Comfort Food

Now that it’s cold (pity us Northern Californians – it’s been in the 30s at night and the 40s during the day – GAH!!), I find myself craving congee/jook (a Chinese rice porridge) a LOT. When I was younger, I only had the plain rice porridge with condiments such as pickled cucumbers, spicy bamboo slices, mien jing (some glutenous thing), to fu roo (some spicy soy paste), salted duck egg, thousand year old egg, and maybe some pork sung (dried pork bits and pieces).

Then, I discovered flavored congee – the kind you get in the middle of the night at a Hong Kong cafe. Mmmm… delish.

I mean, plain rice porridge is still delicious (especially when I’m feeling sick) and super easy to make. 1 cup rice to 3-4 cups water. Boil. (Or if you have a rice cooker with settings, follow those water levels.) However, now that I know how easy it is to make congee, WELL THEN. Why go back?

Thanks to the internet, I found a great recipe that I followed religiously the first time I made congee. Now, I just wing it and follow the recipe loosely. I’ve been making it once a week lately. It never gets old. Of course, you can also eat this congee with the condiments I mentioned before. It’s not like there are rules. Do whatever makes your stomach happy.

This week, I used turkey bones from Thanksgiving that I froze. But I have used Costco rotisserie chicken bones, too. I use cooking scissors and cut up the carcass and throw it in the pot. The key is ginger! Here are the things I add (that may or may not be in the recipe above). Most everything is to taste.

1) 2 quarts of chicken broth
2) water
3) kosher salt to taste
4) garlic powder
5) white pepper
6) sesame oil
7) ginger (a LOT but really to taste)
8) 2 cups of rice
9) bones (turkey/chicken/pork shortribs/whatever)
10) whatever else you want!

I basically just dump everything into a pot and boil on high for awhile then I lower the heat. (But if you want the fancy directions, the link is good for that.) It takes about an hour to get creamy. I don’t bother with removing the chicken and shredding and then putting it back into the pot as the recipe suggests. I leave it all in. If it gets more congealy because the rice has sucked out all the soup, just add some water and reboil.

Sometimes, if I’m really lazy and I get to the dregs of the congee and then I make a pot of soup with the “leftovers.” That is also delicious.

What are some of your go-to winter comfort foods?

My Lazy Veggie Ways

I’m taking a break from the Money Series for the moment. Never fear (or my apologies) – it’ll come back later this month. I’m just feeling a little burnt out on writing about money matters (not to mention a little bored) and no one wants to read a post that sounds forced and obligated. That makes a potentially boring topic even MORE stultifyingly dull.

Anyhow, today’s post is about vegetables. That’s infinitely more interesting than saving for retirement, amiright? And not just vegetables – it’s about hiding vegetables in smoothies. The sexiness in this post is unreal. Prepare to have your mind blown!

Disclaimer: As usual, links to products are my Amazon affiliate links. 

My kids, especially Cookie Monster, are somewhat picky eaters. (They’re not extreme picky eaters, but enough so that it annoys the crap out of me and affects my enjoyment of meal times. I am working on this and will report the results in a later post.) It’s a trial to get them to eat their vegetables so I cheat. I hide them in smoothies (I know, not a novel idea).

Here’s what I do. I pile in a bunch of veggies and fruit into my VitaMix and blend on high. Sometimes, I will add plain yogurt and/or milk. Because the VitaMix pulverizes everything, it’s very thick and can almost replace a meal! To make a more juice-like drink, I just add more water or milk. I usually serve this in a cup as a smoothie with a cool reusable lid and reusable straw. (I got sick of my kids spilling as well as “wasting” the smoothie with a smoothie mustache that they would wipe off onto a napkin. The straw is also a lot softer so they don’t cut their lips/gums on a plastic straw. Yes, it’s happened. My kids are talented.)

If I have extra, which I usually do, I will pour into reusable squeeze pouches that Cookie Monster LOVES. In fact, he loves them so much that even after downing a pint glass of the smoothie, he’ll demand to eat a squeeze pouch of the same thing he just drank. It’s ridiculous and makes his poo AWESOME the next day. (It does help with constipation, though!) I chose these pouches because from the reviews, they don’t explode or leak. I haven’t had a problem thus far. Like all reusable pouches though, it’s hard to get the edges clean so I’ve used either a butter knife or chopstick to scrape at the food gunk. I hand wash even though they are dishwasher top-rack safe.

I also freeze them in popsicle molds to make popsicles. I first started with standard popsicle sized molds by Tovolo, but my kids can’t finish them. Cookie Monster finds them too cold and will only eat a few bites. The good thing with these molds is that I can shove a partially-eaten popsicle back into the mold and store in the freezer until he finishes it. The bad thing is I think it’s taken a year for him to eat just ONE. These are popular with play dates, though. (I don’t serve the ones he’s gnawed on already, obviously.) Tovolo also makes really fun-shaped molds like rocket ships and ice cream cone shapes.

When I switched to the small NUK popsicle molds, I had much better luck. I really like them because Cookie Monster and even Gamera can finish it in one sitting. Their handles are super-easy to hold and catch a lot of drips. Plus, they’re fun colors. You can even break apart the molds so you can shove them in any random corner of the freezer.

It’s so silly but even though it’s basically the same smoothie, my kids like them in different formats. Go figure. I’m down with whatever puts veggies and fruits in their goldfish cracker filled bodies.

If I have enough popsicles/pouches, I will fill a re-usable tumbler for Hapa Papa to take to work as breakfast. I’m still working on remembering to do this.

In addition to the smoothies, I will also occasionally make veggie breads (from this carrot cake recipe). My mom juices and she will freeze the leftover fiber/pulp. I will either put these into the smoothies or use them in my veggie bread. I pretty much use this recipe except I also add the vegetable pulp, one or two smashed bananas, and a cup of chocolate chips. I also don’t include the walnuts (I’ve used finely chopped pistachios) and use regular unbleached organic flour instead of pastry flour. I would give you measurements, but I don’t have any. I just dump at will. 😀 It usually makes two bread pans worth of Veggie Bread. With two cups of organic sugar in it, it’s hard to mess up. I would freeze the leftovers if there were any. I usually consume an entire loaf by myself.

To give you some ideas of what to put in the smoothies, I’ve included a bunch of the fruits and veggies I use. I often just buy bags of frozen organic fruits from Costco. (Especially for berries since it’s just too expensive to juice fresh ones.) I often also wash grapes or fruits that I will forget to use in time and freeze them in small baggies.

Just remember to have a good ratio between sweet fruits and the sometimes bitter veggies. You can also add honey if you think it’s not sweet enough. Remember, too, that I have a VitaMix so it liquefies seeds and tough fibers. If your blender isn’t quite as powerful, of course, adjust accordingly. Again, I don’t do measurements. I just shove as much stuff in the blender as possible without it exploding. Obviously, these are not all-inclusive. 😀

Fruits

– Globe grapes (with seeds)
– Bananas
– Apples
– Mangoes
– Avocado
– Pineapples
– Watermelon (especially the rind without the green peel)
– Berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, etc.)

Vegetables

– Carrots
– Celery
– Spinach
– Mixed salad greens
– Kale
– Beets (including tops) (turns the smoothie an awesome magenta color)
– Chard

Anyhow, hope this is helpful! Gamera tends not to drink as much of the smoothie unless it’s thinned out with more water. She doesn’t care for the fruit pouches but will devour the popsicles. So if your kids don’t go for the smoothie, perhaps they prefer its other incarnations.

I’d love to hear your ideas, too! Let me know in the comments what has or hasn’t worked for you. Thanks in advance!