MAKE BAKED APPLE RINGS AND MICROWAVE APPLESAUCE

 


Baked apple rings are a tasty and nutritious snack you can make in your own kitchen on a chilly fall day. We use zesty apples that friends share with us from their backyard trees, or we buy them at farmer’s markets and apple orchards.
The drying process concentrates the sweetness of the apples, making them an ideal snack food to grab between meals or to include with trail mix on a hike or bike ride. Enjoyable for adults and kids to make together, you also can turn any leftover raw end apple pieces into chunky applesauce in just minutes in the microwave.

BAKED APPLE RINGS
Makes about 50 rings depending on apple size
4 firm apples
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup water
Preheat oven to 250 F.

Prepare pans. Place wire cooling racks on two large baking trays. Or line two large baking trays with parchment paper.

An adult should core and cut the apples in 1/8-inch rings using a sharp knife or mandolin. There will be extra irregular-size pieces on the ends. Snack on them as you work, or save for making microwave applesauce (see recipe below).

In a shallow dish, stir together lemon juice and water. Set prepared baking trays on the counter by ingredients. Young kids will enjoy dipping each slice into the lemon mixture and setting them on a rack or parchment paper. Edges may overlap slightly.

Bake rings until dried with a leathery texture, about two hours. (If using parchment-paper-lined pans, an adult should flip the rings over after 1 hour and return to oven for additional hour.)

Remove from oven and enjoy! Cool before storing.

Extra idea: For added flavor, sprinkle a mixture of 2 teaspoons cinnamon and 1 tablespoon sugar over the rings before baking.

MICROWAVE CHUNKY APPLESAUCE
Makes 2 servings
2 cups apple chunks from cored apples of one or more varieties, peeled or unpeeled if you like (red peels may give your applesauce a nice rosy color)
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Combine ingredients in a deep microwave-safe bowl.

Cook, uncovered at full power for 5 minutes. Remove and stir well. Cook an additional 5 minutes.

Use a potato masher or whisk to mash and stir the apples into the liquid.
Cool and serve or refrigerate.

ARRANGE A PARTY CHEESE BOARD WITH KIDS

There are so many ways that kids can be part of daily meal prep, from setting the table or popping ice cubes into a pitcher of water to hulling fresh strawberries for dessert.
Routine jobs are important to family life, and new responsibilities can be introduced as kids grow and become more confident in their kitchen skills. It’s especially gratifying for kids when they can be part of the action when company comes.
If there’s an end-of-summer informal barbecue on your calendar, there are always extra to-dos, many of which are suited for young helpers, like arranging fresh fruit, cheese slices and other tasty and healthy nibbles on a cheese board for a delightful, trendy appetizer.
Kids are artistic by nature, so first give them an opportunity to take a visual tour with you in the kitchen to find out what healthy appetizer-type food items are on hand on pantry shelves, in the refrigerator and in the fruit bowl on the counter. They’ll no doubt be inspired by the rainbow of colors on the spectrum, from red cherry tomatoes to green olives and violet grapes.
Now it’s time for them to get creative.

BASIC FAMILY-FRIENDLY CHEESE BOARD

For young school-age kids, begin with a few foods that can go directly to a cheese board or platter with minimal fuss. Good choices are pre-sliced cheeses, nuts, olives, dried fruit, cold cuts like salami and clusters of washed grapes. Kids can line up the cheese or place a chunk of cheese at an angle with a cheese knife to the side. Put small piles of nuts near cheeses, line up cold cuts in rows, then fill in spaces with dried fruit, grapes, sweet cherries and berries. Pile a variety of crackers here and there.

If you have space, spoon prepared hummus into tiny bowls for spreading on crackers. Peanut butter, jelly and honey will make the selection even more kid-friendly. Add style with a few edible blooms, such as nasturtiums, or use a pretty silk flower or two.

As kids become more comfortable in the kitchen, teach them how to mix their own sweet and savory dips, slice vegetables and wrap breadsticks, pretzels or asparagus with cheese or meat.

Extra family fun: When guests arrive, your young child might like to play the role of a “waiter” and take orders from adults of their choices from the cheese board. They can assemble the “order” on a small plate and deliver it to the guest.

BANANA BOATS:A CAMPING AND BACKYARD GRILLING TREAT


Benjamin Franklin gets credit for saying that there are only two things certain in life: death and taxes. Hey, Ben, do you mind if I add bananas to your list?
No matter the time of the year, I’m always certain that when I take a trip to my local grocery store, there will be a bunch or more of the yellow treasures that end up in my shopping cart. They are relatively inexpensive, healthy (potassium rich), and they come naturally well-wrapped.
Toss bananas in your kids’ sports bags when they head off to soccer practice, or tuck them in your carry-on for an instant snack on a flight to your vacation destination. You just can’t beat that dependable, always in season, always there banana.
No, I’m not a spokeswoman for the banana council, but I am a real fan of the fruit, even if I sometimes complain that they seem to go from yellow to brown way too fast, or when they end up getting smooshed in the bottom of a kid’s backpack, not to be discovered for a week or two.
Here is another reason to make certain that enough bananas make it home from the grocery store. You can create, concoct and cook this yummy “Banana Boat” dessert treat with kids on a camping trip, or fire up the grill at a designated picnic spot at a city park or in your own backyard.
BANANA BOATS
Serves 6
— 6 firm, ripe bananas
— chocolate candy bars, broken into pieces, or chocolate chip morsels
— marshmallows, miniature or regular
— aluminum foil
1. Slice each banana just through the skin, lengthwise without removing the peel. Use a teaspoon to scoop out a small amount of the banana the length of the slice, to create a little cavity. Tuck the chocolate bits and pieces and the marshmallows into the cavity of the sliced banana.
2. Wrap each entire banana in foil, and place directly in the coals of a campfire or on a grill. Cook until chocolate and marshmallows are melted, about 8-10 minutes.
Remove with tongs. Unwrap and eat with a spoon. Yummy!
Cook’s note: Add nuts, granola, dried fruit or other toppings, if you wish.
Tip: If you have extra bananas that are starting to turn brown, peel them, wrap in plastic wrap, store in a freezer bag and freeze. Eat them whole while slightly frozen, mash them for baking, or toss into a blender with favorite smoothie ingredients.

SURPRISE MOM WITH PUFF PANCAKE MINIS ON MOTHERS DAY

Celebrate Mom on Mother’s Day with a homemade breakfast surprise. This recipe is a twist on a delicious puff pancake, also called a Dutch baby, which typically is baked in a large cast-iron skillet. Just as dramatic and easy to prepare, this version bakes 12 perfectly portioned mini puff pancakes using a nonstick muffin tin.
Serve them piping hot, right out of the oven, and top with fresh fruit, maple syrup or other favorite toppings.
Make Mom’s serving extra special. Set her plate on a paper placemat drawn and decorated just for her by the kids, with a mini bouquet of fresh flowers arranged to the side.

MINI PUFF PANCAKES
Makes 12
4 eggs
3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
Topping: fresh berries, such as blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and sliced strawberries
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
Maple syrup (optional)
2 tablespoons firm unsalted butter (for muffin pan)

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Cut butter into 12 equal pieces and place one piece in each cup of a 12-cup nonstick muffin pan.

Let one of your kids count and crack the eggs into a bowl. Inspect it to be sure there are no remaining shells. Whisk together.

Another child may measure and gradually whisk in the milk, flour, salt and vanilla. Let the batter rest for about 10 minutes.

An adult should place the muffin tin in the oven until it is hot and the butter is melted and beginning to sizzle. Gently whisk the batter to smooth it out, then pour batter into each cup, filling them 2/3 full.

Place in the oven and bake until the puff pancakes are puffed up and golden brown around the edges, about 16-18 minutes.

When removed from the oven, they will begin to deflate. Run a spatula around the edges and gently lift each one from the pan onto plates.

To serve, add berries and sift powdered sugar on top. Drizzle with maple syrup, if you wish.

Blender method for steps 1-2: Place cracked eggs, milk, flour, vanilla and salt in a blender and whirl for one minute. Scrape down any flour that clings to the sides. Whirl for an additional 30 seconds. Let rest and proceed with step 3.

BOW-OH-WOW! VALENTINE TREATS FOR YOUR PET


Middle-school English teacher Alex Eckroth calls herself the “queen of takeout.” It’s rare to find her scrolling through online recipes or thumbing through tattered pages of a cookbook. Unless, as she readily admits, she’s baking treats for her adorable pug, Bomba.
“Dogs have a sweet tooth, like me,” she says, “but when it comes to shopping for treats, it’s tricky to find dog biscuits with ingredients I want to feed Bomba. I like to bake treats for him using heart-healthy ingredients like whole wheat, rolled oats and peanut butter. It’s relaxing and fun to do, plus I enjoy sharing them with our neighborhood canine friends.”
If you’re fond of your fido, bake a batch of these crunchy dog biscuits with your kids for Valentine’s Day pet treats and gifts. This simple recipe comes together in minutes — no mixer needed, just a big wooden spoon and your kids’ energy to stir everything together.
Create shapes with heart-shaped cookie cutters. Small hearts, big hearts, and how about a few X’s and O’s?

DOG BISCUITS
1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup wheat germ
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup peanut butter
3/4 cup evaporated milk or evaporated goat’s milk
1 tablespoon molasses
All-purpose flour for rolling dough
Makes about 5 dozen 2-inch heart-shaped biscuits.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease two cookie sheets, or line them with parchment paper. Set aside.
To make dough: In a large mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients. In a smaller bowl, combine peanut butter, milk and molasses. Slowly pour peanut butter mixture into dry ingredients. Stir until well-combined.

To shape biscuits: Sprinkle all-
purpose flour on the counter. Knead dough a few times, until it is easy to roll out into a rectangle that’s 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick with rolling pin. Using cookie cutters, cut dough into shapes. Transfer to prepared cookie sheets.

To bake biscuits: Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until edges are lightly browned. Place on cooling rack. Cool completely.

To wrap: Divide your pretty “doggone cool” biscuits into gift bags or heart-shaped paper pockets. Attach valentine tag and deliver to neighborhood dog friends on Valentine’s Day.

MAKE A SIMPLE FRENCH “CHOCOLATE MOUSSE” IN A BLENDER


French-born Nicole Winters enjoys telling the story of serving her favorite chocolate dessert from her childhood at a Christmas party gathering of over 20 friends and family. When her 3-year-old grandson, Jacob, stepped up to the dessert table after the meal, a woman offered him a small bowl and asked, “Would you like some chocolate pudding?” “It’s not pudding, it’s mousse au chocolat!” he confidently exclaimed with a perfect French accent.

“I was so surprised,” said Nicole. “He had just been in the kitchen cooking with me the day before when I taught him how to say those French words. Cooking together is an enjoyable way for me to pass on family food traditions from my background and culture to my children and grandchildren, which I believe is so important,” she added.

Since her easy blender version of rich “mousse au chocolat” (chocolate mousse) doesn’t use raw eggs like the traditional French recipe, and it comes together effortlessly in just 10 minutes, it captured my attention for our family holiday menus.

I gave it a whirl in our blender, poured it into small dessert bowls, and let it chill in the refrigerator overnight. Topped with fresh raspberries or a dollop of whipped cream, it’s a keeper.
EASY BLENDER CHOCOLATE MOUSSE DESSERT
Makes 6 servings
1 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup whole milk
Cream cheese (3 ounces), cut into several pieces
Fresh raspberries or whipped cream for topping
1. Place chocolate chips, sugar and vanilla in your blender.
2. Heat milk in a saucepan to almost scalding. It should be steaming. Immediately pour it into the blender over the chocolate chips, sugar and vanilla, cover and blend for 30 seconds.
3. Add cream cheese pieces and blend until smooth.
4. Pour into six small dessert dishes or a dessert bowl. Refrigerate at least two hours, until set.
5. To serve, top each dish or serving dish with a few raspberries or a dollop of whipped cream. A little sprig of fresh mint is a nice added touch for a special occasion.

POTATO LATKES (POTATO PANCAKES) FOR HANUKKAH AND YEAR-ROUND


“When the calendar turns to December, we’re a blended family as far as holiday traditions go,” said professional caterer and mom, Carole Blumenberg Garrigos. Her husband was born in Seville, Spain, of Catholic heritage, and she was raised in the Jewish faith in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. Their high-school-age daughter Carmen practices Judaism, but appreciates both family religious traditions, including the approaching celebrations of Hanukkah and Christmas.

On a recent visit to their home, I asked 17-year-old Carmen what the eight days of Hanukkah, beginning Dec. 12, mean to her.
“The most memorable night is when my extended family gathers at our home at sunset, and we light candles on the menorah, sing a blessing, and eat a meal with tender, juicy brisket, a green salad, Jell-O and — fresh out of sizzling pans on the stove — potato latkes!” she said.

So we grated, stirred and fried up a big and beautiful batch of 12 golden latkes (potato pancakes) together. Topped with dollops of applesauce and sour cream (if you opt for ketchup on top, that’s OK too, according to Carole), I was convinced that latkes are delicious not only during Hanukkah, but anytime of the year.

FAMILY-STYLE POTATO LATKES
Serves 4-6
4 large potatoes (Carole prefers Yukon gold, scrubbed and unpeeled)
1/2 onion
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
vegetable oil for frying
sour cream for topping
applesauce for topping
1. Cut potatoes and peeled onion in chunks and coarsely shred in a food processor, or use a box grater. Place in a mixing bowl.
2. Add eggs, flour, salt and pepper, and baking powder. Toss to combine.
3. Heat 1/4 inch oil in a heavy frying pan over medium high heat. Drop mixture in heaping spoonfuls into the hot oil. Cook for about 3-4 minutes. Turn with a spatula and cook to light brown and crisp on both sides.
4. Serve immediately with toppings of sour cream and/or applesauce.

EXTRA IDEA: For a twist, heat up your waffle iron, oil lightly, and cook the potato mixture by the spoonful until crisp. Enjoy as a brunch item topped with a poached egg, smoked salmon and chopped chives as a garnish, if you wish.

FRESH FRUIT COOKIE TARTS ARE A TASTE OF SUMMER

Tell your kids that they can be the “King and Queen of Tarts” when they make this gem of a summer dessert. The fresh fruit ingredients from your local market or fruit stand are luscious and good by themselves, but when they’re combined with a cookie base, you’ll have a “WOW” can’t-miss finale to a barbecue or outdoor get-together with friends.

These cookie fruit tarts are super simple to assemble and look “tres francais,” but there’s no from-scratch pastry with mini fluted rims that you have to fuss over. Instead, the easy recipe starts with good, large sugar cookies you purchase at your bakery or grocery store.

FRESH FRUIT COOKIE TARTS
Makes 8
–8 large sugar cookies or your favorite plain round cookie
–8-ounce package of cream cheese
–1/3 cup white or vanilla chips (find them in the baking section of your store)
–assorted fresh fruit and berries for toppings, such as blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, cherries and sliced peaches and plums, washed and dried
–1/4 cup currant jelly or powdered sugar (optional)

Set cookies on a work surface such as a cutting board.

Place cream cheese in a medium-size mixing bowl.

In a microwave-safe dish, melt chips, spoon into cream cheese and stir until smooth.

Spread the mixture evenly over the cookies. Let kids arrange the fresh fruit and berries in pretty designs on the top.

Meanwhile, if you would like a glaze, an adult should melt the jelly in a saucepan. Cool. Let kids drizzle or lightly brush with a pastry brush over the fruit to glaze the tarts.

Or, dust over each tart with powdered sugar.

Arrange on a serving platter.

Variations:
–Get creative with the presentation and decorate the serving platter or top the tarts with coconut flakes, sprigs of mint leaves, tiny blooms of edible flowers or fresh lavender.

–Make a larger quantity of bite-size tarts using packaged cookies such as gingersnaps.

–Instead of using cookies, make a larger single tart. Press prepared piecrust from the refrigerated section of your market on the base and sides of a 9-inch tart pan. Prick sides and bottom. Bake according to package directions. Cool. Spread cream cheese mixture on the base, arrange fruit attractively, and brush on the glaze.

MAKE DELICIOUS AND ECONOMICAL SLOW COOKER YOGURT

We’re a yogurt-loving family. We wake up to it topped with crunchy granola and fruit, or it’s whirled with other good stuff in the blender for energy-packed smoothies to go. It’s an easy-to-pack car travel snack, the basic ingredient in homemade popsicles and everyone around the dinner table enjoys rich, lemony-flavored yogurt over summer berries for dessert.

