Kids in the Kitchen: Dipping Oil

Several years ago, the memory is a little hazy about the when and where, we were eating a family meal at a very nice restaurant. Definitely not McDonald’s. The kind of place with candles and white tablecloths.


This is an especially notable detail as I would never, in a bazillion years, ever put a white tablecloth on our own dinner table.  What would be the point, after all? One use and it would never be the same.

But, back to my story. It was here, at this unlikely eatery, that we were introduced to bread and….olive oil. A small white dish with dark, fruity olive oil, a bit of aged balsamic vinegar and freshly chopped herbs.

Where was the butter, Sam, the bread hound, wanted to know.

There wasn’t any. A moment of unhappiness (with Jim and I wondering what insanity had brought us here with a child) until he was persuaded to dip his bread. By this time, the two adults in the party were enthusiastically dipping with abandon.

And, if you haven’t already guessed, with one dip, he was hooked.

In fact, to this day, whenever we bring home a nice crusty loaf or baguette, Sam is quite ready to throw together a little dipping oil of his own for the dinner table.


Here’s the recipe at it’s most basic.

All you need is a good quality olive oil and a nice aged balsamic vinegar.

Simply pour some olive oil onto a plate or shallow bowl to cover the bottom. Then pour or spoon on a tablespoon or two of balsamic vinegar.

The young chef in action.

The young chef in action.

And there are definitely benefits to ditching the butter. Researchers have found that consuming a Mediterranean diet heavy in olive oil can help lower some heart risks. Consuming more than four tablespoons a day can significantly lower your risk of having a heart attack, suffering from a stroke or dying of heart disease, according to the recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

For more dipping ideas, check out these recipes:

Parmesan and Garlic Dipping Oil

Italian Herb Dipping Oil

Dip away...

Dip away…


Fava Beans: They’re Worth It!

I have many food weaknesses. Ice cream, gummy bears, white bread with lots of butter. I share this as a form of therapy. My public declaration will give me the strength to keep on the righteous path of wellness. Won’t it?

But not all of my culinary longings involve large amounts of sugar, fat and refined grains. Every spring I get to indulge my nutritionally acceptable desire for….fresh fava beans! And just in time for Mediterranean Diet Month.

Fava beans.

As I understand it, they were brought to this continent thousands of years ago from countries located near and around the Mediterranean. Sadly, they haven’t made great inroads into our eating consciousness. Probably because they’re, er, a little labor intensive. They actually have to be shelled and then peeled. Which is why maybe it’s a good thing that the growing season is a short one. I’m quite happy to do all the work (with help) until, quite frankly, I’ve had my fill.

Here’s what you do:

1.  Shell the beans in the same manner as you would peas. This happens to be a perfect job for the kids. They’ll love it, really.


2.  Of course, you aren’t done yet. There’s still that second coat that has just got to come off. Some people claim that they’re fine left intact, but I wholeheartedly disagree. Boil a pot of salted water, and toss them in for a minute or less. Drain and let cool until you can comfortably handle them.

Parboiled and wrinkly skinned. Ready to peel.

Parboiled and wrinkly skinned. Ready to peel.

3.  The next job is for adults or older kids with good motor skills. You must delicately pinch a hole in the light outer skin before popping out the fava bean with your fingers. It’s actually not that hard but, again, time-consuming. Better yet, do it with your kids as you talk over their day. Family bonding time.

At this point, they’re ready for anything. I feel about fava beans the same way I do about strawberries. They’re so delicious I only want to eat them plain–without a lot of adornment. This means I usually just saute them in a skillet with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Just long enough to ensure that they are tender throughout.

Dinner tonight?

I toasted slices of whole wheat sourdough and spread on a thin schmear of olive tapenade. Next came a slightly thicker schmear of hummus (yes, we’re embracing the Mediterranean theme) followed by a generous sprinkling of the pan cooked favas and fresh ground pepper.

first layer, olive tapenade

first layer, olive tapenade

Simple dinner

Simple dinner

If you’re looking for more ideas, here are a few good ones.

