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Spinach Pesto on Rice

My greens obsession continues!

Can it be challenging to get kids to eat their greens? At times, absolutely. But it can really make a difference when you use your greens in creative ways.

Consider pesto. If your little one has an aversion to the color, I say get her involved in making it with you by letting her measure, dump and turn on the food processor. Sure it might make a bit of a mess in the kitchen, and you may have to do a little cajoling here and there, but I promise that when you’re done and your youngster can taste how flavorful her creation turned out, that “no green food” face is going to be replaced with a big smile.

And don’t forget to double the recipe so you always have extra pesto on hand. I find it to be a lifesaver at mealtime. Just store the extra in freezer cubes and all you have to do is defrost one, toss it with pasta, rice, fish or chicken and voila, you have an effort-free meal in minutes!

Spinach Pesto (Makes 1 1/4 Cups)

2 Cups Packed Spinach
1/4 Cup Pine Nuts, toasted
2 Tbsp Parmesan Cheese, grated
1 Clove Garlic, minced
2 Tbsp Lemon Juice
1 Tsp Salt
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
Cooked Rice *

1. Place all of the ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth.
2. Stir into rice and serve.

* Can also be mixed into cooked pasta, fish or chicken.

Homemade Soft Pretzels

Whenever we pass a hot pretzel stand — no matter what time of day it is or wherever we may be — Kenya and Chloe beg me for one. The two of them will start chanting “PLEASE” so passionately and endlessly, you’d think they were training for the Polite Olympics. Well, who can blame them. I’ve never met a kid who didn’t love him or herself a warm, soft, doughy pretzel to tear into pieces and savor, or just teeth on, as both of my kids did starting from when they were a year old. I remember watching Chloe gum her way through a whole one (after I rubbed every speck of salt off of it!).

Now that Kenya is 5, he’s starting to realize that we can make at home almost any food that he sees in the outside world. A couple of weeks ago, after Kenya spotted a pretzel place at the mall and performed his well-honed pleading calisthenics on me, I suggested to him that we make pretzels together instead. I am so happy I did.

On first glance it may seem like there are a lot of steps to this recipe, but don’t let that scare you off. Each one is so easy that even a kid can do them. Stirring, mixing, kneading and rolling the dough are incredible sensory experiences for kids and are great from everything to engaging their fine motor skills to letting them experience how food can transform from one form to another. I like to set aside some of the dough for K & C so they can manipulate it themselves into knots, twists, balls and other imaginatively inspired shapes. Both of my kids were enchanted with the entire process, from making to eating, and our whole family was convinced that our homemade pretzels were just as good as what we could buy at the hot pretzel stand…not to mention much cooler looking.

As for my little ones professional pretzel pleading, it hasn’t subsided. But at least it all happens at home now.

Soft Pretzels (Makes 16 Pretzels)

2 Cups Warm Water (about 100°F- it will be warm, not hot to the touch)
1 Tbsp Honey
1 (1/4 oz) Packet Active Dry Yeast
4 1/2 Cups White Whole Wheat Flour
2 Tsp Salt
1 Tbsp Vegetable or Canola Oil

1 1/2 Cups Water, room temperature
1 Tbsp Baking Soda

1. Preheat oven to 425° F.
2. In a large bowl, mix together the water and honey.
3. Sprinkle the yeast over the water mixture and let sit for 10 minutes.
4. In a seperate bowl, whisk together the flour and salt.
5. Slowly add the flour and salt to the yeast mixture. Stir until combined and the dough forms a soft ball (adding more flour if the dough is too sticky), about 5 minutes.*
6. Rinse out the mixing bowl and then grease it with the oil.
7. Place the dough in the greased bowl and turn it to coat with the oil.
8. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and let the dough rest at room temperature for 20 minutes to 1 hour.
9. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and knead two or three times to remove air bubbles.
10. Cut the dough into 16 equal pieces. Keep the dough covered with a kitchen towel when you’re not working with it.
11. Roll each piece of dough into a 12-inch long rope.
12. Make a U-shape with the dough rope. Pick up each end and cross one hand over the other and press loose ends onto bottom of U to make a pretzel shape.
13. Place pretzels on a parchment or Silpat lined baking sheet, cover with a kitchen towel, and let them rest for 10 minutes.
14. Stir together the water and baking soda.
15. Brush the pretzels with the baking soda and water mixture (if you don’t have a brush, you can dip your finger in the liquid and rub it on).
16. Sprinkle pretzels with salt and bake for 15 minutes, or until lightly brown.

*This can be done by hand or using an electric mixer fitted with dough hook attachment.

Exciting News at Weelicious!

I have been so busy this past year that one day recently I hit the wall. It was one of the first times in almost five years I didn’t post a new recipe or video on time. While that may not seem like a big deal, I was miserable knowing that loyal readers expecting a new daily post were greeted instead by the previous day’s entry (I know I must seem Type A but I promise I’m not!). I had good reasons for falling behind, but I still haven’t shared any of them with you. Well, here’s what’s had me treading water as of late, fortunately it’s all good stuff!

• A major facelift- weelicious is getting a badly needed makeover!
It feels like I’ve been wearing chinos and a ripped tee for the past few years and someone just handed me a new Chanel dress. We’ve spent almost an entire year building a brand new weelicious website. The new site is finished and I expect to unveil it next week. Along with a brand new look, you can expect your entire weelicious experience to change for the better (thanks to many of YOUR invaluable suggestions on our Facebook page) with new and improved searchability (finally!), recipe galleries sorted by subject, Ziplist recipe box, nutritional information, all new weekly menu plans, feeding tips and much, much more. Stay tuned for details as I will be announcing an awesome giveaway to celebrate the big launch.

• I’m giving birth again!- …oh no, my husband just fainted.
Well, not really, but that’s how it feels. After over three years of researching, testing, writing and photographing, I’m excited to announce that the first weelicious cookbook is coming out September 18th! This project really has been almost as time consuming as having a new baby and, like a child, it’s also given me immense love and joy. The book is dedicated to the concept of “one family, one meal” and is available now for pre-order at all of these outlets online — order now and lock in a good price (you don’t have to pay until it ships!):

I’ve always envisioned this book as kind of A Joy of Cooking for moms — the only cookbook she will ever need in the kitchen. Published by William Morrow, it includes over 150 fast, fresh and easy recipes with over 150 gorgeous color photos (food porn at it’s finest, people)!. Over 90 of the recipes are completely new and exclusive to the book with the remainder being retested reader favorites. In addition, the book is filled with all kinds of tips and tools, pantry staples, feeding plans and dozens of ideas on how to inspire your kids to be great eaters! A big shout out to all of the weelicious moms who volunteered to be recipe testers. Your help was invaluable in helping me get to the finish line.

• I’ve been moonlighting at the Cooking Channel, appearing on their show Unique Eats. Several of my episodes have already aired, but you can catch re-runs and new episodes at 10pm EST, July 1st and 8th. I must thank a bunch of my kind friends (and my hubby) who I dragged around Los Angeles for 2 weeks straight, force feeding them whatever the show told me to eat: Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie, Blistered Chinese Long Beans, Mac & Cheese Pie, and Whole Fried Lobster just to name a few (I must admit that these are the jobs where I do muster the strength to smile through the pain). ;)

• I’ve also been writing regular columns for The Huffington Post, Baby Center, Parents Magazine, People.com and more, so be on the look out for future pieces. Since I can only focus on one recipe a day for weelicious, these pieces allow me to discuss other mom-focused, food related issues that are important to me but which I unfortunately don’t have space for here.

As always, thank you so much for being supportive of weelicious and allowing me to share my passion with you. You are what drives me!

How to Make Strawberry Lemonade

Homemade Strawberry Lemonade?! It’s super easy to make and better then anything that you can buy at the store. It’s what I like to call summertime heaven!

20 Easy Camping Recipes

So you’re going on a camping trip and you’re not sure where to start when it comes to having easy meals on hand for the family. Here’s a few simple recipes and ideas that I took along with us last year when we went camping (or “glam”ping as I liked calling it) from weelicious and a few other sites I love.

Homemade Graham Crackers (and of course big bars of chocolate and a bag of marshmallows for s’mores!)

Wee Granola- the perfect breakfast with some milk or baggies full for a hiking pick me up!

Breakfast Sandwich: Make these at home, wrap them individually in foil and pop them over the fire to start the day.

Banana Dog Bites: Whether you bring all the ingredients with you or make them ahead, these are a fun lunch packed with everything you need to keep up your energy when you’re out and about.

Wild Wheat Berry Salad: Don’t forget to bring some whole grains on your trip!

Grilled Veggie Kabobs: I packed up tons of these kabobs in foil so all I needed to do was toss them on the camp fire.

Avocado Hummus: A creamy spread that’s perfect as a dip with cut up vegetables or in a pita pocket with some sliced tomatoes and sprouts.

Chocolate Chip Granola Bars: A camping trip just wouldn’t be a camping trip without them!

Skirt Steak Fajitas: We took these on our camping trip and they were a huge hit with everyone. Just marinade the meat at home and put it in a cooler. Don’t forget your sauté pan too! This is a definite “glamping” recipe, but when everyone’s stuffing their tortillas with guacamole and salsa, they’ll be thrilled!

Cheesy Corn on the Cob: Instead of steaming the corn, just toss it on the grill and then slather it with butter and cheese.

Spinach Cake Muffins: A big bag of greens isn’t going to stay fresh out in the woods, but don’t worry because by eating these you’ll still get your greens!

Banana Chocolate Chip Bread: There’s nothing like a big slice off this loaf for breakfast or even dessert!

Out of This World Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies: You can’t forget a big bag of these!

Peach or Strawberry Fruit Leather: If you don’t feel like lugging around big pieces of fresh fruit, this is a fabulous alternative!

And a few other’s I really want to try:

* Vegetarian Quinoa Chili from Two Peas and Their Pod

* Balsamic-Rosemary Grilled Pork Tenderloin from Recipe Girl

* Campfire Toasted Burritos and more from Simple Bites

* Herbed Turkey Burgers from Simply Recipes

* Grilled Vegetable in Easy Foil Packets from Food For My Family

Homemade Chinese Take Out: Mu Shu Chicken

When I lived in New York in my late teens, I was introduced to a whole new world of food. New York is an amazing city for countless reasons, but one of the greatest is knowing that no matter what you crave, a dizzying array of cuisines are available to you 24 hours a day. The city is particularly well known for it’s Chinese food and one dish that I got turned on to back then and considered a rare treat (since I was living on a $10 a day or less food budget) was Mu Shu Chicken.

Just take warm mu shu pancakes (in my world flour tortillas are much easier then making homemade), paint a swirl of hoisin sauce in the center, fill each one with heaping spoonfuls of a finely chopped mixture of chicken and vegetables, fold them up, and voila! It’s about as much fun as you can have at the dinner table. My kids will eat almost anything I put in a tortilla, so I came up with this Mu Shu recipe that’s perfect for the home cook. Fortunately it fits my budget a bit better than the New York City version did…and it tastes just as special!

Mu Shu Chicken (Serves 4–6)

2 Tbsp Vegetable Oil
2 Large Eggs, whisked
2 Tsp Ginger, minced
1 Clove Garlic, minced
3 Cups Chopped Cabbage (or coleslaw mix)
4 Shiitake Mushrooms, sliced
2 Tbsp Soy Sauce
3 Tbsp Hoisin Sauce
1 Tsp Sesame Oil
3 Cups Cooked Shredded Chicken
1/4 Cup Scallions, sliced
Flour Tortillas (or Rice Pancakes, if you can find them)

Accompaniments: rice and additional hoison sauce for spreading on pancakes or tortillas

1. Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a large skillet over high heat.
2. Add the eggs and scramble. Transfer to a plate.
3. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in the skillet.
4. Add the ginger and garlic to the skillet, and cook 1 minute.
5. Add the cabbage and mushrooms, and cook until cabbage is wilted, about 5 minutes.
6. Stir in the soy sauce, hoisin sauce, and sesame oil.
7. Add the chicken and scrambled eggs to the skillet, and cook until the chicken is heated through, about 2 minutes.
8. Serve over rice or in warm tortillas, and garnish with scallions.

How to Make Fruity Lemonade Ice Pops

Summertime is here! In my book that means lots and lots of ice pops. Whether you call them popsicles, frozen fruit on a stick, freezer pops or ice lollies, I guarantee that everyone in your house will call these Fruity Lemonade Ice Pops refreshing and delish. They’re a healthy way to stay hydrated when it’s hot, hot, hot outside and you want to give your crowd a unique treat.

Banana Corn Muffins

Open your pantry and look deep inside. Go ahead, open it. Now reach in and stretch out your arm. Come on now, all the way to the back. Do you feel that neglected box of cornmeal? You know, the one that’s been there since last Thanksgiving? It’s time for it to emerge from the recesses of your kitchen and fulfill it’s potential. As long as the expiration date on the box is ok, you can rejoice and make a batch of these moist little jewels.

These muffins are simple to make. Really simple. And the best part is that you’ve probably already got all of the ingredients on hand so you can feel good that you don’t have to go spend more money to make your family this scrumptious treat.

Did you have any idea something so delicious was hiding in your kitchen?

Banana Corn Muffins (makes 36 mini muffins or 12 regular sized)

1 Cup Corn Meal
1 Cup All Purpose Flour
2 Tsp Baking Powder
1/2 Tsp Baking Soda
1/2 Tsp Salt
2 Ripe Bananas, mashed
1 Tsp Vanilla Extract
1 Large Egg
1/4 Cup Honey
3/4 Cup Milk
1/4 Cup Apple Sauce

1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
2. Whisk the first 5 ingredients in a bowl.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk the remaining ingredients to combine.
4. Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just combined, trying not to over-mix.
5. Fill batter into greased or lined mini-muffin cups, about 2/3 of the way up, bake for 15 minutes for mini muffins and 20 minutes for regular sized muffins and serve.

Fruity Lemonade Ice Pops

Is there anything better than a homemade ice pop? Hmmm. No. Not to me and definitely not to the two kids living under my roof. I’m pretty sure that both Kenya and Chloe have ice pop radar because they always seem to know when I’ve put a new batch in the freezer — even if they didn’t see me make them. It’s like they have some kind of sixth sense where they can hear the pops summoning them from behind the freezer door.

The other day, after a long afternoon of running around, I came home to find Chloe waiting for me at the back door. “Mommy, look what I found! An ice pop!” Found?, I thought. More like this is what happens when you have an older brother who can open heavy doors for you when you ask him to. You find things. However, Chloe’s happy discovery is much to my sheer delight — and so are these magically tasty ice pops.

The recipe is simple: fresh squeezed lemonade poured over chunks of juicy fruit and then frozen. I used kiwis and blueberries for mine because I just love how they look suspended together in the golden ice, but you can use any kind of fresh fruit you like — pineapple, strawberries, mango — there are no end to the possibilities.

Kenya and Chloe had such big smiles on their faces when they found these pops. And why wouldn’t they, there’s nothing better.

Fruity Lemonade Ice Pops makes 8 ice pops

3/4 cup water
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup agave or honey
8 kiwi slices
16 blueberries

1. In a bowl, mix together the water, lemon juice and agave.
2. Place 3-5 blueberries and 1 or 2 kiwi slices in each ice pop mold.
3. Gently pour the liquid mixture into each mold. You can reposition the fruit after you’ve poured in the liquid.
4. Freeze 6 hours or until frozen through.
5. Serve.

Lentil Walnut Dip

When I was pregnant with Kenya, my husband and I took birthing classes right next door to one of my husband’s favorite restaurants, Real Food Daily. My husband, who I often refer to as a pretend vegan, was endlessly happy about this fact because it meant he could eat at RFD once a week. My hubby says that every time he leaves there, he instantly feels more healthy.

Don’t get me wrong, I live for vegetables, but I’m also a big time carnivore. Yet somehow, even though I was the one eating for two, each week I found myself indulging my husband’s pregnancy cravings.

One appetizer on the menu at RFD that everyone who has had it adores is their Lentil Pate. They serve it with wheat-free rice sesame crackers and it’s absolutely addictive.

This is my version which I tweaked a bit so it would work using ingredients you likely have in your kitchen already. I admit that it’s not the most pleasing dish to the eye, but after just one bite of this creamy spread you won’t be concerned about looks. Packed with tons of umami flavor from the miso and a rich nutty finish, this is one of those protein-packed dips you’ll want to keep stocked in your fridge all the time…especially in case my husband ever knocks on your door.

Lentil Walnut Dip (makes 2 1/2 cups)

3/4 cup dried green or brown lentils
3 cups water
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 1/4 cups walnuts halves or pieces, toasted*
3 tablespoons yellow miso
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup water

1. Combine the lentils and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, cover, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes, or until lentils are very tender. Drain, and set lentils aside to cool.
2. Heat the oil in a skillet over low heat. Add the onions and garlic. Sauté for 10 minutes, or until the onions are golden brown.
3. Place the walnuts in a food processor and pulse for 30 seconds, or until a paste forms.
4. Add all of the ingredients into the food processor and puree until smooth, adding more water if mixture is too thick.
5. Serve cold or at room temperature with pita chips, rice crackers, french bread or cut-up vegetables for dipping.**

*To toast the walnuts, spread out on a baking sheet in a 350°F oven for 10 minutes — or in a sauté pan over medium heat for 5 minutes, shaking continuously.

** Dip can be stored in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.