Sunday, October 30, 2011

Slow Cookin' Sunday: Dairy-Free Hot Chocolate PLUS Halloween Bingo

Halloween makes life so hectic. (And yet you're saying to yourself, um, Halloween, is tomorrow. Hello?) I know, I know, but on Friday our preschool celebrated Halloween which in my world equated to a to-do list double its normal monstrous size.  There were costumes, costume accessories, preschool Halloween game, goody bags, plus all of the other stuff that goes along with life. Holy moly!

Thankfully, the first item on the to-do list was handled by my mom (aka the master of all things sewing). Thanks to her and her magic powers, Tinkerbell and Peter Pan were successfully and quite adorably outfitted in their respective costumes:

While her sewing machine was purring away whipping up Neverland's most cherished outfits, I was busy making a Halloween bingo game for the preschool Halloween costume party.

To download these games, click here and then:

1. Print them out and trim them.
2. Print out an extra PDF and cut out the pieces from two boards to use for pulling out of a bag.

I decided not to make markers and instead had each child color the picture of what was drawn from the bag. The game took about 7 minutes to complete with 9 preschoolers. If you need it to last longer, print out as many bingo cards as you need to complete as many games as you wish to play. Recycle the used bingo cards.

They were so excited and kept jumping out of their seats yelling, "Bingo, bingo!!"

I also made some goody bags for them with some Halloween-themed items like bubbles, pencils, spider rings and erasers.

I used candy bags leftover from years passed and just put all of the items in there, tied it shut with some kitchen twine, covered it with ribbon and attached a black and orange tag I made out of scrap paper.

Phew! And then I started thinking about the real Halloween and how in the world I was going to warmly dress these kids without compromising the integrity of their costumes.

(Imagine a vast wide open space of nothingness here. That's what my brain looked like right then.)

That was way too difficult of a thought to ponder, so instead I started thinking about about how wonderful it would be to have some warm hot chocolate when we came in from trick or treating.

And then, once again, I set out to make a Peter Pan-friendly (dairy- and soy-free) and of course, sugar-free hot chocolate because really, isn't there enough sugar slammed into Halloween already? The marshmallows, though, they definitely have white refined sugar in them. Everything in moderation, eh?

Dairy-Free Slow Cooker Hot Chocolate

Makes 4 Servings


3 cups chocolate almond milk, unsweetened
1 cup almond milk, unsweetened
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Pour everything in a slow cooker and mix well. Set on low for one and half hours. Stir and serve. Top with marshmallows if you desire!

My older daughter hasn't stopped asking for this since I originally made it. I keep telling her to hold on till Halloween because when we get back from trick or treating, we'll have some piping hot chocolate to slurp while we "organize" each and every piece of candy.

Nutrition Information Per 1 Cup: Calories 98; Total Fat 3g; Total Carb 16g; Fiber 1g; Sugars 12g; Protein 2g
*Nutrition information has been calculated using an online recipe calculator tool.
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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Three-Ingredient Chocolate Peanut Butter Bites

I have a love/hate relationship with Halloween.

I love dressing the kids up, making cute costumes and decorations. I love the preschool parties. But I hate all of the candy. (I mean, I love all of the candy, but I hate having all of the candy around.) And now I hate the candy even more because I have a little girl who can't tolerate soy and dairy for the moment. So while everyone else is gobbling down chocolate bar after chocolate bar, she's like, hey, where's mine?

How can you deny this face? Oh, you can't. Which is precisely why I set out to make my favorite candy (yet again) dairy-free, gluten-free and soy-free and with a reduced amount of sugar, so she can gobble her fair share of Halloween candy too.

These are seriously good. 

Three-Ingredient Chocolate Peanut Butter Bites

Makes 24 Pieces


1 cup Enjoy Life Chocolate Mega Chunks
1 cup salted roasted peanuts (I used the 365 brand from Whole Foods, which uses canola oil)
1 cup dates (I've used both Medjool and Deglet Noor)


Melt the chocolate in a double boiler.

Stir completely to ensure the entire bowl is completely smooth.

I used Wilton Halloween candy molds to make the festive pumpkins and spider webs. You can use anything that will hold a shape, even a mini cupcake pan would work.

Drop a teaspoon or so of chocolate into each mold and spread evenly. I used a lollipop stick for easy spreading.

Place in the freezer for a half an hour. Meanwhile, make the peanut filling by chopping the peanuts in a food processor until they resemble coarse crumbs.

Transfer to a bowl. Chop the dates in the same bowl of the food processor until a ball forms.

Add the peanuts back to the food processor and mix until a thick peanut paste forms. Take the molds out of the freezer and press the peanut mixture on top of the chocolate.

Place back into the freezer for another half an hour, then pop out of the molds and store in the refrigerator in an airtight container.

My husband and older daughter had just come home from the hardware store when I was popping them out of their molds and they hovered around me in the kitchen with their hands stretched out like I was handing out 100 dollar bills or something.

No tricks in this house. All treats, for sure.

Nutrition Information Per Piece: Calories 104; Total Fat 6g; Total Carb 13g; Fiber 2g; Sugars 10g; Protein 3g
*Nutrition information has been calculated using an online recipe calculator tool.
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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Slow Cookin' Sunday: Chili

I've been plowing through the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder again and am almost finished with The Long Winter. I forgot how much I loved those books when I was a kid. It's so interesting reading these books as an adult, through adult eyes. It's like a whole new story.

I'm convinced I should have been a frontier woman, living in a cozy little shanty, churning butter, making bread each day and knitting socks. The things I love most about these books are the simplicity of life, the wonderful, strong values and the idea of family unity. I love that Pa played his fiddle every night. I love that even though most Christmas's brought only a meager piece or two of candy or a tin cup, each Ingalls' girl thought it was the most wonderful Christmas ever. They were happy with what they had -- not striving each day to have more, more, more.

I can't wait to read these books together with my daughters and it would be so great if we had the chance to actually see a few of their homesteads.

Food is such a central theme in all of these books and in the middle of Little House in the Big Woods while Laura was describing how her grandpa and grandma tapped maple trees, cooked the syrup and poured it over fresh snow and made little maple cakes for everyone, I thought, oh, I can do this. I want to do this! 

Soon after, I stumbled upon the Little House Cookbook and wanted to read it because I was enamored by how they ate what they had around them, drying berries in the summer for winter pies and using honey in place of sugar from honey trees. Pa would go out and hunt when the need for meat arose and cows grazed in grassy pastures instead of being lined up behind fences choking down corn.

 I just love these books.

So you can say that I've been inspired by hearty frontier type meals. I've been craving johnnycakes (fried cornbread) and hearty stews and thick hot meals. And it doesn't help that most days have looked like this:

It was a no brainer that chili was in order for this week's Slow Cookin' Sunday. It's just a coincidence this it is a simple, down-home recipe, something like Caroline Ingalls might make.

Slow Cooker Chili

Makes approximately 6, 2-cup servings


2 lbs 90% lean ground beef
1 large onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cans chili beans
4 cups tomato soup (I use Trader Joes, but I used to use Campbell's when gluten wasn't an issue.)


Brown the ground beef in a large pan over medium heat.

When the meat is no longer pink, drain the fat. Off of the heat, add the onion and garlic. Season with salt.

Add the tomato soup and put it all in the bowl of a slow cooker.

Cook on low for 4 hours. Taste and season with salt. Transfer to bowls and serve, or refrigerate for later use. I think the flavor of the chili develops even more when it's allowed to sit for a few hours in the refrigerator.

Serve with cornbread. (I used Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free Cornbread Mix; it's delicious.) This meal is only gluten-free. There's sugar and milk in the tomato soup; it's hard to find tomato soup that doesn't include all three ingredients, but since I knew our youngest wasn't going to be gnawing on chili, it being gluten-free was most important.

As I was trying to pinpoint just what it is about the Little House books that appeal to me, I realized what it was in an instant: The family has an unselfish loyalty to each other that is rarely seen, especially in popular culture. They all give of themselves to make each other comfortable. They let the youngest have what's left of the milk. They scrounge up their change to buy Pa a pair of suspenders for Christmas. Laura wants to become a teacher (even though she doesn't) so she can send blind Mary to school. They are always giving things up for the betterment of someone else. And that, I think, is just so wonderful in a time where me, me, me seems to be all of the rage.

Nutrition Information per one 2-cup serving: Calories 499; Total Fat 27g; Total Carb 11g; Fiber 6g; Sugars 6g; Protein 37g
*Nutrition information has been calculated using an online recipe calculator tool.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Strawberries 'N Cream Oatmeal

Since the days have been getting colder (and the mornings even colder), I've been scarfing down oatmeal in the morning. I'm not a nutritionist or a doctor, so I don't know how healthy this is, but how bad could oatmeal, goji berries, chia seeds and almond milk be? I also classify this as sugar-free because in my world, if I don't add white refined sugar or brown refined sugar to it, it's sugar-free.

Sometimes people like to send me e-mails that speak to the molecular composition of fruits and honey and maple syrup and argue that I can't say something is sugar-free because really they are all loaded with sugar, natural sugars, fructose, gluclose, blah, blah, blah. What I know is that refined sugar bothers me: It makes my joints ache, sparks cravings and disrupts my sleep patterns. Natural sweeteners on the other hand (not refined sugar) like honey, maple syrup, coconut palm sugar do not. I don't like hopping my kids up on sugar all day long either. So these sugar-free recipes are the recipes I strive to make.

When I was a kid, my mom used to make me Cream of Wheat every morning which I love (and still would love if I didn't have this pesky gluten problem), but oatmeal comes in second and beggars can't be choosers.

I've been loving this particular oatmeal combination so much that I felt compelled to share. It's so easy that it can hardly be called a recipe. I find this particular breakfast to be filled with just the right combination of carbs and protein and fiber to keep my tummy full all morning.

Strawberries 'N Cream Oatmeal


1/2 cup oatmeal (I use Trader Joe's or Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free)
1 cup unsweetened almond milk
2 tablespoons goji berries
1/2 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon chia seeds
5 quartered strawberries


Place first three ingredients in the a large microwaveable bowl (much larger than you think because it will most likely boil over in the microwave). 

Heat in the microwave for 4 minutes 30 seconds. Mix and heat for 30 seconds to a minute more until the oatmeal is thick and creamy. Add the next three ingredients and let sit for a few minutes. EAT!

Sometimes I make this and then throw it in a travel cup if I have to get out of the door fast, which seems to be every morning lately. One word of advice, submerge the travel cup in warm, soapy water as soon as possible or you'll have a big crusty mess on your hands.  

And you'll be tempted to throw that travel cup away because you don't know what's been living in it while it's made a home in your car for a few days. But don't blame it on the oatmeal.

Nutrition Information: Calories 289; Total Fat 7g; Total Carb 49g; Fiber 8g; Sugars 14g; Protein 9g
*Nutrition information has been calculated using an online recipe calculator tool.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Apple Butter Oatmeal Crumble

After accidentally putting pepper in my oatmeal this morning and then shrugging and taking a taste, I should have known what the day was going to bring: burnt cookies, hidden soy and a trip to the pediatrician -- again.

We've been sick in this house for a little over month, each of us passing on one nasty little virus after the other to each other. Yuck, right? I hope this trip to the pediatrician brings an end to it (and to think winter hasn't even begun yet.) But I must admit, summer was so good to us, only bringing a ruptured ear drum that produced one minor interruption to a splash-filled lazy day with a five second outburst, "Ow, that hurt." One trip to the doctor and seven days later it was forgotten. So the way I see it, we're sort of due for a string of icky nose drippy days. But one month of nonstop drooling, coughing and sniffing? We're ready for tissue-free days again.

So in between wiping noses and measuring out four different doses of antibiotics, I discovered an absolutely wonderful partner to the honey-sweetened slow cooker apple butter I made a few days ago -- oatmeal. And I don't mean in your bowl of piping hot oatmeal (which, by the way, is an excellent way to use said apple butter), but I specifically mean in a warm oatmeal crumble perfect for these 50 degree gloomy fall days that have settled all around.

Apple Butter Oatmeal Crumble

Makes 8 1/2 cup Warm Crumble Servings or 16 Chilled Bars


2 cups old-fashioned oats (I used Trader Joe's Gluten-Free Oats)
1 cup oat flour (I ground one cup of above-mentioned oats in the food processor until fine, like flour)
1/2 cup coconut palm sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon honey
3/4 cup soy-free Earth Balance spread or butter or margarine, softened
1 cup apple butter


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9x9 pan with cooking spray. Remember when I flipped over my bottle of cooking spray and discovered (to my horror) that there was soy lethicin in it? Well, I bought a Misto and I love it!

You can fill this up with any oil of choice and spray away -- no unwanted ingredients added! Anyhow, set aside prepared pan.

In a large bowl, combine first five ingredients and mix well.

Add the honey and Earth balance, butter or margarine and mix on low with a handheld mixer until soft and crumbly.

Add two-thirds of the mixture to the bottom of the prepared pan, pressing gently with your hands. Add the cup of apple butter and spread to cover evenly.

Sprinkle the remaining crumb mixture over the top of the apple butter.

Place in the oven for 35 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to slightly cool. The amazing thing about this recipe is that you can drop it warm into a bowl and top it with vanilla ice cream and a bit more apple butter and it's delectable. Or you can eat it without any extra toppings at all and it's still magnificent.

Or you can let it cool completely on a wire rack and then pop it in the fridge overnight and cut it into bars for an afternoon snack.

And it is just as delicious. Or you can have some warm and have some cold the next day. Talk about having your cake and eating it too.

Nutrition Information Per 1/2 Cup Warm Crumble: Calories 324; Total Fat 19g; Total Carb 35g; Fiber 4g; Sugars 8g; Protein 4g

Nutrition Information Per Bar: Calories 162; Total Fat 10g; Total Carb 18g; Fiber 2g; Sugars 4g; Protein 2g
*Nutrition information has been calculated using an online recipe calculator tool.
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