cooking with kids

Wonderballs (because it’s a bit too early for holiday baking)

by Caroline

It’s an in-between time right now. We have some Christmas decorations up (paper-glitter snowflakes, a wreath on the door) but not all (no tree, no stockings). The boys are opening up windows on the Advent calendar and counting down the days till Christmas, while I am counting down the (fewer) days till I can start some Christmas baking. I have past lists of cookies and treats to guide me, and some new recipes to try, and I will report back after the new year.

In the meantime, it’s time to stir up another batch of Wonderballs, originally published as Powerballs in Wondertime magazine. These are easy (the kids can make them!), keep in the freezer, and are a pretty healthy little burst of energy snack:

Makes 40-48

Mix together 1 cup peanut butter and 1 cup honey until smooth. Gradually add in 3 cups old fashioned oats and 1/2 cup ground flaxseed. Add 1 cup chocolate chips (I rarely reduce the chocolate in a recipe, but I do cut this by half, just to make it easier to form the balls; also, if you have mini chocolate chips, use those) and 1 cup any combination of chopped nuts and soft dried fruit (try 1/2 cup coarsely chopped peanuts and 1/4 cup each of raisins and dried cranberries) and mix gently in your stand mixer or smush together by hand.

Roll into Ping-Pong-size balls and, for maximum presentation value, put in paper mini muffin cups. You can eat them right away, but they’ll be less sticky after a night in the fridge. They freeze well too, layered on wax paper in an airtight container.

Pasta Puttanesca, 2 Ways

by Caroline

Thanksgiving prep is starting early this year as preliminary reports from my brother-in-law indicate that the rental house has an Inadequate Kitchen. So Tony and I have each made one kind of cranberry sauce, my mom’s brown and serve wheat germ rolls are rising, and the wild rice is cooking for the vegetarian entree. Meanwhile, Tony is prepping Wednesday night’s dinner: our standard pre-Thanksgiving dinner, his dad’s pasta puttanesca. While he’s chopping, Eli and I have been enjoying a little tea party of play tea and imaginary puttanesca. Here’s Eli’s recipe:

First you need some olive oil. And then some olives and capers and celery and garlic. Then some more olive oil. Then a little bit of honey. And now some mushed-up bananas!

He started off fine, of course, then took some weird turn into puttanesca smoothie, which doesn’t really sound good to me at all. Here’s how Tony makes it, as his dad made it years ago:

Pasta Puttanesca

This recipe is for a pound of pasta, which would serve 4 adults.  I’ve never actually measured this stuff, it’s all eyeballed, so these quantities are my best guess.

The celery might suprise you. The taste is really quite nice — it’s important to dice it finely so there aren’t big celery “crescents.” But the subtle crunch is really what you’re after.

Note the rather small quantity of tomato sauce. This is decidedly not  a chunky, olive-y marinara sauce. It’s very light on the tomato sauce… the small quantity of tomato sauce and some olive oil makes the sauce just barely fluid and helps it coat the pasta well.

1 lb. pasta (works with either long noodles or shapes, e.g. penne)
40-50 pitted kalamata olives
4 tbsp capers
10 cloves of garlic (adjust to taste)
8 stalks of celery (especially the tender inner stalks)
1 cup tomato sauce
olive oil
fresh ground pepper
grating cheese

Either mince the garlic or slice it really thinly and saute in a frying pan with a generous lug of olive oil. When lightly brown, transfer into a bowl. Use a rubber scraper to get all the flavored oil as well.

Chop the olives coarsely and add to bowl. Rinse the capers in a strainer and then chop just once or twice and add to bowl.

Trim away any of the tough celery stalk bottoms. Cut the celery lengthwise into strips (about 1/8″) and then dice. Add to bowl.

Add tomato sauce to bowl. Add another couple tablespoons of olive oil. This is important to make the sauce nice and thick so it coats the pasta well.

Add as much ground pepper to taste — I’m a pepper freak, so I’d do about 30 grinds for a full pound of pasta.

Mix well and let stand. You can do this as far in advance as you like… the flavors will only improve. I wouldn’t do it more than a day in advance for fear that the celery would go soft. Although if you made this and froze it immediately, I imagine it would be great. I keep meaning to make a giant batch and try that some day.

Cook your pasta. Before draining the pasta, pull out a cup of the pasta water.

Drain the pasta really well. We can add water later, but we want to control the moisture ourselves.

Add the sauce and 1/4 cup of water to the empty pot or a large bowl. Add the drained pasta. Mix well coating all the pasta. Add more water 1/4 cup at a time if needed. The pasta should be nice and moist, but we don’t want a big puddle of liquid at the bottom of the pot.

