pumpkinpalooza

As far as seasonal food trends go the pumpkin-spice craze has got to be the biggest one around. Each Fall the world seems to be overrun with all things pumpkin: pumpkin spice pasta, pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin spice marshmallows, pumpkin spice beer and vodka, pumpkin spice potato chips, pumpkin spice body lotion, pumpkin spice bagels to go with pumpkin spice cream cheese and of course pumpkin spice room freshener (a must for every seasonally appropriate home). Whew— thats quite a list, but it doesn’t stop there. We’re so off our rockers over this spicy combination that even the beloved M&M isn’t safe from it. Thats right folks, Pumpkin Spice M&M’s available exclusively at Target and completely sold out when I recently looked for them. It would appear that we’re treading dangerously close to a world-wide state of pumpkin spice hysteria.

Not wanting to be left out, I too decided to make friends with pumpkin. It is after all high in fiber, a cup of puree contains a day’s worth of vitamin A and more potassium than a banana, it’s rich in beta-carotene which is good for your eyesight and lowers the risk of developing cancer or heart disease and the seeds contain chemicals called “phytosterols” which help reduce LDL. So really whats not to love about it, right? If you recall I already use it for my devil dogs Pumpkin-oatmeal dog biscuits and in the past I’ve substituted it for butternut squash in soup, but the weather was cool and I felt like baking…

Last Fall I gave you my coveted Cranberry-Orange Muffin recipe and while I still maintain it’s muffin perfection, I decided to play around with the recipe just the same. A few spices, some pumpkin puree, a little yogurt and one crumble topping later a new Greco family seasonal favorite was born.

Pumpkin-Cranberry Crumble Muffins
These muffins are the perfect way to enjoy the flavors of the season.

pumpkin-cranberry muffin4

Crumble:
3/4 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
3/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/8 tsp. salt
3 tbsp. butter, melted

Batter:
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
a pinch of nutmeg
12 oz. bag fresh cranberries
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. Angostura bitters
3/4 cup canned unsweetened pumpkin
1/4 cup plain Russian kefir yogurt (or Greek)

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a muffin pan with cupcake liners and spray with cooking spray. Set aside.
  2. In a small bowl combine the oats, flour, brown sugar, ginger, salt and melted butter. Use a fork (or your fingers) to blend the mixture until it’s crumbly, breaking up any large clumps. Set aside.
  3. Combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl, gently stir in the cranberries.
  4. In a medium bowl combine all the wet ingredients. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until well blended (the batter will be thick). Spoon evenly into the lined muffin cups, top with a generous amount of crumble and bake for 30 minutes or until a tooth pick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  5. Remove from the oven and allow muffins to cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then place on a wire rack for remainder of cooling

*recipe makes 12-16 muffins

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a pie in the hand…

“Candy might be sweet, but it’s a traveling carnival blowing through town. Pie is home. People always come home.”
~ Pushing Daisies

I have a confession to make; I love pie but I never make my own pie crust. I know I should, I realize that it’s not really all that difficult and that homemade is far superior to store bought, but somehow I’ve just never gotten around to giving it a whirl. However I promise that one day soon I will make the effort. I promise that one day soon I will make my crust from scratch, however today is not that day.

A few weeks ago the kids and I went apple picking. The very first thing they requested we make with our bounty was apple pie. No problem! It’s not hard to make a classic apple pie, in fact regardless of your culinary skills I guarantee you could make a successful one. Really! All it really requires is peeling and dicing a couple of apples, throwing them together with sugar and a few spices, dumping the whole shebang into a pie crust and voilà— something bubbly and delicious an hour later. But that wasn’t the kind of apple pie I had in mind. No, I wanted a pie that set itself apart from past pies, an apple pie that would keep them talking. I considered all the possibilities and decided that we’d start by making individual hand pies rather than one big one. (I had recently bought this nifty little pocket pie crimper that I thought would perfect for the job.) But I knew their cute size wouldn’t be enough to make them stand out so, I added some diced caramels and a touch of sea salt to the filling— yup, I’m crazy like that.

