Cranking through cookbooks again

Long-time readers will know that #1 gets the bulk of her excitement in life from food.  While some people enjoy eating the same (excellent) ~14 meals on rotation, I am too much of a food dilettante.  On top of that, we live in a relatively small town, so even going out can’t bring excitement to my life because we’ve already had everything our town has to offer until places go out of business and get replaced with the new crop of restaurants.  (And our latest and best beloved CSA went out of business a few months ago, so no being forced to try new veggie things.)

Which means that cook-books are a lifeline.  Yes, the internet is great, but the internet takes effort if you want to find something *new* and *different*.  It’s easy to use the internet to say, find the “best chocolate cake recipe” but not so easy to find something that you don’t yet know exists.

Some cookbooks are really amazing.  Here’s a list from 4 years ago of cookbooks we have loved.  I love taking a cookbook that is ~100% winning recipes and just trying them all, even if some of them sound a little weird (example:  egg and onion soup from Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen! turned out to be quick, simple, and delicious, much to our surprise).

Recently I’ve been on kind of a new American/comfort food kick.  (Part of this is because DC1 has started being a pickier eater for no good reason and DC2 has responded by being unable to handle even the smallest bit of spiciness.  American tends to suit both palates so long as we skip cheese and tomatoes.)   I just retired the Better Homes and Gardens 10 years of best recipes book I’d been digging through after realizing we had marked every recipe we’d tried from that book in the number of years we’ve owned it with “ok, nothing special” except for their cake recipes and a single chocolate chip cookie recipe (the other cookie recipes we tried all say, “meh” or “too cakey” or “nothing special”).  Better Homes and Gardens has good cake, but we don’t make cake that often.  Now I’ve dug out the Cooking Light book with the same theme– 10 years of five star recipes.  So far it’s been giving us better luck, especially when I cut down on sugar and switch out the non-fat ingredients with full-fat alternatives.

It’s possible that we need to get more kids’ cookbooks.  The Disney Princess Cookbook has surprisingly good meals, but not very many of them.  Kid Chef has more difficult recipes, but they’ve almost all been winners (we weren’t that crazy about the sesame bar cookies, but there are a number of recipes that were so amazing that they made our “make for other people” list).  We’ve had the kids’ fun and healthy cookbook for years and it’s been a reliable go-to.

Because DC1 is the pickiest eater, zie is now in charge of menu planning and we have been pushing hir to do more cooking (today the kids made monkey bread from the Disney cookbook… it uses an excellent buttery biscuit dough for the balls which are then dipped into butter and cinnamon sugars)… so I hope I’m passing some of this cooking excitement on to the next generation.  Maybe no-knead bread will be more enticing than drugz for them too.  ;)

What cookbooks do you think are worth cranking through?  Where do you find new recipes?  How do you deal with getting out of a cooking rut?  (Or do you prefer repetition?)

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Help me with DC2’s lunch!

Yes, I know we’ve been making school lunches for one or the other of my kids for the past 9 years.  BUT we have some new challenges this year now that we’re at public elementary school.  Here are the rules for my kindergartener:

  1. No nuts or peanuts (new school is completely nut-free)
  2. No red dye (DC2 gets hives)
  3. No cheese (DC2 hates cheese)  (Also no tomatoes, same reason)
  4. Nothing “spicy” because DC2 has no tolerance for spice (which is bizarre because I lived on Indian food when I was pregnant with hir and everyone else in the family eats plenty of spice, AND so did zie… hir spice tolerance seems to be going down instead of up!).
  5. Things DC2 can open on hir own (this was the big new piece of information for us).  Note that DC2 cannot open any of the individually packaged apple sauces or fruit cups that we bought in great supply in the city the weekend before school started [update: we have successfully pierced foil covered applesauces with a plastic spoon.  Plastic topped and screw topped will have to wait for more hand and arm strength.].
  6. Nothing that needs refrigeration (I am regretting my decision not to purchase the fancy $23 lunchbag we saw at Whole Foods that has a spot for an icepack– I may end up trying to find one at Target, but for now, DC2 really loves hir lunch bag that looks just like DC1’s backpack but doesn’t have any insulation much less space for an ice pack)
  7. Something healthier than just jam sandwiches
  8. Things that take WAY the heck less time to put together at 10pm than what you get when you google “what do I send in my child’s school lunch” or any similar query.  Pinterest is not what we’re looking for.

