Fun Friday Pesto Pizza Bread with Veggie Kabobs

lunch on 30 Aug 2013: pesto pizza bread, cherry tomato and cucumber kabobs, and grapes
lunch on 30 Aug 2013: pesto pizza bread, cherry tomato and cucumber kabobs, and grapes
lunch on 30 Aug 2013: pesto pizza bread, cherry tomato and cucumber kabobs, and grapes

I wasn’t really thinking about how we always have pizza on Friday night when I was making this pizza bread lunch yesterday. It will just have to be a pizza kind of Friday for the kiddos. I made the pizza on flattened pieces of french bread with marinara sauce, mozzarella and kid-friendly pesto on top. It’s pretty hot here today and I’ve noticed that the kids haven’t been super hungry at lunch, so I kept this one fairly light with veggie kabobs and grapes on the side. The cherry tomatoes are from our garden. Aren’t those little green and red ones just gorgeous?

Sweet and Healthy Mexican Chocolate Chia Pudding

lunch on 29 Aug 2013: Mexican chocolate chia pudding with homemade cinnamon honey wheat crackers, and fruit
lunch on 29 Aug 2013: Mexican chocolate chia pudding with homemade cinnamon honey wheat crackers, and fruit
lunch on 29 Aug 2013: Mexican chocolate chia pudding with homemade cinnamon honey wheat crackers, and fruit

Chia pudding is a super fun and easy thing to make for kid lunches. I’m always experimenting with different flavor combinations in chia pudding, but the kiddos especially love anything with chocolate—or, what they think is chocolate. I usually use carob powder in chia pudding, because it’s naturally sweeter than cocoa powder, but still tastes chocolatey. In addition to yummy pudding, the kiddos get homemade cinnamon honey wheat crackers in their lunches today. My little chef buddy and I decided to make crackers yesterday. And because I was cooking with Lily, we couldn’t just make plain, square crackers—we had to make cute, heart-shaped crackers. Aren’t they adorable? In this delicious lunch, also included grapes and mini apple slice sandwiches with sunflower seed butter.

Sweet and Healthy Mexican Chocolate Chia Pudding

  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1/3 cup plain yogurt
  • 1–2 bananas
  • 2 heaping tablespoons sunflower seed butter (or nut butter of your choice)
  • 1 heaping tablespoon carob powder
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • a generous shake of cinnamon (1/2–1 teaspoon)
  • 2 tablespoons chia seeds

Combine all ingredients—except chia seeds—in a blender. Stir in the chia seeds and let the pudding rest in the fridge overnight. It tastes surprisingly like Mexican chocolate. For a more grown-up version, you could add a nice pinch of cayenne pepper. Recipe makes enough for two kid portions with some leftover for Mom’s mid-morning snack.

 

Kid-Friendly Pesto Macaroni with Tomatoes

kid-friendly spinach basil pesto
lunch on 28 Aug 2013: pesto macaroni with tomatoes, zucchini applesauce, veggies and fruit
lunch on 28 Aug 2013: pesto macaroni with tomatoes, zucchini applesauce, veggies and fruit

Yesterday I whipped up a batch of kid-friendly nut-free pesto. I’ve found that my kiddos don’t care for pesto with raw garlic. I think this may be due to the fact that California garlic is extra strong. No lie. I noticed a major difference in garlic strength after moving to California from the Midwest. You’ve got to be careful with this crazy garlic. I grew some in my garden this year and it’s especially potent, so I left it out of this batch of pesto. For today’s lunch, I tossed some warm macaroni with the pesto and tomatoes from our garden. Yummy. For veggies, Lily got carrot slices and Iain got sliced baby bell peppers. I also included some of the zucchini applesauce I made a couple of days ago. This lunch is super summer plant-powered.

kid-friendly spinach basil pesto
kid-friendly spinach basil pesto

Kid-friendly Spinach Basil Pesto

  • 4 cups spinach
  • 2 cups basil
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • juice from half a lemon
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon honey

Chop sunflower seeds and parmesan cheese in a food processor. Add the rest of the ingredients except the olive oil and pulse a few times. Then slowly add in the olive oil while the machine is running until the pesto is smooth. Yum, you’re done. Keep it in the fridge if you plan to use it up within a couple of weeks or store some in the freezer for later use. I like to freeze pesto in ice cube trays, so I can use little bits in soups and sauces when there’s no fresh basil to be found.

Dinner Roll Sandwich with Grilled Pork and Cheese

lunch on 27 Aug 2013: grilled pork and cheese on a dinner roll with cocodate cookies and fruit
pull-apart dinner rolls
pull-apart dinner rolls

Every once in awhile I get a hankering for soft, warm, fresh from the oven dinner rolls. The kind you might make for Thanksgiving. The kind that fill the house with an insanely delicious yeasty aroma. Sometimes I make these rolls on a random Monday (I try not to teach class on Mondays, so that I can use this day to do important scholarly work and make pull-apart dinner rolls).

lunch on 27 Aug 2013: grilled pork and cheese on a dinner roll with cocodate cookies and fruit
lunch on 27 Aug 2013: grilled pork and cheese on a dinner roll with cocodate cookies and fruit

When you make pull-apart dinner rolls, your kiddos get to eat lovely little sandwiches on soft rolls for lunch. These sandwiches are filled with thin slices of leftover grilled pork and colby swiss cheese. I still have a few cocodate cookies from the batch I made last week, so I threw a couple of those in the lunchbox. For fruit today, we have super sweet farmers market grapes and cantaloupe.

It’s Come to This: Zucchini Madness

zucchini spread

If you have a garden and if, in that garden, you have a healthy zucchini plant, then you know that zucchini is the crop that keeps on giving. And, if you’re an airhead like me, and neglect to check your zucchini plant every couple of days, you will inevitably end up with a squash—or two, or three—the size of a baseball bat. As a result, I’ve made a lot of zucchini dishes this summer: zucchini tuna patties, zucchini bread, zucchini muffins, chickpea zucchini cakes, potato broccoli zucchini nuggets, zucchini pizza crust, zucchini bread pancakes.…The list goes on. When I found myself with yet another enormous zucchini in the garden, I felt a little desperate. What next? Zucchini lasagne? Zucchini fries? I needed a recipe that would use up a lot of squash. After a little internet research, I settled on zucchini applesauce and zucchini butter (spread?).

I started chopping and grating like a mad woman. I estimated that zucchini applesauce and zucchini spread would take roughly the same amount of time to cook, so I made them simultaneously:

zucchini applesauce and zucchini spread on the stove
zucchini applesauce and zucchini spread on the stove

For the zucchini applesauce, I used about a pound (maybe more) of zucchini and two apples. For the zucchini spread, I used one fat leek and two pounds of zucchini. The zucchini applesauce turned out nice and tart thanks to the addition of apple cider vinegar. It’s darker that regular applesauce, but it actually tastes pretty similar.

zucchini applesauce
zucchini applesauce

For the zucchini butter, I followed a recipe by Jennie Cook that I found on theKitchn. You basically cook a big pile of shredded zucchini in a generous amount of olive oil (1/4 cup). It takes awhile to cook off all the zucchini liquid and for the zucchini to caramelize. This is not hands on time, you can wander about and clean your house, do some laundry, or organize your sock drawer while stirring periodically. When it’s almost done, the zucchini will start to brown and stick to the bottom of the pan. Then you’ll have to stay with it and keep stirring and scraping in order to incorporate all that flavor gold back into the spread.

zucchini spread with caramelized brown bits on the pan
zucchini spread with caramelized brown bits on the pan

I cooked the zucchini for 50 minutes to get it nice and thick and jammy. Be sure to season well with salt and pepper to bring out the zucchini flavor.

zucchini spread
zucchini spread

So, what does one do with zucchini spread? I don’t know exactly, but it’s a darn fine condiment. I ate it for lunch on toast with some nice cheese on top:

zucchini on toast with aged cheddar and a hard boiled egg
zucchini on toast with aged cheddar and a hard boiled egg

I think zucchini spread would be great in sandwiches, on pizza, with scrambled eggs, on crackers, added to pasta, etc. I can’t wait to find another gigantic zucchini in the garden so I can make another batch of zucchini spread. For reals.

Rethinking the Sandwich: PPB&J (Pancake Peanut Butter and Jelly)

lunch on 26 Aug 2013: pancake peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with ham, cheese, yogurt and fruit
lunch on 26 Aug 2013: pancake peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with ham, cheese, yogurt and fruit
lunch on 26 Aug 2013: pancake peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with ham, cheese, yogurt and fruit

Sunday morning is usually pancake morning in our house (unless mom is slacking). I had a few leftover blueberry banana pancakes that I used to make pancake peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the kiddos’ lunches. I completely forgot to use sunflower seed butter instead of peanut butter in order to comply with the peanut-free policy at the kids’ school. Bad me. I felt guilty about it all day. But, guilt aside, the pancake peanut butter and jelly sandwich is truly delicious. In today’s lunch, I also included: yogurt with homemade plum jam, two kinds of cheddar cheese, a few slices of ham, and grapes and salmonberries. Mmm. Sweet. Savory. Yummy.

Two Great Tastes That Came Together: The Incredibly Scrumptious Chocolate Peanut Butter Birthday Cake

Liliana's chocolate peanut butter birthday cake
Liliana's chocolate peanut butter birthday cake
Liliana’s chocolate peanut butter birthday cake

My little baby girl turned five yesterday. Since my baby is no longer a baby, we had to mark the occasion with an epically delicious cake: a chocolate peanut butter cake with chocolate peanut butter frosting, chocolate ganache and a Reese’s rose. I’m going into a chocolate peanut butter coma just thinking about.

I used two different recipes for the cake. The cake itself is a vegan chocolate peanut cake from Sexy Vegan Mama. Thanks, Sexy Vegan Mama, you’re sexy and your cake is awesome. For the frosting combination, I used this recipe from Dulce Dough. Amazing frosting!

Here’s the best part, when you cut the cake, it looks like this:

gorgeous slice of chocolate peanut butter cake
gorgeous slice of chocolate peanut butter cake

I know. Super fancy, huh? It’s actually quite easy to achieve the stripy effect. You simply alternate layers of chocolate and peanut butter batters in the cake pan, 1/4 cup at a time:

Lily, the pastry chef, with peanut butter and chocolate cake batters
Lily, the pastry chef, with peanut butter and chocolate cake batters

The cake looks like this once it’s baked:

chocolate peanut butter cake out of the oven
chocolate peanut butter cake out of the oven

Once the cakes have cooled, you need to level them so that they can be stacked. I have heard there is a such a device as a cake leveler. I just used a serrated knife and eye-balled it.

cakes leveled with a serrated knife
cakes leveled with a serrated knife

The chocolate peanut butter frosting gets smoothed on and cools in the fridge:

chocolate peanut butter frosting chilling before the ganache layer is added
chocolate peanut butter frosting chilling before the ganache layer is added

The ganache is then added and the final touch is the Reese’s peanut butter cup rose:

the finished cake
the finished cake

The birthday girl was most pleased:

the happy birthday girl
the happy birthday girl

Ham and Quinoa Superfood Wrap

lunch on 23 Aug 2013: ham and quinoa superfood wrap, with apricot yogurt, green plums and honey wheat pretzels
lunch on 23 Aug 2013: ham and quinoa superfood wrap, with apricot yogurt, green plums and honey wheat pretzels
lunch on 23 Aug 2013: ham and quinoa superfood wrap, with apricot yogurt, green plums and honey wheat pretzels

This is one of my creative ways with leftovers lunches. The other night for dinner I made quinoa bowls loaded with superfoods: kale, pepitas, broccoli, cauliflower, cilantro and crispy baked tofu. All that quinoa goodness is smashed up in these wraps with some cheese and diced ham. I baked the wraps for a few minutes to crisp and seal up the tortillas. The yogurt cup has plain yogurt and homemade apricot jam—which is by far the most delicious jam I made this summer. Nothing quite captures the taste of summer like fresh apricot jam, which I was lucky enough to make with apricots from my neighbor’s tree. Luckily, green plums are still in season here, and the kiddos and I are eating them like crazy.

Happy Weekend!

First Day of School: Veggie Panini Made with Love

lunch on 22 Aug 2013: veggie burger panini with cocodate cookies and fruit
lunch on 22 Aug 2013: veggie burger panini with cocodate cookies and fruit
lunch on 22 Aug 2013: veggie burger panini with cocodate cookies and fruit

Yummy Packed Lunches is back in lunch production mode. Today was the first day of school and the first time that both kiddos went to school together. My little darling Lily started kindergarten and she’s totally excited to be a “big kid.” Since today is such a big day AND it also happens to be Lily’s fifth birthday, I wanted to make a special lunch. The sandwich is a veggie burger panini with colby swiss cheese and a heart cut out. I used one Dr. Praeger’s California burger to make two sandwiches. I warmed the burger in the microwave, smashed it up a bit and divided it between two whole wheat buns. Then, I added a little ketchup, the cheese, and top bun and cooked it under weight in a grill pan. Yummers. I made the cocodate cookies from a Weelicious recipe, and they are deliciously sweet and filled with date goodness. For fruit today, we have gorgeous green plums and blueberries.

I can hardly wait for the kids to finish school, so I can get a full report on how the first day went. Oh the excitement of a new school year: new clothes and backpacks and binders and super sharp pencils and everyone refreshed and full of energy. I hope it lasts for awhile.

Gearing up for School: Healthy Cereal Mix

healthy cereal bowl with strawberries and almond milk
healthy cereal mix
healthy cereal mix

School here starts in two days. This is insane on two counts. First of all: I can’t believe that the lazy days of summer are ending. Second of all: why does school start on a Thursday? Hmm. Well, no matter. We did a trial run this morning and both kiddos (and I!) were fed, brushed, dressed and ready to go at 8:00am. Not bad.

When you need to be out the door by 8ish, breakfast has to be fastsuperfast. Yet, kids are calorie-burning monsters, so breakfast also has to provide some good fuel. Lately, I’ve been experimenting with Engine 2-inspired healthy cereal mixes. Truly healthy, no sugar-added, minimally processed cereal can be a tough sell with kids and that’s where the healthy cereal mix comes in. Shredded wheat by itself is a little boring. But, add in some Grape Nuts and real nuts and some oats and it gets much more interesting.

healthy cereal mix ingredients
healthy cereal mix ingredients

My current favorite cereal mix contains:

  • bite sized shredded wheat
  • Uncle Sam wheat flakes
  • Grape Nuts
  • rolled oats
  • grown flax seeds

and

  • coconut flakes
  • walnuts
  • pepitas (raw pumpkin seeds)

I also threw in some Cheerios because my mom-in-law bought one of those ridiculous Costco two packs (for the SIX BOX TOPS of course). Although, Cheerios do contain added sugar, so I don’t consider them to be super duper healthy.

mmm, cereal
mmm, cereal

The cereal is crunchy and delicious but not sweet at all, so I like to load it up with fruit:

healthy cereal bowl with strawberries and almond milk
healthy cereal bowl with strawberries and almond milk

See how yummy it looks!

healthy cereal bowl with bananas, blueberries and almond milk
healthy cereal bowl with bananas, blueberries and almond milk

The thing that I love about making a big batch of healthy cereal mix is that it’s ready to go when you’re in a morning rush. Healthy cereal mix is endlessly customizable. If you love muesli, add more oats and some dried fruit. If you like cereal that turns a little mushy, crumble in some Weetabix. For more crunch, add lots of nuts. If you simply must make it more sweet or if your kids demand it, drizzle on some honey.