Get outside, Family!

Get outside, Family!

Monday, December 20, 2010

If only every recipe could be this easy

The Chef and Mama made this wholesome meal and it was "e-Zi". It also allowed the Chef opportunity to utilize his many talents, from grating to measuring, spinning and mixing. Due to a lack of seasoning in the recipe, the finished product fell kind of flat on flavor (Baby Zi loved it, but the Chef wouldn't take it for lunch the next day). Granny Ri Hi suggests adding red pepper and salt, which we will do next time.

Our dish was based on the Ricotta Pasta with Fresh Spinach recipe posted at That version is adapted from "The Vegetarian 5-Ingredient Gourmet" by Nava Atlas (Broadway Books, 2001). It's basically grown-up mac n' cheese with a healthy green topping.

Corkscrew-shaped pasta (the Chef's fav)
1 1/2 cup Ricotta
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese (Chef did the grating and mixing of the cheeses, water and pasta)
salt and pepper
Double-sized container of fresh baby spinach (Chef did the salad spinning after washing)

Cook pasta and reserve some of the cooking water. Toss with butter and set aside.
In another bowl, combine cheeses and enough of the water to make a smooth sauce. Add salt and pepper (this is where the red pepper would be a nice addition. And don't be afraid of the salt!).
(This was my favorite part -- one pot cooking!) Put spinach in the pot used for the pasta with a little water, and steam. Drain, add more butter and use to top each plate of pasta.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Chef's Salad Spinning Lesson

Tonight's menu: Romaine and Cherry Tomato Salad, Butternut Squash, Chicken and Gravy, Rice, and Asparagus.

The best way to spin a salad: With a crank spinner, fast. Because it will do it faster.

Tips on preparing squash: You should dispose it (the leftover shell) when you are done.

Our cooking show went well. The best thing was the chicken.

Mama and Chef agree that warming up leftover roast chicken in a pot of gravy of chicken stock, butter and flour made it into a whole new, even better dinner.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Chef is Back!

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches for Dinner, by Chef Zi and Mama

Step 1. Spread butter on the bread, both sides. (White bread is best.)
Step 2. Heat a chunk of butter in skillet.
Step 3. Cut bread slices in half.
Step 4. Fold slice of cheese in half, and then in half again, to make four pieces. Break apart to fit the bread. Put four pieces of cheese between two pieces of bread.
Step 5. Cook each sandwich until golden brown and melted.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

RIP, Dishwasher

My apologies to P&G for bashing phosphate-free Cascade in an earlier post. Turns out we did indeed need a new dishwasher. Although I can't let the new detergent formulation entirely off the hook. Our dishes were coming out greasy and chunky. Whereas when we were using the harsh, eco-nasty phosphate detergent, most dishes were mostly clean even with our old washer's weak water spray and mysterious, thundering wash cycle.

The new washer rocks our world, and does it so quietly. It makes less noise in wash mode than the whining and hissing that came from our old washer when it was done washing and simply drying the dishes. And our new washer has a cool "smart" cycle that is supposedly ultraefficient. So less water, less energy and no phosphates headed into the water system (at least not through our dish detergent).

Interesting how many people I know who've been shopping for new dishwashers since the detergent makers changed their formulas. And we are now advised to use a rinse agent -- something else to buy. See how environmental regulations can rev up the economy! Bring on the wind turbines.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Where in the world is Chef Zi?

The Chef is busy doing homework, playing with friends, playing the piano or just playing.

When I first envisioned this blog, the Chef and I had a lot more free time together, and that meant he helped me make dinner almost every night. But this school year has meant a lot more in-school time, plus homework and all the other stuff going on in his wonderfully social, challenging, adventurous life. You've already read how I'll put playing outside ahead of eating. A lot of times lately I end up throwing dinner together myself -- and I do mean throwing, as in toss the potatoes with oil as quickly as I can, fling a wet chicken piece into the roasting pan and hope I don't splash too much raw chicken goo onto the coffee maker -- in between homework help and baby feeding. I miss my Chef.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Do Rice Crispy Treats count as homemade?

No, but they sure taste fantastic. Just ask the other children at the Chef's recital who grabbed them all before the Chef could go for seconds -- he didn't mind too much, maybe because we left half of them at home. We often take his own treats to avoid any allergy problems, and it was his idea this time to share with the others.

Recipe (if not on box):

Stick of butter
Bag of marshmallows
Enough cereal to make firm bars, but not too firm.

Melt butter and marshmallows in microwave for about 3 minutes, add cereal, pour into pan and put in fridge to set.

Autumn night gets me again

And yet another beauty of an October evening upset my dinner plans. I knew it was going to be a busy day, and thought I had my act together: chicken marinating in the fridge, lots of vegetables leftover from the night before. But I just couldn't bring the Zi's inside, or myself. And then suddenly it was 6:15 p.m. And then I remembered that our final CSA vegetable pickup was that night, before 7 p.m., so had to head out in the car anyway. Papa Zi mercifully mentioned I might also pick up a pizza.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Make a Snacky Shacky

A good use for all that Halloween candy that has already started to collect around here. The house is a pound cake we made from scratch and sliced down to flatten all four sides. The cake did dry out, but the icing helped.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Cooking Vs. Enjoying a beautiful October evening

The Winner? Leftovers!

October Night #1
Tonight I completely understood the concept of McDonald’s. There was homework, music practice, a baby to feed, a dirty diaper, boogies to wipe, dishes from breakfast to clear, laundry to fold and a gorgeous October day outside. It was warm, with dappled sunshine and the sky as blue as I’ve ever seen it. The kind of day you want to breathe in and taste and absorb through your skin because you know winter is coming. Not the kind of day when I want to stand at the sink rinsing a partially frozen roasting chicken and scraping a butternut squash. So I didn’t. We also didn’t do McDonald’s. We had dried-out leftovers and a salad. Not especially tasty, but we did get outside to play.

October Night #2
Another beautiful night! We sat out swinging for a good hour after we should have been inside marinating salmon. The Chef was in high spirits, it’s still exciting that he can swing himself six months after he stopped asking for a push. Little Zi could stay in his baby swing all day watching cars pass, listening to planes overhead and squirrels in the dried leaves. Salmon stayed in the fridge and leftover meatloaf made an encore appearance.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

On the Road with Chef Zi

Under the harsh conditions of a tiny hotel suite kitchen, Chef Zi helped prepare a pancake breakfast for his family. We cheated a bit, using a Bisquick mix so we didn’t have to buy baking soda or oil. Good thing, because there were no measuring spoons, cups or a whisk. A sauce pan worked nicely for mixing up the batter, and the cakes were cooked in lotsa butter.

No miserable wait at a crowded restaurant with two young children. No spending a lot of cash for cardboard pancakes that can be swallowed only with the lubricating effect of syrup out of a tiny plastic container. The added bonus was the Chef was kept occupied long enough for Papa Zi to read the paper. Mama Zi got to watch a TV movie while Papa cleaned up.

Mama Zi tip for cooking pancakes while playing with children: Cook on medium to medium-low heat. It takes longer, but no burning if you get distracted.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Cheese, Glorious Cheese!

A Guest Chef recipe by Xandra, who blogs at This post originally appeared there.

As I half sit, half lie on my bed, I contemplate my situation. I have always been rather obsessed with cheese.... but today I have reached a new high for cheese appreciation.

I know, cheese? After reading any of my other posts one might ask whether this is still the same person writing. Rest assured, it is, I have just decided to comment on the lighter sides of life. Not that cheese is a light food, on the contrary, it's not particularly healthy in large doses at all.

To continue on with my original thought, I've had so much cheese today, that my stomach is now regretting it.
Spaetzle with cheese, then cheese and crackers, then chicken soup with spinach and cheese...
I. love. cheese. Probably more than chocolate, which if anybody who knows me heard me say that, would consider a very serious statement. It's just, you can do soooo much with cheese.
I have a whole cookbook only about cheese.

Here is a taste of my Spaetzle with cheese:
Spaetzle (a German noodle)
half and half
salt and pepper
half an onion
giant eagle Mexican shredded cheese mix
Gruyère shredded cheese

Boil the Spaetzle. Meanwhile put butter in a pan, sauté the onions, add half and half and the now cooked Spaetzle. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Cook until most of the half and half is evaporated and the onions are softish. Then get out a pan, butter the bottom, pile in some of the Spaetzle mix, put on some of the cheese (both the Mexican mix and the Gruyère). Add the rest of the noodles and top off with more cheese. Put it in the oven, and wait impatiently for the top to become golden and crispy... or in my case don't (I was too anxious to eat it).

Serve it warm, with salad if you want something healthy to make you feel better about gorging yourself on this cheese feast.

Enjoy (and try not to eat it all at once like I did, you will regret it, because then there won't be any left of the next day.)

Dishwashers regurgitate on dishware

Finally paying cooks and diners back for years of crusted on leftovers First my mother said her dishwasher stopped working, and she washed her dishes by hand for weeks before ultimately buying a new one. Then my mother-in-law started having the same problem, blaming the white clumps in the bottom of the washer on the fact that she was using powdered dish detergent instead of liquid. Papa Zi is usually the first to spot trends and spin conspiracy theories, but neither he nor I connected the dots when the white film arrived on our dishes and glasses. We were just too glad to have another reason to kick Moaning Myrtle – our chest-vibratingly loud dishwasher and inspiration for the Harry Potter character – to the curb. But before we even had a chance to press our noses to the door of new, sublimely quiet, highly efficient models, we learned the truth. Turns out the detergent makers have changed their formulations to eliminate phosphate, and this has taken the kick out of many detergents. As of July, Pennsylvania and other states have begun requiring phosphate-free dish soap in order to reduce a major pollutant to streams, rivers and lakes.

A whohoo for cleaner water systems. The chemical sorcerers redesigning the detergents should be able to make do without phosphate since we clean things without it all the time. Apparently, the liquid phosphate-free products are working much better than the powdered ones. We have not found this to be the case, however, and are basically having to wash our dishes by hand before we put them in. To avoid this, I’m reusing dishes a lot, which is okay. Maybe things don’t need to be as shiny clean as we’ve learned they must be from dish soap commercials from these same manufacturers that urge us to find ourselves in our reflection in our plates. But I still don’t like serving the Little Zi’s on dishes and glasses covered in visible soap film and bits of last night’s dinner; that can’t be healthy for them. Maybe we need a new washer afterall…

Monday, October 4, 2010

Eggs-traordinarily eggs-cellent egg beating

Because no week can start with too many carbs or fats, the scone and homemade butter breakfast feast opened with appetizers of Mama Zi's pancakes and bacon. (These held us over and kept everyone in a good mood while the scones baked.) Chef Zi beat the eggs, trying a variety of his grandparents' whisks before settling on a medium-sized tool.

When the Chef was younger, he was allergic to eggs and couldn't eat a lot of delicious treats made with them. He still has several other food allergies that dictate a lot of his menu, but he has outgrown the one to egg. I think when he cracks open eggs and smacks them around with a metal instrument, in his mind, he's kicking his allergy's butt.

Zi's in the buttermilk

On a beautiful fall morning, Chef Zi and his Auntie Fi Zi Re made butter the old-fashioned way -- with a carton of cream, a food processor and laptop open to these instructions from the Food Network's Tyler Florence.

It was fun to make. It was a surprise to see inside the food processor, changing into butter from whipped cream. It sounded like it was popping, like a vrum vrum vrum sound. It tasted wuuuunderrrrful (trilled R). It took 5 minutes. (The butter) looked like popcorn coming out of a train (moved arms in small circles to demonstrate the rods that move a steam locomotive's wheels.)

-- Chef Zi

Auntie Fi and the Chef's cousin Chef Re used the remaining buttermilk to make wuuuuuunderrrful berry scones. More on that in a future guest blog.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Mama Zi back to making lunches

The Chef has not mentioned making his own lunch again. Oh well.

The Chef makes his own lunch!!!

Sept. 9, 2010

The Chef came home from school today and announced he was making his own lunch. And he did it right then and there: vegetable sandwich (cream cheese, lettuce, tomato on wheat; okay, I'd made that the night before but he put it in the bag), apple, mini carton of OJ, two Sweet Tarts candies. Is this the start of something wonderful?

Homemade Food Gifts: Charming or Cheap?

August 13, 2010
It was his PapPap’s birthday, and the Chef suggested we make him oatmeal cookies. “It’s his favorite,” he said. I was stunned he knew this, since I didn’t even know my Dad liked oatmeal cookies. So we got to work early in the morning. The Chef lived up to his name and expertly scraped the top of a measuring cup with a knife to get an even measure of flour, and also counted out the cups of oatmeal. Most of it stayed in the bowl. It was turning into a pleasant morning activity.
I also had to admit I was thrilled to be avoiding a shopping trip, as well as to not be spending money on a gift that my father wouldn’t really like and probably would return (he does that). As I turned the batter over, I started to feel a little guilty about those last two points. It was my Dad’s 65th birthday, afterall. Five years ago for his last “big” birthday the family had helped plan a party around the pool. And now I was giving him cookies. I tried to figure out whether we still had time to hit the mall. Ughhh.
Of course homemade has its own charm, especially in these recessionary times. Unique, one-of-a-kind items made in home kitchens and workshops are for sale all over the Internet. People make their own beer, can their own veggies.
But what if what you are making at home isn’t all that great? One of the reasons I let my kid cook is that he is very often better at it than me. I’d only made oatmeal cookies a few times before, and on this day we were improvising a recipe because we were out of eggs. The first sheet of cookies out of the oven were flat and overdone, with crispy burnt edges.
Have you ever had the oatmeal cookies at Starbucks? Those are seriously yummy cookies, soft and chewy with a nice spice to them. I have no idea what makes those Starbucks treats so soft, whether it’s skilled baking or the deceptive magic of artificial flavors and preservatives. I do know that our cookies were made with just the good stuff: lots of butter, flour, rolled oats, sugar, etc. Plus tender loving care. And a few drops of spit from the Chef’s licked fingers that went back in the batter. At least we know whose spit it was. Does that make it good enough, though, especially when a perfect cookie can be had for a few dollars along with a Grande Latte?
I asked the Chef how he knew PapPap liked oatmeal cookies best. And he told me a story from a full year ago when we were all at a fundraising walk together, and how his grandfather kept going back for more free oatmeal cookies. The Chef thought that was pretty funny, and apparently so did the guy giving out the free cookies. It was beautiful to me that my son remembered this moment with his grandfather. So that sealed the deal – PapPap was getting cookies, perfect or not. I suppose my gift to my Dad was helping his grandson do this special thing for him. And maybe in some way the universe was better off for a mother and son having a great morning baking, instead of dragging themselves to a shopping center to buy running socks.
I made sure my Dad knew who deserved the credit for the cookie idea, and he seemed touched. With all that butter, the cookies even tasted good.

Recipe: We used the recipe on the Quaker Oats container, adding a bit more baking soda and liquid to make up for the missing egg, plus extra cinnamon.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Recipe #3 Blueberry Muffins

Guest Contribution from Papa Zi:

It's Saturday (August 7, 2010) and Chef Zi and Papa Zi wanted something special for breakfast. So, they started looking through their cookbooks for a good muffin recipe. After 1/2 dozen cookbooks, as usual, they returned their old standby - "Joy of Cooking," by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker. However, the Chef and Papa Zi have not been entirely happy with their muffins the last few times, so this time they decided to tinker with the published recipe. If they do say so themselves, the results were nothing short of mouthwatering (in fact, spectacular, no fantastic, possibly the best ever), so for those of you who are interested the recipe, here it is:

Taken from "Joy of Cooking" (with Chef and Papa Zi's modifications in parenthesis):

Preheat oven to 400 degrees
(Thoroughly spray muffin pan with PAM)

(Dry Ingredients: No sifting)
1 3/4 cups all purpose flower (carefully leveled and gingerly dumped by Chef Zi)
3/4 teaspoon of salt
1/4 cup (heaping) of sugar (heartily dumped by Chef Zi)
2 teaspoons of 2x acting baking powder
(Dry ingredients whisked together by Chef Zi)

Beat in a separate bowl:

(Wet ingredients)
2 eggs (anti-biotic and hormone free)
4 (1/2) tablespoons melted butter
(1) cup (whole milk)
(about 1 1/2 tablespoons of freshly zested lemon rind)

Combine the dry and liquid ingredients with (more than) a few swift stokes
(Add about 3/4 pint of fresh blueberries and carefully mix through)

Fill well greased muffin pan about (4/5) full and bake for 20 - 25 minutes.

Eat well, live long, laugh alot - Enjoy Life!

Recipe #2 Limey Lime Marinade

Another zesty recipe from the Chef.

4 Limes, sliced in half
olive oil

1.5 lbs of salmon filet

Mama Zi cuts the limes. The Chef zested two limes with a zester. "My technique is to be like a robot. Use a flat zester," says the Chef.
Chef then juiced four limes and combined juice with zest. Add olive oil and whisk. Pour over fish, and rub with hands. Generously salt and pepper. Cook on medium-high grill, flipping once.

"It tasted like, very limey," says the Chef. "Sort of good."
Mama and Papa LOVED it.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Recipe #1 Getting Zesty

Chef Zi loves to zest. He has zested watermelon rind, potatoes, tomatoes as well as the major citrus fruits. Some things zest better than others. Mama Zi loves to use zest to boost stir fry and fruit salad. Here we then used the orange halves for orange juice, and later filled them with bird goodies and hung them in the trees. Warning here: The Chef has on occasion accidentally zested his fingers -- doesn't feel good, and doesn't taste so good either. Definitely watch the little ones with a sharp zester.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Welcome to Chef Zi!

Our family likes to cook our own food. That means no take out, and we rarely get dinner from the microwave (except for leftovers.) While we keep it pretty simple most nights, even a steak on the grill with a couple of steamed vegetables can be tough to pull off when a young child wants your attention and knows how to get it. Should I save the steak or catch my child as he leaps from the top of couch into the brick fire place? So around the time my eldest was 2 years old, I started getting him involved right beside me – first water games in the sink, later suggesting he pull a variety of condiments and other ingredients from the fridge to make a “special” drink. Little did I know that in a few short years, that toddler would grow into Chef Zi , an elementary school aged-dynamo who selects seasoning for his favorite pork tenderloin rub and has crafted several (non-alcoholic) cocktails that are pretty tasty.

Kitchen time has become our play time, and also a way for me -- with the help of cookbooks, measuring cups, moldy food and food coloring – to squeeze in a little reading, math, science and art. Real cooking takes time, and our commitment to it defines our family lifestyle. Please join us at our virtual table!

Mama Zi

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Chef Zi

where kids cook and mom cleans up