Friday, April 29, 2016

Banana Zucchini Toddler Muffins

Elaine is eight months old, and she loves eating solid food. (Insert the cliche...she's growing up so fast!! Sniffle.) I've been making some purees, buying some jarred baby food, and feeding her bits from the table. I'm trying to keep it low pressure and fun for all of us.

Elaine is much more into self-feeding than Danny was. It's still pretty tricky for her to get food into her mouth, but she's persistent! I've been trying to figure out healthy foods that are easy for her to eat herself...things that aren't too slippery or crunchy. It dawned on me that muffins might be just the ticket. She can hold them in her little fists and chomp them up with her two tiny teeth.

My pal Therese directed me to her favorite healthy toddler muffin recipe that was full of fruit and veggies. I tweaked it a little, and I was thrilled with the results. So were my kids.

Let's get cooking!

P.S. Want more baby food recipes? Check out this post about some of my favorite homemade purees, including sweet potato and chicken baby food.

Banana Zucchini Toddler Muffins
Adapted from A Song of Sixpence
Makes about 28 mini muffins

1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup brown sugar*
2 very ripe bananas, mashed
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 zucchini, shredded
1 cup flour
1/4 cup chia seeds
1/4 cup quick oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a mini muffin pan and set aside.

Stir together oil, applesauce, brown sugar, bananas, eggs, and vanilla extract until combined. Stir in zucchini.

In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, chia seeds, oats, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.

Fill mini muffin cups with batter. (I filled mine almost to the top.) Bake for about 15-17 minutes, until muffins spring back when touched and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

*This is not a lot of sugar, so these muffins have just a hint of sweetness. This is perfect for the baby, but just know that this isn't your standard sweet muffin. If you're looking for that, you might want to check out Coconut Carrot Muffins or Blueberry Zucchini Bread.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Turkey & Wild Rice Stew

Spring has definitely arrived in central Illinois, but we're still in that on-again, off-again pattern. Chilly, rainy days make me crave soup or stew, so I whipped this up for dinner using items already on hand.

I had turkey broth in the freezer, but you can easily substitute store bought or homemade chicken stock, chicken broth or vegetable broth.

The wild rice in this meal is special. Friends who traveled to Minnesota for a hunting trip brought it back for me. Minnesota Broken Rice grows naturally in fresh water. It's chewy with a nutty flavor. This rice is a bit tougher than brown rice and I've had trouble cooking it to the right consistency on its own. But it worked perfectly in this stew, staying al dente during the long simmering time. Rest assured, regular wild rice from the grocery store will work just as well in this main dish.

I'm calling this a stew because it was a bit thicker than I intended, but you can add more broth for a more soup-like consistency.

Mangia! Mangia!

Turkey & Wild Rice Stew
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
5 to 7 carrots, peeled and sliced about 1/4 inch thick
4 ribs celery, sliced about 1/4 inch thick
1 large onion, diced
3 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
4 tablespoons flour
4 to 6 cups (or more) turkey broth (or chicken or vegetable stock or broth)
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup wild rice
2 1/2 cups chopped, cooked turkey or chicken
1/2 cup half & half or 1/2 cup milk combined with 1 tablespoon flour
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh parsley or cilantro for garnish

In a stock pot or Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons oil with 2 tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat. Add carrots, celery and onion and cook about 10 minutes or until the onions are translucent.

Add the garlic and cook 3 to 5 more minutes, just until the garlic starts to brown.

Stir in thyme and cook until fragrant.

Add the flour and cook while stirring constantly, until the flour is browned and fully combined with the vegetables.

Pour in the turkey broth, bay leaves and soy sauce. Scrap up any browned bits on the bottom of the Dutch oven and stir to combine.

Bring to a boil and then lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Add wild rice, stir and then let simmer for another 25 to 30 minutes.

Add turkey, salt and pepper. Stir in half & half or milk and cook until slightly thickened. Add more broth if you want to thin out the liquid.

Serve garnished with fresh parsley or cilantro.

A note about leftovers: The stew may thicken even more in the fridge, but reheating it will return the dish to a more stew or soup-like meal. And you can always add a little more broth!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry

I think we can all admit that take-out is fantastic. Dinner on the table with no work? Uh, yes, please!

That said, it's not always the healthiest option. And sometimes I don't feel like leaving the house to pick it up. Can making dinner be lazier than take-out? With quick, easy, and tasty Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry, it sure can.

Let's get cooking!

Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry
Adapted from Life Made Sweeter

For the Stir Fry:
1 pound sirloin steak, sliced very thin across the grain
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons soy sauce
3/4 teaspoon sesame oil
Pepper, to taste
1 pound broccoli, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Sesame seeds for garnish (optional)

For the Sauce:
3/4 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 1/2 teaspoons sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon Mirin
Pepper, to taste

Combine steak, cornstarch, soy sauce, sesame oil, and pepper in a small boil. Set aside to marinate for about 10 minutes.

While the steak marinates, stir together the sauce. In a small bowl, mix broth, oyster sauce, sugar, cornstarch, soy sauce, sesame oil, Mirin, and pepper. Set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large non-stick skillet, bring about 3 cups of water to a boil. Add broccoli and cook until bright green, about 1 minute. Drain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking. Set aside.

In the now-empty skillet, heat vegetable oil over high until it starts to smoke, about 2 minutes. Add beef and spread into a single layer. Allow it to cook until it gets nice and brown, about 2 minutes. Stir the steak around and allow to cook for another 1-2 minutes, being careful not to overcook the meat.

Add sauce to the skillet and bring to a boil. Allow sauce to cook and thicken for 2 minutes. Stir in cooked broccoli. Garnish with sesame seeds and serve.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Pasta & Fresh Tomato Sauce

Last week was busy. We had extra drama performances, a spring concert, baseball practices (and games) and the school play. My mother-in-law was in town, too, for a chance to cheer on her grandsons.

Despite all of this activity, I managed to cook dinner — twice. This is one of the meals I made.

In the time it takes for water to boil and pasta to cook, you can make a fresh and light tomato sauce instead of opening a jar. This recipe uses the same method as my recipe for Halibut with Tomato, Orange and Olives.

Cooking the tomatoes yourself is an easy way to dish up a healthy topping for pasta. A little lemon juice brightens up all those fresh flavors.

Mangia! Mangia!

Pasta & Fresh Tomato Sauce

3/4 pound pasta (any shape; my son Sam picked out rigatoni)
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 large onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
3 pints cherry or grape tomatoes (I like a mixture of red and yellow ones)
1/4 to 1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper
Grated Parmesan cheese for topping

Fill a large pot with water and 1 tablespoon oil and set over high heat until it boils.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add onion and garlic and saute for 5 to 7 minutes, until onion just starts to get light brown. Add tomatoes and let cook for a few minutes.

Add pasta to boiling water and cook per package directions. Place in serving bowl after draining.

Continue to cook tomatoes, stirring occasionally. They will begin to burst. You can also gently press down on the tomatoes to release their juices. Cook until all tomatoes have burst and sauce thickens, about 15 to 20 minutes total.

Add lemon juice, parsley salt and pepper to taste and stir to combine. Pour tomato sauce over pasta and gently mix to coat all of the pasta. Sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese or your favorite Italian cheese.

I served my pasta as a side dish with grilled baked halibut and asparagus. It makes a terrific main dish, too, along with a nice green salad.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Curry Chicken Salad with Grapes and Cashews

Our friends Cathy and Daniel picnic like it's their job. They take it seriously and they're good at it. We experienced this firsthand when visiting them in Baltimore while on Spring Break. We met up at the park atop Federal Hill. They brought a delicious picnic lunch in a beautiful traditional picnic basket, because details matter to Cathy, a former opera director and stage manager turned interior designer.

