Baked Parmesan Crisps with Chives and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

hands holding plate of crispsWe all need easy, quick, recipes we can turn to when time is tight, but we still want something fun and festive.  For me, this Parmesan crisp recipe is one of those I look to when I need a quick, yet delicious appetizer or snack.  These crisps are so easy to make, and they taste so good! The savory Parmesan cheese, the rich flavor of the sun-dried tomatoes, and the lively chives and black pepper all come together to form an appetizer bursting with flavor.  And if you are staying away from carbohydrates or gluten, this is a snack you can munch on without worries.  My daughter originally found the basic recipe for these crisps on the back of a Parmesan cheese package, and being major cheese-lovers, we tried it.  We have since created our own variations, with the sun-dried tomatoes and chives version being my favorite.  However, my son is not crazy about the sun-dried tomatoes or the chives, so I like to make a few of the crisps with just the Parmesan cheese and a hint of black pepper for those who prefer a more basic approach.  I am taking this appetizer over to Angie’s blog The Novice Gardener, where there is a big celebration going on.  Though I am relatively new to the Fiesta Friday link parties, she has been successfully coordinating these events for a full year.  I have come across some wonderful food blogs, and have met really interesting and kind bloggers from all over this country and world through this process.  The one-year celebration is graciously hosted by Hilda from Along the Grapevine and Julianna from Foodie on Board.  I hope you all have a fabulous weekend filled with fresh air, good food and good company!parmesan crisps on sheetcrisps on sheet 2hands holding crisps 3hand holding crispparmesan crisps on plate both hands

Baked Parmesan Crisps with Chives and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

  • Servings: 32 crisps
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Ingredients:

  • 2 cups of shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 6 teaspoons of chives, finely chopped
  • 4 tablespoons of sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • black pepper to taste

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Wash, pat dry, and finely chop the chives.  Chop the sun-dried tomatoes.  Shred the Parmesan cheese to make 2 cups, or if using pre-shredded cheese, measure 2 cups into a bowl.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Using a tablespoon, spoon the Parmesan cheese onto the baking sheet a tablespoon at a time, creating about 8 mounds of Parmesan cheese per baking sheet (place the mounds evenly on the baking sheet, allowing the cheese room to spread as it bakes).  Place small pieces of sun-dried tomatoes on each cheese mound, and then sprinkle with chives and a bit of black pepper.  Bake in your preheated oven for 6 to eight minutes.  Allow the crisps to cool for a couple of minutes, then gently move them to a serving plate.  Continue until all the cheese is used.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  Enjoy!

Busy Times Call for Energy Bites

energy bite mixtureGood recipes never exist in isolation.  They are passed from one person to another, with changes and substitutions made along the way, so they never stay exactly the same. The recipe for Energy Bites that I have posted below is one of those recipes.  A good friend gave me this recipe, and she got it from a friend of hers.  She and I have both made modifications along the way, and it has become a living, ever-evolving recipe.  My friend made these energy bites for my family when we were going through a difficult time and she knew we would not have a lot of time to sit down and eat. They were perfect, because they were portable, easy to eat, and gave us sustained energy rather than the short-lived energy of straight carbohydrates.  I am grateful to her for giving the recipe to me, and I am sharing this recipe now because I see a need for quick, nutritious snacks among friends of mine who have children in sports and other activities.  We are often lamenting about how it is difficult to give our kids snacks that will sustain them through their sports activities, yet will not be full of empty calories or sit like rocks in their stomachs.  So busy parents, this one’s for you!  And this is really for anyone of any age who is going from one thing to the next, and needs something nutritious to get through until the next meal.  energy bite mixture 1These energy bites are packed with protein, fiber, vitamin E (with anti-inflammatory effects), and the “good” monounsaturated fat from the peanut butter.  The ground flax seeds have lots of omega-3 fatty acids (also good fat) and antioxidants.  The sunflower seeds have lots of vitamin E and magnesium.  The chocolate chips and honey give them the sweetness, so they don’t taste too “healthy”.  Also, they are really easy to make–another bonus in busy times.

energy bites and oak leafenergy bites in bowl

Recipe for Peanut Butter Energy Bites

Peanut Butter Energy Bites

  • Servings: approximately 25 balls
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Ingredients:

  • 1 cup old fashioned oats
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup shelled sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup ground flaxseed
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions:

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl.  Roll into balls. Store in the refrigerator in a covered container.  Enjoy!

Great Grandma Howlett’s Sour Mustard Pickles and Keeping Meaningful Traditions Alive

DSC_0735A couple of weeks ago, my two children and I spent the afternoon with my mother.  We engaged in one of our favorite August rituals–making sour mustard pickles.  Pickle-making, for me, is steeped in tradition, camaraderie, and memories.  I love the pungent scent of vinegar, the rich yellow of the mustard powder and the deep orange of the turmeric, the sound of multiple generations laughing together, and even the muggy heat of the kitchen in August.  My earliest pickle party memory is from when I was a small child, and I remember our tiny kitchen was filled with my great grandmother, grandmother, mother, her sister and her cousin, and a handful of  kids.  It was hot and crowded in that kitchen, but there was a lot of laughter.  My mother has much earlier memories than mine of making pickles with her grandmother when she was just a child, and it is a cherished tradition she has kept alive with us.

