Celebrating Chinese New Year!

Special Contribution By: Chef Taylor Lewis, Camp Director at Rooks to Cooks

Happy New Year everyone!

As we are now three weeks into a new decade, this is a great time to reflect on traditions we want to carry forward into the next 10 years and beyond. For those of us who follow the lunar calendar, the lunar new year is just around the corner, falling on January 25th this year, making this a time for celebrations!

Lunar new year, sometimes also referred to as Chinese New Year is widely celebrated throughout China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Mongolia and Tibet. The exact day that the celebration begins depends on the first New Moon that takes place between January 21st and February 20th. With the celebrations to welcome in the new year comes many traditions and customs which are carried out for 16 days following the new year leading into the Spring Lantern Festival.

On the evening before Chinese New Year, it is a tradition for families to gather together and share a meal. This dinner is considered one of the most important meals of the whole year, and everyone is expected to join in! Every dish that is served during Chinese New Year has a special significance which varies from region to region, but there are some plates no Chinese New Year dinner would be complete without.

In Chinese, the word for fish sounds like the word for surplus, which is usually represented by serving steamed fish. It’s important to serve the fish as the last dish on Chinese New Year, and have a little leftover to represent the surplus the family carries into the new year.

Dumplings and spring rolls are said to bring wealth to the family, while noodles are served to welcome happiness and prosperity. My favourite legend says that the more dumplings you enjoy, the more wealth you’ll gain in the new year, which is a message I fully stand behind!

While my family does not always celebrate Chinese New Year, and my Chinese father may no longer hand me the small red envelopes filled with money for good fortune, my passion for this part of my heritage has grown stronger over the years. The month of January represents many things to different families, can be both a new start and a time for reflection on the year that has passed. Whether you celebrate the Lunar New Year or not, there’s no better way to welcome the future and honour the past than sharing a meal with loved ones.

I know you will enjoy my favourite Dumpling Recipe. Try this recipe as a family; there are lots of different steps to involve children of all ages!

Chef Taylor’s Recipe for Jiaozi (pork dumplings)

Yield: 20 dumplings


  • 100g green cabbage, grated 
  • 30g carrots, grated
  • 110g ground pork or beef 
  • 1 green onion, finely chopped (10g) 
  • 10 g of chives, finely chopped 
  • 4g ginger, minced 
  • ¼ tsp  ground pepper 
  • ½ tsp salt 
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • ½ egg (25g) 
  • 20 round dumpling skins 



  1. Put the green cabbage and carrots in a food processor. Pulse until fine and well combined. Remove from food processor and place in a medium bowl. Squeeze any excess water from the vegetables with your hands into a small bowl.  
  2. In a medium non-stick pan, heat half the cooking oil over medium heat. Saute the ginger for 1 minute, until very fragrant. To the ginger, add the ground pork and sauté for 5 minutes until cooked through. To the pork, add pulsed vegetables and cook for another 5 minutes. Remove filling from heat. Once slightly warm, add egg, salt & pepper,sugar chives and green onion. 

Assemble dumplings: 

  1. Now assemble dumplings as shown by chef. Wet one edge of the dumpling wrapper, and place a spoonful of filling in the middle. Fold the round wrapper in half, and pinch the centre point together. Fold the ends in, creating a pleat on each side and pinch to seal. Make sure there are no holes. At the end, your dumpling should have a flat bottom – this is important to frying the dumplings so they have a crispy texture on one side.

Fry the dumplings: 

  1. Coat a frying pan with oil and heat over high heat. Place in the dumplings, carefully making sure not to splash the oil. When the bottom becomes golden brown, pour in water (approximately ½ cup or just enough to coat ⅓ of the dumplings). Cover the pan with a lid immediately. Uncover when the water evaporates completely, about 3-5 minutes. 

Chef’s tip: These dumplings can also be enjoyed steamed or boiled! Try preparing them different ways at home to find your favourite way to eat them. 


New Year to Learn and Grow!

The new year is upon us and we feel inspired to explore new learning opportunities or make changes to our lifestyle. Whether we create resolutions or set goals for the coming year, it’s a lot easier to make small changes to stay on track. For example, if you choose to eat healthier and cook your meals from scratch, then start small and make simple tweaks to your daily routine to be successful. We always encourage parents to cook as a family and get everyone involved at any age.

Learning to cook and prepare meals is an important skill for all kids to possess. We know that it helps them build confidence, self-esteem, and become more independent. It also fosters stronger relationships with family and helps children learn about nutrition and gain an appreciation for healthy eating.

Daily meal preparation has many steps and children can be involved at all stages. Check out our TIPS and try using some or all of these suggestions at your home this year! Be sure to start small and talk to your kids about how they can help in the kitchen.


1. Communication is key! Have a family meeting and get your kids on-board with the plan. Talk to them about the importance of learning to cook and how they can assist with meal preparation. Encourage children to discuss how they would like to help out and then you can work on assigning daily responsibilities. A family functions best when everyone works together and everyone contributes. Use the time in the kitchen to learn new skills, share and build strong relationships with family members.

2. Plan your meals as a family. What’s on the menu this week? Why not sit down with your kids and find out what they like to eat and search for some great recipes to try. When your kids are involved in meal planning, it gets them interested in the food they eat (which helps tremendously with picky eaters) and sparks excitement in the cooking process. For example, ask your kids to grab a favourite cookbook or search online for a dish that they would like to try. Create your shopping list and then take them shopping! A trip to the grocery store is a great way to teach them how to pick out your food and perhaps find some new and interesting produce to try!

3. Try the Duty or Chore Wheel! We love the idea of including children in all aspects of the cooking process. The Duty Wheel enables you to assign kid-friendly duties to help with meal preparation. You can spend quality time together in the kitchen while getting your little ones to help with many low risk cooking activities. Depending on the age of your children, you can create a wheel with all family members and a list of kitchen duties. Turn the wheel daily or weekly so that everyone is responsible for a different activity. Here are some examples of key duties that your children can help with; and then feel free to create a more specific list that works best for your family members:

  • Prep work: wash produce, measure, pour, whisk or stir.
  • Set the table and pour water glasses: a task for little ones that gets them involved in the family meal.
  • Clear off the table and load / unload dishwasher: children learn that cleaning is part of the cooking process.
  • Wash the dishes that do not go in the dishwasher; clean countertops and stovetops.
  • Get all your leftovers packed up and pack lunches.

NOTE: There are several versions of the Duty or Chore Wheel available Online to download and print for your household. For example: https://www.rewardcharts4kids.com/chore-wheel/

4. Establish the “Cook or Clean” Rule. As we all know, cleaning up is part of the cooking process. We think that the “Cook or Clean” Rule is another great way to educate kids about the entire cooking process. You can teach them responsibility by asking them to help clean up spills and messes made while cooking. And there is also the task of putting food items back in the fridge or in the cupboards after we are finished using different ingredients. Ask your children which cooking or cleaning duties they would like to help with and that way they can feel involved and responsible for part of the meal preparation process. If you cook, then you don’t clean and vice versa.

5. Teach Safety! Be sure to explain to children that the kitchen is a place with potential danger, from sharp knives and utensils to hot ovens and stoves. By introducing your children to the kitchen you have the opportunity to teach them about safety. Remember to always supervise in the kitchen. Younger children can do tasks that do not involve knives or the stove, such as measuring, stirring, whisking, and washing. Older children should be taught the proper way to use knives and electrical appliances; under parental guidance. This is also a good time to teach about hygiene in the kitchen. Ensure that everyone washes their hands and anyone with long hair pulls it back in a hair tie. Children are always watching, so be a good role model in the kitchen.

6. Inspire discussions about food at the dinner table. Sitting together and eating as a family is a great time to talk about the food you are eating. What do you like or dislike? And talk about the ingredients and seasonings. You can teach kids about healthy food choices, the correct serving size and show them that healthy food can be delicious. This dialogue not only helps your children develop a greater understanding of food and cooking, but by sharing positive feedback and perspectives of the meal, picker eaters may want to join in both the discussion and the consumption of the meal.

We hope that you can incorporate some of these small changes into your lifestyle in the new year. Although change is not an easy task, we know that there are so many benefits when you get your kids helping out in the kitchen. We are confident that even small changes will bring your family together and teach children many valuable skills, such as responsibility and independence, and it may lessen the load on parents too!

Meet our new Camp Director – Chef Taylor Lewis

We are super thrilled to announce the addition of Chef Taylor to the Rooks to Cooks family. Chef Taylor steps into the important role of Camp Director and will be working alongside our dedicated head office team. Taylor has been busy cooking up some amazing programming for the year ahead! We recently had the pleasure of interviewing Chef Taylor and we are sharing our Q&A below.

Interview with Chef Taylor:

  1. What’s your background and how did your career path lead to Camp Director at Rooks to Cooks?

Chef Taylor: I’ve always been passionate about food and I could always be found in the kitchen when I was younger. Beyond food, one of my other passions that I discovered in high school was teaching. I pursued any opportunity I could to work with kids, both in and out of the classroom. I tutored, worked at camps, did my co-op with a local music class and even taught ESL to international students. After high school, I attended Queen’s University and earned a degree in French Linguistics and Psychology. Following that, I was all set to go to teacher’s college until my love of food drove me towards a change and I enrolled in a culinary program at George Brown College. Once I stepped foot into my first culinary lab at George Brown, I was hooked. I jumped headfirst until all things cooking! Since that first day of culinary school, I’ve worked for catering companies, bakeries, restaurants and even teaching private cooking lessons in my spare time. It was the private lessons that inspired me to find a way to combine my love of education and cooking, and that led me to Rooks to Cooks. After one summer of working as a Lead Chef at our Annex location, I knew that I had found a job more inspiring than anything I had ever done before. Becoming the Camp Director at Rooks to Cooks is my dream job and I couldn’t have imagined a position that fits more perfectly with all my past experiences teaching and cooking.

