Monday, January 31, 2011

recent headline: stocked freezer keeps mom sane

Or more sane than she would have been if her freezer hadn't been well-stocked...

I remember taking these photos after the first-- or was it the second or third-- storm of the winter? Anyway, it was back when the Southern Californian in me still thought that snow was this novelty. Even after 10+ years on the East coast, there's something peaceful and beautiful about a storm, when looking at it from the coziness of my home. I was relishing the snow days as times to sit by the fire with my boys, drinking hot cocoa and listening to it crackle as they played Legos or turned our recycling stuff into cool sculptures and I went through long neglected to-do piles.

Anyway, that was several storms ago. I am totally over the excitement, and quite frankly, feel pretty darn scattered. It's been virtually impossible to make a commitment to get to a yoga class... and while I always have to make three meals a day, for some reason having everyone dependent on me 24-7 is taking its toll. The saving grace has been a well-stocked freezer. Cooking once, and packing meals away is always a bonus in my book. But when you are snowed in with the kids (again) and dinner is taken care of, it really makes a difference. Trust me.

In anticipation of the next storm (don't shoot the messenger), here are a few of my favorite freezer-friendly meals. Each one pairs perfectly with a nice, big glass of wine:

Beef & Bulghur Meatballs
Meatballs (more "traditional" ones, that can be eaten as is or popped on spaghetti)
Greens & Cheese Pie (similar to Spanakopita)
Hearty Bean Soup (buy a packet of dried beans at your local market and follow along)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

recent rainbow plates

This winter has derailed me a bit. With the frequent snowstorms, and snowdays/snow delays, I'm making fewer trips to the market, and relying a lot more on what I have in my pantry and freezer. I'd venture to guess that this is the case in many of my CT friends' homes!! Still, we have to keep making meals two or three times a day, and the goal is to have them be healthful (and eaten), right? To inspire you, here are a few more "rainbow plates" plates from the past week.

Above (last night's dinner for the kids): carrots and edamame + chunks of pineapple + cherry tomatoes* + Rico M. Panada's empanadas (sweet corn & cheese and the chicken pot pie kinds).

*Note that I was thrilled when my little one asked for cherry tomatoes and popped a box in his little cart...I gave myself a little pat on the back for fabulous parenting. It was only at dinner time that I learned he "wanted to see if they really shoot juice if you squish them down hard?!!" [Deep sigh] At least he ate them after figuring this out.

And, those empanadas were a side another day alongside cups of homemade turkey chili (hauled out of the freezer) + carrots + edamame.

Those of you who are following on facebook got a sneak peek at these next three plates...

Black & Pinto Bean Cakes (with toppings of cheese, salsa and sour cream) + chunks of mango + edamame + carrots. (Yep, there's a trend around here of minimal side dish prep during snow days...)

There's also multi-tasking if I have had to make an app for one thing, and dinner for the kids....

Pinwheels of edamame hummus rolled in whole wheat tortillas + apples + shredded cheese (messy, but a crowd pleaser) + Clementines.

Jolie ravioli (broccoli & cheese) + marinara dipping sauce + a homemade chocolate chip cookie + carrots.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

super simple, comforting baked rigatoni with spinach

I am thinking my friends in the Northeast-- or at least New Canaan-- are looking for a super simple, comforting meal this week. Between the snow, freezing temps, and school delays we moms are just about ready to snap. (OK fine, maybe I am only speaking for myself.) In any case, if you're looking for a comforting supper that can be whipped up in mere minutes then popped into the oven, this is a good one.

