Thursday, November 29, 2012

Easy Being Green Dip

I'm a big fan of dark leafy greens. I know it's not just me and Popeye, but these veggies are kinda notorious for being difficult to get down the hatch of picky eaters. This dip, which I think is best described as a cross between Spinach Artichoke Dip and French Onion Dip, is capable of converting even the biggest skeptics (whether of the grown-up or pint-sized variety!). And unlike those dips, it uses greek-style yogurt instead of relying on the traditional mayonnaise or sour cream. Greek-style yogurt is creamier than regular plain yogurt and has twice the protein! In the video below, you'll see we use kale as the green, but you can use swiss chard or even spinach.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Sweet Potato Smoked Gouda Mac n' Cheese

Photo by Daniel Stranahan
Mac n' cheese is at the top of my comfort foods list. But let's face it, it's generally not the healthiest dinner choice. In this version, we use whole wheat pasta to up the nutritional value.  Sweet potatoes add more dietary fiber as well as a bunch of other vitamins and minerals (vitamins A, C and B-6, and potassium, to name a few). This super veggie has been said to be the healthiest one out there!

The smokiness of the gouda balances the sweet potatoes nicely and makes you wonder whether there's some bacon lurking around somewhere. And the whole wheat breadcrumb sage topping? Well, it's on top - and over the top.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Pumpkin Brownies

Pumpkins are not just for carving.  Okay, maybe the big ones are.  But those cute little pie pumpkins are so fun to cook with - making soups, stews, ravioli, quick breads, and....brownies!

These chocolate-y wonders are packed with pumpkin goodness (there's more pumpkin in them than any other ingredient), whole grain, egg-free and dairy-free (if you use dairy-free chocolate chips). And they're scrumptious!

Putting pureed pumpkin in the brownies is not about "hiding the veggies."  I don't advocate using vegetable purees in desserts as a way to get kids their 5 servings a day.  But since we all like a treat every once in a while, why not make it a healthier one?  In addition to adding vitamins, the pumpkin adds sweetness and moisture to the mixture, requiring less sugar and virtually no added fat.

To make the puree, halve the pumpkin lengthwise and scoop out the seeds and pulp. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil and place pumpkin halves cut side down. Roast in a 350º oven until you can easily pierce them with a fork, about 30-45 minutes, depending on the size of the pumpkin. Once cool enough to handle, scoop out flesh and puree, thinning with enough water to get an applesauce-like consistency. Feel free to substitute butternut, acorn or other winter squash for the pumpkin.

And don't throw out those seeds! All winter squash seeds make a delicious (and very nutritious) snack. Separate seeds from pulp, toss them in enough olive oil to lightly coat and season to taste with salt. Spread them on a baking sheet in a single layer. Roast at 350º until nicely browned, about 7-8 minutes.

Photo by Daniel Stranahan

Pumpkin Brownies

3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
Few pinches salt
1 cup pureed pumpkin (thinned with water, if necessary, to get an applesauce consistency)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips*

*Go for vegan ones if you want dairy-free brownies. We get ours at Whole Foods. Avoid carob chips for this recipe. They just don't have the same flavor or meltability.

Preheat the oven to 350º. Grease an 8x8 inch baking dish.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt and whisk well. Add pureed pumpkin and vanilla. Stir with a wooden spoon until combined. The mixture will seem dry, but just keep stirring and it will come together as a spoonable (not pourable) batter. Fold in chocolate chips.

Transfer mixture to prepared baking dish, using a spatula to spread it out evenly and into the corners. Bake until set, about 15 minutes. Let cool completely. Cut into squares and enjoy!

Makes 16 brownies

What kids can do (with appropriate tools and adult supervision)
*Scoop seeds and pulp out of raw pumpkin
*Scoop flesh out of pumpkin skins once roasted (and cooled)
*Measure out ingredients (making sure to level dry ingredients)
*Whisk and stir
*Spread batter evenly into pan

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Veggie Chili

Photo by Daniel Stranahan
Nothing says fall like chili – and you’ll be hard pressed to find a chili that says it better than this one. With red kidney and black beans, sweet potatoes, and corn, it’s a protein and vitamin rich one-pot meal. We made this for dinner a few weeks ago, inspired by stories of the chili competition that my son, Jake, had just participated in on his 7th grade class canoe trip. Corn played a prominent role in his team’s submission, which took a very respectable second place. At our Sunday dinner, the chili got rave reviews from all adults and three of the four kids. The one dissenting vote was from my younger son, Aleks. But since no more than a molecule of it passed his lips, I’m not sure that his vote counts. (As a recovering picky eater, he still shies away from “combined foods.”) He did ask to taste the raw green pepper as I was cutting it up and liked it. I’ll call that a victory!

To see the recipe, check out our guest post on Psychobaby's Blog - and be sure to check out the cool, crazy kids'  stuff offered by this Chicago-based store. Enjoy!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Rainbow Rice & Bean Salad

Fall is here, school has begun, and for many of us, that means packing lunches. Even if you don't pack lunches, you'll still love to have this recipe in your back pocket for weekends or those soccer practice/piano lesson evenings when you're eating on the go and wishing you could clone yourself, or at least hire a driver.

I made the first version of this recipe quite a few years back as a salsa, without the brown rice, olive oil or cumin.  My older son, Jake (now just shy of 13), loved it so much that we named it "Jake's Famous Dip." We routinely enjoyed it as a snack with tortilla chips or a topping for breakfast tacos. We started using it at Kids' Table, changing the name to a more descriptive "Rainbow Salsa."

Looking to turn the dish into a complete protein, I added brown rice, and upped the dressing ingredients a bit to compensate. This is now Jake's number one lunch pick, and frankly, one of mine as well.  If you can hit the farmers market for the corn, pepper, onion and even dried beans, all the better. Enjoy!
Photo by Daniel Stranahan

Rainbow Rice & Bean Salad

1 large corn cob (or 1 cup frozen corn, thawed)
1 1/2 cups cooked* (and cooled) brown rice
1 1/2 cups cooked black beans or 1 14.5 oz can, drained and rinsed**
1 large red bell pepper, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
1 large avocado, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
Juice from 1 large lime
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp salt

*Cook rice in water according to package directions, omitting any salt.
**Soak about 3/4 cup dried beans overnight, then drain and rinse. Simmer beans for 45 minutes, or until tender. I just started using dried beans, and only do so about 20% of the time. Baby steps...

Bring a pot of water to boil. Break corn cob in half. Cook corn in boiling water for 3 minutes. Remove from pot to cool. Once cool enough to handle, cut kernels off cob.

In a large bowl, combine corn, brown rice, beans, red pepper, avocado and onion. Toss gently to combine.

In a small bowl, whisk together lime juice, olive oil, cumin and salt. Pour dressing over salad, tossing gently to coat. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper if needed. Enjoy!

Makes 6 servings

What kids can do (with appropriate tools and adult supervision)
*Husk corn
*Drain and rinse beans (beware of sharp edges on the can)
*Chop veggies (wavy choppers are our favorite tool; you may want to cut the veggies into 1/4 inch slices and then let kids cube them)
*Juice lime
*Measure out dressing ingredients and whisk
*Stir salad

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Baked Spaghetti with Garden Vegetable Marinara

How much do I love this dish? Let me count the ways....

For starters, the sauce incorporates a plethora of summer veggies - perfect for taking advantage of summer farmers' markets and the whole eating a rainbow concept.  

And since the sauce is blended, it's a great way to include some otherwise intimidating vegetables (like zucchini, mushrooms and green pepper) in a picky eater's diet. Not that I'm a fan of hiding the veggies. I'm not. A dish like this can get veggies into little bellies, but more importantly, it can be a gateway to a more adventurous palate. It's not just about getting kids to eat their veggies, it's about getting kids to like (or even love!) eating their veggies. We made this dish in Kids' Table classes not long ago, and the kids knew very well what was going into the sauce - they chopped up all the ingredients. The vast majority of kids loved the end result. So the next time they come across zucchini, mushrooms or green pepper, maybe those veggies won't seem so scary.

This dish also gets big points for its versatility and time-saving potential. It can be assembled in advance, stored in the fridge for up to 3-4 days and baked when you need it. You can also make a double batch of sauce and freeze half for another time.  I've used the Garden Vegetable Marinara as pizza sauce, and my mouth waters at the thought of baking it with goat cheese and serving with crostini.

Last, but certainly not least, it's delicious!
Photo by Daniel Stranahan

Baked Spaghetti with Garden Vegetable Marinara

1-2 T olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
1 medium carrot, diced
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 medium yellow squash or zucchini, chopped into 1/2 inch cubes
8 crimini mushrooms (or 1 large portobello), chopped into 1/2 cubes
3 roma tomatoes, chopped into 1/2 cubes
1 28oz can whole peeled tomatoes (with juices)
2 T tomato paste
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp salt
10 large basil leaves
1 lb whole wheat spaghetti
12 oz mozzarella, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 oz grated parmesan

To make sauce, heat oil in a pot over medium heat.  Sauté onion, pepper, carrot and garlic for 5 minutes. Add squash and mushrooms and continue to cook for another 5 minutes. Add fresh and canned tomatoes (breaking up whole tomatoes with your fingers or a wooden spoon), tomato paste, oregano and salt.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.  Coarsely tear basil leaves. Remove sauce from heat and stir in basil. Let sauce cool a bit and puree in pot with an immersion blender or transfer to blender to puree. Season sauce to taste with additional salt, if necessary.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cook pasta until al dente, according to package directions. Drain pasta and return to pot. Add 4 cups sauce and stir well.  Add up to another cup of sauce if you'd like. The pasta will absorb some sauce while it bakes (particularly if you plan on refrigerating it and baking later), so err on the saucier side. Stir in cubed mozzarella. Transfer mixture to a 9x13 inch baking dish. Top with grated parmesan. At this point, you can cover and refrigerate for later baking. If baking immediately, bake for about 10 minutes, until mozzarella is melted and the top is browning. If baking later, remove from fridge while oven preheats. Bake covered for 30 minutes, uncover and bake another 10 minutes. Enjoy!

Makes 8-10 servings

Photo by Daniel Stranahan

What kids can do (with appropriate tools & adult supervision)
*Chop vegetables (At Kids' Table, we use wavy choppers to minimize the risk of injury. Whether using choppers or knives, make sure vegetables have a flat and stable surface. Halve onions, carrots, squash and pepper and have your child to work with the cut side down. If you are working with a wavy chopper, you might want to cut pepper and tomatoes into 1/2 inch slices and have your child cube them. The skins can be hard to get through with a chopper, so it's easier to position the skins on the side, instead of on the top or bottom.)
*Break apart canned tomatoes with their fingers (a little messy, but fun!)
*Measure out tomato paste, oregano and salt
*Remove basil leaves from stem and tear
*Cube mozzarella and grate parmesan
*Stir and taste

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Cherries - Sweet & Savory

My sons and I went cherry picking the first weekend in June at Stover's Farm in Berrien Springs, Michigan with friends.  We actually intended just to go strawberry picking.  But since cherries were ready too (incredibly early because of this crazy spring weather we've been having), we figured why not...

It was a picture perfect few hours.  I knew my kids loved strawberries, so it was not at all surprising to watch them eagerly eating them right off the plants.  Cherries, however, are not a household staple of ours.  In fact, Aleks (age 9 and the "picky one") stated, "I don't like cherries" as we approached the orchard (not that he had ever tasted one, to my knowledge).  Jake (age 12 and the more adventurous one) tried a cherry pretty quickly and decided they weren't his favorite.  Aleks was enthusiastically harvesting, but a little more trepidatious when it came to tasting.  I knew that actively trying to get him to eat a cherry wasn't going to help.  So instead, I starting eating them and seeing how far I could spit the pits.  Not very lady like, I'll admit, but very enticing for a 9 year old boy!  Aleks tried a cherry and wouldn't stop eating them for the rest of the weekend.

Aleks picking cherries
Photo by Jacob Marre
Since we had about 15 pounds of cherries and I was scheduled to do a cooking demo at Printers' Row Lit Fest exactly a week later with Aleks as my assistant, cherry dishes seemed like a natural fit.  This Cherry Chard Quinoa Salad came into being because I wanted to show that sweet cherries can shine in savory dishes.  I couldn't resist pairing it with a dessert - a delicious Cherry Crisp, that is unique (think raw quinoa and ground flaxseed) and vegan (with canola oil subbing in for the traditional melted butter).

Cherry Chard Quinoa Salad

I went with swiss chard because it will not wilt easily, so this salad can be made ahead of time.  The red swiss chard really makes the cherries pop, but green or rainbow chard would work just as well.  The addition of protein-packed quinoa makes the salad a nutritionally complete meal.  I chose feta as the cheese, but crumbled gorgonzola would also be delicious.  The toasted sunflower seeds add crunch along with extra protein and omegas.  Toasted walnuts or pecans would also work well if nut allergies are not a concern.  To really up your omega intake, try substituting flaxseed oil for the olive oil in the dressing.  Flaxseed oil is usually too strong to dress salads, in my opinion.  But in a balsamic vinaigrette, the strength and sweetness of the balsamic vinegar mellows and complements the oil's nuttiness.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/8 tsp salt
Few pinches ground black pepper
3-4 leaves red swiss chard, stems discarded and leaves thinly sliced
1 cup sweet cherries, halved and pitted
1/2 small shallot, thinly sliced
1 cup cooked quinoa*
2 oz feta cheese
3 tablespoons toasted sunflower seeds**

In a large bowl, whisk together olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.  Add 1 cup packed sliced swiss chard and toss well to coat.  Add cherries, sliced shallot and quinoa and stir gently to combine.  Crumble feta over salad and add toasted sunflower seeds.  Toss gently again, season to taste with additional salt if needed and enjoy!

*To cook quinoa, combine quinoa and water in a pot in a 1:1.5 ratio.  (For example, 1 cup quinoa to 1 1/2 cups water.)  Cover and bring to a boil over high heat.  Once boiling, reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes.  Remove from heat, leaving pot covered, and let stand 5 minutes.  Transfer to a large bowl to cool, stirring occasionally.

**To dry toast sunflower seeds, put them in a small pan over medium low heat.  Cook, tossing frequently, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.


What kids can do (with appropriate tools and adult supervision)
*Measure out dressing ingredients
*Remove stems from chard and slice chard leaves with scissors
*Pit cherries (you can halve them first with a paring knife, or they can halve them with a wavy chopper; they could also slice shallots, but I generally slice them with a chef knife because I like them thinner than a wavy chopper allows)
*Measure out quinoa
*Crumble feta
*Stir and taste

Cherry Crisp

I was inspired to use raw quinoa in this crisp topping by a chocolate bar Aleks picked out at Whole Foods one day - it was dark chocolate with toasted/puffed quinoa (think Nestle Crunch with a superfood spin).  Homemade toasted quinoa chocolates and quinoa granola are in the works, but for now, here's the Cherry Crisp!  Just like the Cherry Chard Quinoa Salad, this crisp can be assembled ahead of time, covered and stored in the fridge.  Before baking, I would recommend letting the crisp sit out at room temperature for an hour or two.

Photo by Daniel Stranahan
For filling:
5 cups halved and pitted sweet cherries
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons all purpose flour

For topping:
1/2 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup raw quinoa
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup ground flaxseed
1/4 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  In an 8x8 inch baking dish, combine filling ingredients and toss well to coat cherries.

In a separate bowl, combine oats, brown sugar, quinoa, whole wheat flour and ground flaxseed.  Stir well with a fork or your fingers to combine.  Stir in canola oil and vanilla.  Once mostly absorbed, use your fingers to finish mixing and form crumbles.  Sprinkle crumble topping over cherries.  Bake for about 50 minutes, or until cherries are soft, filling is bubbling up and topping is lightly browned.  Let cool for at least 10 minutes.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  The crisp is delicious on its own, or with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.


What kids can do (with appropriate tools and adult supervision)
*Pit cherries (and even halve them with a wavy chopper or serrated butter knife)
*Measure out filling and topping ingredients (making sure to level dry ingredients)
*Mix filling and topping ingredients
*Sprinkle crumble topping over filling

Friday, May 18, 2012

Strawberry Rhubarb Salsa

Nothing says "spring" like strawberries and rhubarb.  They pop up together in pies, crumbles, compotes and the like.  We decided to see how they would fare in the savory world and were quite pleasantly surprised!  This salsa has a great balance of sweet, tart, bite and tang.

This recipe came into being when we were looking for something to make with the kids at the opening day of Green City Market's outdoor market just last week.  We needed a short hands-on project (so, minimal cook) that used market ingredients, and had with a Mexican twist (it happened to be Cinco de Mayo).  I remembered coming across rhubarb salsas while researching our summer camp recipes, so I thought that was a good place to start.  I found a fair number of recipes, but many called for markedly un-seasonal ingredients, like corn and bell peppers.  I found one using strawberries, but it called for soaking the rhubarb overnight in some sort of simple syrup to cut the tartness.  I didn't like that idea for many reasons, including the fact that I just wouldn't have time for an overnight soak between buying the rhubarb at the market and starting the demo 30 minutes later.  I tried out a quick blanch, which was enough, along with the sweetness of the berries, to cut the rhubarb bite.
Photo by Daniel Stranahan

Strawberry Rhubarb Salsa

2 stalks rhubarb (a little less than 1/2 lb), trimmed and cut into 3 inch pieces
10 strawberries (1/2 lb), hulled and chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped (1/4 cup)
3 cloves garlic, minced (1 tablespoon)
Juice from one lime (1 tablespoon)
1/4 tsp salt
3 or 4 sprigs fresh cilantro

Bring a small pot of water to boil.  Add rhubarb and boil for 1 minute (be careful not to boil any longer or it will get mushy.  Transfer to a plate to cool.  Once cool enough to handle, chop rhubarb into 1/4 inch pieces.

In a large bowl, combine chopped rhubarb, strawberries, onions and garlic.  Add lime juice and salt and toss gently to combine.  Remove cilantro leaves from stems, tear leaves into small pieces and add to bowl.  Season to taste with additional salt if needed.  Serve with tortilla chips and enjoy!

What kids can do (with appropriate tools & supervision, of course!)
*Chop strawberries (first chopping off green stem, then slicing, then cutting into chunks - we have wavy choppers for kids to use, they work great without risking life and limb)
*Finely chop onions (it is easiest if you slice the onion first for them)
*Mince garlic (first chopping garlic cloves into smaller pieces, then going over it repeatedly with the chopping with short and swift chopping motions)
*Juice lime (kids might need a little help getting all the juices out)
*Measure out salt
*Remove cilantro leaves and tear
*Stir and taste

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Springy Sprouted Salad

I briefly got into sprouting last spring.  I sprouted garbanzo beans and made Sprouted Hummus the recipe of the week in our tots and kids classes at Kids' Table.  And that was pretty much it.  Until I saw an article in a recent issue of Food & Wine expounding the many healthy benefits of sprouted foods.  The sprouting process unleashes powerful nutrients as the seed begins to grow new life, and makes the legume or grain more digestible to boot.  Amazing!  The article specifically talked about sprouting mung beans.  I happened to have a container of dried mung beans in my pantry.  Fate?  I thought so.

Sprouted mung beans made an appearance in a few different recipes in my kitchen as I experimented.  This one stood head and shoulders above the rest.  I was so excited the first day that I made it that I smuggled some into a restaurant for my dinner companions to taste (yes, literally in a small container in my purse).  It's not only delicious, but it travels well - perfect for potlucks and picnics!

I've included basic sprouting instructions after the recipe.  I hope you are inspired to try it.  It's a great thing to get kids involved in.  Sprouting can take as little as 2 days.  You'd be hard pressed to find a gardening project with more instant gratification!  If you're not excited about sprouting just yet, or don't want to wait two days to make the salad, I include some equally tasty seasonal alternatives to the sprouted mung beans.

Photo by Daniel Stranahan

Springy Sprouted Salad

1 cup quinoa
2 cups sprouted mung beans (or shelled and cooked fava beans or english peas)
1 cup (packed) arugula
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1 oz parmesan or pecorino romano cheese, coarsely grated
Leaves from 3-4 sprigs mint, thinly sliced
3 T olive oil
Juice from 1 large lemon (about 3 T)
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/4-1/2 tsp salt

Combine quinoa and 1 1/2 cups water in a small pot.  Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes.  Remove pot from heat (keeping it covered) and let stand 5 minutes.  Transfer 2 cups cooked quinoa to a large bowl and let cool, stirring occasionally.

Add 2 cups sprouted mung beans, arugula, red onion, cheese and mint and stir gently to combine.

In a separate small bowl, combine olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and 1/4 tsp salt and whisk well.  Pour dressing over salad, tossing gently to coat.  Season to taste with additional salt if needed.  Enjoy!

Makes about 4 servings

How to Sprout
You can get a sprouting jar, or get by quite nicely like I have with a makeshift version using a large glass jar, a piece of cheese cloth and a rubber band.  Make sure the jar or container you use is big enough to let the beans swell - they expand by about 3 times in volume!  Keep this in mind in determining how many beans to sprout as well.  Only sprout what you will eat within 3 days or so.

Combine beans (between 1/2 cup and 1 cup) with 4 times the volume of water in the jar.  Let soak for 12 hours.  Drain and rinse well.  Return beans to jar, secure cheese cloth over top of jar with a rubber band and invert jar at a roughly 45 degree angle so that residual moisture can drain through the cheese cloth.  Keep out of direct sunlight.  (In the picture on the left, my sprouting beans are in the sunlight only for the shot!)  Rinse beans after 8-12 hours and return to sprouting position.  Continue until beans sprout and sprouts grow to about 1/2 inch in length.


My attempt to start blogging last July was thwarted by my Type A perfectionist tendencies.  It's hard to post a blog a week if you agonize over every word, and have other responsibilities and a desire to live life.  It stops now.  I have so many recipes, stories and bits of advice to share and I will no longer let anything get in the way!

I hope you will follow along in my healthy cooking (and eating) adventures.


P.S.  This post did involve a bit of agonizing.  But I kept it to a minimum.  Baby steps....