Soup is not a four letter word. I mean, sure, it is, but for those of you who consider soup a meal of last resort, the Stout Sprouts and I are here to try and change your mind.
It’s hard to hate soup, but those of you who do have probably had a bad soup experience at some point in your life. That’s because there are — in my opinion — only two major categories of soup:
Showstopper Soups (aka, soups requiring a guest list and grocery run in order to make), and
Stretch-the-Budget Soups (aka, soups made from leftovers, normally reserved for immediate family)
One of these can quickly lead you down the path of culinary disaster if you don’t know what you’re doing, and it doesn’t take much of an imagination to realize which one it is.
Maybe someone close to you tried just a little too hard to eek one more meal out of the previous night’s dinner. For me, that experience came, of all places, at a corporate cafeteria where chicken chow mein was on the menu one day and then later that week — and without much additional culinary creativity — chicken chow mein soup suddenly appeared. Leftovers can be great, but in my mind’s eye I envisioned the whole chafing dish of day-old chicken chow mein sliding into a simmering stock pot in preparation for the next day’s soup station. I couldn’t bring myself to give it a try.
Despite this experience, I still think you can make a great stretch-the-budget soup that you won’t be embarrassed to serve to anyone. Take, for instance, split pea soup with ham.
When encouraging kids to eat their vegetables there are only two methods you can employ: visible, or hidden. And right up front I’ve got to admit that I’m not a big fan of duplicity. It seems downright sneaky to me to trick any kid into eating healthy, though I’m down with some of the struggles parents go though. Every kid is different, and for those of you who think our Stout Sprouts line up in front of the produce drawer every night, I’m going to surprise you by sharing that our girls are no different than most children. Many veggies get a good going over before they make it past anybody’s lips, and I’m extremely cautious using any sort of herb (aka flavor!) in preparing our meals.
Yes, I’ve put baby spinach into smoothies before, but our Sprouts turned into tiny interrogators and I had to fess up. Guess those blueberries just didn’t camouflage the spinach well enough — either in taste or in color. So now I just cop to what I’m doing and hope it goes over well if they are willing to give it a try. Plus, I feel strongly about helping them make healthy food choices, which they are less likely to do on their own if they don’t know what they are eating.
What kid could turn down at least a taste of this cauliflower purée?
All is not lost, however, if you’ve got a picky eater and you’re still committed to going the visible route. Sure, the veggies are right out there in plain sight, but it doesn’t mean you can’t employ a little sleight of hand and some creative marketing. (I am a marketer by profession, after all!) Veggie purées are one option. They are less intimidating to some youngsters — like graduating from baby food in teeny tiny steps — and still preserve the taste of the vegetable, which can be all-important in transitioning a child to the point when they accept a steamed vegetable, in all its glory, on their dinner plate.
But if you’re going to purée a vegetable, be adventurous. Puréed carrots will probably be embraced just as readily as steamed carrots. Save that veggie for a nice soup, with a hint of ginger when junior is ready. Instead, choose something that your child may not universally love. For instance: cauliflower.
Earth Day was first celebrated in 1970 as a day of environmental awareness at schools, colleges, universities and community-based organizations throughout United States. It has grown, thanks to Earthday.org, into an annual event recognized in 192 countries and is, in my opinion, one of the best opportunities to engage young children in conversation about conservation and protecting this world on which we live. As parents, we’re often looking for those “teachable moments,” and Earth Day presents us with an easy 24 hours of them.
Our youngest daughter’s daycare is going to conserve electricity by turning off the lights for an hour today, and the kids all brought in recyclable items from home that will be used in an art project. Our oldest daughter also wanted a way to give back to Mother Earth. She and I talked about finally getting our kitchen composter up and running which will be a real boon when it comes time to plant our garden this spring. But we also decided that this Earth Day we wanted to do something for the critters living in and around our yard, inviting in more birds to help us naturally control pests and to give them safe places to raise their chicks.
So today, we’re taking a little break from the recipes and sharing a simple craft that you can do on Earth Day or any day: decorating and hanging wooden birdhouses.
Call it what you will: hummus, hummous, hummos, or even حمّص بطحينة (that’s chickpeas with tahini, in Arabic, as translated by the wonderful contributors at Wikipedia). But whatever name you choose to embrace, this dish — with the addition of marinated artichoke hearts and roasted red peppers — is something you’ll want in your entertaining repertoire going forward. Trust me — we’ve made this once so far this season and have already been asked to share the recipe!
