Boys to Men

The excitement around here was palpable this weekend. After counting down for months the big day had finally arrived – Liam and Dylan turned four. Our little guys are growing up!

We started the day off with a run to the bagel shop for birthday bagels. And the fun continued with presents from mommy & daddy and older bro. Although Brian and I imagined our presents would be torn open with screams of joy – Matthew totally upstaged us. When Liam and Dylan saw what was inside the little packages Matthew had meticulously wrapped they could barely contain their excitement. I guess nothing can compare to getting a rock from your older brother. Who needs Amazon anyway? Next year, it is dirt and leaves for everyone!

IMG_4131 IMG_4132

When I asked the boys what they wanted for their birthday dinner it was unanimous. Chicken Sticks! Translation: chicken kebabs… I added peppers to the mix and let them pick their own colors at the store. Liam chose green, Dylan the red. Including them in the decision process is a great way to get them to eat some veggies, so fingers crossed. And adding a pointy sword-like stick to dinner always goes over well.

Cilantro Chicken Skewers

Ingredients:

1/3-cup fresh lime juice (about 3 limes)

2 Tbsp honey

2 Tbsp olive oil, plus more for brushing

6 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

2 Lbs boneless, skinless, chicken thighs

2 large peppers (insert your favorite vegetable here), seeded, cut into 1” pieces

15-18 wood skewers

 

Directions:

In a small bowl, combine lime juice, honey, olive oil, garlic, cilantro, salt and pepper. (Marinade can be made ahead and refrigerated)

Cut chicken into roughly 1” chunks and place in a shallow baking dish. Pour marinade over the chicken and turn pieces to coat evenly.  Cover and place into refrigerator for at least 30 minutes or up to overnight.

IMG_4148

Note: If you choose to do white meat for the chicken I would suggest putting peppers on a separate skewer. The cooking times of the meat and peppers will vary and the meat may dry out.

Prepare grill to medium-high heat. Soak wooden skewers in water while grill is heating.  Thread chicken and pepper onto skewers and brush with olive oil. Grill kebabs until chicken is cooked through and charred in spots and peppers are tender. Turn skewers occasionally, approximately 12-15 minutes per side.

IMG_4282 IMG_4291

Transfer to plate and serve with rice and lime wedges.

IMG_4298 IMG_4300

And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 5): “Why couldn’t you just make chicken?”

Liam (age 4): “Rice please. When I am six I will eat peppers…”

Dylan (age 4): “I’m just eating the chicken”

For the record, Matthew did eat three skewers, peppers and all!

“Little boys don’t eat salad”

Last week, our salad experiment was kind of a bust. So this week I am taking my big sister’s advice, which means I can blame her if it goes awry! Her suggestion was to make a version of panzanella salad.

A panzanella is essentially a salad of stale bread, tomatoes and basil, dressed with olive oil and vinegar. That is the base of it and other ingredients can be added to make it more of a meal.  I am going to include mozzarella cheese, roasted peppers and some prosciutto. A salad with cheese and bread – might just work!

Don’t have any stale bread? Not a problem. I had some pancetta bread, fresh from a trip to Arthur Avenue (the Bronx’s “Little Italy”), which I cut into bite size pieces and toasted. Any bread will do, just make sure it is the consistency of a crouton. I also crisped up the prosciutto and crumbled it to mimic bacon bits. For the tomatoes I used the smallest, sweetest variety I could find and since I had lots of salty ingredients, I went with a honey Dijon dressing for some sweetness.

This is such a simple salad to prepare and extremely easy to manipulate according to different tastes. I think I covered all the bases so let’s get to the tasting!

Mozzarella Panzanella Salad

Ingredients:

6 thinly sliced pieces of prosciutto

1 cup stale bread, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

1 roasted red pepper, diced into bite size pieces

1 roasted yellow pepper, diced into bite size pieces

1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

1/2 cup fresh mozzarella, cut into bite size pieces

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, about 1 lemon

1 Tbsp Dijon mustard

1 Tbsp honey

1/3 cup plus 1 Tbsp olive oil

Salt and Pepper to taste

Handful of fresh basil, roughly chopped

 

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread prosciutto slices on a baking sheet and bake in oven approximately 15-18 minutes. Let cool and crumble into small pieces. (Can be done ahead – refrigerate in airtight container)

If you are starting with fresh bread, place bread on a baking sheet and bake in oven with prosciutto, approximately 10 minutes, until toasted. Let cool before adding to salad. (Can be done ahead- store in airtight container)

IMG_3623

Combine the bread, peppers, tomatoes, cheese, and proscuitto crumble in a large mixing bowl.

For the dressing whisk together the lemon juice, mustard, honey, olive oil, salt and pepper.  Use about 3 Tbsp of the dressing to drizzle over the salad and refrigerate the rest. You can keep the dressing for several weeks, just shake well before serving.

IMG_3664

Lastly, sprinkle the fresh basil over the top of the panzanella and serve!

IMG_3671

IMG_3669

And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 5): “I don’t like the peppers but cheese, bread and bacon, THUMBS UP!

Liam (age 3): “This salad makes me mad”

Dylan (age 3): “Little boys don’t eat salad!” “I like the sauce you made but the salad part tastes like a leaf – yuck”

Okay, I confess, I did promise a cookie for dessert if they tried the salad. But amazingly enough, once they did eat some they seemed to genuinely enjoy it. Even Liam, although he would NEVER admit it!

The leftovers

The leftovers

Weight Watchers

When I was in college I gained the Freshman 15, along with most of my friends (except for one of us, you know who you are KJ!) The food served at the cafeteria was terrible but since it was in abundance, most of us ate way too much. So the summer before sophomore year my friend and I joined Weight Watchers and managed to stay at a healthy weight through to graduation. We used to spend hours in the kitchen making up ways to get broccoli to taste as good as those fries they served in the Cellar, our local hangout.

When I became a mother those extra pounds came in the form of baby weight not beer weight. I had to draw on all those creative meals my friend and I made that summer to get back in shape, especially after having twins! Recently, that same friend, who is back on Weight Watchers (a great program, in my opinion) sent me a picture of something she had made and the corresponding points. It made me nostalgic for that summer we spent mixing up our concoctions and meticulously adding up our points for the day.

So my inspiration this week comes from those fun days in our campus kitchen. After last week’s eggplant debacle I was hoping to turn out a dish the boys would actually eat. I should clarify that I am absolutely not putting my boys on Weight Watchers (I do not advocate putting children on diets.) If my kids are eating real food with fresh ingredients, for the MOST part, that is what matters to me.  Now, let’s see if they will eat shrimp!

Shrimp Crostini

Ingredients:

12 slices, french baguette, sliced on diagonal, 1/2 inch thick

3 Tbsp olive oil, divided

1 roasted pepper, yellow or red, peeled and seeded

2 plum tomatoes, peeled and seeded

2 Tbsp Parmesan, grated

1 Tbsp lemon juice, fresh

Salt & Pepper

1 clove garlic, minced

12 large shrimp, precooked, cut into bite size pieces

1 tsp parsley, plus more for garnish (optional)

 

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange bread slices on a baking sheet and drizzle with 1 Tbsp of the olive oil. Toast bread, approximately 8-10 minutes, remove from oven and set aside.

If you have the time and inclination to roast the pepper it is super easy and tastes so much better. Otherwise store-bought is fine! To roast peppers simply place them directly on your stovetop with a medium-high flame. Turn frequently with tongs until charred and slightly soft to the touch. Place in plastic freezer bag for 10 minutes to steam, peel away charred skin and take out seeds.

IMG_3373 IMG_3374

Combine pepper, tomatoes, Parmesan, 1 Tbsp olive oil, and lemon juice in food processor. Blend until a chunky paste, salt and pepper to taste.

IMG_3379 IMG_3381

Meanwhile, heat the last Tbsp of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Add the pepper tomato mixture and cook down about 5 minutes. Add shrimp and parsley for the last minute just to heat through.

Spoon shrimp mixture on top of toast and garnish with remaining parsley.

IMG_3398

And the VERDICT is:

Matthew: “It’s a home run!”

Dylan: “I like the shrimp and the bread, but not the seaweed. It is a little messy”

Liam: “Can I have Dylan’s? This is the best thing I ever ate!”

Wow, sometimes my kids surprise me… And if anyone reading this can figure out how many points are in these crostini, I would love to know!