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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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Roasted kale and cauliflower gnocchi

16 Apr Roasted kale & cauliflower with gnocchi

This is one of those odd combinations that just works. It sounds like a recipe I threw together based on whatever’s in the fridge, and in fact you really could try using different elements here if that’s what you have. Cauliflower always seemed like such a dull vegetable, it’s colorless for heaven’s sake! But roasted, it’s transformed – when it’s just a bit burned along the edges, that’s when it’s best. And kale, well, everyone and his dog knows how good kale chips are by now, right?

Here, the roasted veggies’ slight bitterness pairs up with a bright lemony-parmesan dressing and some gnocchi for heft, that’s a perfect dinner for early spring, just before all the best new crops start rolling in. If you feel the need for some protein, add some beans (you know I’m going to say chickpeas. I have such a thing for chickpeas!) or bacon.

There’s some chopping involved here, but once that’s done, it’s a very low-maintenance project. You could do some of it on the stovetop, but I think that’s more work, really. This past week I prepped the kale and cauliflower the night before, so all I had to do was pop them in the oven and boil the water for gnocchi while I made the dressing. Toss it all together and you’re ready to eat!

ROASTED KALE & CAULIFLOWER WITH GNOCCHI
Serves 4
This is one of those odd combinations that just works. It sounds like a recipe I threw together based on whatever’s in the fridge, and in fact you really could try using different elements here if that’s what you have. Cauliflower always seemed like such a dull vegetable, it’s colorless for heaven’s sake! But roasted, it’s transformed – when it’s just a bit burned along the edges, that’s when it’s best. And kale, well, everyone and his dog knows how good kale chips are by now, right?
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Ingredients
  1. 1 large head cauliflower
  2. 2 bunches kale
  3. 1 package (500 grams) store-bought gnocchi
  4. 2 Tbs plus 2 tsp good quality olive oil, separated
  5. 1 clove garlic, minced
  6. 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  7. zest and juice of one lemon
  8. ½ cup or so grated Parmesan cheese
  9. salt, pepper to taste
  10. Additional parmesan cheese for sprinkling over the top
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Cut the stem off the cauliflower and cut/separate the florets into bite-size pieces.
  3. Toss with 1 teaspoon olive oil .
  4. Spread on a baking sheet in a single layer; sprinkle with a little salt.
  5. Roast for 20-25 minutes, occasionally shaking the pan to move things around, until the cauliflower is nicely browned.
  6. Meanwhile, cut the thick center stem from the kale and tear the leaves into large pieces.
  7. Toss with a teaspoon of olive oil (or again, spray) and spread on another pan, or make room on the cauliflower pan.
  8. The kale needs only about ten minutes in the oven, so keep an eye on it or put it in when there are just ten or so minutes left for the cauliflower.
  9. You want it to get crisp but not burn.
  10. Put a pot of water on to boil for the gnocchi.
  11. Whisk together the oil, mustard and garlic; whisk in the lemon zest and juice, and then stir in the Parmesan.
  12. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
  13. Boil the gnocchi according to directions, drain, and put it in a large bowl.
  14. When the cauliflower and kale look appealingly browned, add them to the bowl, reserving a few of the crispier kale leaves.
  15. Add the dressing and toss gently.
  16. Serve with the reserved kale leaves and Parmesan sprinkled on top.
Emperors Crumbs http://www.emperorscrumbs.com/
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