Get outside, Family!

Get outside, Family!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Chef Zi Manifesto

On the last day of Thanksgiving break, the Chef told me he was making Baby Zi and me breakfast. The dish was called "sugar cinnamon roll" and involved taking a piece of white bread and squishing it up into what sounded like a ball and loading it up with sugar and cinnamon. I heard: "Big mess and waste of bread." Since I hadn't even had my coffee or read the comics yet, I said, "No thanks." The Chef then stood before me and delivered a speech that brought tears to my eyes: "You just don't think I can make it, you don't think it will taste good. I see you make things all the time and you don't use recipes! I know, you know how to make things and you've made them before and it worked out. But let me at least try! I'm just a kid, I'm going to make mistakes sometimes. It doesn't mean I'm stupid! It's not that big of a deal if it doesn't turn out right! I just want to try." I wanted to shout, "Yes, we can!" Instead I said, Of course, you can try it. I did eat it, and have to say it turned out pretty nice. Baby Zi gobbled his up. The Chef declined to post his version of events or the recipe, but gave me permission to do so. Sugar Cinnamon Roll Slice of white bread, brown sugar, soft butter, multi-colored jimmy sprinkles. Spread butter on bread, sprinkle with sugar and jimmies. Roll up. Eat as a log or slice into wheels.

Belated Happy Thanksgiving

I am thankful to the Chef for helping with the Thanksgiving salad dressing and cranberry sauce, to Baby Zi for being so cooperative while I peeled and boiled sweet potatoes, and to Papa Chef for coming home early so I could finish my cooking without going crazy-lady on my kids who were way too excited about the holiday and warm weather to be expected to play on their own quietly. It seems like Thanksgiving should be a great time for families to cook together, but there are expectations involved that make things a little more stressful than usual for me. Fortunately, the Chef is at a point where he can handle simple recipes without much interference from me, which allows us avoid most conflict. Cranberry sauce: The Chef read the recipe, measured and combined the cranberries, lots of sugar and orange juice. I talked him through putting it on the stove and lighting the burning -- a Chef Zi first! Salad dressing: I wrote down what I wanted him to use, and he read the ingredients and instructions, which were "combine and whisk 1/4 cup of olive oil, 4 T of golden balsamic vinegar, juice from 1 lemon, 2 tsp of sugar, salt and pepper." This included juicing the lemons. We tossed dressing on greens and pear slices, with pomegranate seeds on side.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Halloween Mystery: The case of the missing cookies

The Chef made cookie batter! By that I mean he read the ingredient list and the recipe and followed the directions. My contributions went only as far as pulling ingredients off the shelves and equipment out of drawers, explaining fractions (still learning those), and pointing out that the butter was already soft and ready to go. He did the rest! But where are the cookies? Well, the Chef had the great idea of eating the batter. And since it was an egg-free sugar cookie recipe, we could do it. And since we ran out of time after turning our yard into a cemetery haunted by electric Halloween lights, carving pumpkins and completing our costumes, it was the only thing to do. Good call, Chef.

Muffin Pan Marvels

I was washing dishes the other night, and Baby Zi was roaming around looking for something to get into. He dragged out a muffin pan, flipped it around, held it up in the air, threw it on the ground. “Bawl, bawl,” he kept saying. "Yes, buddy, there's your ball," I kept saying, not really paying attention. He probably should've thrown a ball at me, because what I eventually realized he was telling me was that he recognized the circle in the bottom of the pan as being the same shape as a ball. Then he grabbed the mini plastic soda bottles that were lying nearby and fit them into the pan. So the little genius saw the circle in the 3-D cylinder as well. And thus was created a new Chef Zi activity -- What Fits In the Muffin Pan. The next morning, I handed him a bunch of differently shaped boxes and cans to try. That held his interest off and on for about 15 minutes, just long enough for me to help set things up for the Chef (see next post).

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Giggle off the guilt

A friend posted on Facebook a link to (by author Marion Nestle) about her fight to make sure schools serve healthy, wholesome lunches. So I read that site and also ended up at and -- great resources, great points. I got all pumped up, thinking, Of course the schools shouldn’t be giving our kids junky food; why can’t the cafeterias serve whole fruit and vegetables, fresh bread and unprocessed meat? What’s wrong with people?!
Then I remembered I packed my kid a Lunchables last week. And it’s been 7 months since the bread maker broke, and instead of replacing it I’ve started liking the weird spongy grocery store bread that never, ever molds. And Oreos have become our favorite “special” dessert lately. I’m so much worse than a school that offers pork rinds out of a vending machine. I might as well be spooning out the mac’n’cheez and chicken-part nuggets onto my child’s plate at the lunch line.
I’m able to keep the bad-mom, bad-citizen guilt in check with a sheepish giggle because I know this: We try, hard. My kids eat well most of the time. My son’s school has an excellent lunch program, which he doesn’t buy from because of his food allergies. So we pack, every day. And every once in a while, he’s going to get a Lunchables. I’ll make up for it by serving him a piece of my homemade, dry (but nutritious!) brown bread for breakfast the next day*.

* The new bread maker arrived before I had a chance to post this…yeah!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Swiss Chard Harvest

The Chef snipped the lovely green and red-veined leaves of his Swiss chard crop last night. It was the only Swiss chard that prevailed in our front-yard mini-garden, and the last harvest of the season. Once cut, it looked smaller than it did in the ground, and after steaming, smaller still. But its taste was wonderful, like mouthfuls of summer.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Baby Zi preparing for new title

Baby Zi is getting closer to graduating to Sous-chef Zi every day. I don’t remember exactly at what age I had the Chef working on a chair at the sink and counter – definitely around 2 -- but I feel like Baby Zi is getting there earlier. Just another example of the Littlest Guy trying to keep up with Bigger Guy.

Lately, Baby Zi has been “doing the dishes”, which is filling containers with water from the faucet and dumping them out. Last night he poured a large yogurt container of water on the floor -- not so good. But mostly he keeps it in the sink.

Six years ago, I’m sure I was more worried about the Chef slipping from the chair or tumbling into the sink. I remember being afraid of walking four steps away from him to the fridge, and realized last night I hardly even think about that now. It’s nice to be a lot less anxious the second time around. But I think Mom-stinct is at work, here, too – Baby Zi is extremely sure-footed. I would not, however, give him anything more sharp-edged than a plastic utensil because he would surely let it fly into someone’s body part, probably his own.

What was I doing while my tot played in the sink? I prepared…

Cabbage and Chicken Stir-Fry

Half head of fresh green cabbage
Ear of corn (cooked night before)
Frozen sweet peas
Roasted chicken breast (from two nights ago)
Olive oil
Chicken stock
Salt and pepper

To make: Chop cabbage into thin strips. Add to pan with heated olive oil. Cook until soft and browned in places. Slice corn off ear and add to pan with frozen peas. When vegetables are cooked, add pieces of chicken. Season with honey, chicken stock and salt and pepper.

We served it with quinoa.

Baby Zi discovers scooping

Baby Zi is following in his big brother’s footsteps when it comes to joining me in the kitchen. I was chopping for another pot of ratatouille, and gave him a plastic knife and some zucchini and peach slices to squish. Mr. Smarty now knows where the utensils are kept, and chose instead a measuring cup and spoon. Then he went digging in the sugar bowl, carefully scooping out a pile of sweet whiteness onto the counter.

This was when Mama Zi had to take a big swig of Chill and not freak about the sticky mess and how the sugar will bring in the ants I’ve been battling all summer. I may have had to wipe up the counter, chair, floor and most of Baby Zi; but I also got dinner ready without having to turn on Elmo or losing my mind.

Back to Junk Food

It’s back to school, and back to the big question of each evening: What can I get Chef Zi to eat in his lunch tomorrow? We’re several weeks into school now, and the menu prepared here at the Zi CafĂ© has so far pleased the Chef. Ham sandwich on wheat bread – Ate it. Leftover takeout pizza – Loved it. Egg noodles in chicken broth in his Star Wars thermos – Gobbled all but two teeny noodles. Sliced apples and plums – Gone, except for one slice he always leaves behind, like he’s messing with me. I’ve also included every day a treat of some sort – his grandmother’s brownies, my chocolate cookies, pre-packaged Rice Krispies Treats, Scooby Doo! graham crackers -- which I know he eats first. But I’m okay with that.

