Wednesday, June 29, 2016

#SeeMoreSummer


It *finally* feels like summer around here thanks to spectacular June weather, school is out and kids are coming in from playing until twilight, exhausted but happy. Now summer just got 80x better thanks to the Highland Street Foundation's Free Fun Fridays program. Now in it's 8th year, the Highland Street Foundation has partnered with 80 different cultural institutions across Massachusetts to offer free (!) admission to museums, zoos, and gardens every Friday until August 26th! It's true!


I had the opportunity to check out the MIT Museum for the first time with my boys last Friday. We got our science on big time and loved every minute of it.


From mind-blowing holograms, robotics gallery and our favorite Gestural Engineering exhibit (think wind-up toys to a new level), it was a perfect way to spend the afternoon.


The MIT Museum has plenty of hands-on activities for kids, but it's just the right size for you to explore everything the museum has to offer in a few hours.

And as a treat, we headed across the street to our all-time favorite bakery, Flour, for some sticky buns and oreo cookies.

Check out the full schedule here and get out there and #SeeMoreSummer!

Disclosure: Thanks to Highland Street Foundation and MIT Museum for hosting us, which I received free of charge. As always, opinions are my own.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

15-Minute Recipe For Those Hectic-Post-Activity-Late-Dinners


Don't get me wrong. Spring is awesome. Bright sun. Blossoming trees and flowers. Everyone seems to be cheery. Except for the days we're running from one after-school activity to another, only to get home around 7pm and realize we still have to make dinner. I often will turn to my Slacker Mom Dinner Hacks on days like this. Or I make this amazing, good-for-you, semi-homemade, Creamy Greek Chicken Noodle Soup (Avgolemono) from Dinner: The Playbook. It's become an all-time favorite at our house, especially after a long day of school and baseball practice in the spring rain.

Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup
Adapted from Dinner: The Playbook by Jenny Rosenstrach

INGREDIENTS
4 cups low sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup uncooked orzo
salt and pepper
3 eggs
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Handful fresh dill, chopped
Shredded rotisserie chicken

DIRECTIONS

  1. In a large saucepan, bring the broth to a boil.
  2. Add orzo and cook until tender, about 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and reduce heat to low; let simmer.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and lemon juice until smooth. Slowly ladle about 1/2 cup of hot broth to the egg-and-lemon mixture, whisking to combine. 
  4. Remove simmering broth from heat (this step is crucial).
  5. Very slowly, drizzle the egg mixture back into the pot, whisking constantly for 2 full minutes. Season with salt and pepper, add dill and chicken and serve.


Friday, April 8, 2016

Guest Post: Upgrades to Achieve a Chef-Approved Kitchen

For someone like me who spends a whole lot of time in the kitchen, the way a kitchen functions, flows, and looks are probably more important to me than any other room in the house. This has become front and center in our lives as we looking to move and/or renovate a kitchen.

So I warmly welcome Becca Grady from Zillow to share her tips for simple upgrades to a kitchen that any home chef would love!

Simple Upgrades to Achieve a Chef-Approved Kitchen
By Becca Grady





A kitchen is more than just a space to prepare and cook food. Any good chef knows that it is a gathering area for friends and family, an entertainment spot and, ultimately, the heart of the home. Although most homes just need the basics – a refrigerator, sink, oven and stove – there are simple upgrades to ensure you have a pro-grade kitchen setup.

Whether you’re a food enthusiast or a seasoned chef, consider these tips for achieving a chef-approved kitchen.

Friendly Layout

An open floorplan and ease of movement is important for a well-designed kitchen. Although layout is sometimes out of your control, there are changes that can be made to better accommodate a good flow. If you have ample space in the center, consider adding an island to help alleviate any congestion and expedite meal prep.

Ample Light



Light is an important feature of an outstanding kitchen, and the more light, the better. Lighting can set the tone and have a large impact on ambiance. Having multiple sources of light – recessed lighting, hanging lights and under-the-cabinet strips – is best. sources for different purposes, you are able to easily adjust lighting to accommodate any need.

Surfaces

Any cooking enthusiast knows that a top-notch kitchen is all about the counter space, especially for spreading out all of the ingredients for preparation and plating the dish when it’s finished. Kitchen surfaces should also be easy to clean, heat resistant, durable and scratch proof. Selecting a countertop that is tough and fits within your budget is essential.

Faucets and Sinks



Sinks are one of the hardest working spaces in a kitchen. Upgrading your normal sink to one with a deep-set bowl is a must for any pro-grade kitchen. Additionally, consider replacing faucets with a gooseneck model and a pull-out sprayer. A gooseneck faucet allows you to turn on the water while having mess on your hands, while a pull out sprayer helps to clean off dishes with ease.  

Convenient Storage



Most professional kitchens will forego cabinets and drawers for storing utensils, dishes and pans, opting for open shelves. Open shelving systems allow for easy access to cooking tools and utensils. If you’re not interested in having your storage exposed, consider other storage options that improve accessibility. Look into installing a hanging pot rack, a magnetized knife strip or a handy roll-out shelf.


With limited budget and space, it’s important to decide what features matter most in a kitchen. To ensure the kitchen is worthy of an aspiring or skilled chef, try using some of these tips.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Cooking Matters


Cooking Matters. Never did I think these two simple words would mean so much to me 10 years ago. Before I become I mom, I cooked occasionally with little thought on ingredients or sticking to a weekly budget. I had a good paying job. I cooked what I wanted and when I wanted.

Then I had kids. I was consumed with feeding them healthy food. We were on a strict budget. I made homemade baby food and tested new recipes with hopes they would adopt the same adventurous palate umdaddy and I had – and blogged about it along the way. Then I joined the team at ChopChop Magazine, embracing the mission of inspiring and teaching kids to cook real food as a way to combat hunger, poor nutrition and childhood obesity. Yeah, cooking matters. Big time.

So when I had the opportunity to hear about the work Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters is doing
Cooking Matters Alicia McCabe demonstrating
skills taught in a cooking class
here in Massachusetts, I didn’t hesitate. Cooking Matters teaches participants (many receiving SNAP and WIC benefits) to shop smarter, cook delicious meals, and how to make healthy choices. With the help of an army of volunteers, participants enroll in a six-week cooking course that include a grocery tour to teach how to shop, read nutrition labels, and stretch their dollars.

And the results are impressive. In a recent study on the impact of Cooking Matters:
  • Participants have increased confidence in the kitchen
  • Number of meals cooked at home increased
  • Families are eating healthier and choosing healthy foods (whole grains, low-fat dairy, low sodium)
  • Participants reported increase in their ability to stretch their food dollars

While there is evidence Cooking Matters is making an impact, there is still work that needs to be done. We need to reach more families. We need to demonstrate why cooking matters. How can you help? Volunteer. Attend a culinary event to benefit Cooking Matters. Teach someone you love how to cook. 
 
(credit: Share Our Strength)



Disclosure: Thanks to Share Our Strength and Kirkland Tap& Trotter for hosting the event, which I received free of charge. As always, opinions are my own.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Last Minute Easter Menu Ideas


Is it just me or did winter just blast by and spring suddenly arrive? I blinked and Easter is this weekend and April is around the corner. So in typical fashion, I'm scrambling to put together some dishes for our family Easter brunch celebration. So I'm going to some family favorites that are easy to whip up and sure to please. 


Monkey Bread French Toast
Our kids go nuts whenever we make this. You can make this with challah bread or cinnamon raisin bread. We'll often make extra and freeze them for easy toaster french toast. 

INGREDIENTS
1 cup half-and-half
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons honey, warmed in microwave for 20 seconds
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
8 (1/2 inch) slices day old monkey bread (or brioche or challah)
4 tablespoons butter

DIRECTIONS

  1. In medium size mixing bowl, whisk together the half-and-half, eggs, honey, and salt. When ready to cook, pour custard mixture into a pie pan and set aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Dip bread into mixture, allow to soak for 30 seconds on each side, and then remove to a cooling rack that is sitting in a sheet pan, and allow to sit for 1 to 2 minutes.
  3. Over medium-low heat, melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a 10-inch nonstick saute pan. Place 2 slices of bread at a time into the pan and cook until golden brown, approximately 2 to 3 minutes per side.
  4. Remove from pan and place on rack in oven for 5 minutes. Repeat with all 8 slices. Serve immediately with maple syrup or fruit. 

Mom's Granola with Yogurt
I forget how simple it is to make homemade granola. Whenever we make this, I kick myself for buying store-bought and not making this sooner. 

INGREDIENTS
2 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 1/2 cups wheat germ
1/2 cup shredded coconut
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
1/3 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup sliced almonds 
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup canola oil 
3/4 cup vanilla extract 
2 teaspoons vanilla exract
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup raisins

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper
  2. In a large bowl, combine oats, wheat germ, coconut, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts, almonds, cinnamon, and salt and mix well. In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, honey and vanilla. Pour wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly until the dry ingredients are evenly coated.
  3. Pour mixture onto prepared baking sheet and spread in an even layer. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until golden brown. Stir the granola with a spatula several times during the baking to ensure even browning. Let cool completely, then add the cranberries and raisins and mix to distribute them evenly.



