Halloween Oatmeal (with sweet potatoes and apricots)

Jen here.  I know … it’s been a long time since I last posted.  Amanda and her friends tackled their plant-based whole foods journey this year, and I just sat back and watched, and read, and learned.  I haven’t switched over completely, but I have been making slow adjustments in my own diet, and encouraging my family to eat more vegetables.

With that in mind, and to stay in the keeping of the season, and to give you something else to do with the leftover sweet potatoes you bought to make Erika’s chili, I made Oatmeal with Sweet Potato and Apricots this morning. I was inspired by the recipe I found in 3 Bowls: Vegetarian Recipes from an American Zen Buddhist Monastery by Seppo Ed Farrey with Myochi Nancy O’Hara. This is a book I’ve had for over 10 years, and whenever I read it, I want to be there, eating in that dining room.

2nd helpings, with a little maple and brown sugar.

Oatmeal with Sweet Potato and Apricots from 3 Bowls (2-4 servings)

2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and grated (about 3 cups)
4 dried apricots, chopped (tiny, because they expand and might weird your kids out)
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
“Bring 5-1/2 cups water to a boil in a large saucepan. Stir in the oats, sweet potato, apricots, and salt and return to a boil.  Reduce the heat to very low, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the oats are tender and the sweet potato is cooked, about 20 minutes. Stir in the vanilla.”

That’s the basic recipe.  I stirred in a teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice, and lightly sweetened with maple syrup and brown sugar.  Another time, I’ll use blackstrap molasses. There’s a variation in the book to make it either plain (use only 5 cups of water and omit the sweet potato and dried apricots, vanilla optional), or cinnamon apple (applesauce or fresh apples, peeled and grated, added after 15 minutes of cooking, along with 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1 teaspoon of vanilla).

This was mostly a success this morning, except my apricots weren’t chopped fine enough, and my 10-year old daughter didn’t like the chunks (they expand; I thought they were pretty tiny when I put them in).  She was fine with the sweet potatoes, so I’ll try again.

In my experiments to encourage my kids (10 and 6) to eat more plants, I have discovered that they’ll eat spinach leaves wrapped around mandarin orange segments, they’re more than willing to eat broccoli, and they love salad bar night. Looking for more ideas and suggestions to work with my picky kids … but I think time and exposure are the big secret.  Just keep offering, and they’ll join in sooner or later.


Marmalade Madness (and Muffins)

Jen here!  I guess we’ve all taken a break this summer and have been busy doing whatever it is that we’ve been doing.  Actually Amanda and Erika have been busy mommies with new little ones, and I’ve been a busy mommy with my bigger ones.  But, since we took the summer off from school (even though we’re homeschooling, it’s easier for us to follow the public school schedule right now), I made a lot of preserves, jams and marmalades.

I remember reading cookbooks and dreaming about making marmalade someday, but it always seemed too bothersome.  (Don’t you read cookbooks and dream about cooking the recipes?  I often judge a cookbook by its readability: Can I read it for pleasure, before bed?) Once I learned how to make jam last summer, amazing marmalade doors have been opened.  I realized that I didn’t have to find Seville Oranges and do tricky things that required lots of time and fiddling.

Right now, I have multiple marmalades on my shelves.

I have orange marmalade from Alton Brown’s recipe that’s more like wonderful orange candy in a jar, than anything else.

I made a Meyer lemon marmalade that took advantage of the lovely Meyer lemons that grow beautifully in my parents’ and my in-laws’ backyards.

After my mom stayed with us this spring, I had a Costco bag of limes left in my fridge and made lime marmalade (this isn’t the blog I found before, but the technique is the same – quick and easy – using the food processor for it all).

I also have blueberry orange marmalade (this recipe is from The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard),

peach marmalade (we have a productive peach tree in our backyard); and

cherry marmalade (this recipe is from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving edited by Judi Kingry and Lauren Devine).  This cherry marmalade is my hands-down favorite.

I’m sure that I will try many more kinds of marmalade and fruit and time allow.  (As defined in my Small-Batch Preserving book, a “marmalade is a jam made from citrus fruit.  Marmalades generally do not have pectin added since citrus rinds and seeds contain enough pectin to form a soft gel.”)

But, as any jam-making addict knows, you end up with surplus.  You can’t possibly eat all you’ve canned, but you want to make more.  (This three citrus marmalade sounds really wonderful. Do I have room on my shelves for more?) So, I’m working on finding ways to consume my jams in creative ways.  Amanda already suggested stirring into yogurt, which is a wonderful suggestion, if I start eating yogurt on a regular basis.  I’m sure I can add them to smoothies, once I start eating those again.  Yes, I do put them on toast, but I don’t have time or appetite to eat that much toast.

