A Fish’s Life

It’s with a heavy heart we say goodbye to our fish, Matt Jr. today. Matthew won him last summer at a camp carnival. I’ll never forget the look on his face when he came bouncing off the camp bus holding up the little baggie housing his new pet. Based on my own childhood experiences with goldfish, I wasn’t expecting Matt Jr. to live longer than a few weeks but he surprised us all by lasting over eight months.

Matt Jr. was the perfect pet. No walks in the rain, no mess to clean, no hair to vacuum off the couch, no chewed up shoes, just a bowl of water and a small container of fish flakes that seemed to last forever. He provided endless entertainment, until the boys eventually moved on to other interests. After that, I’m not even sure if we fed him every day…

In his death, Matt Jr. might have been even more entertaining to the boys. His untimely passing was not met with tears. Instead, there were shrieks of joy and a call of “Yeah, we’re gonna flush him down the toilet!” Not exactly a normal reaction but everyone deals with death in their own way I suppose.

The ceremony, although a bit on the giggly side, was brief and heartfelt. Everyone said a few words and Liam concluded with a “Good job Matt Jr.!” Then it was time to flush. I’m not exactly sure how Matt Jr. ended up going from his bowl to the bathroom floor but eventually in the toilet he went. FYI -it’s not easy to pick a goldfish up off the floor.

Matt Jr. is now on his way to the Great Big Sea, via our bathroom pipes. And now that summer is on the horizon the boys are hoping to win another fish to take his place.

In honor of our beloved fish, we’re cooking up flounder – a bit morbid but the boys didn’t seem to mind one bit.

Garlic Tomato Flounder

Ingredients

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tbsp. capers, plus 1 Tbsp. of juice from jar

½ onion, tiny dice

1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

¼ cup olive oil

Zest of one lemon, plus 4 slices

2 lbs. flounder

Salt & Pepper

2 cups brown rice, cooked

Method

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium size mixing bowl, combine the garlic, capers w/juice, onions, cherry tomatoes, olive oil and lemon zest. Set aside.

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Lightly oil a baking pan large enough to fit the fish in a single layer. Season the fish with salt and pepper. Then place filets in the pan and spoon the tomato mixture over the top. Lay the lemon slices over the fish.

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Bake in oven until fish is flaky, about 30 minutes. Serve over brown rice.

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And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 7): “So good! I squeeze the lemon on it right?”

Liam (age 6): “Take those tomatoes off”

Dylan (age 6): “The best fish in the world”

This recipe is dedicated to Matt Jr.

Matzo Meal

It’s been over a week since our Passover Seder. A box of unopened matzo is still staring at me from the kitchen counter where it sits patiently waiting to be eaten. Matzo in our house has almost become a holiday decoration like a tree ornament at Christmas. Something to be pulled out for the season and then packed away for the next year.

Before I went to put this matzo away I realized that the expiration date simply read PASSOVER 2015. In other words, the manufacturers want to guarantee I am going to buy another box next year. I am skeptical that matzo ever actually expires though. It would be impossible to get any staler than it already is!

At our Seder one of our guests was raving about making lasagna with matzo. I was sure a dish with cheese, a breadish product and some sauce could work at our house, so instead of dumping the box in the trash I opened it and gave it a go.

*Afikomen Lasagna

Ingredients

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1 lb. chopped beef or turkey

1 cup shredded carrots

1 garlic clove, minced

28 oz. can crushed tomatoes

1 Tbsp. basil

1 Tbsp. oregano

Salt & Pepper

1 container ricotta cheese, 16 oz

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 Tbsp. parsley

2 cups shredded mozzarella, ½ cup reserved

¼ cup parmesan cheese

5-6 full size matzo crackers

Method

In a large saucepan heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the chopped meat, carrots and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until meat is cooked through and carrots are softened and starting to brown, about 10-12 minutes.

Add the crushed tomatoes, basil and oregano to the meat mixture. Bring tomato mixture to a simmer, season to taste with salt and pepper. Simmer for about 20 minutes, remove from heat and set aside.

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Meanwhile, in a large bowl combine the ricotta cheese, egg, parsley, and mozzarella cheese.

