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!


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!



Matzo Ball Soup

Who doesn’t love Matzo ball soup? My kids love their Grandma’s soup – They get so excited when a holiday rolls around and she makes it for them. I don’t know what my mother puts in it but they inhale it and never complain about the carrots or celery.

I had a box of Matzo left over from the holidays (does it ever expire?) so I decided to make the Matzo balls from scratch. For some reason the ones from the box are unpredictable, sometimes light and fluffy, sometimes sink to the bottom of the bowl. I did a little research and found that a lot of recipes called for seltzer in the mix. Hmmm, maybe that is my mother’s secret….

Although I am attempting the matzo balls from scratch I am taking a shortcut on the chicken stock. I definitely don’t have time to boil a chicken with three kids running around here.

I doubt it is going to be anywhere close to the magical concoction that Grandma makes but here goes…. And sorry Mom, but I also left out the dill!

Of course one of these days I need for my mother to teach me the secret – sometime in the future I will have the time to make it like Grandma does.

Matzo Ball Soup (hectic mom version)


1 cup Matzo meal
(Equals 3 large crackers ground in a food processor – I left some large pieces for texture)
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp celery salt (obscure salt I had in my spice drawer that I can finally use!)
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
4 large eggs, beaten
1 Tbsp cold seltzer water
1 Tbsp vegetable oil


32 oz. Chicken Stock
1 carrot, grated



Mix together all dry ingredients (matzo meal, baking powder, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder).  In another bowl, whisk the eggs and add in the seltzer and oil. Gradually fold in the dry matzo mixture; gently blend with a fork, until just combined. Place mixture into refrigerator and let set for 30 minutes.

Bring 6 qts water to boil about 5 minutes before removing matzo meal from refrigerator. When water has boiled reduce heat to a simmer.

Remove mixture from refrigerator and line a baking sheet with parchment paper and start forming the matzo balls and line them up on sheet. Use wet hands and gently form balls that are approximately 1” in diameter. They will more than double in size so do not make larger than 1”.

Gently place matzo balls in simmering water. Recipe yields about 15 matzo balls; any extra can be frozen after they have cooled. Cook, uncovered for 25 minutes.

In a large pot, heat up chicken stock and add grated carrots. When matzo balls are ready, carefully remove from water with a slotted spoon and add to soup. Let simmer for about 5 minutes and it is ready to serve. At this point, you can add cooked noodles or shredded chicken, if desired.

And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (big bro): “Better than Grandma’s!”

Dylan (lil’ bro): “MMMMMM, more”

Liam (lil’ bro): “I am not hungry”

I put some aside for my mother to taste. She loved it. When I asked for her secret she confessed that her soup usually came from Fairway Market! Of course, her secret is safe with me….