Thursday, December 15, 2011

"Chicken Soup" for a rough day

Stick with me to the end on this one and you will be greatly rewarded. Trust me on this - it's worth it to scroll allllll the way down. You can do it now if you want - head down to the end and back up. We'll all wait here for you.

On December 2, Thatbaby turned 2 months old. And anyone with a young child knows what that means - the dreaded 2 month shots!

Thatbaby was a trooper. I mean, obviously he cried - even I cried when I have to get a shot, and I'm older than 2 months. But about 2.5 seconds after we got home, he was back to his normal self.

When I get a shot I wallow in the pain and misery. I don't get shots very often for this reason. And even though Thatbaby appears to have not inherited this delightful trait, I still felt like some comfort food should follow up this harrowing ordeal. Enter Chicken Cordon Bleu.

Can you think of anything more comforting than melted cheese? Cutting into a chicken breast and watching it just ooze out? And while most ooze verges on disgusting, oozing cheese is downright amazing. And topping it with an alfredo-like sauce sends it over the edge from ordinary to extraordinary.

The comfort-fest continues with our side dishes. Granted, I'm the weirdo that thinks pretty much any vegetable is comforting, but it's even more appealing when baked with cheese. I'm going through a fennel phase right now (you'll see more later this week). Raw fennel has a delightful black licorice scent, but when you cook it, it doesn't have that flavor. To me, it tastes like winter - warm and earthy. Like a sweater. And what could be more comforting than that?

Braised Fennel Au Gratin
1 head of fennel
2 Tbsp butter
chicken broth
salt and pepper
1/4 cup parmesean cheese
  1. Preheat the oven to 375. Wash and slice the fennel in 1/2 inch slices.
  2. Melt the butter in a skillet. Add the fennel slices and saute for 5 minutes.
  3. Add 1/2 inch of chicken broth, cover and simmer about 18 minutes.
  4. Remove fennel to a baking dish and boil down the liquid until only a few tablespoons remain.
  5. Pour the reduced liquid over the fennel, sprinkle the parmesean over and broil until the cheese has melted.

And for those of you that have stuck around - we got back our photos from the sketchy santa shoot. We went because I'm a sucker for free professional pictures, but really, are they much use when they turn out like this?

Tell me that santa doesn't give you the willies? And look how comfortable Thatbaby seems...right?

Let's review:

Good Santa

Bad Santa.

I think we've got one more Santa option this weekend. And I'm counting on this one to be the winner!

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas

Now that Thanksgiving is over I can start getting into the winter holiday spirit. And we go full swing tilt once that happens.

H had told us that her photographer was doing pictures with Santa at a local car dealership, so Saturday we headed down for another photo opportunity. I don't have the photos back yet, but I'm not expecting much. Thatbaby's first pictures with Santa went really well. He was all smiles and coos. But this time, there was a lot more tears, crying, and general unhappiness. And of course, the Santa seemed a little sketchy. If I could figure out a way to upload the video without sound you would seem him almost drop Thatbaby ass over teakettle.

After the Santa experience we brought Thatbaby over to Balboa Park which is all dressed up for Christmas also. Lights and giant trees. Every year the Old Globe Theater puts on The Grinch that Stole Christmas and so the Whoville Tree is also present. With a host of Whos dancing around the base.

We then went to pick up our very own tree. For some reason, our usual tree lot wasn't there this year, so we went driving around to find a new lot. Which is when Thatbaby decided he didn't like his carseat anymore, and he wanted to go home, and he didn't like these stupid tree lots anyway. Which made the experience a lot less enjoyable.

Undeterred, we picked out the perfect tree and decorated it after Thatbaby went to bed for the night.

He was pretty excited about it when he woke up. He loves looking at it, even when it's not lit. I love going through our ornaments when we put them up - so many have special meaning. Like the ones that hung on Thatdad's tree, or the ones marking trips we've been on, or the ones marking special events in our lives. Like the birth of our son:

This year we also added a couple from our trips this year. Like when we went to Tahoe for Fourth of July.

Or our anniversary babymoon at Cannon Beach.

And since we're in the holiday spirit, I'll take a break from the entrees and veggies and share with you the recipe for the Mexican Chocolate mini-pies I sent in with Thatboy for his birthday.

I found the original recipe in Food Network Magazine, for a full sized pie, but full sized pies are difficult to eat at work. Besides, everyone loves treats they can hold in their hand and eat without a fork or spoon. So I adapted the recipe to make individualized pies. I also switched the crust to an oreo cookie crust which I like so much better than a chocolate wafer crust. With potlucks and holiday parties abounding, these are a sure fire crowd pleaser. They disappeared from Thatboy's office in a matter of minutes.

