Today after school we will finally carve all the pumpkins that have been sitting on our front stoop this month. I’ll save the seeds, to toast and eat during a post-dinner showing of It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, and then I’ll need a quick dinner that doesn’t add much to the general pumpkiny mess. I’m thinking pumpkin pancakes. Breakfast for dinner is a fine quick and healthy meal, and like Lisa’s recent omelette, pancakes are a fine food with which your children can practice their cutlery skills.
These pancakes are about the lightest, fluffiest pancakes you’ll ever make (these pictures really don’t do them justice at all), so make them silver dollar size so they bake all the way through.
They taste great served with applesauce, yogurt, ricotta cheese, or of course maple syrup.
1 c flour
3 T sugar
1 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
1 t cinnamon
1/4 t nutmeg
1 c plain yogurt
1/4 c pumpkin puree (canned or fresh)
2 T butter, melted and cooled
In a large bowl, beat the egg and then stir in remaining wet ingredients. Blend well. Whisk the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl, then stir into the egg mixture until just combined.
Heat a skillet and add a dab of butter. When the skillet’s hot, pour about 1/8 c batter per pancake. Flip when the tops bubble and the edges seem dry. Cook until the other side is golden brown, 2-3 minutes per side.
Not long ago, Finn and I were walking through Trader Joe’s, when he made his usual pit stop at the samples counter. The offering was pork carne asada, on top of a bed of tortilla chips, sprinkled with cheese. The pork had been microwaved and wasn’t very good, but I could sense that it had a decent flavor underneath the icky microwave texture. Finn, on the other hand, decided it was his favorite new food, which made me sort of thrilled, since I love carne asada.
But I wouldn’t buy the freezer bag of precooked, pre-packaged meat, and I didn’t have a good carne asada recipe, that is until we got home a few minutes later and I asked Betsabe, who was working for me that day, if she had a good recipe. She looked at me as if I was crazy for not having one, then raved about a family recipe which involves garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, a tomato mixed in a blender and used as a marinade for the meat, for up to a day. Then, she said you sprinkle some carne asada powder on the meat, grill or fry and eat with tortillas or rice, etc. She swore that everyone in her family loved it, from her parents to her husband to her baby son. When I asked her what was in the carne asada powder she shrugged and said she had no idea and we laughed. She assured me you could make it with just the marinade which is what I did because I didn’t get myself to any one of the many Mexican markets in my town before making this.
The BEST thing about this, aside from the fact that it’s delicious, is that it’s very, very fast. I chopped and prepped the condiments, set the table, and made the marinade in about 20 minutes at lunchtime. I had my pan out and ready to go on the stove, so when we rolled inthe door from ballet class at about 6:25, I sent the kids to put on their cozy pajamas and by the time the sat down to eat their first course cucumber salads the meat was near done. By 6:40 they had warm, carne asada filled tortillas on their plates.
I got my meat, which was a prepackaged 1 lb bag of Fajita meat from Holding Ranch at my farmer’s market. It’s precut into perfect little pieces, and my kids adore it. If you cook this meat really, really fast, it’s delicious and tender, but it’s also easy to overcook. I made this dinner very last minute, so I pulled some inauthentic condiments from what I had on hand, and I would have preferred to have some salsa and avocado or guacamole, but really, we didn’t miss it. Kory & I added black beans and rice, and we easily would have had leftovers from the 1 lb of meat, only Kory & I decided to eat them that night.
I let Ella and Finn choose their own toppings, which is a fun way for them to eat. I think it encourages choice and independence and the illusion that they are controlling what their meal. The trick is to put out a variety of healthy things, most of which they like, along with a few new things. I do this a lot. I learned in Texas to eat carnitas or fajitas with less meat to tortilla ratio, so 1 lb of meat easily provides enough for our family of four. Unless we get greedy. Ella’s first looked like this:
And here, the girl shows you how to roll a tortilla. In case you were wondering.
Puree all ingredients in a blender then pour over meat and let marinate for several hours or up to 1 day.
Thinly slice a white. Sautee onion in a little olive oil until tender, then drain the marinade from the meat and stir fry quickly with a sprinkling of carne asada powder until cooked. Serve with warm tortillas, and/or rice and black beans and salsa, avocado, etc.
