Thursday, March 19, 2015

Energy Bites: Healthy & Delicious (For Real!)

I don't know if you have made energy bites of some sort, but I have become a fan of these yummy and healthy snacks.   A while back, my friend Connie gave me a few of these she had made to sample.  After I had one, I immediately texted her, "YUM! I tried them and I need the recipe!"  Then, a few weeks ago it was my snack-bringing week for church and I felt the need to make something a little more substantially nutritious than the biscuits and coffee cake I had made the previous months.  I looked on my Pinterest breakfast board and found this recipe that was pretty much Connie's recipe but with peanut butter instead of almond butter. I had forgotten about the recipe! 

I made a double batch- which yielded 40 something balls.  They were all gone within a few minutes of serving them.  I don't know if people were desperately hungry or they really liked them.  We have lots of kids that congregate around our snack table at church, so I think we can call these delicious when kids and adults ate them, and we can call them healthy since they are chock full of flax seed, chia and oats! 

I made them again for my family this week and we have enjoyed having them for a quick snack or for a breakfast on the go.  I even had one for dessert the other night (though my son believes that despite that fact that they are laced with chocolate chips, they do not qualify for dessert) !

I'm trying to have things on hand that are protein-rich, as my kids tend to reach for crackers, chips, and starches for snacks.  Lately, I've made Hummus and Texas Caviar to have in the refrigerator and try to always keep yogurt and smoothie-making supplies on hand.  If I get my act together to have the good stuff within reach, and prep a couple of things for the week, they have good, tasty, healthy things within reach.  


Energy Bites
Makes about 20

1 cup (dry) old fashioned oatmeal
2/3 cup coconut flakes
½ cup peanut butter (or almond butter- take your pick)
½ cup ground flaxseed
½ cup mini chocolate chips
1/3 cup honey
1 Tbsp. chia seeds
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Stir all ingredients together in a bowl.  Let set in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.  
Form into small balls (about golf ball size).  
Put in an air tight container and keep in refrigerator. 

If this inspires you to get into healthy oatey bar/bite making, I have two granola bar recipes I love that I wrote about HERE and HERE and my favorite go-to granola recipe HERE, oh and the lovely chewy peanut butter granola HERE.  If you are short on time, these simple but nutritionally dense bites are super easy and quick to put together.  

Monday, March 9, 2015

Turtle Back Cookies

Our friends, the McCulloughs, started a tradition several years ago of bringing our family pizza dinner, from Pizza Perfect (a yummy local Pizza shop) on the night of my first day of class each year.  What a gift to have someone else take care of dinner after day 1 of class.  How thoughtful is that?  I love this tradition for many reasons, including that they stay and eat with us and that Lindsey usually brings homemade cookies!  A couple of years ago, she brought these incredible Turtle Back Cookies.  I love good cookies, and I am tempted to eat more than I should.  However, these were on an entirely other level.  They were like cookies meets spice cake with caramel frosting! Trouble!  I loved them…maybe too much!

I asked Lindsey for the recipe.  She said she was still trying to find the right recipe.  She is attempting to recreate a favorite cookie from a bakery (Traeger's Bakery) in Demopolis, Alabama.  Visiting the bakery was a tradition in her family.  When visiting their grandparents, they would always go get these Turtleback cookies, as would many people in that community.  (She also shared that her grandmother would always get Easter Egg Cake there at Easter time. Fun!)

The bakery has since closed and the Turtle Back Cookie fans are left scrambling to recreate these special treats at home.  Unfortunately the owners haven't shared their secret recipe. If you google "Traeger's Bakery Turtle Back Cookies" you will find many attempts at the recipe. This is Lindsey's favorite recipe thus far.  I told her she can stop the search!  I have never had the originals, so I can't compare them, but I can say that they are one of my favorite cookies/desserts!  The texture of the cookie is lovely. It is chewy, with a good cinnamon/brown sugar/nutty flavor and a nice crunchy edge.  The thick caramel frosting on top makes them more of a dessert than just a cookie.

From Lindsey McCullough

Spice Cookies
2 cup shortening (I used 1 cup butter & 1 cup Crisco- since that’s what Lindsey did)
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla

5 1/2 cup sifted flour
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup pecans (plus additional ¼ cup to press on bottom)

Sift together flour, cinnamon, soda and salt; set aside.
Cream together shortening/butter, sugars, eggs and vanilla.  Stir in other dry ingredients (flour, cinnamon, soda and salt).  Add pecans.  Chill dough several hours or overnight.
Drop with 1 5/8 inch cookie scoop onto foil or parchment paper, which has a layer of chopped pecans.  Press bottom of cookies onto pecans.  Place on cookie sheet lined with parchment.  Bake at 325 degrees for about 12 minutes or until fully cooked when touched.  Cool before icing.

½ cup (1 stick) butter
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 box (4 cups) confectioner’s sugar, sifted
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
4 to 5 Tbsp. evaporated milk (or cow’s milk if you don’t have evaporated)
Bring butter and brown sugar to a boil and simmer 2 minutes.

Remove from heat; stir in vanilla.  Alternately add sifted sugar and milk.  Add cinnamon to some of the sugar as it is sifted.  Beat with wire whisk or mixer.  Adjust sugar and milk to spreading consistency. (It might not take all the sugar or all of the milk.) You want it spreadable but thick.  You can put it back on the burner if it starts to solidify   

I have made them twice and one time the dough felt dry and crumbly.  They turned out thick and puffy, which looked good, but they were drier and crumblier.  If this happens to your dough for some reason, add a little milk or water to your batter to soften it up a bit.  

toasted coarsely chopped pecans
pecans are pressed into the bottom of the cookie
as well as stirred into the dough
the carmel frosting that is quite addictive

This is a with and without frosting photo.  If you don't love the richness of the thick caramel frosting,
the cookie itself is an an excellent spice cookie!  
Make someone's day by baking them some of these lovelies.  It makes a nice big batch, so there are plenty to keep and share.  And while you're at it, maybe offer to bring a pizza over too and sit down and enjoy it with them.  And make their entire week brighter!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Making Banana Pancakes

Having middle schoolers is so interesting.  I'm seeing things about them as people, individual humans that I am fascinated by.  I sometimes wonder which of these attributes will be forever parts of them and which ones are seasonal.  An interesting quality about my son is that he cherishes ritual and celebration. More than anyone in our home.  He's the one who thinks of special ways to honor me on Mother's Day, and wants to commemorate the first day of school, or the first day of summer vacation with certain foods and traditions. Food really is the main focus of his celebrating.  He comes by this honestly.  I really think food is the cornerstone of most celebrating.  
Like earlier this month for my birthday.  I thought of a few activities that were non-food related, like hiking at Radnor Lake and cleaning my laundry room (I know, glamorous…thank you Gretchen for indulging), but for the most part it was about food and coffee.  

So, one of the desires of my son is to have "Saturday breakfast".  A real one.  Seated around the table not standing around or perched at the bar.  Weekday mornings are on-the-go and running about.  People fend for themselves or request a smoothie or egg to be made while someone is already blending or flipping.  The kids usually sit at the bar and Dave and I stand.  So, when we can, I try to honor this Saturday Breakfast Ritual. I love it too.  And I love that he loves it.  

The four mainstays of our Saturday Breakfasts are:

 our favorite Oh Boy Waffles.  If you haven't tried them you must.  They are like no other waffles.
And the Mile High Biscuits.  You need to make them this week! I crave them very often.

And French Toast - inspired by the Pancake Pantry.

And Banana Pancakes.
We were not having great luck with our Joy of Cooking recipe- they were flatter than a pancake! 
But my friend Melissa B. pointed me to the Martha Stewart Classic Pancake recipe and BINGO it's a winner.  It's a great classic pancake- that you can tweak and add to.  I love a Buckwheat pancake, or cornmeal or grainy one, but my family would rather stick to these fluffy, classic ones.
And as long as we can add some toasted pecans and sliced bananas, I'm happy with these pancakes.  They are predictable and easy.

Basic Pancakes
by Martha Stewart

1 cup all-purpose flour, (spooned and leveled)
2 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup milk
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted, or vegetable oil
1 large egg

Butter or oil for pan

Assorted toppings or mix ins: chopped bananas, toasted pecans, berries, mini chocolate chips

Soft butter and syrup

Preheat oven to 200˚; have a baking sheet ready to keep cooked pancakes warm in the oven.  In a small bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt; set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together milk, butter (or oil), and egg.  Add dry ingredients to milk mixture; whisk until just moistened (do not over mix; a few small lumps are fine).  If you are adding mix-ins, do so now.

Heat a large skillet or griddle over medium heat.  Rub skillet with a little butter or oil on a paper towel.

For each pancake, spoon 2-3 Tbsp. of batter onto skillet, using the back of the spoon to spread batter into a round.  (Or use one of those fancy pancake pens- which I don't have or I would have provided photos to demonstrate. It's on my wish list.)

Cook until surface of pancakes have some bubbles and a few have burst, 1 to 2 minutes.  Flip carefully with a thin spatial and cook until brown on the underside, 1 to 2 minutes more.  Transfer to baking sheet; cover loosely with aluminum foil, and keep warm in oven.
Continue oiling/buttering pan before each pancake pouring.

Top with butter, syrup, and/or fruit, nuts, etc.


I can't help but sing the Jack Johnson song, Banana Pancakes, every time I make them! Do you know this song? It's a great weekend, breakfast-making soundtrack.  That entire album is.  I looked up the lyrics so I could really sing along and realized that I really didn't relate to it at all  (except that I like to make banana pancakes), nor was it the most family friendly lyrically.   So, for those of you who get to lie in bed on a weekday with your spouse and tempt him/her to stay in bed and take the morning slow and eat banana pancakes, then this might be your anthem.  My anthem is more about choosing to wake up early so that we can steal a quiet hour of drinking coffee, chatting, reading and centering before the onslaught of children and busyness and tasks enter the scene.  Unlike the song, our banana pancakes are requested by our children who devour them in 8 minutes.  And after a  "thanks for the pancakes" they are ready to move on to the next activity of the day.  Nevertheless, I still play the song when we make Banana Pancakes.

It's such fun to honor my teenager's desire to sit around the table together and make a special Saturday breakfast memory. I don't assume that this will always be the case, though with him, it just might.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Chocolate Shortbread Valentine Cookies

I love Valentine's Day! So fun! So much prettiness and love and sugar!  I have written about my adoration of this holiday in years past and have shared some of my favorite traditions, recipes and treats 
So, I will refrain from repeating myself and will make this a short post.  

In my home (and my home growing up) Valentine's was a fun holiday not a romantic, "Hallmark", pressure-filled holiday.  It's a day to say "I LOVE YOU" to people you adore- friends, family, co-workers, neighbors.  

Heart garland- fun to make and have love draping from your ceiling! My
friend Connie made this one for me several birthdays ago and I
bring it out each year!

Valentine BINGO played with conversation hearts

Meringue Cookies- heart shaped! 
I usually make heart cut out cookies because they are so pretty and delicious and lovely.  Hearts are my favorite cookie cutter shape and the easiest to frost, in my opinion. 

 I sometimes make sugar cookies or these linzer shortbread cookies.

If you are more in the chocolate mood, these chocolate shortbread cookies are a treat!  

They are soft and like a thin brownie!  

The dough is just a few ingredients that you mix together.

They are easy and fun to ice.

After a bit of refrigeration, the dough is easy to cut out.

Here's the recipe:

from Everyday Food- Martha Stewart
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
3 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  With an electric mixer, beat butter until creamy.  Add flour, sugar and cocoa; mix just until combined.  (Chill dough in refrigerator for 10 minutes or more…if you chill it for longer, set out to soften a bit before rolling as it becomes hard in the refrigerator with all of that butter!)

Pat dough onto a flat surface and roll out (using a dusting of powdered sugar or flour to keep from sticking). Cut with cookie cutter into hearts (or desired shape). Place on cookie sheet (I line mine with parchment for easy clean up and no sticking). Bake 10-12 minutes until firm but not crispy.  
Cool completely and then frost as you wish. (See below for ideas)

1. Ice with a simple glaze-
I scooped 1/2 cup powdered sugar, a heaping Tbsp cocoa powder, a few drops of vanilla extract in a small bowl, stirred and added drops of water until it was smooth and thin, but not too thin. Spread on cookies with a spoon.  Add sprinkles while they are still wet.
2.  Melt melting chocolate wafers (I use the Ghirardelli brand) and dip the cookies (half or entire cookie) adding sprinkles while still wet.  
3.  I had some buttercream frosting left over from making a Giant Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake and decided to make sandwich cookies (inspired by the double-doozie cookies at the cookie store)

I think the key is frosting them in a way that makes them easy to stack and package for giving away! The sprinkles provide a nice barrier to cookies which keep them from sticking to each other. 

Bake some lovely goodies, write a kind note, make something pretty, bring warmth to this wintry month, share your adoration with someone! 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Brownie Bottom Coconut Bars & Honoring MLK

For about 8 years my family has sought to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King on his birthday weekend.
We talk about the life and work of Dr. King, and we think about what we can do in our lives to carry on the work for equality and dignity for all people that he and his colleagues did. I posted HERE about this tradition. As my kids are getting older, I want to think of some even more significant things we can do for this holiday.

I always make a treat that somehow incorporates chocolate and vanilla to represent racial integration and togetherness.  I have made cookies and cakes of various sorts.  Like this one.

I was trying to decide what to make for this year- a new recipe, one we've done in the past, a variation on a standard.  But when I was looking for another recipe in a stack of my old Martha Stewart's Everyday Food magazines I found this recipe for Brownie-Bottom Coconut Bars.  I have had the recipe in my torn out magazine pages for years but have never made them.  I knew they would have to be good since they are brownie on the bottom and coconut macaroon on the top!  I decided MLK weekend would be a good time to make them, with their black and white togetherness.  They are simple to make and they are really, really good!

They are pretty and feel special.  All of my coconut-loving people gobbled them up.

Brownie-Bottom Coconut Bars 
from martha stewart's Every Day Food magazine

Chocolate Brownie Base:
1 stick butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp coarse salt
1 large egg
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup all purpose flour

Coconut Topping:
2 large eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 package (7 oz.) sweetened shredded coconut (1/2 cup reserved for sprinkling)

For the brownie:
Preheat oven to 375˚
Line a 9 inch square baking pan with aluminum foil, leaving a slight overhang; butter bottom and sides of foil (not overhang)
Place butter in a large microwave-safe bowl; melt in microwave.
Add sugar and salt; whisk to combine.
Whisk in egg, then cocoa and flour until smooth.
Spread batter into prepared pan.

Bake just until sides begin to pull away from edges of pan, 10 to 15 minutes (do not over bake). Let cool slightly while preparing coconut topping.  Keep oven on for topping.

For the coconut topping:
In a medium bowl, whisk eggs with sugar and vanilla.  Gently mix in flour and coconut (except 1/2 cup reserved for sprinkling).
Drop mounds of mixture over chocolate base; spread and pat in gently and evenly with moistened fingers.  Sprinkle with reserved 1/2 cup coconut.

Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs attached, 25 to 30 minutes.  Cool completely in pan.  Lift cake from pan,  peel off foil, and cut into 24 bars.

It makes 24 small bars- but they are rich- so being small is good.

In our city Regal Cinemas and Metro Public Schools teamed up to offer free admission to students to see SELMA in the theaters.  We went on Saturday and it was very impactful.  If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend that you do.

It was hard  to watch.  It was emotional  and painful  and honest  and hard.  Lainey and I held hands most of the time and cried a lot during the film.  It was really important though.

It is a very well done film and a raw look at the difficulty of a tumultuous and unjust time in our country and the bravery of some amazing people. I think we need to know and remember and in doing so deepen our compassion for the not-so-long-ago events that continue to have ripple effects today.

Thanking God for the courage, clarity and spiritual strength of Dr. King and his comrades this weekend and praying that we might be people of conviction and action like them.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Last Call for Cranberries: Cranberry Orange Bread

Cranberries are so lovely.  They add such zip, color and flavor to recipes!  November and December are the main cranberry months, but if you look quick you can get some in January!  I always stock up for the following 10 months!

I am always looking for a great quick bread recipe that can be thrown together easily for breakfast or to take somewhere. This recipe is a favorite- chock full of cranberries, orange juice and zest and chopped walnuts!  (As for Cranberry muffins these, from King Arthur Flour, are my all-time favorites - though they require a little more time to prepare with more chopping and measuring than this Cranberry bread).  

My friend Emily shared this bread recipe with me a few years ago.  I can't even remember when or in what context, but I printed it out, tucked it in a notebook, and have reached for it many times through the years.

Emily continually inspires me.  She has an lovely blog Celebrate Today, where she shares about her daily life and beckons the reader to celebrate each day- in grand and small ways.   You can check it out HERE.

This week she wrote about her morning run - seeing the sun rise (inspiring, I told you) and she noted seeing the crocus flowers starting to peek through the ground, signaling that spring is coming soon.  I needed to hear that.  I needed the reminder that these gray days will end and there will be green grass, blooming blossoms, and sunny days again. This gives me hope. 

In the meantime as I wait for those spring days, I am going to use my cranberries, and try to embrace these days.

2 cups all purpose flour (or combination of whole wheat/ all-purpose or whole grain pastry flour)
1 cup sugar (or a little less)
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 egg
½ cup orange juice
grated peel (the zest) of 1 orange
2 Tbsp. melted butter
2 Tbsp. hot water
1 cup fresh cranberries (or frozen)
½ to 1 cup chopped walnuts (depending on how nutty you like it)

In a large mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients.  In another bowl, beat egg. Add orange juice, peel, butter and hot water.  Add to flour mixture, stirring just until moistened. Gently fold in cranberries and walnuts.  Spoon into greased loaf pan (or mini loaf pans).
Bake at 325 degrees for 60 minutes (if using large loaf pan- reduced if using small pans) or until toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. 
Cool for 10 minutes before removing and placing on a wire rack.

I made it a couple of weeks ago and doubled the recipe.  I baked 1/2 in my mini-loaf pans to slice and take to church and the other 1/2 in a large loaf pan, which I wrapped up, froze and took to the Joneses when we went to visit during the holidays. 

It freezes well, thaws easily, travels well, and is good for breakfast, lunch, or for snacking!

We got to enjoy it for breakfast at their home with omelets, yogurt and homemade granola.  Delicious! 

While the cranberry bread was baking, I couldn't resist making a jar of cranberry sauce with the rest of the cranberries in the bag.  I wrote about making cranberry sauce HERE. So easy, pretty, and delicious on sandwiches, with dinner, or in my yogurt for breakfast!

Seize the cranberries while they last, and hold out hope that spring is coming soon!