Category Archives: cooking

Immediate Recipe Turn-Offs: Quick Easy Cheesy One-Pot Skinny Moist Chicken

I love food. I love to read about food. I love to make food, and I love to eat it.

But mostly, it seems, I love to read about it.

Lately I’m also trying out some meal-planning. It works great for some people but not so much for me. It has, however, really helped clinch what menu or recipe words immediately turn me off to the food, no matter how taste it might be.

moist: Come on, that’s a no-brainer.

easy: I’ll decide that. But usually “easy” involves a can of cream of mushroom soup. Blech.

skinny: I’m not eating anything skinny or anything that promises to make me skinny or keep me skinny or whatever. I like food that tastes good. I do not care about skinny.

quick (see also: one-pot): This usually involves chicken. I am so tired of seeing “quick easy cheesy one-pot chicken recipe” that, I am promised, I will love. I will not love it. I will feel sad that I’m not eating something more interesting.

cheesy: No. Just no. I like cheese. I don’t like something that has to call itself “cheesy.” And it’s probably way too heavy to enjoy.

congealed: Are you kidding me? I just saw this while I was browsing ideas for Christmas dinner. Christmas dinner. Christmas dinner—or any dinner, ever—should not include anything boasting about its own deliberately congealed condition, as in “cranberry congealed salad.” I don’t care if it tastes amazing. It needs a new name, stat.

one-pot: Could be easy (see above), could be cheesy (see above). Might end up not being one-pot, or involving an extra plate or bowl (or several) even though, yes, technically only one pot is used. Sometimes it is easier and better to use two or more pots. Go big or go takeout, I say.

What about you? What words in a recipe name turn you off?



Need Dinner? Start with Canned Tomatoes and a Slow Cooker

Recently, my husband has started making dinner once a week. It’s great for many reasons, including the fact that our older son in interested in helping (not sure why it’s less fun to help when  cook, but maybe it has to do with the fact that the menfolk cook on a leisurely weekend, whereas I’m throwing meals together at the end of a busy workday/weekday, when the children are tired and having to do homework and practice the piano and we’ve just walked in the door and dinner needs to be on the table in 15 minutes and Leave your brother alone!

Yeah. I should take some tips from my husband, actually, because you know what his secret is? He uses the slow cooker. The first time, I tipped him off that you can put frozen chicken breasts in the slow cooker. Yes, you can. He added chopped onion, a can of black beans, a big can of crushed tomatoes, and some other seasonings. He may have added frozen corn at some point.

The house smelled great by early afternoon. At dinnertime, I clued him in that he could just shred the chicken in the pot using two forks. Meanwhile, I sliced some green onions and shredded cheese.

The resulting black bean and chicken chili was delicious.

Since then, his dinners always use the slow cooker and a big can of tomatoes. The rest varies. It’s always good.

We’re not otherwise big on using the slow cooker, but for tomato-based soups and stews, I love it. And it is handy on weekdays, if I can take the time in the morning to load it up, so we can come home to a hot meal ready to serve.

Redgold Tomatoes (makers of RedGold, RedPack, and Tuttoroso canned tomato products) is running a slow cooker giveaway right now (actually, it ends TODAY! Don’t delay!). Go to their Facebook page to enter.

If you prefer a more formal recipe, here’s one provided by Redgold:

Rustic Italian Chicken

Servings: 6    |    Preparation Time: 20 minutes    |    Cook Time: 360 minutes

12 boneless skinless chicken thighs, about 2 pounds
2 large carrots, cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 (14.5 ounce) can Redpack® Diced Tomatoes In Juice
1 (28 ounce) can Redpack® Crushed Tomatoes In Thick Puree
3 cups pasta of choice, cooked and drained

•    Spray slow cooker with cooking spray.  Place chicken in slow cooker and top with remaining ingredients, except pasta.

•    Cover and cook on LOW for 6 to 8 hours.  Serve chicken over pasta and garnish.

Garnish Options:  Parmesan cheese and chopped fresh basil


[Disclosure: Redgold provided me with tomatoes for review.]

* I promise that this blog is not becoming “All food, all the time” but I did write this while eating pumpkin ice cream and while baking banana chocolate chip muffins, and I just came from a restaurant I’m going to say. What can I tell you? I like food. And I’m not running right now, so it’s not like I can dish out the race reports.



Blueberry Sour Cream Ice Cream with Hood Sour Cream

IMG_2405.JPGIce cream that’s fast, eggless, and homemade? Yes, please! Plus, it’s blueberry season!

