Last week I was driving with my best friend — Leonard Lopate, obviously — whose guests were two parenting podcasters: Dan Pashman, host of “The Sporkful,” and Hillary Frank, host of “The Longest Shortest Time.” They were discussing “Raising Adventurous Eaters,” and had some good advice for parents of picky eaters — I’m happy to report that family dinner and the idea of repeated exposure came up a few times. But my favorite moment in the radio segment occurred at the end, when a listener called in to share how she raised her kids to love vegetables — specifically peppers. It sounds like her children are all grown now, but she still could not mask her delight when she told Lopate and his panel that the way she got her kids to eat bell peppers was by asking them to close their eyes before eating one, then seeing if they could correctly identify the color — red, green, or yellow? As her kids tested, they tasted, as they tasted they got their daily intake. I thought this was pretty hilarious — and I couldn’t help but think of endless options for riffing, especially now that the farmer’s market is exploding with crazy varieties of just about every vegetable. Carrots: Orange, red, or white? Tomatoes: yellow, red, green? Beans: purple or green? Eggplant: Purple or white? Beets: Red, orange, striped, golden? I could go on. I’m sure you could, too.
Anyway, thanks for the tip, Sidney* from New Jersey, whoever you are!
See how the fish is pink? Princesses love pink. Salmon is what princesses eat! It’s princess food! Yay princesses!!!
If you don’t eat this, I will take the dog for a walk and never come home.
You know how sometimes a needle is so sharp you don’t even feel it? That’s what this chili is like. It’s so spicy that you won’t even taste anything.
Try the swordfish. It’s like white salmon.
Try the cauliflower. It’s like white broccoli.
Try the tofu. It’s like white-ish chicken.
Try eating. It’s how you survive.
I went through full labor and then had a C-section in order to bring you into this world. I almost died for you. You owe me.
If you don’t eat it, then I will. And then I’ll hate myself.
Don’t you love Daddy?
Let me ask you one question: Why must you torment me so?
It’s lemon sole!!! Isn’t that a fun name? Sole is a fish. You like fish, don’t you? Don’t you love salmon? Well, salmon is also a fish! Sole is like salmon’s cousin, in that they both swim in the ocean. They swim around and are cute. It’s really good. It’s even better than salmon! You like fish. You’ll love this. I promise. Just think of it as salmon. Or, okay, chicken. It tastes a little like chicken, too. Oh come on, you love chicken. This is breaded and fried, just like the chicken we make. It’s like that, but even better. Think of it as chicken and salmon mixed together, and you love both of those things, right? Don’t you? You don’t?
If you don’t try this, Santa won’t come.
The doctor said you need to eat this.
There’s no more ketchup. Heinz stopped making ketchup last week. It was in all the newspapers. A newspaper is something you read.
Don’t eat? No treat.
Let’s think about this logically for a minute, okay?
One bite one bite one bite one bite one bite one bite one bite one bite.
Remember the Mac and Cheese you loved at that restaurant in Charleston? This is the exact same recipe, from that restaurant’s cookbook, written by the exact same chef who made it for you then. And now I’m taking his exact instructions and recreating the exact same meal for you right here at your table in New York. How cool is that??
How do you know you won’t like it if you’ve never tried it? And yeah, I just said that.
If you try this, we’ll talk about getting you that Polly Pocket Cruise Ship Set that will sit on our living room floor like a hideous speed bump for the next five years until I throw it away one day when you’re not looking.
Let’s play a game: Pretend your life depended on finishing this.
Quick! Look over there!
Do you enjoy this? Is that why you do this?
You like watching your mother cry? Is that it?
Your sister finished hers.
You think Tony Stark leaves any kale on his plate?
It makes me so happy to introduce today’s guest-poster, Dahlia Lithwick. When she’s not cooking for her two boys, or writing about picky eaters for desperate food bloggers, she’s reporting on the law and the courts for Slate. You know, just that. Welcome! -JR
There is well-documented parental shame in having children who are known for being “picky eaters.” The implication is that had their grown-ups just introduced them to kimchee and pemmican as toddlers, they would be more adventurous today. But I have come to discover a deeper, more searing mortification than the having of a child who only eats food the color of his own inner wrist (pasta, white bread, and chicken). And that is the shame of the picky eater who has come to believe that the fault lies chiefly with his mother.
But allow me to start at the beginning: A few years ago, my then-six year old son came home from an overnight at my cousin’s house, raving about her couscous “recipe.”
“But I make couscous!” I yelped. “You won’t eat my couscous.”
