February 28, 2013

Parsley-Walnut Pesto

fresh in the bowl
Have you tried pesto with your kids? Parents tell me their kids dig right into fresh pestos of all kinds, with their unassuming, smooth-textured flecks of green. What a cool, sophisticated way to bring veggies to the table!

I love a good basil pesto, but it's kind of expensive to make. Putting pine nuts into my grocery cart feels like I'm buying a little satchel of diamonds. Basil can be a bit of a splurge, too, if you don't have it in the garden.

Parsley and walnuts, though, are (let's agree) excusable expenses, and I've discovered that a rich and garlicky parsley-walnut pesto works magic on pasta, chicken, sandwiches, and crudites. Fear not if your family is lukewarm on parsley: even with two (densely nutritious!) cups of the herb, the pesto doesn't scream PARSLEY. I adapted my recipe from this one on Simply Recipes (I actually reduced the amount of garlic she calls for, so pigs must be flying.) It's the best I've tried, and Darwin agrees.

Since the pureed leaves of parsley don't turn brown when they oxidize, your pesto still looks verdant on day two. Parsley wins again.

Parsley Pesto
makes about 1.5 cups

2 cups chopped curly parsley
1 cup walnuts
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (unprocessed "shake cheese" is OK)
2 garlic cloves, grated
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt to taste (sparingly; Parmesan is a salty cheese)

Combine all ingredients in a food processor or high speed blender and process until smooth.

Enjoy immediately, or refrigerate for a day or two.

whole wheat macaroni with parsley pesto, baked sweet potato fries, apple slices, garlicky kale

February 26, 2013

Simple Plates #6

whole wheat macaroni with marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese, avocado, spinach with garlic and red bell pepper

apple slices, creamy carrot soup, garlicky kale, avocado, roasted chicken

freshly crinkled carrots, fresh green beans. Mozzarella cheese

broccoli with butter, masala dosa with chickpeas, potatoes and peas, orange pieces
Scott makes amazing whole-food masala dosas, which are like Indian crispy stuffed crepes. These use 100% whole wheat flour and a filling of potato, chickpeas, green peas, onions, garlic, ginger, and spices.

garlicky curly kale, grape tomatoes, colby-jack cheese, orange pieces, baked sweet potato fries, baby lima beans with butter and scallions

zesty mayo-free coleslaw, frozen peas, cheese omelet, blueberries
I've finally jumped on the fresh-eggs bandwagon, and I may never buy supermarket eggs again. This vibrant orange omelet is not photoshopped--the yolks are that rich.

roasted chicken with walnut-parsley pesto over brown rice, roasted carrots, grape tomatoes, kiwi and blueberries

sesame bok choy, avocado on whole rye cracker, blood orange pieces

broccoli and Mozzarella skillet-quiche, banana, and orange pieces

February 24, 2013

Kid-Friendly Indian Food (Easy Dal)

red lentil dal with brown rice, sauteed garlicky curly kale, turkey-veggie meatball, pear and clementine slices
Indian food is kid-friendly. (Indian kids eat it, after all, and there are a lot of them.) But lets say you're an American who loves Indian flavors, maybe you cook with them sometimes, or you get takeout from that awesome Indian place you know, and until now you never thought to toss your kid a piece of the vindaloo.

It's definitely not too late, no matter your kids' ages. This mellow dal is a great introduction to eastern spices for curry-lovers-in-training. (Darwin started eating it when he was around nine months old.) It features the best of Indian flavors: warming ginger, garlic, fried spices, and that mysterious marrying of coconut and tomato that seems absurd in western cuisine but works so beautifully in curries.

We like it over brown rice with a few torn cilantro leaves on top and a dollop of whole plain yogurt. We almost always add something to it while it's simmering: a chopped carrot, some cauliflower florets, or a cup of garbanzo beans (if you're adding a lot of anything, scale up the spices to match.)


Basic, Delicious Dal
Serves 4

1 cup dry red lentils, rinsed and drained
1 medium onion, chopped very finely
2 roma tomatoes, chopped
1 generous Tbls. extra virgin coconut oil
2 cloves garlic, minced or grated
1 Tbls. freshly grated ginger
1 tsp. ground coriander (freshly ground is best)
1 tsp. ground cumin seeds (freshly ground is best)
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. salt
pinch cayenne (optional)

In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat and fry onions until translucent, about five minutes.

Add garlic, ginger and spices and fry a minute more, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot.

Add tomatoes and cook five minutes more, stirring frequently, until tomatoes have begun breaking down into sauce.

Add lentils, stir to coat, then add 2.5 cups of water. (This is also the time to add any extra vegetables you like.)

Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cover, checking and stirring occasionally until the lentils completely soften and break apart, about 20 minutes.

Stir in the salt and taste. Adjust with more salt if needed.

Serve topped with yogurt and fresh torn cilantro leaves.

February 21, 2013

Simple Plates #5

tomato-lentil stew, avocado, clemetine pieces, garlicky rappini
Darwin's usually great about greens, but he doesn't yet savor the intensity of rappini. I served him a tiny portion of mine and he took two bites, which satisfied us both.

baked sweet potato with raisins, kiwi and apple chunk, fried egg, sesame Shangai bok choy
The bok choy from this meal was amazing sauteed in a little olive oil and garlic, with a splash of soy sauce and sesame oil added at the end. Darwin took a bite and declared, "edemame!", remembering a similar flavor from a meal we had months(!) ago.

blueberries, spinach, swiss cheese, sweet potato

cold chopped spinach skillet-quiche, blueberries, avocado, natural peanut butter on Ezekial toast, carrots

hi, Mama!

spinach and cheese skillet-quiche, apple slices, sweet potato, whole wheat pita triangles

tomato and swiss melt on Ezekial toast, parmesan spinach, Kalamata olives

cottage cheese pancake, fresh green beans, kiwi
This little bento box was a snack on-the-go. Cottage cheese pancake recipe coming soon!

salmon salad, baked sweet potato, crispy roasted kale chips, apple slices

broccoli with butter, peanut butter on Ezekial bread, banana chunk, orange pieces

February 19, 2013

Crinkle Cut Valentine

For Valentines' Day this year, Scott got me a crinkle cutter.

Only a person who truly understood the contents of my tender, foodie heart would ever buy such a gift. Thank you, favorite.

What do you do when you've just brushed the gift wrap off your new crinkle cutter and given it a little inaugural washing? Well, of course, you crinkle-cut everything in sight--carrots, zucchini, apples, celery, pears, radishes, sweet potatoes... here, kitty kitty! Just joking, Buddy.

No vegetable or fruit is safe.

crinkle-cut carrots, crinkle-cut celery, crinkle-cut apple, raw sauerkraut, 100% whole wheat pasta with Parmesan cheese
Consider yourself warned, because you're about to see a whole lot of wavy foods.

February 17, 2013

Simple Plates #4

mini spinach quiche, fresh green beans and carrots, clementine sections, roasted garlicky eggplant

baked sweet potato fries, garlicky mushrooms, peanut butter apple sandwiches, green olives

turkey-veggie meatball, sauteed garlicky Tuscan kale, orange fennel soup with chickpeas, orange sections
The orange/fennel/chickpea soup above is my tweaked version of a recipe from a great cookbook called The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook, by Jack Bishop.

chickpea "chicken" salad, baked sweet potato moons

mini spinach quiche, pear slices

100% whole wheat/real cheese pasta, crispy roasted kale chips, apple chunks

peanut butter on Ezekial toast, avocado slices, garlicky mushrooms, kiwi chunks

broccoli, kale, and cheddar skillet-quiche; fresh carrots; apple chunks

broccoli with butter, blueberry-banana quinoa
Quinoa makes a delicious breakfast sweetened with a mashed banana and some frozen berries.

February 15, 2013

Cheesy Veggie Baked Ziti

cheesy veggie ziti, fresh green beans, blueberries
I'm really excited to share this baked ziti. It's a rich, saucy pasta bake that's 100% whole wheat and completely crammed with veggies. Because it's cheesy and familiar, this recipe will win over even kids who are prone to making "the face" when you serve vegetables.

I've made this dish many times, always boasting about the abundance of vegetables in it. This time, for fun, I decided to find out the actual ratio of pasta to veggies, by weight.

hefty vegetables on the postal scale
I don't have a kitchen scale, so whenever I want to weigh something, I haul out my old (literally, rusty) postal scale, plop a Tupperware on top, and load it up (yes, I tare. This is science, people.)

Here are the weigh-in results:
pasta: 0.5 lbs
veggies: 1.75 lbs!
Impressed? I am! Indulge and enjoy!

Cheesy Veggie Baked Ziti
Serves 4-6

8oz 100% whole wheat ziti or penne (half a box)
8oz white button mushrooms, chopped
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
1 medium-large carrot, grated
1 large zucchini, cut into quarter rounds
2 cloves garlic, grated
8oz whole milk Mozzarella cheese, cut into small cubes
1 1/4 cup whole milk Ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups good quality marinara sauce (we like Barilla)

In a large pot, set pasta to boil. Preheat oven to 350.

Meanwhile, in a second large pot, saute onions, garlic, and mushrooms in a swirl of olive oil over medium-high heat about seven minutes, or until the mushroom liquid has cooked off. Add the carrots and zucchini, and saute five minutes more.

Drain pasta when tender and set aside.

Add marinara sauce to the pot of veggies and simmer briefly to combine flavors and soften vegetables. Remove from heat and stir in pasta and both cheeses.*

Scoop mixture into a lasagna pan and bake at 350 for 20 minutes, or until cheese cubes have melted.

Serve hot!

*For me, this is where the recipe ends. I scoop the mixture into a glass bowl and use the toaster oven to heat individual portions. I confess to never actually having baked the whole pan of ziti at once, so if you do, please tell me how it turns out!

cheesy veggie ziti, green olives, crispy oven-baked kale chips, blueberries
We heart leftovers!

February 13, 2013

Simple Plates #3

pea pods, steamed carrots, clementine sections, fried egg, radish slices

100% whole wheat penne with Mozzarella and marinara sauce, collard greens with onions and olives, baked sweet potato

spicy black lentil dal with whole plain yogurt, nectarine slices

spinach and cheddar "skillet quiche," avocado, pear slices
This egg dish tastes a lot like a tender, freshly-baked spinach quiche. Really, it's (shhhh) just an omelet. I minced a large handful of raw spinach and whisked it with a single egg before frying. There was so much spinach in the egg that it barely spread out in the pan! But it cooked down perfectly, and I threw some sharp cheddar inside before folding it in half. Darwin left none for me.

February 11, 2013

Raising a Food-Smart Kid

When it comes to shaping kids' attitudes about food, Parents, we have the real power. It's us. It's not junk food commercials, or kids on the playground, or Happy Meal toys. At the end of the day (and the beginning, and the middle...) we're the ones who buy the food and serve it, and better yet, we get to be a gentle, consistent voice promoting what matters: a healthy body, a little patience, and an appreciation of the resources that sustain us.

When it comes to "marketing" these values to kids, we don't have to be half as flashy as commercial advertisers. Of course, every kid and every age is different (mine is 22 months as of this writing, and fairly agreeable, also as of this writing) but at our house, we do three simple things--read books, share kitchen tasks, and play with toy food--to normalize real food even before it's time to eat.

Reading Books
What's that?
A quick Amazon search unearths tons of beautiful children's books about real foods (Lois Ehlert wrote and illustrated two of our favorites: Eating the Alphabet and Growing Vegetable Soup.) Even books that are not specifically about food often have a page or two of good food vocabulary and pictures. The more we read and talk about vegetables and fruits, the more comforting and familiar those foods become. (If we don't exert this influence, junk food advertisers will!)

Soliciting Kitchen Help
"Up, see!" Darwin pleads, pulling at my legs as I peel and chop at the counter. Kids want to know what we're up to up there! Usually, even very young ones have a surprising ability to accomplish (safe) kitchen tasks. Darwin mastered clementine-peeling on his first try. He shelves the measuring cups, recycles the grocery bags, and applies brow-furrowing concentration to tossing a bay leaf into the bean pot. Parents who let their kids help in the kitchen know that it can take an extra five minutes to get a meal on the table, but that kids love eating what they've made.

Playing with Toy Food
wooden crate is and cloth veggies from Under the Nile
Melissa & Doug, Plan Toys, Under the Nile, and other companies sell cloth and wooden toy food sets that, frankly, obsess me. Our collection of toy edibles includes carrots, tomatoes, apples, grapes, chicken, lemons, broccoli, cucumbers, pears, radishes, cheese, bok choy(!) and many more. If you have never made a toy soup with your kids, you have to try it! Show them how to chop and stir the ingredients. Let them feed you a bite. Pretend it needs more garlic.

My favorite thing about these tools is that they're ordinary good fun. Parents don't have to worry, lecture, or prohibit TV to get involved in the way kids think about food.

How do you bring healthy food into family conversations? Does it make a difference at the table?

February 8, 2013

Easier, Better Macaroni and Cheese

Whole-wheat/whole cheese macaroni, crispy oven-baked kale chips, nectarine slices, pea pods
Boxed macaroni and cheese was THE food of my childhood. I probably asked my poor mom to make it for lunch every day between 1987-1997. When the noodles were on the stove, it was my (very, very important) job to tear open the packet of cheese and dump it into the pot, tapping it meticulously so as not to waste a single puff of precious powder. Later, as a crafty (Krafty?) teenager, I started making it myself, with two packets of cheese for every box of pasta. Imagine it: a day-glow-orange salt-bomb in a pot.

Fast-forward to a new era, in which I am still unequivocally in love with macaroni and cheese. There is nothing like an over-large heap of gooey yellow noodles paired with a big stack of crudites around noontime of, oh, any day.

Still, I gave up macaroni and cheese for a long time. That powdered cheese isn't actually, you know, cheese. And those soft white noodles are stripped of the germ and the bran that make pasta not just nutritious, but hearty and flavorful.

I dreamed up this technique when I was pregnant, and have never since bought boxed mac. It's delicious, creamy, fast, real macaroni and cheese, perfect for whole-food kids and parents. It even makes that little squelchy kissy sound when you stir it in the pot.

As soon as Darwin outgrows his toddleresque drive to dump food onto the floor (can that be today? Please?), he'll be the one in charge of adding the cheese to the pot.

Whole-Food Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese
serves 2

1 cup dry 100% whole wheat pasta (macaroni, fusilli, or other short, chunky shape)
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded from the block*
splash of milk or cream
salt and pepper to taste

Boil pasta until tender, drain, and return to pot. Add milk and cheese and stir well until cheese has completely melted and combined. Salt to taste and serve immediately.

*I've used many kinds of cheeses, and almost all work well, even spicy pepper jack. If you don't mind fussing a little, mixing a sharper cheese (like sharp cheddar) with a meltier cheese (like mild cheddar or jack) is a good choice for balancing tangy/creamy notes.

February 6, 2013

Simple Plates #2

lemony ginger split pea soup, blueberries, whole plain yogurt
Split pea soups are easy, cheap, and deeply flavorful, even with few ingredients. They're a great legume to experiment with if you're new to legumes. I made the above soup with carrots, celery, onion, ginger, cumin, turmeric, yellow split peas, and lemon juice.

strawberry and kiwi slices, garlicky curly kale, sweet potato rounds coated in shredded unsweetened coconut
I'll never stop experimenting with sweet potatoes!

natural peanut butter on Ezekial toast, apple chunks, avocado

red lentil dal with whole plain yogurt, apple chunk, garlicky greens

eating sauerkraut

steamed carrot coins and chopped fresh green beans, turkey-vegetable meatball, strawberries, avocado, whole wheat pita chips and hummus

creamed spinach, blueberries, peanut butter on Ezekial toast, sweet potato rounds
My parents used to make "creamed spinach" for my brother and I when we were kids. It swam in little 1950s-era ramekins placed next to our dinner plates, and we'd stab into the hot cream with our kid-forks to eat it. I'll have to ask my mother how she used to make it, but here I briefly simmered a handful of fresh spinach in half-and-half, and it tasted just like I remember it. Darwin gobbled it up.