Irish Oatmeal – and how it can help develop your palate

When we were grocery shopping this week, my 6-year-old asked to get oatmeal. I don’t usually make oatmeal, so I thought this was curious. I like having oats in the house for baking, but I’ve never been a huge fan of oatmeal. I’ve recently realized it’s due to the mushy texture – with everything I eat, I need texture: something crunchy, something to chew on. Plus, I questioned the real nutritious value of microwavable oatmeal packets, and I had never made homemade oatmeal.

But my little girl wanted it, so I figured we could try it again.
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Now, I am pretty happy with A’s palate so far. She is able to pretty accurately describe what she’s eating using good descriptive words. She always asks about what’s on her plate or in her bowl. I tell her, because instead of hiding from her that she’s eating vegetables, I want her to appreciate and enjoy all parts of her food; when she inevitably likes it, I have now opened a door to using that ingredient in other ways and reminding her that she likes it. The worst case scenario is that she’s able to vocalize when there’s something she doesn’t like.

So the first time I made her oatmeal, before school this week, I made it according to package instructions, and tasted it plain. (Yep. Still don’t like plain oatmeal. Does anyone, I wondered?) I knew I could add butter and brown sugar, but I was trying to think a little healthier, so instead I added honey and a few dashes of cinnamon/sugar. Then I got thinking about my texture issue and added a very little bit of chopped pecans I had purchased to put in chicken salad. Then she said she wanted cut up strawberries on top, so we did that as well.

Well, here’s proof of her sensitivity. I had mixed the pecans in and didn’t tell her. She quickly noticed there was some kind of nut in there, and let me know she didn’t like it. But she did seem to like the oatmeal otherwise, and even asked for seconds.

She asked for oatmeal again today, and asked to help make it. I gladly agreed, thinking, here’s an opportunity to develop her palate a bit more. (You can probably try this with your kids using a different food, but oatmeal is pretty kid friendly, and pretty easy to make small adjustments and notice differences in the taste.)

When I first started cooking, I remember feeling overwhelmed at the idea of not following a recipe EXACTLY. Watching cooking shows, seeing people taste a dish and say, “It needs more ____.” How should I know what else it needs?! I was still learning what the most basic spices and ingredients tasted like, and how best to combine them, and didn’t yet trust my palate to determine what was missing from a dish. I want to prevent my kids from having the same issue. Oatmeal is one of those things that you can modify to your liking really easily, so I figured it was a good place to start.

I measured the water, put it on the stove in a small saucepan, and explained this:
“Any time you are boiling water, adding salt helps it boil faster, and brings out the natural flavors of whatever you’re cooking.”
Once we reached a boil, we added the oatmeal and put the timer on, stirring almost constantly. We removed it from the heat, covered it, and let it sit for 3 minutes. Then I removed the lid, stirred, and let her taste it plain.
“I want you to taste it how it is and tell me what you think we should add.”
She tasted it, made a face, and said, “I want to add cinnamon.”
So we added some cinnamon. She tasted again. “I think we need more cinnamon.” (I think she was right.)
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More cinnamon, another taste, and even while making a face, she said “I think that’s good,” and held out her bowl. Because of the face she made, I asked, “Do you want to add some honey to sweeten it?” and she agreed: “Last time I had it there was honey in it and it was really good!”
So we added honey and she was happy with it. She did say, “I don’t want any pecans. I don’t like the nuts and how they stick to my teeth.”

Well maybe she didn’t, but I did. I made myself a bowl and topped it with the pecans and then – chocolate chips. Not just to add some texture, but to add that smooth mouth-feel that happens when chocolate melts. And, because, let’s face it, I’m still a chocoholic at heart! ❤
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*Adding chopped bananas or strawberries, raspberries or blueberries will lend more nutrition and flavor.
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Click here to read more about how to develop your kids palate, and rid yourself of picky eaters!

Crepes!

Where do I begin?? Once I tried them, crepes quickly became one of my favorite meals.  Good for breakfast, lunch, dinner or dessert. Great any time of year, but there’s something about hot crepes when it’s cold and grey out. Plus they go GREAT with a morning cup of tea (and you know how I love my tea). These are a favorite with my kids too. They’re too young to do this now, but I have this mental image of bowls of different fillings and they’re choosing which ones they want. Make your own Crepe, instead of Make your Own Sundae. I think what makes me really drawn to a recipe is when you can start with a base of understanding and adjust for many different uses or flavors. Muffins for example. Or pasta. Or soup. Even cookies. Maybe that’s why I really like Alton Brown’s show, “Good eats”. He teaches you the science and the reasoning behind things. It’s the whole, “teach them to fish” concept. Because once you understand a technique, you can begin to come up with and combine your own ideas instead of relying on other people’s.

When I searched recipes for crepes Alton Brown’s was one of the ones that came up. He had a genius idea of mixing everything in a blender, instead of in a mixing bowl. Not only do you dirty like dishes, but you can pour directly out of the blender into the frying pan instead of having to use a ladle or some other device to scoop the batter and put it into the pan. So efficient! Most of the time when I make these, I make them for breakfast or lunch, and they are sweet, using fruit and chocolate, etc. However I have done a savory version and they’re great for dinner too.

Here we go! (Link to recipe at bottom)
I always add the eggs first, so they are closest to the blades of the blender.
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Then I’ll add vanilla.
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I don’t always use cinnamon, but since we were making apple cinnamon today, I did. And sugar.
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Then I alternate between wet and dry ingredients; if you put all the liquid on bottom and dry on top, it takes a long time (not to mention makes a bigger mess!) to combine, and if you put dry on bottom and wet on top, it’s hard to combine unless you stir first.
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As for the melted butter: I always melt it in a Pyrex cup and melt it in the microwave. The ‘beverage’ button works well for this. Or if you have a ‘milk’ button – or some microwaves even have a ‘butter’ button! Nice!
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And after the first batch of flour I’ll add the butter.
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Here’s the awesome part: I’ll reuse that Pyrex (Yep, less dishes!) to measure the milk. AND, whatever butter is left in the Pyrex will come out when I pour the milk. And that’s why I do the water last. It too pulls the rest of the milk out. Alton Brown’s recipe says you can add 2 tablespoons of your favorite liqueur. Well, mine have to be kid friendly. So I add a couple splashes of OJ.
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Pulse for about 10 seconds or until everything is combined. You might need a spatula to get anything un-stuck from the sides of the blender.

Now the fun… choose your filling!

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Be sure to give them a stir to combine all ingredients!

I always put the filling in bowls because these cook so fast that you won’t have time to cut or cook things while the crepes cook. (In fancy cooking terms, this is called your ‘mise en place’) This will be the filling for the apple cinnamon crepes:
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I use butter flavored cooking spray, BEING SURE TO COAT THE SIDES OF THE PAN. Then pour the batter in a circular motion around the outside of the pan and into the middle until it covers the bottom of the pan:
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Then tilt the pan and swirl the batter in a circular motion around the edges of the pan until, well, there’s nothing left to swirl!
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When it starts to bubble in the middle, like the picture above, and the sides pull away easily from the pan, it’s ready to flip! Go around the outside with your spatula first, to make sure all the sides come away easy. Then slide the spatula under the crepe, and FLIP!
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I used this same pan to cook the apples in, so it had some buttery-cinnamon-y goodness still on the bottom, which you can see here. Yeah. Yum.
Immediately put your filling in a straight line down the middle of your crepe (think a diameter line!) For these I first used the flat spatula to spread some apple butter all over, then added the apples, then a sprinkling of cinnamon/sugar.
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Next fold the sides in over the filling, first one, then the other. Press down gently on the folds with the flat end of your spatula to seal it a little. At this point you don’t need to cook it too much more. A minute maybe, if you want to make sure everything is heated through, or your chocolate chips are melted 😉
Then slide it out of the pan onto a plate, sprinkle with some powdered sugar and, VOILA! A beautiful delicious crepe waiting for your enjoyment.

Delicious Crepes!

Delicious Crepes!

I always have at least 2 filling options, sometimes 3. Today the other filling we did was bananas and chocolate chips:
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Aubrey’s crepes (the kids like a drizzle of syrup or sometimes honey)

Due to the nature of these scrumptious treats, they are sometimes difficult to cut or for the kids to eat. However, I have mastered the art of cutting these for kids, and will now share this essential and TOP SECRET information with you:

How to cut crepes for kids

How to cut crepes for kids

The trick is to hold the crepe STILL with the fork while you cut with a sharp knife. I cut the ‘hamburger’ cuts first, then do one cut lengthwise (‘hot dog’!) down the middle. The best way to eat these is to slide your fork underneath each cut and bring to your mouth. YUM!

My favorite filling for these is probably strawberries and chocolate chips. But here’s a list of possibilities:
*strawberries & chocolate chips
*strawberries, bananas & chocolate chips
*bananas & chocolate chips
*bananas, cinnamon/sugar, & chocolate chips (Aubrey’s idea!)
*peanut butter & jelly (also Aubrey’s idea!)
*apple cinnamon
*bananas and blueberries
*blueberry compote (made by sautéing blueberries with a little cranberry juice, OJ & sugar!)

SAVORY crepes can be seasoned with herbs IN the batter, and putting veggies and/or a cream or cheese sauce. Great for dinner!

Here’s the link to Alton Brown’s original recipe. (For me and my kids, I take 1 1/2 recipe otherwise we don’t have enough)
http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/crepes-recipe/index.html

Now go make some. For yourself. Or family! Or impress your friends at your next get-together with these babies that seem hard to make… but are really quite easy 😉

What is OHI? Plus Banana Oat Cookies -only 3 ingredients!!

Something you should know about my cooking skills: When I first started making meals for my family, I had NO IDEA what I was doing. I followed every recipe to a T because I knew NOTHING. I’m not kidding. Before we had our eldest daughter, it was just me and my husband in a tiny 500 sq ft rental house. I had to call my mom to ask how to boil water.
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(I’m mentally pausing for you to have time to laugh at my ignorance. It’s okay, I’m laughing too – don’t feel bad.)
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Now that we’ve all had a good laugh, I can tell you that with practice, I was able to take certain factors into account in order to change recipes to my family’s liking. These are:
1. Budget – like most families, we don’t have unlimited money pouring out of our closet or randomly falling off our tree in the front yard. I plan our meals before I strategically plan my weekly shopping list, which is most times based in part off of the grocery ad / what’s on sale.
2. Pantry/Fridge/on-hand ingredients (I think from here on out I’m going to just abbreviate and say, OHI. Because I can foresee myself blogging about this a lot from here on out!) – I keep a pretty good mental inventory of what we have at home and what possible ingredients are substitutable (is that a word?!? …it is now!) for ones I find in a new recipe. So, I will define OHI as fulfilling these things: 1. you already have it in your kitchen; 2. something that is expiring soon that you don’t want to waste by throwing away; 3. a similar ingredient to what’s in a recipe but that you know you or your family would prefer.
3. My family’s taste – I learned quickly that my husband Alex is a pretty simple guy. I’m talking frozen pizza – hot dog – salami/bologna sandwich kinda guy. And if I tried to do something fancy he wasn’t having it. I’m pretty sure he’s actually said to me before, “Why are you trying to make it all fancy? Stop trying to complicate things.” I was probably adding shredded cheddar to leftover mac n cheese, since that’s one of the few things I understood how to make at that point. And everyone knows reheated mac n cheese is not the greatest. I was so proud of myself for figuring out a way to freshen it up the next day (a splash of milk and a little shredded cheese actually DOES do wonders.) Once we had kids I had to learn how to adjust meals to be kid-friendly. I’m going to have to work in a post about what constitutes ‘kid-friendly’ in my house.
READ THIS NEXT: I do NOT feed my kids different dinners than what I make for Alex and I. And I do NOT make different meals for each child. I am blessed enough not to have to worry about allergies or special diets, so I take full advantage of that!
4. My cooking style – this includes anything from my time constraints, equipment limitations, availability of ingredients, and my own personal preferences.

So why am I talking about this??? To tell you this: I am about to share with you what might possibly be THE best recipe I have ever come across (and I made a small substitution that would have prevented me from making it at all when I first started cooking). Here’s why:
– It can be eaten in place of any meal: breakfast, snack, with lunch, dessert… ok maybe not fulfilling enough for dinner, so ALMOST any meal.
– The recipe includes 3 ingredients. YES I said 3. And they’re probably things you already have at your house!!! (remember OHI?!?! This is a slam DUNK in the OHI department)
– It is indulgent. It is sweet. It has chocolate. It has texture. It is served best warm. It pairs well with a hot cup of tea or coffee. It checks all my boxes in terms of a good dessert.
– My kids love them. They can help make them. Heck, Aubrey can practically make them on her own (as long as an adult does the oven part of course)
– The clean-up is super fast and easy. No worrying about cross contamination from raw eggs or having to soak really messy mixing bowls.
– IT IS HEALTHY! (And the crowd goes wild!!!!)

Here’s what you’ll need:

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2 large bananas, 1 cup oats, about 1/3 cup baking chips

The first time I made these, my bananas were not that large, so if you only have what can be categorized as medium or small, you’ll probably be fine. Just use a little less oats. HERE COMES THE SUBSTITUTION: The recipe called for “quick oats”. In my OHI all I had was “Old fashioned Oats”. I have no idea what the difference is. But I figured I’d try it and see how it came out. (If you’re wondering, they were amazing) And as for the baking chips, I’ve seen versions where people use white chocolate or peanut butter chips. In my house we use straight up semi-sweet chips for most things. (I’m kind of a former chocoholic.)

All you do is mash up the bananas and oats together:

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The first time I did these we mashed the bananas and then added the oats. This time I just put both ingredients in at once and mashed the bananas together. I found this way, the oats are incorporated with much less effort. Next add the chips:

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Lastly put them on a greased cookie sheet to bake for 15-18 minutes at 350º.

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DON’T SKIP THE GREASING PART! I’m not saying load your sheet up with butter, but use some non-stick spray or maybe a parchment sheet. I don’t have a sil-pat, but I’m sure that would work too. There is so much moisture in the bananas that they will surely stick otherwise.
The ‘cookies’ don’t look much different after 15 minutes. Just test them to be sure they’re springy and not mushy.  After picture:

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Enjoy! They are most definitely best warm. Eat quickly (I’m telling you, that won’t be a problem).

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I’m thinking the peanut butter chips will be worth a try, but I’d have to need them for another recipe to justify buying a bag. And I’m also debating if they’d be good with some chopped nuts, or maybe some dried pineapple?! I bet if you used the pineapple, then the white chocolate would be good. Otherwise the sweetness of banana + white chocolate = too sweet for me (I found this out when making banana muffins and tried white chocolate chunks). Yes, I can see many variations in my future 😉