Friday, July 29, 2011

Turkey Meatloaf for my Turkeys

A finger food favorite around here lately is turkey meatloaf.  The twins love it and so do the dogs.  My kids have finally discovered the joys of throwing their food to the dogs on the floor below, woo hoo!  And poor Taco already had a slight weight problem...

Turkey Meatloaf
1 lb ground turkey (I use 90/10)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
4 carrots, grated
1 c. bread seasoned bread crumbs
1 large egg
salt and pepper

Over medium heat saute the onions and green peppers until soft, about 7 minutes.  Meanwhile grate the carrots.  I use the grater disk on my food processor which is super quick.  Put the ground turkey and egg and carrots into a large mixing bowl along with the cooked veggies and bread crumbs. Since this is generally just for the kids I usually add just a pinch of salt and pepper. The veggies really give this meatloaf its flavor.  Combine all the ingredients with your hands!  Put the meat into a loaf pan and bake on 350 F for an hour.  After it is cool I cut this into meal size portions for the freezer.  Just put a frozen portion in the refrigerator to thaw overnight and dinner (or lunch) is served!
I think this means he likes it
It's obvious the dogs do too...

Thursday, July 28, 2011

What the Twins Are Eating - 10 months

It is amazing how much can change in one month!  The boys went from eating one meal of finger foods at 9 months to an all out anti-spoon feeding rebellion and three meals a day with no mommy feeding assistance.  They really are finger food champs at this point.

As they are eating more finger foods they are slowly losing interest in their formula.  Right now they are taking about 24 oz or sometimes even less!  I give them about 6 oz in straw sippy cups with breakfast and lunch.  These are our favorites: Playtex Baby First Lil' Gripper Twist 'n Click Straw Trainer Cup, 7 Ounce, Colors May Vary  (not sure what is up with the price on Amazon...I'm pretty sure we bought them for around $5 at Target...)  Then my little guys have one "snack" bottle after their second nap, and one last 8 oz bottle before bed.  They almost never finish all they are offered anymore but I think that is just fine for this stage.

Family dinners are beginning to finally occur around here too.  Tonight's menu is cheeseburgers, so they'll have "deconstructed" cheese burgers with whole wheat english muffin pieces, zucchini, and watermelon...and we'll eat with them!  I don't know that we are up to eating every one of our dinners at 5 pm quite yet but we are definitely going to start eating more of them with the kids.  They seem to really enjoy interacting with us at the table and I think it is good for all of us.  It's definitely fun around here these days... but it can get messy! :)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Roast Chicken

This cookbook is no joke!  Alex and I became serious fans of Thomas Keller after eating quiche at his Bouchon restaurant in Las Vegas.  (We live in Vegas, have we mentioned that?  Lots of restaurants to review in this town!)  Anyway, best quiche ever.  It inspired us to buy this cookbook, which, I won't lie, is immensely complicated.  But it is amazing. Every recipe we've tried so far has been pretty great, even if it is complicated.  This is definitely a weekend cookbook for us, but its a good one.

We believe this cookbook may just have the very best Roast Chicken recipe, ever.  Brine the chicken, roast it for an hour, delicious.

Roast Chicken, adapted from Bouchon by Thomas Keller (we made one chicken instead of two)
One 4lb Chicken
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp Canola Oil
1 tsp. chopped Thyme

Remove the chicken from any packaging and rinse with cold water before putting it in the pot of cooled brine.  It should be fully submerged so if you need to, weigh it down with a plate or something.  Let it sit in the refrigerator for 6 hours.  (Seems like a long time but the Master knows what he is doing and this doesn't come out salty in the least.)  A half hour before you are ready to roast the chicken, remove it from the brine, rinse it again and pat it dry.  Truss it with kitchen twine and let it to rest on the counter at room temperature.  Preheat the oven to 475 F.  After those 30 minutes are up season the chicken with a little salt and pepper.  Heat a large cast iron skillet on high and when hot add the oil.  Put the chicken into the hot oiled skillet breast side up and then put the skillet into the oven.  Roast the chicken about 50 minutes or until a thermometer reads 155 F.  Don't worry if that sounds low, the chicken will continue to cook even after you take it out of the oven and will arrive at about 165 F.  Once out of the oven, let the chicken rest for about 10 minutes.  Baste it with the pan juices during this time and sprinkle the thyme leaves over.

Carve and enjoy.  Even though you just seasoned the chicken with salt and pepper it has wonderful flavor from the brine.  So good.   Hope you try it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

How-To Tuesday! Brining

I made my first brine when I was doing my first Thanksgiving turkey.  My motto is obviously, go big or go home.  Luckily it was a huge success. The brine gave the turkey so much flavor and it was so juicy.  A friend who shared the holiday with us always talks about how much turkey he ate that day.  It was just that good.  With the success of the turkey, I started to think about what else I could brine.  Like those frozen pork chops that we purchased in bulk from the local warehouse club that we had been less than enthusiastic about cooking.  I brined that pork for a couple of hours... and MAGIC!  Brining really is super easy and an almost fool-proof way to come away with some pretty amazing, juicy, meat.

Water, Salt, Sweet.   That’s all you really need.  You can sub honey for the sugar if you want.  Then add whatever spices you are in the mood for, or even some veggies.  I like to add rosemary, sage and thyme.  We grow those in the backyard so it is easy to snip off a couple of leaves and sprigs and add them in. 

Basic Brine, adapted from Bouchon by Thomas Keller
1 gallon of water
1 cup of Kosher Salt
½ cup of brown sugar
4 sprigs Rosemary
6-12 Bay leaves
2 Tbsp. Peppercorns
1 bunch of Thyme
6-12 leaves of Sage

Put all ingredients in a large stock pot and bring to a boil.  Let boil for just a minute and then turn off the heat and allow it to cool down.  Once it is cool, put your meat into the pot and put the pot into the refrigerator.  A good rule of thumb is to let your meat sit in the brine for 1 hour per pound, if you go longer the meat may come out salty, I know because I have had salty pork from over brining- not good.  After you take the meat out of the brine, rinse it, pat it down and then cook it as you would normally.  But remember, if you add herbs or other spices to your brine the meat will pick up these flavors, so there is no need to season as much as you usually would.  Just a bit of salt and pepper should do. 

Get ready for the world’s best brined-chicken recipe tomorrow!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Banana Zucchini Bread

After the kids had eaten sweet potato pancakes for a week straight I decided we might want to add another breakfast item to our finger food arsenal.  I had seen this bread on another blog and it sounded perfect.  Veggies and fruit, all in one!

This was a super easy and super quick recipe.  I had it whipped up and in the oven in the last 15 minutes before the end of nap time.   (You may want to allow yourself a little more time if you don't want to leave your kitchen looking like a cyclone hit it)  To cut down on some of the prep work I grated my zucchini in the food processor, scooped it out, changed the blade, and then used the processor to mash up the bananas.

The bread came out great!  Cooked through (not mushy) but still moist.  The kids had some bite size pieces this morning with scrambled eggs.  Kids, dogs (oops), and Parents all loved it.

Banana Zucchini Bread adapted from a great blog I've recently started following, Confections of A Foodie Bride

3 ripe bananas, mashed
1 c. grated zucchini
3 Tbsp melted butter, more for greasing pan
3 Tbsp Canola oil
1/4 c. buttermilk
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 c. all purpose flour
1 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. baking soda

Preheat your oven to 350 F and grease a 9 x 5 loaf pan.  As I said above, I grated my zucchini first with my food processor.  Measure one cup and put that into the mixer or a large bowl.  Remove any remaining zucchini from processor, changed the blade, and pulse the bananas until mushy. (If you don't want to use the processor, a regular grater will work, and just mash those bananas up with a fork) Put the bananas into the mixer along with the melted butter, oil, buttermilk, eggs and vanilla.  Using the paddle attachment mix on low until blended.   Next add the dry ingredients and mix until combined.  Pour into your greased pan and bake 50-60 minutes or until golden brown.  A knife inserted into the middle should come out with just a bit of crumbs attached.  Allow to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes before turning it out.  Finish cooling the loaf on a wire rack.  Enjoy!!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Fish for the Whole Family

Yesterday the twins had fish for the first time!  It's actually kind of strange that it took us this long to feed them fish because we tend to eat a lot of it around the Four Pears household.  I think these salmon cakes, though, were a great way to introduce such a healthy and yummy new food.  They are very mild flavored, mixed with a lot of potatoes and fresh dill.  Alex and I had our cakes with a spicy vinegar coleslaw to kind of turn up the flavor but the kids really dug into theirs a long with some fresh cantaloupe.  A great meal for all!  (Even the cats, who finally got some love.)

Salmon-and-Potato Cakes  adapted from this recipe at Food & Wine.

