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#BetterGoodThings “Waste Not” Edition: Coffee Pudding

5 Jul Coffee Pudding

Coffee Pudding

When Evin (my Better Good Things buddy) and I first bonded via the interwebs it was over an instagram image I had posted of espresso powder while I was in my Mono fueled spiral of exhaustion.  It seemed that Evin and were both simultaneously contemplating ways to inject copious amounts of caffeine into our systems as a motherhood survival tactic.  Since I had been sans-caffeine for several years until my bout with mono, Evin and a few other insta-buddies became my espresso powder spirit guides.  So it was inevitable that espresso powder would one day be the heart of one of our Better Good Things Challenges.

A little disclaimer about this post:  Remember my April BGT post in which Evin was running a bit behind and didn’t have her link up when I posted?  Yeah…. so this was our MAY post that I started writing in APRIL after a race and I’m just now posting it in JULY.  Apparently, I’m the slacker in this pairing.  I would have never know that about myself had I never started a public facing blog that makes my sporadic task neglect so glaringly…. public.

Oh well… what I lack in perfection I make up for in hospitality and charm.  {bats eyelashes adorably}

I’m totally in love with this recipe because it was born from my interest to eliminate waste in our home!  After the final Chuy’s Hot to Trot 5k, The Hubs and I hosted some of our running buddies for breakfast, beer, and coffee…. lots and lots of coffee.  I’ve learned recently that there is very little change of having too much coffee on hand for people after a run, so we made sure we had LOTS of coffee.  As a coffee press family, having lots of coffee on hand necessitates a trip to Starbucks.

Coffee Pudding

Because we have to call in reinforcements for copious amounts of caffeine, having lots of coffee also meant that we also had lots and lots of coffee accoutrements provided by the good people at Starbucks with each carafe. One our gusts have left to go home and nap off thier impressive 5k times, we were left with tons of leftover half and half and sugar.  Knowing that Evin and I had an espresso powder challenge planned I felt inspired to put the Starbucks leftovers to good use.

And this recipe was seriously crafted with the leftovers.

Coffee Pudding

This is exactly how much sugar they gave me…

Coffee Pudding

And this is exactly how much half and half they gave me…

Coffee Pudding

…so that is exactly what I used!

I added in a little cornstarch, salt, and espresso powder (of course) and all of a sudden I had pudding all thanks to Starbuck’s overly-generous provisions!  I let them set in my adorable Le Cruset coffee cups and all of a sudden I had an elevated desert that totally betrayed its leftover status.

When Monday morning rolled around, I served it too my soul mama buddy who brings her little girl over for a standing playdate.  She bartends the night before so I always have an espresso ready for her when she arrives.  She quickly declared this deceptively simple pudding far superior to her regular Monday morning espresso.  Nothing like a little sugar, cream, and espresso to get you ready for toddler princess playtime.

Coffee Pudding

 

“Waste Not” Coffee Pudding

  • 2 cups half and half
  • 1/2 cup minus 1 tbs granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tbs espresso powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 tbs cornstarch

Directions: In a small bowl, combine 1/2 cup of the half and half with the cornstarch whisking as you add the cornstarch to prevent clumping.

Combine remaining half and half, sugar, salt, and espresso powder in a saucepan and slowly bring to a boil, whisking frequently to prevent scalding.  Remove from heat.

Whisk in cornstarch mixture and return to heat, continuing to whisk constantly to prevent clumping as pudding thickens.  When whisk leaves visible ribbons in the pudding, remove from heat and pour into coffee cups.

Cover the surface of each pudding with plastic wrap to prevent skin from forming and refrigerate until ready to serve.

 

Evin made Honey Espresso Skin brightener- check it out!

#BetterGoodThings- Marathon Lasagna Rolls

28 Apr #BetterGoodThings: Marathon Lasagna Rolls- a healthier and easier lasagna with bison and cottage cheese

#BetterGoodThings: Marathon Lasagna Rolls- a healthier and easier lasagna with bison and cottage cheese

 

Yikes!  The disorganization of my mind is spilling directly over onto the blog.

Guess what day it isn’t?

It isn’t the third Thursday of the month.  That’s the day that Better Good Things is supposed to grace the headlines on the blog, but this month that day rolled by long ago in what was a haze of Boston Marathon prep for me (and STAAR test madness for Evin).  Just to be clear- that didn’t mean that I didn’t create and share this recipe with my family in time for my deadline… it just meant I forget about y’all.

*hangs head in shame and looks up with endearingly sad puppy-dog eyes*

I am sorry.  I’m the blogging equivalent of your super flakey friend this month.

You know the friend who always makes really ambitious, elaborate plans with you to go on a fabulous girls’ trip in the not-too-distant future and then becomes vaguely busy the closer the date grows?  Yeah.  That one.  (Which reminds me- I think I might be slightly committed to trips to both the Amalfi Coast and Vegas that I need to start side stepping out of pretty soon… because I’m totally busy… with things.)

For April, Evin and I chose to “better up” lasagna- a beloved favorite in many a kitchen- which launched us into a great philosophical debate.  Are we “easying up” healthy things or “healthying up” easy things when we are engaged in our “bettering?”  And really, how do you define healthy?  And what is actually considered easy?

Too many questions.

Honestly, who knows!  I love that we went with Better Good Things in place of Healthier or Easier because it just means that we can make it whatever the heck we need it to be that month.  Whenever we want for that matter as we’ve so proved a good 10+ days late.

As luck would have it, this month better means both healthier and easier in my book.  I created lasagna rolls that make portioning easy (hooray!) and that cut back on the fat while upping the protein ante with cottage cheese in place of obscene amounts of ricotta and mozz as well as bison in the place of beef.  It’s pretty amazing, it packs well for lunch, and it can be frozen in the pre-bake stage for later use.

To make matters even better on my end, this became the only non-bland pre-race meal my husband could stand in the week leading up to Boston so we have dubbed them Marathon Lasagna Rolls.  They will definitely keep their place on our pre-race menu from here on out!

Looking for Evin’s lasagna take?  Standardized testing for elementary students really sucks, so she hasn’t gotten around to it because cheering her son through an unnecessarily stressful testing situation is way more important than getting creative with lasagna noodles.  Everyone say a prayer, light a candle, or rake your Zen garden for The Boy over at Food Good Laundry Bad as he braves the testing gauntlet!  When she’s got hers up I’ll update and share the link.

 

*UPDATED*  Evin rocked this month with Slow Cooker Lasagna which she claims is “not a recipe.”  Part recipe, part how-to, it’s 100% genius and definitely an idea that I’m glad to have in my arsenal for busy days!

 

#BetterGoodThings: Marathon Lasagna Rolls- a healthier and easier lasagna with bison and cottage cheese

Gimme a break- Rolled up pasta isn’t inherently gorgeous… but it is really yummy!

Marathon Lasagna Rolls

  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbs dried parsley flakes
  • 1 tbs dried oregano
  • 1 tbs dried basil
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried marjoram
  • 1 lb ground bison
  • 12-15 lasagna noodles
  • 10 oz ricotta
  • 2/3 cup small curd cottage cheese
  • 2/3 cup shredded mozzarella
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan
  • 1 jar organic marinara
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil

Directions: Heat 1 tbs of oil over medium heat.  Saute the onion and cloves until soft and fragrant.  Add the bison to the pan.  Over medium/medium-high heat, break up bison into large pieces.  Add spices and cook through, breaking up into small pieces as you cook.  Season with additional salt and pepper as desired while browning meat.  Set aside.

Bring a pot of water to boil.  Add lasagna noodles, along with a dollop of olive oil, and boil for about 6 minutes.  Drain.

In a large bowl, combine ricotta, cottage cheese, shredded mozzarella, grated parmesan, and the ground bison mixture.

Grease a 9×13 baking dish with olive oil.

Working with one lasagna noodle at a time, lay out each noodle and spread with a generous 2 tbs of filling.  Roll up and place in baking dish.  Once baking dish is full, top lasagna rolls with sauce and cover with foil.

Bake at 400 for 30 min.

To freeze in individual portions: Follow the recipe directions through assembly but instead of preparing it in a 9×13 baking dish, spread them out on a cookie sheet to flash freeze them. Once they are mostly frozen (30 minutes to 1 hour), place them into freezer bags and freeze. When serving, place your preferred number of frozen lasagna rolls in a baking dish and top with sauce. Put foil over baking dish and bake at 350 for 60 minutes, or until heated through. The time will vary based on number of rolls.

