Thursday, January 30, 2014

mood lifter

Thursday, January 30, 2014

I have yet to meet anyone who didn't get caught up in the blissfully satisfying experience of watching Pitch Perfect.  Even my husband succumbed to its charms.  I have the soundtrack, but sometimes I prefer to relive that last scene.  It's guaranteed to make even the staunchest enemy of acapella smile.  

P.S. This might be a good time to mention that I was something of an "aca groupie" in college.  

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

character love

Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Well hello there, exorbitantly priced "Talking" Percy.  

I've heard it said before that the "best" parents are the ones who don't yet have children.  They are the ones who swear there will never be a minute of television watched in their homes.  Nary a crumb of processed food will cross their child's lips.  Sugar in all its forms will be utterly foreign concepts.    These children will be disciplined kindly and effectively, such that they will never, ever throw fits in restaurants and grocery stores.  All of their toys will be composed of wood, and a polyester thread will never touch their skin.

All of this is to say that we have a lot of aspirations, goals, and ideas for how things will be for our children, ESPECIALLY before they are born.  Most of us eventually do a pretty good job of reaching some of them, but inevitably we give in to some of the temptations of the world surrounding us.  A little television doesn't seem like such a bad thing if it means you get a few minutes of extra sleep in the morning.  There is a considerable joy in watching your toddler's face when you've given him his first doughnut.  And even if you've sworn your child will never, ever wear a "character" t-shirt, it can be incredibly satisfying to witness their happy recognition when they see a face they love.

I was definitely on the "no characters" team, but, like so many other kids, A is not immune to the charms of Thomas the Train.  He loves Thomas and all his friends (the theme song is already popping  up in my mind as I type!), and spends at least part of every day pushing them around on the ridiculously expensive train track set we purchased at Christmas (before we used a humble figure-8 track from Ikea).  Despite my initial and let's be honest, rather superior, hesitation, I am now fully supporting the Thomas habit.  We own a plate, water bottle, 2 t-shirts, and a pair of pajamas in addition to a modest number of trains and accessories.

One of the reasons I decided to post about this specific topic is that I have found myself to be a much more inflexible mother than I ever imagined.  My personality is the opposite, ironically-I like to think of myself as laid-back and spontaneous, and while these traits do apply to me individually, I have struggled to translate them over to my role as a mother.  I feel pangs of guilt long after I've allowed A a half hour on the iPad.  I cringed the first time he slurped down an undiluted juice box (for the record, that was probably one of the best moments of his life!).  I'm relentlessly anal about A's schedule, to the frustration of many.  If it interferes with nap time,  you can bet we're not going.

Giving in to the Thomas craze has been good for me.  It's such a small, insignificant thing, really-fostering one of my son's legitimate, completely appropriate interests.  Does it really matter that the character of Thomas didn't originate in a Caldecott-winning children's classic? Or that there is a massive industry devoted to churning out all kinds of matching merchandise?  In the grand scheme of things, not at all.  What is important is letting go of my unreasonable expectations and taking the time to relax, enjoying the things that genuinely make my little boy happy.

Side note: Discovering that Thomas had British origins was an unexpected boon. The knowledge warmed this Anglophile's heart.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

olive oil granola with dried apricots and pistachios

Thursday, January 16, 2014

You guys, I made granola.  I have been raving about its success over and over the past few days to my sister and my husband, neither of whom are displaying adequate enthusiasm.  I suppose it's not a particularly complicated endeavor, but somehow I have a notion that making something from scratch that is so widely available, in a multitude of different forms and flavors, is worthy of praise and accolades.  It would have been easy to purchase my own granola, is what I'm saying.  Instead, I made something far more satisfying and delicious, to say nothing of the fact that the massive quantity produced from the recipe means it was particularly cost-effective.

I devoured the entire huge portion of granola in one week, a feat that I probably shouldn't brag about because, truth be told, granola is one of those things that likes to pretend it's a "healthy snack" when really it's a bunch of wholesome nuts delicately crusted in sweets and spices.  I do not mean to denounce it entirely-it's certainly a better choice than a handful of cookies, for example, but I probably should not have taken it upon myself to eat it all.  I felt certain that little A would be a big fan, and I was looking forward to spicing up our boring breakfast routines with bowls of granola and yogurt, but he is very distrustful of new things these days, and mostly pushed around what he called "nuts" entirely, eating only his yogurt. I plan to keep making granola until I've converted him.

Though I used a recipe from my Melissa Clark cookbook, which I adore and should cook from and write about more, I became intrigued about making granola after reading about Megan Gordon on Orangette.  Megan "became famous" essentially because of her granola, Marge Granola, which she now sells from her bakery in Seattle.  Her cookbook, Whole Grain Mornings, was just released, and I am so excited about it-an entire cookbook devoted specifically to breakfasts that focus on whole grains and don't skimp on things like cream and butter!  She is a girl after my own heart! One of her recipes is incredibly similar to this one, with just a few insignificant differences, but I think I prefer Melissa's recipe.  I plan on trying Megan's version of hazelnut granola with cacao nibs next!

