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Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Grand Re-Opening!

Our new house before furniture
Once upon a time, the Kinaymans lived in West Medford, Massachusetts in a converted school building. Medford is right outside of Boston with quick access to not just a commuter rail, but MBTA hubs and buses. You can Google any country in the world and most likely find a restaurant nearby that serves that cuisine. You can strap your kids into their stroller and grab a reusable grocery bag and buy that night's groceries at Whole Foods which is a close walk. It was a foodies dream.

But our beautiful condo grew too small for the four of us and we set out for greener pastures, not realizing exactly how green. We wanted a contemporary house, a good school system, and some land. We looked and looked, making a quick nest in Lexington, until finally we found what we wanted in Harvard, Massachusetts a town that's idyllically New England. Apple orchards and horses. Every other neighbor has chickens. An actual General Store.

It took us about six months to start humming the theme to Green Acres, both of us vying for the Eva Gabor character. Goodbye, city life! Not that we want to go back...all the time.

So I've been kind of busy and not able to blog. My then-infant is starting kindergarten and hates half of what I cook and the picky preschooler has become a 7- almost 8-year-old who appreciates my cooking but would still rather eat half a cow than a vegetable. Regardless, my new home has a beautiful, spacious kitchen that is a lot of fun to cook in.

So pull up a chair, spread a napkin on your lap, and come for dinner with the Kinaymans again!



Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Tangy Meatloaf Burgers

I love meatloaf.

I don't know if I'm supposed to though.  While it is a quintessential American comfort food, it's also equated with mystery meat and gauche cuisine.  But I think when it's done right, it's moist, tasty, and filling.  What's not to love?

My son loves meatloaf as well, not surprising, as it's, well, meat.  I do need to be careful about how creative and sneaky I get when it comes to ingredients, of course.  That boy can spot "relatively healthy" from ten miles away.  So when I saw this recipe in Food Network Magazine, I was psyched.  It can be made with meatloaf mix or with ground turkey.  Since we're a pretty pork-free home, we went the turkey route.  And they suggested a bunch of toppings but I didn't bother.  Not that they didn't sound great, but why waste the effort when the Little Critic would just toss them to the wayside?  But meatloaf with a yummy sauce between bread?  I'm in.

Tangy Meatloaf Burgers

1 small onion (1/2 sliced into rings, 1/2 diced)
1 pound meatloaf mix (ground pork, beef and veal) or ground turkey
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 cup breadcrumbs (preferably panko)
1 large egg
1 tsp sweet or smoked paprika
1/3 cup ketchup
1/3 cup duck sauce (substitute 1/3 cup orange marmalade or peach preserves mixed with a splash of water if duck sauce is unavailable)
salt and pepper
4 rolls

1.  Preheat a grill to medium high.  Soak the onions rings in a bowl of cold water to keep them crisp.  Meanwhile, combine the meatloaf mix with the diced onion, parsley, breadcrumbs, egg, paprika, 1 tbsp each of ketchup and duck sauce, 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper.  Gently form into four 1-inch-thick patties; make an indentation in the middle of each.

2.  Brush the patties with olive oil and grill until marked on the bottom, about 6 minutes.  Meanwhile, mix the remaining ketchup and duck sauce in a small bowl for brushing; set aside.  Turn the patties, brush with the ketchup mixture and continue grilling until cooked through, about 5 more minutes. 

3.  Spread buns with remaining ketchup mixture.  Drain onion rings.  Serve patties on buns with onions.

The Verdict:  Hello, my name is Chef Blunderbutt and I'm just going to toss random crap into ground meat, type it up as a recipe, and have a magazine print it, mmmkay?

It wasn't gross, but it was...busy.  You've got very herbal fresh parsley, the smoky taste of paprika (if you went the smoked paprika route), and because I wasn't buying a jar of duck sauce only to use a quarter of it, orange marmalade.  It's a bit of an arbitrary mix that just doesn't quite marry in the end. 

My poor son sat down at the table and announced, "I'm excited!" for dinner, thinking when I said burgers I meant those beef things between bread that don't taste like a helter-skelter sandwich.  But to be honest, his vanishing passion had less to do with taste and all about finding greens in his meat.  I was able to photograph the downward spiral of the meal:

And so goes dinner with this child.