Mini-Mexican Chocolate Pies (Adapted from The Food Network Magazine)
30 oreo cookies
6 Tbsp butter, melted
2 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp roasted cinnamon
1/4 tsp almond extract
1 pinch cayenne
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt
4 egg yolks
2 Tbsp cold coffee
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
4 oz semisweet chocolate chips
  1. Preheat the oven to 350. Crush the oreo cookies in a food processor.
  2. Add melted butter and pulse until moist. Divide between 12 muffin tins and press into the bottom and side of each cup. Bake for 20 minutes. Let cool while preparing the filling.
  3. Heat the milk in a large saucepan until hot but not boiling.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk the sugar, cocoa powder, cinnamon, almond extract, cornstarch, and salt.
  5. Whisk the egg yolks, coffee, and vanilla into the sugar mixture.
  6. Temper the egg mixture by whisking in half of the hot milk into the eggs until smooth. Then whisk the egg mixture into the rest of the hot milk.
  7. Cook, whisking, 3-5 minutes until it boils and thickens. Remove from the heat, whisk in the chocolate until it is all melted. Let cool slightly. Stir during cooling so a skin doesn't form.
  8. Pour the filling into the muffin-tins and refrigerate until the pudding sets.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Arroz by any other name

I'm not sure when I discovered Arroz con Pollo. I grew up in a pretty small town without a lot of ethnic diversity when it came to restaurants (or people for that matter).

I do know, however, that I discovered I could make Arroz con Pollo at home this summer. Which was a game changer here. I found a recipe which made the entire thing seem like child's play, because really, the thing that make arroz con pollo what it is, is this magic seasoning in a box - Sazon.

And of course, this little box contains more than one seasoning packet. Which I've been more than happy to make use of. I've started arroz con-ing on a near weekly basis. Almost anything I can get my little hands on because it's just that easy - make a sauce with tomato sauce and sazon, add rice, add protein of choice. It works just as well with chicken as it does with shrimp or pork.

Now that I shared with you my secret of how easy this dish is, I'll tell you a way to make it even easier - use pre-cooked meat! Which makes this a fabulous way to use up leftovers (anyone still have turkey in their fridge? Arroz con pavo!). And if you want to go even easier than pre-cooked meat, use precooked meat someone else cooked! I love some of the prepared meats at Trader Joes - their potroast, pollo asada, and most especially carnitas. I picked up a package of their carnitas, used a fork to pull it apart (okay, I'm not going to lie - I pulled it apart with my fingers, but if I were serving this for company I would most certainly use a fork) and threw it in with my rice. Voila - arroz con carnitas!

Arroz Con Carnitas
3 Tbsp canola oil
1 cup tomato sauce
1 packet Sazon
2 bay leaves
1/ tsp cumin
2 cups of uncooked rice
4 cups water
salt and pepper
12 oz cooked carnitas, fork-pulled

  1. Heat oil in a dutch oven over medium heat.
  2. Add tomato sauce, Sazon, bay leaves and cumin. Cook for 5 minutes.
  3. Add the rice and cook for 1 minute.
  4. Stir in the water. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil.
  5. Boil for 10 minutes, then lower heat and simmer for 25 minutes.
  6. Stir in the carnitas and heat until the entire dish is warmed through.

Scalloped Corn (From the Fannie Farmer Cookbook)
3 Tbsp flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp dry mustard
pinch of cayenne pepper
3 Tbsp butter
1 small green pepper, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
1 cup milk
2 cups corn kernels
1 egg yolk, slightly beaten
2/3 cup buttered bread crumbs
  1. Preheat oven to 400. Spray a baking dish with baking spray. Mix flour, salt, paprika, mustard, and cayenne pepper in a small bowl.
  2. Melt the butter in a skillet, add the green pepper and onion and cook until soft.
  3. Stir in the flour mixture and cook, stirring for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add the milk while stirring. Bring to a boil
  5. Stir in the corn and egg yolk.
  6. Spoon into the baking dish and sprinkle with the bread crumbs. Bake 25 minutes.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Sufferin' Succotash

Before a couple of years ago, the only time I had ever heard of succotash was when it was uttered, alongside what could only be gallons of spittle, by Sylvester the Cat. I assumed it was one of those nonsense phrases like "Gee Wilikers."

Turns out succotash really is something. A vegetable medley that's a little different than your peas and carrots. My discovery began with Trader Joes - as all good discoveries do. In fact, if Christopher Columbus had a Trader Joes by him, he would have known he hadn't landed in India because - duh, no masala to be found anywhere. However, he would have seen succotash, which should have clued him in that this, my friends, was America. Land of the free and the brave - until the Pilgrims came and took the freedom of the braves.

Trader Joes has an edamame succotash that I pick up every now and again for variety. But traditional succotash, it turns out, is a lima bean dish. And we all know how much I love lima beans. Further research indicates that succotash was originally a Native American dish that was popular during the Great Depression because it was inexpensive to make. Which makes sense, since for many years corn was considered food for livestock, and not people.

