Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Little Grown Up Food

I type that title as I sit here eating a "bus cookie" (it's a cookie in the shape of a school bus--what else?), but I've been starting to feel the need in my life for a little adult food. Something a kid wouldn't eat in a billion years, and frankly, I wouldn't expect them to. For the last month I've been reciting the mantra, "You will eat what we eat" (OK, not that heavy-handed, but that's the been the gist of it, I assure you) and serving my kids dinners that are sort of a middle ground between the more elaborate meals we used to eat at 9:30 at night, and the microwaved chicken nuggets and canned corn that the kids used to get at 6:30.

So we're eating Chicken Enchilada Casserole (yes, I know that's not what it's called, but that's what we call it), and simple sauteed chicken breasts and the like. And it's going pretty well. I think the kids have finally realized this is one of Mommy's crazy ideas that's not going away any time soon (like that pesky tooth brushing thing, and that annoying thing where she makes us put our trash in the trash can...if you can imagine).

But yesterday I sort of had a craving for something I knew they wouldn't like. You see, as much as I'm ashamed to admit it, and as much as I try not to do it, I do find myself getting huffy and offended when they won't eat the food I cook for them. My rational brain knows full well that they're not rejecting me, but food is such an extension of me, and I feel so personal about it, that I have to fight my irrational brain over this one. So if I made something that started out with things they didn't like in the first place, and then combined them in a way that I knew they wouldn't like much in the second place, I wouldn't get all snitty when they gave me that lip-curl when I told them what it was.

Result: Cream of Mushroom Soup. What kid likes mushrooms? I'm sure there's one somewhere, but none of them are mine, so mushrooms were an easy starting point. When it comes to soup they eat it's Campbell's Tomato made with 2/3 of a can of milk only. Period. Nope, not even chicken noodle. Isn't that strange? Maybe we'll try chicken noodle again this winter, but last winter it was roundly rejected.

Anyway, yesterday was a perfect soup day because it really was the first day of fall here in Seattle. We've been having this incredible Indian summer thing where the temperatures were in the 70s and the sun was shining and no rain. Well that all ended this morning. As I trudged to the bus stop, I found myself thinking, I'm cold. And my feet are cold. These are stupid shoes to be wearing. And this jacket isn't heavy enough. And I need a scarf. And maybe some gloves. And to top it all off, it's raining. Well, sprinkling, but drops are hitting me on the head and on my inadequate-weight jacket and dampening the toes of my stupid shoes, so I classify that as rain.

And did I mention that sunrise is now around 7:05? Somehow a 7 p.m. sunset doesn't bother me, but when the sun comes up at 7 a.m. and I should really have a flashlight out at the bus stop (so the bus sees me, and stops, you see), well, that's winter to me, baby.

So really I didn't intend for this to be a long-winded whine about summer being over and gone. I love fall, really I do. I like Halloween and all the fall festivals and apple picking and making things with apples and using winter squash in stuff and Brussles sprouts (oh, how I love Brussels sprouts!) and I don't mind the weather being colder, but I also don't like being caught unprepared. Tomorrow I know not to wear stupid shoes, to dig out my warm pea coat and scarf, and to bring the big bulky sweater I bought in Ireland ten years ago in to the office so I can be warm all day.

And tomorrow, like today, I can have Cream of Mushroom soup for breakfast again (yes).

Cream of Mushroom Soup with Sage

1lb mushrooms cleaned and sliced (I used Cremini)
2 slices thick bacon, cut in 1/2" dice
2T chopped fresh sage
3T butter
3T flour
2c chicken broth
2 cans 2% evaporated milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt & pepper to taste

In a large saucepan over medium heat, saute bacon until crisp. Remove from pan and set aside, reserving drippings in the pan.

Over medium heat, saute mushrooms in reserved drippings until all water evaporates. Add chopped sage for the last minute of cooking time. Remove mushrooms from pan and set aside.

In the saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add flour and whisk to form a roux. Cook 1-2 minutes. Add chicken broth and cook until thick. Add evaporated milk and return 1/2 of mushrooms to pan. Thicken slightly, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove pan from heat and using an immersion blender (or blender or food processor), puree (be careful when blending hot liquids).

Return pan to heat and add remaining mushrooms to soup. Cook until thickened slightly 5-10 minutes. Add heavy cream and stir to combine. Taste and correct seasoning. Serve sprinkled with reserved bacon bits.

(Alternatively, all mushrooms can be returned to the pan at once prior to blending.)

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Glimpse

I'm dipping in here to assure that I haven't been run over by a cement mixer, or fallen off a ferry or any such thing. I've been somewhat lacking in imagination and motivation lately. I notice this across the food blogging nets--oh sure, some people are devoted and regular publishers (Cate, for instance, and also Deb--and if a woman who gave birth and could post about it two days later can post, what kind of a worm am I??), but a great many of the blogs I read on an ongoing basis are showing a sort of end-of-season lagging.

Oh sure, I've cooked--we have to eat, after all. But nothing has been very inspired, and even the things I've made for fun, as opposed to those things I've made out of the utilitarian need to provide sustenance for my family, seem to let me down. I made a Nutella swirl pound cake just this weekend that disappointed me horribly. It was my own fault, I'll allow that--I didn't realize one of my ovens had such a ghastly hot spot in it--but the fact remains that I was let down.

