Archive | September, 2011

What’s for dinner?

24 Sep

“What’s for dinner?”  What feeling does that phrase evoke?  For me, it is pleasure.  For my friend Beth, it is a totally annoying phrase.  She can’t stand it.  To some, the thought of getting a meal ready is like getting ready to pull out the watercolors and canvas for a relaxing afternoon of creating.  To others, the thought of meal planning produces anxiety.  Let’s face it, some people just avoid this all together.  Well pull it together sister, and let’s turn that anxiety to pleasure!

First, start thinking about what you like to eat.  Is it chicken?  We can do that a million ways.  Here we go.  Start with a simple marinade and some chicken.  My local grocer has packages of a whole chicken cut up, legs, breasts, and pick of the chicken.  Get a package of whatever sounds good.  And grab some gallon size zip top bags when you grab the chicken.

Next, think of flavors that you and your family lean toward.  Teriyaki flavors?  Italian seasonings?  Salsa? BBQ sauce?  You can go super easy, like getting italian dressing to use as a marinade.  Put the chicken into a gallon size zip top bag, add your flavorings, and let it sit for a couple of minutes before cooking.  Or brush your flavoring on while the meat is cooking.  Its up to you.  There are many varieties of liquid marinades. Have some fun choosing a good flavor.  That will do for the protein.  Onto the vegetables.

Frozen vegetables are a good, inexpensive and have  good nutritional value.  And they are very quick and easy to prepare.  Get some vegetables that you and your family will enjoy, and don’t bother getting any that already have a sauce with it.  That pretty much just adds fat.  Get a single vegetable or a mix.  My family happens to love haricots vert, which are thin french green beans.  I usually keep a couple of bags in the freezer.  Frozen vegetables take only a couple of minutes to microwave and are delicious.  When they are cooked, sprinkle them with salt and pepper.  If you made broccoli, toss a little cheese on it too.  Next we add the grain.

Grains are important in our diet for many reasons.  Grains add beneficial minerals and fiber to the diet.  The US Department of Agriculture recommends that at least half of the grains in our diet are whole grains. An example of a good whole grain is brown rice, and if you get the quick cook variety, you can easily include it in your meal even when you are short on time.  And with a little seasoning, it can be tasty and ready in no time.

I try to balance my meals with fruit on the table as well.  Protein, vegetable, fruit and whole grains…that is a well balanced meal, and everyone in the family should participate in getting it on the table.  Meals is a time for socializing, catching up, and enjoying family time.  And a time for shared responsibility!  So when you hear “What’s for dinner?”, delegate, enjoy, and share the time.  And above all, remember the words of the great Julia Child:

“Learn to cook–try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!”

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Tailgate fun, fellowship and food!

20 Sep

 

Tailgating fun! Food, fellowship, friends!

Have you ever been tailgating?  It can really revolve around most any event, and it is fun.  It is another way to get together with folks, gather with some food, share some fellowship, and have some fun!  If you haven’t tried it, its fall, football has begun, and there has never been a better time to tailgate!  It is always a blast to get together with family and friends.

I have done a lot of tailgating…mostly at football games but also some concerts. Sporting events are my favorite though.   Kids sporting events, high school football, professional games, and the big time…SEC college football tailgating (there is nothing like tailgating at The Grove at Ol’ Miss!  It is the Holy Grail of tailgating!).  Different venues, same fun.  And it doesn’t have to be a big deal, but it does take some planning.  Whats the fun in tailgating?  Let me tell you!

Tailgating is when you get together with friends and sometimes the children.  It can be before, during, or after an event.  Maybe its in a parking lot at a concert venue, sometimes a field next to ball park, or a street next to a stadium, but it is always outside.  You set up a table, something easy breezy in my opinion, like a folding table.  Cover it with a table cloth, toss some food on it, pull out a frisbee or football, and let the fun begin.  Celebrate the upcoming game, concert or sporting event.  Chat with friends.  Toss the ball.  Enjoy the food.

Tailgating is a time honored tradition for football fans.  But you can really enjoy it with any event you choose. It is just easy fun, a celebration of sorts.  So why not try it?  Here is how to do it.

First:

  • Pick an event-it doesn’t matter what it is.  Concert, football game, soccer match.
  • Call friends that are also participating in the event and invite them to join you.
  • Pick a time.  An hour before the event is a good starting place.
  • Establish a menu.  Think transportable food that doesn’t need a lot of prep work.
  • Dont forget to ask your friends to bring their food/drinks as well.  Everyone pitches in!

Then:

  • Get some  bags of ice and tasty beverages.  Prep your food if you need to.
  • Pack up your coolers, beverages in one, food in another.
  • Don’t forget  your table, table cloth, serving dishes, platters, bowls, sports flag for your team.
  • Toss a ball, frisbee, or corn hole into a bag to bring.  Games are a must at tailgating!
  • If you have “skybox”, or sideless tent, pack that up too.
  • Pack your bags of chips, a roll of paper towels, some garbage bags.  Use cute canvas bags, beach bags, whatever you have to pack your things up.
  • If you are technical, get your iPod and wireless speakers ready to bring too.  Music adds to the ambiance.

Finally:

  • Go to the venue and stake out a killer location for your tailgate party!
  • Set up your tent, get the table out, grab the food, get the music going, and celebrate!
Here are some ideas for food, depending on the location/set up/time.
  • chicken fingers and dipping sauce (heat up the chicken and wrap up tightly if it is a short time between leaving your home and serving).
  • Corn chips and salsa
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Little sandwiches on rolls
  • Snack mix
  • Fruit plate
  • Seafood dip and crackers
  • Cold veggies and dip
When the event is ready to begin and the tailgating is winding down, pull the garbage bags out, throw away the leftover food, close the coolers, fold up the tent, put the games away, and head into the event.
The beauty of tailgating is that you can be as sophisticated or as simple as you want.  Using plastic platters?  Fine.  Want to pull out the silver and a vase of flowers?  That works too.  Paper napkins?  Go for it!  Pulling out grannies linens?  Beautiful!  I have done it all, from using a family quilt for a table cloth and my silver platters to paper napkins and plastic bowls.  The important thing to remember is to enjoy your family, your friends, and the event that you have chosen to celebrate.  Spend time with old friends, make new ones.  Have fun!  Get out there!  Try it, you will like it!

Tailgating moms! We rock! And had a blast!

Taco Heaven

20 Sep

Growing up in the midwest, I was raised with traditional foods.  Meat and potatoes.  And luckily, I had a mom that was the most fabulous scratch cook.  Most everything she made was full of flavor and certainly filled not only our home with amazing aromas, but the bellies of her big brood of happy perfect children too (if my mother is reading this, insert an eye roll and a solid scoff here!).  When she made tacos, it was with ground beef browned with the prepackaged taco seasoning added..  We added shredded lettuce and cheddar cheese, diced tomatoes, and picante.  We loaded our taco fixings onto the good old corn shells that mom had warmed in the oven.

These were the tacos I was raised on.  So when I began cooking, they are the tacos that I made.  I didn’t really deviate, except for adding some guacamole and sour cream.  Then I got a little daring and moved to flour tortillas.   Wow, a real stretch for the palette!  Ha!  And my kids love my tacos.  Now I also use fresh chicken breasts instead of ground beef sometimes.  Now I make my own seasoning for my tacos, heavy on the cumin thank you very much!  And that was as far as I went with my tacos.  Until recently!

Within the past couple of years I have discovered the joys of fish tacos.  Not only that, I have had authentic fish tacos in California.   Yum!  Amazing.  The fish tacos used fried fish, which surprised me.  Beside the plate of fish taco was a dish of what looked to be green mayonnaise or green sour cream.  I wasn’t sure which until I tasted it.  The side dish was a wonderful sour cream based sauce infused with cilantro.  And had a little heat, maybe some cayenne pepper too.  Or hot sauce.  It had a pleasant amount of heat, but did not overpower the cilantro.

I haven’t tried making these on my own yet, but I have been picking the brains of my neighbors that hail from Los Angeles.  Fish tacos are not new to them.  I have been looking at recipes too.  My courage is increasing.  I might try them soon.  I need to try making them while the flavor memories are fresh, and I have amazing pictures to reference.   I love stretching my culinary ability, as well as the palate of my family.  So here goes…and I will keep you posted!

Wahoo fish tacos!

Raw versus cooked smackdown!

8 Sep

Large, naked, raw carrots are acceptable as food only to those who live in hutches eagerly awaiting Easter“.

-Fran Lebowitz

I have to admit, I am not a huge fan of the raw naked carrot.  Nor am I a fan of the overcooked mushy ones either.  With carrots, for me, I have to strike a balance.  I will never forget one car ride involving a raw carrot…

When my children were small, we were going to visit friends in Florida.  My children travelled beautifully, as I always packed an activity box and healthy snacks for trips.  We flew to Florida, rented a car, and had about a 45 minute drive to our destination.  My daughter, who was about 4 at the time, wanted a raw carrot when we got into the car.  I gave her a small baby carrot.  It was maybe 2 inches long.   She started munching on it as we began our drive.  Well, she was quiet for the rest of the drive, so I didn’t think a thing about her snacking. When we reached our friends house, she still was chewing on that same carrot!  Oh did we have a laugh over that!

Raw fruit and veggies are great, but remember that eating is a tactile experience.  And we want the biggest bang for our buck nutritionally.  Lots to consider here.  Food, whether cooked or raw, should have a pleasant “mouth feel”.  This is an individual preference.  This develops at an early age, but don’t let that stop you from trying new foods!  I have eaten carrots every which way.  My favorite way is still gently cooked.

My favorite way to cook carrots is a recipe that I stole and adapted from Julia Child.  I use mineral water, like Perrier to start with.  I add a few tablespoons of butter, unsalted of course. (A word about salted versus unsalted butter.  I always use unsalted butter when butter is called for.  I use this so I can control the amount of sodium in the dish, but also because salt is a preservative and I feel that unsalted is fresher).  Then I toss in some good salt, perhaps sea salt.  Get that boiling and toss baby or cut carrots in.  Let that return to a boil and cover.  Turn the heat down and let the carrots simmer for about 5 minutes.

Like any “foodie” I rarely measure.  Reciting a recipe is challenging because foodies feel their food, look at their food, and constantly evaluate.  With the recipe previously stated, I will try to better describe.  I put about 1 to 1 1/2 inches of mineral water in the bottom of the sauce pan.  I use 3-4 tablespoons of butter, and maybe 1 tablespoon of salt for about 16 ounces of carrots.  Adjust per your preference.  Try this receip…or eat raw carrots.  Either way, just enjoy the benefits of the wonderful carrot!