2 Tbsp Canola Oil
1 1/2 lbs. baking potatoes, peeled and diced
1 tsp. salt
1 onion, diced
1 lb. skinless salmon fillets
1 tsp. black pepper
1 1/2 c. water
1/4 c. heavy cream
2 Tbsp fresh dill, chopped

Heat 1 Tbsp. of oil on medium in a large and deep frying pan.  Put in the potatoes and season with the salt.  Add onions to pan.  Lay salmon fillets over the vegetables and then pour in the water around the fillets.  Bring to boil, then lower to simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes or until the salmon and potatoes are cooked.  Remove the salmon to a small bowl and use a fork to flake the fish.  Drain the potatoes in a colander and them put in a large bowl.  Add the cream and mash lightly leaving the potatoes still rather chunky.  Stir in dill and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Add the salmon to the potatoes and mix to combine.  Form 8 patties.  Heat remaining Tbsp of oil in your frying pan and heat the cakes through again, about 3 minutes per side

This is another great finger food and I was happy to have four patties left over to freeze for another day.  One large patty was a good size for the two of them to split...although they finished every bit of it!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Apple Slices To Go

Alex and I do most of our errand running before the kids eat dinner so a snack for the stroller comes in handy and wards off meltdowns (usually).  We are big fans of mum-mums around here but those little puffed-air crackers last about 2 minutes, and they aren't the cheapest snack out there either.  Apple slices though...they can be munched on for quite some (quiet) time and they aren't too messy either which is nice in a to-go snack.  We make little baggies of apple slices once a week or so to keep on hand in the refrigerator.  Here's how to keep them from turning brown:

Apple Slices To Go

Add 1 Tbsp of lemon juice to about a half cup of water in a little bowl.  Core and cut one apple into slices you think your little one can handle.  Submerge the slices for about 30 seconds and pat dry with paper towels.  Store them in small zip-lock bags in the refrigerator.  And don't worry, they won't come out tasting like lemons, promise.  :)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Cookies for My Four-Legged Friends

Dog treats are expensive!  At least the good ones are and you can bet Taco and Claire aren't huge fans of the cheap stuff.  Shocking huh?  Turns out they ARE huge fans of the ones I made them last night.  These were quick and easy and made a ton of healthy little cookies for my babies. Here's the recipe:

Parmesan Pleasers, adapted from Real Food for Dogs: 50 Vet-Approved Recipes to Please the Canine Gastronome
2 c. whole wheat flour
1/3 c. vegetable oil
1/3 c. powdered milk
1 egg
1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese
2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 c. water

Preheat your oven to 350 F.   Toss all your ingredients except the water into your mixer with the paddle attachment and mix on medium low to combine.  Slowly add just enough water to make a thick dough.  I needed a 1/2 cup but you may need more or less.  Turn the dough out on to a floured surface and roll to desired thickness.  These aren't going to rise so make them as thick as you'd like them to turn out.  I made chihuahua size cookies by rolling them to just a bit over a 1/4 inch and cutting them out with a shot glass.  For a bigger dog (shout out to Henley!) you probably want to do more like 1/2 inch thickness and cut them with a juice glass.  My chihuahua size cookies baked on an ungreased cookie sheet for about 7 minutes and then I turned off the heat and left them in the oven to crisp up for about 20 more minutes.  For larger cookies, bake about 15 minutes.
Happy Dog!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

How-To Tuesday!

Welcome to How-To Tuesday! Every week we are going to post a “basic” cooking skill, technique or tip. Something easy to do that you can build on to make great things! We’ll do everything from how to hard-boil an egg to making simple vinaigrette. I hope these are fun and helpful!

First off: Homemade mayonnaise, it has become a slight obsession of mine. After finding out how easy it is to make and how much more tasty it is, I have forbidden the purchase of it at the grocery store. Even after my wife pleaded for just a small jar. Why buy it!?! You can make mayonnaise in about 5 minutes. Here’s how:

Classic Mayonnaise

Equipment needed: whisk + elbow grease or food processor (I prefer the food processor for this one)


3 Egg Yolks
1 Tbsp Lemon Juice
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard or Vinegar
2 cups of Vegetable or Canola Oil
Salt and Pepper to taste

Place the egg yolks and mustard into the food processor and turn on to blend for 30 seconds to one minute.

With the food processor still on, SLOWLY add the oil. I like to use a basic funnel for this so I don’t get the oil everywhere but if you have steady hands just pour directly into the opening of the machine.

You should see the oil and egg yolk starting to combine. BUT If you add the oil too fast it won’t get absorbed correctly and the eggs will split and you will be upset. ( I was….several times) After a minute if all is well you will see mayonnaise! (Don't be alarmed by the amount of mayo in this pic, I doubled the recipe!)

Stop the food processor, taste the mayonnaise, then season with salt and pepper. Turn the processor back on to mix for another 30 seconds. This recipe makes a little over 2 cups of mayonnaise and it will last about 10 days in a covered container in the refrigerator.

Trust me, this will totally amp up that potato salad you are supposed to bring to this weekend’s BBQ! Ina Garten makes our favorite potato salad to date, click here for her recipe.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Anti-Spoon Feeding Rebellion - Breakfast Battle

Last week the twins decided that even though oatmeal with fruit has always been a huge favorite, it wasn't going to be any more.  When mouths became sealed shut against my attempts and spoons (loaded with food) were continuously pulled away from me with tiny strong fists I waved the white flag on the breakfast battle. I blame the spoon.  It seems as though the spoon feeding days are coming to an end.  The kids are much more interested in grabbing and shoving their own food into their mouths now so goodbye oatmeal....hello sweet potato pancakes!

Breakfast in my house is at 6:30am so it has to be easy.  I made this the night before so cutting a few of them up with some diced bananas took me no more time than stirring together that oatmeal. These pancakes taste great, have a ton of veggies in them, freeze and thaw easily...they are the perfect breakfast finger food.

Sweet Potato and Blueberry Pancakes, adapted from Start Fresh: Your Child's Jump Start to Lifelong Healthy Eating by Tyler Florence

2 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 c. sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
3 eggs
2 c. buttermilk *
2 medium sweet potatoes, pureed**
2 Tbsp melted butter
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 c. blueberries (optional)

* To make buttermilk add 1 Tbsp of white vinegar to each cup of milk called for, stir and let stand for 5 minutes.
** For sweet potato puree, chop potatoes into 1 inch pieces and steam in a steam basket until fork tender, about 10 minutes.  Put in food processor or blender with some of the cooking water and process until smooth.

For the pancakes whisk together your flour, sugar, baking powder, soda and salt in a large bowl.  In a smaller bowl whisk your eggs and add the (cooled) melted butter, buttermilk, and vanilla.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry, pour in your sweet potato puree and combine.  You may need to add a bit more flour depending on the consistency of your puree, I needed an extra 1/4 cup.    Pour the batter on a medium hot oiled griddle or skillet.  If using the blueberries add a few into the pancakes right after you pour them out. My poor little Aaron gets a bit of a rash when he eats blueberries so unfortunately we had to skip them.  Flip your pancakes when the edges start to bubble.

A cool trick for freezing these!  After they are completely cool lay them in a single layer on a baking sheet and pop them into the freezer for 15 minutes or so.  After that put them into freezer storage bags.  This flash freezing keeps them from sticking together in the bag, neat huh?!  If you don't have room in the freezer to fit a tray you can just stack them in freezer bags with a piece of parchment paper between each one.  According to the recipe this makes about 12 four inch pancakes but I made them silver-dollar size and I swear it made a hundred.  (or at least it seemed like it)  I'm not complaining though cause the kids loved them and with two bags in the freezer, I won't need to make them again any time soon.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Bloody Mary Anyone?

I think it’s safe to say we all know what a Bloody Mary is but if you’re like me, you may not have had one in a while. Now I’m definitely not opposed to the occasional adult beverage but this just isn't one that’s hit my radar in quite some time. Until I came upon this recipe at Bon Appetit . This is a steak salad with all of the classic flavors of a Bloody Mary that I’m pretty sure Bloody Mary fans (and even those who aren’t) are going to love...we did! The recipe is spot on and it was so easy and delicious.

(2) 1 1/2 pounds Flank steak
Kosher salt
2 teaspoons (packed) light brown sugar
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 cup finely chopped red onion
3 tablespoons Sherry vinegar, divided
2 pounds cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 cup chopped celery hearts (inner stalks and leaves; from 1 bunch)
1/2 cup chopped brined kalamata olives plus 2 tablespoons olive brine
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon hot sauce
1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preparing the salad is easy; a little chopping here, a little bit of this and some whisking and you are done. To start pour the sherry vinegar over the chopped onion in a large bowl and let that sit for a few minutes while you are chopping your other veggies. This will help take the bite out of the onions. Once chopped, add your tomatoes, celery and olives to the bowl. In a smaller bowl whisk the remaining vinegar, olive brine, Worcestershire sauce, hot pepper sauce, and celery seed together. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Your dressing is done! Pour it over the salad mixture, toss to combine and let set in the refrigerator. Don’t forget you can customize this recipe just like you make your own Bloody Marys, so feel free to make this as spicy as you like!

