Author Archives: Melanie

A Fine Time for Chili

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Chili Bean Corn Bread Pie

I love chili and love trying new chili recipes, but let’s face it — the window for chili-making in Texas is pretty tiny.  This fact just makes me enjoy it that much more.  This past weekend was unseasonably cold for February in Texas, and I took full advantage by trying out Ellie Krieger‘s recipe for Chili Bean and Corn Bread Pie.  It is a delicious vegetarian recipe with two kinds of beans, green chiles, and lots of spice.  The recipe called for ancho chili powder; I had chipotle chili powder on hand and it gave the dish a wonderful smoky flavor.  The best part is the very thick corn bread topping made with honey and buttermilk, which sweetens the whole meal when you mix it in with the chili.  I do like the fact that this is such a healthy recipe, but the extra calories added by including cheddar cheese in the cornbread would be worth it, so I will try this next time.

While I was happy that my husband liked the meal, I was most thrilled to see Romeo, my 11-year old Boston Terrier, stalking the oven while the chili baked.  He only does this when my Mom visits at Christmas and Easter (and cooks a turkey and a ham, respectively), and never for anything I cook.

Romeo, the Chili Stalker

Chili Bean and Corn Bread Pie (recipe adapted from Ellie Krieger’s “Comfort Food Fix”):

For the Filling:

1 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tbsp tomato paste

1 tsp each ground cumin, dried oregano, and chili powder

1/2 tsp dried coriander

15-oz can low-sodium kidney beans, drained and rinsed

15-oz can low-sodium pink or red beans, drained and rinsed (I used pinto beans)

14.5-oz can no-salt-added diced tomatoes with their juices

Two 4-oz cans diced green chiles, drained

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp black pepper

2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro leaves

For the Topping:

1 1/4 cups yellow cornmeal

1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour

1 tsp baking powder

3/4 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 1/3 cups low-fat buttermilk

1 large egg

2 tbsp honey

1 tbsp canola oil

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Spray an 8-inch square baking dish with cooking spray.

To make the filling, heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and cook, stirring, until softened and lightly browned, about 8 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds.  Add the tomato paste, cumin, oregano, chili powder, and coriander, and cook, stirring, about 1 minute.  Add the beans, tomatoes with their liquid, green chiles, salt, and black pepper and bring to a boil.  (I found the mixture very thick at this point and added a few splashes of stock).  Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the liquid is reduced by about half, about 10 minutes.  Stir in the cilantro and transfer the filling to the baking dish.

To make the topping, in a medium bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  In another medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, egg, honey, and oil.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir to combine.  Pour the cornmeal batter over the bean mixture, then smooth the surface with a spatula.  Bake until the top is browned around the edges and a toothpick inserted into the corn bread layer comes out clean, about 30 minutes.  Makes 6 servings.

Peanut Butter Cherry Granola Bars

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Peanut Butter Cherry Granola Bars

My family is a major consumer of packaged granola bars, breakfast bars, protein bars, etc. — you name it, we eat it.  They are just an easy (and sometimes healthy) snack to throw into backpacks and lunchbags.  While I love the convenience, the idea of having a healthy stash of homemade, unprocessed bars in my fridge is also appealing.  So I’m going to try a few recipes to see if I can find something my kids enjoy as much as the packaged stuff.

First up is a Looneyspoons Collection recipe called Goody Two Chews.  They are sweet, chewy, and have a big hit of pumpkin pie spice (if you don’t love pumpkin pie spice, cut it back or swap for cinnamon).  I found a video of Greta Podleski demonstrating the recipe, and I have included my version of the recipe below.  The original recipe calls for light peanut butter (I used regular) and dried cranberries (I used dried cherries); you can certainly swap in your own favorites.  For the low-fat granola, definitely try to use Nature’s Path Pumpkin Flax Plus Granola.  It has pumpkin seeds but no dried fruit, so perfect for this recipe.  And, well, it’s delicious.

My kids did not care for these granola bars — they seemed put off by all the cherries (even though my youngest, Lauren, could eat a whole bag of dried cherries in one sitting).  But that’s okay, because that means more for me.  The combination of peanut butter with pumpkin seeds and cherries is quite addictive.  I really enjoyed these.  I tried them out on my husband and also my friend Beth, just to make sure I wasn’t biased…they loved them as well.  Perhaps the flavors are just a bit too exotic for the average kid palate.  They requested something more in the ballpark of chocolate chips and oats, so stay tuned.

Peanut Butter Cherry Granola Bars (adapted from Janet & Greta Podleski’s, “The Looneyspoons Collection”)

1/3 cup peanut butter

1/3 cup pure maple syrup

2 egg whites

1 tsp pumpkin pie spice

2 1/2 cups Pumpkin Flax Plus Granola

3/4 cup chopped dried cherries

Preheat oven to 250F.  Spray a 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray.  In a medium bowl, beat together peanut butter and maple syrup with an electric mixer on medium speed.  Add egg whites and pumpkin pie spice  and beat again until smooth.

Stir in granola and dried cherries.  Divide mixture evenly among muffin cups (about 3/4 full).  Bake for 45 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool completely on a wire rack before removing clusters from pan.  Store in an airtight container.

Creamy Bowties with Salmon

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Bowties with Salmon & Peas

My kids (like many kids I know) are happiest when the components of their meals are all separate from one another — protein, grains, fruit/vegetables are mixed together at your own risk.  I prefer the exact opposite:  easy one-pot meals that incorporate everything into one dish.  I’m especially happy when the recipe calls for lots of vegetables, herbs, and spices (a nightmare to my children).  This kind of cooking makes for easy leftovers too.  Every now and then I will see a recipe that incorporates everything in one dish but features ingredients the kids actually like to eat, and this Creamy Farfalle with Salmon and Peas from Self Magazine fit the bill.  Well, I take that back — they would happily pass on the peas, but you can’t get everything you wish for.

This meal turned out really well.  The sauce was thick and creamy (save some of the starchy pasta water to thin it out if necessary) and the smell of cream cheese with fresh dill was fantastic.  It was a mild, “kid-friendly” combination.  For the pasta, I used Barilla’s “Piccolini” Mini Farfalle.  When my girls first eyed their bowls, they made faces about all those peas, but after a bite of pasta I heard lots of, “Mmmm, this is actually pretty good”.  The recipe could easily be modified to use cubed chicken or ham instead of salmon, and you could switch out the peas for another favorite veggie.  I will definitely be keeping this one on hand for an easy one-dish meal that everyone at my table will eat.

Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution – I Love it!

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Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution

Image via Wikipedia

I have been following the progress of the Food Revolution for some time, and the achievements this group has made in terms of education and getting better foods into schools is just exciting, in my opinion.

I sent the link for my blog over to the nice folks at the Food Revolution, and they invited me to send in a “guest blog post”.  And the best part — they actually published it!  It felt so amazing to describe what the Food Revolution meant to me and my family, and even more amazing to see the number of people who read it and posted supportive comments.

The post is called  A Recipe Resolution — Tying Memories to Great Food.

That’s Right, Spinach Cake Muffins

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When I saw this recipe for Spinach Cake Muffins from weelicious.com, I had to try them.  I know it’s not the same as eating a spinach salad, but even the small handful of spinach leaves that make up one mini muffin is more than my kids would eat on any other given day.  My first thought was to add cocoa powder so the muffins wouldn’t be green…and then I decided this would be a great opportunity to show the girls how delicious baby spinach is (assuming the muffins actually tasted good).  Luckily, these little green gems taste more like vanilla than anything else, and my kids gobbled them up.  That’s not to say they didn’t twist up their faces and stick out their tongues when I first told them about the spinach, but they were sold after the first bite.

We did a “breakfast for dinner” meal with these muffins (scrambled eggs and fresh fruit), and the kids asked if we could have them for dinner again the next night, so this recipe will be added to the regular rotation for sure.  It’s also a nice way to use up extra baby spinach, which I always have on hand.  I have some ideas on other ways to spin this recipe, so I am going to play with it and I’ll definitely post the results.

For a smile, check out the video of the recipe author’s toddler making these muffins.  I only wish I could be this relaxed with my kids in the kitchen!

It’s a Monday Night Miracle

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Bethenny's Pesto Lasagna

I rarely cook a “real” dinner on Monday nights.  The timing of the kids’ activities means there is about a 15 minute window to sit down and eat — sometimes together, sometimes not.  I’ve been wanting to try Bethenny’s Pesto Vegetarian Lasagna for a while, and hoped that with just six ingredients, I could quickly prep this ahead of time and then throw it in the oven during the mad dash activities that tend to occur in our house on any given Monday.

I decided to cut the recipe in half, and I added a seventh ingredient – shredded parmesan cheese on top.  I covered the lasagna with foil for most of the cooking time.  While this was a delicious dish, mine did not turn out anything like the picture in the original recipe!  After it came out of the oven, the bubbly cheese settled, and the lasagna was less than an inch thick.  so I would recommend this as a side dish, not a main course.  The good news — my kids really liked it.  The pesto was the main flavor and you just can’t go wrong with basil and cheese.

Strawberry French Toast Muffins

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Strawberry French Toast Muffins

There is nothing better than french toast on Sunday mornings.  Being able to have it weekday mornings would be a major accomplishment, so cooking it ahead of time in muffin-form sounded perfect to me.  This French Toast Muffin recipe is a good one and relatively healthy; I didn’t change much — added extra cinnamon and used fresh diced strawberries instead of frozen mixed berries (I did this to appeal to my daughter Lauren’s taste, but since she picked around the strawberries anyway, I’ll stick to the nice assortment of mixed berries next time).  Just pop the extras in the fridge and then heat them up for 20-30 seconds in the microwave.  And of course, extra maple syrup drizzled on top is a must.

Pint-Sized Caprese

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Caprese Pops

I love shopping at Central Market.  It’s a good idea to go on an empty stomach, as they are always sampling a ton of delicious food.  I was picking up some fresh basil when I saw a woman putting together skewers of tomato, basil, and mozzarella.  After enjoying my little treat, I decided we definitely had to have Caprese Pops as our salad with dinner.

This dish (I’m not sure you can even call it a recipe) was easy enough to assign to my seven and four-year old daughters — and they loved making them.  I set out grape tomatoes, basil leaves, cubes of mozzarella, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, a grinder of sea salt (I like Maldon), and pepper.  They did the rest.  It seemed the tomatoes were magically removed from their skewers after reaching the dinner table, but I was happy that they at least tried them.

Carrot Soup or Bust

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Orange-Scented Carrot Soup

I really enjoy a quick soup-and-sandwich dinner on busy nights.  Any kind of vegetable-based soup with a grilled cheese or tuna melt is easy, healthy, and on the table in five minutes.  The problem is that my sweet 4-year old, Lauren, does not seem to like ANY of the soups I have put in front of her.  Every time I try a new variety, she responds with, “I only want carrot soup Mommy”.  Okay, I have never seen a plain carrot soup in the store, and trust me, I have done a lot of looking.

I saw Melissa d’Arabian making Orange-Scented Carrot Soup on her show, Ten Dollar Dinners, and realized it was time to invest more than my normal five minutes and cook up some carrot soup at home.  As a bonus, oranges are another of Lauren’s favorites.  But knowing this was my chance at creating a soup my daughter would actually eat, the pressure was on.  And did I mention she’s never actually tried carrot soup?

After reading the reviews on this recipe, I cooked the carrot-onion mixture a lot longer than five minutes before going on to the next step (at least 15 minutes).  I also cut the oregano down to 1/2 tsp, added 1/2 tsp of ground cumin, and a pinch of ground ginger.  Since I had already zested oranges per the recipe, I squeezed in some orange juice along with the wine.  I used an immersion blender to blend the soup right in the pot.  The sour cream swirled in at the end is a great addition — don’t skip that part.

The soup was simple, nutritious and tasty.  You could really taste and smell the orange after adding the zest and juice.  As for Lauren — she ate a few spoonfuls, said it was, “okay”, and then told me what she really wanted was tomato soup.

Getting our Hands Dirty

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These Honey, Parmesan, & Rosemary Scones were a lot of fun to make with the kids.  Picking herbs from the garden for dinner is fun as-is, but they were extra excited about getting to knead the dough and cut out the circles.  This was actually our second attempt at the recipe; the first batch was a little burnt, which I should have expected with my oven.  We only cooked the scones for 10 minutes the second time.  I added extra parmesan in the dough (3/4 cup instead of 1/2 cup) and sprinkled more parmesan on top of each scone before baking.  Also, I subbed in 1/2 cup of whole wheat pastry flour for some of the regular flour.  We had them with a big bowl of Bucatini Vongole — perfect for soaking up all that garlicky sauce.