Tuesday, November 27, 2012

[Cooking Corner]: The Power of Soup

In the fall/winter, I go into soup/stew mode.  They are easy, nutritious, feel good on a cold day, and great for kids if you've got 'em.  And they are relatively quick to prepare and make for great leftovers, which is imperative for those of us who have little time to spend on menu planning due to work/kids/life/all of above.  I've been making stews for years, but I've very recently discovered the MAGIC of bisque.  Seriously, magic, especially if you have kids.  See below..

I use a crock pot for soups and stews.  I throw everything in before work in the morning (takes about 30 mins) and then it's done when I get home.  You can also use a pot if you don't have a crock, but youll have to monitor it so your time commitment is longer.  Crock pots are amazing, just buy one :)

What I throw in the crock pot (and in this order):

- Veggies:  Anything.  Use whatever you have left lying around at the end of a grocery cycle.  Onions, carrots, celery, leeks, tomatoes (canned or fresh), greens (like kale, mustard etc), corn, anything will work here.  Just aim for 2-3 unless you have time for more, and you don't need a ton of each.  *TIP*:  Buy pre-diced veggies.  This saves a ton of prep time.  I also sometimes dice earlier in the week, or have my nanny do that so so I can just throw the veggies in in the morning.

-Starch:  Potatotes or sweet potatoes, peeled and diced.  Again, you can try to buy pre-diced or dice earlier in week (when I pre-dice I save half for use in a different recipe later on in the week.  The potatoes will get a little brown but who cares).  You can also add in pasta (shells or dumpling type or macaroni are great). 

- Meat:  Beef stew meat (they usually sell it pre-cut up in meat section) or chicken breast/thigh that I dice up.  I've also used pork. Could do extra firm tofu if vegetarian.  *TIP*:  for extra protein/fiber boost, throw in a handful of ground flax seed.  I have been putting flax in everything lately.  You won't taste it.

- Liquid:  If you want a rich stew, just splash a half cup of water on top of the meat and sprinkle a little flour for thickness.  For more a soup, add about 1.75c of water or vegetable/meat broth.

- Spice:  Salt/pepper is enough, but can also do onion powder, garlic powder. 

All day on Low in crock pot, or about an hour in a pot on the stove.  Eat by itself or with crackers, or - especially for kids - pour on top of mashed potatoes, or pasta or rice.  You'll get multiple meals out of this.  Next time you do it, change up the veg/protein choices and you have what feels like a new recipe.

I made butternut squash bisque recently and not only was it a hearty soup for us, I poured it over pasta, threw some cheese in it, and Noah absolutely loved it.  A creamy vegetable bisque over pasta is a great, healthy alternative to mac 'n cheese.  I plan to do the same with carrots, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, etc.  This took about 30 mins.


Throw a chopped onion into a pot with some butter, let it sweat. 
Follow with diced butternut squash (I bought pre-diced) and 1.75c broth (more if you want a thinner soup) and let boil 10-15 mins. 
Throw mixture into a blender/food processor and puree to desired thickness (keep thicker if going to put over pasta). 
Put back into your pot and spice with salt, pepper, nutmeg, ground coriander, thyme.  I also added ground flax.  Heat is on Low now.
Mix in some heavy whipping cream at the end and turn off heat. 
It will thicken fast so eat it quick.

You can add some shredded cheese (especially for your kids), and then pour over pasta or eat plain.  If you eat with pasta, you can add steamed broccoli and/or chicken to it as well.  Do this the next day so it feels like a different meal. 

Happy Souping!!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

[Cooking Corner Introduction]: Thank you, Mom!

It's not breaking news to those of you who know me, but I LOVE food.  I love cooking it, I love eating it, I love talking about it, I love all of it.  It's probably not enough to say I am a foodie, instead, it is my true passion.  Cooking for others has always felt like an intimate experience for me.  A way of showing love.  I don't need a psychologist to tell me that this stems from my mother.  I grew up with homemade food everyday.  Feeding her family was (and still is) my mom's ultimate way of nurturing.  She put me on the morning school bus with breakfast in hand, she packed my lunches until I was 17, and cooked a hot meal for dinner every night.  And she did this while also working full-time, and carting me around to the 400 after-school activities I was a part of.  Unbeknowest to me at the time, but very clear to me now, she was just amazing.  [And she still is.  At 31, I still return from every family visit with a backpack full of heaving tupperware]. 

It doesn't hurt that her food is f'n awesome.  I know everyone thinks their mom's cooking is the best, but trust me, hers is out of this world.  Though she grew up in India and is - without a doubt -  a true master of Indian cuisine, she experiments all the time with different genres and ingredients.  I was raised to never be afraid of trying something, to always be open and to appreciate the art of cooking.  It was never preached to me, but I was also raised with the notion that delicious food could be healthy.  Not healthy as in super low-calorie or low-carb or whatever kids today think "healthy" means.  But meals that include "real", nutrient-filled, food.  I rarely ate a meal that didn't include vegetables (many of which were grown in our backyard), but I never really noticed it because it was delicious, and I always had variety.  As utterly naive as this may sound, it didn't occur to me until my mid-20s that most people who were similar to me in means and background didn't grow up with that.  I learned that many of my friends' parents did not cook very often often, or they cooked the same 2-3 dishes over and over again, or the meals they ate were pretty unhealthy.  I always knew my mom's cooking was really good, but I didn't appreciate how good until I left.

Now with my own family, I find myself forging the same bond between food and family.  Though I've been cooking for many years, I am more impassioned about it than ever because I want to instill the same types of food-values in my child as I was given.  Ironically, however, I have far less time to cook than I did pre-baby.   But this means I've been honing the craft of cooking dishes that are relatively quick/low mainteance, but also nutritious and (most importantly!) tasty.  I know many of my friends feel similar about cooking and also have little  time to do it, so I 'm going to share some tips on this blog under the cheesy heading Cooking Corner.  I will forewarn that I am not much of a recipe follower, I subscribe more to the "little bit of this, lotta bit of that" cooking philosophy (again, thanks to mi mama), but hopefully I can help with menu planning and inspire some ideas.

On that note, I'm off to parents' for Thanksgiving to stuff my face for 4 days.  Writing this post makes me realize that I owe my mom a big, fat, THANK YOU while I'm there!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Secret Language

I'm saying a bittersweet goodbye this week.  Goodbye to what feels like an old friend, goodbye to what allowed my child to thrive for his first year of life, goodbye to the decider of when I slept/woke up, what I ate/drank, and whether I could be away from home every single day.  After 13 months, I'm saying goodbye to nursing.  It's actually quite difficult for me to write this post, as saying it aloud means admitting to several things...my baby is no longer a baby (did I appreciate his "babyness" enough? why did it go by so fast?); our special time together is no more (does he need me less now?); after almost 2 years of pregnancy/nursing, I have ownership of my body again (will I feel the same as before? what happens when I no longer have hormones to blame when I act like a crazy person?).  But alas, I am saying it aloud anyway.

I should start with the disclaimer that I am in NO way judgmental of moms who do not or cannot nurse their babies.  It's a personal choice (or a physical impossibility) and the mommy wars fueled by incendiaries like the provocative Time magazine breastfeeding cover and idiot supermodels who liken formula feeding to criminal activity REALLY piss me off.  I don't think I deserve a gold sticker for nursing.  I'm confident that the only reason I was able to do it for so long was because I was lucky enough to have 6.5 months of maternity leave and then a travel-less job where I have my own office and a schedule that allows for regular pumping at work (how many full-time working moms do you know who have nursed for a year or more?  I only know a couple, it's just not easily doable). 

That said, nursing has been one of my greatest joys of motherhood.  It was the first way Noah and I communicated with each other.  A secret language only we could understand.  A profound, symbiotic connection that showed me really early on that I would always put Noah's needs first, but that I also needed to take care of myself in order to take care of him.  I have never felt as physically empowered as I did following pregnancy/birth and throughout nursing.  That doesn't mean it was always easy.  I did every nighttime feeding, I have never slept in later than that first morning cry, Adam and I couldn't do overnight trips or weekends away from Noah (we still haven't done this even though Noah has slept through the night since he was 4.5 months - turns out this one wasn't much of a sacrifice), and I couldn't drink caffeine or alcohol at whim (this one was :)).  I was pretty hormonal/emotional/insane as a breastfeeding mom (I think because of the low estrogen levels) and this sometimes made me want to quit.  Oh, and pumping at work was the worst.  But it was all worth it in the end for me.  There is just nothing quite like it.  My advice to new moms who want to nurse is to not give up on it the first 1-2 months when it can be incredibly exhausting, painful and draining (assuming your baby is growing properly).  Seek encouragement from those who have done it (even my well-meaning mom suggested formula everytime I complained about my colicky/sleepless newborn, ugh!).  Keep the faith that it will get easier, because it does.  But if you decide it's not for you, or aren't producing enough to sustain your child, let yourself off the hook and don't feel guilty about it.  When you make decisions with your child's welfare and your own welfare as your top priorities, without worrying about what someone else will think or what society says you "should" do, you are always making the right decision. 

And now, as this chapter of Noah's life comes to an end, I am looking forward to all that is to come (like my possibly sleeping in on a Saturday!!).  I know he will soon forget our secret language, but I never will.  As he gets older he will likely share things with his dad that I am not a part of or don't understand, but this...this was ours, and it will always be ours, and I am so grateful to have had the experience with him.  On tough days over the past year I would often remind myself that he would only be a baby once and that one day I would miss it.  And, just like that, it seems like that day has come.