Friday, August 22, 2008

Blueberry Pancakes

My 2-year-old son comes downstairs every morning lately and says "cook mama, cook cakes." He wants pancakes ALL the time. So this morning when I was making up the batter I mixed up extra quantities of the dry ingredients and stored them in an airtight container so that on future mornings I will already have my pancake mix ready and will just need to add the wet ingredients. Here's how to mix up your own pancake mix:

Put in a large, airtight container:
8 cups flour
1 cup sugar
3 tbsp baking powder
4 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda

Shake it up real good. With the lid on.

When it comes time to make your pancakes. Mix 2 cups mix, 1/2 stick melted butter, 2 eggs, and enough milk to get the consistency of heavy cream in a large bowl. This will make 10 pancakes.

Pour 1/4 cup batter onto griddle for each pancake. Drop 6 blueberries onto each cake on the griddle. Cook until bubbles begin to surface then flip and cook another minute or so.

Perfect blueberry pancakes!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Our First Tomato!

The tomato plant has produced its first fruit! We have a tiny, green tomato growing on one of our plants only 12 days after I first planted them. Actually it is the plant that my son snapped. I was nervous about the wiggly part of the stem. I tried propping it up with a dowel but that didn't seem to be working, so today I dug that plant up and buried it on its side up to the break. My mother-in-law told me that you could do this with tomato plants, I had no idea! Apparently many people plant them on their sides and the shoots will grow up off the stalk like that. Amazing!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Little Ranch Chicken Dippers with Roasted New Potato "Fries" and Broccoli

This dinner is a big hit with my kids, and I enjoy eating it as well! Feeding this to my kids makes me happy because it is very healthy. This meal is packed with B vitamins, protein, vitamin C, vitamin A, fiber, and even Potassium! BUT-your kids will think they are eating really delicious chicken nuggets and french fries! Why feed them frozen nuggets and fries when you can whip up this delicious, healthy, kid-friendly meal in half an hour?

Little Ranch Chicken Dippers:
1 lb. chicken breasts (approx. 3)
1/2 cup Ranch dressing
1/2 cup plain bread crumbs

Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees F.

Chop chicken into nugget-sized chunks. Place ranch dressing in one bowl and bread crumbs in another. Coat chicken with ranch and then with breadcrumbs. Place coated chicken on a baking sheet.

Roasted New Potato "Fries":

8-12 red new potatoes
2 tbsp olive oil
sea salt and freshly grated black pepper

Clean/rinse potatoes (keep the skins on!). Slice potatoes into sticks-or just quarter them. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet. Toss to coat with olive oil. Season with sea salt and freshly grated black pepper. These are amazing with rosemary sprinkled on top as well!

Pop the potatoes and the chicken in the oven for 20 minutes.

1 head fresh broccoli
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 cloved garlic, chopped
sea salt and freshly grated black pepper to taste
A squeeze of lemon juice

For the broccoli, cut a fresh head of broccoli into florets. Boil for 3 minutes until just fork tender. Drain. Heat 2 tbsp. olive oil in a saucepan. Add 2 cloved roughly chopped garlic and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the broccoli and toss to coat. Saute for approximately 2 minutes. Season with sea salt and freshly grated black pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Clean plate, messy hands!

Dress it up-For a grown-up version of the the little ranch chicken dippers you can prepare an entire breast this way, slice it up and lay it on top of a salad or wrap it up in a tortilla with lettuce, shredded cheddar, and a dolop of ranch dressing. A quick and simple lunch!

Baby Tip!-If you have a little one who is eating pureed foods you can bake a couple chunks of chicken plain and puree them in a food processor with a few broccoli florets, a couple potatoes, and a little chicken stock.

Buttermilk "Fah-fahs" and Strawberry Syrup

My son calls waffles "fah-fahs", so we've sort of adopted that name. He calls pancakes "hot cake", which is pretty much right on the money!

I keep tweaking this recipe, trying to make it easier to remember.

I always get the syrup going before I start on the waffles because it takes about 15 minutes.

For the syrup:
1 lb. frozen strawberries
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup orange juice

Combine in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sugar breaks down and you have a nice syrup.

For the waffles:
2 cups flour
2 tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 eggs
1 stick melted butter
2 cups buttermilk

Pre-heat waffle iron. Combine dry ingredients. Beat egg in a separate bowl. Whisk egg and melted butter into dry ingredients. Whisk buttermilk in slowly until the consistency is slightly thicker than heavy cream.

Pour approx. 1/3 cup batter onto waffle iron. Cook until golden. Serve with strawberry syrup and powdered sugar.

Don't forget the juice!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Picollini Farfalle alla Carbonara

Can pasta be adorable? Because Barilla's new Picollini series are the most adorable pasta I've ever seen. Check your local grocery store for these miniature versions of popular pasta shapes that are sure to delight children and adults alike.

Tonight I made picollini farfalle (little butterflies) alla carbonara. Carbonara is a Roman dish that is traditionally made with guanciale (pig's cheek), but since I'm pretty sure you won't find guanciale anywhere in the US, use pancetta, which comes from the pigs belly and is somewh
at like bacon, but MUCH tastier.
When I lived in Rome a chef there told me it was an abomination to make a carbonara sauce with whole cream. The sauce is usually made with guanciale or pancetta, eggs, and a bit of pecorino romano. I guess it's the indulgent American in me, but I still make carbonara with whole cream and, brace yourself, and entire 2/3 cup of cheese (pecorino romano, parmesan, asiago, mozzarella, and provolone tonight but just romano and mozzarella will do). A true abomination.

Here's what you will need (this serves 2 adults and 2 toddlers, you can double it for bigger appetites):

1/2 lb. pasta Toddler Tip! Picollini farfalle or other small pasta shapes are great for
kids, spaghetti or bucatini is the traditional pasta shape but the small pasta is easier for little hands.
egg yolks
1/3 cup shredded pecorino romano (you can sub parmesan or a mix)
1/3 cup shredded mozzarella
1/3 cup whole cream
2 oz. pancetta, chopped
bunch of fresh Italian parsley, chopped
black pepper

Put on a big pot of salted water to boil. Add a little olive oil to the pot so your pasta doesn't stick together.

In the meantime chop the pancetta. Pancetta is like a dry, cured, thinly sliced bacon usually
seasoned with pepper corns and sometimes with other seasonings. It is salt-cured and hung to dry for several months so although it looks like raw bacon it is completely edible as-is and is very delicious eaten raw. Be brave and try it! I think it is better raw than cooked, but it is also much better cooked than American-style bacon. Salty, peppery, amazing. Dress it up-If you're having guests you can serve it on an antipasto plate with salami and prosciutto accompanied by another plate of Italian cheeses and grissini (breadsticks). I lived in Sicily as a young teen, and I never really came around on all the cured meats, it wasn't my thing. It wasn't until I went back and lived in Rome for several months as an adult that I found a love for Italian cured meats. One of my favorites in Rome was speck, which is made from the thighs of the pig, it is simply amazing. We just don't get that many varieties of Italian cured meats in the US, probably because of FDA regs. The home-grown varieties I've tried are good (the pancetta I used tonight was made in Rhode Island), but a pig from Rhode Island just doesn't compare to one from Latium.

I just got off on a tangent there, but seriously, try the pancetta "raw".

Back to our recipe. Pan fry the chopped pancetta in a little olive oil. It cooks fast so it really only needs a couple of minutes. Then set aside to cool.

In a large mixing bowl whisk together egg yolks, cream, cheeses, and parsley. Stir in the
cooled pancetta.

When the pasta is "al dente", which literally translates to
"to the tooth", describing the perfect level of done-ness, when the pasta is tender but with a bite. Drain and immediately add to the bowl with the egg and pancetta mixture. Stir, allowing the heat of the pasta to cook the egg and thicken the sauce. The sauce should be smooth and creamy, it should not look like scrambled eggs!


Sunday, August 17, 2008

Personal Pizzas with Chicken, Prosciutto, Tomatoes, and Cipolline

Today we made pizza. Sometimes I make a big pizza, but it's more fun for the little ones if you make personal-sized pizzas and let the kids help top them with all the goodies. I think they enjoy their dinner more when they had a hand in making it. :) I have a couple of good pizza dough recipes. Tyler Florence ( has a good one that I have altered slightly to suit my taste ( I use sea salt instead of kosher salt and add a tsp of sugar to balance out the extra saltiness).

For the dough:
1 pkg dry yeast
1 cup warm water (105-115 degrees F)
2 tsp sugar
3/4 tbsp sea salt
2 tbsp olive oil + 2 tbsp
2.75 cups flour

Put the water in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the yeast and sugar. Stir and let sit 5 minutes while the yeast activates and gets foamy. Add salt and 2 tbsp olive oil and mix on low speed. Add flour 1 cup at a time and mix on speed 2 to combine. Continue to mix on speed 2 for 5 minutes until a nice dough forms and cleans the sides of the mixing bowl.

Put a tablespoon of olive oil in a large bowl and place the dough in the bowl, turning to coat. Cover with a tea towel or cling wrap and allow to rise for 1 hour.

In the meantime.....

For the toppings I used chicken, prosciutto, tomatoes, and cipolline (delicious little, flat, sweet Italian onions). You will also want a jar of your favorite marinara sauce-for pizza I like something simple like the Bertolli Organic Tomato & Basil, and I just use bagged, shredded mozzarella and provolone.

Chop the chicken into chunks, season with salt and pepper, and saute in olive oil until cooked through. Set aside in small bowl.

Tear prosciutto into pieces and set aside in another bowl.

Slice tomatoes and place them in a bowl.

Peel and slice cipolline and place them in a fourth bowl.

Put a little marinara sauce in a 5th bowl and a handful of shredded mozza & prova in a final bowl.

Arrange all the bowls on a countertop dusted with flour so that when your dough has risen you can turn it out on your floured surface and then let your little sous chefs create pizza masterpieces!

Ok, so now the dough has risen. Separate it into 3 or 4 equally sized pieces. Pat and stretch each piece into a pizza shape, make them thinner in the center and a little thicker near the edges so there is a collar to hold all the toppings in.

Brush pizzas with olive oil and top with sauce, cheese, and toppings as desired.

Bake at 425 for 15 minutes. Yum.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Saturday Soft Pretzels

Saturdays are my favorite day for baking because there's no pressure or commitments to keep at certain times. One of my favorite things to bake are soft pretzels. I am a pretzel fiend. I don't know anyone else who has made soft pretzels at home, but that is probably because they don't know how easy it is to make them and how much better the home-made variety taste than the mall kiosk variety. I've tried a number of different recipes and come up with a variation of my own:

1.5 cups warm water (105-115 degrees F)
1 packet dry yeast
2 tbsp sugar
1 stick (4oz.) melted butter
2 tsp sea salt

4.25 cups flour
vegetable oil
1 egg

sea salt for sprinklingshredded parmesan or mixed Italian cheeses
3 quarts water
3/4 cup baking soda

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Put the warm water into
your stand mixer bowl fitted with the dough hook. Add the yeast. Give it about 5 minutes until the yeast is foamy. Add sugar, melted butter, and salt and mix on low speed. Add flour or let a little helper add flour 1/4 cup at a time until a nice dough forms and pulls away from the side of the mixing bowl. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and pat it into a nice ball. Place in an oiled bowl and turn over to cover with oil. Cover with a damp dish towel or cling wrap and allow to rise in a draft-free place for 50 minutes. I usually stick the bowl in my oven-no drafts in there!

50 minutes later.....
Pre-heat oven to 425. Make sure the bowl with the dough is out of there first! Turn dough out onto oiled surface. Divide into 8 equal parts. Bring 3 quarts water with 3/4 cup baking soda to a boil. In the meantime roll each piece of dough out into a long 24" rope and form into pretzel shape by taking each end and crossing them over each other. Press ends and center to hold together. Lay each pretzel into the boiling water mix for 30 seconds. Remove with a spatula to parchment-lined baking sheets. Brush with egg, sprinkle with sea salt and shredded parmesan (I like to use a parm/romano/asiago blend). Pop in the oven for 16 minutes and....
Voila! Soft pretzels.

Eat as is or dip in cream cheese.

Toddler tip! You can make the pretzel rope and then just chop it into 2" bits before boiling. What you will end up with are baby/kid friendly
little pretzel balls. Yum!

When life gives you leftovers...These are really only good the first day, so if you have leftovers you can chop them into bite-sized chunks the following day and toast them in the oven, for crunchy pretzel bites!

The Farmer's Market

Last weekend the kids and I ventured out to the local Farmer's Market. It is small, but we still found plenty of goodies there. Perfectly ripe watermelon, deliciously sweet cherry tomatoes, local honey.....I also bought a couple of small tomato plants from a local farmer. I have never grown tomatoes before so I am going to blog about this little experience. We will see if we can get some fruit out of these before the season ends. It is already August, but it will be hot here in North Carolina well into the fall. My biggest challenge has been keeping my 2-year-old out of the plant pot. Yes, we have re-planted the tomatoes upwards of 6 times now. It's a good thing I bought an extra bag of potting soil.....

The Beginning

I am writing this blog for two reasons, first because every time I come up with a new recipe I scribble it down on some scrap paper or the back of an envelope and promptly lose it. And second, because I'm hoping to share some of my food adventures with friends, family, and anyone else who cares to read!

Peter and Isabelle (13 months and 27 months) and my husband, also Peter, are my taste-testers as well as any willing friends who come by. I love to feed people and I want my children to have a love of food and an appreciation of cooking. I try to cook foods that are kid friendly but that I wouldn't be embarrased to serve to guests. I plan on writing notes to accompany many of the recipes that will tell you how to make "grown-up" versions and many will also have notes on how to make pureed baby-food versions.

I hope you have fun reading the blog and cooking for the kids (and big-kids) in your life!