  1. What are you most excited about for Rooks to Cooks this year?

Chef Taylor: This year, I’m most excited about our new PA day camps. We’ve designed these new programs so that we can keep cooking together all year long. Each day has its own set of recipes inspired by the time of year, and featuring seasonal produce. I can’t wait to share these new dishes with our Rooks to Cooks’ families!

  1. Tell us about your vision and how you will bring your personal touch to Rooks to Cooks?

Chef Taylor: My vision for Rooks to Cooks is to inspire youth to get cooking, and share their love of food with their friends and families. Cooking is a valuable life skill that is meant to be shared with others, whether that’s making someone’s favourite pasta for dinner or a cake for a celebration. By inspiring and empowering kids to make their own meals, they build confidence and find themselves ready to take on new challenges, like feeding their loved ones. My own passion for food comes from my family traditions of gathering together around a table to share a meal, and this is my main motivation behind all my cooking. The best recipes and meals are always the ones that we enjoy with others.

  1. What’s your favourite part of the job?

Chef Taylor: My favourite part of the job is getting to meet all the children enrolled in our programs. So much dedication and hard work goes into designing these programs and recipes, and getting to cook these recipes with our students is the greatest reward. I’m constantly amazed at the amount of growth that the kids in our programs demonstrate after just a few days of cooking their own meals. This kind of empowerment is something special, and I’m absolutely honoured to get to be a part of it.

  1. What’s your favorite Cooking Show on TV and why?

Chef Taylor: My absolute favourite cooking show is Good Eats with Alton Brown, which is making a comeback after a long hiatus! I watched the show a lot when I was younger, and it really taught me about food. Alton Brown goes in-depth into the science behind cooking and baking, how flavour combinations work and how chemistry is responsible for fluffy cakes and beautifully risen breads.

  1. If you could have dinner with any famous person from any time in history, who would you choose and why?

Chef Taylor: I would love to have dinner with Julia Child and cook with her out of her book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. She revolutionized the world of cookbooks and expanded home cooks recipe repertoires to include French classics like coq au vin and boeuf bourguignon. I’d love to fill a table with her creations, served with a generous side of bread and butter and simply declare Bon Appétit!

If you would like to reach Chef Taylor, please feel free to send her an email anytime!

Email: cheftaylor@rookstocooks.ca

On Oct. 1 – Let’s Celebrate World Vegetarian Day!

#WorldVegetarianDay originated back in 1977. It’s a great way to raise awareness about the benefits of a plant-based diet. Even if you’re not a vegetarian, try it for a day. Prepare a vegetarian meal for family or friends!

Canada’s Food Guide recommends half your plate should be vegetables and fruits. Include them throughout the day in meals and snacks. Choose different coloured vegetables and textures to fit your taste. And remember that some of the freshest and most delicious vegetables and fruits can be found at your local farmer’s market.

Why not give Chef Shai’s delicious Greek Salad recipe a try?

Rooks to Cooks’ Greek Salad Dressing

Yield: 4 servings


  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 medium lemon juiced
  • 1 shallot, finely diced 
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 Tbsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp honey
  • Salt & Pepper to taste


  • Whisk all ingredients together.

Rooks to Cooks’ Signature Rustic Greek Salad

Yield: 4 Servings


  • 2 vine-ripened tomatoes cut into 8 wedges
  • ½  English cucumber cut on a bias
  • ½ red onion, sliced
  • Up to 200 grams crumbled feta
  • Rooks to Cooks’ Greek salad dressing recipe
  • Optional: 1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted


  • Mix all the contents of salad together in a bowl. Pour salad dressing over the vegetables and toss lightly. Let sit for about 30 minutes and serve. ENJOY!

Happy National Cooking Day! Here’s why we need to get cooking with our kids on #nationalcookingday

By Chef Shai Mandel

Today, let’s celebrate the importance of cooking! Teaching kids to cook is my passion and I have had the privilege of working with thousands of children in our cooking camps, school programs and workshops. I know it can feel daunting to take on the task of teaching your kids to cook, but there are so many valuable skills to be learned in the kitchen!! At Rooks to Cooks we have your recipe for success and here are my Top 5 Reasons to Get Cooking with your kids

  1. Learn about Food and Nutrition together. Cooking from scratch teaches children about the food that we eat. Go grocery shopping and spend time picking out your produce and planning your meals. When you’re cooking show them different examples of the key food groups that we need to fuel our bodies. Talk to them about how they should fill half their plate with fruits and veggies that have nutrients that will help their bodies grow. The other half should be whole grains and lean protein that gives them energy for all the activities they do all day long. Since parents and instructors can be a big influence on children, it is important for us to share our knowledge and teach them how to make healthy choices.

2. Expand their palate and an appreciation for different foods. Variety means exposing children to different cuisines and preparation methods. Many of our cooking programs introduce kids to new spices and foods that they may not have tried before. Through tasting, hearing, touching, smelling and seeing, children will be exposed to different ingredients and food combinations – some they will like and some they won’t but that’s okay. When we encourage children to smell and taste various types of foods and flavours it enables them to experiment and find something new to add to their repertoire. 

I dined at Rooks to Cooks’ pop-up restaurant, the  Chef’s Platter. … I felt like I walked into an episode of MasterChef and it was glorious.” ~ Monica Wong, blogger, foodie2luv.com

3. Emotional development. Hands-on cooking activities help children develop confidence and skills so that they can learn to make meals for themselves. Following recipes encourages children to be more independent and develop a positive self-image. It also teaches them to follow directions and work on their problem-solving skills. Remember to have fun with the children when they are experimenting with cooking and then they will learn about the joy of cooking, eating and sharing their delicious creations!

From a kid’s perspective: “I think that what resonated with them was the fact that they were given a tremendous amount of responsibility right from the moment they arrived.~ Mala Joshi, parent and blogger, unpackingthemeal.com

These cooking camps really created true friendships, along with a sense of accomplishment and a newfound sense of confidence. I wish more parents knew about this kids cooking summer camp.” ~ Monica Wong, blogger, foodie2luv.com

4. Teamwork and Communication Skills. Working together in the kitchen will give kids a sense of sharing and cooperation. They feel like they are contributing to the family and helping with meal prep and cleaning up, everything from washing vegetables to setting the table. Team building is also about learning how to voice your opinions, listening to others and practicing being a leader. Children learn to work as part of a team and use effective communication skills to achieve the finished product – a delicious home-cooked meal!

These campers ages 8-12 showed real talent in the kitchen and picked up important life skills like teamwork and communication – in just one week!” ~ Monica Wong, blogger foodie2luv.com

5. Safety in the Kitchen. As parents and teachers we must take the time to explain and demonstrate the correct method to use kitchen tools or appliances when working in the kitchen. As you work through a recipe together, be sure to identify the steps that your children are able to do based on their age and maturity level. Our chef instructors fully supervise your children and determine their readiness for various cooking skills. Because each child learns at their own speed, we will assist them, as needed, to work on their specific goals. Similarly, parents can provide children with different opportunities in the kitchen and build on their successes.

Parent perspective: “... they gained a level of culinary confidence that continues to translate at home. They can confidently operate a gas stove, chop vegetables, use a scale to prepare ingredients, follow recipes, and also understand the importance of mis en place.” ~ Mala Joshi, parent and blogger, unpackingthemeal.com


Thank you to parent and blogger, Mala Joshi, for her 5/5 rating of our summer cooking camps! To read the full Cooking Camp Review please follow the link below: https://unpackingthemeal.com/cooking-camp-review-rooks-to-cooks/

Thank you also to foodie and blogger, Monica Wong for joining us at our pop-up restaurant! To read her full Review please follow the link below: https://foodie2luv.com/2019/09/01/kids-cooking-camp-rooks-to-cooks/

Check out our great Family Recipe! Try it today 🙂

Rainbow Soba Noodle Salad

Yield: 2 Servings


For the salad:

  • 130g soba noodles
  • 50g julienned carrots 
  • 75g shredded red cabbage
  • 75g cooked edamame
  • 30g thinly sliced green onion
  • 20g toasted sesame seeds 

For the dressing:

  • 25ml tamari 
  • 35ml lime juice
  • 25ml tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 20ml honey
  • 1 garlic clove, minced (3 g)
  • 10ml tahini
  • 10g ginger, minced
  • 3g sriracha


  1. Whisk dressing ingredients together in a bowl. 
  2. Cook soba noodles until al dente. Drain in a colander and rinse with cold water. Drizzle sesame oil over top and toss so that they do not stick together. 
  3. Combine all the salad ingredients together. 
  4. Pour dressing over salad and toss. Add salt and pepper to taste. 
  5. Enjoy!

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 


  • 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 


  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 


  • 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 


  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