Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Jax Attacks The Vegetables: Food Prep (Part 2)

It's 5 am right now and I'm in no mood for introductions, so let's cut right to the chase. This post is the second in my family food prep series. In my last post, I talked about how I streamline my cooking in one or two sessions so that my family eats homemade meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Today I'll share the vegetable-based recipes my family likes that are easy to streamline and are healthy! Be forewarned: there is a lot of chopping!

The secret to food prep is good tools. Just like you need a good education and training to be successful in your career, you need good kitchen tools to make your food. Consider getting the tools I use on here, and please feel free to comment with tools you think I should look into!

Remember, I make everything to serve troops. So my quantities are for large portions, and you may need more or less.

Let's start with soups. Soups are one of the easiest ways to incorporate lots of vegetables into your diet and enjoy a comforting, savory food. I also like them because semi-toothless babies can eat soups. We are having an issue getting our 3-year-old to try soup at this time. Oddly enough, he ate these recipes without complaining until 6 months ago, but now demands roasted vegetables. So as of now he's the only one not eating any of this.

"Creamy" Broccoli Spinach Soup

slightly adapted from Martha Stewart - I never make the toast
Makes ~10 servings (I usually make this in double batches, in two pots, it freezes extremely well)

3 leeks, washed and sliced
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
18 cups of barely chopped broccoli (you can buy bags of broccoli at Costco, 3/4 of the bag should cover this), and truth be told, I don't measure, I just fill up the pot
18 cups spinach (again, large bag at Costco, or just one entire bag of Fresh Express Spinach)
2 cups chicken broth
1/3 cup Tahini (ground sesame seeds)
Salt, to taste

Heat the oil in a large pot under medium heat, then add the garlic. Cook it for about 1 minute, then add the leeks. Stir to combine with the garlic and turn up the heat to medium-high. Continue to let the leeks cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes. Let them brown slightly. Add the broccoli and the chicken broth, and immediately cover the pot. Once the broccoli begins to brighten in color, stir it to mix it thoroughly with the broth and leeks. Continue to cook it until it's just bright - don't cook it too long or else it will get soggy and brown. Turn down the heat to medium-low, add the spinach, cover, and let the spinach wilt. Once it's soft enough, turn off the heat and stir it in with the other vegetables until it's completely soft. Grab your hand blender - you need this - and begin pureeing the soup. Once it's basically pureed, add the tahini and salt, and puree it again to get it really soft and "creamy". If you would like, add a bit of parmesan cheese for more flavor in lieu of salt. Heath, our 16-month-old, DEVOURS this soup. He actually drinks it because the spoon takes him too long. If you're looking for a way to get loads of green into your kids diets, this soup is great.

"Creamy" Tomato Soup

Adapted from my Creamy Tomato Bisque - this is a much healthier version
Serves 16, and freezes very well, takes 10 minutes to make this

10-12 Roma tomatoes, chopped
1 head of garlic, peeled. Chopping unnecessary (how easy is that?!)
12-14 celery stalks, or about one head of celery, not including the gross middle stalks, coarsely chopped
2 large yellow onions, coarsely chopped
2-28oz cans of whole tomatoes, drained
1 Tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/3 cup tahini (ground Sesame seeds)
chopped fresh basil, for garnish and flavor

Put everything but the tahini in the crock pot on high for 5 hours. When the vegetables are soft, use your hand blender to puree the soup, then add the tahini and puree it more until it's thick and creamy. Garnish with freshly chopped basil.

Amazeballs Ratatouille

I don't know where I got this recipe; at some point I added it to my recipe lists on AnyList, and then found it accidentally. This is for TWO batches. Cut it in half if you only want to make one to start.
Makes 2 batches, each which make about 12 generous servings. I make this two times without washing the crock pot between, and freeze the second batch. Then I only have to make it twice a month. 

6 medium/large zucchini halved length wise and sliced
4 red bell, peppers, chopped
1 medium-large eggplant, chopped
4 large tomatoes, chopped
4 yellow onions, chopped
12 garlic cloves, chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 can tomato paste
Salt, dried basil, dried oregano (or use fresh if you have it!), pepper
4 chicken bouillon cubes (no water)

Put half of everything in the crock pot on either high for 6 hours. Stir. Remove from crock pot, repeat process.
I feel like I should keep typing, but actually that's it.

Almond Slaw

From Les Mills 21 Grit Nutrition PlanMakes 16 servings. This is AMAZING. The ingredients look crazy- but people love this. It's great for a party salad as well as extremely healthy.

1 large head of cabbage, coarsely chopped into stripes
1 large onion, sliced (we use white or yellow, anything will work though)
4 garlic cloves, chopped finely
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup almond butter (Make your own! So easy and the jarred stuff is loaded with sugar)
1/3 cup Tamari or soy sauce (the original recipe calls for Tamari sauce. I don't eat enough soy to worry about a bit here and there in my diet)salt and pepper to taste.

Mix cabbage and onion in a large bowl. In another bowl, whisk the remaining ingredients until it comes together as a dressing. Pour it over the cabbage and onions, and stir until evenly incorporated.

"Grilled" Vegetable Kabobs

1 Red Pepper, cut into medium pieces
1 Green pepper, cut into medium pieces
1 eggplant, cut into medium pieces
1 yellow onion, cut into large pieces
2 cups mushrooms, cut in half
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried italian seasoning

Pre-heat the broiler to high. Put the vegetables in a large bowl, drizzle the olive oil, salt, and Italian seasoning over them. Stir to combine, You can either thread the vegetables on skewers and broil them on high for about 5 minutes each side, or you can just lay them on a baking pan lined with foil, broil them on high for 5-7 minutes, then toss them around a bit and repeat the broiling time.

I don't have any pictures of my food, so I'll leave you with a picture of my kids playing near the harbor. In Part 3, I'll talk to you about the proteins we make in our house! Until then... :)

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Jax Attacks 64 Meals in Three Hours (Part 1)

This post is either going to leave you thanking me, or thinking that I'm insane. Today I'm going to tell you how I manage to cook 99% of everything my family eats. I make everyone's breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks. We go out to eat 1-2 times per month and the most processed food in our fridge is Greek yogurt. Nearly everything is made from scratch. I don't have lots of time on my hands - like any other mom I'm busy. I hope to give you an idea of how I do it without confusing or overwhelming you. Truthfully, I never read anything on how to do this and just figured it out as my husband and I started our family. Hopefully I'm able to put down in sensical words just how I get it done.

First, I should say that cooking and meal planning require discipline and commitment. Meaning, it takes little bits of daily decisions which lead up to an efficient day (or two) of meal prep. My streamlined approach may not work for every family. I pretty much cook everything on weekends. I never come home and say "What should I make my family for dinner?". There's always something already made.

Here is what my fridge looks like on a Sunday night, before the work week. Twelve servings of breakfast, 18 salads for lunches, 6 second lunches of soup and some sort of protein, 28 dinners of which include vegetables and a protein, 14 days worth of snacks for my boys. And breast milk, of course :) I don't make breakfast for more than 3 days at a time because it doesn't taste as good and it's easy to make.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I use a free app called AnyList. I highly recommend this app. It allows you to create recipes and directly populate ingredients into shopping lists from the recipes. It also allows for user sharing which means if my husband stops somewhere and sees we need something on a list, he can grab it and cross it off of mine. I add all of my meals - even salads - to my recipe lists, no matter how simple, so that I can easily add items to the grocery list. As we run out of things throughout the week, we both add things to the list. Before I go to the store, I make a list of the things I plan on making for the week and complete my grocery list based on my menu plan. Bam! Meal planning is complete!

Getting to the grocery store is one of the most difficult parts to meal planning. I do most of my food prep during baby sleep times, which leaves me with the challenge of finding time to get groceries while juggling my 3-year-old's extremely busy social life. I'm going to start taking advantage of the service where the store shops for you and you just pick it up. It's only $5, which is worth the time it takes me to squeeze it in between work appointments.

So here are the rest of my "tricks":

