Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Raising Foodies Cooking Group 2--Belgian Steamed Mussels

Even though it technically does not qualify as a new recipe for us, I really wanted to make Belgian Steamed Mussels this weekend and share it with the group. I haven't made it in over a year, so I think it counts since I'm reintroducing it into our repertoire of recipes. Also, for the record, I've been very inspired by all the great recipes the group has made and have tried several new dishes in the past week so don't feel at all that I'm cheating!

This is an easy but impressive dish that we love even more because french fries dipped in a mayo and mustard sauce are the perfect side dish to it. Also, we love that you must have lots of bread with it to dip in the broth. A Stella Artois won't hurt either. Children can stick to soda water mixed with grenadine.

I know a lot of people might be gasping that my young children eat mussels. Not only do they eat them, they love them. I wanted to kick off the weekend with a festive meal, and to the four of us there are few things more festive than seafood. Put something in a shell on our plate and we're ready to party. And one of my cooking goals is not only to nourish my family well and expose them to new foods while having fun and being creative myself, but also to bring a sense of festivity to our meals that is sometimes painfully absent.

It's true. Too often we rush through the cooking, Patrick eats while loosening his tie, the girls bicker and immediately want to be excused, I shush them and pick up random bits of food from the floor and hope for someone to tell me what a great meal I've made. Patrick and I desperately try to have a conversation or at least get the girls to converse with us. The phone rings, the water spills, we say a quick blessing, encourage a few more bites, someone cries, we start picking up and then it's over. It's not always like this, but it is like this too often for my taste.

It's my theory that for this very reason we escape to restaurants so often, because we get to sit for an hour or two and enjoy each other while relaxing in a way we just don't at home. It's kind of sad.

But what if we could have that same experience at our table and make our own home the destination of choice? Of course it takes planning and a certain type of meal, but I've decided that on weekends I will make an extra effort to find those meals that just say "party" to us. It's different for every family. To this day, waking up to the smell of paella being prepared for Sunday lunch by my parents will make my sister, brother and I giddier than Mimosas for brunch.

I'm curious, what are your family's festive foods?

I photographed the recipe from the Everyone Eats Well in Belgium Cookbook, which I got the year we got married... which happened to be in Belgium. Come to think of it, the fact that we got married in Belgium is probably the reason we love this recipe so much.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Cute Little Yarn Apples

With apples on the brain how could I resist this adorable craft? So simple (even CC could do the winding part), so cute (even Patrick keeps saying so), and so addictive (I kept sneaking in another now and then but got caught by Sabrina--hey, are making an apple without me?). And it's the perfect excuse to buy a bunch of colorful yard for fun projects, though we may just use it all up on apples because Sabrina and I agreed we'd aim to fill a whole basket (the one in the corner there), just because. Then maybe we'll give some away. For now we've been playing toss the apples in the basket and jump over the apples and juggle the apples, all little games invented by the girls.

Go get your yarn... you know you want to!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Starting an Apple Orchard

A few hours spent at Gulf Branch nature center near our home learning about apples and planting apple trees seemed exactly what we needed to get us in an appropriately autumnal state of mind.

We tasted many different apples and decided on a few favorites to add to the Fuji, which we usually reach for first: Honeycrisp for me and Jonagold for Sabrina. We learned a lot of little facts about apples and got to make cider, which tasted glorious.

Best of all, we got to plant dwarf apple trees to help start an apple orchard. Sabrina was a really hard worker, digging in right there with the 12-year old boys and patting and stomping away to secure the trees in place. Soon, we'll go back to visit "our trees," as Sabrina put it. I don't know, after this experience I can see how some dwarf apple trees just outside our kitchen door would be a lovely thing.

I'm curious, do you have apple trees or any other fruit trees in your garden?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Raising Foodies Cooking Group 1--Shrimp Fried Rice

Shrimp Fried Rice was our first dinner for the Raising Foodies Cooking Group, and it was a winner. The girls love Chinese and Thai fried rice, so I was pretty sure that if I could get the recipe right they would enjoy this dish from Everyday Food. For some reason cooking ethnic foods intimidates me so this was a big step in expanding my repertoire.

I was also attracted to the all-in-one aspect of course. With lots of carrots, shrimp and egg, this dish has all the protein and veggies I look for in dinner. However, next time I may replace the basmati rice with brown basmati rice and perhaps add some peas to the carrots for more color and extra vegetables.

This was easy to make even with a number of different cooking steps, taking about 30 minutes as the magazine promised.

In my excitement over cooking something brand new I forgot to think about setting the table. Next time I'll plan ahead and make things a little more special with chopsticks and orange slices and fortune cookies for dessert, just like at the Chinese restaurant we love. Maybe even play some Chinese "fairy" music as the girls call it, to make dinner more festive. Festive is definitely what I'm going for when I think of ways to enhance our family's dinnertime.

Instead of typing in the whole recipe, I've taken a picture of it. You can click on the photo to see a larger version and read it.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Mama's Cooking

Back to school means getting back into a routine, which for me has meant, in great part, getting my cooking act together. All summer long we ate well but whimsically. Lots of travel meant lots of eating out. Lots of visiting with family meant lots less cooking for me. Grilling also took me off the hook because Patrick handles that. Once a week we dined at the pool, and weekends were an endless stream of restaurants. I had it pretty good there for a while.

But for the last few weeks I feel like everything has been about food. As in me being responsible for food. And the adjustment has not been easy. Planning, buying, cooking, cleaning. I wake to make lunches and follow that with breakfast. As soon as I clean up it's time to start thinking about dinner. Then, three weekdays out of five CC and I are both home, so we eat lunch. The afternoon brings requests for snacks, more cleaning up, dinner, and still more cleaning. This can all get pretty boring pretty fast, though it's nothing a little zen thinking and organization can't help. Now breakfasts, snacks and lunches are pretty fun and even varied.

Still, I needed to up it a notch and make dinners more fun for myself and for my family. We had fallen into a rut of making the same four things over and over again, and while everyone was eating the Pan fried Salmon, Pasta Bolognese, Lemony Chicken and London Broil with whatever vegetable I happened to have on hand, we were all getting bored of cooking and eating the same stuff.

Time to get inspired. I had several things going in my favor. I love fall and find the cooler weather totally inspires me to cook. I have adventurous eaters, so my efforts are usually rewarded. I totally believe that feeding my children well is my duty and privilege as well as an expression of my love, really a kind of replacement for breastfeeding, which I still sometimes miss. I have a little more free time now that CC's in preschool and Sabrina is in full day kindergarten. Finally, I dig the praise I get from Patrick for a good meal... let's face it, it's pretty much the only part of my homemaking efforts that really gets his attention!

Perfect timing then to join Joslyn's Raising Foodies Cooking Group, in which once a week for members will try new recipes and write about them. I've looked through several years' worth of Everyday Food and many cookbooks and selected about 50 recipes I want to try before the end of the year, including some baked goods and fun snacks. I like nothing more than a structured way to be creative and challenged, so this should be fun for all.