Archive for August, 2010

Firefly snack crackers

One of my earliest memories was catching fireflies at my grandmother’s house in Iowa. Like most kids who get anywhere near a lightning bugs, I ran inside and asked for a glass jar. I just had to catch one! My grandmother helped me poke holes in the top of a Ball Mason canning jar. Back outside, I scooped up as many fireflies as I could. In the end, I think my glass jar had a total of three swirling inside. I let two go immediately, but I wanted to keep just one to light up my room.

Whether my captured lightning bug kept flashing into the night or not, I don’t remember. And, of course, since then I’ve learned that lightning bugs really shouldn’t spend too much time “indoors” no matter how many holes you poke! But what I do recall is the fascination and draw of these twinkling little creatures. It makes the outside feel magical at night–especially when all of a sudden one pops up next to you and flashes.

With summer nearly over and the fireflies making fewer and fewer appearances, I wanted to do something special with my kids. We’re having a ‘firefly’ picnic. Our plans are pretty simple–to take time to eat outside a little later at night (8pm) and to use battery-powered candles as light (granted, it won’t be that dark outside), but my kids liked that touch. Oh, and we’re eating our meal under the trees. We’re hoping a few fireflies will make a guest appearance and that the mosquitoes stay away during our “feast.”

Our meal will be a spread of peanut butter and honey sandwiches, juice boxes, chips and carrot sticks (can you tell the kids are ready for school again?), but we’re taking time to create some special firefly snacks—just in case the real ones don’t make an appearance.

Recipe for Firefly Crackers

Servings: As many as you want to make!

Prep time: Depends on how long it holds your kids’ interest

Ingredients

Circle crackers (Ritz or similar variety)

Spreadable cream cheese

Raisins

Kiwis (or pineapple rings)

Directions

Have all of your ‘firefly’ materials on hand ready for assembly.

Body—circle cracker

Wings—circle cracker broken or cut in halves

“Glow”—cut kiwis into thin slices or alternatively, use pineapple rings

Raisins—eyes

Cream cheese—glue

Add a generous dollop of cream cheese to a full circle cracker and spread. Add the kiwi to the bottom half of the cracker and carefully place a wing on either side. Add two raisin ‘eyes’ to the top of the body circle cracker. That’s it! If you don’t have kiwis available, go ahead and use pineapple rings, but you’ll have to carefully cut them in half to create a thin enough slice for the ‘glow’ part of the firefly cracker.

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Fast & Easy Creamy Sauteed Spinach with Ricotta and Fontina Gnocchi

Gnocchi and spaghetti with ragu

Ingredients

1 17.6 ounce package gnocchi

4 cups spinach

1 cup ricotta

¾ cup fontina

1 clove garlic

1 1/2 Tablespoons olive oil, separated

ground pepper and salt to taste

2 Tablespoons either half and half or cream (optional)

Fresh, chopped basil (optional)

Directions

Cook the gnocchi according the package directions.

Add the olive oil to a large sauté pan and bring to medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds before adding the spinach (I don’t even bother pulling them into smaller pieces I just throw them whole into the pan). Cook for 2 to 3 minutes or just until the spinach leaves just barely begin to wilt. Push the spinach to the outer sides of the pan and add another ½ tablespoon of oil. Add the cooked gnocchi to the middle of the pan. Let the gnocchi cook for about 4 minutes before moving them around.

Now that the gnocchi have had time to sauté, turn the heat down to medium. Add the ricotta cheese in dollops on top of the gnocchi and sprinkle with the cheese.  Don’t mix the ingredients until you see cheese just beginning to melt. Sprinkle with pepper and salt, stir briefly until the cheeses mix with the rest of the ingredients. For a creamier sauce you can add a few tablespoons half and half or heavy cream at this point. You can also toss in fresh basil, Parmesan cheese and/or a few red pepper flakes. Serve.

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Kids Eating….sauteed spinach

I love spinach nearly as much as I do dark chocolate. Seriously, when there was the E. Coli outbreak back in 2006 linked to bagged spinach I felt like I went through leafy green withdrawl (so sad to see it stripped from all the grocery store shelves—if only I were a decent gardener!). Romaine lettuce, iceberg, butter lettuce, they’re okay, but the thick heft and chewiness of leaf of spinach, simply tasty.

Not so for my kids. “This tastes like you’re eating leaves,” my oldest said once. “Well… you are,” I explained. Of course, that didn’t make her any more eager to eat it. So I add spinach into my foods, but I don’t push it with my girls.

Sometimes, it’s all about the recipe. The other day I had a duel challenge—my kids aren’t huge gnocchi fans and well, you already know their thoughts on my favorite veggie. But I wanted a meal with both. I made them plain pasta and for my husband and me I tried something new. For each of my girls I put a little of my new creation on their plates and expected to eat their leftovers later. No leftovers. In fact, my two oldest girls went back for seconds—we’re talking sautéed spinach here. And it wasn’t a fluke. I made the recipe again this week and sure enough they ate it. I wish I could say the recipe was something terribly creative and unique, but taking a few extra steps was what made the dish yummy. That and I didn’t try to tweak it for my girls, I just made something I wanted to eat.

My daughter with a second helping

*Note—for this recipe I tried a stir-fry technique with Italian food. I sauteed the veggies first (the spinach) and moved it to the sides of the pan as you would in a wok. Then I add the main ingredient (the gnocchi) to the center of the pan and then tossed in my sauce ingredients. Couldn’t have been simpler and less mess to clean up too.

Fast & Easy Creamy Sauteed Spinach with Ricotta and Fontina Gnocchi

Ingredients

1 17.6 ounce package gnocchi

4 cups spinach

1 cup ricotta

¾ cup fontina

1 clove garlic

1 1/2 Tablespoons olive oil, separated

ground pepper and salt to taste

2 Tablespoons either half and half or cream (optional)

Fresh, chopped basil (optional)

Directions

Cook the gnocchi according the package directions.

Add the olive oil to a large sauté pan and bring to medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds before adding the spinach (I don’t even bother pulling them into smaller pieces I just throw them whole into the pan). Cook for 2 to 3 minutes or just until the spinach leaves just barely begin to wilt. Push the spinach to the outer sides of the pan and add another ½ tablespoon of oil. Add the cooked gnocchi to the middle of the pan. Let the gnocchi cook for about 4 minutes before moving them around.

Now that the gnocchi have had time to sauté, turn the heat down to medium. Add the ricotta cheese in dollops on top of the gnocchi and sprinkle with the cheese.  Don’t mix the ingredients until you see cheese just beginning to melt. Sprinkle with pepper and salt, stir briefly until the cheeses mix with the rest of the ingredients. For a creamier sauce you can add a few tablespoons half and half or heavy cream at this point. You can also toss in fresh basil, Parmesan cheese and/or a few red pepper flakes. Serve.

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Winner! Revolution Foods Sampler Giveaway

Credit: Revolution Foods

Thanks for all the entries in the Revolution Foods Giveaway. Heather C, is the winner. Please report back and let MKES readers know what you thought about the Grammy Jammys and other kids’ snacks.

Remember the $50 Bison Sampler Giveaway from High Plains Bison? Jennifer M. reported back. Here’s her review:

It came last week! It was really well packaged, with dry ice and individual frozen boxes. The dry ice wasn’t even half gone when it got to me, so everything was nice and cold. I got a box of hot dogs, a box of ribeye steaks, and a box of sausage with provolone and pepperoncini.

I don’t eat red meat, but my husband and six-year-old daughter do. I cooked up the sausage according to the package directions, which was very easy to do. They ate almost the whole (big) package in one sitting–there were two left over, and they each had one for breakfast first thing the  next morning. They both declared it to be the best sausage they’d ever eaten and immediately asked that I order some more.

