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

“we’re starving!” snack bars

I don’t know about your kids but when mine come home from school they usually ask for a snack. Snacks before dinner are tricky; too much and they don’t eat dinner, too little and they complain that they’re STARVING until dinners ready. I always try to offer them something healthy (which they usually accept without complaint) but sometimes even I know that baby carrots just won’t cut it. Sometimes a snack needs to be healthy, but seem like a treat. Hello homemade snack bars.

I’ve been on a mission to make a granola/snack bar for sometime, but something always went wrong. Too crumbly. Too sticky. Too blech… But being the tenacious type and all, I kept on trying. The recipe I finally achieved success with is super easy; it really only requires melting and mixing; is pretty healthy; almond butter, puffed brown rice, dried cranberries (yeah there’s mini chocolate chips, but just a few) and most importantly my kids love them.

Here’s hoping that yours do as well and that these tasty snack bars buy you a few pre-dinner hours free from starving people underfoot.

Crispy Almond Snack Bars
These bars can easily be adapted to fit your kids’ likes; soy nut butter instead of almond, raisins instead of cranberries and mini m&m’s instead of chips. Go crazy, you have my permission!

new bars2

2 tbsp. butter
1/3 cup chunky almond butter
1/3 cup honey
2 cups puffed brown rice cereal
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted and chopped
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips

  1. Line an 8×8 pan with parchment or wax paper and set aside. In a small sauté pan toast the almonds. Allow to cool slightly and roughly chop.
  2. Place the cereal, almonds and dried cranberries in a large bowl, being sure that cranberries are not all clumped together. Set aside.
  3. In the pan you used to toast the almonds melt together the butter and almond butter, stirring frequently. Remove from heat, add the honey and stir until fully incorporated. Pour the mixture over the cereal and stir to evenly coat.
  4. Press the cereal mixture into the parchment lined pan. Scatter the top with chocolate chips and lightly press them into the sticky cereal mixture. Place the pan in the freezer for 20 minutes to set.
  5. Remove from the freezer, use the parchment paper to lift the contents out and slice into individual bars. Store in the refrigerator in an air tight container between sheets of waxed paper.

chocolate + nutella = love

A few weeks ago my son had a lesson on Cinquain Poems at school. He was so taken with the project that he came home and decided to compile an entire book of poems. Most of the poems revolved around food (he is the son of a food blogger after all) and this one was my favorite:

Pizza.
Very tasty.
Cook it well.
It is very greasy.
Pepperoni.

I was so inspired by his poetry that I decided to write a few Cinquain Poems of my own. I hope you enjoy them and I wish you the sweetest of Valentine’s Day’s!

Chocolate,
My weakness.
Dark or nothing.
Don’t think I’ll share.
Delicious.

Valentine,
My love.
You’re the one
That makes me smile.
Chocolate.

Cookies.
Plum out.
Wanna bake some?
Let them cool down.
Crumbs.

Chocolate + Nutella Shortbread Sandwich Cookies
If you have a special valentine and they happen to love chocolate and hazelnut, then you absolutely must bake them a batch of these. They’ll love you forever!

hearts5

2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 small jar homemade Nutella (or store-bought)

  1. In stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, mix confectioners’ sugar, butter, granulated sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla, and salt on medium low speed until creamy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the flour one cup at a time. Continue to mix on low until the flour is completely integrated.
  2. Form the dough into a ball (it will be a bit dry) and divide in half. Wrap each half in plastic wrap, flatten into a disc and refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.
  3. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  4. Take out the dough, sandwich between plastic wrap and use a rolling pin to roll it to 1/4-inch thick. Cut out cookies with a cookie cutter and place on baking sheets. Bake 8 minutes, or until firm.
  5. Repeat with remaining dough but cut the centers out of the second batch, making sure you have equal numbers of tops and bottoms. (If dough becomes too soft pop it back in fridge for a few minutes to firm up.) Let the baked cookies cool for 5 minutes on the cookie sheet before transferring to a cooling rack.
  6. Once cookies have fully cooled spread a thin layer of Nutella onto each of the cookie bottoms. Sandwich together with the top cookies and serve or chill for a later date.

 

all hail kale!

Kale is a fantastic source of calcium. It actually contains more calcium per calorie than milk and its more readily absorbed by the body than dairy. Kale is loaded with vitamins A, C & K, folic acid, vitamin B6, lutein, and potassium. All of which play a key role in reducing the risk of cancer and heart disease, lowering cholesterol and keeping your body in tip-top shape. Kale has natural anti-inflammatory properties, it contains omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, one serving contains 5% of your daily fiber requirement and it’s high in both iron and protein. Quite the laundry list don’t ya think?

I happen to love all leafy greens, including kale, and I eat them nearly every day. My family on the other hand draws the acceptable vegetable line at greens. My husband will sigh and grimace a bit but usually ends up eating whatever I make, but not my kids. No kale, no spinach, no collard greens. No way. No how. Not ever. And then along came kale chips…

If you haven’t had kale chips before then let me try to describe them for you. They’re crispy bite size bits of kale that are a little bit salty, a little bit oily, oddly delicious and totally weird at the same time. They’re absolutely addicting and before you can decide if you really like them or not, the batch will be gone! The first time I made kale chips my 8-year-old devoured three-quarters of the batch and immediately requested that I make more. “You want more what…kale?!? You got it kid!”

Kale chips…the key to longevity (or at least healthy snacking)!

Kale Chips
You can make these simply with just salt and olive oil, or get crazy with garlic, curry, and chili powder or any other spices that float your boat.

kale chip2

Small bunch curly kale
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. pink salt
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. smoked paprika

  1. Preheat oven 325°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. Rise the kale and remove leaves from tough center stem. Tear the leaves into bit size pieces, spread out on a dish towel and blot as dry as possible.
  3. Place the dry leaves in a large bowl. Drizzle with the oil and sprinkle with the salt and spices. One by one use your fingers to spread the oil and spices on the front and back of each leaf. Lay the oiled leaves in the prepared baking sheet in a fairly even layer. (You may need to make to work in batches.)
  4. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the kale is crispy and just beginning to brown on the edges.
  5. Gently pry off the parchment paper and enjoy (or not).

fro-ly sh*t delicious!

Have you noticed that the country has become frozen yogurt obsessed? There are no less than six frozen yogurt shops within a 4 mile radius of my house, and that doesn’t even take into account the local ice cream shops that also sell it. It would appear that fro-yo has become hot, hot, hot!

Last year the Easter Bunny brought my kids a set of personal sized ice cream makers. They were thrilled and couldn’t wait to get started, but the recipes that came along with the units all called for heavy cream and whole milk. In other words real ice cream ingredients! I’m all for less than healthy treats now and again (which of course includes full fat ice cream), but I certainly couldn’t picture us whipping up a weekly batch of the stuff. I didn’t want their interest in cooking to be diminished just because the folks a Hamilton Beach couldn’t come up with a healthier frozen dessert recipe, so… I did a little research and a bit of recipe tweaking and came up with a solution. A fresh strawberry frozen yogurt recipe that tasted great and I could feel good about encouraging my kids to make and eat. This recipe is loaded with fresh strawberries (which just happen to be hitting the supermarkets again) and high protein greek yogurt and light sour cream in place of the full fat dairy. We added a few chocolate chips just to up the ante and the results were delicious!

But then I got crazy. Then I decided that if the frozen yogurt was healthy perhaps I should make a topping for it that was just a smidge unhealthy. Something like, oh I don’t know— homemade chocolate sauce! Like I said crazy, but oh so good…

Fresh Strawberry Frozen Yogurt
This recipe doesn’t make a tremendous amount, perhaps a quart or so, which is just enough for your kids to think you’re a total rock star in the kitchen. Enjoy the accolades!

ice cream3

2 1/2 cups diced fresh strawberries
2/3-3/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 cup plain nonfat greek yogurt
1/2 cup light sour cream
2/3 cup chocolate chips (optional)

  1. Hull and chop the berries. Toss them with the sugar and lemon juice in a large bowl, cover and let steep about an hour.
  2. Remove 3/4 cup of the macerated berries and set aside. Combine the remainder of the berries, sour cream and the greek yogurt in a blender and blend until smooth. Gently stir in the reserved strawberries and chill the mixture for at least one hour.
  3. Pour the chilled mixture into your ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer’s directions. (Half way through the processing we added our chocolate chips.)
  4. Enjoy your homemade frozen yogurt with a healthy drizzle of chocolate sauce and revel in how multifaceted you’ve become in the kitchen.

*adapted from kitchen trial and error

Homemade Chocolate Sauce
This sauce is fantastic drizzled on ice cream, makes terrific hot chocolate or chocolate milk and is the perfect chocolate fix right off the spoon.

1/2 cup dark cocoa powder
1 cup water
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 pinch salt
1 tsp. real vanilla extract

  1. In a medium high sided saucepan mix together the cocoa powder and water. Place over a medium flame, add the sugar and stir to dissolve.
  2. Bring mixture to a boil and allow to cook and thicken for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. (Be prepared for it to bubble up while cooking.)
  3. Remove the pot from the heat, and stir in the salt and vanilla. Allow to cool slightly before pouring into glass jars. Allow to fully cool on the counter then store jars in the fridge.

