“You’re My Main Squeeze” Squeeze Pouch Valentines

Cute, simple, and healthy valentines that kids will love!

Cute, simple, and healthy valentines that kids will love!

Jackson, now 18-months, has discovered chocolate. This morning, Jared brought him from his crib to our bed where I was still sleeping. Jackson pushed my arm off my face and pulled and pulled until I finally rolled out of the bed. He led me by hand straight to the pantry, pointed up to a Costco-sized bag of chocolate chips and proclaimed “Choc!”

I should probably be worried that his first waking thought is chocolate, but truthfully, I’m a little excited that I have another chocolate lover in the house. Jared doesn’t eat it, so I rarely make decadent chocolate desserts. There is just something depressing about eating chocolate alone. Soon, though, I’ll have a buddy to split a piece of chocolate cake with or to make brownies for!

In the meantime, as fun as it will one day be, I’m not encouraging my toddler’s chocolate eating habits just yet. Valentine’s Day is Thursday and I’m sure he’ll have encouragement enough from everyone else between now and then!

Besides his new word “choc,” he also learned the word “pouch” this week, as in fruit and veggie squeeze pouches. He loves them just as much as chocolate. It’s so funny, the words he picks up on. I put together these cute valentines bags for his Mother’s Day Out class tonight. For the girls, a bright red Ella’s Kitchen Organic Strawberry Apple squeeze pouch with a “You’re My Main SQUEEZE” tag. And for the boys, a Peach & Banana one with a “You’re My Main Squeeze, Man” tag. That’s tough right? 🙂

If you’re looking for healthy Valentine’s Day gifts for babies and preschoolers, this is so easy! It may be a little pricy for a big class, but at this age class sizes are usually quite small. We just had five classmates to buy for, so the whole project was $12 including the bags and tags.

I know some of the mama’s of the kids in Jackson’s class and I know they’ll be glad to see at least one treat they can gladly let their kiddo have from their Valentine’s Day goodie bag, no guilt, no arguing, no “you can have one piece after dinner” negotiations.


Black Forest Greek Yogurt Parfaits

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“……even if you don’t know anybody, and you don’t know what’s gonna happen next, you should have your box of chocolates with you. You should eat your bowl of cherries. And that is what life is.”
―    C. JoyBell C.

(Becky, the Mama.)

By the amount of Greek yogurt occupying grocer’s refrigerator shelves these days, I’m not the only one in love with its rich, creamy, tart texture and taste. I don’t even buy sour cream anymore and honestly can’t tell the difference.  The 2% Fage brand is my favorite; so smooth with just the right amount of fat so that no one misses the cream.

Two of my favorite foods are sweet dark cherries and chocolate. (I agree with Dave Barry who says, “Your hand and your mouth agreed many years ago that, as far as chocolate is concerned, there is no need to involve your brain.”) So it is no surprise that Black Forest Cake is one of my favorite treats, but alas, it doesn’t have many redeeming nutritional assets. So I come up with this quick, easy, decadent Black Forest Parfait, using my favorite Greek yogurt in place  of a pudding.  It was love at first bite.  In fact, I  just made a batch of them  for everyone in our family as snack, to a happy chorus of “mmm.. mmms…yum,  that’s good!”

It’s a dessert you can feel good about enjoying and sharing because the chocolate adds antioxidants, the yogurt is a great source of calcium and protein, and cherries are in the top 20 foods with the highest amount of antioxidants. Also, cherries are one of the few foods that have melatonin in them, for a restful night’s sleep. Finally, by starting with unsweetened yogurt, you can control the sweetness to your own taste.

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Black Forest Greek Yogurt Parfaits

Makes 2 parfaits

Ingredients

1 1/3 cups plain unsweetened Greek yogurt (Vegans can substitute So Delicious Coconut Milk “Greek Yogurt”)

1/4 c. Hershey chocolate syrup, plus a little some for decorating parfait tops (Vegans need to use a milk-free chocolate syrup)

Agave nectar to taste

2 T. mini chocolate chips (vegans use vegan chocolate chip)

1/2 c. dark sweet cherries (frozen, pitted; if they are large, cut them in half)

2 T. cherry preserves I love Bonne Maman French preserves, now available in most grocery stores. They do not have any corn syrup and are full of fruit!

Directions:

In one bowl mix yogurt with chocolate syrup.  Add agave nectar if you like until it is as sweet as you prefer.  In another small bowl mix the cherries and preserves.

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In a tall clear mug or parfait glass, put about 1/3 cup of chocolate yogurt mixture, then put a layer of the cherry mixture on next, about 1/4 cup. (Reserve about a Tablespoon to decorate top).   Follow this with another layer of chocolate yogurt (about 1/3 cup) and  a nice squiggle of chocolate syrup. Top with 1 T. mini chocolate chips and a dollop of cherry mixture for decoration on top.  Repeat in another mug or parfait glass.

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Golden Parmesan Chickpeas & Garlic Slices

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(Becky, the Mama.)

So, this is the story of how I ended up eating an ENTIRE CAN of garbanzo beans (chickpeas) in one sitting yesterday.

My daughter’s slow and steady vegan influence upon me seems to have caught fire of late.  Either that or I had some really awful meat-based meals last week.   We went away to a hotel for fives days so that I could finish up my part of some detailed edits on our upcoming memoir, We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook.   

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During my self-imposed confinement I ordered an “Asian Salad” from the hotel cafĂ© –which turned out to be tasteless squares of chicken tossed in wilty Iceberg lettuce with a thick flavorless mayo-based dressing. Later, hope still afloat, I ordered a gyro, which was made from salt-less pre-cooked dry roast beef chips smothered a sauce that tasted of thickened water. I arrived home a few days later with a sudden and strange aversion to anything cut from cow or fowl.  I almost kissed my fridge and pantry, so happy was I not to be at the mercy of  restaurant cooks who are lacking in taste buds.  

Searching for a quick meatless meal, I remembered that Rachel roasts chick peas in the oven with a little olive oil and seasoning.  They are yummy and easy. “I’ll make some roasted chickpeas!” I said to myself.  “I’ll get loads of protein and fiber and I won’t have to eat meat today.” (There are 7 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber in ½ cup of garbanzos, and a scant 125 calories.)

Well, one idea led to another and by the time I finished, I created a snack that I could not stop eating until every single bean (or pea) was gone.  It began when I  decided to try sautéing the garbanzos in olive oil in my trusty iron skillet. Then I threw in some sliced fresh garlic near the end of the cooking time so they could turn a golden brown (but not burn) and add extra flavor and crunch. After draining them on a paper towel, I squiggled a touch of  agave nectar over them to give the beans and garlic a light sweet, sticky surface then sprinkled them with sea salt and Parmesan cheese. 

These little snacks have it all going on: some crunch, some chewiness, some garlic, some salty and savory, and just a hint of sweet.  They can be eaten out of hand or tossed on a salad or atop a pasta for a quick vegan or vegetarian treat.

They would go fantastic with an ice cold beer at a Super Bowl party this weekend for vegans, vegetarians and omnivores alike.  (Although vegans will need to use Vegan Parmesan Cheese, found at most health food stores.  I keep this on hand for Rachel and Jared and it’s quite tasty.)

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Golden  Parmesan Chickpeas & Garlic Slices

Ingredients

 1 16 oz can chick peas (or garbanzo beans), drained (I do this on a paper towel to get them as dry as possible)

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ÂĽ cup olive oil

3 to 5 garlic cloves (depending on how garlicky you like your food) peeled and sliced thin

2 t. agave nectar

Sea Salt to taste

Parmesan Cheese to taste (start with 1 Tablespoon and add more if you like)

Directions

Pour oil into a skillet and heat until very hot.  Put chickpeas in skillet and let them get brown on most sides.  Just before the chickpeas are ready to take out of the skillet, add the garlic slices and sauté until brown.  (If the pain is dry, you can add more oil at any time.) 

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Drain the chick peas and garlic on a paper towel.  Put into a bowl and gently toss with agave nectar.  Add sea salt and Parmesan cheese to taste.    Serve warm or at room temperature.   Excellent source of protein and fiber atop salads, sandwiches or pasta.

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Roasted Eggplant & Red Pepper Tapenade (Or “That Yummy Stuff”)

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(Becky, the Mama.)

The first time I created and served this recipe for a patio party, guests kept saying, “Oh my goodness, what IS this yummy stuff?” I struggled to describe what is was, because, as is so often the case, I just put whatever sounded good to me into a pan and crossed my fingers. This recipe began with a pan of diced roasted Greek veggies that becomes a colorful, intensely flavored Mediterranean topping for wedges of hot grilled Naan bread, alongside hummus and a lemon-zest ricotta. If I were to be asked to create a “perfect bite” on some sort of home cook’s competition, I’d serve this Roasted Eggplant and Red Pepper Tapenade on top of, well, just about anything.

This hearty appetizer is perfect with a glass of good wine, either on a hot summer day or a cold winter evening. It is wonderful at just about any temperature but probably best served a room temp which makes it a great no-fuss appetizer for parties. (Also perfect for New Year Celebrations coming up.)

I must confess, I am a little sad when there is not a container of “Yummy Stuff” in the fridge somewhere. It’s become my favorite condiment on top of fresh grilled Naan or Pita,burgers or sandwiches, or as a topping to punch up flavor in everyday spaghetti. If you are vegan, it’s especially nice to keep on hand to add a quick burst of color and flavor to lentils, beans, brown rice or quinoa.

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Roasted Eggplant & Red Pepper Tapenade

(Or “That Yummy Stuff”)

* Recipe of Roasted Veggies below,cooked, cooled and diced to desired “chunkiness” for spreading
1 T. olive oil
2 T. tomato paste
1 T. red wine vinegar
1 ½ t. sugar
Couple of shakes hot pepper sauce (like Tabasco) to taste
1 T. capers or 1 T. finely chopped pepperoncini peppers
5 large green stuffed olives, sliced (may use black olives if you prefer)
1/3 c. chopped dried tomatoes
1 to 2 T. water, if needed
Salt and pepper, if needed

Directions:

In medium to large skillet, heat olive oil. Add diced roasted Garlic Greek Veggies. Add tomato paste, vinegar, sugar, capers or pepperoncinis, sundried tomatoes, and olives. Stir and cook in skillet until sauce is thick, well-blended and hot and some of the “vinegary” smell and taste is cooked out, about 2 minutes.

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Add water if needed, but keep the tempenade thick. Serve warm, room temperature or even cold if you like. It is amazing on grilled Naan or pita bread atop hummus, fabulous as a thick relish-like topping for a Greek-style burger or any sandwich.

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Mediterranean Garlic Roasted Veggies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Ingredients:

1 eggplant, peeled and diced about 1 inch cubes
1 red pepper, seeded, stemmed and rough chopped in big chunks
3 big cloves garlic (or 4 smaller ones)
1 red onion, peeled and rough chopped in large chunks

3 T. olive oil
1 T. balsamic vinegar

Fresh ground sea salt and pepper (light sprinkling over all)

Directions:

On a large baking sheet sprinkle olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Place chopped eggplant, red pepper and red onion on pan. Using clean hands mix the veggies with the oil and vinegar and then give the whole thing a light sprinkling of fresh sea salt and pepper. Put whole garlic cloves somewhere on pan either wrapped in foil or parchment with a little olive oil; or use a small clay garlic roaster.

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Roast veggies for about 20 to 30 minutes or until veggies just begin to get soft and brown-blackish in spots. Smash soft roasted garlic into a paste with flat edge of knife or fork, and toss with veggies.

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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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Sweet and Spicy Snap Peas in a Snap

These sweet and spicy snap peas are ready in minutes and make a perfect side dish or healthy snack.

These sweet and spicy snap peas are ready in minutes and make a perfect side dish or healthy snack.

I cannot seem to get enough snap peas lately. Since I started working out again, I’ve craved something cool and quick after I exercise. A handful of cold snap peas is a perfect little sweet and crunchy snack for a post workout cool down.

I challenged myself to workout every day for 30 minutes outside, rain or shine, this month. It seemed like an awesome idea the first week when the weather was in the 70s and 80s, reaching record highs for December. As Texas weather does, it abruptly turned from gorgeous 70s to the 30s this weekend. I went from a tank top and shorts and a lovely workout in the park on Sunday…

Resourcefully using the playground equipment for a Sunday afternoon workout/jog with the family.

Resourcefully using the playground equipment for a Sunday afternoon workout/jog with the family.

….to a headwrap, multiple layers, down vest, and gloves on Monday.

Bundled up for our first cold front of the season.

Bundled up for our first cold front of the season. 

Instead of needing a crisp snack to cool down with, I needed something to help me thaw out after that workout. Like a hot bath for starters, and these warm sweet and spicy snap peas that are literally made in a snap.

Two ingredient, five minute side or snack. Sweet, spicy, delicious.

Three ingredient, five minute side or snack. Sweet, spicy, delicious.

Sweet & Spicy Snap Peas in a Snap

Serves 2

Ingredients

1 c. Sugar Snap Peas

2 T. Sweet Chili Sauce (in the Asian aisle of most grocery stores)

1/4 t. sea salt or kosher salt

Directions

In a sauce pan, bring the sweet chili sauce to a boil, stirring constantly until it reduces by about half. Add in the snap peas and stir until coated and just warmed through. Sprinkle with salt and serve immediately.

Here’s a closer look.

Sugar Snap Peas are easily found in most super markets.

Sugar Snap Peas are easily found in most super markets.

I've seen this in the Asian aisle of many grocery stores and at specialty stores like World Market.

I’ve seen this in the Asian aisle of many grocery stores and at specialty stores like World Market.

Bring sweet chili sauce to a boil, stirring constantly.

Bring sweet chili sauce to a boil, stirring constantly.

Add snap peas and stir until coated with sauce and just warmed through.

Add snap peas and stir until coated with sauce and just warmed through. Sprinkle with salt and serve immediately. 

Serve alone as a snack or appetizer, or as a side with something like rice and Teriyaki Tofu or Chicken.

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Clementine & Cheese Stick “Palm Tree” Snack for Kids

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(Becky, the Mama)

Sometimes the easiest recipes are the ones we use the most. My grandson Georgie bellies up to the kitchen bar at least once or twice a day and asks for a “Palm Tree,” in the same way a character on the TV show “Cheers” would order their favorite drink.

I walked to his little school the other day to pick him up (it is only a few blocks away!) and on the way out the door, tucked a piece of string cheese in one pocket and a Clementine orange in the other. When he walked out of his Kindergarten class I produced the “goods” and made him a Palm Tree right there on the spot. His eyes lit up with joy and admiration. It takes so little to make a child happy. The orange quenches the thirst that comes from the saltiness of the cheese, so it makes a great all-in-one treat I feel good about giving him.

George on his first day of Kindergarten, here in Colorado, last week!

George on his first day of Kindergarten, here in Colorado, last week!

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Clementine &  Cheese Stick “Palm Tree” Snack for Kids

Ingredients:

Stick of Cheese (String cheese works fine, too)

Clementine orange, peeled

Directions: 

Fan out the orange a little bit on one end and plop it atop a cheese stick.  Serve to your favorite little one,  with a wink and a smile.

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