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Posts from the ‘recipes’ Category

killer tofu

Everywhere you turn, someone is telling you that something you’re feeding your kids is bad for them. Which is fine if your kids are good eaters and you have a host of food options from which to choose. My kids? Left to their own devices, they each eat like twelve foods. Maybe more like six, if you take away the fruit.

One of the things they will both eat, however, is tofu. They will eat every variety of tofu, from silken to pressed. They will eat it in soup, baked, pan fried, steamed, whatever. And that’s good because tofu has nutritious stuff in it, like vegetable protein.

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Anyway, about the tofu. The latest word on tofu is that if you have boy children and they eat too much of it, they will grow breasts. Or something like that. Feel free to Google it—I haven’t, because, okay, I admit it, I’m scared of where “tofu man breasts” will lead me on Google Images. I’ve been afraid of Google Images ever since I Googled “genital warts.” Not that you believe me, but I don’t have genital warts and neither does Tom. I was just curious.

Besides, I have my own thoughts on the latest fear-mongering over tofu, and those thoughts are similar to my thoughts on MSG. Let me just point out that the Chinese have been around for a really long time. And I don’t know any Chinese people who complain about MSG headaches. I also don’t know any Chinese men with breasts.

Well, wait a minute. I know a few Chinese men with breasts, but they’re fat all the way around, and I’m sorry, if you’re a fat man you’re likely to have breasts regardless of your race or how much tofu you ingest. If you need further scientific evidence that it’s ok to eat tofu, I ate a shit ton of tofu growing up and I’m flat as a goddamned board.

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I guess what I’m really railing against is food hysteria in general. We all want to eat healthy. I try to make good choices, and make good choices for my children. But for me, food is not just about sustenance. Food is about taste, memory, pleasure, warmth, happiness. I enjoy nothing more than this loaf of bread with a crock of good butter. Eating bread reminds me of when I was a kid, tucked into my window seat on a rainy day, reading about Heidi and her grandpa and their goats and their tasty milk and cheese.

Nowadays, I feel guilty when I eat bread. And that guilt drives me to eat my croissants in the car like I’m some perv, or worse, to forgo the croissant entirely in favor of “healthy” pap like gummy, reconstituted granola. I dunno. I’m going to die of something, and I sort of doubt it’ll be the bread.**

So about that tofu. I like stir-fries because your kid can help with the washing and chopping. This delicious little stir-fry (you can sub shrimp if tofu is not your thing) makes my family happy. It’s a little spicy but even Tate will eat it, and shamefully, he thinks black pepper is spicy. Also, you might as well prepare your kids’ palates for the global Chinese domination that is coming.

Thanks to the sauce in this stir-fry, my kids will (accidentally) eat the mushrooms, water chestnuts, and green onions in the recipe. Shiitakes, not the benign kind of mushroom. Hot damn! I guess I’m ok risking two tiny sets of man boobs for that.

**I’m aware that certain people, like those with Celiac Disease, can actually die of bread consumption. I’m not making light of bread eating, except as it applies to me.

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MA PO TOFU

Adapted from “Martin Yan’s Chinatown Cooking”

Ingredients:

3 fresh or dried shiitake mushrooms (if dried, soak in warm water for 20 minutes), de-stemmed and chopped

6 oz. ground pork

1 teaspoon + 2 tablespoons soy sauce, divided

1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon hot bean paste, black bean sauce, bean chili sauce, or chili garlic sauce (one of these should be available in the “ethnic foods” aisle—we’re getting ethnic, people!—of your grocery store. If you have a choice, go for the bean chili sauce)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1/3 cup chopped water chestnuts

1 14-oz. package soft (or silken, or Japanese style) tofu, drained and cut into 1/2 inch cubes

2 green onions, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch lengths

2 teaspoons cornstarch (dry)

2 teaspoons cornstarch, dissolved in 1 tablespoon water

Directions:

1. Marinate the pork: stir the ground pork, 2 teaspoons cornstarch, and 1 teaspoon soy sauce together, let stand 10 minutes.

2. Make the sauce: stir 2 tablespoons soy sauce in a bowl with the sesame oil and one cup water. Set aside.

3. Chop the water chestnuts, mushrooms, green onions, throw them all in bowl and set aside. Get your chopped garlic ready. Make sure your tofu is cut and drained. You want everything chopped before you start a stir-fry, because the actual cooking takes like 4 minutes.

4. Heat a wok, skillet, or cast-iron pan over high heat until hot. Add oil and swirl to coat. Add the garlic and stir fry until fragrant, mybe 20 seconds. Add the pork, whatever bean/chili paste or sauce you are using, and stir fry until the pork is crumbly, 2-3 minutes.

