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Pumpkin Apple Pancakes

Now I know what to do with leftover pumpkin puree after my annual Thanksgiving baking sprees. This super quick, delicious and of course healthy pumpkin recipe was inspired by a post in Sunset Magazine. The initial results were good, but we couldn’t help but adapt the recipe to make it turn out as delicious as their photo.I happened to have cooked apples on hand the first time I made this, which was even more appealing.

This is a perfect post-Thanksgiving  breakfast option, and would work great on a weekday morning since it is a one-bowl process.

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Easy and Delicious Homemade Yogurt

Our family is nuts about yogurt. Especially of the plain and simple variety. I’m not exactly sure how, but my kids  – who love sweets in every other context – continue to prefer their yogurt rich, creamy and unsweetened. This all means that we were going to through 3-4 32. oz tubs a week. Cost not withstanding, recycling that many yogurt containers began to feel incredibly wasteful. I tried creative reuse at first but one can only hold on to so many empties before they overtake the house. Even the preschool had politely declined donations. I knew it was time to get over my fear of culturing my own food and forge ahead toward homemade. With one caveat: the finish product had to taste just like our favorite Straus Family Creamery yogurt or else. Actually, two caveats: the kids would have to eat it without complaint.

With very little trial and error and a few months of practice, I’ve earned enough yogurt-making props from family and friends to officially go public with the technique. As you’ll see, the beneficial bacteria really do all of the work.

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Low-Sugar Apricot Jam: Taking PB+J To Another Level

I caught the canning bug a few years ago and have completely fallen in love with homemade jam. Sure, artisanal options abound these days, but they are quite pricey for such small jars. Its so worth making your own, if for no other reason than to have complete control over fruit, flavor, and sugar content (I am a big fan of low-sugar jams). Your kids will appreciate how especially delicious their peanut butter sandwiches will taste, and that morning toast ritual will be worth lingering over for a few extra minutes. Canning also gives you another great reason to go to the farmers’ market and get to know your local producers. Quality fruit is always more affordable in bulk, so buy a flat or two, save some for the fruit bowl and can the rest.

Stash those jam jars in the cupboard and you’ll have the pleasure of tasting a bit of summer in the dead of winter. Use jam in obvious ways but also explore. Who knew jam and blue cheese worked so well together? Of course, these also make great (holiday) gifts.

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Weekend Special: Lemony Ricotta Pancakes

As I may have mentioned in the past, I am not a huge fan of traditional American pancakes. Which means I’m always trying to play with different versions that please my palette and that of the kiddos, who do love a good pancake in their weekend breakfast routine. Since I often order the Marion’s Pancake at Chow (on those weekends when breakfast is best eaten out of the house), I decided to see about making a homemade version. What resulted is this recipe, which yields delicious, light, lemony, not too sweet pancakes that go perfectly with any fruit or maple syrup of course. If you have Meyer lemons on hand, they add an even more interesting flavor. But plain old Eurekas work great too.

You’ll appreciate how quick these are to whip up, despite the special step of beating egg whites (hint: get the kids to make them!). They are also chock full of protein which makes the morning meal more effective at keeping mid-morning hunger at bay. I like mine small and stacked but you could do like Chow, and go for the large full plate version too.

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Me, Jacques and Kale Caesar Salad

I haven’t been myself in the kitchen lately. Or with food in general, really. No inspiration for cooking, no new ideas to spark our weekly routines, not even an appetite for eating. This is a sad state of affairs for a food lover like me to be in. Especially as the bounty of spring and summer approaches.

That all changed this week. Thankfully. During the past four days, I had the pleasure of spending an evening cooking and learning from the wonderful Tamar Adler, (whose new book is keeping me up at night, in a good way) AND attending a talk by my all-time culinary hero Jacques Pepin, whose KQED TV programs taught me so much about how to cook with precision, economy and love during my college years. A few new cookbooks that just arrived didn’t hurt either.

Me and Jacques, Saying Hello

I see the cook and eater in me re-emerging from the cocoon. This makes me very happy. And now, for a quick recipe to inspire your weekend cooking…. Continue reading

February Weekly Meal Plan

February is upon us, and though it feels like spring outside, I’m still in winter cooking mode. Here is what I plan to make for dinner next week. A combination of simple weeknight meals (even simpler if you make the lentil soup on Sunday night) and a roast chicken to celebrate the end of the week. I’m assuming various vegetables will be added as side dishes. Don’t forget to consider organic when buying produce for your family. How to make organic choices without breaking the bank is discussed in more detail here.

