May 31, 2015

A Quick Guide to Minute-Veggies

Let's do something a little different this week. I'm going to let you in on one of our family's house rules. Are you ready? Here it is:

Serve at least one vegetable and/or fruit with every meal and every snack.

Here's why we do it:

  • It adds fiber and vitamins.
  • It normalizes the appearance of produce on kids' plates.
  • It gives kids many opportunities to eat produce throughout the day
  • It makes plates colorful and fun.

Vegetables can take time. They're worth the time. But sometimes, I get it, you're dashing out the door, or tossing your kid a snack so you can answer the phone, or cleaning up spilled bubble stuff, or dashing in the door with your arms full of groceries and babies, and food has to happen NOW or else someone, maybe you, is going to cry. In these instances, fresh food is still doable, and can even be as quick as gnashing open a granola bar with your frustrated teeth.

To prove it, I've compiled a list of veggies and fruits to serve if you have just one, five, or ten minutes to spare. The list assumes you are starting from scratch, having done no preparation whatsoever, because those are the times when veggies are most likely to fall by the wayside.

I made a true effort to accurately gauge these prep/cook-times. When in doubt, I timed myself, which led to the--heartbreaking!--elimination of steamed sweet potato and steamed carrots from the list. Next time you're feeling all slow foodsy, invest the fourteen minutes it takes to get those yummy orange veggies on the table.

On the upside, I got a bunch of kale from the fridge to our plates in eight minutes. You can do this! Here you go.

If you have only ONE MINUTE, you can still serve:
  • frozen peas or sweet corn (still frozen!)
  • baby carrots or a whole peeled carrot
  • cherry tomatoes
  • cucumber slices
  • raw sugar snap peas
  • half an avocado
  • red bell pepper slices
  • frozen edamame pods (packed to-go; they'll defrost)
  • any fresh fruit (berries, apples, pears, bananas, clementines, grapes, etc.)
  • raisins or other no-sugar-added dried fruit

If you have only FIVE MINUTES, you also have time to serve:
  • smoothies made from frozen fruit and leafy greens
  • salad greens or slaw mix with vinaigrette
  • celery and nut butter or cream cheese
  • steamed green beans
  • steamed snow peas
  • steamed zucchini and/or yellow squash
  • sauteed fresh or frozen spinach
  • steamed or sauteed asparagus spears
  • steamed (frozen, pre-cooked) edamame pods

If you have only TEN MINUTES, you can serve all of the above, plus:
  • whole microwaved sweet potato
  • sauteed kale, collards, chard, or other hardy greens
  • steamed broccoli or cauliflower
  • stir-fried bell peppers

That's our list! Happy minute-munching, friends. And tell me: what did I miss?

May 25, 2015

Healing Veggie Soup

"Mama, my soup is not healing me."

Darwin frowns, hunkered over a mug of creamy, golden soup. He sounds really disappointed, I think. It's actually hard to tell, because his voice sounds like a Brillo pad on a soup pot. My poor sweet pea is sick with a cold in the middle of May.

Like many moms and dads, I feel propelled to action when my kid is under the weather. I snuggle his ever-lankier frame. I plan movies and homemade popsicles. I kneel on the kitchen floor and whack a Thai coconut with the corner of my chef's knife, so I can offer him a cold glass of its water. Look out, virus. I've got a knife.

This particular cold got Darwin by the throat, and I wanted to make something soothing-to-swallow that would fill him up with a good variety of vegetables: a rich soup brimming with nourishing, gently-simmered kale, celery, carrots, and onions. It's so simple, yet surprisingly layered and tasty. Imagine the comfort of a potato soup, but a little lighter, more intricate, more vibrant. I call it Healing Veggie Soup.

And here's Darwin, four years old, a little pale and slouching in front of his mug, believing that our soup is actually a kind of elixir with the power to banish his cold. "Mama," he says again, "my soup is not healing me," the sadness in his scratchy voice suddenly so big. And what can I tell him?

"But it gives your body the strength to heal itself," I say.

What I don't say: "But it heals me to make it for you."


Healing Veggie Soup
Serves 4

1 small sweet onion
4 carrots, peeled and sliced into coins
3 celery stalks, sliced
1 russet potato, peeled and chopped
2 cups packed kale
1/4 cup cream (half and half)
1/2 tsp. salt and black pepper to taste
chopped parsley, for garnish

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, saute onion, carrot, and celery in a few Tbls. of EVOO until the vegetables are glistening and soft, about ten minutes.

