The holidays are upon us.  Anticipating a busy couple of weeks, we have transformed our home into a full-fledged  Christmas scene.  The tree is up, Santa Lucia is perched on the buffet, and the winter mugs in the morning coffee rotation.  While trying to convince the over-eager children that it is too early to start hanging ornaments on the advent calendar (whose idea was it anyway to decorate for Christmas in November?), we have been brainstorming ideas for edible holiday gifts.

I love making edible gifts for just about any occasion. Cooking for others is a way to treat those we appreciate with a delicious treat and share a bit of ourselves in the process.  It is best to plan ahead and start cooking early so that the making and giving does not become a stressful burden.  Riding the food hangover following Thanksgiving, our first foodie gift to make was Cranberry Cashew Granola Bars.

These granola bars are just sweet enough to count as a treat, but full of wholesome ingredients so they are also right at home in your little one’s school lunch bag.  The bars hold together pretty well, better than other granola bars I have tried.  Any crumbly bits taste tremendous sprinkled atop yogurt and fruit for breakfast.  Feel free to change up the types of nuts and dried fruit, just be sure to use equal quantities.  If you are using roasted nuts or toasted wheat germ, do not toast them again in the oven, instead add those items to the bowl with the cranberries.

Read the rest of this entry »

About these ads

Nothing says fall like winter squash… and apples… and walnuts, so clearly this is the perfect side dish to make NOW.  We are big fans of butternut squash around here, check out the Butternut and Black Bean Salad from last year.  This year though, somehow butternut squash never made it into the ground and we are the happily storing quite a few acorn squashes that took their place in the planting beds.  There are lots of fun ways to cook up these beautiful treats, but my favorite is to make Acorn Squash Rings with Apple Glaze.

Take care in slicing the squash, as that is as good a way as any to loose a finger.  It helps to take a small slice off of one side, then place the cut side down.  That will give the squash some stability as you hack into it.  Scoop out the membrane and seeds and they are ready to steam.  Do not forget to try on some squash glasses for size!  Note: at least with my kids, they are more likely to eat the veggies if they have a hand in making/playing with them! (For more ideas on getting kids to eat their veggies check out this post.)

This recipe is not mine and if you look you will find many versions on the web.  While that may be a turn-off to some, I say it is evidence of a great recipe that is worth sharing.  My version uses non-clarified butter and less of it, but otherwise it is basically the same.  The tender squash soaks in the sweet and tangy apple glaze and the candied walnuts add a pleasant crunch.  These rings look beautiful on the plate, making it great for a weeknight dinner or special enough for a holiday. My mother-in-law first introduced me to this yummy dish with asparagus laced through the centers of the rings (as you will find is the most common version.)    I opted not to include the asparagus this time (there is no chance of finding local asparagus in October), but love the way they make this into a truly elegant side dish.  If we have any squash leftover in springtime, I will definitely add them in.  The acorn squash rings are attractive enough to stand on their own, or fill the centers with a scoop of wild rice or stuffing.

Read the rest of this entry »

Yes, it is true, my kids eat their vegetables.  No, not every vegetable, every time, but they do eat them and what is more they like them.  They even ask for them.  So you do not peg my family and sweet little munchkins as social and culinary oddities, I thought I would let you in on a couple of tricks that I am convinced have helped me to raise two kids who are not afraid of vegetables.

1.  Serve different kinds of vegetables, often.

Though there are certain vegetables that my kids will almost always eat (sweet peas, cucumbers, broccoli), I am careful to serve other types of vegetables frequently as well.  I find that the more I mix of the types of veggies and the way I prepare them, the more likely they are to try different tastes.  Though I never force them to eat anything, I do encourage them to try a bite.  For the most part, I ignore them if they say they do not like something. What they do not like on a certain day, they may love the next.  Keep at it.

2.  Eat vegetables yourself and let them see you.

As a general rule, I figure I should be eating more vegetables than my kids, if I expect them to eat veggies at all.  I pile on the salads and extra servings of vegetables and make sure they notice.

