Friday, April 12, 2013
Cherry Almond Bread makes a delicious breakfast option.
When the Foodie children were younger, our mornings were easy enough to navigate—or, as easy as mornings ever are. For several years, both kids went to the same day care center; then to the same elementary school. They got up at the same time, got dressed at the same time, ate at the same time. We rushed to get out the door some mornings, but we were, at least, rushing on the same schedule.
And then, The Girl went to middle school.
When The Girl started sixth grade, her school day started almost an hour later than her brother’s. Suddenly, it made no sense for both kids to get up at the same time—especially since The Girl had started to guard her sleeping time in the way teenagers often do, resisting the call to get out of bed and start preparing for the day, sometimes four or five times. It was clear our schedule had to adapt to the changing dynamics of our family.
One thing I knew for sure: I didn’t want our mornings to resemble those I remembered from my own teenage years. I grew up with a father who had retired from military service, in a family where flexibility was rare and being on time was valued above all things. Loosely translated, this meant “ten minutes early.” I was always the first kid at the bus stop, waiting in the cold for everyone else to show up, often on the verge of frustrated tears. From the moment I was out of bed, I was rushing—even when I was on schedule. If I was ready to leave the house ten minutes before I actually needed to, my mother called that morning a success.
How to avoid that kind of manic morning pace in the Foodie household? The trick, I thought, was to figure out a way to respect each of our schedules and preferred ways of getting through the morning, while getting everybody where they need to be on time. No small job, to be sure. But I realized I had to learn to think of our mornings as four separate routines working together for the benefit of each family member—not as a single, well-oiled machine. After many years of trial and error, here’s our current routine:
I’m a clock-watcher. (What can I say? My mother won.) I get up when the alarm goes off at 6:20. I feed the cats and make the coffee. I check Facebook and watch the morning news while the coffee brews. I drink a cup before I head off to wake the Foodie children, at precisely 6:55. Then I get dressed and put on make-up, eat breakfast, pack my lunch, brush my teeth. I touch base with the Foodie children, to double-check their schedules and find out who needs a ride home from school. I’m out the door and on my way to work by 7:40.
Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins: Portable and tasty.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, The Girl will stay in bed as long as possible—long after her alarm goes off and even, yes, after I’ve come in to wake her at 6:55. Trying to prevent this by cajoling, threatening, tempting or bribing simply serves no purpose. It used to drive me crazy that The Girl would roll out of bed twenty minutes before we needed to leave the house, but now I concentrate on the fact that she has never once been late for school (or work). She’s never made anyone wait for her, either. She gets excellent grades, excellent enough to earn a full academic scholarship at her first-choice college, and she’s been promoted to a management position at her weekend job. These are the really important things about her. If it bothers me that she looks like she’s just rolled out of bed when she leaves the house (because, face it, she has), that is my problem to deal with. No one else seems to care.
When The Girl leaves the house to meet her carpool, yogurt smoothie in hand, she’s doing exactly what she’s supposed to do, just not the way I would do it.
The Boy couldn’t be more different from his sister. Like me, he’s a clock-watcher. Unlike me, he’s a little more relaxed about the clock. He rarely gets up right when I call him at 6:55, but by the time The Hubs makes a second call, around 7:10, The Boy is usually ready to go. (If he’s not, I swing by his bedroom on my way to get my breakfast and remind him of the time. This always does the trick.) He takes his ADHD meds, eats some breakfast, watches a bit of the Today show. When 7:40 rolls around, he heads to his bedroom to dress for the day. After that, because he’s still waiting for his meds to kick in, some combination of the following takes place: he brushes his teeth, plays with the cats, combs his hair, notices the cat hair on his shirt, uses the lint roller, gets the dog to do her tricks, gives her a treat, opens the blinds, takes out the trash or the recycling. No matter what else is going on, at precisely 8:05, The Boy reminds his father that it’s time to hit the road.
Which is not to suggest that The Hubs is always ready to leave the house at 8:05. Oh, no. Of the four Foodies, The Hubs is by far the least conscious of the clock. The early years of our marriage featured many heated discussions about the virtues of being on time (read: ten minutes early) vs. the merits of not wasting time on waiting for other people to show up when you could, instead, have spent that time at home, getting ready. Over the 24 years we’ve been together, though, we’ve negotiated a peace treaty. It goes something like this: if you’re the only one who will be late, be as late as you want. If you’re going to make someone else late, you need to be on time. And, to The Hubs’ credit, The Boy has never once been late for school. He’s walked through the door of his first class exactly as the final bell is ringing, but he’s never been marked tardy.
