Kitchen Adventures

Vivi is almost two, and while most of the time I would confidently say that no one knows her like I do, I also have moments of feeling like, “Um, hi? Who is this child?”

Parenthood is such a wild ride of uncertainty and hard-won moments of confidence. When you finally find something you feel like you’ve figured out, often times, the rug is very suddenly ripped out from under you just weeks or even days later.

With Vivi, I’ve long felt like the two things we had down pat were eating and sleeping. We sleep trained at an early age (something I am a proponent of and happy to discuss further with anyone who wants to know!), so getting Vivi to bed and having her sleep through the night has always gone fairly smoothly.

We also started exposing Vivi to a variety of healthy tastes fairly early on, which eventually turned her into a little gal who loved vegetables, fruit, and other healthy flavors.

All that is to say, I actually felt confident in both things.

But, as we know, motherhood is a constant exercise in humility. As Vivi has gotten older, she has gotten more expressive and her desire for some degree of control over her life has increased.

Hey, I get it! I hate having someone tell me what to do all the time. I love getting to make my own choices. Which isn’t to say it’s not a pain in my backside when Vivi regresses in something or deliberately disobeys, but we’re all learning here, right?

Yesterday, Vivi started crawling out of her crib every time we put her in, so we decided to make the switch to a “big girl” bed today. I had been planning to transition her at the end of the month, but I was feeling anxious because I loved our easy-breezy bedtimes and was worried the extra freedom would bring them to a crashing halt. But once those seemed to be stopping anyway, I at least wanted her to be able to crawl back into bed when she finally decided she was tired.

Tonight was our first night with the new bed, and Vivi cried for about 20 seconds before putting herself back in bed and passing out per usual. *phew*

As for eating, she still has a pretty open-minded palate, and most of her favorite foods are nutritious options. That being said, getting her to try new things has become more and more of a struggle. Which is why I’m always on the prowl for simple ways to incorporate more and new vegetables in familiar ways.

Tonight’s recipe was an experiment gone right, so I thought I’d share. Happy toddler feeding! (Note: Also good for grown-up taste buds.)

Cauliflower “Fried Rice” with Grilled Chicken and Crispy Brussel Sprouts

Ingredients:
2 cups brussel sprouts, trimmed and halved
avocado oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 yellow onion, diced
3 carrots, diced
1 head cauliflower, pulsed in food processor to rice-like consistency
3 T amino acids or soy sauce
2 T white vinegar
2 grilled chicken breasts, roughly chopped into bite-sized pieces
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Toss brussel sprouts in 2 T avocado oil and salt and pepper and spread onto a baking sheet in one layer. Roast for 30 minutes or until crispy.

Heat 2 T avocado oil in a large skillet on medium-high. Once oil is hot, add garlic, onion, carrots, and salt and pepper. Stir until onions are translucent.

Add cauliflower, 3 T avocado oil, salt and pepper, amino acids, and white vinegar. Stirring frequently, cook mixture for about five minutes.

Add chicken and cook for additional five minutes.

To plate, spoon cauliflower mixture into a bowl and top with crispy brussel sprouts. I find it’s helpful to continually tell your toddler about the “yummy rice!” you are about to eat.

Enjoy!

summer vegetable chicken sausage pasta

It’s funny how so many good things in life start out as accidents. Funny how making the best of a situation can sometimes turn out to be literally the best.

In New York, I made the best of a lot of things. I made the best of tiny apartments, struggling to turn a cramped 500 square feet into a home for my family. Today, I make the best of busy schedules, working to prioritize the things that matter, the things that I truly believe will bring my family happiness. Sometimes that means giving up leisurely mornings in favor of spending more time focusing on spiritual pursuits, and sometimes that means overlooking the dishes or laundry for an hour spent in the backyard picking petals and pushing a wiggly toddler in the swing.

But in all of those cases, what I end up with, be it a safe, comfortable home, the satisfaction of giving my best to God, or the joy of watching my adventurous little baby become a brave, thriving person, is just about always the best thing I could imagine.

You know what else I like making the best of? Dinner.

What? A deep blog post can’t also left-field into a tasty recipe?

Recently, I was running low on provisions and whipped up this pasta dish on the fly. It has since become a steady part of my dinner rotation.

