Archive for January, 2011

Chewy whole wheat oatmeal cookies

After going over how to grind your own whole wheat last week, I wanted to pass along a few more recipes. Here’s another one: oatmeal cookies.

Sometimes oatmeal cookies can get dry, especially when you’re using whole wheat. The secret to chewiness here is letting the raisins get a soaking in the eggs before going into the batter.

This recipe was tweaked from the original which appeared in the 1978 Colorado Cache Cookbook put out by the Junior League of Denver.
Recipe

Ingredients:
3 eggs, well beaten
1 cup raisins
*I use a combo of golden raisins, dried cranberries and regular raisins
1/2 teaspoon almond extract (or vanilla)
1 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups oatmeal
¾ cup chopped walnuts or almonds

Directions:

  1. Lightly beat the eggs. Add the almond extract and the raisins. Let this mixture stand, covered, for one hour.
  2. In a large mixing bowl cream the sugars and butter together—whip until fluffy.
  3. In a medium-sized mixing bowl combine all of your dry ingredients except the oatmeal and nuts.
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the whipped butter and combine well with the mixer.
  5. Stir in the raisin/egg combination with a wooden spoon.
    The oatmeal is the last ingredient to be stirred in. I use regular, whole oatmeal and toss 1 cup into the batter. With the other cup, I pulse it in the food processor to mince the oatmeal.  (I also add 1 Tablespoon or more of ground flax seed to the oatmeal for a health boost.)
    After your oatmeal is mixed well into the batter, add your chopped nuts.
  6. Place the dough into the refrigerator for at least an hour before baking.
  7. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and cook on an ungreased cookie sheet for 10 to 12 minutes or until slightly golden brown.
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3 Ingredient recipes for an easy romantic meal

I think I have more food traditions tied up in Valentine’s Day then any other holiday (Christmas included!). First, I don’t cook–it’s like Mother’s Day. I don’t clean up either (notice a trend?). And finally, no matter what we have for dinner, for dessert my husband makes crepes. He makes them just once a year and Valentine’s Day happens to be it.

Unlike me, he doesn’t use a recipe book but takes a peek at ingredients online and then judges whether he’s got the batter right by checking the thickness. Then he makes a filling with a combination of bittersweet chocolate, pecans, almonds, coconut, honey, and whatever else he happens to find tucked in the back of the kitchen cabinets. Then he serves it topped with fresh whipped cream.

See, now you’re getting why we only have this once a year.

Well this year I’m going to try to let him concentrate on his crepes and let my kids take over the main meal. They’re actually pretty excited about this (my oldest mentioned something about tying it into the Chinese New Year, my youngest just loves any excuse to throw on her little apron).

But I’m going to try to make it easy on them. I want them to feel good about what they make. I’ve been brainstorming a recipe ideas that only take a few ingredients. Here’s a few ideas from our house, I’d love to hear some of yours too!

Spaghetti

Ingredients= noodles, Italian sausage, 2 jars marinara

I always make my spaghetti sauce in the crockpot. I’ll brown the Italian sausage over the stovetop until it’s cooked through and then put it in the slow cooker along with the marinara. I set it on low for the day and the sauce takes on this rich, restaurant-worthy flavor. I think my kids can handle cooking noodles and then scooping out the sauce.

Asian wraps

Ingredients=Ground turkey + Boston lettuce + teriyaki sauce

This meal is easy to throw together. You just need to brown the ground turkey (job for the 12 y-o), add in the teriyaki sauce and then serve it on the lettuce pieces. If you don’t have a little person old enough to be at the stovetop you could brown the meat for her or you could use a purchased rotisserie chicken and have her mix in the sauce. Of course, everyone likes washing-lettuce duty.

Caesar salad

Ingredients=Romaine lettuce + salad dressing + grated Parmesan cheese

For a non-cooked meal, Caesar salad happen to be my favorite. Your kids can take care of washing the lettuce, pouring on the dressing and grating the cheese. If you want you can add croutons or even pieces of leftover chicken.

There are other ways to make the day fun for your whole family–while not spending a bundle. Check out these suggestions for Love on a Budget from Parents. I’ve been looking through the site as part of the Motherboard team. Once a week, I’ll be posting about the exciting things not to miss on the their site, and their affiliates.

Your turn–any creative ideas (simple recipes) that your kids can make for Valentine’s Day?

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The BEST whole wheat chocolate chip cookies

As promised, I’m passing along my favorite recipe for 100% whole wheat chocolate chip cookies. These cookies whip up quickly, but if you have the time, it’s fun to grind the wheat berries with your kids and then make the cookies. Of course, you can always get your whole wheat flour at the store. I’m thrilled that you can now find King Arthur flour everywhere. It used to be that you had to order it, now I can find it at my local grocers. Yeah.

A couple notes, these cookies are great warm, but I find they’re better on day #2–they get chewier. I’ve included this recipe from King Arthur below, with one omission–vanilla extract. Lately, I’ve been avoiding using it, or substituting almond extract for a little extra pizzazz. Here you don’t need it–the chocolate, honey and whole wheat offer plenty of flavor on their own.

Recipe

Ingredients

Prep time: 15 minutes

Servings: About 2 dozen

6 tablespoons butter, softened

1/2 cup sugar

3/4 cup brown sugar

3 tablespoons honey

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

2 cups whole wheat flour

2 cups chocolate chips

1/2 cup chopped walnuts (opt.)

1/4 cup dried tart cherries (opt.)

1/2 teaspoon espresso powder, cocoa powder or black onyx powder (opt.)

1/2 tablespoon ground flax

Directions

  1. In a large mixing bowl beat together the butter, sugars, honey, espresso powder (if you’re using it), and salt. Once that’s combined, add in the egg, vinegar, baking soda and baking powder.
  2. Stir in the flour and then the chocolate chips.
  3. I always refrigerate the dough for at least one hour.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350.
  5. Lightly coat your cookie pan with baking spray.
  6. Make cookie balls in your hands that are about the same amount as a tablespoon.
  7. Bake the cookies for 7 to 10 minutes or just until lightly browned.
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Grinding wheat with kids

I was floored when my then 6 year-old couldn’t get enough of grinding wheat. By hand. See I’d promised myself I was going to start using the stores of wheat that I’ve been saving up as much as possible in my everyday baking. I’ll admit, sometimes I do better at this than others.

I have a friend who goes through bags of wheat and uses an electronic Bosch grinder to make flour for bread. Her wheat bread is absolute perfection. But I wasn’t ready to commit to grinding all of my wheat (or springing for the pricey Bosch grinder). I wanted something that was easy to stash away and easy to use–no electricity required. After talking to friends, I settled on the Back to Basics Hand Mill. It was much less cumbersome then the tabletop mill I remember my mother having when I was a kid.

The hand mill was actually fun to use. In some ways it reminded my of using a pasta maker. You secure the mill on the side of a counter top, adjust the level of coarseness and start cranking. My kids got the hang of it immediately and offered to keep grinding even after I had plenty of wheat flour for the muffins I was making. Well, scratch that–my youngest thought it was fun, but my middle daughter got bored pretty quickly with it.

Photo credit: Emergency Essentials

Since we started using it about a year ago we don’t break out our hand mill as often as I’d like, but we always have fun with it when we do. Also, despite adjusting the courseness levels several times, I could never get it as fine as the wheat flour you buy from the store (or my friend’s electronically milled variety). My solution was to mix half and half my hand-milled flour with my store-bought variety.

Even if you’re not ready to crank our your own wheat flour, check in on Wednesday when I’ll be passing along my favorite 100% whole wheat chocolate chip cookie recipe.

Your turn, have you tried grinding your own wheat?

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Flavor boosters hiding in your pantry

Okay is anyone else out there suffering from a bit of the wintertime blahs? I know, I know just a few months ago I couldn’t wait to get in the kitchen and crank up the oven to 425 degrees to make calzones. But now that I’ve exhausted most of my favorite snowy day food recipes, it’s time to get creative. Time for some recipe makeovers!

Now, these aren’t complete makeovers, mind you. Instead I want to give you a few ideas about how to tweak the recipes that you already have to give them just a little more flavor. And most of these ingredients are just waiting in your pantry, stuck behind a bag of flour or hiding behind the canned tomatoes.

Vinegar

Give your veggies a boost by adding a few splashes of vinegar on them just before serving. One of my favorite pairings is green beans and a little bit of apple cider vinegar. But other dishes can benefit from just a hint of sourness.  Spaghetti sauce? How about a drizzling in a little Balsamic vinegar. Rice? What about a hint of regular white distilled vinegar.

Onion powder

Even if I add chopped fresh onions to a dish, I’ll usually sprinkle in some onion powder too. I’ve noticed that when I use my crockpot, which is frequently, the slow cooking makes for tender meats, but sometimes also flavorless ones– unless I use plenty of powdered spices. Along with onion powder, I also sprinkle meats with garlic powder (but not garlic salt) and sometimes chicken broth powder.

Worcestershire sauce

Yeah, I can’t pronounce it right either, but I like the deep flavor that Worcestershire sauce can give to gravies. But I don’t stop there. I’ve noticed that adding a few drops in creamier dishes like stroganoff adds a zing and richness. My secret ingredient in mac ‘n cheese? A few drops of Worcestershire.

HEAT

Break out the cayenne pepper! If you’re a regular reader you know I like a bit of heat in my meals. Any creamy sauce at my house–from alfredo to hollandaise–gets a dash of cayenne pepper or a few red pepper flakes. My theory? The tickle that chile gives your food makes it more interesting to your taste buds.

What about if you don’t have any of these flavor boosters in your pantry? Not to worry. All of these ingredients are inexpensive and easy to find at the grocery store. And with a couple of exceptions, I buy the store brand. With the Balsamic vinegar and the Worcestershire sauce, I splurge for the good stuff (there is no substitute for Lea & Perrins).

Looking for more ideas on what to stock in your pantry? Check out these pantry must-haves. I’ve been looking through the site as part of the Motherboard team. Once a week, I’ll be posting about the exciting things not to miss on the their site, and their affiliates.

Now it’s your turn. What kind of flavor boosters do you use in your meals?

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Mexican rice pudding

My kids convinced me to try rice pudding a few years ago. I thought I’d tried—and decided—as a child that I didn’t like rice pudding. Now, I’m not sure I ever even ate it as a kid.

Rice cooked in milk and peppered with raisins and cinnamon just didn’t sound like the right combination of flavors somehow. But every time we went to a Mexican restaurant, their dessert of choice would be ‘rice pudding.’ At first, I wasn’t impressed.

Then later when sneaking bites, I began to be intrigued. The flavors of the smooth rice and sweetened milk were comforting, soothing after a spicy meal. Unlike a chocolate treat that felt indulgent, this dessert tasted homey. I was hooked. Making rice pudding at home was another story. I tried a recipe that was done in the crockpot—that sounded promising (it tasted awful).

Another recipe called for cooked rice to be added to the milk instead of cooking the rice in the milk. I liked the idea of being able to use my leftover rice for the recipe, but in the end, the dish tasted nothing like what I’d come to love at restaurants. I finally stumbled on the recipe I was craving when a mother in one of my daughter’s school classes, who happened to be from Mexcio, brought in a snack for a room party. Rice pudding. I sampled it and sure enough, the rice was just the right texture with a hint of creaminess. She graciously passed along her recipe, which I’m now passing along to you.

Recipe

Ingredients

1 cup rice

4 cups water

1 cinnamon stick (or ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon)

Peel of one lime or lemon (alternatively use 1Tablespoon of zest)

1, 14-ounce can sweetened, condensed milk

2 egg yolks

1/4 cup raisins

Directions

  1. Rinse the rice in a colander under cold water until the rinsing water comes out clear on the other side. (This helps remove extra starch on the outside of the rice pieces.)
  2. Boil the water with the cinnamon stick and the fruit rind for about 2 to 3 minutes in a medium-sized cooking pan on the stovetop over medium-high heat.
  3. Add the rice to the water and cook over medium-high heat.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix the condensed milk and egg yolks with a fork.
  5. When the rice is cooked through but still firm, reduce the heat to low. Slowly add in the milk-egg mixture and raisins, stirring frequently for 3 to 4 minutes or until the rice is soft.
  6. Turn off the heat and cover the pan. Let the rice continue cooking and steaming for about 10 minutes or so.
  7. Remove the cinnamon stick and the fruit rind and serve. Rice pudding can be served warm or cold and sprinkled with a little cinnamon.
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Turkey Picadillo–A New Take on Tacos

Never heard of picadillo? I hadn’t either until Mr. Squid, who spent two years in Mexico, got me hooked on this meat and potatoes dish. I mean, literally meat and potatoes.

Picadillo, not to be confused with pico de gallo, is a South American dish that’s made just a little bit differently depending on where you have it. The Cuban version is studded with raisins and olives (no potatoes), other countries include hard-broiled eggs.

But the Mexican version is the one I like.

As I’ve been trying to get my family to eat just a bit healthier, picadillo has become one of our go-to dishes (promise, it’s not a New Year’s resolution thing, it’s more of a my-kids-are-all-in-basketball-now-and-can’t-stop-eating-so-it-better-be-good-for-them thing). It’s fast and easy. Plus, it’s packed with fresh ingredients–and it heats up beautifully on day 2.

Making the dish is pretty simple too. You cook ground meat, add chopped, boiled potatoes and then pour in a fresh tomato sauce. Let it simmer while you toast corn tortillas–that’s it.

Now before I get into the recipe, I’ve gotta make a plea here–please no hard taco shells, unless you’re frying them yourself (which would definitely blow the calorie count for the dish). Instead, toast corn tortillas one at a time–if you’re lucky enough to have a gas stovetop this should go quickly. The flavor of toasted corn tortillas is so unlike the hard taco shells and even very different than if you simply heat up the tortillas instead of toasting. And it’s better for you too. Okay, enough convincing, here’s the recipe…

Turkey Picadillo

Ingredients

1.5 pounds ground turkey

3 medium-sized potatoes

4 medium-sized tomatoes

1 large onion

1-2 cloves garlic

1/2 serrano chile pepper (optional)

cilantro (optional)

limes (optional)

corn tortillas

Directions

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil on the stove.
  2. Wash and peel the potatoes.
  3. Dice the potatoes into small pieces and cook them in the water until they’re soft.
  4. Cut up the tomatoes and onions in large pieces. Place the tomatoes and onions in a food processor or blender and pulse until smooth (along with the chile pepper and a handful of cilantro, if you’re using them). Set aside.
  5. Add 1 teaspoon canola oil to a large skillet over medium high heat. Once the oil is heated, add the ground turkey.
  6. Once the meat is cooked through add the potatoes and the tomato mixture. Let the ingredients simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes.
  7. Toast 2 to 3 corn tortillas for each person. (Keep them heated by placing in either a tortilla warmer or in a clean kitchen cloth).
  8. To serve place a heaping 1/2 cup of the picadillo on each person’s plate and put the tortillas and cut limes on the table (alternatively, you can fill each corn tortilla and serve it that way).
  9. I sometimes serve picadillo tacos with chopped tomatoes, lettuce and cheese. But most often, we eat them plain with just a little bit of lime juice squeezed on top.

Along with trimming calories at the dinner table, check out these simple ideas for giving your family a healthy makeover. I’ve been looking through the site as part of the Motherboard team. Once a week, I’ll be posting about the exciting things not to miss on the their site, and their affiliates.

What about you? Are you trying to eat just a little bit better–and looking to convince your family to do the same?

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Boredom Buster: Mini-challah breads

It snowed here last week. And this week. Next week? Yup, snow in the forecast. My kids love to play outside, but with chillier temperatures, they’re not begging to go out anymore like they did when the first snowflakes came.

That’s okay. I find that wintery temperatures make the perfect excuse to start baking. Lately, I’ve been trying to involve my kids more with what I’m cooking up. That’s led to some fun discoveries–and my our current fascination with making things in miniature.

As a child, my favorite bread my mom would make was challah. I still remember watching her carefully braid three thick pieces of the eggy dough into a large loaf. My job? Topper. I would decide whether we would sprinkle the dough with poppy seeds or sesame seeds after my mom brushed the bread with an egg wash, just before she popped it into the oven.

The loaf always came out massive.

On a whim, I thought I’d refashion mom’s challah bread using my favorite roll recipe, letting my kids do the braiding. With only one egg in the batter, my roll recipe doesn’t carry quite the heft of a regular challah recipe, but I think it probably makes creating miniature versions a little easier with the more elastic dough.