*adapted from small notebook

mea culpa muffins

I think I owe you an apology. You see I have a recipe, a really good one that I know you’ll like, and I’ve been purposely keeping it to myself. I don’t know why. I’m usually a good about sharing and not at all the jealous or easily threatened type, but I guess my actions would say otherwise. And the real kicker about this recipe is that there’s a time component to its key ingredient. In other words, if I don’t share this recipe with you now I’ll have to wait another year before I can.

Oh the inner struggle; the soul searching; and ultimately the decision to come clean with you my readers and share this most coveted of recipes.

So here goes. Here’s the recipe you’re gonna love, you’ve gotta try and you can’t go wrong with. (drum roll please) It is… Cranberry Orange Muffins! I know, you’re feeling let down right about now, right? All this fuss over a muffin. I hear ya, but these muffins really and truly are the most fantastic muffins you’ll ever make. Ever. I’ve been making these babies every Fall/Winter (when fresh cranberries are available in stores) since my son was a toddler—he’s now 8—and I have yet to have a single man, woman or child declare them anything but delicious.

So here you go my dear reader, my loyal listener, here is the recipe most near and dear to my heart. Use it well and think of me fondly with each “Wow, these muffins are delicious!” compliment you accept.

Cranberry-Orange Muffins
This recipe would also work well as a quick bread but since muffins make the perfect breakfast or school snack, I usually stick to muffins.

cran-orange muffins3

2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup sugar
zest of 1 orange
1 egg
1/4 cup canola oil
2/3 cup orange juice
1 bag fresh cranberries, rinsed

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Line muffin pan with liners, lightly spray with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar. Add the orange zest to the flour mixture and whisk to combine. Toss in the cranberries and stir until each is well coated with flour.
  3. In a small bowl, lightly beat the egg. Add the oil and orange juice and whisk together. Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture and stir until just moist. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tin and bake for 16-18 minutes, until muffins are golden and a tooth pick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  4. Allow the muffins to cool in the pan for 5 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool the remainder of the way.

Criss-Cross Applesauce

I love Fall, it’s absolutely my favorite season. I love the beautiful blanket of falling leaves (it drives me crazy that here in Northern NJ everyone sweeps up their leaves the minute they hit the ground); I love the chill in the air; I love the contrast between the bright blue sky and Mother Nature’s muted colors; I even love the cool, earthy and slightly damp way the season smells. And there is no food that says Fall to me more perfectly than apples.

It seems like this time of year everyone you talk to has either just gone apple picking or has plans to. (Although truth be told, the Greco family prefers to apple pick mid-August in Vermont. Sorry N.J., but you really can’t compete.) Anyway, back to those apples. If you in fact do go apple picking then you’re probably like me and end up bringing home way more than you and your family can possibly eat out of hand. And seriously how many pies does any one person feel compelled to make? So to use up all those lovely fresh picked apples I make applesauce. In the past I would make it on the stove top and just let it cook until it was mushy and “done”. Then I discovered a Martha Stewart recipe for roasted applesauce. Hello delicious!

This is honestly some of the best applesauce I’ve ever tasted. It’s loaded with wonderful spices, takes less than an hour to make and freezes beautifully. My family likes to eat it in the morning with toast, at dinner alongside chicken or pork chops and warmed up with a bit of vanilla ice cream for dessert. I promise that after making this roasted version you’ll never bother with the stove top kind again.

Roasted Applesauce
Roasting the apples rather than cooking them on the stove really gives this applesauce a much more complex flavor.

1/4 cup water
4 tbsp. packed brown sugar
3 tsp. fresh lemon juice
a big pinch of salt
3 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
3 lbs. apples (about 10-12)
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ground cloves

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Peel, core and cut apples into medium size chunks. Place in a large bowl and set aside.
  2. Combine water, sugar, lemon juice, melted butter and salt in a small bowl. Stir until blended and sugar has dissolved.
  3. Pour sugar mixture over the apples and toss to coat well. Place apples in a large baking dish, cover tightly with foil and roast 40 minutes.
  4. Let cool slightly then mash apples with a fork. Adjust spices (if needed) and serve warm over vanilla ice cream, at room temperature, or freeze for a later date.

*adapted from martha stewart

Hooray for Back to School!