Together we unpacked curry chicken sandwiches in mini pitas and -- for dessert -- homemade (by Daniel and nearly 3-year-old Gregory) oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. We poured Orangina into plastic picnic stemware.

The chicken salad was sooooo good that I had to make it as soon as we got home. Cathy told  me all of the ingredients, which she mostly eyeballs. That's what I do a lot when I cook, too. I would say my version (below) turned out slightly more powerful on the curry than Cathy's, while hers was creamier. I still want to work on getting mine to be more like Cathy's in creaminess.

Anyhow, play with it and make it your own. My tweaks included using some of the whites of the green onions and adding some red bell pepper.

One thing Cathy and I agree on: the mayonnaise. I've said it before and I will again. It's gotta be Duke's. (See my Deviled Egg Sampler.)

I love how Cathy used mini pitas, which sadly I didn't find at the grocery. The ones I bought were too teeny to be filled with more than a thimble-full of chicken salad.

So, I wish I'd taken a picture of Cathy's sandwiches, because they were so cute and pretty. Oh well...I was too busy stuffing my face. And taking in a beautiful day in Baltimore. And picnicking with my friends, the professional picnickers.


PS: I did get Penny to eat this in her school lunch.

Curry Chicken Salad with Grapes and Cashews

1 1/2 to 2 pounds of boneless chicken breast, cooked and diced into 1/4-inch pieces
1 heaping cup of seedless grapes -- red or white -- cut in half
3 green onions,  white and green parts sliced ultra thin
1/2 to 1 whole red pepper, diced small
6 tablespoons mayonnaise
3 teaspoons curry
Salt and pepper to taste
Cashew pieces for garnish

Mix all ingredients except for cashews together and chill thoroughly before serving. Add cashews just before serving.

And here is a trick with the red pepper, which can make a salad super watery if you aren't careful. After you dice the pepper, roll the pieces in a paper towel to get out some of the water.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Chocolate Chip Pecan Pie Bars

The husband loves golf. So you can imagine his glee when the Masters Golf Tournament comes around every spring. He dreams about making a pilgrimage to Augusta to watch his favorite athletes compete, but that wasn't in the cards this year. Instead we decided to host a little Masters viewing party for his family.

We noshed on deviled eggs and sipped Arnold Palmers while the husband and his brothers tended the grill. And for dessert, we enjoyed decadent Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars.

With a salty-sweet shortbread crust, gooey filling, rich chocolate chips, and crunchy pecans, these dessert bars have something for everyone. Serve them with ice cream if you really want to gild the lily. And I love a gilded lily.

Let's get cooking!

Chocolate Chip Pecan Pie Bars
Adapted from America's Test Kitchen

2 cups flour
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup pecans, toasted
1-2 teaspoons salt*
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
12 tablespoons cold butter, cut in 1/2" pieces

1 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup corn syrup
8 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
3 1/2 cups pecans, chopped coarse
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9" x 13" baking dish with aluminum foil. (The shiny side of the foil should be touching the pan with the non-shiny side up.) Set pan aside.

First, make the crust. Add flour, brown sugar, pecans, salt, and baking powder to your food processor. Pulse a few times until mixture is combined. Add cold butter and process until it's incorporated into a sandy texture. Press into an even layer in the prepared pan. Bake until crust is fragrant and beginning to brown, 17-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling. In a large bowl, whisk together brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, vanilla, and salt. Whisk in eggs until everything is combined. Spread over warm crust. Alternately sprinkle pecans and chocolate chips over filling. Bake until filling is golden and set in the middle, about 35 minutes. Allow to cool completely before slicing and serving.

*I used 2 teaspoons of salt, and you could definitely taste it. We enjoyed the salty-sweet combo, but if that isn't your thing, cut the salt back to 1 teaspoon.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Chia Seed Pudding

Chia seeds are rocking my world these days.

