Quick for Kids

El Azteco’s Topopo Salad Recipe

Thanks to Jessie Voigts, the guru behind WanderingEducators, for sharing this easy, inventive Mexican-inspired salad recipe.

Topopo salad

When I was in college at Michigan State University, we used to go to El Azteco Restaurant for our Sunday dinners, when the cafe was closed. El Az offered bean and cheese burritos at a fair price for a college student in the late 1980s: $1.50 each. Since I graduated many moons ago, they’ve moved to a better location – and I’m able to afford more than a bean and cheese burrito.

One of my favorite dishes at El Az is the Topopo Salad. Piled high on a plate, it’s a crunchy green salad with chicken and peas, limey dressing, refried beans, and cheesy chips. It’s very easy to make (and adapt) at home. Use what you have – tonight, I was out of cilantro (what?!), but did have some lovely colored sweet peppers to throw in.

The recipe is flexible in terms of ingredients and quantity. It is not good left over, so if you think you chopped too much, only put the dressing on what you’ll eat tonight.

 

Recipe
Dressing:
Equal parts olive oil, lime juice, and white wine vinegar (rice vinegar works well, too)
Minced garlic, to taste
Salt, to taste

Mix this all up in a mini food processor or jar. Now, I like my salad lightly dressed, while our daughter likes more dressing on hers. Keep the jar handy for those that like more.

Salad:
Iceberg lettuce (I know, this is the only time I buy this lettuce. Trust me – you need crunchy lettuce)
Cooked chicken, chopped
Cilantro, chopped
Tomatoes, chopped
Avocado, chopped (or guacamole, if you feel like making it)
Green onions, chopped
Frozen peas, thawed and crisp (or edamame, if you have them and would like extra protein)
Colored peppers, chopped
Salad
Beans
You can use a can of refried beans, or, you can fall in love with Orangette’s creamy black beans and use those instead, like I do (if you make one can, instead of four at a time for her larger recipe, you can finish the beans in the time it takes to chop everything).

Chips with beans

Tortilla Chips
Grated Cheese (we love the Tillamook extra sharp. Quality is important here)
Chips with cheese

Directions:

  1. Get your beans ready, either by cooking the black beans or heating up the refried beans.
  2. Chop everything for your salad. Combine in a large bowl with the dressing, quantity to taste.
  3. Spread enough tortilla chips on a pan for whoever is joining you for dinner. Top with plenty of shredded cheese, and slide into a 350 oven for 5-8 minutes. You want the cheese gooey, not crispy.
  4. Divide the chips up onto the plates. Top with beans (spread them around a bit) and then you can go one of two ways, depending on how you like it:
  5. Pile the salad on top of the chips and beans (photogenic, Instagram-ready)
  6. Put the salad next to the chips and beans (no wet chips, more scooping of prized ingredients)
  7. Now is the time to have people add things they love but others don’t – avocado, banana or jalapeno peppers, olives, chopped onion, etc.
  8. Serve and enjoy. This salad is the best thing you can have in the winter. Or summer. Or spring or fall. It’s perfect for a crowd, and I always try to keep the ingredients on hand for when our teen has friends drop by and they are hungry enough to devour everything in my kitchen. El Azteco knew what they were doing…

 

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No-Bake Pecan Pie Balls

All the flavor of pecan pie without all the work — or extra sugar.

Energy bites_1

That’s the idea behind these pecan pie balls. Over the holidays, I was looking something lighter than your typical sugar-spiked pecan pie for dessert, so I decided to take a cue from my No-Cook Cocoa Granola Bites recipe. This vegan version has only a few ingredients and you can mix-and-match many of them to make these your own.

Evergy bites_2

I dipped my first batch into chocolate but the second time I never had a chance to — my kids polished them off first.

Energy bites_3

Recipe

Prep time: 15 minutes + soaking + chilling

Servings:14, 1″ balls

Ingredients

1 cup pitted dates

1/4 tsp. almond extract

1 cup pecans (or any combination of nuts)

1/2 tbsp. honey

1/3 cup oatmeal

2 full graham crackers or 4 tea biscuits

1 1/2 tbsp. tart juice, like cherry or use water

Chocolate candy coating (opt.)

 

Directions

  1. Soak the dates in water spiked with the almond extract for 1 hour (or overnight).
  2. Drain the dates and place in a food processor along with the remaining ingredients (minus the candy coating). Note: You may want to add more oatmeal or juice to get the right consistency — the batter will be sticky.
  3. Refrigerate for 1 hour (or freeze for 15 minutes). Form the mixture into 14, 1″ balls; I used a cookie scoop.
  4. At this point you can leave the balls plain or roll them in chopped nuts or cocoa powder. To coat with chocolate, refrigerate for another hour. Melt 1 cup candy coating in the microwave. Working quickly, dip each ball into the chocolate and then place on waxed paper to set. Refrigerate until you’re ready to start eating.
  5. Store for up to 5 days.

 

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Quick Baked Hot Chocolate

Baked hot chocolate 1

Want to impress Santa with something besides cookies this year? Tried baked hot chocolate.

I first tried this wanna be lava cake in a cup at Moxie’s, a popular Cleveland restaurant. The enormous mug held a gooey, chocolatey center. I’ve slimmed down their version so you can make it in a teacup–in the microwave. There’s no need to spray the cup beforehand but you should mix it in a bowl before pouring into the mug. If you’re using a regular-sized mug double the ingredients. This recipe is perfect for Santa’s little helpers to make.

Baked hot chocolate 3

Baked Hot Chocolate Mini Microwave Style

 

Ingredients:

  • 1/8 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. cocoa powder
  • 1/8 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 ½ tbsp. sugar (1/2 tbsp. more if you like it sweet)
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/8 cup + ½ tbsp. milk
  • 2 drops extract (peppermint, vanilla or almond)
  • 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 Hershey’s kiss (or a dollop of Nutella)

 

Directions:

  1. Mix all of the dry ingredients together in a bowl; whisk in the milk and oil.
  2. Pour into mug (it will not be full). Unwrap Hershey’s kiss and push it into the middle of the batter (or use Nutella).
  3. Cook for 90 seconds in the microwave. (Microwaves cook differently; my microwave has low wattage. You may want to start with 60 seconds and cook for 30 seconds more, if needed.)
  4. Cool for 60 seconds. Top liberally with whipped cream.

Baked hot chocolate 2

 

 

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Quick Dark Chocolate Orange Mini Tarts

Dark chocolate mini tarts

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.

Dessert assortment

Recipe

Prep time: 15 minutes + chill time*

Servings: 30 mini tarts

 

Ingredients

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)

 

Directions

  1. 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).
  2. Add in orange zest and salt. Refrigerate for 10 minutes.
  3. Pour filling into shells. Refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight.
  4. 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.

Orange chocolate mini tarts

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Easy Tomato Basil Soup

Tomato soup in bowl

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.

At NoshSimple, 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.

Tomato soup at Nosh

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.

Tomato soup for kids

 

Recipe

Prep time: 30 minutes including cooking

Servings: 6-8

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

 

Optional

Fresh tomatoes, diced

Prepared pesto

Parmesan cheese

 Tomato soup cooking

Directions

  1. 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.
  2. Add garlic and saute for another 2 minutes.
  3. 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.
  4. Add in the chicken broth and fresh diced tomatoes (if using). Blend again with the mixing stick.
  5. Sprinkle with seasonings listed and adjust to taste. Cover the pot and simmer for 15 minutes.
  6. Serve with a dollop of pesto and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and the remaining fresh basil.
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Fancify Friday: Simple Chocolate Croissants

Chocolate crossiant

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:

  1. 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.)
  2. Chill the croissants if they’re not already frozen.
  3. Melt the chocolate in the microwave in 1 minute increments until the chips appear shiny. Whisk with a fork.
  4. 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.
  5. Place the croissants in the fridge until the chocolate is set.
  6. 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.
  7. Savor each bite.

 

 

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Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Muffins

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Muffins

Happy National Chocolate Chip Day! To commemorate the invention of chocolate chip cookies by a creative baker back in the 1930s, May 15th is the day to bake up a batch. But cookies are so 2013. Make muffins instead to pair chocolate chips with something a little healthier – oats.

 Open chocolate chip oatmeal muffins

Recipe

Makes 12 regular-sized muffins

 

Ingredients

1 cup whole wheat flour (or go half whole-wheat, half all purpose or use just all-purpose)

1 cup oats

1 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. nutmeg (opt.)

1/3 cup brown sugar

1 egg

1/4 cup butter, softened

1 tsp. vanilla

1 cup milk

1 cup mini-chocolate chips

2 tbsp. ground flax seed (opt.)

 

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. In a large bowl mix together the dried ingredients.
  3. In another bowl, mix together the wet ingredients.
  4. Gently stir the wet ingredients into the dry ones until just softened.
  5. Fill each of the muffin tins up 2/3 full. (You can use muffin papers or generously grease the pan with baking spray.)
  6. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until just browned around the edges.

Optional: Add sugar crystals, chopped nuts, or extra mini-chocolate chips on top of the batter before baking.

*Recipe adapted from How Sweet It Is.

 

Stacked chocolate chip oatmeal muffins

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5 Ways to introduce your kids to ramps

RampsRamps are the first sign – and taste – of spring. In appearance ramps look like tulip leaves outfitted with green onion bulbs. And the flavor is a mild to robust garlicly zing with undercurrents of onion.