I do not know if DC2 likes sunflower butter or not.  I will be getting some at the grocery store this weekend.  BUT, even when zie was allowed nut butter zie would only permit one almond butter and jam sandwich per week.  DC2 likes variety.  If I send, say, a mini-salad for too many days in a row, zie refuses salads for weeks.  Generally I can get away with things about once a week.  The one exception is fruit– so I will always be packing fruit, but zie can’t just have fruit.

Extra points for things that we can buy on Saturday but will still be in decent shape by Friday.

We have 3 different kinds of bento boxes (two of which fit in hir lunchbag, one that’s bigger), several small plastic containers, one insulated small metal thermos that sort of fits in the lunch bag (but can’t be heated up), one reusable sandwich bag, one reusable snack-size bag, and all shapes and sizes of ziplocs.  Also I could probably be easily convinced to buy more bento boxes because they’re clever and adorable.  (I also use them for my lunch when I’m not just taking a pyrex of leftovers to reheat.)

Last year, faced with the challenge of making hir own lunches in middle school, DC1 ended up getting hot lunch instead.  That coincided with DC1 getting to be obnoxiously picky about healthy food zie used to eat without complaint at home (something that has subsided a great deal this summer).   Zie has promised us zie won’t eat French fries every single day, although that seems to be an option at the middle school.  Some of the lunch options at the elementary school are healthy, but many are not.  I’m worried about DC2 making unhealthy choices through peer pressure.  If we get too overwhelmed with lunch making and DC2 agrees, we will load up hir lunch account too, but for now we’d like to keep sending healthy food.  If we can just figure out what.

What do your elementary schoolers take?  What did you take as an elementary schooler?  What do you suggest that fits the rules above?

Adventures with tea

At Christmas I got an excellent teapot and DH got himself an electric kettle (for his coffee habit).

One great thing about this teapot is that it has a large mouthed bucket filter.  My previous adventures with loose-leaf tea have involved balls of various kinds and sizes which are pain to fill and a worse pain to clean.  With this teapot I just scoop out two tablespoons of tea (one for the pot and one for me), fill with hot water, and then dump out the solids into the compost when I’m done.  The dishwasher will take care of any lingering tea residue.

I don’t drink caffeine on a regular basis (because when I need it for migraines I really need it, also withdrawal is a harsh mistress), but I do like herbal tea.  It turns out a lot of loose leaf tea is better than a lot of teabags, which has given me a new appreciation for even teas that I like in bag form (for example, mint). I’m still not that crazy about roobios (I overdid it on roobios teabags when it came out and have not yet recovered) and straight ginger tea reminds me of morning sickness (since constantly drinking it was the only thing that would keep me from throwing up early on with both kids).

I went to a great cafe in The City where the nice lady at the counter recommended hibiscus mint, which mixes my two favorite teas together.  She even gave me some loose tea to take home even though they don’t sell loose tea.  On a later City trip I went to an actual tea shop and got bags of different teas, some of which I wasn’t crazy about and gave to DH and some of which I really liked.  They have a great mint, but they didn’t carry hibiscus by itself, only in mixes, so I couldn’t recreate hibiscus mint. (The lady there suggested trying the Mexican grocery chain for hibiscus, but we didn’t make it to one.)  And, sadly, their rose bud tea seems to have been contaminated with something I’m allergic to (which could be any number of things, like grass or any number of tree pollens)– I love rose, but I don’t love hives.

I tried the teashop in our town, but they only had mixes and their teas were kind of stale and unexciting.  :(  I would be surprised if they stay in business, especially with competition from several excellent boba tea places that just opened.

I ordered some hibiscus from amazon, thinking I was getting 4 oz for $10 and actually got a pound.  It’s ok, but not great– misses the tart bite I like most from hibiscus.  It makes a pretty decent iced tea though.  I gave 4 oz to one of my colleagues who makes tea in her office, but 12 oz is still a lot to go through!

On one of my recent conference trips, I stopped at Teavana and really like the box of citrus tea blends that I picked up.  They mix quite nicely with the hibiscus as well.  Generally I’ll do one steeping of just their citrus blend and add a tablespoon of hibiscus to the second steeping.

