Tag Archives: cooking for kids

The Sleepover Solution: Build Your Own Pizza Bar

The giggling still echoes in my ears.  Four thirteen-year-old girls can make a lot of noise.  And apparently require almost no sleep.  In any case I know one thing:  A key element of a successful sleepover is the food.  The build your own pizza bar is one we’ve done a couple times and it’s always a rousing success.  Not only is it delicious, but it’s also a fun activity for the kids, no matter what age they are.

While this is perfect kid food, I’ve been known to do this with my grown up friends too.  Everybody gets just what they like, and it’s great if you have a group that includes vegetarians, or others on a special diet.  I love to use the little ciabatta rolls, or a french baguette cut into pieces. If you have gluten-free or low-carb folks in your group you can use gluten free buns, stuff toppings in a pepper half or toss with salad greens for a pizza salad.

We followed up with Frost Your Own Cupcakes for dessert. Yum!

Our masterpieces!

Our masterpieces!

Build Your Own Pizzas

Ciabatta rolls or French baguette, cut into 3-4″ pieces.
Pizza sauce
Pesto (I like to offer an alternative to tomato sauce in case of allergies, etc.)
Assorted pizza toppings of your choice.  We used:
Banana pepper rings
Sliced red & yellow peppers

The pizza bar.  It can be simple or elaborate.  Basic or gourmet.  It's up to you!

The pizza bar. It can be simple or elaborate. Basic or gourmet. It’s up to you!

Put all the ingredients out, make sure you have plenty of utensils for spreading and scooping ingredients.  Have everybody wash their hands first and then make their own pizzas.  Preheat the oven to 400˚.  Lay out a baking sheet or two on which to place the finished masterpieces.  I always recommend they put some sort of marker on their pizzas so they will know which ones are theirs, or just remember where they put it.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the cheese is melted and starting to brown on top.  Remove from oven and let cool a minute or so.  Clear out while the hungry horde descends.


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Farmer’s Market Pita Pizza

I almost forgot to go to Farmer’s Market this weekend.  At the last minute, I remembered I had no veggies in my fridge, and if it wasn’t the market, it was a trip to the grocery store instead.  I chose the market.  I arrived with only a few minutes to spare, in fact some of the vendors were already breaking down their booths.  So I embarked on what surely was the quickest, most efficient farmers marketing I have ever done, rushing through and grabbing a few goodies here and there without giving it too much thought.  It was actually a lot of fun, and I ended up with an armful of random items that somehow go really well together.  Plus I scored a gorgeous flower bouquet, greatly discounted.  I’d like to think it was because I was looking especially fetching that day, but truth is, he probably just wanted to go home.  Maybe both. 🙂

Farmer’s market goodies! Gorgeous flowers, new potatoes, goat cheese, beets, dill, carrots, sweet onions, raspberries and look at those beautiful tomatoes!

So for dinner, obviously I couldn’t wait to dip into my treasure trove of goodies.  I had a couple things left from my last trip to the market that needed to get used up – some pita bread and Italian salami.  Combined with some of fresh goat cheese and freaking amazing tomatoes from this trip, plus some basil from my garden, I had myself a pizza to die for.

My beautiful pizza!

Farmer’s Market Pita Pizza

1 greek pita or flatbread
1 small to medium size tomato, sliced
fresh basil
olive oil
goat cheese
dry salami

Drizzle the pita with a tiny bit of olive oil.  Arrange tomatoes over the top to cover the surface.  Sprinkle with salt & pepper.  Scatter salami and basil over the top and dot with blobs of goat cheese.  Add another little drizzle of olive oil.

Building the perfect pizza. You really don’t even need to cook it if you don’t want to.

Broil for 5 minutes or so until the cheese is melty and the crust is browned around the edges.  Cut into wedges and eat!


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Lemon Tomato Spaghetti

I had a friend once who had a lemon tree in her living room.  That tree smelled so good I could hardly stand it.  I’ve wanted one ever since, but I know the chances of me killing it are, well, close to 100%, so I’ve resisted buying one of my very own.  I’m hoping Claire will grow up to be one of those people who can keep plants alive and thriving.  She’s showing great promise so far in that area!  In the meantime, I still love lemons, and use them in cooking just about every chance I get. Alas, I have to get them at the store instead of my living room.

This pasta takes about 10 minutes to make from start to finish, and is light, fresh and just plain tasty.  Perfect for springtime.

Lemon Tomato Spaghetti

Lemon Tomato Spaghetti

1 small package spaghetti
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch of crushed red pepper
Juice and zest from 1 lemon
1/2 cup grape tomatoes, halved or quartered
1/4 cup fresh basil, sliced in ribbons
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
Salt & pepper

Cook spaghetti until tender, but still firm to the bite.  Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a small skillet.  Add garlic and crushed red pepper, cook 1 minute.  Add tomatoes, cook one minute.  Transfer mixture to a large serving bowl.  Add zest and juice from the lemon.  Drain pasta and add to bowl.  Add basil, parmesan, salt and pepper and toss to combine.  Taste and add more salt & pepper if needed.  Serve with a sprinkle of parmesan and lemon wedges.

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Black Bean & Spinach Quesadillas

You know you’re getting old when one day you sneeze and somehow pull a muscle in your lower back.  Yesterday evening I was tired, hurting, and a tiny bit grouchy. It’s true!  It happens! Now of course you’re thinking, why not just order out?  Well…the Chinese place I like doesn’t deliver and I didn’t feel like going to get it.  Besides, we ate out for lunch.

I love to cook.  That doesn’t mean I love to spend hours in my kitchen cooking.  Looking over most of the recipes I make on a regular basis, it seems like 30 minutes is my cooking limit in most cases.  But when I don’t feel well, or am wiped out, or have a gimpy lower back… I have a collection of 5-10 minute recipes I pull from.  And if I was really sick, this one is easy enough that Claire could make them by herself.  As always, she was very helpful.

Quesadillas are super quick to make, and you can put just about anything in them.  My kids love them.  Sometimes I make them with just cheese, but my favorite ones have beans and veggies of some sort included.  I had two kinds of salsa in my fridge left over from other recipes.  Tomatillo-Avocado Salsa that was just begging to be eaten, plus some of my awesome tomato salsa that I make in big batches just for occasions like this.  All I needed was something to dip in it.

Black Bean & Spinach Quesadillas with Red & Green Salsa

Black Bean & Spinach Quesadillas

Flour tortillas (I prefer the smaller taco sized tortillas, they are easier to flip!)
Shredded cheese (I like the pre-shredded Mexican blend)
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
A big handful of fresh spinach, coarsely chopped

Heat a dry skillet (or grill) over medium heat.  Place a flour tortilla in the skillet and build your quesadilla right in the pan.  I start with a little cheese, then put beans and spinach and then top with more cheese (you need glue on both sides!). End with another tortilla.

Building the Quesadilla

Keep an eye on the bottom tortilla, peeking under it once in awhile.  When it’s brown on the bottom and kind of stiffened up, flip the entire thing (put your hand on the top of the stack to hold it steady if needed).  Cook until the bottom tortilla is browned and the cheese is melted.  Slide onto a cutting board and slice into wedges with a pizza cutter.  Serve with salsa and chips.

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Project Veggie: Day 24 – French Bread Pesto Pizza

Whoever said there is no such thing as bad pizza or bad sex was clearly an idiot. I’ve had horrible pizza. As for the sex…well, this isn’t that kind of blog.

I think most delivery pizza is pretty gross. Mostly because I prefer mine right out of the oven, with a decent crust, gooey, melty, crunchy, and so hot it burns the roof of your mouth if you eat it too fast. By the time you get a pizza delivered to your door, it may be okay, but it’s not going to be hot and crunchy. It will more likely be a little soggy, and lot greasy and while adequate and even tasty, not anything like what you would get at your neighborhood pizza parlor made to order. And not as good as you could make at home.

I occasionally make or buy dough for pizza crust, but my favorite (and fastest) way to make pizza at home is to use french bread. I like the crunchy baguettes, split in half and then chopped into hand held portions. Simple, fresh ingredients are my favorite toppings. You can buy decent canned sauce at the store, but more often I just use fresh pesto or chopped tomatoes, or both. These are fun for kids or company since you can easily do a “build your own” pizza bar. Set out a variety of toppings, let everybody make their masterpiece, put them all on a cookie sheet and bake.

French Bread Pesto Pizza

French Bread Pesto Pizza

French or sourdough baguette
Mozzarella – shredded or cut into small chunks
Grape tomatoes, chopped
Black olives, chopped
Banana peppers

Spread pesto on the french bread, top with tomatoes, cheese and other toppings. Bake at 400˚ for 10 minutes or so.

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Project Veggie: Day 21 – Angel Hair with Green & Black Olives

Martha Stewart irritates me.  Maybe I’m a small, petty person for saying so, but she does.  Everything is so fussy, and anal, and perfect.  Ugh.  I want to go over there and spill stuff on her counter, rumple her bed, put a few stacks of laundry in the corner of her living room, plant a dust bunny under her armchair!  My house has never looked like anything in her magazine or TV show, and if it did it would probably drive me insane.  I need a little clutter.  I need some randomness.  I don’t want to spend hours preparing a meal or cleaning my house, managing every tiny detail.  But to give her a tiny bit of credit, she sometimes has some good ideas.

I was watching a show once and Martha had a segment on there where she made a super quick spaghetti recipe using just a few ingredients.  I don’t remember the recipe; I didn’t write it down.  But it planted a seed that got me experimenting on my own.  Before that, whenever I made homemade spaghetti sauce it was a long process, chop, chop, simmer, simmer, stir, stir, wait, wait!  But then Martha inspired me to try quicker, fresher, and simpler.  And I never went back.  And for that one thing, I don’t totally hate her.  So thank you, Martha. Although…I hope next time you make spaghetti, you splatter some sauce on your shirt. 🙂

I make many different versions of this pasta, but they all start with a few simple ingredients: a big can of tomatoes, fresh basil, lots of garlic.  Beyond that, I add things depending on my mood, and what’s available in my kitchen.  This is one of our favorite incarnations of this particular dish.

Angel Hair Pasta with Black & Green Olives

Angel Hair with Green & Black Olives

1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil.
5 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 28 oz. can of whole tomatoes
1/2 – 1 tsp. crushed red peppers
1/2 cup sliced green olives
1/2 cup sliced black olives
1/2 cup fresh basil, rolled and sliced into strips
freshly grated parmesan cheese
Salt & pepper to taste

Put a pot of water on to boil and while it heats, prepare the sauce.  Puree the can of tomatoes in a blender or food processor.  In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the garlic.  Cook for a minute or so until fragrant.  Add the tomatoes.  Add olives and crushed red peppers.  Stir to combine.  Once you have the sauce started you can add the pasta to the boiling water.  Angel hair pasta only takes about 5 minutes to cook, so watch it closely and don’t overcook.  Add fresh basil to the sauce, taste it and see if it needs salt and pepper.  The olives are pretty salty, so usually it doesn’t need much.  Drain the pasta and add to the sauce.  Toss.  Serve hot, topped with parmesan cheese.

Incidentally, this is also great leftover for breakfast or lunch the next day, hot or cold.

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Project Veggie: Day 18 – Cinnamon Walnut French Toast

Yesterday was a fun-filled day of shopping with the kids for boring, practical things like mattresses and frying pans.  Actually the frying pan part was pretty exciting for me.

My new frying pans. Woot!

I’m not one of those girls who loves shopping.  I usually know exactly what I want, and I’m in and out.  Long, drawn out shopping trips exhaust me.  While we didn’t linger any one place for very long, we had to go to five stores to get everything on our list.  In any case, by the time all of that was done, I didn’t feel much like cooking.  Plus I had plans to go out with friends in the evening, a rare treat lately.  All of this added up to our first night of eating out since the beginning of Project Veggie.

We ended up at Noodles & Company, which I think is pretty good for a quick service type place, and you can order almost everything on their menu vegetarian.  Since I was planning to eat later I got a little Chinese chopped salad and the kids both got Pad Thai (one with shrimp and one with tofu).  It was good, but mostly it just made me want to try to make Pad Thai.

Tasty Pad Thai, but I think I can do better.

So…since I was not responsible for dinner, I decided to post about breakfast instead.  Now in my opinion, there is no reason breakfast can’t be dinner.  I would (and have) definitely make this for dinner. I have a cousin who is adamantly opposed to this idea.  But, as smart as he may be, he’s wrong about this particular thing.  I LOVE breakfast for dinner!  This particular twist on French Toast I made up was really delicious.  The zing of cinnamon and orange combined with the crunch from the nuts made me very happy.

Cinnamon Walnut French Toast

Cinnamon Walnut French Toast

4 eggs
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup crushed walnuts
1 tsp. orange zest
a dash of salt & pepper
sourdough bread

Beat eggs with a fork and add cinnamon, orange zest, walnuts & salt & pepper.  Stir to combine.  Dip bread in the egg mixture to coat both sides (if you’ve chopped the walnuts pretty fine they should stick to the bread, if they don’t just press some onto it).  Heat a skillet over med-high heat until hot.  Take a stick of butter and rub it on the pan to coat.  Drip extra mixture off bread and lay in the pan.  Cook 2-3 minutes on each side until golden brown.  Top with your favorite stuff.  I like a little real butter, maple syrup and homemade berry jam.  If I was eating meat I would put bacon on it too.  But I’m not.  So I didn’t.  But you can if you want.

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Project Veggie: Day 15 – Black Bean Soup

Today marks the halfway point of Project Veggie.  I’m happy to report we are doing great!  I feel terrific, have lots of energy and haven’t been missing the meat at all.  We may just keep going with it after the month is up.

My daughter, Claire, has a recurring dream.  She calls it the “monster stealing my soup” dream.  She gets up from the table for something and when she returns there is a tiny, poofy, green monster who grabs her bowl of soup and disappears.  The only thing that changes is the kind of soup.  I’d like to think the underlying cause of these dreams is the irresistible soup I make.

One year for Christmas my dad and stepmom gave me two Calphalon hard-anodized pans.  One soup pot, and one sauce pan.  This was about 15 years ago and I still have them and they are still like new, and my favorite pans.  They are indestructible.  I wish I had an entire set.  They came with a little cookbook that I’ve used so much it’s fallen apart and is now being held together by binder clips.  Whenever I make a recipe out of a cookbook, I draw a face on it describing how I feel about it for future reference.  This book is riddled with happy faces.  One of the happy faces is on the recipe for Black Bean Soup.  It’s quick, easy to make, and very satisfying.  But beware, it’s so good a monster may try to steal it!

Black Bean Soup

Black Bean Soup
(adapted from Weeknights, by Calphalon Cooks)

1 tbsp. olive oil
2 onions, chopped
6 cloves garlic
1 green bell pepper, chopped (optional)
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
3 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can stewed tomatoes with onion, celery, and green bell pepper
1 tbsp. minced fresh cilantro
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
sour cream
lemon wedges
Salt & pepper

Saute onions, pepper and garlic in oil about 5 minutes.  Add cumin and saute 5 minutes more until onions are soft.  Stir in beans, tomatoes, cilantro and oregano.  Remove from heat.  Spoon into a blender or food processor a portion at a time.  Puree coarsely – there should still be some whole beans.  Return to cooking pan and add broth.  Bring to boil.  Taste and add salt & pepper if needed.  Ladle into soup bowls and finish with a swirl of sour cream and a squeeze of lemon.  Serves 4.


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Project Veggie: Day 13 – Wagon Wheels with Artichoke Pesto

When I planned dinner last night, I half expected Claire to hate it.  She doesn’t like artichokes.  But I think she should.  Artichokes are good.  And if she doesn’t like them, that means I don’t get to eat them, so she needs to start liking them.

Jeffrey Steingarten, author of The Man Who Ate Everything, had a problem.  When he was appointed as food writer for Vogue there were many foods he didn’t like.  So he came up with a plan to teach himself to like these foods, in order to better do his job.  He made a list, and started eating.  He discovered through exposure (at least 10 times in some cases) he could teach himself to like a food he previously didn’t care for.  In 6 months, he had crossed all of the foods off his list.

I’ve used Jeffrey’s method on my kids, and on myself.  And it works!  While Luke has never been a picky eater, Claire had several foods she wouldn’t eat.  Among them, seafood.  After cooking fish for her about 50 different ways, she now likes almost all seafood.  I think it’s sort of like a musical artist or actor, sometimes it’s that one song or role that strikes home and then you’re suddenly a fan.  Recipes are like that.  You hit on the right one, and voila!  You discover the magic of salmon or spinach or frog legs.

So back to artichokes.  Claire wasn’t a fan.  She’d eat a fresh one, steamed, peeling off the leaves and dipping in sauce.  But when it came to using them in recipes she usually turned up her nose.  I think part of the problem is that most recipes use canned artichokes that are packed in brine, and she didn’t like the twang.  This recipe uses frozen artichoke hearts and much to my surprise, Claire absolutely loved it!  She made the loudest yummy noises of all of us.  And Luke, well he was just happy about the wagon wheels, as he happily ate two bowls of it.

Wagon Wheels with Artichoke Pesto

Wagon Wheels with Artichoke Pesto
(from Everyday Pasta, by Giada De Laurentiis)

1 pound wagon wheel pasta (rotelle)
1 package frozen artichoke hearts, thawed
1 cup fresh flat-leaf parley, lightly packed
1/2 cup toasted walnuts (lightly toast in dry skillet or in a pan in the oven for a few minutes)
Zest & juice of one lemon
1 garlic clove
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2/3 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Cook pasta until tender but still firm to the bite, about 8-10 minutes.  Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of pasta water.  Meanwhile, in a food processor combine the artichokes, parsley, walnuts, lemon zest and juice, garlic, salt & pepper.  Chop the ingredients fine, stopping the machine to scrape down the sides.  With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil.  Transfer the artichoke pesto to a large serving bowl and stir in the cheese.  Add the warm pasta and toss to combine.  If needed, add the reserved pasta water 1/4 cup at a time until it’s the saucy consistency you like.  Adjust salt & pepper if necessary and serve with lemon wedges.

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Project Veggie: Day 12 – Salmon Cakes

Last night was a fun night of watching movies, playing Twister and cooking together.  Claire wrangled asparagus and whipped up sauce while I threw together some salmon cakes to die for.  Luke helped immensely by tasting all the ingredients along the way.

Among the indispensable things in my kitchen are my Moosewood cookbooks.  Moosewood Restaurant is located in Ithaca, New York and is known for its vegetarian menu.  Long before I was interested in vegetarian cooking, I fell in love with these cookbooks.  I have two – New Favorites, and Simple Suppers.  They are both amazing.  Creative yet approachable recipes that are absolutely delicious.  One of my favorite recipes is their Salmon Cakes.  I’ve never seen a recipe for these that had mashed potatoes and other veggies in it and they are SO GOOD!  When the kids were younger, they were sometimes iffy about liking fish, but they would always eat these.  The recipe calls for fresh salmon, which is awesome, but it also works well with canned salmon as a substitute.  The sauce is my own invention.  I usually make some version of it whenever I make fish or crab cakes to drizzle over the top or dip bites into (or both).  Claire named it “Fishy Sauce.”  So there you go.  These paired up perfectly with simple roasted asparagus and tomatoes.

Salmon Cakes & Roasted Asparagus

Moosewood Salmon Cakes
(from Moosewood Restaurant – New Favorites)

2 1/2 cups diced potatoes
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped carrots
1 1/2 pounds salmon, cut into pieces
1 egg
1 tbsp. mayo
1 tbsp. dijon mustard
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. fresh herbs (I used parsley)
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1 cup dry breadcrumbs
lemon wedges

For Fishy Sauce:

1/4 cup mayo
juice from 1/2 lemon
1 tsp. capers
1 tsp. minced red chile
salt & pepper

Put potatoes, onion & carrot in covered sauce pan with water to cover.  Bring to boil, then simmer for 10 minutes until veggies are tender.  Place fish on top and cook for 7 minutes.  Drain.  Mash veggies and fish with potato masher.  Add egg, mayo, mustard lemon juice, herbs, garlic, salt & pepper, and 1/4 cup of breadcrumbs.  Mix thoroughly.  Heat olive oil in skillet.  Pat & shape mixture into 6 cakes (sometimes more depending on how big you want them).  Sprinkle both sides with bread crumbs and cook 4 minutes on one side.  Flip and cook 2-3 minutes on other side.  Serve with lemon wedges or “fishy sauce.”  For sauce, combine all ingredients and stir until smooth.

Roasted Asparagus

Roasted Asparagus & Grape Tomatoes

Spread out asparagus and tomatoes in single layer on a cookie sheet.  Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt & pepper and lemon zest (about 1 tsp).  Roast at 375˚ for 8-10 minutes.

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