Tag Archives: kids

Kids Learning Spanish the Fun Way: By Making Fantastic Latino Dishes!

2 May

This is a half-Spanish- half-English-speaking household. Just as we cook Latin sometimes and American (whatever that is) sometimes, we bounce back and forth between languages. The linguistic term is “code-switching” and Puerto Ricans in particular are the acrobats of the code-switching word – leaping off the English sentence into a whirl of Spanish and flipping backwards to finish in English. Or not. We understand each other, but other people think it’s gibberish. And while some derisively call it “Spanglish”, we know they’re just jealous of our daredevil dual language skills!

An equal opportunity eater!

An equal opportunity eater!

So of course I have done my best to help my son become bilingual.

Miss Susana introduces the recipe and its ingredients

Miss Susana introduces the recipe and its ingredients

This is not easy. These days most of my life is conducted in English – both my writing and my teaching, my social life, his school, the T.V. news. My parents have gradually abandoned speaking to him in Spanish altogether. Some days I forget to switch back to Spanish at home. I am that tired.

¡Susa!

¡Susa!

So I am lucky to have the support of Spanish All Year, the cultural language school that he attends a couple of hours a week. Which brings me to the reason why I am telling you – who are expecting to read about food and are instead hearing about language acquisition woes – about this. Continue reading

Urrrp. Excuse me. Leandro needs your help with a Science Fair Project (on –what else? –burping)

1 Apr

Dear Hot, Cheap & Easy Readers,

This is Leandro. I am doing a Science Fair Project on burps.

I would like to know if it is polite or not to burp at the dinner table in different countries. Can you comment here about it? Don’t forget to tell me which country!

Thank you,

Leandro

(The project is due Saturday, April 6)

The Mad Scientist at work

The Mad Scientist at work

We got some ideas from Kymberlee Fernandes….Thanks Kymberlee!

Kid’s Party Snack Alternative: Bagel Buffet, Starring Cream Cheese Two Ways!

26 Jun

My pizza party days are over. I used to like the occasional slice, but once you have a kid and start attending kids’ parties with alarming frequency, the whole pizza thing becomes tedious (and hard on the waistline), except for the part about not having to figure out lunch for your kid for a day. I like that part a whole lot.

Mind you, I have served pizza at a number of Leandro’s parties. Three regular pies, sliced in 16ths, for the kids. Another one or two pies for the parents. Guilty as charged.

Cream cheese with chives

By the time they get served, the waxy cheese is getting hard, the crust is soft, and chewy and the sauce, whatever it was, is gone. Besides, regular slices bore the hell out of me. Call me a snob, but if you lived in Italy for a couple of years and ate wood stove-crispy thin pies (slice? Cosa e? Ma scherzi.…) topped with seasonal veggies and homemade sausage with a carafe of the charming local plonk most Friday nights out with your charming boyfriend who didn’t mind your bit of flirting with the charming Italians who owned the place….well, a leaden slice of regular from a box choked down to the soundtrack of overexcited preschoolers and bounce-house kiddie-pop might also feel somewhat wrong to you.

Maple-Walnut Cream Cheese

Anyhoo, I wanted to change it up just a little this time around. It’s not just the pizza thing; it’s that I like to cook and entertain and this seemed to me to be an chance to manifest my own self in a more public forum than usual. It is all well and good to set yourself up as a food blogger because your child has been indoctrinated to believe that what you are making him is good stuff. It’s quite another thing to lay it out there for public tasting and scrutiny.

And of course, the other reason is that in my universe, you honor your guests by serving them nice food.

We celebrated Leandro’s birthday at the Theodore Roosevelt Nature Center at Jones Beach. The time was from 10 am-noon on a Sunday. If you have ever been in downstate New York on a Sunday morning, you will understand that bagels are the only appropriate response. It’s like the venerable five o’clock cocktail, only heavier on the carbs. So I went with pre-sliced mini-bagels from Seaford Bagel – convenient, but with ample opportunities to prepare a few spreads of your own.

Buffet table note: cheese and ham slices and mustard and mayo rounded out the buffet. Not one of my 50 Shades of Martha moments on the decor, but it worked well enough. A Box of Joe, juice boxes, and bottles of water completed the spread.