Olive Oil Granola with Dried Apricots and Pistachios, adapted from In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite, by Melissa Clark

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats*
1 1/2 cups raw pistachios, hulled
1 cup raw pumpkin seeds, hulled
1 cup coconut chips**
3/4 cup pure maple syrup (you can use 2/3 cup, but the granola will be drier-I used 3/4 cup)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom or ground ginger (I used ginger)
3/4 cup chopped dried apricots

1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
2. In a large bowl, combine the oats, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, coconut chips, maple syrup, olive oil, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, cardamom or ginger.  Spread the mixture on a large rimmed baking sheet (about 11x17 inches) in an even layer and bake for 45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, until golden brown and well toasted.
3.  Transfer the granola to a large bowl and add the apricots, tossing to combine.  Megan's granola recipe suggested adding the fruit after the granola has cooled completely, which made mixing the fruit in thoroughly a much easier task.

*Megan's book gives a lot of great advice about cooking and baking with oats, and it's important to note that for a tasty granola, you need to use rolled oats, definitely not instant.
**I have it on good authority that coconut "chips" are actually large coconut flakes.  I use them frequently for the kale and coconut farro bowl that I continue to be obsessed with, and I pick them up at Whole Foods.  They are well worth the effort to find, big shards of unsweetened coconut that add a great texture to a variety of dishes.  I might even have to start buying in bulk, which is apparently an option on Amazon.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

fish fingers with lime-ginger dipping sauce OR adventures in fried food

Thursday, January 9, 2014
No one ever said that fried food photographed well.  

One might expect that for my first food-related post for the new year (my first post of 2014, actually), I would compose a nice, virtuous paragraph or two about a particularly healthy recipe perfectly suitable for a new year and its accompanying resolutions.  While I certainly do intend to join the leagues of those who desire to cook from a more health-conscious perspective this year, I whole-heartedly confess to you that the meal that I'm going to be sharing with you today is not of the that variety.  That would be because the main component of the dish is fried.

I have another confession for you: while I am like any other red-blooded individual that loves the deliciously bad-for-you crunch and texture of fried food, I have a serious aversion to frying anything in my own kitchen.  It's silly, really.  My general attitude towards food is that it should be thoroughly enjoyed and occasional forays involving funnel cakes or French fries are absolutely acceptable as long as they are, indeed, occasional.  I simply cannot, for whatever reason, bring myself to pour inches of oil with wild abandon into my pan.  It seems....reckless.

Considering that my little guy has an aversion to chicken and meat and consumes only fish as his chosen protein (the little prince!), I decided that I might have to relax and give in to my frying fears in order to try a time-honored family dinner: the fish stick. (Let's face it-one can only afford salmon so many times in a month!) Both my husband and I can recall eating fish sticks in childhood, and our memories are rather fond, even considering that they undoubtedly came from a box.  When I saw a recipe for fish fingers crusted with panko in one of my newer, family-friendly cookbooks, I decided they might be worth a shot.  Truth be told, I was initially swayed by the dipping sauce, which is good enough to eat alone.

I couldn't completely relinquish my anti-frying principles, even though the recipe calls for a reasonably small amount of oil (1/3 inch in the pain).  I spread it around just enough for there to be a thin layer of oil in the pain (probably  more like 1/8 inch), but it certainly did the trick.  Thick wedges of halibut dredged in a soy-flavored egg wash and flakes of panko became something like the fish fingers of memory, with a lovely golden crust that absorbed the addictive dipping sauce and provided a perfect bite.  Funnily enough, my first reaction upon tasting them was that they were really just like what I might expect for a fish stick, only with the satisfying knowledge that they were composed of fresh, wild fish with no added processed ingredients.  It was difficult not to consume the whole bowl of sauce, and in fact, little A did indeed scoop quite a bit of it up in his spoon.  We had to beg and plead to get him to actually eat the fish, despite how much he loves it.

Fish Fingers with Lime-Ginger Dipping Sauce, adapted from Keepers, by Kathy Brennan and Caroline Campion
-The jury is still out on this book-it was recommended on one of my favorite blogs, and as I'm trying to make a real effort to create meals for my family that aren't especially complicated and will also appeal to the tastes of kids and adults alike, it seemed like a good fit.  This was certainly a good place to start.

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 large egg whites
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 cups panko breadcrumbs
1 1/2 pounds thick white, flaky fish fillets, such as halibut, cod, or mahimahi, cut into 4x1-inch strips and patted dry
Salt and pepper
Vegetable oil for pan-frying

1. Put the flour on a large plate.  In a shallow bowl, whisk together the egg whites and soy sauce until frothy.  Put the panko in a deep dish.
2. Season the fish with salt and pepper.  Working with a few pieces at a time, dredge the fish strips in the flour, coating completely, then shake off any excess.  Dip them in the egg mixture, letting any excess drip off, then coat them with the panko, gently pressing them into the breadcrumbs so they stick.  Put the pieces on a platter large enough to fit all of them without crowding and repeat until all of the fish is breaded.  If you have room in your refrigerator, chill the fish while the oil heats; it will help firm up the breading.
3. In a large skillet, heat about 1/3 inch of oil over medium heat.  Working in batches, add the fish and cook until golden brown and just cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes per side.  Transfer the fish to a paper-towel lined platter and tent with foil to keep warm.  Repeat with remaining fish.  Serve with the Lime-Ginger Dipping Sauce if you like.

Lime-Ginger Dipping Sauce

2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar (not seasoned)
1 tablespoon honey
Juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger
1 jalepeno, seeded and finely chopped (optional)

1. In a small bowl, whisk together the sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar, honey, lime juice, ginger, and jalepeno (if using).  Check the seasonings.  The sauce will keep, covered in the refrigerator, for up to 3 days.