And it’s sour cream season. Just kidding: sour cream is always in season. I was recently asked by Hood to come up a recipe incorporating sour cream as the main ingredient. Well, I think they asked me to share a recipe, but I’ll confess I don’t usually cook with sour cream. My cooking/our eating is all veggies and lean meat and whole grains and minimal dairy….except, well, for ice cream.

I love ice cream. I love to eat it. I love to make it. However, it’s hard to make creamy ice cream at home unless you make a custard base first. Who has time for that? Whenever I get the urge to make ice cream, I need to make it now. I don’t want to patiently separate eggs and make the custard and thoroughly cool it, etc., before making the ice cream. No. Need it now.

Sour cream is a great base for homemade ice cream, because it’s rich and thick and tangy and wonderful. And it’s fast. Just add your ingredients, turn on the ice cream maker, sit down to dinner (or clean up from dinner, or whatever) and half an hour later you have wonderful homemade ice cream.

We recently went blueberry picking and went overboard, coming home with ten pounds. Ten pounds of blueberries! We ate a lot of them fresh, but I also washed, dried, and froze most of them. Those fresh blueberries add a wonderful flavor to this ice cream, but you could substitute any fruit. Or leave out the blueberries, cut the lemon juice down, and increase the vanilla. Or hey! A few tablespoons of brown sugar mixed into the ice cream at the last minute would be amazing. Or brown sugar and banana slices!! Considering how many people told me they liked a bowl of sour cream with sliced bananas and brown sugar, I have to try making that in ice cream form.

But for now, it’s blueberries.

Blueberry Sour Cream Ice Cream

This tangy, rich ice cream is fast—no need to make and cool a custard base!—eggless, and delicious. I don’t use much sugar, because I don’t like very sweet ice cream, but if you prefer a sweeter dessert, increase the sugar by a half-cup.

 Ice Cream:

16 oz sour cream
1½  cups whole milk
½ cup sugar (you can use up to one cup if you want it sweeter)
pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 T lemon juice

Blueberry Sauce:

2 cups blueberries (fresh or frozen)
½ cup sugar

Equipment: Ice cream maker

Blueberry Sauce: Make blueberry sauce first. Combine blueberries and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil, covered, over medium-high, stirring occasionally. Lower heat to medium and cook uncovered until slightly thickened. Cool. [NOTE: To cool quickly, divide into shallow bowls or other dishes and place dishes into fridge or freezer.]

Ice Cream: Combine all ice cream ingredients in a bowl and mix with a whisk (or put them all into the blender). Pour into ice cream maker. About 15 minutes later, add half of the blueberry sauce. Let the ice cream maker run until the ice cream is done (usually about half an hour total; ice cream will have increased in volume and frozen to a soft-serve consistency). Pack ice cream into a freezer-safe container, drizzling in remaining blueberry sauce. Eat immediately if you like a soft-serve consistency or freeze to let the ice cream harden. [NOTE: If it gets very hard, remove from freezer 20 minutes before serving.]

Variations: You don’t have to make blueberry ice cream. With the sour cream ice cream base, you can make any flavor.

  • Strawberry: Substitute strawberries (fresh or frozen) for blueberries. Proceed as directed.
  • Vanilla: Skip blueberry sauce. Increase sugar to ¾ cup. Increase vanilla to 1.5 tsp. Decrease lemon juice to 1 tablespoon. Add scraped vanilla beans, if desired.
  • Chocolate Swirl: Skip blueberry sauce. Increase sugar to ¾ cup. Decrease lemon juice to 1 tablespoon. Drizzle in ¾ to 1 cup of chocolate sauce at the very end.



Hood Sour Cream - Blogger Badge

[Disclosure: I was invited by Hood to participate in their Sour Cream Meal Makeover (there’s an actual cookoff tomorrow night–check out the final recipes on the Hood site!). I was compensated for my participation. All opinions are my own.]


Home After a Week Away

We’re home again! We were gone for almost a week, out near St. Louis, at a state park for a family wedding celebration for my niece: the niece I’d never met before! (She’s delightful!) We got to spend time with the “other side of the Mississippi” part of my husband’s family, whom we very rarely get to see. My kids were thrilled to spend some time with their grown-up guy cousins and uncle and aunt. It was wonderful to have some time with my in-laws.

Plus, we went out on a boat, swam in a lake, rode in a golf cart (fun for kids!), played with dogs, had a late-night campfire with s’mores, and I saw fresh bear prints in the woods (alas, I didn’t have my camera with me). We saw the Arch (but did not go up in it), swam in a hotel pool, and in general had an excellent trip.

Then we had a three-hour weather delay, got home at nearly 2 a.m., and the kids didn’t get to school until 11:30 a.m. Yes, that means the little one will be at school for a whole hour and a half today. We’re all tired and out of sorts and the laundry pile is up to here and the fridge is empty.

I might cheat and make pasta and meatballs tonight, but I’m also turning to my meal-planning sources hard. Why? They provide grocery lists! And tell me what to make for dinner! And offer variety! I’m sick of making the same old lunches every day, and we’re all tired of the same old dinners.

What I’m craving is a Chopped Kale and Roasted Corn Salad with Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette posted on my pal Melanie’s blog (go check it out right now—-aren’t you craving it now, too??).  I think that salad needs to happen here tonight.

Then I grabbed the free sample lunch menu (with shopping list, yay!) from MOMables, because damn if I am going to throw out one more turkey sandwich or scrape any more uneaten hummus into the trash. Maybe there’s only a few weeks of school left (yikes—only ONE week left for my older son!!), but we need some fresh ideas around here.

Next up, eMeals. I’ve posted about them before, and here too. Honestly, I haven’t been using the site as much lately. Even though they send me a weekly meal plan, and I still change it up sometimes (Mediterranean, Clean Eating, Low Calorie, Kid-Friendly), I kind of got out of the habit.

But today, I’m happy to go through my inbox, find the one from eMeals with the comforting subject line of “Your Mediterranean Plan for Two provided by eMeals” (we do the 2-person plan, usually, instead of the family plan, because I found that since half of our family consists of very small children who may or may not eat much dinner, we had too many leftovers). In a few minutes I’ll print out the menu and shopping list, and over the next week we’ll be eating Honey-Lemon Grilled Salmon, Zucchini and Tomato Pasta with Olives, and so on….with everything I need right in my kitchen, thanks to the shopping list.

(I realize I’ve said “shopping list” or “grocery list” about eight times in this post, but it’s such a lifesaver. Right now I have the energy to feed/dress/clean up the kids, keep the kitchen clean, get the laundry done, and meet my work deadlines. I don’t have time for meal planning and grocery lists. Thus, eMeals!)

So here I go. Print, work, pick up Ben from preschool, and hit the grocery store….with a little help from my online meal-planning friends (and food bloggers–because I cannot WAIT to have that kale salad!!).

You can try eMeals for 15% off. Click the picture below to save yourself time and hassle. You know you’ll probably be traveling this summer. Wouldn’t this be nice to come home to?



Let eMeals Do Your Meal Planning–and Holiday Menus!

Listen, just a short post to remind you that meal planning can be time-sucking and tedious. Wouldn’t you rather just, mid-afternoon or at the end of the day, know what’s for dinner and — even better — know that you have all the ingredients you need to make dinner happen fast?

Every night?

eMeals is having a sale right now: 30% off! Click the link below or the link on the ad in my sidebar. Also, if you sign up now, you get a FREE holiday meal plan! Paleo Thanksgiving? No problem! Classic Thanksgiving? Sure! Clean Eating Thanksgiving? Got it!

Save 30% with code Cyber

Click the pic!

And yes, I am in the eMeals Blogger Program, and yes, I am an eMeals affiliate, meaning if you sign up through my link I get a small commission, I think. But seriously, that is not why I am encouraging this.

I’m pushing it because making dinner night after night after night after bloody night is HARD. And I don’t know about you, but I’m not great at grocery shopping unless I have a list. And if I don’t have everything on that list that I need, then midweek I find myself saying, “Oh, crud, we can’t have that or that for dinner because I forgot to buy [key ingredient].” It’s no longer a problem! In fact, last weekend, when I had to work, I printed out the list and sent my husband to the store with both children to buy the week’s worth of groceries. It’s all organized by department, so shopping was pretty easy for him—no running all over the store looking for things!

Plus, I’ve seen all the holiday meal plans. They are good. I made the kale salad the other night and it was so much better than my own kale salad! Next up is their Brussels sprouts recipe, because I love Brussels sprouts.

Try this for a holiday treat:


Sign yourself up. Or sign up a friend. Happy no-more-thinking-about-meal-planning!

Meal Planning? eMeals Saved the Day!

closeupIt is 5:30 p.m. You’ve just walked in the door with four grocery bags and two hungry children…at dinnertime. You hand each child a tiny snack, look at tonight’s menu, realize it’s not possible…and yet less than half an hour later you have a tasty meal on the table that your children actually eat and like.

