kids picks

Ever since their older cousin Mae showed them how to mix dirt, leaves, worms and orange juice in a bowl, the boys have been asking to do "science experiments." They've seen their uncle perform the black pepper in soapy water trick to show how molecules separate (or something like that). He blew their little minds. And their grandmother makes slime and other messy substances that take minutes to make and hours to clean up.

I"m always a little skeptical of the mess vs. value of the product. But then I remembered referring to my pickle-making attempts as science experiments. So I found a new recipe in the Jerusalem cookbook (no vinegar or sugar but lots of interesting spices, plus dill) and made it with the boys. They liked smelling cloves and learning about mustard seeds, and what happens when salt dissolves in water. Nate's persistent question throughout was "will they be sour?" To which I had to admit, I don't know. We'll see in 5 days. 

"Aw man," Mack said. "Can we play now?"

Update: They were not sour enough for Nate's taste but they were tasty. Next time I'll play around with the spice mix. A different kind of playing than Mack had in mind, I guess. Stay tuned. 

magic mac

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For anyone who has followed my multi-year search for the perfect mac and cheese recipe, I'm sorry. It's not exactly the cause I thought I'd champion when I finished grad school. The good news is that I finally found it: an easy, no-powder mac and cheese (slightly tweaked from Dad Cooks Dinner) that both boys loved on two separate occasions. I can make in the Instantpot—it's even easier than a stovetop version, And I can pack it in thermoses for their lunch boxes. And here it is:

MAGIC MAC

Ingredients

  • 1 pound dried elbow macaroni
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
  • 1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt 
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 (12 ounce) can evaporated milk
  • 16 ounces shredded cheddar cheese

    Directions
  1. Stir the macaroni, butter, mustard, hot pepper sauce, salt, and 4 cups water in the pressure cooker pot. Lock the lid and cook on high pressure for 4 minutes. Quick release the pressure and remove the lid.
  2. Stir in the evaporated milk and the cheese one handful at a time, stirring constantly.

    ***This makes a ton so feel free to half it or store it in the fridge for a week or two and scoop out as needed. Heat up with a splash of milk or water.

 

 

waking up in the 'burbs

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Another sign that you’re an urban girl in a suburban world? When the timer for the muffins goes off and you think it's a car alarm and let it go on for 10 minutes before realizing it's coming from the kitchen.

That happened. But the great thing about these muffins is that, apparently, you can’t really cook them too long or mess them up too badly. Believe me, I’m not a baker. The reason I made these is because of yet another Suburban Catch 22: The bus takes the kids to school (whoopee) but it picks them up at 7:15am (whatttt?)

So our leisurely two-pan breakfasts are about to end and I am trying to think of ways to get food in their bodies before they leap into this new world. We're not a cereal family and Mack turns into Darth Vader without some protein. So I found a recipe from Tory Avey and made it simpler and more kid friendly.

These are light and airy but definitely sweet and they have a little protein from Greek yogurt and a little fruit from applesauce. The best part is they only take about 10 minutes to make and only one bowl. And like I mentioned earlier, you can cook the hell out of them when you mistake the timer for a car alarm.  

Feel free to freeze them too and then you can defrost them in the microwave while yelling "STOP FIGHTING, GET DRESSED, YOU'RE LATE!"

Banana Muffins

3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
2 eggs
1/4 cup applesauce
3 ripe bananas mashed
1 cup Greek yogurt (whole, 2% or nonfat)
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Cut the butter into small chunks and place in a large mixing bowl along with the sugar and brown sugar. Use an electric mixer (or standing mixer) to beat together the butter and sugar for a few minutes. 

Add the eggs and applesauce and mix till smooth. Add the mashed bananas, Greek yogurt, and vanilla. Stir, then slowly add the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, cloves and nutmeg while mixing. Scoop into greased muffin tins and place a chocolate chip on top because kids fall for that sort of thing.

Bake the muffins for 25 minutes. Makes about 24 muffins.

 

instant pot: breakfast

So far there has only been one Instant Pot failure—steel cut oatmeal, from a recipe I found on a random blog. That's one of the problems with the IP--there just aren't that many trustworthy recipes yet. With a lot of ad-libbing I finally got the oatmeal to be oatmeal and with a better recipe, it can be done.

Unfortunately just the idea of tasting the somewhat unusual looking oatmeal sent Nate running into the other room. "You win some you lose some" I said aloud which Mack and Michael turned into a song about tornados and dragons called "The worst hike ever." So at least the creative juices were flowing and eventually Nate came out and joined us. 

