Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Simple Sweet Potato Fries

I love that my kids love Sweet Potato Fries.  I love it even more when I make them from scratch rather than buying the bag of frozen fries that are so temptingly easy to prepare.  The great thing is that my kids like the ones I make more.  I think it is totally amazingly fantastic whenever I hear them say to their friends that homemade is best!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Memorial Day Blessings

I look out at the serenity of my world on this Sunday before Memorial Day and feel blessed.  Providence has brought me a life less ordinary and I feel blessed and thankful for those that have come before me and influenced my life's path.

Reflection is an important part of daily life for me, and it is even more important on these weekends that tend to become a whirlwind of activity.  Most of our weekend will be taken up with social events, household chores and some much needed R&R.  Memorial Day, however, is to be a time for reflection and an opportunity to honor those that have gone before us with the intent of making the world a better and safer place.  I am pleased that my kids will be taking part in a parade to honor this tradition, and it is a tradition that spans the globe.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Balsamic Strawberry Glace Pie

 When I was a child, the changing of the seasons was marked in part by the behavior of the adults in my community.  The early spring was marked by increasing anxiety and activity as one of the earlier crops that would come to market was the strawberry.  The name of the fruit comes in part from how it is grown.  Small tender plants that lie close to the ground, straw mounded over before the winter sets in to prevent them from being destroyed in the deep freeze of winter.  As winter turned to spring, many a child in the strawberry growers family remembers the days spent playing quietly while dad sleeps as his nights were devoted to watching the thermometer.  The farmer ready to go out into the frosty night to turn on the irrigation systems.  The water providing a coating of ice over the plants and flowers - a counter intuitive ploy that helps to insulate the plant from the freezing temperatures.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Fruit and Oat Squares

Woo hoo - here goes my first time participating in the Improv Challenge.  Thanks to Frugal Antics for inspiring me to give it a go.  This months recipe challenge was cinnamon and sugar.   Yum.  How could you go wrong trying to create a cinnamon and sugar entry into this challenge.  

Well - first off by missing the deadline!

My memory was that the posting deadline was today, but in reviewing the email it was actually yesterday, or EARLY today.  However, my efforts were such a success with my family, I'm going to try entering anyway.

Earlier this week I succeeded in preparing a couple of recipes involving dried fruit.  I also succeeded in burning up my blender, but the results of my efforts have proved very useful.  The fruit paste and natural laxative mixture worked great in my Smooth Move Black Bean Brownie recipe.  I was curious how it would work in an old favorite Fruit Square recipe that I haven't made in ages.

Super Simple Sugar Cookies

I love decorating things.

I love simplicity even more.

This week I needed to provide a sweet treat for a kid's pizza party.  I have been hoarding a couple of pouches of sugar cookie mix in the pantry, but wanted to prepare something a little more special than just plain sugar cookies.  I surveyed my pantry further and found some leftover sprinkles from a birthday party, and some pink sugar left over from Valentine's Day.  Bingo.  I love it when I can clear out some odds and ends that have been lingering in the cupboard.

Begin by making your favorite sugar cookie recipe,  cheat a little by using a box cookie mix, or cheat a lot by buying the refrigerated cookie dough logs.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Smooth Move Black Bean Brownies

As I disclosed yesterday, I am continually experimenting with recipes that are high in fiber and appealing to kids.  The Fruit Paste and Natural Laxative Mixture recipes that were given to me by my daughters GI doc are good on their own as a substitute for jam, but are especially useful when hidden in recipes, such as the Black Bean Brownies that I make to include in my daughters lunch box for school.

I began experimenting with Black Bean Brownies over a year ago and have tried out several different recipes.  There were aspects of each recipe that I liked, but I wound up creating a hybrid of 2 recipes.  The base recipe that I began with was one that I found at Allrecipes.  Their Black Bean Brownies Recipe was good, but lacked a bit of lightness for my taste.  The addition of instant coffee is brillian, however, as it does help to mask a bit of the bean taste.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

In pursuit of fiber...

Okay.  This post is a bit personal.  I am forever seeking out new and improved ways to sneak high fiber foods into my kids.  I feel like I have been fighting a 5 year battle against my child's gut and I am continually losing.  I want nothing more than to remove laxatives from our lives forever.

In pursuit of that goal, I attempted to make a couple of recipes this week that were included in an educational print out that was given to me by a GI doc.  Most of the pages listed the fiber content of everyday foods, but the last couple of pages included high fiber recipes.  I have been itching to give a couple of them a go and this week I took the chance.

The recipes are very similar and involve transforming dried fruits into a paste - somewhat thicker than a fruit butter.  I started out the morning at the grocery store picking out the ingredients, and hit a bit of sticker shock at the checkout counter.  I had picked up more than $70 worth of dried fruit.  That's  my first disclaimer in regard to these recipes.  Be prepared to shell out or find a less expensive source for dried fruit than the corner grocery store.  I'm thinking that I'll be checking out the dried fruit aisle on the next trip I make to the big box wholesale store.

The second disclaimer is that I burned up my blender in the process of attempting to blend up the sticky goo that resulted.  Granted, the blender was 10 years old, but it was one of those mid-range professional blenders, not a $30 poly carbonate type.  So now I'm in the market for a new blender - which actually makes me smile.  I love picking out new kitchen appliances!

