teaching kids to cook and instantly oatty

When a friend who works as Director of a local cooking school asked me to teach a class on cooking with kids, I thought it sounded like fun. When she asked if I’d bring my 10-year-old daughter on board to “assist,” the deal got even sweeter. I loved the idea of sharing deLizious with my kids.

In planning the class, I thought about foods that were winners with my girls as well as dishes they might have a hand in preparing. In the end, the menu featured one recipe for each mealtime (breakfast, lunch, supper) with the lunch dish able to play snack role as well.

First up: Fast Food-Style Chicken Tenders, seen here before at foodforfun. Next was Asian Noodle Bowl, made from cooked whole wheat spaghetti tossed with an Asian dressing (6 Tbsp orange juice, 3 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce, 1 Tbsp brown sugar, 1 1/2 tsp sesame oil, 3/4 tsp grated fresh gingerroot for 8 ounces dried pasta).

Students, ranging in age from 4ish to 10ish along with accompanying adults, took bowls of dressed noodles and tossed in favorite veggies from a colorful produce buffet that had been prepped before class. Whether tossing in snowpeas, broccoli, and bell pepper or just carrots (that would be my girl), kids were adding veggies they’d eat and making a (healthy) dish they were excited about. Besides this being a do-able lunch for school, it could also be packed as snack.

With supper and lunch/snack down, we moved on to breakfast. I’d found a fun recipe in ChopChop magazine (loving CC–a cooking mag for kids that keeps things simple without dumbing down) for DIY Instant Oats that struck me as brilliance. With all the other make-a-mixes out there, why not one for instant oats? True, old-fashioned rolled oats don’t take terribly long to cook: A hot bowl of steaming oats is never more than 20 minutes away and setting them up in a slow cooker the night before makes mornings even easier.

But how about this: Grind a cup of oats along with a handful of dried fruit, tablespoon or so of brown sugar, and small amounts of ground cinnamon and salt to powder in a blender or food processor, then add another 2 cups oats for a quick pulse. The result? A shelf-stable mix you combine 1:1 1/2 with boiling water (1/2 cup oat mixture to 3/4 cup water) for a quick-fix breakfast. It tastes way better than packaged with hearty, fresh, real flavors and has a great chew. The bowl of oats you want to fill your kid’s (or your own) tummy with in the morn? Just seconds away if you have this mix in your cupboard. And as with the noodle bowls, there was a topping buffet for this recipe, too: unsweetened baking cocoa, nuts, dried and fresh fruit, yogurt, nut butters, honey, maple syrup. (“Kid like choices, mom” was one sage bit of advice my daughter had given me as we planned this class.)

Class ended and we were on our way home before I realized I’d taken no photos. My mind had been on wanting the class to go well and not so much on capturing the food on camera. To rectify, I made myself a batch of DIY oats today, snapping photos as I went. I’d like to write that my daughters helped me, but reality had them working on homework and cleaning their room instead. But it’s good to know I have recipes to share for those times when we all have time to play together in the kitchen. And even if they didn’t have a hand in making this batch of DIY oats, they’ll be enjoying them for many breakfasts to come.

ingredients in the food processor, ready to rock

ready to rock

ground to a powder

ground to a powder

more oats added, pulsed

more oats added, pulsed

containered up, ready for action

containered up, ready for action

clockwise l to r dreamy instant oatmeal toppings: raspberries, cocoa powder, honey, mini 'mallows, almonds, maple syrup, chia seeds, coconut

dreamy instant oatmeal toppings clockwise l to r : raspberries, cocoa powder, honey, mini ‘mallows, almonds, maple syrup, milk, chia seeds, coconut

pizza night

A recent purchase of some amazing pepperoni and a bag of shredded mozz that’s been in my freezer for a while meant that tonight was Pizza Night.

Homemade pizzas were always something to look forward to growing up. Family members topped portions as desired and the results were always tasty. The crust came from a box (or pouch?) and made for a great pizza crust–tender, doughy, chewy. These mixes are still available, I’d bet. Even easier would be unrolling a can of dough. Easiest? Buying a premade crust.

I love making my own, though, as it’s a simple dough: very little kneading and only a brief rise. And the biggest reason for baking your own anything: It’s always going to taste better. (That said, I’ve purchased premade dough from a farmers’ market vendor and it turned out the best pizza crust I’ve ever had.)

I have no standby recipe, though featured a favorite in an earlier post. Tonight, I found a new recipe that looked promising in my well-worn King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook. I had to make some adjustments as I didn’t have the full amount of whole wheat flour called for. But adding cracked wheat (about 1/4 cup) and a few tablespoons of soy flour to make up the difference made for a more interesting final crust. The 2 tablespoons of honey in the dough gave the crust a distinct yet delicate sweetness that worked well with the whole-graininess. But the larger amount of white flour (almost 2 cups) made it tender and springy. I’ll use this recipe again.

The girls enjoyed their yummy pepperoni and I sprinkled onions and garlic on my portion. I tossed some mixed greens on my slice once on the plate and loved how pretty it looked. A few crushed chili flakes gave it zip.

Pizza Night wasn’t nostalgic in the sense that our pizza looked or tasted anything like what I remember growing up. But I like knowing that I can make a childhood memory work in my kitchen. I wonder how my daughters will play Pizza Night when they’re grown?

Whole Wheat Honey Pizza Crust

from King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook

  • 1 cup hot water (I used 100°-115°F water as that’s what works to activate yeast)
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour (Didn’t have this much, so used about 1/2 cup whole wheat flour, about 2 tablespoons soy flour and enough cracked wheat flour to make 1 cup. Made up the remaining 1/2 cup with the all-purpose flour.)
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (used 2 cups to make up for not using enough whole wheat flour)

In large bowl, combine water, honey, and yeast; let stand 5 minutes or until bubbly. Stir in salt. Add flours; stir vigorously to form dough. On lightly floured surface, knead dough a few minutes until smooth.  Cover with clean kitchen towel. Let rise 10 to 15 minutes.

Heat oven to 400°F. Roll or stretch dough to fit pizza pan. Parbake 5 or so minutes. Remove from ovenl top as desired. Bake until topping are heated through and crust is golden. Makes 1 (15-inch) crust.

homemade pizza with delish crust

defending the little guy

My youngest and I ran errands today and I looked forward to lunch out with her. She lobbied for Mc D’s or Subway, but I held strong to trying a local spot I’d often driven past, but never had time to stop at. Razs Coffee & Ice Cream Cafe also advertises soups, sandwiches, and bakery, so I was sure lunch could be found.

The shop was small and mostly empty, though arriving at 1:30 meant we had probably missed any lunch crowd. The sandwiches looked decent enough, but I couldn’t get excited about chicken, tuna, or egg salad fillings. The soup for Monday was Chicken Noodle–bingo. My daughter and I each ordered a bowl. It came with a roll and crackers–standard cafe fare. I also ordered an Americano as the shop’s coffee scent was beautiful and strong.

Our soup was very very good. I doubt it had been made using fresh local ingredients; it most likely came premade in a plastic pouch. But it was for sure a step up from canned. The noodles were so soft they fell apart on the spoon (not the al dente you want in a proper pasta dish, but just the ticket in chicken noodle soup), the chicken chunks were big and meaty, and the broth was salty and rich. It was a fun soup to slurp with my daughter and we emptied our bowls. The Americano was also excellent–it included the elusive crema you don’t always find floating atop espresso drinks. Not everything was amazing, though: The rolls were on the dry side and the packaged crackers were borderline stale.

In the end, dessert trumped all: Ice cream was a must–this was Razs Coffee & Ice Cream, after all. (Though I was tempted to take home one of the chocolate chip cookie bars as they looked fantastic.) My Caramel Collision Malt was truly yummy and my daughter’s ice-cream streaked mouth was proof that she enjoyed her mint-chocolate chip kiddy cone.

As we ordered our ice cream, I noticed Daughter getting dangerously close to a display of breakable serving dishes. I approached, ready with my “look with your eyes, not with your hands” speech, but instead fell in love with a small ribboned cake stand. It was priced at an incredibly affordable $10 and was just what I need for my Easter centerpiece. I added it to our $15 tab (couldn’t have had the meal for less even at McD’s) and left with a cake plate in one hand and my daughter’s little hand in the other.

found this at an ice-cream shop--so pretty!

The meal at Razs wasn’t 5-star, but I felt better about handing my dollars over to a man behind the counter who actually owned his one-of-a-kind shop rather than pay for a so-so meal at one of the many chain giants that seem to rule today’s dining scene. It was delightful to find good food and Martha Stewart–worthy servingware in a suburban strip mall. I’ll be back. I still need to try the chocolate chip cookie bars.

from cobb salad to chocolate chateau

Spring break hit this week which could only mean one thing: road trip. Despite having no official travel plans, I was able to get out on a few small trips–all food-focused, of course.

On Thursday, a good friend and I were joined by our daughters as we day-tripped to Stillwater, a small destination city with quaint downtown shopping. Lunch, at Leo’s Grill & Malt Shop, was retro in decor and food. My butterfinger malt was rich with malt powder (yay) and the Cobb salad looked like a Cobb salad was supposed to–neat rows of ingredients. (Food pet-peeve: restaurants that toss chicken, bacon, romaine, blue cheese, and hard-cooked egg together and call it a Cobb. Don’t toss a Cobb.) The blue cheese dressing was thick and the bacon was good, though adding avocados would have made it more authentic. We shopped a bit, then hit Tremblay’s Sweet Shop for a collection of pay-by-the-pound candies before heading home. (I billed our visit to this store as a treat for the girls, but who am I kidding? I love candy.)

Cobb salad at Leo’s

Friday’s “road trip” came about when my oldest daughter asked if we could go on “one of our adventures” when her younger sister went to daycare. (I love that my daughter considers our outings “adventures.”) We had only a few hours, so stayed close to home and set off to explore a few St. Paul neighborhoods.

Our first stop was Dr. Chocolate’s Chocolate Chateau. (Yes, that is really what it is called.) The first floor had opened only a month ago as a retail chocolate shop. The upper three floors of this beautiful Victorian mansion are eventually slotted to hold a chocolate museum, hall-of-fame, event center, pastry shop, tasting room, and who knows what else. Dr. Chocolate certainly has big dreams.

The first-floor shop was stocked with wrapped chocolate bars sourced regionally and internationally as well as high-end chocolate candies and baking mixes. They also carry aprons, cookbooks, coffee mugs, and other gift-y items. The chocolate display case boasts at least 30 different kinds of truffles along with bricks of chocolate wrapped in gold foil (shades of Willy Wonka) and chocolate-dipped goodies such as fruit, cookies, and the like.

The truffles were front-and-center and seemed the thing to buy, though we limited ourselves to three total. I also bought a few chocolate bars (Cabernet, Chardonnay, and Aztec dark) as well as a chocolate Cabernet cake mix (packaged in a wine bottle) and a few smaller chocolates. It wasn’t an inexpensive trip, but it was fun to be there at the beginning of this store’s journey. Walking away with our bag of classy chocolate was simply (chocolate) icing on the cake.

Dr. Chocolate signage

Dr. Chocolate purchases

We left the Chateau to walk a few blocks to Cheeky Monkey, a fun lunch and dinner spot with impressive food. I’ve been a number of times, but especially enjoyed sharing it with my daughter. We chowed down on sandwiches (hers the Little Monkey with turkey and cheese and mine a roasted pepper, chicken, bacon, and gouda panini–delish, ate every last crumb) and enjoyed the complementary self-serve cucumber and lemon waters.

No time for dessert (we had chocolate waiting for us in the car, remember?), we drove over to Grand Avenue to do a bit of window shopping. I was thrilled to spend this time with my 9-year-old as I know that in not too many years she’ll prefer spending time with friends to spending time with mom. I’ll take as many of these “adventures” as she’ll give me.

Tonight my husband and I took the shortest road trip of the week by hitting the freeway for i nonni, an upscale Italian restaurant in a nearby ‘burb. The food and drink were amazing. From cocktail (gin with grapefruit, sage, and cucumber–refreshing!) to appetizer (cured, paper thin slices of strip steak) to entree (farro pasta with sea urchin roe and lump crab) to dessert (a game-changing figgy pudding–wow) to grappa (what else after an Italian feast?), the meal was one I’ll long remember. It was a splurge, for sure, but with two young kids and nearly 20 years of marriage under our belts, my husband and I don’t get out much. Tonight’s fancy-pants date made up for all of the going out we haven’t done in the past few months.

When Monday rolls around, the kids go back to school and I’ll buckle down to work projects again. And though I didn’t hit the beaches of Cancun or tour Disney property with my family, I enjoyed local spots–new and old, upscale and casual. I shopped, ate well, and spent time with friends and family. Spring Break 2012 gets high marks from me.

baking bread your way

We’re almost out of bread and, without a lot on this weekend’s calendar, it seemed a good time to make a loaf or two. A few last-minute additions to the day kept me running, but I still got four (!) loaves made. Those who think that making bread is out of their reach should know that if I can make four loaves of bread on an unexpectedly busy day, they can make bread, too. I once told a group of baking students that it’s all about “being the boss of their bread.” Here’s how it happened today:

Up at 8 to take a spin class (a girl’s gotta work out if she eats like I do), then home to clean up and take my youngest to a playdate. I enjoyed chatting with the other mom, a good friend, and we didn’t get out of there until 2. Once home, I saw a window to start on the bread, so I ground the wheat berries (Yes, I grind my own whole wheat flour–I think it’s fun and the only equipment needed is a Kitchen Aid® attachment.) and collected all other ingredients. Got the dough together and had just started kneading when I saw it was almost 4–needed to get my oldest to her Girl Scout cookie booth. Covered the dough and we went on our way. Dropped my daughter off and invited another Girl Scout mom (and friend) over for coffee and social media lessons. (I have a lot to learn.) I did a bit of kneading while my friend worked the laptop, then I covered the dough for its official rise. Picked up our girls at 5:30, then home to add a bit more flour to the dough (seemed sticky). Kneaded it a bit more before dividing it into four sections (doubled the recipe–might as well maximize the benefits), shaping loaves, and letting them rise in their pans. While I made supper and helped my daughters move room dividers around to fashion a stage for their dance show later that night, the loaves rose and were ready for baking just after 6 p.m. Out of the oven by 6:40, they were set for butter and jam at 7. It may sound a bit nuts, and maybe the running around part was. But making the bread–from start to finish–was easy enough. I worked making bread around my day instead of the other way around.

A good recipe is essential. I used one of my stand-by baking cookbooks: The Secrets to Jesuit Breadbaking. Another favorite bread book: The Book of Bread. Have yet to find a bad recipe in either. (Will not offer a recipe here as I’ve already taken up more space than I’d wanted to. There are oodles of bread recipes on the web or check out either of these cookbooks.) Other must-haves for bread-baking include the right ingredients–sometimes just flour, salt, yeast, sugar. And you also need to think its fun. If I didn’t get such a bang out of making bread, I could easily find hearty, wholesome artisan bread at any grocery store. But I love the process of baking bread. And I love the results. I know my kids do, too, which makes it even more gratifying.

Whole Wheat and Oatmeal Bread from The Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking by Rick Curry, S.J.

with butter and jam!

in defense of school lunch

My youngest daughter and I join my eldest for school lunch every Thursday. I brown bag it as I’d rather bring my own. In past years, I packed all of my daughter’s lunches as well, but she now (usually) prefers eating what the school kitchen has to offer. This used to bug me, as I’m well aware of the high childhood obesity rates. It’s so easy for kids (and adults) to make bad nutrition choices. Junk food lurks around every childhood corner–cookies after musical rehearsal, juice boxes and candy-bar like granola bars after soccer, the list goes on. And the school lunches I remember were high in calories and low in good nutrition. Lately, though, things are looking up. True, mini corndogs were on today’s menu, but so were carrot sticks, broccoli florets, and baked sweet potato fries. The pizza crusts and tortillas are whole grain. Fresh fruit is always offered. But at the end of the lunch period, it’s less about what the school serves and more about what the kids will eat. Cut-up fresh vegetables may be on the menu, but if those veggies end up in the trash they haven’t added to anyone’s 5-a-day.

The most important nutrition responsibility, I feel, falls on parents. Kids who learn to like fresh fruits and veggies at home are more likely to eat them at school. Does my daughter make healthy choices? Not always. I’ve seen her eat her chocolate chip cookie first and leave the veggies untouched. (Yes, I call her on it. So far, she still wants me there.) But I keep hoping that by setting (mostly) good examples with my food choices, my daughters will eventually come round. And in the meantime, I know they’ll get (again, mostly) good nutrition at home and the school meals are better than they used to be.


