It’s hard for some people to imagine, but maternity leave isn’t just a 12-week staycation with a cute baby. It’s 12 weeks of barely any schedule, unpredictable amounts of sleep and never knowing when you’ll actually have time to do something.
Which means that I both have time and don’t have time right now to actually get in the kitchen and cook.
There are blocks of time where I could prep and cook a great meal. But the chances of a particular block of time like that being around an actual preferred eating time (breakfast, lunch or dinner) are slim to none. Try more like 5:30 a.m. or 2:15 p.m. or 8:30 p.m. Not exactly ideal.
Plus, half the time I’ll either end up with an hour I didn’t know I was going to get (surprise!) or plan on time that’s not there (double surprise!).
Obviously, it’s sort of hard to time something in the kitchen if you have no idea if you’ll have to tend to a fussy baby in the middle of chopping things or right when you need to flip something in the oven. Thus, my cooking has been pretty much limited to weekends — not helpful when I want to make something fresh for lunch or dinner.
To make things easier, I’ve been trying tricks that I’ve heard about but never necessarily tried. Up first: the genius use of a slow cooker to “bake” sweet potatoes.
I heard about this cooking hack more than year ago, but I’d never actually decided to give it ago until I really, really needed it to work. Which is dumb, because all you have to do is wrap potatoes in foil and place them in your slow cooker. I have no idea why I waited so long.
Prep took about a minute. And four hours later, I had a blissfully perfect baked sweet potato, plus three more to have for leftovers during the work week, when eating lunch is usually a difficult, solo affair.
I know it sounds silly that it’s easier to have something cook for four hours than for 45 minutes, but if you’ve ever lived on the uneven terrain that is fresh parenthood, you’ll know exactly why this seems so much easier.
And if you haven’t or are long past that point? You’ll still love the “set it and forget it” easiness to this recipe.
“Baked” Potatoes A La Slow Cooker
3-4 medium sweet potatoes, skins washed
Wrap each sweet potato in foil. (No need to poke holes in the potatoes). Place the wrapped potatoes in a single layer in a slow cooker. (Mine can fit four, though some may only fit two or three.) Cook on high for 4 hours or on low for 8 hours. Remove, split open and enjoy.
October is pretty tuber-tubular, according to the local farm set.
A group of area farmers, foodies, restaurants and stores have banded together to make October “Celebrate Sweet Potatoes” month in Lawrence, even going so far as getting the City Commission to give the orange spud its own month.
The group set up a website, celebratesweetpotatoes.com, and filled it with information on events, “Tuber Tuesday” sweet potato specials and facts about the different types of potatoes and their stellar nutritional value.
Hoyland Farm’s Bob Lominska says the idea really is just to get local eaters out of the idea that sweet potatoes are strictly for eating with marshmallows at Thanksgiving.
If you’ve followed this space for the past few years, you know I’m quite the sweet potato fan and feature them often in my recipes and the recipes I share. As part of my own personal mini celebration of sweet potatoes, I went back through my recipes and found some of my favorites, and thought I’d also share a recipe I haven’t yet that pairs two of my favorite fall staples.
But first, some of my personal favorite ways to eat sweet potatoes include:
Now, for a new recipe. I love this dish from Nancy O’Connor’s “Rolling Prairie Cookbook” because it’s pretty and pretty versatile. It really is both a side dish and a dessert (I’ve even had it for breakfast). If that sounds like it could be a description of the old marshmallow-covered sweet potatoes of yore, think again. This one has the added bonus of apples and makes your kitchen smell like that homey scent Yankee Candle only thinks it gets right.
Oh, and even though October is almost over, there’s obviously nothing wrong with keeping the tuber-tubular train rolling well into spring.
Sweet Potato and Apple Bake 2 or 3 medium-sized sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced approximately 1/4-inch thick
2 flavorful fall apples, peeled and sliced approximately 1/4-inch thick (I used Granny Smith and didn’t peel them)
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup maple syrup or honey
1/4 cup apple cider
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350 F. Oil a large shallow baking dish. Arrange sweet potato and apple slices attractively in dish.