  • I make meals in a mix and match format. Usually four options for a protein and vegetables. For example, egg and kale scramble for breakfast can be mixed with roasted veggies, almond slaw, or some sort of vegetable soup. We don't eat starches for the most part, and snacks are usually fruit, nuts, yogurt and for the kids my zucchini carrot oat muffins.
  • I make everything in enormous batches. This makes it annoying but overall more efficient. I have a recipe I cook in a crock pot (which I will post in part 2) that I will make in two large batches without even washing the crock pot in between. I will then freeze the second batch and make it just twice a month. 
  • When cooking in huge batches, it's very important to be efficient with time management. To begin making salads for our lunches, I lay down 18-20 containers ahead of time. I pull out all of the ingredients from the fridge at once. I wash and chop each vegetable and put that particular vegetable in a bowl, then add it to the container. I keep a large bowl near me at all times to discard trash, instead of walking to the trash can. Here's what it looks like on my dining room table when I'm making salads.
  • I pack lunches for everyone at least 3 days in advance. When I make soup, I will set aside portions for everyone. This is so good - we rarely have to pack lunches the night before. This is not only great for convenience but for health and weight management. Whether or not I workout at 6 am or I'm teaching at 6 pm, I have to fuel my body appropriately for the intense workouts in which I participate. I simply cannot eat a heavily carb-loaded food for lunch and expect to have energy needed to get through Body Attack. 
  • I use the crock pot. A lot. So much in fact, I'm probably going to buy myself another one sometime soon. Today I roasted a 7.5 pound pig. I slow cooked it for 20 hours, and it is so delicious and tender, yet I spent more time opening the package than I did actually doing anything special to it. I highly recommend getting a crock pot and learning how to use it.
  • Going back to time management, don't bother to clean what you don't need to clean while you're in cook-mode. Just get as much prepped as possible. I clean things when I need more space in my small kitchen or if a tool needs to be washed. Like I mentioned, I'll recycle the crock pot.
  • Set aside time to do this. Two-three hours at least. It doesn't need to be all at once. I make everyone breakfast usually on Sundays and make a large enough batch to get through a few days. While two or three hours seems like a lot, it's significantly more efficient than trying to make everyone's individual dinners and lunches the night before.
  • I don't make anything overly complicated and I get to know my recipes very well. Yes, I have some complex recipes on this blog, but I don't take the time to make most of those during my weekly food prep. Also, anything I wrote during my pregnancy isn't an accurate reflection of how I eat or cook, because I indulge much more while I'm growing a person :)
So those are some of the basics to time management and cooking as much as I do. Yes, it's a lot of work. For those that know me, now maybe you have some insight as to why I'm so against giving my kids junk food on a regular basis, especially between meals. I make it a huge priority to feed my family healthy, home cooked meals. So I want them eat the food I take the time to make for them.

In Part 2, I'll post what my weekly food plan looks like, including recipes, to help you and your family eat healthier and more conveniently!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Spaghetti Squash Pizza (Crust) !!!

You know it's been awhile since you've written a blog post when you have to google the address to go to get into the blog. I am looking at my last post, initially thinking I wrote it two months ago. January?! Whoops.

People keep asking me to post my recipes and methods for how I manage to do everything I do with regards to having homemade breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks packed for everyone all of the time. I will eventually write a post on it, because I have it down to a science. Until then, I will just give a few pointers. I work a lot, so it's not during the week (although I stayed home for a year and found it to be impossible to get anything accomplished as well). I use serious time management, and a free app called AnyList, which allows me to import my recipes and then populate ingredients directly from the recipe to a shopping list. It also allows for multiple user-sharing, so if my husband stops by the store to grab diapers and sees that we need olive oil, he can just grab it and cross it off our lists. I also divide up my washing of vegetables, chopping, cooking and cleaning so it's as efficient as possible. I don't bother to clean up after making one meal when I'm about to make another mess for the next meal. I also make everything in 3-5 times the amount of any recipe, so that we have it for the week (or to freeze) and I make things that taste good after a few days. Soups, stews, grilled meats, etc. The only exception to that are scrambled eggs, quiche or frittatas which just don't taste good after 3 days. 

That information is nice, but I'm sure that's not why you clicked this link. More on that in another post, hopefully before Christmas 2014.

So, onto pizza! Everyone knows that pizza can be the easiest way to incorporate vegetables into your kids diet by adding them to pizza. But when you're serving it to them on crust, it kind of takes away from the awesomeness, because it's really just vegetables on bread, with lots of cheese. Not a big deal for a party, but if you want to serve your babies a healthier (and easier) pizza, I have finally found the answer. Spaghetti squash! This is twenty times easier to make than making pizza crust from scratch, but definitely more work that purchasing a frozen pizza. It is cheaper than pre-made crust though, if that helps!

I know about the popular cauliflower pizza crust, and I've done that too, but it's very time consuming. It is extremely delicious, I just don't have that kind of time to make a pizza. I find this to be just as tasty and doesn't require much commitment or special equipment (like WTF is a tea towel?).

The only negative thing is that I can't quite figure out how to keep this crust from sticking to the aluminum foil after baking it. I haven't tried a pizza pan or parchment paper, and I've been asked a few times to post this, so please experiment and let me know what works best for you! Perhaps baking spray?

And for an added pinch of vegetables and flavor, I threw in a cup of chopped spinach mixed with 1.5 cups of shredded mozzarella cheese.

My boys annihilated this after I made it, and didn't question a thing. The "baby" (he's almost 16 months old) eats absolutely anything so that means nothing. The 3-year-old is a tougher critic.

If you're looking for an update, we are doing well. We went through a very difficult season in our family last year. Trying to keep our kids separated because they simply couldn't be left to play together safely, coupled with one stomach flu after another, and other very serious adult problems, 2013 was hard. Now that our boys are both toddlers, and it's summer - everyone is healthy and happy!

