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“Let Us” Roll Ups Revisited

2 Jul

Since I moved my blog over from Toddler Café to Playful Pantry I haven’t posted any recipes from my book. This is for all of you who never saw this crunchy delicious one it is one of my favorites so I am resurrecting it.  This is our go to meal for summer, you can add any veggies you desire,  it’s great for kids and adults love it too!  Stay cool and eat well!

Getting kids to eat raw vegetables can be a real struggle but this one may turn your kids around. This dish has crisp crunch and texture from healthy vegetables! The sauce binds the meat together so it stays put in the lettuce leaf. Give your child the smaller inside leaves so they will be easier for little hands to manage.

Make sure you break up the meat as small as you can to make it easy to eat. Have them fill the lettuce boats with the tasty “cargo” and sail them into the port (mouth). Try to be a shark and bite the boat as you sail it by their mouths.

“Let Us” Roll Up

Makes 4 servings

1 head romaine lettuce hearts, separated washed and dried

1 pound ground chicken, beef or turkey

1 medium carrot minced or grated 3/4 cup chopped or 3 ounces

1 cup broccoli crowns and stems, minced, 3/4 cup chopped or 3 ounces


3 tablespoons soy sauce

4 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon granulated onion

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (optional)

Chopped Peanuts or Cashews for sprinkling (optional)

Put sauce ingredients in a small bowl stir to combine and break up lumps with a fork, set aside.

Heat a large sauté pan or wok on medium high heat. Add meat and cook untouched until meat looks like it is cooking underneath and juices start release. Chop the meat with a wooden spoon as it cooks, when meat is almost cooked through add vegetables. Continue stirring and breaking up lumps until meat is thoroughly cooked, if the meat is giving off a lot of grease drain it before adding sauce. Turn heat down to medium low, give the sauce a stir and add it to the center of the pan. Mix well cook 2 minutes more, continuing to break up any large chunks of meat and coating with sauce.

Serve meat and lettuce leaves separately on a plate, have your child try to put the meat in the leaves with a spoon sprinkle with nuts and eat like a taco.


Mix cooked rice into meat mixture to change it up.

Next time add minced onion or garlic when you add the vegetables. This will get your kids used to new flavors without them seeing the identifiable chunks.

 This recipe can be made gluten free easily by substituting the Soy for GF Tamari.

Artichoke Friend or Foe?

30 Mar

Flower of Artichoke (Cynara scolymus). Jardin ...

Flower of Artichoke (Cynara scolymus). Jardin des Plantes, Paris (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To see more of Matthew Carden’s photos visit his site.

(This is how I used to think of Artichokes, evil little plants)

The first time some kids are introduced to artichokes is in Winnie The Poo, Eeyore the old grey donkey, loves thistles but he is gloomy and melancholy, so it is hard to know if  he likes them. The thistle is the bloomed artichoke, that beautiful purple flower is the center of the un-harvested artichoke left to grow.   The artichoke is a spiny thistle of the sunflower family, topped with that bright purple silky thread.  Eeyore loves thistles, those purple flowers must taste so delicious and the spiny spikes must not bother him much! Being humans and not fictional characters we have to do a little prep work on the artichoke to enjoy them.  Each leaf has a spike at the very tip and boy do they hurt if they poke you. (see photo above)

We happen to love artichokes in our house, they can be intimidating but if you know how to prepare them, I think your kids will love them.  The season in California is all the way from the end of winter to June. The first chokes that you will see in the store may look brownish and slightly unattractive, these are generally “frost kissed” ugly, but tasty.

When choosing an artichoke choose the hefty one with tightly packed leaves. Usually we all eat two, so buy enough to go around. They tiny ones are a different story to prepare, they are usually steamed. cut in half , scraped out and pan-fried, more work and a different flavor all together. Kids get a kick out of pulling the leaves off the large ones!




Once you have your artichokes at home you will want to use a sharp serrated knife to cut the tip-off, about 1/4 of the total artichoke.

While you have your knife handy trip the stem, leaving about 1/2 inch.


Next, you will want to use a lemon to rub all the cut surfaces (even the stem) to prevent browning.

If you are preparing a lot of artichokes hold the cut ones in a large bowl of acidulated water (lemon water)


Now to tackle those annoying spikes, use a scissor to cut off the ugly part of the leaf along with the spike.

While you are at it peel off the small leaves near the base of the artichoke, they don’t taste great and  don’t have any meat on them.


Now you should have a beautiful artichoke with a nice haircut, waiting to be cooked.


This is a pile of scrap from just one artichoke!


Steaming a fresh Artichoke

Place a steaming insert in a large wide pot

Fill the pot with water until it reaches just under the steaming basket

Place one layer of rinsed and trimmed Artichokes into the steaming basket with stems facing up; cover with lid.

On high heat, bring the water in the steaming pot to a boil. Steam artichokes until they are tender. Cooking time is about 30 minutes for a medium-sized artichoke or 45 minutes for a very large artichoke.

To know when your artichokes are done use a sharp knife in the stem, if it goes through the artichoke base with ease. your artichoke is perfectly cooked and ready to eat. Remove from pot and turn up right on a plate.

To Eat the artichoke

This is the fun part…the part the kids will like.

Pull the leaves off one by one and dip in the lemony sauce. (below)

scrape the meat off the inside of the leaves with your teeth.

When you get to the small light cone of leaves in the center, pull them out.

You will see the choke and its fuzz. Using a small spoon, scrape the fuzz out being careful not to get too much of the valuable flesh.

Now you should have a clean and delicious last few bites of the yummy choke!! Enjoy!!

Easy Lemon  Sauce

Use for dipping your artichoke leaves into.

1/2 cup of  mayonnaise

zest and juice of 1 lemon

Salt and pepper to taste

2 teaspoons fresh chopped parsley


a pinch of smoked paprika

1 garlic clove chopped


Combine all ingredients and stir.

Pink and Green Ravioli Made Easy

3 Feb

With Valentine’s Day approaching I thought you could use just one more pink recipe *wink, wink*  yes, I know your thinking  “Pink pasta again??” My answer is’ “Yes people, more pink pasta…can you really have too much pink?” My last post on Pink Pasta was a bit more complicated, this one is easy!

This is a really easy way to wow your family.  Are the kids asking for pasta AGAIN? OK, so give it to them but shock them this time. These are very easy ravioli made from Wonton skins and filling of your choice.We love spinach and what could be easier than frozen spinach and tofu try this on for size. If your kids are not very adventurous then just use a pinch of the lemon zest instead of a whole teaspoon.

Pink and Green Ravioli 

We like to add a little soy sauce or just some good olive oil and grated Parmesan on top.  If you have extra filling save it and add it to your scramble in the morning or drop it in some chicken broth for a good healthy egg drop spinach soup.


1/2 pound soft silken tofu
10 oz  frozen organic spinach, thawed and drained
1 large egg
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon lemon zest
salt and pepper
1 package Wonton skins
1 beet, peeled and diced into one inch cubes
In a large pot bring about 6 cups of water and chopped beet to a boil, let simmer for 15 minutes. The water will be nice and pink.
Assemble wontons following directions below.
  • In a bowl mash all ingredients except wonton skins and beets with a fork.
  • Put about 1 tablespoon of the filling near the corner of the wonton wrapper.
  • Wet the edges of the wonton wrapper with water or beaten egg.  Pull the other corner over the filling, creating a triangle press and seal the edges together.
  • Set finished wontons on an oiled baking sheet or plate.
  • Assemble the rest until you run out of filling or wontons.  You can either cook them immediately or put them in the fridge until later in the day. Make sure that they are well covered so that they don’t dry out.
    To Cook
  • Bring water back up to a boil, add  1-2 teaspoons kosher salt . Add about 10 wontons, stir very gently and let the water come to a boil again. Cook about 4 minutes until the ravioli look droopy.
  • Lift the cooked ravioli from the boiling water with a slotted spoon and add another batch.
    Place them on a plate or shallow bowl and drizzle with olive oil to prevent sticking.
  • Keep cooking until you have cooked all the wontons. Serve at once with desired sauce.

Taking Chickpeas To The Next Level

29 Nov
Finished roasted chickpeas
I learned to make  Crispy Chickpeas with Garlic & Sage from my friend Michael Chiarello, we eat them all the time. We love the crunch and the chickpeas are a healthy fiber filled snack food for the kids. We love to do a quick version of his recipe by roasting them in the oven with rosemary and salt, they always get eaten up before they get to the table!  My daughter loves to go pick rosemary from the garden wash and cut it up using scissors The kids can season them and stir them, and be proud of their involvement in the dish.
Tiny sorghum popcorn and chickpeas
Chickpeas can be great in rice, eaten cold or warm, with curry, in salad they go great in just about anything. If your kids are like my daughter they may not like humus but they may like chickpeas in a different form. I always try to serve up ingredients in various forms and sometimes it actually works! My child wont touch hummus but loves the crisp texture of baked chick peas!
I was looking for another way to serve up these power packed legumes. I came across a very cute video of two girls making a very yummy version of our favorite. Human Body Detectives  is an adorable series about body function written by Dr. Heather about her kids adventures in the human body.  Her girls also make videos about their favorite healthy recipes that they cook at home. I came across their recipe for a slightly sweeter version of crunchy chickpeas I really like it, I can use organic ingredients, raw honey and control the sweetness too.  You can use other spices, try adding pumpkin pie or nutmeg or some vanilla.
Standard popcorn vs. Sorghum popcorn
One thing we came across recently is Sorghum popcorn, it is tiny tiny popped grains, the cutest thing you ever saw! We tossed it in with the cooked sweet chickpeas for a little texture and saltiness, it was a hit. If you can’t find plain popped Sorghum just use regular popcorn it works just as well.
The winter holidays are on the way like a wave of sugar and glistening sparkles and you want to be armed with snacky food ideas, don’t you?  Skip the chips and dip, instead put bowls of crunchy snacks all around the house. Surprise your kids and guests with these sweet gems, it’s time to break out of the hummus rut.  I suggest making a double recipe….

Removing the tough skins
Butter cinnamon mixture
Roasted Honey Cinnamon Chickpeas
1 15 oz. can of garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed (or 2 cups cooked garbanzo beans)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbs of canola oil or 1 1/2 Tbs of melted butter
1 Tbs of raw honey
1 cup tiny Sorghum or regular popcorn

1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
2. Place the beans between two paper towels and pat dry, loosening the outer skin of the
3. Remove the outer skins of the beans, and pat dry to remove any other excess water.
4. In a bowl, whisk together the oil or melted butter and cinnamon. Add the beans and
coat well. Place on a baking sheet.
5. Roast for 40 minutes.
6. Remove the beans from the oven, place in a glass bowl and toss with 1 Tbs of
7. Place back in the oven and roast for an additional 7 minutes. Cool completely add in popcorn and serve!

* Sorghum popcorn

Let The Kids Decide What’s For Dinner

11 Oct

Kids love to give their opinion and to be the boss so let them, sometimes.  Dinner can be tricky with toddlers and siblings and distractions.  It’s hard to tear them away from a game or task to come to the table.  Admit it, if you were in the middle of writing an email or playing with Lego’s and someone made you get up in the middle of it for dinner you may be have a tantrum too. We need to be gentle with kids, they live in a whole other world of make believe and play, they may be in the room but their minds can be elsewhere. A warning 10 minutes before dinner can make a huge difference in getting them to the table with sanity!  If that trick fails then for sure involve them in the dinner planning to start their engines. 
Kids want to be involved, feel independent and be a part of the group. Get them involved in dinner, planning so they know what to expect.

Start small by stocking your fridge with healthy brightly colored veggies, and proteins. Keep a well stocked pantry full of whole grains and rice and beans.
When it comes time to plan dinner have your kids help choose a veggie, a protein and a starch.  Let them know that plain pasta just will not give them the energy they need to play for hours. (remember eating a rainbow is the way to grow) Letting your child understand choices gives them confidence and good decision making skills. Set them up for success by starting with simple choices.

Pick Your Toppings Pasta Night

Once they decide on the 3 or 4 ingredients,  cook them up and, put them in separate dishes and let them “mix” their own bowl for dinner. Feel free to offer a sauce on the side like olive oil or Alfredo and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. We like to have a bunch of sauces and spices on the table so everyone can tailor the meal to their liking.  Get them used to seeing different foods arrive each night.  Give them some guidelines, for instance, only add ingredients one spoonful at a time, it is easier to add than take away.  and they have to try everything they have chosen to mix in. Give lots of praise even if it tastes bland and boring. Try to avoid saying something tastes bad in front of a child, being negative around food will quickly create a picky eater. This is about building self-esteem around eating not necessarily what they end up eating. The point here is you are putting them in the driver seat, put on your seat belt and get ready to take a ride.

Grown-ups can go heavy on the veggies to model meals for the kids.  Adding nuts is a great way to get protein too!

Choose wisely like trying whole-wheat pasta vs. white pasta, shredded zucchini vs. sausage, white beans and grilled chicken instead of ground beef. 
Use ingredients like bacon and some meat as seasonings or flavorings instead of using them as the star of a dish.  

For do-it-yourself pasta night here are a 2 ingredient suggestions, using the same pan, sauté one after another.  
To sauté, heat a large shallow pan on medium heat, add 1- 2 tablespoons of olive oil, add your first ingredient, continuing adding until everything is cooked.

Chicken-ish Pasta Dish 
Chicken apple sausage, cut in rounds and sautéed
Sautéed zucchini rounds
Cooked whole-wheat rigatoni or elbows
Shredded green apples, raw to add on top
Olive oil, salt and pepper
Gobble It Up Turkey Sauté
Ground turkey, sautéed
Broccoli florets, steamed
Shredded Cheddar cheese
Quinoa or Brown rice, cooked

Taco Night
The ever-popular taco night, another great way to get your kids experimenting! Put out bowls of ingredients and let the kids add what they like. Smearing re-fried beans in the bottom of the taco can help the ingredients stick, thus preventing ingredient spillage! Cutting the ingredients into small bits makes it easier for little mouths. Use soft or crunchy taco shells and lots of healthy ingredients like:

Corn tortillas, soft or crunchy
Ground beef or turkey or a mixture (cooked with taco seasoning and crumbled)
Shredded cheddar or pepper jack cheese
Shredded lettuce
Green or black olives, sliced
Avocado, sliced
Red or green salsa, mild
Re fried beans, organic, warmed
Diced tomato
small amounts of sour cream
corn off the cob
caramelized onions (raw onion can be too harsh for kids)

Pickled Carrots or Carrot Pickles?

18 Jul
“Mom, I’d like to make some pickles but from carrots. What would we call them, pickled carrots or carrot pickles?”

I have been in the kitchen every second of every spare minute working on styling recipes for a cookbook with my husband the photographer. I have made, cookies, fudge, omelets, shakes, scones, pretty much everything you can imagine. Somehow in between the recipes for the project and meals for my family (and not to mention I’m running a full time cooking camp for 3 weeks!) I am cooking with my daughter. We are making Popsicles in our Zoku, pies, hand ground corn tortillas, eggs, grilled cheese on a stick,  pickles…you get the point. I love what I do don’t get me wrong but summer is tough when the kids are out of school and schedules are out of whack.
She has always loved my food but I have been waiting for her to blossom as a little chef and it happened. The timing is all-wrong, I mean really kid, couldn’t you wait until I wasn’t so busy? The answer is is that it doesn’t matter, I will always be busy and I HAD to take advantage of this NOW! Her taste buds are hopping and her little brain is churning with ideas, it’s my job to facilitate that. If my kid wants to try onions I sure as hell am going to help her with that! Tonight she made a pie that was so delicious I was in awe. Sure I help her, give her tips and even chop ingredients but I am really trying to let her drive, really trying. as she gets more comfortable with the equipment I will just sit in the passenger seat and try not to use the invisible brake.

Sweet Pickled Carrots 
Getting kids to eat acidic foods or foods with any flavor can be a challenge but if  THEY make this recipe they may change their mind!  This is a great kid friendly base recipe for pickling veggies, let them add a variety of veggies or other herbs and spices to experiment.
Great on tacos!!

Makes about 8 cups
Ingredients :
    2 pounds organic carrots, 1/8″ slices
    1 medium onion, finely sliced half moons
    2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
    2 cups water
    3/4 cup vinegar of your choice (recommend 1 part rice vinegar and 2 parts ume plum vinegar)
    ¾  or up to 1 cup sugar
    1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1. Blanch carrots in boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop cooking. Place carrots, onions and garlic in two 3 cup glass jars or bowl with a cover.
2. Meanwhile, add water, vinegar(s), sugar and salt to a saucepan over high heat.  Bring to a boil and ensure sugar has been completely dissolved.
3.  Pour hot liquid over vegetables. Let cool to room temperature, cover and store in refrigerator.

Salad Days

28 Jun

It finally happened, yes it’s true…my child loves salad!! I knew the day would come, she always liked her veggies and was OK with chomping on lettuce, but a salad was not on the menu for her. Salad is a tough one for kids, it can be acidic, or slightly soggy or just green! The advice I give in my cookbook Toddler Cafe is to present some form of salad every night.  Put it on the plate, just a few leaves and cut up veggies let your child get used to seeing the veggies there but don’t force it. You may end up eating a few extra veggies while you are cleaning up because they probably will leave them untouched every night for years….but…eventually they will eat it. (fingers crossed)
Another tip is to use very crisp lettuce like baby Romaine and cut it small. I like to cut the length of the leaf and then across to make smaller bite size pieces. Having to manage large leaves of lettuce can be un-fun for little mouths, so chop all the ingredients small.

 Of course it was not all my hard work and determination to get her to like salad, it was school! One day the second grade made a salad, they were so excited it was as if they had just all gotten a candy bar or something!! All 17 of them came screaming in the class room, “LOOK WHAT WE MADE, LOOK WHAT WE MADE, WE MADE A SALAD!!!!”

I just happened to be in the classroom for reading groups and got the witness the total frenzy of excited eight year olds first hand.  It was so cute, they were so proud of harvesting and making the salad including the dressing.

That night when Kidlet came home she asked if she could make a salad for our dinner. She has always cooked with me and always created her own “recipes” but she hadn’t really made anything fully edible yet on her own. I said with gusto, “sure you can make the salad tonight!” I fully thought it would be horrible, I mean she has been making salad for her pet rat but now she’s working on one we are going to eat!! I knew there would be a mess, corn smashed on my socks and dried up lettuce to be scraped off the floor but I didn’t care.
She chose her ingredients and I helped get the appropriate tools for her. I showed her how to scrape the food in to the bowl from the cutting board instead of manhandling it in small fistfuls into the bowl.
She made the dressing with lemon, olive oil, salt and a few drops of Balsamic vinegar. Her veggies were, sweet corn, broccoli, carrots, lettuces and parsley, all chopped well.
She tossed it and served it and was beaming and proud and truth be told it was really good!!
Now she wants to make the salad every Friday night, we dubbed it Shabbat Salad and she is in charge of  that part of the meal now.  We always say what we are happy about on Friday dinner and on that particular Friday I was happy my daughter was exited about salad!
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