Wednesday, August 17, 2011

World of Food: Lebanese Meatballs

Some nights dinner comes together with little fanfare. It's easy. Chop a little this, mix a little that, cook it up and eat.

Tonight was not one of those nights. It was one of these ....

(okay, minus the romping sex and string bikinis)

But seriously, there was a healthy dose of randomness and chaos.

It's World of Food night and this week Olivia chose Lebanon and this recipe.

Sketchy, right?!?

Problem is, I didn't review it in advance. I just asked her for the ingredient list & bought the stuff (well, except the 1/2 cup white toine. What the hell is toine?!? Google it. I challenge you to figure it out!)

The toine mystery was just the beginning. Don't you just love recipes that list ingredients that are then not mentioned in the directions? Or instruct you to use ingredients that aren't on the ingredient list? ARGH!

So, we just made it up as we went (in between helping with pre-algebra and english homework, mind you).

Ingredients "Our Way"

  • 1.5 pounds of meat (ground beef from Harris Farms. We love them. Here's why. I love his accent!)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 cup bread crumbs (use plan, not italian)
  • 1/2 cup white wine (a.k.a. "toine"?)
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 4 oz tomato paste
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 2 bay leaves


1. Mix the meat with the seasonings and egg whites

2. Form into meatballs (instead of the rolls in the official recipe), then dredge the rolls through the bread crumbs.

3. Heat oil in skillet and cook meatballs until browned, turning.

4. Combine 1 cup water, wine, vinegar, cinnamon stick, bay leaves and tomato paste to make sauce. Add to skillet and cook until meat is done and sauce is thickened.

5. Serve with something. Olivia chose elbow macaroni and a side of carmelized red onions and sauteed kale.

Admit it. You're thinking: HOT MESS!

But actually, the Lebanese Meatballs were pretty darned good! The cinnamon and nutmeg "tastes like Christmas", according to Jason. And everyone ate it up. Nothing left on the plates. Hannah even choked down the kale (with the promise of dessert).

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Hoisin-Glazed Salmon with Rice, Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Garlic Naan and ...

After Dark Chocolate Frozen Yogurt bars. Mmmmmm, so good it's tempting to do a backwards dinner (you know, dessert then dinner. what?!? you've never done that?!?)

BUT, the main course tonight rivals the best dessert, so we kicked it the traditional way.

Hoisin-Glazed Salmon, tested and approved by


  • 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon dry white wine
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • Four 6-ounce skinless salmon fillets (we used wild-caught Alaskan Sockeye)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 450°. Position a rack in the upper third of the oven. In a small bowl, combine the hoisin, soy sauce, wine, honey and garlic.

2. In a large, ovenproof, nonstick skillet (we're using the really awesome cast iron skillet we got for Christmas**), heat the oil. Season the salmon fillets with salt and pepper. Place them in the skillet, skinned-side up, and sear over high heat until browned on the bottom, about 30 seconds. Flip the fillets and spoon half of the hoisin glaze over them.

3. Transfer the skillet to the top rack of the oven and roast the salmon for 3 minutes (or, if yours are really thick like ours, 4-5 minutes). Spoon the remaining hoisin glaze over the fillets and roast for another 3 minutes. Baste the fillets with the glaze in the pan and roast until just cooked through, about 2 minutes longer.

Serve with Brussels sprouts made like this (trust me, they'll make you a convert!)... but leave off the Wild & Whole Grain Rice because even though it gets rave reviews we just don't think it has much taste! Garlic Naan completes the meal. And, for course, After Dark Chocolate Frozen Yogurt.


** Found this great tutorial for seasoning your cast iron skillets. And if you're like me and occasionally leave the skillet dirty for too long and need a little extra oomph getting the grit off: just sprinkle some salt in the bottom and scrub with a rag. It'll take off all that baked on, dried on gunk!

A Couple of Random Thoughts...

make a post, right?!?

So here goes:

Thought #1 What the hell is it with Calamari?!? Necessary Pleasures just passed 20,000 page views (we've been around a little over 6 months, so I think that's pretty good, right?!?) but a whole lot of the traffic is generated by image searches for calamari. Which lands people on this page. I know the Redneck Calamari is pretty damn funny, but really?!? 3,500 pageviews? Someone with a whole lot more blogging/SEO/culinary experience please enlighten me. What the hell is it with Calamari?