I was going to call it “What I Have in the Crisper That’s About to Spoil Recipe,” but turns out that sucks for SEO, so instead…

Summer Vegetable and Chicken Sausage Pasta

3 cups pasta of your choice
4 T olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium to large zucchini, cut into quarters
Two fresh tomatoes, chopped
1 package garlic chicken sausage, cut into rounds
1 T fresh oregano, minced
1 T fresh basil, minced
2 tsp garlic powder
1 cup mozzarella cut into quarter-inch chunks
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat olive oil in large skillet on medium. Once hot, add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about two minutes.
2. Add zucchini and cook until starts to golden brown, about five minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Boil pot of water and cook pasta following instructions on the box. Drain.
4. While pasta cooks, add tomatoes to skillet. Season with herbs and salt and pepper.
5. In a separate small skillet, brown sausage rounds. Once cooked, remove from heat and add to zucchini mixture.
6. Add pasta to skillet with mozzarella chunks. Stir to combine ingredients.

Enjoy!

zucchini carrot apple muffins

It is amazing to me how much Vivi’s approval means when it comes to my cooking.

Let’s be clear: I don’t let Vivi dictate what we eat in any way. I don’t think toddlers have developed enough palates to know what is “good,” and I think we all know that, if they had their way from the first stages of solid foods, they would just eat bananas and buttered pasta for the rest of their days.

In short: I’m the boss of dinner, and Vivi either eats what I make or doesn’t eat.

Which, of course, means sometimes she doesn’t each much, especially when we’re introducing new foods. The French have a philosophy that if your kid is a picky eater, it reflects more on their character — and your parenting — than any other behavior. I don’t know if I would go that far, but I definitely feel a sense of failure when Vivi refuses a meal or throws some food on the ground (which, in our house, is grounds for ending the meal completely).

It’s my fault her palate isn’t developed enough.
I should have served in more distinct courses.
I shouldn’t have let her have that bite of (insert random snack) an hour ago, it totally squashed her appetite.
I should have cooked it differently.
I’m totally screwing this whole thing up.

Basically, I’m insane.

But just when I’m convinced I’ve blown it and she’s only going to eat meatballs for the rest of her childhood, we have a meal that goes perfectly. She eats every bite of shrimp and rice and broccoli without any fuss and asks for more broccoli (this seriously happened!), and suddenly we’re all going to be just fine.

Im always on the lookout for veggie-packed recipes to make sure Viv gets as many servings as possible. I posted on Instagram about some veggie muffins I make for Vivi, and a few people asked for the recipe, so I’m sharing it here. Enjoy!

Zucchini + Carrot+ Apple Muffins

2 zucchini, shredded with excess moisture removed
3 carrots, shredded with excess moisture removed
1 apple, pitted and shredded with excess moisture remove
(For all of the above, I run them through my juicer and use the dry pulp. Just be sure to remove all apple seeds before juicing.)
1/2 cup apple sauce (no sugar added)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups almond flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Combine the wet ingredients in a medium bowl, then add dry ingredients and mix until well combined.

Scoop into ungreased muffin tin (I use papers). Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until tops are golden and inserted knife removes cleanly.

The muffins are very soft from all the veggies, so I suggest freezing what you don’t eat right away and thawing when you want to eat them so they don’t spoil. They are much more savory than sweet, so add a dollop of honey butter if you need a bit more sweetness.

Adapted from The Lean Green Bean.

A few months back, we had a pediatrician visit where we were warned that Vivi was entering the stage of her life when she would start to show signs of finicky eating.

We’ve been very fortunate in this respect for most of Vivi’s life. The kid loves to eat. And, up until recently, she seemed to enjoy just about everything we put on her plate and would gobble it down without much resistance.

And then the toddler years hit.

It’s not that Vivi became exceptionally picky, but I did notice a new resistance to trying new foods or textures. Bread reigned supreme, while zucchini got the cold shoulder. Even foods that I knew she actually liked, like avocado or ground turkey, would sometimes be met with rejection upon first presentation. Rather than succumb to the temptation to simply fill up her belly with pasta and marinara sauce every night (always an acceptable option in Vivi’s book), I focused on trying new foods in familiar ways, adding tasty sauces that would dress up less appealing items, and capitalizing on flavors I know she always likes — all whilst keeping nutritious veggies in the forefront of her menu items.

