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Honey Roasted Sweet Potatoes

22 Mar

This is my favorite veggie dish of all time. Bar none. It’s sweet, it’s comforting, it’s packed with nutrients, and it’s super simple. I had a big bowl of it for lunch yesterday and I may well have another for dinner tonight. The leftovers are delicious heated up or cold, and don’t even get me started about recycling it as a breakfast dish with a poached egg on top (oh yummmmm).

You should make it, and that’s really all I have to say about it. Really–words don’t do it justice.

You need:

Sweet potatoes (about 1 per person)

Honey (1 tbsp per potato)

Olive oil (1 tbsp per potato)

Salt to taste (I use about 1/4 tsp per potato)

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Cover a baking sheet with foil and spray it with olive oil or your nonstick goodness of choice. Do not skip this step–you will be very sad when your nuggets of sweet potato deliciousness stick like cement later.

Peel your potatoes and cut them into 2-inch pieces (I half them lengthwise, then cut each half into a half lengthwise, and then cut them into slices cross-wise). Plop them into a bowl and stir them up with the oil, honey, and salt. Lay them onto your nonsticked sheet pan with their flat sides down–they’re gonna get all brown and crunchy against the pan, and you want the biggest side to do that because it is so stinkin’ delicious that your taste buds will throw their own little party right there in your mouth.

Slide your pan into the oven and let those babies roast for about 20 minutes, until their bottoms start to crunch up. Flip them over, give them another 15 minutes or so, and serve.

 

DIY Brownie Bites

12 Mar

Those boxes of pre-packaged mini-muffins and mini-brownies torture me in the grocery store. It’s not because I want them (at all), but because my kids do. They see friends snarfing them down at lunchtime and it’s all “Mom, please!” and “I’ll never ask for anything ever again,” and “You can have some too!”

Bleh.

You can’t explain (well, you can, but it won’t matter) to a 10 year old that those packages only loosely fit into the category of “food.” The kids don’t care that almost nothing on the ingredient labels of those things is found on the shelf of any grocery store, and they also don’t care that four or five mini-muffins is more than any one child needs at any one sitting. You can explain all of this, but it won’t help. They still want them. They’re fun! And cool! And yummy!

Ick.

Know what helps? Taking 10 minutes to throw together your own mini-snacks out of real ingredients that you can identify and control, and then dividing them up into reasonable portions and tossing them into your freezer for later lunchbox distribution. It helps even more if you involve your kids in making the goodies, because everything tastes better when you had a hand in it, yes?

We talked about this awhile ago, and I shared my DIY Little Bites recipe with you (it’s still a hit around here). Yesterday, my daughter donned her pink apron and her chef’s hat and her oven mitt, and we spent those 10 minutes making bite-sized brownies to bag and freeze and put into lunchboxes today in pairs, which are far more reasonable than the portion size in the boxes of the factory-made bites.

This is my favorite brownie recipe (note: if you’re making brownies from a mix, please go read the labels. Recognize all of what’s there? Any of what’s there? Right. This seriously takes seconds to throw together.) with a little baking powder thrown in; that helps lighten these and make them rise just a touch, so they look like the commercially-produced brownie bites. They taste better, though, and they’re not full of dexty-hywhatsis or poly-bythingies. Simple, pure ingredients. Sweet.

Don’t skip the paper muffin liners on these. I tried it. It wasn’t pretty. Just a hint. 🙂

DD and I had a ball making these and they’re happy in my freezer and a welcome, much more reasonable treat than the stuff my kids used to beg for at the Giant. To make them, you need:

6 tbsp butter

2 squares (1 oz each) unsweetened baking chocolate

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

2/3 cup flour

1 tsp vanilla

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp baking powder

Heat your oven to 350 degrees and line a mini-muffin tin with paper liners.

Chop your chocolate (roughly) and cut your butter into tablespoons. Put those into a microwave-safe mixing bowl and nuke it for one minute. Take it out and stir it for a minute to melt the rest of the chocolate; if it doesn’t melt after stirring, nuke it again in 15-second increments, stirring well after each (over-nuking scorches chocolate. That’s gross.). If you don’t have a microwave, you can melt them together in the bowl set on top of a pan filled with water on the stove.

Once the chocolate is melted into the butter, stir in the sugar. Then, stir in the vanilla and eggs. Finally, stir in everything else. Drop by tablespoons into your mini-muffin tins and bake for about 12 minutes, or until done. Let cool.

I put mine into snack-sized bags, two in each bag, and then put all of those bags into a freezer bag and popped the whole mess into the cold box. In the morning, I pull out however many bags I want and put them into lunchboxes; they thaw in about 15 minutes.

Cinnamon-Kissed Banana Chocolate Chip Pancakes

9 Mar

How’s that for a title?

This came about because of the two browning bananas in my refrigerator and my (temporary) disinterest in banana bread. And a school holiday when we slept late and craved something a bit more substantial than the normal racing-out-the-door, five minutes at the kitchen island breakfast. I wanted banana pancakes, but most recipes were pretty much normal pancake batter with slices of fruit added on the griddle. Which wasn’t what I wanted at all; I wanted pancakes that tasted like banana all the way through.

I doctored up this recipe that seems to be all over the internets, and it is delicious. Be sure you cook them all the way through–they take a few extra minutes more than plain pancakes. Also, be sure to mash up your banana really well. I used my handy-dandy potato masher to squish them up with the butter, egg, and milk in a bowl, and then a whisk to finish the job. You could use an electric mixer or a blender, too.

This recipe made eight pancakes. We ate four and popped the leftovers in the freezer for another morning (hot breakfast without the mess tomorrow–score!). They are quite banana-ey, so you won’t need much syrup at all (less sugar–another score!). And despite my children screwing up their noses at the thought of fruit inside their flapjacks, they loved the final result and scarfed down their meal in no time flat. Sweet.

These are super easy. You need:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 tbsp sugar

2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 egg

1 cup milk

2 tbsp melted butter

2 brown bananas

Chocolate chips

Preheat your griddle over medium heat.

In a large bowl, whisk together your dry ingredients (up to and including cinnamon).

In another bowl, mash together your wet stuff (everything else except chocolate chips) until it’s well combined and only a few banana lumps remain.

Dump the wet stuff into the dry stuff and gently stir together until it’s combined. If it’s not pourable, add more milk or some water in small doses until it is. Gently pour onto your griddle and cook the bottom side until it browns (about two minutes on my griddle, but keep checking on yours). When that happens, sprinkle chocolate chips on the tops of the raw sides, flip them, and cook until done.

Roasted Balsamic Brussel Sprouts

6 Mar

Hi gang!

It’s been awhile–sorry about that (I really am…I miss you guys). You know those weeks there’s so much going on that you can’t breathe? That was last week. Cereal for dinner every night kind of stuff. But it’s over and I’m inhaling and exhaling and cooking again.

I spent last weekend in Las Vegas with a group of friends–we’ve never done a big trip away and it was super fun. By the end, we called it our food tour. Phenomenal restaurants in Vegas–I ate food from Thomas Keller, Todd English, and (of course) Michel Richard, and a lot of local chefs who really have it going on behind the stove. One of the things we enjoyed was roasted brussel sprouts, and I have not been able to get them out of my head ever since. When I saw a bunch at the grocery store yesterday, I bought them, brought them home, rinsed them off, and stared them down until we came to an agreement: high heat and balsamic vinegar.

You can almost not go wrong roasting vegetables. Cooking them quickly at a high temperature caramelizes them and makes them sweet and crunchy; if you’ve only had steamed asparagus, you really should roast some (same method we’re about to share with the sprouts), because you won’t believe the difference in flavor. And roasting does beautiful things to brussel sprouts. These are like popcorn–I swiped a few off the pan every time I walked past it for the entire time they cooled down. Addictive. Sweet and crunchy with a hint of bitter inside. Delish.

I tossed mine (the ones I didn’t snarf down ahead of time, anyway) into a salad at lunchtime, but these make a fantastic side dish or snack–and I don’t snack on vegetables, so you know they’re good. I hope you’ll give them a shot, especially if you think you don’t like sprouts. They’re a game changer. You need:

1 bunch brussel sprouts (fresh; frozen will get soggy)

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

a sprinkle of salt or salt substitute

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray it with olive oil.

Cut the stems off your sprouts, and then cut the sprouts in half lengthwise. In a bowl, toss them with the oil, vinegar, and salt. Lay them on the baking sheet in a single layer, pop them into the oven, and roast them for 35 minutes, turning them halfway through. Get addicted.

I’ve Got A Secret Salmon Burgers

22 Feb

Listen, gang. I’m going to share this with you because it really is just too good to keep to myself, but you cannot, under any circumstances, tell my kids what I’m about to say. Ever. That includes you, Mom.

Agreed?

Awesome, then.

For loads of us, today starts six weeks of avoiding meat on certain days. And while options are certainly way better than when I was a kid (fried fish? or pizza? which would you like?), it can still be a challenge, particularly when our kids are fixated on chicken and beef for dinner. Sure, you can bring out the pasta and the olive oil and garlic or the tomato sauce, and you can chuck some shrimp in there, but sometimes you need a meat-and-potatoes feeling dinner even when there’s no meat involved.

Enter the salmon burger. It’s hearty, it sits on a potato roll so you can eat with your hands, it feels all manly and stuff, and it’s darned healthy most of the time (check your labels! some of those salmon burgers in the freezer section are terrifying!). It’s also one of those things that’s easier to make from scratch than hassling with pre-made and frozen. And these, my lovelies, have a secret that makes them both more delicious and way healthier.

Are you ready? Because this is the part where you read in silence. Ixnay on the aringshay with the ildrenchay, capice?

The secret is this: You know how we use breadcrumbs as filler/binder in hamburgers and meatloaf and those sorts of things? These yummy meatless burgers use oats.

HA! Whole grains and fiber goodness that makes the outside of these deliciously crunchy like a “real” burger, and your kids will never suspect a thing. Eat your heart out, Jessica Seinfeld. We real-world moms have this one covered.

You’re going to use quick-cooking oats for these burgers. Don’t have those? Give regular oats a whirl in your blender or food processor to break ’em up–same difference. Mix them up in a bowl with your salmon and your egg and all the other yummies in this recipe, gently put ’em in a hot (HOT!) pan with a little olive oil, and you’ll have a meatless meal your kids and your pediatrician will love. Rock on with your bad grain-hiding self.

You’re going to start with cooked salmon, either canned (oh stop it–it’s totally fine if you read your labels) or a filet or two that you’ve cooked (any old way) and flaked up. This does two things: it makes the burger assembly easier and it ensures nobody gets any tummy nasties in the very small chance your burgers don’t cook all the way through to a specified high temperature. The rest of this is super easy.

I give you salmon burgers with a secret. Don’t go telling on me and ruin them, OK? You need:

Salmon, either a 14.75 oz can (look near the tuna at your grocery store) or a filet or two, cooked and flaked up.

1/2 cup quick-cooking oats

1 egg, lightly beaten

2 tbsp fresh dill, chopped (or 1 tbsp dried)

The juice of half a lemon

Salt and pepper

Olive oil

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat until it’s screaming hot.

In a bowl, gently stir together everything up to and including salt and pepper, flaking up the salmon as you go, until everything is looking all combined and burgery. Take a small handful of the mixture and squeeze it together–if it doesn’t hold in a ball, add a tablespoon or so of olive oil to the mix. Using your hands, form the mixture into burger patties, making sure they’re flat in the middle and that you’ve squeezed them enough that they’ll hold together.

Pop them into the fridge for a few minutes. This’ll help them hold together on the stovetop.

Once your pan is super hot, coat the bottom of it with oil. You’re not deep frying–you just want enough to stop the patties from sticking. Gently lay your burgers in the pan, giving them a little room to groove (I cooked mine in two batches). Cook them for about three minutes, gently lifting one up after that to see if it’s browning.

Once it’s brown on the cooked side, carefully flip your burgers over and let them go until they’re crunchy on both sides. Serve–we liked ours on potato rolls, but you have them however you’d like.

 

Summery Balsamic Quinoa Salad

16 Feb

See this?

Stick a fork in winter and call it done, y’all. I am ready for summer. Bring on sunshine and short sleeves and flip-flops and days at the pool, and bring on some fresh summer produce!

Sadly, I have little to no pull with Mother Nature, so I’m making do with recipes that make the most of summer-ish fruits and veggies I can find in my supermarket in February. They’re not as tasty as their summer siblings, but give me a little burst of July when stirred into dishes with the right flavors. Balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese are some of the ingredients that make not-so-spectacular produce pop a bit more, and I broke them out this morning to make something new for lunch.

Quinoa salads aren’t unique–they’re everywhere. What I don’t get, though, is why most of them call for cooking your quinoa (you know quinoa, yes? Cook it like rice and enjoy its perfect protein?) in one pot and your veggies and aromatics in another. Dudes, quinoa is just like rice–it’ll suck up whatever flavors you cook it in. And softening onion and garlic on the stove makes for some darn tasty bits on the bottom of your pot. Why not stir the quinoa grains right in there and make the most of them?

This recipe came out of the space between my ears. It’s not Julia Child–go ahead and mess with it. I added pine nuts for crunch, but it’s just as good without them. Throw in mushrooms or chicken or shrimp or tofu to make this a substantial entree. Ease up on the cheese. Whatever makes you happy. Quinoa, just like rice, is very forgiving. Play around without fear.

This made a big bowl o’ salad that’s happily resting in my fridge. I have lunch for a few days here. And every day. it’s going to be like pulling out a little bit of summer, which sounds really good right now. Want some? You need:

1 cup quinoa, rinsed well (I find it at Target now–check your market near the grains or in the health/organic aisle)

1/2 a yellow onion, diced finely

1 clove of garlic, diced finely

1 tbsp olive oil

1 1/2 cups broth–I used chicken but veggie would work

Salt

About 1/2 cup of grape tomatoes, halved

About 1/3 of an English cucumber, diced (These come in plastic wrap–the skins are thinner than regular cukes)

1/2 cup pine nuts (leave out if you want–no harm, no foul)

About 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

A handful of fresh basil leaves, chopped

About another tablespoon olive oil

About 2 tbsp Balsamic vinegar

In a medium saucepan, heat your olive oil over a medium flame and then stir in your onion. Cook that until it softens up, and then stir in your garlic. Immediately stir in your quinoa grains and stir them around for a minute to let them toast a little bit. Then stir in your broth, stick a lid on the pot, and let it cook for about a half-hour, stirring every 10 minutes or so, until the liquid is absorbed and you see little rings around the outside of your quinoa grains. Take it off the flame and let it cool to room temperature.

(note: this is a great thing to do while you’re making dinner at night. You’re going to refrigerate this anyway, so make it the night before when you have time–it’s just one more pot to clean)

Once the quinoa has cooled, stir in the tomato, cucumber, pine nuts, Parmesan, basil and olive oil and Balsamic. Stir it up, pop it in the fridge, and look forward to a summer lunch!

Peanut Butter-Free Blossom Cookies

13 Feb

Y’all have seen the idea on Pinterest by now: You take a peanut butter blossom cookie recipe and make it with a heart-shaped Dove chocolate for Valentine’s Day. Cute, cute, cute.

Here’s the thing, though: peanut allergies are rampant, and if you want to send these little cuties in as a surprise in your kids’ lunchboxes, as I do, they can’t rightly have peanut butter in them. At least, I won’t send them that way. I know too many kids and one of my favorite people on earth who have nut allergies, and couldn’t live with myself if a cookie put them in harm’s way.

So today, I made up a batch of sugar cookie dough. Any one will do–choose your favorite. Only instead of rolling them out to cut with cookie cutters, use your palms to roll them into balls, with about a tablespoon of dough in each ball. Don’t squeeze them, or you’ll melt the butter inside and they’ll spread in the oven. You want a gentle roll. No heat.

Bake your dough balls as directed in your sugar cookie recipe. When they come out of the oven, gently press a Dove heart (or a Hershey Kiss) into the center of each cookie, and let them cool. My Dove hearts liquified (they held their heart shape, but they got soft and gooey), so I stuck them in the fridge after a few minutes to harden back up. And I have a perfect, nut-free treat to send in with my loves for lunch tomorrow (including the one I married–nobody tell!).

Happy, save, Valentine’s Day, gang!!

Cornbread Waffles

7 Feb

Swamped.

Again.

*Sigh*

I’ve been intrigued by the concept of corn waffles since I heard about them a few months ago. I know they’re a Big Deal in the south, where they’re usually served with fried chicken, but we’re not southern and we don’t eat fried chicken…ever. But still, I was intrigued. We like waffles and we love cornbread, and so when I found myself with a blessed hour last week, I hunkered down and made a double batch of these.

Everyone loved them. The kids declared them the best waffles ever, in fact. DS ate his with butter and DD and I had ours with a touch of maple syrup. They combine the crispy-chewy of a traditional waffle with a little bit of the inside crunch and delicious sweetness of a corn muffin.

They’re not health food. I know. I had one waffle. OK? I blog about food–it’s my duty, really. And if you can’t have a treat every so often, there’s not a lot of point in taste buds–and we are gifted with a lot of those. Don’t let ’em go to waste all the time.

This is pretty much Mark Bittman’s recipe, doubled. Use a very large bowl to mix these up. The beauty of this is that they freeze really really well and heat up nicely in the toaster, and you’ll have a nice big bag to stick in your freezer and pull a few out for breakfast every so often. That has so many advantages over store-bought frozen waffles that I can’t even begin to fit it all in here; let’s just say no chemicals, no preservatives, and no icky additives.

You will need to break out your mixer. It’ll be OK. It takes three minutes, and the results are totally worth it. Give it a try. You need (don’t freak out–like I said, this makes a huge pile o’ waffles and you’ll have a freezer stocked with ’em at the end):

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups cornmeal (I used finely ground)

1 tsp salt

4 tbsp sugar

6 tsp baking powder

3 cups milk

4 eggs, separated

1 stick butter, melted and cooled

1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat your waffle iron and brush it with oil if yours needs it.

Combine all the dry stuff in a big bowl–I used my huge batter bowl.

Use your electric mixer to beat up your egg whites (you need the yolks in a minute) until they look like clouds–soft and puffy and white.

Stir the milk, egg yolks, butter, and vanilla into your dry mixture. Very gently fold in your egg whites until everything is combined. Bake on your waffle iron as directed (I had mine on a medium-low setting; just keep an eye on yours if it doesn’t have a temperature selector), slightly underbaking the ones you plan to keep for later so they don’t burn when you pop them into a toaster to heat them up.

Enjoy.

Slow Cooker Pot Roast

31 Jan

Are you ready for what I’m about to say? Because once I say it, you’re going to want to try this. OK? Sitting down? Braced? Here it is:

Aside from throwing chicken boobs and a bottle of barbecue sauce into the crock, this is the easiest Crockpot meal I’ve ever made. And it was fantastimically delicious and everybody ate it and cleanup was almost nothing, AND I have tons of leftovers for tonight.

A miracle. Right?

So now I have a confession. This is the first pot roast I’ve ever cooked. Seriously. It’s the first one I think I’ve eaten since high school, thanks to my 12-year moratorium on beef. It will not, however, be the last.

This quite literally took me four minutes to get into the slow cooker. Eight hours on low. Another two minutes to fish out the meat and veggies and stir a little thickener into the juice to make a simple gravy. And that’s it–dinner. Cutting boards and the slow cooker insert went into the dishwasher with the rest of the plates, the countertop got a quick swipe, and voila. Cleaned up.

Salivating yet?

The original recipe for this comes from Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook, which is a terrific reference that I recommend–not a can of cream o’ something soup to be found, and loads of easy, healthy, delicious dinners. I mucked around with it a tiny bit to give it a bit more umph and to use veggies we had in the house already, but I didn’t remake this one from the get-go. We really enjoyed it even though my children declared the potatoes “poison” (more for me, you little spud-hating freaks) and I was the only one who ate the onion (which was sweet and delicious despite not browning–I can’t explain it but I want more).

I forgot to take a picture. Worst food blogger ever. But it’s pot roast–you know what it looks like, right?

I really hope you’ll try this. Little to no effort and an amazing dinner at the end of the day. Tell me that’s not perfection. You need:

One 2.5 – 4 pound pot or chuck roast, trimmed of as much fat as you can get off.

Salt and pepper

About 10 baby carrots, cut into thirds (or 2 regular carrots chunked up)

12 oz waxy yellow or white potatoes (I used baby yukons), cut into large bites

1 large or 2 small yellow onions, peeled and quartered (cut the root end off)

2 bay leaves

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

2 1/2 cups of water

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

3 tbsp softened butter

3 tbsp flour

Salt and pepper your roast and plop him down in the slow cooker. Dump your veggies on top of him along with the bay leaves and garlic. Pour in the water and vinegar and turn your cooker on low for 6-8 hours. I stirred mine midway through to ensure that all the spuds got a good dunking in the liquid and cooked evenly, but you probably don’t have to.

About five minutes before you want to eat, use a fork to mash together your flour and butter into a paste in a small bowl. Fish your meat and veggies out of the crock (chuck the bay leaves) and cover them with foil. Turn your slow cooker to high and stir in the butter paste with a whisk until it’s dissolved and the gravy looks like gravy (it’ll be thin).

Cut up your meat, drizzle a bit of sauce on top, and raise your eyes to heaven for this amazing, couldn’t-be-easier meal.

My Favorite Cinnamon Bread

24 Jan

You’re thinking I said cinnamon raisin bread. But I didn’t. Raisins, as far as I’m concerned, have no business in baked goods, and especially have no business in something as perfect as this amazing, comforting, perfect loaf of yumminess.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, this was a recipe from the old standard Better Homes & Gardens New Cook Book that I’ve doctored up. And the doctoring has led to a slightly sweeter, slightly crunchier cinnamon bread that’s reminiscent of a cinnamon roll. Yummy for a snack, divine for breakfast, and y’all, this stuff makes some seriously kick butt French toast.

You should go make some. Right now. Before your kids get home from school, so you can enjoy the first amazing slice all by yourself. And I’m going to stop talking just so you can. You need:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast

2/3 cup milk

1 1/2 tbsp sugar

3 tbsp butter

1 tbsp light brown sugar

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp salt

1 egg

Another 1/4 cup brown sugar

Another 1 tsp cinnamon

Measure your milk into a Pyrex cup or microwaveable bowl. Add the regular sugar and the butter and nuke it for about a minute, until it’s warmer than body temperature but not hot.

While that’s nuking up, pour your flour, yeast, egg, brown sugar, salt, and cinnamon into your bread machine (or into the bowl of your mixer). Add the warm milk mixture and either set your bread machine for the dough cycle and walk away, or gently mix everything together, knead it with your hands or a dough hook for five minutes, put it into a greased bowl, cover it with a clean dishtowel, and let it rise until doubled, which will be about 45 minutes.

Once your bread machine is done and/or your dough has risen, heat your oven to 375 degrees and spray a loaf pan with your nonstick goodness of choice. Punch the dough down and set it on a floured countertop, and then spread a little flour on top of it too–it’s going to be sticky. Roll it out into a rectangle about as wide as your loaf pan and maybe 18 inches long.

In a small bowl, combine your 1/4 cup of brown sugar and your teaspoon of cinnamon.

Gently brush your dough with water and spread the brown sugar/cinnamon mixture all over the top of it. It’ll be a very thin layer–do not freak out. Starting with a narrow end, tightly roll the dough up and then lay the roll in your bread pan. Cover it with a clean dishtowel, give it a half-hour to rise, and then bake it for a half-hour, until it’s done.

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