Cooking for kids can be totally demoralizing.
I don't even think of my kids as extraordinarily picky. I mean, my daughter devours brussels sprouts, and my son has been eating spicy Mexican food since before he could walk, so they can't be that bad, right?
Even so, I always try a new dish with trepidation, knowing I'm about to hear a chorus of boos, hisses and whining at the dinner table.
"But I don't liiiike it" (before they even touch a spoonful to their lips, mind you).
"Do I have to eat all of this?"
"Why can't we have spaghetti?"
I'm convinced that if I made spaghetti or pizza with a side of peas every night, I would never hear another complaint.
I think for adults, the complete lack of adventurousness in the childhood palate is probably the most discouraging thing. I love to try new flavors and ethnic dishes, and I like cooking that mixes a lot of flavors: curries or soups with meats and veggies, dishes that use unique spices, pesto with various fresh herbs. But my kids would prefer that no food item ever be mixed with any other food item, and if there's never a new flavor, so much the better. One recent night I made plain chicken, plain rice and plain peas. I was bored to death. My kids acted like it was the greatest dinner in the universe.
If I hadn't already been an enthusiastic cook long before my kids were born, I'd have never developed that passion after having kids. No wonder dinnertime is such a nuisance for so many parents.
That's why, when I tried two new food items recently, I just about fell over when my kids loved them. This never happens.
OK, I concede that my son was the only one who liked the Butternut Squash Soup (recipe online), but I always figure one out of two kids ain't bad -- and it helped that he ate it with true gusto, not just one night but two in a row. And both kids adored the Creamiest Slow Cooker Polenta (see recipe), probably in part because I topped it with my standard homemade spaghetti sauce -- something the kids recognize.
Choruses of "Wow, this is soooo good" are music to a Mommy's ears.
Mishmash of events
Speaking of "sooo good," there's an eclectic mix of food events in Pittsburgh this week:
Fit & Fusion: Learn how to eat healthy while eating out in this presentation by Dr. Kathy Yeo, a chiropractor and nutrition coach. 7 to 10 p.m. tonight at Tamari Warrendale. $45 includes mixer with healthy drinks, appetizers and a five-course meal. Register ahead: tamaripgh.com.
Brewski Festival: Specialty beers and food stations. 8 to 11 p.m. Friday and 7 to 10 p.m. Saturday, April 27, at Seven Springs Mountain Resort. Tickets start at $65. 7springs.com.
Podcast: Chef Tom Totin records his "Cookspeak!" podcast live at 11 a.m. each Saturday at Pittsburgh Public Market in the Strip District. This Saturday's guests are Rosemarie Perla and Kelsey Weisgerber, who have been teaching a series of classes in which they teach other people how to teach cooking classes (got that?).
Cheese demos: Alison Hooper, author of "In a Cheesemaker's Kitchen: Celebrating 25 Years of Artisanal Cheesemaking from Vermont Butter & Cheese Company," presents recipes from her book and offers cheese tastings at McGinnis Sisters stores. 7 p.m. May 1 in Monroeville and 7 p.m. May 2 in Mars. $15 per person. Reservations: 412-858-7000 or 724-779-1212.
Afternoon tea: Themed tables, scones, tea sandwiches, desserts, basket raffle and door prizes. 1:30 p.m. May 5 at St. Ferdinand Parish in Cranberry. $15 for adults or $6 for children. Reservations required by Sunday, April 28. 724-779-3986.
Book signing and tasting: Miriam Rubin, the PG's Miriam's Garden columnist, signs copies of her new book, "Tomatoes" (University of North Carolina Press, March 2013, $19), and offers a sampling of recipes. 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, April 26, at Artbeat Gallery, 52 East High Street, Waynesburg. Tomato plants from Waynesburg's Mother Earth Farm and hydroponic tomatoes from Davin's also will be for sale.
Pierogie class: Learn to make Pittsburgh's favorite food, but with a kick, with chef de cuisine Brian Volmrich during the Pittsburgh Cultural District's Gallery Crawl. 5:30 to 9 p.m. Friday, April 26, at Braddock's American Brasserie in the Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel, 107 Sixth St., Downtown. His twists include Braised Short Rib, Buffalo Chicken and Chocolate and Peanut. Free. Can you say "yum?"
Meet a celebrity chef: Susie Fishbein, author of the popular "Kosher by Design" cookbooks, demonstrates kosher cooking (with samples) at Cindy Gerber's home in Fox Chapel. 6:30 p.m. Weds., May 1. Tickets ($180, or $250 if you want to meet her in person) include a signed copy of her latest cookbook and a wine, cocktail and sushi reception. Proceeds benefit the Jewish Relief Agency. Reservations: 412-848-6052 or chabadfoxchapel.com.
Creamiest slow cooker polenta
I used skim milk because it was all I had on hand, and the polenta turned out great.
-- Rebecca Sodergren
1 cup whole milk
1 1/3 cups half-and-half, divided
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1/3 cup coarse polenta or corn grits
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Ground black pepper
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
Spray the bowl of a slow cooker with nonstick pan spray. Turn on the slow cooker to high.
Bring the milk, 1 cup of the half-and-half, 1 tablespoon of the butter, the polenta, salt and pepper to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, whisking constantly to avoid lumps. Cook until the polenta begins to thicken, 2 to 3 minutes, and then transfer it to the slow cooker. Cover the bowl and cook on high until the polenta is very thick and creamy, about 2 hours, giving it a quick stir every 10 minutes.
Heat the remaining 1/3 cup half-and-half in the microwave until it's warm, about 15 seconds. Remove the cover from the polenta and whisk in the remaining 1 tablespoon butter, the warm half-and-half, and the parmesan. Serve immediately. Serves 4.
-- "Ten Dollar Dinners" by Melissa d'Arabian (Clarkson Potter, 2012)
Butternut squash soup
2 small butternut squashes
2 large onions, chopped
2 large stalks celery, chopped
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons butter
3 cups chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon ground sage
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 cups heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Peel, seed and cube the squashes. Boil squash cubes until tender; drain and mash.
In a large stockpot, saute onions, celery and garlic powder in butter until golden. Add chicken stock, mashed squash, rosemary, sage and parsley. Bring to a boil; then simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat.
Puree half of the squash mixture in a food processor and return to pot. Add cream and season with salt and pepper. If necessary, return pot to heat just long enough to warm soup to desired temperature (do not boil). Dust soup with nutmeg and serve in a warmed tureen. Serves 12.
-- Adapted from a recipe from Rebecca Sodergren's mother, Carolyn Beinlich of Forwardrecipes - foodcolumn
Rebecca Sodergren: email@example.com or on Twitter: @pgfoodevents.