Friday, April 18, 2014

toast is the new cupcake

Have you heard about this? Apparently gourmet toast is all the rage in big cities like San Francisco. I heard about it on NPR, so it must be true (though now I can't find the story, so you'll just have to take my word for it).

I'm a toast fan, myself. My dad eats toast for breakfast every day, slathered with creamed honey and topped with slices of mild cheddar cheese. As a kid I'd sometimes join him, with jam instead of honey (I'm allergic).

I don't go for the toast-with-honey-and-cheese much these days, but have come up with my own toast concoction that is quite good. And it is easy. And quick.

Here's what you need: good, wheaty bread, peanut or almond butter, fresh fruit, and chia seeds.

Here's what you do: toast the bread, top with nut butter and sliced fruit, sprinkle with chia seeds.

See what I mean? So easy. I like it best with strawberries or fresh blueberries, but in a pinch banana is pretty good too.

Now if you're looking to try gourmet toast, head over to Gourmandise Bakery in downtown SLC for their cinnamon bread sensationale. Think french toast, without the egg/milk mixture. Just buttered and grilled. It is sinfully good. Oh, and for the record, toasted brioche bread is mighty good as well.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Homemade Granola Bars

We ran out of granola bars the other day, and instead of buying some more, I thought I'd try to make my own, sans corn syrup and preservatives.

I found this recipe on Pinterest, and made a few modifications. They taste great, but are a bit crumbly, so I'd recommend increasing the PB and sugar as needed. Next time I think I'll experiment with using dates and other dried fruit as a sweetener and binding agent, or maybe adding coconut oil.

I gave Evie some tastes as I was cutting them up, and she kept asking for more!  She ate more than a whole bar, and still asked for more, so I'd say these are definitely kid-approved. And, I think it would be really easy to make them dairy free (use dairy free chocolate chips) and gluten free (use GF oats and cereal).

Chocolate Peanut Butter Granola Bars


2 cups  quick oats
1 cup bran cereal (original recipe calls for rice cereal, but I think any cereal would work. I used some I had on hand. )
1/2 cup ground flax
1/2 cup flax seeds
1/4 cup chia seeds
1 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 +1/8 cup agave
Scant 1/4 cup mini chocolate chips

Add all dry ingredients to the bowl of a stand mixer. Meanwhile, mix and then microwave the peanut butter, sugar, and agave in a microwave safe dish, 30 seconds at a time, until mixture is smooth and well combined. Add to mixing bowl, and mix on low speed. Add more agave or peanut butter as needed until mixture binds together.

Line an 8x8 pan with foil.

Turn granola mixture into lined pan, and press it in firmly. Sprinkle chocolate chips over the top, distributing them evenly (I used less than 1/4 cup). Press them into the bars using the back of a stiff spatula or spoon.

Refrigerate bars for 1 hour, then lift then out of the pan using the foil lining.  Cut into 12 bars, 2x6. Wrap individual bars in plastic wrap, and further compress them together after they are wrapped.

Monday, April 14, 2014

green smoothie basics

Banana Mango Smoothie: water, apple juice, greens, ice, mango, banana, lime juice, and chia seeds.

If you follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed that I make a lot of green smoothies. I try to have one everyday, and a protein packed one on the days I kill it at the gym. Plus, Evie loves them, and I love getting her to eat vegetables. Sometimes I find smoothie inspiration from recipes on Pinterest, but usually I just improvise. And lately, they've been turning out really well.

It is pretty easy to keep your cupboard stocked with smoothie making ingredients. Some of them you probably already have in stock.

The Basics.

  • Dark leafy greens
  • Frozen Berries
  • Bananas

With these basics, you can make a pretty good smoothie. Add a cup of liquid to your blender (water, orange juice, almond milk, etc.), two handfuls of greens, a cup of frozen berries, and a banana, and voila! A delicious smoothie. Spinach is a great choice for greens. It is the most mild in flavor, and easy to use up in salads and other dishes. As I've said before, I like the Costco mix with baby spinach, chard, and kale. For berries, I alternate between a mix of blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries from Costco, and plain blueberries. And of course, the riper the banana, the better, as banana adds sweetness. If you can't eat bananas, ripe mango is a good substitution (also adds sweetness and creaminess).

Blueberry Protein Smoothie: OJ, yogurt, greens, blueberries, mango, lime juice, flax, and chia seeds.

The Next Level.

  • Protein Powder: I like vanilla. It goes with any smoothie, and this is what I use on the days I go to Body Pump and Total Body Conditioning. When I use protein powder, I use water as my liquid.
  • Add-ins like Flax and Chia Seeds: I put ground flax in pretty much every smoothie I make, and stir chia seeds in at the end. I've found that if the chia seeds are blended into the smoothie, it gets a bit gelatinous, which I don't like, but I really like them stirred in.
  • Fat-Free Greek Yogurt: this is a great way to add protein to a smoothie, as an alternative to protein powder.
  • Orange Juice: great sweetener if you've run out of bananas. I especially love making an orange julius knock off with OJ, a fresh orange, greens, vanilla, yogurt, and mango.
  • Peanut or Almond Butter: another good protein addition, and extra decadent with banana and protein powder (and greens, of course). Make it chunky monkey by using chocolate protein powder, or add a tablespoon of cocoa powder if using vanilla.
  • Fresh Fruit (mango, grapes, apple, strawberries, oranges): use in place of frozen berries, then add 4-6 ice cubes to chill and thicken the smoothie.
  • Cinnamon: I love a "cinnamon roll" smoothie. Combine vanilla protein powder, a cup of water, ice cubes, banana, two handfuls of greens, and a generous dash of cinnamon. Pumpkin pie spice is also delicious.
  • Carrots: carrots are so sweet that they blend into a green smoothie really well. 
  • Beets: while they have a stronger flavor, beets are also quite sweet. Try making a pink smoothie with beets and strawberries. You can find pre-cooked beets at Costco.
  • Oatmeal: if you're making a breakfast smoothie, add a cup of dry oats. Not only do you get the benefits of the oats, but your smoothie will be much more filling as well.
Green Orange Julius: fresh orange, mango, oj, water, ice, greens, vanilla, yogurt, chia seeds, and flax.

Bonus Tips.

Keep it simple. Try sticking to just a few flavors (fruits). I've found that the more variety I put in the smoothie, the less I enjoy it. I like it to have an identifiable flavor: strawberry and banana, mango and orange, blueberry, etc.

Get some good straws. I like to sip my smoothies from jumbo straws like these.

Rinse your blender and smoothie cup immediately. The smoothie residue will turn into cement if left to dry.

Store extra smoothie in a mason jar in the fridge. Smoothies stay good for about 48 hours after they are made.

That's all the green smoothie wisdom for today. What are your favorite smoothie ingredients?

roasted beet salad with gorganzola and walnuts

I have to say, I'm a Costco addict. I totally get roped into trying all new goodies they carry. Lately I've been loving their bagged greens mix with baby spinach, kale, and chard. It is perfect for throwing in a green smoothie, and delicious in salads too. Here's a salad combo from the other night that turned out really well.

Roasted Beet Salad with Gorganzola and Walnuts


  • baby spinach, chard, and kale (mix from Costco)
  • 1 roasted beet per person, diced (also found at costco, pre-roasted!)
  • crumbled gorgonzola or blue cheese
  • walnuts, chopped
  • poppy seed dressing (I used some from the superfood slaw mix from Costco, but Brianna's is great too)

Not that you need directions for a salad, but here they are. Assemble this salad directly on plates to ensure no leftovers. Start with greens, then the beets, then cheese, then nuts, and top with a light drizzle of dressing. The strong flavor of the cheese plays really well with the beets, and enhances their sweetness. It is delicious!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

cake bombs (or, what to do with a failed cake)

Have you ever had an epic bundt cake failure? I most certainly have, and it is such a bummer. You put all this effort into mixing up what is supposed to be a delicious and beautiful cake, you wait the allotted baking time, let it cool in the pan for ten minutes, and turn it out onto a cooling rack. Before you even lift the pan, you can tell something is not right. The pan still feels heavy, and as you turn it over, you see the disaster. A ring of cake stuck to the bottom of the pan, and a steaming crumbled half on the cooling rack.

If this has never happened to you, please let me in on your bundt baking secrets! As for the rest of us, I have a remedy to your broken cake dilemma. Remember the cake truffles recipe I posted last October? We're going to revisit that, and this time the recipe is more precise, since I used 1 cake + 1 frosting recipe.

First, mix up a batch of your favorite buttercream frosting, one that will go well with your cake. My failed bundt cake was a chocolate one, so I made cocoa buttercream from Betty Crocker (same recipe used for the cake truffles, recipe below). When you've finished mixing the frosting, add the broken cake into your mixer, and continue mixing until the cake and frosting are evenly combined. If you don't have a crumbly bundt cake, you could sub any chocolate cake.

Using a cooking scoop, scoop your filling onto a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. I used the scoop I usually use for cupcakes, but you could choose any size. Mine are larger than traditional cake pops, hence the name cake bombs, and I got 32 out of my cake.

Cover your baking sheets and freeze the scooped "bombs." An hour or two would probably be sufficient, or you can do what I did and leave them in the freezer for a few days. I use these cookie sheet covers, which are great because you can stack your baking sheets, and avoid having your creations stick to foil or plastic wrap.

When you are ready to dip, start melting your chocolate. As I've said before, I prefer to use candy coating (like Apeels, Merckens, or Wilton) because it doesn't burn as easily and will not bloom. For these I used dark chocolate Apeels. While the chocolate is melting, prepare your "bombs." I used these sticks that are intended for caramel apples, but you could use sucker sticks or cake pop "straws." The sticks I used have a pointed end, so they were easy to poke into the bombs. They felt very secure, so after inserting the stick I went ahead and dipped the bombs, set them back on the foil-lined pan, and sprinkled with rainbow wafer sprinkles. Notice that these do have a flat side on the bottom. They are not hand-shaped like cake balls (I don't like the idea of that much food handling). The stick goes in the domed side, and they sit flat-side down with the stick pointing up.

I added some little ribbon and lace ties to my cake bomb sticks. Washi tape flags would also be adorable.

Cocoa Buttercream:

1/3 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup cocoa powder
3 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 tablespoons milk (plus more, as needed)

Mix chocolate and butter. Add powdered sugar. Beat in vanilla (or flavoring of choice) and milk. Add milk as needed until frosting is of spreading consistency.

Friday, April 11, 2014

chocolate peep pops

I don't know about you, but I've never been a fan of peeps. I think my mom told me they were gross, and we never got them in our Easter baskets. But, they are pretty adorable. Who can resist little bunnies and chicks in soft pastel colors?

Then I saw this on Pinterest. I needed to make a treat for the class I teach at church, and so I thought I'd give it a go. Results? They are adorable, and I must admit, pretty delicious, and that's coming from a non-peeper.

My improvised drying rack.

Packaged and ready to give away!

Supplies Needed:

  • 1 package of bunny Peeps (there are 12 per package)
  • bamboo skewers (I used small ones, about 6" long, sucker sticks would also work)
  • chocolate of choice* (I used Wilton Candy Dips milk chocolate, and grocery store almond bark)
  • colander and mixing bowl that will nest inside (for drying dipped bunnies)
  • candy pearls 

Assembly Instructions:

Melt chocolate per package instructions. I suggest using candy melts made specifically for dipping or candy. Though not as rich as, they won't burn as easily and won't bloom like regular chocolate.

Meanwhile, set up your drying rack. You could use a piece of styrofoam, and just stick the end of the skewers into it so that the chocolate can dry upright. I didn't have any, so instead turned a colander upside-down, with a slightly smaller bowl overturned underneath, and stuck the dipped peeps through the holes (resting on the bowl inside so they didn't go all the way through to the counter). 

Push the skewer into the peep so that you can feel the point between the ears. You want it in there far enough that the bunny will be stable for dipping.

Dip peep into the melted chocolate, coating all sides, and then lightly tap skewer on the edge of the container so that any excess chocolate drips off. Carefully set it in the colander drying rack, and add a little candy pear for a tail. I found the lower I placed the tails, the better they looked.

Once they are completely dry, you can package (or gobble) them up.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

baby pictures

Hello there friends, I'm trying something a little different here. I just merged my baby blog over with this one, and will just be posting here from now on. I've been trying to post about little Evie monthly, but it has been getting harder and harder as she becomes more active. So no guarantees, but I do hope to post a bit about that funny little girl every once in awhile.

 Baby girl loves to brush her teeth, play outside, color, dance to Pharrell Williams "Happy" and the music from Frozen, go down slides, play in rock piles, and take showers. She says all kinds of things, ah-choo if you sneeze, stinky, messy, nice, sad, snack, and more (see past posts for more extensive lists). She loves to read books, and we spend many a morning reading together. Lift-the-flap books are some of her favorite. She says mouse, and now refers to Mickey and Minnie as "mouse" instead of "mi." She is a little baby mama. She loves her baby dolls, and gives them pats of consolation, kisses, plays games with them, and likes to have one in her crib to snug at night. She really likes going to the library, and will tolerate almost any car ride if you give her some goldfish crackers. She folds her arms anytime she hears the word prayer or blessing. She occasionally sings what sounds like a rendition of "Let It Go."

Evie playing in Grandma's fairy garden (she touches it and says "moss" and "soft").
Parenting truly is amazing. I saw a post recently where someone took all of the usual warnings against getting tattoos and applied them to having children. Yes, they change your body. Yes, they cost money. Yes, they are permanent. But they are wonderful. Seeing the world through a child's eyes has made me realize how magical life really is. She notices the little things: the roughness of tree bark, the delicate petals of a flower,  a distant bird singing outside. It is amazing to see her try to figure things out, and fulfilling to witness her successes. I have no problem with other people getting tattoos, but I think I'll stick with parenthood for now.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Nielsen's Take Anaheim Part 3 (My Do's and Don'ts)

Do use the rider switch system. I was a little hesitant at first, since I'd never done it before and was unsure of what to do, but it was easy and so nice! All you have to do is take your whole group up to the line entrance, where they cast members are standing. You tell them you want to do rider switch, and they give you a few lanyards with passes on them. We had four adults in our group, so we got three passes. One or two of us waited out with the baby while the rest went on the ride, then three of us got to ride again! You just take the passes to the Fast Pass Return line, and you're on your way.

Do stay close to the park. We were working around naps and a strict bedtime schedule, so we stayed right across from the main gates at the Anaheim Desert Inn. We were able to walk to the park in minutes, and even watched the fireworks show from our roof. We avoided paying for parking, and didn't have to take the time to catch the tram and drive from hotel to park. The hotel itself was ok. Free breakfast, but nothing to write home about. If you like oatmeal and hard boiled eggs, you'd love it. We actually do like oatmeal, and have had far worse hotel breakfasts (day old donuts and tang, to be specific).

Do use fast passes, and be strategic. Of course, the newest rides will have the longest lines. At California Adventure, we got in line for Radiator Springs Racers fast passes first thing, and our time to return was in the early afternoon. We then headed to the Bug's Life area, and walked onto every ride there with no lines. It was awesome! 

Do visit  the Disney Animation Building in California Adventure. It's big and open inside, and they play music along with video clips from classic movies. Evie had a great time running around, dancing, and meeting other kids. The zoetrope there is one of my favorites, and Turtle Talk with Crush is a lot of fun. Evie also liked playing outside of Soaring California, where there is a water/bubble tube thing. I really don't know how to explain it, but she liked it.

Do stop by the snack cones in Cars Land. We tried the chili cones, and they did not disappoint! Perfect dinner for parade viewing. Skip the Red's Apple Freeze. It sounded good, apple slush with caramel syrup and whipped cream on top, but the syrup didn't mix in, so it was like drinking straight syrup for the first 1/3. We also like the food from Lucky Fortune Cookery, it is fast and the portions are generous, so we usually split one.

The biggest disappointment was that the Mission tortilla factory had been replaced with a Giradhelli Fountain. But still stop in there for free chocolate! The new ride to try there is the Arial ride, where the theater used to be across the lake from Screaming California. 

At Magic Kingdom, do take a turn on It's A Small World,  and visit Toon Town. Evie especially liked Donald's house boat. We were able to walk onto Winnie the Poo, which was great, and the gift shop near there had a lot of adorable stuffed animals that baby girl enjoyed playing with.

Don't go to the Rainforest Cafe. The food was good, but overpriced. The waiter was the best part of the experience, as he spent a good amount of time talking with us about the best times to visit the park, etc. The aquarium was great. We sat right by it, and Evie was enthralled with the fishies. We visited the elephants upstairs, which I thought she would like, and she was terrified by their abrupt display of animation. Plus, it took a lot of time to get all the way into Downtown Disney where the restaurant was located,  so in the future I think I'd rather eat in the park.

Coming up next: Packing a Disneyland Survival Kit

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Nielsen's Take Anaheim Part 2 (Or why you should take a baby to Disneyland)

We spent two days at Disneyland with one-year-old Evie, and things couldn't have gone better. She napped in her stroller, didn't get scared, was great while standing in line, and thoroughly enjoyed the balmy 70-80° weather in Anaheim.  While we had a lovely trip and I have no regrets about it, I don't think I'd take a one year old again.

I don't have enough cons to make a whole list, it's just that she didn't love it. While baby girl didn't shed a tear over anything at Disneyland, she really just didn't get it. And, the rides were very loud (something I'd never noticed before). She mostly watched, wide-eyed. I do think she enjoyed Small World. It was still decorated for Christmas, and she sang "falalalala" along with "Deck the Halls." We managed to get good seats for the Pixar parade, and she enjoyed that too.

Now, here are the reasons you should go.

If you enjoy going to Disneyland in general, then you'll probably still enjoy it with a one-year-old.  We enjoyed going to Disneyland almost annually before Evie was born. The rides, the nostalgia, the food (churros!), the friendly people... it's just a magical place. And we enjoyed all of those things on this trip.

If your looking for a warm-weather getaway for your family, Disneyland is a great choice.
Anaheim in January was idyllic. It was deliciously warm, in the 70s and 80s. We were comfortable in tee shirts and jeans, just needing light jackets at night. Coming from freezing temperatures in the Salt Lake Valley, it was a glorious break from the cold. Since Evie is a December baby, she spent her first summer nearly immobile, or at least limited to crawling. By the time she started walking, it was freezing outside, and we were in winter hibernation. It was so fun to see her toddle around outside in her sun hat and tee shirt, and she loved it.

If you're looking for somewhere easy to vacation as a family, go to Disneyland.
Sure, you could vacation anywhere warm and take your baby along. There are dozens of public forum commenters out there that will say you'd be better off taking your baby to a shopping mall, but Disneyland is literally made for kids and families. Every bathroom has a diaper changing station, there are quiet secluded places to nurse, stroller parking is ample, and you won't find a dirty look even if your little one decides to pitch a fit. Disneyland is easy, and a much more friendly environment for a one-year-old than a museum or a swanky restaurant. It is also remarkably clean, much cleaner than a public park. The works thing our little toddler found on the ground was a leaf.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Crash Hot Sweet Potatoes

About a year ago, I tried a Pinterest recipe for sweet potatoes,  and it was pretty fantastic. It was a variation of the smashed potato using sweet potato slices and a blend of spices and brown sugar that caramelize into deliciousness when combined with the starchy potato and copious amounts of butter and olive oil. You can find the original recipe here.

I made them again last night, and they were just as delicious. My only beef is the laborious prep required (peeling, slicing, boiling, cooling, smashing, seasoning, flipping, seasoning some more, baking, flipping again, baking even more). Plus,  the smashing bit never goes as smoothly in reality as it does in writing. So tonight I tried my own spin on it, and the results were fantastic! I decreased the oil and sugar, as well as the prep time, but in keeping the same spice blend the flavor was just as good. They would probably be extremely decadent if you added in the 2 T of melted butter and 1/2 T brown sugar, but we're trying to be healthy over here. So without further ado, here's my recipe.

Roasted Hot Sweet Potatoes

(Serves 4, prep time 10 minutes,  bake time 25 minutes).

2 large sweet potatoes
1 T brown sugar
1/2 t kosher salt
1/2 t chili powder
1/2 t cumin
1/2 t smoked paprika
1/4 t chipotle chili powder
1/4 t onion powder
1/8 t garlic powder
10 grinds of fresh black pepper
2 T olive oil

Preheat oven yo 400°. Peel and cut sweet potatoes into bite-sized wedges (approximately 2" by 1"). Transfer to a mixing bowl, and add olive oil. Stir to coat evenly. Mix all dry ingredients,  and add to mixing bowl. Stir until all pieces are coated with seasoning. 

Spread potatoes out in a baking sheet lined with parchment paper,  and bake for 10 minutes. Turn potatoes (not precisely,  but just move them around with a spatula so that a new side is exposed), and return to the oven for another 15 minutes. Enjoy them while they are hot!
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