cooking with kids

Family Romance

by Lisa

“I am more modest now, but I still think that one of the pleasantest of all emotions is to know that I, I with my brain and hands, have nourished my beloved few, that I have concoted a stew or a story, a rarity or a plain dish, to sustain them truly against the hungers of the world. ”   MFK Fisher

Yes, we did have pancakes on Valentine’s Day.  But it was such a lovely meal, and we were all so sated by it, that it’s worth writing about.

Aside from the memorable first Valentine’s dinner my husband & I had in Los Angeles, where Leo DiCaprio unwittingly paid for our dinner, I think we’re both inclined to take it or leave it.  But we wanted to do something for the kids, and so we (ok, I) started the grand tradition of Letting Dad Take Care of This One.  Kory came home with a lovely bunch of flowers and three little packages of cookies and chocolates. (He & I ate the chocolates, later.)

I had set the table the night before, and the children quite magically let us sleep in.


When we woke, the board was written.


I was out of baking powder for the panckaes , but had buttermilk, and so I did a quick subsitute in our staple griddle cake recipe and made buttermilk pancakes instead.  The pancakes were light, fluffy, and sweet, a nice alternative, and they held up to the fresh raspberry coulis/syrup we served on the side.   I whipped some fresh cream, set out the coarse pink sprinkling sugar, and a bowl of  Ella Bella Farm’s raspberries I had frozen in August.

Then, I used the very last of the raspberries to make a raspberry coulis, sweetened slightly with grade B maple syrup. Technically, I suppose, it wasn’t really a coulis, since it wasn’t pureed, but it wasn’t exactly syrup, either. It was tart and sweet and will be just as good on vanilla ice cream as it is on pancakes.


The kids got pink-tinted vanilla milk (whole milk + vanilla + sugar), and we all chose how to top the pancakes.  Ella and Finn chose whipped cream and pink sugar and whole raspberries.  I chose the coulis + whipped cream + sugar.


Kory & I took one bite of the pancakes and decided we needed to have some Valentine’s mimosas, but neither of us wanted to go outside to pick oranges and squeeze juice.  So we poured the prosecco straight and topped it with a few muddled raspberries.    Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I had anything even resembling a mimosa in the morning. I suspect it was before we were married, which would be nearly a decade ago.  But this may well be a tradition to revive.  We all lingered, then the kids played, and Kory and I lingered some more, and then with the house in order, we went the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco to see the Coraline show, which was truly amazing, then out for sushi, and a trip to the Japantown mall, all of which was so fun that I forgot completely that I was supposed to go to the markets to look for the giant fried squid.


Buttermilk Pancakes

2 cups flour

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 egg

2 cups buttermilk

2 tablespoons melted butter

1. Sift together all dry ingredients into a large bowl. This is an essential step. We just use a sieve, and work over the sink for easy clean up.

2. In a glass measuring cup beat the egg.

3. Add milk to the egg.

3. Pour egg and milk mixture slowly over dry ingredients, whisking to incorporate.

4. Add butter.

4. Cook batter on a hot griddle. Don’t turn the griddle cakes too soon! Wait until they are bubbling all over the center and a little dry around the edges.

For the Raspberry Syrup I simmered in a small pot about 1 1/2 cups fresh frozen raspberries, a few tablespoons of maple syrup, and about 1/4 cup of water until the raspberries began to slightly fall apart and the mixture was a nice consistency.

My Kids Love the ’70s, & Yours Might, Too

Or:  Real Kids Do Eat Quiche

Or:  Lisa Owes You a Meatless Post

by Lisa


Yes, we absolutely ate quiche growing up in NJ in the 1970s and early 1980s.  My sister and brother sort of hated it, but I didn’t.  I don’t remember when my mother started making it, likely around the same time Pierre Franey and Craig Claiborne began to revolutize what was put on tables all across America, but it was in regular if not frequent rotation on our dinner table, and now I know why: it’s one of the fastest, easiest things you can make on any night, you can add whatever extras inspire you, and it pairs beautifully with whatever you have to serve on the side.

Another anecdote in my quiche-related food history:  I also worked at a restaurant for ladies-who-lunched which featured a quiche of the day which was extremely popular, and the whole scene was extraordinarily uptight and downright dismal.  Then that era ended, and I quite happily never ate another quiche until about five years ago, when I was served the best quich of my life at a child’s birthday party. Of course, the husband was French, and he had made the quiche in the classic mode, with cream and without any extra filling. It was perfectly rich, creamy, luxurious, and downright delicious.

But I didn’t think about it after that for many years, until sometime after Finn turned 3, and was addicted to cheese, and I had nothing in my pantry to eat and those magic staples:  milk, eggs, cheese, pie crust, came together and traveled some long forgotten synapse and Voila! I had dinner:  quiche.

I called it cheese pie, of course, to trick my son, and made it as my mother had, with a pile of swiss cheese grated into the pie plate and a scattering of pancetta (ok, my mom used ham). Neither Ella nor Finn like anything but the crust, but I was determined to make this work. Since it tasted nothing like the one I remembered from the party, some time later, I pulled down my copy of Julia Child’s Kitchen Wisdom, which is kind of like crib notes for Julia, found the classic recipe for quiche, and tried again.

The quiche was a huge hit, I tell you.  Huge.  Now, it’s become one of Ella & Finn’s favorite things to eat. The cheer–quite literally–when I tell them it’s on the dinner menu.  I have to hide if I cook it early, which is why I have only a photo of the ingredients to show you.  And I have to restrict their servings, or else they’d eat the whole damn thing.

Best of all, it takes about 5 minutes to whip up, and for a family of 4, it’s good for 2 meals, and it keeps extremely well at room temperature, which means it’s the perfect thing to make on the nights that I teach and have to leave the house by late afternoon.

The recipe is a general guide for proportions. You can add whatever cheese(s), diced or chopped vegetables, or meat that you like.  Be inspired. Bon appetit & happy time travel.

Classic Quiche: The Basic Recipe

1 large egg for every 1/2 cup milk or cream. It really is much better with all or part cream, but it’s just fine with whatever milk you have on hand.

A grating of nutmeg

A pinch or so of salt

Mix above ingredients together and pour into:

1 Pie crust.  Of course it’s best to make your own, but I always keep TJ frozen crusts in my freezer because these days I don’t always have time. Though I could have whipped up a pie crust or 2 or 4 in the time it took to write this. But that is another story altogether.

If you’re going to add grated cheese or any vegetables, sprinkle these into the pie crust before adding the cream and egg mixture.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes, until puffed and golden brown. You can even use your convection oven.

Ritual Cooking: Granola

by Caroline

As a child, one of my favorite books was Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy, which details in mouth-watering specificity the meals cooked in Laura’s husband’s family when he was growing up. I remember beautiful descriptions of the breakfasts, particularly: pancakes stacked high with dollops of fresh butter and maple sugar; two kinds of fruit pie; a pinkly glazed ham …

I liked the abundance, sure, but I also liked the ritual and regularity of it all. Saturday mornings: the feast. Saturday nights: bath. Sunday mornings: church.

My childhood moved with some ritual and regularity, too, marked largely by the specific rhythms of church and garden, which I associated with my dad. My mom gave us our household routine; for instance, I remember a period of Saturday mornings when she would wash her long hair, and since she liked to let it air dry, we wouldn’t leave the house till afternoon. So she’d stir together bread dough; I’d help knead, and by the time the bread was ready to come out of the oven, her hair was dry and we could go out someplace.

My current life doesn’t feel like this at all. The routine feels very ad hoc, always shifting in response to the boys’ school and practice schedules. Laundry day comes whenever dirty clothes overflow the hampers, bread gets baked rarely, marketing happens at different grocery stores or farmer’s markets (we’re lucky to have so many to choose from) when we can squeeze it in between other errands.

The one fixed weekly cooking event, often but not always on Monday night, is baking granola. I eat this every morning, and usually Eli joins me for some “mama breakfast” too. The recipe is adapted from Nigella Lawson’s wonderful Feast (an aside: if you don’t have this cookbook, run out for it now. It doesn’t just offer great recipes, it’s beautifully written; the section on funeral feasts brings me to tears. The Chocolate Cake Hall of Fame is worth the price of the book alone [just please ignore her insistence that plastic wrap lining a cake pan won’t melt in the oven. It will. Skip that step.])

So here’s the granola recipe. It’s a fine thing to make with kids, as the measuring doesn’t need to be exact, and they love to scoop up the ingredients, dump them into a big bowl, and stir it all up with their hands.

6 cup rolled oats and/or raw multigrain cereal flakes (Trader Joe’s carries a nice barley-oat-rye-wheat flake mix that I use)
2 cup raw slivered almonds
1 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1 cup raw sesame seeds
1 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/2 cup ground flax meal
1/2 cup wheat germ
2 tsp cinnamon

2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 scant cup honey, rice syrup, maple syrup, or some combination thereof (I use half brown rice syrup and half honey)

1-2 cups dried cranberries or raisins (optional); add these after the granola has baked, otherwise they get too hard

Preheat oven to 320. Stir together all the dry ingredients in a large bowl until well combined (this part can be done with little kid hands).


Add the oil and honey or syrup, and combine well. Pour into two large, lightly oiled baking pans (I use two metal roasting pans) and bake for about 45 minutes, stirring two or three times along the way.

Remove from the oven then cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

Dinners Everybody Likes: Sushi

by Caroline

Sushi for Change

Sushi for Change

In the spirit of the day, we took a vote on our celebratory Inauguration Day dinner, and sushi won. It’s one of those modular meals that everybody likes because each can tailor it to his or her own taste. Of course in this house, it’s all vegetarian sushi;  all I can tell you about the fish is go to the best fish market you can, ask them what’s freshest, and have them cut it for you. The main thing is to make the rice (recipe below) and then slice up and lay out whatever filings you like. It’s not fancy here — cooking with kids is always a bit of an art project — but it’s always tasty.

Here’s what we use:
sheets of roasted seaweed (“sushi-nori”)

1 sweet potato, cut into sticks and roasted with a bit of sesame oil and soy sauce

spinach, cooked, excess water squeezed out, and tossed with a splash of rice vinegar and sprinkled with sesame seeds

1 avocado, sliced

3-4 carrots, cut into matchsticks; raw, steamed, or roasted with the sweet potatoes

1 pound of tofu, sliced and fried

2 eggs, beaten with a little bit of rice wine, cooked into an omelette, and then sliced

cucumber, shitake mushrooms, and any kind of pickled vegetables are also nice if you happen to have them.

To make the rice, first cook 2 cups short grain rice in 3 cups of water. While it’s cooking, combine in a small bowl 6 T rice vinegar, 2 1/2 T sugar, and a pinch of salt. Let the rice cool a bit after it’s cooked, just by spreading it out in a large bowl, then stir in the vinegar mixture. Keep the rice covered with a damp cloth to keep it from drying out while you’re making the sushi (we never have this problem).

It’s helpful (but not essential) to have a bamboo rolling mat; a small kitchen towel will do in a pinch. Lay your sheet of seaweed on the rolling mat or towel. Spread the rice on a sheet of seaweed, leaving a slight border at top and bottom but getting it all the way out to each side. Lay your fillings on top of the rice in a small pile. Roll the seaweed up over the filling, and then continue rolling into a tight cylinder. Slice and eat!

I didn’t take very careful pictures of our process, but here’s how it looks:

Sushi ingredients, plus a banana (I don't recommend banana sushi)

Sushi ingredients, plus a banana (I don't recommend banana sushi)

Eli demonstrates how not to arrange the fillings

Eli demonstrates how not to arrange the fillings

Eli likes to make train tracks with his tofu slices; we admire and then rearrange.

Eli likes to make train tracks with his tofu slices; we admire, and then rearrange.

Eli likes a super-protein roll of egg & tofu

Eli likes a super-protein roll of egg & tofu

Ben's tidy avocado roll in progress

Ben's tidy avocado roll in progress

A finished roll

A finished roll

A Christmas Treat: Sugar on Snow

by Caroline

Usually by Christmas Eve, I’ve baked at least half a dozen batches of cookies, but this year for a change, the kids and I made candy for their teachers: salted chocolate pecan toffee, spiced chocolate bark with dried cherries and pumpkin seeds, and, now that we’re in snowy Connecticut, a kind of maple candy called jack wax.

It’s always a bit of a nostalgia trip for me to come to Connecticut, where I relive with my boys some of the farm and garden life  I experienced as a kid with my grandparents. In the summer, we gorge on fresh berries and vegetables from the garden. In the winter, we plan our meals around what my Dad’s put up in the freezer. The boys start every day with a bowl of thawed frozen berries, and we continue from there, pulling from pantry and freezer, making soups with the squash, chili with the dried beans, gratins with the potatoes, pastas with the frozen chard, broccoli, beans and peas.

This winter, we’ve arrived to find over a foot of fresh snow on the ground and plenty of last year’s syrup in the pantry, and so I finally got to teach the boys how to make a snack I first read about in Little House in the Big Woods. As a Christmas treat, Ma Ingalls boiled up molasses and sugar (it was too early in the year for fresh maple syrup) and Pa brought in two skillets full of fresh snow; Mary and Laura drizzled the thick syrup over the snow to make candy. My siblings, cousins and I did this with our grandparents when we were kids, but it’s likely been thirty years since I’ve eaten fresh maple candy.  All you need is a cup of syrup and some fresh snow.

Boil the syrup until it comes to about 240 degrees on a candy thermometer, or let a drop fall from your spoon into a cup of cold water to test; it should form a soft ball. Drizzle over a pan of fresh snow. Eat.

It looks like this: