Sunday, May 31, 2009

Why You Should Participate in Kids Restaurant Week

We've never participated in this before, believe it or not. But we're around for it this year and I'm starting to make reservations around town.

It's so important to practice eating out with kids as it really enforces table manners and good public behavior. And exposing children to a variety of different foods and presentations is it's own valuable lesson.

When our children were smaller I found it far easier to practice both manners and variety in the comfort of our dining room. It seems to have paid off fairly well. What they lack for in terms of being adventurous eaters they make up for in ability to sit in a chair and make appropriate contributions to the conversation.

Some of the Chicago restaurants I'm most excited to see participating: Bistro 110 (I hear only praise for Chef Dominique Tougne's food), newcomers Eve and Big Jones, and One Sixty Blue.

Further reading:
Eating Out with Kids: Restaurant Behavior - eHarmony Parenting
How to dine out with kids aged 2-4 ... and enjoy it - BabyCenter

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Only Smoothie

For years I couldn't make a good smoothie. I have no idea what I was doing wrong. How can you go wrong with fruit, juice and yogurt?

Over the years I've developed a standard smoothie that rarely disappoints. The key is to use good, ripe fruit. Frozen fruit is often flavorless. Taste a frozen strawberry sometime - if it doesn't taste like anything it's just the same as adding ice to your smoothie, an item I'm shocked (SHOCKED!) to see in so many smoothie recipes (runners up: added sugar or honey, and milk - blechk).

I like frosty smoothies, so I use ripe fruit I've frozen myself. Next time you buy bananas, peel two or 3, break them into chunks and pop them in a ziploc. Bananas will continue to ripen in the freezer, so don't freeze more than you'll use in a month.

I do the same with pineapple and strawberries. When perfect fruit is available, buy extra and freeze some for your smoothie supply. For strawberries, rinse and remove the stems (hull them if you've got time to kill). Trim pineapple into chunks. Both can be placed on a baking sheet first, spread out so they're not touching each other, and frozen. Once frozen, put them into Ziploc bags for longer storage. This process prevents the fruit from freezing into a solid mass. Grocers call it IQF (Individual Quality Frozen). Lazy people call it Anal.

Strawberry Banana Smoothie
Print recipe only here

Makes four 8-ounce smoothies

1 cup orange juice
1-2 cups frozen strawberries
1 banana
3/4 cup pineapple
1/2 cup lowfat yogurt (vanilla, strawberry or banana flavored)

Starting with the OJ, measure all the ingredients - except the yogurt - into a blender. A chef in Telluride once advised me to always add the yogurt last so that the heat generated by blending didn't detroy the yogurt cultures. I'm not certain of the validity of the claim, but am willing to put my yogurt in at the end of the blending process just the same.

Anyway, start blending on low speed. You might need to stop and stir things up with a spoon if the fruit jams the blender up. Increase to high speed for a few seconds. Stop the blender, add the yogurt and blend until just mixed it. Serve and enjoy.

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Piece of Pie: Pear Frangipane Galette

A rustic galette is a beautiful thing, and not hard to pull off. I made it this weekend since it’s still too early for the summer tarts I love so much. You could substitute Golden Delicious apples for the pears. Apples and pears both go wonderfully with almond, which is what frangipane is.

Pear Frangipane Galette
Print recipe only here

Makes one 10-inch galette, serving 10-12

You’ll need a basic pie dough or sweeter rustic tart dough. This is a free form (no pan) tart so you need a firmer dough than, say your typical pate sucree - just use a pie dough recipe and you'll be fine here. Anyway, make the dough and chill it well. Pull it out of the fridge and roll out a 14-inch circle of dough, trimming off the excess. Transfer the dough circle to a parchment-lined baking sheet and put it back in the fridge.

Next, make the frangipane.


  • 5 ounces almond paste (you’ll find it in a can in the baking aisle of most grocery stores.)
  • 4 T softened unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup sugar

Add and mix well:
  • 1 ½ T dark rum (I like Meyer’s)
  • 1 t almond extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1-2 T cinnamon sugar
Peel 4-5 ripe pears. Quarter, core and slice them lengthwise. Toss them with 1 T cinnamon sugar and the juice of half a lemon.