Throughout the years, our pickle parties have evolved to include whichever family members are available and interested.  Some parties have been quite large and lively,  including my mom and dad, my aunt and uncle, my husband and children, and varying degrees of my brothers, their wives, and their children.  My dad started getting involved in the process when his grandchildren were old enough to help, because he loved any chance to spend time with them.  This year, our pickle party was smaller and quieter.  It was the first time we had made pickles without my dad being around, since he passed away in January.  It was important to us to carry on the tradition, so my children and I spent the afternoon in my mom’s kitchen with her, making pickles and feeling the bittersweet emotions of missing my dad, yet knowing he would want us to carry on doing something we have all enjoyed together.

cucumbers in canning jarI have posted the recipe for my great grandmother’s sour mustard pickles below.  This recipe is not difficult, as pickle recipes go, and it results in some crunchy, mouth-watering pickles.  They have a very distinct flavor–as one of my mom’s cousins says, one bite tells you whether you will love them or not!  These pickles are part of every holiday meal for my whole extended family, and when anyone is homesick, they get pickles–either shipped to them, or a quart set aside for them when they come home to visit.  For a few years, we lost the official recipe, and had to rely on memory and trial and error.  Usually the pickles turned out great anyway!  Recently, my mom found the official recipe, printed in one of her many recipe books.  Now I feel like we can share this recipe, and it will be true to how my great grandma made pickles many, many years ago.  Sometimes, the past is better left behind, and sometimes, it is worth honoring.  In this case, we honor it and we are thankful to keep passing it along.

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Recipe for Great Grandma Howlett’s Sour Mustard Pickles

Great Grandma Howlett's Sour Mustard Pickles

  • Servings: approximately 20-24 quarts
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Ingredients:

  • 1/2 bushel medium-sized (2 to 3 inches) pickling cucumbers
  • 20-24 sterilized standard quart canning jars and lids

Pickling Solution (note–in order to make 20-24 quarts of pickles, you will need to make about 5 batches of pickling solution):

  • 1/2 cup pickle salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup dry mustard
  • 1 tsp. turmeric
  • 1 quart vinegar
  • 1 quart water
  • alum for the tops of jars

Directions:

Wash pickling cucumbers and soak whole cucumbers for 24 hours in a solution of half vinegar and half water to cover.  This is the soaking solution only.

After soaking, remove cucumbers from soaking solution and chop the cucumbers into chunks and place in sterilized canning jars. Place one teaspoon of alum on the top of each jar of cucumbers. Make pickling solution by mixing pickle salt, sugar, mustard and turmeric.  In a 2 quart measuring bowl, place mixed dry ingredients.  Then slowly pour in the quart of vinegar and quart of water.  Stir well, stirring out any lumps.  Carefully pour pickling solution into each quart jar of pickles, filling to the top.  You may need to stir a couple times in between pouring.  Mix additional batches of the pickling solution until all jars are full of cucumbers and pickling solution.  Put sterilized tops and lids on canning jars and close tightly.  Let stand in a cool, dry place for at least three weeks before using.  Refrigerate jar after opening.  Enjoy!

Bright Beetroot Hummus and Basic Hummus

basic hummusbeetroot hummus in bowl 1Hummus has become one of the staple foods in my family lately.  It’s easy to make, easy to pack for picnics or the beach, and a healthy, protein-packed addition to crackers and chips.  I usually make a basic hummus with chickpeas, tahini, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt.  But I have been hearing a lot about beets lately. Beetroots are a rich source of vitamins A and C, as well as potassium, magnesium, and iron. (Beet greens are full of nutrients too, but that is a topic for another post.)

beetsSince we are growing beets in our garden, and I love beets, I decided to try adding simmered beetroot to my basic hummus recipe.  If you love color like I do, just seeing the color of this beetroot hummus makes it worth the effort.  It becomes a rich, deep, bright pink.  Plus, the beetroot adds extra nutrition and a bit of a sweet taste to the hummus.  My husband, daughter and I loved it!  My son would not even try it, since he is not a fan of beets, and that is okay too.  The beetroot variation is not for everyone, so I have posted recipes below for both that and the basic hummus.  Of course there are lots of other variations for hummus.  That is what makes experimenting with it so much fun.  And in the summer, it’s nice not to have to spend too much time with the stove top and oven heating up the kitchen, so hummus is a great option.  In fact, I just took hummus to a picnic yesterday evening.  It was so nice to visit with friends while the kids all played in the lake.  Eating outdoors with friends and family is one of the best parts of summer.  chickpeasbeetroot hummus on crackers

