What’s in My Crock-Pot?

ramen soup broth with shitakes, cabbage, garlic and ginger
ramen soup broth with shitakes, cabbage, garlic and ginger
ramen soup broth with shitakes, cabbage, garlic and ginger

If you get home from work at 6:3opm, it’s a given that the kids will be ravenous. That means dinner needs to made FAST. The solution: Crock-Pot Cheaterpants Ramen Noodle Soup. This is my totally inauthentic version of ramen noodle soup. Real ramen noodle soup is made with glorious broth in which chicken, beef or pork bones have been simmered with secret aromatic spices for a gazillion hours. My Crock-Pot Cheaterpants Ramen Noodle Soup is made with this stuff:

ramen noodle soup broth ingredients
ramen noodle soup broth ingredients

I love Better Than Bouillon Roasted Chicken Base, because you always need chicken broth but you don’t always have a chicken carcass hanging out in the fridge. Dried shitake mushrooms and soy sauce will add some serious umami to the broth. Did I just same “umami”? Damn straight I did. Ramen noodle soup has gotta have umami. A few shakes of toasted sesame oil before serving the soup will add richness and will approximate some of the glistening fattiness you’d get with a good meat stock. Did I just say “glistening fattiness”?

Crock-Pot Cheaterpants Ramen Noodle Soup
Soup Broth
  • 8 cups water
  • 7 teaspoons chicken base or cubes of bouillon
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • crushed garlic, lots
  • minced or grated ginger, lots
  • big handful of rinsed dried shitake mushrooms
  • about a cup of shredded cabbage (optional)

Ramen Noodle Soup Add-ins
  • boiled ramen noodles
  • sliced spinach, kale or bok choy
  • sliced scallions
  • shredded carrots
  • sliced sugar snap or snow peas
  • wakame seaweed, soaked and rinsed
  • some sort of protein: tofu cubes, edamame, thinly sliced pork roast, grilled chicken, etc.
  • fried eggs or not-too hard boiled eggs
  • white or yellow miso to taste
  • roasted sesame oil
  • Sriracha

Throw your broth ingredients into the Crock-Pot. Cook on low all day or on high for 3–4 hours. When you are ready to serve the soup, start a pot of water to boil the ramen noodles. Slice up your veggies and throw them into the Crock-Pot; they will get heated through, but will still be nice and crisp. If you want to make miso ramen, add in a few tablespoons of miso paste (go easy, as miso is very salty) to the broth and stir it in well. If you’re feeling ambitious, quickly fry some eggs (I like sunny side up with nice, runny yolks). When the noodles are boiled, drain and put a nice pile of noodles in the serving bowls. Place your protein of choice on top of the noodles. Spoon on the warm broth, slide your fried eggs on top and shake on a little sesame oil and Sriracha if you like some heat. If you work fast, dinner will be on the table in 15 minutes and you’ll feel like a ramen rock star.

What’s in my Crock-Pot?

St. Paddy's Day Crockpot: corned beef and herbs
St. Paddy's Day Crockpot: corned beef and herbs
St. Paddy’s Day Crock-Pot: corned beef and herbs

Top o’ the mornin’ to ya. It’s St. Paddy’s Day, so naturally my Crock-Pot has a gorgeous hunk o’ corned beef brisket in it. In about 8 or 9 hours, it should be cooked to perfection. I think I might do something radical for dinner: serve the corned beef with roasted veggies (cauliflower, sweet potatoes and carrots), sautéed greens (kale and spinach, instead of cabbage), and mashed potatoes (perhaps with some parmesan and a teensy bit of yogurt for tartness). It’s not exactly traditional, but I’m not super crazy about the boiled veggie part of boiled dinner. There I said it. Sorry, Mom.

Fancy Oatmeal Cakes: Best Use for Leftover Oatmeal

oatmeal cakes with yogurt, berries and maple syrup
a healthy breakfast: oatmeal with bananas and strawberries
a healthy breakfast: oatmeal with bananas and strawberries

Do you ever make a big batch of oatmeal and then end up with leftovers? I know that I always seem to overestimate how much oatmeal everyone is going to eat on Saturday morning. Then I end up with a container of congealed, leftover oatmeal. What you do with this thick mass of oatmeal? Turn it into fancy oatmeal cakes, of course. This recipe is so easy that it’s not even really a recipe.

Step One. Start heating up your trusty cast iron pan and take out your container of cold oatmeal.

Step Two. Mix in a little dry pancake mix (or flour) and one or two eggs, depending on how much leftover oatmeal you have. My leftover oatmeal is usually pre-sweetened and full of fruit. If your oatmeal is plain, you can add some sweetener and dried or fresh fruit. Maybe a little cinnamon too. Stir it up with a fork. If the mixture seems too thick and gloopy to work with, add a little milk.

