Katy Cooks

Tofu Sandwich Spread (p. 199)

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Shakespeare thinks that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but I’m not sure Brian Wansink would agree. Who, you may be asking, is Brian Wansink? He’s the director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab where he leads experiments on eating behavior, many of which he summarized in his excellent book, Mindless Eating. According to Dr. Wansink’s research, how much we enjoy the taste of a particular food is directly related to what it’s called on the menu (or in the cookbook as the case may be).

For example, if you go to a restaurant and order the Sizzling Mexican Fajitas you’re going to enjoy them more than if they were called Stir Fried Chicken and Vegetables, even if it’s the same exact dish. So, despite Shakespeare’s assertions to the contrary, there is something in a name.

This might explain why I have been saving Tofu Sandwich Spread for the very end of my year of cooking. Truth be told, I was not even a little excited about making this recipe. Tofu Sandwich Spread? It might as well be called Boring No-Other-Lunch-Options-But-I-Still-Have-To-Eat Spread. I can say this because it’s quite possible I’m the one who named it.

Now that I’ve tried it though (and read Dr. Wansink’s book), I plan to rename it for the next edition of Fresh, Seasonal Recipes. Maybe Garlicky Sandwich Spread? Or perhaps Super-Yummy-Spread-on-Anything Dip.

Believe me when I tell you that this dish does not resemble the dubious white block that stares back at you from inside that liquid-filled package. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not tofu phobic. I love a nice Baked Tofu (see the one on page 89, it’s amazing!) in a flavorful sauce. I’ve just never been one to order a tofu scramble or mock egg or chicken salads that feature tofu. What’s the point? I eat eggs and chicken, so why substitute tofu if you don’t have to? Because it can be delicious, that’s why.

Using tofu as the base for this spread gives you a blank canvas for all of the flavors that you’ll be layering on. With a combination of mustard, cider vinegar, garlic, turmeric and cumin flavoring a nice assortment of crunchy veggies (celery, carrot, onion) you get a flavor burst that, while it may require you to brush your teeth before any afternoon meetings, makes you spend the morning looking forward to lunch.

I brought this spread to work for lunch 3 days in a row (with crackers and some cilantro to sprinkle on top) and even ate it as a late night snack one night when my dinner didn’t take. Please, do yourself a favor, ignore the title and make this spread. And after you try it, give me some suggestions for what we can call it in the next cookbook. Garlic Love Spread? Super Delicious Crunchy Yum? You Won’t Believe It’s Tofu Deliciousness? You can see I need some help here.

Green Beans and Sautéed Red Onion (p. 165)

Friday, September 21, 2012

I really wanted to go out for dinner tonight. I got home with the kids around 4:30 and had no plan for what to cook. My menu said pasta, but we had that last night, so I was at a loss. “I know,” I thought, “I’ll make eggs.” I texted my husband to see if he had eaten eggs for breakfast this morning. He had.  Well then, on to plan B.  Wait, I think the eggs were plan B.  Ok, plan C then. Plan C never bodes well.

A quick look through the fridge turned up some green beans, a few onions and a bit of fruit. Not much to work with. I also had three sweet potatoes on the counter that I needed to use up. Now how could I put all that together to resemble dinner? I wasn’t feeling very confident.

If it weren’t for our recent commitment to eat at home during the week, I would certainly have suggested that we go out. But, since I really do want my kids to learn that dinner means eating a home cooked meal all together around the kitchen table (at least most of the time), I sucked it up and got to work.

I knew I had the fixings for Green Beans and Sautéed Red Onions, so that was a no brainer. It’s on my menu for next week, which is why I have the ingredients. I guess by making it tonight I’m setting myself up for another night with no dinner plans, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. But green beans alone does not a dinner make. What next?

Since I didn’t have a sweet potato for everyone, I baked and mashed them and made four individual “sweet potato casseroles.” My fancy way of saying “mashed sweet potatoes in a ramekin with a little butter, brown sugar and cinnamon sprinkled on top.” It sounds decadent, but I only put about a teaspoon of butter and brown sugar on each one. It’s amazing how just seeing the cinnamon and sugar sprinkled on top inspires my kids to suck down sweet potatoes.

