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One-Bite Wonders

Polenta Bites

Kids can use mini-cookie cutters to create whimsical shapes. Try them with dips, store-bought pesto, soft cheese spread, or warm pizza sauce.

prep time: 10 Minutes
cooking time: About 30 Minutes
chilling time: At least 1 Hour
yield: 32 Pieces

* 1 cup yellow cornmeal
* ½ tsp salt, or more to taste
* 2 Tbs butter
* 1 to 2 Tbs olive oil

1. Lightly grease a 13-by 9-by 2-inch baking pan or dish. Stir cornmeal and 1 cup cold water in a medium bowl until blended to a thick paste.

2. In a large saucepan, bring 2¾ cups water and the salt to a boil. Stir in the cornmeal paste and return to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the polenta thickens enough to hold the trail of a spoon, 8 to 10 minutes. (It should resemble soft mashed potatoes.)

3. Remove polenta from heat and add the butter, stirring until melted. Working quickly, pour the polenta into the prepared baking pan and spread it evenly with a spatula. Let it cool, then cover pan and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or until the polenta is chilled through and firm.

4. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Press small cookie cutters into the pan of chilled polenta to cut out shapes. Use spatula to transfer the shapes to a lightly oiled nonstick baking pan. With a pastry brush or a small, clean paintbrush, paint the top and sides of each shape with the olive oil. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the polenta shapes are lightly browned, crispy around the edges, and soft inside. Serve warm.

How kids can help Measure the ingredients; grease the baking dish; stir cornmeal and water; press out shapes and transfer to baking pan; brush olive oil on polenta shapes.

Per serving (4 pieces): 132 calories, 6.8 g fat (3.2 g saturated), 292 mg sodium, 12.4 mg cholesterol.

Tortellini Skewers

For variety, make an assortment of colored tortellini with different fillings. Kids will get a kick out of sliding the pieces onto the skewers; for very young children, snap off the sharp end of each skewer beforehand.

prep time: 5 Minutes
cooking time: About 25 Minutes
yield: 16 Skewers

* 10-oz package refrigerated tortellini
* 1 cup 1-inch pieces of red and yellow pepper
* Sixteen 10-inch bamboo skewers
* 1 to 2 Tbs olive oil
* 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese

1. Cook the tortellini according to the package directions; drain, and then let them cool to room temperature. Thread 3 of the cooked tortellini and 3 pieces of pepper onto each skewer, alternating pieces and colors.

2. On a plate or cutting board, use a pastry brush or a small, clean paintbrush to brush each tortellini lightly with olive oil.

3. Sprinkle parmesan cheese over each skewer (hold it over a bowl to catch any cheese that doesn't stick). Arrange the finished skewers on a platter and serve.

How kids can help All steps except the cooking and draining of tortellini.

Per serving (1 skewer): 68 calories, 2.6 g fat (1 g saturated), 121 mg sodium, 11 mg cholesterol.

Spinach Pockets

These tasty foldovers are inspired by spanakopita, phyllo-wrapped spinach pies that are a Greek favorite. Our kid testers especially loved mashing the cheese and squeezing the spinach.

prep time: 30 Minutes
baking time: About 10 Minutes
yield: 32 Pockets

* Two 15-oz boxes refrigerated 9-inch pie crusts (2 crusts per box)
* ½ lb feta cheese
* 10-oz box frozen chopped spinach, thawed
* 1 egg, slightly beaten
* ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
* Salt and freshly ground black pepper
* Flour for dusting work surface

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Remove pie crusts from packages and set out to bring to room temperature.

2. Crumble the feta cheese into a medium bowl and mash with a fork. Over a large bowl, squeeze the liquid from small handfuls of the thawed spinach. As each handful is squeezed dry, toss it into the bowl with the cheese. Pour out the spinach liquid.

3. Add egg, parsley, salt, and pepper and stir until well mixed.

4. Carefully unfold a pie crust onto a lightly floured surface. Press out any fold lines with your fingers. Using a 2½-to 3-inch round cookie cutter (or the rim of a juice glass), cut the pastry into circles. (Start at the outer edge of the crust and work toward the center to maximize the number of rounds.) Repeat with the other crusts, discarding scraps.

5. To form a pocket, place 1½ teaspoons of filling on one half of a pastry round. Fold the other half over to make a half circle. Press the tines of a fork along the curved edge to crimp and seal the pocket. Repeat to fill and fold all pockets.

6. Place pockets on a nonstick baking sheet and prick tops with a fork to vent. Bake for 10 minutes, or until lightly browned. Serve warm or at room temperature.How kids can help All steps except those that involve heat.

Per serving (1 pocket): 104 calories, 6.9 g fat (1.9 g saturated), 190 mg sodium, 13 mg cholesterol.

Spud Babies

Pick potatoes that are all about the size of a Ping-Pong ball so that they finish cooking at the same time.

prep time: 5 Minutes
cooking time: About 45 Minutes
yield: 32 Pieces

* 16 small red, Yukon gold, or new potatoes, unpeeled (about 2½ lbs)
* 1 Tbs vegetable oil
* 1/3 cup ricotta cheese
* 1 egg white
* 2/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese
* ½ cup finely chopped smoked ham
* 1 Tbs finely chopped fresh or 1 tsp dried chives (optional)
* ¼ tsp salt, or more to taste
* Freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Rub the potatoes with the oil and place on a baking sheet. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, or until just tender. Cool to room temperature.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the ricotta and the egg white until smooth. Stir in the remaining ingredients and mix well.

3. Slice each potato in half. With a serrated citrus spoon or a slightly pointed teaspoon, scoop out a little of the flesh in each potato half. If the potato halves don't sit level, slice a tiny sliver off the bottom so they stand upright.

4. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Use a teaspoon to mound the ham-and-cheese mixture into the scooped-out potato halves. Place the filled potatoes on an ungreased baking sheet and bake for 12 to 18 minutes, or until hot and just beginning to brown on top.

How kids can help Measure and mix ingredients; scoop out potatoes and fill them.

Per serving (2 halves): 108 calories, 1.8 g fat (0.6 g saturated), 103 mg sodium, 5 mg cholesterol.

Fruit Bundles

Precut wonton wrappers (in the refrigerated section of the supermarket) make it easy to create this sweet version of beggar's purses, which are traditionally savory morsels. Kids may prefer cherry filling or applesauce in place of the blueberry pie filling.

prep time: 25 Minutes
cooking time: About 10 Minutes
yield: 36 Pieces

* 36 square wonton wrappers
* 1 can (21 oz) blueberry pie filling
* ¼ cup confectioners' sugar


1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cover the wonton wrappers with plastic wrap or lay a moistened towel over them to keep them from drying out while you work.

2. Lay 1 wrapper on a flat surface. Place a tablespoonful of pie filling in the center. Using a pastry brush or a small, clean paintbrush, dab the outer edges of the wrapper with water. Bring the four corners of the square wrapper together and pinch them to make a little pouch. (The water helps the dough adhere.)

3. Put the pouches on a parchment-lined or nonstick baking sheet. Bake them for 8 to 10 minutes, until the outer edges of the pouch have just begun to brown.

4. Remove pouches from oven and let cool partially on the baking sheet. When they're still a little warm, dust them lightly with the confectioners' sugar and serve.

Tip: To make sure the dusting is light and uniform, put sugar in a small strainer and gently shake it back and forth over the fruit bundles.

How kids can help All steps before bundles go into the oven.

Per serving (2 pouches): 88 calories, 0.4 g fat (0 g saturated), 100 mg sodium, 1.4 mg cholesterol.

Red Velvet Volcanoes

There's a surprise inside these treats: marshmallow "lava" erupting from bright-red cake. They're best eaten the day you make them, but cool completely before serving: The marshmallow creme gets quite hot.

prep time: 10 Minutes
cooking time: About 20 Minutes
yield: 54 Cakes

* 1 box (18¼ oz) fudge marble cake mix
* 1½ tsp baking soda
* 2 eggs
* 1½ cups low-fat buttermilk
* 1 bottle (1 oz) red food coloring
* 1½ tsp vanilla extract
* 1½ to 2 cups marshmallow creme

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 24-cup, 2-inch mini-muffin tin with paper liners.

2. In a mixing bowl, stir together the yellow cake mix (large packet) and baking soda. Add the cocoa cake mix (small packet), eggs, buttermilk, food coloring, and vanilla. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed until blended, then on high for 2 minutes.

3. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling them three-quarters full. Spoon a generous teaspoonful of marshmallow creme into the center of each cup. Top with a teaspoonful of batter. Do not smooth the batter out.

4. Bake cupcakes for 18 to 20 minutes, or until tops spring back when lightly touched. Cool for 5 minutes, then turn cakes out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining batter and creme.

How kids can help Measure ingredients (except food coloring, which stains); place liners in tin; put ingredients in mixing bowl; spoon batter and marshmallow creme into muffin cups.

Per serving (1 cake): 52 calories, 1.4 g fat (0.3 g saturated), 95 mg sodium, 8 mg cholesterol.

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