Thursday, January 31, 2013

Valentine Marshmallow Krispie Hearts

Sometimes nothing beats a Rice Krispies treat, especially a Valentine's Day pink heart Rice Krispies treat with sugar sprinkles. I whipped these up for my funny valentines last week. We had tons of extras so I sent them to school with the little kids for an early Valentine's Day treat.
That's candy coating on top, not frosting, which is a total bonus if you're feeding them to a classroom of 3 to 6-year-olds. No mess. Ok, very little mess.
A word of CAUTION here. I used Wilton Candy Melts. Wilton's allergy information is hazy at best. As far as I can tell, Wilton candy melts don't contain nuts as an ingredient but they are processed in a plant where peanuts and tree nuts are present. I cannot get a straight answer as to whether the manufacturing lines are shared. Thankfully, we've never had a problem personally but if you're baking for anyone with a serious peanut or tree nut allergy, I strongly advise you to use these super guaranteed nut-free candy melts from Vermont Nut-Free Chocolates. Get the white vanilla candy melts and some safe food coloring and you'll be set for any holiday or color scheme. I'll be using them from now on.

Valentine Marshmallow Krispie Hearts

3 tbsp butter
10 ounces marshmallows (any size)
6 cups Rice Krispies cereal
Heart shaped cookie cutters
12 ounces chocolate candy melts
sugar sprinkles or any other sprinkles of your choice

1. Melt the butter in a large sauce pan over low heat. Stir in the marshmallows and continue to stir slowly until they are melted and soupy. Remove the pan from heat and stir in the Rice Krispies.
2. Dump the mixture onto a lightly greased sheet pan or wax paper.
3. Use a spatula sprayed with cooking spray to press the marshmallow cereal into a single flat layer about 1-inch thick. Cool for 15-20 minutes.
4. When the mixture is cool to the touch, cut out heart shapes with your cookie cutters. If things are getting a little sticky, spray the cookie cutters with cooking spray.
5. Melt the candy coating according to the package instructions and spread it onto the hearts. Immediately top with sugar sprinkles or any sprinkles you like. Any red, pink, and white sprinkles would be festive but Roo is exceptionally sensitive to sprinkles so I played it safe with the simplest of sugar crystals. Let the candy coating set and hand them out to all your valentines.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Baked Parmesan Green Bean Fries

We've turned our beets, kale, apples, and Brussels sprouts into chips, so why not green bean fries?
The real trick with these bad boys is getting them to crisp up, since crunchy fries are clearly superior to squishy ones. It's a delicate balance between mush, crisp and burnt and quite honestly, it's hard to get every last fry perfectly crisp, but here's what I've learned in my trials.

1. Use the thinnest green beans you can find. Haricots verts are ideal. 
2. Make sure your beans are completely dry. If you rinse them, get every last drop of water off them before you add oil or cooking spray.
3. Do use oil or cooking spray. You need something to help the cheese adhere to the beans. Otherwise, you end up with roasted green beans with a side of crispy Parmesan, which while not an awful situation to find yourself in, is not the point of this exercise.
4. Convection bake if you can. If you don't have a convection oven, it's no big deal but if you do, use it.
5. Don't open the oven door once you turn off the heat. No peeking!

OK. Now you're ready to begin.

Parmesan Green Bean Fries

1 pound hericots verts or thin green beans
1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, finely grated
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tbsp canola oil or cooking spray

1. Preheat a convection oven to 375 degrees (or 400 degrees for a regular oven). Combine the Panko, cheese, salt, and garlic powder in a small bowl and toss with your hands to combine.
2. Place the dry green beans on a sheet pan in a single layer. Toss the beans with 1 tablespoon of oil OR give them a good douse of cooking spray. Sprinkle the cheese mixture on top, gently turning and pressing the topping onto the beans. Some will fall off. Don't sweat it.
3. Bake for 15 minutes. Turn the oven off but leave the beans where they are. Do not open the door - not even for a sec to check on them. Let the beans cool in the oven for at least an hour or longer if you want to max out your crispiness.
4. Serve with a dip of your choice...garlic aoli, vinaigrette, or a simple side of marinara, which makes for a flavor combo that's slightly reminiscent of mozzarella sticks. Just sayin.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Orange, Chicken, and Avocado Bulgur Salad

Citrus, feta, avocado, whole grain...this is my kind of salad!
I've been trying for some time to expand the wee ones' grain horizons beyond pasta, couscous, and rice. Sadly, quinoa is repeatedly met with staunch resistance. This summer, a deconstructed version of this farro salad was a hit with the KC kids so I'm trying my luck again, this time with bulgur.

Since the 6-and-unders here tend to be purists, I often resort to deconstructing whatever Mufasa and I are eating for them, like this.
Not bad, right? That's bulgur, grape tomatoes, feta, clementine wedges, avocado, and chicken. I only need to prep one set of ingredients and we all end up eating the same thing, just in a different guise.

The verdict is in. With a little help from my friend soy sauce, bulgur is a go with 2 out of 3 KC kids! And that Looly, well, she never likes something the first time, and even she managed a few bites. Victory is mine.

Orange, Chicken, and Avocado Bulgur Salad
adapted from Cooking Light, February 2013

1 cup bulgur wheat, uncooked
3 tbsp orange juice
zest of 1 orange
2 tbsp olive oil
1 & 1/2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
8 ounces shredded, cooked chicken
1 medium avocado, diced
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
6 ounces feta cheese, 1/4-inch diced
2 oranges or 4 clementines, peeled and sectioned
fresh cilantro for garnish (optional)

1. Combine 1 cup bulgur and 2 cups water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer about 10-12 minutes (allow more time for larger, coarsely ground bulgur) until the grain is tender. If any water remains, drain it off. Fluff bulgur with a fork and cool to room temperature. You should have about 3 cups of cooked. Don't forget to set some aside if you're planning a deconstructed version!
2. Combine the juice, zest, oil, vinegar, salt and pepper in a small bowl and whisk to combine.
3. In a large bowl, combine cooled bulgur with remaining ingredients. Toss everything with the dressing and sprinkle with fresh cilantro.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Frozen Yogurt Drops

You need to make these. Seriously, make them right now. I'm betting you already have everything you need in the fridge. If you take 5 minutes now, they'll be ready by the time your kids get home from school, and you, my friend, will be sitting pretty on that pedestal reserved for Superstar Parent of the Week. You can thank me later.
On that day you're feeling guilty because you don't have time for paper mache butterfly crafts and building marble runs, you will make these. When you can't steal 15 minutes to read the next installment of the Boxcar Children to your twins because they don't want their sister to read it out loud to them they want you to read it out loud, you will make these. When the kids are asking, what are we going to do today while you need an oil change, have 15 emails to answer, grocery shopping to do, a school fundraising meeting, and a workout to fit in? That's the day you're going to make these. And everyone's going to wind up happy.

Here's the drill:
Pull some yogurt out of the fridge. See, I told you you already have everything you need! Any flavored yogurt will do, full fat, no fat, some fat, Greek, vanilla, strawberry, pineapple, goji berry papaya coconut swirl, pretty much anything but plain.

Now, and this part is purely optional, stir a drop of food coloring into the yogurt. I used orange for mango, yellow for pineapple, purple for blueberry, you get the idea. It's totally unnecessary but if you want to jazz things up and have some food coloring on hand, I say go for it. Who can't use a little extra color in mid-January?
Scoop each flavor of yogurt into a plastic baggie. Snip a corner off each bag with scissors and pipe bite size rounds onto a sheet pan.
Don't like using plastic bags? Fear not. Just use a teaspoon and drop dollops onto a tray like you would cookie dough instead.
Now put them in the freezer for a couple of hours. When they're frozen solid, pop them off the pan with a spatula (if like me, you require said pan for dinner) and toss them into a clean plastic freezer bag or other container and keep them frozen until you're ready to serve. That's it!
Super cute, healthful, crazy delicious to snack on while blogging doing homework and preposterously easy!
Kids seem to like them.
But make some extra for the grown ups!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

20 High Calorie Nut-Free Snacks for Weight Gain

As a parent in America I'm supposed to be focused on cutting fat, limiting sugar, and getting our portion sizes down to a human-like level. And I am. Sometimes.
But every January the bombardment ensues. Emails with subject lines like 20 Low-Calorie Snacks and Cut Calories with 7 Simple Strategies start flooding my inbox. Magazines promise to Keep the Flavor, Lose the Fat! And that's great for many of us, myself included. But what about the failure to thrive kids like Roo who struggle to grow? What about the not so rare adult who fights to gain or maintain weight. They're out there too, you know. 

I've been fascinated (and somewhat appalled) by the way we respond to a-typical bodies of all types. Sure it's unfair that heavy people are discriminated against, belittled, and worse, but it's time to give the skinny minis a break too.

I've been told on more than one occasion that Roo (all 29 pounds of him) will come to appreciate his lightning speed metabolism one day. Really? I hope he likes his car seat because at this rate he's taking it to prom. My willowy girlfriend gets asked repeatedly why she bothers running when she's already so thin. Skinny actresses get accused of being anorexic, and I'm not saying this is never the case, but no one looks at a chubby star and comments, "Oh gross, she looks totally hypothyroid!" because that would be completely inappropriate and mean spirited, right?

Why is it acceptable in our culture to obsess over a few extra pounds then turn around and dismiss the health and body image concerns of underweight individuals? We're all after the same goal here, right? Healthy, strong, well-nourished bodies. Think about it the next time you want to punch your girlfriend in the face because her size 00 jeans are gaping at the waist. She's no less entitled to a healthy body image than the rest of us.

So, in honor of Roo and underweight kids and adults all over this great country of ours, a few suggestions for (mostly) nutritious, lower sugar, high calorie snacks that just happen to be free of nuts, because that's how we roll.
#10 Whole Wheat Blackberry and Meyer Lemon Ricotta Scones
#19 Zucchini Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Icing
 20 High Calorie Nut-Free Snacks

1. Brie cheese on a baguette with strawberry jam (also known as my favorite late night snack, but this isn't really about me)
2. Full-fat yogurt fruit smoothie (Blend 1&1/2 cups frozen fruit of your choice and 8 ounces full fat yogurt until smooth. Add half an avocado, 1/4 cup heavy cream, and ice cubes for an extra amped up version)
3. Parmesan chunks and black olives (AKA The Roo Special)
4. Graham crackers spread with SunButter, decorated with raisins or dried cherries
5. Banana Bread spread with cream cheese
6. Pumpkin or Winter Squash muffins
7. Croissants (Costco near us makes them without egg, but read your labels!) Cut it open, toast it and butter the cut sides ala Mufasa for more calories.
8. Cheese quesadillas with guacamole
9. Nut-free Granola with whole milk or half and half
10. Whole Wheat Blackberry and Meyer Lemon Ricotta Scones
11. Parmesan and Thyme "Cookies"
12. Real whipped heavy cream with fresh berries and granola (Bean's dream)
13. Mediterranean plate: cubed feta cheese, hummus, buttered pita triangles, cucumber, olives, grape tomatoes
14. Cheesy nachos with bean dip and sliced avocado
15. Cheddar cheese chunks with sliced apple, pear, or nectarine
16. Sweet potato fries dipped in easy garlic aoli (we use Veganaise in place of mayo due to the egg allergy)
17. Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Roasted Tomato Dip
18. Buttermilk biscuits with Garlic Chive Butter
19. Zucchini Cake with optional Lemon Cream Cheese Icing
20. Roasted Pepita Honey Butter and Sliced Banana Sandwich
#18 Buttermilk Biscuits with Garlic Chive Butter
#11 Parmesan and Thyme "Cookies"

Monday, January 14, 2013

Baked Feta with Tomatoes

Withholding feta cheese from Looly is considered cruel and unusual punishment. So, when I made this baked feta for a potluck crafting party (Thanks Girl G!) a few weeks ago, I couldn't get it out the door without her finagling a taste. She's a fan. I hope you are too.
The feta is so stellar here because unlike its softer milder cousin, mozzarella, who's constantly trying to monopolize the yummy-when-melted-with-tomato-sauce glory, feta maintains its chewy firmness when baked. And the salt! The briny feta is spectacular alongside gushy, sweet, herby tomatoes.
Speaking of tomatoes I use a combo of fresh and canned. I like the saucy juices of the canned tomatoes alongside the bright bits of pulp and skin from the fresh. Feel free to use all of one or the other, just double up on your quantity.

With the Super Bowl just around the corner, what could be more crowd-pleasing and gut-thawing than a dollop of simple, soothing, savory warm cheese on crusty bread? File under perfect hearty winter party fare.

Baked Feta with Tomatoes

1 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
4 fresh, ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano leaves
salt and pepper to taste
16 ounces best quality Greek feta cheese you can find

1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add red pepper flakes and cook 30 seconds more. Add fresh and canned tomatoes and simmer until the sauce is slightly thickened, about 30 minutes. Stir in oregano leaves and season with salt and pepper, but go easy on the salt. The feta will provide lots of salty flavor. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. In an ovenproof dish, break the feta into pieces large and small. Scatter over the the bottom of the dish. Pour the tomato sauce over the cheese. Bake for about 25 minutes until the sauce is bubbly and thick and the top is just starting to char. Serve with crusty bread.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Vegan Oatmeal Raisin Breakfast Cookies

Confession time. I meant to post these bad boys weeks ago and then the holiday hoopla took over and I never got around to it. That said, these are most definitely not holiday specific cookies. Oat-filled, not too sweet, heavy on the fruit, dairy-free, and egg-free, these vegan delights are perfect lunchbox cookies, cup of tea cookies, even dare I say it, breakfast cookies?!
The KC kids are not the best breakfast eaters. They suck down a cup of milk most mornings and head for the door while I chase them with a piece of toast or an apple. I've already discussed a few of our breakfast strategies, including my go-to Snackfast, but breakfast cookies might do the trick too.

This recipe is so basic and relatively wholesome (they are cookies, after all) that I almost didn't give it a chance. I kept thinking how can these be any good? Where's the butter, you know? And that banana can get overwhelming fast. Thank goodness I didn't listen to me!
Crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, teeming with texture and just the right hint of banana to make them interesting, think of them as homemade round granola bars. Then give them to your kids for breakfast without apology. It's a big step up from the rainbow sugar crisps lining cereal shelves at the grocery store, right?

Oatmeal Banana Raisin Breakfast Cookies
adapted from VegWeb

3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup canola oil
3 tbsp water
1 large banana, mashed
1 & 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 & 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 & 1/4 cups rolled oats
1 cup raisins

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
2. Using an electric mixer, combine the sugars, oil, and water. Mix in the mashed banana and vanilla.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk together both flours, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt.
4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until combined. Stir in oats and raisins. If the batter is runny, allow it to sit for 15 minutes until the oats absorb some of the moisture.
5. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Drop cookies by 1 tbsp dollops onto the cookie sheet and bake 10-13 minutes until the undersides are golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.
Perhaps the best thing about these cookies is their sheer versatility. Feeling particularly virtuous? Use all whole wheat flour and stir in some ground flax seed to boot. Don't like bananas? Try 3/4 cup of applesauce instead, which gives the cookies a more subtle flavor overall. I recommend this route especially if you're going to pour in more than one mix-in. Speaking of mix-ins, the options are truly endless. So far we've tried golden raisins, chocolate chips, and dried cherries - all supremely delicious but sadly I didn't think to combine the chocolate chips and dried cherries in a single batch. Next time.

Instead of raisins, feel free to experiment with an equivalent amount of dried fruit, chocolate chips, shredded coconut, pepitas, sunflower seeds, or nuts if they won't endanger the lives of you or those around you. Obviously we steer clear but that doesn't mean you have to. Throw a few pecans in there for me, would you? Thanks.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Alive and Well

Happy New Year!

Yes, I am in fact still here. The last few weeks have been quite a ride...a super fun, action packed, noisy, cork-popping, cookie-filled, laughter-inducing ride but it's time to hop off now.
2 weeks with no school, 11 house guests, 2 major holidays, 7 rolls of wrapping paper, 8 airport runs, one 17-pound roast beast, 0 missed Insanity workouts (dig deeper, right?) and way too many new toys, books, and art supplies to count have left me gasping for air. Happily, no one starved or had to sleep on the dreaded air mattress (I know Aerobed makes a super comfy one but trust me, this ain't no Aerobed). Of course it just wouldn't be Christmas without a scuffle or two but for the most part everyone came out unscathed. Thanks so much to all of our wonderful family and friends that put forth the effort and expense to come spend time with us and make merry this Christmas and New Year!

Today it's back to reality. All 3 of the munchkins are back at school, the tree is out, the lights are down, the stockings packed and sadly there's no excuse to eat a piece of fudge right now or start drinking before 5 pm.

Fortunately I have a few new toys of my own to help me through the transition! Thanks to a somewhat miraculous survival football pool victory this season, I have a brand spanking new tripod and ball head scheduled to arrive today. I can't wait since my "starter" tripod shakes more than my hands and that's on the rare occasion I can get the camera screwed down properly. I haven't used it in months because it's more trouble than it's worth. I'm also learning the ropes of Photoshop Lightroom and working on my RAW photo editing skills. Last but not least I'm catching up on current issues of Cooking Light, Fine Cooking, and Food Network Magazine and flipping through my newest additions: The Food 52 Cookbook Volume 2, Barefoot Contessa Foolproof, and The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. No shortage of inspiration over here!