Tuesday, December 31, 2013

5 Reasons I Don't Cook Separately for my Kids

At the Knotty Pine Cafe in Payson, AZ
It's one of those great debates among parents--along with crib or co-sleeping, when to potty train, and how to discipline--do you or do you not cook separate meals for your kids? I'm sure the number of parents who do this for every meal is low (I mean, how would you even have time?), but there is definitely a contingent of folks for whom it's a fairly regular occurrence.

Not us.

I'd like to think I'm not a monster of a mother for saying so. Believe me, my kids eat plenty of "kid-friendly" foods like hot dogs, fries, and the ever-popular mac & cheese. They're not missing out on the occasional indulgence in the American Childhood Dream of greasy, fiber-less grub. (After all, we do shop at Costco and sometimes surrender to the siren song of $1.50 jumbo all-beef dogs--come on, I'm only human!) But by and large, I'm a big believer in what's good for the goose is good for the gander when it comes to food--that is, what's good for mom and dad is good for the kiddos, too. 

So, not that anyone asked, but here's my blow-by-blow defense of why I don't cook separately for my kids. (Side note: I know there are kids for whom this is simply not possible, due to special needs, allergies, or medical conditions. I'm sure this doesn't apply to those situations.) 

1. I want them to develop an broad palate.

For their own good! There is so much incredible food on this planet. I believe they'll be missing out if their upbringing trains them to enjoy only a handful of "safe" foods. Plus, I don't want them to end up being chased by dogs because they stuffed mutton in their pockets instead of eating it (Seinfeld, anyone?)

2. Compromise is essential in a family.

The truth is, the world is not our oyster--it's not mine, and it's not my kids'. Being part of a family means we all have to compromise, sacrifice, do things we just don't love doing, because we love others. In our house, that's the way the tofu crumbles...literally. Making the (albeit small) sacrifice of sometimes eating food they're not crazy about is one way for my kids to learn this important lesson, which hopefully will serve them well when they have families of their own one day.

3. I simply don't have time (and don't want to spend the extra money!)

Does anybody? It's nutty enough around here trying to get one dinner on the table in the child-diverting 22 minutes of a Jake and the Neverland Pirates episode!

4. I (generally) cook healthy food. I want my kids to eat healthy food.

"Kid" foods, as mentioned before, tend to be a processed grease-fest. If I'm going to the trouble of cooking healthy food for myself and my husband, I certainly want my kids to benefit by eating it, too. 

5. There's power in sharing a meal (one meal).

I believe this. As a family, we hang together, and this includes the food we eat. It undermines the experience when everyone is eating something different. Our culture individualizes everything, but isn't there is richness in the communal act of a family around the table partaking of the same food together? I think so. 

So on this December 31st, happy new year and here's to many happy, shared meals in 2014!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Fig and Goat Cheese Bruschetta


You may have noticed it's been awhile since my last post, for reasons that are probably obvious--it's Christmastime! Like everyone else, I have a to-do list longer than Santa's naughty list every year during December, so writing about food has been pushed from its usual place near the top. Not, of course, for lack of cooking and eating! In fact, so much of my time has been taken up with both these activities the last few weeks that it's sort of ironic that it's kept me from blogging. Part of the reason for this, in addition to the usual cookie baking, eggnog drinking, and yuletide haggis feast (your family does that too, right?) is that my husband and I host an annual White Elephant Christmas Party for about 30 of our friends. This may be my favorite tradition of the whole season. We started it when we were newly married, just for fun, and I think about eight people came. Now, nine years later, it's the biggest event of my year. I start menu planning around Halloween, and prepping and freezing after Thanksgiving. (Someday I'll write a post about party planning tips/ideas. For now, suffice it to say the top two are Plan Ahead and The Freezer Is Your Friend.) I always provide 8-9 finger food options, as well as a selection of Christmas cookies and one other, more fabulous dessert. Here was this year's menu:

Crock Pot Barbecue Meatballs
Cherry-Apple-Walnut Chicken Salad Croissants
Mac and Cheese Bites
Puff Pastry Ham Braids with Honey Mustard
Crudites with White Bean Dip, Tomato Basil Hummus, and Parmesan Ranch
Tortilla Chips with Avocado-Feta Pico de Gallo
Fig and Goat Cheese Bruschetta

While I was happy with the way everything came out, I may have been proudest of the Fig and Goat Cheese Bruschetta. Bursting with flavor from the combination of sweet fig-orange jam with creamy, tangy goat cheese, they definitely make a big impact for such a small appetizer. And look how pretty they are! If these were a fashion accessory, they'd be diamond earrings--small but sparkly. Plus, they're not too difficult to prep in advance. Make the jam up to three days ahead, then assemble and stick under the broiler for a couple of minutes, and voila! A lovely tiny bite of deliciousness is yours!


As for the rest of the party, my hope is that everyone had a blast. There were certainly some terrible gifts (the more terrible, the better is the idea) and all I can say is I'm glad I didn't end up with the live goldfish.

Everyone with their terrible gifts
And as for you, have a very merry Christmas filled with peace, beauty, and of course lots of wonderful food!

Fig and Goat Cheese Bruschetta
(Adapted from Cooking Light)

Ingredients:

1 1/4 c. chopped dried Mission figs
1/3 c. sugar
1/3 c. coarsely chopped orange sections
1 tsp. grated orange rind
1/3 c. fresh orange juice (about 1 orange)
1/2 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
30 1/2-inch-thick slices French bread baguette
1 1/4 c. crumbled goat cheese
5 tsp. finely chopped walnuts

Directions:

In a small saucepan, combine the first 7 ingredients; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes or until figs are tender. Uncover and cook 5 minutes or until mixture thickens. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

Preheat broiler.

To assemble bruschetta, top each bread slice with 1 1/2 tsp. fig jam and 1 1/2 tsp. goat cheese. Sprinkle evenly with walnuts. Broil on a cookie sheet for 2 minutes or until nuts begin to brown.

Makes 30 pieces.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Easy Samosas


I could start this post with the confession that these samosas have made people cry. But then I should probably explain that the people were my children, who are 2, 4, and 6, and they cry over anything they deem too spicy. Pretty much all Indian food fits the bill. I want to raise them with adventurous palates, so I keep making spicy foods, but they usually get an alternative if they really, really hate whatever it is. So I guess what I'm trying to say is that these easy Indian apps are genuinely spicy, but I happen to think that's a good thing. They're not drain-your-sinuses spicy, or run-to-the-bathroom-to-wash-your-mouth-out spicy (my husband actually did this when we ate Indian in London. One of us was embarrassed...), but they definitely have a kick--hence the side of sweet mango chutney you see in the picture. Oddly enough, I've decided to put them on my upcoming Christmas party menu. Samosas might not seem like a traditional choice for a Christmas buffet, but that's part of their charm for me. I like the idea of the element of surprise in a party menu--good surprise, not dinosaur-popping-out-of-a-cake surprise. Nobody likes that at a Christmas party.


Even if you're not hosting a party this holiday season, samosas make an unexpected contribution to any potluck. Maybe people will think you secretly have an Indian grandma who makes amazing Eastern cuisine from scratch (if you actually do have such a grandma, disregard this sentence...and let me borrow her). In the potluck world of cocktail meatballs, pigs in blankets, and bags of chips alongside onion dip, you can do better. These savory-spicy pockets of veggie goodness are sure to be a stand-out.


Easy Samosas
(From Real Simple)

Ingredients:

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 1/2 tsp. curry powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 10-oz bag frozen peas, thawed
2 c. mashed potatoes (store-bought, homemade, or leftover)
1 15-oz. package refrigerated pie crusts
1 jar mango chutney (optional...but I may I suggest Trader Joe's)

Directions:

Heat oven to 375° F. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Add the curry powder, ¾ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the potatoes and peas.

Unroll the piecrusts and cut each into 6-8 triangles, depending on desired size of samosas. Place a heaping tablespoon of the potato mixture in the center of each piece. Gather the corners of the dough and pinch to form a point. Pinch the seams to seal. Transfer to a baking sheet.

Bake the samosas until golden, 22 to 25 minutes. Serve with the mango chutney, if using.