Archive for August, 2011

Quick pretzel smores

It’s National Toasted Marshmallow Day! Can you believe I almost missed it? I know, I know, it seems like there’s a day for everything now, but hey, it’s a great excuse for passing along this simple recipe I like to think of as smores ‘deconstructed’ (even if there’s no roasting involved).

There are just four ingredients to this dessert that comes together quickly. Plus, it’s easy enough that you can explain how to put these together, give your kids the ingredients and then let them go to work.

Ready for the shopping list? One bag big marshmallows, one box graham crackers, 1 bag pretzel sticks, and of course, melting chocolate. That’s it.

Once your have everything together, put one of your kids in charge of crushing the graham crackers (my middle daughter loved this task!). Then melt one cup of chocolate pieces in the microwave. I separated it out into two bowls so that I wouldn’t hear complaints about somebody taking all the chocolate. Although with three kids, and two bowls, there were still some claims of chocolate swiping.

Before you dip the marshmallows into the chocolate you’ll want to make sure it’s cool. If you’re chocolate is too hot, the marshmallows will melt into it, instead of getting a nice coating. Test the temperature by dipping a spoon in and then dip your finger on the chocolate. As long as it’s lukewarm, you’re good to go. Now for the fun part—dip & roll. Set the finished marshmallows on waxed paper until they set. It’ll only take a few minutes.

Recipe

Servings: About 30

Prep time: 10 minutes

Ingredients

1 bag big marshmallows

1 sleeve graham crackers (or 1 cup crushed)

30 pretzel sticks

1 cup melting chocolate

Directions

  1. Place the chocolate in a glass, microwave-safe bowl and heat on medium power for one minute, thirty seconds (microwave temperatures may vary).
  2. Stir the chocolate until smooth.
  3. Place pretzels into the marshmallows.
  4. Crush the graham crackers to make one cup, then place in a shallow bowl.
  5. Dip the marshmallows one at a time into the chocolate, then the graham crackers crumbs.
  6. Place on waxed paper to set.
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DIY flower pepper

Strange, I don’t like growing flowers, but I like using them in food. This summer I’ve been experimenting with lavender. It has a hint of spiciness that reminds me of anise and the aroma is more soothing than floral.

But where do you find supplies of dried, edible flowers? It took me awhile but I found plenty of dried flowers available in bulk at a local grocers, Mustard Seed Market. The flowers were intended for make-it-yourself tea, but I saw other possibilities…

I’ve been mixing lavender in with fresh strawberries or peaches, but when I ran across Flower Pepper at Trader Joe’s I started understanding the savory potential of lavender. Now doing a little online digging I found that apparently there’s a Chinese spice called Sichuan, or flower pepper, that’s added to dishes in various forms and has the effect of numbing your tongue. Never tried that, but it sounds interesting. It’s neither a pepper, a flower or even a chile pepper. And this isn’t the kind of pepper I’m making here. Instead, I’m suggesting adding some zing to the sometimes underwhelming tabletop pepper. Yeah, see where I’m going?

The best part–you don’t need to buy flower pepper, you can make your own variety using whatever dried flowers catch your interest. The Trader Joe’s mix includes lavender, rose, calendula, and cornflower petals. The mix is 1:4 flowers to peppercorns. So far, I’ve used the flower pepper to marinate pork cutlets, but I can see how it would add interest to lean meats like tilapia and other white fish. To do this at home, simply place peppercorns into the grinder along with your selection of flowers. I’ve just started fiddling with pepper, I’m thinking of what dried Mexican jicama flowers might do to enliven enchilada sauce. Hmmm….

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When mom gets sick…

Normally I don’t get sick. (I credit my commitment to eating at least a little dark chocolate each day–hey, it’s high in anti-oxidants; it’s nearly as good for me as my daily vitamin. Really.) For the occasional sniffle, I pop in a cough drop or two, I’m done. Upset tummy, I grab a banana, I’m good. But my middle daughter gave me a doozy of a head cold that I’m still trying to get over. Excuse me while I grab yet another tissue.

While I don’t like being sick (I know, I know, no one does), I’ve noticed it’s had a few benefits. I wanted to share a couple–

Hot stuff in the kitchen

Mr. Squid believes hot, spicy food helps cure colds. I’m game, especially since my part in making the meal was staying in my three-blanket- deep cocoon on the couch while catching slight whiffs–between Kleenex rounds–of celery seed, cayenee pepper, tomato, paprika and a dozen other spices that Mr. Squid melded into a shrimp etouffee. He’d been wanting to try a Cajun dish for quite some time and seeing my red nose must have been inspiring. He served the etouffee over wild rice with tilapia and sauteed asparagus. Clean plates all around! Mine included.

Baking on her own

Meanwhile my oldest wanted to make a knock-out cake for a get-together with friends. I’ll admit, usually I’d be inclined to hover over her and give countless ‘helpful suggestions’ while she mixed. Well, I couldn’t hover, not with the Kleenex habit. We talked through the recipe together, I sent her in the kitchen and she whipped up her first cheesecake. Count me as a proud mama, especially since I got a slice out of the deal.

I’m sure I’ll get over this cold soon (no doubt another slice of cheesecake will help), but it’s been nice to enjoy a little foodie TLC in the meantime.

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Inspired by Man v. Food: The Italian Melt

Lately, when friends or family come to visit me in Cleveland they have one restaurant request: Melt. I’ve got to thank The Travel Channel and Adam Richman for that. When Richman visited Cleveland, he took–and won (sorry for the spoiler!)–the Melt challenge. The grilled-cheese-on-steriods packs 13 different cheeses, 3 slices of bread, and a hearty helping of fries to make for 5-pounds of food. Yikes! No way, I’d ever want to eat that much food in one sitting.

But what I did like about his trip to Melt, and the popularity of the restaurant, is that grilled cheese sandwiches are considered, cool, even trendy. Now I haven’t had a Melt sandwich yet (so far the lines have been way too long for me, despite the host assuring me, “It’s not too bad, 45 minutes or so, and that’s pretty short for us). I wasn’t up for waiting. Neither were my kids–so I grabbed some ingredients at the store and told Mr. Squid, “Surprise me.” He did.

Using a few finds from our garden (okay, my basil plant that has survived a whole month–that’s a record for me and growing greens), and sauces and such from the fridge, he came up with ‘the Italian.’ That’s the only name I could come up with for this creation, but if you have a better one, please do tell!

*Note: Mr. Squid has two ‘must-dos’ when it comes to grilled cheese. The first is that all of the main ingredients need to be heated before adding them (“No one likes to bite into a cold part of a hot sandwich”) and second that the slices should be crisped and the cheese melted separately before putting them together at the end.

Here’s how Mr. Squid put ‘the Italian’ together:

  1. First, he added a little basil olive oil to the griddle and then placed thin slices of Roma tomatoes, strips of fresh basil and grated Parmesan cheese on top. He let that heat just until the Parmesan started to melt and then set it aside.
  2. Next, he heated a combination of roast beef and smoked turkey on the griddle.
  3. Now that all the mixins’ were heated, it was time to put the sandwich together. He used thick cut Italian deli bread that he’d coated with a thin layer of butter. On the top piece he also added mayo mixed half and half with Balsamic vinegar.
  4. He placed both on the griddle then added the tomato-basil mixture to the top piece followed by sliced peperoncinis for a bit of vinegar spiciness and then a slice of Swiss cheese.
  5. On the other piece of bread he added a slice of American cheese followed by the deli meat.
  6. Once all the cheeses are melted, he carefully pressed the two sides together and pressed them down with the spatula.

There you go–grilled cheese worth the wait. Plus, I didn’t even have to tip the waiter. One of these days, I gotta go to Melt, but for now I’ll keep letting my hubby and kids come up with tasty grilled cheese combos.

Your turn–do you have a favorite grilled cheese creation? Are you a Man v. Food watcher?

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Potato chip brownie sundaes

Here’s the set-up: my daughter “had” to have brownies for an activity and I found out about an hour before. That’s when I reach for the nearest box of brownies. Nothing fancy, but it comes together quickly.

Once she got to the activity, someone else had already brought the treat. We had a pan full of lackluster brownies that needed a little enlivening. Enter potato chips.

I’ve been noticing the trend toward adding saltiness to add depth and interest to desserts. I like it. Have you noticed the ‘in’ flavor right now for ice cream is salted caramel?

That was in the back of my mind when I created a rich chocolate sauce–bittersweet chocolate, a touch of semi-sweet melted into heavy cream (it was slightly bitter to compensate for the sweet brownies). I made a swath of the chocolate sauce on each person’s plate, followed with a brownie, topped with vanilla ice cream and crushed potato chips. The crunchy, saltiness of the potato chips pulled all the dish together. Yum.

If I were to do it again, and trust me, my kids are making requests, I think I’d process the potato chips in a food processor until the were fine and then roll the ice cream in the pieces.

Your turn–have you noticed sea salt making an appearance in desserts? Have you tried adding a hint of salt to chocolate to bring out its flavor?

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Portobello basil burgers

That's not beef--that's mushrooms!

Forget the beef, earthy portobello mushrooms taste even better. And when you top them with pesto mayo, fresh basil and thick-cut bacon? Tasty. My meat-loving brother-in-law even asked for a bite–having never had a portobello mushroom before–and liked it! In fact, I think I even saw a hint of envy…

Recipe

Servings: 4

Prep time: 5 minutes + grilling

Ingredients

4 large Portobello mushrooms

¼ cup olive oil

Grill seasoning mix

Garlic powder (optional)

Onion powder (optional)

Salt and pepper

Hamburger buns

Fresh basil leaves

Sliced tomato

Bacon (if desired, you know you want it!)

1/4 cup mayo (or reduced fat cream cheese if you’re trying to go light)

1 Tablespoon prepared pesto

Directions

  1. Wash and dry the mushrooms. Remove the stems.
  2. Bring the grill to high heat.
  3. Brush the olive oil on one side of the mushroom. Sprinkle with seasonings as you would hamburgers. I use a mesquite grilling mix along with garlic and onion powders and then salt and pepper.
  4. Place the mushrooms on the grill with the oiled side down. Grill until the mushroom starts to soften, about 5 minutes.
  5. Brush the non-oiled side and then flip the mushroom. Grill 5 more minutes or until browned and tender.
  6. Mix the mayo and the pesto (I added a few sun-dried tomatoes too).
  7. Slather the hamburger bun top with pesto mayo. On the bottom part layer the mushroom, tomato and basil.
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Watermelon arugula feta salad

I have a weakness for a good salad. My favorites have strong flavors that play off each other with hints of sweetness, sourness (without being bitter) and crunch. This salad has it all–plus it’s easy to put together.

Sure, I’d love to take credit for coming up with the combo, but that goes to a restaurant I went to with friends–Moxie’s. I wanted to share one of the dishes with my kids (I’ll save figuring out the shrimp and zucchini fritters for later). This simple salad came to mind when I found watermelon on sale. I made several tweaks from the restaurant, including not making a vinaigrette. Lately, I’ve been just drizzling the vinegar on the bottom of the salad plate, stacking on the mixins’, then drizzling a sweetener, or flavored oil, on top. Saves time and it lets the flavors stand apart instead of being mixed from the start.

Here’s how to put it together:

  1. Cut up watermelon into bite-sized chunks. Sprinkle with a little salt to bring out the flavor and set aside.
  2. On each plate, drizzle your favorite vinegar. I use orange vinegar (thanks Trader Joe’s!), but other good choices would be something on the lighter side, like white balsamic.
  3. Place a handful of arugula, followed by feta cheese (Moxie’s used goat cheese), candied walnuts (this is my idea instead of rye croutons), then the watermelon pieces and finally a drizzle of agave.
  4. That’s it! Serve immediately.

Kid version of the salad

Now my oldest is to the point where she eats just about anything, but I knew my two younger kids wouldn’t go for it, so I separated out each ingredient so they could mix it on their own. You can see it pictured. They weren’t too fond of the kick of arugula at first, but when I coaxed them to try it with watermelon, then dip it in agave, they seemed to like it. Now, I won’t say they’re requesting this salad everyday (even though I’d love to have it often), but they were willing to give it a try and finish it. I call that a success. Now to figure out those fritters…

And we have winners in the eco-products giveaway. It was easy to pick ‘em out since the comments were sparse. So congrats to Jennifer, Betsy & Kerry. I’ll be sending your lunch bags soon!

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Purple Amish wheat bread

My family and I had a chance to visit Amish country in Indiana recently. I was in carb heaven. But I had to share one of my discoveries–purple Amish bread. Regular MKES readers know I like food in color, from purple potatoes to purple cauliflower. But purple whole wheat?

In Middlebury we stopped at Rise ‘n Roll bakery, which I was told had the best donuts ever. They were.

As I circled the aisles munching samples as I went, I spied bread made with purple wheat. I asked the head baker about the bread and she explained that they’d had a nutritionist come in and make health improvements to their recipes. One of those changes–purple wheat. Apparently, she was told, the more colorful wheat had a higher anti-oxidant content than the regular variety. She also mentioned in the bakery they’d found that the purple wheat made for a softer bread and stayed fresh longer than other flours too. I was intrigued. Of course, I had to buy a loaf. I wish I’d bought more.

The purple wheat bread had this swirl of white wheat too along with plump raisins throughout–and almonds on top. My idea of a perfect loaf–hearty wheat, some pops of sweet and nuts–all in a surprising color.

Since I’ve been home I’ve tried to track down purple wheat so I can bake with it at home. So far, I haven’t been able to find anything close. Sure there’s purple corn flour, purple flowers, but no purple whole wheat flour. Anyone else ever baked or come across purple flour?

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Eco-products and lunch bag giveaway

From now until September 30th, 2011, you can send in proof-of-purchase labels from Annie’s Homegrown, Stonyfield YoKids, Honest Kids, and Seventh Generation and receive a free eco-lunch bag. Or, you can win a lunch bag here filled with coupons for free products.

My kids are already fans of Annie’s Shells & White Cheddar and Stonyfield’s organic yogurt so I was happy to spread the word about this offer, along with giving a free bag to 3 lucky readers.

Here how it works

  • leave a comment here with one of your favorite healthy snacks (one entry)
  • become a Facebook fan of MKES (another entry!)
  • add a comment to any of MKES’s Facebook posts (yet another entry!)
  • announce the giveaway on your blog (yup, another entry)

That’s it!

*Please note that the giveaway is only open to residents of the continental United State (sorry Kiwis). The winners will be chosen at random on Saturday, August 6th at 5pm EST and announced Monday, August 8th.

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Thai grilled corn lollipops

Forget grilling a whole corn on the cob when it’s so much easier–and fun–to make corn lollipops. And with corn in season right now it tastes so sweet it could almost be candy! You don’t have to add much to it to make a tasty dinner side dish. But you know me, I had to do a few tweaks. We were making Thai chicken satay. So to meld the Asian flavors, I soaked the corn ‘pops’ in coconut milk spiked with fresh lime juice, soy and honey. Yes, coconut + corn + lime = tasty.

I have to thank Bobby Flay’s Throwdown for this one. I finally got around to watching the ‘rematch on the grill‘ episode that’s been sitting on my DVD for weeks. He gave me the idea for the ‘pops’ and his competition the idea to soak the corn in milk. But the coconut milk is all my idea. Wait, back up, actually Mr. Squid may have come up with it while I was piecing off kernels and eating them raw (seriously sweet corn right now).

Ready for the recipe?

Thai grilled corn lollipops

Ingredients

1 corn cobs (the fresher, the better)

1 cup coconut milk

1/2 juice from a lime

1/2 tablespoon honey

1/2 teaspoon soy sauce

10-12 bamboo skewers

Directions

  1. Soak the skewers in water for at least 30 minutes so they won’t burn on the grill.
  2. Meanwhile, cut the corn into disks about 1-1/2″ thick. Add them to a mixing bowl with the coconut milk, lime juice, honey and soy sauce. Marinate for around 20-30 minutes.
  3. Using the sharp end of the bamboo skewer carefully poke it into the side of the corn pop.
  4. Heat your outdoor grill to medium high. Mr. Squid also places a band of heavy duty aluminum foil where the ends of the sticks will be so  they don’t burn.
  5. Place the corn pops on the grill for about 2-3 minutes on each side. Warning: some of the kernels will pop.
  6. FYI: The leftover corn kernels are great in salads and fried rice. Remove the kernels with a sharp kitchen knife.

Check back in tomorrow I have a contest ready for those of you sending kiddos back to school!

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