After finding a warehouse-club sized tub of them in my pantry, I needed to find a way to use them up. My husband was adding the nutritious seeds to smoothies for awhile, but lately this jar was just taking up space.

Not anymore.

A Facebook post from a friend was the first I'd heard about chia pudding and I was definitely curious. I had no idea that chia seeds bloom into a tapioca-like concoction when soaked in almond or coconut milk. Food & Wine magazine dishes up lots of chia seed recipes, so I got to experimenting.

The longer the pudding sets, the thicker it will get. Do let it chill for at least 3 or 4 hours. The pudding keeps well for about 3 days in the refrigerator.

Chia seed pudding makes a filling breakfast or snack and a yummy sweet dessert. Chia seeds are packed with fiber, protein and calcium, too.

My favorite is the simplest: chia seeds, light vanilla almond milk and honey.

You can definitely get creative here. Please let us know how you do chia seed pudding.

Mangia! Mangia!

P.S. Need other ideas for cooking with chia seeds? They taste great in these no-bake granola bars, too.

P.S.S. Be sure to use almond milk that does not contain carrageenan, a thickening agent which can irritate digestion in some people.

Chai Spiced Chia Seed Pudding
1 1/4 cups coconut milk (light or full fat) or almond milk
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup chia seeds
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon maple syrup

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Mix well. Cover with an air tight lid or transfer to bowl with an air tight lid. Refrigerate at least 4 hours to overnight, stirring occasionally.

Serve chilled with blackberries and a drizzle of maple syrup. Granola would be nice on top, too.

Vanilla Chia Seed Pudding
2 cups almond milk (any variety. I use light vanilla)
1/2 cup chia seeds
3 tablespoons honey or agave nectar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Add all ingredients to medium bowl. Stir to combine.  Cover with an air tight lid or transfer to bowl with an air tight lid. Refrigerate at least 4 hours to overnight, stirring occasionally.

Top with fruit and/or nuts. I used dried cranberries and candied walnuts.

Pumpkin Pie Chia Seed Pudding
2 cups almond milk (any variety. I use light vanilla)
1 cup pumpkin puree
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup chia seeds
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl. Cover with an air tight lid or transfer to bowl with an air tight lid. Refrigerate at least 4 hours to overnight, stirring occasionally.

Serve chilled with pecans and a sprinkle of cinnamon. A dollop of whipped cream wouldn't hurt, either!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Lamb Burgers with Feta-Tzatziki Goodness

We don't have a traditional Easter dinner Chez George. Every year is different, which itself is a tradition. This past Easter we grilled lamb burgers. The entire family and our dinner guest Christina LOVED them. Lucky for Christina we were headed out of town for Spring Break the next day so she got the benefit of two leftover lamb burgers and leftover couscous.

I chose a lamb burger recipe from Food Network and adapted it slightly -- namely increasing the amout of meat by a half pound and adding a little of the Moroccan spice mix ras el hanout, which tastes yummy in lamb dishes. The Food Network knew what it was doing in adding feta to the traditional cucumber and yogurt tzatziki. But it had the name all wrong; it's not just feta-tzatziki spread -- it's Feta-Tzatziki Goodness. It's zat good. (I can feel you rolling your eyes. Don't care. I'm punny.)

When you're tired of regular old burgers this summer, give these lamb burgers a try.


Lamb Burgers with Feta-Tzatziki Goodness
Based on this Food Network recipe

Ingredients for the Lamb Burgers:
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 red onions, 1 cut into 1/4 inch dice, 1 sliced for garnish (if desired; nobody in my family likes raw red onion)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Pinch of crushed red pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 pounds ground lamb
2 sprigs of fresh oregano, finely chopped
1/2 bunch fresh dill finely chopped (I tried two stores and both were out of fresh dill. I improvised with 1 tablespoon stir-in dill paste and 1 teaspoon dried dill.)
1/2 bunch fresh mint, finely chopped
Zest of 1/2 lemon
4 whole wheat pitas, sliced in half
Fresh Tzatziki-Feta Goodness (recipe follows)
1-2 beefsteak tomatoes, sliced, for garnish
2 cups baby spinach, for garnish

Ingredients for the Tzatziki-Feta Goodness:
2 cups plain Greek yogurt
1/2 cup crumbled feta
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 sprigs fresh mint, finely chopped
1 small bunch of fresh dill or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried dill
1/2 English cucumber, coarsely grated
Kosher salt

Directions for the Tzatziki-Feta Goodness:

Note the chill time and so make this before you start the burgers. Combine yogurt, feta, vinegar,  garlic, mint, dill  and cucumber. Season with salt. Let sit for at least 1 hour at room temperature before serving.

Directions for the Burgers:
Add olive oil, onions, salt and red pepper to large saute pan. Bring pan to medium-high heat and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 2 to 4 more minutes. Turn off the heat and let onions cool.

In a large bowl, combine the lamb, cooled onion mixture, oregano, dill, mint, lemon zest and 1/2 to 3/4 cup water.

Lamb is softer than beef and harder to form into patties. Put lamb mixture in fridge for 15 minutes or more until it hardens up a bit.

Preheat grill.

Form the lamb mixture into 6-8 equal patties. Sprinkle with salt if  desired. Grill burgers to your desired doneness -- about 4 to 5 minutes per side for medium rare. Remove the burgers from the grill and let rest for 3 to 4 minutes.

Schmear the top (and bottom, if you like!) of your burger with the Feta-Tzatziki Goodness. Top burger with tomatoes, sliced onions and spinach. Slide into the pita. Note: It might be easier to either cut all sides of the pita so you are not stuffing the burger inside, or cut your burger in half as you would slice a bagel in half.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Creamy Chicken and Mushroom Soup

Spring has arrived in the pacific northwest! With the flowers growing taller, I'm ready to pack away the casseroles and pot roasts of winter and serve up something a little lighter. But it's not quite salad season yet; even when the sun is shining, the evenings have a little chill.

Creamy Chicken and Mushroom Soup is the perfect dinnertime solution to my spring fever. Full of chicken and veggies, it fills you up without feeling too heavy. And just a drizzle of half and half adds creamy indulgence. Make a double batch so you can warm some up for lunch the next day.

Let's get cooking!

P.S. Think that bread in the photo looks delicious? It is. Check out my Even Better Irish Soda Bread post for the recipe!

Creamy Chicken and Mushroom Soup
Adapted from Damn Delicious
Serves 4-6

1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 pound chicken breast, cut into 1" cubes
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons butter
5 carrots, chopped into soup-sized pieces
2 ribs celery, chopped into soup-sized pieces
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 onion, peeled and chopped into soup-sized pieces (I like the onion pieces smaller.)
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 cup flour
3 - 4 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup half & half
Chopped parsley for garnish (optional)

Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high. Season chicken generously with salt and pepper. Add chicken to pot and cook for about 3 minutes per side, until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken to a plate.

Add butter to now-empty pot. Once butter is melted, add onion, carrots, celery, mushrooms, and garlic. Saute until vegetables are beginning to soften, about 8 minutes.

Stir in thyme and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in flour and cook for 2 minutes. Slowly stir in 3 cups of broth, scraping the bottom of the pot to incorporate any browned bits. Add bay leaf and return chicken to the pot. Bring to a simmer and allow to cook until slightly thickened, about 6-8 minutes. Stir in another 1 cup broth if you want your soup more liquid-y. Stir in half and half and cook for another minute. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with parsley if desired.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Classic Mac 'N Cheese

You know how you have some recipes for the classics and you never need to deviate? Well, if you happen to be looking for your go-to macaroni and cheese recipe, here's mine. I started making this hearty version more than a decade ago after discovering it within my own larger family. This is my husband's stepmom Janni's go-to mac and cheese and it comes from Southern Living. It's the perfect side or can stand on its own. My kids take leftovers in their Thermoses for lunch at school.


Classic Mac 'N Cheese
Southern Living
One 8 ounce package elbow macaroni
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese
1 egg, beaten

Cook  macaroni noodles and drain.

Melt butter in a heavy saucepan, over low heat. Add flour, stirring until smooth. Cook for one minute, stirring constantly.

Gradually add the milk. Cook over medium  heat, stirring constantly until thickened and bubbly.

Stir in salt and cheese, stirring until cheese melts. Gradually stir about a quarter of the cheese mixture into the egg and add that back to the remaining cheese mixture, stirring constantly.

Stir cheese sauce into macaroni and pour into a lightly greased baking dish. Bake for 35 minutes -- or until hot and bubbly -- in 350-degree oven. Yields 4-6 servings.

You can double  this recipe -- as I always do. Make a tray for now and freeze a pan for later. Note that if baking cold, you will need to up the baking time.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Three Ways to Bake with Bananas

Ripe bananas are regular residents on my kitchen counter – and in my freezer – and I'm always on the lookout for new ways to put the fruit to work in our daily diets.

We love banana bread, but I wanted to jazz up our snack and breakfast routine, and find ways to add more fiber and vitamins to my boys' between-meal munchies.

So I've been recipe testing. I've hit on three yummy ways to turn those sweet bananas into something special – in the form of cookies, blondies and muffins.

My boys and their friends tried these treats and gave them a thumbs up. They're also approved by several moms and a few dads, too!

Mangia! Mangia!

Oatmeal, Banana, Date & Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Inspired by this recipe from the Food Network.

Note: I made a few batches of these cookies. The kids didn't really like the original recipe (above). Adding banana and putting chocolate chunks on top made them a hit with the kiddos.

2 cups of rolled oats
2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) of unsalted butter at room temperature
1 large egg
2 medium to large bananas
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour or white whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 plus 1/8 teaspoon fine salt
1 cup pitted dates, chopped
1 cup chocolate chunks or chips, divided

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spread oats on a baking sheet and bake in oven until golden brown, about 10 to 12 minutes. Turn or mix once during cooking time. Transfer toasted oats to a bowl to cool. Wait until you taste the nutty flavor the toasted oats add to the cookies!

Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Beat sugar and butter on medium high speed until the mixture is slightly fluffy, about 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides as needed. Add egg and vanilla and beat until very fluffy, about another 2 to 3 minutes. Add one banana and bet until fully combined. Set aside.

Add the flour, cinnamon, baking powder and salt to the mixing bowl with the oats. Whisk or stir to combine. Add flour mixture to butter mixture and beat until just combined. Mash the second banana and stir it into the cookie dough with a wooden spoon. Add dates and 1/2 cup chocolate chunks or chips and mix by hand.

Drop level tablespoons of cookie dough on the baking sheet. Leave about 1 inch between cookies. (You should get 28 to 30 cookies out of this recipe.)

Top each cookie with 2 or 3 chocolate chunks.

Bake for about 12 minutes or just until cookies are a light golden color. Let cookies cool on a wire rack and enjoy!

Chocolate-Bottom Banana Blondies
Inspired by this recipe from the New York Times.

Note: There seemed to be too many cookie crumbs and not enough butter the first time I made these blondies, so I tweaked the recipe a bit. I also left out the nuts because my boys won't eat them.

3 sticks unsalted butter, plus more to grease pan
2 1/2 to 3 cups chocolate graham cracker crumbs (you can make your own in a food processor.)
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
2 ripe bananas, mashed
2 large eggs
2 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup white whole wheat flour
Flaky sea salt for sprinkling on top

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 9-by-13 inch pan with parchment paper and grease with butter.

Melt 1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) of butter in the microwave or in a saucepan.

In a food processor, combine 2 1/2 cups cookie crumbs, melted butter, light brown sugar and a pinch of salt. Process until the mixture is like damp sand. If the mixture is too wet, add the rest of the cookie crumbs.

