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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!”

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. πŸ™‚

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.

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.

 

 

Rerun: Pumpkin Pie Parfait

28 Sep

It is raining. I have a weather-induced headache. My son told me he hates me this morning (motherhood is all sunshine and roses, isn’t it?). And I am in a funk.

I did not, however, succumb to the fresh cinnamon rolls and Berger cookies (Google it and thank me tomorrow) at the grocery store, where I went after dropping the kids at school. Warm smells wafting over the bakery, you have nothing over me. Because I have guilt-free pumpkin parfait to look forward to.

Ha. Take that, universe.

Use the link above to check out this recipe I posted last year. It’s delicious and really not bad for you at all. I guarantee that when I pull it out of the fridge after dinner tonight, I am going to be the most awesome mom who ever lived. And I would agree with that statement just on the basis of this dessert. πŸ˜‰

Enjoy!

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 Β 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.

 

Not Your Grandmother’s Banana Blueberry Bread

20 Jun

It was not a weekend for the record books. That’s a nice way of saying it, I think. It started with a farewell party for someone I very much like who’s moving far away (fun party, but made me super sad), then went to another event where my feelings got smashed, mid-pointed with the death of a good friend of DH’s, and snuck out of town with a visit to urgent care, which never ends well. I had a good cry, hibernated with my Kindle for several hours, visited with my friends Ben and Jerry, got a decent night’s sleep, and this morning, decided that the blueberries in my refrigerator were not going to cook themselves, and mucked around with a recipe.

We all have banana blueberry bread recipes in our collections–it’s a staple, both because it’s good and because it uses up fruit that threatens ickiness in a way that everybody will eat. I’ve had this one for awhile, but finally got around to messing with it this morning. And it, my sweets, it good.

I can’t remember where the original recipe came from, but I swapped out brown sugar for half the white, added some vanilla extract, and used more blueberries than it called for. The result is a very quick and simple sweet bread that could easily pass as a coffee cake, perfect for breakfast, tea, or dessert. The brown sugar caramelizes around the crust (it’s begging to be a muffin, I think) and gives a yummy hint of that flavor throughout. It made me happy, and we could all use a shot of happy from time to time. I hope you’ll try it.

1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1/3 cup butter, softened (not melted)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/3 cup light brown sugar

1/3 cup white sugar

2 eggs

1 ripe banana, smooshed

1/2 pint blueberries

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and spray a loaf pan with nonstick spray (I swear by Baker’s Joy if you can find it).

With an electric mixer, cream together butter and sugars until they’re light and fluffy. Add vanilla. Beat in eggs, one at a time.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. With your mixer on low, stir in half of that mixture. Then stir in your mooshy banana, then the rest of the dry goods, and finally and very gently stir in your blueberries.

Taste the batter. Right??

Spread the batter into your loaf pan and bake about 50 minutes.

Chocolaty Pina Colada Bread

13 Jun

I didn’t like this much when I made it.

Singing endorsement of a recipe, eh? But my first reaction was one of weirdness. Banana bread with crunch. I shrugged, wrapped it up in plastic, and forgot about it until the next morning, when my daughter asked for a slice and started mmmmmmming in volumes that were completely inappropriate for that time of day.

I tried it again. It got better! The coconut flavor developed overnight, and this was pretty darned good!

It was also ridiculously simple–I chucked a handful of sweetened shredded coconut into my regular banana bread recipe, along with a half-cup of mini-chocolate chips. Once it rested for a day, it was very good, and different than banana bread altogether–in fact, the same kid asked me this morning, “Is there a little banana in this?”

I recommend this, but I also warn you to not expect much if you can’t resist it right out of the oven. You’ll like it more the next day. Trust me. You need:

1/3 cup shortening (do not use butter–it mucks up the texture)

1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp baking powder

2 overripe bananas

1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut

1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

Heat your oven to 350 degrees and spray a loaf pan with nonstick spray or butter.

Cream together sugar and shortening in your mixer. Add eggs and beat well. Stir in a cup of the flour, the baking powder and soda, and salt. Then stir in a banana. Add the rest of the flour, stir to combine, and then the other banana. Then, with your mixer on very low, stir in the coconut and chips (keeping the mixer on low will stop the gluten from developing and keep your bread nice and soft).

Spread into the greased loaf pan and bake about 1 hour, until done. Cool on a wire rack, wrap it up tight in plastic, and try it the next day.

Not-From-The-Freezer Garlic Bread

12 Apr

I know. Those frozen garlic bread logs in the freezer at the grocery store are really easy. Lay them on a baking sheet, pop them in the oven, give them 15 minutes, and voila. Buttery, garlicky, carby goodness.

Guess what? Making it yourself is even faster. Pinky swear.

You need a small handful of ingredients and about 10 minutes for this, and the bread is crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, and the best part is that you haven’t ingested tons of preservatives or an astounding amount of fat.

My kids love this. Beg for it. Which leads me to a secret I’ll share with you if you promise not to tell: I make this out of regular sandwich bread when I haven’t had time to grab a loaf of Italian at the store’s bakery. It’s just as good and takes garlic bread from a sometimes-treat to a regular indulgence (and a whole-wheat indulgence if you roll that way).

I use garlic bread seasoning I buy from The Spice Hunter. You can also use plain garlic powder with a sprinkle of Italian seasoning. It’s all good.

Next time you’re cooking Italian, give this a whirl. I promise you won’t go back to the freezer stuff. You only need:

1 loaf of Italian bread, sliced about an inch thick (or whatever bread you have)

Enough butter to lightly cover both sides of the slices

Garlic bread seasoning or garlic powder and Italian seasoning

Shredded Parmesan cheese

Line a baking sheet with foil. Pre-heat your broiler, on low if it has settings, and by just turning it on if not. Put your oven rack in the middle slot of your oven.

Lay your slices of bread on the baking sheet. Butter one side and sprinkle it with the spices. Put that under the broiler for just a few minutes, until it starts to golden-brown up. Take it out.

Flip the slices over. Butter the other side, sprinkle them with the spices, and then sprinkle them with the Parmesan. Put the bread back under the broiler for a minute until you see golden brown. Enjoy.

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. πŸ™‚

 

Pizza Quesadilla

2 Jan

This one’s simple–you may have already come up with it yourself. But I made one the other night when I needed something easy and quick and had some leftover tortillas to use up, and thought it might be an idea some of you could use.

I came up with pizza quesadillas back when my son was a very picky three-year-old who wouldn’t touch the fajitas DH and I enjoy regularly. The boy would grumble his way through cheese quesadillas, but we all know how tiring the grumbling gets. One night, I spied an open jar of pizza sauce in the fridge, and put two and two together. Quesadillas aren’t that different from pizza crust, after all. I threw some sauce inside a regular quesadilla and fried it up, and a family hit was born.

The gist of this is that it’s a great way to use up those bits of leftovers in your fridge at the end of the week. If you’d put it on pizza, toss it in here. Pepperoni, crumbled meatball, chicken, onions, green peppers, mushrooms, pineapple. Bring it.

You do need to use real butter for this, at least if you want a crispy quesadilla. If crunch isn’t important to you, by all means, skip it. A tiny little bit makes a huge difference, though, so I’d encourage you to at least give it a shot.

My son is 9 now, and he still loves pizza quesadillas (along with the fajitas he wouldn’t eat long ago). I hope your family likes them too. To make one, you need:

2 flour tortillas

About 2 tbsp spaghetti, marinara, or pizza sauce

About 1/3 cup cheese (add more at your whim)

A sliver of real butter

Heat a small pan over a medium flame until it’s hot. Melt the butter. Lay down one tortilla, then top with sauce, cheese, and whatever goodies you like inside there. Top with the second tortilla. Cook until it starts to brown (about 3 minutes), and then flip and cook the rest of the way through. Let cool a few minutes before slicing into wedges and serving.

Almost Guilt Free Pumpkin Pudding Parfait

16 Nov

My daughter, who is not immune to the ten bazillion holiday commercials already running on TV, has been begging me to make a pumpkin pie. And while I’d love to comply, the problem with baking a pumpkin pie is that then I have a pumpkin pie in the house. And I am (sadly) powerless over such things.

This makes for a phenomenal substitute.

This combines a pumpkin pudding recipe that’s all over the Internet (search for Weight Watchers pumpkin pudding) with layers of whipped cream and crushed graham crackers. All the taste of pumpkin pie without all the sugar and fat. Which is good, yes?

You can use light Cool Whip for the middle layers. I personally prefer fresh whipped cream, but the light stuff works just fine. And you can buy graham cracker crumbs, or you can chuck a few grahams in the food processor or blender and pulverize them yourself.

To make the pudding, you need:

3 cups 1% or skim milk

2 packages instant fat-free, sugar-free vanilla pudding mix

1 15-oz can pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix–just plain pumpkin)

1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice

Whip together the milk and pudding mix until they’re combined. Add the pumpkin and spice and mix thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate for an hour or two, until it firms up.

To make the parfait, choose a glass and layer cracker crumbs, pumpkin pudding, and whipped cream, in as many layers as makes you happy. Either pop those in the fridge (the crumbs will soften up and it gets divine that way) or eat immediately (also delicious and a bit more crunchy).

Who needs pumpkin pie in the house, huh? πŸ˜‰

 

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