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Archive for the ‘Snacks’ 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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Well, it’s official. I am close enough to the end of our remodeling to start thinking like a rational human again. Or at least thinking about my future rational thinking.

I am, however, a long way from cooking. Our three month project turned into the inevitable 4+ month project due to the realities of construction.

In the course of that time, I discovered I really ought not live amidst construction and hold concurrent expectations. I didn’t write well. And I certainly didn’t cook much surrounded by the dusty, crowded counters.

I managed to get a kid to school and back each day without completely losing my mind. Full stop.

But tonight, I see hope.

I see a patio door installed. The culprit of the several week back up, it is now in place and the remaining details can finally move forward.

And, I see a radish.

Yeah, that’s right, a gorgeous radish.

I love radishes. When attempting to cut back on calories, my husband and I find them a very satisfying salt conveyance. The Child, however, merely tolerates radishes. She endures them sliced sparingly in a pasta salad, and moderately condones them chopped and drenched in balsamic vinegar. But she has never had that “Oooo! More!” reaction.

Until now.

My friend, Stephany, posted the following in her Facebook status yesterday, “Let’s see how many raw radishes with salt and farm-made butter I can eat for dinner outside in this stupid beautiful weather…” I remembered seeing Jacques Pépin do a Fast Food My Way segment on raw radishes and butter. And I had just picked some up at the store.

The Child and I just had our first warm evening on the porch, with radishes stuffed with butter for dinner. She preferred hers with salted butter but no additional salt. I am a big fan of the extra salt dip. Maybe it’s not a complete dinner, but it is close enough to justify moving directly to dessert.

And why not? I have a radish-loving kid and a new patio door. Cheers!

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Back in California, in the land of farmers markets, we don’t often go to them anymore.  As school and work and responsibilities crowd the schedule, we tend to cozy-in on weekend mornings and share family time together at home.  Between the weekly organic grocery delivery and the monthly meat CSA share, we have plenty of food options.  And nearby markets, even the very basic ones, have a wide range of ingredient choices hailing from all over the world.

But we spend our summers in Wisconsin.  Vilas County, Wisconsin to be exact.  Head north a mile or two across the lake and yer in da U.P. (that’s Upper Michigan for the uninitiated).  By we, I mean The Child, The Dog, and myself.  We leave The Spouse back in California for most of the summer, and come here, to the little 70’s shack where I spent my summers.  This is our third year, and so far the experiment seems to be working…  The Child has proven to be an outdoorsy kinda kid.  She is comfortable trading a busy schedule of activities and play-dates and friends, for solitary independence.  She can go outside and play, she can explore the woods and the shore and the yard.  She may be by herself.

Food shopping and cooking here in the Northwoods is very different than the options we have back in California.  The markets are extremely limited, and I am reminded of the Kwik-E-Mart challenge on Top Chef.  We make do with processed food and very few fresh ingredients.  Occasionally specialty local products are available at gift shops.  But our small town of Land O’ Lakes has a weekly farmers market on Thursday mornings.  It is small, often only one vegetable stand, one meat purveyor, and a few local folks selling cheese, honey, preserves, or foraged items.  Most of the booths are more reminiscent of a swap meet or garage sale than a market, but there are typically about a dozen tables selling goods.  In California, going to the farmers market has become an occasional and social destination, but here it is a necessary part of our weekly shopping.

Last year we discovered kohlrabi at the farmers market.  Mountains of them.  Most were green, but some were purple.  Most were softball sized, but some looked closer to soccer balls.  When I asked what they were and heard kohlrabi, I must have flinched a little, remembering not liking things like rutabaga and kohlrabi as a kid.  The woman working the stand made a point of assuring me that they were incredible, and that her favorite way to eat them was raw, sprinkled with salt, on a sandwich.  She deftly hacked into one and shared a slice, while quickly looking at the veggies I had selected and tossing in a few extra things for free, just so I could replicate her favorite sandwich when we got home.  We made a few sandwiches that afternoon, and she was right!  I was hooked!

It was, botanically speaking, incorrect of me to group rutabaga and kohlrabi together taxonomically.  They are both in the cabbage family (Brassicacea), but while rutabaga is its own species, Brassica napobrassica, kohlrabi shares a species designation with everything from cauliflower to brussels sprouts as they are all considered cultivars of wild cabbage, Brassica oleracea.  Thousands of years of specialized breeding have resulted in a multitude of cabbages which don’t look or taste anything like each other.  The next time you are eating your broccoli, take note that it is one of the ultimate GMOs mankind has ever produced.  There are so many cultivars of wild cabbage in fact, that they are classified in groups based on their developmental form.

