Wednesday, March 20, 2013

By Jove, It's Working!

I hesitate to even say this, for fear of jinxing it, but Charlie has been more cooperative and put up less of a fight in terms of trying dinner for the past few days. We've even had some bonafide successes! Vegetables are still a hurdle, but he's doing much better in the meat department. Yesterday, for lunch, he ate an entire tuna fish sandwich. WHAAAAT??? Maybe it's foolish, but I don't stress about the veg. This kid eats his weight in fruit. I'll keep presenting him with vegetables, but meat was a much bigger concern for me than vegetables were.

The Basic Dry Rub (pg 26 of Weight Watchers New Complete Cookbook) is a sweet mix of brown sugar, chili powder, cumin, paprica, oregano, garlic and onion powder, and salt. I rubbed it into a london broil, let it sit for a bit, then grilled that baby up to juicy perfection. Even Matt, the steak-master, was pleased. The biggest surprise, though, is that Charlie sat down without a fuss and promptly ate several chunks of steak. He has never--I repeat, never--eaten any type of steak. Word!

Conclusion: Loved it. The recipe makes enough rub for 2 meals, so I happily have some stored away in a jar.

Wild Rice Salad with Pecans and Cranberries (pg 94) seemed like a good idea. It originally caught my eye because it would use up the wee cup of wild rice that moved here from Texas with my pantry items. Then, I thought it might stand a chance with Charlie, because it includes red grapes and dry cranberries, which are two of his favorite things. It also has toasted pecans, celery, parsley, and a vinaigrette mixed in. Sounds like it could be good, but it wasn't really. It was missing pizzazz. I couldn't figure out how to brighten it up.

Conclusion: Disliked. A waste of a variety of tasty ingredients.

Like the rice salad, Sweet and Sour Grilled Fennel (pg 270) sounded good, and failed. Perhaps I sliced it too thick, but it there was no way to cook it through without burning it. The recipe also suffered from poor instructions. After grilling it for four minutes per side, you are instructed to brush it with a balsamic vinegar/brown sugar mixture, then grill for another minute. I couldn't figure out whether this was supposed to be grilled face up or face down for this extra minute. I opted for face-down, but I'm still not sure it was correct. Anyway, these turned out burned (not caramelized. Burned) on the outside and crunchy on the inside. The balsamic dressing totally overwhelmed the subtler fennel flavor. No me gusta.

Conclusion: Hated it.

The next night, I made Chicken with Olives and Dates (pg 184). The title is a bit disingenuous. The recipe calls for two dates. TWO DATES. With 1/4 chopped apricot, it should be called Chicken with Olives and Apricots. I digress.

Once again, this sounded better than it was. Chicken is marinated for at least an hour with oil, garlic, fresh ginger, cumin, paprika, turmeric, cinnamon, and salt. Cook the chicken, covered, with a bit of broth (I needed to add more several times, because 1/4 cup of broth evaporates very quickly). After 15 minutes, flip the chicken and add apricots, your two stupid dates, chopped olives, and lemon zest. This is supposed to cook for another 15 minutes. Again, I added a good bit more broth to keep all these sugary dried fruits from burning to the pan.
I like the idea of this dish. The sweet to savory balance was off. It was very sweet, but with a strong enough garlic flavor that it made the fruit taste weird. In a bad way. Matt said he couldn't taste anything but the sweetness. Charlie ate all the chicken I put on his plate. Even though we weren't big fans of this dish, I may make it again, just because Charlie seemed to like it. He didn't eat any of the fruity part--just the chicken, so maybe I'll like it better if I just marinate the chicken, and cook as-is.

Conclusion: Just okay. The fact that Charlie ate it tips the scale in its favor, from dislike.

Most of the time, Matt is pretty indifferent to this cookbook exploration of mine. But then there are nights like last night, when he probably wishes I would just stop trying new things and stick to some foolproof recipes. With dishes like Tofu Stir-Fry (pg 228), I can't blame him.

This is the first recipe I've cooked from this book that screamed "diet food." The only reason I tried this is because I'm trying to be extra-good this week, to mitigate the damage when I eat with abandon at our Italian friends' house this coming weekend (which also happens to be our 6th anniversary, so I'm bringing a chocolate cheesecake, dammit! Diet? What diet?)

I like stir fry. Sometimes, I even like tofu. However, to like tofu, it needs to be browned and a little crispy on the outside, and to have absorbed a lot of flavor. In this dish, tofu is tossed in with all the cooked vegetables during the last four minutes. The only flavoring in this stir fry is a small amount of soy sauce, a small amount of sesame oil, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. I added chili and ginger powder and extra salt to even make it edible. Matt and I were both starving, so we ate two bowls of this, with brown rice. By the second bowl, we were both gagging on the now-cold, mushy textured tofu. Our stomachs were growling again by the time we went to bed.

This was my first time cooking tofu. If I didn't know it could be done better, it would be my last. Martha Stewart's book, Meatless, arrived yesterday. Because of the night's dinner disappointment, her recipe for tofu stir fry jumped out at me. Step one: Brown the tofu. Thought so!


Conclusion: Hated it. Oh, how I hated it. I gave some to Charlie, but opted against pushing him on it, for fear of undoing our progress. He did eat his brown rice.

One of the disadvantages of sending your kid to bed without a full belly is that they wake up hungry. Shocker, right? On Sunday, Charlie marched into my room at 630 am, poked my face, and barked, "GET UP. BREAKFAST." Not the most pleasant way to start the day (and certainly less pleasant than his normal, cheerful, "Good moooooorning!") I made the mistake of asking him what he wanted instead of just putting a bowl of cereal in front of him. He wanted pancakes. I'm not a big fan of making pancakes pre-coffee, but I sucked it up. I hesitate to count this as a distinct recipe, since I already did the buckwheat variation, but this time I made the Whole Wheat Pancakes (pg 39). I noticed, in my uncaffeinated haze, that the WW pancake recipe includes a lot of sugar. 1/3 of a cup. I asked Matt how much sugar he usually puts in pancake batter (he's the from-scratch pancake guy. I usually just open a box of Krusteaz.) His normal recipe, based off of How to Cook Everything, only uses 2 tablespoons. Hmmm. Something stinks in the land of Weight Watchers.

Like with the buckwheat, these pancakes were not exceptionally whole wheatey, and all that sugar calls the nutritional value into question. I'll probably just stick with Bittman, and toss some whole wheat flour in.

Conclusion: Just okay.

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