Remove the pie dough from the fridge and spread the frangipane over the dough, leaving a two-inch border. Arrange the pear slices on top in concentric circles or however you like. Then fold over the filling, pleating as you go. You could also make individual galettes using a five-inch dough circle and one half pear, sliced but kept in it's half shape.

Sprinkle the exposed dough with cinnamon sugar and toss back in the fridge or freezer for 15-30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375°

Bake the galette for about 30 minutes or until very nicely golden. Let cool for about 15-20 minutes before slicing.

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On the Menu This Week: Salad Niçoise

I love Salad Niçoise this time of year, when asparagus is in season. After a long winter of soups and stews this hearty spring salad is a delightful change.

I buy fresh tuna for this because I love it. Traditionally, a Niçoise salad is made with canned tuna. Always on the plate are hard boiled eggs, olives (kalamatas because I cannot stand Niçoise olives) red potatoes, asparagus or green beans, tomatoes and mixed greens. If you want an even more authentic taste, use walnut oil in your dressing (or part walnut, part olive). Walnut is a very healthy oil and it has a wonderful taste.

Also on the menu this week: Buffalo burgers and Avocado Salad; Orechiette with Broccoli Rabe and Chicken Sausage; Sweet Corn Risotto; Asian Grilled Salmon Salad; Quick Pesto Pizza; Lamb Kabobs with Quinoa.

The Quick Pesto Pizza is a great easy weeknight meal. I might have mentioned it before. I use a storebought crust from Whole Foods. I envy ye with access to Alvarado Street's AMAZING sprouted wheat pizza crust. Sigh. Just slather pesto all over and top with a light sprinkling of mozzarella. Bake in a very hot oven (450-500) for 5-6 minutes and enjoy.

Related Posts:
Salad Niçoise (Simply Recipes)

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Taking a Swing at Calorie Counting

A series of events has brought me to this point: I am counting calories. Let me explain.

First, I was tipped off to which tallies the nutritional data for that Burrito As Big as Your Head* that you love so much. I’m a fan of the burrito bowl (rice, chicken, pinto, pico, lettuce, no dairy) and was relieved my choice did not tip the 500 calorie barrier. (Tipping that barrier all on its own: bag of chips at 570.)

Next I followed another lead (thanks again to JP) to a Men’s Health piece on America’s worst foods. The Worst Food: something fried, smothered in cheese and served with ranch dressing. Go figure. If that’s not quality investigative journalism then I don’t know what is.

Finally, I surveyed my pudge and thought about my penchant for snacking and wondered how many calories I consume in a day and how many I should consume in a day. I’m fit (I exercise 4-5 times per week) and eat very healthy, lean food but I have grown pretty lax about watching how much I eat - a little too much like a old friend’s zero-sum calorie policy which mandates chocolate consumption post-workout.

SO…I’ve got my calorie number now (to figure out yours I recommend the LIVESTRONG site) and a counter on my desktop and iPhone. It’s really fun. And it’s a lot easier than the last time I tried to do this, two or three years ago. Livestrong's database of foods and restaurant meals is very well stocked, and they make it easy to enter nutritional data for foods not yet listed. They had the sliced turkey I picked up at Trader Joe’s and the granola bar I ate on the way to my volunteer gig this morning. It’s also equipped to measure the calories you burn during exercise. And I’m Lovin’ it.

Sticker Shock for the Weight Conscious (NY Times)
Counting Calories for Weight Loss (Fun &Food Blog)

* To be fair, Chipotle is not the chain that advertises Burritos As Big As Your Head. That chain is called La Bamba.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

On the Menu This Week: The best thing on sliced bread

Planning a weekly menu is the best way to ensure healthy cooking and eating during the week. I usually don't think about it until Sunday evening or Monday morning when I write my ON THE MENU THIS WEEK column. I pick a balance of protein and fresh veggies, making sure to include a couple of meals that everyone enjoys. Then I shop. I get mostly everything I need for the week on Monday, though I do end up picking up other things later on, especially at the farmer's market. I find this way I have lots more time to do everything else I need to do that week.

Anyway, I've got a gorgeous flank steak on hand to make one of my favorite meals, the sandwich pictured here. It is quite possibly the best thing on sliced bread. I'll serve it with Roasted Red Potato Salad. The flank steak sandwich is a great meal at any time of year, but I especially enjoy it in the warmer weather with arugula and slow roasted tomatoes. Also on the menu this week is Shrimp & Broccoli, Beef Tacos with Spanish Rice and Guacamole, Lamb Gyros with Fresh Pita Bread, Taziki Sauce and Greek Salad, Pizza Margherita and a Salad, Hometown Trout with Baby Spinach Salad and Grilled Asparagus, and Tortilla Soup with Lime Cilantro Grilled Chicken. For an alternate trout recipe, check out Whole Rainbow Trout Baked in Foil from the New York Times.

I can't miss the chance to sing praise for Splash Shopper to organize your grocery and other shopping lists. Heather G. sent me this tidbit about Epicurious' iPhone app. I've played with the app a bit and found it to be a decent resource for ideas. The food is not as healthy as I'm inclined to cook but the technology is pretty cool. But it's worth checking out, ye iPhone/iTouch users.

Have a great week, everyone.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

On Mother's Day and the Feeding of Children

Ahh, Mother’s Day. I had a good one, thanks. I wish I had taken a picture of the M-O-M shaped pancakes my kids made for me. There was one low point - being wished a happy Mother’s Day by some college dudes who passed whilst I was gardening. My children were nowhere in sight! Do I have MOM tattooed on my forehead? How did they know?!?

I’ve been lately thinking about how to use this space for more kid-specific foods. I haven’t been sure what to advocate seeing as I never fully embraced our own family meals. True, we always eat dinner together. But we haven’t always eaten the same thing, a fact that’s driven me a bit crazy.

My kids know me to be fairly strict parent but I think I’ve been a pushover in the kitchen. My mother a steadfast rule about dinner - we had to eat what was put in front of us. You know what she said when we complained? “You don’t have to have seconds.”

My sister and I were allowed one free pass, a food we never had to eat. I picked lima beans. I’m sort of curious to try them again, fresh ones, but they’re hard to find. Is it possible that the lima bean has been discontinued??

My girls are largely vegetarians, assuming that’s what you call someone who doesn’t eat meat, vegetables, legumes, or whole grains excluding breads and cereals. It’s a wonder they’ve grown at all. (To be fair, they enjoy trout, salmon, artichokes, lettuce, hummus and olives.) Some nights are easier than others at dinnertime. If we’re having tacos, for example, they fill their shells with cheese, lettuce and guacamole. The other night when we had lamb burgers, I made them a pesto pizza with a premade whole grain crust from Whole Foods.

I wish I had taken my mom’s stance early on but I did always feel that I wanted my kids to look forward to dinnertime and be excited about their food. Some kids seem to pop out with a more adventurous palate and others need more time to grow into it. There’s no right answer, just whatever works for you. What works for you?

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Friday, May 8, 2009

Liquid Assets: Simple Syrup

I recently began keeping simple syrup in my fridge. It's stored in a recycled Bonne Maman jam jar (my kosher salt occupies an identical residence stoveside - I just love those jars!). But after seeing a long-necked bottle of simple syrup the other day at Trader Joe's I realize a need a new jar, something that will dispense the syprup more easily. A recycled vinegar bottle might be perfect, especially one with a pour spout.

Simple syrup is just sugar water (who remembers the scene in Men in Black where the alien in the Edgar suit asked for sugar water?!?). To make it you bring equal parts sugar and water (you can play with the ratio) to a boil and simmer until the sugar is dissolved.

Simple syrup is handy for a variety of summer beverages and cocktails including gimlets, fresh lemonade, and as a sweetener for iced coffee or tea. It's also used frequently in the sweet kitchen as a soaking syrup, dry cakes being a pastry chef's nightmare. Previously, I just made some whenever I needed it. For the summer, at least, I'll keep it stocked.

Simple Syrup

In a medium saucepan:
2 ½ cups water
2 cups sugar

Bring to a boil and simmer for 1-2 minutes or until the sugar is completely dissolved. Cool to room temperature and store in a glass bottle, recycled if possible.

Related posts:
How to Sweeten a Cocktail (The Atlantic)

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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Eight Reasons Coffee Might be the Boss of You

I am a coffee drinker. I try not to go overboard, but it is a daily thing for me. Though at least once a year for anywhere between six to 12 weeks I go cold turkey, just to show myself who’s boss. The answer is me. I am the boss of the dark lord in my groovy thermal ceramic mug.

For the remaining 40-46 weeks per year, coffee is assumed. Standard. A sine qua non to the day starting on a good note. Which is why the multiple disruptions in our household coffee routine are vexing. Disruptions? Allow me to enumerate:

1. I switched from Peet’s to Metropolis. My choice, but one that required a significant commitment as Metropolis is, like, eight miles north in a neighborhood in which I have no other business. I was looking to find a local roaster and was thrilled when I did.

2. I switched to a French press. Again, I brought this on myself. I became a quick convert, bringing the thermal press on camping trips over the summer and fall.

3. My coffee grinder broke. By “my” I mean Kate’s. I don’t know why I was in possession of her coffee grinder, but I assumed squatter’s rights at least a decade ago. After the top broke, I jerry-rigged it with a toothpick for longer than I care to admit. Last month I bought a nice burr grinder and began the process of experimenting with different grinds.

4. I stopped using an airtight glass storage jar for my coffee beans, following the instructions on the Metropolis bag. The airtight contraption did seem to suffocate them a bit, and a bit of breathing improved the quality of the oldest beans (we go through a pound every ten days or so).

5. My new grinder made my favorite blend, Metropolis’ Mocha Java, taste COMPLETELY different, and not in a good way. I went back to my old standbys at Peet’s: Major Dickason’s and Arabian Mocha Java. Mmmm.

6. My husband became disenchanted with the French press (he took umbrage with the grit in his mug) and recalled the old drip machine from storage.

7. I missed Metropolis and crawled back only to discover they had discontinued Mocha Java. Gasp! Now brewing Spice Island which, I’m happy to report, I like.

8. Just when I thought I had my equipment and blends figured out, Jerry Baldwin (of Starbucks and Peet’s fame) tells me I’ve got storage all wrong.

I’ll spend the next month or so seeing if I like his suggestions. Perhaps I also need to remind myself who’s the boss.

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Sunday, May 3, 2009

Focaccia, and a lesson in Italian

Focacce is the plural of focaccia. As in, the other day, when all it did was rain (gatti e cani), I made focacce. I made two kinds, the one showed here with tomatoes and rosemary, and other with mixed herbs (basil, rosemary and parsley).

Molto bene, mio pane.

Print recipe only here

Makes two 10-inch rounds

1 package (1 scant teaspoon) active dry yeast
½ cup warm water
1 cup room-temperature water
2-3 T olive oil
4 cups AP flour
2 t kosher salt
1-2 ripe tomatoes
2 T chopped fresh herbs

In a large mixing bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer) combine the yeast, warm water. Whisk to combine. Whisk in the room-temperature water, olive oil and salt. Add the flour and combine using a wooden spoon or the dough hook attachment on your mixer.

When the dough comes together, remove it from the bowl (adding more flour as necessary) and knead until smooth and elastic.

Coat the inside of the same bowl with olive oil and turn the dough inside the bowl, so it’s coated with oil. Cover and set aside to rise, about 1 ½ hours, or until doubled in size.

Lightly oil two ten-inch cast iron skillets, pie tins or similar sized baking dishes (you could use one 9x12 baking pan). Divide the dough in half (assuming you’re using two pans) and press each portion into the pan, stretching it to the sides and patting it to get an even thickness.

Cover again and allow to rise for another half hour.

Preheat oven to 425°

Slice tomatoes and toss with some olive oil. Dimple the dough all over using your fingertips. Sprinkle with kosher salt, herbs and tomatoes and bake for about 20 minutes until the top is nicely golden.

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