25 June 2009

oh grandma, please forgive me

I had two thoughts as I breathed in the aroma of strawberries, lemon and sugar that filled the room as the jam bubbled on the stove. The first was that my house smelled like Grandma Evelynne's. Not the cigarette-smoke permeating everything smell, no, it was the smell of summer when the doors were left open to bring in a breeze and a pot of strawberry jam was simmering on the stove. Grandma made the BEST strawberry jam I've ever tasted. She also made the BEST peanut butter and jelly sandwiches: white bread, a healthy dose of butter, peanut butter (choosy grandmothers also always choose JIF), and, of course, her homemade strawberry jam. My mother would try to make it, even using the same ingredients, and I swear she'd never come close.

My second thought, I am now horribly embarrassed to admit, was that, in just one attempt, I'd bested Grandma's recipe. I followed the instructions, read the reviews and comments, and simmered, simmered, simmered, waiting for the jam juices to achieve a gel-like consistency when spooned onto a frozen plate. It took almost 40 minutes longer than the recipe suggested, but I finally reached it. A shimmering pool of jelly, it had darkened a little from all that simmering, but it smelled just right. I carefully ladled the jam into sterilized jars, and, with Jo's help, screwed on the scorching-hot lids. We snapped a few photos, trying to get the light just right in our now dark kitchen. And then we went to bed, leaving the jam to cool overnight.

I went to bed with the words to THAT POST already forming in my mind. I'd be humble, maybe even a little disappointed that my jam tasted better than Grandma's, a fond childhood food memory smashed to smithereens with my cooking prowess. I'd talk about what a shame it was that I didn't have any really good peanut butter in the house to go with it. And I'd throw in a mention of Jules's newly acquired love for the Frances book about Bread and Jam as I described him gobbling up slice after slice of jam-slathered toast.

Oh, the arrogance of youth. This morning I checked the jam. Runny. OK, so I'd have to work on the consistency next batch, but that's no big deal. I toasted two pieces of bread: one for Kasper to gnaw on, and one for my glorious jam. One bite and I knew it was BEYOND TERRIBLE. Not just runny, it was bitter, too. Runny, bitter, and barely a strawberry flavor to it. Not wanting to throw the bread away, I covered up the jam with sunflower seed butter and ate it. Sigh.

When Jules sat down for breakfast, he spied the jars and asked for a taste. "This is. Not. Good." was his pronouncement. So now I'm stuck with 3 jars of strawberry yuck. Maybe I can salvage them. Maybe I can add some Borax to them and take out the ant colonies that have been swarming around our house since March.

But I have to smile (OK, grimace might be a better word) as I imagine Grandma gazing down on me from her spot in canning heaven with a little smile and a shake of her head. My greatest hope now has been reduced to the wish that next time (if there is a next time) I won't burn the jam.

24 June 2009

risotto for the little shrimp

Tonight I made a meal just for Jules. OK, I had ulterior motives. I wanted something a little finer than the usual weekday fare, didn't want it to be much work, AND wanted it to be a sure fire success for Jules.

My sweet baby does have a taste for "fine foods" occasionally. Take smoked salmon, for instance. While I find it slimy, greasy, and barely worthy of gagging down unless presented in tiny tidbits with creamy herbed cheese on bruschetta sprinkled with minced chives (yes, there is a very lovely recipe for this that I will one day share), Jules (and his papa) slurp it up like it's slathered in chocolate.

I didn't feel like pasta (another, almost "sure thing" with Jules, so long as it's r
elatively unadorned -- no green bits or large chunks of veggies), didn't feel like beans, wanted to drink wine and feel full after my meal.

So, flipping through the latest (June 2009) issue of Sunset Magazine, I found it: "Grilled corn and bay shrimp risotto." Of course the people at Sunset were crazy if they thought I was actually going to fire up the charcoal grill to get the corn in this dish just right. I cheated (of COURSE I did), "dry frying" the corn at a relatively high temperature in a non-stick pan to approximate something of the intended flavor. Then I tweaked a few of the other ingredients to fit what I had on hand/was in the mood to do, a
nd there it was.

The result? DELICIOUS. Not too heavy, very lemony. Jules liked it, too.

