Archive for the ‘Cooking’ Category

The School Lunch and My Vegetable Garden


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How healthy is your child’s lunch? Is making a lunch so hard to do? I am looking for ways to bring more vegetables into my children’s lunches.



At the store, my daughter begs for one of these lunches in a box, but I am not happy with the idea. Have I ever bought these quick lunches for the children? Yes, I have given in to their pleas. Not often mind you. I think my four year old daughter has has these boxes four times in her life. I like the idea of a bento box, but these temptations are not in my plan for a healthy meal. I have also noticed a greater push for processed goodies from my children. Soda is only purchased on special occasions, but this is creeping in to our lives more. They do eat fruit; however, I would like this balanced with vegetables. When I peer into my daughter’s lunch kit, I see that she is eating, but she is eating selectively, so I went on a quest to improve the offering.
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Pickled Asparagus in Meatloaf


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Finding ways to make my children happy through a wonderful meal of meatloaf.

The girls and I have been exploring animal life in the garden. Today we spotted a snake that we chased to see where it might go. We tried to  figure out where its home may be. I have not identified the snake yet, but it seemed quite afraid of us. We then spent time examining an emerald green beetle. Finally we harvested okra for dinner. Katya wanted to help make dinner, and Sakura seemed prepared to give her sister the space.  Katya wanted to use pickled asparagus in the dinner, so I was left to come up with a recipe.
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Spinach with Galanga


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With an abundance of spinach and galanga, you can can make a nice summer treat.



My New Zealand spinach is growing profusely, as is my ginger and galanga. July has not been the best harvesting month, so I was glad to have this vegetable in the garden. Insect attacks and rain have not been the best for my vegetable production. There has been okra, eggplant, and beans (along with a few micro-greens), but not in large numbers. I do not want to overload my family with spinach dishes, but this dish went down well, so I thought that I would share it.
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Potatoes Roasted in Yogurt


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I have not harvested a potato as of yet, but I wanted to have fun with this tuber.

    The rains are beating down many of my plants. The flowers which would lead to peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, and beans are not setting. The New Zealand spinach is going wild. This is one leaf vegetable that I have never really had a issues with. I do let it grown wherever it pops up. Pests do not seem to attack it, and the vines will be vigorous. With my family coming back from vacation, I wanted to prepare a special meal for them, and I was hoping for more from the garden.
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Will My Children Eat Okra?


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An abundance of okra leads to a meal with mixed results.

In between the storms and the heat, my garden is taking on the appearance of a jungle. I did manage to tame the chaos to a degree for my daughter’s birthday. However, pants are beginning to grow on top of each other, so I transplanted a few to open spaces, while clearing away the damage. In a quiet moment, I spotted Katya pulling out a seed packet. She calmly walked outdoors to several spots, placing watermelon seeds carefully into the ground. When I came upon her, she proudly explained how she made sure that the birds would not eat the seeds by having the dirt cover them. I hugged and kissed her for her efforts.
    My New Zealand Spinach is popping up all over. This vine crowded a few of pepper plants out of the sun light, so I had to move them. Peeking their heads out through the spinach, I am finding my okra is doing well. Okra and jalepeno plants have set many flowers leading to a bumper crop. On top of my own okra, my mother came for a visit bringing okra from another gardener. This was not a bad thing in my wife’s view. I do not know how she came to love this vegetable. She was introduced to it when she was in her late teens.  I have never met a person who is indifferent to okra. There seems to be those who love it or hate it. Maybe those who have never eaten it do not have an opinion.
    I love frying okra. Simply coating them with flour to be stir fried is the most common method of preparation in my house. I do like coating them in batter to be deep fried. In both ways, I do use quite a bit of oil, and I wanted to reduce my oil usage. I used to make gumbo often, and this goes over well. Since I was preparing Whiting fillets, I decided upon a steaming/braising dish. I added vinegar to water. Once the water came to a simmer, I slipped in the fillets. They cooked fairly quickly. I placed them on a covered pate while seasoning them with salt, pepper, lemon juice, and a little melted butter. The cut okra went into the water along with a diced onion. After five minutes, I scooped the okra out. I added chopped cilantro, red wine vinegar, and feta. A quick dinner was completed with already prepared rice.
    The baby and my son ate the okra. My daughter had her reservations. The gooey quality of okra does not always go over well. In the end, she determined that this vegetable was not for her. She has eaten okra when I fried them, so I guess that I have to stick with that cooking style for the children. My son, who is older, ate without complaint. I consider that a success. He is in the not fond of okra camp. My wife was quite happy. I have seen pickled okra, but I have never tasted it. I wonder if the texture is more acceptable to children. I think that I should try that preparation next.

Making a Healthier Ramen


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Ramen noodles are cheap and easy for a quick meal, but they may not be the most healthy meal to have all of the time.

My son loves ramen. He who does not wish to be bothered by much preparation finds this the best meal. In fact, he often asks if we could have ramen for dinner. Nothing added, just what is in the package. My baby daughter figured out that she can open these packages, which she considers a most helpful act. I decided that I needed to make ramen for dinner with so many open packages; however, I did not want that flavor package with nothing more, so I changed the recipe.
    My garden is in a transition phase at the moment. Winter vegetables have gone to seed, while spring vegetables are coming into their own. Sure some vegetables are ready for harvest, but of the spring vegetables I have a little bit here and there that are ready to pick. One tomato was ready to eat, and some beans as well. Not enough for a proper side dish though. I also was slowly simmering a chicken. I guess that I could have made a soup, but I had that ramen. I cooked the ramen in the chicken stock. I also had a homemade barbecue sauce from the previous night. I mixed this into the ramen (no flavoring packets added). I chopped up various vegetables from the garden, and dropped them in. The added chicken stock was enough for the ramen to absorb, so no liquid was in the pot. I then chopped a good handful of mint for the ramen.
    To complete the meal, I took slices of the stewed chicken to be spread over the ramen. For a suace, chicken stock was mixed with the barbecue sauce. This meal was happily accepted by the children. Even my son, who vocally complians if I do not prepare the ramen to package instructions, was overjoyed by this version of his favorite dish. I think that the barbecue sauce was the secret ingredient for sucess, and the vegtables were well used.

Home-made Pizza with a Garden Twist


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The kids want pizza, and you are trying to make bread. You may as well through in some herbs from the garden to make it more interesting.

Picture if you will two little girls going after the carrots. The fronds become brooms as they work their way down the driveway. At the end of the drive, they decide to have a sword fight, using the carrots as their foils. Maybe they need to stop watching their brother when he has his foils out. They are hungry, and hoping for pizza, but you do not want the standard fare. Luckily, you are in the process of making another loaf of bread. Pizzas for all.
    I guess fencing works up your appetite. I have been getting back into bread making. I really need to start making cakes again. I use to make them every Sunday. Saturdays were my grandmother’s baking days. Her house was filled with treats, which I consumed on Sundays. I guess that is why I like baking on Sundays. I was working on a basic bread dough to which I added flax seeds for fiber. I did not think that I had the ingredients, but I wanted the kids to have their pizza, since they had been working around the house. My measuring cups have been disappearing on me, so I have been creative with amounts. I begin with 1 1/2 cups of warm water (milk is also good), a tablespoon of dried yeast, two tablespoons of sugar, and a cup of flour. I mix these together, and let them sit for 1/2 hour. This proofs the yeast. If I see bubbles, then I am good to go. I add another three cups of flour, a little salt, a little oil, and the flax seeds. Since I was given a mixer, I have been doing my kneading in that wonderful machine. I add more flour to the dough till everything is combined into a ball. Usually about two more cups of flour does the trick. I use a dough hook in the mixer for about four minutes. I do the final kneading on a floured board. The dough should be tacky, but not overly so. This will rest in a warm spot for an hour or two in an oiled bowl.
    It was at this point that the pizza request was made. I have some tomatoes on the vines, but they are not ready, so I broke into a can that I have for emergencies. I went out into the garden for rosemary, garlic leaves, and oregano. I chopped the herbs and added them to the crushed tomatoes. I spread this over dough that I had rolled out after the rising. I grated the only cheese that I had, Muenster. For a topping, I sliced up bratwurst from a butcher in the Hill Country. This went into a pre-heated oven (420F) for twenty minutes.
    I thought a salad would go well with my pizza. Since the girls had given up their carrot foils, and they wanted to eat those with dinner, I added these into a bowl. I sliced them thinly. Back out in the garden, I went after, swiss chard, the tops of pea vines, mint, and parsley.The ingredients were torn by hand into the bowl.  I added a little bit of oil, soy sauce, and balsamic vinegar over the salad, then I tossed it all.
    Maybe I can say that this was a healthy pizza. Rustic may be a better term. This pizza was not like those purchased from pizzerias, but the meal was a success, considering how the kids ate. The crust was thick. I think that I should invest in a pizza stone to really have a better crust. Maybe I should make some tomato sauce to keep on hand. However, the “sauce” that I made worked fine. The dough took time, but there was not too much work involved. I would do this again.

The Problem with Mint


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My mint is become invasive. I do not mind it spreading into the grass, but I worry that it might push out other plants in the garden beds.

Flowers, flowers, and more flowers. That has been my gardening life for the past week. I went to Corneilius on Voss (north of Westheimer), and the children became excited with the multi-colored blooms. Since we are spending more time in the backyard, we began planting in beds, pots, and wherever else they decided (my hat turned out to be popular). That is when I noticed that some mint was filling out the open spaces in a bed, and it was beginning to move in the other areas.
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Organizing Your Kitchen


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A well stocked pantry makes cooking easier, but you need to find what you are seeking. A well organized pantry may save you money.

My wife and teenage son have been in my kitchen. Yes, my kitchen. Alright, we do share the space, but since I am the one preparing the meals, I feel that I deserve first priority in pantry and cupboard space. Life does not work that way though. I had tried to impose some kitchen organization on my family, but I had not taken dramatic action. With my wife buying more of her snacks, which she feels takes precedent over my spices, and with my son buying his powdered drinks, which take precedent over my my bowls, I felt a concerted effort at reorganizing my kitchen was needed.
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Energy Efficiency and Cooking


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Planning how you cook, can save energy. The savings in the utility bill may be slight for each meal, but that does add up.



Last night, I decided to try something new when preparing my meal to see if I could cook in a healthier style, but this may have been an energy efficient style. I was boiling ingredients to warm them up to imitate a stir fry served over cous cous. The result looked like a stir fry, even though texturally you could feel that the meal was not a stir fry. What I have wanted to do was save on the number of pots and utensils that I was using to save on clean-up. One pot meal are becoming popular with me. I do take conscious steps to reduce the amount of energy used in the kitchen on a normal basis, and I thought these tips may help others when planning out their meals.
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Greetings

This site came out of my desire to write about my love of gardening, but also to connect it to my knowledge derived from home inspections. That is why I tied it to the home inspection site.If you have questions, you can email them to me (frank at yourhoustonhomeinspector.com). For home inspections, call 713.781.6090.
Happy gardening, Frank

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