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muddybuddies1

If you’ve never tried Chex Muddy Buddies (also known by many as Puppy Chow) read the rest of this post and go make some IMMEDIATELY.  You’ll life will be forever changed for the better!  I can’t resist the stuff and could probably eat it by the bucket load, as could my kids.  However, they are definitely high in sugar and I was eager to find a way not to feel completely terrible for giving it to my girls as a daytime snack.  My solution was this:

Step 1. Replace half the semi-sweet chocolate chips with dark chocolate chips

Step 2. Cut the powdered sugar down to just a 1/2 cup (as opposed to 1 1/2 cups)

Step 3. Add a 1/2 cup ground flax to make up for the reduced powdered sugar to coat the cereal and add a little healthiness

The result is a 44% decrease in sugar!  It goes from 16.8g per serving to 9.4g – still enough to qualify as a treat, but a big improvement and just as yummy (plus consider the fact that most granola bars and flavored yogurts have WAY more sugar than this).  My girls didn’t notice a thing when I made the switch.  So here is the adjusted recipe in full for those who don’t have it memorized like me 🙂

Healthified Chex Muddy Buddies:

  • 9 cups Chex cereal (I use Rice Chex, but you can use any kind you like)
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter (all natural with no added sugar such as Laura Scudder’s)
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup ground flax
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar

Put Chex into a bowl and set aside.  In a separate bowl, melt the chocolate chips, peanut butter and butter together in the microwave until melted and smooth, stirring about every 20 seconds.  Once melted and smooth, add vanilla to the chocolate mixture and stir.  Pour chocolate over cereal and stir to get all the cereal evenly coated.  In another bowl, combine the ground flax and powdered sugar and stir to combine.  Pour the cereal into a large tupperware or zip-top bag, then add the flax/sugar mixture, seal it up and shake so that all the cereal gets coated by the flax/sugar.  Once it’s all coated, pour it out into a single layer onto wax paper and let cool.  Once cooled, store it in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed container.

Enjoy!

muddybuddies2

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I luuuuuuuuv me a good, healthy smoothie.  It’s the best way to relieve all dietary guilt I feel associated with not eating enough fruits and veggies – both for me, and my kids.  If they have one of these as a mid-morning snack or with their lunch, I sleep a bit better even if they don’t eat their veggies at dinner time, or I’m all out of fruit at breakfast.  Mind you, all smoothies are not created equal – many run the risk of too much sugar when they have too much juice in them, or (Heaven forbid) frozen yogurt.  My go-to mix has just 5 ingredients (6 if you count water).

photo-34

I only use a 1/4 cup of OJ and then use water to get it liquidy enough to blend easily (is liquidy a word?).  Anyway, my 2 year old and 5 year old gobble these up – I probably make them 4-5 times a week.  I usually eye-ball the ingredients, but generally, I use:

  • 1 cup loosely packed frozen baby kale (I find the taste of baby kale milder and I can stuff in more without my kids objecting.  I just buy it fresh and then put it in a freezer bag myself)
  • 1/4 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1/4 cup frozen mango
  • 1/4 cup OJ
  • 1/4 cup water (if it doesn’t blend easily enough, add more water)
  • 1 or 2 tbsp chia seeds

Then I whip it all up in my Bullet for about a minute.  Yummers.

photo-35

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vday1

These sweet little treats are yet another recipe find from a magazine – in People of all places – but originally from the talented Catherine McCord of Weelicious.  They are extremely easy, festive and DELICIOUS.  They’re perfectly not too sweet, and work great as a breakfast on-the-go, an afternoon snack, or an after dinner treat – I just love how flexible they are!   I opted to just sprinkle powdered sugar on some, and frost some others – both are equally yummy, but I ended up preferring the frosted ones while my husband and kids actually liked the less-sweet powdered sugar coated ones, so it’s up to you.  My daughter got to help cut out the heart shapes and add the filling, but I had to do the top part myself or risk filling oozing out everywhere 🙂

You can find the original recipe HERE.

Happy almost Valentine’s!

 

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shortbread2I love love LOVE to bake, but almost all (okay, ALL) of my favorite, regular recipes involve chocolate in some way – pretty much the only exception are the holiday shortbread cookie press cookies that my mom always made, which are therefore a part of my heritage so the absence of chocolate is okay in this one and ONLY instance.  So you can imagine my surprise when I found a recipe for shortbread cookies in a magazine (originally for lime / cherry) and decided I HAD to try them.  It must have been fate, because they are delicious and I’ll definitely be making them again next year (if not sooner).   I wrapped a few up for a few of our neighbors and had them sitting out on Christmas Eve for everyone to nibble on – they were gone within one day, as you can imagine.

shortbread1

I adapted this recipe to suit my need for orange and cranberry, and I’m excited to try it with other flavors (lemon-poppy seed!).  Please try it – you’ll be so glad you did:

Orange Cranberry Shortbread Cookies:

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 Tbsp grated orange peel
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried cranberries
  1. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until blended.  Beat in the orange peel and vanilla.  In another bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt; gradually beat into creamed mixture.  Stir in Cranberries.
  2. Divide the dough in half; shape each into a 7-in-long roll.  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm (about 2 hours).
  3. Unwrap and cut dough into 1/4-in slices.  Place on ungreased baking sheets and bake at 350 degrees for 9-11 minutes or until edges are slightly golden brown.

shortbread3

 

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hot choc1

I made a little advent calendar to hang in my daughters’ room, with each day having a little activity inside.  Most are crafts and such, but a few are treats, and today’s was “hot chocolate with marshmallows!”.  There’s no better time for cozy, warm hot chocolate than the holidays, right?  I tried to make it a little more special by getting these sweet little gingerbread man marshmallows I spotted at Safeway – they were a huge hit!  Just look at that look on her face before they go into her mouth, hahaha.   I like to make my own hot chocolate mix since it’s ridiculously easy and doesn’t have any fake stuff in it, plus it tastes waaaaaay better.  Recipe is below!

hot choc3

Hot Chocolate Mix:

  • 1 part cocoa powder
  • 2 parts white sugar
  • dash of cinnamon (optional)

Just put everything together in a container and mix!  How much easier can you get??  Just note that cocoa powder doesn’t dissolve easily, so this won’t work for cold milk.   When you stir into your hot milk, make sure to get rid of all the lumps before drinking.  Trust me, once you do this, you will never go back to store bought hot chocolate!

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flag muffins

My wicked smart, hilarious, sweet oldest child just turned 4, and to commemorate the occasion (aside from the family party and the big preschool party at Pump it Up), we brought a special snack into her preschool class where they all sang happy birthday and she got to pick out a birthday treasure from the treasure box.  These days, bringing in a preschool snack is no easy task since it has to be homemade to ensure there are absolutely no nuts whatsoever inside or within close range of said snack.  When I asked her what she wanted to bring, she surprisingly asked for my pumpkin chocolate chip muffins, which we’d been making quite a bit lately what with pumpkin season and all.  That sounded good to me (no need to frost anything!!), so we set to work.  My latest trick with pretty much any muffin recipe to try to up the health quotient is to immediately halve the sugar content, and also use 1/2 whole wheat flour.  I was a bit nervous about this at first, but honestly, I don’t miss the sugar AT ALL – and I’ve been making these muffins for years, so you’d think I’d notice.  We’re also doing a rainbow theme for her bigger party this weekend, so I stuck to that and made some cute little birthday flags with label paper and toothpicks to make each one a bit special (since there wouldn’t be any frosting or sprinkles).  They turned out great, and I think the teachers were glad not to have to deal with any frosting-covered hands and faces 🙂  The recipe is below, and I’ve also included a link to download the little happy birthday flags if you’d like!  Just print them on full sheets of label paper, cut and stick to regular old toothpicks.  The ones I made had her name on one side and Happy Birthday on the other, but I’ve updated it to just read Happy Birthday on both sides.  So easy!

Here’s a picture of the birthday girl with the final product (we’re in the “must make a silly face for any and all pictures” right now – I’m just going with it and hoping it passes quickly).

birthday muffins

Spiced Pumpkin Muffins:

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cups white sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 (16 oz) can solid pack pumpkin
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups white flour
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp cloves
  • 3 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips (optional)

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350
  • Beat sugar and oil to blend
  • Mix in eggs, pumpkin and vanilla
  • In a separate bowl, sift flours, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, soda, salt and baking powder, then stir into pumpkin mixture until just incorporated
  • If using, fold in mini-chocolate chips until evenly dispersed
  • Line muffin pan with paper cups and fill about 1/2 way – bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes

Click here to download the pdf for the rainbow flags!  Rainbow Flags

Rainbow Flags

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I first saw these on The Novice Chef and decided I had to make them – as seen in this post, there were a few crafts I had my eye on for Valentine’s Day, but who am I kidding… brownies always win!  Plus I had all the ingredients on hand so I didn’t need to run around getting supplies.  Anyway, I am by no means a professional baker, and these were easy, pretty and delicious – a great combination.  We delivered some to our neighbors and have been picking at the scraps all day, supposedly waiting until after dinner to “officially” eat one 🙂  Here’s how they look just before going into the oven:

Anxiously waiting while they bake:

And finally, the finished product:


You can find the complete recipe here on The Novice Chef.  Happy Valentine’s Day!

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This is the simplest, most delicious salad you will ever make.  I swear.  It doesn’t even really have a recipe it’s so simple.  Here it is:

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 ripe heirloom tomatoes (buy these at the farmers market or a reputable grocery store – if these don’t taste good, the salad won’t!
  • a handful of chopped basil
  • mozzarella cheese (again, the good kind that comes packed in liquid, not string cheese or pre-sliced)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar
  • salt/pepper to taste

Slice the tomatoes in nice, thick slices, top each with a slice of mozarella cheese, sprinkle the chopped basil on top, splash some olive oil and balsamic around the whole thing and finish off with a sprinkling of salt and pepper.  Now dig in.  Yummmmmmmmm…

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My good friend Rachel had a baby!  An adorable little girl who arrived quickly and almost right on schedule, bless her little heart.  We did things a little differently this time around and celebrated after her arrival, but it was no less exciting (we got to see the baby right away – instant gratification!) and mom got to enjoy a little relaxation time with the girls while daddy baby-sat 🙂  It was held at the Presidio Social Club in San Francisco and I was in charge of favors and wanted to make something instead of buying them – can’t remember how I decided on pumpkin butter (it was Winter and I have a thing for pumpkin butter) but I did, and after finding some mason jars on sale on Amazon, it was decided.  The shower turned out beautifully, the favors looked great on the table and the food was fabulous!  Here are a few pics of the event and the Pumpkin Butter recipe and instructions are below!

“Mommy’s Little Pumpkin Butter” Slow Cooker Recipe & Instructions:

Original Recipe Yield 10 – 1/2 pint jars

 Ingredients
  • 2 (29 ounce) can pumpkin puree
  • 1 1/2 cups apple juice
  • 4 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 6 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 3 teaspoons ground nutmeg

Directions

  1. Combine pumpkin, apple juice, spices, and sugar in a large slow cooker; stir well.  Set the crock pot on low or medium heat. Cover it loosely or use a large pot splatter-guard. It will spatter as it boils slowly, so I also cover nearby surfaces with towels.  You don’t want to seal it tightly because you want the steam to escape so it can reduce in volume and thicken.  Leave it to cook for 6 – 8 hours.   How long depends on the size and power of your crockpot, and how thick you like it.  If you want to stir it occasionally, that’s fine but not necessary.
  2. Once it’s done, transfer to your mason jars (I used these) seal them up and put in the refrigerator – as they cool, the warm air inside condenses and seals them up so the little button the top of the mason jar lays flat.  Also, I’m not a professional canner or anything, but apparently you need to store these in the refrigerator – they won’t keep in the pantry like other preserves.
  3. Decorate any way you’d like!  I used twine and kraft paper tags with instructions and put a little custom label I had made on the top for the shower, but the possiblities are endless.  These would also make wonderful holiday gifts for friends and neighbors, or a hostess gift for Thanksgiving.
PS: This is a low-sugar recipe – the original I had called for 3 cups, which just seemed ridiculous to me, so I halved it and never missed it – it was great.  If you like things on the sweeter side, feel free to add a bit more in the sugar and spice department!

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slow cooker tikka masala

The slow cooker is a working mom’s best friend – actually, it’s any mom’s best friend.  But to me, the whole point of a slow cooker is to “dump it in and push start” .  Any other prep besides washing, chopping and can opening makes the value significantly diminish – if I have to sauté, brown, oven cook or otherwise pre-make any of the dish, what efficiency is it really offering me?  For this reason, I’m pretty selective of my slow cooker recipes.  I like them to be healthy and use a minimal amount of processed ingredients (like “cream of” soups or soup packets for example).  I also like it to be as close to the entire dish as possible so I’m not left still making a bunch of sides to go with it.  In any case, you can see I’m picky when it comes to my slow cooker!  This recipe does it all – it’s practically 100% dump and go with a minimal amount of side prep and the additional piece that goes with it (the cucumber relish) is so easy (and worth it!) it really doesn’t matter.  All the ingredients are natural, healthy and the end result is superb – in all honesty, not the exact replica of the tikka masala from the local indian place, but a good substitute and delicious in its own right.  Please give it a try!

Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala (adapted from Real Simple):

Ingredients

  • 1 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala (Indian spice blend)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 8)
  • 1/2 cucumber, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 cup basmati or some other long-grain white rice
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • Cayenne pepper to taste (1-2 tsp)

Directions

  1. In a 4- to 6-quart slow cooker, combine the tomatoes, onion, garlic, tomato paste, garam masala, ¾ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Place the chicken on top of the vegetables, cover, and cook until the chicken is tender, on low for 7 to 8 hours or on high for 3 to 4 hours (this will shorten total recipe time).
  2. In a small bowl, toss the cucumber and cilantro with the lemon juice and ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for up to 8 hours. (don’t skip this!  it really makes the dish)
  3. Twenty minutes before serving, cook the rice according to the package directions.
  4. Just before serving, stir the cream into the chicken tikka masala and add cayenne pepper to taste. Serve over the rice with the cucumber relish.

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