White Pumpkin Seeds

White pumpkins are fun to carve for Halloween, and if you’re carving pumpkins of course you have to roast the seeds! Simply separate the seeds from the inner pulp (the “goo” if you’re a kid), rinse well, and spread in on a well greased pan. I prefer to use real butter for this, coating a baking pan with approximately 1 tablespoon of melted butter for each cup of seeds. Then, sprinkle generously with your favorite seasoning. Half-Pint is on a ranch kick, so we used the ranch seasoning mix shown above. Roast in a 300 degree oven for 30 minutes, flipping seeds with a spatula halfway through. Allow to cool slightly before enjoying.

Happy Halloween!

Toasted Melon Seeds

melon seedsIf you’re waiting longingly for October to enjoy the savory taste of roasted pumpkin seeds… no need. One of the best kept secrets among frugal cooks is that ALL melon seeds are edible! The seeds from pumpkins, winter squash, watermelon (yes, watermelon), cantaloupe, honeydew, etc. are not only edible, they are chock full of Continue reading

Snacking Tokyo-Style: Plum Onigiri

riceAre you looking for an easy way to jazz up your weekday lunch?

All over Tokyo, food courts and convenience stores sell triangles of sticky rice filled with all sorts of wonderful goodies. Called onigiri, these snacks fit easily in the palm of your hand, are quite filling, and are very affordable – many cost the equivalent of $1 or less. Our whole family enjoyed sampling onigiri filled with pickles, plums, smoked salmon, and even hard boiled eggs. Our favorite were the plum-filled snacks, which we are creating today.

rice mold

Onigiri mold

You can Continue reading

Microwave Potato Chips

chips1Our garden produced a nice crop of lovely little purple potatoes this year. The insides are ringed with beautiful shades of violet, but the small size of these potatoes makes them impractical to peel. Voila! Potato chips! What a simple way to show off the color of these heirloom veggies!

On our Kitchen Gadgets page, we’ve provided a link to an affordable gadget which makes potato chips (oil free) in the microwave. It works really well, but makes small batches. We have a LOT of potatoes, and needed to find a way to process larger batches of chips. Aha! This worked like a charm:chips3

Emson Bacon Wave, Microwave Bacon Cooker

Yes, friends, an “As Seen On TV” microwave bacon maker, no joke! We used a mandolin to slice potatoes really thin, sprinkled them with a bit of sea salt, and arranged them in the bacon maker as shown:chips2

We microwaved our chips for approximately 6 minutes (until the chips started to brown). Done! So simple! What a great way to enjoy the high fiber goodness of garden fresh potatoes, without adding fat.

PS – this same technique works for vegetable chips made from yams, beets, carrots, and parsnips. Stay tuned!

 

Rum Caramel Corn

WIN_20160528_161718While I look forward to summertime and love my garden, I’ll confess to enjoying a bit of air conditioning and an indoor breeze under a ceiling fan after playing in the dirt under the hot sun. I’ll also confess to feeling hungry after working in the garden, and unfortunately there’s nothing to harvest from the garden just yet!

Today I sated my post-gardening sweet tooth with this easy recipe for Rum Caramel Corn. I used a banged up old pot to cook the caramel. Boiling caramel may (or may not) cause a harmless, slight discoloration inside of a pan. To clean the pan in which you boiled the caramel, here’s an easy tip: fill the pan about 2 inches deep with water, and bring the water to a boil on the stove. When the water is boiling, add about 2 tablespoons of baking soda to the pan. Immediately cover the pan and remove from heat. After about 15 minutes, when the water is still warm but comfortable to touch, scrub the inside of the pan. Voila! The caramel residue will wash away.

WIN_20160528_155729Ingredients (Makes 15 cups)

15 cups air popped popcorn

1/2 cup real butter

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

1/2 cup light corn syrup

2 tablespoons light molasses

1 teaspoon rum flavoring

WIN_20160528_160950Directions

Step 1) Combine butter, brown sugar, light corn syrup, and molasses in an old saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly.

Step 2) Allow caramel mixture to boil gently for 7 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat. Stir in rum flavoring.

