Monday, November 17, 2008


There's something I like as much as a good workout or time spent writing. I like to cook. Not just anything. I don't particularly care to pull together dinner from a box and a few cans. That's no fun. The cooking I refer to is creative and inspired from yummy ingredients. The cooking I refer to also is best enjoyed while sipping a glass of wine (because this type of cooking often requires you to open a bottle as part of the ingredients).

This type of cooking isn't so easy to do once you become a mom. Only in the last year have I made it back to the stove with any optimism to create or be inspired. Now the girls are old enough to entertain themselves while I make dinner, and because of this, I get to enjoy this process of meal-making with a lot more pride in nourishing my family than I do when it's "sandwich night."

Still, time is of the essence and I'm also partial to "whole" food, as in, as little processed foods as possible. Sometimes those criteria are mutually exclusive to cooking a mid-week family dinner. But I now have three secret weapons that help me combine whole, healthy food with easy meals. You want in?

My first find came about a year ago during a quick trip to the grocery story. This cookbook caught my eye as I was walking past the aisle. I picked it up, flipped through a few pages and chucked it in my basket. I knew I had to have it. The book is "Meals Made Easy: Quick and Delicious Recipes for Every Night of the Week," brought to you by the editors of Real Simple magazine.  Aside from aspiring to be that cool, calm, ultra-organized person I imagine Real Simple readers to be, I am drawn like a magnet to anything that promises "easy" or "quick"! The book isn't categorized by appetizers, entrees, desserts, etc. No, this is mama-friendly cooking. The sections include: One-pot Meals, No-shop Meals, 30-minute Meals, No-cook Meals, Freezer Meals, and Short-cut meals. It speaks to every snafu you might encounter when it's 5 pm and you realize either a: you can't fathom a major post-dinner clean-up, b: you don't have much left in your fridge and there's no way you're hauling three kids to the store, or c: the kids are perilously close to consuming yet another snack.

One of my favorite recipes (and there are a lot of recipes in this book) is in the short-cut section for Inside-out Spring Rolls, which take all of 15 minutes:

You'll need (and notice how few ingredients required):
1 16 oz. bag of frozen pot stickers
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 bag of packaged slaw mix (or 1 carrot and 1 small head Napa cabbage, thinly sliced)
t tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup salted peanuts.

Here's what you do:
Cook up the pot stickers according to directions. Meanwhile, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the slaw or cabbage/carrot mixture and toss to coat. Add soy sauce for another 2 minutes. To serve, transfer the vegetables to individual bowls, top with the pot stickers, and sprinkle with peanuts. 

Yum! Easy! Yes, my kids eat this!

My next great cooking guide came while the girls and I were at the library late this summer. I was skimming the books being promoted on a table and picked up "Feeding the Whole Family: Cooking with Whole Foods," by Cynthia Lair. I have never re-checked out a library book so many times. When I finally returned it, pages had to be pressed back flat after numerous dog-ears and a few got splattered with oil and jelly. I feel bad about this, but it was all out of love and admiration. You'll be happy to know I bought my own copy.

One feature I love about this book, but won't get the opportunity to use until next year is the note at the end of each recipe on how to adapt the recipe for babies. At what point in the recipe or what specific ingredients you can toss on a high chair tray and let the toothless wonder go to town. Genius! 

My two favorite recipes in the book are for curried lentils and cauliflower and for the Thai chicken soup. Both are easy to prepare and crazy good. Again, my kids eat. But what I'm going to share with you here is something for dessert, although I used leftovers to stir into my oatmeal the next morning. That is multitasking.

For your after-dinner or breakfast pleasure I bring you "Winter Fruit Compote with Vanilla Nut Cream." (And I might add, a laxative never tasted so good).

For the compote you need:

1/2 cup dried apricots
1/4 cup pitted prunes
1 apple, sliced
1 pear, sliced
1 cinnamon stick
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmed
1 cup apple juice

Combine all this in a pan and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, covered for 20-30 minutes, until the fruit is soft. Remove cinnamon stick.

For the Vanilla Nut Cream you'll need:
1/2 cup raw, unsalted cashews
3 tablespoons maple syrup 
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Grund nuts to a fine meal in a small grinder or blender. Then add in maple syrup and vanilla and enough water to give it a creamy consistency.

Put the compote in a bowl and top with the cream. I added another layer by including a slice of pumpkin bread underneath the compote and cream. Heavenly. And heavenly in oatmeal. Oh yes, and for the baby? She recommends reserving some of the fruit to puree. Of course!

My latest cooking resource came last weekend when I discovered the website, Culinary Competitor. Can a triathlete who loves to cook want anything more? Any of you who have seen me in person in the last week have likely heard me gush about it. I rarely get that excited over websites anymore. I am excited. It's witty (what do you expect when you read a blog post about onion goggles?) and informative (beets for muscle cramps, who knew?) and the recipes are exactly what I like to make and consume. I can't possibly limit myself to just one recipe here, so you'll have to check out such hot dishes as: Pan-seared steelhead with Jerusalem artichoke smashed potatoes, pumpkin spice rice pudding (excellent pre-workout snack), and another dessert as breakfast item: Carmalized apple-cranberry baked oatmeal with a salted praline topping. Come on! Are you dying here with me?

More recipes and and tips for feeding the fit family are available in the Life as a Fit Mom eBook, Feeding the Fit Family.