So - for those who are not faint of hear and have a industrial strength blender, or a sturdy food grinder, the end result was worth all of the effort and clean up.  That's my third disclaimer - the resulting paste is a sticky gooey mess.  A yummy gooey mess, but a mess none the less.

Natural Laxative Mixture (from a nutritional hand out provided by the CHOP GI department)

Dried Fruit After Grinding
1 pound raisins
1 pound currents
1 pound prunes
1 pound figs
1 pound dates
1 28 oz container undiluted prune concentrate

Put dried fruit through a grinder.  Mix with prune concentrate in a blender or food processor - very thick.  
Can be frozen in smaller quantities as it makes a large amount.
Dried Fruit Mix After Blending

Note - I could not find undiluted prune concentrate at the corner grocery so used a blueberry pomegranate frozen juice concentrate (12 oz) and added an additional 16 ounces of water.  The resulting mix was very thick and began to do my blender in.  Had to nurse it along by blending in small batches.

Fruit Paste (from a nutritional hand out provided by the CHOP GI department)

2 cups water
10 senna tea bags
1 pound rasins
1 pound dates
1 pound prunes
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice.

Fruit Paste Ingredients After Simmering

Bring 2 cups of water to a boil.  Add Senna Tea Bags.  Add next three ingredients to liquid and simmer 5 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Remove tea bags.  Add brown sugar and lemon juice to fruit and liquid.  Blend mixture together until pureed. Store in refrigerator.  Mixture can be frozen in smaller quantities as it produces a large amount of paste.  

Fruit Paste After Blending/Grinding
Now - I must add that I prepared the Natural Laxative Mixture first.  My blender had already begun overheating but I was hoping that I could nurse it along for a bit more to finish up this recipe.  The smell of burning insulation must have befuddled my brain for I forgot to add the brown sugar and lemon juice.  My blender gave up the ghost completely in mid puree.  I was left with a mix of partially pureed goo that would not suffice for my intended use in other recipes.  I ran the partially pureed mix through my Kitchen Aid food grinder with great success.  

So I now have $70 worth of dried fruit paste in my freezer, with a small portion set aside for use in a couple of recipes that I will be making later this week.  I am hoping that this will help us down the path to regularity.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Dip Baby, Dip!

     Our family loves dips. Dips with chips, dips with veggies, even fruit dips. Over the years we have made a plethora of different dips, but our main go to for weekend noshing or impromptu parties are a quartet of dips that all originate from the same base ingredients.  This makes preparing a variety of dips a breeze when entertaining.

Base Dip:

I prepare a total of 4 cups of base when I'm going to make all 3 dips for a small gathering.  This makes a lot of dip, so reduce (or scale up) as needed.  Each type of dip requires 1 cup of base.

2 cups Mayonnaise
2 cups Sour Cream
1 tsp seasoned salt
Add all ingredients to bowl and mix well.

     The dip that I make the most often in our house is a very simple Avocado dip that we love with pita chips or crackers. It was inspired during our time in Australia when Avocados were a weekly part of our diet.

Avocado Dip

1 cup dip base
1 ripe avocado
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 clove pressed garlic, or 1 teaspoon garlic powder
Additional salt to taste (optional)
Dash pepper (optional)

Cut avocado in half.  Remove large pit.  Scoop flesh of avocado out of peel and place in bowl.  Add lemon juice and garlic.  Mash avocado to desired consistency using a fork or potato masher.  If this step is difficult, your avocado may not have been completely ripe.  I prefer my dip to be relatively lump free, but some may prefer a dip that has chunks of avocado remaining.

Stir prepared dip base into avocado.  Taste for seasoning and add additional salt if desired.  I also add a dash of black pepper.

     My daughter's creation is a Fried Onion dip that was born out of her love for fried onions that we used to purchase at the Ikea food shop. French's fried onions work equally well. It is a point of pride for her that it was born out of her own creativity.  

Fried Onion Dip

1 cup dip base
1/2 cup fried onions
Additional salt or pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients until blended.  Best if left to sit for in the fridge for an hour or more to let the onions soften.

     The dip that we love to pair with raw vegetables is a Dill Dip that my mother used to make in mass quantities for the large family gatherings that were so common in my childhood. I often prepare this for birthday parties and holidays when I'm feeling nostalgic.

Dill Dip

Note - the original recipe calls for Beau Monde Seasoning.  I substitute seasoned salt as I rarely have this seasoning in my pantry.  I did find a nifty recipe to make your own and may try it in the near future.

1 cup dip base
1/2 tablespoon parsley (dry)
1/2 tablespoon dill (dry)
1 clove garlic, pressed (or 1 teaspoon garlic powder)
Onion salt - to taste

Mix above ingredients until well blended.  Best if refrigerated overnight before serving.

     The final dip is inspired by our love for Indian food.  This creamy curry dip is fantastic for a variety of breads, vegetables and is even great for chicken tenders.

Creamy Curry Dip

1 cup dip base
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Dash Cayenne pepper

Mix all ingredients thoroughly.  Best if refrigerated overnight before serving.

      There is nothing more satisfying for me than a casual gathering, whether it be our family gathered around the table on a Saturday afternoon or a great big party.  We have spent many an hour socializing while enjoying these delightfully simple dips. The lovely thing about this quad of dips is that they share the same base making them easy to prepare. 

I feel the whoop coming on...