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Archive for the ‘Good Eats’ Category

Never underestimate the power of the sprinkle.

No.  I don’t mean the colored candy kind.  Although if they are chocolate, and called Jimmies, I can’t quite resist those either…  but that’s another post.

What I mean to say is, sprinkle, as in sprinkling seasoning.

Part of getting a kid to try different food is engaging them in preparation.  Something as simple as seasoning is enough to make a kid proud of cooking.

Sometimes in our kitchen, The Child is involved throughout the preparation, and those are substantial experiences.  But more often, she’s playing or reading somewhere and I call out, “Do you want to sprinkle the salt and pepper?”

She pops out of whatever she was doing, grabs a pinch of salt or a shaker of spice, and holds it up high.  Sometimes there is a quick dramatic flourish, and she’s gone in a flash.  Other times it is a focused and slow shower of flavor, watching carefully to see where the individual grains land.

Fresh cut chives sprinkled on breakfast eggs and tomatoes.

Credit, as for so many things in our kitchen, goes to Alton Brown.  Good Eats on the DVR was kid programming in our house.  No freakin’ Barney here.  And as a toddler she started learning from AB.  (Belching yeasty puppets!  Definitely children’s programming!)

In various episodes he points out why he holds his hand so high when seasoning.  Hold it low and all your salt lands in the same place.  Yuck!  Hold it high and you get a wide dispersal area.  Any kid who has played with glitter knows this.  The light went on, and since she was always strapped into her chair at the counter when we cooked anyway, we let her start seasoning things as a young toddler.

A good place to start is roasted fingerling potatoes.  The potatoes, simply cut in half on a tray and roasted skin side up, can take a little over-seasoning on their skins as the kid learns even application.

I do not know if this will help a kid venture to try something new, we make ours try everything.  But it always seemed to help her look forward to sitting down to a meal.  Watching someone else partake of what she made tapped into the pride as well.

Basic Roasted Potatoes

The first cookbook I ever bought for myself was Jacques Pépin’s Cooking With Claudine, and the first recipe is for a steak with roasted potatoes and onions.  He roasted large potatoes, and my preparation has evolved over many years to use fingerling potatoes instead.  Roast just a few for a small dinner, or prep a whole bag for a party.  We have them alongside everything from salads to stews to steak, or even dipped into chili or salsa.

Preheat oven to 400 deg.  Slice potatoes in half, selecting those which are roughly the same size.  Prep a half-sheet pan by pouring some olive oil in the center of the pan.  Use a silicone baking sheet if you have one, but it is not necessary.  Having a quality half-sheet pan that heats evenly is far more important.

Plunk a potato, cut side down into the puddle of olive oil and slide it over toward a corner of the pan, leaving some space around it for air circulation.  In succession plunk and slide each potato.

This is an excellent job for kids, even very small ones.  As you slice potatoes in half, the kid puts them in the oil and slides them into place and patterns emerge.  Sometimes they are in neat little rows, sometimes abstract polka dots, and sometimes a giant smiley face on the tray.  *grin*

The tops of the potatoes will need some oil.  Using your fingers, or those of the child labor, transfer some oil from the pan onto the tops of the potatoes.  They do not need to be coated, but if you let your kid do it, trust me, there will be olive oil on every bit of surface area of both potato and hands.  Kids take this job very seriously.  Handing The Child a pastry brush also works well for this.   “Okay kid, paint the potato tops.”

Then comes the seasoning.  With kosher salt from a ramekin, The Child takes a pinch and holds it high to sprinkle.  The pepper grinder is so much fun The Child loves that too.  BUT, there is the necessary admonishment here…  you season it, you eat it.  There is no getting carried away with the pepper grinder and throwing food away.  That’s a mistake a kid makes only once.

Roast the potatoes for anywhere from 20-45 minutes depending on your oven, size of potatoes and preferred doneness.  Once you can easily stick a knife in them from the top, they are done.  Let cool enough to handle and serve hot.  Leftovers are easily nuked.

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Our family talks about where our food comes from every single day.  Now that The Child is seven we have started in on the enlightened environmental sustainability speak… but when she was teeny-tiny we skipped over that and stuck to the basics.

What I mean specifically is setting down a pulled pork sandwich and announcing, “Mmm…  Pig.”  Or having a platter full of sausages become an impromptu quiz for a three-year old:

Us:    “What do beef and pork mean?”
Her:    “Cow and pig.”
Us:    “What’s in the bockwurst.”
Her:    “Baby cow.”
Us:    “Excellent!  Dig in.”

It got a lot of laughs from guests when she was wee, but it is a serious attempt to instill respect for what we are eating, how it gets to us, as well as the obvious basic identification about what it is.  I want The Child to know what she is eating and still have to try it.

This also applies to where it comes from on the animal.  Alton Brown does an excellent job of conveying this information on Good Eats in a manner even tiny kids can grasp.  Every time The Child asks for TV and I want to say no, but still desperately want to plug her in for my own sanity, I offer Good Eats off the DVR and sit down with her.  Frankly watching Alton break down a chicken using a dinosaur skeleton as a useful illustration is entertaining!  While The Child did not retain the details as a toddler, it fostered an environment for these discussions to become legitimate and regular dinner conversation.  And at a very young age, roasting a whole chicken became a lesson in anatomy, providing a launch point for discussions of dinosaurs and birds.  Adaptation and evolution.

No one should be thought too young for an anatomy lesson.  Most people purchase their meat cut and wrapped and ready to cook, and in the case of poultry, it is shrink-wrapped and presented such that it is not obvious to a little kid which end the head was on.  The Child was typically plunked in her Easy Diner as a baby, a safe distance from raw meat preparations, and became used to engaging in cooking interest even then.

Ever noticed how kids gravitate to drumsticks?  (Even big kids like drumsticks!)  Knowing a drumstick is a leg, and showing a kid how it goes together, is really just a fascinating puzzle.  But on a more basic level it reinforces that our dinner is muscle, bone, fat, and in the case of the humble chicken, the skin.  Put a dried out, boneless, skinless, chicken breast in front of a kid, and I cannot blame them for deciding they don’t like chicken anymore.  The more we learn about micro-nutrients inherent in every component of what we eat, the more important it is to leave that skin on, enjoy that wee bit of crispy fat, and discover the marrow in those bones.  Assuming appropriate portion control, the science of nutrition is indicating more and more that every little edible bit of an animal has a role to play in a truly balanced diet.  Akin to the micro-nutrients of leaving some of the bran intact on whole grains like farro or eating the peel on your apple.

Not every family is brimming with science geeks like our little threesome.  But just as food is science, food is also culture, and respect for food is foundational to respect of other cultures.  Religious food traditions are a common way of approaching food discussion with reverence.  Maybe your family likes to travel?  You don’t have to travel far to find varied food traditions.  Perhaps there are farmers, fishermen, or hunters in your extended family or social circle.  If history or literature is what excites you, bring that conversation to the table, especially about the foods they already love.  Just find comfortable, matter-of-fact ways to relate what you are eating to what it once was without “Ewww!” or “That’s gross!” being considered an appropriate reaction from anyone.

Kids cannot learn to respect their food unless they know what it is.  And frankly, that goes for adults too.  If your family has made the decision to consume animals, give your kids a little credit and be honest and straightforward about what is on their plate.  They just might surprise you.

Taking The Child (2 yrs old, orange pants) to The Oakland Zoo with friends in July 2005

When The Child was two years old we went to the brand spankin’ new Children’s Zoo at The Oakland Zoo.   The Oakland Zoo succeeds better than most zoos in teaching conservation and science while providing for the health, welfare, and habitats of their animals.  The Wayne and Gladys Valley Children’s Zoo is no exception, and we were there in July 2005 when they opened.  They include farm animals amidst the exhibits there, and my two-year old sprinted up to the pig exhibit with a huge smile, sighed in awe, and said, “Mmmm… Bacon.”  Some folks within earshot cracked up.  And amidst the stress of keeping up with her that day I thought, “Okay, I’m doing something right.”

Pot-Bellied Pig at The Oakland Zoo's Children's Zoo. One man's pet is another man's food.

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My recent post about nutrition myths inspired one of the best blog post titles ever…  I Bought a Vat of Oil.  It says it all, doesn’t it?  I am looking forward to reading about how it turned out for Maya and her mom.  It took us a few practice rounds to figure out the timing.

Basically when the food hits the oil, the water molecules inside start to boil and push their way out of the food.  This creates a vapor barrier for the oil.  But if the frying goes too long, you run out of steam.  Then the chemistry flips, and the food becomes an instant oil sponge.  This is why healthy frying can really only happen at home, or at a good restaurant under the watchful eye of a careful chef.  Most franchise restaurants pre-fry food before shipping it to locations, they don’t change the oil often enough, and they don’t monitor oil temperature.  Yuck.

"As certain as my heart is ticking, I'm certain no living chicken Has ever so clearly commanded a living cook before With an utterance so clear and shocking that even I could not ignore. Quoth the chicken, Fry some more."

We were turned on to frying after watching Alton Brown’s Good Eats.  If you have not seen AB’s show by now, it is pure genius of television production, witty writing, food science, and of course Good Eats.  The episode which really talks the beginner through how to deep fry safely is Fry Hard, wherein he demonstrates Fish & Chips.  Fry Hard II is a now classic episode all about pan-fried chicken.  But we found Alton’s hush puppy recipe was the best way to practice getting the timing just right with deep frying.  Not to mention they are a fabulously tasty little experiment!  It is really his corn dog recipe from The Man Show episode, but taking a disher to the leftover batter and frying it leads to scrumptious results.

The Food Network folks irritatingly only publish Good Eats as tiny thematic collections rather than by season.  I would have purchased many seasons worth by now, and have recently gone looking for particular episodes to buy.  Only to give up out of frustration.  They are not available on Amazon, so third party sellers have jacked up the prices as if they were out of print.  They are instead available on the Food Network Website, and I provide links below, but neither Food Network nor Amazon provide a clear indication of which episodes are included in which volume.  Not until researching this post did I find a fan website providing a cheat sheet to keep track of which episode is in which volume, I have realized I am too irritated with Food Network for wasting my time to give them any hard earned cash.  Besides, my DVR now cycles through old episodes quite regularly, and Food Network has missed the boat.  *stepping off disgruntled soapbox now*

Fish & Chips on Fry Hard on Volume 14

This is the episode which runs through what deep frying is all about, from selecting equipment, to oil, to technique.  It is available on YouTube in two parts with some quality issues, but would be worth seeking out as a real reference.

Fried Chicken on Fry Hard II on Volume 3

While the clip on the Food Network recipe page and on hulu are both fabulously instructional, the opening bit of witty writing is well worth appreciating again and again.  Thanks again to the fan site for providing a transcript!  Quoth the chicken, “Fry some more!”  In addition, this episode uses an excellent comparison to a wooden dinosaur skeleton to relay the best way to break down a bird, as well as explanations for why cast iron is just so darn awesome.

Corn Dogs on The Man Show on Volume 7

Here Food Network has provided some useful information.  On the recipe page is a video clip from the show detailing how he makes corn dogs, and the episode page indicates it should re-air on June 17th and 18th.  Set your DVRs people!

Getting back on topic…  Why do these recipes appeal to kids?  And why is it okay to consider them part of a healthy meal?

Fried food appeals to kids because it tastes good.  It’s not called GB&D (golden brown and delicious) for nothing.  It will recalibrate what a corn dog or fish stick or french fry really should taste like.  It contributed to The Child being a three-year old who wouldn’t eat fast food.  Sure, she would beg her grandparents to take her so she could get the latest toy, but during the annual power outage when I brought home Burger King for dinner, she chose to nibble and go to bed hungry.

Most kids have heard of corn dogs and are willing to try them.   This recipe even made jalapeño peppers less scary.  And healthy frying subsequently made zucchini and eggplant and sweet potatoes accessible ingredients The Child looked forward to as well.  But the fat content you say?!?!?  Remember that vapor barrier.  In his Fish & Chips preparation, AB makes enough food to feed four people.  Measuring the oil before and after frying, only 1.5 Tbsp of oil were unaccounted for, either having drained away or remained on the Fish & Chips.  One Tbsp of any fat = 100 calories.  Split four ways and rounding up, that’s 38 calories from oil per person.  Once you factor in portion control and pair it with a variety of sides, my layperson’s opinion is that correctly fried food can easily be part of a healthy meal.

Still Learning

We recently had a Good Eats inspired weekend frying extravaganza ourselves.  Saturday was our second success making AB’s fried catfish.  After watching his recent episode outlining the sustainability of US farmed catfish, as well as advice on how to purchase it (still frozen and vacuum sealed to thaw at home), we felt brave enough to try the unfamiliar.  Our only tweak of the recipe is to slice the fish into smaller pieces for a higher crust to fish ratio.  This gorgeous plate of GB&D combined with some beautiful weather spawning an impromptu block party.  Nothing like sharing with half a dozen people to ensure the best portion control around.

Fried catfish and hush puppies to share with the neighborhood

Sunday I left for an afternoon appointment, and came home to a fabulous surprise.  Daddy Daughter Doughnut Day™.  They had braved making doughnuts together.  Maple-Bacon Glazed Apple Doughnuts.  While doughnuts are obviously not health food,  the experience of making them with her dad only comes around once in a while.  They both took a huge sense of accomplishment away from the venture as well (the dough is super sticky and presented challenges), but The Child helped roll and cut out over four dozen doughnuts, and The Spouse managed to keep his plans under wraps until the literally jaw-dropping reveal.

Never-ending doughnuts... Next time, a single batch.

We had friends over, we all gathered round the kitchen counter eating our dessert first, and The Child had an epic sugar crash later.  And it was so worth it.  The time, effort, and learning which went into them made it all the more fun to enjoy her hard work with others.  And given said time and effort, these will not become a regular addition to our diet.  Plus, it’s important that The Child see the benefits of eating well most of the time.  Once in a special while it’s okay to have 3 doughnuts and spoil your appetite!

Yes, we all hope our kids eat healthy all the time.  But that’s not realistic.  So I define eating well for The Child as trying anything and everything without being rude.  She needs to eat variety, and learn portion control.  That may be very different than eating healthy, as is the case with a bacon-maple glazed apple doughnut.  But that being said, frying at home as a cooking method ought not be vilified.  And when the target food is a healthy one, healthy frying is not an oxymoron.

Maple and Bacon-Glazed Apple Doughnuts

Prepare 3 strips of bacon, dice, and reserve rendered fat.
Finely chop one apple, and saute in bacon fat.
Add sauteed apple and half the diced bacon to AB’s Yeast Doughnut dough.

Glaze:
Heat 1/2 cup maple syrup with 2 cups icing sugar.
Add a bit of apple juice until it is the correct consistency and add the remaining diced bacon.

Yeast Doughnuts
Recipe courtesy Alton Brown, 2004

Prep Time:25 min
Inactive Prep Time:1 hr 50 min
Cook Time:12 min
Serves:20 to 25 doughnuts

Ingredients

•    1 1/2 cups milk
•    2 1/2 ounces vegetable shortening, approximately 1/3 cup
•    2 packages instant yeast
•    1/3 cup warm water (95 to 105 degrees F)
•    2 eggs, beaten
•    1/4 cup sugar
•    1 1/2 teaspoons salt
•    1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
•    23 ounces all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting surface
•    Peanut or vegetable oil, for frying (1 to 1/2 gallons, depending on fryer)

Directions

Place the milk in a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat just until warm enough to melt the shortening. Place the shortening in a bowl and pour warmed milk over. Set aside.

In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and let dissolve for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, pour the yeast mixture into the large bowl of a stand mixer and add the milk and shortening mixture, first making sure the milk and shortening mixture has cooled to lukewarm. Add the eggs, sugar, salt, nutmeg, and half of the flour. Using the paddle attachment, combine the ingredients on low speed until flour is incorporated and then turn the speed up to medium and beat until well combined. Add the remaining flour, combining on low speed at first, and then increase the speed to medium and beat well. Change to the dough hook attachment of the mixer and beat on medium speed until the dough pulls away from the bowl and becomes smooth, approximately 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a well-oiled bowl, cover, and let rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size.

On a well-floured surface, roll out dough to 3/8-inch thick. Cut out dough using a 2 1/2-inch doughnut cutter or pastry ring and using a 7/8-inch ring for the center whole. Set on floured baking sheet, cover lightly with a tea towel, and let rise for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oil in a deep fryer or Dutch oven to 365 degrees F. Gently place the doughnuts into the oil, 3 to 4 at a time. Cook for 1 minute per side. Transfer to a cooling rack placed in baking pan. Allow to cool for 15 to 20 minutes prior to glazing, if desired.

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Apparently pain makes me stupid.  My back has been a mess for six weeks, and let’s just say my ability, ambition, and interest in cooking have been severely hampered.  My writing pace has not kept up either.  I can rarely focus on books or magazines, much less my RSS-feed of design-blog porn.  I can knit a short while flat on my back before my fingers go numb (curse you gravity!), and I am left ripping out many rows because I was too distracted by pain to keep count of my stitches anyway.

Basically, while my family and friends are having fun in the kitchen, I have spent a lot of time crashed out on the floor, staring at the ceiling, and worrying.  Is this a minor problem which will resolve on it’s own?  Or, am I back to where I was four years ago when a decade of crippling pain was instantly resolved by a spinal fusion surgery?  For now I have scheduled consults, rearranged obligations to reduce expectations (translation:  canceled everything), and relied on my husband to pick up the slack.  Give that man a medal!  A shot of cortisone has brought temporary relief – at least enough to start stringing sentences together again.  I cannot promise they will be cogent any more than I can stay focused enough to plan a meal or vertical long enough to prepare it.  Taking it one day at a time.

Earlier this month, The Spouse and The Child decided to make meatballs together.  They made a slightly modified version of Alton Brown’s recipe from Good Eats.

Tweaks to Alton’s recipe:

1)    Doubling the recipe makes sense, as leftovers are fabulous.
2)    They used an equal amount of Penzeys Italian Herb Mix in lieu of the dried basil and parsley.
3)    Chopped stale bread went into the meat mixture, and they used panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) for the external breadcrumbs.  More bread filler went into the meat mixture than the recipe specifies because we had extra stale bread on hand, and because measuring seemed like effort.
4)    More bread in the meat mixture compensates for the extra water from rounding up the quantity of frozen spinach to an even one pound bag.
5)    Alton’s method of baking the meatballs in mini-muffin tins did not work as well as we had hoped (so subsequent batches were done on a cooling rack in a foil-lined half-sheet pan) .  The concept is that the muffin tin props up the meatball, increases air flow, and thus they cook and brown more evenly.  The panko went a bit gooey where the meatballs rested on the pan, but they were tasty anyway.  Tasty enough to invite friends the following weekend for leftover meatball subs.

Child labor:

Stocking the kitchen with powder-free latex gloves opens up typically adult-only cooking tasks to The Child, like handling raw meat.  We are not lax on the food safety speeches, and her soon-to-be-seven-year-old self approached her task with gravitas and pride.  A rubber band around the wrist can be used to keep large gloves on little hands, but The Child managed hers without assistance.  After The Spouse prepared the mixture, an assembly line began.  Using a disher, he would form each meatball, placing it in a container of panko.  The Child would ensure it was breaded and line them up ready to bake in the oven.  Coating meatballs in breadcrumbs taps right into elementary school glitter crafts and she took her job very seriously.  Mmmm…. tasty, edible glitter.  The Child kept an even pace with her dad, and the meatballs were prepped and in the oven quickly.

Served with spaghetti squash and marinara, one to two meatballs is a perfect serving size.  That did not prevent me from having seconds however.  Throughout the week, we ate them sliced on sandwiches, cut in half with a slice of cheese microwaved over the top as a snack, and alongside eggs for breakfast.  Before the weekend arrived they were demolished, and round two of meatball preparation was in order to make good on our offer of meatball subs for all.

The second batch tasted even better, being baked on a cooling rack set atop a foil-lined, half-sheet pan.  They browned better and developed a crunchy exterior.  Round two was fabulous served to our guests as mini-sliders with marinara and cheese.

This time there were no leftovers.

Baked Meatballs

Recipe courtesy Alton Brown, 2005

Prep Time: 20 min
Cook Time: 20 min
Level: Easy
Serves: 20 meatballs, 4 to 5 servings

Ingredients

•    1/2 pound ground pork
•    1/2 pound ground lamb
•    1/2 pound ground round
•    5 ounces frozen spinach, thawed and drained thoroughly
•    1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan
•    1 whole egg
•    1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
•    1 1/2 teaspoons dried parsley
•    1 teaspoon garlic powder
•    1 teaspoon kosher salt
•    1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
•    1/2 cup bread crumbs, divided

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the pork, lamb, ground round, spinach, cheese, egg, basil, parsley, garlic powder, salt, red pepper flakes, and 1/4 cup of the bread crumbs. Using your hands, mix all ingredients until well incorporated. Use immediately or place in refrigerator for up to 24 hours.

Place the remaining 1/4 cup of bread crumbs into a small bowl. Using a scale, weigh meatballs into 1.5-ounce portions and place on a sheet pan. Using your hands, shape the meatballs into rounds, roll in the bread crumbs and place the meatballs in individual, miniature muffin tin cups. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden and cooked through.

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Merry Sugarplums

The Child is building a new LEGO set with her dad.  The cat oscillates between my lap and diving under stray bits of wrapping. Dog is sacked out in the morning sun.  I’ve got a new book, hot coffee, and the sugarplums are sugared.  There is still a pile of prezzies under the tree, but Spirograph and LEGOs are proving too tempting, so our holiday morning is punctuated with yummy breaks.

Sugarplums are a new recipe this year, thanks to Alton Brown.  The Child has been raised on Good Eats.  The mix of science, basic techniques, and geeky entertainment is a fixture on our DVR and in our kitchen.  If it’s not already, add it to your DVR to enjoy while kids are on winter vacation.  There will be many future posts on how hugely influential Good Eats has been for The Child, but for now I’ll cut this short with the successfully tested sugarplum recipe and get back to our cozy family festivities.  As he points out in the episode, back when visions of sugarplums first danced in heads, plum really just referred to any dried fruit.  I used apricots, dates, and figs.  Cheers AB!!

Good Eats Sugarplums
Recipe courtesy Alton Brown, 2009

Prep Time:    45 min
Inactive Prep Time:    13 hr 0 min

Ingredients

* 6 ounces slivered almonds, toasted
* 4 ounces dried plums
* 4 ounces dried apricots
* 4 ounces dried figs
* 1/4 cup powdered sugar
* 1/4 teaspoon anise seeds, toasted
* 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds, toasted
* 1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds, toasted
* 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
* Pinch kosher salt
* 1/4 cup honey
* 1 cup coarse sugar

Put the almonds, plums, apricots, and figs into the bowl of a food processor and pulse 20 to 25 times or until the fruit and nuts are chopped into small pieces, but before the mixture becomes a ball.

Combine the powdered sugar, anise seeds, fennel seeds, caraway seeds, cardamom, and salt in a medium mixing bowl. Add the nut and fruit mixture and the honey and mix using gloved hands until well combined.

Scoop the mixture into 1/4-ounce portions (a disher works best) and roll into balls. If serving immediately, roll in the coarse sugar and serve. If not serving immediately, put the balls on a cooling rack and leave uncovered until ready to serve. Roll in the coarse sugar prior to serving.

The Sugarplums may be stored on the cooling rack for up to a week. After a week, store in an airtight container for up to a month.

Makes approximately 80 (1/4 ounce) balls

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