Crispy, Nutty Cocoa Energy Bars

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I just returned home to Denver after a fabulous road trip with my husband Greg, to visit my daughter (co-author, co-blogger, co-conspirator), Rachel and her little family in Texas.

Her little boy Jackson, the most cheerful 2 year-old in the Lone Star State, greeted us at the door as if we’ve never been gone, and we were instant buddies again.

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We loved watching him play in his “beach” (sandbox), help his dad out with yard work….

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and make himself at home in the kitchen.

jackson butter

(He disappeared for 20 seconds and Rachel found Jackson eating this tub of vegan butter, and when she took it from him – quick as a flash, he grabbed another unopened tub and ran with it to the other side of the house, as if the butter tub was a football and he was toddler quarterback.)

Speaking of football and butter…. funny lady Anita Renfro posted this cartoon yesterday that cracked me up, because this could easily be me and Rachel watching Chopped, while our husbands watch Monday Night Football.

cooking show cartoon

And speaking of cooking and football…

I just may have created the perfect football snack. These Crispy, Nutty Cocoa Energy Bars are a cross between a granola bar, a Pay Day candy bar,  a Reeses and Rice Crispy Treats.  They are also vegan, gluten-free (if you use gluten-free oats), chocked full of protein, healthy fiber, Omega 3s.  But your guests and kids will never guess these treats are mostly good for them.

The great thing about this basic recipe is that you can really be creative with what you like, and what you have on hand to make it your own.  They are perfect to tuck into your kids’ lunches.  Kids prefer these to cookies, in fact, and you can be sure that they are getting plenty of fiber and protein to help slow the absorption of sugar.  So no sugar crashes as happens so often with cookies.

Go, Team, Go!

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Crispy, Nutty Cocoa Energy Bars

½ cup peanut butter (I used the natural kind)

½ cup agave nectar (you can substitute honey or brown rice syrup if you prefer)

1 ½ T. coconut oil (or olive oil)

2 T. pure maple syrup

¼ cup brown sugar

½ t. sea salt

1 t. vanilla

2 cups oats (use gluten-free oats if you want to make this recipe gluten free)

2 cups cocoa crisped rice cereal  (I used a brand from the natural cereal section)

½ cup hemp seed or wheat germ or flax meal

2/3 cup chopped peanuts (I used a mixture of plain roasted and honey nut. They were already in fairly small pieces so I didn’t chop them.)

Directions:

Preheat 350 degree

In a saucepan mix the first 6 ingredients and bring to a slow boil for 2 minutes.  Turn off heat.  Add vanilla.  In a large bowl  place oats, rice cereal, hemp seed (or wheat germ or flax), and nuts.  Pour the hot peanut butter mixture over the dry ingredients and combine well. Pour all into a pan that has been greased with coconut oil or olive oil. Pat the mixture down firmly, using a piece of plastic wrap to keep it from sticking to your hands.

Bake for 15 minutes, let cool and then let harden in fridge (or freezer, if you are in a hurry).  Then using a sharp knife, cut into squares or rectangles.  (Or footballs, if you are feeling creative!)

Variations: Add coconut, chocolate chips or dried fruit. Use other nuts besides peanuts, and another nut butter instead of peanut butter, especially if you worry about peanut allergies.  Almonds and almond butter or cashews and cashew butter would be delicious. Try another kind of crispy, light cereal for cocoa rice crisp cereal.  (I have used Corn Chex, crushed, with good results.)

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Miss Vickie’s Sugar Cookies (Egg-free and optionally dairy-free)

Keeping family traditions alive, with these egg-free and optionally dairy-free sugar cookies.

Jackson and his Mimi starting a tradition with these egg-free and optionally dairy-free sugar cookies.

Have you ever met a woman who was beautiful, had an equally beautiful family with grown children who are best friends with each other, whose home is fit for the cover of Southern Living magazine, who loves Jesus, who crafts and entertains and cooks, and well, who you just might hate for being so together if it weren’t for how kind and caring and generous she was; and instead of envying her, you kind of just hope she’ll adopt you? I have. Her name is Miss Vickie.