On to the steak, the recipe calls for Flank steak but we went with skirt steak because that was what was available at the store. If you go with Flank, your grilling times may be a minute or too longer than ours. Mix the sugar, salt, paprika, cayenne pepper and black pepper together and rub all over steak. Wrap the steaks in plastic and put them in refrigerator for 1-3 hours. One hour before you are ready to grill remove the steaks from the refrigerator and let them rest and come to room temperature. Heat the grill to high and brush the grill with oil or spray with a non-stick grill spray to prevent sticking. I love the spray; it’s just so quick and easy. Cook 4 to 5 minutes on each side for medium rare. Remove the steaks and let them sit for five minutes before cutting them into slices. Put your steak over a generous helping of salad and ENJOY!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Puppy Love

Our two little Chihuahuas don’t get left out of all the cooking going on around here.  We make the dogs food too and have ever since we first got Taco.  The poor guy had horrible stomach problems when we first brought him home and he refused all dry food.  We ended up buying a few books on doggie nutrition and figured we’d give making his food ourselves a try.  This is one my favorite doggie guides: Better Food for Dogs: A Complete Cookbook and Nutrition Guide

It's not hard to make the dog's food, it takes about a half hour, and he loves it…and so does Claire (Chihuahua #2).  We usually make enough to last about a month at one time.  Over the years we’ve done several variations and most are a huge hit. (Like pasta with meat sauce!) The food they are currently eating is a mix of ground meat, rice, mixed vegetables, and gravy.  We use ground turkey most of the time, but any ground meat will do.  There aren’t a ton of rules to making dog food, but there are a few guidelines.
Common Foods Dogs should Never eat:
Alcohol (duh!)
Macadamia nuts
Grapes or raisins
Tomato leaves and stems (keep this in mind especially if you are growing tomatoes in your garden!)

Also keep in mind that dogs need more protein and healthy fats than we do.  A vegetarian diet is not generally recommended for dogs and neither is a low-carb diet.  Running your intended diet by your vet is a good idea if you intend to feed them this way all the time. 

Taco’s Favorite Dog Chow

2 lbs ground turkey
2 c.  chicken gravy
32 oz. frozen mixed veggies (green beans, corn, carrots, lima beans)
2 c. cooked white rice

Brown the meat, feel free to season it with some poultry seasoning but go light on the salt. While the meat is browning, cook the rice.  We use a rice cooker so I just dump everything in and hit the ON button.  Cook your frozen veggies according to the instructions on the bag.  Mix up your gravy (or pop open a can!).  Once all the ingredients are cooked everything just gets mixed together in a very large bowl and the food is ready to go.  Let it cool a bit and put it into freezer containers large enough to hold no more than three days worth of food.  Not only will you will find this so much cheaper than buying canned dog food, your dogs will love it.   And you’ll love knowing that your dogs are eating something with ingredients you understand.   

We’re making dog biscuits for our favorite puppies next week so come back soon!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Your Babies like Spinach?

Your babies like spinach?  I've heard that more than once.  And actually, they don't just LIKE spinach, they LOVE it!  I think spinach is a prime example of my philosophy around homemade baby food.  1.  It doesn't have to be difficult.  2. It doesn't have to take a long time, and 3. It tastes better than jars.  At least it should!  Most jarred baby food is a smooth puree of one of a very select few veggies with no seasoning or other flavors added.  If I had to eat plain smooth spinach puree I wouldn't like it, and I doubt the baby would!

If you are waiting until 6 months to introduce solids to your baby like most pediatrician's recommend, then your baby is ready for a little flavor!  You can add cinnamon or nutmeg to sweet potatoes, mint to green beans (another very popular food for us), or garlic to spinach!  Baby is bound to love it because it tastes good.

Making homemade baby food is quite simple.  All you really need are items you most likely already have in your kitchen. A food processor, steamer basket of some sort,  a baking sheet... no magical baby tools required.  For storage I did buy these: Fresh Baby So Easy Baby Food and Breast Milk Trays  I really like them because they have a lid unlike most regular ice-cube trays.  I pour my purees into them, pop them into the freezer and leave them overnight.  To keep from buying more than one set of them I pop out the cubes the next day and put them into a freezer storage bag with the name of the food and date printed on it, voila!

So, still concerned about this being hard or time consuming?  Most homemade baby food can be done in a flash.  Roast vegetables like carrots, potatoes, and squash with a little drizzle of olive oil in the oven at 400 F until soft, usually 15-20 minutes.  Broccoli and cauliflower are great roasted too!  Roasting gives veggies a sweeter, deeper flavor.  You can steam veggies too, of course.  Fruits like peaches or plums can be blanched in boiling water for just a minute so their peels slip off and they can be chopped and  put into the food processor.  Once your veggies and fruits are cooked add them to the processor with herbs like mint, basil, or parsley and pulse or puree them to whatever consistency your baby likes best.  Here's my twins' favorite recipe.

Creamy Spinach

1lb Spinach, washed and with the stems removed
2 Tbsp Olive oil, divided
1 tsp garlic, minced
1 tsp lemon juice
whole milk yogurt for final preparation

Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a large pan over medium heat, add garlic and cook one minute.  Add spinach leaves, with a bit of water on them from washing, toss in the oil and cover.  Cook about a minute then toss the leaves again and recover for another minute.  Uncover and cook until spinach is wilted, maybe another minute.  Add spinach to the food processor with lemon juice and remaining olive oil.  Pulse until chopped or turn on the machine and puree into desired consistency.  At this point I put the spinach in my cube trays reserving a portion or two for that day or the next.  When I'm ready to serve I just thaw and add a spoonful of yogurt and mix.  Try some yourself with a cracker, it's like a nice creamy spinach dip!  I think you and the baby will love it.  And did you notice the cooking time?  4 minutes!  Add another couple of minutes to process and freeze and you can seriously get this done in like 15 minutes.

Making your baby's food is so rewarding and I really think it is a huge first step in teaching your baby that healthy food can taste good.  My little ones will be dining on sweet potato pancakes this week due to an anti-spoon feeding rebellion going on over here....stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Southern Sunday Sides

Did you happen to notice the other items on the plate with the Smoke Box Ribs? Side dishes are the hidden gems of a meal and they need to be prepared with the same care as the main course. If you are going to spend time making a great meal why would you open a can of green beans to complete the meal? Not to mention canned vegetables have sort of been banned at my house. Two side dishes I have grown to love are grits and greens. My wife loves both, so we have them quite often. Just keeping in touch with her southern roots I guess. Let me start off with the grits.

Grits by themselves, are not my favorite thing to eat. Grits with cheese? Now THAT is something I like. Cheesy grits are not difficult to make, in fact they are really easy. We based these on a recipe by Ina Garten and they are pretty awesome.

Creamy Cheddar Grits, adapted from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics by Ina Garten

4 Cups Water
2 tsp kosher salt
1 Cup of Quick Grits
2 Tbsp of Butter
¾ cup whole milk
¾ cup heavy cream
1 ½ cup sharp Cheddar Cheese
1 ear of corn, roasted on the grill
½ cup of green onions, chopped
pepper to taste

Bring the water to boil and add the salt, then slowly pour in the grits while stirring. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the grits thicken, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Next, stir in the milk, butter and cream. Bring the pot back to a simmer then let the grits cook on low for about 30 to 45 minutes stirring occasionally. Once the grits are smooth and creamy remove from heat and add in cheese, corn, green onion and pepper. A note on the corn: we used roasted corn on the cob to give the grits a nice flavor and texture…the original recipe doesn’t include this step so if it is too much trouble for you feel free to skip it. We just threw the corn on the grill with the ribs! These are easily the creamiest grits I’ve ever had and with the crunch from the onions and corn? They are really good, try them.

Boozy Braised Collard Greens

Now "Greens" are a labor of love, they take a while to cook (1 ½ hours!) but once they are done they are just so good. And really, after you get everything in the pot, you are just leaving it to cook on its own. We have done quick greens recipes and the results just never measure up, they really are worth the extra time. Like cheesy grits, greens recipes are going to be similar with just a variation or two. We adapted the Boozy Braised Collard Green recipe from the Neely’s. Down Home with the Neely’s is a great show (on Food Network); they really do seem to get along well with each other and have a good time in the kitchen like my better half and I do. Has anybody ever been to their restaurant? Definitely a place I’d like to try. You can find their recipe here. We replaced the Bourbon with Jack Daniels and used a mixture of Collard and Mustard Greens. I know not everyone is familiar with Greens but they really are amazing cooked like this. I hope you try them!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese

Ah finger food. An adventure in finding small bits of food to feed your (almost) toddler that are A. soft enough to mash between toothless gums, B. tasty enough to entice them to actually eat it, C. Healthy (cupcakes need not apply!), and D. Not too messy. Is "D" too much to ask?