Ahhh, back to school. I love this time of year for all the obvious parent of a school-age child reasons and yet I dread it as well. I can totally do without the daily scramble to get out the door on time, the projects meant to teach my child something but really just showcase my craft abilities and the “just get your homework out if the way so you can relax after dinner” conversation my son and I have every afternoon. But what I dislike the most about back to school is packing lunches and snacks. Funny right, since I’m so food obsessed, but true nonetheless.

Thankfully most nights my husband takes over lunch duty, but I’m still in charge of snack. At my son’s school the kids bring in a snack and a drink everyday, but the snack must be a healthy one. They are not allowed to bring in any junk food, cookies, gummy whatnot or simply unhealthy treats. I agree with this policy, little brains can’t learn when fueled by junk, but it does pose a bit of a challenge as well. While I would sooner throw myself off a bridge than send my son to school with a Ring-Ding, there are only so many pieces of fruit I can give the kid before he revolts. Muffins and quick-breads are my solution. I can make them in all sorts of flavor combinations, with honest and healthy ingredients and add a little demerara sugar or a simple glaze topping to make them seem a little less boring and a little more kid-appealing.

So there’s one school related hurdle down, now to finish my (I mean his) model of the Parthenon that’s due on Monday…

Pineapple-Zucchini Muffins
I didn’t peel the zucchini and my children didn’t seem to mind the green flecks in their muffins. But if yours will then by all means peel away!

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups grated zucchini
1 cup crushed pineapple in juice, drained (reserve juice for glaze)
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tbsp. reserved pineapple juice

  1. Preheat to 375° F. Put liners in muffin pan, spray lightly with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar. In a separate bowl combine the oil, vanilla, eggs, zucchini and pineapple and stir until combined.
  3. Add the wet to the dry ingredients and mix well. Scoop batter into muffin pan and bake for 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from pan and place on a rack to cool completely before glazing.
  4. For the glaze: In small bowl mix together the powdered sugar and pineapple juice until well blended. Drizzle glaze over cooled muffins and let set 5 minutes before serving.

*adapted from stolen moments cooking

“those” blueberry muffins

My family and I just returned from our annual summer vacation in Vermont. It’s our yearly opportunity to kick back, relax and enjoy doing all the wonderful outdoor country things the Green Mountains have to offer; not the least of which is going blueberry and apple picking. July is actually blueberry season in New England which means that come mid August the pickins’ were a bit slim. But what was left on the bushes was so crazy plump, sweet and juicy that we had to fight to kids to actually have enough left in our pail to bring home!

Blueberries are one of my favorite fruits. They’re perfect eaten out of hand, can jazz up an ordinary bowl of cold cereal, turn plain pancakes into something special and even add a little something unexpected to a green salad. They’re perfect made into sauce, jam or even turned into an infused cocktail. It seems like the simple blueberry has limitless possibilities.

As you are aware, a few weeks ago I was on a blueberry muffin bender of sorts. I made numerous batches, tweaking and adjusting the recipe again and again until I had what I thought was a winning version. But (sigh) it wasn’t, at least not in the eyes of the bake-off judges. So while my dear son proudly basked in his bake-off glory I quietly collected my cake plate and headed for the door…

But damn it, I worked hard on those muffins and I stand by my recipe! So here it is; the recipe that didn’t make me famous, win me a blue ribbon or change my baking career forever. They may not have been winners at the bake-off, but I still think these are some of the tastiest blueberry muffins you’ll ever make. But you be the judge.

Blueberry-Limoncello Muffins with a Lemon Zest Crumble Topping
These muffins are equally tasty without the limoncello (substitute lemon juice instead) and are great in mini size as well.

For the muffins:
2 cups cake flour
3/4 cup white sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
zest of 1 lemon
1 pint fresh blueberries (about 2 cups)
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
juice of 1 lemon (about 1/4 cup)
1/4 cup limoncello
1/2 cup plain Greek-style yogurt
1 egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

For the crumble:
1/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup + 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
zest of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a muffin pan with cupcake liners and spray with cooking spray. Set aside.
  2. Combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Gently stir in the blueberries and lemon zest.
  3. In a medium bowl combine the melted butter, lemon juice, limoncello, yogurt, egg, and vanilla; stir well with a whisk. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and fold everything together until just moist. Set bowl of batter aside and make the crumble topping.
  4. For the topping; in a small bowl combine the sugar, flour, and lemon zest. Add in the butter and stir until the mixture is crumbly, breaking up any large clumps.
  5. Give the batter one last stir then spoon evenly into the lined muffin cups. Top with a generous amount of crumble.
  6. Bake for 16-18 minutes or until a tooth pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow muffins to cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then place on a wire rack for remainder of cooling.