Wednesday, February 29, 2012

baked zucchini chips

My 5-year-old slipped while getting off the bus today. Freezing rain was pelting our faces as I carried him, sobbing, into the house. I saw the fall and knew he wasn't badly hurt. Still, there were an awful lots of tears...

"Mommy, I fell! And I haven't got a playdate. Everyone on the bus had a playdate. And, Jack {his big brother} has a playdate. {True.} And everyone in my class had a playdate. {Doubtful.} And it's raining...." I held him close and rocked him, knowing the tears were the result of a bruised ego. Lunch was ready, but I brought him in close and whispered in his ear, "Guess what?! Today is backwards day. That means playdates you would normally have on half-day Wednesdays get flip-flopped with Fridays. {Handy, since he has a friend coming over on Friday...} And, the wackiest thing about today is we eat dessert for lunch and lunch for dessert!" The crying shifted to more of a muffled giggle.

I recommend eating these right when they come out of the oven. But, if you must, have your dessert first, then enjoy these baked zucchini chips as a veggie side or healthy kid-friendly snack.

Baked Zucchini Chips

2 medium zucchini (sliced, I used my Cuisinart)
1 cup whole milk (or your choice of milk)
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
splash of cider vinegar
1/2 cup whole wheat breadcrumbs
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan (optional)
1 teaspoon curry powder or dried dill (optional)
dash of kosher salt

Preheat oven to 425. In one bowl, combine milk, flour and vinegar with a whisk until smooth.  In a second bowl, combine breadcrumbs, Parmesan (optional), spice(s) (optional) and a dash of salt. Dip each zucchini slice in the milk mixture, then in the breadcrumb mixture. Place in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 25-30 minutes, flipping halfway through the cook time. Serve warm, fresh from the oven... or reheat in the oven so they remain crispy. 

Delicious alone, or dipped in store-bought Tzatziki (savory yogurt dip). Or, here's a recipe for Tzatziki, if you'd like to make your own. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

brighten a birthday morning

protein pancakes tarted up with a Stonyfield yokids yogurt tube
for a special birthday breakfast
p.s. here is the protein pancake recipe for new readers

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

inspired, pinned and made: whole wheat spaghetti with cauliflower, roasted red pepper pesto, greens, capers and almonds

Last week was brutal. Our little one was ill and out of school Monday-Wednesday, and then Friday was a half day in anticipation of a 4-day weekend, which meant he went to school, oh, about 8 hours in the course of 11 days. Don't get me wrong, I love spending time with my kids...but, I have reached that point in parenting when I've come to anticipate that my children will be in school at least from 8:15-noon each weekday. I'm not going to lie; that keeps me sane. I have a full plate (get it) between keeping the house in order, cooking 3 healthy meals a day, managing schedules, chauffeuring, attempting to get back in shape, maybe squeezing in an hour-long conversation with a friend on a walk once a week, large volunteer roles and writing this blog. And while I love my "job" and wouldn't trade it for anything, I also love the break in my day that school offers. The kids head off each morning gleeful to get to school, and I am grateful knowing they are engaged, happy and surrounded by people who nurture them. Three years ago, my children were younger and this 5 day/week school gig was a mirage. But  now I'm here, and so..... when the school's phone number showed up on caller id mid-morning I could hear the sound of screeching brakes in the distance. A sick child. Again. I quickly glanced up at the cieling and scanned the windows to make sure no one from candid camera was filming me. Surely this had to be a joke. I mean, after all the care and nourishment I provide, still they get sick? But this is not a post about sick kids. Or it is up til now, but that wasn't supposed to be the point. Clearly, that's not something I have expertise in, but figuring out a fabulous dinner after a less than fabulous day? Now that I can help with....

Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Roasted Cauliflower, Red Pepper Pesto, Wilted Greens, Capers and Almonds
inspired by this Cookin' Canuck recipe that I'd pinned

As mentioned above, I was perusing fellow blog posts this morning while drinking my tea when I came across this recipe from Cookin' Canuck. The recipe caught my eye because I had just purchased a tub of Roasted Red Pepper Pesto and some feathery mustard-like greens at our town's winter farmer's market yesterday, I happened to pick up a giant cauliflower at the market later that afternoon, and I knew I had capers in the fridge, and almonds and whole grain pasta in the pantry. Plus, it fit neatly into my goal of making more meatless, family-friendly meals. Fortuitous, hmmm? So anyway, without further adieu, here's my take on this simple pasta that came together to make a fabulous, meatless meal with minimal effort:

whole wheat spaghetti (or pasta of your choice)

olive oil
salt & pepper

roasted red pepper pesto*
mustard greens, washed and rough chopped*
slivered almonds
water (optional)
Parmesan (optional)

Preheat oven to 425. While oven is preheating, put water on to boil and rough chop cauliflower. Place cauliflower on a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast cauliflower for 10 minutes, then stir and roast it for another 5 minutes. (Set cauliflower aside if it comes out of the oven before your pasta is cooked.) Cook pasta according to package. Drain the pasta, then return it to the warm pot along with the pesto, greens, a handful of capers and almonds. Stir to combine, until greens are wilted and everything is warmed through. You may add a bit of water if the sauce seems too thick. Serve warm, topped with a bit of grated Parmesan, if you'd like.

* I purchased a 7 oz tub of Riverbank Farm's Roasted Red Pepper Pesto at the farmer's market yesterday. Theirs is made with: kale, chard, parsley, basil, garlic, peppers, walnuts, sunflower seeds, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, salt & pepper. So, loaded with good stuff. But you could use any variety of pesto that is your favorite and available by you, or you could go back to Cookin' Canuck's original recipe where she makes her own red pepper sauce. Also, Gazy Brother's stand had these gorgeous little bunches of multi-colored and textured greens yesterday that Alexis Gazy said were similar in taste to a mustard green, and that's what I used. But use your favorite green.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

two simple celery root sides: roasted and mashed

In anticipation of the New Canaan Farmer's Market meeting up again for winter offerings at the New Canaan Nature Center Tuesdays in February, from 1-3pm, I wanted to share two more simple recipes for something you might find there, or in your local farmer's market this time of year: roasted celery root and celery root puree. First, let's make sure we all know what we're looking for! Often overlooked because of its' gnarly appearance, I posted a quick visual of a celery root. You want to pick one that is firm and feels heavy for its' size. I buy large ones because I like to get two different sides out of cooking one batch...

Roasted Celery Root

celery root
your choice of oil
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425. While the oven is preheating, peel and chopped the celery root into 1" pieces. Toss the celery root with a drizzle of oil on a rimmed baking sheet, sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast for 20-30 minutes, until tender. Serve warm.

Then, you can transform any remaining roasted celery root into something akin to mashed potatoes...

Mashed Celery Root 
(using leftover roasted celery root)

roasted celery root (see above)
heavy cream, or your choice of milk or broth*

In a  blender, combine roasted celery root and your choice of liquid (cream, milk, broth or water), pouring it in slowly until you reach desired consistency. Can be made ahead and reheated in the oven (covered) or in the microwave.

*I did not cite liquid amounts, because the amount of liquid will depend upon how much celery root you are pureeing. The puree should resemble smooth mashed potatoes. I used heavy cream because I happened to have some leftover from another recipe that was nearing the end of its' useful life, but this recipe can be made with any desired dairy broth or plain water as the liquid. When I made it with the cream, it was actually too thick and decadent and I needed to thin it more, so I added some water until I reached the consistency I wanted. Because my roasted celery root was already seasoned with salt & pepper from when I cooked it the day before I did not need to add additional seasonings. If you do not have leftover roasted celery root, and want to make celery root puree the traditional way (boiling the celery root then pureeing it), here is a link to a recipe on Epicurious that combines celery root and potatoes, another farmer's market staple this time of year. 

what does a celery root look like?

Before I post two super easy recipes that take advantage of celery root, a root vegetable readily available in the Northeast in wintertime, I want to make sure you all have a visual on what you're looking for at your local supermarket or farmer's market. This gnarly, knobby bulb is a celery root (aka celeraic). You can eat it raw or cooked...just make sure to remove the skin. Celery root is very low in starch, crispy when eaten raw and smooth when cooked. I add it to my batches of roasted root vegetables, and it's a wonderful addition to veggie soups. Most recently, I roasted it on its' own as a side dish... and then mashed the leftovers to make a totally different side dish, similar to mashed potatoes but which much more flavor.

Friday, February 17, 2012

we have a winner of ruby slippers (tea)!

After having each of your comments read aloud-- "but without the name so it's random!" 

each of your "favorite book(s) to read while you are drinking tea" was jotted down... and assigned a number.

The numbers were put into a bowl

and to assure (complete) randomness (and 8-year-old fun), eyes were closed and chopsticks were used to choose the lucky #....


which might mean very little, unless you also had the list of books and number assignments. So [drum] roll, the winner of a bag of Ruby Slippers tea from Mamacat Teas is Leelee, who wrote, "Jack...I am a chamomile kinda gal, it helps me sleep...try it sometime if you have trouble closing your eyes at night? My favorite book to read with my chamomile tea when I am ready for bed, is a book called "The Giving Tree" ...have you read it?" Yes, it is one of our family's favorite books too! We hope you enjoy this tea the next time you read it. Please send us an email (mealsinasnap{at}gmail{dot}com) letting us know your mailing address, so we can have this special tea sent to you!

For those who did not win the Ruby Slippers, you can still try this delicious tea by visiting Mamacat Tea's booth at the indoor Winter New Canaan Farmer's Market (Tuesdays 2/21 and 2/28 from noon-3pm) at the New Canaan Nature Center, or by visiting their pop-up tea shop "Babycat Milkbar" at 300 Danbury Road in Wilton, CT, or by ordering the various child-friendly teas online.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

CT "staycationers" looking for a family-friendly Saturday?

Normally I stick to the kitchen gig, but we had such a fabulous time up in Litchfield County, CT last weekend that I thought I would quickly share an idea with those who might be sticking around for the long weekend. What's that fancy word for not zipping off to someplace warm? I think it's been coined a "staycation" so we don't all feel bad.

Anyway, Washington Montessori is hosting their 6th Annual Puppetry Festival Feb 18th and 25th at 10:30am each Saturday. We went last weekend and my five-year-old loved it. The show is $8/person. Then you can make a day of it and either head over to Mohawk Mountain for some family-friendly skiing or spend the afternoon exploring Kent Falls State Park. Maybe we'll see some full plate readers up there this weekend!

Oh, and don't have a few more hours to enter the give-away of Mamacat's Ruby Slippers Tea. Simply leave a comment for Jack before 3pm Friday, as he'll be picking a winner when he gets home from school!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

guest post: ruby slippers + sweetening your Valentine's Day with a special give-away

I think Ruby Slippers is a really good kind of tea. It feels very cozy in your mouth. It also warms your throat as you drink it and tastes delicious. I recommend you buy it if you are feeling sick; it might make you feel better. Today I am kick’en back with Ruby Slippers and enjoying Valentine's Day!!!!!!!     
-guest post by Jack Johnson, age 8

I couldn't have said it better myself. Jeena Choi of Mamacat's Tea, has graciously offered to send a package of Jack's favorite blend-- Ruby Slippers-- to one lucky full plate reader. To be entered to win this special treat, please leave a comment letting him know "your favorite book to read while you are drinking tea", before 3pm Friday, February 17th. Jack will be choosing the winner after he gets home from school. 

new favorite green: sauteed mizuna

A visit to our town's first winter (indoor) farmer's market last week resulted in the discovery of what might be my new favorite green. When I purchased it, I thought I was going to be sauteing dandelion greens, another I had never tried. But, in fact, Gazy Brothers had this beautiful, feathery mizuna and some fresh leeks at their stand. Both caught my eye (even if I had no idea what I was eagerly purchasing). A simple saute of roughly chopped mizuna and leeks along with a dollop of Riverbank Farm's garlic scape pesto (also from the farmer's market) and a bit of olive oil and wow, I might have a new favorite green.

The mizuna was delicious as is, a perfect healthy side. I used the whole stalk...

The kids enjoyed it much more than sauteed spinach (which as you all know, morphed into spinach dip last time I served that up....).

And I added the leftover sauteed mizuna to a delicious veggie frittata towards the end up the week, which was a perfect make-ahead breakfast for busy school mornings, and an early departure to the ski mountain.

Valentine's breakfast: pink oatmeal

Oatmeal (made ahead) mixed with organic strawberry puree (frozen strawberries thawed bit then blended in the blender, nothing else added), topped with fresh raspberries. Served with with a cup of pink juice (that you can make... I bought raspberry-apple juice from Red Jacket Orchards)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Valentine's lunchbox

Definitely nominating myself for mom-of-the-day with this lunchbox... Happy Valentine's Day sweet boys!

Cool-Cups jello hearts (note: this looks super cute but I made it with a regular cup of jello, not finger jello, carefully sliced horizontally and then cut with a cookie cutter...sooooo, they might fall apart, hence the inclusion of a spork!...) + a cream cheese and strawberry jam sandwich + mozzarella ball and marinated tomatoes + homemade cookie + strawberries + red pepper hearts and arrows (how Martha am I?!)

Friday, February 10, 2012

(nut-free) Valentine's trail mix

Valentine's Trail Mix inspired by mom extraordinaire, JPV
makes 2 1/2 gallon-size Zip-loc bags

2 boxes (12.4 oz. each)  Kashi Heart-to-Heart cereal*
2 bags (5 oz each) Craisins*

Combine everything in a large bowl/pot/bag and mix/shake to combine. I laid each ingredient out in bowls and let the kids scoop the ingredients into gallon-sized zip-loc baggies using various measuring cups, and then shake to their hearts content...

*You can use any brand you'd like, but I've been specific in listing the ones above because I searched out nut-free ingredients so my boys could share this with their classmates, under our school's strict nut-free policy. For local (New Canaan, CT-area) sources, I did my shopping at Shoprite in Norwalk.

Optional sweet additions (I couldn't find these nut-free so I left them out): yogurt-covered raisins, yogurt-covered pretzels, dried cherries, white chocolate chips...

Thursday, February 9, 2012

healthy Valentine's snack idea: mini red fruit skewers

To balance out the (really good homemade, but still really sugary) cookies I was sending into school, I picked up a few different kind of red fruit and some long(er) toothpicks.

I don't need to tell you that this mini fruit kabob making effort could have gone a lot more quickly had I just done it after the kiddos were bathed and in bed...

but it was worth having the kids help at the end of the day. They excitedly came up with a pattern and carefully poked each one together, announcing that "[their classmates] were going to love this Valentine's snack". He's probably right. Even plain fruit is exciting when served on a stick!

bell pepper "flower"

easiest Valentine's (or any other day) veggie snack: 
red bell pepper slices!
transformed into a beautiful "flower" simply by arranging them in a small bowl and letting them fan out
to be honest, I didn't know I had done this, until one of my children exclaimed that "it's so a big poofy flower!"

sweet heart cookies

I baked a big batch of heart-shaped sugar cookies the other night and froze them in anticipation of both children having friends over to play yesterday. (It was supposed to be grim weather, but I think my (fabulous) snow day activity pinboard is keeping winter at bay this year...nice.) Anyway, I hemmed and hawed and bookmarked all of these healthier options for my older son's class snack...but the cookies were already made and if you ask two 8-year-olds and two 5-year-olds if they'd like to decorate the cookies and put them back into the freezer for next week and make a healthier snack for tomorrow, I'll let you guess the answer. So, delicious homemade cookies went into school today, balanced out with two red fruit and veggie snacks: bell pepper slices and mini red fruit skewers.

If you've been reading my blog long enough, you know that I love to let my kids get in on the decorating action-- as long as there's a rimmed baking sheet handy. I am only so loose, you know...

I picked up a bunch of India Tree sugars and natural decorating colors at our local market. They are pricey, but the beet juice (which makes the red gel red) cannot be beat in terms of ingredients and creating a gorgeous pink.

Cut-Out Sugar Cookies

2 sticks of butter, softened
1 cup of white sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
Zest of 1 lime (or orange or lemon, optional but adds nice flavor)
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

wax and parchment paper
rimmed baking sheets

In a mixing bowl, combine softened butter, sugar and egg. Using a hand mixer, beat at medium speed, until creamy. Add the vanilla and citrus zest; mix well. Reduce speed to low; add flour and baking powder. Beat until well mixed.Divide dough into thirds. Wrap each in wax paper and refrigerate until firm (2 to 3 hours). 

When you are reading to do the baking, preheat oven to 350°F.* Roll out dough on lightly floured surface, one-third at a time (keeping remaining dough refrigerated), to 1/8- to 1/4-inch thickness and then cut with your favorite cookie cutters. Place 1 inch apart onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 6 to 10 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. For best results, let the cookies cool before decorating.

*If you are not up for rolling and cutting out shapes, simply roll small balls with your hands (flattening them slightly so they don’t roll all over when you’re walking to the oven) and place them 1” apart on the baking sheet. Then bake 8-10 minutes, until edges are lightly browned.

Royal Icing (great for decorating cookies)Keep in mind that this frosting needs to be used immediately or stored in an airtight container as it hardens quickly when exposed to air! I make each child a zip-loc baggie of frosting, squeeze all of the air out, and then cut a tiny hole in one corner, so it’s their own “pastry bag”. This frosting can also be colored with food coloring, or the food coloring gels available at most markets.

4 cups powdered sugar 
3 tablespoons meringue (egg white) powder 
1/2 teaspoon vanilla or lemon extract (optional)
1/2 - 3/4 cup warm water (add the water until desired consistency)
I mix by hand, adding liquid until I reach the desired consistency—not rock hard, but not too runny either. Keep in mind that if you’re adding food coloring, that is a liquid too so you’ll want to add it before pouring in all of the allotted water to avoid the frosting getting too runny. Runny is still tasty but it’s messy, and takes a loooong time to harden!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Valentine's treats and class snack ideas

Valentine's Day is on the horizon. Which, of course, means that I need to save me from myself. I volunteered to bring the class snack for my 3rd grade child's class and their 7th grade "buddy class" at the end of this week, which means I am a week early planning a Valentine's-themed school snack... and you all will have plenty of time to peruse some ideas before next week. I was up baking a double batch of heart-shaped sugar cookies last night, in anticipation of a fun diversion for the kids who are both having friends over to play tomorrow. We'll freeze the cookies for next week, though I'm not sure which child's class will be the lucky recipient of these after they're decorated? The buddy gathering this week is a morning affair, and something tells me that sending decorated sugar cookies in-- while cute and unanimously enjoyed-- might not go over well with the teachers who then have to peel the kiddos off the ceiling. A quick perusal of the post I wrote around this same time last year gave me some good ideas for special meals at home. And then there was the reminder that when I tried to be supermom last year, I baked with salt instead of sugar. Seriously. So, anyway, given my track record, I should probably just go buy some red foods like a watermelon and some dried cranberries and call it a day, but you know me. So, here's my round-up of Valentine's-themed school snack ideas and sweet treats (click the photo to go to that particular recipe):

berry and cream cheese pinwheels

mini yogurt parfaits made with red berries and strawberry or raspberry yogurt

a mini-version of my fruit skewers made with watermelon, strawberries, raspberries and red grapes

this heart-shaped scone recipe is excellent-- achem, when made with sugar, not salt

or my blueberry-yogurt muffins can also be made with frozen or fresh raspberries or cranberries 
to make them red and "Valentine's-themed"

I've also been querying readers over on my FB page and looking at some of my favorite blogs to see what other great ideas are out there. Here are a few that caught my eye:

Whoa. A lot of sweet treats to consider. On to savory ideas...