Serve with lots of nice grated cheese at the table.


ButterScience, with recipe

by Lisa

Like many of my spontaneous ideas, this one began with a question.

After Finn’s long fever, he broke his fast with a brunch of green eggs and toast.  For some reason, I was inpsired to butter his bread. Taking a bite, he said, “I got big bite of butter on toast.”

“Yes,” I said, “I put butter on your toast today. It’s good isn’t it?”

Finn nodded, then said, “I love butter.”

“Me, too,” I said.

Then Finn looked at me and asked, “Where butter come from?”

“From cows,” I said, and his jaw dropped and eyes grew wide. “I not know that!” he said.

“You take the cream from the cow, and you shake and churn and shake and churn it, and then it turns into butter,” I said. Which he thought was pretty funny.

At this point, something possessed me from which my arteries may never recover.  “You want to make some butter?”

“Right now?” he asked.
“Right now,” I answered.


And so I got a jam jar and 5 marbles. I filled the jam jar halfway up with organic whipping cream, dropped in the marbles, sealed it up, and we shook, and shook, and shook.

First, the cream turns to whipped cream. Then it expands and nearly fills the jar.  Then it begins to get a little lumpy and curdle-y looking.

Then, in the final shakes, the cream seizes, and a lump of soft yellow butter separates from the butter milk. It’s extremely cool.

Drain off the milky-water liquid, fish out the marbles, and you have your butter.

Later, I read that you’re supposed to wash the butter, and work it, but it was so good we just squeezed out as much water as we could, dumped it in ramekins and ate it. It didn’t last long.

Of course, when Ella got home, she wanted to make some too, so we made another small batch.

I know this story does nothing to dispel the (sub)urban homestead aura that’s hovering around my posts these days.  But truly, the only down side to this project is that the butter is so good you actually want to eat quite a lot of it.

And of course, nothing is as good as fresh bread and fresh butter, so we got out the breadmaker on Saturday and Ella made a loaf.  Which is also gone.

So, in the spirit of giving thanks for cows and somewhat-mad kitchen science, let fresh butter grace all your holiday tables.  Or let it make an easy but special hostess gift.  We’re sure to bring some to Ella’s cousins on Thursday.

Happy churning.

Dessert, (urban) homestead style

by Lisa

Unlike Caroline, I don’t bake a lot. We were joking the other day about our families and how although we have many things in common, there are some major differences. The fact that we eat meat for one. The fact–as she joked–that I’m going “going urban homestead.”  I demurred, but she’s not entirely wrong.

This fall, as we do every year, we roasted and froze 40lbs of tomatoes, made and froze about 20 family-sized servings of pesto, froze 3 flats of raspberries, and picked over 300 apples. My freezer is a sophisticated and delicately balanced puzzle of epic organization.

I do this because it saves me time and money, it adds some variety to our winter diet, but I do this mostly because all this produce tastes better than the canned kind. Bring home mountains of fresh, organic produce, freeze it immediately, and you have a farmers market in your freezer all winter long.  Yes, it takes time in those weeks that you’re canning and freezing, but then when school starts and you need a quick dinner, just reach in your freezer and there it is: emergency pesto, tomatoes that cook to the richest, sweetest sauce you’ll ever make, a surprise dessert.

But now, with the weather not turning, the apples are not lasting as well as they should.  So this weekend, it was time to invest in an automatic apple peeler and make apple sauce.  The gadget worked like a dream, and while I roasted beets and peppers (because, okay, the hoarding & stockpiling instinct is still strong within me), Kory, Ella, and Finn went to town. In about ten seconds flat, a four year old can peel an apple.

And so can his sister:

Or they can peel, core, and slice into cute spirals in the same lightning speed:

They ate a lot of apples, and Ella chomped down the skin like it was a long string of candy.

I made the apple sauce by instinct after reading a few recipes online.  Honestly, I made it for the kids. I don’t think I’ve eaten applesauce for 30 years. But after tasting our homemade version, I’m guessing that Ella and Finn will be lucky to have two more bowls.

We ate it warm that night for dessert. With a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  It tasted like fresh picked, intensely sweet apples. Dessert gets fancier, and more chocolate-y, but I’m not at all sure it gets any better.

Homemade Apple Sauce

20-30 small apples

1/4 cup organic white sugar

1/4 cup organic brown sugar

2-3 strips lemon zest (from an organic lemon)

juice from 1/2 lemon

1 cup water

1 cinnamon stick

1. Peel, core, and chop or slice the apples. (Alternately, try leaving the skin on for flavor).  Put them in a large pot with the other ingredients. Bring to a boil then lower heat and simmer until apples are nearly dissolved.

2. REMOVE lemon zest and cinnamon stick.

3. Mash with a potato masher for a thicker, chunkier sauce. Or pass the mixture through a food mill.

Note: If you use fewer apples, just reduce the amount of sugar and zest accordingly, as long as you keep the brown & white sugars of equal proportion.  But you can also freeze this in individual or family-sized servings, just in case you’re compelled to start your own stockpile.

Peppers, The Prequel

By Lisa

The padrone-eating incident (now updated with pictures) was not without precedent.

One of our family staples, especially when it’s high pepper season, is dish of roasted red peppers bathed in olive oil, with capers, garlic, and anchovies.

Before you stop reading at “anchovy,” please consider this: a mysterious alchemy occurs when the peppers meet anchovies and garlic in a bath of olive oil.   The peppers mellow and deepen in flavor, the anchovies sweeten and lose some of their bite.  You can choose not to eat the anchovies.  Or if you are still squeamish, you can, if you must, leave them out altogether, though you will be missing something.

I have served this dish many, many times at parties, to unsuspecting friends, and it disappears quickly. I have served it to children, at dinner parties–not just my own–who have devoured it.  I have served it to my father-in-law, who hates anchovies, but still loves the peppers.

Truly, this is a dish that is more than the sum of its parts.

Every Sunday, all summer long, I made a large dish of these peppers and stashed it away in the refrigerator to marinate. I am not exaggerating when I write that this dish came out nearly every night, as appetizer or side dish. Ella tucked into it with abandon, piling her bread high with peppers, sprinkling a caper or two, then soaking the whole thing in a spoon or two of the marinating oil.  By the end of the summer, even Finn, who is a more cautious eater, was fighting her for a pass at the olive oil, which is liquid gold in its own right.  At parties and barbecues, Ella’s self-appointed job was to make the plate of the pepper-crostini. They’re bright and pretty on the plate, and they go just as well with beer as with prosecco.  We never got tired of them.

In the winter time, or for big parties, I make the same dish from jarred roasted peppers. In summer, when peppers are in season, I bring home my weekly stash of red, yellow, chocolate peppers, and roast them on the grill. If I’m really pressed for time, I can throw the peppers in the convection oven, but they aren’t quite as good this way.  It will keep easily for a week, covered in the refrigerator.

The recipe comes from the pages of Marcella Hazan’s Classic Italian Cooking,  one of my go-to books when I have a fresh, local, seasonal ingredient and want inspiration.

Below is the basic recipe, with my notes & variations. Once the peppers are roasted, there’s nothing simpler. Consider it insurance for those pre-dinner hunger attacks.

Roasted Peppers with Garlic, Capers, and Anchovies


  • Roasted peppers
  • Whole smashed garlic cloves
  • Capers
  • Anchovies
  • Oregano
  • Olive oil
  1. Slice peppers. Smash garlic cloves with the flat edge of the knife, peel and discard skin.
  2. Layer peppers in a shallow, flat bottomed dish. On top, place a smashed garlic clove, 2-3 anchovies (or more or less to taste), a sprinkling of capers, a sprig or dash of dried oregano.  If you roast the peppers yourself, you might sprinkle a very little coarse salt on them. Do not do this if the peppers are jarred.
  3. Repeat the layering process until your peppers are gone.
  4. Bathe the entire dish in olive oil.
  5. Refrigerate overnight.
  6. Serve with sliced Italian bread

Ingredient notes:

Peppers:  Red are traditional and the sweetest, but try different varieties as accent colors and flavors if you’re so inclined.

Anchovies: Only buy anchovies packaged in glass (not tins). My experience has been that the more you pay, the better product you get. There is a vast difference in quality between cheaper and more expensive brands.

Oregano: Dried is just fine. Fresh sprigs are fine.  My favorite is to dry sprigs from my bush, and use these. They’re pretty and flavor is best.  If you use dried sprigs, you’ll likley need only 3 or so for a large dish.

Capers: If you use salt-packed, rinse them well.

Olive oil: Just a good, decent extra-virgin is fine. Nothing fancy. You need a lot of it, so I just pour from whatever big tin I’ve got on hand that week: Sagra, Whole Foods, etc.

In the case of this recipe, for me, omissions are very often accidents. I’ve forgotten to add: capers, oregano, salt. I’ve run out of anchovies before I started, then it was too late to get to the store. You can assemble it meticulously, so it looks like a beautiful strata of color, or you can throw it together in a haphazard flash.  The dish may be best with all of the ingredients, but it’s still delicious in whatever configuration you and your family prefer.  Just don’t leave out the garlic.