DIY Instant Oatmeal

Both my little guys love oatmeal for breakfast, and for that matter so do their parents. There’s something about eating a warm meal to start your day that just can’t be beat. And it’s nice to know that you’re feeding your children something that will stick with them… at least until snack time. I do love the convenience of those little oatmeal packets — especially on days when I am called upon to make breakfast while still half asleep — but I don’t love all the sugar and what-cha-ma-call-it contained inside. Take a look at the ingredients sometime, you might be pretty surprised.

It turns out that making your own super yummy, customized, much better than the store bought stuff, instant oatmeal at home is a pretty darn easy. I’ll call this one “an hour and you’re done”- type activity which makes it perfect for an afterschool project or a weekend quickie. It would also be a great one to do as a foodie playdate with a few buddies. Even though ziplock bags or old yogurt containers will do just fine for storing your awesome artisan oats, we highly recommend going the extra mile and making your own groovy DIY packets from recycled lunch bags — that is if you don’t find a few zips on a sewing machine off-putting. We loved the oatmeal we made, but in the end I think we loved our handmade packets even more.

Gather your ingredients:

  • Oats — plan on 1 cup of oats per ~8 packets . Quick oats will be most like the instant oatmeal you know and love, but you can use rolled oats too. We found we needed to give rolled oats a little zap in the microwave after adding hot water to really soften them up to our liking.
  • Dry nonfat milk powder
  • Other no-cook or quick cooking whole grains and seeds (optional): puffed rice or wheat, whole wheat couscous, bulgur wheat, amaranth seeds, flax seeds, etc.
  • Dried or dehydrated fruit, chopped nuts, shredded coconut, etc. Scissors work great for snipping larger pieces of dried fruit into small slivers.
  • Spices and Sugar (we like a sugar with some flavor like turbinado or vanilla sugar made by storing a vanilla bean in  small jar of sugar)

If you are making your own packets:

Grab some old lunch bags and for each packet, cut a rectangle 10″ x 7″. Fold the rectangle in half so you have a 5″ x 7″ rectangle doubled over. [We used a 4″ x 6″-sized packet which worked for the amount of oatmeal described here, but it was a little tight.]  Sew a straight stitch along 2 of the open sides, leaving one side open so you cal fill your packet (this took me less than a minute per packet). Decorate your packet and then fill it up. To close up your filled packet, push the oatmeal away from the open side and hold it there while you make a quick seam along the open end (sounds harder than it is). You’ll be able to tear into the un-sewn side when it’s oatmeal time.

Mix up the oatmeal base for each packet:

After some tinkering, we decided that we like this base for for our oatmeal packets. This is just the right size for a kid-sized portion:  1 TBL whole oats, 1 TBL oat powder, 1/2 TBL dry milk powder, 1 TBL whole grain of your choice (we used a combination of bulgur wheat and puffed wheat). To make oat powder, just pulverize whole oats in your blender or food processor.  If you like more texture, just increase the ratio of whole oats to oat powder. Definitely mix one up and doing a taste test before assembling the rest of your packets.

To each packet add your favorite extras. Here are some of our favorites:

  • Tropical Fig: slivers of dried fig, toasted coconut, toasted sliced almonds, turbinado sugar, a pinch of ground ginger (pictured below, topped with cara cara oranges and a splash of milk)
  • Apricots, Apricots: tiny slivers and bigg-ish chunks of dried apricot, vanilla sugar
  • Strawberries n’ Cream: dehydrated strawberries, brown sugar, and a little extra dry milk powder
  • I Love Apples: tiny pieces of dried apple, cinnamon, teensy pinch of allspice, brown sugar (mix in apple sauce and a dash of apple cider syrup after adding hot water)
  • “Hi Mom/Hi Luca”: dehydrated strawberries, dehydrated blueberries, vanilla sugar, chopped up dried cherries (and a tiny pinch of coconut thrown in while Luca wasn’t looking)

Hungry for more? You might also like these other breakfast favorites: Granola-yogurt Fruit Towers, Snack Attack (or Anytime) Granola, Orange Vanilla Creamsicle Smoothie, Becky’s Carrot Zucchini Pineapple Muffins

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Puff Pastry to the Rescue!

Store bought puff pastry is fast becoming something I swear by.  We bought some from puff pastry from Royal Market and Bakery and transformed it into the crispy, savory and yummy farmer’s cheese, grated sharp cheddar and cooked mild Italian sausage puffs pictured below.  These couldn’t be easier to make.  Thaw puff pastry for 30-40 minutes stuff each square (this puff pastry was already cut into squares), fill with stuffing of choice, fold over and make a triangle, crimp edges with fork, brush with some egg wash and bake at 400F for 15-20 minutes till golden brown.

A good one to make with the little kids.  You can lay out a variety of fillings (or any leftovers) and let the kids have some fun making their own puffs.  Good way to use left over nubs of cheese that languish in our fridge forever.  A handy portable lunch for little hands.  Assemble and freeze individually and pull out in a pinch, bake for longer and serve with a side salad or steamed vegetables.  How’s that for an easy dinner?

Filling ideas:

Cooked Italian Sausage, Caramelized Onions (optional) and Sharp Cheddar

Spinach and Feta

Leftover tandoori chicken/chicken tikka masala

Variety of leftover cheeses and cooked mushrooms

Pan-fried meat with taco seasoning and any kind of melty cheese or goat cheese.

Roasted vegetables and a little marinara

Leftover meatloaf or lamb keema

Ham/Salami & cheese & Dijon mustard

Indian spices potatoes and peas (fast samosas!)

Roasted squash, blue cheese and sage

Puff pastry with Nutella & hazelnuts

You get the concept – basically anything works!  Do share your ideas with us.

How Not to Destroy Your Phone or iPad While Cooking in the Kitchen

I am the queen of destroying, losing and otherwise maiming iPhones which is a real problem because I love having my phone close at hand when I’m tinkering in the kitchen. They are so handy for looking things up, using a cooking app, listening to a podcast or monitoring calls and emails. Unfortunately there are just so many ways to destroy a phone in the kitchen, especially while cooking alongside a little chef with just as much of a tendency to spill as mom.

Here’s a quick, no-special-equipment-needed and totally low-tech remedy. Just pop your phone or iPad into a zip lock bag, seal it closed and you’ve got a pretty effective buffer against messy hands and whatever spillage may come your way. The touch screen and sound will work perfectly (I think I watched an entire season of Mad Men through a ziplock bag). I’ve found this is also a handy trick in other situations where iphones and unfriendly substances might meet. While feeding grabby, covered-with-food babies or in the garden when you’re up to your elbows in dirt just  to name a few.

More Tricks and Tips we Like:

 

Experimental Baking

Luca always surfaces when I’m in the kitchen baking. As much as I would love an assistant, he usually snubs my projects in favor of his own free-form creations. Can you blame a kid? Mixing, stirring and making strange concoctions never gets old, especially when mom lets you use the food coloring once in a while. I always dread the aftermath but I enjoy seeing him be creative and I’m pretty sure he’s learning some basic principles and techniques in the process.

Recently we’ve started cooking up some of his creations. Mostly bizarre results as you would expect, but surprisingly a few successes too. Now we know what happens to mini marshmallows in a “pancake”. We’ve also gained a more intuitive sense of how ingredients like baking soda work. This kind of highly experimental cooking, especially with someone who is always thinking out of the box, has sparked my own curiosity in ways I didn’t expect. Baking without a recipe has inspired me to touch, taste, smell, and pay closer attention to the details, like the consistency of a dough or batter…. reminding me that there’s a big difference between following and really understanding a recipe.

BTW: If you like experimenting in the kitchen and have an iPhone, you should definitely check Michael Ruhlman’s “Ratio” app. From a review in the LA Times: “The App breaks down 32 commonly used cooking formulas for everything from cakes to sauces and allows you to easily scale up or down and even measure by volume or weight (and either in ounces or grams).”  Working off these classic formulas, it’s easy to get creative and you might just save yourself a few epic failures in the kitchen.

Experimental Brownies (surprisingly edible!)

Mini marshmallows do not improve a “pancake”.

Guest Post: Super Easy Chocolate Cake

My friend Colleen of “Three Bears Salmon Tacos” fame sent me the wonderful, super easy, “the kids can make it on their own” recipe below to share on our blog.  Perhaps this year for Ria’s birthday instead of the disaster that was the crazy Chocolate Ganache Volcano Cake, we will make this one.  I think Ria will be able to handle this one (possibly better than me).  I am craving something sweet right now and might have to whip this up right now…

Colleen, thanks for sharing a family tradition with us!

Super Easy Chocolate Cake by Colleen Moore

It is delicious, not too sweet and very chocolatey. I love it because there are no electrical appliances involved ( beaters, etc) and there is no cleanup because the pan is lined with parchment. ( There are no eggs, so it is low in cholesterol).  I am always surprised by the part about apple cider vinegar, but it works!  The kids make it for Dan every year on his birthday. We call it Dan’s Birthday Cake,  but it is actually ” Mix-in-the-Pan Chocolate Cake”, from Fannie Farmer.

Line 8 in cake pan with parchment paper ( or grease and flour pan). Set aside.  Preheat oven to 350F.
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
Put in a bowl and stir with a whisk until thoroughly combined. Set aside.
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/3 cup oil ( tasteless oil, don’t use olive oil)
  • 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
Combine.
Slowly pour into dry ingredients as you stir with a whisk. Stir well. Pour into prepared pan. Bake 30 minutes.  Done!

Chocolate and Caramelized Banana Empanadas

Yesterday we we spent the afternoon playing with dumplings and empanadas. Both are great projects to do with kids. Even the bambino got into the act! There are lots of tasks that little cooks can do and they might even be inspired to try something new.  As always, hunger for a tasty bite was our main focus, but we were also doing a trial run for our upcoming “Cooking with Kids: Dumplings and Empanadas” event on May 7th at 18 Reasons. Come on out and cook with us! Click here for  class and ticket info.

In addition to having a jolly good time, getting messy and eating way too much, we learned a few things which you may want to keep in mind for your next dumpling or empanada-inspired play date:

  • Make extra dumplings because the kids will probably scarf them down before you can get one (we made Simran’s Easy Peasy Dumplings with minced chicken thigh meat)
  • Mark whose empanadas are whose if you want to avoid an empanada guessing game. An identifying scrap of dough on top does nicely.
  • Chocolate and caramelized banana empanadas are to die for!

Semi-Sweet Chocolate and Caramelized Banana Empanadas

Makes about  6-8 Dessert Empanadas

[you could make a simplified and slightly healthier  version by mashing the bananas and adding a pinch of cinnamon rather than caramelizing them]

  1. Preheat oven to 375.
  2. Break up a bar of semi-sweet chocolate into small pieces and set aside.
  3. In a pan melt 2 tablespoons of butter, and stir in 2 Tablespoons of brown sugar until it dissolves. Add a pinch of cinnamon if you like.
  4. Stir in 2 sliced bananas and let them cook in the sauce for a few minutes. [For an adult version, you could add a splash of rum and flambe the filling]
  5. Roll out your empanada dough and cut into 5″ diameter circles (or you can use prepared empanada discs found in most latin markets). Fill each empanada with 3 Tablespoons of filling and place a few chocolate pieces on top.
  6. Brush edges with egg wash ( 1 egg beaten with a Tablespoon of milk).  Fold the dough over the filling making a half circle shape and press edges down to seal. Crimp edge with a fork and poke a few holes on top with the tines of your fork.
  7. Brush top with egg wash and  sprinkle with demerara sugar (optional).
  8. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm.

Leslie’s Favorite Pumpkin Muffins

My friend Leslie is a rock star of healthful eating among many, many other things — a parent who has a true passion for eating well both in the flavor and nutritional sense. Whenever we stop by her house (even spur of the moment), there’s bound to be something homemade and yummy at hand. With the goal of making an even bigger impact, she recently got involved in her son’s school cafeteria program with the goal of getting healthier (but still kid-friendly) choices on the menu. Way to go Leslie!!!

Since I was a little girl and old enough to stand on a chair in the kitchen without falling, I have enjoyed baking with my Grandmother, Mother and Sister. Now that I am a Mom I found myself back in the kitchen this time with one or both of my boys standing on a chair next to me baking muffins and other delicious and healthy eats. I started making muffins for my first son.  I found it so easy to make muffins in a mini muffin pan and wrap for storage in the freezer.  It was very handy to reach into the freezer grab a muffin or two and toss them in my bag. By the time my son was ready for a snack the muffin had thawed!  I laugh now as those 24 mini muffins last maybe 3 days with two boys in the house!   I cannot remember the last time they actually made it into the freezer! One of my most popular muffins is made from pumpkin. These are a hit at school when I am in charge of bringing snacks!

I adapted this recipe from a Junior League Cookbook for Butterscotch Pumpkin muffins. I think what makes them so good is the combination of ginger, cinnamon, cloves and mace.  As you read the recipe you will see the Butterscotch, refined sugar and majority of flour is either removed or improved. Muffins pair nicely for breakfast with a delicious smoothie!

PUMPKIN MUFFINS

  • 1 ¾  Cup  Flour.  Use half whole wheat and half white flour or all whole wheat.  Use what your tastes like or are used to.
  • ½   Cup Maple Syrup  (Grade B ) (Increase by 1/8 cup if you prefer a sweeter muffin)
  • ½ Teaspoon Ginger
  • ½ Teaspoon Mace
  • 1 Teaspoon Cinnamon
  • 1/8 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
  • 1 Teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ Teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ Teaspoon Salt
  • 2 Large Eggs
  • 1 Cup pumpkin (I have used canned and puree from a sugar pumpkin, both were great)
  • ½ Cup butter, melted.  [Variation to omit butter:  ½ cup milk, 2 tablespoons canola oil, 1/3 cup ricotta cheese.]

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  1. In a large bowl, mix flour, ginger, mace, cinnamon, cloves, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Create a well in the middle of the mixture.
  2. In another bowl, whisk together eggs, pumpkin and butter (or other), and maple.  Pour into well of dry ingredients.
  3. Fold together just until dry ingredients are moistened.  Do not over mix (tough one if you have helpers…)
  4. Spoon batter evenly into mini muffin tins (or regular).  Bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean.  Place on a rack to cool.

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As I was making Leslie’s recipe, I took a minute to take a look at the nutritional facts on my can of pureed pumpkin. Pumpkin is very high in Vitamin A (a good source of the anti-oxidant beta carotene) and rich in fiber in case you needed another incentive to run out and make this recipe.

These muffins don’t last long around my house!