Saturday, August 28, 2010

Tips & Gadgets: How I Ended Pre-Dinner Whining and Got the Kids to Eat More Vegetables

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Like most parents, I've joked, complained, and worried that my kids don't eat enough vegetables. And then I started paying more attention to how I offered them: as an afterthought, with low expectations, and not often enough.

I know I'm not the only one.

My approach here is hardly revolutionary. But it's simple and focuses on a fundamental point in the thriving current discussion about how we feed our children: Give them better choices, and they'll eat better.


My solution has all of us eating more vegetables. And it handles the inevitable whining that rises up just as I start to prepare dinner: "I'm huuuuungry! But I want something to eat now!"

The solution: Crudités. I've been trying to keep a reasonable selection of easy-to-eat vegetables on hand, for myself and the kids. At the first "I'm hungry!" I set out the container and they chow down. After a few days of this, the 3-year-old let out a "whoopee!" as the veggies came out. Seriously.

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My boys haven't cared much for dip, so I've kept it simple -- just veggies, ma'am. Variety is important. Whatever they devour three days in a row then gets ignored for three weeks straight. We've had success with carrots, celery, edamame, jicama, and snap peas. Carrots are the most consistent hit, but even here variety helps: whole tiny carrots, baby carrots, carrots with bits of their green tops, purple carrots. You get the idea.

They nibble, I cook in relative peace, and when the boys sit down for dinner they've taken the edge off their hunger and are less likely to greet their plate with a complaint. And they've already eaten their vegetables!

When I fall off the wagon, I keep a fruit bowl stocked with small, organic apples and plums or other easy-to-eat fruit and they can help themselves. Not as good a choice as pre-dinner vegetables, but I'm fine with it. Bonus: The fruit bowl also resolves the post-dinner "I'm huuuuungry!" just after they've dumped their untouched meal in the sink.

For further reading, check out this article on nudging kids toward better choices at lunch. It's Not About Nutrition has lots of reasonable, easy-to-employ advice.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Second Helping: Yellow Squash and Green Figs Warm Salad

This was inspired in a very tasty one I had a long time ago when I thought salads were doomed to be cold for ever. At that time I was stunned by this new discovery: And when I want to impress my guests, that's the way to go...

The stars of this delicate dish are two of the seasonal items from California, where we live: yellow squash and green figs.  I chose to have the delicate sautéed treats over a bed of cold lamb lettuce (mâche), and had the best style bistro-dinner ever on a midsummer night.

Because the experiment was made too late for the kids to try, I will give it another goal. My plan is to pair it with some slices of crunchy smoked turkey breast stripes or even thin squares of bacon. I might be wrong, but I think they will at least try the warm part of the deal.

Yellow Squash and Green Figs Midsummer Night Dream Salad

This is probably going to do well with another type of greens. My bet is that butter lettuce will work fine. Also, a very important note: Green figs are really green, not figs that are not ripe.

1 tablespoon olive oil
3 medium yellow squash, thinly sliced with a mandoline
4 green figs, peel on, cut in round slices
Sea salt, to taste
1 tablespoon lime juice, freshly squeezed
mâche or other greens

Heat olive oil in a skillet. Over medium heat add squash and fig slices, making sure they sauté evenly without falling apart. Sprinkle with sea salt to taste. Leave to cook for about 7 minutes or about when everything begins to brown, turning once. Add lime juice around pan in drops. Carefully remove squash and figs from the pan, and serve on the top of greens.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Second Helping: Mango Lassi Popsicles

A local market was offering mangoes for just a quarter each, so I bought bags full. Few things are better than perfectly ripe mangoes, and lassi is one of my favorite ways to enjoy them.

If you've never tried lassi, get yourself to the nearest Indian restaurant and try one or three. Or get some mangoes, make some yogurt, and enjoy these popsicles.

Mango Lassi Popsicles

This makes about 2 cups, just enough to fill my 6 Tovolo rocket pop molds. You can find rosewater at well-stocked supermarkets and Indian and Middle Eastern markets. You can go without it, but I find it makes a big difference in the flavor.

flesh from one mango, chopped (about 1 cup), or mango puree
1 cup yogurt
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
1 1/2 teaspoons rosewater
pinch of cardamom

Combine all ingredients in a blender and whir until smooth. Pour into popsicle molds and freeze until firm.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Playdate Special: Coconut Frappé

There are two happy thoughts that always are in my mind when I think about motherhood: The first is to remember how my mom used to feed me. The second is the possibility of being a child again while taking care of my kids. Coconut Frappé brings me both of these feelings when I sip it . My mother used to prepare it in the hot summer of Rio, and I loved it. The simplicity of this recipe is exactly its beauty.
Last playdate I served for all kids: three out of fours enjoyed it, while one was not in the mood not to drink, or eat. Just play.
Mothers also enjoyed it. Darienne would add some cardamom to it, and I am still wondering what else I could add to it.
So, here's the beauty of a very simple drink that looks like milk, smells like summer and mainly makes everybody happy:

Silky Coconut Frappé
I also tried a second version with Almond Vanilla Milk, and loved it. So, if you have a lactose intolerant loved one, that's a good alternative. This recipe is for two cups of frappé.

1/2 cup coconut milk
1 cup 2% milk or Almond Milk (or rice dream, soy etc)
Sugar to taste
6 ice cubes
Shaved unsweetened coconut to garnish

In a blender, mix all in low speed. Serve cold in a tall glass, while the white foam is still there. If you don't have a electric blender, just use a cocktail shaker, but make sure to not strain it.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Second Helping: Beets with Cherry Vinaigrette


As I dropped my first-grader off at day camp, I asked if he wanted anything in particular from the farmer's market.

"Those yellow raspberries," he said. "And beets."

Beets?! It was the kind of response parents dream about, the kind we like to casually mention to friends (and I did): Beets! He asked for beets!

Beets certainly can be a hard sell. I used to think I hated them; it turns out, I don't like canned beets. And I avoid the commonplace red beets. Not because I'm a snob, but because I hate staining my fingers, the cutting board, and my clothes with magenta juice. Gold beets aren't messy, and best of all are chioggia beets. They have beautiful red-and-white rings when sliced, and a nice sweetness. Both are gorgeous on a plate.

Chioggia beets are easiest to find at farmer's markets and in CSA shares, and you should be able to find golden yellow beets at a good produce market. If you have a patch of dirt to spare, trying growing some at home.

My son likes them steamed or roasted, plain, in chunks or slices, sometimes with a bit of butter or olive oil. I like them all these ways and simply grated raw. The first time you offer this to kids, serve the vinaigrette on the side in case it's a deal-killer.

Beets with Cherry Vinaigrette

This makes enough to serve four, with dressing left over. It works nicely on a greens salad, with chicken, and I would think with citrus fruit. Feel free to use all red wine or balsamic vinegar, if you prefer.

3 golden or chioggia beets
For vinaigrette:
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1-2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
6-8 sweet cherries, pitted
salt and pepper to taste
1 or 2 shallots (optional)

Scrub the beets well and wrap each individually in foil. Cook the beets using one of these methods: steam in a pressure cooker for 15 minutes, simmer for 40 minutes, or wrap in foil and bake at 400 degrees for an hour or until tender. Run cooked beets under cold water to cool and slip off skins. (You can store the cooked beets for a few days in the fridge.)

Combine vinaigrette ingredients in a blender and whir until well combined, adjusting seasoning to suit your taste. You can make this ahead and store it in the refrigerator a few days; whisk well before serving.

To serve, slice beets and arrange on serving plates. Drizzle vinaigrette over beets, or serve on the side.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Second Helping: Red Quinoa and Shrimp Tacos

Sometimes a challenge is just what is needed to be creative in my kitchen. Serious Eats was the one to offer me inspiration for this one here: An atypical taco filling recipe? Viva! We all love Mexican classics here, but also we are curious enough to experiment with all sorts of ingredients. As far, of course, that the so-called fusion  becomes a harmonic result despite their different gastronomic culture.

My family had fun with the idea of doing this experiment, and we got together on Sunday night to prepare our unusual tacos. I bought organic shells from my favorite grocery store, and all the other ingredients. I was looking for  lots of textures, some moist, and provoking flavors. And that's all we got with our mix: Tasty jumbo prawns cooked in red sauce, a base of Bolivian quinoa on the bottom of the tacos, the freshness of thinly cut cucumbers and drops of a favorite hot sauce were just a great combination. It was indeed a great end for a sunny Sunday afternoon...and the one to welcome a brand new week.

Red Quinoa and Shrimp with Red Sauce Tacos

I fell in love with organic red quinoa three months ago, when the first packet was exposed in the novelty section from Trader Joe's. I am now using it every week, and completely happy with its nutty taste and unbelievable appearance. The nutrition facts of quinoa are also a winner here: High protein, low fat and lots of minerals are now part of the family menu.

8 taco shells or corn tortillas
24 jumbo or colossal shrimps, cooked in your favorite red sauce
8 tablespoons cooked organic red quinoa (as instructed per package), plus 1 tablespoon of olive oil added at the end of cooking
2 persian cucumbers, thinly sliced
Fresh cilantro, to garnish
Drops of hot sauce,  to taste (optional)

Simmer  jumbo shrimps in your favorite recipe or brand of tomato sauce up to when orange and with a firm flesh. If using already cooked shrimps, heat sauce in a saucer and add the shrimps. Simmer up to when shrimps are curled and firm. Fill each taco, or tortilla, with enough quinoa, a tablespoon of red sauce, 4 shrimps, cilantro and some slices of cucumber. Enjoy!


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