Thursday, May 26, 2011

Roasted Almonds with Smoked Paprika, Lavender and Thyme


I've been nibbling on raw almonds lately, trying to kick my craving for tortilla chips and pretzels. Almonds have been satisfying — and are certainly more healthful — but I like my nibbly snacks salty. Really salty.

Roasting and salting the almonds is a simple enough solution, but then I'm back to munching mindlessly. I needed something in there to make me slow down and take notice.

The answer is one of my favorite cure-alls: smoked paprika. It's sultry and seductive, the kind of spice that makes me completely lose my train of thought. I tossed in a little lavender and thyme, and ended up with the kind of snack I can enjoy without overdoing it.

The paprika might make this too spicy for some kids — as always, adjust the seasoning to suit your own taste.

Roasted Almonds with Smoked Paprika, Lavender and Thyme

Be sure to use culinary lavender, available in specialty markets and natural food stores like Whole Foods. You can also snip some off a plant if you're sure it hasn't been treated with pesticides.

8 ounces raw almonds
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon culinary lavender, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/8 teaspoon sugar

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir well to combine. Spread almonds on a baking sheet and roast at 300 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste, and if you want to adjust the seasoning, toss the almonds in a bowl, add seasoning, and stir.

Let cool and store in an air-tight container.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Lemongrass Chicken Meatballs


I hate to admit this, but I should declare it up front: The kids didn't care much for these light, lemony meatballs. I'm not sure why, but I didn't put much effort into figuring it out – because the grownups liked them just fine. A bright lemongrass pesto with garlic, ginger, and herbs makes this a nice warm-season appetizer or main dish. If you have leftover pesto, stir it into pasta to serve on the side.

If you love lemongrass, you might want to try growing your own – it's surprisingly easy! Lemongrass is fairly common in markets here, but too often the stalks are dry and ... sad. Find a good-looking stalk at the market (bonus points if there are any bits of roots on the stem end). Plunk it in a jar of water and set it somewhere it can get a fair amount of indirect sunlight. Watch and wait: You should soon see roots growing. When they're two inches long or so, plant your lemongrass in a pot or a sunny patch outside and watch it take off. I coaxed roots out of a particularly humble-looking stalk in the fall and now have a foot-wide plant – and that's after carving out several chunks to share with friends.

Lemongrass Chicken Meatballs

Use fresh lemongrass if you can find it (try well-stocked stores or Asian markets): Cut off the bottom stem and top leaves so you have only 4 or 5 inches of stalk, then peel off and discard the tough outer layers. I use lemon balm in the pesto as well, but you can substitute whatever herbs you like – cilantro or mint would be great variations. Try serving with satay sauce and/or chopped peanuts.

1 pound chicken, cut into large chunks (or store-bought ground chicken)
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/2 onion, minced
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup Lemongrass Pesto

Lemongrass Pesto:
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
2 stalks fresh lemongrass, minced (see note)
zest and juice from 1 lemon
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1 cup lemon balm leaves (or mint, cilantro, parsley, or basil)
1 cup parsley leaves
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

To make pesto, combine all ingredients except olive oil in a food processor and puree. While machine is running, pour in olive oil in a thin stream and continue processing until well combined. (Alternatively, you can make the pesto with a mortar and pestle.) Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

To make meatballs, pulse chicken in the food processor (no need to clean out the pesto bits) until minced – don’t overdo it or you’ll end up with mush. (Skip this step if you're using ground chicken.) Transfer chicken to a large bowl and add remaining ingredients. Stir well until thoroughly combined.

With your hands, form chicken mixture into meatballs about the size of golf balls and set themthe on prepared baking sheet. Spoon remaining pesto over the tops of the meatballs. Bake for 15 minutes or until cooked through, then move baking sheet to broiler position and broil for 3 to 5 minutes or until lightly browned on top.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Semolina and Farro Homemade Tagliolini

Lots of flour, raw eggs, rolling pins and pasta machines. About 24 kids ready to prepare the meal. Sounds like a party...  Or a huge mess? I would say that ... this is a delicious messy party!

This is the final week of Cooking Club at my son's school, and to celebrate a great year we are making pasta from scratch with the kindergartners and first-graders. Yes, it might sound ambitious and maybe exhausting. But the result has been awesome as we already tested it with two groups of kids. They just loved it.

