Category Archives: Family Cooking

Toddler Loves

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I’ve posts on quick and easy meals for new moms–ones that can be prepped with minimal (or no) chopping, and minimal time in front of a stove or oven. I had a baby in a sling at the time. I was exhausted. But I had to eat. And I barely did. I had some horrible postpartum depression that kept me from taking care of myself. I lost thirty-five pounds in four months.

The quick and easy meals I provided are really for mom (and dad)–especially those who don’t have much support. I was starving and exhausted and the highlight of those first few months was when I bought myself a rice cooker. I was ELATED–hot food at will! This, after burning pot after pot of rice on the stove, because I would forget that I set the water to boil, or have to tend to my baby.

Meanwhile, the baby grew up and started eating solid food. First there were purées, which don’t have many requirements in the way of recipes (steam/roast, maybe add an herb or spice, then purée–freeze in ice cube trays for subsequent meals).

I got treatment for my PPD. My baby is now a full fledged toddler. She turned one last year, and she is now eating solids full time. She’s exploring the world of food and developing her opinions on textures and flavors and temperature. And I’d like to share some of the food she likes to eat, here. And share those recipes. Because sometimes we’re at a loss for what to cook. And the baby canNOT eat plain pasta every damn day. Or maybe she can? Because it sure looks like she is? Oh boy.

Some caveats: Toddler P loves spice. I’m not sure whether it’s because I purposely ate as many spicy foods as I could during my second and third trimesters to build her palate in utero (yes, I did that), or because I added spices in her purées, or because that’s just how she is. But she doesn’t mind a pinch of cayenne in a pot of soup. And she’ll eat kimchi, even without rinsing. She likes spicy beef jerky and spicy chicharrones (she’ll eat one, say “HOT!” and then hold out her hand and ask, “More?”). I’ll note where you can take the spice down.

Some of the recipes already on this site that Toddler P likes:

Easy Dessert: Oreo icebox cake

Oreo icebox cake. Ready to eat.

I had no idea about the wonderful world of icebox cakes. As in, wonderful chilled cakes that require zero baking. Cakes that just involve assembly. That require no cooking. Cakes a five year old could make. Cakes so easy they have me writing incomplete sentences. Fragments. Cookies. Cream. Chill. Done.

So I thought I’d share an icebox cake recipe as part of my series of “quick and easy” meals for new moms or people-who-just-don’t-have-time. I used Cool Whip, because duh, it’s easy. But you can totally throw some whipping cream and sugar together and whip it up if Cool Whip is not your thing and/or if you’ve got a few more minutes and the werewithal to wash a few more dishes.

I’m not even going to put an official recipe here–because it’s really assembly.

Get your Cool Whip (or whipping cream) out. Pour out about 1/4 – 1/2 glass of milk (a big glug or two) into a shallow small bowl. Get yourself a big package of Oreos. (the package you see here made a very small cake about 6 inches in diameter (3 oreo cookies wide). You’ll want more Cool Whip and more Oreos if you want a bigger cake.
Icebox cake

See the baby rice cereal? I’m keeping it real in the above picture…(Also, I changed my mind on the Oreo icebox cake container, and switched to a clear glass pyrex dish).

Then start assembly. Dunk an Oreo and set it down into the cake container (I used a glass pyrex dish). Do this until you’ve got the first layer down.

Then dollop some Cool Whip until you’ve got a generous layer covering the Oreos.

Then dunk more Oreos in milk and set down your next layer.

Etcetera, etcetera. I recommend getting yourself at least 3 layers of Oreos down, before you top the whole sucker up with Cool Whip.


Cover the Oreos and Cool Whip with aluminum foil and then CHILL in the fridge. And yes, you yourself will have to CHILL, too–while you wait for the flavors in the cake to meld, and for the cookies to get mushy like, well, cake.

I like to cover it 8 hours or overnight, at the very minimum. If you’re using double-stuffed Oreos, you will probably want it to chill for closer to 24 hours, because the cream center is the last to break down.

It is decadent. Simple. Fun.

Try it with other cookies–like graham crackers or lemon cremes!

Oreo cool whip icebox cake ready to refrigerate for 6+ hours!

