Cooking with kids

Day 67 of 196 – Back on the green wagon

Day 67After a nearly 6 year long break from many green vegetables, my big kid is finally back on the green bandwagon!! We came across this recipe in Jamie magazine and after swapping out the broccoli (it doesn’t always smell so great by lunchtime) for some green beans, we whipped it up (so simple – make croutons, cook eggs, blanch veggies and toss in a pan w garlic and vinaigrette; assemble) and packed it for lunch. It is a nice vegetable and protein filled lunchtime salad. Added some cherries and kiwi and celebrated green vegetables and the last day of the week!!

Day 83 of 196 – veggies all rolled up

lunch 83My big daughter and I were at a café and cooking school the other night making soup for women at risk in Toronto. The café was closed for the event but their menu was posted on the wall. I have been to other events and parties there but haven’t ever popped in to buy food but will keep it in mind the next time I need something delicious! The sandwich menu looked great and my daughter dragged me across the room to show me an amazing sandwich – a wrap with some grilled veggies, pesto and goat cheese.  As a vegetarian of nearly 20 years, I feel like I have eaten this sandwich a million times and ate too many of these in the late 90s  – just needs a balsamic drizzle to take me back to my undergrad years – but was delighted that she found something she was keen about for lunch so added it to the menu for the week.

Dinner last night was a Spanish chick pea and spinach stew  – found the recipe online and thought the spicing was unusual so figured I would make it. It turned out to just be strange (unusual is sometimes a red flag) so wont be making it again but we did have it along side of a salad of hearty grilled veggies – cauliflower, broccoli, peppers, carrots – with a big squeeze of lemon juice and sprinkling of Maldon sea salt.  Simple and delicious and also great for packing into some wraps for lunch!  While I put the veggies on a platter for dinner, I took a big wrap and spread it with some nut free pesto, sprinkled on some chevre and dotted it with a roasted red pepper condiment that was a new arrival to the supermarket that I like to shop at (I am such a sucker for new food products!!).  On top of that, I laid out some baby spinach (the same stuff that went into the stew), a couple of roasted carrots, some sundried tomatoes, sprouts and a few bit of cauliflower.  I rolled it all up, cut it in two – one for each kid – and wrapped it up for lunch.

I love beets so have been roasting a bag every so often to keep on hand to toss into a salad for my lunch. I diced up a couple of the beautiful golden and candy cane (they turned uniformly pink after roasting) ones and packed them into the kids lunches.  I added some fresh fruit – mangoes and raspberries – some cherry tomatoes and black bean crackers and a few chocolates for a treat.  My little daughter has a been turning down vegetables recently but was so enthusiastic about having a wrap sandwich like one of her good buddies that she just might eat something fresh and tasty!

Day 79 of 196: Sweet Pea and Mint Fritters

lunch 79We had a couple of quiet days at home during the school break after we returned from vacation. We all needed a bit of downtime and after the rush of school, followed immediately by rushing off on holiday (we picked the kids up from school and headed directly to the airport) so it was nice to spend a day or two drawing, painting, building and reading. The kids, especially my big daughter, loves to flip through cookbooks and while I was menu planning for the week, she looked through Plenty More – the latest Ottolenghi book – and found a recipe for some sweet pea and mint fritters that looked lovely and that she thought she would like for school. When I was at the supermarket, I happened to be standing in front of the frozen peas so picked up a bag with plans to make them with her after school.

When we got home from school, we pulled out the book and I realized that I had not read through the entire recipe that included freezing the uncooked fritters for a couple of hours and then breading and frying them. With the bag of now mostly thawed peas sitting on the counter, it was time for improvisation. We made up the pea mixture (sautéed shallots, peas processed in the processor until they were chopped up but not mush, an egg – but I swapped the egg for some ground flax and warm water, mint, garlic, salt and pepper) and formed little patties. I dusted them w corn starch and cooked them in an oiled pan until they were crispy on the outside and cooked through. They were fantastic and the kids ate them up as quickly as I could make them. I managed to set aside half a dozen and packed them into their lunch boxes.

It is now apparent that the ying ying soy foods smoked tofu slices are a staple in our lunch boxes and here they are again! They really are delicious hot or cold and a great lunch option because they are packed with protein to keep the kids going through their active days. I threaded a few slices onto a skewer while the kids ate the balance of the package (and no dinner later on – no surprise!) and  I sliced up a few rainbow carrots, a pineapple and some grapes. Finally, I tossed in four citrus flavoured gum drops to round out this 79th lunch.

Day 34 of 196: Feeling cubist

20141012_210239716_iOSI love to cook and love to buy and read cookbooks – often to the exclusion of other reading – but I am reluctant to buy a lot of kitchen tools. There is no shortage of gadgets but I find that most of the time I can accomplish the same task with a good sharp knife, my fingers or by improvising.  I do make the odd exception and the rice cube (pic at the left)  caused me to bend my minimalist kitchen-tool rule. The rice cube forms perfect little cubes of rice, grains or almost anything that can be pressed into shape and is a cinch to use. My 6 year old watched the video on their website and got to work making cubes of jasmine rice mixed with either grated beet, grated carrot or sandwiched with a thin omelette of kale and caramelized onions and then called it dinner.  I tried using the rice cube last week to make cubes of brown rice but the rice didn’t stick well and I improvised and re-titled lunch “deconstructed sushi”.

I was shopping in an amazing Korean supermarket a few weeks ago and picked up some unfamiliar ingredients (I am only minimalist with tools, I pick up new foods all the time) including some short grain wild rice that looked intriguing. Undeterred by last week’s failure (and by the package entirely in Korean – thank goodness for my lovely Korean neighbour who translated for me) I cooked up a pot of rice and set to work making a cubist lunch.

IMG_4890I formed little cubes of black rice and wrapped them in thin strips of heirloom carrot that I had sliced with my mandoline and quickly blanched so that they would bend around the rice. I also wrapped the rice in thin strips of smoked tofu and filled another three with cucumber. Carrying on with the theme, I pressed a couple of banana and squash (sounds strange, actually delicious) muffins and tucked them into this lunch.  Lunch was rounded out with some steamed edamame, sliced kiwi and raspberries and a roll of the fruit leather I made a few weeks ago.

IMG_4894I was about to pack up a second lunch when my little daughter wandered in, tasted the black rice and declared that she did not like it at all! I don’t get into struggles with my kids about food. I insist that they try everything but don’t insist they eat things they don’t like.  I keep everyone in mind when I make lunches and dinner and there are always enough options so that if you don’t like one thing, there is always something else on the table to eat.   Her lunch was just a rice-free variation on the planned meal – julienned carrots, tofu slices on a tooth pick, a muffin, some oranges (one of her best buddies at school is allergic to kiwi so they cannot sit together if she has kiwi in her lunch) and raspberries, edamame and fruit leather. At the end of the day, they both had healthy and delicious meals to help fuel them through the day and healthy and delicious meals that they would eat and not bring home untouched.

Day 31 of 196: tofu burgers and magical cauliflower

20141014_201732844_iOSMy little daughter came home from school early feeling sick  – turns out she was just really hungry – so we picked up a snack on the way home and then made a detour to the supermarket to pick up a few things for dinner.  We have a wonderful independent grocery store that is a 20 minute walk from our house that has the most amazing selection of produce with a focus on locally grown fruits and vegetables. This time of year is particularly bountiful with squash and gorgeous brassicas. We walked past a display of romanesco cauliflower and my daughter stopped to admire it and asked if we could get for dinner. Never one to discourage vegetable consumption, we found the loveliest one, picked up some other things for dinner and headed home.

After she had her lunch, we decided to bake some bread from a cookbook I picked up at Ikea (surely I am not the only person who leaves I Ikea with a cookbook and nothing else?!) with some local red fife flour – a nice coarse whole grain flour that is milled nearby  – and studded with a mix of dried berries and scented with saffron and mace. The house smelled amazing!!

When my big daughter came home she stopped to admire the cauliflower on the counter and was also taken aback by its beauty. This was a clear sign that this cauliflower was going to be going into their lunches!  After homework and some playtime, we set out to make dinner.  I had some cooked brown rice in the fridge (I usually cook 20141014_215922014_iOSup a few different grains each week to save myself time during the week), and figured it would make a good base for a salad. I broke the cauliflower apart and blanched it and then put it on the barbecue to finish cooking. While it was cooking, I made up a quick vinaigrette with lemon zest, lemon juice, mint, olive oil and a bit of maple syrup.  My little daughter broke apart a pomegranate and put some of the airls in containers for lunch and the balance into the bowl with the rice and the vinaigrette.  Finally, I grabbed the cauliflower off of the barbeque and put it into the bowl with the rice mixture and put it on the table for dinner.

It was an unseasonably warm October day so I decided to barbeque some tofu burgers and served them with some raw wraps that we picked up while shopping. I like these wraps so much because they are delicious cold and would be perfect in lunch boxes the following day.  I cooked up a couple of extra burgers for the kids and assembled their lunches.

20141014_205936333_iOSThe final product – a tofu burger on a corn and flax seed wrap, some pomegranate airls and orange segments, half a dozen florets of cauliflower and some cherry tomatoes, a little sauce to drizzle on the burgers and a few gummy bears for a treat.

Day 30 of 196: Sushi, deconstructed

IMG_4811After a long weekend with lots of indulgent eating, it felt like it was time for some simple and healthy food.  The kids love sushi and we are lucky to live in a city with lots of great sushi and food in general.  Over the weekend, I picked up a fun tool to make cubes of rice (and other grains) that I thought would be a handy tool for making lunches. The kids gave it a whirl the day I came home with it and they made – no adult assistance at all! – the tasty cubes of rice with veggies pictured on the left.  We made a pot of rice and mixed some of the cooked rice with chopped beet and another bit with some grated carrot. Finally, I made an omelette with some kale and cut it up into little squares to fit into the rice press.  The kids got to work and were delighted to have made their own dinner. After this great first run, I was keen to put the press to use for lunch 30.  I made up a pot of brown rice – not as popular with the kids, but a healthier choice – and while it cooked I prepped lunch and dinner.

We had fish tacos for dinner – basically just fish that I dip into egg and then seasoned panko and then cook in a hot oven for a few minutes, flip and then pull out the oven.  I set out bowls of different toppings – charred corn, rice, cauliflower rice, diced tomatoes and peppers, sautéed zucchini and mushrooms and some salsa – and everyone builds their own lettuce cups or tortillas for dinner.  I set aside some carrots, mushrooms, peppers and cucumber and diced these for lunch.

When the rice was ready, I put some in a bowl for dinner and then got to work on what I thought would be a quick and easy lunch preparation with the rice cube tool. What I did not anticipate was that the brown rice I was using was not nearly sticky enough to hold a cube shape and the sushi I had constructed was quickly deconstructing.  Rather than giving up, I took this as a sign that I was meant to make deconstructed sushi and ended up packing little sushi salads instead.  I set down a bed of brown rice and sprinkled the diced veggies over it, threw on a few radish sprouts for colour, chopped up some nori and called it a day. When my little daughter wandered over to see what was happening in the kitchen she declared that she hated sushi (a lot can change in three days apparently!) but I assured her that she was having some rice with vegetables and predictably she declared she loved rice with vegetables!

IMG_4824Along with the deconstructed sushi, I packed some steamed edamame, a few baby carrots from our CSA box, a little container with some tamari to dress the salad, some rice crackers and fresh fruit. For a treat, my big daughter selected a fruit jelly for each of them.

Back to the carrots for a moment – one of the kids had a friend over to play when we got our CSA box last week.  My kids are always keen to see if they are strong enough to carry it in and then open it up to see what is inside. I pulled out a big bunch of magnificent carrots with the greens still attached and soil clinging to the roots. My daughter’s friend looked aghast and asked what I was holding. I explained  – really perplexed – that they were carrots. She told me that she only likes baby carrots and what she meant was that she likes the little carrots you can buy in the supermarket that have been cut up and formed into little rounded sticks.  This experience made me realize how lucky we have been to get our food directly from a farm for the last 9 years because it has given my kids a connection to where food really comes from and how it is grown.  One more benefit from this CSA box!

Day 27 of 196 – Sushi re-imagined and rice bowls for dinner

IMG_4780My kids love sushi and it is a great lunch option because it is so easy and fun to eat.  Lunch “hour” is only about 20 minutes long so it is important that anything I send can be eaten in a relatively short period of time and that it will take them through the afternoon.  In the past, I have picked up sushi for them but our school has asked us not to send sesame seeds this year in order to keep kids with life threatening allergies safe (the rolls I picked up were usually sprinkled w sesame seeds) so we decided to make our own. Since we were making our own, we thought we would play around a bit.

One of the complaints I have with sushi that is not fresh is that the seaweed gets rubbery and isn’t very appetizing so we decided to leave out the seaweed entirely and I sliced long ribbons of carrots and cucumbers to wrap around balls of rice. I use a mandoline to slice up the veggies like this and left it out for dinner prep.   The carrots were too rigid to wrap around the rice, so I blanched them in some salted water before assembling the rolls.  Tofu slices are a staple in my kids’ lunches. They are protein packed and tasty at room temperature so we sliced them lengthwise and rolled them up with some rice too.  The rolls were unfurling so I threaded them on to skewers and popped them into their lunch boxes.   Before putting the boxes into the fridge, I lay a damp piece of paper towel over the rolls to keep the veggies crisp and the rice moist.

Since I had already worked vegetables into their lunch, I packed lots of fruit – half of a delicious passion fruit each and some oranges and raspberries. Finally, I threw in a handful of roasted pumpkin seeds and a few gummy bears for a treat.

IMG_4782The kids love dinners that they assemble themselves and they always seem to eat more veggies when they are challenged to make themselves a meal of what we often refer to as “healthy growing food”.  I added the julienne blade to my mandoline and sliced up lots of raw veggies (carrots, cucumber and candy cane beet are pictured here) and cooked a mix of wild mushrooms with some ginger and shallot and put that out in bowls on the table. While I was busy doing this, the girls got to work mixing their “signature sauces” to serve with dinner. They made up delicious combinations of soy, rice wine vinegar, tamarind paste and hoisin sauce and set them out for everyone. When it was time to eat, I gave everyone a scoop of rice and some protein and let them pile up their bowls with veggies.  Everyone ate what they liked and seemed to enjoy this meal of healthy, growing food.