No Bake Granola Bars

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Like a lot of moms, I love the idea of feeding my children preservative free, healthy foods all the time.  The key word there is idea.  Convenience often trumps that desire.  One of Bug’s (and mine!) favorite snack is a granola bar… “granilla bar” if you ask him.  We have a shelf in our pantry that has been deemed the ‘snack shelf’ and it is stocked with store bought granola bars, raisins and Craisins.  We do at least try to buy the ‘healthier’ of the granola bars available (my new favorites are Quaker Real Medleys), but there still has to be not-so-good stuff going into them just to preserve their shelf life.

So, I sought out an easy-to-make, homemade granola bar recipe.  Turns out, you don’t really need a recipe for granola bars.  You just need a combination of oats, fruits, nuts, seeds and something sticky and slightly sweet to make it gel together.  I used the base recipe from the Minimalist Baker, and then added whatever I thought looked yummy.  And yummy they were!

Keep in mind that making granola bars is not necessarily something that will save you money.  But it is something that you can feel really good about feeding your kids… and yourself.

Here’s what you need: (adapted from The Minimalist Baker)
Yield: 8-16 bars depending on thickness

  • 1 cup packed pitted dates
  • 1/4 honey (you can sub maple syrup or agave)
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter (you can sub almond butter, or probably any other nut butter)
  • 1 cup slivered almonds (you can use whole ones and loosely chop them)
  • 1 1/2 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries, loosely chopped
  • 1/4 cup flax seeds
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips (mostly so I could tell Bug there was chocolate in them!)

This is totally optional, but I toasted the oats and flax seeds on 350′ for about 10 minutes.

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Throw the dates in a food processor and process until it forms a dough like consistency.  Mine turned into a ball.  Put everything except for the peanut butter and honey into a large mixing bowl.

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In a small saucepan on low heat, stir together peanut butter and honey until it is warm and melty.  Add peanut butter mixture to the dry ingredients and mix it all together.  You could use a spoon, but I totally used my (very clean) hands.

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Line an 8×8 or other small pan with plastic wrap or parchment paper.  Put granola mixture in pan and press down firmly until uniformly flattened.  Cover with plastic wrap, put in the fridge for 20 minutes.  Cut into desired size bars and voila!  You have super delicious granola bars!

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These will keep for a few days in an airtight container on your counter, or for up to a week in the fridge.  They will keep for a few months if you freeze them.  We froze ours and actually ate them right out of the freezer.  We thought they tasted better that way!  They only needed to thaw for a few minutes.

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Holiday Cookie Series: Orange Almond Lace Cookies

I first made these cookies like 5 years ago.  Ever since then, my coworkers have asked me to make them again every single year.  And every year I oblige.  Because they are different.  And delicious.  And easy.  And festive.  I’m not quite sure how they’re festive, but they are.  Just trust me on this.

Here’s what you need: (adapted from epicurious.com)

  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups finely chopped almonds (I use a food processor)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons orange zest (or the zest from 1 orange)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg, beaten

Preheat your oven to 325 and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper (a must!!).  Melt the butter over medium-low in a saucepan.  Once melted, remove from heat and add everything but the egg, mixing with a spoon until just incorporated.  Add the egg and mix well.

Add batter by the spoonful onto parchment paper lined baking sheets, leaving 3 inches or so in between each cookie.  These babies spread out quite a bit.  Bake for 13-17 minutes.  You want them to be browned… but once they start to brown, they’ll burn pretty quickly, so keep an eye on them.  Transfer paper to wire racks and let cool completely.

See, wasn’t that easy?  These cookies will last for a week in an airtight container with wax paper in between each layer at room temperature.

Stuff I Feed My Kid: Meat Fingers

Ok, I know that sounds gross.  Just think of them as chicken fingers, just with ground beef instead and not fried.  You can call them meat sticks if it makes you more comfortable.  Anywho, I had some ground beef that needed to be used.  We didn’t really want to make hamburgers or spaghetti and didn’t have much else in the house to be creative with.  I had Parmesan cheese and some condiments.  That was about it.  So, here’s what I came up with: MEAT FINGERS.  I apologize in advance for the crappy picture quality.  My camera battery is dead, so cell phone pictures is what you get.

Here’s what you need:

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 scant cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup BBQ sauce
  • 1 egg

Preheat your oven to 400.  Throw all of the stuff in a bowl and mix it together.  Might as well use your hands.  Go ahead.  Get ’em dirty.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Form fingers/sticks/whatever you want to call them out of the meat mixture.  In reality, they’re almost like little mini-meatloaves.  Bake them for about 15 minutes.  I wasn’t very diligent about checking the time, so that’s just an estimate.

Bug will tell you that his meat fingers were awesome… as were his rice & asparagus.  And, not only did he enjoy them, but Hubby & I did as well.  This is a super simple dinner that can be tailored to whatever you have in the fridge.  Totally doable with cheddar & ketchup.  Or maybe gouda and honey mustard.  Actually, that sounds awesome.  I might have to try that next!

*Side note – this is the first time Bug has actually consumed asparagus.  We cook it the same way every time (baked with olive oil & salt).  Each of the dozen times he’s tried it, he takes a bite and says “ewww, gross.”  For some reason, though, tonight he devoured it.  Ahhh, the way kids eat.

4th of July Cherry Blueberry Cobbler

I was so going to post this Tuesday.  I forgot.  And then, I was going to post it yesterday morning.  Forgot again.  Whoopsies.  It’s way too late now (obvi), but here is a fun, easy, festive & super delicious 4th of July dessert… Cherry Blueberry Cobbler.  I like it because it’s a little different than the usual layered puddings and red, white & blue cupcakes that you see around Independence Day.  I found this recipe on The Pioneer Woman in 2010.  I ended up not making it until 2011.  I am writing about it 2012.  Maybe you can make it in 2013??  It will be the cobbler recipe that transcends internet time.

Here’s what you need: (Adapted from The Pioneer Woman’s Blackberry Cobbler #1)

  • 1 stick butter – melted
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar… divided into 1 cup & 1/4 cup
  • 1 cup self rising flour
  • 1/2 cup blueberries
  • 1/2 cup cherries – diced

Preheat your oven to 350.  Rub some butter in your baking dish… you can really use anything to bake this bad boy.

 Put the flour & 1 cup of the sugar into a medium mixing bowl.  Whisk in the milk, mixing well.

Whisk in the butter.  Again, mix well.

Pour batter into the buttered baking dish.  (Pour batter buttered baking dish… say that 5 times fast.  You totally stopped reading and tried it, didn’t you?!)

Sprinkle fruit evenly over batter.

Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar over the top.

Bake for 1 hour.  If desired, take it out at 50 minutes and sprinkle with another tablespoon of sugar… then (obviously) replace and bake for the final 10 minutes.  I would hope that you desire to do this.

I like this recipe because you can easily adapt it to fit whatever your fruit preferences are, or whatever holiday you are celebrating for that matter.  I also like it because it is scrumptious.

HAPPY 4TH OF JOOO-LY!  Or 5th of July.  Whatever.  (Really, though, I hope you had a fantastic 4th!)

Homemade Citrus Rosemary Butter

1.  See that pretty red mixer below?  I got her for my birthday.  I love her.  I am a lucky, lucky girl.  I haven’t named her yet.  Any suggestions?

2.  Did you know that it is stupidly easy to make butter at home?  Right now, you’re probably all like, “Yes, Casey, I did know how easy it is to make butter.  You’re a baker.  How did you not know this?”  Apparently I’ve been hiding under a you-only-get-butter-at-the-store rock for thirty years, because I seriously thought butter was difficult to make.  Turns out you don’t even need a butter churn.

3.  Although butter is easy to make all by yourself, it is not actually cost-effective.  It is less expensive to buy butter at the store… plus, it lasts longer.  It is, however, a fun experiment and something I suggest that you try at least once.

You really only need one ingredient to make butter – heavy cream.  I wanted to make my butter a little fancier.  So, here’s what I used:

  • 1 pint heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon Ctirus Spice from the Spice & Tea Exchange
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary

Put all of the ingredients in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.  COVER WITH A TOWEL.  Trust me on this one… it gets messy.

Mix on medium-high to high for 2-3 minutes… peeking in from time to time.  The fat separates from the liquid pretty quickly, so just watch it.

Once the fat is separated from the liquid, strain it.  The liquid that remains is technically buttermilk, though it isn’t think like regular buttermilk that you buy at the store, so I’m not sure how well you could substitute it in baking.  And anyways, this particular buttermilk is full of the essence of rosemary & citrus & is rather salty, so it would probably be best utilized in bread.

Once you have strained the liquid, rinse your hands in cold water.  Run the butter under cold water, squeezing it into a ball and squeezing the excess moisture out of it.  Once the water runs clear, you’re all done.  Slight problem with this step for me… in Florida in the summer, our water is neverreally cold.  Made it a little melty.

The butter was, in short, delicious.  I sauteed some shrimp in it.  I coated corn on the cob with it.  I used it to brown some tortillas in a pan.  Awesome.

Oh… and as far as yield is concerned… a pint of cream will get you just about 2 sticks (aka 16 tablespoons/1 cup/8 ounces).  It will last in the freezer for a couple of months, or in the fridge for only about 5 days.

You can totally get creative with this.  I’m thinking maybe a cinnamon & sugar butter to use with grits & toast.  What do you think?

Have you ever made your own butter?

Martha Project 6: One Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes

This might be kind of cheating on the “project,” because not only am I not going to do the whole step-by-step picture tutorial thing for these cupcakes, but I also did not make the cupcakes as stated in Martha’s book.  *GASP*  I have good reasons:

1.  Bug helped me make the cupcakes.  Baking + Toddler = Super Fun.  Also, Baking + Toddler = no way in hell are pictures possible.

2.  The recipe calls for Swiss Meringue Buttercream.  I mess this frosting up every. single. time.  It takes a long time and therefore I get peeved because it takes me 30 minutes to realized it’s not working.  I think this is due to me not having a) patience and b) a stand mixer.  Also, I don’t love Swiss Meringue Buttercream.  It’s too, ummm, buttery for me.  Not enough sweet.  And, these cupcakes screamed sweet.

Review on the cupcakes?  They’re good.  Very easy to make… hence the one bowl.  I’ve learned that pretty much all of the cupcakes I make from this book are a little on the dry side, so I’ve started really underbaking them, which helped make these nice & moist.  I highly recommend using my buttercream recipe… it was a good match.  The Martha recipe calls for gumdrops to be put on top, but I wasn’t feeling that, so I left them out.

So, here’s the boring written out recipe with no pictures for Martha Project #6 – One Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes with Casey’s regular ol’ supersweet buttercream frosting – page 152.

Here’s what you need: (Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes)
Makes 20 regular-sized cupcakes.
For the cupcakes:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 warm water

For the frosting:

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter – room temperature
  • 3-4 cups powdered sugar (best if it’s sifted)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2-4 tablespoons heavy cream (milk will work fine, too)

Preheat your oven to 350 and line standard muffin tins with paper liners.  In a large bowl, combine flour, cocoa, sugar, baking soda, baking powder & salt and mix on medium with an electric mixer.

Reduce speed to low and add eggs, buttermilk, oil, vanilla and water, beating until smooth.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.

Ready for this?  Batter’s done.  I told you it was easy.  Pour batter into cups, filling each cup 2/3 of the way… I like to put about 3 tablespoons in each cup.  Bake for 16-18 minutes, rotating tins halfway, until a skewer or toothpick poked in the center comes out clean.

Cool on wire racks, in tins, for 10 minutes and then turn out onto racks to cool completely.

For the icing: in a medium bowl, cream butter on medium for a couple of minutes… until nice & smooth.  Add powdered sugar a few tablespoons at a time until desired consistency.  Add salt & vanilla.  Slowly add cream.  If it’s too thin, add more sugar.  If it’s too stiff, add more cream.  Easy peasy.

Fill a pastry bag and pipe away… I used some kind of star tip to make the starbursts pictured, but I didn’t write down which one it was.  Whoops!

Cupcakes will last 1 day, frosted, at room temperature or refrigerated for up to 3 days in an airtight container.  Cupcakes can be frozen by themselves (no frosting) for up to 2 months.

 

Stuff I Feed My Kid: Pancakes!

Let’s be honest… who doesn’t love pancakes?  Actually, there’s a guy I work with that doesn’t like anything breakfasty, so I take that question back.  That’s weird though… to not like pancakes or waffles or crepes, right?

Anywho.  Every morning for breakfast, Bug eats pancakes, fruit & YoBaby.  I should probably mention that we don’t give him syrup or anything… he just eats the pancakes plain.  He used to eat the Nutrigrain Whole Wheat Eggo waffles, but one day I realized that I could make pancakes and freeze them myself for WAY cheaper.   So, every time I make pancakes for Hubby & I, I make a double batch and freeze the leftovers.

Here’s my pancake recipe… it’s a recipe I’ve adapted from a few found recipes over the years.  Try it and you’ll never use Bisquick again.  I apologize for the fantastic picture quality & color.

Here’s what you need:

  • 3/4 cup regular all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour (all purpose)
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 egg – room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups milk – room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In a medium to large mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients… flours, baking powder, salt & sugar.  Mix together.

In a smaller bowl, mix together wet ingredients… butter, milk, egg & vanilla.  It’s important that your egg & milk aren’t cold.  It’ll cause the fat in the butter to congeal.  Room temperature is ideal.  The microwave is a handy tool.

Pour wet ingredients into dry and mix together.  That was hard, huh?

Heat skillet over medium heat and put some butter in the pan (or spray oil, whatevs).  Pour batter in pan.  Flip when bubbles form… after a couple of minutes.  My mother-in-law gave me these adorable pancake molds & batter pourer thing from Williams-Sonoma.  Adorable.  And, the batter pourer thing is awesome.  I made a couple of each mold for breakfast this particular morning, and then the rest of the batter I just poured silver dollar pancakes.

As far as freezing the pancakes goes… I just let them cool off a little and then throw the lot into a gallon Ziploc freezer bag.  They’ll freeze well for probably about 3 months.  To thaw, just put them in the microwave for 20-30 seconds.  They stay nice & moist.

Like I said… Bug’s a fan!

What do your kids eat for breakfast?

Stuff I Feed My Kid: Sweet Mashed Potatoes

I mentioned last week that we hide a lot of food in sweet mashed potatoes.  Probably a good idea to share with you how to make super easy sweet mash.

Here’s what you need:

  • 3 or 4 sweet potatoes
  • 1/4 cup cream (or milk)
  • 1/8 cup orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/8 cup brown sugar
  • salt & pepper to taste

Here’s what you do:

Skin your potatoes and cut them into 1″-2″ chunks.  Put ’em in a pot of water.  Bring to a boil.  Turn down the heat a bit and let simmer for 20 minutes or so… until very tender when poked with a fork.  Drain.

In a large mixing bowl put cooked potato chunks and all of the other ingredients.  Seriously.  Just throw them all in there.  In reality, you could do this right in the pot after you drain the water, but my potato masher is metal and it scratches my non-stick pots & pans… BIG no-no for me.

Then… mash it all together.  I use a potato masher.  You could use a hand mixer for smoother potatoes… or even a food processor.  I don’t really feel the need to have super smooth potatoes.  Plus, it’s easier to clean the masher.

The end.  Super easy, no?

Stuff I Feed My Kid: Orzo & Veggies

This is a colorful, easy & healthy recipe.  Not much of an explanation needed.  I would normally use a whole wheat orzo, but I couldn’t find any this time around.

Here’s what you need:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
  • 1/2 cup frozen corn
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup diced fresh red bell pepper
  • salt & pepper to taste (optional)
  • 2 cups cooked orzo (follow package directions)
  • 1/2 a lemon (or a tablespoon or two lemon juice)

Heat olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat.  Add rosemary and saute for a couple of minutes to release the aroma.  Add corn, peas, peppers, salt & pepper and cook for 7-10 minutes, until peppers are translucent… you want the veggies to be tender, but not mushy.

Put orzo in a mixing bowl and add the veggies.  Squeeze juice from half a lemon (or pour in a tablespoon or two lemon juice) and mix well.  Serve as is or with diced chicken.  Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months.

When I first made this I thought it might work out as something Eli could eat with his fingers, but I was wrong.  Too slippery & small.  So, we’re spoon feeding this to him at the moment.  He’s generally pretty good with his own spoon, but he can’t seem to get this stuff in his mouth without dropping it all in his lap.  Too slippery I guess.  He is a big fan of this meal, though!

Stuff I Feed My Kid: Zucchini & Quinoa

Have you tried quinoa yet?  I was apparently a little late on the super-food train… I have seen quinoa in magazines and trendy restaurant menus for quite some time but was always a little hesitant to try it.  Something about me physically preparing new, trendy foods seems daunting to me, like they are going to be really hard to make or something.  I read in one of my baby food cookbooks (I can’t remember which one) to mix zucchini with millet, but when I couldn’t find millet at the store, I bought quinoa instead.  Figured it was worth a shot.

**NEWS BULLETIN – QUINOA IS SUPER EASY TO MAKE**

Seriously easy… like easier than rice easy.  Not only is it easy, but it is delicious.  It has a little crunch to it, but is still a soft grain.  Actually, quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is not technically a grain… it is a seed from a plant that is related to beets, spinach and tumbleweeds.  Mmmm, tumbleweeds.  My new favorite seed is high in protein, fiber & iron… which are all very important nutrients for little guys.  If you’re worried about your baby’s iron, feed him some quinoa!

Onto what this post is actually about… zucchini & quinoa.  Bug loves zucchini, but it is really runny as a puree (which actually makes for a great first food!).  Quinoa turned out to be a perfect pairing.

Here’s what you need:

  • 2 or 3 zucchinis, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 cup cooked quinoa (follow package directions for cooking)

Put about an inch or two of water in a saucepan and place a steam basket on top.  Bring water to a boil over high heat.  Place zucchini in basket, cover and steam until tender… about 5 minutes.  Mix the zucchini in a food processor/blender/whatever until pureed.  You can really leave it as chunky as your baby can handle, but I like to get it pretty smooth for this recipe.

Pour zucchini puree into a bowl.  Pour in quinoa.  Mix together.  Serve The end.

Tough, huh?

Store in an airtight container in the fridge for 3 days for freeze for 3 months.