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The unexpected healing power of the kitchen

7 Feb

Baked oatmeal is one of our family’s favorite meals for breakfast, or any time of the day.

Happy Wednesday, everyone! It’s the middle of another week, and February is flying by.

We have had a busy few weeks here, and I’ve been unable to post as frequently as I’d like to. However, today’s post was one I just had to make the time for.

Three weeks ago today, our youngest daughter hit her head getting into the car, after slipping on some slush in a parking lot. Although all of us have bumped our heads getting into the car at one time or another, this bump turned out to be different. She hit it just the right way and ended up with a concussion.

It’s our first concussion from any of our kids and neither of us have ever had one. However, with all of the new emphasis on the proper treatment of brain injuries and brain damage, we knew of many kids her age who have had them. What we did not know, however, was just how long a recovery it could be. Each injury is different. Some recover in a matter of days, others in a matter of weeks, still others take many months and there is no way to know which kind you have until you’ve fully recovered.

When it first happened, a friend of mine whose daughter has had several sports injury concussions warned me, “She’s going to be SO bored.” She was SO right. There is not much they can do. No screen time, no reading, very little writing, no bright lights, no loud noises. Sometimes even normal-level noises seem too loud.

Initially she didn’t want to do a ton. For the first five days or so she was spending her waking hours in total darkness, sometimes listening to a book, sometimes sleeping. About a week in however, as she started to feel slightly better, she was awake more. She’d already listened to about 20 hours of audio books and was downloading eight more. She could listen to a TV show in the background, but not watch it. She was bored out of her mind. We each tried to find things to entertain her. Her sisters would do her nails, her hair, her makeup. They’d listen to a movie with her. We’d take her for rides. She’d clean her own room. Then we’d find her cleaning a sister’s room. She was bored, bored, bored.

“When I am sitting here doing nothing, I am stressed,” she said to me more than once. “When everyone is doing something, and I can’t do anything, it makes me crazy.”

I get that.

However, as time went on, the one thing she could do, and truly enjoyed, was cooking. One week in, she was asking to make something in the kitchen–anything at all, she didn’t care what. She could measure, mix and stir, and watch something bake, and then she could share it with everyone as they came home at the end of the day. All I had to do was read out the ingredients to her as she went along.

Here, finally was something she could do. She had a new apron and a new purple cooking set, courtesy of a Christmas gift from her oldest sister, and she was going to put it all to good use. Although our kitchen renovation project from the summer is still awaiting the next round of its finishing touches, it’s fully functional, even though it’s not fully beautiful.

She made baked oatmeal for our weekend breakfast one week, and homemade stove-top oatmeal for an after school snack another week. She made green pancakes for breakfast and then purple ones another time for dinner. She made cupcakes from scratch with homemade frosting and she made a carrot bread with glaze. She chattered on and on about fractions as she measured: double 1/8 and  it’s 1/4 and half it to get 1/16 and on and on and on.

As she cooks, she’s in her happy place and her stress about all she’s missing out on momentarily disappears. The lights are low, and the things she can’t do turn into something she can do and enjoys doing. Never have I been more thankful that we’ve raised our kids to know their way around the kitchen. Not only is it a life skill, but for the past few weeks it’s truly been a life saver. It’s had a healing power that I had never thought about.

In the coming weeks she should be continuing to feel better and better, and I hope that when she looks back on this period of time, she’ll not only remember the rough patch she’s been through, but also think back on some of the bright spots mixed throughout the weeks, such as the time she spent in the kitchen creating, mixing, measuring and relaxing.

In her happy place during what has proven to be a very challenging time.

 

Introducing ‘Forget the Flour’….a new blog from a new favorite blogger

10 Jan

I have a new favorite blog, and I definitely have a new favorite blogger.

If you live life gluten free for any reason, you need to check out “Forget the Flour,” my daughter’s new blog. You can go and visit by clicking here. It might just become your new favorite blog too.

Here’s the back story to how this blog was born:

Early in the fall of 2015, it was determined that our youngest daughter could no longer have gluten in her diet. She had just begun the fifth grade and we had spent the summer on an epic, five-week cross country camping vacation, trying to figure out what was continuously making her so sick, and had been throughout most of the spring before.

If you’re a longtime reader of The Whole Bag of Chips, you have since seen my recipes evolve over time to now include notations with the ingredients as to how we have gone about making our recipes gluten free, if they were not already.