That was me, tonight, thanks to eMeals. I’ve attempted (and failed at) meal planning in the past, having an approach much like the spontaneous Melanie in the Middle. Unfortunately, the pour-a-glass-of-wine-and-wing-it approach doesn’t work when my small children need dinner around 5:30 p.m. and I get home with them at 5:15.

Despite some posts that indicate the contrary, I don’t just throw frozen stuff into the microwave for them. First of all, they generally hate that stuff, even if it is organic and such. Second, I like to cook and want to make them (and us!) tasty meals.

Here’s a problem: I live in a wonderful neighborhood full of small children just the same ages as my children, and sometimes late in the afternoon, I’d rather my kids be outside playing with friends than indoors while I’m making dinner. Or we get home and see all their friends outside, across the street, and go over to play instead of going inside so I can cook dinner. It’s a trade-off, for sure, but I’d really rather they be outside, even if we end up in nightly dinner hell.

Anyway, I recently signed onto eMeals. eMeals is a meal-planning service that sends you a weekly menu, with recipes and shopping lists. The great thing about eMeals is they have several different meal plans: Classic, Clean Eating (what we do), Natural and Organic, Gluten Free, Paleo, Mediterranean, Simple Gourmet, Low Fat, and so on. You can also plug in the grocery store you normally shop at, and they can match a meal plan to the store. In addition, you can indicate whether you want meals for 1-2 people or 3-6 people. Our first week, I’d signed us up for 3-6 people. Way too much food for us (2 adults, 2 kids). This week, I’m shifting to the 1-2 person plan.

We get the Clean Eating meal plan. It’s sent to me on Wednesday, but I didn’t manage to print out the most recent one until the weekend. I spent a little time going over it. The plan includes seven meals plus side dishes. I knew we’d have leftovers one night and might want to use up a freezer meal another night. So I crossed off two meals that I thought my family would be less interested in.

Then I went through the included grocery list, crossing off any items that we already had or that we wouldn’t need (items for the meals I’d crossed off). The list and a pen went into some reusable grocery bags.

Could this get much easier?

Could this get much easier?

However, being our spontaneous selves, we ended up going apple-picking instead of grocery shopping. You know how it goes!

Tuesday I picked up Max from school, zoomed over to the grocery store, got everything on the list, wove through traffic to go get Ben, and got home. Naturally, all the neighbor kids were outside, so out stayed we…until 5:30, when we finally got in the door.

5:30, remember, is dinnertime.

Somewhere in those bags is the answer to, "Where's dinner?"

Somewhere in those bags is the answer to, “Where’s dinner?”

Did I panic? Actually, for a second I did. Then I went to my menu. Tonight was supposed to be Juicy Chicken Sliders, with a side of Parmesan Oven Fries. “Kid-Friendly,” it was noted. But the total time: 50 minutes. Too long! Pot roast? Nope — that’s a slow-cooker meal. Roasted Chicken: a 50-minute cook time. Penne? I’m sick of pasta — last week we went off our plan a little, in an attempt to clean out the cupboards, and ate a lot of pasta.

Taco Salad: “Super Fast,” it said. OK!

One problem: It called for ground round. Our ground beef was all frozen. But I had just brought home chicken breasts for the sliders that we wouldn’t be having tonight! I scanned the recipe and decided to go for it.

Screen shot 2013-10-16 at 11.42.41 AM

Taco Salad

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced (I completely forgot to add the garlic!)
3/4 lb ground round (or sliced boneless, skinless chicken breast; fish or tofu would also be good!)
½ teaspoon chili powder
1/4  teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper
4 cups whole-grain tortilla chips
5 cups chopped Romaine lettuce
2 tablespoons low-fat plain Greek yogurt

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat; add garlic, ground round (or chicken), chili powder, cumin, salt, and pepper. Cook 8 minutes or until beef (or chicken) is browned, stirring occasionally. Divide tortilla chips evenly among 2 plates; top with lettuce, ground beef mixture, Corn Salsa (see below) and yogurt.

Corn Salsa

3/4 cup frozen whole kernel corn, thawed
2 plum tomatoes, chopped (I used grape tomatoes instead)
1 small jalapeño, minced (I omitted this on purpose)
1 clove garlic, minced (forgot again! sprinkled garlic powder [not garlic salt] on instead]
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper

Combine corn, tomatoes, jalapeño, garlic, cilantro, lime juice, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl; chill until ready to serve. (I also threw some leftover edamame into the corn salsa, because why not?)

