Meals to prevent any child from ordering too many ready meals

If I made a list of the things I think I’m good at, the things I’ve excelled at in my life, it reads something like this: party planning and then partying (oh, how I love a good party); making authorities read books for very long periods (that should be considered a skill somewhere); And what I think is perhaps my greatest achievement, feeding the kids. In fact, I would put that at the top of the list. I’ve been doing this for like ages. I have fed infants and toddlers, pre-teens and legions and masses of teenagers. I made them pancakes, lasagna, peanut noodles, tray after tray of chocolate chip cookies.

But then here’s my youngest, a funny kid, and I realized one day a few months ago that he was eating more outside than inside, eating pizzas and sandwiches and burritos and more egg sandwiches and cheese and bacon in one week. Most people eat in a year. I tease him, and wonder aloud whether, when he walks into the corner of the market – the place where all the children go to buy egg sandwiches – they call him and cheer? Do they have a sandwich waiting for him on the table every day? A special chair, perhaps? He eats a lot of egg sandwiches. (A note about these egg sandwiches: They’re very, very good. But how many take out egg sandwiches should a 17-year-old eat in one week? A couple? Four?)

Add to these slices of pizza, giant burritos, french fries, and milkshakes. It is enough to make the mother – who loves to cook and feed the children – to rub her hands. He’s almost grown up, making his own decisions, even if they are bad, and spending his own money. The only thing I can think of to do is roll up my sleeves and cook. I try to make food more appealing to teens (think less beans and squash, and more meat and cheese) and bake desserts now and then, too. Here’s a small sampling of some of the things I’ve cooked for my fast-food-loving son, the foods he labels his package (bread, beef, sugar) and my foods too (veggies, spices, flavor).

I’ve been making hearty, delicious Middle Eastern spiced beef sandwiches for dinner recently, and I’ve always thought sandwich dinners are kind of summertime, so this was a nice change on a night so dark and cold that the dog wouldn’t go outside. The beef used here should be soft, because the cooking time is fast. I found sirloin steaks at the grocery store and the flavored ones were juicy and just right in the bread. For best texture, season the meat and let it rest on the counter for 30 minutes. They should all be at room temperature before you put them in the pan; This way, it will cook evenly.

Now, to the fun part: the flavor.

The mixture is a simple mixture of spices traditionally used for Middle Eastern barbecue: cumin and black pepper. It gets fun with a hint of cinnamon – not enough to really stand out like the cinnamon, but just enough to add a little warmth. Then there is the Aleppo pepper. Not as spicy as chile flakes, chili peppers are loved for their fruity flavour. If you don’t have it, or don’t want to search for it, don’t worry. See recipe notes for alternatives. As Elliot likes to say, “It’s all right.”

I made a salad with thick sandwiches, because, well, that’s what moms do, right? And since I count power as something I’m good at, I have to practice a lot. This particular salad is good in many ways: It’s a combination of warm, soft grains, crunchy vegetables, and shiny, pickled onions. The secret to making a good salad is to mix it up: different textures, lots of flavors and a rainbow of colours. Here, I chose couscous, and you probably know that this cereal is the one that goes under stews, especially Moroccan meat and vegetable dishes. I love couscous for its unparalleled ability to absorb any food and flavors put on it. In this recipe, it’s a simple seasoning—just a little extra virgin olive oil and lemon, which makes it fluffy and flavorful and forms the bedrock of herbs, cucumbers, and whatever else you want to add. This is definitely a dinnertime salad that gets ready for a happy lunch the next afternoon.

Finally, I made the cake. Elliott, and everyone in our house, loves cupcakes. He doesn’t get ready-made pies, so I have the market for these. This recipe calls for all-purpose flour and a small amount of cornmeal. It’s not enough to qualify them for corn muffins, but just enough to give each bite a little sweetness and soft breadcrumbs. I buy bags of frozen blueberries from Maine (and try to get them on sale), because they’re small and sweet and perfect for muffins, muffins, oatmeal and anywhere else where a little fruit or color brightens things up. Such cakes are best taken straight out of the oven, cut into two pieces, with a large amount of butter spread on both sides. The next day, I like to cut them in half and fry them in a little butter in a cast iron skillet. No ready-made pie can compare to this.

With Elliott leaving for college this calendar year, the joy of family cooking will be something I look back on fondly and remember something I once did for a husband and three kids every day. It’s about six months and two weeks until the youngest leaves for college, and until he goes, I’m against eating out. So I roll up my sleeves and keep making delicious foods, sandwiches, pastas, and lots of sugary baked goods. Egg sandwiches, though, I’ll leave it to the experts at the corner market.

Wrap steak marinated with middle eastern spices
Serves 4 generously

1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons Aleppo pepper (see note)
olive oil
2 pounds steak tips, or other lean ground beef
Pita bread to serve
Yogurt and tahini sauce, the following recipe
sesame seeds for garnish
Thyme leaves for garnish


  • Combine salt, cumin, black pepper, cinnamon and pepper in a small bowl. Stir until smooth. Place the beef in a large dish and spread the seasoning mixture on all sides of the meat. Let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 275 degrees and place the pita bread directly on the oven rack to heat up.
  • Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Pour a few tablespoons of olive oil and when the oil is hot (it will be glossy), add the beef. If the pan isn’t large enough to hold the beef without crowding, do it in batches.
  • Cook for 6 minutes total, flipping the pieces of meat until evenly cooked. Remove it from the pan and add more oil if you make more than one batch.
  • Divide the meat into four breads, pour with yoghurt sauce and tahini, garnish with sesame seeds and thyme leaves and serve.
  • Note: If you don’t have Aleppo pepper, use 1½4 teaspoons paprika and ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes.

Yogurt and tahini sauce
Makes about half a cup

Half a cup of flour
Half a cup of plain yogurt
juice of half a lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil
Half a teaspoon of salt
water as needed

  • Whisk the ingredients together until smooth. Add a little water, one tablespoon at a time, until light and so the sauce drips. Keep covered and refrigerated for 3 days.

***

Couscous salad with pickled onions and herbs
6 services

Half a cup of apple cider vinegar
1 cup boiling water
2 tablespoons of sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 small red onion cut into thin slices
3 cups cooked couscous (cook as directed on the box)
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
3 small Persian cucumbers (or ½ large), sliced
½ cup flat-leaf parsley
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
kosher salt
pepper
cup pitted olives (optional)

  • Combine vinegar, hot water, sugar and salt in a glass bowl and mix to dissolve sugar. Add the red onion and saute until it covers everything, separating and covering the pieces. Leave it to rest for an hour, or at least 30 minutes.
  • Mix couscous with tomatoes, cucumbers and parsley and mix well.
  • Whisk the olive oil and lemon together, then pour in just enough to moisten them. Taste and add salt and pepper.
  • Strain the onions.
  • Garnish the salad with onions and olives and serve. Best after resting for a few hours and serving at room temperature.

***

blueberry muffin
makes 12

2 cups flour
Half a cup of cornmeal
Half a cup of white sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 cup milk
12 cups neutral oil (canola, safflower, etc.)
1 cup frozen blueberries
To take first place:
2 tablespoons cornmeal
3 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons white sugar
3 tablespoons melted butter
pinch of salt

  • Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 12-cup muffin pan.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
  • Make a hole in the mixture and crack the egg, then pour in the milk and oil. Stir well to incorporate everything.
  • Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the berries.
  • Use an ice cream scoop to distribute evenly among the muffin tray.
  • Combine the garnishing ingredients in a small bowl and mix well until the butter is completely saturated. Divide evenly over cake mixture.
  • Bake for 20 minutes, or until the tops come back nice to the touch.

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