Thursday, September 13, 2018

Healthy After-School Snacks: A Grandparent's Request

My dear friends Ann and Gerry are wonderful grandparents.  They moved away a few years ago to be close to their grandchildren.  They are blessed to be involved in the daily lives of their grandchildren.  I hope, some day, to have the same connection with my grandchildren.
Gerry recently asked me about healthy options for snacks.  Being the awesome grandparents that he and Ann are they want to provide the most delicious and healthiest food options to their grandchildren.  Ann is worried about the high levels of sugar in baked goods.  I agree, with her concern.  Kids are offered lots of treats on a daily basis- school snacks, birthday treats, etc.  My kids are teenagers and I like to have lots of healthy(ish) options ready for them to grab when they get home from school.  Teenagers are ALWAYS hungry. 
I do love to bake! Many recipes do indeed have lots of sugar but for the most part the amount is substantially less than a store-bought/processed treat.  Homemade cookies are always appreciated by my kids but so are ready-to-go fresh fruit options.  The "ready-to-go" is the key.  If you slice up the apple (especially for little kids) they will eat it and perhaps choose it over the candy or cookie.  (YES, I have experienced this in real life!)  I prepare little mason jars filled with berries ready to pop into a lunch box or grab for snack anytime of the day.  These are always a hit with kids and adults.
Whether you are making snacks for a school treat or after-school offering, here are some good options that are lower in sugar or are fresh-fruit ideas.

No-bake Chia Seed Granola Bars

Frozen Grapes

Chia Seed Pudding with Fruit Compote

Kiwi Bowls


Pears filled with Berries

Energy Muffins

The BEST Irish Soda Bread

American and German Soda Breads (YUM!)

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Perfect Pot of Black Beans

Yep, it's been another wonderful summer.  My kids go back to school next week so this is our last week to enjoy the random, no-schedule, lazy days of summer.  

A highlight of this summer was hosting dinner for two of my favorite friends and their kids.  We all enjoyed Black Beans and Rice with all the necessary accoutrements (i.e., tomatoes, avocado, cheese, sour cream, cilantro, etc.).  I finally found the best way to cook dried black beans!  The key is NOT to do the overnight soaking but rather the quick boil/hour soak.  I will never used canned black beans for this type of recipe ever again.  I mean it.  This recipe is too easy and the results are too delicious.  
Pot of Black Beans
Adapted from an Epicurious recipe.

2 lb. dried black beans, rinsed under cold water, picked over to remove any debris
1 onion, halved
3 garlic cloves, peeled, lightly crushed
2 bay leaves
1-2 Tbsp. kosher salt
1 Tbsp. dried oregano
1 Tbsp. ground cumin

Place beans in a large heavy pot and cover with water by 2". Cover pot and bring to a boil over high heat, then remove from heat. Let sit 1 hour.
Uncover and add more water if needed to cover by 2". Stir in onion, garlic, bay leaves, salt, oregano, and cumin. Cover and bring to a boil over medium heat. Partially cover beans with lid, reduce heat to low, and simmer, checking after 1 ½ hours until beans are tender and creamy, 1 ½ –3 hours total.  If you like lots of liquid with your beans then add water to beans to cover half-way through cooking process.  I like mine to have very little liquid at the end.
Serve beans immediately or let cool completely, then transfer beans and cooking liquid to airtight containers.  
*Beans can be made 5 days ahead. Cover and chill, or freeze up to 3 months.
*The oregano and cumin can be modified easily - add more or less to suit your tastes.  But don't add extra salt!  It really cooks down so more would be too much.
*I also had great success making only 1 pound of dried beans at a time.  I used only 1 teaspoon each of salt, oregano, and cumin, 1 garlic clove, but still used the 2 bay leaves and one onion.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Kiwi Bowls with Ribbon - Ballerina Farewell

Yes, tie a little ribbon around a kiwi and serve with a mini spoon!  Why not?

The rest of the treats are all packed up and ready to transport to the ballet studio.

Just a little farewell treat for a special ballerina.  Good Luck, Brittany!  We will miss you!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Art Show Reception: Fresh Fruit Reigns!

The art show at my daughter's high school was truly AMAZING!  The credit for this inspiring show goes to the talented artists and one very special art teacher.  The reception buffet table included homemade baked goods and many fresh fruit items. My homemade cookies and cakes were certainly a hit but the fresh fruit items were even more popular with the artists and their guests!  

It is important to taste all of your fruit items before creating a fruit platter, cups of berries, or other fresh fruit offerings.  The above pears were purchased several days before the show to make sure they had time to ripen but also not get too ripe.  I love the way these pears look and they were so delicious!  This dish is so easy – see my previous post Concord Pears filled with Raspberries.  Squeeze just a small amount of fresh lemon juice over the surface of the pears to keep them from browning.  For all of the pears above (12) I squeezed only half of a lemon and then spooned a little juice over each pear - and I had a little juice leftover.  I prepared these several hours before the show and stored them in the refrigerator.  So easy and what a hit!

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Sweet Potato & Black Bean Burritos - Easier Version!

This has become one of my most requested recipes - it's been a favorite for years.  I made these for my daughter's friends during her freshman year of high school.  She was involved in the stage crew for her school's plays and musicals.  These burritos went over BIG during tech week!  The next three years I kept getting requests to make them, so I did.  These are easy to make, transport well, and are a healthy & substantial option for hungry teenagers.  My other recipe for Sweet Potato & Black Bean Burritos is a little more involved.  I found that there is no need to saute' the black beans....just throw the ingredients on to each tortilla and you have a perfectly balanced burrito (in flavor and size). The fresh cilantro adds a ton of flavor so don't skip!

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Burritos

A Sara Moulton Cooks at Home recipe inspired this recipe.

2-3 sweet potatoes
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
One 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Twelve 6-inch flour tortillas (white or whole wheat)
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 large bunch of cilantro, chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Using a knife, slice tiny bit off the ends of potatoes then place on baking sheet and bake until very tender, about 1 hour.  Remove potatoes from the oven. Cut potatoes in half and scoop out the flesh. Discard the skins. Place the flesh in a small bowl with salt, pepper to taste, and use a fork to mash.  You should have 1 ½ to 2 cups.  (This can be done several days in advance and kept in refrigerator until ready to assemble burritos.)
Lay 10-12 tortillas out onto clean kitchen counter.  Place approximately 2 tablespoons of sweet potato onto the center of each tortilla.  Then top sweet potato with a tablespoon each of black beans, cheese, cilantro, and a little salt and pepper (no need to be exact).   Fold tortilla sides in and then over to create a seam with both ends closed (see pictures below). Place burritos on a baking sheet or pan large enough to hold the burritos in one flat layer. Arrange burritos, seam side down, on a baking sheet. Brush the tops with vegetable oil (canola or olive oil). For a soft burrito, cover with foil and bake until warmed through, about 20 minutes at 400 degrees. Bake uncovered for a crisper burrito. I like them crispy!

I baked my sweet potatoes earlier in the week and stored in mason jar in refrigerator.

The sweet potatoes go on first because they help to hold in the other ingredients as you layer on top.

both sides fold in...

then roll up to keep ingredients in

Don't worry if some of the tortillas tear a little.

Monday, February 05, 2018

Chocolate Fudge Snowflake Cookies

Here's the recipe for the delicious chocolate cookies that I served at my daughter's Snowflake Dinner Party.  These are a chocolate lovers dream cookie with deep chocolate flavor but with a delicate texture.   I tried a few recipes and many used cocoa instead of melted chocolate.  This recipe was my favorite and it is one with melted chocolate.  Rolling the raw dough in granulated sugar before rolling it in confectioners sugar is the key to getting the white topping  to adhere to the cookies.  Here's to a new favorite cookie at our house and they are quite pretty, too!  
All dressed up and ready for the "Think Pink" Bake Sale!
Chocolate Fudge Snowflake Cookies
Adapted from several recipes

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
5 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped (I prefer Callebaut)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
4 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
To prepare cookies for baking: 1 cup confectioners sugar AND 1 cup granulated sugar

Use a whisk to mix the flour, baking powder and salt together in a medium bowl. Set aside.
Place the chopped chocolate and butter pieces into a medium heatproof bowl and place bowl into a wide skillet of barely simmering water.  Stir frequently until the chocolate is almost completely melted and mostly smooth.  Remove the bowl from the skillet and stir in the espresso powder.  Set aside. See method here.
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with both sugars and vanilla extract until combined (no lumps of brown sugar remaining). Stir in chocolate mixture with the whisk or a large spatula. Using large spatula fold in the flour mixture until just combined. 
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill overnight in the refrigerator or up to 3 days. (This is important - the dough needs time to rest and chill.)
Set racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat to 350 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Place granulated sugar into a bowl and place confectioners sugar into another bowl. Roll chilled dough into 1-tablespoon balls, drop each ball into bowl of granulated sugar and coat completely.  Next drop coated ball into the confectioners sugar and coat completely. Arrange 12 balls evenly on each baking sheet, then place remaining dough back in the refrigerator. Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes, or until puffy. Cool the cookies on the pans for a couple of minutes, and then transfer to a rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining cookie dough. Store the cookies in an airtight container up to 5 days.  These cookies freeze beautifully.