Yay! National Guacamole Day!

#NationalGuacamoleDay is Sept. 16

Fun Facts:

  • The word guacamole means “avocado sauce” which originates from the Aztec word “ahuaca-hulli”
  • Avocados have been grown and eaten in Mexico, Central and South America since about 500 BC
  • There are over 400 varieties of avocado grown around the world
  • The Guinness World Record for the Largest Serving of Guacamole, weighing 5,885.24 pounds (that’s almost 3 tons), was set in 2013 by a group of 450 students in Tancitaro, Mexico
  • On Super Bowl Sunday, around 53 million pounds of guacamole are eaten in the U.S. on that ONE day!!

And here’s a great recipe to try!!

Chef Shai’s Signature Guacamole Recipe

Yield: 2-3 cups of guacamole 

Ingredients:

  • 3 medium-sized avocados, ripe
  • 1 Tomato, fine dice 
  • ¼ red onion, fine dice 
  • 1 – 2 garlic cloves minced 
  • ½ pomegranate or ½ Ataulfo mango finely chopped 
  • Lime juice & Zest to taste (approximately 1 whole lime) 
  • Salt & Pepper to taste 

Directions: 

  1. Remove the inners of the avocados into a medium bowl. Mash until smooth.
  2. Add tomato, red onion, half the garlic, and pomegranate or mango. Mix until combined.
  3. Add lime juice, and zest to taste. Add more garlic if needed. Add salt & pepper to taste. 
  4. Serve cold. 

September 13th is National Kids Take Over The Kitchen Day #KidsTakeOverTheKitchenDay

Hey kids, grab your aprons and let’s get cooking! At Rooks to Cooks, we are all about teaching kids the skills they need to feel confident in the kitchen.

For #KidsTakeOverTheKitchenDay, we want to help you get your kids involved in mealtime food preparation. You want to get them excited about cooking. The more involved they are, from start to finish, the more likely kids will want to help cook and, of course, eat their creations!

Check out our handy tips below and an easy recipe to encourage your young chefs to “Take Over the Kitchen”:

  1. Safety first! Be sure to supervise your children in the kitchen and gauge which tasks are appropriate for your child’s age and maturity level. Initially, it’s best if the recipes are simple and require some repetitive steps to help kids practice and feel more confident with their abilities. 
  2. Try to make meal prep fun and stress-free. Kids love to use kitchen tools, like a lemon squeezer, rolling pin, whisk, garlic press, or ‘painting’ using a pastry brush. Recipes that involve various steps are great to keep kids interested and focused. Be patient and supportive and let them know they are doing a great job!
  3. Have your kids pick the recipes and go shopping with you. Children are more likely to help with meals if they can take ownership and are involved in the entire cooking process. Look through recipe books and find healthy choices with menu items that they would like to try.

Check out Chef Shai’s recipe for Spanakopita … Soooo delicious and kids will enjoy making this one for sure!!

Spinach & Feta Spanakopita Triangles

Yield: 15 Triangles 

Ingredients: 

  • 12 Phyllo pastry sheets 
  • 500g feta cheese 
  • 450g frozen spinach, thawed & strained 
  • 100g eggs 
  • 20ml olive oil 
  • 1 large onion, finely diced (150g) 
  • 2g ground black pepper 
  • Salt to taste 

Directions: 

  1. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a frying pan. Sweat onions in a pan until translucent. 
  2. In a food processor, blend spinach and sweated onions until fine. Add feta, egg and pepper. Process until well combined. 
  3. Season to taste. 

To Assemble & bake spanakopita triangles: 

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Prepare your phyllo dough. Lay 1 sheet down, brush with canola oil. Top with another sheet. Brush second sheet with canola oil. Lay the 3rd and final sheet on top. 
  3. Using a pizza cutter, slice the phyllo widthwise into 5 equal strips. 
  4. To assemble spanakopita triangle. Top the bottom of the strip (end closest to you) with approximately 1.5 Tablespoons of filling. Fold as shown in the images below.
  5. Prepare a sheet pan lined with parchment. Arrange spanakopita triangles on sheet pan. Egg wash and bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown. 
  6. Serve hot.

Bits and Bites: Nutrition News from Summer Camp Week 8: Master Chef

By Chef Kenzie Osborne, Rooks to Cooks

After an intensive summer of teaching our young chefs the basics of cooking, and watching as they gobble up their delicious creations, the chef instructors finally have the chance to take a step back and let the kids take the lead! The final two weeks of the Rooks to Cooks summer camps feature some of the most entertaining, challenging, and inspiring culinary competitions: Iron Chef, Cake Boss, and Chopped! Instead of the instructors guiding the young chefs through each and every step, the camp staff become the students and watch the kid’s creativity lead them to create innovative and imaginative dishes (ones that we would never have come up with ourselves!).

Day 1 was no easy task but the young chefs proved that their culinary talent was on par with experienced chefs! They tackled some difficult dishes including a Tuscan stew, homemade pita bread, ooey-gooey chocolate cake, and the dreaded risotto. I only say “dreaded” because it takes years of practice to perfect – the taste is anything BUT dreadful – YUM! For lunch, our chefs enjoyed a piece of their pita bread (okay, maybe they enjoyed multiple pieces…) and a big ‘ol bowl of comforting Tuscan stew. They loved the warming flavours and sweet vegetables in the stew, and they couldn’t get enough of those fluffy and delicate pita breads! In fact, many of the campers had second and third helpings of pita bread. Inspired by their love of the bread, I challenged our young chefs to come up with a variety of toppings that they could put on their pitas at home. Here’s what they had to say:

  • Hummus
  • Chicken or ham and cheese
  • Avocado and salsa
  • Tzatziki
  • Butter chicken
  • Grilled pineapples
  • Pulled pork
  • Assorted fruits – blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and mango slices
  • Chef Rebecca: Ricotta, peaches, and honey
  • Chef Kenzie: Sun-dried tomatoes, basil, grilled chicken, and goat cheese

In addition to the daily nutrition challenge, our young chefs also surprised us with their takes on risotto. For the Risotto Challenge, they were tasked with creating their own original recipes – flavoured with herbs, spices, and vegetables of their choice! Many of the chefs loved adding in some greens and decided to top off their dishes with chives, parsley, and rosemary. A few of our chefs sprinkled in a few dashes of cinnamon or paprika to add a pop of spice and interesting flavours. Others decided to go with more traditional and subtle flavours by sautéing some carrots and onions to add layers of sweetness to the typically salty and cheesy dish. We were all amazed by their innovative Risotto creations, and to be honest, I was even more excited to try the meals they’d be preparing for the rest of the week (finally, the instructors get to join in on the tasting!!)

Day 2 rolled around and it was time for our chefs to show us their creative side in the Cake Boss challenge! After indulging in a deliciously rich lunch – chicken cacciatore, creamy polenta, and garden salad – our young chefs put their cake decorating skills to the test! From floating gummy bears to beautiful roses to lighthouses, our chefs proved that their decorating skills were WAYYYYY better than just a simple iced cake (take a look at some of these amazing cakes below!). The judges (chefs) were so amazed by the results that we could hardly choose a winner – every single team “won” in a specific category. Some displayed incredible creativity, while others showed exceptional teamwork or technique! As always, we were so happy to work with all the campers this week – and we couldn’t be more excited to see where their culinary journey leads them!

After covering ourselves in a little too much icing, we all sat down for a good ‘ol huddle and moved onto our nutrition challenge: Toppings / mix-ins for Polenta. We had a good mix of sweet and savoury ideas – and they all sounded AMAZING (full honesty, I have polenta every single day, and I know these ideas are going to be ones I try out ASAP). Check out the campers suggestions:

  • Greek yogurt and berries
  • Parmesan and potatoes
  • Sausage and tomatoes
  • Chives and thyme
  • Spaghetti sauce and chicken pieces
  • Polenta tart with berries (could be great for those who are lactose intolerant or dairy free!)
  • Cheese, chives, and tomatoes
  • Cinnamon, nutmeg, toasted almonds, and walnuts
  • Mushrooms and asparagus
  • Baked bacon bits
  • Yogurt
  • Lentils
  • Spices, chives, parsley, and pulled pork
  • Cheese, peas, potatoes, and chicken
  • Cheddar cheese, bacon bits, green beans
  • Chef Kenzie: dark chocolate, coffee, cinnamon, honey, and toasted coconut

Day 3 and 4 featured two extremely challenging competitions: Iron Chef and Chopped! These difficult tasks proved to be much easier than expected as our chefs banded together and worked as teams to come up with some incredible dishes. For our Iron Chef competition, our chefs-in-training had to use the secret ingredient lentils as the ‘star’ of their dish. They weren’t too enthusiastic by this “bland” ingredient, but boy did they make it work. We had some imaginative and flavourful dishes including:

  • lime and lentil mash
  • lentil falafel
  • lentil coconut curry
  • lentil risotto
  • lentil turmeric tortilla wrap

By the end of the day, our young chefs were learning to love lentils – which just goes to show that the key to enjoying healthy food is creativity and good cooking!

