Why I Believe in Dessert

pecan pie

At a women’s conference recently, I listened to the Food Nanny explain how to have home cooked meals for your family most nights of the week.  While that is a situation I currently have well under control, I was interested in the things she said.  Even more so, I appreciated her statement that dessert was important because sweet smells coming out of the kitchen really build family bonds.  I personally am a firm believer in desserts.  Yes, I know we shouldn’t reward/punish/etc., ourselves or our children with food.  But if you divorce food from the pleasure of eating, what culture are you achieving?  After all, humans enjoy food.  Cars don’t savor gasoline — food is more than fuel.  Here are a few reasons I believe in dessert:

1.  Dessert is a great way to convince even reluctant teenagers to socialize with their family.  Even if they aren’t anxious to turn off their video game for an instant, it’s really hard to eat cake and ice cream and hold a game controller.  All members of the family come running to eat dessert, and this leads to (accidental) socialization.

2.  Desserts convince reluctant cooks to step into the kitchen.  Max wasn’t going to learn to cook — until he discovered that his “specialty” was going to be chocolate chip Cowboy Cookies.  Then he was eager to put on his apron.  Many desserts– cookies, cakes and quick breads — are easy ways with an instant reward to lure someone who is reluctant to learn cooking skills into the kitchen.

3.  Making someone’s favorite dessert can cheer them up like nothing else.  After a long, disappointing day at a concerto competition a few weeks ago, Eden and I came home and made homemade doughnuts.  We overdosed on sugar in a way we hadn’t done for a long time.  We felt better.  Our home was a warm, safe haven where we are capable, happy and appreciated.  A favorite dessert can celebrate an achievement or help mourn a loss, and either way, when it is homemade, it rarely leads to the kind of chronic overindulgence that typifies the American diet.  After all, who has time to make homemade doughnuts daily?  But as a splurge toward happiness, it really works.

Do you think dessert is an important part of your family life?  How often do you make dessert for your family?  Please leave me a comment below.


Snacking and the Homeschool Family (How to Feed the Horde)

egg quesadilla

For those of you who, like me, are home with the kids all the time, you know that their appetites are bottomless.  After breakfast, and second breakfast, and lunch, and afternoon snack, and dinner and dessert, you may feel like you never get out of the kitchen!  Although I love to bake, I have nutritional qualms about feeding cookies and sweets for all the snacks my family wants during the week.  This started me working on some snack ideas which are not sweets, but would contribute to a positive nutritious balance to the day’s meals.

While I enjoy a bell pepper or a sweet potato for a snack, that is not something that flies for the kids.  They usually eat either fresh or home-canned fruit (peaches, pears or apricots) for one snack per day.  They complain if that is ALL there is for snack in the house, though.  While snacks like  crackers and peanut butter or popcorn are okay occasionally, I usually prefer to save the peanut butter for lunch (!) and crackers always seem like a waste of money to me.  There are enough cooks in our house to make cookies every day, but that could hardly be said to be nutritious.

Here are some quick foods we have eaten this week for snack.  Try out these “regular” foods at snack time, and see how they leave your horde feeling.

1.  Egg “quesadillas”.  This is not truly a quesadilla, since queso implies cheese.  Instead, I melt a tiny bit of butter in a skillet, add a scrambled egg, and swirl to spread.

scrambled eggAs the egg begins to set on the bottom, top it with a corn tortilla and another tiny pat of butter.  After about 30 seconds to 1 minute, flip the egg over so the tortilla side is down.  Allow to fry for another 30 seconds or so, until the egg is mostly cooked.  Fold in half.

folded egg quesadilla

Allow to brown slightly on each side before serving.  This would also work with a little cheese sprinkled over the egg so that you could have a real “quesadilla.”  We sometimes eat these for breakfast or lunch, 2 or 3 at a time.  Just one makes a nice quick mid-morning snack with a good protein boost to stave off hunger pangs.

2.  Tuna salad.  Lucy loves tuna.  When we make tuna sandwiches, she often asks for some more tuna salad “on the side.”  With this in mind, I mixed up a can of tuna with a little mayo, salt and homemade zucchini relish.  She ate the whole thing with gusto.  Another snack problem solved.

lulu eating tuna

3. Hard boiled eggs or egg salad.  This is another idea we often reserve for lunch, but everyone likes these by themselves or with a slice of bread.

Some other snack ideas I am exploring:  homemade pudding (tapioca, anyone?), fresh bread, homemade tortillas.  Obviously, I must love to cook!  What are some of your favorite ideas for snacky kids?  Please leave a comment below.

Kids in the Kitchen: Basic Beans and Rice

One my goals for my kids in the kitchen is that they be capable of making all basic dishes that are needed for healthy, economical living.  Two of those basics are beans and rice.  I thought everyone knew how to cook beans, until my sister-in-law told me a few years ago that she had never made beans “from scratch!”  Now I know that cooking dried beans is an art — not!

Max had his first lesson making beans and rice for us this week, and we turned his hard work into a delicious meal:  black bean soup with rice.

Here are the basics for cooking dried beans.

Step 1:  wash the beans.

washing black beans

Step 2:  Put in a pot with water to cover plus about 2 inches, and add salt (I usually add at least a teaspoon.)  The salt is not necessary, but helps the beans to be salted enough at the end of cooking.

add salt best

Step 3:  Bring to a boil and then turn pot to low.  Cover tightly, but keep an eye on the water level so the beans stay covered at all times.  Cook until soft, usually around 2 hours.  Taste and season as needed.

My kid-proof rice recipe is similar.

1 cup rice

2 cups water

1 tablespoon butter

1 teaspoon salt

Bring to a boil in a medium saucepan, turn to low and set a timer for 20 minutes.  Turn rice off after 20 minutes and fluff with a fork.  The same method works for brown rice, just cook for 40 minutes.

black bean soup with rice

To finish this meal, we chopped 2 onions and 2 bell peppers and sauteed them in a LOT of olive oil (3/4 cup.)  Stir those into your pot of cooked black beans, and serve over rice with a homemade roll on the side — now that’s what I call YUMMY!  Cheap, healthy, good food, made by a 7 year old.

What basics do you think are necessary to teach your kids?  Please leave me a comment below.

Aprons and a Plan

Today has been a nasty, snowy, windy day here in central Utah.  Great time to spend some quality time with the kitchen.  The girls and I put our new aprons to good use (made by Grandma!)


As I spent the afternoon in the kitchen, I thought about one of my goals for 2012:  make a pie every month.   I know it’s a strange goal — after all, I usually am trying to restrict goodies and use less sugar.  But pie is a special kind of dessert.  It always seems to me to be more work than a cake, and especially if it is a fruit pie, more wholesome.  It is also old-fashioned and (in this family) consumed in a single sitting.

I realized that of all the things on my goal list for last year, this was one I had accomplished!  We have eaten some wonderful (and not so wonderful) pies this year.  So my plan is to share my pie resolution with you.  Here it is:  make a pie every month during 2013.  Share it with the group of us here on this site.  I am already excited to begin for 2013.  About the 15th of each month, I’ll post about the pie I made, and you can leave recipes or links in the comments to the pies you made.  Sound good?

Here’s my plan so far:

  • January — Honey Pecan pie (I’ve never made a pecan pie, and I object to corn syrup)
  • February — Grape Pie (the recipe says it is a lot like a gooseberry pie — I’ll have to try it!)
  • March — Lemon Meringue Pie
  • April — Old fashioned Indian Cream Pie (doesn’t the name say it all?)
  • May — The Best Rhubarb pie (with my mother-in-law’s secret ingredient)
  • June — Cherry pie (or some variation) for cherry season
  • July — Peach pie (the summer’s first peach pie is the best!)
  • August — Pear- maple syrup pie (I think I can get pears by then, and I’ve never made pear pie.)
  • September — Apple pie, of course!  Maybe an apple-raspberry, or apple-?
  • October — This could easily be another apple pie — apple season is wonderful or banana cream, Shandy’s favorite
  • November — Pumpkin pie with home cooked squash
  • December — Cranberry pie –now to choose my favorite recipe

Of course, the list is likely to change.  Still, I’m excited to share my pie creations with you, and see what you have to share as well!

Kids in the Kitchen: Key Lime Pie

One of my goals for 2012 was to make a pie each month.  Even though I had already made pumpkin pies in December, I decided to make one last pie to top off the year — a key lime pie.  Mom had given me a whole bunch of limes, and I had some willing helpers to help juice them.  Key lime pie is so terribly easy, I couldn’t help but make one.

Lucy and Max juiced the limes.  Limes juice easier if you microwave them for 20 seconds before slicing.

juicing limes

My recipe calls for only egg yolks.  I showed the kids how to separate eggs just by lifting the yolk out of the bowl of egg white.  This is the most kid friendly way to separate eggs, even if it is MESSY!

max separating eggs

After beating the three ingredients together, we poured the mixture into the pre-baked shell (a Crisco crust, this time.  I like butter crusts, but sometimes just want the crispness that Crisco provides.)  Bake for 10-15 minutes, and when the pie is cool, top with whipped cream.  YUM!

Here’s the recipe:

1 pre-baked pie shell

1 can sweetened condensed milk

4 egg yolks

1/3  cup lime juice

whipping cream for serving

Beat egg yolks until combined, then add sweetened condensed milk and mix thoroughly.  While continuing to beat, slowly add lime juice.  Pour into pie shell and bake in 350 degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until pie is softly set.  Remove from oven and cool completely before serving.

Come back tomorrow for the 2013 pie challenge!

Kids in the Kitchen: Hoot’n Annie Pancake with Strawberries

This time of year, our usual healthy breakfast routine totally fails.  It’s the fault of the farmers market.  After all, with fresh local peaches, pears, apples, raspberries and strawberries, who can resist making delicious fruit (desserts) breakfasts?  For the past few weeks we have been feasting on pear claflouti, apple crisp, peach cobbler and kuchen, and all kinds of other delicious breakfasts.

About a week ago, I attended a women’s health conference and heard The Food Nanny speak.  After I heard her, I said, “That is a job I would love to have!”  I immediately put her book on hold at the library, and brought it home yesterday.  Her plan for family meals includes “theme nights”:  Mexican, Italian and breakfast.  And in the cookbook, she had a picture of another delicious fruit breakfast.  She calls it German Pancake, I have also heard it called Dutch Baby, but in our family we call it Hoot’n Annie Pancake.

My grandma gave me the recipe when I got married, and we felt innovative by topping it with fried apples and whipping cream.  It has been a favorite family breakfast for a long time.  The Food Nanny’s idea was strawberries, sour cream and brown sugar.

Now, anyone who has not tried dipping strawberries in sour cream and brown sugar:  go buy some strawberries right now.  Yes, it sounds strange.  It is the best thing to do with strawberries ever.  So, how could we go wrong putting these on top of a pancake?  Eden and I came home from our run this morning and whipped up breakfast in about 5 minutes.  Slicing the strawberries was the most strenuous part of this recipe.

First, melt a stick of butter in a hot oven while you use the blender to mix the rest of the ingredients.  Pour the blended batter into the melted butter in the pan.

Then, set the timer for 30 minutes and prepare your toppings.

Serve and enjoy!

Hoot’n Annie Pancake with Strawberries

Serves 6

1/2 cup butter

1 cup milk

1 cup flour

6 eggs

Turn oven on to 375 degrees and place butter in 7×11 pan in oven to melt as it preheats.  Meanwhile, add milk, flour and eggs to blender and blend thoroughly.  When butter is melted, pour batter into pan and set timer for 30 minutes.  Do not open oven door while pancake is cooking.  Remove from oven and serve immediately.


3 cups strawberries, cleaned and sliced

3/4 cup sour cream

1/2 cup brown sugar

Mix together sour cream and brown sugar.  Serve pancake topped with strawberries and cream mixture.

Do you enjoy having fruit based desserts for breakfast?  Stay tuned — I have another quick recipe for you soon.  Have a wonderful weekend!


Fruit Pizza and a Rant about Public School

I know, you’re dying to ask.  What possible  connection could there be between this lovely, delicious dessert and a rant against public school? Well, I’m dying to tell you.

Eden has taken several on-line courses through the state electronic high school system.  This started out as a way for her to supplement her English learning.  My own fifth grade teacher was teaching ninth grade English — and remembering her as a fantastic teacher, I let Eden sign up for the course.  It turned out well, although there was not as much teacher/student interaction as I would have liked.  Eden is like me, though.  She thinks she would like to try this course, and that one, and that one . . .  so she signed up for several.  The one she is just completing is Foods and Nutrition.

The Foods and Nutrition course teaches basic nutritional facts about carbs, proteins, milk, vitamins and minerals, etc., and then allows the student to do either an experiment (like cooking broccoli for 20 minutes and describing its texture, color and flavor) or prepare a recipe.  Here’s my rant:  throughout the course, no recipes were assigned.  The student was assigned to make “a milk-based recipe” or “a quick bread.”  I lied.  One recipe was assigned.  In the fruits and vegetables section, the student was assigned to make a fruit pizza.

Here was the perfect opportunity for a teacher to introduce nutritious recipes with a variety that would allow students to become acquainted with real food.  Eden completed her tomato-corn bisque for the milk-based recipe, and learned to make garlic-parmesan biscuit roll-ups for the quick breads.  This innovation was only because I found interesting recipes, though.  No ideas were even suggested by the teacher.  Why, a peanut butter sandwich would have qualified for a protein recipe!  But the fruit pizza was the last straw.  With millions or billions of recipes available which make innovative and nutritious use of fruits and vegetables, why ask students to make a sugar cookie (shortening based so it doesn’t even taste good) topped with Cool Whip (not even real food!) and fruit?

Eden complained.  She asked if we could just “say” we had tried it?  After all, we could imagine what it would taste like!  We ended up subbing real whipping cream for the Cool Whip, and everyone (included the little kids) threw away the sugar cookie and ate the fruit.  (And this was not coercion — it tasted bad!)

Just one more reason to homeschool, folks . . .

Have you had a similar experience?  Please leave me a comment below.

Kids in the Kitchen: Eden’s Tomato-Corn Bisque

Late summer and autumn are a great times to be a vegetarian.  Not that we’ve completely given up meat, but this time of year, who needs it?  Eden made us a wonderful late summer soup with a trip to the garden and the corn stand on Main Street.

This soup makes a quick, rich, and delicious lunch or dinner.  It is fantastic served with homemade bread or biscuits, and is the perfect accompaniment for a grilled cheese sandwich. The only trick to this soup is heating thoroughly without boiling the milk.  Younger kids can help cut up the vegetables, but older ones can make this easily with very little to no supervision.

August Corn and Tomato Bisque (adapted from Prairie Home Cooking)

2 tablespoons butter

1/3 cup chopped onion

1/3 cup chopped bell pepper

1 tablespoon flour

2 cups finely chopped tomatoes

1 1/2 cups half and half or evaporated milk

1 cup fresh corn kernels

1/3 cup water

salt and pepper

Saute onion and bell pepper in butter until the onion is translucent.  Stir in flour.  Add tomatoes, corn and half and half.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat but do not boil. (Cream is okay to boil because of its fat content, but lower fat milks including half and half will curdle if boiled.  If this happens, it still tastes fine.  Eat it with your eyes closed.)  Season with salt and pepper and serve with fresh bread of your choice.

Kids in the Kitchen: Gold Nugget Soup

Max and Lulu wanted to do something fun the other day, so they looked at cookbooks.  After looking through one of the two kids cookbooks that we own several times enjoying all the dessert pictures, Max begged to have a cooking project of his own.  So we settled on Gold Nugget Soup.

As you can see, this was a recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens New Junior Cook Book.  While I cannot unequivocally recommend this cookbook, because it uses lots of prepared items in its recipes, it was a good choice for Max because he could follow the steps easily and do nearly all of them himself.  I think one very important skill for young cooks to learning is to read and follow the directions carefully.  This book writes directions in a very step by step manner that is useful for kids.

He began by measuring the water into the pot.  He has finally learned to raise the liquid measure to eye level to see if it is really at the right amount.

He chopped the vegetables and opened the cans by himself (with a tiny bit of help with the can opener.)

One of the joys of being the youngest is that Mom lets you pour the milk by yourself. (And spill it all over the counter and floor and clean it up by yourself, too, but we didn’t take a picture of that one.)

Just a few minutes of cooking and Voila! Lunch provided by Max.

Gold Nugget Soup

From Better Homes and Gardens New Junior Cookbook

Serves 6

1 1/2 cups water

2 cups frozen diced hash browns

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

1 stick celery, chopped

1 10 3/4 ounce can cheddar cheese or cheesy broccoli soup

1 16 ounce can creamed corn

1 1/2 cups diced ham

1 1/2 cups milk

Place water and hash browns and vegetables in a soup pot.  Put on stove and turn heat to medium high.  When boiling, turn to low and cook for 10 minutes.  Add soup, corn, milk and ham to the pot.  Cook on low 10 more minutes until hot.  Add salt and pepper as desired.

Again, not the most nutritious lunch ever made — certainly not all “real foods” — but great for a first soup for Max.

Hope you’re having a good weekend — I’m running my first ever marathon today!  I’ll let you know how it goes on Monday.

Kids in the Kitchen: Easy Stuffed French Toast

Lulu made more bread for us this week.  We put her to work this morning making breakfast from her homemade white bread.  We found a new way to make a delicious “fancy” breakfast without much effort at all.  The first step is to whip up the “dip” for the sandwiches, the egg/sugar/milk mixture that makes french toast so custardy.

The next step is to slice the bread thinly and spread with a cream cheese/jam combination or peanut butter and jelly.  Top with another slice of bread to make sandwiches.

Fry these delicious sandwiches in butter until the outsides are golden brown and the filling is melting.

Serve with syrup for a delicious breakfast.

Recipe:  Stuffed French Toast

For dip:

5 eggs

1 cup milk

1/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix vigorously in a bowl wide enough to fit your sandwiches for dipping until thoroughly combined.

For filling:

1 block cream cheese or Neufchatel cheese

1/2 cup jam (raspberry is wonderful)

Mix together with a hand mixer until thoroughly combined with few to no lumps.

Assemble the sandwiches:  spread the filling on one slice of bread, top with the other slice of bread.  Meanwhile, heat a large skillet with 1 tablespoon of butter.  Dip the sandwich into the egg mixture (using your hands is easiest, although messy.)  Fry on one side, then the other about 2 minutes per side, until golden brown.

This recipe makes enough for 8 sandwiches, plenty for 6 hungry people.  Serve with syrup or a sprinkle of powdered sugar.  We like to use this same recipe with peanut butter and jelly instead of cream cheese.  We don’t bother to mix the peanut butter and jelly together, just make the sandwiches, dip and fry.  The peanut butter is wonderful when it is hot and melted, mixed with syrup.

Hope you are enjoying your weekend!  Have a wonderful day.