Mashed Potato Bowls - Dinner @ 226

It all started with a bag of Organic Golden Potatoes. Those things are pretty heavenly, no matter what you do with them. Mash them, roast them, cube them, soup them...whatever. I just made soup a verb. And that, people, is my genius at work.

I'm not a fan of just any potato. Actually, I prefer a spicy sweet potato any day. But, these babies are creamy and velvety, and unlike their boring baking potato brethren.

The misfortune is that this particular THREE POUND BAG of golden potatoes was starting to grow some unsightly little horns. Not a good sign. I thought about how I could use three pounds of potatoes in one meal. I talked it over with myself. I talked it over with the cat. I talked it over with the shaggy haired almost four year old. He's the genius, I guess. Because he was all, "Mama, let's just have mashed potatoes for dinner."

And I was all, "Yes, I'm glad I passed my genius on to you."

The Mashed Potato Bowl was born, and I recommend it be born in your house as well. Even if you don't have a shaggy haired almost four year old genius running around, you can borrow mine if need be. Truth.

Another lame iPhone photo, my apologies. If you look closely, it was clearly my second helping...this is a we're-lucky-we-got-a-picture-at-all situation.

Beckett's Mashed Potato Bowls

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Drop three pounds of washed golden potatoes in plenty of salted COLD water. No need to peel these potatoes. Bring the water to a boil and let it do it's thing.

Make a quick marinade of 1 T maple syrup, 1 T olive oil, 1 T cumin, a pinch of cayenne, 1 tsp liquid smoke (Trader Joe's smoke seasoning or Smoked Paprika also work well), 1 T soy sauce, and a few grinds of black pepper. Crumble a *brick of tempeh into this mixture, stir until coated and let it sit.

While that is happening, clean, de-rib and roughly chop 2 small bunches of lacinato kale (or one big). Spread them in an even layer on two cookie sheet covered with parchment. Quarter one container of **mushrooms and evenly distribute them on the baking sheets. Drizzle the vegetables with 1 T olive oil and some salt and pepper.

Sprinkle the marinated tempeh over the vegetables. Put both baking sheets in the oven. While the kale, mushrooms and tempeh roast, shred some sharp white cheddar into a bowl. You'll need about 1 1/2 cups.

After 20 mins, rotate the baking sheets. While you're rotating, use tongs to toss the contents around.

If your potatoes are done (a fork easily sticks through them), drain them, return them to the pot on the stove. Add a a few knobs of butter, some milk and a little yogurt. I am NOT technical when making mashed potatoes. Add whatever you normally add to your favorite mashed potatoes and get to mashing or beating (if you like them whipped) until they are smooth. Stir in 1/2 cup of chopped green onions and a generous amount of salt and pepper.

At this point, your vegetables/tempeh should have been in the oven for a total of 30 minutes. Remove them and dump them into a serving bowl. Toss a little.

Take the pot of mashed potatoes, serving bowl of vegetables and tempeh, and the shredded cheese to the table. Let everyone make their bowls. In my house, vegetables are mandatory. Maybe your kids are luckier.

*If you've never worked with tempeh, you should give it a shot. It takes a while to figure out what to do with it, but once you find the right combination it's a great source of yummy (lean) protein! Also, if you're a meat eater, use some great bacon without the marinade. Cook separate from vegetables and mix in before serving. The smoky/saltiness of bacon is the flavor this tempeh is trying to imitate.

**I used Baby Bella mushroom because they are my favorite. Use whatever you have and if you only have half a container, it's cool. If you want more mushrooms, use a full pound. Totes a personal preference.

All the typical eccentricities of a genius. No?


The Lentil Soup (that brought all the boys to the yard) - Dinner @ 226

There's nothing that bothers me more than health foods that taste...ummm, healthy.

I like fresh. I like crunchy. I like colorful. But, overly healthy tasting foods, totes not for me. I often associate healthy with bland. And bland is not okay.