Crispy Farro Bars

16 Apr Far better than rice crispy treats... Crispy Farro Bars

Far better than rice crispy treats... Crispy Farro Bars

Yesterday evening as I was at the pharmacy picking up prescriptions I just may have purchased four Cadbury Eggs and two Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs (vile I know… DON’T JUDGE ME!).  The pharmacist smiled, “Preparing for Sunday?”  I hung my head sheepishly.  I can’t and wont give Baby Bird chemical storm candy… but for me? Ugh… okay…

So they weren’t a tiny Easter stash for my child, they were for a full grown adult who knows better.

“I’ve got a toddler with hives… so they’re actually all for me.  Tonight.  Like, in the car,” I confessed, trying to shrink and disappear- digging in my purse for my sunglasses and any other suitable disguise items in case I ran into anyone on my way to the car (or as I sat in my car  binge eating candy eggs).

In lieu of judgement, he offered an earnest suggestion.  “Try making rice crispy treats!,” he said. “This started out as a rotten day.  I’ve had three rice crispy treat and somehow everything seems better!”

It didn’t prevent me from the impending Easter candy massacre, but is was a very sweet sentiment.

And I totally get it, because rice crispy treats are amazing!  Most of use grew up with them, they are inexpensive to make (even when subbing in the organic, non-GMO version of everything), and they will completely dominate a bake sale fundraiser.

Despite it’s lack of real nutritional value, the purist (organic, non-GMO) version of the rice crispy treat will always exist in my kitchen.  I’m an American.  I live in the South.  There will always be a place for it.

In our house, the humble rice crispy treat has also given birth to an elevated offspring- the crispy farrro bar!

It keeps its lineage’s simple gooey, square shaped goodness but gains depth and complexity thanks to the puffed farro and the addition of rich and slightly salty chocolate hazelnut butter.  I urge you to stay away from Nutella in this instance- eat it with a spoon and I wont judge you should you choose (remember the Easter candy debacle above) but it contains its fair share of unnecessary ingredients- including soy- which give it an unnatural smoothness and slightly mask the true flavors that make this bars a stand out.  Amidst the melty marshmallows, you want this fella to scream rich chocolate, sweet hazelnut, and malty farro.

And these will still clean up at a bake sale- even if, every once and awhile, you have to describe them as being “like eating a rice crispy treat with Nutella.”

And just like that, I have treat envy.  The pharmacist was right- I should have left the chocolate eggs and gone home to make some more crispy farro bars!

Far better than rice crispy treats... Crispy Farro Bars

 

Crispy Farro Bars

  • 3 tbs butter
  • 12-15 oz marshmallows
  • 1/2 cup Justin’s chocolate hazelnut butter
  • 4- 4 1/2 cups puffed farro cereal, unsweetened

Directions: Line an 8×8 baking pan with parchment paper

In a medium saucepan, heat butter and marshmallows over medium low heat until marshmallows are melted.  Stir in hazelnut butter until well combined.

Remove from heat and stir in farro cereal.

Pour mixture into prepared baking pan and press down evenly with oiled hands (Careful- it’s hot!) or with another sheet of parchment.

Allow to cool before cutting.

 

 

#BetterGoodThings: Mac and Cheese Makeover (Complete with Cauliflower, Squash & Kale)

21 Mar #BetterGoodThings- Mac & Cheese Makeover- Yellow Cauliflower, Butternut Squash, Nutritional Yeast, Kale, and Turkey Bacon

#BetterGoodThings- Mac & Cheese Makeover- Yellow Cauliflower, Butternut Squash, Nutritional Yeast, Kale, and Turkey Bacon

This month for Better Good Things, Evin and I decided to better up (that’s a phrase now… I’m totally making it a thing) mac and cheese.  Apparently her kids are addicted to the orange stuff from the box, and even though baby Bird can’t eat much of the boxed stuff (Because soy.  And because NO.) besides a few types of Annie’s, she was introduced to a version she could eat while she was staying with grandparents and was apparently on a major mac and cheese jag during her trip.  So much so that when she came home she asked for it at every meal.  Every single one.

Now, I shouldn’t pretend that N has never had boxed mac because she most definitely has indulged.  On oh-so-overwhelming toddler days I have on occasion broken out the Annie’s mac and tried to make myself feel better by lacing it with non-gmo corn, peas, and diced carrots.  She is partial to the one with the oozy, Velveeta-esque cheese that really freaks me out.  I get it… the texture is smooth and creamy… but cheese that oozes out of a pouch?  That shouldn’t happen.

But did I mention that I totally understand her love for the oozy cheese?  After all, I secretly binge eat queso in the closet.  Not often…. but sometimes.

I had almost decided that soy free pseudo-cheese could be our private, dirty little mother-daughter secret until my mom told me she had heard rumblings that you could make your own “processed cheese product” that was actually made with real ingredients.  After much poking around and experimenting, I settled on a recipe I’m quite pleased with based on the one developed by Cristina at An Organic Wife.  She is an awesome, real-food guru so I urge you to check out her purist version at the link.

I’ve used this “real-veeta,” as I’ve come to call it, in a less cheesy mac and cheese packed with veggies that doesn’t lose any of it’s cheese depth or flavor.  It also bares that beloved day-glow orangyness… NATURALLY.

#BetterGoodThings- Mac & Cheese Makeover- Yellow Cauliflower, Butternut Squash, Nutritional Yeast, Kale, and Turkey Bacon

So much orange food…

You may look at the turmeric and nutritional yeast and think “Hmmm… those a weird for mac.  My kids won’t eat it.  I’m skipping those!”  Be forewarned, that will dramatically change the color, depth, and flavor- and your kiddos will call your bluff.

The kale and turkey bacon on top are the icing on the cake and add a satisfying crunch and bite.

Trust me on the orangey goodness.  The flavor, texture, and color are there.  Your kiddo wont be the wiser of the fast one you just pulled!

#BetterGoodThings- Homemade Real-veeta (Velveeta) made with whole food ingredients

It’s a beautiful nightmare, y’all! Whole food block-o-cheese…

Homemade Real-veeta

(following An Organic Wife‘s proportions)

  • 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 2/3 cup monterrey jack cheese, shredded
  • 1/3 cup gruyere cheese, shredded
  • 1 package gelatin (2 tsp)
  • 2 tbs water
  • 1 1/2 tbs nutritional yeast
  • 2/3 cup organic whole milk

Directions: In a small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over water and allow it to bloom for five minutes.

Add shredded cheese to a powerful blender or food processor (I used my Vitamix) and sprinkle in nutritional yeast. Line a mini loaf pan with parchment or plastic wrap.

In a small saucepan, bring milk to a boil, whisking constantly to prevent scorching.  Remove milk from heat once it reaches a boil and whisk in gelatin mixture until smooth.  Pour immediately into blender and process until smooth.  Pour cheese mixture into mini loaf pan.

Refrigerate for at least three hours.

#BetterGoodThings- Mac & Cheese Makeover- Yellow Cauliflower, Butternut Squash, Nutritional Yeast, Kale, and Turkey Bacon

Made-Over Mac and Cheese

  • 1 block of homemade real-veeta, cubed
  • 1/2 a head of orange cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 1 5 oz bag of frozen, cubed butternut squash (defrosted)
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 2/3 cup monterrey jack/cheddar cheese mix, shredded
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 3 tbs nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 a bunch of curly leaf kale
  • 1 tbs butter
  • 1tbs olive oil
  • salt
  • 1/2 a bunch of kale
  • turkey bacon, cooked and diced
  • 2 cups pasta

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Prepare the kale to bake. Rinse and dry very well. Cut leaves from stem and tear into small pieces.  Toss kale pieces with with olive oil, 1 tbs nutritional yeast, and a generous pinch of salt and spread into a single layer across a baking sheet.

Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees F and bake the kale for 15 minutes.  Toss kale, rotate, and return to oven for 12 more minutes.  Check the kale for dehydrated crispness before removing from the oven.  Return from oven for one to two minutes if needed, watching carefully, to ensure they are crisp but not browned.  Gently remove to a bowl to cool completely.

Raise over temperature to 375 degrees F.

In a small pan, saute the butternut squash in the butter to slightly caramelize the surface.

In a steamer basket, steam cauliflower florets for 5-7 minutes until soft but not mushy.  Add both the cauliflower and butternut squash to a blender or food processor.  Add salt to taste (about 1 tsp was good for us), 2 tbs nutritional yeast, and the milk and puree.

Bring a pot of water to boil.

Pour puree into a medium saucepan over medium-low heat and add cubed real-veeta and 1/3 cup shredded cheese stirring to melt.

Add pasta to boiling water and cook to al dente according to the instructions.  Drain pasta and add immediately to the cheese sauce, removing from heat.

Pour pasta and sauce into a 3 quart baking dish and sprinkle with remaining cheese.  Bake for 10-15 minutes or until top is golden and bubbly.

Remove from oven and serve warm, topped with bacon and crispy kale chips.

Hankering for even more mac?  Check out Evin’s take right here.  She gussies her mama version up with Sriracha… oh the goodness!

#BetterGoodThings- Mac and Cheese Makeovers

#BetterGoodThings: Colorful Veggie Bars

20 Feb #BetterGoodThings- Colorful Veggie Bars

This month for Better Good Things (on the Third Thursday… because Evin loves alliteration!) Evin, the mama in charge at Food Good Laundry Bad, and I decided to tackle a recipe that makes its rounds pretty frequently on Pinterest and holds a place near and dear to my heart.  Sometimes it’s called “veggie pizza”… sometimes “veggie bars”… but it always shares some commonalities- ranch dressing, mayo, and icky supermarket crescent rolls.

When I was little, my mom used to make this as one of her go-to potluck appetizer recipes.  It was oh-so yummy and stands as a fabulous nostalgia food for me but- despite the veggie variety on top (my mama used to do stripes of diced carrot, cauliflower, on broccoli)- it’s been a no-no in our house given the traditionally super-processed base ingredients.  Which means this one was destined for a makeover…

At first glance, it probably seems like the first thing to go should be the canister of crescent roll dough- I know that is the first thing Evin axed on her end- and that was my plan as well (because homemade crescent roll dough does sound like a fun baking adventure) until I happened on a serendipitous discovery… my favorite “cheat” brand of ready to bake goods –Immaculate Baking– makes crescent roll dough.  The best part is that a roll of Immaculate crescent roll dough is only $4.95 at Whole Foods making it $0.05 less than the $5 cap for specialty ingredients that Evin and I set for Better Good Things.  The grocery gods are smiling upon me!

#BEtterGoodThings: Colorful Veggie Bars made with kale, purple cauliflower, broccoli, bell pepper, and tomatoes at gorunningmama.com

For the most part, the rolls of crescent roll dough you purchase at the supermarket contain soy (tons and TONS of soy), red 40 (which has suspected links to cancer, ADHD, and allergies/irritants), and tertiary butylhydroquinone- a form of butane used as a preservative with links to tinnitus, asthma, ADHD, nausea, stomach cancers, and interruption to estrogen levels in women.  No biggie, right?  My lovely friends at Immaculate Baking leave out all of those nasties!  And just to be clear, they’re not really my friends… they just make a great product that is a better choice for my family.  Which makes them feel like family!  Full disclosure… this product does contain canola oil which is not my favorite choice, but here and there I excuse it in the name of brief and infrequent convenience.  And because I had a stomach virus last week which morphed into a cold this week and I just can’t imagine having to work through the rise and rest periods for yeast dough at this moment!

But if you’re standing firm on no canola oil (because you probably should), check out Evin’s Real Food Veggie Pizza that totally boycotts dough-in-can…

#BetterGoodThings- Real Food Veggie Pizza

Regardless of your crust choice, jump on board with me for my ranch dressing better choice-  In place of the usual ranch dressing topping (soybean oil, phosphoric acid- lowers bone density, calcium disodium EDTA- can cause kidney damage…) I opted for a kale pesto-esque spread made with cream cheese.  Want to keep it vegan?  Forgo the cheese; up the kale content; and add some olive oil, nuts, nutritional yeast and a pinch of salt!

#BEtterGoodThings: Colorful Veggie Bars made with kale, purple cauliflower, broccoli, bell pepper, and tomatoes at gorunningmama.com

(Note: This images show a half portion of the recipe I below)

Instead of doing my mama’s standard veggie stripes so beloved from my childhood, I tossed the veggies together so that no one has to miss out on any goodness.  The purple cauliflower?  A total essential in our house!  Not only does it look simply gorgeous, but it is also a surefire way to get my little girly girl to down veggies on even the pickiest toddler days!  (Need a go to girly snack? Pink hummus dyed with beet juice served with purple cauliflower for the win!)