To serve it, I put things in separate piles on the kids’ plates, because they are ages three and five, and sometimes it is best if things don’t touch each other. They ate the chicken and asked for more. Then Max noticed how my plate was one big mixed-up salad, and he wanted his that way. So of course then Ben wanted his that way, too. So we all ended up with these big mixed-up taco salads on our plates, and Max loved it. Ben preferred to fly his alien spaceship tomato-and-cucumber combo. But he did eat all his chicken and some of the corn salsa.


Remember those grocery bags at 5:30? Yeah. I could have been done with dinner even sooner, but I decided to slice up some cucumbers and tomatoes, too. And clear the breakfast dishes off the table because….you know.


Who feels like a rock star? I do.


My plate. Blurry but tasty.

What’s awesome is that we had a great new meal (I never make taco salad!!) on the table fast, and we all enjoyed it. Plus, thanks to the grocery list and the quick shopping trip, I now have the ingredients in my fridge for the rest of this week’s meals, and now I know how long the others will take, so I can plan those nights.

Want to try it? Here’s a discount code for 15% off: DINNER15. Considering that the plan is pretty inexpensive even without the code, and the grocery savings are nice, and the knowing what’s for dinner is priceless, the extra 15% off is icing on the cake! Click the link (image) below to sign up!

Disclosure: I am a member of the eMeals blogger network program and am also in the eMeals affiliate program. I was not compensated for this post, and all opinions are mine.

Kale Pesto and Smug Salad: Beyond Kale Chips

Tonight I had one of those “Oh crap, what can I make for dinner??” moments…long after the time I should have already started cooking dinner.

I am meal planning these days and have been using Six O’Clock Scramble but recently switched to eMeals (review coming soon!!), but even so, this week things fell apart. Last night I made boxed mac-and-cheese (Annie’s, at least) for the kids. I NEVER make them boxed mac-and-cheese. It’s absolute emergency food, in my opinion. My special snowflakes only eat wholesome fresh dinners made from organic scratch.

Except, you know, last night.

And then my husband, when he got home, suggested that he go pick up burritos or maybe order from our favorite Szechuan place, and I pointed out that now that we’re sending one child to private school, I’m going to be the budget bitch. I pointed to the can of Trader Joe’s Turkey Chili on the counter.

Granted, they could really brighten up their label. It’s dismal, black and dark red, like something you only eat if you hate yourself and it’s raining out and you’re in a sad motel room alone with a plastic spoon. He promised to keep our Szechuan order in check, but I got too hungry to wait and opened that can.

The chili, once heated, was pretty good. I added the kids’ leftover frozen-but-heated-now-cooled veggies (sorry, at this point are you wondering why I ever claimed to be a locavore foodie or a one-time chef in a fancy restaurant? I promise, I am the former and was the latter. It’s just that these days, sometimes I just have to cope, like last night).

Tonight, though, I rocked it so hard in the spontaneous dinner department. Once again, the afternoon got away from us, so I left the kids out in the yard* and went up to cook.

I took some kale, put it into the blender with plenty of olive oil, added raw pumpkin seeds and some nutritional yeast, garlic, and salt, and blended away. The resulting kale pesto was spectacular.


I ate this for lunch today, spread on bread.


Then, I was determined to cook out of our cabinets (since it was way past dinnertime and I had to think fast and there was no time to thaw anything) and ended up making food that the kids loved. Why have I bothered with “fancy” recipes for tomato ragu (“I hate this pasta! I want spaghetti, not fettuccine!”) or lemon chicken and couscous with spinach, feta, and pine nuts (“What is this gross stuff?? Get it off my plate!”**) when I could have been tossing hot dogs at them all week?

Meanwhile, I cooked whole-wheat shells, adding frozen peas and corn near the end. I drained it, added canned salmon and olive oil and grated Parmesan, and served it, holding my breath.


They loved it so much Ben ate it for lunch today, too…as did I.

They LOVED it.

As Max asked for his third plateful, he said, “Mom, you know what would be really good with this? That green sauce.” He meant standard basil pesto but I offered him some kale pesto. Unfortunately, he got a big chunk of raw garlic (“too spicy!!”), so I offered him basil pesto instead.

Ben wanted both kinds of pesto and ended up eating the kale pesto with his hands (this is how the child gets away with everything–because if you are willing to eat raw kale pesto by the handful, child, you are the winner).

I, of course, doused my plateful of pasta with the kale pesto and later ate some remaining kale pesto with a spoon. WHAT??

So here is the basic rule: If you have kale, you need olive oil and some salt. Cooked, raw, roasted, whatever– with those three ingredients, you rule the world.

We get olive oil in big jugs. I really think we should buy the gallon cans, except I worry about BPA.

We get olive oil in big jugs. I really think we should buy the gallon cans, except I worry about BPA.

I also made what I’m calling Smug Salad: raw kale, half a red onion, the old red cabbage from the lower left produce drawer (chopped), sliced scallions (because don’t you just feel smug using kale and the tired veggies from your fridge…plus nutritional yeast??). Massage chopped kale leaves with olive oil. Add the other stuff. Sprinkle with nutritional yeast and sea salt and raw pumpkin seeds. Spritz with fresh lemon juice and serve, knowing you are an acai berry and some pomegranate away from Utter Superfood Salad.

kale cabbage

[One other confession: This kale was from a bag. Whole Foods sells these 16-oz. bags of washed, torn kale. It’s awesome if you haven’t made it to the farmer’s market in a while and you want kale in a hurry and you just can’t deal with washing it because your sink is full of dishes.]

Why didn’t I take a picture of the finished salad? I don’t know! But it is beautiful.

*This is kind of a huge deal if you live in the city and your yard isn’t fenced. But I could hear them the whole time and occasionally popped down for surprise checks. They, as directed, stayed in the backyard and did not kill or blind each other with sticks. And I got to make dinner. Win-win-win!!

**Oh yes, that got sent him away from the table IMMEDIATELY.

Cooking With Kids: ChopChop and The Big Picnic #giveaway

Cooking with kids is not new around here. Max has been my trusty kitchen helper for as long as I can remember. I think it’s important to cook with kids because free help, right? it’s important that kids learn cooking skills and learn where food comes from and how to prepare it.

I’ve been dragging Max to our weekly vegetable CSA pickup since I was pregnant with him. Once, he nearly fell out of the sling into the bin of zucchini (headfirst, might I add…I caught him just in time). He has a pretty good sense of where food comes from, which foods are good for you, and why it’s important to have a healthy diet. He knows we don’t eat food with bad chemicals in it. We don’t eat processed food. He doesn’t like boxed mac-and-cheese (even Annie’s!) or, in general, stuff with fake flavoring.

So now that we’ve established that I’ve basically won some kind of parenting award in Food Smugness or something, let’s talk about cooking with kids.

1. It’s not always easy.

2. It can be fun and really rewarding.

Eggwash on our homemade challah

Brushing egg wash on our homemade challah. Photo from my post Challah-back Girl.

3. It can be terribly messy.

4. It can be tough if you are impatient.

5. It can be very frustrating if you’re in a hurry and the kids are clamoring to help and you know that the right thing to do is to let them help you, even though you could get dinner on the table in five minutes, start to finish, if only they’d leave the room and keep quiet. (That particular day, fortunately, I was following some recipe from the Six O’Clock Scramble and I was actually able to give both kids easy jobs: Max made the pasta and cut up the artichokes, Ben cut up fresh mozzarella and smashed sliced the tomatoes. It was awesome.)

Ben was not into cooking for a long time. Really, he just couldn’t be bothered, and he always had something better to do. Except one time when I talked him into helping me cut up some broccoli (Max’s first real kitchen job around here, after baking projects).

This is Max, the first time I let him cut up broccoli:


Max usually prefers to work in an apron and toque. Photo from my post Making Dinner.

Ben, on the other hand…in true Ben style, he did not earnestly cut up the broccoli head and put the pieces into a nearby bowl, occasionally turning to smile at me. No, Ben dropped the whole mess of broccoli onto the floor…after he dropped his fireman rain boots onto the floor, of course.  One brother cooks in an apron and toque, the other in fireman rain boots that he flings off partway through the food prep.


So if all the stuff is on the floor, what IS he doing up on the chair?

When I picked up the broccoli, rinsed it, and handed it back to him, he put it back into the container, put the container on the floor, and poured chocolate milk over the broccoli. Then he dragged his chair over to the kitchen sink and washed the broccoli.   IMG_20130406_172042_355


Really, there’s no one right way to prepare broccoli, right? Let’s think outside the box!

I appreciated the rinsing. But despite some occasional egg-cracking and pizza-cutting, Ben hasn’t been quite as keen on cooking until very recently. Now he’s a little more into it. Cooking with my kids is not always easy or quick (they’re ages 3 and 5, so there’s some fighting over who gets to do what), but they’re earnest helpers.

