Cooking with Toddlers: Blue Corn Fish Tacos with Mandarin and Grapefruit Salsa

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Toddler hands. Honestly, I’m a little freaked out by them.  A quick 10 minute observation of Fig in the garden saw him digging in the worm bin, touching a random cat’s tail, finding a slug ( which brought into the house and promptly put on my pillow) and manhandling the bottom of his shoe.

Not exactly the kind of hand activity you want by the person who’s going to make dinner. I wash his hands better than a surgeon does but I’m still a little paranoid that I’m going to catch squirrel-ebola or some other remote disease from little Fig’s hands.

That being said sometimes you just gotta go with the flow, take the necessary sanitary precautions and make tacos. Fig likes fish tacos but he doesn’t love them. What he does love is thoroughly handling the expensive battered halibut and then not eating it.  You have to catch him in the right mood or else the tortilla will be eaten and little else. Which leaves you with $10 of inedible halibut unless of course you want to catch the aforementioned squirrel-ebola.

Enter Mandarin and Grapefruit Salsa and the problem is solved; at least for Fig. He loves a healthy dose of fruit and pretty much forgot the taco even contained fish.

And while I had the best intentions of making the tortillas and fish from scratch, those dreams were quickly thrown in the trash because it turned out to be one of those days. Pre-battered halibut from whole foods and tortillas from Three Sisters Nixtmal for the win!

Lastly, I want to thank my husband for moonlighting as my handsome hand model. It’s a hard job but somebody has to do it.

Mandarin and Grapefruit Salsa

  • 1 Large Grapefruit
  • 2 Mandarins (through in a few more for good measure since your child will eat them during the chopping process)
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped cilantro
  • 1 green onion, diced.
  • Salt to Taste

Directions:

  • Take all the skin off the grapefruit wedges.
  • Chop the grapefruit and mandarins into small pieces
  • In a bowl, combine the chopped fruit, cilantro, onion and season with salt to taste.Mix well.

Toddler Friendly Parts of this Recipe:

  • Chopping the fruit
  • Mixing the Salsa
  • Testing the fruit as needed…you know, for safety reasons 🙂

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Sauerkraut with Toddlers

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When I was pregnant with Fig I craved onion, garlic, kimchi and sauerkraut. The most unholiest of combinations was my personal heaven. Bliss was a loaded garlic kimchi scooped directly from the jar and straight into my mouth. Our apartment also smelled like a dumpster.

I ate so much fermented goodness that it occurred to me I may have slightly fermented Fig in utero. It wouldn’t surprise me since Fig is a bit on the kooky side. Much like sauerkraut, Fig is deliciously bonkers but in the most wonderful way. You can tell something funky’s going on but you can’t help but go back for more.

I’ve been making sauerkraut for quite some time by myself. It recently dawned on me that kraut and toddlers are a match made in microbial heaven and that it was time Fig jump on the fermentation bandwagon with me. It’s fantastically simple to make and involves chopping, salting, massaging, and packing into jars, a sensory wonderland for little ones.

Fig helped me chop and was a huge fan of massaging the cabbage. There is nothing quite like submerging your hands and having your way with a bowl full of cabbage when you’re two. Packing it in the jar was also quite fun but I had to temper his enjoyment lest he broke the glass jar with his tamping vigor.

Basic Sauerkraut

I make my sauerkraut by taste nowadays. I sprinkle salt as I go and taste it rather than measure it out religiously. This was after I followed a poorly written recipe that was so salty I nearly mummified myself right on the spot. The general cabbage-to-salt ratio is 5:3. For every 5 pounds of cabbage you need 3 tablespoons of salt. Our family never makes it through 5 pounds of sauerkraut so I usually use one large cabbage ( which is around 2 pounds). That amount will fit nicely into a pint mason jar. You pretty much can’t go wrong if you follow Sandor Katz’s recipes. His book Wild Fermentation is a true gem and everything I’ve made from there has turned out delicious.

Directions:

  • Finely chop the cabbage.
  • Sprinkle salt on the cut cabbage and, with your hands, massage it very well to draw all the excess water out.
  • If you don’t have a fermentation crock, pack the cabbage into a mason jar. Pack as tightly as you can since this will help to draw the water out further. Cover the jar so that flies will stay away but it will be exposed to the air. I put a sprouting lid on our mason jars. A cloth will work just as well.
  • It’s important to keep the cabbage submerged in the salty water, the brine, completely while it’s in the mason jar. Because we don’t have a crock, I usually check on the kraut several times a day and just tamp it down when I see the cabbage emerging from the water line.
  • Check periodically after a few days. It should taste a little tangy by the third or fourth day, increasing in tanginess as time goes on.
  • After the kraut has fermented to my liking ( around a week or so), I put a lid on it and store in the fridge.
    • If you’re pregnant, you can enjoy a delicious batch of freshly fermented kraut on ice cream, a pb&j or in some granola. These are all time tested and pregnancy-approved ways to eat sauerkraut.
    • If you are not pregnant, you will most likely find the above suggestions repulsive and may find eating it on bread or crackers more to your liking-suit yourself but you only live once!

Our Favorite Fermentation Resources:

Wild Fermentation

Nourished Kitchen

On a final note, I’m sure there are those of you, probably with toddlers, wondering if Fig actually eats the kraut. He certainly ate quite a few cabbage leaves during the prep but he’s a little less enthusiastic about the kraut itself. While I was hoping he would turn into a pint sized fermento, I’m dismayed to report this has not happened. He will eat exactly one bite per my suggestion but that’s about it. I suppose one bite is better than no bites, so I’ll count it as a win.

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Cooking with Toddlers: Peeling Carrots

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I wonder if I can make Chicken Kiev with Fig? That was an actual thought I had a few days ago while I was under the influence of butter. Deliciously fragrant butter messes with your mind I tell you.

In my butter-induced altered state, I began contemplating some of the best times Fig and I have had in the kitchen. All of them have a commonality about them. Rather spontaneous and simple, they’ve emerged out of moments of quiet where I’ve been busily working in the kitchen only to feel a small tug of my pants and soft utterance of  “can I help please?

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To which the answer is always yes ( most of the time.) Peeling carrots is one of those easy kitchen activities that can provide minutes ( let’s be real about toddlers attention spans) of focused attention from an eager child and it’s about as simple as you can get.

It also happens to be the most reliable way I can get Fig to eat carrots. It was my intention to serve what was left of the carrots ( which by the time Fig was done peeling happened to be three) for dinner; roasted to perfection and served with garlic salt. But once these beauties were roasted we made the executive decision to sample just one more….which resulted their complete disappearance at the hands of a two year old.

A few hours later I saw the dog going at a carrot that had been apparently left in the grass by Fig. I left her alone in carrot bliss.

The next day, as I watched Fig putz around the garden I noticed him gnawing on something. A closer inspection revealed it was the same dirty dog carrot. Apparently roasted carrots are even better the next day with a hint of dog slobber and bit of morning dew.

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Cooking with Toddlers: Rose Infused Vegan Cheesecakes

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I am pleased to contribute to one of my favorite blogs Growing Up Herbal. We’re big believers in herbs and herbal medicine and I frequent the blog for ideas and remedies for my two little ones. I highly recommend checking the site out if you’re interested in herbs for children. While you’re there check out my recipe for Vegan Infused Rose Cheesecakes; just in times for Valentines day!

Cooking with Toddlers: Cranberry Apple Sauce

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One of the hardest parts about cooking with young children is the horrific, borderline apocalyptic mess that always ensues. There has been plenty of days where cleaning up after Fig took more time than making the dish itself. The mess is hardly even just contained within the confines of the kitchen. It’s the toddler ( try getting honey out of  a two year old’s hair) and sometimes even the dog. On horrible days, it might even be the carpet that falls victim.

Often times, I find myself questioning why I even do this in the first place. Surely and without doubt, it’s much easier to prepare meals without the “help” of a two year old and  cooking solo rarely requires me to bust out the mop, scrub the walls , bathe the dog, and do extra loads of laundry.

But this whole cooking with toddlers really wasn’t my own idea in the first place. It was little Fig’s. He was so interested in the going-on’s of the kitchen and eager to be involved in real work. And saying Yes! to little hands in the kitchen has been an incredible learning experience for both. Fig has taught me so much in his two years of life but one of his greatest teachings has been the art of keeping a good attitude while being so very patient and going with the flow.

Speaking of going with the flow, I recently embarked on a little cran-apple sauce adventure and was intending to make this by myself seeing as Fig was occupied trying to color the dog’s tail. However, once he got wind that I was doing doing something with apples he begged to help. This is a pretty simple recipe to make with a toddler and a great way to effortlessly introduce measurements. Fig also learned that raw cranberries are “no bueno” is his words ( can’t say I didn’t warn him!).

Apple Cranberry Sauce

  • 2 cups of fresh cranberries
  • 2 cups of chopped apples
  • 1 tablespoon of cinnamon
  • 1/2 tablespoon of cardamom
  • 1/2 cup of brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup of water

Directions:

  • Add all ingredients in a pot and bring to boil.
  • Turn down to low and let sauce simmer until apples are tender.
  • Cool and serve.

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Cooking with Toddlers: Candied Saged Walnuts

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I’m a huge fan of dandelion greens. For me, the bitter flavor is exquisite. To make a killer salad I chop up a bunch of dandelion greens, throw in some candied walnuts, dried cranberries and feta. Add a dash of olive oil, salt, and lemon juice for a dressing and viola; amazing.  

I wasn’t joking about it being a killer salad; I gave some to my husband and it literally almost killed him. After gagging and choking on what he thought surely must be poison, he concluded that the salad tastes like nail polish remover ( a slight over exaggeration in my opinion). This is totally fine by me since it means I don’t have to share.

Everytime I do make the salad however,  I  have a twinge of guilt. The cost of candied walnuts are pretty outrageous. So I started making my own with bulk organic raw walnuts. I decided to enlist the help of little Fig, since I’ve been trying to get him on the walnut-train with limited success. Fig can eat cashews and sunflower seeds by the fistful but isn’t keen on walnuts. Walnuts are extremely healthy and full of beneficial nutrients and minerals but, according to Fig, “me no like da walnuts. Mo’ cashoes please!!”.

These walnuts were a total hit with my two year old, both to make and eat. It’s a pretty simple recipe that’s super easy to make with a toddler since it doesn’t take long. Plus, they make for a nice, slightly sweet snack. Fig believes he’s getting some kind of forbidden dessert , sneaking off to his bedroom to eat his walnuts in peace only to return 5 minutes later, begging for “mo’ nutz”.

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Saged Candied Walnuts

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of raw walnuts
  • 3 tablespoons of fresh sage, chopped
  • 1/2 tablespoon of maple syrup
  • 2/3 cup of brown sugar
  • sea salt to taste
  • 2 tablespoons of coconut oil

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IMG_2095Directions

  • Preheat oven to 300
  • Add coconut oil and sage to a pan and on a low heat setting, cook sage until tender and fragrant.
  • In a bowl, add walnuts, sugar, salt and syrup. Mix well.
  • Pour sage and coconut oil over the walnuts. Mix well.
  • Spread walnuts on a baking sheet making sure each nut has ample space. Cook for 30 minutes, flipping ( as best you can) the nuts at 15 minutes.
  • Eat plain or serve in salads

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Cooking with Toddlers: Apple Rings and Apple Cider Vinegar

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I’m not a very crafty or festive person but I’m working on it. Planning and doing seasonal crafts and activities are akin to torture for me, but I realize the importance of creating a rhythm to the year through holidays and the celebration of seasons for young children.

