In the Kitchen, Noodle Kid Style

When I heard that Jonathon Sawyer was releasing a cooking-with-kids cookbook I immediately went to Amazon to pre-order it. Last week Noodle Kids arrived and we were SO! EXCITED!

The timing was perfect with the long MLK Day weekend ahead. Matilda and I read through the book and she picked Roasted Chicken Ramen and Pho to make and made the shopping list. Of course with a list including things like bonito flakes and seaweed we headed to the always-fun Park to Shop in Asia Plaza. The kids love Park to Shop with all the amazing room of noodles, Hello Kitty items and, of course, Pocky (their favorite). We loaded up with all kinds of noodles, spices and sauces we headed home – dreaming of ramen that wasn’t instant.

On Saturday I made the broth – basically your standard chicken broth with the not standard (for me) additions of seaweed sheets and dried mushrooms. I always have a chicken carcass or two in the freezer since we roast a chicken almost weekly, so this want’s an issue for us. You may need to plan ahead of you’re not in the habit of having a bone collection in your deep freeze. The house smelled delicious.

IMG_1103

Matilda had a friend over so I had the girls help me chop up the additions to the ramen – tofu, a couple of left over chicken breasts, and green onions. While I peeled the 6.5 minute eggs and added the last ingredients to the the broth, they assembled little bowls of sesame seeds and bonito flakes and made our kitchen island into a ramen station.

IMG_1111(why is the friend cut out of the frame? because unless you are regularly posting pics of your kid on social media I won’t post pics of your kid, even with your permission.
I’m quirky like that.)

They each got to mix and match what the wanted (as long as they both picked something green to go in!) and made their very own custom ramen bowls. Her friend was a little hesitant, never having had ramen before, but she ended up having 2 bowls and even tried some tofu!

Yum!

Matilda’s verdict: “I’m so in love with this dinner right now!”

My verdict: it was amazing. And I was pretty darn proud of how close my bowl was to the picture in the cookbook (minus the styling and professional photog, of course):

theirsCookbook photo

mineMy bowl – yum!

On Monday we made the pho – an all day process since the broth needs to simmer 8 hours and I forgot to do it the night before for overnight stock. Next to ramen, pho is Matilda’s favorite food so she was excited for this. Unfortunately this one didn’t knock it out of the park like the ramen. But I can hardly fault the recipe since I didn’t follow it exactly (i.e. I used 3 bones instead of 4 because that’s all the store had, I didn’t have a cinnamon stick so I added ground cinnamon later. I also added some very thinly sliced beef because that’s how we like our pho). So this is operator error more than anything. It was still VERY good but wasn’t on the level of our favorite pho place. Which, honestly, is a pretty high bar. I will likely try this again when I have all the proper ingredients on hand.

mypho
I can’t wait to make other recipes in this book over the coming weeks and months. The Grilled Ramen and Cheese and the Little Ears with Kale (a from-scratch version of a house favorite: orecchiette with sausage and kale) are the next two I plan to try.

In case you want to give Noodle Kids a try – the book is for sale in all Team Sawyer restaurants, on Amazon (non affiliate link above) and some local book stores.

*We are friends with the Sawyers however I pre-ordered and purchased the book through Amazon myself. I wrote this post because I am so thrilled for our friends and honestly, it’s a pretty kick-ass book. They have no idea that I’m writing this and I got nothing in return for doing so. What I’m trying to say is: yes, we know them; no this is not an ad. You should buy the book because it’s rad. (hey! I’m a poet!)

Game Day Apps

Disclaimer: This post is part of a Heinen’s campaign. I was given a gift card to use for myself and one to give away in exchange for a post with my favorite Game Day recipes. As always, my thoughts are 100% my own. As a weekly Heinen’s customer, I was happy to be a part of this campaign. 

UPDATE:  This contest is CLOSED. Congratulations to commenter #8 “CourtMarshall”! Please check your email.

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Word on the street is that there is a big football game tonight. And another big game coming up for the NFL on February 1. I may not be a big sports fan but when Heinen’s asked me to share favorite Game Day recipes I knew right away what I would do: DIPS. Because everyone loves dips and a “dip dinner*” is a fabulous idea. Of course, three dips are better than one, so I’m sharing a Trio of Dips for you to make for Game Day or any get-together.

First up –
Pan-Fried Onion Dip, adapted from Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa on Food Network

I’ve made this a few times based on a recommendation from a friend who said this dip “gets hoovered up every time I make it”. She wasn’t lying… people LOVE this dip. I’ve modified the instructions a bit to suit my taste. It’s really easy but takes a bit more than an hour to get the onions where they need to be so I make it the night before.

2 large yellow onions
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (adjust for your tastes)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup good mayonnaise

My version:
Cut the onions in half and then slice them into 1/8-inch thick quarter-rounds. Take your time to slice the onions very thin. The first time I made it some of the onion was too big and it made the dip hard to eat. I take it a step further and then cut the onion slices into quarter-rounds or smaller. A mandoline slicer would be VERY handy for this part

Heat the butter and oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onions, cayenne, salt, and pepper and sauté for 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, for 40-60 more minutes until the onions are nicely browned and caramelized. (I found that Ina’s cooking times were way off – to get a good caramelization and sweet, incense flavor the cooking time was closer to 75 minutes – see photos below.) Allow the onions to cool, drain off some of the oil if needed.

Place the cream cheese, sour cream and mayonnaise in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the onions and mix well. Taste for seasonings. Serve at room temperature with rippled potato chips, pita chips or even toast points.

onion chopping

Chopping the onions into smaller pieces is key so take your time.

 

10 minutes

Onions after 10 min over med-high heat

 

35 min onions

Onions after about 35 min. This is where Ina tells you to stop. I say keep going.

 

final onions

After about 1 hour 15 min over the heat the onions are transformed into delicious delicious stuff. Make sure you stir often during the last 30 minutes, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan.

Dip #2 –
Whipped Feta, adapted from Ina Garten

I heard about whipped feta on twitter and immediately had to make it. I LOVE feta and the idea of a spreadable/dip-able feta make me swoon. Of course after I did some investigation I found that it all originated with Ina. What can I say? The Barefoot Contessa knows her stuff. This is a very basic recipe that can be made with 2 ingredients in just minutes. Dress it up with your favorite flavors for variation.

8 ounces feta cheese, at room temperature (I typically use a solid block of feta and crumble it myself)
8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature

Add feta to a food processor and pulse until it’s chopped into very small crumbs. Add cream cheese and puree for 4-5 minutes, scraping down the sides when necessary, until feta is super creamy and fluffy. Serve with raw veggies, pretzels, pita chips, crackers and/or baguette slices.

Variation ideas:
When adding the cream cheese to the food processor add:
– 1 clove of garlic – roughly chopped, approx. 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, a tablespoon or so of dry white wine to get consistency right.

– 1 clove of garlic – roughly chopped, 2 teaspoons lemon zest, salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste.

– roasted red pepper slices (approx. one pepper), 1⁄4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (adjust to taste), 1⁄4 teaspoon paprika, 1⁄2 – 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice.

Dip #3 –
Buffalo Chicken Dip

Everyone has their own version of a buffalo chicken appetizer, this is our favorite. Recipe from a college friend.

1 1/2 packages cream cheese (12 oz), room temperature
1/2 cup Texas Pete Hot Sauce
1/2 cup Ranch salad dressing
3 cups shredded or diced cooked chicken (we usually used canned but left over roast chicken or rotisserie chicken is really good, too)
2 cups shredded colby-jack or cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
In a medium bowl, stir together the cream cheese and hot sauce until well blended. Mix in the ranch dressing, chicken and 1 cup shredded cheese. Spread into a 9×13 inch baking dish and sprinkle on additional 1 cup cheese. Bake for 30 minutes until cheese is bubbling. Serve with Tostitos Scoops and celery sticks for dipping.

Here’s the giveaway part: Contest is CLOSED
To help you with your own Game Day recipes, I have a $50 Heinen’s gift card to give away to one reader. To enter: leave a comment with your favorite Game Day food. Bonus entry: tweet about the giveaway: “I want to win a @Heinens gift card from @kakaty http://wp.me/p3i9i6-NL”, then leave a comment letting me know you tweeted. One comment and one tweet comment per person (two total possible entries). Winner will be chosen from comments (so don’t for get to comment if you tweet) at 5 p.m. on Friday, January 16. Good luck!

 

*I’ve been trying to make “dip day” (AKA a dip potluck) happen at work for months, and no one has bitten yet. This is tragic

 

On Money and Budgets

I’m not one for resolutions or setting real goals. For me they don’t make sense. But there’s something about a fresh, new year and wanting to make a few changes. One of the things we’re working on in our house is our budget [groaaaan]. From when we got married nearly 15(!) years ago, Mark and I have always shared finances. With the exception of retirement accounts, all of our money goes into the same pot and we make joint decisions about how to spend nearly all of it.

This is not so say we have a perfect situation set up here, or that I would ever claim that our way is the best way. In fact we need some help in setting budget parameters and living within them without texting things like “I’m going to spend $75 at Target – any reason I shouldn’t?” while we’re at the store. So we are slowing working on setting up “YNAB“.

Setting up realistic numbers should be pretty easy as nearly every penny of our spending has filtered through Quicken over the last 15 years. Seriously. And yet, even with that kind of tracking we don’t always do well with sticking to a realistic budget. More often then not our spending decision is “nope, can’t afford it”. Because with 2 kids, one still in daycare, we likely can’t. We expect YNAB to help us both see exactly were we stand on any given day in regards to all areas of our money. Hopefully this will give us a bit more accountability and maybe even some freedom.

Oh, and here’s a confession: we don’t have credit cards. In fact, 2015 is year 3 with no credit cards. It’s scary at times, but also almost a relief (?), I guess. I mean, if we don’t have the cash to buy something we don’t buy it. Simple decision. No hidden purchases stashed in the trunk (come on, we all do it), no spontaneous purchases. Yes, we have an emergency fund for real emergencies but we don’t touch that unless we have to. It’s the reason we can’t just go to Disney like we desperately want to. We plan to go in about 13 months because the cost of a trip like Disney takes about 18 months to save cash for. That’s just our reality and what works for us right now.

Things should loosen up in the fall when Madman starts kindergarten. But the truth is that most of the savings from tuition will be redirected to the items towards which we are saving. And can I just tell you how wonderful it is that we are finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel after NINE YEARS of childcare? I mean we’ll still pay for aftercare and summer camps but it’s about one fifth of what we are paying now. (And those 2 years they were BOTH in daycare? Thinking about those bills makes me hyperventilate).

Right now some of the big, immediate things we are saving cash for include:

– Summer camps for Matilda. She is all signed up for 9 weeks of various camps and we need to pay off the balances before June 1.

– Having the house painted & garage doors replaced this summer

– 3 trips to see my parents in South Carolina in 2015

– Disney in early 2016

By the time bills are paid, food is purchased and savings are stashed away, there is little left for things like my make-up desires or new running shoes.

This lifestyle can be quite hard in today’s society (that sounds very pompous, it’s not meant to be). I can be pouty about seeing a great deal on something and not being able to take advantage of that deal because it’s not in the budget. Or having to turn down opportunities to go out because it’s not in the budget. It’s not to say we are broke, because we aren’t. But when you don’t have a credit card to fall back on those immediate wants aren’t nearly as gratifying to purchase.

But the big picture is this: by the end of 2016 we’ll should enough saved up to rewire the entire house and upgrade our electrical panel (we have old knob and tube wiring and not enough amps), and replace our 90+ year old boiler.

The 5 year plan includes a new roof, complete renovation of our 3rd floor including the existing bathroom into a full master suite. Basically I want it to be this with built-in dressers and bookshelves in the walls. I can’t wait. The 10 year plan will include the start of college(!) for Matilda and full kitchen gut-job and renovation. We’ll do as much of it with cash as we can.

I’m not sure how to wrap this all up with a nice bow. These are just the thoughts rattling around in my head right now.