WIN_20160528_161707Step 3) Spread popcorn on baking sheets lined with waxed paper. Carefully drizzle the caramel mixture over the popcorn. Use a metal spatula to gently lift the coated popcorn. This spreads the caramel onto more of the popcorn, and also helps to prevent sticking.

Enjoy when cool!

 

Kids in the Kitchen: Mixed-Up Cereal Bars

WIN_20160116_123407Here at Crowded Earth Kitchen, we don’t buy bright colored, sugary cereal. The problem is that Santa Claus is a mischievous guy, and leaves Mom-Disapproved cereals under the Christmas tree. The kiddos LOVE this, and for a few weeks they are able to indulge in occasional bowls of silly breakfast cereals. By late winter, this Mom’s patience with Santa has worn thin, and it’s time to get rid of the neon colored breakfast food.

This recipe gives the pint size cooks in your kitchen a fun opportunity to an after school snack out of those bits and specks of breakfast cereal lurking in your pantry. These cereal bars are most fun when you let the kids mix cereals. Why should Rice Crispies get to have all of the fun?

Introducing Prime Pantry – Everyday Essentials Delivered to You

WIN_20160116_121312Ingredients (Makes 12 bars)

2 tablespoons butter

4 cups mini marshmallows

4 cups mixed-up cereal (at least two varieties)

Directions

WIN_20160116_122914Step 1) Melt butter and marshmallows together in a large saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly.

Step 2) Remove saucepan from heat and stir in mixed-up cereal.

Step 3) Transfer mixture to a greased pie dish. Using wet hands, press the mixture firmly into the pie dish. Allow mixture to cool and firm up on the counter.

Step 4) Cut into squares or wedges using a wet knife, OR place the pie dish in the freezer for about 30 minutes and cut into squares while partially frozen.

If you plan to pack these Mixed-Up Cereal Bars in school lunches, wrap them individually in waxed paper.

Dry Roasted Pepitas

WIN_20151001_205630Why do so many people stop roasting pumpkin seeds after Halloween? I have no idea. Seeds make a delicious and filling snack throughout the winter! Even better, they’re an excellent source of zinc, vitamin E, and fiber. In order to preserve their nutritional punch, pumpkin seeds or “pepitas” must be cooked quickly. The easiest way to accomplish this is with dry roasting in a saute pan. A saute pan? I suppose that’s cheating a bit, but since it saves time, let’s go for it!

WIN_20151001_130124 - CopyIngredients (Makes about 1 cup)

1 large, speckled pumpkin (look for a striped pumpkin with streaks of green, if you want colorful green seeds)

1/2 teaspoon salt

pinch of sugar

Directions

Step 1) Scoop insides out of pumpkin, saving the pumpkin flesh for other uses!

Step 2) Separate pumpkin seeds (pepitas) and wash WIN_20151001_130208them thoroughly. Pat dry with a clean towel.
Step 3) Place pumpkin seeds in a nonstick saute pan and saute over medium heat, stirring constantly. Continue heating and stirring for approximately 5 minutes, until a few seeds begin to turn a golden color and the air is fragrant with the aroma of roasted seeds.

Step 4) Sprinkle pumpkin seeds with salt and sugar. Saute for a few seconds longer, then remove pan from heat. Allow pumpkin seeds to cool in the pan. WIN_20151001_141106Enjoy when cool.

Dry Roasted Pepitas freeze well in an airtight container. To enjoy at a later date, allow the seeds to thaw at room temperature. Then, warm in a saute pan before serving.

Chocolate Banana Bread

WIN_20151030_185933This Chocolate Banana Bread is absolutely luscious. Dense and full flavored, this bread works equally well as a breakfast food and a dessert. The trick is to use very ripe bananas. If the skins aren’t black, wait another day or two. Any green on the skin? Don’t even think about it – even a speck of green means that your bananas aren’t ripe at all, let alone ripe enough for this recipe. Patience, friends. Patience.

WIN_20151030_173516Ingredients (Makes 2 loaves, approximately 12 slices per loaf)

4 very ripe bananas (skins should be black)

2 eggs

1/2 cup cooking oil

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon almond extract

2 small (3.9 oz) packages instant chocolate pudding

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 cups flour

1/4 cup milk

WIN_20151030_173902Directions

Step 1) Grease and flour two loaf pans. Set aside.

Step 2) Use a pastry cutter or two forks to thoroughly mash bananas in a large mixing bowl. Add eggs, oil, sugar, and almond extract. Mix well.

Step 3) Stir in chocolate pudding mix, baking powder, salt, and flour. Mixture will be very stiff.

Step 4) Add milk, one tablespoon at a time, until chocolate banana bread mixture spreads easily with your mixing spoon (more like brownie batter, less like cookie dough). I added a total of 4 tablespoons, or 1/4 cup of milk. You may need a bit more or less, depending upon the size and ripeness of the bananas you used.

Step 5) Spread chocolate banana bread batter into loaf pans. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 50 – 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.

Step 6) Cool loaves on a wire rack and enjoy!

WIN_20151030_190245

Fun Variation: Feeling creative? Try experimenting with pudding mix in other flavors. You might try vanilla pudding mix with vanilla extract instead of the almond extract. Or, you might try pistachio pudding with a few coarsely chopped pistachio nuts sprinkled onto the top of each loaf just before baking. If you try a variation on this Chocolate Banana Bread recipe, I’d love to hear about it!

Happy baking!

 

Halloween Apple Treats

WIN_20150919_212839

A reasonably healthy Halloween treat… imagine! Children (and grown-ups) will love these easy-to-make apple treats. If you are still pondering whether or not to invest in a food dehydrator, what are you waiting for? You’ll recoup the cost after just a few batches of economical, homemade dried fruit. Here’s a link to a dehydrator that costs only $35 with free shipping! You’re welcome.

Ronco FD1005WHGEN 5-Tray Electric Food Dehydrator

WIN_20150918_144751Ingredients (Makes about 1 quart of dried fruit)

12 medium size apples (Cortland apples work well)

1 cup cold water

2 tablespoons lemon juice

WIN_20150918_1455091 teaspoon of orange colored sugar (or use orange Jello)

1/4 teaspoon of black colored sugar

Directions

Step 1) Peel and core apples. Slice thin (no thicker than 1/4 inch).

WIN_20150918_145454Step 2) As you slice each apple, place the slices in a bowl with the cold water and lemon juice. Simply submerge the apple slices to prevent browning.

Step 3) Arrange apple slices on food dehydrator trays. It’s OK if the apple slices touch each other just a bit, but they should be in a single layer (not overlapping).

Step 4) Sprinkle the apple slices LIGHTLY with colored sugar. Don’t get carried away! Almost immediately, the color will begin to spread out. The color will continue to deepen as the apple slices dry.

Step 4) Plug in your food dehydrator and allow apples to dry for 12 hours (they may require a bit longer if your apple slices are thick). Apple slices will snap in half easily when they are completely dry.

Step 5) Store in zip-lock snack bags or other airtight container. Apple slices that are completely dry and stored in an airtight container will stay fresh for many months. Good luck keeping them around that long… here at Crowded Earth Kitchen, my little Half-Pint ferrets out dried apple slices from all of my hiding places and devours them on the sly! It’s hard to be annoyed when children delight in such a healthy treat.  🙂

Enjoy!

BBQ Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

WIN_20150902_181152When you carve Halloween Jack-O-Lanterns, don’t throw those seeds away! Pumpkin seeds are high in protein, iron, Vitamin E,  and a wide variety of minerals. This year we’re doing something a bit different with our pumpkin seeds, and roasting them in a medley of spices designed to impart the flavors of a barbeque dry rub. Delicious!

Ingredients (Makes about 4 cups)

Seeds from 2 large pumpkins, washed well

2 tablespoons coconut oil (or use olive oil)

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon mustard powder

1/4 teaspoon ground thyme

1/4 teaspoon rubbed sage

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

Zing Spices Ultimate Starter Spice Gift Set, Multi-spice Packs, Must Have for Every Kitchen, 32 varieties.

WIN_20150902_172912Directions

Step 1) Coat a large baking sheet (the kind with shallow sides) with oil, and sprinkle pumpkin seeds evenly onto the pan. If possible, pumpkin seeds should be in a single layer.

Step 2) Combine spices in a small bowl and mix well. Sprinkle spice mixture over pumpkin seeds.

Step 3) Roast pumpkin seeds in a preheated 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, turning pumpkin seeds over with a spatula after 10 minutes.

Allow to cool completely before snacking; the insides of pumpkin seeds can be HOT! Roasted pumpkin seeds store well in airtight lunch bags, and can also be frozen.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Tarts

WIN_20150831_184305Last month we shared a quick and easy recipe for Apple Pecan Tarts, and readers loved them. So did Half Pint! While snacking on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, Half Pint declared, “I have a great idea! How about if we make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but pies instead?”

OK. Here we go. Let me know what you think!

WIN_20150827_093203Ingredients (Makes 32 mini tarts)

1 package of roll-out refrigerated pie crust

1/2 cup of crushed peanuts

1 cup of creamy peanut butter

1 cup of grape jelly

 WIN_20150827_093602Directions

Step 1) Open the package of roll-out refrigerated pie crusts (there are two crusts per package). Instead of rolling them out, squish each crust into a big ball of dough. How fun!

WIN_20150827_093857Step 2) Place a small ball of pie crust dough, about the size of a golf ball, in each well of a mini muffin pan. Push the dough down in the center so that it flattens on the bottom and up the sides of the well. You can use a tart press (shown), a medicine cup, or just your fingers for this.

The Pampered Chef Mini Tart Shaper 1590

Wilton Recipe Right 24 Cup Mini Muffin Pan

Step 3) Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon of crushed peanuts inside of each tart crust. Gently spoon peanut butter and jelly into each tart crust, leaving 1/4 inch of empty space at the top of each tart.

WIN_20150831_181239Step 4) Bake tarts in a preheated 400 degree oven for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees, and bake for an additional 5 minutes.

Step 5) Using a butter knife and/or a teaspoon (not your fingers!), remove the tarts from the mini muffin pan while they are still warm. Cool on a wire rack. These tarts freeze well for packing in school lunches!

Wiener Winks

WIN_20150905_124446Here at Crowded Earth Kitchen, this particular recipe is heavy with nostalgia. I remember Wiener Winks cooling on Grandma’s kitchen counter on countless occasions throughout my childhood. As soon as they were cool enough to handle, children of all ages (including those “children” with children of their own!) would scramble for a hot dog wrapped in homemade white bread and dipped in either ketchup or BBQ sauce. What could be more American than that?

This week, I taught my little ones how to make Wiener Winks, beginning with homemade white bread dough. I sure had a lump in my throat when a little one exclaimed, “I like making Wiener Winks… it makes me remember [great] Grandma.” I sure do miss her.

Ingredients (Makes 24 Wiener Winks – they freeze well!)

24 precooked hot dogs

2 cups lukewarm (not boiling) water

1/2 cup white sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons yeast

1/4 cup dry milk

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/4 cup canola oil

6 cups white flour

picture330Directions

Step 1)  Combine sugar and lukewarm water in a large mixing bowl.  Stir in yeast, and allow to sit for a minute or two until the surface of the water appears a bit creamy.

Step 2) Add dry milk, salt, and oil to the picture331yeast mixture.  Stir in flour, one cup at a time, and transfer dough to a floured tabletop.

Step 3) Knead dough for a few minutes until a smooth ball forms.  Add a bit more flour as needed, to prevent sticking.  Transfer dough to a large bowl which has been greased with canola oil.

picture334Step 4) Cover bowl with a damp cloth and allow dough to rise until it doubles in size.  This will take about an hour in a warm location, such as an oven that has been warmed to 100 degrees and then turned off.

Step 5) Punch the bowl of risen dough a few times to release air bubbles (this is fun!).   Knead on a floured tabletop for a few minutes.  Divide dough in half.

WIN_20150905_114157Step 6) Roll each half of the dough into a long rectangle on an oiled countertop. Cut each rectangle into 12 strips.

Step 7) Wrap each strip of dough around a hot dog, tucking the ends underneath. Place wiener winks on greased baking sheets. Leave about 2 inches of space between them, as the dough will rise and spread a bit.

KitchenAid KB6NSO15JR Classic Nonstick 10″x15″x1″ Jelly Roll Pan Bakeware

WIN_20150905_114936Step 8) Bake wiener winks in a preheated 375 degree oven for 15 – 20 minutes until the dough turns golden brown. Watch carefully so they don’t burn! Cool on a wire rack. Serve with ketchup or BBQ sauce.

Back-to-School Snack Mix

WIN_20150826_095155Everyone understands that children will eat foods they have a hand in selecting. This is particularly important when children go back to school! Without a parent nearby to supervise, many snacks and meal items find their way into garbage bins.  The idea of food being thrown away bothers me a LOT, so I make a point of packing school lunches that I am confident my children will actually eat.

Back-to-School Snack Mix is perhaps the easiest, most failsafe item to pack in lunchboxes. By allowing children to select the ingredients (within reason) and fill individual snack bags themselves, you are increasing the odds that food will be consumed rather than tossed away.

WIN_20150826_093635Ingredients (Makes approximately 40 snack-size servings)

6 cups ready-to-eat breakfast cereal (Avoid sugar as the first ingredient!)

2 cups small crackers, pretzels, or pita chips

2 cups seeds or nuts (We used peanuts, but sunflower seeds work well as a nut-free WIN_20150826_095220alternative)

1 cup dried fruit

1 cup chocolate chips or tiny candies

Directions

Simply mix ingredients together in a large bowl, and ask your mini-chefs to fill snack size bags! Double check that each bag is sealed, and store in a large container (a shoebox works well).

Back by Popular Demand! How to Make Your Own Granola Bars

How to Save a Million Dollars a Year

How to Make Your Own Granola Bars!

Granola Bars

OK, making my own granola bars did not save me a million dollars last year.  It may have only been half a million dollars.  Or maybe just enough for an occasional, guilt free (mostly) massage at a fabulous spa.  But more to the point, store bought granola bars are expensive.  They don’t seem that way, as you’re pushing your cart down the cereal isle… $3 or so seems harmless enough, right?  The problem is, many of those $3 boxes only contain 5 bars.  Even that might seem reasonable if everyone was happy with one bar.  I, however, have been blessed with boys.  Growing boys.  Have you seen growing boys raid a kitchen after school?  It’s an awe inspiring, slightly terrifying sight to behold.

My darling boys could obliterate a whole shelf of granola bars in only the time it would take them to tear through all of that wasteful packaging.  If I continued buying granola bars from the supermarket, I was going to need to supplement my income by renting out my boys for farm labor.  They didn’t seem too keen on the idea, so Option B required me to create an easy, low cost granola bar that would pass muster with the kids.  Three different versions became fast favorites.  I hope you enjoy them!  Don’t forget to post your comments below!

No-Bake Granola Bars, Part I:  Apple Cinnamon
I make a lot of jellies and jams (recipes coming soon!).  Occasionally, a batch of jelly or jam won’t turn out quite right – it’s either overcooked so that it’s too thick to spread, or undercooked so that it resembles syrup.  Because I’m too frugal to just throw them away, my “jars of mistakes” have been taking up shelf space, waiting to be put to good use.  Well, it’s Good Use Time!  You can use any apple jelly for this recipe, whether a store-bought version or a homemade version, even if it’s underwhelming on its own.
Combine dry goods and set aside:Dry Ingredients
3 cups of whole oats
1 cup of high fiber cereal
3/4 cup of diced, dried apples
1 heaping teaspoon of cinnamonButter and Jelly
Combine in a large pot and boil for two minutes:
¼ cup butter (or vegan substitute)
1 cup apple jelly

Remove from heat, stir in dry ingredients. Line a 9” x 13” cookie sheet (preferably one with low sides) with parchment paper. Pour mixture onto center of parchment paper; let cool for a few moments until safe to touch. With wet hands (prevents sticking), press mixture to evenly cover parchment paper.  picture055

Refrigerate for 30 minutes or until firm. Lift parchment paper and set on large cutting board. Cut mixture into 16 granola bars. Line each bar with parchment and refrigerate or freeze for storage.

Enjoy!

No-Bake Granola Bars, Part II: Wild Blueberry

Two summers ago, my family spent a week on the Maine Coast (beautiful… highly recommend!).  Kitchen goofball that I am, I managed to squeeze my canning pot, canning utensils, and a case of half pint canning jars into the back of the family minivan.  I was on a quest to purvey enough of the fabled wild Maine blueberries to make 12 jars of jam, and I succeeded… sort of.

I overcooked the jam.

There was wailing and gnashing of teeth.  There may have been a few words uttered that would, ah, make a Sunday School teacher blush.  But… Crowded Earth Kitchen wastes NOTHING!  Despite having no earthly idea how I would salvage those blueberries, I packed my 12 jars of crystallized blueberry “rock” into the van and brought them home.

You may use any blueberry jam for this recipe (I salvaged mine by soaking the jars in scalding hot water).  You might even get wild and crazy and try using another variety of jam.  If you create your own version, please let me know how it turns out!

Combine dry goods and set aside:

3 1/2 cups of whole oats

1 cup of high fiber cereal

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

Combine in a large pot and boil for two minutes:

¼ cup butter (or vegan substitute)

1 cup blueberry jam

Blueberry Bars Remove from heat, stir in dry ingredients. Line a 9” x 13” cookie sheet (preferably one with low sides) with parchment paper. Pour mixture onto center of parchment paper; let cool for a few moments until safe to touch. With wet hands (prevents sticking), press mixture to evenly cover parchment paper. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or until firm. Lift parchment paper and set on large cutting board. Cut mixture into 16 granola bars. Line each bar with parchment and refrigerate or freeze for storage. Enjoy!

No-Bake Granola Bars, Version III: Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip 

Combine dry goods and set aside:

3 cups of whole oats

¾ cup of high fiber cereal (any variety will suffice)

1 cup of chopped pretzels (if you like salt) or crispie rice cereal (if you don’t)

Combine in a large pot and boil for two minutes:

¼ cup butter (or vegan substitute)

½ cup natural peanut butter

¼ cup brown sugar

½ cup honey (or maple syrup as a vegan substitute)

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Bars  Remove from heat, stir in dry ingredients. Line a 9” x 13” cookie sheet (preferably one with low sides) with parchment paper. Pour mixture onto center of parchment paper; let cool for a few moments until safe to touch. With wet hands (prevents sticking), press mixture to evenly cover parchment paper.

Then, press mini chocolate chips into the top of the granola bars (I used two tablespoons; use more if you don’t mind the sugar, or don’t use them at all). Refrigerate for 30 minutes or until firm. Lift parchment paper and set on large cutting board. Cut mixture into 16 granola bars. Line each bar with parchment and refrigerate or freeze for storage. Enjoy!

Zucchini Chips

WIN_20150809_181951When zucchini chips are this easy to make, low in fat, high in fiber, and taste so amazing, why would anyone buy bagged potato chips? I have no idea! With zucchini in full season, now is the perfect time to try zucchini chips. Let’s get started!

WIN_20150808_135851 - CopyIngredients (Makes 1 large bowl)

1 large or 2-3 small zucchini

1 tablespoon coconut oil or olive oil

1 teaspoon sea salt or your favorite salt blend (I like Penzey’s “Mitchell Street Steak Seasoning”)

WIN_20150808_135930 - CopyDirections

Step 1) Wash zucchini and slice into 1/8 inch thick slices. You can use a waffle-edged slicer if you have one (see photo), or just slice with a knife.

Step 2) Place zucchini slices on food dehydrator trays. If you don’t have a food WIN_20150808_140900 - Copydehydrator, consider investing in one! They start at around $20, and offer a GREAT way of preserving summer fruits and vegetables (especially if your freezer space is limited)!

Step 3) Use a pastry brush or napkin to lightly coat zucchini slices with coconut oil (or olive oil). Sprinkle zucchini slices with salt, and dehydrate for 12 hours or until crispy. Store in an airtight container.