MONDAY: Winter Lentil Soup with Greens (spinach, kale, chard, etc), crusty bread and a good cheese on the side.

LUNCH NOTE: Make a large batch. Freeze half for future use, send the rest to school for lunch this week.

TUESDAY: Store-bought ravioli of your choice with either a simple marinara sauce and parmesan; or butter/olive oil, sautéed kale and toasted walnuts. Maple-glazed brussels sprouts would make a great side dish.

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Sunday Suppers: Moroccan-Spiced Braised Chicken

We launched our Sunday Suppers tradition last weekend with an absolutely delicious braised chicken dish from none other than “Sunday Suppers at Lucques” by Suzanne Goin. Granted it was prepared and served on a Monday, not Sunday, but it was a holiday. Still counts, right? Dear friends joined us for the meal and it was beloved by all, including the little ones.

I loved this recipe for so many reasons and wanted to share it with all of you. First of all, for a restaurant-quality main course, it was surprisingly low-key to make at home. This adapted recipe will hopefully smooth out the kinks I experienced and make it even simpler.

Second, no one can argue with the ease of braising – provided you have a large ovenproof pot and a bit of time, you are guaranteed to end up with a tender, deliciously moist result, especially if you use legs and thighs. Our family is slowly learning to love dark meat, and this recipe is sure to become a standard in the repertoire.

More importantly, thighs and legs are the most affordable cuts of chicken, especially when compared to boneless/skinless breasts. This makes buying organic or sustainably-produced options that much easier. Here is more information on why it is so important to buy sustainably-produced chicken and how to do so without breaking the budget.

I served the chicken alongside the Italian couscous suggested in the original recipe, which was an interesting but not beloved choice. I would stick with a regular cous cous, which will be a perfect compliment to the Moroccan-inspired flavors. Add a vegetable side dish (I made a chicory salad with fennel, toasted almonds and satsuma slices) and you’re all set.

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Annoucing New Blog Feature: Weekly Meal Plans

Happy 2012 to all of you! A lovely holiday break has left me feeling invigorated and ready for new adventures that this year will undoubtedly bring. But Tuesday’s return to reality was also a good reminder that its time to get my act together when it comes to cooking routines. My primary food resolution for this year? To be more organized about planning meals. And what better motivation to accomplish that than to commit to sharing those plans with you?

During the last couple of weeks, when dinner often meant socializing and celebrating, I found some much needed to space to reflect on why 5PM is the most dreaded time of day for me. I realized that half the battle of getting a satisfying dinner on the table – especially on weeknights when time is of the essence – is planning ahead. I’ve occasionally tried meal planning in the past but too often, it doesn’t last. This results in various inefficiencies and frustrations slipping into my routine – the lack of ideas, the repetitive meals, the extra grocery runs for that missing ingredient or two.

So. To inspire my family and yours, I decided to do a regular feature on seasonal meal plans, some featuring meat, some vegetarian. Expect to see these posts on Thursdays, to allow for weekend grocery shopping and planning. I’ll recommend a main course; you can assume that almost any side of vegetables will work as an accompaniment. School lunch ideas will also be included, as leftovers tend to be a big hit for my kids.

Let me know what you think!

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2011 Organic Produce Shopper’s Guide Released

Environmental Working Group released their 2011 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides yesterday. Each year, they review pesticide use data and compile two lists : the “Dirty Dozen” features items highest in residues that you should buy organic if possible (apples, celery, strawberries). Those that land on the “Clean 15″ turn out to have very low pesticide residues (onions, sweet corn, avocado) and are not as important to go organic. Click here for the complete list.

Integrating information about sustainable food into this blog was always part of my master plan and this news item was the perfect place to start. Be on the lookout for a new page called “Sustainable Ingredients” where over time I will compile  content related to sustainable food. We are living in a time of profound awakening to all food-related matters, and there is no better place to contemplate these issues than in your own kitchen and at the family dinner table. My goal is to share useful information about food labels, how to stretch your food dollar when it comes to organic/sustainable purchases, where to find your nearest farmers’ market, and much more.

Don’t forget to post questions/requests you may have on this topic in the comments section!