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Homemade Gummy Hearts

26 Jan Homemade Gummy Hearts- sugar free and packed with fresh fruit from Go Running, Mama!

Homemade Gummy Hearts- sugar free and packed with fresh fruit from Go Running, Mama!

We’ve got a toddler in the household, so our home runs on the currency of stickers, kale chips, and fruit snacks.  The Hubs hates stickers.  They end up on everything and are a beast to peel off of the tile after he unknowingly grinds them in place on the way out the door for his 5 am run.  I have fingernails, so stickers aren’t my adversary.  I, on the other hand, am opposed to fruit snacks.  Even the organic, naturally flavored ones are just concentrated nuggets of sugar- and that’s not even visiting the food dyes and preservatives in  the supermarket variety.  (Why are these things called “fruit snacks” anyways?  Let’s be real.  Actual fruit- fresh or dried- should be called “fruit snacks” and everything else should be correctly labeled as gummy treats.)  But Baby Bird love both stickers and fruits snacks, so there aren’t getting eliminated- we just needed to find a way to make them better!  Happily, I discovered this homemade gummy bear recipe from Taralyn over at Undressed Skeleton and was eager to give it a try.

Since Baby Bird loves Valentine’s Day and we are on a heart shaped treats kick at our house (check out our amazingly healthy heart shaped cherry kale pops), I though it would be fun to make little gummy hearts that we could also use as better snacking options to give to friends in place of the go-to red dye 40 laden store bought treats (I’ve totally got my good friend Evin and her struggles with food dyes on the mind).  We stayed pretty true to Taralyn’s recipe and the results were fabulous- sugar free gummy treats packed with fresh fruit!

We had lots of great local citrus on hand thanks to our CSA box, and it was nice to intimately know the source of our ingredients!  We had lots of oranges, Meyer lemons, and lovely key limes so I opted for a citrus medley for the strawberry snacks (1/2 cup orange juice, 1/4 cup key lime, 1/4 Meyer lemon) that would be delightfully tart next to the banana snacks (made with a bit of orange juice) with would naturally be very sweet.

Homemade Gummy Hearts- sugar free and packed with fresh fruit from Go Running, Mama!

The process is insanely simple- simmer the fruit, juice, and -in the case of the strawberry snacks- local honey until very soft.  We opted for local honey in place of the stevia in Taralyn’s recipe for two reasons: a) anything to help with Cedar Fever in the ATX, and b) the jury is still out on stevia in this household.

The simmer process was slightly longer with the strawberries than the bananas, of course.

Homemade Gummy Hearts- sugar free and packed with fresh fruit from Go Running, Mama!

Once the fruit is softened, you pop the mixture into a blender and puree until smooth.  Remove the blender cap to allow the mixture to cool slightly and then add the gelatin and process in the blender once again.

Homemade Gummy Hearts- sugar free and packed with fresh fruit from Go Running, Mama!

Pour the mixture into a pan and pop into the fridge to cool for an hour.  The size of the pan you use for cooling with dictate the width of your gummy treats.  I didn’t want ours to turn out too thin, so I chose containers that would give us thicker treats.  The strawberry recipe also makes roughly double the treats of the banana which I feel is an ideal balance of tart to sweet when tossed together!  Baby Bird strongly prefers the strawberry citrus flavor as she tends to enjoy more complex flavor profiles in her foods.

Homemade Gummy Hearts- sugar free and packed with fresh fruit from Go Running, Mama!

For nice tiny hearts, I used a fondant cutter to cut our shapes.  Once you cut the shape, you have to give it a little jiggle to detach it from the bottom of the pan and it will lift up easily as you remove the cutter.

Homemade Gummy Hearts- sugar free and packed with fresh fruit from Go Running, Mama!

Needless to say, they were a huge it!  It was tough to snatch pictures of them before they disappeared.  Baby Bird figured I had momentarily lost my mind because I was allowing fruit snack consumption without even the slightest frown on my face and she was determined to exploit what she assumed was a lapse in judgement as long as possible.

The simmer process was slightly longer with the strawberries than the bananas, of course.

The texture is nice a firm- far more similar to an actual gummy bear than a jello jiggler- which is awesome.  Before we tried these, I was a little afraid that they would be more like amped up jigglers.  They have also given me high hopes that I can tweak this recipe to make homemade energy gels for our long runs.  Heck, if I can figure that out I may be able to add another distance race to my schedule from all the savings!

Now if I can only figure out how to make homemade stickers that don’t require Mommy’s nails or a putty knife to remove them from the tile…

Homemade Gummy Hearts- sugar free and packed with fresh fruit from Go Running, Mama!

