Category Archives: easy recipe

The Belgian Curse

Festive Brussel Sprout Centerpiece Tree Serving SuggestionSometimes, what you do to them, makes all the difference.

(Recipe below)

Growing up, I believed brussels sprouts to be the devil’s fruit.  Virtually inedible, sulphurous, gassy.  If the wind was right, I had early warning they were on the menu from more than a block away.  The hard green little cabbage wannabes topped my list of ‘if you can gag them down’ healthy foods.

According to history, brussels sprouts were eaten by Romans,  before their civilization collapsed.  I suspect barbarians simply left them in cartloads at the gates.  Thinking they were cute, the Romans gorged on them until they were all bloated, woozy, nauseous and disoriented, and easily conquered.

Given they were named after a city in Belgium, for many years I held a personal grudge against all Belgians as being responsible  for spreading them.  I suspected they were some sort of revenge weapon, payback to the rest of Europe for being unable to resist any invasion for centuries.

It wasn’t until I was married, and they showed up uninvited for dinner one evening that I learned brussels sprouts were not supposed to be boiled interminably until they’d dissolved  into an odorous grey glop.  That was my mother’s doing.  It turns out, overcooking releases the sulphurous compounds that made them so memorable.  Mom did some great dishes.  Brussels sprouts was not one.

Let me take this opportunity to publicly apologize to the Belgian people.

As fate would have it, being treated to a different upbringing than myself, my kids actually like brussels sprouts.  Which, considering they are packed with nutrients and anti-cancer goodness, is not a bad thing.

However, for reasons that should be clear, my personal favorite serving suggestion for brussels sprouts, illustrated at the top of the page, is as a festive table decoration or centerpiece.

If you’re looking for a simple way to get them into the kids, I strongly suggest roasting them in the oven, which turns them a bit sweet.

You’ll need:

Roasting pan or baking sheet, a large mixing bowl.  Preheat the oven to 400 F / 204 C

Ingredients

  • 3 Tbs olive oil
  • 3/4 tsp salt and three shakes of pepper
  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh brussels sprouts

How To Make:

  1. Wash and drain the sprouts.  If they came on a stalk, take them off.
  2. Peel any yellow or discolored leaves from each sprout.
  3. Use a sharp knife to cut the stem and a small amount of the sprout bottom off.
  4. Cut the sprouts in half, top to bottom.
  5. Mix them in the bowl with oil, salt and pepper, coating them.
  6. Spread them on the baking pan, roast for 30 – 40 minutes, turning once with a spatula.
  7. Optional – sprinkle them with slivered almonds about 4 minutes before taking them out of the oven.
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Weather Tree and Pot Roast

A slender tree with maple like leaves, in colors of red, orange, yellow, brown.We all watch time go by.  We just see it differently, with age.

(Recipe below.)

One morning on the drive from home to schools, halfway down the hill on the two lane, the kids all crowded toward the passenger side window, hushed, peering out the glass, then cheered and chattered as we zipped past.

‘What is it’, I asked, scanning them in the rearview.

‘The weather tree!’, the twins announced, gleeful.

‘It’s red and orange, so rain’s are coming,’ they advised me.

That was the first time I’d heard of  it.  I’d never even noticed the tree before, and it took them another ride to point it out clearly to me.

On one stretch where the road straightened, off to the right near the edge of the shoulder, it stood, a thin but tall, scraggly liquid amber, with just a few branches, cropped close to the trunk.  It looked like it had taken a lightning strike at some time, and partly recovered.  A bit sad and forlorn, but obviously a survivor.

Over the years since, the weather tree has held a strange attraction for the kids, who for reasons unknown to me to this day, feel a kinship, and security, when they see it change.

‘How’s the weather tree’, I’ll say.  And season after season we’ve watched for it as we roll by, and the children call out it’s turning.  Bare to budding green, full leaf to fall leaf color, then, as it lost them again, back to winter bare.  The weather tree has marked our time in a way television or hallmark never could.

Last week an old family friend called my wife to come by.  She took her to the front room, where she’d lined up brown boxes.  They were filled with her kitchen –  her best special pots, platters, and utensils, from an earlier America, her life.  The time had come, she would no longer be using them, she said.  Collected, well employed,  she wanted them to have a home.  A good home.

We unpacked solid cast iron dutch ovens, heavyweight black covered pots and skillets of simple sturdy design.  I’m not superstitious, but they had a dull metallic glow, that hinted at a life, and asked for respect.

Coming home alone up the hill last night, I saw the weather tree, glaring its defiant red and burnt orange signal, shaken in the wind but not bending, and I decided to put the iron to use, as it was intended.

Now, pot roast actually describes how it was once cooked centuries ago – in a heavy pot over a hearth fire, where it simmered for hours.  An iron pot distributes heat from every side, top and bottom, and with a close-fitting heavy lid, holds moisture well, so the contents – usually a tough cut of meat – cooks slowly over time, and becomes fully tender.  Today’s crock pot is just a wannabe to this original.

