Food Buzz

Because maybe you do care what I had for lunch...

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Green eggs and ham

Ordinarily I do not believe in disguising food for children. I think young eaters need to be introduced to new foods as they are, in all their spinachness, or squashness, or what have you. But when my son told us over and over again that he does not like asparagus, long past spring when I had stopped cooking it, walking up the subway stairs when there had been no mention of asparagus for five months, I detected a challenge. And I knew that challenge could be met only through duplicity.

According to popular wisdom a child must taste a food at least five (or is it 10? 20?) times before he or she will accept it. Perhaps I could somehow cloak the asparagus so Jasper did not even realize he was eating it. If I manged to deceive him enough times, perhaps he would come to accept asparagus in its full... asparagusness. Someday. Thus my first attempt.

Green Eggs and Ham has been in heavy rotation in our household. What if I used asparagus to make my own souffle version of green eggs and ham?

I started while he was getting sucked into the Sesame Workshop mind trap by chopping up one bunch of asparagus, boiling until tender, and then pureeing into green mush. I set that aside until later that day.

Like many three-year-olds, Jasper is interested in everything we do. Since I love cooking he often likes to help out. What better way to induce him into eating the green eggs and ham than to encourage him to help me make them? He cracked eggs, stirred with his toy-sized whisk, added flour, and witnessed the magic of whipped egg whites. Here's what we did.

Start by making a mustard-flavored bechamel sauce. Steep 1 1/4 cup milk, 1 teaspoon dry mustard, and a shallot with a bay leaf attached by two whole cloves (an idea stolen from the Joy of Cooking) for about 15 minutes. In another small pan I melted 3 tablespoons butter. I stirred in 3 tablespoons flour and cooked for about a minute before slowly stirring in the milk. I let that cook, stirring and adding a bit of salt, until the sauce was nice and thick.

I preheated the oven to 375 degrees and buttered a souffle dish, dusting with grated Parmesan. Then I diced some ham, browned it, and spread it over the bottom of the dish. We separated six eggs, yolks in one large bowl and whites in another large bowl. (Doesn't it sound like there should be some sort of legislation to address that situation?) And then we grated about 3/4 cup cheddar cheese into the egg yolks. I used one of my all-time favorites, Applewood Derby, but just about any big, friendly, mild cheddar will play well with asparagus. We slowly stirred in the (slightly cooled) bechamel sauce and added a bit more salt.

Then came the exciting part. We stirred in the "secret green ingredient" (1 1/2 cups asparagus). Amazingly, my curious little boy did not ask me what exactly that secret green ingredient was. Don't you love three? A five year old, probably even a four year old, would not be so compliant with that kind of magic talk.

Then came the other exciting part, whipping the egg whites until stiff and folding in batches into the batter. We poured it all into the dish and baked it for 40 minutes.

The result tasted enough like asparagus to please the adult eaters. It was lovely with the lard bread I bought at Caputo's, a marvelous Italian bakery in Carroll Gardens. (Lard as in ham; the bread has chunks of prosciutto and provolone). The bread went well with the souffle and especially with that Riesling jelly I bought in Alsace.

As for Jasper, readers, he ate the asparagus souffle and liked it.

I made a production of dramatizing Green Eggs and Ham a bit while he tried it out. Jasper gamely pretended to reject it before tasting it and declaring it yummy. Yes! We are one step closer to asparagus acceptance. Next step: buckwheat crepes stuffed with mushrooms and cheese topped with mystery green sauce. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile I really think incorporating a story and involving Jasper in the cooking made almost as much of a difference as disguising the asparagus did. More than conning my kid into liking an admittedly strong-tasting vegetable I am teaching Jasper to love all aspects of food, cooking as well as eating. I read something a while back about forming one's own family "culture." Some families are into sports, others music. Our family culture includes the pleasures of the table and kitchen.

1 comment:

liz said...

what a great idea....i do smoothies cos we have one that rejects milk (not so hard to get into his body what with yogurt, etc.) but I feel so sneaky when he downs the smoothies!

I do need to take it to the next level with veggies....