Guest Post- Cooking with Kids: Meatballs

UPDATED 11/19/13- Nicole Elizabeth is launching a new website soon! In the meantime, I don’t have access to the photos for this recipe, so the links were broken. I will hopefully be able to add them back in eventually, but the recipe is still accessible below. You can check out Nicole Elizabeth’s new Facebook page HERE.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve heard comments from students and friends that paint a picture of how they imagine my life in the kitchen must be. Their comments are usually peppered with words like “organized,” “focused,” “effortless,” “relaxed,” and “efficient.” The general idea seems to be that I always cook in a well-lit kitchen with my photo-ready mise en place and my professional-grade range. I leisurely work my way through recipes while my children play contentedly at my feet, and I somehow manage to keep my vintage-inspired apron free of stains, smudges, or any other signs that I have actually been cooking. Oh, and did I mention I cook in heels? The whole image is very warm, homespun chic, and couldn’t be further from the truth. The reality of most days in the kitchen usually involves me in my cramped, poorly-lit apartment kitchen, still wearing last night’s yoga pants and some ratty t-shirt that I pulled from my husband’s side of the closet, hurriedly cramming as much ingredient prep as I can into nap time. Once the kids are up, the majority of my cooking is either improvised or on autopilot and done with a baby or toddler on my hip while I cook over a stove with only three working burners, two of which are crooked. Martha Stewart, I am not.

A couple of days a week, however, I try to set aside the usual frenetic pace of our afternoon and evening routine and, instead of going to the park or doing arts and crafts with my toddler, we cook dinner together. Most people are surprised that I would enlist the help of a two year old in the kitchen because of the extra cleanup involved, but cooking is much easier when she is happily helping than it is when I’m trying to work around her, so it just makes sense to let her help. She is inquisitive, bright, learns quickly, and is already quite the little sous chef, and nothing beats her smile and her contagious laugh when she is doing something she loves.

How does someone let their child get involved with cooking from such a young age? It takes a little advance planning and patience, but not much else. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

First, don’t tackle a recipe that intimidates you. Cook something you are comfortable with and have made a few times before so that you don’t have any surprises sneak up on you when you already have your hands full with your child.

Second, take a look at the recipe and separate the steps that your child can do either alone or with help from the ones you have to do by yourself. For example, in the meatball recipe below, my daughter didn’t help with any of the steps that involved raw meat and eggs since I know she will do everything in her power to taste whatever she is working with. She mixed the dry ingredients by hand and squeezed the excess liquid from the spinach on her own, and she measured the seasonings with my help. Knowing ahead of time what your child can do will help you with time management and organization.

Third, plan more time than you think you will need. Cooking with your kids isn’t just about cooking. It’s about spending quality time with them, teaching them skills that will benefit them for the rest of their lives, and connecting with them in a way that not many other things allow. You’re elbow to elbow with them for a couple of hours straight, working toward a common goal, with no electronic distractions and plenty of time to talk. Give yourself enough time to really enjoy it.

I have two favorite meatball recipes, and this is the one I usually make before it gets too cold outside. These are not heavy, fatty meatballs, but they’re still substantial enough that you only need a couple on your plate to feel satisfied. As I said in my example above, there is plenty for even a young toddler to do here, and older children can do more, like help incorporate the dry ingredients into the meat and form the meatballs, or even swap out ingredients and change the flavor profile. I like to make double or triple batches and freeze the extras for days that I’m short on time. Keep a small batch of tomato sauce in the freezer, too, and you’ll always have something on hand to throw over rice, pasta, or polenta. The amounts given in the recipe below are for a double batch, which is about 55 meatballs for me, but that will vary depending on how large you make your meatballs. If that sounds like too much, cut the recipe in half for a single batch.

Baked Meatballs

Adapted from Alton Brown

1 lb. each of ground pork, ground lamb, and ground round

2 eggs, lightly beaten (toddler can help beat the eggs)

10 oz. chopped frozen spinach, thawed, and squeezed of excess water (toddler-friendly task)

1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano

3 teaspoons each of dried basil and dried parsley

2 teaspoons each of garlic powder and kosher salt

Up to 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes

1 cup bread crumbs

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line two jellyroll pans (cookie sheets) with parchment.

2. In a large bowl, add the ground meats, eggs, and spinach, but to avoid excess mixing (which makes for a tough meatball), wait to mix them together until the dry ingredients are added. Set aside.

3. In another large bowl, add cheese, herbs, seasonings, and bread crumbs and mix thoroughly with your hands. Toddlers love this part.

4. Add the meat mixture to the breadcrumb mixture and lightly mix until well incorporated. Try to avoid mashing the meat, as this will make tough meatballs. You can use the mixture immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to a day.

5. To form the meatballs, roll pieces of the meat mixture into generous golf ball-sized portions and place on parchment-lined cookie sheets. Bake for 2o minutes or until golden brown and cooked through.

Nicole Muvundamina at The Fresh Kitchen teaches in-home cooking classes in the western Chicago suburbs. She works with home cooks of all levels, but she has a soft spot for moms who feel completely clueless in the kitchen. Her goal is to take the intimidation out of cooking and make it fun and approachable for newbies, and to get people who already know their way around the kitchen to step out of their culinary comfort zones and try something new! Follow The Fresh Kitchen on Twitter @TheFreshKitchen and Facebook: TheFreshKitchen.

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CLOSED- Green Family Giveaway Blog Hop #gbgreenfam Sept. 15-30

The Green Family Giveaway blog hop is finally here! Almost 40 bloggers have teamed up for this event. There are great giveaways with “green” and family-friendly prizes offered on each blog! Make sure you “hop” from blog to blog and enter all these awesome giveaways!

Glow Bug Cloth Diapers is the grand prize sponsor for the Green Family giveaway. One lucky reader will win a complete cloth diaper stash! The stash includes 24 cloth diapers with inserts featuring the newest prints! The winner will be able to choose from either a boy set or a girl set.

Enter the Grand Prize Giveaway!

Disclosure: Formula Mom, and the Green Family bloggers are not responsible for sponsors that fail to fulfill their prizes.

For the giveaway held on this blog, I’m teaming up with Amy and Michelle from The Knotted Pineapple and Gina from Gina Jordan’s Shop to bring you beautiful handmade items! Sorry, this giveaway is open to U.S. residents only!

The Knotted Pineapple offers hip and trendy crotched pieces to suit the modern child (or adult)! Amy and Michelle will be giving away any custom item from their shop. Visit their store to check out their lovely handmade beanies, earflap hats, and headbands, valued at $16-28!

Keeping with our theme of being “green,” Gina Jordan’s Shop will be giving away 30 paperless towels, an eco-friendly alternative to paper towels! That’s a $25 value! Paperless towels are an easy way to eliminate trash and and reduce your impact on the environment.

From Gina:

These paper-less towels are super absorbent, premium quality, 100% birds eye cotton and are serged around the edges for a clean finish. You can expect these work-horses to last for a very long time. I have used mine for about 2 years, and have washed them about 200 times each……still going strong! Use them to mop up any spill, dry your hands, or for any typical use of paper towels. I throw mine in the washer and dryer with any and all loads of laundry (they take up very little space), because no special care is required.

One winner will be chosen at random via Rafflecopter. The winner will be sent an email and will have forty-eight hours to respond, or another winner will be chosen.

Enter to win The Knotted Pineapple and GinaJordan giveaway through the Rafflecopter form below:

Winner:
Entry #168 Nikki H.

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“17 beheaded in Afghanistan for dancing”

I woke up in a fairly good mood this morning, but when I turned on my computer to check the weather, I saw the above headline.

When I think of Afghanistan, I have a heavy heart. Not just for the American and coalition lives lost in that country, but for the people that live there. All those children. Afghanistan has the highest infant mortality rate in the world. Their maternal mortality rate is one of the highest in the world as well, and Afghanistan was recently determined to be the most dangerous country in the world for women.

I read news articles regularly about U.S. deaths in Afghanistan, and they anger me. Yes, I loathe hearing about U.S. troops being killed, especially when they’re murdered by those working with them on a daily basis.

It’s so easy to say “drop a bomb on them” or “wipe them out” or “leave them to kill each other off.”

But then I think of what I saw:

I remember this little boy who lost his left leg when he stepped on an anti-personnel mine. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, and when the last Russian soldier left a decade later, Afghanistan was one of the most heavily-mined countries in the world. In 2008, more than 62,000 anti-personnel mines were destroyed. As of 2010, there are still at least 6,000 land mine or unexploded ordnance (UXO) sites, let alone individual mines. His father brought him to the local base for treatment. He came running up to the gates, carrying his bleeding little boy.

If you click on this, you can read a story I wrote in 2009 about a young Afghan woman I remember. She finally discovered she was pregnant after several years of marriage. That woman was so happy that day, that she let me photograph her without her veil. I’ve never uploaded that photo to the Internet, for fear that someone might recognize her, and punish her for “exposing” herself. (Highly unlikely, I know, but some of my writing -completely twisted- was featured on a pro-insurgency site, so they have looked at my work before).

I remember this little girl, living on the side of the rugged Hindu Kush mountains. Her father brought her in to have her burned leg treated at a small American-run forward operating base. Most villagers in the area are afraid to come here for treatment (there’s a lot of insurgent activity). I remember this father held his little girl close when she was frightened and in pain, and he looked at her with love and gentleness in his eyes.

I remember the young female English teacher, probably around 23 or 24 years old. Her dream was to move to American one day. She told me, proudly, that she never intended to marry. Very feminist words indeed for an Afghan woman!

I remember these girls and many like them. Forbidden during the Taliban reign, these girls now attend school.

I know the media rarely shows it (everyone has a boss, and everyone has an agenda), but there are good things happening there with our presence. These are just a few snapshots of many wonderful things I witnessed, especially for the women.

But I also remember the young Soldier, barely a legal adult, with a bullet hole in the front of the vest that saved his life.

I remember the wiggly, black body bags carried on stretchers to the helicopter.

I remember the silent ranks of infantry Soldiers staring at the just-unveiled memorial.

There will always be countries in dire need of saving. But can we really?

As a continent, Africa really burdens me. The Congo is a horrific place for women and girls to live, because rape is commonplace. In Somalia, about 95% of girls between the ages of 4 and 11 experience female genital mutilation (FGM). Many of you have probably heard of the Invisible Children in Uganda. The recent riots and killings in South Africa tell us of the country’s deep-rooted troubles.

It’s been estimated that more than 20 million people at one time are victims of human trafficking…most of them women and girls.

I’m not saying that it’s worth it for us to be the world’s policeman. I’m not saying that it’s worth the 2,000+ American lives that Operation Enduring Freedom has cost us (so far). But I am saying that to me, there are faces in this equation. Afghanistan is not just an evil country somewhere far away.

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