Monday, November 29, 2010

A Thanksgiving Photo Diary

By now I'm sure everyone is completely stuffed with Turkey, sides and dessert. My tight pants are proof that I am. Putting this post together is an unnecessary reminder that it is time to start exercising again. But this also reminds me how much I enjoyed cooking up a storm for our family on Thanksgiving.

Here is a photo diary of the recipes we tried this year... and will be pulling them out again next year. I know... I'm already thinking of next year's Thanksgiving. It was that good!

Monday, November 22:
Make: cranberry sauce

fresh cranberries, sugar, orange zest

30 minutes later: cranberry sauce

click here for recipe from Martha Stewart's Everyday Food 

Wednesday, November 24:
Make: gravy base, stuffing, brine turkey

Saute turkey neck and giblets with mirepoix until deep brown
straining gravy base

click here for Tom Colicchio's Herb-Butter Turkey and Gravy

toasted bread cubes (farmhouse bread from Russo's)

Sauteed leeks, apples, celery, herbs, & dried cranberries

New England Sausage, Apple and Dried Cranberry Stuffing ready to be baked
Click here for Bon Appetit's New England Sausage, Apple, & Dried Cranberry Stuffing

Turkey brine kit courtesy of Wilson Farm

Dissolve brine mixture in water

fresh 14 lb turkey from VT via Wilson Farm

Nighty-night turkey

Thursday, November 25:

I am the Anal Retentive Chef

Turkey and carrots ready for roasting

Sauteed brussel sprouts with bacon

Turkey's done

Stuffing's done!

thickening the best gravy in the world

Finally - we eat!


Monday, November 15, 2010

Metrowest Bloggers Night Out

The other week I attended a “Metrowest Bloggers Night Out” hosted by Metrowest blogger extraordinaire Charlene DeLoach Oliver of Charlene Chronicles.  Not only was I excited for a night away from the kids (call me selfish), I was really looking forward to learning more about Healthy Habits Kitchen (the location for that evening’s event), and the chance to meet other bloggers over nibbles and drinks.

So what happens when you bring a bunch of bloggers together to talk about the struggles of getting a healthy meal on the table for your family while assembling meal kits? Here's a hint: Ha ha! Nom nom...

About HHK
The evening took place at Healthy Habits Kitchen located in a nondescript office park in Wellesley, MA. HHK owner Sue Schochet kicked off the evening with a quick talk on what HHK is all about. In a nutshell – meal kits made from all-natural ingredients and fresh produce. Complete with pre-measured spices, sauces and a starch.

Owner Sue Schochet explaining HHK meal kits
While snacking on creamy cranberry salsa and curry mango chutney dip and chips, Sue went on to explain how HHK works. Choosing from a seasonal menu, you can schedule an “assembly session” where you assemble a meal kit yourself at HHK or for an extra buck, Sue and her staff assemble the kit for you. You can either pickup your meal kit or have it delivered. Follow the directions on your kit and you will have a wholesome, gourmet-like meal on the table in less time than it takes to surf the web for a recipe and cook something from scratch.

Assembly Party
Sue had two stations set up to assemble the pumpkin turkey chili and raspberry chipotle pork medallions. Basically, HHK acts as your sous chef. All ingredients have already been prepped. 
Containers of all shapes and sizes waiting to be filled
Ingredients prepped waiting to be measured and packaged
Bloggers were then tasked to package the ingredients and create their own meal kits according to the directions. For a moment I felt like I was on Top Chef about to participate in a relay challenge.  But without Tom or Padma. And it wasn’t a competition. Oh yeah, and I’m not a chef.

Easy-to-follow directions for meal kit assembly
packaging veggies for pumpkin turkey chili

Cindy and Kami assembling their meal kits
The assembly session and private party could be fun for those that want a more hands-on experience of assembling their own meal kit.  But I think everyone was in agreement that we’d gladly give up that experience for an extra dollar and have the meal kit already assembled.

My favorite part of the night was meeting the other bloggers – super nice, smart and really funny women who all at one point or another struggle to find time to cook a wholesome meal day in and day out. Not only was it reassuring to hear how we all turn to convenience meals some days, but how we find blogging to be a fun creative outlet (or an outlet to swear – or ideally both.). I am already looking forward to laughing with these women again.

