Sweet Potato Biscuits

Original Recipe HERE

I made these because I had a rogue sweet potato that I wasn't inspired by.  Then I stumbled upon this recipe.  The results were good, all-purpose, standard biscuits.  The sweet potato flavor wasn't as strong as I'd expected, but that was perfectly fine.  Both kids loved these, and they held up pretty well in a sealed container for two days (got a little "humid" before they dried out, but it wasn't a big deal).

I made this with a food processor per the directions, but I think they could be made with a regular bowl, whisk, pastry cutter, and serious elbowgrease.  I also used a silpat and a star-shaped cookie cutter to make it interesting for the kids.  The puffed-up biscuits held their shape well, so next time I'll be more adventurous.

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter, chilled and cubed
1 cup cooked & mashed sweet potatoes, cooked & mashed
1/3 cup milk
2 Tablespoons honey
Cooking Spray

(1) Preheat oven to 400 F.
(2) Place flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in food processor.  Pulse to combine.
(3) Add butter.  Pulse until it resembles coarse meal.
(4) Add sweet potatoes, milk and honey.  Pulse until dough comes together.
(5) Place dough onto parchment paper and knead 5 times.
(6) Place another parchment paper on top.  Roll out to 1/2" to 3/4" thick.  Cut into biscuits.
(7) Place biscuits on silpat or parchment-lined baking sheet coated with cooking spray.
(8) Bake 12-15 minutes (depending on size of biscuits) or until lightly golden.  Cool and serve.

Notes: I would serve them with salted butter or honey. Pumpkin or apple butter could be tasty but might overwhelm the slight sweet potato flavor.

Kid Participation:
* Add dry ingredients to food processor bowl
* Pulse food processor
* Knead dough
* Roll dough
* Cut out biscuit shapes


Cauliflower & Craisin Couscous

Original Recipe HERE

I wasn't sure how this recipe was going to turn out.  It had definite potential for being too bland for my taste.  But with two key additions (that are included below), it was a great meal that I was happy to have for lunch the next day.  The salty garlic-ness of the Roasted Garlic Caesar "Almond Accents" (aka, salad toppers) and distinct goat cheese flavor made the dish more interesting than it would've been otherwise.

I really like the TJ's Harvest Blend and think it's worth the extra shopping trip to stock up on as many bags as they have in stock (which usually isn't many).  If using couscous, I recommend the Israeli variety so that it doesn't seem like you're just eating sauteed vegetables mixed in with a mushy base.  The kids liked the craisins but weren't fans of the rest of it...they're so unpredictable when it comes to cauliflower.

This made enough for two adults to each dinner and each have some for lunch the next day.

8 ounces Trader Joe's Harvest Blend or couscous
1/2 Tablespoon butter
1/2 Tablespoon olive oil
1 head of cauliflower, broken and chopped up into bite size pieces
1/2 onion, chopped
1 large carrot, shredded or chopped
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup dried cranberries or raisins
salt & pepper
goat cheese crumbles (optional)

(1) Cook Harvest Blend or couscous according to package directions (I used half chicken broth and half water).
(2) In large frying pan on low heat, toast almonds and set aside.
(3) In same frying pan on medium low heat, melt butter and add olive oil until heated through.
(4) Add cauliflower, onion and pinch of salt. Toss to coat. Cook about 2 minutes.
(5) Add carrots and craisins. When cauliflower is fork tender, add couscous and stir together. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
(6) Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.  Sprinkle in toasted almonds and goat cheese, if using.

Notes: I used garlic and herb goat cheese but may experiment with other cheeses.

Kid Participation: None.


Easy Marinated Chicken Breasts

This is a good recipe to have in a collection when you don't know what else to make for dinner, but plain chicken breasts sound totally unappetizing.  It's very flexible, so it's pretty much impossible not to have all the ingredients handy.  These turn out flavorful and can then be added to pasta or fried rice or whatever else you may have the time and energy to make.

1 to 2 Tablespoons vinegar (cider, balsamic, or red wine)
2 to 3 teaspoons dried herbs (thyme, oregano, rosemary, crumbled bay leaf, etc.)
1 to 2 Tablespoons mustard (whole grain or Dijon)
1 to 2 teaspoons garlic or onion powder (optional)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3-4 boneless skinless chicken breasts

(1) Put vinegar, herbs, mustard, powders, and oil in large re-sealable plastic bag or plastic storage container. Close and shake to combine.
(2) Add chicken to marinade and cover thoroughly.  Allow to marinate at least half an hour.
(3) Cook chicken on Foreman grill, grill pan, or in oven at 375 degrees 20-30 minutes or until cooked through.

Notes: None.

Kid Participation: Shake chicken and marinade together.

Slow Cooker Cranberry Chicken

Original Recipe HERE

A "seasonal" meal that adds a bit of autumn to your table - and is really easy to make.  I had trouble finding "whole berry cranberry sauce," but apparently half a bag of Craisins and 3/4 cup of water can be subsituted.  I usually add vegetables halfway through the cooking time so they retain a little of their crunch, but they can be added at the beginning with everything else and with no harm done.

I served this with brown rice because I was lazy.  Both kids ate what I gave them and asked for more.

3 skinless boneless chicken breasts
1 can (16 oz) whole berry cranberry sauce
1 cup barbecue sauce
1/2 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

(1) Put chicken, cranberry sauce, barbecue sauce, salt, and ppper into slow cooker.  Cook on low for 7-8 hours or high for 3-4 hours (until chicken is cooked through).
(2) Halfway through cooking time, add onion and celery.

Notes: I may try it with Craisins and water next time because I always have Craisins in the pantry.

Kid Participation: None.

Gnocchi with Chicken and Spinach

Original Recipe HERE

This is a recipe with a few basic ingredients that come together to make a tasty meal.  The key here is using gnocchi, since it's more filling than regular pasta, as well as a different texture.  This also lends itself easily to adding different spices (more garlic, dried basil or oregano, etc.) and increasing the amount of chicken or spinach, depending on how many people you're feeding.

I found the chicken to be somewhat dried out after browing it in the pan - perhaps I cooked it for too long.  But next time I'll Foreman grill or poach the chicken first and then brown it in the pan just enough to infuse some flavor in it.

2 large boneless skinless chicken breasts, diced
1 (17.5 oz) package shelf-stable gnocchi
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup onion, chopped
3 teaspoons olive oil, separated
1 Tablespoon butter
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt [or more to taste]
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 - 1 cup spinach, chopped

(1) Cook gnocchi according to package directions.
(2) Meanwhile, heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in large skillet on medium heat. Add diced chicken; sauté until lightly
(3) Add garlic and onion; cook until softened and fragrant (2-3 minutes).
(4) Add remaining olive oil, butter, drained gnocchi, salt, and pepper. Cook until gnocchi are golden brown on bottoms.
(5) Use spatula to flip the gnocchi. Add spinach and cook, tossing frequently, until wilted (about 3 minutes). Serve hot.

Notes: See above about alternate means for cooking chicken.  I could add a can of diced tomatoes or whisk together some tomato paste with a little water.

Kid Participation: None.


Mushroom Cheese Bread

Original Recipe Found in Taste of Home's 2006 Quick Cooking Annual Recipes

I rely on frozen, not-homemade garlic bread way too often, but we all love it...a hard, lazy habit to break.  So I was in the market for some new variations on a favorite side.  This was an easy way to dress up plain bread and more special than just tossing some shredded mozzarella on the frozen loaf.

I thought that there wasn't enough topping for an entire loaf of Italian bread, so I only used half of one.  This was a mistake, as the topping couldn't melt enough and the bread didn't get as crispy as I'd have liked.

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 can (4 oz) mushroom pieces, drained or 1 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced thin
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 Tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
2 Tablespoons chopped green onion
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning [optional]
1 loaf (1 pound) unsliced French or Italian bread

(1) Slice loaf in half length-wise.  Toast or broil until just crisped (not browned).
(2) In bowl, combine mozzarella, mushrooms, mayonnaise, parmesan, and onion.  Spread mixture over bread.
(3) Broil 5-10 minutes or until lightly browned and cheese is melted.

Notes: I used Italian bread this time, so I'll try French the next.  I'll also add some garlic powder to the cheese mixture.

Kid Participation:
* Mix topping ingredients together
* Spread cheese mixture over bread (if cooled)

Black Bean Spinach Pizza

Original Recipe Found in Taste of Home's 2006 Quick Cooking Annual Recipes

I love homemade pizza, but I worry my family gets tired of having it the same way every time.  This seemed like a somewhat healthy alternative version.

I didn't think the amount of beans would be enough, so I added another half-can of garbanzos.  In retrospect, there was too much bean-iness on the pizza, so I'll stick with the recommended one can next time.

pizza crust [I used this one]
1 can (15 oz) black beans, rinsed and drained
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
3/4 cup salsa
1/2 cup frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce [optional]
1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

(1) Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Prepare pizza crust according to directions
(2) In small bowl, combine beans, onion, chili powder, cumin, and garlic.  Mash (I used a pastry cutter) until a spreadable consistency is reached.  Spread over crust.
(3) In another bowl, combine salsa, spinach, and hot sauce.  Layer over bean mixture.
(4) Sprinkle cheese over pizza.
(5) Bake 8-10 minutes or until golden brown.

Notes: More toppings, like chopped green onions or canned diced green chilis, would add more flavor.  So would using different types of cheese.  A different salsa, like a pineapple-based one, could be good.

Kid Particpation:
* Mash bean mixture
* Stir salsa mixture
* Sprinkle cheese

Asparagus with Mushrooms

Original Recipe Found in Taste of Home's 2006 Quick Cooking Annual Recipes

This recipe was a hit with both kids and both adults in the family.  We ate it as a side, but it could be modified into a main dish if diced chicken is added to the vegetables and it's all served over rice.

1 pound fresh aspargus
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2-3 cups sliced fresh mushrooms [I used baby bella]
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon pepper
splash of balsamic vinegar [optional]
splash of soy sauce [optional]

(1) Trim ends off asparagus and cut into 2-inch pieces.
(2) In large skillet, heat olive oil.  Add asparagus and ginger; sautee 2-3 minutes or until crsip-tender.
(3) Add mushrooms, onion, salt, sugar, pepper, balsamic, and soy sauce.  Cook 2-3 minutes or until mushrooms are tender.

Notes: Perhaps a little less ginger next time...the taste was a bit strong.

Kid Participation: None.


Roasted Cauliflower with Cheddar

Original Recipe HERE

This is a recipe that makes you say, "Why didn't I think to do that?  Why did I instead need it laid out in black-and-white before the lightbulb went on?"  It's a no-brainer, low-maintenance side dish.

1 head cauliflower

1/2 cup cheddar cheese, grated [or shredded if necessary]
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons olive oil

(1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
(2) Cut cauliflower into florets.  Toss with olive oil and salt.
(3) Spread onto baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes.
(4) Remove cauliflower from oven and stir.  Sprinkle with cheese and roast another 3-4 minutes until cheese is melted.

Notes: I'll add some pepper and maybe some garlic powder, chili powder, or Italian seasoning.  Different cheeses are also an option.

Kid Participation:
* Toss cauliflower and oil
* Spread evenling onto baking sheet
* Sprinkle cheese

Sauce with Roasted Tomatoes

Original Recipe HERE

My mother grows all sorts of vegetables every summer.  And when the squirrels don't ravage her tomato crop, she brings me bags of them every time she visits.  Since I'm not a big fan of raw tomatoes, I never know what to do with them.  This will be a great way to use them up: make up a few batches of sauce and freeze them to use throughout the winter.

This made enough sauce for our family of four to have two complete meals with generous servings (apparently it makes 10 servings that are 1/2 cup each).

6-8 large tomatoes, cut into 8 pieces each
1/2 large red onion, roughly chopped
1 red chili pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, whole
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Freshly ground black pepper
1 can (15 oz) canned tomato sauce, no salt added
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine [I used cooking wine]
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

(1) Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
(2) Toss tomatoes, onion, chili, garlic, 1 tablespoon oil, salt, oregano, and pepper together until well mixed.
(3) Spread onto large sheet pan. Roast for 25-30 minutes or until tomatoes just begin to char.  Set aside to cool slightly.
(4) In large pot, add roasted tomato mixture, tomato sauce, tomato paste, and wine. Stir to combine and bring to a simmer.  Cook, uncovered, for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
(5) Add basil and parsley.  Season with additional salt and pepper to taste. Puree sauce until smooth using an immersion blender or by adding in several batches to a blender.

Notes: Perhaps a few more garlic cloves, since I like a detectable garlic flavor in my tomato sauces.  I'll also try to time it for when we have an open bottle of red wine (not the cheap stuff from the condiment aisle).

Kid Participation:
* Toss tomato mixture before roasting (make sure the lid on the container is on tightly)
* Blend final product

Greek Israeli Couscous Salad

Original Recipe HERE

I wasn't sure if this would be a disappointment because its ingredient list is so basic.  I was worried about a lack of flavor, and I'm not a big fan of a strong lemon taste.  Plus I'd never had Israeli couscous before, and I'm hit-or-miss with my success at preparing regular couscous.  However, I was pleasantly surprised at how good it was.  And both *N* and *J* gobbled it up and asked for seconds (her with words, him with grunting and pointing).

It says this serves four, which sounds accurate if you're dishing out large portions as a side dish.  Increasing the amount of couscous or veggies (or adding new ones, like chopped red pepper) could bump it up into entree territory.  It says you can use regular couscous, but I think the larger grains (kernals? particles?) of the Israeli variety make it heartier.

1 1/2 cups Israeli Couscous
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 cups water
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 large cucumber, seeded & diced
1 large tomato, seeded & diced
1 Tablespoon parsley, chopped [optional; I did not use]

(1) Place couscous and olive oil in medium sauce pan and toast for 5 minutes over medium heat.
(2) Add water and bring to a boil.  Cover and simmer for 12 minutes.  Remove from heat and drain if necessary.  Transfer to serving bowl and allow to cool.
(3) Pour in remaining ingredients and stir to combine.

Notes: Next time I may just drain a can of diced tomatoes because fresh tomatoes aren't in season.  I may add some red or green onion to boost the crunch factor.

Kid Participation:
* Measure ingredients
* Mix ingredients


Bistro Chicken

Original Recipe HERE

This is a really flavorful dish with a bit of a kick to it.  Maybe that's due to the French onion soup?  I don't know, since I've only tasted it maybe twice in my life and can't remember if it's got that spicy zing.  It could just be the pepper - in which case, reduce the amount if you want a milder taste.

Since I don't like Swiss cheese, I used smoked gouda and thought it balanced out the zip from the sauce well.

2 Tablespoons butter
1 Tablespoon olive oil
3 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ cup chopped shallots
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes, undrained
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 can (10.5 oz) condensed french onion soup
1 cup shredded Swiss cheese [or cheese of choice]

(1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
(2) Sprinkle chicken breast halves with half of the salt and pepper, reserving the rest of the salt and pepper for the sauce.
(3) In medium skillet, melt butter in olive oil over medium-high heat.  Pan-fry chicken until both sides are golden but chicken is not cooked through. Remove chicken from skillet and put in 9x13" baking dish.
(4) Add shallots to skillet; cook and stir until softened (3-4 minutes).
(5) Add thyme and tomatoes with juices.  Cook until sauce has reduced a bit (4-5 minutes).
(6) Add soup and remaining salt and pepper.  Cook for 4 minutes.
(7) Pour sauce over chicken.  Bake, uncovered, 15-18 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.
(8) Sprinkle chicken with cheese. Return to oven and bake another 3-5 minutes until cheese is melted.

Notes: None.

Kid Participation: None...too much heat involved.

Mushroom Marsala Pasta with Artichokes

Original Recipe HERE

This is one of those dishes that's easy to make but could give the impression that it's fancier than it really is.  Make sure to use a pasta that will "contain" the sauce, such as mini-shells or ruffles (or good old fashioned wagon wheels?) instead of something like linguini.

2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 pound mushrooms, trimmed, cleaned and chopped into small bits [I used baby bellas]
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup dry Marsala wine
1 pound pasta
1/2 pound frozen artichoke hearts, thawed [or one 15 oz can of non-frozen artichokes]
3/4 cup shredded Parmesan
1/2 cup cream
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

(1) Place olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook for one minute.
(2) Add mushrooms and one teaspoon of salt. Sauté 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until all moisture has evaporated and mushrooms have cooked down.
(3) Add Marsala and continue cooking until almost all wine has evaporated (about 5 minutes).
(4) While mushroom mixture is cooking, cook pasta according to package directions so that it's tender but firm.  When done, add to mushrooms.
(5) Add artichoke hearts, Parmesan and cream to mushrooms.  Cook until artichokes are heated through (about 5 minutes).
(6) Stir in parsley and pepper, then adjust seasonings to taste before serving.

Notes: I will try different mushrooms (like creminis from the original recipe) to see about altering the taste.  Also, the artichoke flavor was a little too intense for my liking, so I may reduce the amount next time.

Kid Participation: None.

Cranberry Chicken Bake

This is a recipe from my mother that I enjoyed as a kid, so I was hoping my kids would like it, too. The copious amount of ketchup made me optimistic they'd fall in love, but the mere presence of onions and the tartnesss of the cranberries were potential dealbreakers. *J* ate most of his bowl but declared himself "none" (done) before his plate was clear. He didn't eat his green beans with mountains of powdered cheese, either, so I guess he just wasn't feeling food in general. *N* had three full servings, so *J* will face it again and we'll see if tonight was a fluke.

I served this over brown rice this time, but I've also done it with garlic mashed potatoes.
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
salt and pepper
½ cup packed brown sugar
½ - 1 cup chopped onion [to taste]
1 Tablespoon olive oil, divided
1 cup ketchup
1 ½ cups fresh cranberries [can use frozen or craisins]
½ teaspoon freshly grated orange peel or 1 teaspoon orange juice [optional]

1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease 9x13" baking dish.
1) Sprinkle both sides of each breast with salt and pepper (optional: cut each breast in half to speed up cooking time).
2) In small amount of olive oil, sautee chicken in pan on medium-high heat in until slightly browned.  Remove from pan and put in baking dish.
3) Add remaining olive oil to pan.  Sautee onion until crisp tender.
4) Add ketchup, brown sugar, and orange to onion.  Heat, stirring often, until sugar is dissolved.  Stir in cranberries until coated.
5) Pour sauce over chicken.  Bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through and cranberries begin to burst.

Notes: None.

Kid Participation: None...sorry, kiddos.

Veggie Pizza Appetizers

This is a dish for which I pulled inspiration from several sources...several years ago.  It's a "make it up as you go to suit your own taste" kind of thing.  But it's always a hit at parties because people feel good about themselves for eating something loaded with vegetables.  It justifies going back for seconds (or fifths) of the queso dip or barbecue meatballs.  Using a variety of colorful vegetables - and chopping them very small so no one veggie dominates a particular slice of the pizza - draws attention to this appetizer.

Ingredients for "Sauce"
2 tubes crescent rolls
8 oz low-fat cream cheese [or to taste]
4 oz low-fat sour cream [or to taste]
bottled ranch dressing [or powdered ranch dressing mix]
1/4 cup salsa [optional]
grated parmesan [optional]
seasonings [garlic powder, salt, pepper, chili powder, cayenne, smoked
paprika etc.]

Ingredients for Toppings
green onions
red onion
peppers [red, green, yellow, or orange]
shredded Mexican cheese [optional]

1) Put cream cheese in mixing bowl and allow to soften slightly.
2) Unroll crescent rolls and spread onto baking sheet.  Distribute as evenly as possible and seal all seams.
3) Bake crescent rolls according to package directions.  Remove from oven and allow to cool completely or until just slightly warm.
4) Add sour cream and ranch (and optional salsa) to cream cheese in several increments.  Mix thoroughly each time until desired consistency is reached (should be spreadable but not runny). 
5) Mix in optional parmsean and seasonings.  Evenly spread cheese mixture over crescent rolls.
6) Finely chop vegetables into smaller-than-bite-size pieces.  Toss together to mix well.
7) Scatter chopped vegetables over cheese mixture.  Top with shredded cheese (optional).  Gently press toppings to ensure they stay in place.
8) Cut pizza into pieces of desired size.  Refrigerate until serving.

Notes: None.

Kid Participation:
* Seal crescent roll seams
* Mix sauce ingredients together
* Spread sauce over crescent rolls
* Add toppings to pizza


Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Original Recipe HERE

These cookies were a great autumnal treat.  I would've eaten them all (with *N* gladly offering to assist) if I hadn't sent them to work with Husband.  He emailed me a few hours into the day to say they were a hit and that the recipe had been requested.

One thing to keep in mind when baking these is that they may not look or feel done - the tops will be very soft.  But watch for browning on the bottoms.  The end result is a very lightly-textured, "airy" cookie that means can easily find yourself consuming mass quantities because they aren't dense, fill-you-up-type treats.

1/2 cup butter, softened [or margarine or shortening]
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
2 cups flour
1 Tbsp baking soda
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice [can be substituted with nutmeg and cloves]
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease cookie sheets with non-stick cooking spray.
2) In stand mixer or using a mixing bowl with electric mixer, combine butter, brown sugar, eggs and pumpkin until smooth.
3) In separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, pie spice, and salt.
4) Add flour mixture to pumpkin mixture and mix on low until combined.  Fold in chocolate chips.
5) Spoon batter onto greased cookie sheets in tablespoon-size drops. Bake 9-11 minutes. Remove from sheets and let cool on cooling rack.

Notes: None.

Kid Participation:
* Measure wet ingredients
* Crack eggs
* Measure dry ingredients
* Whisk dry ingredients
* Spoon dough onto baking sheet (likely resulting in dough smeared all over the sheet and a burned-cookie smell from your oven)

Southwestern Black Bean Salad

Original Recipe HERE

I picked this as a last-minute addition to dinner because I needed a side dish.  It turned out to be tastier than the entree.  This was enthusiastically gobbled up by my husband, my 3-year old, and my 1-year old.  Since I was in a rush, I added the avocado along with everything else and didn't have time to refrigerate it for 30 minutes.  It still tasted great, and it was even better the next day after the dressing had had time to really permeate the vegetables.  See helpful information on how to cut an avocado without making a massacre of it here.

This is similar to my standard homemade salsa recipe: same ingredients as well as finely chopped mango and a few spoonfuls of store-bought pineapple or peach salsa, as well as some minced jalapeno and garlic if I want it spicy.

1 can (15.5 oz) black beans, rinsed and drained
9 oz frozen corn, thawed
1 tomato, chopped
1 small hass avocado, diced
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1 scallion, chopped
3 Tbsps lime juice [or juice of one lime]
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp sugar
1 Tbsp cilantro [optional]
salt and pepper

1) Combine beans, corn, tomato, onion, scallion, cilantro, salt and pepper in metal or ceramic bowl.
2) In separate bowl, whisk together lime juice, vinegar, olive oil, and sugar.
3) Add dressing to vegetables.  Marinate in refrigerator 30 minutes. Add avocado before serving.

Notes: None.

Kid Participation: Just mixing everything together.


Flavorful Basic Tomato Sauce

Original Recipe HERE

I made this primarily for the chicken tenders, since I'm always on the hunt for the "perfect chicken tenders" recipe.  Homemade ones are obviously better than frozen, breaded, preservative-laden ones, and they're a staple in most households with little kids (though I'm surprised at how take-'em-or-leave-'em mine are).  They turned out fine, though they didn't blow my mind - next time I'll try panko.  But the sauce was killer...a very "vibrant" and concentrated flavor.  It was used for dipping, as the recipe suggested, but I think it would be a great straight-up sauce when served with pasta (which can be pretty boring if you have nothing else added to your noodles).  So "the secret's in the sauce," as they say.  I envision making this with a kid-friendly pasta shape (my latest favorite is ruffles), meatballs, and garlic bread (cut into strips for dipping fun).

2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup minced onion
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
1 15-ounce can of tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar

1) Heat olive oil in medium pot over medium-high heat. Sauté onions, stirring often, until translucent (about 3 minutes).
2) Add garlic and cook another minute.
3) Add tomato paste.  Mix well and cook 1-2 minutes more.
4) Add tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes, salt, and sugar. Bring to a boil and cook 5 minutes if using tomato sauce or 10 minutes if using crushed tomatoes.
5) Use an immersion blender, or put sauce into blender, and purée until smooth.  Sauce will keep in the fridge for up to a week.

Notes: Maybe adding some spices - dried or fresh - to add more "flavor layers."  It could be turned into a cream sauce with the addition of 1/4 to 1/2 cup heavy cream.

Kid Participation:  None.


Apple Crimble

I don't know if this dish is technically a "crisp" or a "crumble."  So for now, I'm dubbing it a "crimble" until I can research further.

I came across a baked apple recipe that was super easy.  I thought I bookmarked it, but when I went back to make it that night, it was nowhere to be found.  Luckily I remembered how to make it, so I did.  It was really good.  But it involved halving apples, scooping out the seeds, and baking in the skin.  It got the pan messy with the juice the apples released, some halves fell apart, and the topping came off in one big piece.  So I tweaked it to be easier to both prepare and eat. 

Below is listed how to make a good-sized crimble for an individual.  The amounts are easily adjusted depending on how many apples you're using and how big you want the servings to be (and if you want to double the topping but keep the apple portion the same...).  This could be tweaked a bit, like using wheat flour instead of white and adding nuts. The type of apple used, and whether it's peeled, is variable as well.

1 large or 2 small apples
2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons flour
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
4 Tablespoons quick-cook [or old-fashioned] oats
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon [or to taste]

(1) Preheat over to 350 degrees F.
(2) Peel each apple and cut into 8 slices.  Toss with cinnamon if desired.  Place slices in a 2-cup ramekin.
(3) In bowl big enough to hold all additional ingredients, melt butter in microwave.  Add flour, sugar, oats, and cinnamon [if not already used] and combine well.
(4) Spread topping over apple slices.  Bake 25 minutes, or until topping crisps (but does not brown) and apples are easily pierced with a fork.  Serve with whipped cream or Cool Whip.

Kid Participation:
* Arrange apple slices in ramekin
* Mix ingredients into butter
* Spread topping onto apple slices


Vanilla Coconut Mini-Muffins

This recipe comes from the Clay Corner Inn of Blacksburg, Virginia.

I love the combination of chocolate and coconut, which is why both usually end up in my morning oatmeal.  The original recipe didn't call for chocolate chips, but I thought they'd be too bland without (1) chocolate, or (2) adding more intense coconut flavor.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup shredded coconut
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup miniature chocolate chips
2 Tablespoons butter, melted
1 egg
1 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Grease mini-muffin cups or spray with non-stick spray.
2) In large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, coconut, baking powder, salt, and chocolate chips.  Whisk until thoroughly blended.
3) In small mixing bowl, combine butter, egg, milk, and vanilla.  Whisk until thoroughly blended.
4) Add milk mixture to flour mixture.  Stir by hand until just combined.
5) Fill each muffin cup half-full.
6) Bake for 11 minutes or until a knife inserted in center of muffin comes out clean (do not allow to brown on edges).  Remove muffins from cups immediately and cool on rack.  Yield: 36-44 muffins.

Notes: I baked the first batch for 12 minutes (per the original recipe), and they were slightly too crusty.  Next time I'll bake for 10-11 minutes.  Also, the coconut flavor was not as pronounced as I thought it would be, so I'll substitute 1/2 teaspoon of coconut extract for some of the vanilla.

Kid Participation:
* Pour dry ingredients
* Whisk dry ingredients
* Pour wet ingreidents
* Crack egg
* Stir wet ingredients
* Stir combined batter
* Scoop batter into muffin cups


Mini Maple Chocolate Chip Pancake Muffins

Original Recipe HERE

Chocolate chip pancakes (CCPs) were my brother's and my favorite breakfast, hands down.  On the extremely rare occasion our family went out to eat, we usually went to IHOP (because 20+ years ago, the one near us was a lot more respectable than they are now).  Chocolate pancakes with chocolate chips with whipped cream put us in heaven.  This love affair has continued throughout our entire lives, including ordering CCPs at the breakfast buffet in Disney World.  When we were in high school.  So when I saw this recipe, I was eager to try it.

I was surprised at how much they resembled pancakes in taste and texture.  I'm sure part of this is due to using real maple syrup (thankful to have family friends who tap trees and bottle their own syrup in the great state of New Hampshire).  The trick of adding the chocolate chips to the flour mixture, instead of into the batter at the end, helps keep them from sinking to the bottom of the muffin as they bake.  In hindsight, it probably wasn't as necessary in this recipe since the batter was so thick (but keep it in mind when baking things with runnier batter).  Also, stirring the "cold" ingredients together and allowing them to lose their chill a bit helps keep the melted butter from re-solidifying into not-very-appealing chunks when it's added later.

The recipe's name is a mouthful for such petite treats.  These are dangerous because you can eat them in two bites, so having "just one more" is tempting.  The original recipe says to serve them immediately with maple syrup or melted butter for dipping.  I tried them warm from the oven, a few hours later, and the next morning.  They were good each time, though I think reheating them in the toaster oven so the pancake resemblence is more obvious would be a good idea.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt [optional]
2 Tablespoons white sugar
⅔ cup buttermilk
1 egg
2 Tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 Tablespoons butter, melted
½ cup chocolate chips, plus more for garnish [optional]
1) In small bowl, stir buttermilk, egg, maple syrup.  Set aside.
2) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease 24-cup mini-muffin pan with nonstick spray.
3) Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar in medium bowl. Sift together with a wire whisk.
4) Add chocolate chips to flour mixture and stir until thoroughly coated.
5) Melt butter.  Add to buttermilk mixture.
6) Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients. Stir until combined.
7) Spoon batter into muffin tin [filling 24 cups almost completely].  Garnish each with several chips [optional].
8) Bake for 8-9 minutes.  Test for doneness by inserting knife.  Muffins should not brown.
9) Let cool slightly and remove from the pan onto cooling rack.

Notes: This recipe has potential to be tweaked to resemble other pancake recipes, like substituting blueberries for the chocolate chips, adding pumpkin spice, or putting some mashed banana (with cinnamon?) in the batter.

Kid Participation:
* Crack egg
* Stir wet ingredients
* Measure dry ingredients
* Whisk dry ingredients
* Whisk batter
* Garnish with chips (prepare for a melty, chocolatey mess)


Pasta with Tomato, Basil, and Brie

Original Recipe HERE

This is one of those recipes where using just a few flavorful ingredients makes a big impact.  Because it's kept simple, you can taste each one individually, yet they work together to make the meal better than just the sum of its parts.  It can work as a side dish or entree, as well as warm or cold (though I preferred it warm so the brie was melt-y).  Any smaller pasta could work, though ones with nooks-and-crannies, like shells or ruffles or rotini are best because the sauce gets trapped.
Since the garlic is raw and gets somewhat infused into the olive oil, be careful with the amount and err on the side of caution.

12 ounces small pasta
2 large tomatoes
4 ounces brie cheese
1 tablespoon minced garlic or 1 to 2 garlic cloves, pressed
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar [optional]
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced into small strips
1) Cook pasta according to package directions.
2) While pasta is cooking, chop tomato into bite-size pieces.  Add to medium bowl [preferably metal].
3) Remove rind from brie.  Cube into small pieces [shape and uniformity don't matter].
4) Add brie, basil, olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper to tomatoes.  Stir to thoroughly combine.
5) After pasta is drained, add to bowl with other ingredients.  Stir thorougly to combine.
Notes: This tasted great both warm and cold, though I preferred it warm so the brie was melt-y.
Kid Participation:
* Stirring ingredients (though be careful for overzealous mixing that results in olive oil stains on clothing)
* Eat extra pieces of brie


Green Chili Chicken

Original Recipe HERE

This is one of those recipes for which I always have all the ingredients in the pantry, so it'll be a good "fall-back" recipe.  Like for those nights when I defrost some chicken because I don't know what else to do, then I'm scrambling an hour before dinnertime with what to do with it.

The original recipe called for flattening out regular chicken breasts - something I'm never good at.  I go at it with a mallet until the meat starts to fall apart, yet it's not thin enough to roll or fold.  And it can be tough on the outside but not cooked through to the inside.  So I went Plan B (see below) pretty early in making this, though I did flatten the chicken a bit to make for more even cooking.

