Here are some recipes from my book, Friday Night Bites: Kick Off the Weekend with Recipes and Crafts for the Whole Family (Running Press). The book is a collection of themed dinners for families with kids; this one is the Dino Dinner.
When scientists talk about primordial soup, they mean the bodies of water full of different kinds of materials that came together to form the first life on Earth. The primordial soup we’re cooking here is full of several different kinds of ingredients that will help sustain life—for this dinner, at least. Inspired by Portuguese caldo verde, it’s warm, flavorful, and hearty enough to serve as a meal in itself—or as an accompaniment to the tasty quesadillas in this Dino Dinner. Portuguese cooks typically use a spicy chorizo sausage made of pork in their soup; I use turkey kielbasa because it has less fat than pork sausage but still has plenty of flavor. If your crowd likes their soup spicy, try turkey chorizo.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
12 to 16 ounces turkey kielbasa, or other flavorful precooked turkey sausage, cut in 1⁄4 -inch rounds
2 large or 3 mediumleeks, washed well (see note), trimmed and cut in 1⁄2 -inch pieces
1 (1 pound) bunch kale, washed, trimmed, and cut into chiffonade
11⁄2 quarts chicken stock
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large saucepan set over medium-high heat. Add the kielbasa and cook, stirring, for 2 to 3minutes, or until golden-brown on both sides.
Remove the pan from the heat, transfer the kielbasa to a plate, add 1 tablespoon oil and the leeks to the pan, and return the pan to the heat. Cook the leeks, stirring, for about 2 to 3minutes, or until softened and translucent.
Add the kale and cook for 1 to 2minutes, or just until all the pieces are wilted and brilliant green in color, adding a little more oil if necessary. Return the kielbasa to the pan, add the stock, and simmer for about 5 minutes, or until the stock is heated through. Keep warm until ready to serve.
Note: To wash leeks, first trim off the hard, papery outer green leaves; cut off the top, down to the pale green part, and then peel off any below that point that look too hard to eat. Then place the leek on a work surface, hold it at the root end, and with a sharp knife, make a lengthwise cut, starting about an inch from the root and extending the full length of the leek. Rotate the leek 90 degrees and make another lengthwise cut. Still holding the root, wash each section carefully under running water, letting the water get in between each layer until the leek is entirely clean. Rinse your work surface as well and place the leek back on it. Trim off any remaining hard leaves. Gather the sections of the leek back together and slice crosswise in 1⁄2 -inch pieces. Discard the root.
As befitting a dinosaur, when the Quesadillasaurus is assembled and garnished, it likely won’t fit on an average dinner plate. The solution? Just for tonight, instead of plates, use sheets of parchment paper or pretty placemats instead. If you think any of the folks at your table will want more than one Quesadillasaurus, add the required number of tortillas and increase the filling ingredients proportionately. Scallions and grape tomatoes serve as the neck, head, tail, and legs, but if you wish, you can substitute other ingredients that your personal paleontologists might prefer.
Makes 4 servings
2 cups shredded Cheddar or Mexican blend cheese
1 scallion, trimmed and finely chopped, plus 4more scallions, halved crosswise, divided
2 grape tomatoes, chopped, plus 6 grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise, divided
4 best-quality (8-inch) flour tortillas
Place an oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 450°F. Prepare 4 (10- x 12-inch) sheets of aluminum foil or parchment paper.
Combine the cheese, chopped scallion, and chopped tomato in a small bowl, and toss to distribute the vegetables evenly throughout the cheese. Place 1 sheet of foil on a work surface, and center 1 tortilla on it. Arrange about 1⁄2 cup of the cheese mixture on one half of the tortilla, leaving the other half empty so that you can fold it over the cheese; leave a border of about 1⁄2 -inch around the cheese, so that it does not ooze out as it melts. Fold the “empty” half of the tortilla over the cheese and press lightly. Make a foil packet by folding the foil over the quesadilla on all sides. Make 3more quesadillas in foil with the remaining ingredients. Place the quesadillas on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the tortillas are slightly crispy. (You can open a packet and check if you’re not sure.)
Meanwhile, prepare 4 sheets of parchment paper, about 16 by 10 inches or 4 placemats. Place the halved scallions and grape tomatoes on a serving platter and set aside.
When they are done, remove the quesadillas from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Place on a serving platter. When you are ready to serve, place 1 parchment sheet or mat at each person’s place at the table. Place a quesadilla on the parchment sheet, curved side facing away from you. Make a neck by placing the tip of a scallion half on one side of the quesadilla and position the scallion so it extends like a long neck. Place a half tomato at the end for the head. Make a tail by placing the other scallion half at the other side of the quesadilla and letting it extend out like a tail. Place 4 tomato halves at the bottom of the quesadilla to make legs. Eat up!
This salad is named for the long, sharp teeth of the sabertooth cats that developed on Earth bout 34 million years ago. Technically, they came after the dinosaurs, but they’re still prehistoric, so they’re appropriate for this dinner. Use your imagination, and baby corn can look a bit like a long, sharp tooth—a sabertooth. Add a handful of cashews (salted or not according to your preference) for sharp fangs, and you’ve got the full set of choppers. But these “teeth” won’t hurt anybody at your table; you bite them. If anybody at your table is allergic to nuts, just omit them.
Makes 4 servings
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon hickory-flavored barbecue sauce
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1⁄4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste (optional)
Canned baby corn, rinsed and drained, plus more to taste
1 (5- or 7-ounce bag) mixed greens, washed and dried
1⁄4 to 1⁄ cup salted or unsalted cashews
1 tablespoon snipped fresh chives
Mix the lime juice, barbecue sauce, oil, salt, and pepper, if using, in a shallow container. Place the corn into the container and roll to coat. Set aside.
Just before you are ready to serve, place the greens, cashews, if you are using them, and chives into a bowl. Add the corn and all of the dressing from the container. Toss gently to coat the greens. Divide among 4 salad bowls, making sure that each has at least 2 corn cobs. You can stick the pointy end of the corns up out of the salad if you like.
Kids love chocolate turtles; here we go back in time and visit their prehistoric ancestor, the
Dinoturtle, which looks a bit like a stegosaurus, with pointy plates and spikes running down its back and tail. The bowl you use to melt the chocolate must be clean and absolutely dry. Even tiny amounts of liquid can make the chocolate seize and become grainy. Use a medium-sized or large bowl so the chocolate will melt evenly. Milk or dark chocolate or chocolate chips are fine for this recipe; use whichever you prefer.
Makes 12 dinosaurs
Nonstick cooking spray, as needed
24 soft caramels (about 6 ounces)
1 cup (about 4 ounces) pecan halves, cut in half lengthwise (substitute almond slivers)
11⁄2 cups (about 9 ounces) milk or dark chocolate, finely chopped (or chocolate chips)
12 sesame seeds or tiny candies, for eyes (optional)
Line a baking sheet with a nonstick insert sheet or spray a nonstick baking sheet lightly with nonstick cooking spray.
Working with a few at a time, place the unwrapped caramels on a microwavable plate, and microwave on medium power for 10 to 15 seconds, or until pliable. Work carefully, as sugar doesn’t always absorb microwaves evenly and there can be hot spots; feel each caramel before letting children handle them. With your hands, roll 2 caramels together to form a smooth log. Shape the caramel log into a dinosaur (imagine a stegosaurus shape) by elongating one end into a neck and head and the other into a tail. Flatten the middle a bit, but keep it nice and round. At the bottom of the middle, make two small pinches and stretch the caramel down to form short legs. You should now have a shape that resembles a dinosaur!). Repeat with the remaining caramels.
Place them on the prepared baking sheet. Starting at the top rounded edge of a dinosaur (where its backbone would be), place pieces of nut under the edge of the caramel to form spikes. Use large pieces for the back and progressively smaller pieces along the tail. Don’t worry if they don’t adhere completely at this point, as the chocolate will hold them to the candies.
Place the chocolate into a perfectly dry microwavable bowl, and microwave at medium power for 1minute. Stir it with a dry spoon or spatula. Microwave for another 30 seconds and then stir again. Continue microwaving 30 seconds at a time, then stirring, until the chocolate is almost melted, which should take about 2 to 3 minutes in all.
Scoop about 1 tablespoon of the melted chocolate onto the dinosaur’s back. With a small butter knife, pastry brush, or the wooden stick that comes in some caramel bags, quickly smooth the chocolate over the candy, letting some chocolate run onto the nuts where they are attached to the caramel. If you like, place a sesame seed or candy or a very small piece of nut on the head where the eye would be. Let the chocolate harden at room temperature.