cooking with kids

Ella’s Table

by Lisa

We have good nights and bad nights as far as the manners go, as everyone does. Some nights are really peaceful. Other nights it looks like we’re feeding the dog we don’t (yet) have off our floor.   Some nights we have a really fun conversation. Other nights, well, let’s just say other nights we seem to be living in the land of the loud people.

Kory and I try hard not to expect perfection, but aim for gradual improvement.  For us teaching kids to eat involves an ongoing, sustained effort at involving them in the culture as well as the food at the table.

Some of our rules include:

  • no toys at the table
  • no singing at the table (though I know very happy, well-fed families who do sing at the table)
  • no falling off your chair

There are probably others, but they don’t include things like “If you don’t eat yer meat, you can’t have any pudding/How can you have er pudding  if you don’t eat your meat?”

And I am not above bribing my kids to get them more involved.  Ella gets allowance her automatically ($1/week), but if I need help with a task, I often promise to pay her. I do this with setting the table.  Or sometimes I just ask her & Finn to set the table without proper remuneration.  In any case, a small amount of money can be a great motivator, and Ella and Finn like to eat enough and, like all little kids, they appreciate beautiful things enough, that it can actually be fun to give them ownership of the table once in a while.

A recent night resulted in this:


I let her choose plates, table cloth, candlestick, napkins, etc.  There is always some coaching about what utensil goes on what side (but seriously, I have to coach my husband about this fact eight times out of ten, you know how those artists are…), but she & Finn take this as a fun challenge/puzzle.

She took a lot of pride in her work: note the little flower hooked onto the edge of the glass:


On the menu was turkey sausage cooked in red peppers and carmelized onions:


Mini penne with butter and cheese and Erbette chard sauteed with cherry tomatoes:


It was an easy, pretty Saturday night dinner, but fast enough also to cook on a weeknight.   And it’s even faster and easier if you don’t have to set the table yourself.

Pumpkin Apple Bread, because there’s still a whole lot of pumpkin puree to use

by Caroline


The cooking division of labor in our household goes like this: my husband Tony handles the stove, and I manage the oven. In practice, this means that he generally makes dinner and I make The Accessory Foods: roasted vegetables, cakes, cookies, muffins, pies, bread, and other delicious — but not necessarily very sustaining– items. Tonight, Tony was out for dinner, and I didn’t have it in me to make my standard mom and the boys alone dinner, but luckily our local bakery, Arizmendi (which makes a different kind of pizza every day) was making roasted potato and pesto pizza, a big hit with the kids. With that and some carrot sticks and green beans, dinner was taken care of, and I turned my attention to our pumpkin puree. Remember the pumpkins that were sitting on our front stoop all October? I only roasted the big reddish one, and we’re still (two batches of muffins and one quart of puree in the freezer later) working our way through it. So I made pumpkin apple bread to give to Ben’s teachers. It has filled the house with such a fabulously cinnamon-y smell that I might have to bake a couple more for ourselves.

recipe adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook

For the topping
1 T flour
5 T sugar
1 t cinnamon
1 T unsalted butter, softened

note: I am, my sister might point out, one of the only people in America that doesn’t like streusel topping, but even I say don’t skip this one! it melts into a buttery, crackly cinnamon crust on the top of the bread.

For the bread
3 c flour
3/4 t salt
2 t baking soda
1 1/2 t ground cinnamon
1 t ground nutmeg
1/4 t ground cloves
1/4 t ground allspice
15 oz pumpkin puree (that’s one can of solid-pack pumpkin; I measured out a scant 2 cups in a liquid measure, which seems to have worked out fine)
3/4 c vegetable oil
2 1/4 c sugar
4 eggs
2-3 tart apples or firm-ripe pears, peeled, cored, and chopped (about 2 c)

Blend together all the topping ingredients in a small bowl until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350, and butter two 9×5″ loaf pans (or line with parchment).

Sift together the flour, salt, baking soda and spices in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, oil, sugar and eggs. Add the flour mixture, stirring until well combined, then fold in the apples.

Divide batter between the two loaf pans. Sprinkle each loaf with half the topping. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.

Cool loaves on a rack for a few minutes, then remove from the pans to cool completely.

Betsabe’s Carne Asada

by Lisa

Not long ago, Finn and I were walking through Trader Joe’s, when he made his usual pit stop at the samples counter. The offering was pork carne asada, on top of a bed of tortilla chips, sprinkled with cheese.  The pork had been microwaved and wasn’t very good, but I could sense that it had a decent flavor underneath the icky microwave texture. Finn, on the other hand, decided it was his favorite new food, which made me sort of thrilled, since I love carne asada.

But I wouldn’t buy the freezer bag of precooked, pre-packaged meat, and I didn’t have a good carne asada recipe, that is until we got home a few minutes later and I asked Betsabe, who was working for me that day, if she had a good recipe.  She looked at me as if I was crazy for not having one, then raved about a family recipe which involves garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, a tomato mixed in a blender and used as a marinade for the meat, for up to a day.  Then, she said you sprinkle some carne asada powder on the meat, grill or fry and eat with tortillas or rice, etc. She swore that everyone in her family loved it, from her parents to her husband to her baby son.  When I asked her what was in the carne asada powder she shrugged and said she had no idea and we laughed. She assured me you could make it with just the marinade which is what I did because I didn’t get myself to any one of the many Mexican markets in my town before making this.

The BEST thing about this, aside from the fact that it’s delicious, is that it’s very, very fast. I chopped and prepped the condiments, set the table, and made the marinade in about 20 minutes at lunchtime. I had my pan out and ready to go on the stove, so when we rolled inthe door from ballet class at about 6:25, I sent the kids to put on their cozy pajamas and by the time the sat down to eat their first course cucumber salads the meat was near done. By 6:40 they had warm, carne asada filled tortillas on their plates.

I got my meat, which was a prepackaged 1 lb bag of  Fajita meat from Holding Ranch at my farmer’s market. It’s precut into perfect little pieces, and my kids adore it. If you cook this meat really, really fast, it’s delicious and tender, but it’s also easy to overcook.  I made this dinner very last minute, so I pulled some inauthentic condiments from what I had on hand, and I would have preferred to have some salsa and avocado or guacamole, but really, we didn’t miss it. Kory & I added black beans and rice, and we easily would have had leftovers from the 1 lb of meat, only Kory & I decided to eat them that night.


red cabbage, romaine lettuce, grape tomatoes, chopped cucumbers, cucumber salad, baby leeks/green onions

I let Ella and Finn choose their own toppings, which is a fun way for them to eat. I think it encourages choice and independence and the illusion that they are controlling what their meal.  The trick is to put out a variety of healthy things, most of which they like, along with a few new things. I do this a lot.   I learned in Texas to eat carnitas or fajitas with less meat to tortilla ratio, so 1 lb of meat easily provides enough for our family of four.   Unless we get greedy.  Ella’s first looked like this:


And here, the girl shows you how to roll a tortilla.  In case you were wondering.

Tortilla rolling

Carne Asada

adapted from Betsabe

Marinade for every 1 lb fajita beef:

  • 4-6 large cloves garlic
  • juice of 1 large lemon
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small-medium, fresh tomato
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Optional: carne asada powder

+ white onion for final grilling

Puree all ingredients in a blender then pour over meat and let marinate for several hours or up to 1 day.

Thinly slice a white. Sautee onion in a little olive oil until tender, then drain the marinade from the meat and stir fry quickly with a sprinkling of carne asada powder until cooked. Serve with warm tortillas, and/or rice and black beans and salsa, avocado, etc.

Pumpkin Time

by Caroline

the pumpkin wagon

the pumpkin wagon

It happens every year, the clamor for pumpkin treats: pie, cupcakes, pancakes, muffins. Eli, particularly, adores all things pumpkin and thinks it’s quite reasonable to expect a pumpkin pie for dessert an hour after we return from the pumpkin patch. Well, maybe so, but not with the new pumpkins, certainly. In fact, you all probably know this already but it bears repeating: you don’t want a Jack-o-lantern pumpkin for pie and really, you don’t even need pumpkin (shh!). Roast an acorn squash with a cinnamon stick and some cloves, even a knob of fresh ginger, stuck in the cavity, take out the flavorings when the squash is tender, scoop it out of the skin, puree, and then proceed with your recipe as if it were pumpkin. Really, nobody will ever know the difference.

But still, we go to the pumpkin patch every year, because what’s October without pumpkins? And when we are home from the pumpkin patch, one of our favorite quick pumpkin recipes is for muffins.

pumpkin muffins

Preheat the oven to 350.
Combine in a medium sized mixing bowl:

1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
3 T ground flax seed meal (you can skip the flax and replace it with an extra tablespoon of butter if you like)
1 1/2 t ground cinnamon
1 t baking soda
1 t salt
1 t ground ginger
1/2 t ground nutmeg
1/4 t ground cloves
1/4 t baking powder

Combine in a small bowl or measuring cup:
1/3 c water, milk or apple juice
1/2 t vanilla

In a large bowl, beat until creamy
5T unsalted butter

1 c brown sugar
1/3 c granulated sugar

and beat until combined.

Then add
2 large eggs
1 c pumpkin puree

And mix well. Now add the flour mixture to the pumpkin mixture in three parts, alternating with the milk mixture. Stir just until combined. Then add, if you like, chopped walnuts, raisins, or chocolate chips (about 1/2 c each).

Bake in a muffin tin for 30 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.

Morale-Boosting Banana Coconut Muffins

by Caroline

There comes a time in every child’s illness when the child is still too sick to attend school (he’s got to be fever-free for 24 hours) but is too well to lie docilely on the couch watching videos while his mother catches up on her New Yorkers. And that is the time, in this house, when we make muffins. I know this might appall some of the more germ-conscious of you, but I am just not really an art project kind of mom. Plus, we are not making muffins to distribute to our friends; these muffins stay home, in the family, where we’ve all been exposed to the same germs already for quite some time. And of course we wash our hands before we start to cook, which we do whether we’re sick or not.

So here we were, after another feverish night but with the Tylenol finally taking effect. Eli was hungry for a snack, tired of his usual dry crunchy things, but not yet up for a real meal. He noticed some browning bananas in the fruit bowl. For the most part, I try to stick to local fruits, but in the winter, when I do even more baking than usual and the variety of fruits available is slightly more limited, I make an exception for bananas. And of all the various banana breads and banana muffins that I make, this might just be the simplest. I’m linking to the original version on Epicurious (pause here a moment to mourn Gourmet, but to be grateful that Conde Nast is keeping the website alive), but of course I always tinker a little bit, so here’s how Eli and I made the muffins today.

a potato masher makes quick work of soft bananas

a potato masher makes quick work of soft bananas

slicing the butter for melting is a good time to practice knife skills

slicing the butter for melting is a good time to practice knife skills

1 1/4 c all-purpose flour
½ c ground flaxseed meal
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
2 very ripe bananas, mashed (3/4 cup)
5 T unsalted butter, melted
½ cup brown sugar
1 large egg
a splash of vanilla
3/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 375°F. Line muffin cups with liners.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and flax in a bowl. Whisk together bananas, butter, sugar, egg, vanilla, and 1/2 cup coconut in a large bowl until combined well, then fold in flour mixture until flour is just moistened.

Divide batter among lined muffin cups and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup coconut. Bake until muffins are puffed and golden, and a tester comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes; keep an eye on them toward the end, as the flax makes them brown more quickly than usual, and you don’t want the flaked coconut to burn. Transfer muffins to a rack and cool slightly.