Quick and Easy Meal: Sriracha Sloppy Joes

Sriracha Sloppy joes

The idea of making sloppy joes intrigued me, because the last time I had sloppy joes, I was nibbling them off a lunch tray in the multipurpose room at school. At elementary school. And we never ate them. Or at least, I never did. And neither did my friends. They were gloppy and disgusting.

But you can’t judge a dish when you only know it in the context of the school cafeteria.

And I thought I’d give it another try as an adult, especially since I figured I could whip this up pretty quickly as a new mom. Now I know one of the rules is “no chopping,” but you could skip the onions if you hate them–or you can pick up a package of pre-chopped onions from trader joes. Or you can put your kid in a high chair for about 5 minutes while you chop the onions and put garlic through a garlic press. (Or if you were really desperate like me–yes you can reach for the garlic powder–because when you’ve got a small baby, you can’t sweat the little things like fresh garlic versus powder. You’ve gotta figure out how to make food and EAT).

I looked up a few sloppy joe recipes, with the intention of finding one that was simple and quick. And then I decided to give it an extra kick with not the more traditional tabasco, but Sriracha. It was tremendous. Hope you enjoy. Recipe after the jump!

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Easy Meal: Chicken Marbella

Chicken marbella

This is an amazing recipe out of the Silver Palate Cookbook–it’s one of those dishes that I can’t believe I waited so long to try. If dishes could be icons, this would be an icon–there are no imitations, it has stood the test of time, and everyone who’s tasted it, loves it.

I made it for the first time last year, wondering how on earth the ingredients would meld together. I mean really–capers, olives, prunes? But I was game; so many people rave about this recipe, I didn’t dare balk.

And it was amazing–such an easy to dish to make, with results that belie its simplicity. It immediately went into my meal rotation.

So when I had a baby, chicken marbella was one of the first meals I got together. It does take some time, as you need to marinate the ingredients overnight or at least 8 hours, but prep and cooking are straightforward and easy: throw everything into a ziploc bag with a bunch of chicken thighs, kind of shake/mash the bag so all the ingredients are mixed up together, and then stick the bag of chicken in the fridge overnight. The next day/evening, empty out the bag into a baking pan, top with brown sugar and add white wine, and pop into an oven.

No chopping. No open flames. And if you’ve got a rice cooker, you’ve got an easy mechanism with which to serve the chicken. It tastes great atop basmati rice.

Great also to send over to a new mom, too. 😉

Recipe after the jump…

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Cinnamon Roll Bliss!!

Every year for probably the past eighteen years, our traditional Christmas breakfast has consisted of Pillsbury cinnamon rolls that come in a tube. Because they smelled and tasted good, because they were super easy, and because we’ve had so much chaos and small children to deal with, not much sleep, and knee-deep wrapping paper. It was all we could manage.

But one of those small children has grown into a budding baker, and this Christmas she offered to make cinnamon rolls from scratch. She found a recipe in one of her Christmas presents from last year, The America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book. This cookbook has produced some incredibly delicious and amazing treats this year.

These cinnamon rolls were probably one of the best things yet.

These cinnamon rolls were not to sweet. The density was perfect – soft, yet with a thick and satisfying chewiness, almost biscuitlike. The cinnamon center was incredibly rich and wonderful, and the icing had a little tang of cream cheese. It was so deeply satisfying and decadent, and was definitely a special treat, yet wasn’t overly sweet.

These are hands-down going to be the new Christmas (and maybe New Year’s!) morning tradition. Recipe from: America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book

(recipe after the break)

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IMG_9711We are blessed to have an amazing and awesome houseguest who is staying with us for several weeks. Hooray! It is a great thing to have someone who likes to cook, living with us and cooking in our kitchen! Last night she introduced us to the joy of gyoza, aka potstickers. This is something I would NEVER have attempted on my own, but she demystified the process and showed us how very fun and easy (and delicious) they could be.

There were no measurements or written recipe, so I just soaked up this info while watching:

  • 1 lb ground turkey
  • 1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined and chopped up (we used the easy-peasy frozen kind)
  • chopped up can of water chestnuts
  • chopped up green onions (3-4??)
  • little bit of sesame oil
  • minced garlic
  • minced ginger
  • little bit soy sauce?
  • wonton wrappers

Mix up all ingredients.  Put teaspoon? of mixture in half of wonton wrapper (they’re round). Seal with water and make a little pocket. Line up on tray. When you have a few dozen, put a little bit of oil in bottom of nonstick pan. Add gyoza and cook until they are browned on the bottom. Add a little bit of water and cover to steam cook the rest of the way. Probably takes about 5-8 minutes per batch. Eat. ENJOY!

