Wednesday, October 16, 2013

alimentary, my dear Watson

When Cal was little I freely admit that we rarely cooked and ordered out a lot due to a confluence of factors: residency, tiny apartment kitchen, ridiculous availability of cheap multi-ethnic restaurant delivery options being the primary ones. When Mack was a toddler I cooked a little bit more, but again, freely admit that I relied very heavily on the Trader Joe's ready-made-meal aisle for, well, 75% of our dinners, though supplemented with fresh fruit and vegetables to round out the microwaved, peel-back-the-plastic-wrap experience.

Now, with Nina eating table food and me being somewhat more firmly entrenched in the trappings of adulthood, I try to cook most of our dinners. This has been a process--I think early on I equated any form of domesticity with being somehow regressive, and only more recently have I come to realize that cooking out of necessity (if still not quite for pleasure) did not detract from my feminist street cred. Still though, I tend towards the one-pot type recipes, and almost always make things that can freeze well. My current method is to make twice as much as we will eat for an average dinner, and then freeze the other half for an easy main course either on nights that I'm working late--this used to be at least 4 out of the 5 nights of the week, but now with decreasing my work hours is now down to 2 or 3 nights--or for nights that I'm just too lazy to cook something fresh.

We are fairly lucky in that our kids will eat mostly anything, and though I don't necessarily think that we did anything special we did introduce many foods and spices fairly early before they knew any better. Thus they now regularly eat Indian food, Japanese food, Persian food (and obviously Mexican, Chinese and Italian food, a.k.a the ethnic fast food trifecta) without batting an eye. That said, while they will happily eat a chicken tikka masala and a nabeyaki udon, if the kids had their druthers creepy suburban food almost always wins. I could make the most magnificent meal from the pages of Gourmet (and not saying that I do, but I COULD) and given the choice they would almost always prefer things like mashed potatoes, hot dogs, tuna casserole, or that Pillsbury bread from a tube. (Full disclosure: I also love the bread from a tube.)

However, I have found a stable of recipes that they really do like, that are relatively easy to make, and don't make me feel like a suburban Stepford wife in post-atomic America when I serve them. All these recipes freeze well (I recommend these containers for freezing and reheating if you want a bunch of different sizes, though if you just want the big containers these in the 64oz. size are also great and will hold enough to feed all five of us), are kid-friendly, have a lot of stealth vegetable capability, and as an added plus are mostly of the "one big pot" variety.

So. The food.

Garlicky black pepper shrimp and black-eyed peas from Gourmet Magazine


Don't let the fact that it comes from Gourmet freak you out, like it freaked me out. This recipe is super easy and quick to make and tastes much more sophisticated than you'd think it would for how little work it takes. I usually serve this with rice, though I guess pasta would be OK too. It's a little spicy (black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes could be modified to your kids' palate) but per Cal it's spicy "in a good way." It's better fresh, of course--the shrimp tend to get a little overcooked when you heat it up for the second time--but it still tastes delicious as long as you're not too fussy about the shrimp texture during Rerun Dinner.



Caramel Chicken from Bon Appetit


It's basically a better tasting version of sweet and sour chicken without the frightening orange gel. I usually serve it with white rice and steamed broccoli. In the interest of crisping up the skin easier I usually forgo the drumsticks and just get chicken thighs (they lay flatter in the pan--I have no idea how in the picture above they browned those drumsticks so evenly on all sides but it is clearly beyond my ability) and make sure I include a good amount of sauce when I freeze these so I have enough to drip on top of the rice.


Winter Minestrone from The Barefoot Contessa


I know, duh, vegetable soup. But this recipe is a good one, if you can get past how aggravating Ina Garten is with Jeffery away for the weekend so that she has no choice but to throw a fabulous party in her giant empty house populated only with fresh picked hydrangeas from the Farmer's Market, her sparkling Hamptons gadflys and well-dressed gay couples. (Guh. Ina Garten.) I like to keep a variety of soup around all the time as an easy lunch or side, and this is a good one because the basic recipe aside, it is very customizable. I like to add zucchini and substitute kale for the spinach because I think it holds up a little better. I know it's for kids but don't skip the white wine in the soup--it's only a little bit and it makes the flavor much more complex and thus legitimizes the effort of making vegetable soup instead of just heating up a can of the stuff, which I am certainly known to do as well. I freeze leftover soup in these jars--each one ends up holding just enough for three kids, or alternately two adults. (The jars are cheaper at Ace Hardware, by the way, if you happen to live close enough to one to make the trip worth it.) Helpful hint for filling jars with soup: get one of these things. It is shaped like a cow rectum but man it is helpful and cuts down on the mess.