Well this recipe fits the bill and it is delicious! I actually ate a portion of it for my own lunch.. sorry babies! I got this out of Tyler Florence's new cookbook for babies. This is just a great book, I really like the recipes and the concepts behind it. I need to do a post comparing this one to Super Baby Food by Ruth Yaron as a lot of moms think of her book as a baby food Bible. A key difference between the two, in my opinion, is flavor. Tyler is all about the flavor, even for babies, and so am I. Why would baby want to eat bland flavorless food? This is anything but bland.

Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese, adapted from Smart Food by Tyler Florence.

1 medium (1 to 1 1/2 pounds) butternut squash, halved lenghtwise, seeds removed
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
12 oz small pasta shells **I used rotini because it was in the pantry!**
1/2 c. whole milk
1 c. shredded Monterey Jack cheese **I used mild cheddar, again, already on hand**

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Place the squash, cut-side up, on a baking sheet. Drizzle the olive oil over it and season with a bit of salt and pepper. Bake until the squash is tender when pierced with a fork, 30-40 minutes. Remove the squash from the oven and allow to cool. Leave the oven on and reduce the temperture to 350 F.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of a salted water to boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook according to the package instructions, or until al dente. Drain the pasta and transfer to a large bowl.

When the squash is cool enough to handle, use a spoon to scoop the flesh into a food processor. Add the milk and puree until smooth. Pour the squash puree over the pasta and fold together. Add about half the cheese and mix until combined.

Pour the pasta mixture into a greased 9 inch baking dish. Spread evenly and top with the remaining cheese. Bake until the cheese is melted, about 5 minutes. Let cool before serving.

This recipe doesn't have a ton of cheese, milk or butter but the squash puree really makes it taste slightly sweet and so nice and creamy. So good! My kids loved it, I hope yours do too! The book says this makes about 8 kid sized portions but I think it made closer to twelve, especially since I always serve more than one item at each meal. I kept some in the refrigerator for the next day and froze the rest in these.


Monday, July 11, 2011

Smoke Box Ribs

This year was my first Father’s Day as an actual father. Because I am such an amazing father (going from zero to 2 kids over the course of just a few minutes!), I figured I had better make a list of what I wanted as gifts for this important new holiday. I asked for several items that I’m sure will gain mention in this blog including a smoker box for the grill, the Bouchon cookbook, and a meat grinder attachment for the stand mixer, woo hoo!

This weekend I decided that I wanted to grill some baby back ribs and I was hoping I could get some smoky flavor into the ribs with the help of my new smoker box. I’m using this one. It came with pretty simple instructions; soak wood chips, place wood chips in smoker box, put smoker box over direct heat. Cool, I could do that. If you didn’t get a cool smoker box for Father’s Day, you could use a disposable aluminum baking tray to hold your wood chips. I got the wood chips from the grocery store; the bag of hickory wood chips was $2.50. I used the entire bag.

Before I put the ribs on the grill I removed the silver skin from the ribs, this helps to make the ribs fall-off-the-bone good and keeps them from being too chewy. After that I used a rub mixture adapted from Bobby Flay. His rub has espresso coffee beans and ancho chili powder which are kind of smoky flavors themselves so I thought it would be perfect, and it was! To make my life easier I made the rub the night before, after the kids went to bed, so I wasn’t messing around with the 10 ingredients in the rub with the kids all over the house. That just sounds like trouble.

When I was ready to start cooking I oiled up the ribs with canola oil then put the rub on. Next step was to preheat the grill; I use a natural gas grill. I placed the smoker box to one side of grill and turned that burner on high. Then I placed an old bread pan filled with water next to the smoker box. I don’t baste the ribs so I use this method to keep moisture in the grill so the ribs don’t dry out, not basting may be controversial method but this works well for me with a little less effort.

Once my smoking section was ready, I put the ribs on indirect heat (only the burner under the smoker box was on) and turned them once every half hour for about 2 ½ hours. It could take you closer to 3 depending on the heat of your grill. Make sure to keep adding wood chips as needed. When the ribs are done you should see the bare tips of the bones from the meat shrinking up, don’t know if shrinking up is a culinary term, but I’m going with it.
The rub made a great dark crust and the smokiness of the ribs was awesome. I was pretty impressed with my new little smoker box! Here is the list of ingredients for the rub, ENJOY.

