July 29, 2014

Loaded Baked Sweet Potatoes

With all the cell division happening in this house (pregnant mama + busy toddler) our meals have tended lately toward decadence. Meats, whole dairy, eggs, nuts, and butter grace our table daily. But even in this season of calorie-dense foods, veggies never fall by the wayside.

Sweet potatoes, those vibrant, earthy tubers, Darwin's first food, hold a special place in my heart. I love their humbleness, natural sweetness, and amazing nutrition. Swapping in a sweet potato makes magic out of a classic loaded baked potato, yeilding a better balance of flavors and a bigger punch of fiber and vitamins than the original version. So much for keeping the oven off in July.

Try any combination of toppings, and let your kids assemble. We love melted sharp cheddar, chopped scallions, fresh parsley, torn strips of bacon, and a good dollop of sour cream. Salsa and minced red onions are also delicious.

For the bacon, we buy the nitrate-free kind (usually from Applegate Farms), though I've read conflicting reports about sodium nitrate vs. celery powder, and which is safer. Without a clear consensus, as Hoots the Owl might say, bacon is a sometime food.


Loaded Baked Sweet Potatoes
Serves 4

2-4 sweet potatoes
4oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated from the block
3 scallions, chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
8oz bacon, cooked and coarsely crumbled
sour cream

Stab sweet potatoes with a fork and bake for 1 hour in a 400 degree oven, turning once.

When the potatoes are very tender, place each one on a plate and slice lengthwise. I sometimes pinch or slice off the ends, which can be slightly fibrous.

Sprinkle with cheese first to melt, then remaining toppings as you like. Serve!

July 17, 2014

Parmesan Broccoli Minute-Hash

Broccoli is our it-vegetable. We eat it with breakfast every morning, steamed until bright green and served with a little grass-fed butter and sea salt. I gobble up a big heap of it. Darwin munches off the florets and ambitiously "Brachiosaurus-chomps" the stems. We have oatmeal or eggs or peanut butter on sprouted grain toast, but the broccoli is our constant: a daily succession of forests chopped down and served for our breakfasting pleasure.

 A breakfast rich in folate, vitamin K, and sulfur compounds
Recently, as he sometimes does, Darwin woke for the day painfully early. I found myself cooking breakfast to the tentative music of the first songbirds, but no one wanted it except pregnant-and-always-hungry-me. Hours later, my attempts to re-warm the broccoli for the rest of the family yielded dull and disappointing results.

So, an experiment. I threw the extra-tender (read: a little overcooked) broccoli into a bowl and mash-chopped it up with a fork. I melted a luscious square of butter on top, then stirred in some Parmesan cheese (the kind in the jar, which my family affectionately calls "shake cheese"). Viola! Parmesan Broccoli Minute-Hash was born!

Darwin instantly fell for the rich, salty, easily scoopable hash. He ate a truly gratifying amount of broccoli, and now often asks for his morning broccoli prepared this way. May yours ask for broccoli, too!

Parmesan Broccoli Minute-Hash
Serves as many as you like

Fresh broccoli, chopped into evenly-sized florets
Unsalted butter
Parmesan cheese

In a covered, medium pot outfitted with a steam basket and filled with an inch of water, steam the broccoli florets until quite tender and beginning to lose their crisp brightness.

Transfer florets to a mixing bowl, add butter to taste, and mash, coarsely or finely, with a fork.

Add a generous shake of Parmesan cheese, stir thoroughly, and serve.

July 10, 2014

Zesty Quinoa Tabbouleh

Darwin loves parsley with quirky intensity. If he spies the frilly greens in his dinner, he fishes them out with his fingers for an unadulterated taste. In the garden, he plucks and eats the leaf tips until I shoo him away from the poor, balding plants. Can I blame him? Not really. Parsley is a great love of mine, too. He probably remembers it from the womb.

In the July heat, along with rescuing the parsley plants, one of my daily quests is to cook up a healthy, tasty meal plan that doesn't actually involve cooking anything up. Here is one cool dinner idea, a zesty tabbouleh bursting with lemon and middle-eastern herbs, that's especially easy if you've got cooked quinoa already in the fridge (you should totally have cooked quinoa in the fridge!)

A plate of tabbouleh, cold chicken, and sweet potatoes pre-baked in the cooler morning hours. 

When you prepare the tabbouleh, take care to mince the herbs finely, which helps distribute their potent flavors. Kids love to dump and stir the ingredients together. Enjoy.


Zesty Quinoa Tabbouleh

Serves 3

2 cups cooked and cooled quinoa
1/2 cup fresh parsley, minced
1/4 cup chopped scallions
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, minced
1 small ripe tomato
1 cup chopped cucumber
2-3 Tbls fresh lemon juice
2-3 Tbls extra virgin olive oil salt to taste (start with 1/4 tsp)

Place all ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir to combine. Serve room temperature or chilled.

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?


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."

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.


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.