Thursday, January 27, 2011

My 20 Minute Meal (...on a good night!)

 We had just gotten back from a mini-vacation in the mountains and it was time to get back into our daily school and after school routines. We're not even in the car yet after swim practice and the two older kids start in on me...

"Mommy, what's for dinner?"

I love it and I hate it when they ask me this. I love it because it means they are starving and so I could cook mostly anything and they'll eat it without a fight. I hate it because now the pressure is on and I will not get to relax while I cook. (The kitchen is usually my haven.) The questioning will not cease until the children see the finished meal set out before them on the table, ready to eat. And so it went...

"Mommy, what are you cooking?"
"Mommy what are you making?"
"What is dinner tonight?"
"I'm starving, Mom!"

I am driving the 14 minute drive home from the Y racking my brain about what will be the quickest, healthiest, and most satisfying meal to put on the table tonight. What can I put together in less than 30 minutes? I had just been to the store the day before and stocked up on everything, and so I went through the contents of my pantry and my refrigerator in my head. On a high-pressure night like this, a simple fall-back plan for me is always any type of meat for the main dish (as long as it's cut into individual portions for easy thawing) and rice.
Rice. It has almost become a therapeutic ritual for me to put a pot of rice on the stove, and yet I find I don't do it often enough. My mother made a pot of white rice with dinner almost every night. My brothers and I could count on that rice being on the dinner table as a side... if we didn't like anything else on the table, we could always count on my mom's rice. My mother unwittingly became famous for her rice recipe in our entire extended family. And now, even she has admitted that I come pretty close to her own recipe on my own... that is quite the complement. But what I have figured out is that once I put that pot of rice on the stove, the rest of my meal planning just falls into place. The rice takes 20 minutes to cook once the water has boiled, and in those 20 minutes I can make an entire meal happen. Add an extra 10 (or what seemed like another 20) this night since I had starving kids hanging on my every culinary move.
I pull into the driveway, unload the kids and all of our stuff from the "Swagger Wagon" and I beeline my way to the kitchen covering my countertop with the day's sippy cups and choo-choo's from the car. I greet Maverick and the kids start in again...

"Mom, what are you going to cook for dinner?"
"Mommy, can I have a snack?"
"Mom! I'm HUNGRY!!!!"

So I get out a smallish pot and pour a little olive oil into the bottom. I season the olive oil with a little garlic salt, add 4 cups of water and let it all come to a boil. (I make 2 cups of rice because my family eats the stuff up and it is great the next day for lunch!) Time to begin the rest of the meal.
I had taken out 4 pork chops earlier, so I seasoned those with Worcestershire sauce and garlic salt and pepper on both sides and let them sit. I would cook these last as they would only take about 4-6 minutes on each side, and no one likes cold pork chops!
Once the water had boiled, I added the rice (remember- 1 c. of rice per 2 c. of water). Let the rice come to a boil on medium high heat and then lower to medium heat. Once the water reduces by about a half, turn the burner heat to low, cover the pot and simmer the rice for about another 10-15 minutes or just until the rice is fluffy and tender. You'll know if you take a bite into hard rice that it needs more time. Don't be afraid to add a little more water at that point, if needed.
When I had opened the fridge to grab the Worcestershire sauce I saw the brussels sprouts in the vegetable drawer and decided on them as our greens. I had no idea if my children liked them, but I decided to go for it since they were so hungry. I put on another pot of boiling water, salting the water just a bit. Since I could only picture the brussels sprouts sprinkled with fresh bacon bits (this is what running on a treadmill at the gym does to me), I grabbed the thick-cut bacon out of the fridge, sliced it into small pieces, and threw it into a saute pan on medium-medium/high heat. Mmmmm... now the kids were really salivating, along with the dog. Everyone's running circles around me. The baby is clutched to my leg crying for me to pick him up. Meanwhile, I need to be slicing the Cippolini onions (soooo sweet and sooo delicious!!!) to caramelize in butter with some fresh mushrooms that jumped out at me when I opened the fridge to get the bacon.
At this point, I am completely frazzled, but dinner is still coming together despite the barrage of questions, leg grabbing and tears...
I caramelized the onions in 1 Tbsp. of butter and a Tbsp. of bacon grease (that's right, I said bacon grease!!!) and I added the mushrooms with a bit of garlic salt- or just plain salt and pepper. I love a tiny bit of garlic with mushrooms, though! Remember... this is a shortcut night, so don't be afraid to use the powdered stuff. We're busy moms and we have to have our shortcuts!
While the rice was simmering to perfection, the bacon had cooked to a crisp, sweet Cippolini onions had been caramelized and cooked with mushrooms and I had also been boiling the brussels sprouts for about 7-10 minutes. I checked to make sure they were just fork tender, but not mushy. I drained them quickly and transferred them to my corningware dish. I melted a small pat of butter over them and tossed them. I squeezed half of a fresh lime over the sprouts and added the fresh, crispy bacon bits over the top. The sprouts were ready and I set them on the stove to stay warm.
I turned off the burner on the rice at this point. It was done but could sit on the burner a couple more minutes to stay warm. Everything was done except for the pork chops. As I asked Cakes to help me set the table (I always loved helping my mom set the table when I was little, and I love that she loves to help me, too.), I put 2 Tbsp. of butter in a hot pan and put the pork chops on. About 4-6 minutes on each side and we were done! I set out the dish with the brussels sprouts, the pot of rice, and a dish with the caramelized Cippolini onions and mushrooms on the table. The kids were already sitting down, waiting for the pork chops and, to my pleasant surprise, actually salivating over the brussels sprouts!
When we all sat down to eat the meal, (the very stressfully prepared meal) my family couldn't stop singing the entire meal's praises! My kids LOVED the brussels sprouts and actually asked for seconds! I gave Maverick a look of disbelief.
"Brussels sprouts taste like broccoli, Mom," said Cakes and the Baron several times!
"Oh! Okay, great!" I said, knowing how much my kids actually DO love broccoli. The Baron even asked us to leave some brussels sprouts for him to pack in his lunch tomorrow. Insane!!! I talked him out of that one, though, because they're just never as good left-over. So Mav and I quickly took our second helping of the yummy greens. Brussels sprouts had become a new favorite. Of course, who wouldn't love anything covered in bacon? 
And the rice? The rice is always a crowd pleaser in my family. I think my kids love to have the rice to fall back on like I did. Although, this night, the entire meal had turned out to be a crowd pleaser. What an awesome ending to a meal!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Cashew Butter- a little piece of heaven!

