Best (OMG!) Fried Rice (Shhhh, Don't Tell My Mom)

Best (OMG!) Fried Rice (Shhhh, Don't Tell My Mom)

You can understand my skepticism when my sister-in-law texted me to say she'd fed her kids the most incredible version of fried rice, and that it had nothing to do with actual rice. I should say here that my husband isn't as big a fan of this wonder grain as the rest of us. And one of our four kids is in her dad's camp. Last week, I was feeling adventurous and decided to give the recipe a try, to see if we might be able to sub it in for rice now and then. 

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The Tale of An Accidental Squash And A Really Good Pot of Soup

squash-soup

I've been working my way through this new vegan cookbook and one of the recipes I had my eye on has a beautiful photo, including what I mistakenly thought was butternut squash (it's actually sweet potato). Once I decided to make it, I headed to the grocery store and grabbed the biggest butternut squash in the display — fully intending to use it right away.

Well, you all know what happened next. I had to go back to the grocery store (hey, with four kids I'm there every day anyway) to get the sweet potatoes. So the squash held court on a patch of highly coveted counter space in our tiny kitchen.

My husband does most of the kitchen clean up (since I'm the one creating most of the kitchen mess), so it was left to him to pick up and put down that squash every time he wiped down the counters. I knew I could get away with it for a few days, until finally and predictably he casually and cautiously asked, Are you using this squash for anything? 

I know how much he appreciates the effort I put into feeding our family, and he never questions how I go about doing it. But that huge squash was really getting on his nerves. 

Most of the week's meals are filled with tried-and-true recipes. I just can't take a chance with food experimentation when I'm facing hungry kids and limited time — and squash would definitely qualify as an experiment if you ask my children. I do my best to cook up a batch of vegetarian soup or stew for the grown up lunches, but I was finding it hard to think of something to do with that accidental squash.  

And so it happened that as I was flipping through my binder of recipes for the weekday homemade chicken noodle soup that I know everyone will eat, another recipe fell out and caught my attention. Its main ingredient is squash. 

But that's not all that made me glad to have found it. The recipe was given to us by a chef at a restaurant we visited what feels like a lifetime ago. We had been camping with three very young children in Prince Edward County, and my sweetheart planned a romantic (and we'll use that term loosely here since we had three kids with us) dinner at a local restaurant called the Waring House. He'd read about it in the paper, I believe, and knew we'd both appreciate the use of locally sourced food. 

Except — if memory serves — we didn't really get to savour the taste of any of it. I don't think it was one of the better eating-out-with-toddlers-and-babies experiences we've ever had, and I don't think it was for any of the patrons that were dining with us that night, either. We were seated in a quiet room with a beautiful view and a very cranky baby. I think we took turns standing outside with her, while the other parent coaxed the kids to hurry up and finish their food already. 

Maybe my soup went cold or I didn't get a chance to finish it, but somehow we came away with a printed copy of the chef's recipe, and it's been sitting in my binder waiting to be made ever since.

Tonight, my husband will come home from a long day at work, and we'll have the soup while it's still warm. And we'll catch up with one another, because no one will have to go outside with a screaming baby. Maybe we'll have a laugh about that disastrous night, maybe we won't. But I do know we'd both say we are glad we tried it anyway. 

And I don't mean the soup. 

 

Squash Medley Ginger Maple Soup

Ingredients:

  • 1 large squash, baked
  • 2 cups of sweet potatoes, baked
  • 2 cups chopped onions
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp grated fresh ginger
  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • 4 cups of vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method:

Place the squash and the sweet potatoes in a 350 degree oven, halved, cut side down on a parchment lined baking sheet and roast for one hour. Sweat the onions until transparent in the oil and add the cayenne and ginger. Add the carrots, squash, sweet potatoes and stock and simmer for 40 minutes. Puree this mixture in a food processor in batches to get a smooth consistency (I used a hand blender). Return the soup to the pot and add the maple syrup. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serves six. 

 

 

 

Recipe: Teriyaki Pork Tenderloin

teriyaki-pork-recipe

March break is behind us now, but it was so decadent when it came to pulling together family dinners. Most nights, we had an extra grown up around to either help in the kitchen or keep the kids entertained. We ate out a few times and got fed by Grandma one night, too. 

On the days I was on my own with the kids, it was still a nice pace. Normally, I'm coming or going from an after-school activity at the exact time my kids need to be eating — because they are S-T-A-R-V-I-N-G after a long day! The break gave us lots of time to get home from our outings and get dinner on the table with minimal drama.

We're back in the thick of a busy schedule again now. Our family is big and our activities are many. I've also taken on some new roles and responsibilities, in addition to my writing work, and we've had to be even more organized than usual.

The night before we returned to school and work and activities, I did a big grocery shop to prepare for a few days of lunch boxes and two night's worth of dinners. We tend to shop on a three day cycle, so that we're meal planning for two days ahead. I find a full week of planning never pans out, but every three days works well to cover any last minute changes to our schedule. 

Monday mornings, JB gets up first with the boy who has an earlier school start than his sisters. While dad is hanging out with him, he makes the school lunches for the day. He walks him to his bus stop and then leaves for work. I get the girls up and ready for school and, while they're getting themselves breakfast, I use the time to drink my coffee and do a quick dinner prep if I can (read: if we're not scrambling through any forgotten homework or piano practice).

This week it was my teriyaki pork tenderloin recipe. It takes less than five minutes to do the prep and it tastes so great. It's one of my youngest daughter's favourite meals. 

My mom taught me to cook using my intuition, when it comes to seasoning and flavouring food, so a lot of the meals I make are an improvisation. 

Here's my recipe for the teriyaki marinade (give or take a little):

  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1-2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp canola or grapeseed oil
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp minced ginger
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar

I add the pork tenderloin to a large Ziploc bag, throw in the ingredients, seal the bag and then give it all a really good massage before throwing it into the refrigerator for the day (in the sealed bag). If you prefer to use a dish, I would whisk the ingredients together in a small bowl before pouring over the pork tenderloin. 

When we get home from school and work, I pop the pork tenderloin into an oven-safe dish and cover loosely with aluminum foil to keep it from drying out. I bake it at 420 degrees for about 25 minutes. Slice open the centre and check for pinkness (adjust cooking time as required).

When it's fully cooked, I slice the tenderloin into medallions and serve it with rice or egg noodles and a vegetable. 

Give it a try and let me know what you think.

 

 

Holiday Giveaway: 100 Days of Real Food Fast & Fabulous

 Photo provided by Lisa Leake

Photo provided by Lisa Leake

It's the most wonderful, hustle and bustle time of the year. 

Our family is feeling like we've barely had time to pack away our Halloween costumes, before donning our ugly Christmas sweaters to decorate the tree. 

It's all good, though. Holiday get togethers and doing our best to make the season more about giving than receiving means we'll be spending a lot more time in the kitchen in the coming weeks: making our own meals and preparing treats and food to share with others. This week there's a potluck and a girl on a mission to make something sweet for our neighbours penciled into the family calendar.

With four growing kids, the kitchen is already the highest traffic area in our home. If we don't look for ways to be efficient with shopping and meal planning, we start to slip into a pattern of cobbled together meals that don't fuel us the way we need to be fuelled to get through our hectic schedule. Oh, and we get on each other's nerves when all of us are bumbling around in the kitchen foraging for food!

During the week, I am the primary kitchen person. Most nights, it's just me and a couple of the kids at the table. Plates of dinner for the rest of the crew wait for their later arrival. And that was an important decision for our family. It can be all-too-easy to get into a fend for yourself groove when the whole family isn't able to eat together. It happened a lot when the kids were small and I was on my own for meal prep. Once they were older, and I could spend more time in the kitchen, I started to make some serious changes. The first thing to change was the mindset that I didn't need to prepare a family meal if we weren't eating together. Now that we have our routine of setting aside plates for latecomers, I'm more likely to prepare a well-rounded meal. On the weekends, my husband takes over in the kitchen and we do our very best to make sure all six of us are at the same table on one of those nights. 

I'm not going to pretend it comes easily. It's work to come up with ideas and to plan for pulling meals together around our schedule. I rely (heavily) on inspiration from others. And one of the cookbooks and blogs that really works for our family is 100 Days of Real Food and now the newest cookbook in the series 100 Days of Real Food Fast & Fabulous. I stumbled upon Lisa's Instagram feed last year, and I was hooked. 

These recipes meet all my requirements for family meals: quick, user-friendly, real ingredients (that are easy to find in the grocery store and are often already in my kitchen). 

The newest cookbook (which I'm working my way through) has 100 recipes and includes a lunch box section which has some great ideas for grown up and pint-sized lunches. She also provides gluten-free and nut-free options in the recipes. And did I mention easy? I was amazed by the five minute jars of overnight oats the kids could grab in the mornings. And the dinners really are fast and fabulous, I'm not exaggerating! 

 EASY FISH TACOS. Photo provided by Lisa Leake

EASY FISH TACOS. Photo provided by Lisa Leake

Like I was saying, the kids are older now. I can spend more time in the kitchen while they're busy doing other things. But here's the kicker: they are also old enough to start pulling their own weight when it comes to feeding themselves and the rest of the family. My husband likes to remind me (often) that he was preparing dinner for his whole family at least once a week by the time he was 10, and I'm doing my best to let go of my need to control the kitchen. The recipes and ideas in this cookbook are completely tween and teen friendly, so no more excuses for any of us. There are going to be some more changes in the new year when it comes to meals. 

I'm so happy with this new cookbook that I'd like to give one away to a lucky reader, so you too can head into the busiest time of year with the best tools to feed your family (and anyone else who you happen to be spending time with over the holidays). 

If you are a Canadian resident, you can enter below. Thanks and good luck!

Disclosure: I was not paid to write this post, but I was generously gifted a copy of the new cookbook 100 Days of Real Food: Fast & Fabulous by Lisa. I love this book so much (and I think you will, too) that I bought another copy to give away to one of you!