Valentine’s Fruit & Veg Pizzas

Happy Valentine’s Day!

V-day special tray

Anyone else showing love and making Valentine’s Day treats with fruits and vegetables? I know it’s a holiday celebrated with candy and chocolate (according to CNN, people dropped $1.6 billion for candy on this day last year!), but aren’t they all?  And if you really love someone, don’t you want to give them something that is good for them?

With a heart-shaped cookie-cutter (or a good knife and a steady hand), almost anything can take on a heart shape, and with some strategic cutting several fruits and vegetables have built-in hearts ready to shine!

We selected red bell peppers with a particularly hearty shape, sliced them and made personalized heart pizzas.

Single heart pizza

Tray of heart pizzas

We also made strawberry heart toasts, by cutting toast into heart shapes, spreading them with cream cheese or another soft cheese, and placing heart-shaped slices of strawberry on top. Sprinkle with shaved chocolate, coconut flakes, freshly ground nutmeg or cinnamon, and it’s a Happy Valentine’s Day!

Strawberry heart toast

Tray of heart toast

Other posts related to Valentine’s Day you might like:

Kids Cook Monday: Fried Bananas Supreme

fried bananas

Just about all children like bananas, most likely as a breakfast or snack food, eaten raw. Let’s give them their familiar banana but fry it up, which both softens the fruit and heightens the flavor, then offer a selection of toppings from chocolate to nutmeg to nuts and seeds for personalization fun. This makes an easy and special dessert, and the third recipe in our “Kids Cook Monday” series.

bananas

Fried Bananas with Chocolate and Coconut

  • ½ -1 banana per person
  • butter or coconut oil for frying
  • chunk of chocolate (dark, milk or white)
  • grated coconut

bananas

Method:

  1. With peel on, cut bananas into quarters, then peel (makes process a little neater).
  2. Heat skillet and melt butter or coconut oil.
  3. Place banana pieces side by side in pan and fry until starting to brown. Turn and fry other side.
  4. Serve with shaved chocolate and/or grated coconut sprinkled on top.

Shaving chocolate

Additional serving ideas:

  • top with cinnamon, nutmeg and/or cardamom
  • serve with ice cream or vanilla yogurt
  • drizzle with maple syrup and/or honey
  • top with nuts
  • top with berries
  • slide inside a peanut butter sandwich
  • sprinkle with black sesame seeds for a beautiful visual contrast
  • for a savory, more Latin American version, use plantains instead of bananas and serve with salt or refried beans and sour cream.

A few fun banana facts:

  1. A banana is technically a berry (and so are watermelons, coffee, pumpkins and avocados) which grows on the world’s largest herb, not a tree.
  2. There are more than a 1,000 types of bananas worldwide.  In the US, you’re probably familiar with just one: the Cavendish.
  3. In addition to edible fruit, a banana plant also offers an edible flower.  We’ve never tried a banana flower - they are hard to find in Vermont - but would love to hear what they taste like, if you have.
banana with flower

Photo thanks to pics4learning

Kids Cook Monday: Rice Noodles with Tofu & Veg

Pad Thai top view

The second recipe in the series from our “Kids Cook Monday” cooking classes, in which we invite child-parent cooking teams to join us (ten-year old daughter and her mother) to create a healthy, whole foods dinner full of color, flavor and fun is an Asian-style noodles and vegetable dish.

As my cooking partner, my daughter is as involved in the menu planning as in the preparation. Her pick for the main dish was a home-cooked version of a restaurant favorite, Pad Thai.  We added more vegetables and tofu than your typical take-out, and skipped the shrimp (for Meatless Monday and sustainability reasons).

Pad Thai vegetables

Pad Thai-Inspired Rice Noodle Stir-Fry with Tofu and Vegetables

      • 2 tablespoons grape seed oilcoconut oil or peanut oil
      • 1 package of tofu (use pressed tofu, if you can find it, or press yourself for best results)
      • 1 teaspoon tamarind paste
      • 1 ½ tablespoons brown sugar
      • 3 tablespoons warm water
      • juice of 1 lime
      • ¼ cup tamari soy sauce
      • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
      • several grinds of black pepper
      • 1 onion, finely chopped
      • 2 carrots, cut into small pieces
      • 1/2 head of broccoli, cut into small pieces
      • 1 bell pepper, cut into pieces
      • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
      • 4 eggs
      • 8 oz rice stick noodles (can substitute with spaghetti if hard to find)

Nice additions and garnishes include (all optional):