I’m including my roll recipe, along with the tweaks below:

Mini-challah breads

Ingredients

Prep time: 45 minutes + 1.5 hours rising/baking

Yield: 16 rolls

½ cup milk

1 stick butter or margarine

1/3 cup sugar

½ teaspoon salt

1 package yeast (or 2 ¼ teaspoons)

½ cup warm water

1 egg

31/2-4 cups flour

Directions

  • Place the warm water in a measuring cup and whisk in the yeast. Let stand 5 to 10 minutes and check that some bubbles appear on the surface (meaning the yeast is active).
  • Over medium-high heat, bring the milk to a gentle simmer in a small saucepan. As soon as bubbles appear, move the pan off of the heat and add the butter, salt, and sugar. Whisk until smooth and melted in. Cool to room temperature.
  • Add the yeast mixture to the buttered milk in a large mixing bowl. Using a handheld mixer to combine the ingredients, add the flour in 1 cup increments. The dough should start holding together after 3 cups. Stir in ½ to 1 cup more until the dough begins to pull away from the bowl.
  • Sprinkle flour on a cutting board and place the dough ball onto the board. With floured hands, knead the dough until it becomes a smooth ball.
  • Clean out the mixing bowl using warm water, then coat with cooking spray. Place the dough into the bowl and cover loosely with a lightly dampened cloth.
  • Place in a warm place for 1 hour to rise. The dough won’t rise significantly.
  • Divide the dough in two.
  • On a floured work surface, knead one dough ball until smooth. Roll out to an 8-inch rectangle.
  • Using a pizza cutter, slash into 4 equal pieces, working lengthwise.
  • Cut each of the 4 pieces into 3 long pieces (again, lengthwise).
  • Press the three pieces together at the top end, loosely braid the dough pieces. tuck the end pieces into the bottom part of the loaf.
  • Place the formed dough onto a baking pan lightly coated with spray. Cover the roll with the slightly moist kitchen cloth.
  • Repeat the process with the remaining dough slices and then with the other dough ball. You should have 8 mini-loaves in all.
  • Let the formed dough rise again for 30 minutes. DO NOT allow the dough to go over that time.
  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Place the pan in the oven and cook for 15 to 20 minutes or until loaves are just browned. You can also whisk an egg, add 1 teaspoon water, and then coat each roll with the glaze before baking to give each roll a shiny appearance.

Looking for more ideas about what to do with your family when the blahs set in after too many days stuck inside? Check out these boredom busters on Motherboard. I’ve been looking through the site as part of the Motherboard team. Once a week, I’ll be posting about the exciting things not to miss on the their site, and their affiliates.

What about your crew? Have you found creative ways to avoid cabin fever?

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DIY, easy heating pad

If you read my last post you’ll understand why I haven’t been doing much cooking lately. After taking care of my crew (and gratefully not picking up the stomach flu myself–thank you, Lysol!), I needed a little TLC tonight.

Enter the heating pad. It’s not much to look at, but this is the best hot pack you’ll find–and you can make your own in under 5 minutes. I used one of my husband’s thick athletic socks (it had lost its mate anyway), filled it with Jasmine rice, tied a knot in the top and viola! Hot pad.

I usually put mine in the microwave for about 1 minute, twenty seconds to get the heat just right. Keep in mind, you can use regular rice or just about any kind of beans to fill your heating pad. And you can adjust the firmness of the pad by the amount of rice or beans that you place inside. I like to squish mine between my shoulder blades, so I don’t make it too firm.

My husband tried to swap out my sock heating pad with one he bought for me at the store, but I must admit, I still like my DIY version better. (Trust me, the rice hold the heat just as well as any commercial heating pad–you’ll be amazed.)

Plus, if I ever lose it, it’s easy enough to replace!

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Soothing Tummies: The BRAT Diet

Photo credit: Ntsiro

The tummy bug visited our house this week. So far, three down (two kids + hubby), one potential sick kid (plus mom!) to go. I’m doing everything I can, from wiping down every surface with Lysol to washing every towel–twice–to keep the rest of us healthy and to get everyone back to normal, soon.

Gone are the planned dinners for the week, and in their place, we’ve been keeping it bland. That’s where the BRAT diet comes in. No, this isn’t some Atkins-esque diet regimen, and it doesn’t have anything to do with unruly toddlers, the BRAT approach is all about keeping foods plain and simple–and your tummy woozy-free.

BRAT stands for bananas, rice, apples and toast. And that’s what we’ve been eating. Personally, I’ve always considered bananas a wonder-fruit anyway so I’m not letting my supply run low this week. Maybe the saying should be, “A banana a day keeps the doctor way.”

I’m just hoping that a banana a day can keep the tummy bug away–or at least get it to pass through our house quickly…

Anyone else have special remedies for soothing tummies?

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