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Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

To assemble the lasagna, ladle about ½ cup of the meat sauce onto the bottom of a 13X9 inch baking dish. Arrange the matzo crackers in a single layer to cover the bottom. Each layer uses about 1 ½ sheets of matzo.

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Next spread about a cup of the meat over the matzo “noodles”. Then add a cup of the ricotta cheese over that.

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Add another layer of matzo. Repeat twice. Top the lasagna with the remaining sauce, reserved mozzarella and sprinkle on the parmesan cheese.

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Cover with foil and bake for 25-30 minutes. If making ahead you can cover and refrigerate or freeze unbaked lasagna. Use a layer of plastic wrap before you cover with foil. Remove the plastic wrap before baking!

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And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 7): “There are matzo balls in this?”

Liam (age 6): “Pretty good”

Dylan (age 6): “I taste the afikomen but don’t see it”

*During Passover it is customary to play hide and seek with a piece of Matzo called the Afikomen. Children are rewarded with a small prize when they find the hidden piece of matzo and return it to the table. I decided to name our lasagna recipe after this tradition to see if my kids could “find” the matzo.

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Pasta Mystery

Is there anyone out there with a child who loves pasta? Just a few of you, right? Pasta is easy, pasta is quick but pasta can also get so boring. So when I see a new shape of pasta at the supermarket it’s a welcome diversion from the usual penne and rigatoni standbys.

In the pasta aisle last week I spotted a shape called Fideo. I vaguely remembered an episode on Chopped where one of the chefs cooked this shape of noodle so I picked up a box and went home to Google my new find.

So what is Fideo? Some people call it Mexican spaghetti. Basically it is a thin noodle similar to angel hair that is used in soups or in place of rice. The part that is unique is the cooking method. Instead of boiling the noodles in water and draining them, the noodles are sautéed until browned and then cooked in a soup or broth with spices and vegetables.

I can’t believe I’ve never heard of Fideo before but I’m thrilled to have discovered it. My kids loved this dish. It was easy and leftovers filled lunchboxes too, which was an extra bonus.

Chicken & Vegetable Fideo

Ingredients

3 Tbsp. olive oil

1 clove garlic

1 small onion, diced

2 carrots, grated

1 small pepper, yellow, red or orange, diced

2 cups Fideo pasta, or vermicelli broken up

2 cans tomato sauce, 8oz

3-4 cups water

1 Tbsp. oregano

1 Tbsp. cumin

Salt & Pepper

1 cup shredded chicken (optional)

Method

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large pot or dutch oven over medium high heat. Add garlic to the oil and cook for 1-2 minutes until fragrant, stir often so garlic does not burn. Add onion, carrots, and peppers to the pot and add a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook until onions are translucent, about 10 minutes.

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Remove vegetables from pot and set aside. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in the pan. Add the pasta and saute, stirring occasionally, until the noodles are browned. This will take about 8-10 minutes.

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When the pasta is browned add both cans of tomato sauce to the pot along with the water. Use 3 cups of water if you want the dish on the drier side. If you want more of a soup, add the fourth cup of water.

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Mix the vegetables back into the pot. Add the oregano, cumin and salt and pepper to taste.

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Bring to a boil and then cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer until most of the liquid is absorbed and pasta is tender, about 7-8 minutes. Remove from heat. The pasta will continue to soak up the broth as it sits.

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Top w/shredded chicken and enjoy!

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And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 7): “Can we call this Fernando?”

Liam (age 5): “Onions? No thanks”

Dylan (age 5): “I can say FiDAYOOO – very yummy”

After I added a little shredded cheese to Liam’s he quickly forgot about the onions!

Vegan For Dummies

Inspired by my recent tasting at a local vegetarian restaurant I decided to attempt some vegan baking. I’ve been working on this post for several months because to be honest everything I made tasted awful!

There’s more to being a vegan than just not eating meat. Going vegan also means no eggs, milk or butter. Not even honey to sweeten things up. No animal products whatsoever, which poses a challenge from a baking standpoint.

Finding an egg substitute was the first order of business. Initially I used an egg replacer which consisted of potato starch and tapioca flour, along with some chemical preservatives. Yuck! The ingredients were a bit of a turn-off. Plus it seemed very un-vegan to use a product that was so processed.

