Here in New York we have one more week until our kids go back to school. It’s that time of year when I feel like I want to get organized. I want to be efficient and and make plans that will help the school year get started smoothly. And, of course for me that means thinking about food!
One of the biggest challenges I face is breakfast. Cold cereal is just so darn easy, and Rosa has a couple of favorite brands that are at least semi-healthy. But, I know we could be doing better on the nutrition front.
I’ve learned from my work as food editor at Parents that I’m not alone with my breakfast quandaries.
“Chic” is not usually a word I associate with afternoon tea. Instead I think of frou-frou décor and overly elaborate place settings. Don’t get me wrong, I love afternoon tea. In fact, it’s a special holiday tradition in my family and I have no problem indulging in a little frilliness now and then.
That said, it was refreshing when my six year-old daughter, Rosa, and I were invited to try the new afternoon tea service at The Lamb’s Club in Midtown a few weeks ago. The restaurant’s tea service is offered upstairs in the swanky lounge, and the entire experience was sleek and sophisticated, a far cry from frou-frou. This is what tea in New York should be.
The bar at The Lamb's Club - sleek, not frou-frou
Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian is the Chef/Partner at the Lamb’s Club and with his team he has put together an elegant menu that Rosa, in a word, devoured. She dubbed the flaky buttermilk scones with raspberry jam, “way better than delicious”, swiped three-quarters of the tangy tuna tartare when I had my head turned, and fought me over the last piece of savory pork terrine. In hindsight, we should have ordered two servings of sacher torte, the Viennese chocolate cake layered with apricot jam and topped with a dark chocolate glaze.
By now we all know that Brussels sprouts are delicious. (Right?) They are fantastic braised with pancetta or bacon, scrumptious blanched and tossed with pasta, and unexpectedly tasty shredded and served as a salad with walnuts and pecorino. I recently tried this to-die-for recipe for fried Brussels sprouts with a honey-sriracha sauce. It was a lot of work and a lot of mess, but completely amazing.
Basically, I could eat Brussels sprouts every day in the fall and winter, and my favorite fallback, everyday way to chow down on these nutty nuggets is to roast them. It’s simple and oh, so good. There are two tricks. First, make sure the sprouts are nicely browned; don’t take them out of the oven too soon. Second, make sure you salt them enough. As one of my friends said, they should taste like popcorn.
Sweet. Smoky. Spicy. Salty. These are some of my absolute favorite flavor words. Mmm, my mouth is watering just typing them! This recipe for a little cocktail nibble hits all the right notes.
If you ever come to my apartment for a party or a holiday meal expect to see these nuts as part of my hors d’oeuvres spread. Sweet, smoky, spicy, and salty all at once I find them virtually irresistible. It takes every ounce of my willpower to actually save these nuts for my guests.
As I often do, the other night I was thinking about what I should have for breakfast the next morning. I surveyed our provisions. We had some slightly bruised but still fragrant peaches and a half-loaf of rustic bread. Bingo. A breakfast bruschetta began to take shape in my mind. Toasted bread, diced and macerated peaches with a touch of sugar and basil… perfect.
Well, almost perfect. I knew I needed a “glue”, a base for the bruschetta, something to marry to the bread and the fruit. Fresh ricotta seemed like just the thing. If I had been really ambitious I would have made my own from this terrific recipe. Instead, the next morning I picked some up and put together this summery treat.
Can I admit that, by nature, I’m one of those moms who gets a little too controlling in the kitchen when I’m cooking with my kid? That I have to work hard to relax and not freak out if a little flour gets on the floor? “It’s okay!” I tell myself. “This is a great learning experience. Rosa is picking up new skills, learning to appreciate food, and what’s more, this is good bonding time for the two of us!” With all of those benefits what’s a little flour on the floor or egg on the face (literally)?
Sometimes that internally-directed pep talk actually works.
Children's Chef Suzy Scherr
And since I started collaborating with children’s chef Suzy Scherr I’ve evolved even further. Suzy teaches Rosaberry’s kids cooking classes, and she is such a passionate advocate for bringing kids into the kitchen that even I am swayed. Cooking with kids is the best thing ever! In fact, Rosa and I have been cooking quite a bit together from this book.
I asked Suzy to tell us about her experiences with kids in the kitchen, at what age kids can start cooking, and why we should tolerate the mess and welcome kids to the counter.
I am a serious fan of grain salads. What’s not to love? They’re healthy, flavorful, and even better when made ahead.
After preparing many of these salads for both my clients and myself I realized that a recipe isn’t necessary, so much as a formula. You can mix and match ingredients based on what you have on-hand, what’s in season, or what you’re craving. Concoct a Greek-ish grain salad, or a Latin-ish one, an Asian-ish one, or a whatever-is-in-your-fridge one. They are as flexible as they are delicious.
Here is my Super Salad Formula:
Grain + Veg + Dressing + (OPTIONAL: Nuts + Herb + Cheese)
Simple right? Start with your basic components and go from there.
It’s hard to beat meatballs as a crowd-pleaser. I love them because they’re so versatile. You can bake them or brown them, use nearly any kind of ground meat, and tuck in all sorts of herbs, spices, and even veggies. They’re good on their own, in a soup, or in a sauce. You can make them in a half-hour or let them simmer for an afternoon. Really, it’s hard to go wrong with a meatball. And recently I’ve discovered three tricks to make my Italian-style meatballs even better.
Spinach pesto is a staple in my house (as well as one of my client’s – I make it for them nearly every week). It’s beautiful, delicious, and healthy, plus relatively quick to prepare. You could make it even more quickly than I do, but I think the two potentially “fussy” touches render the final product much tastier. Remember that tastier = more kid (and grown-up) friendly.
Pesto is delicious on pasta, obviously. I also like it spooned over roasted chicken, on steamed or roasted potatoes, and dolloped on hard-boiled eggs. Nearly any food that needs a little zing will take well to this tangy sauce.
Two weeks ago something remarkable happened. After five years of providing three meals a day for her, my kindergarten-age daughter, Rosa, made lunch for me. And man, was it good: spicy barbecued shrimp and chicken, tangy coleslaw, and scrumptious corn muffins.
She’s a prodigy, right? A chip off the old block.