Contributor: Kenzie Osborne, Sous Chef @ Rooks to Cooks

It may have taken a little longer than we’d hoped, but yes, spring has finally arrived! The flowers are blooming, the sun is shining bright, and of course, our favourite springtime ingredients are popping up in grocery stores and farmer’s markets. There’s nothing quite as exciting as the aromas and tastes of fresh berries, citrus fruits, green vegetables, and herbs. Incorporating these fresh, seasonal ingredients into your meals is sure to take your cooking to the next level. The natural sweetness of spring berries, the bright bursts of flavour from citrus fruits and the comforting aromas of herbs never fail to put a smile on the faces of family and friends. Not to mention, you’ll be fueling your loved ones with plenty of nutrients to power their bodies and improve their health (bonus!). This year, instead of serving up a classic spring salad or a typical jam-and-toast combo, try something a little different to impress your guests (and add a little excitement to your dishes!). This post is all about incorporating springtime ingredients into childhood favourites – in creative ways that BOTH you and your kids will love. Spend a weekend with the kids preparing some of these delicious recipes, then indulge in your goodies while enjoying the warm spring weather.

Our first recipe combines fresh raspberries or strawberries with a classic childhood favourite: grilled cheese – WHAT!? Yes – you read that right… The same ooey-gooey, cheesy goodness of a grilled cheese pairs perfectly with the sweetness of the fresh berries. Together, the cheese and berries combine to form what we like to call “The Ultimate Dessert Grilled Cheese”. It might be unexpected, but trust me when I say, it’s definitely a delicious twist on the traditional meal. All you’ll need a few staple pantry items, some basic culinary skills, a big imagination, and a whole lotta love.

Ooey-Gooey Dessert Grilled Cheese

What you’ll need… (Yield = 1 Sandwich)

  • 2 slices of whole wheat bread
  • 28 grams of gouda cheese (1 ounce) – you can just eyeball this by using enough gouda to cover the slice of bread, at about ½ cm thickness)
  • ¼ cup fresh raspberries or strawberries, halved
  • 1 tbsp. honey or maple syrup
  • ½ tbsp. butter

What you’ll do…

  1. Heat a saute pan over medium heat.
  2. Butter one side of each slice of bread
  3. Place the gouda cheese in between the two slices followed by the fresh raspberries and honey.
  4. Place the sandwich on the saute pan and cook until golden brown. Flip, and cook on the other side until golden brown. TIP: If the bread is browning too quickly, and the cheese isn’t melting, reduce the heat and cook at a lower temperature for a longer period of time.
  5. Slice in half and indulge in the ooey-gooey sweet ‘n salty sandwich!!
  6. TIP: Feeling extra indulgent? Replace the whole wheat bread with a homemade lemon or vanilla pound cake. Use the same stuffing and prepare it in the same way – you’ll get a delicious dessert, that has the same fun ooey-gooey cheesiness as a grilled cheese sandwich. Trust me, this is a gouda one … I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist 😉
  7. Variation: Try an open-faced version! Simply toast a slice of bread or pound cake and top with cheese, berries, and honey. Broil until the cheese is nice and melted and serve up (this way, you can see all the gorgeous colours from the fruit!)

We all love sweet treats, but trust me, there are far more delicious uses for spring fruits than just desserts! There are plenty of savoury dishes you can make with fruit (and no, i’m not talking about those “superfood” salads with strawberry slices on top – we can be a little more creative, right?). Our favourite? A warming plate of “fried curry chicken nuggets” with dried cranberries or raisins and a curry mango sauce – YUM! This recipe takes less than an hour to make, and it’s a perfect way to bond with the kids! They will love the chicken-nugget-inspired dish, and you’ll love the unique sweet and spicy flavours from the curry and fruit!

