Next Stop? The Food Channel!

Child ChefI know a little girl who truly enjoys her time in the kitchen. Not at the table eating, mind you, but at the counter preparing! She loves to slice, stir and sift, and she and her grandmother have signature dishes. Cooking classes are attended with all of the unrestrained enthusiasm only a seven-year-old can muster, and recently, she asked Santa to leave bakeware under the tree. I take enormous pleasure in supplying her with grown-up tools-of-the-trade that have little girl appeal: a pink hand-held blender for Christmas, polka-dot monogrammed cupcake bands for her birthday, and a cupcake “corer” so she can infuse her confections with chocolate, icing, cookie dough and brownie batter (just because).

One online site I frequently use as a go-to for this petite Paula is Sur La Table. I’ve discovered they sell many an appliance, utensil and gadget in appealing colors with easy-grip handles. Case in point: I love the icing spatulas, multi-purpose scrapers and assorted mixing bowls and measuring cups. I also really dig this pretty mortar and pestle set.  It may not be purple or pink, but I firmly believe (and this little Giada gem will back me up) there is much kid pleasure to be derived from grinding herbs into oblivion!

Mini Martha, if you’re reading this (and I know you’re smart enough even at age seven to do just that!), while I do not dig icing inside my cupcakes (though on the outside is just fine!), I do love, love, love zucchini in my pasta. Mi cocina es su cocina. Please approach it with reckless abandon!

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Fruit Fetish

My girls love fruit, and I mean they really love it.  We can go through as many as four pints of strawberries in a single day.  And that’s just the strawberries.  Don’t get me started on the flats of blueberries my neighbor brings us from Michigan, or the bags of clementines that are here one day, gone the next.  Sometimes I worry this fruit consumption is all a bit gluttonous, but I tell myself it’s all okay because we’re talking fruit, not Cheetos – right?

The good news about my girls’ eating habits is that I don’t think my little trio will ever have a vitamins A and/or C deficiency.  And I’m pretty sure they run around filled to the brim with antioxidants.  The bad news is just this: have you ever priced out what four pints of strawberries cost when they are not in season?  Holy savings account, Batman!  And so, I apologize for the recipe that is about to follow.  When not in season, this little salad can get expensive.  I recommend editing to accommodate what’s least expensive at the grocery store right now.  I also highly recommend shopping at your local farmers’ market so that at the very least, your hard earned dollars are going straight into the growers’ pockets (this is very preachy of me, and I’m sorry, but I do love to eat locally grown produce when I can).

Favorite Fruit Salad

Ingredients:

1 pint of fresh strawberries, hulled and halved

1 large peach, pitted and cut into bite-size pieces

2 plums, pitted and cut into bite-size pieces

2 kiwi fruit, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces

1 cup dark, sweet cherries, pitted and halved

1 cup honeydew melon balls or cubes

1 cup cantaloupe balls or cubes

1 cup cubed, fresh pineapple

1 cup grapes

2 containers of lowfat vanilla yogurt

Preparation:

Lightly mix all of the fruit together until well integrated.  Spoon the yogurt on top and serve.

Albert Einstein said, “A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy?”  I don’t know, Albert, but according to my girls, not even the dining room furniture and the musical instruments are necessary.

I Surrender

Dear Blogosphere,

I am tired.  The kind of weariness that only a mom with a few kids and a few fall sports and a beginning-of-the-year school schedule can know.  Evidence: it’s not yet noon and I’ve had a diet coke and a latte and I’m sitting here having nap fantasies.  Not that you can blame me, yesterday evening unfolded as follows:

I rushed out of the office at 5:00 to meet the nanny and all three children at a swim meet.  I watched my little fish cut four fast-paced laps of freestyle through the water, and then…

I drove her two sisters to a volleyball game.  I watched a handful of rotations, and then…

I drove back to the swim meet to catch the last relay, retrieved my spawn (get it?) and then…

We went back to the volleyball court to watch the last serve.  At this point in time it was close to 7:30.

We left the gym, I pulled the car into the garage, and then I managed to get three kids plus their backpacks plus all of their towels, knee pads, and assorted gear into the house.  I immediately ushered some children into showers and others into homework.  At this point I was going to take a breath (and maybe pour myself a small glass of wine) when I got hit mid states-and-capitals-practice with, “I’m starrrrrving.  What’s for dinner?”

Ummm….dinner?  “XXXX” (insert four letter word of your choice, said silently in my head, not out loud).  I know that some of you are out there thinking, “Duh.  Why didn’t she just hit the drive-thru on her way home?” and I hear you, I do.  It’s just that I hate fast food.  Not because I’m a calorie freak or a prophet for good nutrition, but because where I live, the lines at the drive-thru seem to take forever, and all I want to do after a full day of work followed by two simultaneous sporting events and at least 45 minutes in the car is GET HOME.

And so today I turned to the internet for ideas on how to solve this “feed the kids on the run” dilemma, and the consensus seems to be that there are lots of healthy, hearty snacks that you can take on the road to stave off hunger, allowing you time when you get home to either throw something together quickly or even order a pizza.  Some of my favorites came from ChefMom:

Fruit and Yogurt Smoothies

Ingredients:

32 oz. plain kefir

2 cups fresh fruit, such as strawberries, blueberries, oranges and bananas

Milk or juice, if necessary

Preparation:

Let your kids add kefir and fruit to a blender or food processor.

Secure the lid and purée until smooth (consider the sip opening of their bottle and make sure that no chunks of fruit will get stuck).

If you need to thin smoothie, add your choice of milk or juice.

Transfer smoothie to drinking containers and refrigerate until ready to go.

Honey Glazed Almonds and Dried Fruit

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 cup honey

2 cups raw almonds

1 teaspoon ground coriander

Generous pinch of salt

2 cups dried fruit

Preparation:

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir in honey and cook for 1 to 2 minutes or until mixture starts to bubble. (If your children are old enough, let them stir the mixture.)

Add almonds, coriander and salt to the honey mixture. Stir to coat. Cook for 5 minutes or until nuts are lightly browned.

Spray a large rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray and spread nuts out in a single layer. Allow nuts to cool completely.

Let your kids transfer almonds to a large bowl and toss with dried fruit.

Teach your kids how to package nuts in 1/4- to 1/2-cup portions for a healthy grab and go snack.

Bagel Thin Almond Butter and Fruit Sandwiches

Ingredients:

4 whole-wheat thin bagels, split, toasted

4 to 6 tablespoons almond butter

Bananas, strawberries, grapes, apricots or other soft fruit

Preparation:

Have your kids spread almond butter on 4 bagel thin halves then smash fruit on the other 4 halves with the back of a fork.

Let your kids assemble the sandwiches then place in lunch bags. If making ahead, keep sandwiches in the refrigerator until ready to go.

Cook’s note: If sandwiches will be at room temperature for more than 2 hours, pack them with a lunchbox ice pack.

Hummus and Crackers

Ingredients:

2 cans garbanzo beans, rinsed, drained

Juice of 1 lemon

1/4 cup parsley leaves

1 clove garlic, crushed

Olive oil

Crackers of your choice

Preparation:

Have your kids combine beans, lemon juice, parsley and garlic in a blender or food processor.

Secure the lid and blend. With the machine running, let your kids slowly drizzle olive oil into the hummus until a dip consistency is reached.

Transfer hummus to individual serving lunch containers. Portion 1 ounce or less of crackers into snack bags or containers. Keep hummus refrigerated until ready to pack.

And just in case you need a stylish, insulated tote in which to store your homemade goodies, grab that Bed, Bath & Beyond discount postcard you get in the mail every month and check out these totes!  Attractive and roomy…just like a Birkin, only insulated!

I’m hanging in there Moms, you do the same.  We’re all in this together!

Chicken Nuggets as Nature Intended

I don’t know about you, but I’m kinda’ weirded out by store-bought chicken nuggets.  Did you ever notice that the “regular” ones are shaped like Mr. Potato Head?  And the dinosaur ones?  Pray tell, what part of the chicken exactly is shaped like a dinosaur?  When I see these in the supermarket, I have images in my head of hens with poor self-esteem going to the poultry plastic surgeon for lifts and tucks and lipo.  I know these feathered friends are not the smartest of animals, but I highly doubt they’re happy with breasts and thighs shaped like a stegosaurus.

At any rate, here’s my go-to recipe for homemade nuggets.  You can actually make these up to 24 hours ahead of time and refrigerate.  Just add five minutes or so to the bake time.

Ingredients:

2 cups Cheerios cereal (my girls like it when I use the Honey Nut variety.)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/4 cup milk

1 tablespoon mustard

2 tablespoons honey

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into one inch pieces.

2 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted

Preparation:

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Either spray with cooking spray or lightly grease a 13×9 inch pan.

2. Finely crush cereal (let the kids help with this part!).  Stir together the cereal, salt and pepper.  Set aside.  Then in a medium bowl, stir together the milk, honey and mustard until well blended.  Dip the chicken into the milk mixture, then coat with the cereal mixture.  Place the chicken onto the pan.  Drizzle with melted butter.

3. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until crust is golden and chicken is no longer pink in center.

Serve with the kids’ favorite dipping sauces and some fruit and veggies!