A Few Of My Favorites: Kitchen Edition

I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, and use a fair number of tools to pull off 30-minute dinners, all day bake-a-thons, breakfasts on the run and celebratory shin-digs.

These made the cut:

  1. Capresso Infinity Conical Burr Grinder, Stainless Steel. Because, coffee first. Grind it fresh people, it’s soooo much better. A burr grinder allows you to adjust the coarseness of the grind for your preferred brewing technique. Size DOES matter.

  2. Global MinoSharp 3 Knife Sharpener in Grey/Black. I like my coffee black, and my Wusthof knives SHARP. It’s not totally foolproof but it’s what the knife sharpening guy at Sur la Table uses...

  3. Pampered Chef Silicone Oven Mitts. Hands down (heehee) the best oven mitts out there. Donate your “hot pads” to Goodwill. These are all you need.

  4. Pampered Chef Large Bar Pan. Okay, I have never been a PC dealer but I can seriously give testimony to these stoneware pans. I love baking on them--roasted vegetables, cookies, salmon, you name it. You only wash with hot water, seasoning it over time like cast iron.

  5. Le Creuset Signature Flame Oval French Oven. Like a little black dress, you can rely on this sexy beast for any occasion--braise your beef and caramelize your shallots, simmer your stew and roast your bird. C’est nécessité!

What are some of YOUR favorite things?

7/100

The New Basics: 9 Cookbooks for Family Dinners

Cookbooks I've always enjoyed cooking. Baking especially. From my mid 20s into my mid thirties it was a heavy rotation on Martha Stewart and Cooking Light. Then I made baby food from scratch and took a weird turn into working parent survival mode with "dino" nuggets, broccoli and quesadillas. That was fairly short lived as we were determined to get back to the basics—whole foods and family dinners. So I was stoked when the Family Dinner "movement" came along and brought with it cookbooks geared to families trying to cook fast, healthy meals for grown ups and kids.

I first bought Time for Dinner (from former Cookie editors) and the The Family Dinner (from Laurie David, champion of the "Family Dinner Project". Because as much as I love Martha, it was only her FOOD publication that hit the mark. Anyway, I've since expanded my collection to include GP's My Father's Daughter, NYT fave Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, Heidi Swanson's Supernatural Cooking and Supernatural Everyday, and Andrew Weil's True Food. Even if I'm not following the recipes strict, I refer to them all the time. I also hit up the Dinner A Love Story blog and 101 Cookbooks. And last but not least, Pinterest.

Note: We're omnivores that fricking love bacon, homemade pancakes, and roasted veggies. That, and I'm 80/20 Paleo. So modification here is KEY.

In addition to cookbooks and blogs for meal inspiration, we use Table Topics Family Edition to spark conversation at the table. If you like that, you can find smart, probing, age appropriate questions posted via the Family Dinner Project. I also started a garden in our backyard, and the boys like to help me harvest the bounty--they eat most of it.

At the end of the day though, it's simply about getting a decent meal on the table and having a meaningful connection with the people we love. Don't aim for perfection, good is enough.

How do you do family dinners?

P.S. Stay tuned for my Top 5 Go-To Recipes in upcoming posts.

Blood Orange Beet Bowl

bloodoranges I got super lucky this week and landed a small stash of blood oranges from a neighbor. This happened to coincide with a craving for roasted beets, which I had already planned to make. Tired of my usual beet-goatcheese-pepita-oliveoil salad, I decided to merge these two heartbreakers into one bloody beet bowl. This is how it went down...

IN ADVANCE: I roasted the beets coated in a bit of olive oil and salt in a 350 oven for nearly an hour. This is sketchy, because I was cooking other things at the same time, on and off. It's an art. Not a science. Once out and cooled I slipped their dirty skins off. That sounds mildly sexual. Oh well. Then I cut them into 1" chunks a tossed them into a jar in the fridge for later.

NEXT: I prepped two small blood oranges by cutting the peel off with a serrated knife. I usually take the tiny pith core out too. I cut these into bite sized chunks.

beetorangebowl

AND THEN: I combined the orange pieces with 3/4 to 1 cup of the beets in a bowl, and grated (~ 2 teaspoons to 1 Tablespoon of) fresh ginger root right on top. Then a drizzle of honey, and a sprinkle of salt to bring out the full flavors.

Done! I think you could still safely add goat cheese, if you so desire. Or perhaps go super savory and do garlic instead of honey, and toss in some finely sliced red onion or shallots...

BEETPLATE

Beets produce the most perfect shade of magenta ever.

PS >>>>>>---------> Forgive my iPhonography, I was documenting on the fly!

Menu Planning in 4 Easy Steps

menuplan-1 One thing I love about Saturdays is Menu Planning. It's a household chore, sure. But I get to sit down and pour over cookbooks, cruise my favorite cooking sites, sip a strong cuppa java, and plan out the next week of meals. Running an efficient household while raising two boys, staying (happily) married and working full-time is no small task. This single strategic step makes everything flow just a little bit easier...here's how:

menuplan-2

1. SUPPLIES

Get organized. One side of our fridge is still magnet friendly, so that's our information hub. Create a spot like this in your kitchen's high traffic zone. Make it PUBLIC so your family (ahem, in my case, the Mister) can add to the shopping list, as well as read up on the week's menu. This avoids the whole "well I already had fish tacos for lunch" issue.

Basics: Paper, Pencil, magnet or tape Advanced: MENU worksheet with grocery list, pencil, magnetic list pad, clipboard, highlighters, Spot-On! Magnetic Hook

2. PREP WORK

A. Maintain a Shopping List. Track your household needs on an as-you-go basis. Out of oats? Write it down. Low on canola oil? Jot that note as SOON as you realize it. It's a total pain in the boot to take pantry inventory or waste time conjuring up the "oh-yeah-I-used-up-the-last-of-the-fill-in-the-blank"  from the past week.