The version here is just a straight, simple, savory old fashioned one I knew from my mother.

You’ll need:

Large cast iron or other heavy dutch oven (big enough to hold about 4 pounds of chuck roast)

Ingredients

  • a 3 to 5 pound, well marbled beef chuck cut, blade, or similar.  You want it nice and thick, not steaks.  Fat is your friend, with this dish. The method of cooking works to turn a tough cut tender.
  • salt and pepper;  your favorite spice rub for beef, if you like
  • 3 Tbs cooking oil
  • 3 – 5  garlic cloves, rough chopped – as much as you like
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2 – 3 cups red wine, preferably a fruity red like merlot or cab
  • a sprig or 1/2 teaspoon of thyme;  one bay leaf if you like
  • 1 and1/2 packets of dry onion soup mix
  • 4 good sized carrots
  • 2 celery stalks, with some of the inner green leaves from the core
  • OPTIONAL – four large yukon or red potatoes cut in large chunks  (I always prefer to make mashed, because it catches the pan sauce so well, but you can add the potatoes to the pot 30 minutes before serving if you like)

How To Make:

  1. Heat the oven to 400 F / 205 C
  2. Lightly salt and pepper both sides of the beef, rub with optional spices if you like.
  3. Add the cooking oil to the iron pot, heat it on the stove top til a drop of water sizzles, but before oil smokes.
  4. Put the meat in and cook it each side about 3 -4 minutes, til each side is browned nicely. This adds color and flavor, but also sears the meat and seals in some moisture.
  5. Add the chopped garlic, thyme and bay leaf.
  6. Turn down the heat, and add the onion soup mix,  wine, onion, carrot, celery and celery leaf.  Add water, if needed, enough to just cover the meat.
  7. Cover and place the iron pot into the oven. Reduce oven temp to 350 F / 175 C, and cook for about three hours.  Ideally, the liquid around the meat will simmer, and not boil.
  8. About an hour in, you’ll smell it.  Be patient. Time is what tenderizes the meat.  It is done when a fork pierces it easily.  Slice it fairly thin across the grain.

I like to serve the roast with spoonfuls of the gravy, over mashed potatoes with a hearty bread, a nice salad, green beans. The red wine gives it a wonderful fruity, rich touch that complements the savory beef and onion.

Comfort food. The kind that’s fortified generations and generations.  And, maybe, also connects us to our past and future.

Let The Chips Fall

These chips are down.  In a good way.

It’s January.  The month that makes climbing out of bed in the morning especially slow, and that first cup of coffee particularly welcome.  My youngest has learned January is named for the Roman god Janus, a guy with two faces, one looking right, one looking left.  It’s apparently a warning for this time of year.  Check both ways for chariots or disasters before crossing the street, going to work, leaving the house.  Those Romans knew a thing or two.

Even the dog hangs back before going out.  When she comes back in she noses round the kitchen floor, expecting bits of fallen doughnut or pastry.  She gives me a look.  It’s a diet, I tell her.

Foraging for snacks in the bag becomes very tempting, this time of year.  They were let in the house for the holidays, all the ‘itos’ and their relatives.  But they’re banished now, because if you let them stay, they’ll never, ever move out.

The kids complain to me, after school they’re hungry.  So one evening I go looking for some relatively healthy way to put chips on the table.

Now, you may not be aware, but in the UK, potato chips … alright, crisps … are a matter of huge national pride and culinary investment.  Their varieties put Americas’ to shame, with our paltry choice of BBQ, plain or ruffled.  The concept there is to get an entire meal onto the chip.

For the uninitiated, here are some current examples:

  • Builder’s Breakfast This potato chip has the flavour of eggs, sausage, bacon, toast and beans. It won a competition worth 50,000 pounds for it’s inventor (that’s money, not fat). Strangely, it’s recently been discontinued.
  • Cajun Squirrel This is reported to taste nothing like squirrel – I couldn’t tell you – but is nice and spicy.
  • English Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding To reviewers this one apparently tasted more like beef stew than a true roast. To which I say, hey, what can you expect from a chip?
  • French Garlic Baguette, not too hard to imagine, is it?
  • Australian BBQ Kangaroo, which the company swears contains no marsupial, none.

 

  • Lamb and Mint, Steak and Onion
  • Smoky Bacon

Do we see a trend  here?

These are all sold by Walkers, which is owned by Lays, which apparently doesn’t have the guts to bring them to the states.  Not that I’m suggesting they should.  Or that anyone should eat them.  But as a diet concept, you have to wonder if maybe a meal in a bag has some potential.  To conduct a little research of your own, there’s a link on http://www.dadsinthekitchen.com to Amazon, where you can order a bag.  Strictly for scientific purposes, of course.

Anyway, with the kids still grumping about wanting to move in with the Pringles,  I came up with a dad’s-friendly way to turn that bland, healthy bag of corn tortilla chips in the cupboard into something far more interesting. The end result is a crisp bbq smokey hot wing – or if the kids don’t like the heat, you can scale back or drop the added chili.

You’ll Need:

a small pastry or basting brush; cookie pans; bowl; measuring spoons

Ingredients:

  • Bag of plain corn tortilla chips (salted is best)
  • 1/3 cup catsup
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika (gotta be smoked; if you don’t have any, it’s really worth stocking anyway)
  • 1/8 tsp cumin
  • 1/8 tsp chile powder, or 2 shakes of tabasco sauce (optional)
  • grated cheddar cheese (optional)

How To Make:

  1. Preheat oven to 300 F  / 149 C
  2. Mix the catsup with other ingredients (except cheese) using a fork or spoon til completely blended
  3. Spread tortilla chips in a single layer on cookie sheets
  4. Using the brush, apply a light, thin coat of the flavoring to the tops of the chips.  You don’t want to make puddles, or leave the chips wet. A light coating.
  5. Bake in the oven for 4 to 8 minutes, til the flavoring is dry, but before the chips cook.  If you want to add and melt cheese, take them out at 4 minutes, sprinkle the grated cheese, and return til the cheese is melted.

Quick: What’s for Dinner?

Here’s a pretty easy and delicious all-in-one chicken recipe, for when you’re facing the hungry horde.

I’m sure I’m not the only dad with sharks for kids.  No matter where they are, as soon as they sense food, they come circling.  I step in the door and there’s a rustle and movement from the back of the house.  I notice bits of snacks and wrappers around the floor and sofa, evidence they’ve been feeding, like fish scales in the water after a frenzy.   And before my keys hit the table, they’ve gathered around my legs and want to know: what’s for dinner?

Dad knows this is a trick question.  The correct answer is, ‘What did your mom say we’re having?’  If she’s got something planned, no sense getting in the way.

‘We’re hungry now.’  ‘She said to ask you.’  ‘What’s for dinner?’ ‘Are we gonna get pizza?’

Another trick question.  They know that’s what I’m thinking.  The twins are reaching for the phone.

‘No,’ I say,’ I’ll call you when dinner’s ready.’  Pizza cheese and dough more than once a month is an experiment we don’t want the results to.

So I end up rooting in the fridge and cupboards.  That’s the toughest part about kitchen duty.  Having to come up with ideas for meals all the time without doing repeats every three days.  Some easy recipe, without a lot of work or time. And something the kids will eat.

Here’s a dish everybody inhales, and it goes together pretty simply.

You’ll need: a 13 x 9 x 2 pyrex dish, and a cast iron fry pan.  Set the oven to 350 F  / 178 C.

Ingredients:

  • 8 or so chicken thighs
  • onion soup in the box
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cups rice
  • 1 Tbs butter
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 2 cups cranberry juice
  • 1 tsp paprika (smoked is best)
  • 2 shakes majoram
  • 2 shakes pepper
  • 2 cups water

How To:

  1. Start with the fry pan.  Chop the onion into large bits, set the skillet over medium heat, add butter.  Cook and stir til the onion starts to get transparent, then take the onion out and put aside.
  2. Now, you can skip this next step if you want, but I like to crisp the chicken skin, and think it’s worth it.  Add olive oil to the fry pan, turn up the heat to 7 or 8 (out of ten) and when it starts to sizzle a bit, put the chicken thighs in skin side down.  We’re just going to brown off the chicken so the skin gets a bit crispy, which takes four or five minutes.  Check by lifting each piece – you want to see nice golden brown crispy, not limp skin.  Keep it going longer if needed. Remember, we’re not cooking the chicken, just browning the skin.

    This is how they'll look.

  3. When browned, turn off the heat, remove the chicken.  Add 1/2 cup water to the pan. This will loosen and let you scrape up the cooked bits left in the pan.  Keep this for later.
  4. Take the pyrex dish and put in 1 and 1/2 cups of water and two cups of cranberry juice.  Add one half packet of onion dip to that and mix it in – if you like it strong, add more, but it’s pretty salty, so the whole packet is probably too much.  I usually also add a couple good shakes of paprika (smoked paprika is the best), a couple shakes of marjoram.
  5. Now add two cups of rice to the liquid, mix it in, then spread it evenly.
  6. Next, put the chicken thighs, skin up, on top of the rice, around the pan.  Add the onions in around the chicken on top of the rice.  Now, pour the water from the fry pan over the chicken and onion.
  7. Cover with foil and bake for an hour.  If you check and the chicken isn’t done through (no pink) or the rice isn’t done, pop it back in for 15 – 20 mins more.

This is one of those dishes you can add things to each time you make it (mushrooms, white wine, etc) but it’s a savory / sweet pleasure the way it is.  The rice absorbs the chicken and onion flavors with the cranberry, the chicken falls off the bone, and everything stays moist.

A funny apron for men cooking for children, " If we were having Pizza, I wouldn't be wearing this Apron"

Dad's Apron Shop

This recipe works for kids because it’s one of the “Real Food Groups“, which you can check for more ideas.