      • 1 bunch scallions, cut into small rounds
      • 8 oz bean sprouts, rinsed
      • 1/3 cup peanuts, roughly chopped, if you like
      • 1/3 cup cilantro, roughly cut and some leaves reserved for garnish
      • 1 lime, cut into wedges
      • sriracha sauce

Frying Tofu:

      1. Dry and/or press tofu – either place tofu between two plates in the sink, with something heavy on top (such as a large can) and let sit for several hours, or cut into slices, lay them on a kitchen towel, place another towel on top and gentle press to pull the moisture out of the tofu. If you like gadgets, here’s a tofu press made just for this job. Cut into cubes. 
      2. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add oil and let warm.
      3. Once first piece of tofu sizzles in the pan, place all cubes in a single layer making sure not to overcrowd them.
      4. Shake pan gently to make sure tofu isn’t sticking, and allow to cook for 5-8 minutes or until a golden crust starts to creep up the sides.  Turn tofu and give the other side a few minutes to brown.
      5. Remove from heat, and place tofu on paper towels to drain.

Making the Sauce:

      1. In a small bowl, dissolve tamarind paste and sugar in warm water (take the time to fully dissolve them).
      2. Add lime juice, soy sauce, chili flakes and pepper and mix.

Softening the Noodles:

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and cook noodles for 5-6 minutes, removing from heat and draining just before being fully cooked.

Preparing Vegetables & Assembly:

    1. Chop vegetables into small pieces and mince or press garlic. There is plenty of room for flexibility in this recipe.  For flavor and appearance, it is nice to use three vegetables of different colors, but they don’t need to be carrots, a red pepper and broccoli.
    2. Heat oil in large skillet or wok on medium heat, and sauté onions, carrots and broccoli, add garlic and peppers a few minutes later and sauté another minute or two.
    3. Beat eggs in a small bowl, pour into vegetables, cook for a moment, then stir.
    4. Add tofu, cook for another 1-2 minutes.
    5. Add noodles and pour in the sauce.  Gently combine all.
    6. Add half the scallions, bean sprouts and peanuts (if using).
    7. Place remaining scallions, bean sprouts, peanuts in bowls along with cilantro and lime wedges as garnishes for personalizing plates.

Pad Thai noodles

Kids Cook Monday: Kale & Collard Chips

kaleAt a recent “Kids Cook Monday” cooking class, my daughter and I were joined by a room full of parent and child(ren) cooking teams. We had a great time and cooked a fabulous meal together.  At the end of the class, the tables in the back of the cooking classroom were pushed together, and were beautifully set by a group of children complete with improvised folded napkins, and the nineteen of us sat down to a nourishing meal of kale and collard chips, Pad Thai-inspired rice noodles with tofu and vegetables*, followed by a dessert of fried bananas with shaved chocolate and shredded coconut*.

Initiatives such as The Family Dinner Project and The Kids Cook Monday Campaign are actively promoting eating (and cooking) meals together as a family for a list of results which resemble a parent’s dream come true (from life-long healthy eating habits, to an expanded vocabulary, improved conversation skills, boosted self-esteem and better grades in school).  Studies have also shown that children are more likely to try new foods, expand their palate and choose healthier options when they have been involved in the growing, selection and/or preparation of a meal.

So today, we’re skipping the more familiar frozen peas and corn, and giving our young cooks large dark green kale and collard leaves to make an appetizer (fancy word for after school snack).  Some were familiar with kale chips, and all had the chance to build on the basic recipe and adapt it to other greens.

Collard greens photo thanks to Indiana Public Media

Vermont Maple-Mustard Kale/Collard Chips

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½  tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • ½  tablespoon maple syrup
  • ½ tablespoon mustard
  • 1 large bunch of fresh kale or collard greens
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 2-3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
  • red pepper flakes (optional)

Kale

Basic Kale/Collard Chips

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 bunch greens
  • salt to taste

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350˚.
  2. Wash and dry green leaves with kitchen towel or a salad spinner.
  3. Cut or rip leaves into chip size pieces.
  4. Mix oil, vinegar, maple syrup and mustard in a large bowl.
  5. Add leaves to bowl and coat thoroughly (using hands works well).
  6. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper (not necessary but makes for an easy clean-up), and arrange leaves in a single layer.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper and/or Parmesan or chili flakes.
  7. Bake in oven for 8-12 minutes, watching them closely since they go from perfect to burned quickly.

kale chip

Serving ideas:

  • in place of packaged chips
  • as a garnish on soups, such as potato-leek or squash soups
  • as a topping on mashed potatoes
  • grind several chips as a popcorn topping
  • create hors d’oeuvre in kale chips used as edible serving cups
  • experiment with any greens you have.

For additional recipes for green leafy vegetables, I recommend the following excellent vegetable cookbooks:

Deborah Madison’s new Vegetable Literacy: Cooking and Gardening with Twelve Families from the Edible Plant Kingdom, with over 300 Deliciously Simple Recipes, and

Greens Glorious Greens: More than 140 Ways to Prepare All Those Great-Tasting, Super-Healthy, Beautiful Leafy Greens.

For more ideas, inspiration and multi-generational cooking tips, you’ll find plenty of food for thought on The Kids Cook Monday site.

If you would like to join us for our next “Kids Cook Monday” cooking class, click here for more information and to register.  Classes are held at Champlain Valley Union High School in Hinesburg, Vermont.

* These recipes coming soon in the “Kids Cook Monday” series.

Nominating Cauliflower: An Educated Cabbage

cauliflower 3

What will be the trendiest vegetable in 2013 was a recent question in a focus group.   I sat up straighter in my chair. “Trendy vegetables,” I love it already!  That makes vegetables sound as revered as high fashion and haute cuisine.  Cauliflower was declared the projected winner.  It is certainly deserving: not only does it assemble itself like a bouquet of flowers, offer a mild yet complete and comforting flavor, pack an impressive dose of vitamin C, as well as fiber and potassium, and exemplify fractal design, but Mark Twain referred to it as a “cabbage with a college education.”

Generally thought of as a white vegetable, this member of the brassica family also comes in a yellowish-orange, a deep purple and the fabulous knobby green Romanesco variety. This phenomenal mini moonscape vegetable provides the added excitement of a special spiraling pattern.  Who doesn’t want a Fibonacci masterpiece on their plate?

Not sure about the spirals and the Fibonacci sequence?  Vi Hart explains it more precisely and certainly more playfully than I could in the following video. You’ll be counting spirals on pinecones, pineapples, artichokes, sunflowers, cauliflower, etc in no time.

 

With so many ways to enjoy cauliflower, let’s start with one of the simplest, yet very delicious and beautifully presented ways:  Roasted Cauliflower

roasted cauliflower- before

Place sliced cauliflower in a single layer on a baking sheet drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt into a pre-heated 400˚ oven.

roasted cauliflower-after

Ten or so minutes later, remove the beautifully browned, slightly softened, still crunchy, with a decidedly sweeter and smoother flavor (than when it was raw) roasted cauliflower. Add additional salt or pepper to taste, and enjoy.

Cauliflower also does well as a potato stand-in. Whether you’re cutting down on spuds, avoiding the nightshade family, or just ready to try something new: Cauli-Millet Mashed Potatoes

Cauliflower mash

From The Hip Chick’s Guide to MacrobioticsMillet Mashed “Potatoes” with Mushroom Gravy

  • 1 cup millet, washed
  • 5 cups water, divided
  • 2 cups cauliflower, in small florets or chunks
  • sea salt
  • toasted sesame oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 12 button or 8 fresh shiitake mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup tamari soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons mirin
  • 1 drop brown rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons kuzu, diluted in 1/2 cup water
  • scallions or parsley for garnish

Method:

  1. Place the washed millet in a heavy 2-quart pot.  Over medium heat, stir the millet continuously until it dries and then becomes aromatic and ever-so-slightly golden in color.  This can take 5-8 minutes.
  2. And water and cauliflower.  Bring to a boil.  And salt.  Cover and simmer over a low flame for 30 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat.  Put millet through a food mill or blend in a food processor.  Blend to desired creamy consistency.
  4. To make the gravy: heat toasted sesame oil over medium heat in a skillet.  Add onion, salt and sauté until translucent.  Add mushrooms and sauté until soft. Add water and bring to a boil.  Season with tamari, mirin and brown rice vinegar. Simmer for 5 minutes. Adjust seasonings to your taste, and simmer for 5 more minutes.
  5. Add diluted kuzu to simmering mixture and stir constantly as the kuzu thickens.

I made a double batch of the “Mashed Potatoes” part of the recipe above, reserving half to use as the topping in a vegan Shepard’s Pie a couple of days later.  My children ate this up so fast….

Cauliflower Shepards Pie 2

A sampling of other excellent cauliflower recipes:

And there are many, many more recipes. What are your favorite ways to prepare cauliflower?