That being said, Fall is my favorite season and there seems to be no shortage of food related projects my little ones can do. Our newest and latest obsession is the apple peeler. Something about cranking machine is super exciting for my little Fig and since we bought the machine (a week ago) we’ve probably gone through $40.00 of apples.

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And while I generally try to keep my kitchen uncluttered with unnecessary kitchen appliances I consider this apple peeler a necessity! If you love dried fruit as much as we do it’s a worthwhile purchase and can provide hours of fun for little hands. It is an activity, however, you must be hyper vigilant in supervising  since the peeler and corer are very sharp.

After peeling and removing the cores; simply bake at 175-200 degrees fahrenheit in the oven for several hours; checking frequently to ensure the apple rings do not over crisp. The apples should have the chewiness of store bought dried apple rings when done.

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And of course, don’t waste those precious apple cores and peels! We decided to make apple cider vinegar ( we used this recipe) which I’ll later turn into an herbed apple cider vinegar disinfecting  kitchen cleaner.

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Cooking with Toddlers: Pickles

We’ve been off the grid for a few weeks due to potty training, a massive heat wave, and a very unmotivated pregnant mama who’s been less than inspired in the kitchen. There’s something about cooking a meal from scratch in insanely humid 97 degree weather while 38 weeks pregnant and a toddler who might poo on the carpet at any minute. Hopefully this baby will come sooner than later or we might be eating sandwiches forever. In the meantime, we did manage to make some pickles and had loads of fun doing it despite the heat and the grumpy mama.

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Fig avoids cucumbers like the plague. Not once has even so much as swallowed a morsel of cucumber in his life-until we made pickles. Fig had an all out cucumber bonanza. In fact, I’m confident he broke the record for most cucumbers consumed in a 20 minutes period.

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This is exactly why I love cooking with my two year old. He’s so much more receptive and open to foods he would otherwise scoff at. If given the opportunity to participate in the real work of creating a dish; he’ll sample (and re-sample dozens of times) whatever raw ingredients we’re working with. So far, cooking with Fig is one of the easiest and best ways to get him to try new foods and eat loads of fresh veggies.

Making pickles might be one of the easiest and most basic kitchen activities for toddlers. We used persian cucumbers which are a perfect size for small hands and are soft enough to make an easy cut leading to less frustration for little folks.

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Simple Pickle Recipe 

  • 1  1/2 persian cucumbers
  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1  1/2 tablespoons of kosher salt
  • 2 wide mouth jars

Preparation: 

  • Wash and dry the cucumbers; removing the ends
  • Cut into spears ( or the shape you desire)
  • Pack the cucumbers into the jars
  • Combine the water, vinegar, and salt in saucepan; bring to boil
  • Pour the brine ( the water, vinegar, and salt) over the cucumbers, covering the pickles completely.
  • Let the jars cool at room temp and then place in the fridge for 48 hours before tasting.
  • Pickles will last for several weeks.

Cooking with Toddlers: Pumpkin, Chia, and Flax Seed Falafel

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Things have been crazy around here the last few weeks. Working from home full time with a toddler and a baby that is about to pop out in a few weeks ( or sooner!) is no joke. There is a distinct possibility that our brand new baby might come home from the birth center naked since I have yet to buy a single piece of clothing for him/her. Nesting clearly hasn’t happened to me but avoidance and procrastination has.

To say I’m behind on life is a bit of an understatement but no matter how behind I am on my ever growing “to do” list we still have to eat. Which brings me to a wonderful dish that little Fig and I cooked up the other day; Pumpkin, Chia and Flax Seed Falafel. This recipe was inspired by The Vibrant Table again. As usual, we didn’t have several ingredients that she called for; so we improvised quite a bit.

Fig LOVED making the Falafel “balls” because he could really sink his hands into the mixture. The actual act of “making balls” ( as he says it) was a very engrossing activity. Fig is so full of energy that it’s always nice to see him highly focused on a task and I’ve found that quiet kitchen activities are really beneficial for him. While he’s fairly good at balancing his own inner equilibrium he sometimes needs my help. Dishes that have a sensory aspect ( a mixture, dough, or batter etc) and a fine motor skill ( the act of creating balls manually) always draws Fig into a quiet focus and falafel is an awesome combination of both.

