Fighting the good fight

So we’re a few weeks in and there have been good weeks and not so good weeks. I think my husband is ready to eat fish sticks and chicken nuggets for the foreseeable future in an attempt to serve one meal that all will eat.

Last week, I seemed to be the only one willing to try the 8 hour slow cooked “pot of gold” sauce (minus the beef chuck plus sliced baby carrots) but Wendy dug into some of my leftovers happily yesterday at lunchtime. I think a low sauce to pasta ratio is key for her. It was delicious by the way!

The Mark Bittman quick roasted chicken was pretty much a disaster however. Step 1 should be ensure that your oven is pristine to avoid setting off the smoke alarm for the duration of roasting and hosting your a visit from your neighbor making sure the whole place isn’t about to go up in smoke!

Never one to give up until way past I should, I persisted (that’s fancy for not giving up for all those other closet Fancy Nancy fans). This week, I tried to both do what I could with what was left in the pantry and fridge and to make at home some stuff we usually get via takeout.

This week’s make at home entrees: stir fry chicken, fried rice, Silver Palate Cookbook lemon chicken, pancetta cheese bread and double chocolate chip cookies (recipe on Trader Joe’s Truffle Brownie mic plus a small handful of white chocolate chips) if you don’t count two batches of Stonewall Kitchen’s strawberry pancakes with strawberry syrup. I’m still waiting for reviews on the lemon chicken but the rest turned out well and the stir fried chicken and fried rice seemed the biggest hit, even with my husband who grew up with great Chinese food. For the chicken, I just marinated thinly sliced boneless thighs with canola oil, light soy sauce, garlic powder and ginger until I was ready to cook and then stir fried in a large, deep skillet with a touch of sesame oil. Afterwards, I used the same skillet for the rice, starting with the onions, adding the beaten egg until cooked and then added the rice, soy sauce, and more oil to taste. After putting some aside for Evie who would spend all her time picking out the veggies, I added some frozen mixed veggies.

For the pancetta bread, I used the Fannie Farmer Cookbook’s basic muffin recipe but added some finely cubes pancetta instead of the sliced bacon and some grated cheese and cooked in a cake pan intend of making muffins. Going to give it a try for breakfast or after school snack for the girls but I’ll eat it, if not. And it might be a nice substitution for quiche at my next brunch party.

And Wendy woke up asking for one of the cookies for breakfast this morning which I negotiated down to an afterschool snack.

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Second week: not so good except for take to work lunch

I may have overestimated our refrigerator and freezer’s capacity (I live in a NYC apartment after all) and my ability to identify recipes that the kids would even try. Apple, strawberry, pear cobbler, made in a participatory way–happy to participate but no interest in trying despite having the opportunity to pour melted butter on top of individual ramekins from adorable tiny bird pitchers.

For week 2, the cook at home from scratch options were Ranch Chicken Strips, Havana Steak, and the aforementioned cobblers (my own recipe). The Ranch Chicken turned out reasonably well, tasted fresher, and was more tender than the girls’ usual chicken nuggets but the chicken wasn’t dinosaur-shaped which is the current preference for nugget-like foods at our house. I got the girls involved with making the cracker crumbs in ziploc bags without incident but they still weren’t particularly interested in eating the” Cracker Chicken.”

The Havana Steak didn’t go over that well with either Chris or me but it was because I used the marinade on top sirloin, the wrong cut of steak, since that’s what I had on hand. I’m sure it’s delicious on flank or skirt steak.

On the other hand, I finally used the ground lamb from the freezer and made delicious lamb burgers with feta, cumin, garlic. I put them on toasted onion brioche rolls with some Stonewall Kitchen Farmhouse Red Relish for a delicious, portable lunch that reheated reasonably well in a minute in the microwave at work. And we had breakfast for dinner on Friday night that left us all satisfied: strawberry pancakes, scrambled eggs, and bacon. We’ll probably make that a monthly tradition.

So, all in all, not a great week. Here’s hoping that this week goes better. Right now, we have a chicken stirfry on deck using this recipe as a base if I can find five spice powder nearby: Five-Spice Beef Stir-Fry And I’m eyeing a few chicken recipes from the Minimalist…

I’m looking for the next big success so please comment away with suggestions!

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Week 1–Ranch Ham & Cheese Pasta, Flaky Empanadas, & Peanut Butter Pretzel Bites

For week 1, we picked a couple of entrees and one dessert/snack.  My husband prepped the veggies on Saturday night and I did a cooking marathon during Sunday’s quiet/nap time followed by a sprint of family cooking project at snacktime.

Here are links to the recipes, what I adapted, and the results so far:

Ranch Ham and Cheese Pasta: This recipe seemed to be a great match for my kids who love both mac and cheese and ham separately and my little one who really enjoys peas. I figured the big one would just pick the peas out. The recipe made more than enough for at least three dinners for the family. I played around a bit with the seasoning since my husband isn’t a dill fan and swapped in some ground coriander seed instead. I also didn’t have easy access to cubed ham so I went with Applegate Farms Virginia Ham sliced thick and then cut into julienne strips. Since my little one requested more it for breakfast this morning, I’m considering this one a hit. Easy to rewarm in the microwave, too. Thanks to theHarried Homemaker.

Flaky Empanadas: I wish I had time but making the crust by hand just wasn’t in the cards so I went for ready made pie dough to make this recipe achievable. I am sure the recipe would have turned out even better if I had been able to follow it more closely but it was an acceptable substitute. I did invest time in slow cooking the filling and it definitely paid off. For preschool palates, I used half of the suggested chipotle in adobo and I added a healthy couple of handfuls of frozen corn kernels to try to get a few more veggies in where I could. The girls’ only other exposure to empanadas was a happy one thanks to La Sonrisa and the Hester Street Fair but my eldest now claims only to eat Chinatown empanadas. I had a ton of extra filling left over and decided to premake some quesadillas with it. Going to give both forms a try for dinner tomorrow. The good news is that I really like them even if they end up requesting plain cheese quesadillas instead. Nothing ventured, nothing gained… Thanks to Zen Can Cook.

Peanut Butter Pretzel Bites: This recipe was the single best family cooking experience we have had so far and were so delicious that few made their way to the cooling in the refrigerator stage. Even my two year old was capable of making the tiny sandwiches and dipping them in the cooled melted chocolate. We dipped in both white and semisweet chocolate and I ended up subbing in a squeeze of honey and a dollop of maple syrup for the sugars. Very happy family, even my two year old could participate in sandwich making and dipping. Thanks to Two Tiny Kitchens!

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The Experiment Begins

We have finally found both enough time and spent enough nights unprepared to have dinner on the table 15 minutes after we get home that we decided to embark on a new approach. Yes, I know there must be millions of other blogs like this but if there is one idea that ends up being helpful to other folks with two careers and two young kids, then I’m glad to share!! New rules: takeout only on Fridays unless there are extenuating circumstances. At home meals must take less than 15 minutes to warm and very limited hands on time to do so.

My husband is willing to do as much prep as possible–pre-cook pasta, chop veggies, etc. I am a lucky woman to have a mange garder as well as someone who can wire a socket and snake a drain. None of which were on my eligible mate list so I feel doubly lucky!!

Other ground rules: I subscribe to the food philosophy of minimizing processed foods as much as possible. And we try to pick things that have at least a 50% chance of the kids trying them and have cereal as their back up choice if they won’t.

We have NYC kids so they have eaten chicken and rice of many cultures and seem to be gaining more appreciation for different cuisines’ variations on dumplings and pasta so we’re leveraging that as much as possible to both get them some veggies and to expand their palates.

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