Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Little Monsters Café: Summer Fruit Tartelettes

I wanted something simple and exciting to bring the boys back into a cooking mood. A few hours before our playdate I just had a few ingredients in the fridge to improvise something like a brunch. A bowl full of ripe summer plums and peaches and another with plenty of fresh eggs brought by a friend who has backyard chickens were on the countertop. And some ideas were on my mind. There was also a package of honey graham crackers, left over from a camping trip.

I thought that maybe if the cooking was not going to be challenging, why not bring something else to our get-together? In a few moments I had a plan: I wrote a menu and printed four copies. Then I planned to invite the kids to choose their ingredients for grilled cheese or an omelet, and later they could choose their favorite fruit to top the classic crust of graham cracker crumbs, butter, and sugar.

The Little Monsters Café was then opened. The idea itself put the kids right into the mood for playing and cooking. The  "café" is just a new feature of other ideas we've tried in our playgroup, such as the homemade Little Monsters Root Beer and the homemade cereal bars. Before that, Darienne's boys had a very cute idea, shared with us with a special drive-through in their kitchen. The boys love the idea of designing labels or packages, and this one was no different: They enjoyed creating the layout for the café door, still hanging out there.

When the mini-guests/entrepreneurs left, I was left thinking about the beauty of seeing them growing up. Of their happiness being in charge of choosing their own ingredients, make their own topping for the pie, and being able to be in command. They all loved it. Our lovable Little Monsters...

How to make your own Kid's Café for a playdate:

  • Design a menu with easy-to-prepare items such as grilled sandwiches, omelets, or burritos. Offer a choice of fillings on their menus.
  • Ask the kids to choose the name of their restaurant and to design their signs to open the café.
  • Include a dessert that they can prepare hands on, such as little pies, popsicles, smoothies, or tarts.
  • Invite them to make colorful drawings to turn your front door into the café's entrance.
  • Prepare a menu for each child and help them understand the ingredients if necessary. Have them circle the ingredients they want.
  • Invite them to prepare dessert after eating their entrées. 

Summer Fruit Mini Tartelettes

1 1/2 cups ground graham crackers (we used the crackers from Trader Joe's)
4 tablespoons butter or canola oil spread such as Earth Balance (or more if necessary to achieve a texture good enough to hold the dough and spread on the silicone cupcake pan)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
fruit slices on a tray to help them to choose a topping
brown sugar to sprinkle on the fruit

Preheat oven to 400 F. Combine graham cracker crumbs, butter, and brown sugar in a bowl and blend well. Press into bottoms and up the sides of the cups in a silicone cupcake pan. Top with fruit and sprinkle with brown sugar. Bake for about 10 minutes or when fruit starts to get tender. Serve with a scoop of your favorite ice cream.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Minute Bread, or Pão de Minuto

What if you're having last minute guests and have nothing fancy in the house to serve? And what if you just want to bake something quickly as it's summer and you don't want to let the oven overheat your kitchen? And what if your kids want to eat a nice snack but don't want to wait?

This recipe might be the answer. My auntie used to make it for us when I was a kid, and I have the best memories about it. I remembered how wonderful it was when she announced that the Minute Bread was almost ready. We would wait those endless 15 minutes patiently, because we knew it would be ready in just minutes. As you might know, patience is not something that most kids come equipped with, and that's why this bread is so magic for me. It's fast, looks like bread, and might taste like a delicious cross of a roll and a biscuit.

This recipe is based on a few recipes published on Brazilian cooking websites, including one from Nestlé, that suggests using yogurt to replace milk. This interpretation of them has less of everything: I decreased the sugar, flour, and even baking powder, and substituted canola oil for the suggested fats.

Normally I bake the no-knead bread by Jim Lahey, which takes something like 15 hours to be ready. I love the long process and the amazing results of the method. My kids also enjoy having a slice of the rustic, honest bread, covered with butter. But sometimes this little roll is so easy and so much like comfort food to me, that I fall into temptation, leave my foodie self behind, and just relax and enjoy my kids' company eating one of these, still hot. And then I go back to my childhood memories searching for more recipes to share with my kids...

Minute Bread

2 1/2 cups of all-purpose unbleached flour
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 egg, plus one yolk to brush on top
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup milk or yogurt
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 sticks mozzarella, cut in 1-inch slices (optional, and any other cheese will do) or cubes of salami

Preheat oven to 375 F. Lay a silicone mat on a baking sheet, or lightly oil the sheet. Sift flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt together in a bowl. Form a well in the middle and slowly incorporate the whole egg, milk, and oil with a wooden spoon. When the dough begins to take shape, knead with your hands until it's a nice moist, even dough. If it's still sticking too much to your hands, add more flour but don't go beyond about 3 cups total. Form little balls — like meatballs — filling their core, if you chose to, with mozzarella, cubes of salami, or anything that will make you happy. Set rolls on prepared baking sheet. Beat the egg yolk and brush a little on top of each roll. Bake for about 15 to 18 minutes or until golden. Enjoy while still hot.

P.S. We plan to resume posting twice a week — as usual — in late August, when our kids are going to be back to school.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Easy Blue Cheese Dip

As a toddler, my older son ate almost anything served with "dip-dip," which was usually sweet: ketchup, honey, maple syrup. But he has always made a stinky face at hummus, ranch dressing, baba ghanoush, and any other veggie dip, even as he's grown to love peanut sauce with satay, dipping sauce with pot stickers, and balsamic vinegar and olive oil with bread. I finally figured it out: He likes strong but distinct flavor and hates texture. This easy dip satisfies both criteria: Spreadable blue cheese gives this dip assertive flavor without suspicious-looking blue-tinged chunks of cheese.

Laughing Cow Light Blue Cheese smooths out the tang of yogurt for a smooth, tasty blend. My favorite combination is with non-fat Greek-style yogurt: very low in fat and loaded with protein.

Blue Cheese Dip

I like to make this with non-fat Greek-style yogurt, which gives this a significant protein boost.

4 wedges Laughing Cow Light Blue Cheese
6 tablespoons plain yogurt (regular or Greek-style)
vegetables for dipping

Combine cheese and yogurt in a small bowl and blend well. Serve with vegetables for dipping. Makes about 3/4 cup of dip.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Tips and Gadgets: Nine-Minute Tropical Popsicles

Kids here are having lots of fun with our new pop maker. So much fun that they are always inviting more and more kids to come here and try their recipes. The ZOKU is really efficient: It makes your own personal popsicle in about 7 to 12 minutes, and, if you follow the instructions by the book or reading the tips on its website, it will work perfectly fine.

Our main recipe takes an average of 9 minutes to be ready, not forgetting that the maker hibernates in the freezer for at least 24 hours before its ready to make popsicles, just like an ice cream machine does. The difference is that it requires no energy to work after. And maybe this was the main factor that made up my mind about its coolness.

We had already tested many recipes, but at our last playdate, the choice of ingredients was made by my older kid, who picked some items that I couldn't see how would work together.

But good reviews of his combination of flavors and textures told me  that his recipe actually worked...

Tropical Orange Coconut Popsicle

Each popsicle takes a little bit of everything, totaling about 4 tablespoons of liquid. After inviting our friends to test it I've found out that the main thing is not to spill liquid out of the enclosures, and not take too long to put the sticks.  This recipe is for one popsicle.

1 1/2  tablespoons light coconut milk
1 teaspoon shredded coconut
1 1/2  tablespoons fresh orange juice
Some dark chocolate chips
1/8 teaspoon of vanilla extract
Chocolate syrup (Midnight Moo) right after on the bottom (optional) 

Mix everything and pour into the popsicle maker (or layer them) and follow the instructions with the popsicle maker.

To make sure that we wouldn't be crazy about spilling things, we made them in the back yard. We made about six popsicle all the times we played with it. 


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