Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Sending Sebastian off to Kindergarten

     Well this morning was probably more difficult for Eric and I then it was for Sebastian. He started Kindergarten. I started putting his snacks together 2 days ago.  Eric complained that groceries this week seemed to be 80% Sebastian's school food and 20% the rest of the family.  I remember the lunches my parents used to pack and how much I hated peanut butter. Peanut butter sandwiches 10 days in a row was just plain torture.  I grew up in southeastern Massachusetts and went to a parochial school. Our hot lunches were pretty predictable. There was pizza, tuna (especially during Lent), hot dogs, chicken nuggets, cacoila (the only Portuguese hot lunch among a city that was 85% Portuguese at the time) and these just switched around every week.  School lunch has come a LONG way!
     I've worked in schools for the last 10 years or so and now you see salads, turkey sandwiches, soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, spaghetti, tacos,  Thanksgiving Dinner, Christmas Dinner, 100% fruit juice popsicles the options are endless. The best recipe I ever got for grilled cheese was from a lunch lady. I'm currently trying to find a healthier alternative for the spread which is 1/2 softened butter 1/2 mayo. Yes, I think I felt my arteries twitch too.  The difference after that spread and inserting the cheese is you bake the sandwich in the oven at about 200 degrees. I did sub the spread with olive oil one day and it came out pretty good.  But then again I love olive oil and use it all of the time!!
     I know a chef who is the head of food service at my old high school. I'm envious of the students as they eat A LOT better there now then when I went there.  His food has been described by the guidance counselors as gourmet.
     I searched on the internet for Cool School Lunches, Creative School Lunches and came across tons of ideas. If Eric wants to sit their and sculpt some Asian noodles to look like a Wooki, be my guest. I would rather have somone make that for me than do it myself. For fun check out the Cool School Lunch Bento Boxes, they really are very artistic and appetizing! Then ofcourse I want him to have a healthy lunch full of choices. He also is a peanut butter hater and eats Nutella. So this resulted in a giant debate between Eric and I about the nutrional value of a Nutella sandwich and that it's not candy it's hazlenut spread yada yada.
    So food shopping with Sebastian was interesting we got apples, bananas, carrots, watermelon, cheese sticks, goldfish crackers, juice pouches, a freezer pack for the lunchbox, a puzzle piece sandwich cutter, ham, Nutella and the list goes on. I expressed to my mom that I think I've packed too much food for him. My first clue was that I was having a hard time zipping up his lunchbox, I'm currently pricing out ones that expand.  I'm sure that if there were an apocolyptic event at his school he could live on today's lunch alone for about 7 days. I know in the world of preventing obesity in children I can understand your concerns. However, Sebastian is a bean pole with a very large head perched on top. We love to tell him to turn to the side and act as if he's disappeared. He loves showing us that he can feel his ribs. He's a picky eater but what he loves, he eats by the truckload.  I like to compare him to a hummingbird. He must burn the calories as fast as they come into his mouth.
    So we delivered him to school and hung out on the edges of the playground with all of the other nervous parents. He handed off his 20lb lunchbox to Eric so he could swing on the monkey bars and when the bell rang he ran full stop to retrieve his lunchbox from his father and joined the rest of his class. Eric and I returned to the car misty eyed while his younger brother Gabriel (2 1/2) cried all of the way home because he missed his brother.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Research in Action

     One of the things I love to do is perfect a recipe.  If you have read the description of this blog then you already know the level of my expertise, little to none.  So my most recent endeavor last week was preparing for the coming New Hampshire Highland Games.  My chef is in his second week at a new restaurant and I have already flooded him with texts of suggestions, dates of food competitions and ideas for a food truck at our nearby college.  I'm telling you, food trucks are the way to go. They were all over the Burlington, VT campus. We have one here!  A recent magazine article reported that fashion trucks are the new thing same idea but with clothes, hide your wallets gentlemen. Anyway, so the Highland Games is a huge weekend here in central New Hampshire.
     The Games take place around the end of September and is packed full of fun! My father in his younger days threw a caber, I've got pictures. If you are a local you probably avoid Lincoln, NH the way you avoid Laconia, NH during bike week.  You know the weekend is fast approaching when you start to see businesses flying flags that have purple thistles on them and everyone starts wearing plaid. It doesn't matter if it's not you own families' tartan, which is a plus, you just wear it!  Even the locals in the area don't blink an eye when you start to see men wearing kilts all around town.
     My idea was this... I have stood in the endless lines at the games for some meat pies and bridies.  Why not offer it at the restaurant.  If I could get it there instead of standing in line forever and trying to find a bottle of Lea and Perron's that isn't empty to put on my pie, I'd be in heaven! So the game is on.  I started searching online for recipes and found some great resources on allrecipes.com. It being August in New Hampshire we're already thinking about fall and soups. If you don't live in NH, fall really starts about mid August. The nights start cooling down and the mornings are chilly for longer. I seem to be very hotblooded first thing in the morning so my mornings consist of my husband and boys complaining that I have the back porch door flung open to let in the early morning air. 
      I decided that I was going to try a leek soup since leeks are very plentiful this time of the year.  I started with one pot then in the true spirit of experimentation I divided the batch among two pots and started varying the ingredients. One batch had potatoes, the other had mostly veggies like cauliflower, carrots, broccoli and other spice.  My poor chef was just about to head to work and I sat him down at the table with two bowls, two spoons and a glass of water. I sat in a very official fashion across from him pen and paper in hand.  Keep in mind every time I taste test anything from my chef it's usually atomically hot in temperature.  He sat and tried the first with the potatoes. He liked it well enough, we established that it should definitely have potatoes, there weren't enough leeks blah blah blah. The blah blah blah was a lecture I received on what is authentic leek and potato soup and what isn't. Don't ask me because I tuned him out. 
     Next he tried the primarily veggie one. Okay my chef doesn't like cauliflower in the soup. I think I got that point with the face he made. We established no carrots, not enough leeks and no cauliflower. So now my recipe has been reduced to leeks and potatoes. I still have yet to retry leek soup. I instead suggested he have a Portuguese night at the restaurant.  For now I think I'll experiment on the nights when he's working and not have any taste tests till I have found the true magical recipe. Right now my plans for the Highland Games is to stand in line for my meat pies and bridies. I wonder if they're available in the frozen food aisle...

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Secret Ingredients are a Secret

     Ingredients are well guarded secrets. Take for instance a Portuguese Recipe my grandfather has been hiding from me since my birth.  It is a recipe that has only been handed down to the men of the family.  I had to get married to my chef to get this recipe, and even then, it was given to my husband.
     Recipes are usually shared freely, it's the ingredients that are guarded by the secret service.  Why did Aunty Nancy's chicken not turn out the same? She didn't tell you that she put in a special smoked paprika that came from Uncle Manny's brother when he brought it over from Portugal.  Here you are feeling like an idiot using the store brand paprika.  Chefs know this secret and they flaunt it! They will give their recipes to each other but they won't specify certain brands of ingredients. Go ahead and wander through your kitchen. I will bet you your chef has atleast 10 different unlabeled baggies, jars or old sauce containers with the labels peeled off that hold's ingredients that only they may know. 
     I expect that if I allowed him, my husband would build a shrine to his smoked paprika, jarred red peppers and other valued ingredients. I can't share too much as I value my marriage and good food.  Be careful of being present to a secret ingredient hand off. You can see one a mile away.  They resemble the drug deal you saw in the movie, Bad Boys. Someone opens a small bag that is unlabeled and sniffs its contents. If it's good the said chefs huddling around each other smelling it will roll their eyeballs into the back of their head in sheer delight.
     Don't even think about using it without their permission either!  They must be the ones to first open the jar and used the last of what's in the jar. Don't be surprised if they even dole out the ration to you.
     The biggest warning I must offer is. If they are trying an experimental recipe with the said sacred ingredients, DON'T tell them it doesn't taste good. I don't care if it tastes like wood chips with charcoal paste on it. Make sure you say it's good and then every so slyly ask, "What would you do different next time." This might cause them to confess it tastes like crud.  Good Luck!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Birthday list, knives, wrapping paper, cake

     Yes, I have been married to my chef for 7 years now and I didn't think this birthday would be much different from the others.  I had my list but this year I thought I would get him some knives. After some innocent information seeking questions I knew they had to be German or atleast nearly German made, no santuko knives and was hoping for a 10" forged chef knife. Good questions hu?!
     So while shopping I filled my cart with the normal birthday related things...cards, cake, candles, wrapping paper, ribbon, two Kuhn Rikon knives and a 8" Forged steel chef knife. It didn't seem odd to me at all since my husband is a chef and he needs knives for his profession. Well after unloading at the checkout, I noticed that the cashier gave me an awkward smile and the customers behind me turned white.  I smiled but again, didn't think anything of it. Oh, I also had my two sons with me.
     While driving home I was really thinking about why people gave me such strange looks while cashing out and it dawned on me. Oh my Julia Child!!! They must think I'm a murderer or something.  Now the amusing part about all of this is that we don't buy adult cakes for each other on our birthdays. We like to buy kiddie style cakes if we don't make it ourselves.  So of course this cake was all colors of the rainbow and one of the cards my boys insisted on was meant for a child with a big hippo on it, but hey they wanted it for daddy. If it had been near Halloween I guess it would not have looked strange but I laugh to think about all of the things that were racing through these customers' heads.
     Needless to say Eric couldn't stop cracking up when I had told him all about this after he opened his presents.  His remark well..."I would expect no less from a distant relative of Lizzie Borden." Thanks honey, love you too!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Cookbooks, Their Place in Your Home

     If you are a chef or are connected to one, then you have no fewer than 200 cookbooks in your aparment or home. I am sure that none of us have enough space for all of them either.
     Julia Child forbid that you suggest they get rid of atleast the duplicates or misprints.  In my opinion, the only cookbook that is a good one, has food stains all over it! You know, pages falling out, taped edges, fading recipe.  Some of us have a decluttering list from placed such as fly lady (LOVE HER). If you aren't familiar with fly lady, google it, Marla Cilley, made my life living with a chef loads easier. There shoulds be the same type of list for decluttering cookbooks. If you like one reciped out of a 300 page cookbook then photocopy that recipe and spread the love, book, to someone else who will love it. Bless them with the joy it did for you so long ago. 
     Some like the red checkered bible you have had since grandma retired her Crisco is definitely a keeper( I know you know which one I am talking about).  One book that everyone should have chef or non chef is a cookbook that breaks down the science of cooking into to normal people terms.  Good Housekeeping put out a great one some years ago it is a yellow hardcover, looks more like college textbook than cookbook. I have grown to understand a lot more about substitutions, measurements and what not. Those tables in the front and back covers are priceless!!
     Cookbooks find their way into our house as presents on most all major holidays, yard sale finds or freebie boxes.  Our chefs like to think the book they found is the Holy Grail to finding the perfect recipe for the perfect Sunday Gravy that has been their quest since the weilded their first pair of tongs.
     So the following list is a means for keeping only those cookbooks worth the space on your shelf.

Do Not Keep If...
1. You can't understand the recipe or it would make even Alton Brown scratch his head.          
2. You haven't cooked anything from it in the last 3 years.
3. You use it on the ends of the shelf to prevent the other books from falling.
4. No one likes what you have cooked from this cookbook.
5. You respond with, but I might find something I need later on? (This response more than 10 years ago)
6. When your child says they want a cookbook you hand it over to them without reserve.

Keep It If...
1. It has dog-eared pages?
2. It has atleast 5 food related stained pages
3. You recommend recipes from it to other people.
4.  It is one of the go to books when looking for a new recipe.
5.  Ingredients in this book are easy to find in your area or can be ordered. (There is NOTHING more frustrating than wanting to try a recipe that you can't find the ingredients for, this is a mom talking)
6.  It has pictures of the meals that your results actually look very similar.

 So I am looking for storage suggestions from everyone out there. I will be posting this question to various people and looking from input from fellow readers of this blog as well.  We want to hold onto cookbooks because they inspire and motivate us to try their recipes, not because they make us feel inferior or intimidated, questioning our abilites to cook.

