Tuesday, May 28, 2013

What Have We Always Said is the Most Important Thing?


If you haven't ever watched Arrested Development, this is the rhetorical question the main character, Michael Bluth, asks his son, George Michael. He is seeking the answer, "family." Breakfast is pretty important too.

I think of this scene a lot because I love breakfast. It's my favorite. If you follow along with this blog throughout the summer, you may begin to notice the breakfast-heavy repetoire. I have so many ideas... waffles, egg mcmuffins, quiche, steel-cut oatmeal, pancakes, muffins, cinnamon bread. If I'm not careful I might accidently end up with a freezer full of breakfast.

That's okay, though. Breakfast is my favorite. I have inadvertantly created high expectations around breakfast in this household. In fact, as I began working on this very blog post, my six-year-old came down and asked for apple slices and cereal and cheesy eggs for her breakfast. I'm always short-order-cooking it for breakfast, but I don't mind. After all, breakfast just might be the most important thing.

Much to my dismay, recently my kids discovered cereal bars (Nutri-grain). I mean, for someone who loves breakfast, this couldn't get much worse. My intent here is not to get all preachy, high-fructose corn syrup is evil, I'm a whole foods only person blah blah blah. I think most of us know that we shouldn't eat lots of processed foods (I think, I hope). I'm also pretty sure we all pick our own hills to die on about this. For instance, I may not be that into the cereal bars, but there is often a box of Cheez-Itz that finds its way into our home. And other things, but you don't have to know about them. Anyway, when the kids were all sick and wouldn't eat anything throughout the entire months of February and March, my genius husband brought home a bunch of cereal bars. They ate them! Hooray! Then they wanted them all the time. Boo.

At least now I know one thing that all three kids will always eat. I can add it to a list that includes cupcakes, cookies, frozen yogurt from a frozen yogurt shop, cheese-fries, and oddly, peas.

Well, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Here is a recipe for homemade cereal bars. It's actually nothing like a real Nutri-Grain bar, and they didn't even end up much healthier. You can find other recipes online that involve rolling out two layers of sticky oat-flour dough and basically making your own jam to go in between the layers. You can even make individual pockets of said dough-layers and seal them up into perfect little homemade bars. Around here? Ain't nobody got time for that.

This recipe is inspired by a cross between this and this (Oh dear. I'm new to blogging. Is it okay to link to established, way awesomer blogs? Are the blog police coming to get me?).

(Cute Little Helper)

Super Fruit Cereal Bars:

Bottom Layer:
1 Egg
1/3 cup Honey
1/2 cup Applesauce
2 1/4  cups Rolled Oats
3/4 cup Oat Bran

1 Jar Jam (Trader Joe's Super Fruit Spread)

Top Layer:
1/3 cup Rolled Oats
1/3 cup Whole Wheat Flour
1/3 cup Brown Sugar
3 Tbs. Butter
1/2 tsp. Cinnamon
1/8 tsp. Salt
1/4 tsp. Baking Powder

Preheat oven to 350. Line a 9x13 pan with parchment paper. Beat egg with a hand mixer on high speed until frothy. Add honey and applesauce and beat until combined. Stir in Oats and Oat Bran. Press the mixture into  the lined pan. Carefully spread the jam over top.

Place "top layer" ingredients into food processor and pulse until coarse crumbs form. Sprinkle over jam layer.

Bake for 25 minutes. Take out of oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 300. Cut into 16 bars and return to oven for 15 minutes more. Allow to cool slightly before freezing them (if any last to freeze). I put the individual bars on a cookie sheet and froze them first. Then I placed them between pieces of parchment paper and threw them into a plastic freezer bag, then into the freezer. To defrost, you can either stick them on the counter overnight, or pop them in the microwave for about 15 seconds.

(Cute Little Helper's hand getting a little close)

Nutrition information per bar: Calories - 161, Fat - 3.6 g, Fiber - 2.5 g, Sugars - 18.4 g, Protein - 3.5 g, Vitamin C - 61.3%, Iron - 5.3%

*** I think adding 1/3-1/2 cup melted butter to the bottom layer will make them a bit softer. I was trying to cut some calories so I didn't add any. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Every Freezer Needs a Lasagna

We had a slightly strange social situation not too long ago where friends that we invited to dinner ended up bringing the main dish. They suggested it, and I just went with it. And then I thought maybe it was a little rude of me to not insist that they just come over and relax. And then I felt even more like a jerk when they came over and broke the news that they were expecting their first child and mom-to-be had been feeling significantly ill over the past, oh, 4 months. Sigh.

What they brought, though, that was pretty good. They called it “Lancaster County Lasagna,” and I’m still not sure if this is actually a thing or just what they call the lasagna my friend grew up eating. When you Google “Lancaster County Lasagna,” guess what? You don’t get the recipe. So, let’s make it an actual thing, shall we?

I know what you’re thinking:  Really, Melissa? Lasagna? This is your second recipe - couldn’t you think of something a little more interesting?

Two things: 1.) My freezer is empty (except for this), and every freezer needs a lasagna. 2.) I had exactly the right things hanging around in my pantry to make this.

Ok, one more thing: it’s really tasty. It is not your typical Bolognese ricotta/parmesan/mozzarella job. Nothing against traditional lasagna, but sometimes you want something a little different. Sometimes you think you want lasagna but what you really want is Hamburger Helper.  I never would have known I wanted Hamburger Helper because my awesome mom never made the stuff. But it turns out maybe I wanted Hamburger Helper.

Lancaster County Lasagna
(Adapted from what I remember about my friend’s lasagna. Ok, full disclosure, I didn’t call and ask for the recipe. I am working with a 2-hour window of napportunity, and I need to get this done NOW.)

1 lb. lean ground beef
1 onion, chopped
3-4 large leaves Swiss Chard (optional)
2 - 14.5 oz. cans diced tomatoes
¼ c. chopped parsley
3 c. shredded cheese – Colby Jack, Cheddar, Mozzarella
lasagna noodles (I had 9 hanging around in an open box. Perfect. You can use more.)

Brown the ground beef. While it is cooking, chop up the onion and throw it in the pan. You can chop up the stems of the chard leaves and throw them in with the onions if you want. I do this because it momentarily makes me feel better about all of the other stuff I waste. While the onions and meat are cooking, finely chop the leave portions of the chard. When the beef mixture is fully cooked, add the chard leaves and stir around until just wilted. Remove from heat, salt and pepper to taste. Add all but about 1 cup of the diced tomatoes and the parsley.

Assemble. Put a bit of the tomato-beef mixture in the bottom of the pan. Place a layer of noodles, a layer of tomato-beef, a layer of cheese, and repeat until you run out. I don’t ever boil lasagna noodles first.  They will soften in the baking process, and I like the little bit of chew that you get with unbaked noodles. Feel free to boil them according to the package directions first, if it pleases you. Top your last layer of noodles with the reserved tomatoes and a handful of cheese.

Here is where it gets even more contentious.

You can either bake this bad-boy first, let it cool and then freeze it (this way you can even cut it up into single servings and freeze them individually), or  wrap it up and freeze it right away before baking. I am opting to freeze now, bake later, due to the aforementioned napping window that I am working with.

To avoid freezer-burn, wrap in plastic wrap before wrapping in aluminum foil. But seriously, folks:

This warning is based on first-hand experience.

Try to remember to move this big, frozen hunk of lasagna to the fridge on the day before you want to cook it. Bake at 350, covered – with foil, not plastic wrap – for about 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes. Cooking time will vary based on how defrosted or not defrosted it is.

Per 1/9 pan serving: Calories – 311, Fat – 13.6 g, Sodium – 511 mg, Fiber – 2.8 g, Protein – 20.9 g, Calcium – 22.9%, Iron – 14.7%, Vitamin A – 24.1%, Vitamin C – 19.6%

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Binders Full of Burritos

About four years ago I attended my first MOPs meeting. It was an awesome little twice a month date with other moms where the kids were off playing with enthusiastic caregivers while we moms spent some time commiserating with, but mostly encouraging, one another. The “valley of the diapers” can be exhausting. I loved MOPs. I miss it.