Add the kale and potatoes, and saute a few minutes more, stirring frequently, until the kale has begun to wilt.

Add two cups of water, salt, and pepper. Let the soup simmer, covered, for 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are very tender.

Remove the soup from the heat, and puree with an immersion blender (if you like some texture) or blender/food processor in batches (for a completely smooth soup.)

Whisk in cream to soup after blending and ladle into bowls with a sprinkle of parsley.

Baby sister loved it.

May 17, 2015

4-2-4 Weekday Pancakes

Darwin isn't one of those kids you see in commercials who bounds into his parents' bedroom at dawn, tousled and exuberant to the dismay of his overtired parents. Usually, I wake him, moving through his dim and jungle-y room in the early morning to lay a hand gently on his back. He doesn't budge at first; then, in a tiny and blanket-muffled voice, he tells me he's a butterfly inside a chrysalis, not ready to emerge. Or he'll ask me to "push the button," which means he's a robot, and needs a human to boot him up. Once in a while, he'll smile, eyes still closed, and ask for Mama-snuggles: truly sweet, and late-for-school-making.

With all the hatching and snuggling and robotic high jinks of preschool mornings, the breakfast window is pretty narrow. Sometimes, it's lets-put-our-shoes-on-under-the-table narrow. If breakfast is going to be special on these mornings, it has to be super speedy. These 4-2-4 pancakes--that's 4 eggs, 2 bananas, and 4 Tbls. flour-- are both.

4-2-4 pancakes are where breakfast and magic tricks intersect; they're our riff on grain-free, ultra-simple pancakes like these and these. Thrilling as it is to follow the flour-less recipes (guys, it works!) we encountered two major issues with them. Firstly, they burn easily. (Blame the sugary bananas, laid nearly bare in a hot skillet.) Secondly, they're extremely fragile. Not to brag or anything, but I'm a pretty accomplished pancake flipper, and I've still mangled a few.

Adding just a touch of stone-ground whole wheat flour solves both problems. The pancakes cook beautifully, turning our fluffy, a bit crisp on the outside, and almost custardy in the middle. The whole fruit sugars in the batter supply plenty of sweetness; we don't add any syrup at the table. And 4-2-4s provide a lot more protein than traditional pancakes. Best of all, they're ridiculously easy. Truly achievable pancakes. We can all use that on a Tuesday morning.


4-2-4 Weekday Pancakes
Makes 10-12 pancakes

4 eggs
2 ripe bananas, mashed
4 Tbls. whole wheat flour (1/4 cup)
dash cinnamon

butter, for frying
fresh fruit for serving

Fork-whisk eggs, bananas, flour, and cinnamon in a bowl.

Melt butter in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. When butter begins to foam, ladle batter by scant quarter cups into the hot skillet.

Cook a minute or two, until bubbles begin to form on the pancakes. Flip, and cook a minute more, until golden and firm.

Transfer to plates and top with butter and fresh fruit. Serve immediately.

May 10, 2015

Insane Whole Grain Lo Mein

During last year's round of Sibling Secret Santa, Scott and I connived to discover who the entire family was buying for. Our kitchen became the situation room, where we penned a list of names, some crossed-out, others connected with arrows. We figured out who everyone was assigned, and taunted them all, cryptically, for several weeks. Then Christmas arrived, and it turned out we had been completely wrong.

In my hubris leading up to Christmas, I'd planted the seed of wanting this pan in the mind of my sister-in-law. The seed had drifted here and there and finally landed like a little dandelion tuft with my brother-in-law in California, who'd actually been given my name. And he bought it for me, from afar, and had it shipped, because he is a very sweet person. Thank you, and sorry, to all parties involved.

The thing is a behemoth of a pan, deep like something's stomped footprint, its arced handle extra-long. Its official home is on top of the refrigerator, and when I want to get it down, I have to recruit my baby-hefting upper arms.

I can melt down an entire leafy bunch of greens in this pan, simmer a double-batch of Giada's Bolognese with grass-fed beef, and saute cups upon cups of veggies en route to a casserole dish. I can sizzle cutlets and make fried rice, and if I happen to catch sight of a greasy takeout carton of lo mein, and fall under the irresistible spell of needing to make lo mein at home, well, I can do that with my mondo pan.

With more vegetables.

And whole wheat noodles.

And splashy love.