“But Evelyn’s is better.” He explained, patiently.
So I dutifully called Evelyn to get her magical couscous recipe. And she said: “I add water.”
And thus began my longstanding fantasy of someday launching a major cookbook/website/cooking show empire entitled “Other Mommies Recipes.” The result would be a collection, nay, a curated and glossily illustrated array, of recipes, made exclusively by people whose main qualification is that they are not me. It would feature foods made precisely as they have always been made at home, frequently requiring two or fewer ingredients, that my kids eat willingly at Other Mommies houses, as they heap scorn upon me for not being a really good cook.
In addition to Elisha’s Mom’s Couscous (couscous, water) Other Mommies Recipes would feature Boaz’s Mom’s Mashed Potatoes (potatoes, butter) and also her roasted potatoes (also, potatoes, butter) and Roi’s Dad’s Famous Jam Sandwiches (jam, bread). It would have a section devoted to Auntie Carolyn’s scrambled eggs (eggs, butter) and Auntie Edwina’s hard boiled eggs (eggs, water) – a dish about which my younger son has waxed so rhapsodic, it would put Elizabeth Bartlett to shame. There could be a whole Chapter on Other Mommies Grilled Cheese (bread, cheese), but I probably couldn’t author it myself without having to be heavily medicated.
I don’t even attempt to make Other Mommies Recipes anymore because after a brief stint of pretending to call the other mommies, laboriously copy down their “recipes” and replicating them at home, I have reconciled myself to the fact that I will never ever be able to make pasta the way Tanner’s Mom makes it (pasta, pesto) or the way Grandma makes it (penne, shredded parmesan) or the way my own mom makes it (pasta). And the truly insightful among you have doubtless noticed by now that Other Mommies Recipes have one other unifying feature in common: In addition to featuring two or fewer un-screw-up-able ingredients they also produce food that is somewhere between white and light beige. Because Other Mommies Vegetables is never going to happen.
 The fact that this was produced by a Daddy complicates the naming of my “Other Mommies” cooking empire but I thought in the interest of full disclosure and the Absence of the End of Men, I should explain that Other Daddies have recipes too.
A few weeks ago, my friend Christy, mother of four, sent me a link to a pork chop recipe she was thinking about for dinner. “So I am going to make this tonight, but what bothers me is that two of my kids will put A-1 on it no matter what.” I felt her pain — soy sauce and ketchup have both been A-1 equivalents in our house — and I wanted to help her. So I looped in none other than Homemade Pantry author Alana Chernila. (Subtitle: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making) for the rescue effort. My feeling was, if they’re going to slather the stuff on, might as well feel good about what’s in the bottle. Alana was nice enough to address the condiment quandry below. — JR
Every family has those condiments.
You probably already know what I’m talking about. What was the first jar that popped into your head? But if we are to get into specifics, those condiments can be characterized by the following:
1. There is at least one member of your family who pours/ spreads/ scoops it over everything, even as you tell them that you just spent two hours in the kitchen trying to get the flavor right, and maybe just this once, they could taste what you made first?
2. Even though it is constantly in use, the jar seems to mysteriously last forever.
3. Whatever it is, it’s excellent on eggs.
We’ve certainly been through our fair share of bottles that meet the criteria. We’re a condiment-loving family, and we’ve covered our meals with Sriracha, Thai peanut sauce, that strange squishy Japanese mayonnaise in the bottle with the baby on it, kimchi, ketchup, Tabasco, fancy mustard, and of course, steak sauce.
What makes these condiments so delicious? Usually, it’s some sort of magical alchemy of tomato, sugar, vinegar and six or seven ingredients I don’t even want to think about. But all that sweetness and acid and salt—those are the ingredients of memory. I think that what comes out of the bottle creates sensations in the mouth way before they actually register as flavor. And those feelings–the burn, the funny feeling in the nose, the wonderful and off-putting way that mayonnaise coats every other taste—they bring us back to all the other tables we’ve felt that way over the course of our lives.
My main goal with homemade steak sauce was to find that strange kick in the back of the throat. When I finally felt it, I offered a little spoon from the unmarked jar to my friend, Molly.
“What’s it taste like?”
Her eyes got wide. “It tastes like a restaurant my mom used to take me on birthdays. It was one of those big places with animal heads mounted on the wall, where you could order any size steak you wanted.”
Homemade Steak Sauce, aka “A-2″ Recipe by Alana Chernila, author of The Homemade Pantry. Makes 1 cup.
