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The apron fits dad, too

By Jeff Sutton

www.mothersapronstrings.com

When you look like I do (hint: the opposite of thin) and you’re married to a food columnist, folks assume I attained my portly status simply from all the great things my wife creates in the kitchen. While I may assign partial credit to my wife, I too have contributed in creating many of the concoctions to my physical status.

With five children at home, my love of cooking often time collides with external factors, namely time, but also picky young eaters can be a challenge. I find the best luck with kids when sticking to the core basics: beef, noodles, sauce and cheese. When the traditional spaghetti or mac and cheese has run its course, our kids really enjoy the Cheesy Goulash Casserole as a change of pace.

Admittedly, weekly menu planning should happen more often in our house, but more often maintaining sanity wins out. A deep exhale comes Sunday night after the kids are in bed and we’ve successfully navigated another week’s trials and tribulations, from meltdowns of not being able to find one of the twins’ wookies (favorite sleeping blanket) to just trying to get all the kids bathed (sometimes hosed down) for the day.

In the kitchen my philosophy comes from my grandma: mess around with some ingredients, see what you like, and you don’t necessarily always need to stick to a recipe. I can’t remember a time when I actually measured water to boil pasta. When it comes to butter, sugar, or other processed goodness, I never measure, but always slip in a little extra. Harnessing grandma’s memory all the way with that one.

During the summer garden season when the backyard runs amok with tomatoes, peppers and other veggies, one “no-look” recipe I personally enjoy is the Summer Cucumber Salad. I’ll dice up the veggies, whisk some vinegar and sugar together, pour over the veggies, and magically have a wonderfully sweet and sour snack after a few hours of refrigeration. I’m pretty much the only one in the house who likes this, but it’s fine with me. I make sure to have plenty of pepper nearby to add as well.

Although my family’s tastebuds might not always line up with mine, I think it’s important to try new foods. Our kids know they don’t have to like a food as long as they are willing to try it.

During a particularly fussy trip at the grocery store with three kids in tow, a clamshell of blueberries did the trick. It seems that kids will eat fruit like candy if you offer it to them, which is great! Fruit is the one item in our house the kids don’t have to ask to eat. If they see a banana, it’s fair game.

Often, dads might unfairly take the blunt of bad jokes about their prowess in front of a stove. It ranges from being able to follow the instruction on a box of mac and cheese to somehow figuring out how to warm up those ready-to-eat hot dogs, whether it’s on a manly grill, a less manly pot of boiling water, or the ultra-efficient microwave. For this dad, I take pride in giving my family an equally acceptable meal. Although I may have been permanently banned from the laundry room, I’ve maintained the green light status in the kitchen.


Cheesy Goulash Casserole

16 oz. elbow macaroni bag or box
1 lb. ground beef (easily could add another pound if you’re like me)
Seasoning blend (as much or little as you like with your ground beef)
2 cans condensed tomato soup
1 c. cheddar cheese
1 c. mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook noodles according directions. Typically bring 5 quarts water to boil then add noodles and cook up to 8 minutes for tender. Soften seasoning blend or onions in large skillet, add ground beef to brown. Once beef is cooked fully, add 2 cans of tomato soup, then add 1/2 can of water to beef/soup and mix together. Cook for several minutes until noodles finish. After draining noodles, pour noodles into greased 9- by 13 baking dish. Pour ground beef mixture over noodles and stir together. Sprinkle cheese over casserole. Cover with foil. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until cheese is melted. Remove foil and bake for additional 5 to 10 minutes.


Summer Cucumber Salad

1 cucumber, peeled, halved and seeded, then sliced
Diced tomatoes
Sliced onion
Sliced peppers (bell, banana, jalapeno - whatever heat you like)
Vinegar
Sugar (about 1/2 of whatever vinegar you need)

Add diced veggies to Tupperware container. Whisk sugar and vinegar together. Pour over vegetables, enough to cover. Refrigerate a few hours, or overnight.

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