Have you ever needed to whip up a rave-able dessert but you only have a few minutes? Yeah, I’ve been there, too.
I came up with these mini tarts last Thanksgiving. I needed something with dark chocolate for dessert but I didn’t have time to bake up a pie or a cake. Plus, I wanted something bite-sized. These mini tarts come together quickly – your kids can even do these while you’re cooking something else. The key to making these mini tarts ah-inducing is all in how you plate them. One approach: Drizzle the plate with chocolate syrup (Hershey’s is fine), add a swirl of raspberry jam, and pair with an assortment of other sweets. Or, top each one with a dollop of fresh whipped cream, dust with cocoa powder, and insert an orange sliver.
Prep time: 15 minutes + chill time*
Servings: 30 mini tarts
2 packages of Mini Fillo Shells (15 each; I like Athens brand)*
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup orange zest
Dash of salt
Whipped cream (optional)
- In a glass bowl melt together the cream and chocolate chips in the microwave for 90 seconds; stir until smooth (some microwaves may take longer – be careful not to burn).
- Add in orange zest and salt. Refrigerate for 10 minutes.
- Pour filling into shells. Refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight.
- To serve: Garnish with fresh whipped cream and dust with cocoa powder.
*Note: You can either use the shells thawed and right out of the package. Or, for a crisper exterior, bake them for 9 minutes at 350°. Cool, then fill.
Forget vampires, zombies are all the rage now. So are brains. For eating, of course.
Ready to construct a brain cake? It’s actually easy and fun to make. Promise. We even did our own fondant to create the twists and turns on the brain.
Prep time: 45 minutes + baking
1 red velvet cake mix
1 1/2 cups red jam (like raspberry, seedless)
1 10.5-ounce bag mini marshmallows
2 tbsp. butter
1 2-lb. bag powdered sugar
- Put together the fondant first so it can refrigerate while you’re baking the cake. To make the fondant, heat the marshmallows and butter in a large glass bowl in the microwave for 45 seconds. Stir and heat again in 30-second intervals until fully melted. Cool slightly.
- Using a hand-held mixer add powdered sugar to the marshmallows 1 cup at a time. Beat after each addition until the mixture becomes stiff (you probably won’t need the whole bag).
- Coat a cutting board with powdered sugar and knead the mixture until it forms a smooth ball. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate.
- Make red velvet cake mix according to package directions. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper to make the cake easier to move later (cut a circle out of the parchment to position on the bottom of the pan–coat with cooking spray). Bake the batter in a 8″ or 9″ circular cake pan. Cool.
- Use a sharp knife to cut two sides of the red velvet cake to create an oval shape. Eat the extras.
- Heat half of the jam to make it easier to spread. Use a pastry brush to cover the cake with the jam.
- Time to make brain matter! Roll out 6″ snakes out of the fondant dough (great kid job). It helps to cover your hands in powder sugar. Apply the snakes in zigzag designs on the cake. The way we put the cake together is we had one person rolling out dough snakes while the other applied them. For the person applying the fondant, put a little canola oil on your hands to make the dough more pliable. We pulled up a comic book picture of a brain to guide us in applying the fondant.
- Once all of the brain matter is on the cake (and you may not need all of your fondant) brush it again with the rest of the heated jam.
- Place the brain on a plate (remember you still have parchment paper on the bottom to make it simpler to handle). Refrigerate until ready to serve. Offer to startled zombie fans.
Note: We trimmed a little too much red velvet cake off of our “brain.” No worries. We used a bit of regular white icing to glue the cake back into an oval shape.
Growing up I never liked tomato soup. Maybe it’s because tomato soup so often is thought of–and served–as the thin, salty version that comes right out of a can. A few weeks ago my husband and I escaped for a brunch date at Nosh Eatery just outside the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and the soup of the day? Tomato soup. We decided to give it a try.
Simple, fresh and soothing the tomato soup at Nosh had a thicker consistency perfect for dipping when paired with rye sourdough crisped with sharp American cheese inside. We’ve started a tradition since then of making tomato soup with grilled cheese every Saturday. We’ve finally come close to Nosh’s.
Next step? How to entice kids to give it a try. My first approach is not to overwhelm my kids with a big bowl. I gave them a small amount and encouraged them to use it to dip. So far, my kids have gradually been asking for more soup. It helps that we’ve been having it…every weekend.
Prep time: 30 minutes including cooking
1 white onion, diced
1 1/2 tbsp. olive oil
2 28-oz. cans whole plum tomatoes (I like Muir Glen)
2 cups chicken broth
1 clove garlic, minced
4 tbsp. fresh basil, divided
1/4 tsp. sugar or agave
1/4 tsp. smoked paprika (mild) or cayenne powder (if you like it hot)
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh tomatoes, diced
- Bring the oil to medium heat in a large soup pot and add the onions. Saute until translucent (about 5 minutes) – I cover the pot for the last 3 minutes.
- Add garlic and saute for another 2 minutes.
- Pour in both cans of whole tomatoes along with 3 tbsp. basil. Heat until it just simmers. Use a mixing stick to puree the tomatoes.
- Add in the chicken broth and fresh diced tomatoes (if using). Blend again with the mixing stick.
- Sprinkle with seasonings listed and adjust to taste. Cover the pot and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Serve with a dollop of pesto and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and the remaining fresh basil.
“Mom, my country is Hungary,” exclaimed my middle schooler as we were talking about her day. “That’s what I was assigned for my project. Can we make the class treats from Hungary?” Love it. I’ve always believed that studying the world through your taste buds can be one of the best approaches to learning. Together we looked up Hungary’s history together and flipped through online images of the county–and its food.
We settled on Gerbeaud slices (Gerbeaud-Szelet), a yeasted dough that hugs sweetened walnuts between its layers, which are held together by sticky apricot jam–the whole concoction is coated with a silky finish of dark chocolate.
One of the quintessential coffee houses in Budapest, the Gebeaud Cafe dates back to the late 1800s and a talented pastry chef by the name of Emil Gerbeaud. He’s credited with creating these slices, which capture the flavor of fine European pastries. Even better you can cut them up into small pieces to serve as samples for 30+ hungry kids who want a bite of Hungary.
Makes 18-24 slices
3 3/4 tsp. (around 1 3/4 envelopes) dry yeast
1/2 cup milk (heated to warm)
3 egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. almond extract
3 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
14 tbsp. butter (not margarine), cut into cubes
1 cup walnuts
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup apricot jam
4 ounces (1/2 cup) bittersweet chocolate
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 tbsp. butter
Dash of salt
1/2 tsp. dark cocoa powder (opt.)
- Stir yeast into heated milk and allow to sit until dissolved (about 3 minutes). Whisk in egg yolks, vanilla, and almond extract.
- In a food processor, mix together dry ingredients, including flour, sugar, and salt. Add in butter and pulse until the mixture resembles cornmeal. Then pour in the yeast.
- Process until the dough becomes sticky–akin to sugar cookie dough.
- Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface and then seal in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
- Pulse the walnuts and sugar together in the food processor until they resemble cornmeal.
- Coat a 9×13″ pan with cooking spray. Add a piece of parchment paper (or waxed paper). Spray again and spread with flour. Tap out any excess flour.
- Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. Working with one piece at a time (the other two remain sealed), roll out the piece into 9×13″ using as little flour as possible. Heat the jam until warm.
- Place the dough into the pan and spread with 1/2 cup jam and then sprinkle with half of the walnut mixture.
- Repeat using the second piece of dough and the remaining jam and walnuts. Use the third rolled out piece to top. Allow the assembled dough and filling rest in a warm place for 1 hour (don’t worry if you don’t see the dough rising; it’s not supposed to).
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake for 30 minutes or until the top is just barely browned. Cool for 1 hour.
- Meanwhile, make the icing by mixing sugar and water in a small saucepan. Boil until the mixture thickens to a syrupy consistency–add in chocolate, remove from heat and whisk until smooth. Mix in butter and salt (and cocoa powder, if using); whisk. Allow the mixture to keep cooling; it will continue to thicken.
- Remove the pastry by gently lifting it out of the pan using a corner of the parchment paper. Invert onto rack; place the rack on a cookie sheet. (I put a large piece of aluminum foil over the top of the pastry and then carefully flip.) Pour the icing over the pastry. Eat any chocolate drips leftover on the cookie sheet.
- Refrigerate the pasty until the icing is completely set; cut the pasty into slices. Store in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Snowed in? Too cold to venture outside for more than a few minutes? Me, too. That’s why you might want to try this cooking technique and recipe from Jessie Voigts–the force behind Wandering Educators.
I’ve found the perfect way to cook in winter. It warms up our kitchen, is participatory, and encourages long conversations at the dinner table, while simultaneously feeding us. What is it?
A raclette grill!
Let me share the joys of this unique kitchen item with you.
Raclette is a cheese from Switzerland (a gooey, delicious, melty cheese that is well worth purchasing if you can find it). Traditionally, you’d purchase it as a large round, and melt the edges by the fire. But it is also a way of cooking food – presumably, from the herdsmen up in the Alps that put their food near the fire, melting cheese and cooking meat and veggies to go along with that melty, cheesy goodness.
And, of course, now you can buy an electric raclette grill. It comes with a non-stick griddle on top (ours is double-sided, more on that later), and 8 little pans for melting things underneath. It has a turn dial to control the heat.
Here’s how to use your raclette grill:
Chop up sausages, cooked potatoes, sliced onions, sliced peppers, and other vegetables you’d like to eat with your dinner. You can arrange them all on a central plate, or have people choose their own and keep them near to hand to facilitate the ease of cooking for each person.
Prepare some cheese. If you don’t have raclette, don’t worry. Use a melty cheese (jack, gouda, havarti) or even a sharp cheddar (although this does not melt as well). Shred the cheese or cut it into pieces.
Garlic butter is a good idea. Chop up some garlic and put a bit in the melting pan, and add a knob of butter. This is especially delicious over potatoes.
We’ve also made mini nachos, with just a few chips and some shredded Mexican cheese.
Heat up your grill, and then top with the things you’d like cooked. When they are almost done, you can do one of two things:
- Melt your cheese in pans underneath and pour it over the cooked items on your plate.
- Put some of the grilled items in the melting pans, and top with cheese. Let it melt for a bit.
To be honest, I prefer method #2. It results in gooier cheese to pour over your food items. That little tray of melted cheese is a beautiful sight.
The other side of our raclette grill has two large indentations to make pancakes – or crepes. We had chopped chicken that I mixed into a savory béchamel sauce, and put into the crepes. Of course, there were a few crepes left over, so the nutella jar also found its way to the table.
This way of cooking is similar to fondue, in that you sit around the table, watch your food cook, interact with it, eat slowly (those melting cheese pans are small), and laugh a lot. The kitchen warms up, time slows down, and winter seems to be held at bay by more than just the walls of your home. You can almost imagine being in the Alps, cooking your meals by the fire, and eating slowly, enjoying every bite.
What might you make on a raclette grill?
Does your pumpkin pie recipe need an update? Try making these instead – they pack all the flavor of pie in a bar.
I’m all for a few shortcuts on making these so I use a boxed spice cake mix to make the crust and I don’t need to add much extra spice, it’s already in there. To make a smooth, spreadable filling I lightened the pumpkin puree with softened cream cheese. Streusel topping? I included that, too, to add crunchiness. The final touch is a drizzle of maple icing.
Servings: 1, 9×13 pan
Prep time: 15-20 minutes plus baking
1 box spice cake mix (or keep it mild and use a white or butter cake mix)
1/2 cup butter, melted
1, 8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup canned pumpkin
1/8 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
2/3 cup flour
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/4 tsp. salt
2 cups powdered sugar
3 tbsp. milk
1/4-1/2 tsp. maple flavoring
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Prepare a 9×13″ baking dish by spraying it and then put down a piece of parchment and spray again.
- In a bowl, combine the boxed cake mix and the butter. Stir until the mixture becomes a dough.
- Press the dough into the bottom of the casserole dish.
- Place the crust in the refrigerator while you prepare the other ingredients.
- In another bowl, use a hand-held mixer to whip the cream cheese and sugar together until fluffy. Add in the pumpkin puree and the egg and mix until combined.
- One more bowl – mix the oats, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt together. Cut the butter into the flour mixture until it becomes crumbly.
- Take the crust out of the refrigerator and pour the pumpkin mixture on it. Top with the streusel.
- Bake for 20 minutes – be careful the bottom can brown quickly.
- Allow the bars to cool, cut.
- In a small bowl (ok, one more bowl) whisk together the icing ingredients. Drizzle over the slices. Allow time for the icing to set and harden on the slices before serving.
Tangy tomatillos bursting with tiny seeds blend beautifully as the base for this green chile sauce. Spinach gives the sauce a bright color and a nutritional punch – and your kids won’t even be able to taste it.
This green chile sauce is a type of guisado, or Mexican stew. Traditionally, a guisado is served with rice, beans and toasted corn tortillas. You can do the same – place the pork green chile, Mexican rice, and black beans onto each person’s plate. Then in the middle of the dinner table offer a plate of toasted corn tortillas. Your kids can make their own tacos or tear the tortillas into pieces to use as a “fork” to eat the stew.
We use these leftovers to make either nachos or quesadillas on day #2. If you don’t like pork, try chicken. Another tip: To make the sauce spicier add the cayenne pepper. Ease up on the heat by nixing the green chiles altogether.
2 cups fresh spinach
1 cup fresh cilantro
1 28-ounce can tomatillos (available in the Mexican section of many grocers)
1 4-ounce can chopped green chiles (same section as above)
1/3 cup chopped white onions
1 clove garlic, peeled
2 lbs. pork loin chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 1/2 tbsp. olive oil
1/4 tsp. cayenne powder (opt.)
Salt and pepper to taste
- In a blender place the onions, garlic, green chiles, drained tomatillos, spinach, and the juice from the lime.
- In a large skillet bring the olive oil to medium-high heat. Place the pork pieces into the pan and cook until heated through and lightly crisped on the outside. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Add cayenne powder, if using.
- Turn the heat down in the pan and then gradually add in the green sauce. Heat until it just comes to a simmer and cook for ten minutes.
- I sprinkle the green chile pork with queso fresco, if I have it – or in a pinch feta cheese makes a decent substitute.
Roasting broccoli adds sweetness and a hint of smokiness to an otherwise mellow veggie. Usually, I let my broccoli go solo on the roasting pan since it cooks faster than my next fav – potatoes. But I liked the unusual addition to roasted broccoli I found in this month’s Midwest Living.
I know, I know – roasting grapes? I hadn’t thought of that either. Roasting time brings out the more savory side of red grapes making them firmer and lending a cool play on texture that contrasts nicely with broccoli.
But the real question – would my kids like it? My youngest loved the idea of grapes making there way from snack to dinner dish. My middle child picked out each and every grape after tasting one. Split decision for sure.
If you’re looking to jazz up roasted veggies I’d definitely recommend throwing in some red grapes. One side note: If you do have leftovers nix reheating the grapes. The roasted veggies do fine day #2, the grapes not so much.
2 cups broccoli in small pieces
1 cup green beans (I thawed haricots verts I had on hand from Trader Joe’s)
1 cup red grapes
1/4 cup slivered onion wedges
2 tablespoons olive oil (I used garlic olive oil)
1/4 tsp. garlic powder or 1 clove minced fresh garlic (if you’re not using garlic olive oil)
1/2 fresh lemon (optional)
1 large, heavy duty plastic bag
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Generously coat a baking sheet with cooking oil.
- In the heavy duty plastic bag place all of the ingredients. Seal tightly and shake (this is a good kid job).
- Pour the vegetables onto the baking sheet.
- Cook for 15-20 minutes removing the pan halfway through and moving the veggies around to ensure they’re roasting on all sides.
- Drizzle with fresh lemon juice right out of the oven.
- Serve hot!
We’ve all been there – forgot you were having guests over for dinner or maybe needed a dessert in a hurry? That’s how I came up with this idea for chocolate croissants.
Regular chocolate croissants have dark chocolate tucked inside the buttery layers. No way I have time to make croissants from scratch, let alone the filling and then roll it into the croissant dough. My quick fix is to use premade croissants and then dip them into melted chocolate, making sure to drizzle a little extra chocolate all over the pastry.
I buy my croissants from Costco where they come in large packs available just outside the bakery. I freeze them in sets of 4 to save as something special in my kids’ lunches or for a quick dessert. While you can buy fresh-made croissants, if you’re making these in a hurry it helps if the pastry is a bit cold so that the chocolate sets faster.
Here’s how to make simple chocolate croissants:
- Ingredients to have on hand – 6 croissants, 1/2 cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips, 1/2 cup chocolate candy wafers, waxed paper, fresh fruit and powder sugar (opt.)
- Chill the croissants if they’re not already frozen.
- Melt the chocolate in the microwave in 1 minute increments until the chips appear shiny. Whisk with a fork.
- Dip one end of each croissant into the chocolate and then place onto waxed paper. Use the extra chocolate to drizzle the side that wasn’t dipped.
- Place the croissants in the fridge until the chocolate is set.
- To serve, place one croissant on the plate and dust with powdered sugar or cocoa powder. Put fresh fruit like peach or banana slices to the side.
- Savor each bite.