Notice the mix of homemade, lovingly prepared dishes and artificially preserved junk food? I think this balanced combination might be key to keeping the Chef engaged in his lunch. Last year, when I tried to stick to nourishing leftovers and fresh fruit, the Chef went on a hunger strike. But I also cannot send my child to school on an exclusive diet of factory-churned, mass-produced, excessively packaged, eternally preserved “food products” every day. So today, for instance, I sent him with one of those cardboard packaged deals where you make your own cold, uncooked pizza and then have candy for dessert– BlaaaaAauuggh!!! But tomorrow, he will find an organic turkey sandwich and apple.

Here’s to hoping he eats more than the candy...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ratatouille reality

Back from a truly dream vacation, where I didn’t prepare a meal for 10 days. That’s right. 10 DAYS. Thank you, in-laws, restaurants and room-service. But it is nice to be back to the simple, low-salt tastes of home, especially in August, when everything fresh is good.

A favorite summer recipe of ours is RATATOUILLE, using the garlic, onion, eggplant, zucchini and green pepper from our CSA farm box. ZI FAMILY SPAT ALERT: It would have included fresh tomatoes, too, but Papa Zi tossed them out after I refrigerated them. He says they were spoiled, and that probably was mostly true. But being that he has violent feelings against refrigerating tomatoes, I can’t help but be a wee bit skeptical.

This is based on the recipe in the second edition of the “Low-Fat, Low-Cholesterol Cookbook” by the American Heart Association (Clarkson Potter/Publishers, 1997).

Sauté chopped red onion and minced elephant garlic clove in olive oil. Add: about 1 T of fresh oregano, and 1 tsp. each of dried basil and dried rosemary; 1 cup of canned crushed tomatoes; sliced pepper; and sliced zucchini and eggplant that had been salted and drained for about 30 minutes. Grind black pepper over the pot. Simmer covered until vegetables are soft. Serve with pasta or polenta, and grated Pecorino Romano.

ZestZi Dip

I, Chef Zi, made this dip. I like to make this dip. The reason is that it is really good.


Garlic powder
Ground cardamom
Sour cream

Instructions: Mix!

--- By Chef Zi

Monday, July 25, 2011

Classic Chef Zi moment

I just want to be clear at the start of this post that earlier in the day we stopped at Burger King, so I’m not Super Cook-With-Your-Kids-For-Nutritious-Meals-Every-Single-Time Mom. I’m not sure I can even take credit for what happened here: I decided to make kabobs on the grill, and asked the Chef to chop some vegetables. Baby Zi saw that his brother was up to something interesting, and was stretching to grab whatever he could get his hands on from up on the counter. So I got him a step stool and set him up with a cutting board, some zucchini pieces and a bunch of baby-safe kitchen tools – plastic silverware, his fork, a masher. And he got to work! He was so proud of how he mutilated the zucchini. He’d step down for a while and do something else, and then come right back to his project. Everyone was busy in the kitchen, and for dinner we had wonderful kabobs of red pepper, zucchini, onions and red cabbage.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Petroleum ice cream

Interesting New York Times article about how oil is such a part of our lives that we actually eat it. See the graphic for a quick look at some startling examples, including vanilla flavoring in ice cream. Blechhhhhhck.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Being touched by a pea

We harvested 11 pea pods from our teensy, covert front-yard garden (covert because the homeowner’s association says no front-yard veggie gardens). We steamed them along with some sugar snaps that we got in our CSA farm share. The peas were, truly, delicious. I don’t much like peas usually, but these contained only everything that is good about peas. There were so many flavors in there – sweetness, grassiness, something like damp, mossy woods. Anyway, it was just 11 pods, which gave us maybe 35 peas total. That’s after weeks of sun, water and encouragement from the Little Zi’s and myself. To produce as many peas as there are in just one bag of frozen peas would have required planting over most of our front yard.

The Chef and I loved those peas, like they were our babies -- that we ate, so not exactly. But we were fascinated to see what the little seeds produced that we dropped into the dirt on a cold and rainy day. We don’t love the peas we microwave out of a frozen bag. We definitely don’t like the ones that come in a can – we never eat those. When we buy a bag of bland peas and eat half of them, I often forget about the rest and they end up freezer-burned and headed for the trash. We don’t chase down every little one that rolls under the kitchen cart, like we did with our peas.

There’s something wrong with this, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Or at least I can’t figure out what to do to fix it. We will continue to buy frozen peas in the winter, because they are fast and nutritious. I will not be planting a field of peas and canning them myself. But maybe little changes around the edges are better than nothing. This year, the Chef grew a few peas. Baby Chef got to touch a pea pod. Maybe we will be more appreciative of the frozen bag.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Pasta+Cheese+Black Pepper = Wonderful

We’ve been eating pasta with Pecorino Romano cheese and olive oil for years. The Zi Family can whip it up faster than we can find the scissors to cut open the cheese packet from a mac-n-cheez-in-a-cardboard-box. We’ve loved it as lunch, side dish and, very often, main course for dinner. I didn’t think it could be improved upon, until I read about a recipe for bucatini cacio e pepe in my local paper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It’s from
"The Glorious Pasta of Italy" by Domenica Marchetti (Chronicle, 2011). And then I tried it. Wow. The Chef will be eating it in his lunch today at camp.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Early Summer's Best Dishes

are the ones you don’t have to cook. And I’m not talking about take out, or going to someone else’s house for dinner. Just slice and season. Your kids can help with the picking, washing and assembly.

1.) Freshly picked, raw vegetables (like peas, broccoli, radishes and zucchini)
2.) Sliced watermelon
3.) Corn on the cob (does boiling water really count as cooking?)
4.) Strawberries and sugar
5.) Bowl of blueberries
6.) Organic grapes (great prices on US-grown right now)
7.) Lettuce salad with any of the leftovers from above

Monday, June 6, 2011

Mini gardening

I gave the Chef a few packets of seeds early this spring and pointed out an open spot in our front-yard flower beds that gets great sun. I might have taken the sowing business more seriously if I’d actually expected we’d get vegetables. Our container plants usually die a quick and dry death, and I figured the bunnies would nibble anything that made it past the two-leaf stage. So instead of spacing the seeds in rows, I let the Chef do it his way and pour a bunch of seeds all over the ground. And whadayaknow, we’ve got peas, radishes and swiss chard thriving in a 3-foot-by-2-foot space, all randomly growing and tightly packed together.

It looks lovely. The pea vines are curling into piggy ringlets with delicate pink blossoms. The radish leaves are rough and dull, which help set off the ruby red root beneath. Baby swiss chard looks so tender, red veins trimming dark green leaves. It’s the prettiest spring garden I’ve ever had.

Elmo Antidote? Almost

Still feeling guilty about using TV as my nanny while I made dinner, I planned for the two Zi’s to help with tonight’s side dish: Breaded eggplant and zucchini. Baby Zi is too young to handle raw eggs without licking his hands, so he sat in the sink and played with the faucet and a plate of bread crumb while the Chef dipped the vegetables in the breading. The flaw in the plan was that I still needed to fry the veggies without the little guy grabbing at the stove, and once again everyone was hungry and not capable of productive distraction. So Elmo went on again! Oh well. At least we had a tasty dinner, along with leftover chicken pieces, leftover sweet potatoes and sliced melon.

To make Fried Eggplant and Zucchini, Zi-Style:

Slice 1 eggplant and 1 zucchini into ½ inch pieces. Salt both sides and let sit in a colander for about an hour. Rinse.

Beat 2 eggs with milk in a bowl (The Chef could’ve handled this step, but he was busy).

This is where the kids have fun: Oooey, gooey egg and bread crumbs, everywhere. Dip each vegetable piece in egg, then seasoned bread crumb, and set on a plate. (Next time we’ll dip in flour first, then egg and bread crumb because a lot of the egg/crumb mixture fell off during cooking.)

Fry the veggies in olive oil on low heat until soft.

Serve with ketchup!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

TV sedation allows harried mother to cook dinner

My big aim in involving my kids in the kitchen is to avoid what happened tonight – I did a Bad Mommy and stuck my children in front of mindless TV in order to get dinner done. I’d had chicken drumsticks and thighs marinating all day, but hadn’t done a darn anything else. The kids were hungry, tired, Baby Zi was hanging onto my legs, Chef Zi was zipping around the house -- careful not to actually run and get in trouble, but moving fast and in a frenzy. And it was raining. But I needed to get out to the deck to grill our meat. So I turned on an Elmo video, and the two of them sat down, still and quiet for 25 minutes. Blessed television.

P.S. What the thinks-he’s-too-old-for-Elmo Chef would want me to say is, he only watched Elmo because his little brother was watching it.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Spring! Let's play! What about dinner?

The sun is shining, the rain has stopped, it's mid-May and finally FINALLY it feels like winter is really over. Of course we want to be outside! But I worked today so there is no dinner prep underway. And no leftovers. And I already permitted us one junky food night this week (frozen tater tots and lunch meat sandwiches). So I gotta come up with something not too terrible that leaves time for bicycle riding lessons and 100 pushes on the swing. HHHhhhmmmmm...I know there are tortilla shells in the fridge. Leftover pasta sauce, and cheese. Maybe even a tomato. Tortilla pizzas? Oh wait! There is leftover steak and salad! Easy, steak salad is dinner tonight. But for next time:

How to make pizza tortillas

Grated mozzarella cheese
Tomato sauce or sliced tomato
Flour tortillas
Grated Pecorino Romano cheese
Olive oil
salt and pepper

Lay tortillas on a cookie sheet sprayed lightly with oil. Arrange toppings, drizzle with a little oil and add salt and pepper. Heat under broiler until cheese is melted.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Kids can grate ginger, chop chicken, scrape carrots

The Chef and I tried a fun new recipe for Chicken Chow Mein from a book he received from friends, "Children's Quick & Easy Cook Book" by Angela Wilkes (DK Publishing Inc., 2003). The picture looked terrific, and the finished dish looked a lot like the picture, which doesn't usually happen. Better still, it tasted just as good.

Was it Quick & Easy? Not exactly. At least not if you are trying to keep a nearly walking 1-year-old out of trouble at the same time you are cooking. There were a whole lot of veggies to prep, plus the chicken, garlic and ginger. Fortunately, this was a day I was able to do some of the washing and chopping earlier while Baby Zi napped.

What I really like about this dish is that any of the individual steps (up to the stir frying) are something a child of at least 6 can do, and many of them can be handled by younger cooks. We have a neat ginger grater in the shape of a fish. It's ceramic so even a little little guy could use it without grating his knuckles. And we got to try eating with chopsticks.

I didn't obtain permission to reprint the recipe, but any stir fry recipe can be adapted to include carrots, green beans and other foods your kids can prepare and/or will eat. Broccoli, cabbage and apples would work well, too. Squishing garlic cloves in a press is fun, and with ginger and soy sauce makes for great seasoning. We've been trying liquid aminos instead of soy sauce for a milder, MSG-free taste. It sounds like a non-food to me, but it actually worked well.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A great way to remember measurement conversions

Everybody, there is good news at our Chef Zi blog. Mama Zi just figured out something Chef Zi figured out in math class: that a Gallon House is what you use on a cooking base, using your measuring spoons. Mama Zi thought it was a good idea to put on our Chef Zi blog. We figure out a lot of new things using math. Because, as you know, you use math a lot when you are doing cooking. You almost never notice but keep your eye out for when you're using cooking. A Gallon House is a big giant G going down to cups. It is as big as a piece of paper that comes from Staples, and you go down to quarts, pints, all of those. Look at the picture beside this post.

-- Post by Chef Zi

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Kitchen music

Chef Zi, eight tall glasses and a pitcher of water made beautiful music together the other night while I finished dinner. He really got into it, tapping each with a spoon and adjusting water levels to get the right pitches so he could play a few of his piano tunes. Not exactly cooking together, but I love when the kids are right beside me while I'm measuring, stirring, chopping, etc.

Potato Bean Burritos

Things came together just right last night for a tasty dinner. First I scanned the fridge -- leftover mashed potatoes, jar of salsa, tortillas...hhhmmmmm. Felt a hankering for Tex-Mex. Considered our diet so far for the week -- a lot of meat, time for some extra veggies. Managed to get some things prepped early in the day. But the magic ingredient was Baby Chef being willing to be entertained in his high chair with a whole bunch of kitchen utensils while Chef Zi and I cooked.

Potato and White Bean Burritos (inspired by our favorite Tex-Mex restaurant, but made up on the spot so not sure of amounts)

Ingredients: Leftover mashed potatoes, Can of Cannellini beans (we're Italian!), Chopped Sweet onion, Chopped Garlic cloves, Olive oil, Mild tomato salsa, Grated colby-jack, Wheat tortillas

Wash beans and mash with potato masher. Saute garlic and onion until soft. Add mashed potatos and beans. Add enough salsa for taste. Toast tortilla. Fill with potato-bean mixture and sprinkle with cheese. Fold up, and eat.

We served this with sides of corn, broccoli and cherry tomatoes.

Classic Chef Zi -- Pork Tenderloin

The weather has been cold and wet, which is a bummer except it means that, stuck inside, the Chef and I have had more time lately to cook together. We've been light on homework and running around, which also helps.

The-Grill-Is-Out-Of-Gas Pork Tenderloin

Ingredients: pork tenderloin, olive oil, garlic, paprika, rosemary, parsley, salt and pepper

Whisk together oil and seasonings in a bowl. Smear all over tenderloin using hands or brush. Put meat under broiler for something like 20 minutes (until done but not too done).

Lunch solution

This is so obvious -- let Chef Zi make his own lunches! He actually selected a fresh apple. And ate it. Doy!

Bad and good news for donut lovers

Post by Chef Zi

BAD NEWS: The Krispy Kreme in our town is closing! We are sad because Chef Zi has only been there 3 or 4 times. They make good donuts.

GOOD NEWS: There are other Krispy Kreme's. The whole business has not gone down.

Yogurt Parfaits reward piano practice

I'd like to thank the Chef for playing his piano piece very well 5 times yesterday so we could all have 5 toppings on our yogurt parfaits. That was the deal. Baby Chef and I helped by playing quietly while he practiced.

Recipe for Yogurt Parfaits -- "Go Tell Aunt Rhody" version
Ingredients: Strawberry yogurt, vanilla yogurt, chocolate syrup, red sugar sprinkles, crushed pretzels, marshmallow cream, cherry

Layer yogurt and toppings in a clear glass. Top with cherry. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Lunch rejection

It’s possible that the Chef has undergone an alien brain transplant. That’s about the only explanation I have for why he is refusing to eat the healthy, high-quality, lovingly prepared dishes I send with him to school. He will on the other hand gobble up anything that is pre-packaged, artificially colored and processed into unnatural shapes.

This is a new development. He’s carried lunch to school and camp before and been happy with just about any of his regular favorites. Lately, the list of rejected foods has grown so that I stare at the fridge at night with his green John Deere lunch bag in my hand completely stumped. Foods he won’t eat at school: Pasta and olive oil sprinkled with pecorino romano cheese; homemade chicken soup; grapes; apple slices; sandwiches of any kind; hotdog; macaroni and cheese; leftover pizza; beef stew; yogurt in any form other than in plastic, suck-and-go tubes; blueberries; oranges (peeled or not); strawberries; banana; juice in a reusable bottle. These are all things he’ll eat at home, by the way. There are days everything comes back home except a Tootsie Roll and milk.

I admit in the beginning of the school year, I was pretty lame with lunch. I was giving him good food, and figured he’d eventually break down out of hunger. But then I helped out in the lunchroom and saw what other kids were eating: Jello cups, pudding cups, power bars, bags of snack chips, steaming bowls of soup and pasta from microwavable single-use bowls, fresh fruit in a bag that comes cut up and sprayed with something that keeps it from going brown, lots of things packaged with the images of popular kids TV characters.

Gosh, I hate prepackaged food. What a waste of plastic wrappers! But I also hate letting my son be hungry all afternoon.

So I’ve broken down. I am now shelving the “main course” concept and giving him a bunch of different snacks. I’m putting something like 5 different options in his bag, hoping he’ll eat ate least 3. I try to include organic treats, but those often are overlooked. At least when packaged/preserved food returns home, it can go right back in the bag for tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Bye-Bye, Dexter

Cooking With Dexter”, the darling column by Pete Wells in the New York Times Magazine, has sadly come to an end. Wells writes about his precocious chef of a son, Dexter, age 6, and a family food culture that involves preparing Korean-style beef for the grill on a summer night, and making their own charcoal. Wells ended the column’s 2-year run Sunday on a depressing note, concluding that cooking for a family when you work full-time-plus hours is next to impossible. He’s right, of course. I liked to believe, though, he was finding a way to do it.

The “Dexter” column inspired our blog here. Dexter and the Chef not only have their ages and cooking in common, but both also have food allergies. Thank you, Dexter and Pete, for sharing your story.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Raw meat is fun

My kid loves handling raw meat. It’s cold, slimy, and fascinatingly dead. There was an age – maybe 3? – when I let the Chef make hamburgers and he tried to eat the uncooked ground beef off of his hands. So we stopped that for a while. But at 6.5, he is definitely up to the task, and so is his friend A. This chicken fingers recipe involves one prep step – dipping the chicken into seasoned cornmeal. The two of them got it done faster than I could say “no finger-lickin!”

Recipe adapted from Crispy Oven-Fried Chicken in the American Heart Association’s “Low-Fat, Low-Cholesterol Cookbook: Heart-healthy, easy-to-make recipes that taste great” (Clarkson Potter 1997)

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into thin strips
Corn meal
Dried ginger
Crushed garlic clove
Salt, pepper
Cooking spray

Mix seasonings and corn meal in a wide shallow bowl. Drag chicken pieces through the mixture until coated. Spray with cooking spray and place on cookie sheet that also has been sprayed. Bake in 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Snow tricks

This post isn't technically about cooking. But it is about how to keep a bored, indoors weary 6-year-old busy while I clean up the kitchen so I can prepare dinner. It was very very cold -- in the teens -- so the Chef didn't last long outside. But while we were out there, I filled a toy tool chest with snow and ice pieces of different shapes and thicknesses, and brought it inside with us. The inspired snow study involved cookie sheet, measuring cup, different temperatures of water at the sink, and a straw to see if snow water can make bubbles (strangely, it can).

The next day, the Chef came up with the idea that sponges soaked in hot water would melt ice. So we filled a dish tub with hot water and attached a sponge and dust mitt to his boots with rubber bands. He stepped in the tub, then right out the door onto our snow covered deck. The sponge extensions did indeed melt the snow. Always thinking about cooking, the Chef stomped a path to the grill.

I think I remember reading in one of the "Little House on the Prairie" books that Laura and her Grandmother would scoop snow and add maple syrup. Maybe we'll try that tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Baking Chocolate Cake with Granny Ri

Ri Ri and I had a great cooking show.

Chocolate Cake Recipe:
1.) Cocoa
2.) Flour
3.) Mix with baking powder.
4.) Put in oven for 24 minutes.

By Chef/Z

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Chef Zi Best Equipment Award: Stainless Steel Measuring Cups

Nothing keeps Baby Zi busy like a set of nested stainless steel measuring cups. He puts them together, takes them apart and bangs like crazy on the tile floor. It's loud enough to bring water to my eyes, but the noise does have a musical quality that makes it tolerable. At least to his mother. Those cups allowed me to season a pork roast with lemon pepper, make a salad and set the table. They also love the precise edge made between knife and steel when leveling a scoop of flour.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Happy New Year!

It was a great holiday season, with lots of wonderful meals, many of them prepared by our family and friends. For 8 glorious nights, Mama Zi did not have to stress about how to get dinner on the table, nor how to clean up afterward. Unfortunately, that also meant the Chef and I didn’t get a lot of kitchen time together. But on New Year’s Day, we found ourselves with a few open minutes and a dire need to get busy while awaiting the rest of the family. The Chef was getting antsy watching over his cousin's shoulder as he played his DS, and my mom-dar alerted me that mischief of some sort was about to ensue. I was thinking homemade pretzels would be a good solution, give the kids a chance to be creative and have a tasty snack, too. But there was no yeast in the house; can’t make unleavened pretzels. Unless of course they are pretzel cookies! The Chef’s grandmother saved the day by finding this recipe . We skipped the almond extract. The cousin put down his video game, another cousin took the picture, an aunt joined, us, too, and everyone munched on the cookies.