Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Chinese Dinner Date

We had a Chinese dinner date for the girls! Now, don't worry, I'm not delusional - I know this is a completely Americanized version of already Americanized Chinese restaurant food. But the girls loved it, so who cares! My attempt to make peanut butter fortune cookies was pretty much an epic fail, so we're going to pretend those didn't happen.

Crab Rangoon

8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 can crab meat, drained (I used white crab meat, no need to get fancy!)
1 tsp soy sauce
1/4 tsp ginger
Won ton wrappers
oil for frying

In a bowl, mix together the cream cheese, crab meat, soy sauce, and ginger. Spoon about half a tablespoon of filling into the center of the won ton wrappers. Moisten the edges of the wrappers and fold into triangles or rectangles (rectangles were much easier with my NaSoya wrappers, which were slightly oddly shaped!), sealing the edges well.

Heat a few inches of oil in a pot (I used canola oil). Drop in the rangoons, a few at a time, and fry for about a minute. Flip them over and fry for about 30 seconds more, until they are golden on both sides. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels before serving.

This made a big batch, so I froze some of them after they cooled. They only needed a few minutes in a 375F oven to be crispy and yummy again!

Sweet and Sour Chicken Casserole

3 cups cooked rice
2 chicken breasts, cooked and chopped (or equivalent amount of leftover cooked chicken)
20 oz can pineapple, drained and juice reserved
2 Tbsp corn starch, dissolved in 1/4 cup water
3 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp ketchup
1 cup chopped carrots
1/2 cup chopped onion

In a 2-qt casserole dish, layer the cooked rice, chopped chicken, and pineapple.

In a saucepan, combine 3/4 cup of the reserved pineapple juice, the cornstarch/water mixture, brown sugar, vinegar, honey, soy sauce, and ketchup. Cook over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Add the carrots and onion and cook for about 5 minutes, until the vegetables are crisp-tender.

Pour the sauce over the casserole. The casserole can now be baked or refrigerated until you are ready to bake. When you are ready to eat, bake in a 350F oven until heated through (about 20 minutes for a casserole that was in the fridge).

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Baby Food Pancakes

My younger daughter is 7 months old now, and she hates pureed food, and being fed by spoon, period. All she eats is Cheerios and Gerber puffs. Clearly, this needs to change! I've been pureeing vegetables, only to have them rejected, for months now and am finally throwing in the towel. She wants to self-feed? Then it's baby food pancake time!

Baby Food Pancakes
Prep time: 15 minutes
Makes about 8 3-inch pancakes

1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp canola oil
4 oz baby food puree (I used beets for this batch, hence their lovely color!)
1/4 cup water
tiniest pinch of salt, optional

Stir together the flour and the baking powder; add in oil, puree, and water (and salt, if using) and stir well. Heat a griddle or skillet over medium heat. Drop batter onto griddle to make small pancakes. Cook, flipping after about 2 minutes, until cooked through. Cool and serve (freeze leftovers!).

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Freezer-to-Skillet Creamy Tomato Pasta

Another Bertolli-style frozen bag o' dinner - this one with bacon. Because everything is better with bacon!

Creamy Tomato Pasta

Enough pasta for 8 servings (about half a box, for my kid)
8 slices bacon, cooked and diced
1/4 cup diced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp olive oil
16 oz tomato sauce
1/4 cup heavy cream
frozen peas

Prepare pasta according to package directions. Set aside to cool.

In a skillet, heat olive oil and add bacon, onion, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened - about 3 minutes. Stir in the tomato sauce and bring to a boil; lower heat and simmer for about 5 minutes. Add heavy cream and cook, stirring, for 1 minute more.

To freeze the pasta: if you are using shapes, scatter them on a freezer-safe dish and freeze. For noodles, gather up a forkful of noodles and twirl them into little nests on a freezer-safe dish:

Pour the sauce into an ice cube tray - about 1 or 2 Tbsp of sauce in each cube. Freeze.

When noodles and sauce are frozen, divide them evenly among 8 freezer bags. To each bag, add a few tablespoonfuls of frozen peas.

When you are ready to serve, pour the contents of a bag into a skillet over medium heat. Cover and cook for 3 minutes; stir, and then continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until sauce is melted and everything is heated through. This should take 5-10 minutes total.

And voila! Pasta! (and yes, I took a picture of the one bag I didn't add peas to. And then didn't realize that until now. Whoops!)

Friday, January 16, 2009

Itty Bitty Abby is 3!!

To continue to honor Abby's birthday I decided to make her a dinner I was sure she would like. How did I know for sure that she would like it? Because I've made it for her before. Hands down the thing I have cooked for Abby that she liked the most were the fish nuggets so I made up another batch that was sure to please! This time around I thought I would try a new side to go with them so I whipped up a batch of super simple:

Honey and Ginger Carrots
(serves 2-3)

3 carrots, peeled and sliced into rounds
1-1/2 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp honey
1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1. Parboil the carrots in a medium saucepan until just tender
2. Drain the water and return the carrots to the saucepan
3. Add the remaining ingredients and saute over medium-low heat for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly and being careful not to burn. Serve!

I knew I wanted to bake a little cake for Abby and it got me thinking about those 1st birthday 'smash cakes'. I remember the mild anxiety I felt about giving my daughter this rather large, sugar laden cake (considering her size and the fact that she was still just learning how to eat solids). In the end a friend of the family made her a pseudo-healthy smash cake (along with a regular, full sugar cake for the rest of us). Anyway, since I never made one for Neko I thought I would try my hand at a slightly less devilish cake. The result was rather....muffiny. Which brought me to the question: What separates a cake from a muffin? I'm welcome any answers to this question.

Abby's (sort of healthy) Birthday Cake

2-1/3 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. turbanino sugar
1/4 c. honey
1/2 c. applesauce
2 eggs
1 c. milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1c. whipping cream
fresh or frozen berries
2 tsp. + 2 tsp. agave nectar.

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9x13 cake pan, 2 - 8" rounds or line a cupcake pan with liners. I did a 5" round pan and 3 trays of mini cupcakes.
2. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir in the sugar.
3. Mix the honey, applesauce, eggs, milk and salt on low speed until combined. Add the dry ingredients and beat on low speed for 1 minute.
4. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. For my cake it was 20 minutes and the cupcakes were 13 minutes. I think a 9x13 would take about 25-30.
5. Remove from oven and allow to completely cool on a cooling rack.
6. Using a chilled mixing bowl, beat the cream and 2 tsp agave nectar at high speed until thick enough to spread on cake.
7. Cover top and sides of cake with whipped cream.
8. In a small bowl stir the berries with 2 tsp. agave nectar. Spoon on to center of cake. Serve!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Calzones Two Ways

Calzones Two Ways

(Chicken and Broccoli...note: picture is before baking)
(and Peanut Butter and Jelly)

I received a bread machine for Christmas this year and decided to try out the pizza dough function. I thought calzones would be a great reheatable option to keep in the freezer. The dough was pretty stiff for my liking. I'm open to suggestions if anyone knows a way to make a doughier crust.

1c. warm water
3/4 tsp. honey
1 tsp. kosher salt
1-1/2 tbsp. EVOO
2-1/2c. bread flour
1/3. c. whole wheat flour
1-3/4 tsp. bread machine yeast

Filling for the chicken and broccoli calzones:
1 cooked chicken breast cut into bite sized chunks
1c. mozzarella cheese
1c. fresh or frozen broccoli
1/2c. marinara or pizza sauce
Parmesan cheese

Filling for the peanut butter and jelly calzones:

I used-
2 Tbsp natural peanut butter
2 Tbsp currant jam

In the order listed, layer the ingredients in bread pan. Put in bread machine. Set machine to the pizza dough setting. Set loaf size to 1-1/2 lb. loaf. Press start. When machine is finished remove and knead the air out of the dough.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Put a little cornmeal onto a flat surface for rolling. Using dough balls about the size of a golf ball, flatten each ball into a disc shape and roll out until the dough is pretty thin. I think I did mine too thick. I know 'pretty thin' is not a great description but for some reason words are failing me on this one.

For the C&B calzones:
1. Spoon about 2 Tbsp. of the sauce onto half of the calzone
2. Top the sauce with a few chunks of chicken, a few chunks of broccoli and 2 Tbsp. of the mozzarella

Fold the dough in half and pinch the edges shut. Sprinkle a little Parmesan cheese on top. Bake on a foil lined cookie sheet (or better yet a pizza stone if you have one...I don't) and bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

For the PB&J the filling is 1Tbsp of each peanut butter and jelly. I made the PB&J calzones about half as big as the C&B ones so the baking time was about 10 minutes.

Neko (and I) liked the PB&J ones the best. Sort of a healthier take on the Uncrustable. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Abby's Favorites Dinner Date

Abby will turn 3 in just a few days (sniff! my baby!), so tonight's dinner date was composed from some of her favorite foods. Abby has a handful of what I call my "go-to" foods for her - things that I know she'll eat and that I keep on hand for nights when my husband and I are having too-spicy chili or sushi. So for tonight's dinner date, I tried to mix up the favorites in new ways, to hopefully create new favorites!

Cheerio Chicken Nuggets and Green Pea Hummus

Cheerio Chicken Nuggets
Prep time: 10 minutes
Bake time: 15 minutes

1 1/2 cups Cheerios
salt, pepper
1 tsp honey
1 lb ground chicken

Shake the Cheerios into a plastic bag (a freezer bag works well) and crush them up with your hands. Have your kids help - it's fun! Add a bit of salt and pepper to the crushed Cheerios, and pour them into a bowl. Add about 1 tsp honey and mix all together with your fingers.

In a separate bowl, mix the ground chicken with your hands until it is all nice and mushy. Pinch off heaping tablespoonfuls of the chicken and form it into nuggets. Press each side of each nugget into the Cheerios to coat.

Preheat the oven to 400F. Place the nuggets on a wire rack set over a baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes, until nuggets are completely cooked through.

Green Pea Hummus
Prep time: 5 minutes

1 cup frozen petite peas, thawed
14.5 oz can chick peas, drained and rinsed
3 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp coriander
salt & pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth, adding a few tablespoonfuls of water to achieve desired consistency. Serve with veggies or crackers.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell Ice Cream
Prep time: 5 minutes, plus freezing time
Yields about 1 quart of ice cream

1 cup heavy cream
2 cups skim milk
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup carrot puree (use jarred baby food to save time!)
1/2 cup pear puree (use jarred baby food to save time!)

In a large bowl, whisk together the cream, milk, extract, and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Whisk in the purees. Pour the mixture into your ice cream machine and freeze according to machine directions.

* * * * *

This dinner was an absolute success. Abby wolfed everything down - something that is rare for her, so I guess she liked seeing her favorite foods in new ways! She also had the green pea hummus spread on crackers for a snack earlier in the day. The ice cream was amazing. It had a beautiful orange color, but otherwise you really can't tell that it is chock full of carrots and pears - it tasted mostly like vanilla ice cream and was very rich and creamy.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Freezer-to-Skillet Cheeseburger Pasta

Forgive the break - I think Celeste and I have both been so busy cooking old family favorites for the holidays, we haven't been coming up with much new for our girls! But I'm back today, with a make-ahead meal that I am just in love with!

My husband and I are huge fans of those Bertolli frozen dinners. You rip open a bag, plop it in the skillet, and 10 minutes later - yum! We're also huge fans of Top Chef, and when they did an episode dissecting the making of these Bertolli dinners... well, the wheels started turning. I created this freezer-to-skillet dinner for Abby and was thrilled with the ease of prep - and how tasty it was, even after being in the freezer for a month!

Freezer-to-Skillet Cheeseburger Pasta
4 servings

1/2 lb ground beef
14.5 oz can diced tomatoes, lightly drained
1/2 box of your favorite pasta shapes
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp flour
1 cup milk
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
salt & pepper

In a skillet, brown the ground beef. Drain and cool. When cool, scatter all over a large plate covered in wax paper and set in the freezer.

Scatter the diced tomatoes all over a large plate covered in wax paper; freeze.

Prepare the pasta shapes according to box directions. Drain, cool. When cool, scatter over a large plate covered in wax paper; freeze.

In a skillet, melt the butter. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring, until thickened and bubbly. Gradually whisk in the milk. Cook, stirring, until thick and bubbly. Remove from heat and stir in the cheese; add salt and pepper to taste. Spoon one or two tablespoonfuls of sauce into ice cube trays (you want the ice cubes to be about half full at most). Cover with plastic wrap and freeze for several hours, until completely firm.

When everything is well-frozen (the cheese sauce will take the longest to completely freeze), simply divide the frozen components between four bags.

When you are ready to cook, dump the contents of one bag into a skillet over medium heat. Cover for 1-2 minutes, then stir. Cover again for 1-2 minutes, and then stir. Continue to cook, stirring, until sauce cubes are completely melted and everything is heated through.

I loved having these on hand in the freezer for super-quick meals. I never tried heating them in the microwave, since it only took about 6 minutes in the skillet. I even added a bit of butternut squash baby food into the skillet on one of the reheats - and Abby wolfed it all down!


Want more freezer-friendly ideas? Check out the Ultimate Recipe Swap of freezer-friendly recipes at Life As Mom!