Most homemade steak sauce recipes call for a mixing of a bunch of other condiments, and honestly if you throw together some ketchup, Worcester sauce, Tabasco, and sugar, you’ll get pretty close. But starting a bit more from scratch is easy, and then you can control all the flavors and know just what’s in there. Feel free to adjust just about any of these ingredients. Taste as you go. And if you want to leave out the anchovies for a vegetarian version, just substitute in a bit of something smoky like smoked salt or miso paste. Note: For those who prefer a thinner sauce (like A-1) push the final product through a strainer.
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion (from 1/2 medium onion)
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped anchovy (from about 2 filets)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons pulpy lemon juice (from1 lemon)
1/2 cup pulpy orange juice (from 2 oranges)
1/4 teaspoon celery salt
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon hot sauce
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce
1 tablespoon molasses
1. Combine the raisins and the apple cider vinegar, and let soak for 20 minutes.
2. Heat the olive oil in a small pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until the onion is soft and shiny, about five minutes. Add the garlic, anchovy, and tomato paste and stir to combine. Lower the heat to medium low and add the raisins and apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, orange juice, celery salt, hot sauce, white vinegar, tamari, and molasses. Cook, uncovered, stirring often, for about 10 minutes.
3. Transfer to the blender and blend until smooth. Taste for heat, salt and sweetness. Adjust if necessary, and decant into a jar. Store covered in the refrigerator indefinitely.
I think by now I’ve made it clear how much of an inspiration Peg Bracken’sI Hate to Cook Book has been in my life. Not because the recipes are good — quite the contrary, in fact. With brilliantly nostalgic (but not-so-appealing) names like Ham Lime Supper and Fast Cheese Scallop, I’ve never been tempted to cook even one. The writing, on the other hand, holds up remarkably well. A former ad copywriter, Bracken is the master of the zinger, and sets up a chapter like nobody’s business. Whenever I’m in a rut (writing, cooking, or both) I find myself breaking open my way-yellowed, barely-bound paperback copy, then inevitably following Andy around the house reading entire paragraphs to him (“..And now listen to this one!”) Like this intro to her chapter about entertaining.
“When you hate to cook, you should never accept an invitation to dinner. The reason is plain: Sooner or later, unless you have luckily disgraced yourself at their home, or unless they get transferred to Weehawken, youwill have to return the invitation.”
Last year, while I was at an impasse writing my own book, I remember reading Andy the first page of IHTCB, then him replying, “I know what you mean. Every sentence is perfect.”
Well, this morning I started flipping through it again and came upon the section where she compiles seventy-five of her most favorite household hints. (But not before she ridicules the whole concept of household hints up and down and all around, God love her.) And then I saw this one:
“You can get a small sick youngster to eat more food, more happily, if you serve him an eight-course meal in a muffin tin. Many little bits of things — a spoonful of applesauce, a few green beans, a few little candies, etc — are more appetizing than three items in quantity.”
I’m not sure what age she was talking about when she refers to a “small sick youngster” but I’d be willing to bet that this trick might work nicely for small youngsters who aren’t sick…for small youngsters whose parents would do just about anything — including make muffin-tin tapas (with cupcake papers!) after clocking nine hours at the office — to get their finicky eater excited about trying something new. When Abby was a toddler suffering from her own bout of ingestus particulare, I know she would’ve been all over it. Above, I put together a sample selection of what might work in our house: cheddar cubes, broccoli, turkey meatballs, yellow peppers, baby ravioli, apricot halves. But I’m willing to bet you know better than me what should be in yours. Let me know how it goes.
When we’re little and we taste things for the first time, things can get a little hairy. Check out this video and pay careful attention to the Olive part, which might be the funniest thing you’ll see all weekend. (Thanks to the ever-reliable Dan for sending our way!)
This is how a conversation went with my new friend Sarah, the first time I met her a few months ago:
Sarah: I really love your blog, it gives me hope. Me: Hey, thanks. I’m so glad. Sarah: But I don’t cook from it. Me: Oh…you don’t? Sarah: No, I don’t cook. I can’t do anything in the kitchen. Me: Yes you can. Sarah: No I can’t. I. Really. Can’t.
That week, I had just read a profile of Stacy London and it crossed my mind that Sarah felt the way about cooking the way I felt reading that story — the way I felt trying to figure out what I was going to wear to a fancy holiday party later that month: Intimidated. A little lost.
Me: It’s not hard. You just need a little confidence and one or two solid recipes in your rotation. Sarah: Well, what are those recipes? I have no idea where to start. Me: I have almost 500 recipes on my blog, start there! Sarah: That doesn’t help.
