X is for Xtra

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Cheap, I know, but I’ve left out one of my favorite tips and I need to find a spot for it. So the spot is here. It’s a tip for the easiest, fastest, most gratifying dinner ever.

Are you ready?

It starts with a slow cooker, a pork roast and a cup or two of leftover coffee. Really. If you’re wondering how I discovered this amazing combo, it’s easy. One day, I just threw  the leftover coffee over the pork as a marinade because it happened to be sitting there. This was a true stroke of spontaneous genius.

To finish the meal, set the slow cooker on low as you leave for work, and shred the pork when you return. Done.

Of course, you’ll probably want to throw a few additional items over that pork, so here are three tested ideas:

  1. Sprinkle the pork with a TBSP of cocoa, and pour over it half a jar of whatever salsa you have in the refrigerator.
  2. Rub the the pork with garlic and ginger – powdered if you must, but fresh is better. Pour in 1/4 cup soy sauce (I like mine low salt) and a TBSP of something sweet – maple syrup, agave syrup, brown sugar, honey – whatever you want.
  3. Pour a good dose of your favorite BBQ sauce in. It really requires nothing more if you’re using the coffee.

Depending on the mood, we eat the pork on buns, toast, baked potatoes, noodles, tortillas…The best part – it makes a ton so it’s good for doubling up as tonight’s dinner-after-the-baseball-game will attest: leftover pulled pork on corn tortillas with sour cream, avocado slices, cilantro, salsa, and a little shredded cheese.

The meal practically makes itself. And you don’t have to throw out OR drink that last cup of coffee.

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V is for Vitamins (especially D)

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Every working parent (OK, every parent) dreads the SICK DAY(S) that throw you off your schedule. At best, you’re juggling work calls from home while heating up some soothing chicken broth. At worst, you spend the whole day doing laundry while covered in unmentionable substances.

While we eat a reasonably nutritious diet, there are a few vitamin supplements I encourage my kids to take on a regular basis. And I’ve got to tell you, sick days are a rarity at our house. Each of my kids takes an age-appropriate multi-vitamin, and these two additional supplements I insist on:

  • Vitamin D because we live in a northern climate where something like 120% of the population is vitamin D deficient. While only my daughter has actually been tested (and found to be D-ficient) I have the whole family take it as an immune- and energy- booster.)
  • Acidophilus, for digestive (well, intestinal) health. No details, please, but this is a good one – and was recommended to me for teens battling acne, too.

What are the go-to supplements at your house? Am I missing anything?

Read the series at A is for About

T is for To-Go (and 300)

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It’s the bane of every sports parent – the 6:00 game/practice/class that makes it virtually impossible to feed people on a normal schedule. At those times, the lure of the golden arches and its equally unhealthy brethren can loom pretty large.

Well, I decided to compromise on those nights where a family meal is not in the cards. Yes, we eat in the car. But we eat what I was going to serve them anyway.

Granted, this is not my preferred way to deliver the evening meal. But there are nights I just have to admit that I cannot feed my family in one room, at the table, and still get where we have to go.

On these nights, I send my kids to the car where they buckle up, and then I hand them a plate full of food to eat on the way.

It’s not beautiful, but some nights it’s the best I can do. And at least I’m not super-sizing anything.

(Oh, and the 300? Turns out this is my 300th post. Sounds impressive until I realize how long I’ve been blogging and do the math.)

Tomorrow…U is for Underwear

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O is for Oven Timer

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If there was no such thing as food poisoning, and I could leave food in my oven all day, I would cook every meal using my oven timer.

Since reality intervenes, I cook only selected items using my oven timer, but when it works, it works really well. If you have the wherewithal to prepare a large casserole of some sort in advance, you can pop that baby in the oven on your way out to the little league game, and a steaming, hot dinner will be waiting for you on your return.

As a bonus, it gives you a pat answer to the inevitable question, “Can I have money for a hot dog?” You can smile sweetly and say, “I have dinner in the oven,” when what you want to say is, “Another hot dog? Seriously, how many darned hot dogs can you guys eat in a season?”

There are a few things you can leave in the oven all day, if you are a roasted-vegetable sort of person. Cut a squash in half, clean it, and place the two halves face down on a cookie sheet. They can sit all day and fire up for the evening meal. So can any number of winter vegetables – turnips, beets, kale, cabbage, brussel sprouts. And of course, potatoes. But you still have to pull something else together to go with them.

What I really want is to be able to have the whole meal waiting for me when I return from work. That would require an appliance that is a refrigerator all day, and then becomes an oven just in time for dinner. Surely with our advanced technological know-how someone could come up with one of those.

