Borscht: Russian Beetroot Soup

Soup graces our dinner table at least twice a week. I find it to be one of the easiest, tastiest ways to pack nutrients into one healthy dish.  To open my email and find a Russian Borscht recipe from a dear friend warmed my day. (I believe this is the real deal as she’s from Russia) Reading this recipe in her own words felt like we were side-by-side in her kitchen, over tea, chatting about good food and simple recipes to feed our children.

I wish I still lived near my friend to borrow the potato that's missing. My beetroot was yellow making a light broth.

Put the beef (cubes or on the bone) in a pot and cover with water, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and cook until tender .

 Once the beef is tender, add shredded cabbage and small potato cubes

In the frying pan, fry onions and carrot, add beetroot grated on a big grater. Once cooked, add can of chopped tomatoes (or peeled fresh tomatoes) and cook for further 5 min.  

When the cabbage and potato are cooked, add the fried onions, carrots and beetroot into the pan & cook for 5 more minutes on low heat. Then cover & let rest for 5 min.  

Serve with a teaspoon of creme freche and fresh chopped dill.

P.S I don’t always use beetroot. The result is just as nice, but the color is a bit different. You can make a vegetarian option without any meat.

With cabbage and beetroots still plenty in the markets, Borscht will be our soup of the week until spring fully blooms.

This recipe is tasty and cozy, one that makes you feel at home. I hope mine gets a Russian wink of approval!

Lentils: As Winter Ends and Lent begins

The big round table central to papa’s parents’ flat in Rome changes like the seasons. Lentils appear in clay bowls with fall, and their hearty soup warms the pancia (tummy) all through winter’s cold nights. We are now cooking up our pantry’s last lentils until next fall.

The little pulses make a humble lent fare too.

I find the earthy, grainy flavor of lentils tough to balance. My mission tonight was savory lentils. This is how I proceeded:

2 fat garlic cloves smashed under a knife and sauteed in olive oil

225 g small green French lentils mixed into the oil until heated; stir to avoid stick or burn

1/2 of a large fresh tomato or scoop of canned or splash of passata mixed in until hot

add a splash of white cooking wine and cook until wine smell disappears

add 1 liter of water, a large rosemary sprig and a few cracks of black pepper

bring to a boil then gently simmer until lentils are just tender

salt generously just before lentils are cooked

let stand until warm before serving to let flavors settle

serve over polenta (recommend polenta meal to the instant one. sautee garlic in olive oil then cook according to package adding a rosemary sprig)

 grate Pecorino Romano cheese over the top.

I’m not sure this dish is chef approved, but ev especially enjoyed tonight’s winter dinner farewell!

The School Lunchbox: Now Fresh and Green (as in healthy not eco). Eat Me!

If dinner is a never-ending occupation, then school lunch is too. I do not know of a trick to get an empty lunchbox home from school. I do know I feel satisfied when ev eats a healthy lunch. Here are a few alternative lunch ideas I have noted from ev and pals’ snack/lunchbox hits:

  • Wraps  From tortillas to mountain bread, ev loves them rolled with melted cheese, spread with pureed beans like burritos (thinly to avoid ooze), or, like little friend Bea eats, with cold cheese and ham.
  • Pancakes Little flapjacks are a snack staple for us. I like the idea of milk, butter, eggs, flour and minimal to no sugar all-in-one. Homemade is always a plus with great recipes from buttermilk to scotch, even ricotta.  Breakfast makes leftovers for a change!
  • Steamed Veggie Bites  My friend Stef steams broccoli florets for her kids’ lunch. They eat them all up.  Ev does too.  A few drops of olive oil, drops of lemon (just a few!) and a pinch of salt leaves an empty container every time. Try carrots, green beans or your child’s favorite veggie (don’t forget the pinch of salt).
  • Carrots, Celery and Dip  These classics may be obvious, but the how could turn the yuck to a munch (nothing like a grainy mouth full of stalks and roots). Peel the outer layer of celery to lose the strings. Cut both thin and short for little mouths (see post in lunchbox series).  Opt for organic carrots with tops still on; you may find carrots sticks more often in your lunch too.  A tasty hummus will dip nicely.

Try new food ideas at home first!

ABCs of: The School Lunchbox

Since I do have to prepare one everyday, my goal is to minimize my effort and maximize lunch success (eaten). Some thoughts as I make the lunchbox:

1. Put yourself in ev’s shoes. If she has snack after a hot and sweaty romp on the playground, what would she enjoy most? Juicy melon bites. How about after a cold romp on the playground? Grapes and cheese bites. What does she enjoy eating most at home? Pasta!

2. Choose seasonal/regional over variety (when possible).  To eat seasonal foods IS to be varied. Where did all the pressure come from anyway to have a multi-colored, multi-ethnic DAILY-changing menu.  How do summer nectarines and peaches from Chile make sense when we have winter citrus and star fruits in Florida?   Each season offers a nice array of color, and, somewhere along the way, I heard a renowned doctor state that consistency in food is a good thing.  Did I mention that ev brought fusilli pasta EVERY day this week to school!

3. Neat and Trim.  Just the right amount in just the right size for ev’s little hands and mouth seems to go down better.  The stainless steel minis by KidsKonserve are perfect for small things like olives, cheese bites or whatever little munchies yours prefer.

Small veggie sticks become crunch in no time!

Autumn’s Apples and Caramel

I’ve noticed how I avoid apples as a snack for ev. Probably because I, myself, find them so boring. Or, probably, because they have become as staple a fruit as rice is a grain. They are always available. The thing is, apples are really delicious in season, and lately, we have been munching on the macintosh variety like they’re going out of season. I decided that our fruit bowl will be home to Autumn’s pomme only during the fall; that, ev could find apples just as interesting as summertime cherries if we enjoy them in their peak.

To welcome fall’s fruit, caramel apples have been in the back of my mind since the first days of autumn. I read this recipe on the Babyccino Blog and have made them twice now.  Even though ev prefers swiping the caramel drippings and piercing the apples with as many bamboo sticks that she can manage (we could do a porcupine apple craft ), I’d say they’re a hit!

Porcupine