Category Archives: Whole Grain

Butternut Squash and Apple Muffins with Pumpkin Seed Streusel

I have received one butternut squash and one dozen eggs every Tuesday for the last three weeks from my CSA.  Up until yesterday, I had exactly three butternut squashes on my counter and three dozen eggs in my refrigerator.  I always like to kid myself and say things like “When fall gets here and the kids are back in school, I will finally organize their baby books.  Or clean out the storage area.  Or have that yard sale I’ve been meaning to do since June.”  Instead, I am confronted with back to school nights, violin shopping, supply acquisition, homework helping, pick ups and drop offs, driving, soccer, snacks, and maintaining some level of personal hygiene.

(Memo to my kids: I really have tried with your baby books.  Although I am very sentimental and keep things like your baby teeth and dried up belly button stubs, I am very poor at organizing these items into beautiful volumes for you to treasure one day.  I really hope it is OK that everything is crammed into a baby book with a cracked spine, papers falling out, and notes written in any color pen (or pencil) I had handy.  I do love you.  But not enough to scrapbook.)

And this entire month has been consumed by the Bloomsburg Floods.  We have the luxury of not being in the epicenter of the destruction and our busy schedule is pretty trivial compared to what the residents are going through.  But it has meant a lot of back and forth travel — which means bags that don’t have a chance to get unpacked before they are being packed again. Whirlwind is how some describe it, I think.  But as I talk with friends who are having their homes condemned, I am pretty sure a whirlwind would be a welcome feeling.  Never mind the “problem” of having all of your children’s baby book items in a box, rather than in a muddy heap never to be looked at again.

This whirlwind seems to blow cooking and eating rules out the window.  The grown ups have eaten a lot of Thai takeout. The kids have eaten way too many pasta dinners and lots of dessert.  It was the boy’s 5th birthday too, which seemed to provide an endless supply of cookies, rice krispy treats, cakes, and cupcakes.  But no more!

I turned on the oven yesterday (and it still worked!) and I made these muffins in an attempt to make a relatively healthy treat or breakfast that the kids would enjoy.  They are whole grain, quite low in sugar and fat, and filled with both butternut squash and apples.  They were a nice fall treat and used up one whole squash and 4 eggs.

Only two squash and 32 eggs to go.

Butternut Squash and Apple Muffins with Pumpkin Seed Streusel

Makes about 18 full size muffins

Muffins:
1 1/2 cups of cooked butternut squash (I like to halve mine, scoop out seeds, and slow roast for about an hour at 325 degrees Fahrenheit)
4 eggs
1/4 cup of dark brown sugar (can use more — up to 3/4 cup for a sweeter muffin)
1/3 cup applesauce
6 T vegetable oil
1 t salt
1 t baking soda
2 t baking powder
2 t cinnamon
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 medium apple, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped

Streusel:
1/4 cup dark brown sugar (can use more here too if you like)
1 t cinnamon
1/3 cup chopped and toasted pumpkin seeds

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2.  In a large bowl, mix wet ingredients by whisking together cooked squash, eggs, dark brown sugar, applesauce, and vegetable oil.

3. In a medium bowl, mix dry ingredients by combining salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and whole wheat pastry flour.

4.  Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and whisk until just combined.  Stir in chopped apples.  Spoon into greased muffin tins about 2/3 of the way full. (You can use cupcake papers if you like.)

5.  Combine streusel ingredients (brown sugar, cinnamon, and pumpkin seeds) and sprinkle a nice spoonful over top of each muffin before baking.

6.  Bake muffins for about 15 minutes until just done and a tester comes out basically clean.  Let cool a few minutes in tins and then remove muffins to a cooling rack.  (I had to use a knife to loosen them before removing.)

 

 

 

 

Crispy Brown Rice Skillet Cookies

We went to a minor league baseball game the other night and it was apparently “Christmas in July” night.  The ushers were dressed as elves, Santa was there, and they had the big, inflatable snow globes running.  My kids were a bit confused when I told them that Christmas in July is just something that people … do.  I have no idea why.  I remember being a kid on a camping trip and everyone had their campsites decorated for Christmas.  I was probably just as confused as my kids were.

When you become a parent you know that, eventually, you are going to have to explain sex and death and astronomy.  But who the hell ever prepares to answer why we celebrate Christmas in July?  Well kids, maybe it’s because we are past the halfway point of the year — meaning that Christmas shopping needs to start?  Or maybe because we are so hot and are thinking about Christmas to cool off?  Or maybe because the stupid little Christmas shops in beach towns need a cash infusion?  The possibilities are endless and I really don’t want to spend any more intellectual bandwidth thinking about it.

But then I realized I made a Christmas cookie recipe the other day (*before* the game).  Why did I do it?  Was I subconsciously celebrating Christmas in July?  Maybe this stupid tradition is hardwired into people as they get older.  Maybe we realize that once you get to the 4th of July that it might as well be Christmas … Maybe Christmas in July is a deep, existential expression of the speed of *life* and our own mortality?

Or maybe I was just really hungry for these cookies.

Crispy Brown Rice Skillet Cookies

Makes about 2 1/2 dozen

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
3/4 cup sugar (you can use up to 1 cup, but I find that to be way too sweet)
1 cup chopped dates
1 egg, beaten
1 1/2 t vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups crisp brown rice cereal (or regular Rice Krispies)
Powdered sugar

1.  In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt butter.  Add sugar and dates and cook for 4-6 minutes until bubbly and mixture is darkening and become caramelized.  Remove from heat.

2.  Take a few tablespoons of the butter/sugar/date mixture and stir into beaten egg in order to temper it (so it won’t scramble when you add it in).  Whisk egg mixture back into date mixture and and stir well to combine.  Put back on the heat and cook 1 or 2 minutes more until bubbly.

3.  Stir in vanilla extract and rice cereal with a wooden spoon.  Make sure cereal is completely incorporated into date mixture (sort of like rice krispy treats at this point).  Let cool a few minutes.

4.  Take a spoonful of the mixture and drop it into powdered sugar (this will help it to cool quickly and not be too sticky).  Using your hands, roll into a ball and cover in additional powdered sugar, if desired.  Repeat with remaining mixture. (You can also spread these into a baking dish and cut into bars to make it easier.)  Store in the refrigerator.

 

Gluten-Free Quinoa Chocolate Chip Cupcakes with Sunbutter Mousse Frosting

I am having a hard time listening to my own voice lately.  The words are all the same … “Eat over your plate, please. Do not get in the pool until your sunscreen is on.  Why did you just get in the pool without sunscreen? It’s not too hot. It’s summer.  Don’t come back inside.  You are not bored.  No, we can’t get donuts.  Get along.  I have no idea what we’re having for dinner.  And I don’t know when it will be ready.  Clean up the Playmobil or I’m throwing it away. Hang up your towel.  Hang up your bathing suit.   No, we are not watching TV.  If that little asshole spraying us with the water cannon doesn’t stop, I’m going to lose my shit.”

Well maybe I just *thought* the last one.  OK, I actually said it out loud just yesterday, but it was under my breath.

But I’m doing this all without beer, people.  Because, once again, I am not eating/drinking gluten and wheat (with the exception of a few I couldn’t turn down).  And it’s working — miraculously, or perhaps, predictably — and my sinuses and ears have never felt better.  I won’t bore you with the boring details though.

I haven’t done much gluten-free baking and was a little overwhelmed with the combination of flours and ingredients that one must use in order to approximate wheat flour.  Sorghum, potato, corn, xanthan gum … just not your normal pantry ingredients.  I’m starting to stock up, but I really liked the idea of a one flour, whole grain solution when I saw a chocolate cupcake recipe on the back of the Bob’s Red Mill Quinoa Flour.  I’m sure I’ll get into the science experiments eventually (when I have  a huge pantry), but for now I’m going to try to keep it simple.

Beyond, I’d prefer to take a more whole foods approach to gluten-free.  As much as I like some of the substitute products, some of the ingredient lists are terrifying.   The cookies might be good, but I think we learned our lesson with Snackwells, didn’t we?  These cupcakes utilize only quinoa flour, which is a complete protein and closer to a vegetable than a grain.  I’ve modified the recipe to include chocolate chips and frosted them with a sunbutter mousse frosting.   The texture is great and I think the quinoa flavor (which can be somewhat stronger than normal flour) is tamed by the chocolate.

And I do appreciate the irony of discussing healthy foods as I type up a recipe for cupcakes with chocolate, butter, cream cheese, sunbutter, and sugar.  It’s still not every day food — but it’s an improvement. And forgive me, a girl needs a good chocolate treat when she’s not drinking beer.

Quinoa Chocolate Chip Cupcakes with Sunbutter Mousse Frosting

Cupcake recipe modified from Bob’s Red Mill

Makes one dozen with some leftover frosting

Cupcakes:
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 cups quinoa flour
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
2 eggs, separated
1 1/2 t vanilla extract
1/4 cup sour cream
1 cup of chocolate chips or mini chocolate chips

Frosting:
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1-8 ounce package of light cream cheese (Neufchatel), softened
6 T butter, softened
1/2 cup Sunbutter (or other nut butter of your choice)
1 t vanilla extract

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line a muffin or cupcake tin with twelve paper liners (or grease well).

2.  In a medium saucepan, combine the butter and water over medium heat, stirring until melted together.  Remove from heat and whisk in cocoa powder.

3.  In a large bowl, combine the sugar, brown sugar, quinoa flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Add in the cocoa mixture along with the two egg yolks, the vanilla, and the sour cream.  Mix batter until combined well.  Stir in chocolate chips.

4.  In a separate medium bowl, beat the two egg whites with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form.  Fold the beaten egg whites into the cupcake batter with a rubber spatula.  You want it to be well combined, but you don’t want the egg whites to deflate too much.

5.  Pour batter into prepared cupcake liners, making each cupcake about 2/3 full.  Bake for about 15 minutes until nicely puffed and crackly on top.

6.  While cupcakes are baking and/or cooling, make the frosting by creaming together the butter, sunbutter, and cream cheese until well mixed using an electric mixer.  Add in the powdered sugar and mix slowly until incorporated and then turn up to high and mix until very light and fluffy.  Mix in vanilla extract.  Pipe or spread onto cooled cupcakes.

 

Aunt Cherry’s Rhubarb Cake

This has been a week for appliances and household items to take a shit.  Our air conditioning broke during a heat wave (of course). Now we find out we need a new furnace and heat pump.  Our new washing machine began to leak and created a nice little flood in our laundry room (on the upside, the floor has never been cleaner!).  Our way too expensive, professional quality steam iron decided to leak water through the cord (that seems a bit unsafe).  Our clock stopped working.  Our thermostat broke.  After turning on the outdoor hose bibs for gardening, we realized that this is the year for them to start leaking incessantly (they’ll need to be replaced).

Oh, and now that I think of it …  one of our window blinds broke the other day.  On the same day that my daughter fell off a swing and broke her arm.  WTF?  I’m starting to scare myself.

So, when I recently saw a puddle of murky water in the refrigerator, I was pretty sure that it was the next thing to go. But alas, it was just a puddle from some decomposing rhubarb that I hadn’t used up — because I never use up my rhubarb.  I guess I just don’t see the point of eating something that requires five cups of sugar just to make it palatable.  I cook it down, make rhubarb applesauce or the occasional strawberry-rhubarb pie or crisp, but there’s always a never ending supply.  And then even more in the freezer from last summer.

I decided to take a tried and true, delicious recipe, Aunt Cherry’s Oatmeal Cake, and see what some rhubarb would do to it.  It was very good, but not surprisingly, because nothing could really mess up Aunt Cherry’s cake.  It is a sticky, oozy mess of a dessert that you can eat for breakfast.  And the rhubarb version makes a delicious dessert with some whipped cream or ice cream, but I also served it as rhubarb coffee cake for breakfast with guests.

I’d like nothing more than to bake one right now, but I must go down a rabbit hole into customer service and extended warranty and “we’ll be there between 2 and midnight” hell.  Oh, just a moment.  This is shocking.  I just went to enter a warranty claim for my washing machine and guess what?  The system is down.

Aunt Cherry’s Rhubarb Cake

Makes one 9 inch by 13 inch cake

Cake:
1 cup oats (I used old fashioned)
3/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/3 cups of whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 t salt
1 t baking soda
1 t cinnamon
1 t nutmeg
1/2 t ginger
1/2 cup butter, softened (1 stick)
1 1/2 cups boiling water
2 eggs
2-3 cups of diced rhubarb

Topping:
1 cup pumpkin seeds (or other chopped nuts), toasted
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup of milk
6 T butter, melted
1 t vanilla
1 cup shredded coconut (not sweetened)

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease a 9 inch by 13 inch glass baking pan.

2.  In a large bowl, mix together dry cake ingredients: oats, white sugar, brown sugar, whole wheat pastry flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger.  Make sure to break up any lumps of brown sugar.

3.  Add boiling water to dry ingredients.  Using an electric mixer, beat in softened butter (1 stick).  When incorporated, beat in eggs one at a time.  The batter will be thin.  Pour into greased 9 inch by 13 inch glass baking pan.  Stir in diced rhubarb.

4.  In a small bowl, mix together topping ingredients:  pumpkin seeds, brown sugar, white sugar, milk, melted butter, vanilla, and coconut.  Drop in small dollops all over the unbaked cake batter.

5.  Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes.  Remove and cool on a rack.

 

 

Creamy Chicken Casserole with Leeks and Mushrooms

I remember researching my baby girl’s first car seat.  I had no clue what I was looking for.  I was focused on patterns that didn’t include teddy bears, perhaps longing for something that might actually match the car instead.  I didn’t know a five point harness from a three point one, and I certainly didn’t know how long I was supposed to keep it rearward facing as opposed to forward facing.  I started to read reviews.  I searched Consumer Reports.  I read mommy blogs to get opinions.  I sorted my Amazon results with the settings “Price:  High to Low,” hoping that if I spent more money, I would stumble onto the seat I was supposed to buy.  Much to my husband’s dismay, I realized the good moms were buying the safe and super expensive Britax seats, so I dropped a whole pile of money down to become part of the club.  And I did this several times over for her and her brother.

I kept her rear facing for longer than anyone thought I should.  I kept her in a five point harness until well past kindergarten, when she complained that her friends thought she was still riding in a baby car seat.  “But it’s actually a booster with a better harness,” I told her.  She didn’t agree.  She rode in a regular booster (LATCH capable, of course) until she was 8.  I finally took the back off when I could see that she clearly wasn’t remotely comfortable any more.  I kept telling myself, “She’s almost as big as her great grandmother.  It’s OK.”

Yet, tomorrow, I will put her on a bus at 6:30 AM for her big third grade field trip.  A bus with a driver I do not know.  A bus with no seat belts that will be barreling down the highway at 65 MPH.  She will wander around museums and theaters with friends and teachers.  She will eat a bagged lunch and buy her own McDonald’s for dinner.  She will carry a wallet and her own money.

But she will also carry her hip pack of allergy medicine.  I will have made sure there are at least three EpiPens with her with directions for symptoms that require flow charts.  I will have briefed the teachers and sent the chaperones long emails that make them think I’m crazy. (I am.)  I will have had thousands of thoughts about how to keep her safe … “Wait. If all the kids need lunches that don’t need to be refrigerated, they will almost all have Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches.  Must email teacher about separating her with safe lunches if possible.”  Major red flags will pop up as I walk down grocery store aisles.  “It’s a bus.  What if the person who rode in her seat before her had peanut butter crackers?  What if someone offers her a treat while on a tour?  She knows to say no.  Wait, does she know to say no?”  I will have gone over safety points with her ad nauseum, until her father says, “Kristin, I think she gets it.”

But I just can’t help it.  She’s my baby, even if 9 years have made her more grown-up than infant.  And I can’t be there to keep her safe.  I can’t be around the corner from her school if she needs me.  I can’t watch out for her as she maneuvers in a city, albeit a small one.  I am two hours away if she has an allergy emergency.   I won’t be the one driving.  And there will be no harnesses, side impact protection, or tethers for protection.

As much as I want to “forget” to set the alarm tomorrow morning and keep her home safe with me, I know I can’t.

I will wake up at 5:30 AM and I will put her on that bus.  And I will not rest easy until it pulls back in at 7 PM tomorrow night.

Creamy Chicken Casserole with Leeks and Mushrooms

So the theme here is comfort food, if you didn’t guess that already.  Feel free to use leftover or Rotisserie chicken for a quick weeknight dinner (if you do that, you can get less than a pound).  Also, this is very flexible and could include other herbs, vegetables, or seasonings.  It’s a great dinner with just a simple green salad on the side. Also, you can make this up in advance, just put the crumbs on right before you bake it.

Serves 4

1 pound boneless chicken breast or thighs, cooked and shredded (I poached mine)
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
1-2 leeks, well cleaned and chopped
2-3 ribs of celery, chopped
1 large clove of garlic, chopped
1 T butter
1 T olive oil, plus a little additional
1/4 cup of white whole wheat flour (or other flour)
1/2- 3/4 cup of whole wheat cracker crumbs (or breadcrumbs)
1 1/2 cups of 2% milk
1 T brandy
1 T lemon juice
1/2 T chopped fresh rosemary
Salt and Pepper
Cayenne Pepper

1. In a medium saute pan, saute the sliced mushrooms in a bit of olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper and cook until they are browned and have rendered all their liquid, about 5-7 minutes.  Set aside.

2.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  In a medium saucepan, melt 1 T butter and 1 T oil together over medium heat.  Saute the leeks, celery, and garlic for about 5 minutes and then sprinkle in the 1/4 cup of flour.  Stir well to combine and cook for 1-2 minutes to cook the flour a bit.  Whisk in milk, making sure to get any bits of flour incorporated from the edges of the pan.  Cook the sauce for 2-3 more minutes until quite thick, whisking constantly.  Add 1 teaspoon of salt, freshly ground pepper, a dash of cayenne pepper (or to taste), 1 T brandy, 1 T lemon juice, and chopped rosemary.

3.  Add chopped/shredded chicken and sauteed mushrooms to the white sauce and stir to combine.  Place in a shallow baking dish with about 1.5 quart or 1.5 liter capacity.  Cover with cracker or bread crumbs and bake for about 40 minutes until golden and bubbly.

 

 

Black Beans and Rice

Here we are with meal number 4 from the Cuizoo Arsenal, where I attempt to give you 7 meals that are quick, cheap, easy, and nutritious.  This is one of those basic meals that has sustained entire civilizations for hundreds or thousands of years.  Just don’t ask my daughter to eat it.  She continues on with her absolute hatred of beans.  And yet, it is one of our staple meals.  You may (or may not) ask how we pull that off.  My best explanation is that I just keep cooking it.  We generally have some variation of beans once every week and she cries every time she finds out.

It’s not that I don’t care.  It’s just that I know there will be a day when she decides that beans are OK.  It has happened with mayonnaise, melted cheese, cow’s milk, rice, mustard, whipped cream, and others.  And maybe they won’t be her favorite, but she will learn to tolerate them.  So I just keep cooking them and try to ignore the fact that her bean-loving brother is now attempting to emulate his sister by saying “ewww…” every time I cook something from the legume family.  Don’t tell Social Services, but I’m pretty sure they are not going hungry and if they refuse to eat one meal, I’m confident they’ll make up for it purely through Cheddar Bunnies the following day.

So, Beans and Rice.  You basically want to think about this like a *very* thick bean soup.  And this means you can use any type of beans or lentils cooked in water or stock with aromatics and serve them over brown rice to make a complete and healthy meal.   I find the texture to be much better if you use dried and soaked/cooked beans, but trust me I’ve done it with canned beans many, many times.  My only request on canned beans is that you select a brand that doesn’t use BPA-lined cans.  We use Eden Organic.

Meat is optional here.  Obviously beans are great with a bit of pork in them.  This usually means some sausage, a ham hock, or bacon.  But this is entirely optional.  In the absence of pork, I find that a lot of Smoked Paprika adds great depth of flavor and the smokiness that the meat usually imparts.  So, add some meat if you have it or want to use it up.

Otherwise, just add lots of onions, garlic, peppers, and spices. The key flavorings in my opinion are:  Cumin, Smoked Paprika, Chipotle Powder, Garlic, Salt, and Fresh Cilantro.  This is another meal where you can provide some flexibility based on toppings.  I like to serve chopped avocado, toasted and chopped pumpkin seeds, finely diced onion, chopped cilantro, chopped tomatoes, sour cream, shredded cheese, and/or hot sauce.

But if you go in a non Tex-Mex direction, beans are equally good with some Garlic, Sage, and Thyme.  I particularly like white beans with those flavorings served with some crusty bread or pasta instead of rice. (White Beans, Sausage, Tomatoes, Olive Oil, and Italian spices are another favorite).  Or if you go the lentil route, you can play up Indian spices with Curry and Garam Masala served over Basmati Rice with a dollop of yogurt and some chopped pumpkin seeds or pistachios.  Beans will essentially take on any flavor you decide to throw at them, so be creative and take advantage of this cheap and easy protein.

Black Beans and Rice

Serves 6 with leftovers

16 ounces dried black beans (or about 3 or 4 cans)
1 large onion
2 red peppers
4 cloves garlic
2 t salt
1 t cumin
1 1/2 t smoked paprika
1/8 t chipotle powder
2 T tequila
Olive Oil
Zest and juice of one lime
Additional salt and pepper
1 1/2 cups uncooked brown rice

Optional Toppings:
Chopped onion
Toasted and chopped pumpkin seeds
Sour Cream
Cilantro
Avocado
Hot Sauce
Shredded Cheese

1.  If using dried beans, rinse and put them in a pot.  Cover with plenty of cold water and bring to the boil.  Boil for 2 minutes and remove from heat.  Cover and let soak for about 2 hours.  (If using canned beans, ignore this step. Also, you can just soak dried beans overnight if you like and skip the boiling step.)

2.  In a large stock pot, heat a bit of olive oil over medium heat.  As oil is heating, chop onion, peppers, and garlic.  Add to hot oil and saute for 2-3 minutes.  Season with 2 t salt, freshly ground pepper, cumin, smoked paprika, and chipotle powder.  Cook spices and aromatics for an additional minute.  Deglaze with tequila, scraping up any browned bits.

3.  Drain the beans from their soaking liquid (or canned liquid).  Add to pot with aromatics and spices and fill with water, just to cover the beans.  (Alternatively, if you are using canned beans, just add them to aromatics and cook for 15-30 minutes total with only about 2 cups of water or stock.) Cover and bring to the boil.  Reduce heat to medium low and simmer for about an hour.

4.  Meanwhile, according to package directions for rice, bring water to the boil and cook rice.  (Most brown rices take at least 45-50 minutes to cook.  If you are using white rice, it will only take about 20 minutes.)

5.  Remove the lid from the beans and let simmer for 15-30 additional minutes (after the first hour of cooking), until much of the liquid has evaporated and beans are tender.  (15 minutes should be fine with the canned beans.)  Meanwhile, prepare optional toppings and zest.  Using a zester or peeler, remove the zest from one lime and chop it finely.  When beans are nicely tender, add the chopped zest and the juice of one lime, additional salt and pepper to taste, and additional cumin, smoked paprika, or chipotle to taste.

6.  Fluff rice and serve the meal by putting some rice on a plate and topping with black beans.  Put toppings on the table and allow guests (or ungrateful children) to choose what they want.

Whole Grain White Pizza with Carmelized Onions and Garlicky Spinach

For meal number 3 in the Cuizoo Arsenal, we are going to do a pizza. I feel sort of silly talking about pizza, because, come on, it’s pizza.  Crust, toppings, cheese.  Pretty straightforward stuff.  But yet, we still order it and pay $15 for something that (with a little forethought) can be made in about 30-40 minutes (of active cooking time) for half the cost of delivery.  And the end result will have completely controlled ingredients (organic produce, no preservatives, whole grain, etc.) and surely taste better.  The last time I checked, I don’t think Papa Johns offered caramelized onions as a topping.  And I don’t mean to look down my nose at Papa Johns, because there is a time and a place for delivery pizza and we all know that their garlic butter is pretty much made up of crack cocaine.  But, there is no massive conspiracy preventing you from trying to make it on your own. And kids absolutely love making their own pizzas for dinner.

So, let’s start with the crust.  This is the main reason I own a bread maker.  It is fantastic for this purpose because you can use it on the “Dough” setting, dump your ingredients in, turn it on, and in 90 minutes you have pizza crust ready to bake.  I like that I can use organic, whole grain flours and I can throw everything in after the kids get home from school and it just gets mixed and kneaded without having to think about it.  But you have other options here … many pizza shops will sell you a ball of dough and most grocery stores carry pre-made pizza dough as well.  And if you aren’t pressed for time or don’t have a breadmaker, you can certainly make pizza dough by hand too.  I should add that the key to whole grain pizza (in my opinion) is to roll the dough *very* thin, so it is not too dense and “whole wheaty.”

Next, we need to talk sauce.  Or in this case, the lack of sauce.  This is a white pizza and the more I eat it, the more I don’t like sauce on my pizza.  I usually let the kids make their own mini pizzas and they always want sauce, but this time they tried the white and were converts.  It is really delicious on its own or with the greens and onions.

And finally, toppings.  I really don’t need to provide instruction on pizza toppings, do I?  You know the things you like, so just use that stuff.  But I will put in a vote for the sauteed greens.  Spinach, chard, kale, beet greens, etc. all work very well on a white pizza and while kids may not love it at first, most will come around.  It’s a great way to get a super nutritious vegetable into a meal they really like.   Pizza is also a great way to use up leftovers for toppings … BBQ Chicken Pizza with Smoked Gouda which only requires a bit of shredded leftover chicken, Grilled Veggie Pizza with the vegetables left over from the previous night, Sauteed Mushroom Pizza with some Fontina Cheese, or just a plain old Cheese Pizza that uses up all the odds and end pieces of cheese sitting in your refrigerator.

Give it a try and you’ll start to realize that it’s a great middle of the week recipe.  It requires more “unactive” cooking time than some things, but it is still very easy and always a favorite with the kids.

Whole Grain White Pizza with Carmelized Onions and Garlicky Spinach

Serves 4

Crust:
1/2 t salt
3 cups white whole wheat flour
1 1/2 t yeast
1 cup warm water
2 T olive oil

1 large onion
1 T Sweet Marsala Wine
8 ounces fresh spinach
1/3 cup olive oil (plus extra for cooking)
2 large cloves of garlic
Salt and Pepper
Red Pepper Flakes (optional)
16 ounces mozzarella cheese (pre-grated if you like)

1.  Mix crust ingredients in the pan of a breadmaker and set it to the “Dough” setting which typically takes 90 minutes.  (Alternatively, you can mix the dough by hand and do at least two cycles of kneading and rising.)

2.  While the pizza dough is doing its thing (or about 30-40 minutes before you are ready to eat), thinly slice the onion.  Wash the spinach to remove any sediment and set in colander to drain.  Finely chop the two garlic cloves.

3.  In a medium saute pan over medium high heat, heat a bit of olive oil and cook the onion until it begins to brown (about 4-5 minutes).  Add 1 T Marsala Wine, 2 T of water, and salt and pepper to taste.  Scrape up any browned bits and reduce heat to low.  Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, and adding a bit more water if the onions begin to stick.  (This is a quick method for caramelized onions, if you like you can do a more traditional 30 minute method.)  Set the caramelized onions aside.

4.  Meanwhile, grate the mozzarella cheese if it is not pre-grated. (I should add that freshly grated always tastes better to me.)  Make the garlic oil by mixing 1/3 cup of olive oil with half of the chopped garlic, 1/8 t of salt, freshly ground pepper, and a few red pepper flakes.  Warm in the microwave for about 1 minute at 50% power and set aside.

5.  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.  In the same saute pan, heat a bit more olive oil with the remaining half of the chopped garlic. Roughly chop the spinach (it is OK if it still has water clinging to it) and saute for about 2 minutes until wilted.  Season with salt and pepper.  Set aside.

6.  When the dough is done in the breadmaker, split the ball roughly in half.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Roll out half of the dough directly on a parchment-lined sheet until it is very thin (about a 1/4 of an inch thick — at this thickness, this recipe usually makes two oblong pizzas that are roughly 10 inches by 13 inches).  Drizzle with a bit of the olive oil mixture, bake for about 8 minutes, and remove from oven.

7.  Top pre-baked crust with caramelized onions and spinach.  Season well with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle about half of the mozzarella cheese all over.  Generously drizzle all over with about half of the olive oil mixture.  Bake for an additional 13-15 minutes on the bottom rack of the oven until golden and crisp.  You can broil for a bit at the very end if you like.  (Because this makes two pizzas, you can either do two at at time on separate sheets, or you can make one and repeat the process for the second dough ball, using the remaining half of the cheese and oil mixture.)

Trail Mix Banana Bread

I wish I had anything interesting to say.  But I don’t.  Feel free to scan straight to the recipe because what follows will be riveting.

We’ve been doing some Christmas decorating.  And a lot of our lights don’t work.  And we bought them new just last year!  At Wal-Mart!  Because it was 10 PM and they were open!  And now they don’t work!  Oh, the drama.  We might have to buy some new ones if we want all the bushes out front to be done.  Also, we got a new tree stand.  Our pre-drilled stand broke last year and while we really enjoyed bickering about how crooked the tree was in the traditional stand, we opted to buy another pre-drilled one.   So far it hasn’t fallen over or anything exciting like that.  We didn’t even break any ornaments while decorating.  However, our Christmas village looks perfect because there are so many people with broken limbs from years past that it looks like a Tiny Tim convention.

I started my Christmas shopping yesterday.  The three week mark sort of hit me.  Actually, what will truly hit me are the shipping rates I will have to pay in order to make up for my procrastination.  I thought I was doing well by getting the kids’ Christmas photo done after Thanksgiving.  So the cards will be quality, but the gifts might suck.  And why is it so difficult to come up with a new coat/snow pants/accessories set for my daughter every year?  It seems like the same drill … cute coat, no matching snowpants.  Or nice matching set, one piece out of stock.  And confusing color schemes:  do the “buff” snowpants match the “ivory” coat?  Who the hell knows.  On the husband front, we have (of course) said we are getting each other nothing.  But now the boxes start showing up for me.  So I must figure out gifts for him.  Because we aren’t getting each other anything, you know?

I did a cool project on Jupiter the other day.  Did you know that you would weigh twice as much on Jupiter as you do on Earth?  I’m not sure if that would impact how tight my jeans are, but if I ever go, I’ll buy a size up.

Speaking of my jeans being tight, I decided after Thanksgiving that I was going to train for a half marathon.  Last week went well.  Today, I am already negotiating with myself about how I can avoid the longer mileage run that I was supposed to do yesterday.  The one that I should have done while I was having a few holiday beers.  I am a very disciplined runner, so this training thing should go really well.  I also don’t like the cold, so my running occurs only on the treadmill now.  If the race I ultimately select has episodes of Top Chef streaming throughout the course, I should be in good shape.

Also, if you made it this far (bless you), the other day I noticed that I had rotting fruit so I made some banana bread.  I mixed in some of our favorite trail mix ingredients and it was quite good.  We ate it quickly.  Then I did the dishes and went to bed.

The End.

Trail Mix Banana Bread

Makes one loaf

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 t baking powder
1 t salt
1/2 cup butter (1 stick), softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
4 very ripe bananas, mashed
1 t vanilla extract
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted
1/2 cup shredded coconut (unsweetened)
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease a loaf pan with softened butter.

2.  Combine whole wheat pastry flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.  Set aside.

3.  Using an electric mixer, cream butter until light and fluffy.  Add in sugar and mix for 1-2 minutes.  Beat in eggs, one at a time, and then add in mashed bananas.

4.  Using a wooden spoon or spatula, stir in vanilla extract, pumpkin seeds, coconut, and chocolate chips into batter until just combined.

5.  Pour batter into prepared loaf pan and bake for 50-55 minutes until golden brown and just set.

Aunt Cherry’s Oatmeal Cake

The other day, I was bored and looking for something to bake.  So I did a Twitter call for ideas, and a friend sent me this recipe.  It was called “Aunt Cherry’s Oatmeal Cake” and is apparently one of those old recipes with a fictitious name attached — their family baked it all the time growing up, but never knew who Aunt Cherry was.  Beyond, you can find similar recipes online that also refer to Aunt Cherry.  Based on that, I’m figuring Aunt Cherry wouldn’t mind me putting my spin on it.  And of course, now that I realize that the entire internet is public domain (Thanks Cooks Source!), I am going to call it my own.  But seriously, Monica Gaudio, if you are out there and you are actually Cherry, just email me for my address and you can send me a check for featuring your work.  If I rip off enough people’s work, I might actually find a revenue model for Cuizoo.

The recipe seemed intriguing — not many ingredients, seemingly very easy, and get this:  dollops of a butter/brown sugar/coconut/nut mixture dropped into the cake batter before baking.  That last part is what got me.  There was just no way that could turn out to be anything but delicious.  And I figured that I could make it *slightly* more healthy by cutting back on the sugar a bit and substituting whole wheat pastry flour.  Obviously, I also needed to remove the nuts because of my daughter’s severe nut allergy.

I decided to make it yesterday and if I only knew Cherry’s last name, I’d write her a thank you note — attached to a big bottle of vodka, and perhaps a personal massage device.   She deserves it.  It is that good.  And it’s easy.  I mean one-bowl-for-the-cake easy.  It makes a tremendous dessert (maybe with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream), but I could easily see it served for a special breakfast or brunch too.  Because today was Friday, November 12th, I deemed it a special breakfast day and we had it before school.  With fruit, of course.

The original recipe calls for walnuts (I substituted sunflower seeds), regular all purpose flour, and 1 cup each of brown and white sugar in the cake (I cut it back to 1/2 cup each in the cake — but left the sugar the same in the dollopy mixture).  If you want to go all out, feel free to make it with white flour and the normal amount of sugar.

You can thank me and Aunt Cherry later.

Aunt Cherry’s Sticky Oatmeal Cake

Makes one 9 inch by 13 inch cake

(Adapted from some lady named Cherry, who may or may not be real or alive)

Cake:
1 cup oats (I used old fashioned)
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/3 cups of whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 t salt
1 t baking soda
1 t cinnamon
1 t nutmeg
1/2 cup butter, softened (1 stick)
1 1/2 cups boiling water
2 eggs

Topping:
1 cup sunflower seeds (or other chopped nuts)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup of milk
6 T butter, melted
1 t vanilla
1 cup shredded coconut (not sweetened)

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease a 9 inch by 13 inch glass baking pan.

2.  In a large bowl, mix together dry cake ingredients: oats, white sugar, brown sugar, whole wheat pastry flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg.  Make sure to break up any lumps of brown sugar.

3.  Add boiling water to dry ingredients.  Using an electric mixer, beat in softened butter (1 stick).  When incorporated, beat in eggs one at a time.  The batter will be thin.  Pour into greased 9 inch by 13 inch glass baking pan.

4.  In a small bowl, mix together topping ingredients:  sunflower seeds, brown sugar, white sugar, milk, melted butter, vanilla, and coconut.  Drop in small dollops all over the unbaked cake batter.

5.  Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes.  Remove and cool on a rack.  Send Aunt Cherry a thank you note.

Spiced Whole Grain Pumpkin Seed Biscotti with Cranberries and White Chocolate

As I sit here watching the footage of the Chilean miners being rescued, I am struck by my own limitations (BTW, I generally like to focus on myself during situations like these).  I joked with several people today that I couldn’t even stand to be in that rescue pod for 15 minutes *above ground.*  And if there were a psychological test administered before you were allowed to go underground, I’m quite sure checking the box that says “sometimes I get panicky in the check out line at the grocery store” would disqualify me immediately.

I am just not the type of person you want around in a crisis.  Actually, I’m not the type of person you want around during a mildly stressful flu shot.

But perhaps it’s not just OK, but necessary, that some people run the race and some people bake cookies for the finish line.  Perhaps this is the reason that the rescuers have the strength to strap themselves into a cage and go thousands of feet below the ground into a caved-in mine, while their wives clutch the children and pictures of the Virgin Mary (The heathen I am, I generally clutch a Bloody Mary).  And here in the land of the soft, perhaps this is the reason that my husband flies all over the country, talks in front of hundreds of people with ease, and I stay home and bake biscotti.  In short, my husband is a tremendous risk taker and I am a tremendous risk averter.

It’s not that I’m not brave or strong (I gave birth to two children, you know) nor do I think that women are incapable of strapping themselves in and rescuing 33 miners.  Hell, some of us might like to go down that hole simply to get some quiet time.  The issue has more to do with roles than it does with gender.  Once you have children, doesn’t it just seem that both parents can’t simultaneously go balls to the wall anymore?  Doesn’t it seem that someone has to be the rock while the other person is in the hard place?  Children demand routine and stability and comfort.  So when one parent is down a mine shaft or on a plane to L.A., the other one has to be pouring the cereal at 8:00 AM sharp and reading the favorite two (OK, three) stories at 8:00 PM sharp.

Maybe I am risk averse because that’s who I have to be.

Or maybe that’s how I justify the fact that I enjoy eating biscotti and hate enclosed spaces.

Spiced Whole Grain Pumpkin Seed Biscotti with Cranberries and White Chocolate

Makes 15-18 biscotti

2 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 t baking powder
3/4 t salt
1 star anise pod
1-1 inch piece of cinnamon stick
1 small piece of whole nutmeg (about the size of a nickel, or 1/4 t pre-ground)
1/2 cup butter (1 stick), softened
1/3 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean (or 1 t vanilla extract)
2 eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup dried cranberries
3/4 cup pumpkin seeds (hulled and dry roasted or toasted)
4 ounces white chocolate, chopped

1.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2.  In a medium mixing bowl, combine the whole wheat pastry flour, baking powder, and salt.

3.  Using a clean spice or coffee grinder (I have a second coffee grinder that I use exclusively for spices), grind the star anise pod, the cinnamon stick, and the piece of whole nutmeg until they are a fine powder.  Add this spice mixture to the flour mixture.  (If you like your biscotti extra spiced, double up on the spices. Alternatively, if you don’t want to grind your own spices, just make a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, or other spices like anise seed to equal 1 t.)

4.  In a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer, beat the softened butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix until thoroughly incorporated.  Split the vanilla bean in half and, using the back of a knife, scrape the seeds from both sides of the pod.  Add seeds to butter and egg mixture and beat to incorporate.

5.  Add the flour/spice mixture to the butter mixture in two additions and beat until just combined.  Switch to a wooden spoon or spatula and stir to make sure the flour is incorporated.  Stir in cranberries and pumpkin seeds.

6.  Turn dough onto parchment lined baking sheet and pat into a long loaf, approximately 3.5 inches by 15 inches.  Bake loaf for about 35 minutes, until just golden.  Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 20 minutes.

7.  Using a very sharp knife, carefully cut individual biscotti from the loaf — each about 3/4 inch.  Place the biscotti, cut side down, on the parchment lined sheet.  Bake for 10-12 minutes and flip.  Bake 10-12 minutes more and remove from oven (about 20 minutes total for the second stage of baking). Remove biscotti from sheet and cool on racks.

8.  Place chopped white chocolate in a double boiler to melt.  You can also use the microwave at about 50% power.  When biscotti are completely cool, drizzle with melted white chocolate.  Place in refrigerator until chocolate is hardened.  Remove from refrigerator and store biscotti in a tightly sealed container.