Sunday, January 26, 2014

My Veg Fix (and the cookbook that is inspiring our family dinners)

I made a New Year's Resolution to eat more veggies, not just for me but for the whole family. It's a simple goal with layers of benefits. Of course, the health benefits of eating more vegetables are at the top of my list of motivating factors. Eating a variety of vegetables is a surefire way to get all the nutrients, vitamins, and fiber we need in our diet. Plus, the more we fill up on healthy vegetables, the less of other not so-good-for you foods we will eat. I am a terrible dieter and as soon as I try to restrict or cut out certain foods, I immediately feel deprived and the effort backfires. A positve approach to healthy eating works much better for me - so by virtue of trying to eat more vegetables, I will automatically eat less foods that offer little nutritional benefit. 

I want my kids to have a positive approach to food as well. I don't want any foods to be off limits or completely banned (like I posted last week, French Fries are fine if you have them only occasionally). And exposing kids to a wide variety of vegetables is the best way to eventually find some they love. Ryan and I already eat a lot of vegetables, but I need to do a better job of fixing them for the kids - too often my fallback options during the week are frozen peas, roasted broccoli, sauteed green beans. All good choices, but not much variety. 

Here is a sample of some of the veggie dishes we've been enjoying.  

Herby, peanutty, noodly salad. I made this for Ryan and I to have for lunch and it was very satisfying with a punch of red chile and some texture from the roasted peanuts. I gave some to the kids before I added the red chile and they both liked it. I think the key to getting my kids to eat something new is for the dish to have a component of something familiar (here, green beans and cucumbers), and also something curious and unexpected for them, like the peanuts. 

New potato, tomato, and boiled egg salad. I made this as a side salad for a potluck dinner party just after the holidays. While probably best as a summer dish, this was a real rich and creamy tasting salad due to the "soft hard-boiled egg" that is mixed in with the potatoes and cherry tomatoes. It was a twist on a comforting and familiar dish (and Ryan liked it because it doesn't contain any mayo, something he hates).

Chachouka, a spicy North African pepper and tomato stew with eggs baked on top. This dish was very simple - tomatoes and red peppers sauteed with onion and garlic, smoked paprika and a pinch of saffron. The flavors were wonderful. And what dish isn't improved by simply adding an egg on top? We had this on its own for dinner, but thought it would also make a great lazy Sunday brunch wrapped in a warm tortilla and a side of black beans. 

Quick chickpea pasta. This was a weeknight pasta dish I made for the kids - they already love orecchiette ("little ears") pasta and chickpeas so it was an easy sell. I later made a variation on this dish that included spinach and cumin, and would probably always add spinach or kale to this dish to punch up the nutritional value in the future. This recipe is from a new cookbook I received for Christmas titled Veg (see below) and from a section labeled "Pantry Suppers." If I'm thoughtful about how I stock our pantry, I can make a recipe from this section once a week when I'm in a pinch for time.

Chiles stuffed with beans. These chiles may not be Pinterest worthy (or are they?), but they were mouth-watering. The chiles were a challenge to stuff as the skins were thin and easy to tear (and I don't have the best patience for something delicate like this - next time Ryan will do this step), but if you don't care about looks, these were divine. This was another recipe we thought would taste great with a side of eggs and a tortilla. I'm getting hungry...

Cauliflower and chickpea curry. I like cauliflower when its roasted and seasoned well, but I always have to sell Ryan and the kids on it. This dish, served over rice, was warm and filling and perfect for a Winter meal.

White beans with artichokes. I forgot to take a picture of this easy salad, but wanted to mention it since it was the first thing I made out of my new favorite cookbook. It was from the "Pantry Supper" section and I made it the day after Christmas when we were tired of heavy, rich foods and loathe to go to the grocery store for the umpteenth time in a week. This salad, like many of the recipes in this book, was simple and full of flavor. I'm making it again this week, this time for lunch.

And here it is, my new favorite cookbook which contains all of these yummy recipes. It isn't that different from how we usually cook, except that it is completely vegetarian. So in the past I would've put chopped pancetta with the orecchiette, or added some grilled salmon to the artichoke salad (both additions would be good, no doubt). We aren't vegetarians and don't have to always omit the meat or fish, but we didn't miss it with any of these dishes. This goes back to the positive approach we're taking to eating in our household. By intentionally eating more veggies in these satisfying recipes, we are eating healthier without really trying.

One section of the cookbook that has changed my approach to feeding the kids is called "Raw Assemblies" and the philosophy is that "sometimes the best thing you can do for the fine, fresh produce in front of you is next to nothing." The recipes, if you can call them that, are very simple and because of this are kid- and mom-friendly. I've made the carrot, orange and cashew salad (again, that familiar and unexpected combo that is working for my kids), marinated cucumber with mint, avocado and ruby grapefruit with chile, and this week I'm making Brussels sprouts with apple and cheddar. The recipes take next to no time to prepare, so if the kids hate it I don't feel disappointed and put out. Sometimes they will eat just parts of the dish (like the apple and cheddar, and skip the Brussels), but I'm noticing they are eating more of the vegetables each time. And even better, they are growing curious and asking questions about the new foods they are trying. This can only be a good thing.