Fruit ‘N Spice Chicken Bites

What you’ll need… (Yield = 4 Servings)

  • 4 chicken breast, cut into strips
  • ½ cup oat flour (or regular all purpose flour)
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup whole wheat bread crumbs
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • ½ cup dried fruit of choice
  • 1 mango
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • 1 clove garlic
  • ½ onion
  • ¼ cup orange juice
  • 2 tbsp. honey
  • ½ cup chopped nut/seed of choice (optional)

What you’ll do…

  1. Preheat the oven to 425F. Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil.
  2. Prepare 3 separate pans – one with ½ cup flour, one with 2 eggs (whisked), and one with ½ cup whole wheat bread crumbs.
  3. Dredge the chicken strips first in the flour, then in the eggs, and lastly in the whole wheat bread crumbs. Place each strip on the pan with aluminum foil.
  4. Once all of the chicken strips are on the foil, drizzle 2 tbsp. olive oil evenly over top of the strips. Place in the oven for approximately 15 minutes, or until the chicken has reached an internal temperature of 165F.
  5. Meanwhile, place ½ cup dried fruit into a bowl of hot water. Soak for 5 minutes, then strain and season lightly with salt.
  6. For the sauce, blend together 1 mango, 1 tbsp curry powder, 1 clove of garlic, ½ onion, ¼ cup orange juice, and 2 tbsp of honey.
  7. Once blended, place the mango sauce into a saucepan over medium heat. As soon as it starts to boil, reduce the heat to low and keep warm until ready to serve. Just before service, fold in the soaked dried fruit and nuts (if using)
  8. Serve the chicken strips with the sauce. Serve with a few carrots and celery sticks or a freshly made coleslaw for a delicious (and nutritious) weekday meal!

Alright, we’ve discussed a sweet and savoury dish using fruits, but what about all those vegetables? Sure, you can simply roast them with salt and pepper, or make a quick lemon and herb salad – but what about some new and exciting recipes (that the kids will love to eat too)? I think we can all agree that broccoli and Brussels sprouts aren’t exactly something kids beg to have… But, there are SO MANY vitamins and minerals hidden inside these unpopular veggies – and we don’t want to miss out on all the benefits of eating them! Instead of serving your family roasted broccoli and Brussels sprouts (which can sometimes be a little bitter, and a lot boring…), try hiding them in dishes that your kids already love! Try making a bowl of broccoli “fried rice” with crispy chicken or baked meatballs. The broccoli is blended into a rice-consistency, so the kids won’t even know they’re gobbling up a few servings of vegetables! Mix with a sweet-and-salty sauce for an Asian-inspired dish or a classic tomato sauce for an Italian-inspired twist! For Brussels sprouts, try making a quick coleslaw (using shredded Brussels sprouts instead of cabbage). Serve it inside of a sandwich or burger, or even use it to make a healthy (and yummy) filling for spring rolls or Vietnamese summer rolls! Check out the recipes below to share these delicious recipes with your family at home.

Secretly Healthy Tomato Basil Meatballs and “Rice”

What you’ll need… (Yield = 4 Servings)

  • Meatballs…
    • 1 lb lean ground beef
    • 1 tsp. dried basil
    • 1 tsp. dried oregano
    • 1 tsp. garlic powder
    • 1 tsp. onion powder
    • ½ tsp. each salt and pepper
  • Broccoli “Rice” With Tomato Sauce…
    • 1 head of broccoli
    • 2 tbsp. olive oil
    • 1 onion, finely diced
    • 2 cloves garlic, minced
    • 1 can (796mL) of diced tomatoes
    • 1.5 tsp. dried basil
    • 1.5 tsp. dried oregano
    • Salt and pepper, to taste
    • 2 fresh roma tomatoes, diced

What you’ll do…

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F
  2. In a medium bowl, mix together ground beef, basil, oregano, garlic powder, onion powder, and salt and pepper.
  3. Form meatballs (approximately 1.5 tbsp. of the mixture per meatball), and place on a sheet pan lined with aluminum foil.
  4. Bake in the oven until cooked through (approximately 20 minutes). A meat thermometer should read at least 160F.
  5. While the meatballs are baking, pulse the broccoli in a food processor until it reaches the size of rice granules. TIP: Do not over pulse, or the broccoli will become too mushy (better to be slightly bigger pieces than a lump of mush!)
  6. Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Add the broccoli and cook until softened. Season lightly with salt and pepper, and set aside.
  7. Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute until onions are translucent.
  8. Add canned diced tomatoes, basil, and oregano. Simmer for 5 minutes, then reduce heat to low. Season with salt and pepper to your liking. Once the meatballs are finished baking, add them to the sauce and stir until the meatballs are coated in the sauce.
  9. To serve, portion ¼ of the broccoli “rice” onto a plate. Top with ¼ of the tomato sauce, and meatballs. Top with freshly grated parmesan cheese or nut/seed of choice (if desired). TIP: You can do the exact same recipe with cauliflower instead of broccoli, or double it up and use a bit of both – YUM!

