Friday, January 28, 2011

Stone Soup: A Recipe From an Old Folk Tale

Few things in a kid's universe fascinate me more than children's stories. They can be so inspiring that they can lead to new ways to play - even in the kitchen.
The recipe below - our 200th - was developed based on the book Stone Soup, a version of the folk story retold and illustrated beautifully by Jon J. Muth, chosen by one of my son's school teacher.

So, before taking this recipe to be prepared by the group of kids in the Cooking Club at school, I tried to make it with the boys of our playgroup.  First I thought about carving chicken bouillon cubes to transform them into little stones, but that was not as easy as I imagined. So I asked Darienne if she thought they they could pretend that those cubes were stones. And she was mostly sure they could.

She was right.

During our playdate the kids got interested in the preparation of the soup and listened carefully to the old  folk tale. They were all happy to cut, chop, break and throw the ingredients in the pot of the slow cooker.  Too happy to pour a huge amount of garlic powder in the pot ... Afterward they were too busy to try it - but we did. The test here made me adjust the presentation of many of the ingredients and to make it easier to cut  and chop.

Like what happened with the Scissors Salad: Kids at the school Cooking Club  were motivated not just to contribute with one of each of the ingredients but also to eat more than two servings each. We were all so happy with all that celebration! They each had a packet of ingredients. Every step of the process was related to parts of the book, so that they could see that the soup was getting better and smelling good. I hope that this recipe is also going to make part of their childhood memory when they grow up, as the story that inspired it.

Stone Soup

I pre-cooked frozen peas and carrots to shorten the time for cooking the soup. I cooked both with water in the microwave for six minutes in high power.

8 cups boiling water
4 cubes (or "stones," if you want to pretend!) of chicken bouillon (I used one without  MSG -- monosodium glutamate -- from Herb-Ox)
1 packet instant noodles (discard soup base, use just noodles)
1 bowl instant rice noodles (discard seasoning packet)
4 mushrooms, sliced
4-6 leaves bok choy, chopped
2 carrots, sliced
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 cup firm tofu, cut in cubes
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dill
1/2 teaspoon basil
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground peppercorns
2 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce

Bring water to a boil, and add to the slow cooker, setting it on high. Add bouillon cubes and close the lid. Gradually add each ingredient, and at the end stir the soup to mix all the ingredients and help dissolve the cubes. Return pot to the slow cooker. Let it cook for about 10 minutes or until noodles are ready. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Maple Butter

110104_CPE_maple butter_2

Once the frosty magic of early winter gave way to the bleak, barren New England winter of February, when the ice had worn out its welcome and the snow was sullied by a season's worth of sand and salt, I looked forward to sugar shack season. On an unseasonably warm weekend each winter, my family would pile into the car and head to a sugar shack, where maple syrup -- and maple sugar candy! -- is made.

I don't know if the shacks are more tourist-oriented these days, but the places we went all seemed the same: We'd pass through the humid main building to sit at a rickety picnic table, set on pea gravel in a drafty, plastic-sheet-covered porch. The pancakes were never as good as my mom's -- probably made from a mix -- and there was always a wet, smelly dog running around looking for extras. But the syrup was heavenly, and for a few months after we savored the pure syrup we brought home in a little plastic jug.

That probably began my love affair with maple syrup. The relationship deepened two decades ago when I went to Quebec on a school trip. We stopped at a roadside spot for maple butter slathered on warm French bread, and I haven't been able to forget that spread.

This is not that butter. At least, I don't think it is. Authentic maple butter doesn't have any butter in it. It's a process of heating and reheating syrup, but it requires precise temperatures and I'm not up for the challenge right now. As soon as typed that, I began thinking... hm, I really should try it. When I do I'll report here. In the meantime, though, this easy spread will do just fine.

110104_CPE_maple butter_3

Maple Butter

Enjoy this on toast, waffles, pancakes, muffins, popovers, and more. We enjoyed them with Whole Wheat Ginger Scones.

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup pure maple syrup

Combine butter and maple syrup in a mixer bowl. Using whisk attachment, blend with stand mixer (or mix with a fork) until smoothly combined. Store in the refrigerator.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Chocolate Workshop - Fleur de Sel Bonbons

Some days I wake up looking for trouble. That was the case on a rainy Tuesday morning. While looking for new gadgets in one of my favorite stores, Sur la Table, I envisioned chocolate bonbons shaped like alphabet letters, some fleur du sel over them, and a chance of having fun with the kids -- and chocolate all over the place.

But sometimes trouble is good for the creative mind.  The kids, during our chocolate workshop, couldn't agree more: They were totally fascinated by the idea of having the chance to mix up and prepare their own bonbons.

Brothers H.Stewart were arty and created all sorts of marbled chocolate goodies with their mold. They were happy to use all the ingredients on the table, from coconut sprinkles to mini-marshmallows and the ingredient of the day, the beautiful fleur de sel. They were also happy to use dried rosemary as a way to finish their art.

My boys were too enticed by the alphabet shape, were splashing chocolate all over the place, but finally succeeded to fill each mold with both white and dark chocolate. It took about 15 minutes in the fridge to get all ready. Taking the photos of the bonbons, for Darienne, was a task of a master-mom -- they didn't give us enough time to gaze at their creations and ate it all in few minutes. But then, that's probably what we all would do, isn't it?

Fleur de Sel Chocolate Bonbons

You can use any good chocolate to melt. My recommendation is to go with quality brand discs or chips, like Ghirardelli,  Guittard, or  Trader Joe's.

fleur de sel (a very special salt, from France)
dried rosemary
2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
2 ounces white chocolate
2 ounces milk chocolate
dehydrated unsweetened coconut flakes
mini marshmallows

You will also need:
chocolate or candy molds
3 heatproof bowls

Melt chocolate in the microwave. Depending on the amount of cocoa, the chocolate will react differently to heat, but as a guide, melt 1 ounce of chocolate for 3 minutes at 40 percent (or 6 minutes for 2 ounces) power. If the chocolate is not yet melted, go for more time. An alternative is to improvise a double boiler with hot water in a plate, setting a bowl over it filled with chocolate. That worked fine to melt the white chocolate chips.

Work at a table, giving different candy molds for each kid to work with. They fill the shapes pouring chocolate from the bowls with the help of small spoons or spatulas and can create their own mix. When finished, they may sprinkle some fleur de sel over it.

Leave in the refrigerator for 15 minutes and that might be enough time for the chocolate to harden and retract from the sides of the mold, making it easy to remove them -- they should just pop out. If they don't -- as happened here with the alphabet letters -- return them to the fridge for a little longer.

Enjoy them before they vanish from the tray! And don't worry about the mess -- you will have plenty of energy to clean it after one bonbon!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Whole Wheat Ginger Scones


I keep hoping for a perfect guilt-free baked good, but there's always a price to pay -- in taste, in buttery softness, in the quality of ingredients.

That said, I'm pretty happy with this healthier scone recipe. It uses two types of wheat flour to get most of the benefits of wheat with relatively little cost in terms of texture. They're quick to prepare, making them a great after-school snack, and they hold up well in a lunchbox.

Kids have had mixed reactions to the zip of candied ginger in these scones. My older son suggested they would be better with icing on top, then proceeded to eat three small scones -- no icing -- one day and two more the next. Then a girl with a crush on him told him they were too spicy, and now he doesn't like them any more. I'll try dried currants or cranberries next time.


Whole Wheat Ginger Scones

I like these with uncrystallized candied ginger (I found some at Trader Joe’s). You can easily substitute other dried fruits: currants, blueberries, raisins, apricots, dates.

1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 cup wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup butter, chilled and cut into chunks
1/2 cup candied ginger, chopped
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 egg (or 1/4 cup egg substitute)
1/2 cup milk, plus more to brush on top of scones (can substitute half-and-half, cream, or buttermilk)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and sugar in the work bowl of a food processor and pulse briefly to combine. Add butter chunks and pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. (Alternatively, combine dry ingredients in a bowl and cut in butter using two knives or a pastry blender.) Sprinkle in ginger, being sure to separate any clumps, and stir in lemon zest.

In a small bowl, whisk together egg and milk. Pour blended eggs and milk into flour mixture and stir just until moist. Don’t overmix!

Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead, briefly and gently, just until mixture comes together. Put dough in floured bowl, cover with a kitchen towel, and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Again, turn dough onto lightly floured surface and gently pat into a circle about 1 inch high. Cut into 8 or 12 wedges, and set wedges onto prepared baking sheet. Lightly brush tops with milk.

Bake 15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove to wire rack to cool.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Tips & Gadgets: Fresh Starts


I don't go in much for New Year's resolutions, but this is one of a few times each year when I recalibrate: recommitment to routines and ideas that have proved successful, an openness to new approaches, the desire and will to shake things up a bit.

When it comes to food and my family, I want to keep it simple. Some of my goals for the next few months:

  • Plan lunches. Menu planning has worked well for our dinners; I'm going to try to sketch out lunches so I'm not scrounging for scraps so frequently. If you haven't tried meal planning, or think of it as a control-freak approach to eating, check out this post on simplifying meal planning by making it basic, balanced, and brainless.
  • Push vegetables to the center of the plate. I usually plan a protein entree and then choose the vegetables. It's time for a role reversal: Veggies first, then protein.
  • Let the kids help with meals. Aside from pizza night, I don't invite the kids to help much. I love baking with them, but I'm too impatient at dinner time. Yet they're usually eager to be involved with even simple tasks, like getting the rice cooker started, dumping food in a pot, or stirring something on the stove. They're happy to pitch in, and I should be happy for the help. The long-term payoff, I suspect, may be huge.
  • Be a more thoughtful gardener. I'm no natural green thumb, but I've crammed our tiny yard with useful plants. The accidental successes have been gratifying, and I'm sure a little more attention to weeding, cultivating, and harvesting will yield even greater rewards for our table. I let too much go to waste.
  • Give myself a break. Specifically, utilize convenience food more often. Blasphemy, perhaps, on a cooking blog, but I mean it. I wear myself out (and wear down the patience of my family) planning, procuring, and preparing from-scratch meals most nights. I am not Martha Stewart, and even Martha only does what she does with a cohort of minions. On the rare occasions when I pull out a bag of frozen peas, I have a repeating epiphany: This is easy! My kids love this! This is good for us! We eat well enough, usually, that I can and should embrace some shortcuts. Definitely need more frozen peas. And taco shells.
How about you?


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