Vietnamese Chicken & Sweet Potato Curry

At the end of the last school year, my son’s wonderful third grade teacher gave me a gorgeous and interesting cook book alice’s Cook Book by Alice Hart.  It has very creative recipes with pairings that I wouldn’t think of; which for me makes it even better! 

Last night I perused it to find something to make with the chicken breasts that I had to use.  Not surprisingly I found a wonderful recipe and it is quite easy. 

I was fairly certain but not absolutely that my kids would eat it— well, without any fuss.  I added green beans to give them one vegetable I knew they’d like and thought would go well with the dish.  I opted not to use the hot pepper as my middle son is especially sensitive to hot spices. I added it to my own dish afterwards.  You could also use Siracha. The cilantro I had looked too sad, so I left it out. 

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Empanadas– or as my sons call them “those tacos things”

At this month’s Cooking Club we had a Latin American theme.  I usually try to make something I’ve never tried making before or something I think is creative or challenging.   So, I made arepas (sort of like corn flour rolls) but in case they didn’t work out, I had bought some frozen empanada dough discs (made with yucca and annatto).  It wouldn’t have mattered – I ran out of timeso if they didn’t work SOL.  (They weren’t too bad, but wasn’t my best dish.)

Anyway, on the following night since I had already defrosted the empanada discs and some stew beef from our CSA I suggested to my husband he make empanadas for dinner, which he did (he’s good like that).   I helped by grinding the beef in the food processor and making some of the sides, but that’s about all. I wasn’t too sure the kids would eat the empanada without any fuss, but I figured if they tried a bite they’d probably like them.  We told them that they were similar to tacos.  They all love tacos, and it stuck.  They just called them “those taco things” for days afterwards.

I was pleasantly surprised with the enthusiasm for the dinner even before it was fully assembled and in the oven; especially by my youngest two.  They were thrilled to see the meat go in the shells (I think meat is such a boy thing) and ate them with such gusto. 

We served a salad, black beans, brown rice, salsa and my husband’s delicious guacamole with the empanadas.  Though my youngest wouldn’t touch any beans, salsa or guac—he’s the pickiest of all three.

Beef Empanadas
10 pack of empanada shells (used Goya with yucca)  
1 pound beef (ground)
½ onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp chili powder
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp dried oregano
½ tsp ground cumin
handful chopped fresh cilantro
olive oil
salt & pepper

Pour Tbsp olive oil in a fry pan and get it hot.  Add the ground beef and cook until browned.  Turn down heat to medium and add onions and sauté until nearly translucent.  Add garlic, chili powder and cumin.  Cook stirring often for a couple of minutes then add the oregano and tomato paste.  Thin out with about ¼ cup of water (adjust according to desired consistency).  Salt and pepper to taste.  Take off heat and cool.  Stir in cilantro when cooled. 
Preheat oven to 350˚F. Place about 2 Tbsp of mixture onto center of a shell, brush a little water along edge then fold in half and press outside edge together.  Press with a fork around round edge to completely seal. 
Add Tbsp olive oil to hot pan.  Sauté each side until brown, then bake on parchment lined cookie tray for 20 minutes. Serve while hot. 

We had 4 extras that went into the freezer instead of the oven – my middle son asked me to serve it for dinner the following night (he had to wait 2 nights, but I was happy to oblige).

Snowed In!

This past week my kids have had a 6 days in a row without school (only 2 were actually snow days) and they’d just returned from the winter holiday break and had a snow day the week before.  In the morning I will find out if it will be 7 days in a row.  Luckily the inability to get to school has also turned our town into winter wonderland and without having to travel, the kids have had a blast sledding, making snow forts and just playing in the more than 2 feet of snow.   If they stay inside too long they drive me and themselves crazy.  Snow is such a great draw to play outside; it’s much more fun than rain! 

When the first big snowfall of the year was falling I made a simple, quick yet delicious and nutritious meal using leftover roast chicken.  We had chicken quesadillas, broccoli and cauliflower, brown and red rice, black beans and peas.  Since the rice was left over from a previous meal it took only 10 minutes to cook/assemble the whole dinner. 

I used pre-shredded cheese (Cheddar, pepper Jack and Muenster), chicken and chopped cilantro in the tortilla.  My husband showed me how the Mexican cooks he works with cook their quesadillas by putting the filling inside one half then folding the tortilla over it.  I think it’s easier to flip.  Once they’ve browned nicely and the cheese is melted you can cut into pieces and serve.  I didn’t have any avocados for guacamole (and wasn’t going out in the snow) but did have some jarred salsa.  I only had to heat the peas and beans (added oregano, 1/4 tsp chili powder, some chopped cilantro and garlic powder) and reheat the other veggies and rice. 

The kids loved it and it was so little effort.

Funny thing about peas…My middle son said he had to “turn the plate around for the peas express” so it was easier to scoop up.  My youngest said when he saw the plate, “I don’t want any. I don’t like them!”  I just reminded him that peas are in snow peas and sugar snaps, which he loves, so he tried some. Minutes later when he’d finished all the peas on his plate, “Can I have some more?” 

Thai Red Curry

I had braised a pork roast for several hours in the oven to use half for pork tacos/burritos at my friend’s New Year’s Fiesta.   We had the other half left over so my husband and I decided to turn it into a Thai Red Curry; it’s a great quick meal.  The flavors are so wonderful, but you might have to be careful of the heat from the spices for kids. 

 Thai Pork Curry

1 tsp red curry paste (or more for added heat)

1 can coconut milk

1 onion, diced

2 carrots, diced

2 bell peppers, diced (orange, yellow, green and/or red) (we used frozen peppers)

1 Tbsp oil (canola, safflower, sunflower, grapeseed)

1 tsp fish sauce

Tbsp soy sauce

handful fresh cilantro, chopped (or 2 frozen cubes)

Heat oil and add paste.  Stir over medium high heat for a minute then add vegetables and coconut milk.  Bring to a boil and simmer on low for 5 minutes.  Stir in fish sauce and soy sauce.  Add pork.  Simmer for another few minutes.  Finish with cilantro and serve over jasmine or basmati rice.


You can substitute chicken, shrimp or fish for the pork.  If you add raw meats/fish do so before the vegetables and make sure it’s cooked through.

We served it with a side of snow peas finished with sesame oil and soy sauce. All three of my kids loved it, though I did give some extra rice for my spice-sensitive middle son.  My eldest wasn’t too fond of the peppers so he ate around them, but still declared the meal, “Delicious!”

I’ll post the braising and taco part later.

We will be having that again: Chicken Piccata Française

“When are we having that again?”  Those words made my heart sore.  My eldest son asked me that while he cleared his empty dinner plate.  He’d just finished but wanted to know when I’d serve it again because he said it was “Great!” and “So delicious” (he) “loved it!”  It being a cross between chicken Française-Piccata-Florentine over rice.  I actually served the spinach on the side.

Now my other sons weren’t as effusive in their praise, but they too loved their dinner.  There was only some rice and small piece chicken left over on my youngest son’s plate.  They did a mother proud.  I love it when I find a dish they all love.  And I only made one adjustment—my youngest son’s sans capers.  Which considering all I had to do was scrape the capers off his plate onto mine, but still give him the sauce, it was easy enough and fine by me.  I gave them each a bit more chicken compared to vegetables than I normally serve, but since it’s not the norm, figure it’s ok. 

So, if you make it without the capers it’s Francaise; if it’s without the egg dip it’s Piccata; and the Spinach makes it Florentine. You can make it in any combination, it’s still good.  It doesn’t take long to make either, so it’s fine for school nights.

Chicken Française-Piccata (or Chicken Piccata-Française)

4 Chicken Breast pieces (I used a couple of thighs too, since that’s what I had in the fridge)

2 eggs

1/3 cup flour

salt and pepper

3 Tbsp olive oil

juice from 1/2 lemon

1/3 cup white wine (use a wine that you will actually like to drink)

1/3 cup chicken stock or 1/2 tsp chicken base (Better than Bouillon or Knorr) & 1/3 cup water

1/4 cup capers, drained

2 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

Tbsp butter

Cover chicken breast/thigh with plastic wrap (Trust me, you’ll be glad you did at clean up time.) and pound with mallet until about 1/4 inch (1 cm) thin.  In a shallow bowl beat egg, set aside. In another similar bowl mix flour with 1/4 tsp each salt and pepper.  Heat olive oil in sauté pan.  Take one piece of chicken and dip in flour then egg. Place in hot oil.  Repeat with each piece without crowding pan. Flip over after 3 minutes and cook other side until done, flip again if necessary (about 8 minutes total for breast, thigh takes longer).  Place finished pieces on a plate.  Pour wine, stock and lemon juice into pan and scrape any browned bits into liquid.  After two minutes add capers and parsley butter. Finally stir in the butter.  Cook for another minute. Serve chicken over rice or pasta and spinach, pouring sauce over all.


I know I’ll be making this (and variations of it) again because my kids really enjoy eating this!

Mis en place

Mis en place is a term in cooking which means everything in its place— before you cook.  This is one thing that I’ve picked up from my husband.  I used to be a bit rash in my cooking and not have everything prepared before I began to cook but that can be tricky especially when cooking with ingredients that need to be added in quick succession.  

I needed to use up the remaining chicken thighs that I’d used in the previous night’s dinner and I also had some eggplant I wanted to use.  I found a Mark Bittman recipe that I thought sounded delicious.  It was a vegetarian dish but you can add meat to it.  I added the chicken; lamb would be perfect too.  It is something that can’t just be thrown together without prior prep, but it’s worth it!  You will need to have all the spices mixed, the ginger, garlic, veggies and chicken chopped prior to cooking.  It takes about an hour. 

Mark Bittman’s Curried Coconut Eggplant with Potatoes (and Chicken)

I cut the recipe in half because I only had one eggplant.  I also added one small zucchini.  It was enough for the 4 of us plus there were leftovers for 2.    This is the original recipe:

  •  2 med to lg eggplants
  • salt
  • neutral oil (I used sunflower)
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne (adjust for kids)
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp minced fresh ginger (I kept this measurement)
  • 2 tsp sliced garlic
  • 3 large tomatoes, cored, peeled, seeded and chopped (I used 1 lg & 1 sm)
  • 3 lg potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes (I used 3 med & one small)
  • 1 1/2 cups coconut milk (you might need to add more depending on consistency)
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
  • minced fresh cilantro leaves for garnish

Prep the eggplant first by peeling, cubing and salting.  While draining mix the spices, (I ground the coriander seeds with a mortar and pestle.)  Then mince the ginger, slice the garlic, and peel and cut them the potatoes.  Mix all the spices together then prepare the tomatoes. (To peel slice an X into the bottom, dunk into boiling water for around 20 seconds then put into ice bath.  Skin will come right off).  Put oil and mustard seeds into a pan over medium heat and cover for about 3 minutes when they began to pop.  Add rest of spices, ginger and garlic and cook, stirring often until the ginger and garlic are soft.  Next add tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, chicken and coconut milk.  Reduce heat, cover and cook for 15 minutes, stirring every so often.  Add chicken  and cook for another 15 minutes. (While that was simmering I put the rice on so it would be ready at same time.)  Add zucchini (optional) and if necessary some more coconut milk, salt and pepper then continue cooking for about 15 minutes (uncovered).  Once time is up, stir in the lime juice and serve over rice. 

You can also cook the rice in coconut milk (half water, half coconut milk) if you’d like.


My sons loved it!  I loved it!  My eldest liked it so much that he finished his brother’s after he’d devoured all of his!   It was a bit spicy for my middle son but he ate it with a mix of pleasure and pain and lots of water.  I hadn’t adjusted the cayenne but noted it for the future.  

Chicken, Andouille and White Bean Stew

Wish I had more time— to write among other things!  I tried writing this post last night near midnight after I had just finished filling out paperwork for my 6 year-old’s new school.  One thing I loathe when they get back to school is all the papers that come home— flyers and notices.  Last year all three were in the same school and I’d get everything in triplicate.  Now a different school along with the original, different schedules (not even on the same holiday schedule which will be tricky!), different lunch programs (it’s tough navigating that without dealing with two different providers) and I’m sure more papers coming home.  It takes up so much time— time to fill out, time to sort, time to throw away.

I was too tired to write last night and then today, when I finally got the chance, I got consumed by news of the earthquake in New Zealand where I have many loved ones.  I am putting off laundry yet again to write… for those wondering how I find the time! 

Last night I created a new recipe based upon a Southern or Creole-style dish.  I would have loved to have made gumbo but didn’t have any okra or filé so it wouldn’t have been authentic.  (Funny I got introduced to and fell in love with gumbo while working in Wellington, NZ)  And I didn’t want to overdo it with spices for my kids by serving red rice… so I went with plain white rice.   


I used organic free range boneless chicken thighs that I cut into smaller pieces.   This is a great way to stretch out your budget and reduce your cooking time.  I used chicken Andouille sausage which I like because it means less “meat” in our diet but you can use the more traditional made from pork.  Most of my vegetables and herbs were from our CSA and the organic white beans were canned.   It was a pleasant moment when I sat down to eat and watch the children dig in with such gusto.  My middle son asked if it was “chili” I replied that it was “chicken and sausage chili”.  They all loved it but my 6 year-old said it was a little spicy for him— that was mostly the Andouille.  I think it took me about 20 minutes of prep and active cooking and another 10-15 of simmering.   So, at least I found the time to do this.

Chicken, Andouille and White Bean Stew

  • 3-4 chicken thighs, skinned and boned, cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 2 Andouille sausage links, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 can Cannellini (white kidney) beans
  • 3-4 tomatoes, peeled (or one can) and crushed
  • 1 med onion, diced
  • 1 lg or 2 sm celery stalk, diced
  • 1 sweet green pepper, diced
  • 1 sweet red pepper, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 Tbsp basil, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp parsley, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Brown chicken and set aside.  Heat olive oil in pan and sauté onions and celery until clear.  Add garlic and peppers and cook until soft.  Add paprika and chili powder stirring for one minute.  Add tomatoes, chicken stock, chicken, sausage, beans and herbs. Cook for another 5 minutes stirring occasionally.  Cover and reduce heat to low and simmer for 15-20 minutes.  Serve over rice.

As I mentioned, it was delicious and the boys gave it thumbs up but with a bit of extra milk and water drinking to counter the heat.  I ate some leftovers for lunch today— even better which is often the case with tomato-based foods.


Fun with sushi

My two eldest LOVE sushi but I haven’t convinced my youngest yet to give it a real try  even though he will eat wasabi rice crackers and anything with seaweed/nori.  Trader Joe’s has some dried Nori chips that are pretty yummy but don’t come close to their discontinued Tempura Nori & Wasabi chips.  We used to make them into an appetizer with sushi-grade tuna and wasabi mayo; yum.  

The other night we made homemade sushi with our new sushi mat.  We set up a sushi bar on our kitchen island.  Tuna, rice, nori, avocado, cucumber, carrots, wasabi tobiko, pickled ginger, scallions, wasabi and tamari soy sauce made up our ingredient list.  The sushi rice was prepared according to instructions with rice wine vinegar, sugar and salt.   (For 1 cup rice: 1/4 vinegar, 1 Tbsp sugar, 1 tsp salt.)  The vegetables were mostly julienne except the avocado.  Though, next time it should be thinner for ease of rolling. 

We made several different rolls with various ingredients depending on kids’ preferences.  They each had their own soy sauce with or without wasabi mixed in.  My youngest had a bowl of rice, nori sheets, cucumber and carrots.  At least he got a nutritious dinner and with all the protein we eat, he didn’t miss out.

It was a great, fun dinner to make together.  We still have to practice getting the rolls tight enough, but the kids don’t care.

Babysitter: Hot Dogs for Dinner

I got a babysitter so I could go out for a friend’s birthday.  I figure when the kids really don’t want me to go, it’s time for treats.   So dinner may incorporate stuff we might not eat regularly, but I still try to choose the best of the worst and accompany with healthier side dishes.  And no matter if they’ve finished they’re allowed ice cream for dessert.  Anything to make the babysitter’s job easier and their time with her more fun.

My children, like many other kids, like hotdogs.  But we have them rarely.  I only buy organic nitrate and nitrite-free hot dogs, most likely from Trader Joe’s or Applegate Farms.  As I just posted earlier, contributing factor(s) in meat-associated health problems isn’t the meat itself but the stuff they put in (processed) meats.  Cold cuts laden with sodium, nitrites and nitrates have been linked to cancer and other diseases.  I have stayed away from them for years, before I knew any of that, because they tend to be a migraine trigger.  I boil them then in a pan slightly brown outside to give it the snap. 

So, I made hotdogs with a fairly plain salad, cauliflower and mixed grains and rice.  I steam my cauliflower for a few minutes until a toothpick can just go through easily.  It’s not overcooked and it reduces the granular texture that can put some kids off raw cauliflower. One trick that I got from my mother, is to add a squeeze of lemon juice, butter, salt and pepper to the cauliflower when it’s time to serve.  Lemon and black pepper are great together and they give it a little zing.  My middle son adores cauliflower but we don’t have it very often since it’s my husband’s least favorite vegetable.

The grains were Three Grains Blend  (rice, barley and spelt) from TJ’s.  Chicken stock was used instead of water.  It gives it the umami taste (“The Good Taste” or “5th Taste”) or savoriness that almost everyone enjoys.  You can try to add something that has umami to foods that kids might not otherwise like to hit the right notes in their brain.  MSG is used in Asian cooking just for that purpose.   An umami addition can change something they would find yucky into yummy (like sprinkling some parmesan cheese on top of some broccoli). You can read more about it here.

Anyway, I feel it’s not always necessary to have just junk as a treat. The trick is finding the right ratio that satisfies kids and moms.  I try to make sure mine get what they need while giving in to some of their wants.  Babysitters love happy kids too.