In my own defense, I am not completely bonkers and did not bake the main event: The “birthday cake” was cupcakes, ordered from Stop & Shop. Yes. A chain grocery store. Did you really think I was going to bake an effen cake!?! They were, by all accounts, delicious, topped with butter cream and decorated with Spiderman, Hello Kitty and other rings. Eternal thanks to the wisdom of Marianne/Madrina, for her bagel shop and cupcake source recommendations.

Among the spreads were tuna salad and egg salad (click to get those recipes from earlier posts), and the following two easy cream cheese variations. The maple-walnut spread was especially popular (and so easy it’s almost embarrassing). The kids mostly ate straight-up butter or cream cheese. But the parents and big kids who came to show solidarity were All Over the buffet table and even made a few to-go bagels. (Hector and Sean, I am naming names!!!). We also had plenty of bagels left over to pack in the cooler for our glorious, post-party beach afternoon.

I hope you’ll try them next time you want to bring up your bagel buffet game without killing yourself. Don’t pay for store-made. These are too simple and the praise too gratifying.

Thanks to all of you who came and made this day one of Leandro’s best and most memorable ever. I will eat your party pizza every time and enjoy your company, so don’t fret or hesitate to invite us to the next one. Leandro needs the break from his mom’s obsessiveness!

Cucumber slices are an easy dress-up for cream cheese and chives or tuna salad

Cream Cheese with Chives

8 oz. cream cheese, softened

2 Tbs chives, chopped

1 tsp green onion, chopped fine (including white part!)

In a bowl, mix all ingredients thoroughly. Chill at least a half hour for flavors to incorporate.

Maple Walnut Cream Cheese

8 oz. cream cheese, softened

2 Tbs real maple syrup

½ tsp vanilla extract (if you actually have maple extract, you can use it here)

½ cup chopped walnuts, plus walnuts for garnish

In a bowl, mix the cream cheese, syrup and extract. Stir in the walnuts and chill for at least 30 minutes. Turn the cream cheese into your serving dish and garnish with whole walnuts.

Macaroni and cheese with style (yes, you can make a roux) and spinach

6 Aug

The perceptive examiner of the picture in this post will probably agree that I did not choose an auspicious time to tart-up a macaroni and cheese dinner. I should’ve reached for a box of Annie’s Organic (and believe me, as much as I believe in a home-cooked meal, I reach for the Annie’s with great frequency in stressed times) rather than set out to make a white sauce while my over-tired, over-heated, under-snacked and therefore unpredictable pre-K maniac was in the room. If you decide that I am actually the maniac for trying it, well, I won’t argue.

A proper white sauce is creamy and smooth and tonight’s, while creamy, was not quite as smooth as normal. But I decided to post anyway, because I want to convince you that making a roux isn’t so hard. If I could do it passably well under this evening’s circumstances, imagine what you can do with better timing and fewer interruptions. And to those who get too critical, I say most of the lumpiness in the picture is due to the cheese, which I do not allow to cook much at all, since I don’t want it to get hard or stringy!

A roux is a mix of fat and starch and it adds thickness to dishes. The idea is to get the fat to activate the starch in your flour without burning it. It is the binder for a rich gravy, a thick gumbo, and unctuous macaroni and cheese. This one is blonde – which means it is not colored, so it requires little precision. All you have to do to make this happen is watch your temperature and keep stirring. I mean it.

For more background on roux try Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roux

To make your own, try this!

Creamy, cheesy and easy

Macaroni and cheese with style and speed (and spinach)

½ box pasta of your choice, 6-8 oz (we prefer small shells for this)

1 Cup frozen cut or chopped spinach

2 Tbs butter (salted is fine)

4 tsp all-purpose flour

¾ Cup whole milk

½ Cup grated grana padano or parmigiano reggiano or other cheese of your preference, grated fine for even melting

Salt to taste and additional grated cheese to taste

Cook pasta according to package instructions, adding frozen spinach 4-5 minutes before pasta is ready. Drain and set aside.

In the meantime, melt 1 Tbs butter in a heavy skillet at low heat (save 2nd Tbs for later in the recipe). When any foaming subsides, stir in flour 1 teaspoon at a time, stirring frequently until each teaspoon of flour is completely blended in. Then continue stirring while mix (roux) thickens into a paste. Continue cooking at least five minutes, stirring frequently to avoid burning or coloring (you need this cook time to get the floury taste out).

