(Becky, the Mama) Now that summertime is here in Colorado, it is hard for me to stay away from the perfect weather on our inviting back porch!
We nap, visit and eat outside as much as humanly possible. Yesterday, we hosted a group of young couples and little ones for an outdoor brunch. A friend dropped by last night and we enjoyed a plate of nachos and cool drinks as we rocked and swung and chatted in the evening breeze. Tonight we had some dear friends and their little girls over for an old-fashioned supper-on-the-porch that brought back memories of meals around my own grandmother’s table. I made garlic & lemon roast chicken, baked sweet potatoes, Asian peanut buttery green beans (recipe to come soon!), corn, and my simple rustic, pastry-style cherry-blueberry cobbler (a festive July 4 recipe, by the way, with a little scoop of vanilla ice cream and raspberrg sorbet).
But it was the refreshing side-dish that I prepared for tonight’s meal that made me wax nostalgic for potlucks and picnic tables of my childhood: sweet n’ sour refrigerator pickled cucumbers & onions. I updated this beloved Grandma dish by using the small Asian or Persian cucumbers that are often sold in little packages of six to twelve, and becoming increasingly popular in grocery stores everywhere. Sliced a little on the thick side they hold their crunch for days in this pickling liquid. I like to keep a container of these marinated cucumbers and onions hand in the fridge all summer long to add a crisp, cold delightful punch to almost any meal.
You can get creative and add some diced fresh tomatoes, olives, artichoke hearts or any kind of cooked beans and a handful of fresh chopped herbs to this basic dish to create a quick, pretty, refreshing marinated salad for potlucks, picnics and summertime side-dishes. Crunch on and enjoy!
Crunchy, Easy, Refrigerator Pickled Cucumbers & Red Onions
6 to 8 small Asian or Persian cucumbers, sliced about 3/4 inch (leave peel on)
1 small red onion, peeled and sliced thin, pulled apart in strands
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup water
1/4 to 1/3 cup sugar (depending on desired sweetness)
1 T. sea salt
T. dried dill (or 2 T. fresh chopped dill)
1 T. celery seed
1 T. black sesame seeds (optional)
Directions: Mix all of the above together in a dish with a lid. Let the mixture sit on the counter , with lid on top, at room temperature for about an hour and then put in fridge to chill until ready to serve. (Let the veggies marinate at least 3 hours for the best flavor through-out.) Will keep in fridge up to a week, maintaining its crunch.
When I worked at the Olive Garden in college, the biggest temptation was the bread drawer, the place where the fresh-out-of-the-oven garlicky bread sticks keep warm until they are to be swaddled in cloth like little dough baby Jesuses and placed in a basket, then delivered to anxious guests alongside a family-sized salad with large clumsy tongs.
Here’s a little server secret: to maximize your salad and breadstick dining pleasure, don’t bother asking for extra dressing or scooping up the last bit swimming at the bottom of the salad bowl. The real indulgence comes in dipping them into a boat of alfredo sauce, it’s a combination you won’t long forget. And the only thing it will cost you is $2.50, 380 calories and 35 grams of fat! Yeah sorry….total buzz kill. But good news is ahead.
This morning, an idea for a simple garlic cream sauce recipe popped into my head. It sounded so easy that right there at 10am, I whipped it up in my Vitamix. And when I opened the blender top ten minutes later, the steaming creamy sauce brought me right back to my shifts at the OG. The smell of garlic filling the air as you opened the bread drawer and winked to the cook for a little ramekin of alfredo. The combination so naughty, yet so irresistible. Hungry servers gathered around to share the quick indulgence, all the while looking out of the corner of our eyes to make sure a manager wasn’t swinging through the kitchen door or the skinny girl with self-control wasn’t looking down on us with judgement.
Somehow this sauce captures that naughty thrilling indulgence – the taste of garlic and cream dancing on your tastebud – but it’s oh so right in so many ways. No oil, no dairy, no cholestorol, just healthy fats from cashews. And with a rich creamy sauce like this, who really needs a refined white flour breadstick to dunk in it? Serve it over whole wheat pasta or vegetables or dip your favorite toasted whole grain baguette in it and you’ll be every bit as satisfied. It’s mind blowingly delicious and the easiest cream sauce I’ve made yet. I see many spin-offs of this in my future. Add a little cayenne for some heat, roast the garlic, garnish with some basil to brighten it up for spring, maybe even add some spinach and artichokes and cook it down to a thick appetizer dip. Oh the potential!
Note: I did not pre-saute the garlic, so it has a little bit of that raw garlic bite…that will stay the evening with you. I am a sucker for garlic, but if you like your garlic a little more milder and not as an overnight guest, then you may want to mince and saute it in a touch of water or olive oil before adding it in.
Garlic Cashew Cream Sauce
Recipe from http://www.laughcrycook.com
Makes enough for 16 ounces of cooked pasta (about four large servings)
1 cup raw cashews
1/4 cup nutritional yeast (available at health markets)
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large or 3-4 small garlic cloves
2 teaspoons cornstarch (flour will probably work too, but you’ll probably need 3-4 teaspoons)
2 cups milk (I used unsweetened almond milk)
4 teaspoons lemon juice
Vitamix or High-Speed Blender Directions
1. Blend cashews, nutritional yeast, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt into a powder. Scrape corners down.
2. Add garlic, cornstarch, 1/2 of milk. Blend until combined.
3. Add remaining milk and blend on high speed until hot and steamy (about five to seven minutes) and to the thickness desired.
4. Blend in lemon juice and check for seasoning. Add more salt if desired.
5. Serve over pasta or vegetables or as a dipping sauce for bread. Sprinkle individual servings with a touch of pepper.
Vitamix is having a sale on their reconditioned models this month (January 2014). I bought the standard reconditioned model in November when they had the same sale and have officially fallen into the “How did I ever live without it?!” camp. You can use the code 06-009318 at Vitamix.com to get free shipping and to help support Laugh, Cry, Cook.
Food Processor/Stove Top Instructions
1. In a food processor blend cashews, nutritional yeast, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt into a powder. Scrape down sides as needed.
2. Mince garlic finely or use microplaner to grate into food processor.
3. Stir cornstarch into 1cup of milk. Add to food processor and blend until well combined.
3. Add remaining milk. Blend again.
4. Transfer to stovetop sauce pan and heat on medium to medium high, stirring often until it is heated through and reached the desired consistency (like a thick alfredo sauce).
4. Stir in lemon juice and check for seasoning. Add more salt if desired.
5. Serve over pasta or vegetables or as a dipping sauce for bread. Sprinkle individual servings with a touch of pepper.
Teachers around the U.S are counting down those last few days of school. Christmas break is just a couple of days away. They made it. And you know what they deserve? To CELEBRATE!
My son is 2 1/2. His Mother’s Day Out teachers may not have to deal with testing or teenage attitudes…but they help potty train eleven children…and they are better at it than I am with one child. They do pinterest worthy activities EVERY class day. They taught my child his colors, when all summer long EVERYTHING was blue. I seriously thought he was color blind…but no. They text me pictures of my son at sensory stations and my mother-guilt for not doing enough of these activites at home is lessened. They are my Pinterest arms and legs. My son will not grow up in a generation of Pin Kids and be the only one who never played in a “sensory bin.” Thank you Mrs. H and Mrs. T!
So cheers to teachers everywhere. If you are a teacher, I hope someone is celebrating you this week…and if not, I raise my glass to you. Here’s what my son’s teachers and his school’s director are getting from The Randolphs this year. It’s not expensive, but I hope it expresses how grateful we are for them…because we totally are!
The makings of pomegranate spritzers and some delicious dark chocolate covered almonds (I bought the Archer’s brand from Target. They are dairy-free and dangerously tasty). I had these little gratitude stones from one of my old clients Michele Wahlder. She had them made up to go with her book Alphatudes: The Alphabet of Gratitude, which also makes an absolutely beautiful gift or addition to a gift basket.