And guess what! Max now cooks our breakfast! I have to get the pot down for him, but he gets the canister of rolled oats from the cabinet, pulls a chair to the counter, scoops oats into the pot, pours in water from the Brita pitcher, and turns on the stove. He’s happy and proud to do this, and I’m happy to have a helper. I know he can do a lot more than this, but by late afternoon, when it’s time to cook dinner, he is tired and needs to relax after a long day of kindergarten and, some days, swimming lessons. I get it. I’m not going to force it. Cooking should be fun!


ChopChop magazine agrees with me. Though we’ve had a few copies, here and there, of ChopChop — a cooking magazine for kids — we now have a subscription. The last issue piqued Max’s interest in a few recipes and techniques. It’s a great magazine, very kid-friendly, with good recipes that kids can handle easily and beautiful photos of real kids in action. ChopChop recently came out with a cookbook, too.


Some facts about ChopChop (in their words):

  • ChopChop’s mission is to inspire and teach kids to cook and eat real food with their families. Currently, 1 out of 400 children under 18 in the U.S. has diabetes, and nearly 1 in 3 is obese. ChopChop’s goal is to reverse this trend by teaching kids and their parents how to create healthy, delicious meals that are easy to prepare and use fresh, nutritious ingredients. ChopChop doesn’t demonize particular foods or use scare tactics. They just offer simple, healthy, and affordable recipes for children and parents to make together.
  • ChopChop is a non-profit and relies on the support of sponsors and subscribers.
  • ChopChop Magazine is distributed quarterly via subscription and newsstand sales, as well as through pediatricians’ offices, hospitals, schools, public health departments, and youth groups. Each issue is available in English and Spanish.
  • ChopChop supporters include the American Academy of Pediatrics, The White House’s “Let’s Move” campaign, the New Balance Foundation, Partnership for a Healthier America, and authors Mark Bittman, Michael Pollan, and Mollie Katzen.
  • ChopChop was named 2013 Publication of the Year by the James Beard Foundation + winner of the 2013 Parents’ Choice Magazine Award (gold).

[Does it get any better? You can see why I’m into this magazine, right?]

So…why am I writing about this now? Well, September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, and on September 22, ChopChop and some partners (including, you know, the White House!) are hosting The Big Picnic, “a one-of-a-kind, virtual community picnic in which families across the country will cook and eat together at their own picnics.” They promise that the picnic will be fun, with the very serious goal of preventing childhood obesity.


In their words:

  • Why a picnic? Picnics are a great way to remind us that cooking and eating healthy food together is lots of fun—a time to share and enjoy. Picnics are about good food and good company; have yours wherever you like: spread out a blanket or grab a picnic table – outside or indoors. Feel free to invite your friends, family, and neighbors. It can be as simple or as elaborate as you want it to be.
  • Join The Big Picnic by sharing photos and videos (using #bigpicnic) to help spread the joy of cooking and share our hope for healthy kids everywhere.
  • ChopChop will virtually hand out prizes on September 22, including subscriptions to the magazine, copies of the ChopChop cookbook, and other prizes. Join the conversation via #bigpicnic.

Oh, and guess what?? One lucky reader here (could be YOU!!) will win both a one-year subscription to ChopChop magazine as well as a copy of the ChopChop cookbook! How awesome is that? Enter via Rafflecopter below.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: I’m sharing this post as part of a program with The Mission List. I received a ChopChop cookbook + magazine subscription for culinary inspiration; all opinions are my own.


Ming Tsai Back-to-School Cooking at Macy’s #spon

Ming Tsai will be at Macy’s in Natick, Massachusetts Thursday night to give a demo and talk on back-to-school cooking, including lunches and meals that are quick, easy, and kid-friendly!

Ironically, I have to miss it because the kids are just getting back to school this week, and I need to be home that evening to make a quick dinner, prep lunches, and get the kids to bed early. I would love love love to go to this, but today I’m finding out (the hard way, believe me) that keeping the kids out late on a school night makes for a ROUGH next day. Early to bed –> happy kids, happy me!

[DISCLOSURE: I am being compensated for this post, but all opinions are my own.]

The cool thing about Ming Tsai—well, there are several cool things about Ming Tsai. He’s an amazing cook, so he obviously knows food and flavors and deliciousness. He’s a father, so he understands kids and back-to-school pressures and the need to pack healthful lunches and fast, nutritious dinners. And he understands food allergies, so he knows all kinds of great foods and recipes that are safe for kids who are allergic to all kinds of things.

