Category Archives: Recipes

I don’t grow veggies, but I eat them!

Angelika is a good hobby gardener.  I will not be surprised if she updates us at some point about her beautiful flowers and vegetables.  This is on many people’s minds with planting season upon us. Occasionally I’ve had some luck planting tomatoes or herbs (And I’ve kept a houseplant she gave me alive for a year!) but I don’t have much of a green thumb.

But we love eating our vegetables!  Don’t get me wrong.  The kids will sometimes go a week subsisting off of crackers and air, then will turn around and be the most adventurous eaters you’ve ever met the next. I hesitated writing a post on eating our vegetables because while it arguably fits our nature themes, it can come off as “smug mommy-ish”  and preachy and not everything works for everyone.  But many times I’ll get together with friends and it is a frequently mentioned topic so I figured I had enough resources to make it fun and lighthearted.  Some ideas are common, and some are a bit more out of the box.

  • Let kids help cook them, grow them, or pick their own.  We’ve heard if kids feel more ~ownership~ they’ll be more likely to want to devour them.  Try to make it fun or different.  Friends have told us their kids didn’t like certain meals until they prepped them in the Dutch oven while camping.  But inviting them into the kitchen at home can work, too.

    Strawberry picking is a popular spring tradition around these parts!

    Strawberry picking is a popular spring tradition around these parts!

  • Subscribe to a CSA if you have the opportunity and resources.  We get Heaven’s Harvest and the last I knew Angelika was getting Farmer Dave’s.   Kids get WAY more excited about their vegetables if they come in a box they can tear open like a birthday present every single week, believe me!  I’ve actually found the vegetables turn out about twenty percent cheaper than if you buy even the non-organics at the grocery store but the “downsides” are you don’t get to choose what you want (For us this is a perk! We love surprises!) and you’re asked to pre-pay so the farmers can invest early and pay you back later. This can be tough if finances are tight, but more and more are offering payment plans and/or accepting SNAP.
    Plus, you’re apt to get ~different~ things like ground cherries, a kid-friendly tomato relative that some say taste like a combination of strawberries, mangos and pineapples. Or veggies in strange shapes that are deemed too ugly for the store but are actually loads of fun, and might otherwise go to waste. Do you have a CSA you recommend?
  • Alter its form.  Jessica Seinfeld has her Deceptively Delicious books where she suggests things like pureeing cauliflower into your mac and cheese.  These are good additions, but nutritionists are split on the tactic because they love to encourage people to eat veggies for their own sake.  You may not need to hide things that much.  My girls are actually pretty good at eating most things, but avoid leaves, although they’ve been tentatively using Napa cabbage as a gateway.  But one of their favorite foods is pesto, go figure. Of course it  is traditionally made with basil but can be blended up with kale or chard or broccoli or asparagus or pretty much any green.
My nephew figuring out what to do with his first lobster.  If you understandably don't want to splurge on an entire lobster for a toddler, at least let them try a few bites.

My nephew figuring out what to do with his first lobster. If you understandably don’t want to splurge on an entire lobster for a toddler, at least let them try a few bites.

  • Think outside the box with what a “kid food” is.  More than once, I’ve seen a child get offered something like olives or sushi and the parents said, “No, they won’t like it–they’re a picky eater.” only to see the kid eagerly devour it and hear reports they’ve continued to consume it readily at home.  The kid may only have five things they like, but don’t assume brussels sprouts won’t be the sixth, just because of their rep or because you don’t like them!
  • Trade with friends.  Sometimes my kids will balk at a healthy snack I give them, but they inevitably want to try their friends’ snacks and vice versa.  Obviously this is only recommended with good friends  without known allergies but there have been times I called a friend up and said, “Pssst! I’ll pack the bell pepper slices today if you bring the carrots!” and the kids eagerly snatched up what their friend had even if they would’ve ignored their own because they felt like they were getting away with something.
  • Try a cutesy presentation.  We’ve all heard of ants-on-a-log.  My kids have this plate for sanctioned play-with-your-food time.  This is a common suggestion but an oldie but goodie for a reason.
    The "dinosaur jungle" veggie platter at Bridget's third birthday party.

    The “dinosaur jungle” veggie platter at Bridget’s third birthday party.