Good times with (left to right): Laura Reid of Being Loopy, Cindy Meltzer from Isis Parenting, Sharon Reilly of  The Life of Reilly, Kami Lewis Levin of The Fence, me, and Sue Schochet of HHK. Photo courtesy of Charlene of Charlene Chronicles (not pictured)

The Food
Sue had prepared Chicken Cacciatore and Mango Curry Chicken for us to sample. Both were hearty and tasty. We also got to sample some Steaz Iced Tea. They were great – not too sweet but loads of flavor. I got to bring home a tray of the vegetarian option – Butternut Squash Sage Lasagna. I was psyched – here was dinner for the following night!

Butternut Squash Sage Lasagna - heated and served
I enjoyed the lasagna dish the next night (and not just because I didn’t have to do anything but turn on the oven). The boys were not big fans of the lasagna however. But the tray did eventually get eaten.

I think HHK is a great idea for families that want to go a step beyond the prepared foods section of their grocery store. It might cost a little more than the prepared foods section, but cheaper than going out to eat or ordering take-out. Plus I think you are paying for the satisfaction you get from putting together a healthy meal rather than pushing a couple buttons on the microwave.

I don’t know if HHK is something we’ll do often seeing how I actually enjoy the prep work and cooking. They are available at several farmers markets (brilliant), and can totally see myself picking up a kit or two the next time I see one. 

What are some of your favorite convenience meals? Do you have any time-saving tips when it comes to meal planning?

Disclosure: I was not compensated for this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. The event was free and I was given a meal kit and a goodie bag with Steaz Iced Tea and t-shirt and water bottle courtesy of Healthworks Fitness for Women.. Opinions are my own.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Paella: The Ultimate One-Pot Dish

I confess - I am a messy cook! The boys' play kitchen is in better condition than what our kitchen looks like after I tackle dinner. I read once the secret to a happy kitchen is to clean and put away as you cook. I don't know about you, but I can barely hold it together with several pots bubbling away on the stove while reading a recipe and pushing the littlest one away from open flame all at the same time.

That is why I gravitate toward one-pot meals for everyday dinners. Not only is there less to clean-up, but the stress-level comes down a notch when I only have to worry about one cooking vessel and not having to be in the kitchen the whole time. Chili, soup, and tagines are wonderful one-pot meals in my book. Then I came across a paella recipe in Mark Bittman's Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating. Make this and you will want to trade all your sauce pans, stock pots, roasting pans for a paella pan.

Adapted from Mark Bittman's Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating

3 1/2 cups chicken broth, plus more if needed
Pinch saffron threads
1 lbs ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into thick wedges
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tbs olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tbs tomato paste
2 tsp paprika
3 oz chorizo, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
2 cups white rice
6 large peeled shrimp
2 boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1 cup fresh or frozen corn
Chopped fresh parsley leaves for garnish

1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees F. Warm the broth and the saffron in a small sauce pan. Put tomatoes in a medium bowl, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and drizzle them with 1 tbs olive oil. Toss to coat.

2. Put the remaining oil in a 12-inch oven proof skillet over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, add onion, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook stirring occasionally until it softens (3-5 minutes). Stir in tomato paste, paprika and chorizo and cook for a minute more.

spicy chorizo gave the dish some heat but not too much

3. Add the rice and cook, stirring occasionally until shiny (1-2 minutes). Add the warm broth and stir until just combined, then stir in the shrimp, chicken and corn.

Tomato wedges made this dish extra meaty

4. Put the tomato wedges on top of the rice and drizzle with juices that accumulated in the bottom of the bowl. Put the pan in the oven and bake, undisturbed, for 15-20 minutes. Check to see if the rice is nearly dry and just tender. When rice is ready, turn off oven and let it sit 5-15 minutes.

5. Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle with parsley. Optional: put the pan over high heat for a few minutes to develop a bit of a bottom crust before serving.

The Good: Quick and easy. Did I mention this is made in one pot?

The Bad: Not an authentic paella, but we still loved it.

Grade: A. A rice dish packed with delicious veggies and protein. The boys asked for seconds!


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