Sorry so blurry, but here's Amir digging into his burger

 
He now discovers the offending green
Now the burger must be dissected to remove any and all parsley


The two things that I did learn from this recipe were the two tricks they included. The first is putting onion slices in cold water. I couldn't believe how nice and crisp they were in the burger. The other was making the indentation in the center of the burgers before cooking. You know how burgers swell up and look like meatballs instead of patties sometimes?  Making this well keeps them flat.

So I'm not sure if it was just my taste buds, but this meal didn't do it for me.  Let me know if you try it out and get a different result.  Maybe marmalade/paprika/parsley really is a great idea.








Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Warm Shrimp and Watermelon Salad

I think I have a fantastic television show pitch. 

There's Man Vs. Food, where the guy travels the country stuffing himself on greasy fare.  I'm suggesting Preschooler Vs. Food, where Amir, my 3-year-old, travels the country meeting people who cook for him.  The challenge is to find the people and foods that he'll eat.  Because I'm stumped, folks.

Yesterday I thought I had cooked the epitome of kid-friendly food.  As I was preparing it, the Little Critic danced excitedly in anticipation for lunch.  This salad features watermelon (which we eat at least two whole ones a week during the summer), cucumber (a vegetable I can count on him eating) and shrimp (a seafood he's been eating since before the Academy of Pediatrics recommended age).  It also has feta which he isn't wild about, but I could leave that off of his, along with the offending green dill.  Perfect, right?

Warm Shrimp and Watermelon Salad

4 whole-wheat pitas, cut into triangles
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
16 medium to large shrimp, shelled and deveined
1/2 cup sliced shallots
4 cups cubed seedless watermelon
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper
2 large cucumbers, peeled and chopped
2 oz crumbled feta
2 tbsp chopped fresh dill

1.  Heat oven to 450 degrees.  Toast pita bread until brown and crispy on a cookie sheet, turning once, 3-5 minutes per side.

2.  In a large skillet, heat oil over high heat.  Cook shrimp and shallots, stirring until shrimp is pink and shallots are crisp, 2 to 6 minutes, depending on size of shrimp.  Transfer to a bowl.

3.  In the same skillet, add watermelon and 1/4 cup water over high heat, stirring, until liquid becomes syrupy, about 3 minutes. 

4.  Remove skillet from heat; add shrimp mixture, salt and pepper; stir.  Divide shrimp-watermelon mixture among four plates; add cucumber and feta.  Sprinkle with dill.  Use syrup that collects in skillet/bottom of mixed bowl to drizzle salad.  Serve with toasted pita bread.

The Verdict: I thought I had died and gone to heaven.  My husband gave it four out of five stars (his food rating system).  And the Little Critic...

...hated it.

What?!  Before lunch, he was begging to eat the watermelon and the cucumber.  Yet all together, he didn't like "the red stuff" and swore he didn't like cucumbers.  So he ate shrimp and toast.  Imagine me.  Now imagine me shaking my head in frustration.  That's what I'm doing while I write this.

Ignoring my son's comments, this salad is good stuff.  I'd never heard of cooking watermelon before, but when you do it becomes even sweeter, then sweeter still when paired with a bit of salt and the salt in the feta.  Then when you mix slightly crispy shallots with those watery summer foods?  My mouth is watering thinking about it.  An added bonus: fairly quick to whip up.

If you have a nice backyard with a patio set you can serve food on, buy yourself a good chillable wine, invite friends over, make this dish, and become their hero.  Seriously.  They'll think you're a genius. 

Here's hoping the "I hate everything" stuff is a phase for the Little Critic.  Because if you don't think this is the definition of yummy, I don't know what to say.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Veggie Lentil Loaf

Need a recipe for Meatless Monday?  It's not just meatless but vegan and gluten-free to boot!

A couple of months back I kept running into recipes for vegetarian versions of meatloaf.  They all sounded so delicious but the ingredients weren't practical for me.  Egg replacers, textured vegetable proteins, nutritional yeast...I don't have a problem with any of these items, I just wouldn't use them again in the immediate future.  And being as frugal as I am, I couldn't justify these purchases for one recipe.

But alas! The April/May issue of Kiwi included a recipe for veggie lentil loaf.  Not only were the ingredients "everyday" foods, but things I had in my own refrigerator and pantry.  And it called for French lentils.  I love lentils, but those lovely little lentils are nothing like their khaki cousins.  They're tiny and speckled, keep their shape and are firmer, and have much, much more flavor.  I changed a couple of things, but mainly, it's the same recipe.

Veggie Lentil Loaf

2 1/2 cups French lentils, rinsed and picked over
2 tbsp olive oil, plus more for greasing the pan
1 large yellow onion
2 green bell peppers, seeded and diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp plus 1 tsp cumin
1/4 cup tahini
zest and juice of 1 lemon
2/3 cup white rice flour
salt and pepper
1/4 cup vegan barbecue sauce (I highly recommend Annie's Naturals Organic Smoky Maple      BBQ Sauce)

1.  Place the lentils in a medium saucepan, and fill the pot with enough water to cover the lentils by 2 to 3 inches.  Cover, bring to a boil, and simmer for 25 minutes or until the lentils are tender.

2.  While the lentils cook, prepare the vegetables.  In a large skillet, warm the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onions and sauté 5 to 7 minutes, or until soft and translucent.  Add the peppers and cook 5 minutes more.  Add the garlic and cumin, and cook 1 minute more.

3. Transfer the vegetables to a food processor and pulse until very finely chopped.  Place in a large bowl and set aside. 

4.  Add the cooked lentils, tahini, and lemon zest and juice to a food processor and process until mostly smooth.

5.  Add the lentil mixture to the vegetables and stir to combine.  Fold in the rice flour and season the mixture with salt and pepper to taste.

6. Lightly grease two 9-by-5-inch loaf pans and spoon the mixture into it.  Use a spatula to smooth the top.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for 40 minutes, or until the top of the loaf is just beginning to brown.

7. Remove the loaf from the oven and spread the barbecue sauce over the top.  Bake for another 15 minutes at 400 degrees, then allow the lentil loaf to sit for at least 10 minutes before slicing.

The Verdict: And the cheese stands alone.  I thought it was super and my husband and son thought it was Torture in a Loaf Pan.

They didn't hate it that much, but nor were they jumping for joy.  In their defense, I guess lentils aren't everyone's bag.  Favorite foods are often described as moist, juicy, succulent...and a lentil can't ever snag one of those adjectives.  Even the fancy French ones are dry.  And no matter how many vegetables and spices you add, or how much you whir the ingredients around in a blender, they don't magically become meat.  Which is a mean slight of hand trick to meat lovers.

But let's ignore them, shall we?

The original recipe calls for a single loaf pan.  Unless I fell asleep at the stove, which is entirely possible in my new baby state, this recipe makes a humongous amount of lentil mixture.  No worries as it freezes well.  It also called for ketchup instead of barbecue sauce.  Meh.  I thought, because lentils aren't quite as tasty as ground meat, it called for a little something extra.  But if you prefer ketchup, knock your socks off.

Now, speaking of this recipe making a boat load of lentil mixture--you are faced with a bit of a conundrum if you don't have a food processor and use a blender.  Yes, for all the cooking I do, I don't have a food processor.  Crazy, right?  But if you're a poor soul like myself, you'll have to blend your foods in batches.  Lots of batches. 

If you're a safe cook, the two items that might seem a little outre are rice flour and tahini.  Whole Foods generally sells rice flour by the pound, so you could potentially buy just a bit if you have one near you.  Otherwise, regular white flour would work, I imagine.  It just wouldn't be gluten-free anymore.  If you were to buy a larger amount, you can use the rice flour in rice pudding.  It's how my husband makes it and now that I write it, I'll have to get that recipe for you all.  As for tahini, it's great to have on hand to make homemade hummus.  There is nothing easier or more delicious than homemade hummus.  Substituting it might be a bit tricky; it's a bit like nut butters (almond, cashew) but if you don't have tahini, you probably don't have nut butters laying around.  Peanut butter is a possibility, but peanuts are fairly strong.  I can't guarantee how much it would change the taste.

If you're a fan of lentils and enjoy lots of vegetables, I think you'd love this recipe.  If you're feeding it to serious carnivores, don't even try to sell it as meatloaf.  It's nothing like meatloaf.  And even your honesty might not convert the meat lover.  Don't tell me you weren't warned.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Italian Sausage and Squash Soup

There really is something to this decluttering thing, isn't there?

I was going through a massive pile of papers on our computer desk, trying to see what I could toss, when I came across a whole cache of recipes.  Not just recipes, but recipes I made during my baby's newborn months that I never had time to share with you all.  This means that, unfortunately, most of them don't have pictures.  (But if I make these recipes again, I'll edit these posts and add pictures.) 

The first recipe I found--Italian sausage and squash soup from Cuisine--was lovely, easy enough to make, and perfect for freezing.