Recipe for Bright Beetroot Hummus

Bright Beetroot Hummus

  • Servings: 4-6
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Ingredients:

  • 2 small/medium fresh beets
  • 1 can chickpeas (garbonzo beans)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tablesoons lemon juice
  • 2 Tablespoons tahini (sesame paste)
  • 1/8 cup of water, or more as needed
  • salt to taste

Directions:

Cut or tear the greens from the beetroots, leaving about 2 inches of the stem on the root.  Scrub the beets in cold water to get all the dirt off.  Do not peel or cut the beets until after they have been cooked–that way they will keep their color and nutrients better.  Simmer the fresh beets whole and unpeeled in an uncovered pan for about 20 minutes, until they are tender (but not mushy) when pierced with a fork.  Then refresh beets under cold water, gently rubbing them to peel off their skin.  Let them cool.

While the beets are simmering, drain and rinse the chickpeas and reserve some of the liquid.  In a food processor or blender, blend the chickpeas and minced garlic.  Add the olive oil one tablespoon at a time, stopping the blender and scraping the sides between adding.  Add the tahini, lemon juice, water, and enough of the chickpea liquid until the mixture reaches a thick, smooth texture.  You may need to stop and start the blender several times, scraping the sides and stirring the mixture while the blender is stopped.  Chop the cooked beets, and add about 2 to 4 tablespoons (depending on how much of a beet flavor and color you want) of the chopped beets to the hummus mixture in blender.  Blend again until the beets are smooth and fully mixed into the hummus.  Add salt to taste.  Spoon the beetroot hummus into a bowl, and serve with crackers, pita bread, or chips.  Enjoy!

Recipe for Basic Hummus

Basic Hummus

  • Servings: 4-6
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Ingredients:

  • 1 can (15 ounces) chickpeas (also called garbonzo beans)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/8 to 1/4 cup water
  • 3 Tablespoons tahini (sesame paste)
  • salt to taste

Directions:

Drain and rinse the chickpeas and reserve some of the chickpea liquid.  In a food processor or blender, blend the chickpeas and minced garlic.  Add the olive oil one tablespoon at a time, blending and scraping the sides between adding.  Add the tahini, lemon juice, water, and enough of the chickpea liquid until the mixture reaches a thick, smooth texture.  Add more water if desired.  Add salt to taste.  You may need to stop and start the blender several  times, scraping the sides and stirring the mixture while the blender is stopped.  Spoon the hummus into a bowl and serve with crackers, pita bread, chips, or sliced vegetables.  Enjoy!

Recipe for Tasty Granola Bars

Tasty Granola Bars

  • Servings: approximately 12 bars, depending on size of bars
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Ingredients:

  • 2 cups puffed-rice cereal (I used Special K)
  • 2 cups old fashioned oats
  • 1/2 cup shelled sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup wheat germ
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions:

Lightly grease a 9×13-inch baking dish and set aside.  In a large bowl, combine cereal, oats, dried cranberries, chocolate chips, sunflower seeds, and wheat germ.  Set aside.  In a saucepan, combine tahini, brown sugar, and honey.  Cook over medium heat until bubbling, stirring constantly to avoid burning.  Turn off the heat and add the vanilla, and stir until well blended.  Pour the tahini mixture over the dry ingredients, and stir until the dry ingredients are coated with the moist ingredients and everything is combined.  Transfer the mixture to the 9×13-inch baking dish.  Press down firmly so the mixture is flat and evenly distributed in the baking dish.  Let cool for at least one hour.  Cut with a sharp knife into bars.  Enjoy!

 

Granola Bars

ImageI made a batch of these granola bars for my family yesterday morning, and they are already more than halfway gone.  We have been so busy the past couple of weeks, and we have been packing a lot of snacks to take with us to soccer games and family events.  Granola bars are perfect snacks because they are healthy, provide energy, and are easy to transport.  Of course I often buy granola bars at the grocery store, but they are not as healthy as homemade ones.  The recipe I will post for these homemade granola bars is easy and full of good ingredients like old-fashioned oats, wheat germ, and tahini, and natural sweeteners like brown sugar and honey.  The dried cranberries and sprinkling of chocolate chips add some appeal, especially for the kids.  I personally like the tahini, which is made from sesame seeds, in the granola bars.  It adds a richness, plus extra vitamins and protein.  If you are not used to buying tahini (I wasn’t, until I started making my own hummus), you can find it at many grocery stores in the section near the peanut butter or in the Mediterranean food section.  You can also be creative with homemade granola bars and mix and match ingredients.  Switch the dried cranberries for dried cherries, or switch the chocolate chips with mini marshmallows.  There are lots of granola bar recipes out there, but variety is a good thing, especially when feeding kids! The recipe I will post is both healthy and tasty.

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