I decided to try a more natural route. With a little more research I found several options. Agar agar was one but way too expensive. And since I know it’s not going to become a pantry staple I decided to go with a more wallet friendly option, ground flax seeds. Ground flax seeds combined with water act as an egg would in most recipes.

So with that decided I moved on to the milk. This was an easy swap. Almond milk, soy milk or even coconut milk would all work. I chose the almond since it seemed the closest consistency to whole milk. The butter was also an easy trade. Vegetable oil or coconut oil are both perfect choices.

Next, the sweet component. I wanted our cupcakes to be low on sugar content so even though granulated sugar passes the vegan test I played around with other sweeteners. First maple syrup, then applesauce. Both created weird textures in the finished product. Then I tried bananas and ended up with some seriously chewy cupcakes. They were good but way too dense. Sticking with the fruit theme I pureed some frozen blueberries and mixed that with a bit of sugar. I think I hit on the perfect combination.

This might not be the best vegan cupcake recipe in the world but it was pretty good for a virgin vegan. And my kids ate blueberries and flax seeds without complaint!

Very Vegan Muffins

Ingredients

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (all-purpose fine too)

¼ cup cocoa powder, unsweetened

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

Pinch of salt

1 Tbsp. ground flax seeds

3 Tbsp. warm water

1/3 cup vegetable oil

½ cup almond milk, or soy

2 Tbsp. granulated sugar

1 cup frozen blueberries, pureed

1 tsp vanilla extract

Method

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a mini muffin tin with paper liners. (Makes about 18 mini cupcakes or six large muffins.

Combine flax seeds with the water and set aside for at least five minutes.

Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl add the oil, milk, flax seed mixture, sugar, blueberries and vanilla extract and whisk until well combined.

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Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir together. The batter will be on the thick side. If it is too thick simply add a little bit more milk.

Spoon cupcake batter into muffin tins.

IMG_2184Bake in oven for about 10-12 minutes for mini muffins, and 18-20 for large muffins. The muffins are done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Let cool completely on a wire rack. Muffins can be stored in airtight containers for several days.

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And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 7): “I wish you didn’t tell us this was vegan”

Liam (age 5): “Too chocolately”

Dylan (age 5): “I like these!”

barkTHINS – snacking chocolate – Product Review

This week at House of Bedlam we got to review one of my favorite things – chocolate! It’s a tough job but someone has to do it…

What are barkTHINS?

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barkTHINS snacking chocolates are a handcrafted new twist on traditional chunky chocolate bark. Super thin slivers of rich, fair trade dark chocolate combined with delicious salty or sweet add-ins. The company uses only Fair Trade Certified chocolate, which guarantees the cocoa bean farmers who they purchase from are getting a fair price, following good agricultural practices, and investing in their farms and communities. All of the ingredients are also in compliance with the Non-GMO Project Standard, ensuring the highest possible standards for GMO avoidance.

So Many Choices!

barkTHINS come in seven flavors:

Dark Chocolate Almond with Sea Salt

Dark Chocolate Pretzel with Sea Salt

Dark Chocolate Mint with Sea Salt

Dark Chocolate Pumpkin Seed with Sea Salt

Blueberry Quinoa with Agave

Dark Chocolate Toasted Coconut with Almonds

Dark Chocolate Peppermint Pretzel with Sea Salt

It was tough to choose out of the many different combinations but we settled on Dark Chocolate Mint and Blueberry Quinoa for our tasting.

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The Tasting

Usually when I ask my kids to try something they suspect it’s a new vegetable and are not always receptive. I’m sure they thought I had somehow mixed broccoli into this chocolate but they certainly didn’t mind trying it. This was not a hard sell, they loved both flavors.

And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 7): “I think the mint is deeeelicious”

Dylan (age 5): “Oh so yummy” “I like the mint better A LOT”

Liam (age 5): “I like ‘em both but mint a tiny tiny bit better”

Dark Chocolate Mint was the clear favorite…   And all three requested I put a piece in their lunchboxes this week!

Where do I buy barkTHINS?

You can buy this product at most major supermarkets – Check out barkTHINS.com for a store near you. Or become a member of the barkFAN community and follow on social media: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest.