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.


Lemon Meringue Pie

lemon meringue pieMy Dad’s favorite kind of pie is lemon meringue (although we all like just about every kind of pie,) so when they came over for dinner, I made lemon meringue pie.  I thought it would be great for this month’s pie installment.

The easiest way to make lemon pudding is of course the Jello mix you can buy at the grocery store, but homemade lemon pudding is super easy and worlds better.  If you can invest in farm eggs for your lemon pudding, do so.  It adds a beautiful yellow color that wimpy store eggs just cannot.  If all you can buy are store eggs, you’ll still enjoy the wonderful flavor of the homemade pudding.  This recipe come from Mark Bittman’s cookbook How to Cook Everything and is just one example of the always-successful recipes he prints.

Lemon Pudding:

1 cup sugar

1/3 cup cornstarch

Pinch salt

2 cups boiling water

4 eggs, separated (save whites for meringue)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 teaspoons lemon zest

6 tablespoons lemon juice (freshly squeezed)

Combine sugar, cornstarch, salt and boiling water in small saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring, until smooth and thick, about 10 minutes.  While it is cooking, beat the egg yolks until smooth.  When the cornstarch mixture is thick, remove from heat and stir about 1/4 cup of the hot mixture into the egg yolks, beating well to warm the yolks, then add the yolk mixture into the cornstarch mixture and stir vigorously.  Return to low heat, add butter and lemon zest and juice and cook and stir about 5 minutes until smooth and hot.


4 egg whites

1/4 cup powdered sugar

pinch cream of tartar

In clean glass or metal bowl, beat egg whites and cream of tartar using an electric mixer until soft peaks start to form.  Continue beating while adding slowly the powdered sugar until the mixture is shiny and holds stiff peaks.  Take care not to overbeat.

To make lemon meringue pie, first pre-bake a 9-inch pie shell.  While pie crust is still hot, fill with lemon pudding and spread meringue over the pudding, spreading clear to the edges of the pie.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes until lightly browned on top.

Lemon pie is also wonderful with whipped cream in place of meringue.  This is even simpler, but it will leave you with finding something to do with your egg whites . . .

Please share your pie recipes or links below!


Try This Now: Caramel Popcorn

I finally broke down and bought myself a hot-air popcorn popper.  I’ve wanted one for a while:  I’ve heard many dieticians recommend popcorn as a whole grain, and while I don’t really like it myself, I thought it would be a good snack for the kids.  I don’t like to offer microwave popcorn because of all the additives involved, so when I replaced my Crock-Pot (I broke the pot!), I bought a popcorn popper as well.  The kids have enjoyed popcorn with butter and salt, butter and Parmesan, and butter and cinnamon-sugar.

In an upcoming post, I’ll let you in on a few things I’ve found out about snacking and home schoolers.  But for right now, I just want to share my sister-in-law’s wonderful recipe for homemade Caramel Popcorn.

Start with a big bowl of hot popcorn.  (My popper uses 1/2 cup kernels to make a big bowl, just right for this recipe.)

In a large saucepan, boil together:

1/2 cup butter

1 cup brown sugar

3 Tablespoons corn syrup or pancake syrup (I haven’t tried this variation)

When the butter is completely melted and boiling, add:

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon vanilla

This is what it will look like:

carmel for popcornImmediately pour over hot popcorn and stir with a big spoon.  I thought I could use my hands for this, but it was just too hot!

Here’s the finished product:

carmel popcorn


And this is what you will look like eating it:


Start to finish:  15 minutes.  Enjoy those happy faces!

What is your favorite addition to popcorn?  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.

Pie of the Month: Honey Pecan Pie

lovely pecan pie slice


Well, I promised you a pie challenge, and this pie was quite challenging for me.  First of all, I had trouble choosing a recipe for pecan pie.  I was certain this pie could be made with honey, because corn syrup seems like it must be a relatively new invention.  Also, since corn syrup is not a “real” food (it is made through high-level processing) it is persona non grata at our house.  It was troubling as well because most pecan pie seem to me to be too thin: they leave me wanting a little more.  My solution was to add extra pecans to the recipe.  The third problem I had in making this pie was the baking instructions.  The recipe I finally settled on called for baking the pie for a total of 40 minutes, steadily lowering the baking temperature.  However, after the 2nd temperature change (from 400 to 300 degrees) and 20 minutes, the pie was not set at all.  With only 10 minutes left on the original timer, I scoured my cookbooks and reset the oven to 350 degrees.  This resulted in a slightly carmelized top as the top element in the oven came on to bring the oven up to that temperature.

Well, I guess it’s enough to say we ate this pie in one sitting.  The honey taste was not too strong for my dissenter (Max isn’t into honey,) and everyone loved the nuts.  Even the carmelized top was a nice addition, and the (Crisco-based) pie crust was the best I’ve made in months!

unbaked pecan pie

Here’s the recipe:

Unbaked pie shell

3 eggs, beaten until light

1 cup honey

1 tablespoon butter, melted

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups chopped pecans

Beat eggs until very light and frothy.  Add honey and melted butter in a steady stream.  When thoroughly combined, add vanilla, salt and pecan and mix well.  Pour into pie shell.  Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 and bake about 30 minutes more, until filling is set.  Cool completely before serving.

I hope you are having your own pie adventure this month.  Please leave a link or a recipe in the comments below!

October Unprocessed Update

October Unprocessed 2012

I’m sure you’re dying to know how we succeed with our October Unprocessed week.  Truth be told—much better than I expected. My plans were not perfect, and we did have to make some adjustments, but for the most part we were totally unprocessed for the week.  Some of the changes we had to make:

  • We didn’t use homemade mayonnaise in our tuna salad (I ran out of time to make it!) So the mayonnaise was processed.
  • Bretton made foccacia bread and didn’t know white flour was forbidden, so the foccacia was only half wheat.
  • We ate tons of eggs!  Cheap, easy, real food: eggs.  We ate them fried, scrambled with veggies and on sandwiches.  Not only were they real food, they were organic from local chickens, so I felt like they were a healthy substitute for a few of the meals requiring more effort on my list.

Some things we learned:

  • In this guest post from the October Unprocessed website, I really agreed with the author’s viewpoint that if October Unprocessed helps us change just one unhealthy food habit, it has been worth participating.  Last year, Shandy completely stopped using nondairy creamer in his coffee, and has since weaned himself from whipping cream (expensive) to milk in his daily coffee.  That was a great change!  This year, I looked for a similar change we could make.  I decided that I would only have sugar (honey during October Unprocessed) in one cup of tea each day, and drink any others without sugar.  Not a huge change, but one I’m trying to make.  Eventually, I would like to stop using sugar in tea altogether.
  • We used nearly five pounds of honey during the challenge, which seemed astronomical.  During the week following the challenge, I kept meticulous track of the sugar we used, measuring a combined five pounds of brown, white and powdered sugar.  Since I make about 95 percent of our food at home, I figured that if we only use five pounds of sugar each week as a family, we would come in at about half the average sugar consumption for Americans (which is about 140 pounds per year.) Although we were gone for 2 days during the weekend, we didn’t even eat our five pounds!  Yay for us!  This was much better than I had expected. I am hoping to further reduce our sugar usage, but since doing this measurement, now feel it is not as critical as I thought.
  • We still are unable to find a good whole wheat bread recipe.  I made whole wheat hamburger buns during the challenge which were okay but not razzle-dazzle, and Eden made whole wheat sourdough rolls, also okay but not our favorite.  One guest post on the October Unprocessed website suggested making an exception for adding vital wheat gluten to whole wheat bread, but since we do have a local source for white flour, I will probably continuing adding about 1/3 white flour to our bread recipes unless we find a whole wheat recipe we like.

This was a fun assignment this year, and I think maybe next year, we will make the commitment for the month . . . depending on our sugar addiction!
Have you tried to do October Unprocessed?  How is your month going? Please leave me a comment.

Autumn Abundance #3: Pear Claflouti

Yes, this is the third fruit breakfast recipe I’ve shared with you lately.  It didn’t fit in our October Unprocessed week, but as I’ve said before, autumn tempts me into sweet, fruity breakfast that can rarely be enjoyed at other times of the year.  Hoot’n Annie pancake (with strawberries or apples), apple pan dowdy, and pear claflouti are the joys of living near orchards this time of year.

Pear claflouti is a tender baked custard, with pears, the riper the better, adding sweetness and flavor.  Try it with a little milk for breakfast hot out of the oven to enjoy your autumn pears.

Pear Claflouti

8 ripe pears, peeled and cored

1 cup sugar

2/3 cup flour

3/4 cup whipping cream

3/4 cup plain yogurt

1 1/2 cup milk

1 tablespoon vanilla

1 teaspoon salt

6 eggs

Grease a 9×13 baking dish.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Peel and core pears and place them in the baking dish.  Beat eggs until frothy with electric mixer, then slowly add sugar.  When eggs are frothy and thickened, add flour and beat until smooth.  Add yogurt, cream, milk, vanilla and salt and beat until smooth.  Pour over pears in baking dish.  Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes, then lower heat to 350 degrees and bake until custard is set, about 20 more minutes.

Don’t  burn your mouth on the hot pears!

Hope you enjoy this recipe.  Please let me know how it turns out for you!

Planning a Family Style October Unprocessed

October Unprocessed 2012

Maybe you still remember that we tried to do October Unprocessed for a week last year, and by the end of the week were having such sugar fits that we fell off the wagon big time.  Well, this year we’re up for a new challenge.  We’re trying for the week again, and this time I’m making some good plans to keep our sweet tooth satisfied without sacrificing real food eating.

Here’s our menu plan for the week.  Yes, it is a three-meals-a-day at home meal plan, and I’m hoping to have leftovers for Daddy to take to work.

Monday:  bulgur as hot cereal with honey and  butter (this is a common breakfast around here, no big change), egg salad with homemade mayo on homemade wheat bread (I often make homemade mayo, and the bread is left over from Lucy’s last breadmaking project.)  Dinner will be a challenge, because we will be out of the house most of the day.  I’m thinking some roasted tomato sauce from the freezer with whole wheat pasta and baked delicata squash.

Tuesday:  baked oatmeal with apples using honey as sweetener, egg quesadillas on corn tortillas.  Dinner:  Eden is in charge of dinner, and she will be making a riff on chicken pot pie using fresh vegetables, leftover roast chicken, and topping the mixture with homemade whole wheat biscuits– Yum!

Wednesday:  Polenta as hot cereal and maple syrup for sweetener (another common breakfast, although we usually use sugar syrup made with mapleine — real maple syrup is a splurge for our family.)  Lunch will be leftovers from Monday and Tuesday dinners, and during the day on Wednesday I will be making whole wheat hamburger buns for our meal on Thursday.  Dinner on Wednesday will be Indian spiced lentils and rice with naan.  I need to investigate our yogurt and decide if I can use the kind of yogurt I usually buy, or if I need to make my own for this meal.

Thursday:  Eggs and toast (are you noticing an egg theme?  This is an easily available real food for us. Ours are even local and organic!)  I will grind some peanut butter when I go to the natural foods store today so that we can have our favorite pb&j for lunch tomorrow.  Thursday’s lunch will be leftover lentils and rice.  Brett is making hamburgers for dinner on Thursday, with homemade buns and mayo.  I also think we will be having baked sweet potato fries.

Friday:  Bulgur or cracked wheat cereal again today.  We usually eat more oatmeal than bulgur, but none of us like oatmeal without brown sugar, so we’re skipping it this week.  For lunch we will have a pb&j without the j, using a banana instead for our real foods week.  Dinner will be roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and roasted beets fresh from our garden.

Saturday:  Chicken in a basket for breakfast after my long run (eggs cooked in a hole in the toast, in case you wondered!)  We’ll probably have leftovers or pb& banana again for a quick lunch, because Saturday and Sunday are usually big evening meal days.  I will make pitas in the afternoon, and Shandy and I will work together to make falafel for dinner.

Sunday:  Apple pan dowdy made with honey sweetened apples and whole wheat dough.  Only one main meal on Sunday, probably roasted pumpkin garlic lasagna or butternut squash ravioli.  It will be a ton of work, but so delicious.

Some compromises I’ve decided to make:

  • What happens away from home doesn’t count.  Our family usually eats 3 meals together 7 days a week at home.  If a teenager escapes for a soda, I am going to look the other direction.
  • Coffee is probably processed, and it will have to escape the ban.  Shandy can’t live without it.  However, he has totally weaned himself off of powdered creamer since last year, so that’s one thing we don’t have to worry about — and he says he’ll drink coffee with honey for the duration.
  • Remembering that this is only a week, but the lessons learned can last much longer than that, I will be looking for small changes we can make continuing toward a less processed normal diet.

Are your plans made for October Unprocessed?  Are you excited and a little scared?  Let me know in your comments below.

Apple Pan Dowdy

Hurry!  as October Unprocessed approaches, I need to sneak in all these not-so-healthy fruit breakfast recipes I told you about!  Actually, this one is not-so-unhealthy either, and could easily fit the October Unprocessed profile . . . maybe I should have saved it for October.  Oh well, make it again, switched around (I’ll tell you how it turns out…)

This apple pie knock-off is fantastic in a bowl with milk for breakfast.  Called dowdy because the top crust is tucked into the dish around the apples making for thick, cobbler-like sides to the pie, it is easy to make if you have about an hour in the morning for breakfast.  One way to make this pie even more easily is if you have someone in your family you can convince to peel apples while you make the crust.  In our family it works that way for many of these breakfasts:  “if you peel peaches, I will make kuchen!” or “If you peel and slice pears, I will make the claflouti!”  That way, we get a little kitchen cooperation early in the morning, and a meal everyone loves.  Since I know that won’t work for many families in the early morning, this recipe would also make a great easy dessert.

Apple Pan Dowdy

Serves 6

For filling:

4 apples, peeled and sliced thin (I used a mixture of Fuji and Ginger Gold)

1 Tablespoon sugar

1 Tablespoon flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

For crust:

1 1/8 cups flour

1/2 cup butter, chopped into 8 pieces

1 Tablespoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 egg yolk

2-3 Tablespoons water

Peel and slice apples, then mix with other filling ingredients in 7×11 pan or deep dish pie plate. (The blue dish you see above was a recent gift from my grandma.  Isn’t it pretty?)  Place flour, butter, sugar and salt in bowl of food processor and process until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Add egg yolk and pulse once.  Remove to a small bowl, and add water, gathering the mixture together with a wooden spoon until it can be formed into a ball.  Roll this ball out into a circle approximately 3 inches bigger around than your dish.  Center on top of apples, then gently tuck around the sides and under the dish, lifting the apples so that the crust can tuck onto the bottom of the dish.  Sprinkle with a little granulated sugar, then bake for 45 minutes at 375 degrees.  Serve hot in a bowl with milk.

I am really thinking this could be made for October Unprocessed by removing the sugar from the crust and replacing the sugar in the filling with honey.  I often use whole wheat flour for crusts anyway, so I bet this would be tasty that way — I especially like the flavor of whole wheat with apples.  I might try it out and let you know!

If you’re interested in reading about how last year’s challenge went for us, look here.  If you want to know our plans for this year, please stay tuned!  Hope you enjoy this recipe.  How are you using fall apples?  Please leave me a comment.

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!