Archive for October, 2012

Spider cupcakes and more Halloween goodies

Our house was full of princesses, fairies, and a vampire this weekend. My youngest planned out her own Halloween party, from sending out the invitations to planning games and setting up a spook alley. My assignment was to take care of food (yes!). I had planned a dramatic spread of various creepy crawies. But after failing in my original cupcake idea I took my daughter’s lead and kept things simple.

The key: labeling your food with gross names and letting the kids take it from there. They were adding mustard to their mummy dogs, saying, “What should we call this?” “Ghost boogers,” said one (probably my daughter). “Or Goblin drool?”

Here are a few ideas if you’re planning your own monster bash:

The alien cupcakes were way too sticky

Spider cupcakes. I tried making the awesome alien cupcakes from Betty Crocker, but I just couldn’t manage to get the Kix cereal-marshmallow mix right. My “aliens” ended up instead as “alien brains” on our Halloween buffet. (See directions below for the cupcakes.)

Spider parts. Cooked mini spaghetti noodles topped with poppy seeds.

Eyeballs. Whole black olives.

Mummy brains. Cheddar cheese rice cakes.

Mummy dogs. Hotdogs wrapped in crescent roll dough, then baked. The recipe calls for you to make mustard “eyes” but I ran out of time–I noticed the kids didn’t even notice.

To make your spider cupcakes:

  • Bake one cake mix using the directions for cupcakes. (I ended up with 24.)
  • Top each cupcake with frosting of your choice.
  • Melt 3/4 cups chocolate chips in the microwave.
  • Use a spoon to place the melted chocolate in the corner of a thick, Ziploc bag. Make a small cut in the corner of the bag.
  • Create chocolate spiders: on the frosted cupcakes make a dot on the center. Then draw with the chocolate four legs on each side of the dot.
  • Place a mini, orange Nilla Wafer on the top of each dot (this is a great job for kiddos), then add two, small chocolate dots for eyes on each.

One more idea: You can also create spider webs to add to your cupcake display. I had extra melted chocolate left over so I made the webs on waxed paper (looking at images on my iPhone of spider webs as a guide), let them harden and then carefully peeled them away from the paper.

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Cook your quinoa!

These might look pretty but be careful, these can crack a tooth!

My teen has been going through a quinoa kick lately. After several successful meals with quinoa as a side, usually tabbouleh style–with a vinaigrette dressing, lots of fresh veggies, and a dash of feta–we decided to branch out. She found a recipe for multigrain breakfast bars where you toast uncooked quinoa in the oven along with oats and nuts to make the base of the bars.

I knew the recipe was going downhill when I tried to process the quinoa batter in my food processor. The batter was supposed to start to come together. It stuck. You could hear the little quinoa seeds popping as the blades turned. And turned. Undeterred, we figured that’s just how the batter was supposed to be–thick and unspreadable. Spatula in hand I forced the batter out into a parchment-lined 9 x 13″ baking dish and popped it into the refrigerator, just like the recipe said. Thirty minutes later I tried to cut the quinoa bars into squares. The knife wouldn’t even go in. At all. It was quinoa concrete.

We broke the 9 x 13″ bark apart instead and hopped for the best as my teen and I took bites. I should say nibbles really because that’s all that you could get from these quinoa multrigrain bars. My teen claimed they were okay, but today I tossed out the full bowl of our quinoa multigrain bars. No one had seconds (or really made it through firsts).

I haven’t given up on multigrain bars, just the idea of leaving quinoa uncooked before putting it into a batter. My teen hasn’t asked to try any quinoa recipes since. But I’m set on trying more. That’s part of being an adventurous eater, so you don’t like something uncooked like quinoa, or spinach or tomatoes… Next time try it a new way and maybe you will enjoy it.

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Kid-pleasing zucchini chocolate chip muffins

Do you have a favorite zucchini bread recipe? I had some extra zucchini on hand this week that needed a home so I used a quick bread recipe from Eating Well. But instead of bread–which takes around an hour to bake–I made muffins instead shaving a good 40 minutes off the cook time.

My kids ate these muffins as dessert after dinner, as treats for school, and after school snacks… Yeah, they really liked these. My youngest even told me these were “the best kiwi muffins, ever.”

Recipe

Courtesy of Eating Well

Prep time: 15 minutes + 15 cooking

Servings: 18 muffins

Ingredients:

3/4 cup low-fat milk
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups shredded zucchini (about 2 small zucchini; I used my Cuisinart)
2 cups white whole-wheat flour (I used half whole wheat, half all-purpose)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips

My additions (opt.):

1 tablespoon ground flax

1/3 cup chopped walnuts

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, oil, eggs, vanilla, and sugar.
  3. Stir the flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon together in another bowl.
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir until just moistened.
  5. Stir the chocolate chips and zucchini into the batter. (You can also stir in the optional additions here too.)
  6. Fill muffin cups 2/3 full with the batter.
  7. Bake for around 15 minutes or until just browned (insert a toothpick into the center of a muffin to test for doneness, if the toothpick comes out clean, your muffins are done!).
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Grilled pineapple fried rice

Around my house, we’re grilling more in the fall than we did this summer. And anytime Mr. Squid starts up the grill, I go through the veggie drawer for ideas  (I raid the fruit bowl too). That’s how I came up with grilled pineapple fried rice. You don’t have to grill the vegetables, but the flavor is so much better when the pineapple spends a little time in the flames.

Recipe

Prep time: 20 minutes

Servings: 4-6

Ingredients:

2 cups cooked rice (leftover takeout rice is perfect)

1 green pepper, diced

1/3 cup white onion, diced

3 Tablespoons canola oil

2 eggs (whisked)

1/2 tablespoon fish sauce

1 tablespoon soy sauce

6 pineapple rings (canned or fresh)

3/4 cup pineapple juice (drained from can or fresh)

1 clove garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (opt.)

Directions:

  1. Grill the green peppers, onions, and pineapple (optional).
  2. If you’re not grilling, bring the oil to medium-high heat in a wok or large saute pan. Add the diced vegetables and garlic and cook until heated but still crisp.
  3. Place the whisked eggs into the wok, break apart as they cook.
  4. Once cooked, push the eggs and vegetables to the sides of the pan and then add in the rice.
  5. Saute until the rice is heated through.
  6. Stir in the fish and soy sauces, the pineapple juice, and spices. Adjust the seasonings.
  7. Dice the pineapple (grilled or at room temperature) and add into the cooked rice.

Grilling in the fall

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The secrets to great grilled pizza

I’m above average. Yup. Turns out that most Americans eat 46 slices of pizza a year. My guess is I average a few more. (One last fun pizza fact: in Japan, they top pizza with squid. We haven’t tried that yet.)

I’ve tried naan pizzas, rocky road pizzas, margarita pizzas, savory apple pizzas, you get the idea. For National Pizza Month–yes October is it!–I wanted to try something new. If you haven’t tried grilled pizza, now’s the time.

Here are a few secrets to turn out brick-oven style pies right in your backyard:

Bring the dough to room temperature. If you’ve made your dough from scratch, this shouldn’t be a problem. But I often buy pre-made refrigerated dough from our local Italian deli. I let it sit out for at least an hour so it’s easier to roll out.

Keep the dough a little thicker. I like my pizza crust fairly thin, but it’s hard to get it onto the grill grate when it’s too thin.

Use cornmeal. Lots of it. Once you’ve rolled out the pizza dough generously spread cornmeal under it. Use the cornmeal to slide the pizza onto a cutting board or a cookie sheet (I’ve got a flat one so the pizza slides right onto the grill).

Pre-grill the dough. To fully cook the crust–and to keep the topping from falling off–bake it on the grill for a few minutes, just until it gets stiff and then add your fixins.

Kids’ reactions: I let each of my kids make their own pizza. My teen made the favorite pie–fresh tomato slices, chopped olives, baby spinach, feta cheese, slivers of red onion, and a little drizzle of olive oil. Yum!

Who’s ready to start grilling?

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Albonetti Seafood Trattoria in Monterey, California

Photo credit: MontereyWharf.com

There’s no better place to inspire your kids to try seafood that right where it’s caught. Sure, the Costco jumbo bags of shrimp are fine, but when you really want fresh fish, you’ve got to have an ocean nearby. So last week while visiting Northern California, I encouraged my kids to eat plenty of fish.

After spending the day at the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium we walked down to the Wharf for dinner. Seafood restaurants line both sides of the Wharf. They also compete for guests by claiming to have the best clam chowder. Each restaurant has a person posted outside during busy times to lure customers inside by giving them chowder samples. We must have sampled around five or six different chowders before settling on Albonetti’s.

While the creamy clam chowder at Albonetti’s quickly became my middle daughter’s favorite (seriously that’s all she had for dinner. The child who hates peanut butter loves clam chowder), their real specialty is squid. Albonetti’s uses squid caught in the Bay and then cleans them fresh daily. Albonetti’s is one of the few restaurants that cleans their own squid–some 1,000 pounds each week. Interestingly, much of the squid caught locally in Monterey Bay is sent overseas for cleaning and packaging before making their way back to area restaurants.

Marty's Special (Sorry for the dark shot, I didn't have on the flash.)

At Albonetti’s fresh squid is a passion (I didn’t realize until the waiter enlightened me that for many Italians, squid is comfort food). They have an entire section of the menu just for different varieties of calamari, from traditional to their own take on Buffalo-style squid.

But the best thing on the menu, and that we sampled during our week in No Cal, was Albonetti’s Marty’s Special. It’s been on the menu since the family-owned restaurant opened over 60 years ago. The waiter literally did a jump of excitement when my oldest daughter ordered it. The squid is prepared like veal Parmesan, breaded and fried and served along with eggplant in a rich marinara that simmers for 10 hours before topping this dish. The tender texture of the squid melds perfectly with the robust flavor of the red sauce and the smattering of melted mozzarella cheese. This is one dish I can’t even attempt to make at home. I did find one recipe for Albonetti’s Marty’s Special online.

Your turn–have you ever found a food that your kids were more willing to eat when you were on vacation? How do you find good places to eat while traveling?

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