Dump cookie crumb mixture into prepared baking pan and spread out evenly. Press crumbs down into an even layer. Bake for 7 to 10 minutes until the surface is firm. Remove from oven and set aside.

Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt 1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) of butter and let cook until foamy. Stir and continue to cook until the foam goes away and the melted butter turns a nutty brown color. (Hint: Use a metal or light colored pan so that you can see the color change when it happens.) Remove browned butter from heat and let it cool.

In a large bowl, whisk together bananas, brown sugar and vanilla. Add browned butter and whisk until incorporated. Add flour and salt and stir to combine. Pour mixture over the prepared crust and spread out evenly. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt if using.

Place pan in pre-heated oven and bake until tooth pick inserted in center comes out clean, or whiter just a few crumbs attached, about 45 to 55 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool.

Lift blondies out of pan using the edges of the parchment paper. Cut into squares (about 24) and indulge.

Healthy Banana Oat Muffins
From this Food Network recipe.

Note: These muffins were delicious the first time, but they seemed to dry out as they cooled, so I added more banana to keep them moist.

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons rolled (old fashioned) oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup reduced fat sour cream
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 medium bananas and 1 smaller banana, mashed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with muffin liners.

Melt the butter in a small pan over medium heat and cook until it gets foamy. Continue cooking while stirring until the foam goes away and brown specks start to appear. Pour into mixing bowl and let cool.

In a large bowl combine flour, 1/2 cup of oats, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Set aside.

To the browned butter, add sour cream, sugar and vanilla. Whisk to combine. Add the eggs and whisk. Fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Add bananas and mix. A few lumps are OK.

Divide batter evenly among the muffins cups. Sprinkle remaining oats on top.

Bake until golden brown on top and when a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean – about 20 to 24 minutes. Cool in pan. Enjoy as a snack or for breakfast.

Friday, April 1, 2016

No-Bake Granola Bars (Kid-Approved!)

My 3-year-old son loves granola bars. Loves them. Unfortunately, his favorites are enrobed in a thick casing of chocolate. Delicious, yes, but not the healthiest treat. So I set out to make a granola bar that he would find just as tasty, but would fill his belly with healthier ingredients.

I'm always looking for ways to sneak protein and fiber into Danny's meals. These granola bars feature oats, peanut butter, almonds, and chia seeds to add nutritional punch. A sprinkling of mini chocolate chips, and he overlooks the healthy stuff. That's a win in my book.

And since my boy enjoys a cooking project, we got to make this snack together. Full bellies? Check. Mother-son bonding? Double-check.

Let's get cooking!

No-Bake Granola Bars
Adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod

2 cups quick oats*
1 cup Rice Krispies
1/2 cup sliced almonds
3 tablespoons chia seeds
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup peanut butter
Scant 1/4 cup brown sugar, loosely packed
1/4 cup honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips

Line a 9" square baking dish with aluminum foil. (I'm sure an 8" dish would work just fine, too. Your bars will just be slightly thicker.) The non-shiny side of the foil is non-stick, so make sure the shiny side is down so the non-shiny side will be touching the granola bars.

In a large bowl, stir together oats, Rice Krispies, almonds, and chia seeds. Set aside.

Combine butter, peanut butter, brown sugar, honey, and salt in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Bring mixture to a boil. Allow it to boil for two minutes, stirring constantly, then remove from the heat. Stir in vanilla.

Very carefully pour melted peanut butter mixture over oat mixture and stir until everything is completely combined. Place into prepared baking dish and press granola bar mixture into the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle with chocolate chips and gently press so they adhere.

Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Slice into bars that are the best size for your family. I cut mine into 18 bars, and that seemed just right. (Although Danny could eat two per serving!) Store in the fridge.

*Since I didn't cook these granola bars, I used quick oats. I think old fashioned oats would be too chewy. But let me know how they turn out if you make a substitution!