Confetti Frittata

confetti frittata slice

The following recipe was developed for the Hunger Free Vermont Learning Kitchen.  A fantastic program which not only provides education and advocacy around the issues of hunger and food insecurity, but also offers hands-on cooking classes to help support the health and nutrition of families in the program.

This frittata was created with my children, as a quick, colorful and healthful meal, with plenty of room for flexibility. There is no need to make a special grocery store trip (or purchase) if you don’t have a carrot, a zucchini, or a particular type of cheese. The bright, healthy and tasty result can be created with just about any combination of different colored vegetables (which are grated for maximum enjoyment by most children, and the “confetti” effect), and can gracefully host left-overs as well.

Confetti Frittata

  • 1 carrot, grated
  • 1 zucchini, grated
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 (or more) garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 6 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • pepper and/or nutmeg to taste
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese
  • a sprinkling of fresh or dried herbs (optional)

Method:

  1. Grate vegetables and set aside (or gather up some youthful help and a box grater).
  2. Warm skillet and melt 1 tablespoon butter.
  3. Sauté onion unit soft; add carrot, zucchini and garlic and cook for another 1-2 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, in a med-sized bowl, beat eggs, add milk, salt, pepper and/or nutmeg.
  5. Pour egg mixture over sautéed vegetables, turn the heat to low and cover to allow to cook. When top is almost set, sprinkle on herbs (if using) and grated cheese and cover until melted.
  6. Cut into wedges and serve with a fresh salad and/or toast, pasta, potatoes, etc.

If you are interested in more simple, healthy, affordable recipes, Hunger Free Vermont has a recipe section, and the Facebook It’s a SNAP community page is a good place for sharing recipes and planning healthy meals using SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits.

Do Tofu? Try Crispy Patties

At my high school reunion, I learned that several classmates remembered me because I ate tofu (and other unheard of items thanks to my parents’ macrobiotic diet). Good news: in the years since graduation, tofu has steadily climbed the popularity ladder, making “tofu eater” a less effective descriptor.

Tofu is a now readily available in most grocery stores and on more and more restaurant menus.  Made from soybeans, it is eaten as a plant-based source of protein, which also offers a good amount of iron, manganese, trytophan, and depending on how it is produced, calcium.  In many Asian cuisines, it is eaten daily, often as a condiment.  In the west, it has grown to become a staple on vegetarian menus, taking on countless flavors and configurations depending on how and with what it is prepared.

Whether you are new to tofu or not, this easy way to prepare it, works well as a meat substitute, served with potatoes and a vegetable on Meatless Monday, in place of a fried egg for a vegan breakfast, instead of a burger at a BBQ, chicken nuggets or fish sticks, sandwiched between two slices of bread, with lettuce and tomato for a satisfying lunch, or with a fresh vegetable salad.

For the best flavor, press your soybean curd cake between two plates with some weight on top (a large can works well) for up to an hour. This squeezes out excess water and allows for improved flavor in your cooking.

If you’re of a diy mind, give making tofu a try.  It’s not particularly difficult and the results are unsurpassed! Click here for more information, instructions and additional recipes.

Crispy Tofu Patties

  • 1 package of tofu (organic*, ideally firm and pressed)
  • 1/2 cup nutritional yeast (high in protein and vitamins, particularly the B complex)
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs or panko (look for hydrogenated oil and preservative-free)
  • 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • several grinds of black pepper
  • butter, coconut oil or grapeseed oil for frying

Method:

  1. Mix dry ingredients in a shallow bowl.
  2. Slice tofu in roughly 1/2″ slices, and roll in dry mix to thoroughly cover.
  3. Heat butter or oil in skillet until hot but not smoking.
  4. Fry tofu slices, several minutes on each side until brown and crispy.
  5. Serve immediately or keep warm in a low oven.

Another easy and healthy soy food is tempeh (some claim more so than tofu because it is made with fermented soybeans).  Here are two recipes to try: tempeh instead of bacon in a BLT, and in this colorful stir-fry.

* With more than 90% of soybeans grown from genetically modified seeds, I strongly recommend only eating tofu (and tempeh) made from organically grown soybeans.

Elderberry Muffins for Back-to-School

With school-age children heading back for another year, I suppose I should also be concerned about getting their hair cut, supplying them with new lunch boxes, backpacks, pencils, notebooks, and, of course, outfitting them in new school clothes, but I am much more interested in with what I will fill (last year’s, still mostly intact) lunch boxes.

