Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Week 2 begins: Creamy Noodle Bake with Spinach Salad

First, here's the list of this week's dinners:
  • Creamy Noodle Bake with Spinach Salad
  • All-Day Roast with Fries and Peas
  • Salmon with Cranberry-Lime Sauce, Rice and Broccoli
  • Pizza and a Tossed Green Salad
  • Japanese Grilled Chicken, Rice and Stir-Fry Veggies
Okay, week 2... here we go.  I'm excited... okay, I'm not in some ways.  The food has been okay but not what I had anticipated.  It donned on my earlier today: This is a cookbook for families, to encourage diverse diets and reduce 'pickiness'.  Some of those eating this food will be young looking for bland food (in general) and some will want fully rich, full-bodied interesting flavors.  These recipes have interesting ingredients but also are on the bland side.  Seems like the goal was to give the adults enough while fully engaging the kids.  I like the idea but for someone with a self-admitted limited palette: its even too bland for me.  These cookbooks will have a hard time keeping my interest at this level.  If I lose Scott's interest in the food, then the kids' interest will drop too.

Back to the meal at hand: Creamy Noodle Bake with Spinach Salad.  This meal brings Ally back to cooking.  This meal was what caught Ally's attention when looking at the cookbook.  Granted, you can't see anything but the baked cheese coating on the casserole... who wouldn't think it looked yummy!

The prep was pretty straight forward. Boil water, brown beef, and add some stuff for flavor to the beef.  I almost put pizza sauce in instead of tomato soup... oops.  When it came to adding the Italian Seasoning to the mix, I added some extra.  The peanut gallery(aka Ryan) hollered: "But mom, you are supposed to be following the directions! How are we supposed to know if we like their recipe if you change it?"  He had a point but I really wanted some flavor tonight.  This is a dish you layer egg noodles, the meat sauce, a mushroom cream sauce and cheeses and bake.  It calls for a lasagna or large cake pan.  Either they make small lasagnas and cakes in Canada or something but each layer only covered about half the 13x9 cake dish.  I almost switched out to my 11x7 but I thought "No, let's see how this works."  I now wish they had measurements for the pans.  After all the chopping of the last several meals, this went together very easily.  Ally kept taking breaks to read.

Tonight Scott happened to have to miss dinner but that was okay with the kids... they loved it.  At one point, Ally said while scooping up seconds, "Sorry Dad, but I don't think there are going to be leftovers tonight!"  They really liked the again bland creamy noodle casserole.  I think it would have been better if made with sausage instead of ground beef, had some chopped onion and bell peppers and maybe some corn.  As much as they were right in sync with their scores for the casserole(Ryan:"Can I rate this a 12?"), they were very different on the salad.  The spinach salad included mandarins, chopped red onion, cashews and feta cheese.  The last one was the kicker for Ryan and me.  Ryan is still convinced it was bleu cheese.  I should have shown him the container.  That was the sort of the taste/smell I was preparing for when I tried it.  Thankfully feta cheese isn't as smelly as bleu cheese but I don't care for cheese of any kind on most of my salads, or by itself for that matter, so I may be a bit biased.  I enjoyed the mandarins, red onion and cashews in there though.  Overall score(without Scott's input): 8.2.  With my estimation for Scott's score: 7.4.  Ryan had to average the 10 for the casserole and the 7 for the salad to come up with his score.  Too funny.

After dinner, Ryan was up for clearing the table, helping clean the kitchen and doing the dishes.  He was great about it!  He cleared the few dishes on the table while I started on the dishes.  He then helped load the dishwasher and then dried the big dishes after I washed them.  We had a great conversation about why I don't play video games, why I like Age of Empires (the horses) and how I should definitely play Age of Empires: War Chiefs(horse-something or other military unit).  We talked about what we'd be doing the next day and how he liked going to my garden class (less school work, more video games, yummy snacks).  No complaints!  It was wonderful!  It was the highlight of the dinner for me and came at the end of a great day with the kiddos.

Next up: All-Day Roast with Fries and Peas...

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Sweet Indian Chicken with Rice and Spinach Salad

The last meal of Week 1 turned into being the first meal of our second week.  This recipe again uses 'real' foods and required lots of chopping instead of simply opening a bag and dumping contents into a skillet.  By now I've gotten pretty good at chopping since the kids and knives... well, I'm not so comfortable with just yet.

Ryan has gotten to know where a lot of the ingredients are and what they look like.  I asked him to grab the rice and he said, "Which one?  There's 4 kinds!"  This dish calls for basmati rice, a kind I'm sure I've had before but I don't remember it.  When shopping I thought: "Eh, basmati looks similar to the regular stuff.  How much different could it be? I'll just get the regular stuff."  I'm so glad I didn't substitute.

My favorite part of cooking this meal was when we put in the curry paste.  Ryan had been tasting each ingredient but after several meals, he'd already tasted most of them.  He hadn't tasted curry paste though.  He was willing until he saw it.  "That looks like poo!  Baby poo!"  My response: "So you'd try it if it looked like regular poo?"  Sorry, had to be included. ;)  He asked if we really had to include it and we did.  Again, when testing the meal though, it tasted kind of bland.  We'd already put in the garlic, ginger and now curry paste and I was worried.  Not "OH NO!" worried, just "bummer dude" worried.