With carbs and veggies covered I needed some protein. This is why I keep canned beans in the pantry. I rinsed two cans of garbanzo beans, tossed them in olive oil and spices and baked them into crunchy, roasted chick peas. My daughter loves these and requests them periodically. They are very easy to make, healthful and delicious. In addition to being a great dinner addition, they make a protein-rich snack.

I have to say, I’m feeling rather pleased with myself.  First, I’m pleased that I didn’t resort to going to a restaurant. Second, I’m pleased that my kids actually ate this vegan (almost, except for the butter) meal without complaint. My kids are actually turning into pretty good eaters, despite their best efforts. It’s quite gratifying. They’ve definitely gone through the nothing-but-pizza-and-chicken-nugget phases and I’m pleased to see that they are emerging on the other side.

My son actually got up and helped himself to seconds of the green beans. He particularly liked the sautéed onions, which are caramelized with a lovely sweet and sour glaze.  I didn’t even know he liked onions. I don’t think he even knew he liked onions. I was tempted to cut back on the amount of onion the recipe called for (3 whole onions for a dish that serves 6!) thinking it would turn the kids off.  I’m very glad I didn’t. He asked me to put all the rest of the onions in his lunch tomorrow and asked me to make this dish again. Who is this kid and what has he done with my son? I guess all of this eating at home is paying off.

Salmon and Pasta (p. 69)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

You know that quote that says (I’m paraphrasing) the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? Well, what do you think they call it if you keep doing different things expecting the same result? I’m sad to say I don’t think it’s sanity.

Whatever you call it, I think that’s what I’m doing. I keep making various recipes assuming each time that I and/or my family won’t like it. And then we do - pretty much without fail. And then the next time, the same thing happens again. Why is that? Any of you Psych majors out there want to take a stab at that?

Tonight I had planned to make Salmon and Pasta. I wanted to have a particularly healthy dinner since I knew we would be celebrating Spumoni Day* later. I also thought I had some bargaining leverage with my kids since we had a special dessert looming. I expected to need it to bribe them since I was anticipating turned up noses when dinner was served.

When my daughter walked into the kitchen to set the table she asked what was for dinner. When I told her she said, “That sounds good. I’ve never had that before.” Whether that was sincerity or her buttering me up for a big piece of ice cream pie I don’t know. Either way I was pleased.

As we were eating, I noticed my daughter was avoiding the vegetables. When I told her she needed to eat them, my son chimed in, “This is actually a dish where the vegetables make it better!” Say what?!? He was quick to point out that I shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that vegetables make everything better.

I, myself, am not a big fan of salmon. I eat it occasionally to get my share of Omega-3’s and all that, but it’s not my favorite. But this pasta was really good. I ate it all up and was sure to eat all my vegetables so I got a big piece of ice cream pie. Love Spumoni Day!


* I feel that this deserves an explanation. Several years ago my family was eating out with a few other families. All of the kids were ordering ice cream for dessert (chocolate, vanilla, chocolate…) when my son ordered spumoni (an Italian confection that combines chocolate, pistachio and cherry ice creams). He had never had spumoni, never heard of spumoni. It just seemed like the thing to do. We decided that this show of individuality and adventure exemplified my son’s unique character. Soon after that we discovered that there is an official “Spumoni Day.” Well, clearly this was a holiday we needed to celebrate. Now each year on Spumoni Day we have a ridiculously indulgent tri-flavored ice cream pie. We just discovered that Canada has its own Spumoni Day (November 13, I guess they harvest their spumoni later in the season?) so now we get to celebrate it twice. Thank you Canada.

Pasta with Beans and Vegetables (p. 75)

Friday, September 14, 2012

Here’s what I’ve learned you don’t ask your kids: “What do you want for dinner tonight?” That just gets them thinking, “Hmmm, what do I want for dinner tonight?” and, at least in my house, the answer will inevitably be “pizza” or “burgers.” It most assuredly will not be “Eggplant Casserole” or “A nice pasta salad.” So I’ve learned not to ask.

When I just place a dish in front of them without comment or explanation or fanfare, they typically eat it. If they ask what we’re having for dinner, I give the most basic answer that still counts as the truth (e.g. “Pasta” as opposed to “Pasta with Beans and Vegetables”).

When I started making dinner tonight I didn’t realize that it was going to be a pasta salad rather than a hot pasta dish. Had I known, I think I would have been more excited about it. I’ve been putting off making this recipe because I couldn’t get past the combination of beans and pasta in a hot dish. But in a pasta salad it somehow makes sense; don’t ask me why.

I’m also not generally a big fan of cumin. I often find that it overpowers a dish and I can’t help but think it smells like B.O. However, in this dish it’s balanced nicely with the other flavors and, since there’s only ½ teaspoon, it’s not overpowering at all. In fact, it’s downright delicious.

One of the best things about having to make all of the recipes in a single cookbook is discovering that you like foods that you would never have tried otherwise. Left to my own devices I would probably never have made this dish, but I really enjoyed it. I took the leftovers for lunch and happily ate those too.

It makes me realize that, like my kids, my enjoyment of a meal is flavored by my expectations. If I think ahead of time that I won’t like something, I’m less likely to. And since I don’t have a mom making me dinner each night and encouraging me to try new foods, I sort of have to expand my own culinary horizons. It’s nice to learn that I can enjoy a dish that I was sure I wouldn’t like, and it gives me some new tools in my arsenal the next time my kids complain about what’s on their plate.

Black-Eyed Pea Salad with Sweet Potatoes (p. 57)

Thursday, August 16, 2012

This is one of the more unusual recipes I’ve made. If you, like me, are one of those people who likes to flip through cookbooks and food magazines, you’ll notice that all recipes start to sound familiar. It’s hard to find a really unique recipe that uses ingredients in a combination that you haven’t seen before.

Well, this salad does just that. The veggies in this recipe are among my favorites – okra, onion and sweet potato. Throw in the black-eyed peas and I’m sold. But it’s the molasses in the dressing here that truly stands out. I don’t use molasses much in my cooking, but I really should. It’s got a very distinct earthy flavor (my husband described it as a combination of burnt and sugar, which is right on) and has a ton of calcium. Most people don’t know that two tablespoons of blackstrap molasses contains more calcium than a cup of milk.

If you don’t love the flavor of molasses, I’d follow the recipe’s recommendation to use a mild-flavored molasses. I used the blackstrap molasses that I had in my pantry and it really dominated the salad. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s definitely something to be aware of.

For those of you not familiar with molasses, there are three different grades – first, second and third (each produced at a different stage in the process of refining sugar). Blackstrap molasses is third molasses and is the strongest of the three. If you don’t like a strong molasses flavor, go with first or second molasses.

I chose to roast the onions along with the potatoes because I absolutely love roasted onions. I think it would be fine to follow the recipe and leave the onions raw though. I also cooked dried black-eyed peas instead of using canned. To be honest, I would have preferred to use canned but I couldn’t find them at the store. It wasn’t a big deal to make them from scratch, but it did add a degree of planning that I would have preferred to eliminate given my renewed commitment to simplifying dinner.

Make sure you serve this with something that can handle being paired with strong flavors (especially if you’re going to use blackstrap molasses). I served it with burgers, which worked just fine. I wouldn’t recommend it with a nice white fish, though, or a delicate salad. This is a hearty dish meant to be part of a hearty meal.

Plum Crumble (p. 225)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Nothing makes my family happier than when I announce I’ve made dessert. Maybe that’s because it doesn’t happen all that often.

When I went to the farmers’ market this past weekend there were plums. I LOVE getting fruit at the market and I have been known to buy whole cases of it at one time. I’ll make every dish I can think of that uses peaches or strawberries or whatever is in season, and then I’ll freeze the rest for a taste of summer when it’s cold and rainy outside (hard to imagine now!).

Well, this week there were plums and I bought way more than my family of 4 could eat in a week (or 6), so I needed to find some recipes. I’ve made a ton of crumbles over the years (apple, peach, a variety of berries) but I’ve never made a plum-based dessert before and was curious to see how it would go over.

It was delicious. Plums are just a little tart and even though the recipe calls for sugar, it’s only 1/3 cup so you retain that nice bite from the fruit. Typically I add sugar to the crumble topping as well as the fruit, but this recipe doesn’t call for any. I was surprised to find that you don’t really need it. A little dallop of vanilla ice cream or Greek Yogurt on top provides a creamy contrast to the warm fruit.

Eggplant Tomato Casserole (p. 113) and Cornbread with Fresh Corn and Bell Peppers (p. 269)

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

I keep getting reminded of how much easier life is when you plan out your dinners in advance. It makes shopping easier (if you know what you’re making, you know what ingredients to buy), there’s less waste (I’m not buying veggies and having them rot in the fridge while I try to find a way to use them) and it makes evenings go much more smoothly. There's no need to think since I’ve done the thinking ahead of time. It’s not really the cooking I mind, it’s having to think about what to make that stresses me out each night.

