 minutes at 350°. Let it cool, peel the skin off and cut around the end with the seeds. Puree. (I always just cook my squash whenever I have the oven on for anything else; just stick it in the fridge until I need it.) Leftover puree freezes well.

Roll crusts out to fit 9x13 cookie sheets (greased) and top as follows:

Pizza #1: Spread pureed butternut squash in a thin layer across entire crust. Sprinkle with caramelized onions (about 1/3 c.) and crumbled goat cheese (1/4 c.), and one diced apple. Top with desired amount of grated mozzarella cheese.

Pizza #2: Sprinkle crust with 1/4 c. mozzarella cheese. Add caramelized onions (1/2 c.), half of a diced tomato, randomly dropped teaspoons of ricotta cheese, another sprinkling of 1/4 c. mozzarella, and a few leaves of torn up kale all over the top.

Bake at 400° for 10-15 minutes.

The kale, again, was the highlight of this pizza for me. I wanted to pick it all off, but I exercised some self-restraint, only for the sake of the leftovers. A quick internet search after dinner led me to this recipe for Baked Kale Chips...whoa. Stay tuned, because I am so making these this week. :)

The only toddler-friendly note I should add is that the idea of sauceless pizza didn't go over great with Lainey. A small bowl of marinara on the side was all she needed to eat this one right up. Oh, and she thought "Apple Pizza" was a pretty cool thing to have for dinner, too (versus the initial refusal when she thought it was squash pizza). It's all about presentation!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Get your Read On

For many years of my life, I almost never thought about my food (besides things like "yum" or "yuck" :) ). I paid a little more attention as I got older, out of college, and then even more attention when I was feeding my family, not just myself. I started really learning about what we eat, and I've been surprised along the way about how little I really knew. (And how much BS there is in the supermarket, too, by the way...for example, if you're spending extra cash on "all natural" chicken like I was, you're throwing your precious dollars out the window). At the risk of sounding too preachy here--YOU are the only one that has your (and your family's) best interest in mind, so question, read, and learn!!

These first three books are MUST-READ books for anyone interested in learning about where our food comes from and what we're feeding ourselves and our kids...

What to Eat, by Marion Nestle (learn about what all-natural really means!)
Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer (this book was incredibly well-written...couldn't put it down)
The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan (he was just on Oprah, did you see??)

My other book recommendations are my cookbook all stars. I'm really picky with cookbooks, because I HATE putting in all the time to try a recipe, and have a meal that is really not worth the effort. These are the books I pull out over and over, the ones that inspire my Leslie-creations, the ones that are full of pretty much no-fail recipes.

Whole Foods for the Whole Family, from La Leche League (don't judge a book by it's cover...this one happens to have the cheesiest cover of all time)

The New Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen (every single recipe I've made from this book is phenomenal!)

Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites, by Moosewood Collective (these need the occasional doctoring up, but also really great recipes)

I have a few new cookbooks on the shelf that I haven't gotten to explore yet (including "The Sneaky Chef" and Alicia Silverstone's "The Kind Diet"), so there may be more to come, but this is a pretty heavy start. Happy reading!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Spaghetti...It's What's For Dinner...All Week...

I am feeling less than creative, and not much into cooking this week. Ugh. That's how I feel. It's for a reason, though--this is the fifth week in a row of hubby traveling for some portion of the week. I am all about easy dinners when I'm Solo Mama, so Lainey and I are definitely are getting our fill of pasta lately. I made an entire box of spaghetti on Sunday with the plan of just eating it every night this week. In college, my room mate made an incredible spaghetti pie (basically an yummy mess of spaghetti and lots of cheese), and I figured I could make a Sort-of Spaghetti Pie, with some cheese and throw in some veggies. Here's what I came up with: (no photo of this one because we ate it all before I remembered...trust me, it looked good!)


3 medium carrots, sliced thin
1 leek, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 button mushrooms, chopped
3 kale leaves, finely chopped
1 jar pasta sauce
8 oz cooked spaghetti
about 1 1/2 c cottage cheese (I didn't measure....)
about 1 c shredded mozzarella cheese (again, didn't measure)
2 tbsp olive oil

In a small skillet, saute all veggies in olive oil until tender. **Add the garlic near the end or else it will burn. Set aside.
Mix a little sauce into the cooked spaghetti (just enough to coat it so it won't dry out).
In a small baking dish (I used the one a size down from my 9x13), coat the bottom with a layer of sauce. Put a layer of half the spaghetti on top, then top with half of your veggie mixture. Top with half the cottage cheese, and half the mozarella cheese. Repeat layers once more, and top with a bit of sauce and a light shake of parmesan cheese.
Bake, uncovered, at 350 for about 20 minutes, until bubbly.

Like most of my recipes, you can obviously just use whatever veggies you have...you could even just throw in a bag of frozen mixed vegetables.

Please stay tuned for a (hopeful!) return of creative cooking and more enthusiastic blogging!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Breakfast for Dinner!

Breakfast is my favorite meal lately, so tonight it's what's for dinner. There is something so comforting about it...maybe it's because it's what my mom used to make when I was sick, or for a special girls-only treat when my dad was out of town (he is not so much a fan of Breakfast Dinner). Either way, it's a treat. White flour pancakes will leave us all hungry by 8 pm, though, so whole wheat it is for us. I've tried quite a few whole-wheat pancake mixes, and they're pretty good, but usually are clearly whole wheat and need lots of syrup to make up for it. And I basically dismissed the idea of pancakes from scratch because it seemed like too much effort. With a toddler who decides that 5:30 a.m. is a reasonable time to start the day, though, I decided to take the effort to try it one morning a couple weeks ago.

