Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Easy Noodle Chicken Soup

It’s my favorite time of year! The shadows grow long, sooner in the day, as the sun departs earlier and its visits grow shorter still.  Along with the leaves, the atmosphere is changing and people are beginning to prepare for the holidays and cool weather ahead.  We are breaking out our coats, long pants, and sweaters.  We are looking for lost gloves (in pairs and singles), and getting ready to adorn our necks with scarves, homemade and store bought.  Many of us also have a craving for something warm in our bellies—some sustenance to get us through these long shadowy days and premature nights.  It’s time to break out the soups!  

Honestly, I eat soup all year round, but I feel more justified doing so in the cooler months, like fall and winter—for obvious, practical reasons.  This recipe is a relatively simple recipe you can either eat fresh or make in advance and serve later.  It stores great in the refrigerator and undoubtedly tastes better after it has had an entire night to marinate in its own juices!

This recipe is compliments of a Romanian friend of ours, Florentina.  Apparently, in Romania they have an aversion to using measuring spoons...  It took a little bit of painful effort to figure out this recipe because she uses, what I like to call, the eyeball method.  So for her, it isn't an exact science.  

Easy Noodle Chicken Soup

·       15 Cups Water
·       4 Chicken Breasts – cubed
·       1 large Onion – chopped
·       3 Carrots – sliced
·       2 Celery Stalks – slice
·       2 large Tomatoes – cubed
·       1 large Potato – small cubes
·       ½ Green Pepper – chopped
·       Handful of Parsley – half for before and half for after
·       1 Cup Whole Grain Spaghetti – broken into 2 inch size noodles (In half apx. 2x)
·       1–4oz. can Tomato Sauce
·       Salt and Pepper to taste

·       Bring Water, Chicken, and Onion to a boil
·       Reduce heat and simmer at a low boil for 10-15 minutes.
·       Add Carrots, Celery, Tomatoes, Potato, Green Pepper, and half the Parsley and simmer for 10 minutes.
·       Add Spaghetti noodles and simmer for another 5 minutes
·       Add Tomato Sauce and simmer for a remaining 5 minutes
·       Salt and Pepper to taste
·       Garnish with remaining Parsley 

You can use whatever noodles you like.  Homemade are obviously best.  However, I have given up on making my own noodles after several failed attempts…. It was quite a debacle actually.  Also, I served this with a whole grain baguette.

9.5 = Taste (5 from me and 4.5 from my husband)
5 = Ingredient Availability – available anywhere!
5 = Prep Time (easy to make and very little time)
5 = Cost – all very inexpensive items

24.5 out of 25 – Knock your socks off!

5 = Family Bonus – My entire family loved this recipe.  The clean their plates kind of loved it (even Jarris, my 14 year old)!

I haven't figured out if I like it so much because of the flavor or if I am in love with the simplicity of it... Perhaps a little of both.  Either way, I had so much extra time on my hands that I was able to referee half a dozen household arguments, help Parker with his homework AND write this blog post...  Hope you enjoy it!  

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

My Vomit of Thought: A McDonald's Epiphany

My husband and I took our son and his God-brother, Andrei, out for a quiet dinner last night—a little bit of elegant dining at McDonald's (don’t judge).  While I enjoyed my 3-piece Chicken Select (minus the fries) and my husband enjoyed whatever he enjoyed (what happens at McDonald's stays at McDonald's), I tried to find my happy place and relax—we had a pretty rough, long couple of days and I didn’t feel like cooking and couldn’t find the wherewithal to plan ahead. 

Suddenly, the serenity of the room was shattered and the dulcet sounds of Muzak and children’s laughter were silenced by a blood curdling cacophony of screams that reverberated off the Plexiglas and glass walls.  I startled from my revere by what I was sure must be the rapture, only to find the angelic face of a single two-year-old babe who’s mouth was shaped in a perfect O. 

I’m no stranger to McDonalds Play Place and I know it’s a place for kids to be kids—it’s a place for kids to have fun, learn forbidden vocabulary and share communicable diseases.  However, we are not talking about a forgivable handful of occurrences, but an innumerable, migraine-inducing amount of bring-you-to-your-knees screams (the type that would make Jamie Lee Curtis proud).  Unfortunately, the reproachful glances of the entire room seemed to either miss or be avoided completely by the parents’. 

I found myself staring at the back of the poor mother’s head, contemplating what she was thinking and if it was appropriate for me to say something.  I found myself wondering what type of parents’ would let their child behave so savagely.  Perhaps they didn’t know appropriate McDonald’s decorum (if there were such a thing) or maybe they didn’t care—were they the type of people who left dirty diapers in Wal-Mart parking lots?  I mean, what kind of people can be so unaware of an entire room’s discomfort?  I also contemplated whether the child may have a disability and wondered if I misinterpreted the parent’s faces—what I thought to be defiant and unapologetic may actually be exhaustion and fatigue.   

Each ear-splitting shriek brought me closer to the edged of my seat and precariously closer to opening my mouth—that fallible mouth that can frequently say the wrong things.  The horrified look on my husband’s face told me he knew I was thinking it too.  After all, these are the kinds of things those embarrassing little league fights between parents’ get started over—over something stupid somebody said.   

While I obsessed over the decline of western civilization, I also missed out on several things.  I missed out on reading my new copy of Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy.  I missed my son running into the germ infested bathroom barefoot.  And I missed my nemesis, the matriarch of the couple I had hated for the last 30 minutes, helping my son get his socks on!  I learned a valuable lesson too—judge not, lest ye be judged. 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Time Saving Idea: To Each His Own

Here is another time saving idea for all you working parents out there or anybody who isn’t living alone.  Are you tired of your kids getting a new glass/cup every time they get a drink?  Do your kids (or husband) leave dishes all over the house?  Do you ever find long lost dishes under your children’s beds? I may have a solution for you!

I am of the mind that every little bit helps and I’ve dedicated this blog to time saving ideas, recipes and other things to improve family life.  Most of those ideas usually revolve around (but are not limited to) the kitchen.  I had this idea, though it may be insufficient in originality, to give each person their own dish (bowl, plate, cup, and for adults, coffee/tea mugs).  When I was growing up, this is how my father’s kitchen was, although the design wasn’t intentional.   We were lucky if we could find a matching pair of anything.  After I grew up, and started a family of my own, I prepared my home to be the exact opposite of my fathers.  Matching everything.  Perfect sets of four and eight.  If one item broke, I replaced the entire set if the single item could not be found.  Now as I get older, I can start to see the sense in mix-match dishes.   

So, I came up with a new rule—to each their own!  The idea is that everyone in the family has his/her own dishes—dishes as individual and unique as the person who owns it.  Then we went shopping (Ross, Pier One, Marshalls, Gordman’s, and Target) and after an entire afternoon we finally made purchases that made everybody happy.  I found the perfect bowl and plate, with a delicate floral design that suited my personality (not to mention decidedly feminine—something very rare in my home, where I am outnumbered and even our pets are male).  My husband found a nice brown bowl-plate set that I secretly covet.  My boys found some fun, quirky items in Target’s Old Curiosity Shop line.  Everybody is happy.

Along with this new rule, nobody is allowed to use any of the other dishes and everybody does their own dishes.  I haven’t had the need to run my dishwasher since I implemented this almost a month ago!  And the best thing about this idea is it is giving my children some responsibility.  I’m teaching my four-year-old how to do dishes and he loves it.  My eldest on the other hand says he really doesn’t plan of taking a real interest in doing dishes until college.  He washes his dishes the way he brushes his teeth—infrequently and not very well.  I politely remind him that if he doesn’t get his dishes very clean, he could in fact be eating some pretty nasty little bugs.  What he doesn’t know, I rewash his dishes (or perhaps I’m giving it its first wash) every evening and I secretly wait for him to get an upset stomach (or headache, or cold, or…) so I can blame it on his unsanitary dishes (insert sinister laugh here).   

I hope this helps someone as much as it helped me, a working mother of three (if you count my husband).

