Cooking with Toddlers: Cucumbers with Minty Labne

 

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There are few dishes that don’t need a major intervention after Fig’s had his way with them. For Fig, making a salad  involves squishing the life out of a few tomatoes, throwing a half head of lettuce in the bowl (that has first been mercilessly stabbed to death by a blunt kids knife) and if he can get to it quick enough before I catch him, a good half a cup of salt.

Cucumbers with Minty Labne is the perfect side dish that requires minimal parental post-processing intervention. The dressing hides what can only be described as hideously chopped cucumbers compliments of a superbly blunt knife and an over-eager two year old. And peeling the cucumbers? Aside from intense supervision on my part to ensure no accident flailings took place, it is officially Fig’s new favorite kitchen activity.

We love this dish for it’s taste and ease but also because it reminds us of abuela. Fig’s grandmother is the most amazing cook. Every one of her dishes nearly brings tears of joy to my eyes; it’s that good! I only recently realized that probably 60% of everything I cook in a given week is either completely one of her dishes or at least inspired by it. Both Fig and I are so lucky to have her!

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Ingredients:

  • Two large cucumbers
  • A large handful of fresh mint, chopped finley
  • Juice from 1/2 a large lime or lemon
  • 1 cup of labne
  • 1 teaspoon of olive oil
  • 1 small clove of garlic, mashed into a paste
  • Salt to taste

Directions:

  • Chop cucumbers in small pieces
  • In a large bowl combine cucumbers, chopped mint, lime juice, labne, olive oil, garlic paste and salt.
  • Mix well and serve at room temperature or slightly chilled.

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Minty Potato and Quinoa Patties with Lemon Tahini Sauce

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My mother-in-law, who incidentally is the best cook in the world ( for real!),  makes these absurdly delicious potato cakes. They are light, fluffy, and amazingly delectable. In fact, she recently made some for Fig and I’m pretty sure he consumed at least a pound of potatoes in the process.

When Fig likes something, I tend to over-milk it, making six thousand versions of whatever he originally liked. Adding all kinds of different vegetables and herbs, I try to sell it as the “exact same thing!”. Sometimes he goes for it; most of the time not.

So it’s no surprise that upon discovering his love of abuela’s potato cakes I decided to recreate them with a few more vegetables hoping they’d be a huge hit as well.

But we ran into a few problems. Namely, the recipe was given to me in spanish and I don’t speak spanish. Turns out, understanding 75% of a recipe is kinda a big deal when it comes to cooking ( who knew??). When I had a gooey mess on my hands, I dialed up my husband, completely potatoifying my iphone in the process and explained the situation. Namely that the cakes were going to shit and I now had a two year old on my hands with potatoes so gooey I might as well poured super glue all over him.

But don’t you remember he said, she told you this dish requires a lot of patience. No, no I do not remember that.

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So, after realizing I was plum out of patience (or should I say, never had any to begin with), I quickly nixed the original recipe and decided to improvise a bit. The cakes were pretty delicious nonetheless and Fig had a smashing time ( pun intended) mashing the potatoes. For a two year old who pretty much lives for total destruction, mashing the potatoes is as good as it gets.

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Minty Potato and Quinoa Patties with Lemon Tahini Sauce

Ingredients for Patties:

  • 2 cups of mashed potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons of mint, minced
  • 1 garlic clove, mashed
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup of cooked quinoa
  • 1 cup of garbanzo flour
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • Oil for frying

Ingredients for Lemon Tahini Sauce:

  • 1/2 cup of tahini
  • 1 clove of garlic, mashed
  • 1/2 a lemon’s juice
  • 4 tablespoons of water
  • salt to taste

Directions for Patties:

  • Mix all ingredients together
  • Form mixture into patties
  • Fry on medium until patties are golden brown on each side
  • Serve warm with Tahini Sauce

Directions for Lemon Tahini Sauce

  • Mix everything in a food processor and serve on top of patties.

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Cooking with Toddlers: Lavender and Wildflower Honey Lollipops

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This post could also be titled How I Nearly Burnt Down Our House…Twice….In The Span of 15 Minutes. One may think, how could you possibly burn down your house making lollipops? I shall explain.

In all honesty making lollipops is pretty easy but it takes a bit of vigilance. The honey must reach 300 degrees F in order to properly harden. In theory, all you need to do is watch the temperature. Once the honey hits 300 degrees you simply take it off the heat, stir in the spices and pour it into a mold. Easy peasy right?