Homemade Simple Syrup is so easy and CHEAP, but adds a nice homemade touch to this gift. Simply boil equal parts sugar and water until the sugar dissolves. I did one cup of each and filled three medium sized baby food jars. (If I’d thought ahead, I’d have bought small mason jars–so much cuter–but I went with what I had). You can sweeten any drink (iced tea, cocktails, coffee) with simple syrup without leaving undissolved granules of sugar in the bottom. It’s also the perfect stocking stuffer for the sweet tea lovers in your life.
You can also make all sorts of flavored simple syrups for a special touch by adding things like peeled ginger, jalapeno, orange peel, mint, or basil. Unflavored syrups will keep for about a month in the refrigerator. Most flavored will keep for 2-3 weeks. Just toss it when it gets cloudy.
Makes one drink
2 ounces pomegranate juice
2 ounces sparkling water
.5 – 1 ounce simple syrup (see below for recipe)
Optional: 1.5 ounces of white rum or vodka
Wedge of Lemon
Pour all ingredients into a martini glass. Squeeze in lemon wedge. Give it a gentle stir. Add some ice cubes if needed. Serve. (You can shake the pomegranate juice, optional rum or vodka, and simple syrup in a shaker with ice and then top with sparkling water and lemon if you’re bothered by a few cubes of ice in your martini glass.)
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
Put sugar and water in a pan. Bring to boil. Boil until the sugar dissolves. Only takes a few seconds. Remove from heat. Let cool. (You can also just put sugar and water in a jar and shake, shake, shake until it dissolves.) Store in refrigerator for up to one month or until it gets cloudy.
People often ask me how I cook with Jackson around. In We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook, I wrote about how cooking with him was kind of like cooking on an obstacle course. For a long time, that was what it felt like. But recently, I realized at this stage–the two’s–cooking with him is one of the easiest things on my to-do list to accomplish with him around. Not easy…but it’s something he’s come to feel at ease around. It’s kind of “our” thing.
I left him with a friend the other day for a few minutes and when I returned she shared this little conversation they had.
Sarah: Do you have a dog?
Jackson: No, I have a mommy.
Sarah: Oh, well that’s almost as good as a dog.
Jackson: Yeth, I cook with mommy.
Well, there you have it. Dogs don’t make very good cooking companions for kids, but mommies are very good for that.
My other to-dos don’t have the same smiley affect on him. Writing with him around. Yeah right. Phone calls. Let’s just say, the last conference call I was on with our editor, I had to muffle the phone while I hollered, “Jackson, don’t stick your head through the fence” and then again while he hollered, “Noooooo! Don’t wipe meeee!” as I was trying to discreetly potty train mid-call.
Cooking is mostly a piece of cake…because he can participate, he can be a helper. And even when he can’t help with something like chopping onions, he’s still content because we’re together and I’m talking to him, not somebody else on the phone or looking at a computer screen.
And with a little creativity, there’s almost always a way to get a child involved in the cooking if they want to be.
I don’t cook every day, but the days I do, the moments we are in the kitchen together, are often the moments we enjoy the most. The kitchen is a place where our lives intersect, where my almost 30-year old female joys and interests cross with my two-year old little boy’s interests. I don’t have to pretend that the lego tower we just built is the tallest most amazing piece of architecture I’ve ever seen. He doesn’t have to be patient with me as I make a quick call or pick up groceries. The smells of cloves and cinnamon, the colorful block puzzle from butternut squash, the sound of the blender engine purring excite us both. We don’t have to pretend. We just have to be. Together.
Roasted Butternut Squash Mole Enchiladas
5 cups diced butternut squash
1 tablespoon oil (canola, olive, grapeseed)
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
8-10 corn tortillas
1/2 cup raisins, soaked for 10 minutes in warm water and drained (optional)
2 cups Mole Sauce (I used this easy recipe from Vegetarian Times)*
Preheat oven to 400. Toss butternut sqaush with canola oil, brown sugar, chili powder, and cinnamon. Bake at 400 for 20 minutes or until tender and cooked through. Resist temptation to eat all the squash now.
Reduce oven temp to 350. Ladle 1/2 cup mole sauce into bottom of a 9×13 casserole dish. Wrap corn tortillas in a damp paper towel and heat in microwave for about 30 seconds, just enough to warm them up and make them pliable. Dip corn tortilla into mole sauce. Fill with about two tablespoons of butternut squash and a sprinkle of raisins. Roll up. Repeat. Ladle a generous amount of sauce on top. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes.
Serve with black or wild rice. The nuttiness from the black rice went perfectly with this dish.
*I blended half of the sauce this time. I think I’d leave it unblended next time though, because it was a lot prettier unblended.
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.
We loved watching him play in his “beach” (sandbox), help his dad out with yard work….
and make himself at home in the kitchen.
(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.
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!
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.)
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.)
There comes a time in every gardener’s life when they ask themselves, “What am I going to do with all these tomatoes?” And until that day comes for me, I will pull up my dead plants with my black thumbs, quietly curse those gardeners under my breath, and smile graciously when they offer up some of their overwhelming bounty to me.
I’ll display them on the counter for a day or so until I can’t take their mockery anymore.
And then I will cook my way out of despair.
And remember the gifts I can offer my family, even if a plentiful vegetable garden is not one of them.
Instead, I will slow roast my way into their hearts with sweet peppers, carrots, onions, and garlic (store bought, but flavorful nonetheless), garden tomatoes (generously given to this less fortunate gardener), and a few sad looking twigs of rosemary and oregano (just barely surviving in my garden of doom).
And I’ll bring those flavors together in one delightful pureed sauce. My husband will declare that he may never eat jarred sauce again. My toddler will slurp his pasta up with messy reckless abandon. And I will stand over the pot eating the sweet rich roasted sauce by the spoonful, my self esteem having made a complete (near manic) turn for the better.
For those of you who feel the need to do something good and right by your family, I give you this recipe. It will restore their faith in you, and your faith in yourself.
Roasted Tomato and Sweet Pepper Pasta Sauce
~ 3 pounds of tomatoes (I don’t have a scale, but I used about 12-15 smallish tomatoes), cut in half
~15 mini sweet peppers (or 3 red, yellow, or orange bell peppers), cut in half and seeded
1 carrot, peeled and sliced thin
1 red onion, quartered
8 garlic cloves, peeled
2 twigs fresh rosemary, removed from stem (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 tablespoon fresh oregeno, removed from stem (or 1 teaspoon dried)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
generous sprinkle of fresh cracked pepper
1/2 teapoon salt
1/2 teaspoon molasses (or brown sugar)
handful of fresh parsley, rough chopped (or 1 teaspoon dried)
Other: 1 lb pasta, cooked (I used whole wheat thin spaghetti, use gluten-free if needed)
Heat oven to 400. Put chopped vegetables and herbs on a large deep-sided roasting pan or dish. Stuff the garlic cloves into the tomatoes so they don’t burn. Drizzle with olive oil and toss with salt and pepper. Roast for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes.
Carefully pour the veggies and their sauces into a pot on the stove and use an immersion blender to puree the vegetables. (If you don’t have an imersion blender, let the veggies cool to room temperature, then transfer to a blender or food processor and puree. Then pour into a pot on the stove.) Add parsley, salt, and molasses. Bring to a boil and then reduce to low heat. Simmer for 30 minutes. My sauce was thick already, so I simmered with the lid on, but if you have really juicy tomatoes, you may want to simmer with the lid off until you reach the desired consistency. Check for seasoning. Adding more salt or molasses (adds sweetness and cuts acidity) as needed.
Make it Salsa: This base recipe could easily be turned into a salsa by switching up the seasonings — add a few jalapenos and cilantro, omit rosemary, oregeno, and parsley. Pulse in the food processor for a chunkier version. Would be delicious served hot or cold with chips.
Make it Soup: Add a little broth or cream for a delicious roasted tomato and pepper soup.
Make it a Meal: While you’re simmering the sauce and the oven is still hot, roast up some chickpeas tossed in olive oil and Italian seasoning for a crunchy protein-filled topping. Wilt some spinach into the sauce in the last five minutes to sneak in some greens.
Jackson is 22 months old now and at that stage where he’s learning new words every day and starting to string together words to make phrases and sentences like these:
“Hoo Hoo” (Whoohoo whith his hands thrown in the air.)
“Cool man” (I don’t know where he picked up this phrase, but it’s super cute.)
“Yayyy, I did it!” (Even if he didn’t actually do whatever IT is, he celebrates every little effort with such enthusiasm. It’s contagious.)
“Leeeeeet’s GO!” (That combined with “Run momma” is turning him into a little personal trainer!)
“Yes.” (Finally, he is saying “yes,” instead of always “no,” in the most adorably assertive and confident way.)
Of course, with this precious phase, also comes the less than adorable phrases, like “Chur turn” (Your turn…which actually means my turn. And it’s always “chur turn”) and “Miiiine!”
My favorite phrase of late, though, is “Tank choo ma ma.” He emphasizes each syllable and I can tell he really has to work to say it. It’s a sweet labor of love and it’s reserved for his truly most satisfying moments of deep gratitude, like when I served him chocolate “ice cream” made of bananas and cocoa for a morning snack last week. “Choc! Tank choo ma ma!”
This idea for banana soft serve has been circulating for years. It’s not new, but I’ve turned a few people toward it this week with my Instagram picture of Jackson enjoying his morning ice cream treat and thought maybe some of our readers have yet to try it as well. The basic recipe is just frozen bananas processed in a blender. It’s magical! The bananas just whip right into a thick creamy soft serve that is delicious on it’s own. You can make all sorts of flavors: chocolate peanut butter, strawberry banana, cinnamon and sugar…wherever your taste buds take you. This version is one of my favorites. You can use peanut butter instead of peanuts, but I really love the texture and flavor from the whole peanuts.
Ready in under five minutes, it makes the perfect healthy summer snack, or even breakfast. You’ll earn some serious cool mom or dad points putting a bowl of this in front of your kids first thing in the morning!
Banana Nut Soft Serve
2 frozen bananas, cut into 1-2 inch pieces
2 tablespoons peanuts (I used organic unsalted)
sprinkle of sea salt (unless peanuts are salted)
Put ingredients in a food processor and blend, stopping and scraping the sides as needed until it turns to the texture of a thick soft serve ice cream. Then stop. You don’t want to over blend or it will have more of a melty soft serve texture (not bad, but not as good either).
For this portion size, I use the smallest bowl on my food processor so I don’t have to stop and scrape the sides as often. (It will be very loud at first, that’s okay, just be prepared.)
Serve immediately with a few extra peanuts and another sprinkle of sea salt on top for some extra crunch. I’ve heard this does not refreeze well, though I’ve never had any left to try. 🙂 You can buy yourself a little time keeping it chilled in the freezer, but it’s best to serve right away.
Have you made Banana Soft Serve?
What are your favorite flavor combinations?
What are your favorite toddler phrases and phases?
Zondervan, our publisher, has been so supportive of our book (coming out August 6). We’re having such a great publishing experience! They just decided to do an audio version of We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook and invited my mom and I to record it. One of us will be recording in the studio most of the week, each of us having two 5-7 hour days in studio. Prayers for good health appreciated. The following week I’m heading to Colorado (with Jackson in tow) to join mom for a photo shoot for a major Christian publication. We’re so grateful for all the encouragement and support we’ve received…and for our fabulous readers at the blog.
We also got all of the endorsements in for the book. Wow! We are floored by the generosity of our fellow authors. Click on the picture of the book above to read the endorsements and find lots of knew authors to friend and follow.