Strawberry Citrus Gummy Hearts

Ingredients

  • 1 cup fresh citrus juice (at least 1/2 cup orange juice + additional citrus juice of your choosing to create 1 cup)
  • 2 cups diced strawberries
  • 1 tbs local honey
  • 5 packets of unflavored gelatin

Directions: Combine juice, fruit, and honey in a small pan and bring to a simmer.  Simmer until strawberries are very soft.

Pour mixture into blender and puree until smooth.  Remove lid from blender and allow to cool for 5 minutes.  Once slightly cooled, add gelatin packets and process in blender once more.

Pour into a pan (the size of the pan you select with affect the thickness of your gummy treats- I chose 8×8) and place in fridge to set for at least one hour.

Remove from refrigerator and cut into shapes.

Makes 200+ gummy hearts (will vary based on size of pan and size of shapes)

Banana Gummy Hearts

Ingredients

  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 2 packets of unflavored gelatin

Directions:

Combine juice and banana in a small bowl.  Mash banana with a fork and stir to combine with juice.  Add mixture to a small pan to simmer for 3-5 minutes until banana is very soft and slightly golden in color.

Pour mixture into blender and puree until smooth.  Remove lid from blender and allow to cool for 5 minutes.  Once slightly cooled, add gelatin packets and process in blender once more.

Pour into a pan (the size of the pan you select with affect the thickness of your gummy treats- I chose 8×8) and place in fridge to set for at least one hour.

Remove from refrigerator and cut into shapes.

Makes 75+ gummy hearts (will vary based on size of pan and size of shapes)

*These can easily be toted as lunch bag or diaper bag snacks, but since these are made with fresh fruit and no preservatives, store in the fridge until you pack them up to send as a treat.

#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.

Top 13 in 2013

2 Jan My 5 Favorite Posts of 2013- Go Running, Mama!

This blog has been a new adventure for me and, even though it only covered the second half of the year, I thought it would be interesting to take a look back at my 13 most popular posts of 2013.

It’s been a lot of fun sharing, and I’m excited about another year with y’all!

Top 13 posts in 2013- Go Running, Mama!

13. Exhaustion, Smoothie Pick Me Ups, and a Virtual Half Marathon Comedy of Errors (September)- Forgetting water during a high altitude half marathon, finding out I had mono, and the smoothies that got me through the ordeal!

12. Carrot Top Tacos (July)- Spiced carrots and beans with carrot top chimichurri.  Never, ever waste your carrot tops again.

11. Maple Bacon Biscuits (September)-  Maple.  Bacon. Biscuit.  Trifecta.

10. Gifts from the Heart: Apple Cinnamon Ornaments (December)- An ultra non-toxic clay that makes heavenly scented ornaments or an amazing material for sensory play.

9.  #FirstontheFirst Spiced Pumpkin Cake with Penuche Frosting (October)- We were supposed to make candy, but I cheated and frosted a very yummy cake with this praline-esque frosting.

8. #FirstontheFirst Gateau Larsson (September)- My Scandinavian twist on a traditional Basque dessert.

7.  Gifts from the Heart: Baking Soda Clay Ornaments (December)- These smooth ornaments are an inexpensive (and toddler friendly) alternative to a trip to a ceramics studio.

6. Creamy Garlic Kefir Pasta (July)- A probiotic packed easy meal.

5. Cinnamon Quinoa Lunchbox Bars (August)- Lunchbox snacks don’t get much healthier.

4. Meeska… Mooska… Mouseka Cakes: Zucchini Quinoa Lunchbox Patties (August)- Healthy food tastes even better in Mickey Mouse form.

3. #FirstontheFirst Candy Canes for Cheaters (December)- Once again, we were supposed to make candy.  And I didn’t.  But I think you’ll forgive me when you taste these cookies.

2. Frosty the Cheese Man: Snowman Cheese Ball with Hand Cut Tortilla Chips (December)- The most adorable, toddler friendly appetizer you’ll ever bring to a gathering.

1. Gifts from the Heart: Homemade Ornaments– Salt dough ornaments are a classic go-to holiday activity.

Looking for even more fun?  Here are my five favorite posts you may have missed this year…

My 5 Favorite Posts of 2013- Go Running, Mama!

Gifts from the Heart: Helping Hand Heart Cookies

15 Dec Gifts from the Heart: Helping Hands Heart Cookies- A great edible gift using your little's handprint and artistry at Go Running, Mama!

Gifts from the Heart: Helping Hands Heart Cookies- A great edible gift using your little's handprint and artistry at Go Running, Mama!

We’ve got hearts and hands on the brain at our house right now.  Baby Bird and I send lots of time talking about feelings and sharing affirmations, and it seems that hands and hearts are frequently in the rotation.

“I like your gentle hands… thank you for your caring heart… I’m glad I had your helping hands around… I appreciate your kind heart.”

These are good times, my friends.

It also makes it extra special to make our favorite cookie gifts for the helping hands in our lives since Baby Bird is becoming  hyper-aware of how kindness and helping affect her day and the lives of those around her.  Dance teachers, tutors, neighbors, and the nice ladies that give her big hugs at Daddy’s office- kindness deserves to be recognized and affirmed.

When making gifts I like Baby Bird to be as involved as possible in each step, and cookies are a pretty perfect way to engage her because she can contribute to each step.

I pre-measure all of our ingredients and let her add them to the bowl.  With a little help, she’s a great whisker too!  I even let her run the final pass of the rolling pin when rolling out our cookie dough.

And of course, her hand print creates the cookie shape for this gift.  I create a stencil of her hand and then hand cut the cookies from the dough with a knife.

Gifts from the Heart: Helping Hands Heart Cookies- A great edible gift using your little's handprint and artistry at Go Running, Mama!

I also create a heart outline stencil.  Once I’ve cut the cookies I lay the stencil over each one, paint the interior of the stencil with an egg wash, and let Baby Bird sprinkle the stencil with colored sugar.

Gifts from the Heart: Helping Hands Heart Cookies- A great edible gift using your little's handprint and artistry at Go Running, Mama!

We let the cookies cool completely on a rack… which is normally when Baby Bird volunteers to “help” taste them.

Gifts from the Heart: Helping Hands Heart Cookies- A great edible gift using your little's handprint and artistry at Go Running, Mama!

Once they are cool, Baby Bird gets to decorate the cookies with cookie markers all by herself!  She is always so proud of this part because she gets complete creative control.  And she always snaps a few “fingers” along the way, so I’ve learned to make about half a dozen more cookies than we need.

Gifts from the Heart: Helping Hands Heart Cookies- A great edible gift using your little's handprint and artistry at Go Running, Mama!

The end result is beautiful in a way that only gifts made by a toddler can be- so sweet!

Gifts from the Heart: Helping Hands Heart Cookies- A great edible gift using your little's handprint and artistry at Go Running, Mama!

Then we bundle up a pair of hands (right and left!) and attach a note thanking our special friends for their helping hands!  It makes a great gift for people who aren’t close enough to us to truly want a toddler made craft to hang on the tree or display in their home- but who would probably do so out of politeness- but who deserve a heartfelt gift for the way they contribute to our lives.

Gifts from the Heart: Helping Hands Heart Cookies- A great edible gift using your little's handprint and artistry at Go Running, Mama!

Helping Hand Sugar Cookies with Sanding Sugar Hearts

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (plus some additional for rolling)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg + 1 egg yolk for egg wash
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • colored sanding sugar

Directions:  In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together sugar and butter until light and fluffy.  Beat in 1 whole egg and vanilla.  With mixer on low, slowly add the flour mixture and beat until combined.

Divide dough in half and flatten into disks.  Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and freeze for about 20 minutes to firm.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Remove one disk of dough and let stand 5 minutes.  Roll dough 1/8-1/4 inch thickness.  Cut handprints by hand or using a cookie cutter.  Carefully transfer handprints to a parchment lined baking sheet and place in freezer for 8-12minutes.

Combine egg yolk with 1 tbs water to make an egg wash.

Remove from freezer, place heart stencil over each cookie, paint with egg wash, and sprinkle on colored sanding sugar.

Bake for 8-15 minutes depending on handprint size and thickness.

Allow to cool on baking sheet for 3 minutes and then transfer to cooling rack using a spatula.

Repeat with remaining dough.

Frosty the Cheese Man: Snowman Cheese Ball with Hand Cut Holiday Tortilla Chips

4 Dec Frosty the Cheese Man: A Snowman Cheese Ball- Go Running, Mama!

Frosty the Cheese Man: A Snowman Cheese Ball- Go Running, Mama!

It’s holiday playdate time again… that time of year when, all of a sudden, the usual tub of hummus and veggie snacks I pack for our playdate crew doesn’t seem quite fancy enough. Holiday’s call for something festive!  Toddler festive, that is.

Wait.  Let’s stop so I can clarify… I’m not in a playdate circle with a bunch of jerky moms who have lofty and unreasonable expectations about what people should contribute during the holidays.  I’m not up late at night stressing about how I’m going to impress others and hold onto my station as not-quite-Martha-on-the-verge-of-sanity.  The desire for something fancy and festive is purely my own- a self imposed joy amplifier to help spread a little extra happy during any season celebrated with a Peanuts holiday special.

Good.  I’m glad we cleared that up.

If I’ve learned anything as a mom, nothing screams holiday celebration for littles in quite the same way as food shaped like seasonal stuff.

Oranges?  Okay.  Oranges decorated like jack-o-lanterns?  OMG!

Fruit salad? Respectable work.  Fruit salad shaped like an American flag? Amazingness!

And here is my secret weapon…

Cheese ball and crackers? Tasty but a little 1950’s.  Cheese ball shaped like anything accompanied by home-baked tortilla chips in fun shapes? Totally swoon-worthy… and adorably retro-chic!

The real deal is that cheese balls are easy, economical, easy to customize flavor wise- and even easier to make into shapes (I just used “easy” four times!  Do you believe me yet?).  And a quality, fresh flour tortilla makes a killer home-baked tortilla chip that will please any toddler.  Which is why these two make up my favorite festive snack pairing… especially when you can shape them like a snowman!

Because seriously… how cute is this guy!?

Frosty the Cheese Man: A Snowman Cheese Ball- Go Running, Mama!

Even without his carrot nose, this fella is dashing!

He’s ridiculously cute, right!?

But, the thing that really elevated this from a festive cheese ball to a pile of holiday happiness on a plate is the hand cut home-baked festive tortilla chips.  That are beyond simple.  And- it just keeps getting better- fabulously engaging for little helping hands!

Frosty the Cheese Man: A Snowman Cheese Ball- Go Running, Mama!

Baby Bird loves to select her shapes to punch her “own chippies” too!  It’s really adorable to listen to her say “Smoooosh!” each time she lays her weight into a cookie cutter to cut out a shape.  There is a part of me that hope she does that forever.  A BIG part of me.

Frosty the Cheese Man: A Snowman Cheese Ball- Go Running, Mama!

If you want to turn the tortilla chip creation into an active part of your playdate and an art project to boot, you can make egg wash paint and allow your lilliputian guests to paint their own chips!

Frosty the Cheese Man: A Snowman Cheese Ball- Go Running, Mama!

We love kitchen activities at playdates because I like to see kids taking an active role in creating their meals.  As a former junior high science teacher, I worked with far too many adolescents with dangerous misconceptions and a disheartening willing ignorance towards how food is sourced, created, and prepared.  I love seeing little ones take a food project they have created to the table with proud ownership.

Of course, I could be teaching Baby Bird that cheese comes from snowmen.

Being a toddler is confusing.

At least the snacks are tasty… and festive!

Snowman Cheese Ball with Hand Cut Tortilla Chips

Ingredients:

Cheese Ball:

  • 16 oz cream cheese
  • 8 oz shredded cheddar
  • 1/4 cup fresh chives, chopped
  • 1 tsp truffle oil
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 c grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1/2 tsp truffle salt
  • whole peppercorns
  • 1 baby carrot
  • additional chives for scarf
  • 1 cinnamon stick (broken in two) for arms

Tortilla Chips:

  • fresh flour tortillas

Optional Egg Wash Paint (for each desired color):

  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp water
  • 2-3 drops food coloring

Directions: Mix first six cheese ball ingredients until blended. Refrigerate at least 1 hour.

Divide cheese mixture into 3 different-size balls (1 small, 1 medium and 1 large). In food processor, pulse grated parm with truffle salt. Coat each ball with Parmesan. Arrange in line on serving plate to resemble a snowman lying down.

Decorate with peppercorns, chives, cinnamon sticks and a carrot.  Refrigerate until a half hour before serving.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Using cookie cutters, cut tortillas into desired shapes.

If painting, mix egg wash paint ingredients and decorate shapes as desired.

Arrange shapes on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Bake for 10-12 minutes.

Allow to cool on pan for 1 minute then transfer to a bowl to serve.

#FirstontheFirst: Candy Canes for Cheaters

1 Dec

First on the First Kitchen Adventure

Wow… It’s been exactly two months since I managed a post.  Yikes!

In my defense, it’s been a busy period.  One of the drawbacks of being a “just for fun” mommy blogger is that- regardless of how awesome a post idea is in you mind- ideas don’t always make it to the blog when things get busy or hectic or busy or fun or busy or scary or busy or deliberately relaxed.  So in the past two months half-started blogs about why ACL is far more awesome with a toddler, a child-free NYC trip, turning 33, letting mono dominate my training schedule (or lack thereof), incredibly amazing two ingredient (for real) cookies, great uses for leftover champagne (yes… sometimes there are leftovers!), and what to do should your child have a febrile seizure have stacked up in the queue.  And each one seemed like a weird place to pick back up after a hiatus, so I abandoned them one by one with plans to “get back to them when things calm down.”

So be anxiously awaiting my post about why ACL is better with a toddler when Baby Bird goes off to college.

Sometimes it’s hard to just pick back up with a project that you’ve stepped away from- it feels a little foreign at first.  Where to begin…

With a First on the First post, right!?

It seems like the perfect place.

Except I’m totally cheating this round.  You know, because of the holiday season and toddler life and that whole febrile seizure thing mentioned above.

We were supposed to make candy canes.  Real ones.  Candy.  Copper pans, thermometers, and such.

My patience has been worn to the minimum over the past two weeks- I’m using my carefully rationed daily dose for my toddler and husband and NOT for a candy experiment that would undoubtedly mock me relentlessly on the first three trials in my last minute attempts at perfection.  So in the true spirit of First on the First pushing us to pursue something we haven’t before tried in the kitchen, I’m making my candy canes in the form of a cookie.

Not just cookies shaped to look like candy canes, but designed to taste like them as well.  Peppermint… or chocolate peppermint should you so desire.  Plus, they are far more conducive to tiny helping hands then boiling hot sugar (little hands might make them less “pretty” than they would be if just Mama made them, but I’ll take a happy toddler over flawless cookies any day!).

My first on the first buddies will forgive me.  I just know it.  We’re connected by the compassionate spirit of all holiday bakers.

We know that sometimes kitchen adventures just aren’t meant to pan out on that attempt.  The kitchen gods can be cruel.

And we know the healing power of a good cookie.

Cheers to that, dear friends!

*clink*

#FirstotheFirst: Candy Canes for Cheaters-Peppermint Almond and Chocolate Peppermint Candy Cane Cookies

Candy Canes for Cheaters- Peppermint Candy Cane Cookies

For these cookies, you only need to pick two dough options to pair together.  Mix and match to suit your fancy!

Red Peppermint Dough:

  • 1/2 cups butter (room temperature)
  • 1/3 cup + 4 tsp powdered sugar
  • 6 tsp beaten egg (roughly 1/2 of an egg)
  • 1/4 tsp peppermint extract
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • scant 1/2 tsp salt
  • red food coloring

White Almond Dough:

  • 1/2 cups butter (room temperature)
  • 1/3 cup + 4 tsp powdered sugar
  • 6 tsp beaten egg (roughly 1/2 of an egg)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • scant 1/2 tsp salt

Chocolate Dough:

  • 1/2 cups butter (room temperature)
  • 1/3 cup + 4 tsp powdered sugar
  • 6 tsp beaten egg (roughly 1/2 of an egg)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 c cocoa powder
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • scant 1/2 tsp salt

Directions: Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Start with your first dough option.  In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and powdered sugar.  Add eggs and extracts and mix well.

In a separate bowl, whisk together remaining dry ingredients.  Gradually add dry ingredients to butter mixture while mixing on low speed.  If making peppermint dough, once mixed slowly add red food coloring to achieve desired color intensity.

Roll dough into a ball, cover with a damp towel and set aside.

#FirstotheFirst: Candy Canes for Cheaters-Peppermint Almond and Chocolate Peppermint Candy Cane Cookies

Pick two… or go all out and double up on the peppermint so you can make both kinds!

Prepare your second dough option following the same procedures.

Portion both doughs into 24 balls of each color.  Roll each ball into a rope about 6 inches in length.

#FirstotheFirst: Candy Canes for Cheaters-Peppermint Almond and Chocolate Peppermint Candy Cane Cookies

Place two ropes of differing colors together and press together gently without altering the shape.

#FirstotheFirst: Candy Canes for Cheaters-Peppermint Almond and Chocolate Peppermint Candy Cane Cookies

Carefully twist and transfer to a baking sheet or cutting board, shaping into a hooked candy cane shape.  Place in the freezer for ten minutes to firm while working with the remaining dough.

#FirstotheFirst: Candy Canes for Cheaters-Peppermint Almond and Chocolate Peppermint Candy Cane Cookies

Bake for about 9 minutes.  Let cool on baking sheet for two minutes before transferring to cooling rack.

#FirstotheFirst: Candy Canes for Cheaters-Peppermint Almond and Chocolate Peppermint Candy Cane Cookies

Makes two dozen cookies.

#FirstotheFirst: Candy Canes for Cheaters-Peppermint Almond and Chocolate Peppermint Candy Cane Cookies

Eager to try your hand at legitimate candy canes?  Check out the other #FirstontheFirst posts this month: