Kid-friendly


Creamy avocado, smoky bacon, and bitter radicchio unite in this boldly decadent (and completely dairy-free!) pasta dish.  Serve with simple grilled chicken or white beans dressed with olive oil and lemon.

Pasta with avocado, radicchio, and bacon

Serves 4

4 slices bacon

1 head radicchio, cut into 8 wedges

1 bunch scallions, white and tender green parts, sliced

2 avocados, chopped

Handful fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced

8 ounces hot cooked short pasta shapes, such as radiatore

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

In a cast iron or other heavy-bottomed skillet set over medium heat, cook the bacon until crisp.  Remove the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate to drain, and pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat from the pan.

Return the skillet to the stove, raise the heat to medium-high, and cook the radicchio wedges until softened and browned, about 2 minutes per side.  Remove to a cutting board.

Add the scallions to the pan and cook until just tender, about 1 minute.  Remove to a large mixing bowl.

Crumble the bacon and add it to the bowl with the scallions.  Roughly chop the radicchio and add it to the bowl.  Add the avocado, basil, and hot pasta.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and drizzle with olive oil.

Make it kid-friendlier:  Bitter radicchio may not appeal to tiny taste buds.  If you omit it, add the juice of half a lemon (about 2 tablespoons) along with the olive oil to balance the richness of the avocado and the saltiness of the bacon.


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You don’t need a recipe to make a fantastic stir-fry.  You just need to follow a few simple steps:

1. Get your pan good and hot.  I don’t have a wok or a stove with an impressive number of BTUs, so I use a well-seasoned cast iron skillet for stir-frying.  It handles and retains high heat and is naturally non-stick.  If you’re adding meat, poultry, shellfish, or tofu to your stir-fry and like a nice sear on it, as I do, cook it first.  Then remove it from the pan before you add the vegetables.

2. Cut your veg into bite-sized pieces so they cook quickly and evenly.  Take the various cooking times of different vegetables into consideration.  Put tougher or meatier vegetables (like carrots, eggplant, and mushrooms) in the pan first, then add tender vegetables (snow peas, scallions) toward the end of cooking.  Go easy on the salt if your sauce is soy based.

3. Add a killer sauce.  I like a sauce that’s a little salty, a little tangy, and a little spicy.  Make sure you have enough — your stir-fry shouldn’t be soupy, but it shouldn’t be dry, either, especially if you’re serving it with rice.

Tofu vegetable skillet

Serves 4

For sauce:

5 cloves garlic

Salt

2 tablespoons grated, peeled ginger

4 teaspoons unseasoned rice vinegar

2 tablespoons tamari (or other soy sauce)

2 tablespoons canola oil

2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

For tofu and vegetables:

1 tablespoon canola oil

12 oz. package extra-firm tofu

12 oz. shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced

Salt

2 cups snow peas, trimmed

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 bunch scallions, white and tender green parts, sliced

2 heads baby bok choy, sliced

Make sauce:

Finely chop the garlic.  Sprinkle the garlic with a pinch of salt and use the flat side of a chef’s knife to mash it into a paste.  Put garlic in a small mixing bowl.  Add ginger, vinegar, tamari, and oils.  Whisk until well combined.

Cook tofu and vegetables:

Drain the tofu and wrap it in two layers of paper towels.  Press the tofu between two heavy dinner plates to remove excess moisture.  Cut the tofu in half through its equator to make two thin slices the same length and width as the original block.  Blot the cut sides dry.

Heat half the oil in a cast iron or non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.  Sear the slices of tofu until lightly browned on both sides.  Remove tofu to a cutting board and cut into bite-sized cubes.  Set aside.

Drizzle the remaining oil into the skillet and add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are softened, 3 or 4 minutes.  Add remaining vegetables and continue cooking until peas are bright green, about 2 or 3 minutes more.  Add cubed tofu and sauce and stir to combine.

Serve over brown rice.

The flavor base of this authentic Cuban dish is sofrito — an aromatic combination of onions, garlic, and green peppers that is to Spanish and Latin American cuisine what mirapoix is to French cooking. Resist the urge to turn these beans into chili by adding extra spices.  The restrained, balanced flavors – slightly smoky, slightly tangy, slightly sweet – are lovely on their own and easy on young palates.  Serve over rice or with sweet potatoes.

Cuban black beans

Makes about 8 cups, serving at least 6

1 lb. dried black beans, rinsed and drained

1 tbsp. olive oil

4 thick or 6 thin slices bacon, chopped

1 Spanish onion, peeled and finely chopped

1 large green pepper, seeded and diced small

6 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced small

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

2 tsp. dried oregano

2 tsp. ground cumin

2 tsp. brown sugar

3 tbsp. cider vinegar

Place beans in a medium saucepan and add enough cold water to cover them by about 2 inches.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Let beans boil 2 minutes, then turn off heat, cover pot, and let sit for 1 – 1 ½ hours.

Taste a bean.  If it is somewhat tender, season beans with a generous pinch of salt (if not, wait until beans have cooked a little longer before seasoning – adding salt too soon can result in tough beans), return to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until beans are tender, 20-30 minutes longer.  Drain, reserving cooking liquid.

Drizzle oil into a large skillet or dutch oven.  Add bacon and set pan over medium heat.  When bacon starts to sizzle, stir occasionally until starting to brown, about 5 minutes.  Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add green pepper, garlic, and jalapeno pepper. Season lightly with salt and black pepper.  Cook, stirring, until peppers are just tender, about 3 minutes more.  Stir in oregano, cumin, brown sugar, and cider vinegar.  Add beans and enough of their cooking liquid to just cover, about 2 ½ c.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes.

If you have a kid with food allergies — especially one who loves chocolate as much as mine does — eventually the candy holidays start to get to you.  Swapping a Halloween haul of peanut butter cups and M&Ms for a handful of Dum Dums is standard practice in our house.  The Easter Bunny brings us jelly beans, but not the speckled, malted eggs that were my childhood favorite.  And as for the red cellophane-wrapped, heart-shaped boxes of caramel- and praline-filled confections… well, I’ve (almost) stopped thinking about those.

But all is not lost.  With a little extra effort — very little, in fact — Valentine’s Day can be a decadent holiday once more. Turns out, if you can open a bag of chocolate chips and push the buttons on a microwave, you can make some pretty special treats for your beloved little ones.

Unlike couverture chocolate, which requires a fussy heating and cooling process called tempering to keep molded chocolates from melting at room temperature, chocolate chips are made with stabilizing ingredients that help them set up again after exposure to heat (think chocolate chip cookies).  Not having to worry about the temperature of your chocolate lets you focus on the creative part of candy making: filling and decorating!  I used whimsical toppings like sprinkles and marshmallows  and imitated classics with Rice Krispies and creamy Sunbutter filling.  Use your imagination!  And have a super sweet Valentine’s Day.

Easy Homemade Valentine Chocolates

About 1 c. chocolate chips (enough to yield 30, 1-inch hearts)

Candy molds

A glass liquid measuring cup for melting chocolate (the glass retains heat so your chocolate won’t set up too fast while you work) and a small rubber spatula

Fillings and decorations of your choice.  I used rainbow sprinkles, halved mini marshmallows, Rice Krispies, and Sunbutter (instructions below).  Chopped dried fruits or nuts would also work.

Assemble all of your ingredients before you begin.  Make sure your molds, measuring cup, and spatula are clean and dry.

Melt chocolate chips in the measuring cup in the microwave.  Start with 60 seconds on high power.  Stir well with the spatula, then continue heating on high for 20 seconds at a time until chocolate is melted and smooth. Make sure the chocolate is not just melted but warm and somewhat fluid — if it doesn’t get hot enough, it won’t set up correctly when cooled.

Pour chocolate into molds.  Using a spatula will help you control the chocolate and keep it from overfilling the molds or dripping.  Tap the mold gently on the counter to settle the chocolate and remove air bubbles.  Decorate as desired, then put the molds in the freezer — this helps the chocolates set up quickly, making them easy to remove.

To decorate with sprinkles or colored sugar, fill the molds to the top then sprinkle evenly while still very soft.

To decorate with marshmallows, fill the molds nearly to the top, then partially submerge a halved mini marshmallow in the chocolate.  This would work with raisins or dried cherries, too.

To decorate with Rice Krispies, fill the molds about half way, sprinkle on a few Krispies, then fill with a little more chocolate.  Tap mold on the counter to settle chocolate around cereal.

To make a Sunbutter, peanut butter, or other nut butter filling, stir a tablespoonful with enough confectioner’s sugar to form a dough-like consistency (do this before you melt the chocolate).  Roll a tiny amount of filling into a ball and flatten into a disc.  Fill molds half way with chocolate.  Let sit for a minute to firm up a bit, then place disc of filling in the center of the mold.  Fill with a little more chocolate, then tap mold on the counter to cover filling.

Once set, store chocolates at room temperature.

As an on-the-go breakfast or after-school snack, portable, kid-friendly granola bars are a boon to busy families. When it comes to nutrition, though, all bars are not created equal. They can be reasonably virtuous or downright decadent.  My whole-grain, high-protein recipe is a little of both — hearty and satisfying, dense and chewy, and just sweet enough.

Chewy sunflower seed granola bars

Yield:  16, 2-inch squares

2 c. rolled oats

1 c. raw sunflower seeds

1 c. raisins

1/2 c. toasted wheat germ or unsweetened, shredded coconut

1/2 tsp. fine sea salt

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/3 c. brown sugar

1/3 c. canola or safflower oil

1/3 c. sunflower seed butter

1/3 c. honey or maple syrup

1 tbsp. hot water

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Measure oats into the work bowl of a food processor.  Pulse about a dozen times — some of the oats should be ground to a flour-like consistency, some oats should be whole, and the rest should be somewhere in between.  Pour processed oats into a large  mixing bowl.  Stir in sunflower seeds, raisins, wheat germ or coconut, salt, and cinnamon.

In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together brown sugar, oil, sunflower seed butter, honey or syrup, hot water, and vanilla.  Fold into oat mixture with a rubber spatula, stirring until evenly moistened.

Lightly oil an 8 x 8-inch baking dish.  Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom of the pan and extend up and over two of the sides (this will help you get the baked granola bars out of the pan).  Press paper into pan, smoothing out bottom and up sides.  Lightly oil paper.  Spoon granola mixture into pan and press down very firmly with an oiled spatula to form a compact, even layer.

Bake 35-40 minutes, until edges are nicely browned.  Let cool completely (summon all your will power — if you try to cut them when warm, they will crumble).  Use parchment paper overhang to lift granola from pan.  Place on a cutting board and, using a long, serrated knife and firm downward pressure, slice into 16 squares (if you don’t have a good knife, you may want to chill them a bit in the refrigerator before cutting).  Wrap each square in a small piece of wax paper, and store in a tightly sealed container.

Tacos go technicolor with this lively combination of grilled chicken and summer vegetables. If you like yours spicy, add a generous pinch of crushed red pepper to the marinade and a few jalepenos to the salsa. Serve with chopped tomatoes, lettuce, and soft corn or flour tortillas.

Tangy grilled chicken thighs

Serves 6

2 1/2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1/2 c. red wine vinegar

1/4 c. freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 2 limes)

6 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled

2 tbsp. brown sugar

2 tsp. cumin seed, toasted in a dry skillet until fragrant and roughly chopped

1/3 c. olive or canola oil

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

Trim chicken of excess fat and place in a large, shallow dish (or gallon-sized zip-top bag).

Whisk together vinegar, lime juice, garlic, sugar, and cumin seed until sugar is dissolved. Drizzle in oil, whisking well to incorporate.

Pour marinade over chicken and toss to coat.  Refrigerate for a few hours, turning chicken occasionally so all pieces are well-marinated.

Remove chicken from marinade. Discard marinade. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Grill over medium heat, turning halfway through cooking, until done, 12-15 minutes.

Avocado-corn salsa

Lime juice can be a little bitter — a spoonful of sugar helps take the edge off. If you prefer, use cider vinegar instead and leave the sugar out.

Makes about 4 cups, serving 4-6

2 large ears corn, grilled if you like, kernels removed (or 1 1/2 c. frozen corn, thawed)

1/2 red onion, finely chopped

2 red bell peppers, diced small

1 large avocado, diced

1 handful cilantro leaves, finely chopped

2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 1 lime)

2 tsp. granulated sugar (optional)

2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

Combine corn, onion, peppers, avocado, and cilantro in a mixing bowl.  In a separate bowl, whisk together lime juice and sugar until sugar dissolves.  Whisk in oil, then drizzle over salsa.  Season with salt and pepper and toss to coat.  Serve immediately.

This humble, hearty recipe began as an afterthought, thrown together at the last minute to round out a dinner of baked salmon and carrot salad.  I had half a box of orecchiette and a can of chickpeas languishing in the back of the pantry, an overgrown herb garden that needed cutting back, and — despite a nagging feeling that beans and pasta would be too heavy for a warm summer evening — no time to rethink.

Good thing, because the results were refreshingly delicious.  Better yet, our 5 year old (who tends to reject dishes speckled with “little green bits”) cleaned his plate!  And the leftovers, served with a scoop of sweet and tangy carrot salad, made an excellent lunch the next day.

Orecchiette and chickpeas

Makes about 3 1/2 c., serving 4

1/2 lb. orecchiette

15 oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about 1/2 lemon)

1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil

2 tbsp. finely chopped, fresh parsley

1 tbsp. finely chopped, fresh mint

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

Cook orecchiette in a large pot of boiling, salted water until just tender.  Drain.

While pasta cooks, whisk together lemon juice, oil, and herbs in a large mixing bowl.  Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Toss hot pasta and chickpeas with dressing.  Taste and season with additional salt and pepper as needed.  Serve warm.

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