Tag Archives: easy side dishes


26 Dec

The best thing about school holidays is that the kids are home. The worst thing about the school holidays is that the kids are home.

Okay, that’s not really how I feel about holidays but it seemed like a catchy way to start this post on cooking with kids.

The little man impressed his grandfather by leveling off the measured ingredients

The little man impressed his grandfather by leveling off the measured ingredients

Regular readers know my seven-year-old is starting to learn his way around the kitchen. Part of that is giving him responsibility for certain dishes at the holiday table. He can manage roasted asparagus on his own now. He makes bread as well, from his prize-winning no-knead recipe. And with his grandfather, he makes a delicious cornbread that goes well with roasts (and chili).

What's next? Let's see.

What’s next? Let’s see.

The original recipe comes from Kids Cook! by Sarah Williamson & Zachary Williamson, a treasure trove of simple and tasty recipes that kids can manage. Padushi and Leandro have tweaked it a bit (starting with substituting the margarine for real butter and beating the eggs before mixing with the rest of the ingredients) and the results are an ever-so-slightly sweet, rich crumb that has a lovely cakey texture.

Not my most artistic image, but a good indication of the nice texture.

Not my most artistic image, but a good indication of the nice texture.

The other results are a kid who is learning to follow instructions, a grandfather who is learning to let the kid do the work, and a grandson and grandfather who accomplish stuff together.

*See tips for cooking with kids below.

Nice crumb!

Nice crumb!

Easy Cornbread

1½ Cups cornmeal

1½ Cups buttermilk

2 eggs (lightly beaten)

½ Cup all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

¼ Cup butter, melted

1 tsp sugar

¾ tsp salt

½ tsp baking soda

Preheat oven to 450°F. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl, beating for about a minute.

Pour batter into a greased 8”x8” pan.

Bake at 450° for 25-30 minutes (if you use a glass pan, you’ll need the longer time) or until golden brown. Serve warm.

*Tips for cooking with kids

1. Get all the ingredients and measuring equipment laid out before having them wash their hands and get started.

2. Make sure the surface you are using is a comfortable height for your child(ren).

3. Use aprons or smocks or clothes you don’t care about.

4.Read the ingredients and ingredients out loud with the kids BEFORE starting. Use that opportunity to make sure you have everything you need. FRom this point on, the fewer times you have to turn your back on them the better.

5. If you will be allowing the kids to measure ingredients, have them do it over a bowl that is not your mixing bowl. That way accidental overpours or spills don’t ruin your batter or dough or whatever.

6. As soon as you are done with an ingredient, close it up and get it out of the way. Many spills come from stuff left around just waiting to be knocked over.

7. Remember to have fun. This one can be a challenge for me…my little guy can be very impulsive and tends to believe that he has a better way of doing things than the instructions indicate. I am learning to hold it together and focus on recovering our recipe from whatever he’s done, but when you do get snappy (and I do), just take a deep breath and remember that you are not the only adult that has ever barked at a kid who isn’t listening or wrecking your kitchen. Keep Calm and Keep Baking, as it were.



Adriana’s Roasted Brussels Sprouts (Autumnal Awesome)

24 Oct

If you’ve never seen Brussels sprouts in the fields, you really should try to get a look. Now is the time; they reach their peak in November and December (which is why so many of us have them at our Thanksgiving table) and so may very well be growing at your nearest farm right now. They look like tropical ornamental succulents – a thick stem studded with  green bulbs and topped with lush foliage — and you’d never-ever think of them as something as pedestrian as cabbage. But mini-cabbages are exactly what they are (Brassica oleracea, Gemmifera).

Before cooking (we also did roasted asparagus)

I didn’t like them as a kid – the old sulfurous smelly thing that kids are ever-so sensitive to – but I adore them as an adult. Here at mine we usually do some sort of boil with lemon and such for Turkey Day (more about that in November), but when Adriana told me she was going to roast hers for our recent playdate/sleepover, I got really excited. Adri is a fantastic cook who likes simple but stylish meat and veg and I always learn a lot from her. Like me she is a single mom working full time, so like me, she has had to streamline the production of good meals. That is not a bad thing; it keeps you very focused on the quality of the ingredients, because you don’t have the time nor energy to make up for cruddy produce or take fancy steps.

