I’ve seen those cookbooks that advise moms to trick their kids into eating their vegetables. All sorts of subterfuge is suggested to camouflage the undesirables as cutesy shapes or mask them under heavy sauces. I never went for that plan. If the kids don’t recognize the veggies on their plate when they’re young, why on earth would they ever choose to eat them when they’re older?
Howls of despair for roasted cauliflower, or maybe it was the advanced algebra test?
Funny how you can change your tune when those sweet little kids get bigger and noisier and you’re asking them to clean their plates on Meatless Monday and Whole Grain Wednesday. Last week started out particularly rough when I joined pan-grilled salmon with a most amazing recipe clipped from the Wall Street Journal: Andrew Carmellini’s Roasted Cauliflower with Yogurt and Mint. “BUT MOM … YOGURT DOESN’T GO WITH CAULIFLOWER!!!” Son #1, stressed from a pending algebra test, found it too much to handle. My explanation that the combo would be commonly found in Indian cuisine fell on deaf ears.
On Tasty Tuesday I braced for another eruption — the guys don’t like eggplant, but it’s one of my favorite vegetables. The old sauce trick worked. Red curry chicken with eggplant and basil was just the right recovery from our trauma on Meatless Monday. (My recipe was clipped from an old Pioneer Organics newsletter, but this one is similar.)
Eggplant's a winner in red curry with chicken
Emboldened by my success with eggplant, I pushed ahead to Whole Grain Wednesday. I hid quinoa in a version of beef picadillo, a dish we’ve often enjoyed with rice. This time the family didn’t miss a bite, though a widely touted whole grain was a key ingredient in the meal. I’ve found a new hero in Lorna Sass. Her cookbook, Whole Grains Every Day Every Way, demystifies the world of whole grains. And as with her pressure cooker recipes, Lorna’s ideas for cooking with whole grains are tasty and fairly easy to pull off on a weeknight.
Thermal Thursday featured a quick kale and sausage soup in the pressure cooker. Well, isn’t everything quick in the pressure cooker? By Friday I had energy leftover to assemble a “date night dinner” with my husband. The boys were busy while we indulged in rosemary-rubbed lamb chops and red potatoes thanks to a great recipe from an All-Clad pan-grill cookbook. Fresh steamed brussel sprouts made a colorful side but the real winner? A bottle of fine red wine tucked away for safe keeping five or so years ago. I wondered if we should save it longer for a special occasion. “I think we should celebrate getting through the week without any major disasters,” my husband noted. That’s good enough for me!
Date night dinner on Fun Friday - lamb chops, red potatoes grilled with rosemary
Risotto in the pressure cooker - my new favorite fast food
Sometimes there’s just no time left to spend in the kitchen. Evening events filled up our calendar last week so dinner had to be simple and/or fast.
For Meatless Monday, we relied on a stirfry (and ignored the boys’ standby complaints about tofu). Tuesday was easy thanks to leftovers from the Spicy Pork and Apricot Stew that my husband made on Sunday (that’s his day to cook so this time, we made a super big batch and froze three-quarters of it for future meals). Wednesday was a boxed chicken enchilada dinner (not so good) for the guys while I dined on roasted autumn vegetables over pumpkin polenta at my business dinner (cringe). Thursday I was off again while my husband made penne with marinara sauce and ground beef for the boys.
By now you may think I should be featured on this website and you’ll nominate my husband for this one, especially because he complained not one whit. I managed to redeem myself in the kitchen on Friday. Thanks to the pressure cooker I had just en0ugh energy left to whip up butternut squash and sausage risotto. This version by Rick Rodgers was easy enough and tasty; the texture not as appealing as the last version with ham and peas by Lorna Sass. The risotto was a comforting way to wrap up a hectic week of eating on the run.
Still I marvel at the fact I’ve cooked dinner only two out of last seven nights. Hmmm, not a bad change of pace from my perspective!
Chickpeas. Wheatberries. Brown rice pasta. Not exactly kid food. But over the last couple of weeks I’ve sneaked these items into our meal plan and eureka, no complaints!
Chickpea salad with pesto - no complaints
Sometimes I wonder it’s just a matter of planetary alignment that I get fewer grumbles than usual from my sons. Maybe their growing bodies/appetites are finally forcing their tastebuds to be less discriminating. I like to think that they’ve surrendered to my passion for themed menus this fall. Meatless Monday, Whole Grain Wednesday, Thermal Thursday. They’ve realized I’m not willing to give up this effort easily. And we’re all starting to look forward to Fun Friday when a) we order pizza or b) indulge in a special meal that isn’t easy to achieve on weeknights and c) we often add a movie from our instant queue on Netflix (you can find those movie titles on the Friday night meal plans too). Themed meals are certainly making my life easier. The rhythm is easy to remember, especially when the themes are helping me achieve overall goals in the kitchen on weeknights:
Eat more fiber (explore the confusing world of whole grains)
Consume less meat (Meatless Monday is easy: We love fish; the boys will tolerate vegetarian meals)
Use time- and energy-saving techniques (use the pressure cooker, rely on a stable of simple recipes)
Pork medallions with wheatberry salad
And we’re cooking new foods along the way. Wheat berries – I’ve always loved wheat berry salads from the deli. Cooking them at home was an adventure. I ended up buying both soft and hard wheat berries, even though the recipes don’t specify which type works best. I soaked them all day ( the soaking time on recipes ranged from zero to overnight soaking). And I cooked them in the pressure cooker, which turned out just fine even if they were a bit squeaky to bite.
