Monday, September 27, 2010

The Kids Cook Monday: Sweet Potato Nuggets

For today's The Kids Cook Monday post -- part of the Healthy Monday campaign -- I've got one of our favorite vegetables: sweet potatoes.

Cracking eggs is a tough skill to master, but so much fun
They're full of flavor and, as Anna wrote last week, packed with beta carotene (and fiber!). We love them roasted with other root vegetables, or sliced up as oven-baked fries.

Another fun way to eat them is in the form of croquettes. A fancy term like that makes my kids suspicious, so we call them potato nuggets. My boys wouldn't touch mashed potatoes -- but a crispy breaded coating makes all the difference. You can mix in almost anything your kids might like (a great way to use up leftovers) then bake or pan-fry them. They freeze well, too, making them a great homemade "fast food" for busy days.

Kids who don't mind getting their hands dirty will have fun making these. My 3-year-old picked chicken-and-apple sausage as his mix-in, and handled everything from cracking eggs to squishing nuggets into shape and coating them with bread crumbs.


Sweet Potato Nuggets

This is a very basic recipe you can adapt to suit your taste. Choose deep orange sweet potatoes for maximum nutrition -- and fun.

2 pounds sweet potatoes, cooked and peeled (see note below)
1 teaspoon butter
salt and pepper to taste
optional add-ins: curry powder, chili powder, chopped meat, chopped chives or green onions, parmesan cheese
2 egg whites
1 1/2 cups bread crumbs (I mix regular bread crumbs with panko)

Combine sweet potatoes, butter, salt and pepper, and any spices in a large bowl and mash with a fork or masher. Stir in any extras, such as chopped meat or herbs. Refrigerate until well chilled.

Put egg whites in a shallow bowl and stir briefly with a fork or small whisk. Put bread crumbs in another shallow bowl.

To form nuggets, scoop up a tablespoon or so of the potato mixture and shape into a nugget or ball. Dip into egg white and then into bread crumbs.

To freeze: Arrange nuggets on a plate or pan and set in the freezer for a few hours. Store frozen nuggets in a sealed freezer bag; take them straight out of the bag to bake.

To bake in the oven (my preferred method): Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Set nuggets on a parchment-lined baking sheet and spray lightly with olive oil or cooking spray. Bake for 20 minutes or until nuggets are lightly browned and crispy.

To pan-fry: Lightly spray a non-stick pan with olive oil or cooking spray. Cook nuggets over medium heat for a few minutes on each side until lightly browned and crispy. (You can also fry them in oil.)

Note: To cook sweet potatoes, wash them well and prick them with a fork. Rub with oil and bake in a 400 degree oven for 30 to 60 minutes or until soft. Or set on a white paper towel in the microwave and cook on high 12 to 18 minutes for four potatoes. Or cut peeled potatoes in 1 1/2-inch chunks and cook in a pressure cooker for 5 minutes.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Finding Love for Vegetables

080711garden harvest06
Harvesting chamomile among the garden veggies

The New York Times just reported on an interesting study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found Americans aren't eating their vegetables. A quarter of us don't eat veggies three times a day, and all together we're eating half the vegetables health experts recommend.

I certainly struggle: I expect my kids to eat their veggies, even to crave veggies, but I certainly don't model that kind of enthusiasm. The problems the NYT article points out -- particularly the time needed to prep fresh vegetables -- resonate in my home. The kids don't mind vegetables; it's the grownups who tend to dismiss them.

My family has been trying to put vegetables more front and center in our lives and on our plates. We converted a good amount of our tiny yard into a garden, and the edible plants -- which grow with little attention from me beyond watering -- are now spilling over into our front yard. I take one of my boys to the farmer's market each week, and the kids help choose the week's produce. We have more meatless meals. But when we're pressed for time, vegetables are the first thing to get cut from our meals. And they're an afterthought at snack time.

I'm acutely aware that I'm lucky to be able to offer as many good vegetables as I do, and that it still isn't enough. I have enough land and time to grow a modest garden, learning as I fumble through the seasons. I have time to go the farmer's market, and a child who makes the outing easy to manage. The veggies at the market are fresher, taste better, and are cheaper than what I find at the grocery store. I love that food stamps can be used at the farmer's market, but there's still the challenge of finding time for a market visit, getting there, and prepping all that fresh stuff.

080629zucchini2The idea of vegetables as "high art," as the Times article puts it, spells big trouble. Snobbery when it comes to vegetables is ridiculous -- and yet I worry I'm adding to the problem when I write here about an unusual vegetable that might be unavailable at a big-box grocery store, or hard to find outside my small corner of the world.

I was happy to see results of another study looking at Alice Waters' Edible Schoolyard program: "Students who gardened ate one and half servings more of fruits and vegetables a day than those who weren’t in the program." You might have seen early this year the Atlantic Monthly's overwrought essay excoriating the program as a detraction from the education of our kids. A schoolyard garden isn't going to solve all the woes of our educational system, but I find it impossible to argue with teaching children how to grow, prepare, and enjoy their own food. You can of course tie in math, botany, reading, and more, but frankly I'm happy enough to see kids learn a bit of self-sufficiency and indulge their curiosity.

We're a month into the school year, and the most excited I've seen my first-grader has been when he's telling me about the bean-growing experiment his class is conducting, and his visits to the school garden. While I can't get him to help in our home garden, at school he was thrilled to nibble on raw zucchini, sample midget cantaloupe and yellow watermelon, and plant seeds for the winter growing season. He learned that while he doesn't care much for the big, thick broccoli stalks common at stores, the slender home-grown broccoli is pretty tasty. I agree -- so I've tucked some broccoli seeds in our small garden.

Small, simple steps.

Does your family eat enough vegetables?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Tips and Gadgets: Super Powerful Foods!

You probably heard about the wonders of some kind of foods. Their power may reside in the mineral or vitamin content.  The anti-aging factor of some other super-duper-foods  is the one that  makes them so special. And their uniqueness also can be just the amazing amount of protein that one plant boasts, even more than some well known sources of protein. But for me, besides all of those precious nutritional elements, the flavor and what I call "cooking potential" also counts a lot on the choice. Here's a list of my favorite super foods, links for further reading and some recipes that include them!

  • Almonds - Vitamin E, Calcium, Folic Acid, anti-oxidants. You  - or they - name it. Almonds are one of my favorite snacks, and slowly I am adding them into lots of dishes in my home. Also we are recently using Almond Milk in my husband's diet which excludes dairy. It is delicious and it is said to lower cholesterol.
  • Blueberries - Want to grow old without going old? Blueberries are your best friends on the long run. Kids love it, so you'd better be happy with those miraculous berries. Livestrong says that nothing else works as a prevention against many possible diseases in life. Here's one cute recipe to celebrate its powers.
  • Broccoli _ Vitamin C, plus Vitamin C and more Vitamin C. The  beautiful broccoli has lots of fiber and brings just goodness to many dishes : no cholesterol, sugar or fat. I always have plenty of it in my refrigerator. It's added to mac and cheese, pizzas , casseroles and the kids now know it it as a every day food.
  • Garlic - I grew up believing that no other remedy would work as well on a very bad cold than garlic tea. Yuk, right?!  Later on I found out that garlic can be added to any kind of hot food and its pungent and sweet flavor is just the right seasoning for almost everything. Now, living very close to Gilroy (CA), I am still in love with garlic. And this link  from Web MD proves that the old sayings from Brazilian shamans might have scientific support somehow.
  • Green Beans - Versatile, crunchy and loaded with Vitamin K, which is a regulator of blood clotting. Besides lots of other vitamins, green beans add a generous amount of fiber in the diet. Here you can read more about its properties. 
  • Oranges _ Both explorers and pirates knew its benefits, and up to now, no fruit is capable to beat the wonderful qualities of oranges. The one in the picture belongs to my very own tree! And I can guarantee that all family benefits from its goodness. Besides the well know protective Vitamin C, it has folate, lots of fiber and even Calcium. As Dr. Sears points out here it is one of the fabulous fruits for everybody - and it's higher content of vitamins is in the rind, and not on the juice so don't clean it all when preparing it for the kids.
  • Quinoa _ This is one of my favorite super foods. Its nutty flavor is an amazing addition to many good recipes, and its protein amount is absolutely superb: about 12 grams per 100g of produce, which is quite an achievement for a plant. Also, its history is full of charm. According to the book A Cook's Guide to Grains (Jenni Muir), it was cultivated by the Incas about 5 to 8 thousand years ago and many studies consider it the ultra super food for the future. It is on our table today after the Spanish conquistadores brought it from the ancient native people. Now the scientists know why it was considered a sacred food: besides lots of protein, it brings B vitamins, and many important minerals to your plate. The one in the picture is a bowl of organic red quinoa, my favorite.
  • Salmon _ I mostly choose the Alaskan Sockeye Wild catch. The famous Omega-3 oils are all there and latest studies  show that these oils play a definite role on brain formation and healthy hearts. Usually we sear it or broil it to keep its moisture.
  • Sweet Potatoes - Its deep orange flesh carries all the beauty of this root. Sweet Potato was found to be one of the oldest types of food in the world, and many sources suggest that its origin is Central America. The main factors that qualify it as super food: huge amount of Vitamin A (Beta-Caroten). It provides more than three times of the recommended amount for our daily diet. One of my favorite ways of cooking it? With olive oil and zaatar, as here.
  • Yogurt _ Probiotics _ aka lactobacillus colonize a healthy digestive system - and high protein are the very well know properties of this lovely Make it With Milk product. Here we have a wonderful recipe to produce yours : Darienne has mastered the art of preparing it.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Second Helping: Herbal Strawberry Galette