Step Three. Melt some butter or coconut oil in the hot pan. Drop spoonfuls of the oatmeal mix into the pan. Fry over medium low heat until nice and brown. Then flip the cakes and brown the other side.

oatmeal cakes cooking in butter
oatmeal cakes cooking in butter
beautifully browned oatmeal cakes
beautifully browned oatmeal cakes

Step Four. Add some fancy toppings and serve up the oatmeal cakes. I love these with some plain yogurt, berries, and maple syrup. The kids insist on a little whipped cream as well. This breakfast is so good that I often think I should cook up a batch of oatmeal just so I can let it cool and turn it into these delicious little cakes.

oatmeal cakes with yogurt, berries and maple syrup
oatmeal cakes with yogurt, berries and maple syrup

Happy New Year! First School Lunch of 2016

lunch on 4 Jan 2016: grilled chicken, sourdough bread, kiwi, sugar snap peas, apple slices, cherry tomatoes, and Star Wars gummies
lunch on 4 Jan 2016: grilled chicken, sourdough bread, kiwi, sugar snap peas, apple slices, cherry tomatoes, and Star Wars gummies
lunch on 4 Jan 2016: grilled chicken, sourdough bread, kiwi, sugar snap peas, apple slices, cherry tomatoes, and Star Wars gummies

And just like that, winter break is over, school is in session and it’s 2016. Happy New Year! As is typical for me at the start of a new year, I’m filled with optimism about organizing, cooking, eating healthy, exercising, and basically getting back on track after the long stretch of holiday gluttony that pretty much starts on Halloween and ends on New Year’s Day. Over the weekend, I went to Costco and spent most of Sunday cooking like crazy and organizing my freezer. I marinated a big pile of chicken thighs and then grilled them—I sliced up the leftovers and portioned them out into little freezer bags, because grilled chicken is a great addition to salads, noodles, sandwiches and such.

I also saved a little grilled chicken for the kids’ lunches today. They both ate every last bite, so this was a major lunchbox success. Of course, as I made these lunches, I took a moment to admire them and mentioned to my husband that I wish our lunches looked this good. Better grownup lunches: now there’s a challenge for 2016.

My Favorite Chicken Marinade, no measuring required
  • olive oil, about a tablespoon
  • plain yogurt, about a cup
  • 1 lemon, squeezed
  •  a clove of garlic, crushed
  • honey, a nice squeeze
  • a few shakes of Grill Mates Montreal Steak Seasoning (or salt and pepper)

Combine all ingredients in a gallon-sized freezer bag. Exact proportions are not important: I never measure for this marinade and it always turns out. Throw your chicken (I typically use boneless chicken thighs) in the bag, seal it, and squish the bag a bunch to rub the marinade into the chicken. Marinate the meat for several hours or all day long. This marinade is extremely versatile. You can change the flavor profile by adding different spices such as curry, chili powder, ginger, smoked paprika, etc. It works great with just salt and pepper, but the Montreal Steak Seasoning is especially good. I have a big jar of this stuff because it’s a fantastic rub for anything you want to throw on the grill.

Quesadilla with Egg + Cheese, or: Eggadilla

lunch on 19 Oct 2015: quesadilla with egg, persimmons, applies, kiwi, and pumpkin bar
lunch on 19 Oct 2015: quesadilla with egg, persimmons, applies, kiwi, and pumpkin bar
lunch on 19 Oct 2015: quesadilla with egg, persimmons, applies, kiwi, and pumpkin bar

I love quesadillas with eggs. A little scrambled egg makes the humble quesadilla so much more satisfying. And, it’s easy. Just lightly scramble an egg, pour it in a cast iron pan, sprinkle some cheese and salsa on top, press a tortilla onto this delicious gooey mess, and fold it over to crisp up both sides of the tortilla. Then serve it with some yummies like: persimmon slices, apple slices, half a kiwi and a small piece of pumpkin bar (made with Trader Joe’s delicious pumpkin bar mix).

What’s in My Crock-Pot?

pinto beans in the Crock-pot
pinto beans in the Crock-pot
pinto beans in the Crock-pot

I love cooking beans in the Crock-pot. It couldn’t be easier: wash a pound of dried beans, put them in the pot, cover with about an inch of water (stick your finger in the water to guesstimate), throw in a tablespoon of salt and a bay leaf if you have it, set to low and walk away. Six, eight, ten hours later, the beans will be ready. The longer they cook, the softer they’ll get. I left this pot cooking all day and ended up mashing the beans to make the most delicious “refried” beans ever. Perfect for taco night. Everything you’ve heard about beans is a lie: they don’t need to be soaked and you can add salt at the beginning and they’ll still soften up. The only beans that don’t work well in the Crock-pot are kidney beans, which should always be boiled first due to some toxin thing that can potentially cause major gastrointestinal distress, or so I’ve heard. Black beans, pinto beans, and garbanzo beans all cook up nicely in the slow cooker.

What’s in my Crock-Pot?

bolognese sauce cooking in the Crock-Pot
ground lamb with onions and garlic
ground lamb with onions and garlic
bolognese sauce cooking in the Crock-Pot
bolognese sauce cooking in the Crock-Pot

Today, I’ve got some lamb bolognese sauce—also know less pretentiously as meat sauce—in the Crock-Pot. Here’s how to make it:

Totally Non-Authentic Crock-Pot Bolognese
  • 1 lb. ground meat of your choice
  • 1 medium diced onion
  • minced garlic (as much as you like)
  • 28oz. can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 jar of your favorite pasta sauce
  • splash of milk, half and half, or cream if you’re feeling decadent
  • spices: oregano, basil, crushed red pepper, fresh ground pepper, bay leaves etc.
  • a handful of fresh basil if you have it

Unfortunately, this is not a recipe you can just dump in the slow cooker. You’ve got to brown that meat first, and you might as well cook the onions and garlic with it. When the meat is nicely browned, add a splash of milk or cream and let it cook down a bit. I’m not sure why, but it makes a meat sauce taste really good. Add the browned meat, can of crushed tomatoes, jar of pasta sauce and spices/herbs of your choice. Cook on high if you only have a couple of hours. Cook on low if you plan to leave it for most of the day. Serve it on pasta and freeze the rest. It’s also really great in lasagne. If you’re veggie, you can substitute tempeh, but it’s definitely not as rich.

Smoothie Bowls: They’re Everywhere

lunch on 10 Sept 2015: green smoothie bowl with granola, blueberries and coconut, granola bar, graham fish and apple slices
lunch on 10 Sept 2015: green smoothie bowl with granola, blueberries and coconut, granola bar, graham fish and apple slices

Have you noticed that smoothie bowls have become ubiquitous of late? Everywhere I go, I see acai bowls and pitaya bowls and chia bowls. Try doing a Pinterest search for smoothie bowls and you’ll see all sorts of beautifully styled bowls of fruit, nuts and assorted goodies. For some reason, I’ve never thought to make the kids a smoothie bowl—until last night, that is. I was trying to come up with yet another nice, light, fruit-filled lunch for a hot day. Smoothie bowl to the rescue. I made a simple green smoothie with frozen bananas, frozen pineapple, spinach and vanilla soy milk. I poured it in a bowl, stirred in a tablespoon of chia seeds to ensure that it’s not too runny, and garnished with frozen blueberries, granola and coconut. I hope it’s a hit with the kids. I kind of want one for my lunch, but I’ll probably end up eating carrots, crackers and hummus like I did yesterday.

The Hello Kitty Birthday Cake

Hello Kitty cake decorated with fondant, black licorice, and dark chocolate power berries

After what seemed like a way too brief summer hiatus, Love and Lunch is back for the 2015-16 school year. We finished summer with Lil Fest 2015: a performance of Pinocchio in which Lily played Hickory the Cricket, the annual epic Academy of Dance recital, and my sweet Lily’s 7th birthday. This year, Lily requested a Hello Kitty cake like she had seen on her favorite cooking show: Nerdy Nummies.

strawberry cake batter in the Hello Kitty cake pan
pink velvet cake batter in the Hello Kitty cake pan

I ran out to Michael’s and got this adorable Helly Kitty cake pan. Big brother Iain insisted on a cake mix, because, according to him: “boxed cake mix is best.” I died a little inside when he said that after all my years of making gorgeous cakes from scratch. Oh well. Who am I to argue? Cake mix does make a nice light cake with a perfect crumb. And, it’s easy.

Hello Kitty cake out of the oven
Hello Kitty cake out of the oven

Take a look at that cute cake! I was afraid to decorate it.

Hello Kitty cake decorated with fondant, black licorice, and dark chocolate power berries
Hello Kitty cake decorated with fondant, black licorice, and dark chocolate power berries

I’m not going lie, rolling out that big sheet of white fondant was stressful. The kids wanted to help and they kept rolling and rolling and rolling. When we tried to lift it off the waxed paper, it was totally stuck. No matter. I folded it in half and began again. This time I worked it like pie crust: fast and furious, lifting the edges and continually sprinkling a little powdered sugar underneath the fondant to make sure it wasn’t sticking to the waxed paper. I carefully rolled it around the rolling pin and slowly unrolled it onto the cake. Worked like a charm. For the decorations, I used red fondant for the bow (using the cake pan as a stencil like Ro shows in her video), yellow fondant for the nose (using the pan again), black licorice sliced in half for the whiskers, and a dark chocolate power berry (those delicious little gummy filled dark chocolate balls) cut in half for the eyes. I was absolutely dying of pleasure when I finished it. It’s so adorable. Unfortunately, fondant tastes terrible, so the cake was not the tastiest. But kids don’t care.