Now I'll eat lima beans anyway I can get them, but Thatboy isn't as entirely easy to please in that department. So pairing them with corn and cream seemed like a good way to get him interested. And I was definitely right on the mark with that. This is probably his new favorite way to eat lima beans.

1 Tbsp butter
1 cup cooked corn
1 cup cooked lima beans
2 Tbsp cream
salt and pepper
  1. Melt butter in a saucepan. Add the corn and lima beans and heat through.
  2. Add the cream and stir to combine. Heat until the entire dish is warmed.
  3. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Mid-East Feast

In general, I work from a meal plan. I write out what we'll be having for the week and use that to make my shopping list. It usually cuts down on grocery costs and saves me from that awful "what are we having for dinner tonight" moment where you stare blankly into the fridge willing an answer to emerge from it's frosty depths.

But a couple of weeks ago when we were at the supermarket a couple of extra things made their way into my basket. Like the pound of ground lamb that was marked down to $1. I love playing with ground lamb. More than any other ground meat, this is the one I like to try new things with. Beef almost always gets made into meatloaf, burgers, or meatballs. Ground turkey tends to get thrown into chili. But ground lamb is never pigeonholed.

Instead I use it as an opportunity to scour the internet in search of a new idea, use, or flavor profile. Which is how I landed on Aarti Sequeira's Ground Lamb Kofto Kebabs.

Thatboy, Thatmom and I all watch The Next Food Network Star, so I was familiar with Aarti and the fact that she brings some really great flavor to the table in a very accessible manner. These kebabs certainly highlight that. The baking soda in the meat mixture gives them an almost sponge-like consistency, and the marinade is fantastic. So fantastic in fact, that I would recommend making them much thinner than I did so you get more of a marinade to meat surface area ratio.

Aarti serves her kebabs with potatoes and cucumbers. I served mine with just cucumbers. Because they bring such a nice contrast to the highly spiced meat. Traditionally, the cucumbers would be a cold, salad like dish. But there's nothing traditional about me. And with the colder weather coming in, I've been braising a lot of my vegetables - cooking them down to their essence in a sweet and salty sauce. This time cucumbers got the treatment.

Braised Cucumbers
1 cucumber
3 Tbsp of butter
1 sprig parsley, finely chopped
salt and pepper
  1. Peel the cucumber. Cut in half and use the tip of a spoon to remove the seeds.
  2. Slice each cucumber half and place in a pan with 2 Tbsp butter, 1/2 cup of water, and parsley. Simmer, covered, for about 9 minutes.
  3. Drain the cucumbers and toss with remaining butter and salt and pepper to taste.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

French History

When Thatmom met Thatdad she was an English major in college. Her career ambition was to go to the Sorbonne and translate French poetry. That obviously didn't work out.

Instead she went to nursing school and had a beautiful, smart, charming, and overall wonderful baby girl. And when that baby girl was a child, the family took a trip to Montreal where a sweet waitress, impressed with the girl-child's beginning French offered to take her and raise her and teach her French. That obviously didn't work out.

Instead the girl-child went home with her family, and began taking French classes as soon as she was able. She began reading novels in French, coaching teams for French competitions, and even winning a couple of blue ribbons herself. When she graduated high school, she applied to college in Montreal with the goal of teaching French. That obviously didn't work out.

Instead she has had to make do with eating lots of French food. Like turning a simple ham and cheese sandwich into a gourmet French dinner. Especially since she has currently become obsessed with the pre-grated swiss/gruyere mix at Trader Joe's. The perfect flavor for just about everything and great for melting. Which makes it really nice for any sort of grilled cheese sandwich. C'est magnifique!

Croque Monsieur
1 Tbsp crème fraîche
1 Tbsp dijon mustard
1/4 cup Trader Joe's shredded swiss/gruyere mix
4 slices of bread
2 slices ham
2 Tbsp butter
  1. Stir together the crème fraîche, mustard, and cheese.
  2. Spread this mixture on each slice of bread.
  3. Add ham to half of the bread slices and cover with the other halves.
  4. Melt the butter in a skillet and cook the sandwich, about 2 minutes or until golden brown. Flip and cook the second side for another minute or two.
To keep this truly authentic you should probably serve it with pomme frites, but as I mentioned before, we're corn crazy in this house, so I instead of pomme frites, I made mais frites - or corn fritters.

Corn Fritters
1 cup corn kernels, chopped
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup flour
salt and pepper
2 Tbsp butter
  1. Combine the corn, egg, flour, salt and pepper.
  2. Shape into small patties. Melt the butter in a skillet and fry the patties for about 4 minutes per side, or until golden.
  3. Flip and cook another couple of minutes on the other side.