Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What we've got: First installment.

What we've got, is a whole lot.

I mean it. When it comes to our work and family lives we all have a lot on our plates. I wanted to take a minute to touch on some tactics that might make tackling life a bit easier for you ... well, as far as food goes. I can't help you with much else. All of these issues are similar to those I encounter with my clients. Most of these solutions require your time. If you don't have any of that to spare, I'm happy to come in and help finish the job.

Problem #1: Babies.

Okay, babies aren't a problem. They're wonderful! But, they require a ton of attention, energy, and care. New moms: I see your panic. If this is your first baby, I can imagine all the stress that goes in to raising your first being. Lots of moms end up relying on store-bought baby food. It certainly cuts down on time, but it can get really expensive. Plus, do you really know where that food was prepared and exactly what goes into it?

Why not make your own? There are only a few rules to remember:

*Always serve food no warmer than body temperature.
*Avoid nitrate carrying foods until after 3 months of age: beets, carrots, green beans, squash, and spinach for example.
*If you're worried about nitrates, buy frozen vegetables and fruits first.
   **When in doubt, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics for resources (www.aap.org) or www.foodsafety.gov is a great spot to learn how to keep you and your baby safe when it comes to food.
*Cook food until it is soft.
*Never sweeten baby food. Babies are sweet enough.
*Don't be afraid to use spices! This will help you deal with picky eaters later in life. Trust me. They can handle it. Just avoid the really hot stuff ... like hot sauces and habinaro peppers. That just seems like a bad idea anyway. You're the one that has to deal with diapers.

If you have a food processor, you're already ahead of the game! Though small blenders like The Magic Bullet work well. If you want to go all fancy, you can buy legit baby food makers in a lot of places. They have handy storage stuff, freezer kits, it's a sweet deal. If you're expecting, why not register for one? Then, when kiddo is grown up, pass it along to a friend.

Problem #2: The Fussy Eater

I'm really throwing down the hammer, huh? Kids are great, it's picky eaters we have trouble with. You just want them to eat right! And they won't do it!

Chicken nuggets are not a bastion of nutrition. So, how do we conquer the dinner table? Hide stuff ... reinvent the usual favorites ... oh, there are ways.

Usually if a child doesn't like something, it means they don't like the texture of it. Think of it ... they love the crunchy, creamy, smooth stuff ... not the grainy, chunky, different stuff. That's how most of us adults are, too. So, if you want to create a meal your kids will at least try, work on the texture of things first. There are countless resources for mothers with picky kids. An organization I love, Cooking Matters, is a great resource for healthy recipes that kids will gravitate toward. It's their job to get kids to be excited about nutrition and they are very good at what they do. For example:

Do your kids love chicken fingers? This is a great recipe to get them to enjoy them without turning to the processed stuff:

Cooking Matters Baked Flaked Chicken

You will need:
Chicken tenderloins
Corn Flakes
Garlic powder
Salt and Pepper
Canola Oil spray (like Pam or the generic brand)

Okay, first pound those corn flakes into corn crumbs- I like putting them in a big ziplock and smashing them with my fists. It's a lot of fun. Then, set up your assembly line: a bowl/deep dish of flour (seasoned with garlic powder, s & p, and paprika), then a bowl of egg wash, then a bowl of the corn crumbs.

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with some canola oil. Send the tenderloins down the line, first in the flour, then in the egg, then the crumbs, and arrange them on the baking sheet. When they're all set up, do one more spray of canola oil over the top, then bake in the oven at 400 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, until the tops are golden brown.

Bam. You have a new family favorite that tastes crispy without frying!

I could go on and on- and I will- but this is a fairly long read for now. I'll be working on another installment for the end of this week. Do you have a food problem you want addressed? Add it to the comments section and I'll see what kind of magic I can work!

Thanks for reading. May all your food frustrations turn in to lessons on how to enjoy life. xo

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A bit eggie

Mark and I got two new birds at the Deerfield Fair this past weekend. We couldn't help ourselves. Of our original 7, only 3 remain, and only two of those lay eggs. We needed to bring in new recruits. I've given them show names, like the others, but have affectionately started referring to them as Thing 1 and Thing 2.

Behold, Dilma Rousseff and Angela Merkel. They join Benazir Bhutto, Eva Perone, and Christiane Amanpour. Thing 1 was originally Maya Angelou (a favorite woman of mine), but her name wasn't in keeping with our line up. Maybe next time.

So, these ladies are Anconas. That means they're great layers ... a breeder told me they're black Leghorns. I don't really know what that means.

What I do know is they'll produce anywhere from 200 to 300 eggs per year. That's at least 1 per day from each of them. Our Americana and our Chantecler have both been giving us an egg a day for two weeks now. Looks like we're in egg heaven!

