Getting some help in the kitchen
Wednesday, August 23, 2006 Children can be a real asset. By NADIA LERNER STAMFORD ADVOCATE Debra Ponzek has kitchens full of chefs preparing food for her popular Connecticut specialty food chain/catering establishment Aux Delices. At home in Greenwich, there's also a kitchenful of chefs. This crew — daughter Remy, 10, and sons Cole, 8, and Gray, 5 — helps Mom make dinner. Inspired by her kids' desire to cook with her, Ponzek wrote "The Family Kitchen." This cookbook, her third, features 125 easy dishes that parents and children can make together. Each recipe has a "Call the Kids" section listing tasks that can easily be tackled by the younger set (under a parent's supervision). The book includes recipes for zucchini and Cheddar frittatas; grilled flank steak; vegetable soup with pesto; and roasted asparagus. "Simple meals, nothing crazy," says Ponzek, interviewed at her Stamford headquarters. "But kids are really capable of more than we think they are. We put them into making things like desserts and breakfast, which they love, but they can go beyond that." Kids enjoy what they cook, says Ponzek, former prize-winning executive chef at Montrachet in Manhattan. After one of her sons attended a children's cooking class at Aux Delices where they made butternut squash gnocchi, he developed a taste for it. "I think it's good when they get to see what goes into it,. They really like to reap the rewards of their effort, just like an adult does." Recipes in the book were culled from those prepared at Aux Delices and meals Ponzek cooks at home. A lot of the main courses are light in nature, using simple marinades and sauces. "I try to get my kids to eat healthy. It's really about freshly prepared vegetables, using a lot of herbs, vinaigrettes, which is generally the way we cook here." As to desserts, Ponzek admits she is a purist. So those in her book — such as turtle brownies, French toast bread pudding and creamy chocolate-cinnamon pudding with whipped cream — are definitely not low-fat. FRESH BERRY BISMARCK 2 tablespoons unsalted butter 1/2 cup all-purpose flour 1/2 cup milk 2 large eggs Pinch of salt Pure maple syrup Fresh raspberries, blueberries or strawberries Confectioners' sugar Special equipment: a 10-inch ovenproof saute pan Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Measure the flour and milk. Whisk the butter. Put the butter in a 10-inch ovenproof saute pan and heat in the oven until the butter melts and begins to bubble. Watch this carefully so that the butter does not burn. Meanwhile, in a large bowl and using a wire whisk or hand-held electric mixer, whisk together the flour, milk, eggs and salt until smooth. Pour the batter into the saute pan and return to the oven for about 12 minutes or until the batter is puffy and golden brown. Slide the puffed bismarck onto a serving plate. Drizzle with maple syrup, fresh berries and confectioners' sugar. Cut in half and serve immediately. Makes 2 servings. CHARRED CORN, RED ONION, TOMATO AND AVOCADO SALSA Flavorless vegetable oil spray 3 ears fresh corn, husked 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil (approximate) 1 red bell pepper 1 small jalapeno pepper 1 small red onion, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices 1 small tomato, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices Salt and freshly ground pepper 1 avocado, peeled, pitted and diced (see tip) 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves 11/2 teaspoon ground cumin 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice Prepare a charcoal or gas grill, so that the coals or heating elements are medium hot. Off the heat, lightly spray the grate with vegetable oil spray. Brush the corn with 1 tablespoon olive oil and grill, turning as needed, for about 8 minutes, or until charred evenly on all sides. Remove and set aside on a cutting board to cool. Keep the grill on. When the ears are cool enough to handle, cut the corn kernels from the cobs by standing each end on its end on the cutting board and slicing the kernels from the lower half of the cob. It is safer to remove only half the kernels at one time and to work from the other half of the cob. Turn the cob over and slice off the lower half of the kernels. Reserve the kernels and discard the cobs. Grill the bell pepper, turning, until charred on all sides, 7 to 8 minutes; grill the jalapeno until charred, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer both to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. After about 5 minutes, remove the wrap and rub the blackened skin from the peppers. Halve, remove the membranes, seed the peppers and then cut into a small dice. Drizzle the onion and tomato slices with 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill the onion slices for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, or until charred and softened. Grill the tomato slices for 2 to 3 minutes on one side, or until softened. Transfer to a cutting board and, when the onion and tomato are cool enough to handle, cut into a small dice. In a glass, ceramic or other nonreactive mixing bowl, mix the corn, peppers, onion and tomato. Add the avocado, cilantro, cumin, 1/3 cup olive oil and lime juice. Toss gently and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve at room temperature. Makes about 3 cups. Tip: To dice an avocado, slice the avocado in half lengthwise and rotate just a little to separate the halves. Carefully insert the blade (not the tip) of a small, sharp knife into the seed and gently twist to remove. Hold a pitted avocado half in your palm. With a small, sharp knife, first make 1/4-inch-thick vertical and then similar horizontal cuts in the flesh. Take care not to pierce the skin. With a spoon, gently remove the avocado dice form the skin.