Chocolate Peppermint Bark revamped!

*Congratulations to Yolanda, winner of Stephen King’s, “On Writing.” The last book I’m giving away is one of my favorites: “Women Who Run with the Wolves” by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Ph.D. The winner will be chosen at random from Writing at the Table’s email subscription list. Sign up now to be eligible. The results will be posted on December 30.

So, as you are probably aware, it’s holiday crunch time. My daughter’s class party is tomorrow, there are teacher cards to write, last minute gifts to buy, and chocolate bark to eat, um, I mean make. Well, both.

peppermint pretzel bark

This is one of the easiest and fastest homemade holiday treats and you probably have all the ingredients in your pantry already. If not, I’m betting you have to go back to the grocery store anyhow. I know I do.

I posted a version of this recipe here a couple years ago, but added some new pics and modified the directions a bit. 

This time I added marshmallows just because. Mini would’ve been easier because cutting them with a knife was a rather sticky and frustrating experience, but the good news is, it is possible.

Chocolate Peppermint Pretzel Bark with Marshmallows

peppermint bark close up

For the full recipe and the rest of this post, go to Writing at the Table, my new blog.

Hope you have a wonderful holiday, whatever you celebrate. We do it all around here.

dec 2014 kids

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Recipe: DIY Starbucks Kale + Veggie Salad

*First of all, congratulations to Carolyn, winner of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird! Thank you to everyone who signed up for my newsletter. If you haven’t signed up yet, go now! I’m choosing winners at random from my entire email subscription list.

Next up to give away is Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, a clever and entertaining book filled anecdotes about his life interspersed with practical advice.

onwriting

I had it in my collection for years, but for some reason it took me almost a decade to pick it up. Big mistake. If you haven’t read it yet, you’re in for a treat. 

The results of this random drawing will be posted here and on Writing at the Table on Tuesday, December 23rd.

Now for the post…

During the thirteen years I lived in Brooklyn, I never went to Starbucks. Why would I? I lived in the land of Quirky Cool Coffee Shops (that’s a direct quote from the linked article, by the way, I’m not trying to be a snob), and besides, the closest Starbucks was too far of a walk.

But I love writing in cafes, and the closest one to me in Brooklyn was a little sliver of a cafe called Steeplechase, which had the most delicious cinnamon chip scones (alas, not gluten free). I used to go there once a week when my son had a sitter. 

When we moved to New Hope, I knew I’d have to find a place to write. Sure, I had a whole house instead of a tiny apartment, but the thing is, I like the background noise of coffee shops. Plus, I love coffee.

I tried seeking out a cute little independent shop, but seating was a problem. The local Starbucks, however, has some rather comfy armchairs. And did you know they now offer a blonde (light) roast? It’s pretty tasty and far less intense than their dark roasts. Just my personal preference because I know plenty of people who can’t get enough of their regular sludge, I mean coffee.

Anyway, I was also pleased to see that they added some healthy and hearty food options to their menu. Including this awesome salad, which to my knowledge is gluten free (though not labeled as such):

starbucks kale salad

(Yes, it’s sitting on my dashboard because I was too hungry to take it home for a proper photo shoot.)

So, after buying it several times, I decided to make it myself. It’s a bit labor intensive, but it makes a week’s worth of lunches (unless someone in your household steals half of them…)

DIY Kale, Brown Rice + Roasted Veggie Bowl

IMG_3999

For the recipe, head over to Writing at the Table

Creamy Pumpkin Smoothie

IMG_4319

Another day, another smoothie. I can’t help myself. I’ve made this pumpkin smoothie several times and it’s delicious. Creamy, healthy, filling, and well, pumpkin-y.

The other day my husband politely inquired if all baked goods from here until spring would be pumpkin flavored. Not entirely fair since I made this AMAZING apple cinnamon oatmeal bread the other day (I subbed Cup 4 Cup flour for the gluten kind), but understandable since pumpkin is my favorite, not his. Luckily the kids are on my side.

You can make this smoothie in a high powered blender or a Cuisinart. I adapted this from a Whole Foods recipe, but mostly this came straight out of my pumpkin flavored brain.

Creamy Pumpkin Smoothie

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup cold water or milk
  • 1/2 heaping cup yogurt (full fat will make a thicker shake, fyi)
  • 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup of pumpkin puree (more puree = thicker + more pumpkin flavor)
  • 1 ripe banana (frozen or not)
  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon (or more to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice, or a dash of nutmeg
  • a glug of maple syrup or honey, if you like things sweeter (I’ve enjoyed it both ways)
  • a handful of ice IF you have a high powered blender (please don’t put ice in your Cuisinart, at least it never worked for me)
Some of the players.

Some of the players.

Directions:

Dump everything in, and whirl away! Taste test and adjust seasonings/sweetenings until you’re satisfied, and then enjoy. Whipped topping optional. Can you imagine it, though? YUM.

IMG_4318 (1)* Update on the popularity of Smoothies in my home, the green kind in particular…

Green Smoothie POPS!

green smoothie pop

I froze some extra smoothie I made from a delightful blending of kale (yes, I said kale! for a children’s ice pop!), yogurt, pineapple, banana, and honey. Recipe coming soon.

Below is one satisfied customer. Bunky ate TWO for breakfast the other day and then asked for more after school.

I call this, "smoothie face."

I call this, “smoothie face.”

What are your favorite kinds of smoothies? I’m always on the look out for MORE.

 

Tropical Blueberry Smoothie

Ah, Vitamix, you Christian Louboutin of blenders…

I heard the rumors. I read the blog posts. But I ignored them. I avoided recipes that required liquifying kale. Instead I worked my decade old Cuisinart into the ground and dreamt about making smoothies that didn’t have green bits floating inside of them. Then one day something arrived at my doorstep…

No, not Little Guy.

vitamixIt all started when I left my kids with their dad and mine to attend a day long writer’s conference at Rosemont College. While I spent the day luxuriating in writerly stuff, my family spent the afternoon in Target where they were wooed by a Vitamix demonstration. Frozen desserts, green smoothies, ice cream, hot soup. Apparently it was quite the exhibition because they couldn’t stop talking about it.

Then my dad came to visit a few days later with one in the back of his car. WOW. I was totally shocked, in no way expecting such a generous gift.

So, of course I made him a smoothie right away. A green one.

first smoothie

The best part was that Little Guy loved it. In fact, he insisted on drinking the rest of ours.

lg drinking

Life with the Vitamix has been pretty fab. Especially the clean up. Not even kidding. It’s so easy! You may remember me complaining about the torture of having to scrub out the Cuisinart crevices, which made me less likely to use it. The awesome thing about the Vitamix is that it cleans itself (sort of). You add warm water and a dash of soap, give it a crazy whirl, and bam, done. (Unless you make something very sticky or oily, but still, you get a head start with the self cleaning.)

Not a big deal to clean. Srsly.

Not a big deal to clean. Srsly.

What we’ve learned so far: As a Vitamix novice, it’s best to follow a recipe. At least until you get the hang of it. Now I’m able to play more, but in the beginning, every time we (as in my husband, a notorious rule breaker) tried to wing it, disaster ensued. It was too watery, too thick, weird texture (pear issues), or just plain gross (carrot + pear + cinnamon + ice = yuck).

Luckily, Vitamix gives you a huge binder filled with recipes, plus there’s a recipe finder on the website.

Two weeks in, we’re practically experts. Here is my debut recipe, which you absolutely do NOT need a Vitamix to make. Use your blender or Cuisinart. You may need to slightly thaw your fruit first since less powerful machines can’t pulverize frozen stuff without busting up. I know this from experience, unfortunately.

Final thought/warning: the Vitamix is crazy loud. Like, terrifyingly loud. The first time I put mine on the Smoothie cycle I literally thought it was going to launch itself into space. Luckily, it didn’t.

Tropical Blueberry Smoothie

Tropical blueberry smoothie

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 1/2 heaping cup yogurt (full fat will make a thicker shake, fyi)
  • 1 ripe banana (frozen or not)
  • 1/2 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1/2 cup frozen or fresh pineapple

This recipe is kid approved. And super healthy. Bunky drank hers down in seconds. She was unfazed by the fact that there is NO added sugar. Not even a drop of honey. And that’s a pretty big deal considering she has a serious sweet tooth.

*If you have a high powered blender, you may need to add ice if most of your fruit is room temperature. Nothing less exciting than a lukewarm smoothie. But that could just be me.

If using a Vitamix, add liquids first, then soft fruit, and frozen stuff last. I put mine on Smoothie cycle. If you need to tweak it, feel free to add more fruit/yogurt/water/ice as needed and hit the cycle again.

Bird's eye view.

Then drink it up quick before your kid tries to steal the rest of yours.

bunky pink smoothie

Do you have any favorite Vitamix/blender smoothie recipes? If so, please share! I’m seriously addicted. Next up: homemade chocolate almond butter, YUM.

Gluten Free Overnight Oats

You know you have no life when the first thing you say to people – as in, any person, your friends, babysitter, your dad’s girlfriend, strangers on the street: “Do you like oatmeal?” And when they stare at your sort of blankly and nod or shake their heads, you blurt out the entire recipe for overnight oats with an excitement that is not infectious.

At least I don’t show them a picture.

overnight oats w spoon

But this is my platform, ha, in which to spout my love and devotion to whatever I want, and right now that thing is OVERNIGHT OATS because seriously, they are that good.

Now, don’t judge this fab breakfast by my feeble photography. The best thing about this is that you don’t have to cook it. Seriously! This is especially convenient on school mornings when I’m rushing to make Bunky lunch and Little Guy breakfast, while chugging my coffee so my eyeballs don’t fall out of my head. All I have to do is take it out of the fridge and warm it up in the microwave for 30 seconds (optional step), and then bam, breakfast is served.

Despite the rawness of this recipe, the oats are soft and chewy, not raw-tasting at all (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I used whole milk the first few times because that’s what we had and they were SUPER creamy and delightful. Then I tried them with a lower fat and the difference was obvious. Still good, though.

I was inspired by these fantastic recipes, my absolute favorite being the almond butter one, sans cocoa powder (I know, weird) and I’ve since made my own version. It’s a mouthful (no pun intended) but I couldn’t figure out how to shorten it, so…

Gluten Free Vanilla Maple Almond Butter Oats

*Adapted from My Whole Food Life’s, Almond Butter Chocolate Overnight Oats

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup gluten free oats (I use regular but you can use steel cut for more texture)
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of almond butter
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1-2 tsps maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup milk of choice (I use 2% cow’s milk)*
  • 1 tsp flax meal (optional)
Isn't the lighting just lovely?

Isn’t the lighting just lovely?

Instructions:

1. Throw everything in a jar or thermos. Shake and put in fridge overnight.

2. Take out in morning and warm up if you want, and enjoy!

* add more milk or a splash of water for a slightly thinner oatmeal

A lovely pic taken alongside a dying bonsai tree.

Overnight oats beside an odd looking bonsai tree from Ikea.

This breakfast has really saved me because I haven’t been eating much of anything in the mornings, besides scraps from Bunky’s lunch. It’s sad because I used to love breakfast, and well, I still do, but I have no time or energy to make myself something healthy and filling. I used to be a hearty cereal girl, but I feel like the gluten free cereal options are super lame. Sure, there are organic circles and flakes, and a bunch of great mainstream sugary kinds (hello, Cinnamon Chex, which is like crack to my kids), but where is my hearty crunchy, granola-y, clustery cereal?! No where that I can find. Sigh. I don’t mind making regular oatmeal, but it takes time and messes up a pot.

But this overnight business? Genius! I don’t have to cook, it takes about 2 minutes at night which is key during crazy chaotic pre-bedtime lunacy, and it’s ready to go in the morning. It fills me up, it’s healthy, and YUM.

All I need is for these two to get a bit older and they can make it and serve it to me. Score.

kid waiter and chef

P.S. This is my 101st post! I didn’t do any fancy shenanigans for the 100th because, um, I forgot, but I’m pretty pleased with myself to have hit this milestone even though most bloggers seem to do it in one year (or less) rather than three, but whatev. I have two kids and half a brain. So, I consider this quite a feat.

Thank you to all my readers, new and old, sporadic and regular, for tuning in to my rantings, ravings, and recipes.

Shared on the fabulous Vegetarian Mamma’s Gluten Free Friday link up. Click the badge below for more awesome GF recipes and tidbits.

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Gluten Free Rainbow Birthday Cake

We’re on. It’s cake time.

Finally! The post you’ve been waiting for. The one I neglected in order to write this and this. Ah, relief. No more deep thoughts (for now).

So. Roll up your sleeves, because it’s going to get messy. And time consuming. And kind of pricey. Also, seriously unhealthy. It’s time for…

gf rainbow cake special

Your hands will get dirty, or, at the very least, dyed a vivid pink hue not found in nature. If my daughter could dye all of her food this color, she totally would:

Upper left corner. The best color ever.

Upper left corner. The best color ever.

The seed for a rainbow layer cake began over a year ago when I saw this gorgeous concoction on April Peveteaux’s fab site, Gluten Is My Bitch. I had NO idea such a thing existed, but apparently it was big on Pinterest back then. I was intrigued, but scared. Seemed like a LOT of work. So I stuck with a simple (ish) but decadent double chocolate cake for Bunky’s 5th birthday party. It was gluten, nut, egg free, and AWESOME.

fifth gluten free bday cake

But this year I was ready. A kick-ass rainbow cake seemed a perfect match for Bunky’s art-themed party and my rainbow loving girl.

Gluten Free Rainbow Birthday (or any day) Cake

What You Need:

  • 3 boxes of gluten free cake mix (I used Cherrybrook Farms Yellow Cake mix) – plus whatever mix-ins it requires: oil, eggs, etc.
  • 2-3 circular cake pans, springform is easier but not totally necessary, I used 10-inch but could use 8-inch for a smaller circular cake
  • approximately 6 containers* of Betty Crocker or Duncan Heinz vanilla frosting, or homemade if you prefer, or for dairy free try this recipe
  • AmeriColor Soft Gel Paste Food Color – I bought the junior kit on amazon, but you can really use whatever dye you’d like, but the gel color is REALLY vivid. Also, this brand is gluten AND nut free (and kosher), woo hoo!
  • parchment paper or nonstick spray or butter to grease pans (I used spray with our springform pans, but if you’re using regular cake pans I would suggest lining them with parchment AND greasing to make sure you can get those skinny cakes out)
  • help in the form of childcare, partner support, and/or sous chefs, maybe some wine
  • patience of a saint doesn’t hurt

* When it comes to buying tubs of frosting, you can get a combo of the Whipped Vanilla kind, which is great to spread over the finished and assembled cake stack. But for in between each layer, we suggest using Regular Vanilla because the Whipped texture might be too airy and squishy to go between. You don’t want the layers to collapse together. My sous chef husband pointed this out and he was totally right. Thanks honey.

Getting It Done:

1. Prepare cake pans by spraying and/or lining them. If you’re not using springforms, line with parchment and grease. If using springform, nonstick spray or butter liberally.

2. Preheat oven and then prepare the THREE box mixes as directed. I started with only two Cherrybrook Farm mixes (why I followed the gluten Betty Crocker recipe and not April’s is beyond me) and divided them up into 6 bowls, weighed them with my kitchen scale (yes, I’m an anal dork), dyed the crap out of them, before realizing it wasn’t enough to cover the bottom of my 10-inch cake pans. So, I had to send my husband out for another box. Do yourself a favor and buy three boxes upfront unless you get secret pleasure out of making your partner run extra errands. No judgement here.

3. Divide into 6 bowls (or how many layers you want). Like I said above, I used a kitchen scale because you want each layer to be the same size, but you could also just use measuring cups.

bday cake prep

4. Here’s the fun part: adding color! A little squeeze of gel goes a long way, so be warned. Bunky and I both loved the hot pink. Little Guy went nuts over the blue and green.

My adorable little baking assistant.

Behold my adorable little baking assistant.

bday cake prep bunky

5. Start the cooking process. I had six cake pans, but we cooked two at a time (in 3 separate sessions) because our oven cooks unevenly on the different racks. If you can squeeze in three, go for it. But use your discretion. My sous chef, aka Husband, did the dirty work here. He spread the batter in the pans and was in charge of the cooking, cooling, and releasing.

Rainbow cakes take a village. Or at least a helpful husband.

Rainbow cakes take a village. Or a helpful husband.

We cooked ours for about 6-7 minutes (it’s a thin cake, remember) but our oven is like Hades hot, so again, you may want to check your cakes starting at 6 minutes but it could take a bit longer. Don’t overcook, though, because that takes away a bit of color.

And please make sure the cakes are FULLY cooled before releasing or (gently) prying them out. You don’t want to damage the goods.

bday cake cooling

Cooked cakes just chilling by the windowsill.

6. Now for assembly. Again, my sous chef was in charge here. He likes doing the detail work and I like when he does it. But the birthday girl was the cake designer, with very specific instructions as to the order of colors. She went against the whole ROY G BIV color scheme which I know made my (OCD) husband a bit nuts, but hey, it was her day.

bunky cake designer

Like I mentioned earlier, we used a combo of Whipped and Regular Vanilla frosting. Regular for between the layers, and Whipped for the outer layer (because it goes on smoother and faster).

Taken before the final frost. My husband was out buying MORE tubs. Srsly.

This pic was taken before the final frost. My husband was out buying MORE. Srsly.

7. Then top that sucker with whatever you want – we went for an easy and crowd pleasing route: sprinkles.

bday sprinkles

But you could try this gorgeous insanity that I contemplated for about twenty seconds:

makdoodle rainbow cake

But seriously, sprinkles are a sure thing. Don’t make it harder than it has to be. Unless you want to.

Finished product, please excuse the candle indentations.

Finished product. Please ignore the candle indentations. Forgot to take a pic with them.

The cake was a HUGE success, and so was the very sweet art party. But let’s talk about the cake!

gluten free rainbow cake slice

Every kid devoured it. Even the one boy who told me ahead of time that he doesn’t like cake. I promised that I wouldn’t make him eat it. But when he saw it he gestured me over. “I’ll take a small piece,” he said. And then he ate the entire thing, crumbs included.

Cake anticipation!

Cake anticipation! Everyone is very excited.

My sweet 6 year old birthday girl. It was a wonderful party.

Our six year old birthday girl.

bunky eating cake

Little Guy inhaled his entire slice.

It was a great party.

Me and my girl. (And Little Guy’s legs.) It was a great party.

bunky artHappy Birthday to my dear girl, who loved decorating her butterfly wings surrounded by her friends. She is growing her own secret wings, and one day she will fly away from me, but not yet.

opening gifts

 

Shared on the fabulous Vegetarian Mamma’s Gluten Free Friday link up. Click the badge below for more awesome GF recipes and tidbits.

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Gluten Free Risi Bisi

Dinner is not my friend, to put it mildly.

angry mom spatula

Every day the question looms large in my mind, as in, what the hell am I going to feed these people? My family is picky, as I’ve mentioned dozens of times. Besides the whole gluten thing, we have veggie-phobes, meat neglecters, tofu snobs. There are VERY few things everyone will eat.

angry mom eat it

Sure, I could strong arm it and go all, one-meal-for-everyone-suckers, but I don’t. I do draw the line at not making more than two different meals on any given night… okay, that’s a lie. But I try not to, because that is just NUTS. Mostly my husband and I eat the same thing, Bunky eats another (or a slightly modified version), and Little Guy eats one bite of whatever I tossed on his highchair tray before throwing it on the floor.

Sidebar Alert! The whole toddler throwing food on the floor thing is getting really, really OLD. One of my hands has to hover next to his plate/bowl at all times, and if I move for just one second to say, take a bite of my own dinner, or get a drink of water, the food goes flying. It is NOT cool. He’s lucky he is so cute. Seriously.

little guy peanut butter man

Back to dinner angst…

Recently, I came across this cool idea about trying the ONE MEAL FITS ALL experiment and hyping it up like it’s a big exciting adventure, and if the picky people turn their noses, they are offered a few simple and healthy snacks (like, nuts, bananas, or cheese) that they can eat so they won’t starve to death (but the snacks remain the same so they are super boring and un-fun) but — I haven’t gotten the chutzpah (er, balls) to try that yet. It takes a resolve and strength that I simply do not have after seven years of broken sleep (not even kidding).

Thankfully I’ve discovered ONE SURE THING that every person in my picky family will eat and adore (am I jinxing myself or what?!) and that is Risi e Bisi, a delicious and creamy Italian rice and peas dish that you can totally modify to your family’s picky or less than picky tastes. For example, we cook up the pancetta on the side since my daughter doesn’t like it, and sometimes a few chicken breasts, too, for an extra protein boost. But it can absolutely be all veggie, which is how my kids eat it.

Mine is a rice cooker recipe, but don’t worry, for those of you who haven’t jumped on the rice cooker bandwagon yet (which I highly recommend you do!), I’ve included a link to a stovetop version, here. Just bear in mind, I’ve only made ours in the rice cooker.

Risi e Bisi

Lightly adapted from The Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann.

bowl risi bisi

*Machine should be a medium (6-cup) or large (10 cup) rice cooker, fuzzy logic or on/off, cycle: quick cook and/or regular or Porridge

*The above is rice cooker lingo, don’t be scared! Or be a little scared, I know I was when I started researching, but in the end I opted for a $60 on/off with a Porridge Soup option. But I pretty much just pour water and rice into it and turn it on. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 cup minced celery [or, 1/2 cup minced celery + 1/2 cup minced onion or shallots]
  • 2 tablespoons white wine
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons medium-grain risotto rice (Arborio)*
  • 3 cups chicken, meat, or vegetable stock
  • 1 + 1/2 cups frozen peas (if using fresh peas, see recipe for details)
  • 3-5 slices of pancetta, chopped (cooked separately and optional)

You can also cook a few boneless chicken breasts to toss in at the end for a heartier meal.

* This recipe feeds 3 comfortably, but if you want more generous servings, or to feed 4, use 1 and 1/2 cups of Arborio rice and add 1/4 to 1/2 cup more broth.

To Finish:

  • 2 teaspoons of unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream OR milk
  • 1 can of 14.5 ounce diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
  • salt

Directions:

1. Set rice cooker for Quick Cook or regular cycle. Place olive oil and butter in rice cooker bowl. When the butter melts, add celery (and possibly, shallots). Cook, stirring a few times, until softened not browned, 2-3 minutes. Add wine and cook for a few minutes more. Add rice and stir to coat the grains with hot butter. Cook, stirring occasionally, until grains of rice are transparent except for a white spot on each. About 5 minutes. Add stock and stir to combine. [If you are using fresh peas, stir in now, otherwise wait.] Close cover and reset for Porridge cycle, or regular cycle and set timer for 20 minutes.

risi in progress

2. While the rice is cooking, you can cook the pancetta in a skillet until crispy.

Before...

Before shot of uncooked pancetta…

Food sidebar: My husband just came across this little gem at our local supermarket.

Pre-cut AND gluten free, score!

Pre-cut AND gluten free, score!

Chopped pancetta, be still my heart! It’s actually really HARD to cut into pancetta (I try not to think about why this is true, but, um, hello fatty meat?!) so this makes it loads easier. And I love easy.

Set aside to be sprinkled on top at the end. YUM!

pancetta crispies

And after! The crispy saltiness is awesome.

2. After 20 minutes, stir rice with plastic rice paddle or wooden spoon. Rice should be only a bit liquid and rice should be al dente, tender with just a bit of resistance. If needed, cook a few minutes longer.

3. When you are ready to serve, add frozen peas, stir to combine. Add the butter and close cover for 2-3 minutes to allow it to melt and the peas to heat through. Stir in cream or milk, cheese, and salt to taste. Top with crispy pancetta and cubed up chicken, if you’d like a protein boost. Serve immediately and enjoy!

risi up close

Do you have any tried and true meals that everyone enjoys? Any kid-friendly(ish) crowd pleasers? If so, please share! I could use another failsafe option.

 

Shared on the fabulous Vegetarian Mamma’s Gluten Free Friday link up. Click the badge below for more awesome GF recipes and tidbits.

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