Posts tagged veggies

Quick lunch tip: veggie cups

Veggie cups It’s that time of year–my kids (and I) are getting bored with their sack lunches. So I try to come up with fun ways to reinvent the same old ingredients.

 

For veggies, I squirt a little bit of ranch dressing into the bottom of a small plastic glass and then fill it with baby carrots and pea pods. I’ve found that shot glasses from the party store make the perfect fit. I wrap these up in aluminum foil so they don’t spill in their lunches.

 

This snack has quickly become one of my youngest daughter’s favorites. You could also put peanut butter in the bottom or cream cheese.

 

 

 

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Family fondue night

Grab your skewer stick, it's fondue time!

Grab your skewer stick, it’s fondue time!

Fondue makes for the perfect family dinner.

 

My kids chopped up all of the veggie and fixins’ while I made the cheese sauce. Normally, I’m not a bleu cheese fan, but gorgonzola melts so beautifully that I added it into the cheese mix along with Swiss, fontina, and sharp cheddar.

I decided on two fondues–one for dinner, one for dessert.

Surprisingly the favorite dipping food for both? Fresh, torn baguette pieces. With the chocolate fondue my kids quickly ditched the marshmallows for the baguettes. I’d suggest trying the same with your crew.

 

Recipe

Cheese Fondue

(I based mine off Martha Stewart’s version)

Ready to start eating!

Ready to start eating!

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups cheese (I mixed 1 1/2 cups cheddar and mixed in fontina, gorgonzola, and Swiss for the rest)

2 tbsp. flour

1/4 tsp. white pepper

1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

1 1/3 cups liquid (Martha suggests white wine, I used a combination of white grape juice, water, chicken broth and a hint of white Balsamic vinegar)

2 tsps. lemon juice

garlic

olive oil

Serve with carrots, snap peas, baguette pieces, bell pepper strips, sausage pieces, and whatever else you can find

 

Directions

Mix the shredded cheeses with flour, white pepper and cayenne.

In a sauce pan, bring the liquid to medium-low heat (not hot!). Gradually add in the cheese a little at a time, whisking vigorously after each addition.

Once the cheese is melted, remove the pan from the burner and stir in the lemon juice. Pour into a fondue pot, if you’re using one.

Chocolate fondue

Chocolate Fondue

Ingredients

1/2 cup chocolate chips (Ghirardelli are the best)

1/2-3/4 cup half and half (or heavy cream)

1/2 tsp. vanilla

Pinch of salt

Serve with baguette pieces, pretzels, fresh fruit

 

Directions

I put all of the ingredients into our mini crockpot while we were eating dinner. When it was time for dessert, the chocolate fondue was ready.

 

 

 

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Fried rice basics

Years ago I tried making fried rice and it turned out terribly—the oil wasn’t hot enough and I didn’t have all of the vegetables chopped before I started cooking it. I ended up with soggy, oily rice topped with too crisp of vegetables. Oh yeah, I thought throwing in extra soy sauce would somehow make it all better. Not so.

I crossed fried rice off my list of dishes to make at home and decided instead it was one of those tricky recipes that should be reserved for ordering out (and take out!). Then my 10 year-old decided that fried rice was her favorite meal.

Every time we ordered Chinese food she’d ask, beg really, for fried rice. That’s all she’d eat. I figured if she likes it that much it’s worth trying again at home.

I asked around for tips, checked out a few cookbooks and discovered there are a few tricks for making decent fried rice. First, about the rice: It should be dry. This is a great way to use up leftover rice and I would suggest that you use rice you’ve made at least a day before instead of making it fresh—it just doesn’t react to the oil as well if it’s not a bit dry. Next, have all your ingredients ready before you start cooking. Fried rice, like a stir-fry, comes together quickly.

Now about those vegetables…most of the cookbooks mentioned peas, sure. But I like to load up my fried rice with even more veggies. Choose quick-cooking veggies, like green onions, bok choy, or even carrots—all sliced thin. (Again, feel free to toss in leftover veggies you may have in the fridge.)

You’ll notice plenty of “optional” ingredients in this recipe. I don’t have it below, but you can also add thin strips of meat (I added pork), when you heat your garlic. Just cook the meat through before adding the eggs. One ingredient that isn’t optional, however, is the fish sauce. I know, I know, you might not have it on hand, and you could just use the soy sauce, but for a better flavor, the fish sauce really adds the zing you can’t get with anything else.

Ready to get frying? It’s rice time.