So at this one meeting, another mom brought some things she was looking to give away, including a huge “Mom binder.” People were fighting over this thing. If there was a comic-strip thought bubble above my head at this meeting, there would have definitely been a big question mark in it. To this day, I really couldn’t tell you what to do with such a binder. Any system of organization that goes beyond lists written on scraps of paper and crumpled napkins is really beyond my scope of expertise. And thank the Lord for Google Calendar (one of these days I’ll change the alerts so that I am notified about something in my calendar before 10 minutes before it is happening). I am not so much poking fun at this binder as demonstrating (and embracing) my Type B organizational “skills.”

When I got my Fall schedule, I almost had a panic attack. There will be several mornings a week where the 5 people that comprise Our Family will have to get to 5 different places. I have been trying to work out the kinks in my mind of how to make this happen, and I have come to the conclusion that I need a turbo-charged mom binder with teleportation capabilities that does light housekeeping and some cooking.

Just kidding. I need to freeze some quick breakfasts, that’s what I need to do. So, the first thing to go into the freezer? Breakfast burritos. Yay!!!

This is extremely easy, and we even sampled one to make sure we weren't going to lead anyone astray. You can put whatever your little heart desires in these babies. I will make another batch this week with swiss chard and ham, but here is the "recipe" for black bean breakfast burritos:

8 flour tortillas (I like Trader Joe's whole wheat)
8 eggs
1 cup of black beans, rinsed
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Scramble the eggs in a large pan. When the eggs are almost set, add the black beans and season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide the egg mixture and cheese among the 8 tortillas. Fold the tortillas. Here is a handy graphic for "fold the tortillas":

Wrap each burrito individually in plastic wrap and stick them all in a gallon-size plastic bag. Label, date, freeze. If you cringe at the thought of using all of that plastic wrap, you could also freeze the un-wrapped burritos first on a cookie sheet, then pop them off the cookie sheet and into the plastic bag or other container. There may be more freezer-burn issues with this method, but if you plan to use them up quickly, it'll do. When you're ready to eat your delicious breakfast: un-wrap it, put it on a microwave-safe plate, nuke for 60-90 seconds, flipping it over half-way through. We discussed toasting it in the toaster oven after thawing in the microwave to get a little crunch on the tortilla. However, we thought it was delicious straight from the microwave. 

Kid tested. Mother approved.

I even figured out the nutrition info for you!
Per burrito: Calories - 293, Total fat - 12.1g, Cholesterol - 200 mg, Sodium - 400 mg, Protein - 15.4g, Fiber - 5.9g, Sugars - 0g, Calcium - 14.6%, Iron - 10.5%

Monday, May 20, 2013

Summer Project

It was a cozy, December night, and Tom and I had just finished watching the movie Food, Inc. I turned to the poor guy in tears and said something like this: "I hereby decree that we shall henceforth NEVER buy meat in a regular grocery store again." He looked at me quizzically and then very calmly responded, "Well, I guess we're going to need a chest freezer."

Because I am married to a man who spends his days trying to make everyone's life better, within 72 hours we had a meat order called in to a local farm and a new, heavily discounted freezer taking up residence in the basement. So began the era of the chest freezer.

It was a good era, the chest freezer era. Many a chicken roasted. Pot-roasts galore. Experimental pre-frozen crock pot meals abounding (sorry, but blecht!). And then something happened. Well, two things...

We welcomed our third baby, and I began nursing school - within the same year.

It's been a little, uh, chaotic up in here. One day I looked in the chest freezer and discovered that it was completely empty. Ok, well, except for a bag of charcoal (there was an accidental unplugging incident once, and charcoal absorbs odors, and you can figure it out) and an ice cream attachment for our Kitchenaid mixer that has been kept nice and cold just waiting to make us some delicious ice cream. Any day now.

It's okay, little freezer, I have some good news. I have off for the whole summer. 13 weeks. 13 weeks! 

So, I started thinking - what if I made 2 things each week and stuck them in the freezer? Then I'd have an awesome stockpile of nutritious breakfast-on-the-go things and easy dinners for when the insanity school starts. And I started thinking a little bit more - what if I blogged about it too? Then I could add my freezer saga onto the growing catalogue of freezer-cooking information out there on the internets. Okay, maybe there isn't as huge a need for this type of information as I am imagining, but I think it will be fun.
So that's my story. I'm hoping to fill my empty freezer. It is one way that I am choosing to manage our household chaos. And when I'm done with this project, who knows? Maybe I'll start another blog called "Empty My Attic."