Tex-Mex Meatloaf

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This is not gourmet AT ALL and I forgot to take a photo of an individual portion on a plate, but this was surprisingly good. Really! I thought that it looked kid friendly and would be simple, but the meatloaf was really tender and moist and Hubby and I actually enjoyed it, too. We sprinkled some cheddar cheese over the top of it before serving and had a nice salad to go with it.

The recipe is from Southern Living magazine and can be found here. There was a short article on meatloaf variations that included two other recipes. The article can be found here. I have tried the chicken version in the past and was NOT wild about it, but I intend to try the tomato-basil version soon.

Ginger-Squash Cake with White Chocolate Frosting

This recipe is from October 2007 Gourmet magazine. Obviously, I subbed pecans for the hazelnuts.

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It was really easy and delicious. Very similar to carrot cake, but more of a “snack” cake, I would say, than a proper dessert. This was a great hit with Boy and Girl for an after-school snack. Strong ginger flavor and very moist texture. I will DEFINITELY make this again.

Salmon with Lentils and Mustard-Herb Butter

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Salmon with Lentils and Mustard-Herb Butter

I don’t normally cook a lot of seafood, because Girl hates it and threatens to run away from home, but Boy loves it, so every once in a while I brave the wrath and serve it, anyway. It’s kinda fun to see her wrinkle her nose and gag at the dinner table.

Boy was on a field trip in Dallas all day today (seeing the King Tut exhibit), so I wanted to make a special dinner for him upon his return and this one looked like it fit the bill. I wasn’t sure how the lentils would go over, since I’ve only made them once before.

But….WOW, was this yummy!!! It was much easier to actually execute than the recipe made it sound. Once I actually started cooking it, it was VERY simple. Sauteeing the fish in butter gave it a lovely, savory browned crust and wonderful flavor. I was afraid that the leek flavor would be too strong (it has a LOT of leeks in it), but the kids both loved it. A couple of other epicurious readers recommended sauteeing the fish in olive oil, to cut the butter content (why would you want to do such a thing???), but another reviewer recommended added a little pre-cooked, crumbled bacon to the lentils, to add even more sumptuous flavor. I, myself, never pass up an opportunity to monter au beurre or throw in some bacon, so I may adapt a bit when I make this again.

I really can’t recommend this dish highly enough. If your kids are a little adventuresome, they’ll love this, but it’s also “fancy” enough to impress at a dinner party. Would have been sublime with a better wine choice, but we drank what we had on hand, which was OK. If you like the idea of salmon and lentils, but want some other options, these two recipes look great, too:

Herb Crusted Salmon on Puy Lentils with Red Wine Sauce

Salmon with Bacon and Lentils

An open letter to my future daughter-in-law

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I am raising for you a kind young man, without a mean bone in his body. He is handsome and funny and talented and smart. I’m sure that you will love him forever and be very happy, but I must apologize. I have failed you. I have tried to combat a habit that will bring you many hours of frustration, I’m sure, but he is just too strong and I now must finally admit defeat.

My only hope is that you are stronger-willed than I am and someday you will be able to successfully train YOUR children to turn their socks right-side-out before putting them in the dirty clothes hamper.

Love,
Your future mother-in-law

Organic produce is more nutritious!

Not actually a surprise to those of us who have been supporting the organic movement (which is admittedly pretty mainstream, at this point) for years, but an interesting article, nonetheless.

Article about organic produce from Cooking Light magazine.

The article didn’t mention this, but I have an additional theory (not based on anything other than a hunch and a little common sense):

“Conventional” produce is sprayed with fungicides after harvesting, to keep it from rotting in the truck on its way to your supermarket. These chemicals keep it from displaying outward signs of spoilage for a longer period of time. Have you ever picked organic strawberries from a farm or farmers’ market? Ya gotta eat those the same day you buy ’em, baby. They go bad FAST. But strawberries from a supermarket? They’re sprayed with all sorts of chemicals to keep them from rotting. They can survive two or three days on the truck from Watsonville to you and then another two or three days in your fridge. They may LOOK okay on the outside, but it’s only common sense to understand that they will have lost some of their nutrient value from oxidation (not to mention the problem of the added chemicals) after being away from the plant (and water and nutrients) for that long.

Another thing is that “conventional” produce is frequently picked when it is not yet ripe (with the idea being that it will finishing ripening during shipping). Of course, produce that is not allowed to finish ripening on the vine (or on the tree, or in the ground, or whatever) will not have the opportunity to develop the same levels of vitamins as organically grown produce, which is more frequently picked when it is completely ripe.