This book also has a great section called "Bready things" and contains four or five pizza recipes that are really different and tasty - beet pizza with cheddar, asparagus pizza, pizza with new potatoes, rosemary and blue cheese, and my favorite so far - kale and onion pizza.

Yum! There is a very simple pizza dough recipe that has made me a convert - never again will I buy a prepared pizza crust from the store. The recipe takes about 10 minutes to mix and knead and then another hour to rise. I can make it on the weekend and stick it in the frig or freezer until I want to use it for a quick weeknight pizza. The kids also love making their own pizzas and rolling out the dough (with a little help).

This homemade dough tastes so unbelievably fresh and goes back to the idea of eating whatever you want, as long as you cook it yourself. Pizza dough made with flour, water and a little salt and yeast is healthy - but load it with preservatives like the store bought version, and drown it in meat and cheese and it becomes something you should only eat occasionally. The simple solutions is to cook it yourself...and eat more veggies!

I could include a few of  the full recipes here, but really, you should just get the book. It is that good.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Cook it yourself

Whew. This week has flown by and I'm not sure where it went. It was another short week with the MLK holiday and no school for the kids. We went to Crown Center for the day and checked out Kaleidoscope - a place I went to when I was a kid. It still exists! And it's free!

What a fun creative outlet for kids and from what I could tell during our visit Monday, we have a few more years to enjoy this place.

The rest of the week was busy with medical school teaching, basketball and a few sleepless nights (one was self-induced and the other due to a certain almost 3 year-old living under our roof). It's somewhat ironic that to this day I keep myself up until all hours of the night worrying about things - something I did as a child, torturing my own parents. Now, my daughter is keeping me up at night with her sleep issues. Ah, karma.

One of my resolutions for this year was to eat more veggies - and I am! That goal has been easily attained thanks to a couple new cookbooks we got for Christmas. I am working on a post to share a few of them. But the best recipe by far was this week's Brussels Sprouts and Tofu with porcini mushrooms and red chili. It is from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi and it might just be the best dish we've made in years. Years!

I saw this video posted on A Cup of Jo the other day and I like this philosophy - eat anything you like, just cook it yourself. I've made that statement before in regards to sweets. As long as I bake it myself, it is fair game. I think it is a good approach for all foods. Eat french fries, just cook them yourself - bet you won't have them very often!

Happy weekend and healthy eating!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Winter break

Was it really 60 degrees out this past weekend? The warm weather was a beautiful reprieve from Winter and we burst out the front door and onto the lawn to just mill around.

My flower child was content to wander the yard in her tulle dress and cowboy boots. She had no agenda. She was content walking, looking, being...

Charlie takes a different approach to being outdoors. He has to be busy, playing ball, chasing things, running. 

She is a free spirit, moving to her own beat. She can be serious and angry just as naturally as she can be silly and carefree. She loves fairies, tutus, and everything pink. She picks out her jewelry with great care and is over the moon if I agree to paint her nails.


Charlie is intense, smart, and sensitive. I love to surprise him with something -even something very small - and watch every inch of his face light up, hear him laugh out loud with joy. He is stubborn, kind, and loud. He notices everything and is revealing a wry sense of humor. I love that we have real conversations all of a sudden. I love the person he is becoming.

They are changing so much, so fast. I'm catching myself saying they are 5 and 3 years old, and have to remind myself...not yet, not yet. They are still 4 and 2 and I want to freeze this moment in time...

But then again, birthdays are just around the corner, and Spring is calling. And I'm curious to see what's next.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Let the games begin

And just like that, here we are - at our first basketball practice. Charlie was very excited and couldn't wait to get to the gym. He left with a new jersey, a new basketball, and a big smile! 

He will have three weeks of practices, twice a week, and some games towards the end. The coach is really good with this age group and I think Charlie will learn a lot. We were impressed with how well he listened and followed the coach's directions. 

And then there is this one...perhaps the world's best younger sibling. She brought some books in her backpack to keep her entertained, but most of the time she was content to watch Charlie and his team play. 

Your turn is coming little one. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Lab Family

This is the Geiger Lab Family of 2014. The people that work with me, and the families that support them. I'm grateful for them all.

Charlie and Izzy are both regulars in the lab and they know this group well.

Izzy and Ashley haven't seen each other in well over a year while Ashley was living in Spain. But somehow they picked up right where they left off - the best of friends.

I'm pretty sure Iz would have gone home with Ashley that night if we'd let her.

Ashley is a Fulbright scholar and working towards her PhD - Izzy knows a good role model when she sees one.

Last year we had our holiday lab gathering in the party room of our loft building. What a joy to have everyone in our new home this year!!

Friday, January 10, 2014

How to get to Sesame Street

No school for these two today, so instead they went to see Sesame Street Live with Gram! I think they had a good time...

Thanks Gram!! 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

C is for Charlie

Charlie has become really interested in letters lately. In the car we talk about what names begin with various letters of the alphabet, and he notices letters on signs and asks what words they spell.

