One Meal, Three Ways

June 4th, 2012 · 15 Comments · Deconstructing Dinner, Dinner, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Pasta, Picky Eating, Quick, Vegetarian

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.)

Serve with chopped fresh basil.

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The Magic Maple Marinade and Other Stories

May 14th, 2012 · 27 Comments · Picky Eating

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 soy sauce (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.


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