It has not been an easy few years. I have a shellfish allergy, and I’d like to say that I can relate to her struggles, but I truly can’t. I’m much older, first off, so I can weather some of the “trauma” of missing out on favorite foods at favorite events better than a tween. Additionally, shellfish is not contained in my every meal, or at every party, sleepover or at every restaurant I go to.

To say that being gluten free, being young AND gluten free is challenging would be an understatement.

Our third Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve all just passed, and it’s always important to make sure we have food for her to eat everywhere we go, and as we sometimes find out, even if we think something is going to be gluten free where we are headed, she finds out the hard way it may not have been, or that cross-contamination may have taken place.

However, for every challenge, there are a lot of successes. Thankfully, we are a family of cooks and we love to try out new recipes. Our kids have all been cooking since they were old enough to roll cookies or to stand on a stool at the kitchen counter and pick beans. We have a love for cookbooks, food magazines, food videos online, food show on television and anything related to cooking and eating. Therefore, we’ve discovered some great new recipes, and we’ve cheered (literally) when we’ve been able to make an old favorite into a new gluten free favorite so as not to give them up.

We’re lucky too, that we live in an internet age where we can find help online, we can Google anything and get a helpful answer about ingredients and substitutions. We are also lucky that in past years the amount of information and availability of ingredients has exploded from what it once was. We even have an allergy-free bakery in our city and we spend a great deal of time there.

Additionally, we have wonderful friends and family. I can’t be more thankful to those who have turned their own recipes into gluten free for her, or to those friends who have chosen to keep things on hand for when she’s there, or to cook entire gluten free meals just because she’s there (and I’m getting a little teary just thinking about it.) I have sent bags of gluten free food with her, only to see them come back with her after an event or visit, and to hear her happily describing all she was able to eat, along with everyone else.

All of that said, one might think a kid could get depressed having to deal with all of this on top of regular life, and she definitely has her moments of frustration and of sadness at times, and we feel terrible about it when she does. However, rather than wallowing in the latest disappointment or challenge, as some might, our daughter asked just the other night if she could create a blog for sharing what she’s learned in the past three years and going forward. It took me just a second to think about it and say yes, and it took her even less time to share with me the one she’d already created, but not published, complete with her first post draft all typed up. She just needed a name that wasn’t already taken, since there are many gluten free blogs out there already. Somehow, and I’m not sure how, she came up with Forget the Flour, and I love it. It wasn’t taken, and so, her blog was born.

She posted her first two posts one night earlier this week and the blog hits just exploded. Although it’s still young, the blog has already received almost 1000 hits in just a couple of days’ time. I told her I have some blog-hit envy already.

I think that as a younger blogger, her perspective is slightly different than those who are blogging about living an adult life gluten free, and I hope it will be a valuable perspective to others as she shares her favorite products, recipes and restaurants, as well as some of her not-so-great experiences in the hopes of preventing them from happening to others.

So if you haven’t yet, go on over and visit Forget the Flour and check out the first couple of posts. Sign up to follow it too, so that you don’t miss a moment of gluten free goodness.

I was thrilled to see this beautiful new blog pop up on my computer screen earlier this week. However, I can promise that not all of the almost 1000 hits were from me.

Pumpkin Palooza Recipe of the Day: Pumpkin Cranberry Bread

21 Nov

Done….

Originally posted on November 14, 2011

The recipe I’m sharing today is one of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes. Each year this is what we have for breakfast on Thanksgiving morning, and we grill it, which is superb! The kids all watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade while they eat their grilled bread. I also usually make mini loaves of this to give the individual teachers as a gift, as well as two loaves to put in the faculty rooms at the kids’ school and my husband’s school as a thank you to everyone. Last year I think I tripled the recipe, if I remember correctly and had to mix it in a huge stock pot. Not sure what my plan of attack will be this year, but I have already stocked up on my cranberries and my pumpkin!

Enjoy!

PUMPKIN CRANBERRY BREAD

INGREDIENTS

2 cups pumpkin puree (1 can of One Pie Pumpkin = 2 cups)
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
4 eggs, large
1/2 cup Canola or Vegetable oil
4 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
12 ounce package of fresh or frozen cranberries

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease loaf pan(s). You can either use two large loaf pans or 3 mini loaf pans.

Beat together pumpkin, sugar, water, eggs and oil.

Sift in remaining ingredients except cranberries. Mix just until smooth.

Gently fold in cranberries.

Pour into loaf pan(s) and spread evenly.

Bake in the center of oven for 60 – 70 minutes for large loaves, less time (40-50 minutes) for smaller loaves or until toothpick or cake tester comes out clean. Do not overbake or bread will be dry.

Cool in pan on a rack for 10 – 15 minutes. Turn bread(s) out onto rack and finish cooling.

Bread may be made in advance, covered and chilled for up to four days.(When I make two loaves for us I often save one to eat and keep one to freeze to eat at a later date.)

Kitchen Science: Hard Boiled Eggs

20 Feb
Perfection! How did we do it?

Perfection! How did we do it?

We can’t be the only ones who have this problem: we love hard boiled eggs for breakfast or for a healthy snack option, but every time we boil up a dozen we never know if they will be easy to peel and eat or if they’ll be a big battered mess of shells and whites.

Recently I was at a dentist appointment with Elizabeth and the television was on while we waited. We were watching The Rachel Ray Show and the featured guest was a chef who was talking about his trick for making the perfectly peel-able hard boiled eggs. My daughter and I took note, and I texted myself his instructions.

Which method would work? Cover and refrigerate or shake, shake, shake to peel?

Which method would work? Cover and refrigerate or shake, shake, shake to peel?

In a nutshell (eggshell?) he said to cook the eggs in boiling water for 12 minutes, and then to take them out and put them in a container, covered for 30 minutes in the refrigerator before peeling them.

In the meantime, Liz had seen a different video online that showed another completely different method of peeling the eggs that told cooks to put their freshly boiled eggs into a covered container and shake them vigorously, at which time all of the shells would come off easily.

This method of shaking the eggs to peel them seemed too intriguing not to try it out.

This method of shaking the eggs to peel them seemed too intriguing not to try it out.

One Friday afternoon after school I had a request for hard boiled eggs, and I had the time to do it, so we boiled them up. When it came time to cook them, we remembered the episode of Rachel Ray from the dentist office visit, and Liz remembered the video she’d seen online about shaking eggs. We decided to try it both ways.

We boiled up one dozen for the 12 minutes that the chef on Rachel Ray had suggested, and then we split them into two groups of six eggs each. The first six went into the covered container and into the refrigerator. I set the timer for 30 minutes.

Did it work?

Did it work?

We used that 30 minutes to experiment with the shaking of the eggs method. This was fun. Messy at times, but fun. And, as with any science experiment, we had to try this method several times, and we had some unusual outcomes mixed in with our results.

First off, for the shaking I used some small, square covered containers from the dollar store that I had on hand. We cracked two of them in the process and had to throw them out. So, if I were to do this again, I’d use a better quality container for shaking. Luckily it was a multi-pack, so we had lots of them for our scientific trials.

We ended up marking our egg with a Sharpie to see if it was the same one not cracking each time or not. It was.

We ended up marking our egg with a Sharpie to see if it was the same one not cracking each time or not. It was.

Second, we found the oddest thing in our results: one egg would crack perfectly, and one would not crack at all. It seemed to be the same one not cracking at all, and we could not figure out why. It was the strangest thing to open the case and see one egg whose shell was completely shattered and off the egg, and one completely untouched. We decided to mark the egg with a Sharpie marker to see if it was the same egg each time, and it was. We still don’t know why. Ultimately, when we peeled it separately, it peeled fine, so there were not issues with the egg itself. We couldn’t tell if it was something to do with the force of the two eggs together which made one break and one not, but it was fascinating.

We learned the first time that you can definitely shake the eggs too much, yet our first egg still never cracked.

We learned the first time that you can definitely shake the eggs too much, yet our first egg still never cracked, even with all that shaking.

When the timer went off to indicate the 30 minutes had ended, we had gone through our six shaken eggs with only one casualty of the six which was a result of a little bit too much shaking.

We brought in the covered container and uncovered it. Inside, the eggs were still hot. I began to peel them, which would be the ultimate test: would they peel easily or would they be a big mess?

eggs-6

The end result: the eggs peeled perfectly! The shells came right off and the eggs remained unscathed underneath the shell. No messy, pitted egg white disaster. It was amazing to see just how easily the shells came off.

Ultimately, we decided that although both methods worked, it was easier to do the refrigeration method: 12 minutes to boil and 30 minutes in a covered container in the fridge. No rinsing in cold water, no over-boiling.

This was not something we had planned to do, it was a completely spontaneous kitchen science experiment, but it was a fun one and it shows just how much science does go into cooking, and how fun cooking can be. As with any science experiment, you need to do it many times to see if your results are reliable, so we will be trying this out the next few times we make hard boiled eggs, but we do hope we have found a great solution.

Do you have any tried and true tricks for ensuring a great, easy-to-peel hard boiled egg? Leave them for me in the comments!

Perfection! How did we do it?

Perfection!

Fun Friday: To warm your heart and soul

10 Feb
We have had blizzard conditions for most of the day today, but we're warm and safe and all together.

We have had blizzard conditions for most of the day today, but we’re warm and safe and all together.

Today (Thursday, as I type this) was our first snow day of the school year, and tomorrow (Friday) will be our second. We had quite a storm today, with about a foot of snow falling throughout the day. It was cold and windy and snowy, but inside we had a lazy day for much of the day, and we were warm, safe and together, which is really what matters on a day like today.

I thought I’d take the opportunity to share some recipes with you for some nice, warm, delicious treats, since it’s so cold and snowy here. Even if it’s not snowy where you are, there’s nothing like something warm and delicious to warm your heart and soul in the winter months.

DIY crepes in both the regular and gluten free varieties.

DIY crepes in both the regular and gluten free varieties.

Early in the day we had crepes, which is one of our favorite special breakfasts. They are labor intensive, so we don’t do them often, but they’re so delicious when we do. They can be made gluten free, so we make both kinds. My husband does the majority of the cooking for these, but today I did the hot bananas with the maple-brown sugar sauce and Elizabeth made the scrambled eggs, so he had some help. We put out many filling options for our crepes: scrambled eggs, ham, bacon, cheese, peanut butter, Nutella or a Hershey’s chocolate spread, bananas, and today the maple-brown sugar bananas. Everyone can fill them as they wish.

The recipe we use is the same for both gluten free and not, but we use gluten free all-purpose flour for our gluten free crepes, specifically Bob’s Red Mill 1:1 All-Purpose Flour. This is the recipe we use:

Thanks to the New Betty Crocker Cookbook!

Thanks to the “New Betty Crocker Cookbook!”

Warm chocolate pudding is soothing on a sore throat, especially on a snowy day.

Warm chocolate pudding is soothing on a sore throat, especially on a snowy day.

Tonight, my youngest daughter requested homemade chocolate pudding, which is a relatively new recipe for us, but I have posted it on the blog before. You can find it here. She’s had a sore throat and cough, and prefers the pudding to be warm, which would soothe her throat. I didn’t have a sore throat myself, but that pudding sounded good to me too, especially on a day like today, so I obliged. Another warm and soothing recipe that I make often in the winter months is homemade hot chocolate. Although I didn’t make it today, I will re-share it here anyway, since it’s been a long time since I originally posted it. It’s an absolute favorite for my family.

Finally, I had some great new articles in this week’s paper to share with you too, and they will warm your heart and soul also. You can find my latest feature from this week’s Providence Journal here, about Rachel’s Sugar Shop in Cranston. She’s got lots of great Valentine’s Day treats on deck, and she does amazing wedding, birthday and all kinds of occasion cakes, so stop by and see her if you’re local.

I have lots of stories in this week’s Cranston Herald, but this one about a family who immigrated to the United States is one of my favorites, especially with all that is in the news currently about immigration to America. I also loved doing this one about Janet Tanury, the owner of Botticelli’s, which is a local store whose tagline is “Generous clothing for the curvaceous woman.” Janet is working hard to make plus-size shopping a whole new experience for women of all ages, especially when it comes to formal wear, and her shop is wonderful, as is she. If you have a prom or formal event on the horizon, stop in and visit her in North Providence, RI or visit her website here. She’s hosting a special prom shopping event on President’s Day from 10-5pm.

You can view all of this week’s Cranston Herald stories by visiting their website, and there you will see all of my work for this week. It’s certainly been a busy one!

newspaper-1     newspaper-2  newspaper-3

newspaper-4   newspaper-5   newspaper-7                  newspaper-6

 

 

 

 

Fun Friday: Breakfast cookies with peanut butter, banana and granola

3 Feb
I ended up making these two weeks in a row, and the second week I doubled the recipe.

I ended up making these two weeks in a row, and the second week I doubled the recipe.

ORIGINALLY POSTED APRIL 24, 2015

*Since originally posting this, I have made the recipe several times. Recently however, I decided to make them even though we did not have any granola on hand. Instead, I substituted a combination of gluten free oats, chocolate chips, and dried cranberries for the granola and they turned out great. Additionally, since we now have a member of our family who eats gluten free, so our all-purpose flour was Bob’s Red Mill 1:1 Gluten Free Flour.*

One afternoon I was scoping the internet, looking for a good after school snack to leave for my kids when I went to work that day. I found a recipe for “Breakfast Cookies with Peanut Butter, Banana and Chocolate Granola” from the Taste and Tell blog. I had everything for it except the chocolate granola, but I had plain granola and chocolate chips. I decided to modify the recipe to work for the ingredients I had.

These are hearty cookies, perfect for an after school snack, and definitely perfect for breakfast on the run. My oldest daughter gets on the school bus by 7:00 am and can’t stomach a whole lot that early in the morning, but she’d take two of these in a bag with her each morning for when she did start to get hungry later on. Our school system has been inundated with hours and hours of PARCC standardized testing, and it often takes place first thing in the morning, so the last thing I wanted was a kid taking two or three hours of testing on an empty stomach every day. These cookies were definitely the right answer  to that problem.

My husband takes breakfast to go every day also, and these were a nice change of pace from a bagel, yogurt, oatmeal or cereal, which he usually eats, and if he wanted, he could save them for a snack later in the day when he’s working after school gets out.

These were such a hit, I made them again the following week, and I doubled the recipe to make twice as many. This time, when I opened the box of granola, it was a cinnamon raisin variety rather than just plain granola, but I gave it a try. Even my daughter who doesn’t like raisins, ate them without even noticing they were in there. I think it was the chocolate chips that saved the day that time.

As we’re finishing up our spring break now, we’re heading back into several more weeks of testing when we go back to school, for both NECAP and PARCC, so I’ll be whipping up a couple more batches of these cookies. I’ve been tempted to make enough to freeze, but so far there’s never been any extras left to freeze!

I hope you’ll give them a try and pay a visit to the Taste and Tell blog! Here is her recipe, along with my ingredient modification instructions.

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup natural creamy peanut butter (I used Skippy Reduced Fat creamy peanut butter.)

1/2 cup mashed overripe banana (about one medium banana)

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1-1/2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

2 cups Cascadian Farms Chocolate Lover’s Granola (I used 1 cup plain granola and one cup chocolate chips)

DIRECTIONS

1) Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2) In a bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the peanut butter, banana and brown sugar and beat until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Beat in the egg and vanilla extract, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.

3) In another bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt. Stir into the creamed mixture. Stir in the granola.

4) Form balls of dough, about 3 tablespoons each. Place at least 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Use the bottom of a measuring cup to slightly flatten each ball of dough.

5) Bake until the cookies are just set, about ten minutes. (Do not over bake or the cookies will dry out.)

Fun Friday: Baked Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal from Budget Bytes

23 Nov
This has been a delicious treat all week long!

This has been a delicious treat all week long!

ORIGINALLY POSTED 10-30-15

Going Orange for No Kid Hungry today? We are!

In honor of the big day, I thought I’d share a brand new recipe with you that we tried earlier this week and enjoyed very much.

Over the weekend we celebrated our daughter’s 16th birthday, and at the gathering my cousin Val handed me a couple of recipes she thought we’d enjoy. One of them was today’s recipe from Budget Bytes for their Baked Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal.

Oftentimes when I look at a recipe for consideration, the title tells it all, and this recipe was one of those times. I knew that we loved baked oatmeal, and I knew that we loved pumpkin pie. I knew that we would love this recipe. I had plenty of each of the ingredients on hand, in fact, when I saw that a basic recipe makes an 8×8 dish, I decided to double it for our family, so I did, and I used a 9×13 dish instead.

Photo's a little blurry, but I doubled this recipe so we'd have plenty to last the week.

I doubled this recipe so we’d have plenty to last the week.

I chose to make this recipe for Monday’s after school snack, knowing that Tuesday and Wednesday are my typing days which means I don’t have a ton of time to eat or cook anything. I eat at my desk usually, typing in between bites and when the kids come home from school, they’re on their own for finding food to satisfy their ravenous hunger. This would last me through both days and provide hungry kids with a choice for something to eat if they wanted it for after school or for breakfast one morning.

Everyone loved this recipe, it was tasty, it was filling and it was easy. I saw that it recommended whipped cream or maple syrup as well as milk or nuts. We went the maple syrup and whipped cream route and loved it. My oldest daughter even thought that caramel would be good on top, and I’m sure it would be, but I nixed that idea this time around, just because it would negate any of the healthy aspects of it.

I also used homemade Pumpkin Pie Spice because apparently I’ve been out of that in my cupboard for quite some time. I know this because when I opened up my cupboard, not only was there none there, but there was a note taped to the inside of the door-most likely from last fall- for a recipe from allrecipes.com for Homemade Pumpkin Pie Spice. I doubled that recipe and it was exactly enough for what I needed to double this oatmeal recipe.