Is this the change of season? I always think of Ma in "The Long Winter" saying, "Well, it's to be expected; it's the equinoctial storm," or words to that effect when the autumn rains started early before that long winter began. Maybe this is, for me, an equinoctial storm of sorts, in which I hit a lull or down period before the weather officially changes and the seasonal foods change over. I want very much to make Brussels sprouts, or beef stew, but it's not time yet.

I did spend several hours this weekend making tomato sauce out of my San Marzzano tomatoes. I still need to put it through the food mill, but the tomatoes are cooked down. And may I say right now how much I love my food mill? A blender or a food processor, while they do an admirable job of pureeing things, doesn't strain out the icky bits. The seeds, the skins, any woody or fibrous bits, get left behind with the food mill, where they remain with the blender or the food processor (oh sure, you can strain, but that's an extra step; the food mill does both at once).

On another up note, a friend gave me several years' worth of old Gourmets and Bon Appetits she found while she was cleaning out. I mean like two boxes full. And old--early 90s. But food never goes out of style (even if the plates it's served on do, and let me tell you, the prop styling completely dates these things, to the point of hilarity). We're even having two dinners this week that are from a 1996 Gourmet. That's the year I got married.

So I'll be back shortly!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

A Minor Miracle

While I have no pictures to accompany this, I had to post about it, because it’s just such a thrill to me. I had to share.

First I must start with a basic, albeit rather embarrassing fact: my children do not eat What Mom and Dad Are Eating. Or rather, they didn’t (but I’m getting to that).

When my oldest was a baby, I made a conscious decision. Alex and I both worked 45 minutes from our home (or more, depending on the traffic). Although we left work at 5 each day, we didn’t get home until around 6, which meant I had to choose: feed the baby “our” dinner, which might take as much as an hour to cook, or feed him something “fast” (read: frozen and microwaved) and get him into bed at a reasonable hour. It’s to be noted that we had (and still have) an early-to-bed-early-to-rise kinda kid. By 7 p.m. he was spent and ready for sleep. I felt that forcing him to eat then would be Just Plain Wrong.

Thus it was that my child (and his subsequent siblings) embarked on a diet of chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, and frozen pizza. What they lost on the nutrition front they made up for on the well-rested front. Parenting is about making choices.

Flash forward six years. Add to the image three more children, a commute that now involves a ferry ride (making for a very reliably-timed arrival home), and two parents who are tired of eating at 9 p.m. or later. Also, consider that over the past couple of weeks the two middle children have been coming downstairs for one reason or another after they’ve been tucked in and putting away the remains of what Mommy and Daddy ate very happily, including a chicken breast with anchovies and capers. Bells and alarms went off in my head quite loudly. This. Would. Change.

Yesterday was what I was calling the Dawn of a New Era in our household. My pediatrician told me awhile ago that by school age, children should be able to eat with the family and eat what the family eats (meaning, there’s no need to fret about undiscovered food allergies, or be excessively concerned about things like choking hazards). I have a good friend who is driven batty by my descriptions of what we had for dinner, and my comment that, Lord no the children did eat that; are you kidding me? The combination of the doctor, my friend, the willing consumption of seemingly non-kid food by half my children, and my own impatience with the situation all contrived to push me into this New Era.

As of last night, my children will eat what we eat. Sure, sure, I may modify it for them—the broccoli we’re having tonight will be steamed plain for them, while the plan is to snazz it up for us with things like soy sauce—but the general rule is: one meal for all. The oldest begins first grade tomorrow, so the time is right.

And last night was pretty successful. I sautéed chicken breasts in oil and a little butter, then made a pan sauce with some chicken broth, Dijon mustard, and a splash of heavy cream. I roasted potatoes in the oven, and glazed carrots for the grownups. The kids got raw carrots to dip in the dip of their choice, with the participants being evenly divided into the ketchup camp and the blue cheese dressing camp. Everyone tried what was new and weird, ate carrots and apples, and made pretty good inroads into the weird stuff.

Good times.

I am now planning meals with my kids in mind, which means nothing that requires two hours to cook on a weeknight, and looking for things that can be modified if necessary. Tonight we’re having roasted pork tenderloin with Asian flavors (said flavors have yet to be identified, but I predict hoisin sauce will play a significant role in the preparation), the aforementioned broccoli, and rice. Only the pork will be labeled as “weird” by my kids. Rice and broccoli are big favorites. We shall see how this goes.

And so, because I can’t leave you with no recipe at all, here’s the carrot recipe I used. Sorry there’s no picture.

Glazed Carrots
from Ten Dollar Dinners by Melissa d’Arabian

½ cup water
½ cup chicken broth
1 Tablespoon butter
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¾ lb carrots, peeled and cut on the bias into rounds
Salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Chopped parsley to garnish

Combine first 5 ingredients in a medium skillet (water through cumin). Stir, and allow to come to a boil. Add in carrots, stir to coat, and cover pan. Allow carrots to steam, about 5 minutes or until tender. The original recipe says to reduce the sauce to a glaze with the carrots in it, but I thought they might get overdone, so I removed them to a bowl with a slotted spoon, cooked down the glaze, and returned them to the pan, stirring to coat. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Remove from the heat, add lemon juice and stir. Garnish with chopped parsley.