Trying New Food and Instant Feedback

On November 28, 2011, in Family, Food, by Chris Baccus
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This is definitely a vote for Yucky

There is pretty simple voting system when it comes to trying new food in our house.  Our identical twin boys Oscar and Theo do their best Siskel & Ebert impressions. Instead of a dull thumbs up or thumbs down they add their own twist.  Basically there are three votes:

Yummy: Thumbs up.

Yucky: Thumbs down.

Kinda Yummy, Kinda Yucky: One thumb up and the other thumb down. This one can mean several things. They like a flavor in the food, but not all the flavors. Or they like all the flavors but not the texture.

The above image of Theo came one afternoon after trying some arugula. We have a tradition you have to try something new when we parents have a food item the boys haven’t tried yet or tried awhile ago and we are hoping opinion has shifted to the Yummy status.

And in case you’re wondering, identical twins do not have identical tastes. The boys do like different things so we may get a Yummy from Theo and a Yucky from Oscar; though, arugula was an unanimous Yucky.

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The Sorry State of the “Kids Menu”

On November 28, 2011, in Family, Food, by Chris Baccus
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We spent the Thanksgiving holiday in San Antonio. It’s a great city to visit if you have children. Thanksgiving Day we ventured to The Alamo in the morning and later went to Sea World, since they opened late that day at noon.  The next day we walked along the city’s River Walk and later did a movie – Hugo, which we all highly recommend.

One of the challenges of traveling with kids is food.  Our boys don’t eat hamburgers, hotdogs, chicken tenders or macaroni and cheese. This pretty much eliminates 95% of all kids menu options. We are often left with grilled cheese, cheese pizza, or spaghetti. I’ll admit the issue here falls on us as parents since we don’t really push a lot of meat in the boys’ diets.  We also tend to focus more on fruits and vegetables at home, something that is nearly non-existent on most kid menus.  Often the only side is french fries.  Granted the boys love this, but we are none too thrilled.

We had to get particularly inventive on the River Walk as we decided to eat at a Texas bistro restaurant that was recommend to us. The kids menu had three options: chicken tenders, coconut shrimp, and a fish fillet. The good news is they offered grilled vegetables with one of the choices, but our boys wouldn’t do any of the three choices.  So my wife suggested a hamburger, minus everything but the cheese.

The typical waiter response ensued.  Eyes rolling and the person telling us “we’ll have to charge you for a normal hamburger meal.” I’m sure the waiter expected some other response, but honestly this was not about cost; it was about finding something our kids would eat. So we ordered the burger-less burger.

I’m not insulted by being charged for a burger, even if it was just cheese and bread; rather, it’s the attitude so many have with parents like us not satisfied with the limited options restaurants have for children.  And please do not read this as a complaint against the waiter.  It was a pretty typical response by several restaurants we’ve been to.

Funny, but the best option we have found for the kids is California Pizza Kitchen who at least offers a few more options and even has a bowl of sliced grapes and pineapples as a side option.

What’s your experience as a parent with restaurant kids menus?  Are there some places you recommend that give more options and offer decent sides, beyond the typical french fries? Or do you bring your own veggies or additions to supplement poor kids meals?

 

Bistro Macaroni Gratin

On November 28, 2011, in Recipes, by Chris Baccus
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A couple weeks back I made Provencale Beef Stew from a French Bistro Cooking course I took over 15 years ago. There is a part two to this recipe.  The stew makes a flavorful broth that is used to make a macaroni gratin dish. I have never made the gratin without the two cups of stew broth from the other recipe. I suppose you can make this gratin with another beef stew broth, just make sure you strain the broth so you don’t mix in any vegetables or other ingredients; though, I suppose that wouldn’t be a terrible thing to have happen.

La Macaronade
(Macaroni Gratin)

2 lbs.    elbow macaroni
2 cups  liquid reserved from stew*
2 cups  grated parmesan cheese

Preheat the broiler.  Bring a large pot of water to a hard boil. Add the pasta and cook until tender.  Drain.  Spoon half the noodles into two 2-quart gratin dishes.  Moisten with the liquid.  Sprinkle with half the cheese.  Add the remaining noodles, liquid and cheese.  Place under the broiler and broil just until the cheese is lightly browned and sizzling.

*see Provencale Beef Stew recipe.  Or use liquid from a stew.

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Parsnip and Sweet Potato Latkes

On November 22, 2011, in Recipes, by Chris Baccus
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I love latkes and with a refrigerator full of sweet potatoes I needed to find something new to do so I went to my favorite food blog – {Custom Made} Life. I had everything I needed, minus a parsnip to make the latkes recipe.

The only time consuming part here is shredding the sweet potatoes and parsnip. I reduced the recipe by half but found that I still needed the same amount of wheat flour, baking powder, salt, pepper and egg to have enough consistency to get the shredded vegetables to form a pancake.  I used half an onion, 2 sweet potatoes and 1 parsnip. This made 5 large latkes, plenty for Stephanie and me leaving some for lunch the following day.  The boys would probably eat this but they were already fed and tired when I arrived late from work.

You can serve this as a vegetarian meal with a bed of arugula salad and a light balsamic dressing with a couple latkes per person.  Tonight I went with some grass-fed steaks and fresh green beans.

Full Recipe: Parsnip + Sweet Potato Latkes

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Sweet Potato and Chickpea Tagine

On November 20, 2011, in Recipes, by Chris Baccus
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I missed the past couple weeks of going to the Farmer’s Market, but fortunately White Rock’s market was open last Saturday.  There was a great selection of vegetables available. I walked away with sweet potatoes, kale, arugula, red potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, and the most beautiful yellow zucchini I’ve seen this year.

With only a few days this week to cook, I probably over bought. Fortunately, I found some new options after doing a few Google searches on zucchini and sweet potatoes.  One of the finds is this Sweet Potato and Chickpea Tagine.

A Tagine is a clay dish that slowly cooks and insulates with steam rising out the top. I don’t have a Tagine so I just used my stock pot and it was fine. I’m not sure the flavor would’ve changed that much, but maybe the Tagine fans can prove me wrong.

Full Recipe at: Le Delicieux – Sweet Potato and Chickpea Tagine


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Pizza Doesn’t Grow on Trees

On November 16, 2011, in Family, Food, by Chris Baccus
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California Candy Kitchen

Oscar and Theo were recently discussing what kind of work they’d like to be doing when they grew older.  One of their more inventive ideas is to open a new dinning establishment built to cater to the dream diet of the 5 year old consumer.  Their favorite place to eat, I’m sad to say, is California Pizza Kitchen.  To better serve their personal tastes, they plan to open California Candy Kitchen.  When I asked what that is, they told me a restaurant that serves a large variety of candy and cheese pizza!

I tell this story because it’s adorable, but I also share it because it’s about as ridiculous as news today announcing the Department of Agriculture has gotten Congress to agree to categorize pizza as a vegetable. Fortunately none of this is finalized to date and hopefully some extensive media coverage, including the NY Times, will impact this absurd recommendation. All of this is a subversive reaction by the food industry lobbyists to impact the trend toward healthier school lunch programs.

Shows like Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution have pushed this conversation into the national agenda and industry is finding ways to re-categorize their products so as not to impact profits.

In our household, pizza is not a vegetable. It is simply a main course we eat when a meal has turned out inedible (aka a bad recipe) or as a special treat for the family.  I’m still working on the boys liking Il Cane Rosso or Dough as a preferred option over California Pizza Kitchen. Until that happens, they will continue to prepare for a legal battle with CPK’s corporate lawyers.

Provencale Beef Stew

On November 14, 2011, in Recipes, by Chris Baccus
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In 1993 I took a French Bistro Cooking class that was taught by one of the chefs from The Heathman Restaurant & Bar.  It was my first cooking class that led to many other classes that summer.  Oddly, the thing I remember most about this particular class was my “helping” with cleanup and rinsing a Heinkel chef knife and placing it in the dishwasher. The instructor freaked out on me and scolded me for putting a fine kitchen knife in the dishwasher. She was right, but as a 21 year old guy whose parents idea of a quality knife was a Ginsu knife set, I had no idea.

 

Fortunately, I walked away that evening with a quality beef stew recipe that also serves as the foundation for a great macaroni gratin dish too (more on that recipe tomorrow.)

 

Daube De Boeuf A La Provencale (Provencale Beef Stew)
Serves 6-8

3 lbs. stew meat (beef round or chuck)

Marinade:
4 carrots, peeled and cut into thick ‘half moons’
3 onions, coarsely chopped
6 garlic cloves, peeled
1 rib celery, thickly sliced
4 sprigs fresh parsley
3 bay leaves
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme, or 1 tsp. dried
1/3 cup brandy
1 bottle robust red wine (Cote du Provence, Cote du Rhone, Minervoise or Languedoc)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. whole black peppercorns
2 whole cloves

3 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. mushrooms
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
grated zest and juice of 1 orange
salt and pepper

The day before serving the stew, in a large non reactive bowl, combine the marinade ingredients.  The peppercorns and cloves may be tied in a cheesecloth to remove before serving, if desired.  Toss well.  Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours, stirring occasionally.

Drain and reserve the liquid from the meat and vegetables.  Remove the meat from the vegetables.  Transfer the liquid and the vegetables (and the cheesecloth, if using) to a large non reactive casserole.  In a large skillet, melt the butter and olive oil over high heat.  When foam begins to subside, add half the meat.  Sauté, tossing, until browned all over, about  5 minutes.  with a slotted spoon, transfer the meat to the liquid and vegetables in the casserole.  Repeat with the remaining beef.

Stir the tomato paste into the casserole.  bring to a simmer over medium heat.  Reduce the heat to very low and simmer, skimming occasionally, until the meat is very tender, about 3 hours.  While the meat is cooking, in the same skillet in which the meat was browned, add the mushrooms and sauté over high heat until lightly browned, about 5 minutes; set aside.  When the meat is tender, (discard the cheesecloth, if using) stir in mushrooms, orange zest and juice, and salt and pepper to taste.

The recipe can be prepared 2 to 3 days in advance and refrigerated.  Reheat before serving.

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Udon Noodles with Kale and Shitake Mushrooms

On November 13, 2011, in Recipes, by Chris Baccus
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A simple noodle dish for a quick meal is something you should have in your home cooking back pocket. This dish takes about 10 minutes total time.  You can do all the vegetable preparation and cooking while the udon noodles cook.

Udon Noodles with Kale and Shitake Mushrooms
Serves 4

1 package of udon noodles
4 oz. shitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 bunch kale, coarsley chopped
1 onion, half-moon thin slices
2 1/2 cups water
3 garlic cloves, finely diced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, finely diced
2 tablespoons peanut oil
2 tablespoons miso
2 tablespoons mirin
2 teaspoons soy sauce
thinly sliced green onion to garnish

Cook udon noodles according to package. I use dry udon noodles and they take about 10 minutes to prepare. You can use fresh udon noodles too. They can be found in your refrigerated section.

While the noodles cook, cook the the onions and mushrooms in the peanut oil on medium heat for about 5 minutes stirring often until mushrooms are soft and onions are translucent. Add garlic and ginger and cook for 2 minutes.  Add kale and cook for another 2 minutes until kale starts to soften.

Remove vegetables from pan. Pour in water, miso, mirin, and soy sauce and whisk together. Add vegetables back to pan and keep on low heat.

Drain noodles and rinse with cold water. Add noodles to vegetable broth mixture and cook for about 2 minutes on medium heat.

Serve in bowls and add sliced green onions to top.

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My favorite way to cook filet mignon at home is to get a bit adventerous and light some cognac on fire, watch my wife’s head nod in disgust and listen to my kids say “daddy is burning the kitchen.”  Oh well, that’s what home insurance is for, right?  If you are going to catch your home on fire, and let’s hope I never do, doing it by cooking Steak Diane is a decadent way to do it.

Fortunately, tonight we all survived.

I downloaded the Food & Wine iPad application a few months back and as part of the download received a free issue (additional issues are $1.99 – a deal compared to newsstand prices.)  In the free issue is a recipe from Emeril Lagasse for his version of Steak Diane.  I decided to give it a try.

The recipe is fairly easy to make and takes about 15 minutes which makes it an excellent gourmet choice for a work night.  I accompanied it with some mashed red potatoes and… can yellow corn. Yes from a can… This is one of the rare moments I use canned vegetables, but I had picked up some canned corn from Trader Joe’s on a recent visit to St Louis (Dallas is supposedly getting them soon.)  The canned corn from Trader Joe’s is like no other I’ve had. It is sweet and tastes nothing like other canned vegetables.  Trust me.

Back to the Steak Diane.

This recipe was good though it lacked the richness of another version I make. It doesn’t mean this recipe is bad, in fact it’s quite good and with the addition of a veal demi glace, I used More Than Gourmet’s version at $3.99 a 1.5 oz size from Whole Foods, it made a flavorful, complex sauce.  The sauce is the star here, but using great cuts of meat and quality mushrooms matter too.

I’m just always suspicious of celebrity chef recipes in magazines or on cooking shows. I highly doubt they give their real recipe. Instead what we get is a slightly modified version that lacks the depth of the chef’s true approach to the dish.  So here is Emeril’s magazine published take on Steak Diane.  It is worth your time and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. We sure did, especially minus any kitchen fire.

Full recipe: Food & Wine Steak Diane Recipe

Off to BlogWorld 2011

On November 2, 2011, in Family, by Chris Baccus
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I’m off to BlogWorld L.A. 2011 to learn from the blogging community.  It’s a great event.  Last year was my first visit and I had a great time learning from other bloggers, marketing/social consultants, and corporate PR/marketing/social media types.  There is  a wide variety of topics discussed and I’m sure I’ll takeaway a lot of lessons and insights I can use both professionally and as a casual blogger.

Part of my time at BlogWorld will include being part of a panel discussion titled “Monetizing Your Parent Blog” that’s part of the Type A Parent Track.  I’ll be joining Stefania P. Butler of Clever Girls Collective Inc, Sarah Pinnix of High Country Mom Squad, and Adam Keats of Weber Shandwick.

It should be a great conversation and if you are at the event please stop by Room 515B between 1:45-2:45pm on Friday November 5.

More info here: http://www.blogworldexpo.com/2011-la/conference/sessions/monetizing-your-parent-blog/

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