‘Little Critics’: Canadian Celebrity Chefs Share Their Favourite Kid-Friendly Recipes
Chef Lora Kirk and her daughters enjoying brownies with cream cheese frosting and rainbow sprinkles. Photo: Dominique Lafond
“You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I’m not hungry enough to eat six” —Yogi Berra
As many parents and grandparents are painfully aware, winning the “Kid-Approved” prize is no easy feat, especially when it comes to meal time when, all too often, the dinner table becomes a battlefield.
But that’s where the new cookbook Little Critics from food editor Joanna Fox comes in.
In the book, Fox reflects on how her three-year-old son suddenly went off his food. “Everything was ‘no’ or ‘ugh’ or ‘yuck,’ and all my usual go-tos were rejected, one by one,” she writes. “Eggs, pasta, chicken, cheese, fish, rice, vegetables, mashed potatoes, even french fries — nothing would stick.”
It was then that Fox had her eureka moment. She had a lot of friends who were chefs, a few of them with kids, possibly as picky as hers. What did they feed their children?
So she asked some of Canada’s best culinary minds for their favourite kid-friendly dishes. Canvassing chefs from coast to coast to coast, she began collecting recipes, as well as insider tips to please some of the smallest, but toughest culinary critics.
And while she was at it, “I also wanted to create a cookbook that would help teach children and parents about the diversity of our country and its people, and how rich and amazing our food culture really is. What better way to understand what Canada is today than through the lens of its many different recipes and culinary traditions?”
Here, we serve up some mouth-watering recipes from the book including legendary chef Susur Lee’s favourite childhood chicken, Billy Alexander’s frybread stuffed pizza, Suzanne Barr’s cheesy cauliflower bake, and last but not least, Lora Kirk’s brownies with cream cheese frosting.
These dishes may have been created with kids in mind, but there’s little doubt that grownups will be coming back for seconds as well.
Susur Lee: My Favourite Childhood Chicken
I love this recipe because it reminds me of growing up and eating street food in Hong Kong. It’s easy enough to make with your kids, or for them, after a long day. The recipe fuses a variety of cultures and lends itself well to one of the most versatile proteins in the world. My kids and their friends loved it growing up. Sometimes, when I’m feeling nostalgic, I make it just for my wife and me.
Prep Time: 10 minutes + marinating
Cook Time: 20 minutes
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into fingers or bite-sized pieces
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
¼ tsp Chinese five spice
¼ cup olive oil
3 tbsp cornstarch
¼ cup chicken stock
2 tbsp ketchup
1 tbsp soy sauce
Crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
- In a medium bowl, combine the chicken pieces with the ginger and five spice and let marinate in the fridge for at least 30 minutes and up to 3 hours.
- In a medium frying pan over medium heat, heat the oil.
- Working in batches, dust the chicken pieces with the cornstarch, shaking off the excess, and fry in the oil until crispy, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. Repeat until all the chicken pieces are fried.
- In a small bowl, combine the stock, ketchup, and soy sauce, adjusting to taste. A little crushed red pepper flakes can also be added, if desired.
- Pour the sauce over the chicken, or into a bowl to serve on the side, and serve with rice or your favourite side dish.
Billy Alexander: Frybread Stuffed Pizza
My daughter and I have a lot of fun together making this pizza from scratch, and it gives us time to bond. I get to observe her as she goes through each step of the recipe with me, and I’m constantly surprised and fascinated by how incredibly complex and astute this little person is. You can learn a lot about a person by just watching how they handle themselves in the kitchen. It also makes me happy that she likes frybread versus the typical pizza dough. I try to fold some of our Indigenous roots into whatever we make at home.
Makes: 6 to 8 Pizza Pockets
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 24 to 32 minutes
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tbsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1½ cups warm water
2 cups pizza sauce
40 pieces mini pepperoni
454 g (1 lb) mozzarella, shredded
3 cups vegetable oil
- In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt and mix until combined. Make a small well in the middle of the flour mixture and add the warm water. Gently fold the flour mixture into the water, using a light touch, until the dough is completely homogeneous. Do not overmix the dough, as this will make it dense and heavy.
- Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface and lightly knead it. Divide it into six to eight pieces, depending on the size you want. Roll each piece into a circle ¼-inch thick and make a small depression using your thumb in the centre of each.
- Spread some pizza sauce over the surface of each circle. Add some pepperoni, about five to six pieces for each, and a small mound of mozzarella. Fold over one edge of the dough overtop of the filling and seal the edges together.
