Back to School Bento

The month of August is like biting into a sour patch kid. The thought of getting back into morning routine, kids in bed by 8pm while the sun is still shining, sitting in carpool lane and packing lunches on the regular just puts a sour taste in my mouth! All the while, it’s our duty as parents to encourage our little ones to be on time, expand their minds, get excited about school and take on challenges of a new year with  a positive outlook and embrace new adventures. Believe it or not, though I am a chef and love to cook… the thought of creative school lunches gives me a migraine! First, you have to be aware of peanut-free facilities, the lack of refrigeration, and pack something kids can eat in less than 25 minutes. (in reality it is less than 10 minutes because they are little chatter boxes)  The next challenge is whether or not you have a picky eater or any food allergies/sensitivities. Fortunately, my child will eat almost anything since we have insisted from birth she try new foods daily. However, being a cooking camp instructor and working with children from all ages and backgrounds I have been challenged with the pickiest taste buds and sensitivities. What has consistently worked time and time again is the level of involvement the child had in preparing his/her food.
Researchers at Teachers College, Columbia University, studied how cooking with a child affects the child’s eating habits. In one study, nearly 600 children from kindergarten to sixth grade took part in a nutrition curriculum intended to get them to eat more vegetables and whole grains. Some children, in addition to having lessons about healthful eating, took part in cooking workshops. The researchers found that children who had cooked their own foods were more likely to eat those foods in the cafeteria, and even ask for seconds, than children who had not had the cooking class.
Cooking with kids is rewarding and got me thinking on how we can incorporate cooking into school lunches. Thus the creation of Back to School Bento Boxes!  My daughter loves Chipotle’s burrito bowls with rice & beans and adds her favorite toppings to it. So, I created the following box combination where kids can actually mix the ingredients, add their sauce and veggies and become more involved in the meal. If studies are correct, they will become more likely to eat new foods, enjoy their lunch and most importantly give a big high five to mom or dad (which makes it all worth it).

Back to School Bento Box 
½ cup of cooked white rice
½ cup of Trader Joes Cuban black beans ( or any organic black bean in the can)
¼ cup of shredded lettuce
¼ cup of cotija cheese, crumbled
½ of avocado, diced
2 TBSP of pineapple or red salsa
¼ cup of steamed chopped broccoli or roasted asparagus
1 hard-boiled egg, sliced
½ cup of diced grilled chicken

For the bento box arrange all the ingredients in small clear containers with a bowl for mixing.  Write a recipe in the box and let your little one choose the combination.  Throw in some grapes or diced strawberries for dessert.  At the end of the day, ask your child what combination they chose and what they would like to see different.  This can become a fun game and gives the child more authority over what they eat and enjoy.

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Summer Steamed…

Here’s my truth: sometimes I just overthink dinner, therefore making it stressful, making it a job and taking the joy out of cooking. In reality, dinner doesn’t have to be complicated; it can be as simple as steamed mussels in a gorgeous white wine broth served with a side of crusty bread and a block of cheese.  I have a lot of friends however that are following the whole thirty, paleo, and auto immune protocol and you may not be allowed wine, cheese, and bread.  Here is a quick fix:  substitute white wine vinegar for the white wine in your broth along with some fresh lemon juice.  Instead of bread roast off some cauliflower and tomatoes and toss in with your mussels after you have steamed.  Now tell me that doesn’t sound good…and the best part is it can be ready and served in less than 30 minutes. Plus, it’s cheap! A bag of mussels is usually no more than $3.00-$5.00 a pound. A three-pound bag is more than enough to feed a family of four.
This simple and delicious dish can be served any time of the year but is one of my preferred weeknight dinners on a hot summer night. It’s fresh, full of flavor,  and yes, my nine-year-old daughter enjoys it just as much as I do.
Trust me, this will become a family favorite on many summer nights. I recommend stopping by the market on your way home, picking up a bag of mussels, and voilà, dinner is served in no time, leaving you more time to enjoy with family. Cheers!
Summer Steamed Mussels with White Wine Sauce
Ingredients
3 pounds  mussels
⅓ cup all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons good olive oil
1 cup chopped shallots (5 to 7 shallots)
1 ½ Tablespoons minced garlic (5 to 6 cloves)
1 ½ cups chopped tomatoes (heirloom, or cherry)
⅓ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 Tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 cup good white wine  (For my whole 30 friends sub in  1/2 cup of white wine vinegar and juice from two lemons)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 Tablespoon Hot Sauce or ½ tsp crushed
red pepper flakes
Lemon for garnish