The first time we made it was a few weeks ago with our boys — the photos here are all from this private rehearsal.

Darienne is so good at kneading we even went for a second batch using the fashionable farro flour. The boys were, by that time, more interested on making ice cream. But they finally surrendered to the wonders of the machine, and of course couldn't stop eating when the pasta was ready — some used red sauce and others homemade pesto.

At school, kids were excited about the whole process. Kneading the dough was a great way of keeping them busy — they compared it to playing with playdough, and using the rolling pin was even more entertaining. When they finally got to use the pasta machine, they were mostly anxious, and somehow ready to eat.

While waiting for the pasta to be ready, they listened to the very amusing story of Spaghetti Eddy by Ryan Sanangelo and Jackie Urbanovic.

When they had their bowls in front of them, they were proud to know how pasta is made — and how it takes so much energy to be ready. The reviews were mostly wordless:  There was an unusual silence while they were eating, and empty bowls of pasta were left behind as there were lots of smiles imprinted on my memory.

Farro and Semolina Pasta

Both recipes follow the basic recipe that is on packaged of Bob's Red Mill, the brand I use for the semolina flour. I bought farro, imported from Italy, in a local store. Both are awesome, although we used the semolina recipe at school, which was a great hit. 

1 cup semolina flour (Bob's Red Mill) or farro flour
1 cup unbleached white flour
2 medium free-range eggs
2 tablespoons of olive oil, plus more if necessary
2 tablespoons water, plus more if dough becomes too dry
Salt to taste

Bring a large pot filled of water and with a bit of olive oil to boil. Leave it at low flame.

In a very large bowl, combine the flours and salt in it, mixing well. Make a hole — or a well — in the center of the bowl. Add the eggs carefully and slowly beat them with a wooden spoon, gradually incorporating the flour.

Carry on mixing until all is incorporated. Start dropping in water and olive oil slowly while mixing. This will look like a coarse meal. Start kneading to form a ball of dough. If it is still too dry, add drops of water and oil up until a ball is formed and the dough is elastic and slightly stiff. Work on the dough for about 10 minutes. Push, stretch, pull and what else you feel like — it's a good kneading therapy. Or ask for the help of the kids, as this takes a lot of energy!

When the ball of dough feels elastic and able to stretch, sprinkle semolina flour on the work surface. Then, divide the ball into four parts. Stretch each one with a rolling pin until very thin. Then cut in rectangular shapes, making sure that the edge that will enter the pasta machine is very even. Insert that end into the machine. And now, off to turn up the heat on the stove to get rolling boiling water.

Start cranking the machine and the pasta will turn into nice strands of fettuccine or tagliolini. I have a Norpro machine, and it works just fine — although it does not make spaghetti, it does nice tagliolini. When all is ready, cook pasta in the boiling water for about 5 minutes to have a nice al dente texture. Remove and put on a colander. Serve it while still hot with your favorite sauce.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Ant's House Cake, aka "Bolo Formigueiro"

_ I am not going to eat this cake - look, it is full of ants _ cried a very upset 4-year-old.
_ No, they are not ants, they are chocolate sprinkles  _ explained his 6-year-old brother.
_ But mom said it's a ant's house cake!!!! _ replied the 4-year-old.
At this point I had to stop their argument to give an explanation:
_ The cake is very popular in Brazil and people call it like this because they have a very funny sense of humor! Look, they really look like ants... - I said.

They were happy. And got happier when I covered the whole cake with chocolate sauce, and finally more chocolate sprinkles. They found out that the cake is the perfect fit for a picnic. Or maybe even for a special breakfast!

The cake perfumed the whole house, and finally we ate it together during a very noisy mother's day breakfast celebrated last Sunday (in my bed). My mother, who lives in Rio, was very happy to see us eating the cake through Skype. The recipe she uses is slightly different from this. But I guess this is just right -- probably everyone has their own version. And I can't wait to visit Rio and taste more delicious versions of this amusing cake.

Ant's House Cake (Bolo Formigueiro)

This is adapted from the recipe I found at the Brazilian Nestlé website. The original calls for more sugar, orange juice, and less time in the oven. Next time I bake it I will also add some canola oil. The way it is now is perfect for being dipped in a glass of milk or to served with tea or coffee.