Eat or be eaten. Yes, it’s one of the cardinal laws of the wild, but to the regular potluck supper attendee it means something else entirely. Who among us hasn’t arrived late to one of these get-togethers only to find two or three platters which have been scraped clean (our minds begin playing tricks on us as we imagine the mouth-watering dishes these must have been) as well as a bag or two of stale chips, some canned salsa, and a bowl of potato salad that may or may not have been sitting out in the sun too long.
The potluck connoisseur knows to arrive early to stake out the best dishes because, inevitably, there will only be one or two buzz-worthy contenders. For the home cook and regular potluck chef, the pressure is on to select and prepare something falling into that category. Many of us simply punt and load up on deli counter offerings (hey, I’m not judging…I’ve been there). It’s a great strategy if you’re short on time, but that same deli counter offers options that, with just a little advance planning, will have you effortlessly throwing together one of those buzz-worthy dishes the next time you’re invited to a potluck.
Of all the things into which a potato can be made — baked, mashed, au gratin or scalloped, to name a few — lucky is the potato that ends up as a fry. Beloved by children and ketchup manufacturers the world over, the french fry is both simple and complex. The ingredient list is short and the reward is large. Crunchy, crisp, steamy and creamy, the humble fry brings it all and is content with playing a supporting role on the dinner plate. Who ever heard of “Chips and Fish,” after all?
There are few more quintessentially American dishes than the good old hamburger. Like its cousin the frankfurter, its name belies origins in Germany that food historians still can not definitively verify. We do know that Louis Lassen, the owner of Louis’ Lunch in New Haven, CT, began selling hamburgers sandwiched between two thick slices of toast in 1900. This turn-of-the-century meal, recognized by the Library of Congress as being the United State’s first official “hamburger and steak sandwich,” became so popular that numerous others have stepped forward to challenge the title…though none has borne the burden of proof needed to unseat Louis.
The hamburger’s little brother, the slider, has even cloudier origins. We know it as a mini burger, nestled in a mini bun. And though the term now generally applies to any diminutive sandwich served up on a “bun-ette” — from crab cakes to sloppy joes — speculation is that sliders began their life aboard Navy ships that, when pitching and yawing at sea, sent burgers “sliding” in their own grease across the galley grill. Were it not, however, for the White Castle hamburger chain, the general public may never have begun associating the term “slider” with small burgers. For some folks I know, a slider will forever be White Castle’s Original Slider®, sold four-to-an-order, with nary a slice of cheese.
Here’s a little Friday freebie. Not one of our traditional recipes, really, but a suggestion to help you get through a busy weekend. Make a pot of chili — our favorite traditional chili is the All American Chili from Cooking Light, but we also love our Beef, Bacon and Chocolate Chili for a complex, not-so-spicy-but-very-tasty version. After you’ve enjoyed several bowls, buy a big bag of tortilla chips (Xochil is still our go-to brand) and some grated Monterey Jack/cheddar cheese. Open up that jar of pickled jalapeños sitting in the back of your pantry. (We were lucky — our panty is hiding several jars of pickled jalapeños and Serranos that I canned last fall, fresh from the Cherry Grove Organic Farm outside of Princeton, NJ.) And make a BIG plate of nachos. I’d bet many of you have made nachos before so this is just a reminder about how easy they are to make and how much everyone loves them. Especially during the weekend. For lunch. For dinner. Or, if you’re adventurous, for breakfast with a fried egg, sunny side up. Yum.
Let’s just begin by agreeing that kale Kool-aid would be a terrible thing. But, I’ve drunk it. Figuratively, that is, not literally. That would be gross. Whereas I once overlooked this leafy green, I now look forward to grabbing a bunch at the grocery store and absolutely can’t wait for the farmer’s market season to begin so we can get first crack at some just-picked leaves.
Leaving the visual image of kale Kool-aid behind, I’ve said before that I’m surprised it took me so long to warm up to this superfood. It had its moment and I ignored it. But that moment lasted so long that I just had to see what all the fuss was about. I’m glad I did.
We are in love with the carrots from Chickadee Creek Farm in Pennington, NJ. I’ve mentioned them in our posts before but think I’m becoming a bit of a junkie. We give them a starring role in many of our recipes and I start getting nervous when our supply runs low. Raw, they are like candy. Cooked, they are sweet and rich and so much more “carroty” than our regular grocery store carrots. I’m not sure how farmer Jess Niederer does it, but these truly are the best carrots ever.
One Thursday in mid March I happily stumbled on the winter Princeton Farmer’s Market that occurs once a month during the colder months at the Princeton Public Library. Of all the wonderful winter produce set up on the Chickadee Creek table — and, with several varieties of greens, heads of garlic, daikon radishes and more there was a surprising amount of it! — I made a beeline for the carrots. The supply in our crisper drawer was nearly depleted and I giddily jumped at the chance to replenish our stock.