Cold Sesame Soba Noodle and Fava Bean Salad from Food52.

Fava Bean and Radish Bruschetta from the Kitchn.

Grilled Fava Beans from 101 Cookbooks.

Remember a little hard work never did anybody harm. And since favas are a good source of fiber, protein, phosphorous and folate, they will only do good things for your body. Enjoy some this season!

Recipe: Baked Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal

Mornings are just plain busy—if not completely manic.  There’s not a lot of time to fuss over breakfast.  Since Sam took over putting together his own morning meal, he’s looking for easy.  But he also knows the requirements: whole grains, protein and fruits and/or vegetables.  So, while he’s quite adept at scavenging, (and what self-respecting teen isn’t) it’s also a comfort to know that Mom has a breakfast favorite ready to eat and only as far away as the freezer.


Baked Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal

  • 7.5 ounces (1/2 can) pumpkin pie mix (We like the Farmer’s Market brand.  It always goes on sale around Thanksgiving so I buy lots.)
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 2 T. butter, melted
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 cups quick oatmeal
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix first 5 ingredients in a medium bowl. Blend together well.

Stir the 3 remaining dry ingredients together in a medium bowl.

Add wet ingredients to dry and stir with spoon until just mixed.

Spoon resulting mixture into a greased 8X8 pan and bake for 25 minutes.  Check for doneness with toothpick in the center.  Bake an additional 5 minutes if needed.  Remove from oven and cool on wire rack.  Cut into squares when completely cool.


Eat one right away, if you must (I always do) and pack the rest into a labelled freezer zip bag.  When ready for breakfast, simply remove a square or two from the bag and heat in a bowl in the microwave.  When hot, serve with milk, kefir or yogurt.  Top with fresh fruit and a drizzle of maple syrup if extra sweetness is desired.


Sam likes to use the remaining pie mix to stir into his yogurt.  This is also a breakfast he willingly makes on his own or becomes a snack after school.  Alternatively, you could simply double the recipe using the whole can of pumpkin pie mix.

This recipe makes a delicious, not-too-sweet, hot breakfast in a hurry. The hard part’s done; just heat and eat.

Family Project: Bagels

Kitchen Disaster.  Yes, capital “D”.  I was attempting to make yogurt—with the last 1/2 cup of starter yogurt when I was distracted by a conversation we were having about lime juice and fish.  Long story.  I had just taken the milk off the burner to cool.  Only I forgot to cool it down.  I immediately poured a nearly boiling cup of milk over the starter yogurt.  It curdled. That was that.

It happens, OK?  I’m not going to cry over spilt or curdled milk.  But it was a disappointment.  Especially because my real interest was making yogurt cream cheese for the bagels we baked today.

Kitchen disasters are a dime a dozen—at least at my house.  I’ve learned that it’s all about improvisation and just plain making do.  So, that’s what we did.  On with the show!

*Note: This recipe uses a food processor that can accommodate 4 cups of flour. Alternatively, it can be made using the traditional method of proofing yeast in water, mixing in flours and kneading by hand.


  • 4 cups flour (I use 2 cups all-purpose and 2 cups whole wheat)
  • 1 teaspoon rapid rise yeast
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 3 teaspoons baking soda

Step 1:  Add flours, yeast, salt and brown sugar to the bowl of the food processor.  Pulse or stir with spoon to mix dry ingredients.

Step 2:  Put honey and water in a small pitcher.  Heat in microwave (or on stove top) until approximately 115-120 degrees.  Microwaves vary.  Ours takes about 40 seconds.  Mix until honey is incorporated in water.

Step 3:  While processor is running, pour honey/water into intake tube in a slow stream.  Process is complete when dough is balled up into one glob.