Now how to get your kids to try leeks … there’s no disguising ramps green color but you can meld the flavor in with other foods that are familiar to your kiddos. Here are a few ways we’ve used them so far, so good.

 

Mixed into shredded lettuce on tacos

Thin sliced ramps can be tossed into shredded iceberg lettuce and then used to top tacos.

 

Sauteed in scrambled eggs

In a skillet add 1 tablespoon of butter and bring it to medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of thin-sliced leeks to the butter and saute for 1 minute. Add in whisked eggs and scramble.

 

Stirred into cream cheese as a dip for chips

Purchase a container of whipped cream cheese and mix in chopped ramps along with salt and pepper to taste. Offer this as a dip for your kids with tortilla chips, baby carrots, and/or celery sticks.

 

Blended into sauces

Time to whip out the blender. Use it to mix ramps into spaghetti sauce or other colorful sauces that love garlic.

 

Plain!

I used ramp leaves instead of lettuce on sandwiches.

 

Now it’s your turn: Have you tried ramps? How do you like to serve them?

 

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Simple Blackberry Vinaigrette

Blackberry vinaigretteFor dinner, we’ll often do a big salad–especially now that spring is finally here.

 

But salads can be boring. And kids know it.

 

So I like to play with the lettuce, toppings, and dressing to keep my kids asking, Can we have salad for dinner?

 

Berries–dried or fresh–are a great way to enliven a salad and add a burst of sweetness. I also like to add them into the dressing.

 

You can make your own vinaigrette from scratch by using equal parts vinegar (or fresh lemon juice) and olive oil along with seasonings such as dried herbs but I usually don’t have time on a weeknight meal to do all that. Instead, I start with a good quality store-bought vinaigrette as a base and then pump up the flavor.

 

Here’s how to make your own blackberry vinaigrette–this is the perfect starter salad dressing recipe for kids who like to help in the kitchen and are old enough to be trusted with the blender.

 

Recipe

Yield: About 1 1/3 cups dressing

 

Ingredients

1 cup oil-based salad dressing (I like Matsos Greek Dressing or Ken’s Lite Northern Italian Dressing)

1/3 cup blackberries (or any other kind of berry, fresh or frozen)

2 tsp. fresh lemon juice (opt.)

1/2 tbsp. fresh parsley or other fresh herb you have on hand–basil would be fabulous (opt.)

1/4 tsp. ground cayenne

 

Directions

  1. Place all the ingredients in a blender and puree. Taste and adjust seasonings.
  2. Drizzle on your salad.

 

Salad Suggestions

Romaine lettuce or green leaf, topped with grated carrots, pumpkin seeds, cubed cheese like Gouda, thin sliced onion, rotisserie or grilled chicken

 

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Lettuce Tacos

Lettuce tacosWhen I first approached my kids about having lettuce wraps for dinner I was greeted to a collective yawn. Not so when I mentioned we’d be having lettuce tacos. Sometimes, getting your kids to eat more greens is all in the phrasing.

 

You can fill your lettuce tacos with whatever fillings you usually use on taco night – or go for something different. We decided on a Thai-themed version.

 

Thai Taco Recipe

Ingredients

! head Boston or Romaine lettuce*

1 1/2 lbs. chicken breasts, chopped into small pieces

1 tbsp. olive oil

1 clove garlic, crushed

1/2 tsp. cumin

1/4 tsp. ginger

1/4 tsp. white pepper

Dash of cayenne pepper (opt.)

Salt to taste (I prefer sea salt on this one)

1/2 lime

 

Lettuce taco assembly

Thai slaw (opt.)

1 1/2 cups shredded Napa cabbage

1/2 cup shredded carrots

1 1/2 tbsps. Greek or Italian vinaigrette salad dressing (I use Matsos)

2 tbsps. mayo

1/2 lime

Salt and pepper to taste

(Toss together)

 

Optional ingredients

 

Directions

  1. Wash and clean the lettuce pieces – try to keep them as large as possible.
  2. Meanwhile, add the oil to a large saute pan and bring to medium-high heat. Add the chicken to the hot pan and saute until no longer pink. Stir in the garlic and seasonings. Finish cooking through (about 5-7 minutes total, depending on how small you diced the chicken pieces). Remove from pan; squeeze the chicken with the juice from the fresh lime.
  3. Lay out your DIY tacos with filling ingredients – lettuce pieces, chicken, red peppers, golden raisins, slaw, Sriracha and let your kiddos serve themselves.

 

*Use Boston lettuce leaves (for softer tacos) or Romaine lettuce (for a stiffer taco)

Lettuce tacos with sriracha

 

 

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