Living In A Processed World

For the better part of two years I’ve been trying to feed my kids real food, nothing from a box, but to be honest we fall off the wagon all the time. It’s almost impossible to completely take processed food out of their diet. Unless I want to homeschool my kids or never let them attend a birthday party, it’s pretty hard to avoid. And homeschooling ain’t gonna happen ever!

As a mom of three I get why fast/processed food has become a staple in so many diets. Life is busy, there’s not a lot of time to spend in the kitchen. It’s easy to see that grabbing a box of food from the pantry would be the more desirable choice. But when I read some of the ingredients on those colorful packages it makes me pause. There must be a way to make slow food a little faster…

Take mac & cheese for example. My kids are convinced that the boxed stuff is the “real mac & cheese.” They actually believe that the orange powder is genuine cheese, not a chemical cheese food with a huge list of ingredients I can barely pronounce.

But I think I’ve found a recipe that’s just as easy to make and tastes way better. No boiling pasta required! I can’t take credit for this idea – I saw it in BonAppetit magazine months ago. It’s as close as possible to the “real thing”. And I’m only using ingredients I can pronounce!

“Real” Mac & Cheese (adapted from BonAppetit)

Ingredients

¼ cup butter, unsalted (1/2 stick)

¼ cup flour

3 cups whole milk, or 2%

1 Tbsp kosher salt

½ tsp black pepper

1 lb. elbow or ditalini pasta

2 cups grated cheddar cheese, divided

Method

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium high heat. (Use a large enough pan to hold six cups of liquid.) Add flour to melted butter and whisk together for about a minute.

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Whisk in milk and 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, and cook, stirring often, until sauce gets slightly thick and glossy, about 15 minutes. Stir in salt and pepper, remove from heat.

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Toss pasta and 1 ½ cups of the cheese in a large shallow baking dish.

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Pour milk mixture over the pasta. Do not stir! The pasta should be completely submerged. It will seem like a ton of liquid but don’t worry it will become cheesy and gooey and yummy.

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Cover the pasta with foil and bake until pasta is almost tender, about 20 minutes. Remove foil and sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top. Bake, uncovered until pasta is tender, edges are bubbly, and top is golden brown.

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Let sit for 10 minutes, then dive in!

And the VERDICT is:

We were thrilled to have some guest tasters this week-

Big sis (age 8): “Best mac and cheese ever!”

Little sis (age 5): “Thank you so much – we love it”

Mom: “I’m inhaling it too and I was supposed to start a diet today”

No more boxed mac & cheese for us!

 

 

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Play Dates

A lot of times when the boys have friends over they want it to be a “dinner” play date. As I am cooking for three anyway, I usually don’t mind, what is one or two more. But since all play dates are not created equal, there are times the night doesn’t always end as planned.

Awhile back we had a few friends over and I served tuna fish to the kids. OMG – big mistake – I thought since I mixed it with plain pasta it would be a no-brainer, but it was a disaster. The moms had to scramble in my fridge for something to feed their melting children. To this day, we still laugh about the “tuna incident”.

There is one little guy I particularly enjoy having over, he eats everything I put on his plate and always asks for seconds. My kids see him eating so they usually follow suit. I once mentioned to his mom how much he enjoyed my dinners. She laughed and said that he would never refuse to eat something served to him. He was taught that would not be polite. Huh?! And here I thought it was my cooking!

The other day he came over and I decided to try a recipe that my cousin Judy sent me. I thought it would be a perfect choice for the four of them. She sent me the recipe in a narrative without any specific measurements so I sort of winged it.

Judy’s Pasta  (adapted from cousin Judy’s arsenal of recipes)

Ingredients:

1 Tbsp olive oil

2 cloves garlic

1 can diced tomato

1/2-cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1 cup fresh spinach, rough chopped

1 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

10-12 large shrimp, cooked and chopped into bite size pieces

Salt & pepper

1 lb dry pasta, we used Rotini

Directions:

Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and cook about 2 minutes until fragrant. Add the diced tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, spinach, and Worcestershire sauce.

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Reduce heat and let simmer until tomatoes have softened, about 20-25 minutes. Do not add the shrimp until the last minute; they just need to heat through.

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Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water. Drain and toss pasta with the sauce in the skillet. Add a bit of the reserved pasta water to help the sauce stick to the pasta. Salt and pepper to taste. Add grated parmesan cheese if desired.

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And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 6): “It’s a little good”

Liam (age 4): “It’s bad – just kidding!”

Dylan (age 4): “Don’t like the seaweed part”

Jaume (age 5): “Really yummy!”

My Three Leprechauns

St. Patrick’s Day – what a great excuse to get the boys to eat something green!

Brian’s family is as Irish as you can get. His parents came here in their youth, got off the boat, settled in Queens and had four children, living the American dream. But they never lost their brogue. When Brian and his siblings reminisce about their mother’s cooking they all agree on one thing – too many potatoes! When we first met I made mashed potatoes thinking he would love them, being Irish and all. On the contrary, having had potatoes with every meal since the age of 2, it was the last thing he wanted to eat. He took about two bites just to be polite…

When contemplating a dish for St. Patrick’s Day, two things obviously came to mind, Guinness and potatoes. Clearly, I was going to stay away from potatoes, and beer didn’t seem to be a wise choice, considering my audience. So I focused on the green…

PEA PESTO PASTA

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups frozen peas

3 Tbsp pine nuts, toasted

1/3 cup, plus 1 tsp olive oil

3 slices Canadian bacon, diced (you can also just add some deli ham)

1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, grated, divided

1 Tbsp mascarpone cheese

1 Lb dried linguine

Salt & Pepper

 

 

Directions:

Boil peas in a small saucepan with lightly salted water for about 2-3 minutes until they are bright green. Drain well and set aside.

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Heat a small skillet and add the pine nuts until lightly toasted and set aside. (Toasting the pine nuts is optional).

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In the same small skillet add 1 tsp of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the Canadian bacon and let cook until caramelized. Remove and set aside.

Set aside 1/2 cup of the cooked peas. In a food processor, mix the remaining peas, garlic, pine nuts, 1/2 of the grated cheese, pinch of salt, until it becomes a smooth paste. Then add the olive oil until well blended.

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Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to directions, until al dente. Reserve about 1 cup of the pasta-cooking water, then drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Over moderate heat toss the pasta with the pea pesto, reserved cooking water, reserved peas, Canadian bacon, and the mascarpone cheese. Cook for about 1 minute, and season with salt & pepper, to taste. Serve immediately, garnished with remaining grated cheese.

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And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (Age 5): “THIS is NOT GREEN!”

Liam: (Age 3 11/12): “It is LIGHT green and too hard to eat”

Dylan (Age 3 11/12): “No, it is YELLOW, only the sauce is green!”

What??? They were seriously angry that I had promised green pasta and felt I didn’t deliver. After I profusely apologized Matthew ate it grudgingly; Liam and Dylan took two bites each. But if my kids are yelling at me that their food is not green enough I could care less how much they ate!

 

Pasta Strike

Check in any suburban kitchen pantry and you will inevitably find at least a dozen boxes of assorted pastas. It is inexpensive, easy to make, and kids (as well as my husband) always seem to enjoy it, especially if it has cheese or butter on it. As a mother of three, we eat pasta more than I care to think about. I love mac & cheese as much as the next person but enough already.

So we are on a pasta strike this week. Hope I don’t have a mutiny on my hands when the ubiquitous pasta doesn’t show up at the dinner table. And I probably won’t make it a whole week without pasta – who am I kidding?

I had some pork ribs in the freezer so it is pork-fried rice tonight. Fried rice is like a blank canvas; you can pretty much mix in whatever veggies and protein you have on hand. And because I love it I won’t be too upset if the boys don’t eat it, more leftovers for me!

Pork-Fried Rice

Ingredients:

2 garlic cloves, diced
1/3-cup hoisin sauce
2 Tbsp light soy sauce
2 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 lb country style pork ribs (no bone)
4 Tbsp vegetable oil, divided

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 small onion

1/2-cup edamame (out of shell)

1/2-cup carrots, diced

4 cups white rice, cooked

3 Tbsp light soy sauce

Sesame oil

Directions:

Combine garlic, hoisin, soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon in a shallow baking dish. Marinade pork overnight or for at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet in foil and top with a baking rack. Transfer pork to rack. Reserve marinade.

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Bake for 1 hour, brushing with reserved marinade every 20 minutes until cooked through.

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Let rest 10 minutes before slicing into bite size pieces. (you will probably only need about half of the ribs, the rest can be frozen)

While pork is cooking heat one tablespoon of oil in skillet. Cook eggs until set, swirl around pan as they cook. Do not overcook. Set aside.

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Wipe out skillet. Heat another tablespoon of oil and sauté the onion, edamame and carrots until softened, about 8-10 minutes. Set aside.

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Wipe out skillet and add remaining oil to skillet. Add the rice and sauté for about two minutes. Then add the eggs and vegetables, stir together.

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Add the soy sauce and sliced pork. Finish with a drizzle of sesame oil.

Break out the chopsticks!

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And the VERDICT is:

Matthew: “Guys, you gotta try this, you will like it because I do, it is really good!”

Liam: “I don’t like that rice, I only like white rice. Don’t eat it Dylan!

Dylan: “Too much rice in my bowl, I am full, no thank you”

Okay, even though Liam and Dylan ganged up against this one (a first, but I am sure not the last time), Matthew ate enough for all of them!

Carbo-loading

It’s been a long four months of training but the moment has finally arrived. 4 more days till the NY marathon. Hurricane Sandy tried to interfere but at the moment it looks like the race will go on! I will not miss the long runs but I will miss getting to eat anything I wanted afterward. Since this is the last week of training I get to carbo-load to my heart’s content- poor me.

We have been without power since Monday but we can cook so there will be lots of pasta this week!

I had some mini meatballs already frozen in the freezer that were rapidly defrosting. So spaghetti and meatballs it will be! Kids love anything mini and I love that I can add some veggies to them. Seems like a win – win to me but of course anything can happen with our little crew.

This recipe has a ton of vegetables – since we are eating by candlelight they won’t even notice!

Pasta and Mini Meatballs

Ingredients

Meatballs:

2 small cloves garlic

1/2-cup fresh spinach leaves

1 large carrot or 10 mini carrots roughly chopped

1 small onion roughly chopped

1/2 tsp dried oregano

1/2 tsp dried basil

1 lb. Ground turkey

2 eggs

1/3-cup milk (2% or whole)

1-cup Panko breadcrumbs

Salt and Pepper

Sauce:

3 tbsp olive oil

1 28 oz can of crushed or pureed tomatoes

1 lb dried pasta

Note: Any shape works here unlike Mac & Cheese (see previous post on Oct. 19)

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Pulse the garlic, spinach, carrots, onion in food processor to make a paste.  Reserve 1/2 of paste for the pasta sauce and add rest to a large mixing bowl. Add ground turkey, eggs, milk, breadcrumbs, basil and oregano, pinch of salt and pepper. Gently knead with your hands to combine. Form small meatballs approximately 1” diameter. Bake for 12-15 minutes.

Make the sauce – heat olive oil in sauce pan and add the remaining vegetable paste. Cook down for about 5 minutes, add the crushed tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer and add meatballs. This recipe yields about 40 meatballs so the balance may be frozen.

While sauce is simmering, cook pasta according to directions. Drain the pasta and then top with meatballs and sauce. Top with grated cheese.

And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (big bro): This is yummy Mommy!

Liam (little bro): Can we blow the birthday candle out?

Dylan (little bro): Whose birthday is it Mommy?