Our church is hosting Vacation Bible School this week, as we do every summer. When our kids were small, my husband and I helped out every year—one summer, while I was away at a writer’s colony, my husband agreed to being in charge of the preschool room. “I thought it would be fun,” he said, when I asked him what he’d been thinking when he agreed to that assignment. Oh, and he’d conveniently forgotten that, because he was teaching summer school at his university, I would be left solely in charge of the preschoolers for two nights that week.
We did have fun, though. I found some helpers, we broke the pack into small groups, and we managed to keep the mayhem under control (most of the time.) But now that my kids are old enough to be VBS helpers, rather than attendees, VBS week has taken on a whole new meaning in my life. Now, it’s the week of grown-up food. In other words, the week in which I get to make dinners for The Hubs that our children would never eat.
I’m including two recipes this time. The first is for Panko-Crusted Tilapia—nothing fancy, but my children will not eat fish. I don’t know why this is. I grew up eating fish on a pretty regular basis, because camping and fishing were regular weekend activities in my family. I remember many tasty dinners of fresh-caught trout. My daughter will eat canned tuna when she’s in the right mood, but my son will have nothing to do with it. Nor with fish sticks (which hardly resemble fish, when you get right down to it), nor with fresh fish fillets. He has, on occasion, asked me what kind of meat was in a casserole and eaten it happily when I told him the tuna was chicken. I justify this by telling myself that, well, it’s Chicken of the Sea–I could be referring to the brand, rather than the being.
Panko is the Japanese word for bread crumbs. It’s light, crunchy, and makes an excellent coating for fish or chicken. Panko used to be hard to find, but now my grocery store carries three different brands—look for it in the baking aisle, with the other bread crumbs, or in the Asian foods section of your grocery store. You can use it any way you’d use regular bread crumbs. I love it as a topping on baked mac and cheese, too.
The second recipe is for Spicy Peanut Noodles. Not only are my children averse to spicy food, neither of them will eat peanuts. I know, I know—what kid doesn’t like a peanut butter sandwich? My kid. From the time they were very small, neither of them would touch peanut butter. I’m pretty sure I ate little else until I started going to school, so I’m not sure where this aversion comes from. My daughter will eat peanuts if they’re buried in a Snickers bar, but that’s as close as she gets.
(It’s beginning to sound like my children subsist on white bread and American cheese, so I’ll just mention that they’re really very healthy eaters. My son adores cauliflower. My daughter loves spinach. They both prefer ground turkey to ground beef. They just have very specific tastes. The rule in our house is that you must try three bites of whatever I’ve made for dinner—even if you’ve tried it before, since taste buds change with time. After that, if you still don’t like it, you’re free to make yourself something else, as long as it’s a healthy alternative. Trust me when I say these children are not malnourished.)
Both of the following recipes are easy to put together because I don’t generally trust a recipe that has too many ingredients. Good food, simply prepared—that’s my idea of an excellent meal.
Panko-Crusted Tilapia for Two
2 tilapia filets
2 T. butter, melted
Juice of one lemon
Fresh ground black pepper
1 cup Panko bread crumbs
Chopped cilantro (or flat leaf parsley, if you’re not a cilantro fan)
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
In a shallow dish, combine the panko and cilantro. (There’s no science to this mixture—if you like cilantro a lot, add a lot. If you like it a little, add a little.) In another shallow dish, combine the melted butter and lemon juice. Stir them together with a fork.
Rinse the tilapia fillets under cool water, then dry them with paper towels. Lay one tilapia fillet in the lemon-butter mixture. Turn it over the coat the other side. Sprinkle the exposed side with garlic salt and black pepper. Now move the tilapia to the bread crumb mixture—just set it down on top of the crumbs and sprinkle more on top. (I usually pile the crumbs up on top of the fish, press down lightly, and lift the fillet to release whatever doesn’t stick.) Place this fillet on a cookie sheet lightly coated with non-stick spray, then repeat the process with the other fillet.
Bake the tilapia for 10 to 12 minutes, until the panko starts to get toasty brown. Fish is easy to overcook, and tilapia fillets are thin, so err on the side of undercooking. You can always stick it back in the oven if the fish isn’t baked to flaky perfection.
Spicy Peanut Noodles for Two
½ pound whole wheat spaghetti
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
2 T. rice wine vinegar
3 T. soy sauce
1 tsp. crushed red pepper
Chopped dry roasted peanuts
Boil spaghetti according to package directions. While it’s cooking, whisk together garlic, peanut butter, vinegar, soy sauce, and crushed red pepper. Taste and add a little more peanut butter if it’s too spicy; add more red pepper if it’s too bland.
When the noodles are cooked, drain and place them in a large bowl. Pour the peanut sauce over the hot noodles and toss. Serve with chopped scallions and peanuts on top.
In the unlikely event that you have any leftovers, store them in the refrigerator. Peanut sauce will keep only one or two days, so enjoy your noodles while they’re fresh.