Preschool Pâte à Choux (Gougeres)

You may have read our recent post about Thorough Bread and Pastry, our new favorite pâtisserie pit stop. It did not escape my notice how much both my kids loved the gougeres (French cheese puffs), especially my littlest foodie. Little guy loves the savory stuff and those little puffs are perfectly sized for wee fingers and don’t crumble away or leave sticky messes like a lot of other treats. They’re also wonderful alongside a glass of champagne for us big kids.

We decided to give them a try at home and bring them for snack day at school, a departure from our usual banana-avocado bread or our favorite raw apple muffins. This might qualify as the chic-est preschool snack ever especially when accompanied by crisp, juicy apples…. but that’s just how we roll.

My favorite 4 year old sous chef and I rolled up our sleeves and gave ourselves a primer on pâte à choux, the light pastry dough used to make profiteroles, éclairs, beignets, and gougeres, and then we set to work. Despite the fancy name these are surprisingly easy and a nice change of pace from the usual sugar-fueled cookie baking projects. Many paths led us to Dorie Greenspan’s excellent recipe from her book “Around My Fench Table” and after trying it, we need look no further. This recipe is just great and needs no tweaks or amendments. You can use any combination of cheeses you like (gouda, gruyere and cheddar are good choices), and I highly recommend piping them onto your baking tray rather then scooping them with small spoons (use can use a large ziplock with the corner cut off). Squeezing dough out of a pastry bag is great fun for little cooks and makes cleaning up a snap. You can mix up a big batch and freeze un-cooked gougeres for another day, too.

For the recipe details, I will point you in the direction of one of our very favorite blogs, The Hungry Dog. Not only will you get the 4-1-1 on Dorie’s recipe, you’ll find tons of other fabulous baking projects and great writing too.

What are your snack day favorites?

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Spooky Snacks for Halloween: Mimi’s Creepy Fingers and Wiggly Orange-Mango Tummy Ticklers

For all your Halloween festivities, it’s always nice to have a few less-sugary options up your sleeve. Here are two fun “spooky snacks” we tried out this year: Mimi’s creepy fingers and wiggly mango-orange tummy ticklers. These are so fun to bring to parties at school, to nibble on alongside a bubbling cauldron of of your favorite soup or stew before you head out for trick or treats, or even as an unexpected after school snack during the rest of the year. Both take almost no time to put together and, more importantly, are really fun to make. Do you have a favorite spooky Halloween snack? We’d love to hear about it!

Wiggly Mango-Orange Tummy Ticklers

This is a homemade, fruit finger jello recipe from the Meal Makeover Moms, from their “No Whine with Dinner” cookbook  (but I actually heard it on the Halloween episode of their “Cooking with the Moms” podcast). The two moms behind all three of these great projects are registered dieticians and offer lots of recipes and suggestions for healthy food for the whole family. Their podcast is fun, informative and worth a listen — a good one to keep loaded up on your MP3 device to listen to when you have a few spare moments in your day. For these fruity, wigglers all you need is juice, pureed fruit and 2 packets of unflavored gelatin. Since you can swap any kind of juice and fruit you like, kids can play executive chef and create their own flavor combinations. Here we used orange juice and pureed mango. Yum!

Ingredients: 1 1/2 cups juice, 1 cup fruit, 2 envelopes of unflavored gelatin, sweetener of your choice (as needed)

  1. Puree together 1 cup of whole fruit and 1 cup of juice, then bring to a simmer on the stove.
  2. Sprinkle 2 packets of unflavored gelatin over 1/2 cup juice and let it sit for a couple of minutes.
  3. Add the gelatin mixture to the simmering puree mixture. Whisk while the gelatin fully dissolves (about 5 minutes). Give it a taste and add your favorite sweetener as needed.
  4. Pour mixture into an 8×8 pan. I poured mine through a strainer, just to catch any undissolved gelatin or bits and pieces.
  5. Refrigerate at least 3-4 hours to set. Dunk the bottom of the pan in hot water to help release the jello, then cut into squares and enjoy! (The Meal Makeover moms suggest using an offset spatula to remove the jello squares from the pan.)

Mimi’s Creepy Fingers (aka Parmesan-Tomato Puff Pastry Sticks)

Our neighbor Mimi served these fun appetizers when she had us over for dinner. They were so cute I made them for snack day at Luca’s preschool. When you bring a container, marked “creepy fingers” to school, everyone wants to know what’s inside! These are simply rectangles of puff pastry with cherry tomato “fingernails” added before baking. For a sweet version, you could use roasted grape halves and replace the parmegiano with a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar. You can find puff pastry in the freezer section of the grocery store, I nabbed mine at Trader Joes.

Ingredients: 1 Package of Frozen Puff Pastry, a Handful of Cherry Tomatoes, 1 Beaten Egg, Parmegiano Reggiano

  1. Optional (if you have the time), roast your cherry tomatoes to release some of the water before placing them on the puff pastry. Half the tomatoes, place them in a pan cut side up. Season with sea salt, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of sugar. Roast in a 350 degree oven for 20-30 minutes or until they start to look a bit dry and shriveled. You can do this in advance.
  2. For the fingers, let your puff pastry thaw slightly until you can cut it easily. Cut it into rectangles approximately 3/4″ x 4″. I rounded one end using scissors so the shape would be more finger-like.
  3. Place a halved cherry tomato skin side up on the rounded end of the pastry. Brush the whole thing with beaten egg and sprinkle with grated parmegiano reggiano.
  4. Bake as directed on the box of puff pastry. Best if served right away, but you can store in an airtight container after they have cooled. I like to separate layers with sheets of waxed paper.

There’s lots you can do with leftover puff pastry:

  • Try Simran’s recipe for “Anything Puffs“, substituting the puff pastry for the crescent dough.
  • Extra puff pastry also makes a great top for a pot pie, stew or soup (may I suggest Simran’s Fish Chowder?). Cut a circle slightly larger than the rim of your oven proof, individual serving-sized bowl. Brush the rim of the bowl with beaten egg and seal the bowl with the pastry (remember to cut a few slits for the steam to escape). Place the bowl on a baking sheet and bake as directed on the puff pastry package.

Jumping on the Crispy Kale Bandwagon

Over the last few months I’ve seen quite a few mentions for crispy kale chips on my favorite foodie blogs so we finally decided to give them a try. They’re so easy to make and pretty tasty. Better than you’d expect from a bowl full of kale and much more healthful than a bag of  potato chips or cheese doodles. You’ll be surprised at how light and delicate they are. The whole family agreed that they are snack-able enough to make the cut for movie night and even Luca, who views green food with more than a dose of suspicion, gave this the thumbs up and suggested that we might some for snack day at preschool. High praise indeed.

All you need for this recipe is a bunch of kale, olive oil and salt. You could certainly add a little pinch of spice (I know Simran would be all over that) or maybe even a bit of garlic or onion powder. In addition to their snack-ability, I’m thinking these could be a fun garnish to play around with… perhaps crumbling them over rice with some toasted sesame seeds like furikake or using them to fancy-up a simple pureed vegetable soup. The possibilities are inspiring us to try our hand at growing kale in our garden this year.

Crispy Kale Chips

  1. Trim the kale leaves from their stems. Tear the leaves into slightly larger than potato chip-sized pieces. Keep in mind that they will shrink significantly.
  2. Wash and get the kale as dry as you can (I used a salad spinner and then patted them thoroughly with kitchen towels to get them extra dry)
  3. Toss the dry kale lightly with olive oil and spread on a single layer on a cookie sheet (do not add salt yet or they will sog up in the oven).
  4. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 10-15 minutes. Check them frequently from about 10 minutes on. When done, they will be bright green, totally dry and very crisp to the touch. You do not want them to brown.
  5. Sprinkle with salt and any other seasonings of your choice. Toss well and enjoy!

These poor kale chips didn’t stand a chance!

Sweet Potato Chips

Shopping list: 1 sweet potato, kosher salt, oil

We were having lunch at home, just the usual stuff (sandwich, fruit). Then I spied a lonely sweet potato on our counter and remembered mentally bookmarking the sweet potato chips recipe on KidAppeal. Worth a try!  Some mixed results on this one — the thin slices are  finicky! Some chips got too dark and others were still a little chewy while a few were just right. Which was exactly Jenna’s caveat.

My son was excited to try them and happily gobbled up all the chips that made the cut. Anytime he says “more please” to vegetables (it’s been tough going lately – he’s two and a half!), it’s a good thing.

Sweet Potato Chips (adapted from KidAppeal)

  1. Brush a thin coat of oil on a cookie sheet, put into a 450 oven for 5 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, wash and slice one sweet potato into very thin rounds (as thin as you can, the key to the whole thing I think). Our mandolin slicer has gone missing, so I had a chance to practice my knife skills!
  3. Lay out the chips on the hot cookie sheet (don’t let them overlap), lightly brush tops with oil and sprinkle with kosher salt and whatever else strikes your fancy. I’m guessing Simran would put a pinch of something spicy!
  4. Bake at 450 for 5 minutes. I flipped the chips, turned my cookie sheet, and stepped down the temperature to 425 (mine were browning too quickly) to bake another 5 minutes (peeking once or twice).
  5. If they are still a little chewy in the center at this point, turn the cookie sheet once again and crank the oven down to 300 — and give them a few minutes to hang out to continue drying out without getting more color.
  6. When they are lightly browned (but not dark), the edges have curled, and the tops look pretty dry remove them to a rack to cool. They will continue crisping up as they cool. Taste and add a little more seasoning if you please.

So, you do have to be attentive on this one, but there’s nothing too hard here cooking-wise…. and they’re actually OK if they’re not perfectly crisp, but crispy is definitely better. Make a lonely sweet potato’s day and give these chips  a try sometime soon. I’d love to know how it goes for you.