Thought #2 My kitchen is a total mess right now.

See. Total. Flippin. Mess. And it's driving me crazy!

Thought #3 People regularly ask me: How do you cook like that every night? You must be really, really organized. Or SuperWoman. Ummm... have you noticed when our last post went up? That's because Jason was out of town (went here, that lucky dog!) so we subsisted on takeout pizza, Breakfast for Dinner (and not even the gourmet version. It was straight Cheerios in a bowl), and hot dogs. Twice. Yeah, not very blog-worthy.

So that's it. Three random thoughts = One Blog Post.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Asian Grilled Salmon with Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Raise your hand if you've got a picky eater in your house. Might be a kid. Might be a husband!

We certainly have our share of finicky. Here's our "nope, I won't touch it"-list:

Hannah -- spaghetti sauce, zucchini, squash, tomatoes, green beans, Brussels sprouts

Olivia -- eggs (okay, her list basically ends there. Girl has got some culinary creds)

Miranda -- ravioli or any stuffed pasta, cantaloupe, Brussels sprouts

Jason -- tomatoes, cucumbers, "the green melon" (aka honeydew), liver and tongue.

Tanya -- lima beans, liver, veal (more a philosophical thing than taste).

I also hate PopTarts, though don't think that qualifies me as a picky eater.

Everybody hates something. And some of us hate more things than others. Miranda spent the first eight years of her life refusing any main dish that didn't include chicken fingers or noodles, no sauce. To this day she still orders chicken fingers whenever we're at a restaurant "just to be safe". (The one exception is sushi. She loves a good eel roll. Go figure?!?!)

I refuse to be a short-order cook, fixing one meal for one person and another for another. So many years ago I adopted the policy that I would cook what I want, make sure there's something else on the menu that everyone else would like, and require each kid to at least try each thing. They didn't have to clean their plates (remember that parental torture tactic?!?), but they did have to try at least one bite of everything. And if they ate enough of each item they "qualified for dessert".

I also try very hard to explain that "you don't hate the (insert food)", but rather "you don't like the (insert food) prepared such-and-such a way." (yeah, that only occasionally works)

Sometimes it's a hard sell. Like when I posted last night's menu on Facebook:

Asian Grilled Salmon with Roasted Brussels Sprouts ... and popsicles for dessert

Our friend Tim, whose wife Cindy is a fabulous cook!, immediately responded:

"Even popsicles can't make up for Brussels sprouts"

My response? You haven't had my Brussels Sprouts. Even Jason thought he hated sprouts, till he tried 'em this way. Now he's a total convert.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Ingredients -- sprouts, olive oil, sea salt. (yup, that's it!)

Directions -- Simple. Cut off woody ends and cut sprouts in half, lengthwise. Lay on baking sheet that's coated with olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt, then toss around the sprouts are covered in oil and salt. Bake on 400 for 15 minutes, tossing around at the half-way. Yum!

Now, on to the Salmon. Until a couple of years ago my Mom swore up and down that she didn't like salmon. I think she was going through PTSD from the salmon cakes my grandmother served her during childhood. We had to convince mom that all salmon didn't come from a can and wasn't shaped like a hamburger patty and filled with crunchy, little round bones.

When we finally convinced her to try it, she loved grilled salmon! Here's one easy recipe we use:

Asian Grilled Salmon

4 Salmon fillets (or 1 side of fresh salmon, boned but skin on)

for the marinade:

  • 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 6 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp minced garlic


Mix all the marinade ingredients, then marinade fish at least 10 minutes, longer if possible.

Fire up the grill (or if like last night it's raining and you don't feel like grilling under an umbrella -- the stove).

Cook 4-5 minutes on one side, flip, then 4-5 minutes on the other side or until desired doneness. I like mine a little "rarer" than Jason.

Serve with seasoned rice (lemon juice and bay leaf) and fresh blueberries.

And a popsicle. See. Everyone's happy!

What are your tips for getting picky eaters to try new things?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Vegetable Curry with Kenyan Ugali

Sorry to start with such a downer of a photo, but we think it's terribly important for everyone to know what's happening in Somalia right now. There's an ongoing drought and famine. A total humanitarian crisis (that's been largely overlooked by most U.S. press). The numbers are staggering:

  • At least 12 million people need emergency aid
  • 29,000 children have died, according relief organizations
Here's an interesting piece from AlJazeera that puts it in perspective and addresses the international response to the crisis.

The photo (at the top) comes from NY Times photographer Tyler Hicks, who spoke with NPR's David Green on Weekend All Things Considered. You can listen to the interview here. It's worth the 5 minutes.

So, you may be asking .... what does this have to do with a food blog? Well, many starving Somalis are traveling (by foot) to neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya.

And it just so happens that Olivia is up to "K" in her World of Food series and that means Kenya.  So, last night she made Kenya's national dish Ugali (cornmeal porridge) and Vegetable Curry.  The recipes come from KenyaTravelIdeas

Ingredients for Vegetable Curry (note: these are the full amounts, but we 1/2ed the recipe)

  • 2 large onions, finely chopped
  • 2 tblsp. oil
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp. mustard seeds (the black kind, if possible)
  • 8 medium potatoes, quartered
  • 1 and 1/2 tsp. fresh ginger, crushed
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced and crushed
  • 1 tblsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tblsp. whole coriander, crushed
  • 2 chili peppers or 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. turmeric
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 6 cloves
  • 4 oz. tomato paste
  • 1/2 lb. green beans
  • 1/2 of a small cauliflower
  • 1 medium eggplant
  • 1/2 lb. fresh green peas, shelled, or 1 small package of frozen green peas
  • 1 bunch of fresh leafy greens (kale, spinach, collards, etc.), or 1 small package of frozen greens
  • 1/2 cup dry chickpeas, cooked (optional)


1. Chop all your vegetables (try not to cry while dicing the onions... especially if you're holding a super-sharp knife!)

2.  Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. In a large, heavy skillet or pot, brown the onions in moderately hot oil along with the cumin seeds and mustard seeds.  Add the potato pieces (peeling is optional), and stir to coat each piece with the spices.

3. Now, add the remaining spices and continue to stir.  

4. Thin the tomato paste with about 2/3 cup of water. Stir into the pot. Add vegetables, one at a time, cooking for a minute or so between each addition, and put in the cooked chickpeas last.

Take a quick break to discover that you love the taste of tomato paste (?!?)

5. If your pot is not oven proof, transfer mixture to one that is. Cover with a lid or seal with foil and bake for about 45 minutes, checking after the first 20 minutes.  The consistency should be rather thick, but add liquid if necessary to prevent burning. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.

While the veggies cook, prep your rice...

And your Ugali.

Ingredients for Ugali

  • 1 cup cold water
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal (the Mexican flour ‘Mozerapa’ is a close substitute to the Kenyan flour)
  • 1 teaspoon salt (optional)
  • 3 cups boiling water


1. Put cold water in a medium-size saucepan, add cornmeal and salt, mixing continually. Bring to a boil over high heat, gradually stirring and slowly add 3 cups of boiling water to prevent lumps.

2. Reduce to simmer, cover and cook for about 8 minutes, mixing frequently to prevent sticking. The ugali will be done when it pulls from the sides of the pan easily and does not stick. It should look like stiff grits.

(note from website: "You can serve ugali with everything from meat stew to sugar and cream. Your choice!")


A really spicy, filling vegan meal that I wish we could package up and send to Somalia by the tons.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Farmstand Tacos

You already know how much I love Scary Mommy. NO?!? Well, I do! She's funny and frank and tells motherhood like it is, warts & all.

On the other extreme there's Bunny.

She not (yet) a mom, but has such a fascinating (to me) relationship with her own mother that I'm on her blog almost daily to check in. Bunny & I couldn't be more different. She's tall, blonde, lives in the big city, has a family with more steps and halfs than I can count, and she has very particular ideas of how things outta go down in the house (and in life). My NYC stint lasted just three months, I'm from a Leave it to Beaver family and I'm pretty laid back 'bout most things.

Still, Bunny's one of my favorite people! Not only is she one of the most positive people in the world (I'm a sucker for a good attitude!), but she's also one of the brightest people I've ever worked with and a total foodie!

So when Bunny says try something, I try it! And last week she shared her recipe for Farmstand Tacos. YUM!

