It’s All About The Dip, No Lettuce!

Last week walking into my kitchen I was greeted by a strange sight. Liam was standing on a chair inside the refrigerator rifling through the top shelves. When I asked what he was trying to reach he said he wanted ingredients to cook his favorite salad dressing. How proud was I? Earlier in the week I had taught Liam a recipe for “Russian dressing” that my mother had passed down to me. Simply mix mayo and ketchup and voila! Two things every child loves combined to create a pink dipping sauce.

Clearly, our dressing is a loose interpretation of the real thing but it works for us. As for a real salad I’ve tried to introduce all sorts of lettuce with little success. So I’ve lowered my expectations and we now include any cut up vegetable with a dressing as a “salad.”

At our house, it’s not about the vegetable, it’s all about the dip. Even though Liam probably ate an obscene amount of mayonnaise that morning he also at two whole cucumbers in the process. A small victory for me and some green for him!

Sorta Salad

A salad that combines fruit, veg, healthy fat and some protein!

Ingredients

1 cup cucumber, diced

1 cup apple, diced (we prefer Fuji, Gala, or Honeycrisp for crunch!)

¼ cup shaved parmesan cheese

Dressing

Juice of one lemon

1 Tbsp maple syrup

1 tsp honey mustard

¼ cup olive oil

Salt & Pepper to taste

Method

Toss the cucumbers, apples and parmesan together in a mixing bowl and set aside.

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Whisk together the lemon juice, maple syrup, honey mustard and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle 2 Tbsp of the dressing over the cucumber/apple mixture and toss to combine.

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Refrigerate the remainder of the salad dressing in an airtight container. The dressing will keep for two weeks, just shake well before serving.

And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 8): “Yeah, I like it”

Liam (age 6): “Tastes like fruit”

Dylan (age 6): “It is just okay”

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Snow Day Circuits

Spending a snow day with three high-energy kids is a lot like circuit training at the gym. Our typical snow day workout goes like this:

Wake-up to a quick warm-up of milk and cartoons. Then it’s time to fuel up before heading out to shovel. Breakfast is important because getting on snow pants is a workout in itself. At best a 20 minute exercise, at worst a 45 minute drenching cardio segment. After driveway is cleared, it’s back inside for some hockey practice. No relaxing, maybe a quick water break to rehydrate. Once someone gets hit with a stick it’s time to move on to another activity. From the basement we rotate to the kitchen station for a little upper body work. A recipe involving dough is my preferred mode since there’s lots of kneading and rolling involved. And if we make the dough from scratch it means we can get in some dough punching after it rises. Bonus!

After kitchen time and a quick lunch we clear up and prepare for another cardio burst. With the lure of hot chocolate or a pack of Pokemon cards it’s back into snow pants for a brisk walk to town. Getting them back home needs another incentive. Promises of ice cream or a yummy dessert usually does the trick to motivate them to pick up the pace.

Back home the dough punching or rolling usually turns into “brother punching”. To cool things off we get in some mental exercise with a board game or two. This is the toughest part of the workout – but we are heading into the home stretch. After our last burst of energy we settle in for some screen time. While the boys zone out to TV or video games I can get dinner on table. Our last activity? A much anticipated dinner of serious carbo-loading and off to bed. And hopefully to school the next day!

Leftover Deep Dish Pizza (a perfect snow day recipe)                

Ingredients

For the dough:

½ cup warm water, about 105 degrees

½ packet active dry yeast

1 tsp sugar

¾ cup room temperature water

3 Tbsp. olive oil

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting

1 ½ tsp salt

For the toppings:

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1/2 cup tomato or pasta sauce

1 cup roasted sweet potato cubes (optional)

1 cup chopped leftover meatballs (optional)

1 cup shredded mozzarella

½ cup grated parmesan cheese

Method

Mix warm water, yeast and sugar in a measuring cup. Let stand and dissolve until yeast starts to bubble and swell, about 5 minutes. Add room temperature water and oil, stir to combine.

In a large mixing bowl whisk together the flour and salt. Slowly add the liquid ingredients and mix until a ball is formed. This can be done in a food processor as well. Dough will be very sticky and might need a little bit more flour but add in small amounts. Dust work surface with flour and knead dough to form a smooth round ball. Add a few sprinkles of flour as needed.

Place dough in a large bowl coated with oil and cover with plastic wrap.

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Let rise for at least 2 hours until doubled in size.

