Homemade Pudding Snack Packs

So, I recently made this variety pack of homemade pudding snack packs, for my kids’ lunchboxes, and, they were such a huge hit that they didn’t even last more than a day or so.  Even Mr. Allie got in on the action, and was eating pudding packs after dinner and sneaking them for afternoon snacks!

These are miles apart from that junk you can buy at the supermarket, which shall remain nameless, but begins with a “J” and ends with an “-ELLO.”  Or that other junk that begins with an “H” and ends with an “-UNTS.”  Or that other junk that begins with an “S” and ends with a “-WISS MISS.”  Or that other junk that begins with a “K” and ends with an “-OZY SHACK.”

Sorry.  You get the idea.  They’re seriously yummy and you need them in your life.  Now.

I developed this recipe for a YinMom YangMom recipe series, called “Lunch Lady Land.”  If you missed the big intro, shame on you.

Just kidding!  Haha.  It is to laugh.

The series is basically all about homemade foods that are lunchbox friendly.  It’s easy enough to grab a bunch of prepackaged stuff off the grocery store shelf, but it adds up to a lot of garbage in the landfill and a lot of questionable ingredients in your kids’ growing bodies.  I’m finding that it only takes a little bit of time and extra effort (and loveAwww…) to create lunchbox foods that are soooo much healthier, and they taste so much better too!


Here’s what we’ve done so far:
Homemade Gummy Fruit Snacks and Juicy Jiggles
Nut-Free (and Healthy!) Reese’s Cups
Corn Dog Muffins

If you are like me, and you often stare mindlessly into the fridge for way too long, hoping for a bolt of lightning to strike and inspire some genius food idea you can pack for your kiddies, be sure to check ’em out.  They’re easy to keep on hand in the fridge, freezer, or pantry, and you can just chuck ’em in the old lunch box and know that your little ones are getting good nutrition and a little taste of some homemade deliciousness.

And for todays installment, you will first need some single-serving containers.  I like this kind:

because they stack neatly and the lids snap together and to the bottoms of the cups, so I never have to hunt around my train wreck of a plastic-ware cupboard looking for a match.  (One of these days I really need to organize that mess!)  Also, they are BPA-free.

You will also need the following ingredients, which shouldn’t be too difficult:

1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 3/4 cups whole milk, or 2 cups lowfat milk and 3/4 cup cream
1 teaspoon vanilla paste (buy here) or vanilla extract
1 tablespoon butter
1 additional tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup butterscotch chips
1/4 cup chocolate chips

In my house those are staples that we pretty much always keep on hand.

Making pudding from scratch may seem like a crazy idea to you, but, truthfully, it really isn’t any more difficult than making it from a mix!  One day my boys were pestering me for pudding and I didn’t have a box on hand, so I just made it this way, and it was so easy and quick!  Not to mention way yummier.  It thickens up while it’s still hot so you don’t even have to wait for it to chill before shoveling it right in (I’m evil)…

Put the sugar and the cornstarch in a pot and stir them together with a whisk.

Then pour in the milk/cream in a steady stream while whisking.

Put it over a medium-high flame and keep whisking.  Right as it starts coming to a boil, it thickens.  Magic!  Right before your very eyes.

Remove it from the heat and stir in the cold butter, and then add in the vanilla extract or paste.

Can we talk for a minute?  It’s about vanilla bean paste.  Ok, I bought this stuff on a whim, and it’s turned out to be kinda life changing for me.  Seriously.  It is a lot cheaper and easier to use than a whole fresh vanilla bean, but the flavor is every bit as intense!  When you want some serious vanilla flave, (and let’s be honest here, when would you not?) this is what you should be reaching for.

Set up three small-ish bowls.  Into one, place the additional tablespoon of sugar.  Into another, 1/4 cup of butterscotch chips.  And into the third, 1/4 cup of chocolate chips.

Divide the hot pudding equally among the 3 bowls and stir to melt the chips into the pudding.

Chocolate Pudding, Butterscotch Pudding, Vanilla Pudding

Place the contents of each bowl into the reusable containers and chill in the fridge.

Vanilla Pudding, Butterscotch Pudding, Chocolate Pudding

I have a five-year old who tends to be a little bit uncooperative when it comes to drinking milk.  This pudding is so silky smooth, thick, creamy, lightly sweet and delicious, he just can’t resist it.

And neither can anyone else in the family!

If you are a big pudding lover, (is anyone not?) I also did a little series earlier in the year called “More Pudding If You Please.”  It was part of a story on 2012 Food Trends for the Home Cook.  Check out these posts for some more great pudding recipes:

S’mores Pudding
PB&J Pudding
Rice Pudding Comfort

Thanks for reading!  And stay tuned for more great ideas from Lunch Lady Land!!!

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Corn Dog Muffins

Welcome back to Lunch Lady Land!  In case you’re new to YinMom YangMom, we are in the midst of a multi-part series on fun foods for your kids’ lunch boxes, with a little bit of healthy sprinkled in…

This is Episode III of Lunch Lady Land, so here are two other great posts, just in case you missed them:

Homemade Gummy Fruit Snacks and Juicy Jiggles

Nut-Free (and healthy!) Reese’s Cups

For today’s installment, we are featuring a “main course,” that old fair-food-favorite, corn dogs!  What kid doesn’t love???  My three- and five- year olds never pass one up!

Here’s what I love about the YinMom YangMom version:

-They’re baked, not fried
-There’s actual corn in them
-They’re made with low-sodium, low-fat, nitrate-free turkey franks
-They’re perfectly portioned
-The fun factor: you can get fancy with the wrapper
-They are perfectly delicious at room temp

So let’s get started!  Here is what you will need:

Corn Dog Muffins
(makes 18 muffins)

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cornmeal
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
6 turkey franks
3/4 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
2 eggs
1/4 cup agave nectar
1 cup milk
1/4 cup (half a stick) unsalted butter

Begin by melting the butter.  I like to do mine in the microwave in a glass measuring cup, and then I just add the rest of the liquid ingredients right in there and save myself from having to wash another bowl.

I’m pretty smart.  And lazy.

Ok so if you are a bit challenged in the baking department, the liquid ingredients are: melted butter, milk, agave nectar, and eggs.

Next you can combine the dry ingredients in a medium-sized mixing bowl.

Dry ingredients are: flour, cornmeal, salt, and baking powder.

Cut up the hot dogs.  I usually cut them into quarters, lengthways, and then into little bites.  As much as kiddies love hot dogs, they can be a choking hazard, so you can never be too careful about cutting them up small.

Throw the dogs into the dry ingredients along with the corn, and toss everything around a bit.

Now just pour in the liquid ingredients and stir until combined.

Divide the batter equally among 18 muffin cups with paper liners, and bake for 18 minutes at 350 degrees.

Easy!

And it’s even easier when you can just pop one or two from your freezer into a lunchbox on a busy morning!

Just add a juice box and a piece of fruit and there you have it!

Yum!

If you liked this idea, stay tuned, because there will be lots more like it!  But in the meantime, be sure to check out the homemade gummy fruit snacks, and the healthy reese’s cups!

And if there is something in particular that your kids jones for, that you aren’t exactly thrilled about, leave me a comment at the bottom of this post and I’ll see if I can come up with a healthier version!

Healthy Reese’s Cups

Hello there!  You’ve just landed yourself square in Lunch Lady Land!  Welcome!

In case you are new to YinMom YangMom, we are doing a multi-part series on healthy treats for kids that are perfect for a packed lunch.  Sneak in some extra nutrition with this recipe that’s not nearly as naughty as it tastes!

When I came across Baker Lady’s Reese’s Bars on Pinterest, I just knew I had to give it a twirl.  My five-year-old has just recently discovered the joy of peanut butter cups and he is so excited about them!  We made them and he LOVED!  They were gone within a few days and he didn’t waste any time asking for more.  Sneaky devil that I am, I saw this as the perfect opportunity to bait and switch his new favorite for another version that bumps up the whole grain, protein, and omega-3’s, makes it school cafeteria friendly by using a nut-free substition, and has just enough chocolatey sweetness to satisfy his sweet tooth.

I nixed the two sticks of butter to lower the fat.  I replaced the powdered sugar with agave nectar, which is just as sweet but has a lower glycemic index, so it’s less likely to cause blood sugar spikes, ie: hyperactivity/crash and burn.  I’ve also subbed in whole wheat bread crumbs for half the graham cracker crumbs, which lowers the sugar and increases the protein and whole grain content.  Finally, a bit of vanilla protein powder and ground flax seeds bump up the nutritional value even more, to make this treat something you can really be happy to give your little ones.

This is sunflower seed butter:

You can find it at the regular supermarket, right next to the peanut butter.  You could also try using soy nut butter, but some feel that soy is a bit questionable health-wise, and sunflower seed butter is soooo yummy!  It’s so much like peanut butter you almost can’t tell the difference!  And it is nut-free so it’s perfect for school and especially for kids with tree-nut allergies.

Sneakily Nutritious Nut-Free Reese’s Cups
makes about 18 min-cups
(adapted from BakerLady.wordpress.com)

3/4 cup sunflower seed butter
1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup whole wheat bread crumbs
2 tablespoons protein powder
2 tablespoons ground flax seed
1/4 cup agave nectar
1/2 cup milk chocolate chips

Throw all of the ingredients, except for the chocolate, into a bowl…

…stir until it’s all combined.

Drop by the tablespoonful into a mini-muffin tin with paper liners.

Squoosh it all down flat.

Melt the chocolate.  In my microwave, it takes a minute and a half on 70% power.  They come out looking like this:

which is deceiving because they look like they aren’t melted.  But when you stir them around a little…

…surprise!  They’re perfect.  Dollop about a half-teaspoon of chocolate onto each cup and smooth it over with a little spatula or a butter knife.

Chill in the fridge for half an hour or until the chocolate is set.

We like ours in mini-muffin cups.  This makes it really easy to pop a perfect portion into your little one’s lunch box, but if you don’t have a mini muffin tin, you can use a glass baking dish and just cut it into squares.

The little fella had no idea that these were anything but the real deal.  MWOO-Hoo-Hoo-Ha!

If you liked this post, be sure to check out my recipes for Homemade Gummy Fruit Snacks and Juicy Jiggles!  And, stay tuned for lots more kid-friendly brown-bag ideas from Lunch Lady Land!

Homemade Gummy Snacks and Juicy Jiggles

To celebrate the beginning of a new school year, I’d like to kick off a new YinMom YangMom series I’m calling:

“Lunch Lady Land”

Let’s begin with a musical interlude:

Some pretty background music while you read…

“Lunch Lady Land” will be a recurring theme over the next few months as I share some fun ideas for kid-friendly foods that are perfect for a packed lunch.  My goal is to present foods that are

1) kinda healthy, but not so much as to not also be
2) yummy and appealing to the average kiddo.

It’s a very fine line.

My own two little ones definitely have their favorite munchies, most of them being store-bought and loaded with preservatives, artificial colors and flavorings, high fructose corn syrup, transfat, and God only knows what else.  I’m trying to keep them as “once in a while” treats, and offer more natural, chemical free options, with a few nutritious and healthy additions snuck in, on a more regular basis.

So, without any further ado, here is our first offering from “Lunch Lady Land”:

Did you know you can actually make your own fruit snacks?  Did you know that it’s really not even that hard and it only takes two ingredients?

I found these adorable molds at Walmart, for 99 cents, people!

Give them a little spritz with some non-stick baking spray, (ok, three ingredients), and wipe out the excess with a paper towel or dishrag.

Gather up the healthiest juice you can find, that your kid would still want to drink.  I’m using V8 fusion Strawberry Banana 100% juice, because there are veggies hiding in there, and Welch’s 100% Grape Juice, because grapes are full of polyphenols, and also it was the purplest thing I could find with no artificial anything, and color is really important to kids.  We eat first with our eyes, and this is especially true for the little ones!

Measure out 1/2 cup of juice, and pour it into a little pot.

This is unflavored gelatine.

You can find it on the same grocery store shelf as regular jello.  Be not afraid.

Sprinkle two packets of gelatine over the juice and let it dissolve.  It will get all slushy-looking.

Warm it over a low flame and it will go all liquidy.  When it looks smooth and clear-ish, pour it back into the measuring cup and then dribble it into the molds.

Let it set in the fridge for a half hour and there you have it!

These are perfect for my kindergartner, but, I also have a three-year-old.  His preschool is very strict about the foods they allow, and gummies are considered a choking hazard.

So, here is my way around that, which also allows me to sneak in some anti-oxidant rich fresh berries.

1 cup of white cranberry juice, warmed with
1 packet of plain gelatine

Pour it into a lightly oiled square glass baking dish and chill for about 15 minutes or until set.

Arrange fresh berries on top.

Now, do it again:
1 cup of white cranberry juice, warmed with
1 packet of plain gelatine

Pour it over the berries and chill for a half hour.

Unmold it onto a cutting board and cut it into shapes with a cookie cutter, or just cubes with a knife.

These are the kind of fruit snacks I can feel good about giving to my kids.  They are loaded with fresh fruit and 100% fruit and veggie juice, with no unwanted additives.  They have no added sugar.  They are full of good nutrition.  Even the gelatine is healthy: it’s full of protein and collagen for healthy hair, skin, and nails.

What kinds of foods do your kids like to eat in their lunches?  Would you like to see a homemade and improved version of it?  Leave me your thoughts in the comment section and I’ll see what I can come up with!

Summer’s Bounty

Allie

Look the backyard vegetable garden my Mr. put together earlier this season:

Isn’t it a work of art?  I am so very proud of his hard work.  Out here in the boonies, (where I grew up and now find myself again), vegetable gardens are a common sight in most backyards.  Nevertheless, I’m thoroughly impressed with the farming skills of my rather citified husband…

Even if you don’t have a backyard vegetable garden, delicious summer fruits and vegetables are hard to miss right now.  Supermarkets, farmers markets, and roadside stands bursting with fresh produce seem to be everywhere you look.  Take advantage of the best summer has to offer, with an easy summertime classic that’s so simple to prepare, you don’t even need to cook it!

Who doesn’t enjoy a cool, refreshing bowl of fresh gazpacho?  I’ve liked it as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t until I tasted the real deal, on my honeymoon in Spain, that I truly fell in love.

Most of the gazpacho I had tried up until that point was a lot like a soupy salsa.  Lots of chunky veg blended together and served cold.  Nice.  But true Gazpacho Andaluz is a completely different animal.  Velvety smooth, pale in color, and so rich and creamy you almost can’t believe it’s completely free of dairy.

Allie’s Gazpacho Andaluz

3-4 baguette slices
1/2 cup water
1 cucumber
2 large, ripe tomatoes
1/2 red bell pepper
3 scallions, green part only
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon agave nectar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder (not garlic salt)

Start by trimming off and discarding the crusts of the bread.  Soak the bread in water.

While that’s soaking, peel your cucumber and halve it lengthways.  Scoop out the seeds with a spoon.

Cut the tomatoes into quarters, remove the core, and squeeze the seeds out.  This really isn’t as difficult as it maybe sounds.  I just run my thumb inside all the little tomato crevices and squish the seeds out.

Now just hack the bell pepper and the scallions up a bit, and throw all the veg into the bowl of the blender.

Scoop up the soggy bread, squoosh out all the excess water, (there’s a lot of squooshing going on in this recipe), and throw that into the blender too.  You can also add in the olive oil, bready water, sherry vinegar, salt, agave, and garlic powder.  (I like garlic powder because to me it’s a little less sharp than raw garlic.)

Let it buzz for a good long time, so it gets nice and smooth.

Set up a strainer over a big bowl.  I especially like the kind with the pour spout, so you won’t even have to dirty up a ladle.  I get pretty lazy when it’s hot outside…

Pour in the soup and let it strain.  You can speed up the process by stirring it around in the strainer.

Serve it mercifully cold and garnish as you wish!  (I’ve used some sliced scallions and a dribble of olive oil.)

Here is a 4×6″ printable recipe card for you:  Gazpacho Andaluz Recipe Card, but please just use it as a rough guide.  You can use as much or as little of any ingredient as you like.  You can even swap out ingredients!  And, as for the seasonings (salt, agave, and vinegar), you really just want to taste and decide for yourself.  A lot will depend on the produce you begin with.

Do you like to grow your own food?  What is your favorite seasonal summer ingredient?  How do you like to put your bumper crop to use?  Are you feeling pretty lazy these days, too?  I’m hoping nobody drops by unexpectedly and sees the layer of dust that is accumulating… if so maybe I can distract them with a nice cold bowl of soup.

Give Your Oven the Night Off!

Here is a seasonal, refreshing, and delicious meal for a hot summer evening!  With a little tweak for the kiddos, this one can be a home run for the whole family!  And you don’t even have to use your stove or oven!

The first time I heard about a watermelon salad, I thought it seemed like an odd combination of flavors.  But after one bite, it all made sense.  So delicious!  And, this type of preparation has actually been around forever in the Mediterranean part of the world.  Those Mediterraneans sure know what works when it comes to food!

Watermelon Salad with Grilled Shrimp
(serves 2 adults and 2 small children)

1 pound uncooked jumbo shrimp
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 seedless watermelon
1 pint grape tomatoes
4 oz. crumbled feta (I like the goats’ milk kind)
bunch of fresh mint
about 2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1 lime

Another thing I love about this recipe is that it’s so quick to prepare, and, besides the plates and forks you ate off of, you’ll only end up with a cutting board, one knife, and one bowl to clean.

Start by peeling the shrimp, and placing them in a bowl with about a tablespoon of olive oil, the chili powder, the garlic powder, and a bit of salt and pepper.  Toss them around to coat, and pop them in the fridge while you go preheat the barbecue.

While the shrimp are marinating, and the grill is warming up, you can slice the watermelon into thick wedges.

Take out four wedges, for the grownup plates, remove the rind, and cut them into cubes.  Divide them between two plates.

The remaining wedges are for the kiddies.  I can’t explain it, but for my kids, watermelon is not watermelon unless it is in triangle form…

Now halve the grape tomatoes.  Tumble a few handfuls over the watermelon cubes, for the grownups, and into neat piles alongside the watermelon triangles for the kids.  (Woe be unto the parent who allows tomato and watermelon to touch on a kid’s plate.)

Crumble feta over the tomatoes and watermelon on the grownup plate.  I omitted the feta for my kids…

Top each of the grownup plates with about two tablespoons of fresh mint, roughly chopped or torn…

…my kids are green-phobic so this was also omitted for them.

Pop the plates in the fridge to keep everything good and cold while you go grill the shrimp.

On a very hot grill, shrimp will only take about three minutes on the first side, and another one minute on the other.  Don’t overcook them!  They will get rubbery and dry.  You want some good char marks on them but they should still be juicy.

Chop a few shrimp into bites for the little ones, and top the grownups’ salads with the rest. Now grownups each get a drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of tangy lime.  Enjoy!  Easy!

Gluten-Free Carb Fix

Recently, I was given a new recipe to try, by a sweet friend who works at my boys’ preschool.  It was for a garbanzo bean pancake, which, (sorry, sweet friend), sounded completely unappealing to me.  However, sweet friend has a very Frenchy last name, and she told me that the recipe is from France.  This tidbit caused me to do a complete 180, as I am a total food snob (not proud of this).

Sweet friend/French schoolmistress explained that the garbanzo bean pancake is called “socca” by her French peeps, and her family particularly loves it because she and one of her children suffer from multiple food intolerances.  “Socca” is gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, and vegan.

The recipe she offered me was blessedly simple and left a lot open for creativity.  I’m not sure if I prepared it the same way French schoolmistress does it for her family, but my socca was delicious; crisp and golden around the edges with a fluffy-creamy, warm interior.

Garbanzo-Bean Pancake/Socca
(serves one, doubles easily)

1/2 cup garbanzo bean (chickpea) flour
1/2 cup water
Spices/Herbs to taste
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Whisk the water into the bean-flour and add in the seasonings.  French schoolmistress advised me to use garlic, onion powder, rosemary, salt, and pepper.  I did not have any rosemary on hand, so I used what I had and improvised, to delicious result, in the herb department.  More on that later…

The batter will be the consistency of heavy cream.  It needs to sit and meld for about 30 minutes, so, after about ten, turn the oven to 425 degrees to preheat.  Once the oven is hot, drizzle some olive oil into a heat-safe skillet.  I used cast iron.  Put that in the oven for about ten minutes so it can get smoking hot.  This will help your socca to get nice and crisp on the bottom.

Pour the batter into the hot pan and swirl.  Bake for 12 minutes, brush a little more oil on top, and then broil for one more minute.

Now back to my herb issue.  I figured the herbs were probably an important part of the recipe, but all I had was parsley and I didn’t think it would add much flavor if I cooked it into the pancake.  So I decided to make a little herb salad with it and serve it as an accompaniment.

I started by making a little vinaigrette, and I tried to do something Frenchy, to stay with the overall theme.  Two teaspoons of white wine vinegar…

…a quarter teaspoon of dijon mustard, a pinch of salt and a twist of freshly ground black pepper, into the bottom of a bowl.

Drizzle in about a tablespoon and a half of extra-virgin olive oil, while whisking.

A nice handful of whole, fresh parsley leaves into the bowl, and toss.

When the socca came out of the oven, I wasn’t really sure what to do with it, but it looked a lot like a pita bread, so I decided to cut it into wedges.

Guess what?  It was a lot like a pita bread!  Only better!  It was a like the perfect marriage of soft, fresh, warm pita with a creamy, garlicky, satisfying hummus.  The parsley salad offered a nice counterbalance of fresh, bright, herbal flavor.  It makes for a perfect little light lunch or snack.

Merci; le meilleur professeur de francais!