Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"Thinking Like a Food Marketer" Worked for Carrots

A raisin smile makes the carrot souffle from our book, The Cleaner Plate Club, even more kid-friendly.

And it can work for you, too.

Here's the story on how Baby Carrots became a competitor to junk food through, well, marketing.

And here's a post from last week I did on how you can use food marketing tactics at home to get your kids to eat vegetables.

I Was Country, When Country Wasn't Cool

I was just reading Bourdain's post about his Ozark episode. I have family that hailed from and some still live near the areas he visited. I might actually watch TV for this episode.

"I learned that just cause you walk in a bar and absolutely everybody is wearing hunting cammos doesn’t mean you ain’t gonna have a really good time. I may not have grown up in hunting/fishing culture (far from it) but I sure as hell am never ever going to sneer at it again. Any boneheads who make cracks about eating squirrel are telling us a lot more about themselves and how remote they are from any kind of hard times–or any understanding of those who have been through hard times–than making any useful observation."

I've been very amused at this "trend" of hunting and rural lifestyle as the new cool. I happily wear my camo outfits now that camo is "in." Used to be, we of the rural persuasion were pretty much mocked.

So, you can imagine, I laughed out loud when I saw the YouTube video of "The Wild Within's" Steven Rinella out gathering raccoon roadkill for dinner and serving it up to hip, young urbanites. Because long before the hipsters, I had my fill of raccoon, and squirrel, rabbit, quail, pheasant, venison and, well, even possum. Which tastes nasty.

I've never, not once, been ashamed of growing up in a rural area. There are few other places in this country where you will find so many hard-working, decent people. I learned a lot about being independent and respecting nature from my youth. My best friends that I have had for over 30 years are those who grew up with me. So, thanks, Bourdain, for giving us a bit of respect even if there's a heavy play on the stereotypes.

Here's a little celebration of my "ruralness:"

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Adult Swim: Creating the Perfect Wine Braise

I was pretty darn happy to hear Chicago Tribune's Nara Schoenberg referred to our book as "a sane approach to picky eating." And that she referred to the recipes as "simple, delicious and kid-friendly." I hope everyone finds the book to be as helpful.

But. I will confess that sometimes, once in a while, I cook just for me. And, if the kids likes it, too, all the better. We do a lot of braising since we get grass fed meats. We like to braise in red wine, too. The alcohol mostly cooks off, especially over the long cooking times we use.

I'll admit it. I just plain like red wine. I am no wine snob and I can't taste my way out of the paper bag you hide the bottle in. But I do like what I can taste: berries, spicy notes, smokiness, earthiness, cherries. Not so much on the oak.

I like the complexity of flavors. I love dark, dark chocolate and drink my coffee strong and dark. It never fails to amaze me how the same plant, be it grapes, coffee beans or cacao beans, can taste so different depending on where it grew. These are a few of my favorite things.

So, what if you "built" the perfect glass of cabernet in flavors, added the complexity of chocolate and coffee, then added the wine, and used it so braise a gorgeous lamb rib roast?

It's good. It's really, really good. And the kid liked it, too. What I shared, anyway.

1 2lb. lamb rib roast
2 tbs. grape seed or canola oil
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, smashed
1 sprig rosemary
1 bottle of dry red wine
1 large square of cheese cloth
cooking twine
1 tbs. Dutch cocoa powder
1 tbs. coffee beans
1 cinnamon stick
2 green cardamom pods
1 black cardamom pod
1 star anise
6 cloves
1 bay leaf
8 Sichuan peppercorns
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup elderberry syrup (or just tart cherry juice)
1/4 cup dried cherries

Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Low and slow.

In a Dutch oven, heat the oil and brown each side of the lamb roast. Set aside on a platter.

Add the onions and carrot and garlic clove and saute for a couple minutes. Add just a bit of the wine to deglaze the pan. Sweat this mixture for 10 minutes. Add the wine, syrup or juice, and the dried cherries and bring to a simmer. Add the rosemary sprig. Place the lamb roast in the pot, fatty side up.

In the cheesecloth, wrap all the stuff from the cocoa powder to the peppercorns. Tie in a bundle. Nestle this bundle in next to the lamb. Cover and place in the oven for three hours.

This should be fall-off-the-bone tender. Remove the roast to a platter, cover and keep warm. Strain the cooking liquid over a bowl to capture all that delicious braising liquid. Discard all the solids and the bundle. It's done its job and done it well. Put the liquid back in the pot and simmer, uncovered, on the stove until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

I serve this over Roasted Garlic and Parsnip Puree. And, yes, the kid ate it. She steals my dark chocolate, too. And drinks my coffee.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Eat Your Colors: Getting Kids to Eat Greens

What's the food color your kid just won't eat? Usually, green is the toughest sell. If you are looking for some creative ways to get your kids to "Eat Your Colors," then this new post I did for Martha Stewart's Whole Living will offer up some great tips and a recipe!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Think Like a Food Marketer to Get Your Kids to Eat Better

March is National Nutrition Month with this year’s theme “Eat Right with Color.” It may be easy to put those colors on the plate, but getting your kids to eat those fruits and vegetables requires some creative thinking for parents to conquer the “white food diet.” Ali and will be posting a lot here and a few other surprise places this month. One of the many topics we will cover is getting kids to eat their vegetables! Let's celebrate a month of healthy eating together!

Do the foods your kids prefer most belong to the “beige and bland” food group? You could be dealing with neophobia – or the fear of new foods. To parents’ dismay, this curious behavior peaks in early childhood about the same time as other battles for control.

This aversion to colored or new foods is something food manufacturers leverage along with appealing to kids’ preferences for starchy, sweet, salty and fatty foods. No surprise, nuggets, fries and mac-n-cheese are the cornerstones of the multi-billion-dollar “kid food” business.

Wait. If kids fear colorful food like vegetables and fruits, what’s with the bright orange cheese puffs, neon-blue candy and electric red “fruit” snacks and “juice?”

What do food marketers know that we parents are missing?

While the last thing I want to do is fight with my kid over food, I sure do feel like I do battle against food marketing every day. As Sun Tzu writes in The Art of War, “… the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.”

Here’s how to think like a food marketer at home to get your kids to eat their colors:

Their stuff comes in shapes and presentations with kid-appeal.

While we don’t have licensed characters and packaging at home, we can be creative:

• Use cookie cutters to make star-shaped cutouts of peppers and other veggies to serve with dip.

• Give kids cut up fruit and veggies to make a “salad face.”

• Use a fun lunch box to make healthy lunches feel “special.”

• Give the dish a fun name that includes some type of superpower or princess reference.

Food manufacturers have set the menu.

You can’t just serve broccoli one day and have it work. Start your new menu out first with these healthier versions of “kid food” then add new foods as your child’s diet adjusts:

• Nuggets made with actual chicken (recipe page 199 in The Cleaner Plate Club)

• Turkey burgers or Meatloaf Florentine that incorporates vegetables in the ground meat (recipe page 211 in the book)

• Pizza with wholegrain crust and rich tomato sauce but less cheese, or Pizza Soup (recipe page 186).

Their food is loaded with fat, salt and sugar.

I would never recommend this approach for home even if it’s a sugar-coated, fried green bean. But Ali and I have found that a “[tea]spoonful of sugar,” or even a light dusting of cheese does make the carrots or greens go down when kids are used to these tastes.

One of the best examples of a this approach to vegetables is the carrot orange soufflĂ© (page 135). It is a bit sweet, brightly colored, and very much comfort food — made with a vegetable. You can serve it in a princess bowl, or top it with a raisin smiley face and call it “Magic Super-Vision Fluff.” It’s still carrots.

Do you have a favorite "marketing" technique to get your kids to eat their colors? Tell us!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Moroccan-inspired Chickpea Stew

I went to lunch a couple weeks ago on a cold, gray day with the last snow still deep on the sidewalks and side streets. We went to restaurant here that was doing locally-sourced ingredients long before it became fashionable. The place had a history of ethical and good food, as well as creative vegetable dishes. However, they have had some ups and downs with the chef having to attend to family issues, so often the food can be hit or miss.

I'm loyal in this regard. I give the place every break I can and have faith this too, shall pass. So, I try to keep going there when I can.

The daily special on the menu was for a chickpea and tomato Moroccan stew. The idea of the stew invoked warm, earthy spices and a hearty, but healthy, and filling meal for one of those gray early spring days where winter seems to keep a firm grip of cold right on your lower back.

When the dish arrived, it was not everything I had hoped for. The chickpeas were undercooked and the dish consisted of just those, tomatoes and plain rice. I paid extra for the roasted chicken on top and was glad I did. I could not detect any hint of spices or the complexity I envisioned.

My lunch companion, someone who knows more about food than I ever will, asked me if it was good. We were the only ones in a very quiet restaurant with the waitress hovering. "It's okay," I said.

In my head, I was rethinking this dish. We left the restaurant with me still craving the warm, earthy stew I had hoped for. No surprise that I made my own version that very weekend.

This is the dish. I used the opportunity to hone my skills with the pressure cooker, the latest kitchen gear I am trying to master. But, you can make this dish without one, just triple the cooking time for the dried chickpeas, lid on, to 1.5 hours. Seriously, triple the time. All the more reason to learn how to use the cooker thing, right?

Moroccan-inspired Vegetable Stew

2 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 large onion, diced
1 tbs. olive oil
1 28 oz. can of chopped tomatoes with juice
1 cup dried chickpeas
2.5 cups vegetable or chicken broth
2 tsp. cumin
2 tsp. coriander
2 cinnamon sticks
4 carrots, peeled and diced
1 red pepper, seeded and diced
1 bunch kale, chopped and tough stems removed
1 bunch parsley, chopped
1/2 tsp. salt
black pepper to taste
1/2 roast chicken, skinned and boned

Heat the olive oil in the pressure cooker, lid off. Sweat the onion, carrots, red pepper and garlic for about ten minutes to release flavor. Add the spices, saute for a couple minutes. Then, add the chick peas, tomatoes and juice, cinnamon sticks and the chicken broth. Bring up to a simmer. Then, lock on the pressure cooker lid (following manufacturers directions to avoid any, you know, explosions of vegetables all over). Cook, with a steady, but not forceful steam escaping the top (again, read the manual). Cook for 30 minutes.

This is a good time to prep and make rice. Since I think every element can add to a dish, I used 1 cup of basmati rice, 2 cups of chicken or vegetable stock and a pinch of saffron. Placing all in a pot, cover, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer. Should be done in 20 minutes. Just turn off the heat and let rest while you finish the stew.

Remove the pressure cooker from heat and set to natural release. The process will vary a bit with every type of pressure cooker. Basically, when the pressure is released, it's safe to open the pot. When you can do this, add the kale, place the pot unsealed and uncovered over medium low heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the parsley, salt and pepper to taste.

Remove the cinnamon sticks, and serve over rice, topping with the roast chicken. Feta cheese is another nice garnish here, but the flavor is rich enough with it.