Thursday, January 31, 2008

Busy Mom Cooks: Top 5 Ingredients for Easier & More Delicious Meals

  • Coarse Kosher Salt
  • Slow-cooker
  • Mini Food Processor
  • Wines for Cooking
  • An Open Mind

Busy Moms, whether you enjoy cooking or not, you're probably doing it for your family. So why not make the food taste better, and the process easier on yourself? You don't need two hours in the kitchen to prepare a good meal.

When people ask me, "how did you get to be such a good cook?" I tell them, "I know how to read". Cooking is not hard, if you just follow the directions carefully. And being a good cook doesn't have to mean complex instructions or top shelf gourmet ingredients, either. A few, simple ingredients, a few minutes to prepare, and you can have a delicious meal on the table that will make your family happy. I've been practicing for many years, so some things come naturally for me. But they can for you, too, if you allow it.

If you don't have them already, I challenge you to add these few things in your kitchen, and you're on your way to chefhood.

Coarse Kosher Salt. I'm not sure where I picked up this tidbit (Sara Moulton, celebrity chef perhaps?), but it was the best cooking advice I think I ever got. She said [paraphrase]

"If you change only one thing about your cooking, it should be the salt."
Coarse salt brings out the best in the flavors of your food. Use it just as you would table salt for any recipes. Do this for a week, and I want to hear from you if you don't notice a difference in how your food tastes! Most supermarkets now carry it. Or you can get it here This one will last a long time. I like to keep mine in an old fashioned salt container on my counter (you remember, the ones with the wooden lids) so I can just reach my hand in and grab a pinch, handful, whatever. The only time you wouldn't use this salt, "of coarse", is at tableside :) Oh! and this suggestion goes for black peppercorns, as well. Get yourself a good pepper grinder and keep it near the cooktop along with the kosher salt.

Slow Cooker. This is just a fancy name for what our moms called the crockpot, but I guess the foodie Gods felt we needed to reinvent the name - for fear of being considered outdated by using one. Get it! There's only one dish to clean up, and stuff can sit in there for hours without you having to worry about overcooking or starting the house on fire. Before the kids, I was kind of a crockpot snob - but now, its my saving grace. This is the one I have. Its cute for entertaining and doesn't look like its from a garage sale, works great - not too pricey and excellent for parties.

Wine for Cooking. You'll notice I didn't say "cooking wine". Whomever concocted that atrocity was probably not the greatest cook. You're better off substituting broth, it tastes better. Seriously? Even if you've sworn off alcohol, using wine in your cooking will enhance the recipes tremendously by adding a woody, fruity depth you can't get elsewhere. If you are concerned about the kids or allergies to alcohol, no worries - in cooking, at a low boil, the alchohol burns off usually within the first three minutes.

You don't have to have a wine cellar - just pick up a four-pack of individual bottles that your supermarket now carries. They're suitable enough for cooking and you won't waste much, if any, leftover wine - since the bottles are so small. That being said, remember that the flavor left after the alcohol cooks out will remain - so the better the wine, the better the food will taste. Many a great chef have been known to nip at a glass of wine during cooking, so if there's leftover, I'm sure you can find a use for it ;)

Mini-food Processor - I like the Cuisinart Mini-Prep Plus. I have a bigger one for big jobs, but this one sits on my counter to be used almost daily for chopping garlic, onions, vegetables, nuts for recipes, making breadcrumbs, "shredding" fresh parmesan, you name it. It doesn't take up much space at all, and I swear it cuts down about 10 minutes of prep time almost every recipe. The key to making this a snap to use - give the reservior a quick hand washing immediately after use so it's ready for the next job. It won't do you any good sitting in the dishwasher for three days.

An Open Mind. My children eat almost (of course exceptions) everything put in front of them. Mainly, it's because I never assume they won't like something. Just because I didn't when I was 2 or3, doesn't mean they won't. Present your children's food with a positive attitude. Let them know it's okay if they don't like something, but don't give up after two times. Just keep putting experimental things in front of them. Set a good example, and try new things yourself. Food has come a long way in our culture in the last 10 years or so - and lima beans are not the same when they're cooked down, pureed with olive oil, and seasoned with salt, pepper, lemon juice and parmesan cheese (they're delicious, try it!) I never even saw asparagus until I was an adult at 27, because my mother just thought all kids hated it. Its now one of my favorite veggies.

Listen, I'm not above throwing a few canned goods into a crockpot for a quick meal occasionally - as you'll see in my realistic weekly menus at the One Stop Mommy But what you'll also see there, is a few recipes that incorporate fresh, new & interesting ingredients that you might not think of as typical family food. Using the five ingredients above is a great way to add time and confidence back into your kitchen!


Sunday, January 27, 2008


It's Sunday, and I've been lying here in this crisper drawer for almost two weeks. I know my days are numbered. The person who bought me had intentions of using a few of my brothers and sisters for soups, stews, and various stir-frys. She also, I overheard, was going to whip up some ranch dressing and cut me up into bite size pieces so her children could nosh and obtain a few nutrients.

I'm not sure what happened, but the dip was never made, I haven't seen the light of a kitchen since. It's dark, cold, and lonely in here - I had some big dreams, and time is running out. When I was only a seed, I would dream about vast, exotic places like gourmet Asian stir-frys, and warm, comforting places like some one's Grandmother's tuna noodle casserole. But here I stay, beginning to see signs of shriveling - with not a shiny knife in sight.

My worst nightmare impending.... a clammy hand, scooping me irritatingly upward and then being tossed, plunging, downward, to suffocate in a smelly, day-old-coffee-ground, crowded, paper towel and styrofoam hell.

OH! but alas, the light of the door opening... and the sound of a happy cook's enthusiastic inspiration:

"Hey, I forgot I had this celery. I'd better make a soup or something before it goes bad! I've got a great recipe that will be just the ticket".

I'm so excited, I can hardly keep from jumping out of the drawer myself. But I await eagerly for the gentle hands as they lift me to my destiny....


  • 1 medium leek, bottom half only (root trimmed off and top greens discarded)
  • 1 small baking potato, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch dice
  • 3 medium chopped shallots
  • 2 TB. butter
  • 1 TB olive oil
  • 1 full bunch of celery, including leaves - bottoms trimmed & chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • coarse salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Cut leek in half lengthwise and rinse well in cold water. Drain, and slice halves crosswise into thin slices. In a large saucepan over medium heat, cook shallots in butter and oil until softened, about 2 minutes. Add leek and continue cooking, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add celery and potato and cook, stirring, another 2 minutes. Add wine and broth; bring just to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook until celery and potato are very tender, about 50 minutes.

Puree soup in batches in the food processor, or use an immersion blender until soup is smooth. Return to pan and bring to a simmer over moderately low heat. Turn off heat; season with salt and pepper and serve. Garnish with snipped chives, if desired.

For More Free Recipes, Family Activity Ideas and Help for Tired Mommies,- VISIT the ONE STOP MOMMY SHOP, an EASY WAY to get a GRIP ON YOUR DAY!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Woman Traumatized by Preschooler in Fitting Room

I had a $40 gift card from JC Penney's that I had received for Christmas. It took me this long to get to shop for myself, so I decided to get those new bras I've needed since my 2nd son was born 20 months ago.

In tow at the department store was my firstborn 3-1/2 year old, - whom is my very patient shopping companion. While of course I am biased - he is a sweet boy, obedient, loves people, and is notably outgoing. Mama dragged him into the fitting room with about 6 pieces of lingerie, feeling very apprehensive; as the parts that belong to me have not all returned to normal very well after 2 C-sections in four years at almost 40 years old.

As I raised my cotton blend T-shirt halfway over my head (blind, momentarily) I heard a most irritable exclaim from the other side of the stall, from a woman's voice that sounded about the same age bracket as me: "OH! That is just SOOOO tacky!" After I got the second half of my shirt off of my head, I glanced down to see my preschooler laying on the fitting room floor peeking under the stall. After I quickly distracted my son to a different activity and told him it was bad manners to look under the stall, I addressed the outburst. Not sure if the interrogator was speaking to him, me, or someone else in the area - I quietly inquired, "I'm sorry, were you talking to me?"

The angry voice beside me boomed "Yes! You're son was looking at me under the wall!" Admittedly, my response may have had a defensive tone, as is normal with us mommies, when we feel our children can do no wrong. "Well, he's only three, I'm sure he didn't mean anything by it, and I'm sorry if he offended you". I looked down at my son to see if he was following this, and he had his fearful face on, probably thinking he was in trouble, but not knowing exactly what he had done wrong.

I thought that would be the end of it, I had done my duty and apologized, albeit begrudgingly. But instead, the offended party responded: "Well, YOU'RE the mother, and YOU'RE supposed to control him!". I suppose what happened next amplified this situation more than necessary. While I struggled to suppress my Aries fire, out of my mouth - still quietly, mind you - came: "Well, ma'am, I didn't even see him doing it until you exclaimed, so it couldn't have been for long. You don't have kids, do you?" There was a short hesitation. Then, in disgust, she replied loudly, "Yes, as a matter of fact I do, and my kids NEVER did that.".

At this point, my blood began to boil. I probably should have apologized profusely on his behalf, but it's not in my nature. She had been rude to my son, and insulted me in the process. Possibly, I had brought this on myself. But in the heat of the moment, I couldn't let it go. So I continued: "Well, that's just great for you. I'm sure you got the Mother of the Year Award". I was so discombobulated now, there was no trying on lingerie. Additionally, I figured this altercation was probably not the best example for my child. I quickly put my shirt back on, and whisked my 3-year old out the fitting room door.

Of course, I did have a brief talk with him about privacy, respect, and why the lady was angry on the way home in the car. We have been in fitting rooms before, and I've had to tell him to not look under the stall - so it's not something I had neglected to tell him. He's going to try anyway, he's a three year old boy. He might even try and do it again, even after this experience. Myself, I've been in many a fitting room- and been peeked in on a few times by young children (boys and girls alike). I don't ever remember it upsetting me.

Afterward, I relayed the story to a few people. On an unrelated issue, a dear friend of mine, Maria, said just today, that she felt that the world would get along better if we took time to consider the other's perspective. So I keep pondering all angles of the confrontation in the dressing room of JC Penney.

Was it that she was just annoyed by small children? Was she so insecure about her body that a three-year-old looking at it made her uncomfortable? Was she really even undressed in there, or did she have clothes on and was still angry? Or the worst case scenario, had she had a bad experience - and was terribly upset by her nakedness, or someone witnessing it? Perhaps I should have been more compassionate, more considerate, more patient.

I'm curious to know your thoughts on this. Do you think a 3-year old doing this is an issue to cause confrontation?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Ultimate Irony: Victim of My Own Creation

My 20-month old is wide awake, at 4 a.m - and so am I. He started at 2, with a thirst for something, and then went on to complain at a high pitched decibel about his wet diaper an hour later. My head returns to my pillow, but the possibility of returning to sleep eludes me once again - I am jolted back to hear how mad he is that he can't play with his feet in the footie pajamas I insisted on putting on him in the current Chicago-style 8- degree weather.

The typical wake-ups have me lying there in my usual state of perpetual perfectionist worrying. The subject tonight: my new adventures at project , and the fact that I am doing exactly the opposite of what my advice has been: Stay Focused, Remain on Task - and remember what's really important, spending time with your family.

To my chagrin, I find myself lost in a tangent nightmare as I try and learn how to get my brain around what seemed in my head as a simple task - "starting up my new website". In less than a month, there have been hosting roadblocks, inexplicable bugs in my software, hours of help-desks and tech support calls, and learning that I have to set up 3 or 4 other remote sites just to get traffic to the first one, and all of the learning curve that comes with each territory I stumble upon. This was supposed to be a part-time gig, based on hobbies.

As I tossed and turned, I began thinking of all the things that have been pushed aside the last few days as I tried to get my head above water at the site:

1. My three-year old tugging at my sleeve "Mama, I want to play trucks with you".
Me: "I'm sorry, honey, Mama's working, I have to finish this. I'll play trucks with you afterward." 10 minutes later: (repeat)

You can probably guess what happened: afterward never came, and then it was time to make dinner.

2. Dinner. Posted the new recipe of the day on the site. If you've not been there, one of my commitments to my audience is that I intend to be doing the steps with them, including getting dinner on the table quickly, with a good recipe. Except yesterday, I didn't have any mushrooms, and it was a crucial ingredient. I resolved that as "soon as I was done working" I would pack up the kids and we would head off to the store in plenty of time to make dinner before my husband got home.

Except, instead, this is what happened: hours on the computer attempting to install something crucial for the site to be effective. 4:30 pm came, dinner's at 5:30 - has to be on time because DH has band practice. No way to make it to the store and back and still have time to cook the recipe. Frozen ready-made pasta and a jar of Barilla sauce magically appeared on the stovetop. My husband came home and inquired about my day, and after barking at him for a few minutes about all the problems I had run into, with a deep furrow in my brow - he said, "you need to get some sleep".

3. The house is a mess. And I don't mean the usual papers on the table, clean clothes still not put away - I mean, cobwebs on the light fixtures and two week's worth of who-knows-what sticking to the microwave wall. The bed hasn't been made in days, and the sheets and towels need changing. I've been so buried in cyberspace, I've neglected my own space.

The conclusion of this rant at 5:42 a.m -
Its the ultimate irony. I've created another monster to obsess about in my perfectionism - which is what brought me to starting the site in the first place. And so, dear reader - while I love you all, I might not be back until Thursday, because I need to get back to WHAT'S REALLY IMPORTANT. Time with my kids, Dinner with my Family, A Tidy Home and a Good Night's Sleep!

See you at

Sunday, January 20, 2008

My New Beginning

An interesting ride so far, its been, at the new, my new project. "What a world we live in". As a 35+ mother, I hear myself now sounding like my own far too often (gaaaa!) with comments such as this.

I've spent the last three weeks spending every minute of my (ha!) free time learning about how to create a website, effectively. What a can of gargantuan worms. Never in a million years was I prepared for learning an entire new software, language, and culture. Granted, I've been out of the working world "outside" for about 5 years, but I don't even think my business background could have prepared me for this cybercrazy boxing ring.

My site will focus on helping overwhelmed moms, and preparing them for battle in an environment of hollering infants, unruly toddlers, and question-asking preschoolers - while also giving a great dinner recipe and an idea to get the house organized in the midst of chaos. Its fun, and I'm trying not to take myself so seriously.

Meantime, I'm not much of a creative writer, so this will be more like a rant until the skills improve. However, I'm excited about the endeavor I'm beginning for busy moms, and look forward to coming here to talk about the silly things that go on with young children.