22 Jul We ate it this week

I’m still ready to evangelize about menu planning to anyone who will listen: I think it saves time, wastes less food, and is fun! We definitely eat better when we plan ahead, too. In the first of a (occasional?) series, here’s a rundown from last week’s plan, with notes.

Monday: Cauliflower crust “pizza”, which was delicious. I used this recipe for the crust, but then just put sauce and cheese on it like a regular pizza. The kids were suspicious but definitely ate their share.

Tuesday: Pasta with ricotta, tomatoes, and spinach. Simple, fast, good. I used up the last of some ricotta we had in the fridge from a less-than-successful gnocchi making attempt a while back.

Wednesday: Rice in lettuce cups. Recipe forthcoming!

Thursday: Open face sandwiches on Swedish seeded bread, with whipped feta, cucumber, radishes, and smoked salmon. Nom. I might post a variation on the seedy bread that I like a lot.

Friday: Spring rolls. This used up the rest of the lettuce from Wednesday, and the radishes and cukes from Thursday.

Saturday: Out to dinner.

Sunday: Chickpea miso noodle soup (picture above). I need a shorthand way of saying “I made a lot of changes to this recipe and so I can’t complain that it wasn’t as good as it could be.” I didn’t have kale so I used spinach, I left out the pepper flakes (our daughter freaks out at the intimation that something might, just possibly, be spicy), and used regular pasta, and I thought it was good, but could be great. The acid from the lemon was fantastic and I even added more, but next time I might use more potent red miso. And more liquid, because the pasta pretty much soaked it all up by the time the bowls got to the table.

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22 Jun Spiced Iced Tea

We hit a milestone this June, when our younger child finished kindergarten. I kind of scoff at the idea of graduations for tiny kids, but when faced with a gaggle of six year-olds serving tea and cake and awkwardly reciting poetry, it was tough not to get a little sniffly.

Kindergarten is pretty awesome. You get to make a ton of stuff with paper, paint, glue and glitter and somewhere in there, learn to read and write. This year, the kids also made pickles, dog biscuits, seed bombs, scarves, and so much other stuff we were loaded up like donkeys taking it all home after the “poetry cafe”.

Speaking of the cafe, the kids served us some really delicious spiced iced tea. I forgot to ask the teacher what was in it, but when I got home, I made a version from what I had in the cupboard that I like enough to share here. With just two ingredients it couldn’t be easier – the fresh orange juice brightens it up sweetly, although if your juice is on the tart side, you could always add some honey.


With the whole summer stretching out ahead before first grade, we’ll be drinking this a lot, I think!

Spiced Iced Tea
Serves 6
Fresh orange juice sweetens this summer refresher, and it's caffeine free.
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Prep Time
10 min
Total Time
1 hr 10 min
Prep Time
10 min
Total Time
1 hr 10 min
  1. 4 bags rooibos chai tea (we used Trader Joe's Ruby Red Chai)
  2. 6 oranges, for about 2 cups juice
  1. Place teabags in a teapot or other heat-safe container.
  2. Bring 3 1/2 cups of water to a boil.
  3. Pour water over tea, and allow to steep.
  4. While tea is brewing, juice the oranges; strain out seeds and pulp, if desired.
  5. Allow tea to cool, remove teabags, then combine tea and juice.
  6. Refrigerate until chilled, about 1 hour.
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11 Feb Little Bites

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

We make a point of eating dinner as a family most nights. It’s the way I grew up, and it’s still the time of day when getting everyone together works. We all seem to get up at different times and no one has the same idea of what constitutes a delicious breakfast, everyone is scattered to the four winds at lunchtime, so that leaves dinner as our family meal. I hope when the kids get older we will still be able to get together  around the table regularly, it’s one of the few rituals we have going for us.

Making halusky

Making halusky

When the kids were babies, I read Ellyn Satter’s book Child of Mine, which counsels against preparing separate foods or meals for your children, but rather to present them with the same food the adults eat and let them choose how much they want. We do aim for this approach — I admit to relying heavily on the corollary that you should include at least one thing the kids like in each meal — but I also have a few tactics for getting dinner on the table for everyone without doing too much short-order cooking.

1. Break it up!

This is a time honored one. Our kids don’t belong to the “no foods may touch” school of thought, but they’re also not subscribers to the “anything is better with ketchup/ranch dressing/sauce” school. So when I have a dish that mixes a lot of things together, or includes a spicy or other  strong-flavored sauce, I often plate up the kids’ portions first, with the components separate so there is less chance one less favored item will be the kiss of death for the whole meal. I also try to put the grown-up version on the table in a serving dish so if the kids are feeling daring, they can try the finished version. This has actually worked on several occasions!

2. Put it together

DIY counts for a lot with our kids. It incorporates a bit of the former tactic, which is putting everything out in separate dishes and letting the kids choose what they want to add. Several of our dinners on repeat fall into this category:

  • Pizza

This one you probably know. Make or buy dough, heat up the oven, give each kid a blob of the dough and let them go to it. Use a pizza stone if you have one, I have the kids make their individual pizzas on parchment paper to make it easier to transfer them — you can slide the paper out from under the pizza after 3 minutes or so to get the crust crispy. Toppings you might try:

  • sauce: just open a can of crushed tomatoes, maybe add some oregano, and you’re good to go!
  • cheese: no need to stick to mozzarella, try something smoky or a blue cheese for fans of the stink.
  • sausage or pepperoni
  • any sliced deli meat
  • canned or frozen artichokes
  • sliced peppers
  • mushrooms
  • olives
  • pineapple
  • spinach or broccoli (blanch the brocc for a minute or two, or cut into very small florets)
  • Spring Rolls

I first offered these assuming the kids would fill the  rice wrappers with rice noodles, but they surprised me by using plenty of veggies. It’s a lot of chopping/grating but almost no cooking, so a good one on a hot day. Put out on the table:

  • Shredded cooked chicken, cooked shrimp, or tofu cut into matchsticks
  • small lettuce, separated into  leaves
  • Grated/julienned carrot
  • thin-sliced cucumber
  • Grated/julienned radish
  • cooked rice vermicelli (boil until  soft, then  keep in cold water  until just before serving so they don’t  clump)
  • sliced green onions
  • cilantro
  • dipping sauce:  soy sauce, or try a mixture of soy sauce, peanut butter, rice vinegar and  a little sugar

Have the  rice paper wrappers ready, and a dish of  water big enough to dip the wrappers in. At the table, just dip one wrapper at a time so it  gets coated with water.  Put it on your plate, pile up your choice of fillings (lettuce leaf usually goes first as a kind of inner wrapper), and by the time that’s done, the wrapper should be soft enough to fold and roll.

  • Bibimbap

Same principle as spring rolls, really: everyone gets some rice, then piles up the toppings. I’ll let Bon Appetit explain.

3. The Last Resort

Make it fun. My first standby is Breakfast for Dinner, which isn’t so bad if the kids will eat an egg or some bacon along with their pancakes or waffles. French Toast is a pretty decent dinner, actually, if you don’t float it in syrup. A new favorite is the “toothpick dinner”: kids like bite-sized stuff, they like poking things with sticks, what’s not to love? I usually put out some combination of the following, with fancy toothpicks for serving:

  • Chunks of cheese
  • Chunks of apple
  • Rolled up cold-cuts
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Tortellini
  • Hard-boiled egg
  • Beans or chickpeas
  • Orange segments

I’d love to hear what works at your house. Do you let your kids choose dinner some nights? Or even help make it? That’s the next frontier here, I think.

Kid-made dumplings


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citrus 650

28 Jan Making up for lost time?

Hey, long time no see! What have you been up to? This space has been empty for an awfully long time, and we’re sorry about that. I’d like to say we’ll be reformed bloggers this year, but you know how it goes. We do have a few recipes to share, so don’t abandon this space!

Despite the lack of evidence here, we have been cooking steadily, if unimaginatively. And so, we give you… another year of dinner plans, which I hope will be useful or inspirational, or at least a nudge to go check out some of the many awesome recipes other people are cooking up. It was again a fun way to look back on the past year, especially since I was pretty good about keeping an accurate record of what we had for dinner each night. A lot of pea soup, apparently.

Glad you’re still here, and we’ll do our best to be here too.

Click here to download EC Dinners 2012

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sour cream cream

19 May Simple Sour Cream Dessert – miláčik

While I was growing up eating Jell-O pudding cups,* halfway across the world Valerian was snacking on miláčik. Now, miláčik means “darling” or “dear” in Slovak, so if you run a search on it, you’ll get a rather surprising selection of results, particularly pet photos.

Last time he was back in the Old Country, Valerian noticed that miláčik is basically sweetened, flavored sour cream, and so when he returned to California, he decided to whip us up a batch himself. It’s not quite as firm as the kind you buy in the store, which sometimes is called tvarohový miláčik because it’s made with tvaroh, the local cheese that’s similar to ricotta. Valerian’s recipe here couldn’t be simpler, though, and while the vanilla bean gives you those authentic little speckles, just bump up the amount of good quality vanilla extract if that’s what you have. Sour cream makes a perfect consistency to top or fill crepes, or, honestly, just slurping it up all on its own. Good thing I’m wearing these elastic-waist pants.

Sour Cream Desert
This creamy delight falls somewhere between a pudding and a sauce. If vanilla seems, well, too vanilla, sift in a tablespoon of cocoa powder and make a chocolate version instead. Could you use yogurt instead of sour cream? Sure, but then you'll have flavored yogurt.
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Prep Time
5 min
Prep Time
5 min
  1. 1 16 oz. container sour cream
  2. ¼ cup brown sugar
  3. 1 vanilla bean
  4. ½ tsp vanilla extract
  1. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds and their surrounding paste.
  2. Whisk together the sour cream, sugar, and vanillas in a medium bowl.
  3. Serve in small bowls, as a topping or filling for crepes or pound cake.
  1. Your kids will fall in love with this. It is easy to make so let them do the work.
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