Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Carrots?

It's Halloween night, and much excitement about with trick-or-treaters and visits in costume to neighbors, a school party. The Kiddo did not want to say good night to all the fun, so she tried her new favorite bedtime-avoidance tactic.

"Mommy, I'm hunnnngry."

"Okay, stay here in bed, I will get you some cheese."

"No, I want carrots downstairs."

Carrots? Note that the location of the snack puts her back in the action and out of bed. Smart cookie. But it was the food request caught me off guard a bit. This is not just any carrot. This is the one and same carrot souffle I tried to serve our persistent child no less than 30 times last fall and winter. She refused it nearly every single time, taking a couple bites of it cold just once or twice. The throes of Battle Orange were on.

The same carrot souffle that she ate four helpings of just Monday night. And requested again the next night and tonight. It defies logic, it really does. No wonder we parents are ready to put spinach in brownies. Or at least in the lasagne I made tonight. Chopped, not pureed.

The thing I did not put in the rant, and should have, is that I get it. I get the frustration. I mean, would any sane person buy 200 lbs. (yes, I bought more) of pumpkin, squash and sweet potatoes for a small family?

What I needed to say is that all of you who opted in for the "Deceptively Delicious" approach, or the path of persistence the others of us are on, you all deserve to be commended. Because you care. Because the idea that your child is not eating well matters. Even matters enough to put vegetables in any dish you can, however you can. Because you are not in a drive-thru lane. Because you are trying. It's a different path, not the one I follow for a lot of reasons. But the intent is commendable.

And I am sorry, I should have said that in my post.

Whatever route you choose, the fact that you CARE is what makes the difference for your child. Though, it wouldn't hurt if you ate your vegetables, too.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Tiny Rant

I was going to sit this one out. It's pretty obvious from my site that I don't hide veggies and serve "kid food" (a bigger rant there to come). But, it seems as if Jessica Seinfeld's book is creating quite a stir among us mom-types, 494 comments over at Slate alone. So, here is my short take on the topic.

First, I have a philosophical problem with "deception" and "food." Watching the headlines and issues, there is quite enough deception going on with our food supply already. I don't need to add to it on a personal level.

Second, it does nothing to teach your kids about how to eat healthy. Yeah, it's frustrating. Yeah, there are picky days. We went through that over the weekend. Then yesterday, the kiddo chows down four helpings of carrot souffle, blackberries, two helpings of sugar snap peas, green beans and an apple and milk in a sitting. Ride it out. Parenting is a long haul in general and food is no exception.

Finally, vegetables are not some sleazy gastronomic affair to be carried on in a dark pantry. Treating them like this only reinforces the concept of vegetable=yuck when you are found out.

To be honest, I really don't understand the whole "I don't like vegetables" thing. Corn tastes nothing like broccoli, winter squash and summer squash are as different as, well, winter and summer. There is no universal "vegetable" flavor to be disliked. Except maybe "canned" vegetable flavor. Arguably, the source, freshness and preparation of a vegetable matters just as much as the variety does.

Before I got married, I went on a lunch date with a smartass lawyer type. When we went to choose a meeting spot, I suggested Vietnamese food.

"Vietnamese?" he said. "I don't like cat."

"Maybe you just haven't had it fixed right," I replied.

The date didn't work out. But, I won my case.

Monday, October 29, 2007

A Twist on Pesto

I read this post, a review of a cooking and nutrition guide by Ann Cooper and Lisa Holmes, Lunch Lessons, Changing the Way We Feed Our Children. Ann Cooper is most known for her work with Alice Waters and the Edible Schoolyard movement and bringing fresh, local produce to school lunch programs. I have not read the book yet, but it promises some good ideas for packed lunches and I plan on buying it.

The post had a recipe in it for broccoli pesto. It sounded good, but I knew I would miss the basil and "herbness" of pesto. We love fresh herbs. So I took a "lunch lesson" from the authors, but reworked the approach even as I was making the recipe.

Broccoli and Herb Pesto
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

I didn't start with the idea of lemon in mind. But when I tasted the mixture to season it, it lacked a brightness that you get with all-basil pesto. It needed something to counter the "green" broccoli flavor and the bite of the parsley. I thought, now what would pick up parsley and broccoli? Lemon! My husband was kind enough to make a dash to the store in mid-recipe. And, this version was born. I served it over a whole wheat linguine for an easy dinner side dish. I still have enough left to freeze for using on pizza or pasta this winter. A great way to save some of my local produce for a cold, gray day.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Art?
























This is one of the most recent art projects that my kiddo did at school to learn about the letter "M."

First thought was "Is McDonald's paying the school for all this free advertising?" Next thought was more along the lines of why they thought this object would be recognizable and convey "M" to children as young as two-and-a-half. I know my kiddo has no clue what a McDonald's is, thankfully.

Up the hall, another "M" project was a bowl of orange and black M&M's done in construction paper and glitter. And down the hall where "O" was the letter, a wall of Oreo cookie art. Sigh.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Meat is Not the Only Thing that is Full of Shit

After a record 16 recalls of contaminated meat this year, the Agriculture department announces it's "tough" new plan on solving the problem: "a nationwide survey of what meat plants are doing to fight E. coli."

The department also plans to send special assessment teams to problem plants and "urge them to adopt more stringent measures." Hmm. Are they going to skip the "pretty please" when they do the urging? Is that tough enough?

Maybe I am just naive, but if you already know what causes the problem, and how to avoid the problem, why not just take mandatory action across the board and fix it?

Another meaty tidbit: Agriculture department inspectors were in the Topps plant, the largest of the recalls, daily for at least 1-2 hours per day even as the contaminated meat was produced. No citations were issued.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

An Italian Grandmother's Holiday

I took a couple days of "sanity leave" this past week. I used one day to clean house, and the other day was reserved for a pro bono project and some yard work. It rained. Hard. So, I did what I always like to do on a cold, rainy fall day. I made soup. And roasted potatoes, and applesauce, and ratatouille, and spinach in butter and parmesan, and steamed broccoli. And helped my husband with the beef roast braised in red wine. Oh, and I made an apple tart with rosemary-infused red wine caramel and Gorgonzola on a walnut crust. Then, we ate.

Coconut-Curry Pumpkin Soup

Beef Braised in Red Wine
Looking for these recipes? They will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

Monday, October 22, 2007

From Pumpkin to Pie, or Bread, or Cake ...


I watched a pie contest where the woman who won out over a ton of very creative pies only entered a basic pumpkin pie. Her secret? Fresh pumpkin from her garden.

It's not that difficult to make your own pumpkin puree. First, get a large pumpkin. Not the jack-o-lantern kind. Or get a few small sugar (pie) pumpkins.

I used a "Cinderella" variety. It is large, flattened and a beautiful deep red-orange. The flesh is thick and has a high water content. So, the pumpkin is heavy for it's size. This one weighed in at 16 pounds. Other heirloom varieties that are supposed to be good for puree are Musquee de Provence (Fairytale), Long Island Cheese and Hubbard Squash.

Roughly, you can figure on about 6-8 cups of puree for a 16 pounder, 4 cups for an 8-pounder, etc. The first step is to be sure you wash the pumpkin.

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Now, cut pumpkin in half and remove seeds and pulpy part. You don't have to peel it! Spray a baking pan with cooking spray and spray the cut sides of the pumpkin as well. Place pumpkin, cut side down, in pan. Bake until the flesh is soft, about ninety minutes. Remove from oven and let cool. Be sure you do not leave the cooked pumpkin out for more than two hours. Got to remember that food safety!

After it has cooled, scoop the flesh from the skin and blend flesh in a food processor. Now, fresh pumpkin is going to be much more watery than the canned kind. So, you will need to line a strainer with cheese cloth and place the puree on top of this. I make a little bundle to help "press" out the liquid. Set the puree and strainer both into a larger and deeper bowl. Cover with wrap and place in the fridge overnight to drain.



I saw an article on how to "save" your jack-o-lantern and make puree with it after Halloween. This is not a good idea.

Think about it. How often do you take produce out of your fridge, cut it open, set it on the front porch for a week, share a bit with the neighborhood squirrels, burn a candle in it, then take it in to cook?

The cut flesh that gets exposed to air collects a fair bit of bacteria while you are handing out all that candy. Additionally, this is not the best tasting pumpkin since it is cultivated for size and carving, not eating. Especially after it's been outside for a bit. Compost that sucker.

Red Wine Caramel Apple Tart



I lay in bed, thinking about food. I'm not even hungry, just trying to create something new. The recipe that kept me up this time was my annual pie for Thanksgiving. You see, every year I like to do a twist on a classic pie for my favorite holiday. Thanksgiving. Last year's was going to be pretty tough to top, but I might have come close.

The crust for this pie is a lightly sweet walnut and butter crust. The pie itself contains tart apple slices, very thin. In between the layers of apples are a couple ounces of Gorgonzola cheese and a rosemary-infused red wine caramel sauce. Walnuts, Gorgonzola, red wine, tart apples, hint of rosemary. Perfect. It was, too. When I prep it for the holiday, I will use the mandoline and get the apples thinner (to hold the caramel and cheese better), but that is all I will change.

Red Wine Caramel Apple Tart (with Walnuts and Gorgonzola)

Red wine caramel:

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup red wine

1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped

1 sprig rosemary

Filling:

8 medium or 12 small gala or tart-sweet apples, cored, peeled and sliced very thin

2 oz gorgonzola dolce crumbled

For Crust:

1 cup all-purpose flour

2/3 cup walnuts

3 tbs. sugar

1 stick butter

1/3 cup cake flour (not self-rising)

1/2 tsp. Salt

4-5 tbs. Ice water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

For the crust, put the walnuts in food processor and pulse to chop fine. Add the flours, salt and sugar to the food processor next and pulse to combine. Add cold butter one tablespoon at a time and pulse a few times until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add ice water one tablespoon at a time and pulse just until dough starts to come together. You may not need all the ice water. Less water is best. Try not to overmix. Gather dough into a ball and flatten into a flat disk. Cover in plastic wrap and chill for at least one hour and up to a day.

Roll the dough out between sheets of plastic wrap to about a 14-inch round. Peel off top layer of wrap and then invert dough into tart pan, remove wrap. Press into edges of tart pan. Prik the bottom a few times with a fork. Cover crust with plastic wrap. Place dish with crust in the refrigerator to chill while you make filling.

Crumble the Gorgonzola cheese into bits about 1/4 inch each. Have the apples peeled, cored and sliced thin ready. I tried the apple "machine" for this tart, next time I would use the mandoline set very thin. Both work, but thinner is better if you have the time and equipment. Otherwise, just slice the apples very thin with a good knife.

To make the caramel sauce: place the sugar in a small pot and cook, over medium heat until the sugar has melted and caramelized (turned golden), about 10 minutes. This is called a dry caramel as it does not use water to help the sugar dissolve. You will need to watch it nonstop since it goes from sugar to gold to burnt quickly.

Remove the pot from the burner and add the cream and wine slowly. It may bubble and spit, so be careful. When the sauce has calmed down, return it to the flame, add the vanilla bean and rosemary sprig, and heat it slowly, until the wine and caramel are smooth and continue to slowly cook until reduced by half. Remove from the heat and cool until thickened. Remove rosemary.