Tomorrow…P is for Posture

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N is for Nuts

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One of the benefits, for me, of life at the office is I don’t eat as much – I pack my lunch and there isn’t much opportunity to eat outside the boundaries. However, I do occasionally require a snack. My favorite – raw, mixed nuts. Mine come from Trader Joe’s and include brazils, almonds, cashews, pecans, and hazelnuts.

Now, before you start admonishing me that they’re fattening, let me point out that they are also filling. You don’t have to eat a lot in one sitting, although it’s certainly possible. And they’re full of protein and healthful qualities.

One thing of note – I seem to have a sensitivity to some nuts, particularly cashews, when they’re roasted. The raw nuts pose no such problem for me.

(Of course, I have no medical basis for this observation, so don’t run out and eat a bunch of raw nuts if you are courting disaster!)

Tomorrow…O is for Oven Timer

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M is for Mashed Potatoes

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I mentioned in an earlier post that I am of the “cook once, eat (at least twice)” school of cuisine. One of my favorite double-up foods is mashed potatoes, and here’s my favorite way to use them.

Potato Leek Soup

What you need:

  • 2 leeks, washed and sliced thin – white parts only!
  • TBSP unsalted butter
  • 1 cup of white wine (only 1/4 cup is for the recipe – the rest you drink while you’re cooking)
  • 4 cups of chicken or vegetable stock (I prefer mine low- or no-added salt)
  • Somewhere between 1 and 2 cups of leftover mashed potatoes

What you do next:

Leeks can be gritty, especially if you buy organics, so here’s how I deal with mine: Slice them first, then rinse them under cold water. Soak them briefly if you have to.

Next, melt the butter over medium-low heat, then add the leeks. Sauté them at a low heat for ten minutes or so until they are softened, but not browning. Next, add 1 cup of the stock and simmer them for 25 minutes at a very low heat, stirring occasionally.

Then add everything else, and blend the soup – I use a hand blender for mine.

That’s it! I serve this instead of rice or potatoes with a meal, but it could be the main event if you wanted. You could even add some fun stuff – chives, cheese, bacon or diced ham – but I usually like mine as is.

Enjoy!

Tomorrow…N is for Nuts

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K is for Kale Chips

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I happen to love kale – cooked, raw, roasted, you name it. But even better, my kids like it, especially when it’s served up as kale chips. Why is this a survival tip? Because if on those busy days, when you’re putting some crappy, less-than-healthy food on the table out of necessity because you are a) late; b) on your way to a baseball practice; c) desperate; or d) all of the above, you can assure yourself that you’ve served one food with some redeeming qualities.

And they’re easy. Here’s the recipe.

  • Preheat your oven to 220 degrees.
  • Wash and pat dry one bunch of kale. Any kind will do, but I like to use the Lacinato (or Dino) kale because the curly kale can be a little like choking down a hairball if it gets too crispy.
  • Slice lengthwise to remove the stems, then slice across so you get pieces that are roughly chip-sized.
  • Toss them in olive oil – I usually find that somewhere between 1 and 2 TBSP of olive oil will work depending on how large the head of kale is.
  • Spread them out on a cookie sheet – you may need two. If you can keep them to one layer, they cook faster.
  • Sprinkle on a little sea salt.
  • Put them in the oven for 25 minutes, then check them to see if they’re crispy. The water content of kale seems to vary a lot, and I often have to put them in for another 10 minutes or so. If I want them crispier after that, I just turn the oven off and let them sit in there as it cools.

That’s it. Then you serve them up. And just for the record, it’s not just my kids who seem to like them – I even get requests for “those green things” from the friends who visit!

Tomorrow…L is for Lavendar Oil

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H is for H2O

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When you are a working parent, it is important to care for yourself so you can care for those others. One of my challenges is staying hydrated. I’m not a huge water drinker. I could drink coffee all day (that is, until it’s time to switch to wine) but that doesn’t serve me well. I like to sleep occasionally.

The best way I’ve found to increase the amount of water I drink is to use a water bottle with a fruit infuser in it (mine came from Amazon.com, but you can find them at local retailers, too.) Fill the infuser and store it in the fridge overnight, and you have pleasantly flavored water in the morning. Here are some of the things I’ve put in my infuser – I tend to toss in whatever is left over after dinner.

  • Cucumbers
  • Lemons or limes
  • Strawberries
  • Pomegranate seeds
  • Raspberries
  • Fresh mint
  • Basil
  • Pineapple
  • Blueberries

You can combine them, too. Strawberry/mint is wonderful. So is cucumber/pomegranate.

