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September 2009

The Hopping Best Recipe for Roasted Cauliflower


Parents who want  their children to eat vegetables often find themselves in a typical predicament--they start repeating themselves. It's hard not to do so. The conventional thinking is that kids need to be exposed to vegetables over and over (consider, even, the "50 Exposure Rule") before they'll start eating their greens. 

I don't know if this is true. Nina and Pinta have their own crazy logic when it comes to vegetables. They'll eat broccoli, asparagus, the occasional green bean, spinach (if it's on pizza or in a frozen empanada), which, come to think of it, is not bad at all. Pinta also loves peas, especially if they are left frozen. How strange is that?

There are a number of tricks that can be employed to get kids to eat what's good for them. I'm not an advocate of some of them, such as sneaking greens into foods a la Jessica Seinfeld's "Deceptively Delicious," but as the King put it, "50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong." People are looking for an easy way to get children to eat better.

I will share a few of my methods. The first and most reliable one is to employ a balsamic vinaigrette. It's easy to make--go with about one part vinegar to three parts olive oil and add salt and pepper. The children like to dip the heads of broccoli in it. They love it with their asparagus. The dressing will sweeten everything it touches. 

Tonight, I came home from work early to have dinner with the family, and Santa Maria introduced me to another way. Actually, Nina told me about it, and I was shocked. I had no idea things like this went on when I was out of the house. Nina said her mother let her jump on the couch (she calls it our trampoline) and eat cauliflower in the living room. 

As a rule, we don't let the kids take food out of the kitchen. Also, I thought that we would want to discourage them from jumping on the furniture. When I was a child I would have gotten in big trouble for jumping on the couch. I told Nina this and asked her which was more crazy--jumping on the couch or eating in the living room. Her answer was "eating in the living room" which goes a long way towards explaining why she calls the couch a trampoline.

Santa Maria had called me on the way home and asked me to pick up a head of cauliflower. She cooked it while we were eating pasta and bolognese. It was ready by the time we finished the dishes. It was almost the children's bed time, but it's important to bend the rules when it means they'll eat their vegetables.

Off we went to the living room, where Nina pulled the cushion off the couch, tossed in on the floor, and proceeded to bounce up and down on the piece of furniture, its slip cover riding up in fruitless protest, while Santa Maria and myself sat on a neighboring couch and watched with one bowl and two plates of the cauliflower in our laps. Pinta joined her and their giddy laughter filled the room. Every so often they'd stop, hop down, and pop a floret in their mouth. We'd enjoin them not to jump while chewing. Most of the time they'd oblige. This repeated itself until the cauliflower was gone. At which point, the jumping continued until Nina hit her head on the wall. Maybe my parents were on to something.

The truth about the cauliflower is that the children don't need to hurt themselves in order to want to eat it. When roasted the following way, it's irresistible. I first blogged about roasting cauliflower in April, but at the risk of repeating myself, I'll post the recipe again. It's that good. 

Roasted Cauliflower

  • 1 head cauliflower
  • a very little olive oil (about a teaspoon)
  • salt and pepper to taste

    Turn the oven to 350 degrees.

    Wash and cut the cauliflower into florets.

    Toss the cauliflower in a roasting pan with the olive oil and the salt and pepper.

    Put the pan in the oven, and stir occasionally.

    It should be done in about twenty minutes (the smaller you cut up the head, the faster it will cook).

How to Make Meatloaf

All last week I wanted to make a meatloaf. It shouldn’t have been so hard. I’ve made them before. I know a great recipe from Mark Bittman for one with spinach in it. Years ago, and I can’t believe I’m saying that, Nina ate it up avidly. So I had high hopes. On of my goals is to get more vegetables into Nina’s diet.  Forget fruits. She won’t touch them, but she’ll eat some vegetables willingly, including spinach so long as it’s on top of pizza.

Having made meatloaf before is one thing. Sending one’s child off to school for the first time is another. I had some problems with the latter. Nothing like tears, no, no, no (as Amy Winehouse so tragically put it), but it was tough. I’ve gotten used to cooking in the morning before going to work. As I don’t have to be at my desk until 10 a.m., I never been  short of time. Nina’s school though starts at 8:40. I’m now out of the house at 8: 30.

Then there’s the red balloon. Pinta had one in the house on Tuesday morning. I never got close to mixing the ground beef and breadcrumbs that day. How could I? She wanted to throw balloon back and forth. As much as I like to cook, that tops anything I might come up with in the kitchen.

Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, I’m not really sure what happened. I do remember having one of those days in which all the words I wrote appear to be spelled incorrectly, you know the kind of day that has you doubting basic knowledge. I made the quinoa salad, for example, and cooked twice as much of the grain than was necessary. I simply forgot how to do something I’ve done dozens of times.

