Sweet Tarts for my Sweet Hearts

It’s almost Valentine’s Day!  Which, when I was in my 20s, I really thought was just a “Hallmark holiday”, even though I was in a committed relatinoship at the time.  I felt, like many people do, that every day should be a day – “the” day – you tell your loved ones what you feel about them, what you appreciate about them.  While I still sort-of feel that way, meaning I put no pressure on my husband to show up with jewelry or take me to dinner, I must say that having kids changed my thoughts a little.

My son has my heart.  Every day, all the time.  One of the most enjoyable parts of having a little one is the holidays, or special treats when we’re able to give them to him.  Probably the BEST thing is all of the “firsts” you get to be present for, and that includes paintings, writing valentines, and so forth.  As a mom, this Valentine’s Day is a day I’ve looked forward to with great anticipation.  We have been secretly making gifts for Daddy using Pinterest ideas and some of our own creativity.  Little Dude has drawn love notes for people in our family and tomorrow we get to distribute them.  It’s the sweetest thing!  And, something I have learned, is that small children know how to love better than ANY of us.  They get it.  They get it like we never will.  I’m so proud of my sweet boy, and his love and sensitivity for others, and of course I want to encourage and foster that in him.

So… still not a romantic holiday in my book, but I’m totally on board with loving it up on Valentine’s Day.

The way I show my love is through food.  I enjoy cooking – particularly baking – for my loved ones.  I created my own recipe for tomorrow’s Valentine’s breakfast.  What follows here is a happy accident.

Valentine’s Apple Pie Croissants Fluffy Tarts

Yeah, so, I had the brilliant idea to do something semi-homemade, like Sandra Lee.  (Don’t you love her? I just love her.)  One of my favorite, super easy, dessert or breakfast add-ons is skillet apples.  Cut up an apple into chunks, cook in butter, add cinnamon and some sweetener, and VOILA!  Basically pie filling you can eat with eggs or ice cream, whatever you like.  So I thought I’d stuff some pre-made crescent rolls with the filling and my family would hail me as the loving genius that I am.

However…

I’m not going to name names, but instead of getting the more expensive, name-brand crescents, I purchased the store brand.  Twenty cents cheaper and “it’s the same thing”, I said to myself.  Big no-no in cooking, in my opinion, is cheaping out.  A lot of times those costly ingredients cost more for a reason. Yes, you can go generic sometimes but other times you’re paying less because the quality is less.  This was one of those times.

I got home and assembled my ingredients:

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Yummily in my Tummily, as Pooh Bear might say.

Next, I heat a “pat” of butter – I just eyeball, it’s probably about a tablespoon – in the skillet:

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For accuracy’s sake, it isn’t a skillet. It’s a sauce pan. It’s my favorite saucepan, so watch your mouth.

Add the apples, sweetener, (sugar is best but I used Stevia this time), and as much cinnamon as you like. I like a lot.  You know in movies, when Italian Mobsters say “Fuggedaboutit” (sp, obviously) ?  Well, one of my favorites of all time is Donnie Brasco, I just so thoroughly enjoy Al Pacino’s Lefty Ruggiero character, it’s beyond explanation.  His is the best accent, the best wardrobe, very best “fuggedaboutit” in the film.  And friends, I have to tell you, if “fuggedaboutit” had a smell, it would smell like this.  Moving on…

Everything’s going fine, I’m thinking I’m going to get this done in 15 minutes and have time to take a nap.  Yay Super Mommy!  And then, it happened.  I peeled back the label on the crescent roll can, holding it as far away from me as possible becauseI am as jumpy as a chihuahua and I hate that “pop” sound.  The label came right off, but no pop.  I squeezed.  Still no pop.  Finally I got a large knife and tried to cut them open, but even that was a mess.  After a few minutes of wrestling with it, I finally managed to pull the dough out.  Unfortunately it was hot and not at all in any recognizable shape.  Instead of croissants, I would have to make something else.

Light bulb!  I pulled the dough apart and made six somewhat even balls.  I sprayed my brand new muffin tin with Pam, and lined six muffin cups with the dough.  Tarts! Pies?  I don’t know, we’ll see.  It’s better than wasting my fuggedaboutit apples, AmIRight?

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I quickly – hurriedly, even – filled the dough ball wads with apple goodness and put them in to my preheated (350 degrees) oven for 10 minutes.

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Pretty Before

The outcome?  Better than I could have hoped, all things considered.  They are like quiche without egg, like tarts if tart makers allowed a “home-style crust” option.  They taste wonderful, and I was still able to get that nap!

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Delicious After

 

They’re buttery, crisp on the outside, soft in the middle and filled with warm apple cinnamon LOVE.  Sweet and tangy and everything I want my Valentine’s breakfast to be.  This is why cooking is so wonderful! It’s magical, a true adventure… and so are love and mommy-hood.

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I Believe You Have My Stapler.

This week at work has been… challenging.  Normally I’m not one of those who looks forward to Friday any more than any other day, but this week is an exception.  Come ON, weekend!  I kept quoting “Office Space” in my head this week.  The pieces of flair, the fantasy copy machine beating, the “mmm… yeah.”  Seriously.  On the bright side, I do work with some amazing people.  So that’s nice.

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My “how can I help you” face

We have staff meetings a couple times a month, and fortunately they aren’t unpleasant.  As a matter of fact, they are a time of encouragement, fellowship with friends and [have I already mentioned?] there’s food.  Someone on staff volunteers to bring a treat, which could be anything.  Sometimes it’s homemade and sometimes it’s from the store.  But hey, it’s always food.  This week I volunteered to bring the food.

Now, obviously, I love food. I love to cook it, eat it, take photos of it.  I love to learn about it, read about it, experiment with it.  I sing songs to my son about his broccoli.  Admittedly, I’m a food nut.  I’m also a health and fitness enthusiast.  Sometimes vegan, sometimes paleo, but always conscious of what I’m putting into my body.  I often find myself in conversation at the office about diet, fitness, vitamins, nutrients, things of that nature.  I don’t mind it. I less-than-mind it.  I enjoy it, I light up in those kinds of conversations because food and health are my passion.

After a few minutes brainstorming, I came up with a perfect snack to represent who I am and how I think about food, and still be sweet and filling enough to satisfy everyone else at the meeting who maybe doesn’t share my food philosophies. [I also needed something that would be affordable.]  Here’s a photo:

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Drooling all over yourself, right?  ME TOO!  Fruit skewers.  Easy to handle, great for Summer and perfectly refreshing.  As I was making these, those little glands by my jaw kept tingling.  Oh, the anticipation of those sweet, sweet strawberries.  And the kiwi – I was ill-prepared and only had one – was SO ripe it was all I could do not to just swallow it whole.

One thing I have noticed about myself in the last couple of years, that either wasn’t the case before, or I didn’t realize before because I wasn’t eating as well as I should: I have a real, physical, visceral reaction to foods that nourish me.  It’s almost lust.  The body is alive, is made up of live cells, so when it’s fed living foods on a consistent basis, there is a palpable shift.  It starts to crave those types of foods.  Trust me, it’s real and it feels good.

Anyway, back to the office story.  At the store throwing all this fruit in my cart, I decided there should be something on the side.  A dip?  Yogurt?  I’m running through dietary restrictions in my head – so and so is gluten free, um I think so and so is doing this or that diet plan – hmm… I know!  NUTELLA!!  Delicious hazelnut spread that everyone likes.  Perfect.  So I get to the aisle number 149 over at the other end of the store, and I see the Nutella.  But just as I was about to add it to my pending purchases, another jar caught my eye.  It said Justin’s, and looked like my favorite Maple Almond Butter, but it said “Hazelnut”.  Is this real, or am I hallucinating?  Justin’s makes a delicious hazelnut spread too, but theirs has no ingredients I can’t pronounce and only 1/3 the sugar?!  Is today Christmas?!  For clarity’s sake, I’ll say here that I chose the Justin’s.  [Because of course I did.]

I went to the conference room early to set up, and the spread was delightful, just as I’d imagined it.  Granted, it did take a long time to slice up all that fruit and put it all on skewers, and I may or may not have gone to bed with a stomach ache from all the pieces I “dropped” into my mouth.  Still, it was a success and it all got eaten and I am quite proud of myself.  I did, of course, post a photo on instagram.  Hashtag CANIGETARAISE?

A photo, this time of the presentation at work:

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BBQ Pulled Pork in the Crock Pot

I am good at everything I do.  I am successful at everything I attempt.  These are just an example of positive self-talk statements that I use  when starting something I’ve never tried before.  Usually, I believe me.  And usually, I am right.  There is certainly something to this kind of thinking.  I did say these before trying this recipe, which was made up on the fly, However, this is a FOOD post and not a Law of Attraction post, so let’s get right to the food…

Boston Butt is not something I have attempted to cook in my adult life.  I’m not sure why; as a kid it was a favorite, and one of my dad’s favorites to prepare.  Last week I was thinking about the 4th of July and how to celebrate it.  We weren’t taking a beach trip, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to take the kids downtown to see fireworks.  (In my experience, the level of difficulty/frustration in doing anything downtown that late with a 3 year old and a 16 year old is about one billion-point-two.)  So we decided that since we have a large swimming pool and we’d both be off work this weekend, let’s cook!  Just us, some fresh watermelon, and lots of sun and fun.

I went to the grocery store a few days ago and I’ve just been chomping at the bit to cook this roast.  Last night I perused a ton of recipes, using Google and Pinterest, looking for inspiration.  I didn’t find anything that I really wanted to try.  Granted, my bar was a little high because 1) this is my first pork roast and I want it to knock my socks off, and 2) I needed something that listed the ingredients I have in my cabinet.

So, as per usual, I decided to make something up.  I didn’t write everything down, because I was moving quickly and chattering to myself, mad scientist style, so I could get the roast in the crock pot and get some sleep.  Here is, to the best of my recollection, here’s how it went down:

Unwrapped the Pork Butt (mine was from Publix, 3.78 lbs) and assembled the following: salt, black pepper, cumin, ginger, yellow onion, low sodium soy sauce and barbecue sauce of your choice.  (What I used was Kraft Original, because it’s what we had.  They do make a “light” version, which I did have but wanted to use on some chicken later in the week.)  I chose ginger because it’s a flavor that I always associate with Asian dishes, and I knew it would go well with the soy sauce, so I figured what the heck.

First I chopped the onion and placed it in the bottom of the pot. Next I placed the pork in the pot and salted it moderately and sprinkled some pepper on top.  Also some shakes of cumin, maybe 1 tsp and ginger, maybe 2 tsp.  Rub all of that in, the top and sides of the pork.  (Note: When I say I salted moderately, I mean moderately for me, and I rarely use seasoning so my moderate might be your “light”.  Just use your discretion here.)  Then, in a measuring cup, I poured soy sauce until my inner culinary guide said “when”, which happened to be right at 1/4 cup.  Sure, sounds good.  We’ll go with it.  Then into the same measuring cup I poured the barbecue sauce.  I kept going until the liquid reached just over 3/4 cup line.

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I stopped for a minute to take in the smells.  One of my FAVORITE things about cooking and creating recipes, are the smells.  Before they become flavors, they are sweet, sour, tangy, seductive aromas wafting all around me.  My kitchen smelled delicious.

I mixed the soy sauce and barbecue sauce together with a fork, not paying attention to lumps and bumps since it’s a crock pot, which tends to be very forgiving of things like that.  Poured it on top of the rubbed pork butt roast and added maybe 1/2 cup of water.  Set the crock pot to HIGH.

Rubbed, sauced, ready to go!
Rubbed, sauced, ready to go!

 

Yes, I set it to high!  Everything I had read about crock pot roasts said to set it to low or medium, which is what I meant to do.  However when I woke up this morning to check the roast, the pot was on HIGH!  Of course, there was a fair amount of freaking out before I found the courage to look inside.  Thankfully, the roast was not a charred, stinky, inedible mess.  It looked PERFECT!  But was it perfect?  Only one way to find out.  I gently transferred the roast from the pot to a plate, and THIS is what it looked like:

Did someone say rump roast?
Did someone say rump roast?

It’s everything I dreamed it would be!  Hard, flavorful outer “shell” with tender, juicy, fully cooked but not dry meat inside.  Just look at that juiciness!  I grabbed a fork and started pulling this pork!  I was (I still am) elated at how this “not a recipe” recipe turned out!  Here’s the final product, off the bone and ready to be devoured:

The only pig I ever loved.
The only pig I ever loved.

Does that not look amazing?!!  Let me tell you, it tastes even better than it looks.  My socks are decidedly off.  I’ve said it before about other dishes, but this truly is one of my best.  The taste was right on, all the flavors blended well together and for me, it was everything I want my barbecue pulled pork to be.  It isn’t too sweet, and I’m glad about that because one thing I cannot eat is sweet barbecue.  So, thanks for reading, and PLEASE try my recipe and give me feedback!  I’d love to hear what you think!  (Good news if you are Paleo/Atkins/low carb, I don’t know the exact macros but I can tell you that the sugar and carbs in this dish are negligible.  If you go with a sugar-free or “light” barbecue sauce, they’re even less.)

 

Mango Banana Ice Cream

Happy Memorial Day! I don’t know about your family, but for mine today marks the traditional beginning of Summer. The weather outside was gorgeous here, all blue skies and sunny but not sweltering. The pool is lovely, if a tad chilly, but the kids were brave enough to swim for a bit. Lunch was hot dogs, nothing too fancy. The real Summer time celebratory treat came for dessert.

I had a ripe mango in the fridge. I don’t know a lot about mangoes, or even how to cook with them, so I thought a day when the husband is home and I have some free time would be perfect for experimenting. After looking around at breakfasts, smoothies, and a few odd beauty masks, I decided to follow my own path. Mango Ice Cream! Yes! Sounds delicious, I’m sure I can make something work. I have a fancy new “retro” ice cream maker I bought on Amazon.com for quite a good price, I’ve only used it once and I’ve been itching to use it again. Perfect.

Retro, turquoise, and all kinds of snazzy.
Retro, turquoise, and all kinds of snazzy.

This is a recipe of my own design, and I’m not one to use measuring tools, I trust my “eyeballing”, but I’ll be as detailed as I can in case any readers are interested in making it for themselves.

I am Mango.
I am Mango.

I assembled my ingredients and went to work. I began with one mango, very ripe as I wanted to get the full sweetness when I used it. Cut and peeled it on the cutting board, which is the messiest part of this, but honestly I like how it feels to squish mango in my hands. Moving on… I had half a banana in that had been chilling in the fridge, since my daughter wanted some on her cereal this morning. My mouth was watering. This is going to be GOOD. For a moment I felt all “love it when a plan comes together”. It’s a good amount of banana to add flavor and sweetness but not overpower the mango. I hate it when I buy something that has banana in it and banana is all I can taste. I tend to avoid smoothies or yogurts or other products that are “Something AND Banana”.

Just the right amount of banana.
Just the right amount of banana.

My food processor is small (by the way, I’m taking donations), but thankfully everything fit. I used:
1 ripe mango
1/2 chilled banana
“eyeballed” almond milk, (Almond Breeze vanilla flavor) probably 1/4 C
“eyeballed” Fage 0% Greek yogurt, probably 1/4 C
3/4 C granulated sugar

Greek yogurt to add thickness
Greek yogurt to add thickness

Greek yogurt is wonderfully bitter, and acts to dial down the sweetness of the banana a bit. It worked perfectly for this recipe, and I like to use it in recipes that call for heavy cream. Heavy cream is just so… heavy. I wanted this to be light and fresh and guilt-free.

All mixed up.
All mixed up.

Pulse in the processor on “high” for maybe 30 seconds, just until the mixture is smooth. And voila! Ready for the ice cream machine. My wonderful husband took care of the ice and rock salt, and 30 minutes of churning later, here’s what we had:

31 Flavors has nothing on us!
31 Flavors has nothing on us!

Beautiful, no?

It was cold enough to serve immediately, but I put it in the freezer for a couple of hours so it would get a bit harder like store-bought ice cream. To each his own, but I’m glad I did this, as it melts quickly. It came out like a cross between ice cream and gelato. The flavor is off the charts, maybe a little too sweet for me so I might use less sugar next time. I got “thumbs up” across the board from husband and kids. My three-year-old said “This is TASTY!” That’s it. I’m ready for “The Chew.”

Calamity Cookies

Sounds exciting, right?  Ooh, I promise, they are!

This evening after dinner my husband decided to cut the grass.  Our lawn is rather large, so I knew it would take him a while, and I figured I’d use my free time to bake something.  Usually, the mood to bake strikes at a time when I am not able to go to the store, and tonight was no different.  As a result, I end up foraging in the pantry and fridge to see what I can put together.  This accidental mash-up just happens to be a masterpiece.

Here are the ingredients I found and mixed together.  I didn’t do any exact measuring, sorry. I don’t really cook that way.

Calamitous Ingredients
Calamitous Ingredients

[Preheat oven to 350 degrees.] I started with one medium-ripe banana, mashed with a fork.  Add some oats.  Eyeballed, I’d call it 1/2 cup.  Sprinkle some cinnamon, because I put cinnamon in everything.  Cut up some Green and Black’s Organic 85% Dark Chocolate, wipe drool from face, wash hands, continue.

Mmm...chocolate
Mmm…chocolate

Add a generous serving – maybe 2 tsp – of Agave nectar.  [Not pictured is a packet of nuts from a popular fast food chain.  It was really just a handful of pecans, so I chopped them up and added.]   As the ingredients fall into the bowl, this mixture already smells amazing.  I don’t really love the idea of chewing raw oats, otherwise I probably would have just eaten it all with big spoon, no baking required.

Smells even better than it looks.
Smells even better than it looks.

I suppose you could put these on parchment paper, if that’s your thing, but like I said before these were spur-of-the-moment fluke cookies, so I just lightly sprayed a cookie sheet with non-stick spray and scooped them out.  I ended up with 6 cookies.  Perfect.  Five for me, one for husband if he finishes mowing the lawn in time.  Maybe.

Before baking
On the cookie sheet and ready to go.

Place the cookie sheet with these divinely aromatic balls of sweet misadventure into the oven and bake for 12-15 minutes.  Mine took closer to 15 minutes.  Be careful not to leave them in too long expecting them to harden like cookies do.  These are made of banana.  They are supposed to be squishy.  Scoop onto a rack or plate and allow to cool [if you can stand the wait.]  Me, I ate one piping hot and it was worth the burn on my lip.

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I must say, particularly for something I didn’t mean to do, these “Calamity Cookies” are one of my finest culinary achievements.   Pros: they took all of about 20 minutes, start to finish.  There’s virtually no clean-up.  And the nutrition!  These cookies are totally healthy, great for kids’ snack or for when friends pop over.  I made sure to scribble on a notepad a rough estimate and description so that I can make them again one day.  Oh, and if you’re wondering, Husband did finish his chores in time to try one.

A photo of deliciousness.
A photo of deliciousness.