Book Review: The Toddler Cookbook

28 05 2008

An obscenely long time ago I received an email from the good folks at DK Publishing, asking me if I wanted to review a new cookbook coming out in the spring. At first I thought it was a joke, but after exchanging emails with them a copy actually arrived in the mail. So here I am giving my first cookbook review.

Let me begin by expressing my admiration to DK Publishing. It takes a lot of guts to ask a blog named Mark Ruins Dinner for a review of your cookbook. You just know it’s going to be fraught with mishaps. And so it was.

The Toddler Cookbook is written by Annabel Karmel. Click here to visit DK’s website and see a video of Annabel demonstrating one of the recipes in her cookbook. That’s pretty cool.

The Toddler Cookbook is meant to be a child’s first introduction to cooking. The recommended age is 7 and up. The first thing after the table of contents is a little introduction to some of the things you do when you cook. Things like crushing garlic (kids love to crush anything), kneading dough, separating eggs (she wants me to let my kids do that?), and, what’s this…beating egg whites! Yes, there it is on page 5, complete with photo examples of soft peaks and stiff peaks. I like her already. Then there’s a page showing some of the neat tools you get to use when you cook. Jonathan’s favorite by far is the potato masher.

Then the recipes begin. I gotta hand it to this author, she doesn’t lower the nutrition level just to ensure the kids will eat her food. I never thought I’d see chicken salad in lettuce boats in a cookbook for kids, but there they are. Applause is due.

The first thing we made was the banana muffins. I was very excited to make these, they looked so good. So I had the boys help me. Jonathan enjoyed lining the muffin tin and cracking the eggs.

Isaac had fun mashing the banana. The batter was very easy to prepare, but it didn’t make quite as many muffins as the recipe said. The book said it would make 18 muffins, I got 8.

Looking again at the cookbook I realized it said Mini banana muffins. Wonderful. So I got half as many and they took twice as long to bake, but they came out nice.

And the boys enjoyed them.

Next I decided to make the Chicken Dippers. Who doesn’t like crispy chicken strips? And they were cheesy! First there was a buttermilk marinade for the chicken and that went off without a hitch. Then I went to make the breading. I read off the ingredients:
5oz bag of cheese flavored potato chips
5 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
6 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 egg

Great. I dump it all into a bowl and mix it together.

I never claimed to have any brains at all. When it started to form these huge clumps I thought I might have done something wrong. I then looked at the instructions and they said, quite clearly and with illustrations “Flour, then egg, then crumbs.” Oho.

See how the child in the picture is doing this better than me? Starting over, I made the breading properly. And when they were done I served them with ketchup on the side.

The boys liked them a lot. Of course they did.

So it’s a good little cookbook with some pretty healthy food in it, and it seems that even my kids would like most of what’s in there. I’m actually looking forward to making the Easy Cheesy bread rolls and the Little Pita Pizza, and that roasted cherry tomato sauce looks really good. I do wish it was a bit longer, but I suppose that’s the case with most cookbooks. My apologies to Ms. Karmel for the delay in writing this review. And as for the mistakes along the way, what’s this blog called, anyway?

Officially summer

26 05 2008

It took Mother Nature until Memorial Day weekend to get the memo that she was supposed to be warming things up. This has been a very cold and rainy spring, but this past weekend was glorious. That is, until dinnertime on Monday.

Isn’t that awesome? Just about the time I go outside to fire up the grill I feel raindrops. Karen made some kebabs, and those actually cooked on the grill, but the chicken ended up being cooked in the microwave and seared on the grill. While pulling the chicken off the grill in the rain I dropped one of the drumsticks on the ground in my haste. Oops.

We actually grilled every day this weekend, which was sweet. Sunday’s main course consisted of mesquite smoked chicken with homemade BBQ sauce. I got it from Weber’s cookbook and it turned out pretty good. It was for a whole chicken cut in half and cooked on the grill. I got the mesquite chips from Lowe’s because that’s where all good food comes from. But the recipe called for granulated garlic and onion. Here in PA farm country we don’t like that spicy food so we don’t carry it. I used minced instead, and it tasted okay to me. The directions said to use indirect heat, which looks like this:

And then it said to close the lid and let it cook for an hour and fifteen minutes. Remember what happens to chicken when I close the lid on the gas grill? Me too. At this point I’m scared because it’s almost 7:00pm and I’m just now making dinner and if it’s Chernobyl Chicken we’re eating it anyway. Then the spices on the skin turn this really encouraging shade of black, and I’m checking to see if Papa John’s is still on speed dial. But as it turns out this method of grilling chicken wasn’t all that bad. The drumsticks and wings dried out a bit (the kids eat those parts, so who cares?), but the breast and thighs were very juicy. Who knew? Just cut the bird in half and toss it on the grill. Karen said she could taste the mesquite smoke, but I wasn’t really sure what that tastes like, so I don’t know. But it did taste better than it looked.

Karen can vouch for me (this is the point where Karen speaks up and vouches for me).

My colonoscopy

19 05 2008

If you want to stop now, Karen has a wonderful post about Ben on her blog You’ll probably enjoy that a lot more anyway.

The love of my life has betrayed me. I tried everything, but she won’t stop hurting me, causing me anguish and agony. But since my love knows no bounds, I was willing to endure even more torture and humiliation to save our relationship. Such is my love affair with coffee. It’s like coffee was trying to get rid of me, pawn me off on the toilet or something.

And it wasn’t just coffee. I was developing sensitivities to some of my favorite foods, so I visited the local GI specialist, fearing what he would say. My fears were confirmed. He said two things. “Don’t drink coffee” and “colonoscopy.”

The first thing everyone tells you who’s been through this is that the procedure is the easy part. After that bowel prep you won’t care what else happens to you, it’ll be a walk in the park by comparison. This did little to raise my spirits as I prepared mentally for the task at hand. The torture device that you self-administer is a beverage called HalfLytely, which comes in its own two liter bottle. From what I hear this was a replacement for the old drink called GoLytely (this was 4 liters), which may be the most inaccurately named product ever. There is nothing light about how you go, trust me. So the self torture device comes in three flavors: Yuck, Nasty, and Puke. The good news is that it doesn’t color the liquid any. But everywhere you look you read DRINK THE ENTIRE CONTENTS OF THE BOTTLE!!!!!!!!! If there’s one thing I didn’t want, it was to have to do this again, so I drank the whole thing.

The next morning I went to the doctor’s and I was greeted with the same question by everyone I saw. “How did the bowel prep go?” Shitty, how do you think it went? Does anyone say “Great! I haven’t had a good purge in years. Can I have another one next month?” My loving and supportive wife brought along a camera to preserve this event forever. I’m surprised that she didn’t bring a camcorder.

Go ahead, take another picture

Now that we’re on the flipside, Karen probably wishes that she had brought a camcorder. The procedure itself was nothing to talk about. That is, because I don’t remember a thing. But Karen remembers how much talking I did when I was coming out of it. I’m not sure what was in that white stuff he injected into my veins, but I’m willing to bet it was veritaserum or some other drug that makes you spill your guts and air your laundry. Thank God there was no court stenographer in the room or I’d probably be posting this from a federal prison or something. But I really was in a good mood when I came out of it.

Can I have some more

The doctor said “Mark, I’ve done a lot of endoscopies and nobody talks as much as you did.” Karen was mortified to hear the embarrassing things I was saying in the recovery room with a bunch of old people well within earshot. Maybe this is why my sister tries to get me drunk every time we visit.

Yes, I still cook sometimes

12 05 2008

It’s been a while since I posted about food. This was Mother’s Day weekend, so that means we make some special things for Mommy that we hope know she’ll like. And it doesn’t count unless I feed her something I’ve never made before. If you’re going to make something awful, why not do it on Mom’s special day? But the boys helped me this time, so she had to say she liked it, even if she didn’t.

For months I’ve been dying to try what Alton Brown calls the world’s best banana ice cream. Since we just got an ice cream attachment for the stand mixer, I figured why not. So early Saturday morning I had Isaac go downstairs with me to help me freeze the bananas. After reading the reviews of the recipe I knew to peel them first. After they were frozen and thawed I assembled the ingredients and had Isaac and Jonathan put them in the food processor. After that it was just chill and run the ice cream maker.

That was pretty easy, but then I thought banana – chocolate swirl ice cream would be even better. I saw in one of Emeril’s cookbooks that he uses 6 ounces of chocolate and 2 tablespoons of oil to make vanilla – chocolate swirl ice cream, so that’s exactly what I do. It didn’t swirl. The ice cream froze the chocolate into rock hard ribbons dispersed throughout the dessert. Yummy, huh?

But then I thought “That was too easy, Karen will never let me get away with just that.” So I made this strawberry – almond cream tart to go with the ice cream. Desserts are a lot of fun to make. For this I also read the reviews so I knew to omit half the sugar from the strawberry topping and to add a little extra butter to the crust. It came out really well, thanks to our Carolina strawberries that were very sweet. We’ll have them locally in another month or so I think.

So the desserts went over well, and the everyone enjoyed them. Except for Isaac, who only ate the ice cream. The boys were very proud that they got to help make it. The biggest hit of the day, though, was a beverage made from cran-raspberry juice and soda water. Karen raved about it. Of course she did, it took no effort.

…and one more on the way

5 05 2008

find the adult in the picture

Life is very interesting when you have all boys. I have three, very soon to be four.

Life with boys includes, but is not limited to:

Farting noises

Uranus jokes


Video games

Toy dissection

Knights and battles

I have also made some observations along the way:

1. Never say “okay” if you weren’t paying attention to the question.

2. Fighting over the baby brother can quickly turn into fighting on the baby brother.

3. A single baby fart can entertain the older brothers for hours.

4. So can a baby booger.

5. Boys have the coolest section in the toy store and the Disney store.

6. But not the clothing store.

Ben is two today

1 05 2008

I thought of it myself

Well technically his birthday was Wednesday. It took me a while to come up with something to write, though, because at first I was kind of sad. Remembering back to what was happening in the days after Ben was born can be tough. We were glad to have the little guy around, but sad that he’d have to deal with these disabilities his whole life. And Ben is developing very slowly. But then I started looking through the pictures we’ve taken throughout the last year and it made me feel better. It’s very cool to look at where we’ve been and see how far we’ve come. So that’s what I’m going to do.

This is how small Benjamin was when he was first born:

Here he was a year later, on his first birthday:

Isn’t Mommy pretty?  Since his last birthday he’s learned to do a few new things. He’s started rolling over onto his belly by himself consistently.

He’s even started rolling around the room to get to toys.

He’s learned to hold onto things, like toys,










drumsticks (he also likes to play the drums),

and even his mic-key tube.

He’s even started bringing things to his mouth, which we think is very cool.

But the coolest of the cool is that he sits up by himself very well now, and he likes doing it.

I just need to work with him on his balance so that he can catch himself before listing over too far. There is a point of no return on that right side since he has no way to catch himself over there. In the past year we haven’t made a whole lot of progress with “mouth food,” but I like to attribute that to the fact that he’s been teething constantly since Thanksgiving.  Ben is interested in food, but it usually takes some convincing to get it near his mouth.

Happy Birthday Ben. We love you.