Ingredients -- this one's tricky because you can make it up as you go, but here's what we used (to feed 3 people).

  • 1 yellow squash, sliced, then diced
  • 1 scallion, sliced
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 3 eggs, ruffled (explanation below)
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • couple dashes of Louisiana Hot Sauce
  • salt & pepper
  • olive oil
  • butter
  • 3 flour tortillas
  • shredded cheese


1. Saute the diced squash in butter in a pan. (Bunny says absolutely butter! And unless you're totally against it, I'd suggest you follow her advice!)

2. Add red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Cook for 10-15 minutes; then add tomatoes, beans, hot sauce and garlic. Continue cooking over medium heat.

3. Meanwhile, ruffle your eggs.

What the heck does that mean?!? It's kinda halfway between a hard-boiled egg and a scrambled egg, with the seasoning built right in. Here's how you do it.

4. Start boiling some water in a pan.

5. Get two pieces of plastic wrap for each egg. Lay then across a small bowl or ramekin.

6. Pour a little olive oil and spices into the plastic wrap and smoosh it around with your hand (yep, highly technical term there! We used the chili powder and salt with olive oil).

7. Crack egg into the saran wrap.

8. Tie it into a baggie type arrangement with another little piece of plastic wrap.

9. Put all the eggs-plastic wrappy things in your boiling water and boil for 4-6 minutes. (4 minutes will give you the runny centers Bunny likes. We did 5 minutes because I wasn't convinced Hannah would eat a runny yolk).

10. Prep your tortilla, fill with bean/veggie mixture, top with cheese and egg (just cut it out of the plastic wrap.)

Like I said, YUM!

It's a filling taco with great flavor. Hannah, our resident egg connoisseur, declared Ruffled Eggs her new favorite. Here's her review:

"I'd probably give it 3 out of 5 stars. One downer was the black beans were really mushy; but that's how black beans are. But if you really like black beans then you'd probably like this. And i liked the cheese melted on the black beans. My favorite is the egg because it wasn't too squishy, but it still in the inside it was squishy, but on the outside it was harder. I really liked that! And I really liked the flakes of red stuff because it added a little bit of spice into it."

So there you have it. When it comes to food, Bunny Knows Best!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Do You Know Scary Mommy?

You should. Because she rocks!

The latest proof of her awesomeness? The Scary Mommy Manifesto, which includes these food-related gems:

• I shall not judge the mother in the grocery store who, upon entering, hits the candy aisle and doles out M&Ms to her screaming toddler. It is simply a survival mechanism.

• I shall not compete with the mother who effortlessly bakes from scratch, purees her own baby food, or fashions breathtaking costumes from tissue paper. Motherhood is not a competition. The only ones who lose are the ones who race the fastest.

• I shall not preach the benefits of breastfeeding or circumcision or home schooling or organic food or co-sleeping or crying it out to a fellow mother who has not asked my opinion. It’s none of my damn business.

(So, clearly I'll be thinking of Scary Mommy while I drive my kids through the Moe's drive-through tonight! Meal-plan be damned... Homemade veggie lasagna can wait for another night.)

Monday, August 1, 2011

Warm Chicken with Green Beans & Chard (and a side of Banana Nut Crunch and Aliens)

I'm just not even sure where to begin with this post.

This has been one of the most physically and emotionally exhausting days ever in a while. I haven't slept much over the last week thanks to a raging case of poison oak (thank you modern medicine for a tiny bit of relief from the itching and blistering pain). And of course, all this went down while we were in Florida on vacation visiting my folks.

We get back yesterday (8 hours in a Prius with 5 people), pick up Ruby from the vet, do the dishes and laundry (how can these multiply when you're not even in the state?!?), cook a little, mark a couple girlie milestones, then collapse.

Then the real challenge begins.

I get to work this morning to find out one of my favorite co-workers is leaving. Yup, this guy's moving up to the big sandbox as Morning Edition host at Nashville Public Radio. It's a great move for a super-talented pubradio star, but it's going to leave an awfully big hole in our operation.

After absorbing that news, doing a little stratergizing (c'mon, channel your inner George Bush -- W or Herbert Walker) that might just land me back on the air as a full-time host for a while, spending nearly two hours editing a pretty cool documentary on the history of the Peace Corps, then a couple of conference calls about upcoming workshops I'm giving ...