They were heavenly. The kids gobbled them up and begged to have them as dessert for the days that followed. But the highlight of this apple hand pie experience came yesterday morning. It was the quintessential Bill Cosby moment and it went something like this…

The boy: “Mom can I have a pie for breakfast?”
Me: “What are you crazy? No.”
The boy: “But Mom, it’s just like having toast with apple jelly.”
Me: (Now mulling over what he just said in my head) “Well, in New England they typically eat apple pie with a slice of cheddar cheese on top. (because in that moment a slice of cheese equals protein which therefore qualifies pie as breakfast appropriate.) How’s that sound?
The boy: “Seriously? I’m in!”

Yeah, it’s not my proudest mothering moment. However, the fact that my creation was such a winner and the idea that he may actually remember this moment for years to come makes me smile. And that makes my day.

Salted Caramel & Apple Hand Pies
These pies are delicious eaten out of hand, but they’re equally fantastic warm with a scoop of ice cream (or with a slice of cheddar cheese).

apple hand pie

3 ready to bake 9″ pie crusts (or homemade two-crust dough)
2 lbs. apples, peeled and diced small
2 tbsp. flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
2 tbsp. lemon juice
2 to 3 dashes Angostura bitters
15 store-bought soft caramels, halved and sliced like matchsticks
coarse sea salt
1 egg, whisked
1 tbsp. water
Demerara sugar, for finishing

  1. Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the apples, flour, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon juice and bitters. Stir until thoroughly mixed and set aside.
  3. Roll out the pre-made crust. Using a pocket pie crimper (or a 6″ inverted bowl), cut out as many circles as possible. Re-roll the crust scraps and continue cutting out circles until you run out of dough.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg with a tablespoon of water and set aside.
  5. Spoon a small amount of the apple filling onto the left side of each circle, leaving a border around the filling. Top the apple filling with a few grains of sea salt and 8-10 of the caramel matchsticks. Lightly brush the edge of the crust with water, cover with another half of the circle and crimp the edges together, sealing each pie.
  6. Brush each pie with the egg wash, sprinkle with Demerara sugar and cut two vents in the top of each pie.
  7. Bake for about 15-20 minutes, or until the pies are golden brown.
  8. Remove the pies from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.

(This recipe makes about 10 pies.)

ya can’t beet a donut

Four weeks ago I set out to convert each and every one of you into whole-hearted beet and blue cheese lovers. I’m not sure how successful I’ve been, but I have learned a few things along the way. 1. Beets can inadvertently dye a white t-shirt the most lovely shade of purple. 2. Don’t buy cheap pre-crumbled blue cheese, it tastes nothing like a good quality wedge. Spend the extra few dollars, it will make a huge difference. 3. A sizable consumption of beets will turn your urine red. Don’t panic! Think back on what you’ve eaten recently, then laugh at yourself for being such a nervous nelly. 4. Stop throwing out those beet greens. Eat them raw, sauté them with some garlic, throw them in some soup. They’re full of nutrients and deserve a little more love and a little less composting!

As the culminating recipe for my of my month of b & b I wanted to give you something truly unexpected, a recipe that you never saw coming and which perhaps makes you question my sanity. Are you ready? Is the anticipation killing you? Okay here goes. Here is my families all time favorite way to eat beets… as the secret ingredient in chocolate donuts! Sounds crazy right? It’s not. Well okay it’s kinda, but no matter, it’s a fantastic way to get a boost of natural sweetness, give your chocolate goodie a deeper more intense color and enjoy all the health benefits of beets without actually having to commit to eating a beet. I know some of you reading this are positive that you would be able to taste the mere cup and a half of puréed beet in this recipe, and for that very reason you would never consider doing something so unthinkable to a perfectly lovely chocolate donut. Here’s what I have to say to all you sceptical naysayers… change is good, embrace it. I promise that no matter how hard you try to detect the taste of beet in these babies, you won’t be able to. Seriously, once they’ve cooled and been glazed it’s impossible to taste anything but deliciousness.

And it is with that dear reader that I wrap up my month of beets and blues. But never fear, this won’t be the last time I feature a recipe with these ingredients. (I still have a few little gems up my sleeve just waiting for the right reveal.) I hope you enjoyed my little food exploration and discovered a few things about these two foods so near and dear to my heart that a month ago you never knew— including perhaps that you actually love them as much as I do.

Chocolate Cake Donuts (with beets) & Chocolate Ganache
If you don’t tell people about the secret ingredient they’ll never guess it’s anything but good ol’ chocolate glazed donut.

beet donut lilly*2

1 1/2 cups puréed beets (about 3 medium)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened and divided
1 1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar
3 eggs, room temperature
4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 cups cake flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. espresso powder
3 tsp. dark cocoa powder
chocolate ganache glaze (recipe below)

  1. To make beet puree: Preheat oven to 400°F. Trim the stems off the beets and place them on a sheet of aluminum foil. Wrap them tightly, place the bundle in a pie tin and roast for an hour or until the tines of a fork easily pierce the beet. Allow them to cool so that you can handle them, peel off the skins, dice them and place the beets in a food processor. Process until a smooth puree forms and set aside. (I often roast and puree my beets a day or two in advance.)
  2. Grease or spray two donut pans and set aside.* In a mixing bowl, cream together 3/4 cup (1 stick plus 4 tbsp.) butter and brown sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well and scraping down the sides after each addition.
  3. In a small saucepan or the microwave, melt together the chocolate and remaining 1/4 cup (4 tbsp.) butter, stirring until smooth. Allow to cool slightly before adding the melted chocolate, beets and vanilla to the creamed butter mixture. Mix well, the batter will appear a bit separated but not to worry.
  4. In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, espresso powder and cocoa. In two separate batches, add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix well.
  5. Fill each doughnut form half way with batter. (I find it’s easiest to pour the batter into a ziplock bag, snip off one corner and pipe it into the pan.) Bake in a 375°F oven for 10-12 minutes, or until they spring back when touched.
  6. When the donuts are finished baking carefully transfer them to racks and allow them to fully cool, they are VERY crumbly while they are still warm.
  7. Glaze the tops of each donut with the ganache either by dunking or spreading it on. The ganache will firm up as it sets, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying one right away!

*I have also used this recipe to make a bundt cake which I then drizzled with the ganache. Bake in a well-greased and floured bundt pan for 55-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.

*adapted from straight from the farm

Chocolate Ganache
It doesn’t get much easier or tastier than this three ingredient ganache.

4 oz. bar semi-sweet chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla
  1. In a saucepan, bring the heavy cream to a boil. Break the chocolate into small pieces and place in a medium bowl. Pour the boiling cream over chocolate and stir until smooth. Add in the vanilla, stir and let cool slightly then glaze away!

make you a convert cookies

It’s that time of year again. The time of year that parents of school aged children dream about for nine months. The time of year when memories of endless school projects, fundraisers and homework are slowly being shed like winter coats. Yes that’s right, it’s finally, thankfully and just-in-the-nick-of-time-or-I-really-might-have-lost-it… the end of the school year!

But just as I’m getting ready to heave a giant sigh of relief along come the notices about end of the year parties, plays, picnics etc. All of which would be very happy to accept my donation of a baked good (“peanut-free and at least a dozen please.”) Of course I’ll send something along, how could I not, but I feel as though I’ve managed to paint myself into a bit of a corner. I’ve shown up to enough events and class birthday’s with something yummy in hand that now at the end of year when I’m just plumb tired, I have to “bring it” one final time. Sigh. Me and my big mouth and weekly blog.

I considered making cupcakes but I figured the dessert table would be awash in them. Then I thought about some lemons bars; but the recipe literally only makes a dozen. What if they turned out so delicious that there was a stampede trying to get to the dessert table. And what if several little people were injured in the may lay and never able to look at a lemon bar again without having flashbacks— I’d feel terrible! So I settled on cookies, ya can’t go wrong with a cookie (that’s my motto anyway) and I knew just which recipe to make.

