March 29, 2015

No-Bake Speckled Energy "Eggs"


I admit to being kind of a purist when it comes to sweeteners. I use fruit almost exclusively to sweeten our family's muffins, cookies, and holiday treats. Recently, though, I've been looking longingly at recipes for sticky, no-bake "Energy Bites" like these and these and these, which are sweetened with an amount of honey that I dare say is measured not in tablespoons, but in cups. CUPS. Well, a third of a cup, anyway.

So I put on my substitutions hat. I tried a batch made with dates instead of honey, but the bites crumbled. I tried again, switching up ingredient ratios: Energy Gravel. I was dying to get it right, but I just couldn't.

Finally, I had to do something not-too-easy for me, because I was starting to feel a little haunted by these recipes. I had to just use the flippin' honey.

My kids aren't old enough to say, just use the flippin' honey, Mama! But when they are, I hope they'll help be that voice in our household. Because not only does honey bind together all these beautiful bits of seed and grain with an almost-floral sweetness, it's also one of life's little pleasures, in moderation.

And for an occasional treat, you can't do much better.

Here's what you get in these eggs:
100% whole grains
Whole-food plant protein
Healthy fats from nuts, seeds, and coconut
Antioxidant-rich honey (instead of sugar)

and...
A sweet indulgence you can make with love and share with your kids.

These nutty, chewy eggs are great for an Easter party potluck, or packed in a bento lunch as a dessert treat. And for me, they became part of my parent-education, reminding me to sometimes yield: to be the egg, not the eggshell.


*

No-Bake Speckled Energy "Eggs"
Makes ~ 15 eggs

1 cup rolled oats
2/3 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds, coarsely ground*
1/2 cup smooth natural peanut butter
1/3 cup mini dark chocolate chips
1/3 cup honey
1 tsp. vanilla

Combine all ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. Scoop and mash the mixture with the back of a spoon until they are well-combined.

Chill for 30 minutes or more.

Using your hands, roll the dough first into balls about one inch in diameter. Then shape each ball with your fingers to make egg-shapes.

Serve or chill in the fridge or freezer until ready to eat.

*I put my seeds in a sandwich baggie and break them up a bit with the back of a sturdy measuring cup.

March 22, 2015

Cheater Refried Beans


Darwin started preschool this year. Two mornings a week, his Dad drives him downtown and escorts him into a room of smiling teachers and hand puppets and alphabet posters.

They call it "drop-off," which sounds like some kind of cliff, or the part of the ocean where the sand bottoms out, and I find this aptly mysterious. It's hard to get information out of him about school, or what he thinks of it. When I ask, he's usually vague and positive ("it was good.")

Later, out of the blue, he'll start singing a song I've never heard before, or he'll say something like, "I made a new friend in class today."

"You did?" I'll ask. "What is your friend's name?"

"I don't remember. She brings a big blanket to school every day."

"Oh," I'll say, "well, that's cool," and I'll blink a little in amazement.

While Darwin is apart from us, singing and building things and fusing synapses of all sorts, I cook. It's almost the opposite of school: a meditative erasure. I do beans a lot on school mornings, because I can soak them the night before, and because I love and believe in beans, in a not-entirely-explainable but essential way.

These particular, delicious beans, my "cheater" beans, get their tiny southwestern kick from regular old jarred salsa. Like all beans, pintos come with plenty of protein, fiber, iron, and B-vitamins. They're savory and satisfying, speckled with kid-friendly veggies like chopped zucchini and sweet corn. Darwin, who'll eat almost any of my bean concoctions, likes this one the best.

He comes home from school with some be-pom-pommed craft in his hand and I give him a kiss and a bowl of beans, and then we go on with our day, filled up by good things.


*

Cheater Refried Beans
Serves 6

1 pound dried pinto beans, soaked overnight, rinsed, and drained
1 sweet onion, chopped small
1 small zucchini squash, sliced into quarter moons (optional)
3/4 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels (optional)
1 cup of good jarred salsa
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. sea salt
1 Tbls. butter
Toppings: fresh cilantro, avocado, grated cheese, sour cream, etc.!

Cook pinto beans in a pot (cover with water and simmer one hour or until tender) or a pressure cooker (our method--much faster!)

Meanwhile, in a large soup pot, saute onion in butter over medium heat for about fifteen minutes, stirring frequently as it softens and begins to brown.

Add zucchini, if using, and saute five minutes.

Drain cooked beans and add to the soup pot.

Add salsa, and cumin, and salt, and bring the mixture to a bubble for about ten minutes to deepen flavors. If the beans begin to stick, add water a quarter cup at a time.

Add corn and remove from heat.

Serve garnished with shredded cheese, sour cream, and/or chopped fresh cilantro.

March 15, 2015

3-Ingredient Tropical Green Smoothie


I did the math: over a few fervent years in the mid-2000s, I drank around 1,500 green smoothies. We lived in San Diego at the time, where for a dollar, you could buy a bunch of organic parsley the size of a broom. I'd fill our grocery basket with strawberries and Valencia oranges and misty, sparkling bunches of spinach and kale. Then I'd strap everything to the back of my bike and ride home along the Pacific Beach boardwalk. Oh, those memories! Misty and sparkling indeed.

We were years from starting a family, but I knew I was drinking green smoothies for the sake of our future kids. Smoothies were a gateway to healthy eating for me, and they can be a powerful tool for kids, too, on their path to enjoying dark green leafy veggies.

Here's one of my favorite smoothie combinations, which provides a delicious and effortless serving of fresh fruit and greens. It's rich in Vitamin K, folate, fiber, and Vitamin C, and its tropical sweetness will win over all of kid-kind. You do NOT need a high-powered blender for this recipe; the spinach leaves are tender enough that any old lemon will grind them up.

Drink up, little ones! Cheers to Spring!

*

3-Ingredient Tropical Green Smoothie
Makes ~ 1 pint

1 frozen banana
1 cup fresh pineapple
2 packed cups fresh, raw spinach (more if you like!)

Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor with 1/2 cup of cold water.  Blend until completely smooth and enjoy immediately.

March 8, 2015

Tamari Tofu Steaks


10:30pm. Dinosaur footie pajamas. Darwin is still awake, sitting backwards in a chair, watching me make tofu. I whisk the glossy marinade with a fork, then press dry each tofu slice with a flour sack towel.

"Mama's making tofu," Darwin calls down the hall to his Daddy. Bedtime isn't happening, but we're making do: I'm getting ahead with food prep while Triceratops Toes chatters and stalls. Someday he won't want to hang out with me when it's late and he's fighting sleep. I remind myself of this while I slip the fragrant pan into the oven.

I set the oven timer. Waiting time.

What is tofu, really? Don't laugh. I always forget and have to look it up. Tofu starts when whole soybeans are soaked, ground, and mixed with water. The resulting soy milk is coagulated with a salt (magnesium chloride) and the curds are pressed and cut into blocks. That's it. Even though it looks suspiciously modern and geometrical in its little plastic bathtub, tofu is a traditional, minimally-processed food, and one with tasty potential.

This recipe is our favorite preparation. The little steaks are sweet and salty, chewy and quick-to-make. We like them best cold, cut into rectangles and skewered with a food pick. They're a convenient, sustaining and sustainable protein, perfect on a snack plate of veggies or at breakfast-time, in place of eggs.

It's 11:15pm now, and somewhere between the flipping of the tofu and its cooling en route to the fridge, Darwin has wandered back into his room and fallen asleep. The monitor in the baby's room reports silence. The day is almost done.

So here it is: my Put-The-Kids-To-Bed, Bang-Out-A-Batch-Of-Tofu recipe. Everyone has one of those, right? No? Well, have mine.


*

Tamari Tofu Steaks
Makes ~12 tofu steaks

1 14-16oz container firm tofu
2 Tbls. tamari or soy sauce
1 Tbls. sesame oil
1 Tbls. unsweetened rice vinegar
1 Tbls. honey or real maple syrup
dash onion powder
dash garlic powder

Preheat the oven to 400, and line an aluminum cookie sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

Drain tofu, and slice into thin rectangles.

Using a clean flour sack towel or a few paper towels, press the slices of tofu gently but firmly, until they give up most of their water.

In a small bowl, whisk together all remaining ingredients.

Dredge each piece of tofu in the marinade, then place it on the cookie sheet. Space the steaks roughly evenly. Save any leftover marinade.

Bake for 15 minutes, then flip the steaks and drizzle any remaining marinade on them. (Try to avoid letting the marinade pool on the baking sheet; it will burn.)

Bake for another 15 minutes, then remove the steaks and let them cool slightly before serving. Or, cool completely and chill for later.

March 1, 2015

Sweet Potato Peanut Butter Whip


Mamas and Papas with infants, this short, sweet post is for you!

When our son was an infant, our pediatrician gave us this standard advice: avoid feeding your baby peanuts during his first year, to protect him from developing a peanut allergy. But a new study out this week found that babies who eat peanuts regularly throughout infancy have an 80% LOWER risk of developing peanut allergies.

Reading the news, I began reminiscing about the sweet, whipped snack that Darwin loved to eat as a young toddler. It comes together in a minute and offers a miniature hit of Vitamin A, protein, and healthy fats. The creamy sweet potato tames the stickiness of the peanut butter, so even young babies can gum and swallow it easily. And if it helps prevent peanut allergies, too? Awesome!

My daughter Nova still breastfeeds exclusively, but I think she'll love this colorful little meal when the time comes for solids.

In the meantime, my son polished off this serving after I finished taking pictures. "We should have this more often, Mama."

Deal.


*

Sweet Potato Peanut Butter Whip
Makes one baby meal

1/4 cup cooked, mashed sweet potato
1-2 tsp. creamy, natural peanut butter (look for an ingredients list with only peanuts and salt.)

Heat the sweet potato gently, and stir in the peanut butter. For babies new to solids, you may thin the mixture with a small amount of water or breast milk. Serve immediately.

February 24, 2015

Chicken-Veggie Quinoa Bake (Gluten Free)


Most of the time, my family prefers simple, plant-based foods. We like beans and vegetables and whole grains, accented by a small something rich, like cheese or meat or homemade bone broth. We appreciate simplicity and humbleness from our meals. Most of the time. Like, 80% of the time.

The other 20% of the time, we want, well, something exactly like this. It's not humble. It's not stylish. It's not a culinary adventure. It's a big, creamy, chicken-y, heartland casserole. (Who am I kidding calling it a "bake." We all know it's a casserole, in all it's 1960's glory.) Give it to us.

And you should try it, too, because it's delicious. And because, despite its indulgent nature, its seemingly impossibly coziness, this creamy casserole dishes out a happy array of whole foods you want in your family's belly: cruciferous veggies (two of 'em!), carrots, celery, onions, full-fat dairy (why?), and 100% whole grains.

This quinoa bake (please let me try to be cool) is so very rich, I always serve it with some crunchy, raw, salad-type thing on the side. My son can't get enough balsamic vinegar, so a little bowl of cucumbers and bell peppers in vinaigrette is just the thing.

Then it's time to dig in...

Enjoy!

*

Chicken-Veggie Quinoa Bake
Serves 4

2 cups cooked quinoa
1 + 1/2 cups cooked chicken, diced
1/2 a large sweet onion
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
2-3 celery stalks, chopped
1 cup broccoli florets, chopped small
1 cup cauliflower florets, chopped small
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup sour cream
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar (we shred fresh from a block)
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. salt
2/3 cup stock or water
1 cup whole wheat or gluten-free bread crumbs (We make our own from oven-dried Ezekial bread--do try!)
roughly-chopped fresh parsley, to garnish

Preheat the oven to 375.

In a large, deep-sided pan over medium heat, saute celery, onion, and carrots in a swirl of EVOO until they begin to soften, about 7-10 minutes.

Add the garlic, broccoli, and cauliflower to the pan, and cook until the crucifers soften, another five minutes or so.

Stir in the quinoa, chicken, dried herbs, and salt, and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine the cheese, sour cream, and stock or water. Whisk, then pour the mixture over the quinoa, stirring well to combine everything.

Spoon the casserole into a baking dish (For one big casserole, try a 9 x 13 dish. I usually make several "personal" casseroles.)

Sprinkle breadcrumbs across the top and bake for 20-30 minutes, until the casserole is bubbling and the breadcrumbs are toasted.

Scatter with parsley and serve immediately.

February 16, 2015

Fruit-Sweetened Granola Gorp


“Gorp for dinner, gorp for lunch, gorp for breakfast, gorp for brunch. Gorp for every single meal, why can’t we have some GROP!” Darwin laughs each time we sing him this nonsensical riff on Misfits lyrics. He accuses us of singing it wrong at the end: “No, it’s GORP!”

Truthfully, I don’t think he’d complain if we served him this toasty, whole grain, energy-dense snack at every meal.

As the holidays approached, I went on a hunt for a truly healthy, delicious granola that I could gift in mason jars to friends and family. I tried a batch of Mark Bittman’s “Good Morning Gorp,” but it didn’t excite me. I still love you, Mark. But I wanted more flavor and richness from my gorp. I added virgin coconut oil, extra nuts and seeds, more flaked coconut, vanilla, and a pinch of cinnamon. Then I threw the whole mess into the oven to toast and set those flavors, and bingo: a brilliantly filling, protein-rich, whole-grain, fruit-sweetened cereal that tastes wonderful on top of whole plain yogurt or in a bowl all by itself.

This recipe has thrived beyond its origins as a holiday gift. The gorp jar is a permanent fixture in our own fridge now, replacing store-bought muesli. And since gorp-making is all about scooping and dumping and stirring and ingredient-munching, it’s great fun to include little ones in replenishing the family's supply.

Enjoy.


*

Fruit-Sweetened Granola Gorp
Fills 1 quart jar

1.5 cups dry rolled oats
1 cup nuts (raw or dry-roasted peanuts, almonds, pecans, walnuts, etc.)
⅓ cup raw pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
½ cup unsweetened flaked coconut
1 cup dried fruit (raisins, cranberries, cherries, chopped dates, chopped apricots, etc.)
¼ cup virgin coconut oil, warmed to liquid
1 tsp. vanilla
pinch cinnamon
sprinkle of sea salt

Preheat oven to 300.

In a large mixing bowl, toss oats, nuts, seeds, and coconut.

In a separate, small bowl, stir together oil and vanilla.

Drizzle oil and vanilla mixture over oat mixture and toss to combine.

Sprinkle the oat mixture with cinnamon, and spread thinly on a cookie sheet. (I use an aluminum cookie sheet lined with a silicone mat.)

Bake for 5 minutes.

Transfer oats back to the mixing bowl and stir in dried fruit. Sprinkle with sea salt.

Cool and eat; refrigerate the leftovers.