Quick and Easy Motherhood Meals (aka welcome to motherhood)

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I had a baby recently. About five months ago, in fact. And what used to be a life filled with elaborate desserts and meals is now a desperate struggle to get food on the table. In our first few months of parenthood, we’ve had our fair share of McDonald’s, delivery food, and sandwiches, so I’m now raring to get hot, home cooked food on the table and in my belly.

But I’ve a few challenges now: I’m either fighting time (baby might wake up from a nap or scream to be picked up) or negotiating safety (baby is in a sling on my body). And I can’t be babysitting a dish on the stove, because well, I’m actually babysitting. (I’ve ruined many a batch of rice while failing to watch the stove and so I finally bought a rice cooker–and it has made a huge difference).

So I’ve been turning to Quick Cook, Easy Prep Motherhood Meals–which are either adaptations on old favorites of mine or recipes I’ve encountered.

The criteria for my Quick and Easy Meals (QEMs) are such:

  • Any knife work has to be minimal (I have decent knife skills, but even then I can’t be chopping for longer than 15 minutes). I can’t chop with my baby on my body, and I don’t know if I have longer than 15 uninterrupted minutes at any one point in my day as a new mom. I have been making good use of pre-prepped salad lettuces these days.

  • Meal prep has to be simple (not a lot of dishes used up, again not a lot of chopping, no fancy gear that I then have to wash).
  • Cooking time is preferably very short or if long, very straightforward (i.e., stick in oven for an hour or simmer on very low heat for an hour). Basically, nothing I must have to guard/watch. There will be no caramels for my QEMs.

Also, these recipes will be reported on this blog under time crunch, too–so forgive the slapdash nature of the posts. Right now, the baby is napping–so who knows how long I have to finish this post? But I thought I’d post them here so I can look them up easily for my own purposes–and so I could share them with you; when I asked my Facebook friends if there would be any interest in such recipes, I got such an enthusiastic response, I thought I’d revive this food blog. 🙂

And no–you don’t have to be a mom to appreciate these recipes. Anyone who doesn’t have a lot of time and doesn’t want to do a bunch of work to get food on the table would enjoy this, whether you are a beginning cook, have come home after a long workday and aren’t up for making beef wellington, or someone who’s got a kid strapped to them and is freaked out about cooking and slicing/burning their baby.

Stay tuned. I’ve already got a couple recipes to share, like quick stovetop lasagna, baked french toast, and of course, the ever awesome classic, chicken marbella.

Miyuk Gook aka Seaweed Soup aka Korean Postpartum Soup aka Birthday Soup

Miyuk gook/seaweed soup!

I like to imagine the first time someone looked at a bunch of kelp on a beach and decided to boil a big pot of soup with said clump of seaweed. Maybe someone really hungry. Or someone really creative. Or totally broke. Or all of the above. And rejoicing in its deliciousness and reveling in its health benefits, converting all others to do the same.

Over the years, this soup has taken on different variations (made with fish stock, beef stock, chicken stock, anchovies, with tofu or not, etc), but it’s had a central role in celebrating milestones in Korean lives. And over the years, I’ve often been found eyeing a clump of seaweed on a California beach and thinking about taking it home to eat. Ha.

High in vitamin A, C, iron, and calcium, miyuk gook is served to women after giving birth. It is *the* Korean postpartum food, and you’re supposed to eat it, and only it, for 3-4 straight weeks. So it’s basically your first birthday food, because your birth mom has  theoretically had some on your birthday. My mom has always served me noodles for long life on my birthdays, but many other Korean kids eat miyuk gook on their birthday, too.

I’ve always loved this soup; I’ve never needed the excuse of pregnancy or a birthday to down a nice bowl of seaweed and broth. But here I am–cooking up large batches of the stuff now that I’m due anyday.

You can buy the kelp in either dried or fresh format. I usually buy the dried kind (if you buy the wet kind in the refrigerated section, you’ll want to wash and drain it so that it’s not so salty). Pictured here is a bag of dried kelp:

Dried seaweed

A little seaweed goes a long way. You’ll want to grab a handful and reconstitute it in water, where it will expand and rehydrate into a large mass of seaweed. You’ll also want to cut it up with scissors or chop it with a knife into more wieldy pieces so that when you go to eat the seaweed soup, you won’t have to chew on a seaweed piece the size of your face.

See the bowl of seaweed below? That was about a handful of dried seaweed before soaking in water for about 10-15 minutes. I’m not kidding about how much it expands.

Prepped

Like I said, there are various meats and stocks you can use. In the past, I’ve used dried anchovies, but my favorite is to use a few short ribs. Because uh, I love short ribs. You’ll see that I’ve scored the short ribs. Better to eat with, my dear!

Also good to add are garlic and green onions. And if you’re so inclined, some sliced tofu.

For the record, my favorite tofu is Pulmuone brand, which I’ve only been able to find in Korean stores. If I can’t find Pulmuone, I tend to pass on the tofu as an ingredient in this soup.

My Fave tofu

After prepping your ingredients, heat up a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil in a dutch oven or soup pot. And add the garlic and green onions until they soften. Then add your meat until it browns (if you’re using dried anchovies, no need to brown the anchovies).

Sauté

Then add water. About 6-9 cups. Or whatever your soup pot’s capacity might be. Add the rehydrated seaweed and optional tofu.

Bring to a boil and then simmer.

Add a teaspoon of sesame oil (if you don’t have it, it’s not a dealbreaker, but it’s a nice flavor). Add a tablespoon of soy sauce (if you don’t have soy sauce, you can add some salt–but be careful not to over salt the soup).

This is what the soup looks like after about half an hour of simmering:

Miyuk gook after 30 min of simmering.

Add some black pepper. Serve with rice. Live long and prosper.

Recipe after the jump…

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“Muffin Top” makes it into the Oxford English Dictionary

We interrupt this rarely-updated blog to announce…that “muffin top” has made it into the OED. You may resume activity now. 😉

Cinnamon Roll Bliss!!


Every year for probably the past eighteen years, our traditional Christmas breakfast has consisted of Pillsbury cinnamon rolls that come in a tube. Because they smelled and tasted good, because they were super easy, and because we’ve had so much chaos and small children to deal with, not much sleep, and knee-deep wrapping paper. It was all we could manage.

But one of those small children has grown into a budding baker, and this Christmas she offered to make cinnamon rolls from scratch. She found a recipe in one of her Christmas presents from last year, The America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book. This cookbook has produced some incredibly delicious and amazing treats this year.

These cinnamon rolls were probably one of the best things yet.

These cinnamon rolls were not to sweet. The density was perfect – soft, yet with a thick and satisfying chewiness, almost biscuitlike. The cinnamon center was incredibly rich and wonderful, and the icing had a little tang of cream cheese. It was so deeply satisfying and decadent, and was definitely a special treat, yet wasn’t overly sweet.

These are hands-down going to be the new Christmas (and maybe New Year’s!) morning tradition. Recipe from: America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book

(recipe after the break)

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Polenta Cornbread: A Happy Mistake

Tonight, I was planning to make chili for dinner. Usually we serve chili over rice (natch) but I had a quart of buttermilk in the fridge and thought… can I use that to make some cornbread?

I went over to Foodgawker (which I am in LOVE with these days!) and did a search for “buttermilk cornbread.” There were so many options, and many of them looked amazing, BUT I did not have the time or the ingredients to add special nifty stuff like fresh corn or bacon or chiles or whatnot. I just wanted yummy cornbread that included buttermilk.

Finally I settled on this recipe at The Hungry Mouse. It looked awesome! I love step-by-step photo recipes.

I looked in my pantry. Could not find cornmeal anywhere. I swore we’d had a big container of it. But my pantry is an overstuffed, disorganized MESS and I could not find it. I did, however, find a bag of polenta. Ahhh!

Isn’t polenta just … Italian cornmeal? I went to Twitter and asked, “Can I use polenta instead of cornmeal to make cornbread?” and I got a flurry of responses. Such as, “They’re really the same!” to “Grind it in a coffee grinder!” (what???) and “NO.” Yow! But at this point I was committed. I had all my ingredients out, including the buttermilk that started it all.

Then I could not find my metal 8 x 8 pan, only a glass one. Again I turned to Twitter. HELP! And got another round of enthusiastic yet conflicting advice. “Metal is better!” “Glass is more even!” “Try a cast iron skillet!” This all made me laugh in a confused way. Then I found the metal pan. Whew! But people were still touting the benefits of glass. Hmm! What to do?

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West coast apple cider donuts/doughnuts

a pile of homemade glazed apple cider donuts

It’s Spring (ah-choo!), a time of year garnished with blossoms (pollen–ah-choo!) and greening trees that I wish I could watch entirely from inside a hermetically sealed room that no pollen can permeate. I miss Winter and Autumn. While everyone dances to mentions of rhubarb and salivates in anticipation of stone fruit, I wax nostalgic about Autumn. Yes, I’m contrary like that.

Oh, Autumn, ye of sweaters and crisp-non-allergenic-air, and persimmons and…apples…and apple cider donuts. Over the past couple of months, I’ve heard my East Coast friends rave about apple cider donuts (or doughnuts, however you want to spell it). They have been eating the apple cider donuts from NYC’s Greenmarket, and they have been raving about the donuts at Atkins Farms.

I have never had an apple cider donut, yet found myself craving one as if it were my #1 childhood comfort food. Finally, Alexander Chee slyly slipped me the Washington Post’s apple cider donut recipe and put an end to my whining yearning. Time to fulfill a wish.

While I normally adapt recipes, I followed this one exactly, even draining the donuts on “several layers of paper towels” instead of a wire rack.

It is not a recipe to be made on a busy weekday morning, but rather on a pleasant and lackadaisical weekend morning. The dough is easy enough to form; while you boil/reduce the apple cider down, you cream the sugar and butter, and combine with wet ingredients, before adding the dry ingredients. There are two time consuming steps that involve putting the dough in the freezer to firm up, before cutting into donut shapes.

homemade apple cider donuts in process

Don’t walk too far away, because you don’t want the dough to freeze entirely. This is a concoction that cannot be fully ignored until it’s finished…and then well, when it’s finished, you’ll find it impossible to ignore.

After cutting into donut shapes (I used a 3″ biscuit cutter, and an upside down bottle of Boylan’s cherry coke to cut the holes–this made it so I had zero donut holes because I couldn’t.get.the.donut.holes.out.of.the.bottle, but oh well), you put the donut shaped dough into the freezer to firm up (but not freeze!), before frying, and watching the dough “poof” up.

homemade apple cider donuts in process

Make sure you work fast–the donuts only need 60 seconds on each side in the hot oil, so you want your area prepped–a paper-towel-laden plate on which to drain the donuts. And another plate on which to set the cooled donuts.

While the donuts were frying on their first side, I moved the draining donuts onto a non-paper towel plate…and when the donuts were frying on their “second” side, I would move chilled donut dough out of the fridge.  Be organized or they will burn.

The cider glaze is a must, and something you prep while the donuts are in the final freezer step.  I didn’t have powdered sugar on me, so I zapped granulated sugar in the food processor for a couple minutes. Worked just fine (I guess I did adapt the recipe). 😛

They came out perfect. Oh so perfect.

Hints of apple with each bite accompanied bursts of flavor explosions in my head as I bit into the first fresh, warm donut. They didn’t cease on the subsequent bites, either.

disappearing

Recipe after the jump…

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Haiti

pumpkin rocks

(For those of you who don’t know, who for some reason have internet but don’t check news or Facebook or twitter and hang out with people who don’t check news or FB or twitter, Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, had an earthquake with catastrophic consequences this week).

I have been watching the images from Haiti, aghast and speechless with horror and heartbreak. For every person rescued, many others are languishing and dying under the rubble of concrete buildings. I wept last night as I ran while watching television when a man ran up to CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta with his 15-day old daughter who had a severe head laceration. His wife, the child’s mother had died in the earthquake, that child was all he head left. Every news report is accompanied by the wailing of mourners in the background.

Our fellow human beings are being subjected to suffering, and we need to not only send prayers but actual help, just as we did for Hurricane Katrina. The vast majority of us are unqualified to help, and so we *must* send money. We all have something to give, even if money is tight. Instead of dining out, send that money to aid organizations. Instead of buying that dress, send the money to aid organizations.

It’s as easy as texting “HAITI” to “90999,” which will contribute $10 to the Red Cross that will be charged to your cellphone.

If you want to donate more than $10, you can donate to the Red Cross or Doctors Without Borders or go to the White House Website to look at its list of other organizations you may want to consider supporting.

We are not helpless, because we can ALL help. And should.

My friend is putting together a bakesale for Haiti on Saturday January 23rd, from 10am-2pm, in various locations throughout Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco (Pizzaiolo in Oakland, Gioia’s Pizza in Berkeley, and Bi-Rite Market in San Francisco). Spread the word. There is more than one way to send money to Haiti–you can buy a cupcake and benefit Haiti, too.