I'm a former teacher and current stay at home mom with an insane passion for food. I love cooking (and eating) good, satisfying food, prepared simply with fresh ingredients. I've been known to talk to my food as I cook it, and I despise those little stickers they put on produce.
As a baby gourmand, I grew up around people who cooked. So I never questioned my ablity to cook, I just did it. With a 1973 set of Better Homes & Gardens cookbooks as my guide, I began experimenting and creating.
I eventually found myself enrolled at the French Culinary Institute in NYC in a program geared towards "serious amateurs". I spent 10 hours a week in my chef's uniform, chopping, mixing, sautéing, and braising. My experience at the institute armed me with a repertoire of skills that impacts the way I approach everything in the kitchen.
Now with a husband, a big dog, and three kids later, I'm sharing my culinary skills with the world.
In bizarrely timely fashion, a friend of mine posted this quote, just as I was drafting this post, How much of this stuff has anything to do with who you are now and who you are becoming? Words to purge by…
I yearn for the simple life, a life with minimal clutter and limited complications. Just an uncluttered life focused on family, friends, and enjoying this beautiful world. But sometimes it seems practically impossible to achieve this state of uncomplicated living. We seem to accumulate stuff at twice the rate I can use it, gift it, donate it or trash it. And, my goodness, do kids come along with a lot of accessories…even after you’ve said no to the wipe warmers, diaper genies, bottle sterilizers, sleep positioners, and the tap-dancing monkeys that Babies R Us told you were newborn essentials. Honestly, I don’t even need bottles. I don’t need a swing or a special baby food maker. Heck, we barely used the baby’s crib for the first year of his life. Just give me my baby, a few onesies, a soft blanket, and a ridiculous quantity of baby wipes. (I’m not sure I could live without baby wipes.)
But kids amass stuff no matter how hard you try to avoid it. Puzzles and action figures and five million tiny legos. And little plastic toys from happy meals and musical instruments and samurai castles. And cars and books and stuffed toys and train sets. And a toy kitchen, a toy workbench, and something called bonkazonks. And coloring books, sticker collections, broken crayons, and cowboy hats.
And I’m also to blame for our accumulation of stuff. Because I need matching dishes and glasses. And I needed a sombrero for my Mexican fiesta (which will now live in the basement just in case I want to throw another fiesta). And we couldn’t possibly have had a lemonade stand without a proper lemonade dispenser. And my life wouldn’t be complete without those little metal nest candleholders and turquoise birdie candles. It all seemed so important at the time, but now it achieves nothing besides making me feel claustrophobic in my own home.
I don’t even want to think about the paperwork we collect. Bills and important forms and certificates. A million pages of important paper to file and save, just in case. Just in case.
How in the world did complicated and cluttered become the norm of our existence? It takes actual effort to not accumulate stuff and not to feed into the expectations we’ve grown to have about what we need. Certainly, those brightly colored, beautifully photographed magazines from Pottery Barn and Anthropologie aren’t doing anything to help limit my stuff accumulation. I know, I know…waa, waa, waa, I have too much stuff. Talk about a first world problem! Believe me, I don’t take it for granted.
I just think that our well-intentioned culture has a tendency to overcomplicate life to the point of chaos. I want to simplify. Let go of clutter. Live in an environment of minimalistic zen. Focus on what’s important. And so this is the summer of the purge! I’m moving from room to room and closet to closet to eliminate the clutter. We’ll hold a garage sale to sell what we can, then donate the rest. Goodbye handheld carpet cleaner I’ve never used. Goodbye racks and racks of dvds we will probably never watch. Goodbye duplicate copies #2, #3, and #4 of The Giving Tree. I love you, but we only need one of you. Goodbye all three 50 Shades of Grey books. You weren’t worth the time it took to read you. May you live happily in someone else’s home. And goodbye wine rack. I drink my wine way too fast to ever put you to use.
My minimalistic impulses carry over into my feelings about food. I like simple fresh flavors, short ingredient lists, and uncomplicated preparation methods. I’m totally intrigued by the whole arena of molecular gastronomy…gelification, spherification, foamification and whatnot(ification). I want to eat that food and marvel over the cleverness of the chef. But my personal approach to food is much simpler. No fancy tools, no futuristic techniques…just a sharp knife, a few simple tools, and a good set of pots and pans. It’s really all you need.
A few nights ago, my husband and the boys pitched a tent in the backyard for a summer campout. They built a fire and we roasted marshmallows, which we layered with chocolate and graham crackers for a classic s’mores treat. The boys entertained us with campfire songs and spooky stories involving mommy and daddy getting eaten by a sasquatch. And then they snuggled up in the tent and slept the night away. It was an idealistic evening. It’s the simple things in life, isn’t it?
But a few days earlier in the week, the boys had a craving for s’mores. So I came up with these little individual s’mores pudding cups…for those nights when you don’t have a marshmallow roastin’ fire roaring in the backyard. Rich, homemade chocolate pudding gets layered with mini marshmallows and crumbled graham crackers. Nothing fancy, but what a crowd-pleaser! Simple pleasures.
Simple S'mores Pudding Cups
Remember when I told you to put the rest of that pureed chipotle in the freezer? You did that, right? Excellent! It’s time to take it out to defrost, because we’re making Chipotle Steak Quesadillas! No worries if you don’t have any pureed chipotle peppers hanging out in your freezer. Just pick up a can of chipotles in adobo (probably in the International section of your grocery store) and you’ll be ready to go. Rinse the chipotles, or not, and puree them in a blender or food processor. Store the unused pureed chipotle in your freezer. It’s great in dressings and marinades or as part of a chipotle butter.
This is a super simple, yet incredibly satisfying meal! It requires very little in terms of ingredients and cooks fast. In the quesadillas, we’re using juicy skirt steak, seasoned with chipotle pepper, and held together with melty pepperjack cheese. Skirt steak is generally known for being one of the toughest cuts of steak, but I’ve honestly never encountered a tough skirt steak. When cooked quickly at high heat and cut against the grain, they are incredibly flavorful and practically fall apart. Good substitutes for skirt steak would be flank or hanger steak. On the side, we’re having a salad of sweet corn, avocado, red bell pepper and a bit of jalapeno pepper. This bright, refreshing salad is a cool balance to the heat of the quesadillas.
Chipotle Steak Quesadillas
Originally published 06-13-10
I resisted making this recipe. I really did. As a general rule, I tend to avoid recipes whose ingredient list specifies particular branded food products, like Jell-O and Cool Whip. (I prefer to cook with food, as compared to food-products.) But, everywhere I looked today, this strawberry pretzel recipe was staring me in the face. Apparently, some version or another of this recipe has been around forever, though I’m just hearing about it now. I started to figure that all of these people must be on to something. I do love a good sweet and salty flavor match. Plus, it called for a ton of fresh strawberries, which I’ve got in spades. So, I decided I’d give it a try. And, you know what?? There’s a reason everyone seems to love this recipe so much. It’s really, very tasty! And, the pretzel crust is genius!
In the future, I’d try substituting fresh whipped cream for the Cool Whip and I’d probably skip the Jell-O in lieu of simply scattering the berries on top of the cream cheese layer. Either way, it’s a fun summery treat!
Strawberry Pretzel Squares
To get the recipe, visit TheGourmandMom.com
Unless otherwise noted, all recipes, photos, and writing on this blog
are the sole property of Amy Deline, The Gourmand Mom.
It’s burger season. It’s also unpredictable, chance-of-rain just about everyday season, which might just foil your grilling burgers plan, unless you’re like my dad who grills in snow, sleet, and rain. Weather is no more a deterrent for my father than it is for the mail man. I guarantee he’ll have ribs on the grill during the apocalypse. I like that about him.
I, however, am a fair-weather griller. Thankfully, burgers can still be enjoyed on rainy days with these simple, indoor burger sliders. The kids love these tiny tasty burgers. Who am I kidding? We all love these burgers. Hot dog buns, split into thirds make the perfect little slider buns. A dill pickle slice and spoonful of my spicy-as-you-like-it special sauce complete each perfect mini burger.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to making these tasty burgers, which may quickly become one of your easy go-to weeknight meals!
Step 1: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Scatter 1/2 finely diced onion in an even layer at the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish or half-sheet pan. **Click HERE for a step-by-step photo guide for dicing onions.
Step 2: Crumble 1 pound of ground beef over the onion. **Use 80/20 ground beef. It makes a difference!
Step 3: Press the meat into an even layer. Sprinkle with seasoned salt. (I used Old Bay seasoning.)
Step 4: Bake for 18-20 minutes. While the burgers are cooking, divide 7-8 hot dog buns in half. Cut the bottom halves into thirds. Top each piece with a spoonful of special sauce and a dill pickle slice.
Step 5: Once the meat has cooked, remove it from the oven. Pour off any excess juices. Top the meat with slices of American cheese. Place in the oven for another few seconds to melt the cheese.
Step 6: Arrange the tops of the hot dogs buns on top of the meat. Cut through the buns and meat so that each bun is cut into thirds. **A pizza cutter makes a convenient cutting tool.
Step 7: Pick up each bun and burger portion and place it on top of the prepared bottom buns. Enjoy!
Easy Indoor Slider Burgers with
Spicy-As-You-Like-It Special Sauce
It was back in one of my undergraduate teacher education classes, that I was first introduced to the debate over nature vs. nurture. How much of our personality, strengths, challenges, and interests are a product of our individual biological makeups and how much is due to the environment in which we’re raised and the life events we experience?
From an educator’s point of view, I want very much to believe that nurture plays a more important role, because that idea acknowledges every child’s potential for success and a teacher’s ability to play a significant role in that. We teachers want to believe that given enough time, effective effort, and support, every one of our students can be successful. As educators, the idea of intelligence being a fixed, inborn characteristic would be limiting. So, as a matter of practice, we subscribe more heavily to the theory that nurture plays a more dominant role in human development.
I have to admit though, watching my own boys grow and develop, it’s become a lot more evident to me that nature really does play a significant role. My three boys, all nurtured in the same environment, under very similar conditions, save for the automatic differences in birth order and changes that adding new members to the family have on a home environment. But, my three boys are just about as different as they can be, with their own individual strengths, interests, preferences, and challenges – traits which have been part of who they are since birth.
My Liam is a creator, inventor, and planner. Hand the kid an old piece of cardboard, scissors, and a strip of painter’s tape and he’ll invent some revolutionary new technology which just might change the world. He’s also our head mischief-maker, in an ever-scheming, mad-scientist sort of way. He loves telling stories and doesn’t understand the reason for spaces between his words, either spoken or written. He’s a “What’s next?” sort of kid who wants to plow through the day filling it with as many experiences as possible. Liam doesn’t mind coloring, as long as he can do it fast and all with the same color.
Lucas is our character. He is silly and unabashedly honest with his emotions. The kid takes the stage and steals the show. Just last night, at his Irish step-dancing recital, he snuck out from behind the curtain before the show and spent a good five minutes flapping his arms and shaking his butt in front of the 100 or so people who’d gathered to watch the recital. After completing the first dance, while the rest of the dancers remained poised for the second dance, Lucas approached the front of the stage to shout to me about how much fun he was having. The curtain closed behind him. After spinning around and running nose first into the curtain, he giggled, then shuffled behind the curtain for his second dance. He feels things deeply, for better or worse. He likes his quesadillas with cheese only and “nothing I don’t like.” (If you’re sneaky about it, he will know.) He’s a songwriter, loves legos, and despises coloring.
Little James is a love. He requires copious amounts of hugs and kisses and snuggles, which he soaks up like a sponge and is generous in regifting to everyone he meets. He gives every child at the gym’s childcare a personal hug goodbye when we exit, and the gym cleaning lady gets one too. Sometimes he bites when he gets a bit to excited during a hug, sort of like a dolphin, which makes hugs a bit tense sometimes, but he’s irresistible. He thinks apples and corn on the cob are the best foods in the universe and he’s already trying to learn the alphabet – something the other boys had little interest in for most of their young lives. (His favorite letter is E.) James thinks coloring is the bee’s knees.
They are who they are. And certainly, everything they experience throughout the rest of their lives will have an impact on who they will ultimately become, but it would be foolish to undervalue the unique people they were born as. I’ve learned that parenting, much like teaching, requires ongoing assessment of where our little people are in their lives, what natural talents and interests they possess, what motivates and what discourages them. Then, if we’re doing it right, we take all of that information and design little personalized plans that help nurture their existing strengths, expose them to other possible areas of interest, and teach strategies that might help them handle the areas of life which are more of a personal struggle.
So, do I treat all of my children the same? Absolutely not. I nurture each of my children in the way which seems to work best for them. We follow each of their natural leads and take it from there. Nature vs. nurture? I’m not sure. Ideally a bit of both, I guess, working harmoniously with each other to create unique, well-rounded, happy little people.
Tomorrow, we welcome June. The weather is hot and soon my gaggle of small men will be off for a summer full of creating, destroying, laughing, crying, and loving. Our neighbors opened their pool yesterday and once again, I smacked myself in the head and thought, “Why the heck didn’t I start eating healthier months ago???” Somehow, I’m always too late for bathing suit season. But, the added bonus of the warm weather is that salads for dinner seem ever so much more crave-worthy. They’re light and fresh and have huge potential for deliciousness.
Here are two of my current favorite salads, both made with the same simple roasted red pepper vinaigrette. The dressing is light and flavorful, with a perfect balance of sweetness and acidity. The protein-rich toppings on these salads make either option a quick and easy, satisfying summer dinner.
Salad Idea #1 – Spinach with Shrimp, Bacon, Corn, and Avocado
Salad Idea #2 – Mediterranean