I was also highly skeptical he’d actually eat the finished product but he did with gusto!

Pumpkin, Chia and Flax Seed Falafel

  • 4 tablespoons of ground flax seed
  • 3 tablespoons of sesame seeds
  • 1 tablespoon of chia seeds
  • 1 cup of pumpkin seeds
  • 3/4 a regular can of cooked chickpeas
  • 3 tablespoons of tahini
  • 3 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 garlic minced
  • 1/8 cup of chopped cilantro
  • Salt to taste ( taste the mixture as you go to determine the amount)

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Directions:

  • Grind up the pumpkin seeds so they are very small in a food processor
  • Heat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Take out several spoonfuls of the pumpkin seed and set aside to coat falafel with later.
  • Combine the remaining ingredients ( aside from the sesame seeds) in the processor and pulse until blended yet chunky
  • Here’s where an eager toddler comes into play; Form little rounded balls and coat with remaining pumpkin and sesame seed mix.
  • Place on a lightly oiled baking dish and cook for 15 minutes.
  • Serve with warm flatbread and either hummus or a tahini sauce.

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Cooking with Toddlers: Baked Carrot Top and Spout Egg Rolls

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” I need plan B”. That’s what my 27 month old said to me upon tasting ( and hating) the Carrot Top and Sprout Egg Rolls we made together.

Firstly; You’re two and we don’t own a TV. How do you even know what a plan B is?

Secondly: There is no plan B because mama doesn’t do plan  B’s for dinner. We only have plan  A and plan  A is Carrot Top and Sprout Egg Rolls.

After desperately trying to coax my little one into eating the egg rolls I eventually did give in and fashioned together another little plate of odds and ends for him. I’m pretty much against Plan B’s when it comes to meals but both my husband and I agreed that the carrot tops and sprouts were a little much for a two year old’s palate. (Bonus: my husband and I didn’t have to share these delicious eggrolls and ate the entire batch of 15 ( yes, you read that right) between the two of us.)

And while Fig happily devoured his Plan B meal I certainly wasn’t concerned about his vegetable intake. Only 30 minutes before I saw him shovel in his veggies while he was helping me. That’s one of the added bonuses of cooking with little ones. Even if they don’t eat the actual meal, chances are they’ll do a healthy amount of sampling during the process.

Fig certainly wasn’t a fan of the finished product; but loved the helping me “make” them. Of course after witnessing him strange the life out of the egg roll wraps (see photographic evidence below) I decided it was best if I set him up with his own station. He was content to sample his veggie tray and mangle his egg roll wrappers, even deciding that the best methodology was to cleaver them with his toy meat cleaver.

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Ingredients: 

  • 1/2 a cup of julienned carrots
  • 1/2 a cup of carrot tops, diced
  • 1/2 a cup of sunflower sprouts
  • 1/2 teaspoon of grated ginger
  • 1/2 a cup of pea sprouts
  • 2 teaspoons of tamari
  • 1/2 teaspoon of toasted sesame seed oil
  • Salt to taste
  • Egg roll wrappers

Directions:

  • Simply saute the veggies on low with the tamari, salt and sesame oil until they are vibrant and tender
  • Lay out the egg roll wrapper so one of the corners is facing you. Place several spoonfuls ( or more depending on desired thickness) onto a wrapper and wrap up corners  Fold left and right corners toward the center and continue to roll. Seal with a bit of water.
  • Every egg roll wrapper brand might have slightly different directions for baking. I brushed ours with sesame oil and baked them at 425 degrees for about 10 minutes until they were brown and then laid them out to drain the remaining oil on a paper towel before serving.

Notes:

  • I think frying the egg rolls would give them a slightly more authentic taste but for reasons having to do with health we chose to bake ours. I think it compromised the texture and taste of the egg roll wrapper. The inside however was delicious!

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