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Little Bites

little chinese dumplings
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


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

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

I usually use two baking sheets, one for the cauliflower and one for the kale, but you can squeeze them onto one. Your kale may not get as crispy that way but you’ll still get that great roasted flavor. I generally prefer “dinosaur” or Tuscan/lacinato kale, but any type works here, even a combination!


Serves 4

  • 1 large head cauliflower
  • 2 bunches kale
  • 1 package (500 grams) store-bought gnocchi
  • 2 Tbs plus 2 tsp good quality olive oil, separated
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • zest and juice of one lemon
  • ½ cup or so grated Parmesan cheese
  • salt, pepper to taste
  • Additional parmesan cheese for sprinkling over the top


  • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  • Cut the stem off the cauliflower and cut/separate the florets into bite-size pieces. Toss with 1 teaspoon olive oil (or spray with olive or cooking oil if you have it) and spread on a baking sheet in a single layer; sprinkle with a little salt. Roast for 20-25 minutes, occasionally shaking the pan to move things around, until the cauliflower is nicely browned.
  • Meanwhile, cut the thick center stem from the kale and tear the leaves into large pieces. Toss with a teaspoon of olive oil (or again, spray) and spread on another pan, or make room on the cauliflower pan. 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. You want it to get crisp but not burn.
  • Put a pot of water on to boil for the gnocchi.
  • Whisk together the oil, mustard and garlic; whisk in the lemon zest and juice, and then stir in the Parmesan. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
  • Boil the gnocchi according to directions, drain, and put it in a large bowl. When the cauliflower and kale look appealingly browned, add them to the bowl, reserving a few of the crispier kale leaves. Add the dressing and toss gently.
  • Serve with the reserved kale leaves and Parmesan sprinkled on top.


I feel like this article has to be written. I am very disappointed when a magazine like Cook’s Illustrated makes a goulash recipe and it turns out to be something else. I love Cook’s Illustrated and I forgive them. But let’s put things straight in the case of Hungarian gulyás. The biggest mistake people make is mixing up other Hungarian foods and calling them “goulash”. So what is gulyás, really?

Continue reading

The Emperor’s Crumbs

We called this blog “The Emperor’s Crumbs” because we will be writing about – and eating – food from one of Europe’s crossroads. The old Austro-Hungarian Empire was home to something like 50 million people and stretched from Poland to the Mediterreanean, so that’s a lot of different palates, climates, and traditions. If you could visit a market from the turn of the last century, you’d find the Czechs offering you their pernik (gingerbread), the Transylvanians cooking kürtös kalacs (coiled cake) over hot coals, the Slovaks tucking into their bryndzové halušky (tiny dumplings with sheep’s cheese) and the Austrians roasting vast pans of sausages. More recently, a good chunk of this part of the world was behind the Iron Curtain, as Winston Churchill (a man who liked his food) put it. While not much of that era can be remembered fondly, I’m sure we’ll come up with a few nostalgic bites from the Socialist past.

The cuisine of Central Europe is not quite as widely known as French or Italian or even Thai cooking, perhaps because it tends towards the heavy and hearty, which isn’t so much in fashion these days. But when it’s well prepared, it’s homey, wonderful food that deserves recognition.

Since we’re in southern Slovakia, obviously we’ll be leaning towards the dishes typical of this part of the region. I hope you’ll send in your own versions of the imperial classics and your own favorites as well.

To lead off, here’s the recipe for császármorzsa in Hungarian, kaiserschmarrn in German. Loosely translated, it means, yep, emperor’s crumbs. It’s usually served with jam or stewed fruit, but it’s equally delicious with maple syrup, and some places in Budapest top it with a custard sauce. It’s a substantial dish, usually served as a main course even though it’s sweet (I have always had some weird thing about having a sweet as a main course, so I aim to serve a salad or something when we have one of these types of dishes, to at least nod towards a savory item).

Valerian says “this meal was a long time favorite of my family. The origin of this dish is in Austria. According to one of the legends the meal was invented by Emperor Franz Josef of Austria-Hungaria. The truth is that this meal was an Austrian peasant meal and only the name refers to the emperor. ”

So here it is, a family favorite.

Emperors Crumbs

Emperors Crumbs

When I asked my mum how does she makes this meal, she told me that smardli (as we call it in our family) is basically pancake (crepes) batter prepared like scrambled eggs. There are two ways you can prepare this meal: the labor-intensive way on the stovetop and the lazy way made in the oven.

This is a basic recipe  — I think the original was only flour, sugar, eggs, milk and fat — but there are many ways to make variations. You could add vanilla extract, raisins or lemon zest, or experiment even further.


Makes 2 portions

  • 3/4 cup/100 g semolina
  • 1 cup/250 ml milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 3 egg whites
  • pinch salt
  • 1/2 cups/100 g sugar
  • half lemon zest
  • 50 g butter for sauteing
  • powdered sugar, compote or jam or all three as topping


  • Mix together the semolina, flour and milk. Let it sit for an hour or so to let the semolina absorb the milk.
  • Mix the egg yolks together with sugar and stir it into the milk mixture.
  • Whip the egg whites and a pinch of salt into firm peaks and fold it into the milk/egg mixture..
  • Melt the butter and add the batter. Stir the batter with a spatula or wooden spoon until it starts to form little clumps – crumbs. Depending on the size of the pan this can take up to 30 minutes.
  • Serve hot with powdered sugar or with jam, or with compote or drizzle with some syrup.