Monday, February 25, 2008

Peaches and Craftiness

In our home our brother/son didn't like his veggies as a baby. While this may be normal (because seriously, have you ever tried some of those baby food vegetables?) there are surely myriad mother-tested ways of getting healthy foods into baby bellies. The successful method in our house was to load up the baby spoon with several beguiling hunks of canned peaches, then cram the nooks and crannies with green peas, well out of view, of course. If there was even a hint of green seen on the in-coming bite, the hatch would close at once, no more flights admitted - if you know what I mean. Craftiness became the supreme goal.

Oh, the power of the mind. I mean, couldn't that little baby tell that there were some impostors swimming around in his mouth as chewed on those "peaches?" Evidently not, because if he thought he only had peaches on that spoon, then he'd accept the whole bite, no puckering, spitting, gagging, or hollering. Packaging and branding are what it's all about, I tell you.

So, in light of that life lesson, we suggest you tell your kids that the name of the following recipe is Worms and Eyeballs. Our kids/grandkids like it so much that such craftiness wasn't needed, but it might help bump up enthusiasm and give the kids something to talk about while they gobble it down.

For the rest of you, we'll tell you it's a delightful pasta with a peanut sauce that is flavored with lime and cilantro, lots of julienned fresh veggies, and turkey meatballs flavored with a hint of fresh ginger and sesame to top it off. The colors and flavors are vibrant and catch you off guard since it is a wildly different meal than a regular plate of spaghetti and meatballs. And it looks so pretty you just feel good while you enjoy every last bite.

Spicy Peanut Sesame Noodles
Serves 4 to 6
We like trying lots of different vegetables with this since it successfully pairs with so many. You can use any mix of the following in addition to, or in place of, the carrots and cucumbers for a total amount of 3 cups:
  • Julienned fresh snow peas
  • Finely chopped napa cabbage
  • Julienned zucchini
  • Thinly sliced celery
  • Thinly sliced red, green or yellow sweet pepper
1 lb thin spaghetti
1 cup natural creamy peanut butter (just peanuts, no partially hydogenated veg. fats)
(Skippy makes a good one that doesn't require stirring all that accumulated oil on top.)
1 cup water
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar (or plain vinegar with 1 tsp sugar)
2 - 4 T sugar depending on preference
2 tsp minced garlic
1 and 1/2 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
1 and 1/2 Tbsp sesame oil
Red pepper to taste - we start with about 1/8 tsp and add more depending on who's eating
Juice from one half lime, plus more before serving
1 cup green onions, sliced lengthwise, including greens. Reserve 2 Tbsp for garnish
2 large carrots, julienned or coarsely grated (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 1/2 c cucumber, halved, seeded and sliced
2 Tbs toasted or black sesame seeds or 1/4 cup chopped peanuts
Cook pasta al dente, drain, and rinse. In a bowl whisk peanut butter, water, soy sauce and vinegar until smooth. Stir in garlic, ginger, sesame oil and red pepper flakes. In a large bowl toss hot pasta with peanut sauce, carrots, onions, sliced cucumber and any of the additional vegetables you may wish to add. After tossing, sprinkle with reserved chopped green onion and sesame seeds or chopped peanuts. Squeeze a little more lime juice over the top of the noodles just prior to serving. Can be served hot or at room temperature--by itself or with the meatballs or some grilled chicken on the side. If the sauce is too thick, you can thin it down with a few spoonsful of water and a dash of soy sauce.

Gingered Asian Meatballs
1 lb ground turkey breast
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup water
1/4 tsp mashed garlic
1 tsp fresh grated ginger (or 3/4 tsp ground dry ginger)
1/4 cup egg substitute
1/4 cup fine bread crumbs ( I prefer panko crumbs)
1/4 cup finely chopped green onions, including greens, plus 2 Tbs. for garnish
Teriyaki Sauce (You can make the recipe below or use a commercially prepared one. We like Yoshida's.)
In a mixing bowl combine ground turkey, soy sauce, water, garlic, ginger and egg substitute. Stir to blend well. Add all remaining ingredients except 2 tablespoons of green onion. Mix until well blended. Make balls about the size of large walnuts (we use a cookie dough scoop).
Arrange meatballs in a single layer in a large, rimmed baking sheet that has been lightly sprayed with cooking spray, and bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or until done through. If the meatballs are right out of the refrigerator, they may require a few more minutes in the oven. Being pouoltry, they need to be done all the way through, but overcooking can dry them out, so be sure to test them. To serve, drizzle with teriyaki sauce and sprinkle with the remaining chopped green onions. These can be made ahead and refrigerated or frozen until ready to bake.
Teriyaki Sauce
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp. corn starch
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. grated fresh ginger
1/4 tsp minced garlic (optional)
1/4 cup water or cooking sherry
Combine sugar and corn starch in a small pan. Gradually add soy sauce and stir to blend. Add all remaining ingredients and cook over medium heat till mixture boils and thickens.

Monday, February 18, 2008


Reinvention. Isn’t that the stuff of resolutions, remodels, and makeovers? It sure comes in handy. Washing the slate clean, trying something new, improving, as it were, on the things that came before. Snakes get to shed their skin (although that’s always seemed a little creepy – you know, the part that's left over – but the bright new exterior must feel like spring to the little snake). Trees get to lose their leaves and sprout bright new miracles year after year. And each night gives way to a new sun. I give a thumbs up to the general idea. It’s everywhere you look. It’s the energy that helps us look up from our present into the possibility of what might come next. The idea of creating something new from the same old heap of parts.

One night I was mulling over what to have for dinner. Ahhh! Having given myself much too little time to fix something fussy, my list of possibilities narrowed. I mentally flipped through memories of what my mom used to make for us, hoping to hit on something that hadn’t crossed our table in awhile. I remembered loving my mom’s tortilla soup. There are many versions of this idea that I’ve seen through the years, but my mom’s was encouragingly easy and quick to prepare (you could even use canned chicken if things got a little dicey for time) and really delish. However, I have a picky eater (translate: child) in my family, so my dinner idea came to a screeching halt when I realized that I would be adding fresh diced tomatoes and green onions (along with chips and cheese) on top of the meat and broth mixture. It’s hard to believe that he won’t abide those sweet, juicy, red tomatoes, but they’re a surefire way to bring on the gag reflex something fierce. And I wanted a peaceful dinner. So, with memories of the tortilla soup from my childhood, I began a very hurried quest to create a tortilla soup that would be a hearty meal in a bowl, no additions (bright red fresh ones, specifically) required to make it filling and well rounded. And so I came up with something new, you might even call it a new creation from the same old heap of parts. Tortilla soup reinvented; as such, it has earned a new name. And rightly so.

It begins with a base of chicken broth paired with a hint of roasted tomato for added flavor complexity (this is so easily done and merely requires slicing the tomatoes, putting them in a baking dish, dousing them with salt and pepper and letting them sweat it out in the heat of the oven all by themselves while you go paint your toenails or something). A tumble of ingredients follows that are old hats in the tortilla soup arena and were just itching for a swim in something delightfully new: chicken (fork shredded), corn, green chiles to name a few. Cornmeal and rice were also begging to be invited to the party, and since they wore the right outfits and brought party favors to boot, we just couldn't say no. They really became the subtle stars of the show. The cornmeal thickens the brew and changes it from a mere broth; and rice adds heartiness and fills bellies. And we like that.

Oh, how we love the taste of corn in this soup! But since traditional corn chips don't fit the bill for our purposes, we looked into our bag of reinventions for a little something else to pile in with the cornmeal. We grilled some corn tortillas so that they gave up their crumbly natures and became pleasingly pliable, wholesome, homey, and rustic - a beautiful, tasty, and artful garnish.

And lastly, for those who really do appreciate the tomato for what it is, you can choose to top this with a beautiful pico de gallo that's been ramped up with the kick of a Serrano pepper (the pepper can be omitted if you don't like the spiciness, and so can the pico de gallo for that matter). But most adults (and some kids!) will slurp up every last nub of pico found in their bowls. It's not to be missed, truly. Here's to happy, hearty, healthy slurping for the whole family.

