Friday, June 29, 2012

Tuna Tartare Two Ways

We don't eat enough fish. We stopped making it regularly somewhere between the day I wrestled half a filet of lemony whitefish from the cat after Looly chucked it off her highchair tray and the onset of Roo's food allergies.
In any event, Starfish brand fish sticks (don't knock 'em till you've tried 'em) and the occasional salmon fillet round out our current seafood rotation. I've been longing for the return of homemade fish tacos and sauteed scallops and finally decided this week that it's time. Bring on the tuna!
I don't normally advocate lying to kids. My children have a firm understanding of lots of difficult topics...poverty, natural disasters, war, death. They know our beloved cat did not disappear last January to go to live on a farm somewhere. And for the most part, they handle it. But raw fish? Let's just say I didn't send a memo before I put it on their plates.

Tuna Tartare for the Wee Ones (grown-up version appears below)

1/4 pound fresh, high quality tuna steak
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tbsp. canola oil

1. Slice the tuna steak into 1/4-inch cubes and place in a large bowl.
2. Whisk together soy sauce, juice, and oil. Pour over tuna. Marinate in the refrigerator for an hour or more. Serve with rice crackers.

So they didn't embrace their first tartare experience with all the gusto I'd hoped for but miraculously, they each chewed and swallowed an entire quarter inch cube of raw tuna before politely expressing their dissatisfaction - a far cry from the days of "Yuck!" and "Are you trying to kill us?!" All that and no one threw up or even gagged a little bit. That's a victory if I've ever seen one.

Whatever the kids don't finish, just toss into the grown-up version below.

Spicy Tuna Ceviche
adapted slightly from Barefoot Contessa

2 pounds fresh, high quality tuna steaks
1/2 cup olive oil
3 limes, zest and juice
1 tsp. wasabi powder
1 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tbsp. Sriracha sauce
1 tsp. coarse salt
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 cup scallions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup red onion, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
1 avocado, pitted, peeled, and diced
1 tsp. toasted sesame seeds

1. Dice the tuna steak into 1/4-inch cubes and place in a large bowl.
2. In a separate bowl, combine oil, lime juice, zest, wasabi powder, soy sauce, Sriracha, salt, cayenne, scallions, onion, and jalepeno. Stir well. Pour over tuna and toss gently to coat. Marinate in the refrigerate for about an hour. Add avocado and toss gently just before serving. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve with rice crackers, wonton crisps, tortilla chips, or shovel it into your mouth directly out of the bowl with a fork like me.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Rainbow Agua Fresca Fiesta

It's summertime. Around here that means Mama School. Nope, no highbrow philosophy class for me, rather, the kiddos and I are exploring a few special topics we all wish we had more time for during the school year. And guess who gets to play teacher. Uh-huh.

This summer, Mama School is offering our ever popular cooking course, along with piano/music, reading with special emphasis on poetry, weather cycles, and Spanish.
The kids know several Spanish words, but I've been trying to encourage them to string more phrases together and most importantly, to make an attempt to talk to people using the Spanish they know. What better scenario to practice our basic greetings and introductions than a pretend party with chips and guacamole and a few fancy drinks to clink? Agua Fresca time.

With an abundance of fruit in the house, we each chose our own fruit flavor. Here's the rundown:

Looly: Pineapple
Bean: Strawberry
Roo: Watermelon
Amy: Honeydew with basil-infused simple syrup from mojitos the other night

In retrospect, the whole flavor choice thing led to a lot of blending and rinsing when we could have been practicing Spanish greetings. But we embraced the moment, adding fruit names and colors to our lesson for the day. I find that's one of the coolest things about working with kids in the kitchen. No matter what we make it inevitably ties into all sorts of additional learning. Fractions, measuring, vocabulary, music (can you really cook without it?), poetry (Amelia Mixed the Mustard by A E Housman, for instance), you name it.
So anyway, we chopped la piña, blended las fresas, juiced la sandía, and...
"Hola. Me llamo Roo y me gusta la agua fresca de sandía."
Agua Fresca Rainbow

