The Kids Cook Monday – March 28, 2011 “Cornish Game Hens and Comforting Mashed Potatoes”

Due to her mom having the flu over the weekend we couldn’t cook the Sunday dinner we had planned until Monday. Luckily, it was a meal that Alessandra would enjoy eating too even if she couldn’t help in the kitchen as much as usual. We cooked Cornish game hens with mashed potatoes and gravy. Very simple, quick to make, and very comforting to the soul and the stomach.

I prepared the game hens by cutting out the backbone of the hen so you lay it flat on a cooking pan. This allows the hen to cook more evenly and you can completely brown the entire skin. After cutting and placing two hens on the glass cooking dish, Alessandra then seasoned the hens with salt and pepper. A heavy hand by a child is surprisingly the proper amount of seasoning. Be  a little aggressive because you will be basting the hens two or three times during the cooking time and that seasoning will eventually end up in the gravy. In a pre-heated 450 deg oven on bake, place the hens in the oven. After 15 minutes, baste the hens and turn the oven down to 250 degrees. If the pan doesn’t have any juice put some chicken stock in the cooking dish to give you enough liquid to baste. You will use this liquid to make your gravy. After another 20 minutes, put the oven on broil to brown the skin and turn off the oven. Cook the hens until the juices run clear after inserting a metal skewer or fork into the thickest part of the hen. Remove the hens and let them rest on a carving board covered loosely with tin foil. Save the juices from the pan.

While the hens are cooking you can make mashed potatoes. For two or three people you can cut up 4 lbs of potatoes into 2″ cubes and boil for 20 minutes until soft, and then drain out the water. Let your child mash-up the potatoes and put some milk, cream, or butter into them to make it smooth. Healthier version would use milk, but we use organic heavy cream to finish the potatoes.

For the gravy, I fried the backbones in a pot and once very brown I put the chicken stock (store-bought is fine) and let it reduce. You will make the mashed potatoes and start the gravy while cooking the hens. Strain the stock and bones into a small pot, add the juices from the baking dish, and then place a small amount of corn starch or flour and put back on the burner until fully cooked through and smooth. Taste for seasoning to make sure it tastes good. Remember, it already has some seasoning from the hens so you only have to adjust the salt and pepper amounts.

You have just made a mini-Thanksgiving dinner that is extremely affordable, and done in less than 1 hour. Some mashed potatoes with gravy and plated along the Cornish game hen.

Alessandra had wanted pasta and vegetables tonight, but she ended up eating the entire breast of the hen too. Mommy got fed, Alessandra got fed, and I will have to find something else!! The best part about this dish is the low-cost and using every piece of the hen for cooking. Having Alessandra like it so much is the icing on top of the cake.

Child friendly activities for this recipe

Adding salt and pepper to the Cornish game hens before placing them into the oven (3 years or older)

Mashing the potatoes in a bowl with a potato masher. Just make sure potatoes are cool enough to the touch and the table surface is very stable. (5 years or older)

Whisking the flour or corn starch into stock.(7 years or older)

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Anchor Distilling – Junipero Gin

Grant Achatz, chef and co-owner of Alinea, is a big inspiration for me. He and his business owner Nick are opening two new restaurants, Next and his molecular gastronomy bar Aviary in Chicago. In particular, Aviary’s ideas and concept opened up new ideas for me. After watching this video I found not only a cool way to make a Gin and Tonic, but a local gin that is heads above anything else. Here is the video.

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Junipero Gin  is a local San Francisco gin and literally distilled and bottled in room the size of a large garage. (look at video) When I opened up a bottle of this gin, it was aromatic, fruity, smooth, and very good. You can tell how good it is when you open the bottle.

For the gin and tonic:

3 parts tonic water

1 parts Junipero gin

1/2 part simple syrup

lemon slice

lime slice and a splash of lime juice

sprig of mint

To learn more about this great gin here is the link to the website, and you can find it at BevMo and other fine liquor stores. It’s well priced and I highly recommend it.

Enjoy!

The Kids Cook Monday – March 21, 2011 “Inspiration”

When my daughter and I cook we regularly use the same cookbook over and over. It’s a book written by two very successful cooking professionals, and we use it all of the time. As a result, we have made pasta, brioche bread, an omelet, ricotta cheese, among many other items directly from recipes in this book. Sometimes life is so busy but you still need to cook something at home. Having a go-to recipe book is a great resource for quick decisions and support.

The book that we use is Ideas in Food: Great Recipes and Why They Work. It’s written by Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot. Tonight Alessandra wants to cook egg pasta noodles using the following recipe.

225 grams of all-purpose flour

8 large egg yolks

1 tablespoon / 14 grams olive oil

2 tablespoons / 30 grams whole milk

4 tablespoons / 56 grams unsalted butter

Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Sauce:

We simply cut up some tomatoes and saute them with a little garlic or salt and pepper. Very simple and quick.

Combine the flour, egg yolks, olive oil, and milk in a food processor (you can mix by hand too). Once the mixture comes together into a rough dough, turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface and finish it by hand. Knead it, and if needed, add a little more flour until it becomes silky and smooth. Let it rest for 30 minutes and then you can finish the pasta using a pasta rolling machine, or even a baker’s rolling pin until it’s uniformly thin. Flour the dough and cut it into noodles or you can make ravioli.

It does take a little work, but your child can help you most of the way and kneading dough is easy and fun for all ages.

As a treat, I was lucky that the authors of the book were at a local book store and they happily signed a copy of the book for Alessandra. I already have this book and have a copy on my Kindle app for the Ipad, so this book is for her. When she grows up she will have this book as a resource and as memory of our cooking time together. It was so cool when I showed her the book; she was so happy and surprised that it was her book. It’s tucked away for now but she knows it’s there. We use other books and recipes, but if you look at this book it’s so easy to follow and they give you background on why it works.

I hope you can find your own special cookbook or resource. Having a resource of cookbooks is very helpful to me and to my family.

Hard at work kneading the dough…Add just a little dough and it’s really easy to knead and work with.

Alessandra decided that some green peas and some pecorino cheese was suitable to finish the plating.

Mangalitsa Bacon and Why Eating Fat is Better Than Foods Called “Low Fat”

I am often asked, “why aren’t you xxx pounds, or “have you checked your cholesterol lately?” Why? I have fallen in love with eating Mangalitsa pig which is extremely high in unsaturated fat. From pork belly, mangalitsa bacon, and lardo, the fat is undeniably tasty.

Unfortunately in america we have grown up with a phobia about fat. Fat is bad for you and fat will kill you is the basic underlying phobia. Both are categorically wrong. As a competitive athlete for most of my life I have never worried how much fat I ate because I was always burning a ton of calories. When I retired from cycling I did gain some weight, because being 160lbs and being 6’1″ is extremely light, but I am not overweight now.

Let’s get physical…your body can create energy using two sources, sugar (glycogen) or fat. When you eat a natural source of fat your body knows what to do with it. It’s not alien. Unfortunately in the past two or three decades the fat phobia has created food groups with no fat. The question is, what replaced it? In most cases the replacement is sugar. When your body has too much sugar it will either store it, and it will turn to fat later. So instead of burning fat or the existing sugar in your system, this “low-fat” high sugar bomb will require your body to burn it or store it. You get nowhere in trying to lose weight. If you digest too much sugar it will go through your system via urine. I don’t have cold hard facts, but the rise of diabetes in the country would suggest a correlation between “low-fat” foods and rising sugar content in our diet with diabetes. Don’t be fooled by low-fat food.

Here is a perfect example of a misleading label. From acclaimed writer Michael Ruhlman he recently posted this label. http://ruhlman.com/2010/06/misleading-food-labels.html Low-fat half and half, are you kidding me? What’s low-fat about corn syrup, the second most abundant ingredient. In Vienna, they serve a coffee called the Einspanner. A coffee with a dollop of real whipped cream, and it was so good because it was real cream. I’m still alive to talk about it too!! We have to become more educated on what draws us to particular foods and what we are eating. We cannot allow creative food labeling to trick us.

To maintain a healthy diet in our home, we attempt to cook unprocessed foods a majority of the time and we don’t necessarily stay away from fat. In addition to low-fat, anything hydrogenated should also be avoided. Don’t allow a chemist to touch your food, and you will be healthier..I promise.  By eating natural sources of fat, protein, and carbohydrates your body will have the ability to naturally digest the food.

Pictured here is homemade Mangalitsa bacon after being cured for 8 days and slowed cooked for several hours. I have used it for dishes like Eggs Benedict and Pasta Carbonara. Yes, look at that fat!! Have some, it will not kill you.

If you want the recipe to make bacon I suggest the book Charcuterie by Ruhlman or you can look at this link http://ruhlman.com/2010/10/home-cured-bacon-2.html to make it. It’s very easy and the results are amazing.

The Kids Cook Monday – March 14, 2011

Hello, and welcome to the blog where I share my cooking experiences with, and for, my daughter Alessandra. Along with her mom, we focus on giving her meals with proper nutrition. One of the most rewarding moments every day is when I get to cook with my daughter. The organization recently created an updated website (http://www.thekidscookmonday.org/) giving adults and parents resources and tools needed for cooking at home.

Unfortunately my daughter caught a bad cold so instead of her cooking with me, we happily cooked for her. One of the biggest hits of the weekend was angel hair pasta, pesto sauce, and some black olives. The plus is that takes less than 10 minutes to cook and a total of 15 minutes if you make your own pesto. While you are cooking the pasta, you and your child can easily make the pesto sauce together. The best thing about making the sauce at home is the ability to customize the amount of salt, cheese, or oil.

Once you have finished the pesto sauce you can then serve the pasta. For children, I found a method that really helps them children to eat pasta with a sauce. By evenly coating the pasta with sauce it’s very consistent throughout the pasta. Place some pasta in zip lock bag along with the pesto, grated cheese, and (if desired) chopped or sliced olives. Shake it vigorously and evenly coat the pasta. Done…you can pour it on the plate and serve to your child. For older kids they could do almost everything in this recipe alone.

From the Food Network Website : (link)

Ingredients

  • 2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese or favorite type of cheese such as Parmesan Reggiano. I prefer Pecorino because of the subtle but noticeable saltiness of the cheese.

Directions – with a 3-year-old at the helm

Combine the basil, garlic, and pine nuts in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add 1/2 cup of the oil and process until fully incorporated and smooth. Season with salt and pepper. If using immediately, add all the remaining oil and pulse until smooth. Transfer the pesto to a large serving bowl and mix in the cheese. For the first time, we only put in 1 clove of garlic since my daughter is only 3, but normally garlic is an important ingredient.

Except for chopping the stems off the basil, Alessandra did everything herself. She respected the power of the food processor and listened carefully to instructions. Knowing that her pesto sauce would go on her plate was good motivation for diligence.

Below is an introduction to The Kids Cook Monday from the program director. What she and the organization has to say is very important. I would greatly appreciate if you could take the time to read through it.

Thank you very much,

Loren

Introducing… The Kids Cook Monday!

By Joey Lee

Over the last 30 years, there has been a dramatic shift not only in what we eat, but how we eat. The ritual of family dinner has become all but extinct. More and more kids come home to an empty house after school and rely mostly on processed snack foods and microwavables to sustain themselves until their parents arrive home, often with a takeout box or fast food fare. Studies show that children who engage in regular family dinners eat more nutritious diets, get better grades in school and develop better communication skills, so how can the modern family break this cycle and bring back family dinner?

The Kids Cook Monday is a new initiative that gives families an effective, weekly way to keep up family dinners. When Monday is family dinner night, the meal becomes a fun event, ensuring that parents and kids spend quality time together every week, all year round.

You can use the beginning of the school week as an opportunity to continue teaching your kids even after they come home from school. As your little chefs squeeze oranges, tell them how vitamin C strengthens their immune systems to fight off colds or how the potatoes they’re mashing first grew underground.

Columbia’s Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse found that family dinners also help foster important life lessons. Kids who ate regularly with their families were more likely to come to their parents with a problem and less likely to try drugs and alcohol. Parents can use Kids Cook Monday night to check in with their kids about the weekend that’s passed and discuss plans for the coming week.

Parents can explore cooking with kids even if they’re novice cooks themselves! The Kids Cook Monday recipes come with age group suggestions as well as “parent”, “kid’ and “together” cooking tasks. Use The Kids Cook Monday toolkit(pdf) to get your family started. You can also share The Kids Cook Monday movement in whatever way works for you: post family dinner stories to your blog every week, hold family dinner recipe contests on your website or start a cooking co-op in your community.

By sustaining the tradition of family dinners, we are sustaining our health and our relationships with each other. Food activist and author Michael Pollan writes “Shared meals are about much more than fueling bodies; they are uniquely human institutions where our species developed language and this thing we call culture.” Make cooking and eating together your first priority on the first evening of each week. Keep our culture, and our children, alive and well.

The Kids Cook Monday – March 7, 2011 Powerpuff Girls – “Beat Your Greens”

Recently our daughter renewed her interest in the Powerpuff Girls, and there is one episode in particular that came in handy as a parent. We are very lucky because on a daily basis Alessandra loves fruits and vegetables. Normally we don’t have a problem, but there was a stretch of time that if you mentioned vegetables, it would be tantrum city. Nothing was going to make her eat vegetables. Until…….The Powerpuff Girls.

In this episode, the children of Townsville must eat the Alien Broccoli to ward off the imminent attack on the city. The quote, “We got to eat them to beat them” was the key statement of how the Powerpuff girls were able to lead the kids to victory and it was also my winning statement in trying to get Alessandra to eat her veggies. As parents we try to minimize the amount of TV and cartoons she see’s daily, but this was like fighting fire with fire. It worked like a charm. As we watch the cartoon today we definitely notice a lot of the pro-girl lessons in the cartoon. Now that we are raising are own super daughter, these little lessons sure do help!

Thank you Powerpuff Girls for being a helpful part of the day. Alessandra doesn’t watch much TV but we are happy with the Powerpuff girls.

The Chronicles Of Gourmetdad – Part 1

After taking a long blogging break due to work projects I wanted to share why I love food, what it taught me, what it means to me, and how it makes me happy. For my long time friends they will all know me as a cook, a cyclist, photographer, dog lover, and in the past four years, a father. Cycling and photography are equally important to me as cooking. In a sense, they all work together and have opened up my mind for adventure in life and with food. I am going to do this post in several installments to keep it readable and to focus on a specific memory. Welcome to the history and memories of Gourmetdad. An understanding that food is about history, the present, and the future. Written quickly and intuitively, please forgive if it sounds like a ramble.

The Beginning:

I am half-Vietnamese and very proud of my heritage, but if you would have seen my neighborhood or a picture of me as a kid; you would never know I was Asian. I grew up in a nice suburban neighborhood, of primarily white working class people. Although it was much better that I had two friends, one was Filipino and the other was Hawaiian. It was a safe neighborhood, and a good place to grow up playing touch football in the street without being hit by a car.  I say safe, but it took a resilient mother to make sure we knew that we were Vietnamese, and to maintain her identity as well.

My mom met my dad while he served in the military during the Vietnam War and she left the country through marriage. We moved to our first real neighborhood in Livermore, CA in the early 70’s after a myriad of apartments and time with my grandmother. Looking back, it wasn’t the best time for Asians in the country. The Vietnam War, Honda and Toyota coming to the market with more fuel-efficient cars, and the oil crisis and gasoline rations cut to the core of the country. As a child, I still remember a lot of hatred toward Asians. Nobody ever thought twice of what they were saying because they thought I was white, so hateful words ran unfiltered around me. My only specific memory was when my sister and I got lost at a soccer game in the local park. We were found by some people, and they went to locate our parents. My mom showed up, and they wouldn’t give us to her, flat-out denied us our mom. They wouldn’t believe my mom, nor my sister and I. “How could she your parent?”, “She is!” we exclaimed. From that moment on I always knew I was different.

Commentary: My Latina wife and daughter to this very day hear their fair share of derogatory Latino comments. They may be fair skin but they are proud to be Mexican and El Salvadorian.

I eventually knew I was Vietnamese because my mom cooked Vietnamese food at home. It wasn’t every day, but it was integral. We also had to travel a long way to San Jose or Oakland to get the proper ingredients.  I remember standing forever in a store that sold strange-looking stuff and only knowing the trip was over when we got a box of rice candy with a dissolving wrapper and tiny toy. I always wanted to go with her even though it meant being bored silly and couldn’t understand a word anybody was saying.  I never declined to eat the food because of the hard work to make it. My mom is a very good cook and we love her cooking so much, fried rolls (chả giò), pho (Phở), and especially the fish sauce (Nước mắm), and so much more. It seems that having a bowl of pho is the rage today, but every time I have a bowl, it reminds me of the past. I was just a tall skinny white kid eating noodles from a huge bowl and pair of chop sticks. We didn’t go to Moon Festivals, or celebrate the lunar new year, or do any Vietnamese cultural road trips. Without the cooking effort from my mom, we could have easily grownup eating food lacking a cultural identity. More importantly, I also think it was my mom’s way of remembering a good part of her past, while she fully embraced American values.

In addition to Vietnamese cooking, she did us a huge favor on nutrition. To be honest, my dad was more comfortable serving food out of can than cooking something. It could have been a toasted Pop-Tart for breakfast or the infamous can of Van Camps Pork and Beans. Sorry if you like it, but it took me years to think about beans again. (Note: Thank God for Cassoulet) Spare the occasional roast or steak dinner that my dad cooked, he is not a big part of my cooking memories. It did teach me that fresh food was WAY better than canned food. I am not preaching since I have a weakness for chips and dip, but fresh food remains a core value for us and we share those values with our daughter.

My mom is one of the proudest American people I know. She came to this country for success and she didn’t speak Vietnamese full-time for almost 7 years. We were never taught Vietnamese, and I defend the criticism that I receive for it. She had never been to a formal school for an extended amount of time but she is extremely smart and wanted to work and be American. She needed to learn English and that’s what she concentrated on. Her second job, she left her first one after a month, was for a small computer chip company called Intel and making the 8088 and 8086 microprocessors was her first responsibility. We all know that Intel is now the leader in microprocessors and my mom capitalized on that success until she retired at 42. Just imagine a Vietnamese lady, barely 5’2”, was part of the women’s equal rights revolution in the 70’s. She was a career driven woman who still cared enough about quality food to share it with us.

Next: My Sweet Old Grandmother