When I was an exhausted parent of toddlers, a friend with teenage sons once told me “I know this is hard to believe now, but the day will come when your biggest challenge is getting your children out of bed.” I dreamed of that day. Now that it’s arrived, I try to face that challenge while keeping in mind what’s really important: starting the day on a peaceful note and looking forward to coming home again in the evening, to a home where each person is respected and loved.
This post is part of BlogHer’s Rush Hour Tips editorial series, made possible by Got Milk?
Sunday, March 31, 2013
Photo Credit: Emily Barney
Happy Easter, if you’re an Easter-celebrating foodie! Today began in traditional style, with church services and Easter brunch. Now that the Foodie children are in their mid- to late teens, though, our days of hunting Easter eggs are long behind us–and since none of us need to eat large quantities of candy, I didn’t make Easter baskets for the Foodie children, either. All of this left the day feeling a little anti-climactic, once brunch was over, and I spent most of the afternoon trying to figure out how to make the day feel special again.
I considered special desserts. I considered Foodie family favorites. And that’s when I remembered The Girl mentioning her desire for fried chicken–something she gets to eat only when we go out for dinner, since deep-fried anything is a rarity in our household. The Boy is usually a fan of chicken in its strip or nugget forms, so I figured he’d be amenable to this version of oven-fried chicken. Coupled with the fresh ears of sweet corn I bought from Straight From the Crate, my local year-round farmer’s market, I had the makings of a dinner that looked ahead to summer, which is reason enough to celebrate.
This preparation of Tortilla-Crusted Chicken relies on the coating for crunch, since the chicken is baked instead of fried. When it comes to the tortilla crumb coating, you have several options: tear corn tortillas into quarters and use your food processor to turn them into crumbs, or place corn tortilla chips in a large plastic bag with a zippered top and crush them with a rolling pin. (Keep in mind that tortilla chips are usually salted, which will eliminate the need to add salt later.) Alternatively, you can just buy a package of tortilla crumbs at your favorite grocery store–they’re usually near the packaged bread crumbs, on the baking aisle. Corn tortillas give you a gluten-free coating with lots of texture.
In order to make sure your chicken stays crispy on all sides, fit a wire rack inside a cookie sheet to allow the hot air from the oven to circulate– otherwise, one side of your chicken will be soggy, which does serious damage to the fried chicken vibe. The coating for this chicken will not be as thick as what you’d find on battered chicken, but you can always thicken it up by dredging the chicken lightly in flour before dipping it in the beaten egg. I skipped this step because I wanted to minimize breading and highlight the corn flavor of the tortillas.
The Girl was very impressed with this chicken, even though it wasn’t fried. The Boy would have liked it better if I’d cut the chicken breasts into strips or chunks and breaded each of them separately, which would be easy enough to do (and would also shorten the baking time, if you’re in a hurry to get dinner on the table.) This time around, I left all four chicken breasts intact so they’d bake at the same rate. Strips or chunks will need only 10 to 15 minutes in the oven.
4 chicken breasts, rinsed and patted dry
1 cup corn tortilla crumbs
1 T. chili powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. oregano
1 T. dry parsley
Salt and pepper
2 eggs, beaten
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Fit a baking rack into a baking sheet that's slightly larger; lightly coat the baking rack with cooking spray. Set aside.
In a wide, shallow bowl, combine the tortilla crumbs and spices. Use a fork to distribute the spices throughout. Season this mixture with salt and pepper, then set aside.
In a second bowl, beat the two eggs. Working with one chicken breast at a time, dip each into the beaten eggs, allowing excess egg to drip off. (It helps to do this with one hand and keep the other dry.) Set the chicken in the bowl of tortilla crumbs, pressing down slightly. Use your dry hand to flip the chicken breast, coating the other side with crumbs and pressing down again. Transfer the coated chicken breast to the prepared baking rack. Repeat this process with all four chicken breasts.