Please enjoy this healthy pizza and let me know how your kids like it!

Spaghetti Squash Pizza (Crust) !!!

(for crust)
1 Medium Spaghetti Squash (yields about 4 cups of cooked spaghetti squash)
2 eggs
1/2 cup flax seed
1 teaspoon salt

Pre heat the oven to 350 degrees. Split the squash in half with a large knife and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Lay the halves in the oven, husk down and cook them for about 70 minutes. Let them cool completely and scoop the spaghetti into a bowl. Make sure the squash is pulled apart without clumps. 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a medium-to-large mixing bowl, mix together the eggs, flax seed and salt until evenly combined. Add the spaghetti squash and fold it together with a wooden spoon until it's evenly mixed.

Line a baking pan with something other than aluminum foil - because that hasn't worked for me. I would try parchment paper next time. If you try the foil, spray it down with baking spray. Non stick doesn't do it. Press the squash into the pan until it's flat and evenly distributed. Bake it for about 45 minutes or until slightly browned. It shouldn't feel wet when you press down on it.

To turn this into a pizza, take it out of the oven and turn the broiler on low. Put as much sauce as you want on top of the pizza and add your cheese and toppings. Don't forget it you want to chop up some fresh spinach to mix in with the cheese! Broil the pizza on low for 4-5 minutes until the cheese is melted.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Browned Butter Zucchini Carrot Muffins

I want to start this post by saying I don't in any way believe in "hiding" vegetables in food for kids who refuse to eat them. I am not going to give you advice as to how to get your kids to eat vegetables if that is the only way you can get them to do so, I am just starting this post by saying it's not my style to hide vegetables. With that said this is a great way to incorporate vegetables into a food most young kids will eat without a battle: MUFFINS!

I like to tell my boys what they're eating. So I say something like, "Would you like a zucchini and carrot muffin?". That way, they understand you can make delicious things with vegetables. We are lucky that both of our kids eat a pretty large quantity of vegetables without too much trouble, but we work hard at it.

These aren't typical sweet and fluffy muffins. If you want sweeter muffins you can always add more sugar, but I felt it defeated the purpose of a healthy muffin. I am not even sure if I make these again if I'm going to add any sugar, because they were a hit and barely sweet at all. They're strong in spice and have lots of other flavors to make up for lack of sweetness. They're dense because they're made with oat flour. You can choose to use all-purpose flour, but know it won't have the same nutritional value. Instead of buying oat flour, pulse regular oatmeal (not instant) in your food processor until it's a fine flour.

Want to hear something crazy?! I now have a 3-year-old and an 11.5-month-old. Valentine's Day we will officially have two toddlers. The baby has been mobile for so long now I feel like we've had a toddler for awhile. He's really into climbing and this is a challenge we didn't experience with our oldest. I keep "finding" him halfway up the stairs, in the toilet or trying to climb out of his crib. Cutest trouble maker ever!

Browned butter Zucchini Carrot Muffins

loosely adapted from Southern Food's Zucchini Muffins

3 cups finely grated zucchini (about 3 medium zucchinis; I used a fine cheese grater)
1 cup finely grated or finely chopped carrots (you can use a food processor, just don't accidentally puree the carrots)
3/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into medium cubes
1 cup milk (I used whole, skim or 2% may work but I can't make promises)
4 eggs
3.5 cups oat flour
1/2 cup brown sugar (any kind, I used coconut sugar)
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda

Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Start by browning butter. I do this by cutting it into cubes, then melting it over medium heat, slowly whisking it. It will start to foam, then bubble some more, then settle down, and finally you will see small brown bits forming on the bottom of the pan. Then, remove it from heat, and keep whisking it for another minute or so. Set it aside to cool down.

Combine the zucchini, carrots, milk, and eggs in to a large bowl. Stir with a large spoon until totally mixed.

In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Whisk them until they're completely mixed. You can also sift the dry ingredients; I didn't bother to do that but it's not a bad idea. Remember, you can opt to use no sugar, or more if you prefer sweeter muffins.

Add the browned butter to the wet ingredients, making sure to get all of the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Stir it completely, then add the dry ingredients to the wet. Stir together with a wooden spoon until a thick batter has formed.

Using two 12 muffin trays, spray the insides of the muffin holders with baking spray. I have done this with paper muffin holders and found it didn't work that well. Spraying works best. Fill each muffin tray to the top with muffin batter. These are very dense and won't rise very much, so don't be shy. Even a top off will be ok! Bake them 19-22 minutes or until a toothpick comes out almost clean. Let them cool in the tins and then take them out when you can handle them.

Use muffins to bribe small children.

Oh wait, that's not part of the directions...