KCCEB’s kimchi making class/series: kimchi, de-mystified.

montage of kimchi-making class

(pictures from our kimchi making class, from left to right…top row: quartered napa cabbage, and brined, quartered napa cabbage ready for pogi kimchi assembly…red hot pepper…shrimp and anchovy sauce for kimchi.  middle row: brined quartered napa cabbage…pogi kimchi filling…pogi kimchi filling.  bottom row: pogi kimchi assembly…pogi kimchi assembly line….bottled pogi kimchi ready to ferment!)

My mom would, upon sitting down at a Korean restaurant, immediately gravitate towards the kimchi. “You can tell if they cook well by how their kimchi tastes,” meaning that if their kimchi sucked, their food wasn’t going to be good. Inevitably, that was true.

Despite the fact that my mom makes miserable Western food (e.g., raw celery in barely simmered tomatoes making for what she unveiled as “spaghetti sauce”), she is a terrific Korean cook. Even when I look up a Korean recipe in a cookbook, I will adapt the recipe inevitably, to match the tastes of my mom’s cooking.  Her food is my gold standard for Korean food.

You’ll hear “my mom’s kimchi is the best” echoed all around the community: people get really picky/emotional about their favorite kimchi (we Koreans have deep emotional ties to our favorite kimchi–a certain balance of tang, heat, salt, and sweet can feel like a mother’s embrace in childhood, and if your mother has long passed on, that very taste can bring her back to you even for that one split second), and I’ve found that there is never one exact standard recipe for kimchi…only guidelines. These guidelines exist because the size of the ingredients (cabbage, radish, cucumber, what have you) are inexact, and because people hold on very dearly to their family’s secret kimchi recipes.

There are “secret ingredients” ranging from salted shrimp to a rice flour paste to anchovies to oysters…but they exist. Yes, kimchi often contains shellfish: my orthodox rabbi once reassured me, “kimchi is kosher.” Whoops. At the time, I didn’t realize kimchi contained shellfish. Whoops.

So anyway, this is all to say that despite my knowing how to cook various Korean dishes, and despite all my years of cooking…I don’t know how to make a decent kimchi.  And until I can make a good kimchi, I’ll never consider myself a good Korean cook.  Because I believe my mom’s measure of a Korean cook.

So when a friend of mine forwarded me an email about the Korean Community Center of the East Bay’s kimchi making class, asking me if I was interested…I immediately said yes. (well to be exact: YES!)

It’s a grassroots organized class, held in a private home, taught by a volunteer. You pay $50 for a 3 hour class.  But in return you get to learn how to make kimchi, get some hands on experience with kimchi making, you get a free lunch…annnnd you get to take home a small container of kimchi made in that very class.

You don’t have to speak Korean to take the class, because it is conducted in English, but you may want some familiarity with Korean food ingredients because ingredient names are thrown about very casually: the class today was comprised of all Korean American women, all of us who, for one reason or another, never learned to make kimchi, but had grown up eating the stuff and oftentimes watching our moms make the stuff.

Even if you don’t have that intrinsic experience, you’ll still be okay.

It was tremendous fun to be shown how to make kimchi (today we made “pogi kimchi,” a kimchi that involves pickling entire quartered portions of napa cabbage, one of the more challenging kimchi to make…but it wasn’t overly challenging at all). It was a tremendous relief to have kimchi de-mystified.

The next KCCEB Kimchi-Making Class will be held on Saturday, October 3, 2009…from 11am-2pm.  Cost is again $50, and the venue TBD.   Cost includes ingredients for kimchi and…lunch (this is a very good deal).  If you’re interested, you can leave a comment here…or contact annrmenzie AT kcceb DOT org  (remember the “r” in ann r menzie’s email address).  The class FILLS UP FAST (within a day or two–and this class was announced earlier this week), so don’t delay, if you’re interested.

The next class will tackle a different kind of kimchi, and I’m probably going to attend (every kimchi is different).  I look forward to seeing you there!