"Grilled" corn and shrimp risotto (adapted from this recipe in Sunset Magazine)

2 cups frozen corn (original: 3 medium ears, husked, grilled, and sliced off the cob)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped red onion (shallots in the original recipe)
1 1/2 cups risotto rice (I used sushi rice, as recommended in another Sunset article I once read)
1.5 quarts vegetable (or chicken) broth
1/2 cup dry white wine (the original recipe called for a cup, but this is for my kid, and I could use that extra 1/2 glass for myself)
1 pound largeish shrimp (you could use small, but why would you?)
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespooon lemon zest
2-3 tablespoons lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper and salt, to taste
a handful of parsley, chopped, for garnish
Parmigiano Reggiano (or regular parmesan)

Warm a nonstick pan on medium-high heat, add the corn and "dry fry" it, stirring occasionally, until it begins to brown (it may actually pop, as well). Turn off the heat and set aside for later.

While the corn browns, heat the olive oil in a saucepan on medium-high heat and add red onions/shallots and cook, stirring, just until softened, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring often, until grains are slightly translucent at edges, about 3 minutes longer.

Add wine and, while you're at it, pour yourself a glass because it's been "that kind of day." Sip, cook, and stir often, until the wine (you added, not imbibed), is almost absorbed. Add broth a ladleful at a time, cooking and stirring until almost absorbed before adding more. Keep adding broth, cooking and stirring, until rice is creamy and tender but not mushy, about 25 minutes.

Stir in corn, shrimp, butter, lemon zest, lemon juice and salt to taste and cook, stirring often, until heated through, about 3 minutes. Add more broth if risotto gets too dry here.

Spoon risotto into shallow bowls (or slap it on a plate with a green salad), grate a little parmigiano reggiano over it, add pepper and sprinkle with parsley if your kid will let you, and serve.

strawberry surplus (or strawberry "slurp" us, if the jam doesn't turn out)

So true to my advice, I packed up Jules and Kasper this week and trekked halfway up to Vancouver (for those of you reading who are not from Seattle, that is FAR) to go strawberry picking.

We met a friend and her two litte girls up there, and by the time we arrived, my friend had already picked a crate-full. Her pint-sized pickers slowed down considerably when we arrived, and the kids spent most of their time running up and down the rows, racing after the tractors delivering port-a-pottys to the "commercial workers" (mostly 16 year old kids with brown butts and knees), and just shoving berries in their mouths, partly, I'm sure, to see our reaction at the red juiciness dripping down their chins. It was a cold, drizzly day and not many other pickers were out, so we had the place almost entirely to ourselves. And the berries were ripe.

Driving home, I had no idea what I planned to do with all those strawberries. It was more for the experience of bringing Jules to a farm (Kasper was less than content, and not at all impressed most of the time we were there), that I'd dragged us up there. But now I had a bajillion berries to wash, husk, slice and "enjoy." My plan was (is, still haven't done it) to make a strawberry clafouti, a kind of custardy pancake I'd seen Jacques Pepin once do with apricots. Maybe some jam.

Well, as I write this, the jam is simmering on the stove, and I'm not at all sure it'll set right since this is my first time. But what I DID get a chance to make was a nice warm spinach salad with strawberries, toasted almonds and a strawberry vinagrette that went pretty well with a box of Trader Joe's cornbread and the leftover grilled pork tenderloin we'd served up for Father's Day.

Jules helped me wash the spinach in a bowl of cold water, dry it in the salad spinner, and mix up the corn bread (from a box, but a very good box). I warmed the spinach in a pan, added it to a bowl with a drizzle of olive oil, toasted almonds and sliced strawberries and there was dinner. Not bad for a Monday.

It was pretty. Here's a picture.

22 June 2009

put the kid to work: quesadilla day

Jules loves to cook. I guess I'm lucky that way. For a kid who has never really shown a lot of patience when it comes to fine motor skills (he's more of a run around like crazy, high energy guy), he sure can contain himself these days when I assign him to be my "kitchen helper." This wasn't always the case. And getting through those times when he was a little ball of nerves, flicking batter, smearing sauce, *squeeeeeeeezing* and kneading whatever bread or cookie-like concoction I put in front of him until it was a gray, sweaty mass of yuck, was trying, to put it lightly.

