Sunday, January 16, 2011

But he won't eat protein!

I've got several friends who have picky eaters of the toddler variety.

Toddlers are picky eaters that are a world apart from a picky Cub Scout who wants to live on PB&J and Cheetos or a picky 13-year-old girl flirting with being a vegan despite the fact that she doesn't like vegetables. With a kid in elementary school or junior high, you can employ reason. Or threats. Or bribery. Or just say, what they hell...eventually she'll realize tofu tastes like feet and eat what I've got on the table.

A toddler cannot be coerced with words. A toddler does not respond to threats. A toddler who has decided upon his set course cannot be bribed. My son recently turned down a remote control dinosaur because he wanted a pair of needle-nosed pliers. Tunnel vision doesn't begin to describe it.

Toddlers also have a secret weapon, although they might not be aware of it. Their mothers are usually petrified that not catering to their whims will result in a child not eating, which everyone will obviously be able to tell at a glance and then judge how horrible the mother in question must be. And so, many a child exists on a diet that seems, well, eccentric at best, like Cheerios and peas, or buttered noodles and mini marshmallows.

Dealing with this is a tightrope act. Do you give in, and hope that your kid isn't still only eating chicken fingers in college, or do you take the hardline and see how many days your 30-lb child will go without eating before meatloaf seems appealing?

I am blessed to have a 3-year-old with the palate of a New York Times critic. He has cheerfully eaten snails, octopus, sushi and beef heart. He recently threw a massive tantrum because I offered him a cookie. He wanted green beans. He ate the green beans. I ate the cookie. But this is not to say that every day is an uncontested walk in the park when it comes to meals. It's not. Some days, he wants nothing but carbs. Others, he only wants vegetables.

But protein? Well, it seems like that's the one moms worry about most. A kid won't eat meat at dinner and we tend to think his vital organs will immediately start to shut down.

Well, as someone who verges on vegetarianism because of health issues, I'm constantly on the lookout for ways to work protein into unexpected places, and I'm here to tell you, this isn't the hill on which you want to die. Why stress yourself over a battle with your kid about grilled chicken when you can just work eggs, cheese, nuts, and protein-rich grains into other aspects of your meal?

I don't like to "hide" things in kids' food. What's the point of getting them to eat a carrot if they don't realize they love carrots? But adding cream cheese to mashed potatoes makes better potatoes that have the added benefit of protein. Folding a beaten egg into macaroni and cheese gives you a thicker sauce. Using brown rice or whole wheat pasta spikes the protein value of your carbs. And replacing some of the butter in a muffin or cookie recipe with a nut butter both lowers the bad fats and raises the protein.

And hey, it's not something to do just for the kids. Remember, upping your protein intake is a great way to keep you full and satisfied longer, so you might eat less during the day. It's a miracle! Protein makes them grow bigger, and could help us get smaller? Talk about a win-win!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Big Bucks!

I'm about to start my biennial pursuit of the elusive million dollar recipe.

Yes, people, it's that time again. The Pillsbury Bake-off. Let's get ready to CRUMBLE!!!! (Get it? That's the way the cookie... Oh, never mind.)

I was enraptured by the Bake-off years before I started contesting. It's the great equalizer. A good idea can make it to the top of the heap whether it comes from a 12-year-old boy, like the one who came up with Poppin' Barbecups, or a long-time contester, like Kurt Wait, who won the first million dollar pot with his Macadamia Fudge Torte. It's a contest that has given the collective American menu so many recipes that became iconic: Peanut Blossoms, Cherry Winks, French Silk Pie.

One of the staples on my mother's table was always Savory Crescent Chicken Squares. This was not only one of my favorite meals as a kid, but opened my eyes to how adaptable a recipe can be. The filling is great in the flaky pastry, but just as good on toast, crackers, a pizza crust, even tossed with hot pasta. Oh, and a handful of frozen peas makes it really pop.

So now my refrigerator is packed with Pillsbury doughs and crusts and Land O Lakes butter and eggs. Brownie mix and flour are sitting on my kitchen counter with Jif peanut butter, Smuckers jelly, Hershey's cocoa, and McCormick extracts.

Oh,'s that time again.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

We wish you a merry Christmas

and a happy birthday to my son.

Sorry for the short supply of recipes in the last week or so, but in addition to Christmas, today is my little boy's third birthday.

We will, surprise surprise, be having pizza.

This is him at his second birthday party last year. His name is Joseph. He loves dinosaurs.

He also loves this very simple pizza.

Take plain white bread. Cut out round pieces. Sautee in olive oil. Flip over, and top with cheese, which will melt while the bottom browns. Good as is, but Joseph likes his with sliced black olives. I like it with roasted red peppers. My husband takes his with anchovies.

Happy birthday, monkey boy.

Monday, December 13, 2010


My Christmas cookie baking is knocking pizza off the table for a few days.

I recently found anisette sugar, the kind you would use for fancy coffee drinks, at a gourmet shop. Anisette is one of my favorite holiday flavors, giving a licorice snap to my favorite holiday bread, to my husband's favorite biscotti, and to pizzelles. But this sugar gave me another way to use it.

Snickerdoodles have always been one of my favorite cookies. My grandma's snickerdoodles were so sweet and cinnamony, they were even better than chocolate chip, and that's saying something. So this licorice-flavored sugar made me wonder if I could reproduce them with an anisette punch.

I could. I did. OMG.

I started with this light recipe for snickerdoodles from Betty Crocker's website.

All I did was add 1/2 teaspoon anise extract to the dough, and swap out the cinnamon sugar mixture at the end for 1/2 cup of my anisette sugar to roll the balls of dough.

Heaven. Crackling, sweet, licorice-flavored heaven.

This actually makes me determined to try other variations. Almond, perhaps, or citrus. Yum.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Welcome to my family tradition

For some families, Christmas smells like cinnamon, or peppermint, or cloves. Maybe your holiday is about fudge, or sugar cookies, or fruitcake. It might be German stollen, or Italian pannetone, or an English plum pudding.

In my family, Christmas smells like licorice.

To be precise, the smell of Christmas is anise cooked with dried fruit, in a dark bread, best served cold from my grandma's enclosed but uninsulated back porch, which served as a poor man's deep freeze during the Minnesota winters. Christmas, my friends, is bittebrot.

Technically, it should be birnebrot, as it is really Swiss pear bread. My great-grandmother's recipe has it spelled correctly. But I've never heard anyone say anything but "bitte" which I've always found appropriate, as bitte is kind of the German version of aloha or shalom, a word that might mean both please and thank you.

Sometime as we approached the holidays, Grandma would make up massive batches of bittebrot, and it would fill every pan she could find. Loaf pans, cake pans, pie plates, casseroles, free-form loaves on cookie sheets. You never knew what shape the bread might take.

Grandma Marie often lamented that hers didn't taste exactly like her mother-in-law's. Grandma Dehn Sr.'s would have a bread lighter in color, that rose higher. Grandma's was denser and deeper in flavor. Both were wonderful, but I always preferred Grandma Marie's.

Mine is somewhere in the middle...and something kind of different.

When I first stepped up to try my hand at our family tradition, it was the same way it had been made forever. Mixed by hand in a giant bowl with a wooden spoon. Kneaded by hand. Shaped by hand. And it was delicious. It was also hard and time consuming, and frankly, I'm a fan of quick and easy.

Enter the bread machine.

It took some trial and error. There were some failures. There were some spectacular failures. But ultimately, I succeeded in translating my grandma's big-batch bittebrot into a single loaf recipe that all but makes itself. (And Aunt Patty? I'm sorry it's taken this long to get the recipe to you.)

It starts with simmering apples, raisins, and other dried fruit into a juicy compote. Traditionally, it should be dried apples, dried pears, prunes, raisins, and maybe some apricot. I use what I've got. Today, for example, was fresh apple, raisin and dried cranberry.

Cover with apple cider and simmer for 30 minutes or more. Cool to about 100 degrees. (Don't break out a thermometer or anything. If it feels a little warmer than your skin, it's fine.) Measure out a cup and a half, and make sure the liquid, and not just the fruit, comes to the top of your measuring cup. If you don't have that much liquid, add enough warm water to make it up.

The secret, of course, is the anise. I double it up, putting a teaspoon of extract in the liquid, and adding another couple of teaspoons of ground anise (or crushed seed, but crushing anise seed is a tedious business that may also crush your soul) with the dry ingredients.

The rest is simple. Three cups of flour, a teaspoon of salt, and a package of yeast. (To be honest, I don't use a package of yeast. I buy my yeast in gigantic two-pound packages. I use about a tablespoon.)

Now, you may be asking yourself, why won't she just write this like a regular recipe? Well, I'll tell you. This recipe, since it's a tradition, isn't a formula. It's a story. You should learn it the way you would learn it from your grandmother, in explanatory steps.

And also...all bread machines are different. Some want the liquid first, like mine does. Some want the dry ingredients first. If you've got a liquids first, add the fruit and juice, with the anise extract, then top with flour, salt, ground anise, and yeast. I use my machine's sweet dough setting, like you would use for cinnamon raisin bread, with a light crust.

What you get is a loaf that is chewy but light, with the sweetness of fruit and the strength of anise. And Christmas just isn't Christmas without it.

Friday, November 26, 2010


Okay...last one. I promise.

If cranberries are too tart and Asian's too out there for your picky eater, go simple and familiar. Go barbecue.

We have Wolfgang Puck to thank for giving us barbecue chicken pizza. I'm considering building a small, tasteful altar. Just a few candles. Nothing showy. I first found Wolfie's (yes, I call him Wolfie) barbecuey wonderfulness at his restaurant in Orlando. It was lifechanging. Okay, maybe that's a little excessive. But it was what opened my eyes to the idea that a pizza can be more than marinara and pepperoni.

And then we have California Pizza Kitchen to thank for spreading the barbecue glory to grocery store freezer cases all across America.

Barbecue sauce and poultry, after all, is a flavor combination our nuggetized youth have been conditioned to accept with an almost Pavlovian response. Add the shape and cheese of pizza, and it's really hard to go wrong. So hard, they may not realize they are eating leftovers. Again.

Start with that crust. Smear it with your favorite barbecue sauce. I like to take a cheap bottle of something pre-made and doctor it a little with some brown sugar and orange zest until I get exactly the tangy-sweet flavor I like. But if KC Masterpiece or Sweet Baby Ray's is already just what you want, why make it harder on yourself.

Then I get liberal with the turkey. Dark meat, white meat, whatever you've got left will be fine.

Get wild at this point if you want. Red onion, green pepper, whatever you want to do. I actually served it with slaw, so I wasn't concerned about the veggie content. Then, bring on the cheese.

I bypassed your typical mozzarella and went for provolone. It's slightly smoky, and that flavor paired perfectly with the barbecue sauce. What you've got is the perfect snack for football games...that gets rid of leftovers without having people groan at you about "casserole again?"

Now, like all good trilogies, our leftover journey has come to its conclusion.


Friday, November 19, 2010

Revenge of the Leftovers!!!

Okay, you didn't think there could be just one leftovers post, right? 'Cause that would be ridiculous. One meal out of leftovers? What are you going to serve for Thanksgiving? A canary?

The further you get from that original meal, the further you want to be from that original meal. In that spirit, today's offering is taking you from Plymouth to Peking. Welcome to the world of Asian turkey. Via pizza.

Yeah, pizza. Read the name of the blog again. Okay, fine, you don't want pizza? Change it up. This makes a great sandwich, open faced on some good crusty bread, or toasted in a sub roll and closed up with a little Asian slaw on top. Or stuck in a pita pocket. Or slapped together, spread with butter and given a turn around a hot pan like a grilled cheese with a serious twist.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Okay...start with the bread. I'm going back to that great PennMac crust I used the other day. But use what you've got. Frankly, I'm anticipating some leftover Italian bread, so this could turn into a nice long pizza boat for me, almost a bahn mi of leftovers.

Now we address the sauce. I got some spicy orange sauce in the Asian section at Wegman's the other day, and I've been dying to try it on something. This seemed like a good opportunity. I painted it on the crust liberally, and topped it with the turkey.

I went heavy on the turkey, because I had a lot of turkey. If I had it (and frankly, it would have been great, but I actually didn't have all of the veggies I'd have liked), I'd have then added red pepper strips, matchstick carrots, broccoli, maybe some bok choy. If you like it in a stir fry or with your fried rice, throw it on.

Then we look at cheese. You want something mellow. A cheddar wouldn't fit. A mozzarella would be okay, but you want something that will harmonize with the Asian flavors. So...I used up the brie I had leftover from the the other day. Hey, leftovers! Gotta use 'em up, right?

It's pretty, isn't it? Okay, maybe pretty is a stretch. I was really wishing for some green onion when I pulled it out. But damn did it taste good. Asian flavors and French flavors are great pairings. They took the turkey to a completely different place than the Thanksgiving table it started.

So throw together a pizza. Or a sandwich. Or a pita. Just don't listen to what you tell your kids. Play with your food.