kid-friendly · Recipes

Fire Roasted Tomato Mac n’ Cheese

Mark is back working nights (in addition to tourist season picking up in Boston), which means every night is #girlsnight in our house, and Georgia and I can cook whatever we want. This week, that meant gooey mac n’ cheese with the subtle heat of pepper jack and fire-roasted tomatoes.

Fire Roasted Tomato Mac n Cheese

I love Muir Glen canned organic diced tomatoes and got this recipe from their website, adapting it a bit to our cheese preferences. We served it with steamed green beans and pink lemonade. (I did mention I dined with a three-year-old, right?) This is a simple weeknight dinner that makes plenty of tasty leftovers for the week. Adjust the mixture of cheeses to give it more or less kick, however you like it. We like it a little bit hot!

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In this recipe, I used almond milk and whole wheat flour. You could, of course, use regular dairy milk or another non-dairy substitute, and regular flour. I also used a ratio of 8 ounces cheddar cheese to 8 ounces hot pepper jack cheese; you can adjust this however you like as long as the total equals 16 ounces (8 oz = 2 cups). Other good cheese options would be White Cheddar and Monterey Jack, or if you don’t want any kick whatsoever from the cheese, havarti or gouda. You just need a good melter.

Fire Roasted Tomato Mac n’ Cheese

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 box uncooked penne pasta (16 oz, or 5 cups)
  • 2 1/2 cups milk (I used almond)
  • 1 cup light cream
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped or minced
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups shredded pepper Jack cheese (12 oz)
  • 1 cup shredded white Cheddar cheese (4 oz)
  • 1 can (14.5 oz) fire roasted diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 4 eggs, beaten

For the topping:

  • 2 TBSP butter, melted
  • 1 cup panko crispy bread crumbs

 

DIRECTIONS

Heat the oven to 350°F and spray 9×13 inch (3-quart) glass baking dish with cooking spray. Cook and drain the pasta. In a large measuring cup, mix the milk and the cream.

In a large pot such as a Dutch oven, melt the 1/4 cup of butter over low heat. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds, stirring frequently. With a whisk, stir in the flour and salt until smooth. Increase the heat to medium and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is smooth and bubbling.

Gradually stir in the milk mixture and heat until boiling, again stirring constantly. Boil for 1 minute, still stirring, then reduce the heat and stir in the cheeses. Cook until melted, stirring occasionally.

Stir the drained cooked pasta and the canned tomatoes into the cheese sauce. Remove from the heat. Add the whisked eggs to the pasta mixture, stirring constantly until all blended. Pour the mixture into your glass baking dish

In a small bowl, mix the topping ingredients (panko and melted butter); sprinkle over the pasta mixture.

Bake 20 – 25 minutes, or until the pasta is bubbly and the bread crumbs are lightly browned. Serve warm with the salad or vegetable side of your choice.

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TIPS

Panko are Japanese-style breadcrumbs. They have a lighter texture that I love atop macaroni and cheese recipes. Regular breadcrumbs of any seasoning would also work just fine here.

This recipe also called for heavy whipping cream, but I chose to lighten it up a bit by using light cream instead, and it came out just as creamy as I’d hoped.

I also chose salted butter; either that or unsalted butter is fine. I minced my garlic to make it less intense. If you mince it, the flavor will be stronger than slicing or chopping, which you could also do here. I love the flavor of garlic, but minced is easier for Georgia and Mark to digest, as they share a genetic disposition to reflux, and raw garlic is a top trigger for anyone with acid.

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I hope your taxes are done (!) and you’re able to enjoy some beautiful spring weather like we finally have in Boston these days. We spent the last weekend doing some touristy stuff with family to celebrate the end of winter, and I’ll be sharing about that soon. Boston on a gorgeous spring day like we had this past weekend and on Marathon Monday is simply amazing. This city will suck you in on a day like that if you aren’t careful, and before you know it you’ve decided to move here and winter is rolling up to show you what you’re really in for! Like a baby that sleeps through the night early and tricks you into having more kids, haha. Enjoy the rest of your week everyone, especially if you’re off for school vacation, and I’ll be back again soon. xoxo

 

dessert · kid-friendly · Recipes

Strawberry Peach Nice Cream

You guys, it’s finally WARM IN BOSTON today! In the spirit of spring, Georgia and I broke out the blender this weekend to whip up some sweet-tart nice cream. All we needed was a bag of frozen berries and some yogurt to make this healthy, homemade treat. We had frozen peaches and strawberry yogurt on hand, so that’s what we used. We are pretty careful about the sugar content of the yogurt we buy, since Georgia eats most of it; if you do the same, you can keep the guilt factor in check here. At its most basic, “nice cream” consists of frozen bananas blended until smooth, but there are tons of variations and this one was perfect for solving our craving for rich strawberry ice cream on the cusp of summer.

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I got zero elegant pictures of this, mostly because we ate it all. But that’s a good thing, right? It was so delicious I didn’t even have time to photo style it? Yes??

Strawberry Peach ‘Nice Cream’

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of yogurt (I used organic strawberry yogurt from Trader Joe’s)
  • 1 pound of frozen fruit (I used sliced peaches from Trader Joe’s)

Directions

In a high-speed blender like a Vitamix, add the yogurt then the berries. Turn the machine on and slowly increase the speed to high. Use the tamper to press the ingredients into the blades. In about one minute, the sound of the motor will change and four mounds of ice cream will form. Stop! If you over-mix the machine could overheat and cause the ice cream to melt.

This can be eaten immediately topped with fresh berries, or frozen in a plastic container for a couple of months. Enjoy!

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Want to try more flavors of nice cream? Try…

frozen bananas + peanut butter

frozen bananas + coconut milk

frozen pineapples or mangoes + banana + almond milk

acai berries (buy frozen packets @ Trader Joe’s) + almond milk + chocolate chips

frozen cherry + banana + vanilla almond milk

frozen banana + almond butter + almond milktopped with raspberries

frozen blueberries + vanilla Greek yogurt + graham cracker crumbled on top

…the combinations are endless!

Have a wonderful week and enjoy the nice weather.

kid-friendly · Recipes

Sweet Potato Pot Pie

This is an all-purpose vegan recipe that can be made into a Meatless Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie, or turned into the filling for a Vegetarian  Sweet Potato Pot Pie. With crumbled veggie burgers instead of meat, and your choice of vegetables in a creamy non-dairy sauce topped with buttery mashed sweet potatoes, it’s versatile and hearty!

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Even though this turned into a vegetarian shepherd’s pie — with “meat” on bottom, veggies and sauce on top, and potatoes spread in a thin layer, baked until browned and bubbly — I created this filling with the intent of putting it in a pot pie next time. To do that, I’d keep the sweet potatoes cubed instead of mashing them, thin out the creamy sauce on the stove top with a bit of nut milk, then use a puff pastry shell to cover it in a glass baking dish. Let me know if you try it that way! I really liked how this turned out.

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Sweet Potato Pot Pie

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 veggie burger patties (I used frozen)
  • fresh or frozen vegetables of your choice; I used corn and carrots. You need about two 14-oz. cans worth, or two small bags of frozen vegetables.
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • cashew cream (eyeball the amount) & water to thin it out until spreadable
  • olive oil, for cooking the diced onion
  • butter, for stirring into the mashed sweet potatoes

DIRECTIONS

Pre-heat the oven to 350 then prep the ingredients. Microwave the four patties briefly, following package directions, then cut into triangles and set aside. Boil water in a large pot; peel and cube the potatoes, then cook in the water once boiling until just soft. Drain and set aside. Once they’ve cooled a bit, mash by hand with a pat of butter. Dice an onion.

In a skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat until warm, then saute the onion and add the veggie patties until the onion is translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Place the onion-veggie burger mixture into the bottom of a glass baking dish — I used a round glass casserole dish, but a square 10×10 or 8-inch glass pan would also work well — and press down so it’s flat.

In a mixing bowl, combine the vegetables (thawing/draining first if frozen/canned) and the cashew cream, eyeballing the amount based on how creamy you’d like the filling of your pie to be. As I noted above, you should add some water to make the cashew cream more liquid-y if you’ll be baking it into a sweet potato pot pie with a pie crust instead of a shepherd’s pie. Pour over the veggie burger-onion mixture in the glass baking dish.

Top with the mashed sweet potatoes, patting down flat so they evenly cover the veggies. Bake uncovered for about half an hour, checking to make sure it isn’t burning, and let cool briefly once out of the oven. To reheat later, I like to put a pat of butter on top! (No surprise there — anyone in my family can tell you what a butter freak I am.)

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This travels and reheats very well, too. I made this in single-serve, miniature ramekins for Mark’s grandfather when he was recovering from surgery a few years ago, and also for friends who’ve just had a baby in winter. It’s just the kind of comforting food that cold days call for, and at least in Boston, we are still having lots of cold, rainy days. Brrr! Hopefully we’ve had our last true deep freeze for the year and we can look forward to warmer weather ahead. It is officially spring now, after all 🙂

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Cashew cream is really easy to make, and if you have a high-powered blender like a Vitamix (let this be yet another reason to justify buying one!) you can make it without even needing to soak the nuts overnight. Of course, you can also make this recipe with a conventional dairy-based white sauce from scratch or by using a can of “cream of” soup such as cream of celery or cream of mushroom or potato. But you don’t need to be vegan to enjoy cashew cream! It takes mere minutes to make, and seasoned with nothing more than a little salt and garlic it’s ready to dress pasta or any number of tasty dishes that would otherwise use dairy. Toss it with egg noodles, cooked spinach and diced butternut squash, or add nutritional yeast to create a “cheesy” sauce for baked macaroni. It can pinch-hit in any casserole you already make, or try it mixed with hot sauce or sriracha and baked with some shredded chicken for a tasty buffalo dip.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Christmas · Holidays · kid-friendly · Recipes

Sticky Toffee Pudding

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“Sticky Toffee Pudding” is kind of an odd name for what’s essentially a simple, sweet cake made of pureed dates, butter, sugar and flour, and topped with a delectable butterscotch-y sauce that you can drizzle or coat (I choose the latter). This is adapted from the Sunday Suppers Cookbook via Smitten Kitchen, and while it’s definitely resonant of Christmas and cold, snowy holidays, I find that it’s just right for a New England spring celebration, too, when it’s typically so raw and chilly. Make it for Easter Sunday in the still-snowy northern states, or just for yourself on a quiet, rainy afternoon. You won’t regret it.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

(Sweet Date Cake)

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 heaping cups of pitted dates (about 12 oz.)
  • 2 1/4 cups boiling water
  • 1.5 tsp baking soda
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 TBSP brown sugar (dark or light)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

For the sauce:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup plus 2 TBSP brown sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

To serve: homemade or store-bought whipped cream and/or vanilla ice cream.

DIRECTIONS

Boil your water and rough-chop the dates, placing them in a heat-safe bowl. Pour the water over the top of the dates, stir in the baking soda, and set aside (covered) for half an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350F and butter a 9×13 baking pan (I used glass) then set aside.

Blend the dates and water in a blender or food processor until smooth. In another large bowl, mix together the butter and sugars; next, whisk in the eggs, then the salt. Stir in the flour, then finally, add the date puree.

Pour the batter into the buttered baking dish and bake for 25-30 minutes, until a knife or toothpick inserted into the top comes out clean.

You can serve as is, which we did on Christmas, or let cool for at least 15 minutes and flip onto a cooling rack then plate it for serving. I made the cake Christmas morning, let it sit out while I made the rest of supper and we opened presents, and then quickly crafted the sauce right before we served dessert.

To make the sauce, combine the butter, cream, sugar and vanilla in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Whisk until it thickens, about 7-10 minutes.

This is delicious at room temperature or warmed up, and it’s sweet without being cloyingly so. You can serve the sauce alongside for your guests to pour over the cake themselves, or you can coat the entire cake in the sauce and serve all together. I did it this way; I thought the sauce was the most scrumptious part and couldn’t imagine wanting anything less than to eat it as a luxurious topping on every single slice. This also makes it easier to transport!

As I said in my last post, dates are simply delicious and good for you, and while no dessert quite qualifies as health food, this one is certainly a bit unexpected and innovative. Best of luck trying it out! And happy weekend, even if you live in one of the sorry locales getting snow today and tomorrow like I do. Before you go, check out the new branding I am considering, and leave me a comment with your thoughts below! xoxo

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Booze & Beverages · kid-friendly · Recipes

Banana Date Smoothie

Does anyone else love dates? Like a lot? I sure do! They’re considered a super food for a reason, and are easy to work into your repertoire.

So delicious and full of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, they are a great source of energy and have been a satisfying component to many Mediterranean diets for centuries. Eaten in moderation, which is always a good idea with dried fruits, dates can boost digestion and keep you fuller longer, and lend a special flavor to any appetizer spread, smoothie, or even dessert. In fact, I did just that on Christmas Day with Sticky Toffee Pudding, and it turned out so well that I made a batch to share with my co-workers a week later. I’ll be sharing it with you in just a few days! Sticky Toffee Pudding uses blended dates as the basis for a delicious, dense little cake topped with butterscotch sauce, and it would be simply perfect for Easter Sunday, too.

You know what? If you make that Sticky Toffee Pudding, you’ll have just enough dates left over to toss in this smoothie. How perfect! If you are interested in learning how to make a healthy smoothie using dates, bananas, nut milk and oats, read on.

BANANA DATE SMOOTHIE

Ingredients

  • 2 frozen bananas (or add a couple ice cubes if using fresh bananas)
  • a handful of dates, about 10 (I buy them by the box at Trader Joe’s)
  • 2 cups almond milk
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats

Directions

In a blender, add the almond milk then the dates. Blend at medium speed until the dates are mostly broken down.

Add the bananas and blend again. Then, add the oats and let them sit for a minute to soak and soften. You can probably skip this step if you have a high-end blender such as a Vitamix or BlendTec.

Puree the entire mixture on medium-high until smooth. Makes two servings.

Enjoy!

So we had a huge snow storm last week (and it’s freezing this week…spring, WTF are you hiding from??) which meant I was trapped at home for two days with no school and barely-plowed roads. I love getting in extra time with my G, but we definitely ran out of things to do after a little while. Often when that happens, we start cooking or baking together. She loves making smoothies, and this is one I’ve been wanting to try for a long time because it is so filling and fiber-rich that it really qualifies as a meal replacement. It’s delicious and good for you, and boy was I glad I’d made it a few days later when I had some early mornings and evening meetings that otherwise would have forced me toward the drive-thru for sustenance. The only thing I’d change next time is to make sure I have two smaller frozen bananas, because the ones we got at Costco last time around were so gigantic that the flavor *almost* took over the dates in my smoothie. If you find that you can only get larger bananas too, then I’d just use one or one-and-a-half.

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I thought you’d all appreciate a glamorous behind-the-scenes shot of my life testing recipes and staging food photos while home with a mischievous toddler and elderly cat. Have a great weekend everyone! 🙂

Holidays · Recipes

Buttery Irish Beer Bread

I still have memories of the fresh-baked bread a neighbor used to make when I was a kid. That smell wafting over the summer air when we were outside playing … mmm, I can just about taste it.  If, like me, you’ve always aspired to be the kind of person who makes homemade bread, but you lack the time, skills, fresh yeast or patience to mind rising and kneading strategies, then have I got the recipe for YOU. And just in time for St. Patty’s Day! Classic Irish Beer Bread is so simple, lends itself well to customization, and — most importantly — is delicious. With a soft buttery crust and chewy, warm center, it’s just begging to be dipped into soup or served alongside a hearty stew. This will make you feel like a master bread baker in no time.

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So the cool thing about beer bread is that the carbonation actually helps to leaven the bread, because the same yeast that makes bread rise makes beer alcoholic. Most of the alcohol will bake off while this bread is in the oven, and you’ll be left with a fluffy loaf seasoned with whatever type and flavor of beer you’ve chosen. If you use a nice IPA, as I did here, you’ll get a fantastic hoppy bite at the end. If you choose something more malty or mild, you’ll get that flavor coming through in the final product, too.

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The most mouth-watering part of this bread is the melted butter you drizzle on top before baking. Try adding more or less than what I call for, to see how you like it.

Buttery Irish Beer Bread

INGREDIENTS

  • 12 oz. (1.5 Cups) beer (can substitute non-alcoholic beer, soft drink or sparkling fruit juice, such as sparkling pear or apple cider).
  • 3 Cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 TBSP baking powder
  • 3 TSP sugar
  • 2 TBSP butter, melted

You can substitute another sweetener, such as honey, in place of sugar if you prefer. It will change the taste of the bread, but that’s what’s fun about this recipe! It’s endlessly personalize-able.


DIRECTIONS

Preheat your oven to 350F and lightly butter a glass (or metal) loaf pan, or use non-stick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder) and pour in the beer you’ve selected. Mix until just combined, taking care not to overdo it.

Pour the mixture into your loaf pan and drizzle with the melted butter. Bake for 45-50 minutes if using a metal pan, and 50-55 for a glass pan, or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick or knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool the bread in the pan for 5 minutes then remove to a plate. Serve warm or cool.

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The baking powder makes for a fluffier, less dense bread, but you can omit if necessary or if you don’t have any on hand. All you really need for successful beer bread is beer, sugar and flour. From there, it’s all about tailoring to your taste.

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There are so many ways to make this your own. A few ideas:

  • Instead of beer, use a cup of water and a 1/2 cup of salsa. Add in a dash of chili powder and a half cup of sharp cheddar cheese and bake as usual.
  • Add some mustard to the bread mix before baking, or serve the finished bread with a good grainy mustard.
  • Pick a blueberry beer and fold in fresh or frozen berries of your choice.
  • Use sparkling apple cider instead of beer, and add in a palm full of chopped nuts (such as pecans or walnuts), a half cup of chopped apple and a dash of cinnamon.
  • Try the special flavors of a micro brew or go light with a wheat beer; conversely, try a stout like Guinness and see how drastically it changes the tone and texture.

IMG_0078I hope you try this and enjoy it. Let me know how it comes out! And Happy Saint Patrick’s Day, when everyone gets to be Irish. 🍀

 

 

kid-friendly · Recipes · Tips and Tricks

The Snow Day Project: Freezing a Batch of Pumpkin Pancakes!


Whenever we get our first big snow day, Georgia and I always use it as an opportunity to make a whole mess of pancakes for the winter. We cook ’em, label ’em, and freeze ’em, so the next time we wake up snowed in all we have to do is put on the coffee and toss a couple of these in the toaster. A hot breakfast is easy as that, perfect for lazy days in pajamas like today!


Grabbing a couple straight from the freezer and letting them thaw during the day is a good lunchbox strategy, too. G has loved pancakes since, well, it was among the only things she let me eat for 20 weeks of morning sickness, and now that she’s in preschool they are portable and filling for winter school days.


We love to use pancake mix from Trader Joe’s — specifically the Pumpkin flavor. To make 6-8 pancakes, you need 1 Cup of Pancake Mix, 2 TBSP (or 1/4 stick) of melted butter, 3/4 Cup of Milk, and 1 Egg, lightly beaten. I’ll often do roughly double this. To make the whole box, follow those specific directions on the back of the packaging. Preheat a non-stick pan over medium (or a griddle to 350F). Place the dry mix into a large bowl, then in a separate bowl combine the egg, milk and melted butter and stir into the dry ingredient bowl until lumps disappear. You can always add more milk if the mix gets too thick while you’re cooking. Add a pat of butter to the pan. I use a soup ladle to drop about a 1/4 cup of batter into the pan once the butter is sizzling; flip the pancake once the edges start to look cooked and you see bubbles on top. You’ll only need to brown it lightly on the other side. Another good tip is to gradually turn the heat down a bit between each pancake so the butter doesn’t burn when it hits the pan each time. Allow the pancakes to cool on a plate, then begin assembling them for the freezer (or eat some right away, of course!)





To freeze, wrap each pancake with a layer of parchment paper in between, packaging about four into a quart-sized zip-top freezer bag. Make sure you label them with the contents and the date so you can find them easily in the fridge! I do in batches of three or four so I don’t have to thaw more than I need at one time. These can go straight into the toaster just like store-bought frozen pancakes or waffles.




That’s it! I sure am glad I did this when we get walloped by back to back storms like now. I’m supposed to fly out to D.C. in the morning…we’ll see if I get delayed or not. Poor Mark is driving to New York at 6 a.m., so please wish us both safe travels. Today we rested up, shoveled out, and made a snow man! If you’ve ever wondered what I look like with no makeup and a sinus infection, this is it.


I so value these days with my girl and think about them when I’m traveling for work or just stuck late at my desk or a meeting. You won’t hear me say anything bad about snow when it means I get quality play time like this! Stay safe and warm, everyone.