This recipe was one of the comments left on the table talk post. Janet said that this is one of her family's go-to meals, so I thought I'd try making it for my family last night. It was a hit and makes more than one dish, so you can freeze a few more meals for busy days (which is always a bonus in my book). Here's my version of this comforting meal. I went light on the pasta, heavier on the spinach and ricotta but you can modify the pasta to spinach ratio to your family's tastes, and choose to use real sausage, or other fillings as well:

Baked Rigatoni with Spinach & Cheese
(makes at least 12 servings, see pic below)

one 1lb box rigatoni, cooked according to package

2 lbs frozen spinach, thawed and drained
two 1 lb tubs ricotta cheese
4 eggs
10 frozen garlic cubes
10 frozen basil cubes

dried oregano
1 tube sun-dried tomato paste
1 package Italian Soy "Sausage" (4 sausages, rough chopped)*
three 26 oz jars pasta sauce
3 cups shredded mozzarella/Parm + extra for on top

While the pasta is cooking, in a large mixing bowl combine all other ingredients: ricotta, eggs, garlic, basil, oregano, tomato paste, sausages, and one of the jars of pasta sauce and a few hearty handfuls of shredded cheese, saving some to go on top. You can mix all three jars of the pasta sauce in if you want, but my bowl was getting full, so I just mixed one jar in and topped each of the baking dishes with a layer of sauce, and then some shredded cheese. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes or until warmed through and top is golden brown.

This will freeze perfectly. Simply wrap tightly (I do a layer of Saran wrap and then tin foil). When ready to cook, put the baking dish in the oven as it's heating up (to avoid shocking the dish with a temp change) and double the cook time, so bake it for 1 1/2 hours, covering with a bit of foil if the top starts to get too brown.

*my husband claims that I "should have just used regular sausage instead of the fake stuff". I thought it was delicious. You can make the call on that.

and the table talk winners are...

Good thing there's another snow delay so I can let the winners know before the school bus comes. Phew. (Note hint of major sarcasm as I watch the snowflakes outside coming down progressively harder and harder since I started counting the winners...)

Anyway, let's forget about this latest flurry and get on to official business. As chosen by, the winners from those who left comments here were numbers 5 (Meredith) and 3 (Jennifer M). And from the Meals in a Snap FB page the winners are #12 (Ninorah Fernandes-Brookshire) and #163 (Elissa Ashwood). Note to self: counting up from the first "liker" in the FB page was sort of a logistical nightmare. Nothing two cups of coffee couldn't fix, but I'd love any suggestions you all may have for a more efficient counting system for the next give-away. (I have a few great books and an exciting ticket give-away up my sleeve!)

I am not sure whether each of you is local or faraway, so I will send you a message via FB to see where you'd like this little gift mailed! I hope it inspires some good conversations around your dinner table. Enjoy!

Monday, January 24, 2011

homemade peanut noodles

Yesterday, my little one decided he wanted noodles for lunch. "Long noodles with sauce!" Easy enough, right? The only problem is that I'd used the last of our sauce earlier in the week, and there was no way I was getting all bundled up to go to the market for sauce when it was in the single digits, or at least felt that way. Not a chance. "Sounds good, that's what mom wants too!"

I remembered a post I'd gotten recently...something about peanut noodles. Pulling the bookmarked recipe up, I realized I could concoct something similar with what I had on hand. Maybe even better, since the paltry amount of whole wheat spaghetti I had on hand meant that I'd have to bulk it up with shredded veggies. The result was fabulous, and it was made in minutes. Here's what went into my version:

Peanut Noodles with Shredded Veggies

whole wheat spaghetti, cooked al dente

shredded carrots
shredded English cucumbers or zucchini

peanut butter
sesame oil
rice vine vinegar
dried ginger (leftover from Christmas cookie baking)
frozen cilantro
frozen basil
frozen garlic

Cook pasta according to package. While the pasta is cooking, shred carrots and cucumbers (or zucchini would be good too) in a Cuisinart using the shredder attachment (the disk with all of the little holes).* Pop shredded veggies into a big mixing bowl. No need to rinse the Cuisinart bowl out, as it's all going in the same place...just replace the shredding attachment with the regular metal blade. Then, I made a dressing of peanut butter + sesame oil + rice vinegar + dried ginger + several cubes of frozen garlic, cilantro and basil.** Add the noodles to the mixing bowl once they're cooked and drained. Pour the dressing over noodles and veggies and toss with tongs.

Note that I didn't give you measurements for the dressing ingredients because it can really be made to your taste. I made ours zesty with more vinegar than peanut butter, but you could definitely go the simple, creamy route by erring on more peanut butter and sesame oil. Try it as you go and add a little more of this or that until it's just the way you and your family would like it. These noodles store perfectly in the fridge...though I am not sure for how long, since we polished them off at lunch today!

* To give you an idea of quantities, I used about 1/2 a package of whole wheat spaghetti + 1 lb of carrots and 1 English cucumber. Really, that's because that's what I had on hand. You can do any ratio, but I thought this end result where it was 50:50 noodles to veggies was perfect and I'd do it exactly the same way when I make these again.

** I always have a stash of these frozen herbs for times like these, when I want to make something but don't have fresh on hand. Around us, they carry them at Trader Joe's (in the frozen aisle, of course).

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

less is more (in the playroom too)

We didn't leave the house today. It's just too darn cold. Between these low digit days, and the old CA friends I've reconnected with this past week, I am wistful for my childhood where we could play outside all year round. Anyway. Rumor has it that there's another big storm on the way, which I refuse to believe because that will surely mean another snow day. But, if that really is going to happen, then it was high time we got the playroom back in ship shape, so parts of toys and board games don't end up strewn throughout the house (threatening to both trip me, and drive me nuts). In the same way that Small Notebook's author wrote about her undie drawer (and I took to heart here), I know the kids have more stuff to "do" when the toys are whittled down and organized. Undertaking this project with the "help" of my 4-year-old was like herding cats, but now that it is done there's a sense of accomplishment (and relief). And-- miracle of miracles-- since we finished, I haven't been badgered once about "turning the TV on because he has nothing to do". Next up, the pantry and the massive stack of articles and recipes I have ripped out of magazines this past year.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

table talk

Because of the soup bounty from Monday’s swap, I really didn’t need to cook much this week. That was good because between two snow days and the boys’ tag-teaming sick days, I did not catch a break last week. Those of you on the facebook page know that I did still manage to bake not one-- but two-- big batches of cookies. Other than that, we enjoyed a lot of soup.

Assuming everyone goes back to school on Monday, I’ll get back to jotting down some fabulously simple, healthful recipes for those who want some inspiration. Until then, why don’t we do a little give-away!!

The notion of family dinners has been a hot button topic lately. So, say you’ve got the meal made (or assembled, or picked up), and you’ve got everyone at the table. I don’t know about you, but I am the solo parent at the kid’s dinner hour on weekdays and if I try to ask about school, I get a lot of “I don’t knows”. So, when I saw these little matchbox-sized “Box of Questions” at our local variety store I thought they were brilliant. Each matchbox-sized box has 21 different questions, and they are things like:

Where is the coziest spot in your home?
What do you think is the greatest invention of all time?
Do you have a family rule that is unfair? If so, how would you change it and why?

I am not really sure why they say age 6+, unless they’re afraid small children might eat the cards? Anyway, I think they’re perfect for any age child and I have four of these little boxes to give away, and will mail them anywhere in the U.S. There are two ways to enter:

Two winners will be randomly chosen from those who “like” the Meals in a Snap facebook page. So hop on over and “like” the site, if you haven’t already!

Two winners will be randomly chosen from the comments section here. Simply leave a comment here letting me know your favorite, go-to family meal.

For double the chances to win, you are welcome to enter in both places! But hurry, this contest only runs from today, January 22nd at 10am ET through Monday, January 24th at 11:59pm ET. (Winners will be contacted Tuesday morning for their mailing address.) Enjoy!!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

soup swap...a night out with a delicious twist

Make one giant pot of soup...have a bunch of friends do the same...gather everyone together on a chilly winter evening...swap...and go home with 6 different homemade soups. Brilliant. Last night, I hosted what I hope will be the first of many "Soup Swaps". I wish I could say I came up with the idea but I actually read about it here. But before sharing the idea, I decided I should give it a whirl. Here's how ours went...

I sent an email to a diverse group of friends that said, "I have invited you because your either a loyal reader of Full Plate (and you give me great feedback, which I am so grateful for!), you are a great cook, or (achem) you could really use a freezer full of homemade soup to enjoy this winter. The beauty of this Soup Swap is that each person just has to make one big batch of one kind of soup…but you’ll go home from this gathering with 6 different types of soups. Fabulous, hmm? Surely you have one soup recipe that is a crowd pleaser. Chilis, stews, chicken noodle soups, mushroom medleys, a healthy puree, the alphabet soup your kids love… it need not be fancy, just comforting and delicious."

Then the morning of the big day, I made a giant pot of my soup. Each person was to bring six quarts of freezer-friendly homemade soup, packed in six one-quart containers. (Our local market generously offered up freezer-proof quart containers to all of the participants, and I had labels available.) I decided on my favorite turkey chili and made 8 quarts, so we'd have two more for our own freezer, because it's really, really good (if I might say so myself)!

I invited everyone to come by 7:30+ for a glass of wine, and let them know that the swap would start at 8:15. Everyone's soups were lined up on the dining room table, and once we were ready to start the swap, I had everyone introduce themselves and give a quick description of their soup.

Then the swap began! We had 14 participants, so I had people draw numbers to determine the order we'd go in to select our soups from the amazing array.

We went through three times, choosing two quarts each time...and I had people draw new numbers each time, so the order was switched up. (Not that it would have mattered if you went last because each and every soup sounded amazing!!)

Once all of the soups were selected, everyone stashed their own away in the shopping bag/tray/Pampers box (hilarious) they'd brought their six quarts in and...

we all went back to the living room to sit by the fire and have another glass of wine, some apps, and catch-up with friends new and old. It was such a fun idea. I encourage all of you reading this to get an evite together and host your own with fellow class moms, your neighbors, colleagues, your book club...whoever! (Oh, and yes, I will gladly make a pot of something delicious again and join you. I thought you'd never ask!)

In addition to waking up to 6 homemade quarts of soup to enjoy in days to come, I also got emails this morning saying, "what a fantastic group of women you amassed last night"..."it was great fun, nice to meet new people and catch up with some I haven't seen in awhile"...."you are so talented with coming up with ways to bring people together around food"..."loved meeting the others what a great idea!"...and "I am so excited for my freezer full of yummy soup!!"

Friday, January 14, 2011

Meals in a Snap / Full Plate hits the radio waves!

Meals in a Snap hit the radio waves to talk about healthful eating as a family. The whole interview on mindful parenting is interesting to listen to, but if you want to cut to the chase, my part of the interview starts at the 21:05 mark. Enjoy!

To forward to the food portion of the interview, simply press play then let the interview download. Then you go to that four arrow button on the bottom of the Vimeo screen, which will make the interview fill your screen. Once there, you should be able to fast forward to the 21:00 mark. (Press Esc to minimize the interview again.)

follow-up to the roasted veggie post: what they went into next

This is a follow-up to yesterday's post about roasted root vegetables. The burning question from friends new and old seems to be "whether you really cook for your family every night?!" What do you think? I mean really folks. If you think I cook from scratch each day, then you overestimate me! But, what I do have is a fabulously stocked pantry/fridge/freezer so I can "make" dinner even on the busiest of days. A while back I mentioned those Maya Kaimal sauces. They came in handy again the other night. I purposefully roasted a ton of root veggies and tucked the remainder in the fridge. The next night, I knew everyone wouldn't want the same dinner, so I simply chopped the remaining pork tenderloin up into bite-size pieces, and tossed that and the root veggies into a pot with a Maya Kaimal curry sauce. Dinner was made in, oh, about 5 minutes. Fabulous.

I had intended to make this curry with just the root vegetables and some tofu I had picked up at the store. But, my meat-lover husband lucked out since we had the second pork tenderloin...and it ended up being a pork curry instead. For for those of you looking for more meatless meal ideas, the combination of roasted veggies + tofu + sauce (or just the hearty veggies alone + sauce!) would be delicious. I served our bowls over brown rice (those genius frozen packets that are ready in 3 minutes) + a dollop of Whole Food's Mango Salsa (found in the produce section). And it was really, really good.

Here are two more ideas of sauces to keep on hand for those who might like a few more ideas of things to keep on hand to make mealtime easy.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Full Plate is now on Facebook

I know, I know. I am a little slow on the draw, but after much nudging (really, it was more like a complete kick in the pants) Full Plate / Meals in a Snap is now on Facebook. "Like" it and you'll get little nuggets on simple, healthful meal ideas there too!

roasted root vegetables

I've written other posts about cooking once and reaping the rewards for many meals to come. Roasted veggies are a prime example of this. While simple, roasting takes twenty minutes or more. (And on a school night, that 20 minutes may not be an option!) For example, you can't beat the crispy sweet taste of roasted broccoli straight from the oven. It's certainly best right then. But there are plenty of healthful dishes I may make in days to come that could use a quick toss in of a handful of this roasted broccoli (like a quesadilla, scrambled eggs or a frittata...) so I like to roast a giant batch, enjoy it that day and then package up my remaining veggies...which is exactly what I did with this big batch of roasted root veggies.

Simple Roasted Root Veggies (and Fennel this time!)

On one rimmed baking sheet, I roasted chunks of celery root and rutabaga. On the other, I tossed fennel, a variety of purple, red and yellow new potatoes and carrots. Both sheets were drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with some kosher salt. To roast them, I simply preheated the oven to 375, and popped them in for about 30-40 minutes, or until they were fork tender (meaning a fork poked into them easily), tossing them 2-3 times during the cook time.

That night, I served them as a side with a zesty rubbed pork tenderloin like the one in this post. I always keep a rub or two in my pantry, because it turns a regular pork tenderloin into a fabulous main dish like that. On this particular night, I roasted two rather large pork tenderloins.

After we'd had our fill, I packaged up the remaining root veggies and the second pork tenderloin. I want you to do the same, because we're going to turn both of them into something fabulous in the next post!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

perfect meal for a snowy day: slowly simmered beef ragu (my go-to Bolognese / meat sauce)

We knew we'd wake up to a thick blanket of snow this morning, that school was cancelled and that the trains would be a mess. So, last night sort of felt like a Friday night. Homework was put off, the kids stayed up later than usual, and the wine was flowing. It was a comfort food kind of night, and this slowly simmered Beef Ragu Chiantigiana (fancy word for meat sauce) hit the spot. Plus I tucked two more containers of it away in the freezer for nights when I don't have the luxury of time!

Beef Ragu Chiantigiana
(makes 12 servings and freezes perfectly)
4 T olive oil
4 T butter
1 large onion, chopped
6 carrots, chopped
6 ribs celery, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 lbs ground beef
fresh or dried rosemary, chopped
fresh or dried oregano
fresh sage, chopped
1/2 bottle red wine (about 2 cups*) 
two 28 oz. cans chopped tomatoes, drained
3 cups whole milk
splash of red wine vinegar
2 T capers (optional)

+ your favorite cooked pasta
+ Parmesan

* I use a full bottle, but the extra liquid necessitates a longer cook time b/c the liquid haste reduce more… If you have the time and patience, I recommend using a full bottle as the flavor will be even more rich.

Heat the olive oil and butter over medium-high heat in a large, heavy saucepan or soup pot. Add onions, carrots and celery. Season with salt and pepper and cook until soft and lightly browned. Add garlic, ground beef and herbs. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is thoroughly cooked. Add red wine, chopped tomatoes, whole milk, a splash of red wine vinegar and capers. Lower heat to medium (or medium low, if it's splattering too much!) until the sauce is at a gentle simmer and cook for at least 1 hour and up to 3 hours, stirring occasionally. I keep the lid off when simmering the sauce. Toss with your favorite pasta and serve with grated Parmesan if you like.

This sauce freezes perfectly, so package any remaining sauce in the size containers that will be useful to you. Simply thaw the sauce in the fridge and then heat it in a saucepan.

Monday, January 10, 2011

loads of new "rainbow plates" for inspiration

When I reorganized all of the labels to make recipe searches easier I took out "kid-friendly". I did this because in my mind, unless something really spicy there's no reason it can't be "kid-friendly". But "picky eating" and "coming up with meals my kids will eat" is a question I get from friends a lot. I know I am fortunate that my two children typically eat most anything (except fish and mushrooms this week). So, I'm really not an expert in the picky field. That said, I think part of the reason they do eat a variety of foods is that I expose them to different textures, tastes and colors and don't make a big deal. A little of this and a little of that go down the hatch.

I do the same thing if we're having a playdate over (see pic above). The only difference is that I give each of the kids an empty sectioned plate, put a bunch of bowls of different things out, and let the kids make choices. Depending upon the age(s) of your kids, you can make the choices for them, or let have more of a say...

Children are supposed to have at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, and I am still typically plating my kid's meals for them. So, when I do this, it's helpful for me to think about it being a "rainbow plate”. And if you need a little gimmick, turn it into a game by having your children count the colors on their plate. This creates excitement and a desire for colorful foods-- including a variety of fruits and vegetables which are a natural source of color.

Here are a bunch of my kid's "rainbow plates" to give you a little inspiration. Click on this link if you want to see more "rainbow plate" ideas from past posts.

mango, soy sauce, cucumber slices and brown rice California rolls

cucumbers, apples, freeze-dried strawberries and a cheese, bell pepper and broccoli quesadilla made with whole wheat tortillas

edamame, red pepper spears, cheese & crackers, a yogurt tube and an oatmeal cookie

roasted asparagus, jicama slices, a little bit of salmon (to try), some blueberries, wheatberry salad and chicken sausages

pesto pasta (pesto + whole wheat rotini), roasted sweet potato wedges, apples, and a sloppy joe (+ cheese) on a whole wheat bun

a yogurt, an apple sauce cup, some edamame, a handful of pistachios, and a few slices of pizza (which came from the freezer, clearly this was a pantry day, not a cooking day!!)

cheese & crackers, some red pepper chunks and a banana

edamame pods, honeydew melon chunks, pineapple chunks, cucumber slices, a cheese stick and a turkey-spinach meatballs

French toast with apricot jam and fresh blueberries

turkey-spinach meatballs, sweet potato chunks and broccoli-cheese Jolie Ravioli with tomato sauce to dip them in

roasted root veggies, edamame pods, fruit salad and pork tenderloin

mango, banana and a slice of veggie frittata

chicken sausages, a few appetizers that I was bringing to book club that night, a cherry tomato ("try it, you might like it"), bananas and blueberries

sweet potatoes, watermelon, edamame, and pecan-crusted chicken with mustard dipping sauce

apples, bananas, mozzarella cheese, and whole wheat penne with homemade bolognese sauce

risotto, edamame, steamed green and wax beans, and lemon-rosemary chicken

yogurt, apples and a Vitamuffin top

banana, apple slices, cucumber slices and homemade three-cheese pizza (which they helped make that evening)

roasted potato wedges, pineapples and berries, grilled chicken and roasted zucchini

teardrop tomatoes, strawberries, letter cookies and cheese tortellini in homemade creamy tomato sauce

nectarines, carrots, raisins and homemade curried chicken salad sandwiches cut into rounds

scrambled eggs (which one child requested), arugula salad, carrots and this chicken but they decided they didn't want the basil sauce, so I tossed theirs in a combination of orange marmalade and rice wine vinegar

black beans (one of my children's fav finger foods, odd but I'll take it), strawberries, and brown rice California rolls + soy sauce

edamame, grapes, cherry tomatoes and a few of my favorite beef meatballs

roasted root vegetable hash, veggie frittata, and berry fruit salad