#BEtterGoodThings: Colorful Veggie Bars made with kale, purple cauliflower, broccoli, bell pepper, and tomatoes at gorunningmama.com

If you’re like me and have a fridge stuffed with veggie leftovers that constantly need using, having a roll of family friendly crescent roll dough on hand could help you create and easy meal out of those leftovers by customizing the toppings.  Even better- it’s one of those meals that feels like an art project for little hands which can be a huge lifesaver on fridge cleanup day.

Sometimes playing with your food is such a good decision!

#BetterGoodThings- Colorful Veggie Bars made with kale, purple cauliflower, broccoli, bell pepper, and tomatoes at gorunningmama.com

Colorful Veggie Bars

(In the pictures above, I reduced my recipe by half to make a manageable size for just us three… the recipe I’ve included here will make an entire jelly roll pan worth which is perfect for take along snacks for your next playdate or extended family game night… or just a bigger family in general!)

Ingredients:

  • 2 rolls of Immaculate Baking crescent rolls
  • 8 oz organic cream cheese
  • 6 oz parmesan cheese
  • about a half a bunch of kale, ribs removed and torn into small pieces
  • 2 tbs plain kefir
  • 2 large garlic cloves
  • 1 1/2 cup purple cauliflower florets
  • 1 1/2 cup broccoli slaw
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes
  • 1 yellow bell pepper

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper.  Roll the crescent roll dough out to cover the pan and press seams together.  Bake for 12 minutes.  Remove from the oven to cool.

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the kale and garlic together they form a paste.   Add cream cheese, parmesan, and kefir and pulse to an even, spreadable consistency.  Spread kale mixture on the cooled crescent roll base.

Finely dice the cauliflower, tomatoes, and bell pepper.  Toss with the broccoli slaw and sprinkle evenly across the kale spread, pressing lightly into the spread to keep in place.

Slice with a pizza slicer and serve immediately. Or store in refrigerator in layers separated by parchment.

#BetterGoodThings: Healthy Kale Heart Pops

16 Jan Better Good Things: Healthy Kale Heart Pops from Go Running, Mama! A better Valentine's treat filled with kale, grains, and cherries!

Better Good Things: Healthy Kale Heart Pops from Go Running, Mama!  A better Valentine's treat filled with kale, grains, and cherries!

So there is this blogger in the Austin area that I’ve been following for about two years now who writes Food Good, Laundry Bad.  Her name is Evin.  And obviously you know right off the bat that she is pretty solid because, yes, food is really really good and frankly laundry stinks!

Evin and I are opposites.  The kind of opposites that matter for some reason before you have kids and you actually spend time neatly packaging “the sort of person” you are into a neat box as though it somehow makes life easier.  She’s a country gal; I’m about as urban as a Southern hippie can get y’all.  She swears openly in posts; I swear in the closet.  She hates pumpkins; I think pumpkin flavored everything is one of the best parts of fall (Plus, it’s nature’s appetite suppressant… good to know if you’re ever bitten by a Copperhead, prescribed Prednisone to fight your reaction, and are consumed by an unrighteous desire to eat all the things made from carbs.  All of them.  Ever.)  I’ve seen her rail against the perky, the matchy-patchy, the tragically hip, both the over and under informed, and the awkwardly cute (who rightfully need railing against at times because… seriously) and as a former NFL cheerleader turned yogini foodie yupster I’m pretty sure I fall pretty squarely within one of those categories… or many… but I probably deserve some railing against as well in my Moonbeamesque Causehead moments (PCU reference, for the win!)

Basically, as Evin managed to so simply express it via email to me, she is the Duck Dynasty to my Portlandia.

Verrry different programing.

But a funny thing happens when you become a parent.  All of those things that don’t really matter about who you really are start to not really matter when evaluating who someone else is as well.  As a mom, I have plenty in common with Evin.  The most important things.  Compassion.  Love.  Family.

And we both like to prepare and eat really great food.

More than that, we both feel convicted to feed our families the best quality food our budgets allow in the manner that best suits their individual needs.  (So I guess we are both railing against the FDA and Monsanto.)

Evin is dairy free for part of her family and has banished artificial food dyes from her home.  Additionally, as someone who has lost 180 lbs since 2006 (that’s hero worthy stuff right there) she is focused on trying to keep things healthy and unprocessed without having to drive into Austin for unconventional ingredients that are prohibitively costly compared to mass market processed junk that is readily available.  If you don’t know my story, I’m a vegetarian turned carnivore turned raw vegan turned accidental omnivore turned struggling locavore.  Our house is soy, peanut, GMO, and HFC free. We go organic when financially viable, and dye free as much as possible.  We strive to support our local farmers and ranchers.  And we keep things nutrient dense (because I’m feeding a future olympian and a future CEO- you decide which is which).

