I’ve been a wee bit busy

It’s been a long time since my last post, but I have not stopped trying to improve the healthy intake of food by children around me. But I may be a bit less obvious about it. My kids are growing… eldest now 14 and youngest 9! When I started this I had a three-year-old. So, their food choices are overall healthy, but of course, they’re kids, so when given a chance, they’ll eat the junk. But I’m so proud that my kids overall shun McDonald’s and the like. I’ve always tried to be open to the occasional unhealthy foods/snacks/candy so that my kids had a healthy attitude with food. They don’t hoard food and don’t overindulge when given the chance to eat candy and other unhealthy stuff. And my eldest knows that if he has more than one soda at a meal, he’ll feel ill, so he has one and done. It’s the balance that I’m proud of. They will eat a large variety of fruits and vegetables and they like spicy foods, international foods, fish, meats, etc. I do still wish they’d eat more combinations of vegetarian options. My middle son still steers clear of most foods combined in one dish besides some pasta dishes and chili. He likes things separated on a plate with distinct tastes for each item. 

Growing up quickly and enjoying Chicken Aloo Gobi

Enjoying Chicken Aloo Gobi (curry with coconut, cauliflower and potatoes)

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Proud dad looking on

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the reasons I’ve been remiss in writing is that I’ve been busy. Really, really, busy. Growing boys have sports, scouts, Odyssey of the Mind, plays, camps, school, music lessons, play dates, etc. And now year-end shows, parties, concerts… I’ve also just gotten a new job and no longer working as an investment advisor. I was laid off from my company when it went a little more corporate and got rid of its smaller producers who worked from home. You’d think that would’ve given me more time to write then, but another reason is that I stopped writing is that I felt we were in a pattern food-wise and I didn’t have much to share. I’m certain I’ve created recipes, but when I did, it was probably at a busy time, and I just didn’t get it on here. 

Before I got my new job I was working as a cafe supervisor at my son’s elementary school. I loved working there with all the children. The woman who was my coworker felt that many of the kids were being “bad” if they were talking to friends at other tables and she didn’t exactly do things the same way as I did. But after some time, she tolerated my “let’s make this fun, not punitive” attitude with dealing with the kids. (They’re just babes really, 5-10 year olds.)  One of the changes I made was in encouraging the students to eat more fruits and vegetables. I’d done that as a parent volunteer, but this was different, and more challenging, as an employee. I felt it necessary when I’d see what the kids ate every day. Like the boy who for his lunch had white bread and butter, cheese slices, blue jello, blue cotton candy, chocolate and no vegetables. He did have grapes but refused to eat them, because he ‘tried them once and didn’t like them.”

At first I brought in an apple slicer. So many of this age group are dealing with loose baby teeth and gaps until their adult teeth come in, so they’d shy away from whole apples. Slicing them was easy and it increased the number of kids who’d eat apples. Some told me that when I wasn’t there, they wouldn’t buy apples because they’d only eat them sliced. And since I’ve gone, apparently they’re not eating them anymore. 🙁 

I also piggybacked onto the reward system the school used in classrooms and hallways… for respecting self, others, environment. So, if the kids brought in from home or chose from cafeteria 3 or more fruits and veggies, they’d get a reward. The reward would be put in a bin and at lunch we’d choose 4 winners to pick friends to sit with at the reward table or pick a prize from prize box. It was amazing how quickly those kids would rush back into the lunch line to grab more fruits and vegetables or tell their parents to pack more. Then if there were some kids who never ate any (and I mean never) then I’d offer them a reward for just getting 1 or 2. And they found they liked more than they’d ever realized. 

Mostly what I found was the kids were willing to try new things and eat more if they felt there was an immediate reward for it, it was fun, or it was just easier to eat. I hope that some it stuck and since I’m gone they’re doing it at home or school. It’s not always that hard, and they are all good kids.

Here’s a link to my summery grilled peach & ricotta toast which will be perfect for the upcoming season. 

Summer deliciousness

Summer deliciousness

Chicken Spinach Ravioli with Cherry Tomato Sauce

I am working on my list of healthier nut-free snacks to contrast what the kids’ school nurse sent home. In the meantime thought I’d share this awesome ravioli my husband made on the boys’ first day of school at my suggestion.  It’s funny sometimes:I buy all the ingredients and just have to tell him what I have in mind.  Then he cooks it.  He cuts faster, cooks and  knows what to do better than I do, so it works well.  I just help whatever he needs help with. And he loves to cook.

He used wonton skin wrappers that I buy in the grocery section of supermarket.  They make wonderfully thin raviolis so you get more taste of the fillings.  Poach chicken breast in water for 5 minutes (until done but not tough).  Sauté ½ small onion, minced and then 2 cloves garlic, minced both in olive oil.  Add pound of spinach until wilted.  Blend in food processor with chicken, tsp porcini powder and salt & pepper.  Mix in ½ cup of ricotta cheese.  Spoon in dollop onto center of a wrap, moisten edges and press another wrap on top gently squeezing any air out before sealing.   Press edges with a fork.  Keep on cookie sheet dusted with corn meal until ready. When nearly time to serve put in gently boiling water for about 5 minutes and remove with straining spoon.   

Served with a simple cherry tomato sauce.  Take several handfuls of cherry tomatoes (we used orange cherry tomatoes) cut in half, Tbsp of fresh basil chopped, 2 tsp olive oil, salt and pepper to taste and ¼ cup of chicken stock.  Cook until tomatoes are tender, stirring often.  So easy and delicious!

We served ours with a green salad. The boys weren’t too keen on trying the sauce but I finally got my eldest to try it.  His aversion is to the seeds.  My middle son was a bit easier but my youngest flat out refused.  They all loved the ravioli but next time asked for it without sauce.  Oh well.  Different sauce for them next time or just butter! My son loves to spike & color his hair for first & last days of school.

Baking fail leads to new recipe!

I think I’ve mentioned before why I’m a better cook than a baker— my creative improvisation or really haste leads to mistakes in baking!  But this time around i came up with my own recipe that really worked!

The other week I made my first ricotta cheesecake with graham cracker crust.  Mmm, it was delicious, my kids loved it as did my friend and her girls BUT it’s texture was off.  It was grainy. So I decided to try again but this time, besides the kids eating most of the graham cracker cookies so I had to improvise another crust, I blended two parts ricotta cheese with 1 part cream cheese in the food processor until it was incredibly creamy— no little bumps left.  I thought I was on my way to a perfect cheesecake until I made a big mistake.  I was using the Joy of Cooking and misread the instructions/ingredients because they don’t list the ingredients at first, just in the steps. I hate their layout.  Well, I read “3 cups of whole milk or part skim milk” and missed the next line.  I kept saying to myself, “I don’t remember adding milk  last time.”  I should have trusted my instincts and re-read before adding any… that’s because I didn’t last time!  

Now luckily I was low on milk and only added one cup.  Then I added half a cup of cream.  Then I re-read the recipe and saw the next line of “ricotta cheese” as in no milk but just ricotta.  Ugh.  It was too late.  I wondered if it was ruined.  I thought I may as well try, I’ll just cook it slightly longer at the lower temp.  It ended up being delicious.  And, though it wasn’t as cheesy, it was so creamy and tasted like a slightly creamier Panna Cotta or a cross between Crème brûlée and cheesecake.  So, I’ve dubbed it Panna Cotta Cheesecake.

Of course, the kids loved it.  They didn’t all want the strawberry coulis, only my eldest.

Panna Cotta Cheesecake

Graham Cracker & Strawberry Yogurt Cereal Crust

4 cups of strawberry yogurt cheerios style cereal (Trader Joe’s)

1½ cups of graham cracker cookies (I use organic ones without unwanted colorings, etc)

1 stick butter, melted

1 tsp vanilla

Put cereal and cookies in food processor and blend until small crumbs.  Add melted butter and vanilla into top tube while still on.  When well mixed and crumbs stick together, press into bottom and part way up sides of springform pan.  Bake for 7 minutes at 350F.  Let cool before adding filling.

Filling

2 cups ricotta cheese

1 package cream cheese

4 eggs

1 cup sugar

2 tsp vanilla

1 cup milk

½ cup cream

Preheat oven to 400F.  Blend cream cheese and ricotta together in food processor until creamy and smooth. Set aside.  Beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla for 2 minutes then add milk and cream for another half minute. Fold in cheese mixture and then pour into crust.  If very bubbly, let settle for a few minutes before placing in oven. Bake for half an hour with a sheet pan half full of water on lower rack (doesn’t need to be in water bath). Lower temperature to 325F and bake for another 35 minutes. Cool completely on a rack, remove wall of pan, then place in fridge to set for several hours.

Strawberry Coulis

1½ cups frozen strawberries

2 tsp sugar

1 tsp lemon juice

¼ cup water

Place all in pan on stove and cook until strawberries are tender. You can adjust sugar to your liking.  I prefer slightly tart as the cheesecake is sweet.  Masticate with immersion blender until smooth. Poor on or next to cheesecake.

Enjoy!