2 cups fruit of your choice, peeled, seeded, and roughly chopped (We made several batches using watermelon, pineapple, honeydew, and strawberry but you could expand your own rainbow with mango, cantaloupe, cucumber, guava, passion fruit, etc.)
1 cup cold water
2 tbsp. sugar
Juice of 1 lime

Puree the fruit in a blender or with an immersion blender. Pass through a strainer or other fine sieve to remove pulp. Combine strained puree, water, sugar, and lime juice in a small pitcher. Stir until sugar dissolves and serve over ice.

Each batch will make about 2 servings. If you want the full rainbow effect, make a few different batches using a variety of fruits in complimentary colors.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Basil Mint Mojitos

I love my kids. And after a long sweltering day of riding CTA, picnicking in a tick-infested park, one destroyed iPhone case and and a full-blown WWF style 4-year-old death match, I love them just a smidgen more with a refreshing cocktail in hand.
Basil Mint Mojitos, Baby.

Mufasa's got a sweet little herb garden going and I am reaping the benefits. As if I needed an excuse to make this drink, the mint has been taking over. Turns out the basil needed a bit of a trim as well. 
Basil Mint Mojitos

2 sprigs mint, torn into pieces
2 sprigs basil, torn into pieces
2 lime wedges
1.5 ounce basil infused simple syrup*
1.5 ounces rum
Club soda

1. Place mint, basil, lime, and basil infused simple syrup in a glass. Muddle well. A dedicated muddler works well here but so did the blunt end of my meat mallet. Use what you have. No need to get fancy.
2. Pour in rum and stir. Add ice cubes and top off glass with club soda. Stir well and garnish with additional limes, basil leaves and/or mint.
*To make the basil infused simple syrup, combine 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar in a pot. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat, add 3-4 sprigs basil to the syrup, cover, and let sit for a few hours or overnight. Remove and discard basil. Pour syrup into airtight container and refrigerate until ready to use.
Sip long and sip hard. School doesn't start again until late August.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Tempted By the Fruit of Another

A few weeks ago we went strawberry picking. After strawberry limeade, shortcake, and five pounds in the freezer, I was pretty sure I had my fill of bulk strawberries for the season. Then I stumbled upon these little beauties at our local farmers market.
Go ahead, try one, the berry mistress taunted. So I did. Thirty five dollars later I boasted eight more quarts of the best damn strawberries I have ever tasted in my life. Hands down.

I paraded them through the market like the Pied Piper, their heady aroma my magic flute, surrounded by throngs of hungry children and parents seeking out samples from my flat.
Home was no better. Note the look of pure ecstasy on both Bean and Roo's faces.

But, as if often the case with the tenderest and tastiest of berries I had to work fast if I wanted to preserve this perfect burst of summer. And preserve I did. Meet my new canner.
Before I give it to you, a few notes about my recipe. The original Better Homes and Gardens recipe called for whole pink peppercorns not crushed black pepper. I had a couple of issues with pink peppercorns, the first being that our "close" grocery store didn't have any and after purchasing the berries, the canner, accessories, and jars, I wasn't particularly motivated to seek them out. Second, I don't think I really want to bite into a whole peppercorn in my jam, but that's just me. Hence the cracked black pepper. The lazy woman's substitution worked quite nicely in my opinion and gives the jam a subtle kick.

Canning, like baking, is precise. I am by no means an expert canner but I took my chances by also reducing the sugar by one cup. The thing is, before I made the balsamic pepper-laced jam, I made some plain strawberry jam from the same berries using the full seven cups of sugar the original recipe called for. Even my six-year-old deemed it way too sweet. So, throwing caution to the wind, I reduced the sugar here and lo and behold, the jam still set beautifully.
If like me, you're somewhat new to canning, here's some great basic canning info to get you on your way.
Balsamic Strawberry Jam with Cracked Pepper
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens Can It!

12 cups strawberries
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 1.75-ounce package regular powdered fruit pectin
1/2 tsp butter
6 cups sugar
1 tbsp cracked black pepper

1. Place about 1 cup of berries in a large bowl and crush with a potato masher. Continue to add berries and mash until you have 5 total cups of crushed berries. Place berries in a large heavy pot. Stir in vinegar, pectin, and butter. Bring to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Stir in sugar all at once. Return to a boil, and boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim off any foam with a spoon. Stir in cracked pepper.
2. Ladle hot jam into hot, sterilized half-pint canning jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Wipe any goop off the rims and place the lids and rings.
3. Process the filled jars in a boiling water canner for 5 minutes timing from when the water returns to a full boil. Remove jars from canner and cool on wire racks or a dish towel for 12-24 hours. Makes about 10 half-pints.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Buttermilk Biscuits with Garlic Chive Butter

Earlier this week we made our own butter and buttermilk. Then we put them to work in Buttermilk Biscuits with Garlic Chive Butter.
Buttermilk Biscuits
Adapted slightly from Alton Brown

2 cups flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
4 tbsp. butter
1 cup buttermilk, chilled

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees
2. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Cut in the butter using a pastry cutter or two forks until the dough resembles course crumbs. Make a well in the center, pour in buttermilk. Mix only until the dough comes together. No more than absolutely necessary.
3. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Knead 5-6 times and press to a 1-inch thickness. Cut out biscuits with a 2-inch round cutter (the rim of a glass will also work in a pinch). Place biscuits on a baking sheet so their edges just touch. Reform dough and repeat.
4. Bake until fluffy and light golden brown, about 15-20 minutes. Serve warm with more butter, jam, or garlic chive butter.
Garlic Chive Butter

1/4 cup unsalted butter (homemade if possible)
1 small clove garlic, finely minced
2 tbsp. chives, finely chopped
pinch salt

Bring butter to room temperature. Mix in garlic, chives, and salt. Let stand for several minutes to blend flavors. Spread on warm buttermilk biscuits.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Homemade Butter, Shaken Not Stirred

Little House on the Prairie is more than just a series around here. It's a way of life. I have Laura Ingalls Wilder's biggest fan in residence. We often play "Little House" which mostly entails three pioneer children, Laura, Mary, and Carrie, diligently and obediently carrying out whatever task Ma or Pa Ingalls might need done at any given time. As far as parent participation games go, this is my favorite.

This week we embraced our inner pioneer spirit by churning our own butter. The process is so very simple, especially when you can run to Costco to buy a half gallon of of heavy cream, yet so satisfying.
Start with a good amount of heavy cream. We used about 2 quarts, but there's no need to measure. Let the cream sit out until it's room temperature. Cold cream takes much longer to convert and if your kids are anything like mine, this makes all the difference between fun active science experiment and grueling upper body workout.

Pour the cream into a spill-proof container. We used plastic Tupperware containers with screw lids, but whatever you've got that you can shake without spilling should work just fine. Just be sure to leave plenty of room for expansion. Alternatively you can whip the cream with a mixer but we had a lot more fun shaking ours into submission. 
Start shaking. And shaking. And then shake some more. The cream will start to expand until it becomes whipped cream. At this point we unscrewed the lids and everyone had a taste.
Put the lids back on and shake some more. When it feels like you're shaking a solid lump of clay, keep going, you're almost there.
Drain off the liquid buttermilk using a cheesecloth or other thin piece of fabric as a sieve. An old dinner napkin worked for us. Reserve the buttermilk for pancakes, biscuits or other pioneer-inspired treat. Rinse the butter in cold water and drain repeatedly through the cheesecloth until the water is clear. Place the solid butter on a flat surface and squeeze out as much liquid as possible using a spatula or the back of a spoon. That's it! 
Fresh homemade butter fit for Ma Ingalls' table.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Burrata, My Love, or Mozzarella Three Ways

Ever since a chance meeting at Scampo in Boston a couple of years ago, I've been head over heels in love with a voluptuous, decadent bundle of creamery goodness that goes by the name of Burrata cheese.
Refreshing and indulgent at the same time, it's like mozzarella pudding on a plate for crying out loud. Get me some tomatoes and a spoon. The Littles, however, are wary. Goopy and soupy are not big selling points with them, and the lack of vibrant color isn't helping. Time for a little side by side comparison.
Mozzarella cheese three ways. We sampled:

1. Everyday mozzarella string cheese (Frigo brand, in case you're wondering)
2. Fresh water-packed mozzarella
3. Burrata (we got ours at Trader Joe's)
Roo is surely googling Burrata on the iPhone
And the winner is (surprise surprise) Frigo String Cheese by a vote of 2-1. Looly chose the Burrata, which sent chills of pride up my spine. She thought it looked just like a present waiting to be unwrapped, which isn't far from the truth, and smeared it over sliced bread to make her own hors d'oeuvres. Roo claimed to enjoy all three varieties, but the string cheese was the only one that showed any visible teeth marks after his taste. Bean is a string cheese girl all the way. She can't stand mushy cheese and found both the fresh mozzarella and Burrata "watery, slippery and not yummy."
Taste test complete, hefty ball of Burrata on a plate, I was left no choice.

Burrata and Heirloom Tomatoes

1 ball Burrata cheese
1/2 pint heirloom grape tomatoes, halved
good quality, fruity olive oil
balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt
black pepper, freshly cracked
1/4 cup basil, sliced (chiffonade is prettiest)

1. Place Burrata on a plate. Top with tomatoes. Drizzle olive oil and balsamic vinegar on top. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Top with basil. Let the whole hot mess come to room temperature if you can stand the wait. Scoop in into your mouth with a freshly sliced baguette.

Watermelon Feta Salad

Looly and Roo love feta cheese. All three of the KC kids slurp watermelon like it's going out of style. Frankly I don't have much in my arsenal better than this to get them to eat an actual salad.
But as far as fruit and feta go, Mufasa is a skeptic. The rosé helps. And the fact that I use mint from his herb garden. Mint has a habit of taking over that thing.
The recipe couldn't be simpler. Just focus on the freshest, highest quality ingredients you can find. I know you've heard it a million times but it really counts here. No joke.

Watermelon Feta Salad*
(adapted from Barefoot Contessa)

4 cups baby salad greens, rinsed and dried (arugula would be peppery and tasty, but it's a bit strong for my kids, so I went with mixed greens instead)
1 cup chopped mint
2 cups watermelon, cubed
8 ounces feta cheese, cubed
juice of 1 lemon
juice of 1 orange
1 shallot, minced
1 tbsp. honey
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil

1. Place salad greens, mint, watermelon, and feta in a large bowl.
2. To make the vinaigrette, combine citrus juices, shallot, honey, salt, and pepper. Whisk well. Slowly drizzle in olive oil, whisking continuously. Pour over salad mixture and toss to coat. Serve immediately, outside on the porch.

*This, like many of my favorites, can be served deconstructed for the most persnickety diners, aka my children. Watermelon. Feta. Greens. Orange slices. 'Nuff said.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Gastrokid Cookbook Review

Looly reads cookbooks like a teenage boy with the Victoria's Secret catalog. She sneaks them out of my cupboard and hides them under her bed. She's long preferred thumbing through a few recipes over just about anything else, except Little House on the Prairie. As a result of her fanaticism, we've developed quite a collection of cookbooks aimed at kids. Some are truly phenomenal. Others, not so much.

I admit I'm the one who brought The Gastrokid Cookbook by Hugh Garvey and Matthew Yoemans into the house. I bought it on sale as a birthday gift for Looly because the premise resonated with me: The Foodie Parent's Essential Guide to Raising Passionate, Adventurous Eaters!