Combine butter, maple syrup or honey, cider and salt in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir until butter is melted.
Pour half of the mixture over the sweet potatoes and apples. Bake for approximately 45 minutes or until sweet potatoes are tender. Halfway through the baking, drizzle the remaining butter/syrup mixture over the sweet potatoes and apples. Serves 6.
— Recipe from “Rolling Prairie Cookbook” by Nancy O’Connor
Life with a new baby is always a lot harder than you’d think it would be, even when you’ve already been through the ringer as a new parent before. It’s kind of funny, actually, that an infant that sleeps for 20 hours a day could take up so much time, but they do, in all their adorable glory.
Since my baby girl arrived at the end of September, my days have been a whirlwind of making sure she’s fed and happy (and usually asleep), while trying to be a functioning adult. You know, the kind who has her stuff together and, therefore, can parent her other child and shower and do basic things like that.
Because of this, I’ve made exactly one in-depth meal since becoming a mom of two. And that was this week (butternut-apple soup — delightful). The rest of our dinners since we came home from the hospital have been a mixture of gifted meals from friends and neighbors (we’re so lucky!), takeout and slap-dash dishes like the one I’m about to share.
Not that there’s anything wrong with slap-dash dishes. Though sometimes it seems that anything that takes no time at all has to be unhealthy, that’s not the case. With a little planning and mise en place, a hearty meal can go from bare ingredients to your dinner table in five minutes or less, without the use of a microwave or overly processed ingredients.
In this case, I decided to use simple pita bread, fill it with veggies and then top it off with a bit of store-bought Mediterranean spread and Lebanese beans from the Lebanese Flower.
The result is easy, delicious and as quick to eat as it is to make — perfect for new moms or pretty much anyone.
Hearty Veggie Pita
1 pocket pita, sliced in half
A few cherry tomatoes, quartered
Two spoonfuls of Lebanese beans, chickpeas or other beans of choice
Hummus or baba ghanoush
Spread hummus or baba ghanoush inside each half of pita pocket. Layer in spinach, tomato, avocado and beans. Chow down!
As you may have judged from my last post, I’m sort of obsessed with curry at the moment. Or for the entire seasons of fall, winter and spring. And it doesn’t seem to matter what type — Indian, Thai, a hybrid — I want it.
Luckily, for my rut-loving tendencies, there are all the above types of curry to spice things up, lest my husband and kiddo want to chuck me and all of our curry powder out of the house in a coup.
That hasn’t happened yet, though. So, if you’ll allow me, one last curry recipe before I hope it gets so warm, my stovetop goes on hiatus.
This curry recipe is also a great use for those final overwintered sweet potatoes before we get to the long wait for fresh local ones in the fall. If you don’t have sweet potatoes or want to make this dish a bit more “summery,” replace the sweet potato with a couple of peeled and chopped carrots.
This recipe also happens to have a similar flavor to restaurant-bought coconut-based curries, but is super simple to make. In fact, the most difficult part is waiting for the water to boil for the quinoa. My family’s single caveat with this recipe is that it isn’t very spicy, but it’s sweet, thus, my hubby likes to add Sriracha to his bowl.
Easy Coconut Curry
For the sauce:
1 teaspoon coconut oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons curry powder
1 (13.5 ounce) can coconut milk
1 tablespoon tamari, or soy sauce
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
To complete the dish:
1 sweet potato, chopped
1 pound assorted vegetables, chopped (we used frozen broccoli)
1 cup quinoa, rinsed
2 cups water
To get started, combine the quinoa and water in a small saucepan over high heat, and bring it to a boil. Once boiling, cover the pot and reduce the heat to low, allowing the quinoa to cook for 15 minutes while you work on the curry sauce.
In the meantime, melt the coconut oil in a 3-quart saute pan over medium heat, and saute the onions and garlic until tender, about 5 minutes. Add in the coconut milk, curry powder, tamari, maple syrup and salt and whisk well to combine. (Since curry powders can vary by brand, start with a smaller amount and add more to suit your tastes.)
Adjust any other flavors as needed, then bring the sauce to a simmer and add in the chopped sweet potatoes. Cover the pan, and allow the sweet potatoes to steam in the sauce for 5 minutes. Finally, add the rest of the vegetables, toss in the sauce to coat, then cover and allow to steam until fork-tender.
Fluff the cooked quinoa with a fork, then serve with a generous portion of the vegetables and curry sauce. Serves two to four.
— Recipe from www.detoxinista.com
It’s nearly May, and you know what that means, don’t you? CSA time!
For the past several years, I’ve been documenting how I use the CSA (community supported agriculture) box I get weekly through the spring, summer and fall from Rolling Prairie Farmers Alliance. If you are new to the idea of CSAs, basically, you as a consumer make an agreement with a farm or group of farms to buy produce from them every week in a “share.” This means the farmers get guaranteed customers for a certain period of time and that as a buyer, you get fresh produce every week, usually at a slight discount.
It’s a win-win for everyone involved, in my opinion, but I’ve also done it for several years. If you’re newly signed up, it can actually be a bit daunting. Mostly because A: You have no or little control over which items you pick up each week; and B: Sometimes you have no idea what to do unfamiliar foods that can be part of the bounty (kohlrabi, anyone?).
Thus, in an effort to help keep all that local goodness from withering in your fridge (and mine), I’ve written for years about how I used my CSA box in hopes that it’ll help newbies and veterans alike use their produce and enjoy it.
That said, this CSA season, we’re going to try something a little different. Rather than writing about it each week, I’ll write monthly specifically about ideas for your bounty. Though I may write more frequently in the middle of the summer when we’re all drowning in tomatoes.
Fear not, there’s plenty of backlog in this blog for you to seek out if you need weekly inspiration. Just search and enjoy. Plus, this will allow me to write about gardening with kids, farmers market finds and other fun foodie things in the summer.
But, for those of you getting your first CSA box in the coming week or so, or who have overloaded at the farmers market with a bunch of pretty spring vegetables, I’ve got a great spring-y recipe for you to kick off the season.
My family signed up for my CSA’s “early bag,” which means we’ve been picking up local greens and other veggies for the past three weeks. And one of our favorite new recipes we’ve tried so far this season is from the cookbook I find the most helpful during the local growing season, Nancy O’Connor’s "Rolling Prairie Cookbook".
It’s a soup that helped us use up one of the hardest early veggies for me to finish: green onions. We enjoyed it with homemade veggie burgers, and it was the perfect addition.
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 cups chopped green onions
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger root
2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
6 to 7 cups water or vegetable broth (up to 1/2 cup of this can be dry white wine)
Several generous grinds black pepper
1 cup snow peas, sliced in half, on the diagonal (we used just regular peas)
1/2 to 3/4 cup cooked basmati rice (optional)
1/4 to 1/3 cup chopped green onions for garnish
Heat oil in soup pot over medium heat. Add green onions and ginger. Saute for 2 to 3 minutes. Add soy sauce, water or broth and black pepper. Simmer for 2 to 3 minutes. Add snow peas. Simmer 1 to 2 more minutes. Serve immediately. A tablespoon or two of cooked white or brown basmati rice may be added to each serving if desired. Garnish with raw, chopped green onion. Serves 6.
— Recipe from "Rolling Prairie Cookbook" by Nancy O’Connor
I’ve been a longtime lover of pad thai.
A connoisseur, really.
It’s one of my go-to treat foods after a marathon or ultramarathon. I’ve devoured it in probably every state I’ve ever visited. Honestly, if a restaurant has it on its menu, I’ll try it at least once, no matter where we are or what kind of restaurant it is.
Basically, the sweet and salty mixture is my idea of comfort food.
Thus, it was years ago that I first tried making it at home. I started using those pre-made kits you can buy of sauce and noodles.
But then I put on my big girl pants and started testing various recipes I found both online and in cookbooks. Some had a bazillion ingredients, including ones that are sometimes hard to find (aka fresh lemongrass). Others were so simple it seemed like the flavor might be lacking.
After years of trial and error, I’m happy to report that I finally have a favorite recipe.
Purists might balk in that this one doesn’t have the traditional fried egg and instead is full of veggies that aren’t typically part of the meal. That said, I can tell you that the combination of the sauce plus the noodles and the veggies is a totally perfect blend of taste and additional health benefits. And if you like the fried egg? Add it. Same goes for the mung beans often seen as part of a restaurant presentation.
Now, this makes a TON, but if you’re like me, you’ll keep going back to the wok for just a little more and just a little more until you really just need to stow away the leftovers, like, NOW.
Pea and Broccoli Pad Thai
14-ounce box of rice noodles
16-ounce bag frozen peas, defrosted
1 cup fresh broccoli, chopped
½ cup coconut palm sugar (You can sub brown sugar but it will be sweeter)
½ cup tamari
6 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon coconut oil
Lime wedges, for garnish
Peanuts, for garnish
Boil rice noodles according to the package directions. When they’re draining, heat coconut oil in a wok or large sauté pan. Once the oil is melted, dump in peas and broccoli.
In a small bowl, whisk together coconut palm sugar, tamari and lime juice to create the pad thai sauce. Pour over the vegetables in the wok. Add in rice noodles and heat through.
Serve warm. Garnish with lime wedges and peanuts. Serves 6 to 8.
I’ve been in the mood for beets lately. Like lots and lots of beets. Maybe it’s just my appetite’s way trying to get me to think warm thoughts. You know, because the local beet crop will kick in in June.
Do you guys remember what June feels like? All warm and sunny and pretty?
Very much unlike what’s going on right now, unfortunately.
Luckily, roasted beets are earthy and hearty in ways that make them especially delicious in the dead of winter. Sometimes, I just eat them straight. Sometimes I roast them with other vegetables and a balsamic dressing. But lately, I’ve been roasting them without oil, letting them cool and then tossing them into salads. (For the roasting, I’ve been using this method I mentioned back when local beets were a thing.)
I usually like to have my roasted salad beets with other root vegetables like sweet potatoes. But one night when we were out of sweet potatoes (oh, the horror), I made a salad from a few random things we had on hand for the kiddo’s dinner.
I believe we paired this with leftover spaghetti squash (which clearly wasn’t memorable enough for me to photograph), and the dinner as a whole was hearty, delicious and extra healthy thanks to all the good extras the beets added to the show.
Beet and Spinach Side Salad
1 cup roasted beets, chopped
Hilary’s Eat Well mini veggie burgers (I posted about them here)
2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced (optional)
Olive oil and balsamic to taste
Bake the veggie burgers about 400 degrees for 18 minutes on a parchment-covered baking sheet. Divide spinach and beets among two bowls. Top each bowl with burgers (pulled into quarters), egg slices, if using, olive oil and balsamic vinegar or dressing of your choice. Enjoy.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about National Pizza Day. And while our family loves making homemade pizza so much that we probably do it once a week, sometimes you just don’t have the time to do it.
I mean, if we don’t give the dough time to rise, it won’t be good. And, sure, we have often grabbed a ball of dough from 715 when times are tight, but we can’t do that all the time. And I’m not about to buy store-bought pizza crusts. That just isn’t my style.
A shortcut we’ve been trying? Polenta.
Long ago, when the kiddo was a baby, we’d made pizza with polenta. But we hadn’t done it in years. And as with most things that get out of the rotation, it’s so easy to forget how tasty and easy it was.
And it is. Long ago, we’d slice up the polenta into rounds of similar thickness (1/4 inch), arrange them together on a cookie sheet in the rough shape of a circle, pour on the sauce and cheese and bake it for 10 minutes.
But, because the kiddo is sooooo big on making things himself, this time we arranged the rounds like cookies on a parchment-covered cookie sheet and let him dress five rounds himself, just like he wanted. Then, we dressed the rest. It was a little more time-intensive but worth it. And rave-worthy, if the fact that we’ve had it twice in two weeks is any indication.
One night, I served them with sauteed shredded Brussels sprouts (above) and another with sweet potatoes. The result is something hearty and a little out of the ordinary, but “normal” enough that our 5-year-old accepted it without a challenge.
Mini Polenta Pizzas
1 tube polenta, any flavor
Pizza or marinara sauce
Cheese (we used goat cheese)
Toppings (we sauteed bell pepper, mushrooms and onion in olive oil and balsamic and topped the pizzas after they came out of the oven).
Set oven to 375 degrees. Cut tube of polenta into similar-thickness rounds, about 1/4 of an inch, and arrange in rows on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Top with desired toppings. Bake for about 10 minutes. Serve warm.
Sunday was National Pizza Day—something I didn’t know a thing about until various types of social media informed me. Thank goodness for Twitter, am I right?
Needless to say, my pizza-loving family was happy to abandon our previous meal plan and make pizza. About the time we decided to do this, it was snowing. As we know, that ended soon, but before the snow stopped, the hubby and I decided that we'd make our observance of National Pizza Day a bit more exciting by using only what we had on hand.
Meaning, no runs to the store for more toppings/cheese/sauce.
We already had the flour and olive oil for our typical dough, plus some leftover cheese and sauce from our last pizza-making expedition. But toppings were a complete toss up.
I’d gone grocery shopping the day before, but not specifically for pizza. Thus, we ended up using bits of what I’d already bought as toppings, namely: crimini mushrooms, red onion, red pepper and avocado. Add in some already-opened garlic olives and peppadew peppers and we had dinner.
Thus, below in order are our National Pizza Day 2014 pizzas…
The kiddo’s—cheese sans sauce:
The hubby’s—cheese with red pepper, red onion and mushrooms
And my lactose-free concoction: baba ghanoush (no hummus in the fridge!), red onion, mushrooms, garlic-stuffed olives, peppadew peppers and avocado (added after cooking)
Last week, I wrote about the little things you could do to help make it toward your goal of eating better in the new year.
This week, inspired by the crazy cold temperatures, I thought I’d continue this January pep talk with my top three frozen helpers. You know, the foods that are real and reliable and readily available (how’s that for alliteration?) and help me make sure my family gets the healthiest foods possible with the least amount of hassle.
Now, I prefer fresh foods. Fresh fruits, veggies and unaltered ingredients, all without processing. However, because I’m a working mom, there is no way in heck that I can buy only those things week in and week out and manage to A. Use it all before it goes bad B. Do anything but cook to keep on top of it.
I do rely on some frozen items. And before you ask, I prefer frozen to canned because there often aren’t added ingredients (e.g. salt) and I don’t have to worry whether or not the can might be lined with BPA. Of course, if the power goes out, I lose money, but to me, it’s worth it in the end.
Frozen fruits and vegetables: Whenever freezer section berries and veggies are on sale, I load up. Blueberries, raspberries, black raspberries, cherries, strawberries, etc., plus every kind of vegetables available. All the berries are great in smoothies, homemade sorbet and crumbles, while all the vegetables work well in stir-fries and slow-cooker recipes. Also, all work just fine eaten all by their lonesome (they’re mushy but hey, they’re healthy.) Note: Make sure to choose berries without added sugar.
Hilary’s Eat Well Mini Veggie Burgers: I used to love to go to Local Burger and buy the regular-sized veggie burgers there in bulk. Now, not only can you get the big ones, but little kid-sized mini ones, too. The kiddo prefers the tiny ones and I love that not only do I know there are no ingredients I don’t want in them, but I know (and have interviewed many times) the person who created them, Hilary Brown (and no, I wasn’t paid to say anything about these).
Pizza dough: OK, so I make the pizza dough and then freeze it. It’s easy to make, saves lots of money, freezes well and then you can make super healthy pizza with ease. And yes, I do believe homemade pizza is worlds better for you than the frozen kind (which is usually rife with salt, extra fat and chemicals you won't use if you make it at home). Use this recipe, divide it in half and you've got two pizza-sized balls of dough at the ready. Stick the dough in a plastic bag and freeze. All you have to do is remember to put the ball of dough out on the counter before you leave for work in the morning.