  • James Beard Award-winning chef/owner of two restaurants – Blue Ginger and Blue Dragon; Emmy Award-winning host of PBS-TV’s Simply Ming, now in its tenth season; author of five cookbooks, including his latest Simply Ming In Your Kitchen.
  • In 2012, invited by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to represent the U.S. with the Diplomatic Culinary Partnership Initiative/American Chef Corps.
  • national spokesperson for the national Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) organization; also worked with Massachusetts Legislature to help write Bill S. 2701, which requires local restaurants to comply with food allergy awareness guidelines.
  • member of the Harvard School of Public Health’s Nutrition Round Table, and supporter of many charities including Big Brothers Big Sisters, Cam Neely Foundation, Family Reach Foundation and Greater Boston Food Bank.

So not only will his demo on Thursday, as part of Macy’s Culinary Council, be a great opportunity for all families (or non-families; after all, couldn’t everyone use some tips on healthful lunches and other meals??), but it’s going to be a great talk for families whose members have food allergies.

Ming Tsai

Also, he’s totally personable and funny. I’ve had the chance to see one other of his cooking demos, and it was a great time. So even if you don’t care at all about food or anything back-to-school related, I guarantee this would be a fun evening anyway!


Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013 at 6:00 PM

Macy’s Natick Collection
1245 Worcester Road
Natick, MA 01760

Reservations are required as space is limited. To save your spot today and get full details, visit

With your purchase of $35 or more* in the Home department, receive a $10 Macy’s Gift Card, and a Macy’s Culinary Council backpack filled with gourmet goodies and a cookbook by Tsai, which he will sign following the demonstration.

*One per customer, while supplies last, while time permits. Seating is first come, first served. Macy’s gift card valid September 12th – 19th. Purchase must be made September12th, 2013 at Macy’s Boston. Chef Tsai will sign after the demo only. Event subject to cancellation or change.

To learn more about the Macy’s Culinary Council and upcoming events, log on to


Meal Plan: Week of July 23

(Well, what’s left of this week…We just got back last night from a beautiful trip to Iceland to visit family! More on that later.)

We arrived home from the airport last night to find an enormous bag of vegetables* in our entryway. This wasn’t a shock. A friend who’s in the same CSA we had to drop out of this year is out of town this week and wanted to give her share to someone else. I jumped at the chance, even though our plane would be landing at Logan just as the CSA pickup was ending.

Fortunately, a few of our neighbors are in the same CSA and one kindly volunteered to pick up our share for us.

So we got home to find:

  • two heads of cabbage
  • two bunches of chioggia beets
  • two bunches of Swiss chard
  • two pounds of new potatoes
  • two cucumbers
  • two squash (some kind of green summery squash, similar to zucchini)
  • two pounds of Kentucky wonder beans
  • two bunches of Cipollini onions

[You’re probably thinking, “Why the hell did you drop out of that CSA??” Great question, and I ask myself that every day. But let’s move on.]

The food in Iceland was excellent, and we ate well. I especially enjoyed the hangikjöt on flatkokur, which we had for lunch one day when my sister in Iceland packed sandwiches for us when we toured the Golden Circle. (I promise, more on this soon!) Hangikjöt is smoked lamb, and it was in thin slices on this flat bread. I really like it. I liked all the food there.

But, you know, when you’re traveling, you don’t eat quite like you do at home, and you often want to try all the pastry shops and bakeries and local ice cream to see how they are. Well, I do, at least.

So it was a nice treat to come home to a million pounds of fresh green vegetables. Those vegetables will inform the menu for the rest of this week.

Wednesday: Zucchini and feta pie, Kentucky wonder beans, Balsamic Glazed Cipolli Onions (since I’ll have the oven going anyway!). Doesn’t that onion recipe look amazing?

Thursday: Chickpea Pasta, raw beet salad, sauteed cabbage.

Friday: Pizza, shredded cabbage salad.

Saturday: One of the Wildtree freezer meals (probably Tropical Glazed Porkchops), greens.

Sunday: I don’t know!

Lunches this week are looking pretty spectacular: huge chopped salads of beet greens and grated beets and shredded cabbage; garlic soup from a recipe I found in Yoga Journal; hummus from The Frugalette’s recipe. I’m so happy to be up to my ears in veggies! And this confirms that next year I will indeed be joining the CSA again.

* Which I didn’t photograph, as we were trying to get all the luggage and children and car seats unloaded from the taxi and up the stairs. Trust me, though: It was a beautiful sight.

Do you belong to a CSA? Do you alter or create your meal plans based around the local harvest?