Monday, May 31, 2010

recipe | fruitalicious fruit-tastic homemade popsicles

This is not a bento box friendly recipe. ;-)

It is a sweet summer treat and soooo super easy.

Yesterday I found we had a big batch of strawberries end up in a super cold spot of the refrigerator and they partially froze. Partially frozen strawberries become very soggy squishy strawberries. We had to act fast to re-purpose them.

Into the blender they went. Now what? The kids weren't hungry for smoothies, so on to plan B: popsicles.

Along with the strawberries I added just enough orange juice to get everything blending along. Then into popsicle molds and into the freezer they went.

And today they came out of the freezer...
I have a lot of different popsicle molds. These ones are vintage Tupperware, if you're curious. :)

And they were a very big hit with the whole crowd.
strawberry oj pops

Summer yum! We often use watermelon and a splash of orange juice for popsicles, too. I like that they come out as bright and shiny and pretty as the boxed varieties, but are so healthy there is no reason to say no when your child asks to have another one (or two). We go through a LOT of popsicles in the summertime. ;-)

What are some of your favorite popsicle blends?

  Some of my favorite popsicle making molds:

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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Muffin Tin Monday - breakfast

This week's round of Muffin Tin Monday did not have a theme. And while I had some ideas float around in my head, in the end I was not feeling very inspired. I ended up making a breakfast tin.
MTM breakfast in a tin!

Across the top row: homemade raspberry crumb mini-muffin, banana pop, strawberry.
Bottom row: grapes, plain yogurt with an apricot fruit leather flower, homemade raisin granola mix.

The banana on a popsicle trick is total genius, but alas, I can't take credit for it at all. Alie showed off that bit of brilliance with her MTM post a few weeks ago! Isn't it fantastic?! Way to go, Alie! My girl Paigey-pie was so thrilled with it she bit off the end before I could take the picture!

If you would like to see what other MTM peeps are up to today you can click over to the Muffin Tin Mom site here and check them out! :)
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new (super cute!) box - ribbit ribbit!

New bento box! Toadally adorable bento box!!
This is (one of) our new bento boxes. I might have gone on a bit of a bento-shopping bender lately. Maybe. Just Maybe.

froggy ready to go!

I have been pining for this little two-tier bento box for ages! I was unsure about the size and quality of it, so I've continued to hem and haw over it for the better part of a year. After seeing the price drop on it quite a bit on Amazon I started to waffle and when my friend Wendy did a post about getting the panda version I totally crumbled like a cookie! (although I just now realized when hunting up that link that hers is actually a little different than mine...I didn't even realize!).

Whether this be a big snack or a small lunch, it was all for Ethan, my 8-year-old.
froggy lunch

Mmm, Yum!

froggy's snacks in bottom level

The bottom level is a little deeper and a smidge bigger than the top level. In the bottom tier he had: sunflower kernels, a Babybell cheese, a few little turkey rolls, carrots, olives. The sunflower kernels are in a little disposable cup that came from a pizzeria full of parmesan. I just washed it out and added it to my own lunch supplies. It may not last long, but I'll reuse it as much as I can while I can! The little snap-on lid fits on it inside this bento box too. :)

The top level was perfect for a little fruit salad of strawberries and kiwi fruit.
froggy's fruit salad

The top level comes with a nice sealing lid to keep wet things from making a mess!
froggy's lid for top level

The top tier fits nicely on the bottom tier, and then the froggy face lid closes it up.
froggy getting stacked up

A bento "belt" is an elastic band that keeps everything securely together.
froggy has a playmate
LOVE it!

I just noticed there is also a piggie version too. Oh mercy me!

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Saturday, May 29, 2010

lions & tigers & bears, oh my!

This little lunch bento was for my park-bound preschool girl. :)

lions, and tigers, and bears - oh my!

In the back section is a sandwich (peanut butter & raspberry preserves), with cheddar cheese bears.
In the front section is a silicone cup of cucumber chunks, two slices of kiwi and four cherries. The cherries were pitted which made them awfully easy to arrange on the lion and tiger picks. ;-)

This bento lunch was packed in a Sassy box. The sandwich was cut into two large puzzle shapes using The Lunch Punch "match and munch" cutter. :)

Items used to pack this bento:

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Snack bento with a fun new kid treat :)

A snack bento for my biggest boy to take to a playdate. Are they still called "playdate" at 8-years-old? It's starting to sound a little silly...

lunch@bles ain't got nuthin' on this

Working from top left to the bottom:
Baby carrots, strawberries in a silicone cup, crackers, the rest of the tiny cheddar cheese stars (extras from the other day's tiny snacks - so much easier to do a lot at once and keep them ready to go in the fridge!), peppered turkey roll-ups on a pick, and a homemade granola bar.
And lastly, the bright red stick is a tube of honey! I found these at our local farmer's market at a honey stand. Each tiny tube contains one teaspoon of naturally colored and flavored honey (this one is cherry). So far Ethan has liked grape best, followed by cherry. He didn't care for blueberry (but little sister thought it was great!). A reasonably healthy fun little treat to add to our arsenal. :)
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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

recipe: chocolate chip granola bites & granola bars

Granola Bites

Some of my best peeps (that's you!) have been asking for the recipe for the granola bites that are often in the bentos for my kids. This recipe has evolved and been tweaked quite a bit and I'm pretty happy with it now. My challenge in finding a granola recipe was to find one that doesn't use peanut butter (because my main granola-eating kid doesn't like peanut butter) (he's nuts!), and one without coconut (I don't like that, blech!) and one that holds together after being cut into bars. Along the way I have tried a lot of recipes that tasted great, but they would crumble to pieces as soon as it removed from the pan. Crumbles don't pack well in a bento box. ;-)

Gathering the goods:
ready the supplies
also needed but didn't make it in the picture (because I am just that scatterbrained)...vanilla, brown sugar, and ground flax seed and/or wheat germ (optional).

For granola bars you will need a baking pan and for the little "granola bites", as I call them, you will need mini silicone cups. This recipe will yield an 8x8 pan of granola bars plus about six mini-granola bites. You can make all granola bites if you like, or all granola bars. I wouldn't try making more than 6 of the bites if you are also doing the bars, because you may end up with not enough granola in the pan for enough depth to keep the bars intact once cut apart.
baking pan, baking cups
I've also found through a lot of trial and error that the bars stay together better in a truly square pan, like this one, rather than a glass baking dish with rounded corners and edges.
I use a piece of parchment to help get the bars out of the pan. I use the paperclips to keep the sides of parchment from flopping into the middle. I remove the paperclips after the pan is filled and ready to bake.

2 1/2 C. quick oats
1/2 C. crisp rice cereal
1/2 C. mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 C. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 C. canola oil
1/4 C. honey
1/2 tsp. vanilla
* optional: ground flax seed and/or wheat germ (I use 3 heaping Tbs. or so of each).

Mix all ingredients (except for the chocolate chips - keep those out for now) really, really, really well. I start with a wooden spoon and then usually end up using my hands too. Take your time to make sure everything is really blended. Taking your time also allows the wet ingredients to sort of soak into the dry components. If your mixture seems dry after mixing then you may need to add a little more oil and/or honey - a teaspoon at a time - until it starts to clump up a little.
It may be hard to tell, but can you see how some of the granola mixture is starting to cling and ball up a little here?
granola, looking for clumpiness

When your granola mixture gets to this point, not too wet, not too dry, then stir in the chocolate chips.

Holding the mini muffin cups, scoop the granola mixture in and form the mound compactly. I use a rounded tablespoon to help form them, a small cookie scoop would work too. You need to use both hands to press the granola and support the muffin cup at the same time. Line them up on a baking sheet to place in the oven.
chocolate chip granola - ready to bake

Press the remaining granola into your baking pan (if you are making bars). Make sure your baking pan has been sprayed well with non-stick spray!  Press mixture firmly, compacting it as well as you can.

350 degrees.
Granola bites: 12-15 minutes.
Granola bars: 17-22 minutes (keep an eye on them!).
They are ready to remove from oven when the tops are golden.  If they don't cook long enough they may not hold their shape. If they cook too long they will get too dry (not to mention they can burn) and may not hold their shape.  (I've found granola bars to be finicky.)

Let the granola bites cool completely. Just leave 'em alone for a few hours so they can set. Then, they are done! So easy.
Granola Bites

You can remove them from the silicone cups, if you want, they hold their shape great.
just granola yumminess

The bars are a little more work.

MOST IMPORTANTLY - do not even attempt to touch them at all after they are done baking. You must let them set and gel and have alone time.  Overnight. I mean it. If you don't leave them alone overnight you'll be sorry! Take my word for it. I speak from experience.
It doesn't matter if they seem cool to the touch and it doesn't matter if they "look fine". They really do need that time to come together and fully set or they will just fall apart.

So, the next morning, you will need a long knife. It's a lot easier if you can cut them apart in one big motion. My longest knife is *just* barely long enough.
granola bars done and set

Turn the pan over on a cutting board. Sometimes I get lucky and the whole granola slab plops out without further prodding. Sometimes it needs to be prodded. This is where having that parchment in there is a big asset. Just gently pull on the flaps of parchment hanging out and the whole thing will pop onto the cutting board.
removing granola bars from pan

Next, using that long sharp knife cut into bars. I get 12 out of an 8x8" pan.
cut into bars

Lastly, you should wrap them up. While they hold together well enough to eat with your hands, they are "delicate" and will fall apart if they are messed with too much. Warmer weather also seems to make them more prone to falling apart.
I use wax paper. I cut into pieces approximately 7" by 3" or so (I'm not very precise or concerned about it) and wrap them individually. If I have space to twist the ends closed I'll do that (easy!). If I've cut too short then I fold the ends in and seal shut with a sticker (cute!).
granola bars all wrapped up & ready to go

Store in an airtight container.
granola bars nice & cozy

Some random notes:

  • Like I said before, these are pretty finicky. I make them the same way every time but my results still vary. It may depend on the weather. (Seriously). They are less dense now that we have warm weather. Also, it seems the ingredients require more moisture sometimes to get to that clumpy stage while mixing and other times it needs less.

    It's important to use the Quick Oats and not the regular ones. Regular oats will NOT gel together and you'll end up with a tasty granola crumble instead of handy granola bars.

    You can use regular Rice Krispies for the crisp rice cereal. But if you do that you should cut back on the brown sugar or they will end up being overly sweet. I use the organic brown rice cereal because we are trying to cut out all HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) and Rice Krispies have HFCS (and other sugars too, but it's the HFCS I have the biggest issue with). The organic brown rice cereal is not sweetened, so the whole 1/2 cup of brown sugar is needed.

    Substituting mini semi-sweet baking M&M's  for the chocolate chips is fun way to change it up.

    You can add a little peanut butter to this if you like. Sometimes I'll add a big heaping spoonful in hopes of acclimating my son to the taste of it. ;-) As long as he doesn't know it's in there and I don't over-do it he doesn't notice. Sometimes he notices but doesn't complain too much.

    The flax and wheat germ are totally optional. I usually use it, but sometimes forget. It's a great way to bump up fiber and omega 3's and a bunch of other good stuff. :)

  • You can use butter instead of the canola oil if you prefer. I use the canola because it's a healthier oil/fat, but butter works just fine with the recipe too.

    I hope you enjoy!! :)

    Supplies used to make these granola bites:

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    Tuesday, May 25, 2010

    itty bitty little snack bentos

    Cute snacks for two of my cute kids.

    For my 3-year-old:
    itty bitty bento pink
    She had a "sushi sandwich" (cream cheese & grape preserves), baby fishie crackers, a tiny silicone cup of blueberries and a wedge of clementine.

    For my 8-year-old:
    itty bitty bento blue
    He had peppered turkey roll-ups, mini stars of cheddar cheese, blueberries, and a homemade granola bite.

    I know it can be hard to get a handle on the size from just a photo, so for reference these bentos are the size of a deck of cards! Very small. It was a fun little challenge to pack these. The things I do to amuse myself.... ;-)
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    Monday, May 24, 2010

    Muffin Tin Monday - seeds, plants & flowers

    It's that time again!
    This week sees the Springtime mini-series theme continue with "seeds, plants, and flowers".

    MTM flower power!

    Top row: a bouquet of cheddar tulips, a peanut butter & jelly sandwich with organic fruit leather decoration (using mini-cookie cutters), broccoli bushes (that's a plant, right?) ;-)

    Bottom row: a pink flower cup with sunflower kernels, natural applesauce with flower sprinkles, flower shaped pasta drizzled with EVOO and lightly seasoned.

    It's not exactly what I had pictured doing for this week, but I had some "help" from a certain three-year-old, so results varied. :)

    Want to see some other MTM meals from today? Check them out by clicking over to Muffin Tin Mom site here.
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    Friday, May 21, 2010

    last bento lunch of 2nd grade

    My big boy's last lunch eaten as a second grader. (sniff)

    Clockwise from top left: raspberries, strawberry cereal bar/granola bar/animal cookies, wheat crackers and cheddar cheese stars, pickles. Packed in a four-square Lock & Lock box.

    Magoo had a super second grade year. The best. I hope we will have a summer to match. :)
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    Thursday, May 20, 2010

    walking with elephants

    My family loves elephants. Before we even had children, my husband and I would "adopt" an animal at the zoo, our sponsorship helping aid programs and projects at the zoo. We always chose the elephants!
    When we moved across the country to our new (and current home) the first piece of artwork we purchased for our house was elephant art. Elephant art being actual artwork painted by an elephant. Our specific piece was painted by Kiba, from the Nashville Zoo. Elephants are always close to our hearts. :)

    The elephant themed lunch my little girl enjoyed earlier this week.
    for the love of elephants

    A jelly sandwich on whole grain bread, shaped into mommy & baby elephants with The Lunch Punch elephant sandwich cutter from the "Critter Cutters" set. Eyes are sprinkles.
    Around the sandwich is a piece of fruit leather cut into an elephant shape (from a set of cookie cutters by Williams-Sonoma), a piece of heart-shaped fruit leather (because we heart elephants, of course!), some cheddar cheese elephants, and lastly, a little dish of peanuts. Because elephants and peanuts go together...well, like peanut butter and jelly! ;-)

    save the elephants!
    In the two smaller sections of this EasyLunchboxes container is an elephant-shaped boiled egg (shaped using this elephant onigiri shaper from JList) and some strawberries and grapes with a gratuitous elephant pick added for decoration.

    This lunch was a big, BIG, hit with my girl. As evidenced by the exuberant elephant sounds she trumpeted throughout the entire meal. LOL :)

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    Wednesday, May 19, 2010

    recipe: pizza pockets for lunch boxes

    homemade pizza pockets

    You asked for it! How to make homemade pizza pockets. Or, as my little girl calls them, "pizza sandwiches". :)

    There are several variations to this recipe/technique to make homemade pizza pockets. You can take shortcuts to make the process easier and faster, or do it all from scratch - whatever suits your tastes (and time frame!) best.

    Items needed to make your own homemade pizza pockets:
    - pizza dough
    - sauce
    - your choice of toppings (or in the case of pockets, "fillings")

    This is the (very!) easy pizza crust recipe that I use most of the time (for all homemade pizza, not just pockets). It's simple, cooks up nicely, and is pretty forgiving.

    Ingredients for pizza crust:
    • 1 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
    • 1 tablespoon white sugar
    • 1 packet active dry yeast (.25 oz)
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 2 1/2 cups flour (you can use All Purpose flour or wheat flour or a combination of those two)
    • Optional - Season to taste. (I like to add in a tablespoon (or two!) of garlic powder,  Italian seasoning is great too!)

    1. Stir warm water, sugar and yeast together until dissolved. Let sit for a few minutes so the yeast has a chance to get bubbly and happy.  Add the olive oil and the salt. Stir in the flour until well blended. Dough should be smooth and not overly sticky. You can knead the dough at this point, adding in small amounts of flour if needed to achieve a smooth dough. Leave dough to rest for 10 minutes.

    2. lightly dust your working space with cornmeal to prevent sticking (you can use flour, but the cornmeal gives a nice crunch to the crust. I've found that sometimes too much flour residue leaves an icky floury taste to the crust). Gently, using a rolling pin (and your hands!) work the dough out until it is quite thin. The thinner the better!

    I am not the best roller-outer. I tend to shy away from a lot of recipes that require the use of a rolling pin. But pizza dough is, as I said before, very forgiving. It's okay if it's not rolled out perfectly. You can use the parts of your rolled out dough that are rolled out well and then re-knead it and roll out again as you go. The dough will become more firm and result in a chewier crust the more you work it, but in my opinion that is not a bad thing when it comes to pizza crust! (unlike, say, sugar cookies!)

    * If you have a bread machine you can also make a pizza dough in that. I just follow the basic recipe that is printed in our bread machine manual/cookbook.

    ** If you don't want to mess with making your own dough or crust at all you may check with your local bakery for dough. Even our Publix will sell fresh pizza dough out of the bakery department. You just have to ask for it and they bag it right up for you!

    *** If you want a really super short-cut you can buy pizza dough from the ready-to-go tubes. I'm happy that this pizza crust is free of trans fats.

    For my last batch of homemade pizza pockets these are the products I used:
    makings of a pizza pocket

    Of course you can use any sauce you like. I happen to love this one. My husband and I have been attempting to make our own marinara sauce for years and have been disappointed with the outcome time and time again. This one is my fall-back. I think it's great.

    Use whatever cheese you prefer. I usually buy large blocks of mozzarella from Costco or the bags of shredded Italian blend cheese with parmesan, romano and other yummy flavors (my fave). But this one was on a super sale so I deviated from my norm.

    For other toppings I used turkey pepperoni and (not pictured) diced mushrooms and I snuck in some broccoli too (which my son spied while eating. I had to feign ignorance and say it must just come in the sauce...LOL). Use whatever you like here! I would normally have used olives too, but forgot. My son reminded me as he was eating them later. ;-)

    Assembling the pizza pockets:

    There were two things I did differently this time that I think helped the pizza pockets turn out well. The first thing was I drained out some of the excess moisture from the marinara sauce. I just folded up a paper towel into four layers on a plate and them scooped about a 1/2 cup of sauce on top. After a few minutes the paper towels were soaking wet and the sauce was much thicker. Because the sauce wasn't so wet it didn't saturate the dough - allowing the crust to get a lot more crusty than I had before, also, none of the sauce ran out of the pockets!

    The other thing I did (though I'm thinking this was secondary to draining the sauce) - but instead of putting the sauce down on the dough first (as you would when making regular pizza), I put down a cheese layer first and the sauce on top. I'm thinking maybe as the cheese melted it helped create a barrier so that the sauce didn't soggy up the crust. That's just me guessing. ;-)


    So with the dough laid out I gently pressed my outline of the pockets into the dough to give me a border to make sure the toppings were in the middle. I used my sandwich sealer for this (you can find the same one on JList), but you could use anything for it - a large cookie cutter, a glass, etc.
    The sandwich sealer worked great for me because it sealed all the edges easily and in one motion. If you are using a regular cookie cutter you will need to press all the edges firmly with your fingers to seal closed. Poke a couple small holes in the top. I'm not exactly certain you need to do this, but I do anyway.

    Bake in a preheated oven at 400 degrees for about 8 minutes. KEEP AN EYE ON THEM!!! I set the timer for 6 minutes and then peaked in on them obsessively until they were golden brown. All ovens vary and depending on the temperature of your dough when it went in, the placement of them in the oven, what you are baking them on and the direction the wind is blowing outside, your cooking results may differ from mine!

    I baked mine on a pizza stone (our stone always lives on the bottom of our oven), but you can use a baking sheet too.  Because I use cornmeal on the dough there is no sticking issues at all. But if you are making these without cornmeal you might want to use parchment paper or a very light spritz of baking spray on your baking sheet...I'd hate to think of the pizza pocket bottom being stuck to the tray!

    From that one tube of pizza crust I made these 7 pizza pockets and there was a small amount of dough left to make a small personal-sized regular pizza. Of course, your mileage may vary depending on the sizes of pizza pockets you make. I made some that were more square, and others I made more narrow. You might want to size and shape yours to fit the size lunchbox you are fitting it into.


    I can't tell you how many pizza pockets you'd be able to get out of the pizza dough recipe I posted above. What happens at my house is that we make the dough to make a big regular pizza for the whole family and I save back some of the dough to make pizza pockets out of for later.

    These keep in the fridge for a week or so (I've never kept them longer than a week), or you can freeze them too. To reheat I heat in the microwave until they are soft. If they have moisture on them after microwaving you can put them in a hot pan (no oil or spray) and flip over a few times until nice and crispy again. This extra step I will do for my son, but my daughter could care less. ;-)


    Top photo shows pizza pockets in a Laptop Lunches box. :)
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    Tuesday, May 18, 2010

    EasyLunchboxes and diagonal fruit

    Just a few more days of 2nd grade left for my biggest boy!
    His lunch packed in an EasyLunchboxes container (love these things, they are just so, so, so.... easy!):
    fruit n' stuff EasyLunchboxes

    I was thrilled to discover our swizzle sticks fit in the EasyLunchboxes! They make such fun fruit kabobs. In the big section the strawberries lined up on a swizzle stick made for a nice barrier to the loose raspberries in the corner. On the other side are some grapes on picks and baby carrots. 
    In the smaller sections are fishie crackers with cheddar cheese and a cereal bar with a homemade granola bite in a mini-silicone cup.

    I have read several comments asking about a recipe for the granola bites. I see you! I am working on it!! I'll post it as soon as I can, which will likely be next week. I'm mostly done writing up the recipe for pizza pockets, I just need to edit it a bit. I'm very rambly and babble incessantly. I'm trying to make myself sound more concise. (wish me luck on that, LOL)

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