21 December 2012

My Kitchen Knives: 5,362; Me: Zero

Anyone who truly knows me is quite familiar with my clumsy side. Running into walls. Tripping over flat surfaces. Losing my balance when standing perfectly still and plowing shoulder-first into a filing cabinet.

How I haven't broken a bone is beyond all levels of understanding.

But this klutz's biggest foe also happens to be my favorite tool in the kitchen: my chef's knife.

The hubs and I registered for a block of knives from Chicago Cutlery when we were planning our wedding a few years back, but the set was a little pricey and, like I figured would happen, nobody bought it for us. Resourceful me combined a few gift cards and a little cash to bring the set home.

Everything about the set was beautiful and glorious and so very exciting. The block of wood was way more grown-up than storing dollar store steak knives in a plastic tray in my college days. And the fact each knife had its own slot? This pacified my OCD tendencies. Along with countless hours watching The Food Network, these knives were going to make me the next Iron Chef.

Four-and-a-half years and a couple of boxes of Band-Aids later, I can use my knives (almost) with the best of them. Mince garlic with the giant knife. Peel apples or potatoes with the paring knife. Chop. Dice. Slice. Trim fat. Scale fish. I am well aware of the risks that come with each use of my blades, but time spent in prep just flies with these mad skills.

Now let's speed up to present day... Over the weekend, we hosted our annual family Christmas dinner. Michael's sister's family and his parents were to come, along with my mom. But last minute changes in the headcount had us with a ton of much food and half the mouths to feed. We called on our next-door neighbors to help us consume the bounty. They gladly accepted.

Michael was in charge of the brown sugar-crusted salmon. Gosh, I wish I knew how to grill fish. But no, I am a poultry girl, making me responsible for one of my specialities: roasted garlic-citrus chicken.

So Michael goes to retrieve salmon from the grill. Easy. Cooked in no time, and all he had to do was plate it and present.

Jealous.

The golden-skinned chicken had been resting on the stovetop for about fifteen minutes when it was time to carve it. I grabbed my giant chef knife and a fork and began poking around. Reality set in: I can cook all day, but carve? I had no idea what I was doing, and all I could see was lopping off a thumb in the process.

I called out to our guests for help. My father-in-law is almost 60. I figure he's carved a few birds.

"Mike, you know how to cut up a chicken?"

He holds up a palm. "Yes, but I don't want to step on anyone's toes. Go ahead, go ahead."

Seriously, step on my toes. I'm OK with it. It will save my fingers.

Then it's my neighbor's turn to hear my plea. He's a master of meat. Brisket. Ribs. Tenderloin. He can do it all.

"Keith? You mind helping?"

He laughs. "Just start with the drumsticks. Separate them from the rest of the body."

I'm dying. Really.

I stab the left drumstick with my fork and start sawing with the blade. Why can't I find the dang hip joint? And why do I suddenly feel like my antiperspirant is being challenged? I'm trying my best not to throw things as my frustration begins to bubble up. Somehow, I manage to get the first drumstick off and keep my digits intact, but the energy I exhausted in my anxiety makes me want to bypass the next drumstick and head for the breast meat.

"How the heck to I cut the breast?" Yeah, I'm pretty sure it's obvious by now that I'm stressed. Jennifer, Keith's wife, says something helpful, but I don't even hear the instructions. Without a shred of confidence, I poke more holes in the bird. Someone has to take the knife from me before I hyperventilate and pass out face-first into the pan of drippings.

Keith must have noticed panic washing over me. He takes the knife from me and goes to work on the roasted fowl. Thank God. Back to breathing like a normal person.

That's when I notice an easy job. My mother-in-law's pumpkin-cranberry bread is on the counter, ready to be sliced. This I can handle.

I grab our serrated bread knife and move toward the loaf. My confidence is waxing, so I open my big fat mouth.

"Ahhhh, cutting bread! Now THIS is something I can cut without worry. This is a knife job I can d---yeeeeeooooooowwww!"

And just like that, I've sliced a thick flap of skin down to a hinge on the tip of my index finger. My worst finger-cutting injury to date.

I learned three things. OK, four things:

  1. Sawing away at that dang chicken with the smooth blade was apparently safer.
  2. Karma has a funny way of sticking it to you when you brag about yourself. Someone punch me the next time I try to gloat about my cutting skills.
  3. I'm never slicing bread again. Ever. Well, maybe if the bread can be sliced using a plastic knife...no, no, I'm never slicing bread again.
  4. Band-Aids aren't enough to keep water out of a wound that deep, so I had to learn to bathe the baby wearing a rubber glove.

12 December 2012

Baby Bites: Quesadillas with Sautéed Greens and Onions

The Nerd and I visited my mom a couple of months back. She was making herself quesadillas for lunch and wanted to share them with her toddling grandchild. The Nerd loved the crispy bites of tortilla and melted cheese with refried beans and veggies, so I decided to put our garden to use to make some of our own. We have two beds filled with greens, giving me inspiration for a veggie-only meal.

Ingredients:
  • olive oil
  • small onion, diced
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced (optional)
  • 2 handfuls of greens, washed and chopped well
  • shredded cheese of choice (we used Colby Jack)
  • pinch of cumin
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 10-inch flour tortillas (the number will depend on how much you stuff them)
Directions:
Heat 2-3 tbsp. of olive oil in a sauté pan on medium heat. Add onions and garlic, allowing to cook until they become translucent. Throw in the greens and the seasonings. Stir every so often as they cook, making sure they cook long enough to make the rigid parts of the green leaves soft. Younger babies' veggies should be soft enough that a fork will mush them. For toddlers (especially those with teeth, like our Nerd), the veggies can be a little firmer than that.


I love sautéing vegetables. It's healthy and delicious.

In a new sauté pan, heat just a little olive oil over medium and spread the oil from edge to edge. While it warms, spoon the sautéed vegetables onto one side of a tortilla and spread to your desired thickness. Sprinkle with cheese (seriously, just a sprinkle--too much gives you a stopped-up baby) and fold over to make a half-moon. Ease the tortilla into the pan and allow to cook until it browns and crisps. Using a wide spatula, flip to the other side and finish to the same shade of golden crispy awesomeness. Continue making the half-moon tortillas with your sautéed vegetables and cheese until you run out of the filling. Cut into pieces that your child can handle easily. Or if they still love being fed from a fork, cut as you go.


Perfect for toddler hands. Serve warm, not hot!

Mmmmmm...gooey... :)
When I made these quesadillas, I ended up with about 4 of them. I froze two and kept 2 in the fridge. They keep amazingly well in both the fridge and freezer.

Alternatives:
  • Child hate greens (or maybe you can't bring yourself to cook greens for him)? Try spinach. Both greens and spinach are packed with nutrients and vitamins, so you can't go wrong with either. Plus, spinach tends to have a richer flavor than greens.
  • Don't have flour in your diet? Forgo the tortillas and serve the sautéed vegetables over brown rice.
  • Feel it needs a little more color? Serve with a very mild salsa or chopped tomatoes.
  • Trying to hide extra veggies in your child's meals? Shred carrot or mince bell pepper into the sauté pan. Don't worry--I'll never tell!
  • Feel the meal needs "more"? Here's what I did. I made a black bean puree as a side item. I soaked dried black beans overnight and cooked them in a pot of low sodium chicken broth cut with water for over an hour (high boil for a few minutes, then simmered the rest). Pinches of cumin, cinnamon, and garlic powder flavored it. Then once the beans were good and soft, I pureed them in a blender and served over the tortillas. The Nerd LOVED this combo.

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