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.
— 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.
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
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.
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.
“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
4 large potatoes (Carole prefers Yukon gold, scrubbed and unpeeled)
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.
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
–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.
–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.
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!
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
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.
Dessert is extra-special for kids when it comes in an edible container.
Here’s a cute little lemony crisp cookie cup, ideal for filling with pudding, fresh fruit or ice cream. Top the filling with candles if there is a birthday party in the house.
You also might want to make a batch for a brunch dessert to mimic mini baskets. They’ll be perfect … and memorable with a scoop of icy sorbet nestled in toasted shredded coconut “grass.”
Kids can be involved from the start with this thin cookie recipe that is easy to combine, using just flour, powdered sugar, eggs and lemons. No need for a mixer. So, grab a big spoon, whisk, grater and mixing bowls to get started.
LEMON COOKIE CUPS
Makes 20 cookie cups
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup powdered sugar
3 egg whites
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 or 3 whole washed lemons for shaping cookie cups
Position rack in the upper third of the oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Cover two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
- Let your child measure and sift flour and sugar in a mixing bowl.
- Use a whisk to lightly beat egg whites in one small bowl. In another bowl, lightly beat yolks.
- Add egg whites, yolks, lemon zest, juice and vanilla to the flour and sugar mixture. Mix well until smooth with a large spoon. Let set 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, let your child draw five 5-inch circles on the back of the parchment paper with a pencil, using a saucer as a guide. Turn paper over, with circles showing through. Repeat for second cookie sheet.
- Drop a heaping tablespoon of batter in the middle of each of the circles. An adult should carefully spread the batter to fill the shape. It will be very thin. (I use an angled icing spatula.)
- Bake for 5-6 minutes or until edges brown. Remove cookies quickly, and with the assistance of your child, form cupped shapes with the bottom sides of the cookies up, using the lemons as molds. Hold them for a few seconds until the shape is set, then place on a cooling rack. (Use a clean towel between your hands and the hot cookie to form the fluted shape, if you wish.)
- Repeat with remaining dough.
Serve as individual desserts filled with fruit, pudding, flavored yogurt, ice cream or sorbet.
Imagine taking a hungry bite into a warm grilled-cheese sandwich. Yum — good comfort food, right? Now imagine eating that same sandwich, but this time there are crispy pickled jalapeño pepper rounds tucked inside. Now that’s a crunchy bite, and a tasty transformation.
Peter Piper, who picked a peck of pickled peppers from Mother Goose fame, knew what he was picking. My family likes to add these kicky pepper rounds to just about anything, whether they top nachos, fish or beef tacos, enchiladas and tortillas, or they’re tucked in a bun with a brat when we gather with friends for a picnic at the baseball park.
With Cinco de Mayo celebrations coming up soon around the country on the 5th of May, instead of spooning a jar of commercially processed, store-bought jalapeño sliced peppers into or on top of your dishes, make these fresh and yummy pickled jalapeño peppers in minutes in your kitchen with your preteen. Discover the big difference in texture and flavor. Toss the easy-to-prep and peppy-to-eat crunch on your favorite South of the Border recipe and say, “Ole!”
EASY PICKLED JALAPEñO PEPPERS
Makes about 2 pints
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup water
4 tablespoons sugar, or more to taste (adding more sugar turns down the heat)
2 cloves garlic, sliced in half
1 tablespoon salt
7 fresh jalapeño peppers (from the produce area of your market), thinly sliced
2 fresh red or yellow mini sweet peppers, thinly sliced
2 pint-size glass jars
Stir together the vinegar, water, sugar, garlic and salt in a cooking pot and bring to a boil.
Add sliced jalapeño and sweet peppers, stir, turn off heat and let sit for 10 minutes.
Remove peppers with a slotted spoon to jars, then fill to the top with remaining liquid. Cool.
Keep refrigerated and serve with favorite dishes for up to one month.
Cook’s note: The oils in fresh jalapeño peppers can irritate skin and be painful if you touch your eyes. You may wish to wear deli or rubber gloves when slicing the peppers. Wash your hands well with soap and water afterward.
Pre-addressed, stamped postcards sent by college students from around the country find their way back to Nancy Cripe’s kitchen in Minnesota throughout the school year. Even an old and tattered postcard recently arrived from a UCLA graduate student with the three-word message, “Is this expired?”
“Cookie cards never expire,” replied the high-school biology and human anatomy and physiology teacher at Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis.
Nancy’s “cookie cards” have become her unique high-school graduation gift-giving tradition.
At the end of each academic year, she receives numerous invitations to her science students’ graduation open-house parties. A few years ago, she decided to change up how she honored their achievement, by giving something personal that is a little taste from home when they feel far away — in the form of home-baked chocolate chip cookies.Like a monetary gift card with dollar amounts for purchases at stores and restaurants, her cookie postcard can be redeemed for one dozen home-baked cookies. “Not surprisingly, that’s usually during their final exam week,” she says.
It’s a gift that keeps on giving. “Hearing back from students when they send me the postcard is a personal way to stay in touch, and baking for them gives me a chance to think about them individually, and what they are experiencing and working toward.”
This personalized gift idea can work for a graduating grandchild, friend, niece or nephew, too. You even might wish to give several cookie-card postcards to be redeemed quarterly or monthly.
Here’s how she does it:
She designs the postcards with images and words of blessing and inspiration printed on one side. On the left half of the reverse side, she prints this message in the high school’s colors:
“Congratulations on your Graduation! When you’re away at college and need some extra inspiration to help you study (especially science!), just send me this postcard and homemade cookies will soon be on their way to you!”
Below the message are four lines where the student writes his or her college address, along with a space for jotting a note to her. On the right half, she prints her home address and adds a postage stamp.
The postcard is tucked inside a graduation card.
When she receives the postcard, she bakes the cookies (she has a large quantity of cookie dough shaped into balls and frozen to bake a dozen on a moment’s notice) and packs them carefully in a plastic bag wrapped with bubble wrap to fit the smallest U.S. mail flat rate box. She includes a handwritten greeting, and sends it off.