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:

Image
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:

Image
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?

Image

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.

Image
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!

Image
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.

Advertisements

Cheaters [Never?] Win

So it’s been WEEKS since I’ve blogged and it feels like YEARS.  It’s also been weeks since I’ve baked or cooked anything new, and I’m so happy to report that today I was able to do some of that also.  I’ve started a new day job, which is awesome and keeps me busy during the daylight hours.  The last few weekends have been spent sleeping. Oh, how I’ve missed the sleep.

Anyway, my husband’s employer is having a contest tomorrow.  A cupcake contest.  This will be simple.  A breeze.  Like shooting fish in a barrel.

Not so fast.  Actually, last year I made something for the same contest.   I poured my blood, sweat, tears, and some gorgeous produce into that dish.  I was incredibly proud of my entry, and I was sure I had won, even before my husband called from work that evening.

Actually on that call he told me “Well I thought you did an amazing job.”  Aha.  The pat-on-the-back, “A for effort”,  I love you anyway talk.  I had lost.  And it must have been by a landslide, the way he was holding my hand while delivering the news.

A few things I should have thought about last year:  I carefully selected a healthy/vegan recipe, which was mistake number one.   When your target audience (or appetite) is middle-aged American men who lift heavy things for a living, healthy/vegan isn’t what you want on your nutritional info label.  I also made sure to make it really “neat” looking.  Photo-ready.  (A habit of mine, you know.)  That was mistake number two.  Men like these don’t eat things that look like they’re meant for afternoon tea.  They eat chicken wings covered in hot sauce and messy things with gravy.  Basically if it isn’t on their faces and hands or staining their clothes, it isn’t even a threat in this challenge.

I expected to win last year’s contest because I made something I would be thrilled to eat.  I was not only a loser last year, but mine was one of the few dessert trays not totally emptied during the judging.  Ouch.  That was a punch in the ego.  The grand prize winner was something called “death by chocolate”.  When I asked my husband to describe it to me, he just used the word “chocolate” a lot of times.  So… yeah.  I felt like my pure-bred racehorse had just lost the Preakness to a lame old (chocolate) donkey.

This year, determined to win, I approached the contest from a completely different perspective.  My culinary plan of attack is much more man-centric.  I can’t believe I’m going to say this out loud, but… I … CHEATED.   Yes, I made red velvet cupcakes with icing inside.  But, I cheated.  I… *gulp*… made them FROM A BOX MIX!

Nothing says loving like powder and oil.
Nothing says loving like powder and oil.

Cooking or baking things from packages might not be shocking to some of you, but I grew up in my grandmother’s home.  All the dishes, desserts, birthday cakes, ALL of it was made from scratch.  Real ingredients, real “elbow grease”, or not at all.  Box cakes are blasphemy.  Of the devil.  A shameful, horrible invention.

However, box cakes are also what Americans eat.  I want to win, and so I stooped to the lowest level I could fathom.  And you know something?  Perhaps the worst of all of this is that it doesn’t actually taste that bad.  (Please don’t tell Grandmother I said that!)

Holy fakecakes, Batman!
Holy fakecakes, Batman!

The cake is moist and bouncy.  Certainly not the color or texture of something that occurs in nature, but not completely unappetizing.  They smell good, too.  I used my apple corer to dig out holes in the middle for the icing.  Looks yummy, no?

Another upside to “cheating” in baking is the time difference.  These cupcakes took me about 45 minutes, from start to finish, including cleaning up the kitchen.  If I had made these by hand from scratch, well, I’d probably still be baking and not blogging about what I’d baked.  So here’s a photo of hte finished product, all iced and (dare I say it) delicious-looking.

This is what winning looks like.
This is what winning looks like.

Beautiful, no?  Unfortunately the icing turned out a bit thin, but I don’t think the guys at my husband’s job are going to notice.  Mark my words, these from-the-box, spongy, blasphemy cupcakes are going to win me that prize.  These cupcakes are this year’s chocolate donkey, my friends.  I can feel it. Winner’s circle, here I come.

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.”

Almond Meal Protein Pancakes

Long title, short recipe, amazing results.

First, an explanation: I have made a concerted effort in recent months to decrease my intake of processed foods and grains.  I do still eat carbs, but only from whole foods as much as I can help it.  I don’t endorse or advocate any specific diet or lifestyle for ALL people, but higher fat, moderate protein, low-ish carb works wonders for me.  My tummy is happy, my skin is happy, and I am sleeping like an old man at the opera.  It’s wonderful!

This pancake recipe is something I came up with on the fly, in an effort to reproduce my “old” favorite breakfast without the oats.  Not so difficult, actually.  If you’re familiar with the Paleo way of eating or the Primal Blueprint, you know there are lots of flour substitutes out there.  One of the easiest to buy or make at home is almond flour.   I SORT-OF used almond flour.  [You’ll see.] Again, the mood to try this hit me when I didn’t have a way to get to the store, but I find necessity and creativity make for some pretty cool dishes.

Here’s what I used:

Ingredients, minus coconut flakes
Ingredients, minus coconut flakes

Raw Almonds – about 1/4 cup, maybe a little more.  I just emptied out my Blue Diamond bag and crossed my fingers it would be enough.

Roasted, Salted Almonds – 7 or 8.  Just to mix it up a little.

2 Raw Egg Whites

Cinnamon, as much as I want.  [And I want a lot.]

Dash of Vanilla Extract

Unsweetened Coconut Flakes [Coconut is a staple in the PB, and it just so happens my mom left some here last time she visited.]

Here’s where I came off the rails, Paleo/Primal wise:  I added about 3/4 Scoop of Body Fortress Vanilla Whey protein, and one packet of Splenda.  Go ahead, judge me.

I promise this is coconut.
I promise this is coconut.

First, I put all the almonds into my food processor, pulsed on low a couple of times, then high, then low…  I’m kidding.  I just let it go until the almonds were chopped, but not powdered.  I wanted the texture to be stout, since it is oatmeal that I’m replacing, which is hearty and quite satisfying.  I measured out 1/4 cup of the almond meal, and added all the dry ingredients.  [If you have leftover almond meal, just dump tupperware container.  It’s great with everything – waffles, pancakes, even in grilled chicken wraps at lunch.  But that’s an entire post by itself…]

Almond Meal
Almond Meal

I gave the dry stuff a stir, and put it back into the processor.  Next, crack those eggs and put both whites in a small bowl or container.  Add just a pinch of vanilla and stir.  Add to the processor with the rest.  By now, the kitchen should be smelling wonderful.  Both of my kids started wandering in and out, curious about what was cooking.

Wet Ingredients, Dry Ingredients
Wet Ingredients, Dry Ingredients

Personally, like I said earlier, I enjoy texture.  So I didn’t mix this much, but if you want a smoother mix just blend to suit you.  Your skillet should be warming on the stove top, with butter or oil or nonstick spray [I don’t judge].  Grab a spoon and start cooking these babies!  Here’s my first one:

Super YUM, right?
Super YUM, right?

At this moment I am kicking myself for making these at night, because along with the delicious smells and the sense of accomplishment comes the agony of knowing I must wait all night to devour them.

The finished product?  Oh, I’m so glad you asked!  Fluffy and golden brown and beautiful.  And the taste?  Even better than I’d hoped!  The coconut and mealy texture of the almonds hits the taste buds “just so”.  Definitely a keeper.  I cannot WAIT to eat these tomorrow, with fresh berries on top and maybe just a hint of butter and syrup.  Thanks for reading!  If you try this recipe for yourself, please let me know what you think!

Look how fluffy!
Look how fluffy!
Gorgeous, no?
Gorgeous, no?

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.