Add milk and raise heat to medium and stir frequently until liquid becomes thick and creamy. Stir in cheese, stir just enough to mix and then add pasta and spinach mixture and reserved butter. Mix thoroughly and salt to taste. Serve with additional grated cheese.

Spider Dogs – a kid-cool way to grill hot dogs

1 Aug

Hot dogs are quintessential BBQ and camp favorites – easy and convenient, tasty and filling. But we stepped the fun up a notch at our latest beach camping adventure with a recipe culled from a most excellent camping prep book called Camp Out! The Ultimate Kid’s Guide by Lynn Brunelle.

Called Spider Dogs by Brunelle (and Octo-Dogs by us when we are making them at the beach)  they are skewered hot dogs skewered, sliced and cooked so that they become eight-legged spiders (or in our recent case of camping: octopii).

Your kids will really dig them, you will raise your cool quotient and they are still as easy as throwing a few dogs on the grill.

 

(Note: There is quite the fire storm about the relative healthfulness of hot dogs. Nitrates and nitrites may or may not be bad or good for you…I really don’t know. We use Applegate Organic hot dogs, which apparently have as much nitrite and nitrate as conventional brands, but are made with organic meat and “natural” curing sources. Does it make a difference? Who knows? But Leandro likes them. I find the whole thing confusing, so I can’t offer solutions, but here’s a New York Times article that can at least explain the source of the confusion: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/02/business/02hotdog.html?_r=2&ref=health)

Grilled Spider-Dogs

Packaged hot dogs

1 skewer for each hotdog

You’ll want a hot grill going for this.

Stick a skewer halfway through each hot dog lengthwise.

Carefully cut the free half into quarters, lengthwise.

Lay the sliced ends of the hot dogs on the grill. The slices will curl back away from each other as they cook. When the sliced end is cooked and curled, carefully remove the dogs from their skewers, skewer through the cooked end and slice uncooked half into quarters lengthwise. Lay the uncooked ends of the dogs on the grill and cook until they are also curled back and you have a spider (or octo-) dog!

You may also like:

A Camping Week Come A Cropper – And What We Cooked

Spaghetti A La Carbonara for camp stoves

Spanish-style Tortilla adapted for camp stoves

Quesadillas adapted for camp stoves

Aglio Olio et Peperoncino (simple garlic and hot pepper pasta dish) for camping

Better Scrambled Eggs for a Camping Trip

Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino (adapted for campsite family meals)

5 Jun


Disclaimer: This is in no way an authentic version of the Roman classic dish of spaghetti with garlic, oil and hot red pepper flakes. I have lived in Italy, I have had (and made) the real aglio- olio….and it is sublime in its balance and simplicity. I am not trying to improve on perfection. I am just adapting it to my imperfect life!

My adaptation is also pretty sublime, simple and balanced, but it is definitely not the original. So with apologies to Patrizia and Sandro (whose agonized “No!” when he saw me add cheese to the dish once still reverberates in my head) and any other Roman who happens upon this recipe…here we go!

This is a version that I cooked up in 15 minutes this week at a windy beachside campsite on a propane camp stove for me and my pre-K camper (who has just — thank heavens — made the breakthrough to spicy food). So convenient and successful, I made it twice over the week. I also sometimes add broccoli crowns to the pasta water when there are about four minutes left in the boil

Aglio, olio e peperoncino (adapted for camping)

The classic Roman versión uses spaghetti, but that is currently too messy for my kid. I like a tube-y or curly pasta. For the purposes of our camp kitchen I used three-minute rotini – a pasta that boils up in three minutes. It is decidedly flabby compared to regular pasta, but was adequate for the less fussy camping life. I actually prefer Bionaturae’s organic whole wheat pastas in this dish; they add a nutty flavor that I like very much. This is also a one pot dish (except for the colander) which is great when you haven’t got running water!

Serves two, but is quite easy to double up

½ lb pasta of your choice (preferably spaghetti or something long and lean rather than scoopy. If you choose the broccoli option, penne is a good choice)

(one or two handfuls broccoli florets; optional)

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/8 to ¼ tsp hot red pepper flakes

1/4 cup grated grana padano or parmigiano reggiano

Boil the pasta according to package instructions, making sure to salt the water well. If using broccoli, add to the pasta water 3-4 minutes before the pasta is fully cooked. Drain and reserve in a separate bowl or the colander. In the same pot that you cooked the pasta, add the olive oil, lowering heat to medium. When the olive oil is loose and fragrant, add the garlic and red pepper flakes (to taste) and stir around until the garlic is golden (not brown). Add the pasta (and broccoli) back to the pot and mix well, adding grated cheese. Serve!

Baked Chicken Tenders (with hint of curry option!)

19 May

The best defense is a good offense, even when it comes to protecting your family from encroaching fast-food predilections. So I keep trying to build a better, healthier, more attractive chicken tender that I can freeze and have on hand any time a drive-thru strikes me as a really good idea.

These chicken tenders are a variation on a Rachael Ray recipe — and you thought this was a Rachael-free zone, didn’t you? C’mon, the woman is everywhere! Even here. And certainly on all the search engines!

I like to think my version of chicken tenders has a bit more pizzazz, but we all have our vanities.

Bottom line: these are easy, freezeable and adaptable and they helped carry me through another semester of packed lunches for pre-K. My kid and his grandfather both loved the subtle curry flavor (which bodes well for our next Indian buffet lunch!). You can really season it however you like; the infrastructure of the recipe is very sound.

Baked Chicken Fingers with an optional hint of curry (freezeable!)

2 lbs chicken breasts, pounded to an even thickness (do not pound thin, just even them out) and sliced, against the grain, into generous strips

Salt and pepper for seasoning chicken strips

2 cups flour

2-3 cups breadcrumbs, unseasoned

½ -1 tsp salt

2 Tbs dried parsley

2 -3 Tbs curry powder (optional; see herb options, below)

2-3 Tbs your choice dried oregano/basil/Italian herbs/French herbs (if you decide against the curry)

 3 eggs

¼ cup milk

Preheat oven to 375°F. Season the tenders with salt and black pepper. In a shallow dish, season the flour with salt and pepper. In a wide bowl, beat the eggs with the milk. In a third dish (shallow), place the breadcrumbs and season with salt, parsley and either the curry powder or the herb blend. Be generous with the herbs.

Dredge the chicken strips in the flour to coat. Shake off excess flour. Dip the strips in the egg to coat. Then coat with breadcrumbs. Place chicken strips on a baking sheet, or, ideally, a rack that lets them heat all around. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes, turning once.

Once cooled, I pop them into freezer bags and take them out as needed for lunches and such, reheating at 325°F for ten minutes.

Pastured Chickens: Should a 4-year-old meet his future dinner in the coop?

15 May

I'll be eating one of these in a few weeks

So we were down at Restoration Farm C.S.A. doing some work (or I was supposed to be doing some work, but we were chatting more than anything, what with the little guy wanting to run around). We’ve bought a chicken share; Trish Hardgrove, one of the growers, has initiated a pastured chicken project: $125, five months, five chickens. I was in, of course, but this brings the question of my son to bear.

A few generations back, it would be quite normal for kids to look at farm animals as a future meal. But today, it is a bit less usual. I am all for Leandro knowing where his meals come from and plan for us to follow the chicks’ progress from farm to (our) table. I figure, if it puts him off animal products for the rest of his life, is that such a terrible consequence?

Looking forward to hearing your opinions on the topic! If you clicked directly to this post, please note that there is a poll in the next post. Click the right hand arrow at the bottom of this post!

Banana Bread – Share the Love (Easy Family Baking!)

28 Mar

I’ve never been much of a baker – I’ve probably mentioned that I am no good at following instructions – but this banana bread is very forgiving of people who are more “more or less” than precise.

It’s very child-friendly. Leandro and I put it together often and he takes slices to school to dip in yogurt. I especially like to double it (using about 8 bananas total) and slice up some for his caregivers and my colleagues – everyone feels appreciated and esteemed when they are on the receiving end of home-baked loaves of something. I get a lot of requests for this recipe, so here it is! It also freezes well; check the bottom of the recipe for storing instructions.