I won't lie. There were times when I lost it. When I, more immature than he, would yank the spoon, whisk, bowl, what have you, out of his hands and growl at him, "how many times do I..." or send him to his room for punishment for whatever "misbehavior" set me off.

But most days I'm better. And so is he. Now I know to just relax about my fear that raw eggs will kill him and just let him lick the batter and smear it all over his face (and be ready with an arsenal of warm washcloths to deal with the aftermath). I let him have "just a little taste" of anything. Baking powder? Why not? Cayenne? Well, I wouldn't go that far. Straight sugar? There are limits, but yes. He gets away with his fair share of "pinches" and "just a little taste"s.

Most often, he's been my "baker's helper," but I've been letting him in more and more on the dinner prep these days, too. I find that A) it keeps him mostly out of my hair since it's a time where he's (more or less) following my orders rather than me following his (which seems like most of the day), and B) I find I'm less stressed out about not spending "quality time" with Jules in order to prep dinner, because we are doing just that when we cook together.

So to give you an idea of how we work as a cooking team, I'm sharing a recipe I make often, with many variations, this being my latest one. Quesadillas are one of Jules's (and my, to be honest) favorite foods, so getting him involved in making them was easy. These are on the table at our house a few times a month, are quick to prepare, and relatively healthy (this one especially).

On this particular night, I had a big bag of sweet potatoes and a bunch of rainbow chard languishing in the fridge, so I started with these, grating the sweet potato, and tossing it in the pan with some sliced onions, chili powder and salt. I chopped the chard and added it, too, cooking that while Jules spread some pureed black beans on tortillas. A sprinkle of cotija (Mexican cheese with an almost feta-like consistency, but very different taste), another tortilla, and dinner was served. We usually eat these with some fresh (or store-bought) salsa, sliced avocado, maybe even some sour cream, whatevers on hand. Variations on fillings have included spinach and mango, too. It's all good.

The sweet potatoes, onion and chard combined were sweet enough (and grated/sliced fine enough)that Jules didn't really even notice he was eating veggies, though we did also just feed him a few slices of plain bean and cheese to be sure he'd be eating SOMETHING if he discovered (and snubbed) the veggies.

So there you have it. It would go nice with a simple green salad.

Sweet Potato and Rainbow Chard Quesadillas
8 large(ish) flour tortillas
1 can black beans (or 1 cup if you've made your own)
2 small(ish) sweet potatoes, peeled and grated
1/2 medium onion, sliced thin
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cups Rainbow Chard (about 5 large leaves), stems removed and chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
1 Tablespoon chili powder
Cooking oil or spray (for light frying)
Cilantro, a handful, chopped
Avocado slices (optional)
Sour cream (optional)

Put black beans in a blender and puree until smooth. Spread bean puree over 4 tortillas.

Saute onion, garlic and chili powder in olive oil on medium-high heat for a few minutes, until onion begins to soften. Add sweet potato and continue sauteing until mixture begins to brown a bit. Add chard and continue to cook for a minute or two after chard begins to wilt. Spoon sweet potato mixture onto bean puree/tortillas. Sprinkle cotija on top and cover with another tortilla. Working one at a time, fry quesadillas in a pan coated with cooking spray for a few minutes until tortillas begins to brown. Flip and brown on the other side. Serve with salsa, avocado, sour cream, cilantro etc.

18 June 2009

eating well (today at least)

So I realized, after posting this to another blog, that there really is a method to my madness when it comes to kids and cooking and eating and trying to change/improve/whatever you want to call it, the eating habits of me (first) and our family (foremost). It's part inspired by writers like Michael Pollan and writers/cookbook authors like Mark Bittman, partly by child development "experts" like Dr. Sears, kidfood writers/cookbook authors like Annabel Karmel, and more-than-partly just common sense. And it is very much still in the developmental stages in my household. Thus, the blog, so I can document this (and inject a little fun into my life).

I'll call it my six-step plan, because I'm dealing with half-pints here. Here it is:

step one: realize your own eating habits are abysmal and your kids learn to eat from you

step two: start cooking with lots and lots of veggies and every tim
e you want a snack, grab fruit (and offer it to your kids).

step three: plant a garden to get your kid interested in growing food

step four: take your kids to a farm, cheese factory, chocolate factory, whateve
r, to show them where their food comes from

step five: involve your kids in cooking, even if it means you're tearing your hair out as they spray pasta sauce all over the white walls of your kitchen

step six: offer that healthy, fresh, good-for-you food at every meal. Put it on their plate if they'll let you. Con them into taking at least one bit of it before you cave in and nuke the mac'n cheese, make a peanut butter sandwich, etc.

