Monday, April 29, 2013

Farro with chicken, mushrooms and spinach

Farro is my recent discovery. When I discovered it, I was both happy and sad. Happy because I loved it so much and sad because I couldn't believe I hadn't known of it before. Farro is such a great alternative to your regular "staple" side dishes like pasta, potatoes or rice. It's a whole grain, so it's really great for you and has a ton of health benefits: nutrients, vitamins, protein and fiber. It's as versatile as pasta, it basically tastes like anything you cook it with, and I love its nice kind-of-a-chewy texture. I have to say, of course, that it's a great food for kids, because it's easy to eat with a spoon or with their little hands as well, since the grains are not as tiny as rice is. Allie also loves the word itself: "farro", very fun to say. So if you haven't yet, it's a cool addition to your cooking repertoire. I've tried a couple ways to cook it, my favorite so far is with chicken and mushrooms. I buy quick-cooking farro, which is a bit more processed, but it's still healthy, delicious and very convenient and quick. In the kitchen I like things done quickly.

Farro with chicken and mushrooms

4 medium sized chicken thinghs
1 medium onion, chopped
1 bell pepper or Hungarian wax pepper, chopped
1,5 C mushrooms, chopped
2 C loosely packed fresh spinach
6 oz farro (I used quick cooing, it cooks for 10 minutes)
1/2 C dry white wine or chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste
parmesan cheese for serving

Boil some water in a pan (as much as you would for pasta), salt it and drop farro in there. Cook it accordingly to instructions.The kind I get cooks quickly, in about 10 minutes.

While farro is cooking, in a separate pan saute chicken, pepper and onions. Stir occasionally.

In meantime, prep your mushroom and add them into the pan once they are cleaned and chopped. Season with some salt and pepper. Cook for about 5 minutes.

Pour in the wine or chicken stock and cook for a bit longer to allow the alcohol to evaporate and create a nice sauce.

Mix in fresh spinach. I find that doing it in smaller portions works best.

By now your farro should be cooked. Use a colander to strain the water out of it.

Drain the water out and immediately transfer farro into your sauce and mix it all together.

Serve with some Parmesan cheese on top.

It's so easy, quick and delicious! 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

If any food can really cheer one up, that is it!

When I am at a restaurant and whenever I see a Flourless chocolate cake on the dessert menu, I always, always go fro it. It's my favorite dessert in the world! I had never however attempted to make that at home, not sure why... I don't bake a lot of desserts and sometimes when I look at baking cook books I feel a bit intimidated. With regular cooking it doesn't usually matter if you get flexible with proportions and ingredients,  which I always do, but it matters in baking. But when I saw this recipe for a flourless chocolate torte in the Food Network Magazine at an airport when I recently had to travel for work, I just couldn't wait to get home so I could make it! I had no idea it was so easy to make! I've made it twice since and I know it's going to be one of my go-to dessert recipes from now on.

Please, notice that I am not labeling this post with my "picky eater" or "healthy" tags. I do realize that rarely desserts make it on the list of healthy foods. But I could: I bet your picky eater would gladly eat this treat, although Allie to this day has not had a privilege of trying a chocolate cake yet. Or I could tag it "healthy", because sometimes that's how I justify it in my head: it doesn't have white flour, so it's good. And it has eggs, nothing wrong with eggs. Lots and lots of chocolate, but didn't some studies discover that chocolate is great for you? what else...oh yeah, 12 tablespoons of butter. But again, butter is made out of milk and milk is also good for you. So really if you think about it REALLY hard and turn your imagination up, you're eating a healthy dessert, full of calcium and antioxidants! But no, seriously, this is just a little break from all the healthy cooking and a nice, delicious treat for moms and dads. Make it, it's so easy and soooo good!

Flourless Chocolate Torte

from Food Network Magazine April 2013

1 1/2 sticks (12 Tbsp) unsalted butter, cut in small pieces
12 oz bittersweet chocolate or chocolate chips
6 eggs
1/2 C sugar
pinch of salt
non-stick spray

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with a non-stick spray. Break the chocolate into small pieces or use chocolate chips and place them in a heatproof bowl along with the pieces of butter. Place the bowl over a saucepan with simmering water and keep stirring with a whisk the butter-chocolate mixture until it completely melts. This time I used a mixture of a chocolate bar and chocolate chips.

Combine eggs, sugar and salt in another bowl.

Beat with a mixer on medium-high speed until pale and thick 5 to 8 minutes. The instructions say specifically 5 to 8 minutes. The first time I made this torte, I only used the mixer for about a minute, if that. The second time I followed through the full 8 minutes. Honestly, I can't say there was any difference in taste (the 2nd one did look better though, more even and smooth)

Gently fold the cooled melted chocolate mixture into the egg mixture until just combined

Pour the batter into the prepared pan 

Bake for 35-45 minutes until a toothpick inserted comes out almost clean.

Let cool slightly and flip it onto a plate and decorate with some powdered sugar.

Serve with some raspberries and if you are a tea drinker, this goes real nice with a cup of Earl Grey

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Slow cooker Citrus Spiced Oatmeal

Recently I've heard somewhere that you can cook oatmeal overnight in a slow cooker. I loved the idea of waking up to a prepared breakfast and to the house smelling delicious. I'd looked over a bunch of recipes and kept putting off actually making it, because I was too confused and a bit nervous about leaving oatmeal to cook all alone without me watching for the first time (will it overcook? will it dry out and get burnt? should I be supervising it closely the first time I am making it?), and some recipes called for milk, whereas others said milk was a "no-no!" in the slow cooker, so it took me a while to find the recipe that I felt comfortable with, and it was worth the wait. This slow cooker oatmeal idea is genius and it's so, so, so good! It's also nutritionally better for you, because it uses steel cut oats, as oppose to the super processed quick oats that we all usually make in the morning (nothing wrong with that, but just try this slow cooked version and see what you think)

The recipe I used was Baked Bree's Vanilla Spiced Oatmeal, and I followed the recipe exactly with a small addition of an extra ingredient (zest of an orange, which I really thought complimented this recipe nicely). Use any kind of milk you like with your cooked oatmeal, the recipe calls for Almond milk, but I used just a regular 2% and it was great! 

Slow cooker Citrus Spiced Oatmeal

cooking spray
1 cup steel cut oats (really important that it's steel cut oats and not any other kind)
1 tsp of vanilla exctract 
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cardamom

3 1/2 C water
toppings that you like in your oatmeal, such as berris, honey, mape syrop, etc 

Start by spraying slowcooker with the cooking spray really thoroughly (unless you like to challenge yourself with scrubbing really dirty dishes). Place all of the ingredients in a slow cooker except milk and the toppings).

Top with the water and mix together

Set the timer for 8 hours and go to bed. When I was woken up by Allie in the middle of the night, the house already smelled so delicious at that point that I almost got up and had some (I probably would've, only I knew it wasn't completely cooked by that point yet).

In the morning when it's cooked, it doesn't look that great, but don't let the looks fool you, just add your toppings, it will be great! The burnt looking parts are actually the best tasting I thought, because it was basically all sugar (what's not to like?!)

Add in some milk, berries, honey or maple syrup and enjoy!

The leftovers are great too! One day I actually ended up having a bowl as a dessert! Hope you like it as much as I did. Oh, and did I mention that EVERYONE in our family loved this, including Allie! The only thing, for Allie I actually had to add in some pink food coloring, because she's been watching too much of this cartoon lately and wanted her "kasha" to be pink.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

More tips for picky eaters

The more I watch Allie, the more I see how toddler’s eating habits can be so funny and so… well, weird. One day she’ll eat every single piece of food that’s been placed in front of her, even if I can tell it is way too much while serving. Another day she’ll be served all her favorite things, like wheel-shaped pasta (that we call “wheels on a bus pasta”), carrots with hummus and a hot dog, and she won’t touch it. I don’t understand why, so I stopped questioning it and just settled down with the fact that toddlers must just be like that. If Allie is hungry, she’ll eat, but if she doesn't eat anything, I’ll offer her the food a few times and if she still won't eat, then just be it. I’ll give her a few berries and whatever else she feels like eating and will be ready for a real big breakfast the following morning.
I’ve written about picking eating in a  few posts on this blog, but since it’s such a hot topic for so many parents, I keep coming back to it, as I discover new ways to handle it. What inspired me to write about it today is a funny thing that happened the other night. Well, not funny really, just interesting. MJ and I were having a totally adult kind of snack: we were having some wine with some very kid-unfriendly cheeses, like blue cheese, some very aged Gruyere and some other very “stinky”  (stinky is a good ”cheesy” way) varieties and we were dipping them in my new favorite thing in the world – truffle honey (thanks to my sister-in-law who introduced me to it. It’s out of this world delicious!)  Sure enough Allie saw us enjoying it and asked to have some. I let her try a piece of cheese thinking she’ll spit it out, but no!
“Yuummmyy!” she exclaimed and proceeded to grabbing another piece and dipping it in the truffle honey this time. She LOVED every single thing on that platter (except for the blue cheese, that I hid quickly. (probably wouldn't be a very good-mother thing to feed your toddle blue-colored cheese). And no, she didn't try the wine, she knows that it’s “mama and dada’s juice only”.
So here is a few tips on what really works for us when it comes to picky eating:
  • Serve different foods separately. Whoever invented those “sectioned” kid plates really knew what they were doing.  Every kid-related source out there will tell you that most kids like they food being served separately (by color, texture, food type, etc…). Allie doesn't really get excited about the food that is being served all mixed up in one dish (like pasta with some complicated sauce or a salad). She likes to have her foods separated in her 4 section plate: veggies, dipping sauce, meat and some starch. She will eat a soup, or beef stew or something like that when she’s very hungry, but my best chance to get her to eat is serving foods separately.
  • Mom and Dad should enjoy the food that your children are being served too. Sit down to dinner together and demonstrate that you are eating the same thing she is being offered. Enjoy your meal. I actually have to be sort of tricky with Allie when it comes to the enjoying part. She gets suspicious if we over exaggeratedly enjoy the food, look at her and say things like “Oh my god, this is so delicious!!” With Allie I find that she’ll get really curious about the food if I enjoy it by making the “enjoying faces” and maybe noises without looking at her and pretending to be doing it for my own sake. Then she’ll definitely try it.
  • If you serve something new to your child and she doesn't appear to like it, it’s completely fine. But don’t label that food with “ doesn't like it” sticker forever. Keep trying giving her that food again and again (maybe in a day, maybe in a week, or even a month). The chances are she’ll eventually like it. Certainly, it doesn't apply for every single food out there. We all have things we don’t like and probably never will, but with your little ones don’t get rushed to that conclusion without letting her try new things at least a few times.
  • Try giving her a new fork or a spoon. Maybe it’s a spoon with her favorite character on it. Or maybe it’s mama and dada’s spoon. It usually get things more exciting!
  • Find creative ways of serving the food. Arrange it on a plate in a fun way. Try presenting to her something like this. Or try feeding her in a creative way like this.
  • If your baby is just starting to eat solids, it's a good idea to diversify what you feed her, so she has a nice variety of different tastes to get used to from a very early age. Take a look at this pureed fruit and vegetable recipes.

Friday, April 5, 2013

2 year old drama queen?

Yesterday on a small shopping trip I was looking for some new summer pjs for Allie and a few pairs of big-girl undies for her. After completing her potty training, she's been wearing the padded kind just in case of an accident. Since there hasn't been any accidents for the last ... well, actually almost ever (not to brag :)) I decided to graduate her into the real girl underwear. And how big was my surprise when I was shopping at the Children's Place yesterday and couldn't find anything age appropriate for my 2 year old! I mean I am aware of this big Victoria's Secret new line inappropriate for middle school girls and the conflict around it, I didn't think I would face a similar problem with a toddler. Of course, when I say "inappropriate" for toddlers I'm not referring to the same issue that the new Victoria's Secret line was provoking, but I just couldn't find anything that I'd like to see Allie in! What do you think of a set of toddler panties with the words "shopping time"and a Barbie type girl printed in them? Or "new shoes!" and other stuff that grown women might care about but not 2 year olds. Where are the undies with flowers or stars or some Sesame Street character or something in them? Same with pjs, the only one of the right size had 'drama queen' written across the top. Do I wanna teach my daughter that it's cool to be a drama queen? I know she can't read but she likes to know what her clothes says or what's printed on it. So should I be telling her "oh it says drama queen on it, isn't it cute?" So anyway, I'm on a mission to find an appropriate pajamas this week... Thank you for listening to my frustrations, I needed to dish it out :)

Monday, April 1, 2013

Curly hair the old-school way

I want to tell you how I get my hair curly, when I know I will have no time in the morning. When I asked my sister to help me take pictures for this post, she called me a weirdo for posting about this... no, she actually called me a weirdo for doing what I do with my hair, but weirdo or not, the method works and makes my hair look pretty nice, especially considering that I only spend about 10 minutes on it. 

It's definitely no Hair Romance, but this is how I curled my hair when I was at school, and all girls in my class did the same. This is a very old-school method, but I still use it to this day. It's great for when you get sick of wearing a ponytail (like I do most of the time), but you also know that there is no way you're getting up earlier in the morning to do your hair. You just get everything taken care of the night before and in the morning all you have to do is uncurl it, which takes about 30 seconds and you're done!

My "tools" are these home-made curlers that I made probably 3 years ago and they still last.

The whole reason why I use these curlers rather than some store-bought kind is because they are thin, soft, easier to sleep on and you can control the size of your curls: just adjust how you fold your paper. It will make sense in a minute. Keep reading. All you need to build these curlers is:

  • plain white paper (don't use newspaper pages, the ink may get into your hair)
  • a piece of fabric (old cotton Tshirt works great)
  • scissors

And this is the glamorous curler that we are making

Start by cutting the fabric into about an inch wide strips. You need as many strips as you want the curlers. I have pretty thick long hair and I usually use 8-10. Then cut your paper sheets in 3 parts width wise. So one sheet of paper will make 3 curlers. 

Now place a cloth strip perpendicularly in the center of a paper piece, fold the paper in half over the cloth and continue rolling it up (the bigger the fold is, the larger curls you'll get).

Continue with the rest of the curlers until you have as many as you need. Once you're done, they can really serve you for years. Now start curling your hair. You want your hair to be a bit damp, but not wet. You can also use a hair product you like that will help your curls to hold for longer. Separate your hair into small sections. Now place a curler at the bottom of your hair, wrap a section around the curler and start rolling up. The higher you roll it, the longer your curl will be, but I basically just roll it high enough to still keep it comfortable to sleep on.

Secure the roller by tying the ends of the cloth around your hair.

 Continue with the rest of your hair.

Go to bed. The next morning unroll the curlers and if you like,put a bit of hairspray in your hair. I don't usually brush the curls, just kind of fix them a bit by running my fingers through them.

Like a lot of us out there with straight hair, I've always wanted to have curly hair, and using these curlers gets me pretty close! :)