IMG_1985Punch dough down and divide in half, reserving one for another snowy day. Simply wrap the extra dough in plastic and refrigerate or freeze. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Lightly oil a round cake pan, 9” diameter. Press the dough to fit evenly into the pan building up a lip around the edge of the pan. Let the dough rest a few minutes if it is snapping back. Prick the bottom of the dough with a fork several times and then bake for about 5 minutes until dough is set.

IMG_1987Remove from oven and gently press down any bubbles that have formed.

Brush crust with the olive oil and add toppings. First layer the sauce and about half of the mozzarella.

IMG_1994Then toppings of your choice.

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Top with remaining mozzarella cheese and grated parmesan.

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Return to oven and bake until crust is lightly browned and cheese is bubbly, about 30 minutes.

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IMG_2001And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 7): “Wow, work of art”

Dylan (age 5): “That rised!”

Liam (age 5): “You gotta love cheese!”

Snow days are never easy but if you have this to look forward to they’re not so bad!

 (recipe for pizza dough adapted from The Cook’s Illustrated)

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

If you happen to be stuck indoors because a Polar Vortex has descended and it’s seven degrees outside, and your garage door breaks so you can’t leave the house until the repair guys come, and school just announced a 2-hour delay, making it futile to bring your kids to school for the remaining 15 minutes, then I have a great activity for you to try.

Make your own sun dried tomatoes! Besides tomatoes, a little oil and salt, all this requires is that you are home for four or five hours while they bake in the oven. Your reward will be a batch of the sweetest, tangiest, tomatoes which will taste 100% better than the leathery store-bought ones. Trust me, these are definitely worth the effort.

And hopefully by the time the tomatoes are done the temperature will have risen to at least two digits. The kids will still be home from school for the day but thinking about all the mouth-watering dishes you can add these tomatoes to will surely boost your spirits. Okay, that’s a stretch, but since the garage door will certainly be fixed at least you can get out of the house!

How To Make Your Own Sun-Dried Tomatoes

2 lbs of Campari or plum tomatoes

2 Tbsp olive oil

1/2 tsp coarse sea salt 

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Prepare a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Slice tomatoes in half and toss with the olive oil.

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Spread them out cut side up on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and place in oven.

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Bake until the tomatoes are slightly charred, at least 4 hours. If you have more time, you can bake these even longer but I prefer to have a little juiciness left to them.

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Tomatoes can be refrigerated for up to two weeks. Store them in a glass container and add some more olive oil. They are great tossed in a salad and the tomato infused oil can be used to make salad dressing.

Now that you have invested all this time in these beautiful, flavorful tomatoes, here is a great recipe to make using them:

Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto

Ingredients

1-cup sun-dried tomatoes (see above)

1/2-cup fresh basil leaves

1/4-cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese

1/4-cup blanched slivered almonds

1 clove garlic

1/4-cup olive oil

Squeeze of fresh lemon (optional)

Salt & pepper

Note: Pine nuts are traditionally used in a pesto but are very expensive. Almonds are a great substitute and give this pesto a slightly crunchy texture.

In a food processor, blend the tomatoes, basil, Parmesan cheese, almonds and garlic to a chunky paste. Scrape down sides; add olive oil, lemon and salt and pepper to taste. Pulse until oil is blended.

Serve with chips or toss with some fresh pasta. Enjoy!

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And the VERDICT is: 

Matthew (age 6): “It’s just too much of one flavor…”

Liam (age 4): “I like the chips!”

Dylan (age 4): “I will only lick it once”

This might be a better sell with the girls in our weekly Mah Jongg game. But at least I got one taste and a lick!

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Life’s Questions

In this country, football is as much a part of Thanksgiving as is the turkey. Since I always cared more about eating than playing sports, the televised games were always background noise to me. It was something that the “guys” would watch while my sister and I hung out with the ladies sneaking tastes of all the delicious food in the kitchen.

I didn’t realize that watching Thanksgiving Day football was so deeply rooted in our culture until my kids learned about this tradition at school. Having three boys I decided I should brush up on this phenomenon so I could answer the inevitable question; “Why do we watch football on Thanksgiving?” I am sure it will be right up there in importance to them as “Is there a God”? “Is there really a Tooth fairy” “Where do babies come from”- so I thought I should be prepared.

I was surprised to learn that the tradition of playing football on Thanksgiving dates back to the 1800’s. The first Thanksgiving Day game was played in Philadelphia in 1869 and the tradition has continued yearly to this day. And the football is not limited to the TV. Apparently, there is modern day tradition called the “Turkey Day Bowl” which is played by families and friends on their own lawns. I know Brian can’t wait to get our little football team on the field and partake in this ritual. He has been coaching the boys for months now and they can definitely catch a football better than I can. Although that is not saying too much…

And another one of life’s questions: “Why do people like to eat chicken wings when they watch football?” I did some preliminary research into this but was unable to come up with much on that one.