So it’s a big hit, especially since I”m really happy about the nutritional content as well!

Keep reading MKES for future giveaways and cool recipes your whole family will enjoy–even picky eaters!

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Jolly Pumpkin’s Edamame Spread

Photo credit: esthereggy

Recipe courtesy of The Jolly Pumpkin’s co-owner, Maggie Long.

Great as a dip or spread–we here at Jolly Pumpkin serve it with our grilled pizza dough!

Ingredients

1 ½ pounds shelled edamame (fresh when in season or frozen)

1 cup fresh spinach- washed, stems removed

¼ cup parmesan cheese-grated (optional)

2 tsp. lemon juice

1 tsp. lemon zest

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 clove garlic- crushed

Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

Fresh mint to garnish

  1. In boiling salted water blanch the beans until tender.  Transfer to an ice bath to stop the cooking process.
  2. Place beans in a food processor and pulse until course chopped- transfer half of the beans to a mixing bowl, leaving the other half of the beans in the food processor.
  3. Add the olive oil, parmesan cheese, spinach, lemon zest and juice, garlic salt and pepper to the beans in the food processor and puree until smooth.
  4. Add the pureed beans to the course chopped beans and gently fold together.  Taste and re-season with salt and pepper if necessary.
  5. Transfer to a serving bowl- drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and garnish with fresh chopped mint
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Chef Q&A: The Jolly Pumpkin’s Maggie Long

Photo credit: esthereggy

The concept for the Jolly Pumpkin Café & Brewery has literally been stewing for years. The eatery located in downtown Ann Arbor is the brainchild of chef, and managing partner, Maggie Long and brewer extraordinaire Ron Jeffries. Jeffries has been crafting his artisanal sour beers in Dexter, Michigan for years and now has a restaurant and brewery in Traverse City along with the café, which opened in September of 2009.

Long says the philosophy behind the food at the café is fresh, organic. For example, her oldest daughter volunteers at an area farm where some of the ingredients come from for the café. And the sourdough pizza is fashioned with a sourdough starter that Long received from a fellow foodie whose held onto it for 130 years. Beyond the fresh ingredients, Long says that the aim of the café is “welcoming.” “We want everyone to feel comfortable here, especially families,” explains Long. “I love to see families here and I’m honored to provide food for them that is both healthy and delicious.” She notes that the menu includes kid favorites like chicken strips, but that the strips are made from locally raised chickens and breaded in organic cornflakes.

For a taste of Long’s organic creations, you can try this recipe from the Jolly Pumpkin café’s appetizer menu; this edamame spread is served alongside fresh, grilled sourdough pizza.

What three ingredients do you always keep stocked in your pantry?

Quinoa, organic peanut butter—it’s gotta be crunchy, and honey from the farmer’s market. Those are the staples in my house. It doesn’t mean I put those all together!

Your favorite meal to make or serve?

That’s a hard one. I absolutely love Tamworth hogs. A braised pork shoulder is my favorite meal–slow cooked. Tamworth is a heritage breed of hog and it’s a flavor not to be missed. It’s a darker meat and it has a ton of flavor.

We all have a favorite indulgence, for a foodie like you it must be something spectacular?

Ron introduced me to Alan McClure of Patric Chocolate, a small chocolate maker in Missouri. I’m not usually a fan of dark chocolate but the stuff this guy puts together is absolutely amazing. My favorite is the 70% Madagascar chocolate bar with little cocoa nibs in it. It’s addictive.

What’s one of your worst cooking mistakes?

Anything that I burn. Once, I burned the mac ‘n cheese sauce—totally toasted it. I tried to fix it, but you can’t. I use really good pasta and really good cheeses, but nothing can take that scorched flavor out.

There are so many great Michigan-made food products, what is your pick?

For me, anything seasonal. Rosewood Farms makes a phenomenal tofu.

What do you suggest for first-timers to Jolly Pumpkin? What menu item should they make sure to try?

I make a smoked tofu salad that’s really good. There’s spinach, cherry tomatoes, shitake mushrooms, shaved broccoli, a sesame vinaigrette and, of course, smoked tofu. The flavors meld really well. The sourdough pizza is always good too.

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Giveaway–Revolution Foods Organic School Snack Sampler

Apples are my idea of a perfect school snack–a medium-sized, crisp Empire apple. But I know that apples will only appeal (no pun intended:) to my kids so many days in a row and then I’ve got to get creative. I’ve been looking around for easy, healthy school snack options and Revolution Foods has some that may be just right. I haven’t sampled Revolution Foods’ line yet, instead I’m going to rely on one lucky MKES reader to do it for me.

The giveaway package will include samples of their kid-friendly

  • Grammy Sammy–which pairs soft baked graham bars with creamy yogurt fillings. The cocoa graham with banana yogurt fillings sounds good to me.
  • Jammy Sammy–for those of you with gluten allergies, this might be your answer to the standard PBJ. The bars come in several varieties including peanut butter and grape.
  • Mashups–good-for-your-kids fruit snacks. Only organic fruits make it into these treats. Although there are several flavors, their newest creation, strawberry banana would be my pick.

Here’s how you enter–tell me your kids’ favorite school snack. Don’t have kids? You’re still eligible to enter–tell me one of your favorite snacks. The contest runs until next Wednesday, August 25th, when the winner will be chosen at random and announced on Thursday, August 26th. (Only participants in the continental U.S. will be eligible–sorry Kiwis.)

I’ll start–one of my kids’ favorite school snacks (beyond apples) is whole, black olives. I send in ten–one for each finger and let them know that playing with their food is just fine. How about you?

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Blueberry Salsa–It’s tastier than you think!

Yes, you read that right, blueberry salsa. I know, I thought it would be a bad combo too. I mean blueberries are naturals in muffins, pancakes, cheesecakes, but a spicy, savory mix of cilantro, lime, tomatoes, chiles, and…blueberries? Before you dismiss this salsa as gimmicky (like I almost did) hear me out.

First, it’s nearly the end of blueberry season—meaning your family is probably getting a little bored of blueberries in muffins, even if you do top it with streusel. Second, why not do a little Midwest-Mexican fusion? And last, but most important, they really do taste good in salsa.

With its sour, spicy flavors, salsa literally begs for a pop of sweetness—enter the blueberry. Mixing a few blueberries into your standard salsa recipe not only gives it that ‘wow’ factor, it also gives salsa a burst of tart flavor. Now, blueberries won’t work in any salsa recipe. I recommend it for a pico de gallo, which is a simple, but satisfying mix that you can throw together a few minutes before serving your meal. Although, you could easily serve this salsa as an appetizer (blue corn chips are fun with this), pairing it with grilled pork, chicken or even a light fish like tilapia makes for a meal (just don’t go topping your t-bone, blueberries and beef are still a no-no).

If you’re ready for something different for dinner tonight, pick up some blueberries and fresh chiles

.

Recipe

Serves: 4 to 6

Prep time: 15 minutes

5 medium-sized tomatoes (I prefer Romas)

1 red or yellow pepper

1 small-sized red onion

1 sprig cilantro

1 lime

1-2 Serrano chiles

½ cup blueberries (or more)

Salt and pepper to taste

Chop the tomatoes, pepper and onion into small pieces and place in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Cut the Serrano chile in half lengthwise; remove the stem and the seeds. Note: I used Serrano chiles instead of the usual jalapeno peppers. Jalapenos are okay, but I prefer the slightly sweeter kick of Serrano chiles. Both are readily available at most grocers. Serrano chiles tend to be smaller than jalapenos. Cut the chiles fine and add them to the tomato mix.

Cut the lime in half and squeeze half of the juice into the bowl. Stir. Mince 3 to 4 tablespoons of cilantro leaves on a cutting board and then add them to the mixing bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste. Adjust the flavor using the lime juice, salt and cilantro (you may even want to up the heat by adding another Serrano chile). Finally, stir in the blueberries being careful not to break the skin. Serve.

Remember to check in Tuesday for MKES’s next giveaway!

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Easy Chocolate Bundt Cake

I’m ready to get baking, how about you?

After a long summer, I’m itching to heat up the oven and start baking cookies and cakes. Seriously, when does the snow start so I can justify cranking up the stove to 375 for an afternoon? I’ve had to temper my baking fixation with the occasional batch of blueberry muffins and of course a cobbler or two. But it’s just not the same as putting together something seriously sweet for a special occasion: my solution, an easy chocolate bundt cake.

I’m usually not the one to reach for a box instead of the flour, but with this cake you really can’t tell the difference so why go to all the work of making a cake from scratch? Plus, I pack on a smooth, gooey chocolate icing.

My mom has been making this chocolate cake since I was little. My copy has her handwritten instructions right from off of the box of a Duncan Hines cake mix. Of course, I’ve made a few adjustments to the original to put my own spin on the recipe. Around my house, this isn’t just cake—it’s comfort food. (Make your kids really happy by letting them have it in a bowl with milk for breakfast.)

And make a mental note for once the school year starts—this recipe comes together quickly so I always have the ingredients on hand for those times when one of my kids says, “Oh, yeah, mom I’m supposed to bring something in to class/soccer/girl scouts tomorrow. Can you make something?” One last note: It also freezes well, minus the icing, so you can even make one ahead if you can stand baking one and not eating it right away!

Recipe

Servings: 12 pieces

Preparation time: 15 minutes + baking time

Ingredients:

1 box chocolate cake mix (fudge is my favorite)

1 package instant chocolate pudding

½ cup oil

1 ¼ cup water

4 eggs

½ teaspoon almond extract

Optional add-ins: 1 ½ cups miniature chocolate chips, 1 cup coconut, 1 cup chopped nuts or all of the above (just avoid marshmallows, it doesn’t work well as a mix-in)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray a bundt pan with cooking oil then dust the pan with flour (the flour should coat the pan). Remove any excess flour by turning it upside down and tapping the bottom.

In a large bowl, blend all of the ingredients together (except the mix-ins) using a handheld mixer on high speed. Add your mix-ins. Pour the batter into the bundt pan. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted near the center of the cake.

Let the cake cook for about 25 minutes and then invert onto your serving dish.

Chocolate Icing:

4 Tablespoons cocoa powder

1 teaspoon Espresso powder (optional)

2 ½ Tablespoons water

2 Tablespoons oil

2 Tablespoons corn syrup

¼ cup chocolate chips (semi-sweet)

2 cups powdered sugar

In a medium-sized saucepan, gradually bring all the ingredients to a medium-high heat and stir until smooth (about 4 minutes). Remove from the heat and add in the powdered sugar. Whisk until smooth. Allow the icing to cool until it thickens enough to pour over the cake. Dribble onto the cake allowing some icing to pool in the center. You can also garnish with nuts.

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$50 Bison Giveaway Winner Announced–20% Off Discount Code

MKES readers have been busy trying out new foods! Alligator and escargot seemed to be a common theme along with an occasional ostrich and some lentils thrown in.

Thanks for participating, the prize package winner was chosen at random, Jennifer M. will be receiving the sampler from High Plains Bison. I hope she’ll report in once she’s had a chance to try out a bison dog or two.

Don’t worry, even if you didn’t win, MKES readers can still receive a discount using this code, EATGOOD22. You’ll get 20% off your total order. Note that the discount won’t appear until you review your purchase on the billing page. This is the biggest discount that High Plains Bison offers.

And if you’re still itching to try out some new flavors stay tuned…next Tuesday I’ll be announcing another giveaway.

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