Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Food rut

Despite the embarrassing amount of time I spend perusing recipe sites and apps, it appears that I'm in a food rut.

I can't think of anything I want to cook. And I'm not the only one noticing.

Natasha has been complaining lately that I make the same dinners over and over again. And I can't say she's wrong. And she specifically said that she doesn't want the same old ingredients recombined in different ways. She didn't use that exact phrasing but that's what she meant.  I have the same problem with Cooking Light magazine, but that's another story. Natasha wants new ingredients, or ingredients so artfully combined as to make their original components unrecognizable. We could try venison. Not likely. So perhaps I need to make some more robust sauces.

I roast veggies, I sauté chicken or ground turkey breast, I pan fry fish...blah blah. I'm bored too. I think what she's getting at is that she wants a more exciting sauce. I had pulled away from sauces as someone in the family always has a complaint. They're accused of being too caloric, too spicy, too sweet, too time consuming, too goopy, too full of objectionable green specs, too healthy, too boring, too disgusting. (I wonder if you can figure out which complaints are whose!) Someone has a problem with all of them.

As a result I stopped using a lot of flavor when I cook. I got used to this and now I prefer it. I like the individual flavors of the main ingredients to shine through, unencumbered by lots of overpowering herbs and condiments. With little kids, this is a pretty good strategy too. They don't like their different meal elements to even touch each other, let along simmer together!

But here we are in boring land.

Tonight I had to go grocery shopping after work. I didn't get home until late, and was not interested in starting a meal from scratch. So I cobbled together a beef brisket pre-made TJs dinner. I buy one pre-made dinner a week for times like this, and some plainer-looking pulled chicken from the local grocery store deli. The beef brisket was doused in a super-duper exceedingly greasy, salty, sweet bbq sauce. I warmed both meats (separately) in the microwave, made some whole wheat toast and had instant sloppy joes. Dave and I had pickle slices on our sandwiches. I made the kids eat some sweet pepper slices on the side as their veggie. Dinner was fast and everyone was happy. The sweet beef was pretty unhealthy, but the chicken wasn't bad. It was in a light vinegary/pickle sauce. Natasha was dreamily remembering the sloppy joes from sleepaway camp. I was happy not to cook and liked my lower-fat/sugar version. Dave and Alex enjoyed the rich flavors. I guess that's a fair enough compromise once in a while.

So I'm not going to buy that pre-made, sodium/sugar/fat filled beef brisket all the time. But I do think I need to add more flavors to the foods I make. I'm going to start with this. I've had it before and it's pretty flavorful and versatile.

It's really good on salmon.
Mongolian BBQ Sauce

Coincidently, I had recently bought this book by Rocco DiSpirito. It's kind of everything I hate, but I decided to buy it anyway. Next thing you know I'll be voting for someone who says, "nucular".  OK maybe not. At any rate, the book purchase started with a quest for a good-tasting, lower-calorie cookie. The book is full to the brim of heavy, greasy, gratuitous foods redone with lots of ingredient substitution to be lower-fat, lower calorie versions - things like chicken-fried steak with sausage gravy. It advocates lots of swaps like add navy beans, remove butter, use Splenda instead of sugar, corn starch instead of butter, low-fat dairy full of guar gum. You know, everything I despise. I'm ok with some ingredient substitutions, removals or additions, but others makes me nutty. I've made a few things so far. Most of them are ok, but just not my type of food. Very traditional American- type foods. Creamed spinach, chicken pot pie. It comes out ok, not super- heavy, but just not the way I like things. But I do think my family has appreciated the change of pace. See chicken pot pie photos below. I have to say, I have a new love in the form of Ian's whole wheat panko bread crumbs.

But all in all, I think rules were made to be broken. I can't live by hard and fast dictums. Cornstarch here we come!


I wrote that a week or so ago and didn't get around to uploading the photos so I didn't post it. I was trying to be open-minded but I really don't like that kind of food. It turns out to be kind of time consuming and the kids aren't really interested. Dave was pretty happy though. The chicken pot pie I altered a fair bit and it came out pretty well. It was a big hit with my cousin and mom. Tonight I went back to plain chicken tenders. I made a plain batch for the kids and a slightly more complex batch for me and Dave - at the end I put some blue cheese crumbles and balsamic glaze - for a delectable sweet-salty combination. Alex helped me make mashed potatoes and I made some plain peas. Back to plain food, but the kids are more amenable to individual ingredients, and I like being able to figure out how much I'm eating of each ingredient. I do like the whole wheat panko-encrusted baked chicken tenders, especially served with a crudite and some blue cheese dressing (I make equal parts mayo, blue cheese and non-fat Greek yogurt, and then I add a bit more yogurt to cut the calories a bit more. Just make sure to really spend time working the blue cheese into the mixture so it's a smooth and incorporated). The problem is that Alex responds with, "Why is there stuff on the chicken, Natasha grudgingly eats it but isn't all that impressed and Dave and I have trouble controlling ourselves from eating massive portions dipped in dressing. Even with the yogurt it's still pretty caloric. So I don't really see the point, unless I'm craving a Cheesecake Factory-type meal. That does happen, but in terms of creating a healthy family-friendly dinner it's just kind of a waste in my house.

I also tried a cookie recipe. I added beans instead of flour which is fine, and against all my instincts but owing to curiosity, I tried Splenda. At first I thought it was a dream come true. Low calorie sugar! But then I had a horrid chemically aftertaste in my mouth for hours and hours. I will never use it again. Some background on the cookie experiment....

Each school day, Natasha and Alex get a "packet" in their lunch each day. It's a terrible commercial 100 calorie pack. I give it to them to control their overall sweet intake, to try and help them develop a sense of what a normal portion is and also so that they don't feel like I never allow them to have any junk. I don't want to have kids who go nutso when they go to a friend's house who has junk it it....So I know the packets are full of chemicals and additives, but I'm ok with that in a small quantity.

Natasha asked if I would bake treats instead of buying the packets. I think even she thinks they're kind of gross and fake-tasting. So I should try. But I can't stand having fresh, home made baked goods in the house. It's way too tempting for me. I'll have to work on that.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

If I were to succumb to the cupcake craze...

If I were to succumb to the cupcake craze...and I'm not saying that  have. In fact I have not. I would make these....still high in sugar of course. I think sugar could be reduced...but they still have quite a few calories I'm sure.

I definitely want to try the orange ones...i'm just so curious about the result of boiling oranges for 2 hours and then putting them in the blender....

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

eggplant-tomato roast

A beautiful dish for a party - not really for kids...but not everything can be!
I think the photos tell the story. I should have used more olive oil under the buffalo mozzarella, but oh well. I also made couscous separately, but probably could just put it in the pan. and the onions would be better browned, but that seemed to take away from the one-pot elegance.