She was totally right! Someone might as well have told me “How do you not have something to wear to that party? There are 500 stores in New York City that sell perfect party dresses.”
On this blog, sometimes we get so bogged down in the (admittedly plentiful) minutae of family dinner — from the benefits of cooking for your kids to how to stay on top of Meatless Mondays to what freaking books to discuss at the dinner table — that we can forget to dial back and address the most elemental of issues: Where Do I Begin? It’s why I recently introduced the “First Time Here” button up there on the right. And it’s also why Andy and I wrote a feature for Bon Appetit this month called A Family Dinner Primer. Besides telling you what to make for family dinner (including this rockin’ steakhouse steak salad pictured above), we hope it goes back to the basics and tells you how to make family dinner.
As for what to wear to family dinner? I’m open to suggestions.
Steak Salad with Creamy Horseradish Dressing If you want to do this on a weeknight, I highly recommend making the dressing and the pickled onions ahead of time. They are minor tasks, but just the kind of thing you’ll be glad you don’t have to do after a day wearing heels that were supposed to be more comfortable.
For the dressing:
In a small bowl, whisk the following. Can be made in advance and stored for up to a week:
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 1-pound rib-eye, flank, or skirt steak
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
12 ounces fingerling potatoes, thinly sliced
1/2 English hothouse cucumber, thinly sliced
6 radishes, cut into thin wedges
2 cups greens (such as arugula or torn Bibb lettuce leaves) Pickled Red Onions
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet, preferably cast-iron, over medium-high heat. Season steak with salt and pepper. Cook over medium-high heat until cooked to desired doneness, 5-8 minutes per side for medium-rare rib eye, about 4 minutes per side for flank steak, or 3 minutes per side for skirt steak. Transfer meat to a plate and let rest for 10 minutes.
While steak rests, wipe out skillet and heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Add potatoes, season with salt, and cook, tossing occasionally, until tender, 8-10 minutes.
Slice steak and serve with horseradish dressing, potatoes, cucumber, radishes, greens, and Pickled Onions.
A cherished ritual seems to have sprung up in this house, without us ever consciously putting it into effect: we go out to a local restaurant, just the four of us, every Friday night for dinner. The culinary options in our neighborhood being somewhat…limited, we usually end up at a sushi place run by a super friendly Japanese man who I will call Bob. Bob works as hard as is humanly possible. Bob cares. He is the great patriarch of the place, demanding and loving, standing by the door in sushi chef garb, directing traffic, taking pickup orders by phone, making the rounds to check on general levels of satisfaction. He has a photographic memory, as well, which manifests itself in a remarkable ability to remember every customer’s name, which I know because he shouts every customer’s name the second they walk in the door. ANDY! TODD! JENNIFER! EMILY! HELLOHOWAREYOUUUUUUUU! There’s a big, well-tended fish tank by the door, and some mermaid murals on the walls, and the fish is good and fresh; the kids love it here. We always order family style, and we’ve got it down to a science: yellow tail scallion roll, eight pieces of salmon sushi, spicy shrimp tempura roll, a few pieces of tuna, coupla orders of shumai, coupla bowls of miso, and most important, one chicken teriyaki dinner, which is served in a sizzling cast-iron skillet. The chicken is tender, sprinkled with sesame seeds, and cut into strips, but it’s the onions that we end up fighting over. They’re sweet and still slightly crunchy, caramelized in the pan and doused in teriyaki sauce. Abby drizzles them over her rice and goes to town; Phoebe just takes her chopsticks and shovels them in until the pan is picked clean. Without fail, they are the highlight of the meal.
We’ve chronicled our caramelized onion obsession here before — and in Jenny’s book — but a little homemade teriyaki sauce takes things to another level. The first time I made these, I spooned them over some fresh tuna, which I seared in a grill pan on the stovetop. The next time, we served them with roasted salmon. They go with almost everything, is the thing: steak, chicken, fish, tofu, they’d even be good on a burger (with some hoisin instead of ketchup, mmmmmm). The downside is, we never have enough. My hard-won advice: use more onions than you think you’ll need, because you’ll need them. — Andy
Add all of the ingredients above to a bowl or large measuring cup, and stir until sugar is dissolved. Thinly slice two or three large yellow onions and sautee in cast iron skillet (with one tbsp canola or grapeseed oil) over medium heat until they soften slightly, about five minutes. Drizzle in a few spoonfuls of the teriyaki sauce, to coat the onions, and stir. Cook 2-3 minutes, until sauce is absorbed. Then, do it again: drizzle some of the sauce over the onions — but don’t let it get soupy, you don’t want to boil these things — and cook another 2 minutes. Remove from heat and serve with chicken, fish, or rice.
Speaking of cast iron skillets, the newsletter giveaway winner of the super-awesome Lodge Cast Iron Skillet that we use daily is Sarah L . Thanks to everyone who participated!
I guess it’s not breaking news that pasta dinners are faster than most, but because I tend to plan around the pasta-hater in my house, I don’t get to make these kinds of dishes as often as I’d like. And when I do, and they turn out as deliciously as this Orecchiette with Peas and Country Ham (Meal #2 of 7 in my Seven Days, Seven Dinners challenge), I am reminded why I keep trying to fight the good pasta fight. I love Orecchiette here because it scoops up the peas and ham without requiring too much concentrating. (Have you ever tried to have spaghetti with peas? By the time I’m done with dinner and all that twirling and scooping and balancing, my brain hurts.) We used some crazy mail-order country ham (more on that later), but any old ham or pancetta would be fine. Whatever works nicely on sandwich bread for lunch the next day — or in our case, whatever works nicely on sandwich bread for the diner not enjoying the real dinner at the table.
Orecchiette with Peas and Country Ham
1 pound of orecchiette
handful frozen peas to taste
salt and pepper
shake or two of red pepper flakes
1/2 small onion, chopped
2 or 3 slices of Country Ham (or ham or a handful of pancetta pieces)
1/2 cup Parmsean, plus extra for serving
2 pats butter
handful freshly chopped mint or parsley
Cook pasta according to package directions. When it has one more minute of cooking, toss frozen peas into the water with the pasta. Reserve about 1/4 cup of pasta water then drain in a colander, drizzling a little olive oil into pasta to prevent sticking. Return pot to the stove and over medium heat, add a few glugs of olive oil, onions, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Cook about a minute, stirring. Add ham and cook until slightly crisp. Add pasta and peas to the pot and stir everything to combine. Add cheese and butter and a drizzle of reserved pasta water to make the cheese distribute evenly. Serve in bowls with more cheese and herbs.
Universal law of childhood eating, #217: Kids like to dip stuff in stuff. At least, our kids do. They dip roasted potatoes in ketchup. They dip baby carrots in ginger dressing. They dip sausages in yellow mustard, cookies in milk, and breaded chicken in ketchup. They dip salmon in Soyaki, grape tomatoes in ketchup (not sh*tting you!), burritos in salsa, apples in Nutella, bacon strips in maple syrup, Hershey’s kisses in peanut butter, ketchup in ketchup in ketchup in ketchup. I’m not sure what evolutionary quirk is playing out here re: the dipping impulse, but as long as the food goes down, it is all good in the hood, right? A couple of weeks ago, I added another one to the rotation. It was Sunday night and we had grilled a couple of tuna steaks and I was standing in the kitchen, trying to think of something to help seal the deal with the kids. Tuna is not always easy. What goes well with it? Spicy mayo! So I made one, using Hellmann’s and Sriracha. (About 1 teaspoon Sriracha to every 3 tablespoons mayo.) It had a beautiful, peachy color. It had some serious umami action, without being too spicy. It went over huge. Not only that, I’ve since discovered it’s a pretty versatile tool. It’s not just for dipping, in other words. You can use this on turkey sandwiches, in canned tuna salad, in potato salad, in slaws, and, maybe best of all, with – yeah, you heard me Henry John Heinz – Tater Tots. – Andy
About a month ago we were having chili for dinner. Our son hates chili. All types. Tomato, white bean chicken, we have battled over it all. I have pushed, he has pursed (his lips tightly). I have threatened (which I know is not the way to promote healthy attitudes toward food), he has cried (I’m not proud of this). Anyway, he asked what we were having for dinner this night and I said, “Chili.” But instantly I recalled these words which I had read only hours before, “It’s all about marketing.” and so I quickly changed the title. “Actually, I mean, it’s soup. Two bean, ground beef, tomato soup…on a potato.” “Oh. It really looks like chilli.” he replied. “I know, crazy huh?” He then proceed to eat the. whole. bowl, asked for more and did not complain about it once. Yes, it really is all about marketing.
So, in closing, I’m so glad Amazon recommended your book and I’m so glad to have been introduced to your blog through it (aaaand books we love??! Oh man your blog was really made for me!) I love it.
I should probably be stripped of my food blogging rights for telling you to do anything with summer corn besides eat it on the cob with a little salt and butter, but you know I can’t resist the urge to share the discovery of a new deconstructible dinner. Last week was not the first time we’ve eaten this corn, chicken and sausage stew — not by a longshot, we ate a version of it almost every August weekend one summer in the 90s. But since then, we’ve had to think a bit more strategically about dinner, which, of course, is another way of saying, we’ve become parents. I was happy to discover last week, that the family classic joins the ranks of the tortilla soup, the salmon salad, and the other dinners on page 158-163 of my book that can be broken down into their individual components so that they can be more palatable to the kids, and less headache-inducing for the cook. It’s a goodie.
Summer Stew with Chicken, Corn, and Sausage
Adapted from Gourmet
3 links chorizo sausage (I used chicken), sliced into coins
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 or 7 boneless chicken thighs, salted and peppered
1/2 medium onion, chopped
red pepper flakes (optional)
2 to 3 cups corn, cut off the cob
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
In a Dutch oven or large pot, brown sausage in olive oil over medium heat until crispy. Remove. Raise heat to medium-high and brown chicken (in batches if necessary) on both sides until mostly cooked through. Remove. Turn down heat to medium-low, add onion, salt, pepper, pepper flakes, and a little more oil if necessary. Stir until slightly wilted. Add corn and tomatoes and stir until vegetables release their juices.
Nestle chicken and sausage back in the vegetables, cover and simmer another 5-10 minutes until chicken is cooked through. Serve with basil and crusty bread in bowls, or separate into individual components for the kid who doesn’t like things “mixed” and serve on a plate.
So I went on the Today Show yesterday to talk about some themes you know well by now — deconstructing meals, picky eaters, my Trickle-Down Theory of Dinner (see page 10!) and of course, the book itself. I’ve known about this segment for about three months now — my publisher called me with the news while I was watching soccer practice — and if I were a certain kind of person I suppose I would have been broadcasting this news all over the world, posting it on my events page and facebook, tweeting from the green room and all that, but the truth is: I was kinda terrified about the whole Live TV thing. To the point where over the past few months I’ve been dividing my life into two distinct eras: (more…)
If you asked 8-year-old Abby to list her favorite foods, I have a feeling the following would show up in the top ten: penne, fettucini, rigatoni, farfalle, gnocchi, orechiette, and (as of last week), cavatelli. I don’t know how much of this love affair is because she’s defining herself in opposition to her sister, a world class pasta hater, but I do know that because of Phoebe’s refusal to touch the stuff, Abby doesn’t get a nice bowl of spaghetti and meatballs nearly as often as she’d like to. I also know that eliminating pasta from our dinner repertoire is not an option given how much Andy and I love it, and given how much the girls’ Great Grandmothers are named Turano and Catrino. So while the rest of us might get a nice bowl of cavatelli with spring asparagus, tomatoes, ricotta, and lemon, Phoebe would get something that looks like this:
Not bad, right? I might call this ricotta and tomatoes on baguette a first cousin of the real dinner.
And maybe I’d call this one a second cousin, which I might serve a toddler (or a pincer-grasping baby) who prefers his food equal but separate.
Pasta with Asparagus, Tomatoes, Ricotta & Lemon This recipe has you tossing the aspargus in with the boiling pasta water which saves you a pot to clean. (You’re welcome!) For Version 2 dinner: toast a baguette, top with ricotta and tomatoes as shown. Drizzle with olive oil and some good sea salt. Serve asparagus on the side. For Version 3: I think you got that one.
Cook 1 pound pasta according to package directions. (We used cavatelli, but any kind will do.) While pasta is cooking, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Swirl a halved garlic clove in the oil just for a quick flavor hit, then remove. Add 1 1/2 cups chopped grape tomatoes (yellow or red), salt, pepper and cook until tomatoes are wilted.
During last three minutes that the pasta is cooking, toss in 1 bunch asparagus spears (chopped) to the pot. Drain pasta and asparagus together and immediately toss in with tomatoes, cooking until pasta is coated with tomato juice.
Remove from heat and toss in 2 to 3 heaping tablespoons of ricotta (or to taste), 2 teaspoons lemon zest, salt, and pepper. (If it’s too hard to toss in the skillet, you can do this in a large bowl.)
Over the weekend, I made my own mayonnaise. You’ll be hearing more about this, but beyond the general feeling of triumph I experienced by my accomplishment, I had to take a step back and say, “I can’t believe I’m making my own mayonnaise. How much will DALS readers of babies and toddlers resent me for having time to do something so indulgent?” With this in mind, it’s my honor to present today’s guest-poster, writer and editor Rory Evans. In addition to being one of DALS most faithful commenters (your avatar is safe with me!) Rory was one of my first mentors in magazines — we first met at Real Simple in 2001 — and I know I speak for a lot of writers when I say her hand-scribbled line-edits and queries on manuscripts taught me more about writing than almost anyone else I can think of. She is also the mother of a 2-year-old, which means she is more in the guerilla mode of toddler-feeding phase than the homemade mayo-making one. I keep her around for this reason, but also because every year on my birthday, she sends me this, much to the delight of my daughters and my neighbors and whoever else I invite to share in the bounty. Here, Rory shares a few tried-and-true tactics that have worked at her family table including a marinade made from the three ingredients above that I’ve already used a half dozen times since she told me about it last month. Thanks Rory!
A few nights ago, my 2-year-old daughter Evan ate everything off her plate. And then—holy role reversal!—she started picking off mine. The last time I had seen her ingest anything so quickly was when she was six days old, and downed two ounces of formula in a desperate, half-minute suck. (It was, we realized, the first food she had eaten in her 144-hour life—all those endless “breastfeeding” sessions had been a ruse. Nothing had been coming out.)
It will likely be years before she replicates this feat. And it of course made me try to decode what we had put before her. Here’s what she ate: boneless pork chop and a salad made with baby spinach, red onion, and sliced strawberries (North Shore of Boston people: Do they still serve this at every wedding held at Salem Country Club in Peabody?). The common ingredient, I realized? Maple syrup (in the marinade, along with rice vinegar and soy sauce; and in the dressing, with red wine vinegar and olive oil). Oh, “candy pork” and “candy salad,” I thought—remembering my friend Molly’s suggestion years ago to refer to anything even slightly sweet as “candy” and your kids will eat it.
If there is a blessing to having been a dried-up old bag when my daughter was born (I was 18 days shy of turning 40), it’s this: Most of my friends had had their kids years and years before, and I’d heard their stories about willful toddlers and Olympic-level picky eaters (my desk was about 20 feet from Jenny’s during that era when Abby decided to go on her 5-week solid food strike) I remembered a few of their various tricks: like not only Molly’s “candy” modifier, but also her “chicken fish” trick—her son would eat any kind of chicken, so she just started referring to any kind of fish as chicken fish. (See also: Jenny’s “Princess fish,” which I’ve also put to good use.) Since Evan mysteriously loves broccoli, I’ve started calling kale “broccoli salad” and cauliflower “white broccoli” with minimal blowback.
She is also a fan of “salad surprise,” where something we know she loves is hidden under a mound of mulch/greens. As in, the strawberries with the spinach, or the raisins that go into a kale salad. Of course, she’s been known to just push the leaves aside and go for the treat, but she eventually gets to the rest. Naturally, I live in fear of her some day being on to my tricks, when she decides that she’ll only ever eat another vegetable if it’s entirely camouflaged in some kind of Jessica Seinfeld cupcake. So I ask you, dear Jenny’s reader: What worked for you? Is there more dinnertime doublespeak that I should know about?
Maple Candy Pork Chops
Rory said she makes the marinade mostly by feel. Place four boneless center cut pork chops in a zip top bag. Add 1/3 cup of syrup, 2 to 3 tablespoons of canola, a bunch of glugs of soysauce (about 1/4 cup), and then the same amount of rice vinegar, and a shake or two of powdered garlic (or if you are feeling ambitious, one whole clove, halved). Marinate at least an hour and a half and up to overnight. When ready to cook, place chops on an unlined cookie sheet, which most certainly should be lined with foil, and roast at 450°F for about maybe 15 – 20 minutes, flipping once half way through.
Salad Surprise with Strawberries
Toss 1 bag baby spinach, a handful of sliced strawberries, and a tablespoon or two of super thinly sliced red onion. I tossed it with a dressing made from 1 tablespoon maple syrup, apple cider vinegar (insert kate saying, “page turner!”), and olive oil, a pinch of powdered garlic, and a hint of ground cinnamon.
Last week, my editor sent me the index section of my book to look over. I thought it was going to be some straight stuff, but there were a couple moments when I was surprised to find myself laughing out loud (then found myself crossing those moments right out with my red pen). Such as, under C, “cocktails, enthusiasm for.” And under J, Just Married, “worshipping talented cooks.” And, under A, “Awkward Silence Strategy.” (I had to look that one up myself.) But then there was one I came across that actually made me angry. Again, under C, the indexer had listed beside the word Children, “See also Picky Eating.” I like to think things are not so bad at our collective family tables that we need to assume, as this note did, that all children fall under the category of picky eaters. We all have our handicaps (in our house, they are eggs and pasta – think about that! Two of the most fall-back-plan-y foods that exist in this world!) but if you’ve been reading this blog for a few years, hopefully you’ve picked up a few strategies beyond the heart-shaped cookie cutter to help things along. Here’s a recap.
Invest them Up-Front in the shopping part of the process. I’m all for having them cook with you, too, but convincing them to pick things out with you at the ground level — the supermarket, the farmer’s market — is a much lower maintenance (and a much less messy) proposition than having them stir the spaghetti sauce all over the stovetop.
Make Sure There’s Always Something Familiar on the Plate. I call this “psychological latch” food, like tater tots or one of those par-baked Trader Joe’s dinner rolls. Or if you are going to make pizza with clams or poached eggs, make sure at least one half of the pie is a classic marinara and mozzarella (above). It’s just not fair to spring something like Pork Scallopini on them without an anchor.
But Pork Milanese that’s another story. Anything Milanese is likely to knock their socks off.
Point and Cook If you are cooking from cookbooks or blogs, have the kids flip through the pages or scroll through the slideshows, and tell them to point to what looks good. Of course you run the risk of it not looking exactly like the picture, but at least their heads are in the right place when they sit down.
Never Answer a Kid When He or She Asks “What’s For Dinner?” Especially if it’s something new. Just repeat these words: “I Don’t Know Yet.” Giving a kid some time to think about a dish that they potentially hate or that is just downright mysterious gives them a window to formulate an argument against the food — and also gives them time to convince you to make them something else. Repeat: I Don’t Know Yet.
Apply Broccoli Logic. If all else fails and the only thing you can get your kid to eat is a hot dog, remember Andy’s Broccoli theory? No matter what broccoli (or kale or quinoa) is sitting next to, it will magically transform the dinner into something you can feel good about feeding your children. You might have a hard time finding this concept in most indexes.
The pork loin I braised in red wine last Tuesday night was pretty freaking delicious. I can say this because most of the credit goes to my coworker — remember the one who was plotting her own pork and lentil stew in the slow-cooker while I was plotting drumsticks? After she told me that one, it was on the brain for 24 hours and I knew the only way to get it off the brain would be to try out a version of the pork stew for myself. The problem? I didn’t own a slow cooker. (Well, not true. I own one, but it is in a box deep in the bowels of our basement, and last time I remember using it, I think it was missing a crucial piece, like a lid.) I was working from home the day I decided to tackle the recipe in my Dutch Oven and began cooking just as the girls were scattering their math workbooks on the kitchen table to start homework.
What’s for dinner? asked Abby as soon as she heard the loin hit in the oil.
This can be such a loaded question. When I’m making something new for the girls — which is fairly often — and there’s a good chance that the unfamiliar name of this dinner will set off some whining, sometimes I just lie and say I don’t know yet. But other times, when dinner is simmering away on the stovetop, and an oniony aroma is in the air, I opt for the truth.
Some sort of pork with beans…and maybe kale, I told her.
I don’t like beans! And then, for the next two hours, it was all Do we have to have pork with beans? and Can’t you make those chicken wings again? and Can you make me something else if I don’t like it?
I hate this scenario. The whole point of dinner — the whole point of this site actually — is to get people excited about sitting down to eat. And what killed me is that I knew Abby would love this meal if she had the right attitude. But she couldn’t picture it, so it scared her. I get it – for the longest time, that’s exactly how I felt about J.Lo on American Idol.
I needed a game changer. I needed Tater Tots.
Abby had hand-selected a bag of them from Whole Foods a few weekends earlier and hardly a day had gone by when she hadn’t begged to have them for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. It was just the psychological latch she needed on the plate to adjust the way she was approaching the table. I piled a mountain of them next to her pork, which she ate absent-mindedly, and which, when deconstructed and cut into pieces, was not all that much different looking than the Pork braised in Pomegranate Juice and Marcella’s Milk-braised Pork she’s had (and loved) a hundred times before.
And I know this is not exactly breaking news, but Holy Christ Tater Tots taste good! The rest of us were pretty excited about dinner that night, too.
I wish I could say that the inspiration for this meal came from a stroll through my farmer’s market — from those gorgeous bunches of lacinato kale and bushels of Romano beans; from the juicy blackberries and rosy, plump apricots and white nectarines; from the summer spinach that seems to coo: Come hither! Slather me in olive oil and toss me around a little! (more…)