Thursday, March 19, 2015

Japanese Curried Fried Rice: The Bookfair COMETH!!!

The other day,  Daughter #1 came home and said, "Hey mom.  The school librarian asked me if I was ready for you to be cranky because of the book fair."

I asked, "How did you respond?"

#1 replied, "I told her you were always cranky anyways, and that the book fair didn't make much difference."

And there you have it. The ever wise and ever candid daughter described her mother succinctly. Cranky.

Truth be told, the bookfair really does make me crazy and cranky. The combination of those two things can't be easy on the family, but they have to put up with me and my insanity for a week.  During those times I'm looking for meals that I have stored up in the fridge as well as quick to make dishes.  This my friends, is that quick to make dish.  As my family are curry fiends, this dish comes together way faster than curry rice, satisfying them quickly and with minimal effort from me. It goes great with kimchi and the first three times I made it, my kids went nuts, begging for more and for more.

Curry.  No stress.  No sweat.  No problem.

Japanese Curried Fried Rice
Serves 6

2 tablespoons butter (or some sort of butter substitute, like Earth Balance)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 skinless boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
½ onion, peeled and chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
3 stalks of celery, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
¼ cup sake
4 tablespoons curry powder
6 cups cooked rice
1 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper

Heat butter and olive oil in a wok over high heat.  When butter has melted, add chicken, a dash of salt and pepper, and cook until chicken is opaque.

Add onion, celery, carrot, garlic, another pinch of salt and pepper, and cook, stirring constantly for 2 minutes, until vegetables are softer.

Add sake, and cook stirring constantly for 2 minutes.  Add curry powder, and keep stirring because curry can burn.

Add a bit of oil if desired.  Add rice, and work quickly, incorporating vegetables and chicken throughout rice.  Sprinkle soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper and cook for 1 minute.

Remove from heat and serve immediately.

Printable recipe

So yummy, sometimes you need to put a guard in front of it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Double Chocolate Zucchini Bread: The things I wished I said

For JH and RL, and all those who miss them too.

The start of 2015 was a bit rough as I lost two lovely ladies in my life.  After a battle with cancer, Son and Daughter's beloved preschool teacher JH passed away.  I wept so much at her passing, because she loved and doted on both my kids and me so much.  In one of our sporadic email exchanges back and forth, she said that she had pulled out the good china, was using new sheets, and was enjoying the time she had left with her beloved family.  Her last days on earth were about enjoying them to the fullest and to live without any regrets.  But her passing was like a candle being blown out; the room suddenly went dark for me. I found myself really missing her and wishing that I told her more often how much she meant to my family and me.  Although she left without any regrets, I found that I had more than a handful.

And then more recently, a fellow mom and lovely human being RL, collapsed while at choir practice with her two children, from a cerebral aneurysm.  It was sudden, unexpected, and so quick that most of us were left shell-shocked and astounded that someone could be here on earth one moment and gone the next. Life shifted in a split second for RL - there and then no longer. I didn't get to say all the prayers I wanted for her; I missed out on asking her for the zucchini bread recipe, and I didn't schedule that extra playdate that we wanted to have for our kids.  The time to do so was already gone.

I mourned very deeply the loss of these two tremendously amazing women. I also found myself upset that I didn't say and do all the things that I had planned to, because they had simply run out of time. And I find myself with the realization that when death occurs, those who are left behind can often spend more time thinking of their regrets and the "didn't do's" and not so much of all the things that they had already done.  That's where I am. I want to do more but my opportunity is already done.  I'm reminded over and over that I shouldn't wait until tomorrow to say what I want to say or do what I want to do.

I honor their memory and our relationships with this post.  Teacher J was a phenomenal gardener and one who enjoyed the growing of plants, and RL was always planting zucchini in the summer that overflowed and produced way more than she could eat.  Both would have loved this zucchini bread: Teacher J, if I had made it for her, and RL because she made something similar.  I miss you both ladies, and have been thinking of you often while baking and trying to prefect this.

If you've never made zucchini bread, for the record, it doesn't taste like zucchini. This is really much closer to a dessert than a vegetable dish.  I like to call it, "Eat your veggies in your dessert."  The zucchini adds tremendous moisture and richness to this bread and even though you can see the flecks of zucchini, it doesn't add to the flavor.  This bread is not overly sweet, but has a rich and deep chocolate flavor that just can't be beat. As you make it, think of the things you want most to say to those around you, and don't hesitate to express your love.
Double Chocolate Zucchini Bread
Makes 2 loaves

1½  cups sugar
1 cup canola oil
3 eggs
1 tablespoon  vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
2/3  cup baking cocoa (I love Guittard, but if you can’t find it, just use what you have on hand)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½  teaspoon baking soda
4 cups shredded zucchini
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease two 8X4 loaf pans with cooking spray or butter.