No wonder my ears perked up when a friend said she makes yogurt in her slow cooker. “Hmm,” I thought. “Why add yogurt-making to my already busy schedule when I can just pick it up at the store?” Then, when curiosity took over, I did some research to test it out. Much to my amazement, after a couple of easy steps in two timed intervals in the afternoon, I woke up the following morning to perfect, creamy, organic yogurt. Lots of it! Astounded, I ladled the more-than-we-could-use bounty into mason jars and shared the creamy deliciousness with my neighbors. Now they’re hooked.

Lesson learned: The next time around, I halved my original recipe and got a yield of 7 cups. Give it a try with your kids. It’s cost-effective, nutrient-rich and provides a memorable experience in kitchen science.

MAKE YOGURT IN A SLOW COOKER
Makes 7 cups
8 cups whole milk (I use organic)
Food thermometer for testing milk temperature
1/2 cup whole-milk, unflavored (plain) yogurt with live/active cultures for starter
Thick bath or beach towel
Storage containers with lids
1. Midafternoon, pour milk into your slow cooker and turn setting to low. Cover. Set a timer for 2 1/2 hours.
2. At 2 1/2 hours, use a kitchen thermometer to check that milk has reached 180-185 F.
3. Turn off, unplug, cover, and let the milk temp drop to around 115 F. Skim any milk film off the top of the milk with a spoon.
4. Remove 1 cup of the warmed milk and combine with room temperature yogurt in a small bowl. Gently stir.
5. Pour the mixture into the slow cooker and stir with a couple of strokes.
6. Cover and wrap the towel all around the slow cooker to help insulate. Culture 8-12 hours overnight.
7. In the morning, stir yogurt and ladle into storage containers. Refrigerate at least 4 hours before eating. Save 1/2 cup to use as a starter for your next batch.
Cook’s note: For variety, make Greek-style yogurt. Spoon two cups of the slow cooker yogurt into a strainer lined with cheesecloth or coffee filters. Let the liquid (whey) drip through for about 30 minutes. Makes 1 1/4 cups of yummy thick yogurt. Delicious!

FRESH RHUBARB CUSTARD PIE

Skipping through winding trails, spotting leaping frogs along creek beds and counting deer as they pass by the front porch are a few of the adventures in store for 6-year-old Georgia and her older sister, Eliza, when they visit their grandparents’ home nestled deep in the Wisconsin woods. What a delight for city kids from St. Louis! Like a page out of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s classic, “Little House in the Big Woods” (set in Wisconsin), many of the girls’ experiences mirror the lifestyle and pioneer spirit of the late 1800s.

For Georgia, walking on a dead-end road to the rhubarb patch in May to harvest giant leafy stalks and, together with grandmother Nancy, prepare rhubarb sauce to ladle over breakfast pancakes, and bake rhubarb custard pie for evening dessert is a delight.“Georgia is the baker and loves to cook,” says Nancy, a recently retired school administrator. “She washes and dices the stalks, cracks eggs and measures carefully. It’s fun!” she adds. “Cooking together is a way to share a common interest.”

Like the first robin, the greening grass and the budding trees, add “first rhubarb pie” to your family’s “signs of summer” list. Whether you harvest rhubarb from your garden, or find stalks in your grocery produce section, give Nancy’s winning rhubarb custard pie recipe a try with your kids while rhubarb is fresh and in season.

FRESH RHUBARB CUSTARD PIE
Makes one 9-inch single-crust pie
Pastry for 9-inch single-crust pie
1 1/3 cups sugar (add more according to taste)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Dash of salt
3 eggs
4 cups fresh rhubarb, diced
2 tablespoons firm butter
Preheat oven to 400 F.
1. Fit pastry into a 9-inch pie plate. Set aside.
2. Let your child measure and stir together sugar, flour, nutmeg and dash of salt in a mixing bowl.
3. Beat eggs until smooth.
4. Stir dry mixture into beaten eggs. Add diced rhubarb. Stir.
5. Fill the crust evenly with the rhubarb mixture. Dot with firm butter. (Cover edge with 2-to-3-inch strip of aluminum foil to prevent excessive browning, if you wish. Remove foil last 15 minutes of baking.)
Bake for 50 minutes.
Cool, and serve warm with vanilla ice cream.
Note: If you are new to fresh rhubarb, be aware that the large leaves are poisonous.