Because sometimes you walk in the door at 6 p.m. with a cranky, hungry kid and nothing to give him for dinner. Because sometimes I do too. More than sometimes. Quite often. With spring here (or so the calendar says) and the days getting longer, it seems to happen even more often. We head out on a crisp sunny late-winter afternoon to run some errands, and then one thing leads to another and we aren’t pulling back into our garage until well after the Bean’s supper hour. “But it’s still light out,” I say with indignant incredulity. “How can it possibly be dinner time?!” Because it’s March. Oops.
For those kinds of days, you need a solid repertoire of what I like to call “in the door” recipes. Recipes that you can make while your kiddo is simultaneously whining, pulling at your leg and reaching up onto the countertop to grab the paring knife: “I cut this!!!”.
This is one of my and the Bean’s all-time favourite “in the door” recipes. It is super tasty, fast and easy, and while kid-friendly, is also adult enough for Kiwi and me to enjoy with a glass of vino after the Bean is finally fed and in bed. (Phew!) Best of all, there is a jar-shaking step that distracts the Bean (if only for a few moments) from her ravenous and all-consuming hunger.
“In the door” recipes only work if you’ve always got the ingredients or reasonable substitutes on hand. This recipe uses some pantry staples, several of which can be replaced in a pinch. I’ve tried to give you as many options as possible, so that you don’t find yourself in the door and out of the main ingredients. The basic recipe, excluding any of the “flavour enhancements” I have listed, is simple and kid-friendly if a little one-dimensional. Adding some or all of the flavour enhancements really take it up a notch, but also add time and complexity (aka the enemy of parents everywhere). Once you’ve tried it a couple of times, you will land on the right balance of quick and tasty.
And if you are really running low on time, no harm in grabbing a bottled peanut sauce from the fridge. There are some excellent crud-free varieties available in decent grocery stores. Just freshen them up with a squeeze of lime or lemon juice.
I’d love to hear about your favourite “in the door” recipes, so comment below or flip me a message through my contact page if you’re too shy to come out with it in public.
Once you've experimented with this recipe enough to arrive at your own perfect combo of quick and tasty, post the sauce recipe on the fridge so that anyone from mom to dad to grandpa to babysitter can whip it up in a pinch. Peanut sauce recipe adapted from Grazing, by Julie Van Rosendaal
- ½ lb soba noodles (or any long skinny noodles, preferably whole grain)
- 2 - 3 cups chopped broccoli florets (frozen will do if that’s all you have; chopped zucchini and cauliflower might also work)
- 1 cup frozen shelled edamame beans (green peas make a suitable substitute)
- 1/2 block medium firm or firm tofu, chopped into ½ inch cubes (optional)
- For peanut sauce:
- ¼ cup natural creamy peanut butter (i.e. not the sweetened salted stuff)
- 3 tablespoons acid (rice vinegar, lime or lemon juice, or a combination)
- 2 tablespoons honey or brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
- 2 tablespoons warm water
- For optional flavour enhancement, add one or more of:
- 1 clove crushed garlic
- 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- Pinch of dried chilies or 1 teaspoon sambal oelek
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. When it’s boiling, add pasta and cook until tender. In the last two minutes of cooking, toss in the broccoli and edamame. Put the tofu in the bottom of a large pasta strainer, and then drain the whole lot right over top of the tofu (this will warm the tofu up a bit).
- While you are waiting for the water to boil, throw kiddo in his highchair or on a step stool and together measure all of the sauce ingredients into a jar with a tightly fitting lid. Shake it all vigorously (singing a made-up shake shake shake song, if required to quell a hunger-induced tantrum) until nice and creamy. If your kid is more of a button-presser than a shaker, you can make the peanut sauce in the blender or food processor instead.
- Divide noodles, vegetables and tofu between individual soup or pasta bowls, and drizzle peanut sauce over top. Freshen with a squeeze of lime or lemon. For a fancied-up version, garnish with chopped roasted peanuts, chopped green onions, lime wedges and/or chopped cilantro.
- Leftover peanut sauce will keep in the fridge for at least a few days, and is a great way to jazz up steamed vegetables, rice, or leftover roasted chicken.