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:
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
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 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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The kiddos were very happy with their lunch today of turkey quesadillas with veggie straws and apples. I didn’t have to go to campus today, so I got to make my favorite lunch at home: anything fried with an egg and tortilla.
It’s quite simple. You start with some chopped up veggies, which you throw into a hot cast iron pan in a little oil. I used cauliflower leaves and spinach, because that’s what I had wilting in the fridge.
Once the veggies start to get soft, crack an egg right into the pan and scramble it around with a fork. Now is a good time to add some shakes of hot sauce and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper.
As the egg starts to set, throw in some fresh grated fancy cheese. Or, just use cheapo pre-shredded grocery story cheese (oh, the shame!) like I did.
Now smush a tortilla onto the whole cheesy mess and press it down with a spatula. After about a minute, with confidence and zest for life, flip that baby over and crisp up the tortilla for a few seconds. If all goes well, most of the egg mixture will stick to the bottom of the tortilla as you flip it over.
Slide the tortilla onto a plate and serve with salsa on top. This open-faced eggadilla is the best meal for one ever. It takes less than 10 minutes, start to finish and it feels like a real treat: part frittata, part quesadilla, all good.
I made a quick, easy and relatively healthy chocolate peanut butter chia pudding for today’s lunch, which also has a cereal mix, fruit + veggie strips cut into bite-sized pieces, apple slices, half a kiwi and some smoky almonds. I get a brief break from lunch packing, because the kids have a four-day weekend for my birthday—no, wait, I mean for Veteran’s Day (which, as luck would have it, coincides with my birthday). We’ll be celebrating with a mini holiday to Disneyland. Even though we live within driving distance to Disneyland, we have never taken the kids to experience this important cultural touchstone of childhood. Disney princesses, here we come!
Easy Chocolate Peanut Butter Chia Pudding
1-1/4 cup milk (I used almond milk, but any milk will work)
2 tablespoons carob powder
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 tablespoon peanut butter
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/4 cup chia seeds
Mix all ingredients together except the chia seeds. I find that carob and cocoa powder are difficult to mix without using a blender or an immersion blender. Once everything is blended together, stir in the chia seeds and let rest in the fridge overnight. The next day, voilá: thick, rich, reasonably healthy chocolate chia pudding.
Today’s Fun Friday Lunch is a sweet and crunchy chia bowl loaded with fruit—frozen mixed berries, bananas, and chopped dates—and topped with homemade granola. I had a little of this chia concoction for my breakfast/late morning, post-critique snack and it was just the pick-me-up I needed. Seriously, chia seeds are the greatest thing ever.
Here’s how to make your own chia bowl:
Sweet and Crunchy Chia Bowl
1 cup vanilla soy, almond or rice milk
4 tablespoons chia seeds
1 large ripe banana, chopped into small chunks
2 medjool dates, diced
1/2 cup mixed berries (frozen is fine)
pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds
Stir together the milk, chia seeds, and fruit in a small container with a lid. Put it in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight. The chia seed mixture with get quite thick, as the chia seeds work their magic. To finish off the chia bowl, top with your favorite crunchy toppings.
Lunch on Friday was a typical end of the week meal comprised of slightly random odds and ends (a clean out the fridge scenario). I had made some teriyaki chicken and veggies for dinner, with coconut rice and black beans; this got packed as is into the lunch box, because I was too lazy to make something new. Earlier that morning, I had the wherewithal to mix up a small batch of blueberry chia pudding. Isn’t that pudding a great purple color?
Blueberry Chia Pudding
1 cup milk of your choice
1/2 cup blueberries
1 tablespoon honey
pinch of cinnamon
4 tablespoons chia seeds
Combine all ingredients except chia seeds in a blender until smooth. Stir in the chia seeds and let the mixture sit in the fridge for several hours, preferably overnight. This pudding was a big hit with the kiddos.