After discovering what our young chefs could make with lentils, we were SO excited to see what they could do with our Chopped! basket. Our chefs were challenged to use the following 5 secret ingredients in their dishes: an orange, a bag of corn chips, a sweet potato, a boiled chicken breast, and a zucchini. They were given 45 minutes to make a dish of their choice that incorporated all 5 ingredients in some way. Once again, our teams of chefs worked together perfectly to create some stellar dishes, including the following:

  • Sweet potato orange dip, lime and zucchini dip, sautéed chicken and corn chips
  • Orange, lime, sweet potato and chicken stir fry with crumbled corn chips and fried zucchini
  • Chicken and lentil stew with zucchini, orange, and lime. Served with corn chips and sautéed sweet potato.
  • Chicken, zucchini and green apple tomato sauce on top of vermicelli noodles. Served with a side of sweet potato fries (the idea of an apple and tomato sauce caught me off guard, but it was surprisingly tasty – the sweet and tart notes from the apple paired brilliantly with the chicken and tomato sauce – who would’ve known?)
  • Chicken noodle soup with zucchini, sweet potato, orange juice, and lime zest. Served with corn chips for crumbling on top.

YUM!! The instructors were definitely fed well, and we loved every single bite. Personally, I was most inspired by the teams’ ability to work together so well and encourage each other through every step of cooking. This week taught me that when you put a team of talented minds together, you can truly accomplish anything. Prior to the Iron Chef and Chopped challenges, I had no idea that we would taste such incredible dishes. I thought there may be some disagreements among the young chefs during the planning process and I wondered if the teams would have enough time to finish their dish. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Not only did every team finish in the time allotted, but they also created some innovative and tasty dishes AND they COMPLETELY cleaned their stations before time was up. Our chefs were so passionate about cooking, and they were always eager to start the day. Great work!!

Each week we are so thrilled to work with our chefs-in-training! They consistently ask great questions, offer to help out, and share some incredible culinary ideas with us. I really feel like I’ve become the student – I have learned so much and I have plenty of inspiration for some upcoming meals! I hope you have the opportunity to cook with your young chef and learn a few of their tips and tricks! From all of us at Rooks to Cooks, we thank you for joining us throughout this fun and flavourful week, and we look forward to seeing you again soon!

** If you have specific questions regarding the nutritional information of a meal (or you would like to know how to make substitutions for vegan, gluten-free, or other dietary restrictions), feel free to reach out to me (Chef Kenzie) by sending an email to: kenzieosborne08@gmail.com. If you are interested in more general nutritional information, head over to my personal blog at: thrivingonnature.wordpress.com

Bits and Bites: Nutrition News from Summer Camp Week 7: Perfecting Pastries

By Chef Kenzie Osborne, Rooks to Cooks

We’re entering the final stretch of the summer camp season and our tummies are just about ready to explode – but we have no doubt that it was all worth it! As the famous saying goes – “there’s always room for dessert” – and that’s why we saved some of the best desserts for the last weeks of summer.

This week, our young chefs are baking up a storm in our “Perfecting Pastries” program. Our young chefs got to work with a variety of doughs, batter, and custard fillings to prepare some of our very best sugar-filled treats. From apple fritters to savoury quiches to ooey-gooey peach pies, this week’s camp provided our chefs with skills and techniques that go way beyond the basics! Not to mention, I think most parents were pretty pleased to be heading home with a few containers full of treats to munch on after a long day at work.

Peach Pie

From Day 1, our chefs were very excited to be baking – and their love for pastries only seemed to grow once they learned more and more about all the amazing things they could make with just a few simple pantry ingredients. The first day was all about learning some of the basics – how to prepare a pie dough, how to make traditional pate sucre, how to use a deep fryer, and how to make marshmallows from scratch (who knew they were so simple and so tasty!?). Considering we hadn’t yet made our peach pie filling, I decided to challenge our chefs to think of some tasty pie fillings they could use to pair with their pie dough. As always, I was surprised by their amazing ideas, and I definitely got a little inspiration for my weekend baking project! Check out the feedback from our young chefs:

  • Apple cinnamon
  • Broccoli, corn, and cheese quiche
  • Strawberry rhubarb
  • Blueberry, raspberry and chocolate pie
  • Apple blueberry pie
  • Strawberry s’mores pie (with dark chocolate)
  • Strawberry banana pie
  • Pineapple pie
  • Raspberry coconut pie
  • Chef Kenzie: Sweet potato pie with roasted pecans and walnuts!

YUM – what a nice little list filled with fruits, vegetables, antioxidant-rich foods (like dark chocolate), and healthy fats (like nuts, cheese, and coconut). Trying out some of these pies is a delicious way to incorporate a few more fruits into your daily dessert, plus, it adds the perfect tangy, fruity bite to a sweet and buttery pie!

Homemade Marshmallows!

Day 2 rolled around and we finally had the chance to finish off the recipes that we started on the first day of camp. Our young chefs prepared a delicious peach pie filling, a lemon creme filling for their tarts, and they FINALLY got to taste their ooey-gooey homemade marshmallows. On top of all that, they also had the chance to start making their four-layer raspberry vanilla swirl cake. This recipe was definitely a crowd favourite, as they got to add some bright colours, sweet flavours, and essential nutrients to a basic vanilla cake! They swirled around their batter, popped their cakes in the oven, and waited to see the fun and colourful result.

For their next nutrition challenge, I was inspired by the fun swirls of colours that made this dessert so pretty and appealing. I decided to ask our chefs to think of some of their favourite desserts that had AT LEAST three different colours in them. A simple rule of thumb is the more colours that are on your plate, the more vitamins, minerals, and nutrients you are feeding your body. Therefore, if you try to fill your dinner and dessert plates with as many colours as possible, you’re most likely providing your body with a wide variety of nutrients so you can function at your best (as long as those “colours” aren’t just different shades of brown). Once again, our young chefs didn’t fail to impress with their colourful and creative ideas, and here are a few yummy desserts to try out this weekend:

  • Assorted fruit smoothie
  • Fruit salad with strawberries, bananas, apple slices, oranges, melons, and watermelon
  • Triple berry salad
  • Lemon cake with strawberries and blueberries
  • Banana bread with strawberries and homemade whipped cream
  • Homemade rainbow fruit sorbet
  • Watermelon “pizza” (round slice of watermelon), topped with cream cheese and assorted fruits
  • Pancakes or crepes with fresh fruit
  • Chef Rebecca: Homemade Neapolitan ice cream (strawberry, vanilla, and dark chocolate) served with assorted fresh fruit
  • Chef Kenzie: Ricotta and honey tart topped with fresh fruit “rainbow” (strawberries, mandarin oranges, peaches, bananas, kiwi, and blueberries)

YESSSS!! Summer is the perfect time to enjoy fresh fruit and serving some of these desserts at your next BBQ get together would definitely bring a smile to your loved ones’ faces (PLUS they’ll thank you for the little nutritional boost!). Try these out this weekend or next and let us know how you liked them!

Raspberry Vanilla Swirl Cake

Day 3 and 4 rolled around with even more delights – layered cake, babkas, pain au chocolat, croissants and sorbet!!! All of the recipes were crowd-pleasers, but the winning recipe was hands down the croissants! It may have taken a full day’s work to put together, but boy was it worth it! These flaky, buttery, light and flaky pastries were irresistible – and they were even BETTER with chocolate in the middle! It had me thinking – what else could you throw inside a croissant to make a tastier (and healthier) combo?? I decided to ask the real experts – our young chefs – for their opinions, and I was amazed!!

  • Raspberries and strawberries
  • Parmesan baked on top
  • Apple cinnamon stuffing
  • Cream cheese and strawberry croissant “sandwich”
  • Peaches and honey (baked inside or eaten as a “sandwich”)
  • Grilled pineapple “sandwich”
  • Spinach and feta filling
  • Ham and cheese filling
  • Dark chocolate, banana, and coconut filling
  • Chef Kenzie: Dark chocolate, hazelnut and coconut filling (with maple drizzle on top!)

I may have just learned how to make croissants myself, but it looks like I have a few more recipes to try out. These really are chef-quality ideas. The endless creativity and innovation from our chefs is something that I am continuously amazed at – these kids have such incredible ideas that are out of the box, yet genius!

Finally, Thursday’s recipes were preparation for pop-up and it was veggie time!! My favourite was our famous rich and creamy quiche – it’s so simple, so easy, so nutritious, and SUPER delicious!! Quiches can be made using so many different vegetables – spinach and feta; sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, and chicken; peppers, onions, and broccoli (our amazing combo!); mushrooms, ham and onions; etc., etc. But, don’t be fooled, veggies aren’t only for savoury recipes – they can be snuck into many different sweet treats to boost the nutritional value and add to flavour! Some of our chef’s favourite veggie-inspired dishes are:

  • Zucchini banana bread
  • Avocado brownies
  • Pumpkin muffins
  • Celery ice-cream
  • Beet brownies
  • Rhubarb pie
  • Celery with peanut butter and chocolate chips
  • Zucchini blossom with ricotta and honey
  • Cucumber and mint sorbet
  • Carrot cake with cream cheese frosting (try using honey or maple syrup to sweeten the cream cheese frosting instead of sugar!)
  • Pumpkin brownie
  • Apple rhubarb crumble
  • Sweet potato fries (maybe with drizzled peanut butter and dark chocolate!)
  • Pumpkin Pie
  • Chef Rebecca: Rhubarb pavlova
  • Chef Kenzie: Gluten-free sweet potato brownie with toasted pecans on top and avocado dark chocolate mousse!

I’ve certainly learned a lot from our young chefs, and I can’t wait to continue to learn in the final weeks of camp. The upcoming sessions of camp feature some famous contests such as Chopped, Iron Chef America, and Cake Boss. During these friendly competitions, our young chefs have a chance to display their culinary creativity and talent. Not to mention, they will also learn some delicious and nutritious meals that they get to indulge in for lunch throughout the week! This week was certainly sweet, but we’re excited for the creativity and innovation that the next two weeks will bring! Join us again at camp for some more culinary knowledge, tons of yummy flavours and, of course, a whole lotta fun!

** If you have specific questions regarding the nutritional information of a meal (or you would like to know how to make substitutions for vegan, gluten-free, or other dietary restrictions), feel free to reach out to me (Chef Kenzie) by sending an email to: kenzieosborne08@gmail.com. If you are interested in more general nutritional information, head over to my personal blog at: thrivingonnature.wordpress.com

Bits and Bites: Nutrition News from Summer Camp Week 6: Budding Bakers Jr. (Round 2)

By Chef Kenzie Osborne, Rooks to Cooks

Budding Bakers!

As the summer continues to whiz by, our young chefs continue to impress us with their culinary talent, enthusiasm towards cooking/baking, and an abundance of questions about all things food! We love teaching our young chefs, sharing all our knowledge and watching them grow throughout the week. We only hope that our young chefs continue to improve their skills in their own kitchen at home and come back next summer to show us how much they’ve improved on their own! Or they can also try our after school cooking programs and birthday parties to get more practice throughout the school year.

At Rooks to Cooks, our mission is to empower our young chefs to become more independent by building self-confidence and supporting self-expression through culinary education! Of course, we all love the sweet and savoury delights that come out of our kitchens every day, but more importantly, we hope to inspire our young chefs to build confidence and independence in AND out of the kitchen. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been particularly impressed by our young chefs and how they have demonstrated their ability to think outside of the box, clean up after themselves, be responsible leaders, express their creativity, and confidently step outside of their comfort zones.

My idea for this blog post is to FEATURE several young chefs so that their thoughts and opinions could be heard. I asked our chefs-in-training the following questions:

  • Explain why you became interested in cooking
  • Describe your favourite thing about cooking
  • Reveal your favourite part about camp
  • Share an original delicious (and nutritious) meal idea

Their words were inspiring and enlightening – plus, they had some AMAZING ideas for nutritious meals that they were excited to try out at home. Honestly, over the past few days, I’ve tried out a few of these ideas, and I have been floored by the results! We certainly have some culinary innovators amongst us, and some serious talent that needs to be shared! So, without further ado, here are some words of wisdom from our young chefs…

Chef 1:

  • Why did you start cooking?: “I spent lots of time in the kitchen baking pancakes with mom and dad!”
  • Favourite part about cooking: “It’s amazingly fun!”
  • Favourite thing about camp: “I liked baking stuff – it was so much fun, and I made a lot of new friends.”
  • Nutritious meal idea: “Banana cookie with strawberry jam and sprinkles.”

Chef 2:

  • Why did you start cooking?: “I liked baking, and it showed my parents that I was responsible. I love helping my mom and dad with baking.”
  • Favourite part about cooking: “It’s a lot of fun and I love learning! It’s kind of like a kind of toy because you can play around with the gooey dough and sprinkle stuff on top of meals.”
  • Favourite thing about camp: “COOKING!”
  • Nutritious meal idea: “Kale chips, apricots, and raisins – make great snacks!”

Chef 3:

  • Why did you start cooking?: “I saw my parents cooking and wanted to give it a try!”
  • Favourite part about cooking: “I love mixing ingredients together and seeing (and tasting) the results!”
  • Favourite thing about camp: “I liked baking all of the food and taking it home to share with my family.”
  • Nutritious meal idea: “Yogurt with almond butter, honey, and fruit.”

Chef 4:

  • Why did you start cooking?: “I like cooking because you can do whatever you want! Then you can see how it turns out and eat it!”
  • Favourite part about cooking: “Eating what I made!”
  • Favourite thing about camp: “I liked experiencing different dishes that I normally wouldn’t get the chance to try!”
  • Nutritious meal idea: “Spanakorizo – rice, spinach, and feta cheese”

Chef 5:

  • Why did you start cooking?: “Food is just so tasty, I wanted to get to know how to make it!”
  • Favourite part about cooking: “I love the smell of food.”
  • Favourite thing about camp: “I loved making all the desserts!”
  • Nutritious meal idea: “Sponge cake with jam on top and fresh mixed berries.”

Chef 6:

  • Why did you start cooking?: “Because it’s really fun!”
  • Favourite part about cooking: “I love how fun it is and it’s kind of like a blank canvas, so you can do anything you want with it.”
  • Favourite thing about camp: “Cooking, hanging out with my sister, making pasta and pasta dough!”
  • Nutritious meal idea: “Butter chicken with broccoli and asparagus.”

Chef 7:

  • Why did you start cooking?: “In the mornings I was hungry but no one was up, so I learned to make my own pancakes and eggs!”
  • Favourite part about cooking: “Eating it after!”
  • Favourite thing about camp: “I liked looking at the demos and trying it out myself. I liked making the sponge cake and ravioli!”
  • Nutritious meal idea: “Black bean ramen noodles with eggs, homemade broth, tofu, carrots, and chives. It’s better than a packet of rice and it’s nice to have something homemade!”

Chef 8:

  • Why did you start cooking?: “I wanted to learn how to cook for my family, my grandma. I wanted to cook with my family and do more to help them in the kitchen.”
  • Favourite part about cooking: “Eating it, making food for my family, and helping out my family.”
  • Favourite thing about camp: “I liked meeting new people, and I loved EVERYTHING!”
  • Nutritious meal idea: “Fried rice with broccoli, cauliflower and chicken.”

Chef 9:

  • Why did you start cooking?: “I watched my mom and sister do it, and I wanted to join.”
  • Favourite part about cooking: “I like to use my hands and mix stuff up!”
  • Favourite thing about camp: “BAKING!”
  • Nutritious meal idea: “Frozen fruit “ice cream” – made with frozen bananas, strawberries, and blueberries!”

Chef 10:

  • Why did you start cooking?: “I like cooking and baking at home and baking with my parents.”
  • Favourite part about cooking: “Making cakes and decorating them!”
  • Favourite thing about camp: “BAKING!”
  • Nutritious meal idea: “Carrot cake banana cookie with milk and coconut “sprinkles” (food coloured coconut shreds).”

Chef 11:

  • Why did you start cooking?: “I didn’t know how to cook and I wanted to learn and feed my family.”
  • Favourite part about cooking: “Trying out new things.”
  • Favourite thing about camp: “Baking different desserts – I love sweets!”
  • Nutritious meal idea: “Lasagna with tomatoes, spinach, cheese, and whole wheat noodles.”

Chef 12:

  • Why did you start cooking:: “I tried it with my parents and it was really fun so I wanted to improve by myself.”
  • Favourite part about cooking: “Delicious food – I love eating it!”
  • Favourite thing about camp: “I like getting to take home treats to eat and share with my family.”
  • Nutritious meal idea: “Whole wheat tart with berries, dark chocolate chips, homemade whipped cream – all topped with dark chocolate-dipped strawberries and pineapples.”

WOW! Those sound like some DELICIOUS ideas! It looks like we have a few budding bakers and chefs amongst us! Thank you to our young chefs who volunteered to share their ideas – we loved hearing what you had to say!

We couldn’t be more excited to see our young chefs think outside of the box and experiment in their own kitchens at home. We know they have the techniques and skills to master the basic recipes, and we hope they continue to perfect their skills and create their own unique culinary creations. We encourage families to work together to make healthy, delicious recipes with their young chefs each and every week. We truly believe that being in the kitchen allows our young chefs to express themselves and develop their independence and confidence in the outside world! From all of us at Rooks to Cooks, we wish you a happy weekend filled with a bunch of flavourful goodies!!

** If you have specific questions regarding the nutritional information of a meal (or you would like to know how to make substitutions for vegan, gluten-free, or other dietary restrictions), feel free to reach out to me (Chef Kenzie) by sending an email to: kenzieosborne08@gmail.com. If you are interested in more general nutritional information, head over to my personal blog at: thrivingonnature.wordpress.com

Bits and Bites: Nutrition News from Summer Camp Week 5: Around the World – First Class

By Chef Kenzie Osborne, Rooks to Cooks

Last week, we travelled Around the World – to Thailand, India, the Middle East, France, and Italy! The foods from these countries were soooo yummy that we couldn’t just stop there – so we decided to ramp things up a bit and go around one more time (but this time, in first class!). This week, our young chefs were challenged with some of the most complicated dishes from around the globe. The ingredients that our young chefs learned to prepare were challenging, and the flavours that they produced were impressive. The skills and techniques they’ve learned this week will allow them to cook their families some delicious (and nutritious) meals, introduce them to unique flavours, and teach them about the many cultures around the world!

Day 1: We definitely didn’t sugar coat (no pun intended) the first day of camp … Instead, we jumped straight to making these amazing dishes:

  • Traditional Spanish Paella prepared with mussels and chicken legs;
  • Tortilla Espanola which is a delicious Spanish potato and egg “frittata”; and
  • Miguelitos, which I cannot pronounce for the life of me, but these puff pastry treats taste so delicious, it doesn’t really matter!.

To start the day, the chefs put their cooking skills to the test by preparing a traditional Paella. They mastered the crispy rice (at the bottom of the pan) that is critical to achieving the BEST paella! Then, they devoured this dish full of mussels and chicken and packed with protein and iron (and of course, a TON of flavour).

Next up, our young chefs made a traditional tortilla Espanola – made with potatoes, onions, eggs, garlic, salt, and pepper. They gobbled up the frittata-like side dish with BIG smiles on their faces – they loved every bite! Thank goodness this dish is filled with nutrients from the whole eggs (omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, protein, vitamin D, and vitamin A) and potatoes (fibre, potassium, vitamin C, and vitamin B6). To boost the nutritional value a little more, try using different colours of potatoes (i.e. purple potatoes, sweet potatoes or white potatoes). You can also add in some other vegetables, like mushrooms, zucchini, or carrots, to add a little colour and some extra nutrients! Honestly, there are so many options – so, of course, I had to get some ideas from our very own culinary experts – our young chefs! So, without further ado, here are a few ideas for toppings and/or stuffing to add to your tortilla Espanola!

  • Parmesan, basil, zucchini
  • Mushrooms
  • Cheese, basil, parsley
  • Chives, basil
  • Rosemary, cayenne, cheese
  • Goat cheese, tomato
  • Ham, cheese, bacon, zucchini
  • Chives, goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes
  • Chef Kenzie: ricotta cheese, roasted tomatoes, and grilled/roasted chicken!

These are certainly some DELICIOUS suggestions, and I hope you try them out with your young chef for a nutrient-packed side dish, breakfast, or afternoon snack!

In the afternoon, our young chefs finished off the day with a sweet treat – Miguelitos! This dessert is comprised of delicate sheets of puff pastry, layered with a lemon pastry cream filling (YUM). I would recommend adding some more nutrients to the dessert by pairing it with your favourite fruits and/or nuts. Try dipping the Miguelitos in a berry sauce, blending bananas into the pastry cream, topping the pastry with toasted nuts, or combining trail mix with the pastry cream for a little crunch! After a long day of cooking, our young chefs went home for the night (with full stomachs and happy smiles) and came back on day two ready to travel to another country – Italy!

On Day 2, our young chefs were over the moon to be travelling to Italy – the world of pasta and pizza (and a bunch of cheesy goodness!). On our trip to Italy, our young chefs enjoyed a delicious Ravioli stuffed with ground beef, spinach, and parmesan, and a homemade tomato-basil pasta sauce! For their afternoon take-home sweet, our young chefs were treated to some rich and creamy homemade Cannolis. Our cannolis featured a light (yet rich and decadent) orange-ricotta filling – not too sweet, not too filling, but just perfect!! Our young chefs enjoyed making both the pasta dough and cannoli dough – and they absolutely LOVED eating the finished dishes!! Inspired by the cannolis (they’re such an easy yet impressive dessert to make), I challenged the chefs to come up with their very own nutritious spins on the classic cannoli filling. Once again, our young chefs didn’t fail to impress me with their yummy, nutrient-packed ideas…

  • Blueberries and walnuts
  • Cherries and pecans
  • Mixed berries
  • Mango ice cream (like the one served at pop up)
  • Strawberries and almonds
  • Mango chunks and pistachios
  • Maple and pecans
  • Strawberry jam, almonds, and blueberry jam
  • Apples and cinnamon
  • Strawberries and ricotta
  • Caramel apple
  • Chef Kenzie: Banana ricotta filling with toasted pecans, coconut, and almonds! The pureed banana will add enough sweetness to the ricotta cream filling – no sugar required!

I hope you try some (or all) of these suggestions at home! Not only will they make your tummy smile, but your whole body will be thanking you for the boost of vitamins and minerals!

Day 3 and 4 went by FAST – we travelled across the ocean to Mexico, then hopped on back over to China. We explored some of the best dishes from each country including: Empanadas, Guacamole with tortilla chips and Churros, Vegetable fried rice, vegetable gyoza, beef and broccoli stir fry, and Chinese egg sponge cake – YUM! Our young chefs devoured many of these dishes – especially the tortillas and guacamole (which would be a perfect filling after-school snack). Our guacamole recipe features an unusual ingredient that packs a punch of sweetness and adds an exciting pop of flavour – pomegranate seeds! A quarter cup of our guacamole provides a ton of vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats – just take a look at some of these nutritional highlights:

  • 5g Monounsaturated fats
  • 8% Potassium
  • 17% Fibre
  • 9% Vitamin C
  • 8% Calcium

WOW – talk about a nutrient-rich snack! Pair this with some whole wheat tortillas, spread it on a slice of whole-grain toast, or use it as a vegetable dip for the perfect snack, side dish, or breakfast!

Day 5 arrived and we finally had the opportunity to show our families all the skills and techniques we learned throughout the week. Our chefs never fail to impress – and this week was certainly no exception. Our chefs served up a three-course meal which consisted of the following:

  • Cornbread with herb and garlic butter;
  • Jerk chicken with purple cabbage slaw and mango chutney; and
  • Mango sorbet enclosed in a coconut pavlova with raspberry sauce.

Our main course was balanced and packed with nutrition: the chicken was high in iron and protein, the cabbage slaw was packed with vitamin C, the brown rice was filled with fibre, and the mango chutney added a good dose of vitamin A. To finish off our meal, the dessert was both relatively low in sugar (in comparison to other dessert options), and was gluten-free AND dairy-free (BONUS!). The coconut pavlova with mango sorbet and raspberry sauce was a perfectly light and refreshing dish to finish off a rich and filling meal!

Our dinner guests loved the unique flavours of our menu items and they were overwhelmed by the beautiful plate presentations that our young chefs designed! Travelling around the world is one of the best ways to learn about food and culture. This week, we introduced our young chefs to just a few of the cuisines and cultures around the world – but there is SO MUCH MORE to discover! We hope we’ve inspired our young chefs to practice their new skills at home, continue to try new flavours, and serve their family and friends nutritious and delicious home-cooked meals! From all of us at Rooks to Cooks, we hope you have an amazing week packed with flavour, nutrients, and a whole lotta good FOOD!

** If you have specific questions regarding the nutritional information of a meal (or you would like to know how to make substitutions for vegan, gluten-free, or other dietary restrictions), feel free to reach out to me (Chef Kenzie) by sending an email to: kenzieosborne08@gmail.com. If you are interested in more general nutritional information, head over to my personal blog at: thrivingonnature.wordpress.com

Bits and Bites: Nutrition News from Summer Camp Week 4: Around the World

By Chef Kenzie Osborne, Rooks to Cooks

Last week we were treated to a little bit of sweet and a little bit of savoury goodness! This week, we surprised our taste buds with a bunch of new and exciting flavours from all over the globe! This week’s theme was “Around the World” – and we weren’t kidding when we said we’d be experiencing some of the world’s BEST flavours! We shared our favourite recipes from around the world, and we brought in some authentic ingredients to really make the international flavours pop!

On Day 1, we started out strong and travelled to Thailand. I was fortunate enough to go to Thailand in March of this year, and these recipes really took me back to the authentic flavours that I tasted on my travels. To be honest, no other restaurant in Toronto has been able to remind me of the delicious sweet-sour-spicy flavours of Thailand as much as our own camp recipes did. So, of course, I was beyond excited to give our young chef’s a little taste of Thailand. It was not much of a surprise that our young chefs LOVED their lunches! Our chefs cooked up a creamy coconut yellow Thai curry, paired with an authentic “street-style” pad Thai. We served both dishes with rice and noodles to make a complete (and healthy) meal. Here’s a quick rundown:

  • Each recipe contained a TON of nutrients from a variety of vegetables, healthy fats, and soy protein.
  • The curry provides a big dose of manganese (which promotes liver health and assists with vitamin absorption).
  • The pad Thai was decorated with colours and packed with vitamins: carrots (vitamin A), zucchini (vitamin C, vitamin B6), red pepper (vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B6), and tofu (protein, iron, calcium).

Our young chefs slurped up the pad Thai noodles and creamy curry and finished the day off strong with plenty of energy!

In the afternoon, they went to work cooking up a sweet pot of coconut mango sticky rice. Many of them had never tried it before but were impressed by its sweet and fruity flavours. Inspired by their enthusiasm for the famous Thai dessert, I challenged our young chefs to think of some of their own sticky rice toppings (other than mango). So, without further ado … Here are their delicious (and nutritious) topping recommendations:

  • Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and banana slices
  • Passionfruit and diced peaches
  • Orange, grapefruit, and pineapple
  • Mulberries
  • Peanuts
  • Grilled pineapple
  • Coconut flakes and marzipan
  • Cashews, toasted coconut flakes, and passionfruit sauce
  • Peanuts, chocolate shavings, and toasted coconut
  • Blueberries, banana slices, and toasted coconut
  • Chef Rebecca: pomegranate seeds.
  • Chef Kenzie: Serve the sticky rice inside of a grilled peach (with the pit removed). Top with your favourite roasted nut or seed.