100906_CPE_strawberry galette

This galette is a celebration of summer, a last explosion of bright berry flavor tucked into a here-comes-fall pastry crust. I couldn't decide between yesterday's Rosemary Fig Galette and this version for a potluck playdate at Anna's. So I made both -- because these free-form pies are that easy.

Herbal Strawberry Galette

A simple sugar paste with lemon verbena leaves added a lovely touch to this simple dessert. You can use the same technique with any herbs you like. Like yesterday's fig galette, this makes a small pie to feed six comfortably. Double the recipe if you wish.

1/2 single pie crust (use a refrigerated crust, your favorite recipe, or this pâte brisée recipe)
2 cups sliced strawberries
2 tablespoons herbal sugar paste
1 tablespoon sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine strawberries and sugar paste in a large bowl, and let sit for about 10 minutes.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll out dough into a roughly 8" round or square and set on the parchment paper. Lay out strawberry slices in the center of the dough, leaving a 1 1/2- to 2-inch border. (With a round, you can invert a bowl in the center and press lightly to mark where the fruit will go. With a square, try marking the corners with pieces of fruit.) Carefully fold up the edges, pleating where necessary.

Lightly brush the edges of the dough with water and sprinkle with sugar (or rub with additional sugar paste). Bake for 20 to 28 minutes, until dough is golden brown and crispy.

Herbal Sugar Paste

I started off with lemon verbena sugar paste from Jerry Traunfeld's The Herbfarm Cookbook. The technique would work well with other herbs such as mint, lemon balm, and basil.

1 part lightly packed leaves
2 parts sugar

Process sugar and leaves in a food processor until they form a paste. Store any leftovers in the freezer.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Playdate Special: Rosemary Fig Galette


My mother can turn out beautifully formed breads, elaborately frosted cakes, perfectly crimped pie crusts. My baked goods tend to be misshapen and listing, if not actually collapsing. Thankfully they taste better than they look.

Galettes -- simple free-form tarts -- are the perfect dessert for the imperfect baker. They're quick, easy, and adaptable. Stockpile some dough in the freezer, be it Pillsbury pie crusts or homemade pâte brisée. When you're in the mood for pie but not for fussiness, pull a hunk of dough out of the freezer, roll it out, top it with whatever fruit's in season, and stick it in the oven. Voilà -- a fresh, elegant, and delicious dessert.

Using enough dough for half a single-crust pie yields a small galette, just the right size to devour after dinner without leftovers tempting you for days.

This one combines figs, rosemary, and honey for a savory fruit pie. Tomorrow I'll have another galette capturing a last burst of summer flavor.


Rosemary Fig Galette

This makes a modestly sized galette, enough to serve six. If you want a larger dessert, double the recipe.

1/2 single pie crust (use a refrigerated crust, your favorite recipe, or the recipe for Pâte Brisée below)
2 cups sliced black figs
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary (about 2 4" sprigs)
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon raw sugar

100904_first figs
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Warm honey briefly in the microwave so it pours easily. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll out dough into a roughly 8" round or square and set on the parchment paper. Lightly brush dough with honey, setting aside remaining honey. Lay out fig slices in the center of the dough, leaving a 1 1/2- to 2-inch border. (With a round, you can invert a bowl in the center and press lightly to mark where the fruit will go. With a square, try marking the corners with pieces of fruit.) Drizzle figs with remaining honey and sprinkle rosemary on top. Carefully fold up the edges, pleating where necessary. Don't worry about making it too pretty!