4 eggs, separated
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 cups unbleached flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 cup mango juice (or purée diluted in some water)
1 cup dark chocolate sprinkles
1 1/2 cups dehydrated unsweetened coconut

6 tablespoons Ghirardelli milk chocolate powder
1 cup 2% fat milk
1/2 cup sugar
More sprinkles to top

Preheat oven to 350 F. Coat a fluted cake pan with butter and then flour.

In a mixing bowl, beat egg whites to stiff peaks. Add yolks, one by one. With the mixer still on, gradually add sugar. Sift flour and baking powder, and add slowly to the mix, and then add a bit of the juice, alternating dry and wet ingredients. Turn mixer off and slowly fold sprinkles and coconut into the batter.

Transfer batter to the pan and bake for about 40 minutes. While the cake is in the oven, prepare sauce. In a small saucepan add milk, chocolate powder, and sugar and simmer until very reduced and thick enough to coat the cake. Pour over the cake while it's still hot, and add more sprinkles.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Children's Book Week : The Ice Cream King

Here's a confession: I love the view of this chocolate syrup coming from the tiny cup. But my favorite dessert flavor is vanilla - French, Madagascar or Bourbon, no matter where from. That taste seems to run in my kids DNA too. And with that, I can now talk about the book we read for dessert to celebrate our last special on Children's Book Week.
 The Ice Cream King, by Steve Metzger, illustrated by Julie Downing, was the choice. I don't want to spoil the surprise that is at the end of the book.  Which is kind of a very sweet one - specially if you think Mother's Day is just in the corner. But I can tell you that throughout the adventures of Teddy in a ice cream kingdom, there are plenty of rhymes, delicious inspiring illustrations and  a inspiration for something else, besides, of course,  eating ice cream.

Making Vanilla Ice Cream with the kids was another kind of adventure. The youngest brave boy cracked the eggs. All of them engaged on beating the eggs with a special ball whisk, pretending they were machines. They also added the rest of the ingredients and were happy to know that after playing that would be their dessert.  We used Darienne's homemade vanilla extract to flavor it.

The recipe we used was published by two of the best  ice cream makers I know of, Ben and Jerry. I would call them, really, the two kings of ice cream ! Here's another surprise: I was introduced to this recipe, from the excellent Ben and Jerry Book of Homemade Ice Cream and Desserts) by my partner in the school's Cooking Club. I was initially skeptical about the fact that the recipe include raw eggs in it. But after preparing it about four times I got to know that it tastes good, has a wonderful creamy texture and most important of all, it is fool proof.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Children's Book Week: Red Riding Hood's Strawberry Streusel Cakes


Searching for good fairy tales for my boys, I've felt a bit like Goldilocks: They're usually too dark, or too sanitized. What a thrill, then, to find Lucy Cousins' giddy Yummy: Eight Favorite Fairy Tales! It showcases her bold, bright artwork, familiar to fans of her Maisy books -- and it delights in fairy-tale mayhem. Her telling of Little Red Riding Hood not only includes the hunter whacking open the wolf to free grandma, but it has a gleeful illustration of exactly that, with a "CHOP!" as the wolf's head sails clear to the next page.

11_CPE_Yummy2It isn't everyone's cup of tea, but it's a favorite for our family. (Full disclosure: I received my copy to review for Common Sense Media, a terrific resource for families.)

Reading Yummy got me thinking: What, exactly, is in that basket Little Red Riding Hood is taking to her ill grandmother?

Cousins doesn't say, but I remember at least one version in which the basket carries bread, cake and wine. I also remember one in which Red, after encountering the wolf, gets distracted by wild strawberries, letting the wolf get a head start toward granny's.

These petite streusel cakes are inspired by her adventures. Hoping she won't dawdle in the forest, I baked the strawberries right into the cake, adding a splash of balsamic vinegar to deepen the flavor and hint at the darkness lurking in the woods. Serve with wine, if you wish -- we stuck to sparkling juice.


Little Red Riding Hood’s Strawberry Streusel Cakes

You can adapt this recipe for muffins or a larger cake, if you're careful to adjust the baking time.

Strawberry filling
1 1/2 cups strawberries, washed, hulled, and sliced
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons arrowroot or cornstarch
squeeze of lemon juice

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup plain, unsweetened yogurt

Streusel topping
1 cup flour
1/2 cup oats
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch salt
6 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil four mini loaf pans.