Spray the tops of the chicken breasts with cooking spray, then transfer the baking sheet to the oven. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, depending on the thickness of the chicken breasts, until the juices run clear or the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
Sunday, March 17, 2013
I’ve been enjoying a week of Spring Break with the Foodie family which, this year, coincided with two important occasions. First off, Daylight Saving Time–I don’t enjoy missing that hour of sleep, but I definitely do enjoy the fact that it stays light until later in the evening. Life is so much more pleasant when you aren’t driving home from work in the dark, feeling like the whole day got away from you. Plus, in this part of the world, those extra hours of sunlight mean that everything suddenly starts budding and blooming and turning that particular shade of green that only appears in early spring. Yesterday I discovered a whole little family of wildflowers growing behind my garden shed. (How they’re growing back there in near-darkness, I don’t know, but it makes me happy to know they’re brightening that corner of the yard.)
Second, and more importantly (from a Foodie perspective, anyway), was Pi Day. What is Pi Day, you ask? It’s March 14th, 3.14, the day on which we celebrate a mathematical constant, the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, by eating a circular food with a homophonic name: pie. Last year, I celebrated by making Raspberry Cream Pie with Almond Crust. This year, I decided to make this Meyer Lemon Cream Pie.
On the morning of Pi Day, I made a trip to the north-central part of town for a haircut. While I was in that neighborhood, I made a stop by my favorite specialty grocery store and bought a loaf of my favorite gluten-free bread, among other things. I happened to notice a package of frozen gluten-free pie crusts in the freezer case, which seemed like an appropriate purchase for the day, so I decided to give them a try. My hopes weren’t terribly high, but I couldn’t help thinking how much easier my life would be if a prepared gluten-free pie crust were actually available to me. (You don’t know how much you’ll miss things like mediocre pre-made pie crust until, suddenly, you can’t eat it.) When I got home, I pre-baked the pie crust while I made the lemon filling and hoped for the best.
Sadly, though, the pie crust was a huge disappointment, both in taste and texture.* It appears that I’m just going to have to bite the bullet and figure out how to make a gluten-free pie crust from scratch.
The filling, though–oh my. As I’ve mentioned before, Meyer lemons are less tart than the lemons you’re probably used to using. Combined with sour cream, vanilla, and a few other choice ingredients, they transform into lemony bliss. I made regular old whipped cream for the topping, though I’d recommend stabilizing your whipped cream topping if you’re going to take this pie anywhere other than your kitchen table. Whipped cream doesn’t hold up for long at room temperature, and it’s easily stabilized: just whip the cream until soft peaks start to form, then add a tablespoon of cornstarch, or add a tablespoon of unflavored gelatin–dissolved in about 3 tablespoons of water and heated in the microwave for 30 seconds, then cooled to room temperature–at the same point, when you add your sugar. (The softened gelatin should look something like an egg white.) Your whipped cream will end up nice and thick, it won’t weep, and the cut slices of pie won’t gush all over the place.
When it comes to cream pies, though, I kind of like them to gush all over the place, so I didn’t bother with stabilizing the whipped cream. As I’m sure you can tell.
I didn’t include lemon zest in this recipe because I wanted to preserve the very creamy texture, but I did add a sprinkle of zest on top, just for color. I also added a few fresh raspberries because, hey, it’s Pi Day. Everybody likes to dress up for special occasions.
* You will note that I’m not naming the brand of this disappointing pie crust. That’s because my policy, in life and in blogging, is to say nothing at all if I can’t balance out the negatives with positives, and in this case I really can’t. Also, bad publicity is still publicity. I’d prefer to let bad pie crust languish in obscurity until, inevitably, it disappears from the market on its own merits.
Meyer Lemon Cream Pie
1 pie crust, baked for half the recommended time
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
3/4 cup Meyer lemon juice (about 5 lemons)
1 tsp vanilla
For the topping:
1 cup whipped cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
Meyer lemon zest, for garnish (optional)
Fresh raspberries, for garnish (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (or lower the heat to 350, if you've used a higher temperature for baking your pie crust.)
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs. Add the sugar and sour cream; whisk again, until all the ingredients are incorporated. Add the lemon juice, a little at a time, then the vanilla, whisking after each addition.
Pour the filling into the pie shell and set the filled pie on a cookie sheet. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the center of the pie is set. (When you jiggle the cookie sheet, the center will be wiggly but not liquid.) Let the pie cool to room temperature, then refrigerate it for at least 3 hours.
Just before serving, whip the cream until soft peaks form. Add the sugar and continue whipping until you can see the beaters making tracks through the cream. Cover the cold pie with the whipped cream. Garnish with the lemon zest and raspberries.
Sunday, March 3, 2013
Last weekend was just crazy. The Girl and I headed up to the university where she’ll be enrolling as a freshman next fall, to give her a chance to meet professors and new friends and to interview for admission to the university’s Honors College. On Monday, we received the excellent news that The Girl has been awarded a full academic scholarship–which is, as you might understand, a big load off this Foodie’s mind. So it’s been a week of planning for the future and celebrating our Girl’s accomplishments. Hectic, but fun.
Needless to say, I was looking forward to a long and uneventful weekend of cooking and baking. No events to attend, no papers to grade, no major errands to run–just a couple of quiet days at home, filled with time that I might fill with making food. It sounded too good to be true. And you know what they say about things that sound too good to be true.
In all fairness, the derailing of my plans was my own fault. Last Thursday, I bought a new lavender plant, with the hope that I’ll actually be able to grow my own culinary lavender. My last attempt was a complete disaster, but I’m trying again anyway–Saturday morning, I set up my new variety of lavender in a new pot, in a new location. Once I’d repotted the lavender, I noticed the rosemary plant beside it was in dire need of attention. Then I noticed that the spider mites have returned to my Meyer lemon trees. Then I noticed that the compost really needed to be turned and watered.
You can see how this played out.
So, yesterday afternoon, instead of making potato gnocchi as I’d planned, I put my growing things in place for the spring. I made roast beef for dinner–which was a return to the plan–and mashed the potatoes rather than making pasta dough with them. Then, later in the evening, I measured out the dry ingredients for these Chocolate Chip Muffins. They were supposed to be a Saturday morning treat, but I wound up making them on Sunday morning instead. No one seems to be complaining.
If you’re not a morning person, measuring out your dry ingredients the night before is a quick way to make sure your morning baking plans don’t fall by the wayside. What else are you going to do with a bowl of flour, sugar, and baking powder? Whenever I’m planning to make muffins in the morning, I also set out my muffin tin and drop in the muffin liners the night before. That way, when I get up, all I have to do is preheat the oven while I’m adding the wet ingredients to the dry mixture and filling the muffin cups. (If you’re making muffins that include fresh fruit, like blueberries, it’s best to wait and add those in the morning too–just toss the berries in the dry ingredients, to coat them lightly, before adding everything else.)
I made these muffins with Namaste Foods Perfect Flour Blend. I’ve recently tried the Trader Joe’s brand, Baker Josef Gluten-Free All Purpose Flour, which gave me great results in a cobbler I made last weekend. I’ll definitely use it again. However, the Trader Joe’s blend doesn’t include xanthan gum, and I’m always in favor of blends that do–it’s one less thing to worry about measuring, and that’s a definite plus for me. If you’ll be using a gluten-free blend without xanthan gum, be sure to add a teaspoon of it to your dry ingredients. (This recipe was adapted from several that called for all-purpose flour, so you should feel free to use whatever you have on hand.)
The Boy, who is a serious devotee of baked goods for breakfast, ate one of these and said “It tastes more like a cupcake than a muffin.” It’s true these are sweet, and very chocolatey, so I can understand that assessment–but I’m not opposed to cupcakes for breakfast. If you’re not either, give these a try.
Chocolate Chip Muffins
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3 T. cocoa powder
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup milk
1/3 cup canola oil
1 egg, lightly beaten
More chocolate chips, for sprinkling on top of batter
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line 12 muffin cups, or coat your muffin tin with non-stick spray.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cocoa powder, sugar, and chocolate chips. Stir to distribute the ingredients, making sure to coat all the chocolate chips in flour. Make a well at the center of the dry ingredients.
Pour the milk, oil, and beaten egg into the well. Stir just until all the dry ingredients have been moistened. Using a cookie scoop, transfer the batter to the muffin wells, filling them about 3/4 of the way. Sprinkle 5 or 6 chocolate chips on top of the batter in each well.
Bake for 20 minutes, until the muffins are springy at the center. If you're using a gluten-free flour blend, allow the muffins to cool completely before eating them, as gluten-free baked goods can be gummy while they're still warm.