Carrot Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
You gotta have some sweets for Easter, right? These are to dye for (get it? Easter egg dyes?).

INGREDIENTS
2 Eggs1 cup packed light brown sugar¾ cup canola oil3 tbs lowfat buttermilk½ tsp vanilla extract1 cup plus 2 tbs unbleached all–purpose flour½ tsp baking powder½ tsp baking soda½ tsp kosher salt½ tsp ground cinnamon¼ tsp ground ginger2 cups shredded carrots½ cup raisins½ cup chopped walnuts
Cream Cheese Frosting
12 oz cream cheese, at room temperature½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature1 2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
DIRECTIONS
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line standard 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.
  2. In a large bowl or using a stand mixer, beat together eggs and brown sugar on med-high speed for 3-4 minutes, or until mixture is light in color and thick. In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, buttermilk, and vanilla. On low speed, slowly pour the oil mixture into the egg-sugar mixture.
  3. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and ginger. Using a rubber spatula, fold flour mixture into egg-sugar mixture until fully incorporated.
  4. Add carrots, raisins, and walnuts and continue to fold until well mixed. Pour the batter into the prepared muffin cups.
  5. Bake cupcakes for about 50 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool in muffin tin on wire rack.
  6. Meanwhile to make the frosting, beat cream cheese (with paddle attachment) on medium speed for about a minute until smooth. It is important cream cheese is at room temperature or the frosting will be lumpy. You can microwave on medium power for 30 seconds to soften (be sure to remove foil wrapper!).
  7. Add the butter and continue to beat for another minute. Then add the confectioners’ sugar and beat for one more minute until well mixed. Chill frosting in the refrigerator to firm it up before using.
  8. Remove cupcakes from muffin tin and frost cupcakes. Decorate with shaved coconut, carrot strips or lemon zest.  

Monday, March 7, 2016

The Perfect Portion Cookbook


Each square = 100 calorie count

I’m a huge fan of Fitbit ever since I got one for Christmas. I love getting all this feedback such as how many steps I’ve taken (close to my daily goal), how much sleep I got the night before (not very much) and how many calories I burned. This last bit of data would mean something if only I knew how many calories I was consuming. And I’m not one for calorie counting, measuring or weighing out serving sizes or sacrificing good tasting food for fewer calories.

So when I had the opportunity to review The Perfect Portion Cookbook by Anson Williams, Bob Warden and Mona Dolgov, I knew it was the universe (or maybe Fitbit) telling me it’s time to pay attention to how much I eat.

Flipping through The Perfect Portion Cookbook, I was immediately drawn to the easy-to-read recipes, great photography and simple visuals of what equates to a 100 calorie-count. There are 150 comfort food recipes categorized by Breakfast, Soups, Salads & Sandwiches, Casseroles & One-Pot Meals, Everyday Meals, Sides, Entertaining, Holiday Favorites, Dressings, Sauces & James, Satisfying Snacks, and Desserts. And the book is loaded with helpful tips such as substitutions and shopping tips.


I decided to make the Ratatouille & Sausage Bake (I love me some one-pot meals) and 100 Calorie Brownie Bites for our Sunday supper. Both were incredibly easy to make and very tasty. And for the first time, I can feel good about portion sizes and better understand what's okay for lunch or dinner. And maybe one day soon, I can log in “Calories Eaten” into my Fitbit and really be boss of my personal data.

100 Calorie Brownie Bites. Photography by Christian Stella and Elise Stella

Disclosure: Thank you Partners in Publishing for sending me a copy of The Perfect Portion Cookbook. As always, all opinions are my own.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Ringing in the Year of the Monkey



Monday, February 6th marks the first day of the Chinese Lunar New Year. Which means I've been trying to keep to my family's tradition of cleaning the house, fresh haircuts for the boys, and setting mandarin oranges around the house for good luck. Now that the boys are older, they love learning about these traditions - and superstitions like these New Year's Day taboos:

  • No sweeping/cleaning or you will sweep away your luck and fortune
  • No crying children as this will bring bad luck
  • Don't wash your hair or you will wash away luck and fortune
  • Don't wear white, black or blue (signifies mourning). Wear something new and something red for good luck
There are several more "rules" but these are the big ones I grew up following. And of course there's the food. As with so many things in the Chinese culture, certain foods are more auspicious and lucky. This year, our New Year's Feast will include:

Long Noodles (Momofuku's Ginger Scallion Noodles) represents long life


Soy Sauce Eggs (Momofuku's Soy Sauce Eggs adapted by Catherine Newman) for prosperity
Lion's Head for family/togetherness

Whole Chinese Broccoli for long life
Almond Cookies for wealth

From our family to yours, gong hay fat choy!

 



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