Does your pumpkin pie recipe need an update? Try making these instead – they pack all the flavor of pie in a bar.
I’m all for a few shortcuts on making these so I use a boxed spice cake mix to make the crust and I don’t need to add much extra spice, it’s already in there. To make a smooth, spreadable filling I lightened the pumpkin puree with softened cream cheese. Streusel topping? I included that, too, to add crunchiness. The final touch is a drizzle of maple icing.
Servings: 1, 9×13 pan
Prep time: 15-20 minutes plus baking
1 box spice cake mix (or keep it mild and use a white or butter cake mix)
1/2 cup butter, melted
1, 8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup canned pumpkin
1/8 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
2/3 cup flour
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/4 tsp. salt
2 cups powdered sugar
3 tbsp. milk
1/4-1/2 tsp. maple flavoring
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Prepare a 9×13″ baking dish by spraying it and then put down a piece of parchment and spray again.
- In a bowl, combine the boxed cake mix and the butter. Stir until the mixture becomes a dough.
- Press the dough into the bottom of the casserole dish.
- Place the crust in the refrigerator while you prepare the other ingredients.
- In another bowl, use a hand-held mixer to whip the cream cheese and sugar together until fluffy. Add in the pumpkin puree and the egg and mix until combined.
- One more bowl – mix the oats, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt together. Cut the butter into the flour mixture until it becomes crumbly.
- Take the crust out of the refrigerator and pour the pumpkin mixture on it. Top with the streusel.
- Bake for 20 minutes – be careful the bottom can brown quickly.
- Allow the bars to cool, cut.
- In a small bowl (ok, one more bowl) whisk together the icing ingredients. Drizzle over the slices. Allow time for the icing to set and harden on the slices before serving.
Tangy tomatillos bursting with tiny seeds blend beautifully as the base for this green chile sauce. Spinach gives the sauce a bright color and a nutritional punch – and your kids won’t even be able to taste it.
This green chile sauce is a type of guisado, or Mexican stew. Traditionally, a guisado is served with rice, beans and toasted corn tortillas. You can do the same – place the pork green chile, Mexican rice, and black beans onto each person’s plate. Then in the middle of the dinner table offer a plate of toasted corn tortillas. Your kids can make their own tacos or tear the tortillas into pieces to use as a “fork” to eat the stew.
We use these leftovers to make either nachos or quesadillas on day #2. If you don’t like pork, try chicken. Another tip: To make the sauce spicier add the cayenne pepper. Ease up on the heat by nixing the green chiles altogether.
2 cups fresh spinach
1 cup fresh cilantro
1 28-ounce can tomatillos (available in the Mexican section of many grocers)
1 4-ounce can chopped green chiles (same section as above)
1/3 cup chopped white onions
1 clove garlic, peeled
2 lbs. pork loin chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 1/2 tbsp. olive oil
1/4 tsp. cayenne powder (opt.)
Salt and pepper to taste
- In a blender place the onions, garlic, green chiles, drained tomatillos, spinach, and the juice from the lime.
- In a large skillet bring the olive oil to medium-high heat. Place the pork pieces into the pan and cook until heated through and lightly crisped on the outside. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Add cayenne powder, if using.
- Turn the heat down in the pan and then gradually add in the green sauce. Heat until it just comes to a simmer and cook for ten minutes.
- I sprinkle the green chile pork with queso fresco, if I have it – or in a pinch feta cheese makes a decent substitute.
Roasting broccoli adds sweetness and a hint of smokiness to an otherwise mellow veggie. Usually, I let my broccoli go solo on the roasting pan since it cooks faster than my next fav – potatoes. But I liked the unusual addition to roasted broccoli I found in this month’s Midwest Living.
I know, I know – roasting grapes? I hadn’t thought of that either. Roasting time brings out the more savory side of red grapes making them firmer and lending a cool play on texture that contrasts nicely with broccoli.
But the real question – would my kids like it? My youngest loved the idea of grapes making there way from snack to dinner dish. My middle child picked out each and every grape after tasting one. Split decision for sure.
If you’re looking to jazz up roasted veggies I’d definitely recommend throwing in some red grapes. One side note: If you do have leftovers nix reheating the grapes. The roasted veggies do fine day #2, the grapes not so much.
2 cups broccoli in small pieces
1 cup green beans (I thawed haricots verts I had on hand from Trader Joe’s)
1 cup red grapes
1/4 cup slivered onion wedges
2 tablespoons olive oil (I used garlic olive oil)
1/4 tsp. garlic powder or 1 clove minced fresh garlic (if you’re not using garlic olive oil)
1/2 fresh lemon (optional)
1 large, heavy duty plastic bag
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Generously coat a baking sheet with cooking oil.
- In the heavy duty plastic bag place all of the ingredients. Seal tightly and shake (this is a good kid job).
- Pour the vegetables onto the baking sheet.
- Cook for 15-20 minutes removing the pan halfway through and moving the veggies around to ensure they’re roasting on all sides.
- Drizzle with fresh lemon juice right out of the oven.
- Serve hot!
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:
- 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.)
- Chill the croissants if they’re not already frozen.
- Melt the chocolate in the microwave in 1 minute increments until the chips appear shiny. Whisk with a fork.
- 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.
- Place the croissants in the fridge until the chocolate is set.
- 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.
- Savor each bite.
In honor of Germany’s recent World Cup win we made Black Forest Cupcakes.
Black Forest cake is the quintessential dessert of the southwest Germany home to Schwarzwald (yes, Black Forest in German). It’s known as the setting for many of the Brothers Grimm’s collected fairy tales with its rolling hills that dip into valley towns and farmland along with crystal-clear lakes. To sample some of the areas culinary sweets we visited the Alemannen Hof along the banks of Lake Titisee.
The traditional Black Forest cake has a slim, spongy chocolate cake that’s enveloped by fresh, whipped cream that’s dotted with cherries that have been soaked in liquor. Since I don’t drink alcohol opted for a slice of thick, creamy fruit torte while my teen had the apple crumb cake and my youngest the apple strudel. Still, the flavors of dark cherries, chocolate, and whipped cream was one I wanted to play around with once I was back stateside. And with the German soccer team’s win it was the perfect excuse.
German cakes tend to be drier than American confections so I made my cake batter moister but tried to pump up the cherry flavor by using both chopped dark Morello cherries and the juice from the cherry jar (available at Trader Joe’s) in both the cake and the frosting. I also made another addition – fruit vinegar. The combination of cherry juice and a dash of sourness from the vinegar in the frosting cuts the sweetness and gives the cupcakes a more complex, rich flavor.
Servings: Make 24 regular-sized cupcakes
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
2 tsps. baking soda
2 tsp. black cocoa powder (opt.)
3/4 cup cocoa powder
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup unsweetened red grape juice, dark cherry juice (like Trader Joe’s Dark Morello Cherries), or hot coffee
1 cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1/2 cup dark morello cherries
1/2 cup dark chocolate chunks or semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 stick (1/2 cup) real butter, at room temperature
6 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup dark morello cherry juice
1/2 tsp. fruit vinegar (opt. like raspberry)
2 tbsp. finely chopped dark morello cherries
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line your muffin tins with paper muffin wrappers.
- Combine the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cocoa powder, black cocoa (if using), and sugar in a large bowl.
- In another bowl, use a blender to combine the vegetable oil, morello dark cherry juice, milk, eggs and extracts. Once combined add the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients.
- Add the cherries and chocolate to the mixing bowl and blend until fully combined.
- Lightly coat the muffin papers with cooking spray before adding 2-3 tablespoons of batter to each one.
- Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cupcake comes out clean.
- Cool in the refrigerator.
- In a mixing bowl whip the butter until smooth.
- Alternate adding 2 cups powdered sugar and a little bit of milk and the extracts until the frosting starts to become thick.
- Then, add the dark cherry juice gradually. Once the frosting is almost to the right consistency add the fruit vinegar to give the frosting a hint of tartness (opt.).
- Whip in the finely chopped cherries if you’re using them.
- Place the frosting in the fridge for 30 minutes to firm and then frost the cupcakes.
I use a french tip attachment to my pastry bag to swirl the frosting on top of each cupcake (using a knife is fine, too). Dust with cocoa powder and a chocolate chunk.
We made two types of taquitos last night – shredded beef and mashed potato. Guess which ones got gobbled up first?
The crisp outside of corn tortilla pairs perfectly with the smooth filling of the mashed potato. Plus, you can pump up the potatoes with whatever flavors your family likes – chopped green chiles, corn, loads of cheese, fresh cilantro… Yes, if you have leftovers in the fridge this is the time to dig through and add in a few to your mashed potatoes before you roll them into the corn tortillas.
A few taquito-making tips:
- Don’t overdo it on the filling or else your taquitos will explode (yes, hot oil and filling all over!) when you fry them
- Use a cast iron pan, if you have one, to heat the oil and then fry your taquitos – cast iron pans hold in the heat better than other types
- Frying isn’t the only way to get your taquitos crisp you can also bake them at 375 degrees Fahrenheit on baking sheet coated with cooking spray (they won’t get quite as crisp)
- Try flour tortillas (called flautas when they’re rolled and fried like this) instead of corn
- Get your kids involved – they’re usually great at rolling taquitos
Servings: 15 taquitos
3 medium-sized potatoes
1 1/2 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. milk
1 tbsp. fresh chopped cilantro, opt.
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 tsp. cumin, opt.
15 corn tortillas
Oil for frying
- Peel potatoes and cut into bite-sized pieces and add to a pot of salted water.
- Place the pot on the oven and bring the water to a boil. Cook potatoes until soft.
- Using a hand-held blender, whip together the potatoes, butter, and milk. Add salt and pepper to taste (and cumin, cilantro if you’re using them). Blend until smooth.
- Over medium-high heat either on a gas grill top or a skillet, toast the corn tortillas and then immediately put them into a tortilla warmer or wrap them in a clean kitchen towel. This steams the tortillas and softens them so they’re more pliable.
- Spread 2 tbsp. potato mixture onto the steamed corn tortillas. Roll up the tortillas starting with one end and working to the other.
- Place the rolled tortillas on a plate while you finish preparing the rest. Finish rolling all of the tortillas.
- In a heavy-bottomed pan bring about 1/4″ oil to medium-high heat. Place the taquitos 5 at a time in the hot oil with the seam side faced down.
- Fry the taquitos until crisp and then flip to the other side – about 3 minutes. Cook on the other side for 3 minutes.
- Remove the first set of tortillas and cook the other two batches.
- Serve covered with cheese, shredded lettuce, salsa, and chopped tomatoes.
One of my favorite Lebanese restaurants churns out smooth, creamy hummus that’s unlike anything I’ve been able to make at home. Until now. The secret I’ve found is foregoing the canned chickpeas – you know, the ones that smell like cat food when you open them?
In playing around with making hummus from scratch I discovered that I was usually adding extra ingredients – more and more garlic, olive oil, and seasoning to cover up the tin taste of the canned chickpeas. When you make hummus from dried beans there’s no off taste to cover up, the beans are flavorful all by themselves. Making hummus with dried chickpeas doesn’t involve many more steps, just a little more planning. Plus, a bag of dried chickpeas costs a lot less than buying cans!
Tips for hummus success:
- Don’t use flavored olive oil – I tried with with garlic oil and the flavor overpowers the chickpeas
- Do blend in extra ingredients, like roasted red pepper, once you’ve made your hummus (although the plain variety is the best when you make it from dried beans)
- Hummus becomes fluffier in texture on day #2
- Chickpeas cook more evenly in a smaller crockpot but go ahead and use what you have on hand
- Do double or triple this recipe!
Yield: 1 1/4 cups
1 cup dried chickpeas (usually available at the grocers either by the canned beans or in the Mexican food section)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. tahini (in a pinch you can substitute 1 tbsp. peanut butter plus 1/2 tbsp. each more olive oil and more reserved liquid)
1/2 clove garlic or 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1-4 tbsp. reserved liquid from the beans
1/2 juice from a fresh lemon
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1-2 tsp. salt (sea salt, preferred)
- Place the dried chickpeas in a crockpot and cover with water – about 1″ above the beans. Soak overnight.
- Rinse the chickpeas and empty the water from the crockpot. Place the rinsed chickpeas back into the crockpot and cover again with water – about 1″ above the beans. Cook on high for 4-5 hours or until the beans are tender (it’s okay to overcook the beans a bit). *Add in 1/2 tsp. salt halfway through cooking.
- Ready the food processor! Drain the cooked chickpeas, reserving the extra liquid.
- Put the lid onto the food processor and place the oil into the dispensing funnel (if you have one; alternatively place the olive oil in with the beans before processing) and pulse the beans until they become mushy.
- Remove the lid and add the tahini and seasonings; blend again. Add salt to taste.
- Adjust the consistency of the hummus with the reserved liquid. If you like a smoother consistency by all means add more – if chunky is your style, you’re done.
- To serve place the hummus, in a bowl and drizzle with extra olive oil and roasted pumpkin seeds or sprinkle with smoked paprika or cayenne pepper. Last night I just put a big pile of hummus on each kid’s plate.
Once a year my mother would make chocolate mousse. It was usually at Christmas time.
Well, it’s not Christmas but for Mother’s Day I thought making mom’s mousse recipe would be a fitting way to celebrate. Right now my mom and dad are living abroad at the moment as medical missionaries so communication is with sporadic emails. For Mother’s Day I’m remembering mom by making her mousse recipe. It’s simple – chocolate, heavy cream, eggs (they’re not cooked). My mom always ordered fresh heavy cream for the milk man. I was able to get mine through a special order from my CSA, Fresh Fork Market.
Prep time: 10 minutes or less
Servings: About 6
6 ozs. semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 1/2 tbsp. water
2 whole eggs, plus 2 egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
- In a glass measuring cup, melt the chocolate chips with water in the microwave. Whisk until smooth and allow to cool.
- In a blender, blend together the eggs, vanilla, and sugar for 2 minutes.
- Add the cream and blend again for 1 minute.
- Add the chocolate mixture into the blender and blend for another minute.
- Pour the mousse into 6 glass containers (4-oz. ramekins work well).
- Refrigerate overnight and serve with whipped cream and fresh berries.
Ramps look like a cross between a green onion and a leek – but they have a pungent oniony-garlic flavor softened with a hint of sweetness. Also known as wild leeks, ramps are a sign it’s spring!
In my bag from my local CSA (community supported agriculture), Fresh Fork Market, I had a bunch of fresh ramps in need of a home. I paired them with a creamy au gratin recipe.
How do you cook with ramps? It’s easy. Wash them and then slice them thin as you would green onions. Remove any filmy parts that may be coming off the white ends already. For this recipe I used the entire ramp—white and green parts. Time to get cooking!
6 Medium potatoes (Red, Yukon, regular, or a combination)
3 tbsp. butter
¼ cup onion, diced small
1/4 -1/2 cup sliced ramps
3 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. ground pepper
¼ tsp. ground thyme (or 1 1/2 tsp. fresh)
1 can (12-oz.) evaporated milk
½ cup half and half
½ cup water
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, diced (opt.)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Peel potatoes and then slice thin. I used my food processor with the slicing attachment.
- Place the thin-sliced potatoes into a pot and fill with water and a generous helping of salt. Bring to a boil over medium to high heat on the stovetop. Cook until the potatoes are just barely fork tender (about 4 minutes) and drain.
- Coat a 8” x 8” or similarly sized casserole dish with cooking spray. Place the potatoes onto the greased dish. Top the potatoes with the cheese.
- In a saucepan melt the butter on medium-high heat and add in the onions. Saute until translucent (about 4 minutes). Add the ramps and the garlic and sauté for another minute.
- Turn the heat to low and add the evaporated milk and seasonings.
- In a measuring cup, whisk the flour into the half and half and water until fully combined. Slowly pour into the saucepan and gradually bring to a boil stirring constantly. Simmer until thickened (about 3 minutes).
- Pour the sauce over the potatoes and bake for 25 minutes. Broil the potatoes on high for 3 minutes to crisp the top. Allow the potatoes to sit for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
Make it a meal—add in cubed ham, steamed broccoli or whatever else you might have leftover in the fridge.
*Tweaked from a recipe for Scalloped Potatoes from Very Best Baking.
For 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.
Yield: About 1 1/3 cups 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
- Place all the ingredients in a blender and puree. Taste and adjust seasonings.
- Drizzle on your salad.
Romaine lettuce or green leaf, topped with grated carrots, pumpkin seeds, cubed cheese like Gouda, thin sliced onion, rotisserie or grilled chicken