As you may recall I collect cookie jars and while most of them hold bric-a-brac and dust bunnies, one is usually filled with something freshly baked. A wide variety of cookies come and go through that jar, but some that never hang around long enough to get stale are my Cherry & Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies. I know what some of you are thinking, “I don’t like oatmeal cookies.” I’m with you, I usually don’t either. I don’t like their grainy texture or how overly spiced and sweet they usually are. And I can’t stand raisins in my cookies (don’t even get me started on walnuts in my brownies!) Anyway, the oatmeal cookies you’re thinking of and writing off as not for you, are not these cookies. These are without a doubt the oatmeal cookies that will covert you.

Cherry & Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies
These are my go to cookies when I have to show up somewhere with treats. The recipe makes about 2 1/2 dozen large cookies, plenty to take to school and enjoy a few at home as well!

oat-choc cookies3

1 1/4 cups white whole-wheat flour
1 cup quick cook oats
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
2 tbsp. 2% milk
1/2 cup dried cherries (or cranberries)
1 12 oz. bag dark chocolate morsels

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. Mix together the flour, oatmeal, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in small bowl.
  3. In large bowl beat together the butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar and vanilla until creamy. Scrape down the bowl and add the egg and milk. Beat until well combined and a batter has formed.
  4. Add the flour/oat mixture to the batter mixture and gently stir to combine (it will seem dry but not to worry). Add the cherries and chocolate morsels and stir until blended. Drop by rounded tablespoon (or cookie scoop) onto the baking sheets. (The cookies will spread a bit so be sure to leave enough room between each one.)
  5. Bake for 17-20 minutes or until the tops are lightly browned but centers are still soft. Cool on wire racks, then try and eat just one.

not mom’s chocolate pudding

Tomorrow is my 20th college reunion. Twenty years, that’s crazy. It feels more like eight, maybe ten, but no way twenty years! When I think back to meals in college a few in particular stand out; chicken ‘n cheese from Paulie’s, pizza from G & G’s, beers on North Ave. (yes once upon a time that could have constituted a meal) and of course fries and gravy at the Thru-Way Diner. Oh yeah, those were our “glory days” of unhealthy, unbridled and unapologetic pleasures.

Flash forward twenty years and I couldn’t, wouldn’t even imagine subsisting on such a diet. The very thought of it gives me heartburn! But I suppose there’s a time and a place for everything. Now I’m more about trying to eat and feed my family as much healthy and unprocessed food as possible, which leads me to this weeks post… I recently started testing some recipes for Clean Eating Magazine and I currently happen to have some ingredients in my kitchen that I wouldn’t ordinarily have. Two of which are arrowroot powder and a carton of unsweetened coconut milk. Not wanting perfectly fine ingredients to go to waste I did a bit of research and decided to try making dairy-free, gluten-free (and if I’m correct, Paleo) chocolate pudding. Arrowroot powder is a naturally gluten-free thickener (similar to cornstarch) and coconut milk can stand in for dairy in many recipes. I figured it was worth a shot, any dessert with honey and dark cocoa powder in the ingredient list couldn’t possibly taste all that terrible. Right?!? As it would turn out, at the same time I was contemplating making this out of the ordinary creation both of my children came down with strep throat. In my mind sick kids always need something chocolatey to make them feel better, so off I went to make a batch of “chocolate pudding”.

So how’d it come out… The kids liked it and I ate two bowls myself, but it wasn’t the rich and indulgent dessert you equate with homemade chocolate pudding. It was creamy and it was chocolatey, but it wasn’t soul-satisfying. If you’re not eating gluten-free, dairy-free or a Paleo diet, then feel free to skip this recipe and go make yourself (and your kids) some good ‘ol fashioned chocolate pudding. However if your diet is more limited (or cleaner) than ours, then by all means give this one a try. This pudding won’t be like Mom’s, but it won’t be all that terrible either.

