Cookie Season

It’s on! The cookie swaps and bake sales are in full swing. If you haven’t heard by now, it’s time to start baking for the holidays.

I am not a baker. I repeat, I am not a baker. I admire the people who can make a perfectly crisp chocolate chip cookie or a moist banana bread. And I love when my neighbor comes over with some freshly baked loaf of yumminess. (Hint, hint… hope she is reading this!) My own attempts in the baking department are hit or miss. Sometimes we mix everything right and sometimes the formula is off. But that being said a bad batch of cookies is never completely bad. Anything with so much sugar and butter has some redeeming qualities.

Lately my kids are more interested in shooting hockey pucks than cooking with me so it’s been a challenge getting them in the kitchen. But there are still a few things they love to do and mixing cookie batter is one of them. Although I admit I usually have to bribe them with chocolate chips to pull them away from the net in our basement.

For our holiday baking all three boys wanted to try thumbprint cookies. Being able to stick their fingers into cookie dough really sold them. And they very enthusiastically pressed their fingers all over these cookies. Our baking sheets had to be divided by mine, aka the clean (and neat) side, and theirs, aka the not so clean side.

Our cookies won’t be winning any ribbons but they were good enough for us!

All Fingersprint Cookies (recipe adapted from Martha Stewart)

Ingredients

1 stick unsalted butter, room temp

½ cup plus 2 Tbsp sugar

1 large egg, separated

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour

¼ tsp salt

½ cup blanched almonds

½ cup jam, any flavor

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, beat butter and ½ cup sugar together until light and fluffy. Add egg yolk and vanilla and mix again for about a minute. In a separate bowl whisk together the salt and flour. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until well combined.

In a small food processor pulse the remaining sugar and blanched almonds. Or roughly chop the almonds by hands for a chunkier texture. In a small bowl, lightly beat the egg white.

Form dough into small balls, about 1”. Dip the balls into the egg white and then in almond sugar mixture. Place on baking sheet and make a indentation in the center with your finger.

Bake for 10 minutes, remove from oven, and repress centers again, as the cookies might have changed shape. Fill the center of each with jam. Bake for additional 10-12 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and place on wire rack for cooling.

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And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 7): “Okay, not as good as Oreos”

Liam (age 5): “I can’t remember which thumb is mine”

Dylan (age 5): “MMMMMM”

Full disclosure: I forgot to separate the egg! But as I said, anything with all that butter and sugar can’t go that wrong. So for our recipe we used 1 ½ eggs and they came out pretty tasty.

 

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Bottom Of The Barrel

Wondering what to do with those last few apples at the bottom of the barrel? I had about six bruised and battered apples left from our trip to the orchard. I hated to throw these forgotten few on the compost pile so I decided to make a batch of apple pie topping. This was so easy and it can be used on everything from ice cream to pancakes, to granola.

Apple Pie Topping

Ingredients

1 1/2 Tbsp butter

6 apples, peeled and diced

1 Tbsp brown sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

Pinch of salt

Method

Melt butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the apples to the melted butter and stir to coat. Stir in the brown sugar, cinnamon and a pinch of salt.

Cook until the apples soften but are not mushy, about 5-7 minutes. Serve warm over some pancakes. Or let cool and top your favorite ice cream. Your kids will probably prefer the ice cream option…

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And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 7): “Put mine on the side!”

Liam (age 5): “Thumbs middle”

Dylan (age 5): “Just ice cream!”

Who cares about the verdict – I used up all the apples!!!

Any other ideas for cooking those last few apples? Please share!

Living In A Processed World

For the better part of two years I’ve been trying to feed my kids real food, nothing from a box, but to be honest we fall off the wagon all the time. It’s almost impossible to completely take processed food out of their diet. Unless I want to homeschool my kids or never let them attend a birthday party, it’s pretty hard to avoid. And homeschooling ain’t gonna happen ever!

As a mom of three I get why fast/processed food has become a staple in so many diets. Life is busy, there’s not a lot of time to spend in the kitchen. It’s easy to see that grabbing a box of food from the pantry would be the more desirable choice. But when I read some of the ingredients on those colorful packages it makes me pause. There must be a way to make slow food a little faster…

Take mac & cheese for example. My kids are convinced that the boxed stuff is the “real mac & cheese.” They actually believe that the orange powder is genuine cheese, not a chemical cheese food with a huge list of ingredients I can barely pronounce.

But I think I’ve found a recipe that’s just as easy to make and tastes way better. No boiling pasta required! I can’t take credit for this idea – I saw it in BonAppetit magazine months ago. It’s as close as possible to the “real thing”. And I’m only using ingredients I can pronounce!

“Real” Mac & Cheese (adapted from BonAppetit)

Ingredients

¼ cup butter, unsalted (1/2 stick)

¼ cup flour

3 cups whole milk, or 2%

1 Tbsp kosher salt

½ tsp black pepper

1 lb. elbow or ditalini pasta

2 cups grated cheddar cheese, divided

Method

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium high heat. (Use a large enough pan to hold six cups of liquid.) Add flour to melted butter and whisk together for about a minute.

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Whisk in milk and 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, and cook, stirring often, until sauce gets slightly thick and glossy, about 15 minutes. Stir in salt and pepper, remove from heat.

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Toss pasta and 1 ½ cups of the cheese in a large shallow baking dish.

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Pour milk mixture over the pasta. Do not stir! The pasta should be completely submerged. It will seem like a ton of liquid but don’t worry it will become cheesy and gooey and yummy.

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Cover the pasta with foil and bake until pasta is almost tender, about 20 minutes. Remove foil and sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top. Bake, uncovered until pasta is tender, edges are bubbly, and top is golden brown.

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Let sit for 10 minutes, then dive in!

And the VERDICT is:

We were thrilled to have some guest tasters this week-

Big sis (age 8): “Best mac and cheese ever!”

Little sis (age 5): “Thank you so much – we love it”

Mom: “I’m inhaling it too and I was supposed to start a diet today”

No more boxed mac & cheese for us!

 

 

Stew Leonard’s Brussels Sprouts – Product Review

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We are big into food shopping around here and one store I always love to shop at is Stew Leonard’s. If you’re looking for a weekend activity with your kids, this store is the place to be.

Walking into Stew Leonard’s is very much like walking into a casino. There’s so much going on you don’t’ know where to look first. Buttons to push, food to taste, cows mooing, singing chickens, and a great assortment of groceries stocked on the shelves.

Being asked to taste test one of their products was like winning the roulette wheel. And if going to a supermarket to pick up Brussels sprouts gets your kids excited how awesome is that? The minute we walked into the store the boys were anxious to hit every demo food station there was. They pushed every button and sampled every dish. We ended our shopping excursion with a picnic lunch at the Little Farm (yes, they even have a tiny petting zoo!) followed by some complimentary ice cream.

What makes Stew Leonard’s Brussels sprouts so different from any other market?

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I’ve cooked Brussels sprouts before but the difference in buying them at Stew Leonard’s versus another market is that they sell them washed, cleaned and shaved for you. Not only is most of the labor done for you they also provide a great Brussels sprout recipe on their website. I loved the convenience of this because there are many nights that I don’t have time to slice and dice.

The day we picked up our sample groceries there was also had a station demonstrating a Brussels sprouts recipe (different from the one featured on the website). And to make it even easier all the ingredients needed to cook the demo dish were stocked conveniently at the same station. You don’t have to run around the store looking for all the components, they are all in one spot, ready to go.

The recipe we followed was developed by the chefs at Stew Leonard’s and is featured below:

Not Your Mother’s Brussels Sprouts

Ingredients

4 strips premium bacon, diced

1 Tbsp butter

½ red onion, diced

2 8oz pkgs Stew Leonard’s Shaved Brussels Sprouts

1 oz water

¼ cup maple syrup

Salt & Pepper

 

Method

Add bacon to a large saute pan (very large!), pre-heated at medium-high heat. Render bacon till crisp. Add butter. When melted, add onions and continue to cook until onions are translucent.

Add Brussels sprouts and water. Continue to cook for 2-3 minutes. (Note: We needed to add a few more tablespoons of water. It also took a lot longer than 2-3 minutes to cook down)

Add maple syrup and cook an additional 2-3 minutes and serve.

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And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 6): “It looks disgusting but tastes pretty good”

Liam (age 5): “How many do we have to eat?”

Dylan (age 5): “Brussels sprouts are good but where’s the bacon?”

Would we buy prepackaged, prewashed Brussels sprouts in the future?

Besides the recipe above, there are so many ways to use this product. Simply sauté with olive oil, garlic and salt. Add them to a pasta sauce. Toss them in a salad. Use them as a healthy pizza topping. To be honest, the recipe we made was a little too sweet and rich to eat on a frequent basis but I would definitely stock these in our fridge, especially since my kids did eat them! The convenience factor is always welcome at our house and this product definitely fits the bill. Priced at 3.99 for an 8oz. package.

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Disclaimer: I was not financially compensated for this post. I did receive complimentary products to sample.

Movie Nights

Whenever someone asks me if I have seen the latest film showing in the theatres, the answer is almost always a no. Not only haven’t I seen it I probably haven’t even heard of it. Now ask me about the newest show on Nickelodeon or a specific SpongeBob episode and I am your girl. It’s not that I don’t like going to the movies, it’s actually one of my favorite things to do, it’s just that I don’t relish going with three kids. We usually opt to have movie night at home and here’s why:

Top 5 Reasons to have movie night at home with kids age 6 and under 

5) The movie choice is never your own – anything above a G rating is usually off limits – watching a movie at home means you can sneak into another room and watch some Real Housewives.

4) My kids can never sit through the whole movie so I spend half the time in the lobby trying to amuse them at various points in the showing – at home they can run around to their hearts content.

3) I don’t have to endure nasty looks from people with well-behaved children that sit quietly mesmerized by the screen.

2) Thanks to the modern day wonder of cable TV we have tons of movies to choose from that are included in the cost of our monthly bill.

And the number one reason for not going to the movies with three young children:

1) It costs a #$%^#$%^ fortune! Add in the popcorn and a beverage, for a family of five you are looking at almost 60 dollars. That is A LOT of babysitting time.

So whenever we have movie night at home we make our own popcorn, pick a free movie, get our kids cozy on the couch, and run to watch the latest episode of Homeland on the other TV.

Homemade Microwave Popcorn

This is a great trick for making homemade microwave popcorn. All you need is some paper lunch bags, popcorn kernels, butter, and salt.

Step 1: Fill the bottom of the paper bag with a single layer of kernels, approximately 4 Tbsp. Do not overfill bag or you will be left with lots of un-popped popcorn.

Step 2: Fold down corners of the bag to the center. Then fold the top down about a half-inch from the top.

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Step 3: In a small bowl melt 1 Tbsp of butter in the microwave, about 20-25 seconds, and set it aside.

Step 4: Place the paper bag filled with popcorn in the microwave – topside up. Microwave on high for 2 1/2 – 3 minutes until popcorn pops are about 2 seconds apart.

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Step 5: Pour popcorn into mixing bowl and pour on the melted butter, sprinkle with salt to taste, and toss to combine.

Yield: 4 cups of popcorn. Repeat steps 1-5 for a larger portion.

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Some other flavor options:

Curry popcorn – Add 1 tsp of curry powder to melted butter. Use 1 tsp of spice for every Tbsp of butter. Follow directions above, salt to taste.

Parmesan popcorn – Follow steps 1-5 above. Add 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese before adding the salt. Then salt to taste.

And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 6): “ It needs a little more salt”

Dylan (age 4): “Tastes just like the movies”

Liam (age 4): “I got a pit in mine”

Total cost:  About 75 cents