In a hurry to feed the kids so they can hit their Trick or Treating routes? I'm in a hurry today, too, because I'm proofing Easy Weekly Meals for Moms on the Go, which I just received from our publisher today. But, I want to feel the spirit of Halloween. So, I've taken our Turkey Pinwheel recipe, available on our Recipe Page, and made it spooktacular by using orange wraps. They get their color from sun dried tomatoes and are available in most grocery stores. Give them a try and have a safe and happy Halloween! And watch for our new Moms on the Go book, which will be available here soon!
Have you ever seen jack-o-lanterns carved out of turnips?
Believe it or not, that is a common sight at Halloween time in Ireland and Scotland. I’m glad that tradition was applied to pumpkins here in North America since they are considerably larger and therefore easier to turn into jack-o-lanterns. In fact the term “jack-o-lantern” was first associated with pumpkins in 1866.
What do you do with the gooey insides of pumpkins when you make your jack-o-lanterns?
Many people separate the seeds from the “goo” and bake them to make a delicious and nutritious treat. They are a good source of protein, magnesium, copper, and zinc. When my kids were younger we roasted our seeds each year, after giving them a very light coat of oil and a generous sprinkling of salt. I looked forward to making that crunchy treat, and rued our decision one year to paint our pumpkins instead of carving them. We’d planned to “harvest” their seeds on All Saints Day, the day after Halloween. My 7-year old daughter sobbed when we passed our smashed pumpkins on the way to the bus stop that morning. The following year we hedged our risk by leaving our paintbrushes in the drawer and made carving jack-o-lanterns our permanent tradition.
A "Pie" or "Sugar" Pumpkin
Have you ever had a pumpkin pie made from fresh pumpkins rather than the canned pumpkin pie filler?
My grandmother used to make one. It was fabulous. She used a “pie pumpkin.” They are available in most grocery stores, although some stores call them “sugar pumpkins.” My Nana Walsh baked her halved and seeded pumpkins in the oven. Some people steam theirs. Whichever method used, the object is to cook the inner flesh of the vegetable until it is soft so you can puree it. There’s nothing like the flavor of pies made from fresh-baked pumpkin. If you’ve got the time and the gumption, go for making your pie completely from scratch!
For readers like me who are on the go, the second book in the Easy Weekly Meals e-cookbook series has a delicious pumpkin pie recipe. Easy Weekly Meals for Moms on the Go will be available on our products page in plenty of time for Thanksgiving 2012. --Sorry Nana, I’ll get back to your recipe some day!
How much do you love food? Enough to masquerade as your favorite dish or beverage?
Way back in college I dressed up like a can of Olympia beer and won the best costume award. Receiving the honor was fun, but removing the glitter from my hands and face was an ordeal that left telltale red blotches for a few weeks. The green theatrical grease paint I used a few years later to turn myself into an M ’n M came off with good old fashioned cold cream. I didn’t win any prizes, but enjoyed a more comfortable Halloween aftermath.
Today there are loads of costumes around for those who love food enough to emulate it, but want an easy way to wear and remove it. If you’re the creative type with the time to make your own costumes, you’ve probably already visited Hobby Lobby and Michaels. But if you’re a college student, busy mom, or empty nester on the go, looking good on Halloween can be as easy as making a quick stop at your local Target Store, where I found great food looks for kids, women, men, and even pets! Here are a few of the looks that called to the foodie in me:
National Potato Day
What comes to mind when you think of potatoes? Visions of rolling, verdant hills, fisherman’s knit sweaters, and warm corner pubs fill my mind. As an Irish American, I tend to think my culture “owns” the spud. In reality the potato is the staple of a majority of the world's diets. And though it’s been adopted by many cultures, its birthplace is believed to be southern Peru and northwestern Boliva where it was first domesticated between 8000 and 5000 BC. After the Spanish conquered the Incan Empire the potato made its way to Europe sometime during the 16th century. It spread throughout that continent and worldwide port locales.
Back in South America where thousands of varieties of the beloved tuber exist it remained a reliable food source. But only a few varieties made the journey to the “Old World.” Potatoes there did not have the genetic diversity to resist disease. Eventually a fungus spread through European potato crops. In 1845 Ireland was hit especially hard by the blight, which was one of the triggers of the Great Irish Diaspora, and one reason why I am an American.
Amazingly, potatoes can sustain humans when they are supplemented with simple sources of vitamins A and D like milk or butter. Personally, I could live on a steady diet of that! And I’m not alone. The potato is an important crop throughout Europe and has infiltrated Asia and India.
Each region where potatoes exist has put its own unique stamp on the staple leaving us rich with delicious ways to enjoy our “spuds.” A simple baked potato slathered in butter makes me happy. But there are many more creative ways to use taters.
My mom made a fabulous potato salad. I love to serve it in the summer time as a cold and filling side dish. I’ve also played around with purple potatoes. Their small size, sweet filling and interesting color add surprising hues and taste to a dish. We used them in the College Rave Week of recipes in Easy Weekly Meals for College Students. Steamed red-skinned potatoes topped with melted butter, chopped parsley and salt compliment corned beef on St. Paddy’s Day. You can find a quick and easy recipe for this dish in Easy Weekly Meals for Moms on the Go.
Last week I played around with the idea of potato pizza to emulate the pizza rustica I used to buy on the streets of Rome when studying there more than a quarter century ago. The result was a creamy and crunchy potato pie with splashes of tomato, mushrooms, olives and cheese. Delicious! And it only took me 15 minutes to assemble it.
Tonight I’m going to introduce my spuds to Indian flavors and techniques. I’ll let you know what I come up with.
Meanwhile, be sure you find a fun way to celebrate National Potato Day!
What do you call a round, single layered sponge cake cut into 2 layers, filled with custard, and topped with a chocolate glaze? M. Sanzian, chef of Boston's The Parker House Hotel and the dessert’s originator, dubbed it a “Boston Cream Pie” in 1856.
It’s called a pie, but it’s really a cake, right? That’s my vote. Since I’m a busy chef on the go, I buy most of my baked goods in the bakery section of my local grocery store. So, I took to Google and the phones to find out what some large grocery store bakeries think. Surprisingly, none of those I called knew what I’m about to tell you—today is National Boston Cream Pie Day! Here are the results of my brief and unscientific poll:
Jewel Foods: Cake
Wegmans (in Massachusetts): Cake
Whole Foods: Cake
Trader Joes: Does not carry the dessert
Based upon our poll, Easy Weekly Meals puts this yummy treat firmly into the “Cake” column. Weigh in? Do you call it a cake or a pie?
Photo courtesy of ww.flickr.com/people/22481796@N00
Today is National Pumpkin Cheesecake Day.
I don’t know who had the ingenious idea to combine two delicious treats into one, but I pay homage to that person’s brilliance as we enter the autumn holiday season.
Cheesecake goes way back in the history of humankind. A form of the dessert called plakountopoiikon suggramma was written about in ancient Greece. It appeared as libum and placenta in Rome after her conquest of Greece. Many foodies consider these to be the precursors of today’s cheesecake, although their taste and consistency were somewhat different.
Fast forward to Chester, New York, 1872 where William Lawrence is credited by many with the accidental development of the modern cheesecake. James Kraft also deserves his due for his contribution to this luscious dessert. His pasteurized cream cheese, the Philadelphia brand, is one of the most commonly used ingredients in cheesecake today.
Pumpkin pie is believed to have originated in Tudor England where the pumpkin’s flesh was a common pie filler. The Gentlewoman’s Companion cookbook by Hannah Woolley, published in 1675, contained a recipe for the pie. Even though pumpkins are native to North America, the first recipes for pumpkin pie did not hit American cookbooks until the 19th century when it was added to traditional Thanksgiving fare.
Are you thinking about your Thanksgiving menu? Looking for dessert ideas? Like our Easy Weekly Meals Facebook page and we’ll send you a free No-bake Cheesecake recipe. It’s quick and easy, and adds pizazz to your holiday table. Be sure to comment “I love No-bake Cheesecake!” to receive your free recipe.
Watch for our pumpkin pie recipe in Easy Weekly Meals for Moms on the Go, available here in early November!
Pumpkin Cheesecake photo compliments of theverybestbaking.com
Grains are a staple of the American diet. What would breakfast be without waffles, pancakes, oatmeal, toast with those eggs. For lunch we have sandwiches. For dinner we have rice and pasta, couscous, bulgur wheat. The list goes on. And they’re all delicious.
But another food is burrowing through the crowded field of waving wheat. It’s stocked in most grocery stores, yet it’s still not familiar to a lot of people. It’s quinoa (KEEN-wah). And it’s not a grain. It’s a seed, a member of the grass family.
Quinoa comes from the Andes mountains in Peru and Bolivia where it was first cultivated more than 5,000 years ago. It was considered the “mother of all grains” because of its nutritional value. It’s high in magnesium, iron, calcium, and protein. It’s a great source of fiber. It’s low in calories. And it’s gluten free.
Here’s a quick chart to show how much protein you get in a 1/4 cup serving of various grains.
Jasmine rice 3g
Brown rice 3g
Quinoa comes in various colors: creamy white, red, black. It has a fluffy, nutty texture and cooks up in about 20 minutes. Use it as a side dish to accompany meats and vegetables, add it to stew or soups, make it into a salad with cucumber and tomato. You can even eat it for breakfast with a little butter and maple syrup.
If you haven’t tried it before, you’re in for a treat. Most grains are a little bland on their own, so here’s a cooking tip. Instead of adding 2 C of water to 1 C of quinoa, add chicken broth. It won’t taste like chicken at all, just so much richer.
Check our Healthy Substitutions page for more healthy ideas! And don't forget to stop by the Products page to see what fabulous tools we've got cooking.
Would you like to “catch” your family’s attention with a delicious dinner, but don’t think you have the time? Today could be your day! It’s National Chicken Cacciatore and National Mushroom Day. And there is an easy way to celebrate both honorees in one dish.
The Italian word cacciatore means hunter. Its sound makes me think of the chicken “catch of the day.” Chicken cacciatore is chicken prepared “hunter-style.” This usually means preparing whole chicken pieces with tomatoes, onions, herbs, and wine. The type of wine used depends upon the recipe’s region of origin. Northern Italian variations will typically use white, while southern will use red. Inclusion of other ingredients depends upon regional and seasonal availability as well as what the chef has on hand. It is often served with polenta, which is a corn-based side dish.
Whatever the house blend may be, diners are in for a flavorful treat on Chicken Cacciatore night. My own recipe is designed to be easy to make without sacrificing flavor or adding too much fat to consumers’ diets. It uses boneless, skinless chicken breasts, boosts their flavor with gads of herbs and spices, and includes mushrooms, so today’s celebrants can kill two birds with one stone. (Pun intended.) I like to serve my version with brown rice instead of polenta since corn sensitivity is showing up in many American bodies these days. My recipe is calculated to produce leftovers for use later in the week. Hot Hunters Chicken and its spin-off recipe are available exclusively in Easy Weekly Meals for College Students, downloadable here to your favorite mobile or electronic reading device.
My college roommate and I once drank so much delicious Bavarian beer we were locked out of our jugendherberge (youth hostel). The year was 1978 and the place was Munich. The beer was tall and cool and kept coming long beyond the point we remembered to watch the time. Our hostel locked the doors at midnight. My euphoria turned to panic when I saw that my watch’s minute hand had inched to 15 while the hour hand sat defiantly on 12.
Thinking we needed to hit the streets and find a nearby hotel I searched wildly for my jacket. The young German woman sitting to my left “found” it on my chair back. After a brief exchange with her handsome young spouse she switched from German to perfect English and offered to let us crash on their couch. Relieved, we accepted another round of full steins from a buxom blonde in a Dirndl dress. The night’s liquid consumption stayed in my system for a couple of days, although a massive headache crept in as the alcohol receded. But the food, music, and camaraderie I experienced at the beer fest still remains a pleasant memory.
Readers may know that the 16-day Oktoberfest grew out of the lavish wedding reception thrown by Bavaria’s Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen back in 1810. It was such a hit Bavarians turned it into an annual event.
Oktoberfest is celebrated each year in many American cities. Some of the more notable ones take place in Cincinnati (Oktoberfest Zinzinnati); LaCrosse, Wisconsin; Chicago, Minneapolis, and Vail, Colorado. Food, beer, and oompa bands abound.
These days I put more emphasis on the food than on the beer during Oktoberfest. I like to celebrate it in my own home by creating a German-inspired dish each year. A few years ago experimenting with crushed pretzels and mustard resulted in Pretzel Schnitzel, pictured here. It’s quick, easy, and healthy; and while readers may not be able to find it in the “Schweinefleisch” section of a true German menu, it smacks of German flavors to me. You’ll find it in Easy Weekly Meals for College Students, available on our products page now, and Easy Weekly Meals for Moms on the Go, available in November, 2012.
Did you know evidence of the first tacos eaten in Mexico indicates they were filled with fish? Or that the The Online Etymological Dictionary defines taco as a "tortilla filled with spiced meat" and its derivation as being from the Mexican Spanish words for "light lunch?”
I didn’t. I only knew that from the moment I ate my first bite I fell in love with the sometimes messy, sometimes spicy little “sandwiches.” That was back in the 1960’s American Midwest, where tacos were an exotic food and the hamburger was king of the region. Of course, the tacos served up in my high school cafeteria or local fast food drive-thru were beef based. By contrast, my kids were consuming all kinds of interesting ingredients in their tacos as soon as they could safely eat solid foods.
The happiest dining experience of each month was Build Your Own Taco Night in our home. Whichever leftover dinner proteins in my refrigerator that night were fair game for mixing with cheese, toppings (chopped avocado, lettuce, tomatoes, scallions, salsa, corn, and sour cream,) and my own homemade taco sauce. To my delight, the fish went into the kids’ tacos as frequently as the chicken and the beef did.
Sometimes we’d have contests to see who could get the best color mix into their tacos, or who could build and eat the biggest one. Winners were selected by popular vote. Fish tacos were in vogue in my kitchen before they started appearing on the menus of chi-chi restaurants because salmon’s color usually helped push a taco into the winning category.
Not only did our make-your-own meals provide better nutrition (fish is “brain food”), they also allowed my little tactile learners to get their hands on and play with their food.
Our family enjoyed our creative evenings so well that I had to include a couple of fish taco recipes in Easy Weekly Meals for College Students* and Easy Weekly Meals for Moms on the Go**.
Today is National Taco Day. Think outside the box and celebrate by creating your own delicious taco!
*Available now on the products page and through all major online booksellers.
**Available in early November on this site and via all major online booksellers.
Got Picky Eaters? The type who literally pick vegetables out of casseroles or ignore their presence on the dinner plate?
I have some experience in that department. My son balked at vegetables from the time he was old enough to eat baby food. He tightened his little lips and turned his head away from plastic feeding spoons full of pureed peas, green beans, carrots, beets, squash. You name the vegetable—he refused to eat it. Right from the get-go I had to find ways to sneak vegetables past his lips.
I started by steaming broccoli and carrots and pureeing them in my food processor. I added the puree to my spaghetti sauce and thoroughly coated the noodles with it. He gobbled down every last bite and pounded the highchair tray for more. Success with my first foray into food espionage emboldened me to branch out into meats.
At first I stuck with my laced spaghetti sauce and simply ladled it over small pieces of meatballs. It worked! After a while I grew tired of scrubbing tomato sauce spots out of his clothing and took an inventory of his favorite foods. I had spaghetti and ground beef covered, but I knew he also loved macaroni, French fries, and scrambled eggs. I decided to match the colors of those foods with vegetables.
Boxed macaroni wore an orange sauce. I decided to forgo the boxed version with reconstituted orange powder and make my own so I could control all of its ingredients. I created the quick Mac and Cheese recipe that appears in both Easy Weekly Meals for College Students and EWM for Moms on the Go. But I made one addition. I pureed steamed carrots and added them to the sauce. My son was never the wiser. I’d found another way to sneak some veggies into his system.
French fries resembled slices of peeled eggplant. I fried and seasoned them as I would potato slices and had another culinary hit on my hands. Scrambled eggs presented my biggest challenge. I played with a few veggies. Cooked and mashed turnips proved to be too pungent. Zucchini made the eggs too runny. Finally I tried baked and mashed spaghetti squash. Its yellow color blended perfectly with the beaten eggs and its addition didn’t alter the eggs’ texture.
As my kids grew I played around with unmasking vegetables by connecting them to something that had caught their attention. When they first studied fossils they helped me make fossilized vegetable slices. Today, I still see fossils when I make Baked Eggplant and Arugula Slices*.
Baked Eggplant and Arugula Slices.
I thought I’d pulled off the switcheroo of the century when my entire family ate every bite of my Zucchini Cannelloni*. In this dish, the “cannelloni” noodles are actually peeled and hollowed out zucchini. My son, now a man, said, “You really made that zucchini taste good, Mom.” Busted! But I’m very pleased that he ate it, and liked it.
If you’ve got picky eaters of any age try some of my culinary trickery. Think outside the box. Experiment with your own favorite dishes and find vegetable substitutions or additions for them.
Happy World Vegetarian Day!
Note: Asterisked (*) recipes can be found in Easy Weekly Meals for Moms on the Go available in November, 2012.