Cooking With Kids, and a Gift Idea

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Since around the time that Jack was 2, maybe earlier, I’ve always loved including my kids in the kitchen.  Whether I’m making a quick sandwich for lunch, rushing to get dinner made, or baking a two layer intricate cake for a birthday, it’s always more fun when little hands are involved. The best part is that both of my kids have always loved helping me in the kitchen.  Who am I kidding, they’ve always loved helping with anything I’m doing: “mama folding laundry?!”  “I got it!” they tell me. “Mama sweeping the floors?!” “I got it!” they tell me.  “Mama doing e-mails?!” “I got it!!” 😉  Perhaps that’s why I never feel like the laundry is completely washed and folded, the floors never thoroughly swept, e-mails left unattended.  However, in the kitchen it’s different.  In the kitchen, there’s always a final product.  It may not perfect, because the frosting may be too thick in the middle from not being spread evenly, dinner might be overly salted, or someone might find an eggshell in their omelette, but there’s always a final product.  Something we all made together in our team effort that we can enjoy together.

Last year, for Isabelle’s first birthday, her Aunt (who is also her Godmother) and Uncle gifted her a few pretty cute gifts, including this incredible Amazing Chef cooking set.  On this particular day, Jack really wanted to make something, but I wasn’t quite in the mood to cook so we opened up this gift, that I’m embarrassed to say had been sitting in the cabinet above the fridge for almost a year, and let the kids have fun! Jack especially loved using the knife to cut up the bananas and Isabelle loved dipping them in the chocolate and sprinkles.

If you ever don’t know what birthday present to get younger children, ages 2-8 or older, I can’t image that this cooking set will ever disappoint.  It’s so fun and gives the kids so much confidence in the kitchen!

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Cheers!

 

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PB Honey Toast, My Way

IMG_4541.JPGLately, I find myself so over “date night”.  Don’t get me wrong, I love an evening out with my husband and friends, but “date night” has so many connotations attached to it, both positive and negative. There’s the pressure to make reservations, get dressed, have dinner planned for the kids and the sitter, arrange a date and time that works for friends (if it’s a group)… And then, you risk the fact that your kids might still be awake when you get home later that evening!! At least, if your kids are anything like mine.  On the other hand, it feels so good to get dressed up, put on some heels, try a new restaurant, and catch up with your husband and friends over a bottle of wine and good food.

A couple of weeks ago, Chris and I were debating whether we should go out one night.  We wanted some kid-free time together, but we were also exhausted after a long week.  Has anyone else been there? Please tell me we’re not the only ones…

Jack happened to be with his grandparents watching his cousins’ soccer games, and Isabelle was home with us.  In an inspired moment, Chris had the brilliant beyond brilliant idea to ask our sweet H.S neighbor girl to come watch Isabelle so we could go out! During the day! Brilliant, no?! We’ve often gone out during the day, but always with an agenda or a list of errands to accomplish in X amount of time.  This time, we had NO agenda – just me and my hubs, and the best “day date”.  We even made it home in time to make dinner for the kids, and enjoy movie night with them! It was truly, an almost perfect day.

We ended up at Coffee Shop in Walnut Creek where Chris got the most phenomenal Peanut Butter + Honey Toast.  I haven’t quite been able to stop thinking about it, so this week I made my own homemade version, topped with a dusting of cinnamon. Simple, easy, filling, and nutritious! Thanks for the inspiration Coffee Shop!

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INGREDIENTS:

  • Toast, of choice.  I used Udi’s Whole Wheat Gluten Free Bread.
  • 1-2 tablespoons of peanut butter, I always prefer smooth PB, and think it works best with this snack.
  • 2-3 teaspoons of Honey
  • Banana, sliced.
  • Cinnamon for dusting.

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Toast bread.
  2. Spread a light amount of PB, about a tablespoon.
  3. Drizzle honey over the peanut butter, 2-3 teaspoons.
  4. Slice banana to cover the toast.
  5. Dust cinnamon on top!

Note: I especially love cinnamon for it’s ability to regulate blood sugar, lower cholesterol, any many other benefits.  Raw, local honey is amazing for its ability to relieve some allergies, and anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties.  In high school I would make myself a tea of hot water, honey, and cinnamon.  It was so good! Perhaps I’ll share the recipe one day…

I have had this for a light lunch numerous times this week, it’s that good and filling!

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cheers!

 

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My Go-To Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookies

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I’ve shared Displaced Housewife’s, Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Spice Cookies before, here.  Today, I’m sharing her Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookies.  Like she says, they really are the best gluten free CCC’s ever.  You won’t need another gluten free cookie recipe after this one, trust me.  We’ve made these, over a handful of times now for all types of occasions and they never disappoint.  I plan to make them again this week for one of Jack’s preschool events.  In this world, with ever increasing food allergies and sensitivities it’s nice to have a reliable, delicious recipe that I know will satisfy both kids and adults who are gluten-free.

My favorite thing about these is that they have that slightly crunchy exterior and chewy chocolatey interior – which makes for the perfect cookie, in my opinion. 🙂

Also, don’t skimp on chilling the dough.  It makes all the difference between a “blah-whatever-it’s okay-cookie”, and a “wow, that’s a really good cookie!”  When I take the time to chill the dough my husband always says “these are really good” with those raised eyebrows, head bopping up and down happily.  However, when I don’t take the time to chill the dough, they’re a boring “eh” no excitement whatsoever…. so: chill yo’ dough!

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INGREDIENTS

  • 1 stick, 4 ounces, unsalted butter
  • 1 1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed tight
  • 1/3 cup sunflower seed oil
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups gluten-free flour (I’ve always used cup4cup)
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Put the stick of unsalted butter in a small sauce pan and melt over medium-high heat. Once the butter is melted, continue to stir, and watch the butter as it starts to crackle and pop.  Little golden bits will settle into the bottom of the pan, and over the course of a couple of minutes stop crackling and popping.  This is the sign that your butter is done browning and you can turn the stove off, and remove the pan from heat. Transfer into a medium heat proof bowl and let cool.
  2. Add the sunflower seed oil, brown sugar, granulated sugar, eggs, milk and vanilla to the browned butter. Whisk together until entirely incorporated.
  3. In another medium bowl, whisk the gluten-free flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  4. Add the flour mixture to the brown butter mixture and mix together. Add the chocolate chips.
  5. Pick up all the cookie dough and put it on top of plastic saran wrap, and wrap it up! Put in the fridge for a couple of hours, or even overnight!
  6. To bake, heat the oven to 375.
  7. Roll little balls of dough, all roughly the same size, and place onto a baking sheet (lined with parchment paper). Bake for about 12 minutes.
  8. When done baking, cookies are slightly browned around the edges and tops, remove from oven and let cool completely!
  9. ENJOY!

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cheers!

Kid’s Cheese Pizza

I looooove pizza! Melted cheese with a delicious crust smothered in tomato sauce?! Yes, please! Making pizza during the summer months is so fun, especially with the kids.  They love to roll out the dough and put all the toppings on.  This particular day, Jack shaped his pizza dough into “Mickey Mouse” and his excitement was so sweet.  He was especially interested in showing his sister, who is obsessed with all things Mickey Mouse, that he’d made a “Mickey Mouse pizza! haha!”  Isn’t that one of the best parts about pizza?  Each person can have a pizza as they like it, with whichever toppings they enjoy, in whatever shape they want! Square, circle, rectangle, Mickey Mouse shape – it’s creativity and personal preference at its food finest!

When it comes to the pizza dough, we’ve always been partial to store bought pizza, because it’s easy and good.  Safeway and Trader Joes make the best, in my opinion.  We tried the Whole Foods dough on this day, and it was good – but didn’t cook quite as well as the Safeway and TJ’s dough.  Maybe it was user error and we should try again?  Either way, Chris got this book for his birthday a few months ago and I’m looking forward to making our own dough later this summer! Rebecca makes a pretty incredible looking Beer Crust Pizza we should try as well, yes Beer Crust! It sounds amazing. Honestly, making our own dough seems so intimidating, and time consuming because what if it fails? But I’m pretty sure we could pull it off, and in the event it doesn’t work out, I’ll make sure to have a bag of store bought dough hidden in the fridge 😉  … To be continued…

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Our very own Pizza Master! 
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See those cute little Mickey Mouse ears? 🙂

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No tomato sauce no cheese, add guac pizza! 😉
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Our “adult” pizza; before shot.  

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Cheers!

