Homemade Cereal Bars

I’ve been looking for an easy snack to feed the kids that’s healthy and easy.  Cereal bars are a usual go to snack because they taste good and are easy to throw in the bag and go.  But despite all of their healthy claims, they really have a lot of junk in them, particularly HFCS.  Even the bars from Trader Joes have about a million ingredients in them.  So, I decided to try to make them myself with the help of my 4 year old daughter.  They got rave reviews from the entire family and I literally had to wrestle the bowl away from her after we had made the bars.  I did them in a pan and cut them up to make bars, but you can also make them individually on a cookie sheet.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup honey

1 egg

1 cup yogurt

1/2 tsp salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 cups whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

your favorite jam – we used homemade blueberry

 

Directions:

In a mixer, cream together the butter and honey.  Add in the egg.  Mix in the yogurt and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix well.

Spread half the mixture in the bottom of a greased pan.

Spread a layer of jam on top.

Spread the remaining mixture on top of the jam.

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

Enjoy!!

 

Ginger Pear Muffins

Muffins are one of my favorite things to make and eat.  To me they are comfort food.  These muffins are the perfect end of summer easing into fall treat.  My four year old’s words were “These are even better than the last ones you made.” Enjoy!

 

Ingredients:

3/4 c of melted butter

1 1/4 c buttermilk

1/2 c honey

2 eggs beaten

2 cups whole wheat flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/4 inch ginger minced

2 pears peeled and chopped

 

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350.  Mix together the butter, buttermilk and honey.  Add in the dry ingredients the vanilla.  Fold in the pears.  Cook for 15 minutes until done.

 

Chocolaty Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

I am convinced that the best recipes often come from mistakes or mishaps in the kitchen.  My two daughters have been asking for cookies and knowing that I had an almost full bag of chocolate chips in the fridge, I gave in and decided to make a batch of my grandmother’s oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.  My kids are at the age where they love to help in the kitchen, so it is a great bonding experience for the three of us.  I can give my oldest small jobs like cracking eggs while the  little one and I spoon ingredients into the kitchen aid.

It never fails that when my husband goes out of town, I try to bake something and realize halfway through that I am missing a key ingredient and have to pile the kids in the car and rush to the grocery store.  One day, I will learn to get all of my ingredients out before I start cooking.  This time, I got the butter (use real butter, people! not shortening, oils, etc), eggs, and milk mixed in and decided to get out the chocolate chips from the freezer.  To my horror, I had not an almost full bag like I originally thought, but an almost empty bag.  I later found out that my kids have been sneaking into the kitchen when my husband wasn’t looking and stealing them out of the freezer.  No biggie, I thought, I’ll just add in some cocoa powder and then the few chips and it will be fine.  A few minutes later, I discovered that we are out of baking powder, so I throw some shoes on the kids, cover the batter, and jump in the car to go to the grocery store.  Since I was out, I thought, “What the heck” and picked up another bag of chocolate chips.  The result, ultimate chocolaty goodness!

Here’s the recipe:

1 1/2 cups of butter

1 1/2 cups of brwon sugar

1 1/2 cups of white sugar

3 eggs

3 teaspoons vanilla

3 Tablespoons milk

1 1/2 tsp salt

1 1/2 tsp baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup cocoa powder

3 cups flour

3 cups oatmeal

1 bag milk chocolate chips

 

Directions:

1.  Mix the butter and sugars together.  Add in the eggs.

2.  Add in vanilla, milk, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cocoa, and flour.  Mix together.

3.  Mix in the oatmeal and chocolate chips.

4.  Drop onto a cookie sheet (I use parchment paper) and bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes.

 

Weekly Meal Plan and Weekend Challenge

Weekly Meal Plan

Here’s what’s on our menu for next week:

Sunday: homemade cheese pizza

Monday – Chicken sausage and vegetable egg scramble

Tuesday – roasted cauliflower pasta

Wednesday – hamburgers

Thursday – BLT salad

Friday – Spicy peach chicken

 

Weekend Challenge

A few years ago, we decided to start making changes in the foods that we eat.  We didn’t buy a whole lot of packaged foods for dinner, but we did use some canned or bottled goods as ingredients in dishes and for snacks.  We were both working and had a small child, so we weren’t looking to make a huge change yet.  The first thing we did, was eliminate all products with High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) and MSG.  We tried to make sure that the products we did buy didn’t have too many unpronounceable ingredients, but focused mainly on those two.  We found that it wasn’t too hard.  Although HFCS is in most everything that we eat, we could find at least one brand without it in it.   So, my challenge to you, this weekend is to read your labels and try to eliminate just those two ingredients from your diet.

Here’s a link to a previous post I made on HFCS.

Berry berry nice morning!

Since the grandparents are in town we decided to head on over to Trax Farm just south of Pittsburgh to pick fresh blueberries while Marie was at work today. We tried to beat the heat by showing up at 8:30 and going for it, we braved threatening skies and booming thunder in the distance.  The girls worked their little butts off gathering perfectly ripe berries.  We ended up with about five pounds of fresh, ripe blueberries to bring home.

Shhh… don’t tell mom, but there is a fresh blueberry pie in the oven waiting for Marie to get home from work today. It’s a surprise.  Now, until today I had no idea that there was a difference between a baked blueberry pie and a fresh blueberry pie.

Graham Cracker Crust – Grandma Acquilano took care of the pie this afternoon, starting with a homemade(ish) graham cracker crust.

  • 1 1/2 cups finely ground graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted
  1. Mix graham cracker crumbs, sugar, melted butter or margarine, and cinnamon until well blended . Press mixture into an 8 or 9 inch pie plate.

You can bake these for 7 minutes at 350°, but we just chilled this one along with the pie.
Fresh Blueberry Filling 

  • 4 cups of Blueberries (separate out 2 cups of the biggest blueberries)
  • 3/4  c Sugar
  • 1/2 cup Water
  • 3 tbs Corn Starch
Set aside the two cups of the biggest berries for later.
In a saucepan add 2 cups of the smaller blueberries with the sugar, water and corn starch.  Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium until the berries break up and form a thick mixture, stirring contantly.   Let this cool for a few minutes.
Gently sir in the remaining blueberries and fill the graham cracker crust. Chill in the refrigerator as long as you can resist the urge to dig in.

Salmon Burgers

Nothing says summer like grilling, but sometimes it can get old doing the same things, chicken, steaks, burgers, hotdogs.  So, I’ve been on a quest to spice things up on the grill and find some new foods to cook.  Last week, I did Italian chicken burgers and this week it was Salmon burgers.  The best thing about them is that they are cheap, quick, and easy to make.  The biggest advice that I have is to buy the salmon that is already deboned.  I made the mistake of buying the kind with the bones in it to save money and it wasn’t worth it.  With two hungry kids begging for dinner to be ready it wasn’t worth it.  One of the best things about making the burgers is that i can get my kids involved in the cooking.  I don’t let them touch the raw meet, but my oldest loves cracking eggs and dumping ingredients in.  Once I fished all the bones out of the salmon, toatl prep time was about 5 minutes.

 

Ingredients

2 cans of salmon

2 Tbsp mayonnaise

1 egg

breadcrumbs – I add them in until I get the right consistency

1 clove garlic, minced

1 Tbsp lemon juice

cilantro

Some red onion or red peppers would have been a nice addition, but I didn’t have them on hand.

Mix all of the ingredients together with your hands and form into patties.  Place on the grill.  I didn’t have any rolls made, so we served them on homemade white bread.  I topped mine with some salsa.  Rich put my homemade avocado ranch dressing on his.  We served them up with some salad and avocado ranch, and fresh cut french fries.  Perfect for a hot summer evening!

Avocado Ranch dressing

My new food obsession currently is homemade salad dressing.  After taking the 10 day real food challenge, store bought salad dressing has been one of the biggest things that we have stopped buying.  It was hard at first because it meant that not everyone could have their own individual salad dressing on the table, but the taste of homemade dressing made outweighed that inconvenience.  Ranch dressing is one of the worse offenders when it comes to processed food.  Most ranch dressings and mixes contain MSG, which is what makes them taste so good, but is so bad for you.  I tried buying natural dressings that didn’t have the MSG, but I didn’t really like the taste of them, so I decided to make my own.  After a couple of times making it, I can whip it up and about 3 minutes flat.  The beauty of homemade dressing is you can add and take out whatever you like and modify it to fit whatever spices you have on hand.

Avocado Ranch Dressing   

Ingredients:

1 ripe avocado

1 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup sour cream

1 clove garlic, minced

2 Tbsp white vinegar

2 Tbsp lemon juice

2 Tbsp milk or amount needed to make it the desired consistency

cilantro and parsley to taste

pinch salt

To make the dressing put all of the ingredients in a food processor and mix.  I used my immersion blender.  The result is a beautiful, light green, creamy dressing.  This dressing makes a a nice topping for salads, but also sandwiches.

Just a side note, in our house, we use full fat milk products because they are less processed.  For more information why, check out this link .  I do, however, use store bought mayonnaise.  I make sure that all of the ingredients in the list are identifiable.  I tried once to make my own mayonnaise, but it didn’t go so well.

Trying something new – Italian chicken burgers

Summer’s here and with that comes grilling. That, usually is Rich’s job, to man the grill.  I usually do a horrible job at it.  I get impatient and worry that I’m either undercooking it or overcooking.  So, when Rich goes out of town, what do I decide to do? Grill up some chicken burgers.

The day before, I made up some whole wheat hamburger buns. After our pledge to cook all of our bread at home, I’ve learned the art of planning ahead.  The best part about the buns is they freeze well.

For the burgers, I mixed in an egg, some homemade bread crumbs, shredded mozzarella cheese, and some garlic, parsley, oregano, and basil and shaped into patties.

Pretty easy peasy!

I served them up with some lettuce and tomato.  Probably some melted cheese and marinara sauce would be super tasty.

I have to say that I did a pretty nice job with the grilling.  They came out nicely.  Look at those grill marks!

 

My 4 year old loved them so much that she asked for them in her lunch the next day.

We enjoyed them out on the picnic table with a glace of Rich’s homebrew (milk for the girls, of course), some homemade coleslaw and carrot sticks.

Shrimp and veggie pasta

Before we had kids, Rich and I loved to make elaborate “gourmet” meals.  We would spend the evening together cooking all sorts of fancy stuff.  Two kids later, those days are few and far between.  My goal is to make a meal that is cheap, healthy, and something that my picky eaters will love all in about 5 minutes.  However, I miss those days of fancy cooking.  So, I decided to see if I could make something that fit all of the above, but that was beyond our usual chicken and felt like I was having a fancy meal.  Of course, I decided to try it on a day that Rich was out of town and it was just me and the girls.  My idea, pasta with shrimp and veggies.  I knew the girls wouldn’t eat the shrimp, that was for me, but they do eat pasta and some vegetables.

Here’s the recipe:

First, I cooked the shrimp in butter and garlic.  Use a lot of butter, it’s going to be used as a sauce in the pasta.  If I had some white wine, I would add that as well.

While the shrimp is cooking, cook the pasta on the stove.  I used whole wheat spaghetti.  Add in the veggies while the pasta is cooking.  To save time, I used frozen peas and broccoli.  You could use fresh broccoli and any other veggies you choose, but I was on a race for time to feed the hungry kids and I know they will eat peas and broccoli.

When the pasta is finished, drain and add in the shrimp and sauce.  Mix with some herbs (dried or fresh).  I used a combination of parsley, oregano, and basil.  Toss in some grated Parmesan and there you go, a yummy, healthy meal that feels a little bit fancy, all in about 15 minutes.

Pizza Night!

It’s Friday night and you don’t want to cook.  It’s been a long week and all you want to do is relax and you think to pick up the phone to order a pizza.  But, what about the alternative, making your own.  But Marie, you say, I’m tired, it takes so long and I don’t feel like cooking. With some planning ahead, you can have pizza in, for a fraction of the cost, and still know that you are enjoying real food.

Doesn’t that look better than from the store!

Last night, we made up the pizza dough and sauce.  Rich likes Alton Brown’s recipe

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/pizza-pizzas-recipe/index.html .  He mixed up the ingredients, rolled it into a ball, covered it with saran wrap and put it in the fridge overnight.   You can even freeze the dough if you want to save it for a later date. The next day, after work, we set it out and let rise for 30 minutes and the rolled it out.  We use the back of a baking sheet dusted with  cornmeal to make a peel so that it comes right off the pan.  Rich likes a thinner crust, but I usually make mine thicker.

While Rich was busy making the dough, I mixed up a large batch of sauce.  I’m planning on making lasagna for dinner Saturday, so I could use it for both.  I think the best smell in the world is the smell of red sauce simmering on the stove.  It takes me back to my childhood when my dad would make spaghetti for dinner every Sunday.

Spaghetti sauce is one of the easiest things to make and tastes so much better than store bought.  It also has a lot less sugar.  I must confess, though, I always use canned tomatoes for simplicity and ease.  My goal for the summer is to can a bunch of fresh tomatoes to use in sauce, but we’ll see if I have time.

For the sauce, chop up some onion and garlic and cook in a large pot in olive oil until tender.  Then, pour in a large can of either crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce depending on how thick you want your sauce.  I usually make a double or triple batch and freeze it.  Add in a can of tomato paste per can of tomatoes and pour in two paste cans worth of water for each can of paste.  Then, here’s the easy part: dump in a bunch of spices.  I use a bay leaf, parsley, basil, and oregano and a dash of salt.  If you want a sweeter sauce, you can pour in sugar. Let the sauce boil and then simmer for a few hours, stirring every once in a while.  Taste every so often to see if you need more spices.

Now, back to the pizza.  After your dough is spread out, add the sauce, cheese and toppings.  If you have kids, let them make your own and add in some family bonding along with making a yummy pizza and saving some money.  We estimated that two pepperoni pizzas cost us about $7 and we have leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

Once your toppings are on, bake at 500 degrees for 7 minutes and voila! yummy pizza in less time than it would take to have it delivered.  We enjoyed our pizza with some of Rich’s homebrew summer lager.  Yum!