Parmesan Chicken

– This recipe works great for wings or drumsticks, whichever is your family’s preference.

Ingredients:

2-3 lbs chicken drumsticks (about 10 pcs.)

Salt & pepper

1-cup flour

2 eggs, plus a few Tbsp water

2 cups seasoned panko breadcrumbs

1 cup grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese

2 garlic cloves, finely minced

Method:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Prepare a baking sheet with foil and a baking rack. Season the chicken with salt and pepper.

Set-up breading station: Place flour in a shallow dish. In a second dish, whisk the eggs with a few tablespoons of water. In a third dish, combine the breadcrumbs, grated cheese, and the garlic.

Coat the chicken in the flour, shaking off any excess. Next dip in the egg.

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And lastly, place in the breadcrumb mixture. Press the crumbs firmly to the chicken and place on baking rack.

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Bake for approximately 30-45 minutes until crispy and chicken is cooked through. Let rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.

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And the VERDICT is:

Mattthew (age 6): “The breadcrumbs ruin the taste of the chicken – not a big fan”

Liam (age 4): “I like the breadcrumbs and the chicken A LOT”

Dylan (age 4): “The breadcrumbs are good but I don’t like the chicken”

Not a touchdown with this one, although there were only 2 pieces left after dinner!

Stirring up a Hornet’s Nest

Last weekend I ran a race called Paine to Pain. It is a 1/2 marathon through the trails of lower Westchester starting at Thomas Paine Cottage in New Rochelle. 90% of the trail is made up of dirt, rocks and mud, which is the fun part. The run is suitably named because after conquering 13 miles of trail most runners will be feeling some sort of hurt. That being said getting to the finish is equal parts pain and euphoria.

The conditions on race day were pretty good this year, overcast and cool, which is perfect running weather. The only downside was a run-in with a hornet’s nest around the 3-mile mark. I got a bite right on the butt, and let me tell you it hurt. I lost a full two minutes at the medic station where I had to drop my drawers for some salve.

In the months leading up to the race I have eaten my fair share of pasta. By the time race week rolled around the last thing I wanted was another bowl of spaghetti with marinara. But since I still needed to get in my carbs I decided to try something a little different.

In the past I have stayed away from risotto because it just takes too much time. But the thought of more rigatoni was enough to get me to try it. I tried to prep everything before the boys were home from school so it was set and ready to go. Looking back it was not the best laid plan since we still had to deal with homework and showers.

So it kind of went like this… heat a skillet and cook down the onions and garlic, run to read Matthew his homework assignment, stir in rice and stock, run to check homework, stir some more, run to start shower, stir in some more stock, shower a kid, stir some more, dress a kid, stir, shower the next one in line, add more stock, stir some more, dress a kid, stir, shower last kid, stir, dress last kid, stir, ask someone to set table, stir some more, ask again for someone to set the table, stir, yell at someone to set the table, stir some more, scream “dinner is finally ready!”, stir one last time and finally get it on the table.

Talk about a marathon – I don’t know which was harder, running the race or making this risotto!

Pumpkin Risotto w/Crispy Pancetta

Ingredients:

3 slices of pancetta

4 cups of chicken broth

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 cup onion, finely diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 cup Arborio rice

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup pumpkin puree, we used canned

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Salt and Pepper

 

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place pancetta on a baking sheet and bake in oven for about 10-12 minutes until it gets crispy. Set aside and let cool.

Heat chicken broth in a saucepan to a simmer and then keep covered so it does not evaporate. In a large skillet, heat olive oil to medium high and add onions and garlic. Cook for about 5 minutes until onions are soft, then add rice and stir to make sure rice is coated with oil.

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Add in the wine and cook until it is evaporated. Then add 1 cup of the hot broth. Cook until liquid is evaporated, stirring often. Repeat, adding 1 cup of broth at a time until all the liquid is absorbed and rice is tender and chewy.

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Reduce heat to low and stir in the pumpkin and cheese, cook for another minute. Add salt and pepper to taste. Spoon mixture into bowl and crumble pancetta on top. Serve immediately.

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And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 6): “It’s not what I thought…”

Liam (age 4): “EEWWW – gross”

Dylan (age 4): “Is this mac and cheese pie?”

Obviously, not a personal best…