Italian Sausage and Squash Soup

1 lb bulk Italian sausage
2 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 1/2 cups diced onion
2 tbsp minced garlic
1 1/2 lbs butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-in chunks
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups water
1 cup diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tsp ground dried sage
1 tsp sugar
2 cups packed baby spinach
3 tbsp brandy
   salt and pepper to taste

1.  Brown the sausage in 1 tbsp oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until cooked through.  Drain on a paper towel-lined plate; set aside.

2.  Sweat onion and garlic in remaining oil in a large pot over medium heat until soft, 5 minutes.  Increase heat to medium-high, add squash and pepper flakes, and sauté 5 minutes.

3.  Stir in broth and water, bring to a boil, and simmer until squash is very soft.  If using frozen squash in a bag, just add squash, broth and water to the pot and bring to a boil.

4.  Purée soup with a handheld blender (or in batches in a standard blender), then add bell pepper, cream, sage, and sugar; simmer until bell pepper is tender, about 5 minutes.  Stir in spinach, brandy and sausage, and simmer until spinach wilts and sausage is heated through, about 2 minutes; season with salt and pepper.

The Verdict:  This soup is amaaaazing.

The flavors and mouth-feel of this soup are wonderful.  Puréed butternut squash with cream is so velvety, the sugar and onions are slightly sweet, and the sausage and red pepper flakes give the soup just enough spice.  And adding brandy to foods is always a win; it's both hot and sweet with a little hint of wood.  In other words, there's lots of good stuff going on in this soup.  It's also so thick, it's nearly a stew.

I was really curious to see how my 3-year-old would react to it.  The taste doesn't scream vegetable and the color could easily be from cheese.  He had also helped me to pick out the red bell pepper, a vegetable up until the last couple of weeks he was friendly with.  He took a bite of the soup and looked skeptical; he knew someone was pulling the wool over his eyes.  But he ate nearly half the bowl before announcing that he didn't like it.  Since it wasn't an all-out visceral response followed by a dinner battle, I think it's worth trying again with him.

This would be a perfect fall food, especially with squash picked up from a farmer's market.  Serve it alongside some thick biscuits and butter and you've got yourself cozy in a bowl.  Yum.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Buffalo Ginger Stir Fry

A couple of weeks ago, we had some family come over for a barbecue.  Before they arrived, my husband went to the supermarket to pick up a couple of things and had texted me to make sure we had enough meat.  We did, but I didn't see the text in time, so he came home with a buffalo sirloin steak, just under a pound that went immediately into the freezer.

Now, I've been known to menu plan, get busy, and let meat go bad.  Not often, but often enough that my husband tends to keep a close eye on stray foods.  The buffalo steak was no exception.  Nearly every day I was reminded that it was there.  And every day I reminded him that it was safe in the freezer.  Yet I knew that he would sleep better at night after it became part of a meal.  But what can you do with one steak?

In my previous life, i.e. my life before children, this would have been an easy question to answer.  Meat should be an accompaniment to foods, not the star of the show.  And a good way to do that is with a stir fry.  Then enter Mr. Finicky, our 3-year-old, who eats meat like a little blond T-Rex and can see microscopic bits of green from across the room.  Oh boy, this might prove to be difficult.  So instead of wasting my time with too many vegetables, I made a stir fry with edamame and bok choy.  I knew he'd eat the edamame and I figured I'd give the bok choy a shot.  You can substitute the vegetables with anything you like.

Buffalo Ginger Stir Fry

3/4 cup beef broth
2 tbsp honey
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp vegetable oil, separated
1 lb buffalo steak, cut into small, thin strips
1/2 bunch bok choy, chopped
1/2 pkg frozen edamame, cooked according to package directions
1 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 cup water
rice or noodles to serve with

1. Combine the broth, honey, ginger, garlic and oil in a sealable container and shake vigorously, then set aside. 

2.  Heat one teaspoon of the vegetable oil in a wok then sauté buffalo until cooked through, about 4 minutes, then set aside.

3.  Heat the remaining vegetable oil and sauté the bok choy until greens wilt, about 2 minutes.  You may wish to remove the greens and let the whites of the bok choy sauté until they become more tender, approximately an additional 4 minutes.  Add cooked edamame and sauce.

4.  Once sauce is simmering, combine cornstarch and water, mix well, and add to the wok.  Cook until the sauce thickens, about 2 minutes.  Serve over rice or noodles.

The Verdict: Good but not great.

As I guessed, my son ate everything except the bok choy which he refused to even try.  (So much for my "you must try at least one bite" rule.)  He had no complaints.

My husband and I didn't have any serious complaints either, other than buffalo is the wrong meat for this dish.  I'm not a fan of stir fried beef, period, as I think it makes the meat too tough.  But I liked the sauce and the combination of veggies.  I would have preferred it with chicken or tofu.  My husband felt that buffalo was an unorthodox meat for this kind of dish.  He felt that the flavor difference from beef was the wrong combination.  (I don't find there's much of a difference in taste, per se.  I feel like buffalo is just a "better" version of beef.)

So could I have found a better use of that buffalo?  Probably.  Honestly, the best use would have been to buy a second steak and eat it Amir (my preschooler dinosaur) style.  Grilled medium, paired with mashed potatoes.  Sometimes simple is better.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Shrimp and Feta Pizza

I love to cook.  That's pretty obvious because of this blog, right?  But at the risk of going all Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, sometimes cooking for a picky 3-year-old can be a drag.  I think the most disappointing part is that while I haven't submitted my application for traveling food freak should the Weird Foods host up and quit, I'm a fairly adventurous eater.  So when my son started solid foods, I made my own baby food so that he could experience good cuisine at an early age.

How on earth did I end up with a child whose culinary daring doesn't wander far beyond edamame and salmon?

I'm probably grumpy because dinner, aside from Mr. Finicky's exclamations of "I don't like...!" fifty-seven times during the meal, was fairly disastrous.  We love homemade pizza in our house, so it was par for the course for me to make my own pizza dough in my bread maker.  But a crying baby and high humidity created a finished dough ball that was more ectoplasm than pizza.  This was remedied with a mad dash to Whole Foods for pizza dough.  (I ended up getting their multigrain dough and it's fantastic, by the way.)  And my need for Hooked on Phonics created the second dinner debacle: overlooking the word "grilled" in the recipe.  We have a community grill at our condo, but the hurdles to grilling more than steak are limitless. 

So what happened?  I'll share with you the recipe I made, not what I was supposed to make.

Shrimp and Feta Pizza 

3/4 lb medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 onion, sliced into rounds
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
1/2 tsp dried oregano
salt and pepper
1 lb prepared pizza dough at room temperature
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

1. Move oven rack to lowest level in the oven and preheat to 500 degrees F.  Toss shrimp and onion in a bowl with olive oil, oregano and salt and pepper.

2.  Stretch pizza dough onto a pizza pan and brush the outer crust with olive oil.  Bake in the heated oven for 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, cook shrimp and onions in a skillet sprayed with cooking spray over medium-high heat until the shrimp begin to turn pink.

3.  Remove crust from the oven and top with shrimp, onions, tomatoes and feta.  Return to the oven and cook for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, or until crust is golden brown.  Transfer to a cutting board and cut into pieces.

The Verdict: Adults loved it.  Child dissected it like it was a high school biology experiment.

My son didn't like the grape tomatoes nor the onions; in other words, he didn't eat any of the vegetables.  Quel surprise.  He was also a little leery of the feta cheese.  He did, however, eat every bit of shrimp and crust given to him. 

As you can see in the picture, if it weren't for the tomatoes, this pizza would be pretty boring to the eye.  This is one place where the grilled vs. oven-cooked differences comes in.  The grilled pizza is has lovely little charred bits on the crust and the shrimp; the oven-baked pizza is largely white.  And because I didn't grill it, I can only guess about the next part and that is the sogginess factor.  Pizza, especially when it's homemade, runs the risk of being soggy.  It's in part because most of us don't have a pizza oven (but Lord, how I wish to have an outdoor brick oven someday!) that heats up to blazing temperatures, but it's also expertly stretching the dough and topping the pizza. 

Shrimp tends to let out a lot of moisture as it cooks, and of course, feta cheese is a high-moisture cheese.  In order not to end up with a soggy middle, drain the shrimp and dab with a paper towel after you cook it.  And squeeze out your feta before crumbling. 

Besides being too soft in the middle, the taste was fantastic.  It smells delicious as it cooks, too.  The oregano is slightly lemony, making it a perfect herb to pair with shrimp.  The feta gives the pizza a nice, salty tang and, when the tomatoes are added in, a great Mediterranean flair. 

Too bad the little critic didn't like it as much as we did.  But I'll keep trying.