Friday, June 29, 2012

Our Life in Pictures

Rylan went for his first long run (8 miles)! He slept like a champ most of the way. Brad and I were cursing the hills of Central Park - pushing a double stroller with a car seat is not easy!

How the kids pass the miles.

Brandon started soccer classes.

We had a wonderful Father's Day. We went to church, then Brad and I went out without the kids for a few hours for some adult time (i.e. drinks before noon).

Just because Suki isn't getting much love on this blog.

Getting a much deserved mommy's afternoon out on the roof of the Empire Hotel.

Brandon loves to brush his teeth. I'm enjoying this while it lasts!

Dinner time fun.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

June Restaurant Round-Up

Brad and I go out on a date night every Wednesday. We have a standing babysitter so we plan these dinners out way in advance and love to try the latest and greatest on the NYC scene. Here's some of the places we went to in June...

Amazing. Ranked one of the best new restaurants by NY Mag for 2012. You choose between either a 7 or 20 course price fix menu. We went with the 7, but I totally could have done the 20! You start off with a bunch of antipasti type dishes, then move into the main and a small dessert (we actually ordered an additional dessert and then stopped by Rice to Riches on the way home since we were in the neighborhood - pigs!). Oh, and Oprah, Gayle, and Diane Sawyer sat at the table next to us. We have one lousy picture that Brad took while trying to be inconspicuous. This is a very small restaurant and reservations can be tricky, so call early! 

Bar Boulud  (brunch)
This place is right around the corner from us and we seriously go there once a month. This time we took the kids after church for brunch and sat outside. This is a great place for outdoor seating since it's pretty spacious and you are far away from the traffic. If you have an event at Lincoln Center this would be the perfect place to go before/after. Your typical french fare, but I especially love the steak and fries. Insider tip - if you can't get a reservation, they have a long bar that's for walk-ins and is totally comfortable to sit at. 

Not our first (or last!) time at this spot. Marcus Samuelsson's unique take on comfort food in the heart of Harlem. It's worth trekking up there for the people watching alone! All the dishes we've had from here have been stellar, but you must get the cornbread. We actually order an extra portion just to take home for leftovers. If you can't get a table (and reservations are hard to come by), the outside seating is a great walk-in option and provides even better people watching. Be sure to try the sweet potato doughnuts for dessert as well.

An upper westside gem. Great seasonal menu with really fresh and inventive dishes. Intimate atmosphere and really friendly staff. Nothing pretentious about this place, just consistently great food. I always get a fish dish for my main course and usually get the dessert special, which was a peach and blackberry clafoutis this time - delicious. 

Beauty & Essex (brunch)
Yet another place we have frequented a handful of times. Great for a fun night out with friends. The scene is second to none in the city and the food is really exceptional given how cool this place is. Inside tip - yes, the weird looking storefront is the entrance. You just walk through it and into the door in the back. Not sure if they actually sell anything there, but it definitely threw me off the first time I went (we actually followed up that night by trying to get into a cab that was part of a movie scene - what a tricky city this is!).

I took Brad here for Father's Day brunch thinking that a babysitter and adult beverages were exactly what he needed. I've always loved the food here for dinner and brunch was more of the same. Inventive bites meant to share. Everything is very flavorful. Even the cocktails were unique and packed a bunch. Must try the beignets and the fried chicken biscuit bites. The lobster tacos and spiced fries (they taste like bbq chips) are also great for either day or night. 

Ditch Plains (brunch)
Done by the same people as Landmac (where we go or order from almost weekly). There's nothing revolutionary about this place, but I mention it for all the parents out there. The UWS locations has TVs in each booth. Oh yes. It's the best form of babysitting there is. Although I have seen strollers at even the most expensive restaurants in nyc, it's always nice to be able to eat with both a fork and knife while the kids are entertained. And the food is actually really good. A diverse menu so everyone is happy.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Weeknight Carbonara

Normally carbonara tastes incredibly rich and decadent. I call this one weeknight carbonara because it doesn't have that heavy, overly gluttonous feel. It's still rich and very satisfying, but you can eat it without feeling like you overdid it. Perfect for a Monday night when you want something delicious and easy.

Weeknight Carbonara
Adapted from The Winemaker Cooks
Serves 6

6 oz. pancetta, diced
2 shallots, finely chopped
1/4 cup dry white wine 
10 oz. frozen peas
12 oz. orrechiette pasta
3 eggs at room temp
3/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 cup heavy cream at room temp
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
  • Saute pancetta in a large frying pan over medium heat until it renders fat, about 3 minutes.
  • Add shallots and cook until translucent, about 10 minutes.
  • Add wine and scrape up bottom of pan.
  • Add peas and cook for an additional few minutes until warmed through. 
  • Turn off heat and cover to keep warm.
  • Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, 1/2 cup cheese, cream, salt and pepper. Set aside.
  • Stir pasta into frying pan, along with egg mixture (the heat of the pasta will cook the eggs).
  • Top individual servings with remaining cheese.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Potatoes that Taste Better than the Chicken

When I first started to cook I was pretty intimidated by the idea of roasting a whole chicken. I guess it was the whole bird thing. It just seemed like something only an experienced cook could pull off. In truth it's so easy! I even consider it one of my weeknight go-to meals. It's comforting and homey without being heavy, which is key during these hot summer days. 

This particular recipe goes a step further and includes the potatoes in the same roasting pan. As I'm sure you guessed from the title of the recipe, they are the real star of the show. All the chicken juices drip into them and they get brown and crispy on the outside. Yum! Just throw some asparagus (or other veggie) in the oven for the last bit and you have a complete meal that took a handful of minutes to prepare. 

Potatoes that Taste Better than the Chicken

6 T unsalted butter
6 T grapeseed oil
2 pounds yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 whole chicken (2 1/2 - 3 lbs), wings removed
salt and pepper
4 sprigs rosemary
4 sprigs thyme
1 head of garlic, halved crosswise
fleur de sel

  • Heat oven to 450 degrees.
  • Butter a medium roasting pan (I used a cast iron skillet) with 3 T each of butter and grapeseed oil.
  • Place potatoes in pan in a single layer.
  • Rub chicken with remaining butter and oil.
  • Season chicken inside and our with salt and pepper.
  • Place rosemary, thyme and garlic inside cavity. Tie legs together with twine.
  • Place chicken on top of potatoes on one of its sides.
  • Put in oven to roast for 20 minutes, then turn to other side and roast for 20 minutes more.
  • Turn chicken breast side up and roast until internal temp is 165 degrees (10-20 minutes more).
  • Carve chicken in pan so that all the yummy juices get into the potatoes.
  • Sprinkle with fleur de sel.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Getting your Life back after Baby

I admittedly read way too many parenting books before Brandon was born. I would literally read every book out there that anyone with an opinion had touted as the latest and greatest in the parenting world. It probably just confused me with too many methods and thoughts, and it took a long time for me to get out of my head what kind of parent the books were telling me to be and what kind of parent I actually was/wanted to be. I was convinced that I needed to be this hippie lovin', no-schedule, nurse-whenever my-precious-little-baby-wanted kind of mommy (this also fell in line with what my pediatrician at the time was telling me). Although most of these books never flat out said it, they pretty much expected you to meet every demand your tiny addition would make, regardless of how it affected your life, or if it was even reasonable (like feeding every 2 hours at 4 months old!).

Fast forward 5 months later, I was a wreck. Brandon would wake-up 10 times a night and was completely unpredictable during the day. I never slept more than a couple hours at a time and felt like a walking zombie. Being the type-A person that I am, having no clue how our days/nights were going to go drove me nuts. I couldn't understand how any mother out there ever got her act together after having a baby. 

At our wits end, Brad and I finally called in Dream Team Baby sleep consultants to help us get Brandon sleeping at night. Not only did they do just that, but they also showed me a totally different picture of what motherhood could be like. They immediately put Brandon on a strict schedule during the day and used a version of "cry-it-out" to get him to sleep at night. It was incredibly hard the first day, but after 3 nights, he was sleeping 12 hours and taking 2 solid naps during the day. Hallelujah, praise the Lord! 

By not giving into Brandon's every desire (i.e. me comforting him multiple times during the night and letting him set the schedule during the day) we had regained our control as the parents. I finally knew what to expect during the day and could actually get out for a run or lunch with a friend. I could plan things! I also had enough energy to do them since we were all finally getting a decent amount of sleep at night. It is no exaggeration when I say that sleep training, scheduling, and a bit of parental control literally gave me my life back.

There is no one-size fits all solution, but I would say the secret to getting your life back after baby is doing just that, get back to your life. Hire a babysitter, enlist the help of friends, let your child be a little uncomfortable as they work through the fact that the world doesn't revolve around them. I'm not saying let your newborn go hungry, but be reasonable. Respect your needs as well as your child's and don't think you have to give up your own life to be a good mother. 