Had a long morning. Was able to squeeze a gym trip in before heading off to church where my youngest was in the children’s musical. Next, off to the mall for lunch, hair cuts, and shoes. The girls weren’t especially poorly behaved, but I was feeling tapped when we got home. I was unhappy with my oldest, who was whining about not getting the same shoes as her sister. My repeated encouragement/scolding that she focus on what she does have rather than what she doesn’t seems to always fall on deaf ears.

As it often does, though, food turned things around for me. We returned home to our neighbor’s gift of a large box packed full with pints of fresh berries: blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries. And some grapes and mixed greens thrown in for good measure. These neighbors occasionally bring us leftover food from their church and I’m excited each time we get a box. Holy CSA, Batman! Often it’s organic produce, dairy, or eggs. But never the same collection of food. (Have 10 green bell peppers in my refrigerator right now; need a good stuffed pepper recipe.) I love this gift of food because it’s bounty. It’s excess. It’s generosity. I’m ever appreciative and often bring the neighbors part of whatever I make with their gifts. Today, their gift helped me build up what was torn down. I’ll be making jam with the berries and our neighbors can expect a jar or three.

Berry Jam (from the 2009 Ball Blue Book guide to preserving)

  • 9 cups crushed berries
  • 6 cups sugar

In large saucepan, combine berries and sugar. Slowly bring to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves.  Cook rapidly to gelling point (220°F at sea level or when jam breaks from spoon in a sheet or flake), stirring more frequently as jam thickens to prevent sticking. Remove from heat. Skim foam if necessary. Ladle hot jam into sterile, hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Seal with sterile canning lid and ring. Process 15 minutes in boiling-water canner.*

*I’ve yet to purchase a canner, so for now make do with sterilizing canning equipment in the dishwasher, then “processing” the filled and sealed jars in a stockpot of boiling water. I do have a canning jar funnel and lifter to make filling and transporting the jars to and from the boiling water easier. If you’re new to canning, read through canning instructions well before starting. For a fairly simple process, there’s a lot to it and after all of the hands-on time you’re putting into it (not to mention the fantastic fresh produce you’re using), it’s not something you want to mess up.

family moments: popovers, pizza, frozen yogurt

Family time–while lovely in theory–can be rough in practice. I remember taking the girls to our community pjs and Santa event when they were 4ish and maybe just 9 months. By the time we got two pajama-clad girls into the car, everyone was mad at each other. It had been stressful getting the girls ready and I remember wondering if it was even worth it to go. No one was feeling festive–we were crabby and it probably would have been better to just stay home and put everyone (mom and dad included) to bed. But we had planned to see Santa with the girls that night and we were forging ahead. The night was mostly a disaster. Too crowded, too noisy, too late at night, and both girls cried just looking at Santa. Despite these disasters (and there have been many), we continue pursuing those perfect and ideal family moments.

Today, we hit the jackpot. A downtown library was showing a children’s film fest, so we took the girls. My husband, a library junkie, hit the stacks while the girls and I enjoyed five subtitled foreign film shorts. I took a quick walk through cookbooks and found entire shelves devoted to bourbon and other spirits (more about bourbon later). We bought a few books at the Friends of the Library bookstore, then walked over to Macy’s for a great lunch at the tony Oak Grill. We enjoyed a piece of history and some solidly good food: First, Oak Grill’s classic popovers. Then the girls slurped down their chicken veggie soup. I had the same soup with a Meditterranean-ish salad. My husband had a chicken stir-fry. Driving home, I realized we’d had a perfectly lovely morning. No one fought, we didn’t get lost, everyone was happy about the restaurant choice. Somehow we got that ideal family moment. It had just happened. When we left the house that morning, we had no plan outside of hitting the film fest. Everything else just followed.

Tonight I took my 9-year-old to the senior fashion show at a local University. She was wide-eyed as the models strutted the runway and it was fun to support one of her interests. Wandering to Dinkytown after the show, we had wonderfully greasy pizza at Mesa and then played Connect-4 after building frozen yogurt sundaes at Chilly Billy’s.

Will cherish today’s memories as they don’t come around often enough. Will also (try to) remember that forcing these family moments doesn’t make them happen; more often than not, it backfires. Expecting Norman Rockwell-worthy moments is overly optimistic and in the end, usually leads to disappointment and frustration. Tonight, my recipe for that perfect family moment is to pay attention so I can grab on and appreciate when things go right.