Thursday, February 26, 2009

What's Eating Our Kids? And What Are Our Kids Eating?

There are two interesting articles on relating to children and what they eat. The first What’s Eating Our Kids? Fears About Bad Foods cites a trend some experts see emerging about kids who have been so indoctrinated with ideas about what foods are “good” and what foods are “bad” that they sometimes develop eating disorders. Schools and parents are so adamant about the dangers of sugar, white rice, and sodium that kids become increasingly extreme and doctrinaire about their food choices.

It’s a controversial idea and one that I’m sure will drive many parents up the wall. I can hear it now: “First the experts tell us we need to educate our kids better and feed them well… Now they’re saying we’re doing too good a job!” To me, it’s the idea of complete avoidance that is problematic. I overheard a mother last month say that her four year-old daughter had never eaten a cookie. Never eaten a cookie?! I truly feel sorry for that little girl. A cookie is a small, but delightful, pleasure. And I wouldn’t be surprised if later on in life that girl couldn’t keep her hand out of the cookie jar. Personally, I’ve found that deprivation does not a good diet make.

But, I also feel sorry for the child whose parents stock the pantry with bags of Oreos, Mint Milanos, and Chips Ahoy and dole them out indiscriminately. Packaged junk food is not the basis for a healthy diet and these kids will likely grow up missing nutrients and possibly obese. Plus, they’ll grow up not knowing the sublime taste of homemade cookies, golden with butter and studded with raisins or chocolate chips, the pleasure of tasting a cookie right out of the oven.

So I guess it’s pretty clear that I’m not an absolutist when it comes to food. I believe in eating lots of the healthy stuff and a little of the less healthy (but delicious homemade) stuff. I also believe that we should teach our children about the pleasures of eating healthful, nourishing food without making them scared to ever touch a cookie.

The second Times piece that I enjoyed was an interview with Tom Colicchio, executive chef of the Craft family of restaurants and the head judge on Top Chef (which I love!). Colicchio is considered one of the best chefs in the country, and he spoke with the Times about his efforts to get his son to eat healthy food. For Colicchio the choice isn’t between healthy and unhealthy, but between processed and unprocessed. He says, “If food is well sourced and well prepared, I don’t think the word healthy needs to be brought into it. It’s healthy because it’s wholesome. That’s what we should focus on. You can buy a box of low-fat macaroni and cheese made with powdered nonsense. I’m not worried if I’m using four different cheeses and it’s high in fat. It’s real food. That’s what’s more important.”

The word “wholesome” is one of my favorite food words, and it goes back to the cookie question above. To me, eating a homemade chocolate chip cookie is wholesome, while eating a Chips Ahoy cookie just isn’t. (None of which is to say that our kids should be eating a dozen cookies every day.)

Click here for the whole Colicchio interview. It’s interesting and I agree with him in theory on just about everything. When asked about a quick recipe he prepares for his family on a weeknight he replies, “I can go out and buy clams and some shallots and garlic, chop it up, put some wine in it, olive oil. Let the clams steam open, add chopped up tomatoes and mustard greens and toss with pasta. That is going to take me 20 minutes. It’s a great simple pasta dish. It is that easy. Anybody can do it if they want to do it. It just takes practice.”

Bingo. The best way to ensure your family eats healthy food is to cook it from scratch in your own kitchen. And having those skills and the confidence that emanates from those skills doesn’t happen over night. It takes practice, but you don't have to be a top chef.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Hide and Seek

So back to cheating. I’ve written a longer blog post about the pros and cons of deceiving kids about the foods they eat, i.e., hiding fruits and veggies in their mac 'n cheese, chicken nuggets, and blueberry muffins. My friends at Go Baby have welcomed me as a guest blogger on their site, and the entry is posted there. It starts:

When I tell people that I teach parents and nannies how to cook for the family I am often asked where I stand on… deception. My answer? It’s complicated.

Click here to read the rest of the entry.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Daily Candy

Rosaberry got a shout-out on Daily Candy Kids today! Click here to see the story.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Cheating on our Husbands

A couple of years ago Jessica Seinfeld and Missy Chase Lapine published cookbooks that explained to parents how to hide nutritious fruits and veggies in their children’s favorite foods. Think cauliflower macaroni and cheese, blueberry muffins with yellow squash, and brownies with carrot and spinach. The kids would eat their veggies and be none the wiser.

I’m on the fence about this practice (more on that later), but perusing Amazon today I ran across the title of another of Missy Chase Lapine’s books, and my jaw dropped: The Sneaky Chef: How to Cheat on Your Man (In the Kitchen!): Hiding Healthy Foods in Hearty Meals Any Guy Will Love.

Sigh. Have we really come to this? Hiding broccoli in our husbands’ meatloaf?

If my husband didn’t eat a balanced diet I would do my best to tempt him to enjoy the delicious diversity of fresh produce. But I’m not going to treat him like a child and trick him. If I were a man, I would be insulted by this. As the cook of the family I would also be taken aback by the idea that my vegetables aren’t appealing enough on their own.

But, maybe that’s the solution. Instead of hiding greens in other foods, let’s just make them taste better! I’d bet that if most men (or veggie-averse women for that matter) were offered nutty roasted Brussels sprouts with shavings of parmigiano-reggiano, spicy sweet potato fries, or garlicky sautéed Tuscan kale they would happily eat their veggies – and even ask for seconds.