Directions
To clean the mussels, put them in a large bowl with 2 quarts of water and soak for 20 minutes, or until the mussels disgorge any sand. Drain the mussels, then remove the “beard” from each with your fingers. (The beard is a fibrous tail that you can pull with a pairing knife off of the mussel). If they are dirty, scrub the mussels with a brush under running water. Discard any mussels whose shells aren’t tightly shut or are cracked.
Tip: Another way to tell if the mussel is dead is if it is wide open and will not shut when you apply pressure to the shell.
In a large non-aluminum stockpot, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook for 5 minutes; then add the garlic and cook for 3 more minutes, or until the shallots are translucent. Add the tomatoes, parsley, thyme, wine, salt, and pepper. Add a splash of hot sauce or crushed red pepper flakes (preference Frank’s Red Hot). Bring to a boil.
Add the mussels, stir well, then cover the pot, and cook over medium heat for about 8 minutes, until all the mussels are opened (discard any that do not open.) With the lid on, shake the pot (like if you were popping some Jiffy pop) once or twice while cooking to be sure the mussels don’t burn on the bottom. Pour the mussels and the sauce into a large bowl and serve hot with fresh lemon wedges, a side of crusty bread, (i.e. Ciabatta, French Baguette) and a block of cheese.

Summer is quickly coming to a close so get out of the kitchen and spend some QT with those you love most!

 

Cheers!

 

 

Spring Time = Salad Time

Who is ready for spring?  I think it’s safe to say, we have had our fair share of snow and cold weather this year in the bluegrass, and enough is enough!  Spring is one of the most beautiful times of year in Kentucky.  With horse racing season and the trees and flowers all in bloom. I can hardly wait to get my hands dirty in the garden and plant some kale and fresh salad greens.   Spring just makes me think of lighter fare like salads (to be brutally honest, it also makes me think about pool season on the horizon and how many lbs I need to drop before I slide on the ole bikini.)

When building a salad you need to think taste and texture.  Our tongue and palette is divided into compartments with taste buds specifically targeted to salty, sour, sweet, and spicy.  When I build a salad, I always keep these four flavor components in mind and try to have something to represent each.  Texture is also extremely important. Crunchy, creamy, crisp, smooth, etc. all combined will add to the enjoyment of a well composed salad.

This spring salad will be sure to please all of your taste buds this season with a delightful combination of fennel, orange segments, goat cheese, and almonds.

springtimesalad

Mixed Green Salad with Fennel and Orange Hazelnut Vinaigrette

Salad Ingredients

  • 1 fennel bulb, core removed and sliced thin
  • 2 oranges, 1 peeled and cut into segments, and 1 reserved for juice
  • 1/2 cup of organic raspberries
  • 1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 cups organic mixed greens
  • 4 ounces of goat cheese
  • Toasted almond slices

 

Vinaigrette Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 3/4 cup hazelnut oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Slice the salad ingredients and add to a large bowl.

Chef Tip:  I find it best to fix each individual salad in small bowls or on salad plates to ensure that each serving has an adequate amount of each ingredient.  If you mix it all together in a large bowl you end up digging for all the good stuff at the bottom. 

Combine the remaining vinaigrette ingredients, except the oil, into a medium glass or non reactive bowl.

While whisking, slowly add in the oil in a thin steady stream until the oil is evenly incorporated/emulsified.

Season with salt and pepper, toss with the salad ingredients, and serve!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Binner is a Winner!

I can remember as a kid I would get so excited when my mom would fix breakfast for dinner. Something different from the norm was fun! Not only is it quick and delicious, it’s nutritious, and the kid’s love it!

Let me tell you, between being a mom, a business owner, and a chef;  there are perks and disadvantages. Sometimes  my family gets the short end of the stick when it comes to mom’s home cooking; but this “binner” as my daughter Jayda would say, is so quick and easy to prepare I can still bring a healthy nutritious meal to the table.

My award winning quiche recipe paired with some fresh sliced heirloom tomatoes, crispy fried potatoes and onions, and quick sauteed spinach  has taken breakfast for dinner to new heights.

Quiche can be whatever you want it to be just remember these few basics and then your ingredient combinations are endless.