3 to 4 chicken breasts
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt
1/2 to 1 teaspoon pepper
2 4-ounce cans green chilis
2 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese [or sour cream]
1/4 cup salsa
1/2 to 1 cup shredded cheese, mexican blend

1) Preheat oven to 375.
2) Combine garlic powder, cumin, salt, and pepper in a shallow dish.
3) Pound chicken breasts to an even thickness.  Dredge each side in the spice mixture.
4) In medium-size pan, heat olive oil.  Add chicken and brown slightly on each side so spices adhere.  Remove from pan and put in greased baking dish.
5) Combine chilis, cream cheese, salsa, and shredded cheese in bowl.  Mix thoroughly, ensuring that cream cheese is blended.
6) Spoon sauce over chicken.  Cover and bake for approximately 30 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.

Notes: None.

Kid Participation:
* Pound chicken (if you trust them with a mallet)
* Stir spices
* Stir sauce ingredients together


Guiltless Alfredo Sauce

Original Recipe HERE

I love alfredo sauce, but it doesn't always love me back.  Being mildly lactose intolerant, I need to be careful about anything with an unknown amount of heavy dairy ingredients.  And lots of fresh alfredo is made with cream.  And Lactaid pills don't protect me like they should.  I learned this the hard way New Year's Eve 2005-2006 when a friend's husband whipped up some delicious salmon alfredo pasta.  I took two pills (which isn't supposed to do any more good than one, but I was determined to eat that dinner), and within half an hour my body was cursing me.  I lasted until midnight because I made myself, but I was miserable.  And because I was miserable and couldn't stand the thought of consuming anything else, Husband got to have some beers.  Which meant I had to drive home, clutching at my stomach in agony and huffing and puffing while he blissfully enjoyed his Welcome to 2006 Buzz in the passenger seat.

Anywho, so I stay away from fresh alfredo.  And the storebought stuff can be pretty nasty.  So I was so excited to see this recipe that I thought my innards could tolerate.  I halved the original recipe, and it made plenty for three people to eat for dinner with a little left over.  It tasted great (not too heavy!), and I had no aftereffects.  There's a definite garlic flavor - not too strong, but I'd think the amount could be decreased or eliminated (with perhaps a little more salt and some pepper to liven the sauce back up).  I'll be making this again now that a whole world of alfredo dishes has opened up.

1 cup low-fat milk
1/4 cup (2 oz) low-fat cream cheese
1 Tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 Tablespoon butter
2 garlic cloves, minced or crushed
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1) Put milk, cream cheese, flour, and salt in blender.  Process until smooth and set aside.
2) In non-stick medium sauce pan, melt butter on medium-high heat and add garlic.  Saute garlic (slightly bubbly) for about 30 seconds.
3) Add milk mixture to pan. Stir constantly for 3-4 minutes or until just simmering. Keep stirring and let cook for a few minutes more until noticeably thicker.
4) Remove pan from heat. Add Parmesan cheese, stir, and cover immediately. Let stand for at least 10 minutes before using (it will continue to thicken).

Notes: I may try adding a few diced tomatoes and their juice just to experiment with flavors.

Kid Participation:
* Add ingredients to blender
* Push buttons on blender (and teach them about the importance of holding their hand on the lid)


Creamy Fruit Freeze

Original Recipe HERE

Summertime, with its abundant fresh fruit, makes me want to take advantage of nature's bounty.  However, my family doesn't always consume mass quantities (of the size that makes a pick-your-own outing worthwhile) quickly enough, and some goes bad.  Except blueberries.  *N* can eat those by the truckload; I should've named her Veruca.  I know I can freeze it, and I sometimes do - but usually in pureed form to add to plain yogurt or smoothies later on.  Those options were getting a little old, so I thought I'd try this recipe.

I didn't have enough fresh fruit varities that seemed like they'd combine well, so I used a frozen bag of mixed berries and cherries from Trader Joe's.  The end result was a lovely treat.  It didn't have the "airy-ness" of good ice cream, but it had a melt-in-your-mouth quality that I really liked (because, obviously, it's frozen, so it's going to melt...but I couldn't think of a better description).  I added a few spoonfuls to some smoothies, and it gave them a richer texture - funny, since I had been feeling burned out on smoothies-made-of-frozen-fruit.  This isn't healthy, but it's super easy.  And at least you know it's not full of scary-sounding additives, artificial flavors, and suspicious colors.

2 cups berries or diced fruit, fresh or frozen (thawed)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

1) Combine fruit and sugar in a food processor or blender.  Process until smooth.
2) In mixing bowl, whip heavy whipping cream until soft-medium peaks form.
3) Gently fold whipped cream into puree just until combined.
4) Place in a freezer safe container and freeze until firm (about 2-4 hours). Scoop into bowls for 6 small servings.

Notes: Next time I'll combine the puree and cream more thoroughly.  It had a marbelized look before being frozen, so I'll go for a more uniform appearance.

Kid Participation
* Pour fruit and sugar into food processor
* Mix puree and whipped cream together


Whole Wheat Oat Pancakes

Original Recipe HERE

I had some buttermilk in the fridge for a meal I'd planned to make.  But I didn't save the link in my "This Week" folder, so I couldn't remember for the life of me what the buttermilk's intended purpose was.  So pancakes it was.

These were really good.  I like that they aren't loaded with butter or sugar, and they have plenty of whole wheat flour and oats.  I used fat-free buttermilk, so while I de-healtified them by drowning them in butter and syrup, I didn't feel quite so guilty as I might've.  The texture is really moist on the inside, which I'm assuming is due to letting the oats soak in buttermilk.

The original recipe says it makes 4 individual pancakes, which wouldn't be nearly enough for us.  So I doubled the recipe and got 18 to 20 medium-sized ones.  We kept them in the fridge and finished them up over the next two days (I was too lazy to freeze them, and I welcomed the opportunity to get out of my cereal-every-morning rut).  Some prep work can be done the night before (like mixing the dry ingredients), thus making the creation of a "real" breakfast (instead of just bowls of the aforementioned cereal) seem more do-able.

3/4 cup quick-cooking oats
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk, divided
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 Tablespoon packed brown sugar

1) Soak oats in 3/4 cup buttermilk for 10 minutes.
2) Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in large bowl.
3) Whisk egg, butter, brown sugar, remaining 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk, and oat mixture together.  Pour into dry ingredients and stir until just combined.
4) Heat skillet over medium heat until hot and lightly brush with oil. Pour 1/4 cup batter per pancake onto skillet and cook until bubbles appear on surface and undersides are golden-brown (about 1 minute).  Flip with a spatula and cook other side, about 1 minute more.

Notes: The original says you can serve it with sliced bananas, which I'll try.

Kid Participation:
* Measure & whisk dry ingredients.
* Measure & whisk wet ingredients.

Linguini with Bacon, Spinach, and Chicken

Original Recipe HERE

This is an easy pasta dish that I embellished a bit.  To make it even easier, just follow the original recipe.  But I didn't have the makings for garlic bread, I didn't feel like making biscuits, and my go-to of a spinach salad would be redundant due to already having the leafy green stuff in the main dish.  So I wanted to make this into a heartier one-dish meal.

As always, I salted the pasta water.  However, since you use some of that cooking water in the final product, that was a mistake.  The food tasted great, but it was too salty.  The bacon provides plenty of that flavor, and the grease serves the same purpose as the salt (keeping the pasta from sticking).

3/4 lb of linguini
6 to 12 oz fresh spinach
1/2 cup chopped red onion
8 slices bacon
4 oz sliced mushrooms [I used baby bella], rinsed and patted dry
2 chicken breasts, cooked and chopped into bite-size pieces
Salt and pepper to taste

1) Boil water for pasta.  Cook pasta while preparing rest of meal.  Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid before draining.
2) Cook bacon in skillet large enough to hold entire meal.  Set aside to drain on paper towel.  When cool, crumble or thinly slice.
3) Use a paper towl to wipe / absorb some of bacon grease from pan if desired.
4) In same skillet used for bacon, saute red onion and mushrooms in bacon grease until translucent.
5) Add spinach and saute until wilted.
6) Add chicken, drained pasta, bacon, and 1/4 cup of pasta water to skillet.  Add additional pasta water if preferred.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Notes: Just to not salt the pasta water.

Kid Participation
* Break linguini noodles in half.
* Eat extra bacon slices.


Whole Wheat Waffles with Oats

Original Recipe HERE

I love homemade waffles.  They're 200% better than any of the storebought ones.  And the great thing is that I usually have a few leftover ones that go into the freezer and can be enjoyed on subsequent mornings. 

I had planned on making a buttermilk waffle recipe that's an old stand-by in my kitchen.  But I realized that morning that I had no all-purpose flour.  I considered just substituting wheat flour and hoping for the best, but it seemed like too much of a risk.  At least not one I was willing to take while craving waffles and therefore would be really pissed off if I had to go without.  Luckily they turned out well - denser than the average waffle, but (probably due to the oats) not tough or dry.  I got two large (meaning 8 smaller) waffles by doubling the original recipe.  The amounts below are the doubled ones, and a few ingredient tweaks were made - so see the original to compare and make substitutions to suit your preferences.

2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup quick cook oats
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
4 Tablespoons sugar
1 to 2 teaspoons cinnamon [optional]
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg [optional]
1teaspoon vanilla extract
2 whole eggs
4 Tablespoons apple sauce [or canola oil]
3/4 cup plus 2 Tablepoons milk
3/4 cup buttermilk

1) Preheat waffle iron.
2) Mix dry ingredients together in large bowl.
3) In separate bowl, whisk wet ingredients.  Pour into dry ingredients in several batches; thoroughly combine.
4) Spray waffle iron with non-stick spray.  Ladle batter into waffle iron and follow iron's instructions for cooking.

Notes: Next time I'll mess around with the substitutions and amounts just to compare.

Kid Participation:
* Measure dry ingredients
* Whisk dry ingredients together
* Crack eggs
* Whisk wet ingredients together
* Whisk all ingredients together

Cream Biscuits with Blueberry Topping

Original Recipe HERE

My mom brought several pounds of freshly picked blueberries on her most recent visit, and my first instinct was to made them into a dessert.  Without much time to spend on making them, and not wanting to go to the store to buy ingredients, I tried this recipe.  Without any butter in it, I was concerned that they'd be too light - fine for some occasions, but I prefer a denser biscuit for shortcake.  These were a great solution.  It yielded 7 biscuits that were 3" each and one mini-biscuit for *N*.  To serve, I split it in half, scooped mascerated blueberries on top, and added an unhealthy amount of Redi-Whip (yes, taking the lazy route).

Ingredients for Cream Biscuits
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the surface
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Ingredients for Blueberries
2 cups fresh blueberries
1/4 cup sugar
3 Tablespoons lemon juice

1) Add blueberries, sugar, and lemon juice to small sauce pan.  Allow to simmer until some blueberries begin to burst and reach a thick syrup-like consistency (leave some blueberries whole).  Taste-test and add more sugar or lemon juice if desired.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.
2) Preheat oven to 425°F.  Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
3) Sift two cups flour, baking powder, salt and sugar into large bowl.
4) Fold in 1 1/4 cups cream. If dough is not soft or easily handled, fold in remaining 1/4 cup cream, little by little.
5) Turn dough onto floured surface, mound into a ball and, using your hands, press it to a thickness of about 3/4 inch.
6) Cut into rounds approximately 2.5" diameter and arrange on baking sheet at least 1" apart.  Gather dough scraps and continue to make rounds.
7) Bake until golden, 12 to 15 minutes.

Notes: None!

Kid Participation:
* Add dry ingredients
* Whisk dry ingredients
* Measure and add blueberries (watch for kidnapped berries)
* Press out dough
* Cut biscuit rounds


Coconut Banana Bread with Lime Glaze

Original Recipe HERE

I had this on my "to try" list for a long time, but it kept getting bumped because I thought it might be just another banana bread recipe and nothing to get excited about.  But I had another case of Browning Bananas, and since I always have all the ingredients for this on hand, I decided to go for it one night.  So glad I did.

I considered skipping the glaze, because I'm not always a fan of lime flavoring, but luckily I didn't.  It brings the bread "to another level" (for lack of a better way to say it).  I think this would be even better as muffins, since you'd get a hint of lime in almost every bite, as well as some of the toasted coconut (because the coconut flavor of the bread wasn't very pronounced - all I tasted was banana).  The bread was moist without being gummy or having that combination of slightly-undercooked texture in the middle and a little too browned on the edges.  Definitely a do-again.

Update: These turned out fabulously as muffins.  I baked them for 22 minutes and got 18 muffins.  I made extra glaze and used it all.  Also, since the coconut flavor in the bread wasn't easily detectable the first time, I added half a teaspoon of coconut extract to the batter when making muffins.  I don't know how much it changed the taste, but it certainly didn't harm it.

* For Bread:
2 cups white flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup white sugar
1/4 cup (4 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups mashed ripe bananas (about 4 large bananas)
1/4 cup sour cream or plain yogurt [I used light sour cream]
3 Tablespoons apple juice or milk [I used 2% milk]
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup shredded coconut
2 Tablespoons shredded coconut (for topping)
* For Glaze:
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 Tablespoons lime juice (fresh preferred)

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease 9x5" loaf pan (or spray with non-stick spray).  Line bottom with parchment for added ease of bread removal.
2) Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt.
3) Mash banana.
4) In large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar until blended. Add eggs and beat to combine.
5) Add banana, sour cream or yogurt, apple juice or milk, and vanilla. Beat until blended.
6) Add flour mixture and beat on low speed until just combined. Stir in 1/2 cup coconut.
7) Pour batter into loaf pan. Sprinkle additional 2 Tablespoons coconut on top.
8) Bake 60 minutes or until knife or skewer inserted in center comes out clean, but check bread after about 40 minutes. If top has browned and coconut pieces look toasted, cover top of bread lightly with piece of foil. Continue baking until done.
9) Remove loaf pan from oven and place on cooling rack for 10 minutes.  Carefully remove bread from pan and place back on cooling rack with piece of wax paper (or foil, parchment, or paper towel) underneath rack.
10) Thoroughly whisk powdered sugar and lime juice together.  Use a spoon to drizzle glaze over top, letting excess drip below. Cool for another 15 minutes before slicing.
Kid Participation:
* Whisk dry ingredients
* Mash banana
* Crack eggs
* Add coconut to batter and stir
* Sprinkle coconut as topping
* Whisk glaze
* Drizzle glaze (if you don't mind it being very unevenly distributed)


Watermelon Sugar Cookies

Original Recipe HERE

Can you tell which one she decorated?

We made these on a whim after seeing their picture in a blog sidebar.  We had all the ingredients, and it seemed like something *N* would enjoy doing because don't all kids like food-that-looks-like-something-it's-not?  They were somewhat time-consuming, but they can be broken up into steps throughout the day: 1) make dough, 2) make cookies, 3) glaze cookies.  The two difficulties I had were that rolling out the dough between two sheets of parchment made it slide all over the counter.  Perhaps there's a better method, but I didn't bother figuring it out - just held the paper steady with one hand and awkwardly used the roller with the other.  Also, I worked as fast as I could when cutting out shapes and applying chocolate chips, but the dough still got somewhat soft and a little tricky to transfer because I didn't put the cookies on the baking sheets until after the chips were on.

I used the sugar cookie recipe listed in the original recipe, I'd think any other could be substituted.  I doubt it's possible to make healthy sugar cookies, but the amount of butter and sugar in these things had me on the phone to pre-arrange a triple bypass for next week.  Still, they were a nice treat and a fun "novelty food" to bring to a summer party.  Husband brought most of them to work, and he emailed me to tell me comments included, "These are very good," "Bakery quality!," and "Can I have another?" The recipe yielded approximately 36 cookies.

Ingredients for Cookies
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 Tablespoon slices
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 drops red food coloring
1 cup miniature semi-sweet morsels

Ingredients for Glaze
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 1/2 Tablespoons milk
15-20 drops green food coloring

1) In medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
2) Add butter slices, sugar, eggs, vanilla, and red food coloring to mixing bowl. Beat on medium speed until incorporated (don't be concerned if there are small lumps of butter still visible).
3) Turn mixer to low and gradually add flour mixture. Mix until incorporated and no traces of flour are left. Gather all dough together using a sturdy rubber spatula.
4) Remove dough from bowl and separate into two batches. Place one batch between 2 sheets of parchment paper and roll out to 1/4" thick. Repeat with other batch. Chill in refrigerator for at least 2 hours.
5) Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and have baking sheets (lined with silicon baking mat or parchment) ready.
6) Remove one batch of rolled dough from refrigerator. Cut out circles with cookie cutter or biscuit cutter, then cut each circle in half.
7) Place halves on baking sheet about 1" apart.  Gently press chips into each half to resemble seeds.
8) Bake 6-8 minutes, checking after 6.  Cookies should be slightly puffed but not browned at all on edges.  Remove from oven and allow to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes.  Transfer to cooling rack to cool completely.
* For each batch of dough, after cutting out the circles, gather the scraps together and reroll them, place back in the refrigerator. Repeat until all dough has been used. [I didn't put dough back in the fridge because I needed to get them all done quickly]
9) In small bowl, whisk together all ingredients to form glaze.  Add drops of milk to thin glaze if too thick.
10) Cover counter with wax paper and place cooling racks over paper to catch drips. Roll round end of each cookie in glaze, allow excess to drip off into bowl, and place on cooling rack.  Allow glaze to set before transferring.

Notes: I used a drinking cup (because our cookie cutters seem to have been misplaced since we moved) that was about 3.5" diameter to cut out the shapes.  Next time I'll use a smaller one.  Also, I used 10 drops of green food coloring - approximately, since *N* squeezed the bottle so fast I couldn't count.  The green looked vibrant enough in the bowl, but on the cookies it wasn't bright enough.  Next time I'll use more.

Kid Participation
* Whisk dry ingredients
* Crack eggs
* Roll dough
* Cut out shapes
* Apply chips (watch for grabbing handfuls of chips at once and ending up with a mess of half-melted chips in each palm)


Roasted Roma Tomatoes

Original Recipe HERE

I wasn't sure how these were going to turn out.  I was practically salivating on the keyboard after looking at the pictures and reading the description.  However, I'm not a big fan of sundried tomatoes...and if these were anything like them, I was going to be really disappointed because so much anticipation had been built up.  Thankfully, they were incredibly good: very flavorful, an appealing texture, and easy to make - and eat.  We didn't do anything special; grabbing them with our hands and consuming each wedge whole was our modus operandi.  The entire batch was gone before the night was over.

A note about the cooking time: I had them in the oven for about four hours, but we spontaneously decided to visit a local park.  Not wanting to leave the oven running, I jacked up the heat to 400 for the 10 minutes it took us to get ready, and I turned the oven off completely just before we left.  When I checked after getting home two hours later, a few tomatoes were a little more blackened than others, but nothing was inedible.  So Husband's insistence we go do something fun as a family didn't spoil dinner.

10 to 14 Roma tomatoes
1/3 cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves
salt (kosher, preferably)
spices [I used oregano and basil]
1/2 to 1 Tablespoon sugar

1) Preheat oven to 200 degrees F.
2) Finely mince garlic cloves.  Add to olive oil and let sit.
3) Slice tomatoes into 8 wedges per tomato.
4) Arrange tomato wedges on baking sheet, skin side down.  Brush with garlic and olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, spices, and sugar.
5) Bake for 4-6 hours.  Can be stored in refrigerator.

Notes: Next time I'll use 1/4 cup olive oil because some of the wedges were too saturated with it.  I mostly solved that problem by putting them on a plate lined with a paper towel and patting them on top with another one.  Also, I'll try to plan ahead so that a consistent cooking temperature is maintained.

Kid Participation:
* Arrange tomato wedges on baking sheet
* Brush wedges with olive oil
* Sprinkle wedges with various spices and sugar