Alice in Wonderland Snacks

Alice 1“One side will make you grow taller, and the other side will make you grow shorter.”

“One side of what? The other side of what?” said Alice.

“Of the mushroom,” said the Caterpillar and then it crawled out of sight.

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High Protein Peanut Butter Chocolate “Play-Doh”

pb-choc-protein-play-doh

Who says you can’t play with your food?

We’re bringing the whole family into the spirit of “New Year, New You!” by making a super healthy, kid-friendly, high protein snack. This is real food, friends – but don’t worry, your secret is safe with me. Let the kiddos think they’re eating dessert instead of the nutritional equivalent of an expensive protein bar. Win! Win! Continue reading

Kids in the Kitchen: Build a Gingerbread Train!

So, the kiddos are home from school on Christmas vacation, and you are smiling as you assure the world that everyone is having a jolly good time. I get it. But you aren’t fooling me. The little darlings are starting to argue with each other, aren’t they? And your nerves are beginning to fray, aren’t they? Been there, done that, got the t-shirt! Continue reading

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.

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!

Jeweled Oatmeal Cookies

WIN_20150826_210252A few modifications to a basic cookie recipe can lead to surprisingly delicious results. These Jeweled Oatmeal Cookies, for example, are pretty similar to traditional oatmeal cookies. If you look at the recipe closely, you’ll notice that the spices (no cinnamon!) and extracts are a bit different, and we’re using colorful candied fruit instead of plain old raisins. The result is a cookie that’s simple enough for a lunchbox treat, but pretty enough for a holiday cookie exchange. Enjoy!

WIN_20150826_200850Ingredients (Makes about 45 cookies)

3/4 cup softened butter

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup white sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 3/4 cup flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

2 cups rolled oats (not quick oats)

1 cup candied fruit, diced – homemade or store bought, such as Candied Mixed Fruit, Diced, 1 lb.

WIN_20150826_201758Directions

Step 1) Cream together butter and sugars. Add eggs and almond extract. Stir until well combined.

Step 2) Add dry ingredients except for candied fruit; stir until all ingredients are incorporated.

Step 3) Gently fold in candied fruit. Drop cookie dough by rounded teaspoons onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper.

Step 4) Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 13-15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

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!

Chocolate Strawberry Muffins

WIN_20150826_100036Chocolate and strawberries… what’s not to love? These muffins take 5 minutes to prep and 25 minutes to bake. The aromas which will waft from your oven will be amazing enough to convince even a teenager to climb out of bed and get ready for school. Or, bake them the night before and share a little lunchbox love. Here we go!

WIN_20150826_091617Ingredients (Makes 12 jumbo muffins)

2 cups flour

3/4 cup rolled oats

2 tablespoons Dutch cocoa powder

2/3 cup sugar

WIN_20150826_0923081 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 egg

1 cup milk

1/3 cup oil (such as canola oil or melted coconut oil)

1/2 cup milk chocolate chips

1 cup frozen strawberries, partially thawed and cut in half

Red sugar for sprinkling on top of muffins (optional)

Directions

Step 1) Combine flour, oats, cocoa, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add egg, milk, and oil. Stir until all ingredients are incorporated.

WIN_20150826_092819Step 2) Gently fold chocolate chips and halved strawberries into the batter. Ladle 1/4 cup of batter into each of 12 jumbo muffin liners. Tip: you don’t actually need a jumbo muffin pan! The larger liners will sit fine (just higher) in a standard muffin tin.

 Keliwa 12 Cup Silicone Muffin & Cupcake Baking Pan / Non – Stick / Dishwasher – Microwave Safe / 21 FREE RECIPES

Step 3) Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 25 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes before serving!

 

 

Easy Freezer Gumbo

WIN_20150725_120228Here at Crowded Earth Kitchen, the first days of September are the lull before the storm. Also known as the “honeymoon phase” of the school year, early September ticks by on a predetermined schedule with the precision of a Swiss watch.

But I know what’s coming.

First, a lunchbox will be forgotten on the bus, never to be seen again. A math assignment will disappear. After this week’s round of laundry, paint from an art project will fail to come off of a favorite sweatshirt, and every third sock will be consumed by the Sock Eating Monster Who Lives in the Dryer.

All organization will fly out of the window, and by mid-September the school year will settle into its usual, chaotic self.

Dinner? I’m supposed to cook DINNER amidst this madness? [Insert maniacal laugh here!]

Today’s recipe for Easy Freezer Gumbo will set us up with four future dinners, which can be easily thawed and served even when you are on your last frayed nerve. (“You need posterboard and 85 cupcakes for school tomorrow? Sure, let me find my magic wand.”)  Let’s get started!

WIN_20150725_103545Ingredients (Makes 4 quarts of concentrated Gumbo – add more broth when serving for 6 quarts total!)

1 pound uncooked sausage (Andouille sausage is traditional; use whatever you like)

1/4 cup flour

WIN_20150725_1047452 quarts chicken stock

1 pound cooked chicken, cubed or shredded

4 cups okra, cut into bite size pieces

4 cups assorted vegetables (corn, onions, and zucchini work well), cut into bite size pieces

WIN_20150725_1049234 teaspoons of gumbo file (sassafras) powder, such as:

Tony Chachere’s Creole Gumbo File’ – 1.25 oz

Directions

Step 1) Fry sausage in a large, heavy pan until it is cooked through – don’t wash the pan afterward! Remove sausage from pan and cut into small pieces. Divide the pieces between 4, quart size freezer containers (we WIN_20150725_115210recycle quart size yogurt containers for freezing soup).

Step 2) Add flour to the pan and stir vigorously into the sausage drippings over medium heat. You are making “roux” or thickener for your gumbo in this step. Continue to stir over medium heat until the flour is cooked to a rich golden brown color. WIN_20150725_114717If there is not enough fat from the sausage to blend with the flour, add a tablespoon of butter to the pan.

Step 3) Slowly whisk chicken stock into the pan with the roux, adding stock a little at a time to avoid lumps. Simmer stock mixture, stirring occasionally. Allow mixture to simmer until it reduces in volume a little bit WIN_20150725_113504(you should have about 6 cups of thickened stock when you are finished).

Step 4) Divide the cooked chicken into fourths and place in each freezer container on top of the sausage. Likewise, divide okra and any other raw vegetables you are using between the four freezer containers. The containers should appear full.

WIN_20150725_114446Step 5) Sprinkle one teaspoon of gumbo file (fee-lay) powder into each freezer container. Gumbo file powder is made from dried sassafras leaves, and is considered by many to be an “essential” ingredient in creole dishes such as gumbo. In addition to flavoring your gumbo, file powder acts as a thickening agent.

Step 6) Bring thickened chicken stock to a full boil, then remove from heat. Carefully ladle the hot chicken stock into each freezer container, allowing the stock to seep between the meats and veggies, filling the containers to within 1/2 inch of the top. The hot liquid blanches the vegetables right in their storage container, saving you a step!

Step 7) Cover and label your four containers of gumbo, and cool in the refrigerator. Within 12 hours, transfer your containers to the freezer.

To serve: Remove one container from the freezer the night before or the morning of the day you plan to serve gumbo for dinner. Allow to thaw in the refrigerator. Before dinner, transfer contents of the container to a large pot. Add additional chicken stock, broth, or water to bring to a soup-like consistency. Gumbo is versatile – feel free to throw bits and specks of leftover veggies into the pot before serving! If you want to be fancy, throw in a few cooked shrimp as well!

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).