December 16, 2012

RECIPE SUNDAY: Vegetable Lasagna

Winter is here, which means lots and lots of layers!  While to some this means getting bundled up in sweaters, to us at Cooking Sprouts, it means lasagna!   Lasagna is a great winter meal.  Kids love the mixture of tomato sauce and cheese-- however the secret is loading it up with veggies that are easily customizable to your little sprout's tastes!  Though the recipe requires many steps and a bit of time, it's a fun experience for your sprout, and full of cooking preparation techniques for them to practice and learn!

So! We knew it was time for another experiment in the kitchen. Gathering an assortment of vegetables, we made a Cooking Sprouts rendition of Lasagna, sans noodles! As a tip, you and your sprout can even make your own customizable mini lasagnas! Here's what we came up with:

Vegetable Lasagna

Makes 6 Servings

Component 1: Tomato Basil Sauce

4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
5 cloves of garlic
1 medium yellow onion
1 1/3 tsp salt
pinch red pepper flakes
1 28oz can plum tomatoes (hint! Rao's is the best and well worth the $5!)
1/3 cup fresh basil
1/4 cup red wine (optional, it cooks away ;-) )

1. In a medium sized pot, saute garlic, onion, salt, and red pepper flakes until browned.

2. Squish in each tomato, and add the remaining juice in the can. Add the fresh basil and optional red wine. Bring to a simmer.

3. Let cook for 15 minutes, covered, stirring occasionally.

Component 2: Sauteed Baby Bella Mushrooms

2 1/2 tbsp truffle or extra virgin olive oil 
1 cup baby bella mushrooms, sliced 1/4" thick
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1 pinch salt

1. Heat olive oil over a medium heat.

2. Add mushrooms, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes.

3. Add balsamic vinegar, stir, and then let simmer for another 10 minutes, until mushrooms are browned.

Component 3: Roasted Eggplant and Zucchini


1 medium sized eggplant, sliced 1/3" thick
1 large zucchini, sliced 1/4" thick
olive oil for drizzling
freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 425 Degrees F. 

2. In a medium sized bowl, coat vegetable slices in olive oil, salt, and pepper.

2. Lay on a baking sheet, and let roast for 10 minutes, or until slightly browned.

 And now!

The Lasagna Sha-Bang:

15 oz part-skim ricotta cheese
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
3/4 lb. 85% lean ground beef
2 tsp maldon sea salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp garlic powder
Roasted Eggplant and Zucchini recipe
Sauteed Baby Bella Mushroom recipe
7 oz fresh mozzarella, sliced into thin pieces
1/4 cup parmsean cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

2.  In a small bowl, combine ricotta, basil, and 1 tbsp black pepper.

3. In a medium sized bowl, use hands to combine the ground beef, salt, black pepper, basil, and garlic powder. Meanwhile, in a medium sized frying pan, heat the olive oil on medium heat. Add the ground beef mixture, and cook until brown.

4. Layer a casserole dish (I used a 10 x 10 one) with the eggplant. Next, spread the ricotta cheese on top. Layer with the mushrooms after that, followed by the beef, then more eggplant. Top with tomato sauce and a thin layer of sprinkled parmesean, and finally, the sliced mozzarella. Fill the sides of the pan with the remaining tomato sauce.

4. Bake for 15 minutes, slice into squares, serve, and voila!

December 10, 2012

Recipe Sunday: Pumpkin Mac and Cheese!

There is no doubt that we all have fond memories of Macaroni & Cheese meals through the years-- and I am sure many of them during childhood!! That said, I don't think I have ever met a kid who has ever said no to a macaroni and cheese lunch or dinner.

And why not give it to them?  For parents and adults, it's quick and easy to reach for that blue box to re-create those warm and cozy Mac & Cheese meals for their kids (and for themselves, of course!).   But who wants macaroni and cheese from a box? You see, what many do not know, is how fast and easy it is to whip up from scratch!

I know what you're thinking: Despite it being from scratch, why would Cooking Sprouts even dare to think about posting a recipe that relies solely on cheese and macaroni? Well, well, well...  Because if you do the research, you can very strategically throw in some veggies, and kids will never ever know they are there!   

I knew it was time for a kitchen experiment.

Cruising the aisles of whole foods, with four recipes in hand, I stocked up on ingredients, came home, cooked. I discovered the whole process full of food preparation techniques that are easy and fun for kids as well. They'll love to grate the cheese and chop the veggies! Thus, another successful kitchen experiment! Here's what we came up with this time:

Pumpkin Mac & Cheese with Veggies

Makes 8 Servings

2 tbsp salted butter
2 tbsp whole wheat flour
pinch of salt
sprinkle of black pepper
pinch of nutmeg
1 package (about 8 servings) whole grain macaroni elbows or shells
1 c. pumpkin puree
1 c. 1% milk
1 c. cheddar cheese, freshly grated (any kind! I used extra-sharp)
sprinkle of pumpkin pie spice
1/4 cup olive oil
1 c. brussel sprouts, sliced in half
1 c. porcini mushrooms, sliced in quarters
1. cup baby spinach

1. In a  medium pot, heat 2 quarts of water on medium heat, until it reaches a boil. Add noodles, stir, and drain.

2. Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees.  Mix together brussels sprouts and mushrooms in a bowl with olive oil. Lie flat side down on a baking sheet, and roast for 10-15 minutes.

3. In a large pot, whisk together flour and butter until melted, then add salt, pepper, black pepper, and whisk again until smooth.

4. Add pumpkin puree and milk, and whisk until thick.

5. Add cheese, and a bit of the spices, and mix until well-blended. Add salt to taste.

6. Stir in macaroni until all are covered. Stir in veggies, and then finally, the spinach. Cover until wilted. Stir and serve.

Voila! From now on, say no to blue boxes!

November 26, 2012

VIDEO: Let's Talk About Soil

We came across this educational video on soil resources earlier today-- and hope you find it as informative and fun to watch as we do!

November 25, 2012

Recipe Sunday: Turkey Veggie Chili

There is nothing better than a nice hot bowl of chili on a chilly day (no pun intended!)-- and for both adults and kids alike!  Being that today marked one of the coldest days of the year, I thought that it also couldn't have been a more appropriate time to hole up in my apartment, and make a healthy rendition myself-- and, of course, share with our Little Sprouts and their families! However, what was supposed to be an easy breezy dinner turned into an entire kitchen experiment!

You see, searching the net for chili recipes proved to be a quite difficult task. There are a tremendous amount of recipes out there that rely solely on beans, meat, an onion, a generic taco seasoning pack... and sometimes even a jar of salsa! While to some this makes for an easy and quick meal, the nutrition (and fun!) lies in adding veggies that cater to what your Little Sprout likes to eat! Not to mention, it also makes for a really fun chopping and dicing lesson in the kitchen.  Your Little Sprouts will love preparing the veggies to throw into the mix.

That said, I walked the aisles of my Whole Foods with a few recipes in hand, and picked my  ingredients. Two hours later, I had a steaming bowl of chili, with some freshly shredded cheddar cheese--- just what I wanted! Here's the recipe I came up with... I hope you guys enjoy this one!

Turkey Vegetable Chili

Makes 8-10 Servings

3-4 tbsp olive oil
1.5 lb ground turkey breast (feel free to use any kind of meat you prefer!)
1 large yellow onion
2 stalks of celery, chopped
6 garlic cloves
1/4 of a jalapeño, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 yellow bell pepper, chopped
salt (to taste)
black pepper (to taste)
1 28oz can of plum tomatoes 
1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1.5 cups frozen (or canned) sweet corn
2.5 tsp chili powder
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp cayenne pepper 
pinch of red hot pepper flakes (optional)
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp dried oregano
Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese (grated fresh)
Sour Cream (optional)
1 Avocado, chopped
and any other veggies you'd like to use! suggestions: peas, yellow squash, zucchini...

1. In a large pot, heat the olive oil on medium heat.
2. Add the garlic, onion, celery, jalapeno, chopped peppers, and saute until soft (not browned).
3. Add the turkey, mix in the pot, until cooked. Also, when you do this, add bits of the spices as well- a pinch of each, salt, and black pepper.
4.  Squeeze the plum tomatoes into the mixture, and add the remaining juice. Then add the beans, and the remainder of the spices.
5. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to low/medium. Cover, let simmer for 30-45 minutes. Add additional spices to taste.
6. Serve in medium sized bowls, with a sprinkle of freshly grated extra sharp cheddar, a handful of chopped avocado, and a dollop of sour cream! Delish!

September 19, 2012

Nearing the end of our Summer Session!

This past Saturday marked our second to last Cooking Sprouts session for our summer season! With the little sprouts back in school, and the best weather a group of sprouts could ever ask for, we had a stellar day from start to finish. Perhaps what made us excited even more, were our newest additions to the team- little and big sprouts alike!

We began the day by doing a quick fruit-tasting blind taste test. With closed eyes, each sprout was given a fruit and had to guess what they were eating. Sprouts tasted everything from watermelon to pineapple. Why were we doing this? You'll find out a little later...
We then moved onto our garden duties, and we began planting new vegetables to prepare for our Winter Session! The sprouts learned how leafy, green vegetables can grow well despite the tiniest bit of frost-- and so, we sprinkled seeds for spinach, kale, and lettuces into our beds. We also discovered that despite our little drought, our brussel sprouts were spared! The sprouts relished in anticipation at harvesting them for our next session!

And, of course, the menu. We whipped up veggie heavy pork and chicken stir fries, a thai melon salad and also a melon soupto compliment, and perhaps the most exciting (and reason as to why we did our fruit taste tests!): snow cones made with fresh syrups we made from scratch! With so many ingredients in the mix, we bypassed activities, separated into groups, and just chopped and minced away!

We also salvaged another red beet from our  garden, and chopped it up for the sprouts to taste!

Some of the vegetables were a mystery, even to big sprouts, so Big Sprout Cam had to teach us about those.  

The sprouts loved making syrups for snow cones!!


Here were some of our recipes for the day:

Thai Melon Salad

[Serves 4]

1/4 cup fresh lime juice (from about 2 limes)
1 large fresh thai chile, with seeds, finely minced, or to taste
1/4 cup fish sauce
1 tbsp. sugar, plus or more if needed
2 small ripe melons
10 fresh spearmint leaves, torn into thin strips
3 tablespoons chopped salted roasted peanuts (optional)

In medium sized bowl, combine the lime juice, chile, fish sauce, and sugar with 2 tbsp water. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Cut each melon in half and remove the seeds. Using a melon baller, stop out the flesh to  make about 4 cups melon balls total. Add the melon balls to the dressing and toss. Let marinate in the refrigerator for at least 45 minutes and up to several hours. To service, toss with the mint, divide among four bowls, and sprinkle with peanuts.

Fresh Fruit Snow Cones

1 lb. fresh fruit (strawberries, blackberries, pineapple)
2 tablespoons agave nectar or honey

    1.    In food processor or blender, blend strawberries with agave until smooth. Pour purée in plastic squeeze bottle.
    2.    Shave ice (use an inexpensive snow cone machine found at discount stores).
    3.    Serve purée on shaved ice.

July 16, 2012

Happy Bastille Day! Cooking Sprouts a la Francais!

As many of you know, this past weekend marked Bastille Day! Being that one of our Big Sprouts Flore is from France, we couldn't help but choose a French theme for this past Saturday's session.

We began the day with our normal circle-- but with a French twist! Flore translated different colors and favorite foods that the Sprouts chose.... and even translated the name Cooking Sprouts for us (choux de cuisson)!

After tending to the gardens and completing our weekly weeding, we began to harvest! We found our summer squash and tomatoes to be growing quite brilliantly, and even were able to harvest some scallions which we chopped fresh into a vinaigrette later on in the day!

Then, of course, all sprouts growing quite hungry, we began to cook. On the menu? Tuna over salad (or in French, Nicoise!) and some tasty grilled ham and cheese sandwiches (or in French, Croque Monsieur)!

The day was a complete success from start to finish. We ended with some soccer (Or as the French say: "football!") and complete exhaustion! Next session's theme? VIETNAMESE!!

Here is the recipe we used for our Tuna Nicoise:
  • 1 head of Boston Lettuce, large, washed and dried
  • 2 to 3 Tbs virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh green beans, trimmed, blanched, refreshed in cold water, and dried
  • Our Oil and Lemon Dressing
  • 3 or 4 fine rip red tomatoes, peeled, cored, quartered and seasoned before serving
  • 8 to 10 ounces oil-packed tuna, drained and flaked
  • 1 Quart Boiled Potatoes
  • 8 hard-boiled eggs, halved lengthwise
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced
  • Cooking Directions

    1) Clean and line a handsome, large and wide salad bowl or a roomy platter with lettuce leaves
    2) Drizzle on olive oil; then dust with a sprinkling of salt
    3) Toss the beans and dressing in a mixing bowl. Add seasoning to taste. Do the same with tomatoes and tuna.
    4) Place the potatoes in the center of the platter, and then, surround with green beans and tomatoes strategically. Ring the platter with the eggs, and finally, drizzle tuna on top.
    5) To serve, feel free to spoon a little more vinaigrette over all; topping with parsley (and even olives!) if preferred.

    And voila!!

    And our recipe for Grilled Cheese!

    Grilled Cheese recipe – serves 4 but we can easily feed 2/3 kids with one sandwich (we will slice them in 4)
    Serving 4
    8 slices whole grain bread
    1/3 pound thinly sliced Swiss cheese
    3/4 pound thinly sliced ham (or proscuitto)
    2 apples
    2 pears
    2-3 tomatoes
    dijon grainy mustard (optional)
    salted butter
    1) Take two slices of bread. Spread mustard on one side
    2) Line one side with slices of either: apple and pear  *OR* tomato
    3) Line the other with 3-4 slices of Swiss Cheese, and 3-4 slices of thinly sliced ham or proscuitto
    4) in a small pot, melt the butter
    5) Brush either sides of the bread with the melted butter, as well as a frying pan. Let the pan heat over a medium flame, and place the sandwich down. Let it sit for 2 minutes, then flip. Add butter as needed, but let the cheese melt until gooey.
    6) Slice into halves or quarters and serve!
     other choices for fillings:

    *Grilled Cheese and Tomato & chives
    * Grilled Cheese  with  apple
    * Grilled Cheese with Grainy Mustard
    * Grilled Cheese & Scallion
    * Grilled Cheese with pears
     Avec Amour,

    The Big Cooking Sprouts

    February 12, 2012

    RECIPE: Tomato Sauce

    At yesterday's Cooking Sprouts session at PS24, we used our go-to recipe for tomato sauce! You can definitely get creative with this recipe--  it's great to add any meats or veggies of your choice to make a more balanced meal! We added some eggplant to ours yesterday-- yummy! It’s also  great for dishes like chicken parmigiana, eggplant parmigiana, lasagna. Our recipe below will make enough for 8-10 servings. 

    The sauce freezes and reheats well, so it's perfect for lunches, dinners, and everything in between :)

    Tomato Sauce

    1 large can whole tomatoes
    1 large can crushed tomatoes
    2 cloves garlic, finely diced
    2 large onions, roughly chopped
    1 tiny can of tomato paste (you’ll only need about 3 tablespoons)
    1 bunch basil
    Olive oil

    1. Saute the onions and red pepper flakes (as much as you like) in a tablespoon of olive oil in your heaviest nonreactive pot for 15 minutes on medium-high heat. Season with salt to taste.
    2. Mix the finely diced garlic with half the tiny can of tomato paste.
    3. After 15 minutes, when the onions are pretty well browned, make a spot in the center, add a tablespoon of olive oil, and add the garlic paste mixture. Let the little paste ball get brown before you mix it around (still keeping it alone in the center). It is finished after 5 minutes or so, after you smell a roasted garlic/tomato aroma.
    4. Add the entire can of crushed tomatoes and the basil and 2 pinches of ground pepper.
    5. In a bowl, have the kids mash up the can of whole tomatoes into chunks with their (washed!) hands. It will give the sauce a hearty texture. Only add the tomatoes, not the liquid from the can; if the sauce still needs liquid, add stock or water, because two full cans of tomatoes will make the sauce too acidic. Discard the extra tomato juice, or save it for another purpose.
    6. Simmer sauce for 10 minutes and it’s ready.

    PS24: Valentines Day 2012

    Yesterday was our Valentines Day themed Winter Session at PS24.

    On the Menu:

    ... and all from scratch!

    The sprouts chopped up vegetables (for our meatballs and sauce) and walnuts (for our brownies), and learned the ingredients and steps to making each dish!

    Meanwhile, Paige and Meghan led the group with Paper Flower Bouquets and with our version of Hot Potato (a quick game of Stinky Stinky Garlic) and Freeze Dance!

    Our paper flowers!

    Meatball Making!

    Recipes and activity instructions to follow!

    RECIPE: Turkey Meatballs

    Turkey Meatballs (serves 6)

    Olive Oil for the baking sheet
    1 pounds ground turkey
    1 medium carrots, finely chopped or minced
    4 garlic cloves minced
    1 small onion minced
    1/2 bunch parsley finely chopped
    1 teaspoon salt
    1 teaspoon pepper
    1 cups bread crumbs
    2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
    2 tablespoons of soy sauce
    1 egg


    1. Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Spray a 13 x 9-inch baking dish with no-stick cooking spray or line
    with parchment paper.
    2. Combine turkey, carrots, onions, parsley, salt, pepper, bread crumbs, balsamic vinegar, soy sauce
    and egg in large bowl. Mix thoroughly.
    3. Shape into 1-inch balls. Place on prepared baking dish. Bake 15 minutes or until fully cooked.

    Preparation tip: for faster preparation, roughly chop all of the veggies and put into a food processor,
    pulsate until the carrots and onions are the size of a grain of rice.

    Serving tip: serve the meatballs over your favorite tomato sauce and whole wheat pasta.

    RECIPE: Wholegrain Brownies

    Wholegrain Brownies (serves 10)

    1/4 cup applesauce
    1/2 cups brown sugar
    1 eggs
    1/4 cup olive oil
    1/4 cup sour cream
    1 teaspoons vanilla extract
    1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
    1/2 cup whole wheat flour
    1/4 teaspoon baking powder
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecan nuts (optional)

    1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease an 8x8 inch square pan.
    2. In a medium bowl, stir together the applesauce, sugar, eggs and oil until smooth.
    3. Mix in the sour cream and vanilla extract.
    4. Combine the cocoa, whole wheat flour, baking powder and salt; stir into the wet ingredients until incorporated.
    5.Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan.
    6. Bake for 25 minutes in the preheated oven, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean,
    but the brownies are still moist. Cool, and cut into squares.

    Portion Tip: you can spoon the batter into muffin tins instead, fill them a bit less than half way up, bake for
    about 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

    February 7, 2012

    Recipe Corner: Dumplings

    Who doesn’t love dumplings? And once you discover how much fun they are to make with a little practice—especially if you enlist some friends to help stuff and fold them—you’ll visit your local Chinese takeout a lot less often. Any Asian market will have dumpling wrappers, as will many large supermarkets; look in the refrigerator cases. They come in square or circle shapes; both work fine. Dumpling wrappers freeze well and don’t take up much space, so keep some around—you never know when a dumpling craving might hit you.

    VIDEO: Halloween at PS24

    PHOTOS: Halloween at PS24