Now, what to do with all the eggs? Egg sandwiches are a morning favorite, as is brunch for breakfast. The roommates made this killer dish the other night with poached eggs on top!

Poached eggs aren't easy for a cooking novice. They take patience and the willingness to screw up a few times during the learning process. But once mastered, ohmahgoodness there is little that is better than a runny yolk.

How does one poach an egg? It's pretty simple:

Bring a pot of water to a boil, then lower the heat to a dull simmer.
Some folks add vinegar to the water. There's a legend out there that this helps the egg coagulate when dropped in the pot. I don't know if this is true or not, but I will say I've never poached eggs without it. I've only used just a dollop, never more than a few tablespoons worth.

Be sure your eggs are cold- right out of the fridge. Break them one at a time into a small bowl, then lightly place them into the water bath.


When the whites become opaque and the yolk starts to cook, use a slotted spoon to pull the eggs out of the water. It's handy to keep some paper towels in your other hand and drain some of the water off your egg.

Place on pasta, hash, roasted veggies, pizza, hamburgers, anywhere you need protein and nature's perfect sauce: runny yolks!

Turns out you can poach just about anything in just about everything. Tomato juice, stocks, milk ... if it's liquid it can poach. Try poaching your eggs in something new and exciting. Be advised- eggs will change color depending on the poaching liquid. 

Also delightful: meringue. Light, delicate, difficult. For some. Well, for most of us. I can't tell you how many times I've failed to create stiff peaks out of egg whites and sugar, but fear not! There are easy ways to figure out what you're doing wrong. It's never the egg's fault.

Basic Meringue Recipe

Three egg whites
1 tsp cream of tartar or 1 tsp salt
3/4 cup fine grain sugar

Stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer
Big 'ol bowl

First things first: that bowl better be clean. Any grease or residual shmear that might be in the bowl will inhibit the growth of lustrous egg white peaks. I've made this mistake before when making mousse. In a fit of chaotic frenzy I accidentally whipped the cream first, not the eggs. Not thinking, I went seamlessly from one task to the other ... and had to toss a bunch of egg whites, wash the bowl, and start all over.

I'll never make that mistake again.

So, whip your egg whites until they start to foam. That gets a bunch of air in there and a place for sugar to take up residence. Once foamy, up your speed from medium to medium high on your mixer and add in your sugar just a bit at a time. That way the sugar dissolves evenly. I don't have a problem with gritty meringue, but some do. The picky ones. I know you're out there.

An important note: If you mix your egg whites too far, the proteins will start to separate. They will clump together in bunches and start to look dull and listless. If this has happened to you, throw the lot out and start over. Seriously.

Once your peaks are formed, you can stuff a bunch of the meringue into a clean gallon plastic bag and snip a hole in one corner, using it as a piping bag. You can pipe lovely clouds onto a parchment lined sheet and bake these suckers at 200 degrees or so- that way they won't brown.

You can also use this stuff to top a custard pie before it goes in the oven ... I made lemon meringue pie for my mother-in-law's birthday once. I think we all agreed it came out just fine.

You can also add various extracts and food coloring to get those delightful shades proudly advertised by French patisseries downtown. 

Add melted chocolate. Holy moly. Then add cayanne pepper. Mind. Blown.

Here's an awesome mousse recipe for you .. the one I use all the time:

1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
1 1/4 cups whipping cream
3 egg whites (use the yolks for some other application, like dinner)
tsp vanilla extract
1 cup fine grain sugar

So .. meringue your egg whites using 3/4 cup of the sugar, as listed above. Allow meringue to chill while you then whip 1 cup of the cream, adding the remaining sugar and the vanilla in the process.

Take the chocolate chips and melt them in a microwave safe bowl. It usually takes only a minute, stirring every 30 seconds.

I then temper the hot chocolate with the remaining 1/4 cup of cream. Next up, fold fold fold fold. Fold the chocolate into a quarter of the egg whites. Then fold that into the whipped cream. Then fold in the remaining egg whites.

Spoon into mugs or small bowls. Top with shaved chocolate, berries, guilt, shame.

Just kidding. It isn't *that* bad for you. Is it? It certainly tastes lighter than any other dessert I usually opt for. And that's what matters: how you feel in the end.

I think that's long winded enough for one blog post. Your homework this time is to seek out some local eggs. When in doubt, compare a local, farm fresh, egg to one from a large scale producer. I think you'll see a huge difference in yolk color, size, taste, and overall satisfaction.

Trust me. It's worth the extra money and effort.

May your meals be sunny-side-up moments in your busy life. xo