Day one will include an elderberry muffin.  Elderberries are tiny berries exploding with nutritional power, rightly deserving the nickname “medicine chest.”  They are an unbeatable source of fiber, vitamin C and numerous powerful antioxidants, as well as a good source of vitamin A, vitamin B6, iron and potassium.  They are hanging heavy off their branches awaiting picking this time of year. And since their name suggests growing up and getting older, they are the perfect companion for the first day of a new school year.

Elderberry Muffins

  • 3 cups flour (divided between white and whole wheat as you like)
  • 1-2 tablespoons ground flaxseeds*
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2/3 cup raw honey
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 cup fresh elderberries

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350˚, and prepare muffin tins by greasing or filling with paper baking cups.
  2. Mix dry ingredients together.
  3. Cream together eggs, oil, honey and milk, and add to dry mixture.  Blend together, add lemon zest and gently fold in elderberries.
  4. Fill muffin tin and bake for 20-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into middle comes out clean.
  5. Allow to cool slightly, and serve with butter and/or elder-blue superjam, if you like, and remember to set some aside for lunch boxes.

When You Think You Can’t Escape the Scapes

It’s time to google “scape recipes”.  Other than making a fascinating looking bouquet, wearing them as bracelets (as my daughters have been known to do) and chopping one up instead of a garlic clove, I was still at a loss for how to use the artistic display of curlicuing shoots fall-planted garlic sends up this time of year.

To encourage the plant to focus its energy in the formation of the garlic bulbs forming under ground (as opposed to the seed pods contained in the scapes) I have been following gardening advice to cut off the scapes.  With a basket full, I found this simple recipe online, and adjusted it like this:

Simple Vegan Garlic Scape Pesto

  • Jar full of freshly cut garlic scapes (if you don’t grow garlic, you can find these at farmers markets in late spring and early summer)
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 1/4 cup hemp seeds (good source of magnesium, zinc, iron, vitamin E and a great source of omega 3 essential fatty acids)
  • 1 bunch of basil, leaves washed, removed and stems discarded
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • chili pepper flakes (optional)

Method:

  1. With seed pods trimmed off, wash the scapes. Cut into match-length pieces.
  2. Place scape pieces, basil leaves, walnuts and hemp seeds in food processor bowl, and run processor until a paste is formed.  Drizzle olive oil into bowl until desired consistency is reached.
  3. Adjust flavor with salt and pepper.  Maybe a few chili pepper flakes for a touch of heat?
  4. Use as you would traditional basil pesto and pack up any additional in small air tight containers for the freezer.

Looking forward to tomorrow already: scrambled eggs with scape pesto for breakfast; scape pesto, fresh mozzarella and tomato sandwich for lunch, and pesto pasta, salad with pesto dressing or salmon with pesto for dinner…. a perfect destination for all those scapes!

How Rhubarb Shines Sans Strawberries

Rhubarb, with its edible stalks starting in May, perfecting bridges the locally harvestable dessert gap between maple syrup in April and strawberries in June.

The rhubarb plant is a persistent perennial, growing back with gusto year after year. Sometimes to the point of overload for some home gardeners.  This year I was on the lucky receiving end of such overload. I happily created garden space for a separated rhubarb plant, and immediately picked a beautiful late May bouquet.

With strawberries in the backyard and now rhubarb in the front, I thought my yard was ready to provide the tried and true late spring combo, but with most of the berries still unripe, I had to let the rhubarb fly solo for now.  It did very well on its own.

Rhubarb Yogurt Cups

  • 1 ball jar full of rhubarb stalks, washed and cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice concentrate
  • 1/4 - 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 tablespoon beet powder
  • 1 cup of whole milk yogurt (ideally from organic, grass-fed cows)
  • generous sprinkling of cacao nibs

Method:

  1. Warm skillet and melt butter.
  2. Add rhubarb pieces, orange juice, half the maple syrup and beet powder and allow to cook down to a sauce (a downside of cooking rhubarb is that it loses its color and turns grey. The beet powder, which does not affect the taste, tints the sauce a deep shade of pink).
  3. Mix the remaining maple syrup with yogurt, and divide among serving bowls or cups. Top with rhubarb sauce and sprinkle with cacao nibs (which on their own can be rather bitter, however combine them with fat such as in whole milk yogurt and they taste like pure chocolate without any added sugar. Cocoa nibs are full of fiber and a good source of potassium, chromium, copper, calcium, zinc, vitamin C and a rich source of magnesium).
  4. Jar up any remaining rhubarb sauce for on biscuits, pancakes, oatmeal or toast instead of jam.
This will help pass the time while I wait for the strawberries to ripen….. and the many recipes featuring the classic pair.