Mini Quiches

I guess a lot of kids are like this but if Nina had her way, all she'd eat would be various forms of starch. Crackers and bread and cereal and pasta and rice. I like this recipe because it's a good way to get some protein into her too, and also she loves it. Plus, it's so cute and easy, particularly if you get that store-bought pie crust. I cut circles of the crust using the rim of a plastic pint glass (like you would drink a Guinness out of), and it fits just perfectly in the muffin tins. The first time I made ham and spinach mini-quiches, and the second time I did rotisserie chicken and broccoli. A little shredded cheese on top makes a nice crust--put on broil for the last few seconds to get it nice and bubbly, but don't walk away from it when it's on broil or it will incinerate. ASK ME HOW I KNOW.



I found this recipe from Food.com but really a recipe is not stricly necessary, since you can fill the quiches with whatever you want--just check it the first time to figure out the number of eggs to fill up the crusts and how hot to get the oven. (Short answer: 6-7 eggs for 12 muffin-sized mini quiches, 350-400 degrees.) I freeze them in little containers about 4 quiches per, and they heat up nicely in the microwave or toaster oven.


Clay Pot Rice from Food and Wine Magazine

If you are like me and grew up eating Chinese hot pot, you will love this one. It's amazing comfort food, and again, so easy. Just make sure you go to an actual Asian supermarket and get a good brand of glutinous rice, sometimes referred to as "sushi rice" though they're not all precisely the same thing. (Whole Foods might have the right kind of rice there too, but I'm not certain because I don't go into Whole Foods because I can flush money down the toilet right in the comfort of my own home.) The small substitutions I made last time I cooked this is that I used edamame instead of ginko nuts because ginko nuts smell like feet. Also I used a tiny amount of sesame oil around the rim of the pot before covering it up to cook. Oh, and I doubled the recipe. If you can get some soy-sesame marinated meat (chicken, beef, pork, what have you) at the Asian mart while you're picking up your specialty rice and lay it on top of the rice in the pot while it's cooking, that would be aces too. The marinade will drip down and flavor the rice, and of course meat is always good for bulking up a single-pot meal if you're into that sort of thing.


Braised Short Ribs from The Pioneer Woman


I know some people hate Ree Drummond's aggressive folksiness, but eh, whatever, I think it's fine, and clearly it is working for her (see: major media empire, etc.). And lots of her recipes are a hit with my kids, though probably because they all involve a ton of butter and bacon fat and heavy cream. Again, whatever. All in moderation. This recipe is great in how good it will taste for the small amount of active cooking time, and how much like meat it will make your house smell. SO MEATY. Cut the meat with some mashed potatoes and some green beans, and there's your dinner and leftovers for the week.

The short ribs are a little pricey I admit, so this is not an every week or even an every other week kind of recipe, but again, it freezes well, and it's even fancy enough for guests if, unlike us, you actually have friends over to your house. One modification that I've made for our family meals (and I know this sounds nuts but just stay with me) is that I'll add a can of beans to the broth right before it goes into the oven, just to add a little extra fiber and protein. Cannellini or butter beans are good. It makes the whole thing look very "rustic," to use a culinary buzzword, and slightly less like a giant pile of flesh. Anyway, you know what they say about beans: they're good for your heart.


Fish Stew from Simplyrecipes.com

I used this recipe simply as a jumping-off point because I needed to know what proportions of ingredients to use. Modifications: first off, I add a can of this clam sauce in addition to the clam juice (and no, before I looked up this recipe I had no idea there was such thing as "clam juice,"...ugh). Second, I use shrimp in addition to fish (the recipe calls for any firm white fish--my supermarket for some reason never has cod or halibut, so I've been using tilapia, which is great for the first go-round but tends to fall apart into chum when you freeze it; it doesn't affect the taste but it looks 50% more like a slurry on the repeat). Third, a dash of Tabasco sauce before you serve it is miraculous, and you can save that to punch up the grown-up bowls if your kids are not partial to Tabasco. Though: NEVER TOO EARLY TO START LEARNING ABOUT HOT SAUCE, KIDS.  


Anyhoo. Those are just a few main courses that are in rotation around here. How about on your end? What vaguely nutritive freezer-friendly meals do you make often to make workday dinners look less like the inside of a Domino's box? And yes, of course we also do the biweekly spaghetti night / taco night / fish or chicken tenders with fries night, but ain't no one need me to share a recipe for that.

27 comments:

  1. Anonymous4:29 PM

    We are vegan. So we eat the standard pasta and sauce - but I throw a can of beans and a bag of frozen spinach in the sauce, pizza (without cheese but with plenty of hidden veggies in the sauce) canned soup (amy's lentil varieties) meals but my kids also like vegan lasagne, veggie soup, veggie chili, rice biranyi (ridiculously easy one pot meal) pan fried tofu - think chicken fried, but not, baked tofu - think pork chops but, like, not. We also eat lots of curries, which is a good way to hide leftovers in a tasty sauce over rice. Amy's also makes a good samosa burrito thing. Roasted mixed veggies and hummus and tortillas makes a good meal that you can add to meals later in the week - see curry above.