I knew that today was going to be a busy day and that I wouldn’t have much time to cook. So last night I got a head start on dinner. I looked at my recipes and realized that there was a lot of advanced prep I could do. I cooked and mashed the eggplant and combined it with the breadcrumbs and other ingredients. I also mixed all of my dry cornbread ingredients together and then all of the wet ones in a different bowl. The dry ones stayed on the counter and I put the wet ones in the fridge.

Tonight, all I needed to do for the cornbread was to combine the ingredients right before I was ready to start baking it. It was easier than making cornbread from a mix and much tastier, healthier and less expensive. For the casserole I just had to layer the eggplant mixture with sliced tomatoes, sprinkle on some Parmesan cheese and pop it in the oven. I love that! 5 minutes of work and my family gets a fresh, homemade dinner.


To be honest, I made the cornbread because I knew everyone would like it and I thought it would cut the sting of having to eat eggplant (no one’s favorite). I’ve noticed that my kids react much better to a new food or a food they aren’t crazy about if I serve it with a tried and true favorite.

I’ve also noticed that new or suspect foods go over much better if I don’t call attention to them. I just gave everyone a serving of casserole and a piece of cornbread and sat down and started eating. I was shocked that both kids and my husband finished the eggplant casserole without even asking what it was. My son even got up and got a second helping. What?!?

Pancakes (p. 255)

Monday, August 06, 2012


“Katy Cooks” highlights one year of cooking every recipe from Fresh Seasonal Recipes, the updated cookbook from The Happy Kitchen/La Cocina Alegre™. This blog will feature cooking challenges and successes, meal and menu planning, and how to juggle kids, work and life and still serve a healthful, home cooked dinner.


I really wish putting together a menu and having good intentions counted as making dinner the same way I wish that putting on tennis shoes and having good intentions counted as exercise.

My well-planned menu said that I was making Naan Pizza for dinner. I have wanted to try that recipe for a while. I planned to have leftover cilantro chutney and leftover sautéed mushrooms from earlier in the week, which is how Naan Pizza made on the calendar for tonight. However, when 5:00 rolled around, I realized that my husband had taken the mushrooms to work for his lunch. Also, my son told me as nicely as possible that he thinks my homemade pizza sucks. Well then….

Now that Naan Pizza was off the menu, I was stumped. My husband suggested breakfast for dinner and that worked for me.

I make pancakes periodically, but I never remember which recipe I used the last time I made them. Consequently, each time I make them, I just pull a random recipe from the Internet or from one of my many cookbooks. Sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re OK, and sometimes they kind of resemble sponges or hockey pucks.

This time, of course, I decided to try the recipe from THK. It’s very simple – half whole wheat, some milk, some eggs, some oil. It was delicious! Once again I’m taught the lesson that simple is often best. Did I learn it this time? Here’s hoping!

If you don't make pancakes much, or if you try to make them and end up with a bunch of torn up pieces of pancake surrounded by mucky batter, here's a tip. Pour out about 1/4 cup of batter (per pancake) onto your lightly oiled, pre-heated pan and leave it alone until you see bubbles forming on the surface. Once you see the bubbles, then flip your pancake. If you try to check them or flip them before they are ready, you'll end up with very few pancakes and a big mess. Wait for the bubbles, then flip. You'll get a beautifully browned pancake every time.


Since I’ve been obsessed with peaches this summer I decided to make a peach, maple, cinnamon compote to go on top of the pancakes. A little all-natural bacon on the side rounded out the meal - truly simple and very delicious. I may be learning after all.

Pecan Pesto (p. 169)

Friday, August 03, 2012

Once again I am the beneficiary of having a friendly neighbor with a bountiful garden. My daughter brought a gift to their new baby this weekend and came home with an eggplant and a big bunch of basil. What a nice surprise!

While I love pesto, I don’t make it that often because my family isn’t usually that excited about it. However, if life hands you basil, you make pesto.

The only thing that makes this pesto different from a traditional recipe is the use of pecans (which are grown locally) instead of pine nuts (which aren’t). It couldn’t be any easier to make. Throw everything in the blender and turn it on.  Done.

Well, you would be done if you were making a full recipe. However, I only had enough basil to make a third of a recipe, so there wasn’t enough material in the blender for it to really work. Everything just kind of stuck to the walls of the blender and the blades spun freely in the open space in the middle. I scraped the semi-blended muck out into my little mini-prep, which finished the job flawlessly. (This is why I LOVE my mini-prep. Sometimes it’s really the only tool for the job.) In the future I think I'll use a food processor instead of a blender, which should work even for a small batch.

I knew I’d be kind of pressed for time tonight, so I made the pesto and sautéed some mushrooms and onions this afternoon. I left it all sitting on my counter (covered of course) as I went about my day. Then, 20 minutes before dinner, I just boiled some pasta and stirred everything together.

Man, was that some good pesto. If you ever have the opportunity to make pesto with basil that was picked that day - do it! It’s like tasting summer on a fork.  You can always make a big batch of it and freeze the leftovers in ice cube trays. That way you have little single serving pesto-sicles to thaw and use as needed.  Aside from the traditional pesto on pasta you can spread a layer of pesto on homemade pizza or sandwiches, or try plopping some warm pesto on top of cooked fish or veggies.

Sadly, we didn’t have any leftovers. Even my pesto averse husband ate it all up, and my daughter asked to have what little remained in her lunch the next day. Nothing but my love for my children would have allowed me to sacrifice eating the leftovers myself.

Now I just have to think of another excuse to stop by the neighbor’s house.

Turkey Burgers (p. 95) and Summer Squash and Avocado Salad (p. 25)

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

The conversation this morning with my son went something like this:

Him: Mom, I really think we should go out for dinner tonight.

Me: You know Dad and I decided that we’re not going to eat out anymore during the week, only on weekends.

Him: But I’m really in the mood for a burger.

Me: OK, well, I have a burger recipe that I’ve been wanting to try. I could make that tonight

Him: Um, it’s not a Happy Kitchen recipe is it? I want a real burger.

Me: So, are you excited for camp today?!?

I pretty much make it a policy not to make for dinner any of the things that my kids regularly order out – burgers, pizza, anything fried. But, if I want them to be excited about eating at home, maybe I should rethink my policy.

My husband and I decided that we were eating out too much, so the new rule is no eating out during the week.  We also decided that I needed to start making simpler dinners. I won’t be so temped to bow out of making dinner if I only have to throw something together rather than trying to make several homemade dishes that are well balanced and tasty.

With all of that in mind, I decided to be indulgent and make burgers. Burgers are pretty easy and a real crowd pleaser. I appeased my mom-guilt by making the turkey burgers from the THK cookbook instead of beef burgers. I never really promised my son they wouldn’t be healthy burgers.  I just didn’t say anything.

I bought some ground turkey on my way home from work and decided to make the Squash and Avocado Salad to go on the side. Then I saw a bunch of lovely kale and started craving kale chips. My kids like sautéed mushrooms on their burgers, and who am I to deny my kids a vegetable if they want one? I also wanted to have some fruit on the side since it’s summer and the fruit is just so beautiful. So that means, for one dinner, I was making:

-          burgers
-          sautéed mushrooms
-          fruit salad
-          kale chips
-          squash and avocado salad

What is wrong with me? As my daughter would say, “Epic fail, Mom!” Yes, I totally bombed at making a simple dinner.

But, back to the burgers.

When my husband got home from work my son said, “Dad, guess what Mom’s making for dinner? Burgers! And not healthy burgers, real burgers!”

Uh oh.

Then he said, “Mom, let me see the meat in the fridge.” And when I showed him, he said, “Mmmmm, beef. I love beef!”

Uh Oh.

Once we sat down at the table, he took a look at his burger and said, “Isn’t it supposed to be brown.”

“Um, No…”

And then, silence. Everyone was shoveling it in too fast to talk.

I swear I’m not lying when I say they started clapping. It’s the first time I’ve ever been applauded for a dinner I’ve made. But that’s really all I’m looking for.

I asked my son if that was the burger he’d been hoping for and I got a definitive, “Yes, it was awesome!”

I agree. It was a great burger, plenty juicy and full of flavor thanks to the added garlic and herbs. I will definitely make these again. There are so few meals that make everyone happy so, when I find one, I have to stick with it. Next time though, I think I’ll skip some of the sides.