Quiche

  • 5 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups of cream (or 2 % milk)  For Dairy free substitute with coconut cream! (it’s delicious)
  • 1 LB of crisp cooked uncured bacon slices (roughly chopped)
  • 1/2 cup of shredded melting cheese (Gouda, Gruyere, Jarlsberg, Cheddar)
  • 1/2 of one onion diced
  • 1/2 of a  green bell pepper diced
  • 1 bunch of fresh thyme chopped (de-stemmed)
  •  Salt and Pepper (heavy pinch of both -1 tsp-ish)
  • Pinch of Celery Seed

Mix five eggs with 1  1/2 cups of milk (or cream). Use a pre-made pie crust dough or make your own for a 9’inch pie plate. The rest is up to you…..bake for about 40-45 minutes in a 400 degree oven. It really is that simple. Tonight I topped my unbaked pie shell with crisp uncured bacon, shredded smoked Gouda cheese, diced onions, diced green bell pepper, fresh thyme, salt and pepper, and celery seed. In a separate bowl whisk eggs and milk and pour over the dry ingredients in the pie shell. Make sure to season with salt and pepper. Carefully place in the oven and bake for around 40 minutes or until knife inserted comes out clean.

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Fried Potatoes in Coconut Oil with Caramelized Onions

Cut one onion into slices and heat about 1/2 cup of coconut oil on high. Add the onions, 3 TBSP of salt, and 2 TBSP of black pepper, add about 3 pounds of potatoes which you also cut into slices, stir occasionally to keep potatoes from sticking and allow ingredients to caramelize, brown, and crisp up. At the end add a dash of hot sauce or fresh dill and serve.

Voila!

fried potatoes

Game Thyme!

February surprisingly is full of food!   With mardi gras, fat Tuesday, super bowl, Valentine’s Day, and basketball season you are sure to be fumbling through recipes for a go-to winning dish.   Superbowl is undoubtedly known for four main food categories…Pizza, Wings, Chili and Chips & Dips. With this year’s big game falling so close to Mardis Gras, why not combine the two and kick your pre-game party up a notch.   With a  hot creole crab dip and a pot of  chicken & andouille sausage gumbo, you are sure to set the tone for a classic New Orleans style spread.

 

Hot Creole Crab Dip

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Ingredients
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 small onion chopped
  • 1/2 green bell pepper chopped
  • 1/2 red or orange bell pepper chopped
  • 1 stalk of celery chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves minced
  • 1 lb lump crab meat
  • 2 8 oz packages of cream cheese
  • 1 cup of mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese or for spicier dip use pepper jack
  • 1 bunch green onions minced
  • 1 jar of marinated artichokes chopped (optional)
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp of Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 lemon juiced
  • 1-2 Tbsp hot sauce (franks or tobacco)
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tbsp creole all purpose seasoning (Paul proud homes or tony chichirri)
  • Salt and black pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees or on a low broil.

Heat the butter over a medium-high heat in a saucepan until it bubbles and starts to foam. Cook the onions, peppers, celery, and garlic until all the veggies are soft and beginning to brown.

In a separate microwave-safe dish, heat the cream cheese on medium heat for 1-2 minutes or until soft. Then stir until the cheese is creamy and smooth. ( note, if cream cheese is not soft enough it will be difficult to mix into the dip evenly)hile the vegetables are cooking, mix mayonnaise and rest of ingredient list into a medium bowl.

While the vegetables are cooking, mix mayonnaise and rest of ingredients with the exception of the crab meat into a medium bowl and blend well.

Now add cooked veggies and crab meat and gently mix until evenly distributed.

Place in an oven safe casserole dish. Place in a preheated 350-degree oven for 30 minutes or until top is golden brown.

Serve this dip with vegetables, toasted pita chips, or my favorite crusty sliced baguette slices. Enjoy!

 

 

Chicken & Andouille Sausage Gumbo

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Ingredients

  • 4 strips of bacon
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup canola oil
  • 1 whole chicken roasted
  • 2 cups chopped onions
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 3 cloves chopped garlic
  • 2 TBSP Cajun Seasonings
  • 1 cup chopped bell peppers
  • 3 bay leaves
  • ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 TBSP Salt & Pepper
  • ½ cup chopped green onions
  • 3 TBSP chopped parsley leaves
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 TBSP File Powder (optional)
  • 8 Cups of chicken stock
  • Cooked White Rice
  • Hot Sauce

Directions

Season the whole chicken with salt, pepper, and olive oil and roast in the oven for 30-45 minutes at 350 degrees or until the internal temperature reaches 164 at the thickest part of the thigh.  Set aside, let cool, and pull the meat off the bone.  

Chef’s tip: You can reserve and freeze the carcass to make homemade chicken stock at a later date.

In a large enameled cast-iron Dutch oven or large pot, cook the andouille sausage until browned and then remove to a paper towel and set aside. Next heat the strips of bacon on medium-high until crispy and bacon fat has rendered. Remove the bacon.  