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Vegetable Stew with Cornmeal Dumplings

This is a recipe that my husband picked out and is the most complicated one I have found—the dumplings had to cook for an additional hour after I got home.  I felt this somewhat defeated the purpose of having meals ready when I got home but to save time I made the dumpling recipe in advance.  When I got home I just added it and it turned out to be pretty nice. The next time I make this recipe I am going to play around with reducing the cook time and adding cooked beans to see if maybe I can get the squash to be less mushy.  If I can make it any better I will post it on here of course! 

The funny thing about this recipe is when I was on my way home from work, I called my husband (because he was already home) and asked him to add the dumplings.  My first red flag should have been when I asked him to scoop out six dollops of cornmeal mix into the Crockpot and he said, “What if I scoop out seven?”  I thought he was joking.  Anyway, I asked him to check the recipe because I was pretty sure the Crockpot needed to be turned to high and that was when he noticed the recipe called for the frozen green beans that I forgot to ask him to add.  I told him he would have to scoop out the dumplings to add the green beans and he said, “That’s going to be kind of difficult.”  I soon discovered that the dumplings had been slightly mixed in and were down inside the stew….  I was so angry and I about had an aneurysm trying to suppress it.  So, long story short, my first attempt at making this recipe didn’t go as planned.

Here is the rating we came up with for this recipe:

8 = Taste (4 from each of us)
5 = Ingredient Availability
3 = Prep Time (about 15 minutes BUT I had to cook for additional time so I took off some points)
5 = Cost (CHEAP!)

21 out of 25 — Pretty good!

5 = Family Bonus—my children loved this recipe.  And that was without the dumplings!

Here is what we did with our extra time:  Parker rode his tricycle outside.  I raced Parker and pretended to lose.  I pulled weeds from my front yard.  Every day I notice more of these stupid, obnoxious white flowering plants.  I try to think of Emerson’s quote, “A weed is a plant whose virtues have yet to be discovered,” but I can’t get over it.  It disrupts my serenity to see my plush green lawn so violated! 

Vegetable Stew with Cornmeal Dumplings

Stew Ingredients
3 cups Butternut or Acorn Squash – peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes 
2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms 
2—14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained 
1.5 cups Great Northern beans, rinsed and soaked overnight
1.5 cup water 
4 cloves garlic, minced 
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning, crushed 
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper 
1—9 ounce package frozen Italian green beans or frozen cut green beans – HOLD OUT 

Dumpling Ingredients
1/2 cup all-purpose flour 
1/3 cup cornmeal 
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese 
1 tablespoon snipped fresh parsley 
1 teaspoon baking powder 
1/4 teaspoon salt 
1 egg 
2 tablespoons milk 
2 tablespoons cooking oil 

1.       In a 3-1/2- or 4-quart slow cooker, combine squash, mushrooms, undrained tomatoes, Great Northern beans, the water, garlic, Italian seasoning, and pepper.
2.       Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 8 to 10 hours or on high-heat setting for 4 to 5 hours.
3.       For dumplings: In a medium bowl, stir together flour, cornmeal, Parmesan cheese, parsley, baking powder, and salt. In a small bowl, whisk together egg, milk, and oil. Add to the flour mixture; stir with a fork just until combined.
4.       If using low-heat setting, turn to high-heat setting. Stir frozen green beans into stew. Drop the dumpling dough into six mounds on top of the stew. Sprinkle with paprika. Cover and cook for 50 minutes more. (Do not lift lid while dumplings are cooking.)

Monday, October 1, 2012

My New Direction

OK—I know it’s been a long time and I know I committed to reviewing every recipe in Super Natural Every Day (and other cookbooks).  Problem is I just don’t have time.  I don’t have time to cook them that is (or I don’t want to make the time anymore).  Most days I get home at 6:30pm, and I need to have my kids fed, bathed, and in bed by 8:30pm.  That’s two hours that I would rather not be cooking.  Instead, I would rather be spending that time with my children and husband (loving them, playing with them, and nurturing them)—not tethered to the front of the stove or the kitchen sink.  We only get a handful of hours a day to see each other and I would rather that time not be rushed and stressful, or worse, miss what is important.   