So here is a perfect example of something that I must have a little bit of...
Please forgive the out-of-focus picture.
About two years ago Chef introduced me to Cashew Butter. If you have not tried cashew butter yet, you absolutely MUST! I remember thinking, "yeah, whatever. How good can this actually be?" I took a tiny bit off of the spoonful that Chef had given me and I think I saw the little firework bursts that Remy sees in "Ratatouille." (Love that movie!) I've never had anything like cashew butter, and I'm not a peanut butter fanatic. I mean, I like it, but not enough to put it on my chocolate. Well, let me just tell you that when I've had a stressful day I immediately go for the (very) dark chocolate and cashew butter... and then the wine! Seriously, just one spoonful of this stuff will put you in a much better mood... who knew? Cashew Butter! I've never seen it anywhere, but the Brooklyn Larder (another shameless plug for Chef) grinds it fresh from real cashews and jars it right there. I can only describe the taste as a buttery, nutty, fresh delight!
Merge sent us a "his" and "hers" (although I've yet to label them) of Cashew Butter this year for Christmas that we will be working through! They know us so well... now there is no fighting over who finished off the jar of Cashew Butter. And to top it all off, they also included some amazingly indulgent 75% dark "Colombie" Francois Pralus french chocoloate! Oh my... is it time for another mommy time-out yet? Thank you, thank you, thank you, Merge! Peace and Love!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A New Year Reminder

It's the time of year when everyone makes promises to do something to improve themself or their life. This year, I am merely giving myself a reminder instead of making a promise. Let's face it: every time I make a promise to not eat something or to omit something from my diet (for my own good) I eventually end up compensating for what I am missing (or what I've deprived myself of) by overeating something else. Anyone else out there with me?
So I have fallen back on my mother's famous words: "Everything in moderation." I have taken that to "everything is OK in moderation!"
I am not a fan of fad diets, or diets of any kind for that matter. My only diet is the one with those previous words, "everything in moderation" and keeping food as natural as possible. (Except for when I give into that Chik-fil-A craving! I'm not perfect!)
Endeavor to live better this year by allowing yourself to have a little bit of everything in moderation. Get back to food basics and, in turn, a healthier you! Endeavor to live better this year by eating better. Eat and live more naturally. Here are some of my "back to basics" food tips for the New Year. I am constantly working on all of these myself. I'd love to know if you're a fan of any of these, or if you have a strong opinion about any of it, too!
  • Stop looking at certain foods as being bad. Butter, cream, eggs, cheese, nuts and beef are just some of the foods that get a bad rap in our society due to high fat and cholesterol content. Unless you have serious cholesterol and/or allergy issues (and then you should be followed by a Dr.) these foods taken in moderation are good for you. And they are filling... naturally filling! This is a very good thing!
  • Use real butter instead of vegetable oil spreads. It tastes so much better! When was the last time you poured some liquid vegetable or canola oil with added preservatives and other stuff on your toast? I didn't think so...
  • Frequent your local vegetable stand or Farmer's market.
  • Find a local farm (or as local as you can get farm) that raises their own grassfed cattle for beef. You won't believe the difference in the smell and the taste of the beef!
  • Buy only free-range organic chicken. Again, you won't believe the difference in texture, taste, everything!
  • If you're not convinced by the organic, free-range, and grassfed arguments in food then do your own reading and research on it. I find reading about food to be very interesting. I started reading up on these topics about 5 years ago and I can only get more passionate about it. I learn something new about what we eat all the time.
  • Find out what the Slow Food Movement is all about.
  • Get passionate about what "foods" your children are putting into their bodies.
  • Make it a point to eat around the dinner table and try a new food on occasion.
  • Enjoy good wine with your meal. Try different wines and find out what you like!
  • Watch "Food, Inc." and form your own opinion on food policy in our country.
Food in it's natural state, or as close to its natural state as it can get, has the power to heal, nourish, entertain and bring us together! So make 2011 your year for a new attitude in food! Everything is ok in moderation!