Bobby Flay’s Coffee Rub

• 1/4 cup ancho chili powder
• 1/4 cup finely ground espresso
• 2 tablespoons Spanish paprika
• 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
• 1 tablespoon dry mustard
• 1 tablespoon kosher salt
• 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
• 1 tablespoon ground coriander
• 1 tablespoon dried oregano
• 2 teaspoons ground ginger
• 2 teaspoons chili de arbol powder **we used cayenne pepper instead**

Saturday, July 9, 2011

What The Twins are Eating- 9 Months

My big boys aren't malnourished by any means. My first born, AJ, is a healthy 23 lbs and 30 inches tall. His "little" brother Aaron is an even healthier 27 lbs(!) and 31 inches tall. Right now they are crawling all over the house and AJ is cruising around the furniture on his own two feet. AJ just sprouted tooth number five while poor Aaron remains toothless! But don't worry, as you can see he is still managing to get his nutrition somehow ;)

The kids don't have meals with us yet because they go to bed at 6pm and we haven't adjusted to the idea of eating our dinner with them at 5pm just yet. Once they are more proficient self-feeders, and probably after their first birthday, we'll move to a family dinner time.

Here's what they are eating right now:

4 bottles of formula totaling about 26-28 oz

Breakfast: I spoon feed them each about 3 oz of store bought oatmeal/cereal with homemade pureed fruit mixed in and I usually give them some diced fruit on their trays as well.

Lunch: Finger Foods! (more, lots more!, details to follow)

Dinner: I spoon feed them each about 3 oz whole milk yogurt/cottage cheese mixed with pureed fruit and about 2 oz of veggies. They usually munch on some cheerios too. This will be the next meal to move to finger foods I'm sure. Already I give them more of a "meal" type food with their yogurt rather than a plain pureed veggie.

Some of their favorite foods right now are spinach, sweet potatos, cheerios, applesauce and yogurt. They had their first taste of hummus last week and that was a huge hit too! They are definitely becoming less interested in spoon feeding these days so I'm making more of an effort to make them interesting and healthy finger foods. Up this week....a healthy veggie packed mac n cheese!

Friday, July 8, 2011

What We're Eating

Alex and I love to cook...but only when we want to. Some days we look forward to the prepping and executing of the most challenging recipe we can come up with, but some days we just don't have that motivation. We want delivery pizza! To keep ourselves from dialing the number of the local pizza joint a little too often we have a basic strategy that most weeks around here revolve around.

Weekends we go all out. We find challeging or interesting or particularly yummy looking recipes to try. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday will most likely find us cooking up a storm. We'll make the three dinners, at least one great breakfast, a dessert, maybe a loaf of get the point. But during the week? Well, Monday is freezer day (unless there are leftovers!). Periodically, on the weekend of course!, we stock the freezer chest in the garage with easy week night dinners like lasagna or tikka masala sauce or soup. Many of the meals are vegetarian or light fare, but some are some nice hearty comfort type foods. Monday morning I reach in and away we go. Tuesday is soccer night for Alex. He doesn't like to eat much before his games so we generally fend for ourselves. I usually eat leftovers or a frozen pizza. (Did I mention I love pizza? I found a great natural one I love.) Wednesday we usually scratch our heads and come up with something from the pantry, and Thursday is grocery shopping day! Yeah! While there we usually pick up ingredients for something tried and true that doesn't take forever to make. Like last night when we trimmed our basil plants and made some quick and easy pesto and garlic bread.

I feel like this strategy allows us to not feel stressed out or burdened by cooking when we would just rather veg out and decompress on the sofa. We never "have" to cook dinner. When we cook, we do it because we want to- we preserve the enjoyment of it by not making it a chore. But at the same time- we are still eating great homemade dinners every night!

I can't wait to share some of what we are eating this weekend. Look forward to our adventures with a new smoker box for the grill and maybe some peach pie. :)

Thursday, July 7, 2011


Here we are at the beginning of 4 Pears. This blog has come about through the genuine desire of my husband and I to share our journey in food and cooking. While we've been in love with food for a long time now, our real cooking journey began about 9 months ago with the birth of our twin boys. Suddenly we found ourselves at home a lot more than before and, thanks to an early bedtime, with some free time on our hands while the kiddos slept. A few months later when the twins were ready for their first solid bites, we became interested in how we would cook for them now and in the future. We even do some homecooking for our wildly spoiled Chihuahuas! I don't think we are alone in considering them an important part of our family.

We have a strong belief that food is important in many ways. Important to our body's health for sure, but for us- our mental health too. We've found cooking to be a great hobby and stress reliever after days full of crying babies and changing diapers. We find cooking to be both relaxing and challenging if done right. Food is also such a social part of our lives. How better to reconnect with friends than over some great wine and great food?

I hope you enjoying reading about the successes and failures of these two amateur cooks and parents, and that you take away a little of our enthusiasm. Feel free to leave us your pearls of wisdom too. Post a comment or send us an email! We are always grateful for new perspectives and ideas. Welcome!