Simply Kid Chefs: Black Bean Empanadas

  Last week, we wound up with a much needed quiet weekend and our oldest took over the kitchen.  He thumbed through Carla Hall’s cookbook and decided to make black bean empanadas.  Funny as he hardly ever eats black beans when I cook them 😉

The recipe makes both the pastry and the filling, which is a black bean picadillo.  We gave it our all, but had some trouble with the cream cheese dough.  I should have checked the recipe before committing, but I didn’t.  It calls for a stand mixer and we don’t have one.  We were able to fudge our way through with strong arms ;). Ultimately, we made four rounds and used tortillas for seconds. 

The filling was really easy and the chef was able to do most of it (I sliced the garlic).  He is really learning his way around the kitchen and I am filling more of a supervisor/photographer role.

Here’s the chef hard at work… 


The empanadas were rich and not our youngest’s favorite.  He’s anti-beans so it wasn’t too surprising.  The chef enjoyed it, but wound up breaking it in half to have a little less dough.  I think in the future we would try a different dough or use tortillas. 
Most importantly, it was fun spending time with the chef as he worked in the kitchen. He has gained a lot of confidence and rarely needs me to reach anything for him 🙂
Do you like black beans?  What is your favorite black bean recipe?

Simply Kid Chefs: Paella with chorizo, chicken, shrimp and mussels

Our youngest took over the kitchen at the end of a fun-filled weekend.  I brought him cookbooks to thumb through while he was snuggled in the living room.  He yelled into the other room, “I picked seafood paella”.  My immediate thought was, from which cookbook?  I was hoping it was Carla Hall’s cookbook because she gives great instructions and I was going to need it!  Thankfully, it was Carla’s book.
I was a little nervous about this one on different levels.  First, I wasn’t sure I could cook a paella myself, let alone help an 8 year old.  Then there was the issue of everyone eating it.  It would be a lot of work and a lot of food if the kids didn’t eat it.
All along, I have decided to let the kids try a recipe even if I thought they wouldn’t eat it or it looked difficult, so we went for it!  We wrote out the list and were able to find everything except the rice.  We used arborio rice and substituted chicken thighs for the whole chicken in pieces. We also followed Carla’s tip and used turmeric in place of the saffron 😉
We read the recipe several times so we understood the timing and prepped everything before turning on the stove.  The chef did most of the work.  I chopped the onion and slit the chorizo to peel the casing (we were not perfect with this one, but it worked fine for us), and I cut the habanero chile (we used 1/4).  He did most of the cooking but I stepped in to remove the chorizo and chicken.  I also helped nestle the chicken back in and place the seafood.
Here’s the chef…

I was surprised at how easy the dish turned out to be.  Like everything it helps to be prepared.  We were able to move along and follow the timing pretty easily.  I was a little worried about the rice and it came out perfectly.  We have an electric stove and I was weary of the blast of heat at the end.  It absolutely worked!
The dish was delicious!!  The chef loved the mussels and went back for more.  Both boys found the chorizo a little spicy, but the beauty of so many meats, there was something for everyone.  The oldest focused on the chicken and wasn’t the biggest fan, but he ate it.
There was a ton of leftovers!  This is definitely a great dish for a bigger group and won’t keep you trapped in the kitchen 😉
Have you tried a paella?  What’s your favorite cookbook?  Do like cookbooks that give thorough instructions?

Simply Kid Chefs: Bahamian Coconut Fish Fingers and Mango Feta Dip

As you know, we just returned from an amazing cruise in the Caribbean (in time for the impending blizzard :()! While we were perusing tourist shops, we came across a cookbook, “a Taste of the Caribbean” and the boys wanted to check it out. Our youngest has been really enthusiastic about trying some recipes and luckily, it was his turn to cook.

He selected Bahamian coconut fish fingers and mango feta dip with walnuts. He felt they would go well together (I added a salad). We know that fish of all types is enjoyed in the Caribbean! Here’s my flying fish sandwich in Barbados and my fish and chips in Antigua. I also enjoyed blackened yellowfin tuna and a tuna burger – I didn’t take pictures though 😉


Our chef learned a lot on this adventure! He asked a whole foods employee how to pick a ripe mango and it was an adventure finding creme de coconut (it was in the International section). He also decided to use cod as that’s the common white fish around here.

Preparation was mostly a team effort. I cut up the mango and sliced the lime. He manned the food processor (his favorite) and the walnuts. I cut the fish, but he did everything else! He even cracked the eggs himself. He was hesitant after his last attempt and then extremely proud to be successful!