B. Keep a Family Calendar. In this stage of planning I review the coming week...Are we home every night? Anyone out-of-town? Does the Mister have plans? Do I have a work event? Who has what sports and how late? I want to make sure I don't plan to roast a chicken on a night when I'm working late, or have soccer pick up. I need this plan to WORK for me. Not be a source of frustration. If there is a night I have to work late, I map out something the Mister can easily execute, like Corn Dogs + applesauce + steamed broccoli. (My healthy fast version of Corn Dogs =  hot dogs wrapped in corn tortillas).

3. INSPIRATION

Before you get too excited, consider the following:

1. How much time will I need/have? By reviewing your calendar in advance you should be able to set realistic expectations. Clue #1? Save the intermediate level recipes or the "baste-every-hour" roasts for a weekend day. Duh! 2. What new ingredients will this require? Are you willing to source out the ingredients required in that new Indian dish? If so, awesome! Make it an adventure. If not, don't commit to it, and therefore set yourself up for failure or disappointment. 3. Are there any special requests from the family? Make sure to give your kids/hubs a voice, if they would like to contribute.

There are PLENTY of recipe resources out there, but I recommend selecting a few "go-to's" each week (fave cookbooks, mags or websites), and one or two newbies so that you don't get stuck in the inspiration stage. Remember, you still have to implement. Your goal at this point is to have an idea of the kind of

Ask  friends for their  favorites, look at family recipes, mull over magazines. I love looking through cookbooks. Now that I plan my menus, it's much easier to justify the expense of glossy new food porn. Gorge. I always throw a few tried-and-trues into the line up, as I'm not trying to run a test kitchen. That said, I like to pick (at least) one new recipe each week, depending on the busy factor.

My Current Go-To's: Supernatural Everyday (101 Cookbooks Blog) Dinner: A Love Story (Blog) Bon Appetit has a great website. So does Food & Wine and America's Test Kitchen (Heads up: some content is only for paid subscribers). I'm also liking Vegetarian Times, Whole Living...oh! and Cooking Light has made such nice design leaps since I was a newlywed subscriber, that I recommend picking up a hard copy every now and then. Finally, check out Mark Bittman's site, and fittingly, the New York Times Dining & Wine section.

Weekly Menu

4. IMPLEMENTATION

Yay! It's time to map it all out. I made myself a Menu Plan Worksheet that divides the paper into two major sections...Left side, MENU items, Right side, GROCERY LIST. Do it however works best for you. Or download mine here: Weekly Menu.

A. Before you start filling it in, there are some key considerations: Is it well Balanced? Omnivores at heart, we are focused on creating more meatless meals. Got Fish? Let's hear it for lean protein and omega 3s! Special Events? Am I on the hook to bring a dessert to Bunco? School Snacks? Are we low on granola bars?

B. MAKE YOUR PLAN I usually write in the main dish and the side(s) so I don't have to think about it. Write down any special ingredients you'll need onto the grocery list section.

C. Transfer any current "to buy" items from your ongoing fridge list to the grocery list (menu planner sheet).

D. Go shopping and make great food!

CONGRATULATIONS! You've just made the coming week SO MUCH easier. And true confessions...this stuff changes, you know? So if you get invited over to your neighbor's house for brats, you go with it. And ax the plan for that night, or sub it for another night. It's way easier to have too much scheduled than nothing at all.

Mahalo!

Good Morning Granola

When trying to come up with this year's (okay, now last year's)  handmade holiday gift the boys expressed a VERY strong preference for cooking, versus crafting. Cool. In order to guarantee the "handmade"part of the deal, I came up with granola. Easy enough for kids to measure, stir, and add their own creative ingredients (and mine). Two factors came in to play on this recipe...ONE, I wanted a granola that I could eat without feeling guilty. TWO, it absolutely had to be inspired by the granola at my favorite bakery--Bread & Cie.

Martha Stewart FOOD helped with requirement number ONE. As for inspiration from Bread & Cie.? That's where the Corn Pops came in. It's not even that I had this cereal as a kid (I didn't) or that I crave it as an adult (I don't). It's just that Corn Pops bring a bit of whimsy and surprise to an otherwise quiet concoction.

GOOD MORNING GRANOLA makes 8 delicious cups

ingredients 4 cups old fashioned rolled oats 1 cup toasted wheat gern 1/2 cup flax seed 2 teaspoons cinnamon 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger 1/2 cup unsalted sunflower seeds 1/2 cup pepita seeds 1 cup chopped walnuts 1 1/2 cups Corn Pops 1/2 cup dried berries 5 tablespoons robust molasses 3 tablespoons maple syrup 1/3 cup olive oil 1/3 cup water

directions 1. Heat oven to 300 degrees with rack in center. In a large mixing bowl, combine oats, wheat germ, flax seed, cinnamon, ginger, seeds, and walnuts. In a small bowl, combine molasses, oil, and 1/3 cup water and pour over the oat mixture. Stir well until well coated. Spread evenly in two baking pans

2. Bake, stirring every 20 minutes or so for even cooking until dry and lightly browned--about 45 minutes. Let granola cool to room temperature, add Corn Pops and berries then store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 month.

The boys were liberal with the cinnamon, and added dried cranberries. I threw in the pepita seeds for extra nutrients and crunch. We used olive oil instead of the recommended canola oil, and we added maple syrup because we had just watched Elf, and Elf puts maple syrup on everything....

In the end, we thought it was a huge hit. I even used it as a topping with Greek yogurt and our Orange Challah French Toast!