Ooooh Mommy?

Umami /ˈmɑːmi/, a savory taste

Want to have a hilarious conversation with your children at dinner time? Try explaining the concept of umami to them. The discussion will quickly resemble the comedy routine “Who’s on First?” by Abbott & Costello. Sort of like this: “Oooh what?” followed by “Mommy who?” followed by “Oooooh Mommy?” You get the point…

Umami, a Japanese word, can be translated as a “pleasant savory taste”. It’s considered one of the five basic taste categories, along with sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. In technical terms, the umami flavor is imparted by glutamate, a type of amino acid, and ribonucleotides, which occur naturally in many foods. Way too abstract for my kids (or me) to understand so we settled on umami to mean just plain yummy or extra extra delicious.

Obviously, the best way to explain this concept was to cook a dish rich in umami flavor. When I ran down a list of potential ingredients (mushrooms, tomatoes, parmesan, soy beans, fish sauce, anchovies) I could tell I had some serious skeptics on my hands. Still, I was curious to see how it would go. At the very least it will make for some amusing dinner commentary!

Umami Noodles


1 pkg. rice vermicelli

2 Tbsp sesame oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup portobella mushrooms, roughly chopped into bite-size pieces

1 cup shitake or oyster mushrooms, roughly chopped

2 cups, chicken stock, low-sodium

1/3 cup soy sauce, low-sodium

2 Tbsp fish sauce

½ tsp black pepper

½ tsp chili garlic paste, optional

1 package extra firm tofu, drained, cut into 1” cubes

1 cup broccolini, about ½ bunch, cut into 1” pieces, stem and florets

Crunchy lo-mein noodles, optional garnish



Cook rice noodles according to package directions. Drain, rinse in cold water, and add to large mixing bowl. Set aside.


Meanwhile, heat sesame oil in a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute, just until fragrant, do not brown. Add the mushrooms and cook until they caramelize, about 10 minutes.



Add chicken broth, soy sauce, fish sauce, pepper, and chili paste, scraping bottom of pan for any brown bits.


Add tofu and broccolini, cover and simmer for about five minutes, until broccolini is tender.



Remove from heat and pour mushroom tofu mixture over rice noodles. Toss to coat, the noodles will soak up most of the sauce. Serve hot or cold. Top with crunchy noodles and see if your kids can taste the umami!



And the VERDICT is:

Matthew: “Is this goat cheese?” “I can taste flavor”

Liam: “Tofu tastes like chicken”

Dylan: “Thumbs up then thumbs down”

Did they notice the umami? Absolutely not… but they did try the tofu!


Bait, Hooks & Tackle

Fishing season is off to a great start. We have two outings under our belt and only one hook through the foot, not a bad ratio. Things have changed a lot since last year. Cutting worms in half, no problem. Hooking bait thru the eyeball, not an issue. Our poles have doubled in size, we’ve got some fancy new lures, and the boys are able to sit still for five full minutes. That’s five minutes more than last summer!

Although we haven’t caught any fish yet our hopes remain high. I’m ready to cook the first thing we catch but in the meantime some shrimp from the freezer will have to do. After last week’s beet debacle I needed to make amends, and I know shrimp is usually a sure thing…

Taco Shrimp w/Spicy-Lime Dip


For the dipping sauce:

¼ cup sour cream

¼ cup mayonnaise

Juice of ½ lime

1 tsp hot sauce, adjust to taste

Salt & pepper to taste

For the shrimp:

2 Tbsp olive oil

½ package of taco seasoning

Juice of 1 lime

Handful of fresh cilantro, rough chopped

1 1b. Raw shrimp, large or jumbo, peeled and deveined

Lime wedges, optional

(Recipe by Elaine Studdert)



For the sauce:

Mix together the sour cream, mayonnaise, lime juice and hot sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste. And more hot sauce if you like it spicy. Refrigerate for up to an hour to let flavors combine. Dipping sauce can be made ahead and stored in refrigerator for 3-4 days.

For the shrimp:

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together olive oil, taco seasoning, lime juice and cilantro.


Add the shrimp to the mixture and coat well. Marinate shrimp for 15-20 minutes.


Heat a large sauté pan on medium high heat. Add shrimp to pan and cook no longer than 3-4 minutes per side, depending on the size on the shrimp. Shrimp are cooked when they are opaque and turn pink.


Place shrimp on platter with dipping sauce, and garnish with lime wedges. Serve cold or at room temperature.



And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 7): “Love this”

Liam (age 5): “Shrimp are my favorite, better than cheese”

Dylan (age 5): “Dip is too spicy”

Next time we are doubling this recipe!


Carrots Are Cool, Beets Not So Much

Those little “baby” carrots you see at the supermarket weren’t always so cool. Not until a farmer named Mike Yurosek realized that he could bring his farm’s carrot waste to an end by peeling and cutting misshaped or broken carrots down to bite size pieces. I’m sure that most kids think the same as mine, carrots grow in this tiny size and are rounded on the edges. With a little help from Jim Dunn, former Coca-cola executive, and a 25 million dollar ad campaign, “baby” carrots are now one of the most popular snack foods for kids.

Other fruits/vegetables that seem to have reached cool status among kids are grape tomatoes, sliced apples (I grudgingly give McDonald’s credit for this one) and edamame (my kids ate a ton when I bought them in little Kung Fu Panda packs). Seems like a fairly easy formula. Process vegetable into a fun shape and/or put them in cool packaging.

How about beets?


They don’t look so good before you peel them but after they’re roasted and cut into bite size chunks, it seems like the type of food that could potentially have kid appeal. The fact that they’re not green is a great selling point! I don’t have a 25 million dollar budget nor the endorsement of some cool cartoon character so I’m hoping with the help of cheese and one of their favorite nuts, I can sell my kids on beets this week.

Three C’s Roasted Beets (Cheese & Cashews & Currants)


2-3 large red beets

¼ cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 tsp honey mustard

1 tsp maple syrup

Salt & pepper

3 Tbsp goat cheese, crumbled

2 Tbsp cashews, roughly chopped

2 Tbsp currants, or raisins



Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a shallow dish with aluminum foil.

Wash and scrub beets to remove dirt. Cut off top and bottoms.


Cut beets in quarters and place in shallow dish. Drizzle with some olive oil and toss lightly.


Place another sheet of foil on top and seal edges all around. Bake in oven for 1 to ½ hours depending on the size of the beets, until fork tender.


Meanwhile, in a small bowl prepare the dressing. Whisk together the lemon juice, honey mustard, and maple syrup. Slowly whisk in the olive oil and mix until well combined. Add salt and pepper to taste. (Extra dressing can be refrigerated for up to three weeks)

Allow beets to cool and peel off the skin. Cut into bite size chunks and add to medium mixing bowl. Toss with about two tablespoons of dressing. Top with the crumbled goat cheese, chopped cashews, and currants.


And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 7): “Goat cheese?!”

Liam (age 5): “This cheese is too goatey!”

Dylan (age 5): “Goat cheese is for goats”

I didn’t anticipate how amusing goat cheese would be to my kids. Needless to say, they never even tried the beets!



Menus for Kids

Ordering from a kids’ menu used to be easy when my kids couldn’t read. But then 1st grade happened and my son learned to, so there’s no pulling the wool over his eyes anymore. Now he can plainly see the unhealthy options he has to choose from and he loves them all!

In general, I’m not a big fan of kids’ menus. No matter what style of restaurant you go to they don’t offer much in the way of variety. If you’re eating Italian, Asian or Indian the options are inevitably chicken fingers, mac & cheese, pizza, and maybe a hot dog. Most offer a selection of sides, the common ones being French fries, steamed tasteless broccoli, carrot sticks or, if you get lucky, fresh fruit.

Eating out is a chance for kids to try something novel. It’s a great opportunity to taste foods out of their comfort zone, experience a new flavor or cuisine. Instead, it has become standard practice for restaurants to homogenize what our kids eat. Personally I think we should give kids more credit, maybe they don’t want to eat chicken fingers and fries at every meal.

Once in a blue moon we stumble upon a restaurant that makes an attempt to offer interesting and unique menu options for children. Just recently we ate at a place that offered shrimp, cod, and black bean burgers (along with the usual suspects too) in a kid size portion and price. A black bean cheeseburger and a garden salad would not have been my prediction, but that’s what my son ordered. And my little guys ordered the shrimp. They were thrilled to have so many choices.

I’m not sure what they put in those black bean burgers but they were delicious! For once I was a little envious of the kids menu…

Bedlam Bean Burgers


1 can black beans

1 can chick peas

3 Tbsp olive oil, divided

Juice of 1 lime

1 large shallot or 2 small, finely diced

1 small red pepper, finely diced

1 large egg, slightly beaten

1 cup panko breadcrumbs, plain

1 tsp kosher salt

1 tsp cumin

½ tsp black pepper

8 hamburger buns

8 slices American cheese (optional)


Rinse and drain beans and chick peas. Add both to a food processor with the lime juice and 1 Tbsp of olive oil. Pulse until the beans are a chunky paste, scraping down sides of processor as needed. In a large mixing bowl combine the bean mixture with the shallots, pepper, egg, breadcrumbs, salt, cumin, and black pepper.



Divide the mixture into eight equal portions and form patties about ½ inch thick. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add four of the patties and cook until browned on both sides, about 4 minutes per side. Repeat with remaining patties and oil.


For cheesy bean burgers, add a slice of cheese to the patties in the last 2 minutes of cooking so the cheese melts.


Add to bun and serve!


And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 7): “I like it better than the restaurant because it’s not falling apart!”

Dylan (age 5): “I only like the bread”

Liam (age 5): “I only like the cheese”

1 out of 3 ain’t bad!



Living In A Processed World

For the better part of two years I’ve been trying to feed my kids real food, nothing from a box, but to be honest we fall off the wagon all the time. It’s almost impossible to completely take processed food out of their diet. Unless I want to homeschool my kids or never let them attend a birthday party, it’s pretty hard to avoid. And homeschooling ain’t gonna happen ever!

As a mom of three I get why fast/processed food has become a staple in so many diets. Life is busy, there’s not a lot of time to spend in the kitchen. It’s easy to see that grabbing a box of food from the pantry would be the more desirable choice. But when I read some of the ingredients on those colorful packages it makes me pause. There must be a way to make slow food a little faster…

Take mac & cheese for example. My kids are convinced that the boxed stuff is the “real mac & cheese.” They actually believe that the orange powder is genuine cheese, not a chemical cheese food with a huge list of ingredients I can barely pronounce.

But I think I’ve found a recipe that’s just as easy to make and tastes way better. No boiling pasta required! I can’t take credit for this idea – I saw it in BonAppetit magazine months ago. It’s as close as possible to the “real thing”. And I’m only using ingredients I can pronounce!

“Real” Mac & Cheese (adapted from BonAppetit)


¼ cup butter, unsalted (1/2 stick)

¼ cup flour

3 cups whole milk, or 2%

1 Tbsp kosher salt

½ tsp black pepper

1 lb. elbow or ditalini pasta

2 cups grated cheddar cheese, divided


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium high heat. (Use a large enough pan to hold six cups of liquid.) Add flour to melted butter and whisk together for about a minute.


Whisk in milk and 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, and cook, stirring often, until sauce gets slightly thick and glossy, about 15 minutes. Stir in salt and pepper, remove from heat.


Toss pasta and 1 ½ cups of the cheese in a large shallow baking dish.


Pour milk mixture over the pasta. Do not stir! The pasta should be completely submerged. It will seem like a ton of liquid but don’t worry it will become cheesy and gooey and yummy.


Cover the pasta with foil and bake until pasta is almost tender, about 20 minutes. Remove foil and sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top. Bake, uncovered until pasta is tender, edges are bubbly, and top is golden brown.



Let sit for 10 minutes, then dive in!

And the VERDICT is:

We were thrilled to have some guest tasters this week-

Big sis (age 8): “Best mac and cheese ever!”

Little sis (age 5): “Thank you so much – we love it”

Mom: “I’m inhaling it too and I was supposed to start a diet today”

No more boxed mac & cheese for us!