Food Identity

I think everyone has a food identity.  Some people identify as vegetarian, others as gluten-free, still others as locavores.  My food identity has shifted over time and is now focused on healthy, whole ingredients.  We’re an organic veg, grass-fed beef, as few processed foods as possible household which is balanced with the realities of our budget, resources and time limitations.  So when I cook, I try to use fresh ingredients and I try to make healthy food.  Of course, I don’t eschew sugar, fat and salt, my thinking being that I know how much I’m adding and I know from where it came.  I use butter not shortening.  I use olive oil, not crisco.  That kind of thing- you get the idea.  Something about it’s better to have a small piece of the real thing rather than trying to make up for the missing fat/sugar/salt and eating more.

This comes up because of what we ate today.  After making my scary dinner on Monday (I will make exceptions for processed foods once in a while- hot dogs in the summer, grocery-store birthday cake, Friendly’s peanut butter sauce), I had hot dogs left over.  I needed to use them up and knew that the toddler would likely eat them.  Every once in a while I’ll give her something like chicken nuggets (applegate farms organic no filler, etc.) and the glee with which she eats them is something to see.  I mean, I grew up eating McDonald’s, hot dogs, fish sticks and all kinds of “kid food”- mainly because no one really knew how bad they were for you.  My husband, given his druthers, would probably eat Kraft Mac and Cheese every day but since I’m in charge of food acquisition, production and distribution, we don’t do that.  Sadly, the toddler also likes this (I used to love it.  The last time I ate it, I immediately vomited.  I’m not sure if it was the result of the pregnancy or the result of having not had it in ages.  Either way, it’s off my personal food menu now.).  At any rate, my point is, this dinner that I made tonight was outside of my usual food identity.  But it was fun.

I made hot dog octopi  (Octopuses?  Geeze, I took Latin, I should know this!) served over Kraft Mac and Cheese.  The toddler and husband ate this.  I ate butternut squash lasagna- a recipe I will blog for you another day.

The punchline?  The toddler looked at her bowl and then carefully picked up the two hot dog creatures and set them aside on the table.  She ate all the mac and cheese but wouldn’t touch the hot dogs proving, once again, that she is the perfect combo of the two of us.

Octopus Hot Dogs

(Thanks to the Hungry Hippo who taught me about this)

Ingredients

Hot dogs

Directions

Put on a pot of water to boil.  Slice your hot dogs in half horizontally.

Next, slice one of the halves in half vertically, about 1/4 of the way down.  In other words, leave some of the hot dog untouched.

Make a quarter turn and slice it the same way again.

So now you have four pieces that are still attached.  Slice each of these in half while keeping them attached.

You should end up with 8 “legs.”

Repeat with all your hot dogs.  Then plunk them into the boiling water.

Let the water come back to a boil.  The legs will curl up as the hot dogs cook (heat?  Isn’t a hot dog already cooked?).  They will look revolting.

Take them out carefully and you’ll see that you’ve made little hot dog octopuses.

Cute or gross?  You decide.  We served them, as I said, over Kraft Mac and Cheese.  I’m pretty sure there was nothing of any nutritional value in tonight’s dinner.  Please don’t judge.  Some nights are like this.

Scary Dinner

I love Halloween.  The candy, the costumes, the chance to make your food fun.  This year for dinner we had Eyeball Soup, Pumpkin Grilled Cheese, Worms and Dirt, Spiderweb Eggs and Ghastly Ghosts.  Mmmmmm.  The best part?  After dinner we took the toddler trick or treating- and she actually SAID “trick or treat!”

Scary Dinner 2011

Eyeball Soup

Based on this martha stewart recipe.

Ingredients:

1 onion, chopped

3 tablespoons butter

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 cans crushed tomatoes

1 quart chicken broth

salt, pepper, oregano, basil (to taste)

1-2 cups half and half, milk, or cream

small balls of fresh mozzarella

several olives stuffed with pimento

Directions:

Melt the butter in a soup pot over medium heat.  Add the onion and garlic and cook until the onion is soft but not brown.  Don’t let the garlic burn.  Add the tomatoes and then the broth.  Stir and let it warm up.  Add the spices, turn the heat down to a simmer and let it cook for about 45 minutes.  (I did all of this ahead and let it sit in the fridge overnight)

Let it cool a little bit and then run it through the blender in batches until it’s smooth.  Or use a stick blender in the pot (won’t get as smooth but if you’re not Martha Stewart, you might not care).  Return to the heat and slowly whisk in the dairy (milk, cream, whatever). It will lighten it up and you can do this to taste as well.  Let it sit on low heat while you make the eyeballs.

Slice your olives into thirds.  Make sure to keep the pimento intact.

Using a small melon baller- or maybe a tiny spoon?-  scoop out a little bit of the mozzarella ball.

Place the third-ed olive into the dent left in the cheese and you’ll have some eyeballs.

You could even have a whole plate of them, just staring at you.

Float them in the soup after you ladle it into bowls.  Creepy.

We served this with grilled cheese pumpkins- just cut the pumpkin shape out before you grill the bread.

We also had spiderweb eggs, from this Martha Stewart recipe.  It’s a clever idea but since I don’t peel eggs well, I delegated that task to the husband. Who discovered that they don’t peel easily and also look better when you leave on the membrane.  Ick. I couldn’t get a really good photo of these but they were pretty neat.

Finally, we had worms in dirt, again, thanks to Martha Stewart.  It’s basically canned black beans, heated and chopped and then hot dogs boiled and arranged.  Still, sort of fun.  Just make sure you cut your hot dogs thin enough.  Start by cutting them in half.

Then cut them in slices- if you’re really careful, you could probably get about four from each half.  I was not careful and ended up with odd numbers. Mine were also a little thick.

Throw these into a pot of boiling water and when they start to curl, take them out.  Spread your black beans on a plate and then arrange the hot dog worms to look like they’re squirming and moving around all over.

Mmmm.  Dirt.

We ended our dinner with ghastly ghost cookies served in a makeshift chocolate pot de creme– I had to use up the egg yolks left from making the meringues.

And because you can’t have Halloween without a costume, here’s the toddler:

Happy Halloween!

Halloweeeeeeeen…..

Clearly, as it’s Halloween RIGHT NOW, I haven’t yet made my scary dinner.  I did some prep work yesterday but the majority of the food happens tonight.  However, I thought I’d get you in the mood with a dessert recipe, just in case you’re stuck for something tonight.  This one is pretty quick and effective. A few thoughts:

1.  When you’re piping them, don’t use a decorative tip.  Use a smooth one.

2.  Also, make sure your ghosts stand straight up.  Mind tended to lean which, while appropriate for Passover, was less appealing for Halloween.

3.  Mine needed to bake longer than the recommended 75 minutes, more around an hour and thirty or forty minutes.  I’m not sure why.  Perhaps my eggs were really moist.

4.  For the record, I actually hate meringues.  But other people seem to enjoy them.

Ghastly Ghosts (from Food Network)

Ingredients

3 large egg whites

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

3/4 cup white sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup chocolate chips

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In the bowl of an electric mixer with a whip attachment, beat the egg whites, cream of tartar and vanilla until frothy.  Beat in the sugar and increase the speed to high.  Beat until stiff peaks form- it should take six or seven minutes.

Place the mixture into a piping bag with a large, plain tip.  Or use a ziplock bag with the tip cut off.  Either way, roll up your sleeves because this is a messy, sticky project.  Pipe the batter out in swirls that top each other, sort of piling circles on circles.  Sadly, it will look a little bit like white dog poo.  (Not a comparison you want to make with food, but there it is.)   It should make about 8-10.

Bake for an hour to an hour and forty minutes- the cookies will sort of dry out and crack a little bit.  Let them cool completely.

Melt the chocolate chips in a small bowl it  the microwave.  I did it in 30 second intervals and stirred in between.  It took only a  minute.  Pour the chocolate into a small ziplock bag and cut a very tiny hole in the edge.  Pipe on the eyes to make your white mountains/piles of white dog poo into ghastly ghosts.  They’ll actually be kind of cute.

 

Food Fun

At work this week someone asked me, “So what’s your Halloween menu going to be this year?”

I had no response.  The truth is, I had completely missed the fact that it’s October.  I mean, I’d written the date a zillion times but had not connected it to the actual month, if that makes any sense.  I’ve been spending so much time with my head down, barreling through all that needs to be done that I forgot to remember that it’s October.

You see, October is a month filled with significant dates for my family.  It’s the month in which my mother’s friend was born, the month in which one of my cousins was born and the month in which that same cousin’s father passed away.  October is the month in which, four years ago, I got married and the month in which, twelve years ago, my grandmother passed away.  Needless to say, October always comes with mixed emotions for us.

But October is also Halloween, one of my favorite food holidays.  You can see my past Halloween menus here and here.  I love food that looks like something else or food that creates a mood or setting.  So after my co-worker asked me, I started to wonder what I would do this year.  Last year the baby didn’t really appreciate what I was doing.  This year, she still won’t but she’ll be able to help make it (thanks to my in-laws who just purchased me a version of this).

So I sat on the sofa last night and browsed Martha Stewart.  Full disclosure, I dislike Martha because she makes me feel inadequate.  Nonetheless, I found some great recipes to try this year and the husband got in on the act as well.  He was sitting next to me on the sofa and got sucked into the pictures.  This year we’ll be trying Eyeball Soup, Spiderweb Eggs, and worms in dirt.  I’m not sure about dessert yet.  These Zombie Rising Cupcakes look cool but seem to be an awful lot of work.  Maybe we’ll try some eyeball cookies or cupcakes.

At any rate, expect a post sometime after Halloween to discuss how this all went down.  Here’s hoping for spooky, fun and delicious!

Meatball Memories

Growing up, we had family friends with whom we spent a lot of time.  The couple had two girls, one about my age, and my mother and their mother had taught together with classrooms across the hall from each other.  My father and the other father were both lawyers and had, at one point, shared office space.  It was a family friend coupleship made in heaven.  Y’know, until my parents got divorced and, I assume, it got a little awkward for the parents.  I mean, I never saw it as awkward but I was always just busy playing with the daughters.

At any rate, the mom of that family is an excellent cook- I’ve posted about her food here– and one recipe that I associate with her are these meatballs.  Most people have a version of them that involves grape jelly but I can’t get behind that.  This recipe is surprisingly simple and yet so, so tasty- sort of sweet and tangy at the same time-  and no grape jelly needed.  Not that I dislike grape jelly- at times, it is exactly what I want on toast.  Just not with my meat.

We ate these in her cozy little dining room which was white with a window at one end and on the side.  She had a sideboard next to the window and that’s where things like the menorah for Chanukah or the gifts that went along with it stood.  You could see both the kitchen, the front door and the window from where I usually sat and when I make these meatballs, I can close my eyes and be immediately transported back there by the smell and taste.  Cozy, warm, safe and comfortable.  Ah, childhood.

Rosie’s Meatballs (I think they were named for one of the daughters)

Meatballs

1-2 lbs ground meat (I use chicken but I think they were originally beef)

1-2 eggs (will depend on how much meat there is, the eggs are helpful binders)

1/2-1 cup breadcrumbs (will depend on the meat as well as how dense you like your meatballs)

salt, pepper and other seasonings (garlic powder, seasoned salt, you make the call)

*note, normally when I make meatballs, I like to add chopped onion and garlic and other good veggies, with these I prefer them rather plain as the sauce is so tasty.

Sauce

1 can cranberry sauce (jelled)

1 jar chili sauce

1/2 jar of water (use the chili sauce jar)

Directions:

Make meatballs by mixing the meat with the other meatball ingredients.  You want it to hold together when you form the meatballs but not be so stiff that they dry out.

Sort of squish it all together with your (clean) hands.  Kind of fun…

You want it all incorporated.  Once it’s mixed you can roll out the meatballs with your hands- about walnut sized or golf ball if you want really big meatballs.  Meanwhile, heat the sauce ingredients over medium heat in a large saute pan.

Doesn’t look very pretty, I know, but the cranberry sauce will sort of melt into the rest, and then it will look better.   Use a whisk to get it all combined.  Once it’s simmering or even slightly boiling, add your meatballs.

Let them cook for a bit before you stir them- you don’t want them to fall apart.  Flip them once or twice so that they get nice and covered in the sauce.  Cook for about 15 minutes or until they are cooked through (you could be fancy and use a meat thermometer (165 F.) but I simply cut one in half).

Serve over rice or egg noodles.  Enjoy and feel a bit like a kid again.  Or maybe that’s just me.

Cooking For Baby

When G. and I were visiting my cousin in NY, I noticed a cookbook open on her counter.  As I flipped through it, I thought, “Gee, these all sound so yummy!  I need this cookbook!”  Indeed the dishes did sound good: Filet of Fish Mornay with Vegetables, Rosti Salmon Cakes, Zucchini Fritters….  I flipped it to the cover and saw that it was, in fact, a cookbook for children’s food.  I have one of those- Cooking For Baby– but it’s not nearly as inspiring.  This one, well, this one was different.  I asked my cousin to email me the title and then promptly forgot.  About a week after G. and I returned home, this showed up on my doorstep via Amazon:

You know, ’cause that’s how we roll in my family- why send the title when you can send a copy of the actual book?

So, my next few posts will be food from this book.  We’ll start with Cheesy Pasta Stars.  Now, even if you’re not cooking for a baby, stick with me- some of this food is really good, no matter what your age!

Cheesy Pasta Stars

Ingredients

1 cup carrots, peeled and sliced

1 cup boiling water

2 Tablespoons butter

1 cup tomatoes, skinned, deseeded, and chopped

1/3 cup grated cheddar cheese

2 Tablespoons soup pasta stars (stelline)

Directions

Peel and chop your carrots.  I used rounds and sliced mine pretty thin.  It took about three medium size carrots to make one cup.

Place the carrots in a pan with the cup of boiling water (if not cooking for adults, add a pinch of salt).  Cook until tender about 15-20 minutes.  This will depend on both how thinly you cut your carrots and what you consider tender.  It  only took about 10 minutes for me.

Peel, seed and chop your tomatoes.  I did not do this.  I used two tomatoes from our backyard (thanks to a good friend and her husband who are “borrowing” a corner of our yard to grow tomatoes- we get the benefits of extras), which I cored and then just chopped- I don’t mind seeds and skin.  I also threw in the rest of the small yellow cherry tomatoes I had leftover to make it to a cup.  I chopped them a bit as well. 

Melt the butter in a separate pan, add the tomatoes and saute until mushy.

Grate your cheese.  I am too lazy for grating so I just chopped mine pretty thin.

A pile of yummy cheese. Can you hear my daughter frantically saying, "ch-ees? ch-ees?" in the background?

Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese until melted. 

In the meantime, bring a pan of water to a boil and add the pasta.  Cook until tender, about 5 minutes, then drain.

Mix together the cooked carrots, along with the cooking liquid, with the cheese and tomato mixture.  It will look….funny.

Now, the recipe says to blend it to a puree.  I debated this.  I decided to do it, so that I could see what the intention was.  I’m glad I did because I ended up with a thick, yummy, fresh-tasting sauce that was tomato-y and sweet from the carrots.  If you wanted to, you could probably skip the puree step but I’m not sure you’d get the same effect.

Add the sauce to the drained pasta stars and serve.

Best when served on a dinosaur plate. FYI.

If you’re cooking for adults, I’d say use larger pasta, like ziti or rotini.  The stars got lost in my sauce.  Ironically, my husband and I both liked this but G, for whom it was made, turned her nose up at it, preferring instead her nectarine and plain old cheese.  Go figure.