Thursday, January 29, 2009

Lunch frustrations

I pack a lunch for Scooter four mornings a week; he has early release one day a week, so then I only pack a snack for recess-time (though I was so into the rhythm of packing a lunch that it took me half the year before I quit packing a full lunch on those days). Hot lunch is simply not an option since I have yet to see a single meal that would be gluten-free. Or, for that matter, that he would eat.

Most of the time, I'm at peace with what I send to school with him. Basically it ends up looking like a selection of snacks, packaged in a series of small containers and ziplocs. A usual lunch:
  • 1-3 carbs. The usual suspects are Puffins Cereal, apple and cinnamon cereal, and pretzels.
  • 1 fruit item. Slices of apple or pear, usually 1/2 of the piece of fruit. Recently, he's also allowed grapes.
  • Cheese stick. He doesn't like string cheese, so these are cheddar (from Trader Joe's) or colby sticks.
  • Orange juice.
  • An occasional extra. He'll sometimes accept raisins and is definitely willing to have a cookie.
If he actually ate all of this, I would not be worrying. This is relatively balanced, albeit a little heavy on carbs. But the fact of the matter is that most of this comes back home at the end of the day. Over the course of 2 recesses (when they're allowed to have a small snack) and lunch, he might consume 1/2 of one of the carbs, 1/2 of the fruit, the cheese stick, and the orange juice. And that's the upper limit of what he'll eat.

Sandwiches, the old standby of cold lunches, are a no-go. The only type Scooter will eat at home is grilled cheese, and that just doesn't travel well. He won't touch peanut butter. And, to be fair, the gluten-free bread just doesn't taste good untoasted. The one time I tried to include a hot dog in his lunch (sans bread), he screeched at me about giving him hot lunch when he didn't eat hot lunch.

On the plus side, we've been able to get him to eat eggs and breakfast meat in the mornings, good amounts even. And then we usually make a grilled cheese sandwich for him after school, so at least he's getting some calories.

Of course, after the afternoon grilled cheese, dinner can be an issue...

Monday, January 26, 2009

Eating my veggies

I'm going to hit two recipes in one post. I don't think I can dub either one as a go-to recipe, mostly because Trillian is not crazy about either one. Most of that is her general dislike of vegetables. (Side note: For the first almost-ten years of our relationship, I was a vegetarian and she most definitely was not. And once I'm done with the whole child-bearing thing, I plan on greatly cutting back on my meat consumption again. Interesting times.)

The first vegetarian recipe I tried from A Year of CrockPotting was the Vegetarian No Noodle Lasagna. It uses eggplant and squash as the 'noodles.' I've made it twice and go back and forth on the eggplant, both in this and in general, but I will probably make it again with just squash. I absolutely love the spinach and mushrooms in this (or in anything really). Just possibly, this is not one of Trillian's favorites since she is not a fan of mushrooms or cooked spinach. (Side note #2: While I was a vegetarian and still eating wheat, we made good use of two-pizza deals. My favorite combo of toppings for a very long time was mushroom and black olives. It would be hard for me to pick two things Trillian likes less on her pizza.)

The other vegetarian recipe I tried was Indian Spinach and Tofu. One of my favorite Indian dishes is palak paneer, and this seemed like it might satisfy that craving. I ate a lot when it was first ready, but didn't like how it tasted as leftovers. I'll be giving it another try with a few modifications. The tofu in particular did not hold up well, so I may either leave it out or keep it on the side--or maybe go with cheese. I've also seen potato cubes suggested. The chickpeas also didn't hold up well for me, so I'll likely leave those out (or make some hummus instead). And then I would seriously up the spices, but I enjoy a little bite.

So now the trick for me is to figure out some easy vegetarian recipes that will appeal to a non-veggie palate so that I can justify making them more than once in a blue moon.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A fine cup of coffee

Ever the romantics, Trillian told me specifically what she wanted for Christmas. When I ordered her gift, I picked out something for myself and told her what she got for me. But frankly, it would be hard for us to go wrong when we're ordering from Sweet Maria's.