Step 4:  Remove dough from processor.  Briefly hand knead for a few seconds and form round ball.  Place dough in bowl and cover with plastic.  Place in warm location to rise for approximately one hour.  (I heat a cup of water to boiling and shut the bowl in the microwave with it.)

Step 5:  After an hour, check “doneness” by depressing dough with a fingertip.  If it springs back easily, let it rise a bit longer.  If it doesn’t, it’s ready to go.  I wrench the dough into two pieces with a twisting method.  Then I twist those two pieces into two more and so on until there are 16 total.  Don’t worry about weights and measures.  They’ll all be refreshingly different from one another.


ready to go

Step 6:  Put a large pot of water with the baking soda on to boil while you are forming the bagels.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Step 7:  Form each small piece of dough into a smooth ball, pinching together on the bottom.  Turn over to the smooth side and punch out a hole.  I actually use the top of an old extract bottle but use your finger or whatever else is handy.  These “bagel holes”, as they are affectionately known in our house, are the most sought after and highly coveted bits.


Step 8:  Add dough bagels to the pot 5 or 6 at a time.  They should sink, then float to the top.  Let them boil for 30 seconds on each side.  Approximate.  Don’t worry too much about exact timing.  Then remove them to a clean smooth kitchen towel to drain.


Step 9:  Place bagels and bagel holes (don’t forget to boil them too) on a large baking sheet.  Bake for 10 minutes and check for doneness–golden tops and lightly browned bottoms.  Cook for an additional 5 minutes or more if needed.

Step 10:  Remove from oven and place on wire rack to cool.  Try not to fight over the bagel holes.  When cool, you’ll probably just gobble them plain, but later on, you’ll definitely want some yogurt cream cheese.

029Kids love this project.  Give them some dough and let ’em go.  They could be any kind of shape after all.  Have fun with it!

Make or Buy: Flavored Yogurt

I’m not quite done with the subject of yogurt.  It didn’t feel quite right to cross it off the list of blog topics with just one teensy post about frozen yogurt.  The truth is, we eat a lot more flavored yogurt than frozen yogurt.  And while you can find hundreds of different kinds at the grocery store, much of them contain a scary amount of sugar…and in some cases, thickeners, added colors and preservatives.

Check out the list of ingredients!  This is yogurt?

Check out the list of ingredients! This is yogurt?

  Flavoring plain yogurt at home can make a healthy food even healthier.
018Here’s Sam’s favorite.

Lemon Yogurt

  • 1 cup plain yogurt (preferably low-fat or full-fat for best flavor)
  • zest of half a small lemon, washed well
  • 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice (love those Meyer lemons)
  • 1 T. maple (or agave) syrup
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

Whip it all together and let rest for a few minutes for flavors to meld.

Another well-loved recipe is a riff on one included in a book I picked up at our library’s used book sale, Fit Kids! The Complete Shape-Up Program from Birth through High School by Kenneth H. Cooper, M.D.

Chocolate Yogurt

  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 T. maple (or agave) syrup
  • 2 tsp. cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Whisk together and let sit for a few minutes for flavors to meld.

Delicious and chocolatey, this makes for a nice after dinner dessert should one be needed.

Another good sweetener is 100% juice concentrate.  Remember that apples made the top of the Dirty Dozen list of most heavily pesticided produce, so buy organic apple juice concentrate.  And, of course, fresh fruit is the very best possible choice of all.

Eat it for breakfast or pack it in a lunch box, have it for a snack or dessert.  Easy enough for the kids to make themselves.  Pretty all around great.  Definitely make.


Family Project: Sushi

I love projects–especially the food kind.  Some of these projects are a family affair.   They offer everyone, no matter the age, something to make or do.  Like the ravioli we made for Christmas a couple of years ago.  Or the pot stickers for Chinese New Year.

Speaking of New Year’s, we needed to think about a special dinner to welcome in 2013.  And with Jim on a vegan diet, there was to be no roast beast on the table.

The choice was made when, while reorganizing kitchen cupboards, I stumbled upon a forgotten treasure behind a jar of red lentils (so much for my housekeeping skills).

I bought a “sushi kit” at a major grocery store chain several years ago that just happened to get lost.  Until now!

Not much to it–a bamboo rolling mat, wooden paddle and instruction booklet

tools of the sushi trade

Turns out, after preparing the sushi rice and prepping the fillings, there’s not much to making sushi either.  It’s about as easy as rolling a burrito.  And since you can customize your fillings, it can be vegan–or not.

Here are the basic ingredients we used.  All can be found at well stocked grocery or natural food stores.  We used tamari instead of the traditional soy sauce and found our pickled ginger (highly addictive) in the refrigerated section although it may be located with ethnic foods.


The first step involves preparing the rice.  We bought ours at the local grocery store and followed this tutorial to make the traditional fragrant and seasoned sticky rice. This rice was so tasty that some party goers, who shall remain nameless (but you know who you are!), couldn’t stop themselves from plucking up little clumped balls of the savory/sweet rice and eating it straight from the bowl.

To see the whole process done properly check out The Good Food Channel’s great pictorial how-to tutorial for rolling sushi.  Find it here.

spreading on the seasoned rice

Jim takes a turn.

Moistening our hands in a mixture of vinegar and water (in a 1 to 3 ratio) helped keep sticky rice where it belongs and not stuck to our fingers.

moistening fingers so rice doesn't stick to them

Fillings?  We raided the fridge.  I julienned a couple of carrots.  My friend, Diana, steamed baby kale and made a very thin egg omelette which she later cut into thin strips.  Jim chopped up cilantro, and Sam sliced the avocado.

assorted fillings

We used carrots, cilantro, avocado, egg, steamed kale but didn’t put in the sun-dried tomato.

Each individual created their own “signature roll” by combining ingredients of their choice.

ready to roll

Sam is ready to roll.


Run a vinegar water dampened finger over the exposed nori at the top to help seal the roll.

gently squeeze and form

Rolling and forming. Jim is a master!

According to my sushi kit instruction booklet, the sushi should be served with soy sauce for dipping.  Sliced, pickled ginger and wasabi paste are also traditional.  We didn’t bother making the paste from the dried wasabi powder I’d bought when Jim pulled a jar of Trader Joe’s wasabi mayonnaise out of the refrigerator.  Not very traditional, but it’s our party!


The first examples. They got better looking after this, but didn’t last long enough to take pictures of…

We had a lot of fun preparing these.  Don’t forget a good bottle of wine for the adults (or Japanese sake if you’re a purist) and sparkling cider for the kids.  And don’t wait for next year either.  Any occasion will do.

What food projects do you do with your family?

Kids in the Kitchen–He Does it Again!

Long day.  I’ve washed dishes three times.  Done two loads of laundry.   Cleaning floors was harder than usual considering all the Thanksgiving food that ended up underfoot. Not my favorite way to spend the day, but since the big event was at our house this year, the place was a disaster after all the merrymakers disappeared.  So yes, I’m tired.

A little help with dinner, please.

But dinner is already almost done, and I do have help.  Leftovers in the fridge–plenty of turkey for sure.  I whipped up a salad, and Sam volunteered to roast the cauliflower I picked up at the market.

If you’re not already familiar with roasting as a cooking technique, then you’re in for a treat.  Fall and winter are the perfect seasons for roasting all sorts of seasonal vegetables. Roasting concentrates flavors, and the resulting caramelization banishes bitterness by bringing out the natural sugars in vegetables.

Roasted Cauliflower

  • 1 head of cauliflower
  • 5 or 6 cloves of garlic still in paper
  • 1 yellow onion, cut in wedges
  • olive oil
  • fresh ground pepper and salt to taste
  • a couple of sprigs of rosemary (optional)
  • small lemon, sliced (optional)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Wash and chop cauliflower into pieces of approximately equal size after trimming off leaves and removing the core.  Dry and place in a single layer in a roasting pan.

Add garlic and onion wedges to pan.  Pour a drizzle of olive oil over vegetables.  Grind fresh pepper over the top, and sprinkle with coarse salt.

Toss in pan with your fingers until evenly coated with oil.  Tuck in rosemary sprigs and top with lemon slices if using.  *This is where younger kids can help.

Sam’s Special Cauliflower Ready for the Oven

Roast for approximately 30 minutes or until cauliflower is soft and has plenty of browning.  Remove from oven and toss once again.  Serve.

Rules for roasting:

  1. Cut vegetables into similar sized pieces for even cooking.
  2. Create a single layer in your metal roasting pan.
  3. Coat your veggies evenly with oil.  They say about 1-2 Tb. per pound of vegetables.  You can mix this right in the pan with your hands to really coat everything.
  4. Use high oven temperatures–400 to 500 degrees.

Cauliflower is a member of the cabbage family, related to broccoli.  This is a great way to get your vegi-averse children (or spouse) to eat and enjoy their vegetables.  And Leftover roasted vegetables are a welcome addition to the lunchbox.  So make lots.  The kids will willfully eat them.

I promise.

Lip Poppers

When I was teaching kindergarten we taught the letter “p” as one of the lip popper letters.  If you put your hand in front of your mouth and say, “Popping popcorn pleases pilgrims,” you’ll see what I mean.

And the Indians shared bowlfuls of the stuff on the first Thanksgiving, right?

I hate to be a Grinch (and mix my holidays), but that’s part of the great Thanksgiving Myth.  There was actually no popping corn on that day in what is now the state of Massachusetts.

There was parched corn to be sure, but the Indian corn growing in the region was not very pop worthy.

But this is not a history lesson.  This is about grains–and fiber, vitamins and minerals.  This is about snacking on popcorn.  Which, if you don’t get it at the movie theater, turns out to be a darn good snack.

Especially if you air pop it.

Back in the 90s I actually owned an air popper.  It went the way of my George Foreman grill (both of which I wish I’d kept).  But it can be done–at home–in your microwave–without oil.  And without resorting to those bags of microwavable popcorn from the store which utilize chemicals that have been linked with cancer.

So if you’re interested in a really healthy, fun snack to make at home try this:

Pour 1/4 cup of popcorn into a paper lunch sack.  Fold the top of the bag a couple of times to keep it closed but leaving lots of room for expanding corn.  Stick in your microwave on high for about 3 minutes.

There’s a lot of difference between microwaves so the thing to do is use your ears.  Listen to the popping.

Pull the bag out before all the popping stops (this could lead to burnt popcorn)–until just when it slows to a few seconds between pops.

Careful!  Open the bag cautiously–away from your face.  Hot steam can burn.

If you’re so inclined, drizzle on some butter, add salt.  Other suggestions include:

  • My favorite, add nutritional yeast (not baking or brewers yeast).  This adds a “cheesy” taste as well as vitamin B-12.
  • I haven’t tried this myself but plan on doing so.  Spray corn lightly with an oil mister.  I’ve seen them at home/kitchen stores.  Then add salt or other spices so some of it will stick to the popcorn and not end up in the bottom of the bag.
  • Other add-ins might be sugar and cinnamon, grated Parmesan cheese, salt and chili powder, or a new and exciting combination of whatever pleases you.

Enjoy.  And Happy Thanksgiving!

4 Ways to Get Your Kids Into College

I remember hearing that the one thing all national merit scholars had in common was sitting down to dinner with their families.  I couldn’t find any hard data on this so perhaps it’s an urban legend.  But there are lots of studies out there that do indicate that children of families that dine together have all kinds of advantages–from better social skills and higher grades to being less likely to become obese or experiment with drugs.

Sound good?