Quick, No Mess BBQ Pulled Pork Tacos

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DISCLAIMER: I’m not going to guarantee that these are “no mess” pulled pork tacos.  But they are quick,  easy to clean up, and a crowd pleaser on a hot Tuesday (or any day of the week) when the last thing you want to do is worry about turning on the stove, let alone the oven!

Mexican food has always been one of those things that I enjoy going out for much more than I enjoy making for myself or my family.  There’s something fun, and almost comforting about going to a Mexican restaurant.  Perhaps it’s because when I was a kid my brothers and I would always request to go to Chevys for our birthday dinners.  Each of us always got a batch of tortilla dough to play with while we waited for our food to arrive, and at the end of the meal the waiters would all stand around your table and sing you the most fun, loud, exuberant, hands-clapping Happy Birthday!  And pop a big ol’ sombrero on your head at the end!  Sometimes, if we went on a Friday or Saturday night there was a balloon man who would stop at each table offering to make any animal figure/sword/doll/whatever out of his balloons.  Our parents always obliged – how could they have said no?!  It was incredibly fun; celebratory, really. And made our birthday feel special because these strange waiters would sing happy birthday to us!

These, and many other Chevy dinners were my first experience with Mexican food.  I believe that since it was such an enjoyable experience it made me fall in love with Mexican food.  Fajitas, burritos, tacos, enchiladas, tortilla chips and salsa, guacamole!! You name it…

With these tacos I wanted to recreate, the simple, festive feeling of going to a restaurant right at home.  We make this BBQ Pulled Pork every now and then.  We should make it more often because it’s so easy! This time we turned it into tacos, and I wish we were having it for dinner again tonight.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 lb pork shoulder
  • salt to season
  • 1 can of your favorite BBQ sauce – we used Kinder’s Mild BBQ Sauce
  • 1 medium white onion, diced
  • 1 bunch of cilantro, chopped
  • Guacamole, I prefer to make my own – though store bought would work fine
  • favorite salsa, we used Casa Sanchez Fire Roasted Medium salsa
  • 1 package of tortillas

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. I lied, you will have to turn on your stove for 2 minutes.  Get out a big pan and put it on medium high, place your pork shoulder on the pan to sear the sides.  Season with plenty of salt.
  2. Immediately transfer into a crockpot.  Pour a 20oz bottle of BBQ sauce into the crockpot to coat the pork shoulder. Put the lid on and set on high for 6-8 hours.
  3. Meanwhile, chop your onion, cilantro, and salsa.  Place in individual ramekins.  If you are making your guacamole, prepare no more than 20-30 minutes before serving so that it stays fresh!
  4. When your pork shoulder is done, remove and place on cutting board.  Using two forks begin to tear the meat off the bone.  It will literally fall off the bone into delicious pieces.
  5. Enjoy!

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Cheers!

An Easter Carrot Cake for Beginners

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Easter is always my favorite holiday. Christmas is wonderful and special, and has so much anticipation built up to it that makes for so much fun and excitement. However, because it’s couched between Thanksgiving, New Years, and the general holiday craze, it can be a bit overwhelming with so much activity.  But, not Easter! Instead, Easter has a quiet start with the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday and slowly builds up with the coming of Spring, before Easter Sunday.

Chris volunteered me to bring carrot cake for Easter dinner this year.  I was more than happy to oblige because I love any excuse to bake 😉 In our home carrot cake season starts in February when Chris requests it as his birthday cake – it’s his favorite so I’m making it my duty to find (or create) the most perfect carrot cake recipe in the world.  If you have one, feel free to send it my way.  So far, this recipe is as close as we’ve gotten.  I’ve made it a handful of times now and it comes out moist and delicious every time — even when I think “uh oh, this time it’s going to fail me” it doesn’t! It’s a great cake for every spring occasion: bridal showers, baby showers, engagement parties, dinner parties, baptisms etc…

I call it a “beginners” carrot cake because I have actually memorized this recipe – that’s how easy it is! It’s a one bowl recipe.  Mix the oil and sugar, add the eggs, sift in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, add the grated carrots, raisins, pecans – and boom you’re done! …. well, after it spends almost an hour in the oven.  🙂

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INGREDIENTS:                                                                                                                         *Recipe adapted from What’s Gaby Cooking Layered Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
  • 4 large eggs at room temperature
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3 cups finely grated and peeled carrots – I peel them and then place in my mini Cuisinart food processor to grind.  I use my mini food processor more than I ever would have imagined, it’s one of my favorites.
  • 3/4 cup raisins
  • 3/4 cup chopped pecans
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 8oz packages of cream cheese at room temperature
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla extract

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 325F.  Grease 2 8inch round cake pans.
  2. Using a stand mixer, or large bowl and hand mixer, beat the sugar and vegetable oil until thoroughly combined.  Add the eggs 1 at a time.  I make sure each egg has been entirely mixed in before adding the next.  It only takes a few seconds for each egg.
  3. Sift in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg into the sugar/oil/egg mixture.  I place this strainer over my stand mixer and put all the dry ingredients into the strainer to “sift” through to the sugar/oil/egg mixture.  Stir in the carrots, raisins, and pecans.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared pans.  Try to divid the batter equally between both pans! Bake about 50-55 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.  Let cakes cool completely before frosting.
  5. To make the frosting: use either the wire whip attachment on your stand mixer, or a handheld mixer, and whip together the powdered sugar, cream cheese, butter, and vanilla extract until it is creamy and smooth.
  6. Put one cake layer on a cake plate and spread with frosting.  Then put the other cake on top and spread with frosting.  Enjoy!

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Cheers!

Breakfast Power Protein Bars

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Last winter around this time I was nursing an infant, and therefore, sleeping sporadically through the night.  Isabelle was waking up multiple times throughout the night, Jack was up once or twice a night to use the potty… and when they had both started sleeping a little more soundly – my husband got pneumonia (and tore his Achilles), the kids were both on antibiotics for their own never-ending colds, and I was plain old exhausted.  Exhausted.  The sleep deprivation combined with a bit of stress made we want to snack at all hours of the day and night. Can someone say, “comfort food”?!

I reached a breaking point where I just couldn’t keep eating chocolate at all hours.  Don’t get me wrong, I could eat chocolate at every meal – but it was getting too much.   And while I love snacking on nuts, it just wasn’t satisfying enough during this time in my life.  I needed something that was both satisfying and filling.  Therefore, when I saw this recipe in Gwyneth Paltrow’s book It’s All Good, I knew I had to try them.  They turned out to be amazing during those months!  Even now, I’ve been making these pretty regularly.  We keep them in the fridge for up to 10 days, although they typically get eaten long before 10 days have passed!  They’re perfect for a mid morning snack, an on-the-go lunch, or something to nibble at until dinner is ready.  Plus, my husband and kids love them too!!  Okay, maybe Jack doesn’t like them that much (my sweet little picky eater) – but Isabelle rips them out of my hands!

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INGREDIENTS:

Not going to lie, I had to go to the store and especially buy some of this stuff. But it was SO. WORTH. IT! Seriously, coconut flour?? Shredded coconuts?? Almond extract (which I now loooove)

  • 1 1/2 cups raw cashews
  • 1 1/2 cups dates (take out the pit and give them a rough chop)
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter (the recipe actually calls for almond butter, but I’ve never made them with almond butter. PB all the way!)
  • 1/2 cup high quality maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 1/2 cups dark chocolate (66%)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons coconut oil

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. In a food processor, grind the cashews until they look like sand.  Add the dates, peanut butter, maple syrup, coconut flour, shredded coconut, and almond extract.  Pulse it until you have a sticky ball of dough.  Similar to the picture below.
  2. Line an 8×8 inch baking dish with parchment paper.  Press the “dough mixture”into the dish.  Once all spread out, it should be about an inch thick.  The dough mixture will be very sticky, so it often helps to put a little water on your hands to help spread it out into the pan.  Refrigerate for at least 6 hours, until firm.
  3. Once 6 hours have passed, and you’re about ready to make the chocolate mixture take out your double boiler.  If you don’t have a double boiler, put a little water in a pot and place a heat proof bowl on top of it.  Bring the water to a simmer, and add the chocolate and coconut oil.  Stir until the chocolate has almost entirely melted and remove from heat.  Take the dish out of the refrigerator and pour the melted chocolate mixture all over the cold dough.  Place the dish back into the refrigerator 1-2 hours until it’s set.
  4. Use the parchment paper to lift the entire bar out of the dish.  Cut the bar into rectangles.  Sometimes, if I have enough time (ahem, nap times), I tie the bars up individually in parchment paper.  Lastly, put them in a ziplock or airtight container and store in the fridge.

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I took this picture after letting it sit in the fridge for about 2 hours.

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Cheers!