On Day 2, our young chefs arrived at camp with big smiles and hungry stomachs – they couldn’t wait to discover a new cuisine and try out some new food! We weren’t travelling far from Thailand, but we were entering into another spice-filled cuisine. Of course, I’m talking about India! Indian food isn’t typically a favourite with children, but we knew that if our young chefs gave our recipes a chance, they would discover the delicious flavours of India!

We kicked off the day with making some traditional samosas from scratch – the dough AND the filling. Our young chefs loved rolling out the dough and forming the samosas into beautiful little bites. Next up was a tikka masala (because how could we travel to India without tasting one of their most famous dishes?). Once again, our young chefs loved making this complicated meal, and they especially liked the strong aromatics coming from their pots. By 12 noon, we had finished preparing both dishes, and we were all eager to give them a try. Finally, we all took a breather to sit down and enjoy a home-cooked Indian meal – and boy was it GOOOOD! Our young chefs loved both recipes, but they couldn’t get enough of those addicting samosas. Thank goodness they were packed with nutrients, because they ate up those bite-sized treats so quickly, we couldn’t save enough to take home (don’t worry though, I’m sure your young chef would be more than happy to make you another full batch… or three…)! A serving of two of samosas packs in so much flavour and so many nutrients (plus they’re easy to make, freeze, and reheat on-the-go). Just take a look at these impressive nutritional highlights:

Samosa Dough:

  • 6% fibre
  • 9% protein
  • 9% iron

Samosa Filling:

  • 13% potassium
  • 13% fibre
  • 7% protein
  • 34% vitamin C
  • 7% iron

Together, these samosas are a great source of protein, fibre, and iron! They would be a perfect quick-and-easy lunch or after school snack. Serve with a dollop of Greek yoghurt to tone down the spice (and add a bit of calcium) and you’re all set! Quite honestly, any sort of “dumpling” (a filling wrapped in dough, or a filling combined with a starch – like gnocchi or vegetable dumplings found in soup) is a great option for a quick and healthy after school snack. After seeing how much our young chefs loved the samosas, I challenged them to think of some other types of dumplings that they could have for a fun bite-sized after-school treat. I was shocked by their suggestions – they were wild, creative, and sounded absolutely delicious:

  • Spinach and feta cheese
  • Sweet “berry pie filling” – blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries
  • Broccoli and chickpeas (sort of like falafel, but inside of a samosa – yum!)
  • Chicken and carrot
  • Beef, tomatoes, tofu, and mushrooms
  • Sweet “peach pie filling” – roasted peaches, caramel sauce, and pecans
  • Sweet “apple pie” filling – cinnamon and sautéed apples
  • Chickpeas, assorted Mediterranean spices, and carrots
  • Chef Rebecca: mushrooms.
  • Chef Kenzie: sweet potato pecan pie filling (sweet potatoes mashed with a brown sugar and butter sauce, stirred with toasted pecan bits). TIP: If you don’t have a deep fryer, simply brush the samosas in a little oil and pop them in the oven at 450F for about 10 minutes, or until crisp.

After devouring all the samosas, and the whole batch of tikka masala, our young chefs arrived on Day 3 ready to tackle some more difficult, international dishes. Day 3 featured some of my personal favourites – Persian stuffed peppers, Rooks to Cooks’ signature falafel, and a delicious homemade rugelach (a rolled pastry with a yummy jam filling, topped with brown sugar and cinnamon). For lunch, our young chefs enjoyed the Persian stuffed peppers and homemade falafel. Together, these two dishes made a well-balanced meal with plenty of protein (from the ground beef and chickpeas), complex carbohydrates (from the brown rice and chickpeas), and fibre (again, from the brown rice, chickpeas, and red pepper) – YUM! But, let’s not forget the hummus we made on Monday! We served this alongside our peppers and falafel for a creamy dip, AND a great way to add in some much-needed healthy fats. Really quickly, I’ll go over the nutritional information for the falafel (TIP: you can pan fry the falafel in vegetable oil OR brush with vegetable oil and bake in a 400F oven for about 10 minutes, or until browned and cooked through).

For one serving of falafel, (our recipe yields TWO servings) you get:

  • 14% daily fibre intake
  • 26% daily protein intake
  • 26% daily vitamin A intake
  • 39% daily vitamin C intake
  • 31% daily calcium intake
  • 10% daily iron intake
  • 9% daily potassium intake

Woah – that’s a nutrition BLAST! Such a quick and easy way to pack in flavour, without skimping on the nutrients! One of the key ingredients in the falafel is, of course, the chickpeas. Chickpeas are super high in protein, fibre, phosphorus, folate, copper, and manganese! Not only that – chickpeas are also SUPER versatile. My last nutrition challenge for our young chefs was to think of some other ways to use chickpeas. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but they certainly had some creative ideas to share:

  • Hummus with assorted veggies
  • Split pea soup
  • Hummus on toasted pita bread
  • Chickpea curry
  • Chickpea salad
  • Naan bread wrap with hummus and chickpeas
  • Vanilla ice cream topped with roasted cinnamon chickpeas
  • Chef Rebecca: chickpea burger
  • Chef Kenzie: chickpea flour pizza crust (gluten free!) with sundried tomatoes, basil, feta cheese, and chicken

Day 4 and Day 5 went by without a hitch. The young chefs loved travelling to France where they learned how to cook a delicious quiche, the classic coq au vin, creamy potato gratin, and decadent creme caramel. Then, on to Italy where they learned how to make from-scratch pasta dough, homemade ricotta cheese, Caesar salad dressing and homemade focaccia. I think it’s pretty safe to say that our young chefs ate SUPER well this week. Not only did they gobble up every bite during lunch time, but they also were fueling their bodies with the energy and nutrients they needed to make it through the day. Our chefs tried new foods from around the globe and discovered new cuisines that they really loved!

Continue to encourage your young chef to try out new foods, be adventurous in the kitchen, and learn about cultures by tasting international food! I’ve learned SO MUCH from travelling around different countries, and I’ve discovered that the world truly has so many unique flavours to offer. Eating a variety of foods keeps your body healthy (by ensuring it receives a wide variety of nutrients), keeps your taste buds happy, and brings family and friends together to build relationships and make memories. From all of us at Rooks to Cooks, we hope you continue to make these amazing flavour-filled memories in your own homes – and we can’t wait to cook with you again soon!

** If you have specific questions regarding the nutritional information of a meal (or you would like to know how to make substitutions for vegan, gluten-free, or other dietary restrictions), feel free to reach out to me (Chef Kenzie) by sending an email to: kenzieosborne08@gmail.com. If you are interested in more general nutritional information, head over to my personal blog at: thrivingonnature.wordpress.com

Bits & Bites: Nutrition News from Summer Camp Week 3: Sweet & Savoury Sr.!

By Chef Kenzie Osborne, Rooks to Cooks

Last week, we taught a group of young chefs some of our favourite basic sweet and savoury recipes – but we had WAYYY more than just a week’s worth of recipes to share! So, we decided to host a Sweet and Savoury Sr. camp – with a few extra techniques in our back pockets, we took our recipes to the next level (and boy were they tasty!).

Homemade hamburger buns

Day 1: We kicked off the week with a few “oldies but goodies”. We repeated some of our crowd favourites including; homemade hamburger buns, black bean-and-corn patties, baked sweet potato fries, and caramel corn. The kids absolutely LOVED the hamburger buns, and were surprised by the intense flavours from the vegetarian burgers! Of course, no one was disappointed with the caramel corn – the sweet and salty treat was an easy crowd-pleaser. YUM! 

Day 2: We discovered some warming Moroccan flavours. Our Lentil and Butternut Squash Moroccan Stew was a nice little surprise – not only is it packed with flavour, but it’s also filled with nutrients! Let’s just take a quick minute and look at the nutritional value of one serving of this deliciousness. (Nutritional Information was calculated using myfitnesspal.com)

  • 31g fibre – that’s 125% daily intake!
  • 272% Vitamin A
  • 73% Vitamin C
  • 22% Calcium
  • 60% iron
  • 26% potassium
  • 25g protein
  • 3g monounsaturated fat

Honestly, with all of that goodness packed into such a delicious bowl of stew, it’s no wonder our young chefs gobbled it all up! For some, it was a tad on the “too-spicy” side, but after I added a dollop of 2% Greek yogurt, they were alllll gooood! 

After tasting the nutrient-filled Moroccan stew, I asked our campers what their favourite part of the dish was. Surprisingly, many of them said they really liked the LENTILS.  I was expecting them to like the sweet butternut squash or the warming spices – but not the lentils! This made me so happy because lentils are SUPER nutritious and great for those who are vegetarian and gluten-free. Lentils can replace ground meat in many dinner recipes, and they can sometimes replace flour to make ooey-gooey brownies and cookies. I could easily write an entire book on the health benefits of lentils, but I’ll save you the reading and just lay out the major points…

  • Protein – One serving of green or red lentils provides 12g of protein (BONUS: pair lentils with rice and you have yourself a complete protein!)
  • Iron – One serving of green lentils has 10% of your iron, and one serving of red lentils has 15%. Iron helps carry oxygen to the cells (this is why low iron levels cause fatigue and tiredness).
  • Fibre – One serving of green lentils has 32% of your fibre, and one serving of red lentils as 14%. High fibre intake is associated with low blood cholesterol and a lower risk of diabetes.
  • Potassium – One serving of green or red lentils has 6% of your potassium. Potassium helps counteract the negative effects of sodium, and helps to keep your heartbeat regular!
  • Folate – One serving of green lentils has 10% of your folate, and one serving of red lentils has 15%. Folate helps form blood cells and assists in nerve function. It also helps reduce the risk of damage to arteries, and reduce the risk of anemia, cancer, heart disease, and dementia!

Since our young chefs enjoyed the nutrient-rich the lentils, I decided to challenge them to think of other ways to use them. I was surprised by their amazing suggestions, and I’m definitely looking forward to trying a few out at home. Check out these ideas from our campers: 

  • Chicken soup with lentils
  • Lentil salad
    • Caesar salad with lentils
    • Root vegetable lentil salad (with assorted potato varieties and beets)
  • Lentil “meatball”
  • Lentil tacos
  • Lentil penne with tomato ragu
  • Lentil stuffed ravioli
  • Lentil stir fry with rice and assorted vegetables
  • Chef Larissa: Lentil dal (with yellow split peas), topped with cilantro 
  • Chef Rebecca: Lentil risotto 
  • Chef Kenzie: Lentil gluten-free fudge brownies (add a little kick of nutrition to those ooey-gooey brownies!)

Is it just me, or do these meal ideas sound sooo good!? I know I’ll definitely be trying them in the weeks to come (and I really think you should too!). Each one has some great nutritional benefits, and could possibly be an easy lunch/dinner to prepare ahead of time for the work (or school) week!

Enough talk about lentils – the stew certainly wasn’t the only nutrient-rich and tasty recipe on the menu! Here’s a rundown on some of our other creations: 

  • We paired the stew with our simple one-bowl Cucumber, Mint, and Red Onion Salad. This salad is a refreshing summer side dish that has a subtle flavour with a cooling hint of mint! 
  • Our young chefs were very excited to make their Lemon Meringue Pies. This recipe is made entirely from scratch – homemade dough, lemon creme and, of course, a whole lot of meringue topping! 
  • We also made homemade Coconut Coffee Gelato. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to taste this one, instead, we saved it for our lucky guests at the pop up restaurant. But now that they have the skills, they can certainly whip up this yummy treat at home to cool down on a hot summer day! 
Stuffed Pepper

This week sure whizzed by fast! Day 3 featured a Stuffed Pepper (Dolmeh Felfel), Herb kuku, and a Decadent Chocolate Cake. Although our chefs weren’t all on board with the dolmeh felfel’s strong tomato flavour, they all agreed the stuffed vegetable idea was a good one. So I challenged them to think of some other stuffed-vegetable (or fruit) ideas, and here’s what they had to say:

  • Stuffed zucchini with ground beef and onions
  • Stuffed potato with apple-carrot coleslaw
  • Stuffed pepper with beef, onion, green onion, and sharp cheddar cheese
  • Stuffed potato with chicken, tomato sauce, and Italian spices
  • Grapefruit “bowl” stuffed with oranges, blueberries, strawberries, and mango
  • Chef Rebecca: Baked jalapeno poppers (delicious! If they’re too spicy try stuffing them with a honey and ricotta mix for a sweet and spicy killer combo!)
  • Chef Kenzie: Roasted sweet potato with peanut butter (mash the peanut butter with the flesh of the sweet potato), trail mix (or toasted nuts and seeds), and extra peanut butter and coconut milk sauce (just bring the peanut butter and coconut milk to a boil on the stove – as soon as it boils, take it off and whisk quickly for a minute or so until thickened and combined – then drizzle over top of the roasted potato).

Stuffed vegetables are a great choice for a weekday lunch or dinner. Using a vegetable or fruit as a vessel for other ingredients is a quick way to incorporate more vegetables into your diet, without worrying about how to actually use them in a dish! Some other great vegetables to stuff include: eggplant, potatoes, zucchini, mushrooms, acorn squash, tomatoes, onions, cabbage cups, any variety of pepper and squash/zucchini blossoms. Experiment in your own homes to see what creative combos you can make – there are so many possibilities, and so many delicious creations to discover! 

Empanadas 🙂

Day 4: The chef’s treated themselves to made-from-scratch Black Bean Empanadas and Summer Corn, Tomato and Avocado Salad for lunch. The day ended with baking up some Chocolate Wafer Cookies (for our lucky pop up guests to try) and, of course, some Deep Fried Churros for the ride home. Our chefs enjoyed most of the food on days three and four, but they especially seemed to like the chocolate cake. The chocolate cake was ooey and gooey, and so much fun to decorate!! After talking wayyy too much about cake (and turning our chef whites into a chocolatey mess), the campers took their layered masterpieces home with huge smiles and hungry stomachs! 

CHEF KENZIE’s RECIPE: Lemon Coconut “Funfetti” Cake

While doing the cake demo at camp, I promised a few of our young chefs that I’d share a recipe for a Lemon Coconut “Funfetti” Cake. So, without further ado, here it is… 

Ingredients:

For Rooks to Cooks Vanilla Cake (or, use your own recipe – but let me warn you, this one is hard to beat!):

  • 390g all-purpose flour
  • 15g baking powder
  • 2.5g salt
  • 4 eggs (200g) room temperature
  • 113g unsalted butter, softened
  • 300g granulated sugar
  • 15ml vanilla extract
  • 120ml canola oil
  • 300ml milk room temperature

Icing:

  • Use your favourite buttercream icing! 

Filling: (this is my special berry jam – use any berry you want, it doesn’t have to be raspberries!)

  • 1 cup raspberries (frozen)
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup or honey
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds

Topping ideas:

  • Shaved dark chocolate
  • Toasted coconut
  • Toasted almonds
  • Candied lemon rind
  • Fresh raspberries
  • Or, serve with our coffee-coconut gelato recipe! (try baking the cake batter and making an “ice-cream sandwich” dessert by using two slices of cake with the coffee-coconut ice-cream in the middle – YUM!)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Grease two 8-inch cake pans.
  3. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt.
  4. In a separate mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until well combined. Whisk in the canola oil until fully incorporated.
  5. Whisk in eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla.
  6. Alternate adding the dry ingredients and milk, folding together with a spatula between each addition. Mix the batter until JUST BEFORE combined – over mixing will lead to a tough dense cake.
  7. In a few separate bowls, use the food colouring to colour the shredded coconut. Once coloured, fold the coconut into the cake batter (again, do not overmix!)
  8. Pour into prepared pans and bake for about 30 minutes (check for doneness by touching the top of the cake – it should spring back when it is done)
  9. Invert the cakes while cooling – let cool completely before filling and icing! 
  10. Meanwhile, prepare the jam. Heat 1 cup of frozen raspberries in a saucepan until softened. Put in a blender with 1 tbsp honey. Pour blended raspberries into a bowl and mix in 1 tbsp of chia seeds. Let rest until thickened (about 15 minutes).
  11. Lay one layer of cake on a cake board (or clean table). Pipe buttercream on the outer ring of the bottom cake (to prevent the jam from leaking out of the cake). Spread the jam in the centre of the buttercream ring. Top the jam with a layer of fresh raspberries, if desired. Top with the second layer of cake. 
  12. Finally, spread buttercream icing to cover the cake layers. Top with whatever toppings you desire (some ideas are listed above) and ENJOY!

Alright folks, there you have it! Week 3 at Rooks to Cooks Cooking Camp was certainly a success! Our young chefs learned so many techniques and filled their bodies with a whole lotta nutrients. We couldn’t be more excited for our young chefs to share these healthy, delicious recipes with their families at home. Next week, we’re travelling around the world! Stay tuned for some AMAZING international flavours – different cuisines in the world have so much nutrition to offer and so many unique flavours! From all of us at Rooks to Cooks, have a fantastic (and food-filled) weekend!

** If you have any specific questions regarding the nutritional information of a meal (or you would like to know how to make substitutions for vegan, gluten free, or other dietary restrictions), feel free to reach out to me (Chef Kenzie) by sending an email to: Kenzieosborne08@gmail.com. If you are interested in more general nutritional information, head on over to my personal blog at:  thrivingonnature.wordpress.com!

Bits & Bites: Nutrition News from Summer Camp Week 2: Sweet & Savoury Jr.!

By Chef Kenzie Osborne, Rooks to Cooks

Wow, this past week was absolutely INCREDIBLE! It was the grand opening for many of our camp’s pop up restaurants, and our young chefs certainly didn’t disappoint! Our talented kid chefs cooked up a storm and served their families and friends some amazing dishes, including:

  • Homemade focaccia starter
  • Roasted carrot, fennel, and lentil appetizer
  • Eggplant braciole with salsa verde
  • Cucumber Mojito, and 
  • Mixed berry pie with homemade ice-cream.

Plus, let’s not forget about all the nutritious and satisfying lunches they gobbled up throughout the week AND the delicious treats they got to bring home to their families each and every night! From international-inspired salads to vegetarian burgers to apple upside down (and right-side-up) cakes – our chefs-to-be really showcased their incredible culinary talents. My favourite thing about this week was the focus on savoury AND sweet. This program demonstrates what a balanced and healthy lifestyle looks like on a daily basis. The program encourages our students to eat plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, homemade grain products, and whole dairy ingredients, while still occasionally indulging in a few freshly baked sweets. 

The first day of camp started with a bang! Many of our young chefs were skeptical about the vegetable fajitas and summer avocado salad. They weren’t too enthusiastic about the thought of eating a plate full of veggies. After a little encouragement, our fearless young chefs were brave enough to take a few small bites – and after that, they were hooked! Almost all of the students LOVED the fresh vegetables on their plates – and many came back for seconds and thirds! Seeing all of our young chefs appreciate the amazing flavours of fresh produce made me so happy! Even better? They were excited to have the chance to cook the same dishes for their families at home – now that’s a BONUS! If you haven’t already done so, please ask your young chef about their favourite vegetable dishes. I’m sure they’d love to teach you what they learned, and together you can enjoy a yummy and nutritious meal!

Sincr our chefs loved the fajitas and summer salad so much, I asked them for some of their own recommendations – what would they add to their fajita at home? Below are some of the camper’s ideas for Healthy Fajita Toppings (and we think they’re pretty awesome!). I’ve also added in a few of my own recommendations for specific dietary needs!

  • Chicken
  • Lentils
  • Fresh tomato (or cherry tomatoes)
  • Corn
  • Black beans
  • Cucumber
  • Edamame 
  • Duck or turkey breast (thinly sliced)
  • My recommendations:
    • General: Add some sauteed pineapple chunks with black beans (a pineapple and black bean salsa sort of thing) – it’ll add a nice hint of sweetness, and some extra vitamin C, potassium and fibre! 
    • Higher Protein: Try adding tofu, beans, or a sliced meat product to the recipe. Marinade and cook the protein the same way you marinade and cook the mushrooms. 
    • Gluten Free: Try substituting the tortilla with a lettuce cup, or serving the fajita mix on a bed of brown rice, a scoop of quinoa, or one-half of a roasted sweet potato. 
    • Vegetarian: This recipe is already vegetarian, but if you want to boost the protein add some tofu, edamame, or black beans. Alternatively, keep the same fajita mix, but serve it on top of a black bean tortilla or a scoop of quinoa and top with a handful of toasted almonds.
    • When you have leftovers: Try mixing the fajita mix in with a batch of scrambled eggs. Serve in a warm tortilla or on a piece of toast for a quick and healthy breakfast!

Whatever you choose, you really can’t go wrong with the Rooks to Cooks fajita and tortilla recipes – they’re SO yummy and super easy to whip up in a flash. Have your young chef help you out, and you’ll be enjoying a delicious dinner in no time.

On the second day of camp, we made an impressive menu featuring a soba noodle salad, crispy tofu, and sprinkle cookies! Our young chefs absolutely LOVED the soba noodle salad and crispy tofu – again, they came up for two or three servings! They were amazed by all the nutritious ingredients in the soba noodle salad, for example: 

  • Cabbage – rich in vitamin A, C and K, calcium, and magnesium
  • Carrots – packed with vitamin A
  • Edamame – filled with protein, omega 3 fatty acids, and phytoestrogens that may aid in preventing some cancers
  • Soba noodles – made with buckwheat and high in protein and manganese! 
Our young chefs learning proper knife skills.

Without hesitation, they gobbled up the salad (and all of its nutrients) to fuel their bodies for the rest of the day! The crispy tofu was also a crowd pleaser. The protein-packed vegetarian tofu cubes were dredged in cornstarch and shallow fried for a crispy texture. They were served with a bit of homemade sweet and spicy sauce for a perfect (and quick) way to enjoy a serving of complete protein. The cool thing is, tofu contains ALL essential amino acids and plenty of iron – so you’re not missing out on the nutrients you would get from meat products! The last recipe of the day was our famous Sprinkle cookies! This one was obviously DELICIOUS – sugary cookies topped with fun and colourful sprinkles will never disappoint. The only thing that could make this dessert even better is if it had a fun and healthy twist. I challenged our young chefs to come up with a healthy cookie topping to try out at home (to replace the sprinkles). We had some very creative ideas that sounded soooo good, we’ll have to try them out for ourselves – STAT! Check these out: 

  • Mix dried cranberries or dried mango into the cookie mix
  • Top with homemade strawberry jam and fresh mint (Tip: to make a quick at-home jam, heat up one cup of frozen fruit in a pot until it is soft. Blend until smooth, then add 1tbsp chia seed. Let sit until thickened and cooled, then chill and enjoy!)
  • Top with fresh squeezed lemon and basil leaves
  • Fold blueberries into the batter
  • Serve with sliced grapefruit
  • Roll the dough in shredded coconut (you can even use food colouring to make coconut “sprinkles” for a little fun)
  • Replace the water with coconut water for a few extra vitamins and minerals
  • Chef Rebecca: Use two cookies and spread a homemade mixed fruit compote in between – YUM!
  • Chef Kenzie: Make an “ice cream” sandwich with two cookies and banana “ice cream” (blend a frozen banana to make a smooth ice-cream-like texture). Roll the sandwich in dark chocolate shavings (for added antioxidants and polyphenols) and enjoy!

All in all, there are endless possibilities for a fun twist on a classic cookie dessert. Play around with ideas with your young chef and create your own special healthy combo. Your body will thank you, and your heart will be filled with joy – I promise! 

Day three rolled around with yet another delicious lunch menu!  Our young chefs worked hard in the morning to prepare a Quiche from scratch (the dough was prepared earlier in the week), and a refreshing apple, fennel, celery salad. Once again, we had some skeptical campers who were hesitant to try the vegetable-rich salad – but they were pleasantly surprised by the bright and refreshing summer-inspired flavours! There wasn’t much hesitation about the quiche – our young chefs couldn’t wait to try the cheesy, rich pie (they didn’t even mind the spinach and onions snuck inside). Many chefs came back for seconds and thirds, and were enthusiastic about sharing their food with their friends and families at home. We couldn’t be more excited to be introducing all these young and talented chefs to a wide assortment of fresh vegetables and fruits, homemade whole grains, and healthy fats that they can incorporate into their diets each and every day. 

Below is a quick recap of the recipes we made this week and a few featured healthy ingredients. In addition, I’ve included some of my own suggestions to bump up the nutritional value of each meal just a tad more. If you have any questions regarding substitutions or replacements for ingredients, please feel free to reach out to me at kenzieosborne08@gmail.com. I can offer some tips and tricks to make the recipes suit your dietary restriction – so you can enjoy the same recipe, and of course, get all of those essential nutrients!

  • Crispy tofu: Tofu is a complete protein AND contains plenty of iron. Try dipping it in an egg wash followed by crumbled unsweetened cereal – bake for 15 minutes at 350F (or until nice and crispy) and enjoy! Throw some veggies in the same pan for an easy baked one-pan dinner. Of course, don’t forget our delicious sauce to top!
  • Spinach and Feta Quiche: Eggs are one of the best protein sources! In fact, eggs have ALL the essential amino acids your body needs, and it scores 100 on the biological value rating (a measure of protein quality). The quality of other proteins is compared to an egg to determine it’s protein quality how easily your body can utilize the proteins from the food). If you want a quick and easy gluten-free crust, you can use sweet potato slices! Simply slice some sweet potatoes, toss them in a bit of olive oil and arrange them to cover the bottom of a pie pan. Bake at 450F for about 10 minutes, until crisp. Add the quiche filling and follow the rest of our recipe for a delicious gluten-free quiche (with an added dose of vitamin A).
  • Cinnamon buns: Cinnamon is packed with antioxidants, and has anti-inflammatory effects. Studies show cinnamon may reduce the risk of heart disease and can improve sensitivity to insulin (which may, in turn, reduce sugar cravings). Try adding some apple slices into the filling of your cinnamon bun for a bit more vitamin C and fibre.
  • Baked sweet potato fries: Sweet potatoes are jam-packed with vitamin A, vitamin B6, fibre, and potassium. This recipe also uses olive oil (a fat that has a balanced omega-3:omega-6 ratio to promote heart health). Enjoy this as a perfect side for a yummy summer family BBQ.
  • Black bean burgers: Black beans are high in protein, fibre, and iron. The combination of black beans and brown rice makes a complete protein (meaning together, they contain ALL of the essential amino acids your body needs). So, this burger is PERFECT for vegetarians who are looking for ways to get enough protein into their diet. But, even if you’re not a vegetarian, you certainly won’t be missing the meat with this recipe – it’s so darn good! Serve with fresh guacamole and a poached egg for some healthy fats and a bit more protein (and a delicious summer burger!)
  • Mixed berry pie: Just look at all those antioxidants and vitamins! Be creative with your favourite fruits and mix it up – try replacing the berries with strawberries and mango, strawberry rhubarb, banana coconut, or blueberry almond! Or, simply sprinkle on some trail mix, toasted coconut, or roasted seeds for some added healthy fats and a nice crunchy finish!