- In a large cast-iron skillet, heat the oil until it reaches 350 F. Working in batches, carefully transfer the frybread to the oil and fry until each side is puffed up and golden, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer the frybreads to a paper-towel-lined plate to absorb excess oil, then keep warm on a baking sheet in the oven at 250 F. Continue frying the remaining breads.
- Serve whole or cut in halves with any extra pizza sauce for dipping. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.
Suzanne Barr: Cauliflower Cheese Bake
This is my go-to for the whole family when I don’t have a lot of time but still want to serve something substantial, and itis the epitome of comfort food. As a chef and mother, I try to tweak hearty classics to make them healthier without losing any of the yum factor. My son Myles has no idea that this cheesy fave has cauliﬂower in it, and I’m okay with that. I like using panko breadcrumbs to sprinkle on top — he loves that crunchy component before digging into the cheesy, gooey goodness.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 50 minutes
1½ heads cauliflower 2 tbsp olive oil
½ cup medium-diced white onion
½ cup medium-diced carrot
¼ tsp salt, plus more to taste
3 cups vegetable stock
3 cups shredded sharp cheddar
½ cup coconut milk
½ tsp apple cider vinegar
½ tsp Dijon mustard
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
2 cups panko breadcrumbs
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tsp pepper, plus more to taste
- Roughly chop the ½ head cauliflower and set aside.
- In a large pot over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Add the onions, carrots, and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and translucent, about 5 to 7 minutes.
- Add the chopped cauliflower and stock and increase the heat to high. Cover the pot and let cook, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is soft, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the heat.
- Meanwhile, cut the remaining whole cauliflower into ¼-inch-thick slices and place the slices in a casserole dish.
- Preheat the oven to 375 F.
- Carefully blend the cauliflower soup in the pot using a blender. It will be hot, so use caution. Once it is smooth, return it to the pot and place over medium heat. Once it begins to simmer, add 2 cups of the cheddar and whisk until smooth and creamy. Remove the pot from the heat and add the coconut milk, vinegar, mustard, nutmeg, and cayenne. Whisk to combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed.
- Pour enough sauce over the prepared cauliflower slices to thoroughly cover them. You might not need all the sauce. Any excess can be served as a soup or frozen for up to 3 months.
- In a medium bowl, combine the panko, remaining 1 cup of cheddar, the parsley, and pepper and toss until well mixed. Sprinkle over the cauliflower and bake until the sauce is bubbly and the top is crispy and golden brown, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Lora Kirk: Brownies with Cream Cheese Frosting & Rainbow Sprinkles
My girls’ favourite recipe, hands down, is for these brownies with cream cheese frosting and rainbow sprinkles. I mean, c’mon, what’s not to love?
Makes: 12 brownies
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
340 g (12 oz) dark chocolate, chopped
1¼ cups butter, plus more for pan
1¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
⅓ cup cocoa powder
½ tsp salt
2½ cups sugar
1½ tbsp vanilla
1 cup milk chocolate chips
½ cup cream cheese
2 tbsp butter
2 cups icing sugar
¼ cup rainbow sprinkles
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter and flour a 9 × 13-inch baking pan. Set aside.
- In a medium heatproof bowl, add the chocolate and butter. Place the bowl over a small pot of simmering water and stir occasionally until the chocolate is melted. Remove from the heat and let cool.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, and salt, until well mixed. Set aside.
- Once the chocolate mixture has cooled, add to it the sugar, eggs, and vanilla and mix until combined. Fold the flour mixture into the chocolate mixture, followed by the chocolate chips.
- Transfer the batter to the prepared baking pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the pan comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.
- Combine the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or use an electric mixer) and beat until creamy and smooth. With the mixer on low, gradually add the icing sugar until completely combined.
- Once the brownies are cool, frost the top with the icing and decorate with rainbow sprinkles. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week, or the freezer for up to 1 month.
Excerpted from Little Critics: What Canadian Chefs Cook for Kids (and Kids Will Actually Eat) by Joanna Fox. Foreword by Frederic Morin. Copyright © 2022 Joanna Fox. Photography by Dominique Lafond. Photos on pages, 30, 31, 88, 89, 91, 124, 125, 212, 213, 220, 221, 237, 248, 253, 254, 255, and 256 by Maya Visnyei; and on pages 60, 61, 84, and 253 by Viranlly Liemena. Book Design by Talia Abramson. Published by Appetite by Random House, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.