I use a big spoon. And a big bowl. I have a big mouth. I like to eat steamy, savory bowls of not-healthy-tasting-soup. Stop. Take a break. Possibly rub my tummy. Then, ladle another serving into my bowl and start again.

I've heard my mom say that she doesn't necessarily enjoy the practice of eating. She eats because she knows she has to. She'll eat a turkey and cheese "roll up", standing at the sink in between drying dishes and unloading the washer. Always something more important than food.

I like to say that eating and preparing food is the center of my universe and everything else has to find a home around it. This bowl of soup is worthy of the spot at the center of my universe. And, it's healthy as can be. What? Dig in.

I apologize that there is only this lame Instagram image to entice you. But don't be fooled by the lack of fancy images...I was too busy wiping broth off my chin.

The Best Lentil Soup

You'll have to forgive the casual nature (and length) of this recipe. I made it up as I went along. Most of it is chatty, so pretend you're in my kitchen. Wait, should I start Vlogging? I kid, I kid.

Start with a nice big heavy pot. Pour in some (a scant 1/4 cup) olive oil and warm over medium heat. Throw in 2 chopped onions, 4 chopped carrots and 4 chopped stalks of celery and a hefty pinch of red pepper flakes. While the vegetables are getting nice and tender, go pick some herbs. I used thyme, oregano, and rosemary, about two stems each. Wash them and tie them together with kitchen twine.

Back to the pot: add 1 bay leaf and a small can of tomato paste. Once the tomato paste gets a little melty and soft, add two heaping tablespoons of cumin. Get everything mixed together and let the spices and tomato paste mingle for a few minutes.

While the mingling is happening, wash one pound of dry brown lentils. If you want to get ahead, wash and chop one bunch of lacinato kale and 1/2 medium to small head of cabbage.

Back to the pot: Add the lentils, the bundle of herbs, 1 box of vegetable broth or the homemade equivalent and two cups of water. Also, add 1 rather large tablespoon of salt and 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper.* Bring the pot to a boil and then turn down to a healthy simmer, partially covered.

Now, while the lentils are cooking, make your toppings. In individual little bowls, (I use the HECK out of these) put chopped fresh parsley, grated Parm Regg, sour cream or yogurt, chopped red onion and anything else you think sounds good on soup. The thing that took this soup from good to "I Want This Every Night" for me; was that I had 1 pound of mushrooms in my fridge. I sliced them and sauteed them in a little butter and a little olive oil and sprinkled them with rosemary and salt. We each had heaping spoonfuls of those mushrooms on our soup. I suggest you do the same.

Back to the pot: At this point, about 35 minutes should have passed and you should have tender-ish lentils. Taste them. If you don't, keep cooking. If you do, add the cabbage and the kale and 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and make sure everything is submerged. Maintain a healthy simmer and let it go for another 15-20 minutes. The cabbage should not be stiff, but it should have a subtle crunchy bite.

At this point, it sort of gets personal. Don't get nervous. I'm not going to lean in for a kiss. I am going to ask you to make the call from here on out. If you think the broth looks thick enough and you like the lentil/vegetable to broth ratio; turn the burner off, sister! If you think you want a thicker broth and less of it, keep it boiling till you see something you like. If it got too thick, add a cup of water or vegetable broth.

Just know, it's pretty hard to screw this up. So, be patient, and wait till it feels right. Wait, are we going to kiss?

Taste before serving, and add salt or pepper to taste. Don't be shy with the salt. When it come to soup, it really makes a difference. And, you're already being a bajillion times healthier than buying canned soup that is packed with more sodium than you have in your kitchen pantry.

Serve the soup with a warm crusty multigrain bread and a green salad. And extra napkins.

*If I would have had them, I might have added a can of diced tomatoes or a couple fresh ones at this point and I think it would have been great. I didn't, but that doesn't mean you can't!

I should just start calling him The Crumb. I rarely take a picture of him without an assortment of food debris on his face.

Exhausted, after her first few weeks of Kindergarten, a quiet Friday movie night was just what we all needed.


A Letter From a Mother-in-Denial

Dear Jason,

I sort of miss date nights. But, don't worry...life will be so much easier when they're teenagers.



Looking Back...

We don't spend much time looking back. We have hours of family videos from births and Christmases that I imagine won't get unearthed until the Littles are Bigs and need some good old fashion humiliation. There are wedding albums and hospital bracelets thrown into various boxes of important unimportance. Friends and family often note how much he's changed and how fast she's grown. Jason and I are often befuddled because to us, they are our constant companions. Constant and steady. I often fear if I spend too much time looking back I may miss something that is happening Right Now. And we are Right Now people. (Cue Van Halen). So, with eyes forward, we step into our present.

In fact, looking too far ahead gives me chills of anxiety also. People tell you these years are fleeting and you don't believe them. Because your days are jammed tight with crib assembly, diaper changing, mouth wiping, hand washing, car seat fastening, story reading, and stern voice-using. You are not sitting on a picnic blanket admiring the passing moments, you are in that moment. An active member. A participating party.

Until you realize that you have too many valuable memories stored on your computer, and to be safe you should put them on a backup hard drive. And before you know it, a year passes before your eyes.

And I hadn't really realized anything had changed. Some of them seem like yesterday and others like 100 years ago. Shoes all grown out of and given away and hair all grown out. More sturdy on their feet and more complex in their behavior. More precise in their movement and more aware of everything. There they are, one year ago. So very different, but to us, just the same. Our constant companions.

*all photos from May, 2011


Dinner @ 226 - Smoked Salmon Sandwiches

There are nights when I don't feel like cooking. I know, it seems unfathomable from a lady who reads cookbooks like novels and proceeds to have dreams about specialty ingredients. Who pins more recipes and food ideas than any other boards combined. A woman who takes 1/2 an hour in the cooking section of the second hand bookstore, and then pours through her findings like they contain a map to a buried treasure. Who could help it when their findings included this book that I've lusted after for at least 717 years!

This no cook thing only happens once in a very long while, but it does happen.

I had such an evening last week. The irony is that I had just returned from the grocery store with nearly $150 worth of groceries and after stuffing them all in the fridge, I looked around and nothing seemed like it would be worth the effort. I didn't have quite enough time to delve into a complicated curry or get tangled up in hours of slicing and stewing. In fact, I didn't even want to turn the oven on. I wanted a dinner that merely had to be assembled, not cooked.

Dinners of assembly don't have to be boring or tasteless.

*happy and stuffed after two sandwiches*

I have a few of them in my repertoire, but this is a new addition and I promise I will be reaching for it often as the weather gets hotter and the pots and pans and burners look less alluring. It was that good.

*Beckett's creation - no tomatoes, please and "I want two tops!" Apparently, open-faced sandwiches are against his religion.*

I've found that interactive dinners like this Spinach Salad Bar invite the kids to assemble what they like and as a result, dinner is fun for them and they eat more. They get to participate and I can really see the little chefs in their heads deciding what would taste best to them. It's super sweet.

Smoke Salmon Sandwiches - serves 4 with a big salad

Assemble the following on a serving platter:

Small package of smoked salmon pieces (mine was 6 ounces)
2 tomatoes - sliced
1/4 a small red onion - very finely sliced
1/2 English cucumber - thinly sliced
1/4 cup sunflower seeds (we used roasted & unsalted)
a little salt and a pepper grinder for sprinkling
4 Tbs capers
herbed goat cheese (recipe below)

To make the herbed goat cheese combine the following:
4 oz goat cheese (at room temperature to make it easier to mix)
1 Tbs chopped chives
1 Tbs chopped dill
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste (goat cheese is already pretty salty so go easy on the salt, if you add it at all. we didn't)

Serve the sandwich fillings with 8 slices of *dark rye, slightly warmed and have fun creating the best salmon sandwiches ever, without cooking AT ALL! Don't forget the big green salad with a sliced avocado and lemon garlic vinaigrette.

*If you are gluten free - Trader Joe's carries a fairly delicious rye-less rye. Or just substitute your favorite gluten free bread.

*Mama's creation - everything and open-faced.*


Lunch @ 226 - Lettuce Boats

Now, these right here, are something you're going to crave. It's an odd combination that my dad has been enthusiastic about since I can remember. Lettuce + Peanut Butter. And, truthfully, when my dad is enthusiastic about any food, one wants to keep their distance. After all he is the sole creator behind the ever popular American cheese, pickled jalepeno, mayonnaise, and peanut butter sandwich. Go over those ingredients again. You didn't misread it. Are you feeling nauseous? Yes, me too. Being in the kitchen with my dad is like being in the kitchen with an enthusiastic six-year-old. More is always more, there is no such thing as a strange combination and most importantly, peanut butter goes on everything.

The man also developed an effective hangover cure involving two slices of Wonder Bread, globs of mayonnaise, crunchy iceberg lettuce and a Yoohoo to sip on. There's a very scientific explanation of what each component contributes to nursing your morning time blahs. It's with great shame that I admit, I've tried it. It's with even greater shame that I admit, it really does work. Somehow.

But, while I near 30, I am less interested in seeking out hangover remedies and as all of you know, more interested in healthy, satisfying EATS. And, I've found it here.

While I was putting this unlikely combination together, I thought of him. Dipping the butter knife into his beloved jar of Peter Pan and smearing it on a slice of bread. Then, smearing the opposing slice with another glob of an offensive condiment, usually mayonnaise. Always with the same knife. Cracking off a few leaves of crunchy lettuce and smooshing them down on one half. Then anointing the only vegetable in sight with some form of spice, either hot sauce or jalepenos. Without question, it's time to go to his cheese drawer where he unwraps the Kraft American slices and smooths two onto the non-lettuce half. After the cheese, he brings the two dressed slices together and presses down. Walking away from the open jars and crumbs on the counter, he places the sandwich quickly on the nearest plate or paper towel. He sits down to watch a golf tournament or saunters to the back porch to finish the newspaper. In my head, he's in his Sunday jeans and a raunchy t-shirt he's had since we were in grade school. Usually, sock feet.

While what we eat is at the opposite end of the spectrum, our love for food and the enjoyment and experience therein align. Just as I do, he saves the mess for later, because the feast is foremost. The crumbs and jars can wait.

We made these last week and have had them three times since. They're perfect for lunchboxes. Or do as we did, and have a picnic. They are both fun to eat and so much more interesting than their taco/sandwich cousin. The crunchy Romaine is the perfect vessel for creamy peanut butter with a sweet kick. We piled up cubed cucumbers which added crunch and shredded carrots for extra texture. Roasted peanuts for some salty substance and of course, cilantro. Because I'm an addict. Since; I've played around with avocado, bean sprouts, mushrooms, bell peppers, and as it turns out, you really can't screw this up, though the original is still my favorite. I've even swapped out almond butter for the peanut butter. Still delicious. I've left out the soy sauce. Still delicious. I've added cubed tofu. Still delicious. It has all the qualities of take-out in a healthy handheld package.

They're pretty and complex enough to serve as an adult snack but fun and tasty enough that kids will love them too. They're BOATS. What's not to love? I've found I love them nearly as much as I love the freckle on this one's forehead. The only one he has.

Lettuce Boats - serves 4
8 Romaine leaves, washed
2 T Sweet Chili Sauce
A few drops of Sriracha (optional)
1 T soy sauce
1/2 cup Natural Peanut Butter (or any nut butter)
Any Combination of coarsely shredded or finely chopped vegetables. As I mentioned above, carrots and cucumber are my favorite.
1/4 cup chopped roasted and salted peanuts
handful of cilantro

Lay out your lettuce leaves on a clean surface of serving platter. Using a fork, stir together the sweet chili sauce, Sriracha (if using), soy sauce, and peanut butter in a small bowl. It should have a pasty consistency.

Smear the Romaine leaves with the peanut butter mixture. Try to smear the whole length of the leaf because the sauce is the flavor of the snack. Evenly distribute your chopped and shredded vegetables on the leaves. Top with peanuts and cilantro leaves. Serve with fruit.

These keep in the fridge for a few hours if you're making them in advance. Just add the peanuts right before you serve. They tend to sog up in the fridge.

Eat 'em like tacos and ENJOY!


Dinner @ 226 - One Pot Kale and Quinoa Pilaf

This has to be a quick post because I have to go back to hunting down the camera battery that my daughter hid from me. Seriously, she thinks it's a game. And, really I just want to take pictures of the most amazing Moroccan Carrot & Chickpea Stew that I made and share it with you. But, how does she know that? She thinks she's playing a game. A really hilarious fucking game.

The Moroccan Stew needs to be shared. It's good. But, this one right here is good also. I make it once or twice a month. And to appear in repeat performances on my dinner table is to say that you played the part very well.

Incidentally, and completely unrelated, we found ourselves at the mall today. I never go there. It frightens me. Needless to say I had to pick something up at a store that is only located in the mall, with no online counterpart. I didn't know it existed but it does. There are three million trillion and ten reasons why I don't go to the mall. Reed gave me one more today. She strolled past the Abercrombie & Fitch storefront and a giant poster of a shirtless tween caught her eye. She turns back to me, with her little thumb pointed in the direction of the overpriced teen dream mecca and says, "super hot."

What? I looked around to make sure she wasn't talking about a misplaced stove top or fireplace facade for sale. "No, Mom, that boy! He's super hot." We peeled out and made way to our car where I explained to her that she is only FOUR years old. A fact that she had tragically forgotten.

Luckily we are back at our house now which is void of shirtless pictures of any kind. And we can focus on kale and finding camera batteries. Pilaf is a word that sort of turns me off. It's usually rice with some uninteresting steamed vegetables. It is extraordinarily depressing at restaurants, the neglected side dish that the chef threw together with 17 minutes till dinner hour.

Well, I say, rethink pilaf! This stuff, though it carries the name, is anything but boring. It has everything your mouth wants and instead of pilaf, we call it "dinner." Dinner with very few dishes.

One Pot Kale & Quinoa Pilaf - Serves 2-4 (I double it for a main course)
Adapted barely from here

2 cups salted water
1 cup quinoa
1 bunch lacinato kale (cut into strips)
1 lemon, zested and juiced
2 scallions
1 T toasted walnut oil (I've also used good olive oil, different but now worse or better)
3 T toasted pine nuts (I use walnuts because pine nuts are so dang expensive)
1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese (I go back and forth between feta and goat cheese, and use whatever I have in the cheese drawer. Both are delicious in this.)

Bring the water to a boil in a covered pot. Use a big one if you are doubling the recipe. Add the quinoa and turn down the heat to a steady simmer, cover. Simmer the quinoa for 10 minutes, then add the kale and re-cover. Simmer the quinoa and kale for another 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let steam for about 5 more minutes.

In a serving bowl, combine the rest of the ingredient, reserving 1/2 the lemon juice. When the water has been absorbed into the quinoa and the kale is a lively green, dump it into your serving bowl with the waiting ingredients. Mix, and add salt and pepper to taste and the rest of the lemon juice.

I top this dish with some more feta or goat cheese and fresh parsley if I've got it. Really the only secret to this One-Dish-Wowza (whoa, I just got all kinds of Rachael Ray on you) is to mix it up while the quinoa is still hot. It absorbs all the flavors that way.

And just because I cannot wait for summer and sweaty blond hair: