Eating Well: Let them eat soup and cookies

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Finding just the right food to serve my children’s friends when they were young and visiting for lunch was like breaking the code to the Enigma machine.

After trying hamburgers, meatloaf sandwiches, baked beans, tuna sandwiches, macaroni and cheese and bologna sandwiches, and sliced bananas and oranges – not all on the same day – I finally asked them, “What is your favorite lunch?”

You’ll never guess what they said: “SpaghettiOs!” Their favorite dessert was – wait for it – Oreos! So SpaghettiOs and Oreos became the food writer’s signature lunch for visiting children. No, they didn’t want to have lasagna, salad and chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. Just the, you know, SpaghettiOs and Oreos.

If I were catering for children now, I’d serve them homemade alphabet-vegetable soup and a grilled cheese sandwich.

Like the canned delight I served earlier, the alphabet-vegetable soup features pasta and tomato sauce, but is much more nutritious, with peas, corn and bits of carrot, potato and onion floating among the alphabet pasta. Dessert would definitely be peanut butter cookies and a glass of good Maine milk.

The recipes for the soup and cookies are from “The New Boston Globe Cookbook” edited by Sheryl Julian, published in 2009 by Three Forks.

Easy Alphabet Soup

Children enjoy finding the letters of the alphabet in their soup bowls and might be able to spell their names, play Scrabble with their soup, or invent a secret code.

3 tablespoons butter
2 medium carrots, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 small russet potato, diced
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 can (15 ounces) tomato sauce
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup alphabet pasta, or other very small pasta shape (such as stars)
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup frozen corn

In a medium pot, melt the butter.

Add the carrots, onion, potato, salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until the vegetables soften. Add the tomato sauce and stock. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and partially cover the pot. Simmer for 8 minutes, or until vegetables are almost tender. Turn the heat to high. Stir in the pasta. Simmer, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until the pasta is tender but still has some bite. Add the peas and corn. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until they are heated through. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper, if you like.

Serves 4.

Peanut Butter Cookies

The butter in the mixture is melted first, which makes the batter come together easily with just a bowl and a wooden spoon. Refrigerate the batter for several hours or overnight until it is firm enough to roll into balls. If you do leave it overnight, let it soften on the counter for an hour before you shape it. Chunky peanut butter makes a big difference in this recipe; it gives the cookies a nice crunch.

1 1/3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chunky or crunchy peanut butter
Extra granulated sugar (for pressing)

In a bowl whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt.

In another bowl, with a wooden spoon, stir together the butter and granulated and brown sugars. Beat in the egg, vanilla, and peanut butter until the mixture is smooth. Blend in the flour mixture until well incorporated.

Scrape down the batter, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate the dough for several hours or overnight.

Set the oven at 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Pinch off walnut-size pieces of dough. With your hands, shape them into balls and place them 2 inches apart on the baking sheets.

Put enough sugar on a plate to make a thin layer. Dip the tines of a fork repeatedly in the sugar and press it down once on each ball. Then press in a perpendicular direction to make a cross-hatch pattern.

Bake the cookies for 12 to 14 minutes or until they are beginning to brown at the edges.

Transfer the parchment sheets to wire racks to cool. Store the cookies in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Makes about 40 cookies.

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Susan Lovell and her husband John, a great cook, live near Pat’s Meat Market & Cafe in Portland, with a hungry Maine coon cat and a poodle who eats cat food. An eighth-generation Mainer, she likes shellfish, steak, baked beans, cole slaw, corn bread, blueberry pie and Moxie. Her great great-grandfather, from Wellfleet, Mass., and his cousin founded Boston’s Union Oyster House and she really likes oysters and Guinness. And Boston cream pie.

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