Kale mac and cheese

Kale mac and cheese | Me & The Moose. This vegged-up pasta sauce looks green and packs a nutritional punch, but tastes like cheese. #meandthemoose #macandcheese #kale #greensauce #kidfood #dinnerrecipes #vegetarianrecipes

Mac and cheese is a perennial favorite for a reason. You can quickly make a huge batch and reheat it as needed. It’s perfect filler for lunchboxes or to whip up for dinner. And you can throw in any old proteins or veggies you have lying around. And it gets eaten. Huzzah!

Take me to the recipe!

Kale mac and cheese | Me & The Moose. This vegged-up pasta sauce looks green and packs a nutritional punch, but tastes like cheese. #meandthemoose #macandcheese #kale #greensauce #kidfood #dinnerrecipes #vegetarianrecipes

So! Easter and Passover just happened/are happening. My kiddo is at the age where he asks a lot of questions about everything, the deeper the subject, the better. The other day he hit me with, “Before I was born, where was I?”

Let me be clear: He was NOT asking where babies come from. He was asking a philosophical question about personhood. He wanted to know where his “self” resided before he had a body. He didn’t put it in those words, but that was the gist.

WHAT? WHY?

As you can imagine, religious holidays are tricky for us because this kid is constantly asking questions and we don’t always have great answers. “Why didn’t the Easter Bunny come to our house” was a little easier to handle than “Am I going to die?” but it was still tough! I stayed away from talking about religion and talked more about traditions, but I know that the questions are going to keep coming and get EVEN MORE complicated as his awareness grows.

Kale mac and cheese | Me & The Moose. This vegged-up pasta sauce looks green and packs a nutritional punch, but tastes like cheese. #meandthemoose #macandcheese #kale #greensauce #kidfood #dinnerrecipes #vegetarianrecipes

Since parenting has required so much mental gymnastics for us lately, I want to keep dinner as simple as possible. So, Mac and Cheese!

As you may or may not know, I prefer a stovetop mac and cheese to the baked kind. I feel like the baking process can dry out the sauce, which is not tasty, IMO.

Kale mac and cheese | Me & The Moose. This vegged-up pasta sauce looks green and packs a nutritional punch, but tastes like cheese. #meandthemoose #macandcheese #kale #greensauce #kidfood #dinnerrecipes #vegetarianrecipes

A couple of notes:

  • Do cook the kale a bit before pureeing. The more you cook the greens, the smoother the sauce will be. I only cook it for a few minutes though because I don’t want to lose too many of the nutrients.

  • Turn down the heat when making the sauce. It takes a bit longer, but will hopefully keep the milk solids from separating, which can make dairy-based sauces look curdled.


Kale mac and cheese

Time: About 25 minutes, mostly active
Yield: About 4 cups or 30 oz

1 lb small, dry pasta
1 bunch Lacinto kale, leaves stripped off of the tough center ribs
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp flour
2 cups milk, divided (I used whole, but you can certainly use a lower fat variety if you like)
½ cup reserved pasta/kale cooking water
6-7 cups shredded cheese (combination of any nutty cheese like cheddar, gruyere, gouda, and Parmesan)
1 tsp garlic powder
½ tsp sea salt
Several cracks of black pepper

Cook pasta according to package directions.

While the pasta cooks, melt the butter over medium-high heat in a medium sauce pan. Add the flour, stir well, and let bubble for 1 minute.

Turn the heat down to medium-low, add 1 and 1/2 cups of milk, and whisk to combine.

Add garlic, salt, and pepper and stir to combine. Let the milk heat up until there are small bubbles forming along the sides of the pan, about 3-4 minutes. Add the cheese and stir until melted, allowing the cheese sauce to bubble slowly, but try not to get the sauce too hot, about 4-5 more minutes.

Remove pasta from boiling water and add kale. Blanch for 2 minutes and remove greens to a blender. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water.

Add ½ cup of milk to the blender and puree until smooth, adding the reserved cooking water as necessary to puree the kale.

Add the greens and stir well. Allow the mixture to come up to a simmer again.

Combine 2 cups of the sauce with the cooked pasta and stir well. Add any additional toppings you might like.

Kale mac and cheese | Me & The Moose. This vegged-up pasta sauce looks green and packs a nutritional punch, but tastes like cheese. #meandthemoose #macandcheese #kale #greensauce #kidfood #dinnerrecipes #vegetarianrecipes

Chicken meatball and cauliflower rice banh mi bowl

IMG_8122.jpg

So, this is technically a recipe for a banh mi bowl, but the components can be customized in zillions of ways. The chicken meatballs can go in any direction, as can the cauliflower rice.

But first, banh mi. It's technically a Vietnamese sandwich with pickled carrots and daikon radishes, cucumbers, cilantro, a spicy mayonnaise, some sort of pate or liverwurst, and another cooked meat. Availability of great Banh mi is the one thing I miss about living in Brooklyn where we used to order these sandwiches at least once a week. That's also possibly why I gained a lot of weight when we lived there.

IMG_8132.jpg

Now when a craving strikes, I like to incorporate banh mi flavors in a cauliflower rice bowl. 

IMG_8116.jpg

I have mixed feelings about carb and starch substitutes. Unless whatever you're eating with the cauliflower rice is really flavorful, I don't think it passes for regular rice. However, while not really rice, I love this cauliflower on its own merits. It's really simple: sauteed onions, garlic, and salt are all you need. M even eats it and he is a traditional rice devotee.

IMG_8113.jpg

Now, the meatballs. I have experimented A LOT with chicken meatballs. As a perfectionist, I really really want them to be round. I've gone down the rabbit hole of meatball-making tips and so far, none of them have been entirely successful. I've tried adding more and less filler, more and less liquid, more and less fat, cooking directly in a sauce, roasting, sauteing, and chilling in various ways. The most successful tip I can offer from my trials and tribulations is that making them very very small is the key to quick cooking and maintaining a round shape. So if you care about roundness in your meatballs, use 1 teaspoon or less per ball.

IMG_8124.jpg

A couple of other notes:
- I've found that cheese is a better agent for adding moisture than milk because it doesn't make the mixture too slack. But while there is cheese in these balls, they don't taste cheesy at all, which makes the flavor more adaptable.
- I encourage you not to overcook these. Since there isn't a lot of fat or filler in these balls, they can dry out if left on the heat for too long. Using a meat thermometer is your best bet for cooking things fully, but not overdoing it.
-Speaking of cooking, I equally like roasting and sauteing these balls. I don't find that it makes a difference in the taste, texture, or shape of the final product. However, it's currently summer here on the east coast of the USA and hot as hell, so I don't always have it in me to turn on the oven. Either cooking method is great, so do what feels best (and least sweaty) for you.

 

Chicken meatball and cauliflower rice banh mi bowl 

Chicken meatballs
1 lb ground chicken
¾ cup panko
¼ cup grated parmesan
2 Tbsp full-fat ricotta (optional, as it may make the meatballs flatten slightly, but adds more moisture)
1 egg
½ tsp onion powder
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp kosher salt
pepper to taste

If roasting, preheat the oven to 425.

Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix minimally with a spoon, spatula, or your hands, just until the ingredients are incorporated.

If sautéing the meatballs, add 1 Tablespoon of olive oil to a large pan and heat over a medium-low flame. 

Using wet hands, scoop out between 1 teaspoon and 1 tablespoon of the chicken mixture and roll into a ball. Add to a baking dish or the hot pan.   

If sauteing: Over medium-high flame, brown on one side and then turn the meatballs over to brown on the other side (about 2-4 minutes per side, depending on the size of your meatballs). Turn the flame to low and cover the pan. Cook until a thermometer inserted reaches 165 degrees or the meatballs are firm when you press on them and no pink remains in the middle, about 4-8 more minutes, depending on size.

If roasting: Cook for 8-10 minutes (again, the larger your meatballs, the longer they’ll need to cook) and check the meatballs (again, they’re done when the internal temperature reaches 165 or the balls are firm and no pink remains in the center).

Yield: 54 mini meatballs (1 tsp) or 24 small meatballs (1 Tbsp)

 

Cauliflower rice
1 Tbsp olive oil
½ small onion, chopped (a heaping ½ cup)
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1 lb cauliflower rice (either pre-riced or use a 1 lb [usually a small] head of cauliflower and chop in a food processor)
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil over a medium-low flame. Add the onions and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes.

Add the cauliflower rice and sauté for 5 minutes. Reduce the flame to low, cover, and cook for 13-15 minutes or until you’ve reached your desired consistency. I like a little bit of crunch to the rice, so I prefer to cook for slightly less time.

Yield: 4 cups

 

Pickled carrots and daikon radish
Adapted from The Banh Mi Handbook
1 medium daikon (about 1 lb)
3 large carrots (about 1 lb)
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups white vinegar
1 cup warm water

Chop your vegetables into thin sticks and add to a large container.

In a separate large liquid measuring cup, add the vinegar, water, sugar, and salt. Mix with a whisk and microwave on high for 30 seconds and whisk again. Repeat as needed, microwaving for 10-15 seconds at a time, to dissolve the sugar.

Pour over the chopped vegetables and refrigerate for at least one hour or up to one month.


For the rice bowls:
Meatballs (see recipe)
Cauliflower rice (see recipe)
Pickled vegetables (see recipe)
Fresh cilantro, torn from the bunch
Cucumber, sliced
Scallions, sliced
Sriracha or other hot sauce
Mayonnaise (optional)

To assemble the bowl, use as much or as little of each ingredient as you like. We usually get about two adult-sized portions and one kid-sized portion from the cauliflower rice with meatballs and pickles left over. If your family is larger, increase the rice as needed and adjust cooking times. Your onions and garlic may need another minute each and the overall cooking time for the cauliflower may be slightly longer as well (but test often after the above instructed 15 minutes to avoid overcooking).

IMG_8117.jpg

Carrot, ginger, and tahini dressing

IMG_7906.jpg

Salad! Do your kids eat it? M will inexplicably stuff his face with raw kale sometimes and then turn around and gag on anything leafy or green. The dressing is a factor. Also, if he gets to mix the salad, he is much more likely to eat it. I recommend putting your salad bowl on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any greens that escape (read: all of the greens) and letting the little ones have a go.

IMG_7893.jpg
IMG_7903.jpg

Since M is currently SO PASSIONATE about sushi, we've eaten at A LOT of Japanese restaurants lately. Sometimes that ubiquitous carrot and ginger dressing is a revelation, but more often, it's watery or too acidic. This version is neither of those things. There's a fair amount of liquid and acid in this recipe, but the load of carrots and the little bit of tahini mellows the vinegar just enough and adds a touch of creaminess.

I won't lie: It's a little chunkier than your average salad dressing, but it coats the lettuce beautifully and instead of just being oil, you're sneaking in some extra goodness in what is essentially a condiment. So if your toddler deigns to eat a mouthful, they're eating EVEN MORE VEGETABLES.

Also, this dressing is sweet and tangy, but happens to be free of gluten, dairy, and sugar. And it lasts FOREVER. Pretty sure I'm still eating a batch that I made three weeks ago. But, you know, use your judgment.

IMG_7872.jpg

Creamy carrot and ginger tahini dressing

¼ apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp white vinegar
2 Tbsp tahini
2 extra large carrots or 4 medium/small carrots
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
¼ white onion
1 large clove garlic
2 Tbsp lemon juice
½ cup olive or avocado oil
salt
pepper

Place all ingredients (except the oil) in a blender or food processor. Start blending and slowly pour in the olive oil while the machine is running. Blend until you've reached your desired consistency. If the mixture feels too watery, add another tablespoon of tahini. If it feels too thick, add one tablespoon of water and blend.

IMG_7877.jpg
IMG_7886.jpg

Dole whip popsicles

IMG_7756.jpg

If Dole Whip isn't your favorite Disney park food, then what's wrong with you? For those of you who don't know, Dole Whip is basically pineapple soft serve. But's it's so so much better than that description implies.

I swear I'm going to tell you how to make it in a minute, but first I need to talk about some parenting challenges we're having. As always, skip to the next photo if you're only here for the food!

Lately, parenting has felt like being on a high ropes course. It's wobbly and scary and you rarely feel surefooted. Occasionally you reach a platform and feel like a badass who has everything figured out. But then you start the next leg of the course and feel even more wobbly because now you're tired and also annoyed at yourself for not learning enough from the earlier stages. And while you're taking all the necessary precautions, what if you prove the tragic exception?

The long and short of it is, M started preschool 2 months ago and isn't adjusting all that well. He's acting out a bit and having trouble sitting still and it's been hard to watch.

I want to chalk it all up to his being three and starting a new school (any school, for that matter), but words like "evaluation" and "sensory issues" have already been floated.

Maybe I'm just taking it too hard. To me, he's still the chubby cheeked baby with long eyelashes and a silly lisp, so to hear anything different is hard to accept. I'm sure most parents go through some form of growing pains the first time they get any negative feedback about their child. But oof, does it feel like a knife to the heart. 

And I'm doing my best not to let the feedback make me feel distant or separate from M. At first, hearing about his behavior made me feel like I didn't know him at all. But some 3-year-old acting out doesn't make him a bad kid and the more empathy I can have for him while we all hang in there and try to figure this out, the more successful he'll be when facing challenges in the future. 

But for now, it's just... rough.

IMG_7213.jpg
IMG_7214.jpg

Anyway, this recipe is a great one to make with kids. M loves adding the ingredients and pushing the button on the food processor and that's really the whole shebang. He also calls Dole Whip, Dole "Yip," and it kills me.

IMG_7226.jpg
IMG_7227.jpg

If you plan on eating this right away, then you get the true Dole Whip experience (well, a close approximation anyway). If not, and this recipe makes a lot so you won't likely eat it all in one sitting anyway, freezing it as popsicles is the most successful way to enjoy the leftovers. It freezes really hard, so trying to recreate that soft serve texture is nearly impossible later on. But the mixture makes oh-so-refreshing popsicles. Hang on to some for the first 90-degree day (here in CT, anyway) and thank me later.

IMG_7077.jpg

Dole Whip

2 large bananas, peeled and frozen
1 lb bag of frozen pineapple chunks
1 Tbsp lime juice
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 can full-fat coconut milk

Add all ingredients to a food processor and blend until smooth. Eat immediately or pour into popsicle molds and freeze for at least 2 hours.

Yield: 24 small popsicles or about 4 cups of soft serve

Dole whip bowl. Feel no shame about eating this for breakfast.

Dole whip bowl. Feel no shame about eating this for breakfast.

Raspberry rhubarb chia jam bars

IMG_7658.jpg

Preschool germs. Is there a stronger force in the universe? In my memoir, this era will be titled: The time when my child who never got sick, was never not sick.

And I don't know if all kids do this when ill, but mine is like a koala bear who drank a pot of coffee. He's both lethargic and wired, wanting to be on top of me while simultaneously thrashing like he's breaking out of a human prison. In short, this has not been a fun week.

Anyway, since we're stuck in the house for the foreseeable future, I've tried my hand with chia jam a few times. The basic recipe in that link has worked well for me as long as I cook the fruit down for about 20 minutes before adding the chia seeds and letting the mixture set in the fridge for about 30 to 60 minutes before using it. 

IMG_7642.jpg

And this jam is really versatile! It works in sandwiches, obviously, but is also great when added to oatmeal, yogurt, and baked goods. It would also make a tremendous baby puree.

IMG_7647.jpg

This is as easy as dessert/snack/breakfast gets. One bowl, no extra tools, and the same batter for the base and the top crumble. This recipe also uses gluten-free flour and clarified butter, so it's free of gluten, dairy, nuts, and eggs. And I've used as little butter and sugar as possible to maximize health without losing out on taste and texture.

IMG_7625.jpg

This dough is definitely crumbly, but packs down nicely with a rubber spatula. If it's too crumbly, feel free to add an extra tablespoon or two of butter.

IMG_7629.jpg

Raspberry rhubarb chia jam bars

For the jam:
12 oz frozen raspberries (one package or about 1 ½ cups)
2 cups rhubarb, chopped
2 large green apples, peeled and chopped
1 Tbsp water
4 Tbsp chia seeds  

Add raspberries, rhubarb and green apples to a medium pot. If your berries are still frozen, add 1 tablespoon of water to get things started. If your berries have unfrozen and there’s some liquid in your bag, skip the extra water and just start cooking.

Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium or medium low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the fruit is falling apart and the liquid has largely evaporated or become syrupy, about 20 minutes. Let cool slightly and add the chia seeds. Cool in the fridge for 30-60 minutes before using.

Yield: About 3 cups


For the bars:
1.5 cups gluten free flour
1.5 cups quick oats
½ cup brown sugar, packed
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp cardamom
½ tsp kosher salt
Zest of 1/2 large lemon
8 Tbsp clarified butter
4 Tbsp ice water
1.5 cups chia jam (see recipe above)

Preheat the oven to 350. Grease a 9x9 brownie pan with clarified butter or olive oil and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, oats, brown sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, cardamom, and salt and mix well.

In a small bowl, melt some clarified butter. Measure the butter when melted and add to the dry ingredients, stirring after adding each tablespoon. Add the ice water, also stirring between additions.

Pack about 2/3 of the mixture into the bottom of your brownie pan with a rubber spatula or wet hands. Top with the chia jam and smooth out. Crumble the rest of the oat mixture over the chia jam. If possible, pack some of the oat mixture into larger pieces and place those on top.

Bake for 40 minutes or until the edges begin to darken slightly.

Let cool completely before cutting.

Yield: 16 pieces

IMG_7660.jpg
IMG_7664.jpg