This last step requires, of course, a healthy amount of advanced planning, but I really don't subscribe to the idea that you need to pay someone else to come up with weekly meal plans, shopping lists, what have you. A little resourcefulness and a well-stocked pantry will go a long way to putting dinner (and lunch, and breakfast) on the table quickly, with minimal time and resources. Seriously. I am a convert. And time will tell if this new relationship I'm trying to spark with food will really pay off for me (and my partner and kids, too).

OK, enough said. Here's a look at what I spent my morning (yesterday) doing.

Apple and Prune Puree
1 apple, cored, peele and cut into 1 inch chunks
4 prunes

Place apple and prunes in a saucepan and add enough water to cover. Bring to a simmer and cook on medium high 5-10 minutes until fruit is cooked to desired softness. Transfer apples and prunes to a blender, add cooking water to desired consistency and blend to texture of your choice.

Cool and serve to baby, who will no doubt gobble it all up. Or store in an airtight container in the freezer for up to one month.

Broccoli and Potato Mash
1 cup broccoli florets
2 small red potatoes, peeled and diced

Place broccoli and potatoes in a saucepan and add enough water to cover.
Bring to a simmer and cook on medium high 10-15 minutes until potatoes are soft but not mushy. Maxh to desired texture and consistency, adding cooking water if neccesary.

Cool and serve to baby, who will no doubt make gaggy faces and turn his head away the first time or two. Or store in an airtight container in the freezer for up to one month.

Eggplant Caponata and Pasta Bake (adapted from Rachael Ray)
The recipe makes a double batch, so I froze half of the Caponata for another day. As usual, Jules got his serving of what we were eating, plus some plain pasta, a bunch of grapes and toast with sunflower seed butter (I love peanut butter, but that peanut allergy freak-out with babies has me feeding Jules sunflower seed butter until he stops kissing his brother on the mouth or Kasper turns 2, whichever happens first.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (omitted an account of small person)
1 red bell pepper, seeded
1 large sweet onion, peeled
2 ribs celery
1/2 cup large green olives, pitted
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted
3 tablespoons capers
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 medium firm eggplant, diced
1 can (28 oz) diced tomatoes
1 can (14 oz) crushed tomatoes
A handful of chopped fresh parsley

1/2 pound penne, cooked al dente
1/2 cup parmigiano reggiano
1 cup shredded provolone (we used gouda because it was there)

Preheat a big, deep pot over medium heat. Add oil, garlic, and crushed red pepper flakes. Place your cutting board near the stovetop and toss vegetables into pot as you chop them. Dice peppers, chop onion and celerly. Then coarsely chop olives, and sitr in along with capers and raisins. Dice and salt the eggplant and stir in. Increase the heat a bit, add diced and crushed tomatoes and stir caponata well to combine. Cover pot and cook, 15 to 20 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Stir in parsley and remove from heat.

Mix 1/2 caponata (freeze other 1/2 for another time) with cooked pasta and 1/2 cup of the cheeses, pour into a 9x13 baking dish, sprinkle with remaining cheese and place under the broiler until cheese starts to bubble. Garnish with more parsley and serve.

15 June 2009

belgians eat japan fish in seattle

Barbecue weather was upon us, some of Johan's college friends from Belgium were here for a visit, and we wanted to treat them to some of the "local" cuisine. We'd been eating grilled salmon with bbq-roasted potatoes and salad and veg for a few weeks now, and while it tasted great, it was starting to get old. So a new twist: red miso marinated salmon, cold soba noodle salad, maneki-style green salad and soy-basted corn on the cob and presto-change-o, a meal we all (cross-culturally, cross-generationally), could enjoy. It was cool, fresh and oishii. I even impressed myself this time.

The under-five-set scarfed up the salmon and corn, asking for more, and even slurped up a few noodles. Not bad. The salad was something I'd made a few times, loosely basing it on one we've had at Maneki, a local Japanese restaurant we'd frequent a lot before having kids. Somehow, kid-wrangling in the tatami rooms kind of kills the fun of the food there, so needless to say we haven't been there in close to four years, and I was missing the place.

Red miso-marinated salmon (based on this recipe in Food and Wine)
1/4 cup red miso paste
1 tablespoon canola or other neutral oil (I used grapeseed)
1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3-4 pounds salmon filets
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
2 large scallions, thinly sliced

In a small bowl, whisk the miso paste with the canola and sesame oils, honey, vinegar and soy sauce. In a large, shallow glass or ceramic dish, pour the miso marinade over the salmon fillets and turn to coat completely. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or for up to 1 hour.

Light a grill and lightly brush it with oil. Lift the salmon fillets from the glaze and sprinkle both sides with the sesame seeds. Grill over a moderately hot fire for about 3 minutes per side, or until lightly charred and just cooked through. Transfer the salmon to a platter, sprinkle with the scallions and serve.

Maneki-style green salad
4 cups salad greens (get 'em from your garden, a head of lettuce, or a bagged mix; Maneki uses watercress, too)
1 avocado, sliced
1/2 cup grated daikon
1 can (15 oz) mandarin oranges, drained
1 cup caramelized pecans (see recipe below)
Ponzu dressing (see recipe below)

Arrange greens on a platter. Place grated daikon in mounds in randomly chosen spots, same with avocado, oranges, pecans. Drizzle with ponzu dressing. Enjoy.

Caramelized Pecans (adapted from Bon Appetit)
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups whole pecans

Preheat oven to 325;°F. Spray baking sheet with nonstick spray. Combine corn syrup, sugar and salt in large bowl. Stir to blend. Add pecans; stir gently to coat. Transfer to baking sheet.

Place large piece of foil on work surface. Bake pecans 5 minutes. Using fork, stir pecans to coat with melted spice mixture. Continue baking until pecans are golden and coating bubbles, about 10 minutes. Transfer to foil. Working quickly, separate nuts with fork. Cool. (Can be made 3 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.)

Ponzu dressing
1/4 cup ponzu
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons minced shallots
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

Mix all ingredients together.

Cold Soba Noodles with Peanut Sauce (thank you Mark Bittman)
12 ounces dried soba noodles
2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
1/2 cup peanut butter (I used sunflower seed butter)
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
At least 1/2 cup minced scallions for garnish

Cook the noodles in boiling salted water until tender but not mushy. Drain, then rinse in cold water for a minute or two. Toss with half the sesame oil and refrigerate up to 2 hours, or proceed with the recipe.

Beat together the peanut butter, sugar, soy sauce, and vinegar. Add a little salt and pepper to taste; thin the sauce with hot water if necessary, so that it is about the consistency of heavy cream.

Toss together the noodles and the sauce, and add more of any seasoning if necessary. Drizzle with the remaining sesame oil, garnish, and serve.

baking day: grandma rosa's brownies (and more)

I finally got her recipe. No I am not sharing.

step one: mix

Grandma Rosa is, hands-down, the best cook in my family. She's won awards at the county fair for her pies, is famous (at least in her corner of the world) for her cinnamon rolls and brownies, and would give any Iron Chef contestant a serious run for their money. She once cooked a big pot of spaghetti sauce with a jar of ketchup for our family when we showed up unannounced since, of course, we HAD to eat SOMETHING while we were there (and it was tasty, in case you're wondering). And her baked beans, served at Thanksgiving, for lunch, brunch, or anytime. It makes my mouth water just thinking about them.

step two: lick

But I keep coming back to the brownies. She's sent them to me a few times in the mail, once when she heard Jules broke his collar bone (chocolate makes everything better), once when I hinted to my Dad that I wouldn't mind another shipment. Packaged in neat little stacks separated by waxpaper in a shoebox, they are nothing short of heaven to me. I can eat almost the entire box by myself. I have a hard time sharing them, even with my own flesh and blood. They are that good. After taking his first bite of Grandma's brownies, Johan declared, "these are not BROWNIES. These are FUDGE!" Being an expert on fudge (Grandma also makes an unbeatable batch of this), I knew Johan was dead-wrong about this, but he was right about the word "brownie" not quite describing them. What I will say about the recipe is that they're rich, in an almost indescribable way, because Grandma does not shy away from using eggs (I used seven, yes SEVEN, in this batch) or butter (3 glorious sticks). The rest you'll just have to guess.

step three: pour (and lick some more)

So, after some more "hinting" to my Dad, I got my hands on Grandma's recipe. It's been only since having kids that I have really been interested in how Grandma cooks. Before Jules and Kasper came along, I'd been happy just to gorge on whatever Grandma sent my way. Now I NEED to know how she does it. And, ironically, were it not for my kids, I'd be tempted to ask Grandma if I could move in with her for six months and be her cooking apprentice. Come to think of it, uprooting them (and leaving Jo at home) might just be a small sacrifice compared to what we'd all have to gain in the advancement of my culinary skills. Food for thought.

step four (so I skipped a step or three): eat

But for now, I'll just have to be content with messing up Grandma's recipe. Since Grandma herself doesn't really follow recipes, the one I got must have taken some work on her part to write up. Her instructions were exact. Bake them for 42 minutes. When my Dad read the recipe back to her and told her he'd written down "bake for 40-45 minutes," she bit his head off. "No, I said FORTY-TWO MINUTES." Well, I baked them for 42 minutes and checked them. They were, well, kind of soupy. Back in the oven for another 15 and I'd overbaked them. So the brownies, while good (oh, did I ever eat my fair share), did not even come close to Grandma's. But just like Grandma, I did share them. I shipped them off to places as far as Nebraska and Pennsylvania, along with a little batch of the Cardamom Walnut Cookies I like so much. And Grandma even got a small box. I hope I made her proud.

step five: bake some more

06 June 2009

oh golly. my first recipe.

I make some version of this a few times a month, so I thought I'd share. It's fast, uses just two pans (a big pot and a big skillet) and, apart from the broccoli, you should be able to find most of the ingredients in your (marginally-well stocked) pantry. Broccoli can be swapped out for spinach (don't boil, just wilt with red peppers, etc.), kale (boil, or saute in bacon fat and set aside to add at end) or another veg you like, bacon can be swapped for italian sausage (or omitted). We had a version of this tonight without the bacon and mozzarella. Very flexible, very yummy, and completely adaptable to your own small person's taste.

pasta with broccoli, bacon, peppers, white beans and a little cheese
(adapted from Broccoli and Mozzarella Pasta Sauce by Marcella Hazan and Pasta with Broccoli by Mark Bittman)

1 pound (or so) broccoli
2 slices bacon (optional)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 pound penne, ziti or fusilli or other smallish pasta
1 cup (or 1 can, drained and rinsed) cannelini beans
2 (homemade or jarred) roasted red peppers, chopped
1/4 cup mozzarella, chopped fine (optional)
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving
A few tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves for garnish

1) Wash and cut broccoli. Remove florets and set aside, then slice off the reedy bottom and any other tough stringy parts from the stem.

2) Fry bacon in a large skillet at medium heat until crisp. Remove and drain on paper towels. Crumble when cool enough to touch.

3) Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add 1-2 teaspoons salt. Add broccoli stem(s) and cook for 3-4 minutes and then add florets. Cook until florets just begin to become tender when pierced by a fork, but not mushy. They'll cook more in the pan later, so you don't want them to cook too much during this step. Remove broccoli with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool.

4) Add pasta to the (still boiling) water and cook to a very firm al dente state. It will cook for another few minutes with the broccoli, etc., so don't let it cook too long either. Remove 3/4 of the pasta with a slotted spoon and cook remaining pasta to desired doneness for small persons. Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup or so of pasta water.

5) While pasta is cooking, chop broccoli florets and stems into small (almost minced) pieces

6) Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat and cook until garlic just starts to become golden, a minute or so.

7) Add broccoli to the skillet, mashing it a bit as you stir, then add red peppers and 3/4 cup cannelini beans (reserve 1/4 cup for small person).

8) Add the pasta, give it a stir, cooking until pasta almost reaches desired doneness, then add the most of the mozzarella, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and bacon, (reserving the rest for small persons) and enough of the reserved pasta water to keep the mixture from drying. Cook until pasta reaches desired doneness and other ingredients are hot. Salt and pepper to taste.

9) In a separate bowl, mix reserved pasta, cannelini beans, bacon, cheese and enough pasta water to make it palatable for small persons.

10) Serve, garnishing with parsley (except for small person who will tolerate no green flecks of any kind on pasta) and more freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

03 June 2009

the freezer is your friend

lasagna with butternut squash and kale

We made this at a cook/freeze party hosted by my friend Sloan. I came home with a huge pan of lasagna (serves 8), some roasted sweet potato and black bean enchiladas, and chicken thighs marinated 3 ways (seen in some of my other posts). After all was said and done, each meal (serves 4 to 6) cost us about $8. Not bad.

02 June 2009

how does your garden grow?

planting day

a week (or so) later

you get the idea...

our own strawberry field

worms are our friends

ohhhhhhhhhh mikey

So I’ve been poking around various food blogs lately—for recipes, for fun, for the heck of it, and while mostly inspired, I keep thinking to myself, “yeah, it’s great you can eat like that. But just wait until you have kids.” Or, if they DO have kids, then it's "sure, that looks tasty. But does your kid eat any of that? I bet not."

Having kids has most definitely changed the way we eat. Time is a big factor here. Spending more than half an hour cooking, especially on a weekday, is nearly impossib
le, and for a long (veeerrry long) time that meant we were eating a lot of takeout. Or frozen pizza (Trader Joe’s Quattro Formaggio imported from Italy, but still). Or both.

All in all, I’m pretty happy with the variety of food our kids eat. Kasper’s still on fruit purees, rice cereal and full-fat yoghurt, but he’s just seven months so we try to cut him some slack. His brother Jules, at 3 ½, has what I’d consider a pretty varied palate, though he doesn’t do spicy, and for a long time would avoid anything green that touched his plate. He’s got a pretty big sweet tooth, which needs to be managed, but is also a fruit-a-holic with a soft spot for mangoes, and will try
just about everything, which is all I expect of him. Of course that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t eat yoghurt for dinner a few times a week because he’s turned his nose up at whatever we’ve served him. But we keep serving him. One day, who knows? Maybe he’ll start gobbling up that asparagus and pesto risotto and ask for seconds of the salad greens.

I have to admit I’m jealous of people whose kids are what you might call ‘adventurous’ eaters. Kids who love spicy food, eat cauliflower like candy, don’t shy away from leaves. Kids who have no weird quirks like being half-Belgian and never touching potatoes, even when they’re french-fried (which is just WRONG, by the way). So many of the ‘experts’ tell you that your kids’ tastes for
food develop in infancy (some even say in the womb, which is why I packed in as much spicy food as I could, heartburn be damned, so I could enjoy it with my kid when he joined me earthside), so parents like me start feeling the pressure to not turn their kids into Dorito-stuffing slobs (of, in my case, their own childhood) while that babe is still just a twinkle in mama’s eye.

Did I not heed the call and make my own organic fruit purees? Yes, I did. Religiously, for the first few months. Check the labels on cereals, yoghurts, whatever, for grams of “sugars” or “trans fats,” and scan ingredient lists for mercuric traces of high fructose corn syrup? Well, of course I did. I love my child, don’t I? And let me tell you, to keep this up while all the while every spoonful you shovel in is greeted with a gag and shiver that says, “WHY must you torture me this way?” requires the patience of a saint. Mommy guilt and mommy martyrdom walk hand in hand.

So I bought jarred baby food (organic, naturally). He slurped it up. I bought Gerber Graduate Veggie Puffs (not organic to say the least, but they were sweet potato and how can you go wrong with sweet potato?). He developed a newfound confidence in his pincher grasp as those little bits of chemical goodness dissolved in his mouth. To make up for this, I pureed some home-made lentil, spinach, brown rice, cranberry goulash until it looked like dogfood. He liked that, too. For a time.

The second time around I’m a little more relaxed. While I’m not dunking Doritos in formula (can you tell I love these chips?) to soften them up for the baby, I only felt the tiniest twinge of guilt when it came to buying that first jar of fruit puree. Jules is proof to me (as if I weren't proof enough) that “taste” is part inherited, part shaped by your environment, and can be re-shaped (within certain limits) at just about any point along the way. My goal right now is to set my kids up for success with food to the best of my abilities. One of the ways I know I can do this is by involving them in making their own food, from growing it, to harvesting it, to cooking it, to talk talk talking about it. So we planted a garden. Jules started eating lettuce. We visit farms. Jules joins me in the kitchen, helping out sometimes, talking about cooking, or just getting in my way. I'm glad he's there. He loves it. And I hope he keeps loving it, because I sure do enjoy it much more than I do crawling around the floor with a dump truck making deep raspy engine noises.

More updates on this, most surely, to follow. But for now, I’ll leave you with a picture of a cake Jules and I baked. Together. For me.

we like pink

01 June 2009

leftovers are the new meal

No, I'm not done with Mark Bittman.

One thing that's central to Bittman's approach is the notion of "repurposing" leftovers. Cook more than you need to and, rather than simple reheating them, turn your leftovers into something completely new. Last night's roasted vegetables could be the material for a killer sandwich, frittata, asian rice bowl, burrito, etc. etc. you get the idea. Here are a few of our meals and repurposed dishes:

#1 Steak pita with grilled corn, orange snap pea couscous

#1A: Taco salad with steak, pinto beans, cherry tomatoes,
salsa dressing
(and beans and carrots for 3 yo)

#2: Honey Mustard BBQ chicken and sides
(roasted potatoes, asparagus, corn)

#2A: spinach salad with steak, asparagus, roasted
potatoes and corn
(and greekyoghurt + fruit puree for baby)


Mark Bittman, where have you been all my life?

One bite of Bittman and I’m tempted to toss out all of my cookbooks, cooking magazines and recipe folders and replace them with only him. If they held Mark Bittman cooking retreats like they do yoga or meditation retreats (not that I’ve ever been on a retreat of any kind, ever), I’d be the first to sign up. He’s that good.

Bittman's Whole Wheat Pancakes

I first heard about Bittman a couple of months ago while he was on a book tour promoting Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating with More Than 75 Recipes. Like Michael Pollan, Bittman tells readers to “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” He outlines how eating less meat (and fish, and dairy products) will not only improve your health and help you lose weight, but will make your environmental footprint much smaller. I’d never seen Bittman’s TV shows (Bittman Takes on America’s Chefs and that uber-schlocky piece of crap Spain: On the Road Again with the ridiculously self-important Mario Batali and his arbitrarily-chosen sidekick Gwyneth Paltrow), never heard of his cookbooks (The Minimalist Cooks, How to Cook Everything/Vegetarian), couldn’t remember reading him in the New York Times when I actually subscribed and had time to read it. What intrigued me about him was not just what he had to say, but how he said it. Casual, cut the crap New Yorker. He had the kind of voice you’d expect to hear from someone frying up your chicken-fried steak, not concocting your cassoulet. So I checked out Food Matters from the library. Then I bought it (OK, I asked my brother to buy it for me). Then I bought another book. And I'm quite certain our little love affair is far from over.

Why Bittman makes my heart go pitter patter:

1) Minimalist, intuitive cooking. His books are all about the idea that cooking can be simple, and the basics learned by just about anyone. Once you’ve gathered some experience, he encourages you to let your tastes, and your imagination, drive what you cook.

2) Pantry cooking. A well-stocked pantry (and freezer) and a little planning ahead mean that you can eat well, and fresh, any meal of the day, any day of the week. And for just as cheap (and almost as fast) as fast food.

3) Doesn’t subscribe to food fads or trends or care much about nutritional science, which is constantly revising itself anyway. Just common sense and real food.

4) Eats butter, uses whole milk in his cooking, but doesn’t REQUIRE you to do it.

5) His recipes are flexible and can be used to fit your tastes, dietary restrictions, what have you.

I’ve tried quite a few of his recipes so far, and my favorites include:

Whole Wheat No-Knead Bread

Whole Wheat Pancakes

Eggplant and Chicken Parmesan (amazing and simple, served with lemon spaghetti)

Porridge, Updated (my version: couscous, fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts and a drizzle of honey and yoghurt)

Not Your Usual Ratatouille

Easy Whole Grain Flatbread

We've been eating much less meat (though you might not know it from my next post), and all in all I just feel a bit lighter in my skin since discovering Mark Bittman.

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