Just Add Water

Okay, I do love to cook but this dinner thing every night for three unpredictable little boys is taking its toll. And let’s not even get into the school lunches (and snacks), three a day, five times a week. At my last trip to the supermarket I was so tempted to just buy a family size pack of instant ramen noodles. A) Because I know my kids would love them, and B) because it was instant! Instant happiness for all! No prep, no clean-up, no tantrums at the table.

Back in my college days, when life was simpler, this was practically all I ate. Sometimes just as a soup, like the package directions dictate. Other times, my roommates and I would get fancy and add some rotisserie chicken. If we were on a health kick some broccoli went into the mix. Shrimp, chicken, beef and pork were the flavor options, although I believe they all tasted the same. Somehow I never seemed to tire of the salty dish, hopefully I didn’t do any long term damage to my body with all of those preservatives.

I didn’t think much about sodium, preservatives or fat grams back then so I never bothered checking the nutritional label of my favorite cuisine. The manufacturers are kind of sneaky because in their minds, ½ a package is a serving so the package actually has twice the fat and sodium listed. But let’s be honest, who eats only ½ of that package??? Little did I know I was consuming 14 grams of fat and 1580 mg of sodium! Yikes – no wonder I gained so much weight freshman year!

Although I’m sure my kids will discover the joys of instant noodles when they head off to college, this week I’m trying a healthier version.

Pork Ramen Bowl

Ingredients

1-1/2 lb. pork tenderloin

¼ cup low sodium soy sauce, plus extra for seasoning

¼ cup brown sugar

¼ cup rice wine vinegar

1/2 tsp Chinese five spice

1 package Chinese noodles or rice vermicelli

1 quart chicken broth, low-sodium

3 large button or baby bella mushrooms, sliced thin

3 scallions, cut into small rings

½ cup snow peas, cut in thirds

Method

Cut the pork tenderloin into eight pieces, approximately 1” thick. In a small bowl mix the soy sauce, brown sugar, vinegar and five spice until the sugar is dissolved. Reserve ½ of the marinade and add the rest to a plastic zip-lock bag with the pork tenderloin. Let marinade for about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare a baking sheet with foil and a baking rack. Remove pork from marinade and place on the rack. Brush with the reserved marinade.

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Cook for about 25-30 minutes, brushing with marinade once or twice. Cook until internal temperature reaches 145-150 degrees. Let rest for about 10 minutes and slice thinly. This step can be done ahead, pork can be kept refrigerated for 3-4 days.

Meanwhile cook package of noodles according to package directions. Rinse with cold water and set aside. I found these in my local market and they were a great alternative to the instant noodles.

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In a large saucepan, heat up chicken broth to a simmer. Add in sliced mushrooms, scallions, and snow peas. Cook until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.

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Now you are ready to assemble! In a large soup bowl, add a heap of noodles and some slices of pork. Pour hot broth over the noodles and add soy sauce to taste. Serve with chopsticks and a spoon!

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And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 7): “Wish there was no soup, only noodles and pork”

Liam (age 5): “It smells yummy”

Dylan (age 5): “No, it smells funny”

Noodles and pork were a hit, even though it was smelly!

For my local readers:

Fairway Market will be holding a National Eating Healthy Day cooking demo in  Pelham Manor (847 Pelham Parkway) on Wednesday, November 5th from 12pm to 2pm. This year’s theme is fruits and vegetables and customers can learn how to prepare kale and butternut squash salad and Moroccan quinoa. On this day, Americans are encouraged to commit to healthier eating. Celebrating National Eating Healthy Day is fun and easy! The American Heart Association will provide a complete toolkit of materials and how-to information for workplaces, schools, individuals and community organizations.

 

The End

Every summer we take a trip to Montauk with our cousins. It has become a family tradition that we look forward to all year. We pack the minivan to capacity and head out on NY-27 to the End, as Montauk is often referred to. Once we finally arrive at our dive motel, the kids’ scream “Montauk!” and the fun begins.

Most people would define vacation as a time devoted to rest and relaxation. But our kids never seem to get that memo. Strangely, their energy level seems to increase exponentially as the days goes by.

One minute they want to be at the beach, the next it is the pool, followed by a trip for ice cream, fishing, or miniature golf. Then back to the beach, which makes them hungry again so back to the room for a snack. Each of these trips requires no less than a shower, a bathroom break, and a change of clothes. If you have ever read the popular children’s book, ‘If You Give a Mouse a Cookie…’, then you get the idea.

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Our vacation wraps up with our big family potluck dinner. Personally this is one of my favorite nights. Some menu items this year were Robyn’s famous meatballs, Chris’s sausage & peppers, and our turkey chili. In years past our Aunt Harriet would make a huge pot of clam chowder to start off the meal. I am making my own version this week, heavy on the veggies, with a little bacon thrown in for good measure.

Corn Clam Chowder

Ingredients:

5 slices bacon, diced

1 Tbsp butter

1 cup onion, finely diced

1 cup celery, finely diced

1 cup carrots, finely diced

Juice from 10oz. can minced clams, clams reserved

1 cup chicken broth

1 cup potato, cubed

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

3 Tbsp all-purpose flour

3 cups whole or 2% milk

1 cup fresh or frozen corn

 

Directions:

Cook bacon in a large saucepan until crisp.

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Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels and set aside. Add butter, onions, celery, and carrots to the bacon drippings. Sauté vegetables until softened, about 20-25 minutes.

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Add clam juice, chicken broth, potatoes, salt, and pepper. Cover and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

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In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour and milk. Add reserved clams and milk mixture to the soup and continue cooking over medium heat, stirring often, until thickened and bubbling, about 8-10 minutes. Add corn in the last two minutes of cooking.

Garnish with bacon bits and serve with crusty bread for dipping.

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And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (big brother): “My tastebuds don’t think it’s yummy”

Liam (little brother): “EEEWWW – what is THAT?”

Dylan (little brother): “It’s so disgusting! Mommy, why did you cook this for dinner?”

Funny, I don’t remember my Aunt Harriet getting that reaction!

Family Fun Night

Our local beach has a wonderful tradition; every Friday they host a Family Fun Night. Each week there is a theme with a special menu built around it. It is not five star dining but they really make an effort to cook authentic dishes. In addition to the food they also set up a Tiki Bar.  (I think I can speak for most people that this is the real draw!)

This past Friday the theme was Family Fiesta, before that was Fisherman’s Catch, Tapas night and American BBQ. They even had a Hawaiian Luau, complete with a pig roast. Sadly we missed that one. Upcoming events include: Mardi Gras, Italian night, and the end of year Clam Bake, a huge favorite.

They call it Family Fun night but it is really more of a Happy Hour (kids welcome) for the Moms & Dads. It is a great way for the working parents to connect with the stay-at-home parents after a long workweek on both sides. Since the beach is small most everyone is a familiar face. And the best feature of our beach is a six-foot fence so kids can’t escape! It is nice to be able to let the boys run around and they are thrilled to have their little bit of freedom.

The beach has extended hours Friday nights and most kids (and some parents) get to stay up way past bedtimes. But after dinner and the obligatory ice cream we usually don’t make it much past 8pm. Once we start to see the beginnings of a meltdown it’s our signal to pack up our brood and head home for bath and bedtime. The boys always give us a hard time about leaving but we remind them that there is always next Friday…

For Tapas night, there was a dish on the menu called Albondigas.  Sounded very exotic, turns out it means meatballs, which is right up our alley. Traditionally, they are served in a soup with similar ingredients to Matzo Ball Soup so I thought the boys might like this one.

Albondigas Soup (adapted from recipe of Chelsie Kenyon)

Ingredients:

1/2 lb ground beef

1/2 lb ground pork

1/2 cup rice (uncooked)

1 tsp salt

2 tsp cumin, divided

4 cloves garlic, finely minced, divided

2 quarts chicken broth

3 stalks celery, chopped

2 white onions, diced

3 large carrots, or 12-15 small carrots, chopped

2 cups baby spinach, fresh

Handful fresh cilantro leaves

2 tsp oregano

 

Directions:

In a large bowl mix ground beef, pork, salt, 1 tsp cumin, 2 cloves garlic until well blended. Do not overwork. Form small meatballs, about 1” in diameter.

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Bring chicken broth to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and add in meatballs. Simmer for about 20 minutes. Then add the remaining ingredients.

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Simmer for two hours, until vegetables have softened and rice in meatballs has cooked through.

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And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 6):  “This soup is so yummy but don’t be sad Mommy, I like Grandma’s          carrots better”

Liam (age 4): “I ate a carrot!”

Dylan (age 4): “These meatballs keep rolling off my spoon!”

Even with the runaway meatballs, I considered this a very successful meal.

Matzo Ball Soup

Who doesn’t love Matzo ball soup? My kids love their Grandma’s soup – They get so excited when a holiday rolls around and she makes it for them. I don’t know what my mother puts in it but they inhale it and never complain about the carrots or celery.

I had a box of Matzo left over from the holidays (does it ever expire?) so I decided to make the Matzo balls from scratch. For some reason the ones from the box are unpredictable, sometimes light and fluffy, sometimes sink to the bottom of the bowl. I did a little research and found that a lot of recipes called for seltzer in the mix. Hmmm, maybe that is my mother’s secret….

Although I am attempting the matzo balls from scratch I am taking a shortcut on the chicken stock. I definitely don’t have time to boil a chicken with three kids running around here.

I doubt it is going to be anywhere close to the magical concoction that Grandma makes but here goes…. And sorry Mom, but I also left out the dill!

Of course one of these days I need for my mother to teach me the secret – sometime in the future I will have the time to make it like Grandma does.

Matzo Ball Soup (hectic mom version)

Ingredients:

1 cup Matzo meal
(Equals 3 large crackers ground in a food processor – I left some large pieces for texture)
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp celery salt (obscure salt I had in my spice drawer that I can finally use!)
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
4 large eggs, beaten
1 Tbsp cold seltzer water
1 Tbsp vegetable oil

 

32 oz. Chicken Stock
1 carrot, grated

 

Directions:

Mix together all dry ingredients (matzo meal, baking powder, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder).  In another bowl, whisk the eggs and add in the seltzer and oil. Gradually fold in the dry matzo mixture; gently blend with a fork, until just combined. Place mixture into refrigerator and let set for 30 minutes.

Bring 6 qts water to boil about 5 minutes before removing matzo meal from refrigerator. When water has boiled reduce heat to a simmer.

Remove mixture from refrigerator and line a baking sheet with parchment paper and start forming the matzo balls and line them up on sheet. Use wet hands and gently form balls that are approximately 1” in diameter. They will more than double in size so do not make larger than 1”.

Gently place matzo balls in simmering water. Recipe yields about 15 matzo balls; any extra can be frozen after they have cooled. Cook, uncovered for 25 minutes.

In a large pot, heat up chicken stock and add grated carrots. When matzo balls are ready, carefully remove from water with a slotted spoon and add to soup. Let simmer for about 5 minutes and it is ready to serve. At this point, you can add cooked noodles or shredded chicken, if desired.

And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (big bro): “Better than Grandma’s!”

Dylan (lil’ bro): “MMMMMM, more”

Liam (lil’ bro): “I am not hungry”

I put some aside for my mother to taste. She loved it. When I asked for her secret she confessed that her soup usually came from Fairway Market! Of course, her secret is safe with me….