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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!”


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!


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.

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.

Perfect Little Lemon Cookies

23 Jan

The weather this weekend was nothing short of disgusting–cold and wet and bone-shivering and nothing I wanted to be out in, especially with the head cold that attacked me in the middle of the grocery store yesterday morning. I left the house exactly three times: once for church and dinner out with my family, once to go to the market, and once to go to a birthday celebration lunch. That was it.

Bring on spring. And bring on my Kitchen Aid, because something about baking up a yummy treat lifts the spirit when the weather outside is nasty. This recipe fit both cravings quite nicely.

This started out as a recipe I tore out of Bon Appetit magazine. The original called for not much lemon in the actual cookies, and slathering them with lemon icing. We’re not much for iced cookies around here, and so I just bumped up the lemon in the batter itself to make a plain lemon icebox cookie.

They are tiny–I’m not going to lie to you. Each cookie is about a bite. But they are perfect little lunchbox treats and wonderful after-meal mouth refreshers, and I am in love with them. They would also be wonderful for lunch or a party with the girlfriends–you know those gatherings where you knock yourself out making food that nobody actually eats? Tiny is good for those occasions, and these are delicious.

Spring in my mouth in a perfect, tiny bite. Yes.

I hope these will brighten up a dreary day for you. You need:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp salt

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup sugar

One lemon

1 tsp vanilla extract

4 large egg yolks

In your mixer bowl, cream together the sugar and butter until it’s light and fluffy (about 2 minutes on medium in my Kitchen Aid stand mixer; more for a hand mixer). Add in the vanilla, and then the zest from your lemon and its juice (zest it, cut it in half, and squeeze the juice in). Add the egg yolks and beat them in. Mix in the flour and salt on a low speed, and just until they’re blended in.

Divide the batter in half onto two sheets of wax paper. Use your hands to form each half into a log, about 1 1/2 to 2 inches wide and a foot or so long. Wrap the logs in the wax paper and stick them in the fridge for an hour or two.

Once your dough is chilled, heat your oven to 350 degrees and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Unwrap one dough log and use a sharp knife to cut it into thin discs–mine were about 1/8 inch wide. The thinner you cut, the crisper your cookies will be. Lay them flat on your cookie sheet so they don’t touch (they don’t spread, but need some room to breathe in there). Bake them for 12-15 minutes, until they’re crisp and the bottoms have started to brown. Cool on the counter and smile.



Lemony Quinoa

5 Jan

I’d planned to mess around with this recipe today and post it for y’all tomorrow, but I just finished wolfing down a bowl of its deliciousness and couldn’t wait to share. If you were here (live and in person), I’d be shoving spoonfuls at your face and demanding that you try it. Because it is that good and so very healthy.

Quinoa is a grain that’s gluten-free and a pretty darned perfect source of protein, which makes it an allergy sufferer’s dream. I don’t fall into that category; I eat it because it’s super easy to cook, very versatile, and fills me up for a long time.

You can use it just like rice if you want to, but I like it as a main dish. This recipe was my lunch today. Turn it into a more substantial lunch or dinner entree with some cooked shrimp, chicken, tofu, or even smoked salmon stirred in at the end. Asparagus would also be a lovely addition, but any veggie you have in the house would probably work beautifully in this dish. That said, this would be a really good side dish alongside grilled chicken or fish.

I found the idea for this online, but the original called for raw red onions, cumin, and red pepper. And I’m sure that’s all good, but I have to talk to people in the afternoon, so raw red onion isn’t going to work for me (it’s super potent stuff), and I wanted more fresh and light than smoky this time around. I substituted cooked regular onion (you could use dried onion flakes too), swapped out the seasoning, and cooked it in broth instead of water to give it a little more flavor.

You’ll see lemon juice in this recipe. If you like lemon–like, really like it–go ahead and zest your fruit, and stir the zest in at the end. It’s really lemony that way. I happen to like lemony, but you might want to give this a try without that step the first time around and see if you think you need more citrus. I’m betting you could also use orange for a different flavor.

You’ll also see sliced almonds. I like them for their crunch, but you can leave them out and use more celery or chuck in some raw carrot for the same kind of mouth feel without nuts.

This is one of my favorite new healthy recipes, and I can’t wait for leftovers tomorrow. You need:

1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed well (gets rid of the bitterness) and drained

The juice of one lemon

A dash of salt

About a cup and a quarter of chicken or vegetable broth

About 2 tbsp of sweet onion, diced

1 stalk celery, diced

1/4 cup sliced almonds (or a crunchy vegetable if you don’t want nuts in the dish)

About 3 tbsp chopped fresh basil

About 2 tbsp shredded or grated parmesan cheese

Heat a small/medium saucepan over medium heat. Spray it with something nonstick and saute the onions until they’re soft and translucent.

