From Picky Eater to Squid Eater
Yeah, it’s time to talk dirt. I know what you’re thinking–why would I want to eat dirt? It’s not just regular dirt–or the dirt you make with ground up OREO cookie crumbs. This dirt adds undertones of umami to the freshest of salads.
On a recent trip to Kansas City I had dinner with friends at Affare, a Modern German restaurant that offers amazing seasonal salads as part of the menu. Here are a couple descriptions to give you an idea of what they serve:
Red beet salad and buttermilk two ways, artisan leaves, flower petals, goat cheese, spiced pecan nuts
Lamb’s Lettuce, truffled potato confit, smoked elk-brat on cranberry-mustard aioli, crispy sauerkraut
Creative, cool. Of course I had to try some of Affare’s ideas at home. So the night I was there a salad with edible dirt was on the list. I grilled the server on how to prepare the dirt–yeah, she probably doesn’t get that question very often, “So what’s in the dirt?” While I wouldn’t put edible dirt on the salad plate every day it was a fun, easy addition on a night where we wanted to make things a little fancy.
Making edible dirt is easy (surprised? I mean, it’s dirt)
Here’s what to do:
In a food processor pulse together:
1/4 cup dried mushrooms (any variety, I used porcini)
2-3 oz. dark chocolate (baking chocolate you don’t want it sweet)
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 tsp. paprika (smoked preferred)
Process until the mixture resembles dirt–this will be loud! Adjust the seasoning–the flavor should have an earthy zing. Tip: If you want the dirt darker add a bit of dark cocoa (I used black onyx powder).
Putting the salad together:
- Place a row of artisan lettuce in the middle of the plate
- Top with grated carrots or radish (I used watermelon radish)
- Sprinkle with a strong cheese like feta, bleu, or gorgonzola
- Squeeze fresh lemon over the salad, drizzle with olive oil
- Add a teaspoon or two of edible dirt on the edges of the plate
Empire. McIntosh. Ginger Gold. Honey Crisp. There are literally thousands of different kinds of apples to try. Around 7,500.
When I was a kid I thought apples came in just two varieties–cardboard-like Red Delicious and too-tart Granny Smith. Today I look forward to trying a new-to-me apple variety each year (or more!). Last year my kids and I discovered Pink Lady apples. And this year my oldest is a fan of Jonagold apples (not to be confused with Jonamac) while my youngest can’t get enough of Honey Crisps.
Looking to spark an interest in trying new things in a stubborn picky eater? Grab an apple. Grab several. Let him know that you want to figure out what kind of apple is his favorite. Let him go crazy–make up a chart on paper to record his reactions to each new variety he samples. At our local grocery store, Miles Farmers Market, you can mix and match different apples all in one bag. I let my kids choose a few to compare at home.
Head to the orchard. We found at our local orchard–Patterson Fruit Farm–that they had samples available of at least a dozen different apples. They had signs, too, that described the characteristics for each. The woman working at Patterson’s asked each of my kids what she liked in an apple. Did she like it crisp or soft? Sweet or tart? Or does she prefer a mixture of all four characteristics? The woman encouraged my daughters to take samples of each type of apple available until she found her perfect apple.
Your turn–what’s your favorite apple?
Ohio inspires ice cream makers. The proof? Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams started serving scoops in 2002 in Columbus and blossomed into an ice cream dynasty. Jeni Britton Bauer’s book Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home has become New York Times Best-Selling cookbook teaching regular cooks to craft Jeni’s signature flavors like Brambleberry Crisp, Salty Caramel, and Wildberry Lavender (a personal fav). You can find 11 scoop shops here in Ohio along with several in Tennesse–plus a new local just opened in Chicago. Jeni’s ice creams have garnered national acclaim and awards (James Beard, check).
But Jeni’s isn’t the only ice cream shop in town. Mitchell’s started in 1999 when brothers Pete and Mike decided to shelve their degrees in psychology (that’d be Pete) and philosophy (Mike’s also the ice cream chef) for a pursuit of sweets. They have either stores dotting Ohio, with another coming soon in the burgeoning Ohio City area.
Here’s what both shops are known for:
- Taste all you want. Seriously. You can ask for little taster spoons of all the flavors available.
- Locally sourced ingredients. Fresh-picked berries. Local ales. Mitchell’s even marks ice creams with a 100, meaning the ingredients came mostly from within 100 miles of where the ice cream is made.
- Lines. Well, when you can get taster spoons of just about everything and the ice cream is fabulous, are you surprised?
- Awesome customer service–shiny happy people all around
Now the differences:
In Mr. Squid’s words, “Jeni’s is more of an experience than an ice cream.” Where else can you get Goat Cheese and Red Cherry Ice Cream or Bangkok Peanut (sadly this ice cream that heats up in your mouth hasn’t been available lately)?
- Artisan spins on familiar flavors–Ndali estate vanilla bean not “Vanilla”
- Hipster zibe abounds at the shop
- $9.99 a pint
This is the place the team goes to after basketball tournaments, the place where you see you neighbors and people linger while savoring sweets. That’s not to say their ice creams are lacking in creativity–or quality–the newly introduced vegan line (I had salted caramel pecan last week) entices visitors to try something new.
- Familiar favorites made better–hello, super-sized Belgian chocolate chunks in the Rocky Road and organic mint in the Chocolate Mint ice cream
- Laid back feel and coloring paper for the kids
- $5.99 a pint
The verdict around our house–when you want something a little different head to Jeni’s. But for the creamiest, richest dark chocolate Mitchell’s is our regular spot.
Your turn: Have you tried Jeni’s and Mitchell’s ice creams? Which one was your favorite?
My older girls are away at camp and when I asked my youngest what she wanted to do she told me, “Pick strawberries.” So that’s exactly what we did.
Strawberry picking time is almost over. If you haven’t been out yet, there’s still a week or two. The strawberries in Ohio are much smaller and tarter than the big, California variety I usually find at the grocery store. As my daughter said, “They taste like sunshine.” I agree.
I wasn’t expecting much when I read about Yum Yum Brownies on Hungry Girl. Canned pumpkin plus chocolate cake mix. Sounded like Thanksgiving mixed with Ghirardelli. Eww. But, I had to give it a try–I mean, there’s chocolate in it. Add to that, I happen to love canned pumpkin–I never had it as a kid so now it seems like almost a delicacy (go ahead, laugh).
Looking online I discovered chocolate-pumpkin desserts have quite a following. I opted for Cookies & Cups version–one family-size box brownie mix and one can Libby’s Pumpkin. That’s it. Well, almost. I tweaked the recipe just a little bit.
A few notes:
- The brownies end up with a fudge-like consistency. Nothing wrong with that! I cut them into squares and put them in the fridge. I think they’re better cold.
- If you didn’t know there was pumpkin in the brownies, you’d wouldn’t guess it.
- My tween loved these brownies–maybe because she convinced me to let her have them for breakfast, “They’re healthy mom, right?”
Prep time: 5 minutes + baking
1 family-sized box brownies (my fav is Duncan Hines)
1 can pumpkin puree
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- In a large bowl blend together the brownie mix and the pumpkin puree with a hand-held blender. Now, here’s where I had to do a few tweaks–I also added in 1/3 cup chocolate chips and 1 teaspoon chocolate extract.
- Coat a 9″ baking dish with cooking spray.
- Spread the batter onto the baking dish and cook for 20 minutes or until cooked through.
I’ve never been to Hawaii, but after trying this new barbecue sauce, I want to go! Whenever I’m starved for dinner ideas (forgive the pun) World Market is one of my go-to places for inspiration. Enter Da Kine Hawaiian BBQ Sauce. I was debating between a couple of bbq sauces and I asked one of the staffers which one was better. She mentioned she got regular calls requesting Da Kine. After trying it out, I understand why. You don’t have to have Da Kine to make this salad, but it is worth hunting down.
Prep time: 30 minutes
1 Head Romaine lettuce
2 chicken breasts
Da Kine Hawaiian BBQ Sauce (or regular BBQ sauce with a few tweaks–see below*)
Ranch dressing (or plain Greek yogurt, sour cream)
Garlic powder, onion powder
Green bell pepper
1/2 red onion
1/4 cup cilantro
1 lime, divided
1/8 cup pineapple (tidbits from a can work well)
Cayenne pepper (opt.)
- Cut the chicken into thin pieces. Bring 1 tablespoon olive oil to medium-high heat in a saute pan; add the chicken.
- As the chicken cooks, sprinkle it with onion and garlic powders along with salt and pepper to taste. Once the chicken is almost cooked through–about 5 minutes–drizzle with 1 tablespoon bbq sauce and squeeze with a little fresh lime juice. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside.
- In a medium bowl mix up diced avocado, green pepper, red onion, and cilantro. Squeeze half a lime over the salsa and season with salt and pepper and cayenne (if using).
- In a small bowl mix equal parts bbq sauce and either ranch dressing, sour cream, or Greek yogurt. *Now if you don’t have Hawaiian bbq sauce, I understand. Try doctoring regular bbq sauce with a little bit of pineapple juice. I don’t like to drench my salad so it’s your choice how much you want to make.
- Assembly time! Place a handful of chopped romaine lettuce in each serving bowl. Top with chicken, sprinkle with almond slivers and then drizzle with bbq-ranch dressing. Finish off the salad by adding a heaping scoop of salsa to each dish.
Kids’ reaction: My youngest finds an excuse to put the Hawaiian bbq sauce on her wraps, salads, as a veggie dip… All around, we plan on having this salad a lot this summer.
I get pretty creative when it comes to getting my kids to try new foods, but this idea came right from my tween.
Here’s the deal: I’m a spinach lover, and my youngest kids…well, not yet. I’m working on it. I recycle my spinach containers as giveaways when I take treats to friends or into my kids’ classes. My kids found my stash of extras and discovered another use for them–as fish “aquariums.”
My kids tend to spend every waking moment once the weather gets warmer fishing in a nearby creek. They’ve discovered that my spinach containers make the perfect holders for their catch.
So my tween made the connection that when we eat more spinach there are more containers for fish. Lately, my tween has started eating spinach without complaint. Coincidence? Well, I’m still thanking the fish for my tween’s new-found interest in greens.
“Holidays” are a great excuse to introduce your kids to new foods. Yes, I’m using air quotes as I type. Cinco de Mayo–literally, the 5th of May–is an American invention (granted, there was a battle in Puebla, Mexico, in 1862 where the much smaller Mexican army defeated a large French force). But you won’t find any big celebrations in Mexico, outside of Puebla, to honor Cinco de Mayo. Nope, as a couple of writers recently put it: “Cinco is as American as apple pie. So is the U.S. Hispanic melting pot.”
Whew, with that out of the way, it’s time to move on to the good stuff–getting your would-be picky eaters to sample something new.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Swap the cheese
Queso fresco, a fresh Mexican cheese (I know, that’s pretty much a direct translation, but it’s true), tastes like a cross between feta and mozzarella with a hint of ricotta thrown in. The cheese usually comes in a solid circle that you crumble up to put on enchiladas, nachos, tacos, tostadas…you get the idea.
Picky eater tip: We call this ‘crumble cheese’ at our house for good reason–you have to crumble it before you use it. Perfect. Kid. Job. Ask your child to be the official crumbler and when she wants to sample what’s all over her fingers, say, Yes!
Bag the regular tortilla chips
My all-time favorite tortilla chips are El Milagro tortilla chips. No Tostitos. No Santitas. Not even Xochitl come close. Ahem, yes, I get a bit particular about my tortilla chips. Get this, there are all of four ingredients in El Milagro tortilla chips–stone ground corn, corn oil, sea salt, calcium hydroxide (it helps glue the corn together according to the all-knowing folks at Wikipedia). And the chips are thicker, heartier than your standard “restaurant-style” chip. Admittedly, El Milagro can be hard to find–I see them most often in Mexican grocers, but they’re starting to pop up in larger grocery chains too. Look for them!
Picky eater tip: Dip it! Give your kids some salsa for their chips and let them dip away.
Use corn tortillas
Toast them! Please. Corn tortillas are bland and caulk-like until you toast them and then something magical happens–they become entirely different in flavor, texture, aroma. It only takes a few minutes to toast up a stack of corn tortillas. Then try out your favorite taco fixins’ in the toasted corn tortillas instead of the stale, hard-shelled kind.
Picky eater tip: Break out the cookie cutters. You can make small shapes in the corn tortillas (before or after toasting). Granted, your filling may fall out of the tortillas with too many openings, so you might want to keep the cookie cutting to a few conveniently placed shapes. I use my linzer cookie cutters from King Arthur Flour.
Make your salsa
Homemade salsa is simple to make, really. You can keep it basic and just chop up tomatoes, onions, fresh jalapeno chiles, and cilantro for a pico de gallo. If you want more of a authentic salsa consistency, put all of the pico de gallo fixins’ into a blender with a little lime juice for a thinner salsa.
Picky eater tip: Have your kids help you make the salsa. When my kids have friends over, we often whip up salsa together. I let them cut up the ingredients and adjust the seasonings.
Bring on the cumin
Add something new to your standard Tex-Mex recipes–ground cumin. You can find cumin in pretty much any grocery store. Sprinkle in cumin with your taco fillings, guacamole, salsa.
Picky eater tip: Your kids aren’t likely to notice this subtle seasoning added in. But it will give your Mexican dishes and added depth and more authentic flavor.
Your turn: Are you planning a special meal for Cinco de Mayo?
Here’s a quick way to add some ambiance to a family meal that you want to make a little special (and yes at my house it’s required that you say ambiance with a fake French accent–the worse it sounds, the better).
I have my kids cut up fruit into small pieces to put into water goblets. Add seltzer (or club soda) water and you’ve got a fancy, colorful drink.
I’ve found some kids are reluctant to try seltzer water (La Croix is my favorite). The sugarless, fizzy water is an acquired taste but it’s such a great replacement for soda it’s worth trying to get your kids to sample it.
How did I get my kids hooked on seltzer water? Well, I used to drink it all the time and my kids would ask for sips. At first they didn’t like it, but I kept drinking it. Fast forward several tries and my kids are regular seltzer drinkers.
If your kids tend to be especially picky, my suggestion is to mix half seltzer water with half juice. We’ve tried the half-half approach with apple, orange, lemonade, grape…and pretty much any other juice we might have on hand (tomato juice the big exception, of course).
Now, I haven’t mentioned the best part–once you’re kids have downed their drink they can eat the fruit. And the fruit will be “fizzified” (yes, it’s true we do make up words at our house). The carbonation in the drink works its way into the fruit giving it a bit of a bubble bite.
This Easter my kids are going to be taking care of breakfast. And yours can too with these easy ideas and recipes:
Yeasted waffles: Let your kiddos mix up the batter and use the waffle iron.
Mini quiches: Encourage your kids to make their own mixins’ like broccoli, cheese, tomatoes, and more.
Mini bread: Yeah, I’m on a mini-streak, but kids love to make things that are their size.
Break out the cookie cutters: Deck out your brunch with cheese, thinly sliced veggies, bread, and other little goodies your kids create.
Appoint a fruit salad crew: My youngest loves to make fruit salads. It doesn’t need to be exotic fruits–apples, bananas, and oranges do just fine.