In A Pinch

The other day I was Skyping with my sister. The topic of my blog came up as it often does (she is my editor and biggest fan) and she started giving me grief about how infrequent my posts have been in the last month or so. Well I immediately launched into a rant about how little time I had to get things done around here. How busy the holidays had been. How some nights I could barely get dinner to the table much less photograph it, write about it and get it up on the blog. Blah blah blah…

Even though our connection was not that great and there was bit of a time delay I could still see her rolling her eyes. Clearly, this excuse was not working on her. She wanted a weekly post in her mailbox, not some lame reason why I couldn’t get it done.

It got me thinking that I really needed to come up with some healthy meals that I could pull together super quick for those nights when we are racing against the clock to bedtime. And they needed to be blog worthy. Not just scrambled cheesy eggs, which are delicious, but not exactly interesting to read about or very original. Thus, my “In A Pinch Series” is born. A meal that is half homemade, half store-bought. Ideal for those nights when you are lingering somewhere between a leisurely home cooked meal and takeout.

Indian Simmer Sauce Shrimp

Ingredients

1 lb bag of raw frozen shrimp, thawed, peeled and deveined

Salt and pepper

2 cups Indian tomato simmer sauce (see note)

1/2 bag fresh baby spinach, pre-washed, roughly torn

2 Tbsp mascarpone cheese (optional)

Handful chopped cilantro (optional)

 

Note: I get a delicious Indian tomato simmer sauce at our local farmers market. When I see the vendor I stock up. But most supermarkets have several options of this type of sauce to choose from. You can use tomato simmer, green curry, or yellow curry sauce.

Method

Rinse shrimp, pat dry and season with salt and pepper. Meanwhile heat the simmer sauce in a large sauté pan on medium high heat. Stir 1/4 cup of water into the simmer sauce. Then add the spinach and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes.

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Add the shrimp to the sauce and cover. Cook over medium heat until the shrimp are cooked through, about 10 more minutes, stirring occasionally.

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Lastly, stir in the mascarpone cheese. Cook for an additional minute until cheese is melted into the sauce. The mascarpone is optional but it makes the sauce creamy and tames the spice. Milk or yogurts are good substitutes.

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Serve over rice or with a hunk of crusty sourdough bread. Garnish with fresh cilantro.

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And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 6): “Whoa, that is spicy! Water, water!”

Liam (age 4): “I’m not eating this”

Dylan (age 4): “The Indian sauce is good”

Although the reviews don’t sound stellar, I consider this one a success. I got Matthew water and he inhaled it (the water and the shrimp). Liam did eventually try it and no one was bothered by the spinach!

Do you have any quick and easy semi-homemade recipes? Would love to hear about them!

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The Cupboard is Bare

I had big plans to cook a few new dishes this week, but none of those ideas panned out. Between the ending of school and camp on the horizon there has been little time for cooking and even less time to stroll around the supermarket finding ingredients for a new recipe. There has barely been a minute to run out for the basics. Even as I am writing this I discovered there is only one more Starbucks K-cup! Might have to leave that for Brian, he is even crankier than me without his morning coffee, although he might not agree…

There has been a hilarious post by Jen Hatmaker going round the mom circuit that sums up this end of the school year frenzy in a nutshell. I must have read it about 10 times to keep my sense of humor and my sanity.

To make it even more challenging, the last days of school are all half days. And the half days are 35 minutes less than the normal half days. And the last day of school is literally 25 minutes! 25 MINUTES, what is the point? In conjunction with the half days school week, the local pool and beach are both open for the season. Which translates into a lot of packing and repacking beach bags, dressing and undressing three kids, sun blocking three kids (the worst!), throwing together lunch and dinners in a rush, getting them in and out of the car (a huge production) and of course let’s not forget all the LAUNDRY!  How many towels does a child need???

On top of it all, I just discovered that my kids all grew two inches and have barely any clothes for summer. So shopping for bathing suits trumped the trip to farmers market this week.

But after rummaging through the fridge I discovered I had some decent ingredients: a bag of frozen shrimp, a knob of ginger, some questionable scallions (remove the outside leaves and they are good as new), a shriveled old lime– and way in the back of the pantry, a forgotten can of coconut milk and some rice, The possibilities were endless but time wasn’t so I went simple.

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Ginger Shrimp with Coconut Rice

Ingredients:

1 Tbsp fresh ginger, grated

1 clove garlic, minced

2 scallions, chopped

Juice of 1 old lime

2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar

2 Tbsp soy sauce

2 Tbsp honey

1/4-cup olive oil (peanut oil or canola oil would probably be better but I had none)

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

1 lb. bag frozen shrimp, defrosted, peeled and deveined

12 wooden skewers (optional)

1 cup Jasmati rice

1 cup coconut milk

1 cup water

Pinch of salt

Directions:

For the shrimp

In a large bowl combine, ginger, garlic, scallions, lime juice, vinegar, soy sauce, honey, oil, salt and pepper, whisk until well blended. Add shrimp and let marinate for 20 minutes.

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Soak skewers in shallow pan with cold water while shrimp are marinating.

Preheat grill or a grill pan to high. Remove shrimp from marinade and thread onto skewers, do not overcrowd. Grill 2-3 minutes per side.

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For the rice

Cook rice according to package directions but replace 1 cup of water with coconut milk.

Serve shrimp over coconut rice.

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And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 6): “Shrimp!”

Liam (age 4): “Shrimp!”

Dylan (age 4): “Shrimpie!”

And then total silence until they screamed for more. I think I even heard a please!

Boys to Men

The excitement around here was palpable this weekend. After counting down for months the big day had finally arrived – Liam and Dylan turned four. Our little guys are growing up!

We started the day off with a run to the bagel shop for birthday bagels. And the fun continued with presents from mommy & daddy and older bro. Although Brian and I imagined our presents would be torn open with screams of joy – Matthew totally upstaged us. When Liam and Dylan saw what was inside the little packages Matthew had meticulously wrapped they could barely contain their excitement. I guess nothing can compare to getting a rock from your older brother. Who needs Amazon anyway? Next year, it is dirt and leaves for everyone!

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When I asked the boys what they wanted for their birthday dinner it was unanimous. Chicken Sticks! Translation: chicken kebabs… I added peppers to the mix and let them pick their own colors at the store. Liam chose green, Dylan the red. Including them in the decision process is a great way to get them to eat some veggies, so fingers crossed. And adding a pointy sword-like stick to dinner always goes over well.

Cilantro Chicken Skewers

Ingredients:

1/3-cup fresh lime juice (about 3 limes)

2 Tbsp honey

2 Tbsp olive oil, plus more for brushing

6 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

2 Lbs boneless, skinless, chicken thighs

2 large peppers (insert your favorite vegetable here), seeded, cut into 1” pieces

15-18 wood skewers

 

Directions:

In a small bowl, combine lime juice, honey, olive oil, garlic, cilantro, salt and pepper. (Marinade can be made ahead and refrigerated)

Cut chicken into roughly 1” chunks and place in a shallow baking dish. Pour marinade over the chicken and turn pieces to coat evenly.  Cover and place into refrigerator for at least 30 minutes or up to overnight.

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Note: If you choose to do white meat for the chicken I would suggest putting peppers on a separate skewer. The cooking times of the meat and peppers will vary and the meat may dry out.

Prepare grill to medium-high heat. Soak wooden skewers in water while grill is heating.  Thread chicken and pepper onto skewers and brush with olive oil. Grill kebabs until chicken is cooked through and charred in spots and peppers are tender. Turn skewers occasionally, approximately 12-15 minutes per side.

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Transfer to plate and serve with rice and lime wedges.

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And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 5): “Why couldn’t you just make chicken?”

Liam (age 4): “Rice please. When I am six I will eat peppers…”

Dylan (age 4): “I’m just eating the chicken”

For the record, Matthew did eat three skewers, peppers and all!

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!