In a large bowl, beat the sugar, oil, eggs and vanilla until well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, salt, baking powder, cinnamon and baking soda; gradually stir into sugar/oil mixture until blended. The mixture will be stiff.  Stir in zucchini. Carefully fold in chocolate chips. Transfer prepared loaf pans.

Bake at 350° for 50-55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks to cool completely

J and R - more than words can say, I miss you.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Oatmeal Toffee Blondies: It takes a whole team of people

For MC, RC, BK, HK, SH, ED, JW, EJ, SN and anyone else who has helped me move my children from one place to another

I tried very very hard to avoid team sports for my children, mostly because I couldn't get my head around the time commitment.  Since all of my working hours are after school, trying to find a way to move three kids to three different places for different sports seemed daunting, highly stressful, and impossible.  Fortunately for me, both girls took to swimming like fish takes to rice, and that resolved a lot of my stress.  Their sport is regular, with few weekend meets, and regular practice which I'm happy the girls do because I know it is good life-long exercise.

Son was a slightly different situation, because suddenly Husband got involved.  He had a vision in his head of playing sports with Son, and suddenly began asking a lot of questions and imposing his will on the sports aspect.  I tried to avoid it for as long as I could, but I soon found myself hurtling down a steep hill of practices, commitments, games that Husband, whose hours are long and are far away from home, wouldn't be able to help me with, except on the weekends.  As the sweat poured from my brow and pooled at the base of my back in the effort to figure out how I would manage to get Son to practices, and games, and whatever else on time, fellow moms and dads raised their hands to help me.

These moms and dads willingly pick up Son, (sometimes Daughters as well) to take him to practices and bring him back home safely, and in one piece.  And I'm grateful that I have this support.  I feel guilty on most days because it's not something that I can do, and it is something that these other people are willing to do for me.  And so to repay them, I try and make them something each time they are driving...a little treat if you will, because I can't EVER do the driving in their stead, but I can almost always get a little something together for them to nibble on and for them to know my thanks and gratitude.

These toffee blondies are actually a product of desperation and hurriedness as I realized one of the baseball practices was on a different day and that my girls had gotten a ride to one of their classes with another mom and I really wanted to make something.  I ran to the pantry and had planned to make some kind of cookie, but also realized I didn't have enough time to do traditional ones, so began planning a blondie.  

This is what popped out of the oven, and I don't regret the results.  This is chewy, crispy, rich with toffee and butter notes, cute as triangles, and gobbled up quickly by those who receive them.  I love the fact that they bake up in a single pan, and then can be cut into triangles or squares after they've cooled.  I also love the smiles on the faces of the men and women who are helping me with the complex and nearly impossible navigation of sports and my family after they get a bag of these.

If you have some people who help you manage your life, these are a great thank you for them.

Oatmeal Toffee Blondies
Makes 32 or 64, depending on cut size

2 sticks unsalted butter
¾ cup brown sugar
¾ cup white sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
2 cups oats, old fashioned or instant
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
8 oz (1 bag) Heath milk chocolate toffee bits

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9X13-inch baking pan. Grease pan very well, either using spray or additional butter.

In bowl of a mixer, cream together butter and both sugars.  Once butter and sugar are well incorporated, add egg and vanilla. Add flour, salt and baking powder until just combined. Add oats and toffee bits, mixing until everything is evenly distributed.  Using a spatula, spread mixture into prepared pan.

Bake until browned on edges and set, about 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool completely in pan set on a wire rack, then carefully cut and serve.

Printable recipe

I am happy to thank my team of people

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Brown Butter Blondies: Finding my way back

I took a long break from the blog.  I think from mid-November to mid-February, I was more or less silent.  I did a little bit here and there on my Facebook Week of Menus page, and still answered emails and questions from readers who were reading older posts, but I was not putting up anything new.  I actually found myself feeling guilty initially, a feeling that I was disappointing all of my readers and they were eagerly awaiting my next post, but that guilty feeling (which got no rhythm in case you're a WHAM fan) soon faded away and it became easy to not blog anymore.  I discussed with a few friends the possibility of just closing it all together and so as to not put any pressure on myself to continue having to write or think or photograph anymore.  All said leave the blog up, and all said post again when I was ready to post.

During this period of silence, I did embark on quite a bit of soul searching, primarily because I wanted to remember why I wrote.  I often told myself the writing was for others, but really the writing was for me, as a mode of expression, thinking and processing silly details about my life.   Time, or really the lack of time, took away my ability to write.  With the absence of the writing, came an absence of a huge part of my processing mode.  I stopped thinking so much, I stopped searching so much and sort of let myself get lost in a life that was becoming super chaotic and overly committed.

2015 began with an explosion of moments where it became clear that my life was battered enough and that I needed to slow down.  I made concerted efforts to remove extra commitments, and tried to become a calmer, less intense and less frazzled version of me.  I tried to be more present for the kids, more focused with the Husband, and overall better to myself.  The end result is really that I found time, both in my head space and in my life space.  In a sudden moment, I tentatively thought to myself - should I try and write again?

I gingerly dipped my toe into the proverbial pond again, hesitating as I planned the writing mentally, and pausing a lot more than I normally do.  Does it sound right?  Does it read right?  Am I capturing the moment?  I questioned my writing a lot more than I used to, even considered not posting, but in a rush of "oh what's the big deal" I pushed publish, and showed my face to the blog world again.

What surprised me more than anything was the amount of response I got.  I figured after three months of not posting, I'd have to push to find people to read my work again.  I didn't.  My readers were all waiting, and I was really taken aback at how much that gratified me since I always thought to myself that most of the writing was for me and not the audience.

But writing is generally for an audience.  Although I write to keep a record for myself, I also write a blog which means I am taking into account a larger body of people to read my words and think about my recipes.  And as it turns out, the larger audience is what encourages me to keep going.  Their response, their attempts at my recipes, and their feedback is such a gift that I've found my foot space in blogging again.

As a sweet celebration thank you for all of you who have waited patiently, here you go.  This is a sweet easy cookie to make, and it's so good that you'll have none leftover if you leave the pan out.  I love the texture - chewier, like a brownie, and denser than a regular cookie.  It's one pan, you don't need a mixer and it throws together super easy that you'll make it again and again.

Brown Butter Blondies
Makes 32 or 64, depending on your cuts

2 sticks unsalted butter
½ cup white sugar
1 ½ cups packed light-brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon  pure vanilla extract
2 ½  cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 ⅔ cups semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9X13-inch baking pan. Grease pan very well, either using spray or additional butter.

Melt butter in saucepan.  Cook until butter melts, foams, and the brown bits begin to form.  Remove from heat when butter has lots of golden brown flecks within.  Transfer butter to a heatproof bowl.  Stir in white sugar and brown sugar.  It may not fully incorporate but this is okay.  Stir in egg and vanilla, then flour,salt and baking until just combined. Stir in chocolate chunks; spread batter evenly in prepared pan.

Bake until browned on edges and set, about 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool completely in pan set on a wire rack, then carefully cut and serve.

Great with ice cream, hot coffee, or a cup of milk.

Printable recipe

Sweet treats.  Thank you.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Fish (Cod) Stew: Minus one

Last week our family was minus one.  Daughter #1 took off to the week-long, fifth grade, outdoor education experience, so our family of five for five days, became a family of four.  A 20 percent reduction in humans in our house, but the workload reduction exceeded 50%.  Somehow, the one child being gone reduced so much drama and work in the house that I was, dare I say it, kind of bored.

Suddenly Daughter #2, who is usually at odds and in a fierce battle with Son became this docile, sweet, older child figure, attentive and helpful to Son.  Son, who usually attacks Daughter #2 with his light sabers and bad karate chops along with verbal assaults and whines suddenly became awesome younger brother who was a fun playmate.  Add to that that I no longer had to manage and moderate Daughter #1's homework, early arrival to school, and clothing choices, time was suddenly on my side.  I breathed a little bit more, prayed a little bit more, and read more of Bible.  It was a peaceful time and a quiet time and a bit of rest.

Thursday night, after Daughter #1 had been gone for a while, suddenly made me realize that I missed some of the chaos.  That her presence, albeit sometimes infuriating and crazy-momma making, was sorely missed.  Everything seemed quieter, mellower, more subdued and my normally psychedelic life took on colors of restrained muted tones.

I wanted her back.  I wanted her back in one piece, back in the house, making the noise and making the chaos where it should fall.

When Friday rolled around, I knew I would make her this fish stew, which she declares, "One of my favorite meals ever!" I asked her, after we sat down to eat together, "Did you miss mommy's cooking?" to which she paused and said, "A little, but the food there was really good."  I guess I'm happy that she didn't starve being away from home.

The best thing about this stew is that it comes together so quickly in a single pot.  Use some crusty bread to make delicious toasts or plain oyster crackers also work just as well.  For a bit of heat, I like a sprinkle of red chili pepper flakes.  This recipe also easily doubles, and I've made it for my house church to rave reviews.
Fish (Cod) Stew
Serves 4

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium carrots, peeled and finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
¼ cup finely chopped red onion
1 tablespoon fennel seed
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1 can (14.5 ounces) whole or diced tomatoes, in juice
16 ounces clam juice
1 1/2 pounds skinless cod fillet, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces

In a large pot, over medium heat, heat olive oil and add carrots, celery, and red onion. Add a healthy pinch of salt and pepper. Saute until vegetables are softened and slightly translucent, about 6 minutes.  Add fennel seeds. Add tomatoes, juice and all and cook until almost all tomato juice is evaporated, about 5 minutes.  If you use diced tomatoes, you won’t need to break the tomatoes up at all, but if you use whole tomatoes, break up tomatoes with the back of your spoon.

After tomato juice is cooked off, add clam juice and bring to a simmer.  Add cod pieces and cook until fish is opaque and cooked through.  Immediately remove from heat.

Serve with crunchy bread or oyster crackers.

Printable recipe

The perfect warm welcome home.

The clam juice I used.  Purchased at Whole Foods for a lot less.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Mapo Tofu with Korean Slant: Aging with your glasses

I went to the eye doctor today, just for my typical check up to make sure that my prescription for my contacts were good and up to date.  I don't look forward to my eye doctor appointments, because invariably I end up in that situation where the optometrist begins asking the series of questions, "Is A better than B?  Do you like one or two?  B or C?  This one or this one?" and my head starts swimming as I try and make sure that in fact, B is more clear than C and 1 is easier to focus with than 2.  I hate making tiny decisions.

Today, I decided to complicate matters further because I was trying to figure out if I should update my glasses, which are officially 13 years old. I know - they ARE old, but bear in mind that I wear my contacts far more than my glasses, so glasses aren't that big of a priority most of the time.  As Dr. T examined and tested my vision, I explained that it was harder to see at night and drive with my glasses and at the same time, it was getting harder to read smaller print.  She ran a series of evaluations for me and then determined that yes, in fact I'm not seeing that great far or that great close.  The curse of aging.

Then came the series of complex decisions as to how to best manage this eye/glasses/contacts/prescription dilemma.  She explained progressive lenses (fancy word for bifocals with no lines), progressive contacts (fancy word for bifocals just stuck to my eyeball) and reading glasses (fancy for old lady in the room).  I started with my original goal of glasses that I would be able to see better with at night, should I need to drive, and we experimented with a few options, which ended up compromising my ability to READ at night with the same glasses.  Again the option of progressive lenses came up, to which I responded, "But can't I just TAKE OFF my glasses and read at night which is what I do already?"  She nodded, but given that Dr. T is all of 15 years old and no idea how aging women have issues with their eyesight, I don't think she was impressed with my practical solution.  (For the record, I am impressed with my low tech solution of REMOVING my eyeglasses.)

After the decision for the appropriate prescription, came the ever-harrowing decision of choosing a frame.  I spent about 15 minutes looking at a few, and after the series of decisions I had to make regarding HOW I was going to correct my vision, deciding WHAT I was going to look like in said glasses suddenly became so overwhelming that I began my shutdown process, which happens whenever I am confronted with too many decisions.  "I'm going to come back, with my husband so he can help me decide" I told my Doc.  

"I can help you decide if you'd like," she kindly offered.

"No.  I think I need my husband.  He'll have a strong opinion and it'll help me decide," I said.

And with that, I walked out, eager to get away from the one hour long series of tiny decisions that ultimately just proved that I'm getting old with bad eyes.

I ran home, to throw together, what has become my family's favorite quick dinner dish, Mapo Tofu with Korean Flavors.  I love it because I don't have to make decisions. I just MAKE it.  And when I MAKE it, the family just EATS it.  No decisions.  No complaints.  Just a complete quiet take down of a hearty meal that comes together so quickly that actually I should make it far more often.  It's mildly spicy (you can control it), savory, and just goes so well with a bowl of hot rice.  I flavor it with more Korean typical flavors like sesame oil and gochujang, and it just works.

More mapo tofu. Fewer decisions about my eyes.  That would be my ideal day.

Mapo Tofu with Korean Slant
Serves 6

1 teaspoon canola oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 lb to 1 ¼ lb ground beef (I like organic ground beef from Costco)
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons (or 1 tablespoon if you’re worried about spice) Korean chili pepper paste (gochujang)
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Two 14-ounce package soft tofu, finely diced
1 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 cup water
6 scallions, finely chopped
White rice, for serving

Heat a large skillet until hot. Add both oils, followed by ground beef and garlic. Season with salt and cook over high heat, stirring and breaking up the meat, until crumbly and lightly browned, about 3 minutes.

