Rebecca's Cooking Journal

salt and pepper

Creating Happy Healthy Eaters Without Tricks

Too Many Cooks is my quest to create happy, healthy eaters without tricks (if you puree vegetables and add them to brownies, all you’re really doing is getting your kids to like brownies, which they probably already do). So this is not about sneaking healthy food into sweets. In fact, this is not about sneaking anything.

–Emily Franklin, Too Many Cooks, page 4

I really appreciate that, for that is my teaching method for my son too! I think he learns by experience and if something healthful, like vegetables, are tasty, he will learn to love them — that’s what I’m still learning myself!

A New Stage of Cooking

Despite the lack of posts on this blog, I have been cooking.

I feel I am entering a new stage of cooking. Up until the past few months, I had to research out recipes and cook them. I had to write things down and plan ahead. In the last few weeks, I’ve been finding I’m more neutral to recipes. I read it and figure it out, and then I put it down and go cook the food, sometimes referring to it and sometimes not. It’s like the recipes are suggestions that I like.

I really like this. I want to be more of an “improvisational” cook, but I’ve always been tied to recipes. I’m feeling another wave of  reading cooking memoirs coming on and I’m looking forward to the recipes in them: not because I’m going to go and cook them ingredient by ingredient, but rather because I want to see what they do and how they arrive so I can likewise adapt in my own kitchen.

I have been cooking lots of the old regular recipes, many of which I’ve mentioned on here. If I posted my “what have I been cooking” list, it would look rather boring and repetitive. But there have been some new recipes and there have been some more “experimental” dinners: meals in which I just tried it and it turned out okay.

I don’t think I’m going to stop cooking by recipes anytime soon. Even with a recipe I get overwhelmed sometimes and feel like “it’s just too hard.” But I like where my cooking is going!

Ginger Chicken with Mango Chutney

I made this a few times in the past few weeks. Originally it was for some dinner guests, but it was so easy I started making it just for us! I love adding new “regulars” to the line up.

I’ve always said I don’t like “Asian” food. I think my husband is right: I just don’t know what good Asian food tastes like! I used a half of a jar of mango chutney that I found on the international isle. Get the recipe »

Congee and Deep-Fried Sugar Taro

(I can’t believe the month is two-thirds over and I haven’t posted any recipes yet! Oops!)

I hosted a book club for a novel that took place in turn-of-the-century China, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. To make the book club fun, I made two foods that were mentioned in the book.

The first was Congee, which the main character, Lily served to her children and in-laws during a local outbreak of typhoid. While the other people ate diseased chicken and subsequently died, Lily kept her family alive with this simple rice dish.

I don’t think Lily’s congee was anything more than water and rice, but I added vegetables to mine, based on a recipe I found at the website Appetite for China. It was very good, although I put in too many sliced scallions. It was also easy; most of the work was slicing the vegetables, and then it simmered for a long time. I intend to make it again!

Get the recipe from Appetite for China >>>

For desert, I made Deep-Fried Sugared Taro. In the book, Lily met her friend Snow-Flower at a village every year, and they always ended their trip with a serving of this delicious desert.

Taro root is not a vegetable I’ve ever tried before. It tasted a little bit like potato, and so the deep-frying method made it a bit like French Fries. I then placed it in melted sugar, and so it was a sweet treat. Unfortunately when I made it, the sugar had been warmed for a little too long and had started to solidify again; it subsequently did not coat the fries very well. While I probably won’t ever try it again, I am nevertheless glad I gave it a try. Note that leftovers did not keep well as they got all soggy.

I got the recipe from Lisa See’s site. It was a fun way of making the book real for the book club meeting.

Get the recipe from Lisa See >>>

Sharpening Your Knives

I posted my book review of An Edge in the Kitchen at my book reviews site. I liked it, but when I went to try to sharpen my own knives, I found myself quite frustrated. Just the concepts of burr and angle were rather hard for me to comprehend.

My husband has sharpened his own knives with a stone before. He insists the problem was mine and not the book.He’s probably right, but reading a book really did not help me at all in the knife sharpening department.

Do you sharpen your knives on stone? How did you learn how to do so?


My son and I made the popovers recipe from Pretend Soup. I’ve never made popovers and I must say these were absolutely delicious! Especially considering how easy they were to make, this is something we’ll do again.

My son loved every part: watching the butter melt in the microwave, spreading the butter into the muffin tin with a pastry brush, cracking the eggs, stirring the milk and flour into the eggs, putting the batter in the muffin tin, watching the batter get big in the oven, and, of course, eating three popovers with butter, maple syrup, and grape jelly.

And he’s only 23 months old. Cooking with my son is turning out to be so much fun, because he is obviously enjoying it so much.

I can’t, of course, post the recipe from the book for copyright reasons, even if it does have only four ingredients. But go check out Molly‘s slightly-more-complicated-but-certainly-delicious popover recipe. It also looks good.

Get the recipe at Orangette>>>>

Cookbook Review: Pretend Soup by Mollie Katzen and Ann Henderson

Most mornings, after my son (age 23 months) finishes his breakfast, he jumps out of his chair and runs to the kitchen stool, yelling, “Cook! Cook!” He climbs the stool and pounds the counter, a big smile on his face, for he knows I’ll probably give in and cook something with him. (I normally prepare a batch of breakfast granola twice a week, so I think that’s when this obsession started.)

I’ve been looking for something to nurture this interest, and then I recalled a book that months ago Eva mentioned her niece enjoyed: Pretend Soup by Mollie Katzen and Ann Henderson.

I didn’t realize how wonderful Pretend Soup was until I consulted another preschool cookbook and compared the two.

The second book had cooking activities, and each treat was either in a shape (such as fruit pudding decorated like a cat, bread shaped to look like a bear) or the treat itself was a sugary desert (chocolate dipped fruit, fruit tarts arranged in a pretty pattern). These recipes seemed far too artistic for my creative design talents, let alone those of my one-year-old (or even an older preschooler).

While Pretend Soup does include some “decorated” food (“Bagel Faces,” decorated with vegetables, for example), the emphasis in the entire book is different. Katzen and Henderson assert that for a preschooler, the fun part of cooking is the actual act of cooking. Watching my son, I believe it.

The introduction provides numerous safety ideas (such as mark the handle part of the bread knife with masking tape to remind the child where to hold it), as well as ideas to ease the stress of cooking with a child (such as keep a baking sheet under the mixing bowl, so clean ups will be as painless as putting the baking sheet in the sink). Cooking with children will certainly be messy, but that doesn’t mean it’s a no go.

Further, each recipe is written twice, once for the adult in words, and then illustrated in a two-page color spread so the child can “read” the recipe himself. My son is still too young for that aspect, but I’m sure three- and four-year-olds love being able to “read” along.

And then the “critics” (i.e., preschoolers) also provide hilarious reviews of the food they’ve created.

“I wish I could have two bunches of them!” says Nathan, liking his plate after the “Zucchini Moons”

“This is so good, I can’t even say a word.” says Matthew about the “French Toast”

“It tastes so good, I’m gonna eat it ALL UP!” says Jessica on the “Oatmeal Surprise”

“Good! Very good! So really very good!” says Sammy about the “Pizza!”

What I like best about Pretend Soup is not the recipes; the end results seem mediocre and ordinary. My son and I have so far cooked the “Zucchini Moons” (sautéed zucchini with salt, pepper, and cheese), the “Hide and Seek Muffins” (with a hidden strawberry inside each one), and the “Pizza” (which he loved putting cheese on, and then some more). My son wouldn’t eat much of any of these, probably because he’s getting teeth this week and not eating much anyway. I didn’t think they were the most original or most delicious meals either.

No, what I like most about Pretend Soup are the tips and ideas for making the process fun. Cooking doesn’t have to be intimidating, and Pretend Soup makes even the most basic dishes into a game. I think the kids praised the end results (even the pretty ordinary sautéed vegetable dishes) because they had made it themselves. It was their creation: of course they liked it.

I have a friend that doesn’t let her son cook with her because “he wants to help me crack the eggs.” Apparently, she doesn’t want him to get that “hands on.” It’s messy, and eggs are, well, raw eggs.

Oh, my. How can I explain to you the look of absolute delight on my son’s face when he helped me crack open those eggs? That’s worth any mess. He had a blast: one minute the egg was hard, the next minute it was all runny. Enter: delighted screeches, loud laughter, and a largest smile I’ve ever seen. Plus, a mess on his hands and the counter, but hey, who cares?

Of the three recipes we made together from this book, I think my son had the most fun with the “Hide and Seek Muffins.” We had to roll the strawberry in sugar and dip it inside the muffin dough. My son would eat a strawberry, and then remember to get another and put it in the muffin dough. He also had fun putting the papers in the muffin tin, cracking the eggs, mixing the mix, and putting the dough in the papers. Yeah, pretty much all of it. He didn’t have patience to wait the 15 minutes for the muffins to be done: he said, “Eat! Eat!” as soon as he saw the strawberries. So we ate strawberries while we waited for the muffins. Altogether, it was a fun morning.

I look forward to many more mornings cooking with my son. It may not be recipes from Pretend Soup, but it will certainly be with my son! I may make more recipes from this book; if I do so, I may revisit this subject on this site.

Do you cook with your kids?

What are your favorite “kids cooking” recipes?

Cross-posted on Rebecca Reads

What We Ate (Week ending Aug 22)

This week I’ve taken the fact that my husband is out of town to my advantage by cooking meals with my son specifically for my son. I have lots more to say about Pretend Soup and how much fun it is to cook with my toddler. I plan on cooking some more of the recipes in the coming week.

I also tried something new that I’ve always wanted to try: meatloaf. It was so good. The recipe I made could use improvement, but considering how easy it was to pull together, I’m eager to add this to repertoire. Making a “new” recipe is a “mini-challenge” for the Spice of Life Challenge I’m hosting, so while I do try to a new recipe once a week anyway, at least this time the new recipe was for something I’d always wanted to try. I’ve had this stereotype of meatloaf as a dry, boring thing. I thought it was moist and tasty.


French toast


Surprise Muffins (from Pretend Soup); Zucchini Moons (from Pretend Soup); peanut butter and jelly


Macaroni and Cheddar


Personal pizzas! (from Pretend Soup)




parmesan risotto with peas


meatloaf; baked herb polenta; vegetables

Another Reason to Have a Sharp Knife

Onions hold sulfur compounds in the liquids within the cell walls. When the cell is crushed or damaged, vacuoles containing an enzyme break open, allowing the enzyme to mix with the sulfur compounds and create a volatile compound that attacks the eyes and nose. It is this compound … that causes our eyes to water. … A keen edge [knife] will slice the cell walls rather than crushing them, limiting the amount of enzymes that get mixed in.”

From Chad Ward, An Edge in the Kitchen (color plate number 21)

I’m really enjoying this book and learning a lot about how my knives really can be an asset to my cooking and my kitchen. I’m learning how to use them correctly!

I grew up in a house where the knives were 20 years old and had never been sharpened for fear of someone getting cut. So needless to say, I’m learning a lot.

What We Ate (Week ending Aug 15)

I realized something this week. When we have company, I make yummy, special meals. When we don’t have company, I made the same things every. single. week. This is not necessarily a bad thing. The regular fare is cheaper in the long run. But I do have to say I like the new meals the best! I really enjoyed Saturday’s dinner, and the rub was so easy, I’ll do it again.

I also am realizing, as I said yesterday, that I need to be more “experimental” in planning my meals. I tend to stay inside the box, unless, as I said, someone special is coming for dinner.

Other than that, I’ve already forgotten what I meal I made on Friday night. It was ordinary and all, I just don’t remember what I did! LOL!


Grilled steak with parsley butter; pasta with roasted cherry tomatoes and thyme




lunch with family/ [leftovers for dinner]


Chicken Pot Pie Stew and Buttermilk Biscuits


[picnic dinner with family]


I seriously forgot what I made Friday Night. Oops. It was really memorable, apparently.


Chimichurri-rub kabobs; arroz con crema; churros