Tag Archives: 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.



Perfectly Simple Sauteed Mushrooms (5 ingredients)

12 May

The warmer weather calls for simpler fare, meals that are tasty and uncomplicated and straightforward.

I sizzle the roast garlic in the oil

I sizzle the roast garlic in the oil

These mushrooms are just that – similar to the classic Spanish tapa champiñones al ajillo, but quicker and easier.

Into the skillet. They suck up the oil at first, but do not be alarmed. They get a bit of char and then you add the wine and they release their juices.

Into the skillet. They suck up the oil at first, but do not be alarmed. They get a bit of char and then you add the wine and they release their juices.

Thanks to Valerie from the Farmingdale Music Center, I had a container of delicious home-roasted garlic to lend a bit more complexity, but regular raw garlic will work just fine.



We had these on the side for Mother’s Day…they were a great accompaniment to grilled sirloin steak

Salt and pepper crusted sirloin

Salt and pepper crusted sirloin

and our first local asparagus of the season from Sang Lee on the North Fork of Long Island.

The kid's contribution to the menu

The kid’s contribution to the menu


Simple and delicious

Simple and delicious

Basic sauteed mushrooms

1 lb mushrooms, wiped and woody stems removed

1-2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

1 Tbs roasted garlic or minced raw garlic

A glug or two of red wine

Pinch of salt

Sprinkle of parsley (optional)

Make sure mushrooms are clean (wiping them takes longer than rinsing, but helps them look nicer)

Heat olive oil and garlic together to medium high. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring to coat. When the mushrooms begin to get tender, add red wine and allow to bubble until mushrooms begin to release their own juices (a minute or two). Season with salt and parsley and you’re set!

Brussels Sprouts – Sautéed and Sassy

8 Apr

If you love Brussels sprouts, you’ll like this easy Spanish recipe which we will be enjoying today with our big Easter meal for a little family.It’s something my dad likes to do when he is in charge of the vegetables, as he is today.

Don’t be put off by the fact that you boil the daylights out of them; the red wine vinegar lifts them from being ordinary overcooked vegetables to something surprising and tangy!

Happy Holidays to all.

Sauteed Brussels Sprouts (Inspired by Penelope Casas; modified by Pedro)

1-1.5 lbs Brussels sprouts, bottoms trimmed and old leaves removed

1.5 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

3 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled (not chopped up)


Freshly ground pepper

2 Tbs red wine vinegar

Place the sprouts in salted boiling water to cover and cook at a lively bubble for 10-15 minutes, or until tender (this is a personal taste thing; some people like mushy, some like firm, so play around with it)

Heat the oil in a skillet. Add the garlic cloves and sauté at medium heat until dark gold on all sides. Remove and discard. Add the sprouts and saute over medium high for five minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and stir in the vinegar. Cook until the vinegar evaporates, stirring constantly.

Crispy Oven-Fried Sweet Potatoes (new and improved)

12 Nov

If I couldn’t oven-fry sweet potatoes, I probably wouldn’t eat them at all. I find them too sweet, too mushy, too cloying and too dense to fall in love with when they are roasted or baked or steamed or boiled. Argue with me all you want (better yet, send recipes!) but that’s really how I felt about them, until oven fries changed my whole perspective.

Let’s face it, fried foods taste good, no matter what. I mean, how could clams EVER be a kid’s menu item if they weren’t breaded and fried? Leandro won’t even look at them raw, but coat them in crumbs and plunge them in a deep fryer and watch them disappear! Don’t even get me started with French fries…crispy outside, creamy inside, the perfect vehicle for ketchup…Lord have mercy. Fried foods, if not fundamentally good, are fundamentally delicious. Continue reading

Bits and Bobs Broccoli Pasta (FAST)

9 Oct

My dad took Leandro for a haircut when we got home from the workday– they love to do the man thing at the barber together  — so I dashed off to do some solo grocery shopping which I find heavenly (It is a sad commentary on the state of my life that an unaccompanied trip to the supermarket has replaced dinner and a show on my top-five list of things to do). Then it was off to the farm for pick-up and then I headed home with no time to fuss over dinner, but nothing prepared and a child about to realize – with the suddenness of an improvised explosive device — that he is STARVING.

I did call my dad on the way home to see if he could get water on the boil, which he did! Masha danki, Padushi! (Mark Bittman – the NYTimes Minimalist food writer and one of my heroes — says whenever you get home you should get the water going, so you can throw anything in there, inspired or not). So on the rest of the 15-minute drive home, I did a mental inventory of all the scraps in my fridge and larder that needed using – Multigrain pasta, check. Leftover olive oil from tortillas, check. Unused peeled onion halves from another dish, yup. Too many peppers from the farm, uh-huh. The ever-present broccoli that represents probably 50 percent of Leandro’s vegetable consumption (heavy sigh), right. Dab of tomato paste I didn’t need for the meatloaf…etc. etc.

And by the time I got home, I was good to go and get dinner on the table in about 15 minutes (6-minute pasta was key). You should note that tomato paste is a great thing to add tomato tang and depth. I guess it is thanks to its concentration that it releases its flavors with just a bit of sauteing (unlike purees or whole peeled tomatoes, which much be cooked for a while to get really good). That’s a criollo trick I learned in Puerto Rico!

In this recent version, I used two tablespoons of the reserved olive oil that I had used to saute the onions and potatoes for a recent tortilla, which adds a nice flavor, but you can just use extra virgin olive oil as stated in the recipe.

Not only did this work for Leandro’s evening meal, but he asked for the leftovers for lunch the following day and I was very happy to oblige. You can see the lunch he took to school here!

Typical Leandro lunch: pasta, yogurt and mini-muffins for dipping

Bang Together Bits and Bobs Broccoli Pasta (makes two kid servings)

6 oz whole grain medium pasta shells(about half a 13.5 oz box)

A handful of broccoli florets separated into forkfuls (and peeled and chopped stems, if you like)

2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

½ onion, peeled and chopped fine (about ¼-1/2 Cup)

½ green pepper (Cubanelle, sweet or bell are fine), chopped fine

1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped

1 Tbs tomato paste

2 tsp chopped herbs of your choice (basil, oregano, thyme, culantro; halve for dried herbs)

Grated cheese (such as Parmigiano Reggiano or Gran Padano) or nutritional yeast (optional)

Prepare pasta according to package directions in a medium to large pot, adding the broccoli 3-4 minutes before the boiling is finished. Drain, reserving ½ Cup cooking liquid.

Let the same pot dry over the burner, add the olive oil and heat at medium high until loose and fragrant. Add the onion and green pepper and stir to coat. Add garlic and lower heat to medium and cook for a minute. Add tomato paste and herbs and stir around until fully incorporated. Add the pasta and mix thoroughly (if you find it too dry, add tablespoons of the reserved cooking liquid). Add cheese and serve.

Asian Stir Fry Sauce (this time with vegetables and your choice of noodles or rice)

27 Jul

One of my favorite prepared sauces comes from Sang Lee Farms in Cutchogue, on the North Fork of Long Island http://sangleefarms.com/. Their Asian Stir-Fry Sauce is all organic and adds incredible Asian pop to stir fry dishes, without the annoying cloying sweetness and goopiness of other seasonings in a bottle.

However, I run out of it pretty fast, so I am in the process of trying to recreate it at home. I haven’t quite got it, but this version is very yummy and does the job pretty damn well. When I hit exactly the combination I want, I will make larger batches, but for now, the amount in this recipe will season a couple of pounds of vegetables – enough for two to four people, depending on what you serve it with.

We used soba noodles (Leandro’s request, cause the curly noodles and Japanese writing on the package caught his eye and he absolutely loved them). We also had enough left over to drizzle over some cold chicken wraps I made the next day (and which will be the next post, haha!).

Do you make your own stir fry sauce? Please add your ideas in comments in this post!

Soba noodles make a worthy (and fun) accompaniment to stir fry veggies

Asian Stir-Fry Sauce

¼ Cup soy sauce or tamari (preferably low-sodium)

½ tsp crushed garlic

Scant ¼ tsp sesame oil

¼ tsp grated ginger

½ tsp lemon juice

Mix ingredients together and refrigerate overnight if possible.

When you are ready to cook the dish, begin preparing a cup or two of white rice or a package of soba noodles or other pasta of your choice, following package instructions.


2-2.5 lbs mixed stir-fry vegetables, cut into ¾ inch pieces (we used onions, carrots, some leftover chard stems and a beautiful purple pepper, all from Restoration Farm, plus broccoli from the supermarket)

Generous ½ tsp sugar

Heat the  vegetable oil in a 12 inch skillet with a heavy bottom, until just rippling and just beginning to smoke. Add vegetables and sprinkle the sugar over, coat with the oil and cook, stirring frequently, for about eight minutes, looking for caramelization on the vegetables. Lower the temperature to medium if you get a lot of sticking.

Push vegetables to the side and add a tablespoon of the stir-fry sauce , stir to heat, then mix with the vegetables. Add two to three more tablespoons as desired, being wary of making it too salty.

Serve over rice, noodles or pasta.

Zesty Zucchini and Sizzling Squash with lemon and oregano

21 Jul

This is a simple seasonal recipe that highlights the flavors and freshness of summer (and can be done in a jiffy at a campsite).

Summer squash refers to vegetables such as zucchini and yellow squash, that look like gourds, but have thin, tender skins. Right around this time of summer backyard gardeners start to harvest so many of them, they will be giving them away. This is a fast and easy way to take advantage of the bounty without working too hard!

How this dish looked at our campsite on the beach

Sauteed Summer Squash with Oregano and Lemon

1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

1/2 medium onion, peeled and diced

2 medium summer squashes (yellow/zucchini), quartered lengthwise and sliced

Tsp dry oregano

Juice of half a lemon (you may add by teaspoon to taste)

Salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a skillet at medium high until liquid and fragrant. Add onions and stir to coat. Add zucchini and stir to coat. Lower heat and cook until just tender, about 5 minutes. Add oregano, lemon and salt to taste and cook until flavors are blended, just a minute or two, longer if you want it very tender. Serve over rice, with pasta or just on its own.

Roasted Beet Salad with Orange and Beet Greens

16 Jul

We’ve been away on a camping trip for a week, but starting back up with a bang….BEETS!

Wacked-out color, floppy texture, weird vegetable discs out of a can. Ick.

That about sums up what I knew about beets as a kid. Later I got into the occasional fresh carrot, beet and apple frappés at farmer’s markets in Puerto Rico, but that was more a Saturday morning hangover-helper type thing as I was shopping for vegetables than a real affection for beets themselves.

It wasn’t until many years later that I had a food revelation at Blue Hill restaurant in Greenwich Village. I was doing a story on Chef Dan Barber for Le Connoisseur, a Puerto Rico food and wine magazine. He is a locavore chef in the tradition of Alice Waters and even owns his own farm. His other Blue Hill is located at Stone Barns, the Rockefeller organic farm center right by Sleepy Hollow, north of New York City http://www.bluehillnyc.com/.

So the chef trotted out a number of tiny dishes, including a single square of beet on a skewer. It looked like a precious jewel and the flavor was giant: intense, concentrated, sweet. I was hooked in a single morsel.

However, it wasn’t until getting involved in CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) that I actually had to figure out how to prepare them myself. Like, do you actually cook them? How? Do you peel them first? What about the greens?

Here are some short answers, followed by a showstopping roasted beet recipe.

Trim off the greens about an inch from the actual beet. You can eat them and they should be used within a day or two, taking out larger ribs before cooking. They can be used like most other leafy greens.

The unwashed beet roots will last about three weeks in the fridge. To use, scrub gently and do not remove the root. Do not peel before cooking. You can wrap in foil and roast at 400°F for 1-1.5 hours or simmer in salted boiling water for 30 minutes to 1.5 hours. Another option is to steam in a vegetable steamer for 30-45 minutes. the beets are done when a fork goes easily through the center. The skins will come off easily and should be removed while the beets are still warm. Use kitchen gloves or put your hands in plastic bags to handle them, as they will stain*. Flavor affinities include goat cheese, tarragon, herring and ham.

I have toyed around with this next recipe for several years now, and I think I have finally hit just the right balance of sweet and sharp. It also takes advantage of the beet greens. It is a gorgeous looking salad and the taste is, well, revelatory.

El amor entra por los ojos -- This dish is love at first sight!

Roasted Beet Salad with Orange and Beet Greens

6 medium beets with beet greens attached

1 large navel orange, peeled, separated into segments, pith and white removed

2 shallots, peeled and chopped fine

¼ -1/3 Cup red wine vinegar

¼ Cup extra virgin olive oil

3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

1 tsp grated orange peel

Preheat oven to 400°F. Trim greens from beets. Cut off and discard stems. Coarsely chop leaves and reserve.