The downside, of course, is that organic produce DOES spoil more quickly. And it does cost more. It must be shipped immediately to the store and must be bought and consumed more quickly. This is why one frequent excuse for not buying organic is that “it doesn’t look as good” as the conventional stuff. I agree, at least sometimes. One of my pet peeves is seeing all of the nasty, slimy looking organic produce at the store, when all of the conventional stuff is picture perfect. (There are going to be some signs of little “bug bites” occasionally on organic produce. I take this as a good sign. I don’t want to eat something that would kill a bug, thank you.) Obviously, you should use your best judgment. No one is encouraging you to buy slimy lettuce or soggy apples, but, when you have the choice and the opportunity, I believe that it’s best to try to buy organic. Of course, the more of us that buy the organic stuff, the faster it will turn over at the store and the fresher it will be…

NOTE: If you go to an organic farmstand or farmers’ market, you’ll have the best of ALL worlds:
The produce will be fresh, out of the ground; it is usually cheaper than organic produce at a supermarket and you usually get to talk to the growers. You can ask questions about how to prepare an unusual vegetable that you might not have ever never seen before, etc. You’ll also get things that are local and in season, but that’s a whole separate lecture.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I have close family connections with a local organic farm. I also will admit that I am far from perfect. I do succumb occasionally to the beautiful produce at Costco, but I do buy organically, locally and in season, as much as I conveniently can.)

Right about now, you’re probably thinking “Can’t I just wash the pesticides off after I buy the produce?!?”…”

No, you really can’t, at least not usually. Pesticides are sprayed onto the whole plant (where they are absorbed into the plant and distributed throughout), but a lot of it also falls onto the soil. When it rains or the plants are irrigated, the pesticides are washed into the soil, where they can be absorbed into the plants’ vascular system via the roots. Remember, in kindergarten, where you put a carnation flower or a stalk of celery into a glass of water with some food coloring in it? Remember how the dye distributed throughout the whole plant/flower so that the white carnation you started out with became a startling, but beautiful, blue? That is exactly what the pesticides do. They don’t simply “wash off” when you rinse your produce, because they’re not just on the outside of the food, but are imbedded inside.

There are some fruits and vegetables, however, that are more vulnerable or appealing to insects, so they are routinely sprayed with higher levels of pesticides to scare away the bugs, or there are some other plants that are naturally more bug-resistant, so they routinely don’t need as much pesticide to prevent bug damage. Some plants, due to a higher water content, absorb more pesticides naturally. So, if all else fails and you just aren’t sold on the idea of organic produce, or only want to spend the money on it at times when it REALLY counts, you should know which fruits and vegetables have the highest concentrations of pesticides and which have the lowest.

Here ya go:

Produce with the HIGHEST pesticide levels
(strongly recommended that you only buy these foods when organic choices are available):
Peaches
Apples
Sweet Bell Peppers
Celery
Nectarines
Strawberries
Cherries
Lettuce
Imported Grapes
Pears

Produce with the LOWEST pesticide levels, even when NOT organically grown:
Onions
Avocado
Frozen Sweet Corn
Pineapples
Mango
Frozen Sweet Peas
Asparagus
Kiwi
Bananas
Cabbage

This data comes from the Environmental Working Group and the whole list (wondering where tomatoes fall? mushrooms? potatoes?) can be viewed here (scroll down a bit).

Thanks for listening (is anyone still reading?). I’m stepping down from the soapbox now.

Chicken Shawarma with Fattoush Salad

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Chicken Shawarma with Fattoush Salad

Yummy and VERY easy. I didn’t put the tomatoes on our pitas, because we were already having a lot of tomatoes in the salad, in fact, Girl dumped her bowl of salad ONTO her pita and ate it that way.

For the fattoush, I adapted a recipe for “chopped vegetable salad” that was in the same issue of Cooking Light, but changed it around so much that it really wasn’t the same, so here’s my version:

Fattoush

2 cups chopped cucumber
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 cup halved grape tomatoes
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
(The original recipe also called for some chopped green bell pepper, but I didn’t have any on hand. It would have been a nice addition, so I’ll add some next time. Maybe some garlic, too?)

Gently fold all above ingredients to combine. In a small, separate bowl, whisk together:

2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

Pour over salad and toss gently to combine.

Toss in 2 cups coarsely crushed pita chips (recommended: Stacy’s brand, from Costco) and 1/2 tsp to 1 tsp of ground sumac powder (If you can find it. Try Kalustyan’s, if you’re determined to find some.) and toss salad gently again to combine. Sprinkle a little more sumac on top. Serve immediately, before the pita chips get soggy. If you’re not serving it right away, reserve the pita chips separately until ready to serve.

Short Ribs Provencale and Butternut Squash Polenta

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Butternut Squash Polenta, topped with (pulled) Short Ribs Provencale
This was VERY rich and flavorful. The polenta comes together VERY quickly and the short ribs make your house smell WONDERFUL as you’re cooking.

I changed the recipe around a little bit:
I used boneless chuck short ribs (6 of them) and added more carrots to the sauce, but didn’t add the baby carrots later. I added the juice from the tomatoes, rather than draining it, because I used chicken stock (instead of beef) and wanted to add a little extra flavor to compensate for that.

Boy kids enjoyed this and Girl even has some of the leftovers in her lunch today. I’m thinking that I may freeze some of the leftover meat and sauce to serve over pasta at a later date. Hubby and I will probably have some of the leftover meat (without sauce) in a grilled sandwich for lunch today.

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browning the short ribs

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simmering the short ribs

We had some of these (I made extras) for dessert:
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A double batch of chocolate kiss cupcakes that I made for Girl’s choir party today, packed with extra Hershey Kisses to stabilize them and keep them from shifting in the box