Together we made a plan to take a kitchen adventure each month to “better up” something our families found to be desirably good things in ways that better meet their nutritional needs without having to spend more than $5 on ingredients we don’t normally stock in our own kitchens. With that, Better Good Things was born.  We’ll be sharing our experiences the Third Thursday of every month which will seriously challenge my inconsistent habit of writing on whim.

This month, with health vacuum of Valentine’s Day celebrations looming ominously in the coming month, we decided to tackle sweetheart treats to provide some better options for our little ones to snack on and share this holiday.  Evin went with this Chocolate Covered Strawberry Smoothie

Chocolate Covered Strawberry Smoothies- Better Good Things

and I created  Healthy Kale Heart Pops.

Pick your poison.

And enjoy!

 Better Good Things: Healthy Kale Heart Pops from Go Running, Mama!  A better Valentine's treat filled with kale, grains, and cherries!

Here’s a little more about how I landed on making Healthy Kale Heart Pops…

About six months ago I discovered a cookbook filled with homemade energy bar recipes- Power Hungry by Camila Saulsbury. Camila also has a blog- by the same name- which is super awesome because fabulous food bloggers are really helping me to keep my cookbook purchasing in check by making their creations easily accessible online but when I find a cookbook that is really something special I like to own it to indulge in the cathartic experience of dogearring, thumbing, and page annotating.  And this one is certainly something special! It’s like someone followed my family around to see what we like doing and the sat down to make recipes that would specifically support our frequently snacking, high energy, healthy, on-to-go, gotta run tendencies with no complaints.

Just as any good home cook will do, I adapt even the finest tuned test kitchen recipe to better meet the specific taste of my family (oh the page annotations!) which is what I’ve don’t with the Crispy Kale Bars from Power Hungry that have morphed into my Healthy Kale Heart Pops.

One of the things I love about Power Hungry is that the recipes rely on ingredients that exist natively in my hippielala kitchen.  In sticking with mine and Evin’s pact, I knew I had to work with things I normally have on hand and spend $5 or under on special additions- I needed lollypop sticks ($1.50) and puffed millet  cereal (which I far prefer to puffed rice, $2.49)… $1.09 to spare!

Better Good Things: Healthy Kale Heart Pops from Go Running, Mama!  A better Valentine's treat filled with kale, grains, and cherries!

Pretty basic stock ingredients for a yupster kitchen.

Now here’s the true true on this one… please don’t try to pass it off as a lollypop.  It just wont work.  These are totally delicious but they taste nothing like high fructose corn syrup laden bulk treats (thank goodness) and if you’re little one is used to that and you try to pass this off as “the same thing” then everyone is in for disappointment.  Healthy choices start with healthy conversations with honest and positive positioning!

Because, for goodness sake, they obviously contain a green veggie!  And that is a good thing.

Preparing the kale is one of the most important parts of getting this right.  You need to start with fresh, dry kale or else your kale chips end up wrinkled, wilted and sad.  I find that rinsing my kale the night before so it can dry thoroughly and then putting it in a vase the night before ensures it is properly hydrated and full- we’re going back to fourth grade biology, y’all… making sure those vacuoles are full so that the cell walls don’t collapse!

Better Good Things: Healthy Kale Heart Pops from Go Running, Mama!  A better Valentine's treat filled with kale, grains, and cherries!

Kale is just gorgeous. In the background? Yep, those are my veggies that make up my “flower arrangements.”

Prepare the kale by cutting it off of the tough ribs and tear it into small pieces then arrange it on a baking sheet to dehydrate fully.  The baking/dehydrating is the second key kale step- you want it completely crisp but not terribly browned.  Kale chips are high art!  This method makes fool proof seasoned kale chips as well- just modify by adding the seasonings of your choice.

Better Good Things: Healthy Kale Heart Pops from Go Running, Mama!  A better Valentine's treat filled with kale, grains, and cherries!

While your amazingly perfect (seasoning free) kale chips are cooling, toast the grains and then mix with the dried sour cherries and millet cereal.  And here comes the fun part…

 Better Good Things: Healthy Kale Heart Pops from Go Running, Mama!  A better Valentine's treat filled with kale, grains, and cherries!

KALE HANDS!  It’s a great activity for the little ones if they aren’t running around in the nude banging cymbals and singing the Little Einsteins theme song.  Dehydrated kale basically crumbles into kale powder which allows you to easy pull out any remaining tough stems. Stir gently to combine.

 Better Good Things: Healthy Kale Heart Pops from Go Running, Mama!  A better Valentine's treat filled with kale, grains, and cherries!

After combining the liquid ingredients on the stove and mixing them with the dry, press them into a prepared baking pan and compact them very firmly.  Pop ’em in the fridge to set so that they hold their shape when you cut them.

 Better Good Things: Healthy Kale Heart Pops from Go Running, Mama!  A better Valentine's treat filled with kale, grains, and cherries!

Remove from fridge and lift out of the pan, using the parchment liner, onto a cutting board.  Cutting the shapes with a cookie cutter uses some decent muscle if you’ve compressed the mixture well.  I like to place a small cutting board on top of my cookie cutter so I can really lay my weight on it without cutting hearts into my hands!

 Better Good Things: Healthy Kale Heart Pops from Go Running, Mama!  A better Valentine's treat filled with kale, grains, and cherries!

Because the mixture is tightly compacted (as you’ll realize when you tackle the heart shapes), trying to insert  a lollypop stick would just cause it to crumble.  Using metal barbecue skewer gives you a solid starting point.

 Better Good Things: Healthy Kale Heart Pops from Go Running, Mama!  A better Valentine's treat filled with kale, grains, and cherries!

From that point, it’s super simple to add the lollypop sticks and wrap it all up!

 Better Good Things: Healthy Kale Heart Pops from Go Running, Mama!  A better Valentine's treat filled with kale, grains, and cherries!

Et voila!  Eat your heart out, y’all!

 Better Good Things: Healthy Kale Heart Pops from Go Running, Mama!  A better Valentine's treat filled with kale, grains, and cherries!

Healthy Kale Heart Pops

Ingredients

  • 1 large bunch of curly leaf kale, stems removed and torn into small pieces
  • 1 tbs olive oil + more for pan
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/3 cup raw pepitas
  • 3 tbs flax seeds
  • 1 cup unsweetened puffed millet cereal
  • 1/3 cup dried sour cherries, coarsely chopped
  • 1/3 cup almond butter (I used Justin’s Maple Almond)
  • 1/4 cup organic sugar
  • 1/4 cup organic brown rice syrup
  • 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
  • generous 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Prepare the kale to bake. Rinse and dry very well. Cut leaves from stem and tear into small pieces.  Toss kale pieces with with olive oil and spread into a single layer across a baking sheet.

Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees F and bake the kale for 15 minutes.  Toss kale, rotate, and return to oven for 12 more minutes.  Check the kale for dehydrated crispness before removing from the oven.  Return from oven for one to two minutes if needed, watching carefully, to ensure they are crisp but not browned.  Gently remove to a bowl to cool completely.

Return oven temperature to 350 degrees F.

Line an 8-inch baking pan with parchment paper covering the bottom and sides and treat with olive oil.

Spread the oats, pepitas, and flax seeds on the baking sheet lined with new parchment or foil and toast in the oven for 5 minutes, shaking halfway through, until fragrant.  Transfer to a large bowl and combine with the cereal and cherries.

Using your bare hands, crumble the cooled kale leaves into the bowl, picking to remove any fibrous stems that may have remained.  Gently stir to combine ingredients.

Combine the almond butter, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and vanilla bean paste in a small saucepan and heat over medium low, stirring frequently.  Heat 5-8 minutes until sugar has dissolved and mixture begins to bubble.  Remove from heat and stir in almond extract.

Immediately pour into the oat mixture and mix with a spatula until well coated.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan.  Press the mixture into the pan to spread into an even layer.  Flatten and firmly compact the mixture.

Refrigerate for at least an hour until firmly set.

Remove from fridge and lift out of the pan, using the parchment liner, onto a cutting board.  Using a 3-inch diameter heart cookie cutter, cut into heart shapes.

Using a metal barbecue skewer, poke a hole in the base of each heart.  Using the skewer hole as a guide, insert lollypop stick.

Makes approximately 15 heart pops.