As with Tabouleh, I grew up eating “yalanchi”, which are grape leaves stuffed with rice. We had them on holidays and gatherings at my Aunt Ruth’s house, ever since I can remember going there. We even picked our own grape leaves, plastic bags in hand, straight from the wild vine growing behind the local A & P. Embarrassing yes; but worth it, nonetheless. Those leaves would then be stacked, rolled and tied, and boiled like big fat green cigars. The packages of leaves were frozen and passed out to family and friends to make their own stuffed grape leaves.
As a young child, I stuffed them with Aunt Ruth, which I absolutely loved. By the time I was in high school, I must have made them with her dozens of times. Yet, I wanted to make them on my own. How hard could it be?
Well… my first forays into making these shiny luscious little logs did not beget the ones that I loved to eat. I distinctly remember serving them at my Aunt’s house to my Uncle Essia (yes-a), whose wife (Aunt Jean) made the plumpest tastiest grape leaves we were lucky enough to eat. He took only one bite of mine and pronounced them tough! Just like that…. feelings be damned. He said, “Here. Try Aunt Jean’s and see what I mean. You didn’t cook them long enough.” Of course, he was right, but I was quite disappointed. They took hours to make and I thought I should get some credit for that alone.
The recipe I had to go on - from the ladies at church - didn’t give any details about how things should look, what to expect and how to avoid common pitfalls. So I had to find out on my own; you know, trial and error style. Once I got started, I made them for every holiday and family gathering, and there they sat in a little bowl next to Aunt Jean’s grape leaves. In the beginning, they still sat in the bowl during clean up, looking a bit crusty. After a while (read: years), I figured it out. I started teaching my sister, and later my husband’s family, my daughter and finally, my students how to make them. Odd as they look to a child, they wasted no time gobbling them up.
Now, I am the “yalanchi” maker in the family (sadly, my Aunts have both passed on). It’s actually quite easy once you have a detailed recipe and learn how to roll them. This is especially true, because these days you can buy (almost as good) grape leaves in a jar. No more sneaking around the A & P parking lot with a plastic bag.
ARMENIAN GRAPE LEAVES STUFFED WITH RICE
Just because this recipe is long, don’t let it put you off. I have added many details to make it easier for you. Read through the entire recipe before you begin and you’ll see what I mean.
1 cup uncooked long grain white rice (like Uncle Ben’s)
2 cups minced yellow onion
1 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons minced fresh dill
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 lemon – juiced*
1 ½ cups of water or more, if necessary*
1 large jar of grape leaves (about 50)
*lemon juice and water combined should equal 2 cups
Before you start
1. Carefully remove the grape leaves from the jar. Rinse the grape leaves with water and squeeze out as much of the liquid as possible. Set aside any leaves that are torn or too small. Put the “good” leaves on a flat plate.
2. Completely cover the bottom of a medium-sized saucepan with the ripped or off-size grape leaves that cannot be stuffed.
3. Locate a dish that just fits inside your saucepan and set aside.
Combine the rice, onions, olive oil, dill, cinnamon and salt and add to a skillet. Cook, stirring occasionally, on medium/low until the onions are soft (not brown) and the rice is only partially cooked, about 10 minutes or so. Place the rice mixture into a bowl and let cool.
Stuff grape leaves
On a flat surface, lay one leaf vein side up, unfurled and completely flat in front of you. The stem should be pointing toward you. Snip off the stem if it remains on the leaf.
Place one teaspoon of filling on the bottom of the leaf. Using two hands, lift the bottom of the leaf up and over the filling. Roll tightly one turn, tucking in the mixture as you roll. Next, fold in each side of the leaf as tight as you can. Be sure that the rice is fully encapsulated in the leaf. Continue to roll the rest of the leaf and tuck in any stray edges as you go. Some of the leaves will be different sizes, so use your judgment as to how much filling to use. You will get the hang of it after a couple of leaves. Continue rolling all of the leaves until you have no more filling left (or leaves - which ever comes first).
Cooking grape leaves
Insure that a layer of leaves (we usually use the ones that have ripped) covers the bottom of your saucepan to protect the stuffed grape leaves from burning. One by one, place the stuffed leaves in the saucepan in rows and filling in the areas on the circular parts of the pan’s bottom until the entire base of the pan is covered. Continue to add more layers until all of the leaves all placed in the pan.
Next, place a plate upside down on top of the leaves inside the pan. The plate should weigh down the leaves slightly and should be large enough to just fit inside the pan covering all of the grape leaves.
Fill the saucepan with the water/lemon juice, pouring it right over the plate covering the stuffed grape leaves. Cover the pan with a lid.
Cook on medium until the water comes to a boil (or sounds like it is bubbling) and then turn down to low/simmer. Continue cooking for an hour. Make sure that the water does not completely evaporate in the pan. If it does, add another cup of water.
Once the grape leaves are completely cooked, leave them in the pan to cool. Remove the lid, but leave the plate in place. DO NOT be tempted to remove the plate from the top of the leaves until they are COMPLETELY cooled. Otherwise, you will have discolored and ugly looking (but edible) grape leaves.
Drizzle olive oil and squeeze the juice of ½ a lemon over the cooled grape leaves. Serve the grape leaves on a platter with more cut lemon.
This year I got it in my head that I should use natural food coloring for my Easter eggs. After all, if anyone should do it, I should. I teach kids to cook and eat healthy and organically and in general, shun junk. What an example I would be setting for the kids - especially my own. After reading about how to go about coloring eggs using food, spices and juices, I figured it could be easy and rewarding. Wrong!!
Ok. I researched on the Internet and oh; there was plenty to read. But, you can’t believe everything you read. For example, I have come to doubt all of those articles telling you how much fun it is to color your eggs au naturelle. They do admit that the coloring isn’t as vivid and that it takes a bit longer, but I sincerely have a hard time believing any of these people actually tried this experiment themselves.
Regardless, before I knew any better, I went out and bought organic eggs ($5), organic spinach ($4), organic carrots ($2), organic beets ($3), and organic red cabbage ($2). I had vinegar and strong colored spices on hand.
In order to save myself some time, I decided to boil the eggs in the “dye”. I read somewhere that this would produce a more vivid color. So in went cut and smashed spinach with water and vinegar in one pot, shredded cabbage in another and grated carrots in yet another. I hard-boiled one test egg in each pot by bringing the mixture to a boil and then covering the pot which rested for 15 minutes with the lid in place. When the timer went off, I removed the lid and removed the completely white egg. What?! Not a bit of color attached to the shells.
I strained that “dye”, let it and the eggs cool separately, and put the eggs back into their colored bath. I checked the progress of my experiment after about an hour – nothing. By this point, I was annoyed, tired and done. It all went into the trash and I decided au naturelle was not for me.
Of course, failing was not an option for me and I was researching on the wonderful Web within a half hour (despite the fact that it was 11:30 PM) to figure out what went wrong. This time I found a couple of honest writers with articles describing their “dingy” eggs and failed attempts at protecting the kiddies from the dangerous artificial dyes. But then, there were the other writers that made it work and I just had to be one of them.
I got up and tried again. This time I didn’t cook the eggs first. Instead, I put the raw eggs into the grated vegetable mixtures with vinegar and pour boiling water over them. I let them sit for five minutes then packed them into baggies to rest in dye overnight in the fridge. In the morning I pulled them out and the only one that absorbed any color was the beet mixture egg. Good, I thought. Not red, not pink, but finally, something. Then I hard-boiled the eggs and – I should have seen this coming - all of the color was gone. This was just as well, because these eggs were completely dangerous to eat due to the fluctuating temperatures. Into the trash they went. My daughter’s comment: “Mom, you are just wasting all of this food” was heard, but only as background noise.
The final attempt for these natural eggs actually produced pinkish eggs that are probably safe to eat, but I don’t think I’ll take a chance and let anyone try them. I hard-boiled and cooled the eggs first. Put the cooled eggs into a bowl of grated beets and red wine vinegar, poured boiling water over them and put them into the fridge to color. A couple of hours later, these eggs had some color and looked pretty adorable. So it worked!!! Hooray!! Yipee!!
But really, I just don’t think it’s worth the trouble on many levels. First of all, the fun of coloring eggs is getting to do the project with your kids. This project takes so long that I can’t imagine any kid being interested long enough to see the final results. Second, all of the manipulation of the temperatures of the eggs is scary. Trying to make them “natural” takes a lot of in and out of the fridge. Personally, I wouldn’t feel comfortable letting anyone eat them. For information about egg safety, visit Egg Safety Org.
And finally, the cost of producing naturally dyed eggs just doesn’t make them worth it – at all. I say, take your fresh beets, spinach, carrots, etc. and make dinner for your family.
For the minute or two it takes for the eggs to color in my gel food coloring, as long as the kids don’t lick the shells, how bad can they be? I’ll be taking my chances – just like we have done every other year. Disappointing, yes – but completely stress-free.
Didn't work for me, but maybe you'll have better luck.
What better way is there to instill a great love for food in your child than to bring them to the markets that supply all of the awesome foods we want them to eat? These stores comprise a tiny list of places that I have on my mind at the moment. It’s fun to find new favorite places, so my choices change from time to time. Nevertheless, DiPalo’s is on my list permanently.
DiPalo’s is located at 200 Grand Street near Mott Street in Little Italy, Manhattan. (http://www.dipaloselects.com) It is pork store heaven and if I could move in, I would. This family run Italian food store imports some of the best cheeses in the city. They also have dried sausages, fresh sausage, olive oils, raviolis and pasta and prepared items. Try their Parmigiano Reggiano, which has a nutty, creamy taste and a textured crumbly consistency. No other Reggiano will ever be good enough for you after you eat this, I promise. Equally alluring is their fresh mozzarella and cacciatore (small dried sausage). They also have fresh burratta, which is mozzarella on the outside of a soft creamy cheese inside, sometimes filled with truffles. Most stores do not sell this cheese and those that do, cannot provide quality to match DiPalo’s ethereal burratta.Upon stepping into the store and getting a whiff of all of the delicious foods on offer, your stomach will take control. Quickly take a number from the plastic dispenser (straight ahead, just inside the door), before the person behind you grabs one. The store is usually packed and the waits can be long, so bring a small snack for your child to eat while you wait. You can always take a number and then run across the street to Ferrara’s for a croissant to bring back (but they are selling at tourists’ prices $3 or $4, $1.50-$2 elsewhere). Stick it out. You and your child will be rewarded with samples to satisfy your craving that are without a doubt, worth any wait.
New Kam Man, 200 Canal Street, Chinatown in Manhattan. This store is a couple of blocks downtown from DiPaola’s. This is a wonderland of an Asian market at unbelievably low prices for this borough. Sure you have to tough out Chinatown with the masses of people jockeying for position at the many sidewalk pushcarts and food markets, but it is worth it in my opinion. Unusual and interesting items abound - think, dried shrimp and fish, noodles, prepared foods (haven’t tried these) and dinnerware of all kinds. Children (and parents, alike) will be astounded at the myriad choices of food and non-food items packed into this department store-sized market. On the first floor, there are tons of typical Asian staples, such as dry noodles, canned mushrooms, dried watermelon seeds (sweet/salty) and many types of soy sauces. Pick up some fresh egg noodles in the refrigerator section in the back for practically nothing ($1.00). Downstairs, you have your choice of hundreds of chopsticks, cleavers, spoons, bowls, bamboo mats and the like. They actually have a neat assortment of ceramic mugs and bowls that kids will covet. Next to the upstairs register are strips of adorable individually packaged curious candies and cookies that make great little gifts for parties and holidays.
Caputo Bakery, 329 Court Street, Brooklyn, New York. (http://www.caputobakery.com) This small shop has incredible breads that are piled high in crusty, yeast-filled mountain upon mountain in the window and behind the counter. They have basic Italian cookies and sweets too. Their ciabatta is soft and fluffy with a hint of sourdough on the crust, but that standout for me is the lard bread. Not only are there hunks of meaty goodness, the bites without meat are loaded with a peppery pork flavor that kids (and adults) cannot resist. We usually eat a loaf on the way home, so we buy at least two. The prices are so reasonable that you can treat the kids with a little cookie for coming along.
Greenmarkets, throughout the city, (http://www.cenyc.org/greenmarket). Union Square is the biggest and best option. There is a fantastic new park adjacent to the market that children of all ages will absolutely love. Not only do these markets display the most picturesque arrangements of fruits and veggies, the variety is staggering. Shopping at a greenmarket is always a chance to learn about a new fruit or vegetable, including the growing process. I learn something new every time I go to the greenmarket. It’s amazing!
So grab the kids, grab your bags and start shopping.
I am always saying this about everything I make, but I really mean it: Chinese style stir-fry is so easy to make and really versatile. Most of the dishes I make can be adapted to the way you eat,what you have on hand or simply to accommodate a craving that particular night. When you cook for kids and with kids, adaptability is absolutely essential. If I can’t substitute an ingredient I don’t happen to have,I won’t be making it that time or probably ever.
So with versatility in mind, I’ll list what we used, but I urge you to use what you have or like. The fun part about making a stir-fry is to introduce vegetables to your kids that they normally wouldn’t give a try and watch them chow down. Anytime I get resistance, I tell them to lick it first. After that one lick, they bite – then swallow - and come back for more.
The key to a stir-fry is preparing all of your ingredients ahead of time. The cooking is very quick to you have to be able to add it right away without taking the time to chop or clean. Of course, for the kids, this process is also enjoyable.
2 packages of fresh Chinese noodles
½ lb. lean meat sliced into strips – pork or beef (or even fish)
2 peppers – sliced and cut into 2 inch pieces
½ lbs. snow peas – stems trimmed
1 small leek or several scallions – sliced into small rings
1 small piece of fresh ginger, grated
1 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce
1 tbsp. sesame oil
1 tbsp. agave or sugar
2 tbsp. cornstarch – separated
½ cup of water
2 tbsp. soy sauce
½ cup of water
olive oil for frying
Toss the meat with one tbsp of cornstarch.
Make the sauce. Add the vinegar, soy, sesame oil and agave to a small bowl or cup and stir until well combined. Add one tbsp of the cornstarch to the sauce and stir until completely dissolved. Add ½ cup of water to this mixture.
Combine 2 tbsp of soy and ½ cup of water and set aside.
Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil on medium-high heat in a skillet. Add ginger and leeks. Stir until softened (about1 min.). Add peppers to the pan and continue to stir until somewhat softened (about 2-3 min.). Add the snow peas last and cook for another minute. When adding vegetables, start with those that require the longest cooking times and end with those that require the least. Remove the vegetables from the pan once they are finished cooking.
Add 1-2 more tbsp of olive oil to the pan set to medium heat. Add the meat to the pan and stir frequently. Cook until the meat changes color and is cooked through (4-5 minutes, depending on how thin your pieces are cut). Turn the heat down to medium/low. Add the soy/vinegar mixture to the pan and stir to coat, scraping up any brown bits that have stuck to the pan.
Working quickly, add the fresh noodles and water/soy mixture. Toss to coat the noodles and meat.
Return the cooked vegetables to the pan with the noodles and meat. Toss to coat everything with the sauce (about a minute or two). If the sauce thickens too much, add a couple more tbsp of water until you get the consistency you want.
Remove from the pan and serve immediately.
We made one in class recently with leeks, zucchini,prosciutto and mozzarella. One of the best parts about making a frittata for kids is that they get to crack eggs – lots of them. After you show them how to do it, leave them be – then pick out the shells that will inevitably end up in the bowl.
Preheat the broiler to 500 degrees
1 dozen eggs – beaten lightly
1 cup milk
1 clove garlic, minced
½ leek cleaned and thinly sliced
1 medium zucchini – cut into small cubes
½ pint grape tomatoes – cut in quarters
¼ lb prosciutto – shredded
½ lb fresh mozzarella – cut into small pieces
¼ cup Parmesan – grated
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
salt and pepper to taste
Heat butter and oil in a 12” skillet over medium heat. Once butter melts, sauté leeks until soft. Add garlic to the pan and cook one minute longer. Add zucchini and tomatoes to the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes more. Combine milk and prosciutto with the eggs. (The kids loved the proscuitto.)
Lower the heat to medium low. Pour eggs over vegetable mixture and tip/swirl pan to distribute wet egg center to the edges of the pan. Season the frittata with salt and pepper.
Sprinkle the mozzarella evenly over the eggs. Slide spatula under the frittata to insure it is not sticking to the pan. Continue tipping/swirling the pan with a rubber spatula until most of the loose and wet egg in the center begins to cook. Cover pan and cook over low heat until the egg is no longer loose and wet in the center. It may take as long as 10-15 minutes to get to this stage.
Take the cover off of the pan and sprinkle Parmesan on the frittata. Put the frittata under the broiler for 3-5 minutes until it browns on top and is bubbling.
Remove from the broiler and allow it to cool for at least 10minutes. Carefully slide the frittata out of the pan onto a serving dish and cut into wedges. Serve with a salad on the side.
Every year when my daughter’s birthday arrives, she wants to bring a treat to school to celebrate. Have you had this conversation?
“Can I bring cupcakes to class on my birthday? How many do you need? Well... one for everyone in class and 2 for the teachers." "Oh... and one for my art teacher... and my music teacher..."
Inevitably, the amount grows as she adds more and more people to the list. The grand total is somewhere around 40, which is quite a few batches of cupcakes and icing. In my world (where the treat-making happens after dinner, homework and bath) this is at least an 11:30 night, or worse.
This year, I decided to make my life easier. We (and she did help) made chocolate dipped marshmallows on pretzel rods with sprinkles. They were easier to make and - if I don’t say so myself – better than cupcakes. Transporting and storing them didn’t require boxes or an entire shelf in our refrigerator either.
Simply poke a hole into the marshmallow with a pretzel rod. Dip it into melted chocolate. Drop some sprinkles on top and put into the fridge on wax paper until it sets (10 minutes or so).
You can wrap them in cute cellophane party bags if you like.
If you are looking to an alternative to cupcakes, this is it. And you will have it done in less than an hour - for once.
Whenever you have fondue, it’s a party. The gooey cheese served family-style for all to share is irresistible to kids and adults alike. Why not have fondue for dinner and make it a party once in a while?
Luckily, anything goes with cheese fondue. The options for dipping are endless because almost everything tastes good with melted cheese. In class we used bread and steamed broccoli, but any vegetable, meat or bread will be welcome. Just put out what you have on hand.
SERVING FONDUE TO KIDS
Another thing to keep in mind is that there are normally a couple tablespoons of kirsch and white wine in the recipe. They provide sweetness and acidity as a foil for the cheese. While it is fine to leave them out, the flavor will be quite different in their absence. I have read about people using apple cider vinegar to some success, but have not tried it myself. Frankly, most of the alcohol burns off and the proportion of alcohol to the remaining ingredients is so small, it shouldn’t have any effect. When serving to kids, however, it is a good idea to let their parents make the decision as to whether it will be acceptable to serve the traditional recipe to them.
TRADITIONAL CHEESE FONDUE
1lb. cheese, shredded – combination of Emmenthaler, Gruyere and Muenster
1 clove garlic
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. kirsch (cherry brandy)
3 tbsp. wine wine
1 tbsp. cornstarch
bread and vegetables for dipping
Toss cheese with cornstarch covering all of the cheese uniformly. This will prevent the cheese from becoming lumpy and give it that gooey, stringy texture. Set aside.
Peel garlic and rub all over the inside of a small saucepan. Discard garlic. Heat lemon juice and kirsch in pan until bubbling. Add white wine and allow mixture to come to a boil (to burn off alcohol).
Once the wine is boiling, turn the heat down to low. Slowly add handfuls of cheese until it is all melted.
Continue to stir to prevent burning. Transfer the fondue to a pot over a candle or other low heat source.
The fondue party is ready to begin. Enjoy!!
What kid doesn't like pickles? Whether they are cucumbers or other vegetables, the "pickle" taste is still alluring. Vegetables can be eaten in myriad preparations – raw, steamed, sautéed, pureed, roasted and pickled. However, this last one is something that most people don’t think to do at home. It’s easier than you think.
It's a good way to introduce new vegetables and get your kids to eat healthy. In class, one child told me that he doesn’t like cucumbers, but loves pickles. When I explained that they were one in the same, he didn’t believe me. That is, until he made them himself. Hopefully, he will now eat cucumbers and pickles.
We pickled cucumbers very quickly in class and while we were at it, we pickled carrots, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and beets too. All of the vegetables had that “pickle” taste and the kids gobbled them up - even the boy who didn’t like cucumbers.
There exist many recipes for pickle making and storing pickles. This quick pickle recipe is for consumption in a week or so. Once prepared, they should stay in the fridge till they’re gone (which will surely be quick).
Serve them as a side with sandwiches, burgers or chicken, with a main course for dinner or even as a lunchbox snack. As far as I am concerned, as long as they eat their vegetables, it doesn’t matter how they’re prepared (except, of course, for the deep-fried kind).
Slice 5-6 kirby cucumbers into ½ inch slices and place in a heatproof bowl.
Generously sprinkle with salt and stir to coat. Let stand for 15-20 minutes.
Rinse off the salt and pour brine (see below) over cucumbers.
Let stand until cool and eat.
Store in brine in the refrigerator.
Vegetable Pickles (except red beets)
Cut vegetables into chunks equal in size.
Heat brine (see below) to a boil. Reduce to a simmer.
Dunk one vegetable into the boiling brine for 1-2 minutes. You want the vegetables to remain crunchy.
Remove with a small strainer or slotted spoon to a heatproof bowl.
Repeat with the remaining vegetables.
Pour brine over the vegetables in the bowl.
Let stand until cool and eat.
Store in brine in the refrigerator.
Red Beet Pickles
Prepare red beets the same as with the vegetables. Keep separate until they are cooled. Red beets will color the brine (and the rest of the vegetables) red. If you want to prepare them together, try golden yellow beets. Note: Even if the brine is red, it will not affect the flavor. This is what they look like:
2 cups white vinegar
11/2 cups water
3 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp salt
4 stems fresh dill
2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
8-10 juniper berries*
*The juniper berries are included because of my adoration for the delicious juniper pickles served at Henry Public. After eating them, I just had to have homemade pickles. Juniper berries may be hard to locate, but are certainly worth seeking out.
Combine all of the ingredients in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and begin to dunk the vegetables.
Separate brines should be made to pour over the cucumbers and to use for the beets.
These pickled vegetables are fun to make. They are quite nutritious as well, because you control the salt levels and quality of the vegetables. Feel free to play with the recipe should your tastes run to a sweeter or sour pickles. Even if you only make one or two vegetables, your kids will enjoy learning how to make them. And of course, eating them too.