birthday drinks
birthday drinks

 

Orange Scented Chia Pudding with Strawberries and a Little Sweet Sandwich

lunch on 4 May 2015: orange scented chia pudding with strawberries, carrots, mixed nuts, and a sweet roll with peanut butter and Nutella
lunch on 4 May 2015: orange scented chia pudding with strawberries, carrots, mixed nuts, and a sweet roll with peanut butter and Nutella
lunch on 4 May 2015: orange scented chia pudding with strawberries, carrots, mixed nuts, and a sweet roll with peanut butter and Nutella

For today’s lunch, I made a super simple chia pudding with two cups of cashew milk, half a cup of chia seeds, 1 tablespoon of agave syrup and the zest or an orange. I put a nice pile of chopped strawberries on the chia pudding, which makes the pudding both tastier and prettier. For sides, I packed some carrot sticks, nuts and a little sweet roll filled with peanut butter and Nutella—a festive lunch for a Monday.

In Praise of Purple Porridge

purple berry porridge with raspberries and milk
purple berry porridge with raspberries and milk
mixed berry purple porridge with raspberries and milk

Several weeks ago, I discovered this recipe for whipped cranberry porridge, and it looked so pretty and delicious I knew I just had to make it. Plus, I love hot cereal for breakfast. Because I didn’t have cranberries and I didn’t have the patience to let the porridge cool before whipping it up, I had to tweak the recipe slightly. Here’s how to make it:

Mixed Berry Purple Porridge
  • 3-1/4 cups water
  • 2 cups frozen mixed berries (I used a blend of strawberries, raspberries, cherries, blueberries, and pomegranate seeds—some sort of “antioxidant blend” from Costco)
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup of sugar
  • 2/3 cup farina (Cream of Wheat)
  • milk of your choice, half and half, or, cream if you’re feeling decadent

In a 4–6 quart pot, combine the water and berries. Bring to a boil and boil for about 10 minutes, or until the berries are soft. Reduce the heat, so it isn’t bubbling like mad. If you want a smooth porridge, use an immersion blender to puree the berries.

Add the salt and sugar. Gradually whisk in the farina. Depending on how long your farina needs to be cooked, let simmer for a few minutes stirring constantly. I used Cream of Wheat, which thickens up very quickly. Taste and add more sugar if desired. Remove the pot from the heat and whisk it vigorously for a few minutes. Whisking will help cool down the porridge and will make it lighter and less dense. Serve with milk on top and a sprinkling of fresh berries if you have them. This is a great weekend breakfast. It serves two kids and two adults in our house, with a little left over.

The porridge will keep for a couple of days in the fridge, but it will get thicker as it cools. To bring it back to a nice consistency, microwave it for about a minute and stir in some milk. Delicious! This is my new favorite breakfast.

How to Make Homemade Granola

homemade granola
homemade granola
homemade granola

After my last lunch post, several people have asked me about how I make granola. I have tried a variety of recipes, because I am crazy about granola. I think yogurt, granola and fruit is the best breakfast/snack/lunch/comfort food ever. Once every few weeks, I make a big batch of granola. I don’t really use a precise recipe—it’s more of a basic formula that can be modified to your taste, mood, and what you’ve got in the pantry.

Homemade Granola
  • 3 to 4 cups rolled oats
  • 3 cups raw nuts and/or seeds, such as: sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pepitas, cashews, almonds, unsweetened shredded coconut, etc.
  • 2 cups dried fruit (optional), such as: raisins, currants, berries, apricots, or dates
  • 1/3–1/2 cup oil, fruity olive oil or coconut oil is especially delicious, but I often use plain old canola
  • 1/3–1/2 cup liquid sweetener, such as: maple syrup or honey
  • 1–2 teaspoons spices, which could include: ginger, cardamon, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, etc. You could also use citrus zest.
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

Preheat your oven to 325˚ F. If your oil is solid at room temperature, heat it up until it is liquid. In a large bowl, mix up your oats, nuts, and spices. Add the oil, sweetener, and vanilla extract to the oat mix and stir with a large spoon or spatula until well incorporated. Dump this bowl of goodness onto a parchment or Silpat lined large sheet pan (you can also use two sheet pans if you don’t have a big one). Stick it in the oven and stir the granola ever 15 minutes to ensure even browning (set a timer—trust me). The granola should take about 45 minutes to brown up nicely. Watch it toward the end, because it goes from golden to overdone in about 5 minutes. Let it cool on the baking sheet and add in your dried fruit at this point. Once it is completely cool, pack the granola into glass jars and it will stay fresh for a month or more, but probably won’t last that long. It’s so delicious, you can give it away as a gift if you add a pretty ribbon and a card.

granola ready for gifting
granola ready for gifting