The other day, one of my coworkers remarked, as he watched me refill my water bottle, that it would be perfect for gin. There’s definitely something to that – the infuser would hold a whole lot of olives.

I think I’ll save that combination for the weekend.

Tomorrow….I is for Instructions

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D is for Doubling Up

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OK, one more food post and then I’ll move on for a bit…

I’m of the “cook once, eat (at least twice)” school of cuisine. Heck, to be honest I would eat the same food day and night for a week if it would save me time, but the rest of my crew is not enthusiastic about this practice. So when I cook, I do what I call “doubling up” to save me prep on future meals.

I’m not talking about preparing vast amounts of crockpot standards like beef stew, pasta sauce, and chili, although that works, too. I’m talking about preparing more ingredients than you need for one meal and putting it in the refrigerator or freezer so you have a head start the next time you find yourself staring into the fridge, slack-jawed, trying to make dinner out of nothing.

Here are some of my favorite double-ups:

  • Poached chicken – Buy a gross of skinless, boneless chicken breasts, put them in the crockpot overnight on low, and in the morning you have chicken for all kinds of wonderful things. If you’re not going to use it within a day or two, shred it or cube it, and freeze it in portions sized for future recipes (1 to 2 cups?) Works with turkey, too.
  • Mashed potatoes – Is it really that much more work to peel 8 potatoes instead of 4? Mashed potatoes freeze really well. You can either serve them as a side dish or use them in recipes – they’re great in blended soups that call for potatoes, and since they’re already cooked and mashed, they cut at least 20 minutes off the prep time.
  • Mirepoix – Which, thanks to Trader Joe’s, I’ve learned just means diced vegetables – there’s is composed of onions, carrots, and celery. All three of these freeze well enough – if you’re going to throw them in soup later, who will even know they’ve been frozen? (Or, of course, you could just pick some up mirepoix on the way home.)
  • The brassica plants(Like how I’m throwing these official-sounding terms around? This one I learned from my kids.) I chop up a whole broccoli or cauliflower at once, then prepare it or throw it in salad over the space of a few days. My kids like it roasted, which is a cinch – just toss it in olive oil and pop it in the oven at 400 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes. It’s done by the time I’ve changed out of my work clothes.
  • Kale – Right, I know – kale is a brassica plant, but I love kale so I’m granting it its own category. The best part about using kale as a salad green is that this stuff keeps for days. It does not give up the ghost overnight like lettuce. I wash mine on Sunday, and even slice it ahead of time, then I can throw a salad together in no time. One hint for kale – if you find it bitter, use a dressing that has lemon juice in it. It cuts the bitterness. Oh, and make sure to massage it before you serve it (in other words, mash it up with your hands), or the kids might find it a little challenging.

I’m sure there are other ways to double up out there – any suggestions? I’ll take any help I can get.

Next up….E is for Eight-minute Yoga.

 Read the series at A is for About

C is for Cheese Sauce

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A confession: Because I grew up in Wisconsin, I’ve had a life-long romance with cheese. Even on the nights our refrigerator is really, really empty, you can count on it to contain at least one big block of cheese.

And that cheese has saved me many an evening.

I’ve discovered that you can serve virtually anyone a dish that contains only three or four main ingredients as long as one of them is cheese. Here is my handy-dandy recipe for cheese sauce:

  • 2 TBS unsalted butter
  • 2 TBS flour (I use brown rice flour, but you can use any kind)
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 6 oz. shredded cheese of your choice

Melt the butter over medium heat, then add the flour. Stir for 30 seconds or so until it thickens, then pour in the milk. When the mixture begins to simmer, turn it down to low and  throw in the cheese, stirring occasionally until it melts.

This is easy – and there is no fake, orange cheese-food powder to deal with.

(Those of you who blog about food will note the absence of the beautiful picture of cheese sauce that blogging convention indicates. That is because it is not possible to take a beautiful picture of cheese sauce, at least not in my kitchen. My picture will look like either a) a backed-up drain, or b)…sorry, I can’t get past the drain image.)

I’ve tried many kinds of cheese – Swiss, English Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Manchego…but my kids greatly prefer the Tillamook Cheddar I buy in a 14 pound brick from CostCo.

What do you do with the cheese sauce? A fair question. Combine it with one (1) grain-type substance, one (1) protein, leftover if possible, and one (1) vegetable of whatever kind you can scrounge up.

Here are some ideas to get you started, all tried and tested in my kitchen. Pick one item from each column below, combine them and cook at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. And dinner is served.

Screenshot 2015-03-31 22.24.47Tomorrow….D is for Doubling Up.

 Read the series at A is for About