Dairy-free Gluten-free Dark Chocolate Pudding
Adding whipped cream (dairy-free or regular) is entirely optional, but I thought it helped make the dessert seem a bit more traditional and decadent.

arrowroot choc pudding

1/2 cup arrowroot powder
1/4 cup dark cocoa powder
4 cups unsweetened coconut milk (or almond milk)
2/3 cup honey (raw if possible)
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
whipped cream (non-dairy or regular), optional

  1. In a medium saucepan whisk together the arrowroot powder and cocoa powder. Add the coconut milk and stir until all the lumps are gone.
  2. Place the pan over medium heat, add the honey and cook, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes or until thickened. (The pudding will stay pretty liquid for the first 9 minutes then suddenly it will thicken up.)
  3. Once thickened, remove from heat and add the vanilla. Stir to incorporate and pour into individual serving dishes.
  4. Allow to cool on the counter for 20 minutes before placing in the refrigerator to set and cool the remainder of the way. Serve with a little whipped cream and enjoy!

*adapted from food renegade

color me naturally

Tomorrow is my littlest loves birthday. We started celebrating a week ago with a party just for her school friends, followed by cupcakes and yours truly reading stories to her class on Thursday and culminating with a family party tomorrow. Yeah I agree, that’s an awful lot of partying for any little girl, but you do only turn 4 once!

I’m sure it won’t surprise you to hear that I didn’t go to the bakery for any of her birthday goodies, by now you know that’s just not how I roll. Actually littlest love requested cupcakes for the friend party (chocolate with yellow frosting) as well as the school party (chocolate with pink frosting), which made me happy since they would be way easier to make and transport than a cake. The family party on the other hand is going to have a full-blown labor-intensive-just-might-send-me-over-the-edge Imagination Movers guitar cake. (Yeah, wish me luck!)

First things first, I believe in boxed cake mix—there I said it. Sure you can make your cake from scratch and it will no doubt be fantastic, but the people at Betty Crocker make a pretty fine chocolate cake mix so why not save yourself a few steps. However (and if you know me you already saw this tweak coming), when I make chocolate cake I always add a cup of mini chocolate chips to the batter. It takes perfectly acceptable boxed mix and bumps it up to something just a bit richer, tastier and more like homemade. Okay, so that takes care of the cake, now for the frosting.

I like buttercream frosting, but while buttercream seems like a no-brainer it’s actually a bit tricky. It can easily go from fluffy and light to too sweet, too greasy or too gritty. After much trial and error I finally found a vanilla buttercream recipe that seems near perfect; sweet but not overly so and light, creamy and easy to spread. Now to just make it a lovely color… As a rule I do not use food coloring. It’s pure chemicals, it increases hyperactivity in children and it’s considered carcinogenic. “In the early 1990s, FDA and Canadian scientists found that Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6, the three most widely used dyes, were contaminated with likely human carcinogens. And while many foods, such as M&M’s and Kellogg’s Hot Fudge Sundae Pop Tarts, include as many as five different dyes, even today the carcinogenic potential of such combinations has not been tested.” Pretty frightening right? And M&M’s are one of my “have to eat ’em till I’m sick” vices (same goes for potato chips, but that’s a story for another day!) The fact is artificial dyes are truly unhealthy, so much so that in Europe food with artificial colors must carry warning labels! So thanks for the easy solution, but no thanks. Instead I always try to use natural dyes for my frosting. I’ve had success in the past with puréed strawberries and raspberries to create pink frosting, dark chocolate cocoa powder for black frosting (think Darth Vader cake) and I just used turmeric powder to make littlest loves requested yellow frosting. I was a little worried about the turmeric flavor coming through but everyone (kids included) seemed to love it and couldn’t believe when I came clean about the secret ingredient.

So there you have it, the world is a colorful place and now you don’t need to rely on Red 40 and Blue 1 to make it even more so! And in case you’re really interested; I’ve read you can use puréed spinach for green frosting, carrot juice for orange and cooked red cabbage for purple. I haven’t given any of those combos a try yet but I just may, so be prepared the next time I offer you green cupcakes…

Pale Pink Buttercream Frosting
Using berries to color frosting gives it a lovely flavor as well as pale pink color. If you want a deeper shade of pink double the strawberries, but add the additional berries slowly. Too much moisture and your buttercream will be a watery mush.

natural color cupcakes

1 cup diced strawberries
2 sticks of unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups powdered sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
2 tbsp. heavy cream

  1. Finely dice the strawberries. Place them in a small saucepan and cook over a low flame for 25 minutes until all the berries have broken down and released juices. (Stir and smoosh berries with spoon every few minutes to speed up the process.)
  2. Pour the berry slurry into a mesh strainer, press out as much of the juice and pulp as possible and let cool. (Be sure to save what’s leftover in the strainer for spreading on toast or adding to your yogurt the next morning.)
  3. In a stand mixer fitted with a whisk, cream the butter 3 minutes on high until fluffy. Add the sugar one cup at a time and mix on low-speed until well blended. When all the sugar has been added increase the speed to medium-high and beat for another 4-5 minutes.
  4. Scrape down the bowl and add the vanilla and cream, continue to beat on medium speed for 1 minute more. Slowly add the puréed strawberries until frosting is ideal spreading consistency and shade of pink, continue beating on high until frosting is light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes more.

*All of these recipes make enough frosting for roughly 30 cupcakes or one medium cake.

Dark Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
This is the richest most decadent chocolate buttercream you’ll ever taste. It’s serious stuff, not for the faint of heart.

2 sticks of unsalted butter, room temperature
2 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1 cup dark chocolate cocoa powder
2 tsp. vanilla
3 tbsp. heavy cream

  1. In a stand mixer fitted with a whisk, cream the butter 3 minutes on high until fluffy. Add the sugar and the cocoa one cup at a time and mix on low-speed until well blended. When all the sugar/cocoa has been added increase the speed to medium and beat for another 4-5 minutes.
  2. Scrape down the bowl and add the vanilla and cream, continue to beat on high until frosting is light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes more.

Yellow Buttercream Frosting
I could detect the subtle taste of turmeric when I tried the frosting alone, but once it’s on the cake it just tastes like good ‘ol buttercream.

2 sticks of unsalted butter, room temperature
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
3 tbsp. heavy cream
1/2-1 tsp. turmeric powder

  1. In a stand mixer fitted with a whisk, cream the butter 3 minutes on high until fluffy. Add the sugar one cup at a time and mix on low-speed until well blended. When all the sugar has been added increase the speed to medium and beat for another 4-5 minutes.
  2. Scrape down the bowl and add the vanilla and cream, continue to beat on medium speed for 1 minute more. Slowly add the turmeric powder until you achieve the ideal shade of yellow and continue beating on high until frosting is light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes more.

*adapted from food network

oh the almond joy!

My family is crazy about almonds. They like peanuts fine and won’t say no to a pistachio or two, but watch out if there’s a bowl of almonds around! I also happen to like almonds; I put them on salads, in snack bars and on my morning yogurt, but for me it’s not just about the taste. Almonds are one of the healthiest of all tree nuts; they’re naturally high in protein, fiber, calcium and heart-healthy fats. These same attributes, not to mention their satisfying crunch, means that it only takes a handful (1 ounce or roughly 24 ) to help you (or me) feel full and replenished.

The other day I was in Target and I was starving. I wanted to grab something quick that I could eat on the drive to my daughter’s school, but I didn’t want junk. I took a quick stroll through the nut aisle and spotted a box of Emerald 100 Calorie Pack Cinnamon Roasted Almonds. 100 calories…reasonably healthy…easy to scarf down while driving…Sold! I was pleasantly surprised to discover that they were really tasty; not too sweet, perfectly crunchy and just enough in the package to make you feel satisfied but not guilty. I squirreled away the remains of my little box of nuts and happily snacked on them on and off during the week. And then the damn kids discovered them and ate the last bag on me. Sigh, kids. So I decided I should try to make them myself.

It wasn’t hard to find a roasted almond recipe, the world is apparently nuts for nuts, but most of the recipes I read were for candied almonds. Then I stumbled upon a clean eating blog and found inspiration! The original recipe was for cocoa covered almonds (which I’m sure are tasty but I haven’t tried), I instead tweaked it up and created cinnamon roasted almonds even better then what the folks over at Emerald are cranking out.

And in case you’re wondering, yes I was sure to make enough of these almonds to share with my family and I even gave some away as gifts. But you better believe I’ve got a secret stash all my own tucked away. Take that kids!