Rustic Southwestern Corn Soup with Spicy Pico de Gallo

Serves about 8
By preparing the rice, chicken, and tomatoes in advance, this soup is a cinch to throw in a pot and have ready for the table very quickly. On those busy days we know that really comes in handy, so do the prep the night before and you can face dinner with a clear head and no worries the next day. You can also freeze the left over soup (without the tortillas or pico de gallo) and you'll have a ready meal when you need it.

You can roast the tomatoes in a 8 x 8 glass baking dish in a 375 degree oven for about 50 minutes until the skins wrinkle and insides of tomatoes are soft. When they've cooled enough to handle, you can pull at the peels and they slip right off.

Right before serving, the corn tortillas can be set on a hot griddle or frying pan for one minute on each side, until they become soft and eatable - tear into rough strips or pieces for garnishing. Plan on about 1/2 to 1 tortilla per person served.
While a little extra time spent on ingredients almost always means a little better taste, we know that you guys get busy out there! So, we've added some quick substitutions that can be used when you're in a pinch, if needed.

1 small onion, diced
2 tsp chopped garlic
2 c diced carrots
3 stalks celery, chopped (can substitute 1 tsp celery seed)
1 1/2 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp chili powder
12 c chicken broth
1 4-oz can diced green chiles
1 15 1/4-oz can corn, drained (or the equivalent amount fresh or frozen)
3 Roma tomatoes, roasted, peeled, and pureed in food processor or blender (can use 14 1/2-oz can diced tomatoes and run through the blender)
½ c cornmeal
2 c cooked, seasoned and shredded chicken (can use two 12 1/2-oz cans, undrained, of chicken in a pinch, like you get at Costco)
2 c cooked rice
Juice of half a lime
Salt and pepper to taste
Corn tortillas
Nonfat sour cream, optional garnish

In large pot, coat with nonstick spray and sauté over medium-high heat: onion, garlic, carrots, and celery for about 5 minutes, until colors are vibrant and vegetables begin to soften. Add cumin and chili powder and continue sautéing for another minute or so. Add broth, chiles, corn, and tomatoes. Allow to cook on medium-high heat for about 15 minutes (until it begins to boil). Add cornmeal while whisking (to avoid clumping) and leave over medium heat until the cornmeal is cooked, about 15 minutes or so, stirring frequently. Add chicken and rice and heat through; squeeze in the lime juice and stir. Serve hot with torn grilled corn tortillas and the optional (but really tasty, so please don't leave it out) pico de gallo, and maybe a spoonful of fat-free sour cream.

Spicy Pico de Gallo
Makes a scant 1 1/2 cups

4-5 large plum tomatoes, chopped
3 T finely chopped onion
½ Serrano pepper, minced (optional, if you don’t like spiciness)
2 T finely chopped cilantro
Salt and pepper
Place the tomatoes in a sieve and allow to drain for 5 minutes. Place in bowl and toss with all other ingredients. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Keep it delicious

Life is good. Have you ever seen those t-shirts and hats emblazoned with this little message? When someone wearing one of these walks by me, I have to take a mental step back and re-adjust - confess that, yeah, I guess it is. I'm just not used to seeing public declarations that are so unabashedly optimistic. It's nice. Like someone out there knows that we need a little reminder now and then. Even if there are some bad times here and there (and there are), it's nice to take a minute or two during the day and think about something good in your life. Some days this might seem harder than others, when you have to stretch that power of thought just a little farther to find it, but most of the time it's there. Life is definitely good. On a day when you tuck into a lunch of potato and rosemary pizza with a lazy sweep of olive oil you might not need to search any further to drive that sentiment home.

It starts with a delicious and easy recipe for pizza dough - now don't be frightened away, this one can be done entirely in your mixer (and by hand if you don't have one) and pretty soon you're pulling pizza out of the oven. Life is also good when you can eat pizza that tastes awesome and actually doesn't have one speck of cheese in the recipe. [The dough is happy to hold anything you desire, so if you're in the mood for cheese and dietary restrictions don't rule it out, then by all means make something that's all your own, and make it fabulous.]

