Monday, December 15, 2008

Creating a Gingerbread House: Day Five

Yesterday was fun: More decorating, eating lots of candy, schmearing frosting over everything and taking photos!

We covered the base with aluminum foil. Our marshmallow snowmen didn’t stand up straight, even when we resorted to the glue gun instead of Royal icing. (Of course, part of the reason one of the snowmen didn’t stand up was because S. took a bite out of the bottom of him.) But we kept propping them back up again, and eventually it was the Royal icing that held. S. wanted to make an alligator pond in honor of our upcoming trip to Florida. Yes, we have an alligator cookie cutter. So now, there are several alligators at home in a snowy, candy-covered alligator pond.

We’re also quite proud of our reindeer pulling a sleigh. S. decorated the reindeer with green frosting and covered it in candy (so it has sort-of lost its resemblance to a reindeer.) The sleigh is made out of a paper muffin cup and has candy canes for runners. It’s full of toys; note the tiny cereal dolls among the candy toys.

Lastly, check out our licorice fence.

And we saw that it was good; morning and evening of the fifth day of gingerbread house creating. And then we rested….or we wanted to. But we had a very sticky kitchen to clear up.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Creating a Gingerbread House: Day Four

I never did find the stash of my daughter’s Halloween candy! I hid it so well from my husband and daughter, that I couldn’t find it myself. I’ve been know for similar trickery in the past, so it was more than pure dumb luck that I decided to stop at the store on the way home from the gym this morning. I picked up candy canes, gum drops, lots of licorice and the old fashioned Gloria Mix by Brachs, just in case I didn’t find the hidden candy.

After the baby was sleeping, S. again dragged her stool out of the closet and climbed up next to me at the kitchen counter – for the forth day in a row – on our quest to make a gingerbread house (that was still, up until that point, only large pieces of cookie on a cooling rack.) I, in turn, dragged my huge Kitchen Aid mixer out of the closet. (My limited counter space does not allow me to look like a true cook year round.) To make Royal Icing, we poured pasteurized Egg Beater egg whites into the mixing bowl and then mixed, measured and poured 14 half cups of powdered sugar into the whites, dutifully adding them one-by-one, beating after each addition.

A good friend told us the trick to gingerbread house assembly with less frustration: Use a hot glue gun. But when we plugged in the brand new one we’d purchased days ago for this specific purpose, it didn’t work. Another delay.

While we waited for my husband to get home from work, so he could go to the store for a new glue gun, we used the icing to decorate the sides of the house, cover every inch of the roof cut-outs with Fruit Loops and make marshmallow snowmen. (The snowmen turned out great with a gumdrop stocking hat, red licorice rope scarf, broken toothpicks for arms and a sliver of toothpick colored orange for the carrot nose!)

Then with glue gun in hand and help from my husband and lots of supervision from S., we finally had a gingerbread house! The glue gun left lots of tiny streams of glue or “spider webs” inside the house, but otherwise, it worked very well and dried in no time.

And we all saw that it was good; morning and evening on the fourth day of gingerbread house creating.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Creating a Gingerbread House: Days Two and Three

Thursday was day number two in the gingerbread house making process. Early in the day, before my baby’s nap, we squeezed in a trip to the supermarket to pick up ginger and parchment paper. I’ve never used parchment paper before. Mom never did. And it just seems that if my Mom was able to create the most delicious baked treats without parchment paper, I shouldn’t have need for it either.

At home, while the baby was sleeping, S. and I counted out almost SEVEN cups of flour using the spoon and sweep method. I scooped and S. leveled with the straight-edged handle of a frosting spreader. Leveling seven cups of flour with three-and-a-half-year-old style takes a very long time.

As I mentioned Wednesday, I had two choices of recipes, the very complicated one theat printed out onto six pages and the shorter Good Housekeeping one. Having decided on the shorter one, I reached into the fridge to pull out three sticks unsalted butter. Only one stick left. Well, bundling up both kids and myself in hats and mittens and big marshmallow puff jackets that make buckling carseats impossible, just to go to the store, was simply not an option. So I took another look at the long recipe.