    Our turkey shaped cheeseball

    Our turkey shaped cheeseball

  • Play around with condiments and sauces.  Toddlers, especially, love dipping their food in all manner of things.  Put out some mini-ramekins filled with a variety of choices and you might find the veggie sticks gone.  Be careful, as many condiments have added sugar, but there are many without and you still might prefer the sweet dips on grape tomatoes versus chips.  And yes, the kids might want to do things that sound odd to you like putting strawberry cream cheese on eggplant or soy sauce on apples.  Let them!  We only cringe because we’re socialized to.  If they are things you’d let them eat in other combinations, don’t stop them!  It probably won’t last forever and it is getting it into them.
    Bridget will choose a pickle the size of her leg over fried stuff at the fair every single time, IF she's allowed to slather it in mustard.

    Bridget will choose a pickle the size of her leg over fried stuff at the fair every single time, IF she’s allowed to slather it in mustard.

    Again, this is not one-size-fits-all, and things can be tricker for individuals with medical reasons for their hesitations or for supertasters.  But it can be fun to share experiences and bounce ideas around.  What are your best tips for getting your kids (or spouses or friends) to eat their vegetables?

    The disappointment surrounding their aunt presenting them with fruit instead of birthday cake disappeared when they discovered it had multiple "arms" and flames shooting out of it.

    The disappointment surrounding their aunt presenting them with fruit instead of birthday cake disappeared when they discovered it had multiple “arms” and flames shooting out of it.

 

Maple Sugaring 2015

I got a fair bit of maple syrup from my trees last year – read the post from then here: Maple Sugaring 2014. Turns out that the first tree I tapped by accident (I drilled a practice hole in the first maple tree I walked to and it started dripping sap immediately so I put in a spile), wasn’t actually a sugar maple. Once summer came around I cautiously identified it as a Black Maple. But, hey! it still produced a whole lot of sap and yummy maple syrup.

So this year I tapped three trees I knew were sugar maples. I got a new kind of spile from Amazon: 5 Maple Syrup Tap Spile Kit 5 Taps + Drop Lines

I just dropped the lines into some clean 1 gallon milk jugs – this is an improvement on the sand buckets we used last year ;-).

A few days later the right temperatures were happening (below freezing at night, above freezing during the day) and the sap started moving, and straight into my bucket and jugs.

In my mind, making maple syrup consists of two phases: 1) reducing water content and 2) caramelising the liquid into syrup.

This year I reduced water content by partially freezing the sap and getting rid of the top ice. The lower liquid has the sugary fraction I want. I also used a deep tray over two burners instead of a single stockpot. This gave me a bigger surface area from which to evaporate the water. Out of necessity I didn’t reduce the sap over a romantic fire outside in the snow. Instead I gave my pan sporadic bursts of bringing the sap to a boil. During the times I had to dash off with children I let the pan sit open and further evaporation would get rid of even more water. Then whenever I came back I would fire up the stove again and heat the sap to boiling. One thing I learned this year is to reduce the pot size to fit the liquid. It’s really hard to get 1/2 cup of syrup out of a big tray 🙂

I don’t have a hygrometer to measure water content, but instead just use a thermometer. I’ve noticed that sap will happily boil away at about 210ºF for hours and not go above that temperature. Until the water content becomes low enough. Then it fairly rapidly increases in temperature to 230ºF, which is the required temperature for the caramelization reaction to occur. the most obvious VISUAL change is that the liquid suddenly doesn’t bubble like water any more. Instead there are lot of little bubbles that start to rise out of the pot, unless you add the little bit of butter recommended in the books.

And here to talk about the science of caramelization – from The Science of Cooking:

Caramelization and caramels are not the same.

Yes, it’s a little bit confusing, but you’ll get it in a minute.

Caramels are the chewy candies you are familiar with. They’re made by cooking sugar, cream, corn syrup, and butter to 245° F. Their brown color comes from a reaction between the sugar and the protein in the cream. This reaction is called the Maillard reaction, after the French scientist who discovered it. The rich brown color of toasted nuts and barbecued meats also comes from the Maillard reaction.

Put simply, the Maillard reaction occurs when part of the sugar molecule (the aldehyde group, if you must know) reacts with the nitrogen part of the protein molecule (an amino group). The resulting series of reactions is not well understood even by food scientists, but it leads to the brown color and many flavorful compounds that are yet to be identified.

Caramelization is what happens to pure sugar when it reaches 338° F. A few tablespoons of sugar put in a pan and heated will eventually melt and, at 338° F, start to turn brown. At this temperature, the sugar compounds begin to break down and new compounds form.

As with the Maillard reaction, the details of what happens during caramelization aren’t well understood. But the results are appreciated all the same. For example, caramelized sugar is often used as decoration on fancy desserts. Try caramelizing sugar yourself—it’s easy!

Halloween Candy Ideas! Or, what to do if you want to use it up before spring.