Sunday, February 17, 2013
I am a creature of habit and routine. When I was younger, I really thought I’d grown up to be one of those “anything goes” parents (in other words, the kind who were completely different from my own in every way.) But, as it turns out, there are many ways in which I’m very much like the people who raised me. Go figure.
Every morning, The Hubs and I get up when our alarm goes off at 6:30. I feed the cats, each of whom has a separate dish in order to pre-empt territorial disputes; The Hubs lets the dog out for her 30-second confirmation that, yes, the outdoors does still exist. While she’s out, he fills her food bowl. Then he returns to the kitchen with the dog’s water bowl, just as I’m finishing up with the cats’. I make coffee while The Hubs cleans the litter boxes. The dog, at this point, needs her biscuit (which must be tossed in an appropriately playful way, so she can pretend it’s trying to get away from her) and her Dentabone (which, as far as I can tell, contains some sort of addictive substance; we make sure to never, ever run out of Dentabones.)
Every morning, same routine. I like it that way.
Afternoons and evenings, on the other hand, are more difficult. The animals are always waiting to be fed when I get home, but that’s the only constant. Sometimes the Foodie children need to be picked up after a late club meeting or tutoring session; sometimes they come home on the bus, and sometimes The Girl catches a ride with a friend whose parents are nice enough to provide their kid with a car (in other words, the kind who are completely different from her own in every way.) Sometimes The Hubs gets stuck in traffic during his late-day commute across the city, and sometimes he’s able to fly through traffic. Sometimes, I plan ahead and know exactly what I’m making for dinner. And sometimes, I’m at a complete loss as to how I’m going to feed the people who will be looking for dinner around 6:00.
This recipe for Chicken and Green Chili Corn Chowder is one of my go-to recipes on nights when I haven’t planned ahead. It makes use of ingredients I usually have on hand, and it’s easily adaptable to almost any situation. If you don’t have cooked chicken sitting in your fridge or freezer, a can of chicken breast will do just fine. If you don’t have an immersion blender, a potato masher will suffice. If you don’t have evaporated milk, just use the milk that’s sitting in your refrigerator. If you don’t have an onion, use dehydrated onion flakes or powder. If you don’t have corn or a can of green chilies–well, then you’ll have to go to the grocery store. Every recipe has its limitations.
All the amounts listed below are approximations, except for the things that come in cans–this is one of those recipes where I dump things together, stir, taste, and stop when I come up with the right combination. Just assemble the basic ingredients and trust your tastebuds from there. It’s pretty hard to go wrong.
Chicken and Green Chili Corn Chowder
1 T. olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 cup Southern Style hash brown potatoes (or 1 cup cooked, cubed potato)
2 cups frozen corn
1 can diced green chilies
1 can evaporated milk
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1 cup cooked, shredded chicken (or 1 can chicken breast)
Milk or chicken stock for thinning the chowder, if necessary
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional garnishes: sour cream, guacamole or sliced avocado, chopped cilantro or parsley
In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, saute the onion in olive oil. Let the onion saute for 3 to 5 minutes, until it starts to soften up. Add the frozen potatoes and stir to coat them with olive oil; allow them to soften up a bit. (If you're using cooked potato, not frozen, just move along.) Add the frozen corn and stir again. Let this mixture heat up for about five minutes, stirring occasionally; the corn will thaw and caramelize a little bit, and the potatoes might start to brown. Whatever happens, don't worry about it as long as nothing's burning.
Turn the heat down to medium. Add the diced green chilies, evaporated milk, and thyme to the saucepan, then stir to distribute the ingredients evenly. If you have an immersion blender, use it now to puree the chowder to whatever degree of smoothness you'd prefer. We like a slightly chunky chowder, so I just give it enough of a buzz to create a thick broth and leave the rest of the solids intact. (If you don't have an immersion blender, just use a potato masher to break up some of the corn and potatoes.) Stir again.
Finally, add the cooked chicken to the saucepan and check the consistency of the chowder. Add milk or chicken stock to think it out, if you like. (I usually add a little 1% milk--maybe a quarter cup--but you might prefer a thicker broth.) Allow the chicken to heat through, but don't stir too often or the chicken will break up and become stringy. Before serving, season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve this corn chowder with a dollop of sour cream, guacamole, or a few slices of avocado on top. A sprinkling of chopped cilantro or parsley is also nice, for a little color.