Put a layer of apple down on the crust. Dot the apples with half the cheese crumbles. Drizzle one-third of the caramel over the top. Do a second layer of apples with the other half of the cheese and one third of the caramel. Place last layer of apples on and drizzle the last of the caramel on top. Bake for about 40-45 minutes.



This recipe is going to be part of Sugar High Friday posts, all recipes that include alcohol and apples. The recipe list will be hosted at Spittoon Extra.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

School Lunch Menus

It's National School Lunch Week! And the only thing scarier than the school lunch is probably the site for the national school lunch program. The giant Mac 'n Cheese head frightens me. So do some of the menus that moms submitted which tell a much less positive story than the School Lunch program site does:
Here's the link to the lunch menu for October. I think it's "pretty good" in that they offer fruit and veggies at all meals, use whole wheat bread, and are not overly fried ... The problem is that the kids don't eat the fruit for the most part, so it's probably more wasted than anything else.

Here's our lunch menu. As far as I can see, it's "kiddie food" heaven. My son packs his lunch. I haven't made a stink about the school lunches, because I honestly think it would fall on deaf ears.

Here is our district's menu for elementary students this week. Some things on here look ok, others not so ok (pancake sausage on a stick? WTF? That is what Jon Stewart has been making fun of in recent months). Wrapped cheese dog? Etc.

I love "Popular" Bean & Cheese Burrito. Is that opposed to the Outcast Burrito? Nerd or Geek Burrito? You can see a bunch of school menus from around the country at http://www.schoolmenu.com/... It's interesting to compare more affluent districts with the inner city menus, and also to check on what's available in neighboring districts.

October Lunch Menu for our district's elementary schools.

Our menus look great on paper. For example "California burger, fresh fixin's, oven fries." But there are two problems. First, every day has an alternate entree. On California Burger Day, the alternate is fish sticks. Guess what the kids choose? Also, the kids pick whichever side items they like from the lunch line, so how many of them are eating those fresh fixin's?

As for affluent schools vs. others, I looked up the menu at an expensive private school nearby. It was FAR worse than our public school. "Cheeseburger, fries, ice cream; Mac'n'cheese, corn dogs, pudding." The real kicker was the price: $4 a day! Unbelievable!

Here is ours: Nightmare!! We send lunch.

My daughter attends a private, parochial school. She doesn't yet eat lunch there, but I still get there menu. It's as atrocious (if not worse) than the one you posted: pizza, hot dogs, tacos, rinse, lather, repeat. She and her sister will be carrying their lunches.

I don't have kids, but spotted this in the local paper:
"BHS initiates fresh produce lunch program"
http://www.wickedlocal.com/bedford/news/education/x751576908

Overall encouraging, but for the ending:
“'We want to establish it first at the high school. We’ll see student reaction to it – if they like it; if they even notice,' said Whittier."

It seems to me that the younger you catch them, the better results you'll get. I'd hate for the program to be discontinued just because the hardened teenagers continue to choose chips and fries over novel veggies.


Of course, if you live in a different country, say one in Europe, or Australia, things are a bit different:

Last week's lunch was Moroccan beef and vegetables over couscous and chocolate cake for dessert, with dried fruit for afternoon tea. In the past, they've done baked chicken, moussaka, roasted vegetable sandwiches, etc., etc., etc. I keep wanting to finagle a lunch invite! (Australia)

I don't have a blog to post this on, but I thought you might be interested in what my son gets to eat at his public pre-school, since we live in Germany. The kids bring their own breakfasts, which consist generally of whole grain bread, lunch meat and cheese - all real, no Kraft Singles in this country, thankfully. They each also bring a piece of fruit that is shared for morning snack. Lunch and afternoon snack are provided by the school. Here's this week's menu:

Mon L: mini-spaghetti with bolognese sauce, raw veggie salad
Mon S: chocolate cornflakes with milk, pears
Tue L: scrambled eggs, spinach, potatoes, yogurt
Tue S: spongecake with fruit
Wed L: greenbean stew, 1/2 roll, fruit
Wed S: applecake
Thu L: roasted white fish with dill sauce, potatoes, raw veggie salad
Thu S: rye bread with butter, turkey salami, kohlrabi
Fri L: cauliflower-cheese medallions with carrot sauce, mashed potatoes, chocolate pudding
Fri S: whole grain bread, egg salad and chives, mandarines

The school guarantees that all the food they provide is additive-free. I'm interested to know what kids in the States drink at pre-school - do they give them lots of soda and juice? Here kids drink mainly water and herbal tea. I'm quite happy with the meals they provide and live in fear of the school lunch situation when/if we do return home to the States. (Germany)

And, of course, the menu that started this "survey," France.
So, what do we do? Many parents choose to pack lunches, which solves the issue for their children. On a larger level, there are far too many children in our country who qualify for the school lunch program for free due to poverty, and these meals are likely the healthiest and best option they get all day. We all stand to benefit by changing school lunches for the better.

Way over at the other end of the spectrum, there are schools and programs that are innovative and that bring food and nutrition not just into the lunchroom, but into the classroom. These are the schools that have gardens and hands-on food curriculum as well as those who participate in farm-to-school programs. My thought is, if a few schools can do it, the others can find a way. Especially if we push them toward it. In the coming weeks, I will post resources and information on steps to take as well as success stories and great examples you can share with your school. Until then, Bon Apetit!

Links and Such

And there it is! Immortalized for seconds (things move fast in blogosphere) on the Serious Eats site — my meatloaf!

Grist features a great interview with "the man," Michael Pollan and his new book, In Defense of Food, An Eater's Manifesto. Book is due out in January 2008.

I started a 2x monthly post over at Kid's Cuisine, kicking off my posts this month with a healthier cupcake for Halloween, Carrot-Raisin Cupcakes with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting.

Some interesting thoughts on the Farm Bill, currently in front of the Senate. Good read, and thanks for the link from the great digest at The Ethicurean.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Wordless Wednesday: Farm Tour

Farmtour

Squashestour_2

Farmtour_2

Stuffed Squash


You would think we would be sick of squash by now, but quite the opposite. I feel like I am just warming up to new ideas for this versatile ingredient. I am also interested in trying all the varieties and flavors. The ones pictured here are Sweet Dumplings. They are similar in shape to an acorn, but smaller and more colorful. The flesh is light and sweet. Very good for just roasting and eating as well as for this recipe.

Stuffed Squash
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Squash, Carrot and Lentil Soup

The Hubbard is the small, mottled blue-green one in the front center. At right is a Musquee de Provence and at left is a Buttercup.




Roasting the squash gives the soup a nice flavor. It also makes peeling the hard Hubbard easier. The Hubbard has a very moist flesh with higher water content than other squashes. Large ones can grow to 30 lbs. Carrots and lentils add texture and flavor to an otherwise classic squash soup recipe.

Squash, Carrot and Lentil Soup
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

ConAgra Blames Consumers for Getting Sick

Of course, later in the week, they recanted and recalled Banquet potpies. 165 people in 31 states were sickened with 30 of them being hospitalized for salmonella poisoning. See, I always thought prepared frozen meals meant they were, well, prepared. I was just reheating. Now, I find out otherwise. Gosh, if I don't want to cook, I guess I will have to just eat peanut butter ... no wait, can't do that either.

I quit counting recalls. It's in the double digits for the year I am sure. I'll take my chances on my own skills at the stove instead. No thanks to ConAgra.

However, a couple words of thanks to carnival hosts this week are in order. Manic Mama's got the Carnival of Family Life. Wee Wifey has the Carnival of Recipes. Veggie Chick with the Vegetarian Carnival. And Ethical Junction is hosting the 99th Carnival of the Green.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Tricycle

Every day when we get home from work and school, Kiddo and I take her tricycle out for a ride around the block. She's great about putting on her helmet. Stopping at the corners and looking both ways is still an effort. I still can't believe she's riding. It's like, one day her legs just grew three inches and she could reach the pedals.

She likes to go up around the block because the way home has a steep downhill. "I want to go fast, Mom," she says. She turns the corner and then off she goes, down the hill. She looks back over her shoulder, grinning and laughing."Faster, Mommy, run!" as I struggle to catch the handhold on the back and keep her from careening wildly into the street.

"Watch where you are steering!" I shout. "Be careful!" Running as fast as I can to keep hold, to catch up and protect her as she plunges forward headlong, laughing.

This, I realize, is how I will spend the rest of my life, running as fast as I can, desperately trying to keep her safe, watching her laugh and look back at me as she rushes forward. I hope I can keep up.

Real Oatmeal

I used to eat those little packages of instant oatmeal. I know, sad, but true. Then my husband saw Alton Brown's Good Eats episode on steel cut oats, and our breakfast quality took a sharp upward turn. I liked what I thought was oatmeal. But I really like real oatmeal. Kind of like grassfed milk and pastured chicken; once you have the real thing, you can't go back.

My husband makes the version of the steel cut oats that goes in the slow cooker the night before. He makes this about twice a week, so often that our child refers to the slow cooker as "oatmeal pot." We buy very little processed cereal and eat this instead. I will try to duplicate his recipe, and let him correct me in the comments.

Slow Cooker Oatmeal
1 cup steel cut oats
2/3 cup dried cranberries
2/3 cup dried blueberries
2/3 cup dried cherries
4 cups water
1/2 cup half-and-half or cream


Mix all of this together in the slow cooker. Set to low and cook about 8-9 hours. Mix and serve. I like mine with a bit of yogurt on top. It won't need sugar, the dried fruit adds sweetness and flavor.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Thursday Thirteen: Cucuzzi?


I got a comment on one of my posts over at Eat Local Challenge. The author wondered what I thought about Seth Godin's prediction that farmers markets would gradually give over to the mass market, that over time, they would become average and not offer anything unique.

I think while Mr. Godin may know marketing, he does not know farmers. Farmers are not marketers, especially mass marketers. The ones that I know are passionate about what they grow, excited about new and different varieties, and extremely — perhaps obsessively — fascinated with seed catalogs. They are also stubborn and individualistic, which allows many of them to survive the difficulty of keeping a family farm going. Many hold down a second job just so they can work at farming. There's a lot of passion required to do that.

To Mr. Godin, I present Exhibit A, the cucuzzi. I also present the other 12 different vegetables I had seen or tried until I met local farmers these last few years. I would say, rather than becoming "average" each year has brought me new culinary surprises and more and more rare varieties, not less.

  1. Cucuzzi. Also know as the bottle gourd, calabash, Italian edible gourd, long fruited gourd, long melon, long squash, peh poh, woo lo kua, hu lu gua, opo squash, New Guinea bean, Tasmania bean, snake gourd, suzza melon, or zuzza, yugao (Japanese), po gua (Cantonese), kwa kwa or hu gua (Chinese), upo (Filipino), cucuzzi (Italian), bau (Vietnamese), and dudhi or lauki (Indian).

    The cucuzzi is not a true squash, but an edible gourd. It has white flesh inside, and is somewhat similar to zucchini in uses. The gourds can be up to three feet long. I showed it here with two large zucchinis for size comparison.

  2. Flowering Bok Choy, or bok choy sum. A Cantonese variety, smaller and sweeter than the larger varieties. I fell in love with the beautiful tiny yellow flowers on the dark, slender leafy greens. Here is a recipe and a photo.

  3. Heirloom Tomatoes. Wildly popular now, just a few years back these amazing tomatoes were only known to a few home gardeners. Here is the post I wrote when I first discovered what real tomatoes taste like.

  4. Thai Eggplant (Hybrid Tiger). Tiny, round, with green and white stripes, the small Asian variety was not bitter and helped me see eggplant in a whole new light. There are a lot more varieties, including ones I found at my market like aubergines and Ma-Zu Purple. Here is just a few.

  5. Purple, Yellow and Roma Beans. Who knew "green beans" were so colorful? And tasty. I love the Romas, not a common find, but I bought all the ones I could get.

  6. Purple Hull Peas. I had not shelled my own peas until this year. One of my favorite farmers started putting just a couple baskets of these shell peas out. I picked one up, it was different and I wanted to try it. I was pretty amazed at the flavor and texture difference with using fresh beans.

  7. Kohlrabi. Leafy greens in general were little known to me other than salads. I had not done much cooking of greens before. When the CSA bag came loaded with this variety as well as kale, chard and mustard greens, I had to learn. Now, I love them.

  8. Red Warty Thing (Bumpy Hubbard). Delicata, Sweet Dumpling, One Too Many, Turks Turban ... the list goes on. This year heirloom and unique varieties of winter squash have appeared at local markets and pumpkin patches. I am stocked up and planning recipes.

  9. Purple and Orange Cauliflower. Gorgeous colors and even unique nutritionally from the white variety despite the fact that they are the same species of plant, just a different cultivar.

  10. Fava Beans. Fresh ones. We first got these homegrown from an Italian deli, but this year they showed up at the farmers market. Kind of a pain to shell, blanch and peel, but well worth it once they are sauteed in olive oil and garlic and served room temperature with pecorino. Or, mix it with more exotic fiddlehead ferns for a unique dish.

  11. Purple Asparagus. I knew there was white and green, but had never seen purple. The beautiful color fades when cooked, but the spears are sweeter than the green variety.

  12. Musquee de Provence, Long Island Cheese, Fairytale, Cinderella. With such romantic names and unusual shapes and colors, it was easy for me to fall deeper in love with my favorite winter vegetable, pumpkin, this fall.

  13. Golden beets. Taste little like the red ones, milder and sweet. The color is a vibrant yellow that looks amazing when mixed with the red ones in a dish. The beet harvest suffered a bit with the spring freeze, I am hoping a few show up this fall.
When I consider that the diversity of crop species has declined by 75 percent since 1900, it makes it more important than ever for me to look for new vegetables and fruits and buy the heirloom varieties, thus supporting the farmers who preserve the diversity we have. As long as they keep growing such amazing heirloom varieties, and we support them the best we can, our farmers markets will stay anything but "average."

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

National Meatloaf Day


meatloaf
Originally uploaded by expatkitchen

Serious Eats is hosting a National Meatloaf Appreciation Day in order to celebrate this most ordinary and extraordinary meat dish. When I saw the announcement, I knew I had to do a post as, you see, that most humble of dishes was the beginning for most of the content on this site.

I created a meatloaf recipe when I was trying to get my toddler to like meat. I thought if I can just incorporate some of her other favorite flavors into a meat dish, but how? Then, it hit me. This vision of a Parmesan-, tomato- and herb-studded masterpiece. It even has spinach in it. And lean meats. It's like, healthy meatloaf that tastes good and is nearly bulletproof for over-baking. You almost can't dry this thing out. I'd like to say I planned it all out and tested batch after batch in an OCD-crazed culinary pursuit. But no. I just threw it all together, said "What the hell," and put it in the oven. It just happened to work that day.

It worked so well — the kiddo ate two adult-sized slices — that I got all inspired. And thus began the pursuit to make great, seasonal food using local ingredients that even a toddler can love.

Meatloaf Florentine
3 lbs. Ground LEAN meat (I use one pound each of turkey breast, buffalo, and pork)
(the idea is to use very lean meats and use the olive oil and veggies for the moisture, healthier).
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 large clove garlic, minced
6 oz roasted tomatoes (or sun-dried packed in olive oil) with the olive oil
1.5 cups chopped fresh spinach (or arugula, chard or kale even)
1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs (mostly basil, plus some rosemary, thyme and sage or flat leaf parsley)
2 eggs
1 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated parmesean (not the stuff in the green can, okay?)
2 tbs. olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper
4 tbs. Ketchup
and a pinch of red pepper flakes (optional, but desirable)

Saute onion and garlic in olive oil til soft and light golden. Mix all ingredients together and divide in half. Place in two loaf pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 60 minutes, make sure a meat thermometer inserted into the center reads 180 degrees.

Makes two loaves.

Picky, Picky

According to a New York Times article, being a picky eater may have a genetic link. It's an interesting read, but ultimately the advice is the same: persistence, patience and practicing good eating habits yourself.

“We have to understand that biology is not destiny,” said Patricia Pliner, a social psychology professor at the University of Toronto. “This doesn’t necessarily mean there is nothing we can do about the environment.”

I researched this issue while writing the childhood nutrition series. The thousands of pages of research done suggest that these inherited traits are the weakest in determining what children eat and can be overcome with environmental influences. That doesn't mean it is easy. It is frustrating to prepare a nice meal, offer it up, and have it rejected. Very. Cooking is the only housework I qualify as a labor of love. Rejection is heart-breaking. But, where picky eaters are concerned, a bit of tough love is in order.

The "15" rule still applies despite this new genetic link. This means that most kids need to be exposed to a new food fifteen times before they get used to it. Exposed does not necessarily mean forced to eat the food. "No dessert" approaches only bring on a battle of wills which makes for a lousy family dinner dynamic.