Wrap each beet loosely in foil. Place on oven rack and roast until tender when pierced with a fork, about 1 hour 20 minutes. Cool, then peel beets (use gloves or small sandwich bags to protect fingers from stains. Cut into eight wedges and place in medium bowl.

Bowl four cups of water, then add beet greens and cook until tender, just 2-3 minutes. Drain, cool and squeeze out as much water as possible. Add greens to beet bowl. Add orange segments (you may break them up) and shallots to bowl. Whisk vinegar, oil, garlic and orange peel in a small bowl to blend well and add to beet mixture. Stir to coat, season with salt and vinegar and allow to stand for at least an hour at room temperature before serving.

*You may notice that beets add color to your subsequent bathroom visits. Do not be alarmed! And kids find it very amusing.

Toasted Garbanzos (Summer Buffet Dish or addictive T.V. Snack)

5 Jul


Chick peas are my favorite pulses (legumes). In soups, as falafel, in salads…I love, love, love their density, their subtle nuttiness, their cute shape. So it is a great joy to discover yet another way to prepare and enjoy them. These superpower beans are easy to toast and just a bit of seasoning is all the enhancement they need.

These almost didn’t make it to the buffet table, because I kept snacking on them in that compulsive way that one snacks of popcorn or potato chips.

These I made from 1/2 lb of dry beans. Instructions for soaking follow the toasting recipe.


Toasted garbanzos

2 cups chick peas ( or 2 15.5 oz cans, rinsed and drained)

¼ cup olive oil (you may substitute vegetable oil)

1 generous tsp cumin

Several gratings of black pepper

1 tsp coarse sea salt

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Mix all ingredients and lay in a single layer on a rimmed oven dish. Cook for 20-25 m until crisp and golden, stirring occasionally. Cool to room temperature and serve.

To soak chick peas: Rinse and sort through the chick peas, then place in a bowl with more than enough water to cover overnight. Change the water in the morning and leave for several hours. Rinse and drain, then simmer with enough water to cover for two hours, scooping off any foam. It takes a long time, but there are long periods of neglect involved, so don’t worry! The savings and the texture and flavor are terrific!

Marinated Mini-Mozzarella Balls (Summer Buffet Dish)

4 Jul

Southern Italy has had a great influence on the population of the South Shore of Long Island. That means there are a number of stores here which make their own mozzarella. It is heavenly stuff; soft, milky, barely salted, and, if you get to Fairway, AS Pork Store or Uncle Giuseppe’s at the right time, it will still be warm.

No, it isn’t mozzarella di bufalá, the rich Italian water buffalo cheese that makes insalata caprese that much more delicious, but which is only available imported (that I know of). This is strictly cow’s milk – but what it lacks in texture and complexity, it makes up for in freshness and simple comfort.

And, you can always dress it up. Small mozzarella balls in their liquid can be purchased and made more interesting in a flash when drained and dolloped with your preferred pesto. Or you can try something a bit more adventurous and a lot more impressive (but still easy as all get-out).

Pay an extra dollar or much more a pound for pre-marinated ciliegi or try this! My version is fast and easy and has a lot going on, certainly worth the extra five minutes it takes to prep. It also looks quite beautiful. Summer buffets really light up with bright and colorful presentation ( I mean, I love potato salad, macaroni salad and cole slaw, but the range of colors often leaves a lot to be desired!)

If you can only find prepackaged mozzarella balls, use them! No sense denying yourself these great flavors just because you can’t get the fresh stuff. It will be fun and beautiful just the same!


Perfect for a summer buffet

Marinated Mozzarella Balls (spicy)

1 lb fresh mini-mozzarella balls, drained (about 2 cups). Sometimes called ciliegi meaning “cherry”

¼ Cup extra virgin olive oil

2 Tbs finely chopped sundried tomatoes in oil, drained a bit

1 Tbs each fresh parsley, oregano, basil (or your choice of Italian herbs)

1/2 cup grape/cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered

1/8 tsp hot red pepper flakes (if desired)

1 Tbs fresh squeezed lemon juice

Salt to taste (only if mozzarella balls are unsalted)

In a bowl, add olive oil to mozzarella balls and stir to coat. Add all other ingredients and mix thoroughly. Marinate, covered, at room temperature for at least one hour before serving. I find that the texture of the fresh mozzarella toughens over time, so for softest texture, don’t prepare more than two hours ahead. It still makes good leftovers though!

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