Combine strawberry filling ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to low and cook, continuing to stir, for a few minutes until thickened. Mash strawberries with a fork to desired consistency and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar together until fluffy. Adds eggs and blend well, then add vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and stir well to combine. Add a third of the flour mixture to the mixing bowl, combine, then mix in half the yogurt. Then mix in another third of the flour, the other half of the yogurt, and finally the rest of the flour mixture, stirring in each addition well.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt with a fork. Stir in melted butter until mixture is chunky and crumbly.

Divide cake batter among four loaf pans. Spoon strawberry filling on top. With a butter knife, gently swirl the filling into the top of the batter to marble it a bit. Spread the crumbly streusel topping over each loaf. Garnish the tops, if you wish, with a strawberry slice or two.

Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of a cake comes out clean.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Little Pea and... Puff Pastry Samosas

Here's one deliciously clever book, and a recipe that may be just right to be prepare right after reading. This is part of our celebration of Children's Book Week, and we will go on sharing our favorite children's stories -- and recipes inspired on them up to Friday.

One question here before you run to bake samosas: Who can resist to eat puff pastry? Well, maybe Little Pea -- the main character of this cute book -- wouldn't be able to taste it. She was always in trouble, with her parents having to make her eat candy as a main course. So that finally she could eat spinach for dessert.

Little Pea, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Jen Corace, is lots of fun and beyond inspiring. It makes kids laugh out loud, maybe in awe of how wonderful life would be if candy was the main part of their meals. Or maybe, not really so good ...

When Darienne read the book to our four boys, they were very intrigued by Little Pea's story. Mostly, they all understood that maybe too much candy might be not so delicious.That didn't mean that they were all crying for spinach, broccoli, or Brussel sprouts right after listening to the story... But were all curious enough to try this new snack, based on an original recipe from Pakistan.

Potato Samosas

This recipe was shared by Asma, one of the mothers who cooks with the kids in our Cooking Club at school. We were surprised how excited the kids got about trying samosas, for most of them a novelty. They loved mashing the potatoes and folding the puff pastry. At school they also had the chance to see all the spices that make garam masala, including a very intriguing and aromatic black cardamom pod. 

5 square puff pastry sheets, cut diagonally (I used Pepperidge Farm brand)
1 large potato, boiled or microwaved (russet was used in this recipe)
1/4 cup cooked peas
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (I used canola)
1/4 cup yellow or red onions
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4  to 1 teaspoon garam masala, to taste
Salt to taste

Cook or bake potato and peel it. In a shallow skillet, slowly fry onions in vegetable oil, until translucent and darkened, and set aside. Mash potatoes to a smooth texture.

Mix onions with potatoes. Add spices, salt ,and finally peas. Blend well. Stuff middle of each triangle of pastry with potato and peas mix and seal all borders.

Bake at 400 F (or temperature indicated on package of pastry)  for about 15 minutes or until golden. 

Monday, May 2, 2011

We're Celebrating Children's Book Week!

Few things bring parents and children together like snuggling up with a good book. We turn to books for comfort, illumination, and inspiration. Today kicks off Children's Book Week, and we're thrilled to celebrate with recipes inspired by some of our favorite children's books.

Visit the Children's Book Week website to check out the 2011 Children's Choice book winners, download a bookmark by Jeff Kinney, or look for local events in your area.

We'll have new storybook recipes all week, but today we're revisiting three favorites you can savor with your little one, cuddling in a favorite reading chair.

Stone Soup
Jon J. Muth's beautiful telling of Stone Soup, set in China, inspired this kid-friendly recipe. Bouillon cubes serve as the stones, and fresh bok choy, mushrooms, carrots and more make for a flavorful soup kids will love to make.

Blueberry Muffin Soup

Irving and Muktuk, the mischievous stars of Jill and Daniel Pinkwaters' Bad Bears series, are indeed bad bears and not to be trusted. But they can't resist the lure of blueberry muffin soup. We had to try it too -- and it's pretty darn tasty.

Crocodile Fool's Banana Bonbons
The little crocodile in Sylvianne Donnio's I'd Really Like to Eat a Child doesn't want the bananas his parents give him -- he has his eye on a larger treat! But these tasty little chocolate treats might be enough to satisfy even the most ambitious baby croc.

Have a favorite food-related book for kids? We'd love to hear about it! In the meantime --happy reading!


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