Some of you may have never tried pizza like this, and so we hope you take the chance for a detour from the traditional red sauce and mozzarella; we think you'll really like it. We first had this in Italy, intrigued because it was so different from any notion of pizza we'd had before. And as they say, when in Rome....we just couldn't not try it! The flavors are straightforward and uncomplicated with no distractions from the smooth, mellow, comforting flavors. A simply beautiful combination. The dough is soft with a gentle chew, a perfect bed for tender potatoes, a sprinkling of fragrant fresh rosemary, the full-bodied mince of garlic, and a softening brush of golden olive oil to help everything settle in and get comfortable together. We like to pair this with a green salad that's been dressed with a light splash of red wine vinaigrette. Yes, life is good - keep it delicious.

Potato and Fresh Rosemary Pizza

One pizza serves 3 to 4 people

2 1/2 c lukewarm water
2 T sugar
2 T yeast
1 T salt
6 c flour (spooned into the measuring cup and leveled with a knife for accurate measuring)
1 t olive oil
Salt (Kosher or coarse is recommended if you have it)

In mixer (or large bowl if you don't have a mixer) combine the water, sugar and yeast. Allow to sit and proof for about 10 minutes. It will look foamy and have increased in volume. Add the salt and 3 cups of the flour and combine thoroughly with the beater attachment. Change to the dough hook attachment and add the remaining three cups of flour. Process in the mixer until well combined. Allow the dough to rest for ten minutes and beat it down. Repeat this process five more times for a total elapsed time of 60 minutes.

Remove the dough from the mixing bowl and divide into four equal parts. Take one of the sections of dough and roll it out into the desired shape with a roughly 1/3-inch to 1/4-inch thickness - otherwise the finished result will be too thick and pillowy. Lay the dough on a sprayed cookie sheet or pizza stone and pour the teaspoon of olive oil over it, brushing it over the entire surface with a pastry brush or fingertips. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Place potato mixture (recipe follows) on the surface of the pizza and bake in a 425 degree oven for 15 to 18 minutes on the bottom rack, or until the potatoes begin to brown lightly around the edges. [You can use all or part of this potato mixture on one pizza, according to your taste. Just make additional potato mixture if you need more.]

Potato Mixture:
Makes enough for 1 to 2 pizzas, depending on how closely you lay out your potatoes

2 lb waxy potatoes, cooked and peeled, red, white, or Yukon Golds [you can use basic baking potatoes if that's all you have on hand, they just won't retain their shape or texture as well]
2 t chopped fresh rosemary (you can use 1 tsp dried if you can't get fresh, but once you've tried fresh you'll agree that the taste is out of this world)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 t salt
Fresh ground pepper
1T olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake the potatoes for 35 to 40 minutes until they just barely give (not completely done). Peel the potatoes. Slice potatoes very thinly (1/8-inch thick) and place in bowl ; add the rosemary, garlic, salt and pepper. Toss gently with olive oil to coat.

Red Sauce (for those who are also making some traditional pizza)

1 15-oz can good quality tomato sauce
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp dried oregano
1 T chopped fresh basil or 1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp coarse salt, if needed

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl. Spoon onto pizza in desired amount.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Rites, Valentines, and 2008

January starts off with the bang and fizz of parties and gatherings still bubbling up after being catapulted across the threshhold of a new year. Then there comes a flurry of activity as we prepare and plan for just how to fill the 365 new days of this new year, resolutions flying higgledy-piggledy everywhere. I just duck and cover. Too much talking and prattle and planning. Huh-uh. I like to start off slow, propel gently into the new year, get to know Mr. 2008 before I impose all my rules and regulations on him. I was very comfortable with Mr. 2007; we'd grown quite close and celebrated much together but it was time to bid farewell ready or not. I've decided Mr. '08 is fairly nice so far, although he's fascinated with snow and I am not. Well, first things first I have to teach this new guy a thing or two, establish some ground rules. I think your Mr. 2008 would agree. So this weekend February rolled in with a soft bounce and I was ready.

