Hands on

Day 54 of 196: Build your own soft taco

lunch 54Mondays are usually the day that I catch up from the weekend and the kids jump back into their school and after-school activity routines. Because of this, I try to make dinner a pretty quick and simple affair for me and set things up so that lunch can be easily assembled either from dinner leftovers or prepped at the same time as I make dinner.

We had some leftover roast chicken from dinner from the night before so I figured I would repurpose it into some soft tacos for dinner. It is one of those meals that fall into the make it your own category which makes everyone happy.  I picked up some tasty dips – guacamole, a black bean and jalapeno dip and some pico de gallo – and some corn tortillas and a head of lettuce. I roasted some sweet potatoes in the oven, charred some corn in a hot pan and roasted some cauliflower that I chopped up into pieces about the size of grains of rice.  For dinner, we started with a tortilla or a leaf of lettuce and got to work.

Lunch was a quick and easy job using what we had for dinner. I filled three muffin cups w some of the dips and for one of the girls (the one who is apparently into Korean Mexican fusion) some kimchi and some corn into a cup for the other one. Along with this, I seared some tempeh and put it into their boxes, dropped in a granola bar that I made earlier in the day and added some fruit.  The kids were excited about dinner and equally excited about lunch  – a win-win!

FIT TIP OF THE DAY – 25 squat jumps (squat down low and jump up high, keep feet shoulder with apart). Questions? Fitness expert and personal trainer Barb Rosenberg is happy to answer your FIT TIP queries – barbrosenberg1@gmail.com


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 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.

Day 16 of 196: Carrot, pesto and mozzarella tartines

20140922_145811717_iOSI keep a notebook on my kitchen counter so that I can jot down meal ideas when they occur to me. I have encouraged the kids to start adding their ideas to the book too. We have a little section of kids cookbooks and food magazines that they can flip through – and often cook from – to inspire them because they will only eat what is delicious to them and a healthy unappealing lunch will just be thrown out at the end of the day. My older daughter is frequently the source of meal ideas and came tearing into the kitchen with today’s lunch idea: a grilled carrot, green pesto and fresh mozzarella sandwich.  I am not sure where she came up with this idea – I think we had some crostini with ricotta and figs a few weeks ago and this maybe have given her this new idea – but it sounded like a good one and especially because we have lots of carrots on hand from our CSA box.

I am a big fan of Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbooks and pre-ordered his latest book, Plenty More last winter from Amazon in the UK. It wasn’t even listed on the Canadian site at that point in time and I wanted to be sure that I got a copy as soon as I could.  The entire book is spectacular and I have made half a dozen recipes in the 5 days that I have had it.  I chose a wild mushroom and preserved lemon ragout recipe for dinner last night – a perfect meal for the first night of autumn.  The mushroom ragout was served a top of a bed of puy lentils with diced carrots and celeriac which I figured would also be a great lunch box addition.


20140922_231455641_iOSMy little daughter got to work peeling the carrots while I prepped the rest of the ingredients. The final dish – the ragout of leeks, mushrooms and preserved lemons atop the lentils – was so delicious. The recipe calls for cilantro to be mixed with the lentils but cilantro tastes like a mouthful of soap to my husband so I swapped in some basil in its place. The final dish was served with a few dollops of greek yogurt and a few more sprigs of basil. It was definitely a labour intensive meal for a weeknight, but well worth the effort.


20140922_223919956_iOSWhile things were cooking away for dinner, I finished up lunches – I toasted a few slices of baguette, topped each with a slice of fresh mozzarella, a glob of nut-free pesto and some of the carrot we roasted while roasting the carrots for dinner. I packed a few of the king emperor mushrooms I cooked for the mushroom ragout and added a scoop of the lentil salad too. Finally, I sliced up a juicy and sweet local peach – not sure how much longer I will be able to find these at the market – and sprinkled over some pomegranate airls. The kids chose some candied sunflower seeds for a treat for lunch 16. The two of them woke up this morning, excited for the day and excited for lunch!

Day 12 of 196: Tofu, mushroom and chard dumplings

photo 12 veggiesMaking dinner and lunch was a team effort this evening. The kids were keen to get their hands dirty when I told them that I planned to send dumplings to school with them tomorrow and little did I know that their little fingers would be so adept at folding and crimping. I could not have dreamed of better kitchen helpers!  Dinner was a quick stir fry of the veggies pictures on the left – greens (pak choi and chard), king emperor mushrooms, shallots, garlic, ginger and some smoked tofu served along with a cedar planked salmon.

Dumplings are a terrific vehicle for all kinds of foods and more often than not, my kids will eat something in a dumpling that they will not eat if it is just served on its own.  I sautéed the veggie mix – mushrooms, garlic and ginger first, along w a handful of chopped green onions and then the tofu and greens.  Next, I tipped the mix into the food processor and pulsed it until it was pretty finely chopped but stopped well before it was a puree. I added a bit of soy sauce, tasted the mix and adjusted the seasoning and then transferred it to a bowl.

This is when the fun began – we set up the dumpling assembly line and the kids took over.  I gave them a little ice cream scoop – it measures out a tablespoon at a time – a bowl of water and a stack of dumpling wrappers that I picked up in Chinatown yesterday.  We frequent a place in Chinatown where they make up dumplings before your eyes and if we are lucky, we are seated by the counter where a team churns out intricately folded packages in record time.  It would seem that the kids have been paying closer attention than I realized.


photo 12 - dumpling 1photo 12 - dumpling 2photo 12  - dumpling 3Making up the dumplings is a quick three step process: Add a scoop of the filling to the centre of the wrapper and brush the edge of wrapper with water. Carefully fold the dumpling in half and then crimp the edges of the dough together while also squeezing out any air.

Before I knew it, they had used up all of the filling we made and had found the second package of wrappers in the fridge. From there, they filled dumplings with some leftover brisket from Sunday night (not enough for lunch but enough dumplings!) and then some of the mango I had cut up for their lunches.




photo 12 lunchLunch is half a dozen of the tofu, chard and mushroom dumplings, some edamame in their shells along with slices of some lovely red carrots, some mango and blackberries, a few sheets of cut up nori and a soy dipping sauce.  A peach jelly rounds out lunch 12!