To make the roux: Add ¼ cup of canola oil to the bacon drippings and ½ cup of all-purpose flour and continue to stir on a medium to medium-high heat until a dark copper or penny color roux has formed.  (Approximately 30- 45 minutes)   

Add the onions, garlic, celery, and bell peppers to the roux and cook, stirring, until wilted, 4-5 minutes.  Add the reserved sausage, salt, cayenne, bay leaves, cajun seasonings, and thyme sprigs and cook for another 2 minutes. Stirring slowly add the chicken stock, and cook, stirring, until well combined.  Bring this mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low uncovered and stirring occasionally for 1 hour

Add the reserved pulled chicken to the pot and simmer for another ½ hour, skimming off any fat that rises to the surface.   

Remove the pot from the heat.  Using a slotted spoon, remove and discard the bay leaves.

Spoon the cooked rice into the bottom of deep bowls or large cups and ladle the gumbo on top. Garnish with chopped parsley and green onions.  Serve with some hot sauce on the side.   

White Rice

Ingredients

  • 2 cups long grain white rice
  • 4 cups water, chicken stock, or canned low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 bay leaf

In a 2-quart saucepan, combine the rice, water, butter, salt, and bay leaf and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until all the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let sit, covered and undisturbed, for 5 minutes.

Uncover and fluff the rice with a fork. Discard the bay leaf and serve.

Yield: 6 cups

Gumbo 1

 

Snow Day Proper…

When you go from this… IMG_0678

to this…IMG_0709

 

in less than 24 hours you have either prepared with the proper provisions (say that five times fast)  for the snowpocalypse of 2016 or you’re wishing you had.

Life is such a beautiful hot mess!  My entryway looks like it’s been attacked by an army of tiny wood elves with their snow laden boots and my heart is just full.   With neighbors and friends and children enjoying life together I can’t help but stop and thank God for a time such as this.   The time to check out from the world and enjoy peace within the comforts  of home with people you love.   Unfortunately, this is all too rare and a complete eye-opener when snowmageddon stops time and you realize life is so refreshing.

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So what’s on the menu?  Start with an assortment of cheeses, followed with a bowl of chili, a warm fire, and a glass of bourbon.

Chili is the best go-to dish because it’s so flexible.  You can go traditional, exotic, red or white, meatless, beanless, the options are endless.  Often times you have most of the ingredients to make a proper chili sitting right there in your pantry.   This version combines crushed or whole tomatoes with beef broth, grass fed ground beef, black beans and white kidney beans combined with the heat from roasted hatch chilis, lime, and fire roasted peppers. Oh, and did I mention I added bloody mary mix? (Genious right?)

One pot cooking gives you freedom in the kitchen where you aren’t a slave to the stove but the longer it simmers the more the flavors are allowed to marry together.   This batch is keeping me warm and cozy and the view from inside ain’t ( yes I know this isn’t a word but it slips) that bad either.

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Bloody Mary Hatch Chili

  • 1 large onion diced (white, red, or Spanish)
  • 2 celery stalks diced
  • 2 carrots diced
  • 3 garlic cloves minced
  • 2 Red bell peppers diced
  • 2 TBSP coconut oil
  • 1 lime
  • 2 lbs  ground beef (100% grass fed preferred)
  • 1 16 oz can of white kidney beans
  • 1 16 oz can of black beans
  • 1 cup beef or chicken broth
  • 1 32 oz can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 jar of roasted hatch chili salsa
  • 1 TBSP chili powder
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 TBSP Tomato Paste
  • 1 tsp chipotle powder
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1-2 cups bloody mary mix
  • 1/2 bunch of cilantro

In an 8 quart stock pot or dutch oven heat 2 TBSP of coconut water on a medium to high heat.  Add mirepoix of onions, carrots, and celery and saute for 3-4 minutes.  Add bell peppers and garlic and saute for another 3 minutes.  Remove sauteed vegetables and set aside and return the pot to the high heat.  Add the ground beef and sear for roughly 10 minutes on medium high heat.  Once the beef is cooked you can add the sauteed vegetables (please note,  if you are not using a grass fed beef product you may need to strain the ground beef from fat before you add the vegetables back in #yougetwhatyoupayfor)

Add in the white kidney beans, black beans, crushed tomatoes, beef broth, hatch chili salsa, and tomato paste.  Toss in the bay leaves, spices, bloody mary mix, and season with a generous portion of salt and pepper. Let simmer to perfection for another 35 minutes -2 hours while you enjoy the hot mess that is life.

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Once you are ready to enjoy.  Take time for the garnish with cilantro, fresh lime, shredded cheese, and trader joes green dragon hot sauce.  (if you haven’t tried it you need to)

Sit back and savour the view.

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