It doesn’t always work (I am dealing with a toddler, after all), but these five recipes are pretty consistent ways I’ve found to get the little stinker to consume more produce. (And, bonus, they’re also totally delicious for adults.) Two of them I created myself, but the three others I’ve linked below. Enjoy!

Peanut Butter and Jelly Oatmeal

peanut butter and jelly oatmeal

Ok, this isn’t technically a veggie recipe, but it does get a hefty serving of fruit into your toddler (and it can barely even be called “cooking” because it’s so dang simple).

Ingredients:
1 packet instant oatmeal (I prefer this version from Trader Joe’s)
handful of frozen organic berries
1 T natural peanut or almond butter
1 T chia seeds
1 tsp ground cinnamon

Start boiling a kettle of water. Pour the instant oatmeal into a small bowl, and then top with frozen berries, peanut butter, chia seeds, and cinnamon. Once water has boiled, pour desired amount over oatmeal and stir to combine. Once the berries have softened, you can give ’em a little squish to get all those delicious juices to naturally flavor and sweeten the rest of the oatmeal. Tip: Pour the water directly onto the berries to thaw them quicker.

Spinach Pesto Spaghetti Squash with Turkey Meatballs

spaghetti squash with spinach pesto

I love, love, love this recipe, and not just because it provides multiple servings of veggies in every bowl. The first time I made it, I had serious doubts about whether or not Vivi would even try it, and she wolfs it down every time. Total mom win. (FYI, the picture above is when I made it with chicken sausage, which you can totally do if you’re strapped for time, but I think Viv actually prefers the turkey meatballs and that’s how I usually make this one.)

Ingredients:
1 spaghetti squash
1-2 T olive oil

Pesto:
1 bag organic baby spinach
1 avocado
1/4 c apple cider vinegar
2-6 cloves garlic (I use a TON of garlic, but you do you)
1/4 c olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Meatballs:
1 T olive oil
1 package ground turkey
1/3 c bread crumbs (sub GF if you don’t do the gluten thing)
1 egg
2-4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 t oregano
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Clean your spaghetti squash and cut in half length-wise. Drizzle with olive oil, and place cut side-down on a baking sheet. Bake for 35-45 minutes. Once it’s done baking, remove and allow to cool. Once the squash is cool enough to handle, use a fork to scrape out the inside. It should come apart easily into noodle-like strings.

While the squash is baking, put all of the pesto ingredients into a food processor and pulse until smooth. (Note: This makes a lot of sauce, so you will probably have enough left over to smear onto sandwiches or drizzle onto tacos. Do your thang.)

Next, put the T of olive in in a large skillet set to medium-high. Combine all of the other meatball ingredients in a medium bowl and mix with your hands until just combined. Form into 1-inch balls. Once the oil is shimmering, add the meatballs and cook, slowly turning until all sides are browned and the meatballs are cooked through (about 5-7 minutes).

Assemble your plate spaghetti squash>meatballs>pesto. Tip: I always serve the squash with a bit of sauce to Vivi first, then meatballs. She tends to give veggies more of a chance when she’s at her hungriest.

Sweet Potato and Chicken Sausage Hash

sweet potato and chicken sausage hash

For this one, my only tip would be to make sure the peppers are thoroughly cooked and soft. Vivi likes the taste of cooked peppers, but if I leave the skin on, they’re difficult for her to chew unless I cook them down for at least 10 minutes.

Slow Cooker Honey Garlic Chicken and Veggies

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Again, I really recommend starting your toddler with the veggies here. We tend to serve Vivi’s meals in “courses,” and it typically goes green veggies (broccoli, green beans, spinach), then sweeter veggies (carrots, sweet potatoes), then protein, then bread or carb. And because Vivi isn’t a huge fan of white or red potatoes, I put potatoes and carrot in each forkful and she ate happily.

Greek Turkey Burgers

greek turkey burgers

Pictured is the adult way to eat these. (So delicious.) For Viv, I served a cucumber course with yogurt dipping sauce, then a burger with a bit more yogurt, then a piece of bread, and she ate all without any fussing at all.

 

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I’ve realized I am a much more creative cook in the fall and winter. It could be that the summer months are usually too hot in NYC to even think about cooking. (Turn on my oven on a 90-degree day? Are you insane?) But I also think I’m just a lot more inspired by fall produce.

One thing I’m especially fond of is squash. Pumpkin, butternut, spaghetti — I dig ’em all. 

My mom tends to cook acorn squash a lot, so for a recent visit of hers, I decided to create a stuffed version made with ground turkey (one of Vivi’s favorite foods) and quinoa. It turned out pretty tasty, if I do say so myself, so I thought I’d share the recipe with you fine folks. Enjoy!
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Turkey and Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash

Ingredients:
2 acorn squash
3 T olive oil, separated
1 c quinoa
2 c water
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 small red onions, finely chopped
1 lb ground turkey
1/2 T garlic powder
1/2 T onion powder
1/2 T rosemary
1/2 T thyme
1 t nutmeg
1/4 c pecans, roughly chopped
1/4 cup dried cranberries
salt and pepper, to taste
Greek yogurt (optional)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Wash and dry acorn squash and cut in half. Scoop out seeds. Drizzle olive oil on a baking pan and place squash slices cut side down. Bake for 30 minutes, then set aside.
  2. While squash bakes, pour two cups of water in a pot with 1 T of olive oil and salt to taste. Once boiling, add quinoa. Reduce heat to simmer, cover, and cook until water is absorbed. (About 15 minutes.) Remove from heat and set aside.
  3. While quinoa cooks, heat 1 T of olive oil in a large skillet. Add chopped garlic and onions. Season with salt and pepper and cook 2-4 minutes until fragrant.
  4. Add turkey to onion mixture. Add in spices. (To be honest, the measurements are just estimations. I tend to just eyeball it and shake in as much of each spice as I like.) Cook until turkey isn’t pink anywhere, stirring frequently.
  5. Once turkey is cooked through, add quinoa, pecans, and dried cranberries. (Note: You can also toast the pecans in a small fry pan for 5 minutes prior to adding.) Taste and add salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Place scoops of the turkey mixture in each acorn squash half. If either part has cooled too much, return to the oven to broil for 2-4 minutes.
  7. Before serving, add a dollop of Greek yogurt to each stuffed squash. Happy fall!

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I don’t know what it is, but I have been on some kind of sugar kick over the last week. I’m going to blame it on the fact that my period finally came back after a year-and-a-half of pregnancy/breastfeeding hiatus. (Too much info? Then you’re reading the wrong blog.)

The point is, for the last five days, I’ve been craving a Double Stuf Oreo (yes, that’s really how it’s spelled) something fierce. So last Thursday, I finally bought a pack.

Which was a mistake. They should sell the Double Stuf in smaller portions. Because now I come home to a FULL PACK of Double Stuf Oreos every day. Send help.

But while the cookies were good for sating that particular craving, they also sparked a new issue: Now I wanted something else sweet. I wanted a dessert martini.

You guys? This is SO out of character for me. I do not like sweet drinks. The only sweet things I like are desserts, and even then, I prefer when there’s something salty or slightly bitter mixed in.

But here I was, craving the saccharine syrupy-ness of a dessert martini.

I didn’t even know where to begin, but I figured the least I could do was whip something up at home.

And thus, the Mounds Bar Martini was born.
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Here’s what you do:

Mounds Bar Martini Recipe

Ingredients:
1 oz whipped cream flavored rum
1 oz coconut vodka
1 oz half and half
drizzle of chocolate syrup
Oreo cookie dust for garnish (optional)

Combine the first four ingredients in a cocktail shaker with 3-4 ice cubes and shake vigorously until frothy. Draw a line of chocolate syrup around the inside of a martini glass, then pour in the cocktail mixture. Top with a pinch or two of Oreo cookie dust. (BECAUSE YOU HAVE A WHOLE PACK, AFTER ALL.)

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The result is decadent, rich, and exactly what I was craving. I think I’ll probably be good on dessert martinis for another five years, so it was definitely worth going all out on this one. Because sometimes you feel like a nut…and sometimes you just want to drink your dessert.

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