Saturday afternoon I finally got around to mixing up the meatloaf, between the end of Pinta's nap and going out to the playground.  Meatloaf is an easy thing to make, and it keeps well. I put the mixture in the refrigerator, and eventually froze half of it. We were going out to a friend’s birthday party that night so we didn’t eat it then. Sunday we had fish from Saturday that had to be consumed. Santa Maria cooked up the meatloaf yesterday and the kids didn’t really eat it. Next time, I’ll have her cook it with bacon on top and have her serve it with ketchup. Let them resist that.

Spinach Meatloaf
  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 10 or so ounces of fresh spinach
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • nutmeg

        Cook the spinach in a frying pan. Squeeze out as much water as possible. Season with nutmeg.

        Soak the breadcrumbs in milk

        Combine all the ingredients.

        Put half the mixture in a baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees until it is 160 degrees in the center.

A Sardine and Breadcrumb Pasta Recipe

One of the nice things about writing this blog is that friends email me their recipes. After seeing my earlier post about my sudden infatuation with fresh breadcrumbs, Adam Wilson, let me in on a favorite of his:

"Breadcrumbs and olive oil and pasta is a great combo. I like to make it with sauteed fileted sardines. Some salt, pepper, and fresh herb of your choosing (I'm partial to parsley for this dish) and you've got yourself a nice little meal."

When I first read his email, I mistook "sardines" for "anchovies" and thought what an absolutely easy recipe, something that calls for things that are always in the house. Fantastic. I can make it anytime. Don't even have to think about shopping (a hidden tax on the brainpower of cooking for one's family).

Then I read it again, and realized it didn't say "anchovies." It called for sardines. I love this fish, but I've only ever seen it on restaurant menus (and I've seen a lot of fish in my day, having worked for many years growing up in a retail fish market).  Adam wrote again to offer the following tips:

"You can sometimes find fresh sardines at either Whole Foods or Fairway (I've gotten them at the on on 76th St, but not the one in Red Hook.) If I see them I usually snatch them up, but it's true that they aren't around that often. I'll let you know if I come across any."

The simple recipe was now something more complicated, and the perverse thing is I now find it even more appealing.

A Recipe for Breadcrumbs That Will Simplify Your Life

Breadcrumbs I'm still striving to stop complicating my life. It's a hard thing to do once children come along, but I believe it is possible. I'm just not sure about how to accomplish it.

Santa Maria took over the menu planning duties this week, and I was thankful. Lord knows that by her putting pen to paper and figuring out what we might eat next Wednesday, I would have a few extra brain cells to devote to more pressing matters, such as where to park the car.

All last week, the car sat just about in front of my apartment on my side of the street, which has spots valid all the time except Mondays, from 11:30 to 1. What I've learned, the hard way, about keeping a car in my neighborhood is that you have to move it the night before the sign says it needs to be moved. So a spot that's good through Monday, needs to be vacated on a Sunday. 

Therefore, we used the car on Saturday, to check out Buzz-A-Rama 500, the city's last remaining slot car track and to have pizza at Di Fara's with my brother, Tom, and his wife, Liza. 

When we got back Sunday night, we found a place across the street from my apartment that's good through Thursday. What good fortune. 

Alas, I complicated things this morning, when I tried to simplify my life by moving the car.

On my way back from dropping off Nina at school, I caught sight of a woman loading groceries into her car on the Monday side of the street. Thinking that I would be able to leave the car in her spot for another week, I asked her to wait until I could cross the street and quickly moved the car. Alas, only after squeezing it in between a stopped Postal truck and an idling milk delivery, did I realize that it was only nine in the morning, and I had just put the car into a spot that would have to be vacated two hours later. I was toast. 

As it turned out, I was able to find a new spot rather quickly and it wasn't a big deal. 

A similar thing happened in the kitchen last night: I made an anxious mistake and it turned out okay. In fact, for me, it turned out to be a revelation.

Santa Maria put meatloaf on the menu for this week. Meatloaf requires breadcrumbs, of which we had none (I hate store bought ones). I flipped through Bittman's "How to Cook Everything" to review the making of breadcrumbs. I have tons of old bread in the freezer. It is very easy to make them. Drop a few pieces of old bread into a blender, and give it a whir. Soon you'll have bread crumbs. Toast them in a 350 degree oven for a few minutes if you'd like. 

While the breadcrumbs were toasting, I experimented with making a mint pesto. I'm sick of the amount of fresh herbs that I throw out and I realized with my pesto chicken sandwich of the other day, that a tasty pesto would come in handy at lunch time. I had a little bit of Pineapple Mint (whatever that is) left over and I tried making it into pesto. I didn't have enough leaves though, for the blender to function properly, and I just made a mess. 

During the pesto-making experiment, I took the breadcrumbs out of the oven and left them on the baking tray to cool. The bottle of olive oil was on the counter next to them. At one point, I reached for it and it slipped out of my hand, tipped over, and emptied its contents onto the cooling breadcrumbs. Nightmare! I was annoyed with my clumsiness and frustrated by having ruined my breadcrumbs.

Thing is, when I scooped up the breadcrumbs to store them, I tasted the olive coated ones. They were delicious. The crispiness of the crumbs and the fruitiness and slipperiness of the oil were amazing. I had never tasted anything like this. 

I've seen recipes for pasta with fresh breadcrumbs and always thought, "how stupid, to put breadcrumbs on pasta." Now that I've tasted fresh breadcrumbs with olive oil, I'm thinking I might be the stupid one not to try such a dish. The nice thing about those recipes, is how simple they all seem.

Where I've been

Last week, we headed out west to see Santa Maria’s folks, and spent five days in their company. They have many things at their place, from a grand piano that needs tuning in their living room to an old Mercedes coupe that’s going to seed in their garage. But they don’t have wireless Internet access, so I wasn’t able to blog.

Instead, I went swimming at a nearby lake where evergreens ring the water and canoes slip silently by. Another day we went to a family-run amusement park out in the country where green mountains stand sentinel over the gleeful screams of children and piped-in strains of country rock.  It was a fine way to end the summer.

We make the two-hundred-fifty-mile trip to visit them once or twice a year. Sometimes the journey goes well for me. Other times, not so well.

A low point of recent memory: Thanksgiving last year. Pinta screamed through dinner. I lost my temper and tossed some thoughtless verbal barbs at those gathered around the table before retreating to the kitchen. I’m forever grateful to Santa Maria’s brother for the sly comic line he let loose as I departed the dining room. I don’t remember what he said, but I remember that it was funny and that it made me feel a little bit better.

During this visit I happened to be sitting outside a local shop drinking an iced coffee. It was Sunday, and I watched a father and his family leave the shop. One of his boys was whining about something he wanted to keep. His father insisted that he throw it out. The child was about eight, and he had his heart set on holding on to it. I heard them arguing before I saw them, and when I looked at the father I could see how angry he was.

Why are dads typically so angry? My dad was angry. I’m often angry. If I thought for a minute, I could find many more examples than the guy at the coffee shop, my dad, and myself, but three examples constitutes a trend so I’ll stop there.

Perhaps it is because men are conditioned to succeed in the business world, where controlling, managing, and more-or-less avoiding emotions are part of the unofficial office rule book. Except for anger (see professional football, traffic cops, and investment bankers at the top of their game). Anger is ok.

Children, on the other hand, are nothing but pure emotion. They cry. They scream. They have temper tantrums. All things grown men wish they could do around the cubicle, but can’t.

Put men with children, and out comes anger, the single emotion men are most versed in. Of course this is not true for all men, and it's not true all the time for any man. But there's some truth to it, I'm sure.

I'm sure this dynamic can change, and the thing I'm banking on is awareness. If we can see it, we can change it.

What does this have to do with cooking? Emotions are at the root of why I cook so much: where else do I experience the same sense of control and reward?

I found some reward in my lunch today. Because we were away for few days, we're a little behind on the shopping. There wasn't much in the kitchen this morning, but today I found enough left-overs to make a nice sandwhich. The key was basil pesto. I had it in the fridge from the other day.  I put it on some poached chicken and had it with fresh bread. It changed two simple ingredients, bread and chicken, into a tasty treat.

An Easy Recipe for Dressing up a Simple Salad

Allium_sativum_Woodwill_1793 Trying to do anything with kids around is like swiming with your clothes on. Covering the same ground requires a whole lot more effort and takes a great deal more time. So, quite naturally, after having children, a lot of things start to slide. When Nina was first born, bathing and getting dressed in the morning went out the window (there were days during her infancy when we didn't get out of our pajamas). As she grew, we kind of got the hang of living again.

Then we had Pinta, and the clock was rewound--I can't even remember the things I forgot to do. Movies? Out of the question. Recently I had the pleasure of watching, via Netflix, a German film called "The Lives of Others." It was one of the finest pieces of filmmaking I've ever seen. It won the Oscar for Best Foreign film in 2007. I wondered how I missed it until I remembered that Pinta was born that year.

Now Nina and Pinta are a bit older and life is getting easier. Last night I even returned to one of the small but rewarding things Santa Maria and I used to do in the kitchen. Years ago, when we were dating, Santa Maria used to rub the bowl with garlic before putting a simple salad in it. It doesn't seem like much work to crack and peel a clove of garic and press it against the salad bowl, but somehow it was too much. Doing it, though. pays off handsomely. We dress the lettuce with nothing more than oil and vinegar, but with the garlic in the bowl, it takes on a sharp and pungent edge. Try it, you'll see.