My Not-So-Secret Recipes

By: Jeanne Reynolds

I love reading about food, restaurants and recipes. I have a thick white binder stuffed with recipes I’ve clipped from magazines and newspapers or begged from friends and family. Most of them I’ll probably never make, but there are a few I go back to time and again. You can tell them by the yellowed paper they’re printed or written on and the splatters of overly enthusiastic stirring.

If you flip through the pages of this notebook, you may notice a skew toward baking, and two types of treats in particular: brownies and muffins. Although I love these freshly baked goodies as much (or more) than the next person, the abundance of brownie and muffin recipes isn’t so much because they’re my favorites as it is because it seems so hard to find a really great, foolproof recipe for either.

“This one looks really good, and pretty easy,” I’ll say to myself as I clip out yet another recipe. “This one never fails,” a friend assures me as she emails me her version. And yet the results are never as roll-up-your-eyes-and-slap-your-momma wonderful as I hoped.

Until now.

I’m going to share with you two nearly perfect recipes, one for brownies and one for apple-cinnamon muffins. You can thank me later.

Oh-my-goodness brownies

OK, this one is more advice than a recipe: If you need to bring a dish to a potluck, tailgate or holiday meal that people will rave over, make brownies. And use a boxed mix. Yes, you read that right. I’ve made many scratch versions over the years and there isn’t enough difference to make it worth the trouble. The secret is to not stop there. First, substitute Kahlua or Amaretto for half the water called for. You won’t taste the liqueur but the flavor will be subtly rich and decadent.

Then, make your own frosting. This makes all the difference in the world. That travesty in a can is the frosting equivalent of spray cheese. Never, I repeat never, use it. Making enough chocolate frosting for a pan of brownies takes about 3 minutes and 4 ingredients: butter or margarine, cocoa powder, powdered (aka confectioner’s) sugar and a little liquid, which can be water, milk, vanilla, coffee or the liqueur you used in the brownies. I don’t measure and the proportions are to taste depending on how sweet or dark you prefer it, but it’s roughly equal parts butter and cocoa powder, about two to four times that much sugar, and liquid to spreading consistency. For example, ¼ cup butter, ¼ cocoa, ½ cup to 1 cup sugar and a teaspoon to a tablespoon of liquid. Combine the butter and cocoa first, then gradually add the sugar, tasting as you go and alternating with a little liquid at a time to loosen it up.

This might sound tricky but it’s really not. Do it once or twice and you’ll be able to whip it up in your sleep (and you might find yourself dreaming about it, too). Get ready for ooh and aahs.

Oh, two more tips: Line your pan with foil with enough overhang on either side so you can lift the whole thing out and put it on a board to frost and cut. No more brownies stuck in the pan. And don’t overbake, unless you prefer dry, crumble brownies (if you do, you stopped reading this long ago). Test for doneness before the minimum baking time is up and keep testing until they’re just barely done.

Best-ever apple-cinnamon muffins

This recipe is a combination of a few I clipped, with modifications to make them easier for what I typically have on hand. I like these because they actually rise up like they’re supposed to and they’re not too sweet. They’re great for breakfast or with a cup of hot tea on a cold afternoon.

Combine in a large bowl:

  • 2 cups unsifted flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Mix in just until dry ingredients are combined:

  • ¾ cup milk (skim or low-fat is fine, even lactose-free)
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil (original recipe calls for melted butter or margarine but this is easier and works fine)
  • 1 egg

Gently stir in as many of these as you want:

  • 1 cup chopped apples (any kind, and no need to peel them)
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts

Line a 12-cup pan with paper liners and use an ice cream scoop sprayed with nonstick spray to fill each cup. Sprinkle a little sugar and cinnamon on top of each muffin. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until lightly browned.

4 Healthy Recipes to Try This Independence Day

By: Kristen Nida, Guest Contributor

Hosting a Fourth of July celebration this year? You’ll have to try these four quick and easy recipes for your holiday festivities. Not only do they take little time to prepare, leaving you more time to enjoy with your family and friends, but they are also healthy!

Barbecue Pulled Chicken: A Fourth of July cookout isn’t complete without barbecue.
This BBQ pulled chicken recipe is a unique reinterpretation of pulled pork that slow-cooks chicken in tangy tomato sauce. Whether served over mashed potatoes or served as a sandwich, it is sure to be a hit. Click here for the recipe.

Creamy Spinach Dip: This healthy, fresh take on classic spinach dip is irresistible.
The low-fat ingredients in this tasty recipe will save you over 80 calories in each serving. This versatile dip can be served with pita chips, fresh vegetables, or even spread over a sandwich. There is an option for everyone! Click here for the recipe.

Red, White & Blue Popsicles: This easy, 3-step recipe is as quick to prepare as it is tasty to eat.
Juicy raspberries and blueberries are in season and this recipe takes full advantage of that. The natural sweetness of these fruity popsicles is unbeatable and the colors scream Independence Day, perfect for the occasion. Click here for the recipe.

S’mores Banana Ice Cream: The lightest, quickest “ice cream” you will ever prepare!
S’mores, bananas, and ice cream are each so delicious on their own. The only way to make them better is to combine them into one tasty treat! The best thing about this recipe is it takes only four minutes to create this dessert for your family and friends to enjoy. Click here for the recipe.

Superbowl Snacks

By: Stacy Thompson

Football

At the writing of this blog, I may be really, really happy about the competitors involved in Super Bowl LI (if it’s the Packers/Patriots) or just looking forward to a good game. But for many people, the biggest game in the National Football League doesn’t signify the game between the two best teams, but something much greater, much more lasting. Not just the commercials, my friends, but the food served before, during and after the big event!

Ideal Super Bowl commercials generally include a monkey, kid or Clydesdales (Career Builder/Monkey Office, The Force/Mean Joe Green/Like a Girl, and pretty much every Budweiser commercial ever, most of all the post-911 tribute). The commercials keep us in our seats through the breaks in play and sometimes are more entertaining than the game itself. Regardless, the food can bring a good game home or take minds off of the fact that the next football competition is many, many Sundays away…

So, without further ado, here are some suggestions for your Super Bowl menu:

CRISP AND SPICY SNACK MIX

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups crisscross of corn and rice cereal (such as Crispix)
  • 1 cup tiny pretzel twists or sticks
  • 1/2 cup wheat crackers (such as Wheat Thins)
  • 1/2 cup cheddar crackers (such as Cheez-It)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon ginger stir-fry sauce (such as Lawry’s)
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Cooking spray

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 250º.
  2. Combine the first 4 ingredients in a bowl. Combine butter, stir-fry sauce, powder, cumin, and salt; drizzle over cereal mixture, tossing to coat. Spread mixture into a jelly roll pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 250º for 30 minutes or until crisp, stirring twice.

HOT ARTICHOKE – CHILI DIP

Ingredients:

  • 1 (14 oz.) can artichoke hearts, drained & chopped
  • 1 c. grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 c. mayonnaise or salad dressing
  • 1 (4 oz.) can diced green chili peppers, drained
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • Triscuit crackers or tortilla chips for dipping

Directions:

  1. In a small bowl stir together artichoke hearts, Parmesan cheese, mayonnaise and chopped chili peppers. Transfer artichoke mixture to a casserole dish.
  2. Bake, uncovered, in a 350 degree oven about 20 minutes. Top with shredded parmesan cheese and broil until browned.
  3. Serve warm with crackers or tortilla chips.

CHILI RECIPE

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. ground beef (season with salt/pepper)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1/2 large green pepper diced
  • 1/2 large red pepper diced
  • 1 can rotel – Mexican flavored diced tomatoes with chilies
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 small can tomato paste
  • 1 can dark beer
  • 4 tablespoons ground chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons cumin
  • 1/2 square Bakers unsweetend chocolate
  • Garnish—sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese, green onions
  • Serve with or without rice

Directions:

  1. Brown beef, peppers, and onion. Drain off any grease.
  2. Stir in the rest of the ingredients. Add the beans last.
  3. Bring to a boil, and reduce heat to VERY low.
  4. Cook with the lid off for an hour. Then cook 1 hour with the lid on. Can be cooked in a slow cooker on low heat for 2 hours.

A Healthy Recipe Guaranteed to Please Your Pickiest Eater

I Know This Because I Am One, and I Love This Stuff

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

I’ve been eating healthier for about five years now. I best describe my “diet” as simple clean eating: fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins instead of pre-picky eaterpackaged, processed foods or fast food. I love eating this way, but do occasionally miss some of those comfort foods we all know and love.

That all changed when I tried a recipe for Cheesy Taco Bake from a now defunct website called The Naked Kitchen. The best way to describe this recipe? A healthy “Hamburger Helper,” without the hamburger. Double this for freezing! Your kids and/or picky eaters will LOVE it; I know because I have a palate of a six-year-old.

Warning: There’s a little upfront work with this recipe as you must pre-make the enchilada sauce and taco seasoning. However, once you make both, you’ll have plenty to use for several batches. In a hurry? You can always use store-bought enchilada sauce and taco seasoning.

Cheesy Taco Bake 

(Makes 8-10 servings)

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tbsp whole wheat flour
  • 6 heaping tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 2 tbsp Taco Seasoning *
  • 4 heaping tbsp Homemade Enchilada Sauce **
  • 1 1/4 cup + 1 tbsp low sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 small onion, diced (Being the picky eater I am, I skip the onions and use onion powder instead.)
  • 1 can (15 ounces) no salt added black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 7 ounces organic firm tofu (you can also substitute with quinoa or any other protein source)
  • 8 ounces whole grain pasta of choice, cooked
  • 1/2 cup croutons, finely crushed
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked rice
  • 4-6 ounces shredded cheese

* Homemade Enchilada Sauce

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tbsp whole wheat flour
  • 3 tbsp chili powder
  • 12 ounces no salt added tomato paste
  • 2 cups low sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • sea salt to taste

** Homemade Taco Seasoning

  • 2 tbsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp sea salt

Preparation

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • In a medium sauce pan heat olive oil over medium high heat. Once the oil is hot add the flour, reduce heat to low and stir until completely dissolved.
  • Add in the enchilada sauce and broth. Stir well and then add the nutritional yeast and taco seasoning. Mix well, remove from heat and set aside.
  • In a large sauté pan add 1 tbsp broth and heat over medium high heat. Add onions and sauté until translucent.
  • While the onions are cooking, use a fork and mash the tofu into small crumbles.  Add the crumbled tofu and black beans to the pan and stir well. Remove from heat.
  • In a large bowl add the cooked pasta and rice, the onion, bean and tofu mixture, and the cheesy enchilada sauce. Stir well and transfer mixture to a 9 x 13 glass baking dish.
  • Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the top (if using) and then the croutons. Place in the oven for 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Oreo Cake

By: Brady Evans

I made my own birthday cake this year and I am so glad I did. Usually I make a new recipe each year but this one was so great and such a crowd pleaser that it may just become my birthday tradition!

Not only does this cake use Oreos as an ingredient, but the cake itself almost mimics a giant Oreo, too. The whipped cream frosting was a nice break from the usual sugar-sweet buttercreams that dominate most cakes. It was also super easy to make but makes quite an impression. I recommend it for sure!

oreo cake

Oreo Cake (adapted from Serious Eats)

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup (about 3 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup (about 3/4 ounce) cocoa powder
  • 1/2 plus 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (about 4 1/3 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the Oreo whipped cream:

  • 1 18-ounce package Oreo cookies
  • 4 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Instructions

To make the cake:

  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Line bottom of a 8-inch cake pan with parchment paper and lightly coat the inside with non-stick pan spray.
  3. Sift flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt into large bowl; set aside.
  4. In medium bowl, whisk sugar, sour cream, oil, eggs, and vanilla until smooth.
  5. Whisk wet ingredients into dry ingredients until smooth.
  6. Pour batter into pan and bake until cake is just firm and toothpick inserted into center comes out with moist crumbs, 20 to 25 minutes.
  7. Let cake cool in pan for 15 minutes, then remove from pan to completely cool on wire rack, about 1 hour.

To make the whipped cream and finish the cake:

  1. Carefully cut 6 Oreo cookies in half; set aside. Chop remaining cookies into 1/4-inch pieces; set aside.
  2. Make the Oreo whipped cream in 2 batches:
  3. In bowl of standing mixer fitted with whip attachment, whip 2 cups cream on medium-high speed to soft peak, spoon into large bowl and refrigerate.
  4. In same mixer bowl, whip remaining 2 1/2 cups cream, sugar, and vanilla to soft peak.
  5. Fold into already whipped cream.
  6. Fold chopped Oreos into whipped cream.
  7. Slice cake in half horizontally to create 2 layers. Place bottom layer on serving plate. Spread about 1/3 of Oreo whipped cream onto cake. Top with second cake layer and use remaining Oreo whipped cream to frost top and sides of cake. Chill in refrigerator for about 2 hours to allow cookies to soften.
  8. Garnish with reserved Oreo cookie halves. Serve.

The Power of a Blender

By: Leah Prescott

BlenderMy favorite kitchen item by far is my Vitamix blender. If you know me at all, you know that I am thrifty (sometimes to a fault). So spending over $300 on a blender was a huge investment, but one that I don’t regret for a second. The Vitamix is a strong machine (blends ice with ease), quick to clean (water, a couple drops of soap and turn it on), and should last for years to come (it’s held up to nearly daily use for over two years without any issues for us). There are tons of reviews of the Vitamix online so instead of describing the quality and features of the machine, I want to detail how my family uses the Vitamix to make our kitchen routine healthier, easier and faster! It’s truly revolutionized my kid-friendly daily menu and has taken a lot of the stress out of meal planning for me, which is why it’s a family must-have in my book.*

Blender

Of course, smoothies are our main use for the blender, although it has many more functions. We have smoothies nearly every day during the warm weather.

If there is any left over, I pour them into reusable popsicle molds and we have treats at theready for tomorrow. Fortunately, my kids are not picky eaters, but smoothies are still a quick, delicious and healthy way of packing in fruits, veggies, and even protein. Besides being a classic picky eater solution, smoothies are a great way to use up leftovers or over-ripe fruit, make an easy breakfast on the go, or provide a way to boost the health quotient of a meal. As an example, on a day I am trying to throw together a quick dinner, I often serve something easy like ham and eggs or omelettes. Adding a smoothie makes it fun for the kids and I feel better that the meal is more rounded. On a day that dinner will be running a bit late, I can hand them a smoothie to tide them over while I am doing last minute prep. If we are having leftovers or a meal that is not a favorite, I will add a smoothie and, as if by magic, the meal is greeted with sudden enthusiasm! Seriously, the kids never get tired of them! A few times we have had children over with dietary restrictions or texture issues and having smoothies in my arsenal has been a life-saver.

Blender

We also use our blender to make hummus, soup, pesto, apple sauce, mixed adult drinks, and iced coffees. I have a list of additional recipes I would love to try but just haven’t gotten around to it. Once the colder weather creeps in again, I will experiment more with soups.

So for our family, yes, a Vitamix has been money well-spent! Here are a couple of our favorite recipes, tweaked to make them dairy-fee for our family.

Blender5

Chocolate Peanut Butter Smoothie

  • 2-3 bananas
  • 1-1.5 cups Chocolate Almond Milk
  • ¼ cup Peanut Butter
  • Squirt of honey, or sprinkle of raw sugar (optional)
  • Ice as needed

Add ingredients in order listed, using enough ice to nearly fill the canister. Blend until smooth, using the tamper to push ingredients into blades.

Tropical Delight

  • 2-3 bananas
  • 1 can pineapple with juice
  • ½ cup water
  • Handful of frozen mixed fruit
  • Squirt of honey or raw sugar (optional)
  • Handful of fresh spinach (optional)
  • Ice as needed

Add ingredients in order listed, using enough ice to nearly fill the canister. Blend until smooth, using the tamper to push ingredients into blades.

* When researching blenders, I was also very impressed with the Blendtec blender. I think it is comparable to the Vitamix. For a budget-friendly blender, I would consider the Ninja if a Vitamix or Blendtec is completely out of the question.

Plum Crisp

By: Brady Evans

I did a weird thing the other day.  I was given a bunch of plums and instead of immediately stalking my favorite blogs for recipes, I whipped out a cookbook.  Plum CrispSpecifically, I started browsing Betty Crocker’s “New Cookbook” which is far from new and up to date.  It had not one recipe for plums or crisps, but I adapted a recipe written for peach cobbler to make this delicious dessert.

Not only did I change the fruits and types of fats out (peaches and plums are similar enough, right?) but I also added oats in place of extra flour in the topping. Brief research indicates that this difference makes the pivotal change that causes the dessert to be a crisp and not a cobbler.

The result, regardless of the name, was mighty delicious.  The deep purple plums made for quite a striking dessert to look at as well.

Plum Crisp (inspired by Betty Crocker’s Fresh Peach Cobbler)

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 T cornstarch
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 4 cups sliced plums
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 3 T butter
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup old fashioned oats
  • 1 T sugar
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup milk

Instructions

  1. Heat over to 400 degrees F.
  2. Mix 1/2 cup sugar, cornstarch, and cinnamon in a 2 quart saucepan and stir in plums and lemon juice.
  3. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils. Once boiling, cook and stir 1 minute.
  4. Pour plum mixture into an ungreased 2 quart oven safe dish.
  5. Combine flour, oats, salt, sugar, and baking powder in a medium bowl.
  6. Cut butter into flour mixture using a pastry blender or two knives until the mixture resembles fine crumbs.
  7. Stir in milk.
  8. Drop by spoonfuls onto hot plum mixture.
  9. Bake 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.