Luckily, the long recipe had the same amount of flour S. and I had already tediously measured. So we continued to measure ingredients and mix using the Bon Appetit recipe. S. did a fantastic job using my mortar and pestle to crush cardamom seeds. Anything a three-and-a-half-year-old can smash is a good thing. The spice smelled heady and rich.

We got the dough mixed up and while it chilled, we measured and cut the house patterns out of paper. There were A LOT of measurements in the recipe so I did a quick sketch of each pattern and then measured, drew and cut. S. decided the house needed a garage, a garage door and a deck. So she drew and then cut some random shapes with her kids’ scissors.

Well, the parchment paper worked like a dream! Per the directions in the recipe, I rolled the dough out between two pieces of the paper and then laid the pattern on the top layer of parchment. Using a paring knife, I cut through the top layer of parchment paper around the pattern. After removing the top layer of parchment paper and the dough scraps, I simply slid the bottom layer of paper with the dough cut-out onto a baking sheet. I got two sides of the house baked Thursday.

Yesterday, we finished the other two sides of the house and the roof, in between calls to the doctor, a trip to the doctor (where we waited for an hour to see the pediatrician for five minutes and receive a diagnosis of ear infection for S.) But gingerbread baking and planning was a fantastic way to distract a hurting little girl.

And today is decorating day! Now, if I can only find S.’s Halloween candy. I stashed it somewhere in anticipation of this day of decorating the gingerbread house.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Creating a Gingerbread House: Day One

We received around four inches of snow last night. So today was a perfect day to stay indoors and bake.

Every Christmas since my eldest daughter has been born, I've wanted to make a gingerbread house from scratch with her. Since she's now three and a half years, I've decided she's old enough that it will be worth the trouble. My Mom made a gingerbread house with my sisters and me when we were growing up. But only once, hmmmm....

I searched around and a few other recipe sites for the perfect recipe. I found a very long and complicated one from Gourmet magazine (six pages when printed!) And then I found one for Golden Gingerbread on that claimed to be "easy."

I started pulling ingredients out of the cupboard. Now, I do quite a bit of baking, so I figured I'd have all the items needed for gingerbread; since many of them are pretty basic. I knew I even had a brand new jar of molasses somewhere. However, my jar of ginger looked quite a bit shy of the three tablespoons needed. Can't have gingerbread without ginger; so it looks like I'll be bundling the girls up to go to the store tomorrow...after the driveway has been shoveled.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Beet Salad

My husband probably would have been pleased had the middle schoolers mentioned in yesterday’s post would have consumed every last raw beet. They did not. So once again, I found myself flipping through cookbooks to find a way to help my husband enjoy beets. He thinks, "They taste like dirt.” He has a point. But I might call the same flavor “earthy.”

I’ve been re-reading Amanda Hesser’s Cooking for Mr. Latte. And it was therein that yesterday I found the beet recipe. I’d already been to the store once in the day. I was not going to go again. So I improvised the beet recipe; a lot. The resulting salad contained bright lemon juice and ginger flavors that made one sit up and take notice. Sweet apple mellowed the earthiness. I added a handful of bitter celery leaves to add contrast. My husband took a whole heaping spoonful.

I served the beet salad to compliment our favorite Sunday night supper of cheese, whole grain bread and a lovely libation. I’m not sure if this supper tastes so delicious because it’s so simple or because it’s slightly indulgent because it offers an opportunity to savor several American artisanal cheeses on one plate. There are hundreds of hand- or artisanally-made American cheeses now. Our fridge always contains a few of these fine cheeses. And in fact, I overstocked a bit at the last farmer’s market of the season.

Last night’s supper was rich in aromas and flavors. On our plates were Sartori’s Bellavitan Reserve (rich, earthy, with a crumbly texture of Cheddar aged for a couple months), award-winning Marieke Gouda (very nutty and rich, sweet but not caramely) and because I must have third contrasting cheese BelGioioso’s Gorgonzola (very dry and crumbly, also earthy). The apple wine – HalloWine from Illinois River Winery – was yummy and perfect for the earthy beet salad and the earthy cheeses and because it was a sweet and quite spicy, delightful with the blue.

Beets, Apples and Ginger Salad
(Adapted from Amanda Hesser)
Makes 2-3 servings

I love the contrasts of flavor in this salad: earthy beets, bitter celery fronds, sour lemon juice, sugar, crunchy salt and smooth olive oil.

10 baby beets, washed (remove and reserve any micro-beet greens that may have sprouted out of the tops should your beets have been kept in the garage during the recent warm days)
2 large apples (I used Gala), cored and sliced thinly
1 teaspoon of finely diced ginger (next time I’ll use a little more)
Celery leaf fronds
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1-2 teaspoons raw turbinado sugar
Juice of half a lemon
1-2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Sea salt to taste
Fresh ground pepper to taste
1-2 tablespoons olive oil

1. Preheat the oven to 350 °. Wrap each slightly damp (from being washed) beet in a square of aluminum foil (about 6” X 6”). Roast beets for about 35-45 minutes or until tender. (While the beets are roasting, make the dressing so flavors can meld and sugar can mostly dissolve.) Remove beets from oven and unwrap – being careful not to get burned by the steam. Using a paper towel, rub each beet to remove the skin. Cut into 1/2 –inch dice.
2. Combine the beets, apples, ginger and celery fronds in a serving bowl.
3. To make the dressing, whisk together the vinegar, sugar, lemon juice, mustard, sea salt and pepper. Vigorously whisk the dressing while slowly pouring in the olive oil. Pour dressing over the beet mixture, cover and let set for as long as possible until dinner time, up to 2 hours.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Weird Veggies

The 25 middle school kids were intently examining a small dark grayish-purple specimen being passed around the room.
“Can anyone tell me what this is?” I asked.
“Potato.” “No.”
“Radish.” “No.”
“Brussels sprouts.” “Um, no.”
I had been asked to teach a nutrition class to these kids who were very unaccustomed to vegetables that still had a little dirt on them.
“Zucchini.” “Not even close.”
“Is it a beet?” “Yup.”
Several of the boys raised their hands. I called on one.
“Can we taste it?” I was amazed.
“You mean raw? Well, I guess so.”

Middle school is a great time to introduce kids to new foods; especially if they’re a little weird. (I’m referring to the foods.) Case in point: By the time my 45 minutes of instruction on the vegetable group of MyPyramid was concluded, I had kids begging to eat raw beets, twisting raw Brussels sprouts off the stalk on which the sprouts grew in order to gnaw on them, cracking roasted chestnuts with their teeth and asking me where I bought the whole pomegranate they’d just devoured! And they were hungry for more. For all the produce – except the pomegranate – they were too late. I’d stocked up on the nuts, the tubers and the cruciferous veggies still on their stalk at the very last farmers market. Lucky for them, though, pomegranates are now in season and I just bought one on sale for $1.99 at Super Target. (And of course, frozen Brussels sprouts are just as good as those straight off the stalk.)

I ended the nutrition class with a challenge to help the veggie excitement hit home: Make dinner for your family at least once in the next 2 weeks. Their teacher chimed in that she would give an extra 25 points for photo proof that they’d made a family dinner. I dismissed them with a couple pizza recipes.

I saw one of the kids yesterday and asked him if he’d been cooking in his family’s kitchen lately. He said he had and that the Taco Pizza was “totally awesome!” I was just as excited as he was. But then, he told me that his mom said he wouldn’t be allowed to make dinner again until he was older because the kitchen was such a mess. I guess I should’ve sent a note home to the parents: “If you want your kids to learn to eat nutritious foods, you’re going to have to accept a little ‘weirdness’ from time to time.”

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Staymen Winesap and Winter Banana

“What are these Mommy?” “Dorion” “Oh!”

“What are these Mommy?” “Winter Banana” “Oh my!”

“What are these Mommy?” “Ida Reds, Tangy and tart. Good for baking.”

“What are these Mommy?” “Connie, sweet for eating.”

And so it went on down the line of crates of brightly colored apples. My daughter’s questions were the same. My answers were filled with exotic proper names that were somehow familiar and descriptors that filled us with sweet anticipation for a bite of each variety: “Winesap, the deep color of a rich burgundy wine.” “Gala, sweet, zesty with distinct coloring.” “Double Red Winesap, tart, spicy, firm with bright red color.” “Mutsu, mildly sweet with great crunch; juicy for eating.” “Staymen Winesap, crunchy, mild taste; good for cooking and eating; golden color with streaks of rose.” “Newtown Pippin, tart, hard; a good keeper.” “Braeburn, mildly sweet, tart, crisp, juicy, firm.” “Red Rome, juicy, firm, aromatic, mildly tart; good for baking.” “Fuji, exceptionally sweet, firm, crunchy, juicy.” “Swiss Gourmet, hard and sweet; next best to Honeycrisp for eating.”

Somehow, I managed to copy down the name of the varietal and the descriptors of each of the above apples on a little piece of sticky note and throw it into a different bag with the corresponding apple….while trying to keep my three-year-old away from the hornets circling the apple cider dispenser from which she continued to try to fill her paper sample cup. And then there was the baby to keep from crying. Needless to say, I was very frazzled by the end of the project. But, now as I reread the little sticky notes for each apple type and inhale the unique aromas of each varietal, it was all worth it. And a half bushel (a large bucket) was ONLY $20.00!!

The above descriptions were from Skibbe’s Farm, from whom I buy the Michigan apples at our local farmers market. The apple site has more colorful wording and some background on each variety. But not all the apple varieties I purchased were listed on the site. So I feel I’ve discovered some hidden gems. I’ll have to do a little more research on Staymen Winesap and Dorion and Connie. Aren’t those imaginative names? I wonder, where oh where did they originate?

Many of the recipes on the Michigan apple site are creative and sound delicious. We might try out the Apple Salsa tonight. Nachos for dinner would make and ordinary chilly Saturday something special. Plus, we have apples coming out of our ears.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Miss Donut's doughnuts

The internet is great. But sometimes, the good old fashioned phone book is invaluable. That is especially true if your quest is to find mom-and-pop doughnut shops in a new area. You know, the kind of shops with a lunch counter that still serve coffee in white enamel cups for 50 cents and the senior citizen gentlemen that read the paper and catch up on the local gossip; these sorts of shops don't usually have web sites. What they do have is old fashioned, homemade doughnuts. And they are always worth the find.

We flew to Virginia on Saturday. Yesterday morning, I cracked the big 3-inch thick northern Virginia area phone book, and let my fingers do the walking right to ‘B’ for Bakeries. That's where I found Milan Bakery and Miss Donut in Falls Church, VA.

By the time we got two toddlers and a baby out of the house, it was lunchtime. So my friend and I, another dietitan, packed turkey sandwiches for the kids and set the GPS for Falls Church. We arrived at a storefront bakery with a blue awning. And when we opened the door to Milan Bakery and Miss Donut, we knew the doughnuts would be worth the trip. What blissful aroma of sweetly fried dough. Another sign of the goodness to come: There were only two or three left of many of the varieties. I chose three cake doughnuts, chocolate glazed, honey wheat glazed, plain sour cream; and a maple frosted raised doughnut and a French crueler.

We got the kids set with their turkey sandwiches and then, yes, we sat with our heads tucked behind our brown paper bags of doughnuts, out of view of the kids and the two of us RD’s tasted and swooned over freshly fried, sugared dough. Of course I tried the plain cake doughnut first. A doughnut shop’s plain cake doughnut is a signature of its quality. The plain cake has no sweet glaze or flavors or sprinkles to hide the flavors of old grease that may have been used in which to fry the doughnuts. The dough should be sweet, but not too sweet. A hint of spice – nutmeg or cinnamon – is nice too; just a hint to give the donut a bit of depth. Well Miss Donut’s doughnuts delivered on all accounts. The outside was still a bit crunchy, indicating freshness. The cakey part was faintly sweet – no spice – just dense and rich. Moving on to the maple raised doughnut, I found it divine too. It was chewy and fresh, and was smothered in just the right amount of subtly flavored maple frosting. The chocolate cake doughnut was perfect: pure cocoa flavor, but not too sweet either. No, I did not eat three doughnuts for lunch, only about a total of two and a half – because I had to try a bite, or three of each flavor. I also had coffee with lots of milk to balance out my lunch.

And yes, we did let the kids sample the doughnuts – after they finished their healthy lunches. What sweet smiles lit up their faces.

Friday, October 10, 2008

My fairy godmother

Ever wish you had a fairy godmother who would do a little housework for you when you weren’t looking? Well, you may have one living right under your nose: Get your kid interested in spending time in the kitchen and a little magic may follow. That’s what happened to me.

It all started when I was upstairs taking a shower. Now my three-year old daughter knows that when I take a shower, she has free-reign and I’m unable to supervise her escapades. I always give her a lecture about being good – and on days she seems particularly adventurous, I’ve even forgone the shower. This is not ideal, but much easier than picking up gigantic messes resulting from pure curiosity. Out of eye- and ear-shot, a three-year-old can get into a lot in just ten minutes. She knows enough to be safe. And I keep my knives, etc. out of reach. But in just 10 minutes, she’s flooded the kitchen with her “baby’s bath” water, covered an entire wall with lots of “beautiful PIT-chors,” and found my secret stash of marshmallows. And S. loves marshmallows.

But yesterday, she did the dishes for me. There were a few cups and bowls in the sink from breakfast. And despite the very loud clanging of glass against enamel, not a single juice glass or cereal bowl or coffee cup was broken. And the proud look on her face when I came into the kitchen was priceless. Thanks fairy godmother.

She helped me with dinner last night too. She helped cut up pears for the pear butternut squash soup and she dumped in the 2 teaspoons of curry. With the soup I was able to use up the pears that were starting to get a little too mushy to eat out of hand. The soup was delicious. It was simple too. First I roasted an entire butternut squash in the oven. Then I sautéed an onion and the pears, added chicken broth, the roasted squash and curry. After it simmered a couple minutes, I blended it up with the emersion blender. Simple and only a roasting pan and the soup pot to wash. My fairy godmother was disappointed.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Mushroom Festival

Our coats are still drying after attending the 40th annual Houby Festival in Berwyn on Sunday. Houby is Czech for mushroom. On our way to the Festival, we envisioned a parade of floats with children in cute little round-topped mushroom costumes, tasting a variety of mushroom dishes, and chatting with some local mushroom foragers while we purchase their local finds. It didn’t quite turn out that way.

Now I understand that this is an election year and have been lots of politicians in any parade in America in 2008. But the 40th annual Houby Festival parade was pretty much only politicians. I will do a shout-out to the Morton High School marching band in their classic, classic maroon and gold uniforms – they sounded great. And the guys who built and rode the six-seater bicycle were impressive. But I only saw one mushroom in the entire parade. It was a small red and white speckled cartoon mushroom on the sign for Past Houby Queens.

The food tents had fairly limited choices, none of which were indicative of their location at a mushroom festival: Hot dogs; steak sandwiches; barbeque; and fried dough with various toppings including strawberries and whipped cream, ketchup and cheese, and mushrooms. And that was about it; except for the booth from our favorite local Mexican restaurant, the Tamale Hut Cafe. They were serving corn on a stick, chicken nachos and mushroom tamales. We purchased our mushroom tamales and corn on the cob "Elote"and headed for shelter from the chilly rain in the tent with the lively Czech band. The tamales were yummy. Traditional Mexican tamales are not huge – and these weren’t either – but they were brimming with spicy (but not burning) sauce, a slice of roasted jalapeno, cheese and mushroom slices. I probably ate one full mushroom in my tamale. But the tamale and the corn slathered with butter, lime, chili powder, mayonnaise and cheese warmed us right up.

And about those mycologists, there were none. I did not see a single fresh mushroom at the Festival – although there was a table full of mushroom knick knacks. There was also a table with fresh vegetables from a local farm. But there were no mushrooms.

Without their namesake, I do wonder if the Houby Festival will live to see year number 41.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

More zucchini and tip #2

There is no more luscious aroma than that that wafts from a basket of Concord grapes I have sitting on my kitchen counter. It’s Tuesday, so we went to the farmers’ market. We saw our farmer friends Melissa and Mrs. Skibbe. We bought those grapes; teeny, tiny red Caviar tomatoes (the size of small peas!), a firm full creamy white head of cauliflower; apple cider donuts (of course); and zucchini. Yes, I know it’s not logical to pay for zucchini at this stage of the summer. But I panicked when I thought of the stack of zucchini recipes I still had in my “to-make” pile. How can I possibly wait until next summer to create a modified version of Taste of Home's curry(!) zucchini soup – besides it’s chillier now – perfect soup weather. And there’s a third zucchini pancake recipe I just have to try. Plus, S. again uttered, “Zucchini, that’s my favorite.” She told this to Farmer Melissa….and that’s a hint to a second tip on getting get your kids to eat healthy.

Tip #2: Get your kids involved in the process of bringing food from the farm (or the farmers’ market, or the supermarket) to the table. I grew up on a ranch in Montana, so it was pretty straight-forward for my parents to teach my sisters and I where our food came from; we grew it and then we ate it. I helped my mom milk the cow, can pears from our orchard and freeze green beans from our garden.

My daughters are growing up in suburban Chicago. So it’s not as simple to make the connection from farm to table. But we’ve tried. And it’s been fun! We know the farmers from our farmers’ market by name. As a result of our weekly visits, Sophia has not only learned where strawberries and asparagus come from, but also that they were just available at the beginning of the summer – and now they’re gone. But then it was peach, green bean, zucchini and tomato season. Now, it’s apple, squash, pumpkin and still zucchini season.

And yes, S. eats all those veggies – although her green beans must be accompanied by a side of ketchup for dipping. According to this dietitian, ketchup was made for dipping a lot more veggies than just fried potatoes. Fried zucchini and ketchup is good too.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Green and red sandwiches and tip #1

We ate strange sounding sandwiches tonight. They were grated zucchini and imitation crab salad on toast. (And no the zucchini wasn’t stealthily hidden; in fact the green zucchini and specks of fresh mint were quite attractive against the red and white imitation crab chunks.) My three-year-old ate hers right up. And there, sandwiched between two pieces of wheat toast lies a good tip.

Tip #1. Involve kids in the kitchen. Tonight Sophi helped me pick the fresh mint from our rather overgrown flower bed, cut crab chunks with her kids' knife and mix in the mayo.

Start the kids in the kitchen early. Sophi was helping me mix with a spoon and bowl at age two. And now, she asks to help every night; which can really prolong the dinner-making process. But it’s worth it when she tells her pediatrician that broccoli is her favorite food to eat – and cut up with her kids’ knife.

Our kitchen adventures in the last week or so have included a luscious Lemon Cheese, pear-applesauce, pear muffins and applesauce cookies. (Can you tell it’s pear and apple season?) We also made sushi. Sophi was especially excited about that thanks to the fun rhymes in a favorite book, My First Sushi Book by Amy Wilson Sanger.

Yet like many moms, I still feel harried…most of time, and so carving out the time to spend with Sophi creating something delicious sometimes requires precision scheduling and sometimes it requires us to just drop everything and go cook. How about tonight?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Hi there

So, you happened to stumble across my blog. I know. There are already a zillion food blogs (lots of really good ones) and about a half zillion mom blogs. (Good for you moms – won’t you look back and smile at the days you’ve captured in print?) Well, my contribution to the blogosphere is rather selfish. I love to write about food and being a mom is the best thing ever. I’m also a registered dietitian. So if you’d care to read on, I’m planning a unique recipe for miripoix. Instead of the classic miripoix (and fancy French term) for sauteed carrots, onion and celery, mine will be a mix of food writing, chronicles of kitchen adventures with my kids and a sprinkling of tips for helping kids eat healthy.

I certainly hope the tips may help your kids utter something similar to the comment of my three-year-old Sophi last night, “Oh, zucchini, my favorite!”

I also have a nine-month old infant daughter. So if my sentences are sometimes a bit run-on or there’s a typo here and there, please forgive me. I’m just having fun.

For now, welcome to my blog, and please, visit any time. And when you do, don’t be too surprised by the occasional tip on where to find good home-made donuts. Yes, dietitians eat donuts…at least this one does.