In the meantime, juice your lemon into a 2-cup measuring cup. To the juice, add broth until you have 1 1/2 cups of liquid. Once the onions are cooked, pour that mixture into the pan and stir in your rinsed quinoa grains and salt. Bring that to a boil, clamp a lid on it, and cook it over medium-low heat until most of the liquid is gone (just like rice).

Remove the quinoa from the heat and stir in the basil, celery, almonds (or substitute), and, if you want a lotta lemon, the zest from your lemon. Stir everything together and let it sit about 5 minutes. Spoon it into bowls (2 for entrees, 4 for side dishes) and sprinkle it with the parmesan.

Two Treats that are Excellent Tricks

26 Oct

Warp speed, gang. That’s the only way I can describe life in my house this week. Sports try-outs and field trips and dance class and Taekwondo and tons of work and a sick kid, oh my! So I don’t have a new recipe to share with you quite yet, but I do have two tricks that make some I’ve already posted more fun.

Are you on Pinterest yet? Holy addiction, Batman. If you are (and you really should be), you’ve seen all the pins to recipes that incorporate Halloween candy. Excellent idea, especially for the candy corn (any Lewis Black fans? Corn…that tastes like candy! Son of a …!). But if you’ve already tried to bake candy corn onto cookies or other sweet goodies, you’ve learned the lesson I figured out last year.

Candy corn melts in the oven. Into nothingness. You wind up with a sad orange dent where you thought the candy was going to be.

Fear not–there is a solution.

Yesterday, I made a pan of the most amazing brownies on the planet. I chucked in a handful of Ghiradelli chocolate chips that were wasting away in the pantry and baked them up. And then the second (the second!) they came out of the oven, I gently pressed candy corn onto the top of their yumminess. This works for brownies, cookies, or cake, all of which are soft and pliable in those first minutes out of the oven. You get a candy-studded goodie and the corn survives intact. Excellent.

Second trick:

DH was traveling this week. I miss him when he’s gone, but it’s a great opportunity to enjoy some recipes he’s not very fond of. One of those is the amazing turkey meatloaf I shared with you a few months back. I Texas-ed it up a bit, and it was amazing. To do that, add a tablespoon or two or Worcestershire to the meat mixture before you mix it up (I also used dried onion flakes instead of sauteeing onion in a pan, and that worked fine–so there’s a third tip for today!). Mold it into a loaf and put it on a lined cookie sheet, just like before. Only this time, instead of ketchup, use barbecue sauce on top.

Barbecue meatloaf. Yum, yes? YES! I had it for two nights with sweet potato fries on the side, and I was a happy single-mom camper.

Recipe tomorrow. I promise. Until then, happy tricking!

Big Honkin’ Soft Pretzels

24 Jun

DH drives a lot and frequently stops at Wawa for afternoon pick-me-ups. (Side note: the man has an uncanny amount of radar  for locating Wawa stores wherever he goes, despite the fact that there are none anywhere close to where we live. It’s creepy, if you ask me.) And he frequently brings home plastic-wrapped soft pretzels for the kids, who go nuts for them.

I tried one the other week. Yeah, they’re good. But I figured I could do that and for less than a buck or two a pretzel.

The first try was a pretty big failure. The dough–which was my regular pizza dough–didn’t want to twist into pretzel shapes, and then it didn’t want to bake all the way through, and then its egg wash did something bizarre that we won’t discuss, just in case you figure out I’m a tremendous fraud and stop reading the blog. Everybody tried a pretzel and nodded politely, and then I threw them away.

It happens, gang. You are going to throw food in the trash from time to time, just because a recipe didn’t turn out. Accept it as an offering to the kitchen gods, and try again!

Yesterday, I tried again, using a copycat recipe I found online that’s supposed to turn out just like those mall pretzels. Only I screwed it up, because I was trying to do real work in between tossing ingredients together, and added in some topping ingredients right in with the dough mixture. I flipped the bread machine to the dough setting, hit the start button, realized what happened, stared through the little glass window and cussed a bit, and then decided to let it go and see what happened.

The dough did its thing, I struggled through twisting and dipping and rising again (I am not a pretzel twister, just so you know), they baked up and cooled, and then the kids tried them.

“Mom,” said the 7-year-old, “These are better than the ones at the ballpark.”

Mistakes rule sometimes. Just keep going. Taste and adjust as necessary, but keep moving forward–you never know when a family favorite will be born.

I made this dough in my bread machine, using its pizza dough setting. Use the regular dough setting on your machine if it has one, or you can do this by stirring the dough ingredients together with a mixer, kneading it for 5 minutes or so on a flour-sprinkled counter, and letting it rise in a covered bowl for an hour.

This recipe made about 8 pretzels for us. We devoured a few (*blush*) and I wrapped the leftovers up in plastic wrap, just like Wawa. They’re still yummy this morning. I’m betting these would freeze really well, too, and then defrost and warm up really nicely in the microwave. We’ll find out soon–the short people already want to know when we’re making more. Next time, I’m skipping the twisting bit and either cutting the dough into chunks for pretzel bites (adjusting the baking time accordingly), or making simple twisted pretzel sticks.

Give it a shot. You need:

1 1/2 cup warm water

1 1/4 tsp active dry yeast

2 tbsp brown sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup bread flour (this gives that crispy crunch on the outside. You can use AP flour if you don’t keep bread flour around, but you’ll lose a bit of texture)

2 cups all-purpose flour

4 tbsp butter, melted

2 cups warm water

2 tbsp baking soda

Sprinkle the yeast over the 1 1/12 cup of warm water and let it sit a few minutes.

In your bread machine or the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the flours, brown sugar, salt, and butter. Add in the yeast mixture, and either run a dough cycle or mix and knead as described above, and then let rise for an hour.

When the dough is ready, heat your oven to 450 degrees, cover a baking sheet with foil, and spray that with butter or nonstick spray. In a large bowl, stir together the 2 cups of warm water and the baking soda.

Punch your dough down and divide it into 8 chunks. Roll each chunk into a long rope (it should be about 1/2 inch thick), rolling in more flour if you need to. Carefully dunk each raw pretzel in the water/baking soda mix (stir that up between pretzels), and lay them on the foil-covered baking sheet. When they’re all done, lay a clean dishtowel over them and let them rise a half-hour or so. Then, bake them about 10 minutes or until golden brown on the outside.

Enjoy warm or at room temperature, either plain or brushed with melted butter and cinnamon sugar or Kosher salt.


Chocolate Chip Coconut Muffins

1 Jun

Sunday was the first full day our family had together in a pretty darned long time. It’s been a few of those months, you know? So we made a point to stay commitment-free (at least until my daughter’s 3:30 ballet recital) and work some needed errands into some down time.

We got up early and headed to one of our favorite places for breakfast and a quiet morning walk around the water. The weather was beautiful, so we popped into a coffee shop to choose some morning treats before heading to a bench on the State House lawn to eat.

I love this coffee shop, and I love the idea of supporting a local business over the nearby Bucks of Star whenever possible. But to be totally honest, their muffins have underwhelmed me. Dense and a bit on the salty side, they were more like misshapen scones, and I’m just not a scone kind of girl. So when DD picked out a chocolate chip coconut muffin, I didn’t have very high hopes that it would be eaten.

It was devoured.  She wolfed it down so fast that I risked a fingertip to tear myself off a bite, and got the most wonderful surprise I’ve had in awhile. Something about the coconut and the chocolate chips made for a divine combination that wasn’t terribly coconuty, but was moist and light and had just a tinge of crunch that made my mouth very happy (and put my cinnamon coffee cake to absolute shame). This is not a pina colada muffin. In fact, my guess is that if you just handed one to an unsuspecting person, he or she wouldn’t readily identify the coconut, but they’d love the muffin.

Yesterday, I mucked around with my own chocolate chip muffin recipe and came up with a really good clone of that coffee shop pastry. Mine are miniature, which makes them great for lunchboxes and breakfast in the car (fewer crumbs), but you could certainly make them full-sized by increasing the baking time (and using full-sized chips, I’d think). If you want something more dessert-like, sprinkle sugar (sanding sugar would be fantastic if you have it) over the tops before you bake these up.

One word of warning: Don’t substitute butter for the shortening in these. You’ll end up with greasy muffins, and those are icky.

I bagged these up in threes and froze them, just as I did for the DIY Little Bites last year. They’re also absolutely delicious fresh and should last a few days at room temp. Give them a try and let me know what you think. You’ll need:

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup shortening

1 egg

1/2 cup milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut

1/2 cup miniature chocolate chips

Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees and grease a mini-muffin pan.

Cream together the shortening and sugar in a mixer. Blend in egg, milk, and vanilla and mix well.

Gradually, at low speed, mix in flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until just mixed together. Then stir in coconut and chocolate chips.

Spoon about a tablespoon of batter into each mini-muffin cup. Bake for about 12 minutes, or until the sides brown (the tops will not brown). Cool in pan about 5 minutes, and then remove the muffins from the tin to cool the rest of the way.

Lunchbox Magic: DIY Lunchables

7 Apr

How many of you, now that it’s April, are in a lunchbox rut? How many of our kids are starting to scowl when they eye their lunches on the counter before school, knowing it’s the same old sandwich or Thermos o’ pasta in there? And how many of us could use some new ideas?

Can I get an “Amen!”?


My kids are forever begging me to buy Lunchables. I am forever refusing (have you ever read the ingredients in those things?  Or figured out the price-per-plastic-package? *shudder* No thank you very much.). The concept, though, is a great one. They do make lunchtime more fun, in theory. And there’s a super-simple solution to both giving in without really giving in and in shaking up the lunchbox a bit.

Make your own.

I’ll admit I was a little nervous the first time I cut up some meat and cheese, bagged the slices up with some whole-wheat crackers, and sent them in my daughter’s sandwich box. (I have a Bento box on order to ditch the baggies before the Green Police come after me.) DIY anything was a terrible social sin when I went to grade school, and I was slightly afraid she’d catch an earful from her table-mates.

Know what the first thing out of a child’s mouth was?

“You are SOOO lucky.”


I like this because I control the ingredients, and I can use up the little bits of lunch fixings that are left at the end of the school week. My kids like it because they get to “make” their own lunch, playing with different ingredients and eating with their fingers (bonus!) Today’s DIY Lunchable has one slice of bologna, cut into sixths; three slices of turkey, cut into thirds; and a slice each of American and Muenster cheese, quartered; plus some wheat crackers. This works with any meats, cheeses, or veggies you have in the fridge.

Healthy, easy, economical, fun, and not the same old thing. It’s a winner.

Super-Fast Friday: The Snack Basket

28 Jan

Happy Friday!

Today’s Super-Fast Friday is simple but has saved me a ton of time over the years. I work at home, which means lots of daily interruptions. He’s hitting me! I can’t find my socks! I’m bored! I want a snack!!

There’s not much to do about a lot of those, but the snack thing is pretty easy. You need two smallish containers, one for the fridge and one for a lower shelf in a cabinet. I use a napkin-sized woven basket for the first, and a hard plastic bin for the second. These are your snack baskets.

The refrigerator snack basket generally has a few pieces of fruit that don’t require peeling (apples, pears, plums), string cheese, yogurt in a kid-friendly form (we like Go-Gurts, which are surprisingly low in sugar), and small containers of hummus with baggies of baby-cut carrots. The cabinet snack basket has whole-grain crackers, individual snack-sized boxes of raisins, granola bars, cereal bars, peanut butter crackers, and little bags of low-sugar cereal in snack size portions.

My kids have known since about age two that the snack baskets are fair game. If you’re hungry, you may have anything in there. Kids tend to self-regulate with food at a young age, so overeating or binging has never been a problem. The snack basket saves me a ton of time, and gives them a little self-reliance at a young age. They make their own choice, serve themselves, and fill their own tummies. I just refill the baskets at night and we’re set for the next day.

Help yourself to a snack basket, teach your kids all about it, and help everybody out a few times a day. It’s a real time-saver. 🙂


Oatmeal Bread

4 Jan

OK, first of all,  I wish you guys could smell my house. Because it smells absolutely amazing in here. This bread just came out of the oven about an hour ago, and just the aroma is worth it.

I read an article in EveryDay with Rachael Ray magazine last night about ingredients people are afraid of. According to their survey 26 percent of people are too nervous to try baking with yeast.



You have to follow procedure with yeast to get a nice rise, but it’s not difficult or anything to fear. If you’ve never baked bread before because of it, I really hope you’ll give it a try.

This recipe is simple and easy and healthy and good. It’s a Better Homes & Gardens recipe that I simplified–they called for stovetop cooking and then counter work and then the oven. I have a microwave and a bread machine, so life got a lot easier. But you can do this without either.

This is delicious warm or toasted with a pat of butter, or as a sandwich bread. It’s dense but soft, really tasty, and a great way to sneak some oatmeal into your little ones (including the one you may be married to!). I hope you’ll try it and let me know how it is. And enjoy the way your house smells! Bonus!

You’ll need:

4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (1 packet if you buy those)

1 3/4 cups water

2/3 cups packed light brown sugar

3 tbsp butter, cut into small pieces

1 tsp salt

2 cups rolled oats

In a Pyrex mixing bowl, stir together water, sugar, butter, and salt. Microwave on high for about a minute, or until it’s slightly hotter than body temperature. Stir again. Sprinkle yeast on top, stir very gently, and let sit about 5 minutes–the yeast will start to foam.

Dump the flour and oats into your breadmaker. Pour the liquid mixture in and let the dough cycle run through. If you don’t have a bread machine, either use the dough hook on your stand mixer, on medium speed, for about 10 minutes, or mix together with your mixer and then knead by hand for a few minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. If you’re using your dough hook or hands, put the dough into a greased bowl, cover, and let rise 1 hour or until about doubled.

Punch dough down and divide in half. Press into greased loaf pans (you’ll need 2) and cover for a second rise of about a half-hour. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Bake bread for 35 – 40 minutes, or until it sounds hollow when tapped. Let cool and enjoy.

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