5. Pour the sauce into the pan along with the cut vegetables (water chestnuts, mushrooms, green onions). Slide in your tofu, stir gently or swirl the pan to get the tofu coated with the sauce. Let simmer until heated through, 2-3 minutes. Don’t freak out if your soft tofu starts to break apart. Just be as gentle as you can.

6. Pour in the dissolved cornstarch and cook gently, stirring, until sauce boils and thickens, about 1 minute. If you don’t care if your sauce is runny, you can omit this step.

7. Take off heat. Serve over hot brown rice!

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the salad i can’t quit

When Cuz lived here, she endeared herself to me by eating our leftovers. I am really talented at creating leftovers. I am also good at packing leftovers, and storing them in the refrigerator. But I am bad at eating them.

That’s because I’m highly prone to food exhaustion. Tom, on the other hand, can eat the same thing every day. When I met him in NYC he was subsisting on sushi and the Route 66 burrito from Burritoville. One or the other. Every single day.

When Baja Fresh opened in Portland ten years ago, Tom made me eat there all the time. And then one day, I stepped into a Baja Fresh and smelled that unmistakable Baja Fresh cilantro smell, and felt like I was going to throw up. I knew then that I could never eat at Baja Fresh again, no matter how many free jalapenos they offered at the salsa bar. The same thing happened to me at Chipotle, but I still have to go there for my kids. Actually now that I think about it, maybe it’s not food exhaustion, maybe it’s cilantro exhaustion.

Whatever. All I know is that I hate to eat the same meal twice in a row. Unless it is this salad, which I have eaten at least ten times since Mother’s Day, when I received “Super Natural Every Day,” the cookbook the salad can be found in, from my kids. I cannot stop making this salad. I cannot stop eating this salad. TOM cannot stop eating this salad, and he thinks of salads as punishment, or an evil to be borne. I brought the salad to a party last night and three friends asked for the recipe.

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mother’s day. photo by finn

It works for me because it’s a whole grain salad, and I dig whole grain salads. They seem healthy, but are substantial enough to be satisfying. And they pack well for lunch.

By the way, if you live in Portland, there is a lunch place downtown called the Picnic House that has the most insanely delicious brown rice salad. Take my word for it. I went to get one last week and they had just run out, and I started crying. Not SOBBING, but there was definitely moisture on my face. I mean, I’d had a shitty day up to that point so it wasn’t just the salad, but still. Go get one.

Or just cook this salad at home, which is different, but similar, in that feeling of nuttiness, chewiness, wholesomeness, deliciousness. This salad is interesting in that the flavors are Asian. My kids would eat their own shoes if they had soy sauce and sesame oil on them. If yours would too, they might like this. If you have leftover whole grains in your fridge, this can be on the table in less than 30 minutes.

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Kale Salad with Coconut and Sesame Oil

Adapted from Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson

Ingredients:

1/3 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon sesame oil

2 tablespoons soy sauce, shoyu, or tamari

4 cups (lightly packed) kale, preferably lacinato/dinosaur/tuscan (about one large bunch) (large stems removed, torn or chopped)

1 cup large-flake unsweetened coconut

2 cups cooked whole grain (something firm–I like farro and brown rice for this, but bulgur, wheatberries, or barley would all work well)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350. Put two racks near top.

2. Put sesame oil, olive oil, and soy sauce into a jar or bowl. Whisk to blend, or just put the lid on the jar and shake the hell out of it.

3. Put kale and coconut in large bowl and toss with 2/3 of the dressing mixture to coat. This step works best if you use your hands to massage the dressing onto the kale leaves. Spread evenly over two baking sheets.

4. Bake for 12-18 minutes total, switching racks and flipping kale halfway through. You should end up with kale that is still green but toasted and brown at edges.

5. Combine kale/coconut with the whole grains. Toss to combine. Add as much of the leftover dressing as you like.

Serves 2-3 as meal, maybe 6 as appetizer.

Note: This is also really good with roasted butternut squash if you want more color and texture to the salad.

zucchini bread for liars

I suspect that vegetables are a relatively boring topic for anyone who 1) doesn’t have kids, or 2) has kids who eat vegetables (I hate you), and for that I apologize. For me, the only time I stop thinking about how to get my kids to eat more vegetables is every couple months when my brain shorts out and forgets to think about the topic out of sheer exhaustion.

We all know an adult who will only eat hamburger meat and chicken nuggets. My older kid, Finn, is like three Happy Meals away from becoming that societal freak. If he turns into that guy, I will kill myself. I really will.

Last week I asked Finn, as I do every few weeks, if he was enjoying the carrots in his lunch. Yes Mommy, he nodded, as usual. But that day, I don’t know—maybe he looked away a beat too long—something made me ask again. Finn squirmed in his seat and began staring at the far wall. Then things went all to hell.

“You have been eating your carrots, right?,” I said, thinking of the 500 or so baby carrots I’d packed in his lunch over the past six months.