I'm not sure I really fit the "foodie" bill. In fact, that word kind of makes me want to throw up, but I do have a well-established interest in cooking and eating and feeding my family well is a priority. I was sold.

Unfortunately, the tone of the book is inherently insulting. And it's a complete and utter shame because the recipes themselves are not bad at all. Grilled Japanese Eggplant with Haloumi and Mint, Salmon Saltimbocca, and Pork with Carmelized Milk Sauce all have my name on them. But every time I pick up this book to try one, I can't get past the pedantic tone of these two idiots, Yoemans and Garvey.

The introduction begins:

"If you're a parent, you don't have time to read cookbooks, which is why we wrote this one."

Aside from the obvious question of why the heck they wrote it if they knew no one was going to read it and instead focus on the fact that I am a parent and I have time to read cookbooks. In fact, I love reading cookbooks and find it therapeutic, fulfilling, and an enjoyable way to spend quality time with my kids. Am I a bad parent? Not busy enough? I thought the idea was to focus on the importance of making the time for good food.

But wait, there's more on page 8.

"We are both working dads with full-time jobs, stressed-out wives, school-aged kids..."

Say what? As a female parent and yes, wife, I can only assume neither of these gentleman asked their own wives to do a quick proofread before the book went to print. Perhaps next time they should call me. I could have helped with a few of these pitfalls.

Like #2 in the Gastrokid Rules for Reclaiming the Family Dinner Table which states that you should "Never call your child a picky eater." See, I would have replaced that one with something like this: "Never refer to your wife as chronically stressed-out in a manuscript destined for mass publication."

Then there are the myriad assumptions about what "little palates" like and don't like. There's this pervasive notion that by simply exposing kids to new flavors and adding a quick dipping sauce or wrapping it in bacon, you can create adventurous, healthy, well-rounded eaters. I tend to disagree.

I get that offering a variety of foods and culinary experiences ups the chances kids are going to partake, but as the mother of three children who have been fed the same diet for years yet have vastly different food preferences and tolerances, I attest it's only part of the equation. And while I don't condone a diet of hot dogs and chicken nuggets as Yoemans and Garvey would lead you to believe most of us do, I also don't judge a parent for serving what's going to work best for their family at any given meal.

My final verdict? Buy the book on sale. Tear out the first 13 pages any throw them away. Black out the exclamation pointed tips and facts on the other pages and concentrate on the recipes. They're not half-bad.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Strawberry Picking

'Tis the Season. Strawberry season, that is.
This weekend we made the trek to Olive Berry Acres in Mazon, IL, where despite our kooky Midwest spring of 80-degree March and frosty April, they have fields bursting with ripe berries and plenty of buckets at the ready! At least they did this past weekend. My apologies if you missed the show. It happens so fast. 
The farm is a charming spot to spend a summer morning but don't forget the sunscreen. There's not much shade to be found in a strawberry patch. Luckily the munchkins were adequately slathered and hatted and Mufasa is impervious to sun, or so he claims. But I missed a spot on my own shoulder and learned the lesson the hard way.
We managed close to eight pounds of strawberries in about an hour. Not bad considering each and every berry Roo picked required a thorough inspection by mom or dad before going into his bucket. His rules, not mine.
Looly, Bean, and Roo are seasoned strawberry pickers at this point and don't require the coaxing and cajoling I needed to meet my quota as a child laborer in the fields with my mother. They're happy to pick and pluck as long as they can snag a few juicy bites along the way. The raspberries, however, proved a bit trickier.
I'd forgotten the thorns. With no jeans or long sleeves for the troops, raspberries were up to me and I have the Paris Metro map in blood on my forearms to prove it.
And since our city kids don't often experience the thrills of my being charged by a bull or abandoned by siblings in the middle of a dense cornfield, they thoroughly enjoyed playing farm kids for a day.