Usually, I make gnocchi from scratch because it’s not that hard and it’s fun for kids to roll out the ropes and cut the pieces. Think play-doh that you can eat.
But last weekend, I spent a blissful weekend in Los Angeles with my friend Melissa Clark (the novelist and creator of BraceFace, and blogger, but not the food writer!), and while we spent a lot of weekend eating out (which I’ll write about soon), we spent a lovely lazy Friday night drinking beer on her deck, overlooking the gorgeous spreading beach of Marina Del Rey, watching the sun set. She cooked me gnocchi with cherry tomatoes and basil, but the difference was that she pan fried them, something I’ve never done, and she used prepackaged gnocchi. (She got the idea from 101 Cookbooks). It was delicious, and so when I was in Trader Joe’s upon my return, and saw that same red package of gnocchi, I grabbed it. I’ve tried packaged gnocchi before, and they weren’t good. But these are. I fixed them for dinner last night and pretty much had to keep the kids from eating the whole batch so Kory and I had something to eat when he got home. The kids ate most of the corn, too, so I took the small amount left off the cob and tossed it in our gnocchi.
This is really, really fast. Maybe 10 minutes to the table. Another good one when you’re pressed for time. Which is pretty much every day these days.
Pan Fried Gnocchi with Tomatoes, Basil (and maybe corn)
1 package gnocchi
1 pint cherry tomatoes, or mixed golden & pear
1 clove garlic
4-5 leaves basil, shredded, choppped, or in a chiffonade–or whatever herbs you have on hand and like. Experiment with parsely, oregano, tarragon, chives….
Optional: 1 ear of fresh corn, cooked, cooled, and kernals cut off.
Mince the garlic & sautee in a couple of tablespoons olive oil and butter in a large sautee pan Add the gnocchi to the pan & cook until heated through and lightly golden brown. Toss in the tomatoes and cook until they’re warm, but a little wilted. Toss in the basil. If you’re using corn, toss it in now and give a stir. Toss in the basil.
Serve with grated cheese. Seriously, that’s it.
I plan to keep a package of gnocchi on hand all the time. It’ s not exactly as blissful eating it at home as it was on Melissa’s deck, but I’m eternally grateful to have such a great friend in my life, and this new recipe will remind me of her every time I cook it. My kids are grateful too.
Looking for a fast, economical, and really delicious fish dinner? One that’s appropriate for a school night, guests, or a weekend brunch?
The answer is Salmon Backs.
Pietro introduced me to them, and they’re basically a “throw away” part of the fish, and they do look like scraps and bones. But they cook up fast and truly do taste better than any other part. At about $4.95/lb., even now, they’re terrifically economical for a family. We’ve been eating them for a few salmon seasons now, and with the closing down of the California salmon fishing, and the rising price of salmon, they’ve been the only way we’ve been able to afford to keep salmon a regular part of our diet. Of course, they’re not locally sourced–Pietro gets them from a friend in Alaska, but buying from him does support him & his boat, and we regularly buy locally caught fish as well.
If you don’t have a Pietro but do have a good local fish monger, ask if s/he can get some for you.
Sprinkle the backs with salt on both sides. Pepper if you like.
Squeeze a little lemon, drizzle a little olive oil and white wine or sake if you like.
Grill on high heat for about 2 minutes on each side. Alternatively, you can roast/bake at 450 degrees for 5 minutes.
Let the salmon cool a little, then with a fork, flake the meat off the bones. This bit takes a little time, but it’s not hard, and the fish flakes easily. Be slightly careful of bones. They’re large and easy to see, but if you’re feeding kids I like to be extra careful.
You can serve any number of ways. I like to pile it on a plate with lemon wedges, sprinkled with tarragon or dill. You can mix it in salads or use it to top bagles. Good sides are a fresh Italian or French bread, white beans with olive oil, garlic, and salt, quick gazpacho, a green salad.
If you have any leftover, or are feeling ambitious, it’s also great in salmon cakes, which you can make by binding the salmon with egg, bread crumbs, and adding whatever other seasonings you like: parsley, tarragon, a little minced and sauteed onion, green or red peppers, etc. Use your imagination and whatever is in your pantry. Lightly flour the cakes and pan fry them in butter &/or olive oil.
Salmon backs are easily one of my kids’ favorite dinners, so I trust that all 5 of you who read this blog won’t buy them all up before I get to market on Sunday.
For more than half a decade, we’ve bought our fish from Pietro Parravano, who docks his boat, the F/V Anne, near Half Moon Bay, and who sells his catch only at farmers markets. He’s an extraordinary man, active in environmental politics and sustainable fishing for decades. He’s smart, articulate, and kind; he has a sense of humor and a sense of wonder; he can tell you how to cook whatever he’s selling that week and he will remember to show my kids his live crabs, or ask about Ella and Finn on the days they stay home. He’s taught me a lot about fish and sustainability, and our table and market would not be the same without him.
Many nights all I’ve had to say to Ella and Finn to get them to eat a new fish dish is, “Pietro caught this fish for you,” and they dig in.
And his fish is extraordinary.
Fresh and local (with a few exceptions in the past year, including Gulf Prawns and scallops, brought on in large part to combat the closing of the salmon fishery), it’s worlds better than anything you can buy anywhere else. I’ve tried. You might get a wider selection at a larger store like Whole Foods, but it’s just not as good. There’s no comparison, really. Of course, all Pietro’s fish is seasonal, but over the course of the year he has a good range on on offer, including: crab, salmon, albacore tuna, halibut, sand dabs, ling cod, petrale sole, red snapper, scallops, prawns, (cleaned) calamari, and a range of smoked fish that will blow your mind: lox, smoked salmon & salmon fins, albacore, etc. The smoked fish is so good–smoky and salty and sweet–we have to sit down with the kids as soon as it’s on the table or we don’t get any.
Some of the fish, of course, can be expensive–like the salmon or halibut, and prohibitive for a regular family to eat every week. But it’s worth every penny when we do get it. We can always afford red snapper, though which is affordable and satisfying and delicious. We broil or pan fry it–with fish this fresh you don’ t have to do a lot to it–but lately we’ve been eating a lot of fish tacos, which have become one of Ella and Finn’s favorite meals.
And this is one of the ways that their childhood is light years from mine. I didn’t even know what a fish taco was until I was in graduate school, here in California, and even then, it took years to convince me that they were something worth eating. Now, I lament all the years I lost not eating fish tacos. Both my husband and kids still laugh at me for it. But I’ve made up for lost time and to please my fish taco loving family.
I would agree that the best fish tacos are the classic ones, built on a fried white fish, and we do this sometimes. But really, frying can be rough on weeknights (the flour, the hot oil, the dredging and clean up). So I improvise by broiling or grilling the fish and using as many good-quality pre-made sides as I can, and our table is not much poorer. Also, since we have most of the fixings all of the time, this is a meal I can pull together in a matter of minutes. It’s a Monday night standard, since we buy our fish on Sunday, and we like it to be very fresh.
First, I season the fish, drizzle it w/olive oil, and squeeze a little lime juice over it, and broil it in my convection oven until it’s cooked through. I flake the fish and make sure the bones are removed, and set it on a plate. Then, I set on the table:
warm tortillas (the kids like flour and Trader Joes has great hand made or organic ones)
a bowl of salsa
a bowl of shredded cabbage (A side benefit is that they have both realized recently that they like cabbage. Raw. I kid you not. Piles of the cool, crunchy stuff have been disappearing, which is another weird habit that is just fine with me.)
a bowl of guacamole (or fresh avocado if they’re in season)
a bowl of baja sauce (one part sour cream, two parts mayo, lime & salt to taste)
a bowl of sliced limes
a bowl of chips
The kids craft their own tacos. And I say craft because they take very great pride in making theirs exactly the way they like. It’s satisfying, really fast, really fresh, and really healthy.
These of course, were made by The Husband. But they give you an idea of what one can aspire to.
If you’ve been in an aquarium anywhere in the last five years, you probalby know something about sustainable fishing. More information on clean (though not necessarily local) fish here and here.