Friday, March 16, 2012

Rah, Rah, Radishes! Alpha-Veggie Pasta

This may not be the prettiest dish I've ever made, but I really wanted to tell you about this book!  

I'm well aware that this is not the healthiest blog on the planet.  My justification for making cakes, cookies, ice creams, and other bad-for-you foods is usually somewhere along the lines of, "but I can get excited about butterbeer and eat-me cakes and pink peppermint ice cream!  Nobody wants to watch me make a salad!"  But you know what?  I need to get more excited about healthy foods, too, and if anything is going to make me cheer for vegetables, it's Rah, Rah, Radishes! A Vegetable Chant by April Pulley Sayre.  

"Rah, rah, radishes! Red and white. Carrots are calling. Take a bite!"  

There are beautiful, mouth-watering photos of any number of vegetables in this book, which look like they were taken at a local farmer's market.  These are paired with a fun, energetic cheer to create a really fun book that I must have flipped through 5 or 6 times.  

The author mentions the usual veggies, but doesn't stop at peas and carrots.  Yams, squash, parsnips, rutabagas, and multiple types of peppers are shown - jalapeno, serrano, habanero.  She even shows veggies that I (I admit with some degree of embarrassment) have never tried, like fennel, Swiss chard, and kale, and a few (kohlrabi, bok choy) that I wouldn't even have known what they were if they were placed in front of me. 

The veggies are paired into families of related produce, so the combinations work well together, and the rhymes don't seem forced, though they're not using just veggies to make the chant flow.  ("Onion. Scallion. Leek and shallot.  Grab that garlic. Please your palate!")

I love that the author also added in "Thank you, farmers. Thank you, bees.", as if to open discussion on where the vegetables actually come from, and she suggests in the very back of the book that each family member become an expert on one certain vegetable - how and where it grows, how to cook it, what it tastes like - and then, once that person has taught all the others about it, they can pick up a new veggie and start over.  Cool idea!  The last page also mentions, "Note: no vegetables were harmed or mistreated in the making of this book.  Most, however, were later eaten."

Now, this is not an alphabet book, but the short, catchy chant, and the bright, beautiful photos, I believe, would appeal to the same audience as those working on their ABCs, so I made for you a lovely alphabet-pasta-with-veggies dish, that I first saw in one of those magazines that the supermarket puts out for free.  I've adapted it a bit, but the inspiration comes from Publix's "Toddler Pasta" recipe.

Alpha-Veggie Pasta
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth (I used low-sodium)
1 cup alphabet pasta
2/3 cup mixed frozen peas and carrots
2/3 cup frozen broccoli (I chopped it into bite-sized pieces before I measured)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

1) Put the broth in a large (spaghetti-type) pot and bring to a boil.  You can use regular old salted water, if you like, but the broth adds a lot of flavor to the party.
2) Add the pasta and boil, stirring occasionally, for 7 minutes.
3) Add the frozen veggies and boil the whole thing for another 6 minutes.
4) Drain the chicken broth, and set it aside.  Mix in the olive oil, cheese, and salt and pepper, adding in more broth as necessary to make it have a nice coating.   (I also put some of the broth into tupperware containers with the leftovers, since the pasta might get a little dry when you reheat it in the microwave.)

Incidentally, the letter-shaped pasta holds up really well in the fridge.  I've been eating this for lunch for the past few days, and it's not mushy at all!
See?  You can read every letter!  (Hmm... I wonder what those initials stand for.)

"Sun and seasons, leaf and stalk.  Know them. Grow them! Veggies rock!"  Thank you, April Pulley Sayre; I finally agree.  Veggies do indeed rock, and I'll try to showcase them more often.

As we discussed a while back, I'm partial to lima beans; what's your favorite veggie?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Chicks and Salsa

It must get awfully boring being a chicken.  There's nothing to read, no coloring books laying around, and - gasp! No TV!  No wonder the Rooster in Aaron Reynold's Chicks and Salsa snuck up near the house to watch what Farmer Nuthatcher's wife was watching - Food Network, as it turns out.  And they're making Mexican food tonight!

The Rooster is intreigued.  Maybe chicken feed isn't the best there is?  He plans a field trip to the garden to scrounge tomatoes, onions, and peppers and makes salsa - Ole!  Nothing boring about that!  This spicy dinner inspired the ducks - tired as they were of life at the pond - to make "Quackamole", and the pigs to indulge in Hog Wild Nachos. 

It looks like everyone wants to get in on the fun, and the Rooster (along with an enterprising group of mice, who supply the trimmings that you just can't get in the garden like tortilla chips) plans a fiesta!  But what happens if Farmer Nuthatcher and his wife get in on the fun?  Will there be enough to go around?

I loved both the story and illustrations in Chicks and Salsa, and it only got better when I found out that there are recipes for Salsa, Quackamole, and Hog Wild Nachos in the back of the book.  In the interest of honesty, I'll let you know that I didn't make the salsa recipe in the book, and I'll tell you why: for one thing, the recipe wants you to roast the tomatoes on a grill, and I didn't want to do that.  For another, I have a salsa recipe that I use fairly often, that I really enjoy.  If you'd like to try those recipes, please let me know how they turn out for you!  Otherwise, here's my own:

Chicks and Salsa
3 tomatoes
1-2 jalapenos, depending how spicy you want your finished salsa
1/2 bell pepper
1/2 red onion
1 tbsp. lime juice OR red wine vinegar
1 tsp. minced garlic
Bouquet of cilantro
Salt, to taste

1. Swish the cilantro in a bowl of water and let it soak for about ten minutes.  Any dirt will fall to the bottom of the bowl, and the clean leaves will float.
2. Meanwhile, seed and dice the tomatoes, jalapenos, bell pepper, and onion and put them into a bowl. (If you like, you can use a food processor to make this go very quickly.)  Be very, very careful with the peppers, especially the jalapenos; wash your hands thoroughly after touching them, because there is enough heat in them that they can seriously sting!  (Particularly if you touch them and then cut onions, because then you'll want to rub your eyes and everything will burn!)
2. Pull the leaves off the bouquet of cilantro and pat them dry with paper towels - the amount of cilantro you use is up to you.  (My Official Food Taster and I really like cilantro, so we use a lot, but if you're unsure, you can add it at the end and keep tasting it until it tastes right.)  Stack the leaves on top of each other on a cutting board, and carefully chop them fine.  Add to the vegetables.
3. Add the remaining ingredients and stir well.  Trust me; salt really brings the flavors out of the vegetables.
4. Let the salsa sit for at least a few minutes to let the flavors blend.  Eating it the next day is better yet.

I use red wine vinegar instead of lime juice because limes don't agree with me.  You can use lemon juice, but I find that the vinegar has a nice acidic quality that lemon juice just doesn't have. 

It's just so good!  I ate it on chips...
And then I made it into Hog Wild Nachos!
To make these, simply lay out tortilla chips on a cookie sheet, and top with any combination of salsa, black beans, cheese, and even taco meat, and bake until melted.  Serve with additional salsa, sour cream, or quackamole.

You can use any variation of vegetables to make salsa, and it's so delicious, you don't even usually remember that it's healthy!  Try adding peach, mango, or pineapple for a special fruity kick.  What's your favorite type of salsa?

Friday, March 2, 2012

Cat In The Hat Hats

If he were with us today, Dr. Seuss would be 108 years old!  Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!!!

Today, I'm planning to write about his most famous character - The Cat In The Hat - but first, let's talk about his creator for a few moments.  (Note: Most of the following information can be found at the official Dr. Seuss website, here:  Dr. Seuss - born Theodore Geisel - came into the world on March 2, 1904.  He remained Ted Geisel until college, until he got into some trouble.  Having been banned from writing and drawing cartoons for the school paper and magazines, he started using his mother's maiden name, though with a different pronunciation - "Seuss".

After cartooning for quite a bit, and writing and drawing for advertisements, Dr. Seuss started writing books for kids in 1937 (To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street was the first one).  All in all, he wrote and illustrated 44 books for children.  The Cat In The Hat was his 13th book, first seen in 1957.  To this day, The Cat remains the author's most recognizable character, and some even say that The Cat was a metaphor for Seuss himself.  Let's get to The Cat now. 

The Cat In The Hat is a story that focuses on a boring, wet, dull day - "The sun did not shine.  It was too wet to play."  There was nothing to do... blah.  But then The Cat shows up (despite loud protests from The Fish), and the boredom vanishes.  His "look what I can do!" attitude is both entertaining and scary (what if they get caught?!), and even cleaning up the playthings becomes fun with The Cat around.  (But will it get done by the time that Mother gets home?)

For this story, I just had to make The Cat's iconic Hat.  I tried to make it both delicious and not horribly unhealthy.  I think it came out pretty well... what do you think?

Cat In The Hat Hats
Vanilla wafers

1. Cut a banana into rounds.
2. Cut a strawberry into rounds.  For this, I tried to choose strawberries that look like they do in drawings, instead of the giant 3- and 4-lobed ones that you sometimes get in the cartons. 
3. Stack one banana slice onto a strawberry slice and cut them in half.  Repeat until you have the desired amount of fruit slices.
4. Break one vanilla wafer in half.  On a plate, lay down a vanilla wafer half so that it stands straight up.  On one side of it, place the half-moon slices you made of banana and strawberry to make the stripes, and you have yourself a hat!  Repeat as necessary to make as many hats as you like.

I also tried this in 3D, placing whole slices on top of a wafer to make hats, but I prefer the laying-down version.  Here's a photo of those type of hats, though:
You may do with it as you will.  But whatever you do, don't ever stop celebrating Dr. Seuss.  You won't be alone - his birthday is now the official day for the NEA's Read Across America Program.

I can't decide which Seuss story is my favorite.  It's either Horton Hatches An Egg, or The Sneeches.  What's your favorite?