Eating Jen and John Speak

Category Archives: Eating

This Thanksgiving, We Went Out for Chinese

Our family on Thanksgiving Day

This Thanksgiving we went out for Chinese food.

Now I can of course claim that part of the reason we did so is because half of our family heritage is Chinese.

But I have to tell you, as I was walking through the supermarket on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I felt a little smug that I was simply picking up essentials as I walked among the folks with the glazed eyes who were stressed out over preparing the perfect Thanksgiving meal.

This year I only cooked little desserts because I wanted to.

This year we spent the day hanging out with each other and putting up the Christmas tree. Instead of spending quality time with my oven, I spent it with my kids. And it was sweet.

And I didn’t have to do dishes after dinner.

Don’t get me wrong…I love to cook. But I love that we avoided the whole “command performance” thing (and honestly, my kids don’t even LIKE turkey.) It was fun, when people asked the inevitable question: “What are you doing for Thanksgiving?” to answer, “We’re going out for Chinese.”

Granted, it was good Chinese. It was the place where my husband and I celebrated our wedding banquet.

Sometimes it’s fun to buck tradition and do something different.

How was your Thanksgiving?

Sweet Potato Ravioli and Homemade Pasta Recipe

I admit it. I’m a bit of a foodie. And I LOVE to cook. So when my favorite restaurant neglected to bring back my favorite seasonal dish, their sweet potato ravioli, I decided to take matters into my own hands. It was time to attempt homemade pasta.

Now I have made homemade pasta once before. Just noodles, though. My mom bought me a hand-crank pasta machine at a garage sale years ago. I tried it once, was not impressed with the results, and then lost it in the basement. But recently it resurfaced, and has been taunting me to try again.

So it was the moment.

I found a recipe in Bon Appétit , along with a pasta recipe for ravioli on Food Network, and I decided to bring them together to try to replicate my favorite restaurant dish.

The pasta rocked.

The sauce was OK. Not the same as the restaurant.

I am now going to try to sweet-talk the restaurant into giving me their recipe.

So here’s what I did.

I started by cutting the sweet potatoes in half and roasting them in the oven.

 

 

 

Next I made the pasta dough. I used the electric mixer, but kneaded by hand for 10 minutes. I considered it my workout for the day.

 

While the dough rested, I made the sweet potato filling. I added whole milk ricotta and heavy cream to the recipe in an attempt to replicate the restaurant recipe. It was REALLY good.

Once the pasta dough rested, I cut it into portions and ran it through the pasta machine.

The kids liked helping with this part.

 

Once the pasta sheet was rolled out, I laid it on a cutting board, ready for filling! 

After using a pastry brush to brush the pasta sheet half with an egg wash, I placed portions of filling on half of the sheet of dough.

Then I folded the other half of the pasta sheet over the filling, and pressed out the air around the filling pockets.

I cut the pasta into squares. If I did it again, I would use a pizza cutter. It would have been easier.

 

This was about the point at which John told me he had no interest in sweet potato ravioli, and would rather eat normal pasta with meat sauce. So I made that too, using the noodle cutter on the pasta maker. (These noodles ROCKED.)

Then we let everything rest and dry a bit, while I passed out. Pasta making is exhausting! Especially when you’ve been up late the night before!

Eventually, it was time for dinner, so I started the sauce by slicing up some shallots.

Frying them.

While the shallots fried, I browned some butter. When it was done, I added some minced sage. Then I cooked the ravioli.

After it cooked, I added it to the sage brown butter sauce. I added a few pumpkin seeds as well for texture (I was out of pine nuts, which the recipe called for). Then I plated it.

The verdict: It was OK. I wasn’t a huge fan of the fried shallots (not a big fried food fan.) The ravioli themselves were delicious. Fortunately I have more ravioli in the freezer, and will try another sauce recipe next time.

The noodles I served with homemade meat sauce were a HUGE hit with John and the kids. I will definitely make that again.

And I’m still on a quest for the perfect sweet potato ravioli sauce!

Here are the recipes:

Pasta Dough for Ravioli – I used Tyler Florence’s recipe and it was easy and delicious.

Sweet Potato Ravioli with Sage Butter Sauce – The original recipe called for using wonton skins. I used the homemade pasta instead. I added 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 cup heavy cream and 1 cup whole milk ricotta to the filling recipe.

Have you made homemade pasta? Would love to read your experiences in the comments below!

Healthy Halloween Treats

My most impressive 100% fruit juice gelatin jigglers from last year's class Halloween party

I’ve written before about how we’re Head Class Parents for 2 of our 3 kids’ classrooms. That means we’re in charge of organizing the annual Halloween Party for these classrooms. We’ve met with the parents and are in the midst of planning. But our school, like many others, has gotten really strict about the food.

There are a couple of reasons. First, allergies have become a big issue. We have to avoid all nuts, and in some classrooms dairy and wheat is an issue. (It stinks to be the kid who can’t snack on the good stuff!)

Then, there’s the “healthy food’ issue. The school wants to make sure the treats the kids have are healthy. That means sugar can’t be the 1st ingredient, avoiding fat, etc. Now while I’m on board with serving healthy food, I do feel like the school goes overboard on this. Particularly because the crap they serve on a regular basis in the lunchroom doesn’t fit the party requirements they require us to adhere to! (but I digress…)

Anyway, here are some healthy snack ideas that the parents in our classes have come up with. Would love to hear if you have any other healthy ideas to share!

  • Popcorn “Hands” – Fill plastic gloves with popped popcorn and serve!
  • Apple “Teeth” – Take apple slices, and cut a slit along the peel side. Add black raisins in the slit as teeth.
  • Fruit Kabobs – Black and orange fruit on skewers (oranges, blackberries, etc.) It’s color themed!
  • Spooky “Fingers” – Cut string cheese in half. Then cut green or red pepper pieces into triangles that are about 1/2 inch long and 1/4 inch wide at the base. Cut a small slit in the rounded end of the string cheese half, and insert the pepper triangle (which now looks like a pointy fingernail.) (Or make these.)
  • 100% Fruit Juice Jigglers – Boil 100% Fruit Juice and then add Knox unflavored gelatin (follow the directions on the back of the Knox packet.) Pour into a 13″ x 9″ pan and refrigerate to set. Then use Halloween-themed cookie cutters to cut out fun shapes. Serve on Halloween-themed cupcake liners.
So what other healthy Halloween treats do you serve at class parties, or with your kids at home? Would love to read your thoughts in the comments below!

Eating Healthy On the Go: Some of My Favorites

Traveling as much as I do, I can’t always eat as well as I want to. We all know conference food isn’t healthy (and I speak at a lot of conferences) and the office lunch that they order in when I come for an all-day consulting meeting isn’t exactly high on the list of health food either. Add to that airport food, which varies dramatically depending on where you fly, and I found when I first started traveling that I was putting on weight. Not good!

I’ve since learned to take control in a few ways.

  • I always make and pack the next 2 meals I’ll eat, and put them in an insulated lunch tote that fits over the handle of my rolling suitcase. (I got mine from Thirty-One, and I can’t live without it!) For breakfasts, I’ll make an egg white and cheese sandwich on a whole grain English Muffin (the 100% Whole Wheat ones from Fiber One are my favorite) with fruit, and lunches or dinners are often hearty spinach salads with chicken, fruit, and nuts.
  • I also pack 100 calorie packs of almonds, fruits that don’t need refrigeration and travel well, like apples and oranges, and Kind fruit and nut bars (greatest bars EVER.)
  • I bring unsweetened instant oatmeal packets, unsweetened dried mango slices, sliced toasted almonds, cinnamon, nonfat dry milk, and a spoon for breakfasts in the hotel. Add hot water from the coffee machine in the room in a mug, and healthy (and cheap!) breakfast is served. (And in the other mug I make coffee with Starbucks Via, which is SO much better than hotel room coffee machine coffee.)
  • I pack my sneakers. I always try to hit the gym or a nearby running trail in the morning before my meetings. It gives me a burst of energy for the day, and it also helps to offset any of the bad food I’ll inevitably wind up eating.

By eating right at home and on the road, as well as running 4-5 times per week, I’ve taken off 20 lbs in the last 4 months.

But I also like it when restaurants I see everywhere help me make good choices. And Starbucks has recently launched a line of “Bistro Boxes” that help me do that. Instead of plastic-tasting, calorie-laden fast food choices, these are real food. I’ve tried the Chicken Lettuce Wraps (360 calories) and the Sesame Noodles (350 calories), and they are both awesome, packed with veggies, and delicious. And each one comes with a cute little bite-sized square of dark chocolate to complete the meal.

Filling, healthy, delicious. Starbucks really scored a home run with these.

How do you eat healthy on the go? How do you plan ahead? What are your healthy go-to spots when you need a good meal while you’re out and about? Would love to read your ideas and tips in the comments!

p.s. This is an unsolicited product review. Just my own 2 cents about products I love.