•    Brassica oleracea Acephala Group – kale and collard greens
•    Brassica oleracea Alboglabra Group- Chinese broccoli
•    Brassica oleracea Botrytis Group – cauliflower, Romanesco broccoli and broccoflower
•    Brassica oleracea Capitata Group – cabbage
•    Brassica oleracea Gemmifera Group – brussels sprouts
•    Brassica oleracea Gongylodes Group – kohlrabi
•    Brassica oleracea Italica Group – broccoli

Very easy to grow, kohlrabi is generally disease free, it can take shallow soils, and is unaffected by most garden pests.  More than just frost-hardy, anecdotal reports online indicate it may stay quite happy in the ground until temperatures dip into the twenties and snow begins to fall.

Kohlrabi literally means ‘German Turnip’ and it is vastly more popular and traditional in Europe.  But monj (or munji?) is also a staple of Kashmiri cuisine where the round, swollen stems are cooked along with the edible greens.

Slicing kohlrabi first makes trimming off the peel very simple.

Raw

Raw kohlrabi was a revelation.  Just sliced up, woody skin trimmed off, sprinkled with some kosher salt, and YUM!  Served on a sandwich of toast, mayo, fresh tomato and a slice of cheese?  Double yum!!  So all year, I have been craving it.  Looking forward to that first Northwoods-summer farmers market when I could get some more.  And it did not disappoint.

The slices which did not make it onto sandwiches were chopped into chunky sticks and served with a side of salt for dipping.

Kohlrabi makes an excellent snack! (and yes... that's an old ashtray repurposed as a salt cellar)

Cooked

Last year, none of it ever made it past being crunched up raw or julienned into slaw.  This year I decided we were going to try cooking it.  Most of the recipes online indicated cooking times of about 15 minutes in a sauté pan on the stove.  A friend said she liked hers sautéed in bacon fat.  Fast cooking plus bacon?  I’m in!  The results were fabulous.  The Child enjoyed it enough to gush over her first helping.  She did not help herself to seconds, but later in the week enjoyed the nuked leftovers for lunch.  Frankly, I am surprised that there were any leftovers, since after dinner I was compulsively picking straight from the pan with my fork.

Last year raw.  This year cooked.  Next year?  I’m thinking pickled.

Braised Kohlrabi with Bacon

½ of a giant kohlrabi (~8” across) or an equivalent amount of the more widely available smaller specimens, skin trimmed, cut into small cubes
2 rashers bacon, cut small
Fresh cracked pepper

Chop kohlrabi into your preferred shape.  Some recipes use slices, or strips, or even grated.  I liked the little cubes.  Make sure it is uniformly cut for even cooking.

Cook cut bacon in large sauté pan until it starts to render a little fat (on my old electric stove this took a few minutes).  Add chopped kohrabi and sauté a bit before adding just enough water (or braising liquid of your choice) to keep it from burning.  Cover and let cook about 15 minutes, stirring regularly and checking for when it is just fork tender.  We enjoyed ours more al dente than mushy.  Generously add a few grinds of fresh pepper and serve hot.

Made 3-4 servings

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No foodie should preach about sustainability and local agriculture without taking a serious look at their own pantry.  We have been getting organic grocery delivery of local produce for many years now, and I find it well worth the drawbacks for our circumstances.  Recently, we joined a local meat CSA (community supported agriculture) and drive once a month to a predetermined drop point to pick up our share of the monthly meat.

But if Vidalia onions are in season you can bet I am going to select them over the local ones, and I cannot function in the kitchen without my spice drawer which hails from all over the world.  All across California wine country there is a movement to drink local.  That’s great.  Support your community.  But I hardly think Napa would like to encourage restaurants across the country to only drink local.  In fact the story of their success depends on worldwide exportation and is a fabulous example of local agriculture makes good for a community.

So recently when I opened the pantry looking for a quick and easy side dish I saw the quinoa, which hails from *checks package* Bolivia.  Hmmm… dinner is going to have a big carbon footprint tonight kiddo… Except of course these things are all relative.  Quinoa packs nutrition, history, and socially-responsible agriculture into a tiny grain.

Technically, quinoa is not a true grain or cereal.  Botanically speaking, Chenopodium quinoa is a chenopod (like beets, spinach, or chard) and can also be consumed as a leaf vegetable, although it is predominantly grown for its edible seeds.  Originating in the Andes, it can be grown at altitudes over 13,000 feet.  And although it can also be grown on fertile plains with the benefit of mechanization, this contributes to soil erosion.  But the mountain crops are both easier on the land, of better quality besides, and are hand-farmed by small-scale communities.  The quinoa I purchase is produced by a cooperative of small growers and is sold through Alter-Eco, a fair-trade product distributor.  I prefer their Red Quinoa and choose to purchase it from Amazon in bulk.   It qualifies for Amazon Prime free shipping, and is cheaper per bag ($5.67/1 lb. bag) than the bulk price offered by Alter Eco online ($6.49/1 lb. bag).  You may not be certain you want eight pounds of the stuff right off the bat…  but I think the variety of recipes available on the intertubes these days will provide a multitude of inspiration.

The National Association of Quinoa Farmers (ANAPQUI) was created in 1983 in order to maximize the revenue of local communities who were selling at a loss. The Anapqui cooperative currently regroups 1100 small producers from the south of the Bolivian Altiplano who now benefit from decent living wages, transformation and packaging facilities. The latter, partially funded by the United Nations Development Program, enables them to export directly without having to rely on middlemen. The profit from sales goes towards financing educational and training programs that have led to the introduction of organic farming methods. -- Alter Eco website

Quinoa is a low-maintenance crop as the seeds have a coating of saponins.  Saponins are nifty plant-derived chemical compounds. They are amphipathic glycosides, so they have both hydrophilic (water-loving) and lipophilic (fat-loving) qualities.  Saponins all share the same phenomena of foaming when shaken in aqueous solution, and some saponins were historically used as soaps.  Most importantly to quinoa, saponins tend to taste bitter.  Awful enough that crops are typically safe from birds, insects, and other foraging animals.  After harvest, the saponins are removed before consumption, and most quinoa available in the US comes ready to prepare.

Quinoa, together with potatoes and maize, were hugely important to the Incas and other pre-Columbian civilizations.  To the point of being sacred.  It is considered a complete protein, that is to say it has a balanced set of essential amino acids including the oft-missing lysine, which is very rare in plants, and according to the package I purchased, one quarter cup serving contains 160 calories, 5 grams of protein, 3 grams of dietary fiber, and 20% of the daily recommended intake for iron.  There is solid nutrition science behind why this stuff fueled Incan armies.

Confession

To be quite honest, I forgot it was in the pantry.  I started buying it years ago when a friend was diagnosed with Celiac Disease, back before the food industry started catering to the gluten-free niche market.  I really only ever made one recipe:  Quinoa Taboulleh from Cooking Light.  It worked well as a gluten-free dip alongside hummus, or as a side dish to roast lamb.  I usually I made it for a crowd.  I skipped the raisins and went with parsley over mint.  And I shortened the cooking time to the package instructions of 15 minutes so it didn’t go all mushy.  Back then I bought red quinoa in bulk, but we have since diversified our gluten-free offerings as more and more friends receive their diagnoses.  So the last few packages had quietly hidden in the back of the pantry until I opened it up last month assuming I would take the easy out and just boil up some pasta.

Epiphany

While the fennel and onions bubbled away on the stove I read the package instructions.  Add rinsed quinoa to water, bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes.  Well that is about the same time commitment for pasta, so why not?  I find rice tricky because you have to cover it and not peek, but this simmers uncovered.  It cooked up just as it said it would, and as they absorb the water and burst there is a tell tale curlicue on each grain letting you know they are almost ready as the germ separates from the seed.  I mixed in some frozen corn, about 2 Tablespoons of salted butter (the butter is key if I want The Child to eat it without complaint!), and some fresh grinds of black pepper.  I would have added other things and played more, but it was time to eat.  It was under 30 minutes from the time I opened the pantry looking for pasta to the time The Child and I sat down to quinoa for dinner.

Quinoa and The Child

Much like discovering how easily farro could replace the desperation pasta meal, it was a revelation to recall just how quick and easy quinoa is to make.  While we ate I remembered one of the reasons quinoa had fallen out of favor around here.  It was not very baby or toddler friendly as a standalone dish for our family, as the individual grains were sometimes difficult to swallow.  We had a similar baby-gagging experience with couscous.  Mixed with something mushy, like hummus, tiny grains are easier for small children to eat safely and keep from sticking to everything.  In fact at our recent re-entry dinner The Child decided that mixing it with the fennel and onion mash was a more convenient way to eat it, instead of chasing the frustratingly itty-bitty grains around her plate with her spoon.  We each had seconds and stored the leftovers in the fridge.  Later in the week we discovered the leftover quinoa and corn worked very well mixed in with salsa and scooped up with tortilla chips, as well as making an excellent omelet filling with melted cheese.

During my health issues this spring The Spouse made another huge batch.  At first to help address the residual anemia post blood transfusion (between quinoa and meat and iron supplements recommended by the doc it cleared up within a few days), and then post-surgically to get more fiber and, um, let’s just say combat a challenging side effect of the pain medication.  This batch used up our leftover vegetable broth in place of the water for added flavor.  We had it stirred into cold chicken salad and salmon salad.  Alongside scrambled eggs for breakfast.  As a side dish at dinner served much like wild rice.  But the clear family favorite was mixed into salsa.  One post-hospital dinner consisted of a jar of salsa and red quinoa mixed 1:1, homemade guacamole, and Tostitos Scoops.  The Child was thrilled to “just have snackies” for dinner, and I welcomed the opportunity to nibble while healing.

Salsa for Dinner

Before we were married, my mom and her friends hosted a wedding shower.  I reluctantly agreed on the condition that there would not be any silly games.  That request somehow got lost in translation and there were, in fact, silly games.  One of them involved each person giving a gift getting to ask me any question they liked about The Soon-to-be-Spouse.  At one point someone asked what his favorite food was.  I didn’t really know what to say, but I answered, “Chips and salsa.”  There was much derision, but it was true.  Comfort food at the time often centered around a bag of chips and and a bowl of adulterated salsa.  And sometimes that became dinner.  And now we get to share that pleasure with The Child without any worries about the meal being insufficiently nutritious.  Time to make some more quinoa.

Photo by Randy Mayor for Cooking Light

Quinoa Tabbouleh from Cooking Light

Yield:  5 servings (serving size: 1 cup)

Ingredients
1 3/4 cups water
1 cup uncooked quinoa
1/2 cup coarsely chopped seeded tomato
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint or parsley
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup chopped cucumber
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped green onions
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons minced fresh onion
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine water and quinoa in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat; fluff with a fork. Stir in tomato and remaining ingredients. Cover; let stand 1 hour. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

CALORIES 182 (24% from fat); FAT 4.8g (sat 0.6g,mono 2.5g,poly 1.1g); IRON 3.5mg; CHOLESTEROL 0.0mg; CALCIUM 31mg; CARBOHYDRATE 31.6g; SODIUM 259mg; PROTEIN 5g; FIBER 5.3g

Cooking Light, OCTOBER 1999

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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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While I have been stuck on the floor with my decrepit spine, The Spouse and The Child decided to experiment with making tortillas the last few months.  It has been a glorious surprise.

Not to say I lack faith in their abilities, for years the two of them have bravely attempted just about any kind of dough.  Typically with me oscillating between concern over the mess and utter gratitude at the break from parenting on my part.  It was his go-to activity when she was wee.  His solution for the seemingly never-ending question of how to entertain a toddler was to grocery shop and to cook.  On Saturday mornings when he was not traveling, he would scoop her up, head off to a zillion different errands, and come home to prepare food with the kid.  She would get plunked in her Easy Diner at the counter and watch him prep veggies, roast meats, and make stock.  And when just watching and nibbling was insufficient entertainment, they would make chocolate-chip cookies.  When they mastered that, they moved onto scones.  Biscuits.  Homemade pasta.  Fresh bread.  And now, tortillas.

The surprise however was that the tortillas worked far better than any of us expected, and on the first try too.  Given my preference for flour tortillas, when I saw the masa dough I was expecting a grainy and tasteless platform for fillings.  These had a smooth texture but with a firm bite.  They were salted just right, and I would have put money on their being some AP wheat flour and lard in there.  But nope.  Just masa harina and water, and no fat of any kind.  Wow.

The software:

My typical first question when sitting down to any new meal in the repertoire is, “Is this Alton’s recipe?”  We watch a lot of Good Eats, and AB has dedicated a generous amount of time to tortillas, tortilla chips, and what to do with a freezer full of leftover tortillas.  But no, my family informed me this was the recipe right off the side of the bag.

The hardware:

We did not have a tortilla press in our arsenal, but we did have a nearly 7-year old who is handy with a rolling pin.  Once the dough was prepped, The Spouse portioned out some dough and they set to work.

The process:

As I sit here writing this, I am parked in The Child’s room.  She is home from school with a mild cold and sometimes being the sentinel keeping her in bed is the easiest way to get a handle on the cold and avoid secondary infections.  This kid may eat well, but as I have mentioned before, sleeping without a stubborn fight has never been her thing.  Napping is apparently for losers.  And self-imposed rest is rare.  I said she eats.  I didn’t say she was easy!

The recipe she makes with her dad is right on the bag of Maseca masa harina.  But that seemed far away…  all the way downstairs…  so in a fit of laziness, I asked if she remembered off hand how to make tortillas.  She sat up straight in bed, cleared her throat with a snarfle, and said with authority, “Eh hem.  Step One!”  What follows is straight dictation:

Step 1

Get masa dough, big bowl, and the water.

Step 2

Mix the masa dough and the water together using a wooden spoon or your hands.

Step 3

Break masa dough into the size of a fist.  A little kid’s fist.  “Like a 7-year old’s.”

Step 4

Get two sheets of plastic wrap and put the dough ball between them.  WARNING! [This was declared with a gesture akin to stopping traffic.]  Do not push plastic wrap over ball!  Lay it loose on top, and using the bottom of your palm, just kinda push it out.  If you want to use a rolling pin you may, but start with the bottom of your palm.  It is done when it is about the size of a small plate.

Step 5

Take off the top sheet of plastic wrap and put your hand underneath the bottom piece of plastic wrap.  Flip over onto a grown-up hand, and remove the other piece of plastic.

Step 6

Flip onto griddle

Step 7

Take off of griddle when nice and warm and stack them on a plate.

Step 8

Then you eat them!!!!!  [“Mom,” she says, peering over my shoulder as I take dictation on the last step, “You need more exclamation points on that.”  This whole teaching her to read thing means I now have another critic.]

Apparently she paid attention.  Who knew?

The birthday party:

Tortilla making has become such a common occurrence over the last two months that when it came time to plan the traditional fancy birthday tea party The Child had been wanting, she opted last minute for an evening taco night instead.  She wanted to teach her friends how to make them, and then have Taco Night together.  No argument from me!

And she was right, it was fabulous.  On a weeknight after school, four friends (ages four through eight) were dropped off and stationed at the kitchen counter.  The Spouse made the dough and The Child showed all of them how to portion and roll them ready for flattening.

Of course we thought this was the perfect excuse to upgrade our flour and invest in a tortilla press.   Big mistake on both counts.  We thought we were getting fancy getting some Bob’s Red Mill Masa Harina.  It is entirely possible we screwed up the recipe given the chaos, but it didn’t seem as fine a grind as the mass-produced Maseco, and it was hard to get the tortillas thin enough.  They had a much less delicate and more grainy texture.

With all the kids, we knew rolling each one by hand would be impractical.  I investigated tortilla presses online before buying one.  It was not a big investment, but it seemed some were made of cheaper metal than others.  There were many complaints on Amazon of supposed “cast iron” presses arriving already broken inside their original packaging.  There did not appear to be a clear winner, so we shelled out a few extra bucks and went to the local Sur La Table store to pay the $20 premium for their product testing.  Or so we thought…

Broken tortilla press from Sur La Table

That sucker broke just a few tortillas into the party, and it is definitely not cast iron.  Thankfully another parent stepped in to help man the griddle while The Spouse rolled them all out by hand.  All the kids had fun helping to make them, and even the picky kids sprinkled their ingredients of choice and enjoyed a taco before gorging on cake.  It was a memorable and unique afternoon.

The frequency of tortillas has relaxed into a comfortable pace in our repertoire.  We have yet to make a sufficient batch to stock the fridge for my typical weekly quesadilla needs, and I have no idea yet how well or long they keep.  We have not yet tracked down a replacement press from the local Mexican market either.  I look forward to the day we fry some of these for proper chips.  So many experiments on the tortilla horizon!

We have subsequently stopped stocking our fridge with store-bought ones.  Now practiced, it takes 15 minutes from the time The Spouse and The Child decide they are going to make them to sitting down to dinner, and they are so much tastier than even the best store-bought flour ones.  So I imagine the plethora of tortillas will continue for further experiments.  If you try it with your kids or find the perfect tortilla press, we would love to hear about it!

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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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