Here's a list of a few practical things that have helped me:
  • Sleep Training - not for everyone, but it does work and it works fast.
  • Scheduling - I'm a hyper-scheduler by nature, but I think just having a similar flow to your days is helpful.
  • Parental Control - what I mean by this, is understanding that you're the parent and you know best. There will be a day when your toddler will cry and yell because they want to run into traffic, which you obviously won't let them do. Crying or being uncomfortable does not mean that you are being a bad parent, it's actually what it takes a lot of times to be a good parent.
  • Independent Play Time - Brandon plays happily in his room for an hour everyday by himself. It is wonderful and heavenly, but it took a lot of work to get up to this point. We started young and with only 5 minutes, then 10 minutes, etc. Very worth the effort!
  • Babysitters & Housekeepers - if you can afford to, hiring good help is one of the best things ever. Get out of the house without the kids.
  • Planning - from weekly menus to playdates, having an idea of what's going on helps me immensely.
  • Delegate to Dad - give Dad a task that is all his. Brad is in charge of baths in our house. It's a wonderful break for me at the end of the day, and since the bath is his domain he doesn't have to worry about me nagging him because he does something a different way than I would have (like filling the water up too high). Dad's like having an area of expertise where they don't feel like they are going to be critiqued every 2 seconds.
  • Chocolate and Wine - every tired mom's best friend. :)
For the first few months you certainly have to give up a lot of your time and energy to your new bundle who relies on you for everything, but as they get older, making an effort to regain some of your time and freedom is beneficial to the whole family. You will feel better and your kids and spouse will have a much happier mom and wive.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Chocolate Chip Cream Cheese Cookies

This is a great recipe if you are looking for something different than your average chocolate chip cookie. The cream cheese gives it a bit of tang and an almost cakey texture. The real star is the dough though. You will want to lick the spoon. I know you aren't supposed to eat raw cookie dough, but this is worth it. It's like cream cheese frosting and cookie dough combined - totally amazing.

Chocolate Chip Cream Cheese Cookies
Adapted from Bake or Break
makes about 4 dozen

2 & 1/2 cups AP flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
2 eggs
1 & 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 & 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
  • Heat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Grease baking sheets.
  • Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  • Mix butter, cream cheese, sugar and brown sugar together with electric mixer until fluffy.
  • Add one egg at a time and mix well.
  • Add vanilla.
  • Add flour mixture in batches, then chocolate chips. Stir until thoroughly mixed.
  • Place tablespoon size balls of dough on pans and bake for 12-15 minutes, until edges begin to brown. *** These will not brown up like normal cookies. Even though they are light they will be cooked through.
  • Cool on wire racks. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Happy Father's Day!

Happy Father's Day from our family! Big hugs to my Daddy, PopPop, Father-in-Laws, and wonderful husband!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Parmesan Roasted Broccoli

This is so good! I don't even particularly like broccoli and I thought this was awesome. The lemon and basil give it such a fresh taste. I made the mistake of only making half the recipe - everyone wanted more! I now understand why this has become a favorite in the food blogging community.

Parmesan Roasted Broccoli

4 to 5 pounds broccoli, trimmed and seperated into florets
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
olive oil
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 tsp lemon zest
2 T lemon juice
3 T toasted pine nuts
1/3 cup grated Parmesan
2 T basil, julienned
  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  • Toss broccoli with garlic, 5 T olive oil, salt and pepper.
  • Place on baking sheet in a single layer.
  • Roast for 20-25 minutes until tender and some of the tips have browned.
  • Remove from oven and add  1 1/2 T olive oil and remaining ingredients; mix and serve hot.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Our Life in Pictures

We got the kids a little table. Big hit!

Brandon met Elmo (his current idol). 

And this is how Brandon reacts when we turn Elmo off the TV...

Our baby nurse, Merle, left us for greener pastures. We will miss her!

Grandma came for a quick visit. Brandon had a ball going to the park with her. They played in the sprinklers and he came back soaking wet and totally happy.

I ran the women's mini 10k in 46:10 - a new post-babies pr. Brandon and I both enjoyed the post race popsicles, hence the green teeth. :)

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Lamb Meatballs with Honey-Rosemary Polenta and Tomato Sauce

Every time I make a Rachel Ray recipe I feel like I'm racing the clock. How this woman expects anyone to make her dishes in 30 minutes is beyond me. Unless you're an iron chef, I would tack on at least an extra 10 minutes. If you have a toddler screaming for Elmo to be restarted and a newborn who keeps needing to have their paci replaced, add 20. Not to mention her recipes seem to dirty more dishes than a Thanksgiving meal. I guess since she's in the cookware market this is probably a strategic move. Nonetheless, her flavor combos are inventive and usually pretty gosh darn good.

If it hadn't been for the mouthwatering picture of this dish in her cookbook I don't think I ever would have given it the time of day. Honey, lamb, tomato sauce - what?! But the picture didn't lie, it was unique and delicious. Usually meatballs are fairly time consuming, but these were very quick with few ingredients and since they are baked there is no need to stand over the stove. The polenta on its own was very tasty, I actually think next time I will make a double batch of it since that seemed to be everyone's favorite part. So Rachel Ray, you might have dirtied my kitchen and left me scrambling to get dinner on the table to a hungry family with your unrealistic time expectations, but I think I'll still keep you around. :)

Lamb Meatballs with Honey-Rosemary Polenta and Tomato Sauce

4 slices whole wheat bread, crust removed, crumbled
3 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 pounds ground lamb
salt and pepper
1 egg, beaten
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium red onion, diced
2 T balsamic vinegar
1 28-ounce can crushed fire-roasted tomatoes
1 cup milk
1 cup polenta
1 T butter, cut up
1 T rosemary, chopped
2 T honey
  • Heat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Combine bread and 1/3 cup stock in bowl to soften.
  • Add lamb, salt and pepper, garlic and egg and combine with hands.
  • Shape into 8 meatballs and place on foil lined baking sheet.
  • Drizzle with EVOO and roll to coat.
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes, until cooked through.
  • Meanwhile, heat 1 T EVOO in a medium sauce pot over medium heat.
  • Add onion, salt and pepper and cook until softened, 8-10 minutes.
  • Add vinegar and cook for 1 minute.
  • Stir in 2/3 cup stock and tomatoes, bring to a boil.
  • Adjust seasoning, lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, in a medium pot bring 2 cups stock and milk to boil.
  • Whisk in polenta and lower heat to low, cook for 2-3 minutes until polenta becomes thickened. Stir frequently.
  • Stir in butter, rosemary, honey and salt and pepper to taste. Add more milk or water if needed.
  • Spoon polenta onto plates, top with meatballs and sauce.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Rylan - 3 Month Summary

Time seems to be flying by since Rylan was born. Life with a newborn can be chaotic, but throw a toddler into the mix and it seems like every minute is filled with some kind of craziness. In an effort to remember these times that are so easily forgotten (what with the lack of sleep and insane amount of effort it sometimes takes to make it through an hour let alone a day!), I've decided to do periodic updates on the kids. 

Rylan turns 3 months today. Sometimes I feel like we just had him, but most of the time I can't even remember what our lives were like before he arrived. He's the perfect little addition to our family. He's generally a very happy baby, especially in the mornings. He will wake-up all smiles, regardless of the kind of night he's had. This has given us a bit of reassurance as we recently sleep trained him. Letting him cry was really difficult, but seeing his bright happy face in the morning let us know that all was forgiven and forgotten. Though usually not for long, this kid can really scream when he wants something. He reaches octaves we never heard with Brandon. The fact that he calms right down the minute he gets what he wants and pastes a big smug grin on his face has Brad and I a little nervous about his manipulation skills. Lord help us in the teenage years!

In the past few weeks he has started grasping small items, like a rattle and has also rolled over from tummy to back a few times. He's moving around so much in his crib that we actually had to put bumpers on to keep him from hitting his head! He loves to watch Brandon, but he especially likes the tv - ugh! I don't let him watch it but for the 30 minutes that Brandon watches Elmo or Special Agent Oso. Rylan actually had a long "conversation" with the Oso stuffed animal the other day. It was very cute.

Here's a typical rundown of his day:
7am - wake-up and bottle of BM, get dressed and hang with mom as she finishes dishes/laundry
7:30 - sit in bouncy chair as we get Brandon up, fed and dressed
8:30 - out for a walk or trip to the park in the bjorn or stroller - will sleep the whole time
11 - bottle and tummy time, look at the mobile in the crib while mom showers
12:30-3 - nap at some point and play time with mommy
3 - bottle and play with Brandon once he's up
4:30 - nap
6 - sit in bouncy chair at table while the family eats dinner
6:40 - bath
7 - bottle
7:30/8 - bedtime!
* Last week was the first time he went all night without a bottle. He would wake-up 1 or 2 times in the night and cry for a few minutes for a few nights, but now he's sleeping solid for at least 10 hours. If he wakes before 7, we will turn on the mobile and let him chill in the crib while we finish getting ready.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Fresh Coconut Milk

As  I mentioned earlier, Merle, our baby nurse, is from Trinidad and was more than eager to share some of the flavors of her home country. One thing I had expressed interest in learning how to do was crack a coconut. I've always just used the canned coconut milk or the bag of dried flake coconut when a recipe asked for it, but she assured me that fresh was well worth the effort. I like a shortcut just as much as the next person, but she was totally right - fresh makes all the difference. And it's kind of fun to smash something. So here's how she does it...

First look for a coconut that is nice and dark in color and has 3 dark eyes at one end. You should also shake it to make sure there is water inside.

Then carefully hammer around the coconut about a third of the way from the end.

Once it starts to split, hold a glass up in one hand and use the other to pour the coconut water out. Take a drink - it's much better than the stuff you buy in the store!

At this point, continue hammering the coconut until it breaks into big chunks (probably best to do this over the sink).

Using a knife (we used a steak knife), separate the meat (white part) of the coconut from the outer shell. Once you start to pry it off, it should part from the shell pretty easily. There will still be a thin layer of brown, and this is totally fine. If you are making something that you need to be all white, like flaking the coconut for a cake, use a peeler and remove the thin brown layer.

Rinse off the coconut with water, cut into small pieces and place in a blender. Add enough cold water to cover.


And there you have delicious coconut milk! You can keep it in the fridge if you plan on using it soon or freeze it. The fat will solidify on the top, but you can cook with it all just the same. It's perfect for Pelau. Or you can immediately make a pina colada and dream of sitting on a beach in the Carribean. Perfection.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Pelau with Coconut Stewed Chicken

Our baby nurse, Merle, is from Trinidad, and has been talking about how flavorful and delicious the dishes from her home country are from the minute she got here. She's a very picky eater and will only eat food that meets her high standards. Most of the time she ends up eating just fruit - and complains that it's not as fresh as home the whole time anyways!

She is leaving us in the next week, so this week she decided to show me how to cook one of her favorite dishes, Pelau with stewed chicken in coconut milk. It was amazing! The flavors were very layered, but there were just a handful of ingredients and a very simple preperation. Brad liked it so much he asked me to make it myself while she is here just so that I can be sure I have the recipe down just right. It had the homey feel of comfort food, but the flavor complexity of a stellar restaurant dish. This one is going straight into my go-to recipe folder and I would definitely recommend you try it.

One of the key ingredients is fresh coconut milk. Merle is an expert coconut cracker and I will show you how she does it in a following post. Stay tuned!

Pelau (coconut rice and pigeon peas)
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp dark brown sugar
12 oz. frozen pigeon peas, rinsed
1 garlic clove, peeled
2 cups coconut milk
2 cups rice
1 tsp fresh parsley, minced
  • In a large pot heat olive oil and sugar over medium heat, allow sugar to carmelize to medium brown in color.
  • Add peas and stir. 
  • Add garlic, 2 cups coconut milk and 2 cups water. Partially cover and bring to a slow boil, cook for 25 minutes. 
  • Smash garlic with the back of a spoon and incorporate into peas.
  • Add 2 cups of rice, 1/2 tsp salt. 1 tsp parsley, and an additional 2-3 cups of water.
  • Cook until rice is done (about 30 minutes, longer for brown rice).
  • Add salt to taste.
Coconut Stewed Chicken
2 lbs bone-in skinless chicken thighs
1/2 lemon
A couple sprigs each of thyme and rosemary
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground pink pepper (or a scant amount of black pepper)
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp fresh ginger, miced
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp dark brown sugar
1/2 - 1 cup coconut milk
3 carrots, peeled and sliced thin
1-2 pimento peppers, finely chopped
1 T ketchup
  • Wash chicken in water with juice from lemon.
  • Marinate the chicken with the thyme, rosemary, salt, pepper, garlic and ginger for at least an hour, but longer is preferred. 
  • In a large pot heat olive oil and sugar over medium heat. Stir.
  • Once hot and sugar has begun to darken add chicken and turn to coat. Cook for about 8 minutes, turning periodically.
  • Add 1/2 cup coconut milk or enough to cover.
  • Lower heat to medium low and partially cover, bring to a boil and cook 30 minutes.
  • Add carrots and peppers and bring to a boil again. Add ketchup.
  • Cook until carrots soften.
  • Add salt to sauce if desired.
  • Serve with sauce and alongside Pelau.