No Bake Peanut Butter Balls

Without proper planning my kids begin to wilt around 3:00pm. Attitudes flare. Tantrums interrupt an otherwise peaceful day. Tears are triggered by the smallest offense. With enough water and a snacks this drama can generally be avoided or can help them perk up, like your favorite fancy houseplant after a long vacation.

The secret to preventing (or at least curbing) the mid-afternoon meltdown are energy balls. After years of buying “energy chunks” from the bulk section, I decided to start making my own. The amount of oats needed is going to vary based on your peanut butter. You will need to add more if it is thinner or has more oil.  You can adjust the ratio of peanut butter, oats and dates at the end. If you like chocolate, add them to the food processor. My son is not a chocolate fan, so my daughter delights in adding chips to her half once they have been rolled.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups peanut butter (the fresh ground type works best)
  • 1 ½  cup rolled oats
  • 8 large pitted Medjool dates (we like the type rolled in coconut flakes)
  • ¼ cup pumpkin seeds
  • Cinnamon
  • ½ cup honey
  • Chocolate chips – optional

Instructions

  • Add all dry ingredients to the food processor, and blitz until small/dusty.
  • Add peanut butter and honey
  • Run food processor until dry ingredients are well incorporated
  • The dough should be thick and be easily shaped, add additional oats/dates/peanut butter to achieve the right consistency. 
  • Using a tablespoon, scoop the dough and roll into a ball
  • Place on a cookie sheet and pop in the freezer for 1-2 hours
  • Store in fridge for up to a week

Taco Tofu (aka Deer Meat?)

My daughter is a history buff. If left to her own devices she often creates a world around her that is the 1880s, a fantasy which is charming (and socially acceptable) because she is only eight. When she or little brother sense I am busy in the kitchen they are inspired to ask me to do one thousand things, including play with them. 

On one such occasion this summer, while I was prepping burrito makings, I pretended to add a log to my new GE profile range. When this little prairie child asked what I was cooking, I said deer meat (showing my non-meat eating habits by not thinking to call it venison). My little plant eater looked at me like I was insane for a moment before giggling and falling back into her make-believe world. And that is how my taco tofu became known as deer meat. This is a flexible taco or burrito filling that will are texture and flavor to your meal and probably be acceptable to your meat-eating guests as well. 

I prefer it a million times over faux meats because I can better control the flavor, it is less processed and it is super cheap. One package of organic extra firm tofu rarely costs more than $1.79 at Whole Foods or any other grocery store I visit regularly.

When you cook the tofu, the water will be reduced and the spices and flavors will intensify. Remember this when you are seasoning to taste. If you need to multitask or working to reduce calories from fat, skip cooking on the stove and put it right into the oven, for approximately 40 minutes.

Ingredients 

  • One pound of extra firm tofu 
  • 2-3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast 
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin 
  • 1 ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1  teaspoon smoked paprika 
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (if you’d like to punch up the heat!)
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil/neutral high heat oil (and 2-3 more to cook)

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350°F
  • Remove tofu from the package and rinse. In a medium size mixing bowl, crumble/smoosh the tofu with your hands and drain any water pooling in the bottom. 
  • Add spices, nutritional yeast, oil and soy sauce and evenly coat the tofu. If you aren’t in a hurry, let it sit for 15-20 minutes.
  • I prefer to heat 2-3 tablespoons of canola oil on medium heat and cook the tofu on the stove top to add a little extra flavor and reduce the amount of water in the tofu. 
  • When the tofu begins to turn brown and crumble texture,  transfer it to a pan (spread evenly!) and put it in the oven for about 20 minutes, it depends on how much water first cooked out of the tofu. I will cook it a little longer to let tofu a rich golden brown and even burn the smallest piece a bit. 

Building a Food Bowl

Grain bowl, Buddha bowl, harvest bowl, burrito bowl, big ass salad — or the perfectly fine and broadly used — food bowl.

I was introduced to the term “food bowl” by my brother-in-law. He was chopping veggies in the kitchen while we were on vacation, resulting in a family favorite, gado-gado. I am not a big fan of the term “food bowl” – probably because it makes me think of a dog bowl. While the simple and descriptive name leaves something to be desired, a well built-food bowl does not.

A bowl is cozy and informal.  As a simple vessel they make us happy. When your create a successful good bowl, you bring together complementary flavors in one space, mixing and matching each bite. The supported sides allowing a particular architecture a plate simply doesn’t provide.  Food bowls are great for those of you overachievers out there who manage to food prep during the weekend. Without making a major commitment to a menu, you can slice and dice your a variety of veggies which makes creating your food bowl easier during the week.

An aside…I haven’t been able to bring myself to make a smoothie bowl. Yes, the colors are beautiful and I’m sure they are also delicious, but for me it’s entirely impractical. I make a smoothie so I can feed myself with one hand while accomplishing some other task like driving or checking email at the office. I have no extra time for such luxury as breakfast food bowl.

A satisfying food bowel (for lunch or dinner)  takes simple ingredients and balances flavors, textures and livens them with small amounts of flavor-enhancing goodies, like a slice of lime or drizzle of a nice balsamic vinegar to tie it all together.

I have had only two food bowl fails, both were simply too much of a good thing — carbs.  Thanksgiving leftovers and a southern veggie bowl that was poorly planned. The textures and flavor profiles were too similar, resulting in a heaping bowl of…..mush.

My kids aren’t into spicy food or even strong flavors, but I am. One reason I so enjoy making food bowls is the ability for us to build exactly what we want, and I am spared from another boring dinner and from their complaints.

Some of my favorite combinations (this week) are: Rice and romaine base + “ground beef” style tofu + avocado slices + pickled jalapenos and mangoes + lime juice and salsa

My kids, who seem uninterested in flavor,  eat a version of it like this: Rice + refried black beans + guacamole + lettuce + tortilla on the side

Before you begin building a bowl choose a flavor profile.  Are you in the mood of Thai? Seasonal garden fare? Tex-mex? Japanese? Italian? Mediterranean?

Base: Soba noodles, bow-tie pasta, quinoa, rice, chopped kale, crispy romaine lettuce, pearled couscous, millet, barley…. Or mix and match.  Note: To effort to keep my calories in check and eat more greens, half of my base is almost always romaine lettuce, lightly sauteed kale, or broccoli. These work with basically any flavor I’m in the mood for.

Protein : Chickpeas, black beans, tofu, tempeh, veggie burner of your choice, favorite meat substitute (I’m not a super fan), portobello mushrooms

Toppings: Cucumbers, sliced cherry tomatoes, green peas, sugar peas, roasted broccoli, chickpeas, sprouts, steamed green beans, roasted okra, diced/roasted sweet potato, steamed broccoli, all the veggies. All of them.

Goodies: Matchstick carrots, sprouts, pumpkin seeds, sliced almonds, chopped walnuts, maderin oranges, pickled red onions, mangoes

Extra flavor: Squeeze of lime juice, balsamic reduction, pico de gallo, salsa, thai chilis, salad dressing, shot of soy sauce, homemade Chinese garlic sauce.

Vegan Pesto

Any meal with pesto makes me feel rich. In the heat of late summer when the basil is bolting, I feel like a billionaire as I freeze it by the pint for winter of meal that will level up thanks to the green goodness.

I have no set recipe for vegan pesto, only guidelines which means I can always pull this recipe off with little or no planning. This is great because sometimes your eight year old daughter comes in the kitchen with an entire basket full of basil (when firmly packed filled my nine-cup food processor to the brim).

My base recipe (meaning, kid friendly and flexible for a variety of recipes) involves the following:

Ingredients

  • Fresh basil
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Cloves of garlic
  • Walnuts or pecans (pine nuts are expensive and I can’t tell the difference, peanuts or almonds have too distinctive of a flavor)
  • Nutritional yeast

General Guidance/Instructions

When I make a 16 ounce jar of pesto, it takes about 7-8 cups of firmly packed basil (be sure to remove stems), 7-10 cloves of garlic, 3-4 tablespoons of nutritional yeast,  enough olive oil to get my preferred consistency (on the thick side, and add more olive oil depending on how I use it later) and toss in a handful or two of nuts. I throw everything into the food processor with zero precision, run and knock the sides down a few times before pouring it into a glass container. I stir it with a knife to remove any air pockets and top with olive oil before putting on the lid and putting in the freezer. If you have more freezer space than I do, freeze in smaller glass containers.

Variation on a theme

I have been known to toss some kale into the pesto before adding it to pasta for my kids. No shame. Depending on what I’m making, I will portion out the pesto for a recipe and add other ingredients. This is likely to result in something I want to eat, and not something the kids are asking for.  Lemon juice and lemon zest on angel hair pasta with extra garlic and capers…. Lime zest and juice with tons of cilantro makes for an excellent addition to almost any sandwich or a taco salad. 

Seasonal Treats

While I live in on the edge of a valley, surrounded by my favorite blue hills, I work near Asheville, a city often called “beer city USA.” I know many people are counting down the days to their first pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks, I am keeping my eyes open for my favorite pumpkin beer. Not overly sweet or syrupy like many, not a simple cinnamon note, but rather the earthy and out right spicy brew, Voodoo Ranger Atomic Pumpkin crafted by New Belgium. Pairs perfectly with a handful of potato chips or preferably, a walk in the woods or sitting in the rocking chair on the back porch watching the sunset while the kids are a play practice.

And no, this isn’t an ad, but probably should be. Are you listening, New Belgium?

I miss cornbread.

I cannot remember the last time I had a piece of cornbread – or used cornstarch to thicken a sauce, or popped a pan of nachos in the oven, or even ordered a veggie burger without first interrogating the restaurant’s kitchen staff.  My son was diagnosed with a fructose malabsorption when he was three years old, and to keep cooking simple and reduce the chance of a tearful little boy crying for a tortilla chip, we rarely have corn in the house. 

It’s late summer, and our neighbors and garden gurus have recently harvested beautiful ears of sweet corn. Visions of creamed corn danced through my head. I stared at the sack of corn in the fridge, imagining the different ways I could roast it, before passing it along to my mother in law to enjoy. Yesterday I looked through my planner, the fall months rapidly filling up with holidays and events that give me an excuse to cook some of my favorite like sweet potato and kale chili, which really is best served with perfectly buttery cornbread. What I would do for a hushpuppy!

Before banishing corn from the kitchen, one of my summer favorites involved roasting corn on the in the oven and slathering it with a mix of my favorite flavors.  While I won’t be making this any time soon, it’s too delicious (and simple) not to share.


Instructions

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees

Six pieces of aluminum foil – make sure it big enough to wrap each of corn completely!

Remove the husks and silks from the corn. A silicone “sponge” is perfect for this. 

Combine salt, chili powder, smoked paprika, cumin, black pepper, and garlic powder with melted butter. Evenly coat each ear of corn. 

Wrap each piece of corn in foil and place on a baking sheet.

Bake for 30 minutes

Remove from the oven and allow to cool, then spritz each piece with fresh lime juice and gussy them up with your fresh, flavorful garnish of choice

Ingredients

6 ears of sweet corn

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon fresh black pepper

¼ teaspoon garlic powder (or one clove minced)

2-3 tablespoons melted butter

Optional Toppings

Chopped cilantro

Chopped hot pepper of your choice (or pickled jalapenos!)

Turn up the heat with a sprinkle or three of cayenne pepper!