Thursday, December 18, 2014

swai fillet with rice pilaf and steamed veggies

I feel like I've been baking day and night lately.  It might be the holidays, it might be adjusting to staying home all day, I'm not sure.  But I feel like I'm swimming in a sea of flour, sugar and measuring cups.  Let's take a little detour for a minute, ok?  I try to feed my family healthy dishes that are not lacking in flavor.  Because of Nik's allergies, we have to get creative often.  Thankfully, the kids both like fish quite a bit, so it's a protein I enjoy cooking with.  Buying fish can be scary, there are so many varying opinions on which fish to eat and which to avoid.  I can't keep up.  Anyway.  This dish was so simple, I threw it together in 30 minutes.  I had Swai on hand, which is a variety of catfish, so it's just a really light, slightly sweet white fish.  You could use any white fish you may have on hand. 

For the rice pilaf, I toasted the orzo and rice in a cast iron skillet for a few minutes, tossing it every so often.  Once it was a golden brown, I put it into my slow cooker with chicken broth, a small amount of chicken fat (yeah, I keep the fat that renders out when I make stock, it has great flavor), some herbs, salt and pepper.  Then I let my rice cooker do it's thing.

Then I took my Swai fillets, put them into my baking dish and drizzled them with olive oil and lemon juice.  Then I sliced up 3 cloves of garlic, dashed some parsley on top, and baked at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. 

I piled the rice and fish on top of steamed veggies, and done!  Simple, healthy, inexpensive.  YUM.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

pumpkin chocolate bread

This bread is to die for.  Take everything you think a pumpkin bread should taste like, and just throw it out the window right now.  It's better, it's so much better.  Don't believe me?  My husband, who doesn't like pumpkin, ate about 3/4 of the bread himself.  It's all in the orange juice.  (And the gutsy lack of pumpkin pie spices!)

The recipe is from Sally's Baking Addiction, which hasn't failed me yet.  I just made a few changes to suit our dietary needs, and followed her instructions to a T.  You guys!  

I used chia seeds as the egg, and we didn't have chocolate chips on hand so I tossed a dairy-free dark chocolate bar into the food processor and pulsed for a few seconds.  When I make this again for the Christmas party this weekend, I will be using Enjoy Life Chocolate Chips, which I'm sure will make the bread even BETTER.  

Try it, you won't be disappointed.  Just look at how dense it is.  I shoveled a piece into my mouth while it was still hot. It was even better the next day, though.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


Let's talk about cornbread for a minute.  It's one of my favorites.  You too?  Some people love it, some people totally hate it.  I know some of these people.  I get it.  But not really, because it's so good. 

So, I adapted this cornbread from this Paula Deen recipe.  I mean, ok, Paula Deen.  Let's not talk about that, ok?  Let's keep this about the food here.  Obviously I couldn't use the recipe as is, so I modified it, and for the first time in FOREVER (great, now I'm singing 'Frozen' jams in my head) the whole dish disappeared by the next day. 

My modifications were totally simple, too.  I try to keep things uncomplicated.  Instead of butter, I used sunflower oil, because Alton Brown says to use oil instead of butter in cakes so I figured he would approve.  I used my chia seed concoction for the 2 eggs, I'm sure you can tell from the photo.  (2 T chia seeds, 6 T water, in case you missed my previous post.)  Last, I of course couldn't use buttermilk, so I created my own.  I used 1 1/2 cups coconut milk (the kind you would pour on cereal, not the kind from a can) and added a splash of distilled white vinegar to it and let it sit for about 5 minutes on the counter.  Ba-da-bing. 

So the verdict?  It was fantastic.  It wasn't sweet at all (if you look at the recipe, it called for very little sugar), so it was totally the kind that you slather in butter and honey.  We're having chilli for a family Christmas party this weekend and I'm tempted to make another batch just in time for that. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

what's for dinner? how about bratwurst with roasted sweet potatoes & fennel

Here's a meal idea for you!  I don't need to work this up like it's a fancy recipe, it is so simple, I'll just give you some photos and put the idea in your head.  (Go, buy some fennel, give it a try!)

This whole meal came from Trader Joes and took about 30 minutes to get on the table.  I sauteed the bratwurst and mushrooms together, and roasted the sweet potatoes and fennel together (just a little olive oil, salt & pepper at 400 degrees for 30 minutes). 

I threw the scraps from the fennel into a small pot of water and brought it to a boil to make a really simple broth, which I will use in a soup later this week, but also used about 1/2 cup as cooking liquid for the sausages.  It brought the fennel flavor through the whole dish and really unified everything.  The rest of the broth went into a jar in my fridge, and I'll come up with some kind of soup to make out of it.  Living on one income, you really have to find ways to be frugal (or cheap, let's just say it) and one of those ways is to simply not waste.  Why spend a few dollars on vegetable stock or meat stock at the store when I can make it myself out of scraps from the meal I'm serving now?  And then I can control the amount of fat and sodium in it, as well as the types of ingredients they're made from.  On a side note, there are canned stocks/broths on the shelves that contain dairy, so if you're on a dairy-free diet, beware!  Always read the ingredient labels.

Look at that fennel!  It was just as tasty as it looks. 

Can I just have a moment to encourage the moms out there?  Kids aren't very adventurous when it comes to food, and I know that getting kids to eat anything green (among other things) can be a battle most people just don't want to wage.  And I've been asked on many occasions how I can serve these meals to my kids, do my kids actually eat them?  Yes, they do.  We have two kids, ages 3 and 4, and both eat their veggies. Please don't think I mean they jump for joy at the sight of them, they totally don't.  There are nights that we battle it out, but as long as we keep the amounts small and appealing, the kids will eat it.  Sometimes Nik has to sit at the table 20 minutes longer than everyone else staring at them before he starts eating, sometimes we have to serve the veggies first and then the rest of the meal, but you know what?  Sometimes Aaron devours his salad and asks for seconds of it, and sometimes Nik will ask for a handful of baby carrots as a snack instead of a cookie.  They will not fight you forever and always!  I always tell Nikola that he already has too many dietary restrictions, he can't afford to be a picky eater too!  All of that to say, be patient with them.  Keep at it.  Always serve it, even if they just don't eat it.  You can't force it down their throats, but if they're hungry, and it looks might be surprised.  And take heart.  What they hate today, they may love tomorrow. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

dairy-free white russian

Do you love The Big Lebowski?  I do.  And I can't even think of this drink without thinking about Lebowski. 

I'm not usually one for cream-based drinks of any kind.  In fact, if I order a mixed drink of any kind, it's almost always a gin martini (stirred, not shaken, sorry 007), or a gin and tonic.  Because gin.  So why am I talking about a creamy drink, then?  Well, I had half a pot of extra dark brewed coffee that was going to go to waste, and less than half a fifth of vodka left from our Halloween party, so I decided to throw caution to the wind and mix them.  They were about equal parts.  I then made up about 1/2 cup of quick simple syrup and poured it into the jar with the coffee and vodka, put the lid on, and shook it up.

Well, then I thought about what I was actually going to do with it.  I mean, like I said earlier, I'm just not a creamy drink person.  But for those of you who are, you'll want to take note, because this even impressed me.  Now, you don't have to make your own Kahlua-esque liqueur for this.  The drink is so simple.  I poured my desired amount of coffee liqueur into a small mason jar (use a glass, don't be like me), and used canned coconut milk for the cream instead of dairy, just splashing it on top until it looked good.  Talk about YUM, and easy.  If you're the sort of person who is responsible, and actually has ice cubes on hand in your freezer, put those in your glass first (or last if you want to live on the edge).  Don't ever come to my house expecting ice cubes...I'm not that responsible.  I'm sorry in advance for that.  But I'll make you this drink if you want, and I hope that will be ok.  Happy Saturday, folks! 

Friday, December 12, 2014

carrot coconut soup

We came home from Thanksgiving with a few huge bags of carrots, and I'm still trying to make my way through them.  I decided I would either need to start juicing them, or make a big pot of carrot soup.  The soup won.

I was inspired by this amazing soup by Shutterbean, one of my favorite bloggers.  She's totally amazing.  You can go there for the recipe, I'm just here to tell you how I put my spin on it, and managed to get a 4 year old and a 3 year old to not only eat it, but eat TWO helpings of it.

I used olive oil, in place of the butter, and vegetable broth (hello, I made three batches the other day...use what you have) instead of chicken broth.  As a bonus, I used the 3rd batch of the broth, which was a little weak...until I added ginger and whole garlic, so this had a very Thai taste just using the broth.  I added a pinch of cumin and a pinch of cinnamon, very tiny amounts.  We omitted the cilantro, though we do all like it, but I didn't have any on hand.  To get that "green" flavor, I added about 2 tablespoons of lime juice and a lime leaf (we buy ours at the Asian markets and keep them in the freezer, we like to eat a lot of curries) and let it all sit in the slow cooker on low heat until I was ready to serve.  You guys?  It tasted almost like a Thai panang curry, without any curry in it whatsoever. 

So, first we ate it as a soup with some croutons I made out of the ends of the loaf of bread I made earlier this week.  It was totally amazing.  And then Aaron said "Mommy, can I have rice with this?"  YES YOU CAN.  So I let them take an intermission from dinner, tossed some rice in the rice cooker, then served seconds over rice like a curry.  I can't even decide how I liked it better.  You make it and decide.  It's amazing either way!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

chia seeds, briefly

Can we just talk for a minute about chia seeds?  Yes, the very same seeds that made chia pets famous.  But let's talk about them as an egg replacer.  They are AMAZING.  (Here is a little science relating to chia seeds, if you want to know what they are all about.)

So, I'm not here to advocate for them as a diet food or a "superfood", though they are pretty great for you.  I am here to talk about using them as a binding agent in your baked goods.  I use many items as an egg replacement, depending on the item I'm making:  Ener-G Egg Replacer, applesauce, flax seed meal (not whole seeds), cornstarch, and chia seeds.  More and more I find myself just reaching for the chia seeds, unless the recipe needs to look pretty and not have tiny seeds all over in it (ie - sugar cookies) but sometimes I'll even use them if I just don't want to take a chance that they won't turn out.

So how do you do it?  So easy.  1 tablespoon of chia seeds in 3 tablespoons of water = 1 egg.  I put mine in a small glass jar, put the lid on, and shake it up.  I do this first when I know I'll need an egg, you have to give them time to activate and gel with the water.  Shake it up a few times, until you need it.  It should look like the photo below when its ready.  This was a two egg recipe I was making (recipe soon).  You can see how thick the  mixture is, and how it's almost like a gel. 

Chia seeds.  They're a beautiful thing.  Sometimes I'll fill this small jar and keep it in the fridge, I bake a lot so I know I'll need it.  I use it in baked goods, pancakes, waffles, meat loaf, you name it.  And, though they may alter the look of some things (like sugar cookies), they will not alter the flavor at all that I've noticed.  Bonus!  Now, get in the kitchen! 

sausage and kale soup

Do you ever get into a food funk?  I do.  Especially after Thanksgiving, it seems like everything tastes like Thanksgiving for weeks after.  You know?  Anyway.  Thanksgiving is not my favorite meal, by a long shot.  I don't particularly enjoy it.  I hate to admit it...but I sort of agree with Zooey Deschanel when it comes to Thanksgiving dinner.  So anyway, there were tons of leftovers and we ate them all people, because wasting food just sucks.  So now we get to turn over a new leaf, eat something without turkey and mashed potatoes involved!   And it feels SO GOOD!

But first, I need to say that I'm not good at prep photos.  And I only have a phone for a camera until we can buy a new one, since mine decided to break down.  So I'm going to do us all a favor and get better at finished product photos and forget trying to do prep photos.  You're welcome.

Anyway!  The soup.  Fall and winter, to me, just scream soup.  And you know what one HUGE perk to soup for dinner is?  The cleanup is so easy.  Your whole meal prep dish mess can be cleaned up before you even serve your finished product.  That's my favorite.  If I can clean up dinner before serving it, I know the rest of the night is going to be GOOD. 

This soup was kind of involved, but it doesn't have to be, and it's so easy to customize.  I'll tell you what you need, first.

So, here's where I made it complicated, but you don't have to.  I made my own vegetable broth, because I'm cheap and I hate throwing out scraps.  All of my vegetable scraps get tossed into a ziplock bag and put in the freezer, so when I need to make stock, I toss them under the broiler for a few minutes to loosen up those juices and then simmer them for a while on the stovetop.  Same goes for meat, when bones are involved, just make broth out of the scraps once you've eaten the meat.  It's so easy, and you control what goes into it.  If you don't have the time or inclination to do that, by all means, just buy your broth.  It's not going to hurt this or any soup you make.  And I totally won't judge you.  I promise. So, when I made my vegetable stock, I used scraps from garlic, carrots, onion, celery, tomato and lettuce.  I added a few sprigs of rosemary from my little potted plant, along with a bay leaf and some thyme, and simmered for a few hours.  The rosemary was very potent.  If you don't do this on your own, just add rosemary when you simmer your soup. 

Now that we have that out of the way, the soup is EASY.  Chop your onions and garlic, and saute them in a few tablespoons of your oil of choice.  Don't burn your garlic, don't brown your onions.  You're just releasing their flavors here, the onions should get a little soft and clear and that's it.  Add your mushrooms and sausage at this point.  I used fully cooked chicken sausage from Trader Joes, so I just had to heat it through.  If you use uncooked sausage, this part will take longer.  Once your meat is cooked, add a cup of water, and then your broth.  I used 1 cup of water and 2 cups of broth.  Eyeball it if you need to - we need enough liquid to cook our pasta in, and have a little broth to spare.  It's a thick soup.  Add your herbs and spices to taste.  My soup was heavy on an earthy, mushroom note - I used a lot of rosemary and thyme, and a tiny sprinkle of truffle salt to finish.  Add your bay leaves (I used 2) at the end and stir it all in. 

Bring the soup to a boil, and then add your macaroni.  Here is another place you could customize to suit your family or diet.  It would work just as well to use diced up potato, rice, or any other pasta you desire.  Or leave it out if you don't want a starch.  You'll add your kale at this point, too, so it doesn't disintegrate.   Keep it at a rolling boil until your starch is cooked, if you added it.

Remove your bay leaves and serve once your pasta is cooked through.  I served with some crispy bread and devoured it.  Happy eating! 

Monday, December 8, 2014

a dusting of snow

The other day, I was throwing dinner in the oven and looked outside to see that it had started snowing.  The boys had just gotten up from their afternoon rest, and I decided to surprise them so I told them to get ready to go for a walk.  When we got outside, they could hardly contain themselves.  I suppose snow isn't so bad, if it can bring this much joy, right?  We hung out with Olaf, tracked a polar bear, and sang the Mr. Grinch song about a hundred times. 

Kids provide a pretty great change of perspective on a daily basis.  I need it constantly. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014


I hope everyone had a really great, relaxing Thanksgiving.  Ours was not super relaxing, but it was nice.  We host Thanksgiving at the school my husband works in (the school supplies the room, we supply all of the food and labor, it's still totally a family event), which allows us to not only accommodate our very large family, but also any students who do not have host families to spend the holiday with.  This year we had 32 people for dinner!  And you know what?  We STILL ended up with more leftovers than we knew what to do with.  Like, seriously, how does that even happen?  We donated most of the good leftovers to a local organization that feeds and shelters homeless teenagers, so they went somewhere useful at least, instead of perishing in my fridge.  But I still ended up with pounds of mashed potatoes, bags of unused carrots, roasted vegetables and a whole turkey carcass.

We played a rousing game of Bingo, wrote on our Thanksgiving tree, drank wine (OK, maybe only two of us drank wine...who is counting anyway?), and served an entirely delicious meal free of dairy and eggs.  BAM.  No one even knew.  Well, except we told them, and they could see that Nikola was eating everything, but you know what I mean.  No one missed the butter.  That's what I mean.

Sometimes I miss the comfort of doing the holiday in our home, because there is a lot of clean up afterward that you wouldn't have in your own home.  (Like I said, this is a family event, so we have to break everything down, wash all the dishes, return the facility back to its original state.)   But the amazing trade off is getting to welcome more people to our table than our home could, and isn't that what it's about? 

Until next year, Thanksgiving!