April 21, 2014

Baby-Blue Cheese Spread



A good memory: evening-time, twenty-odd years ago, my father and I sat before a cavernous, moldy wedge of blue cheese. Next to it, a Triscuit box waited with its cardboard flaps thrown open like hands asking, why not? 

I eagerly awaited the tart, creamy smear of blue cheese my dad offered me on top of one cracker at a time. Delicious! I felt mature eating it, initiated by my enjoyment of this adult-seeming food.

Darwin's too young to understand the slightly sophisticated reputation of blue cheese; he just knows he likes to eat it. He loves this spread, too, which marries the salt and tang of blue cheese with the smooth, mild familiarity of cream cheese and cheddar. It's a perfect way to share blue cheese with kids, especially when the serving bowl is rimmed with crunchy vegetables and whole grain crackers (the crackers pictured are a Triscuit-style cracker with two ingredients: whole wheat flour and salt. You can find one version at Whole Foods, and another version at Stop & Shop under the "Nature's Promise" label.)


Baby-Blue Cheese Spread

1.5 cups crumbled blue cheese
8oz cream cheese, softened
8oz sharp white cheddar, grated
1-2 Tbls. half & half

Combine all ingredients in a food processor, starting with 1 Tbls. cream. Process until smooth, adding the second Tbls cream only if needed. Serve immediately for a creamy dip, or chill for a firmer spread.

April 13, 2014

Peanut Butter Quinoa Bars and an Announcement!


Our beloved Darwin turned three! - a jumping, joking, willful, curious, superhero-shirted three. At his birthday party, he indulged in his first ever classic cake (my mother's recipe, with butter cream frosting) and became the proud recipient of SEVEN superhero capes. Afterward, ordinary life resumed for our newly-minted three-year-old, with its morning trips to the library and walks around the muddy yard, dreaming of spring...

We cook together a lot these days.

He loves having a hand in the family food: scrambling eggs, tossing vegetables in oil. I sweep up a fair share of grains catapulted accidentally across the room, but I think it's a worthwhile sacrifice.

I'll help you. I'm a little bit small, but I'll help you.

I can only say yes.

One-bowl recipes like this one are especially fun to prepare with a little helper. Today, though, I cook by myself while Darwin plays at his Grandma's house. The clink of measuring cups echoes in the kid-less kitchen. I suddenly realize I'm sitting on the floor, whisking and stirring! Internal wiring: changed.

Scott and I relish this rewiring, this weird, big-hearted life with our kiddo. And in October, I'm excited to share, we'll be welcoming kiddo #2! Darwin is absorbing this news with curiosity and tenderness:

Does the teeny tiny baby in your belly walk?
Does the baby climb walls like Spiderman?

Is the baby in MY belly? 
Does the baby eat food?
I'm girl-thinkin' (As in, "thinking it will be a girl." This cracked us up. We have never said this, and have no idea where he came up with it!)
Is the baby THIS big?
Is she bigger than Australia?
 
I love you, little baby.

Pregnancy in the first trimester sent our normal eating habits into a tailspin. We made a few compromises during those intensely queasy weeks (gobbling boxed whole wheat Annie's shells and gloppy mayonnaise in our salmon salad), but I also developed a whole collection of great recipes to satisfy ultra-specific cravings. (How did I manage this?? I was so tired! Who knows.) In the coming weeks, I'll share them with you: crispy baked Ezekial chicken tenders, sugar-free baked beans, baby blue cheese-spread, veggie-filled beef stew, and many others. I can't wait!

Thanks for sharing our happiness and anticipation as Kid Can Eat becomes Kids Can Eat!


Peanut Butter Quinoa Bars
Makes 6 bars

1 1/2 cups cooked quinoa
1 cup dry rolled oats
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup raisins or other dried fruit
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350. Line an 8x8" baking dish with parchment paper.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the egg. Add all remaining ingredients and give them a good stir.

Spread batter into the baking dish and bake 20 minutes, or until edges are beginning to brown.

Let cool 10 minutes, then slice and serve. Refrigerate or freeze leftover bars.

February 9, 2014

Fire Ants on a Log

(dreamy ants on a log closeup)

Darwin hops, a little, when he's excited. He's hopping now, as I slick some spicy peanut butter onto a celery stick, and stud the sticky stuff with dried fruit: 1950s throwback snack, with a hot sauce twist. I give him the plate.

Are those the ants?

Yeah!

They're not really ants, though.

Are you sure? They look like ants to me.

They're raisins!

I can't fool this kid.

But I am relishing his new interest in crunchy vegetables. He's been toothy enough to handle them for more than a year, but his expression chomping a raw carrot has long communicated, I disapprove of brittle plant matter.

Now that he enjoys crudites more, sticking to our veggies-with-every-meal-and-snack mantra has become a little breezier. Raw snap peas, cucumbers, carrots, and celery out-convenience most cooked veggies (not that we're abandoning those, of course), and even many packaged foods. And though Darwin's munching is sometimes tentative, and he occasionally aborts a a bite midway through, I take satisfaction in knowing he's tackling this messy business of learning how to eat well, one snack and meal at a time.


I started making this spicy snack, sans ants, many years ago in San Diego. I first shared it on the vegan recipe site Veg Web, where I described it as "reminiscent of buffalo wings and spicy Asian peanutty dishes."

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reminiscent of Buffalo wings, and spicy Asian peanutty dishes. - See more at: http://vegweb.com/recipes/spicy-peanut-butter-and-celery#sthash.qCuiu39Y.dpuf
reminiscent of Buffalo wings, and spicy Asian peanutty dishes. - See more at: http://vegweb.com/recipes/spicy-peanut-butter-and-celery#sthash.qCuiu39Y.dpuf

Fire Ants on a Log
Serves as many as you like

celery stalks, rinsed and cut into 3-inch pieces
natural peanut butter (buy peanut butter with oil separation)
Frank's Red Hot sauce
raisins or other small dried fruit

In a bowl, combine a few Tbls. peanut butter with a few dashes of Frank's, to taste

Smear peanut butter on celery, top with raisins, and serve.

February 2, 2014

Quinoa Stuffed Mushrooms (Gluten Free)


We renamed the holiday "Friendsgiving," because family celebrated elsewhere. We hailed from New York and South Carolina and California and Kentucky, places too far from Florida to justify traveling for one weekend. Instead, my grad-student writer-friends and I potlucked, crowding into a decided-upon apartment bearing foil-wrapped bowls and platters. Paper squares labeled the dishes, each in a different ink and handwriting. We drank and talked and stabbed our extravagant feasts on paper plates, sitting on the floor or in cat-scratched armchairs.

I learned that writers tend to be unusually good cooks, and to care deeply about food. Past Poet Laureate Charles Simic, for his part, recounts how an old colleague used to narrate a detailed sausage-and-peppers recipe to his writing students on the first day of class:

"The point, of course, was not just to stimulate their appetites, but to show them the degree of love and devotion to the smallest detail required to turn this simple Italian dish, often poorly made, into a culinary masterpiece. Writing stories and poems was like that too, he told them. Instead of the ingredients he had just conjured, there would be words, experiences, and imaginings to combine. Actually, what he demonstrated to his students was the ancient relationship between cooking, eating well, and storytelling."

This was Friendsgiving in all its happy and homesick glory: creative people connecting around good food and stories.


The last Friendsgiving I attended, Darwin toddled from room to room, narrowly avoiding steps he couldn't yet navigate and sharp-cornered furniture. My friend Becca brought stuffed mushrooms a lot like these, and someone wisely lifted the foil from the platter appetizer-early. The mushrooms, still warm, gooey, and compact, became the most-savored course of Darwin's little dinner, and mine.

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Quinoa Stuffed Mushrooms (Gluten Free)
Makes 16-18 mushrooms

16-18 medium-large button mushrooms, rinsed and pat dry
1 cup cooked quinoa
1 cup freshly-grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 sweet onion, chopped small
2 stalks celery, chopped small
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbls. minced fresh Italian parsley
extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Preheat oven to 375 and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a large pan, saute onions and celery in a swirl of olive oil over medium heat until translucent, about ten minutes.

Meanwhile, pluck stems from the mushrooms and discard or save the stems for another recipe. Arrange the mushrooms on the cookie sheet in rows.

Add garlic to veggies and fry one minute more.

Stir quinoa into the pan with the veggies, and cook briefly, until evenly warmed.

Remove pan from heat and add cheese and parsley. Stir to combine. Taste and add pepper and salt if you like (remember that Parmesan is a salty cheese already. I add only pepper.)

Use a spoon to generously stuff the quinoa mixture into the mushrooms, then drizzle olive oil loosely across the rows.

Bake 25-30 minutes, until quinoa tops are crispy and brown, and mushrooms are soft and have given up their liquid.

Serve warm with extra parsley sprinkled as a garnish.

January 30, 2014

Pin it Party!

I've rounded up some recent favorites to take part in the Lean Green Bean Pin it Party. Thanks for your support, you harried parents (and non!) who make dinner materialize every night, because it matters. Pin, pin, pin!










January 26, 2014

Sprouted Grain Pizza Valentines


Darwin and I are food shopping. He's buckled into the cart, and I hand him things to drop in: a pound of carrots, a bunch of rappini, a bag of dried beans, sprouted grain English muffins, and a few oranges. I give him a knot of ginger and he inhales the scent, deeply. Things are going pretty well.

Enter Bunny Cookies. They're small and chocolate or honey or some other sugar-attracted flavor and neither of us has ever eaten one, or seen someone else eat one, or gotten a look at one out of the box, but it doesn't matter. Darwin wants Bunny Cookies, and strains against the buckles to point. "I want to buy them!"

OK, I've got this. "Those cookies aren't very healthy for our bodies. I'll make us some bunny cookies at home." Then I let him pick out a special fruit instead. Thank you, universe, for my usually-not-tantrum-prone child.

Now, of course, Darwin often reminds me how I promised to summon a hopping army of healthy bunnies from our oven. The whole experience drives home how influential cool shapes are, whether we're serving broccoli trees or sweet potato stars or strawberry Santas or those bunny cookies I'll get around to eventually.

In the meantime, as I wait for bunny inspiration to strike (got any?), I'm making my little boy Valentine these sprouted grain English muffin pizzas, cut simply into hearts for the season...


Kids can spread and sprinkle the toppings themselves, and the mini pizzas have the hand-held appeal of the classic English muffin pizza...


Look for a marinara sauce that has five or fewer grams of sugar per serving, and extra virgin olive oil instead of soybean or canola oil. Choose whole milk mozzarella for healthy fats, and grate it at home for the best taste. Top with herbs and veggies like chopped basil, red onions, olives, mushrooms, and bell peppers.

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Sprouted Grain Pizza Valentines
Makes 4 little pizzas (2-4 servings)

2 sprouted grain English muffins (we use Ezekial brand)
1/2 cup good quality marinara sauce
1 cup freshly-shredded mozzarella
optional toppings: chopped basil, onions, olives, mushrooms, and bell peppers

Defrost muffins and cut them in half.

Cut a v-shaped divot into each muffin, then slice from the sides and top to make a heart shape. Save the scraps for breadcrumbs, or to dip separately in marinara.

Spread sauce and sprinkle cheese and veggies as you like, then toast. We made some "upside down" so the red sauce really popped.

January 19, 2014

Quintessential Lentils


A long time ago, I tackled lentils as a matter of parent-preparedness. Our recipe collection needed a great lentil stew, I reasoned, so Darwin could hold onto something earthy and sweet, humble and harmonious as he grew up and ventured into the world.

I launched the search unnecessarily early. I imagine (remember?) poking my big belly against the kitchen counter to chop celery and fill pots with practice-stews. Here's another likely beginning: the astonishing day Darwin's dimpled hand swiped at solid food for the first time.

I scoured every book and blog I could find, tested recipes, and reported back to Scott: "It's pretty good, but it's not going to be our stew." The right one was still out there, somewhere.


Lentils enthuse me for good reason. Rich in protein, iron, fiber, folate, and B-vitamins, these disc-shaped legumes have a way of combining the big and little things of the world: they're ordinary and inexpensive, but they link us to people across oceans and continents and even to our neolithic ancestors(!)

Here in our kitchen, the magic of discovering the perfect recipe arrived like the meal itself, as a slow, subtle unfolding, a gradual deepening. I tested and tweaked for months, over- and under-complicating techniques and ingredients, until one day, almost when I'd stopped paying attention...


Aha.

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Quintessential Lentils
Serves 6 or more

1 lb lentils, rinsed, drained, and sorted
1 large sweet onion, chopped
2 large carrots, peeled
3 celery stalks, chopped or sliced
1/2 cup (uncooked) short-grain brown rice, well-rinsed and drained
8oz tomato sauce (we like Muir Glen brand)
1 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. dried sage
1 Tbls. unsulfured molasses
juice from half a lemon
a swirl of olive oil, for sauteing
1 tsp. sea salt

In a large, heavy pot over medium heat, saute onion, carrot, and celery heat until translucent, about ten minutes.

Add lentils, basil, thyme, sage, and seven cups of water. Bring to a boil, then quickly reduce heat to low, just the barest simmer. Set a timer for 15 minutes.

When the timer dings, add the rice and bring back to a simmer. Cover, and set the timer again for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally and gently, adding a little extra water if the lentils are starting to breech the surface. (Don't exceed 1 cup extra water)

When the timer dings, add the tomato sauce and molasses. Set the timer for fifteen minutes.

When the timer dings, turn off the heat, and stir in salt and lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasonings before ladling into bowls.