Back to my excellent Small Batch Preserving book.  There are many reasons this is a wonderful book.  First, is the whole “small batch” aspect, because canning things in large volume terrified me when I started.  Next, the recipes are different from the Ball Complete Book.  The most important reason that I love this book is that it’s full of recipes for using your preserves.  Now that you’ve made them, what can you do with them?

Just for marmalades, they’ve got Marmalade Cream (with ricotta cheese, marmalade, orange juice and grated semi-sweet chocolate), Marmalade Fruit Muffins, Marmalade Mustard Butter (for vegetables), Marmalade Sauce (for pancakes and waffles), and Marmalade Squares (a fruit-filled dessert bar).

Yesterday, I made the Marmalade Fruit Muffins using half Meyer lemon marmalade and half lime marmalade.  In place of dried fruit or nuts, I substituted chocolate chips (when in doubt or your shelves are out, try chocolate).

Marmalade Fruit Muffins

Marmalade adds moisture and lively flavor to these elegant muffins.  Any marmalade can be used, but we like the more intense flavor of those made with Seville oranges.

2 cups (500 mL) all-purpose flour
2 tsp (10 mL) baking powder
1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt
1/4 tsp (1 mL) baking soda
3/4 cup (175 mL) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (50 mL) soft butter or margarine
2 eggs
1 cup (250 mL) marmalade (“Traditional English Seville Marmalade, page 76)
1/4 cup (50 mL) orange juice
1/2 cup (125 mL) dried cranberries, raisins or nuts (or chocolate chips)

1. Combine flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda in a medium bowl. Set aside.

2. Cream sugar and butter with an electric mixer or by hand; beat in eggs.  Stir in marmalade until blended. Fold in half of flour mixture.  Add orange juice, mixing just until combined, and then fold in remaining flour and cranberries.

3. Spoon into greased or paper-lined medium muffin pans, using half-cup (125 mL) measure. Bake in a 375°F (190°C) oven for 20 minutes or until lightly browned and firm to the touch.

Makes 18 medium muffins.

I loved these.  I’m happy.  I’m typing with a pleasing marmalade bitter aftertaste.  I’m anticipating trying these with different marmalades, dried fruits, nuts and chocolate chips.  And, my kids don’t like them much, so more for me (I’ll freeze them and have them for busy morning breakfasts; you didn’t think I was going to eat them all at once, did you?).  I think my next batch is going to be with Amanda’s strawberry marmalade.


P.S. For my next jam-using project, I may have try these homemade pop tarts.  What do you think?  I’ve already tried this glaze with Black Forest cherry preserves (and loved it; I’m using it on my birthday cake next month).

Orange-Scented Cold Peanut Noodles

Jennifer here!  I know . . . like all of us, it’s been a long time, but I didn’t want to lose this recipe.  It’s been hot out here – you know, when San Francisco is 93F, it’s hot everywhere.  We usually don’t get hot, because SF and it’s fog serve as our natural air conditioning, and when SF doesn’t cool off, we don’t.  It’s not fun – and usually gets us out driving and shopping – going somewhere with air conditioning.  But, we still had to cook, and I hadn’t been to the grocery store, so I looked around for a simple summer dish, and found this one in a Wondertime magazine.  Wondertime was the highly enjoyable, toddler/preschooler-focused younger sibling of Family Fun (another wonderful resource), but they didn’t stick around for very long.  I still have some old issues floating around, and pulled out the summer ones recently to get ideas (I’m going to be watching some extra, older (5, 10) kids this summer, along with my own 3.5 and 8 year-olds, and a 2-year old for one week as well, so I need all the help ideas I can get).

Anyway – I had the basic ingredients on hand, and with a few adjustments, made a lovely meal that only the adults ate, despite coming from a “preschooler friendly” magazine.  Basic review is that I loved it, my husband thought it was okay, and the kids only wanted the plain noodles.  My changes include:  omitting the garlic and using frozen veggies (peas, corn and edamame) instead of the cucumber and cilantro (I’m the only who likes it, so I never have any on hand).  I also sliced up some thin deli-ham (you know, your basic lunch meat) for a bit of added protein.  I actually see a lot of flexibility with this recipe – variety in the noodles, vegetables and proteins.  For adults, you could add a pinch of something spicy too, like red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper or something like that.  I also thought that nuts would be good too.

Orange-Scented Cold Peanut Noodles

Written By Catherine Newman

Okay, I don’t know that you can really smell the orange, but my kids though this sounded fancy. Boost the main-dish status here with some shredded grilled chicken breast or rotisserie chicken.

Serves 4 generously

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup orange juice
1 clove garlic, pressed
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon ginger, freshly grated
1/4 cup hot water
1 pound angel hair pasta, cooked, drained and rinsed
2 scallions, very thinly sliced (optional)
1 English cucumber, peeled, seeded, and sliced into long, narrow strips, then cut crosswise
2 tablespoons cilantro, coarsely chopped (optional)

Whisk together first 9 ingredients in a large bowl. Add pasta, scallions, cucumber, and cilantro, and use your fingers to toss and coat the noodles. Add salt or more vinegar if it isn’t as vibrant as you like. Let sit at room temperature if you’re going to eat fairly soon — otherwise refrigerate.

Hummus for Schoolwork

A new post!  Jen here.  I know it’s been way too long.  I have cooked some.  My kids haven’t starved.  But we’ve been  having a grand adventure homeschooling, and I’m not blogging much right now, but I am learning about physics, the American Revolution and Ancient Egypt.  In fact, it’s our Egyptian studies that got us in the kitchen for schoolwork today.

We’re reading through a fun book this year, The Egyptology Handbook: A Course in the Wonders of Egypt, one chapter a week, and this week’s chapter, “Eat Like an Egyptian” (Lesson 11) includes a recipe for making hummus.  My 7 and 51/52 year-old daughter and I did this together, but I didn’t think about photos until the end, so I apologize that you can watch us pick the lemons from the tree in the backyard (a friend just gave us this tree, since our own lemon tree has had a pitiful existence, and looks more like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree with thorns than anything else), or smash the chickpeas, or squeeze the lemons and garlic, but you can see the end result.

Lesson 11, Hummus

We used one 15-ounce can of chickpeas, drained, the juice of two Meyer lemons (when you’ve got 2 kids, sometimes you have to squeeze one lemon apiece), used our garlic press for the garlic cloves, smashed the chickpeas with our potato masher, and blended everything with a rubber spatula.  I can’t tell you how much sesame oil we used, but it probably was around 2 tablespoons . . . we poured straight from the bottle and stirred.  Oh yeah, and don’t forget to add the salt, even though the instructions fail to say when to add it (although we liked it both before and after adding salt).  We did it together because my 8-on-Monday-year-old daughter doesn’t have enough upper body strength to smash and squeeze and use the can opener without help.  But she loved it – declared it the best she ever had.  (And I think we’ll be working on upper body strength for our P.E. classes.)

Roasted Carrots (or a CA garden in January)

Jen here!  I know – nobody missed me, but I’ve missed eating food worthy of sharing.  I’m sure I’ve cooked over the last few months.  I even blogged about it once, on my other blog – but I’m not sure what I’ve done (except I did get a new book that I’ve played with, with relative success).  I got a new camera, I’ve taken pictures, but not sure what happened to our food experiences.  (Please don’t ask about that food storage meal the other day: Rice – a – Roni + Canned Chicken + Frozen Vegetables = Hey, that’s what we had on hand.)

But, tonight we’ve had a break in the rain, and I was checking out my neglected vegetables out in the garden, and decided it was time to cook some carrots, eat something fresh (even though I haven’t been to the store in two weeks).  Now, I didn’t take pictures of the carrots tonight, but the recipe I used called for 12 carrots, and I only used 6 and had  plenty.  These carrots have been in the ground since last summer, and a couple of them looked like the one found here (scroll down).  So, I made roasted carrots, using a recipe from Ina Garten from FoodNetwork.com,  seasoned with volunteer dill from last summer’s dill plants (which turned into a ladybug nesting ground more than a part of a kitchen herb garden).

Roasted Carrots

, 1999, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, All rights reserved

Prep Time: 10 min
Cook Time: 20 min
Serves: 6 servings


  • 12 carrots
  • 3 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh dill or parsley


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

If the carrots are thick, cut them in half lengthwise; if not, leave whole. Slice the carrots diagonally in 1 1/2-inch-thick slices. (The carrots will shrink while cooking so make the slices big.) Toss them in a bowl with the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Transfer to a sheet pan in 1 layer and roast in the oven for 20 minutes, until browned and tender.

Toss the carrots with minced dill or parsley, season to taste, and serve.

I picked this recipe because it was the easiest one, with the fewest ingredients.  I always find that I have to roast my vegetables longer than recipes call for, and I haven’t decided if it’s because I like my roasted vegetables crispier and more caramelized than most people, or if my light-colored baking sheets are slowing down the process.  With this recipe, after the original 20 minutes, I kicked my oven up to 425 and let the carrots cook for another 10 minutes.  I probably could have gone another 10 minutes at the higher temp and been pretty happy, but I was hungry.  My husband and I loved these, my 7-year old was “neutral” after saying “yum” and 3-year old wouldn’t touch them because there were green things on the carrots (he’ll eat plain, raw carrots all day).

Quick Creamy Pumpkin Soup

Jen here.  I know – it’s been a while.  I’ve been pretty busy lately.  We’ve been cooking things like brown rice, and bacon ricotta pasta, and focaccia made from my 5-minute bread dough (I’ll post details later) but nothing new and exciting.  But, the cooking holiday of the year is coming up, and I wanted to share a recipe we’re going to try this year (so, no action shots yet, except for one I just took today of the prep work).

The craziness in my world stems from the fact that my brother-in-law, Mike, passed away completely unexpectedly at the end of October.  He loved to cook, and while I was talking with my niece after his funeral, she remembered how he had served pumpkin soup one year that she had come up for Thanksgiving.  In the aftermath of all the organizing, mourning and cleaning, I ran across a recipe of Mike’s, which was his “Quick Creamy Pumpkin Soup.”  So, in his honor, I will be making this for my family this year year, since we will be hosting Thanksgiving at our house.  I don’t know for certain if this is what he served that year, but it will be his Thanksgiving recipe from now on.  I love how fast it goes together.  There’s also a bit of versatility, too.  I’ll be doubling this for Thanksgiving.

First, you’ll need canned pumpkin, or pumpkin puree.  I’m making mine using these directions from Nourishing Heart & Home (a lovely website).  I tried it the first time a couple of weeks ago, after somebody threw a pumpkin at our front door.  You know, when life gives you lemons (or a cracked sugar pie pumpkin), make lemonade (or pumpkin puree).  These are actually the three small pumpkins we bought right before Halloween, that we never carved (there just wasn’t time).  I’m roasting them as we speak.  The first pumpkin gave me 3-1/2 cups of puree that in my freezer.  (One tip:  I pureed my pumpkin in my blender, and had to add a bit of water.  This time I’m going to use the water that’s in the roasting pan.)

Roasting pumpkins

Quick Creamy Pumpkin Soup from Mike Nebeker

1 can pumpkin (about 2 cups homemade)
1 can (14-ounces) chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup cream, or milk (nonfat milk OK – if you really have to (I can hear Mike’s voice))
White pepper to taste (1/2 to 1 tsp.)
Optional: 1/2 cup chopped celery, 1 small chopped onion, sauté, and add other seasonings.

Put chicken broth in a 2-quart saucepan.  Stir in pumpkin.  Heat until pumpkin is hot.  Add cream and pepper.  Puree in a blender (use your immersion blender here) until smooth.  Serve in bowls with a light sprinkling of nutmeg.

Five minute pizza? From scratch?

Jen here.  Hey, I’m all about quick and tasty right now.  We’ve gotten busier around here – I’m full-time  homeschooling mom, who spent her first week of school combating seasonal ants!  “A” was supposed to be for apples, not ant invasion on a daily basis (I know, we should call for pest control).


Tomatoes and basil from our garden! Finally - harvest to enjoy!

Anyway, I bought this book that I talked about last time I was here.  I had to give my library copy back because there’s a waiting list . . .

After we got home from church today (about 12:30), I mixed up the “Olive Oil Dough” on page 134.  I only used the storage container, 1 measuring spoon (yeast, salt, and sugar), 2 measuring cups (flour, water and olive oil), a knife for the flour and a wooden mixing spoon.   I let it rise on the counter until it pushed the lid off of my repurposed ice cream bucket, not quite 2 hours – it’s a pleasantly warm day today.  Then I put the bucket in my fridge until about 4:30 this afternoon.  We followed the technique on page 135 for cooking our pizza (550° for about 8 minutes on a pizza stone) and had some of the best homecooked pizza we’ve had in a long time (and we do really like the America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook but this has fewer things to clean up).

The kids made their own kid-sized perfect pizzas (mozzarella and canned black olives, no sauce), which took about 6 minutes too cook.  We then made a couple of adult pizzas, our version of a Pizza Margherita (mozzarella, fresh tomatoes, fresh basil, fancy olives – various green and black, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil), and a BBQ chicken pizza with previously grilled chicken strips pulled from the freezer, and some of the kid’s canned black olives.  Both were very delicious.  I’m a very contented person right now.

If you’ve heard about “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes” and were uncertain about the technique, give it a shot.  I stayed skeptical for about a year after hearing about it.  I didn’t believe it was that easy (yes, there’s still rising times, but I don’t have to watch or wash my Kitchen Aid).  I can’t wait to try more.  So far we’ve been pleased with every recipe we tried.  Maybe on our next school vacation (or for a school unit study) I’ll try the sweet dough and the breakfast pastries.

You know – I’m seeing fresh hot pizza for lunches on a school day.  Definitely a step up from square school cafeteria pizza.  I’m going to have to get working on my mozzarella production.  See you around the kitchen!

P.S.  The first time I ever saw the man who was going to be my husband, he was tossing pizza dough in the air.  My kids love when he does his pizza tricks on pizza day!  He worked a couple of years at a pizza place in his youth.  You never know where those high school job skills will take you!