When the temp reached 260 degrees F things took a turn for the worst . My 6 week old started crying due to ” extreme starvation” ( his words not mine). Right about that time, Fig entered the scene, pantless, strumming on his guitar and singing/squealing/screaming so loud I feared the windows may shatter. To add a bit more to the chaos, the dog decided that now was as good a time as any to start furiously barking at, let’s see, nothing. Because that’s how Mafalda the Dachshund rolls.

I checked the temperature of the honey right before rescuing the baby from near starvation. It was at 270 degrees Fahrenheit. In my sleep and caffeine deprived mind, I’m thinking I have a good 2 or 3 minutes before that baby reaches 300 degrees. Nope. Honey can, I learned the very hard way, go from 270 to 300 degrees in mere seconds.

A few minutes later, a nursing baby still in my arms, I start to smell something sinister and then the thick smoke came wafting into the living room. Upon reaching the kitchen I discovered a pot full to the brim with what appeared to be thick black tar straight from the depths of hell . “MOTHER F…Mother of Fudge” . Fig was staring right up at me as I nearly dropped the F bomb  and proceeded to repeat for the next four days ” Fudge …I need fudge”. Yeah Fig, I need fudge too. And wine, lots of wine.

To make a very, very, very long story short I nearly burnt down the house for the second time when I attempted to clean the “tar pot”. Turning on the wrong burner on the highest setting only to discover, 10 minutes later, that an empty and dry cast iron pot was near combustion. Strike two.

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I almost gave into these demon lollipops but decided I could not let evil win. I promptly decided that lavender was a must given my shot nerves.  Regaining composure, I let Fig crush up the lavender while I started a new batch of honey ( now we’re nearly in debt due to the amount of honey lost in the lollipop making process..demon pops I tell you!).

The final product; delicious. Fig is obsessed with them so I’ll call it a win despite the fight it took to make them.  I realize that you may never want to make lollipops given this story but trust me, they are delicious and totally worth it if you’ve had enough coffee and slept well the night before. You must watch the pot though! They say a watched pot never boils. Total B.S. It will boil, ruin your pot, and nearly burn down your abode!

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Wildflower and Lavender Lollipops:

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of honey
  •  1 teaspoon of crushed lavender
  • Candy thermometer
  • Lollipop sticks
  • Lollipop mold ( not totally necessary, you can make your lollipops free form)

Directions:

  • Bring cup of honey to a boil on medium heat.
  • Once it reaches 300 degrees F, take it off the heat and stir in the lavender.
  • Place sticks in mold and pour honey into the mold.
  • Leave for an hour or so until the honey hardens and sets.

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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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  • 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: Hemp, Tomato and Cilantro Salad

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Fig usually doesn’t help me with salad preparation except when all other attempts to “inspire” him to eat his veggies fail. No matter how I serve , prepare, or disguise it, there are some vegetables that Fig won’t come within a mile of unless he’s preparing them. Case in point this amazingly delicious Hemp, Tomato, and Cilantro salad. Fig categorically rejects all things involving fresh tomatoes unless he’s chopping them. Something about slicing those babies in half makes them suddenly OK to eat.

So, on this particular day, when Fig had pretty much only eaten cream cheese and bread all day I decided it was time to bust out his kid friendly knife and do some veggie chopping for my most beloved of all salads. Of course, I had to redo much of his work ( toddler’s apparently don’t pay much attention to aesthetics! ) but he ate about 10 tomatoes and about $10.00 worth of hemp seeds ( an excellent source of omega fatty acids) so I was happy to oblige.

I make this salad in massive bunches on the weekend for weekday lunches. By Tuesday it’s certainly gone and I’m always looking forward to making it again on the weekend, it’s that good.

Hemp, Cilantro, and Tomato Salad:

  • 1 cup of hemp seeds
  • I dry pint of cherries tomatoes
  • 1 cup of finely diced cilantro
  • 1/2 a lemon’s juice
  • 1 large garlic cloves, crushed into a paste with a pestle and mortar if possible.
  • Salt to taste

Directions:

  • Mix all ingredients together
  • Try not to eat the entire salad in one sitting.

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Cooking with Toddlers: Handmade Pasta with Kale Pesto

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Fig has always been a pasta addict. In fact, pasta is a frequently used vegetable vehicle in our house. I’ve come up with some pretty creative ( lets use that term loosely) pasta sauces in an attempt to get the little guy to eat his vegetables. Some of them were wash your mouth out with soap bad and other dishes were pretty darn good. No matter if the dish is horrible or amazing, if it’s noddles, Fig will eat it. In fact, I’m pretty sure I could put dirt puree on top of noodles and they’d be gone in 15 seconds.

We live 20 minutes away from ‘little italy” and one of our favorite things to do is grab some fresh handmade pasta from an awesome little shop. The noodles cost like a million dollars but they taste aaaaamazzzing.

So after spending the kids college fund on noodles I had the bright idea of making them myself. Since noodle making involves dough I knew little Fig would be game for a lazy sunday of handmade noodle making.

Noodle making is an awesome and super easy recipe to involve toddlers in. (It goes without saying that a mess of apocalyptic proportions will be left in the noodle making wake but I think the fun and deliciousness of making the noodles counteracts the grim post-cooking scene.)First of all there is kneading the dough, then the dough must be rolled, and then the dough must be cut into tiny little pieces. All three of these activities are perfect for a two year old since so much sensory and fine motor skills are involved.

Even if you don’t want to so thoroughly involve a little person in pasta making you could always make some extra dough, give them a rolling pin, and have them “make pasta” next to you. I know I’ll be doing this next time pasta is on our menu!

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Pasta Dough

  • All Purpose Flour
  • Eggs
    • The pasta making rule is 2 eggs for every 1 cup of flour.
    • We used 6 eggs and three cups of flour to make about 5 servings plus extra for Fig to play with.

Kale Pesto.

  • 2 cups of packed kale leaves
  • 2/3 cup of olive oil
  • 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup of pine nuts
  • Juice from 1/2 a small lemon
  • salt to taste if needed

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Directions for pasta noodles:

  • Combine flour and eggs in a mixing bowl.
  • Knead well.
  • Let sit for a bit ( 20-30 minutes)
  • Sprinkle flour on a surface and with a rolling pin, roll the dough as thin as possible since the pasta puffs up when cooked
  • Using a sharp knife, cut into thin strips and set aside.
  • When ready, place pasta noodles in boiling water for 2-3 minutes ( it cooks fast!).

Directions for Kale Pesto:

  • Combine all ingredients in a blender and pulse until fully blended.
  • Serve on pasta.

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Herbal Tea for Toddlers

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Fig spends most of his time playing outdoors. After observing his play the other day I realized if he’s not running up and down hills barefoot he’s usually sprawled out on the ground somewhere. And while it doesn’t really get cold here in southern california ( I mean it was 85 degrees today…in november!) the afternoon and evening air can be quite chilly and the ground gets cold.

So when we tromp home after our afternoon adventure we’re usually a bit chilled and ready for something warm which , for us, takes the form of a nice herbal tea. I’ve had limited success in getting little Fig to actually drink herbal teas until we started making our own blends. Something about crushing up the herbs, steeping them in that awesome metal ball and adding the honey transforms the cup into something Fig can drink.

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I also find myself making tea with Fig when he needs to do something with his hands and we’re short on time or don’t have any other activity available. Sometimes little Fig needs a “reset” button and brewing ( and enjoying) a pot of tea together is just the thing that does it.

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Some of our favorite and most commonly used teas and tea blends for Fig are:

1) Fresh sage and rosemary tea. This is perfect for cold and flu season since both sage and rosemary are antimicrobial. The taste is just delicious with a spoonful of local wildflower honey.

2) Elderberry Tea. We use dried elderberry for this one and make a delicious syrup. We then add a few tablespoons of the syrup to whatever tea we’re brewing. Fig like’s his elderberry syrup in just a bit of hot water and with extra honey.  The process is a bit more involved to decoct the berries into a syrup. We make it in huge batches before the start of cold and flu season or anytime one of us feels a cold creeping on. Check out this video on how to make the syrup.

3)Fennel Seed Tea: Fig loves to crush up the seeds. I usually add a bit more honey to this tea since the fennel flavor is a bit strong for Fig’s palate. A perfect tea for belly aches.

4) Mint Tea: We crush up fresh mint leaves or use some of our dried mint leaves and use it for minor belly aches.

5) Chamomile Tea: I have dried chamomile leaves in bulk and brew a little cup for Fig when life’s not going his way.

5) Catnip Tea: We use this before bedtime when Fig can’t unwind. Catnip is also really easy to grow and the pot we have outside is literally overflowing with goodness.

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