Lightly brush the edges of the dough with water and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 20 to 28 minutes, until dough is golden brown and crispy.

Pâte Brisée

This makes enough for one double-crust pie, two single-crust pies, or four small galettes. It freezes perfectly: Just thaw on the counter for an hour before using.

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour (can replace with all-purpose flour)
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1/2 cup or more of ice water

Combine flour, salt, and butter in the work bowl of a food processor, and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal, about 10 seconds. If there are big chunks of butter let, pulse a few times more until the butter bits are about the same size.

With machine running, slowly pour ice water through the feed tube -- start with 1/4 cup. Pulse until the dough holds together and isn't too wet or sticky. You don't want to process it for more than 30 seconds or so. If you can squeeze a small amount together, it's done. If it's still crumbly, mix in a spoonful of water at a time with your hands.

Divide the dough into two equal balls and wrap them in plastic. Chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour. Flatten each ball into a disc and wrap in plastic, then chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour before using.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Playdate Special: Scissors Salad for The Kids Cook Monday

Great headlines here: Three boys from 3 to 6 years old ate all their salad bowl at a playdate.

Yay! Before too much of a celebration, I must make a confession: I've been truly obsessed about developing a new way of thinking about how I feed my kids. That perhaps -- following my intuition -- they trust me as a good reference for what to eat as much as they trust my suggestions for how to dress. And as many other things in life, they might think that if I think it's just no big deal for them to eat salad, they will do it. Naturally. I've been working on this change lately, so to accept that they might even like and eat what I don't, something like roe and osso bucco.

I am learning to be more open-minded with two close sources of mine: My mother-in-law and husband proudly eat and happily try anything labeled or called edible food. One of my boys goes with the same DNA. For me and somehow my older kid, things are a bit more complicated, and we love all the good-looking foods but sometimes not all greens and types of meat and foods with unusual textures. That might also run in the DNA. But I promise, at least we will try to eat that something that just doesn't look so yummy.

Before I go too deep into the troubled waters of the classic debate "nature vs. nurture," I will just share here something very, very easy: a strategy to turn "making salad" into play time. To ease our way into eating the ultimate green – aka lettuce -- I invited the kids to help me with scissors, plastic lettuce knives, a oil mister, and garlic “sprinkles.”

When I served the salad itself, I gave them the power of chopping the already-cut leaves into smaller pieces, and also the possibility of using the dressing (at the playdate we served Organic Light Balsamic form Newman's Own) and sprinkling croutons, served with shaved Parmesan cheese.

Scissors Salad

fresh bread, cut into 1/2-inch dice
olive oil
garlic powder


3 hearts Romaine lettuce, chopped in large pieces
2 cups shaved Parmesan cheese

Suggested dressing:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice or balsamic vinegar
4 tablespoons apple juice
1/2 teaspoon basil
Salt to taste

Prepare the croutons ahead of time. You can ask the kids to sprinkle the diced bread with garlic powder and spray the olive oil with the aid of a mister. Bake for about 6 minutes in a 300F pre-heated oven.

Cut lettuce leaves and dry them well. Mix the dressing. Serve the lettuce in a bowl with a pair of scissors (we used a kid's Fiskar), the dressing, croutons and cheese on the side. Have fun!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Back to School Lunches: Spanish Omega-3 Omelette

As Darienne pointed out in her post last Monday, it is very important that the kids get some fun when opening their lunchbox, and are somehow proud and surprised about the goodies they may find in their box (bento or thermos) to avoid comparisons and boredom.

I love the idea of including stickers or a treat, and also love the small plates idea. After dedicating some time to sit and talk with my son about the options, I remembered an old favorite in our home that might work well with our best intentions: tapas.

So here follows an interpretation of one of my favorite tapas I had in Spain and find to be a good option, as it can be served hot or cold. My plan is always to send it in the box with toothpicks so that my kindergartner  will find it irresistible.

Spanish Omega-3 Omelette

I mainly like to use Omega-3 cage-free eggs, which I find to be really a good choice. Also, I added just a touch of smokiness in the recipe, but it is really not needed, with micro-bits of bacon or salmon.
Also, to make the process really easy, I bake the potato in the microwave the night before, so that it is all ready to be prepared in the morning rush. I use organic red potatoes, as they have a better texture for the omelette and can be fried with the peel on, keeping their fiber and vitamins.

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon smoked bacon or salmon, micro diced (optional)
1 tablespoon white onions, micro diced
1/2 baked potato, cut in thin slices
2 eggs, beaten

Heat olive oil in a medium skillet. Add bacon (or smoked salmon) and onions and fry them over low-medium heat. Add potatoes and make them crisp, frying each side for about 3 minutes. Add beaten eggs and close the skillet with a loose lid, plate or even another skillet over low heat for about 4 minutes.

Open pan, making sure that the all eggs are cooked. Now you can turn the omelette with the help of the other skillet or with a spatula to make sure both sides have the same texture.

Wait a few minutes so the omelette doesn't deflate, and when it's almost cold cut it in squares or your kid's favorite shape with a pizza cutter.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Back to School Lunches: What to Pack?

As parents who are passionate about food, we want our kids to eat at school as well as they do at home, and making that happen is not always a piece of ... ahem ... birthday cake.

Below, we offer some food for thought and an abundance of ideas to help inspire creative, fun lunches.

First day of school lunch: ABC cookies, blackberries, cherry tomatoes, carrots, a piece of taffy, and skewers with salami, cheese, and olives.

Understand that we are in a competition

Packing your child's lunch isn't just about providing nutritious food to fuel him for a full day of school. It's a strategic, competitive process. Give some thought to what principles you'll fall on your sword for, and what you're willing to concede.

Darienne's concession: I always include something my son will see as a treat, something school doesn't sell and the other kids don't have. It could be a piece of salt-water taffy or a tiny container of balsamic vinegar and olive oil for dipping bread.

Anna's idea: My older boy starts to have lunch just in November, so we are working on a monthly menu with pictures and options. The idea behind it is to give the almost-6-year-old the power to choose. One day of the week he can choose "Mystery Lunch" to be surprised.

Ask questions

Ask your child about her lunch after school. What did you like? What didn't you like? Why didn't you eat the pickle? I thought you loved pickles! What did other kids have?

Many kids complain they don't have enough time to eat. Make sure everything is easy to get to -- clementines are peeled, for example, and extra packaging is minimal. Perhaps use a small reusable container for milk or water. When Darienne sends juice, she packs a box because her son can't always find an adult to help with the trickier juice pouch.

Anna also plans to send juice boxes. Because her family is reducing juice to once a day, he knows the box is to be enjoyed with his lunch -- taking advantage of that fact that he is very hungry at school and a box of juice won't ruin his appetite.

When your child gushes about someone else's lunch, steal some good ideas or have a conversation about food. Avoid disparaging a classmate's junk food, but do have a positive conversation about how the food in your child's lunch bag helps her grow and become strong.

Tiny food: Quail eggs, a clementine, onigiri, blackberries, melon, raspberries and champagne grapes.

Think small

Small bits of food are quick to eat, and they allow more room for variety. When Darienne packs a full-size sandwich and an apple, she typically sees both come back home nearly untouched. If she packs several tiny things, nearly everything gets devoured, or at least sampled.

Asian markets and stores are great resources for small, packaged foods and containers to put it all in. 
One idea is to study some small plates dishes and finds which ones are your kid's favorite flavors and textures.

Allow some fun

Buying lunch at school is a Very Big Deal for a young child. Letting kids buy lunch -- maybe once or twice a week -- might make them more agreeable to home-packed meals the rest of the week.

Give them something to smile about. Darienne's first-grader was excited to show off polka-dot fruit roll-ups, which he is proud to have inspired over at Fix Me A Snack. Make all the food the same color, draw a funny face on a marshmallow with a food coloring marker, or tuck in a sticker. Your kid will love it.

What to pack?

A few ideas to get you started:
  • stir-fried tofu cubes
  • meatballs (Aidell's and Trader Joe's varieties are good choices)
  • mini chicken sausages (again, Aidell's makes some tasty ones)
  • pot stickers
  • onigiri
  • small pasta shapes lightly dressed with olive oil and parmesan cheese or pesto
  • hard-cooked eggs (try quail eggs, available in Asian markets)
  • beans dressed with a little vinaigrette or lemon juice
  • small salad with a lemon wedge 
  • food easy to serve with toothpicks, such as slices of sausages, veggies and cheese cubes (use round-tip toothpicks for reusable blunt skewers, available at Asian markets, if you're worried about pointy objects)
  • small plates favorites
  • savory muffins
  • bread with a bit of tapenade, bean spread, or jam
  • mini meatloaf
  • mini pita bread sandwiches
  • grown-up food, such as olives and gherkins
  • pretzels
  • crudités: carrots, jicama, snap peas, edamame, celery, cherry tomatoes, sweet pepper
  • coleslaw or grated carrot salad
  • small, whole fruit: apples, berries, plums, clementine, grapes (champagne grapes are fun), baby bananas
  • melon wedges
  • applesauce
  • dried fruit, including raisins, apricots, mango, prunes, roll-ups and strips, etc. For variety, look for less-common options, like banana chips and dried hibiscus flowers.
  • a marshmallow
  • a fortune cookie
  • a graham cracker spread with jam or Nutella
  • a "raw" s'more 
What are some of your favorite foods to pack?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Back to School Lunches: Brown Rice Onigiri

CPE_Sept10_onigiri soy wrapper2

We're kicking off a week of Back to School Lunches with the start of another new feature: The Kids Cook Monday!

We've been invited to help Healthy Monday with its Kids Cook Monday campaign by posting great meals and snacks families can make together. Of course, we said yes! Quite a few family-oriented food blogs have signed on, and we're delighted to participate. We encourage you to check out the website for Healthy Monday, a 5-year-old public health project in association with Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University and Syracuse University. And check back here on Mondays for our ideas.

And all this week, we'll share recipes and tips for packing your child's lunch bag. We have three preschoolers, two kindergartners, and one first-grader among us -- and lots of ideas for packing meals kids will enjoy.

CPE_Sept10_onigiri soy wrapper1Onigiri is a favorite lunch bag treat for my boys, and something they can help make. Onigiri are essentially Japanese rice balls. You can make them with just rice, or tuck inside bits of diced meats, vegetables, pickles, eggs, whatever. It's a handy way to use up leftover bits from dinner.

Kids can help make onigiri a day or two ahead. You can freeze them for longer storage, but be sure to zap them in the microwave in the morning. They don't taste as good if you leave them alone to thaw.

CPE_Sept10_F makes onigiri

Short-grain rice is easiest to work with. These are impossible to make with long-grain rice -- don't even try! I have a hard time getting brown rice to work with onigiri molds (my 3-year-old loves the wooden flower one in the photo above), but I've had no trouble shaping the rice with the plastic wrap technique described below.

Traditionally, onigiri are wrapped with nori, but my kids don't care for the roasted seaweed sheets. I leave them unwrapped or use colorful SushiParty Soy Wrappers (I find them at Asian markets; go to their website to order online). The variety pack -- including turmeric yellow, paprika orange, and spinach green -- really brightens up a plate.

Finally, you can carefully toast onigiri on the stove top, to make yaki onigiri. One of my boys loves his yaki onigiri brushed with a bit of low-sodium soy sauce. Yum!

Brown Rice Onigiri

Be sure to use short- or medium-grain brown rice (you can substitute white rice). Long-grain, basmati, jasmine rice and the like won't work! This looks like an involved project, but it really takes just minutes once you get the hang of it.

2 cups short-grain brown rice, freshly cooked and hot
optional fillings, diced
nori or soy wrappers, optional
small bowl or cup
plastic wrap

CPE_Sept10_onigiri layout

Get everything ready for assembling the onigiri. Have fresh, hot rice ready to go with a small spoon for scooping. In a bowl, mix a generous amount of salt with water, which will help keep the rice from sticking to everything. Set out the diced filling options -- you only need a small amount -- on a plate. If you're using wrappers, cut them into wide strips. Keep the roll of plastic wrap close at hand.

Tear off a small bit of plastic wrap and lay it in a bowl. Have your child dip his hands in the salted water and sprinkle a bit onto the plastic wrap. He can scoop out a small amount of rice into the bowl, then sprinkle a spoonful or so of filling in the middle. Top it off with another spoonful of rice.

CPE_Sept10_onigiri filling

CPE_Sept10_onigiri wrapCPE_Sept10_onigiri shapeThe next step might require a grownup's help: Pull of the sides of the plastic wrap around the rice and twist, packing the rice together. Use your hands to shape your onigiri: You can make a broad oval, a triangle, a square, or a ball.

Remove the plastic wrap. If you're using nori or soy wrappers, you can wrap it around the onigiri now or, if you don't want the wrapper to soften and get a little soggy, when you're ready to eat it. Wrap the finished onigiri neatly in fresh plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator or freezer.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Second Helping: More Than S'mores


100829_smores_9S'mores are a thing of beauty: warm marshmallow oozing over melting chocolate, held in place -- barely -- between two crisp graham crackers. Pure sugary heaven for a kid; as a grownup, however, I enjoy one and then I'm done.

But I fell in love with s'mores all over again thanks to my friend Melissa, who blew my mind with a full smorgasbord of s'mores options. Lemon meringue pie in s'more form was a revelation. And the peanut butter, banana and chocolate s'more sent me over the moon.

I can't believe I hadn't heard of these before. If you've been similarly deprived, I'm revealing all right here -- just in time for Labor Day cookouts!

CPE_Sept10_meringue smore

Lemon Meringue S'more

1 marshmallow
2 Lorna Doone shortbread cookies
1 spoonful lemon curd

Toast marshmallow over fire or grill. Spread lemon curd on one cookie, add toasted marshmallow, then top with second cookie.

Fluffernutter S'more

Use any of the following toppings that make you happy. All of them in one s'more made me very, very happy.

1 marshmallow
2 Nutter Butter cookies
2 slices banana
1 square Hershey chocolate bar

Toast marshmallow over fire or grill. Put banana slices on one cookie, add chocolate square, then toasted marshmallow, then top with second cookie.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Tips and Gadgets: How I helped kids to eat more greens...and a recipe

Last post by Darienne was a delightful example of how to give a little help with kid's appetite for veggies. I am also a believer: If you offer them veggies at the right time and with a beautiful presentation, they will eat it. Add to that the few years that all of our kids have been seeing trays full of veggies besides cookies trays in birthday parties and playdates. That was also certainly a big step towards familiarity with the greens and colorful edible plants.

Here in my kitchen things are somehow different, so that Darienne's solution will probably take a special momentum to work - my kids rarely beg for food even when very hungry. I mainly have to call them 3 to 5 times before they come to the table. And when they start eating, they do their job with some interruptions, mainly to play or to annoy each other. So I mostly cook in peace. And eat ...ahem...  in a not so peaceful mood.

The way I lately found to awake their appetite for more greens (mainly because the greens are the ones they may separate in their plate) was to start talking about salads an veggies as I would talk about chocolate. And also I started eating my lunch with tons of greens on my plate, in front of them, and could not stop giving the best review about what I was eating. Yummm, how delicious... etc.
It took me one week to convert the 5.5- and 3.5-year-old boys in occasional salad eaters.

Last weekend, for an instance, they were thrilled to try salad  for "grown-ups" at my favorite local pizzeria. A simple version of a Caesar's salad came all pretty in a nice bowl and the bites of croutons made my task easy. They found out that the fresh romaine lettuce was as crunchy as the bits of toasted garlic bread, and the Parmesan cheese also was a great note to attract them.
When pizza arrived they were so happy - they ate their salad and were stealing cherry tomatoes from their dad's House Salad.

I also include veggies in their favorite dishes. Fresh zucchini, broccoli and spinach always appear mingled with pasta, meatballs or meatloaf. They can see them all, nothing is hidden or over-processed to be acceptable. When very inspired and having more than the usual 20 minutes to cook, I can do what I used to call "colorful" rice. The irresistible rice has lots of different colors in it, and they eat all of them.

Rice of Many Colors

What we have here is a kind of cute mix of colors, but you can do with whatever fresh is in your fridge. Rice and scrambled eggs always have been a quick choice for me when I was a kid. Also kids can help you to cook it, stirring throwing the ingredients in the skillet or even chopping them with a Progressive knife.

1 tablespoon canola oil or olive oil
1/2 cup tiny cubes of kid's favorite smoked cut (tofu, lean bacon, ham, sausage or really any kind of protein
4 strings of green beans, cut in tiny slices
2 tablespoons green peas (or edamame)
2 tablespoon red cabbage
Kosher salt to taste
2 eggs
4 cups cooked organic brown rice, cooked as directed by packet
Spring onion (or chives), cut in rings to decorate
1 tomato, cubed, seeded, to decorate

Heat oil in a skillet and sauté your choice of protein and stir-fry all veggies. Set them aside, in a corner of the skillet. Add eggs and scramble them. Add rice and mix all to a colorful pattern. Serve in a bowl with spring onions and tomatoes on top.


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