Kids and the Farm Stand

     We loooove going to our local farm stands in the summer! The boys usually go with me and we make our rounds. We start with a large stand near the local airport (by airport I mean planes that hold all of two people), sometimes we up North to a food purveyor we know, hit the local farmers market and then finish off at another farmstand near the house.  This last one is usually the freaky stop this person has plastic doll heads, a mummified halloween decoration and various plastic lizards placed around the displays. Weird, yep but his mesculun mix can't be beat!!!!!
     I always have to plan on spending double what we actually need. The reason for this is my boys love to eat the veggies while we are in transit. They eat so many carrots that the floor of my car looks like Bugs Bunny has taken residence in the back seat.  Those two boys can polish off a bunch of farm carrots in five minutes flat!  So when I get home the carrot cake muffins I was planning to make have now become corn muffins.
     Our food purveyor gent up North has lots of different fruits and veg. Not only does he get produce locally he also gets some of his product from NY.  Occasionally we see a pineapple and Sebastian, my older son, goes nuts!! As parents it is stamped in our contract when we leave the hospital to get as much entertainment out of our job, bringing up our children as possible.  When we got home we handed him the pineapple and said, "Ok, eat it!" The look of confusing on his face was worth it! I even loved it when he cautiously tried to sink his teeth into it.  We are able to really try different produce with our boys from this gent, things you don't see around our area.  We once bought a flat of 52 tomatoes for $10. The rest of the day was spent at home parboiling, peeling, seeding and freezing.
     Farmer's market's are a blast.  I am a sucker at all of the different products you can buy there local beef jerky, sandwiches, plants, pottery, jewelry, veggies, fruits, bread, cupcakes....... the list goes on.  I know enough NOT to go to one with my chef husband. If he did go with me I wouldn't have been able to pick up the three gorgeous bunches of wildflowers that are in vases all over the house, or the rosemary herb ciabatta loaf, or the necklace he won't see till I wear it Christmas Eve.  Then your kids ask if they can buy the rabbits that someone is selling and you tell them "No, because they are poo flingers and I'll be dlkdsflk if I'm going to clean that up in addition to the hampster and fish"
     The last stand is the best one.  The boys are so afraid of the mummified decor, doll heads and fake lizards that they won't even get out of the car.  I have been known to jump a mile from a perfectly place 3 foot fake iguana.  The best mesculum mix in the world is here. Our local restaurants even order it from this guy! He is the only Caucasian I know in the area who is sooo tanned from being out in the fields that he blends in with a Hershey Bar. He still has this tan in January. I'm thinking of taking up farming because I'm still pasty in August.  You are lucky if he's wearing shoes when you pull up.  The next best thing I love is that he has packets of dried organic herbs in addition to the fresh that he sells.  I love his strawberries, blue berries and giant sunflowers that puts out on August.  One year I became obsessed with white pumpkins for Halloween after reading Martha Stewart. (the level of difficulty for inserting christmas lights through holes drilled in the pumpkin is, Lobotomy Surgeon). Low and behold he had a display of white pumpkins.  Imagine my aggravation when we had snow on the ground that year on Halloween. Welcome to New Hampshire!!
     After this day's venture. We come home with about 3/4 of what we've bought because my boys have eaten so much fruit and veg if you shook them up you'd get a smoothie. But hey they have had their vitamins, right?!

Little Chef

     My oldest son has been cooking with my husband since he was 2.  His tasks varied from mixing dough to forming cookie balls.  He even has his own child-safe knife.  His expectations of cooking and food in general has become highly developed. In our house we call it picky.  When he was younger, he didn't like hot dogs or peanut butter. Even today it's got to be Nutella.

     Oatmeal in our house contains more ingredients than full English break.  In our house this is your typical morning oatmeal.

Whole Wheat Oats
Cocoa Powder
Various Sprinkles ( all of the ones you couldn't use up on ice cream night)

Directions as dictated by my 5 1/2 year old
You take a tablespoon of butter and melt it with some cinnamon and sugar.
Then toast the oats with the butter for flavor
Add a tablespoon of chocolate powder. Then slowly add water a bit at a time till it looks good.
After you put a lot in your bowl put sprinkles on it. I like the dinosaur ones.

Note: He puts a lot in his bowl and only a bit in his brother's. He then makes sure he has staked his claim on whatever is left over in the pot.

Our little chef just received his own baker's hat from my parents from their recent trip to Nantucket.  So when we got home, while getting ready for bed, my skinny little chef was running around the house in his underwear with his baker hat on his head.  At first he wanted to wear the hat to bed and I said sure.  He then thought better of it and folded it carefully deciding he didn't want to ruin it.

Since starting this entry, we have now started getting his own utensils for cooking. Our younger son has now acquired the same desire for cooking. His version of soup for daddy the other night is as follows:

Beach bucket
Mini carrots
Salt and pepper
Brown sugar

Mix all together, enjoy!

I love the phrase, "When a child hands you a toy phone, you answer it!"

"When a child cooks for you, You eat it!! "

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Best Thing About Being Married to a Chef

I was recently asked, by Kerilyn from Marriedtoachef.com, what was the best part of being married to a chef.  Well that got me thinking... 
Usually when I am thinking about something I look either ill or ticked off, so all this morning Eric kept asking me what's wrong but he wouldn't take "nothing" for an answer.  Unfortunately if I were to tell him what I was thinking it would go to his head. Here are some of my answers.

You don't have to be worried about eating too much in front of your chef.

You can be honest about how something tastes.

If you need to lose those last stubborn 10lbs work with your chef for a couple of weeks. They melt off, honest!!!!

You now know so much more about selecting quality ingredients at your local supermarket and stands. You just smirk to yourself when you see someone pick an overripe tomato.

You can create dishes without being slave to the recipe card. Substitution is the key to favorite food creations! (example my Post Christmas Eve soup that I make from the leftover veggie platter)

You can make apple butter better than your favorite restaurant.

You spot budget draining products at the grocery store and avoid them at all cost.

Your chef teaches you so much that your meals become healthier with every year your together.
(I used to be the potato flake queen, I am now the Real Mashed Potato Queen!!!)

Your chef shows there love for you every time they cook for you because you know they put their everything into it.

They are energetic, passionate people.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Kids of Chefs, A Rare Breed

When a chef procreates a strange things happens.  Kids like no other are born.
For those you have kids are plan on it, do not be surprised if you see the following.

Your child's firsts will include My First Cookbook

Your children ask for the specials before a server can give them at a restaurant.

The lists to Santa include Paula Deen dvds and a spatula.

Their favorite shoes are clogs.

When ordering out not only do they tell you what they want to order, they also tell you where to order it from.

At Halloween your child wants to be the sun. So you make a costume out of a pizza box and everyone says he looks like the kid from a breakfast sausage commercial. Guess which one....

Your cookware and flatware disappears only to be found on the cook top of your children's play kitchen.

While other kids are making sand castles your children are making mud pies and dirt soup.

Your kids beg for chive eggs for breakfast.

They expect dessert EVERY SINGLE NIGHT.

When you visit your chef's restaurant they think EVERYONE works for their mommy/daddy even the owner.

Having "restaurant hands" is seen as a strange right of passage.

You were offered a job on her catering crew?!

     My first experience as a prep cook was accidental.  I was going to work during my summer off from being a media specialist with 3rd and 4th graders to be a bar cashier at an entertainment venue.  Weeks went by and I hadn't even been put on one shift. Necessity outweighed common sense so I accepted a job working in the cafe kitchen with my husband, his boss and the rest of the crew. Now this kitchen not only put out a dinner buffet every night for it's paying guests but we also fed and cooked for the artists and their staff.
     I was really nervous and excited about this at the same time.  Occasionally an artist would bring in their own catering crew.  This was so with a particular event for a major country star.  I was excited and got to work backstage with her personal chefs and had grown accustomed to working at a frantic pace and getting a lot done in little time. When backstage you see everything from the tour buses, to the families, sound checks, costumes you name it, it all happens there.  It was amazing to see fridges stocked full of food you only see on food network.
     I must have cut three cases of tri-colored cauliflower that day.  Within our U-shaped working stations each cook two others and myself we prepped, cooked and served lunch and dinner to about 140 people.  Finally one of the chefs asked me if I had eaten yet to which I replied "Well, no, but i have to finish cutting this first." After being given the hairy eyeball I got a plate sat at one of the tables to find myself sitting three feet away from the well-known country singer, her children and their nannies. Needless to say I was a little starstruck, starstruck dumb. My mouth must have been hanging open because when she turned and looked at me with her very bright blue eyes, I snapped my gaping mouth shut and looked down very intently at my plate of food studying the shapes and texture of what I was eating. Forget that... I was staring at my food thinking "I am an idiot I just got caught gawking at a country star."
     After finishing the meal I very stealthily got up, took care of my plate and tripped over the leg of the table.  Yep, grace at its finest.  The rest of dinner prep consisted of me stuffing almonds into dates and wrapping them in bacon. It was a triumph when I was told that the crew was stuffing sandwich bags with dates to eat on the bus trip later.
     This was a memorable day and story sometimes filled with tears when I relay it because at the very end of this eventful day.... I was offered a job by the head of the catering crew....Me.... I have no experience doing this.. It was like a friend asking you to come out and play and saying, sorry I have homework or sorry I'm grounded. In this case it was sorry, I'm married and have a son and I'm really a librarian. If this had been three years ago I would jump on that bus as fast as a kid would run away with the circus.  With the chef's business card in hand I triumphantly waved it under my chef's nose and relayed to him the events of the day.  After telling my chef and the exec chef everything I very smugly turned on my heel leaving them with their mouth hitting the floor and finished it off with a quick "Yes" and a fist pump.