Easy, Moist and Yummy Banana Bread

4-6 overripe bananas*

1 Cup sugar (1/2 light brown and ½ white works well, but any combination will do; we’ve used a bit of dark brown as well)

2 eggs, beaten

½ Cup vegetable oil

2 Cups flour (up to one cup whole wheat, but beware stone-ground as it may be too coarse)

1 tsp baking soda

¼ tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350°. Mash bananas in mixing bowl. Add sugar, eggs and oil, one at a time, mixing well with each addition. Sift dry ingredients together (I use a big strainer) and add to banana mixture. Pour in greased 5×9 loaf pan (or 8×8 oven dish) and bake 55-60 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

*We eat a lot of bananas here, but sometimes I buy too many and they get overripe, even for my son, who likes them sweet and eats the dark spots. Or he just wants half of one and I don’t want the other half. Any overripe or half-bananas get thrown into a plastic freezer bag and when I have approximately six, I make banana bread!

Storage notes: Banana bread should be cooled completely before slicing (I know, fresh-out-of -the-oven warm is so cozy! But it slices much better later on). It stays fresh tightly wrapped out of the fridge for two or three days. The refrigerator isn’t great for it, but you can warm it up a bit before serving. To freeze, slice first, then wrap in foil or plastic wrap and then place in a freezer bag. It’ll keep for at least a month and you can take out a slice at a time when you need a treat.

A Big Old Hurry Results in Revelations (and better flavor!)

31 Oct

I am making lentil soup today; it’s cheap and easy and ever-so-homey. It’s what I serve to my parents whenever they’ve come back from a long journey (which is ridiculously often). It’s hearty enough and yet light enough to make you feel relaxed and at home. It smells very good, bubbling away at the stove; every time I make it it comes out slightly different, depending on my mood and the available ingredients, but it is always good.

While I was chopping, in my usual hurry, trying to get it done before my son woke up from his nap (mission accomplished and he is STILL SLEEPING!), I started to think about the old days when I had hours to cook something. I entertained myself by chopping up all the ingredients like on a cooking show, arraying them before me in little bowls and then dropping them into my pots and pans as needed. Very satisfying.

These days, I chop as I go and drop things in the pot as soon as I get them cut up, more or less in the order I intended. If I am lucky. It’s not as aesthetic, but it has helped me in one way. I get those onions in there first, then when they are coated and sizzling in the hot oil, I turn the heat right down so they won’t burn as I chop something else. Lo and behold, those onions get a chance to get soft and sweet and caramelly on the low heat, and I actually get better flavor out of them. In the old days, I would’ve sauteed them quickly and then dropped my next precious bowl of something in right away. Not anymore!

I include the recipe here, because lentil soup needs to be in your repertory. It is very flexible; you can skip the sausage or use a different kind (adjusting seasonings to harmonize), you can use additional veg (like celery); or leftover parsley from another dish.

It requires a bit of chopping, but no babysitting while it is simmering. Lentils are cheap and wholesome and don’t require pre-soaking. It refrigerates and re-heats really well (freezing, not so much), so I pack it into our lunch boxes as well as eating it on the night it is made. Serves four big appetites as a main course.

Lentil Soup

2-3 Tbs olive oil

1 baseball size onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced or diced to fingernail size (approx 1 Cup)

1 Cup chorizo (Spanish dry hot sausage), peeled and sliced into 1/4-1/2 inch rounds (I use Palacios Hot)

1 Cup dry lentils, rinsed, picked through and drained

2 medium potatoes, peeled (if you like) and chopped into 1.2 inch cubes (approx. 2 Cups)

4 cups chicken or vegetable broth (you may use water as well)

1 tsp each – ground cumin, turmeric and oregano OR 1 tsp each – oregano and marjoram OR Tbs dry Italian herbs

Heat oil until it runs quickly and is fragrant. Add onions and stir to coat. After a minute, reduce heat to low. After five minutes start adding, garlic, then carrots, then chorizo. When chorizo begins to release its color, , stir in lentils, potatoes, broth and water. Bring to boil, reduce heat to low and simmer, covered for 20 minutes or until lentils and vegetables are tender, adding water a cup at a time, if desired. Add spices at the end and salt to taste. Serve as soup with crusty bread, or over rice.

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