Recipe

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups cooked rice

4 Tablespoons vegetable oil

1 clove garlic minced

2 eggs (whisked)

1 Tablespoon fish sauce

2 Tablespoons soy sauce

2 Tablespoons fresh or frozen peas

1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger (optional)

½ teaspoon sesame oil (optional)

1 bunch green onions, sliced (optional)

2 Tablespoons cilantro or Thai basil, minced (optional)

½ cup chopped bok choy (optional)

Directions

  1. Heat the oil in a wok to medium-high.
  2. Add the garlic and ginger (if using) and stir-fry just until fragrant (a few seconds will do anymore and it can burn).
  3. Turn the heat to medium and add the eggs. Don’t stir–cook just until heated through.
  4. Break the eggs apart and push to the side of the pan.
  5. Add the rice and let it cook for about 2 minutes before stirring (I like getting a few crispy pieces).
  6. Add the sauces to the pan and stir the ingredients together as you might flip an omelet (in a shoveling motion versus stirring a batter).
  7. Add the peas and other vegetables you are using. Stir-fry for 2 more minutes and adjust seasoning, adding more soy or fish sauce to taste.
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Kid-friendly spring rolls

Well, at least one more traditional spring roll turned out.

Traditional spring rolls are easy to make. Or so I thought. I’ve had spring rolls in restaurants–the translucent wrappers often have shrimp and vegetables tucked inside. They’re beautiful. So I figured they couldn’t be that hard to make at home, right? But from the start my traditional spring rolls were a disaster!

If you’ve ever used spring roll wrappers you know that it’s a little bit like working with a thin piece of Jell-O. Not easy. I had all my ingredients chopped and ready to go so I figured it would be like make-your-own-pizza night with the kids. My first one was packed with veggies (and large air holes). It looked awful and tasted worse–kinda like eating your bagged veggies plastic and all (for the record spring roll wrappers are made with tapioca starch). My oldest didn’t even pretend to like hers, but my middle daughter dutifully downed hers and even managed a smile when she said,

The amazing hanging spring roll!

“No, it’s really good mom.” I almost believed her. Until that is we started noticing just how sticky spring roll wrappers can be. I can’t remember who started it, whether it was my hubby or my oldest but someone ended up with a spring roll (fully loaded) stuck to her forehead.

Uh, it didn’t stop at foreheads. Spring rolls, we discovered, can stick to just about anything. Like ceilings. Yup, what can I say, we had to give it a try. My well-planned, poorly-executed spring roll made for a lovely wall hanging. Literally.

But I wasn’t ready to give up on spring rolls! I just threw out the idea of making it “traditional.” I hunted through my refrigerator for alternatives. Preferably less sticky ones. I found a couple that worked perfectly–and my kids enjoyed putting these together so much more (me too). Enter romaine lettuce and flour tortillas.

Ready for un-traditional, but kid-friendly spring rolls? Here’s what to do:

  1. Chop up various veggies, like zucchini, carrots and peppers into long strips (about two inches).
  2. Tear off a piece of romaine lettuce that’s about 4-5 inches in length and about 11/2 inches in width (perfect kid job).
  3. If you’re using flour tortillas, simply use a pizza cutter to get those same dimensions.
  4. Place a few pieces of veggies on one end of either the lettuce or the tortilla and roll it toward the other end. You can seal this with a little cream cheese “glue” or tie it up with a cooked piece of spaghetti (I told you I was hunting through the fridge for ideas).

    Spring roll success!

  5. You can make as many spring rolls as your kids have patience for.
  6. To make the spring rolls even fancier, create green onion “flowers” by using scissors and cutting small strips on one end.
  7. You can also use small cookie cutters on carrot slices to create shapes. Stick these to your spring roll with a little cream cheese.

Looking for more ideas to add a little bit of spring into your family’s lives (even if it’s still snowing outside)? Check out these instant spring ideas from Motherboard.

Your turn–have you been doing anything lately to make it feel springer at your house?

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Velveted sweet and sour pork

Have you tried velveting your chicken yet? Huh…somehow that sounds like you’re dressing up your poultry in an Elvis get-up. Not quite. Velveting is Chinese stir-fry technique where you marinate the meat in egg white and then let it simmer in water before adding it to your wok. The chicken/pork (I’ve yet to try it on beef or tofu but I’m planning on it) turn out tender and perfectly coated with sauce.

I don’t velvet (can that be a verb?) all the time, because it adds extra cooking steps and dishes. But I’m always glad when I do because the dish turns out restaurant quality. This time I used pork and again, the velveting didn’t disappoint.

Here you go. This recipe is based off one I found at BellaOnline. I found that I wanted to up the spice and take down the sweetness (I like more sour than sweet), but it’s easy to tweak the sauce as you put it together to suit your family’s tastes.

Recipe

Prep time: 40-60 minutes (including cooking)

Servings: 4-6

Ingredients

1 lb. pork

1 peppers (green, red, yellow)

1 bunch green onions

1/4 cup peanuts

(I also like to add bok choy)

1 tbsp. oil

Velvet marinade

¼ tsp salt

1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp sherry (or chicken broth)
1 egg white
1 ½ tbsp cornstarch
½ tbsp peanut oil

Sauce

1/3 cup  vinegar (I like red wine)
3 tbsp white sugar (you may want to add more)
¼ tsp ginger
1 tsp soy sauce (I use dark here)
2 tbsp ketchup
2 tsp cornstarch

1 tsp. Asian red chili sauce (or 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper)

Directions

  1. Cut the pork into bite-size pieces. (In the BellaOnline version of this recipe there is a specific order for adding the marinade ingredients. I’ve tried it both ways–being meticulous and throwing it in. I haven’t found any real differences in the flavor or the texture. So I tend to toss them altogether:) Add the marinate ingredients and gently stir making sure each piece gets coated.
  2. Let the pork marinate for about 20 minutes.
  3. Chop the peppers into strips and the green onions into 1-inch pieces. (You can also use other vegetables too. Bok choy is my favorite stir-fry addition).
  4. In a small bowl, mix together the sauce ingredients. Adjust the sourness/sweetness by adding more vinegar or sugar (or even more chili for heat). On the stovetop, heat the sauce until it starts to boil and then thicken (about 2-3 minutes), then remove from heat and set aside.
  5. In another pan on the stovetop, bring a large pot of water to a simmer (NOT a boil). Add the pork to the water and let it cook just until it turns white (around 1 minute). Remove immediately with a slotted spoon.
  6. Add 1 tbsp. oil to a wok (or large saute pan). Bring the oil to medium-high heat. Place the veggies into the oil and cook for about 2-3 minutes. Push the veggies to the sides of the pan and add the pork. Cook for about 2-3 minutes more.
  7. Pour the sauce ingredients into the center of the wok and stir until the meat and veggies are coated. Toss in the peanuts and remove from the heat.
  8. Serve over rice or noodles.
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the asparagus contest

asparagus

Photo credit: elana's pantry

The other night at dinner my kids polished off all the asparagus. And I couldn’t be more disappointed. I really like asparagus, especially roasted, which is how I prepared it with just a little bit of olive oil and sea salt. I started off with 6 asparagus stalks on my plate at the beginning of dinner and after eating just 2, my 9 year-old was asking for more. She’d finished off what was left on the pan and was circling the table asking for anyone’s extras–I gave her mine.

So how did I lose all my asparagus? I’d like to say I started out the meal planning to have my kids asparagus-lovers by the end, but that was not my intent at all.

See, I’d visited one of my favorite grocery stores, Sirna’s, earlier in the day. They stock local produce (the best Empire apples) and Amish meats in all their varieties–ham, bacon, pork loin. I picked up fingerling potatoes and then spied the asparagus. The stalks were thinner and more pliable then the asparagus I usually find–I figured they’d be perfect for roasting (I also thought my husband and I would be the only ones eating them). It’s not that I don’t want my kids eating veggies, it’s that I thought asparagus was one of those foods you have to try a little bit so many times before you decide you like it. That’s how I discovered I was an asparagus fan.

As with any new-to-my kids or ‘they’ve-rejected-it-before foods,’ I put only a small portion on each of my kids’ plates. Two stalks a piece. I only give them a little bit of new foods so that when I say, “Ah, just give it a try,” it isn’t too overwhelming. That also meant there was more asparagus leftover for, uh, me.

My 9 year-old liked eating the asparagus right off–”It’s like eating a tree, mom.” But my youngest wasn’t interested at all. That’s when my husband prodded, “Your sister is going to eat more.” Cue my 9 year-old picking up each asparagus, aiming it into her mouth starting from the end and then chomping away until she reached the tip, then grabbing another to do the same. It was like watching one of those old cartoons when Bugs Bunny inhales carrots. My youngest immediately took to the challenge. Her two stalks disappeared, my 9 year-old had already cleaned off the pan and then of course they turned to me. I was torn between my excitement that they were eating–and enjoying asparagus–and really wanting to finish off my veggies myself. I caved. My asparagus went for the greater good–creating veggie lovers.

I have no idea whether our little asparagus contest would work again. And certainly, I wouldn’t encourage veggie eating contests as a regular habit, but at least this week, it got my kids eating more green. Next time, though, I’m buying more asparagus!

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Easy roasted veggies–2 ways

Photo credit: greg.turner

We’ve been living on roasted veggies these days. Red potatoes, parsnips, sweet potatoes, purple potatoes, onions, even red peppers have been making it onto the baking pan and filling the house with yummy smells. (Forget turning on the heater–something cooking in the oven is my favorite way to heat up the house!)

Below, I’ve included the basic recipe for roasting veggies. I usually double this recipe and make enough to have leftovers for lunch and to include in other meals.

Lately, we’ve used roasted veggies in place of meat to make:

-Nachos

-Calzones

-Burritos

-Enchiladas

-Pita pizzas

They’re so easy the only hang-up is they take time to roast. But double the recipe (using two pans!) and you can have enough to last for two or three meals.

Recipe #1–Diced

Servings: 4-5

Prep time: 20 minutes + 40-50 minutes cooking time

Ingredients

2 pounds red potatoes (or your favorite although I’ve found red are best for roasting)

1 pound carrots

1 small onion

1 pound optional (sweet potatoes, parsnips, purple potatoes, Yukon Gold potatoes)

Cooking spray

Salt to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Generously coat a large cookie sheet with cooking spray.
  3. Wash and dry your veggies. Dice the veggies into dime-sized pieces (I always leave the skin on the potatoes–makes it easier and better for you). Keep the onions separate.
  4. Place the veggies onto the sprayed cookie sheet (except the onions or peppers if you’re using them). Spray again and sprinkle with salt (if desired, they’re good without).
  5. Place in the heated oven for 10 minutes. Remove, add the onions, and return to the oven. (I find if I put in the onions from the start that they become too browned.)
  6. Roast for 30 to 40 minutes or until the potatoes are just browned. Let the veggies cool for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Recipe #2–Whole

Lately, I’ve found small, whole potatoes (often called fingerling) at the grocers. With these potatoes the prep is even easier.

Ingredients:

2 pounds small potatoes

1 small onion, cut thick

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Generously coat a large cookie sheet with cooking spray.
  3. Wash and dry your veggies. Keep the onions separate.
  4. Place the whole veggies onto the sprayed cookie sheet (except the onions). Spray again and sprinkle with salt (if desired, they’re good without).
  5. Place in the heated oven for 10 minutes. Remove, add the onions, and return to the oven. (I find if I put in the onions from the start that they become too browned.)
  6. Roast for 30 to 40 minutes or until the potato skins begin to blister (you’ll even hear them popping). Let the veggies cool for at least 5 minutes before serving.

*Note: these are also good sprinkled with dried rosemary.

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Why aren’t you eating…purple potatoes?

Photo credit: kthread

Looking over my neighbor Dave’s garden, you can’t help but expect a little blue bird to start chirping in your ear then land on your finger wanting to share a tune. Small, white picket fences separate the butter lettuce from the spinach, romaine and mustard greens, vines of green beans flank both ends of the 15′ by 6′ plot, onion stalks shoot up in perfect rows. And while there’s no bluebirds nearby, he does have a baby bunny living in the garden.

“Aren’t you worried the bunny is going to eat everything?” I asked him one day.

“No, there’s enough to share,” he patiently explained. He’d found the little bunny alone somewhere in his yard and plopped him in the middle of the garden to enjoy the summer. Dave was right. There was plenty of lettuce for the bunny, Dave, and still baskets full of goodies to bring over to our family.

Dave took pity on me. See, I’m no gardener. I think he was a bit worried that my kids would grow up without knowing how to grow anything. He volunteered to till our garden spot (I accepted). Then he came over to show us how to plant seeds. That night he even snuck over and planted potatoes beneath the cucumbers. He told me later, “I wanted you to have a surprise.”

We did end up having a few sweet peas. We managed one salad before a bunny took over our garden and ate the rest (I’ve since decided bunnies are akin to rats and that I don’t like them anymore). Seriously, I would have to loudly clap my hands then flail my arms to get the bunny to leave our garden. Even then, he’d leisurely hop about five feet away and then as soon as I went back inside he’d hop right back into my spinach.

Sadly, when it came to digging up our “surprise,” well, we never did find them. Dave again took pity on us and brought over a large bags of Peruvian purple potatoes. I was hooked. For dinner that night I made whipped, mashed purple potatoes. When my youngest spied the bowl of purple goodness, she couldn’t resist and used her finger to try a big dollop of what she thought was frosting–nope, mashed potatoes. Come dinner time, my youngest just couldn’t get over the idea that her mashed potatoes looked more like Play-doh or frosting than potatoes. She didn’t like them. I did and so did my other two girls.

We’ve since moved away and Dave is sadly no longer our purple potato supplier, but I’ve been happy to find them at our local produce grocers.

There’s a few things to keep in mind when cooking purple potatoes–they’re much softer than regular potatoes so they won’t hold their shape–or have the same cooking time as heartier varieties. The outside skin is a deep purple, then there’s an edge of white and lighter purple flesh. So if you whip them, removing the skin, you’ll end up with a batch of beautiful, lavendar-colored mashed potatoes. For roasting, leave as much of the skin on as possible so they hold their purple color–the inside will lighten with cooking. I roasted them with a medley of red potatoes, yellow carrots and onions and they turned out the mushiest of the batch. Still, the novelty of the color overshadowed any failings with the firmness.

Have you tried purple potatoes yet?

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