Trillian had been eying vacuum coffee brewers for a while. She decided on the Yama 8-cup, stove-top model.

On first reading the process of vacuum brewing, it can be a bit intimidating. For me, anything made of glass that could shatter immediately sends a number of nightmare scenarios running through my brain. But now that I've been roasting our coffee for a while though, I'm a little braver and willing to jump into new things.

The process is sort of fun to watch. The basics:
  1. Put filter into top section. Add ground coffee on top.
  2. Add water to bottom. (If it's pre-heated, the rest goes faster.)
  3. Fit the top part into the bottom so that a seal is created.
  4. Place on low flame. Wait until nearly all the water goes into the upper chamber.
  5. Let brew for a minute or so.
  6. Remove from heat and wait until the coffee funnels back into the bottom.
Then enjoy an amazing cup of coffee.

The directions point out that this coffee is likely to be a bit different from what one is accustomed to. It is 'cleaner,' in that there truly are no grounds left in it. The mouth-feel is soft and smooth, very pure.

This is the way we like to end our evenings now, with a pot of delicious decaf. Excuse me while I go pour another cup.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Cheesecake in the crockpot!

This is the recipe that first got me to go check out A Year of CrockPotting, even if I am only now getting around to it.

So in one of my time-wasting incarnations, I was spending a lot of time on a major newspaper's celebrity blog. Generally with online newspaper postings, I have a policy of not reading comments since they tend to make my blood boil after a very short time. This blog, however, is an exception, as the comments are often funny, even as they veer wildly off-topic. One day, there was some food discussion in the comments, and a regular mentioned she was having gluten-free cheesecake that she had made in the crockpot. And then she left the url.

In this recipe, the crockpot basically serves as a bain marie. I put off attempting it in my 4 quart, since the only cooking dishes that would fit into it were too small to be cheesecake-worthy. Now that I have my 6 quart, it seemed the perfect dish to try out (despite this whole trying-to-eat-better-and-get-in-shape thing).

Now a note about my version: There is no crust. Stephanie has instructions for it with the original recipe. I have also made a crust before by crushing up ginger snaps and mixing with melted butter. But... Cheesecake is something we've discovered Scooter will eat, except he always leaves the crust. AND I'm trying to avoid carbs (or so I say, but the slice of toast and rice I had at dinner tonight say otherwise). So I felt like a crust would be wasted--and those gluten-free cookies are not cheap enough to basically throw away.

- 16 oz cream cheese, room temperature (I used two tubs, since they were on sale.)
- 3/4 cup white sugar
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 1/4 cup heavy cream (I let this get to room temperature too--not sure if it's necessary.)

- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 Tbsp flour (I used brown rice flour

  1. Find a baking dish that will fit into the bottom of the crockpot. I have an oval casserole dish (not sure of capacity) that fit with an inch or two gap all around.
  2. Mix ingredients together. I did this by hand, but will use our stand-mixer next time. There were a few cream-cheese lumps in the finished product, but it didn't affect the overall taste. Put this into the baking dish.
  3. Add some water to the crockpot, then carefully place the dish into it. I started with a cup, and ended up adding some more after putting the dish in (with a funnel stuck in the gap).
  4. Cook for 2-3 hours on high. Check at an hour or so. It's done when you touch it and don't get too much stuff on your finger. Mine cooked for just over 2 hours.
  5. Turn off crockpot, let sit for an hour or so, then put in fridge to set.
Trillian and I both liked this a lot. Scooter thought it didn't look right--I guess because it didn't have the crust he wasn't going to eat--so he took one bite, said it tasted good, and then put his spoon down.

Technically, I can't call this a go-to recipe since the whole point of that goal is to come up with easy dinner recipes. Don't get me wrong, I totally could eat this in place of a regular dinner, but the adult in me knows that this can only be a sometimes treat.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Chicken Cordon Bleu

I tried out another crockpot recipe from A Year of CrockPotting: chicken cordon bleu. I will be making it again, but monkeying around with a few things, as ours turned out too dry. Which really surprised me, given the amount of liquid in there. I think that next time around, I will brine the chicken first--that's given us good results in other chicken dishes.

Ingredients: 4 chicken breast halves, pounded thin (I bought meat that had already been pounded; this was a huge time saver) 4 slices of ham 4-8 slices of swiss cheese (I used 6, 1 1/2 per half) can of cream-of-something soup + 2 Tbsp low fat milk (since most cream-of soups contain wheat, I used a portion of the homemade cream of mushroom soup I had in the freezer)
  1. Spray the crockpot with oil. I used my 4 quart so that it would be at least half full.
  2. Take one chicken breast, put a slice of ham on it, followed by swiss cheese.
  3. Roll breast up and place in crockpot, seam side down. I was able to fit two breasts in the bottom and then put the remaining two on top of those in the opposite direction.
  4. Cook on high for 4-5 hours or low for 8-10.
This is so easy that I really want it to work. The tastes are good too. That's why I'll give this another go in a couple weeks. Brining the chicken will add some work, but if it does what I think it will, it could be worth it.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Pasta Fagioli

Photos just don't do justice to stews, I suspect. And Blogger has rotated my photo for some reason.

I spend a lot of time in my physical kitchen, so I'm not sure why I let things slide here for so long. But since one of
my goals for the year is to re-establish my presence here, you can look forward to more regular posting of recipes and other food-related topics.

My main gift this holiday season was a 6 quart crockpot, a desire I developed after discovering a great site,
A Year of CrockPotting. And I figured, what better recipe to break it in than pasta fagioli; I knew as soon as Stephanie posted her recipe that I would have to make it sometime, since this soup has a history in our household.

I first discovered Trader Joe's when I moved away for grad school. It was a popular place to go for cheap but good eats (and wine) among my colleagues and I immediately understood why. Trillian and I found their pasta fagioli canned soup on a trip; it became a stock-up purchase at each subsequent visit. For about a dollar, we could have a tasty and filling lunch. At the time, I was still a vegetarian, though I have to admit that I don't remember checking to see if this used chicken broth.

While in Canada, we didn't have access to Trader Joe's, so we were looking forward to having one in Capital City after our move. It was one of the first places we went once the movers brought our stuff. Of course we headed to the soup section... only to discover that our favorite soup had been discontinued. Trillian still remarks on this every time we set foot in the store.

Now Stephanie's recipe is meant to copy Olive Garden's recipe, and it's definitely different than the TJ version. But I will be making this and variations on a regular basis! As soon as Trillian had a couple bites, she said, "Put this into the rotation!" (I'm trying to develop a list of go-to recipes that are easy and both Trillian and I like.)

Here's the recipe, adapted from A Year of Crockpotting. I kept to the basic structure she provided, but upped some of the veggies and omitted the salt (because the broth has plenty, in my opinion).

1 pound lean ground beef, browned and drained

1 small red onion, chopped

2 medium carrots, chopped

3 celery stalks, sliced
2 cans (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes, undrained
1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 can white beans, drained and rinsed

4 cups beef broth
1 jar pasta sauce (no idea how many ounces, just a regular-sized jar)
generous shake of Italian Seasoning

a couple shakes of Tabasco sauce
black pepper to taste

a couple handfuls of dry pasta, to add at end of cooking time (I used Tinkyada brown rice fusilli)

  1. Brown the meat. Let cool while chopping vegetables.
  2. Chop up onion, carrots, celery.
  3. Add everything (except pasta) to the crockpot and mix a bit.
  4. Cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours.
  5. Add pasta and cook on low for about another hour.
  6. Enjoy with parmesan, crusty bread, or whatever else sounds good.
I cooked ours for a little over 7 hours and then added the pasta. We grated some parmesan into it, and Trillian greatly lamented her lack of crusty bread (we've been keeping frozen hard rolls for her, but ran out).

This was much more tomato-based than the TJ version, but I'll happily use this recipe again. We've both enjoyed at least one bowl a day for the past three days, and I have several more servings frozen for later. If I want to get a little closer to our beloved version (and/or to make it vegetarian), I'll probably use vegetable broth, omit the beef and kidney beans, double up on white beans, and use elbow macaroni.