(Long pause). “Wellll. Sometimes I don’t eat my carrots,” Finn said.

(Longer pause). “Sometimes?,” I asked, nibbling a nail. “Or all the time?”

Finn looked like he was going to cry. “All the time, mommy,” he said.

Man. Secretly I think I always knew he wasn’t eating those damn carrots. There were signs that I chose to ignore. Like the one morning I casually handed him a baby carrot at breakfast while I was packing more carrots in his lunch and he took ten minutes to choke the carrot down, which he then promptly regurgitated. “But you eat these all the time at lunch!,” I said. Like an idiot.

Looking back, I clearly chose to turn a blind eye. Lying is no good, but my grown-up behavior was arguably worse. Finn probably felt that he needed to lie about eating the carrots in order to protect my emotional well-being. When I asked Finn’s lovely teacher for advice, as I always do when the going gets tough, she suggested, gently, that I stop packing the carrots for the time being. So no more carrots.

Anyway. A part of me is glad that’s all worked out and the sham is over and now I can go back to hiding vegetables in Finn’s food.

Zucchini bread is a passion of mine. I like mine moist, zucchini-heavy, and not too sweet. After many dozen loaves, I’ve worked out my standby recipe. It’s low on sugar, part whole wheat, yadda yadda, but here’s the best part–you can mix all the contents by hand. My stand mixer is a beast that weighs approximately 75 pounds. Increasingly I find myself looking for ways to avoid using it.

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If you have a food processor with a shredder blade, you can get this whole thing in the oven in 15 minutes. As part of his ongoing campaign to do harm in the kitchen in order to avoid being asked to cook, Tom accidentally lit my food processor on fire about a year ago and it still manages to get the job done with the zucchini, even though I have to stick my hand in the feed tube to get the motor to work. Just think how easy it will be with your fully operational Cuisinart.

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Zucchini Bread

Adapted from The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum

Ingredients:

1.5 cups all-purpose flour (spooned in to the measuring cup, not packed in)

1/2 cup + 3.5 tablespoons whole wheat flour

1/2 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons cinnamon

3 large eggs

1/2 liquid cup vegetable, safflower, or canola oil

1/2 cup sugar (add more for sweeter bread–Beranbaum’s original recipe calls for 1 cup)

3 cups shredded or grated zucchini

1 cup chopped walnuts (or omit)

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Move rack to rung below middle of oven.

2. Whisk together dry ingredients in a medium bowl.

4. Whisk together eggs, oil, and sugar until incorporated in large bowl. Mix in the dry ingredients. Do not overmix. Batter will be a little stiff.

5. Add zucchini, mix to incorporate with wooden spoon. The batter will begin to loosen as the moisture from the zucchini incorporates into the batter. Fold in walnuts, if using.

6. Pour into greased and floured 9 x 5 loaf pan. Or cheat and spray the pan with Baker’s Joy like I do.

7. Bake in oven for 55 minutes. Check with toothpick, if batter still moist, bake for another five minutes. Do not overbake.

8. Cool in pan for ten minutes. Run knife along outside edges to loosen, remove from pan and set on cooling rack.

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the lentil soup project

I really like lentil soup. I’ve liked it since I had my first bowl of it in Istanbul, which is a d-baggy thing to say, like when people come back from Italy and say they won’t eat pizza anymore because it wouldn’t be as good as the pie they had in Naples. Go back to Naples then! Who’s stopping you? But anyway, it’s true: they have spices in Turkey that people don’t use much here, like Aleppo pepper, and I’ve searched for years for a recipe to recreate the magic of my first lentil soup experience, and never gotten even close.

But that’s all in my past. I’m a mom now, and don’t have time to waste on perfecting my own culinary experiences. I just want to cook things that my kids will eat. After pick-up last week, Finn and I stopped in at a coffee shop across the street from his school, for a snack. He ordered a pumpernickel bagel and I ordered a cup of lentil soup. “What’s that?,” Finn asked, as I tucked into my bowl. “Lentil soup. Want a bite?,” I asked, hopefully. After three bites, Finn hooked his hand around the bowl and pulled it in front of his face. After a few more bites, he told me that the soup was “incredibly delicious,” a phrase he has used only once before, in relation to Twizzlers. I looked down at the bowl full of protein-rich lentils and vegetables, and tried hard not to wig out. Then I politely approached the owner of the coffee shop for her recipe.

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I either didn’t telegraph my desperation loudly enough, or the woman had never known the misery of having kids who were picky eaters. Either way, the owner didn’t give two shits about my malnourished kids and she wasn’t about to share her recipe. She told me, dismissively, that it was “just lentil soup with vegetables.” But I can be insistent when the situation calls for it, and I decided that my kids, and this soup, called for it. So I kept pushing her for details, and finally got one: roasted tomatoes. I bought another bowl for Finn’s lunch the next day and said “thanks” while adding the “for nothing” silently in my head.

A couple days later on a day off, I got to work. I researched lentil soups online, and broke out my cookbooks. The good news was that there were lots of recipes for lentil soup. The bad news was that none of them included roasted tomatoes. I rejected the recipes with cumin and other extraneous spices, and focused on the ones that included bacon. I settled on the recipe from “The Best Recipe: Soups and Stews,” and modified it to include some roasted tomatoes.

I gave the soup a taste. It wasn’t Istanbul, but it was pretty great. Rich, buttery, warming. Still, I was nervous when dinner time rolled around. Getting a kid to eat something once is one thing–getting a kid to eat something twice is a freaking miracle. I couldn’t be certain that Finn would eat my lentil soup, even though he’d loved the one he’d had before. I placed a bowl in front of both my kids. Tate ate his up along with four pieces of baguette with butter. Finn finished one big bowl and asked for another. Cuz and I gave each other silent high-fives across the table, while maintaining outward calm.

I’m not making any promises. But my kids ate it. And even if yours don’t, you’ll have a pot full of delicious soup that you can have all to yourself.

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Lentil Soup with Roasted Tomatoes

Adapted from The Best Recipe: Soups and Stews, serves 12 (you can halve the recipe)

4T vegetable or olive oil

8 oz. bacon, diced

8 cups chicken broth

1 cup white wine

2 large onions, diced or chopped fine (my kids are likelier not to pick vegetables out of their food if the pieces are tiny, but maybe yours don’t care)

4 large carrots, chopped fine

2 T minced garlic

2 cups dried green or brown (not red) lentils, rinsed and picked over for stones

2 cups roasted tomatoes, chopped into rough chunks (recipe follows), or 2 cups canned, diced tomatoes with juice (fire roasted work great)

2 t chopped fresh thyme

2 bay leaves

1-2 T red wine vinegar, or to taste

Directions

1. Heat oil in a large stockpot or cast iron casserole over medium-high heat. Cook bacon until fat has rendered and pieces are browned and crisp.

2. Throw in the carrots, onions, garlic, thyme, bay leaves and a few grinds of black pepper. Saute for 3-5 minutes, until softened.

3. Throw in the lentils and tomatoes, and “sweat” the lentils by sauteing for 5-7 minutes.

4. Stir in the wine, stir until dissolved.

5. Pour in the broth along with two cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes, or until lentils are softened.

6. If you like a creamier soup, you can blitz 3-4 cups of the soup in a blender and then pour it back into the pot. Or you can leave as is. Stir in the vinegar at end. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

7. Enjoy with a crusty baguette and a salad! Leftovers are great for lunch.

*Roasted tomatoes: preheat oven to 400 degrees. Halve five roma tomatoes and put them, cut sides up, on a cookie sheet. Melt some butter and brush the tops with butter. Sprinkle with kosher salt and a little pepper, if you like. Roast them on the top rack until they turn brown and bubbly–took 25 minutes in my oven.

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criss cross applesauce

People always act like it’s so great when one parent is at home with the kids. But listen, it depends on the parent. I have friends who stay home with their kids and are always posting pics of them doing fun crafty activities. If I stayed home with my kids, they’d end up watching TV like 12 hours a day and eating mountains of Hot Pockets.

But I still have to amuse them on weekends. And when it’s rainy outside, as it often is in Portland, it can get really ugly. That’s why I like to cook with them. They fight over who gets to stir and who gets to lick the spoon, but better that than them “playing ninja,” which as far as I can tell, involves Tate kicking Finn, and Finn putting Tate into a retaliatory headlock.

The thing about cooking, of course, is that it always seems to take so long when you need it to go quickly, and to go so quickly when you need it to go slow. When I bake with the boys, I’m so desperate to prevent flour from flying all over my kitchen that I end up speeding through it. And then I’ve burned no time off the clock at all.

That’s why I’m so glad that Finn is old enough to cut with a knife. Cutting stuff takes a long time. Even better, Finn loves nothing more than cutting things with a knife, and would do it for hours if I let him. A block of tofu can eat up fifteen minutes, if you plan it right and make a math game out of it. A bowl of strawberries—maybe 30 minutes (you have to cut off the tops, and then halve the berries).

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But tofu and strawberries is kids’ stuff compared to cutting apples for homemade applesauce. First of all, apples have a nice, satisfying consistency for cutting. They aren’t too hard, like carrots, or too wet, like citrus. Secondly, you need a shitload of apples for applesauce. I cored and sliced the apples and passed them to Finn, who cut each slice into thirds and then tossed them into the slow cooker. It took him 45 minutes to fill the slow cooker.

He did eat enough apples during the cutting process that he blew chunks at a Blazers game later that night, but I don’t like to think about that. Instead, I choose to think about this: 45 minutes is two episodes of Jake and the Neverland Pirates. And at the end of it, we had jars of rich, sweet applesauce, made without an ounce of added sugar. Sometimes I have this parenting thing so dialed that I think that I should have had ten kids.

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Slow cooker applesauce

Apples (how many is going to depend on the size of your slow cooker). Mine’s a 7 quart and I used 8-10 large honeycrisps

Juice of one large lemon

1 cinnamon stick (about 3 inches is good), optional

Ground nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, ginger to taste

1. Core and divide each unpeeled apple into six or eight slices. An aside: is there any kitchen task worse than peeling apples?  No, there is not.  Have your kid lay each slice flat on his cutting board and cut it into thirds. Toss the apples into the slow cooker.

2. Add lemon juice and cinnamon stick. Cover and cook on low heat for 5-7 hours, or until soft enough to mash.

3. Remove cinnamon stick. Mash the apples, or blitz them for smoother texture. Stir in ground spices to taste. I used about a teaspoon of cinnamon and a half teaspoon each of nutmeg, ginger, and cloves.

4. Store in fridge up to a week, or give it away in jars. Or pack for your kid’s lunch with a container of greek yogurt and another container of granola.

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lunchbox squash

At a recent dinner party, I watched as the hostess, my friend Kathryn, put the finishing touches on some halibut before sliding it into the oven. On the stovetop sat a cookie sheet with little orange half moons on them. “Roasted delicata squash. Try one,” she said, popping one into her mouth. “They taste like candy.”

I generally have a low regard for people who describe vegetables of any kind as tasting like candy. Vegetables never taste as good as candy. To think otherwise is to delude oneself. And we can really do harm when we say as much to a child, for whom candy sits at the very tippy top of the pyramid of childhood pleasures, teetering precariously atop the Nerf guns and cap-less Sharpie pens. I once told Finn that some roasted cauliflower tasted as good as candy, and that poor trusting little bastard put the piece in his mouth, apparently believing me. That incident set me back six months in his omnivore training.

But back to Kathryn. Having grown up on a farm, she knows her vegetables. And she wouldn’t lie to me. So I picked up a little half moon and chewed on it thoughtfully. Pretty f-ing delightful. The skin was chewy, but not bitter, and the inside part of the squash tasted like a buttered sweet potato. It tasted better than candy. Well, not Twix. But most candy.

No matter how tasty, you know I wouldn’t be writing about it if at least one of my kids hadn’t managed to choke it down. Finn, naturally, was not a fan. But Tate did more than choke it down. He ate every last piece that I packed into his lunchbox. The list of vegetables that (one of) my kids will eat just grew by 33%. And the squash could not be simpler to prepare.

A note about packing lunches. I hate packing lunches. What parent likes packing lunches? Tom would rather pull out his fingernails than pack a lunch. But sometimes out of sheer boredom I’ll put some effort into it, and it can pay off, at least for Tate, who seems more inclined to eat food when it is presented appealingly. He must take after my mom, who taught me early on that we “eat with our eyes, before we eat with our mouths.” But that’s Tate. If I packed the lunch above for Finn it would come back pristine and untouched, minus the orange and perhaps one cracker, which he would have nibbled at in desperation before realizing that it had sesame seeds on it.

For making Tate’s lunches, I like lunchbots containers because they are easy to open. I also like mini silicone muffin liners, for little portions of raisins, nuts, or hummus. You can prevent the items from spilling out by putting another silicone muffin liner upside down on top to cover. For Finn, whose lunch always starts with a thermos of warm brown rice, I could not live without this product. Please share your favorite lunchbox ideas, because we all need the help. I’ll post about other lunchbox discoveries, assuming I make any. Now, onto the recipe.

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KMW’s Roasted Delicata Squash

1 medium-sized delicata squash

Olive oil

1 T melted butter (for flavor, can be omitted)

Kosher salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Trim ends of squash, halve vertically, scoop seeds out, and cut horizontally into 1/3 inch thick slices. Leave skin on.

3. Toss squash in bowl with drizzle of olive oil (enough to lightly coat each piece) and melted butter. Salt and pepper to taste. Go easy with the salt as the squash shrinks as it roasts.

4. Roast in oven for 30-45 minutes, until browned at edges. Don’t pack them in too close to one another or they will steam instead of roast. If you like them crispier, bake them longer. If you like them softer, bake them less. Flip them once, or don’t.

5. Serve hot or at room temperature. Will keep in fridge for three days. You can double the recipe but you’ll need two pans–rotate halfway through cooking. I imagine these would be great as a grownup appetizer with a sprinkle of cayenne.

pesto for all

I feel like my kids are turning a corner with food, as my friends promised me they would. Finn ate the celery or carrots in his lunchbox, five days in a row. At dinner on Tuesday he only dry-heaved twice while eating a green bean. On Thursday, Tate ate two fistfuls of broccoli when I looked past my fear of celebrity chefs to try Jessica Seinfeld’s admittedly delicious recipe for Beef with Broccoli.

I can hardly breathe for the excitement. But I’ve gotten excited at my kids’ minor dietary improvements in the past, scared them by going overboard (see, spinach-garbonzo bean fritters), and ended up worse off than before. This time, I’m pacing myself.

So, pesto. My friends Patrick and Mollyanne brought some pesto for the kids when we went on vacation. Patrick is a chef, so I’m constantly watching his kids eat stuff that makes me want to flip a table over, in rage and jealousy. But Tate, who I suspect would be an adventurous eater if he didn’t see his big brother reject foods on a daily basis, ate up Mollyanne’s pesto, quick as a wink. Finn, that wretch, refused to try it. But Finn’s recent forays into new foods had me hopeful. So yesterday, I made my own batch of spinach-basil pesto, heavy on the spinach.

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Look at the color!! A bright and sexy jade green. Almost unidentifiable as a food object, in the best possible way.

Unfortunately, Finn’s not impressed with the color green, especially as it relates to food. When I brought the pasta to the table, he actually cried. I’m accustomed to it now, but still, there’s no crappier feeling than cooking something that reduces someone to tears.  I made a five-pound turkey meatloaf once that had Tom crying for a week.  I know it’s not right, but when it happens, my first impulse is to dump the food on the head of the person who is crying, or to smash their face into their plate.

In any event, this isn’t my first ride on the merry-go-round. At this point, the crying has to be pretty intense to faze me–like, there have to be hiccups.  I ignored Finn’s tears and put three pieces of green pasta on his plate, and told him he was to try it. After his second bite, his grimace relaxed into a confused expression. And then, the clouds parted. “I like pesto, Mama.” He ate two bowls for dinner, and a cucumber from the salad (dry heave: 1). All told, he probably had a single serving of vegetables. But still, better than nothing.

That’s not even the clincher. When I tucked him into bed later that night, Finn requested pesto in his lunchbox the next day.

I may have cried a bit myself when he said that. Tears of motherlovin’ joy.

No Tears Spinach-Basil Pesto

1 cup packed spinach leaves (more or less won’t hurt)

1 cup packed basil leaves (ditto)

2 T pine nuts

1-2 cloves garlic

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese

1. Combine ingredients in a food processor. Whir until blended into a rough paste. Add salt and pepper to taste. Use immediately or refrigerate with plastic wrap touching the top of the pesto, to retain the color. Store up to three days.

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whole grain banana snack cake

Most Mondays, I bake some type of loaf cake and keep it on a stand for my kids to snack on when they come home on Tuesdays and Thursdays with their manny Zach. Since it’s for the kids, I try to keep it relatively wholesome. But that’s a fine line, because my kids aren’t horses. Get the nutritional value too high and they’ll throw themselves on the floor and act like you tried to feed them jellied oxtails.  Once, when I made zucchini bread without shredding the zucchini fine enough, Finn pulled my head down towards his, stuck the bread in my face, and demanded to know what the green stuff was.

I have a couple loaf recipes on rotation, but I’ve never been inspired to post about one of them before. Until this one. No white flour–instead, it’s made with a combo of oat and whole wheat flours, and takes most of its sweetness from overripe bananas. Plain yogurt adds a slight bite. If you’re thinking “what the hell is oat flour,” don’t sweat it–you can make your own by whirring a cup of rolled oats in your food processor.

The best part of the cake is the texture–airy and bouncy, but toothsome and satisfying. It eats like a coffee cake, but has the added nutrients from the whole grains. The original recipe has a crunch topping and chocolate chips, but you can leave off one or both and it’ll be fine.

If you’re like me, you don’t have the patience to mess around with a recipe that doesn’t hit it out of the park every time. Whether you eat it or smell it, this cake just works. And that in itself is worth something.

Banana Crunch Cake

Recipe from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup oat flour (I whir a heaping cup of rolled oats in my food processor to get 1 cup oat flour-don’t worry if you can’t get it super fine)
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour or 1 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (one stick) unsalted butter (fine to nuke til soft or melted)
  • 1/2 cup light or dark brown sugar, packed
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup mashed banana (probably 2-3 large bananas)
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt (non fat to full fat is fine)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)
  • 1 cup chocolate chips or toffee pieces (optional)

Crunch topping (optional)

  • 3/4 cup old fashioned oats
  • 1/3 cup light or brown sugar, tightly packed
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans or 1/4 cup chopped walnuts

Directions:

  1. Grease and flour an 8-inch-square pan. Preheat the oven to 350.
  2. For cake batter: Whisk flours, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, stopping to scrape the bowl between eggs. Mix half the dry ingredients until moistened, then mix in bananas, yogurt and vanilla. Scrape the bowl down again before adding the remaining dry ingredients and nuts and chips (if using). Mix until everything is evenly moistened. Transfer batter to the prepared pan.
  3. For topping: Combine oats, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt in a small mixing bowl until well blended. Stir in melted butter until large crumbs form. Stir in chopped nuts. Sprinkle the topping over the batter in the pan.
  4. Bake until the edges pull away from the pan and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 40-45 minutes. Remove cake from the oven and place on a rack to cool for at least 20 minutes before slicing.

hot pot fever

If I can get the energy together to cook something worth eating, I’ll usually invite friends over on short notice, because there’s no way that rare burst of initiative is going to waste on my husband and kids, who generally take me for granted.  But not just any friends–just my low-maintenance ones.  The ones who don’t care that I’m cooking in sweats, who will navigate the minefield of Legos in my entryway to get to the dining table without batting an eyelash, and who know that I use paper towels for napkins because, let’s just get it out there–I believe napkins to be a marketing ploy.  It’s like eating with family, with better conversation and without the emotional baggage.

When it comes to food, I’m prone to eating so much of something I like that I eventually never want to eat it again.  This winter, it’s been a lot of shabu-shabu.  I like hot pot cooking because it’s convivial, healthy, and fun for kids.  You can throw almost anything into a hot pot, so you can pick ingredients that work for your family.  Just chop up the ingredients, warm up a bottle of sake, and settle in for some communal piggery.

all photos, monica spoelstra metz

My friend Monica and I met in a birthing class, and reconnected two years later when our boys ended up in the same class in the same daycare, purely by chance.  Only then did we figure out that we lived on the same street, four blocks apart.  Some things just feel like fate.  This last Friday she arrived with her men, armed with booze, a box of cupcakes, and her own cake stand.  And her camera, to take the awesome photos in this post, even though I never asked!  We had a swell time–the perfect antidote to a supremely crap week.

Everything but the Kitchen Sink Shabu-Shabu

The ingredients for this are totally variable.  I assemble stuff based on color and visual appeal, but generally you might want some vegetables, a meat or seafood of some sort, and then a noodle to throw in at the end.  If you have an Asian grocer nearby, get creative.  For this dinner, I used:

6 bunches baby bok choy, rinsed and leaves left whole

1 bunch watercress

3 packages enoki mushrooms

8 fresh shitake mushrooms

3/4 pound large head-on prawns

2 pounds boneless ribeye, sliced paper thin

1 package firm tofu

2 cups assorted fish cake (oden)

2 cups Korean rice cakes

8 oz. potato vermicelli (rice noodles or soba noodles would also work well)

Condiments for the table: soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, Sriracha, chili sauce, sesame dipping sauce (recipe follows)

Sesame dipping sauce

Recipe adapted from “Japanese Hot Pots” by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat

1/2 cup toasted sesame seeds

1/2 cup water

3 T soy sauce

1 T rice vinegar

2 T sugar

1 T sake or mirin

1/2 t black pepper

Blitz all ingredients in a blender until processed.  Add more water if you want a thinner consistency.

1. Wash and arrange all ingredients on a couple platters.  You want everyone to be able to access the ingredients, so I usually assemble two platters, one for each side of the table.  Get creative.  Don’t worry about how small things should be cut, just keep in mind you want to keep things big enough so that they are easy to fish out of the pot once cooked.

2. Get your dashi going.  Fill your skillet or hot pot about 1/2 full, and bring to a boil with a couple pieces of kombu (dried seaweed) and a few dried anchovies.  Let simmer for 10 minutes, then fish out the solids. Swirl in some soy sauce.  Don’t worry if your dashi doesn’t taste like much, you are just creating a base.  By the time all the other ingredients are added in, you will end up with a beautiful hot pot full of amazing flavors.

3. You’re ready to cook!  Get everyone a pair of long chopsticks and encourage them to drop in whatever they want.  Encourage your guests to experiment with the condiments to come up with their own sauce for dipping.  I usually suggest soy and sesame oil to start.  Pour some sake, and enjoy!

**Notes: You may need to add more water as you eat, if the dashi cooks down too far.  Save the noodles for the end, because they will soak up a lot of liquid. 

You do need a hot pot for this meal.  You can buy a ceramic one to use over a portable propane burner (this is how Asians do it at home), but I like an electric skillet, which is deep enough to hold the broth, and wider than the ceramic versions.  For me, wider is better so more people can access the pot.  You can use the skillet for pancakes on the weekend.  If you’re eating with young kids, keep an eye on them so they don’t accidentally burn themselves.  I can guarantee they’ll love throwing stuff in the pot and fishing it out.

what a crock

For me, the idea of crock-pot cooking is way better than the reality of crock-pot cooking.

The problem is, crock-pot cooking is advertised as a convenient way to cook, and it’s just not. You have to put a lot of forethought into a crock-pot meal, and wake up pretty damn early to get the meal started, all to save yourself the supposed bother of cooking when you get home.

Browning a five-pound chuck roast over high heat is dangerous business even when I’m fully awake, let alone at 7:00 in the morning. The last time I prepped a meal for the crock-pot, I sleep-walked my way through the first 30 minutes of chopping and browning and woke up only when my arm grazed the hot pan.

The other thing about crock-pot cooking is the timing. Most crock-pot recipes require either 9-11 hours on low heat, or 5-7 hours on high heat. If you turn your slow cooker on at 8:00 AM, that means your meal will be ready to eat at 7:00 PM, or 2:00 in the afternoon. I have been in meetings at work worrying that I won’t make it home in time to prevent my beef stew from getting so tender that it disintegrates. What’s stress-free about that? And about that disintegration: crock-pot timing is especially stressful because a crock-pot meal can develop nicely for the first 10 hours and then, without warning, overcook in the 11th hour into a goulash* devoid of texture or taste.

I once observed the progression of a crock-pot meal during a day at home. I checked on it from time to time, out of boredom. Here’s how the day went:

7:00 AM: ingredients for pot roast in

8:00 AM: is this thing on

10:00 AM: pot bubbling

12:00 PM: whoa where did all this liquid come from

2:00 PM: roast smelling good, looking good

4:00 PM: when can I eat this already

5:00 PM: (leave to pick up kids)

6:00 PM: GOULASH

So, put away the crock-pot, and do what I do, and cook this chicken dish instead, in under an hour. The dish has Indian roots but none of the heaviness of a takeout curry. It’s got a thick gravy that is gingery, garlicky, tomato-y, and tastes like it’s been cooking all day. If you make it in the evening after the kids are in bed, stick it in the fridge, and warm it up for dinner the next day, the flavor’s even better. It’s a great dish for weekday entertaining, for that very reason. And loaded with greens, it’s healthy to boot.

Chicken with Tomato and Greens

Adapted from “Mangoes and Curry Leaves” by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

Ingredients:

2.5-3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs (use breasts if you prefer)

3 cups chopped onions

6 tablespoons vegetable oil

4 teaspoons ground cumin

4 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

2-3 tablespoons minced garlic

2-3 tablespoons minced ginger

1 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste

32 oz. canned, diced tomatoes (roughly one 28-oz. can plus one 14.5-oz. can), quickly drained of excess liquid

2 teaspoons salt, or to taste

3-4 cups packed greens (spinach, chopped kale, chopped chard, pea shoots, etc.)*

1 cup chopped cilantro

Rice or chapatis to serve alongside

Directions:

1. Wash the chicken, pat dry, and chop roughly into smaller pieces. You can chop smaller thighs into two pieces, larger ones into three. Set aside.

2. In a large, wide saute pan or casserole, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring until lightly browned, about 5-7 minutes.

3. Add the cumin, coriander, turmeric, garlic, and ginger, and stir until incorporated.

4. Add the chicken pieces and raise the heat slightly to brown the chicken. Make room in the pan by burrowing the chicken pieces into the onion mixture to get the chicken in contact with the bottom of the pan.

5. Cook, stirring frequently, until chicken pieces are browned in spots, about 5 minutes. Add the cayenne, tomatoes, and salt, and stir until the tomatoes begin to break down and release their liquid.

6. Once things are simmering, lower heat to medium-low and simmer for 15-20 minutes. The dish can be prepared ahead to this point. If preparing in advance, once fully simmered, take off the heat, cool, and refrigerate or freeze.

7. Add your greens. If you’re using spinach, you can turn off the heat, add the greens, cover the pot, walk away for a few minutes, and then come back and stir to incorporate. If you’re using kale or a hardier green, you can simmer for an additional five minutes, or enough to wilt the greens to your liking.

8. Spoon on top of rice and lentils, or serve with chapati. Garnish with chopped cilantro. Take that, crock-pot! Serves 6-8, depending on appetite.

*Notes: to my friends from Eastern Europe–I like goulash. I am not disparaging goulash. But when I start with pot roast in mind, I don’t want to end up with goulash. Regarding the greens: if you are cooking this in advance, remember to toss the greens in when you are reheating to serve, to keep their lovely color. This recipe makes enough for 6-8, or for two meals for a family of four. I typically serve half right away for the family and freeze the rest for another quick weeknight meal.

Sticking with your crock-pot? Try this recipe for Thai Chicken, recommended by my crock-pot-loving friend Whitney.