Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Feeding the Fam

This is a compensated review from BlogHer and Ragu.

When I went back to working in an office about a year ago, dinners began to suffer. During my two-year stint of working at home (loved working at home; hated my job), I'd really begun to get serious about feeding my family better foods which equaled, to me, homemade foods (or, rather, homecooked foods). And I'd gotten really serious about feeding them healthier foods...about cutting out as many preservatives as possible, about avoiding HFCS, that kind of thing.

And when someone with more than a tetch of OCD says she got serious about something, well...It means that most of my friends now roll their eyes at me whenever I start talking about food. Remind me to tell you the time N, who was maybe 6 years old, announced to my friend Deb that the colored Goldfish she'd given him "are made of chemicals." (Of course, didn't stop him from eating them, mind you. In fact, I think he loved them all the more for that. I said I was serious about it. I didn't say my kids were.)

Now, among my food prejudices is one that, loosely stated, finds that all foods from my "why breastfeed when you can give your baby some nice made-in-the-lab formula" mid-60s upbringing are tainted with suspicion. The assumption? They're filled with anything but food.

I am here to admit that, in the case of Ragu, at least, I was wrong. The ingredient lists of the sauces I tried for this review were pretty simple. And the sugar, when it is added? Is sugar. Not corn syrup. The ingredient lists for the recipes themselves are equally simple and...I want to say pure, but that sounds overly gushy. They're ingredient lists of real foods. Real foods that are easy to put together for a meal at the end of the day. Which is exactly what I'm looking for in trying to feed my kids these back-at-the-office, no-time-to-bake-bread-from-scratch, what-can-I-feed-them-that's-healthy days.

And so, without further ado, I present you the three recipes I tried with my family, and our reactions to them. You may want to try some others; there's a slew of them on the Ragu site. And because they're so simple, they're also amenable to modification. (I'll talk about the modifications I made to each below.)

First up: Chicken Alfredo with Fettucine. (For some reason, I can't get that to link directly to the recipe, so just skim down to the Cs...You'll find it!)

These are the ingredients, with one modification. (I substituted olive oil for the suggested I Can't Believe It's Not Butter spread.) Don't I seem like one of those really awesome food bloggers, all organized and stuff?

Here's the meal in progress. Yum. Real food. Note the product placement. Am I good, or what? (OK, OK. I didn't even realize the jar was there when I took that shot. But I'm exploiting it now!)

And here's Em, the only family member aside from me who will actually eat fettucine alfredo, digging in. Except, in our case, it's linguine alfredo, because someone wasn't thinking when she was shopping, and got the two mixed up. (That someone would be me, by the way. It just sounds better when I say it in an accusatory, third-person voice.)

So, yeah. Em loved this dinner; she's an alfredo fanatic. She said the sauce was excellent, and she's a bit of a food snob herself. I liked it, too. Alfredo sauce is a wee bit too rich for me; not the kind of thing I normally choose to have on my pasta. But this wasn't overwhelmingly thick, and it had flavor. (The blandness of alfredo sauces is often my complaint about them.) So, two thumbs up for this one...from the only two thumbs that ate it. (See further below for my mini-rant about my family's annoying food preference issues.)

Next one (which was, hands-down, N's favorite, even before the words were out of my mouth): Easy Homemade Pizza. (And yes, another that won't go directly to the recipe. It's OK. A little scrolling won't kill ya.)

A look at the ingredients. My main modifications? I made two pizzas instead of one...a veggie pizza on whole-wheat crust for me, a pepperoni pizza on regular crust for the rest of them. The crusts weren't prebaked, but that didn't make a difference in how the recipe cooked up. Also, I simply must point out (for my ego's sake) that the onion I used for the veggie pizza? From my garden. (TC bows deeply to acknowledge your standing ovation.)

I love watching my kids do some of the cooking. N is very engrossed in spreading the tomato sauce just so here. Isn't he adorable?

I'm terrible at blog-picture editing and placing, but the point of the above is to show you the pre- and post-baking pizzas. I think you probably got that.

These were awesome. We turned it into a movie-and-pizza night, and I didn't even feel guilty about the 'crap' I was putting into my kids' bodies...because it wasn't crap! It was fresh ingredients (we'll pretend that pepperoni is a plant for the sake of argument here), prepared by me, with nothing else added. The pizza sauce was simple, and delicious. All four of us ate what I prepared (banner day!) and all four of us were happy and sated afterwards.


And then, to finish it all off, came Chicken Margherita.

Again with the 'can't seem to place the photos where I want them' thing.

The first shot, ingredients: I added salt and pepper to the chicken, and I forgot to go out and pick the basil from my garden until the end, so it's not in here. Nor is the olive oil I used. In other words, that whole organized thing I patted myself on the back about for the first recipe? Had already fallen apart by now.

Second shot: Chicken cooking in sauce (mmmmmmm) and one plate already made up. Third shot: A closeup of that plate, which was mine.

And the last shot, by the way? Well, that's there for one reason and one reason only: To make you all pity me for having to cook for this group of heathens. The plate on the right, with the recipe in all its gorgeous glory, is mine. The plate on the top, which has the pasta, the chicken, and the sauce, is Em's; she doesn't like cheese. The plate on the bottom, which has the chicken and the sauce only, is Baroy's; he doesn't like pasta or cheese. (I KNOW! It's definitely a character flaw. WHO doesn't like PASTA for crying out loud!) Both Baroy and Em, by the way, will eat cheese on pizza...just not anywhere else. Oh, and Em loves parmesan. But not cheese, Mom! Huh? Again...pity me.

But the worst of the bunch is the plate over there on the left; N's plate. Note that while he has chicken and pasta, they are plain: He doesn't like sauce. Of any kind. Ever. Except, of course, on pizza. Where it's not sauce, somehow.

Which is why anyone else's opinion of this recipe (Baroy and Em loved it and gobbled up the parts they were willing to eat; I liked it, though I am found it just a bit too sweet for me, which is why I don't normally 'do' margherita sauces, since they all tend to be sweet) is pretty much moot. Because here's the little miracle that happened the next day, when N decided he didn't like what I'd made for dinner and asked for pasta. I told him the only pasta I had was the stuff from the night before, with the sauce on it. He knows that while I'm willing to add or delete ingredients when possible, I do not short-order cook, and so would not be making him a separate meal; thus, he decided to have some of the saucy pasta. And...he LIKED it! Mikey liked it! (Yes, that reference ages me. Whatever.)

Actually, he loved it. "This is the best sauce I ever had!" he exclaimed. I declined to point out that it was probably the only sauce he'd ever had.

Still, if that's not a glowing recommendation, I don't know what is.

For more kid-friendly recipes, healthy tips and more, be sure to visit Ragu.com.

And now, on with the show: Your chance to win a $100 Visa gift card. And all you have to do is leave a comment on this entry (or a link to a post on your own blog) answering this question: What obsesses you about feeding your kids, and how do you go about feeding them well?

The contest will begin on 10/1/2009 and will end 11/11/2009. Make sure that the e-mail address you leave is correct (and that you leave one in the first place), or I won't be able to contact you if you win!

The Rules:
  • No duplicate comments.
  • BUT...you may receive an additional entry by linking on twitter and leaving a link in the comments.
  • OR...you may receive an additional entry by blogging about this contest and leaving a link in the comments.
  • This giveaway is open to US residents, aged 18 and older.
  • Winners will be selected via random draw, and will notified by email.
  • You have 48 hours to get back to me; after that, I'll select a new winner.

    Check out the rest of the BlogHer Reviewers' Ragu meals--you have 10 chances to win a $100 Visa gift card.

Monday, September 21, 2009

We Have a Winnah!

You guys have no idea how cool it is for me to see so many comments on a blog entry of mine...I never wanted it to end. But, like all good things, this contest has come to an end, and it's time to pick a winner. And so:

The random number generator picked number 22...which was commenter LStewart!

Congratulations to LStewart, winner of the $100 Visa gift card from the AT&T FamilyMap giveaway.

I'll have another giveaway starting up in just a couple of weeks, so check back here or on my personal blog, I Have Things, where I'll announce that contest as soon as it's up and running.

See you then!

[An aside: Having to count and then recount to be sure I had the right person was annoying. Anyone know how I can get my comments to number themselves? Email me at ihavethings at blogspot dot com if you can help; you won't earn a gift card, but you will earn my undying gratitude. Which is worth at least a buck fifty. Maybe. Some days.]

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Last Chance for the Gift Card

The AT&T FamilyMap $100 Visa giftcard giveaway ends tomorrow at midnight, Pacific Time; I'll announce the winner on Monday, after the random-number-generator thing does its, um, thing.

If you entered, make sure that I have a valid email address for you; no double entries, though, or you'll be disqualified...unless, of course, you blogged or tweeted about this giveaway, in which case you're welcome to put in a second and/or third entry with proof of your good deed!

BTW, if you didn't leave me a valid email and you're regretting it now, send it to me at ihavethings at gmail dot com.

And keep checking here or on my main blog, I Have Things, because I should have another review and giveaway coming up in just a couple of weeks, at the beginning of October. What's it about? My lips are sealed...all I'll say is that if I sound a little saucy right now, there's a good reason for it.