Blueberries Optional

Coming back from our vacation in the woods the last thing I wanted to eat was peanut butter. On the trail, it was lunch for five days straight. Nothing survives a long hike in the sun like PB&J. Unfortunately it was also one of the few items we had sitting in our fridge when we returned. Just the sight of another jar of jelly made me slightly queasy.

We arrived home from our trip in the middle of the night. After traveling over 12 hours with three kids I wasn’t looking forward to waking up and getting back in the car to get food. If we still lived in Brooklyn, we could have stopped at the closest deli on the way home from the airport. But it doesn’t work like that in the burbs; you’ve got to think ahead. At 2am, there are no supermarkets open in our neighborhood.

Before we left I had baked some muffins and popped them in the freezer. The muffins were actually a happy accident because when I started making them I realized we had no butter or eggs. But as the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention, and I discovered I didn’t even need them, I used ricotta cheese instead. And the lemon was Liam’s idea. So it was muffins for breakfast and no peanut butter in sight!

LEMON RICOTTA MUFFINS– Blueberries Optional (Recipe by Elaine Studdert)

Ingredients (Yield: 24 mini muffins)

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

¼ tsp fine kosher salt

½ cup vegetable oil

¾ cup sugar

½ cup ricotta cheese

½ cup whole milk

Zest of 1 lemon

1 cup frozen blueberries (optional)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare muffin tin with paper baking cups.

In a large bowl mix flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, mix oil, sugar, ricotta cheese, milk, lemon zest until well combined. Add wet ingredients to flour mixture and lastly fold in frozen blueberries. We made half plain and half with blueberries.


Fill each muffin cup about 2/3 way full.


Bake for about 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in center of muffin comes out clean.


Remove muffins from tin and let cool completely on baking rack. Enjoy!



Muffins can be stored in air-tight container for up to one week or store them in freezer for those days when you have no food in the fridge!

And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 7): “I love the corn muffin one”

Liam (age 5): “Give me plain please”

Dylan (age 5): “These are awesome! Not the blueberry ones”

Plain was the clear winner!




Home On The Range

Another season of The Next Food Network Star wrapped up this week and Lenny McNab scored the win. I was rooting for Chef Lenny, aka The Gourmet Cowboy, from the beginning. He was one of the few contestants with a unique POV. For those non-fans out there, POV stands for “point of view”. It’s a phrase thrown around ad nauseam on the show. The contestants come up with one at the start of the season and work on perfecting it each episode. If their POV makes no sense they usually get the boot.

Although I love watching the car wrecks each week, as the contestants struggle through silly challenges to impress the judges (Bobby, Giada, and Alton), I would prefer to see them do more cooking. But becoming a Food Network star seems to be more about the ability to make a fool of yourself in front of millions of people than about having culinary skills.

Chef Lenny was a favorite from the start since he was willing to go to any length to impress the fans, from duct taping candy bars on his bare chest to a fully-clothed belly flop into a pool in Vegas. How these stunts tie into cooking I’m not sure, but it certainly made for amusing television.

Chef Lenny’s signature dish that won him the title was a Coffee-Crusted Rib Eye. The recipe calls for grilling and flipping steak, throwing handfuls of spice mixture all over the kitchen (some even on the steak too) all while shouting “make it rain!” in a cowboy twang. I knew a dish that involved making such a mess would appeal to the boys. Instead of coffee and refined sugar, I’m putting my own twist on it with cocoa powder and brown sugar. Let’s make it rain! Yeehaw!

Cocoa Crusted Bedlam Steak (inspired by Chef Lenny McNab)


2lbs strip steak, about four 8oz pieces
Salt & pepper
Olive oil, for brushing

Spice rub (save extra in airtight container)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder, unsweetened
1/4 cup seasoned salt*

* If you don’t have seasoned salt, it’s easy to make, combine:
2 Tbsp Kosher salt
2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp parsley
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp onion powder
2 tsp garlic powder (save any extra in airtight container)

Heat grill to high heat. If you don’t have a grill this can also be cooked in a cast iron skillet. Bring steak to room temperature. Season both sides with salt and pepper. IMG_9667 Brush with olive oil. Place on grill and “make it rain” with the spice rub. IMG_9677 Cook about 2-3 minutes until you get some grill marks, flip it and, you guessed it, “make it rain!” all over the steak.

IMG_9702Cook for another 2-3 minutes. Flip and repeat until steak is cooked to medium rare. About 6 minutes per side. Add additional flips if you like your steak well done. IMG_9740 Remove steak from grill ( with tongs – do not use fork) and let rest 5-10 minutes before slicing. IMG_9738 And the VERDICT is:
Matthew (age 7): “It has a special sauce- really good”
Liam (age 5): “I should have guessed it had cocoa!”
Dylan (age 5): “Love it”

Not bad for a city slicker!

A Sure Thing

Do your kids like chicken nuggets? Is the Earth round? Is the sky blue?

I’m always experimenting with ways to make a tastier chicken nugget. There’s some stiff competition out there fighting for my kid’s attention. Some days I have to become my own PR spokesperson, market researcher, and advertising executive to get them to eat an unfamiliar food. But when I cook chicken nuggets it’s usually a successful campaign. It’s one of the few foods beside hot dogs, shrimp and bacon that requires no cajoling, no convincing, and no pleading.

Another thing my kids love is dipping sauces, ketchup of course, being the number one favorite, with honey mustard a close second. That’s how this recipe came about. Instead of serving nuggets with a dipping sauce I decided to try and turn one inside out and put the dipping sauce on the nugget itself. They came out amazing – but make them for your kids and let them be the judge!

Honey Mustard Nuggets (Recipe by Elaine Studdert)


3 Tbsp honey

3 Tbsp honey mustard (you can use Dijon for a less sweet nugget)

2 cups panko breadcrumbs, plain

1 tsp kosher salt

½ tsp black pepper

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 ½ pounds chicken tenders, cut into 2” strips


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare a baking sheet with a baking rack.

In a small bowl, combine the honey and mustard. In a shallow dish, combine the panko breadcrumbs with the salt and pepper. Then add the olive oil and mix well.


Dip or brush the chicken in the honey mustard. Place the chicken in the panko breadcrumbs and press the breadcrumbs onto the chicken. Use one hand to dip (wet hand) and use the other hand for the breadcrumbs (dry hand). Place the breaded chicken on the baking rack.


Bake in oven until crispy, about 25 minutes. Serve immediately.


And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 7): “Do these have honey on them? I LOVE them”

Liam (age 5): “The chicken is perfect”

Dylan (age 5): “Not better than tater tots!”

Mission accomplished. But now I need to tackle tater tots!



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!