Archive for the ‘Food+Family’ Category

End-of-the-School-Year Party Snacks Solved

I don’t know how I made it all these years without knowing about Monkey Bread, but I’m glad those days are over. My first introduction to this carbs-cinnamon-sugar-butter concoction was via Paula Deen (Natch).  I borrowed one of her cooking-with-kids books from our local library last year, and one of the recipes my kids and I made was Monkey Bread. It made more than we could handle, and we brought some to the soccer team the next morning for an after-game snack and still had enough to bring to the baseball team that afternoon for the same purpose. So, as end-of-season sports parties are upon us, I made a batch for the Spitfire’s season-ender.

When the kids find out we’ve brought Monkey Bread we either receive blank stares or cries of “Yes! I love Monkey Bread!” from the assembled masses. Introducing kids to this treat is a real pleasure. It works well for these functions because, while it looks like a lumpy cake, it is a pull-apart treat. And sure, there is sugar all over it, but’s less sugar-high-inducing than the usual cupcakes.

As I mentioned, the Paula Deen version of this recipe made a lot—too much, for my taste. It was actually really hard to get it to bake evenly and I ended up splitting it into two dishes after the initial baking time, to finish it off uniformly. Most recipes call for 3 or 4 biscuit rolls, but using 2 cans of 8 should be enough for the usual kids gathering/potluck. We have another one this Sunday, and I’ll be making it again. It’s just so easy–to make, keep and serve.

Monkey Bread (serves 15)


2 cans of refrigerated, unbaked whole-wheat biscuits (8 per can)

½ C granulated white sugar

2T cinnamon

½ C brown sugar

¾ stick of butter


Coat a tubular cake pan with cooking spray or similar.

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix white sugar and cinnamon on a plate (some recipes recommend shaking it in a bag and then adding the pieces in, a la shake-and-bake, to coat. I do not. The first many pieces will be coated only in cinnamon using this method.)

Separate the biscuits and cut each one in ¼ pieces.

Roll the pieces in the sugar mix to coat and drop each piece in the tube pan one-by-one. Continue layering until all the biscuit pieces are coated and in the pan.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter and brown sugar over medium heat. Boil for 1 minute. Pour over the layered biscuits.

Bake 35 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes, then turn it over to release the bread, and flip it again onto the final plate for serving.

What do you make for a group of kids for these end-of-year parties? I know not everyone brings a dessert treat—what are some of your best recipes that go over well with this kind of crowd?


At the Seder Table: Haroset with Dates

No matter where you are in the world, if you are attending a Passover Seder this weekend there will be haroset. It is one of the foods with an honored place on the Seder plate, and well liked because of its role in limiting the spice/tears for the accompanying horseradish in the “Hillel Sandwich.” I don’t host a Seder in my home, but for the last dozen years I have been making the haroset for the seder my family and I do attend. I grew up eating a traditional Ashkenzi haroset, heavy on the apples and wine. This recipe for a more traditionally Sephardic haroset (derived from a Jewish Indian family) leans more on another fruit, the date, resulting in a thick, sweet matzo spread. We love it so much, I usually make another batch to keep at home.  

Even if you do not celebrate Passover, this dish is a great way to enjoy fruits, nuts and apples on a cracker. Adjust the cinnamon and wine to your own tastes. I haven’t made it yet this year, so I can’t post a photo. I’ll try to do so after the seder.

Haroset with Dates and Almonds

Source: The Low-fat Jewish Cookbook, by Faye Levy


1C almonds (I used blanched, slivered almonds)

8oz pitted dates, halved and check for pits

¼ C sweet red wine (like Manishevitz), more as desired

1t ground cinnamon, more as desired

1/2t ground ginger

1 large apple, peeled

6 matzos, for serving


Finely chop almonds in a food processor and remove to a large mixing bowl.

Add the dates, wine and spices to the processor and grind until fairly smooth.

Mix date mixture into bowl with almonds.

Grate apple down to the core on the large holes of a grater and stir into the mixture.

Add wine by the teaspoons if necessary to make sure mixture is spreadable but thick.

Serve with Matzos.

Salmon Two Ways

Nothing tests the Homogeny-at –the-Table rule in our house like salmon does these days. The Spitfire has turned against it and getting her to eat a few bites can be a long process. And yet, I keep making it. The rest of us love it, and I’m hopeful that one day we’ll all be able to eat it in peace again, together.