We only get a precious few years with our children, before they leave our nest to start lives of their own.  And the years are shorter still that they will enjoy being around us and see us as bigger than life and invincible—before they see us as the simple humans we truly are.  Humans who make mistakes and aren’t perfect.  I have two children, boys, 14 and 4.  In ten years’ time I’ve gone from being chased by my 14-year-old to chasing him and trying to have him make time for me.  Already, I feel him stretching his wings, and preparing for his first flight.  It seems like yesterday I was teaching him how to talk before I was always trying to get him to shut-up, and teaching him how to walk before I was putting up barriers and restricting where he could go.  

While I digress from my point it brings me directly to my point.  Time.  Time is a finite resource, or at least my husband tells me it is.  There is only so much you can fit into a day and only so much you can do.  My goal is to optimize my time, make the wisest choices so I can use my time for what is important, and to do that I have to change some things at home.  

My grandmother bought me my first Crockpot when I was 19.  I used it all the time (even though I didn’t have a family at the time) until the novelty of it wore off.  I was so excited to be a grown-up and embraced all things domestic—cooking, baking, cleaning, crafting.  I haven’t used a Crockpot in years aside from the occasional little smokies and BBQ sauce or pot-roast.  So now, X number of years later, I am re-introducing myself to the Crockpot and being illuminated to the possibilities in time saving. 

My equation for spending more time with my family was simple:  Prepare food after children are in bed + Cook food while at work/school = More quality family time with the kids.  Sounds simple, right?  Well, evidently not so.  

I have found a wealth of recipes online for the Slow Cookers or Crockpot.  Today, I am mostly vegetarian—I do eat fish, occasionally eat chicken and rarer still, red meat (no pun intended). Vegetarian recipes for slow cookers are also harder to come by.  Some of the time varies as well as the complexity of some of the recipes.  Last week, I decided to put my time saving measurements into place.  I sent my husband a list of recipes and I asked him to pick one and I picked one.  Of course, he picked the most complicated recipe.  Also, I asked my husband to do the grocery shopping.  Unfortunately, I have been blessed with ADD and can literally spend hours in the grocery store.  Thankfully, my husband is a list person and gets only what items are on the list (without deviation).  Plus, we both work full time and I thought it only fair to share the responsibility of preparing our meals.  My husband was a week late in getting the groceries (another story for another time perhaps) and when he finally did get them, I stayed up late that night to prepare our meal for the next day.  My husband leaves for work after I do and the recipe, Vegetarian Chili, calls to cook for 8 hours—so I asked him to turn it on.  My husband also takes our four-year-old to school, and something happened, a slight deviation in the chaos that our mornings are, and somehow the Crockpot was forgotten.  I leave for work at 8, my husband leaves (if he is lucky) for work at 8:30.  Most recipes call for cooking time on low for 8 hours.  My recipes will actually be cooking for 10 hours as I don’t get home until 6:30pm.  Also, I found that when I did let it cook for 10 hours, my vegetables were over cooked.  Already my idea was already falling apart before I could even get really started.  So, I went back to the drawing board.  

The solution to my problem was another nifty little invention called an outlet timer.  I’ve known about these things for years, but never had given much thought on how they could make my life easier.  With the outlet timer I can make my recipes like before (after my children are in bed), set the Crockpot out before I leave for work and set the timer to come on so I can cook the recipe for the precise amount of time needed.  Plus, my new idea is to tweak recipes so not to overcook vegetables by possibly decreasing cook times and making new recipes of my own.  Then, I can review and share these recipes with the world and maybe share what we are doing with all this extra time we have!     

As far as Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson, it is a wonderful cookbook that I love and I would recommend to everybody.  It’s so beautifully put together and is full of delicious recipes that are relatively simple to make—not to mention are delicious and extremely flavorful.  I also love the colorful narrations she gives regarding how she came up with her recipes, why she loves them, and how she makes them.  I hope that she comes out with a slow cooker cookbook some time because I know I would love every single recipe.

Feel free to comment or share any recipes or other time saving ideas on here—I’m always up for suggestions.  Keep posted for more recipes and the occasional digressions I have on my family life. 

Stay tuned—I am posting a recipe later tonight or tomorrow for Vegetable Dumplings!!!