Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Book Club

It was my turn to host book club last week for a discussion of Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper. This "teen lit" work of fiction tells the story of Melody, an eleven year old non-verbal girl with cerebral palsy. All of us really enjoyed the book and the great conversation it sparked about individuals with disabilities.

They say that one of the best ways to understand another culture is through its food. In Out of My Mind, Melody's physical limitations made her unable to feed herself or to chew food easily. I thought it would be interesting to explore some of the foods mentioned in the book in order to better understand the life of its main character. I also served store bought chocolate chip cookies, soft caramels, goldfish crackers, and mudslides (a.k.a. grown-up milkshakes).

This recipe is super easy and super yummy! A squeeze of lemon would be nice if you substitute a less tart apple variety.

Serves 8
4 Granny Smith apples - peeled, cored, and chopped
3/4 c. water
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
In a saucepan, combine apples, water, sugar, and cinnamon. Cover and cook over medium heat for 15-20 minutes or until the apples are soft. Mash with a fork or potato masher to desired consistency. I like mine a little chunky and served warm.

Oh my gosh! These were so good - and this picture is so awful! I scarfed  down a slider on my way to answer the door and then snapped a quick pic right as book club was starting. I pretty much used Laurie McNamara's recipe as is, but I did swap out the the colby jack for American cheese to come a little closer to Mickey D's. And of course I had to make sesame seed buns.

Serves 6, 2 sliders each
1 1/2 lb. ground beef
2-3 scallions, sliced thin
1 T. olive oil
1 t. salt
1 t. black pepper
12 whole wheat slider buns
1 egg white, beaten
Sesame seeds
3 slices American cheese, cut into 12 squares
12 slices pickle
Shredded iceberg lettuce
Thousand Island dressing
Frilled toothpicks
1. Spray an electric griddle with cooking spray and heat to 350. Preheat broiler.
2. Mix ground beef, scallions, olive oil, salt, and pepper by hand until just combined. Form into 12 patties.Cook burgers on the electric griddle 3-5 min. per side or to desired degree of doneness.
3. Meanwhile, arrange buns cut side down on a baking sheet. Brush the top buns only with egg white and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Toast under the broiler until you just start to see some browning - about 90 seconds.
4. Assemble the burgers with a bottom bun, burger, cheese square, pickle slice, lettuce, dressing, and top bun. Secure with a toothpick.

This picture is equally awful - again, snapped right before book club. Picture aside, this is an awesome recipe that I have made many, many times. It's actually meant to be frozen, so it's pretty saucy. (Check out the original recipe if you're interested.) The chicken broth gives it a lot of flavor and lightens it up a bit, too.

Serves 8-10
1 lb. elbow macaroni
Salt and pepper
6 T. all-purpose flour
8 T. butter, divided
1 t. dry mustard
4 c. low-sodium chicken broth
2 c. fat-free milk
4 c. shredded colby cheese
2 c. shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese
4 slices whole wheat sandwich bread, torn into pieces
1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1 garlic clove, minced
1. Preheat oven to 375. Cook pasta in large pot of boiling water with 1 T. salt for about 3 min. or until barely softened. Drain.
2. Melt 6 T. butter in empty pot over medium heat. Whisk in flour and dry mustard, stirring constantly until golden and fragrant, 1-2 min. Slowly whisk in broth and milk and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until slightly thickened, about 15 min. Off heat, whisk in colby, cheddar, 1 t. salt and 1/2 t. pepper until smooth.
3. Stir pasta into sauce, breaking up any clumps, until well-combined. Pour into a 9x13-inch baking dish and cover with foil. Bake 20 minutes.
4. Melt remaining 2 T. butter. Pulse bread, Parmesan, garlic, and melted butter in food processor until coarsely ground. Remove foil from baking dish and sprinkle with prepared bread crumbs. Continue to bake about 20 min. longer or until crumbs are golden and crisp. Let cool 10 min. before serving.

Friday, January 20, 2017


Just call me butter, 'cuz I'm on a roll! Seriously though, my younger son has been taking these epic naps, my older son is obsessed with Legos, and I am finding myself with free time for the first time in forever! Who knows how long this will last... Enjoy!

This is one of my favorite meals to bring to someone who has recently had a baby or is experiencing some kind of hardship. Meal trains, in my opinion, are usually lacking in vegetables. But this delicious soup is chock full of them!

