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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Cooking with Toddlers: Quinoa and Inca Berry Breakfast Bowl

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Our breakfasts’ are in need of some serious overhaul. They go something like this; oatmeal, oatmeal, oatmeal, oatmeal, oatmeal, oatmeal, pancakes. Really exciting.

Don’t get me wrong oatmeal is awesome but it becomes a little ho hum, as Fig will tell you, if you’ve had it every day of your life for the past two years. I’ve been thinking about quinoa for quite some time and thought there might be some potential if dressed in oatmeal’s clothing; chia, inca berries, hemp, sunflower seeds, maple syrup and cinnamon.

Inca Berry, sometimes called Peruvian Ground Cherry, originates from the high altitude regions of peru. They are ridiculously expensive but equally delicious so we only buy them in very small quantities. If you can’t find any, cranberries or raisins will suffice just fine.

Fig was totally into building his own breakfast bowl since he got to put the fixings on himself. He’s really into mixing and pouring right now, so despite this being extraordinarily simple to set up, he had inordinate amounts of fun concocting his own little quinoa bowl.

Since this had the potential to create an epic mess ( think sunflower and hemp seed explosion) I let him build his bowl outside. This saves me a ton of time on cleanup and makes the process of cooking with toddlers a bit easier for all parties.

Later that day I saw a little bunny fufu hopping around the site, probably munching on some $15-a-pound Inca berries that were left in the quinoa-bowl-making wake. Eat well my little furry friend!

Quinoa and Incan Berry Breakfast Bowl

Serves 4

  • 1 cup of cooked quinoa
  • 1/4 cup of sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup of incan berries
  • 1/4 cup of hemp
  • 1/4 cup of almonds
  • 2 tablespoons of chia seed
  • Cinnamon to taste
  • Maple syrup to taste

In a bowl combine the quinoa with all the fixings and add your milk of choice.

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Cooking with Toddlers: Popcorn with Nutritional Yeast

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Fig and I have been making big plans for our garden. He thinks we should only grow flowers; dandelions to be exact. I take a more pragmatic approach, suggesting a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. He’s been rather recalcitrant, as two year olds are often prone to, but I may have changed his mind after introducing him to popcorn. At least he’s open to growing a bit of zea mays now.

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To say the transformation of hard corn kernels into soft and airy delectable morsels blew Fig’s mind would be an understatement. Popcorn literally rocks his world now. The act of making popcorn is really a dramatic affair for a two year old when you get to thinking of it. Warming up the big cast iron pot with oil, waiting for those first few kernels to pop and then BAM all the kernels go pouring into the pot and pop, pop, pop, pop! After the popcorn was sufficiently popped, we waited in anticipation for it cool, sprinkled a bit of salt and nutritional yeast on it.

Fig was content to putz around the garden with a freshly popped batched of his corn. Sometimes cooking with toddlers is as easy as letting little ones get their hands on some corn seeds and watching a transformation happen.

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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: Freshly Squeezed Orange Juice

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When you’re two and you have an attitude the best thing to do is squeeze some OJ.

Fig has his moments, usually in the afternoon, in which he wanders around the house like a zombie with a low-grade sob and utters ” I don’t want that“. That is an umbrella term Fig uses for anything and everything that displeases him at any given moment. For example, should I be drinking a cup of coffee when he is in one of these moods, he’ll point with a quivering lip and proclaim ” I don’t want that“; followed by a river of tears . Should I put in a load of laundry?  I don’t want that“; again cue dramatic weeping. Things like air, gravity and birds have also been cause for alligator tears.

I’ve come to realize, the only thing that will snap him out of these moods is giving him something sensory to do with his hands. Washing dishes, peeling, shelling, and lately, squeezing oranges.

The key with squeezing oranges is they must be quite soft. Too firm and little ones won’t be able to get much juice out of them. Mandarins and clementines are the best. We had some blood oranges that were a bit past their prime and quite soft. I demonstrated with a few and then Fig hit the ground running.

20 minutes later, he was enjoying a glass of freshly squeezed OJ in the garden and with his zest for life restored, returned to cavorting with the family of squirrels that have taken residence in our backyard.

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Cooking with Toddlers: Cabbage Bowls with Quinoa and Sorrel in an Almond Sauce

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Cabbage bowls; the perfect dish for when all your dishes are dirty.

Our house is wired in such a way that you can’t have both the laundry machine and the dishwasher going simultaneously. This is rather unfortunate given that Fig rolls around in the mud all day long and has a remarkable talent for dirtying up clothes. I often find myself pondering if I should wash the feral cat poo Fig accidentally meandered into or the dishes. Poo always wins.

Which is why you’ll frequently find Fig eating his lunch on cutting boards or devouring his sandwich out of a bowl ( mom fail). A two year old could really care less if his quesadilla is jammed into a bowl but it always gives me pause. It was on a particularly horrendous laundry day that we decided to test out cabbage leaves in lieu of proper dishware. Not only are they pretty but there are no extra dishes! The scraps were fed to our worm farm post-lunch.

The wonderful thing about these bowls is you can really dress them up anyway you want and include a little one in the process. We chose quinoa, corn, sorrel, and avocado (aka what was left over in our fridge) and dressed it up with our homemade version of yum sauce.

Fig loves scooping and cutting and had a great deal of fun designing his own little bowl. His bowl turned out a little more messy avant garde but toddlers are passionate and temperamental artists and are best left alone in matters like these.

Cabbage Bowls:

These are quite simple. All you need is cabbage leaves, fixings and a killer sauce. Mix your fixings of choice in the cabbage bowl and drizzle with sauce. Relax for an extra 10 minutes after lunch since there are no dishes 🙂

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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: Coconut Ice Cream with Bee Pollen

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Ice and cream; two words, when combined and subsequently uttered in the presence of a two year old, will result in deliberate, merciless and unrelenting harassment.

“Hey Fig, want to help mama make some ice cream?”. The words just slipped out of my mouth before I knew it and everything went downhill from there.

Ice cream. Ice cream. Ice cream. Mom can I have some ice cream? Is the ice cream ready? Ice cream. I want ice cream. Ice cream. Ice cream. Ice cream. Hey mom, is the ice cream ready. Ice cream. Ice cream. Ice cream. iceeee creaam ….

This went on for an entire day because, as the name implies, making homemade frozen desserts requires time to freeze. Time and toddlers don’t go well together especially when ice cream is on the line.

While this is an incredibly easy recipe to make with a toddler, I’d suggest you don’t mention what it is unless you want to be pecked to death for the next 12 hours.

No Churn Coconut Ice Cream with Bee Pollen

Everything is in bloom here, spring is everywhere and so are our allergies. I decided to throw some local bee pollen in for decoration + to help with our runny eyes. This is vegan, gluten-free and lactose-free.

Ingredients:

  • Two 15 oz cans of coconut cream.
  • 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup of powdered sugar (optional, but adds a bit of sweetness to this rich cream).
  • Bee pollen for garnish.

Directions

  • Scoop out the two cans of coconut cream into a large bowl. Add the vanilla extract.
  • Whisk on high for several minutes until the cream is light and fluffy.
  • Pour mixture into a 12 X 8 baking dish and freeze ( we left ours for 12 hours).
  • Once the ice cream is frozen, you’ll need to let it thaw for quite some time. We let ours sit in the sun for around 20 minutes before we were able to scoop it out.
  • Serve in cones or bowls and sprinkle with bee pollen.

Toddler Friendly Parts of this Recipe

  • Scoping the coconut cream into the bowl.
  • Pouring in the vanilla extract.
  • Licking the whisk attachment ( Fig considers this crucial).
  • Sprinkling the bee pollen on the cones.

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Cooking with Todders: Easy Peasy

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I haven’t been able to pull Fig out of the garden lately. Not even the lure of a cheesy quesadilla will do it. He’s having too much fun romping around. Between trying to make friends with a few feral cats ( with limited success), patrolling for squirrels ( with great success) and fishing in the grass for twout (trout), he’s too busy to be bothered with the going-ons of the kitchen.

So in light of the delicious spring weather and his complete resistance to being indoors, I’ve resorted to bringing his lunch and snacks outside. This has also saved me quite a bit of time cleaning the explosion of food scraps that are left under Fig’s chair post-meal time.

Fig has always loved peas and shelling them to uncover the sweet rounds of goodness pretty much rocks his world. As with most two year olds, he’s constantly in-motion. It always takes me by surprise when he focuses so intently on a task and shelling peas, with their promise of sweet succulence, requires all his energies.

But Fig is not the only one who loves a good batch of fresh peas…….

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IMG_5917Oh yes, Mafalda the Dachshund, whose love of peas was documented here, will give her right paw for a mouthful of peas. The dog will stick her nose up at sweet fruit but will nearly rip your finger off trying to snag a pea. Fig is happy to share his beloved peas with her and I’m quite happy to see that both my kids got their greens in.

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Cooking with Toddlers: Naan

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Every friday night I plan out the next week’s meals and accompanying grocery list. This may seem about the dullest way to spend a Friday night ( don’t worry, I jazz the night up with not one, not two, but three cups of chamomile tea) but I look forward to it every week. Spreading out dozens of cookbooks, I read, think and plan what we’ll eat all in a wondrous silence that only mothers of young children can appreciate. I usually have too many ideas and slowly widdle my list down until I have a reasonable compilation of meals that won’t bankrupt us and and are feasible on a weekday.

But this past Friday I couldn’t think of a single thing. Nothing sounded good, everything seemed far too complicated and little boxes of macaroni and cheese started to float inside my brain availing themselves as legitimate dinner options.

So instead of flipping through page after page of fancy cookbooks I thumbed through my old meal planning entries hoping to find some easy inspiration. It was there I discovered the not so ugly truth; We have a clear Indian food addiction and didn’t even know about it. Curries, Daal, Tikka Masala; the list went on. At the height of our Indian obsession we were eating Indian food 2 or 3 times a week. And who could blame us? Is there anything better than piping hot vegetable tikka masala poured over a bed of rice with a huge delicious and buttery hunk of naan? I dare say not.

Speaking of naan, it never occurred to me to actually make naan despite making the accompanying dish from scratch. While I’d never actually seen a recipe for naan I assumed it would be laborious and difficult.  Let me tell you something; once you go homemade naan, you never go back. Store bought naan is like cardboard and homemade naan is like manna from heaven.

Making naan involves dough balls and rolling pins and thus lends itself to tiny helping hands. Seeing all those tiny little dough balls rolled up elicited a high pitched squeal and a ” wow ..how cool!” from Fig who promptly got to work rolling out the dough balls and handing them over to me.

So as you might have guessed, Indian food is gracing our table several times this week. We made a batch of 20 and freezed most of it but not before eating a few warm slices just ensure it was palatable and safe for consumption ( the sacrifices we make as home cooks I tell you!).

Bonus: I showed Fig how to use his naan as a vehicle for getting Tikka Masala into his mouth and he was totally into it. I’m a bit embarrassed I didn’t think of it sooner since Fig is a sucker for all things bread. Getting him to eat heavily spiced foods with complex flavors usually comes with quite a bit of coaxing and sometimes even bribery but I think we’ve solved that with naan!

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Ingredients

  • ¾ cup warm water
  • 1 tsp. honey
  • ¼-oz. package active dry yeast ( standard one package)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup plain, full-fat yogurt ( if you don’t have yogurt I’ve used coconut milk cream with amazing results as well).
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • ½ tsp. salt

Directions:

  • Combine water, honey and yeast. Let sit for 10 minutes.
  • Add the flour and yogurt. Combine well and knead. Let rise in a warm place for one hour.
  • After dough has risen, divide into 10 equal tiny balls.
  • Roll out to to about a 1/4 inch thick.
  • Oil a pan and heat on medium.
  • Cook naan on each side. You’ll know it’s ready to flip when tiny bubbles appear over the surface.
  • Serve warm!

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