Of course, this isn’t the 1950’s.  Our lives are vastly different from those of June and Ward Cleaver.  In household’s where often both parents work, time is a big factor.  And if you’re a family with busy teenagers, scheduling can be a problem.

At our house, dinnertime is an important ritual.  No television.  No radio playing.   Cell phones are outlawed at the table.  In fact, we don’t answer the phone while we’re eating, period.  That’s why we have an answering machine. 

We begin each meal with a short blessing.  We all share what we’re grateful for–which usually includes the delicious food we’re about to eat.  It’s a relaxed time–an opportunity  for Jim to describe that funny thing that happened at work, for Sam to talk about his day at school.  I usually share some  interesting fact or outrageous story I heard on a news program that I’m sure will get us all conversing. 

If eating as a family is something that seems about as realistic as getting all of your Christmas shopping done by Thanksgiving  then consider these four suggestions. 

  1. Make it a priority.  Most mealtimes last only about 20 minutes.  Less than an episode of American Idol.  Set a realistic goal.  If every night is asking too much, then decide what’s reasonable, even if it’s only a couple of nights a week. 
  2. Keep it simple.  Gourmet french cuisine is not required.  Dinner can be as easy as a quick pasta dish or rotisserie chicken from the market paired with a green salad.  We’ve resorted to stretching out leftovers on plenty of occasions.
  3. Share the work.  Everybody chips in. Prep and clean-up can be a family affair.  Many hands make light work.   
  4. Practice makes almost perfect.  Because, if we’re completely honest here, who’s perfect?  Sometimes it’s catch-as-catch-can.  The more routine it becomes, however, the easier and more enjoyable dinnertime will be when you can sit down together. 

I’m not promising that eating dinner as a family will get your child into Harvard, but spending time together, learning from one another and keeping the lines of communication open means you’re not only connecting with your kids but helping them maintain a healthy body weight and eat a healthy diet.

How often do you eat dinner together?  What works for your family?

He’s No Hood Ornament

Cooks use math, science, reading, hand-eye coordination, and creativity among other things. Because of this, cooking is a terrific educational activity to do with children.

It’s also a great way to get kids to try and appreciate new foods–expanding their gastronomical horizons.

When my son was twelve, he  became my vegetable sous chef.  He’s  learning all of the above skills and academics, but let’s get to the good part.   It’s  a huge help in getting dinner on the table.  Talk about win-win!

Did I mention he wields a knife?

It’s sharp and pointy and comes straight from the knife block.  It’s a real grown-up knife.

At this stage in his culinary career,  I have no worries that he’ll hack off a hand or finger or other body part.  An old pro at chopping and cutting, he started with a banana and a butter knife and worked his way up.

What your children chop, and how old they are when they begin to do it, is totally up to you and your comfort zone.  In my humble estimation, kids are a lot more capable than we think they are.

For a pretty thorough article on knife skills for children check out this site by Michelle Stern.

One of his specialties is pan cooking vegetables.  Simple.  This particular recipe also works with other vegetables like cauliflower, bok choy, or green beans.

Pan Cooked Broccoli

1 head of broccoli

2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly

1 Tb. olive oil

salt and pepper to taste.

1/8 cup water

Wash and chop broccoli into bite sized pieces.  The stalk is good too so chop off the very bottom and then peel what’s left and chop it up.

Add oil to the bottom of a 12 inch skillet and heat to medium.  Toss broccoli into hot pan and let brown a little, stirring occasionally.

Add garlic and grind salt and pepper over the broccoli. Stir.

Pour in water and cover.  Turn heat down to low and let steam.  Check after a few minutes with a fork for tenderness.  When close to being done but not quite cooked, turn off heat and let sit with lid on until ready to eat.

This broccoli is delish.  Sam is living proof that a kid can be useful as well as good-looking, and he takes pride in creating dishes that we love to eat.  This kid really knows his way around a chopping block!