I’m sure most of Lapine’s recipes are delicious, and, in the end, I suppose it’s the premise that I disagree with more than the practice. If we both liked the “cauliflower sneaking into sesame noodles" then we would eat it regularly. But, I would hope that my husband was man enough to still enjoy the dish knowing there was cauliflower in it.

Monday, February 16, 2009

V-Day Cocktail

I love holidays. I’m an anticipator, a gal who likes to look forward to things. Knowing there’s an approaching red-letter day on the calendar keeps a spring in my step and distracts me from the day-to-day grind: think crowded subways, freezing soggy weather, and never-ending potty training. Yes, holidays are a good thing.

Most of all I love holidays because they’re an excuse to make something special for dinner. I’m a pretty equal opportunity holiday cook. Birthdays, Father's Day, Halloween, Cinco de Mayo, Mardi Gras (pancakes!), Columbus Day (Italian), and my family’s “big four”: Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve/Day, New Year’s, and Easter. On this year's list to celebrate in a culinary fashion: Hanukkah, Ramadan, Chinese New Year... why not??

Two holidays I sit out: Independence Day since it’s my birthday and St. Patrick’s Day. Irish food doesn’t really inspire me… although now that I think about it I really should try to perfect a version of shepherd’s pie.

And, of course, there is Valentine’s Day. Truth be told I’ve never been super-excited about eating out on Valentine’s Day. The restaurants seem like romance factories: churn the couples in, feed ‘em, and spit ‘em out. So, instead I cook. This year I prepared Cornish hens which I knew would make my husband happy. And they did.

But the part of the meal that made me the happiest was the sexy champagne cocktail that kicked everything off. I saw a recipe for Blood-Orange Mimosas on the Gourmet website and was instantly seduced.

Blood-Orange Mimosas
Yield: Makes 8 Drinks

3 cups fresh blood-orange juice (from about 10 oranges)
1/3 cup Grand Marnier or other orange-flavored liqueur
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar
1 (750-ml) bottle Prosecco, chilled well

Stir together juice, liqueur, and sugar in a 2-quart pitcher until sugar is dissolved. Chill until cold, about 1 hour. Slowly pour in Prosecco, stirring to combine. Serve immediately.

The cocktails were sophisticated, refreshing, and GORGEOUS. I would have been almost as happy just looking at them as drinking them. An added perk: the mimosas will go into my Thanksgiving and Christmas repertoires.

So another holiday down. Next is St. Patrick’s… and shepherd’s pie! Now, if only I had thought of something clever for President’s Day. Next year.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Savoring Saveur

Saveur magazine is not one of my regulars. I’ve picked it up a few times on the newsstand; my go-to cheesecake recipe is actually from Saveur. But when “savoring a world of authentic cuisine”, as the magazine’s tagline asks its readers to do, involves buying new equipment or venturing to Chinatown or Little India for ingredients (excursions I do enjoy … but not ones that generally work for me on a random Friday afternoon), I tend to do my savoring in restaurants. Saveur recipes are frequently more demanding than I, alas, can handle most days.

All that said, I picked up the January/February issue last week and really enjoyed it. It was a special edition – “The Saveur 100 Home Cook Edition”. The issue features an interesting list of 100 dishes, extraordinary home cooks, cookbooks, food markets, and essential pots and pans.

I cornered a few pages and prepared the Whole Roasted Red Snapper Friday night (except I used striped bass since buying a three-pound red snapper for two and a half people didn’t make a lot of sense). As you can see in the not-perfectly-centered photo above, you nestle a whole fish inside an aluminum foil packet with clams, kielbasa, fennel, fingerling potatoes, lemons, and herbs. The recipe also calls for olives, which I forgot to buy, so I subbed in briny capers. You sprinkle the mélange with salt, pepper, and white wine and roast it in the oven for about 35 minutes. I slit open the foil packet and brought the whole thing to the table on a large dish.

And we just dug in. We ate and ate and ate until there really wasn’t a whole lot left. Rosa loved the kielbasa and asked for more clams. For me, the fennel and the fish were the star. Dave was pretty happy with all of it. The ingredients retained their individual flavors, but everything had an aromatic, mellow tenderness from being cooked together in the moist environment of the aluminum packet.

It was also a very interactive dish since throughout we’d put a few nibbles on our plates and then reach back in for more. Probably not the most sanitary meal, but if you’re with family or close friends, I highly recommend it.

Click here for the recipe.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Tiny Kitchen

It’s almost a given that New Yorkers have small kitchens. Mine is no exception. If I had to guess, I would say that it is roughly six feet by five feet, and that most of the potential workspace is taken up by the sink, fridge, and stove. Only one person can comfortably inhabit the space at a time, especially if the refrigerator, oven, or dishwasher happens to be open. As I said, it’s small.

But, I’m pretty sure my kitchen is bigger than Jill Santopietro’s. Her kitchen – or at least what I can see of it – is truly tiny. But, she makes excellent use of it.

Jill is a recipe tester and food stylist for The New York Times, and recently she has been starring in short cooking videos posted on the Times’ website. In her latest she demos how to prepare Eggs in Purgatory, the mouth-watering recipe in last Sunday’s Times Magazine. Click here to watch it.

As you’ll see, Jill is entirely charming (just like in real life!) and knowledgeable. Her tiny kitchen travails are an inspiration for anyone who ever thought they just didn’t have enough space to make a satisfying meal. Trust her… you do.