Stir in the Korean chili pepper paste, hoisin and soy sauces, and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Gently fold in the tofu. In a small bowl, whisk the cornstarch into the water. Add to the skillet and simmer until the sauce thickens, 2 minutes. Stir in the scallions and serve.
Printable recipe

Yes.  Please.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Caesar Salad: Life in 15 minutes

To my fearless moms-friends who work around their 15 minutes like the pros they are; you're awesome.

I think that a lot of parents will relate to the following statement about living with children: life gets measured in 15 minute increments.

I find myself planning my life in 15 minute moments of activity and inactivity.  Getting lunches ready in the morning?  15 minutes.  Taking a shower and getting ready?  15 minutes.  Walking to school?  15 minutes.  Grocery shopping? 30 minutes.  My day from the morning to the end of the night is planned in 15 minute increments.  When I'm driving kids to different activities (one or two 15 minute increments) I'm thinking of and planning the next 15 minute increment.

My mom friends and I regularly pull out our calendars and plan drop offs and activities in 15 minute increments.  My friends will work schedules around 15 minute increments.  And suddenly every single moment of my life is about the next 15 minutes.  And the next.  And the next.

Most household chores are a done over a series of 15 minute chunks.  I'll sort and manage to get one load of laundry started and another will be coming out of the dryer and I can start folding it, but 15 minutes isn't enough time to finish it all.  I'll start but not finish before I have to rush off to pick up the kids or start work.  I generally can make it through stripping the bed sheets of all the beds in 15 minutes, but I can't put the sheets back on in 15.  So I'll do one or two and then have to do the rest later in the day.  Dinner is mostly a series of 15 minute increments.  Usually I try to make it in two 15 minute increments, sometimes grabbing myself a 15 minute earlier in the day to finish the meal with another 15 minute later in the day.  As long as the kids are awake and hustling, my life is being boiled down to 15 minutes.

Sometimes, like on my birthday, the best present comes to you in an unexpected way.  As I rushed back from work on my birthday,  (yes I teach on Saturdays sometimes), I had in my head on the drive home (two 15 minute blocks) all the 15 minute tasks I had for the rest of the day.  First and foremost was emptying the dishwasher and cleaning up breakfast dishes and the rest of the kitchen that I hadn't had a chance to do before rushing off to teach.   I had whittled down the tasks to their most efficient order so that they'd be done in 15 minutes so I could begin my next tasks of getting the family lunch.  However, when I walked in, three cheerful children greeted me with the beautiful sight of my 15 minute activity all completed.  They had, of their own volition, cleaned the kitchen, emptied the dishwasher, loaded the dishwasher and organized things in the kitchen on their own (as a birthday present.)  I was excited because I got an extra 15 minutes back more than I was about the cleaning that the kids did.

Therefore, I present to you my favorite 15 minute Caesar Salad.  I love this one because it doesn't use egg or mayo in the dressing, but rather relies on mustard to help emulsify the dressing.  The croutons are baked in the oven quickly, and while they are baking, lettuce is quickly cut and washed, and dressing is made.  It takes 15 minutes if your lettuce is pre-washed, and for some who aren't so quick with the knife it could take 30 minutes.  However, the more you practice, you'll get it down to a 15 minute chunk of time, and oh - is it worth it.  Rich, tangy, satisfying.  Sometimes I throw some chicken on top, but most of the time I just sit and enjoy it for what it is - 15 minutes of heaven.

Caesar Salad
Serves 4

½ loaf crusty French bread
¼ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons anchovy paste (available near the canned meats section of your supermarket)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar (balsamic makes it nice and rich)
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
3 cloves fresh garlic, peeled
Juice of a whole lemon
½ cup olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
black pepper

3 hearts of romaine, washed and cut into bite-sized pieces
Shredded Parmesan

Preheat oven to 425.  Cut loaf of bread into bite sized pieces.  Toss with olive oil and salt.  Place on baking sheet.  Bake for 7 to 9 minutes, until golden.  Set aside.

While croutons are baking, in a food processor (or mini food processor) put anchovy paste, dijon mustard, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, garlic and the juice of the lemon.  Process together and then slowly add olive oil.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Toss romaine with about ⅓ of the dressing.  Sprinkle with parmesan.  Taste.  Add more dressing if desired.  Top with croutons and more Parmesan.  Finish with another sprinkling of black pepper.


Printable recipe

Absolutely worth 15 minutes.


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