“We’ve got so much Halloween candy! I don’t know what to do with it! I just threw it out!”

I’ve seen this more times than I can count online in the past week or so. No! Don’t throw it out! Think creatively! I’m seeing this even on blogs or threads focusing on sustainability and the environment; avoid collecting it in the first place if you want, but trashing it perpetuates the issue. I can understand that you may find the trick-or-treating worth it for the fun and fellowship with your friends and then don’t want all the sweets in your house. I get that.  This is especially relevant in the Boston area where close-together easy walk neighborhoods equal large hauls. But let’s brainstorm some fun alternative ideas somewhere in between letting your kids binge til they pass out and the trash bin.

Candy corn

Donate:

Drop them off at a shelter or soup kitchen. Call first–they may have an overabundance this time a year. Yeah, yeah, I know it is not healthy nourishment, but everyone deserves a treat. This may be especially relevant if there are nut allergies in your family. In that case some of these other alternate ideas may not be workable, yet the bars made with whole nuts are ostensibly slightly healthier for others if you’re passing it on. Hard candies can be used for quitting smoking or blood sugar control. And, again, treats in moderation bring smiles to people’s faces. Some families fill baggies with candy and directly hand them out to anyone who looks like they could use a smile.

If you have friends and relatives overseas, set up a candy exchange.  We have access to some varieties they don’t and vice versa, so it is a good way to learn about and start a dialogue about other countries and cultures while also getting to try some new things.

Baking:

Click the link and check out these Butterfinger cookies.  Or these York Peppermint Patty Brownies.  A friend of mine just spoke of making a crushed candy cheesecake.  YUM! I know, no healthier than the original incarnation if you’re trying to place limits on your own family.  But the holiday season is coming up as we speak and  homemade baked goods will make better and more appropriate presents for the neighbors, teachers, and other loved ones than a spare Twizzler fun pack, right?  And whether you keep them for yourselves or not  (we don’t blame you if you do!) baking with kids is a great way to teach them about counting, measurement, percentages, chemistry, and more.

Crafts:

Speaking of the holiday season, it is gingerbread house time.  Save that candy and rather than chowing down use it to build a fabulous gingerbread house.   It doesn’t have to be a Christmas-y one if you don’t celebrate the holiday or want to try this another time of year.  There’s no reason you can’t adapt this to a year round activity.

Is a birthday coming up? Use your excess to fill a pinata!

Check out this neat article for candy wrapper craft ideas: http://earth911.com/news/2011/11/04/10-crazy-crafts-with-candy-wrappers/

My friends and I used to love to make gum wrapper necklaces in high school!  Let’s bring back that trend! You can also use Starburst wrappers. Some quick instructions here:

http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-make-a-starburst-or-bubble-gum-wrapper-ch/#step1

gumwrappernecklace

 

Science experiments:

We’re all about kid friendly science experiments here at Playground Hunt!  I think we’ve all microwaved a Peep (haven’t we?) or wondered why Pop Rocks do what they do, but this person has an entire blog about candy experiments and there seem to be a lot of Pinterest posts about them going around, too:

http://www.candyexperiments.com/

They are a great way to make productive, educational use out of your candy without having to worry about overdosing on sugar (although, again, some experiments will allow the candy to remain edible if you want the best of both worlds).

What other alternative ideas do you have?  Share them with us!

 

Eggs Everywhere – what to do with all those colored eggs

We’ve dyed about two dozen eggs. On average we will eat about 0.25 boiled eggs each per week, or 4 a month for the whole family. So here is my desperate attempt to use up the other 20 eggs by posting a list of randomly chosen recipes for 1) Deviled Eggs, 2) Potato Salad, 3) Scotch Eggs, 4) Pickled Eggs. The Deviled Eggs recipe wins for needing 12 eggs!!!

Deviled Eggs

http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Bacon-Cheddar-Deviled-Eggs/Detail.aspx

INGREDIENTS:

12 eggs
1/2 cup mayonnaise
4 slices bacon
2 tablespoons finely shredded Cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon mustard
DIRECTIONS:
1. Place eggs in a saucepan, and cover with cold water. Bring water to a boil and immediately remove from heat. Cover, and let eggs stand in hot water for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from hot water, and cool. To cool more quickly, rinse eggs under cold running water.
2. Meanwhile, place bacon in a large, deep skillet. Cook over medium-high heat until evenly brown. Alternatively, wrap bacon in paper towels and cook in the microwave for about 1 minute per slice. Crumble and set aside.
3. Peel the hard-cooked eggs, and cut in half lengthwise. Remove yolks to a small bowl. Mash egg yolks with mayonnaise, crumbled bacon and cheese. Stir in mustard. Fill egg white halves with the yolk mixture and refrigerate until serving.

Potato Salad

http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Red-Skinned-Potato-Salad/Detail.aspx

INGREDIENTS:

2 pounds clean, scrubbed new red potatoes
6 eggs
1 pound bacon
1 onion, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
2 cups mayonnaise
salt and pepper to taste
DIRECTIONS:
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add potatoes and cook until tender but still firm, about 15 minutes. Drain and set in the refrigerator to cool.
2. Place eggs in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring water to a boil and immediately remove from heat. Cover and let eggs stand in hot water for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from hot water, cool, peel and chop.
3. Place bacon in a large, deep skillet. Cook over medium high heat until evenly brown. Drain, crumble and set aside.
4. Chop the cooled potatoes, leaving skin on. Add to a large bowl, along with the eggs, bacon, onion and celery. Add mayonnaise, salt and pepper to taste. Chill for an hour before serving.

Scotch Eggs

http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Scotch-Eggs/Detail.aspx

INGREDIENTS:

1 quart oil for frying
4 eggs
2 pounds pork sausage
4 cups dried bread crumbs, seasoned
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 eggs, beaten
DIRECTIONS:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Heat oil in deep-fryer to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
2. Place eggs in saucepan and cover with water. Bring to boil. Cover, remove from heat, and let eggs sit in hot water for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from hot water, cool and peel.
3. Flatten the sausage and make a patty to surround each egg. Very lightly flour the sausage and coat with beaten egg. Roll in bread crumbs to cover evenly.
4. Deep fry until golden brown, or pan fry while making sure each side is well cooked. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes.
5. Cut in half and serve over a bed of lettuce and sliced tomatoes for garnish. If mustard is desired it looks beautiful over this.

Pickled Eggs

http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Pickled-Eggs/Detail.aspx

INGREDIENTS:

1 (15 ounce) can red beets
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup cold water
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 whole cloves
1 small cinnamon stick
6 hard-cooked eggs
DIRECTIONS:
1. Pour the beet juice into a medium-size pot. Stir in the brown sugar, vinegar, water, salt, cloves, and the cinnamon stick. Place the pot over a medium heat for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2. Place the beets into the liquid mixture and let it cook for an additional 2 minutes to allow the beets to heat.
3. Place the hard cooked eggs (with the shells removed) in a container with a tight-fitting lid. Pour the liquid and beets into the container with the eggs. Store the container in the refrigerator for approximately 5 days before eating.

Pinterest FAIL

I’ve been pinning amusing food ideas on pinterest, and looking back, I saw that the jello-in-straws-to-make-worms was my first pin in that category. The picture has made the rounds.

But who has actually made it? Own up! The ideal picture is on the right.

In a PMS-ey state of craving gelatin I made the jello worms. Watch what happens:

  • Made the jello according to instruction, except a little bit less water so it would be more solid.
  • I tied up a bunch of straw (with a pipe cleaner)
  • placed the straws in a tall glass
  • poured in the liquid jello
  • realized that the jello stayed liquid and flowed out the bottom of the straws
  • poured out most of the jello and tried to set a little bit in the straws in the freezer
  • added rest of liquid jello
  • watched jello pour out the bottom
  • gave up and put the hole glass in the fridge to set
The next day…

straws looked good in the glass with set jello – hopes were high

Straws came out of jello…

Jello didn’t come out of straws

The jello didn’t come out of the straws so we just sucked on each straw

And if you want to see what other fun recipes and food ideas I have pinned,  Follow Me on Pinterest

Playground Hunt makes emergency ice-cream

Emergency Ice-cream

Playground Hunt makes emergency ice-cream

I make this super simple icecream in an emergency. And on for lots of non-emergency days.

  • 1lb of frozen fruit (watermelon, strawberry, peach, blue berry, raspberry, mango, banana,… or any mix)
  • 1/2 cup icing sugar
  • 1/2 juice (orange juice, apple, or any mix
  1. put in food processor.
  2. process (pulse, process, open-up and mix, pulse,… until smooth)
  3. eat

So, I admit that while some people have a beer fridge, I have a frozen-fruit freezer and usually have some frozen fruit. I usually buy a couple of bags of frozen fruit at the supermarket, but if you are feeling uber-virtuous, you can use organic fruits from your farmers’ market. Just get ripe ones, peel them, cut up into one inch(-ish) cubes and freeze.

Our favorites are: watermelon (I freeze my own), and peach. The other fruits are a bit grainy with the seeds.