Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Impossible Astronaut Day

April 23, 2011 was the air-date of the Doctor Who episode Impossible Astronaut, and is known in geek-dom as Impossible Astronaut Day.

GF PB sandwich, organic fair trade dark chocolate, organic carrots, strawberry, and raspberries
Cowboy Hats are Cool: I cut some gluten-free bread using my Eleven cookie cutter from Warpzone Prints and caaarefully added some peanut butter. Gluten-free bread is very brittle! I added a bow tie pick to help hold it together. Plus, bow ties are cool! I used a cowboy hat candy mold to make a chocolate version of the hat that The Doctor sports in this episode.

The Silence: I cut a carrot into matchsticks and laid them out like the tally marks the characters draw on themselves whenever they see a member of The Silence. And put some extras on the side! I didn't really care if they got all jumbled up in transit, so I didn't bother "gluing" them down with Ranch or peanut butter or whatever.

TARDIS: I got the home-made TARDIS baran idea from Chaos and Confections. I made it out of part of a blue silicone baking mat. (You can probably figure out how it was done, or check out how I made it here.) The TARDIS looks just right under the carrot tally marks!

[This post contains affiliate links.]

Tools of the Trade

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Wedding Anniversary of River Song

April 22, 2011 was the date that The Doctor and River Song got married in the Doctor Who episode, The Wedding of River Song. Happy Anniversary, Doctor! So I made a simple lunch for my little Kindergarten Whovian!

Organic apples and carrots, Jelly Baby, dark chocolate hearts, GF rice crackers w/goat cheddar
Hello Sweetie!: I had to order a few more packs of alphabet picks to have enough Es for River quote, but it was worth it! The apples (apples are rubbish!) are in a jumbo star muffin cup (I got mine at World Market.)

Wedding Day: My friend from Bent On Bento Lunches got us some dye-free Jelly Babies from Canada, so even though they were the Fourth Doctor's thing, I had to include them! I could only fit one in the diamond ring treat box, but I wasn't too worried, since Z was already getting the two dark chocolate hearts as treats anyway. (Either to represent the Doctor's two hearts, or else one each for him and River. Whatever makes you happy!)

Bow Ties Are Cool: Eleven liked to wear bow ties, so I put a  bow tie pick in her carrot sticks.

TARDIS: I got the home-made TARDIS baran idea from Chaos and Confections. With a TARDIS-blue silicone baking mat, an Xacto knife, and a Sharpie, I freehand-drew a TARDIS, then cut it out with the knife. I almost messed up and cut the third window on the wrong side, since I forgot I'd be flipping it over to hide the pen marks. Whoops!

Tools of the Trade
 alphabet picks   
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Monday, April 21, 2014

Dinner is... Plated!

I saw an ad for Plated meal kits purely by accident, and decided to try them out! Gourmet recipes and ingredients delivered right to your door? It's like having a private meal planner who even buys the groceries! And no wasted "extras" know what I mean... You buy a bunch of some unusual ingredient like dill or buttermilk for one recipe, then the rest goes bad in the fridge. Am I right?
  • You can set up a "taste profile" to exclude certain types of ingredients or dishes to be selected and auto-delivered to you, or you can select your own dishes up to several weeks in advance!
  • Unless you have too many dietary restrictions, you can easily order all gluten-free, all dairy-free, or all vegetarian dishes each week! And most of them only require minor substitutions or omissions to make them gluten, egg, nut, or dairy-free.
  • Unlike restaurant food, with their massive cross-contamination issues (for intolerance and allergy peeps) and mystery ingredients, you know exactly what's going into your food!
  • Most dishes only take 30-40 minutes total prep time, which is totally doable on a busy week night! And the instructions and recipe tips help even the most novice chef turn out some fancy gourmet successes! 
  • 2 plates makes enough for all 4 of us (the little ones are only 5 and 2, with smallish appetites,) with a little supplementation to make it more kid-friendly for the little ones, or enough for Hubby and I and leftovers for one lunch.
  • Instead of having to flip through recipe books or the internet for ideas, then digging around your fridge and pantry finding all the ingredients, everything is packaged together in just one or two bags per meal - it's super easy to just grab your bundle and recipe card and get to work!
  • Plated uses local (to them) and seasonal ingredients (when they can.)
  • 4 plate minimum per order, but no monthly minimum - you can skip as many weeks as you'd like! Only $12 per plate with membership ($10-12 per month) or $15 per plate for pay-as-you-go.
  • Unless your kids have really sophisticated palates, these aren't very kid-friendly. But my girls usually enjoy at least one element of each meal, and I can easily supplement with other leftovers or more kid-friendly fare I have in the freezer.
  • I'll admit it, they're kind of costly. $12 per plate is only a little less than what you might pay for dinner at a restaurant, and you have to actually cook it all yourself. But $12 restaurant meals aren't this fancy, and if you order these instead of eating out, you can avoid cross-contamination from ingredients that aren't safe for your family, and know exactly what's going into your food!
  • There is a lot of plastic waste, since each item is individually bagged or bottled in the right amount called for in the recipes. But that also means that it's easy to segregate out any ingredients we're intolerant to without worrying about cross-contamination!
  • They don't deliver to all areas. They currently only service 80% of the US. But it's easy to find out if they cover your area!

Want to try them out for yourself? Get a free 3-month membership and 4 free plates for only $20 shipping! Use code member4plates at checkout!

Browse and choose recipes - Choose your delivery day - Enjoy your recipes!

[This post contains affiliate and referral links. I am writing this review of my own accord, and am not being compensated in any way. Other than getting to pay for nommy gourmet meals, like anyone else!]

I opted to order the minimum 4 plates each week, so got 2 plates each of 2 different dishes. I figured I could handle cooking real meals at least twice a week... I loved my first order enough that I've been ordering weekly since! 

Week 1: Roasted Eggplant with Pine Nuts, Raisins, and Parsley
I got to select my first two dishes, and found gluten-free ones that could easily be made dairy-free with some minor substitutions I had at home.

I changed the prep a bit by soaking the eggplant chunks in salt water for 20-minutes or so to make them less bitter, but Hubby said they were still too bitter for his liking.
Instead of the buttermilk they sent, I used a vegan cheat and used vinegar and rice milk, and subbed in some vegan Greek-style yogurt for the yogurt they sent. (I happened to have some on hand. Normally I wouldn't, so I would just have used the coconut cream that separates in the canned coconut milk as a thickener instead.) And I subbed quinoa that I keep on-hand for the farro wheat berries that they sent to go with.

Quinoa Tabbouleh with Spring Vegetables
I didn't need to sub anything out to make this one gluten- and dairy-free. Nom! I did opt to roast the shallot with the other veggies, since I'm not a fan of raw onion-y flavors. The mushrooms were ah-mazing, by the way. I had to, erm, taste-test them to make sure they were done...

Week 2: Pistachio Crusted Tofu with Frisee and Grilled Carrots
For my second week, I couldn't figure out how to customize my order, but they happened to send two vegetarian dishes that were easy to customize to our dietary restrictions.

I opted to cut my tofu even thinner than the recipe said, since I don't like big mouthfuls of tofu. Which meant I'd need more "breading." So I supplemented with homemade bread crumbs made from smashing up all the broken gluten-free crackers I'd been saving for just such an occasion! Made these taste a lot oilier than they would have otherwise, I imagine, but they were still pretty good!

I made smaller nugget-sized tofu bites for the girls, and they went over fairly well. And the little one loved the salad. The frisee was unpleasantly bitter, but I also take my sweet time making these, so it might have tasted better closer to the arrival date. I took the extras and mixed it into my base salad mix and it was better then.

The second dish this week, Creamy Roasted Fennel, was crazy good, but I had to leave before it was done, and it was dark by the time I got back to eat what was left. So no good photos. But suffice it to say it was so delicious that Hubby told me that I was lucky that he loved me - otherwise there wouldn't have been any leftovers to come home to!

 Week 3: Dijon Pork Medallions with Roasted Broccolini and Smashed Potatoes
I was still figuring out how to adjust my "tastes" for the auto-order or customize my order - I thought you had to wait until a certain day to order for the following week, and then everything that was "safe" for me was sold out! But it turns out you can change the date and order for several weeks in advance! But while I was figuring this out and messing it all up, they auto-shipped me a meat dish. I don't like handling meat, and we eat mostly vegetarian, so I was a little upset, as I had basically missed the learning-curve window to fix it by just one day! Plated customer service totally made it right, even though this one was totally my fault for being too inept to figure out their website.

I didn't have to make any changes to make this gluten- and dairy-free, but I did add some extra garlic to the potatoes. We're a garlic-loving family! Frankly, I was amazed at how well this turned out. I did manage to burn myself on the oven door, but otherwise everything came out perfectly. The whole family enjoyed this one. Despite my vegetarian leanings, my girls are voracious little carnivores!

Risotto with Roasted Radicchio, Mushrooms, and Lemon
The other dish auto-shipped to me this week. I wouldn't have ordered it, because the word "risotto" intimidates me. On TV, I hear Chef Ramsey yelling at more people over weak risotto than anything else! But I followed their directions and the rice came out amazing! Sadly, the radicchio was so bitter it ruined the whole dish for us. The girls liked the risotto part though, since I'd pulled some out for them before mixing in the roasted veggies.

Week 4: Shakshuka with Seared Haloumi (and Tofu)
I try to avoid dishes that feature too much dairy or are really spicy, so I hadn't originally ordered this one. Plus I'm avoiding eggs too, for ethical and health reasons.
I had ordered some quinoa veggie burgers instead, and just bought gluten-free buns to sub in. So I was surprised to find these ingredients bundled up in my order instead! I contacted Plated and their awesome customer service totally took care of me, plus gave me the link to the recipe pdf, since I'd gotten the card for the veggie burgers.

To make this more palatable to me, I tossed out the poblano pepper, figuring (correctly) that the aleppo chili powder in the spice mix would be plenty spicy. I also pressed, thinly sliced, and seared tofu instead of the Haloumi cheese for the toddler and I. (Haloumi is usually goat or sheep's milk, which is safe for us, but theirs had cow milk in it as well. *sigh*) I did sear the cheese up after, so our tofu wouldn't be contaminated, for Hubby and Z, who looooved it!

The girls just got some leftover rice, frozen veggies, and then either the tofu or Haloumi I'd made for dinner.

Tofu Mushroom Lettuce Cups with Scallion Pancakes
The pancakes were supposed to be fava bean and scallion, but I waited too long and the fava beans had gone bad. I thought about thawing some frozen edamame or trying canned beans, but in the end decided not to bother. I also opted to add garlic to them. Garlic makes everything taste better!

For these, I only had to sub out the flour for the flatbread/pancakes. I wasn't sure if something like this would need a grain/starch flour mix or xanthan gum or baking powder, like most gluten-free subs need, and I was feeling way too lazy to mess with all of that. So instead I used some unsweetened Wholesome Chow pancake mix I had on-hand, which had all that stuff already. I dusted my surfaces and supplemented with whole-grain brown rice flour too, since even adding way less water than called-for made the dough crazy sticky. But I thought they turned out great!

I worried that the girls wouldn't like the scallions, so I made some garlic-only ones for them. But I preferred the flavorfulness of the scallion and garlic ones. Hubby thought they were too bland, but they reminded him of fritters, so he and the girls ate theirs with ketchup and mustard, and liked them. And both girls had some of the tofu-mushroom mixture, but didn't love it. I just added more salt and liked them just fine!

The Verdict
Hubby has been loving the variety - my normal repertoire is limited to one-pot chunky stewps (stew/soups,) curries, and roasted or steamed veggies. It's taken a little work juggling multiple items; some in the oven, some on the stove; but the directions help you figure out what order to do everything in, and what can be done while something else is happening. And unlike a book recipe, these cover the main and side(s,) so you don't have to worry about not only deciding what all to make, but also how to weave the prep together from two or three different recipes!
And now on those nights where I only have an hour or less and can't possibly figure out what to make, find all the ingredients, and put it all together; instead of going out to eat or copping out and settling for frozen nuggets or pizza, I can whip up a tasty gourmet meal!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Gluten-Dye-Nut-Free Kindergarten and Day Camp Sister Snacks!

Several weeks of nut, gluten, and dye-free snacks for Kindergarten, "Mommy Meetings," and Day Camp for my girls!

Tuesday, 3/25/14 - Sister Snacks
Sweet Potato PopChips, Brach's Natural Gummi Candy
I've been going to a class for parents at Z's elementary school for helping to instill good study habits from an early age, and they provide childcare. Woop! So I pack matching snacks for my girls.

I put E's snack in a Take N Toss sectioned bowl (I don't recommend these. They work okay for baby mash and snack pots, and they're affordable so it isn't as big a deal if they get lost (if you have a kiddo who loses things often.) But the lid is a pain to get on all the way. For me, anyhow.
Z got a Kinderville Bigger Bites storage pot (I mix and match the lids.)

[This post contains affiliate links.

Wednesday, 3/26/14
Brach's Natural Gummi Candy, Kettle Corn PopChips
I had packed some of the natural gummies in a Bumkins snack bag the night before, per a special request by Z. I didn't have time to pack a snack that morning, so just grabbed a bag of PopChips to go with. Not the healthiest snack ever, but the snack parents usually send a fresh fruit or veggie, so I really only need to worry about a suitable "crunchie."

Thursday, 4/10/14 - Sister Snacks
GF Schar Cheese Bites, organic carrots and apples
Both girls got to go to a day camp at My Gym during Spring Break, so they got matching snacks! Z got the box on the left (a Disney Store exclusive, no longer available) and E got the Monsters U sandwich box. She's really into those characters! She even picked little boy "big girl panties" because some of them had these Pixar characters on them!

Friday, 4/11/14
GF cheese Qwackers, GoGoSqueeze, water (for Z)
For our final weekday of Spring Break both girls had day camp, but this time they had them separately! Z went to a camp at Little Gym (I LOVE Little Gym!) while E went to the same gym as the day before. My Gym is a bit overwhelming for my big sensory girl, and she had a hard time the day before letting Little Sis play without her (I had to pick her up early due to a meltdown.) Ironically, while E does better with Big Sis around, Z does worse. And with the louder music and constantly shifting activities, Z can only handle one session a week (or less!) at My Gym. But E thrives there.

So though it meant that I only ended up with two hours to myself (E had camp from 1-4 and Z went from 2-5,) splitting them up was the best plan. They still got (pretty much) the same snacks though!

Tuesday, 4/15/14
Tings, organic apples and carrots
A quick Kindergarten snack packed in a snack bag made by a WAHM and some reusable dye-free food-based Eco Eggs!

Sister Snacks
GF Schar Cheese Bites, Enjoy Life Brownie Bites, organic apples (for E)
Usually Z gets the bigger snack, but E had been sick and wasn't eating much, so I packed a little extra in hopes that she might eat something healthy. Newp. But she wasn't too sick to go to childcare with her sister at the elementary school while I went to my Tuesday night class for parents.

Z got the snack in the little box on the right, and E got her favorite Monsters U sandwich box.

Thursday, 4/17/14
GF Schar Cheese Bites, Motts's Medley fruit snacks, 1/2 organic banana
E was sick all week, and had woken up freakishly early this day, so I had plenty of time to pack a "real" snack for Z while Dadda took her to the pediatrician (she got extra sick that morning.) But still I copped out and just threw something together. I was tired!

Tools of the Trade
Food for Thought