Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Menu Challenge: Cooking for Playdates + Childhood Zucchini Pancakes

The Challenge: Miss Pain is having a playdate party with three girlfriends. Moms are in the picture too. None of which I have ever met before outside the classroom. Food preferences - unknown. I politely email a couple of days before asking about dietary restrictions, and get the usual "do not worry about that".

The Thought Process: Allright, I've handled worse. What are the things we know do well with the tiny people? Chicken, meatballs, pancakes, ice cream. That will take care of the kids, except that I am running the risk of being perceived as a health-unconscious individual. OK. What are the things that moms would like to see their kids eat? Fruits and veggies. OK. Need to find a way to combine both points of view, plus throw in some add-ons for the moms. The moms kind of look stylish, a fine audience for smoked salmon and cheese plate. Maybe some bubbly, because I will definitely be needing it. The chances of sitting at the table are really slim, so let's focus on finger food and everyone can take care of themselves. (Plus, there are gazillion polka-dot paper plates, cups and napkins in my pantry -- a leftover from Miss Pain's birthday bash I am in desperate need of getting rid of.)

The Menu:

Chicken Meatballs
Childhood Zucchini Pancakes
Roasted Baby Carrots
Grape Tomatoes
Smoked Salmon + Bubbly
Raspberries & Ice Cream

Timekeeping: Not really an issue... Playdates are a lot of work, and the menu is carefully orchestrated around no-effort dishes. Even better, you can prepare the meatballs one day before your party and warm them up in the oven. This will leave you with a total of one hour of work on the D-day; you will need about 30 minutes for the zucchini pancakes and 30 minutes for the carrots (without the time in the oven, because, seriously, who really counts the time in the oven).

The Execution: For the meatballs I trust smittenkitchen's Baked Chicken Meatballs. My mom's zucchini pancakes marked my childhood, and no one can resist them. You can make them an hour or two before the party and keep warm. For the carrots, I defy the temptation to do any culinary gymnastics, and will simply roast them with EVOO, Maldon and a touch of pepper. (I do however, need to clarify that the term "baby" here refers to the young and tender carrots shaped like a carrot, not the mini-stuff sold in plastic bags for the health-concious to snack.) The choice of cheese is supersafe too, we'll have emmentaler for the kids, and brie + stilton for the moms. At the last minute, I throw in some grape tomatoes, and then pause for a moment to contemplate the supremacy of the menu intended to please even the pickiest of the picky tiny people.

Childhood Zucchini Pancakes

There are millions of zucchini pancake recipes, but this is the one my mom made. Almost every week when I came back from school, there was a plate full of warm little pancakes waiting for me. You can also substitute zucchini with a different vegetable – carrot, broccoli, peas –  and the tiny people will clean up their plates not knowing that they have been tricked into eating a healthy meal!

* 2 medium zucchini
* 2 eggs
* 2 tablespoons flour
* 4 tablespoons cornflower oil, or any other frying oil
* Salt 

1. Grate the zucchini into a bowl using the large grating side of a box grater. Let the zucchini sit for two to three minutes, then squeeze out excess water.

2. Stir in the flour and add the eggs. Mix well with a fork. Season with salt.

3. Heat the oil in a heavy duty saute pan or skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, lower the heat to medium-low and drop heaping teaspoon of zucchini batter into the pan. Cook the pancakes about one and half minutes on each side, until browned.

4. Place the pancakes on a plate lined with a paper towel to absorb excess oil. Serve warm.

Makes 16 pancakes


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