A Coriander Kale Pasta For Those Who Hate Kale

Let's be honest. For many kids and adults, kale is, literally and figuratively, a tough one to swallow. 

Meanwhile, study after study shows that green vegetables are nutritional superheroes.

A 2015 study linked consumption of 1-2 servings of green leafy veggies per day to substantially improved cognitive abilities. Another study demonstrated that a chemical compound, 3,3'-diindolylmethane (DIM) in kale, broccoli and other greens enhances immune system function, clears viruses and fights cancer. DIM is, in fact, in clinical trials for cervical and prostate cancer. 

To help us get our kale on, here is a simple, nutritious and may I say delicious pasta to please kale-averse kids and adults alike. With unusual but pleasing hints of health-boosting coriander, avocado and protein-rich chickpeas, this creamy kale preparation really hits the spot.

You can smother the sauce on crackers for a snack, slather it on a grilled cheese sandwich to boost the nutritional content in kiddo's lunchbox or enjoy it with your favourite pasta for a weeknight family supper that's healthy, tasty and quick to prepare. 

My 4 and near 40 year old boys ate it with gusto. I hope your families will love it too. 

RECIPE

Coriander Kale Pasta
Babies, Baby-led weaning, Toddlers, Kids, Adults

Yield
Serves 2 adults and 2 kids 

Ingredients
2 tbsp olive oil
2 shallots, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 tsp coriander powder
4 cups roughly chopped kale leaves, thick stems removed
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup cooked chickpeas
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 avocado
Parmesan cheese (optional)
Red chilli flakes (adults only, optional) 

Method
In a pot for which you have a lid, heat the oil on medium. 

Sauté the shallots until soft for 3-5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about a minute. 

Add the kale and a sprinkling of salt. Sauté to mix with the shallots, garlic and oil. Add a splash of water and reduce heat to low. Cover and steam for 3-5 minutes until the kale has softened. 

Take the lid off and stir in the chickpeas. Transfer the ingredients into a blender with the avocado and lemon juice. Blend well until a creamy sauce forms. Add a splash of warm water to help things along. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper. 

Stir into your favourite pasta (we love whole grain kamut spaghetti) adding a a bit of the pasta cooking liquid to make the mixture extra smooth. Serve with grated parmesan cheese for everyone and chilli flakes for adults, if you like a bit of heat.

Serve babies the sauce on its own without salt as a delicious and nourishing baby puree or with soft cooked pasta for baby-led weaning. 

 

 

 


 
 

 

 

 

 

If You're Going To Make One Thing On Thanksgiving, Let It Be This

The holiday season is upon us, bringing with it an insatiable appetite for good food, friends and special moments with family. 

To soften the sugar blow without compromising on deliciousness, here is a delectable, super simple to prepare, healthy cashew fudge sure to please the pickiest of palates. Loaded with festive cranberries, chocolate chips, honey, vanilla, nutmeg and a hint of sea salt, it hits all the right holiday notes. 

 I am sure it will add to the love and joy on your family table as it has on ours. 

Happy Thanksgiving! 

With Love & Spice
Kanchan
Your Chief Spice Mama

Nutmeg Cashew Chocolate Cranberry Fudge
Toddlers, Kids, Adults

Inspired by an Indian dessert called ‘cashew/kaju barfi’, this nutty fudge incorporates the holiday’s favourite festive ingredients with no white sugar. It’s so healthy that it could even work as breakfast-on-the go (that's what I've been telling myself as I've devoured it this week ;)) and is perfect in lunch-boxes. 

Yield
12 pieces 

Ingredients
2 cups unsalted, roasted cashews
1/4 cup honey
Pinch sea salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 tsp vanilla powder or extract  
1/4 cup dark or milk chocolate chips
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/2 tbsp milk (optional) 

Method
Blend all the ingredients except the chocolate, cranberries and milk until a smooth mixture forms, pausing to scrape down the sides of the blender and re-blending a few times. If the mixture is too crumbly, add the milk to bring it together into a fudge-like texture. 

Pack the mixture into a bread tin until about 3/4 inch thick. Press the chocolate chips and cranberries into the top of the mixture. Freeze for 3-4 hours until set.

Cut into 2X2 inch squares. Store in the freezer. Allow to sit at room temperature for about 5 minutes before enjoying. 

5 Spices Even A Beginner Should Embrace {With Infographics}

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Have you found yourself staring at the rows of colourful spices in the grocery aisle, wondering where to start? 

Do you feel confused about how to regularly incorporate beneficial and flavourful spices into your family's food? 

Do you equate spices with 'ethnic food' and are unsure about whether that's something your family will enjoy day in and day out? 

If you answered yes to any of the above, this post is for you. 

5 Spices For The Spice Beginner

Before we dive into my favourite spices for beginners, here are reasons why ancient, healing spices deserve a prominent spot in our modern kitchens:

1) Spices have a plethora of health benefits. 
2) Spices are all natural.
3) Spices add gorgeous flavour to simple foods.
4) Spices reduce the need for salt and sugar in the diet. 
5) Especially for kids, spices expand palates and result in more adventurous, arguably healthier eating.

In my experience, the following five spices are a wonderful place to start experimenting in your kitchen. They are aromatic, flavour-packed yet mild, health-boosting and pair well with many dishes we all enjoy on a regular basis. 

Cardamom

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Whether you are a beginner or an advanced spice user, I hope these ideas will inspire you to keep experimenting with these magical, natural ingredients. More importantly, offer them to your kids and families for a healthier, more flavourful life. 

Explore delicious spiced recipes to please the whole family:

Health benefits of spices, no curry required

A common misconception is that enjoying the health benefits of spices means eating curry. 

The truth is that, as much as I love a good curry, these traditional recipes are not the only vehicles for spice. 

Simple dishes that we all enjoy on a regular basis can be ideal canvases for spices. Some out-of-the-box thinking and willingness to break the rules can allow these healing ingredients into your kids' and families' lives, seamlessly and deliciously. 

These spiced scrambled eggs are a case in point. 

RECIPE

Spiced Scrambled Eggs
Toddler, Kid, Adult

Eggs are nutritious, versatile and perfect for picky kids. 

I spiced up a traditional egg scramble with anti-inflammatory turmeric, digestion-boosting cumin, anti-bacterial coriander as well as metabolism-enhancing black pepper (which also increases the absorption of turmeric). I added tomatoes and spinach for increased nutrition and shallots for bite and flavour. A sprinkling of parsley finished off the dish beautifully. We love it over toast for breakfast or in a whole wheat tortilla for lunch. A bit of cayenne or hot sauce elevates it for the adults.

Yield
4 servings 

Ingredients
6 eggs
2 tablespoons cream or milk
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
2 shallots, finely chopped
1/2 cup baby spinach
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley 

Method
Beat the eggs, cream and spices in a bowl until well mixed. 

In a sauté pan, heat the oil on medium until shimmering. 

Add the shallots and sauté until softened, 2-3 minutes. Add the spinach and tomatoes and sauté for 5 minutes until the tomatoes have broken down a bit. 

Reduce the heat to low. Add the eggs and mix continuously, scrambling them into a custard-like, creamy texture, 3-5 minutes. Once the eggs are cooked, add salt and pepper to taste. Finish with parsley and serve. 

 

 


 

 

 

Cardamom Carrot Halwa To Light Up Your Family Table This Diwali

One of the best things about being an expat in Hong Kong is the diverse global community we find ourselves in.

At my son's preschool, there are kids from all over the world: France, India, South Africa, China, America, Lebanon and so on. As a result, the children are exposed to a range of cultural traditions, foods and festivals. It's a rich and special kind of education. 

The Indian festival of lights, known as Diwali, is around the corner. It will actually coincide with Halloween this year so there will be a lot of festive action in our household. 

Diwali symbolises the victory of good over evil, light over darkness, truth over ignorance. We will dust off and wear our Indian clothes, have traditional Indian fare, light tiny earthen lamps called diyas and eat loads of Indian desserts. Between the Diwali indulgence and the candy avalanche on Halloween, I am looking forward to the weekend's festivities with excitement and some trepidation. A little sugar never hurt anyone. Boatloads of it is another matter. 

So naturally, I've been hard at work conjuring up traditional Indian desserts that are healthier than the kind grandma made, without compromising on flavour and nostalgia. 

This cardamom-spiced carrot halwa meets my healthy and yumminess standards and maybe it's because kiddo never had great grandma's version, or maybe it's because he's been well trained by his mama ;), he loved it too. 

Shredded carrots softened in milk until they develop a fudge-like texture are mixed with luxurious, fragrant, floral cardamom. I used coconut sugar and raisins for their more gentle sweetening effects over white sugar and let the natural sugars of the carrots themselves shine. Topped with a few cashews for crunch, this dessert brings back memories of comfort, love and celebration with some nutrition to boot. 

I hope this recipe inspires you to bring the Light of Diwali to your family table. After all, it doesn't get much healthier than veggies for dessert, especially on a holiday weekend! 

With Love & Spice,
Kanchan
Your Chief Spice Mama

RECIPE

Healthy Carrot Halwa
Toddlers, Kids, Adults

Science Corner
Cardamom, another one of nature's miracle spices, possesses several health benefits corroborated by modern science. It has been shown to have 1) Anti-cancer activity 2) Digestion-boosting powers 3) Antibacterial capacity 4) Anti-nausea effects and 5) Cardioprotective benefits. 

Yield
4 servings

Ingredients
4 cups shredded carrots
2 cups whole milk (you can use almond milk if you prefer)
1/4 cup coconut sugar (or brown sugar)
3 cardamom pods, seeds removed and ground
1/4 cup raisins
4-5 cashew nuts coarsely chopped

Method
In a heavy bottom pan, bring the carrots and milk to a boil. Reduce to a low simmer and cook, stirring often, until the milk has dried up, about 30 minutes.

Add the sugar and cardamom and continue to cook, stirring often, until the mixture dries even more into a fudge-like texture, about 10 minutes. Stir in the raisins.

Allow the halwa to cool a bit. Spoon into bowls and enjoy as a dessert, mid-afternoon snack or with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream for an extra decadent treat (maybe skip that version this coming weekend ;)).   

Two New Cinnamon Studies Show Surprising Health Benefits Not Previously Appreciated

In addition to being a gorgeously flavourful spice, cinnamon has umpteen health-boosting capabilities, supported by modern science. Two new studies further expand the list of beneficial effects of this ancient spice. 

Study 1
Cinnamon boosts learning ability


A study published this July in The Journal Of Neuroimmune Pharmacology demonstrated that cinnamon can convert poor learning mice into good learners. 

What exactly differentiates good learners from weaker ones (at a cellular and molecular level) is unclear. What is known is that poor learners tend to have altered levels of certain molecules in the hippocampus, a region in the brain involved in memory and learning.

Specifically, in weak learners, levels of CREB, a protein involved in memory and learning, are lower. These same poor learners have elevated levels of another molecule called GABRA5, which blocks communication between brain cells. It's as if their brain biochemistry is stacked against them, inhibiting learning in multiple ways (so unfair!).

When animals are fed cinnamon, it is metabolised into sodium benzoate as part of the normal breakdown of the spice.

In poor learners that were given cinnamon orally for a month, the sodium benzoate produced appeared to reverse the chemical 'defects' in the brains of poor learners, making their brain chemistry look like their strong learning brethren. The cinnamon-fed weak learners also showed improved abilities in typical learnings tests like the maze challenge commonly used in mice studies.

Interestingly, already good learners saw no additional improvement in response to cinnamon consumption (darn it). 

This was a well conducted study and begs the question of whether dietary cinnamon could improve learning and memory in people who have a lower ability. 

Importantly, the researchers commented on the superiority of Ceylon cinnamon versus the Cassia variety because of its low coumarin (a liver toxin) content, a point I tend to go on and on about until the cows come home. 

Study 2
Cinnamon cools your stomach down


This one sure took me by surprise! 

Ancient medical systems like Ayurveda in India and traditional Chinese medicine think of cinnamon as a 'warming' spice, best consumed in winter months. A recent study published in Scientific Reports shows quite the opposite effect in animals. 