A better turnout (not that Nate ate it but the rest of us loved it) were these egg muffins which were softly steamed and juicy. 

annie's ruined us

After years of eating Annie's boxed Macaroni and Cheese, my kids won't touch the homemade stuff.

So last week I set out to find a mac and cheese recipe that would rival Annie's—that my kids would eat. My first attempt was a stovetop cheese sauce with this easy (no roux) method. The sauce was tasty but too clumpy, a dead giveaway. Let's face it, much of feeding kids is tricking their senses into familiarity. 

Next I reached out to an Alton Brown recipe which called for evaporated milk (that stuff in a can), egg yolks and cornstarch which I thought made an excellent cheese sauce that held up well to pasta but the boys found it "too cheesy." I know. And it's ok to wonder at times like these: why did I have children?

Finally I went all out. I ordered some sodium citrate from Amazon which according to the molecular gastronomy world can make cheese sauce out of water and it's true. It's magic! You take the tiniest bit of water and add a pinch of the powder, bring to a boil and then start adding shredded cheese and you get cheese sauce. We played it like a science experiment (again) which got Mack's attention just long enough to take this iphone shot.

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The result was superb., A thick gooey cheese sauce that actually tastes like cheese. I was most proud of this one but before I got the chance to use it for mac and cheese, the Superbowl came along so I used it for some kick ass nachos. Check these out:

Unfortunately, the cheese ended up kind of hard, dry and almost invisible as it cooled. I'm going to try this magic sauce with the macaroni because it's just so cool and easy, why wouldn't I? But you can probably predict the dinner table results. 

Anyway, Annie's is now banned from my house. Too bad for my kids they will never enjoy mac and cheese for dinner again. 

oh joy a holiday potluck

I am usually the mom making the "healthy" snack that walks the fine line between nutritious and yummy and is always the one left over at the end. So this year for the school potlucks, I asked the kids what we should make. Nate, as always, said "pancakes." But it got us thinking along the lines of chocolate chips and breakfast foods. Nothing flax-seedy here but nothing too artificial either. These easy muffins were so good that few were left over which to the kids felt like an accomplishment and maybe, maybe made them want to cook with me again. 

CHOCOLATE CHIP MUFFINS
 

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 & ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup milk (whole or buttermilk is preferred)
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 & ½ cups chocolate chips

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Spray a 12 cup muffin tray with non-stick cooking spray or line with paper liners.
  2. In a large bowl, toss together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and chocolate chips. Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the melted butter, sugar, eggs, milk and vanilla. Slowly add to the dry ingredients. Gently fold together until JUST combined.
  4. Divide the batter into the 12 muffin cups (or 24 mini cups) and bake at 425°F for 5 minutes, then turn the oven heat down to 375°F and bake for another 13-15 minutes. Let cool for about 5-10 minutes and enjoy warm. (Muffins taste best the day of, but can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.)

adapted from Lily Ernst of Little Sweet Baker



 

good bars

My kids have become addicted to Fiber One chocolate bars. Because they taste amazing, duh, and they do provide fiber but also a lot of corn syrup and other stuff that I'd like to think I can save them from, at least until they’re teenagers when they will probably live on corn syrup... and McDonald's chicken nuggets.

Anyway, this story starts with a sale at CVS. Pitted dates were half off so I grabbed a bag vaguely recalling some recipe for energy-date bars.  

I have a hard time bookmarking recipes—we have two computers at home and I always forget which one I bookmarked and where and in what file folder...I sound like I’m 82. So I just googled a recipe for snack bars for kids with dates and found this one and just made it immediately without much further research because I knew if I didn’t pull out the Cuisinart that moment I would never ever do it ever again.  (#failedbaker)

The bars turned out ok—a little dense and oily but tasty. I was pretty sure my kids wouldn't like them so I called them “chocolate peanut bars." (My chocolate peanut butter balls were a minor success.) As it turns out both kids tasted them and said the same thing: "good" in that way they say "good" when I ask them how school was. 

But then I thought: I get the concept: dried fruit and nuts and/or seeds blended, panned and chilled. Of course, theKithchn figured this out in 2012 but since I'd already trashed the kitchen, I decided to improvise another one.

It was also a good opportunity to use all the stuff I bought when I thought I might be a healthy baker (#failedbaker): flax meal, soynut butter, cocoa nibs, cocoa powder, molasses. Blend! The texture was right on but it had sort of a bitter taste and I wound up throwing them out. 

I think the moral is:  stick with kid friendly ingredients. And, when baking, recipes. The "chocolate peanut bars" are still in the fridge and from time to time I offer them as snacks or special treats but no one seems particularly thrilled to take me up on it. They are not nearly as yummy as Fiber One bars. 

the great grape wars

The GRAPE WARS, (whoever shows the bigger grape wins), brilliantly created by Michael this morning, led to both kids eating many many grapes. And so the wars will continue. (After I clean everyone's fingernails.)

are picky eaters mentally ill?

Oy. So there's this new study in the journal Pediatrics which every major publication has now written about that claims kids who are very picky eaters have a greater chance of having mental health issues as adults. The study was done at Duke University by Dr. Zucker who urges parents not to panic. Not every picky kid will be severely depressed or have an eating disorder.

But this part of Dr. Zucker's analysis rings true to me, and always has:

“Their sensory experience is more intense in the areas of taste, texture and visual cues. And their internal experience may be more intense, so they have stronger feelings. They’re sensitive kids who may be anxious or a little depressed; so cutting up fruits into funny shapes is not going to do the trick for these kids.”

I've long noticed Nate's aversion to foods is really not remedied with games or tricks. He feels very strongly about not eating certain foods in a way that seems to go deep. Something about a texture or smell will disgust him completely. I've fantasized that he will turn into a "super taster" or foodie with highly developed senses who actually excels at all things culinary but it's probably more likely this extreme sensitivity will apply to other aspects of his life. Which might not be bad—I'm all for him being a sensitive guy with a rich internal world even though it's a harder role to play in this world.

Another part of the study urges parents to create positive experiences around eating. Family dinner should be more about family than dinner. I think about him crying alone before sandwich night and wonder if we should just lay off him.

nope, dinner is still not ready and whining won't help

I realized today that we are making progress. Only one year ago, this is how our family dinner went down:

Family Dinner, 2014

5:45 pm: Nate is in his room-he was punished for calling me a poopy-head and hitting Mack in the bath. Mack is crying because he’s hungry.

6 pm: Michael gets home. 

6:15 pm: we sit down for dinner but the chicken isn’t ready yet and Nate refuses to even try the cauliflower with cheese sauce or humous and carrots. He asks for ketchup. Mack eats everything but wants what everybody else is eating, even though it’s the same thing that’s on his plate. He cries and begs with no words throughout dinner making conversation very difficult.

6:18 pm: Nate eats four strands of pasta and asks to be excused. We say no and he slides off his chair onto the floor, then tries to stick forks in water bottles. We tell Nate to join us; he cries. Mack cries and begs to be let down from his chair even though he’s still eating. Nate goes to his room while Mack cries. We let Mack down and quickly finish the boys’ dinner.

6:25pm : I clean up a million dishes.

When I talk to the many amazing, smart, accomplished women I know who lament the fact that they have to make dinner for their family, I get it, and for the first time in a long time, I think I can be useful. Since leaving the professional world six years ago, I've had a hard time feeling adequate but the one area I've mastered is cooking for my family. So until I return to the office or publish a bestseller, I'd like to offer some tips, strategies and recipes—along with humor and empathy— for my mom friends who are out doing the hard stuff of working, parenting, being a woman in this world. Dads, of course, welcome too.

6:00 pm sucks. It is the most stressful part of the day--parents are exhausted from work (or taking care of kids); kids are tired and hungry and whining or fighting. It's hard to come up with creative meals that will feed everyone and not repeat the same thing every night. It's hard to know what to do in advance or what should be saved for later. It's hard to make something healthy and simple with minimal cleanup.

Let's start from the beginning: Kids are hungry. Dinner is not ready. What to do? Put some cut up veggies in a bowl. Next open a single serving bowl of plain greek yogurt and mix in some seasoned salt (or onion salt). Add a tablespoon of milk and stir. Announce your creation and set it out on the table. Pour the wine.

can someone get a sandwich around here?

Sandwich dinner is many family's cop-out meal. Not ours. For us, sandwiches for dinner turned out to be an emotional journey and a major turning point on our road to better times. Some people don't know this but my husband, Michael, is actually the self proclaimed king of sandwiches. See this post. Our kids however shun sandwiches. Last week Mack ate a few bites of salami and cheese sandwich and Michael was glowing for days.

The idea arose this morning. Me: Nate you've eaten 85 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches this summer. Can we try another kind? Nate: no. Michael  "Nate I'm going to make some sandwiches for you to try tonight at dinner," translation: mommy is going to make sandwiches for us.

I bought some new breads and salami, then made egg salad. (It occurred to me that Nate likes hard boiled eggs so what if they were just mashed up?) I'll admit, I was somewhat hopeful that this dinner would change the rest of our lives,

An hour before dinner Nate fell into a funk. I don't want sandwiches for dinner, Don't worry, I said. There are lots of options...." he looked intrigued. "Like hot dogs," I lied. Nate made his way to his room saying he wanted to be alone. I gave him some cool down time then entered to find him crying. I held him, then threw a couple hot dogs in the microwave.

When we sat down to dinner, I was nervous, standing up a lot, making announcements and stopping Michael from saying anything that might ruin my master plan which was anything at all. I quickly spread some egg salad (but refrained from calling it "salad") on a lenders bagel and gave it to Nate, then proceeded to pretend to not care what happened next. Michael made Mack a salami sandwich  and I started to make myself a sandwich when a crazy thing happened. Nate ate the open-faced egg salad bagel and liked it. Next we tried a closed egg salad bagel with toothpicks and he ate that too. I was so excited that I rewarded him with no carrots required AND candy. Michael was pleased. Well done he said.

My theory is that seeing foods that Nate could reject (salami, ham, etc) gave him the leeway to choose something that looked familiar even if in a different form.

Unfortunately neither of us noticed that Mack didn't eat anything and he was up all night, hungry. It was a big cleanup and Michael had to leave early to play tennis in Queens. Looking back I will probably realize what a ridiculous person I have become, with fucked up values and an unhealthy need for my kids to eat well. But for the night, I called it a triumph.

the mommy chef who saved dinner

My Brooklyn Based article about chef Paula Hankin and her ideas for feeding picky eaters.

 Read here

breakfast pasta

A stupid-simple, obvious ripoff on carbonara, but the kids liked it (mostly for the name though nothing about this dish is not delicious) and it added some protein to the usual plain pasta dinner. It also inspired our enthusiastic discussion of: "why can't you eat pasta for breakfast or breakfast for dinner?!" Next up: veggie pancakes?

BREAKFAST PASTA

  • 1/2 lb spaghetti
  • 1 egg
  • 2 slices turkey bacon
  • Parmesan cheese

    Cook spaghetti and add 2 tbsp of the cooking water to raw egg. Beat egg and stir into pasta with crumbled bacon and cheese. 

DIY egg muffins

It was Michael's morning to sleep in so when the kids lost interest in the epic car race across the living room, I came up with this project. I greased some muffin tins and beat some eggs in a pourable measuring cup. Then I gave them a choice of toppings on a plate: crumbled turkey bacon, cheese, sauteed red peppers/onions and pumpkin seeds (a new favorite in our house—we pretend they are little bugs.) I poured the egg and they added their choice of toppings to their muffin tin. We made one for Michael too even though he was still sleeping. 

I can't say these were a huge hit but many factors other than their inherent yumminess may have contributed to their failure. First, kids were now fighting because they had been indoors too long. Then Michael, hungover from a night of whiskey with the boys, was not hungry because he had had a late night love affair with a taco stand. I did get credit for trying. Michael said he appreciated my spirit in the face of adversity. Met with continued resistance I continue to try to entice the boys to eat new things. I am Super-Feeder. I will not be defeated!!

stealing your date

I made these for the "healthy eating bake sale" at school after Spencer's mom Cynthia revealed that she often makes date cookies for her kids and calls them chocolate. #stealingyouridea But I also added molasses and some actual mini chocolate chips to further fool the innocents. Oh and I used the Bob's Red Mill Date and Bran mix which I highly recommend if you don't bake.

  • 2 cups Bob's Red Mill Date and Bran Muffin mix (see right)
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup applesauce
  • 1/2 soft mashed banana
  • 1/4 cup mini chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup dried coconut.

    Mix it all in a big bowl and bake in muffin tins for 20 min on 350 degrees.

#conceptdinner, #failure

So what if the entire dinner was yellow? Fun, right? A new way to get the kids to try new foods? A fun new game? Nope, just a lot of work. Purple dinner is cancelled.