More to learn, I suppose. As long as they eat the stuff, I’ll keep cooking it.
Last night I whipped together risotto before heading out to yoga class.
Pressure Cooker Risotto
Wait a minute. Do “whipped together” and “risotto” belong in the same sentence? Risotto I love, but the deliberation required to bring the grains to the right creamy consistency is more than I can take on a weeknight. All that changed when I found a series of risotto recipes for the pressure cooker.
Lorna Sass‘ cookbook, “Pressure Perfect– Two hour taste in 20 minutes using your pressure cooker,” has a lovely basic risotto recipe that can be adapted nine ways to suit your tastebuds. I chose a no-fail combo for the guys — ham, peas and gruyere cheese. Just four minutes under pressure and another five or so minutes uncovered.
So lovely that when I returned from yoga, the pot was scraped clean.
A pattern has been brewing for a while in the schema of meal-planning: Despite the best intentions I lack interest in cooking on most Friday nights. We rarely go out on Fridays, preferring to end a busy workweek with a relaxing evening at home. But that tempo is reflected in the kitchen as well. The longer the week wears on, the less interested I am in standing at the stove.
Scallops in Curry Sauce
As usual, we started off fairly strong on Monday with Scallops in Curry Sauce — actually rescheduled from the previous night’s plans (I’ve found Sunday nights are just as likely to burn out as Fridays.) In this case, the scallops proved to be the highlight of the week.
We moved into Tuesday with a homemade carrot ginger soup and ravioli with bacon and chard. I’ve been hankering for the carrot soup ever since our trip to NYC, but my homemade version from one of the Seattle Junior League cookbooks just didn’t come close to my fabulous snack in the Village. The search goes on.
Wednesday’s barbeque ribs in the pressure cooker prompted one of my frequent warnings about becoming a vegetarian. “You always say that,” my husband noted. It’s true, my body keeps talking to me. On Mother’s Day we stopped by Whole Foods to pick up a picnic lunch. The options seem endless. The guys picked up sushi, turkey sandwiches, chicken noodle salad. I went for the tempeh, kale and chickpea salad — a subconscious response to an overload of carbs and meat the day before. I rally on meat for the kids at home because they’re not ready for the tofu-and-beans route anytime soon. It’s no surprise, for instance, that bacon was a major appeal in Thursday’s Spaghetti Carbonara.
So what to do about the Friday flame-out factor? We’ve resolved that Fridays will be subject to the whims of the week. Sometimes it’s a time to cook together, be creative, and enjoy the easy pace of a late dinner at home.
Other times I’ll be reaching for the phone.
French-style yogurt cake with lemon
I was all ready to throw together an “instant” cake for son #1’s 14th birthday. But then A Homemade Life is still sitting by my stove. Molly loves to bake so I knew she’d offer a preferable alternative to a box mix. Sure enough – French-style yogurt cake with lemon. I debated if I had enough time to make it or if several pieces of cut-up lemons in the fridge would provide sufficient juice. Son #1 overheard my out-loud thinking and jumped right in. “Yeah, it will work,” holding up a quarter cup measure and eyeing the lemon segments.
Jon loves lemon anything. Just like his mom. While zesting the lemons for the cake batter, I remembered that my son has me bested in this category. Suddenly I had a clear recollection of pushing Jon around in a stroller at an arts fair when he was 4 years old. After drinking the fresh lemonade, he sucked on the lemon rinds. And then he wanted more rinds, not lemonade.
Molly’s cake did the trick. “This is really lemony,” he noted. No one missed the traditional frosting. I drizzled lemon syrup over the warm cake and then topped it with a lemon icing that’s more like a glaze. Topped each slice with freshly whipped cream and added a few sliced strawberries. Divine. And even more dangerous than the evil banana bread. I’m going cold turkey on white flour for the next week.
Oh, the ribs. The trusty pressure cooker came though again for BBQ country pork ribs with sweet and spicy sauce. My husband declared, “This is it. This is the only way we should ever eat ribs again.” The meat was melt-in-your-mouth tender after 25 minutes under pressure, then crisped by a quick run under the broiler. With coleslaw and a sliced baguette, dinner was done. A happy high calorie birthday dinner – just what a growing boy needs, right?
The pressure cooker earned its stripes tonight.
Three minutes of sauteing and five minutes under pressure rolled up to a rewarding soup. It doesn’t sound too exciting, but the peasant cabbage and bean soup with kielbasa was delicious. And healthy. Low fat turkey kielbasa, cabbage, cannellini beans teamed with diced tomatoes, thyme, onion, celery, garlic and chicken broth. It all came together in a flash.
The time-savings was especially appreciated tonight: Son #1 headed out to a scout event and I was hosting a PTSA board meeting. This morning I decided to get a jump on the day and make a treat for the meeting while eating breakfast. I indulged in a recipe I’ve been craving ever since listening to A Homemade Life — Banana bread with chocolate and crystallized ginger.
Banana bread with chocolate and crystallized ginger
The good news is the banana bread is absolutely as wonderful as it sounds. The bad news is I work from a home office and that loaf was calling my name all morning. By lunchtime two slices were missing. Not a good trend. I wrapped up the rest of the bread but still managed to eat another half a slice during the evening meeting. This is why I rarely bake. I eat what I bake.
(If you decide to succumb to this evil treat, note the recipe on Molly’s blog has slightly different ingredients from the book version. At a glance I think the book version is probably better – more banana and butter and ginger, no walnuts.)