Well, I just thought I was due a little respite from the drama.

But Nooooo! The News Gods won't have it!

These guys decided to sue these guys over this highly-controversial new law. So at 4:30 p.m. I found myself on a conference call with "government officials" (who refused to be quoted by name for the story) and at 5:15 I start calling local PR peeps, law firms, police offices and others to line up interviews for a full-length piece I have to file tomorrow. Oh, and did I mention the newscast story I filed for NPR at 6:15?


But seriously, I think I earned the rant (and I thank you graciously for indulging), because when I got home at 6:30 I found a kitchen counter and sink filled with dirty dishes, a husband with a severe headache, a dog who whines and winces when I even try to touch her (can dogs get poison oak?!? I think the pooch is suffering) AND ants crawling in my kitchen window and towards the dog food bowl in a marching formation that would make Patton proud.

Wah, wah, waaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhh!


And yes, it's a little cliche, but...

Hungry kids, hungry hubby, hungry me ... time for a little culinary meditation. There's nothing better than Fresh Air on re-run while chopping and cutting and boiling and sauteeing. (okay, no kids, no hubby, a bowl of Banana Nut Crunch and a Law & Order marathon might be a close second!)

But we have a plan for this week, so it didn't take long to gather the ingredients and get cooking some Warm Chicken with Green Beans and Chard from .

The Ingredients:

For the dressing

  • A small shallot
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • Small bunch of mint, stems discarded, leaves finely chopped (We left this out. Jason doesn't like mint)

For the chicken and salad

  • 2 plump boneless chicken breasts
  • A little oil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Sprig rosemary, finely chopped (forget this. d'oh!)
  • 7 ounces green beans, preferably the slender French ones
  • 12 stalks rainbow Swiss chard
  • 6 smallish tomatoes, halved or quartered, depending on their size
  • A few nasturtium blossoms or leaves, if you wish (Woulda been pretty, but we weren't springing for 'em this time)


Make the dressing

1. Peel and chop the shallot very finely. Place it in a screw-top jar with a good pinch of salt, the lemon juice, olive oil, and mint. Screw on the lid and shake the jar to mix the dressing. (that's easy enough!)

Make the chicken and salad

2. Preheat a grill or grill pan or cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Bring a pot of water to a boil.

3. Brush the chicken with the oil, season with the salt and black pepper, and scatter with the rosemary. Grill or sear the chicken until cooked through.  Let rest on a plate for 10 minutes, covered.

4. Meanwhile, trim the ends from the beans. Slice the chard stalks into about 1-inch lengths and remove and reserve the leaves. Boil the beans and the chard stalks in boiling water until tender—a matter of 2 or 3 minutes in each case, depending on the size. Dip the chard leaves into boiling water for 30 seconds. Remove and drain.

5. Pour the dressing into a bowl, add the drained green beans, chard leaves and stalks, the tomatoes, and the nasturtium flowers if you’re using them.  Cut the chicken breasts into thick slices—about four each—and place on top of the salad.


Jason -- The chard has a really nice flavor to it.

Hannah -- I didn't really like the Swiss Chard. I didn't like the texture of it. It was kind of slimy. of course I love chicken, so I loved the chicken. Sorry! I don't know what else there is to say. I'd rate it 3 out of 5 stars.

Olivia -- The chard is disgusting and nasty! I tried choking it down, but I just don't like chard. (at which point I reminded her that she RAVED about the Rustic Swiss Chard and Fontina Tart we made recently)

Chef Tanya -- I liked it, but I'm a much bigger fan of barely cooked vegetables. I like the crispy crunch of a bean that's only been blanched and the zing of a good lemon-oil-shallot dressing. The chicken's just the bonus. If you're like me and the veggies are the real stars in your eyes, you should definitely give this a try.

So. Do I feel better about my day? A little. I cooked. We ate. I snuggled with Ruby on the couch and watched Fallen Skies. When the outlaw character sniped about some new radio technology another character was working on:  "Great, maybe you can get NPR on that thing and we can bore the aliens to death" -- well, I laughed. It was funny!

Maybe the best way to get through some days really is to find the little things to appreciate.  That, and a bowl of Banana Nut Crunch at nearly midnight.

Photos: Big Sur, Yoga, Serenity