3. Catch them when they are hungry.

There is little chance my kids (or anyone else’s for that matter) are going to eat a pile of broccoli, when they have already consumed two bowls of mac and cheese or another preferable kid food.  In the hour before dinner when my son is loitering in the kitchen complaining that he is “starving”, I like to put out a big plate of fresh raw veggies.  Both he and my daughter will polish off  surprisingly large servings of carrots, cucumbers, peas, broccoli, celery, etc. as they are waiting for dinner.  After that, I do not worry too much if they happen to pick at their dinner vegetables.

4.  Let them pick which vegetable to buy or cook.

When kids have the choice of which vegetable to eat, they are in control and may be more likely to actually eat it.  Often at the farmers’ market or grocery store, I allow each child to pick out a vegetable.  Often they surprise me with their choices (cauliflower, jicama), but almost without fail, they will gobble up their selection.

5.  Vegetables should taste good.

Take the time to serve fresh, seasonal vegetables raw or cooked in a way that fits that food.  Vegetables should taste delicious, just as the other parts of the meal should.  Taste it, if it tastes good to you, it probably will to them as well.  If the vegetable is overcooked or underseasoned, you cannot really blame your kids for not eating it.

Green and Brown Spaghetti is my kids only favorite way to eat zucchini.  As any gardener knows, there is never a shortage of zucchini in the summertime.  When recently both kids announced that they did not like zucchini (or ma-chini as my daughter calls it) I knew it was time to break out this favorite from last season.  In this recipe, the zucchini is cut very long and thin to resemble spaghetti.  I picked up the technique from Smitten Kitchen last year.  Instead of cooking the zucchini, the hot cooked pasta is simply drained over the zucchini in a colander.  The zucchini becomes just slightly tender, while still maintaining a good bite.  Tossed with a bit of fresh pesto, it is a huge hit with our kids, but is certainly not a “kid food.”  You can be proud to serve this to hungry eaters (and veggie-phobes) of all ages.

Read the rest of this entry »

It is birthday season in our family.  By some lucky roll of the dice, almost every member of our family was born between April and August.  We celebrate the birth of someone every couple of weeks, usually with the a candle topped Chocolate Birthday Cake.

This cake began as my own personal favorite.  I, like many, am a huge fan of chocolate. I am fairly certain that my birthday cake was chocolate for at least the first 25 years of my life (perhaps longer).   About 5 years ago, I came across this recipe for chocolate cake from Ina Garten.  Since then, I have made it countless times.

Imagine my delight when this cake became a favorite for my family as well!  This year already, I have made it five times.  In fact I have made it so much that I was reluctant when asked to make the most recent batch. I thought-  Hadn’t we already eaten that cake enough this season?  There are so many other good cakes to try.  But then I whipped up the batter, baked the cake, and tried a sample crumb, shhhhh.  This cake tastes sooo good! I would happily sign on to many more years of baking this exact cake.

Chocolate Birthday Cake is rich, chocolately, and incredibly moist.  The buttermilk gives it a pleasant tang and the last minute addition of brewed coffee deepens the delightful chocolate flavor.  As with any chocolate dish, it will be as good as the cocoa you use.  I prefer Ghiradelli or Scharfen Berger. The frosting choice will create the identity of the cake.  Mocha Buttercream is the frosting I most often pair with the cake.   I have also made it with vanilla buttercream and strawberry buttercream.  Really, you cannot go wrong.  This cake is absolutely decadent and delicious.  The very definition of a chocolate cake.  It is perfect for a birthday or any time you need a good chocolate fix.

Chocolate Birthday Cake

from Ina Garten

makes 1 8-inch layer cake

Parchment paper for lining pans

Butter for greasing pans

1 3/4 cup all- purpose flour, plus more for dusting pans

2 cups sugar

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I use Ghiradelli)

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 eggs, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter 2 8-inch round cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment.  Dust pans with flour.

Sift together the dry ingredients into a large bowl: flour, sugar cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  In a separate bowl, mix buttermilk, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla.  Pour wet ingredients into dry and mix until just combined.  Pour in the hot coffee and mix until it is incorporated.  Be sure to scrape down sides and bottom to ensure all the flour mixture is thoroughly moistened. Batter will look very thin.

Pour batter evenly into the 2 prepared pans.  Slide pans in the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Place pans on a cooling rack and let sit for 10 minutes.  Slide a knife around the inside edge of each pan to loosen the cake, then invert onto the cooling racks.  Peel the parchment off the bottom.  Let cakes cool completely before frosting.

Lay one layer, flat side up on your cake plate or stand.  Spread a layer of frosting over the top.  Place the second cake round on the frosting, flat side up.  Apply a generous amount of frosting to the top of the cake.  Spread the frosting over the top and down the sides.  Finish by filling in any places where the cake is exposed and smoothing the top and sides with a spatula.  If the frosting is too loose, put it in the refrigerator and allow it to set up before spreading.  The frosted cake can be kept on the counter until ready to serve.  If it is a very hot day, keep it in the refrigerator to prevent the frosting from weeping.

Note:

Unfrosted cakes can be made ahead and frozen.  After they are completely cool, wrap tightly in plastic and freeze for  up to three months.  Be careful not to place anything onto of the cakes.  Even though they are frozen, then are still delicate and will crush easily.

For a larger cake and crowd, you can double the recipe.  I have done this successfully many times.

Mocha Buttercream

adapted from Mollie Katzen’s Vegetable Heaven

makes enough for 1 8-inch layer cake

1 cup butter, at room temperature

3 1/2 cups powdered sugar

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup fresh coffee, cooled

Cream the butter.  Add the vanilla and mix.  Sift in the cocoa and sugar (Do not forget to sift.  If you add lumps in at this point, they are almost impossible to remove).  Add the coffee and beat.  It may appear curdled or separated at first.  Continue beating frosting until it is fully incorporated, light, and fluffy.  Spread on cake.

Here is a printer-friendly version of the recipes:

Chocolate Birthday Cake and Mocha Buttercream

You may also like:

Satsuma Vanilla Upside-down Cake

Chocolate Pudding

Fava Leaf Pesto

April 29, 2011

Each winter we grow favas, more for their ability to fix nitrogen into our garden beds, than to eat.  We usually have one meal involving the fava beans and then till the plants into the soil or add them to our compost.  If you read Sunset magazine, you may have noticed that they have featured fava leaf recipes in the past few issues. I had no idea you could eat the leaves!  Actually the leaves are quite delicious and since our plants are four feet tall, there are plenty of them to eat!

The other day, my kids and I set off to the garden, basket and scissors in hand, to pick some fava beans and leaves.  Our mission was to make pesto.  Pesto is one of my their favorite foods.  They love to eat it, but even more so, they love to make it with me.  They are old enough now that  their “help”  actually is help, but not so old that they do not want to help anymore.  We collected a basket of fava leaves and as many beans as we could (ours are still a little on the small side).   The kids then went to work happily shelling the beans, as I picked the leaves from the stem.  Together we pureed the leaves with garlic, walnuts, and parmesan with the kids taking turns pressing the buttons on the food processor.  The munchkins also had the job of quality control, testing out the pesto on a toasted slice of bread.

Fava Leaf Pesto has a bright spinachy flavor with hints of artichoke.  The intense green color is superb! I tossed it with some hot linguine and topped the bowl with a scattering of blanched baby fava beans and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese.  My son announced, “I’m definitely having more.  I could eat this forever!” Not a bad endorsement.  If you do not not have a crop of favas in your backyard, check the farmers’ market.  We will definitely make this pesto again!

Read the rest of this entry »

Oatmeal Jam Bars

April 22, 2011

With Easter around the corner, the house is a buzz with preparations for the Easter bunny.  The chickens are busy laying eggs, the kids are dying them and collecting greens from the garden to leave for a bunny snack.  As the Easter bunny’s executive assistant, I have collected some items for the bunny to present the children.  We  (the grown-ups at least) are not big on candy in our house (especially when the kids would presumably start eating it upon rising and discovering their baskets.)

So this year, there are books, stickers, and as a compromise, a small cache of jelly beans.  I wanted there to be something special as well, something beautiful, exciting, sweet, but not so over the top that I would cringe as my kids ripped into them at 7 am.  Ah ha!  This year the Easter Bunny takes up baking!

Strolling through the supermarket aisles, I found a large cookie cutter in the shape of an egg.  Inspired, I sought out a recipe for an oat bar which I would top with jam to create a colorful egg-shaped cookie bar.  After an extensive search, I settled on a recipe for Raspberry Breakfast Bars from Deb at Smitten Kitchen.  Since my pantry is still full of jam, I adapted the recipe to skip the raspberry filling (though it looks quite good and I may revisit it in raspberry season) and use my homemade jam instead.  I also added coconut flakes to the crust, just because I am on a coconut kick right now.
The real trick here was to figure out a way to make sure the jam would show through.  The original recipe calls for the crumb topping to cover the entire bar, but I wanted colorful polka dots of jam.  To accomplish this, I  tried multiple methods and settled on dotting the top of the crust with jam.  Once cool, I cut them into egg shapes and bagged them individually for the Easter bunny to present.  Mmmm, the smell of these bars is out of control.

Read the rest of this entry »

Buttermilk Berry Scones

April 20, 2011

My little man turned 5…  I know, its huge!  His preschool honored him with the sweetest  (and most scientific) of ceremonies in which he holds a globe and walks around a candle, representing the sun, the number of times the earth has circled the sun since his birth.  Ah, the true meaning of a birthday!  Love it.  Of course, after the ceremony he shared a birthday snack with his friends.  This is always a challenge as the school has a no-sugar policy.  Actually, I love that they restrict sugar and encourage healthy, organic, whole foods.  I am glad that he is not gorging himself on sweets every time a classmate has a birthday.  Still, I wanted to make him something that still felt and tasted like a treat.  Though he asked for berry muffins, I opted for Buttermilk  Berry Scones.  Scones are easier to adapt for low or no sugar than muffins.

This scone recipe is my favorite, I have made it many, many times with different fruit and nut additions.  Once, years ago, I accidentally made it without the sugar.  They still tasted great!  That is what gave me the idea to make these delicious scones, packed full with berries, but without the forbidden sugar.  Wait, don’t get scared off, I have included the sugar in the recipe below for those of you with a sweet tooth.  Plus, these are nowhere near guilt free.  They are made with a literal pile o’ butter.  See…

The beauty of this recipe is that it is incredibly versatile.   Mix the batter with fresh fruit or dried.  Add seeds and nuts on a whim.  Include the sugar for a traditional breakfast scone or leave it out to make a savory dinner scone.  You can cut them up in many different ways.  Usually, I make a rectangular shaped slab and cut the scones into triangles.  This time my little big guy used a biscuit cutter to make mini scone circles to share with his classmates.  These scones are really easy to make and always turn out great.  Plus, despite the aforementioned pile o’ butter, this recipe is actually lighter than others you may find that keep the butter and use cream in the place of the buttermilk.  This biggest reason to make these though, is that they are delicious, no matter what you do.  Serve them for your friends, they will thank you!

Buttermilk Berry Scones

adapted from Bon Appetit

makes 12 scones

3 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup sugar- plus 1 1/2 Tablespoon to sprinkle on top (omit for a savory scone)

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup chilled unsalted butter, diced

1 cup buttermilk- plus 1 Tablespoon to brush on top

1 1/2 cup frozen berries (or other additions)

1 1/2 Tablespoon Meyer lemon zest

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or baking mat.

Sift together dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt)in a large bowl.  Work the butter into the dough until pieces are the size of small peas.  You may use your hands, a pastry cutter, or pulse using a  food processor.  Toss berries in flour mixture.  Mix lemon zest and buttermilk.  Pour buttermilk mixture into flour/berry mixture.  Use a spoon to mix until a dough ball forms.  Turn dough out onto a board and gently knead one or two times to fully incorporate the ingredients.  Flatten into a 1 inch tall slab and cut to your desired shape.  (For a traditional triangular scone, press into a slab 4 x 12 inches.  Cut the dough at angles across the shortest width of the rectangle to create triangles.)

Place scones on prepared baking sheet. Brush tops with reserved buttermilk and sprinkle with reserved sugar (for sweet scone).   Bake for 18-22 minutes, depending on the size of the scone.  Pull from the oven when scones are lightly golden brown.  Transfer to a wire rack and cool for 10 minutes.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Here is a printer friendly version of the recipe: Buttermilk Berry Scones

You may also like:

Crepes with Lemon Curd and Warm Berry Sauce

Easy Cranberry Bread

Buckwheat Blueberry Pancakes

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 335 other followers

%d bloggers like this: