Red Lentils (Masoor Daal)

Red lentil soup, also known as Masoor Daal, is a staple in most Indian households, with each family possessing a slight variation in how it's prepared. Jazzed up with turmeric, cumin and other spices and served with veggies and whole wheat bread (roti) or rice, daal is a fixture at every meal, packing a vegetarian protein punch as well as fibre and B vitamins. Most importantly, it is absolutely delicious and soul-warming. My four year old loves it, which is a fact that definitely warms my soul. 

RECIPE

Yield
Serves a family of 4

Ingredients
1 cup red lentils (masoor daal) found in most regular and Indian grocery stores
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 black peppercorns
Pinch hing (asafoetida) found in Indian grocery stores (optional) 
1 tomato grated
Salt to taste (skip for babies)
1 tablespoon coconut oil or ghee
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 garlic cloves finely chopped
Fistful fresh cilantro, finely chopped
Squeeze of lemon juice

Method
Wash the lentils and discard the water. Do this 2-3 times. Soak the lentils in room temperature water for 1-2 hours to expedite the cooking process. 

Discard the soaking liquid (this reduces phytic acid present in many grains and legumes, which acts as an anti-nutrient and can prevent mineral absorption). 

In a pot for which you have a lid, add the soaked lentils, 5 cups of fresh water, turmeric, peppercorns and hing. Bring the mixture to a boil, skimming any foam that arises. Boil vigorously for 5 minutes, continuing to take off the foam (this will reduce gassiness!) Reduce heat to a simmer, cover partially and cook for 30-40 minutes until the lentils are dissolved. If using a pressure cooker, use 3 cups of water, allow 1-2 whistles and cook on low heat for 20 minutes. 

Once the lentils are cooked, add the grated tomato and salt to taste and continue to simmer on very low heat.

In parallel, prepare the seasoning, also known as tadka

Heat the oil over medium flame until shimmering. Add the cumin seeds and stir for about a minute until sizzling and aromatic (but not burnt). Add the garlic and stir until just barely pink, about a minute. Transfer the seasoning to the daal (expect a loud sizzle!) and stir well. 

Fish out the peppercorns, especially if feeding kids. Check for salt and adjust seasoning. Finish with a garnish of cilantro and a squeeze of lemon. 
 

Creamy Chicken Broccoli Pasta Bake

Nothing beats a one pot family dinner and this creamy, nutmeg-infused broccoli and chicken pasta bake is just that. 

I stuck to the classic elements of your typical, comforting pasta bake but elevated the nutritional content by swapping in whole wheat pasta and adding protein-rich chicken (can be omitted for a vegetarian option) and health-boosting broccoli. The heady aroma and flavour of nutmeg add warmth and complexity without overwhelming the dish and the classic bechamel and melted cheese makes it creamy and satisfying. 

We've now served this for a few playdates and the kids have been very content, which is always, without a doubt, my happiest moment. It can be prepared in advance for a dinner party and finished in the oven at the last minute, also making it ultra convenient. 

I hope your family enjoys it. 

CREAMY CHICKEN BROCCOLI PASTA BAKE
Baby led weaning, Toddler, Kid, Adult

Yield
Serves a family of 4

Ingredients
1 head broccoli, cut into florets
2 chicken breasts
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cups dry whole wheat pasta (penne or spirals)
2 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
2 cups milk
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup gruyere cheese

Method

Preheat the oven to 220C / 420 F. 

Steam the broccoli for 5 minutes until cooked, yet bright and crunchy. Set aside.

Next, cook the chicken. I like to use this genius technique from The Kitchn http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-cook-moist-tender-chicken-breasts-every-time-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-36891

Briefly, flatten the chicken breasts to 1/2 inch thickness by laying them between two sheets of plastic cling wrap and pounding with a meat tenderiser or the flat bottom of a wide cup. Salt and pepper the chicken. 

In a heavy bottom pan for which you have a lid, heat the oil on medium high until shimmer.ing Add the chicken breasts and cook for 1 minute. Reduce the heat to low, flip the chicken, cover and cook for 10 minutes. Do not touch the chicken during the cooking process! Turn off the heat and leave the pan, covered for 10 additional minutes. 

While the chicken is resting, cook the pasta in salted boiling water. Drain and set aside. 

Remove the cooked chicken from the pan, slice and allow it to cool. 

Next, prepare the bechamel sauce.

Heat the milk with a pinch of salt until just boiling. Take it off the heat. 

In a heavy bottom saucepan, melt the butter on low heat. Stir in the flour using a whisk or wooden spoon and cook, stirring well for 2 minutes. Turn the heat off. Add in the warmed milk and stir vigorously until a smooth, creamy sauce forms. Put the pan back on high heat and boil the sauce for 1 minute, stirring well. Turn off the heat, add the nutmeg and salt to taste. 

In a large baking dish, mix together the cooked pasta, sliced chicken, broccoli, bechamel sauce and 3/4 cup cheese and give it a good mix. Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper if necessary. Sprinkle the top with the leftover cheese and bake in the oven until the sauce bubbles and the top is golden brown, 15-20 minutes. 

Serve for a decadent, nutritious, satisfying family dinner. You can prepare the pasta mixture in advance and cover and store in the fridge until ready to bake. 

Enjoy! 

Sumac Hummus

Hummus is my best friend on a lazy day (and all days). It is delicious, satisfying, healthy and versatile. In a pinch, it makes for the perfect kid lunch, slathered into a pita pocket with some chopped avocado thrown in. A large dollop with oven-roasted potatoes and sautéed greens makes for a very happy dinner and my son and his friends love dipping veggie sticks into it for a snack! I like it best on its own straight from the fridge, it's creaminess deceiving me into thinking I'm enjoying a forbidden treat. 

Packed with plant-based protein, good-for-you fats, iron, zinc, potassium, B vitamins like folate and gut-friendly fibre, this creamy classic from the Middle East can be yours to lap up in less than minutes. It's tempting to buy but ridiculously easy to make and even more delicious in its DIY version. 

Without further ado, let's get blending. 

RECIPE

Sumac Hummus
Baby, Toddler, Kid, Adult


Ingredients
1 15 oz can cooked chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons tahini (white sesame paste)
Juice of one lemon
2 garlic cloves crushed
2 tablespoons olive oil plus more for drizzling
1/2 teaspoon plus a few extra pinches salt (skip for babies)
5 tablespoons cold water
Large pinch sumac (or cumin and paprika powders)

Method
Bled all the ingredients except the sumac (or cumin and paprika) until smooth, adding a splash more cold water if necessary to achieve a creamy texture. Check the salt and adjust seasoning. Sprinkle with sumac (or cumin and paprika if you prefer) and drizzle with a little olive oil. Enjoy with crackers, chopped veg, on pita bread, in a sandwich or on its own. It should keep covered in the fridge for 3-5 days. 

 

Jazzy Spinach

Jazzy Spinach
Toddler, Kid, Adult

Green vegetables really are all they're chalked up to be.

Bursting with cancer-fighting phyto (plant-based) nutrients, as well as fibre, vitamin C, B vitamins like folate and minerals like magnesium, potassium, calcium and iron (great for vegetarians!), green vegetables have been an integral part of many healthy ancient diets.

Sadly, the intake of green veggies in the West today is far from optimal, with debilitating health consequences. 

So what's the big deal about greens anyway? Can't we get all the same nutrients from 'tastier', more kid-friendly veggies? Not so fast. 

A recent study shed even more light on the benefits of green veggies, which contain an important type of sugar called sulfoquinorose. Complicated nomenclature aside, these SQ sugars are food for the good bacteria in our guts. A healthy gut means a healthy you - this makes gut-friendly greens even more critical in our diets. 

Getting kids to eat their greens, however, isn't always an easy task. 

We have likely tried and failed, facing vehement rejection. We may have occasionally snuck them into soups, stews, fritters and frittatas in an effort to get our tots to enjoy their umpteen benefits.

While there's nothing wrong with occasionally disguising veggies, I was determined to get my almost 4 year old son to embrace and celebrate greens in their natural, pure, unadulterated form, in order to set the stage for a lifetime of 'green veggie loving' (wishful thinking?).

And so, I played around with a bag of frozen spinach until I found a recipe that was a home run. I share it with you today in the hope that your kids and families will enjoy it as much as we have.

Here's to loving our greens! 

A Note On Spinach And Oxalates
Spinach and some other greens contain oxalic acid which reduces the absorption of calcium from that same food. As long as you are not eating boatloads of spinach daily or relying on it as your main source of calcium, this should not be an issue. For this reason I also suggest varying your greens. Kale, Swiss Chard and Collard Greens are all worth bringing into your rotation.

Yield
Serves a family of 3-4

Ingredients
1.5 tablespoons coconut oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 white onion, finely chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 tomato, finely chopped
250 g / 8 oz of frozen spinach (fresh is fine too)
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1/2 - 1 teaspoon red chilli powder (adults only :)) 
salt to taste
squeeze of lemon juice

Method
In a saucepan for which you have a lid, heat the oil on medium high heat. Add the cumin seeds and allow them to sizzle but not burn, about a minute. 

Add the onion and sauté until softened, about 3-5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about a minute. Add the turmeric and mix well until the spice opens up, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and sauté the mixture for 3 minutes. 

Stir in the frozen spinach and cover the pan with the lid for 5 minutes stirring the mixture every couple of minutes. This will speed up the thawing process. Take the lid off, lightly salt the spinach and sauté for 5 additional minutes. Add the cumin and coriander powders and sauté for 2-3 minutes until most of the water has evaporated. Check for salt and adjust seasoning. Shower with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

Serve as a delicious and nutritious side dish. Layer onto a grilled cheese sandwich to make it ultra healthy or roll in a pita bread with hummus for the perfect, quick lunch. Stir into yoghurt for a cool summer side or serve on top of crackers as a snack. 

Crispy Chicken Tenders

Crispy Chicken Tenders
Toddler, Kid, Adult

A Note On Old Bay Seasoning
Old Bay is a classic American spice blend that is particularly popular on the East Coast of the US as well as in the South. Created by a German immigrant in the 1930s in Maryland, it contains myriad spices like celery salt, bay leaf, black pepper, allspice, cardamom, nutmeg and more and, to it's many fans, is one of those immediately identifiable flavours you can't get enough of. Usually paired with crab or shrimp, my husband decided to try it to enliven his take on Chicken Milanesa and the results were rather satisfying. If you can't find Old Bay, you can use sweet Spanish paprika, salt and pepper for an equally pleasing effect. 

Yield
2 adult and 2 kid servings (about 28 tenders)

Ingredients
For the chicken tenders
2 large chicken breasts
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup flour
2.5 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
1 cup Japanese Panko breadcrumbs (regular will do if you can't find these)
1 teaspoon fresh thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon dry thyme)
1 Egg
50 ml / scant 1/4 cup water
Coconut oil for frying

For the dipping sauce
1/4 cup plain Greek yoghurt
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/8 teaspoon salt
Pinch black pepper
Pinch dry thyme
3/4 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 lemon juiced

Method
Mix all the dipping sauce ingredients in a bowl. Set aside.

Place the chicken breasts between two layers of cling film or parchment paper. Using a meat tenderiser or the flat section of a rolling pin. flatten the breasts into 1/4 inch thin cutlets. Lightly salt and pepper the chicken on both sides. Slice into 4 inch by 1 inch strips. You should get 14-16 strips from each flattened chicken breast. Set aside. 

Put the flour with 1.5 teaspoons old bay seasoning in a plate. Mix well. Next, whisk the egg and water together in a shallow, wide bowl and place next to the flour. In a third plate, place the breadcrumbs, 2 teaspoons of Old Bay and the thyme and mix well. 

Coat the chicken strips in flour, dusting off any excess. Transfer into the egg mixture coating well. Finally coat with the seasoned breadcrumbs and set aside on a plate. 

Heat a thin film of coconut oil in a skillet on medium. Shallow fry the tenders for about 2 minutes on each side until golden brown. Drain on a paper towel. Serve with the yoghurt dipping sauce, our healthy, veggie packed paprika pomodoro or good ol' ketchup! 

 

Zesty BBQ Chicken

Zesty BBQ Chicken
Baby-led weaning, Toddler, Kid, Adult

Science Corner
When meat is cooked at high temperatures like when grilling on an open flame, the creatine, amino acids and sugars in the meat form chemical compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) that cause mutations in our DNA and ultimately, at high enough doses, cancer (why does everything that's fun and delicious have a downside?! Boo). Fascinatingly, anti-oxidant rich marinades containing spices like turmeric and certain herbs (basil, oregano, thyme, mint) can substantially reduce HCA formation! This marinade combines several anti-oxidant spices for a flavour and anti-carcinogenic boost. Like I've said on many occasions, if only our conventional meds tasted this good. 

Yield
2 adult and 2 kid servings

Ingredients
6 chicken drumsticks, skin removed
1/4 cup plain, full-fat Greek yoghurt
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 cloves garlic crushed
1/2 teaspoon grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon plus a large pinch salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (skip for kids)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
Melted butter or coconut oil for brushing
1 lime
Chopped cilantro for garnish (optional)

Method
Using a sharp knife, score the skinless chicken drumsticks (i.e. make slits in the meat) and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix together the yoghurt, tomato paste, garlic, ginger salt, pepper and spices. Add the chicken and coat well with the marinade making sure it gets into the slits for more moisture and flavour. Refrigerate for 1-6 hours. 

30 minutes before BBQing or oven roasting, remove the meat from the fridge. If using the oven instead of the BBQ, pre-heat it to 200 C / 400 F.

If BBQing, cook the chicken on a pre-heated grill until done, about 35 minutes, flipping every 5 minutes to ensure even cooking (and to reduce HCA formation, discussed above). Brush with melted butter or oil to prevent it from drying.

Alternatively, roast the chicken in the pre-heated oven for 35 minutes turning every 10 minutes to ensure even cooking. Broil on high for 5 minutes, brushing with melted butter or oil to get a crisper finish. 

Let the chicken rest for 5-10 minutes. Sprinkle with lime juice, garnish with cilantro and serve. 

Twice Baked Potato With Broccoli And Chicken

Twice Baked Potato With Chicken and Broccoli
6 months+, Baby-led weaning, Toddler, Kid, Adult

Note: Vegetarians can skip the chicken and still enjoy the recipe. A good protein-rich substitute could be shelled and cooked edamame. 

Yield
2 adults and 1 toddler

Ingredients
3 medium Russet or Yukon Gold potatoes
Salt to taste
12 broccoli florets
2 cooked chicken breasts shredded, about 1 cup
(leftover roast chicken works well or use this brilliant method http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-cook-moist-tender-chicken-breasts-every-time-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-36891)
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3 tablespoons grated Gruyere cheese

Method

Preheat the oven to 425F / 220C. 

Jab the potato all over with a fork. Season generously with sea salt and wrap in foil. Place in the preheated oven for 40-60 minutes until fork tender. 

(If you're in a tearing hurry, you can also cook the jabbed and seasoned potato in a microwave for 5 minutes on each side.)

While the potato is cooking, steam the broccoli florets until cooked yet firm. If you don't have leftover shredded chicken, this is a good time to cook the chicken breasts using this fast and wonderful method: http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-cook-moist-tender-chicken-breasts-every-time-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-36891

Remove the cooked potatoes from the oven and carefully open up the foil. Cut each potato in half and gently scoop out the steaming flesh into a mixing bowl, retaining a thin layer near the skin to keep it intact. 

To the hot potato, add 3 tablespoons of butter, 2 tablespoons of grated cheese, nutmeg, broccoli, chicken and salt to taste and mix well, taking care not to mush up the broccoli florets. Scoop the mixture back into the potato skins. 

Divide the remaining butter and cheese on top of the potato boats and place in the oven for 8-10 minutes until the cheese has melted and the tops are golden brown. Remove, allow to cool and dive right in. 

For babies, you can add some breast milk or formula to the potato, broccoli, chicken mixture and puree until smooth or encourage them to pick up chunks of the mixture and feed themselves for a perfect and delicious baby-led weaning experience. 

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Chinese Five Spice Meatballs

Chinese Five Spice Meatballs
Baby-led weaning, Toddler, Kid, Adult

Science Corner
The virus-fighting compound shikimic acid from star anise, ginger and fennel and quercetin from red onion and apple makes these delicious meatballs anti-viral bundles of deliciousness. Studies have shown that these two molecules together have potent virus combatting effects - in fact, shikimic acid is the starting point for the production of the world's best known anti-viral drug, Tamiflu! The next time the unwanted viral visitor shows, you know what to make. (Our Spice Spice Baby signature Pho recipe is also a delicious option)!

Yield
~20 meatballs

Ingredients
For the meatballs
1 slice whole wheat bread crust removed or 1/3 cup bread crumbs
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 red onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped ginger
1/2 apple peeled and grated
1 carrot peeled and grated
125 g / 4.5 oz minced pork
125 g / 4.5 oz minced beef
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon homemade Chinese Five Spice (1/2 teaspoon if using store-bought)
1 egg

For the glaze
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey (swap to maple syrup for babies under 12 months)
Juice of 1 small orange

Method
Preheat the oven to 200 C / 400 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. 

Pulse the bread in a food processor into bread crumbs. Set aside. 

In a pan, heat the oil on medium until shimmering. Soften the onion and ginger for 3-5 minutes, stirring often. Transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add the breadcrumbs, apple, carrot, meat, salt, spices and egg into the mixing bowl and mix well with a spoon or, if you don't mind, your hands. Mould the mixture into 3/4 inch diameter meatballs, placing them onto the lined baking sheet. 

Place the baking sheet in the oven on the middle rack and bake for 15 minutes. 

While the meatballs are cooking, mix together the ingredients for the glaze. 

Remove the meatballs from the oven at the 15 minute mark. Brush each meatball with the glaze and return to the oven for another 5 -7 minutes. Transfer onto a serving platter and enjoy. 


 

Kid-Friendly Chinese Five Spice

Kid-Friendly Chinese Five Spice

Traditional Chinese Five Spice is an aromatic blend of fennel, clove, star anise, cinnamon and Sichuan peppercorns. I swap tongue-numbing Sichuan peppercorns (perhaps a bit much for the kids) with black peppercorns to make a kid-friendly blend that's perfect with chicken, pork and beef and divine in these delicious meatballs. 

Yield
3 tablespoons

Ingredients
4 star anise
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 Ceylon or 1 Cassia (regular) cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon fennel seeds

Method
Place the cinnamon sticks between a kitchen towel and smash the barks using a meat tenderizer or rolling pin. In a heavy bottom skillet or pan, dry roast all the spices on medium heat for 1-2 minutes until aromatic but not burnt, tossing the spices around every few seconds. Transfer to a coffee grinder (preferably dedicated to spices) and blend for 1-2 minutes until ground into a fine powder. Store in an air-tight container away from heat and light and use within 6 months.


Kid-Friendly Pho

Kid-Friendly Pho
Toddlers, Kids, Adults

It was during my first trip to Vietnam in 2014 that I saw star anise in all its glory, proudly displayed in restaurants, at pho street carts and local spice markets. Star anise is the distinctly Vietnamese aromatic that makes the classic noodle soup dish known as pho what it is (pronounced "fuh" like "huh"). I have modified the classic to make a kid-friendly version that's also perfect for the family table. 

Science Corner
As mentioned above, shikimic acid from star anise is the starting material for the pharmaceutical industry's most successful anti-viral drug, Tamiflu. Shikimic acid when combined with the natural compound quercetin is a potent anti-viral. I took star anise and ginger as sources of shikimic acid and combined them with red onions that are a rich source of quercetin to make a chicken broth for our pho that is an anti-viral powerhouse and delicious to boot. 

Yield
2 adult and 2 toddler servings

Ingredients
NOTE: Quercetin is a beneficial compound found in the outer layers of red onion. When peeling, try not to remove any layers beyond the thin skin! 
250 g (about 1/2 lb chicken), preferably thigh or leg on bone
1 medium red onion, quartered
1 inch ginger root thinly sliced
2 star anise
1/2 teaspoon white coriander seeds (optional)
8 cups water
4 fistfulls rice or buckwheat noodles
1 tablespoon fish sauce (optional)
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
salt to taste
1 tablespoon freshly chopped cilantro (optional) 
1 lime quartered (optional)

Method
In a small skillet or non-stick pan, dry roast the star anise and coriander for 30-60 seconds on medium heat until aromatic but not burnt.

Place the spices, chicken, onion, ginger, and water in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium for a gentle simmer. Skim the foam as it arises checking every 20 minutes for more foam. Allow the broth to simmer for 1 hour. 

Once the broth has been simmering for 50 minutes, remove the chicken pieces using tongs. Shred the meat off the bone and set aside.

Cook the noodles in salted boiling water. Drain and set aside. 

Add the fish sauce to the broth and salt to taste. Strain the broth into a fresh pot.

Ladle the broth into serving bowls. Add noodles and some chicken. Serve with lime and cilantro on the side and steamed broccoli for the perfect, balanced toddler and family meal. 

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Spiced Potato Patties

My favourite savoury snack growing up in India was Aloo Tikki or Indian potato cakes, particularly the ones made by my Dadiji / Grandma. Mashed potatoes mixed with spices and bread crumbs and fried to a perfect golden brown - I mean, need I say more?! I'd get home from school and wish with all my heart that those crisp, pillowy delights were waiting for their rightful devourer. Sometimes I'd get lucky and most of the time, I'd get a plate of fruit, but regardless of the frequency, the deliciousness and joy of those potato cakes has remained etched in my memory.

If you've been reading my recent posts, you'll know that I'm currently (and probably will be forever more) obsessed with the potato. First I talked about why potatoes are a kid superfood and here, I got all geeky and excited about why cooked and cooled potatoes are essentially the new kale. 

So yes, you can go ahead and call me the potato lady. I'll accept the moniker. 

Today I present a nutritious version of my beloved childhood potato cake that is ideal for the lunchbox and the family table. Cooled in the lunchbox, these energising patties provide resistant starch that feed the friendly bugs in our colon, promoting digestive and overall health and vitality. Enjoyed hot or cold, they are brimming with complex carbohydrate for sustained energy as well as B and C vitamins, highly absorbable minerals, complete protein and fibre. Spiced lightly with digestion boosting and iron-rich cumin, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer turmeric and anti-bacterial cilantro, these are 'I can't believe it's good for me' delicious. I hope your kids love them as much as we do. 

RECIPE

Spiced Potato Patties
Baby led weaning, Toddler, Kid, Adult

Yield
12 3 inch diameter patties (you can freeze the uncooked patties for later)

Ingredients
For the potato cakes
6 Russet or Yukon Gold Potatoes, peeled and quartered
Salt
3 slices whole wheat bread, crust removed
2 teaspoons cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/8 cup loosely packed coriander leaves, finely chopped
Juice of 1/2 a lime
Coconut oil for frying

For the sauce
1/2 cup plain Greek yoghurt
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon cumin powder
Salt to taste
1/2 teaspoon sugar

Method
Place the potatoes in a pot of water and bring to a boil. Add a tablespoon of salt and reduce to a simmer. Cook potatoes until fork tender but not mushy, about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool. 

Dunk the bread slices in water for 10 seconds. Remove and squeeze out all the water. Break up into pieces and add to a mixing bowl. Add the cooled potatoes, spices, chopped coriander, lime and salt to taste and mix well. Taste and adjust seasoning. 

Mould the mixture into 3 inch diameter patties. At this point, you can freeze for later use or store in the fridge for up to 24 hours.

Mix all the sauce ingredients and set aside. 

To cook the potato cakes, fill a non-stick pan with coconut oil about 1/4 inch deep and heat on medium high until shimmering. Fry the cakes, 5 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Drain on a paper towel and serve with a dollop of the yoghurt sauce as a side to grilled chicken or fish or with your favourite veg or of course, pack in the lunchbox for a delicious, kid-approved meal. 

Potato Salmon Salad

Potato Salmon Salad
Baby led weaning, 12 months+ 

Loosely inspired by the traditional salade nicoise, this cold potato, veggie and salmon salad with a honey sweetened vinaigrette was the first salad toddler EVER ate so I had to share it here. This versatile option allows the incorporation of cooked and cooled potatoes into your kid's diet in a healthy and fun way. You can serve it with one of the suggested dressings as a traditional salad or as finger food with a side of our favourite hummus or any veggie dip your family loves. 

Yield
2 toddler servings

Ingredients
For the salad
4 oz salmon filet, preferably wild
1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika
Salt to taste
6 small waxy potatoes (like new potatoes)
16 French green beans (haricots verts), ends trimmed
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 small cucumber, peeled and sliced into thin rounds
2 small radish, finely sliced (optional)
1 teaspoon chopped parsley (optional)

For the dressing
Option 1: Tahini Honey
1 small clove garlic crushed (optional)
1 tablespoon tahini
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1-2 teaspoons honey depending on sweetness desired (skip for babies under 12 months)
salt and pepper to taste

Option 2: Honey Dijon
1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1.5 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 teaspoons honey depending on sweetness desired (skip for babies under 12 months)
salt and pepper to taste

Method
Preheat the oven to 375 F / 180 C.

Season the salmon with salt and paprika and cook in the preheated oven for 18 minutes until flaking. Finish with a 2 minute broil on high heat. Remove and set aside to cool. 

While the salmon is cooking, cook the potatoes until knife-tender either by boiling, steaming or using my favourite method, a pressure cooker (the low amount of water required and quick cooking ensures optimal preservation of nutrients). Allow the potatoes to cool. 

Steam the green beans until tender. Set aside to cool. 

Peel and slice the cooled potatoes and flake the salmon. Arrange in a bowl with the remaining veggies and garnish with freshly chopped parsley if your kids will tolerate it. Serve with the dressing on the side or mixed in, depending on preference. Feel free to add other veggies (avocados, peppers, carrots) and even a hard boiled egg to up the protein ante. Makes for a great lunch box option as well.



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Potato Leek Soup

In 'Don't snub the spud! Why the humble potato is a kid superfood', I share nutrition-based reasons why the potato is such a great option for the family table, especially for kids. This simple recipe celebrates the spud in all its starchy, satiating glory. 

Nothing screams cozy comfort classic like potato leek soup. I jazzed it up with white pepper - the seed of the matured black peppercorn minus the outer layer - and the results are delicious. A little goes a long way with white pepper so be careful. It gives more bite while also being more subtle than black pepper, perfect for the delicate flavours of this simple soup. We make this about once every two weeks and serve it with a grilled cheese sandwich or chicken strips and a side of veg - dip dip! 

A note on choosing potatoes
When picking potatoes, pay attention to the starch content. Starchier potatoes like Russets are great for baking, frying and also mashing as long as you don't overwork them. Less starchy New Potatoes are better where they have to hold their shape like in salads and stews. The Yukon Gold is a medium starch all purpose potato that works in many settings. 

Yield
4 toddler servings

Ingredients
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
4 leeks, white and light green parts chopped
4 potatoes peeled and chopped
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
Salt to taste
Pinch or 1/8 teaspoon white pepper

Method
In a large pot for which you have a lid, heat the oil over medium until shimmering but not smoking. Add the leeks and sautee until translucent about 3 minutes. Add the potatoes and sautee for a minute. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are softened, about 15 minutes. Add salt to taste and the white pepper. Allow the soup to cool and blend. Add the butter and stir well. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil. Skip the salt and offer it to babies for a delicious, creamy and hearty meal. 


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Chicken Curry

Chicken Curry
Baby led weaning, Toddler, Kid, Adult

Science Corner
As previously discussed, cumin is the perfect spice for babies' unique needs - (1) Pro-digestion, (2) Immunity-boosting, (3) Anti-microbial and (4) Iron-rich - but it has additional powers that also make it ideal for the whole family. Cumin's benefits, in addition to those mentioned above, include:
(5) Anti-cancer / Anti-oxidant
Animal studies have demonstrated cancer prevention effects of cumin in colon, stomach and uterine-cervical cancers. These benefits have been linked to anti-oxidant properties of cumin whereby it can literally mop up free radicals, natural byproducts of metabolism, which can damage DNA, cause mutations and lead to cancer. 
(6) Anti-diabetes
A spate of animal studies have demonstrated anti-diabetic effects of cumin, including improved glucose tolerance, reduction of blood glucose levels and reduced body weight. Cumin also lowered lipid levels, cholesterol, triglycerides and free fatty acids, all of which are often associated with diabetes. Cuminaldehyde, the active ingredient from cumin, has been shown to inhibit two enzymes, aldose reductase and alpha-glucosidase, both of which contribute to diabetic complications. 
(7) Anti-osteoporotic
Cumin contains phytoestrogens, estrogen-like molecules that help retain calcium in bones. How precisely this is accomplished is unclear but one mechanism is thought to entail the inhibition of programmed cell death (known as apoptosis) of bone cells or osteoclasts. In animals given a cumin extract, urinary calcium levels (a measure of excreted calcium) dropped substantially whereas bone calcium content, bone density and its mechanical strength improved. A diet rich in cumin could be a good compensatory strategy for kids who have lost an interest in milk in order to ensure optimal bone health. 
While high doses of spices are often required to see disease modifying effects, a close inspection of the amounts of cumin involved revealed that levels attainable through diet (a teaspoon a day) can have positive benefits on measures like cholesterol, lipid levels and body weight. A generous sprinkling on a fried egg for breakfast, in a lentil soup for lunch and in this chicken curry for dinner could get you to a high enough concentration to see health benefits, no pill required! 

Yield
2 adult & 1 toddler servings

Ingredients
500 grams (~1 lb) boneless chicken thighs chopped into 1 inch cubes
1 yellow onion finely chopped
4 cloves garlic crushed, about 1 tablespoon
1/2 inch ginger root grated or finely chopped, about 1 tablespoon
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup plain, preferably Greek style yoghurt
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
2 teaspoons cumin powder
1 teaspoon coriander powder
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon freshly chopped coriander / cilantro (optional)

Method
In a pot for which you have a lid or a pressure cooker, heat the coconut oil over medium high heat until shimmering. Add the onion and sauté every minutes or so for 10-15 minutes. You want the onion to be golden brown and caramelised but not burnt. Add the ginger and garlic and sauté until fragrant, about a minute. Add the tomato paste, turmeric, cumin and coriander powders and mix well into a dry paste. Add the yoghurt, chicken, salt and pepper to taste. Sauté for 5 minutes until the meat is sealed and no longer pink on the outside. Add 1/4 cup water, cover and bring to a boil (or allow one whistle in a pressure cooker). Lower heat to a simmer and cook with the lid on for 10 minutes. Remove the lid and cook for another 5 minutes stirring occasionally to thicken the gravy. You can add more water at this point if necessary. Check the seasoning, adding more salt if you like. Serve garnished with cilantro together with rice, quinoa or bread and a side of veg for the perfect, balanced, delicious supper. 

Spiced Butternut Squash Soup

SPICED BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP
6 months+

No thanksgiving meal is complete without the quintessential autumn squash, sweetly named butternut <3. This spiced butternut squash soup, served as a starter, is sure to wake up your taste buds, revving them up for the feast that follows. Toddlers and kids will love it too for the generous sweetness and creaminess on offer. The crunch from the toasted pine nuts is a heavenly match to the luxurious, buttery quality of the soup. 

Science Corner
Butternut squash is not only delicious but alive with nutrients - carotenoids (that become vitamin A in the body), antioxidants, anti-inflammatory molecules, types of starches that aid in blood sugar regulation, B vitamins, including folate and surprisingly, a bit of omega-3 fats in the form of alpha linoleic acid, also a potent anti-inflammatory agent. Squash is abundant in winter and affordable so there really is every reason to make it part of your family table. Combined here with antioxidant-rich spices that regulate blood sugar, exhibit antibacterial effects  and boost digestion, to name a few of the benefits, this delicious and soul-warming soup is sheer health and deliciousness in a bowl. 

Yield
2 adult and 2 toddler servings

Ingredients
Note: Use the higher spice amounts if you like a more intensely flavourful version or the lower amounts for a more subtle taste
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 leek, white and light green parts, chopped
1/4 teaspoon finely chopped ginger
1 medium butternut squash peeled and chopped
1 sweet potato peeled and chopped
3-4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 to 11/2 teaspoons cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, preferably Ceylon
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon coriander powder
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons butter (optional)
1/8 cup pine nuts (optional)

Method
In a pot for which you have a lid, heat the coconut oil on medium until shimmering. Add the leeks and sauté until translucent and softened, 3-5 minutes. Add the squash, sweet potato, ginger and stock and bring to a gentle boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low and cook for 10-15 minutes or until the potato and squash are soft.

If garnishing with pine nuts, while the soup is cooking, heat a skillet over medium and toast the pine nuts until golden for 1 minute, shaking often to prevent burning. Set aside to cool. 

Uncover the soup. Stir in the cumin, nutmeg, cinnamon, coriander and salt to taste. Cook for another 3 minutes covered. Take the pot off the heat and alllow the soup to cool some. Transfer to a food processor or blend well using an immersion, hand held blender. Stir in the butter for added creaminess and sheen, top with a sprinkling of the toasted pine nuts and serve. Pretend not to be disheartened when toddler asks you to pick out all the 'white things'. It means more deliciousness for you! ;) 

You can also skip the salt and pine nuts and offer it to babies for a delicious and nutritious baby meal. 










Khichdi (Rice & Lentil Porridge)

KHICHDI (Rice & Lentil Porridge)
6 months+

Science Corner
Khichdi, a rice and lentil porridge, often prepared with vegetables, is a revered food in the ancient Indian medical system known as Ayurveda (translated the Science of Life). The combination of rice and lentils provides all essential amino acids. When made with white rice (stay tuned for my post on my data-driven massive change of heart about brown rice for babies!), the dish is thought to be extremely energizing and healing for the digestive tract and is highly recommended for babies who are learning to flex their digestive muscle. Khichdi also presents itself as a canvas for various vegetables rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. The addition of spices like turmeric and cumin boosts the antioxidant content and augments the digestibility of the lentils, although one typically uses skinned yellow or red lentils for babies, which are easier to digest anyway. All of these factors make khichdi a great addition to baby's meal plan, elevating it with science and flavor. 

Yield
6 baby servings (can be frozen for later use)

Ingredients
1/2 cup white rice
1/4 cup red or yellow lentils
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 cup peeled and chopped carrots
1/4 cup peeled and chopped zucchini
1/4 teaspoon finely chopped ginger
2 black peppercorns
1 whole clove
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
3 cups water

Method
Wash the lentils a few times and soak for 1-3 hours to reduce phytic acid (an anti-nutrient that inhibits absorption of certain minerals like zinc) and discard the water. Wash the rice a few times and drain. 

In a pot for which you have a lid, heat the oil on medium high flame until shimmering. Add the cumin seeds and wait for them to start crackling, 30-60 seconds. Add the rice, lentils, veggies (feel free to use whatever you like - cauliflower, eggplant, spinach, green beans are all fair game), ginger, peppercorns, clove and turmeric and sauté for 30 seconds until well mixed and coated with oil. Add the water and bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer and cook covered for 30 minutes, checking every 10 minutes to make sure the mixture hasn't dried out, adding a bit more water if so. At the end of 30 minutes, the lentils should have disintegrated and the dish should have the consistency of a liquid porridge. If using a pressure cooker, reduce cooking time to 10 minutes after 1-2 whistles on high heat. Once cooked, pick out the peppercorns and clove, mash lightly or blend and serve. Older kids can enjoy it with texture and some salt. It's also the perfect food for an upset stomach, even for adults! 

Curry Egg Salad

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Curry Egg Salad
12 months+

Growing up in India, I had never heard of curry powder. Powder blends of various spices are common there, with garam masala being the most well known, but curry powder, per se, is a distinctly Western invention. That said, there are particular dishes where it works beautifully to lend a hint of the exotic without overpowering subtle flavors. In that vein, it perks up this healthy twist on classic egg salad perfectly. Curry powder blends can contain various compositions of herbs and spices - mine has cumin, turmeric, coriander, chilli pepper, mustard, cardamom, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, red pepper, cinnamon, black pepper and saffron. Naturally, I'm working on the perfect homemade blend and will share that with you soon - stay tuned! 

Science Corner
Eggs contain choline which is extremely important for brain and memory development. At only 75 calories, an egg has 6 grams of high quality, complete protein (as in, containing all 9 essential amino acids) as well as iron, vitamins like B12, D, riboflavin and folate, minerals and carotenoids that are vital for eye development and vision. The egg is therefore a tiny nutritional powerhouse. But what about all that cholesterol?! While it's true that eggs do contain a meaningful helping of cholesterol, experts agree that it's not cholesterol in food but saturated and trans fats in the diet that causes blood cholesterol to be elevated. So go ahead and enjoy those nutrient-dense eggs - one a day is considered safe for healthy people. I skip the mayo and substitute calcium and protein-rich, creamy Greek yoghurt here for a super nutritious and healthy version of this favorite. 

Yield
2 toddler servings

Ingredients
3 eggs
2 tablespoons finely chopped celery (about ½ a stick)
1.5 tablespoons full fat, plain Greek yoghurt
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon curry powder
¼ lemon juiced
Salt to taste

Method
In a pot for which you have a lid place the eggs in a layer on the bottom, cover with an inch of cold water and bring to a rolling, aggressive boil. Turn the heat off, cover the pot and let the eggs sit for 15 minutes for the perfect hard-boiled texture. 
Remove the eggs with a slotted spoon and place in ice water until cooled, for a minute or so. 
Peel the eggs and mash with a fork or chop finely using an egg slicer into a fresh bowl. 
Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. 
Serve on top of sliced cucumber sprinkled with sweet paprika or between whole wheat bread for a healthy and delicious lunch or snack. 

Nana's Shepherd's Pie

On a recent visit to Hong Kong, Grandma, aka 'Nana', whipped up her famous Shepherd's Pie. Based on the reaction of toddler and his friends, I knew the world needed this recipe! Thanks to beautiful, talented, hilarious, full of life Nana and her guest post this week, we can now all enjoy this nutritious, heart and belly-warming spiced up classic on our family tables.

GUEST POST
Nana's Shepherd's Pie
by Stephanie Koya / Nana

When I was a little girl, I used to beg my mother to make Shepherd's Pie. It was my favorite, so simple yet yummy. I vividly remember the smell of the herbs, onion and garlic as the mince was cooking on the stove top. I make it quite often in the cooler months of Florida, spiced up with cinnamon and clove, which complement the beef beautifully. My son Shariff told me that if he had to have one last meal, it would be my Shepherd's Pie with creamy, buttery, mashed, sweet paprika-spiced potatoes on top! As you can imagine, I was over the moon, and even more so, when my grandson tried it and did his 'yummy dance'. "Mmmmmmm Nana" he said and I just felt like I was going to burst with joy. I hope you enjoy it and get a yummy dance from your kids too.

RECIPE

Nana's Shepherd's Pie
Baby Led Weaning Friendly, Toddlers, Kids, Adults

Science Corner
Iron is critical for the production of hemoglobin, the oxygen carrying component of red blood cells. These cells transport oxygen from the lungs to other parts of the body, including the muscles. Iron deficiency, if left untreated, can cause fatigue and weakness and more seriously, growth and developmental delays. After 6 months of age, babies', toddlers' and kids' diets must provide sufficient iron.  For kids who eat an omnivorous diet, beef is a superb source of iron. Here, it comes together with vitamin-rich veggies, anti-oxidant rich spices and natural starches to create the perfect, satisfying, balanced meal for the family table. 

Yield
6-8 toddler servings

Ingredients
2 tablespoons neutral oil like canola or ghee
1 onion finely chopped
1 celery stick finely chopped
2 large carrots finely chopped
3 cloves garlic crushed
3/4 lb or 350 g minced beef (or lamb, if you prefer a more gamey flavor)
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon mixed herbs (like herbes de Provence)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cloves ground about 1/8 teaspoon
2 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon flour
5 Russett potatoes peeled and roughly chopped
1/4 cup milk
1/2 stick or 4 tablespoons butter
1 cup peas
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon sweet paprika

Method
Preheat the oven to 375 F / 180C. 

In a heavy bottom, preferably oven-proof pot for which you have a lid, heat the oil or ghee on medium. Add the onion, celery and carrots and sautee until softened, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and sautee until fragrant, about another minute. Add the beef and brown the meat, stirring well, about 5 minutes. Add the bay leaf, herbs, tomato paste, dijon and spices and sautee until well mixed, about a minute. Add the chicken stock and stir well. Whisk in the flour to thicken the gravy slightly breaking up any clumps. Bring the mixture to a gentle boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook with the lid on for about 30 minutes. 

While the mince is cooking, In a pot for which you have a lid, cover the potatoes with water, cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, add 1 teaspoon of salt and cook on medium-high uncovered for 10-15 minutes until the potatoes are fork tender. Drain and return to the pot over low heat, add the milk, 1/2 the butter, salt and pepper to taste, stirring until well mixed and creamy. Take off the heat and set aside. 

Once you've crossed the 30 minute mark with the minced beef, add the peas, salt and pepper to taste and some water if the mixture is dry and cook covered for another 10 minutes. Taste the mince and season with more salt if necessary. Remove the bay leaf. 

Cover the meat mixture with the mashed potatoes and smooth out with a fork. Sprinkle with paprika and thin slices of the remaining butter. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes until the top is golden and the mince is bubbling. Serve with a side salad for an adult dinner party or as is for the yummiest toddler bash. 

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Immunity Boosting Spiced Chicken Soup

It's back-to-school season which means one thing is for certain - colds! Nothing breeds the cold virus like 10 toddlers in a classroom so of course, we had our very own viral visitor this week. As a Molecular Biologist, I am reluctant to admit that I'm rather anti-medication, especially for things like colds and coughs, where they merely provide symptomatic relief and aren't deemed terribly safe for young children. So the first thing I did upon spotting a runny nose was to stick a giant pot of chicken broth on the stove. One toddler a science experiment does not make, but we are now cold-free, well nourished and even have some leftover broth frozen away for that butternut squash soup I'm planning for next week. Hurrah for food as medicine, especially when its this delicious. 

Science Corner
When a health craze makes it way backstage to fashion week, you know it's worth taking seriously (or gone too far). Touted as a magic elixir that can fix all ailments, bone broth is precisely this craze du jour. There is honestly not a lot of scientific evidence for many of it's health claims (like collagen aiding healthy joints or healing of the intestinal lining) although a plethora of anecdotal evidence across many cultures spanning generations is suggestive of many positive health effects. There is some scientific evidence for the immunity-regulating and anti-inflammatory effects of chicken soup, particularly due to the amino acid cysteine which can thin out lung mucus and reduce upper respiratory distress. Bone broth is also rich in minerals like calcium, magnesium and phosphorus as well as protein. Here, it joins forces with anti-viral and anti-bacterial star aniseturmeric, ginger, lemongrass, black pepper and bay leaf to create a delicious, heart and soul-warming broth that's a powerful match for any pesky virus. 

Yield
6-8 generous soup servings

Ingredients
500 g / about 1 lb  chicken on the bone (I use drumsticks as toddler loves them)
2 leeks, white and green parts roughly chopped
2 carrots roughly chopped
1 onion roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic chopped
1 lemongrass bulb smashed
1/2 inch piece ginger chopped
1 inch piece fresh turmeric root chopped
4 black peppercorns
2 star anise
1 bay leaf
2 L water
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar (to help extract nutrients from the bones)
Salt to taste
Fresh cilantro for garnish (optional)

Method
In a large pot for which you have a lid, place all the ingredients (except the fresh cilantro) and bring to a boil. Skim off any foam that may arise. Reduce heat to a low simmer and cook the broth covered for 3-6 hours.

Strain the broth and drink as is with an optional but delicious garnish of freshly chopped cilantro. You can add the broth to your favorite soup recipe, make it a meal by adding in some cooked soba noodles and veggies or use it in any preparation that calls for stock like rice and quinoa, which are immensely flavorful cooked in broth. Store it in the fridge for 3 days or freeze it for later use. 




 


Mouthwatering Mushroom Pizzas

MOUTHWATERING MUSHROOM PIZZAS
Toddler, Kid, Adult


Mushrooms are a MEGA superfood and so earthy and delicious but sadly for this mama, toddler hates them. Determined to find a preparation that he will eat, I created these portobello pizzas with the mushroom as the base and my homemade veggielicious paprika pomodoro as sauce. When two whole 'pizzas' were inhaled in our first test, I knew we had a winner on our hands. 

Science Corner
Mushrooms are powerful regulators of our immune system, keeping unwanted inflammation at bay while simultaneously activating microorganism-fighting capability. As a result of their anti-inflammatory effects, mushrooms are protective against cancer, particularly breast and prostate cancers, and cardiovascular ailments, both diseases linked to high levels of unwanted inflammation. Mushrooms contains powerful anti-oxidants like selenium, manganese and zinc and also boost anti-oxidant enzyme function directly. They also contain ergothioneine, a compound that works as an antioxidant and prevents DNA damage. I once heard a cancer biologist say that a mushroom a day is all you need to keep cancer away! An oversimplification most likely but these earthy delights are worth incorporating into a healthy lifestyle regularly. 

Yield
2 toddler servings

Ingredients
4 large portobello mushrooms, stems removed
Olive oil for brushing
Salt and pepper to taste
1.5 cups pomodoro (try my deliciously simple and ultra healthy recipe here)
Block of mozarella cheese sliced into 4-6 1/4 inch slices or grated cheese if you prefer
Chopped basil for garnish
Sweet paprika for sprinkling

Method
Preheat the oven at 375F/180C.

Brush the mushrooms with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place them stem side down on a roasting pan and roast for 10 minutes. Remove the mushrooms from the oven and spoon in the pomodoro until the cavity is filled (about 2 tablespoons each mushroom). Place the mozzarella slices on top and place back in the oven for another 15 minutes until the cheese is melted and slightly golden. Let the mushrooms cool a bit, sprinkle with chopped basil to humor yourself (toddler ALWAYS rejects the 'green things'), sweet paprika and enjoy!