The rest of the prep Ryan was more involved since it involved setting up the toppings.  These included mango chutney, mandarin oranges, crushed peanuts, and cilantro.  After tasting the chutney, I just wanted a bowl of that!  No longer bummed.  I thought, "These will provided the flavor."

Overall, it wasn't what you would think of when you'd say Indian Chicken.  I think 'somewhat spicy/tangy to REALLY spicy'.  That wasn't the case here.  The base, chicken and rice, were okay but the toppings were definitely where the flavor really was.  Everyone put on all the toppings, even me!!  It was yummy although Scott and I agreed it could use something to bring up the heat a little to counter-balance the sweetness of the toppings.  Overall score:  5.66.

This concluded Week 1: Cooking with Ryan.  Next up is Week 2: Cooking with Ally.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Dry Ribs with Couscous and Broccoli

Follow-up from the taco dinner: official ranking= 8.25.  No matter what the numbers have been, the tacos were so far the best.

Okay, onto the ribs.  This is another dinner of which we already have a regular in place that is kind of similar.  Heck, its probably called Studham Ribs by now.  Visiting family members are always treated to a round of ribs, cheesy potatoes and Ally's Baked Beans since Scott got his Big Green Egg smoker/bbq last year.  The ribs are always great and very saucy and just plain yummy!  The sides don't help to lighten the meal and you usually go into food coma after devouring too much but its so yummy!  This recipe not only calls for BAKING the ribs for 8-10 hours but also calls for a DRY RUB...and then 2 healthy sounding sides, VEGGIES, to boot!  The future wasn't looking too bright for this meal.

This time we actually remembered to prep the ribs the night before.  Ryan tried each ingredient individually as he did with the taco recipe.  Brown sugar was of course a favorite.  Paprika?  Not so much.  Ryan: "We're actually going to put THAT on the ribs?!  But it will ruin them!"  Too funny.  After the night-before's success with following the directions, he relented and added it to the mix. Our next challenge was to remember to put the ribs in and at the right time.  I'm historically terrible at this.  I often forget until its too late.  I've tried to make up for some time with a higher temp... don't do it.  Just cook it the next day. On this day, we got it right.

With all the seasonings, I anticipated a nice aroma to waft through the house similar to when there's a pot roast in the crock pot.  There was a bit of a scent but not really one that makes your hubby say "Wow!  Dinner smells good!  What's for dinner?" as he enters the house.  As dinner time approached, we started on the sides.  The couscous recipe included a lot of ingredients to be put in before the actual couscous which meant for a good deal of chopping.  It seemed potentially interesting too: onions, mushrooms, chicken broth, cilantro, and tomatoes were included.  Still not a lot of aroma though.

This meal turned out to be "ehh, so-so".  It was really missing any real flavor.  Although the meat was fall-off-the-bone tender, it didn't stack up to any recent ribs we've either smoked or had at area restaurants as far as flavor.  We ended up adding some bbq sauce we had on hand.  The couscous was alright, mostly because it was something different than we typically eat.  The broccoli was a bit yellowed and was lackluster too. Even with all that, the kids loved it! I think they have such an "Oooooh!  Ribs!  Yummy!" mentality they would have given it a high score regardless.  Their's were 10's, ours 4's... overall score: 7.

There was one thing I got out of this meal: growing up, we did almost always have a protein, a starch and a veggie like this book does.  Our portion sizes of the protein weren't big enough to feed an army, either.  I hadn't really thought about that before.  Thanks, Mom!

Another thing to note: I believe this cooking thing is really taking hold for the kids.  Ally made another concoction for lunch (heated, chopped lunchmeat ham on toasted buns with fruit-enhanced maraschino cherry juice with additional fruit) and for desert(some sort of cookie dough with white chocolate chips and ice cream cookie dough).  Ryan had no reservations about eating it and wanted another sandwich at lunch.  They haven't spontaneously cleaned the kitchen yet but I'm still hoping that'll come with more practice but I'm not holding my breath.

Tomorrow night is our Date Night so no special cooking.  The kids' typical dinner during our date night is box mac and cheese and carrots but I'm thinking that won't suffice after this week... which is a very good thing.  One thing I've noticed, I'm actually consistently cooking with 'real' foods!  The only thing that I can think of off the top of my head that was in a box was the pasta.  That may seem silly to some but it feels really good!  I often settle for a bag with pre-mixed, pre-sauced, pre-salted meals due to time constraints and to avoid having food spoil before we'd eat it.  It's worth it and more fun now that I have some company in the kitchen and a family really appreciating the food served, whether they are thrilled with the meal or not.

Next up (maybe on Sunday): Sweet Indian Chicken with Rice and Spinach Salad.  Hopefully we'll end this week on a high note.  Keeping my fingers crossed!