Serves 6 to 8
1 T. extra virgin olive oil
3 strips bacon*, cut into 1/4 in. pieces
2 medium celery ribs, cut into 1/2 in. pieces (~ 3/4 c.)
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2 in. pieces (~ 3/4 c.)
2 small onions, peeled and cut into 1/2 in. pieces (~ 1 1/2 c.)
1 medium zuccini, cut into 1/2 in. pieces (~ 1 c.)
2 medium garlic cloves, minced (~ 2 t.)
2 c. coleslaw mix (or shredded green cabbage)
1/8 t. red pepper flakes
1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained (not for my picky-eater husband)
3 c. water
2 c. low-sodium chicken broth
3 c. V8
1 piece Parmesan cheese rind, ~ 5x2 in. (Kroger sells these in the cheese shop)
1 bay leaf
1/2 c. chopped fresh basil leaves
1/2 t. black pepper
Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
1. Heat oil and bacon in large pot over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally until bacon is lightly browned, 3-5 min.
2. Add celery, carrot, onion, and zucchini. Cook, stirring frequently until vegetables are softened and lightly browned, 5-9 min.
3. Stir in garlic, coleslaw, 1/2 t. salt, and red pepper flakes. Continue to cook until cabbage starts to wilt, 1-2 min.
4. Add beans, water, broth, V8, Parmesan rind, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil. Then reduce to a simmer for ~ 15 min.
5. Discard bay leaf and Parmesan rind. Stir in chopped basil, 1/2 t. salt, and 1/2 t. black pepper. Serve with grated Parmesan.

This is a repeat recipe from Valentine's Day week in 2013 with a new twist. I have recently adopted a new method for hard-boiling eggs that I want to share - steaming them! You'll need a pot fitted with a steamer basket and a lid. Fill the pot with about 2 inches of water and bring it to a boil.

Place the eggs in the steamer basket, the basket in the pot, and the lid on top. Steam the eggs for 15 minutes. Then remove the basket from the pot, set it in your sink and run cold water over the eggs until they are cool to the touch. They come out perfectly every time!

Lettuce. Onion. Veggies. Egg Salad. 
Servings: 4
 8 hard boiled eggs
 4 t. olive oil mayonnaise
 2 T. chives, finely chopped
 1/4 t. salt
 1/4 t. pepper
 8 pieces whole-wheat wrap bread (~9 in. diameter)
 1 red bell pepper, cut into strips
 1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
 1/2 cup romaine lettuce, torn into pieces
Dice eggs and put into a small bowl. Add the mayonnaise and stir with a fork, mashing somewhat for desired consistency. Stir in chives and season with salt and pepper. Place wrap bread on a plate and spread the egg salad in the middle. Top with the peppers, onion slices and the lettuce. Fold into a wrap sandwich. 

This is going to make me sound insane, but I had so much fun photographing these! In my first attempt, they just looked like a big pile of green mush. But I stuck with them. I photographed them in bowls, on plates, on baking sheets, in different light, and from different angles. This final take was actually in a plastic storage container right before I was ready to give up on them. But I found that if you get really close and have just the right light to make the olive oil glisten, they are really beautiful. I wonder if real photographers feel this way about their subjects... (Yes, I know. Reread the first sentence of this paragraph and leave me alone.) 

Servings: 6-8
I bunch of kale
extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove the thick stem from the kale leaves and discard. Tear the leaves into 2-3 in. pieces and spread out the first batch in a single layer on the baking sheet. Drizzle with 1 T. olive oil, toss well, and rearrange in a single layer. Bake the kale until crisp and slightly dark on the edges, about 15 min. Season with salt. Repeat with remaining kale.

Oh and while I have whole wheat wraps, red peppers, and kale chips in the house...

Serves 1
1 egg
1 whole wheat wrap
2 T. hummus
1/2 c. kale chips
2 red pepper strips
Spray a nonstick skillet with cooking spray over medium heat. Crack an egg in the skillet and cook until the yolk is still a little bit runny. Meanwhile, spread hummus on the tortilla and top with kale chips and red pepper strips. Add the egg when finished cooking and break the yolk. Fold into a wrap sandwich and eat!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Dates and Almonds

After more than 3 1/2 years, I am ready to get back to blogging! A lot has happened since my last post. "Fickle Toddler" is now a kindergartner with a 2 1/2 year old little brother. My moments of free time are now fewer and farther between. Most of my cooking now happens during nap time and most of my inspiration is currently coming from Cooking Light's Sunday Strategist. My blog going forward will be much less structured than its original version and my posts will be less frequent. I'm thinking of it now more like a food journal for me to share what I'm cooking and what I'm thinking about. I welcome any and all comments and suggestions and I am excited to once again channel my food obsession into this blog. :)

And so we begin with something sweet...

A dear friend of mine first introduced me to dates about 2 years ago at a playdate for my older son. She offered me a date, I politely declined, and she was incredulous! How could anyone refuse a date?!! They are only the most delicious food on earth! And so I tried one and it has been a love affair ever since. A dried date is nature's perfect candy - sweet, chewy, decadent! They were my go to dessert during my 2013 cleanse and now I love to use them as a natural way to add a little sweetness.

Almond flour/meal has gained popularity in recent years among the gluten-free, low-carb, and Paleo communities. I don't buy it often as it tends to be expensive, but whenever I need it for a recipe I make sure to buy enough to also make the yummy muffins and cookies below. Enjoy!


Makes 15 muffins
3/4 c. whole wheat flour
3/4 c. oatmeal (rolled or quick oats)
1/2 c. almond flour/meal
1/3 c. all purpose flour
1/2 c. light brown sugar
1/3 c. sugar
1 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1 t. ground cinnamon
1/4 t. ground ginger
1/2 t. salt
1/4 c. finely chopped pitted Medjool dates
1 c. low-fat buttermilk*
1/4 c. unsalted butter, melted
1 egg
1 t. vanilla extract
1 1/2 c. loosely packed grated carrots (I use a food processor)
Cooking spray
*I usually make my own buttermilk by adding 1 T. of white vinegar to a liquid measuring cup and then adding enough regular milk to make 1 cup. I give it a stir and let it sit for about 5 min. Voila! Buttermilk.
1. Preheat the oven to 350. In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients making sure there are no clumps (whole wheat flour through salt). Stir in the dates allowing them to become individually coated in the dry ingredients so they don't stick together.
2. In a medium bowl (or right in the food processor), whisk together the carrots, buttermilk, melted butter, egg, and vanilla until well combined.
3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and gently stir until just combined, being careful not to overmix. Let sit for about 5 minutes for the batter to poof up just a bit.
4. Coat a muffin tin with cooking spray and use a large cookie scoop to portion the batter into the cups. Bake until the tops of the muffins are just browned and a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out clean, 21-23 min. When cool enough to handle, use a butter knife to gently remove the muffins from the tin and place them on a wire rack to cool completely.

My younger son and I went to a kids cooking class this week and made smoothies. I'm usually more of a warm weather smoothie drinker, but I started craving these and you know I already bought some dates...

Makes 2 servings
1/2 c. coconut water
1/2 c. unsweetened almond milk
1 medium banana, peeled
3 T. walnut pieces
2 Medjool dates, pitted and coarsely chopped
* You can totally swap up the milk, nut and/or water you use. My last batch was made with regular water and coconut milk and they were still delicious. :)
Put all ingredients in a blender and add ice to bring the volume to 2 cups. Blend on high speed until smooth. Poor into glasses and serve.

And last, but certainly not least are the most DELICIOUS. GLUTEN-FREE. COOKIES. For those of you not familiar with the gluten-free world, those 3 words don't usually go together. These cookies are truly amazing! Plus, the protein from the almond flour makes them really filling and hard to binge out on.

Almond, Coconut, Chocolate Cookies (adapted from Sara Forte) - GF, V
Makes 18 cookies
1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/4 c. almond meal
1/2 c. unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1/3 c. light brown sugar
1 egg
3 T. canola oil
1/2 t. vanilla extract
1. Place chocolate chips in a small food processor and process until no large chunks of chocolate remain. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the chocolate chips, almond meal, coconut, baking powder, salt, and brown sugar.
2. In another bowl, beat the egg very well until it is a uniform color and doubles in volume. Whisk in the canola oil and vanilla. Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Put the bowl in the fridge and chill for at least 30 min. or up to overnight.
3. Preheat the oven to 375 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Use a small cookie scoop to evenly portion out cookies onto the baking sheet. Flatten each one slightly with the palm of your hand. Bake until the edges just begin to brown, 7-10 min. Remove from the oven and let cool before serving.