You know you are officially old when you are lacing your brownies with spinach. And also a major nerd — because you have been contemplating how you feel about hiding vegetables in your children’s food. And then writing about it. How far I have fallen.
I generally don’t like the concept of hiding anything in food. From the standpoint of my daughter’s severe food allergies, I first find it somewhat unsafe. I happen to be allergic to carrots, so I wouldn’t be thrilled to find out that someone put carrots in my chocolate chip cookie. It’s certainly fine when you are cooking for your own kids and are sure they can tolerate it, but I wouldn’t go around willy-nilly taking things like that to a bake sale.
But the biggest reason I’m not a fan is that if children don’t get exposed to lots of different vegetables (and other foods) from the earliest ages, you will be hard pressed to get them eating a broad range of foods EVER. In my opinion, they do have to learn that there are entire categories of food that don’t include Red #5 and sugar.
It’s tricky though… because at one point they hate everything, then they love one thing, then they hate that one thing with all their being, and then they love everything, and then they only eat yogurt. You have to be persistent and keep trying everything with them (without getting desperate because kids love to control via food). Put a bit of everything on their plate regardless of whether they will eat it. We have the rule that you generally must try everything on your plate (unless it is unsafe because of allergies or too spicy). And while it doesn’t always work with a strong-willed two year old, I can see my daughter (she’s 7 1/2 now) eating a full variety of foods and being very willing to eat her vegetables (even though she eats everything else first).
Kids do come around and they will eat spinach on their own (even if they don’t love it) — but you cannot cave or give up and say “my kids just don’t eat vegetables.” And the parents have to be the best example by eating their own wide range of vegetables and talking up how much they enjoy them. And one other thing … I think this is a huge reason why eating seasonally and locally is so important for your family. As I have said before, I would hate tomatoes too if I were forced to eat tomatoes from the grocery store. Let them try real, ripe summer tomatoes and you might be surprised with what they do or do not like (but don’t forget that persistence, because they may hate them the first 20 times).
So I disagree with the concept of hiding childrens’ vegetables in something else. However, when kids are continuously being presented with vegetables in their “normal” state, I don’t see a problem with it. And I certainly don’t see a problem with it when you have a ton of spinach or zucchini to use up and want to increase the nutritional value of their food. As long as you are serving vegetables to them at other times… And as long as you are honest about what is in the food with those around you — to ensure safety for those with allergies.
This week, I had a ton of spinach to use … and I have heard about the whole spinach in the brownies thing. So I gave it a try. However, I didn’t want to make a shitty brownie and stuff spinach in it. I wanted a real brownie with real chocolate and butter. To make it a bit healthier, I did use whole wheat flour and cut back on the sugar though. And my only complaint with these is that they aren’t as chewy as I usually like them, although they are very dense and fudge-like (if you don’t overbake them!). And I bet if you used more sugar (say like 1 cup or 1 1/4 cups), they would be chewy and have a shinier crust.
But the spinach? You would never know it was there. And it started out as 4 cups of raw spinach. My husband clued me in to his Grateful Dead/Culinary/Concert past when he asked, “so do you soak the spinach in the melted butter?”
Um, no, you don’t do that.
(Loosely inspired by Cooks Illustrated’s Triple Chocolate Brownies)
Makes an 8 inch pan
4 cups of spinach, washed and stemmed
4-6 T water
7 oz. bittersweet chocolate (I used Scharffen Berger), chopped
1/2 cup of butter (1 stick)
4 T cocoa powder
3/4 cup of sugar
3 t vanilla extract
1/2 t salt
1 cup of white whole wheat flour
1. Make spinach puree: Saute spinach lightly (or steam) until just wilted. Put in blender or food processor with 4 T water and puree completely. You may need a little extra water. It should be smooth with no hunks of spinach remaining.
2. Preheat oven to 350 F. In a double boiler, or a glass bowl set over simmering water, melt chocolate and butter until completely smooth. Remove from heat, stir in cocoa powder, and allow to cool for 10 minutes.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, vanilla, sugar, and salt til smooth. Allow to sit for about 10 minutes (while chocolate cools) and whisk every few minutes to dissolve sugar.
4. Lightly grease an 8 inch square glass baking dish with butter and dust with cocoa all over – tapping to remove excess cocoa (just like buttering and flouring, just use cocoa instead).
5. Whisk chocolate mixture into egg mixture to incorporate (go slowly at first so eggs don’t get cooked). Stir in spinach puree and flour with a wooden spoon and make sure it is all well incorporated.
6. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes until just set. Don’t overbake or they will get dried out and won’t be fudge-like in texture. Remove from oven and allow to cool on a rack.