Here’s the chef

We found some of the instructions a little lack luster. We fried the fish for 3 minutes a side as we had some big pieces and it worked out perfectly. The dip was delicious on the crackers, but also on the fish.

Here’s the recipes


The meal was a success! Our youngest loved it and it was nice to be reminded of warm weather as they predict massive snowfall!

Are you preparing for snow? What’s your favorite way to eat fish? Have you ever been served an entire fish for fish and chips?

Simply Kid Chefs: Mini Meaty Pitas with Cucumber Yogurt Sauce

Not surprisingly, our oldest found another way to cook with ground beef :). This time, there is a bit of a back story…

Back in October, I attended Fitness Magazine’s #FitBlogNYC with my blogging friends. I mentioned in my recap how impressed I was with Carla Hall. At the time, I didn’t get into my full meeting with her.

We were lucky enough to meet and speak with any of the guests and you can bet I wanted to talk with Carla. She was gracious and really talked to each person as if no one was waiting.

We talked about the boys and their cooking. I mentioned that our oldest was looking forward to trying his own recipes and mixing up spices, but could use some guidance. She told me about her new cookbook, Carla’s Comfort Foods. Not only does it feature recipes from around the world, there is a guide to different regions and what spices they use together.

I couldn’t wait to buy the cookbook for the boys. I knew they would love everything about about it! We decided to wait for Christmas. It seemed a little lost in the shuffle, but then I found out they were excitedly telling our family and friends about it. They couldn’t wait to get cooking!

Our oldest found the burger section and wanted to try her Persia influenced burgers. If he wasn’t excited enough, the foreword for the recipe had him giddy. It turns out Carla worked for a family in Falmouth, MA (where I ran last week’s New Year’s race) and they had inspired this recipe. What?!? Mom met her AND she spent time on the Cape ~ too cool 😉

We ventured off to the store and found everything we needed. Once home, he set to work making the sauce. I peeled and seeded the cucumber, he did everything else. Initially, he was a little overzealous in his zesting, but it had stuck to the grater and we adjusted how far to zest (no white pith).

We didn’t find pocketless Pitas, but found the edges stayed together when we cut them. As for cutting the bread, we didn’t have a round cookie cutter. We improvised with a water bottle. It took some elbow grease, but we took turns and it worked perfectly!

The chef was able to prepare the burgers himself. Of course, it was closely supervised! He also learned to roll the lime before cutting it, helping to loosen all of the juice.

I flipped the burgers and we broiled the Pitas. Here’s the chef hard at work…

Here’s the recipe from Carla’s book…


The meal was amazing!! We served it with cucumber, celery, carrots, pita scraps and hummus. Everyone loved it. The flavors mixed perfectly. We even used the leftover mint and cilantro on chicken with garlic, lime and cumin. I can safely say, we will be making these again and continue to play with the flavors!!

Have you cooked with these flavors? Did you give or receive any cookbooks over the holidays?

Simply Kid Chefs: Marinated London Broil

The holidays are a time for family tradition and fun! I spent Saturday afternoon baking with a friend and Sunday getting ready for the week and Christmas. This meant many cookbooks were out and in use.

I’ve mentioned in the past that my mom made myself and my sister a cookbook with all of our family favorite recipes. Each recipe is accompanied by a photo and the boys love it!! Our oldest has cooked from it in the past, but not the youngest.

Of course the cookbook was out with all of the baking and holiday prep. The chef thumbed through it and came to marinated London broil. This was a huge family favorite growing up. Our mom’s good friend (and college roommate) created the recipe and we devoured it every time it was cooked!

My mom’s friend has passed and left a loud and extremely funny hole in our lives. It was fun to share stories with the chef as we cooked and as we ate.

The chef prepared the marinade all by himself. It took a few tries but he was able to flip the meat too. He decided to serve the steak with roasted broccoli and cauliflower. I cut up the veggies and he tossed them in olive oil and Trader Joe’s Everyday seasoning.

Here’s the chef…

The recipe from our family cookbook…

We roasted the vegetables at 425* for 35 minutes before cooking the steak. I covered them with tin foil and they held pretty well. It would be great to grill everything together when the weather is better 🙂 The meal was a success and we will definitely try it again!!

Do you have a collection of family favorite recipes? How are your holidays going? Do you host? What’s your favorite baking recipe?

Simply Kid Chefs: Spinach and Cheese Stuffed Shells

It was our oldest’s turn to prepare dinner. Our youngest received a new cookbook, Twist It Up, for his birthday. It’s written by a little boy who has leukemia and part of the proceeds go to funding research. The boys have been excited to try a recipe.

Our youngest allowed his brother the opportunity to cook from it. Not surprisingly, he picked a yummy, comfort food, spinach and cheese stuffed shells. We trekked to the store with his younger brother as we were hoping to also see the parade of rescue vehicles bringing toy donations for Stuff a Bus, supporting Toys for Tots.

Here is the parade and the toys that were donated. This doesn’t include the thousands of toys donated over the whole weekend, just the ones dropped off to police and fire stations on Cape Cod. As we were waiting and saw the volunteers assembling to unload the vehicles, the oldest asked if we can help next year. The answer, of course!

Here is the 16,069 toys collected by the police and fire departments. The total for the weekend was 31,844!!

Our oldest is pretty much running the kitchen. I slice the garlic, the end of the onion, drain the pasta and put the food in and out of the oven. That’s it, he does the rest! Here he is hard at work…

Here is the recipe

Marinara Sauce:
2tablespoons olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 (14 1/2-ounce) cans tomato sauce
2 beef bouillon cubes
1/2teaspoon dried basil
1/2teaspoon dried oregano
1tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2teaspoons sugar
1teaspoon coarse salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 (12-ounce) box jumbo pasta shells, cooked and drained
2tablespoons olive oil
1pound fresh spinach
1/4cup water
1 1/4cups shredded mozzarella cheese
3cups ricotta cheese
2large eggs, lightly beaten
2 garlic cloves, minced
1cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1/8teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2teaspoon coarse salt
1/4teaspoon white pepper
1/4cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

To prepare marinara sauce, heat olive oil in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, bouillon cubes, basil, oregano, parsley and sugar. Stir well. Simmer over low heat 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Makes about 6 cups.

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Toss cooked pasta with olive oil and set aside.
  3. Combine spinach with 1/4 cup water in a large saucepan over medium heat. Simmer, covered, until spinach is wilted, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain well and squeeze spinach to remove excess moisture. Finely chop spinach.
  4. Combine mozzarella, ricotta, eggs, garlic, spinach 1/2 cup Parmesan, nutmeg and salt and pepper in a large bowl. Stir to blend. Generously stuff pasta shells with cheese mixture. Place stuffed shells in 2 (13 x 9-inch) baking dishes and cover with marinara sauce. Sprinkle evenly with remaining Parmesan cheese and parsley.
  5. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, until cheese is melted and sauce is hot and bubbly.
  6. Let cool 5 to 10 minutes before serving

We did not use an egg in the cheese mixture and it came out delicious! The chef was surprised at how much the spinach shrinks. He looked at me with each handful that went in and then was pleased to see how much it cooked down. 🙂

The sauce was delicious and the meal was a big hit!!

Does your town do Stuff a Bus? What’s your favorite holiday tradition?

Simply Kid Chefs: Pork Tenderloin with Fried Okra and Pickled Watermelon

This week, our youngest turned 8 and made a special dinner to boot. We have been watching Master Chef Junior as a family and are really enjoying it! It has been amazing to see all of the dishes the kids have created. Another plus is the wonderful sportsmanship and camaraderie between the contestants. Both boys love the show; seeing what everyone creates and to their surprise without formal recipes.

Our youngest began pulling out cookbooks and came across this old Food and Wine cookbook

He immediately noticed Graham Elliot from Master Chef on the cover. We found his recipes in the book and he selected the pork tenderloin. I wasn’t sure how he would do with the different flavors but followed my rule of not discouraging based on my own perception.

We couldn’t find some of the ingredients, but substituted ground cardamon and ground coriander for the brine (about 1/8 teaspoon of each). Ground sumac also proved to be impossible to find for our timeline and we left it out.

The chef was able to do most of the preparations. I did the stove work, but he did put the okra in the oil.

The brine took longer to cool down than we anticipated. Here is the chef waiting for it to come to room temperature. Like a watched pot never boils, a watched brine doesn’t cool 😉

The meal was amazing!! I was a little nervous about the okra as I’ve never had it before. We could have eaten more! I would definitely increase the amount of okra when we make it again. The watermelon was delicious and really complimented the pork.

The recipe was a little intimidating at first, but really not difficult. Timing was the most complicated aspect. The chef wanted to keep moving and there was a lot of down time. Definitely allow enough time for the brine to cool when planning the meal. Everything else is relatively quick.

Do you watch Master Chef Junior? Have you made a brine before? What are your thoughts on okra?