I found this recipe for whole wheat banana pancakes after hunting through my cookbooks, and figured I'd give it a shot. W-O-W. Really. Sooo, good. The bananas, which I'm usually not a fan of in my pancakes, add just the right sweetness, and they are light enough to make it easy to forget that they're whole wheat. No more dry, drowned in syrup pancakes in
this house!


2 c. milk
3 eggs
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/4 c. whole wheat flour
3/4 c. wheat germ
1 1/2 tbsp. brown sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. lemon juice
1 c. chopped bananas

Beat milk, eggs, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Add remaining ingredients, mix well. Pour 1/4 c. batter onto greased preheated griddle. Cook until golden brown on both sides.
From: Whole Foods for the Whole Family Cookbook, La Leche League International

The recipe made enough to feed two adults plus Lainey, AND have some extra to keep in the freezer (four to a layer, separated by wax paper, in a ziplock bag--just pull out desired quantity, throw in the toaster oven, and voila!). I also threw some chocolate chips into the last few. Delicious, of course.

To add to our pancake dinner, I served some scrambled eggs with a link of
chopped Smart Sausage Italian style "sausage". I bought the sausage last week because it was on sale, and I was actually pleasantly surprised with how good it tastes! My meat loving Dad even thought it was turkey sausage, so at 7g of total fat, 13 g of protein, and zero cholesterol per link, it's totally worth trying!

Now, go cook some breakfast...or dinner...or both! :)

Friday, February 5, 2010

Yogurt Making A La Stubborn

Yogurt-making has been the topic of discussion between a few of my friends recently. They're trying to master it, and having quite some trouble. Since I've been making yogurt for a while now, I started to email them my directions and I realized I might as well share with you all, too.

I must credit my dear friend, my yogurt-making teacher, for this one. She insists on remaining nameless, so from here out I will refer to her as Stubborn . :)

When Stubborn first explained it to me, it sounded a little complicated. But it's sooo easy, and much less expensive than buying yogurt in the store. No yogurt machine or crock pot necessary for this one. It makes a delicious plain yogurt, but you can also add a little maple syrup and about a teaspoon of vanilla to your jar when it's done...yum.

You will need some plain yogurt to start it the first time; I've had good luck with Stonyfield Farm and Hawthorne Valley yogurts.

Here's what to do:

1. Fill a Ball jar (or any desired container with a lid) with milk. I use milk from the local health food store--you want to avoid the ultra-pasteurized milk from the grocery store, it doesn't support the growth of the bacteria that makes your milk into yogurt. Whole milk/2%/1%, doesn't matter. Pour your milk into a sauce pan and heat it on low heat until temperature is 170•F.

2. Turn off the heat, and let the milk cool until the temperature is 120•F. While it cools, add 3-5 big spoonfuls of your current yogurt to your jar. (maybe about 1/4 cup). When the milk is cooled, skim the top and pour it into your prepared jar, put on the lid, and shake vigorously for about a minute.

3. Now get creative. You have to keep this jar warm for several hours--it usually takes at least about 5 hours for the yogurt to set. To keep the jar warm, I put my oven mitt over the top of the jar (it's just the right fit) to cover it to the bottom, then wrap in a towel and place in front of our gas fireplace (even when ti's off, the pilot light puts off a little heat). When the fireplace is off for the season, I wrap the jar in a towel, put it up the sleeve of hubby's down coat, and stick it someplace warm in the house.

4. Come back about 5 hours later (depending on what you use for starter), and put your now-yogurt in the fridge. I often do this before bed at night and put it in the fridge in the morning...longer than 5 hours but it works.

Sometimes it comes out a little runnier than others...when this happens, I just wrap the jar up in my hot pad, on the high setting, for an hour or so. Check it, stick it back in the heat if necessary.

I'm no Alton Brown, so I can't explain the science of it or troubleshoot any problems beyond that, but I've never really had any! Good luck!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Pumped Up Pasta Sauce

Pasta is one of my favorite meals. It's such a comfort food. So, with hubby traveling like mad these past few weeks, it's been a regular in our house. I always try to have at least some veggies in our dinners...think about it--if you just have a tiny bit of kale (for example) finely chopped in each dinner all week, you and your family have eaten an entire bunch by the end of the week! Sooo much more appealing (to me, at least) than a big pile of steamed kale.

Don't tell Lainey, but I don't even like kale.

Anyway, back to the meal. This is sooo quick and easy, and perfect for those last minute, what-the-heck-am-I-going-to-make-for-dinner moments. I always add veggies to pasta sauce--it can be made into a chunky sauce, or pureed for a smooth sauce if you think chunks will be a family turn-off. Take whatever vegetables you have handy...I used about 3 small carrots (haha, remember those?), 3-4 kale leaves, and a handful of mushrooms. Other veggie ideas: zucchini, summer squash, spinach, extra garlic, broccoli...anything goes! Throw it all in the food processor to chop it finely. Throw it in your sauce pan with just a little olive oil and heat it for a few mintues, add your jar of marinara sauce, and simmer long enough so the veggies are cooked, about 20 minutes. That's it. Sure to be devoured...what kid doesn't like pasta?

One last thing to consider when you make meals like this...instead of going with the new trend of "sneaking" veggies to your kids, why not watch quietly as they devour their meal, and then point out how much they liked it, and tell them what it was? "Did you like that spaghetti? You did? Oh, good, I knew you would love that sauce with yummy carrots and kale in it!" This way you can help them learn that sometimes vegetables (even kale...) can be good!