Archive for September, 2010

Getting Kids to Try New Foods at Restaurants

Lemon grass chicken. That’s what my oldest ordered the last week at Peppermint, a Thai restaurant we went to as a family. When her dish came everyone, my husband included, couldn’t wait to try her dish–it was stunning. Thin slices of charbroiled chicken topped with veggies, a light brown sauce that was wafting citrusy scents in all directions and on top a batch of fried, crispy spinach. I didn’t even know you could fry spinach!

Beef Satay--from the Kids' Menu

So how did my daughter end up with the enviable entree? She asked. There’s several strategies we’ve tried to get our kids to try new foods (and shun the ever-present chicken fingers offered on the kids menu). Here’s what’s worked for us.

Talk to the server. Your server knows the menu better than anyone else. Ask away to find out what she recommends. Try specific questions, “I like noodles and spicy dishes, but not something with a lot of meat, what do you suggest?” We’ve found that general questions, “What do you suggest?” yield general answers and aren’t nearly as helpful. My daughter was the only one from our table who talked to the server about her meal–the rest of us had already picked our favorites. And wouldn’t you know it, she tried something new and we were all vying for the last nibbles of her food.

Split a dish. Forget the kids’ menu, encourage your kids to share an adult meal or split one with her. My younger two love shrimp so often they just get whatever shrimp entree is available and we ask for two plates.

Eat family style. We won’t win any awards for best etiquette–when we eat at a restaurant we always try each other’s dishes, or one of my daughter’s decides she doesn’t like part of her meal so we put it on her sister’s plate. The other day we tried a new Polish restaurant, Babushka’s Kitchen after a hike in the woods. Everyone ordered a different flavor of pierogie or entree. Once the food arrived we were swapping bites of all sorts of things. My oldest downed her dad’s kraut with noodles, while I swiped bites of his swiss cheese and mushroom pierogie (heavenly!). It was so much fun to try all the new flavors. My middle child took a bit of her chicken paprikash and said, “Oh, mom, this is soooo good. You gotta try this.”

Try an appetizer. When I was a kid we never ordered appetizers. Ditto on desserts. But we’ve found that appetizers are perfect for sampling something new. First, your kids are already hungry. Second, they’re small bites–kid-sized–if she doesn’t like it, she doesn’t have to eat more. At the Thai restaurant we ordered spinach potstickers. I was sure that the spinach-infused rice dumplings stuffed with tofu wouldn’t appeal to my crew (I was sorta counting on it because I really like them). But in the end I only got one pot sticker and then I had to split the last one with my youngest.

Come hungry. Kids with empty tummies seem much more willing to try something new–and eat it–then kids who’ve been snacking all afternoon.

Pierogie time!

Pick an interesting restaurant. You can’t really expect your kid to go beyond chicken fingers if you’re at a burger place (unless of course they serve a creative assortment!) But the child’s plate at the Polish restaurant either had pierogies or chickcen paprikash. At the Thai place, the kid’s menu included chicken or beef satay. You don’t have to go for a restaurant steeped in culture, but we’ve found family-owned, non-chain restaurants are more likely to have options that intrigue the kids.

Order dessert. Okay, this one is optional. But coconut ice cream or apricot-filled handmade kolcachky–yum! Dessert can be part of the fun of trying new flavors. (We came up with this recipe for banana mini-eggrolls after visiting the Thai restaurant.)

Now your turn, how do you get your kids to sample something new at a restaurant?

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Raspberry Cream Cheese Brownies

Prep time: 20 minutes + 30 minutes baking

Servings: 14-16 brownies

Brownie Batter

1 stick (4 ounces) butter or margarine

½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

3 eggs

1 ¼ cups sugar

2/3 cups flour

¼ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon almond extract (optional)

½ cup chocolate chips (optional)

Cream Cheese swirl

2 tablespoons butter, softened

4 ounces cream cheese, softened (or at room temperature)

¼ scant cup sugar

1 egg

1/3 to ½ cup raspberry jam

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a medium- to large-sized mixing bowl, melt the butter and the ½ cup of chocolate chips for 1 to 2 minutes at half power in the microwave. Once the chips just begin to melt, stir vigorously with a fork until they are fully incorporated into the butter. Set aside to cool.

In a small mixing bowl combine the cream cheese and butter using an electric hand mixer set on high. Add in the sugar and then the egg. Turning the hand mixer to low power mix in the raspberry jam (or whatever jam you choose to use). Set aside.

Using the same beaters (hey, why clean ‘em if you don’t have to), mix the sugar into the chocolate and butter at medium-high speed. Add the eggs, mix. If you’re using it, add the almond extract and mix thoroughly. Measure and add the flour and salt, but stir the batter instead of mixing it just until the flour streaks disappear. Add additional chocolate chips, if you’re using them.

Lightly coat a 8×8” baking pan with cooking spray (mine is more like 10×6”, but whatever smaller baking pan is your favorite). Pour the brownie batter into the pan. Next, pour the cream cheese swirl batter on top of the brownie batter—don’t worry if the batter seems thin. Take a fork and swirl the cream cheese into the brownie batter.

Bake the brownies for 25 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. While these brownies are really good the day you make them. I like to cut them into neat squares and refrigerate them for a day before taking any big bites—the flavors are richer and the brownie moister after a little time to chill.

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Raspberry + Cream Cheese = Decadent Brownies

The other day I made chocolate raspberry brownies for a get-together with friends. Here’s the problem: with the dark color of the brownie batter and the equally dark color of the raspberry jam swirled into the batter these looked like your standard brownies. Now, there’s nothing wrong with a regular brownie—I could eat them all day (I shouldn’t, of course, but if you forced me—or asked–I’d be happy to).

But part of the experience of eating dessert should be a bit of visual appeal, right? So I set out to find a brownie that would show off the raspberry punch without adding too much extra work. While I wanted to stick strictly with raspberry jam, there’s just no way to lighten the color without a little help…enter cream cheese. My oldest daughter loves cream cheese swirled brownies, why not raspberry cream cheese? I used my standard brownie recipe and added a cream cheese swirl that I spiked with raspberry yumminess.

The finished brownies didn’t necessarily scream—“Hey there’s raspberry in here!,” but with baked on swirls the brownies did hint there’s more than just chocolate inside. I will say, the cream cheese does take out a bit of the tart flavor and fruitiness of the raspberry jam but in return it gives a richness and creaminess it didn’t have before. The recipe also passed the “asking-for-seconds” test. Of course, where chocolate is concerned I haven’t had my kids not ask for seconds, but hey, they still passed.

If raspberry’s not your favorite flavor you can use just about any jam to perk up the cream cheese (although grape wouldn’t be my top choice). Apricot, strawberry, mixed berry, any would make for a tasty brownie.

Recipe

Prep time: 20 minutes + 30 minutes baking

Servings: 14-16 brownies

Brownie Batter

1 stick (4 ounces) butter or margarine

½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

3 eggs

1 ¼ cups sugar

2/3 cups flour

¼ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon almond extract (optional)

½ cup chocolate chips (optional)

Cream Cheese swirl

2 tablespoons butter, softened

4 ounces cream cheese, softened (or at room temperature)

¼ scant cup sugar

1 egg

1/3 to ½ cup raspberry jam

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a medium- to large-sized mixing bowl, melt the butter and the ½ cup of chocolate chips for 1 to 2 minutes at half power in the microwave. Once the chips just begin to melt, stir vigorously with a fork until they are fully incorporated into the butter. Set aside to cool.

In a small mixing bowl combine the cream cheese and butter using an electric hand mixer set on high. Add in the sugar and then the egg. Turning the hand mixer to low power mix in the raspberry jam (or whatever jam you choose to use). Set aside.

Using the same beaters (hey, why clean ‘em if you don’t have to), mix the sugar into the chocolate and butter at medium-high speed. Add the eggs, mix. If you’re using it, add the almond extract and mix thoroughly. Measure and add the flour and salt, but stir the batter instead of mixing it just until the flour streaks disappear. Add additional chocolate chips, if you’re using them.

Lightly coat a 8×8” baking pan with cooking spray (mine is more like 10×6”, but whatever smaller baking pan is your favorite). Pour the brownie batter into the pan. Next, pour the cream cheese swirl batter on top of the brownie batter—don’t worry if the batter seems thin. Take a fork and swirl the cream cheese into the brownie batter.

Bake the brownies for 25 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. While these brownies are really good the day you make them. I like to cut them into neat squares and refrigerate them for a day before taking any big bites—the flavors are richer and the brownie moister after a little time to chill.

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Thank you, Jeff Potter for cooking like a geek!

Photo credit: Amazon

No, no, I’m not knocking Jeff Potter, after all, his book is called Cooking for Geeks.


I heard him interviewed on NPR’s Science Friday and I must admit, anyone who’s taken a piece of a rocket to refashion his oven so that it can reach temperatures hot enough to mimic a wood-fired stove, well, I want to know/read more.

So far, I’m only a few pages in, but flipping through the book is like having science experiment after delicious science experiment all centered around one of my favorite things–cooking. There are few recipes in the book, which I like. Instead of giving an ingredient list and directions, as a cookbook would, Potter explains the whys and hows of certain food techniques. Do you know why you use baking soda for some recipes and baking powder at other times–sometimes both? Nope, neither did I.

The section on flavor is not to be missed (and there’s an explanation of how to make your own Lego ice cream maker tucked in those pages–who knew?!). When my middle daughter spied me looking through the book, she asked what it was about. I happened to be on the page explaining the primary tastes–bitter, salty, sour, sweet, umami–so I gave her a quick lesson. She seemed disappointed that chocolate hadn’t earned its own category. (I’m with her on that.)

We’ve already had one success pulled from the pages–orange brownies. Get this, you hollow out oranges and pour brownie batter inside and bake. Easy, easy. Potter used one orange and trimmed it from the top. Instead I cut the oranges in half before filling. The kids could not wait to eat these. Okay, now back to reading…

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Brownie stuffed oranges

This idea comes right from Cooking for Geeks, which has been a hit at our house. Thank you, Jeff Potter!

Oranges + Brownie Batter = Yum. That’s it!

Well not quite. Here’s how we did it.

  1. Prepare your favorite brownie batter. (Add lots of Ghirardelli chocolate chips.)
  2. Cut 3 oranges in half. (I used the extra brownie batter to fill an 8×8″ pan).
  3. Hollow out each orange until you reach the white interior (if you don’t get quite to the white part, no worries, more orange flavoring in your chocolate!).
  4. Place the orange halves on a shallow baking dish.
  5. Fill the orange pieces half way up with batter (don’t fill to the top since the brownies will grow).
  6. Bake as directed in your brownie recipe. The orange brownies will take slightly longer to cook.
  7. Eat happily!

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Chef Q&A: Thai Bistro’s Lada Sripinyo

Photo credit: Barron

Years ago when our family moved from New York to Michigan a friend told us we had to try the Thai Bistro in Canton. Italian food. Chinese food. Mexican food. Japanese food. I’d already learned that I liked to sample a variety of flavors. But I’d never had Thai fare, with its spicy-sweet sauces, rich curries and tender noodles. The first time we went to Thai Bistro, I ordered the drunken noodles. I was hooked.

The owner and chef of Thai Bistro, Lada Sripinyo moved from Thailand to the U.S. in 1968 and at the urging of a friend opened the restaurant in 1994. “I said, ‘Sure, why not?’” explains Sripinyo. The eatery quickly drew notice and a devoted following in the area. “We opened in February 1994 and by April we were very popular,” she recalls.

For a MKES first, the digital-shy Sripinyo passed along a handwritten recipe for her Thai BBQ ribs.

What three ingredients do you always keep stocked in your pantry?

Chile. Red chile, onion, garlic.

Your favorite meal to make or serve?

My favorite is ga poa guy because it’s a little spicy and it tastes really good. It’s very popular here at the restaurant.

We all have a favorite indulgence, for a foodie like you it must be something spectacular?

Dark chocolate. Not in ice cream. Either in a bar or a box, I just like dark chocolate.

What’s one of your worst cooking mistakes?

I don’t know. Maybe once when I made a stir-fry and I put too much salt in it and it was way too salty. I didn’t even let people try it. I tried it and then just threw it out.

There are so many great Michigan-made food products, what is your pick?

Potato chips.

What do you suggest for first-timers to Thai Bistro? What menu item should they make sure to try?

If they like noodles then the pad thai—it’s a little sweet and it’s very popular here. You can choose whether you want it mild or spicy. If you like something with rice than the ga poa guy is very good and spicy. It comes with chicken, Thai basil, red pepper. The eggplant stir-fry with shrimp is very good too.

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Thai Bistro’s: BBQ Ribs

Photo credit: Barron

Ingredients:
2 1/2 lb. baby back ribs
2 tsp. thin soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. oyster sauce
2 Tbsp. red wine
Pinch of black pepper
Chinese broccoli or spinach (side)

Directions:

  1. Clean ribs and cut into five or six pieces.
  2. Mix all ingredients well and marinate for 1-2 hours.
  3. Add 1/2 cup of water and mix well.
  4. Put ribs in a baking dish and bake at 400 degrees F for 30 minutes.
  5. Serve with stir-fried Chinese broccoli or spinach.
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MKES in Ladies’ Home Journal, KIWI and more

THE best snack on a hike--one kid-sized Pink Lady apple.

Thanks readers! Crawling around the web you might be surprised where you’ll find MKES featured. Here’s some recent cross-postings. Enjoy!

Tales from the Mothering Trenches

Ladies’ Home Journal featured 12 mommy bloggers–and MKES was included! Check it out.

Fun Afterschool Snacks

For great ideas on finding and using organic products, I open the pages of KIWI magazine. I wrote a guest post for them on fun, creative after school snacks for kids. My youngest was all for being my ‘official tester’ on this one.

13 Communication Tips from Writers

Popular marriage blogger Alisa Bowman, whose book, Project: Happily Ever After comes out this December shares tips from a pool of writers on how to get your point across to your spouse. I was able to share one suggestion–and it didn’t even have to do with food! Truth be told, some of my biggest disagreements with my hubby have been over food prep. I figure if we’re getting heated over whether to add chicken broth or water to refried beans–not disagreeing over discipline techniques, money–we’re doing okay.

Road Trip: Take the Kids to Michigan

At A Traveler’s Library, authored by traveler and avid reader Vera Marie Badertscher, I was able to share a few books that helped us get to know Michigan a little better. Surprisingly, I didn’t even talk about food in the post–shocker!

Four cheese grilled cheese

Martha and Me takes a closer look at the recipes from Martha–yes, THAT Martha’s magazines and cookbooks. Believe it or not, some of Martha’s recipes don’t always end up as tasty as they look in pictures. Mother, writer and food fan, Brette Sember gives you the goods on the best recipes and offers some of her own. I passed along one of our family’s variations on grilled cheese–first off, you can’t just use one cheese!

Bad Mommy Moments

We all have them and mine just happens to do with, you guessed it, food. Click over to Mothering to read more about moments in mommyhood that we’d rather forget.

There’s more to come!

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“Eww. I don’t like squid!”

The kid who doesn't like squid two months ago--and yes, that's squid.

Halfway through a bite of chicken, my middle daughter perked up to the dinner conversation–”Squid. I don’t like eating squid!” My husband and I had been discussing how to come up with some new recipes–grilled squid came to mind. He hunted down an Asian market in our area that sells fresh seafood–no more packets of 20 squid frozen in a large block of ice. He wanted to try marinating and then grilling the little critters.

My middle daughter would have none of it. “There’s no way I’d eat octopus!” (I’ll save the finer points between distinguishing an octopus from a squid for another time…)

My oldest piped in, “Yes you do. It’s calamari and we have it all the time. Plus, it’s the title of mom’s blog so you have to like it.”

“I don’t eat squid,” she repeated as only a younger sister can with a bit of whine on each consonant.

“Don’t you remember on vacation when we had it and you were eating the rings?”

“Yeah, but those were onion rings,” she insisted.

“No, those were squid,” my oldest gleefully informed her.

Funny enough it was my middle child who inspired my blog’s title. When we lived in New York we had a nearby fresh seafood market where we’d pick out shrimp, squid, clams. Occasionally, you’d see a crab scampering down an aisle. My middle daughter at 3 was faster at de-veining the shrimp and prepping the squid than even my husband. See you have remove the head, then carefully take out the cartilage (and guts, my husband reminds me) before you start prepping it for cooking. My middle daughter’s tiny fingers were perfect for the job. I still remember bringing in a foot stool to the sink so she could work.

Our calamari appetizer--yup, that's squid

Along with bringing back memories, the conversation reminded me that even if you think you have your kids hooked on a particular food they won’t always love it a second time–but then they’ll love it the third–turn up their noses the fourth… Kids tastes can be unpredictable, that’s part of the fun of parenting (and cooking!).

And if you haven’t had a certain food in awhile your kids may have forgotten that they actually like it. The experience also reminded me of something I try to do when my kids are sampling new foods–I tell them exactly what they’re eating. Sure, calamari is probably a more palatable term than squid, but kids are little adventurers. I try to tap into that–”Hey, look at the tentacles, what do those taste like?” “Purple peppers–those sound cool.” “Why don’t we try making zucchini into noodles instead of regular ones.” Promise, it doesn’t always work, but I like making meals more of an adventure than a battle. Sure, we have our share of plain grilled cheese dinners, but we also have our smoked gouda garlic sourdough grilled cheese nights too.

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Peanut Butter-Cinnamon Hummus with Cinnamon and Sugar Pita Chips

Ingredients for the hummus

1 small can (7.75 ounces) chickpeas (reserve 1 Tablespoon liquid)

1 Tablespoon peanut butter (smooth or chunky)

¼ teaspoon sesame oil

½ teaspoon cinnamon

Dash of salt

Directions

Drain the liquid from the chickpeas, except for one tablespoon. Place the chickpeas in a blender and pulse until the beans break into smaller chunks. Add the remaining ingredients and pulse until you reach your desired consistency. Add the chickpea liquid in small increments to reach a smoother consistency and less for a chunkier hummus. Serve immediately or chill for later use.

Ingredients for the pita chips

1 12-ounce package pitas (5 loaves)

cinnamon and sugar mix (see directions)

cooking spray

Directions

Using a pizza cutter, cut the pitas into six pieces as you would with a small pizza. Lightly spray a 9 x 13” baking pan with cooking spray. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. In an old spice container (or similar container with holes on the lid top) mix ½ cup sugar and 1 Tablespoon cinnamon (or more based on your tastes). Place the pita slices onto the baking pan; lightly coat with the cooking spray. Sprinkle the slices lightly with the cinnamon-sugar mix. Place in the oven and cook for 7 to 12 minutes or until just crisped. Enjoy.

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