And since the kids keep each other busy while we are mucking about in the kitchen and having a glass of wine, it is always a fun time.

So, here are Adriana’s oven-roasted Brussels sprouts. They were so easy, so fab, great with steak…you know I’ll be doing these a lot for the next couple of months!

Roasted Brussels Sprouts by Adriana

2 pints Brussels sprouts*, outer leaves removed and halved lengthwise

Liberal grindings of salt and pepper

2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

8 sage leaves, cut into narrow ribbons

Leaves from one long sprig of rosemary

Preheat oven to 450°F. Place Brussels sprouts in a single layer in an oven dish (with sides). Sprinkle liberally with the salt and pepper (preferably from a grinder). Toss thoroughly with olive oil and herbs and bake in the oven for about 35 minutes, or until you have nice crispiness on the edges of the sprouts. Serve, finishing with sea salt if desired.

*When buying Brussels sprouts, look for tight bulbs that are bright green and bottom stems that are smooth and clean. In this recipe, any leaves that fall off during cooking tend to get nice and crispy, like chips!


A Sephardic-Inspired Variation on Pasta with Spinach

17 Oct

Leandro can’t get enough, but I’ve had enough. My pasta with spinach and garlic — itself a variation on aglio, olio e peperoncino — is really good, a guaranteed winner with the little one, and makes easy leftovers for the lunch boxes, but I am done with eating it once a week.

So, I figured I’d mix it up a bit. I had more-or-less the right ingredients for a Sephardic-Mizrahi-inspired spinach dish – the kind of flavors that Mediterranean Jews have combined beautifully for centuries — and which really suit the change to fall. It is also done in a flash.

The spinach from Restoration Farm is in season and lovely, while raisins and nuts provide a density and intensity that agrees with the more serious autumnal weather and light.

As this dish is inspired rather than traditional (I guess I am Reformed, even though I’m not even Jewish, but we can argue about that later), I ended up using goat cheese because it’s what I had…feta would work just as well and might just be a bit more in keeping with the motif. Also, the Sephardim would use pine nuts, but at upwards of $20 a pound, I will stick to my walnuts (no joke even at less than $10 a lb.) and toast them for more elegance and flavor.

I wish I could say that Leandro loved it, but actually he decided — three bites in — that he kind of hated it (Methinks he was surprised — in not a good way — by the raisins) and ended up eating some extra pasta that I had (wisely, because after four years I know how these things can go) reserved. He had it with goat cheese (new for him) and still thinks I am the best cook ever (except for his Padushi), so no harm done. And I loved it. If I had known Leandro was going to bail, I would’ve skipped the pasta in favor of couscous or rice. Live and learn.

Spinach, raisin and walnut pasta

8 oz pasta of your choice (short and tubular whole-grain penne-type preferred)

1-2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

½ Cup chopped onion

8-16 oz fresh spinach leaves, cleaned thoroughly and roughly chopped

1/2 Cup raisins (golden or brown), plumped for a few minutes in warm water and drained

½ Cup walnuts, lightly toasted in a hot dry skillet, if you’ve got the time or inclination

Pinch nutmeg

Salt and pepper to taste

½ Cup feta cheese, crumbled or several Tbs chevre (creamy goat cheese)

Prepare pasta according to package directions. Drain and reserve ¼ cup cooking liquid. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a medium-hot skillet and add onions. Stir to coat, lower heat and sauté until tender (about five minutes) toss in spinach. Stir to coat and cook until just wilting. Add raisins, walnuts, nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste. If it seems too dry, add reserved cooking liquid by the tablespoon until you like the look of it. Pour over pasta and mix and top with desired cheese.

Rustic Fries – in the Oven!

30 Sep

These made a great accompaniment to our Lemon-Thyme Roast Chicken. We were fortunate to have purple potatoes from our CSA – talk about gorgeous! But this will work with regular potatoes as well.

Oven-Roasted Rustic Fries

6 medium red potatoes cut into thick, rustic spears (peeling is unnecessary)

2 Tbs vegetable oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Soak potatoes in a large bowl of cold water for 30 minutes (to remove some of the starches)

Pat dry (you want them fairly dry).

Preheat oven to 425°F. Toss potatoes with oil on baking sheet and spread in a single layer. Roast for 45 minutes, turning 2 or 3 times, until crisp and golden. Finish with 3-5 minutes under the broiler for greater crispness.  Season with salt and pepper if desired.

Marianne’s Black Bean and Sweet Corn Salad (Summer BBQ/Buffet Dish)

8 Jul

Marianne has been one of my closest friends since we were 13, so when she offered to bring something over for our last BBQ, I was not afraid to ask for exactly what I wanted: her black bean and sweet corn salad! It’s something I make myself fairly often, but I like her version better and now I know why; the balsamic vinegar gives it a touch of sweetness that balances the onion and plays well with the crunchiness of the corn.

This dish works well with virtually all grilled meats, including fish. And in a pinch you can substitute frozen or canned corn, but a Long Island summer calls for real corn off the cob….MMmmmmm!

Marianne’s Black Bean and Sweet Corn Salad

2 1 lb cans of black beans, rinsed and drained

4 ears fresh sweet corn, shucked and silk removed

½ medium red onion, peeled and finely chopped

1 medium red pepper, seeded and diced

3 Tbs balsamic vinegar

1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

Bring abundant water to boil in a large pot. Boil corn to your liking (Marianne says 15 minutes; I usually boil for a maximum of three minutes, but since her recipe is so delish, I defer to her on this one!). When the corn has cooked, cool and then, holding the corn upright at an angle, cut kernels off corn. In a bowl, toss all ingredients together gently. Add salt and pepper to taste. Make this salad on the day of your event for the crispest veggies, but enjoy the leftovers — if you have any — for several days!

Ensalada de Lentejas (Lentil Salad, Spanish-style)

11 Jun

The hot, hazy and humid summer weather typical of Long Island has started early this year, but that doesn’t mean I am giving up my lentils. I like the taste, the price and the fact that, unlike many of the other legumes, they don’t need pre-soaking.

Nutritionally these tiny almost-beans, almost-peas are giants. According to the Mayo Clinic’s Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D., “…lentils are high in protein and fiber and low in fat, which makes them a healthy substitute for meat. They’re also packed with folate, iron, phosphorus, potassium and fiber.” So hip-rah, hip-rah! You should always, always, always have lentils in your pantry.

In winter I make hearty lentil soup, but hot weather calls for something cooler and lighter. I use a recipe — inspired once again by Penelope Casas’ The Foods and Wines of Spain. Have it as a main course with boiled potatoes or rice, or pair it with grilled sausages (from andouille to kielbasa..lentils love a good sausage partner). Lentils also marry well with grilled fish steaks; you can use the lentils as a bed, perhaps accompanied with polenta. This serves four as a side dish; you may want to double it for a BBQ accompaniment or main course.

Lentil Salad

½ lb uncooked pardina lentils (smaller and cuter than your average lentil, but you are free to substitute*)

1 onion, peeled. Cut in half, leaving one half whole and mincing the other half

1 clove

1 bay leaf

1 carrot scraped or peeled (scraping helps maintain a brighter color)

3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

1/8 tsp salt (a fat pinch)

Freshly ground pepper

¼ cup good olive oil

1.5 Tbs red wine vinegar

1 clove garlic, minced

 2 Tbs drained and minced roasted red pepper from a jar, plus 1 Tbs chopped for garnish

Rinse and pick through lentils and place in a large pot with enough cold water to cover. Stick the clove in the onion half (reserve the minced onion), then add to pot with bay leaf, carrot, smashed garlic, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover and lower heat to a simmer and cook for 20-25 minutes, until just tender (longer if using regular green lentils). Drain and rinse well in cold water. Remove onion (and any clove that has fallen out), bay leaf and garlic. Dice carrot and place in serving bowl with lentils. Add olive oil, vinegar, reserved mined onion, chopped garlic and minced red pepper and mix gently (you don’t want the lentils to fall apart). Let rest for at least a half hour and serve, topped with reserved red pepper as garnish.

*Green lentils are great for salads because they keep their texture. Brown can get mushy and red lentils fall apart when cooked too long, If you choose them as substitutes, start checking the texture after 15 minutes of simmering.

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