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  2. Curries - Indian (uses up all the veggies at the end of the week that we haven't found use for, we get a seasonal organic box delivered where we don't know what we will get) - with beans. My husband is veggie so that is a staple. Served with rice, naan and possibly a saag dish. Thai curry is a favourite of mine, my son loves it but my daughter calls it devil-food. Spaghetti sauce is a great freezer-food, I make loads of sauce and freeze it up in portions, and use some in lasagnes which I then freeze too for easy weeknight suppers (read: my husband is a veggie, and the kids and I are NOT). A big meat-fest favourite of mine in winter is bastardised bourgignon - in a Le Creuset (dutch oven?) on the hob, in olive oil soften some onions with fresh rosemary, 2 bay leaves, thyme, brown some cubed steak, add carrots, sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, mushrooms (kids hate them but tough), turnips if they are in the veggie box, swede ditto, a can of diced tomatoes, rinse out with almost a can of red wine (we keep a box of average red wine from the supermarket in the cupboard - it's drinkable if you were desperate but it is fine for cooking with), and about a litre of rich beef stock, a bit of tomato puree, some mixed herbs... put the lid on and put in the oven at 170C for about 3 hours, stirring when you remember to. Halfway through, mix a couple tablespoons of cornstarch with a couple tablespoons more red wine til there are no lumps and mix well into the casserole, return to oven. I serve over rice with broccoli...

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  3. As a poor medical student, I am stealing all of your ideas.

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  4. Anonymous7:53 PM

    Holy shit you are a southerner-- mason jars?

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  5. Anonymous8:50 PM

    Those look delicious! Quick question... at the end of the second paragraph you write "then freeze the other half for an easy main course *either* on nights that I'm working late--this used to be at least 4 out of the 5 nights of the week, but now with decreasing my work hours is now down to 2 or 3 nights, so I can make something fresh the other two nights."

    Just wondering what the other half of the "either" statement is...

    --Eleanor

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    Replies
    1. Good catch, sloppy editing! I fixed it!

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  6. I love the shrimp and black-eyed pea recipe! It's one of my absolute faves. As another poor medical student, I try to eat mostly vegetarian entrees as making meat a sometimes food was the easiest way to decrease my food budget. I really like bean soups because it's easy to make a week or two's worth of soup at once and they freeze well. Some other favorites are sweet potato and black bean enchiladas and israeli couscous with arugula and roasted vegetables.

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  7. When do you introduce solids/ non-breastmilk foods to your babies?

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    Replies
    1. I think the AAP recommends waiting until 6 months, though most people start at between 4-6 months. I think all of my kids started getting interested in food around 5 months, and we started with vegetable purees. I know they say to start with rice cereal, but that stuff is disgusting, and I couldn't stomach mixing it up for any of them after the first few go rounds. (And they didn't like it anyway.)

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    2. Anonymous5:15 PM

      I think the AAP recommendation has recently changed since several studies have shown that introduction of solids after 6 months is associated with increased incidence of food allergies. They are now recommending introduction between 4-6 months.

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    3. My mother's theory is that the kids will tell you... when they start looking interested in what you're eating and watch you putting food in your mouth they're ready to start on solids.

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  8. I like claypot rice too but I modify my recipe using a rice cooker & jasmine rice instead (because a- I don't have a claypot pot; b- if I did, it's a pain to wash & c- long grain rice is healthier than glutinous rice, I think). I pre-cook the chicken (my recipe is a bit different from the yours) & cook the rice in a rice cooker. When the rice is just done (still moist), I pour the cooked chicken mixture on to the rice in the rice cooker & allow it to steam for 15 minutes or so before serving. You can double the amount of chicken you cook, and freeze the extra for future use. Easy!

    I also have a recipe for something called Steak Soup which I cut out of a magazine years ago (don't remember which magazine!) and it's heavy enough for a meal when eaten with crusty bread. If you like, I'll send you these recipes.

    :)

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  9. These are great recipes. I'm fanatical about meal planning, but end up feeling like we eat the same things over and over again. Thanks for some great ideas to mix up the dinner rotation.

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  10. Do you use plastic lids on the glass canning jars for freezing? I'm assuming yes. Not sure the metal ring set work in the freezer? Anyway, that is what I use. You can order them on the interwebs.

    Other suggestions for one pot meals: Coq au vin (not hard and use can just use chicken thighs), Swiss Steak (the tomato-y kind), pot roast (use eye of round which is very lean and lots of yummy carrots), whole chicken roasted with an orange (cut up some), 1/4 onion, and some fresh herbs stuffed in it for flavoring...

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  11. Anonymous9:40 PM

    thank you for sharing!! can't wait to try that caramel chicken

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  12. Anonymous9:49 PM

    My best fast dinner is "refrigerator stirfry". So named because I just stirfry all the vegetables I can find in the refrigerator. I keep chicken frozen in 1 inch cubes on hand (when I by a tray of breasts I cube a few to freeze for this) and I thaw those and throw them in. Some kind of manufactured sauce, 10 minutes and boom, dinner. If I'm feeling exciting I'll use the ricemaker as well.

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  13. Nikki callmedoctormom AT gmail10:03 PM

    Thanks for sharing all of these ideas. I'm always looking for quick, healthy meals.

    My kids love these:
    - sesame-crusted tofu (the dipping sauce is great too): http://www.loveandoliveoil.com/2013/06/sesame-crusted-tofu-2.html
    - chicken orzo salad (super quick because it uses a rotisserie chicken)
    http://www.cookinglight.com/food/in-season/great-summer-salads-00400000049577/page14.html
    - scaled-down 'jerk' chicken with rice and beans:
    http://www.canadianfamily.ca/recipe/gently-jerked-chicken-with-rice-and-red-beans/
    - stir fried Chinese egg noodles (fastest meal ever - I add a lot more spinach)
    http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/stir-fried-chinese-egg-noodles-50400000115190/
    - sausage and kale (so simple but tasty and makes me feel trendy, what with the kale and all)
    http://paleospirit.com/2013/easy-paleo-recipe-sausage-and-kale-saute/

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  14. Crock pot lentil soup. I use this vegetarian recipe http://www.food.com/recipe/crock-pot-vegetarian-lentil-soup-294219; but add bacon, because mmmm bacon. Freezes well, great on a cold night.

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  15. Hey, Michelle-as a fellow Atlanta-dweller, (well I work there, but live in a suburb 25 miles up I-85), have you heard of or seen a grocery store named Aldi? I know you've mentioned your desire to save money before, and I'm of the same vein-if it's just as good, why pay more for an item from a more expensive store? Aldi is owned by the same company as Trader Joe's. It's a store with several European traditions of how to save money-you have to either bring your own bags or pay 3 cents per paper one. And you 'rent' a shopping cart for a quarter, but when you take the cart back to the corral and 'lock' it back in, you get your quarter back. This keeps prices low while still allowing the employees to earn a living wage and good benefits (from what I've heard).

    The prices are really good-I get paper products (such as paper towels), baking supplies and general cooking supplies there, such as flour, oil, and butter, as well as some vegetables and whatever fruit is in season and at a good price. For example, an entire pineapple costs $1.19. If you are looking at vegetables, they do have good prices but keep an eye out for bruised/softened vegetables, as they are not typically kept in a refrigerated section of the store (except for salad greens such as hearts of romaine, which while refrigerated can sport brown spots). They have good cheeses there, including sliced and block. Their fresh-meat section is a little iffy; I haven't chanced getting meat from there (it's not spoiled, just not as good as you could get at, say, Kroger) and buy it on sale. Much of their packaged supplies are the same style/taste/everything of a brand name product, but have a 'store' brand on them, such as Love'n Fresh (I know, ugh) for their bread. I haven't tried sliced bread there that I've really loved, but I do buy English muffins.

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  16. Elaine10:08 PM

    Made the claypot rice and loved it but it was quite sticky - not sure if it's supposed to be that way or if I did something wrong. Less water? Different rice? (It was Japanese glutinous).

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  17. I think it's supposed to be that sticky, at least in the variations that I have tried (not made by me). It's tasty that way but definitely a different rice experience than, say, a pilaf.

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    1. Elaine1:44 AM

      Thanks! I wasn't expecting pilaf but he did say "fluff the rice" in the recipe, which made me think it was less sticky than what I got. It's delicious; am glad to have something nice to freeze. Next for the caramel chicken! (Can't get beef short ribs here in Japan, alas).

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  18. Anonymous9:00 PM

    Hi Michelle, you totally inspired me to cook something new!! I made the caramel chicken but the sauce was like water! I couldn't get it to thicken up - any tips?! Thanks, Ro

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  19. The minestrone soup was AWESOME!!! I love that I could make a huge batch and take it to work with me for lunch/dinner the rest of the week. I would love to see more recipes you use. Thanks!

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  20. Great pieces. Keep posting such kind of information on your blog. I'm really impressed by your blog.

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  21. Elaine7:51 PM

    Hi, I made the caramel chicken once and liked it, but thought the sauce was a little blah. So when I made it last night I threw in two star anise. Haven't eaten it yet but it smells terrific. The flavor might be a bit much for kids but...maybe not. Anyway, thanks for this, it's a nice dish for nights when I work really late

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