Cinnamon Roasted Almonds
These are fantastic as a snack right out of the jar, tossed in a salad, or sprinkled on yogurt and can easily be doubled or tripled. Just be sure to hide some for yourself before sharing them with your kids.

cinnamon almonds

1 cup raw almonds
1 tbsp. real maple syrup
1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
1 tbsp. white whole wheat flour (or all-purpose)

  1. Preheat your oven to 275°F. Line a pie plate with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. Place almonds in a large bowl and drizzle with the maple syrup, stir well to evenly coat all the nuts.
  3. Place the cinnamon and flour in a small bowl and mix together. Sprinkle a few spoonfuls over the almonds and stir to blend. Continue the process with the remaining cinnamon mixture until it’s finished and the almonds are completely covered.
  4. Spread the nuts out in an even layer in the pie plate and roast for 25 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, until fragrant and crunchy.
  5. Gather together parchment paper and carefully lift it and almonds out of pie plate. Spread the nuts out on parchment and allow to cool for 10 minutes before scarfing down (or storing in an airtight container).

*adapted from clean eating chelsey

little loves lemonade

My husband and I hold a garage sale every year and last weekend lemonade standwas it. At past sales we’ve sold everything from bikes and bassinets to the kids barely broken in winter boots and a first generation iMac. We’ve become something like pros at hawking our junk and keen negotiators with the hard-core pickers always looking for the best price. But this last sale was unlike any other we’ve ever held in that the kids decided to participate. How… with a good ol’ fashioned lemonade stand of course!

My little loves (that’s them at their stand) sold cups of homemade lemonade and mini chocolate-chocolate chip muffins to nearly everyone who visited our sale, not to mention a few unsuspecting individuals just out for a walk. They worked hard promoting their product and played the cute kid card big time— it totally payed off for them. Their little enterprise was such a huge success that not only did they sell out of 4 gallons of homemade lemonade and 48 mini muffins, but they did so way before the garage sale was over! Not everyone bought from us, but almost everyone bought from them.

So if you’re contemplating a garage sale over the next few months I highly recommend encouraging the kids to run a lemonade stand as well. And if you’ve got some Amway products, Girl Scout cookies or a little Avon you’re looking to move fast, I just may have the salespeople for you!

Classic Homemade Lemonade
This is lemonade is super easy to make and tastes nothing like the powdered stuff in a can. Give it a try once and I promise you’ll never go back!

lemonade2

Lemonade
2 cups simple syrup (see recipe below)
2 cups fresh lemon juice* (about 12 lemons)
4 cups water

  1. In a large pitcher stir together the fresh juice and simple syrup. Add the water, tasting as you go, until the lemonade is as sweet/tart as you like it.
  2. Serve in tall glasses garnished with a sprig of mint or a slice of fresh lemon and enjoy.

Simple Syrup
2 cups water
2 cups sugar

  1. Add the water and sugar to a pan and heat. Stir frequently, until sugar fully dissolves and the syrup becomes clear, about 4-5 minutes.
  2. Let cool and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

*When lemons are on sale I buy and squeeze enough for 2 cups of juice, but when they’re not I use half fresh juice and half bottled. It’s slightly less amazing than entirely fresh squeezed, but still miles better than the “just add water” canned stuff.

*adapted from whats cooking america

Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Mini Muffins
These mini muffins are truly the perfect one bite chocolate fix. However the same recipe can be used for full sized muffins, simply adjust the baking time.

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
1 large egg, beaten
1 cup water
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tbsp. red wine
1 tsp. vanilla extract

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine flour, brown sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt and mini chips in a large bowl.
  2. In a small bowl whisk together the egg, water, oil, wine and vanilla. Add oil mixture to flour mixture and stir until all the ingredients are fully incorporated.
  3. Place the liners in the muffin pan and lightly coat with cooking spray. Add a dollop of batter to each prepared muffin cup and sprinkle a few mini chips on the top of each.
  4. Bake mini muffins for 12-14 minutes (full size for 18-22 minutes) or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes in the pan before transferring to a wire rack.

*adapted from cooking light