Sometimes "exposed" just means it's on the place alongside some favorites, and that you eat and enjoy the food as your child watches. One thing I have tried seems to work. When my child asks for more of a desirable food like yogurt or fruit, I say, "Sure, I will get it. Can you eat a bit of your (whatever) while I do that?" Everybody wins and sometimes the other item on the plate gets finished, too.

Being persistent also means that you need to stay firm about fixing the same meal for everyone. Sneaking vegetables into foods in the form of purees or hidden ingredients doesn't help kids embrace a new food or learn about it, even if it gets the item eaten. It's not an easy thing, this healthy eating. But, neither is parenting. A related article offers up some tips to help you stay sane while staying the course.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Roasted Fig and Pear Crumble


Figs and pears are a natural together in early fall. This dessert is quick and not too sweet. A perfect ending to a hearty fall meal like the minestrone recipe I just posted.

Roasted Fig and Pear Crumble
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

Preschool lunch menu


Preschool lunch menu
Originally uploaded by expatkitchen

Noodlepie posted her son's lunch menu at a French preschool. I did a post about this earlier this week. I decided to follow her suggestion and post my own kiddo's preschool lunch menu. You can click through to flickr to see it larger. It is awful. So bad that it contains things like Beanie Weenies and Hot Dog Tacos. So bad that the fruit and vegetables are a generic afterthought duplicated across each day.

I have ranted on Beanie Weenies before. I am sure we all have our lunchroom horror stories to share. Which brings me to a little idea. Let's see just how bad it is out there. And how good. We need ideas to help make positive changes.

  1. Please post your child's menu on your blog, then come comment and link to it here.
  2. Link your post to this one.
  3. I will do a recap of this topic in a month with all the innovative stories we gather (if any).
  4. I'd like to hear about it all, good and bad. If it's good, how did you get that change in place? Send me info so we can all pound our schools with it and show them it is possible to serve something better.
  5. Have your friends participate.

Let's see those menus!

As far as issues, good and bad at our school, the menu is the worst. The classrooms also used to offer candy as rewards for good behavior daily. This practice ended when myself and other parents became more vocal about not wanting it. I copied curriculum on introducing new foods as well as documents about the obesity epidemic and flooded the suggestion box with this. I sent links about other schools that had a "farm-to-school" program and the publicity these schools got (a valid point for a private school) from the programs.

The lunch quality has not changed. They did do a new foods introduction program with unusual fruits and veggies for a month. They added fresh fruit and veggies with dip to snack time. Good, but the lunches still need to improve. I don't plan on stopping the pressure.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Fall Minestrone



I went to the dining table to try and find the right squash for a soup recipe. Since it was not going to be primarily a squash soup, I didn't want to carve into one of the monsters. I opted for a smaller variety, the Turks Turban. It has an odd shape like an upside-down mushroom with three prongs instead of stem. Had I read up on this thing, I might not have cooked it. It seems to have gotten a bad rap for not having the same sweet flesh as it's cousins. It is mostly valued as decorative for its bizarre shape and deep reddish-orange and green colors.

I figured out something was different pretty quick when I cut into it. It smelled fresh and green like cucumber and celery mixed together. I decided I better eat a raw bite before I screwed up a whole batch of soup. Not bad, actually. Not your typical sweet "orange" flavor, but I am good with different. Perhaps it's not great for eating solo, but the soup turned out great.

The unique flavor of the squash balanced the sweet in the sweet potatoes and the bitter of the mustard greens. The balance is rounded out with rich, fresh-shelled purple hull peas. The fresh peas hold their texture well and stay al dente in the soup, giving it good texture with the squash. I will make this recipe again, maybe trying a different squash to see how the flavor changes.

Fall Harvest Soup
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

Sweet Potato Souffle

Every time I create a new dish, hoping it goes over well, I think about all the other parents out there doing the same thing. It does take effort and time. It's worth it, but there is that crushing moment when your little one spits out the new dish and proclaims it "Yuck!"

Take a deep breath. Repeat after me: THIS IS NORMAL. Give it another fourteen or so times, and maybe your kiddo really doesn't like it. As the movie title goes, "once is not enough."

And then there are the times when that first hopeful bite gets in — a small miracle in and of itself — and stays. And another. And another. Every muscle relaxes, you allow yourself a little hash mark on the imaginary nutritional chalk board and give yourself a gold star.

And you deserve that star. Because it isn't easy. Because you keep trying and you know it's the right thing to do.

This recipe was a first- and second-time success. We all liked it. It tastes even better cold the next day. It's a nice fall side dish that is lighter and healthier than many similar recipes. It is not a true souffle, so you don't have to worry about it falling the second it comes out of the oven.

Sweet potatoes are one of the easiest vegetables to like. They are also a fantastic source of beta carotene, over 250 percent of the daily value in a serving plus a third of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C. Despite their sweet flavor, this orange variety is lower in glycemic index than white potatoes, meaning a serving will not raise your blood sugars as much.

The vegetables are native to Central America and are one of the oldest known vegetable varieties dating back to at least 10,000 years. The crop was introduced to Europe by Christopher Columbus, and spread around the globe by Spanish and Portuguese sailors.

Sweet Potato Souffle

2 lbs washed, peeled and diced sweet potatoes (start with a bit over 2 lbs. to allow for peeling)
3 tbs. flour
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 tbs. maple syrup
1 tsp. orange extract
1/4 cup light sour cream
3 eggs
2 tbs. butter, melted

Steam the diced sweet potato for about 20 minutes until tender. Allow to cool before preparing the rest of the recipe.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place the sweet potato in a food processor and pulse until pureed. Add the flour through the extract and pulse to combine. Add the sour cream, eggs, and butter. Pulse to combine well, scraping sides as needed. Pour batter into a greased souffle dish. Bake for about one hour or until edges are puffed and center is nearly set. Allow to cool for about 15 to 20 minutes before serving for the best texture. It really does get better cold the next day. 

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Great Pumpkin



Last week, I kicked off the Battle of Orange Food Season Two. As you can see, I have added to the collection, putting me well into the ranks of obsessive.

There is now nearly 200 pounds of pumpkins and squash covering the dining room table including a 30-lb. "red warty thing" also known as a bumpy hubbard. I've never considered eating something warty before, but I am trying to figure on the best recipe for that big ugly. Here to help is the Recipe Carnival with their many wonderful recipes for fall's harvest trilogy of orange; Pumpkin, Squash and Sweet Potatoes. Thanks to these folks, we can make orange food for breakfast, snacks, lunch and dinner!

Snacks:
Shawn Lea reminds me that you can eat more than just the orange insides of the pumpkin with her recipe for Toasted Pumpkin Seeds. She also serves up Pumpkin and Apple Butter. She also has a great list of tips when you find yourself out in the pumpkin patch looking for the Great one.

Breakfast:

Bill presents Pumpkin Pecan Pancakes with Roasted Pears posted at Pancake Recipes.

GP presents Thoroughly Thoroughbred posted at InnStyle Montana - Come on Inn! Spiced Pumpkin Waffles.

The Soup Course:
Two pumpkin soup recipes from Wee Wifey at 2 Fat Leaders

Pumpkin Soup by Trinity Prep School

Thai Recipes presents Thai Style Pumpkin Soup posted at Thai Cooking - The Taste of Thailand.

Famous Recipes presents Butternut Squash Soup posted at Famous Recipes.

Side Dishes:
Free Recipes presents Vegetarian Crisp Candied Sweet Potatoes posted at Free Recipes Online.

Main Course:
My own "covered dish" for this pumpkin potluck, Acorn Squash and Chicken Sausage Cassoulet. You can find seven more recipes that fit this orange fall menu in my recipe index.

Dessert:
Five pumpkin desserts - maple pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin dip for cookies, pumpkin roll out cookies, pumpkin torte, pumpkin pecan pie all from wee wifey at 2 Fat Leaders

Christmas Recipes presents Pumpkin-Bourbon Pudding posted at Christmas Recipes.

Thelly presents Baby Pumpkin Cheesecakes posted at Chicken Recipes.

Diabetic Recipes presents Diabetic Recipes - Pumpkin Cookies posted at Diabetic Recipes.

Anne-Marie presents Egg free pumpkin cookies and some scary books posted at A Readable Feast.

Anne-Marie presents Weight Watchers pumpkin mousse posted at This Mama Cooks!.

Smarter Dollar presents Famous Recipes: Pumpkin Crunch posted at Famous Recipes.

Mama Squirrel presents Apple Butter Pie...or Pumpkin Butter Pie posted at Dewey's Treehouse.

Bread:
Thelly presents Fiesta Pumpkin Corn Muffins posted at Chicken Recipes - Recipes for Chicken.

To Drink:
Apple Pumpkin Shake from Bill Austin at World Famous Recipes.

Shawn Lea toasts both pumpkin seeds and us with Pumpkin French 75 (cocktail).

And, if I just can't cook all that pumpkin, some helpful advice:
Stephanie presents Canning & Freezing Pumpkin posted at Stop the Ride!.

Still need ideas? Shawn Lea sends us all a great link with 24 more pumpkin recipes!
Not a fan of orange food? A few tips and recipes for you:
Steve Bainbridge presents Wine & Food | Professor Bainbridge posted at Professor Bainbridge on Wine.

Kathee presents Italian-style Sausage-Bean Soup posted at Slow Cooker Recipes.

Victor Franqui presents BARBECUED LAMB ON SKEWERS at Bu.bulicio.us posted at Bu.bulicio.us.

Jessie presents Breakfast posted at Hunna's Happenings.

DeputyHeadmistress presents Almond Joy Cake posted at The Common Room.

Marsha Hudnall presents Healthy Recipe: Roasted Eggplant Parmesan posted at A Weight Lifted.

WorksForMom presents Garden Fresh Salsa Recipe posted at What Works For Us.

Tea Party Girl presents Your Guide to Planning Your Tea Party–Autumn Edition posted at Tea Party Girl.

Jennie W presents Shredded French Dip posted at Jennie's Rambles.

Amy Allen Clark presents Best Homemade Nonstick Spray In the World posted at Amy Allen Clark.

Chief Family Officer presents Homemade Mexican Seasoning posted at CFO: Chief Family Officer.

FitBuff presents 5 Perfect Food Duos: Nutrition Tips You Can Use Now posted at FitBuff.com's Total Mind and Body Fitness Blog.

A couple carnival notes:
Nominations are open for the Best Food Blog category in the Wizbang 2007 Weblog Awards
This is the first year that they have had a Food Blog Category. Carnival of the Recipes members are invited to go and nominate their own blogs and whoever else (how about me? or Shawn Lea?) they think is deserving of at least a nomination. You can nominate by commenting here.

Next week's carnival will be hosted by Wee Wifey. The theme is "Cereal Killers," your best recipes for hot and brunch breakfast foods. You can find out more about past and future Recipe Carnival's at Shawn Lea's blog, "Everything and Nothing."

Friday, October 05, 2007

Preschool Menu in France


DSC06388.JPG
Originally uploaded by noodlepie

I'll stretch hard back to college French and try to translate.

Tuesday:
Sauteed Veal with couscous
A cheese course of black rind tomme
orange juice
plums in syrup

Wednesday:
Tuna Salad
Tagine of Lamb and Vegetables
Yogurt with Fruit
Almond Tart
Babybel cheese

Thursday:
3-cheese pizza
sauteed green beans
filet of cod
fresh, aromatic cheese
palmier (palm-leaf-shaped pastry)

Friday:
Carrot Soup
Roasted Pork au Jus
Buttered Noodles
Comte cheese and Fresh Fruit

I am ready to go to preschool in France now. My French is about as good as a two-year-old's and I love cheese, so this should work. Amazing the difference in menus to here. I think my kiddo is in for "Hot Dog Tacos," canned veggies and fruit today. Must get her a passport.

I found this link while reading about the bumpy road Jamie Oliver is having getting his menus to succeed in British schools. It's not that the food is bad, (it's NOT) it's that the kids there have had nothing but bad choices for a long time. Once they have been on that path of a limited palate, it's hard to "change the courses," so to speak.

I applaud Oliver's efforts. It's not going to be easy. The key is that those efforts need to include the parents who need to change the menu at home, and probably younger kids, and the kids themselves. I hope they can make it work. I'd like a great example to hold up to our schools here in the States. If you are not familiar with Jamie Oliver's efforts, link here.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Thursday Thirteen: Things Overheard in the Woods

So, Wednesday was volunteer day for my office. In which nearly 300 of us loaded up and went to participate in a nature preserve restoration project. When you consider that about a third of the company is developers and programmers, and the rest of us also desk jockeys, taking us out for manual labor in the woods is an interesting prospect. We don't see much daylight in a typical work day. Our team got the project farthest out, over an hour's hike, give or take since we got lost a couple times thanks to our Sierra club guides. This is a miracle in and of itself given that they had the map and TWO GPS devices. Still, we ended up lost a couple times, a half mile from a major highway and with at least 14 cell phones on hand. Here are thirteen things overheard in the woods that day.
  1. Dude, you really need some sunscreen.
  2. Is that stuff I am sitting in poison ivy? No, it's the stuff your hand is resting in.
  3. "One day Jed was huntin' up some food, up from the ground came a bubblin' crude ..."
  4. We've got to go over the barbed wire fence? Uh uh, I still want to have kids.
  5. Are we lost? We are, aren't we?
  6. You know, if we left a few behind, the bonus money pool is bigger.
  7. Did we do a head count before we left?
  8. Whoaaaaa!!! (crash). Fence!
  9. Why does the trail just end in the middle of nowhere?
  10. It's a puffball! You can eat that kind of mushroom. Oh yeah? You first.
  11. I got bit by a snake once...
  12. Are we there yet? 'Cause I think we already passed that tree.
  13. For the shortcut back, all we have to do is scale the muddy banks of this ravine! Who's first?!
It was a good day, and a good crew of folks that I work with, the best people ever, whether we are at our desks or out in the middle of nowhere with chainsaws and handsaws. I do have to admit, as my thighs are reminding me, my desk job is not helping me stay in shape.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Battle of Orange Food: Season Two


Last year saw a strange response to squash and sweet potatoes from the Kiddo — rejection. These once favorite and healthy foods were dismissed with a "Nasty!" and ignored. Thus began the Battle of Orange Foods. It was a long conflict that tested my creativity and repertoire of recipe ideas to serve up anything orange and have it succeed. At the end of the season, I thought I had finally won with Vanilla-Sweet Potato Pie with Pecan-Brown Sugar Crust.

I tested the waters early this season and got mixed results. Baked sweet potato "fries" passed muster. Honey-Sage Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Shallots got dissed. Using my best counterintelligence tactics, I managed to get one bite of the latest creation under the radar. It survived. Let the games begin. I am optimistic. I am ready. And I have a ton of squash. Or at least 100 lbs. of it.

In fact, I have added a couple more heirloom pumpkins to the mix above. The recognizable faces in the line up are of course Butternut, Acorn, and Sugar Pumpkin. The new ones are a deep orange one called a "Cinderella," a New England Cheese (flattened light tan), a small Hubbard (gray-green at far left), Sweet Dumplings (the orange and green striped ones that look like Acorns) and Delicata (the long oval-shaped ones), and a Turban. I added a couple Musquee de Provence, French heirloom pumpkins also referred to as "Fairytale" pumpkins. I was eyeing the mother of all full-size Hubbards weighing in at around 35 pounds. But I resisted.

The Delicatas had a light sweet taste like a cross between a Yukon Gold potato and a sweet potato. The flesh was dry and firm, good for roasting. It is an heirloom variety, and was a nice surprise. I will buy this one again this season most likely.

Delicata Squash with Red Rice, Cranberries and Pecans
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book co-authored with Ali at Cleaner Plate.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Hey, Thanks!

Thanks to Shawn Lea at Everything and Nothing for hosting this week's Recipe Carnival. To SingForHim at Real Life for hosting this week's Carnival of Family Life. FitBuff for hosting the Total Mind and Body Fitness Carnival.

Thanks to the bipartisan, AMA, lobbyist and public efforts to pass the State Children's Health Insurance Plan despite threats by Bush to veto it since it "was too expensive" to cover uninsured children. How much are we hemorrhaging over the conflict in Iraq? Hmmm.

With health coverage rising in cost by about 14 percent annually, the cost of coverage is rapidly becoming out of reach for more and more children in low income families. This percentage increase outweighs inflation and the cost of living increase for any other good or service. Part of the reason, not all, is the growing health crisis from obesity. The forecast for this current generation of children is grim. If things do not change, 30 percent of boys and 40 percent of girls will be at risk for Type II diabetes by middle age. This will be the first generation whose life expectancy will be shorter than their parents.

Affordable health coverage is important. Just as important is treating the cause of the crisis in order to improve the health and life expectancy for our nation's children. Here's more information on this if you are interested.