Some helpful tips

Have you ever seen my tips for getting kids to eat well?  It’s posted on my blog on a separate page, but in case you’ve never seen it I’m posting it here today.

          Eating/feeding tips:

  • Eat with them!  Make them the same dinner you make yourself.  Let them see what you eat.  Don’t just feed them what you think they’ll eat, but what they should.
  • Start them early— when they can first eat solids with foods besides cereal.  They might spit out the beans and peas a few times, but keep doing it.
  • Get them interested in foods by planting vegetables or herbs, shopping at a farm, farmer’s market or stand, and cook with them (let them help)!

  • Don’t treat vegetables like a punishment.  They’re delicious, but kids need to get accustomed to them.
  • Don’t quit.  Really, your kids will eat them.
  • Don’t beat yourself up on those times than you give them the unhealthier stuff.  Just try to limit those times.
  • Have fun!  For example: Make up games or dances; tell them their favorite super hero or cartoon character loves a particular food; cut foods into shapes or arrange on plate so it’s a smiley face.

Cooking tips:

  • If you’ve noticed my pattern with cooking vegetables- I do this for almost all the vegetables I cook (just to varying lengths of time).  Bring pan of water to boil and submerge veggies or steam, when just done (still crisp but tender and still have vivid color) remove from heat, strain and dunk into cold/ice water to stop them from cooking, keep on side until ready to serve meal.  Reheat in sauté pan with pat of butter, pinch of sea salt and some fresh ground pepper until just hot enough to eat (you don’t want them to cook further).  You can substitute butter with olive oil or olive oil and garlic if you prefer.  Just careful not to put too much olive oil to overpower the veggies.
  • If you start with a family recipe or something you know how to cook well, do it.  Don’t try to make gourmet meals if you’re not a confident cook.  Just go for healthful ingredients, fresh vegetables… real food.  Go ahead and cut corners when you’re in a rush—frozen brown rice takes 3 minutes in the microwave as opposed to 40+ minutes normally. 
  • If you need recipes that are kid friendly you can check out my archives.
  • Go with popular cookbooks like those by Jamie Oliver or Mark Bittman—quite easy to follow.


           Shopping Tips:

  • Trader Joe’s is such a great place!  Best organic butter— and not outrageously priced.  All their own brands are GMO-free.  Applegate Farms cold cuts are affordable there too.  The abovementioned frozen organic rice- Jasmine or brown.  Cheeses, milk and yogurts are all without growth hormones.  I get so many appetizers for gatherings there.  (One I like to make is from their frozen nan.  I put goat cheese or Boursin with chopped spinach and tomatoes or sliced shiitakes.  Cut into pieces.)
  • Read labels.  Don’t serve anything with high fructose corn syrup, trans fats, artificial colors, artificial sweeteners (even Splend!), or artificial preservatives (BHT, TBHQ).  Notice the top three ingredients as they make up the majority of the food.  Try to avoid the stuff that has sugar listed as first ingredient unless it’s a dessert or just sugar.
  • Try to get local produce, dairy and meats (join a CSA—community supported agriculture program or shop farmers’ markets).   If you can’t try to get those without pesticides and hormones. 
  • Utilize the larger stores own brands of organic foods; they’re usually cheaper. 
  • Buy the fresh stuff on the outer edges of supermarkets instead of the processed stuff that’s usually occupying the middle aisles.
  • Go without kids if you can.  You’ll be less likely to be swayed into getting something they may have seen on TV or with cartoon characters pushing junk at them.
  • If you buy juice- go with organic if possible and avoid added sugar, corn syrup or artificial ingredients.
  • Don’t buy low-fat or fat-free foods (in foods that normally have fat), but just limit the fats you eat.  Go for more vegetable than animal fats.


You can also contact me with any particular question or trouble you may be having.


Good luck!

Chicken Spinach Ravioli with Cherry Tomato Sauce

I am working on my list of healthier nut-free snacks to contrast what the kids’ school nurse sent home. In the meantime thought I’d share this awesome ravioli my husband made on the boys’ first day of school at my suggestion.  It’s funny sometimes:I buy all the ingredients and just have to tell him what I have in mind.  Then he cooks it.  He cuts faster, cooks and  knows what to do better than I do, so it works well.  I just help whatever he needs help with. And he loves to cook.

He used wonton skin wrappers that I buy in the grocery section of supermarket.  They make wonderfully thin raviolis so you get more taste of the fillings.  Poach chicken breast in water for 5 minutes (until done but not tough).  Sauté ½ small onion, minced and then 2 cloves garlic, minced both in olive oil.  Add pound of spinach until wilted.  Blend in food processor with chicken, tsp porcini powder and salt & pepper.  Mix in ½ cup of ricotta cheese.  Spoon in dollop onto center of a wrap, moisten edges and press another wrap on top gently squeezing any air out before sealing.   Press edges with a fork.  Keep on cookie sheet dusted with corn meal until ready. When nearly time to serve put in gently boiling water for about 5 minutes and remove with straining spoon.   

Served with a simple cherry tomato sauce.  Take several handfuls of cherry tomatoes (we used orange cherry tomatoes) cut in half, Tbsp of fresh basil chopped, 2 tsp olive oil, salt and pepper to taste and ¼ cup of chicken stock.  Cook until tomatoes are tender, stirring often.  So easy and delicious!

We served ours with a green salad. The boys weren’t too keen on trying the sauce but I finally got my eldest to try it.  His aversion is to the seeds.  My middle son was a bit easier but my youngest flat out refused.  They all loved the ravioli but next time asked for it without sauce.  Oh well.  Different sauce for them next time or just butter! My son loves to spike & color his hair for first & last days of school.

An indoor garden that’s fun for kids

I attempt every year to have a vegetable garden, and every year I think I will be more successful.  Unfortunately I find that I am not dedicated to it enough to reap heaps of produce but do get the occasional vegetable.  ( I call myself the accidental gardener— if I harvest anything it’s by accident.) Herbs I can do; but I always start too late or don’t prune enough, or don’t weed enough, or whatever… I don’t have a glut of peppers, zucchini, tomatoes, carrots, chard, kale, lettuce, etc.  At least we get our CSA bin and I have so many heirloom tomatoes now that I will have to learn to can this year.

I guess I try to garden each year knowing that it won’t yield much (until I put more time and effort in) but I think it’s a good way to show the kids that not all foods are so easy to procure.  We live in an age and place that we don’t have to worry about growing enough food, we can just buy it.  But things aren’t as easy for everyone, everywhere in the world. 


Watching them grow!

Within just 10 days a beautiful bunch of oyster mushrooms!

Anyway, this year I tried something new and was so pleased with the outcome.  I bought an indoor mushroom garden kit.  It was so easy and it was fun for the kids to do. They just need to mist it every day. (Mister is included, but I used another one we had too). 

Yesterday I harvested mushrooms and made an omelet with them.  Omelet also had tomatoes, potatoes, thyme, parsley, leeks— all local, organic from the CSA, and goat cheese.  The eggs are locally produced too!


My youngest was so happy to have one of his favorite foods but he wouldn’t let me put them all in; he had to have a few forkfuls of sautéed mushrooms sans egg.

And, now we just turn the box to the back and start again!  You can buy them here.

Marinated & Grilled Shrimp

I don’t have photos of this, but thought I’d pass on the recipe since the kids devoured them with such gusto. 

Used about 1 pound of frozen shrimp.  Thaw in cold water.  In a bowl mix 3 Tbsp soy sauce, 1 tsp fish sauce, 1 tsp sesame oil, 1 tsp lemongrass, 2-3 cloves garlic chopped, 1-2 inch piece ginger grated/chopped, juice of 1 lime, 1 lemon, 1 orange, dash or two of cayenne or chopped chili pepper (habanero, serrano), handful of chopped cilantro.  Place defrosted shrimp in marinade and let sit for at least 2 hours in fridge.  Optional tsp galangal.

Grill & enjoy!

I Don’t Want It!  I Hate It! 

That was the mantra from my sons when they saw dinner. I told them to just sit down at the table. They still said they wouldn’t eat it. I didn’t try to persuade them. I didn’t say they had to eat it; just to sit down with us.

Then they both started trying to pick out the rice and eat that. Soon they were eating up the shrimp and vegetables too— basically eating the whole bowl full that they were given.  Here toward the end of dinner, the 2 boys explain how they reacted to their dinner. (Youngest son was not feeling well & asleep.)

Shrimp, arugula, kale, chard, garlic, garlic scapes, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, Singapore Spice (citrus curry) over rice.

Sometimes it just takes being firm. Not giving in. Sometimes the kids actually will enjoy the food they’re given if they’d just give it a try.

Stuffed Chicken Breast

Though chicken can seem boring at times, it’s versatility can make it wonderful.  Chicken goes with so many different types of cuisines and flavors.  It’s just about putting a bit of effort into changing it up from time to time.  The supermarket had thin sliced chicken breasts on sale, so I bought some to stuff; they’re not worth the price difference otherwise.  I’ve never actually made stuffed chicken breasts before but enjoyed them many times.  My husband ended up coming home just in time to make these too!  Wonderful thing about stuffed chicken breast is how versatile they can be: you can make all different kinds of stuffings — all types of vegetables or like this one, sausage and vegetable stuffings.  It doesn’t take as long as one might expect too. 

Sausage, Mushroom, Spinach Stuffed Chicken Breast

8 pieces of thin sliced chicken breast or 3-4 pieces of regular breast, sliced lengthwise

1/2 med onion, diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

3 Italian sweet sausage links, removed from casing (slice lengthwise and separate)

8 Crimini mushrooms, diced

1/3 package frozen organic spinach (thawed) or

                        4 oz. fresh spinach, steamed and chopped (squeeze out excess water)

Handful or two of shredded flavorful cheese (we used Quattro Formaggio from TJ’s— Asiago, Fontina, Parmesan, and Provolone)

Salt and pepper (check before salting as it might not need any)

2 Tbsp melted clarified butter for oven roasting

Tbsp olive oil for sautéing

Optional breaded coating:

Panko or regular breadcrumbs

3 Tbsp flour

1 egg

Preheat oven to 350F. Sauté onions with olive oil and when nearly clear, add garlic and sausage.  Using a flat wooden spatula, break up the sausage as it’s cooking.  Once it’s brown add mushrooms and continue to sauté until mushrooms are tender.  Add spinach and mix well.  Pour into a metal bowl and chill (in a pile of snow if you have as much as we do!) for a few minutes. Mix in the cheese and check for seasoning.  Put Tbsp of stuffing mixture on chicken breast and roll. (Optional bread crumb topping would be done now.  First dip piece in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs.)  Put clarified butter in bottom of pan so chicken doesn’t stick and pour a little over each roll.  Pop in oven for 20 minutes and serve with your favorite sides.  We served it with harvest grains, broccoli and snow peas.

My sons all loved this dinner, although my middle son complained about mushrooms being in it before he’d even tried it.  He ate the entire dinner anyway. The boys ended up eating the chicken like sushi rolls with their fingers (no grandparents around to disapprove). 


Bonus:  I had leftover stuffing mixture that I turned into a layer of lasagna the next night.

There’re no ribs in those ribs

No, this is not about Taco Bell’s beef filling that only has 35% beef in it.  Recently my husband got some “boneless short ribs” also known as “Flanken short ribs” from a meat supplier.  Super tender and quite high in fat content, my husband had never used the cut before but found it’s very popular for Korean dishes.  He found a great marinade online.  We had friends coming over for dinner so it was the perfect opportunity to share with them. 

Beef Kalbi

2 lbs boneless short ribs of beef, sliced to ~1 inch thin


2 kiwi, peeled

2 cloves garlic

1 med shallot

2 Tbsp Mirin

2 Tbsp soy sauce

1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar

2 Tbsp brown sugar


toasted sesame seeds

1 scallion sliced

Mix all ingredients except beef, sesame seeds and scallion in food processor until well blended/chopped.  Put beef in plastic bag with marinade for at least 2 hours (overnight is preferable).  Take beef grill over open flame or in cast iron skillet over high heat for just a few minutes (turn to get both sides) so the inside is still on medium-rare side.   Slice and top with scallions and toasted sesame seeds. BTW-in Korea some people use 7up in the marinade.

We all loved it so much!  My friend’s daughter thought so highly of it she referred to it afterwards as “Stephen’s Steak”.  We did also serve chicken drumsticks coated in Penzy’s Mural of Flavor herb blend and panko bread crumbs.  We made it again the other night because it went over so well. Kids loved it each time.

At least this beef is stll all real beef and now I have good reason why I’ve only eaten at Taco Bell once.

Can’t seem to upload any photos!  Hope to put them up later.

Forgot to buy cream… now what am I making?

Sometimes my dinners aren’t what was originally planned.  The other night I was going to make the chicken and mushrooms in cream sauce that my kids all love, but while I was browning the chicken I remembered I’d used the last of the cream to make scones the day before. So, mid cooking I needed to change course.  I had brown rice in my rice cooker.  I had the mushrooms all cut.  I’d pulled out a zucchini… so what direction should I go?  I went Asian style stir-fry.  I added sesame oil, fish sauce and soy sauce to the chicken once browned and set that aside.  I cut up a small broccoli crown, remaining half a head of cabbage, and the kid’s carrot sticks left over from their snacks.  My husband came home from work and helped by chopping garlic, grating fresh ginger and thawing/shelling edamame (soybeans).  Boy, at the speed of light he can mince that garlic into tiny pieces— I couldn’t even imagine doing.  I threw in some frozen red, yellow and green peppers.  And voila, a delicious meal that was not what we planned, but was so healthy and delicious. 


You can do this with whatever vegetables you have on hand that seem to go together.  I purchased the Cascadian Farms organic frozen peppers and edamame because they are handy and also great in stir-fries.  Not every vegetable freezes well, but some are fine and they actually retain their nutritional value plus you won’t worry about unwanted additives (the linings from cans or pesticides) this way.

Chicken, Mushroom, Vegetable Stir Fry

5-6 boneless chicken thighs (or 2 breasts), cut into 2 inch pieces

3 Tbsp tamari soy sauce

1 Tbsp fish sauce

2 tsp sesame oil

1 quart shiitake mushrooms, sliced

1/2 quart white mushrooms, sliced

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 tsp fresh ginger grated

1-2 carrots, chopped

1 small broccoli crown, cut into small pieces

1 organic zucchini, cut in half lengthwise then sliced

1/4-1/2 small cabbage head, chopped

handful organic edamame, shelled

handful organic peppers (multicolored), sliced

canola, sunflower or peanut oil

Brown chicken in 2 tsp oil over med-high heat.  Add soy, fish sauce and sesame oil.  Set aside. Add another 2 tsp oil and sauté mushrooms.  Add garlic and ginger, stirring well for two minutes then add broccoli and carrots.  Keep stirring for another two minutes then add zucchini, peppers, cabbage, edamame, chicken in soy mixture.  Stir occasionally until vegetables are tender.  Check seasoning and add more soy or sesame as needed.

Serve over brown rice or rice noodles.


My kids all loved this and ate their entire meal without fuss.  Ok, well, my middle son saw it and said he wasn’t going to eat it and didn’t want it before my eldest and younger sons told him that it was delicious.  It was.  I was the lucky one who ate the leftovers (it was enough to feed all five of us with one remaining bowl for next day’s lunch).  My middle son was the first one of the kids to finish. 

It didn’t matter that it wasn’t what I planned. It was healthy, tasty, easy and the kids ate it.

Comfort to some

Something about this time of year— it seems like I’m all about comfort food. Recently I came across the ultimate in comfort food— bacon and egg pie.  I mean, really, it’s got bacon, need I say more?  Oh wait, it’s also a pie.  No, not a quiche, a pie.  With two crusts.  My mother sent me an online article about her friend, Alison Holst, a famous New Zealand chef who’s penned something like 100 cookbooks and is New Zealand’s version of Julia Child.  She’s even got Julia’s stature, voice and also warmth.  Alison visited here a few years back and she is just lovely.  So this article was how she came to make bacon and egg pies and it gave her recipe. 

Now, if you’ve lived in (or even visited) England or a former British colony, you may have learned to love meat pies, fish and chips, sausage rolls and other foods that most foodies would turn their noses up at.  But me, I love them all. They are comfort food and bring back such wonderful memories.  Like when I lived in Wellington I used to go to brunch at the Brooklyn Deli (named for the area of Wellington not New York) and luurved their bacon and egg pie.  Reading about the article made me remember those days.  And it made me want a bacon and egg pie, so I printed the recipe and brought it to the kitchen. 

I couldn’t believe it took me so many years to make this.  The crust was super easy to make in the food processor.  I made the crust and put the potatoes on the stove (on med-low) then dashed off to pick up my eldest from his school’s Kindness Klub (where they help raise money for charities, help fill food pantries, or create gifts for soldiers, etc).   When I returned I rolled out the dough (which was chilling in the fridge while I ran to the school), cooked the bacon, sautéed the leeks and finished assembling the pie.  (Leeks are my addition.)

Alison Holst’s Bacon and Egg Pie

1 1/4 cups of flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 stick butter, chopped into pieces

1 tsp white vinegar

1/2 cup cold milk

4-6 strips of lightly cooked bacon, chopped (nitrate and nitrite-free)

1/2 cup frozen peas

1-2 cups chopped cooked potatoes

6 large eggs

1 leek sliced, well rinsed and lightly sautéed (optional)

salt and pepper to taste (careful since bacon is salty)

Preheat oven to 390F.  In food processor mix together the flour, baking powder, and cold butter until butter is at least pea-sized.  Add vinegar to milk then drizzle both into top of processor while on.  When it becomes one ball, stop and place in fridge to chill for 10 minutes.  After, divide in two and roll out on well floured surface. Place bottom crust into pie plate. Spread with half to three quarters of the chopped bacon, peas, leeks and potato. Mix eggs in bowl with a fork until the yolks are broken, but the eggs look streaky. Pour about half the eggs over the mixture in the bowl, then add the remaining bacon, peas and potatoes, and dribble the rest of the egg over the top.

Moisten the edge of the pastry in the plate, then place the second pastry sheet on top of the filling, trimming the edges if necessary. Crimp the edges if you like. Make a slit in the top and brush the top with milk.  Bake at 390F/200C for about 40 minutes.

Now, what really surprised me was my kids’ reactions.  My eldest, of course, loved it.  But my middle son said he hated it but still ate most of it.  And my youngest refused to try it without coaxing and actually putting a tiny forkful to his mouth.  He actually asked if he could just have his salad and skip the pie.  Bacon.  I reminded him that it was in there.  Oh well, maybe you have to learn to like comfort foods or maybe what’s a comfort to you is poison to someone else.  I even had some Wattie’s Tomato Sauce with mine (the NZ version of ketchup) like I was back at “varsity”. To me it’ll still remain a favorite.  Now to tackle creating a mince pie— as long as I don’t start putting back the freshman fifteen.