I considered going to the rishi tea site and ordering a bunch of samplers from their loose herbal teas (along with another pack of mint), but before doing that, I impulse bought a 3 month subscription to Tea Runners for DH.  It’s supposed to be 3 regular teas and 1 herbal tea, but our first packet was 4 regular teas, including a tea that combines the two things DH hates most in tea– Lavender and Bergamot (he really hates Earl Grey).  (He also dislikes chicory and believes that fruit and meat should never be combined in a savory dish, but that’s the extent of his food dislikes– he’s pretty easy-going.)  So that was a bit of a disappointment.  I may yet do a rishi order.

I like mixing the teas together to make new flavor combinations.

DH sometimes makes his own chai from (Penzey‘s) spices, and I’ve seen other suggestions for homemade herbal teas, but I haven’t gone that route yet.

So:  Tea, when you need something warmer or less fizzy than La Croix.

Do you drink tea?  What kind do you like?  Where do you get it?

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Purple Carrot: A Review

This review is not sponsored or anything at all.  #2 has just been nagging me to do it since everybody else is doing blue apron [which #2 still doesn’t really understand] and we’ve been doing this one instead.  We get no money from this post.

Purple Carrot is like Blue Apron except it’s vegan [#2 understands this a little better because she imagines if you’ve grown up in a meat-eaters culture, it’s harder to come up with tasty new vegetarian recipes all the time].  Each week we get a box with 3 meals (for 2 people) in it.  The servings are frequently on the small side, though.  Currently our plan is that my partner cooks on Wednesdays and Sundays, and I cook on Fridays.  (The rest of the time we fend for ourselves.)  Neither one of us is actually a vegan, but we couldn’t find good vegetarian options for my partner (he’s ovo-lacto veggie) because most other services had one dumb vegetarian option each week (pasta and a salad, we already know that, duh!).  A nice side effect of it being vegan is that I never worry whether the food is staying cold enough in the cold box while waiting outside our door for me to open it when I get home from work: no meat, no dairy, mostly stuff that won’t give you food poisoning at a picnic if it gets a little warm.  It does stay cold in that box, though.  Even though I eat meat, I’m not sure I want raw meat in a box that sits.

We have been using Purple Carrot since June 2016.  The fact that we’re still using it almost a year later is a review in itself, I guess.  Like any meal service, you can pause your subscription or skip weeks if you’re going to be out of town or just don’t like the upcoming menu.  Unlike other services, you don’t get to pick the food– you can either get all the food that week or none.  That’s it.  We’re doing it this way in order to eat more vegetables and try to have at least some healthy food.  Also to avoid decisions — all we have is go/no-go and not “what do we pick?”

Some recipes we both end up not liking (rare).  Sometimes one of us likes it more than the other.  Sometimes we agree that the food is just a bit… odd, though not bad.  And sometimes we have a BIG hit that’s delicious, nutritious, and that we didn’t have to think up ourselves (or shop for, or decide among millions of recipes, resulting in paralysis).

For us, it’s worth the cost 3x/wk, at least for now.  We might stop at some point in order to save money, or if it stops being worth it for us.  Below I’ll put a few of our favorite recipes that we loved.

https://www.purplecarrot.com/plant-based-recipes/mustard-glazed-tempeh-with-red-kraut-and-smashed-beets (it helps if you like German food, which I do and my partner doesn’t)

https://www.purplecarrot.com/plant-based-recipes/drunken-noodles (easily modifiable with other veg you have lying around)

https://www.purplecarrot.com/plant-based-recipes/miso-glazed-peaches-and-eggplant-with-rice-noodles-and-minted-spinach (one of the highlights of all time)

https://www.purplecarrot.com/plant-based-recipes/pumpkin-fettuccine-alfredo-with-crispy-sage-and-broccoli-rabe (surprisingly delicious, though it would be better with cream)

https://www.purplecarrot.com/plant-based-recipes/creamy-leek-polenta-with-summer-vegetables (eat this every day)

https://www.purplecarrot.com/plant-based-recipes/meyer-lemon-forbidden-rice-risotto-with-sweet-peas (not actually a risotto but very tasty)

https://www.purplecarrot.com/plant-based-recipes/spring-radish-fattoush-with-sumac-vinaigrette-minted-basmati-rice (#2 tried this with CSA veggies replacing sumac with lemon zest and liked it too.  Add some feta and you’ll increase the joy.  Noms!)