We have two kids now and often feel kind of butt-kicked by dinner time (the idea of courses becomes unbearable), so the pile-everything-into-one pan approach has been working well. Our lo mein, loosely inspired by this one from Damn Delicious, boasts a lot of goodness: an insanely colorful variety of vegetables in a slightly sweet, gingery sauce; whole wheat noodles; and plant-based protein.

We all adore it, sitting across from one another with noodles cascading from our mouths (CUT the pasta with your teeth, Darwin!) And I figure if word-of-mouth got me this great pan, it's only fair that I pass along news of the delicious things that come out of it.


Insane Whole Grain Lo Mein
Serves 4

8 oz 100% whole wheat spaghetti
1 pound firm tofu
2 carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1 small red bell pepper, cut into strips
1 cup raw snow peas
2 celery stalks, sliced
8 oz button mushrooms, sliced
1 big handful fresh spinach
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbls. EVOO, or a big swirl

1/4  cup tamari or soy sauce
2 tsp. sesame oil
1 Tbls. + 1 tsp. real maple syrup
1 tsp. ground ginger
2 green onions, finely sliced, plus more for garnish

Drain tofu, cut it into cubes, and blot the cubes dry with a flour sack towel or paper towel. Set aside.

Boil water, and set pasta to cook according to instructions.

Meanwhile, whisk together sauce ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside.

In a deep-sided 5-quart pan or wok pan over medium-high heat, fry mushrooms together with carrots, celery, and bell pepper for 3-5 minutes, stirring constantly.

Add garlic, tofu, snow peas, and spinach, and fry for 2-3 more minutes, until spinach has just wilted, and peas are bright green and crisp.

Drain cooked pasta, and add it to the pan, pouring the sauce over the top of the pasta and vegetables. Use tongs to toss the lo mein until the sauce has completely incorporated, with none pooling in the bottom of the pan.

Serve and garnish with extra chopped green onions, and Sriracha, if you like.

May 3, 2015

Kid Curry with Chicken and Red Lentils

"I mean, Indian food IS kid food," I say, leaning into the sink after dinner, scrubbing a rind of curry from my favorite pot.

Scott nods. "1.2 billion Indians can't be wrong." We've had this conversation before, the one about how it's normal and important and totally not torture to serve kids diverse and boldly-flavored foods. We're the preacher and the choir. 

Darwin appears destined from the womb to love macaroni and cheese. But that doesn't mean he, like all kids, can't surprise us with preferences for more complex flavors. At lunch today, I mistakenly failed to offer him some of my latest batch of Nourished Kitchen's Hot Pink Jalapeno Garlic Kraut. He finally asked for some, and ate two servings! Kid showed me. Case two: Darwin's baby sister, who thinks sweet potato is some variety of Buttered Death, will tackle a spoon loaded up with this curry.

There is a definite down-the-rabbit-hole quality to feeding kids, and that's not a bad thing; it means it's worth taking risks. It means you're allowed, no, practically obligated to occasionally throw open the doors of the spice cabinet, and declare it Curry Night.

Next time you do, try this rich and beautifully-colored stew. Spiced but not spicy, it warms little bellies with tender chicken and vegetables, two hearty legumes, and more protein than you can shake a spoon at. Give it a go, even if someone in your house is likely to ask, "what's curry?" (Answer: family food from across the world!) Ladle it over brown rice with a dollop of plain yogurt and see who bites.


Kid Curry with Chicken and Red Lentils
Serves 4-6

1 cup dry red lentils, rinsed and drained
1.5 cups cooked chickpeas (or one can chickpeas, drained and rinsed)
1 cup cooked shredded chicken
1 small sweet onion
2 carrots, peeled and chopped small
1 cup cauliflower, chopped small
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. freshly-grated ginger
3 Tbls. tomato paste
1 tsp. ground coriander seed
1/2 tsp. ground cumin seeds
1/2 tsp. turmeric powder
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbls. extra virgin olive oil
juice from 1/2 a lemon
whole plain yogurt, for garnish
cooked brown rice for serving (optional)

In a heavy, 5-quart pot over medium heat, fry onions, carrots, and cauliflower in olive oil until softening and translucent, about ten minutes.

Add garlic, ginger, and dry spices, and fry one minute longer.

Add red lentils, chicken, chickpeas, tomato paste, and salt, plus 3.5 cups water.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until lentils are completely softened and the stew has thickened, about 20 minutes.

Remove curry from the heat, and stir in fresh lemon juice.

Ladle over brown rice (if using) and top each serving with a dollop of yogurt.