A few days after serving this roasted salmon, I was reading All-of-a-Kind Family to The Spitfire. It’s a chapter book about a family with five girls in Manhattan’s Lower East Side at the turn of the century. The chapter we were reading that night focused on girl’s stubborn refusal to eat the soup served at lunch. The same soup was served to her at 3 successive meals until she finally took a bite, and then her mom gave her another meal—without vegetables to reduce the likelihood of a second fight. The Spitfire followed up the reading by saying “That is like me and you and the Salmon.” At last, our life has been captured in a novel, just not the part I’d imagined.

I like this recipe from Everyday Foods because it lets me make one easy prpe-ahead meal and then immediately I can prep for the next night’s meal. The roasted salmon was fine but nothing special. The Salmon burgers were amazing. AMAZING. I did not serve them to the kids, though. The adults ate after they went to bed, and thus we avoided another Salmon incident. If your kids like salmon, this will go over very well. I ended up with enough for 6 burgers, so I froze the other 4 patties.

Salmon the First Way: Roasted with Vegetables

Great for: Quick family meals

Prep: 10 minutes

Cook: 20 minutes

Serves: 4


1.25# carrots, in 1-inch pieces

2 medium red onions, in 1-inch wedges


Coarse salt and pepper

2# skinless salmon fillets

2T chopped fresh dill

2T chopped fresh parsley

1T fresh lemon juice

½ # Orzo

2T unsalted butter

4 Hamburger buns


Preheat oven to 450 degrees with racks in middle and lower thirds.

On a rimmed baking sheet, toss veggies with oil, salt and pepper. Roast on middle rack until tender and onions are golden, about 20 minutes, stirring after 10.

Line a second rimmed backing sheet with parchment. Season salmon with salt and pepper and roast on bottom rack until opaque in center, about 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook orzo according to directions. Drain, return to pot and toss with butter, dill and parsley, and lemon juice.

Transfer 4 salmon fillets and 1 cup vegetables to an airtight container; refrigerate, up to 3 days. Serve remaining salmon fillets and vegetables with herbed orzo.

I made the salmon burger patties that night, and cooked them the next day.

Salmon the Second Way: Salmon Burgers


Four leftover salmon fillets

Leftover roasted vegetables, finely chopped

1 large egg white

1 tablespoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger (I used bottled)

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1/4 cup all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)

Nonstick cooking spray

4 lightly toasted hamburger buns

Bibb lettuce

Chinese mustard (optional)


In a large bowl, flake and mash salmon fillets.

Stir in roasted vegetables, egg white, ginger, and soy sauce until combined. Add flour and stir to combine.

Divide into 4 patties.

Lightly coat a large nonstick skillet with nonstick cooking spray and heat over medium; add patties and cook until golden brown and cooked through, about 8 minutes, flipping halfway through.

Serve burgers on buns with lettuce and Chinese mustard, if desired.

Brunch Staples: Challah French Toast

When one of my (many) second cousins was engaged back in 2001, her aunts enlisted the extended family in a cookbook project. They asked each of us to contribute our favorite recipes as an engagement gift to the happy couple, and then emailed the final document to everyone. Several of the recipes are old family classics, so I printed and bound it to keep with my other cookbooks.

A number of the newer recipes have become favorites in our own home, including this one contributed by someone who is not related to me (but in my family, that is not a disqualifier), and clearly knows her way around a brunch table. I love that I can make it the night before. I’ve also made it up to the point of chilling, then frozen it for weeks, thawed it in the fridge for a day and cooked it in the morning. The ideal make-ahead dish.


Image courtesy of


Challah French Toast Casserole (serves 8)


1 loaf of challah

8oz. reduced-fat cream cheese

8 large eggs (egg substitute works well, too)

1.5C 2%milk (confession—I usually use skim)

2/3C half-and-half

½ C maple syrup (don’t skimp!), plus more for serving

½ t Vanilla extract


  1. Coat a rectangular 11×7 baking dish with cooking spray or similar.
  2. Cut off top of challah crust and slice into 1-inch cubes. Lay cubes in pan.
  3. Mix all other ingredients in a blender. Pour evenly over mixture in dish. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  4. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Bake 50 minutes, covering when it starts to brown.
  5. Sprinkle with powdered sugar (optional) and serve with additional maple syrup on the side.   

If you serve this with a number of other items buffet-style, it’ll feed a lot more people. It naturally slices into 8 servings, but those pieces are really big and a lot of your guests will cut them in half.

I usually bake this with the Santa Fe Egg Bake, and add a fruit salad to the table.  If you do the same, bake them both at 350 for one hour, but check them at 50 minutes and understand you may need to adjust the time. That is fine because each one will stay very warm when covered. Actually, the egg bake needs time to cool regardless.

Do you have a favorite brunch staple?

Homogeny and Harmony at the Family Table

About a year ago, I realized that, through shear inertia, my family had fallen into a familiar rut—one meal for us, another, significantly less colorful, meal for the children. We had a rotating menu of about 5 main course items for the kids (ages 7 and 4), most of which were some form of yellow or beige, served with peas or carrots and fruit. Meanwhile my husband and I ate a variety of dishes. We looked at the situation and decided to make a change: everyone eats the same meal.

First, we set up the ground rules during their “last supper” of regular kids meals. “Tomorrow, y’all are going to eat the same foods we eat. You will eat enough to make sure you are not hungry before breakfast. If you do not eat enough, you will go to bed hungry. Do you understand?” They nodded, but we suspected it was not going to be that easy the next day.

To kick off our new set of dinner rules, I made tilapia. There were protests, demands for mac and cheese, crying…you can imagine it, I’m sure. After ketchup was placed on their plates, the kids agreed to take a bite. Then 8 bites. Then the vegetables. Success!

The next few days were hit and miss. If I made a straight protein or pasta dish, they’d eat it with few complaints. Casseroles were a disaster. They do not want their foods—even foods they like plain—mixed together. At times, we’d compromise. If I’d made something they probably didn’t like or wouldn’t like, I would let it go at 5 bites and let them each make a peanut-butter sandwich. If it was a meal I knew was good and that they would be likely to eat—I’d call them out for being fussy and we’d refuse to let them eat anything else until they’d eaten their serving. If they asked for other food after that, they could have fruits, vegetables or yogurt only, or more of the meal on the table.

I knew it was working. The best evidence was when I put a casserole on the table and my son started wailing that he wouldn’t eat it. My daughter calmly told him “you know you have to eat enough so you are not hungry tonight” and he stopped crying and ate it. She’ll also tell him, as needed, “you have to try something a lot of times before you know you like it” and “this is a grown-up food—you will like it better when you are older.” Now, my very particular son will try almost anything once a day (though wailing and protests are still common first instincts for him).

This year, at Thanksgiving, we had another challenge. We had several kids coming who did not live under our roof and did not have the same rules. If they didn’t eat their dinner, my kids might not want to either. So, I set up a challenge for the kids table (with permission from their parents): For every bite of a new food, they would earn 5 minutes of movie time after the meal for the whole table. Some of the kids took to it with gusto, and only one kid decided to ride the coattails of the others. But best of all, my kids didn’t complain or ask to eat something else. Second best, the adults had a quiet hour to talk while the kids watched a movie.

Copyright © 2012 Seasons Eatery & Pub

That was the goal for 2011. In 2012, I’m going to put more energy towards harmony at the family meal. We’ll be more structured on the flow of the meal: kids set the table, we all say our prayer, we eat together, everyone clears the table. My kids know they will be excused early for talking inappropriately, excessive tattling, or generally annoying behavior (the boy likes to burp, jive and wail), which has increased the peace considerably. And, I’m hoping a more structured flow will make dinners together calmer and happier. I’ll have to provide an update in 2013!

What changes are you putting in place at your family table, and what lessons can you share?

Our Foodie Best of 2011

My family has discovered a number of new foods, eateries and cooking accessories in 2011, some of which were great and some were total busts. The list below has the top five highlights of the year in Cook a Little, as nominated by the four member of our little tribe of foodies.

The Spitfire’s best store-bought food: Skippy Natural Peanut Butter with Honey. With a daily intake of peanut-butter-and-honey sandwiches comes increased mess and expense from the honey side of the bread. This peanut butter, which we buy in bulk, cuts the prep time in half, eliminates the need for added honey, has no HFCS, and taste wonderful. My mother-in-law is the latest convert to this brand, after trying it at our house several times. It does have more sugar than regular peanut butter, though, because of the honey: 5g per serving.

The Energizer Bunny’s Favorite new toy: Sassafras ice cream maker. When he asked for an ice cream maker for his birthday, I gave a tentative OK. Most of the ones I have seen make more of the treat than I’d care to have in the house. This model makes about a pint and is extremely simple to use. And, it doesn’t take up much room in the freezer. We made a batch of Vanilla ice cream last night that is better than even Amy’s serves, in my opinion.

The Mama’s favorite new toy: Cuisinart immersion blender. I make a smoothie for breakfast almost every morning, and this “stick” blender is easier to clean, quieter and faster than my traditional blender. It’s also much better for blending soups, for the added reason that I don’t have to wait for the soup to cool or deal with hot, spraying soup.

The Mama’s favorite new store-bought food: Amazing Meal Amazing Grass. For the aforementioned smoothies. I get a serving of veggies in without the extra bulk (and pulp).

The Papa’s favorite new bagel spot: Wholly Bagels. Our town doesn’t have many options for bagels outside of the Einstein’s chain, so we rejoiced to learn that a New Jersey baker had opened a shop in our neck of the woods. And the nova lox are heavenly.

What were your favorite foodie finds of 2011?

Happy Hanukkah, Y’all!

Each year during Hanukkah our friend Josh comes for dinner and fry latkes. A few years ago, Josh brought Erica with him. This year, he and Erica brought their tiny, cute baby. In the name of family sanity, we decided ahead of times to forego the latke-frying this one year and buy them already prepared at Whole Foods. Then, I just had to heat them in the oven on cookie sheets for a few minutes.

I don’t consider Hanukkah to have a traditional set menu the way Thanksgiving or even Passover can, but I do have an idea of a traditional winter Jewish meal and it has two key point: slow-cooked beef and a kugel. Since I was going to be gone almost the whole day, I opted for a very easy slow-cooked beef stew (yes, again from “America’s Test Kitchen” and again a home run). This recipe taught me about the joy of using frozen chopped opinion for soups and stews. Why have I not know about this before? I should have bought 40 bags, in case I never find them again. I also bought rice that steams in the bag in the microwave. This shortcut seems a little less Whole Foods-sanctioned, and I will try to use it sparingly, but it worked out great last night. Then, I roasted asparagus right before serving dinner.

The kugel recipe was a on scrap of paper stuck in another cookbook (“Lowfat Jewish Cooking” if you can believe it). It credits the Hadassah Sisterhood cookbook of Valdosta, GA. I don’t know where or when I found this gem, but I’d bet it was at least a dozen years ago. Everyone loved this peach kugel. What’s not to love? I made it the night before and it reheated extremely well.

Peach Noodle Kugel

Great for: Pot luck dinners, a meal with company, comfort food, brunch

Prep: 15 minutes

Cook: 45 minutes

Cool: 30 minutes


8-12 oz medium egg noodles (I used 12, recipe called for 8)

3T butter, plus additional for baking dish

3 eggs

½ C sugar

2C milk, preferably whole

½ C seedless raisins

16-oz can sliced cling peaches, drained, or 2 fresh peaches sliced ¼-inch thick


2T butter

¼ C bread crumbs

½ t ground cinnamon


Preheat oven to 350 and lightly coat 13/9/2 baking dish with butter.

Prepare noodles according to package directions. Drain and transfer to large bowl. Add butter and toss until melted and noodles are coated. Set aside

In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs and sugar until combined. Whisking constantly, slowly pour milk in steady stream. Add raisins. Pour egg mixture over noodles and toss to coat. Transfer mixture to baking dish. Cover and bake 30 minutes.

Prepare Streusel: In a small saucepan on medium-low heat, melt butter. Add bread crumbs and cinnamon and stir until coated. Remove from heat and set aside.

Remove kugel from oven and arrange peach slices in rows on the surface and sprinkle evenly with streusel topping. Return kugel to oven, uncovered, and bake about 15 minutes or until kugel is lightly browned and custard sets. Transfer dish to wire rack to cool for 30 minutes. Serve warm.

Do ahead: you can cool, cover and refrigerate the kugel, then heat it for 30 minutes at 300 degrees, covered.

Serves 10-12.