The researchers used novel 'gas sensory capsules' to more accurately measure the goings on in the guts of pigs during digestion and in response to stresses like heat. They found that during normal digestion and in response to heat stress, cinnamon lowered the amount of carbon dioxide gas produced in the gut, literally cooling down the animals' stomachs by 2 degrees celsius! 

Cinnamon appeared to preserve the integrity of the stomach lining and also reduced the secretion of gastric acid and pepsin in the gut, likely leading to this cooling effect. 

This could have therapeutic implications for people with excess stomach acid and poor digestion, although trials in human have not yet been conducted. 

Meanwhile, we can continue to enjoy this beloved, warming (or shall we say cooling) spice in our food for a flavour and health boost. 

Try your hand at one of these simple, delicious, nutritious cinnamon-laced recipes from babies to adults and everyone in between: 

Cinnamon Sweet Potato Leek Kale Baby Puree

Cinnamon Sweet Potato Leek Kale Baby Puree

Cinnamon Maple Overnight Oats

Cinnamon Maple Overnight Oats

Moroccan Lentil Soup 

Moroccan Lentil Soup 

Healthy Cinnamon Pancakes

Healthy Cinnamon Pancakes

Nana's shepherd's pie 

Nana's shepherd's pie 

Spiced Coconut chia pudding

Spiced Coconut chia pudding

Creamy Chicken Broccoli Pasta Bake

Nothing beats a one pot dinner on a busy weeknight 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! 

9 Reasons To Always Say Yes To Pepper

The next time you politely dismiss the fresh cracked pepper on offer at your favourite corner bistro, you may want to pause and reconsider. 

The humble peppercorn, so routinely used that we barely even consider it a spice worth mentioning, has several health benefits. In fact, so convincing were its perceived strengths in ancient times that it was thought of as the King of Spices and prized as currency. 

If flavour and bite are not enough, here are 9 science-based health reasons not to pass on the pepper: 

1) Pepper is a good source of manganese
The trace mineral manganese is important for blood sugar maintenance, antioxidant capacity and bone and skin health, particularly collagen production (take that ageing!). 2 teaspoons of black pepper offer 37% of the recommended daily intake of manganese, a respectable amount from an everyday spice. 

2) Pepper fights fat
Piperine, a bioactive compound present in black and green pepper (and to a lesser degree in white pepper) fights body fat, reducing lipid levels in the bloodstream of animals fed a high fat diet (1). Moreover, piperine appears to suppress the formation of new fat cells (2). 

3) Pepper inhibits cancer
Piperine kills cancer cells by activating their ability to self-destruct (3). It blocks the growth of breast, prostate and colorectal cancers and improves the effect of chemotherapy (4, 5, 6). Piperlongumine, found in a type of pepper called long pepper, kills cancer cells by blocking their ability to resist the stresses that go hand in hang with their hallmark, uncontrolled growth. (7). 

4) Pepper boosts mood and brain health
Piperine in black pepper reduces the symptoms of depression in animal studies (8). The compound appears to elevate the feel good hormone, serotonin, in the brain although human trials remain to be conducted (9). Piperine also prevents the destruction of dopaminergic neurons in animal models of Parkinson's disease (10)

5) Pepper makes meat less carcinogenic
Pepper and turmeric reduce the oxidation of lipids in cooked meat patties, preventing the production of toxic compounds that contribute to red meat's cancer-causing effects (11). The next time you light up the BBQ, don't forget to use your pepper mill (and some turmeric) on your burgers.

6) Pepper blocks inflammation
Unwanted chronic inflammation is at the root of several modern diseases. Piperine from pepper inhibits the central inflammation regulator in arthritis, a molecule called NF-kB (12). In the same vein, piperine has been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect in irritable bowel disease, ulcerative colitis and Helicobacter pylori-induced gastric ulcers in animals (13, 14).

7) Pepper boosts the absorption of turmeric
Turmeric is trending and for good reason. This magical spice has umpteen health benefits (15). Unfortunately, turmeric's active compound, curcumin is poorly absorbed because the liver clears it rapidly. Piperine in pepper can inhibit the liver-mediated elimination of curcumin (and other drugs), enhancing their availability and effectiveness in the body (16). It's no surprise then that many traditional recipes like curry powder call for turmeric to be used in conjunction with pepper. 

8) Pepper aids digestion
Piperine stimulates the production of stomach acid, aiding in the digestion and breakdown of food (17). It also activates pancreatic enzymes that help process carbohydrate, protein and fat and reduces the time it takes for food to pass through the digestive tract (18). It can calm diarrhea symptoms in animal models, supporting its use as a digestive aid in ancient medical systems (19). 

9) Pepper kills nasty bacteria
Black pepper inhibits the disease causing ability of pathogenic bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus (20). Piperine enhances the ability of traditional antibiotics to penetrate stubborn layers, known as biofilms, of E.coli bacteria. (21). This could explain why our ancestors used pepper to prevent food spoilage! 

Note
Now familiar with the power of pepper, you may be tempted to ingest fistfuls of the spice. But beware as too much of a good thing isn't always beneficial. 

In animal studies, large doses of piperine have been linked to miscarriages and abortions in pregnancy (22). Also, while pepper has cancer-fighting compounds mentioned above, it also contains a molecule called safrole which can promotes cancer in some animal models (although whether or not it's a carcinogen in humans is still debated) (23).

Your best best is to stick to culinary quantities of the spice to enjoy the flavour and benefits while avoiding potentially deleterious consequences. Therapeutic effects also require large quantities of piperine and pepper so it's best viewed as a preventative for diseases like cancer, rather than a cure. 

As for that sprinkling of fresh cracked pepper on your pasta? Go for it. 



 

3 Spiced Smoothies To Smoothen Out Your Mornings

There is nothing easier than a nutritious, delicious smoothie for busy mornings when seconds on the clock feel precious and the tendency is to slather some bread with jam and be done with it. Smoothies are the ideal carrier for healthy ingredients that many, especially kids, find awkward on their own like omega-3 rich chia and flax seeds and gut-healthy probiotic powders. 

To celebrate summer's beautiful produce which is still abundant in markets even though the season has come and gone (sigh), here are 3 nutritious smoothies with a hint of spice for flavour and health. I usually serve them as an accompaniment to a boiled egg for a complete breakfast. Here's hoping these speedy smoothies will inspire smooth mornings for your family. 

Mango Lassi Smoothie
Baby, Toddler, Kid, Adult

Science Corner
This cardamom-infused Indian restaurant classic gets a healthy makeover with fresh mango, probiotic, protein and calcium-rich Greek yoghurt, honey for natural sweetness (swap for maple syrup for babies under 12 months) and luxurious cardamom, which has anti-bacterial, anti-cancer, digestion-promoting and anti-nausea effects. Mangoes are brimming with carotenoids like alpha and beta-carotene, precursors to vitamin A and potent anti-cancer agents due to their antioxidant free radical-scavenging activities. Vitamin A is especially important for eye development in children. Being fat soluble, it is well absorbed with the full fat Greek yoghurt here. Mangoes also offer a boatload of vitamin C and some B vitamins, particularly folate, which is ultra important in pregnancy. That's my current excuse for inhaling this anyway <wink wink>. 

Yield
2 servings

Ingredients
2 mangoes chopped, about 2 cups
1 cup Greek Yoghurt
1/2 cup water
2 cardamom pods, seeds removed and crushed in a mortar and pestle
1 tablespoon honey (swap for maple syrup for babies under 12 months)
1/2 teaspoon kid-friendly probiotic powder (optional) 

Method
Blend all the ingredients until smooth. Slurp! Freeze for the yummiest, healthiest popsicle treats.

 

Strawberry Shortcake Smoothie
Toddler, Kid, Adult

 

Science Corner
Inspired by decadent strawberry shortcake with rich shortbread, sweet strawberries and whipped cream, this healthy smoothie is so good it's hard to believe it's good for you. It contains protein, fibre and magnesium-rich cashew nuts (for a buttery effect), anti-oxidant and flavanoid-packed strawberries, calcium, protein and vitamin-D fortified whole milk and a pinch of cinnamon. It's so delicious that I'm not lying when I saw this smoothie is honestly hard for me to share with my family <LOL>. Cinnamon has a host of health benefits including anti-diabetic, antimicrobial, cardioprotective, antiinflammatory, cognition boosting, anti-cancer and female hormone cycle balancing effects. And always remember - Ceylon cinnamon with its low coumarin content is the way to go. 

Yield
2 servings

Ingredients
1 cup or ~10 fresh or frozen strawberries
1 1/4 cup whole milk (can use soy or almond milk if necessary but taste will be compromised)
1/4 cup cashews
2 dates
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon, preferably Ceylon

Method
Blend all the ingredients until ultra smooth, especially the cashews. You may need to scrape down the sides of the blender and blitz a few times. Enjoy for a decadent yet healthy, nutritious breakfast or afternoon pick-me-up.

Peaches And Cream Smoothie
Toddler, Kid, Adult

Science Corner
Peaches are not just juicy summer treats but packed with nutrients like most gifts from mother nature. Peaches have vitamins A and C as well as fibre which is powerful for digestive regularity and for the prevention of type II diabetes and heart disease. Peaches also offer a plethora of anti-oxidants and plant-based phytochemicals that prevent inflammation and cancer. Chia seeds are protein rich and have beneficial omega-3 fats, important for brain health. Vanilla beans were used by the ancient Mayans as an aphrodisiac although modern research hasn't confirmed any benefits in that regard. Vanilla does have some trace vitamins and minerals but most importantly, lends the most beautiful aroma and flavour to this smoothie. I guarantee you will love it. 

Yield
2 servings

Ingredients
2 medium to large peaches, peeled and chopped
1 cup whole milk (or other milk of choice)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla bean powder (available at health food stores and perfect for smoothies as it's alcohol-free)
1 tablespoon maple syrup
2 ice cubes
1/2 tablespoon chia seeds

Method
Blend all the ingredients together until creamy. Inhale. 

 



 





 

Guilt-Free Butternut Squash Fries

My current love affair with nutmeg inspired me to create these ultra nutritious, fall-friendly butternut squash fries. This no-fuss recipe is guaranteed to get the pickiest of eaters chowing down on one of autumn's finest veggies. The adults on the table won't be disappointed either. 

RECIPE

Butternut Squash Fries
Baby-led weaning, Toddler, Kid, Adult

Science Corner
Butternut squash is not only delicious but alive with nutrients - carotenoids (that become vitamin A in the body), antioxidants, anti-inflammatory molecules, 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.

Yield
2 adults and 2 kids servings

Ingredients
1 small butternut squash cut into 3 inch by 1/2 inch strips
1 tablespoon coconut or olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste (skip for babies)
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Method
Preheat the oven to 425 F / 220 C. 

Toss the chopped butternut squash with the oil, salt and nutmeg, mixing well. Spread in a single layer on a parchment paper-lined baking tray or dish. 

Bake for 20 minutes, tossing halfway. Finish with a broil for 3-5 minutes until the fries are crispy but not burned. Allow them to cool. Enjoy as a delicious veggie side, healthy fries substitute or finger food for babies. 

Health Benefits Of Nutmeg (And A Dark Side)

It's the beginning of autumn in many parts of the world which means all sorts of holiday treats are on the horizon. If you love the smell of holiday cookies, eggnog and pumpkin pie, you have most likely been seduced by the heady aroma of the spice nutmeg. And I don't blame you! Warm, sweet and aromatic, nutmeg is the quintessential winter spice and no holiday dessert feels complete without its exotic notes. 

But nutmeg has a fascinating, if at times twisted history, beyond its innocuous addition to culinary delicacies.

HISTORY
Nutmeg originated from the Spice Islands in eastern Indonesia where it is derived from the Myristica fragrans tree. The brownish, veined nutmeg seed has a lacy, red veil that is processed into mace, a spice with a milder, gentler aroma and saffron-like colour. The remaining dried seed is ground into the spice we know as nutmeg (and like most spices, is best enjoyed freshly ground, easily accomplished with a microplane).

For centuries, nutmeg was considered so valuable that wars were waged for a monopoly on it's trade. In fact, the British empire won New York City (then called New Amsterdam) from the Dutch in exchange for an Indonesian island strategic to the control of nutmeg! Nutmeg is now produced more widely in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Caribbean and Kerala, India. 

USES
Nutmeg is used world over in sweet and savoury dishes. In the East, it complements meats in soups and stews and in the West, desserts like rice pudding and pies. It is also used to augment the flavour of potatoes and vegetables like broccoli and Brussel sprouts. It gives creamy bechamel sauce that extra oomph and adds depth to fall classics like butternut squash bisque and cauliflower gratin. 

Medicinally, nutmeg was considered so potent, it was thought to ward off the plague. Prized for its antibacterial, digestion boosting and nervous system calming properties, our ancestors used the spice routinely. Unfortunately, this led them to discover nutmeg's 'dark side' - it's ability to cause a drug-like haze and even hallucinations when consumed in very large amounts. In this regard, the spice has seen some abuse leading to a few cases of nutmeg poisoning, rarely fatal but definitely unpleasant (1). Large quantities (2 or more tablespoons) of nutmeg can also cause nausea, dizziness and heart palpitations. These less desirable effects are linked to the compound myristicin, which also confers nutmeg with beneficial properties. Like they say, the dose makes the poison.

WARNING
Nutmeg in large amounts was used to end unwanted pregnancies, therefore it is advised that pregnant women should go easy on nutmeg. Importantly, infants should not be offered nutmeg teas, an ancient remedy for digestive discomfort. This gorgeous spice is best enjoyed by everyone, young and old alike, in small, culinary amounts. Importantly, dogs and cats are extremely sensitive to nutmeg - hence the common instruction to keep eggnog away from dogs! 

SCIENCE BACKED HEALTH BENEFITS
Despite its shadow elements, nutmeg does have health benefits. 

1) Nutmeg can kill harmful bacteria
Nutmeg has compounds with antibacterial activity against a broad range of pathogenic bacteria (2, 3, 4). This likely explains the spice's use in meat preparations, which were prone to food spoilage in the olden days.

2) Nutmeg has anti-cancer activity
Nutmeg's compounds inhibit aspects of a cancer cell's metabolism thereby killing malignant cells while sparing normal, healthy cells (5). 

3) Nutmeg fights inflammation
Active compounds found in nutmeg inhibit inflammation by blocking molecular processes such as nitric oxide synthesis (6). Unwanted chronic inflammation is at the root of several modern diseases, making anti-inflammatory foods an area of high interest. 

4) Nutmeg is an anti-oxidant
In the course of normal metabolism, our cells produce free radicals, which can cause DNA damage, mutations and diseases like cancer. Nutmeg has several active compounds that mop up these free radicals i.e. act as anti-oxidants to relieve cellular stress (7). 

5) Nutmeg alleviates pain
Nutmeg oil can alleviate symptoms of inflammation and pain in animal models by blocking the production of inflammatory proteins like COX-2, also the target of the all too familiar drug ibuprofen (8). A small human trial did not reproduce this effect (9). Larger, controlled trials are necessary. 

Importantly, unlike spices such as turmeric and Ceylon (not Cassia) cinnamon which can be freely consumed in large quantities to obtain beneficial health effects, nutmeg should be enjoyed in small quantities, more for its flavour and aroma. Quantities of nutmeg that would provide the above stated health benefits are likely to also cause adverse side effects, discussed previously. 

Health benefits aside, the mesmerising flavour and aroma of this beautiful, ancient spice makes it a staple in my kitchen. For the same delicious reasons, I hope you will experiment with it in yours.

 
















 

Tangy 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, 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. 

Let Spices Jazz Up Your Spinach

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.

RECIPE

Jazzy Spinach
Toddler, Kid, Adult

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. 
 

For a printer friendly version of this recipe, click here 

Creamy Cardamom Oatmeal

Do oats make a regular appearance on your family table? If not, I encourage you to welcome this nutritious grain into your family meal plan.  

Science Corner
Oats are a nutritious whole grain, brimming with minerals like phosphorus, magnesium, iron and zinc as well as B vitamins, all of which are super important for growing bodies and minds. Oats have fibre to promote digestive regularity, regulate blood sugar and cholesterol PLUS feed the good bugs in our digestive tracts. They are incredibly energising and satisfying, preventing you and your kids from reaching for that unhealthy mid-morning snack. The benefits are endless but most importantly, oats are darned delicious. Here, I show you how to perk up your usual oatmeal with cardamom and cinnamon for added excitement, health and flavour. Cardamom has anti-cancer, digestion boosting, anti-bacterial and anti-nausea effects and cinnamon, in addition to having a host of other benefits, is a potent stabiliser of blood sugar. 

Yield
1 adult and 1 toddler serving

Ingredients
1/2 cup whole grain rolled oats
1 1/2 cups milk of choice (we love almond milk)
1-2 cardamom pods lightly smashed to expose the aromatic seeds
Large pinch salt
2 teaspoons almond or your favourite nut butter
Maple syrup for drizzling
Handful berries of choice
Pinch cinnamon, preferably the Ceylon variety

Method
Bring the oats, milk, cardamom and salt to a gentle boil. 

Reduce the heat to a low simmer and cook the oats until creamy, about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. 

Remove the cardamom pods, ladle into bowls, top with a teaspoon of almond butter, a drizzle of maple syrup, berries and a sprinkling of cinnamon. Stir well and enjoy. 

Old Bay Spiced Chicken Tenders Your Family Will Love Forever

The most effective way to broaden ones culinary repertoire is to travel. In that vein, on a business trip to Argentina once, my husband discovered the fascinating fusion of Italian and South American cuisines in the form of a dish that etched itself in his memory, Chicken Milanesa. Such a profound impression it made on him that, usually a man of few words, he couldn't stop raving about the crispy fried chicken with lemon and capers over a bed of arugula - how light yet satisfying, how crunchy, comforting, tangy and just plain delicious it was. He decided to recreate it for us in our New York kitchen as newlyweds and eight years and one kid later, he has gone through several iterations of that beloved recipe. The version I am sharing with you today is the one we have finally settled on as a family favourite. Toddler of course loves it but so has every single kid who has ever dined on our family table. I encourage you to try this recipe and possibly discover your own new family favourite, from our kitchen to yours, with love and spice. 

RECIPE

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 To Show Dad Some Love This Father's Day

The way to a man's heart is through his stomach and this is especially true on Father's Day. A dad may love his breakfast but I would argue that what most fathers love even more is good ol' BBQ fare. These chicken drumsticks are a play on classic Indian Tandoori Chicken with a milder spice profile so the entire family can bond over finger-lickin' good deliciousness. Serve these with a side of grilled corn, roast potatoes, a light salad or this quinoa veggie pilaf for a yummy, love-filled, belly and soul-nourishing Father's Day celebration. You can also add this recipe to your weeknight rotation. It's easy, nutritious and a taste-bud adventure for the entire family. 

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. 

Complete your spiced BBQ feast with these delicious, nutritious sides and desserts.

White Pepper Corn & Tomato Salad

White Pepper Corn & Tomato Salad

Quinoa Veg Pilaf

Quinoa Veg Pilaf

Cardamom Mango Lassi Popsicles

Cardamom Mango Lassi Popsicles

Garlicky Guacamole

Garlicky Guacamole

Avocado Tomato Edamame Salad

Avocado Tomato Edamame Salad

Grandpa Ish's Peach Melba

Grandpa Ish's Peach Melba

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Make-Ahead Breakfasts To Make Your Mornings Easier

Toddler has finally started sleeping in - YAY - but like they say, be careful what you wish for! An extremely early riser for the first couple of years of his life, when pre-school started, my 3.5 year old decided that even 8 am was too early to start the day. Most mornings then, we are struggling to wake up, eat breakfast and make it out the door on time. Sound familiar? 

Enter three make-ahead breakfast recipes that have transformed our mornings from stressful and hurried to relaxed, nutritious and delicious. 

RECIPES

Overnight Oats
Toddler, Kid, Adult

Overnight oats are simply what the moniker implies - oats soaked in a liquid of choice overnight until they are softened into a pudding-like consistency, presenting themselves as the perfect canvas for additions and toppings like fruits, nuts, sweeteners and spices! The most fun aspect of this dish is getting your kid to make breakfast with you the night before. Talk about serious skin in the game. 

Science Corner
Oats contain a special kind of fibre called beta-glucan which has been shown to lower cholesterol, prevent heart disease, boost immune function, stabilise blood sugar and even prevent breast cancer. Cinnamon has myriad health benefits including anti-diabetes, anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, cardio-protective, cognition-boosting, cancer-prevention and female hormone-balancing effects. Raisins are every kid's favourite and chockfull of fibre, potassium, iron, B vitamins and anti-oxidants. With calcium, vitamin D and magnesium from milk, this breakfast is a yummy nutrient powerhouse your kids and you can enjoy for an energetic and delicious start to your day. 

Yield
2 adult and 1 toddler serving

Ingredients
3/4 cup rolled oats (not steel cut or instant oats)
1 1/2 cups plain milk (or almond, soy or other milk of choice)
1 tablespoon maple syrup (or to taste)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (preferably Ceylon)
1 tablespoon raisins
1/4 cup fresh raspberries
Few slivered almonds or walnuts (optional)

Method
Mix all the ingredients except the raspberries together and partition into 3 glass jars. Cover and store overnight in the fridge. Top with fresh raspberries or any fruit of choice and slivered nuts right before eating for a delicious and nutritious yet speedy breakfast. 

toddler taking pride in his overnight oat making skills :)

toddler taking pride in his overnight oat making skills :)


Spiced Carrot Muffins
Toddler, Kid, Adult


 

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Baking with vegetables is a genius idea for three wonderful reasons - added nutrition, natural sweetness and moisture. Carrots, in particular, are the perfect addition to cakes, muffins and breads. I created these whole grain, omega-3 fatty acid-rich, refined sugar-free, spiced carrot muffins to make my mornings less stressful, more nutritious and delicious.

Science Corner
Carrots are brimming with vitamin A, which is ultra important for good vision and critical for developing kids. Carrots contain fibre which helps with regularity and feeds the beneficial bacteria in our digestive tract. They also contain phytonutrients that prevent cancer and free radical damage to our DNA during normal metabolism. Whole wheat instead of regular processed flour is nutrient and fibre rich, helping with satiety and blood sugar control. Flax seeds are an amazing vegetarian source of omega-3 fatty acids which are important for brain development and the prevention of unnecessary inflammation making these nutrient-rich yummy muffins a treat you can feel really great about giving your kids and families. 

Yield
12 muffins

Ingredients
1 1/2 cup grated carrots
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup ground flaxseed meal
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (preferably Ceylon)
5 cardamom pods, seeds removed and ground
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
5 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup milk
3/4 cup maple syrup (or honey) plus extra for drizzling
1/4 cup raisins

Method
Preheat the oven to 350 F / 175 C.

Line a muffin tray with paper liners and set aside. 

In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, flax meal, baking soda, cinnamon, cardamom and salt.

In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs. Add in the vanilla, melted and cooled butter, milk and maple syrup and mix well. 

Add the carrots and raisins to the dry ingredients. Then add in the wet ingredients and mix until a batter forms without over-mixing. Allow the mixture to rest for a minute or two. 

Using an ice-cream scooper, transfer the muffin mixture into the paper liners two thirds of the way to the top. Create a small dent and add 1/4-1/2 teaspoon maple syrup in the centre of each muffin. 

Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the muffin emerges dry. Transfer onto a cooling rack. Once cooled, enjoy dipped in milk or with a hot cup of spiced chat for the perfect breakfast or mid-afternoon energy boosting, nutritious snack. 


Spiced Granola
Toddler, Kid, Adult

I must admit I've usually bought granola, thinking it's too complicated to make on my own, but boy was I wrong! Homemade granola is so easy to make and so much more nutritious and delicious when you play around with your add ins yourself. Not to mention the irresistible aroma that floods your kitchen when its baking. It also makes for the most thoughtful gift for a friend and is ideal for travel. I am sure this will become a breakfast and snack staple in your household too. 

Science Corner
In addition to the nutrition benefits of oats mentioned above, the nuts in this recipe are rich in protein, fibre, good quality fats, minerals like calcium and magnesium and vitamins E and B. Cranberries and raisins provide anti-oxidants and vitamins, coconut oil can prevent unwanted inflammation and the gentle sweetness of maple syrup is energising without setting off that dreaded sugar rush. 

Ingredients
2 1/4 cups old fashioned rolled oats (not Steel Cut or instant oats)
1/4 cup almonds coarsely chopped
1/4 cup cashews coarsely chopped
Pinch salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (preferably Ceylon)
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
4 tablespoon maple syrup
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup raisins

Method
Preheat the oven to 350 F / 175 F.

In a mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients except the cranberries and raisins. Mix well. 

Spread the mixture onto a baking sheet into a thin layer. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. 

Remove from the oven and transfer into a fresh bowl. Add the dried cranberries and raisins and allow the mixture to cool. Store in an airtight container for 2 months. Enjoy over yoghurt, layered in a yoghurt and fruit parfait, with your milk of choice or on its own as a crunchy, toast, sweet, slightly salty and spiced nutritious and delicious breakfast or snack. 

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Magnesium Matters: Why You Should Care If Your Kids (And You) Are Getting Enough

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The last time you thought about magnesium may have been when you were forced to recognise it in the periodic table of elements but this mineral is back in the spotlight when it comes to optimal health.

Why Is Magnesium Important? 
Magnesium, akin to calcium, sodium and potassium, is a vital macro-mineral, required not in trace, but in large amounts (>100 mg / day) for essential functions in the human body. It assists over 300 chemical reactions in our cells. It is required for fundamental molecular processes like synthesis of DNA, RNA and protein as well as production and stability of our energy currency, namely, a molecule called ATP or Adenosine Triphosphate. Needless to say, magnesium is not optional but necessary for our survival and, like all essential nutrients, can be obtained from our diet. 

What's the problem?
It turns out that the modern western diet has left many of us magnesium-deficient, with potentially serious health repercussions. Kids are particularly vulnerable as their bodies are in a state of growth, busy laying the foundation for lifelong health. The good news is that, like with most nutrients, food can provide all the magnesium we need, if we know what to eat. 

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Some of magnesium's vital functions in the body, particularly relevant for children, are as follows:

1) MAGNESIUM MAKES BONES STRONG
Believe it or not, magnesium is as important as calcium and vitamin D for bone health and integrity. Magnesium allows optimal calcium absorption and retention via regulation of parathyroid and calcitonin hormones and also by regulating vitamin D metabolism, all involved in calcium balance. In one study on 63 healthy children between the ages of 4-8 years, the amounts of magnesium consumed and absorbed were key predictors of how much bone children had (1). The authors conclude, "We believe it is important for children to have a balanced, healthy diet with good sources of minerals, including both calcium and magnesium". 

2) MAGNESIUM HELPS MUSCLES DO THEIR JOB
Magnesium helps muscles relax while calcium helps them contract. Chronic muscle cramps and spasms could suggest a magnesium deficiency (2). In the same vein, magnesium helps the digestive system relax, moving food through the digestive tract efficiently. Chronic constipation could also be indicative of low magnesium levels (3)

3) MAGNESIUM HELPS US SLEEP
A recent study demonstrated that magnesium levels within cells rise and fall in a daily rhythmic pattern. This regulated fluctuation is necessary to maintain the 24 hour cellular clock of night and day, also known as the circadian rhythm, including the timing of hormone release and energy production in cells (4). This likely explains why low magnesium has been linked to poor sleep and insomnia. Adequate magnesium levels may help us function in synch with the rhythms of night and day and sleep optimally and which parent doesn't want that for themselves and their kids! 

4) MAGNESIUM KEEPS US HAPPY
Magnesium helps the body convert the amino acid tryptophan into the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is our body's happiness molecule. Serotonin affects mood, appetite, sleep, body-temperature, cognitive abilities and social behaviour. Depression, anxiety and panic attacks can occur when serotonin levels or function drop. Hence, magnesium, via its effects on serotonin function, is a critical mineral for mental health (5, 6). 

5) MAGNESIUM MAKES US SMARTER
Magnesium promotes optimal communication between neurons, nerve cells in our brains. Increasing brain magnesium has been shown to improve memory and learning in old and young rats and may prevent age-associated cognitive decline in animal models for Alzheimer's disease (7, 8). Low magnesium levels have also been observed in children with ADHD suggesting the important of this mineral in attention span (9, 10). A simple emphasis on optimal magnesium intake through kids' diets could alleviate some of the distress associated with this debilitating disorder, the diagnosis of which is alarmingly on the rise.

6) MAGNESIUM HELPS WOUND HEALING
Platelets are cellular components of blood that promote coagulation and wound healing while preventing excessive bleeding. In a recent seminal study, magnesium was shown both in animals and human patients to be important for the production and function of platelets and proper coagulation and wound healing (11). As kids run around and get scrapes and cuts, pay attention to excessive bleeding, which may be sign of a magnesium deficiency. If so, talk to your doctor. 

7) MAGNESIUM PREVENTS TYPE 2 DIABETES
Several studies in humans have demonstrated a link between low magnesium and elevated type II diabetes risk. Specifically, magnesium-rich foods can lower ones risk of developing type 2 diabetes, even if one is obese. Sadly, as type 2 diabetes becomes more common in children, paying attention to food-based magnesium intake could be a viable approach to minimise the risk of this debilitating disease (12). 

As if the above functions weren't enough, magnesium also regulates blood pressure, heart health and may play a role in cancer prevention. Bottom line. Magnesium matters.

The recommended daily intake of magnesium for adults is in the 300 - 400 mg, with women requiring less than men. Up to 50% of Americans don't meet their daily magnesium requirements. Kids need less, 80 mg per day between ages 1-3 and 130 mg per day between ages 4-8. 

Magnesium-rich, kid-friendly foods, from highest to lowest magnesium (in mg) per serving size are listed below. Make sure your kids get a few of these each day and you're good to go! As you can see, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and green leafy vegetables contain the highest amounts of magnesium. 

Coconut water
1 cup = 60 mg
Almond Butter
1 tablespoon = 44 mg
Whole wheat bread
2 slices = 46 mg
Yoghurt
8 oz = 42 mg
Spinach
1/4 cup cooked = 39 mg
Cashews
9 nuts = 37 mg
Banana
1 medium = 32 mg
Black beans
1/4 cup = 30 mg
Oatmeal
1/2 cup = 27 mg
Edamame
1/4 cup = 25 mg
Milk
1 cup = 25 mg
Peanut butter
1 tablespoon = 25 mg
Raw cacao
1 tablespoon = 25 mg
Avocado
1/2 cup cubed = 22 mg

As with most nutrients, if you rely on whole food, you can't overdose on magnesium as your kidneys will excrete the excess. High levels of magnesium have been observed with supplementation which have their own set of problems. Stick with real food and you're sorted. 

RECIPE

To help you and your family get your magnesium in the most delicious way, I created these Vroom Vroom Energy Bites. Take one bite and you'll wonder how something that tastes so good can be so good for you. Each ball contains 33 mg of magnesium! My 3 year old and the rest of the family, for that matter, are addicted, and in this case, we are glad that more is more. 

Vroom Vroom Energy Balls
Toddler, Kid, Adult

Yield
12-14 balls
Each bite contains 33 mg of Mg or 41% and 25% of the daily required intake of Mg for 1-3 and 4-8 year olds, respectively. 

Ingredients
1/2 cup almond butter
3/4 cup oats
1 tablespoon raw cacao powder
1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon flax seeds
1 teaspoon cinnamon (preferably Ceylon)

Method
Place all ingredients in a food processor. Blend well until the oats are broken down into granules and the ingredients are well combined into a crumbly dough. Shape the mixture into 3/4 inch diameter balls between the palms of your hands. Chill in the fridge for 1 hour to set. These will keep in the fridge for 2 weeks in an airtight container but they will most definitely not last that long, if my tot's obsession with them is any indication. You can also freeze them for longer enjoyment. 

* First two images courtesy of Shutterstock

 














 



 

 

 



 

 

Grandpa Ish's Peach Melba

One of the best things about meeting my husband 14 odd years ago, besides the man himself of course <insert wink emoji>, was getting acquainted with his father. Ish, as he's lovingly called, is not only an amazing, loving and fun dad, dad-in-law and grandpa to toddler but also, as I mentioned here before, a Cordon Bleu trained professional chef and ex-restauranteur. You can safely assume that many recipes I concoct are in some shape or form inspired by him. Having grown up on the Fiji Islands, trained in classical French cooking and run restaurants in culinarily cutting-edge California, Ish cooks with precise technique married to tradition with truly innovative flavours thrown in, all without compromising heart and soul. 

On a recent visit to my in-law's home in sunny Florida, Ish whipped up an old classic, the Peach Melba, and we were all blown away. This French dessert, invented in the late 1800s by the renowned chef Auguste Escoffier, consists of a poached peach, vanilla ice-cream and raspberry sauce, and like most French desserts, does not disappoint. I was especially pleased that Ish's innovative spin on the dish included spices like cardamon, clove and star anise! In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion Monsieur Escoffier might have preferred this spiced, delicious interpretation of his famed creation. 

RECIPE

Grandpa Ish's Peach Melba
Toddler, Kid, Adult

Yield
12 servings

Ingredients
6 peaches, cut in half and de-seeded
5 cardamom pods gently smashed
8 cloves
2 star anise
1/2 vanilla bean sliced lengthwise and scraped
6 tablespoons sugar
Water
10 oz frozen raspberries
1/2 lemon juiced
3/4 cup orange juice
vanilla ice-cream or plain Greek yoghurt
few leaves of fresh mint (optional)

Method

Place the peaches cut side up with the cardamom, cloves, star anise, vanilla bean and 2 tablespoons of sugar in a wide saucepan. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a low simmer and cook uncovered for 20 minutes until the peaches are fork tender. Take the pan off the heat and allow it to cool for 15 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the peaches to a fresh dish. Skin the peaches by hand (the skins should slide off easily at this stage but you can use a small knife if necessary). Chill the peaches for at least 3 hours in the refrigerator. 

Place the raspberries, lemon juice, orange juice and remaining sugar in a blender. Puree well and chill. 

When ready to serve, place a peach half in a serving bowl. Cover with a dollop of vanilla ice-cream or Greek yoghurt (for a healthier version). Drizzle generously with the raspberry sauce. Garnish with fresh mint and enjoy as a refreshing summer dessert. Don't forget to think of Auguste Escoffier and Grandpa Ish :).



 



 


 

 

 

 

 

A Nutritious Baked Potato Recipe Every Kid Will Love

Potatoes are arguably the most misunderstood vegetable around. Often dismissed as fattening and nutrition-less, the humble spud, that fed our ancestors for centuries, frequently finds itself relegated to the kitchen corner for an emergency meal, or worse, to start sprouting and be tossed in the trash. 

If you've been following my musings on all things food and nutrition, you'll know that I am potatoes' biggest cheerleader, and for good scientific reason. As I discussed in a previous post, potatoes are packed with minerals, vitamins, fibre, some protein and good starch. And honestly, there are very few foods as satisfying and satiating as spuds. 

In an effort to add more potatoes to toddler's diet and to our family table, I created this nutmeg-spiced, cheesy baked potato recipe that is essentially a one pot, or shall we say, one potato meal. Carbohydrate, protein and fat contained in a cute little potato boat with veggies to boot, while also being delicious, satisfying and toddler-approved?! Needless to say, this is now a regular on our family table. 

RECIPE

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. 

For more potato recipes, check out: 

WHITE PEPPER POTATO LEEK SOUP

WHITE PEPPER POTATO LEEK SOUP

TURMERIC FISH CAKES

TURMERIC FISH CAKES

SPICED POTATO PATTIES

SPICED POTATO PATTIES

POTATO SALMON SALAD

POTATO SALMON SALAD