Miss Vickie is Jared’s best friend Nick’s mom. Vickie and her husband Roger own three Chick-fil-A’s in our area and have raised entrepreneur-minded, self-motivated, creative kids. I wrote most of We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook, at Nick’s co-working space in Dallas, Common Desk, the first of its kind in the metroplex. Natalie, Miss Vickie’s daughter, is one of the most creative people I know. Her blog is so inspiring for crafty (or wannabe crafty) mamas!

Apparently, the creative genes run deep. Miss Vickie is kind of famous in these parts for her sugar cookies. If you’ve been to her house, you’ve probably seen a jar full of these soft, buttery cookies in an array of pastel colors and cute shapes, and may have even been sent home with a mason jar full of them. The recipe was created and passed down by her Italian family, the Spinelli’s, years ago.

How much do you love this handwritten recipe?

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Surprisingly, it doesn’t call for any eggs and since it calls for margarine, swapping Earth Balance is a no-brainer to make them dairy-free too.  She says she’s never come across a recipe quite like it and neither have I. They are so light and almost melt in your mouth.

My mother-in-law Rhonda and Vickie have been friends for as long as Jared and Nick have been buds. Through vacations and ball games and girlfriend getaways, they’ve shared a few of these cookies over the years. And now they are sharing them, as Nonna and Mimi, with their grandkids. Nostalgia.

We went to one of our favorite getaways out in East Texas over Easter weekend with Jared’s parents. Early Saturday, it was rainy and cold, so Mimi and Jackson baked the morning away, while I snapped photos. We declared it an official Easter tradition.

Mix the ingredients.

A perfect recipe for kids to help with. Simple ingredients. Simple steps. Edible dough.

This is a perfect recipe for kids to help with. Simple ingredients. Simple steps. Edible dough.

Taste for quality control.

Quality control.

Yep, it’s yummy.

“Flour” your board with powdered sugar.

Making Cookies with Mimi

I could just eat him up. 😉

Press or roll the dough.

Mimi and Jackson making sweet memories.

Mimi and Jackson making sweet memories.

Cut out your shapes with cookie cutters.

Cooking with kids is neither neat or orderly. Luckily this dough is soft, pliable, and forgiving. Just roll it back up and press it down again to start over.

Cooking with kids is neither neat or orderly. Luckily this dough is soft, pliable, and forgiving. Just roll it back up and press it down again to start over.

Bake, cool, and ice.

Pick your color, any color.

Pick your color, any color.

Decorate.

Decorated with love (not skill).

Eat.

And enjoy.

Debating on whether or not he should eat his sugar cookie masterpiece.

Clean Up.

Clean Up!

This boy loves a vacuum like nobody’s business.

Thank you Miss Vickie, for sharing this family recipe with us and allowing me to share it with our readers!

Miss Vickie’s Sugar Cookies

Makes about 24 cookies

Ingredients

1 cup margarine (or Earth Balance)
1/2 cup powdered sugar (plus some to powder table)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Icing
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
food coloring

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix margarine, powdered sugar, and vanilla with a mixer. Stir in flour, a little at a time, and salt. Powder the table with powdered sugar. Roll out dough 1/4 inch thick. (The dough is very soft, so we just used our hands for this step.) Use cookie cutters to cut out cookies. Lay them on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 7 minutes. Allow to cool. Decorate with icing.

This was printed from: We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook
The site URL: http://welaughwecrywecook.com
The Title: Miss Vickie’s Sugar Cookies
The URL: http://wp.me/p1UwM9-WH

For Pinterest:

Miss_Vickies_Sugar_Cookies_Collage


Cinnamon Crisps (Easy to Make with Kids)

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(Becky, the Mama. It is the small things you do with small people that you and they will look back on and cherish. I hope and pray you get a little bonding time in the kitchen with young ones this week. Here’s a recipe that will make it easy during a time when many feel perpetually overwhelmed. Love and Merry Christmas to all our Blog Readers and thank you so much for sharing our love of cooking and passing it along to others.)

There is, of course, the Martha Stewart way to make Christmas cookies with your kids when they are home from school this coming week for Christmas break. It looks homey and fun, easy and bonding. Especially when using child actors on a TV set.

What it is, in reality, is a long process involving antsy children, along with lots of sugar, clouds of flour, rolling pins and sticky dough (that will take a jack hammer to remove after it is dry), food coloring stains, and sometimes tears of frustration (from either children or parent). The experience almost always ends with the kids giving up the thrill of “making Christmas cookie memories together,” after half-heartedly decorating one, maybe two, cookies. Then they start begging to go play outside, watch cartoons or play a video game. So Mom ends up finishing up the decorating, cleaning up the mess, and downing about six cookies she doesn’t really need or want that taste like thick sweet cardboard with green and red sugar paste on top.

I’m here to give you Becky Johnson’s (alias “Nonny”) Easier Way Out. (Merry Christmas!) It takes about five to ten minutes to make these “Christmas Cinnamon Crisps” with your children, start to finish. If you use whole wheat tortillas and dust them with organic coconut or date sugar, you can even claim them to be almost downright healthy. A cold glass of diary or almond milk will help balance the sugar with a bit of protein and keep your children off the ceiling from a pure sugar high. Also, these crisps are so light and crunchy, they will not end up feeling like a sugar dough ball in their stomachs. (Or yours.)

We made these for Christmas, but you can use any holiday or seasonal cookie cutters to make this an easy-to-make treat year round.

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Cinnamon Crisps

Ingredients:

2 large flour tortillas, whole wheat or white (I prefer to use the raw tortillas, such as Tortilla Land or Guerrero Brands because they puff up like little sopapillas,  but pre-cooked ones will also work)
1 to 2 T. coconut oil or other healthy oil
Cinnamon & Sugar Mix (1/4 c. sugar to 1 T. cinnamon)

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Directions:

Using good sharp edged cookies cutters, let the kids cut out cookies from the tortilla.

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In the meantime, melt 1 T. coconut oil in a medium skillet on medium high heat. Drop tortilla “cookies” into hot oil (obviously an adult will need to do this part).

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Then gently roll them in a bowl of the cinnamon and sugar, coating both sides.

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Let them cool a bit, but best eaten while warm and fresh! (You made need to add more coconut oil as you cook the crisps.) Cut up left over “scraps” of tortillas into “crazy shape” pieces to cook, coat and eat last!

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Variations:

There are so many ways you can jazz up this basic idea. You can coat them with coconut or date sugar, and use whole wheat tortillas (or even flat bread). You can make a quick vanilla or chocolate glaze and dip one side in (like a donut) and then dip again in crushed nuts or seeds or sprinkles or coconut, like thin tiny donuts. You can skip the cinnamon and sugar and dip in a honey-butter or peanut-butter and honey mixture. Have fun with this!

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The site URL: http://welaughwecrywecook.com
The Title: Cinnamon Crisps
The URL: http://wp.me/p1UwM9-Qw
This was printed from: We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook


Chipotle Pumpkin Salsa

(Rachel, the daughter)

I’m heading out to drop Jackson off with his Mimi (Jared’s mom) for a couple of hours this afternoon. This is the third day in a row that she has offered to help out with Jackson so I can work on the book. Although she insists it is all her pleasure, I’d like to let her know how much I appreciate her help.

In my husband’s family, steak is probably the most revered food item… followed closely by chips and salsa. They aren’t into chocolates or sweets. I know, GASP! Their idea of dessert is a bowl of salty popcorn. But they love their meat and potatoes and their chips and salsa. Since steak is an awkward gift for a vegan to give, I often jar up my love and appreciation for them in the form of salsa. Occasionally, Rhonda will show up at my door with an empty jar, “In case you or Jared plan on making salsa anytime soon,” she’ll wink.

Last weekend I stumbled upon an amazing salsa recipe by chance. I was out of a few of my staple salsa ingredients and just started throwing things in the food processor to try and whip up a make-do salsa for our Mexican-themed dinner. I was bummed when the food processor stopped spinning and I opened it up to see a thin almost watery salsa. I grabbed a can of pumpkin and added it to the salsa, then found some chipotles in Adobo sauce in my freezer. I gave it another spin and voila, I had a thick, creamy, smoky salsa with a touch of sweetness, a hint of pumpkin, and a nice kick of spice. I was smitten.

I liked it so much I made another batch today (some for us and some to share with Jared’s parents). It conveniently makes enough to fill two 32 oz spaghetti sauce or mason jars–one for you and one to share with a friend. Don’t be surprised when they show up at your door step with the empty jar and a little wink and a nudge, though.

Chipotle Pumpkin Salsa

Makes 4 cups

Ingredients

3 tomatoes
2 cups of frozen corn (or 1 can drained and patted dry)
2 small jalapenos
4 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle of sea salt
1 14.5 oz can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes
4 chipotles in Adobo Sauce (slice open and remove seeds from two of them)
1 can of pumpkin
1/2 c. cilantro (use it if you like it, but it’s optional)
1/2 t. sugar
1 t. onion powder
1/4 t. salt

Directions

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Line a large baking pan with parchment paper. Pour corn kernels on one half of pan. On the other side, put the jalapenos, garlic (wrap unpeeled garlic in foil to prevent them from burning–not like shown below), and tomatoes sliced in half with cut side up. Use a pastry brush to put a small amount of olive oil on the tomatoes and corn. Sprinkle tomatoes with a touch of sea salt. Roast for 20 minutes.

In a food processor, add all the remaining ingredients except the corn, plus the tomatoes and jalapenos (you may want to seed the jalapenos if you don’t like a lot of spice–you can always add the seeds back in if it’s not spicy enough). Squeeze the garlic from its peel into the food processor bowl. Process until everything is chopped and blended to the desired texture. I went for a smooth texture on mine. Stir in corn. Serve with chips.

This was printed from: We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook
The site URL: http://welaughwecrywecook.com
The Title: Chipotle Pumpkin Salsa
The URL: http://wp.me/p1UwM9-Mm
© Copyright 2012 – All Rights Reserved


Healing Power of Food, Friends, Love, Beauty and Kindness

Me, in my Happy Place with great food, the Love of My Life, surrounded by the beauty of Portland. Great soothing, healing forces, all.

(Note from Mama Becky:  A departure from our regular humor-recipe-based food blog today, in light of the recent events in Colorado and my ten days away.  A little long, but there’s a lot in and on my heart.)

It was good to touch down in beautiful Colorado tonight, after ten days of vacation in the Great Northwest. Thank you to all who have prayed for those who’ve suffered so much of late in our beloved state.  Not only do the victims of wildfire and random violence need tenderness, kindness and love to help heal the shock, pain and loss; but I really do believe that we, as friends and family and strangers, are also in great need of TLC in the aftermath of ongoing traumatic news.  Tragedy like this takes its toll on an entire community’s psyche.

There’s something healing in spending time with each other, in the basic acts of cooking beautiful meals from fresh ingredients or lingering over a dinner at a restaurant as couples, family, friends. When I heard of Friday’s sorrow in Aurora, after prayers and connecting with friends and family, tears shed for the victims, I returned again and again in my mind to this scene: me in an apron, in my own kitchen, cooking something for people I love.  One of my first responses when hearing of someone’s suffering is to cook something comforting, stabilizing and warm.

In her beautiful memoir, Keeping the Feast, the journalist and author Paula Butturini writes about the healing powers of cooking and sharing simple meals with friends in Italy, following a tragedy (her husband was nearly fatally shot by a sniper’s bullet) and its lingering trauma.

She writes, “I may write about the smell of asparagus, the color of polenta, or the taste of figs still warm from the sun, but all of it is a personal shorthand for weighing love and hunger, health and nourishment, secrets and revelations, illness and survival, comfort and celebration, and perhaps most of all, the joy and gift of being alive.”

Like tears – cooking, serving, and eating together is a language without words that hearts understand. Food with love is a powerful healing force in a hurting world.

I had a tough time getting to sleep Friday night, but woke to a picture-postcard perfect day in Oregon on Saturday, the day my husband and I planned to celebrate our wedding anniversary.

We drove from our little beach hideaway (that had been filled to the brim with relatives) in Neskowin, Oregon, and spent the day alone, driving  through green and gold patchworks, hillside wine orchards that seemed, in my mind, exactly as Butturini described Italy. We were celebrating eight years of wedded bliss in every happy sense of that word.  Ours is a marriage of passion and compatibility, easy love and great fun. Some couples forget to be grateful, take each other for granted. Somehow, we do not. We know too well the fragility of life and the rare gift it is to love and be cherished in return.

As we entered Portland, one of the well-known foodie meccas of the world, Greg said, “I want you to get to enjoy everything your heart desires today.”  Because Greg’s palette craves simplicity over complicated layers of flavor,  and he prefers reliable favorites over the risk involved in curiosity and surprise, this was a true gift of the heart.  I jumped at the offer.

First stop: Salt & Straw for crazy ice cream.

Lines wind around the block with folks waiting for buttery ice cream with flavors like Cherry and Bone Marrow (Alas they were out, it is a wintry ice cream. Who knew?), Pear and Blue Cheese,  and Strawberry Balsamic with Pepper.  (I sampled both. Two thumbs up.)

People in line for ice cream at Salt & Straw!

My choice was the seasonal special:

I loved every drippy sweet-spicy-savory bite, and Greg could tell it by the huge purple Marionberry stains on my white shirt.

Last night, we went to Yakuzas. The reviews showcased mouth-watering Chef designed entrees and appetizers, and since their one and only burger was voted the best in town,  I knew Greg would be happy with something semi-familiar and filling.  When we arrived the sun was just beginning to dip, the night temperature was windless and pure perfection. The entire restaurant was open without any walls at all, to the street and the patio out back.

Patio at Yakuzas

“Do you have reservations?” the young woman asked.  I had not thought to do this, but immediately wished I had, as every seat in the house was full.  Luckily, a table vacated within minutes of our arrival.

We began by sharing an avocado and cucumber sesame salad. It was a simple salad: chunks of avocado and cucumber, tossed in sesame oil and sesame seeds. What made it over the top was the sprinkling of flaky, kosher sea salt.

Avocado Cucumber Sesame Salad

This was followed by three little straw purses of divine yumminess: phyllo dough somehow made into thread-like strips, wrapped around three huge sea scallops and twisted so that the straw “hair” stuck straight up in pony tail fashion.   They were sitting on a dollop of some sort of rich sauce – perhaps a cocktail sauce blended with heavy cream and a squeeze of fresh lime?  Greg looked dubious.  Then he tried a bite, and smiled, rolling his eyes heavenward.  My meat and potatoes man was, at long last, being seduced by foodie fare.

The arrival of the hamburger sealed the deal.  We were told that the meat was from pampered Kobe cows. To our shock, the chef only cooked it one way:  rare.  We are not rare meat eaters, but the waitress assured us this was unlike any rare burger we’ve ever had. The chef grills it and then covers it to let it sit for 20 minutes.  This renders the beef pink-ish red but has no blood, no raw taste.  It is served with a local chevre, crispy straw potatoes doused in truffle oil, and sesame brioche buns.  We closed our eyes to the color of the meat, took one bite and both grinned like idiots, eyes rolling again.  Seriously the best burger I’ve ever tasted and Greg would agree.

After dinner, we walked in the summer evening air the few blocks to our car, and I felt nourished in every sense of the word. Thankful for the privilege of being alive in this moment, in my husband’s kind presence, in the afterglow of an unforgettably good meal, and surrounded by the eclectic funky beauty of Portland.

When life gets harsh, when it hurts and confuses and wounds, it is these things that soothe and re-balance us: gratitude, love, kindness, food, and beauty.  May these be  yours in abundance today.  And may they grace especially our beloved Colorado and her people.

“….we were longing for those comforts that blend of light, warmth, food, beauty and friends – the very elixir that had nourished and protected us before…”  Paula Butturini

“Everything that brings light in this dark world is of and from God, the Father of Lights.”  My pastor, Hugh Halter