Mr. 2008, I would like to begin our time together by teaching you about the importance of the sugar cookie.

There are some things that equate the very celebration of a holiday. You know what I'm talking about, when one thing immediately brings to mind the other? In the very anticipation, preparation, and assembly you are building something much bigger. For me, this phenomenon presents itself on most holidays, especially Christmas. Preparing Christmas Eve dinner is as much about the preparation, the experience of cooking and being together, as the meal itself...maybe more. You might call it the rite of the holiday.

Now there just doesn't come a Valentine's Day that I don't get a deep-down, bottom of the belly tug for soft sugar cookies, more so than any other time of year (hmmm, Halloween takes a close second). I shy away from most roll-out cookies any other time - too much fuss. But come February these babies are one of those rites I was talking about.

When you mix the flour and sugar in the bowl, it's part of the celebration. When you roll them out, it's part of the celebration. When they dive happily into the warm frosting, it's part of the celebration. When precious little hands excitedly cover their every square millimeter with sugary candy, yup, part of the celebration. And eating them, well, this is the grand culmination, an important part of the celebration, but still only a part. I really love a yummy box of chocolates, but if it came down to a choice between that and my long-standing, memory-building cookie tradition? I bet you can guess which one I'd choose.

We couldn't imagine the thought of anyone missing out! Diets and other bad guys stand clear because we're teaching Mr. 2008 that the Valentine sugar cookie is here to stay.

Sugar Cookies with Fondant Glaze
Makes approximately 2 dozen three-inch cookies

These cookies are soft and utterly eatable. We girls all think they're even better than the butter and egg laden traditional sugar cookie. And you'll just have to believe us until you can see for yourself, so rev up your mixing bowl 'cuz something darn good is coming your way.

These are made with a butter substitute (we've successfully tried regular Benecol and Smart Balance, but not the light versions) and egg substitute (readily found in most supermarkets, usually right by the eggs). Just like regular butter, butter substitutes have fat in them, though of the heart-healthy variety, so it is still a good idea not to eat this by the spoonful! Egg substitutes are basically pasturized egg whites, but a little easier to cook with since you just pour them. If you desire, you can use the same measurement of egg white, obtained the old fashioned way by cracking the egg open and disposing of the yolk.

1 1/2 c powdered sugar, carefully spooned into measuring cup and leveled with a knife

1/2 c butter substitute

1/4 c egg substitute or egg white

1 t almond extract

1/2 t vanilla extract

2 1/2 c flour, carefully spooned into measuring cup and leveled with a knife

1 t baking soda

1 t cream of tartar

1/2 t salt

Mix the powdered sugar, butter substitute, egg substitute, and extracts together. Add the flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt and mix until incorporated. Chill dough for 2 hours. Heat oven to 375. Roll dough to about 1/3 inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes. Place on lightly sprayed cookie sheet and bake for 5 to 7 minutes, depending on your oven. Cookies should not start to brown. It's important not to overbake; cookies will feel set but not firm leaving a very slight indent from fingertip. May be helpful to do a test run with with a scrap before running a whole batch through.

Fondant Glaze

2 lb powdered sugar (they come in 2 lb bags at the store)
½ c water
½ c light corn syrup
1 t almond extract
½ t vanilla (you can play around with the flavorings, making sure to keep them to 1 1/2 t)

Combine all ingredients in top of a double boiler (can be created by settling a glass mixing bowl into the top of a pot filled with water, making sure that the bowl doesn't touch the bottom of the pot). Heat the mixture in the double boiler just to lukewarm. Remove the double boiler from the burner, but keep the mixing bowl immersed in the hot water to keep mixture thin. Add a drop or two of food coloring as desired. As you spend time frosting the cookies it may be necessary to add hot water, a few drops at a time, to maintain the consistency that you want. Spread on quickly with a pastry brush or just grasp the cookie by the outer edges, turn over, and dunk the entire face in the glaze. Suspend momentarily above the pot so the excess can drip off and then place on cooling rack to set (I use this method and it is lightning fast, if a little messy for the fingertips).