Alright folks, there you have it! This week was definitely one that I was super-excited about and I knew it was going to be DELICIOUS with all the fresh salads, make-it-from-scratch recipes, and wholesome ingredients. I was so happy to see all of our young chefs devour their nutritious lunches with BIG smiles on their faces. I hope you and your chefs-to-be continue to make these meals at home, and maybe even come up with your own spin on our classic recipes! From all of us at Rooks to Cooks, we thank you for joining us for this fun-filled (and yummyyyy) week – we look forward to seeing you again soon to whip up some more delicious treats!

Stay tuned: More Bits and Bites coming next week with highlights from Sweet and Savoury Sr.

Bits & Bites: Nutrition News from Summer Camp Week 1 – Budding Bakers!

By Chef Kenzie Osborne, Rooks to Cooks

One of our Budding Bakers!

The Rooks to Cooks summer day camps are all underway now, and we couldn’t be more excited to bake (and, of course, eat) all of the delicious sweets, treats, and decadent dishes that our young chefs will be making all summer long! We cannot wait to share our passion for food, and teach our young chefs about the many mental, physical, and social benefits that cooking and baking can have on our well-being.

Each week, I will be writing a quick review of the week to share some nutritional tidbits about the food we made, as well as share a few special healthy snack/meal/dessert recommendations from our young chefs! If you have any specific questions regarding the nutritional information of a meal (or you would like to know how to make substitutions for vegan, gluten free, or other dietary restrictions), feel free to reach out to me (Chef Kenzie) by sending an email to: Kenzieosborne08@gmail.com. If you are interested in more general nutritional information, then head on over to my personal blog at: 
https://thrivingonnature.wordpress.com/

Now, let’s get to talking about this past week at camp and trust me when I say, it was definitely a delicious one! Our camp theme was “Budding Bakers” and we baked everything from cookies to cakes to butter tarts to cinnamon buns (and a whole lot more)! I know, you’re probably thinking “How is this going to be nutritious? It’s just a bunch of sweets and treats packed with sugars and fats”. There is SOME truth to this as most desserts do contain larger amounts of sugars and fats than other foods. However, it is important to note that desserts are still an essential part of a healthy and balanced diet; and we must remember that our bodies do need some sugar and fat to function at its best. It’s important to incorporate a wide variety of foods into your day-to-day routine – including fruits, vegetables, grains, meats/alternatives, dairy, fats, and sweet treats. Additionally, when we prepare desserts from scratch, rather than choosing a processed or store-bought version, they often contain more essential nutrients to help build a healthy body (for example, vitamins and minerals from fruits, fibre from whole grains, protein from dairy and eggs, etc.). 

At Rooks to Cooks, we always try our best to make everything from scratch – the dough, the creme filling, the icing – everything! This means our finished products are made from REAL food – none of that “I can’t pronounce this ingredient” nonsense. Therefore, we can provide our young chefs with good quality food to fuel their bodies in the best way possible. Let’s take a look at some of the recipes we made this week…

1. Vanilla Cake

This is a classic – and there are SO MANY variations to make something truly unique and special. This week, we challenged our young chefs to share what fruit they would fill this classic vanilla cake with … and we got some pretty cool ideas! At home, try filling this classic vanilla cake with some of these fruit combinations that our chefs thought of themselves! Not only will you be adding delicious sweetness and extra flavour, but you’ll also be treating yourself to a healthy dose of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants – BONUS! 

  • Our young chef’s suggestions:
    • Lemon curd filling with lemon zest icing
    • Raspberry mango filling
    • Pineapple rings on the outside (this would make a super cool design!)
    • Watermelon used as cake slices (what a cool way to make a yummy and nutritious “cake”)
    • Strawberry jam 
    • Blueberry “pie” filling
    • Mixed berries (throw them all in)
    • Cut out a circle in the center and fill with a bunch of fruit – it’ll spill out a big ‘ol serving of fresh fruit.
  • Chef Rebecca: Baked peach filling. In the summer, Chef Rebecca’s favourite way to add a little sweet surprise into her vanilla cake is to use fresh, local and seasonal peaches.
  • Chef Kenzie: Make a chocolate chip vanilla cake filled with a banana-coconut cream filling. Simply mix cacao nibs or dark chocolate chips into the vanilla cake mix batter prior to baking, then fill the cake with mashed bananas mixed with a few tbsp of coconut cream. The nutritional benefits? Cacao nibs contain large amounts of magnesium, manganese, copper, and fiber, making it a great addition to any sweet snack. Bananas are packed with potassium to help your heart function optimally, and coconut cream contains plenty of healthy fats to keep you satiated throughout the day.

2. Lemon Tart

Oh my, this one brings back SO MANY memories! As a child, my grandpa baked this gigantic “Mountain Meringue Pie”. It was his “specialty” – and my family would always fight over the biggest slice! YUM! When I was younger, I didn’t really think about what was in each of the desserts that I ate – I loved the taste so much that I didn’t really care! Little did I know, each tart had nearly a full serving of fruit per slice, AND none of them contained much added sugar (there was plenty enough sweetness from the mounds of fruit). This makes tarts the perfect way to finish off any healthy meal. You can easily sneak in a few fresh fruits, vegetables, and nuts/seeds (for healthy fats) to make a delicious dessert that benefits your body! This week, we challenged out young chefs to come up with their own ideas for healthy tarts. I was SO impressed with their ideas, I have to share a few. So, without further ado, here are some of their brilliant ideas (we had many more ideas than just the ones below, so ask your child what they came up with and try it out at home):

  • Dark chocolate tart with sliced strawberries
  • Potato crust with mashed potato filling and garlic spread (savoury)
  • Banana filling with coconut topping
  • Dark chocolate tart with mango slices and coconut topping
  • Tart with layered strawberries, kiwis and banana slices
  • Lemon and strawberry filled tart
  • One of my favourites: Sweet potato tart topped with roasted nuts (or coconut) and dried fruit
Mmmm … lemon tart!

2. Mixed Berry Sorbet

It’s the summer, and we all know what that means: popsicles, ice cream, and frozen sweet treats! At Rooks to Cooks, we LOVE a good frozen dessert to cool us off when we’re cooking in the kitchen, and this mixed berry sorbet is EXACTLY what we crave! The best part? One serving of the sorbet is packed with vitamins and minerals from the frozen mixed berries PLUS you don’t have to add much sugar because the natural sweetness from the fruit is plenty enough to satisfy! Additionally, sorbets are VEGAN! So, if you have any dairy allergies or if you have other dietary solutions, sorbets tend to be a safe bet! If you’re looking to get creative, try out one of these ideas from our young chefs. They’ve come up with some excellent combinations to try with a scoop of sorbet! 

  • Top with dark chocolate, blueberries and toasted whole wheat waffle bits
  • Sandwich between two chewy oatmeal cookies
  • Top with freshly made whipped cream, cinnamon, and a mango-strawberry sauce
  • Serve in a chocolate and coconut dipped whole wheat waffle cone, and top with strawberries and a cherry
  • Serve in a whole wheat waffle cup and top with fresh peaches
  • Serve in a whole wheat waffle bowl and top with banana slices, coconut, and dark chocolate
  • Chef Rebecca: Serve the sorbet in a grilled peach half
  • Chef Kenzie: Serve the sorbet in a dark chocolate balloon cup (make this by simply dipping a blown up balloon into melted chocolate – place on a tray lined with parchment and let set in the fridge for about 10 minutes – pop the balloon carefully and slowly peel it away from the chocolate – now you have a chocolate bowl!), top with bananas, peanut butter, and dark chocolate chunks!

All in all, these three recipes (plus many more in the Rooks to Cooks Budding Bakers Recipe Booklet) are great ways to sneak in a little nutrition, without losing the smiles and the laughter! Having the opportunity to bake with these young chefs this week brought me so much joy and happiness. Watching our chefs learn different baking techniques, practice their decorating skills, and create innovative new dessert ideas was truly inspiring! I hope that our young bakers enjoyed learning about how to incorporate desserts into a healthy and balanced diet, and I hope they feel confident enough to share some of their own ideas with their family and friends. 

Before I go, I’ll sign off with a few final thoughts…

  • Sweet treats are certainly a part of a nutritious diet, and there is no reason to eliminate them from your day-to-day eating routine.
  • If you’re really looking to make more nutritious desserts, try focusing on incorporating fresh fruits, using real ingredients, sticking with healthier oils (like flaxseed or canola), adding in coconut flakes or cacao nibs (or nuts/seeds if there are no allergies in the family), or slightly reducing the amount of sugar in the recipe. TIP: usually reducing the amount of sugar in a recipe by 25% – ex. from 1 cup to ¾ cup – will not change the outcome of the product, and there is unlikely to be a detectable change in the flavour of the treat.
  • Whatever you choose, keep encouraging your young chefs to experiment in the kitchen, make meals from scratch, use fresh ingredients, and most importantly, cook (and eat) for the LOVE and JOY of food!

Stay Tuned: More Bits and Bites coming your way after the Sweet and Savoury Session!!