Grumpeteers, has anyone tried Hello Fresh though?  I’m thinking of trying that one day.  Other thoughts?  Who likes to eat veggies?  How do you get veggies into your life?

Ask the Grumpies: Knife recommendations

monsterzero  asks:

I need to get a nice sharp knife, mostly for chopping vegetables; any suggestions?

We like our Shun knives, but they are way more expensive than you need. The “best” knives on the market are much cheaper.  So, as beautiful as the Shun knives are, you can spend a fraction of their cost to get a great set of knives.

Generally if you only have one kitchen knife, you want it to be a utility knife.  I’ve noticed that a lot of “knives you must have” lists on the internet disagree with me on this, instead saying that you should have a chef’s knife and a paring knife, but we use the utility knife all the time both to slice and to pare, and we pretty much never use our paring knife.  We actually have two utility knives, our beautiful Shun knife and a more moderately priced Kitchen Aid version.  Henckels and Victronix both get good ratings online.  Note that these are sometimes listed as small chef’s knives instead of utility knives.  Generally you want 6 inches.

If you have two knives, then you should get a chef’s knife if your hands are big or a santoku if your hands are small (I love my santoku, DH usually uses the chef’s knife instead).  Victronix again wins accolades for the chef’s knife.  Seriously, Cook’s Illustrated raves about their 8 inch chef’s knife which is now ~$40 rather than the $27 it was when their ratings came out.  For santokus, it may be worth paying the extra money to get Shun or Wusthof.  Note that you chop differently with these two types of knives (the Santoku doesn’t rock)– you may want to watch a video or two if you’re not used to the kind of knife you end up with.

If you get a third knife, it should be a bread knife if you like to eat a lot of bakery-style bread.  We decided on this one from Tojiro for my little sister after discovering her hacking through artisan bread with her chef’s knife at Christmas.  At $18 it is a bargain.

Then maybe a paring knife (we never use ours though).

And that’s really all you need unless you want one for carving turkey.

One item that we really appreciate having is an electric knife sharpener.  If your local farmers market has a knife sharpening station where they sharpen by hand using a stone, that’s probably going to be better for your knives, but there’s a lot to be said for getting a quick sharpen at home and just replacing the knife a few years earlier than you would had you gotten them professionally sharpened each time, since you will still get decades of use out of the knives.  There are a lot more options now than when we got ours, but Chef’s Choice is still the sharpener people recommend.  I bet you can get away with the $40 version, but there are also $180 versions which I hope will carve at angles for you (something you would need for hunting knives, but not so much kitchen knives).

Grumpy nation, what knives do you love?  Which ones do you regularly use?  How do you keep your knives sharp?

What food do you love that nobody else likes?

One of the problems with other people is that they have different food preferences than you do.

This can be a benefit if the food in question is something you can purchase in small quantities or that doesn’t go bad, because then you can buy it for yourself and have no competition from eating it.  But it’s problematic if it’s something that you can’t share and will thus go to waste if you get too much of it.  If the other people in the household are vocal about their distaste, then you might not get/make the item unless the loudest is not there for whatever reason.  (A reason our family orders Hawaiian pizza only when DH is away on business.)

I really like grapefruit juice, but I’m the only one in the house who does, so I can’t drink an entire carton before it goes bad.  I do, however, order it whenever I see fresh squeezed on the menu at a bunch place.

The rest of the family doesn’t mind beets, but I’m the only one who really loves them.

DH rarely gets to eat Brussels sprouts because the rest of the family ranges from meh to yuck.  DC1 used to love sardines but has outgrown them (the cats got almost an entire tin the day DC1 discovered zie no longer wants to eat them, but they have been missing out on smaller amounts since).

#2’s husband is a vegetarian, so… meat.  Especially bacon. He’s not that enthusiastic about pesto or soup, but he’ll eat it if it’s there.

What food do you love that nobody else likes?

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What is your favorite kind of pie?

#1:  I like apple myself.  Though I’m also a fan of pecan in moderation. (And, of course, pot pies are great.)

#2:  1.  Pumpkin, 2. French silk, 3. pie full of hammers [#1 does not know what this is], 4. Pecan-bourbon pie with chocolate chips