Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Fillers - the good kind

My family is a group of chocoholics. I don't feel right if I don't have a small piece of chocolate in the middle of the day. This gets expensive.

Homemade what-you-have-on-hand chocolate bark


Trader Joe's has wonderful huge blocks of chocolate with your level of desired intensity for a good price. Or, you can even use high quality chips. I can sneak in a bunch of good things in chocolate for my three year old. Raisins, cranberries, walnuts, almonds, dried apricot, banana chips - you name it. And don't stop there - nice adult versions can be made. Here's some faves:

1) Raisins, peanuts, and a little extra vanilla with milk chocolate
2) Cayenne pepper, cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, and hazelnuts with dark chocolate
3) Cranberries and slivered almonds (pictured) with white chocolate

Here's what you do: Melt the chocolate in spurts (I do 40 seconds on power level 5) until completely melted. Then throw in as much "filler" into the chocolate you can. The key is to make it mostly filler and use the chocolate for the "glue". Refrigerate for 1/2 hour in a glass dish and then break apart. Easy peesy and way cheaper than regular bark.

The stroganoff was good last night, but it wasn't a keeper so I'm not posting it. There's far better ways to utilize good sirloin tips.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Italian paninis with chicken, carmelized onions, and mozzarella

Here's the rundown on last night's meal. Mind you you'll probably see a theme going - I'm picking things that (a) have some component that lets my three year old help and (b) I pick things that can be done in very quick stages between bottles, diapers, switching from Noggin to a Disney movie, getting a snack... you get the idea.

If you're making this on a weeknight, you can use ready-made italian bread rather than make the bread yourself.

Italian Paninis with Chicken, Carmelized Onions, and Mozzarella


You will need (makes four reasonably sized sandwiches):

Two Vidalia onions, sliced thin
1/2 small jar of roasted red peppers
Medium-sized ball of fresh mozzarella (about 2" diameter)
Two large chicken breasts
(optional) a small amount of grated, salty italian cheese (I use Asiago)

1/2 of a flatbread recipe (I use the "bread" part of the Basil Flatbread with Roasted Tomatoes and Basil Oil recipe on http://www.epicurious.com/)

cucumbers & tomatoes, sliced up

Things you can do during the course of the day/morning:

1. Make the flatbread dough as per recipe instructions and refrigerate.
2. Pound the chicken to tenderize and dry rub with favorite spices. I like salt, pepper, dried basil, sage, and a little hot pepper. Refrigerate.
3. Carmelize onions on medium heat. They are very forgiving and you don't have to stir them often.
4. Cut up cucumbers and tomatoes.


5. About 30 minutes before you want to serve, bake the chicken breasts on a grill pan at 375 for about 20 minutes. Chop each breast into 4-5 pieces and keep warm.
6a. If you're using flatbread, roll it out until it's about 10" diameter and quite thin. I grill it on a Calphalon grill pan coated with EVOO.


6. Grill the bread on one side coated with EVOO and turn. When second side is grilling, cover half of the flatbreat with a layer of mayo, the roasted peppers, onions, chicken, and mozzarella. Finish with asiago if desired. Place other half/side of bread over sandwich and grill/press other side.

Each 10" flatbread (there are 2 total in 1/2 recipe) will make two paninis. Serve with cucumbers and tomatoes on the side.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The fledgling toddler cook

So part of this effort is because my three year old is always clamoring to help me cook. Now, three year olds are a special breed. They have a huge vocabulary in that oversized head, and because of this their comments often leave you dumbfounded and wondering why you ever underestimated them. You'll temporarily forget that they are three year olds and - you overestimate them. After which, huge tears and tantrums result.

I have had many previous failed attempts in the kitchen with my daughter but we're just starting to hit a groove. For example, I make flatbread dough almost every Sunday. Epicurious has a great recipe if you search on "flatbread basil oil" (I don't bother with the oil at all). This dough makes amazing grilled pizza and also paninis. It also makes a GREAT diversion for a toddler - she gets a small ball to work with the rolling pin, all the while thinking she's singlehandedly making the Italian Paninis with Herbed Chicken, Carmelized Onions, and Mozzarella.

I have found that she is getting good with the peeler - another reason to keep around the utensils that you'd normally consider too "dull". No utensil is too dull for learning fingers. I also cut up tomatoes and cucumbers and she had a great time stirring the "salad".

Paninis were good but messy, but it was a great use for 2 chicken breasts out of the eight in the family pack I froze in separate ziploc bags, and the leftover fresh mozzarella from last week's pizza. Two chicken breasts making dinner for three and lunch for two isn't too bad.

Just took the sirloin tips out of the freezer and tomorrow is a newfound oldie - Beef Stroganoff. When the economy's down it's all about noodles... I have made it with ground beef even but it still smacks of Hamburger Helper, so the little splurge on the tips is a necessary evil. If it comes out well I'll post the recipe.

My family's food goals of 2009

I decided to start this blog (and change the way my family views cooking) for three reasons:

1. Fresh, unprocessed food is getting more and more expensive. And, if you buy it and it goes bad in the fridge because you don't cook it, well, it costs even more.
2. We want to go organic - but to do so, we need to waste as little as possible, and understand how to use a given food in multiple creative ways throughout the week.
3. The best intentions do nothing, especially when both parents work full-time. A haphazard trip to the grocery store on Sunday with no real plan in mind yields a lot of harried nights of either boring food or giveup takeout, and a lot of moldy food the next weekend.

With a little planning on the weekend here's hoping that we can eat well balanced, healthy, and interesting food night after night... and learn a little about appreciating the bounty we have along the way. So I'll be tracking our planning, our menus, and our failures here.