This is a picture from school of Charlie and a few of his friends working on writing down the rules for using a ramp (with cars) in the classroom. The teacher has written down the rules and the kids are annotating the rules with drawings that help them remember the rules. Charlie has drawn three people (images to the left above) as one of the rules is that only three people can be at the ramp at a time. He is then signing his name to the pictures - and it looks pretty good! I love that he is looking at his name printed on his water bottle to know how to spell it. He is also getting better at holding a pen or marker in his hand, and I can see from this picture that he is trying to hold it the correct way. He is pretty smart - watch out kindergarten!

We've been practicing at home - tongue out for optimal concentration!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Playing house

This is my favorite Christmas present. I was more excited than the kids when Ryan set it up on New Year's Day.

Perhaps it is because there is so much detail in each piece, or that the furniture is modern and simple.

Ryan would say I like this house because of all the little things that go with it. (I do like little things - little bowls, little cups & vases, little finger puppets...) How cute are these little family pets?!

Perhaps I like it because it is not all pink and purple, a hard find in the land of play houses.

I think perhaps the reason I like this little house so much is that this sort of play is in my wheelhouse. After 4+ years of doing my best to crash trucks and race cars, build with blocks, and act the part of my favorite superhero - this is a world of play I am familiar with. I can come up with story lines for the family that lives in this house

I really hope the kids like this house as much as I do, because I really want someone to play with. 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

New Year's Eve at The Atelier

I'm not sure exactly how many of these New Year's Eve dinners we've had, but at least 6 (every year Ryan and I have been engaged/married, and I've gone through two of them pregnant - a little less fun that way for sure).

They've changed a little from the first couple years when our friends Mark and Jason (both excellent chefs, one professionally trained) made the entire meal and would over-night foie gras and other fresh ingredients from far corners of the country. Jason and his wife moved from Kansas City and in the last few years the meal has become much more of a group effort with each individual or couple responsible for one or two courses. The creativity and variety of dishes is amazing year after year and makes for a really fun dining experience.

The dinner takes place at Mark's home, also known as The Atelier, on New Year's Eve. This year we had our smallest group with at least three people home sick, and another couple that couldn't find a sitter (thank you to my parents for hosting Charlie and Izzy and their cousins for a sleepover on this special night!). Our table of eight was perfectly cozy.

After so many years, Mark has the hosting down to a science. He posts the menu to all of us ahead of time and has plates reserved for each course.

He even custom built a warming station that we've used in the past - it wasn't needed this year.

Our welcome course included a Puree Rouge Cocktail (bourbon, blood orange puree, and marinated dried cherries) and Mark's famous Salt Block Sear.

This is a giant block of salt that Mark heats in the oven until it is piping hot. He customized this serving piece to perfectly fit the salt block (I am convinced there is nothing Mark cannot make/create).

For the Salt Block Sear, we take beautiful slices of beef carpaccio and lay them on the salt where a thin slice cooks in mere seconds.

And the meal is off to a festive start!

I've taken pictures of our NYE dinners for several years and each year I get intimidated by trying to document this 7 hour extravaganza. So instead of trying to get in every detail of the night, I am just going to hit the highlights. Needless to say, this 10 course meal that included an Amuse Bouche, a pasta course and a fish course, soup, salad, two entrees, dessert, and a champagne toast was fantastic! And each course had a drink pairing ranging from white and red wine, to a special beer straight from Germany, and rounded out by port wine and champagne, of course!

In between each course, the kitchen is where the action is. By preparing each meal in sequence, we space out the courses and allow our stomachs to relax and rest before the next feast. It is a necessity!

I love this picture - five men in the kitchen working hard while the ladies sit.

Kevin perfectly executed a Spicy Lobster and Mango Gazpacho for our soup course this year. It involved working with this whole lobster. Very impressive.

Serving up the gazpacho in these shot glasses...

Ryan's dish this year was Pan Roasted Halibut with Romesco sauce.

I acted as his sous chef for this course. It was my job to trim the skin off the fish and help plate the sauce (I was in charge of the dessert course, Salted Caramel Molten Chocolate Cakes, and Ryan assisted me with that course).


Happy to be done! After finishing our course, we could relax and enjoy the other courses, wash a few dishes here and there to stretch our legs, and simply pop the already prepared molten cakes in the oven.

One of my favorite courses of the evening was Sara's homemade pasta, Angel Hair Pasta with Lemon and Transmontanus Caviar. It literally melted in your mouth. Yum!

We flew in a special chef straight from Germany (one of our usual guest's father was visiting from Germany. He didn't speak any English but fortunately 2 other guests knew excellent German) and what a treat! He made this amazing course, which was an entire meal in itself.

Braised Rabbit with Potato Dumpling, Brussels Sprouts and Red Cabbage. At this point in the evening, our first entree, I was starting to get full. But I had to soldier on....

Somewhere around the fifth course (and wine pairing) I lose steam for taking pictures. I wish I had a few more people and group shots of this great party. All in all, we had amazingly good food and even better conversation and company. I hope our New Year's Eve tradition continues for many more years!