Coleslaw Summer Rolls with Tangy Greek Yogurt Sauce

What you’ll need… (Yield = 8 Summer Rolls)

  • 2 cups Brussels sprouts, shredded
  • 1 red pepper, julienne
  • 1 large carrot, julienne
  • 1 green apple, julienne
  • ¾ cup Greek yogurt
  • 2 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tbsp. honey
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Nut or seed of choice (optional)
  • Rice paper

What you’ll do…

  1. In a medium bowl, toss together the Brussels sprouts, red pepper, carrot, and green apple.
  2. In a small bowl, mix together Greek yogurt, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, and honey. Taste test, and add salt and pepper to your liking!
  3. Mix together the vegetables with the Greek yogurt sauce, until the sauce is dispersed evenly. If you are adding a nut or seed, mix it in now (about ¼ to ½ cup of chopped nuts or small seeds is good!)
  4. Dip one sheet of rice paper in room temperature water (just for a few seconds to soften – if you leave it in too long, it will just fall apart!).
  5. Lay the damp sheet of rice paper on a clean table. Place approximately ½ cup of the vegetables close to the edge of the paper. Roll as if you were forming a burrito, and place on a clean tray to dry. Feeling fancy? Make little “packets” (as pictured above) instead of rolls! Place the filling in the middle of one piece of rice paper and form a packet. Cut another sheet of rice paper into small strips and use one of the strips to tie/secure the packet together.
  6. Serve with extra Greek yogurt sauce and extra nuts/seeds (if using). ENJOY!

There you have it – four new, exciting recipes to treat your family with this spring. These recipes are healthy, quick, easy, and are a perfect way to make memories with the family! Whether you choose to make dessert grilled cheese, sweet curry chicken nuggets, broccoli “fried rice”, or Brussels sprout coleslaw spring rolls – each recipe is sure to bring a healthy dose of nutrition and a whole lotta smiles! In order to get the most nutrients, focus on using fresh, seasonal ingredients. Take a trip to a local market or farm to find sweet deals on seasonal produce. Having troubles finding good deals? Opt for frozen fruits and vegetables – they’re generally lower in price, but they still offer a good amount of nutrients, and they’re easy to use when cooking! Either way, cooking with fresh or frozen foods from scratch is a perfect way to bond with the kids, promote healthy eating, and build family traditions.

Before you get started on your cooking, I’ll leave you with one last thought. These recipes are just starting points – so feel free to experiment and add your own unique flare to the dish! If you have a special family tomato sauce that you want to mix with your broccoli “fried rice”, or if you love the idea of adding lemon and blueberries instead of raspberries in the dessert grilled cheese – go for it! The kitchen is the perfect place to experiment! Have fun creating new and exciting flavour combinations with friends and family and have even more fun tasting all your new dishes. With that being said, go on, get out there, and start cooking! Enjoy <3

About Kenzie Osborne: Kenzie is a student in the George Brown Culinary Nutrition program who is dedicated to developing healthy recipes that families can easily incorporate into their busy schedules. For Summer 2019, Kenzie will be working at Rooks to Cooks as a cooking instructor at the East York Danforth Camp location. She has previously worked as an assistant student researcher to create, write, and test recipes that are healthy, kid-friendly, and budget-friendly. She loves promoting health and nutrition, and hopes to encourage families to spend more time bonding in the kitchen and cooking up some delicious, nutritious treats! If you want to learn a little more about Kenzie, check out her blog at https://thrivingonnature.wordpress.com